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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

A-Team fic: Acceptable Margins (2/5)

December 24th, 2016 (06:38 am)
blah

feeling: blah

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR
PART FIVE



-o-

For as tired as Hannibal was -- and he was, truly, very tired -- he didn’t sleep. He stayed in the room just long enough to see his three men nod off -- Face first, then finally BA -- before taking his phone and movie just out to the hall. He had to move further down the ward to avoid the glaring eyes of nurses before he was able to get his bearings.

The fact was that Hannibal’s job was more complicated than he often let on to the boys. Yes, recovery was his primary concern, but that wasn’t the only loose end that he needed to deal with. In fact, since his team was recovering so well, he was duty-bound to focus on other salient details as it fit into the team’s schedule.

If that meant sneaking off during afternoon nap, then so be it. Hannibal had already indulged himself with a full night’s sleep.

Which was also why his mind was brimming with what next propositions.

The success of this mission was also its downfall. The army was going to be too satisfied with the results; they wouldn’t ask the real questions, the hard questions, the important ones.

He’d come up with a whole list of unanswered questions, things that had been left unsaid during the mission or new caveats that had arisen unexpectedly. Hannibal had jotted them down while outlining recovery timelines for each of the team, including outpatient care and any addition physical therapy Hannibal saw fit. It was a simple list; no more than a dozen talking points.

Broken down into sub-points.

The list took three pages, which was impressively low for Hannibal.

He really was off his game.

Glancing back toward the room, he made sure there was no sign of movement while the phone rang. It was a testament to Morrison’s genuine friendship that he answered.

“Hannibal,” Morrison said, sounding surprised. “Aren’t you still in the hospital?”

“Observation only, sir,” Hannibal assured him. “And that was mostly because I convinced them that it would be easier if they kept me here until at least one of the boys was discharged.”

“You know, last I checked, the doctors didn’t take orders from you,” Morrison said, although he didn’t sound so surprised anymore. “Staying in the hospital longer than expected is a waste of time and money, two resources the US Army takes very seriously.”

“Which is exactly why I’m better served here, watching out for my team,” Hannibal argued. “You know that they can be somewhat unconventional.”

“That is an understatement, my friend,” Morrison said with a soft chuckle. “The hospital didn’t provide any updates to their conditions. How are they?”

“Better, I think,” Hannibal said. “Which is why I think we can spare a few minutes now to go over the mission.”

“The mission that we already debriefed on?” Morrison said, trying to sound incredulous. He wasn’t, though. He knew Hannibal too well. “The one that I submitted to my boss and have received copious praise for?”

“Yes, I was going over my notes again, and I caught a few issues that I thought we might want to follow up on,” Hannibal said, looking down at his list again and starting to pace down the hall.

“Are they issues that contradict the report you filed?” Morrison asked.

“Of course not,” Hannibal said.

“And are they pressing matters of immediate security concern?” Morrison pressed.

Hannibal shrugged -- one shoulder. “Nothing outright, but there might some things that could be connected to other major developments in the region.”


“Ah,” Morrison said. “So they’re things that can wait.”

Hannibal stopped with a frown. “They have waited--”

“It’s barely been 24 hours, Hannibal,” Morrison said.

“You know I wouldn’t bring anything up unless I thought it was important,” Hannibal argued.

“I know, and you know I respect your opinion,” Morrison said.

Hannibal gritted his teeth together. He was tired; his arm hurt; he had been babysitting his team all morning. He hadn’t counted on having to beg. “So what’s the problem?”

Morrison laughed.

Hannibal glared at the wall, fingers tight around his phone.

“The problem is that you’re not a solo act anymore, Hannibal,” he said. “You took it upon yourself to pull together that team, and I swear to God, you’re the only thing holding them together.”


Hannibal’s chest puffed up. “They’re all fine soldiers, every one.”

“Peck was one disciplinary note away from a court martial,” Morrison said. “Baracus was discharged -- dishonorably, I might add. And Murdock? They sectioned him, Hannibal. They actually sectioned him. He’s the only officer under my command that takes anti-psychotic drugs and still serves in active duty.”

Hannibal shifted uncomfortably. Morrison was to the point, but he wasn’t wrong. “They just need a little attention--”

“Which is why I told the doctors to let you stay in the hospital,” Morrison said. “Which is why I agreed to have you all roomed together. I know how your plans work, Hannibal.”

“All of which, I appreciate, but if you could just let me explain--”

“The mission’s over,” Morrison interrupted. “You need to know when to stop.”

Hannibal knew when he was being given an implicit order.

He also knew that he wasn’t one to take orders, implicit or otherwise. Not when he knew better. “I stop when someone makes me stop.”

There was a pause on the line, then a huff of air “Are you challenging me?”

“Just stating a fact, sir,” Hannibal said, unapologetic.

“All the same,” Morrison said, with as much measured diplomacy as Hannibal was sure he could muster. “Don’t tempt fate, Hannibal. It may not always break in your favor.”

Fate was an idea, but not one that Hannibal put much stock in. Fate was a human way of explaining chance, which was simply an interpretation of possible outcomes based on probable factors. Fate didn’t break in anyone’s favor, and that was why you had a plan.

That was why Hannibal always had a plan.

“Understood,” Hannibal said. “So can I stop by tomorrow, then?”

Willfully obtuse? Maybe. Hannibal wasn’t stupid, but he knew when to play his bluff a little while longer.

“Oh for Pete’s--” Morrison said with a grumble. “If your boys are better, then fine, Hannibal. If they’re all in stable condition, then fine.”

“Thank you, sir,” Hannibal said, hanging up the phone before Morrison could further object or change his mind. Tomorrow wasn’t what he’d planned, but Hannibal’s plans, they were flexible. This development fit within the overall framework.

In fact, Hannibal thought as he headed back to the room, he was pretty sure the plan was better than ever.

