CHAPTER SIX

"What's with the car, BA?" Hannibal spoke softly, afraid of waking Face. He sat on the couch across from BA, who was studying the owner's manual for the sedan.

BA looked up, scowling. "You ain't that dumb, Hannibal."

Hannibal held his retort with great effort. Literally counted to ten.

"BA, I understand your being upset with the way he reacted. And I should have thought about his tying the van to the accident. But..."

"Why do you keep callin it an accident? It wasn't no accident! It was a screwed up job. A bad plan. A lousy plan!" BA angrily turned back to the manual.

"Now, wait a minute, BA. There was nothing wrong with that plan. If those catapults had worked the way we thought they would, we would have had those goons with no problem."

"So it's my fault, right? Even when I tol you it wasn't gonna work. When I tol you it wasn't built the way it should be. When you turned right around and said do it anyway!"

"If I had thought you were really serious..."

"Like that woulda stopped you! Well, now there ain't no van to mess with any more! And I don't hafta make no damn contraptions just 'cause you say so."

"So now you decide when you're going to follow orders, is that it, Sergeant?"

"You were on the damn Jazz again! You don't see nothin straight then..."

"I see a lot more than you think. That's why I'm in charge..."

"Well, maybe you shouldn't be! You coulda got Face killed with your..."

"No one got killed!"

"Well maybe he'd be better off if he had been!"

There was a sudden moment of shocked silence, and then the two men heard a door being quietly shut at the end of the hall.

Hannibal looked at BA, shame and anger fighting for control. BA took the fight out of his hands. He turned and stalked out of the front door, slamming it loudly behind him. Moments later, Hannibal heard the sedan roar out of the parking lot.

He stood in the nearly silent apartment, the only sound the ticking of the clock on the wall. His team was disintegrating around him and he had no idea what to do about it.


*****

"Murdock? Are you listening?"

"Sure."

Dr. Richter sighed. Murdock had some definite problems, certainly, but Richter always felt the pilot had made good use of them. Now, however, he knew Murdock was in deep shit.

"Do you really think you're ready to visit him?"

"I want to see him. He needs me."

"I know you want to see him. But are you ready? That's what I'm asking you."

"I want to see him."

"Okay, Murdock. Let's do some visualizing. Okay? Now, you're going to visit him."

Murdock slumped a little further down in his chair. He didn't like "visualizing". It always made things feel real. Which, of course, was the purpose.

"Murdock?"

"Okay!"

"All right." Richter made his voice slow, calm, neutral. "You walk up to the door. Step inside. Face is sitting in the chair."

Murdock nodded, staring at the wall over Richter's head.

"What's the first thing you do?"

"Hug him."

"Is it? Is it the very first thing you do?" Richter's voice was low, almost crooning.

Murdock closed his eyes.

"What's the very first thing you do?"

Murdock swallowed. He saw it, in his mind's eye. He stepped through the door and looked into the room. Saw Face sitting in the chair.

"I look at his face..."

"Okay. And what do you see?"

"Bandages."

"That's all?"

"That's all."

"What's behind the bandages, Murdock? Look behind them. What do you see?"

"I can't see through bandages, Doc, c'mon..."

"You know what's behind them. You're thinking of what's behind them. Aren't you?"

Murdock swallowed. "Yeah..."

"What do you see, Murdock? What are you thinking when you see Face, covered in bandages?"

Murdock opened his eyes, looked up at the ceiling, blinked hard.

"What do you see, Murdock?"

"Scars..."

"Scars. And what else?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing else? Nothing at all?"

"No."

"What does his nose look like, Murdock? It was broken, wasn't it?"

"Yeah. It...just looks a little crooked. Just a little. That's all."

"And his mouth?"

"Looks like a mouth." Murdock sounded angry.

"His mouth and jaw were injured pretty badly, weren't they?"

"Okay! Okay, so it looks...crooked."

Richter looked at Murdock. Murdock was now looking down at his jacket, fiddling with the zipper.

"What else do you see, Murdock?"

"That's it."

"What about the eye, Murdock?"

"What about it? It's just an eye."

"Not that one, Murdock. Not the one he has. The one he lost."

Murdock squirmed in his seat.

"What about it, Murdock? What do you think when you look at that?"

"Crooked..." He stared at the cuff of his jacket.

"Murdock?"

"Crooked...crooked man...was a crooked man...had a crooked smile...," he said to his pocket.

"Murdock..."

"...bought a crooked cat who caught a crooked mouse..." he murmured to his sleeve.

"Murdock."

"...all lived together in a little crooked house...," he whispered to his shoes.

Richter sighed.

"I think that's all for now, Murdock. We'll talk again later. Okay?"

Murdock just nodded and walked quickly out of the room.


*****

He softly closed the door, hoping they hadn't noticed him. He stepped toward the bed, only to bump into the bureau to his left. His already-bruised hip sent a shiver of pain up his back.

Damn. He could not get used to that blind spot. He wanted to rip that dressing off and see what the hell was beside him, see how far things were from him. See clearly. The futility of pulling it off only frustrated him more. He took a deep breath, steadied himself.

Moving more carefully, he continued over to his bed and sat gingerly on the edge. He hadn't meant to eavesdrop; he'd already decided he should make an appearance before Hannibal forced the issue. He'd been moving down the hall when they started arguing.

About him.

He'd made an about-turn, trying not to listen, just wanting to get back to his room before he was noticed.

And then BA...

He looked idly around the room. He hadn't really looked at it before. His vision was still a little blurry. The doctor said that would get better...

He hadn't noticed that little corner shelf before.

A shiver went through him.

"... he'd be better off..."

Wooden. A wooden shelf. He wondered if it was handmade. Kinda looked like something Murdock would make in his crafts class.

"...better off..."

Another shiver. More like a shudder.

He wondered where Murdock was. Why he hadn't come to visit...maybe he didn't want to...

It was kind of a pretty shelf. Wooden. Stained wood. Scrolled stained wood.

"...better off..."

The knock at the door was soft, but it startled him anyway. He'd barely gotten his breath back when Hannibal opened the door.

"Can I come in?"

"Sure."

Hannibal stepped in, leaned against the bureau, staring at him. Thinking.

Great.

"He didn't mean it the way it sounded, you know. You do know that, right?"

"Sure."

"It's no excuse, but everybody's been under pressure. Worried about you. I should've known a blow-up was coming; I'm sorry it happened the way it did."

Face nodded, looking at the carpet. Kind of a rose color.

"Look, kid, we've gotten off to a hell of a start here, but we're going to get through this. I don't ever want you to worry about...anything. We'll take care of you; that's what this team does."

Face swallowed, nodded.

Hannibal waited for a moment, as if wanting more of a response. When Face just kept looking at the carpet, he sighed.

"Okay, well, I'm going to get your lunch ready. You must be hungry. Been a long morning..."

Hannibal waited another moment before exiting, softly closing the door behind him.

Face continued to stare at the carpet.

He didn't want to be taken care of...