CHAPTER FORTY THREE

The days slowly melded into weeks. Mama stayed, taking care of her charge, feeding him, dressing him, talking to him, taking him for trips around the grounds. She talked about what it meant to her to have her son safe, thanks to Face. She talked about what it was like to have make hard choices, having to sacrifice to keep the ones they loved safe, how she knew what that was about, every parent did. She talked about what it must have been like for him, over there, all alone, doing things he knew were wrong but that had to be done anyway, for his family. And talking about his coming back, needing him to come back, wanting him to come back. Asking him to make yet another sacrifice for his family. That she knew it was a sacrifice, how hard it would be for him, but that he needed to do this one last thing for them.

And he would come back, on occasion. Usually for just a minute or two. Once or twice, he'd stayed a lot longer. It was almost always for Mama. Sometimes for BA. Once or twice for Hannibal. But he always retreated. Always pain or fear would fill his features and he would go away again. He would never come back for Murdock. Never for his best friend.

Face knew Murdock didn't understand why. He knew it hurt him. But ironically, there was a strong sense of self preservation in Face. He would come out for the others, because they couldn't hurt him, couldn't keep him. Mama could keep him there longer than the others, but she wasn't strong enough to hold him for long. She didn't understand enough. Murdock did. Murdock knew why he went away and that made him dangerous. If he let Murdock bring him out, he was doomed. Murdock would make him embrace all the pain and the fear and the loathing and fight it. Try to fight it. Face knew he didn't have the strength for that. He knew it was useless to try.

He almost came back for Murdock once. Murdock's voice had come floating through the fog, and the words got clearer and clearer, the same words Mama used. And Face had almost believed that Murdock could help him. He had, almost. But at the moment he had decided to come back, he had seen Aadil's head explode. Close up. Blood and brain flying all over him. Cinemascope. Glorious Technicolor. He'd seen it, he'd smelled it, he'd felt it. And he knew once again that that's what Murdock promised him.

He knew Mama was feeding him those pills, too. The sweet sweet spoonfuls of poison into his system. But he couldn't refuse it. Somewhere within his twisted logic he still knew she was only trying to help him by giving him those things. She didn't know any better. When those pills started to work, it would be almost as bad as Murdock. Almost. The difference, he somehow knew, would be that those pills would not only bring back those things from which he hid. They would give him another way out. He didn't know how he knew that. Maybe from watching Murdock for all those years. He really had listened to the doctors when they talked about this medication or that that Murdock was taking. So he knew what would start happening. Probably soon. She'd been giving him that stuff for some time now. So the poison had slowly been building up. Eventually it would overwhelm him. It was already starting. That was one reason he'd been coming out so often. It was weakening him already. So be it. He wasn't so far out of things that he couldn't plan for the inevitable.


*****

There had been nothing further from Carla. That in itself made Hannibal more wary. She couldn't let Stockwell's death go unavenged. The ideal situation with the farm had turned against him in that respect. There was too much area to cover with only three men. Anyone wanting to take them on would be almost on top of them before they would know. That cut their reaction time down to nearly nothing. Having Mama there, and Maggie a frequent and known visitor, added to his unease. In an attempt to cover their asses, he set BA to researching, acquiring, and setting up an electronic security system for the largest perimeter possible.

Hannibal had a lot of worries these days. Worries about things he felt lost about. In a way, the threat from Langley was just what he needed. The challenge of the known unknown. He knew Stockwell's methods. He hadn't known Carla's. He hadn't, in fact, known that he would be dealing with Carla. Hadn't known until the elephant showed up. She was the only one who would have known the significance of that. So now he had to try and figure out how a woman, evidently as ruthless as Stockwell, would act and react. He already had some clues.

She had, for instance, an ironic sense of humor that Hannibal could appreciate. She was playing with them. That anonymous call to security at the hospital had to have come from her, or her people. She didn't want Face dead - at least, not yet. Maybe never. He had, after all, spared her life. But Stockwell was dead. Did she feel the need to teach them a lesson for the shoulder, or seek higher revenge for Stockwell? Or did she see Stockwell's death as more fortuitous than tragedy? Did she know who had taken Stockwell? Or did she blame Face? Whether she was working from a sense of business preservation - show the people she would be dealing with that she was no light weight - or from a sense of personal revenge, he didn't know yet. And that would weigh into the equation. Someone working from a purely practical point of view would be much easier to predict. Someone out for revenge could do almost anything.

