CHAPTER FIVE

BA closed the door firmly and stepped back, looking over the van with a critical eye. He'd spent hours removing the catapults, repairing the damage, tuning the engine, washing, polishing...it looked, once again, brand new.

And he didn't give a damn.

He climbed into the driver's seat and pulled into traffic. He had to pick up Hannibal at his apartment before goin to the hospital. He looked nervously at the clock. He didn't want to be late.

Today they were bringin Tem home.

Tem. Funny, how they'd fallen into that. The last couple of days, what with getting Face ready to leave, there had been more and more hospital people in with him, and, of course, that meant callin him by his alias. Made it easier to slip into callin him Tem when they were alone. 'Cept for that once, he hadn't been called 'Face' since that tube had come out.

Didn't seem to notice. Or care.

Same with all the hospital people, comin in and out all that day. Therapists and rehab people. He and Hannibal had paid close attention to what they said, but Face didn't seem to listen at all. The only way they knew he'd heard a word was an occasional wave of his hand when one of them would stop talkin long enough to see if he understood.

In fact, he'd only said one thing the whole time. When everybody had finally left them alone, Hannibal had tried to talk to him about leavin the next day.

"I guess you must be a little nervous about leaving tomorrow, huh, Tem? Well, we've got it all worked out, so don't worry, okay?"

Face had looked at Hannibal, and BA could see he was more than 'a little nervous'. He looked almost scared.

"Where?"

"I've got us a little apartment, about three blocks from here. It's all ready for you..." Hannibal had gone on and on about it, but Face wasn't listening any more.

One word. Where. What did he think they were gonna do, dump him in some rehab center or somethin?

Hannibal was ready and waiting when he arrived, and they drove in silence to the hospital. BA parked out in the back, near the rear entrance but off to the side. Some instincts still prevailed and they'd been here way too long. BA had tried to talk Hannibal into finding a different apartment, but he wanted to be close to the hospital. And now it would be impossible to move him, what with Face bein there, too. Made sense, with all the surgeries and stuff he'd have to have done, but still...

It was gonna be a nightmare keepin the two of 'em safe...


*****

Hannibal was waiting impatiently for BA to arrive. He didn't want to be late. Not one minute late. He'd seen that look on Tem's face yesterday. No way he was going to give him any reason to think he'd be left behind. He would make damn sure of that.

He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. He needed to relax. Face - scratch that, Tem - Tem would notice that right away. And Hannibal wanted this transition as smooth as possible. The guy had enough on his mind.

Hannibal knew why he was so tense this morning. He shouldn't have called Murdock. Well, yeah, he should have, but not just before leaving. Should've called him last night. Then they both would have had time to calm down. As it was, Murdock was back at the VA climbing the walls. That was the other reason Hannibal was uptight. It seemed like he'd just barely hung up with Murdock - or rather, been disconnected - when Dr. Richter had called him.

He hadn't been reamed out like that since he was a recruit.

So now, any further news about Face - Tem - had to go through Richter first. No exceptions. Which, in a way, was a relief. He wouldn't have to deal with the aftermath. But Murdock's reaction this morning had destroyed any feeling of hope he'd had.

He'd really thought Murdock would be happy about Tem being well enough to be released. And he was. But then Murdock wanted to know how he was doing. What he looked like. And he wouldn't accept any evasions. He'd taken the broken arm and ribs without comment; the broken - shattered - jaw had upset him, but not unduly. Hannibal should have stopped there. But he'd been on a roll.

Damn.

It was the first time, the only time, he'd had someone listen to his take on Tem's situation. He'd talked to the doctors, sure, but mostly he'd listened to them tell him what was going on. And BA just didn't want to talk about it, period. The only thing he wanted to discuss was security, and transportation, and...practical things.

Sometimes Hannibal felt as though he were talking to a robot. Like the mechanic had taken over not only BA's brain but his heart as well.

So when Hannibal suddenly had a listener, an eager listener, he just lost all sense of perspective. Forgot who he was talking to. And told him about the nerve damage, and the bones that had basically been destroyed...and the eye.

And he'd ignored the change in Murdock's breathing, and the soft moaning that started coming over the line, and just blathered on and on...until he heard Murdock screaming, "NO NO NO NO" and the thump when the phone was dropped and the screaming receded...

And then nothing but dial tone.

He came out of his reverie when BA pulled up in the van. They rode without speaking a word, all the way to the hospital. BA insisted on parking the van in an out of the way place until Hannibal brought Face down. And he would stay with the van, just in case.

For some reason, that irritated Hannibal. A lot.

Fine. Fine, BA. You worry about security. You handle the paranoia. You act like everything's SOP.

