CHAPTER FIFTY

When the wrench slipped out of BA's hand and slammed onto the concrete drive, Face had been dozing in a lawn chair a few feet away. He jumped like he'd been shot, and stared wildly around him.

"S'okay, man. Just a wrench, okay?" BA's voice was soft, concerned, calming.

Still breathing hard, Face looked him and nodded. He tried to calm down, but it was hard. Everything was so hard, here. Everyone kept watching him. He knew they were waiting for him to start talking to his friends again. But he was careful about that. His friends said they could hear him without his having to talk out loud, so the guys hadn't a clue there. And he was trying to break that habit of tilting his head when he listened to them. That was hard, too. And Murdock seemed to catch him every time he forgot.

He knew he was on edge. All the time. Waiting for the next lie. The next trick...

And this place. He hated this place. People, wall to wall. Sure, they couldn't see him out here. There was a tall fence and shrubs along the fence. Closed in. Like a big box. But the people were there. Right over that fence. He knew they were close, too. He could hear them at night. Talking. Laughing. And he knew they must have seen him. Why else would they be laughing? Between the damn laughing and his friends talking, he could hardly sleep at all. And his friends talked and talked and talked...

But he couldn't let on that they were here. If the guys knew that, they'd never let him go home. Hannibal and Murdock, especially. They seemed to think his friends were going to try and hurt him in some way. When it was just the opposite. They were doing their best to help him. Help him find some way of getting out of here.

The last try hadn't worked at all. That was his fault. He was too obvious. Too clumsy. Hannibal had seen right through it.


*****

They came out of Bursey's office, and Hannibal hadn't said one word. He'd used the phone to call BA, so the van was waiting right outside the door when they got off the elevator. That was good. Because there were so many people out in the parking lot. Even having to go that three feet to the van was almost too much. Face hadn't been around that many people in so long...but Hannibal and Murdock had been right beside him, cutting off any retreat. They'd been in the van and driving away before he had a chance to catch his breath.

No one had said anything for a long time. BA had given Hannibal one glance that Face saw, and just kept driving. And then they'd pulled up into the driveway of this house. This damn house.

He remembered it. They kept it leased as a safe house, and never stayed there more than a few days at a time. He wasn't happy that they had come here, when they were supposed to be going back to the village. But he'd thought maybe Hannibal just wanted to stay overnight before heading back in the morning. BA had pulled all the way into the garage, and they'd all gone through the breezeway into the house. And then it had all fallen apart.

"BA, why don't you and Murdock go pick up supplies."

Face had watched in dismay as the two had turned right around and left. Supplies? Why did they need supplies? He turned to Hannibal. "I thought you said I could go home after this?"

Hannibal had positively glared back at him. Ignored his question. "You want to explain what happened back there at Bursey's?"

"You saw the pictures, Hannibal. What was the point?" He'd tried to move out of the room, go to his room. He was suddenly feeling very cold and shaky. Hannibal had stepped in front of him, blocking the hallway.

"Yes, I saw the pictures. And I know they weren't what we had hoped for, but they didn't look that bad. I think it would've been worth going for. And I think, if you hadn't already made up your mind, you would have."

"I don't know what you mean, Hannibal."

"Oh, no? You really think I'm that dumb? You go see Bursey, tell him no, and think that's all you have to do to go home. Right? Wrong!"

Hannibal stalked away to stand in the middle of the living room. For a split second, Face wanted to race down the hall like a scared kid and hide in his room. He remembered that feeling, when faced with Sister "belt across the back" Bertina.

"I think we're all going to stay put for a while. You need to really think about that surgery, Fa...Ed. And you won't do that if I let you run back to the desert and hide in that trailer. So, for the time being, we're just going to settle in here."

Face felt like the rug had just been pulled out from under him. No, not the rug. The whole world. He felt light headed, dizzy. He was supposed to go home. Hannibal had promised...

He didn't really hear the rest of what Hannibal said. Something about helping him find himself, letting him get his bearings again. Being with people who really cared. He just remembered nodding, and finally, Hannibal had let him off the hook, apparently believing that Face was now okay with staying here. He'd gone to his room and closed the door. Sat on the bed, lost.

And his friends had come to console him. And warn him.


*****

"Hey, Ed!" Murdock dropped down to sit in front of him, smiling happily.

Face managed not to jump out of his skin this time. Murdock had come up on his blind side again. He should say something, but he didn't want to rock the boat. He kept thinking if he just went along with things, if they thought he was cooperating, maybe they'd let him go home sooner.

He really thought Hannibal had understood.

We told you he lied.

I know.

You should have listened to us.

I know! I'm sorry...

We have to bring you home.

