CHAPTER FIFTY EIGHT

Face watched Mama carefully. The last couple of days he'd sensed something different about her. She didn't talk as much. Didn't stay with him as much, either. Left that to Murdock. He wasn't sure why. Had something happened while he was so sick? He didn't remember much after being dumped in the woods that night. Not until yesterday, when he'd finally started waking up. He'd tried asking her about it, but she'd put him off, saying she was just feeling a little homesick. Face didn't really believe her. He just knew that Mama didn't seem to be the same.

Father Magill was quieter when he came to see him, too. But Face knew why that was. Maybe it had been a mistake, having him hear his confession. He had said things that he knew Father Magill would have a very hard time hearing. He knew the priest still cared about him; it was just different now. Face had accepted that. The priest was going back to LA later that day. His superiors felt he'd been gone

long enough. That's what he told Face. But he didn't look him right in the eye when he said it. He didn't look at him much at all any more.

Face looked out the window, toward the meadow. He'd like to go out there again, but Maggie wouldn't let him out of bed yet. Another day, she said. He had stared at her, horrified, when she came over yesterday; he couldn't help it. She had a dark bruise that covered almost one whole side of her face. He asked her what had happened, but she just said she tripped and fell. He was surprised when Hannibal said the same thing. Face knew damn well what a bruise from a punch looked like, but he couldn't exactly call them liars. He wondered why Hannibal wouldn't tell him what really happened. He'd like to get his hands on whoever did it. He hoped Carla hadn't had anything to do with it. Maybe that's why Hannibal wouldn't tell him.

He sighed. Murdock looked over at him, smiled. "Get'cha anything, Face?"

"No, thanks, Murdock."

Something had to have happened while he was out of it. He was sure of it. Everyone was acting different. BA didn't come in to see him much at all. Except when Mama was there. Then he seemed to appear out of nowhere. Scowling even more than usual. And Murdock - he was just always there. Always. Even when Father Magill had come to say good-bye. He didn't like to be around the priest for some reason, but he'd stayed in the room right until Father had actually started his good-bye, and only then had he stepped out. Something wasn't right. And it made Face nervous.

He looked at Murdock. With the exception of Bancroft, Murdock had never been able to hide anything from Face for long. Not if Face really wanted to know. And he really wanted to know now. All he had to do was ask, and he'd know immediately if Murdock was hiding something.

"Murdock?"

"Yeah, Face?"

"What happened while I was sick?"

He knew it. Murdock went just a shade pink, and blinked, before he answered. "Nothing, Face. Same old same old."

"Murdock..."

"No, swear it, Face. Nothing happened. Really. But hey, Mama baked a bunch of cookies this morning. I'll go get us some, okay? Be right back." He scooted out the door before Face could say any more.

Something had happened. Something had definitely happened.


*****

BA had known there was something more to that night than either Maggie or his mama was telling. He knew Mama too well, and something was definitely bothering her. The next morning, he'd cornered her

alone in the kitchen.

"What's goin on, Mama? What else happened last night?"

"I don't know what you're talkin about, Scooter. There's nothin more to tell. He was out of his head with that fever and things jus got outta hand, that's all."

"What things, Mama? I know it's somethin more'n you and Maggie are sayin. Tell me."

Mama had sighed deeply. She could no more keep secrets from her son than miss church on Sunday.

"You can't tell the others, Scooter. I mean that. And you can't get mad at that boy, either. It wouldn't do no good and would just cause a lot of problems. And Maggie don't want them to know."

BA didn't like the sound of that one bit. But if this was the only way to get the truth, he'd agree.

"Jus remember, Face didn't know what he was doin. He never woulda done it if not for that fever." BA was getting impatient and didn't bother to hide it. "It's jus, well, he said some things to Maggie that weren't, well, they weren't very nice. They were...dirty."

"What?!"

"Now, Scooter, remember you promised."

BA brought his anger under control with only a great deal of effort. "Okay, Mama. Why did he hit Maggie? For real."

"Face hit her after she...he...he grabbed her. And she fought back. And that's when he hit her. I jus never thought that boy had it in him."

Face didn't. Face would never have done anything like that. But then again, over the last year Face had done a lot of things BA thought he'd never do. He was beginning to wonder whether he knew Face at all any more. Began to wonder just how far they could trust him.

"What d'you want to do, Mama?"

"BA, I think I jus wanna go on home. I hate to leave him, I truly do, but I jus can't be around him any more. The things he said to Maggie, they were just filth. I don't think I can take care of him any more. I just keep hearin that..." Mama was crying again.

"Okay, Mama, it's okay. We'll stay until he's over this infection thing and then we'll go home. Both of us."

"Oh, Scooter, I can't ask you to leave. And I don't want you to, jus cause of this."

