A/N: Welcome back dear readers, I have another story for you! My exam season is finally over, so I managed to find the time to finish off the chapter. It got way longer than expected and I still held back a few ideas. This is supposed to be a sequel to my last story 'Acceptance is the first step to healing'. I have two other chapters planned, that I will try to write as fast as I can. My idea was it to clear up how the CIA missions, Murdock flew, could have looked. Again, this is not real and the series never confirmed what kind of missions Murdock flew.

Now for the story, I have some trigger warnings : description and mention of torture, hallucinations and panic attacks.

Enjoy!

Acceptance. Such a small word. It has only ten letters, but it holds such a big meaning.

Murdock tried to accept, tried to work out the whole memory thingy, but it only seemed to get worse, not the other way around. That whole mission was following him everywhere he went. The voices whispered in the darkness of the night when everything was quiet. He heard them laughing and taunting him. Nightmares were his constant companion, and he refused to sleep, only to wake up after an hour or two, too scared to close his eyes again. And the worst of it ? He was waking Face and all the others too, keeping them from sleeping.

Even pats on the shoulder from Hannibal made him go into panic mode. The gentle pats turned into fists that rained down on him with no end. One punch harder than the other.

He couldn't even cook for himself or eat without throwing everything up immediately after, the smell reminding him of the sickening stench of his own flesh burning.

It was awful. When he looked into the mirror, he saw a completely different person, not the one he used to be. At least when it happened, he had been distracted by playing 'pretend'. He had to pretend everything was fine, that he hadn't just been traumatized for his life, but here with his friends, that wouldn't work. They knew him too well. Nonetheless, he tried to put on a brave face even though it was crumbling, every day more.

Murdock sighed deeply and washed his face.

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Murdock left the bedroom he shared with Face in the country house; he managed to scam for the time being. He made his way over to the kitchen, where Face was making breakfeast. He entered the kitchen and was hit with the smell of bacon.

It was like walking through a portal, being transported back twelve years in the past. Back in that awful room. The stench of his own sking and flesh burning had planted itself into his brain. Murdock couldn't move. He was cold all over and felt numb. He could only register the smell.

Murdock snapped out of his trance when he felt his insides squiming with the smell. He ran out of the room and to the restroom. He managed just in time before he puked his guts out…again. There was almost nothing left in his stomach to throw up. Still, he continued to heave.

Laughing. Hands holding him down. Incredible pain. Laughing. Yelling.

Now he was panting, resting his head on the wall, and just trying to breathe through the memory.

'You're not there. You're in Texas, near Jamestown. You're with your friends. You're safe', he repeated over and over again like a mantra in his head until his mind calmed down.

"Murdock ? Are you alright ?", he heard a voice asking. He cracked an eye open to see BA standing at the door with a worried expression—a very unusual expression on his face.

"Oh yeah. Yeah, everythin' 's fine, big guy, nothin' to worry 'bout", he quickly assured him, and he got up on shaky legs, trying to hold his balance and not fall over to flush the toilet and wash his mouth out.

He hastily caught a look at himself in the mirror, and he had to admit he looked awful. He lifted his hand to wipe the sweat from his brows when he noticed how much his hands were shaking.

"C'mon, Captain Murdock," Michael spat his name. "Take my deal, and the pain will stop," Michael said with a smile. Murdock shook his head violently. Michael's smile disappeared, and Murdock knew what was coming. His hands started shaking-

'You're not there; it's fine, it's fine'

"You're not fine, fool."

"No, BA, everythin' 's fine. Don't worry"

Murdock wanted to push past BA, but he held him back.

Hands holding him down. Fear clutched at his heart.

"You're not fine since these guys took you ! What have they done to you?!" BA came closer now.

Laughing. Yelling. The smell.

Murdock placed a hand on his temple. 'God, keep it together. You're fine. You're in Texas-

"You're my friend ! I wanna help you ! C'mon man, tell me-

He was back again. He heard all their voices again, loud and clear. Exchanges in Russia, laughing. Pressed on a stool. Pain. Laughing. Yelling. The smell.

