Original Title; Separation Anxiety
Author Note; Brought on by a random What If thought at an obscenely late hour of the morning. What if Murdock thought the rest of the team were dead? How would he cope? The rest sort of evolved into what you seen below. Face/Murdock undertones, but if you don't like that kind of writing, it isn't that obvious, and could just be taken as close friendship.
After the agony in stony places, the shouting and the crying
Prison and palace and reverberation, of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience
Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The Wasteland, V: What the Thunder Said, T. S. Eliot
Summary; If you lost everything, would you even want to move on and fight, knowing you'd have to do it alone? Without your family by your side. Would you even try to pick up the pieces, knowing how broken you were? (Murdock-centric)
There is a land of dust here. Airborne clouds pulled to the ground to settle with the rocks and grit and dirt, to be kicked up by the wind or seldom seen footfalls. The world revolves outside, but if not for the setting and rising of the harsh sun, the ground morphing from muted dull ochre to muted dull grey, this land would be a bubble of frozen reality. A land that time forgot.
There are killers here. Murderers who kick up the dust with their stomping boots, disturb the uneasy waves of heat with the engines of their cars that splutter smoke as dark as their hearts. They think in their small world they could break the sky with merely their words , that they could bring down the wrath of god himself against those who stand against them. The dust hides their quarry of narcotics and weapons, to be secreted in the most innocent of packages so they can pass over the border not far from here. So that the residents of the land of the free can give money for them, imprisoning citizens with chemical addictions and delusions that- if they hold instruments of death in their hands- they're invincible even against mortality.
A man enters into this world of dust and blood purely because all other roads are closed. He has nowhere else to go, no further down to sink. His presence forces the icy reality to waver, complaining at the presence of change. He staggers into a small town with an unremarkable name from the wilderness, his feet sore and bloody from walking, and collapses on the front door of an inn. Death stands on the front steps with him, waiting his turn. The men of the village want nothing to do with the wild gringo who shows up at a their door like a homeless animal. They look up from their drinks and tabletop talks with animosity dancing a tune in their minds. Strangers are never good, form the patterns of shapes unwanted at the bottom of a teacup. They need no crystal ball to make up their minds. Yet the wife of the late innkeeper has some knowledge of medicine, and it is her door the man has fallen onto. She recognises Death as an additional visitor- although he is no stranger, never a stranger in these lands- and decides that he is unwelcome where she is concerned. And she is a woman of such formidable character that no-one dares oppose her when she orders two of the younger men to help her carry the man to a spare bedroom she has. There is blood on their hands as they place him down, staining upon the brown of their skin. One or two speak up, but her thinly pinched face, lined with age and strength, quiets down the voices.
There will be no death here today. Not if she has anything to say about it.
The wild-man is delirious with fever the first few days, babbling in tongues his healer has never heard before. Curses, pleas and promises told in a whisper that's hoarse from the heat and over-use. Like he's been screaming too hard for too long. One of the men who helps carry him in clutches the cross around his neck as he backs away, mentions calling the priest to exorcise the demons the man surely must be plagued with, but the woman waves him away with a swish of her crooked hands, informing him sharply that there will be no need .
The man's clothing is ripped, charred and dusted with soot and smoke. The cloth which has not been patterned with black is discoloured with the dark brown of dried blood, patches of pain a testimony to what has passed. Cuts and bruises have mottled his skin, the fleshy shade a minority amongst the crowd of blues and yellows, and the men mumble and mutter, guessing rightly that this man has tangled with the murderers they all know make their mark on this land, surmising wrongly that the trouble will follow him as though tracked by bloodhounds. Yet the woman holds up her hand against the words, and the mumbling quietens to merely a discontented whisper .
She does not mention the military tattoo faded against the skin of his forearm. The mark of a soldier, a brave warrior. She knows that such a mark is wise to keep quiet about, and she simply returns to bathing his heated skin with cooled water, thinking of her missing son about this man's age, lost in the sea of people trying to get by in the world across the border.
