Pull up, man! Pull up! Murdock thought to himself as he stared at the blank walls of the VA. His teeth chattered a little and he crossed his arms for comfort.
He had taken a dive into madness. It was inevitable, really. He'd fought it for so long. It had taken so much out of him. And for The Team, he gave up the fight. He let go of the stick, watched the altimeter drop… The plane spin…And down he went, plunging toward the rocks below. There was still a little part of him that resisted it. -That wanted to yank up on that yoke and put the landing gear down, but somehow, he couldn't seem to find the flaps.
So strange that he had come to fear his own mind more than the jungle.
He hugged himself a little tighter. Don't be afraid to fall. It had become his mantra over the past few months. Kept him sane.
Sane? Hah! Kept him alive. He had a purpose. He had a mission. He just had to hang in there until the team called on him. They would sooner or later. He knew that. And so he waited. Waited within these four whitewashed walls. Waited within the prison of his own mind.
And adjusted. Adjusted to the loss of freedom. To people treating him like he was less than human. Less than a man. He kept his own worth deep inside himself. He knew who he was.
Even on his hardest days—he knew.
And slowly, this place became a home of sorts. These walls. But always he lived for the team. Lived for that call…
Yet he still had his moments, like now, sitting up back against the wall, hugging himself for warmth. Teeth chattering from nerves. Tears that would not come.
Don't be afraid to fall. He took a deep breath, calmed himself down. He'd already fallen. It wouldn't get worse than this.
The call to duty came late at night. A voice woke him from his sleep. Someone by the window.
"Murdock!" the hushed whisper called.
He snapped awake. Good God, he knew that voice. It was the sweetest thing he'd ever heard.
He poked his head through the bars of his window. "Faceman?"
"Yes. It's me. I'm gonna get you out of here, okay?" Then there was a pause and Face stepped to the window, his features illuminated only by moonlight and street lamps.
Murdock felt a lump close his throat. "Good to see you again, muchacho." He ducked his head a bit to hide his emotion.
He could feel Face's gaze on him.
"How are you doing, buddy?" Face asked hesitantly.
"I'm good, Faceman," came the cheerful reply. "Three square meals a day. Roof over my head. Art projects. Talk therapy. A nice vacation, really. How 'bout you?"
"Well, you know, prison just didn't agree with my skin. The soap is drying, and the shampoo wrecked havoc on my hair…and the wardrobe was just not my color—so I had to leave."
Murdock felt alive for the first time in months. "Glad you came to see me, Faceman. Does Hannibal have a plan?"
Face smiled. "Always. First, let' find a way to get to get you out of here."
The first escape from the V.A. wasn't difficult. Face came for visiting hours and slipped Murdock a lab coat. Murdock put it on and together they walked out of the common room right under the staff's noses. No elaborate hoax. No wild getaways. Those would come later, when patient H.M. Murdock going missing became a common occurrence.
The fresh air filled Murdock's lungs as they strode out into the afternoon. He shrugged off his coat to reveal his ever present leather bomber and put his baseball cap on his head.
Free. Now he just needed the other members of the team and he would be whole.
He turned abruptly and hugged Face, thumping him hard on the back.
Face laughed, squirming away, then giving in. "Okay Murdock, let's not get carried away."
Murdock lifted Face onto his toes with the answering crush of his embrace. "I don't care what you say – you're the first person I've had contact with in months that hasn't spoken to me like I'm a mentally impaired hamster. That deserves a hug."
He released Face, who made an elaborate show of trying to breathe. "A hug – or abroken rib?"
Murdock winked mischievously. "Possibly both."
Face shook his head and put his arm around his friend's shoulder. "Murdock, you're crazy."
Murdock put his hands in his pockets. "So I've been told," he replied cheerfully.
He felt the sudden shift in Face's mood.
"You really okay?" Face asked a bit softly.
"Of course, Faceman. Don't you worry about old Howlin' Mad."
Face's sudden somberness didn't lift at the reassurance.
Murdock stopped and looked at his friend searchingly. "What?"
"Well, it's just that the last time we saw you –" He left the words unspoken.
Murdock raised an eyebrow.
"Well it's not like that was exactly normal behavior – even for you!" Face replied defensively. Then a little more calmly, "I've just been worried about you is all."
Murdock raised his hands. "I just told you not to. I'm doin' fine. I'm good, muchacho. I'm real good."
The words sounded hollow even to his own ears.
Murdock felt his heart thump against his ribs when he caught sight of Hannibal and B.A. standing near a black van with red detailing.
He was out of the car jogging toward them almost before Face put it in park.
Hannibal stepped toward him and snapped off a solemn salute, that Murdock returned with feeling.
They locked eyes for a minute, a wordless exchange passing between them. They shared a secret covenant that remained unspoken.
Then Hannibal stepped forward and put his hand on Murdock's shoulder in a fatherly, reassuring gesture.
"Good to see you again Capt'n."
Murdock felt an uncomfortable tightness in his throat. He nodded, swallowed. "And you, sir."
Murdock felt B.A.'s eyes on him, studying him intently ,without guile. The scowl on B.A.'s face was somehow sweetly familiar. Murdock jogged the three paces to him and threw his arms around the sergeant's neck kissing the clean shaven part of his head.
"Hey, Big Guy! Did you miss me?"
The reaction was as expected as if it had been scripted.
"Get off me, Fool! Why would I miss you?" B.A. wrinkled his nose and pushed Murdock back, but as he did, a wave of something akin to fear flashed across the dark eyes. There was something different in the exchange – something more than annoyance.
The expression threw Murdock off balance more than the shove and his smile faded a little as he stepped away.
Hannibal's hand was on his shoulder again, steadying him; pulling him under his arm like the protective wing of an eagle.
"Well men, the team is back together again."
"Where do we go from here though?" Face asked, a bit of worry in his tone.
Hannibal smiled, his arm still around Murdock's shoulders. "Wherever we want to, Lieutenant. Our options are open. But we need to stick together."
Face looked disappointed. B.A. looked annoyed. Hannibal looked delighted.
"If we scatter we're going to be we're going to be vulnerable… but if we stay as a team, we can pull each other out of the fire whenever we need to. Meanwhile, we keep a low profile – Face," Hannibal said emphatically.
Face raised his eyebrows and pointed to himself with mock innocence.
"And in the meantime – I figure we can utilize our training to help those in need… for a modest fee, of course." Hannibal lit up a cigar with a smile.
Face frowned. "What, you mean like vigilantes or something?"
"Or something." Hannibal gestured with the cigar. "We've seen first hand the failings of our justice system."
B.A. scowled. "Hannibal, that's a terrible plan! I don't wanna be no Robin Hood."