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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

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

December 24th, 2016 (06:44 am)
sore

feeling: sore

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR
PART FIVE



-o-

By lunch, Face had preened himself sixteen times, BA had paced across the room 26 times, and Murdock had fallen asleep twice. This did not include the eleven arguments about nothing, the six conversations about hospital food and the 17 threats of violence.

They were on the mend.

They were going crazy.

Hannibal wasn’t just missing a little something on this mission; he was missing the whole damn thing. He needed to get out of here.

Now.

“Okay, boys,” he said, abruptly putting down his work and deflecting another would-be debate about the qualitative nature flirting in the field. “Time for a field trip.”

BA looked hopeful; Face started to fix his hair.

Murdock squeezed his eyes shut for a moment.

Hannibal got to his feet first, rubbing his hands together. “Come on, everyone on their feet,” he said, mustering a vaguely authoritative tone.

BA was already clambering up, and Face wasn’t far behind.

“Where are we going, boss?” Face asked.

“Lunch,” he said. “We’re all tired of the meals they bring, so I figured we could mix it up now that we’re all mobile. Try the cafeteria.”

“I’m down for that,” BA said, taking a limping step forward.

“I suppose I can’t pass up a chance to mix and mingle,” Face said. “This is my last chance.”

Hannibal waited for Murdock to chime in. But on the bed, Murdock was merely watching them, with tired, passive eyes.

“Maybe you’ll see something down there that looks good,” Hannibal offered. “Might trigger something.”

“You do have good taste in food,” Face said.

BA cleared his throat, casting a meaningful look to the side. “Most of the time.”

There was no need to mention Murdock’s penchant for ingesting poison. That was a trigger Hannibal would happily avoid for the time being.

“I don’t know,” Murdock said with a flat, listless drawl. “I’m kind of tired.”

“Probably because you haven’t eaten,” Hannibal said. “You need to get your strength up.”

“It’ll be great,” Face said. “There might even be food we recognize!”

“And someone to look at other than these fools,” BA said.

Murdock shook his head. “I really think sleep is better.”

Under normal circumstances, that was a request Hannibal might concede. They were a team, but that didn’t mean they were joined at the hip. Indeed, he had always encouraged and support his boys in their extracurricular ventures. That is, as long as he knew what they were and who they were with.

These circumstances were wanting, however. He wasn’t about to leave Murdock to his own devices. Yes, he was less likely than normal to do something insane.

Which was probably what worried him.

“Come on,” Hannibal cajoled. “We all go together or not at all.”

That was the heart of it, and no matter what Murdock didn’t remember, Hannibal needed him to remember that. The army was big on that kind of thing, leaving no man behind, but it went even deeper for the A-Team. They were more than family, they were a team. They were together by choice, first and foremost. Hannibal gave the orders, and they all had the mission, but it only worked as long as they each made that decision to stay.

If they had that, they could survive anything.

Murdock blinked a few times, bobbing his head. “Yeah,” he said, as if brushing himself off. “Yeah, sure. Lunch.”

Hannibal smiled, stepping back to allow his pilot some space to get to his feet. He did his best not to hover, even if that was exactly what he was doing. Face led the way, BA limping just a step behind. Murdock shuffled in their wake, and Hannibal brought up the rear, daring to let himself feel optimistic.

It would never matter where they went.

Because they were going together.

-o-

Hannibal had been hopeful that the cafeteria would be a much needed change.

After sitting down with the boys, however, he wasn’t sure it was the change he’d been hoping for. It was nice to get a change of scenery; the food wasn’t even half bad. Face was bolstered by the people around him, and BA seemed pleased that he was able to get around on his own two feet. And Murdock, well, he was finally vocal again.

“Seriously,” the pilot said, wrinkling his nose. “What is that smell?”

It just wasn’t a particularly pleasant vocalization.

“Must be your goulash,” BA said. “Who the hell orders goulash anyway?”

Murdock shook his head, barely acknowledging the suggestion. He sniffed toward Hannibal, then BA. Then he visibly recoiled from Face. “You!” he said, sounding positively aghast. “You’re the one who smells!”

“What?” Face asked, half laughing in incredulity.

“You smell horrible,” Murdock said. “I can actually taste it over my goulash.”

“Now that’s impressive, man,” BA said.

Face huffed, trying not to appear too serious. Murdock wasn’t just off beat in his conversation today; he was downright contrary. He had complained about the food selection; he had bemoaned the fact that the soft drinks were watered down. He’d objected to the plastic chairs, the lighting, the noise level.

In short, he had complained about everything.

Now, Face and BA, they were being good sports in all things where Murdock was concerned right now, but even they had their limits.

“The only thing I smell like,” Face said with a touch of briskness, “is fifty dollars an ounce. This cologne is imported, straight from France. You can’t even buy it within three countries of this hell hole.”

Murdock looked at him disdainfully. “They import vomit now? Is it labeled as a biohazard?”

BA laughed, hiding the grin behind his roast beef sandwich.

“It’s very exclusive,” Face explained.

“So were the emperor’s new clothes,” Murdock said. He shook his head. “Really, it’s atrocious.”

This time, BA didn’t hide his laugh. “Dude’s right,” he agreed. “You do smell pretty bad.”

