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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

A-Team fic: Acceptable Margins (4/5)

December 24th, 2016 (06:42 am)
bouncy

feeling: bouncy

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR
PART FIVE



-o-

It was a good plan, even if somewhat less defined that Hannibal preferred.

Still, it would work.

Hannibal was sure of it.

-o-

And good on his boys for trusting him. For believing in him. For doing whatever it took.

“I can’t think of it,” Face was saying over dinner. “I’ve got the first part in my head, the chorus, but I can’t get to the end.”

“All the more reason to shut up,” BA said, poking with disdain at his plate of chicken marsala.

“No, it’s going to drive me crazy if I don’t think of it,” Face said. He wet his lips, appearing to concentrate. “I’m not gonna write you a love song…”

BA groaned.

Face crooned on. “Cause you asked for it, cause you need one, you see,” he sang. “You know this, right?”

Murdock looked at him while BA buried his face in his hands. Hannibal watched without watching, as only he was able.

“I’m not going write you a love song, cause you tell me it’s make or breaking this, if you’re on your way.”

Murdock was starting to nod, bobbing his head just a little.

Face gathered his breath to continue. It was obvious what he was doing, almost painfully so, but it was also smart and effective. Hannibal wasn’t about to interfere. “And this is where I -- I just almost can’t--” He rallied himself. “I’m not gonna write you to stay…”

Murdock blinked, a semblance of recognition dawning. “If all you have is leaving--”

Face started to smile. “--I’m gonna need a better reason--”

“--to write you,” Murdock sang on, voice wavering more than normal.

Face was all but grinning now. “A love song--”

“--today,” Murdock finished, face starting to flush. He smiled. “I know that one.”

“Yeah, you do, buddy,” Face told him, almost beaming.

“You sing it all the damn time,” BA said.

“Really?” Murdock asked.

“Really,” Face said. “You’re a big fan of Sara Bareilles. You say it’s not because she’s cute, but I don’t know. Who made you king of anything?”

Murdock’s smile faltered. “Yeah,” he said, raising a hand to his head. “Though you know, all this singing, it’s, uh. Giving me a headache.”

“But you love this one!” Face insisted.

Murdock’s brow creased slightly, and Hannibal could see the slight shake of his hands as he rubbed his forehead. “I’m sure I do,” he said, trying to smile again. “I just -- I think I need to rest.”

To prove the point, he pushed his dinner away. He hadn’t eaten much, and for as easily as the move could be read as a deflection, Hannibal believed the pilot. He looked beat.

“There’s always time for singing tomorrow,” Hannibal suggested with a look at Face.

“Sure,” Face said, not missing a beat. “And movies. I think Can’t Buy Me Love is on later tonight, and I know you have parts of that memorized.”

Murdock nodded, a little fainter now. “Sure,” he said, closing his eyes. “We can do that later.”

“That’s a plan, then,” Face said, spearing a piece of broccoli on his plate. He hummed to himself for a moment, letting the chorus simper on under his breath. “Who cares if you disagree, you are not me. Who made you king of anything?”

No one made Hannibal king.

Someone made him team leader, though.

That counted for more.

He watched Murdock doze off, watched BA eat and Face sing.

That counted for much more.

-o-

There was no change by the next day, but this wasn’t for the lack of trying. Face had done more than his share of the heavy lifting the night before, complete with singalongs, movie reenactments and a dramatic reading of Hannibal’s chart. When Face was pulled out for testing in the morning -- to confirm his rapidly improving vitals -- Hannibal was considering his next move.

But then BA made it instead.

“Man, these hospitals are so boring,” the big man said with a sigh. It sounded contrived, but true enough.

Murdock didn’t seem to notice

BA sighed again, watching without much subtlety for a reaction. When it didn’t work, he sat up a little straighter. “All they got around here is crummy tv reception,” he groused.

Murdock shrugged, flipping through a newspaper. “There’s a library cart, I’d bet,” he said without looking up. “Some hospitals even have games and puzzles, if you ask.”

BA made a face. “Do I look like the kind of dude who does puzzles?”

He sounded mortally offended. Hannibal suspected BA would be excellent at puzzles, but this hardly seemed like an appropriate time to mention that type of antagonistic observation.

Murdock paused at that, giving BA a thoughtful look. “I suppose the answer is supposed to be no.”

“That’s right, sucker,” BA said. He took a breath, visibly forcing himself to mellow. “My point is, we should do something.”

Murdock gave him a look of vague surprise. “I thought you were stuck in traction?”

“And you’re a fool who can’t remember who you are,” BA said. “We have to work with what we got.”

“I guess,” Murdock said. “What did you want to do? You never joined the singalong last night.”

“You two have bad taste in music,” BA said.

“Or the movie reenactments,” Murdock recalled.

“You kept making me be the romantic interest,” BA said with a glare. “That’s not my style.”

“So what then?” Murdock asked. “The crossword puzzle?”

BA looked like he wanted to yell, but he puckered his mouth instead. Brow furrowed, he looked angry with the words before he even spoke them. “Sock puppets.”

It was so plaintive, growled out with such tenacity, that Hannibal almost failed to keep a straight face. BA was a strong, tough man, and not even the hospital bed could make him seem more diminutive. Yet, there he was, asking for sock puppets.

“What?” Murdock asked, totally at a loss.

“Sock puppets,” BA said again, with even more vigor than before. “We should make sock puppets.”

It was spoken as much as an order as a request, and the entire offer was more impressive when BA’s full history of sock puppetry was taken into consideration. As in: BA hated Murdock’s juvenile fantasies, and sock puppets annoyed him more than most not because it was childish and inane, but also because Murdock used whatever socks were available, especially BA’s.

BA had large, wide feet, Murdock had explained once. That made them ideal of characterization.

Murdock was shaking his head. “I don’t think I understand.”