It comes as a surprise when the man turns out to speak her language fluently, opening his eyes and struggling backwards with fear when he catches sight of her, a whimper of fright mingled with pain as his movement jars the trophies of suffering on his skin. She speaks to him, low and calm like she's calming an animal that'll bolt if she makes the wrong move. He doesn't respond to her soothing speech at first, her words that he's safe, that she's not going to hurt him. It's as though he can't recall what those words mean.
"¿Dónde estoy?" Where am I? His voice is rough, dusty and dry , reflecting the world he inhabits, yet the woman smiles reassuringly.
"Con los amigos" She promises him. With friends. But the man is not calmed by these words. If anything it's as though what she has said has made him more agitated, made him recall something that he didn't want to remember. She jumps when his hand clutches hers; hard, unyielding. Desperate. One look in his strange eyes tells her he means her no harm, even as his voice asks her the question plaguing him.
"¿Has visto a mis amigos?" He sounds frightened. "¿Has visto a mis amigos?" He repeats the words with trepidation in his eyes, his dry voice like sawdust mixing with the sand. Have you seen my friends?
When she shakes her head, it's like she's broken something. Like it was the last hope he had.
She quickly learns that the man- American, it is revealed- has a good grasp of most tongues. She hears snippets of them from the man's fevered dreams, glimpses of far away places and happier times, yet in his sleep the man writhes and cries and screams in those foreign tongues, howling the names of strangers the woman does not recognise , his very heart being torn asunder from his chest.
The men of the village call him 'Howler', mocking him with their words, while the woman just tends his wounds and tries to chase the fever away. Death is her unwanted house guest, yet soon he too leaves out the door he came in, acquiescing in the face of such tenacity. It is not the man's time yet.
The man has very few belongings on him; the clothes on his back all that he possess in the world. From the dog-tags around his neck , she comes to know him as Templeton from the words engraved there. The name doesn't seem to fit the thin man before her. When she calls him that however, the man freezes, before he turns away, holding back cries of anguish so hard that his teeth clenched against his chapped lips draw blood, clutching the tags as though they're the stitching holding the tattered pieces of his soul together. She recognises not to mention it again.
Days morph slowly into weeks, and the bandages are pulled away to reveal pink newly grown skin. There are scars too, thin veiled lines where the cuts were too deep to heal cleanly.
The man's heart does not heal. The cuts are too deep to even scar.
He speaks few words to her when he is conscious, just stares out blankly like he's trying to remember who he is, what his purpose is. He tells her, finally, that his name is James, and although he could be lying, she believes him. This discovery spurs her on, and she asks quietly if he has family he could go to, who could look after him. He replies to her query with a certain emptiness that comes only from losing everything. He tells her that they're all dead, and the light in his eyes leaves her in no doubt that he isn't lying. When she asks how, too curious to turn back now, he speaks in a faint jilting monotone of his family of four; the strangers she has heard shouted for in his nightmares, how they went up against the murderers of this land on another's behalf and lost. He tells how the vehicle they were driving in was sabotaged, how he believed an elder man he called Hannibal and another named Bosco were inside when the van exploded. How the world burned along with the vehicle as he watched, how he and a man named Face couldn't check if they were still alive, couldn't even bury them if the worst was true because by then the murderers were dragging them away. The woman interrupts at this point,believing some misinterpretation when she enquires about his friend who he calls 'Face'. He smiles at that. A hollow motion that stretches his hardened face.
He squeezes the tags around his neck so hard that they leave an imprint in his flesh.
The rest of the story she has to coax out of him with soothing words of reassurance, and slowly, with wetness glazing his eyes , he finishes the tale. He speaks haltingly as how those men tried to beat the information of his contacts out of him, who he worked for. He had no answers that were good enough, and when they weren't satisfied with his eventual silence, they got his friend and put a gun against his breastbone. And regardless of his pleas and shouts, his begging, they just laughed and pulled the trigger. Hurt him more in that one motion then they ever could have done with their fists and knives.
