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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

A-Team fic: Acceptable Margins (3/5)

December 24th, 2016 (06:40 am)
awake

feeling: awake

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR
PART FIVE



-o-

With neuro’s official stance to monitor Murdock’s condition, Hannibal was given the go-ahead to maintain his men as he saw fit. In many ways, nothing had changed. He still had a lot of work to do -- reading up on the various therapies and recovery timelines -- while also trying to fit in a little bit of time to follow up on the leads he’d come up with after the mission.

In short, he was as busy as he ever was.

And that wasn’t the only thing that seemed normal. The three of the boys, cooped up in the hospital room -- it felt like nothing had changed.

“Look,” Face was saying, leaning over toward Murdock’s bed with a conspiratorial air. “All I’m saying is that nurses like that stuff.”

Looking back at Face, Murdock narrowed his eyes in curiosity. “They want their patients to be injured?”

“No, I mean, not exactly--”

“Because honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about that,” Murdock admitted with an earnest bob of his head.

“I didn’t mean--”

“So, they what?” Murdock continued, actually thinking about the idea now. “They hurt people a little more? What’s to stop them from hurting them all the time, just to keep them from getting discharged? It would be a sadistic little cult--”

Face shook his head, adamant. For all that the lieutenant was recovering from surgery, his color was returning and the light in his eyes was regaining its vigor. He was scheming, a prospect Hannibal might be inclined to stop if he didn’t think it might do all of them some good. Not that Hannibal needed the so-called perks, but if it got Murdock and Face to work together, then that was something Hannibal could get behind.

“I’m saying, they’re suckers for hurt patients,” Face clarified. “They feel bad for them. If they see some soldier, laid up in bed, those maternal instincts kick in. They want to coddle, they want to protect.”

Murdock was still considering this seriously. “That is probably why they became nurses.”

“Exactly,” Face said. “Which is why you have to know how to play to that.”

Murdock shook his head. “I don’t follow.”

“Being hurt -- it sucks, right?” Face said. “You’re laid up, you’re in pain, you have to stay in one tiny room--”

“I’m not sure I’m seeing the advantage.”

“Nurses,” Face said, more animated this time. “They’re the ones that can make or break your stay. They can bring you extra food -- they might even smuggle you in the stuff from the lounge. They can get you the soft blankets or the fluffy pillows. And I know for a fact they can get you other things, too.”

Murdock tweaked his eyebrows, skeptical. “Other things?”

“Bluray players; iPods; tablets,” Face said. “I once got a nurse to bring in a private masseuse as part of my recovery regimen.”

“Because you were injured?” Murdock asked.

“Because I was injured,” Face said. “And I knew how to play it.”

Murdock thought for a long moment, more soberly than he might have in the past. But he nodded his head. “What did you have in mind?”

Face grinned back. “The bruising around your forehead right now -- it looks horrible.”

Murdock reached up, self-conscious.

“Which means you are the perfect sell,” Face said. “Not to mention the fact that your amnesia will have the whole floor talking. Me, I have the face, but a little internal bleeding just isn’t going to cut it in a place like this. But you -- you, man. You have what I need.”

Murdock chewed his lip.

Face hesitated. “That is, if you’re game.”

“Okay,” Murdock said, nodding again. “Let’s do this.”

Hannibal scrawled a fresh note in his growing stack of paperwork and tried not to smile.

-o-

Hannibal probably should have put a stop to it earlier. The food and pillows were one thing, and Hannibal wasn’t about to say no to a good massage after spending the better part of two days in bed. But the rug and the window treatments? The mood lighting and the personal cappuccino machine? They were overkill, even by Hannibal’s somewhat unconventional standards.

And it was almost eye-roll-inducing to watch while Face played out his sob story for every nurse that walked through the door. Female, male, young, old.

But watching Murdock play the part -- watching him blink big eyes and moan on cue -- was a sight to behold. Face was their resident scam artist, but Murdock had always been a willing foil in any of Face’s schemes. He needed little direction, and he flourished with improvisation.

Murdock couldn’t remember his name, but he still remembered that.

Hannibal knew what this scam had really been about.

And if the cappuccino maker was here, then really, who was he to say no?

-o-

Not that the sugary caffeine did much when BA and Murdock got into it.

“Spiders,” Murdock said.

“Easy to step on,” BA replied.

“Clowns,” Murdock said.

“Easy to punch out,” BA said.

“Public speaking,” Murdock blurted next.

Hannibal did his best not to smile, because he knew while it was warranted, it wasn’t exactly appropriate. Face had been taken out of the room for a personal therapy session -- one that Hannibal wasn’t sure was actually part of his therapy plan, but one that was an apt distraction for the lieutenant before he actual scammed an entire OR just for the hell of it -- and without an amiable buffer, Murdock and BA had been left to get to know each other again.

