CHAPTER FORTY TWO

BA and his mother pulled in within an hour of the rest. Maggie had taken Face into the living room and was taking care of him there. Murdock and Hannibal were already taking apart the furniture in the bedroom to be brought down to the sun room. With BA's help they would have Face's new accommodations ready in no time. Mama had gone right in to Maggie and Face. She was stunned by what she saw.

"What have they done to you, baby?" She stared into those blank eyes and held his hands tightly. "You gotta come back, Face. You come back to Mama." She felt the lightest twitch of the his left hand and smiled. "Yeah, you'll come back to me, won't you? We'll take our time, but you'll come back."

Straightening, she turned that don't-give-me-any-trouble look on Maggie.

"These boys ain't gonna give me the full story but you know I gotta know it. I 'spect you know what got this boy here."

"I do, but I don't know if..." She couldn't say no to that look. "Let's get him settled in his room, and you and I will go for a walk."

The rest of the team were in the sun room, finishing up the transfer. It was now a very cheerful bedroom with views on three sides. Both Maggie and Mama approved. Leaving Face in their care, with a stern admonishment not to push things, the two women went for their walk.

The anger Mama had felt about the hospital compared to the anger she felt when Maggie had told her the whole story was as a breeze to a tornado.

"How could they turn their backs on him after all that? He woulda give his life for any one of them. Dear lord in heaven, he did give his life, for all that matters."

"It's not really all their fault, Mama. Many families just can't cope with everything that's involved. They can't see the illness on an x-ray, like a broken bone. They can't accept the illness making the changes they see. They think the person can just decide not to think the way they do, or is just feeling sorry for themselves. And when they fight treatment, the way Face did, it just makes it harder. The person doesn't think there's anything wrong, or they think the medications will change who they are, instead of helping them become themselves again. So all in all, it's not hard to see where families just reach the end of their rope. And especially with the guys, trying to do it all on their own.

"I admit, I was so angry at John there were times I wished he would just go away, and never come back. But he just needed some time out from all the stress. They all did. It cost Face, dearly, but I'm hopeful that this time, things are going to work out. I think they're going to make it. Your being here is going to make the difference. I don't know why, but you're just so...comforting." Maggie felt so overcome for a moment she didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

"Well, don't you worry, Maggie. I'm not leavin until all these boys are back where they oughta be. Now, what are these pills he's supposed to be takin? Was he gettin them in that place?"

"No, they didn't give him anything but sedatives." Maggie was bitter in her response. "It really wasn't anything more than a storage place for people. I can write up new prescriptions for him, but I'm not sure how you're going to give them to him. Just feeding him is going to be difficult and time-consuming. I'm considering a temporary feeding tube, quite frankly. He's lost way too much weight."

"Don't you worry about feeding him. I got nothin but time on my hands. And I'll just give him those pills like I did when my Scooter was little. Mash 'em up real good, add a good dose of sugar with a little water - they swallow that 'spoonful of sugar' like it was candy."


*****

He was watching a movie. Or something like a movie. He'd seen it before, many times. The man would be talking. Angry words. Then two more men. More angry words. And then the man was on the ground and there had been pain. A lot of pain. Funny how he could feel that just from a movie. He wasn't sure how that worked. Someone should patent that.

There'd been a lot of short confusing scenes after that. A lot of lights in his eyes. And movement. He was always moving somewhere, some time. He no longer saw any of those other men again. They'd been written out of the movie, he supposed. That was okay. They didn't want to be in it anyway. He would end up in a strange cold room. That's where the movie usually ended. He wasn't sure if the movie was supposed to end like that or if he just went away about then. Odd.

Once in a while there was another movie. There had been more people around. Rough people. They had taken him someplace and there had been a really bad smell. It was hard to breathe. Really hard. He'd gotten dizzy and sick to his stomach. He had tried to go away but the breathing made it too hard to concentrate. Then more people again. Lots of jostling around and something was put over his face. He'd tried to take it off but they wouldn't let him. That was okay though. He could breathe again and found his back door. He'd gone away again, finally. He thought that was the way that movie was supposed to end. He thought both movies really ought to end that way.

He was almost finished. He could tell. Even when he came back now, it was never all the way; it was all fuzzy and the voices were muffled. Except when the movies played, it was easy to block things out and go back. The movies made it harder. Otherwise...

Recently - it was hard to gauge time so really everything was 'recently', he supposed - there'd been more jolts to his peace. He hadn't been in that room any more. Instead he was in a smaller place, and it moved. He could feel it. And then there was that voice. A constant voice, muffled but always there. It seemed familiar somehow. That voice had always made it hard to go away.

"...and Mama's coming..."

What was that? Mama? Mrs. B.? Was that what the voice said? No, it couldn't have been. Mama was in a whole different place, a different world. Not in his movies. Not in his place.

