CHAPTER FORTY ONE

The call came nearly two months later. Hannibal had almost forgotten the possibility of a problem from that sector. So it was with not a little anger at his negligence that he made the drive to the hospital with Maggie. Hannibal had not made this drive since the attack on Murdock. He had disappeared that next day, finally returning well after dark with his choice made. He had not gone there again. He was never sure if it was anger, fear or guilt that kept him away. Maggie had gone up twice. The first time she had tried to talk Hannibal into bringing Face home. The second time she hadn't spoken to him for several days.

The ride today was silent. Maggie had made it clear she was going for Face, not for Hannibal. He had never seen her so angry and found himself wondering just how this was going to play out between them. Damn it, how much more screwed up could his life get because of Face?

He was immediately filled with shame. He had to remind himself once again that the real person to blame was Stockwell. That Face was in this situation, that the team was in this situation, because Face had acted to save their lives. He could rationalize all he wanted about protecting the team. It would not change the facts of what he had done to a member of his team.

They hurried through the doors and directly to the administrator's office. There they learned the details of the break in. At some point during the night, someone had been able to bypass the security system and find their way to Face's room. They had then taken him to the hospital's garage and left him there after hot-wiring all three vehicles. Within a few minutes an anonymous call had gone in to security and they had raced to the garage. Face had been rushed to the nearby medical facility, where he was now under observation, with a police guard outside his door. The entire matter was being treated as attempted murder. The police wanted to speak to Hannibal at his earliest convenience concerning an item they had found. Something that had been left on Face's bed by the would-be killers and which the police hoped Hannibal could shed some light on.

A small stone elephant.


*****

Hannibal's first call was to BA. He wasn't sure where Murdock was and he wanted BA on his way as quickly as possible. BA was not at the youth center. The girl who answered told Hannibal he had run out for some supplies and then would be stopping at his mother's home.

Mrs. Baracus answered on the third ring. Not wanting to alarm her, he only asked that she have BA call him about a job. Since they had taken on several since Face had been hospitalized, she thought nothing of it. She did, as always, ask about Face.

"He's fine, Mama."

"Fine, my foot. You keep sayin that but how can he be fine if he's still in that hospital after all this time? Can't they do nothin' for him yet?"

Hannibal hated lying to her, but BA had insisted she be told only that Face was in treatment and making progress. Another Murdock.

"They're making progress, really, Mama. It just takes time." It was clear from the woman's response she wasn't satisfied but promised to have BA call as soon as he arrived. Hannibal figured it would actually be after getting an earful from his mother.

Twenty minutes later BA called and Hannibal explained what had happened. BA could be there in less than three days with the van. It would coincide with Face's release from the medical hospital. Now they just needed to find Murdock.

BA hung up and turned to find Mama watching him.

"I wasn't listenin in, Scooter, but you weren't exactly quiet. What happened to that poor man now?"

BA was tired of lying to her. While he didn't tell her the very beginning, he did tell her everything that had happened at Maggie's house and the farm. It all started, he told her, with some things Face had had to do for Stockwell that hadn't worked out. When BA had finished, she shook her head, angry and yet sympathetic at the same time.

"I can understand you and Hannibal needin to keep everyone safe, Scooter, but to stick him away like that and forget about him? That ain't right. You know that ain't right." And she stalked from the room.

BA knew. Had he not been so worn down from the events of that past month and so angry at Murdock's injury, he probably would not have gone along with Hannibal's plans. After all, he had promised to keep Face safe. After they had taken him away to the hospital, BA had rationalized that this was the only way to keep both Face and the rest of the team safe. But how to rationalize never going to see him? He knew why he hadn't. Not just because he'd left almost immediately for Chicago. He'd gone back to LA several times for jobs with the team. But he'd never gone to see Face. It was so much easier not to get caught up in all that again. But he couldn't help thinking about him.

He knew Maggie had gone to see him and she wasn't happy with his condition. He had apparently retreated completely from reality. Maggie had been told that on his 'good days' he would respond when told to do something, but most days communication of any kind was impossible. Even if BA had gone to see him, Face would not really have been there to know it.

He thought Murdock went. In fact, he was pretty sure the pilot was a frequent visitor. But he never said anything about Face or the hospital to the rest of them. He hadn't talked much at all. Murdock had changed a lot. Too much. But so had everything else. BA's thoughts were interrupted by Mama's reappearance. She had two small suitcases with her.

"Let's get goin, Scooter. That baby needs me."


*****

Murdock wasn't always easy to reach. He did freelance flying for a variety of companies all over the world. He recognized that he deliberately made it difficult for Hannibal to find him. Not impossible, just difficult. It was hard for him to be around Hannibal or BA. He couldn't accept what they had done to Face, and he had an even harder time accepting his own role in that betrayal. He remembered Maggie's anger that night, directed not only at Hannibal but at himself. It had been very hard to bear.

