"Morning, Face. How you feeling today?"
"Uh-kay." It was hard talking through the wires holding his jaw in place. Two more weeks. That's what Maggie had said yesterday. Two more weeks and the wires would come off. It had been a long six weeks. Two more to go. Thank God.
He was still on pain killers. Lots of them. His left arm was in a cast from the knuckles to just past the elbow. The broken ribs were mainly healed up. His insides - he figured that was pretty much healed up, too, although they kept taking his temperature three to four times a day, still worrying about infection. Now if his head would only clear up. He had a really, really hard time getting words out right. Not just from the wires. He would know what the words were in his head, but they didn't seem to come out of his mouth that way. And he had a hard time remembering things. Maggie said that both would eventually get better, but it would take time.
Hannibal had wanted to press charges against the railroad cops that did it, or find them and teach them a good lesson, but Face couldn't remember what they looked like. He didn't want the team to do anything, anyway. Didn't matter now. The damage was done. Revenge wasn't in him any more. He was sick of that crap.
Murdock moved away from the bed. God, it felt like he'd spent the last year in that bed. Didn't matter. Not any more. He was back at the farm, Murdock and Hannibal hovering over him. Again. Suffocating him. He thought back about the weeks on the road. A smile played on his lips. He would remember those weeks for a long, long time. The freedom. The peace. Thinking about those feelings made him forget the times he was hungry, or cold, or wet, or just tired. It had been worth it. He looked forward to the day he could go back.
And he would go back. He couldn't stay here. Nothing had happened so far, but it would, he knew that. It was the pain killers keeping things at bay now. Keeping his mind fogged so nothing came through, even those things that should. He would have to wait and see what happened when he was finally off them. Then he'd know how soon he'd have to leave.
"How's he doing?" Hannibal looked up from his coffee. He looked tired this morning. Again. Murdock found it hard to reconcile the old man sitting at the table with his colonel. He'd never thought of Hannibal getting old. But the past months - God, was it almost two years now? - had taken their toll on everyone. Hannibal more than anyone. BA was quieter, Murdock more serious. They had nearly lost their friend and brother. But BA still had his Mama and the kids; Murdock had his flying. But Hannibal...he had almost lost everything. Someone who was like a son. Was a son. Looking at Hannibal, Murdock could see more clearly than if Hannibal had told him, how he had agonized over the events of the last two years. Murdock had thought Hannibal was so in control during that time, even cold at times. Looking at him, Murdock understood, after all these years, just how much the man cared about Face, cared about them all. It was humbling. Very humbling.
"Murdock? How's he doing?" The pilot snapped out of his thoughts.
"Oh, uh, okay, Hannibal. Nothing weird happening, anyway. Just the usual."
Hannibal nodded. Getting up, he started putting together what passed for breakfast for the injured man. He'd get the oatmeal cooking, then get Face up, get him out to the kitchen. After breakfast, an ordeal in itself, he would help him get cleaned up and dressed. Then it would just be sitting around, trying to stay occupied, getting Face what he needed during the day. Fixing meals. Puttering around. It wasn't the way he thought things would be when Face came home. He wasn't sure what he'd expected. It hadn't been this. But, he was grateful Face was home. Grateful he was alive.
He stepped into the bedroom.
The cast had come off, the wires removed. He was supposedly whole now. Except for his speech and his memory. Maggie had been wrong. Those hadn't come back. Gotten better, yes. But it would never come back completely. Other things had shown up as he had gotten better able to move around on his own. His coordination was off. His walk, shaky at times. Maggie had gone with him to the last appointment with the neurologist. Had been there when he'd been told that this was as good as it was going to get.
His plans to get back on the road, shot to hell.
He was here. For good now. He had nowhere else to go.
He thought about Trish. And the boy. He'd come real close there. Maybe too close. It had been like having his own little family. Pipe dreams. Nothing wrong with that, as long as he knew the realities. Trish saw him as a friend. The boy, just a fun grown up to be around. And he had very little to offer them back then. Now he had nothing to give them. Pipe dreams.
He'd started pushing Hannibal to get the team back in action. He wouldn't be part of it, of course, but he knew Hannibal needed it. Badly. Face may not be a hundred percent, but he wasn't blind, either. So he started pushing. Baiting him. Get him pissed off enough, he'd start finding clients, taking jobs. Find the Jazz. Come back to life. Face could do that much. Force Hannibal back into the living world again.
Yeah, he could do that much.
Hannibal watched as Murdock and Face walked around the yard. Face had plans. He'd already talked to Hannibal about them, and gotten his approval. Now he was telling Murdock. Showing him the layout of the obstacle course. Hannibal had drawn up plans earlier; he'd thrown them away after Face came to him with his ideas. Didn't matter if Face's ideas were better or worse than his. It would be built the way Face planned it.
He winced as he saw Face suddenly lurch to the side. Murdock grabbed his arm, got him straightened out, let go. That happened a lot. Hannibal had spoken to Maggie. It would take time, years probably, but Face's problems would gradually get worse as he got older. Hannibal sighed. They hadn't told him. No point. He had plenty of time yet. And Hannibal would make sure he was taken care of. Murdock and BA would, too. It was just hard, sometimes.
Face was badgering him about taking on clients again. This obstacle course thing was part of it. Hannibal knew that. Face wanted the team up and running again, even if he wasn't involved. Face thought he was conning Hannibal into it, tantalizing him. What the hell. He was almost ready for it. Almost. Let Face push him a little more and he'd be there. He still needed that little push.
Things would work out. Somehow, things would work out.
"And then when the tank blew, man, he just flew through the air! It was great! And then, he'd had enough, right, so he takes off running - you shoulda seen the mudsucker then, Face. He tackled that guy like that. BAM!"
Murdock was practically bouncing as he told Face about the last case. BA stood to one side, trying to scowl but a smile was creeping through. Hannibal leaned against the fence, arms crossed, cigar going strong, grinning at the pilot.
Murdock continued with his narrative, Hannibal putting in a comment or two. They made sure they told Face every detail. It was as close as he could come to being there with them. Hannibal watched Face as Murdock leaped around, practically acting out the clean up. He saw the grin that was real now. No more play acting. No more trying to con them into thinking he was okay. Things were good now. Not perfect, but good. What more could one ask for?
Face couldn't believe the change in these three over the past two months. Better than he could ever have dreamed. It was like having the old team back again. Like it was even before the court martial. Hannibal had the Jazz back, alright. Murdock had regained his humor, his wild love of life. BA was just as 'ornery' as ever, but the bitterness and the sadness was long gone. Looking at his family, Face had a feeling of accomplishment. He'd done what he set out to do. Brought the team back again. With that came acceptance.
He smiled at his friends as they headed back into the house.
"Be right there." He looked out at his meadow. A beautiful green landscape. He turned back to the house, smiling that bittersweet smile, the morning dew waxing a deep, blood red.