Face’s expression turned nearly apoplectic, but Murdock just turned his befuddled and perturbed look toward BA.

“And you,” Murdock continued, completely unprompted. “You’re noisy.”

BA was still laughing. “What?”

“You’re noisy,” Murdock said again. “You chew like an elephant.”

“I--” BA started, still holding his good humor. It faltered. “What?”

“Have you ever heard an elephant chew? Because I honestly don’t know if I have or not, but you -- you sound just like an elephant would,” Murdock said. “Grinding your teeth together like you’ve got half a ton in there. Just chewing and chewing and chewing.”

The joke almost sounded like Murdock, the Murdock they knew and loved and missed. It was annoying and offbeat, but the problem was -- it wasn’t exactly a joke. They were all laughing and smiling -- all of them except Murdock.

There was no familiarity to the jibes There was not lightness to the barb.

They weren’t mean exactly, but they certainly weren’t nice. Murdock wasn’t trying to lighten the mood or keep things interesting.

He was actually complaining.

As if they needed another reminded that Murdock wasn’t himself.

“What the hell kind of insult is that?” BA asked.

Murdock turned up his nose. “One that you were supposed to heed,” he said, then he shook his head in apparent disgust. “But you might be as dumb as an elephant, too.”

The color drained from BA’s face, and Hannibal watched as his entire body stiffened, fists reflexively curling.

Hannibal wet his lips, leaning himself forward purposefully. “Why don’t we all just focus on our food for a bit,” he suggested, as diplomatic as ever. He gave Murdock a patient smile, and nodded in particular at BA and Face. “We’re going to have plenty of time for conversation once we get out of this place.”

Face grunted lightly, taking another bite of his lasagna. “I’m doing what I can,” he said airily. “But I can’t stop the way I smell.”

“And how the hell am I supposed to eat without chewing?” BA asked, taking a large bite out of his sandwich with a glare.

The gentleness was wearing thin, which Hannibal had hoped to be a sign of a return to normalcy. A sense that they were coming together.

The opposite was happening, though.

Right here, in this cafeteria, they were beginning to come apart.

They needed each other; the A-Team existed in a state of delicate balance. For four men who did the impossible together, they were surprisingly dependent on the ebbs and flows of their personalities. The sum of their parts would never be equal to the whole they made.

Murdock was a part of that, and try as the others may, they couldn’t keep giving without getting something back.

And something didn’t include petty insults over a mediocre lunch in an overcrowded hospital cafeteria.

The worst part was, Murdock knew it, too. He’d trusted them this far, for reasons he could quite explain, but he knew when he didn’t fit in.

He knew.

Swallowing hard, he reached down to pick up his tray. “Maybe I’ll just sit over there.”

Hannibal had always respected the autonomy of his men, Murdock even more than the rest. He knew how important it was for Murdock to feel like he had a choice, and he’d always been sensitive to that. And sometimes a little time apart was good for the team, even Hannibal himself.

Not now, though.

Not like this.

“No, come on,” Hannibal said, doing his best to not appear stressed. He was the one who set the tone; he was desperately trying to, at any rate. “You haven’t even finished your goulash. It’s fine.”

“No,” Murdock said, uneasy. His fingers were still gripping the tray. He eyed Hannibal, almost suspicious. “I don’t think it is.”

“He’s right,” Face chimed in. “Everything’s fine. I can even move to the other side of the table.”

“And I’m almost all done with my sandwich,” BA said.

“See?” Hannibal said. He smiled, reaching out to pat the other man on the back. “Everything is fine.”

At the touch, Murdock flinched. For a moment, his face went deathly pale and his pupils dilated wide. “No,” he said, louder than before. His breathing hitched and he was suddenly trembling. “It’s not fine.”

Hannibal drew back, careful and slow. “Murdock--”

“I don’t even know who that is,” he said, voice wavering thinly about the clatter of the cafeteria. “You keep telling me that like it means something, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t meant anything.”

“You just don’t remember,” Hannibal said as gently as he could.

But Murdock was shaking his head, fingers so tight on his tray that his knuckles were white. “I’ve tried believing you, but I don’t think I can anymore,” he said with an uneven inhalation. He swallowed hard, visibly blanching. “Because you say that my head is fine, that the team is fine, that we’re fine. You say it’s fine that I can’t remember, that it’s fine that you’re all still strangers to me. That it’s fine that I don’t know anything about you and you know everything me.”

Hannibal refused to look away, eyes solely on his pilot, but he could feel the attention of the rest of the cafeteria being drawn to them with each passing word. Murdock was making a scene, and not in his usual manner.

This needed to be defused.

Now.

“Murdock,” he said, quiet and even. “Please.”

Murdock’s breathing hitched again, and he recoiled further. He was shaking so badly now that the tray almost danced along the tabletop. “But I’m not fine, am I?” he asked, voice almost breaking. “My head, my memory, me. I was never fine, was I? And you guys are all so scared to tell me that it just makes it worse.”

Face looked ill; BA looked like he wanted to fight someone but there was no one around to punch.

Hannibal wet his lips. “We’ll tell you anything--”

But Murdock pulled away again, this time almost tripping over the seat as he scraped it against the floor and stumbled to his feet with the tray abandoned on the table. “Maybe I don’t want to remember,” he said, even louder now. “Maybe it was never fine.”