How? What am I supposed to do? Hail a cab? You were right. And I was wrong. So wrong. Again. Fucked up everything. I should've listened to you. I never should've agreed to come with Hannibal. I never...

It's all right. We'll think of something. Just be careful. They're full of tricks.

"Ed?"

Face really jumped this time. He couldn't help it. Murdock had put his hand on Face's shoulder. He wasn't used to that. He didn't like being touched. Not after all those doctors and nurses and techs and...

"Hey, take it easy, buddy. You were kinda spaced there." Murdock looked closer. "Your friends talking at you again?"

"You're the only one talking, Murdock."

"Yeah, but you had that look again, buddy. And we both know what that means..."

Murdock was always doing that. Trying to trick him. Trying to get him to tell what he and his friends talked about. He couldn't do that. Not any more.

"No! I'm not crazy, Murdock!"

"I know, I know, okay? No one said you were crazy, okay? I'm the crazy one, remember?" Murdock smiled.

Yeah, Murdock was the crazy one. Face had to remember that. He had to watch what he said around him, not cause more problems. Murdock was teetering. Had been for a couple weeks now. Face had to be careful. No way he wanted to cause Murdock more trouble.

Like he caused them all so much trouble. All those men they'd killed. Because of him. It wasn't right. It just wasn't.

"Ed?" Murdock again. Softer.

"I wasn't talking to anyone, Murdock. I wasn't! I'm okay."

Murdock just looked at him, smiling that smile. That sad smile.

You have to come home, before you destroy him. Before they destroy you.

I know...


*****

BA watched Murdock and Face over the hood of the van. He wasn't happy with either one of them. Murdock was gettin that wildness back in his voice again. And he was really buggin Face. He just wanted to help. BA knew that. And Face probably did, too. But BA could tell by the way Face would get all stiff in his back that Murdock was pushin him a little too far, a little too fast.

What worried BA was the way Face was actin. Or not actin. He shoulda been angry, frustrated. Shoulda been demanding that Hannibal keep his promise. But he wasn't. He just kept gettin more and more quiet, more and more jumpy and nervous-like. And BA knew he wasn't sleepin at night. He had the room next to Face's, and he heard him movin around at all hours. Pacin back and forth, or just tossin around in bed. And, every now and then, he could hear him talkin to someone.

BA knew those voices were back. They all did. What he couldn't understand is why Murdock and Hannibal couldn't just leave it alone? They didn't have to know what those voices were sayin. They didn't have to know what Face was thinkin. It was as clear as day to him. Face wanted to go to the one place since the accident where he'd felt comfortable, welcomed and cared about, with no demands.

Nothin crazy bout that.

Murdock stood abruptly and walked, deliberately casual, back into the house. BA shook his head. They'd had another set-to. Murdock tryin to help Face, Face tryin to protect Murdock. And himself. That was his other big worry about Face. That he felt he had to protect himself from the team. Wiping his hands on a towel - once, thoroughly, he reminded himself - he headed over to see how Face was doin. Sometimes he needed a little release after Murdock left him.


*****

"Murdock, I'm, uh, getting a bit of headache. Do you mind if we just...don't talk for a while? Please? I'd kinda like to just...take a nap, okay?"

Murdock sighed. "I'm sorry. I'm just trying to help. You always seem so...uptight when they're talking to you."

"No one's talking to me, Murdock! No one!" Damn. He didn't want to lose control, he didn't. But he couldn't deal with Murdock's questions and insinuations any more. Why couldn't they all just leave him alone!

"Okay, muchacho, okay. I'll leave you alone. No problem."

Face watched as Murdock sauntered back into the house. He felt like a louse. He knew he'd hurt Murdock's feelings yet again. Why did he keep doing that? Why did everything he did hurt the people he cared so much about?

He closed his eye and sought out his friends. They always knew when he was fraying. And they would talk about the desert, and the things they saw there, and what they would do when he got home again.

Comforting things.

"Hey, man. You okay?"

He looked up at BA, standing there, concerned, but not smothering. Face had a sudden thought.

He liked BA.

The simplicity of that thought surprised him. Of course, he liked BA. He'd always liked BA. He was...no. No, this was different. This wasn't just because BA was part of the team. This was...different.

He looked at BA again. Hard. Thought about the last three weeks, stuck here in this box, with those people surrounding him, Hannibal and Murdock watching him like a hawk, trying to trick him, lying to him, manipulating him, and BA...

BA, watching him. Just to make sure he was okay. Not trying to make him do, or be, anything. Just listening, if he wanted to talk. Just being there, when he felt shaky. Just...accepting him.

Accepting him.

"Ed?"

"Yeah, BA. Yeah. I'm okay."

Now.