"C'mon man, tell me ! I'm your friend. Talk to me. Use that mouth of yours," Michael continued to taunt Murdock while he was fighting to keep his thoughts straight after hours of endless torture, "You know you want to."

He couldn't distinguish anymore between BA and the Russians. He pressed his hand harder against his temple as if to stop the flow. They got louder and louder.

"C'mon man, talk to me !"

Murdock couldn't take it anymore : "Just SHUT UP !"

Suddenly everything was silent again, and he was back in the bathroom. BA stood in front of him with a surprised, worried, and even a little hurt expression.

BA wanted to put a hand on his shoulder : "Man, I'm so-"

"Don't touch me," and Murdock pushed past BA and went straight to the front door to get out. Away from the endless flow of questions and memories.

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Hannibal was reading the newspaper in the kitchen while Face…cooked something edible. Well, at least he was trying to read the newspaper. His mind was running 100 miles an hour. Thoughts and ideas were running around. His main concern ? His pilot. He was aware that Face's cooking was bad, but the reaction of Murdock just ten minutes ago was unusual. He turned white as a sheet and looked as if he would puke his guts out any minute. If he had to guess, he would assume that it wasn't because of the cooking, but of something else. That 'something' being his scar.

For days, BA and Face have sent him looks that clearly stated that they wanted in on whatever theory he has created. He knew that the moment would come when they would demand answers, but he was reluctant to give them. If he gave them, they would also demand solutions on how to help their friend. The thing was, Hannibal didn't know.

He'd never seen Murdock behave like this. Never experienced it like that. He was walking in unfamiliar territory and was completely clueless on how to proceed. He knew that the situation was complicated and the wrong things could set Murdock off, so he had to choose his words carefully.

Hannibal could see how much Murdock suffered. He wasn't eating properly nor sleeping as much as he should. He was restless all the time and spent most of his time outside and out of sight. He wasn't wearing his jacket anymore, as if he wasn't even himself anymore. Normally he would just get Murdock on a plane and let him have his fun, but now he really asked himself if the pilot was truly capable of flying without having a breakdown or something else. Let alone, he wasn't sure if his injuries would allow it. All in all, he had more questions than answers.

His thoughts were interrupted when an angry looking BA stomped into the kitchen and slammed his fist on the table, looking at Hannibal with a furious look on his face : "I want answers, Hannibal ! What is wrong with Murdock ! Don't tell me you don't know ! I'm not stupid ! Now tell me what's wrong !"

Face, who stood behind Hannibal, stopped flipping around the burnt bacon and listened in.

Hannibal sighed. He knew that moment would come, so it was better to just go straight : "I only have a theory. And before you ask, no, I can't ask Murdock. If my theory is correct, then nobody should know of this in the first place."

After his explanation, he saw mixed feelings on both Face and BA's faces. BA looked ready to murder everything in his sight if his clenched fists were any indication of how labored his breathing got. Face looked straight-out horrified, disgusted, and sad.

Hannibal put his hand on BA's arm : "You have to calm down, BA. We won't be helping Murdock any if you get so worked up like this."

If possible, BA seemed to have gotten even more furious, he could swear he saw fume coming from his ears, but before the bulky man could answer, Face was already raging: "Not getting worked up like this ? Not getting so worked up like this ?! Are you out of your mind ! Have you seen what they did to him ! They broke him beyond repair, and you say he was lucky to be alive ?! These assholes are lucky They're still alive ! They carved him like a damn turkey and beat him to a pulp ! Murdock's hurting, and you didn't even see the need to fill us, his friends, in ?! We care about Murdock too ! We also see how he suffers ! Mind you, unable to help, because we don't know what's going on ! So please don't tell me I shouldn't get so worked up about it !!"

Face's breathing came fast, his hair was completely disheveled. If the situation hadn't been so serious, Hannibal would have laughed.