The rest, the man says, is mostly a blur of red hot anger, and he remembers lashing out at the men with a wordless cry on his lips, howling and growling and screaming. Then the subsequent defeat of his revolution that is obvious outcome of a battle of one weakened man against four. They hit harder than before that time, punching and kicking until he didn't think he was a person any more, just a shape of battered flesh who could speak no words other than litanies for the dead, feel nothing other than a broken lifelessness. And then once they had finished, they left him in an unmarked area of desert to die, not putting a bullet in his brain because that would be too merciful. They threw the dog-tags at his unmoving body, laughing that he could die along with his friend now.
He says with honesty that he never thought he could hate someone as much as he did then. And that that hatred was all he had to fuel his muscles to crawl and stagger towards the outline of this town in the nearby distance.
The man stays at the inn until his strength has recovered, and in return for the woman's kindness, he helps around the house now that her husband is dead. She refuses at first, but recognises that he needs to do something to distract his mind. Otherwise the oblivion will swallow him. It turns out that he can cook quite well, and on his first day out of bed makes her a curious dish he calls Tapenade. His hands shake as he stands at the half-busted gas cooker, and she doesn't say anything when he hands it to her with a forced smile, and his eyes are red from tears. It's not her place to pry.
Neither know how long he stays there, for time does not treat this place with much notice, but one day one of the words of disgruntlement that the men speak over their drinks late at night must have been spoken aloud to someone official and important. The police show up at the door, banging on the wood with fists and shouts, and drag the American stranger out of the door. The woman shouts her anger, but her speech falls on deaf ears. The man does not struggle, yet he thanks the woman with a small smile as he is bundled into the back of the car.
The look in his eyes frightens her, because it's like he doesn't care what happens now.
James- he's not Murdock any more, not HM, because that part of him died in that fire, that gunshot- spends one night in a cold empty cell while the police decide what to do with him. It didn't take much for the reported sightings of the notorious A-Team at the border between Mexico and America to be paired with local gossip about an American gringo badly wounded, fluent in local dialogue and with the dog-tags of an army solider around his neck.
James doesn't listen to the words that are spoken, just curls up in the corner of the small cell and tries to lose himself in the shadows.
The CIA take him away at the first light of morning.
James has a talk with the new Lynch the day after that, although he's not quite sure about the timing. The hours still morph into one unchanging entity, and it's like he's watching his life being lived from behind a screen. No control, but that's ok. He doesn't want any control right now. Responsibilities, memories, blanked out to a white page on his thoughts. It feels like a Thursday today. James has always liked Thursdays; they've got that calmness about them before the end-of-the-week excitement of Fridays. But Lynch is smiling with that fresh new grin, suit pressed and ironed and maybe James got it wrong, maybe it's a Monday. No-one's demeanour looks that neatly pressed and folded by Thursday.
This Lynch isn't much of an improvement on the last one, although at least this one isn't trying to kill him. Not yet anyway. He can't remember whether the CIA have rules about custody of prisoners, if he has the right to a phone call or something. But he doesn't have anyone to ring and even if he did, it's hard to try and remember the numbers. Thoughts disappear when he tries to grasp at them. Maybe it's better that way.
Lynch asks him all these questions, but unlike the murderers in their sands of dust and paper money, he doesn't hurt the ranger when James stares back listlessly and doesn't reply. He doesn't like this man, with his clean cut suit with no jagged edges, who speaks condescendingly just like the last Lynch and every Lynch previous to that, like he's a five year old who has broken something. It hurts more that he doesn't shout at him, that he doesn't hit him, because it means he can't be distracted from having to listen to this smarmy bastard, probably fast tracked from Harvard or Yale, talking about his family. He calls them rebels, degenerates, and James bites back the flowing anger that fills him up, takes the space that the emptiness left behind. The whole business with Morrison and the plates is mentioned, and he tries to block it out as Lynch- who isn't actually called Lynch at all, but will have another hidden name, a real person underneath like a second layer of skin- mentions the names that have become taboo, unspeakable to him.