When was it now? There was a different voice again. Someone held his hands. That voice. He hadn't heard that in a long time. Could it really be?

"...You come back to Mama..."

It was true. She was here. She was really here...


*****

Mama found that getting someone to eat when they didn't really know they even existed took a lot of coaxing and a lot more patience. She and Face had an audience for a while. It was almost as if his teammates wanted to assuage the collective guilt felt by dancing attendance on his every activity. The anticipation of something important, or at least significant, happening soon gave way to impatience and disappointment. For each mouthful consumed, Mama had had to call his name several times, sometimes stroking his jaw, sometimes holding the spoon against his lips to get any response.

"That's gonna take all day," BA groused. "You gonna do that for every meal?"

"Yes, I am. Every time he takes a bite, that's a little bit of him that has to come out of hidin. It's worth it."

Eventually BA and Hannibal had drifted away. They knew Mama was right; that didn't make it any less boring to watch. Murdock stayed, more fascinated by Mama's technique than anything else. Finally he asked to give it a try, after it seemed that Face was responding a little more quickly to Mama's efforts.

The immediate result was unexpected. No sooner had Murdock said his name for the first time than Face went rigid. Murdock kept still and slowly Face relaxed. It wasn't exactly the reaction he had hoped for, but it was, at least, a reaction.

"Try again," Mama whispered.

"Face, try this." Murdock almost crooned in an attempt to reassure. Again, Face tensed.

Mama took over again. The relaxation was obvious, and Mama was able to get another spoonful down.

Murdock remained but made no further attempts, preferring to let Mama succeed where he had failed. He tried to figure out why there would be such a reaction to his voice. He had visited Face at least once a week over the past months and had never gotten any reaction at all. Maybe Mama was right. Face had to come back a little each time - and maybe had stayed a bit longer each time. So suddenly hearing Murdock when he expected Mama might have been too much of a jolt.

Eventually Mama decided Face had had enough. He was slowing down in his reactions again. She had a few hours before they would start on the supper marathon. It was a beautiful day out and she decided that they could all three use some fresh air and sunshine.

Murdock found a quiet spot where they could maneuver the wheelchair and where Mama could sit in the folding chair Murdock had brought along. He himself settled on the ground facing Face and Mama. For a long time they just sat and basked in the sun.

Eventually, Mama moved closer to Face. She took his hand and started talking.

"Face, I want you to come back to me, okay? It don't have to be for long. Just come back for a little bit, let me know you okay. That's all I ask of you, baby. Just let me know that you okay. Can you do that for Mama?"

Murdock held his breath. He knew, he just knew, that Face was not totally lost to them. Now if Mama could just get through to him somehow.


*****

Face was listening. He could hear Mama. He wanted to respond to her but he didn't want to come out. Not now. Not ever. There were things out there he didn't want to deal with any more. He was tired. Tired to death. He loved Mama, he really did. But she couldn't change things for him. She couldn't make it go away. And if he came back for her, he knew the others would want him to come back for them, too. Especially that one. That one was dangerous to him. That one knew what was going on, knew how to make Face think about it, talk about it, remember it.

She just wanted to know he was okay. He was okay. He was fine. Everything was gone now, he didn't see those things any more, he didn't feel them any more. Didn't she understand that? Didn't any of them? Maybe if he could make them understand that, they would all leave him alone. It would mean coming back. But not for long. Like she said. Just for a bit. Just long enough to let them know. Make them understand.

He steeled himself. It had been so long. What if he couldn't get back? That stopped him. What if he came out for Mama and she wouldn't let him go back? Or that one. He always made it so hard. But Mama had asked him...

He was looking at her. Square in the face. Right in the eyes. Everything was clear and sharp and he could hear the wind and the birds and her voice and there was no fog, no muffling. He had come back without even trying to. Without wanting to. She had made him come back.

No, no, no...

They both saw it. They saw his eyes focus on her. They saw the fear in his eyes. Murdock knew. He knew Face hadn't intended to come back. He knew they might only have a few moments.

"Hey, baby." Mama was talking softly. "Thank you for this. I know you're scared. There's no need to be. Not any more. No one hates you. No one blames you. Just the opposite, hon. I thank you. You saved my Scooter's life. And you gave up so much to do that. But you don't have to give up anythin more. No more. Okay? You can come home now, baby. Let Mama and Murdock and Hannibal and Scooter help you. Okay? You come on home to us."

Face kept looking at her. He wanted to believe her. He wanted to come back. But he couldn't. Already the images were crowding into his head. He couldn't come back without those images coming back, too. The memories. The feelings. He couldn't get rid of them. He couldn't live with them.

They watched sadly as Face slowly disappeared once again.