Hannibal drew deep for his patience, and he resisted the urge to charge after his pilot and force him back into his place. That was a risk he couldn’t take. “Maybe you’re not fine, not now,” he said, trying desperately not to think of Dr. Stevens and her damn psych evaluation. “But you will be. I can promise you that.”

Murdock shook his head, backing up another step. The surrounding tables had grown quiet; a security guard looked at them nervously from the doorway. “You can’t know that,” Murdock said, eyes starting to brim. “You don’t know that.”

It was getting away from them -- it was gettinga way from him. All the work he’d done to bring this team together, to keep it together, and here they were, dangling on the precipice of disaster and no one could actually remember why.

Was it Face falling out of a window? Was it BA crashing a tank? Was it Murdock’s plane off the runway? Or was it the whole damn plan, right from the start?

Had they been doomed since Mexico?

Had Hannibal seen this coming and just never wanted to admit it?

Was it possible that he’d conceded too much in his acceptable margins?

Would the things they couldn’t remember be the only things Hannibal would never forget?

Hannibal did his best to smile. “We’re going to help you. I promise--”

But Murdock refused to be placated this time. He lurched backward, teetering with a sudden precariousness. Face flinched, and BA braced himself not to move; they were both watching, waiting for Hannibal’s lead.

Waiting for him to fix this.

“Murdock,” he said, low and serious.

“I’m not your pity project,” Murdock said, a tear streaking down his face now. His brow was creased and he looked pained. “You all need me, you keep saying that, but maybe I don’t need you. If this, this team, is how it is, then maybe I don’t want to remember. Maybe I’d rather forget.”

That one hurt -- it hurt -- and it was Hannibal’s turn to steel himself. That was what he did, for the team.

He could take the hits.

As long as it kept them together.

“Murdock--” he started again, getting carefully to his feet.

Murdock shook his head, face contorting. “Because a ferret with a mohawk?” he said, pressing his hand to his face and squeezing his eyes shut. “No one wants that. No one.”

It wasn’t about what they wanted, though.

It was about what they needed.

Murdock would understand.

Murdock had to understand.

Hannibal just had to get them all out of this place.

Now.

Conscious of the growing silence and aware of the gathering crowd, Hannibal took a step forward as calmly as he could. He held a hand back, just enough to keep Face and BA at bay, and he figured he had about thirty more seconds before a well meaning doctor or an anxious security guard tried to intervene. He had about half a minute to keep this between his team.

He took another step forward, and Murdock opened his eyes. For a second, their eyes locked, and he saw something he recognized for the first time since they’d gotten to this hospital.

A quiet, familiar desperation.

A broken, faltering trust.

A real, unadulterated need.

Above the noise.

Beneath the chaos.

This was still Murdock.

And he was still Hannibal.

He reached out.

Murdock’s breathing staggered, his eyes blinking. A quiet, suspended moment; just the two of them.

He could still hear Murdock, I’m a real soldier. I’m a ranger, baby..

His reply was ever the same. That’s good enough for me.

That was the basis of the team.

That was the basis of hope.

But then, Murdock’s eyes glazed over before they rolled back. His body went slack, and he slid to the floor, hitting hard as his body started to convulse before Hannibal could catch him. Behind him, Face was moving; BA was yelling. Someone called for a gurney as footsteps approached.

But the only thing Hannibal could think as he hit his knees beside his man was that he’d missed this.

He’d missed this.

And this time, it might cost him everything.

-o-

Hannibal knew what was happening, of course. He was too trained, too experienced, too knowledgeable not to know. It was a possibility he’d made note of in his plethora of research, an aside, an unlikely outcome that he’d noted and dismissed.

A seizure.

A medical complication that stemmed from any number of health conditions. Face, being a week post-op, was not at a high risk for a seizure, and BA showed no signs of deteriorating health that would indicate one might be likely due to complications from the treatment for his leg. They were all well adapted to their medications, and Hannibal had been sure to monitor all things introduced into their diets to minimize any chance of new reactions.

Murdock, however, had suffered from a head injury. Seizure had been a possibility from the outset, but Hannibal had deemed the risk minimal after the scans had come back clean. He’d passed all of his neurological tests with flying colors.

There had been no reason to think.

Except Hannibal was supposed to think. What was the point of entertaining all the possibilities if he didn’t truly prepare for them? Why would he waste time deducing the acceptable margins of error if he didn’t have a plan to deal with the outlying possibilities?

He had seen this coming, in some way, so why the hell did he have no idea what to do?

Gritting his teeth, he didn’t even spare a second to curse, pushing back chairs as he made plenty of room for Murdock’s flailing limbs. He positioned himself carefully, using his body to cushion Murdock’s head as it flopped backward, doing his best to minimize its impact with the linoleum floor.

Since now was a hell of a time to starting worrying about Murdock’s head.

“Face,” he grunted, glancing back. The lieutenant was keeping BA at bay, giving Hannibal and Murdock a wide enough berth for medical personnel to swarm in.

And swarm, they did. Hannibal had been resistant to medical help for the better part of the week, but only because he’d believed they had mixed motives and a limited understanding of Murdock’s psychological condition. That hadn’t changed necessarily, but Murdock wasn’t going to have any psychological condition unless this seizure stopped frying his brain.

Now.