BA huffed, holding out his hand. “Give me your sock.”

“My -- what--?”

“Your sock, man,” BA said. “Give me your sock.”

“I’m not giving you my sock,” Murdock protested.

“Fool, you will,” BA said, eyes glinting dangerously. “You will.”

Murdock stared at BA -- a little awed, a little confused, a lot terrified -- as he reached down to pull the white fabric off his foot. When it was off, he held it up in an unspoken question.

“Give it here,” BA barked.

Tentative, Murdock tossed it over. BA caught it one handed, wrinkling his nose at it before scrabbling at the bedside table for something to write with.

“I need a pen or a marker--”

Hannibal reached for his collection at his own bedside, throwing the Sharpie toward BA.

BA caught that as well, using his mouth to take off the lid before hastily scribbling something on the toe. He looked at it for a moment, adding a few more touches before he put the marker down and slid the sock on over his hand.

This, in and of itself, was a remarkable enough feet. BA said nothing of Murdock’s feet, stinky or otherwise, but what he did next really floored Hannibal.

BA lifted his hand, fingers in position to fill it out, rearranging them until the mouth was visible and the eyes were on top. Then, with no further ado, he pointed it at Murdock.

“What you looking at?” BA asked, moving the mouth out of synch with his voice. It wasn’t much of a voice -- gruffer, rougher, but it was effective enough. “I pity the fool who thinks twice about me.”

Murdock was dumbfounded. There was no way -- absolutely no way -- that he would have sat there silently if he remembered. No matter what game he was playing, Murdock would recognize this as the banner moment it was. If anything could trigger Murdock, this had to be it.

Hannibal held his breath, waiting for some sign or recognition.

The sock preened, showing off the quickly drawn black mohawk down its back. “What you looking at, sucker?”

Murdock, for his part, blinked.

And he kept staring.

Hannibal couldn’t help it if his stomach clenched and his heart dropped. Murdock didn’t remember; Murdock wasn’t even there. He was so damn disappointed that he nearly broke his pencil in half trying to hide it.

BA, though, didn’t even flinch.

He growled.

“Take off your other sock,” he insisted.

“What--?”

“Take off your other sock,” BA ordered. While Murdock fumbled to comply, BA threw the marker at him. “And you decorate one of your own. Try not to make it look stupid.”

“But it’s a sock--”

“A sock puppet,” BA told him. “And if I’m going to wear this thing on my hand, then you are, too.”

Murdock looked to be at a loss. “But why?”

“Because we’re a team, damn it,” he said. “And that’s what teams do.”

Murdock started to draw, still more bewildered than not. BA kept his hand at the ready, fully expectant. And Hannibal felt the disappointment lessen as his heart lifted and his stomach unclenched.

Hope wasn’t lost.

He looked back at his work.

Not yet.

-o-

Hannibal didn’t like to admit it, but he had responsibilities outside his team. Granted, he knew his priorities. He would shirk meetings and paperwork and protocol as needed, for the sake of his team.

But therein was the tension.

What did his team need?

Face, despite his whining, was making a fast and full recovery. His incision site was pristine, and he was already strong enough to find himself in supply closets with attractive nurses. BA’s leg was healing, and he had been fitted with a walking cast just that morning. Hannibal’s own arm was a nuisance, but it was hardly serious. He would have been discharged immediately were it not for his own machinations. Even Murdock, who still showed no signs of remembering anything, was getting glowing praise of his physical therapist. In truth, there was less and less reason to stay. Any other lingering concerns could be dealt with at a private quarter. That would be easier, more private. Less problematic.

That was a big step, though, and given how hard Hannibal had worked to set up this arrangement in the hospital, he needed to be sure before he threw it away.

Besides, he couldn’t shake this feeling that he was missing something. He’d missed the amnesia; he couldn’t afford another oversight.

Therefore, measured, baby steps were probably in order. If it wasn’t time for a discharge, it was certainly time to leave the baby birds in the nest, just for a bit. That was safer in a hospital, Hannibal could only conclude.

He was lucky that Morrison had time for him that afternoon.

Rather, he was lucky that Morrison liked him more than his other appointments that afternoon.

“I do appreciate it,” Hannibal said again, perching anxiously on a chair in Morrison’s office. “I know you’re a busy man.”

“Please,” Morrison said, rocking back in his own chair. “I should be thanking you. I did not want to sit through another budget review with the internal auditor. I swear, those pencil pushers think that wars can be won with dollar bills.”

“Well, in some ways, they can,” Hannibal conceded.

“Sure,” Morrison said. “But not when they keep taking them instead of giving. Besides, you’ve put this off a few times now. I know it must be eating at your gut to not give a briefing on your own terms.”

Hannibal had to smile. It was always reassuring to have a friend in a position of power. Hannibal needed to have people he could count on outside of his team -- as much for his own sanity as his team’s safety. He liked Morrison; he trusted Morrison.

And given how long Hannibal had been stuck in the hospital, he needed someone he liked and trusted to let go with. “This one is much more thorough than normal, I admit,” Hannibal said, putting a stack of papers on Morrison’s desk. “I found myself with a bit more free time than I had anticipated.”

Morrison snorted, starting to leaf through the pages. “How are they?” he asked, sparing a second to glance up. “Your boys?”

“They’re good, considering,” Hannibal said. It was true.

Relatively.

Morrison was one of the few people in the world who could call Hannibal on it. “A Murdock?” he asked, looking back through the papers. “How’s the amnesia?”

It was spoken in an utterly conversational tone, which was, quite naturally, ridiculous. As if amnesia was an allergy or a head cold. More than that, Morrison wasn’t making idle chitchat. He wasn’t the mastermind that Hannibal was, but you didn’t become a general in the US army for being stupid.

Politely, Hannibal smiled his most diffusing smile. “We’re working on it,” he said. “Certainly nothing we can’t handle.”