He looked at his boys. He knew they were hurting, and it was always difficult for them to see one of them in pain, but they would get through this, they always did and always will.

Hannibal waited a few minutes until the two finally calmed down a bit to propose his plan : "Listen, I know this is hard, but we have to put all our energy into helping Murdock get better, and then we can get those assholes. We need to remind him who he is and that he isn't alone, alright ?"

The two only nodded and went back to their respective tasks.

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Murdock stumbled outside, almost tripping down the few stairs. His breathing was fast and erratic. His heart was beating so fast, as if it were trying to run out of his ribcage. His hands were shaking. He was back. They were back. Laughing. Hands holding him down. Taunts. A voice. A familiar voice.

'Well, Captain Murdock, you are now a possession of the URSS, Congratulations !'

Pain. Yelling. His whole body was hurting. He couldn't breathe. He heard his blood rushing in his ears. His lungs didn't work ! He clawed at his chest. Panic intensifiying even more.

Suddenly he felt something wet on his face. That feeling made him pause and distracted him from his panic. It felt… vaguely familiar, but it was difficult to think. There ! There it was again. Whining ? Who was whining ? His heart slowed down a little bit, and his lungs somehow understood that they were not suffocating and started to pump air into his system. Something was nibbling on his hand. Murdock's vision started to clear, the image of that awful room subsiding.

After a few seconds, the image finally focused.

"Billy ?!", he shouted with surprise.

At his name being called, the dog's tail started to wiggle. He barked as if in confirmation.

"Huh, Billy, it's really you ! I can't believe it !" Murdock touched Billy's soft fur hesitantly, as if scared it was another hallucination. The fur was as soft as ever and full of tiny leaves and other things. Tears sprang into his eyes. He lunged forward and embraced his dog in a tight embrace, burying his face in that soft fur.

"Oh, Billy, I thought you left me ! You weren't there when those guys got to me. I thought I lost you," Murdock whispered in the last part.

Finally, he let go and watched his dog with awe. Billy barked and started running around, clearly overly happy that his friend was happy again. He was running in circles, which made Murdock laugh. It reminded him of what Billy always used to do when he was just a little boy. Billy would do anything to make him smile.

Suddenly Billy came to a stop in front of Murdock and started barking again, but this time, trying to give a message by looking up onto the roof of the house. Murdock followed his gaze and looked up. The sky was clear, with a few fluffy clouds here and there. It would have been perfect flying conditions. Murdock sighed. How he missed flying. So high in the sky, so far from the ground that bound him. The ground that bound him to his thoughts.

Nonetheless, he got Billy's message loud and clear, as if the canine had spoken with words. Height always made Murdock feel better. He felt closer to the sky, closer to his passion, and closer to his family. He looked down again, only to find that Billy had disappeared. He smiled. Billy truly was his guardian angel. He went back to the house and began his climb up the roof.

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He lay on his back on the roof and watched the blue sky. It had a deep blue color, just like the ocean. Only a few clouds were to be seen in the sky. They almost seemed lost in the endless blue. He always wished to be able to fly through a cloud, imagining them to be soft and fluffy, not as cold and wet as they really were.

'At least one dream turned into reality', he thought.

His mind was drifting, reflecting on the events from a few days ago. All his thoughts came back to that single moment, to that single mission, to that single person. For once, thinking about the thing didn't send him into an immediate fight-or-flight response.

Murdock remembered exactly the fear that gripped at his heart, the cold that swept into his whole being the moment he stepped into the tent of Morrison. The moment he laid eyes on the two figures in suits, who seemed so out of place in the heat of war and the filthy interior of the tent, he knew that his peace would end and that whatever mission he would be assigned to, would be awful. He was right in the end.

The mission was supposed to take about a day or two, nothing more. He was only meant to pick up his crew and fly them over to Russia and wait in the chopper until they returned and they would all be on their marry way and everything would be fine.

Murdock huffed at that memory.

