CHAPTER FIFTY ONE

It felt strange to him. Sitting out here in the meadow, taking in everything in sight. It was like he'd been reborn. Almost. The images still came. Too often. And it was hard, sometimes, not to drift away. Especially when Father Magill was around. He still had to deal with...things. But they were letting him set the pace. Mostly.

Murdock leaned over, looking him in the eye. It's okay, I'm still here. Just day dreaming. He gave the pilot a reassuring smile. It felt strange, smiling. Showing any emotion felt strange. Hell, being alive felt strange. He hadn't felt anything for months. Like he'd been asleep. Asleep and having a nightmare.

Damn. They were coming again. He closed his eyes, shook his head. They kept coming. He felt himself trembling, fear coming over him in a huge landslide of blood and brain and...he felt Murdock's hands on his shoulders. Okay. Concentrate on that. Think about Murdock. His friend. Beat them back. All the way...

Okay. They were gone. He was still here. He hadn't slipped away. Okay. Relax. Nobody said it would be easy. One thing at a time. Maybe once he actually talked with Father Magill. Confession. He needed that. He'd been putting it off. He was afraid of it, frankly. Not of confession. Of talking about those things. He wasn't sure he was ready for it. He knew he wasn't. He didn't know if he ever would be.


*****

Hannibal was watching from the kitchen window. Murdock was Face's constant companion, and it worried him a bit. He could understand Murdock's concerns - they were all afraid Face would fall back again. But it was almost obsessive with the pilot. He hadn't gotten over last week. He still thought they had all given up on Face. Which they hadn't. Not really. But Father Magill wanted to make sure Face was 'taken care of', as he put it. Hannibal, though not considering himself religious, didn't think he had the right to deny Face that. Hedging bets, if nothing else. Eventually Murdock would understand that. In the meantime, Hannibal was keeping an eye on both of them.

Face still didn't talk much at all and it was obvious that he was having flashbacks. Physically he had a long way to go. They'd come so close to losing him...Maggie was worried about the long term effects of that. But he was eating and trying to do more things for himself. Not very successfully; he was still too weak. But more and more, the old Face was starting to peek through. No one had any illusions about a miraculous recovery. Except maybe the priest.

They had gone back to Plan B - Murdock's idea of just giving Face the pleasant things in life for a while. Which was okay with Hannibal. The kid needed it. He knew he'd have to deal with all those other things eventually, especially with Father Magill. But for now, it was time to just enjoy the here and now. For all of them.


*****

Face heard Mama calling them for lunch. He didn't want to go inside. It was too beautiful out here. But Murdock was already releasing the brakes on the wheelchair, getting ready to go in. It was kind of a rough path back to the house, but they'd come this way so often it was getting smoother all the time. As they got closer to the house, Face started tensing up. Meals were embarrassing for him. He no longer let Mama feed him but he wasn't exactly neat about doing it himself. Not only was he still trying to learn how to use the left hand; it also shook badly. Everyone pretended to ignore the mess. He couldn't. Today, for some reason, it was worse than usual. More food ended up on the table and floor than in his mouth. Finally he gave up, pretending he'd had enough. He didn't want to cause a scene.

He still felt nervous around the guys. They had told him over and over again, long ago, that they didn't blame him for what he'd done. He didn't quite believe them. Not yet. He tried to keep his paranoia in check, though. He couldn't get well giving in to that stuff. And he wanted to get well now. He didn't want to go back inside himself. He wasn't sure what he did want to do but he didn't want to go there again. He wasn't sure what his future held. He didn't know if he would be on the team, or 'retired'. Where would he go if that happened? What would he do? It gave him a headache thinking of the future, so he didn't. He just took each day as it came. Days like today, that was more than enough.


*****

Later in the afternoon, Father Magill arrived for his daily visit. He heard him greeting Mama warmly, their voices getting closer to his room. He could feel his body tensing. He had flashes of the images but they weren't coming on full force. Yet. He could be around the rest of them and not feel this way. Father Magill was different. It wasn't that the priest was more important to him. That his opinion of Face more vital. But Father Magill represented one thing and one thing only. And he was trying to protect himself from that.

"Hello, Templeton. How are you doing today?"

He didn't really expect an answer. Sometimes Face could get the words out just fine; sometimes not. He didn't know why that happened, either. Some days his brain worked with his body, some days it didn't. Today it wasn't. He nodded. That would have to do for a greeting.

"It's a beautiful day out. Shall we go to the meadow, or maybe a walk around the grounds?"

Trying to get a spoken response. He could be sneaky that way. Face smiled. He had learned a lot of his conning ways from this stately gentleman. They couldn't fool each other for one minute.

"Okay, okay, Templeton, I give up. Let's take the walk."

They 'walked' out to the barn first. BA was repairing it for Hannibal. The colonel had been talking about buying the place; he liked being close to Maggie and yet having enough room for the whole team to get together comfortably. Face didn't know that Hannibal had his lieutenant in mind as a long-term housemate. BA had just started working on it, and had the van parked close by with his tools inside. He saw the pair come up and stepped over to talk. Which was unusual for BA. But Face had noticed he made a special effort to talk with Father Magill. Whether it was for Face or because he genuinely liked the man, he didn't know.