-o-

In many ways, an extra day before taking his loose ends to Morrison was a good thing. Hannibal used the time to build up his case in several instances, following up on possible intel to bring a more accurate picture of alternative tangents to pursue. He also did some checking about therapy options, and read up on a cast that could potentially get BA out of bed a few days quicker. If he did this all right, he could have his team up and out of the hospital within two weeks.

He even had time for a twenty minute nap before the others were all up and about.

More accurately put, before the others were awake and annoying.

Not entirely without cause, however. Hannibal had to concede that, even if he didn’t particularly enjoy it. With a team like this, you had to take the good with the bad because the good was very good.

The bad, unfortunately, could also be very bad.

“Why are there not better pain killers?” Face said, twisting his expression while Hannibal helped him back to the bed. “It feels like my intestines are just going to fall out.”

Hannibal eased him down -- the trip to the bathroom had been uncomfortable for both of them -- and did his best not to fuss over the pillows while Face hissed his way back.

“Are we sure my intestines aren’t going to fall out?” Face asked, gingerly guarding his abdomen with a wince. “Because it really feels like they’re going to fall out.”

“The odds are against it,” Hannibal assured him. “By a lot.”

“Face is just being a big baby,” BA said sullenly. He was half-heartedly reading a worn copy of Sports Illustrated from six months ago.

“Says the man who whines about a cast,” Face shot at him. “My insides are falling out here!”

“Man, if it wasn’t for this damn contraption, I’d be up and about with less whining than you,” BA said. “Besides, Hannibal read your post-op notes. Your intestines weren’t even involved.”

Hannibal made his way back to his own bed while Face scoffed.

“And you’re a surgeon now?” Face asked. “Were you the one with your abdomen open for the whole surgical staff to see?”

“It was a minor bleed!” BA said.

“That required open abdominal surgery!” Face replied. “And you’re whining about what? A paper mache project on your leg?”

“Better than you,” BA retorted. “You always create drama. That’s what got you pushed out of the window in the first place.”

“I was doing what I had to do for the team,” Face argued.

“Because scooping you off the ground is so easy?” BA asked, shaking his head. “For someone who is supposed to charm his way into things, you sure do get thrown on your face a lot.”

Face’s mouth dropped open. “And for someone who is supposed to be a mechanical genius, a lot of your contraptions end up in pieces!”

Hannibal closed his eyes, waiting for the inevitable.

BA sat up a bit, eyes flashing. “Because you all are nuts!”

Face wasn’t about to back down. “Says the man with a mohawk!”

The only consolation was that they were all bedridden, so the risk of physical altercation was slim.

Not that the verbal one was going well or anything.

BA gave a low, menacing growl. “You got a problem with my mohawk?”

“Other than the fact that it’s a crime against fashion?” Faced said. “Or the fact that it makes your face look too wide?”

BA’s fists curled. “And you think the over stylized mess on your head is any better? It looks like a greasy ferret?”

The color drained from Face’s complexion. “You take that back!”

BA relented. “You’re right, that’s not fair,” he said. Then his eyes hardened. “To the ferret.”

Hannibal was about to get up and intervene -- a fight was unlikely but not impossible, he reflected dimly -- when Murdock finally spoke.

“What if--” he ventured, hesitant and slow. “What if you had a ferret with a mohawk?”

BA and Face stopped, staring blankly. In all their antics throughout the day, Murdock had been silent. The unusual occurrence had been easy to overlook with everything else that was going on. Hearing Murdock’s voice, though, breaking through the melee, was a welcomed -- if strange -- breath of fresh air.

Even if it made no sense at all.

Hannibal cocked his head, doing his best not to appear amused. “What do you mean exactly?”

“I was just thinking,” Murdock said, thoughtful even as his words faltered slightly. “About a ferret with a mohawk. How do you think that would look?”

Strange, random -- and so perfectly Murdock.

And just what the team needed.

Face laughed, almost against his own will. “That would look ridiculous, man.”

“Stupid, too,” BA said.

“Maybe,” Hannibal said with a reassuring smile at the pilot. “But it sure would be a sight to behold.”

Not, as he figured, unlike his team.

It was the missing piece to the puzzle, the thing that tied them all together even when they should have been falling apart. The A-Team was four members, which was an arbitrary distinction that was so incredibly necessary.

With the four of them, the bad could be really bad.

But the good -- well, it was good.

-o-

Dinner was better than lunch, and not just because the lasagna was recognizable. But because the boys were settling down back into a normal routine. BA grumbled; Face waxed poetic; Murdock spoke at random and made absolutely no sense.

Just like it was supposed to be.

“So I was sitting there,” Face said with a wild gesticulation. The doctor had checked his wound again this afternoon and remarked how well he was healing. “And she actually threw the entire pitcher of water at me.”

BA snorted, but he was smiling. He’d devoured his food in a matter of seconds. “Sounds like my kind of girl.”

“I was standing there, dripping wet, in the fanciest restaurant in Boston,” Face continued. “To make matters worse, they still made me pay the bill for two hundred and eleven dollars plus an automatic 20 percent gratuity.”

“At least they didn’t charge you for the water,” Murdock mused, head tilted to one side. He had half-heartedly poked at his dinner, leaving it mostly untouched.

Hannibal gave a short laugh. “There’s always a bright side.”

“Yeah, but that’s not it,” Face said, smirking. He speared a noodle, which oozed with ricotta. “I got back to my place, and I kid you not, guess who was there?”

“No way, man,” BA said, allowing himself to sound just a little awed.

“Lady Gaga?” Murdock asked.

Face shook his head. “But why would--”

“It’s the most unlikely person I could think of,” Murdock said with a shrug.

“My date,” Face clarified. “She was there, waiting for me. Trust me when I tell you that wet clothes didn’t matter much after that.”

“Aw, man,” BA said. “I don’t know whether to be jealous or indignant. That’s no way to treat a woman.”

“Hey, she threw the water at me,” Face reiterated. “I merely accepted her apology.”