"You think Hannibal's gonna get you outta here, Capitan? You think the cavalry are gonna come- the old man, Baracus and Peck- to rescue you? You're on your own in here son."
Truer words were never spoken, but James doesn't inform Lynch of his victory, just stares at the floor and counts the cracks in the lino.
"You cooperate Murdock, I'll see that you get everything you ask for. Getting you of the hook would be too high, but we could say... appeal, get the judge to reduce your sentence? Make sure you get put into a nice place too, lots of pretty nurses to look after you"
"Anything I ask for?" That anger's back again, creeping and slithering it's way into his head. James clenches his fists, thinks about how nobody offered him chance to appeal when they locked him away the first time, how nobody gave his friends the suggestion of a reduced sentence. And this idiot, smiling like he's got nothing in the world to fucking worry about, while James is bleeding out onto that clean lino floor and nobody's noticing the blood stains.
"Anything" Lynch thinks he's got him in the palm of his hand, leans forward. And that's when the blackness rolls in again, the blur of anger, and James doesn't release he's struck the man clean across the jaw with his fist until the hands of the guards are pulling him away, strapping handcuffs around his wrists when before they saw no need. He wasn't dangerous before, wasn't angry. Just broken. For the moment he's both.
"Give me my friends back, you son of a bitch"
The questions stop after that. They get the message.
It doesn't take long before they're moving him again, even though he's gotten used to the shadows on the wall of his holding cell. Phrases like "burnout" and "one for the quacks now" enter into his mind. He knows they're talking about him but he can't bring himself to care. He wants to tell them that he's right here, that he's a person that can understand every word of dismissive venom that drips from their mouths, but he doubts that fact too. He doesn't feel like a person any more.
He's not surprised when the cold white walls of the VA welcome themselves back into his life with a cheery grin . He's an old friend by now. He doesn't know how long he'll be here this time. He hopes not long, more of a holiday than a permanent stay, because he's gotta go out on duty again, and he can't leave his girls out there amongst the sand and grit. 'Copters can't fly themselves, and if he isn't there, who's gonna make sure their wings aren't clipped so they can soar? Their paint'll rust, and he knows what happens when you don't look after your girls properly. His vehicles are ladies just like real ones, need care and attention if you want to get up into the air and survive. You treat them good, and it's all plane-sailing... He laughs, a sound with no hint of real humour. It's mania to hide behind now. Plane-sailing.
Life passes by like the hours he spent in the dust lands. He doesn't eat much, refuses most of it, because he knows it'll be poison, that they're all out to get him. That's why they've shut him away, are trying to numb his thoughts and mind with injections. Needles designed to cut off the many heads of his personality, but they grow back like the heads of the Hydra. Except it's hard these days to keep track of which head's in control.
He's wasting away, one of the nurses says to him, but the knowledge doesn't phase him much. Perhaps if he keeps fading , getting smaller, halving and halving and halving himself till he'll just be a nothing. Disappear , a non-existent white rabbit from a top hat, seeing how far the tunnels go.
The cocktail of drugs to try and fix what's wrong makes him sick. The side-effects aren't worth the cure, and since when could you fix something that couldn't heal? He sees ghosts in his waking hours; a grey haired man smirking and smoking a cigar- the fumes of which fade under James's tentative touch-, a large black man who calls him crazy with affection in his tone, an attractive figure who calls him friend, who asks about Billy while trying to hit on some of the nurses that come in to see him. James laughs at some of the things the man says about the nurses. The nurses don't seem to think it's funny. They don't even look at his visitor. They just stare at him.
He wonders about Billy. He hasn't seen him since his second visit to Mexico. He calls him sometimes, whistling, but the dog doesn't come. Maybe he's just busy doing more interesting stuff, like digging up roots or burying animal bones. James wishes he wasn't.