After the briefing, he went to pick up his crew for the mission. He hadn't been assigned a fake name since he was only the pilot and not a crucial member of that unit. They had quickly introduced each other and began their mission.

Murdock remembered how nervous he had been. Once on a flight, he didn't talk, make jokes, or hum a song. He had been completely quiet. However, one of his new unit, Michael, was the only one who talked to them, especially him. He had been thankful for that at the beginning, and he thought that Michael was just as nervous as he was. Oh boy, how wrong he had been !

After a very long flight, they finally arrived at their destination. Murdock could still feel the cold of that day when he opened the door.

As if on cue, a gust of wind blew over him and made him shiver.

The leader of the unit ordered him to wait until he saw the signal, and then they all left. He had decided to scout the area before returning to his chopper. He remembered his confusion when he saw Michael appearing in between the trees, only half an hour after the whole group left. He climbed out of the cockpit and went to meet him, only to be met with an awful hit to the head that knocked him out cold.

Now Murdock was trapped in the memeory as it unfolded, but for once he didn't fight it.

He remembered waking up tied to a metal chair in a bare room with fluorescent lights that hurt his eyes. That's when Michael entered and revealed who he really was. His name was Andrey, and he was a Russian agent who infiltrated the CIA.

"When I found out that Captain Murdock would be the pilot of our unit, you could imagine the excitement I felt ! You know, I heard a lot about you. You're one of the best pilots in the Army, and, well, here is my opportunity to meet you. I'm looking forward to seeing you in action. We already have that other pilot who is supposedly the best. It's almost too good to be true," he said, a little smile dancing around his lips as if he were recalling a pleasant memory.

"You may wonder what I want from you," he looked at Murdock expectantly, "No ? It doesn't matter. What I want from you," Andrey said, pointing a finger at Murdock's chest, "is your service."

And, well, having two excellent American pilots in our custody, it is like," He paused in his speech. "How is that English saying again ?", he tapped his finger on his chin and scrunched his eyebrows as if he were heavily thinking, "Ah yes," he snapped his fingers, "Two birds, one stone," he looked at Murdock with a malicious grin.

Murdock decided to stay silent and wait for more information.

"No reaction ? No, I-will-never-betray-my-country or No-I-will-never-join-you ? No ? How sad." as if to prove his point, he put on a pouting face, "Believe me, when I'm done with you, you will not hesitate a second on which side you're on." he grinned again with that stupid smile.

"Now let's begin," he said, turning around and letting his jacket slide off his arms on the ground. He faced Murdock again and cracked his knuckles, "You're not even trembling, hm. At least you go into this braver than most other people I've…worked with."

Before Murdock had time to react, the first punch landed on his cheek, and from there on, the punches rained on. He lost count after 24. He bit his lips to not let out a sound of pain, he didn't want to give that traitor the pleasure.

After an eternity, the punches finally stopped.

"You're indeed braver than most, Congratulations!" He started to clap, "But it won't last." He came to a stop just in front of Murdock's bruised face, "This was only the amuse bouche, now comes the main course." Andrey turned away.

"You forget something, Michael, entrée comes between amuse bouche and the main course." Murdock lifted his head and grinned at him with bloody teeth.

Andrey turned around abruptly, anger clear on his face, but he managed to restrain himself, and his demeanor changed back to that of the calm and collected guy : "Enjoy your fun as long as you have it. It won't Last for long."

Truth be told, Andrey stayed with his promise. It got only worse from there. His men tested on him the art of decorating his skin with a knife. Of course, as a professional is supposed to do it, they did it slowly to not make one wrong stroke. How mindful of them.

After an eternity, they finally stopped, but the worst was yet to come. All of them left the room, and Murdock awaited unconsciousness with open arms, but the moment his head tilted forward, a loud sound was to be heard that snapped him awake immediately. He looked around frantically to search for the source of the sound, but found none. His heart calmed down again, and his head fell forward again, only to snap up a few seconds later when the ear-defening sound came again. He realized what they were doing, they were keeping him from sleeping, which in the long run could cause hallucinations. Then it would only be a matter of time before the victim braked.