Hannibal shook his head, all to knowing. “And the fact that you snagged the date with a falsified identity and a probably stolen credit card…”

Face didn’t quite have it in him to blush. “Is really not that important,” he said. “Honestly, Hannibal, you know I have nothing but the utmost respect for women.”

“And zero respect for yourself,” BA said. “Lying and tricking.”

“Oh, please,” Face said. “My aliases have helped all of you, more than once.”

“And they’ve gotten us all trouble,” BA said. “Unless you’ve forgotten about an incident with a window.”

“Okay, okay,” Face said, picking up his glass. He finished it. “So it’s a double edged sword.”

“It wouldn’t be so bad if you learned your lesson,” Hannibal said. He cast a purposeful glance at BA. “All of you.”

“You really going to blame me that a tank I put together out of spare parts failed?” BA said. “Murdock crashed a fully functional plane!”

“Not that I blame you, buddy,” Face said. “But take off and landing would be easier if we weren’t dragging your dead weight around.”

BA started to glower, but the furor was light. “No reason we have to fly anyway.”

“Yeah, since your makeshift vehicles always get us so far,” Face quipped. He nodded toward the water pitcher, sitting on one of the bedside tables. “Hey, Murdock. Can you pass the water?”

Murdock, who was now peeling apart the layers of lasagna and studying it, didn’t respond.

“Murdock,” Face said again. “Could you pass the water?”

Murdock seemed most disturbed by a tomato.

Hannibal was disturbed by the whole thing.

For all that Murdock had been filling his void in the team more effectively on day two, he still had periods of strange detachment, a quietness that felt unsettled.

Face strained a little, sitting up more on the bed with a wince as he guarded his stitches with one hand. “Murdock!”

This time, Murdock looked up, apparently surprised. He looked at Face; he looked at Hannibal; he looked at BA. “Wait,” he said. “Me? Are you talking to me?”

Looking blank for a moment, Face finally snorted with a laugh. “Uh, yeah,” he said. “Who else am I talking to?”

For a long second, Murdock stared some more before finally looking around again. Face, Hannibal, BA. He looked like he half expected someone else to be there.

Of course, this was Murdock. According to their pilot, there very well could be someone else there.

Still, that was a rather convenient excuse for many things, and while Hannibal always accounted for Murdock’s so-called insanity, he never allowed himself -- or anyone else -- to use it as an excuse. Murdock processed reality differently than the rest of them, but that didn’t make him a total mystery. There was always a rhyme and a reason for how Murdock acted, it just wasn’t the one most people expected.

Which was why this was disconcerting.

This wasn’t eccentric.

This didn’t make any sense.

Hannibal sat up a little straighter, eyes focused in on his pilot more clearly. Even Murdock’s posture was off, his shoulders slouched, his body curved in on itself. His eyes were wide, wary -- like a nervous jackrabbit ready to bolt.

Maybe this head injury was worse than Hannibal had thought.

For his part, Face balked at the lack of response. Weird and strange -- that was par for the course. And it wasn’t even just the blankness, but more so the lack of humor. “Uh, yes, you,” Face said, as though it was obvious.

It was obvious.

“Oh,” Murdock said, processing the answers as a legitimate revelation. He looked away, nodding to himself vaguely. “Well, it’s hard to tell sometimes.”

Face’s mouth dropped open, incredulous.

“Only for you, fool,” BA grunted dismissively.

More tellingly than anything, Murdock didn’t argue.

He didn’t pass the water, either.

Face didn’t ask again.

Sighing, Hannibal got up, snagging the pitcher and walking it to Face’s bedside. He poured a cup, handing down to the lieutenant. “You’re lucky we don’t throw this at you.”

Face looked hurt. It almost looked genuine, if Hannibal didn’t know better. “And what did I do to deserve that?”

Hannibal put the pitcher down. “Do you want us to make a list?”

“Because we sure as hell ain’t going to make it up to you later, either, I can promise you that,” BA added with a sage nod.

“Man,” Face said. “And to think, Murdock ignoring me is actually the nicest response from my loyal team.”

“Loyal,” BA said, scratching around his cast. “But not stupid.”

Hannibal settled back on his own bed, casting a look at Murdock. He’d put his fork down now, leaving the disassembled lasagna in a mess on his plate.

“Okay, then,” Face said after finishing another sip. “Then what’s your war story, big guy?”

“My worst date?” BA asked.

“Sure,” Face said. “I told you mine.”

“I don’t have bad dates,” BA said.

Face shrugged. “I guess that does presume that you have any.”

“I have dates, man,” BA snapped. “The ladies love me.”

“The mohawk, it does it for them?” Face asked.

“It’s not just about appearance,” BA said.

“Of course, your winning personality,” Face said.

BA drew his angry face together quite convincingly. “I haven’t had anyone throw water at me!”

Hannibal let himself relax, keeping a watchful eye on Murdock while making sure that Face and BA didn’t descend into chaos once again. The day had been better, he reminded himself. It was all part of the plan.

Tomorrow, the boys would continue to heal. He’d talked to the doctors about an accelerated recovery schedule. When the morning went well, he’d step out to meet with Morrison.

Tomorrow would be better, he assured himself.

Tomorrow would be better.

-o-

Tomorrow was still very far away.

“You can’t be serious, man.”

“What? This is educational programming.”

“It’s reality TV,” BA argued. “Bad reality TV.”

“Um, no,” Face said, turning up the volume with the remote. “It’s a fascinating look at human interaction. It’s a study in personalities.”

“It’s a bunch of fools running around in their underwear making out with people and talking bad to cameras.”

“Well, yeah,” Face said, making as though his statement was entirely self evident. “How do you think I master so many personalities? I mean, I’m flattered that you think everything I do is natural, but even someone like me needs to supplement their natural talent with in depth study and analysis.”

Hannibal didn’t want to admit that Face probably had a point. Not one that anyone else in the world would find valid, but Hannibal knew Face; he knew how he thought. He would learn more from a reality TV show than most people would from a personal tutor.