“Sure, sure,” Morrison said, flipping through another page and pausing to read. He skimmed a little more, turning one more page before stopping. “Is this...?”

Hannibal was already nodding. “A possible lead to insurgent activity.”

Morrison looked up, both surprised and impressed. “All intelligence lines in that region have been shot to hell in recent months.”

“It’s possible that this one doesn’t pan out, but the connection is promising,” Hannibal said. “That’s part of the reason I wanted to meet you sooner rather than later. I didn’t want you to miss your window of opportunity.”

“It’ll take me some time to get it cleared and get a team together,” he said, thoughtful. He let his gaze linger on Hannibal. “I don’t suppose you’re volunteering for this one.”

Hannibal chuckled. “I’m afraid I’m still wrapping up the last one,” he said. “Some things aren’t as easy as cleaning up a runway.”

“I’m not sure you appreciate how hard it is to clean up a runway,” Morrison said. He rocked back. “Much less a plane. Besides, I thought you said things were good.”

“They are,” Hannibal replied. “But we still have to work a few things out.”

“But you said it wasn’t anything you couldn’t handle,” Morrison pointed out. “The great Hannibal Smith. This mission is tailor-made for you. Hell, you practically mapped out the whole damn thing.”

“I know, and I thought it would be helpful for when you hand the work off,” Hannibal explained. “The boys just aren’t ready for the field yet. Face is still recovering, and BA is in traction for another week--”

Morrison pressed his lips together. He knew Hannibal was telling the truth. He also knew Hannibal was telling a version of it at his own discretion. Putting the paperwork down, he studied Hannibal with more scrutiny. “I’m trying to be sensitive about this, but you have to know I’ve gotten some questions.”

“I imagine you’ve gotten scrutiny since day one,” Hannibal said. “I still don’t know how you got BA reinstated and Murdock cleared for duty.”

“It wasn’t easy, let me tell you,” Morrison agreed. “But the results have kept the brass at bay. The medical stuff, though. You know that in a medical situation, a doctor outranks a general.”

Hannibal did his best not to appear riled. That wasn’t the tact to take with Morrison. “If this is about Murdock--”

“Of course it’s about Murdock,” Morrison said. “Half the hospital is convinced he’s faking this.”

“With respect,” Hannibal said. “Private patient files--”

Morrison waved him off. “I know, I know,” he said. “I don’t let it proliferate where I’m concerned.”

Mollified, Hannibal straightened in his seat. “I appreciate that, sir.”

“I just want you to be sure about what you’re doing,” Morrison said. “Make sure it’s best for your boys, not just the mission.”

“That’s what I do--”

“I know, I know,” Morrison said. “I’m not accusing you of anything.”

Hannibal felt his face flush slightly. “Are you sure about that?” he quipped.

“All I’m saying is that if Murdock is faking it -- if his issues are more than he can handle -- that’s not an indictment on you, your team or your plans. Getting Captain Murdock the help he needs isn’t even a punishment--”

“If you lock him in a psych ward--”

“No one is saying that,” Morrison said.

“Because that’s where I found him,” Hannibal said, unrelentingly now. “Locked up.”

“It’s called receiving treatment--”

“Oh, please,” Hannibal said. “He’s been better with us than he ever was back in that hospital we dragged him out of.”

“And I agreed with you based on the information at the time,” Morrison said reasonably. “But things change, Hannibal.”

Hannibal lifted his chin. “Murdock is fine.”

Morrison sighed. “Hannibal--”

But Hannibal was done being polite. “I said he’s fine, and if you trust me enough to go on your toughest missions, then you can trust me with this,” he said. “I know my men. I know where the line is when it comes to them. And I sure as hell know when to cross it. You have to trust me on that.”

Morrison nodded, smiling. “I always do.”

“Good,” Hannibal said, a little curt as he got to his feet. “I’ll leave that report with you. If you have any questions--”

“I know where to find you,” Morrison said.

Hannibal started toward the door, but Morrison’s voice stopped him again.

“Oh, and Hannibal?”

Hannibal stopped, turning back.

“I trust you,” he said. “But remember what I told you about doctors who outrank us both. If you have a plan, then you may want to put it in action. Soon.”

The note was more than a friendly reminder. It was a warning.

Hannibal tipped his head. “Understood,” he said. “Thank you, sir.”

“It’s the least I can do,” Morrison said. “And I mean that.”

As if Hannibal needed another reason to doubt.

-o-

He was more tired than he should have been when he got back to the hospital, and he blamed his time cooped up in the hospital for his general soreness and malaise. He was taking it for granted, but the inactivity was affecting him. He needed to get out of the hospital just as much as the boys did.

It would take some finesse and some damn good planning.

Fortunately, Hannibal was skilled at both.

His intentions, however purposeful, were delayed when he got back to the room. Both Face and BA were gone -- BA for a series of x-rays and Face for what he would probably call “therapy.” Murdock, however, was back, resting in his bed.

When Hannibal got close enough, he could see that the other man wasn’t sleeping.

And he hardly looked restful.

“Hey,” he said, trying not to sound too much like a mother hen (even if he felt like one these days). “Long day so far?”

Murdock barely looked at him. “Yeah,” he agreed languidly, letting out a long breath and offering nothing more in the way of explanation.

Hannibal was good at inference, but this conversation wasn’t really intended for his own benefit. Sitting lightly on the edge of the chair, he smiled gently. “If it’s to noisy in here sometimes, just let me know,” he said. “I can get those two to keep it down a little bit.”

There was no need to explain that Face and BA were both acting under orders, or that all of them were wholly dedicated to badgering Murdock into remembering who he was by sheer force of will alone.

Murdock didn’t even try to smile. “It’s fine,” he said, letting his gaze drift distantly. “It’s fine.”

His voice was quiet, but not intentionally so. It wasn’t Murdock, getting listless in near-sleep. This wasn’t even Murdock worn out after a day of over stimulation.