It was going better than the first time around. Back in Mexico, Murdock had stitched a lightning bolt into BA’s arm, destroyed his van and dropped him out of a helicopter within five minutes. In this perspective, Murdock’s nonstop, pointed and random questions were quite mild.

To Hannibal, at least.

To BA, that was another story.

“Man, who the hell wants to do that anyway?” BA said, showing a remarkable amount of composure given the circumstances. “I’m not afraid of the people; I’m afraid of how boring it would be.”

“But you could talk about anything,” Murdock ventured. “Even a fear of flying.”

“Anybody with common sense knows about that,” BA said, crossing his arms over his chest. HE actually sounded petulant, not that Hannibal was about to call him on it. “Least, anyone who knows you.”

“Well I don’t know me, so you have to explain,” Murdock said. He said it so plaintively that he surely meant it; so plaintively that he surely understood how grating it was.

BA drew a terse breath and visibly braced himself. He didn’t yell; he didn’t threaten. “You’ll remember soon enough.”

“Which is why I want you to explain it to me now,” Murdock said, a bit more emphatic. “Because your understanding of why you’re scared to fly is probably different than my version, and really, I’d like to know your point of view on it before I realize the truth.”

BA’s face scrunched up. “The truth?” he barked.

Hannibal glanced up from his work, bracing himself in case he needed to intervene. Not that he expected BA to do anything rash, but the big man was in traction and Murdock was an amnesiac.

Murdock didn’t flinch, not even when BA curled his fingers into visible fists.

“The trust is that you’re a crazy fool who says he likes to fly, but all you really like to do is go down,” BA said. “With you, it’s not flying. With you, it’s damn near suicide.”

It was an outburst, yes, but there was no hint of violence. Whether that was the traction or BA’s self control, Hannibal wasn’t sure.

Beggars weren’t about to become choosers.

“But I’m still alive,” Murdock said, thoroughly nonplussed. He seemed to have no indication of his apparent peril.

“So?” BA spat.

“So how is it suicide when I’m still alive,” Murdock said.

BA blew out a long, hot breath. “No one ever said you were any good at it.”

For a moment, Murdock just nodded. “What about whales?”

“What?” BA asked, more incredulous than before.

“Are you scared of whales?”

“Who the hell is afraid of whales?” BA asked.

“Fish, probably,” Murdock said.

“I ain’t no fish!” BA said, somewhat indignant.

“And you aren’t a bird, either,” Murdock said with a frown of commiseration. “So I’m trying to figure out how you’re an airborne Ranger.”

“I told you, I’m not scared,” BA said. “It’s a rational aversion. If you had any common sense, you’d be scared, too.”

“Of flying?” Murdock asked.

BA pounded one fist into the other. “Of me.”

Hannibal straightened, ready to intervene if he needed to. The banter was good, he had to think. But he didn’t want to scare Murdock -- unsettling him would be counterproductive for their ultimate goal.

Murdock, though, just nodded. “Maybe,” he conceded. “If you were a whale?”

BA’s pounding stopped mid-motion. “What?”

“I think I may be scared of whales,” Murdock admitted, totally matter of fact.

BA scoffed. “But...you don’t even remember your name. And now you’re remembering weird phobias?”

“Well, it makes sense, doesn’t it?” Murdock said, more conversationally than before. “I’m a pilot, right? I like to fly high? I mean, sure, maybe I like the thrill of it, maybe I like the power or the control or flying through the endless blue and navigating through cotton balls. But for as much as I know, I may just want to be up high to get as far away from whales as possible.”

Staring at him, BA had no response.

Murdock shrugged. “Also, have you ever seen a whale?” he asked, shaking his head. “Nothing should ever be that big. It’s just weird.”

BA let out his breath, slouching down back to his pillows. “They’re not the only thing that’s weird,” he muttered under his breath.

It was all weird, that much was true.

Which meant it was all perfectly normal, too.

Some things? These things?

That was the stuff even Hannibal couldn’t plan for.

And it was the stuff he’d use all the same.

-o-

Throughout the day, Murdock had run scams with Face and bickered with BA. All things considered, it had been a pretty good day. Better than he’d expected, at any rate. It was hard to find normal with a team like this, but he thought they’d all done an admirable job.

Maybe that was why he was genuinely surprised when Murdock was gone.

He’d stayed up late, as was his habit, and he’d just convinced himself to put down his paperwork and go to the bathroom to call it a night. When he’d come back out, he’d made up his mind to really let himself sleep -- a good five hours would do him wonders -- when he went through his mental checklist.

Doorway, secure. Window, quiet. No sound or movement in the vents or hallways. BA was sleeping, leg still secure. Face was also sleeping, the IV drip making sure of that much. But when he came to Murdock’s bed, he stopped.

Because Murdock wasn’t there.

Murdock was gone.

Hannibal gritted his teeth together.

He had asked for normal, after all.

