CHAPTER NINE

The room came slowly into view. Not quite focused. White ceiling. Cream walls. A window to his left. Two doors to the right. Familiar looking machines beside the bed.

It was over.

Gingerly, he raised his hand up to his face. Felt slowly, carefully. No bandages; a small tube near his ear; a thin patch of some kind over his left eye. He could feel the lumps where the sutures had been. Where the scars would be. Felt along his mouth. Sighed. That side of his mouth, and that side of his face, still drooped. He'd had hopes, even though they had told him it would take time.

A nurse came strutting in, giving him a quick glance before mechanically checking his vitals. She checked the IV and the monitor and was gone.

So much for the old Peck charm.

He felt cold and reached down for the blanket. He couldn't quite get it without sitting up, and he knew better than to try that. And no way he was going to push the call button and get the Ice Princess back in here. He sighed, closed his eye and tried to go back to sleep.

When he awoke the next time, the sun was going down and Hannibal and BA were sitting on either side of his bed. The blankets were pulled up and tucked around his shoulders.

"About time you woke up. I thought we'd have to throw some cold water on you." Hannibal grinned at him.

"You warm enough, man? You was shiverin when we come in. Tol that nurse what I thought bout that." BA scowled toward the door.

"The Ice Princess?" He frowned. For some reason, their voices seemed muffled, and his mouth didn't seem to work much at all, slurring his words worse than before. "What...?"

"Don't worry, Tem. It's just from the surgery. Things are a bit swollen yet. Give it a day or so and things will be okay again." Hannibal smiled at him, reassuring.

He nodded, closed his eye again. He didn't feel like talking anyway. He really just wanted to sleep.

Forever.


*****

BA was keeping late night watch that night. Hannibal didn't want Face to wake up alone, and BA had agreed, although for very different reasons. For Hannibal, it was because Face wasn't in the ICU and he didn't think the personnel in this unit were paying close enough attention to his needs. BA almost smiled at that, but that was Hannibal. He'd been like that in Nam, too. If one of his men was hurt, he was like a mama bear protecting her cubs.

God forbid anyone call him on it, either.

But BA had a different reason for wanting to stay. He was hoping for some time alone with Face, some time without Hannibal there to run interference. He didn't think Face would wake up during the night, but he knew he'd have time with him first thing in the morning. It meant a long, uncomfortable night in a hard, uncomfortable chair, but it was necessary.

He was going to find out what Face was really thinking if it was the last thing he did.

The Ice Princess, as Face had dubbed her, had been in and out of the room throughout the day, rarely saying anything other than "excuse me" when they were in her way. Both Hannibal and BA kept an eye on her, especially when she was by herself at the desk. She was exactly the kind of person who, if she recognized them, would feel it her civic duty to turn them in. They both sighed with some relief when she went off duty at seven, but as Hannibal left later that night, he reminded BA to be careful.

The night nurse was a little more friendly, and Face seemed to like her a bit better. But then again, he was sleeping most of the time. BA had tried to talk to him a bit when he was awake, but Face wasn't inclined to talk. Spent a lot of time staring out the window, or at the ceiling. BA didn't like it, not one bit.

Eventually, after he had had his liquid supper and the nurse had doped him up for the night, Face drifted off into a deep sleep and BA relaxed a little. He dozed off and on in the chair, waking immediately whenever anyone passed by in the hall or when the nurse came into check on things. He wasn't sure what he would do if the MP's suddenly showed up, but he knew it would cost them to take Face.

It was around two in the morning when BA woke with a start. Face was mumbling in his bed, moving restlessly under the covers. BA stood and moved quickly to his side.

"Tem? Hey, wake up, man, you havin a dream. Wake up." BA's urgent whispers went unheeded; Face was too caught up in the nightmare. BA leaned down closer, hoping to hear what he was mumbling.

"Mur..."

"What is it, Tem? What you sayin?"

"Murdock...Mur..."

BA straightened. Looked down at Face, who was finally starting to quiet down, although he was still restless. He stepped to the door and looked up and down the hall. Except for the nurses' occasional excursions into the various rooms, it was pretty much empty. And, unlike the ICU, the nurses couldn't see Face's door unless they came out from behind the desk.

BA moved back over to the bed, decision made.

"You rest easy, Tem. You gonna see Murdock. And about time, too." He gently squeezed Face's shoulder.

He slipped quietly out of the room and down the hall, to the exit furthest from the nurses' station.

Back in the room, the dim lights barely revealed Face's crooked smile.


*****

Murdock woke abruptly, looking quickly around the room while being careful not to move. Listening.

There. There it was again.

He waited for a moment, thinking. It could be a hallucination. He'd been having more than his share of those lately. Mostly self-induced, he had to admit. But what else was he supposed to do? Sit around, thinking about Face, wondering if he was all right, wondering how badly he'd been hurt, wondering what he looked like and...well, wasn't it much better to hallucinate and have Face here with him, whole and healthy and smiling again? And he considered himself lucky that he was able to make it real.

Okay, so Richter wasn't real happy about it, but that was his problem.

Besides, he and Face had had so much fun together. Playing with Billy, cheating each other at cards. Murdock even feigned interest in Face's latest tales of his love life. Now, why on earth would he want to stop hallucinating under those circumstances?

Talk about crazy...

"Murdock! Wake up, fool!"

Oops! He knew that voice. And that was no hallucination. He leaped out of bed and hurried to the window. It must be something important for BA to come here in the middle of the night.

Oh, God.

Face...

His hands were shaking so badly he could barely get the window open. He grabbed BA's jaws in both hands.

"What happened to Face? What? He didn't...he isn't...he hasn't...?"

"Damn it, Murdock, let go o' me!" BA roughly pulled Murdock off him and shoved him back from the window. A moment later he was inside, holding Murdock at arm's length.

"Now shut up and listen!"

"Okay, okay, BA, okay..."

BA put his hand over Murdock's mouth and glared at him. "You gonna listen or keep jibber-jabberin?"

Murdock nodded his head, then shook it, then became totally still.

BA took his hand away from Murdock's mouth. "Okay. Now, Tem is in the hospital. He's okay, he jus had another operation on his face."

"Tem?"

"Yeah, Tem. And you remember that!"

Murdock nodded his head quickly.

"He's been wantin to see you, but Hannibal and Richter didn't think that was good. But he had a nightmare tonight about you, and I figure enough's enough. So I'm gonna take you over to see him." BA moved close to Murdock, still holding his arm. "But you listen, Murdock. You pull any o' that crazy stuff while you there, and I'll drag your ass right out o' there. Got it?"

Again, Murdock nodded.

"Now, he ain't gonna look the greatest. But that don't matter, right? You ain't gonna fall apart when you see him. Got it?"

Nod.

A little gentler, BA continued. "He's gonna be okay, Murdock. He just ain't gonna be as pretty as he was. I just want you two to see each other, cause you worry about him and he worries about you. So you see each other and put your minds to rest, okay? And then both of ya gotta work at gettin better so we get the team back together again. Okay?"

Murdock cleared his throat softly. "Okay, BA. Gotcha."

BA glared at him one more time before turning and climbing back through the window. Murdock grabbed his jacket and cap and followed quickly and silently behind him.