No, the pilot was just wilting, almost right in front of his eyes. He was splayed over the bed with as much vigor as a wet noodle. More than that, he looked pale, as if his complexion was graying out. It wasn’t a trick of the light, either. Murdock’s eyes were half-lidded and his mouth somewhat lax.

It was instinct to feel Murdock’s brow, and it was an indication of just how poorly Murdock felt that he didn’t try to pull away. Sure, it might be nice to think it was because Murdock trusted him, but Hannibal wasn’t prone to wishful thinking.

When he pulled his hand away, Murdock didn’t even look at him. The skin was cool to the touch, but the complete lack of reaction was even more concerning. He was contemplating calling for a nurse, when he remembered his conversation with Morrison.

He hesitated.

He would risk everything to keep his boys safe. If their physical lives were in jeopardy, Hannibal would stop at nothing. He’d done things -- things he would never admit to under oath -- to keep them safe. Which meant Murdock’s physical well being would trump his psychological needs, no questions asked.

But there were questions to be asked and answers to be given. That was the point. Murdock was recovering, and his physical checkups were all documenting a steady return of strength and stamina. Even the notes from this morning, which discussed possible depression, suggested that physically, Murdock was fine.

That would mean calling for help would be more fuel for the fire. It would be more evidence to suggest that the root of Murdock’s current problems were psychological.

That was a chance Hannibal couldn’t take.

“Okay, then,” he said, giving Murdock a nod. “You just rest for awhile.”

Murdock didn’t nod or show any kind of acknowledgement.

“I’ve got everything under control,” Hannibal assured him.

Murdock closed his eyes.

Blind faith. Indifference.

Hannibal didn’t care. It was all a matter of acceptable margins.

He would work with either.

-o-

“Oh, come on,” Face said. “You’re exaggerating.”

BA crossed his arms defiantly over his chest. “I am not.”

“You totally are,” Face said.

“Are you the one who nearly fell out of a helicopter?” BA asked, voice heavy with accusation.

“No, I’m the one who pulled you back in,” Face pointed out.

“Which proves my point,” BA said with an air of righteousness now. “Ain’t nothing good that happens in the air.”

Face sighed in an overly dramatic fashion. It had been their intention, ten minutes ago when the conversation started, to remind Murdock of some of their most memorable missions. BA had spoken fondly of Kiev, which had an incident with a amphibious car. Face had gone over Istanbul in great detail, sparing no minutia in his recollection of the attractive pair of Italian twins he’d met and wooed in the market.

Murdock had listened, asking questions through each rendition, until the reminiscing took them back to Mexico.

“I don’t understand,” Murdock said. He had perked up a little after his nap, but he still looked pale. “How did you fall out of a helicopter?”

“See,” BA said, validated. “Even he thinks it’s crazy.”

Face shook his head with a placating gesture. “Honestly, it’s easier than you think with barrel rolls.”

Murdock wrinkled his nose. “You can’t do barrel rolls in a helicopter.”

“You can, buddy,” Face beamed at him. “Besides, it wasn’t even the barrel rolls.”

Murdock’s eyes widened. “There was more?”

“You just put us in a stall,” Face said, like it was no big deal.

“A stall?” Murdock asked. “Isn’t that--?”

“Crazy?” BA supplied, wholly unhelpfully.

“It was the only way to avoid the heat seeking missiles,” Face pointed out.

“Ah,” Murdock said, a little slowly. “What were we doing in Mexico anyway?”

Face stopped, mouth open. He cocked his head. “You know, I can’t even remember.”

BA shrugged. “Don’t look at me,” he said. “You all picked me up just in time to drop me out of helicopter.”

“It had something to do with drugs, I think,” Face was saying.

“I should have walked the moment you crushed my van with an A/C unit,” BA muttered.

Murdock watched between them with increasing awe.

They couldn’t remember why they were in Mexico.

But they could certainly remember the team that had been made there.

That was the way it was with his team. The missions mattered to the big wigs, but in the field, none of that actually mattered. Sure, they always got the job done, but the things they remembered? The things that mattered?

It was them, the four of them. Hannibal remembered the details of every mission, of course.

But this part -- the four of them in this hospital room -- was the only part that really made the story worth living.

Face gave an expression of defeat. “What were we doing in Mexico?”

“Man, I ask that all the time,” BA said.

“Whatever it was,” Face supplied readily. “It was brilliant Murdock. Don’t listen to BA.”

BA muttered, ever cross. “Worst damn flight of my life.”

“Yeah, but it worked,” Hannibal interjected. The others looked at him, and he wasn’t faking the smile. He zeroed his gaze on Murdock. “That’s what you do on this team, son. You make it work.”

A ferret with a mohawk.

Even with amnesia, Murdock couldn’t argue that. “Sounds like it was a team effort.”

In that moment, nothing had changed. In that moment, it didn’t matter who had a head injury, internal bleeding or a broken leg. In that moment, it was Mexico all over again, when four unlikely misfits somehow became a team.

Then BA made a sound of discontent. “Not in the air, it wasn’t!”

“Oh, please!” Face said. “You’re a Ranger!”

“That doesn’t make me suicidal!”

“But it is supposed to make you rational!”

“With all this, you’re saying I’m the one who’s not rational?”

“Well, who else is the airborne ranger who won’t fly.”

Hannibal was laughing to himself, looking back at his work again. He’d handed everything off to Morrison about the actionable leads, but he still needed to wrap this mission up his own way. He needed to secure the discharge and monitor the ongoing progress of his men. He had a few therapy ideas for Murdock, but he wanted to double check his projected recovery for the concussion before he overstimulated the pilot physically.

Moments like this were good, though. For all of them. Murdock was the one who needed to remember, but the rest of them needed to never forget why they started this.

