CHAPTER TEN

He was trying desperately to stay awake. One of those things he still wasn't used to, and hadn't considered in his planning - getting medicated through a hypo stuck in his arm or squirted into his mouth. Hard to palm a hypo. It screwed up his plans, royally. He had to be awake, alert, thinking, when BA got back with Murdock. He had to do this just right or it would also screw up Murdock royally.

He absently reached up and started to rub the patch over his left eye and immediately jerked his hand away. A shudder ran through him. He may have fooled Hannibal, and at least gotten past BA for now, but he couldn't fool himself.

He hadn't looked in a mirror since that first time. Wouldn't even look at a window if he could see his reflection in it. It wasn't just vanity. It wasn't just an assault on his face, on his looks. This went far beyond that. It was so much, much more.

He shifted in the bed, trying to get comfortable without getting too comfortable. He wished BA and Murdock would get back. He knew his thinking was getting cloudy again. Otherwise his thoughts wouldn't be going anywhere near the accident. But it was hard, waiting in the near dark, with no one around that he knew. He tried to switch his thoughts to Murdock, to the talk they were going to have, but it rounded back on him, every time.

Face. Faceman. His name. More than just a moniker. It was who he was. All he was. At the orphanage, he'd been the favorite when people would come on visiting day. Visiting day. More like auction day. Parading the kids around the place like monkeys in a circus. The parent wannabe's always came to him. Always. And they'd start talking to him, asking questions, trying to find out what he liked, what he was like.

And he always blew it.

He'd lose his tongue completely, or just stammer and blush. A couple of times he literally turned and ran. The priests and the nuns had worked so hard, trying to overcome the near-paralyzing shyness, and nothing worked. And finally, he was too old. The visitors would glance his way and turn to the younger kids. He was about to start junior high when he realized what that damn shyness had cost him.

Every morning, he would look in the mirror and think, "How would someone who looks like that, act?" Charming, confident, out-going...someone totally the opposite of who he really was. Someone he wanted to be. So he pretended. Pretended until it became almost real. He even picked out a new name for the kid in the mirror. Templeton Peck. Alvin Brenner was left in the orphanage. It was Templeton Peck who stepped onto the bus for school every morning. And whenever he started getting nervous, or wanted to pull back, he'd remind himself that Templeton Peck just wouldn't do that. No way.

People liked Templeton Peck. They really liked him. Admired him. Girls fell for him like rain. He had everything he wanted.

Until Leslie.

He hadn't been acting with Leslie. She was the first person in a long time who saw who he really was. And she left him. Templeton Peck would have handled it better. Templeton Peck would have decided it was her loss. Templeton Peck would have gone on with his life, found new loves, had a happy life.

But it was Alvin Brenner who fell in love with her, not Templeton Peck. It was Alvin who joined the army. And Alvin had stayed, until he saw Hannibal in action. Until he wanted on Hannibal's team.

Until he became Face.

He slid further down in the bed. He was so tired. So tired. He was drifting off, despite himself.

Hannibal would never have put Alvin Brenner on the team...


*****

"BA?"

"What?"

"Can I ask you something?"

"If it ain't no crazy talk, yeah."

Murdock adjusted his cap, looked out the window at the dark streets passing by. It was a long drive from the VA to the hospital Face was in. They were maybe halfway there and neither of them had yet to say a word. He looked over at BA from under his visor.

"Why are you doing this, BA? Doc said I wasn't s'posed to see him. So did Hannibal. You don't ever buck Hannibal."

"Richter don't know everything. And Hannibal ain't thinkin straight."

"He sounds okay when he calls."

"Yeah, well, he can scam as well as Tem, sometimes."

Murdock didn't say anything for a few more minutes. BA glanced over at him. He was beginning to wonder if this really was the best thing to do.

"Does he like that?"

"What? Who?"

"Face. Does he like being called 'Tem'?"

BA glanced at him again. "He ain't said."

"Have you asked him?"

"No. How we s'posed to do that? Geez, Murdock..."

There was no further conversation until they reached the hospital. BA warned Murdock again to behave himself. The staff had given him enough grief about staying overnight. If they caught him sneaking yet another person in, there'd be hell to pay. From all sides.

BA made Murdock wait in the stairwell until he checked Face's room. He was almost to the door when the night nurse stepped out.

"Oh, there you are. We thought you'd decided to go home after all."

"No, I just stepped out for some air. He okay?"

"Yes, he's fine. Sleeping like a baby." There was a note of warning there.

BA forced himself to be nice. "I'll be quiet." He couldn't quite bring himself to smile at her.

With a further warning look, the nurse headed back to the desk. BA stepped inside the room, watching out the door until he saw her sit down, hiding her view of the hallway. With a quick gesture, he signaled Murdock to come out.