And Murdock staging a midnight breakout without telling anyone?

Was about as normal as it got.

Only this time, he had to find his amnesiac pilot before he got himself into trouble.

He sighed, muttering under his breath. “What else is new.”

-o-

Murdock didn’t remember who he was, but Hannibal had never forgotten. Memory aside, Murdock’s instincts were proving ever true. If anything, this whole ordeal was reinforcing that Murdock had never played by the majority’s rules. He’d always been marching to the beat of his own drummer, no matter how strange. The pointed eccentricities were less now, but the off-kilter quirkiness was just as pronounced.

This was an interesting character study, perhaps. It was also a useful tool when it came to finding his wayward pilot.

To be fair, this was a skill he’d honed with some care. Ever since he’d first found Murdock in Mexico, he’d understood that his pilot was something of a flight risk -- pun sometimes intended. By giving Murdock a place on the team, their resident lunatic hadn’t needed to stage thrilling and high risk breakouts, but that hadn’t stopped him in the slightest. Murdock was always sneaking out of places, escaping through security checkpoints without a single problem.

Well, there were a few problems. It took some effort to keep the escapades under wraps, and he’d had to negotiate some creative settlements with his commanding officers and security guards to prevent Murdock from getting him trouble. He’d tried to explain this to Murdock, emphatically and sympathetically as possible. He’d tried to help Murdock really grasp the risk associated with his antics. He didn’t want to leave the team, did he?

Of course not, Murdock had said.

Then what are you running from? Hannibal had asked, as rationally as he could.

Hannibal could still remember Murdock’s answer. He could still remember the plaintive look in Murdock’s eyes, like the answer was as obvious as sunshine.

I’ve run lots of places, lots of times, but I haven’t escaped myself yet, not yet. He’d smiled, almost sad. “Maybe next time, though.</i>

Hannibal found him the next time and the time after that. And the dozen times after that. Over the last year, he’d found Murdock every single time, no matter how far or what his state of mind happened to be. Murdock was afraid of losing himself sometimes, so Hannibal had promised himself that he’d always find him, no matter what.

He didn’t want to consider the irony of that. How a concussion had lost him Murdock and probably given Murdock the only reprieve possible from the demons inside his own mind. For once, he couldn’t be sure Murdock actually wanted to be found.

That didn’t mean that Hannibal wasn’t going to try.

Most people, given the choice, went to the ground when they were on the run. Indeed,
In a multi-story building, you wouldn’t get very far without going to a main floor exit. Murdock wasn’t most people, though. His instincts were always to go up, even when it didn’t make any sense at all.

Especially then.

Trying to look nonchalant, Hannibal smiled politely to the nurses at the desk on his way to the stairwell. It was probably against protocol to look for Murdock without reporting him missing, but the last thing he needed was to give anyone fodder for a psychological evaluation. If this went well, Hannibal would find Murdock and bring him back to the room before anyone was the wiser.

Hannibal would compensate if things didn’t go well.

The plan was still within its acceptable margins.

He made a visual sweep of the stairwell, looking up and down for any sign of movement. No doubt, there was plenty of room to conceal oneself, but Hannibal listened -- there was no sign of movement.

Murdock wouldn’t stay in a stairwell. It was too enclosed. Of course, Murdock’s aversion to closed doors and secured spaces could be a side effect of being locked up in the psych ward, but Hannibal had to believe there was more to it than that.

Decided, he started up. He moved cautiously, aware both of the risk of running into medical professionals and having to explain himself and of spooking Murdock on his way up. He had no way of knowing what Murdock’s mindset was. Running was something Murdock enjoyed, Hannibal knew, but he also resorted to escape when he was struggling with his psychoses. If this was a situation of the latter, Hannibal needed to be careful.

Still, he took the steps two at a time, using his long legs to easily navigate his way up. He passed landings for the next three floors and paused again. Looking down, there was still no sign of movement, and he heard his own heart fluttering anxiously in his chest.

Calm and quiet.

Hannibal looked up.

Three more floors to go.

It was possible, of course, that Murdock had taken refuge on another floor. But there was one thing on the roof that no other floor could offer: the sky.

Hannibal started again, moving up the stairs in groups of three now. He was starting to sweat by the time he reached the top, and he stopped long enough to see the security measures in place on the door.

Naturally, roof access was restricted.

Hannibal felt his confidence swell in his chest.

Because for as much security was in place, he could see that it had been deactivated.

Coincide?

In Hannibal’s world?

Not hardly.

He double checked the work, ensuring that it was safe and easy to fix, and slipped through the door.

The night was cool, made colder by the heat of adrenaline pulsing through him. He was always collected under pressure -- no one would guess otherwise -- but he was banking a lot on finding Murdock on this roof. He wasn’t a gambling man by nature, but when he did play the odds, he always played them in his favor.

Chasing an amnesiac with a history of mental instability?