He glanced at BA and Face, still bickering good naturedly. It was the best comfort they could offer.

His smile faded when he looked at Murdock. In the bed, Murdock was wincing, lifting his fingers to his forehead and massaging for a moment. For a moment longer, the pilot blanched, and when Hannibal’s attention became acute, Murdock seemed to recognize the scrutiny. He straightened, putting his hand down and making every effort to follow the verbal volleys once more.

Headaches were common after a concussion.

Murdock was trying to be engaged.

This was progress.

This was a good sign.

Hannibal felt the doubts linger, though.

He’d already missed amnesia.

He couldn’t afford to miss anything else.

-o-

It was a time consuming feat to get BA fitted for a more mobile cast, and it was one that Hannibal had to oversee in all its minutia. To make sure that BA was well taken care of and not too abrasive to the hospital staff who were doing Hannibal every favor in the book, he wanted to stay with him the entire time, which unfortunately meant leaving Face and Murdock on their own.

“We’re good!” Face said with an over the top smile. “Right, buddy? We’re good?”

“Uh, sure,” Murdock said, mustering up a poor approximation of a smile. His color was still off, dark circles smudged under his eyes even after sleeping most of the day.

Face beamed at Hannibal. “Nothing to worry about.”

Hannibal trusted Face -- he had always been good with Murdock, even in some of his more problematic episodes -- but then he looked at Murdock. He couldn’t shake the nagging doubt that he was missing something else.

That there was everything to worry about.

“All part of the plan,” Face said. He winked. “Part of the plan, right, boss?”

Stiffly, Hannibal nodded. “All part of the plan.”

-o-

The process was somewhat involved. Getting BA’s leg extricated from its current condition was only half of the battle; the orthopedic surgeon also took great care to make an advanced and truly one of the kind cast.

“Honestly, I’ve never tried this before,” the woman explain, making fresh plaster and applying it to the casing around BA’s leg. “But the research on this stuff--”

“--is very promising,” Hannibal agreed, glancing anxiously at the door. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting. Still.

“As long as it gets me out of that damn bed,” BA said.

“In theory, you should even be able to walk, although really, you should take it easy,” she continued. “Because if you mess up that leg even worse--”

“He won’t,” Hannibal supplied. He turned back to the others, smiling in the most perfunctory fashion at the woman. He glared at BA. “Will it?”

“As long as you don’t take me on an airplane, I won’t go crashing tanks,” BA said.

The orthopedic surgeon looked up, a bit concerned. “Yeah, I’d advised against both of those activities.”

“For at least three months,” Hannibal said.

“Or, you know, ever,” she suggested.

“We’ll see,” Hannibal said with diplomatic vagueness.

“Man’s crazy,” BA said, jerking his head toward Hannibal.

“Well, he’s the only reason I decided to try this procedure,” she said. “He’s the one who gave me the research.”

BA glanced at Hannibal. Hannibal shrugged.

“Like I said,” BA said. “Crazy.”

She laid out fresh plaster again. “Whatever works, right?”

BA snorted, but it lacked derision. “Sort of the story of this team.”

-o-

The doctor was helping BA get up and about when the procedure was finished, and Hannibal took that time to clean up. The nurse was organizing the supplies, and Hannibal nodded at her politely.

“You know,” she said, not quite tutting. “Most grown men are expected to handle these things on their own.”

Hannibal barely glanced at her, studying the fresh sheet of new instructions. “I’m sorry, what--”

“Oh, please,” she said, and this time she did tut. “You know more about those three boys and their medical treatment than most of the people assigned to their care.”

“That’s not exactly reassuring in regards to your staff,” Hannibal pointed out.

She rolled her eyes. “You would think that,” she said. “An easy way to ignore the fact that you’ve got yourself a bit of a god complex.”

“I just like to be informed, that’s all,” Hannibal said. “Those boys -- they’re my responsibility.”

“Last I checked, as long as they’re in this hospital, they’re ours,” she said, raising her eyebrows knowingly. “And I ain’t talking about the royal we.”

Hannibal took her point. “I am working on that,” he said. He cast a look toward BA. “It feels like I’ve been here more than long enough.”

“Hey, if you want to be discharged, just say the word,” she said. “Nothing wrong with you. Least, nothing we can fix.”

“But I don’t go without them,” Hannibal said, giving her a second to know his meaning.

She did. “Another few days for your looker, I’d say,” she said, still gathering the loose supplies. “And with the walking cast, I imagine most of the staff will be glad to let go of the grumpy fellow. But your amnesiac -- that’s going to be a little bit more difficult.”

“Physically, he’s fine,” Hannibal said. “That’s what every doctor here keeps telling me.”

“And you think that’s some kind of diagnosis?” she asked, giving him a haughty look.

She was more formidable than most people Hannibal went up against, but Hannibal did not shirk away from a challenge. “We have a diagnosis, but you people have been pretty hard pressed to find a cure.”

Her expression softened, duly impressed. “I suppose that is a distinction,” she said, putting a few more things away.

“And that’s why I want to know how to help them,” he said. “That’s why I read the materials and sit in on their appointments. I need to know.”

“Well, lots of treatments are more than medication and therapy,” she said, shrugging.

“Exactly,” Hannibal agreed. “That’s my point.”

She stopped, the job still half done. For a long moment, she studied him, eyes thinned and mouth pursed. “You really do look out for them, don’t you?”

“I told you” Hannibal said. “That’s my job.”

She let out a breath, long and decided before she nodded once. “Doctors here, they’re good and they’re smart, and don’t get me wrong, they do save lives, more than you’ll ever know about,” she said. “But sometimes -- and I ain’t even saying it’s necessarily their fault -- but sometimes they miss out on the fact that the patient needs more than a diagnosis. I mean, these are men and women who are trained to identify problems and fix them. That’s what they do. And they’re good at it, they are. But they don’t always know why.”