I'll take care of Face...as usual...

He practically slammed the hospital door...


*****

Face sat on the bed, looking out of the window. He studied the branches of the tree carefully. The way they jutted here and there, little nubs sticking out. The leaves that held on tightly to some branches, shunned others. He wondered if that meant the tree was slowly dying. Too bad. It looked like it had been magnificent, in its day.

Sandy came bustling in, cheerful and bright, as always. He loved to watch her. Even at her most serious, there was a warmth in her eyes...He looked away. That was just Sandy. She looked that way at everybody.

Even him.

"Well, Tim, today's the big day. Excited?" She smiled brightly at him as she started lining up the various bottles of meds he'd be taking with him.

"Yeah, sure." He tried to sound enthusiastic, but frankly, he was scared to death. It was one thing to have the people here looking at him, the doctors, the nurses. They didn't seem to think anything of the way he looked. But he knew what was 'out there'. He'd seen the looks when he'd been walking up and down the hallway; how the civilians, even other patients, would look at him and immediately look away again. Except the kids. They stared, bug-eyed.

The Faceman made people turn away in disgust. Scared little kids by just looking at them.

Oh, yeah, he was excited about leaving.

He became aware that Sandy was standing next to him. He looked up at her. God, those eyes...

"I know you're scared, Tim. You don't have to pretend, okay?" She sat down next to him, hand on his shoulder. "I won't lie to you. It's not going to be easy, and a lot of times, it won't be pleasant. People on the outside won't understand. When you want understanding, they'll give you pity. When you want acceptance, they'll turn away. But your real friends, like John and BA, will always be there for you. And you've got a lot of people here that will help you.

"And if you ever need me, you know how to reach me, okay? Don't think you'll be bothering me. If you need someone to talk to, or someone to yell at, well, I've got a pretty thick skin." She laughed then, and he thought it was the most beautiful laugh he'd ever heard.

"Knock, knock! Transport's ready and waiting, kid."

He stiffened involuntarily. He hadn't realized it was that time already. Sandy stood up, and started going over Face's meds with Hannibal. He only half-listened. She sounded just as friendly to Hannibal as she had to him.

That was just the way Sandy was. She treated everyone like her best friend.

Didn't mean anything.

Before he knew it, he was being whisked down the hall in the wheelchair, headed for the elevator that would take him out of his sanctuary and into the lion's mouth. He felt panic building. Then, as they waited for the elevator doors to open, he felt Hannibal's hand on his shoulder, squeezing firmly.

"Don't worry, kid. We're with you."

He forced himself to relax. It wasn't like he had a lot of choice. Bite the bullet.

He kept his head down as they entered the crowded elevator. Hannibal moved protectively to his left side, keeping anyone from getting too close. Face began to breathe easier. This would be okay. No one had really seen him, and Hannibal would keep them away. This would be okay.

They made it through the lobby. Face kept his head down; at least that way, if someone did see, he wouldn't have to look at their expression. He knew Hannibal was hurrying as much as he dared without jolting him too much. He glanced up, realized they were almost to the door. He heard the swish as they sailed through, felt the warm breeze flow over him.

He looked up at the familiar sound of the van. Started to smile when he saw BA behind the wheel.

And then he saw the tire coming at him. The pieces of rusted metal from the broken catapult rushing toward him.

Felt them hit.

Over and over and over...

He raised his hands to protect his face and head. Gasped in pain as his cast-covered left arm protested the violent movement. He started shaking, uncontrollably. He heard Hannibal and BA, talking, felt their hands on his shoulders, his arms. He couldn't think. All he wanted to do was keep from getting hit again.

And then it was over. The van was gone. BA was gone. Hannibal was in front of him, holding his shoulders, talking and talking. The shaking stopped. He looked up at Hannibal and saw the anger in his eyes.

Hannibal was angry at him.

He looked away. Looked around him, still keeping his head down. They were sitting off to the side, under a big tree.

His tree. The dying tree.

Hannibal was still talking. Telling him it was all right, they hadn't been thinking, they would get a cab to take him home...

He was just causing trouble. More and more trouble...

It seemed like forever before a cab pulled up with BA in the back. They whisked him into it, neither of them saying much. Face wanted to sink down into the seat. Three blocks later, he was being helped out and, while Hannibal paid the taxi, BA helped him into the first floor apartment.

He didn't even look around.

"Tired...I'm tired..."

By the time Hannibal had come in with his stuff, Face was feigning sleep in his new bedroom. His new sanctuary. His new hiding place.


*****

BA stalked out before Hannibal had a chance to do or say anything. Two hours later he pulled up in front of the apartment. Hannibal could only stare.

BA was driving a four-door sedan...