A crowd had gathered, even as Face did what he could to keep them at bay. A pair of doctors Hannibal didn’t recognize were already there, clearing away more of the area and calling for a gurney and a crash cart. Someone called for antivan, and a nurse produced a needle while one of the doctors grabbed hold of Murdock’s arm.

Hannibal didn’t want to watch as the needle slid in, but Murdock’s contorted body wasn’t much comfort either. His eyes were slitted, the whites visible on his rigid expression, the color darkening around his mouth and eyes from the lack of oxygen.

He’d known, hadn’t he? He’d suspected, right? The doctors had insisted it was psychological, but Hannibal had refused to accept that. He’d been so certain it was something else, but he’d failed to actually contemplate what that meant.

In short, he’d made a bad plan. One without enough contingencies.

One that had Murdock seizing on the cafeteria floor.

Now there was nothing for Hannibal to do except hold on.

And wait.

Long, hard seconds ticked by. The thrashing started to subside, easing back to a few twitches before Murdock’s head lolled limply to the ground, supported in Hannibal’s lap.

One of the doctors -- a middle aged man, not much younger than Hannibal -- was already taking Murdock’s pulse, checking his eyes.

“What’s he in for?” he asked brusquely, nodding at Murdock’s obvious hospital garb and the bandage on his head.

“Uh, concussion,” Hannibal said, reciting what he remembered almost mechanically. “Diagnosed about a week ago, but all checks were clean. He suffered from ongoing amnesia, which is why they kept him under observation--”

“Amnesia?” the man asked, screwing his face up. “Was there any follow up exam?”

Someone had arrived with a gurney, and the second doctor was setting up an IV.

“Neurological workups continued to be normal,” Hannibal reported.

Murdock was rolled carefully out of his arms, secured onto a backboard with his neck and head taped down. His color was returning, but the waxy complexion wasn’t much of an improvement.

The doctor shook his head, listening to Murdock’s heart before checking his eyes. “Why wasn’t there a follow up CT?”

Hannibal hedged. “There were psychological considerations.”

The doctor grunted at that, helping as the other doctor started to lift the board, moving Murdock up onto the gurney. He was fastened down while a nurse started to hook up leads and turned on the monitors.

“What about nausea? Sensitivity to light? Unusual sleepiness?” the doctor pressed, adjusting a few buttons.

“Sure, but aren’t those all normal side effects of a concussion?” Hannibal asked.

The doctor unlocked the wheels of the gurney. “Among other things,” he said. “Unfortunately, they’re also signs of serious complications.”

Hannibal reached out, stopping the doctor for just a moment. “What kind of complications?”

“Colonel, I’m sorry,” the doctor said, and he actually sounded like he meant it, which just made it worse. “I just have to keep all the possibilities open at this point. You understand.”

Hannibal did, of course.

Hannibal did.

The doctor nodded, pulling away from Hannibal’s touch. “Let’s get him up to CT right away,” he said. He glanced back as he started to move away. “We’ll keep you informed.”

Numbly, Hannibal watched them go, Murdock small and lost among them. He’d been trying to protect his pilot, but it was hard to think, if he’d gotten his way, if he’d left this morning, Murdock would have seized outside the hospital, that much farther from help.

In simple terms, Hannibal’s plan could have killed Murdock.

He swallowed hard, watching as the gurney disappeared into the hallways.

It still might have.

Stiffly, he strode over to Face and BA. “Come on,” he said gruffly. “We need to go.”

There was no argument as they followed this time.

They still trusted him.

For the lack of something better.

Funny how Murdock was the one with amnesia, but it was Hannibal who had forgotten the reality of what it meant to be a fallible human being in this line of work.

A ferret with a mohawk had never been the plan, and he was damn presumptuous to pretend otherwise.

And he was damn terrified that he might lose it still.

-o-

Dr. Stevens met them before they even made it to the waiting room.

“He’s been redlined to surgery,” she told them without prelude.

“But the CT--” Hannibal started to ask.

She was already shaking her head. “The cafeteria is on the same floor as CT,” she told them. “The scan’s already done.”

Behind him, Face looked practically bewildered. BA was limping badly and sweating with exertion, but it was impossible to determine if the pained expression on his face was purely physical as he leaned against the wall for support.

Hannibal didn’t quite know what to say.

She drew a breath and seemed to take pity on him. “The scan showed a hematoma,” she said, sounding truly sorry. “A big one.”

Hannibal took a second to process that and fully consider its implications. A hematoma fit the symptoms, almost in a textbook fashion. In fact, it fit a lot of the symptoms Hannibal hadn’t allowed himself to fully consider symptoms, perfectly explaining the long list of deteriorating factors over the last week and culminating with the seizure in the cafeteria.

Except for one little problem.

“You said his head was fine,” Hannibal said, unable to keep the accusation out of his voice.

She was young enough that the accusation visibly hurt her; she was good enough to not let it cow her entirely. Even so, her eyes were bright with regret. “The initial scans were clean,” she explained. “Our head of neurosurgery consulted them--”

Hannibal wasn’t going to take that line, not this time. He respected medical opinion, he did, and he had no delusions regarding his own qualifications or lack thereof. But he’d just seen his man go down, and go down hard. He could still see the whites of Murdock’s eyes and the feeling of his skull against his lap. “But the scans now tell a different story.”