Hannibal gauged her explanation carefully, not sure exactly what she expected him to say.

She started picking up supplies again. “They can’t always understand that the people they treat need to go on and live lives beyond this hospital,” she said. “Oh, sure, they understand things like the long term prognosis or the necessary follow up. And they always want to give their patients the best possible outcome, but why. Who these patients are; what they can do. That’s not something you can sum in any diagnosis. It’s not something you can put down in a treatment plan. Not really. It’s a visceral thing.”

“It’s the only thing,” Hannibal agreed.

She looked at him, not pausing in her work. “You see that, in your boys,” she said with a reaffirming bob of her head. “I think you see that better than anyone might understand.”

“I do,” he said, lowering his head until he was sure he caught her gaze. This time, she did stop. “That’s all I’ve been doing, ever since I got here. Well before I got here. It’s what I’ll be doing long after we’re gone.”

She thought about this, and finally nodded. “Most of the pills, they aren’t important,” she said. “In fact, if you can get them off the painkillers, do that as soon as you can. Tylenol will work as well as anything else, but the antibiotics for your looker, now that’s one you want to keep up with until every last pill is gone.”

For a second, all Hannibal could do was blink.

She wasn’t done, though. “And the exercises, I know they seem really specific, but for the most part, they don’t matter that much,” she said. “As long as you’re getting those boys up and active in safe and controlled ways, they’re probably going to be fine. The leg on the grumpy one is the one thing you will want to stretch just right when the cast comes off in order to improve his mobility, and they also need to rest.” She arched a single eyebrow. “All of you need to rest.”

It was a list of post-hospital care. Concise, to the point, and honest. All his reading, all his studying, and there it was, laid out before him

This time, she stopped and wagged her finger at him like he was a naughty two-year-old. “And if there are any problems -- any problems at all -- you swallow that pride of yours and you get your ass back here. You hear me?”

Hannibal held out his hands, disarmingly. “I never said anything.”

She scoffed, going to her work again. “Didn’t have to,” she said. “Honestly, I’m surprised you stayed this long.”

“Believe it or not, I’ve been trying to do what was best for them,” he explained, grateful for the surprisingly sympathetic ear.

“I know,” she said. “Normally I don’t trust you military types to prioritize the right thing, but you’ve got the right view, I think.”

“I try,” Hannibal said, as helpful as possible.

“You better,” she said, organizing the last few items on her cart.

Hannibal couldn’t help but grin, just a little. “Or what?”

She swatted him, and none too gently. “Or I’ll break your other arm,” she said, turning to leave.

Hannibal was smiling now, feeling more reassured than he had all week. He looked over to BA, who was taking a few more experimental steps with relative success.

This mission might turn out okay after all.

-o-

By nightfall, Hannibal had just about everything in order. He had extended care options, follow up appointments, medical leave and all necessary accommodations. All he had left to do was secure the paperwork and get the signature from Dr. Stevens.

Oh, and he had to tell the boys.

Details.

It wasn’t so much that he thought they wouldn’t want to leave, but he wanted to feel sure they felt okay about it. Face and BA would both be more than happy to break loose -- that wasn’t the concern -- but he wanted to make sure they knew it was the best thing for Murdock. Any doubts had to be dealt with now. He was the leader, but that just meant he had even more responsibility to do things right by them.

Timing was naturally the thing with a conversation like this, because while he didn’t want to keep secrets from his team, he was also aware of the nuances involved in a situation like this. Murdock had always required a bit of extra care, which Hannibal made sure was provided as needed. He was certain Murdock understood this on some level, but he imagined that an outright discussion of such needs might be an embarrassment.

The last thing Hannibal needed at the moment was to emotionally damage his amnesiac pilot.

Fortunately, Murdock fell asleep during dinner, and when he slept through two arguments about bed linen, one fight over the remote control and a colorful debate about the best position to sleep in, Hannibal figured he was probably safe in pursuing the more delicate conversational piece.

“So,” Hannibal said, giving a cautious look at Murdock. He hadn’t as much as flinched in the last three hours, and the rise and fall of his chest was even. “How do you boys feel about getting out of here tomorrow?”

“You mean it?” BA asked, brightening immediately. “You better mean it.”

“Man, right as I was making inroads with the night shift nurse,” Face lamented.

“I ain’t sticking around here for your love life,” BA said. “What about my walking cast?”

“I want the orthopedic surgeon to give you one last go ahead tomorrow morning, and of course Dr. Stevens will have to sign off on all of us,” Hannibal explained.

“I haven’t even made any progress with her,” Face objected.

“And you will all have to maintain your therapy,” Hannibal continued, unheeded. “So it won’t be all rest and relaxation.”

“Anything, man,” BA said. “Anything to get me out of this bed.”

Face was the one who thought of it first. His gaze flickered to Murdock. “What about him?”

The thought sobered BA, and his unabashed joy faded somewhat.

Hannibal shrugged, calm and calculated. “The doctors keep telling us to keep things as normal as possible, see what triggers him,” he explained. “Best I can figure, there’s nothing normal about a hospital.”

“Especially for Murdock,” Face said. “Place like this, probably only makes things worse.”

“Never thought I’d say it,” BA said. “But I miss his crazy talk.”

“I’ll remind you of that when he’s back and talking to Billy,” Face quipped.

Hannibal drew a breath. “Of course, the hospital staff, they want to consider more invasive psychiatric support.”

“Whoa,” Face said. “I thought we agreed, no psych consult.”

“Yeah, I thought we wanted to keep him away from that stuff,” BA said.

With a measured look, Hannibal pressed his lips together. “That depends on whether or not you think he’s faking it.”

“This?” Face asked, gesturing to Murdock. “We think he’s faking this?”

On the bed, Murdock didn’t move.

BA shook his head. “I didn’t get him to crack with sock puppets,” he said. “There’s no faking that.”