Not that he was about to admit that. He didn’t want to feed Face’s ego or stoke BA’s rage. Instead, he kept a steady eye on his paperwork and hope the fight settled itself before his two bed-ridden team members attempted to fight it out while hooked up to IVs.

BA grunted. “You just think the little brown-haired girl is cute.”

Face opened his mouth so wide that it actually looked comical. His attempt at indignation was played off pathetically. After all, BA also had a point. Another point that Hannibal would not concede because any commentary would validated the entire conversation when Hannibal wanted to pretend like it wasn’t happening at all.

“Besides,” BA said. “This places gets ESPN.”

“Sports?” Face asked. “Are you kidding me?”

“Yes, sports,” BA said. “Actual competition that takes actual talent.”

“A bunch of oversized meat heads, loaded up on roids--”

“You watch sports all the time!”

“Because the army is full of men who are stronger than me, and my face is too pretty to get hit,” Face said. He smiled broadly, holding up the remote. “But today, my friend, I have the remote and you are in traction. So reality TV it is.”

“Man, that’s bogus,” BA said. “Hannibal, tell him that’s not fair.”

Hannibal shook his head, refusing to look up. He was deep into a technical medical abstract about the long term risks associated with leg fractures, but that wasn’t really the issue. The issue was that he was their team leader. Not their babysitter. “You two are going to have to figure it out on your own,” he said, taking a second to underline a relevant passage. “Preferably with no further broken bones or internal bleeding.”

“And if you get out of bed, you’ll make your leg worse,” Face said.

BA made a fist, gesturing to Face. “You know what I can do to you when this is over.”

“You’re threatening a man recovering from major surgery?” Face asked.

“Fine!” BA snapped. “We let Murdock decide.”

“Okay,” Face said. “Murdock, do you want ESPN’s same boring coverage of the same boring sports or an innovative program with unscripted potential.”

“Hey, man,” BA protested. “Sports are hardcore, simple. Even the crazy man can respect that.”

“But he has an appreciation for nuance,” Face said.

“He knows he owes me,” BA countered.

“And he knows who his best friend is,” Face shot back.

“Then let hiim speak,” BA said, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Fine,” Face said. “So what’ll it be, Murdock? Who wins remote rights tonight?”

This time, Hannibal couldn’t help but pause. Murdock’s confusion was gone; his eyes were aware and alert.

But lying on the bed, he was flaccid somehow, pulled in on himself. Murdock had episodes, of course, but this seemed different. The head wound was keeping him off his game.

The pilot cast a glance between Face and BA, but showed no interest in the spotlight. He still wasn’t quite feeding off the team dynamic the way Hannibal would have expected.

“I don’t know,” he said with a half-hearted shrug. “TV’s sort of overrated, isn’t it? The walls seem pretty nice tonight.”

Face half laughed, but Murdock didn’t throw in a punchline. BA stared, frozen, not sure how to reply.

For his part, Hannibal sat up a little straighter, narrowing his gaze on the captain. The words themselves weren’t necessarily out of character, but there was something else. There was a lack of eye contact, a non-expressive voice. It wasn’t just that Murdock was subdued; it was that he felt fundamentally disconnected.

A long list of complications and concerns start ticking off in Hannibal’s head, and he mentally made note of the combination of symptoms and cross referenced them with his knowledge of concussions. Were it not for Murdock’s current doctor’s inclination to suggest further psychiatric evaluation, he probably would have discussed the possibility of complication well before this point. While all symptoms fit within the context of normal, Hannibal still found it disconcerting enough to check again.

“See,” Face said, allowing himself a smug expression. “Murdock agrees with me.”

“With you?” BA retorted.

“I said ESPN was boring,” Face said. “And Murdock thinks the prospect of watching the walls is more scintillating.”

BA made a face. “Either that or he thinks watching your drivel makes the walls look interesting.”

Tomorrow, Hannibal thought to himself as he turned back to his work and tuned the banter out. Following up with Murdock’s doctor was another task for tomorrow.

-o-

All fanfare aside, both BA and Face were asleep early. BA was still propped up, head drooping to one side. Face was leaned back, fingers still on the remote. Despite the bickering, they had ended up watching a nature documentary that interested no one, and the voice in the background was still droning on about the mating habits of wild yaks when Hannibal finally checked the time.

It wasn’t as late as he thought it would be; certainly not as late as his body felt it should be. For all that he hadn’t done anything physically exhaustive in the last 24 hours, he was, in fact, exhausted. It was a judgement call, weighing the benefits of sleep against its drawbacks, but ultimately he decided that being at full energy for tomorrow would be for the best.

With a sigh, he put his papers aside. Grunting, he got up, plucking the remote from Face’s lax hands. He turned it off, moving back toward his own bed when he realized one detail he’d overlooked.

Murdock was still awake.

Given how much Murdock had slept today, Hannibal had figured the pilot would be the first one to conk out. He hadn’t made so much as a peep in hours, and a sleeping Murdock was the only quiet Murdock he was well versed in, making this a genuine surprise.

“Didn’t realize you were still up,” Hannibal mused, mindful of the two sleeping forms in the room. “I know it’s still sort of early, but this mission has wiped me out a bit.”

Murdock nodded faintly, but didn’t really look at Hannibal.

Hannibal found himself hesitating. Tired as he was, there were some things that he didn’t need to put off until tomorrow.

He forced a smile. “You feeling okay? Sort of a long day.”

Murdock glanced at him briefly before his eyes skittered away, anxious. “Oh, more or less,” he said with a nervous huff. He shrugged. “I think.”

I think seemed to be an optimistic estimation. Murdock looked worse still, and it wasn’t just the darkening bruises. He was more withdrawn, pulled in on himself -- and not just vocally. Murdock looked horribly uncomfortable, as if he didn’t like being in the room. At first, Hannibal might attribute this to Murdock’s dislike of hospitals overall, but it was different.