Those odds were not necessarily in his favor.

And yet, Hannibal had enough wherewithal to be sure.

Murdock was here.

There was a helicopter pad and a maintenance shed. An embankment of heating and cooling units obscured the far end. From up here, the view wasn’t particularly spectacular, but the fresh air was it.

It tasted like freedom.

Or, you know, impending disaster.

Either way.

He checked carefully, sweeping the exterior. He checked behind the shed first, noting that there was no sign of tampering with the lock -- Murdock wouldn’t come this far just to close himself in a small room anywyay -- and then made his way forward. The cooling units were still working, humming with age and overuse in the night sky. The star were twinkling, and Hannibal moved purposefully around to the other side.

Stealth was not the point. He didn’t want to scare a man hiding on a roof; that was just stupid.

So he had to be careful, sure.

He stepped around the corner with his shoulders squared, looking like he already knew what he’d find two seconds before he finally saw Murdock, standing at the edge.

It might have been unnerving -- to anyone else, it surely would have been interpreted differently. A psych patient on the edge of the roof. It could be taken ominously.

But Murdock wasn’t tense; he wasn’t coiled or anxious.

No, he was just standing there, eyes closed.

Breathing.

It was a hell of a thing, being right.

He cleared his throat.

Murdock didn’t flinch; he didn’t open his eyes.

That was okay; Hannibal could wait now. He had control of this situation; everything was going to be fine.

After a moment, Murdock finally spoke. “I knew you’d come.”

“I thought you didn’t know who I was,” Hannibal said, as conversationally as possible.

Murdock opened his eyes, casting a knowing look sideways. “I don’t remember you, but you’re not all that hard to figure out,” he said. “You look after your men.”

“I do try,” Hannibal said. “Hard to say if I’m always successful.”

Murdock didn’t argue that point, for better or worse. Instead, he looked out again with a sigh. “I suppose you want me to come back.”

“It would make things easier, yes,” Hannibal admitted. It was his turn to pause, studying his pilot more thoughtfully. “Though I’m sort of wondering why you didn’t try to leave all together. You don’t remember us; we’re strangers to you.”

“But you’re my team,” Murdock said, looking toward Hannibal again. “The way you act, the way you talk to me. From the start, you were just so sure, so confident. That’s why I didn’t say anything.”

“For all the good it does us,” Hannibal said. “I should have noticed it sooner; I should have known something was wrong.”

“Eh,” Murdock said, making a dismissive sound with his tongue. He shrugged, lifting his hands to rub his bare arms. “I woke up and I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know where I was or why I was. I couldn’t trust my memory, my own mind. I didn’t trust anything.”

He stopped, looking more fully at Hannibal.

“Except you.”

Hannibal sighed in turn, taking a step forward. “But we could have helped you.”

“You did, though,” Murdock said, eyes bright in the moonlight. “You did.”

He hesitated, reaching out to clap Murdock gently on the shoulder. “Still,” he said. “You need to tell us next time, for better or worse. If something changes, we need all the facts in order to have the plan in order.”

Murdock looked surprised. “This was part of a plan?”

This time, Hannibal almost winced. “Admittedly, it’s not my best plan,” he said. “But, I’ve found, any plan will do.”

“You think so?” Murdock asked, daring to be hopeful.

Hannibal offered back his warmest smile. “I know so.”

-o-

It didn’t take much to talk Murdock back inside, and it took even less to smuggle him back in the room with no one being aware that anything had been amiss in the first place. He tipped his head to the nurses, smiled at the doctors and escorted Murdock into the room as if this had been part of his plan since the beginning. He stopped short of tucking Murdock under the covers, but he watched until the pilot had pulled the sheets high and turned on his side with his eyes closed.

Face stirred gently in his sleep; BA snorted, rustling as best he could against the traction. There would be antics in the morning; fighting. Face would scam something unnecessary, and BA would make a stand about something irrelevant. Murdock would help them both with that, and Hannibal would be left making sure they were safe -- and that the rest of the world was safe from them.

Hannibal settled down on his own bed.

Sometimes it really was like nothing had changed at all.

-o-

Other times, though, it was like everything had changed.

“So I said to her, this isn’t usually my thing,” Face was explaining, ever adamant. He was feeling even better four days after surgery, and Hannibal didn’t need to check the doctor’s notes to see that. While he was still in bed, he was propped upright and his eyes were bright. His voice was full of vigor. “But for her, I would make an exception.”

BA grunted, rolling his eyes so as not to appear jealous. He would never tolerate Face thinking he was actually good at something. “You’re full of it, man,” he said, shaking his head. The fact that he was engaging the conversation showed that he was also on the mend -- and very, very bored. “No way that happened.”

“It did! It did!” Face said, even more eagerly than before. “I cross my heart, hope to die.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t tempt fate like that,” Hannibal mused, jotting down a few words to a crossword puzzle while simultaneously skimming an intelligence report he’d had smuggled into the hospital on his behalf. “All things considered.”