“If anything, they need to run the scans again,” Face said. “Forget this psych crap; what about a repeat MRI?”

“There’s not any indication for it,” Hannibal said. “And I worry that the longer we stay, the more likely we are to have to compromise on that.”

“So we go,” Face said, shrugging. “It’s a win-win for all of us.”

“I agree,” BA said. He scowled at Face, almost out of habit. “For once.”

Hannibal nodded. “Okay, then,” he said. “As long as we’re all on the same page.”

“We’re behind you, boss,” Face said.

“One hundred percent,” BA agreed.

Hannibal smiled, eyes resting on Murdock again. “Then tomorrow we’ll finish this like we started it,” he said. “Just the four of us.”

-o-

That night, Hannibal had trouble sleeping.

Yes, the plan was in order. Of course, he had all the details worked out. He reviewed them, double checked them, revised them and then reviewed them again. The plan, as best he could determined -- and his best was damn good, too -- was good.

And yet, something felt off. It was a feeling, one he couldn’t place, no matter how hard he tried. He couldn’t assuage it with extra study. He could placate it with added contingencies. He couldn’t do anything except sit awake and watch.

Three sleeping men, safe and sound. They trusted him in everything. They trusted him in this.

To finish the mission.

That was the job, wasn’t it?

To finish things?

To bring it all together?

This one, though. This one felt unfinished. This one felt undone. There was something missing, something irrevocably wrong. It was more than Murdock’s amnesia; it was more than BA broken leg. It was more than his broken arm or Face’s internal bleeding.

It was all of that, and none of that. It was more than that.

It was a problem Hannibal had to rectify, even if he wasn’t entirely certainly he could identify it.

Tomorrow, he assured himself as the hours stretched on.

He’d finish this tomorrow.

-o-

He was up when the sun came out, which sounded quaint enough, but his intent was to catch Dr. Stevens before she had a chance to start her rounds. That did mean he had to get up early, but then, he’d never really been asleep.

In fact, all things considered, Dr. Stevens looked more tired than he was. There were circles under her eyes, and even her blonde ponytail look limp. “I’ll be by in a bit,” she said, pulling out a stack of charts. “Just let me--”

Hannibal didn’t let her. “You should have all the paperwork there to have us checked out today,” he said. “I want to make sure we’re on the same page.”

Her brow furrowed as she flipped through her charts, coming across the ones for the A-Team. She studied them for a moment before shaking her head, ostensibly deciding that it was far too early for this kind of thing. “Usually I get to discharges later in the day.”

“I know,” Hannibal said. Because he’d read up on hospital policy before talking to the nurses on staff to find out the usual routines. And he may or may not have watched her on rounds a few times, just to get a sense of things. “Which is why I’m bringing this up now.”

She drew a breath and forced a smile. “Colonel,” she said, putting the charts down. “You can’t rush this stuff.”

That was not the answer he’d been setting her up for. He sighed. “Do you remember when I asked you to take over our care?”

“Yes,” she said. “Because you trusted me to understand your situation.”

“And to understand us,” he elaborated. “We’ve been good patients, and I’ve made sure that the boys follow all the rules, down to every last detail.”

“Rules that you helped set, by the way,” she said. “You’re not a doctor.”

“But I’m well informed,” he said “And I know my men.”

“And I respect that, I do,” she said. “That’s the only reason I said that you could all leave today in the first place.”

“So, what’s the hold up?” he asked, doing his best not to sound confrontational. He wasn’t afraid to demand what he wanted. He wasn’t even afraid to go against orders to do what he thought needed to be done. But he understood the value of nuance. There was a reason he’d recruited Face to the team.

And that didn’t mean he didn’t know a thing or two about it.

Even if he really didn’t like it.

Fortunately, he’d picked right when it came to her. Not because she was easy to cow into submission, but the opposite. Because she knew how to stand up for him on the points that mattered.

She squared her shoulders, chin up as she looked at him. Her blonde ponytail swished behind her back. “Look, you should have been out of here a week ago,” she said. “And Face made the quickest recovery I have literally ever seen after major surgery. And I think the walking cast is ambitious as far as Baracus is concerned, but I know what you’re working with there, so I get it. I do.”

“Good,” he said. “And…?”

She drew a breath. “And I think you’re missing the boat with Murdock,” she said, no apologies, no effusive deflections. She shook her head. “He needs help, Hannibal. And I think you may be too close to the situation to see exactly what kind of help he needs.”

He appreciated her candor.

That didn’t mean he agreed with it.

“I know him far better than you do,” he said. “And that includes his psychiatric condition.”

“I’m not judging you,” she said, as if to assure him. “Honestly, I’m impressed with the work you’ve done with him. For a guy who got permanently sectioned a few years ago, you have him functioning within a normal army unit. That’s not just impressive from an operational standpoint, but a personal one, too. There are far too many soldiers who suffer from mental illness who don’t get that kind of support, and they end up homeless on the streets or strung out on drugs. Or in jail.”

“I refuse to let those things happen to Murdock,” he said flatly.

“But you’re assuming that the system is all bad,” she protested. “I mean, if you get him assessed, he’ll get treatment.”

“He’ll get committed,” he said.

“Not necessarily,” she said. “There are other options.”

“None of which involve my team,” Hannibal told her curtly. “And without us, how do you think he’ll fare? Because if you’re asking me to pick between committal and homelessness, I’m not sure that’s a choice I’m willing to settle on.”

She scratched at her nose. “You have an obligation to your man, I get it,” she said. “But I have an obligation to him, too. He’s my patient, and I have to advocate on his behalf.”

“You barely know him,” Hannibal argued.

“And you’re telling me that this behavior is okay?” she asked.

The sharpness of her voice was almost as effective as her point. He wet his lips for a moment. “You mean well, and I like that about you,” he said. “But I saw what a psych evaluation did to him before. I know what happened to him when the system got its way. I won’t let that happen again.”