Murdock sprinted silently down the hall and slipped into the room. BA closed the door and turned to see him moving slowly toward the bed. The pilot stopped a couple feet from the bed. His shoulders slumped. BA came up behind him, squeezed his shoulder.

"Remember. No crazy stuff."

Murdock nodded, still staring at Face. BA hesitated for another moment. He still had time to call it off, at least as far as Face was concerned. Murdock had seen Face; BA could take him back and let him work through it with Richter. But then, that wouldn't really be fair to Face.

"Okay, go ahead and wake him up. But be careful." BA stepped to the door. "I'll keep an eye on the nurse. If she heads this way, you hide. Got it?"

Murdock nodded again and moved closer to the bed. BA scowled, shook his head, and opened the door just enough to see the desk. Hannibal would prob'ly kill him for this...


*****

Murdock reached out to touch Face's shoulder. He stopped, inches away. He didn't want to touch him, didn't want to look at him. He heard a thrumming noise back in the depths of his head.

"Crooked man, crooked smiled, crooked house..."

No no no. He didn't want to think what BA would do if he went off on a tangent now. The big guy had taken a huge chance, bringing him here. If Hannibal or Richter found out...

He laid his hand gently on Face's shoulder, felt the warmth through the blanket. It surprised him, somehow. He'd been expecting it to be cold. Like a corpse.

"Face..."

He winced. Damn. BA would knock the shit out of him if he'd heard.

"Tem...wake up, muchacho. It's Murdock."

It took a moment before he saw the one blue eye open slowly, unfocused at first, and then locking on him.

"Murdock..."

Murdock frowned. Face's voice was so hoarse. He turned quickly toward the door.

"BA! What's the matter with him?"

BA hurried over. "What? What's wrong?"

"His voice! That's not his voice!" Murdock felt panic rising.

"Murdock..." Face was vainly trying to get his attention.

"See! See! That's not Face! That's not..."

"Shut up, fool! 'Course that's him. He just hoarse cause of that tube he had." BA grabbed his arm. "Listen, you get straight now, hear me? Just shut up and listen to the man. He can't talk for long, so you just shut up and listen!" BA glared at him one more time before going back to his watch at the door.

"Murdock..."

He turned back to Face, breathing hard, but trying to control it. Half of him wanted to believe that everything was going to be okay; the other half didn't want to believe that this person was his Face.

"Yeah, Fa...Tem. I'm listening."

"You're not doing so well, huh?"

Murdock looked at the guardrail, suddenly ashamed. "No, not really."

"Murdock, listen. You have to work with Richter. I can't do this if I have to worry about you, too. Understand?"

"I know. It's just...I..."

"I know. But I have to know you're going to work this through. I can't bear to think you might end up like you used to be."

Murdock looked into the corner of the room. He couldn't look at Face.

"Listen. Listen! When we go after the bad guys, you know any one of us could get killed, right?"

"Right."

"And you were ready for that, right?"

"Yeah. We all were."

"Right. If we hadn't accepted it, if we didn't know that we'd all accepted it, do you think we could have done the things we did?"

Murdock looked at Face. Saw how serious he was.

"No. Someone would have held back. Maybe everyone."

"Exactly. And holding back at the wrong time could've gotten us all killed."

Murdock nodded. He saw where Face was going. He didn't like it.

"This isn't just for me, Murdock. Hannibal and BA need you. They need to know you're going to be there, and that you're not going to fall apart when they need you. Listen, Murdock. No matter what happens to me, to any of us, the rest of you have to hold together. Otherwise, none of you is going to make it."

Murdock didn't say anything. He couldn't.

"Murdock, you have to work with Richter. You have to get through this and get back with the team. We can't do it without you." Face's grasp on his hand tightened. "I can't do this if I don't know you're going to be okay."

Murdock took a couple of deep breaths before he could answer. "I don't know if I can. You know I don't do reality very well."

Face chuckled softly. "I know you do it better than people think." He pulled on Murdock's hand, made him look at him. "Please, Murdock. Don't do it just for me. Or even for you. Do it for the team. Please."

Murdock knew Face was near the end of his rope. His voice was getting more and more hoarse, and he was starting to sweat.

"Okay, Tem. Okay. I'll try. I can't promise. Sometimes the purple wobblies, you know, they don't like to give up. But I'll try. I'll try really hard."

Face visibly relaxed. "Thanks, Murdock. Now I can do what I have to do, too." He smiled up at Murdock, clearly exhausted, but satisfied.

Five minutes later, BA and Murdock were hurrying back to the VA.

And Face slept, knowing his plan was coming together.