He wasn’t just pulled away from the equipment and whitewashed walls. He was pulling away from them.

No verbal volleys with Face; no jabs at BA. No singing or talking to the walls or funny voices. The wry comments every now and then had a steadying effect for the rest of the team, but Hannibal was beginning to suspect they were doing little for Murdock.

Arching his eyebrows, Hannibal decided to push the point. “You think?”

“Well, you know,” Murdock said, still not quite meeting Hannibal’s gaze. He ducked his head, studying his hands in his lap. “You all seem to think so.”

The deflection was easy enough to see.

Harder to place, though.

Murdock often attributed problems to forces outside his control. But this wasn’t like blaming Billy for stealing socks or claiming that airplanes had a psychic connection with him and demanded to be flown.

This was different.

This was personal.

“And what about you?” Hannibal prodded. He liked to do that, to make people take responsibility for their thoughts and feelings. This wasn’t a cruelty, not to Hannibal’s mind. He would use it to ream people out if he needed to, sure, but it was a necessary step to figuring out what was really wrong. Hannibal could deduce a lot of things, but the best answers were always from the source.

With Murdock, it was even more important. People thought he was crazy, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t flourish with the right amount of structure. Structure, as far as Hannibal was concerned, wasn’t about following rigid orders or establishing strict protocols. Structure was about creating boundaries, and that was different for all of them.

Murdock had always responded well to that, ever since the day Hannibal sprung him from the hospital in Mexico.

It didn’t fail him now.

Murdock looked up, eyes locking on Hannibal’s for the first time since they’d landed. “I don’t know,” Murdock admitted, twitching just slightly. “I don’t remember who I’m supposed to be, so it’s a little hard to judge.”

Hannibal’s first instinct was to laugh.

The joke was perfect, perfectly, perfectly Murdock.

Except.

The laugh died in his throat; the smile fell on his face.

On the bed, Murdock didn’t flinch, mouth set hard.

It wasn’t a joke.

Hannibal’s stomach flipped and churned.

It wasn’t a joke.

Helplessly, Murdock shrugged. “I keep looking at you all,” he said with a stuttering breath. “A ferret with a mohawk, and I keep wondering where I fit in, because I must fit in, because that’s the only thing that makes sense in all of this but the problem is I can’t remember anything.”

Hannibal wanted to deny it. He wanted to call it crazy.

The problem was, it wasn’t crazy.

It was the first thing that made sense. Murdock’s behavior, his distance, his off beat dialogue -- all of it could be perfectly explained by the conclusion that should have been obvious from the start.

Murdock wasn’t just bruised and tired from his concussion.

No, Murdock had amnesia.

Suddenly, tomorrow seemed far too far away.

-o-

Hannibal’s plans always worked.

They were, of course, not without their contingencies.

He made plans with flexible parameters and acceptable margins. His definition of success was singular in its purpose but broad in its application.

In a technical sense, Hannibal supposed Murdock’s amnesia could still be classified as an acceptable margin.

In practical reality, however, Hannibal was aware that this changed everything.

“Like, nothing,” Hannibal said, taking a moment to clarify.

He needed to be sure.

And part of him hoped -- against all hope -- that maybe this was another one of Murdock’s games. His silly interpretations of reality.

But on the bed, Murdock gave a listless nod. “I don’t know who you are,” he said. He nodded his head toward Face and then BA. “I don’t know who either of them are. And I don’t know who I am or why I’m here or why everyone keeps looking at me like that.”

“Like what?” Hannibal asked.

“Like I’ve got the answers,” Murdock said. “Like I’m some punchline to a joke or something. I mean, I get it, we’re a team, right? Some kind of...unit? But you all -- you’re crazy, man. You’re all crazy.”

Hannibal laughed, the sound echoing painfully through his chest. “You have no idea.”

“I know,” Murdock said. “I know.”

Scrubbing a hand through his hair, Hannibal started to pace as his mind turned over the facts. “Why didn’t you say anything? Why didn’t you tell us sooner?”


There had been time, after all. Plenty of time.

“You never asked,” Murdock said. “Everyone assumed….”

Hannibal closed his eyes, taking several more paces before he turned back the other way. That wasn’t like him, and he knew it. The team had made him take a lot of things for granted. That was the advantage of the team -- the things you could count on. But it was also an inherent weakness. Sometimes the things you take for granted are the things that blind you to the obvious.

He’d been so worried about making sure the doctor didn’t order a psychological consult that he’d rushed the physical examination, too.

With head wounds, that could be a whole lot worse than amnesia.

Not that amnesia wasn’t bad enough.

He took a breath and let it out, coming to a stop at the foot of Murdock’s bed. “So, no memory, nothing,” he said. “Not about your training or your childhood.”

Murdock shook his head, looking marginally regretful.

“What about flying?” Hannibal asked. “Surely you remember flying?”

“I just remember waking up, hearing you arguing with the doctor,” Murdock explained.

Hannibal frowned. “And you didn’t say anything?

“The doctor had shifty eyes, and you -- well, I didn’t know you but you knew me,” he said. “I figured I’d take my chances.”

Hannibal scoffed lightly. “That’s some kind of logic, kid.”

Murdock looked vaguely apologetic. “I’ve doubted it myself since then, trust me.”

“Well, don’t worry,” Hannibal told him with a resolute nod. “I’ll fix this.”

“You’ll fix my amnesia?” Murdock asked, clearly dubious.

“One thing you’ll figure out soon enough,” Hannibal said with a wink. “Is that I’ve always got a plan.”

-o-

Hannibal didn’t have a plan.

That wasn’t entirely true, naturally, but it might have well been. Because for all that Hannibal had a plan, it was woefully insufficient now. The so-called contingencies seemed laughable at the moment, and amnesia as an acceptable margin?

He couldn’t actually be serious.

Hannibal didn’t have a plan.

He would, though.