“It’s called a subacute subdural hematoma,” she said, looking from Hannibal to the others sympathetically. She gestured to her head. “Basically, it’s a bleed that forms on the brain after the fact. It takes time--”

“Sometimes up to a week or two,” Hannibal finished for her, realizing he knew this, too. He’d accounted for this, in the long list of possibilities. He’d known. His stomach bottomed out; he felt hollow as she looked at him again. “It’s treatable, if caught early.”

She pressed her lips together somberly. “Captain Murdock’s psychological condition may have obscured some of his symptoms.”

“Bullshit,” Face scoffed. “We told you there was nothing wrong.”

“We told you the fool wasn’t faking it,” BA chimed in with a low growl.

“But we were going to take him home,” Hannibal said, the words heavy on his tongue. “If we’d have left…”

“Then he’d probably wouldn’t have even made it into surgery,” she confirmed, somewhat grim. “At the very least, we would be having a long discussion about his long term care options.”

Face swallowed so hard that Hannibal could hear it. BA’s fists were clenched with such ferocity that it looked like they might split the skin on his knuckles.

Hannibal forced himself to stay upright, to look her in the eyes. “And now?” he asked.

“Now,” she said, just as resolute, “you wait and hope for the best.”

-o-

Hope wasn’t so much Hannibal’s thing. Hope was an admission of surrender, in a sense. Hope was acceptance of what you couldn’t control.

Hannibal had never had much time or patience for such things.

Sitting in that waiting room, that’s all he had though.

Hope, time, patience.

They were all the same.

And none of them were enough.

Hannibal sat back in his chair, letting out a long breath as quietly as he could. It did little to relieve the tension riding in his shoulders and building between his temples, but this wasn’t about him. It wasn’t even just about his pilot, currently undergoing brain surgery.

No, in the most immediate sense, it was about the two men sitting with him. They didn’t like to admit it, but they were interdependent, his team. What happened to one of them, happened to all of them. That was why Hannibal never assigned blame, pure and simple, in a mission. That was why it wasn’t about Face getting thrown out of a window or BA crashing a tank. It wasn’t about Murdock flying a plane off the runway, or anything in between. Holistically, it was more than that.

Holistically, they were more than that.

That was what made them strong.

It was also what made them weak.

This was his job, though, and he couldn’t run from it. He’d brought them together; he’d made them a team. He damn well had to take responsibility for that when it was threatening to fall apart.

He sat back with a long, slow breath. They were back in their room now, by his suggestion. The waiting room was closer, maybe, but the lack of privacy bothered him from a number of viewpoints. He could easily justify the move as a security issue, but the truth was that he didn’t want an audience for this. His team, they didn’t operate like anyone else. He needed to give them the space for that.

Especially now.

Checking his watch, he stretched absently. “Two hours,” he announced, as though it was some kind of revelation. Face glanced toward him, and BA purposefully kept his head down, staring at his hands. “Two hours means they’ll have made good progress by now.”

Face nodded, almost laughing without humor. “Good progress,” he mused. “Good progress opening Murdock’s skull.” He shook his head. “Not so encouraging.”

“All the times I griped about it, his crazy head,” BA said dourly. “Never actually wanted anyone up there, messing with it.”

“We knew he wasn’t faking,” Face said, cheeks starting to flush. “We knew.”

BA shook his head. “If he’s not okay, man,” he said, the words carrying more than the hint of a threat.

A threat to who, that wasn’t so certain. To each other, maybe. To himself, possibly, though it wasn’t something BA would admit to. To Hannibal, most deservedly.

The mission, though, it wasn’t over yet.

“Do you remember Mexico?” he asked, raising his voice with an air of curiosity.

Face gave him a look. “Mexico?”

“Corrupt Mexican officials running drugs on the side,” Hannibal provided. “It was a particularly ambitious plan, even for me.”

Face shrugged, looking a bit annoyed. “Hannibal, I’m not sure--”

Hannibal shook his head, waving Face off. “You slept with the guy’s wife, if I recall, and nearly got yourself lit on fire,” he said, as good naturedly as possible. “Then, during our intrepid escape, I seem to remember nearly dropping BA out of a helicopter.”

BA’s expression darkened, somewhat dangerously. “Is there a point to this?”

“No kidding,” Face said. “Because I don’t know, Hannibal. This trip down memory lane -- it’s not exactly helping.”

Hannibal was undeterred. “Everything went wrong; more things than I even let the two of you know,” he said. “There were a dozen mistakes that we all made, and I nearly called the whole thing off several times.”

Face was watching him, brow furrowed.

Hannibal shook his head. “I probably should have pulled the plug before I sent you in there, Face,” he said. “And I sure as hell should have stopped the minute we got to that hospital. I could have called in backup. We would have lost Tuco, but it would have gotten us out of there, safe and sound.”

“But Tuco was the whole point,” Face said.

“And if you hadn’t have gone on, I never would have gotten back in the army,” BA said.

“And Murdock would still be wasting away in some mental ward,” Face said.

Hannibal nodded along, nonchalantly as possible. “And despite it all, everything still came together in the end.”

Face gave a half-scoff. “That’s because you had a plan, boss.”

“A crazy-ass plan,” BA agreed, but the sharpness of his voice had softened now.