His normal tactic was to bury himself as deep as he could in his mind, but that didn't work this time. It was hell. He had never experienced anything like it. After some time, he truly started seeing things that clearly were hallucinations, but as time drew on, the faint line between reality and illusion got slimmer and slimmer, until they seemed to have merged together.

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Suddenly someone came barging into the room, and Murdock snapped awake. It seems that he did manage to fall asleep at some point, or they decided to give him a break or just to prevent insanity. 'Well, it's too late for that already,' he thought bitterly.

Andrey truly did not look happy. He grabbed his chin and looked him dead in the eye : "My patience is running low, Captain. Do what I want ! You cannot resist forever ! The pain will only get worse !"

He let his chin go, and his head fell back on his chest. His body was aching all over, and he was so tired, like he'd never been in his life before.

"There is only one word that separates you from freedom. Say it, and the pain will stop immediately. It's that easy. Say it, and all will be over."

Murdock put all his strenght together and forced his head up and looked Andrey with all the hate he could muster in the eye : "I would rather die than join you".

The reaction was immediate. Andrey lunged for him and slapped him across the face so that his head jerked to the side. He was dazed for a moment. Suddenly, his hands were free, but that moment of confusion only lasted a millisecond. They forced him on his feet, ripped off his weathered clothes that covered his torso, and then pushed him on a stool.

"There you are!" exclaimed a voice beside him.

Murdock was ripped from his thoughts and turned his head to meet the eyes of his best friend.

"Face," Murdock acknowledged, "How did you know I was up here ?"

"You're kidding ? I know that you like the heights, and I know that you think best when you're in the air, so this is the most logical place to search for a pilot," he winked.

"I brought you some breakfeast. I thought you wanted some," he smiled and handed him a paper plate with an egg and bacon sandwich. His stomach grumbled at the smell.

"Guess I am hungry," Murdock smiled, "Thanks.".

Murdock went and took a bite out of it, and it was surprisingly…edible. Face must have noticed his dumbfounded expression, because he asked : "What ?"

"It's edible"

"My cooking is not that bad." Face crossed his arms over his chest and pouted.

"Au contraire, mon ami. You even managed to mess up pasta. Who messes up pasta ? You only have to boil it, that's foolproof."

"That was once, and in my defense, I got distracted." Face started gesticulating like he always does when he gets uncomfortable.

"Yeah, distracted by a woman," Murdock now straight-out grinned at him.

Face sighed and sat down beside him on the roof.

"Are you feeling better now ?", Face asked after a few minutes of silence.

Murdock sighed inwardly. Face still didn't quite get the concept that something like this wouldn't go away in a few days. Neither in a few years.

"A little, yeah." Murdock attempted another smile. Truth be told, he did feel better, but he also realized something else that made him feel worse. However, he wouldn't admit that to Face.

"Great ! You should come down to earth. The air is better down there." He meant it as a joke, a very terrible joke, but Murdock forced himself to chuckle nonetheless.

"Will do," and Face climbed back down.

Murdock sighed again and let the half-eaten sandwich fall on the paperplate. He wasn't hungry anymore.

Only now did he realize that this was his first reaction, a first episode, and there were many more to follow, and he wouldn't be able to hide them all from his friends. He didn't want to let them down, to let them think that he wasn't capable of doing his job anymore. They were his only real connection to the outside world, they were his only family. He was scared to lose them the moment they came to realize how badly his mental health had deteriorated.

Many what-ifs shot through his head : What if, one day, they need him and he is too far gone to give them the assistance they need ? What if his hallucinations come back, like a few years ago ? What if he can't separate reality from imagination anymore ?

He shut his eyes and tried to control the fear rising inside of him. He let out a long breath and chased these thoughts away.

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Murdock was just about to enter the house when BA called him from behind : "I've been looking all over for you, fool. I need your help with the van."