Not by himself. No, this situation required additional expertise. That was why he’d recruited Face, why he’d sought out Murdock, why he’d given BA a chance to serve again. Because Hannibal knew his limitations just as well as he knew his strengths. It was his ability to delegate that made him so dangerous. He had a god-complex, sure, but he was too smart to think he was actually omnipotent.

He got help when he needed it.

And right now, he needed it.

He gave Murdock strict orders to stay still and to stay silent, and while the man clearly had no idea who he was, he at least seemed amenable to that. That had to be a good sign, Hannibal told himself; a sign that Murdock remember, at least on some level. His implicit trust could be an indication that the amnesia was temporary.

Whatever the case may have been, Murdock hadn’t run yet. Hannibal had to hope that he’d stay put a little longer while he figured out the next step.

That was why he needed a doctor. Hannibal knew his way around hospitals and had studied enough to understand doctor-speak. In the field, he made a decent field medic. All that aside, Hannibal was under no delusions. He didn’t have any actual medical training, and he would never assume to take the place of a trained medical professional, especially when it counted.

With his team, it always counted.

That said, Hannibal didn’t have much interest in paging Murdock’s doctor. It wasn’t just that Hannibal was worried that the man might call Hannibal’s bluff and call for a psych consult regardless, but Hannibal also didn’t want to give the man the satisfaction of saying I told you so. Not that it wasn’t the doctor’s responsibility to check for things like amnesia, but Hannibal had made enough of a scene that he wasn’t exactly innocent in all of this either. It was quite possible the doctor would have caught the amnesia if Hannibal had given him the chance.

No, Murdock’s doctor was a bad choice. He needed someone knowledgeable and sympathetic. Someone friendly, who was on good terms with the team on a whole.

Someone like Face’s doctor.

She was already smitten, which was a real advantage.

Hannibal had too much on his plate right now to charm someone new.

-o-

“I still don’t understand,” she said, wetting her lips as she put on a pair of glasses and adjusted the ponytail. It looked a little less perky now, more messy. Face would still find it attractive. “Why couldn’t you talk to the doctor on duty? Is Lieutenant Peck--?”

“Lieutenant Peck is fine,” Hannibal assured her, sparing an anxious look down the hall. He’d refused to let himself to go far, watching the door. Just in case.

She was trying to be professional, but it was clear that Hannibal had pulled her from sleep. Her smile was forced. “Then I really don’t--”

“Captain Murdock,” Hannibal interjected, unwavering. “He’s had a new...um, symptom. I’d like to discuss it.”

“He’s not my patient,” she said, looking less amused by the moment. She’d been charmed by Face; she was less charmed by him.

Hannibal didn’t need charm, though. He needed logic and compassion. “It’s something of a sensitive case,” he said.

She was already shaking her head. “Which is why you should discuss it with his doctor.”

“Captain Murdock has special medical exemptions in place that allow him to operate in the field,” Hannibal explained. “We try to limit his exposure to doctors who fail to understand his place on this team.”

“Medical exemptions?” she asked.

“He’s one of the few active duty soldiers allowed to take psychiatric medications,” Hannibal said.

This seemed like news to her, but it hadn’t quite piqued her interest.

“We are very careful, then, as we monitor his condition, a fact that your colleague failed to understand,” Hannibal said.

“Dr. Rogers is a very competent--”

Hannibal gave her a look. He wasn’t Face, but he knew his in. “We don’t want competent,” he said. “We want someone who will provide comprehensive care.”

She closed her mouth, swallowing.

He’d hit on something; he wasn’t going to back down. “We’ve already arranged to have us all put in the same room. Would it be so hard to transfer all of us to your service?”

She hesitated. “You’d need approval from the Chief of Surgery.”

“How about from the base commander?” he asked.

“You could do that?” she asked, sounding skeptical.

“Tell you what,” he said. “You give Murdock a neuro exam, and I’ll go call General Morrison and set the whole thing up.”

She stared at him a moment longer, clearly in disbelief. Finally, she shook her head. “Okay,” she said, jabbing a finger at him. “But you better be as good as you say you are.”

He smiled benignly, watching her go.

He couldn’t bring himself to tell her how much he agreed with that sentiment.

-o-

To say Morrison was unhappy was accurate.

And almost comically understated.

“You want me to what?” he asked, sounding half apoplectic over the phone.

“Transfer all of us to Dr. Stevens’ service,” he said.

“Who the hell is Dr. Stevens?” Morrison asked.

“One of the residents here--”

“You’re asking to be transferred to a less qualified doctor?” Morrison said, accusation in his voice.

“You know I have my reasons,” Hannibal said.

Morrison scoffed. “What? So you can better coerce her into keeping your little team of renegades together?”

“Sir, you know their performance records--”

“And I know their limitations,” Morrison said. He sighed heavily over the line. “Hannibal, you keep calling in all your favors with me.”

“And I keep earning more,” he replied flatly.

There was a pause. “This is where you want to cash it in? On this?”

“The mission’s not over yet,” Hannibal said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to get my boys through.”

Morrison chuckled, tired but not surprised. “That you will, Hannibal, that you will.”

Hannibal bit his lip, looking to the ceiling. “So you’ll make the call?”

“I take it the meeting you requested--”

“Has been postponed,” Hannibal said.

“That’s just as well,” Morrison commented ruefully. “I honestly didn’t have the energy for your antics today.”

“It’s just temporary,” Hannibal assured him. “I still have a few points I want to go over--”

Morrison groaned. “Okay, okay, stop talking and I’ll make the call!”

Hannibal closed his eyes, trying to feel relieved. “Thank you, sir.”

“Thank me by not bothering me for at least 24 hours,” he muttered before hanging up the phone.

Eyes open again, Hannibal looked down the hall.

That was one bit of good news.

Now it was time to see about the rest.

-o-

He was waiting for her when she came out of the room.

“So?” he asked, expectant.

“So?” she asked in return.

He held up a paper; it was signed by the Chief of Surgery.