So Hannibal was now fighting his own two front war. The one with Carla, the outside. The one for Face, the inside. The one he knew how to handle. The other...the other he just played by ear.


*****

While Mama was generally happy with the way things were going, she knew Murdock was hurting. So one day she left BA in charge of Face while she took Murdock aside for a chat.

They walked around the meadow, not getting too far out into the open. Hannibal had warned them all about making themselves targets. It hadn't been lost on Murdock, but he was a little worried about Mama understanding what that meant. So he made sure he was the one leading the walk. It didn't take her long to get to the point.

"You don't like it that Face don't react to you like he does everyone else, do you?"

Murdock shook his head. "It's not a matter of liking it or not. I just don't understand it. We used to be best friends. You'd think, if he was going to trust anyone right now, it'd be me."

"You know him pretty well, don't you? Better'n any of the others."

"I used to think so."

"I think it's still true. I think that's why he's scared of you."

"Scared of me? Why? He should know that I only want to help him. Not to put down the other guys, but he should come to me before anyone. That's what best friends do."

"Oh, he knows you want to help. And he knows that you know him better'n than anyone. That's what scares him. If he lets you in, you'll make him do the very things he's runnin away from. And he don't want to do that. He don't think he can. Because he knows that you, and maybe only you, will make him, that makes him afraid of you."

Murdock stood still for a few moments, deep in thought. He knew she was right. The doctor he had feared the most was the one that made him work the hardest, deal with the tough stuff. Dr.. Richter. But it was Dr. Richter who had helped him, too. The only one who could.

"So what do I do? I can't help him if he won't let me in."

"Well, maybe we just need to put him in a position where he don't have as much choice about it. You need to start spendin more time with him and me. When he opens up to me, you step in. We can't push him too hard like that, but we can make a start. One o' these days, he'll slip and there you'll be. Then it's just gonna be a matter of lettin him know that, even though you're gonna work him, he's gonna set the pace of that work. So he don't get scared off completely."

Murdock smiled at her.

"You're one smart lady, y'know that, Mama?"

Mama just chuckled as they headed back to the house.


*****

Face, Mama and Murdock were sitting in the sun room. Mama was trying to get him to hold the spoon for himself. It might be way too early for something that 'active', but it never hurt to try. She would place the spoon in his fingers, and fold the fingers around it. And there it would sit. She didn't give up though. She would hold the spoon in his hand and feed him that way. Eventually he'd get the idea.

She continued to talk to him, of course. And every time he'd come back for her, Murdock would step in. And Face would retreat. It got frustrating for all of them, but none were willing to give up. Face wanted to connect with Mama. If he had to fight off Murdock to do it, so be it.

That particular day Face was feeling stronger. Maybe it was those pills, maybe not. He never knew what was him and what wasn't. Didn't matter. He came out and there was Murdock. But this time Murdock didn't say anything about overseas, or the team, or how Face was feeling. Instead, he started pointing out what a beautiful day it was, how the sun was shining so bright, had he noticed how warm it felt?

And Face decided this was safe. This he could stay with. Yes, it was beautiful outside. And the warmth felt good. He was always cold but today the sun came in through the windows and beat down on his legs and felt good. It made him feel good. And if he concentrated on that, the images didn't come. At least not as strong. He could beat them back. That surprised him. He looked closer at Murdock. Yeah, that was all right. Murdock had brought him the sun. The warmth. No memories. No thinking about things. Instead he'd brought Face a weapon against the images.

He smiled. And that felt good, too.


*****

Murdock knew that what he was doing wasn't working. He'd try to talk to Face like Mama did, tried to let him know that everything was okay, that Murdock knew how things had been, that he didn't blame Face. But it didn't work. Face wouldn't accept him. It was too threatening. So Murdock decided it was time to change tactics. Let the others do the nasty stuff for now. The pilot had to get Face to trust him, to feel comfortable with him. So Murdock couldn't bring in any threats, any possible harm. He had to bring Face good things. Safe things. Pretty things.

So when Face came back that day, he jumped in, just like he had been. But he started talking about the weather, how beautiful it was, the warmth of the day. It had surprised Mama, that's for sure. But it kept Face with him. It surprised and scared him that suddenly Face was actually focusing on him. He saw it. Face looked right at him. Still not totally in reality, but staying with him. And then the miracle happened.

Face smiled at him.