Even before the pilot could answer, BA had already run off in the direction of his precious baby. Murdock stood a bit baffled for a moment. BA never asked him to help with the van, too scared he would break something, as if he didn't have any experience from reparing his choppers. Before he could dwell on it, BA called again : "Are you coming, fool, or do I have to make you !"

"So what's the problem, big guy ?", he asked once he arrived at the van.

"I think there is a problem with the battery, but I can't get a good look. With your scrawny arms, I'm sure that you could find the problem," BA explained while rubbing his hands at his pants.

Murdock scrunched his eyes. 'He's nervous. Why ?'

"Don't look at me, fool. I'm not broken. Look there"

'Yeah, he's definitely nervous', he thought, but turned his head to look at the battery.

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BA watched Murdock's work. He couldn't help, but think about what Hannibal told them. The fool and the CIA ? It just didn't seem right. Murdock wasn't the kind to be serious about a topic. He could diffuse any situation, no matter how tense, with only a few words. He would make jokes in situations that were not suitable or provoke the enemy.

The fool really had a way with words. 'Just like Faceman', he thought affectionately. Nonetheless, Murdock didn't seem like the kind of guy who would fly missions for such an important organization. But after this conversation with Hannibal, BA realized that he knew less of the pilot than he wanted to admit.

There were only a few words he associated his friend with : Murdock, fool, HM, and Captain. That was it. There was no first name or whatever. BA didn't know Murdock's, his friend's, first name. What friend doesn't know the first name of the other ?

This man was capable of talking his ear off for countless hours about God and the world, but the moment he was supposed to talk about himself, he fell silent. Murdock never talked about his parents or where he grew up. BA didn't even know if Murdock had any siblings ! This man was a mystery, like a closed box that refused to open no matter how hard BA pulled on the lid.

BA huffed. He remembered the first time he met that crazy pilot. He had to smile at that. He was still as scrawny as now and looked way too young to be a 'good' pilot, but he proved BA wrong. Already on their first mission together, he proved his worth, even though that fool almost dropped him out of a helicopter. He would have admired Murdock's skills in that moment if he hadn't been so occupied keeping his lunch from making a reappearance. He hasn't recovered yet, but he still feels a bit more secure if he knows that Murdock will fly the plane or whatever torture machine Hannibal and Face decide to put him on. He knew that Murdock would do anything to get them home safely.

All in all, he was a good guy, except for his awful jokes, accents, and personas ! That surprised him the most when he first met the pilot. He joked, sang, and laughed all the while being shot at. Who does that ?! Then, BA was quite sure that this kid did not know the meaning of loss, of guilt, of sacrifice, or of sadness. He was just too damn jovial. But now ? Now he wonders how Murdock can still be this jovial after…all of this ! How can he still smile, joke, and laugh after these assholes brandmarked him like an animal !! How can you just suck something like that up and pretend for YEARS like nothing happened ?! How ?!

Anger flared inside of BA at the mere thought of all the pain Murdock went through ! He balled his fists. If he could just track down these guys, he would make sure they would never hurt anyone ever again !

"BA ? Are you alright ?"

BA was ripped from his thoughts. Murdock looked at him and held out a screwdriver.

"Yeah, just making sure that you don't break anything," he said after a moment of hesitation. He pushed Murdock gently to the side and pretended to analyze what his friend had done.

"I swear I didn't break anything. You don't have to use your 'knock out' fists on me !", Murdock put up his hands in a playful defensive manner, referring to BA's balled fists.

At that, BA felt a pang of guilt. Murdock was truly one of the strongest men he had ever encountered in his life.

"Thank you," he said as he turned his head around to look Murdock in the eye.

The latter seemed a bit confused, but didn't comment any further : "No problem."

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Hannibal and BA sat on the couch and went about their own business while Face and Murdock prepared dinner, or rather, tried to.

"What's the matter, BA? You seemed troubled all day?" Hannibal asked after what felt like the hundredth sigh from BA, putting his newspaper aside and taking the cigar out of his mouth.