“But it’s true,” Face said. He jutted his shoulders, almost preening. “You know it’s true.”

Not almost preening. Actually preening.

He really could be a bastard.

“Nah,” BA said, feeling added confidence with Hannibal’s discouragement. “I still call crap, man. Not even you could pull that off.”

“Au contraire,” Face said. “Murdock believes me, don’t you, buddy?”

Murdock had been following the conversation with some attention, looking vaguely amused and incredulous in equal turns. He no longer flinched when they called him by name, but he also didn’t volunteer conversation unless he was engaged.

“Well, I sort of thought you were kidding,” Murdock said.

Face scoffed. “Dude, you were with me just this morning when we scammed the cinnamon rolls. They were still hot when we got them. They were still hot.”

Murdock considered that argument, but shook his head. “It sounds like an exaggeration.”

“An exag -- an exaggeration?” Face asked, as though he was truly offended. “I’m an expert storyteller, yes, but an exaggeration? It’s merely a carefully crafted version of the truth told with enthusiasm.”

“Or an exaggeration,” BA said. He snickered. “Dude’s got you on that one.”

Face drew his eyebrows together. “You really don’t believe me?”

“I know you too well,” BA said.

It was Hannibal’s turn to snicker. “And he’s got you on that one.”

Sulking, Face bobbed his head toward Murdock. “What about you? You’re going to throw your lot in with them?”

Murdock glanced between them all. “Not necessarily,” he said. “But I mean, it seems kind of obvious. You tell lies that are bigger than the truth because the truth scares you. You’re so insecure with reality that you create a fiction that you think will earn you the praise and affection you want. The only problem is, you’ll never really have it, because no one really knows you. Which just makes the story kind of sad, when you think about it.”

Face stared, color rising in his cheeks. BA raised his eyebrows and promptly looked at his hands. Hannibal cleared his throat, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. The great thing about their team -- one of the things that made them work -- was that nothing had to be said between them. Face’s insecurity, BA’s temper, Murdock’s insanity -- those were the unspoken things that put them on even ground. The things that no one else understood was what Hannibal had made a point to accept implicitly.

They’d all known that, from the first moment BA had picked Hannibal up in the desert and they’d broken Murdock out of the psych ward. They’d understood.

Which was why Murdock words hit them all like a punch in the gut. It tipped the balance, it skewed the focus. It was a stark reminder that Hannibal still hadn’t gotten his team out of this mission, not yet.

He swallowed hard and forced a smile.

Not yet.

“Come on,” he said, keeping his voice steady enough to fill the void. “Let’s get this place cleaned up a bit. I’m still trying to keep us on the nurses’ good sides, which is no easy task. You three are slobs.”

BA, to his credit, straightened up and stepped up. Face was the intuitive foil at a time like this, but the lieutenant was still stiff shouldered in the bed. “Not my fault,” BA said with a small lift of his nose. He pointed to his leg. “I’m in traction, remember?”

Hannibal collected a few loose items, looking from Face to Murdock, who didn’t appear aware that anything was wrong. Not that he could, of course. How could he know? How could they expect him to know?

Still.

He reached his hand out to help Face to his feet. “Come on,” he said, offering a light smile. Face stood, still a little shaky. “We’ve still got work to do.”

-o-

Face handled the changes with relative grace, at least where BA was concerned.

“Even with amnesia, you’re still a pain in the ass,” BA sniped that night while Murdock stacked his Jello blocks.

Hannibal couldn’t exactly blame him. The Jello was pretty bad tonight.

Murdock seemed to ignore the comment entirely, transfixed with his structure.

“I don’t know,” Face said absently. “Looks pretty impressive. Want mine, too?”

Murdock took the Jello without comment.

BA shook his head. “You’re a grown man, playing with your food,” he muttered. “It’s not right.”

Murdock was supposed to say, It’s not wrong, either.

That was the built-in comeback, the one they all knew, especially BA. Hell, it was half the reason he’d bothered making the quip at all. Because BA scoffed and threatened and grunted, but he liked the banter. The fact that he liked it made him scoff, threaten and grunt even more.

Normally, Murdock would be happy to oblige, too.

Normally, at least, when Murdock was just crazy.

As an amnesiac, Murdock concentrated even more keenly on his Jello tower, oblivious to the fight BA was so plainly trying to pick.

“What are you making anyway?” BA asked, more pointedly than before. He wanted to sound like Murdock had provoked him, even if he was the only one pursuing this conversation.

“A tower, I guess,” Murdock said. “I was sort of going for the London Tower, but it may taper more like the Washington Monument.”

“Looks more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa,” BA said. “Someone ought to knock it over, put it out of its misery. I would, but I’m unfortunately preoccupied at the moment.”