He's tried to escape a couple of times. The thoughts in his head are so strong they pull him under like a crashing wave, and he impulsively tries to make a run for it. He is The Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro, the Man in Black. He is hidden in masks and false smiles, a million men, a million heroes. He is Neo, Aragorn, Luke Skywalker. He is not Murdock any more. Murdock is no hero, Murdock is nobody. And James is a shell, a blank page he can illustrate how he wishes. He never manages . The nurses drag his kicking form back, as he screams that he has to go help his friends, that they need to let him go because he needs to go back to Mexico.
He barely even remembers who he's talking about. He never says their names any more.
His nightmares are worse, filled with fire and pain and bullets, and he wakes up crying, his wordless screams taking over the static in his mind, thrashing as the orderlies try and hold him down to tranq him. He doesn't remember what he dreams about, and he doesn't try and recall. He doesn't want to know. He just knows that in the night-time hours he lives up to a nickname someone gave him once, as he howls and screams and tries to squirm out of the strong grasp holding him. He's a damn Ranger, the best pilot, the best. He's not a child. He's not mad, not mad, he's him, just him. And even that's fading away. There are big gaps in his memory where the fog on the downs wont clear and trying to remember is like trying to catch water with his fingers. Sometimes he doesn't know what he's been doing, only that there's holes in his past like someone's cut people-shapes out of the papers of his mind. There are track marks on his arms from where worthless cures have been tried and failed. The side-effects get worse these days. He's violent, angry, yet the emotion is only superficial, the outer layer wrapping him up. Smothering him. It's hatred at the faceless monsters who crowd and jostle him, clawing and biting at the demons who murdered them, who made him watch, made him break. He hits out and shouts, breaks things and tries to break the faceless people around him ,and when the silence of administered drugs descends on him, he's almost grateful.
He tries to fly one day. Breaks onto the roof and stands at the edge with his dressing gown billowing out in the wind. It's the middle of the night, and the moon is half hidden behind cloud, but it's the first time he's seen the sky in so long. He misses the blue when it's sunny, the rotors whipping over him as the engine of the aeroplane throbs underneath him. The songs on his lips as he eases the joystick into an incline, the dip of his stomach, the musical in his blood. He hasn't sung for a long time. He can't remember the last time he wanted to.
Strangely the orderlies don't understand that he just wants to fly when they catch up with him on the roof. James would have tried, would have jumped and thought nothing of it, but they pulled him away, and the latches to his windows in his room are quickly bolted for fear he tries again. He can look at the sky, but he can't touch. And maybe that's worse.
The nurse tells him that he's been here four months and he doesn't believe her. It feels longer. The clock hands on his wristwatch are broken, and he's going to ask Dr Richter for a new battery so he can get it up and running again. The nurses don't believe he has a watch, but he knows their game; always joking, always smiling in a way that makes him want to punch the smile away, 'cept he's a gentleman and he wasn't brought up that way.
It feels like a lifetime. He wants to go home now.
James is sitting in a straitjacket on a seat in his room , his back to the door, when someone comes in. Three people from the tapping of the footsteps. Tap-tap-clunk-clunk. Two heavier steps, one lighter that he knows is from one of the nurses. Her shoes make a clip-clop noise, like a horse. He wishes they'd quieten down. He's trying to concentrate. He blanks them out best he can, and continues to stare at the patch of blank wall as though it's as riveting as the Mona Lisa. He's starting to see colours in it from staring too long, spots of rainbow shades. Yellow and Orange. Like fire. Grey like bullets. Red like blood. He frowns; there isn't any blue. You can't have a proper rainbow without blue. Blue like the sky. Blue like the eyes of an old friend. He'll have to do something about that with the poster paints from the Arts and Crafts section next chance he gets. Get rid of that damned white.