She looked impressed. “Wow,” she said. “You actually pulled that off.”

“It’s something you’ll learn about me: I always do what I say,” he said. “Now, tell me about Captain Murdock.”

“Well,” she said, appearing to gather her thoughts. “You mentioned psychiatric medications, which I can see noted on the chart, but I’d really like to know more about his bipolar diagnosis--”

Hannibal shook his head to stop her. “I told you, his psychiatric condition has no relevance--”

“Except it does,” she said. “Look, I get that you’re worried about a new line of shrinks coming in, but that’s not what this is about. This is about understanding his psychiatric condition to properly assess his neurological one.”

Hannibal reigned in a sigh. He flattened his mouth. “In what way?”

She seemed encouraged by that. “For starters, I have no idea what amount of memory loss is normal for him,” she explained.

“He has selective memory of past events,” Hannibal said. “But this is different.”

“No offense, but without medical training--”

“This is different,” Hannibal insisted, doing his best not to be domineering. He didn’t want to intimidate her; he just wanted her to understand. “He didn’t know who I was, who our team was. He didn’t even know who he was.”

“But if he has delusions--”

“He has fantasies, yes,” Hannibal said. “But he doesn’t disappear into them so fully that he doesn’t respond to us. He couldn’t even remember that he was a pilot, and trust me when I tell you, there is nothing Murdock loves more than being in the air.”

She seemed to consider that, nodding slowly. “You are convinced, then, that this amnesia is neurological? Nothing happened on the mission to trigger it? You came in hard, I heard--”

“Hard? For Murdock, that was nothing,” Hannibal said. “There was nothing in the mission to predicate this.”

“In that case, I’d recommend monitoring him more closely and engaging him as normal as possible,” she said.

Hannibal’s face screwed up. “Wait,” he said. “That’s it?”

She shrugged. “He’s showing no other deficits,” she said. “His reflexes are all perfect, and aside from being a little tired, he seems to be recovering from the concussion as expected.”

“Except he can’t remember anything,” Hannibal said.

“But his speech and motor functions are unaffected,” she said. “This kind of amnesia is rare -- and it’s also temporary most of the time.”

“You’re saying it’s no big deal--”

She smiled patiently. “I’m saying, I’ll all for a neuro consult, but I already know what they’re going to say,” she said. “At this point, it’s too early to be concerned. His scans were good when he was admitted. The best thing you can do is give him time for the details to come back.”

Hannibal hedged, striving for calm. “Time?”

“Sometimes it comes back slowly,” she said. “Other times, all at once. Talk about things he likes; share memories with him. Anything could be his trigger. Just act as normal as possible, and he’ll probably recover his memory within a week or two.”

“Normal,” Hannibal repeated, taking a steadying breath.

“If possible,” she said.

Hannibal looked toward the door, thinking about his team.

They could do many things, his boys.

Passing for normal, though?

Had never been one of them.

“Well,” he said, offering her a perfunctory and determined smile. “We’re always up for a challenge.”

-o-

Challenge was one way of putting it.

Massive screw up was another.

“You’re telling me that he had amnesia for two days and we didn’t know it?” Face asked, absolutely incredulous. “Two days?”

Hannibal had requested the doctor to move Murdock to a private exam room for the neuro consult. He had to think an independent evaluation might yield more accurate results this time, and it gave him a chance to break the news to the others.

“Are we actually sure it’s amnesia?” BA asked. “Not just one of his stupid games?”

The points were valid, both of them. Murdock’s psychological condition had severely impeded their ability to gauge Murdock’s strange behavior.

Still, Hannibal should have noticed.

He wet his lips, summoning his self control. This was his fault, yes, but there was no room in the plan for self pity. The boys didn’t need self recrimination. They needed a leader.

“All of it was easy to write off as part of the concussion, but you have to admit, you noticed it was different,” Hannibal said, as gently as possible.

“Everything is different about that fool,” BA muttered.

“But what does that even say about us?” Face asked. “That we take his crazy so much for granted that we didn’t realize he had amnesia?”

“To be fair, we had other things to worry about,” Hannibal said, glancing at the bandages around Face’s midsection and BA’s leg in traction.

Face shook his head. “But he talked about Billy. I mean, he has to remember something if he talked about Billy.”

“I’m not sure Murdock’s hallucinations are the best evidence of his mental stability,” Hannibal said. “And that fits with what the doctor explained. The memory loss is probably temporary.”

“And he remembers an imaginary dog but not us?” BA asked. “Figures.”

Face sighed, running his hand through his hair. “We still should have noticed, man.”

“The signs were subtle,” Hannibal said. “I’m not sure he even wanted to admit it. He got quiet, trying to figure it out.”

“That should have been the first clue,” BA snorted. “I knew him being quiet was too damn good to be true.”

“So how do we fix it?” Face asked. “I mean, we have to fix it, right?”

Face was looking at him; BA was, too. It was a powerful thing, the way they trusted him. It was a terrifying thing, how they trusted him. As if this mission hadn’t involved defenestration, tank crashes and planes skidding off the runway. As if he hadn’t missed amnesia for two days.

“The doctor suggested that we act as normal as possible,” Hannibal said. “Engage him; talk to him about the good things.”

“Normal, I can do,” BA said. “Not so sure about Murdock, though.”

“You got to admit, Hannibal,” Face said. “That’s kind of a tall order.”

Hannibal lifted his eyebrows. “You saying you don’t think we can do it?”

Face reddened. BA’s shoulders went stiff.

“That’s the plan, then,” Hannibal said. “All systems normal.”

And hope like hell for the best.

-o-

When Murdock was brought back to the room, the air was tense. They were nervous, his boys. Not quite sure what to do or what to say. They were still his team, and they all knew that on an intellectual level, even if none of them understood how that would play out on an emotional one for the time being.

Which meant it was up to Hannibal to do what he’d always done.

Be a leader.

