CHAPTER TWO

"You've seen him? I mean, visited?"

"No. Not yet. I'm gonna...just...not yet..."

"I wanted to go, but Hannibal said no." Murdock sighed, brushed some dust off the windowsill. He stared out at the grounds. "He said Face was doing better, though. They're going to take out the breathing tube tomorrow. Hannibal said, anyway. That's good. I guess."

"Yeah. Yeah, that's good."

"Hannibal won't say much about...well, I mean...he looked...he looked pretty bad, y'know, out there...but he'll be okay...right?"

"How would I know? I ain't no doctor..."

Murdock looked over at BA, who sat, hunched over, on the bed. BA didn't come to the VA unless he had to, to pick up Murdock. He never visited. But he'd shown up tonight for some reason. And no earrings, no gold. And his hair was cut short. He looked...well, he didn't look like BA anymore. Murdock almost asked him about it, but then, it didn't really matter. Just like it didn't matter how he'd gotten in.

Murdock sighed. Nothing seemed to matter much, lately.

When he and BA had left the hospital, BA hadn't said where they were going. Murdock hadn't really cared. He was a little mad - no, a lot mad - that Hannibal had made him leave. But by the time they got to the van, the anger was gone. Seemed like almost everything was gone. He'd felt...empty. Except he was nervous-like. Kept getting a little tremble inside that would run up his stomach to his chest and...ping. That was the only way he could describe it. Ping.

He didn't really notice when they pulled up at the VA. BA had Murdock stay in the van while he walked over to a phone booth and made a call. A few minutes after BA came back, Dr. Richter had come and taken him inside.

And he'd just kinda watched out the window since then. Didn't know what he was watching for. It was just...better...that he watch.

Hannibal had called him a couple of times, to let him know about stuff, but the voice over the phone didn't mean much. It was hard to listen to him. Hard to talk to him. Nothing to look at. Nothing to keep out the distractions. Then BA had come. That was different. Then Murdock had a fa...something to look at. Someone to talk 'with'. But after a while, Murdock didn't want to talk any more than BA did.

For a long time, they remained silent, BA sitting on the bed, Murdock leaning against the window.

There wasn't much to say.


*****

Hannibal was sitting in the waiting room. Had been for what seemed like hours. No, didn't seem like it. Had been. Normally, he would have been sitting in with Face, talking to him, giving him the old pep talk whether Face could hear him or not.

He couldn't do that.

Their client had shown up, earlier. The bad guys had cleared out, but given what the team had been able to collect on them, the sheriff was chasing them down. The two men had discussed the whole case, a debriefing of a sort, out in the waiting room, and when the client left, Hannibal had stayed there.

He glanced around him, looking at others who also had been thrown off balance by fate. Families and friends, all taking a respite from the claustrophobic cubicles where their loved ones struggled. All waiting.

His was the only solo act, and he found he didn't care for it. Hannibal had hoped BA would show up but, again today, he had not. It was almost a given that, whenever one of them got seriously hurt, the others would feel varying degrees of guilt, wondering if there might have been something they could have done to prevent it. That was normal for them. They got over it.

But BA wasn't letting go of it this time. Hannibal hadn't seen him since that first day, when they'd rushed Face into the emergency room. Once the doctors had given their report, BA had walked out, taking Murdock with him, and hadn't been back. He had called the hospital later that day to tell Hannibal that Murdock was back the VA. BA didn't say it, but Hannibal knew from the tone of voice that the pilot wasn't doing very well.

Hannibal had expected that. He was worried, but just knowing Murdock was with Dr. Richter took a lot of that load off. But who was BA with? Hannibal had called him, but it seemed BA always had something to do, someplace to go. Anything to get off the phone. It was troubling. It wasn't right. BA had the least of any of them to feel guilty about. He'd warned them. Practically hit them over the head with his concerns. But they had ignored him. Hannibal had practically ordered him to build the damn thing. What could go wrong? It wouldn't work just right? So they'd improvise, like they always did.

Who would have thought...well, Hannibal should have...

He looked around the room again. Families and friends talking quietly, sharing their fears, their hopes. Hannibal sighed, softly. Not that he felt like talking to anyone. But there was something about having another person there. Someone else who knew...