“A plan, yes,” Hannibal said. “But not the plan you thought I had.”

Face gave him a skeptical look. “Then what?”

“My plans, they’re always flexible,” he said. “Malleable in a sense; they evolve. All my plans have working parts and acceptable margins.”

“Sure,” Face said. “It’s part of your genius.”

“And that plan, the one in Mexico, Tuco wasn’t a non-negotiable,” Hannibal continued.

“What?” BA barked. “But you shot me! You destroyed my van! I nearly got dropped out of a helicopter!”

“Because I wasn’t going to leave any of you behind,” Hannibal said. He spread his fingers out against his thighs, and sighed thoughtfully. “Face came in with me, so I obviously couldn’t leave him behind. And from the second I saw your tattoo, BA, you were part of the plan, too. And the first time Murdock looked in my eyes and told me he was a shoulder -- well, he was non-negotiable, too.”

Face closed his mouth, drawing a stiff breath but trying not to let it show. BA swallowed hard, failing to hold his resolve impeccably in place.

“A ferret with a mohawk,” Hannibal reflect with a rueful smile. “That was the plan, the three of you. Everything else, it’s not essential. But you, this team -- that’s everything.”

Carefully, Face wet his lips. “And if we lose that?” he ventured quietly.

That was the question, then. It was the one Hannibal circled around every mission. It was the contingency he planned against even while he almost refused to acknowledge its existence. That was everything, in the end.

He had just hoped the end wasn’t now.

“I don’t know,” Hannibal admitted, because if he couldn’t give them certainty, he would offer them truth. “But I imagine we’ll handle that like everything else if it happens.”

Face’s expression was tremulous, and BA’s brown eyes were big.

Hannibal smiled so hard it hurt. “Together,” he promised, wishing he had more to give, but knowing he’d let them take everything until he had nothing left at all. “Just like we always have.”

-o-

It didn’t take as long as Hannibal thought it would.

He’d done his research, naturally, and all he’d had to do was review his notes. He knew that brain procedures could take quite some time given the delicate nature of the organ in question. He’d been prepared for a long wait, and he’d planned for various distractions throughout the day, but it was only late afternoon when Dr. Stevens came back.

At first, he thought it was just an update, but then he noticed her hesitation.

And Hannibal’s entire body was flooded with cold.

It was too soon, too early, too everything, and with horrible clarity, Hannibal knew he wasn’t ready. He’d forced himself to prepare the boys for the worst, but he hadn’t truly accepted it himself. But there was only one reason Dr. Steves would be standing here already.

The surgery was over.

Which meant….

“They got it,” she announced, face breaking into a smile. She rubbed her hands together, looking genuinely relieved. “They got the whole thing, no complications at all.”

Hannibal stared at her, completely at a loss.

“The hematoma was actually smaller than they expected, which was why it went so fast,” she explained. “And Captain Murdock did great. We think he’s going to make a full recovery.”

For all that Hannibal had braced for the worst, he found himself wholly off guard for such blatant good news.

He blinked, still faltering. “So he’s…”

“In recovery, being weaned off the medication,” she said, beaming somewhat now. “I feel bad that it got to this point. If his psychological history hadn’t complicated this case, we might have suggested a repeat CT earlier.”

“But you got it, right?” Face asked.

“And the fool’s going to be okay?” BA added.

She shrugged, still smiling. “It’s impossible to say for sure, but like I said, we’re optimistic,” she said. “We think it’s likely that even the amnesia will resolve itself, but we won’t know for sure until he wakes up.”

Face actually laughed this time. “So that’s it? A little brain surgery and everything’s okay?”

“That fool’s never going to be okay,” BA said.

Dr. Stevens gestured placatingly. “A little brain surgery is nothing to scoff at,” she said, layering her voice with an abundance of caution. “He’s going to need time and support to recover. You can’t expect him to be just like he was overnight; he needs to get his strength back.”

“That’s all within acceptable margins, Dr. Stevens,” Hannibal said, his heart still pounding from the worst case scenario he’d believed to be true for all of five seconds. “I can promise you that.”

He remembered to breathe. He looked at Face and remembered to smile. He looked at BA and almost remembered how to cry.

This plan might just work out okay after all.

-o-

Recovery was a restricted ward, but no one stopped Hannibal from marching his boys up there, no questions asked. This might be taken as an act of compassion; it might even suggest that Hannibal’s reputation had preceded him.

But more than any of that, he was certain that Dr. Stevens and everyone else who had worked on their cases understood that it was a package deal. Simply put, they were better together.

And after a week like this one, they all needed a little better.

Besides, he was fairly certain Dr. Stevens was afraid of a malpractice suit. Hannibal had no intention of pushing any kind of lawsuit, but he was more than happy to use that fear to his advantage in the short term. Hannibal was, after all, a practical man. No need to waste an asset so freely given.

Not to mention one somewhat deserved.

All the same, sitting by Murdock’s bedside, it was impossible to feel fully vindicated. Yes, the medical staff should have listened. They should have considered all the possibilities. But Hannibal was the one in charge of his boys, and he’d made the wrong choice, too. He wasn’t about to start throwing stones in glass houses, no matter how good at it might be.

At any rate, talk of blame was the last thing the boys needed. It was already foremost on their minds.