“So,” he said, wishing he could rub his hands together. Being one-handed in this whole ordeal was off putting. He tried to smile to compensate. It felt weird. “Maybe we should have some introductions.”

BA scowled, but Face at least tried to smile. Murdock gave them an uncertain look, pulling himself a little deeper back into the bed where the nurse had left him. He was supposed to take it easy; they would monitor his condition for changes. That was the official plan of action, and if it left something to be desired, Hannibal would have to work extra hard to make up the difference.

He would be compensating for a lot more than one hand.

“I’m Hannibal,” he said, pointing at himself with one good hand.

Murdock raised his eyebrows. “Climb some mountains recently?”

Hannibal chuckled as if he hadn’t heard the joke about fifty billion times before. It wasn’t so much the joke that bothered him; it was that it was far too common for Murdock to crack. “Obviously, that’s not my real name,” he said. “Colonel John Smith, and I’m the man responsible for this A-Team.”

“A-Team?” Murdock asked with a hesitating look at the others.

“Alpha Team,” Hannibal clarified. “We do specialized and sometimes classified work for the United States Army. We go in when it’s too dangerous for a standard unit.”

“Covert?” Murdock probed cautiously.

“Not exactly, or at least not exclusively,” Hannibal explained. “Our missions are less about black ops and more about the impossible.”

“And the bizarre,” Face chimed in.

“Not to mention the positively stupid,” BA said, as contrary as usual.

“It’s never dull,” Hannibal said, trying to sound as reassuring as possible. It was no small task. For the first time in their time together, Murdock was the only one who was sane. “Anyway, over here in bed number one is Lieutenant Templeton Peck, otherwise known as Face.”

Face offered a bright smile and waved.

Murdock nodded, slow. “Face for…”

“I think it’s pretty self evident,” Face beamed.

“He’s known for his ability to charm people,” Hannibal said with a sharp look at his lieutenant. “Not his modesty.”

“Modesty is overrated,” Face said. “And it certainly doesn’t get you any perks. I mean, if you want extra pillows? Jello between meals? Just let me know. I can do that, no problem.”

Murdock furrowed his brows, but said nothing.

Hannibal cleared his throat, gesturing in the other direction. “And in bed number two is Corporal BA Baracus,” he said.

“Bosco,” Face added with a mischievous grin.

BA seemed to make an effort to lessen the scowl on his face.

It didn’t work particularly well.

“He’s our mechanical expert,” Hannibal continued. “He can fix any engine, and if it’s got wheels, he can drive it.”

“And that’s the way I like it,” BA said. “I don’t need nobody else driving me around. And I especially don’t need nobody flying me.”

“Yeah,” Face said. “He’s got a thing about flying.”

Murdock glanced to him, questioningly.

“It’s not a thing,” BA snapped.

“No, it’s more of a phobia,” Face said.

“It’s called common sense,” BA insisted.

“You’re an airborne Ranger,” Face reminded him.

Hannibal straightened himself, pinning them both with looks in equal turns.

“Okay,” Murdock said. He swallowed, sitting up a little more. “And then, who am I? What do I do?”

“As you may have figured out,” Hannibal said, glad to see that Murdock was curious at least. “You’re HM Murdock, our pilot.”

Murdock looked somewhat surprised. “Pilot?”

Face laughed. “Why do you think BA’s scared of flying?”

Pointing to himself, Murdock appeared concerned. “Me?”

“It was nothing,” Hannibal said.

“Nothing!” BA interjected. “The fool nearly dropped me out of a plane!”

“I did what?” Murdock asked.

“You were trying to evade heat seeking missiles,” Hannibal explained.

“And BA totally should have been wearing a seatbelt,” Face said.

BA huffed angrily. “Or we shouldn’t let crazy people fly!”

Three days ago, the quip would have landed perfectly. But the instant the words were out, BA looked like he regretted it. Hannibal glanced anxiously at Murdock, trying to gauge his response.

“Crazy?” Murdock asked, voice quiet.

“Like crazy,” Face said, trying to salvage the conversation. “To fly like you, you have to be crazy.”

“No,” Murdock said, starting to shake his head. “There’s more to it, isn’t there? The questions they asked me--”

“Were neurological,” Hannibal said. “You do have amnesia after all.”

Murdock didn’t believe them. Not that he should; they were lying to him.

Still, Hannibal had wanted to avoid the topic of Murdock’s mental state a little longer. He needed to fix the amnesia first, and explaining that he was the team’s resident psych patient probably wasn’t going to help. Sure, they were supposed to keep things normal, but crazy was as crazy did, and Hannibal didn’t need to have Murdock worrying about anything other than remembering.

“It’s complicated, for all of us,” Hannibal said. “This team, we’re not just another unit. We’re different than that. We’re a band of misfits. Family.”

Murdock considered that, glancing again from Hannibal to the others.

“It’ll come back to you,” Hannibal said. “You’ll see what we mean.”

Wetting his lips, Murdock tipped his head. “And if it doesn’t?”

“I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt because you don’t remember,” Hannibal said. “But we never stop until the mission is done, until it’s successful. There is nothing -- no matter how crazy or difficult or hard -- that we can’t do when we work together as a team.”

Murdock shook his head. “But I don’t remember the team.”

“And it is our mission to change that,” Hannibal said, eyes locking on Murdock and not looking away. “You’ve sat here for two days with us and you didn’t try to leave. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”

“To be fair,” Murdock said, voice shaking somewhat. “You three make it hard to get a word in edgewise.”

“If you’d wanted to go, you would have gone,” Hannibal said. “So you trust us until you trust yourself. We’ll get you there. As a team, we’ll get you there.”

It was a promise they all wanted to believe. Murdock, Face, BA -- and Hannibal himself. It was a promise they needed to believe.

More than that, it was a promise they needed to fulfill.

Hannibal looked at his team, disjointed and hurt.

He’d never failed them yet.

And he sure as hell wasn’t about to start failing them now.