Then again, who knew about something like this? Getting the hell beaten out of you by the bad guys, that they knew about. Getting shot, or stabbed, yeah. Been there, done that. Even the possibility of one of them getting killed was something they'd adjusted to, were prepared for.

But not this. This was something none of them had thought about. Having something happen that would...change things. Not something that would mend or heal and then they would move on like before. Not something that they would speak of later with ironic humor and a certain survivor's pride. Not even something they would grieve before eventually going on to live their lives.

This was something different, something that would not heal, or be joked about, or go away.

Something that would change...everything.

He looked around the room again. No, he didn't like being here, alone.


*****

"Mr. Baracus..."

BA stopped dead, every reflex saying run like hell. But the MPs never called him 'Mr. Baracus', and never spoke softly. He turned. Pursed his lips, resigned.

"Hey, doc."

"Did Murdock talk to you?"

BA shrugged his shoulders. "A little. Not much."

Richter sighed. "Well, that's more than he's done with me. I ask him questions and he either ignores me or just smiles and shakes his head."

"Yeah. He ain't doin so good."

"What about you, BA? If I may call you that..."

"Don't matter, doc."

"That seems to be the consensus. Hannibal have the same outlook?"

BA looked down the hall, then at the floor. "Don't know. Haven't talked to him much."

"Why is that?"

BA scowled up at the doctor. "He's got other things to do right now."

"Like worrying over Face?"

"Yeah. Exactly."

"You're worried, too."

"O' course I am."

"It must be hard, seeing him like that."

BA swallowed. "I ain't seen him. Not since it happened."

Dr. Richter didn't seem surprised. BA wondered if Hannibal had already told him.

"Will you see him? Anytime soon?"

"I don't know."

"You think he'll blame you."

"No. I don't think he'll blame anybody. I just...I don't want to see him. Y'know? I don't want to see him."

"He won't look like that forever. There's plastic..."

"I know!" BA took a deep breath, made his voice softer. "I know. But can't no surgery fix all that. I ain't no doctor, but even I know that much." BA looked straight into Richter's eyes. "I don't go see him, 'cause I can't stand that he ain't Face no more. I don't even wanna call him that. 'Cause now, that's just cruel. That's all that is."

BA turned, walked slowly down the hall.

"...just cruel..."


*****

Hannibal woke with a start. A nurse was standing beside him. The day nurse, Sandy. He looked at the light coming in the windows.

"Were you here all night again? You're going to wear yourself out, John, and then what good will you be to Tim?"

"I must have dozed off. What time is it?"

"Seven. I just got here. Do you want to go home and get some sleep? We won't be removing the tube until later in the morning."

Hannibal stifled a yawn. He would love, more than anything, to go home and get some real sleep. But he knew if he went near a bed, he'd never make it back to the hospital in time. And he had to be there when they removed the breathing tube. He had to make sure...

"Well, maybe I will run home and take a shower, clean up a bit, anyway. What time should I be back?"

Sandy frowned. Much as she admired the man's devotion, she really didn't need him here as a patient. And he would be if he didn't start taking care of himself. But she had learned over the past few days that he was stubborn as a mule and totally devoted to his friend. A combination impossible to reason with.

"The doctor's scheduled it for eleven, but that's not set in stone. It depends on what else happens between now and then, but I can make sure it doesn't happen before ten."

"All right then, I'll be back at ten. I'll just go in and let him know I'm leaving." He smiled brightly at her, both of them knowing it was manufactured.

Face was still sleeping. Or what the nurses called sleeping. Hannibal knew it was the drugs, and the brain injury. At least the doctors were optimistic about that. His motor reflexes were good. Once they got him off the painkillers completely and let him come out of it, they'd know for sure. Hannibal looked forward to that with dread. He chose to believe the doctors, that the brain injury was minor. He'd really only caught a couple glancing blows from the flying debris.

He shook his head. Glancing blows. Right. Sounded so...minor. If any of it had gone a half inch closer, they would've buried him. As it was...

That's what Hannibal dreaded. What would happen when Face woke up. When they told him. When he could see for himself...

He stopped in the doorway, looked back one more time before leaving.

"Sorry, kid. God, I'm sorry..."