BA only answered after a few seconds: "I-", he faltered. BA took a deep breath and explained: "We know so little about him."

Hannibal didn't have to ask who 'him' was and looked over at the other two boys.

"Oh, Face, the onion has already died once. You don't have to kill it twice!"

"I'm not killing it, but this knife is no good !" As if to prove his point, he tried to cut off a piece of the onion, one flying off.

"Oh, Face, you're hopelessly lost. Here, I'll show you."

Hannibal fell silent and waited for the rest of the story, sounding out the chatter of the other two.

"He can talk and talk about everything and nothing, but he never talks about himself. He-I know almost nothing about him. I don't even know his real first name!" BA faltered again.

"Doesn't he trust us? Why doesn't he tell us anything?" Hannibal clearly heard the 'me' in 'us.

Hannibal sighed, knowing that he would have to choose his words very wisely: "Not everyone likes to be called by their first name. You don't like it when we call you Scooter either, do you?" He couldn't suppress a grin. BA just scowled at him.

"Not everyone likes to talk about themselves. Isn't it more important to know that he's here? That he will never let us down? Do we really need to know everything about him to know him now? Besides, we all know your real first name, but we still call you BA. Would it make any difference to Murdock if we knew his real first name?"

BA remained silent and just looked at Hannibal. The latter could clearly see the despair, but above all, the anger in his eyes. Hannibal shared with him the anger when he thought of what their pilot had already had to endure, alone.

"If you really want to know, ask him. I'm sure he'll give you an answer," Hannibal put a hand on his shoulder and gave him a small smile, then stood up and went out for some fresh air.

In reality, he had to think about it himself. BA was not wrong: Murdock is and remains a mystery. He doesn't reveal anything about himself, and much of his file was blacked out and therefore inaccessible to Hannibal.

So he was aware that Murdock had already completed missions that none of them had done, but he hadn't seen it coming that they would turn out to be so bad. He hadn't asked himself many questions when he read the file, but now, thousands upon thousands. He wondered what else Murdock might have seen that they didn't know and Murdock wasn't allowed to say.

He sighed. The images of his wound flashed through his mind, the shock he had felt. It was incomprehensible to Hannibal that someone could do something so bestial to another human being. The pain this man had suffered and to hide his suffering took extreme strength and assertiveness.

Murdock is also not one to complain when he's hurt, he just takes it in his stride. Either he doesn't say a word, or he minimizes how bad the pain really is. Even in the prison camps, Murdock did everything he could to not let a word of complaint or pain show. He was always smiling and joking, doing everything he could to distract them from the cruel reality. Hannibal found that very remarkable, even then.

When Hannibal thought about it, he realized that he had never seen Murdock really angry—irritated, yes, but never really angry. He'd never seen him sad, either. 'Until now,' he thought.

Hannibal looked through the window and watched Murdock show Face the proper cutting technique. Secretly, he had to smile. Murdock was full of surprises and could do a lot of things, like cook very well. And yet, as he watched him through the window, Hannibal wondered : If he hadn't known what had happened to Murdock just a few days before, he wouldn't have noticed that Murdock's in pain. He laughed, restless as usual. It seemed like always, and yet Hannibal could see little subtleties that indicated Murdock was still carrying the experience. His smile didn't reach his eyes, his hands shook slightly, which they never did, he kept shaking his head as if he were trying to shake something off; and he flinched whenever anyone touched him. He tried to suppress it clearly, but for a trained eye, it was possible to recognize these small subtleties.

He asked himself again: Are all these personifications and accents just facades? Something to distract himself or them from reality? A reality that Murdock is not so mentally well after all, that he is not always in control after all, because one thing is for sure : after a person has experienced something like that, to be tortured and so...exposed, to be called subhuman, and then to come back to war with all its quirks, traps, and deaths and pretend nothing ever happened, and then to remain mentally stable, that is a miracle. Yes, Hannibal is not surprised that Murdock went mad, he would have been more surprised if it hadn't happened.