The attempt to argue was perhaps a bit more on the nose than it might have been, but Murdock didn’t blink an eye. “Aw, I don’t know,” he said. “It’ll fall over on its own soon enough. I just want to see if I can get two more blocks…”

He stacked one of Face’s pieces, then another. He smiled for a moment while the tower held.

Then it promptly fell over.

BA laughed coarsely. “See? You don’t build any better than you fly planes.”

The jibe at Murdock’s flying as familiar and purposeful; even with amnesia, Murdock knew he was a pilot.

He didn’t know, however, that he was supposed to rise to the bait.

“Eh,” Murdock said, popping a block of Jello in his mouth. He swallowed. “I’m okay with that.”

BA’s face contorted, but his incredulity could find no words.

Hannibal made a sound, scratching under his cast with his pencil. “Probably for the best anyway, since we’re grounded,” he said. “I’ll gladly donate more Jello to the cause, if it helps.”

Murdock shrugged, accepting the Jello.

BA withdrew, pushing his own food tray away.

As if anything could help right now.

-o-

Murdock’s inconsistent engagement with the team was one thing.

His lack of engagement with reality was another.

Sure, Murdock had always had a strained relationship with reality. He had been sectioned, after all, and although he bucked the army’s decision to pull Murdock from the field, he had never faulted them for it. He knew Murdock, after all. To say he had issues was putting it lightly.

But this wasn’t about seeing reality differently; it was about failing to engage with it at all. Murdock’s energy levels ebbed and flowed during most days in the hospital, and he seemed to alternate between fitting in and falling out. Sometimes he pulled cons with Face; sometimes he couldn’t laugh at a single joke. Sometimes he said random things to set BA off; sometimes he barely acknowledged the other man at all.

And then sometimes, he did nothing.

Not like Face, who did nothing with finesse. Not like BA, who did nothing with a purposeful scowl.

Like nothing nothing.

In the mornings, both Face and BA had physical therapy sessions, which Hannibal took it upon himself to managed. When he was certain they were both being cared for and prodded properly, he retreated back to the room to check on Murdock.

It was probably some consolation that Murdock hadn’t tried to escape again.

But Hannibal could not bring himself to find the blank stare on Murdock’s face a consolation.

“Hey,” he said, doing his best to smile.

It didn’t matter, though. Murdock didn’t seem to hear him.

“Hey,” he tried again, stopping at Murdock’s bed and giving him a more serious look. A dozen ideas flitted off the top of his head. Traumatic catatonia. A stroke. Maybe he’d just finally remembered who he was and didn’t like the answer.

Again, Murdock didn’t flinch. Hell, he didn’t even blink. His eyes were glazed, like he was a million miles away.

If he was actually there at all.

Stomach dropping, Hannibal kept his voice steady even as his fingers shook. “Hey,” he said, as emphatically as he could without yelling, giving Murdock a firm shake on the arm. A dozen more ideas, more involved and dangerous than the last, swept over him.

This time, Murdock startled. He inhaled sharply, and Hannibal watched as his pupils dilated and he looked at Hannibal fully in surprise.

Hannibal didn’t drop his hand, but he did lower his voice. “Are you okay?”

It was a stupid question. It wasn’t okay. Murdock had amnesia and they were all still holed up in a hospital. There was nothing okay about any of it.

But Hannibal understood the need for relative truths every now and then.

“I--” Murdock started and stopped. He seemed to be trying to figure out what to say, as if the question was one he actually had to think about. “I…”

He faltered, gaze falling again as his shoulders slumped.

“Murdock?” Hannibal asked, even more gently than before.

This time, Murdock pulled away a little, swallowing. “My head hurts.”

It wasn’t exactly the admission Hannibal had been expecting. He had to wonder, of course, if that was a proxy injury, an easy place to pin the other issues going on in Murdock’s head. He let his hand drop, sitting himself down on the bed next to Murdock instead. “Probably just the concussion,” he said. “You are still healing.”

Faintly, Murdock nodded. He didn’t say anything, wetting his lips.

Hannibal refused to let himself feel awkward. “I could talk to a nurse,” he offered. “See if we can get you something for the headache.”

Murdock was already shaking his head, though. “No, no,” he said, and he sounded like the Murdock Hannibal knew. He could draw attention to himself all day long but when he actually needed it, he could be more than a little evasive. It was a vulnerability none of them were good with.

“Sleep will help,” Hannibal offered. “Who knows how you’ll feel tomorrow. You might even remember.”

He kept his tone light and uplifting, but it didn’t have much of a desired effect.

Sobering somewhat, Hannibal tried to look Murdock in the eyes, ducking his head to catch the averted gaze. “You will remember,” he said. “I promise you.”

Murdock did his best to smile -- it was clear that he was trying. It was even more clear that he was failing.

“Hey,” Hannibal said. “More than a headache. What’s up?”