"No, Mama, I need to go home for a while. And besides, Carla might cause problems for you." That was true enough, and it gave a plausible reason for Hannibal. BA had promised he wouldn't say anything and he meant it.


*****

Things seemed to be falling apart and Hannibal wasn't sure why. It had started the night Face hit Maggie. There was something not right about that. He'd gone along with her in not telling Face; it would

only have made him feel terrible and it wasn't his fault, really. But there was something else to it. Frustratingly, neither Maggie nor Mama were talking.

Then, after Face was feeling better, Mama said she needed to go back home. That wasn't really a problem. He would be eternally grateful she'd come out and taken care of Face the way she had. It was just so sudden. He knew that it, too, had something to do with that night. And it wasn't just the violence.

BA said he thought he should go back with her, just for a while. Make sure there were no problems from Carla. That had bothered Hannibal. He had known that eventually BA would go back, and they would just call him like they had when Face had been in the hospital. No, what bothered him was that he had come to Hannibal and just announced his plans without even discussing it with him.

Of course, he'd known that Father Magill would be leaving any time. He'd stayed a lot longer than Hannibal had expected. They had been lucky his superiors had been so understanding. What he didn't like was the priest finding out about Face and Maggie. He could tell by the pained look in the priest's eyes that it was almost, if not definitely, the straw that broke the camel's back. The immediate warmth that Father Magill had always shown when it came to Face had diminished, and it made Hannibal sad for both of them.

He told Maggie a different reason for his mood. "I guess it's just everybody leaving at the same time. Going from a house full of people to three of us."

"Well, I'll still be coming by. You won't get rid of me that easily, John Smith, so don't even try." She tried to kid him into a better mood, but she could see he was upset. He'd gotten used to having the team all under his wing again, as well as the others. She also knew the shrinking of his in-house family wasn't the only reason he was down.

"Don't worry. It's just change, not catastrophe." She hoped.


*****

Murdock and Face were back in the meadow, soaking up the sun. Face was getting stronger every day. He was, with a lot of help from either Murdock or Hannibal, getting up out of the wheelchair and trying to walk around a bit. He missed BA. He'd told Face they were going to do some exercises of some kind, but then he and Mama had suddenly gone back to Chicago.

It had been difficult for Face, losing them both, at practically the same time Father Magill had left. BA hadn't even said when he'd be back. Their good-byes to him had seemed almost cold. Face knew there

was something wrong; Mama wasn't just homesick and BA wasn't going back just for a little while, as he said. There had been something wrong and it had to do with him. He just knew it. The old feelings of abandonment had hit hard, and Murdock and Hannibal had had their hands full for a few days. Finally BA had called and talked to Face, assuring him he was just worried about Mama, and that he would be

coming back, he just wasn't sure exactly when. Of course, no one told Face that BA had only called after Murdock had asked him to. And BA wouldn't tell Murdock why he was so reluctant to talk to Face at all.

Face was still having the flashbacks. Murdock had thought those would go away eventually, but they seemed to be coming on stronger and stronger. He could see immediately when Face was having one. His eyes would get wide, and he'd get pale, and start trembling. Before, they would be able to help him get through them, just by letting him know they were there. It was getting harder and harder to do that now. He seemed to get caught in them. He wouldn't tell either Hannibal or Murdock about them, and would get agitated if they pushed him to. All they could do was be there while he went through his moments of hell.

Hannibal had talked to Murdock about Face and the team. It hurt, but Murdock knew Hannibal was right when he said Face wouldn't be able to go on any missions with them again. Despite his trying, his

strength wasn't returning very quickly, and no one thought he would ever be completely himself in that department. He had big problems dealing with confrontations of any kind, which showed little sign of

abating. Murdock didn't think Face would be able to pick up a gun again; Hannibal was afraid of what might happen if he did.

No one had mentioned any of this to Face. He'd been doing well for the last couple of weeks, other than the flashbacks, and they hadn't wanted to mess it up. Maggie happily reported that he was gaining weight, slowly but still, it was something. Face would spend time "working out" as he wryly put it, walking as far with one of his two 'helpers' as he could before wearing out. He was more and more eager to engage in conversation. He even spoke on occasion of when he would be able to get back with the team on jobs, but both Hannibal and Murdock became adept on changing the subject without suspicion. He'd asked about Carla a couple of times, but Hannibal had told him that was all taken care of and he seemed to accept it. Their days were spent just enjoying the farm and all it had to offer. Murdock would work with Face, helping him get used to being left-handed and doing as many things as possible with one hand. Hannibal was teaching him to cook, something Face had never had a lot of talent for. So Hannibal considered it a challenge, and Face was glad to have something to do. A couple of times they all went fishing, and a trip to Maggie's for checkups became an all around outing, a chance to travel the countryside and see what was happening. It was a very peaceful interlude which none of them really wanted to see end.