CHAPTER SEVEN

BA showed up at the apartment early the next day. He looked like hell, and felt worse.

After his rush from the apartment the day before, he'd driven around for hours. He'd eventually found his way to the VA. For some reason, he wanted to see Murdock. Maybe hoping the pilot would be more like himself, maybe hoping it would give him a glimpse of normalcy, crazy as that seemed. But after working his way through the grounds to Murdock's open window, he knew it wasn't going to work. BA heard him before he saw him. A low staccato of monotone words.

"Crooked man, crooked man..."

Looking through the window, he saw Murdock sitting cross-legged on the bed, the tips of his fingers pressed tightly together. He was concentrating hard on flexing his fingers, tenting and untenting them, in time to his words. BA swallowed, and rapped lightly on the window frame.

"Hey, Murdock!"

Murdock looked up, staring puzzled at the window. A moment later he bounded over, a big grin on his face.

"Hey, Big Guy! Did you come to break me out? We gonna go see Face?"

For a moment, BA thought that would be the best thing for all of them - get everybody together again. Be a team again.

Then he looked harder at Murdock. Something not quite right in those eyes. Something not quite Murdock.

"No, Murdock, not today. Soon, though, okay?"

Murdock immediately lost interest. He wandered back to the bed, where he sat, cross-legged, and steepled his fingers once again.

"Soon, soon, soon..."

BA left without another word.

He drove over to a friend's house, where he could use their garage. He parked the sedan, popped the hood, got out his tools. The engine ran rough, and didn't have the power he wanted. There was a lot of work to be done.

He stood looking at the engine for a long time before he tossed his tools back in the trunk and softly closed the hood.

And then BA did something he hadn't done since Nam.

He went to a bar, and stayed there until closing.


*****

"You look like hell."

Hannibal tried not to sound stern or angry. The last thing he wanted was another argument. He must have been successful, because he only got BA's normal glare before moving past him and heading toward the kitchen. Hannibal watched after him, preparing himself.

Long into the night, Hannibal had thought about their whole situation. He would have to make amends to BA. Both had said things they shouldn't have; both had been right, partly. It was obvious to Hannibal that BA had had a hard night; if he didn't know better, he'd swear BA had a hangover. Well, he wouldn't have another hard night because of Hannibal. Time to start fresh. With just the two of them left, they had to work together.

He knew there was nothing they could do about Murdock; that would have to remain Dr. Richter's bailiwick. Whatever the doctor said was law. And right now, like it or not, that meant keeping Murdock away from Face and any mention of him.

As to Face, Hannibal had made some decisions there, too. Yesterday being the disaster it had been, he'd accepted Face's plea of a headache, and let him 'sleep' most of the day. They'd both eaten by themselves, and the only real contact they'd had was when Hannibal would go in to give him his meds. He'd actually let Face sleep in his clothes last night, rather than disturb him.

That ended this morning. By the time the sun was coming up, Hannibal had a plan.

He'd gone over all the notes from the doctors and therapists, the list of medications, the schedule of appointments, the timeframes the doctors had given them for future surgery. It was the first time he had actually read through everything together, and the first time he'd laid the timetables out on paper. It had shocked and angered him. The number of operations Face would have to endure was intimidating; the fact that the entire process could last over a year disheartening. And in the end, there were no guarantees.

And no way he would ever look the same.

Hannibal had allowed himself to wallow in pity - for Face, for himself, for the team - for only a short while. It wasn't productive. What he needed was a plan, a structure, to get them all through the next months. Hopefully, they would still be together in the end.

And that's what counted.

Hannibal followed BA into the kitchen and saw him looking at the carefully constructed charts. Everything laid out in black and white. Right down to the daily schedule for meds, meals, exercise. What Hannibal would do, what BA would do. Everything done with regimental precision.

A plan that would work.

BA looked up as Hannibal came in. Looked at him for a long time before he finally spoke.

" 'Bout time."


*****

Face sat on the patio, sipping his breakfast through a straw. Nutritious it might be, but absolutely tasteless. If it had mattered, he would have said something to Hannibal about spices. It kept him from feeling hungry, and that was all that was necessary.

He knew Hannibal had been up most of the night; obviously he'd come up with a plan. Early that morning, he'd come into Face's room, overly cheerful, declaring it a beautiful day. When Face hadn't moved, Hannibal announced it was time to get up and his tone left no room for arguing. He had Face's clothes picked out before Face was even fully awake. Face had actually had to act angry before Hannibal would let him clean up on his own. It grated that he'd then had to have Hannibal help him get dressed. The next thing he knew, he was sitting on the patio, with his breakfast sitting in a glass beside him, with orders from Hannibal to drink every bit of it. It was as though Hannibal couldn't decide if he was commander or mother, treating Face like a soldier and a child at the same time.

He heard the front door open and close, and voices a few minutes later from the kitchen. He knew who it was. He waited, wondering if BA would stay or go, if there would be another argument, if BA would bother to talk to him today.

BA came up on his blind side. Face was tempted to turn and look, but knowing such movements usually made him dizzier than a bedbug, he didn't. Besides, he knew what BA was looking at. It's what they all looked at first, however briefly.

"Morning, BA."

"Mornin, Tem."

Tem. Well, they'd gotten past the hesitancy on that now, at least. Trying to spare his feelings. Whatever.

BA had moved around to stand in front of him now. Face would have to look up to see him. He didn't like to do that. It had already become habit to keep his head down.

"Uh, listen, about yesterday..."

"I'm sorry about the van, BA. You should've kept it."

"Huh? Oh, hey man, I...I had to dump it. I mean, it was wrecked. Jus wouldn't run right, y'know?"

Sure.

"But, look, I just wanted to say..."

"Have you seen Murdock?"

BA moved restlessly. Didn't say anything at first.

"Is he okay?"

"Sure, he's okay. He's at the VA. He's okay."

Face didn't like the tone of BA's voice.

"He is?"

"Yeah, sure he is. Look, about what I said..."

"He hasn't come to visit. I wondered."

BA sighed, and sat in the chair across from him. Face set his glass down carefully; sometimes his hand shook a little from all the dope Hannibal was shooting into him. He glanced up at BA, who was scowling at the table.

Great. Now he thought Face was being difficult.

"He wanted to come. But, okay, so he's not okay. But it's nothin he can't handle. The doc's working with him, so..."

"The acc...crash? That's why?"

"Well, yeah."

Face got up stiffly and, without another word, walked into the apartment, down the hall and into his room. He stood with his back against the door.

BA's van.

Murdock's mind.

Hannibal...

He knew Hannibal would be coming shortly. Not only because he'd planned on going over the charts and memos and schedules with Face this morning, but also because BA would be telling him what had happened on the patio. No way Hannibal would let Face 'hide' in here.

He turned carefully and locked the door. Hannibal would have to live without his schedules for one more day.

Face had plans of his own to think about.