It had been a horrific day all around. Hannibal hadn't even wanted to tell him where this 'hospital' was, apparently afraid Murdock would try to break Face out. The pilot had finally threatened to walk out on the team altogether unless he was told. He'd tried to visit Face that very day, but was told visitors were not permitted for at least three days, so the patients could settle in. By then, of course, it was too late. Face had gone away into his inner world, and there was nothing Murdock could do to bring him back.

They had stayed at the farm for a few more days, and then BA had gone back to Chicago. Murdock had moved to LA and reconnected with Dr. Richter. He started flying again, his license ironically restored through Stockwell's earlier machinations. Hannibal had stayed in Bad Rock at the farm. They had, in fact, put the A-Team on 'occasional' status. Jobs would come up requiring that certain 'finesse' and Hannibal would call them in. The more often Murdock visited Face, the harder it was for Hannibal to find him, and the harder it was for Murdock to feel connected to the team.

When Hannibal finally reached him this time, it was the day after the call to BA. Murdock was in Nova Scotia. His first thought was to fly to Langley and take care of Carla. Hannibal reminded him what that kind of thinking had led to.

"We'll deal with Carla, Captain. Rest assured of that. But it's going to be done without bloodshed this time. By anyone. Period."

It was too late for Murdock to start the return flight that day. He'd already logged too many hours. He would come first thing in the morning. He and Hannibal would go see Face while waiting for BA.


*****

Face had been released that morning, shortly before Murdock landed at the small local airport. He'd been returned to the private hospital and by the time Murdock and Hannibal arrived was back in his room. Hannibal, who had yet to see him, was not prepared for the sight.

He was seated in a wheelchair, facing the door. Where Face had always been slim, he was now positively skinny. His facial bones were prominent and Hannibal could actually make out his collar bone under the tee shirt he wore. Hannibal had been told, over the past two months, that Face was being properly cared for, but seemed to be losing weight regardless. They hadn't told him how much.

Face's hands lay limply in his lap. The left seemed disproportionately large, until Hannibal realized he was comparing it to the right hand, which was now withered and twisted-looking. He remembered once again how it had been re-injured and the doctor had been unable to repair the new damage adequately. Apparently physical therapy was not included in the services at the hospital.

It was Face's eyes that riveted Hannibal, however. He had seen those eyes alive and glowing with excitement; he had seen them dull with pain and the horrors of the camp. He had never seen them as lifeless as they appeared now. Murdock and Hannibal might have been invisible, as those eyes stared through them at the door. There was not a hint of Face left in them.

Murdock watched Hannibal's reaction. While not getting used to his friend's condition, he was no longer shocked by it. He pressed his advantage.

"It's time to bring him home, Hannibal."

Hannibal said nothing but walked over to Face and knelt in front of him.

"Face? Hey, kid. Face?" Not a ripple of recognition or acknowledgment. Hannibal strode from the room, bearing directly for the administrator's office. Murdock stayed with Face, smiling.


*****

There had been no problem getting Face released to his 'father's' custody. The hospital staff was relieved that their lives would no longer be in potential danger from having a murder target in their midst. The police were a little more problematic but, once assured of where the victim would be, allowed the release.

Maggie spoke with the doctor while Murdock and Hannibal gathered Face's belongings. Some of the items were disturbing to Hannibal, who had yet to accept the full extent of Face's debilitation. He sighed, and found himself once again ashamed he had allowed things to go so far.

An attendant took Face out to the car and literally had to lift him into the back seat. Murdock was already seated in back. He could have sworn he saw a flicker of emotion on his friend's face. He might have imagined it, it was gone so quickly. Imagination or not, he held on to the hope it gave him.

Hannibal had called BA in the van, telling him they were bringing Face back to the farm. Murdock and Maggie both saw the look of relief as he relayed to them that Mama was with BA. Murdock saw it as an omen. This time things would be very, very different.

Maggie was glad Murdock was along. She didn't know if she would have been able to talk Hannibal into taking Face out of that place alone. Having another team member there when Hannibal first saw Face had done the trick. When Hannibal had said BA's mother was also coming, she could have wept with relief herself. She knew the woman had mothered them all, but had given something special to Face. Maybe this time it would end better.

The entire drive back Murdock kept talking to Face. He described the passing scenery, what his last flight had been about, and anything and everything else he could think of. Once again, when he told Face that Mama was coming with BA, he could have sworn that flicker of life flashed.

Once they reached the farm, Hannibal went into action. He'd been planning all the way back. He would move one of the beds down in to the sun room. Even though it was February, it stayed comfortably warm there even at night, and it would be easy to deal with the wheelchair from there. Hannibal had put getting Face out of that chair as the number one priority. Face was going to come back to them this time. In all ways and for good.