Not a big smile. Really just a ghost of one. But a smile. The first positive emotion Face had shown anyone. Usually he was like an uninterested observer, until whatever it was he was hiding from started working on him. And then the fear would show in his face and he'd be gone again. But now he was smiling. At Murdock. So Murdock smiled back, and kept talking about the safe things. The pretty things. And Face stayed. For a long time. For as long as Murdock talked. And finally, apparently worn out, he fell asleep. He didn't go away. He just fell peacefully asleep.

Mama and Murdock beamed at each other. Then Mama hurried to tell the others about their little miracle.


*****

Hannibal and BA were ecstatic. This was the first really positive thing that had happened to any of them in months. Leave it to Murdock to figure out how to handle Face, Hannibal thought.

It was to be a day of extremes. First they got the 'miracle' smile. Then they got Carla.

Murdock was helping Mama get Face onto the bed so he could sleep more comfortably. His bed was in one corner, with windows on one side and at the foot, the main house wall behind him, and the expanse of the remainder of the sun room on the fourth side. They had no sooner gotten him settled and stepped away than the window beside the bed exploded into millions of pieces. Mama screamed and dropped to the floor, heart pounding. Murdock threw himself on top of her, frantically asking her if she were hurt. There was a deafening silence then, followed by the sound of a car screeching away. Seconds later Hannibal and BA came pounding in. As BA crouched over his mother and Murdock, Hannibal, gun in hand, checked out the window before leaning over Face. In a move no one expected, Face grabbed the gun away from a startled Hannibal and pointed it directly into Hannibal's face.

"Hey, hey, kid, take it easy!" Hannibal spoke urgently but softly. He slowly straightened up, backing away from the gun. Face was bleeding profusely from glass cuts on his face and arms, and the skin beneath the blood was ghostly pale. Face was holding the gun in his left hand, and it was shaking almost uncontrollably. Hannibal was quite sure Face had no idea who he was pointing the weapon at, and could only hope that he wouldn't accidentally pull that trigger.

BA had started to get up but Hannibal literally shoved him back down with his foot.

"Stay down before someone gets their head blown off!" 'Like me,' he thought grimly.

"Face, settle down - the shooting's over. They're gone, okay? It's safe now. You can put the gun down. Just lay it down, kid. No one's gonna shoot any one now, okay?"

Face held the gun up for a few more seconds, then let his hand fall heavily to the bed. Hannibal cautiously reached over and took the gun from the limp fingers. Face was still shaking, and started trying to wipe the blood from his eyes and face.

"Hold still, Face. You've got glass in those cuts." Looking down at BA, who was once again starting to get up, he anxiously asked, "Everyone okay there?"

"Yeah, we're good, Hannibal. Some little cuts on both of 'em. But I get ma hands on Carla..." BA was livid that any one had dared take a shot at his mama.

"We'll get her, BA. When it's time." Taking another glance at Face, he hurried out to the telephone for Maggie. He was worried about how deep some of the cuts were. In the back of his mind was another worry - the fact that Face, despite his weakened condition, had been able to grab and handle the pistol with his left hand. He hadn't known Face to be a lefty with a weapon before this...

Maggie was over within a few minutes. Mama had, after seeing the blood all over Face, ignored her own injuries and was gently trying to persuade him not to rub at his face or arms. Luckily, the rest of his body had been protected by a thick coverlet. That entire end of the sun room was covered in glass shards. Murdock and BA had carefully drawn the covers away from Face, and BA took him into the living room, laying him gently on one of the couches.

It took Maggie quite some time to get him cleaned up and checked over. Luckily the window had shattered, so while there were many small pieces none had been big enough to cause major injury. But Face was in a great deal of pain and confused and scared as well, and Maggie had a lot of glass to find and pull out. She had to practically bathe his face and arms in antiseptic. Hannibal and BA had to hold him still while Maggie worked on him. Mama tried to soothe him also, but was still so shaken herself Maggie insisted she go lay down on the other couch. Murdock took her place with Face. Finally the ordeal was over, and Face was given a mild pain killer to help him sleep. Maggie then tended to Mama and Murdock.

Hannibal now had opportunity to let his anger go. He paced the floor, a stream of smoke coming from his cigar. This had been too close. BA's mother could have been seriously injured, and Face...well, who knew what affect this could have on him. Damn! Just when he had started making some real progress. Something had to be done about Carla, but he was at a loss as to where to begin. He could hardly divide up the team at this point, and he couldn't leave Face and Mama alone while the rest hunted her down. Damn Carla!

"Oh, Hannibal, I found this at the front gate. I'm not sure what it means, but it was addressed to you."

Hannibal knew what it was without looking. The little model airplane...