Shifting restlessly, Face sighed audibly. “It’s just so weird to see him like this, you know?” he said, fidgeting in his chair.

“Everyone about him is weird,” BA said. Where Face was flighty, BA was solid as a rock. They each handled these things in their own ways. After a moment, BA cast Face a sympathetic look. “I know what you mean, though.”

It wasn’t much consolation, but they all appreciated the effort. Conversation had run thin for them, and it wasn’t just because they were in a restricted ward. They’d spent the last week, desperate to remember. For now, part of them wanted to forget.

Murdock was doing better, at least. That was what the doctors had told them. They had pulled back on the sedation, and his brain waves were moving in the right direction. It was probably just a matter of time.

Hannibal wriggled his toes in his boots.

The best plans took time; in fact, Hannibal hated to plan on any type of exclusive timeline. He understood, quite explicitly, the need to be flexible in that sort of thing.

It was hard to abide by that now.

Face wrestled with himself again, stretching his legs out with a groan. “This is impossible,” he moaned. “Murdock is never still.”

BA bobbed his chin toward the bed. “Looks like he’s just sleeping, doesn’t it?”

“Sure, except I’ve seen Murdock sleep,” Face said. “He doesn’t sleep like that.”

Not folded neatly into a bed, sheet pulled up over his chest in the most perfunctory fashion. Not flat on his back with wires running off him. The bandage around his head wasn’t as daunting as one might have expected, and in truth, the unruly tufts of Murdock’s unkempt hair were somewhat reassuring. Murdock didn’t look like someone who had just had a craniotomy. If anything, the pilot still looked like he was recovering from nothing more than a moderate concussion.

Hannibal didn’t have the luxury of such naivete, however.

None of them did.

Murdock especially.

Face jiggled his knees, slumping down in his seat while he lifted his hands to his hair. “Ugh,” he said, running his fingers through the coiffed strands. “I just hate this, you know? I mean, we’re a team. We’re a team. What if…”

He couldn’t bring himself to finish the thought, and he let his shoulders droop dejectedly.

“Every time you suckers have tricked me onto a plane, I’ve wondered why we even keep a pilot around,” BA admitted. He shook his head, sheepish. “I actually let myself think we’d be better without him.”

Face gave him a look of commiseration. “I thought he was a mistake when we first picked him up in Mexico,” he said. “I thought you’d finally lost it, boss. Like, completely. All I saw was this crazy idiot who’d tried to light me on fire.”

“I wanted to hit him so hard,” BA said. “Even after he got amnesia.”

They needed this, to share this way. It was a rare thing for men like this to talk, to express feelings. These sorts of situations made them vulnerable, and Hannibal wasn’t so hard of a military man that he didn’t see the value in it.

It wasn’t the expression of emotion Hannibal wanted to stop.

It was the sentiment itself.

Guilt.

Like this was their fault.

He wanted his boys to take responsibility for themselves -- he did -- because they needed it. Each and every one of them struggled with accountability, and Hannibal had taken it upon himself to provide that for them, each in their own way.

But not this.

There was only one person responsible, and he was going to make sure they understood that.

“You guys didn’t do this,” he said, nodding to them each in turn. Face managed his look of surprise with some semblance of grace. BA did not. “The buck stops with me on this one.”

“Come on, Hannibal,” Face said. “We do a dangerous job. And, I mean, I know you’ve got a god complex, but that doesn’t make you God.”

“And you didn’t crash the plane,” BA said. “Or the tank. Or that window.”

Hannibal allowed himself the slightest of smiles. “I know,” he said. “But I was going to check Murdock out of this hospital today. If I had gotten my way, I have a feeling we would be having a very different conversation.”

“But you were protecting him!” Face said, glancing around anxiously while trying to keep his voice lowered. “It’s the doctors who missed the boat on this one.”

“They should have given him the second scan,” BA agreed.

There they were, rallying just as he might have expected. It hadn’t been his intention, of course. He had wanted to comfort them, but he should have really predicted this. Hannibal was the leader of this team, yes. But he was also an equal member.

He let his smile linger, though he could feel it lengthen with weariness. “Still,” he said, looking to Murdock’s sleeping form again. “It took me a full day to realize Murdock even had amnesia. Everything I claim to watch for, and I missed something so plainly obvious.”

It was more than somewhat sobering, and this time, BA and Face offered no counter argument. It might be tempting to think they agreed, that they placed the blame as readily as Hannibal did, but that wasn’t it.

Their silence was an admission; it was a quiet resonance. It was the guilt they understood, implicitly as they understood their own. It was funny, in a way. That Murdock had to forgot to really make them all remember.

Not who was to blame or what had gone wrong, but why they’d started this. Why this worked, the four of them. It was possible they’d always known, but sometimes you had to feel it no matter how much it hurt. Sometimes you had to see it.

Like a damn ferret with a mohawk.

Hannibal inhaled deeply, finding strength where he should have had none. It wasn’t from within him, not this time. It was from all of them, together.

He rocked back somewhat, letting the tension drain from his shoulders. “I guess it’s lucky, then,” he said.

Face and BA looked at him again, expectant.

Hannibal let his lips curl up, just a little. “That we’re going to get another chance to remember.”

Face smiled, and BA’s whole posture loosened. “Damn straight,” BA said.