"It was Mr Murdock you wanted wasn't it, doctors?" It's Dr Hobson. She's got a smile that shows too much teeth, and she giggles even when something isn't funny, like the whole worlds a joke. She's having an affair with Dr Jefferies who looks after Rooms 10-15, that James is sure her boyfriend doesn't know about. He wouldn't have told him either; Dr Jefferies isn't much to brag about. He dresses like he's twenty years younger, combs wisps of hair over his balding patch, and uses words like 'cool' and 'hip'. Dr Hobson doesn't think he's much to brag about either, because when Murdock mentioned it she told him he was imagining things.
He's mad, not stupid.
Dr Hobson continues speaking "Got to admit, don't know why the CIA would be interested in his case again. They already tried talking to him, that Lynch fellow said- gave me the shivers he did, if you don't mind me saying- and Mr Murdock's condition hasn't improved must since then"
"You know what it's like, Dr Hobson," a voice speaks, and the accent makes James clench his eyes closed, shutting out the imperfect rainbow. He whimpers quietly so no one hears. It's Irish, Northern Ireland specifically. It hurts him. "You get the order from the top and you have to do it, regardless of how unnecessary it is"
"Can I have a look at his charts?" Another voice addresses her, this time to his right. James just wants them all to go away, as Dr Hobson giggles as she supposedly passes the stranger the required documentation. It's a laugh reserved for attractive men only, that's maybe trying for Marilyn Monroe but really is only managing Dobbin the Horse.
He hears more vague sounds but makes no effort to move. It's hard in his jacket, and he's feeling a bit dizzy. The reds and yellows are blurring round the edges, like a ruined painting.
"That'll be all Doctor" the first voice says, and errant thoughts flutter and chase themselves around the corners of James's mind. Their wing edges are sharp, cut at him. He knows that voice, yet he must be wrong. Because he can't be right.
The nurse leaves, James hearing the door close behind her, but curiously there is another sound in quick succession. A click, the lock shutting from this side. As though those left in the room are trapping him in here with them, the rest of the world pushed out. Thoughts flutter faster, and under the wraps his arms are held in his hands are quaking. He blames the little blue and red pills they make him take. One to take him home, the other to lead him further down the rabbit hole, out of the matrix. None of them ever take him back where he wants to be.
The two begin talking immediately, low hushed tones that burrow into his consciousness , digging creatures with scratching claws and snuffling noses.
"Jesus, have you seen the shit they've got him on?" The second voice sounds out, "Risperidone, Thorazine, SSRI's, you name it." He's angry, all unspoken rage, turning the white walls grey with his tone "They're doing fucking ETC on him Hannibal"
James can't help think that Hannibal is a mighty strange nickname. Hannibal the Cannibal, who'll eat your liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti . Hannibal of Carthage, who crossed the Alps melting rocks with merely vinegar. But not the Hannibal James wants. He wants his Hannibal, Hannibal the Colonel, who can think of a plan in the time it takes to smoke a cigar.
"Focus now kid. We can work all that out later" The Irish voice is back, and it sounds deceptively close. Bang bang bang , beats out James's heartbeat. Bang bang bang. Can you hear the drums Fernando? James thinks, and he'd smile if he thought it was funny.
"Murdock?" the younger voice speaks, and there is a hand on his shoulder, sliding down gently, softly like eiderdown to undo the straps that hold his arms crossed. "Murdock?"
"Capitan" The brogue sounds behind him, and James doesn't reply, keeps his eyes closed tight, wondering who they're talking to. He wants the silence back, where his heart isn't doing the conga dance to an uneven melody.
"He's not responding Hannibal"
"Give him time. First, let's get these off him" The older voice talks directly to him, quiet, strong. Like he cares. "This might hurt Capitan, depending on how long they've kept you in there"
Schik, click. The buckle's are released, yet James keep his arms up where they've been held. He can feel the tenuous webs of strain at his shoulder points, recognises that the man is going to be right about it hurting. James has done enough hurting for a lifetime.
Gentle hands in front of him fold over his own , pull them down slowly. He lets out a quiet cry as his shoulders protest with fanfares in his ears, vuvuzela's and klaxon's loud and wailing, shrieks of pain. He tilts forward away from the burning touch, the tenderness scorching almost as much as way it's pulling his hands down . Black spots crowd across his shut-eye vision, dizziness reaching new heights and flying and soaring as a whimper forces itself way through his closed lips. For a second he thinks he's going to fall , crash to the ground.