She stood, still defiant. “And if it’s help he needs?”

Hannibal didn’t flinch. “He doesn’t.”

“You’re sure of that?” she asked, eyebrows up. “Completely sure?”

“Positive,” he said. “If I had any doubts, I would let you do the eval.”

She gauged him for a moment, chewing her lip. It was a curious battle of wills, one that didn’t pit them against each other in purpose but in means. They wanted the same things, but they simply believe in separate paths to achieve it.

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll review the paperwork and get them ready for you by this afternoon.”

Hannibal opened his mouth to object.

She held up her hand. “That will give me time to review various triggers and other warning signs for you to be aware of,” she said. “You may not be convinced he needs help, but you need to be prepared to identify problems if he does. I assume you have no problems with that?”

It was later than he’d wanted, but her point was well made. And appealing to his sense of control? Was nothing short of brilliant, he had to give her that.

He smiled. “No problems at all,” he said, tipping his head toward her. “Doctor.”

She rolled her eyes. “Colonel.”

This wasn’t exactly the plan, but this was what acceptable margins were all about. It made room for the art of compromise.

Not Hannibal’s favorite tactic in negotiation, but he wasn’t naive. Hannibal compromised all the time, in a thousand little ways. He could do this.

By the end of the day, he’d have his team out of here, and everything would be fine.

-o-

The end of the day, however, was a long ways away.

“I can’t possibly go out like this,” Face moaned, gesturing at himself in the handheld mirror he’d managed to procure. “Even with the extra supplies I’ve pilfered, you can tell I’m suffering from a severe lack of vitamin D. My complexion looks waxy.”

“Aw, shut up,” BA groused. “He wriggled his toes impatiently. “I can’t believe I finally got myself up and out of this bed and no we’ve got nowhere to go!”

This was not a new conversation. Different words, same meaning. They’d been saying the same things for the past three days now. It was wearying, and the only reason Hannibal could tolerate it was because the familiarity helped the boys out.

He didn’t want to see what would happen if Face wasn’t allowed to complain or if BA wasn’t permitted to grumble. It was hard enough watching Murdock do, well, nothing.

Despite signs of life earlier in the week, Murdock had become increasingly withdrawn. This morning, he looked more exhausted than ever. He had gone to bed earlier, woke up later, and he still looked like death warmed over.

“You at least look the part,” Face said. “All my stitches are under my shirt. No visible signs of injury. How is this going to help me?”

BA grunted. “You’re not bleeding to death, at least.”

“Like that’s supposed to be consolation!” Face said. “Hannibal, I think we need to reevaluate--”

“No, no way, no how,” BA said. “Unless you want to talk about leaving now.”

“I am this close to a date with the x-ray tech,” Face said.

This was probably true, Hannibal had to concede. The fact that it was so true without question was what made it unquestionably less valid.

“I ain’t staying here for your love life!” BA growled.

“She has a friend,” Face told him with a suggestive eyebrow waggle.

“I don’t need your damn handouts,” BA returned, his own eyebrows knitted together crossly.

Hannibal did his best not to roll his eyes, focusing on his paperwork instead. He was still fine-tuning their daily routine post-hospital, and he wanted to make sure it was properly balanced with activity and relaxation. He would have to stagger the therapy sessions to keep himself as an active participant in all of his men’s recovery process, and he needed to set realistic timetables to get them back to duty as soon as possible. Including Murdock.

“She’s cute,” Face said.

“What do you mean? How did you--”

“She runs the floor up in the ICU,” Face explained. “Dark eyes, dark hair, lots and lots of curves.”

BA cocked his head. “Curly hair? Good laugh?”

Face winked. “You know her.”

“That’s her friend?” BA asked.

“Sure is,” Face said. He nodded toward Murdock. “And they both eat lunch with that girl in the lab, the one with the braid? If you want, we can definitely make room.”

Murdock looked at them, almost looking vaguely surprised. There were fine lines around his eyes and mouth this morning, suggesting a weariness and a tension that Hannibal found disconcerting. Murdock’s happy-go-lucky nature was partially a creation, but his ability to deflect stress was a huge part of who he was. Without his imaginary coping mechanisms, he seemed to be falling harder under the weight of it all.

More evidence, as best Hannibal could deduce, that his pilot wasn’t faking it. If this was escapism, it wasn’t very successful.

“I--” Murdock started, and he seemed to wince. He swallowed hard, shaking his head just slightly. “I don’t think--”

“The French braid?” BA interjected, appearing thoughtful.

“All the way down her back,” Face said, beaming just a little.

“She’s sweet,” BA said. “She’s got a soft touch.”

“And she’s a reader,” Face said. “I’ve seen her; she carries paperback novels in her purse. The kind you buy at used book stores. I’m telling you, she’s perfect for you.”

Murdock looked even more perplexed at the insinuation. “I think I’m all right,” he ventured, although he couldn’t sound less sure if he tried. He shrugged, as if realizing his mistake. “Amnesia notwithstanding.”

BA snorted with a laugh. “That’s one hell of an aside, man.”

“Well,” Murdock said, twisting his lips up in a small, self-deprecating smile. “So says the man with a mohawk.”

Face cackled. “He’s got you there!”

BA drew his mouth together disdainfully. “At least it’s not a ferret, right?”

“Hey!” Face objected. “I told you, I don’t have my normal product!”

BA shrugged, looking smug now. “Doesn’t change a thing from where I’m sat.”

“A ferret with a mohawk,” Murdock agreed faintly. He let out a long breath, sinking a little deeper into his pillows. “At least we can count on that much.”

Hannibal smiled to himself, ducking his head down a little lower.

He could count on that much.

And they counted on him to keep it together.

Plane crashes, exploding tanks, defenestration and amnesia all notwithstanding.