“Hell yeah,” Face chimed in.

Hannibal sat forward, eyes on Murdock. “We’ll get it right this time,” he vowed, as steadfast as ever. “I can promise you all that much.”

-o-

There was a part of Hannibal that understood, on some level, that someday things wouldn’t go the way he wanted. That someday the margins would no longer be acceptable, and he would lose his team in varying degrees of tragedy. This was part of the high stakes nature of his line of work, and no matter how well Hannibal planned, he could not expect it to last indefinitely.

That was a reality he would have to contend with eventually, and it was one he’d come face to face with during this mission. Sometimes, even the safest bets lost. Sometimes, even the best odds worked against you. Sometimes, even Hannibal Smith missed the obvious. Sometimes, the mission failed.

Not this one, though.

Not this one.

Because five hours after surgery, Murdock woke up.

Naturally, it was a tense moment, fraught with uncertain. Face had noticed first, practically falling out of his chair as he shot instantly to Murdock’s side. BA knocked both of his crutches on the ground, hissing in pain as he jarred his leg, but he still managed to contort his body enough to put himself in Murdock’s line of vision. For his part, Hannibal was on his feet, standing over the others, waiting.

That was the way it was at the end of a mission. When you did everything you could, it all came down to waiting and hoping like hell things turned out the way you wanted.

Murdock blinked a few times, staring vacantly for a moment. He wrinkled his nose, drawing his eyebrows together experimentally. With a wince, he tried to reach his hand up, but it was caught in the blankets and impeded by the IV. When all that failed, he took a breath and winced again, letting a violent shudder pass through his body.

It took another long moment before his eyes seem to register anything, and he startled at the apparently unfamiliar surroundings. By the time he looked at Face, BA and Hannibal, he looked downright terrified.

Hannibal felt his stomach drop, but he willed himself to stay strong, no matter what happened next.

None of them seemed ready to speak, and Murdock swallowed with obvious difficulty. It took him several tries to moisten his mouth enough to produce sound, and even then, the first noises were weak and scratchy.

Face inched closer, and BA lifted himself as high as he could without standing. For his part, Hannibal kept himself steady.

“Where--” Murdock croaked, breaking off hoarsely. He licked his lips again, rallying himself. “Where…”

His eyes flitted away, past the faces of his team. Hannibal could feel his heart pounding his chest, his palms starting to sweat.

Murdock screwed up his face in apparent concentration and looked at them again. “Where’s Billy?”

That had been the first question Murdock had asked before, when he hadn’t remembered anything. Hannibal made a mental note to scour Murdock’s history even closer; Billy was more than a convenient proxy for Murdock’s feelings. Billy transcended memory itself.

It meant that Murdock wasn’t a vegetable.

But, Hannibal felt himself hedging.

“Billy?” Face asked for them all. “You want to see Billy?”

Murdock drew a breath, visibly trying to settle himself as he let it out through his nose. “My dog,” he said. “He’s a good dog, he is, but he gets scared….”

As far as Murdock speak went, it was easy enough to translate. But Hannibal wasn’t about to start taking things for granted again.

“They don’t let dogs in hospitals, fool,” BA said, gruff but not quite condescending.

“Oh, that’s never stopped Billy,” Murdock said, glancing toward the door with a fond smile. “I expect he’ll be coming in, any second now.”

“But he ain’t real--” BA started.

Face hit him.

“But he’s not!”

“And you’re going to bring that up now?” Face hissed.

“Well, how are we supposed too--”

“Wait,” Hannibal interjected himself over the verbal reparate. He looked at Murdock, holding his gaze. “When was the last time you saw Billy?”

Murdock looked at him -- he really looked at him -- and said, “Back on the base. Before the mission.”

Hannibal’s chest swelled, his heart nearly beating right out of his chest. “You remember the mission?”

“Well, sure,” Murdock said, as though it was possibly the most obvious thing in the world. “Kind of hard to forget, Face getting thrown out of a window and BA crashing that tank. And that landing -- I know it was a little rough, but I swear, there was nothing I could do. We took a few bullets I wasn’t expecting, and I lost part of the electrical system, and honestly, we didn’t crash that bad.”

He stopped, looking from one to the next with growing concern.

“Did we?” he asked, appearing positively vexed now. His wide eyes settled on Hannibal. “Is everyone okay?”

Hannibal had to laugh. It was a question they’d taken the roundabout way to answer, but the conclusion was pretty hard to argue now. “Yeah,” he said with a reassuring nod. “More than you know.”

Murdock smiled, the relief on his expression palpable. Face almost choked on a laugh, and even BA looked downright happy, smiling like a schoolboy.

“Good,” Murdock said. Then, he hesitated. “Funny, though. I remember crashing. But I...don’t remember a lot else.”

He looked up at them, uncertain and worried.

Hannibal patted Face on the shoulder, nudging BA on the arm. He smiled at Murdock. “It’s something of a long story,” he said. “But the important thing is, the mission’s over now.”

“And it -- it went okay?” Murdock asked.

Hannibal looked from Face to BA before setting his sights on Murdock again. “Well,” he said, grin splitting his face now. “I think it was within the acceptable margins.”

That was enough for Murdock. It was enough for Face and BA. Truth be told, it was enough for all of them.

Hannibal could not ask for more.