Those same hands hold him steady, anchor him.
"Open your eyes Murdock" A loving tone, reminiscent of kinder days. Free days in the protective cradle of someone's hold. James is so tempted, as though he can believe it's him the voice is speaking to.
But Murdock died in that fire. In that gunshot, in the splatter of blood , a crimson Rorschach pattern. Only James is here now.
"Please HM" The voice is before him, and there is an emotion he can't place in those words. Something like pain, hinging on a plea.
"I can't" James speaks finally, his words scratchy, worn down by misuse .
"Why not?" The voice reminds him of things long forgotten. A cheeky grin from a time long past, carbonite burned steaks at a barbecue in the middle of an Iraqi desert. Napalmed or nuked?
He swallows, throat dry "I'm frightened"
A hand moves from covering his, cups his face. Like the speaker isn't seeing his wild unkempt hair, the shadow of stubble across his face. They don't trust him with razors here.
"What are you afraid of?"
The Big Bad Wolf? The black and the darkness and the fog, the burning and the smell like gunpowder. Waking up only to remember why he's here again, trying to shroud the thoughts with mania that comes so easily "It not being you" James whispers. Knows the voices, wants it so bad to be them.
"Do you trust me?" I've got the most to lose here, he once told someone, And I trust you.
"Yes" Honesty spoken out in a breath of sound.
"Then open your eyes"
The fear prevents him for a mere second, but the words are so compelling, prizing open his soul to hold it close with protective hands, instead of the insistent pushing of the CIA and the nurses, pushing him around, pushing him away. He can't help but to open them.
James sees grey-blue eyes staring back at him, a man before him, kneeling so he's level with James in the chair. He knows those eyes.
"Facey?" he whispers the words like they're delicate, spoken in a foreign language and he can't remember how to pronounce the words.
He hasn't said that name since he screamed it at a corpse.
James wants to reach out, touch the phantasm he knows is not real. He holds back, wanting to savour it longer. Maybe if he doesn't do anything, maybe'll it'll stay.
"You're dead Faceman" he says honestly, and a curious expression of sadness crosses his friend's face.
"If I'm dead, I feel good for it" It's a joke, an attempt to lighten the topic they've broached but the tone is serious ,forced into the unwanted wrapping of humour.
"You died" James's getting distressed now, his tone louder, pitch higher, because seeing the two of them now, seeing them here looking so real it pains him, is making him remember. Boom, flame, smoke. Laughter. Bang Bang, you're dead. Blood. James doesn't want to remember, has tried to block it out. "And you," he reiterates, angling his head because he knows who is standing near him; it's his delusion after all "You can't be here either, because you're dead too" He moves his hands to cover over his ears, trying to dull the sounds out. He doesn't want them to be here. Invading the quiet, tearing open stitches for wounds that still wont mend. He can feel a panic attack rising in his chest, a roaring in his ears.
"Leave me be," he whimpers "I don't want to play this game any more"
The gentle hands of a conman are back again, placing themselves over his own. Face's hands are cold. They feel real, solid as they enclose over his, contrast with the heat of his own as his un-protesting hands are removed from the side of his face. James's breath slows, the panic ebbing away from a mere touch that grounds him.
"We never died HM." Face whispers "We didn't." He pauses, his eyes more grey than blue, like an overcast sky "I thought I was dead. Straight shot to the chest, I should have been. It didn't hit my heart, but it nicked my lungs" His expression looks pained, as if he doesn't want to remember something either "I would have died, and the last thing I would have heard was you screaming my name"
"So how are you here?" It was a plea, but James doesn't care any more. He's forgotten what it's like to care. Care about where he is, care about the world around him, care about himself. Care about anything other than points of time in the past, points of his existence. Living in the here-and-now is overrated. But he needs to know, needs it not to hurt any more.