“Aw, I don’t know,” Murdock said, drawling his words a little. He gave a half-smile as he shrugged one shoulder. “What if I don’t want to remember?”

He tried to make it sound like a joke with his aw-shucks demeanor, but the words washed over Hannibal like ice water. “Of course you do,” he said. “Trust me when I say you had a good life. Not a conventional one, but one that made you happy.”

Murdock twitched a little. “But what if you don’t know?” he asked. He laughed anxiously but didn’t quite smile. “What if I’m not the person you think I am?”

“You’re exactly the person we think you are,” Hannibal told him without hesitation. “And even in the off chance that you never got your memory back or that this changed you, it wouldn’t matter. We have always accepted you for who you are. That doesn’t doesn’t change, even if you do.”

Murdock’s eyes skittered away again, and he was visibly working to keep himself composed.

“You remember,” Hannibal cajoled. When Murdock looked at him, Hannibal arched his eyebrows. “A ferret with a mohawk?”

Brow wrinkling, Murdock shook his head. “That’s you three, all of you. Not me.”

This time, it was Hannibal who was shaking his head. “But you’re the only one who could see it that way,” he said. “And we need that. Trust me, we need that.”

To that, Murdock had no argument. It wasn’t easy to see him like this; not just hurting, but ready to give up. This was one reason why he never objected to Murdock’s manic periods -- for all the craziness that ensued when Murdock was on, it was easier than looking at the bleakness of his depressive cycles. He understood, naturally, that one couldn’t exist without the other, and it certainly could get interesting when Murdock got himself going.

But that meant Murdock was alive; it meant he was fighting. It was something Hannibal could work with. The depression -- that was just nothing.

This was nothing.

And Hannibal was good, but even he couldn’t create something out of nothing.

“Okay now,” he said. “The boys shouldn’t be back for another 30 minutes or so. That’s just enough time for a good nap.”

Murdock didn’t argue. Obliging, he sunk back to the pillows, looking off toward the window. He stared for a moment before closing his eyes. Hannibal watched, waiting to see if Murdock’s breathing would even out, but there was no indication of change. Murdock was trying, but it was impossible to tell if he was succeeding.

If any of them were succeeding.

Hannibal held back a sigh and got to his feet, shuffling toward his own bed.

Trying had to be enough.

He settled down with his paperwork and watched Murdock breathe slow and steady.

He had to hope it was enough.

-o-

They never did things the easy way, his team. They did things the roundabout way; the unexpected way. This was, at times, somewhat intentional, but it was also just who they were. Most of the time, Hannibal considered this an asset.

During recovery?

Not so much.

Face was making steady progress at least, and the doctor was already seeing signs of improvement in BA’s leg, suggesting he might be up sooner than expected.

Murdock, however, showed no sign of improvement.

Several days had passed, and Murdock still didn’t remember anything. Sometimes, he was amenable and pleasant. Other times, he was downright funny.

And then, at times, it was like he wasn’t there at all.

When he finally brought up the issues with Dr. Stevens, he’d wanted to ask if these mood swings were indicative of a more serious issue related to the concussion. Maybe they had missed something on the initial workout; maybe repeat scans were in order.

So he was put off his guard when Dr. Stevens gave him a most sympathetic smile. “We may have to consider the idea that all of this is psychosomatic.”

Hannibal was good with surprises. In fact, most of the time, he wasn’t even capable of being surprised. Most of the time, he’d considered all the options in a realistic enough fashion that when something with a lower probability occurred, it still didn’t catch him off guard.

This, though.

“Psychosomatic?” Hannibal asked, repeating the word as if he’d misheard it.

She nodded. “Our head of neurosurgery seems to think that Murdock’s unconventional past may be influencing him now,” she explained. “Neurologically, there’s no evidence of lingering deficit--”

“But you said this happens,” Hannibal reminded her.

“And it does, but rarely,” she said. “We really just have to consider that part of this is one of his neuroses.”

“So you think he’s faking it?”

He let the bold incredulity speak for itself.

She hesitated at this, but didn’t shirk away. “I read his file, you know I had to,” she explained, a little more careful now. “He likes fantasy. A lot. You have to admit it’s possible--”

Hannibal shook his head, adamant. “I know my boys,” he said. “And I know Murdock, even when he’s faking. He’s not faking this.”

“We don’t even know how involved his fantasies can get,” she reasoned. “You’ve only been together a year--”

“That’s long enough,” Hannibal said, curtly now.

“A psych consult could help--”

She was trying to be helpful; she was being sincere. Hannibal could appreciate that.

Even if he didn’t tolerate it.

Not on this issue.

“No,” he said firmly. “No psych consult.”

She sighed. “Colonel--”

“We’ll figure it out,” he said, shutting the subject down entirely. There was no room for compromise on this, and he didn’t leave the possibility open. “We always do.”