BA was talking about what he'd been doing with the barn, lots of carpenter lingo that Face had no understanding of whatever. He doubted Father Magill knew any better, but the priest nodded his head wisely and seemed to know exactly what questions to ask. As he talked, BA was looking for something in the van and kept pulling this and that out, setting the various tools on the ground. A couple things, apparently more delicate instruments, he laid in Face's lap. He did that a lot, just handing Face things to hang on to, just like he would have months ago. Made Face feel almost normal.

"What's that doin in here? I thought I cleared them all out," BA was mumbling to himself. Without thinking, he turned and laid the 9mm casually in Face's lap.

There you go, bud.

BA. Take it away.

C'mon, bud. Pick it up. Just once. Just feel it.

No. BA...

BA ain't gonna help you, bud. He wants you to take it.

No.

Sure he does. Why d'ya think he gave it to you? Pick it up.

No.

Yeah. Take it, bud. Finger on the trigger. Remember how that feels? Huh?

Face took a deep breath, closed his eyes. He shoved it with all his strength. The gun went flying to the ground.

"What the...?" BA whipped around as the gun landed at his side. He stared at it, stared at Face, who was white and trembling. "Aw, man, I'm sorry, Face, I..."

They were back. They were all over. He couldn't see BA, he couldn't see Father Magill, all he could see were bloody explosions, men running after him, bullets in slow motion blurring past his head...

"Face! C'mon, man, don't go there! Face!"

"Templeton! Stay with us! Please!"

Fight it. Fight it. Don't go back there. Push them away. Don't go...

Worthless, bud. Worthless. Go on back. You're no good in the real world. You're no good in the team's world. Go on back, where you belong.

No. I won't go there.

He pushed harder. Find BA. Find him. See him. Okay. Now Father. Look for him. Find him. There. Blood running off them, but they were there. Okay. Clear. Okay.

He was back. He was safe. Safe...


*****

"We almost lost him, Hannibal, and it's my fault. I didn't even think about it..."

"BA, just calm down. We didn't lose him. He fought it. Okay? He fought it. He stayed with us. That's good. We know he wants to get better now. We know he can fight it."

Father Magill and BA had taken Face back to the house, talking to him constantly, helping him fight to stay 'out'. This was the worst any of them had seen since he'd almost died. They'd watched him lose focus, watched as he almost lost it completely. Worst of all, they'd seen the pleading in his eyes as he struggled to stay with them. Begging for their help. Neither of them had known what to do, other than talk to him. They weren't even sure he was hearing them. Even after they knew it was over, there was a fear in Face's eyes. Something else had happened, something that frightened him still. But he wouldn't, or couldn't, tell them what it was.

Murdock was livid. He had made it a point to leave Face alone with Father Magill and this is what happened. Not that it was the priest's fault, exactly. It was BA, putting that gun in Face's lap. What the hell was he thinking?! He didn't care that BA felt terrible. He didn't care that Hannibal wanted him to calm down and be quiet. He was soooo angry at all of them!

"Murdock, enough! You're not helping Face this way. He needs quiet now, okay?" Hannibal was having a really hard time controlling his own anger at the pilot. Damn, he had to get this crew under control or they'd be right back where they had been after Stockwell's. "Look, Murdock, BA didn't do anything wrong here. He was doing what we've all been trying to do, treat Face 'normally'. It didn't work out the best but we learned a few things. So now it's over. Understood? Over."

Murdock was going to reply but Mama stepped into the fray.

"We're all upset about it, Murdock. But staying upset is not going to change anything. Hannibal's right. Face needs quiet right now. A chance to settle down. So we're all going to do just that." She gave him one of those looks - 'if Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy'. And right now, she wasn't happy.

"Now, you all be quiet in here. I got things to do and I can't be runnin out here to referee all the time." With that command, she stalked out.

An uncomfortable silence ensued, Murdock glaring at BA, who was staring at the floor. Hannibal glared at Murdock, warning him silently that he was at the end of his rope.

Mama stepped into the sun room, where Father Magill was sitting next to Face, holding his hands, still talking softly. No, not talking. He was praying. Mama stopped respectfully. Didn't matter what the trappins, you didn't interrupt anybody's prayers.

A few moments later he straightened, making the sign of the cross. Face made a movement as if he were trying to do the same. That was a good sign. He must have been listening, at least. The Father noticed Mama standing in the doorway and smiled at her. He murmured something to Face, who nodded, and he moved to the door.

"I think he's calmed down now, but he's worn out. I'll be taking my leave. I told him I'd come back in the morning."

"Okay, Father. Thank you. I'll take it from here." They smiled at each other. Their initial wariness of each other had disappeared. They both knew what was important.

After Father Magill had gone, Mama got Face onto the bed, and, getting a warm washcloth, proceeded to wipe his face, making it more a massage than a washing. Slowly his eyes closed, and within a few minutes he was asleep. She stayed a little while longer, saying a few prayers of her own.