"Hannibal found me" Face looks up for a moment at a point past James's shoulder, then back to him "He and BA, they weren't in that van when those bastards blew it up. They'd been looking for us , HM, trying to find us, but when they did they just found me bleeding to death on the floor of some warehouse. There wasn't any sign of you" He pauses , placing a hand to the side of James's face, caresses the skin under his thumb and makes Murdock feel like a fairytale prince instead of a gaunt unshaven madman. Face makes him feel like he could fly."But we're here now, Murdock" Face leans forward, and their foreheads touch against each other gently. "I'm here now"
James has missed this sort of closeness; has only lived with the sterile distance of nurses and controlled movements of orderlies strapping him to the ECT chairs, or holding his arms so they can inject anaesthetics into his bloodstream. No impulsion. Nothing unplanned. He misses the solid pat on the back from Hannibal, the joking threats from BA, the warm smiles from Facey. He's missed it all.
"I know" And in that moment, he recognises without any touch of doubt that this is real, that the feel of skin against his forehead and hands isn't illusory, that the quiet breathing close to him, and the faint smell of cigars in the air and the blue eyes staring right back at him aren't designed to trick him. To hurt him.
"We've got to stick to the plan, kid" Hannibal's gruff voice disturbs the quiet "Need to get Murdock out of here before they catch onto us"
Face nods, pulling out a mobile from his pocket. Hannibal stands next to James, holds out a hand to help him up which he gratefully takes. The Colonel seems tired. Bags around his eyes heavy with too many sleepless nights, yet his steely grey expression has an aura of compassion that he couldn't fake. When he catches James eyes and smiles, it's like he's waited too long to do that.
The number must be on speed-dial because Face only presses a few buttons before the green dial button is pushed down. James can faintly hear the dial tone in the quiet. The person on the other end picks up as though they were expecting the call.
"We're ready" Face says shortly, then cuts the call, placing the phone back into his pockets. As James watches, Face goes over to the window, frowning as he sees the locks that kept it shut. He looks over at James to enquire.
"They wanted to stop me flying" He replies without even a question spoken aloud, and Face nods, like he knows exactly what he means. Like he understands. And then he pulls a gun from his pocket, a silencer twisted onto the end of the barrel. Thud. Thud. The locks are shot off with little thought, and Face is smiling like he does before he's going to do something ridiculous. Something a little bit crazy.
"Then you better unruffle those feathers, HM," his smiles widens, and James hears another sound. "because you're gonna soar" Fffwt, fffwt, ffwt; the spinning rotors and the underline bass of an engine. And he knows exactly what it is as Face wrenches open the window and he looks out to see a helicopter being drawn up close to the building. A mad idea from a mad colonel that is just crazy enough to be right up James's street. The doors to the side are wide open, yawning in greeting and from here James can see Bosco seated in the cockpit, an expression of nervous determination on his face. BA Baracus, the Airborne Ranger who's scared of flying. And as he sees James, another expression invades, takes over and erases the nervousness into sometime else entirely. Like Atlas has taken the weight of the world back from his shoulders.
"Time for your grand exit, Capitan" he can hear Hannibal say loudly behind him, the words almost washed away in the sea of noise. The roar of the rotors, his revolution portrayed in one drawn out drone.
And James knows what he has to do. Turns back to Face and Hannibal,and on his face is a smile, a real smile. He doesn't have to pretend any more.
"Watch me soar Facey" he shouts over the sound of the engine, stepping out onto the ledge, like the rock cliff in that Indiana Jones movie, the one with the Nazis and the Grail Knights. It's his leap of faith now, except this isn't some fictional film any more, he isn't a hero. He's just him, and that's all he needs to be.
And Murdock howls a cheer as he clears the distance, his whole body jarring as he hits the deck. And as he watches Face and Hannibal quickly join him, he can't stop grinning, just keeps smiling because he can't help it.
He knows he's home again. Exactly where he wants to be.