He sighed. BA is not wrong, Murdock is a mysterious man who is unaccountable. However, he never made Hannibal feel like he was a danger to his team. Murdock has always been there to get them out of trouble, and he's never let them down. When Hannibal, Face, and BA were betrayed, Murdock defied his superiors' orders and flew back to give them an escape route and get them out of the country. It didn't work, but he had put himself in the firing line, because he could have jeopardized his entire career with that stunt. Although he was also convicted, he was declared insane and sent to the VA.

Nevertheless, Hannibal had a strong feeling that Murdock would need them more often in the future, even if he didn't see it himself or didn't want to see it.

Hannibal took another deep breath and went back inside.

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After dinner, Murdock went back into the kitchen to take his night pills. It had been a long and tiring day.

"You're pretending again, Captain," suddenly said a voice behind him. Murdock flinched at the voice, whirled around, and came face-to-face with…Andrey ! Murdock's breath hitched.

'This isn't real', he thought, 'You're hallucinating again.'

"Are you ? How can you be so sure that I'm not real. Maybe I am real. I mean, you never saw me dead, did you ? Maybe I'm here to finish the job I started, mh ?", Andrey continued on with that awful smile of his.

He came closer with slow steps that echoed in the kitchen : "I have to admit, you are the most determined soul I have ever met. You didn't falter, and you didn't give in. Congratulations". He started clapping, slowly, unifying with the sound of his shoes against the ground. He chuckled. Murdock took a few steps back, but was soon met with the sink. Suddenly he stopped clapping and, at the same time, halted on his spot, merely a few feet in front of the pilot.

"You didn't give in, but I did break you," his smile widened, "I hurt you badly, and you still haven't recovered and never will. My mark will always be there in remembrance of the man that beat you", he pronounced the 'b' excessively.

"You didn't break me, Andrey, and you never will," Murdock encountered, and he tried to give his voice some strength, even though his legs felt like jelly.

"Aw, didn't I ? Really ? You are scared, Captain, so scared. You are scared that your 'friends' will one day bring you back to your VA and never come back. Leave you there to rot away, give into your insanity until you turn into a vegetable that cannot distinguish between imagination and reality !"

Murdock's heart started racing, fear clutching his heart and threatening to squish it. Fear paralyzed him on his spot, unable to move while Andrey came even closer.

"You're scared that one day you let your friends down and that they suffer the consequences of your lack," Andrey jabbed his finger on Murdock's chest.

Suddenly, sounds erupted from everywhere. He could hear his friends scream in pain. Metal grincing against metal. Someone is yelling his name. Blood. He could smell blood.

"You're scared that they die because of your failure !!"

Murdock pressed his hands against his ears, trying in vain to filter out all the sounds, but if possible, they got only louder. He squeezed his eyes shut, unwilling to see Andrey's cruel grin.

"Murdock ? Are you alright ?"

Suddenly, everything got quiet. Murdock swore he could hear ringing in his ears. It was all calm now. From one moment to the next, all sounds faded. Murdock hesitantly opened his eyes to see Face standing in the doorway. Andrey was nowhere to be found, even though he stood in front of him only a few seconds earlier. Didn't Face see him ? He had been right here in front of him. Murdock looked around, but there was no indication whatsoever that someone had been here.

"Did you see him ?"

"See who ?", asked Face.

When Murdock didn't answer, Face started to get worried : "Murdock, you're spoking me. Who did you see ? There is no one here, only us."

That's when it dawned on him. He had an episode. He had been hallucinating. It had been so long since he had one of these, more than two months now.

"It-it was nothing. It was only in my head, Sorry for scaring you."

God, he was so exhausted. He pushed his way past Face, ignored the other two sitting at the table, and went straight to his room and closed the door.

A/N: I hope you liked it! I had first planned to write it a little bit darker, but I thought it to be way out of character, so I rewrote it again. Stay tuned for the rest! ;)