-o-

All the same, it was a bell he couldn’t unring.

Hannibal wasn’t stupid, after all, and he’d be a liar if he said that it had never crossed his mind He considered all of the possibilities, no matter how far fetched. That was his job.

There simply had been no evidence to support the idea that Murdock was lying.

Hannibal knew these things. He knew Murdock. He’d known from the start when his pilot was talking nonsense -- and more than that, he’d always been able to figure out what he was trying to say. He understood that Billy was an avatar for how he was feeling, and he knew by the choice of accent just how anxious Murdock was about a given situation. He could peg emotions based on songs, and he could get a good read on his self-confidence by the personas he adapted.

All of the weirdness that came with Murdock, Hannibal had taken it in stride.

And this wasn’t like that.

This wasn’t like that at all.

During the good moments, maybe. It might be easier to see Murdock trying to reboot his relationships with a more positive, less needy characterization of himself. He wouldn’t put it past Murdock to be capable of that level of acting, but it didn’t fit. Murdock’s current attitude was too similar to his old one -- and it hardly seemed like much of an improvement to trade amnesia for an insanity diagnosis.

Besides, it did nothing to describe Murdock during the bad moments. The awkward silences; the unfulfilled jokes: that wasn’t Murdock. Egging on BA, joking with Face: those were the things Murdock loved. It didn’t make sense for him to sacrifice the things he loved most about the team for a lesser approximation.

And that didn’t even touch on the vacant moments.

Still, this was a team. He was in charge, there was never any argument about that, but Hannibal didn’t make unilateral decisions without at least letting everyone understand important counterpoints.

He waited until Murdock was out for physio in the afternoon.

Their reactions were as he expected.

“Wait, that’s their professional medical opinion?” Face asked, raising his eyebrows to almost comical levels. “All their years of professional training, and that is their diagnosis?”


“It’s not even a diagnosis,” BA said sharply. “They’re using the diagnosis he already has and using it as a cop out.”

“I mean, sure, he’s crazy,” Face said. “And okay, he uses personas more than he uses his real self, and yeah, he sometimes has distincts lapses with reality--”

BA was frowning now.

Face shrugged. “But this? They think he’s faking this? What possible advantage could he have?”

Hannibal deferred. He didn’t have these conversations for his benefit -- at least not necessarily. They needed to work this out, and if Hannibal wanted an honest response for these two, he had to let them say it themselves.

“It doesn’t even make sense!” Face continued. “I mean, he’s not even having any fun.”

“But maybe that’s the point,” BA said.

Face looked at him. “What?”

BA shrugged, almost apologetic. “What if he’s really not having any fun,” he said. “I mean, with us, he’s kind of got nowhere to go. But if he’s got amnesia…”

Face snorted with a laugh of incredulity. “So wait, let me get this straight,” he said. “You think Murdock is pretending to have amnesia so he can get out of the team?”

“Not the team, fool,” BA said. “But the army, yeah. Amnesia, that would be a medical discharge, wouldn’t it? He’d get to go home and not back to a nut house.”

Face’s mouth dropped open. “That’s -- that’s--”

“Dude’s crazy, but he’s never been stupid,” BA said.

“But he loves it with us,” Face said. “We all know that.”

“Do we, though?” BA asked. “Everything the fool says or does is a front.”

Face looked downright offended now. “You know that’s not true. He puts on shows and guises, but he loves the team.”

“Hey, man,” BA said. “I’m just saying what we’re all thinking.”

“No way,” Face said, shaking his head, ever resolute. “He’s not faking it.”

“But if he is--”

“He’s not,” Face snapped.

Hannibal cleared his throat. He needed to let his boys work things out for themselves, yes, but he couldn’t let them implode. There was a reason they needed a leader, after all.

“It really doesn’t matter, does it?” he interjected seamlessly.

“They want to say he’s crazy--” Face started.

“Which he is--” BA added.

“And either way, we have the same goal, don’t we?” Hannibal asked. He looked at BA and Face in turn. “We want him to get better, whether that means jogging his memory or restoring his confidence.”

Face closed his mouth, and BA ducked his head slightly.

“Our job is still the same as it was before,” Hannibal said. “We just have to be extra careful because if the doctors do think Murdock is faking this, it could spell trouble for his status.”

“Meaning, they’d lock him back up in the psych ward,” Face said. “Great.”

“He’s crazy, but he’s not crazy like that,” BA said. “Locking him up will only make him worse.”

“Agreed,” Hannibal said. “So we know the plan?”

Face nodded readily. “We keep things normal,” he said. “Don’t give Murdock reason to freak and don’t let the doctors think anything’s up.”

“Still a contradiction,” BA muttered. “Nothing is normal with that fool. But I won’t let anybody take him, not if I can help it.”

“We’ll get him through this,” Hannibal vowed. “All of us, together, the way it’s meant to be.”