"So what did the doctor say?" Hannibal asked.
Jean lay on her bed with a rag over her black eye, looking up at him with the other. Even for a black eye, since they got back a couple days ago, she'd complained of her eye hurting more than it should with a shiner, then the lid started drooping, so she went to get it looked at, and had only returned with the verdict a short while ago.
"He said," Jean answered, "It's some kind of internal stye, have to do hot compresses on it 5 times a day, and if that doesn't work, then I have to get antibiotic pills to take, and if that doesn't work, then he's going to have to open the lid up and operate to remove it. Needless to say I'm hoping option A works. He also mentioned not straining it so much in the next few days."
"That's going to be the rough part," Hannibal noted sympathetically.
"Uh huh," Jean groaned in response.
Hannibal looked around the room and noted they were alone and he asked, "Where's Murdock?"
"He's around," Jean said.
They got an answer when they heard somebody sneeze from behind the wall, in the bathroom. Hannibal went over to the wall and said loud enough for the person on the other side to hear, "Murdock, would you come in here a minute?"
"Right now, Colonel?" Murdock asked.
"Yes right now," Hannibal answered.
He went back to the bed and told Jean, "Fortunately we don't have any new clients yet so he can hang around here for the next few days and help you."
There was no mistaking the scowl on Jean's face though. Hannibal knew that this was the last thing she needed, the last way she planned to spend the next few days, unfortunately it couldn't be helped now.
"What about Fulbright?" Jean asked.
Hannibal waved it off and replied, "I'll get to him in time."
Jean shook her head somberly, they had to get rid of Fulbright and get Decker back before Stockwell got back into the country.
They heard the door open and Hannibal turned to see Murdock and felt his eyes bug out. Jean half turned her head to the side to see him and she saw the same thing Hannibal did, Murdock stood in the doorway, wet and dressed only in a towel that would've been good for the dishes in the kitchen. Jean sucked in a large breath to laugh like a banshee. Hannibal just stared at the Captain in disbelief.
"You did say right now," Murdock said as if that explained it.
"Yeah…I suppose I did…" behind him, Hannibal could still hear Jean laughing her head off, and the only thing that seemed odder was that Murdock seemed to be completely oblivious to it. "Uh…never mind Captain, as you were."
Murdock gave a small nod and turned and returned to the bathroom and as soon as the door closed, Hannibal fell back over Jean's feet and also got out a couple good laughs. If it was random, if it was spontaneous, if it was completely unexpected, it was Murdock. Yes, Hannibal was sure that Jean would be just fine the next few days with the pilot staying with her.
A couple days passed before Hannibal went to see Murdock and Jean again. He'd just finished at the Federal Building for the day and came to announce that Fulbright had had a very bad day. First he'd arrived to find that everything in his office had been rearranged, then a call came through, the A-Team had been spotted a few miles out of town. Fulbright had gotten Crane and the rest of the MPs and went to catch them. Along the way he'd encountered several obstacles, including a Chinese fire drill, a closed off detour, forcing him to go around and come to an intersection where about 20 people over the age of 50 were walking through the crosswalk with their bicycles. That had really gotten the General's dander up, especially one particular old man who refused to be rushed, even when Fulbright threatened to run him over, the senior citizen merely chuckled and waved back at him. All of that, just to find out it was not the A-Team but somehow oddly enough there was a pack of men who upon capture it was found out had long outstanding criminal records and were currently wanted for escape from a medium security penitentiary. And that would've been a good consolation, except on the way back, there was a minor traffic jam and the car swerved off course, off the road, and into a ditch when the windshield was hit with what was later found out to be…a lemon. No, Fulbright was not having a very good day at all, and it widened Hannibal's grin and added a little spring to his step as he went up to the house.
Before Hannibal even reached the porch, however, he heard some noises coming from the side yard. He crept around the house and got his answer when he saw Murdock and Jean splashing around in the pool, yelping at one another as each tried to get away from the other. Amidst all the water that went flying out of the pool, Hannibal was able to see that Jean still wore the faded traces of the black eye, and when she turned around, through the low back of her blue swimsuit he could see the bruises on her back starting to fade to yellow. Other than that she looked like she was coming along fine, and Murdock was dressed for the water Olympics in only a pair of swimming trunks, the bruises that had decorated his ribs a few days ago had also faded.
Hannibal smiled to himself as he watched the two hopping around in the water wrestling with one another; there was no doubt in his mind, they were good for each other, ironically they were each the thing keeping the other young. One wouldn't think based on Murdock's overall demeanor that he needed any help in that department, but Hannibal knew he did, some times tremendously so more than others, the lives they led, it was unavoidable. And on the other hand, Jean being 15 years younger than him, it shouldn't seem that she'd need any help either, but she sorely did…she had already been ancient during their first meeting almost 3 years ago. Circumstances both in and beyond her control had made her a very serious and somber person, and those traits still showed through plenty. Murdock was often the only thing that made it possible for her to lighten up and unwind; he liberated her in a sense, as was obvious right now.
Hannibal stood back and watched them a few minutes longer. Jean picked up an inflatable inner tube and hit Murdock over the head with it, he got stuck in it before working it down to his waist and then he started spinning around in the middle of the pool, doing his imitation of a washing machine agitator. Jean tried to get away and when Murdock saw that, he slipped out of the tube and under the water and crept up on her and then lifted her up as he resurfaced and stuck her on his shoulders. Jean let out an unusually higher pitched scream than most, when she felt something lift her out of the water, and when she saw it was Murdock she grabbed two handfuls of his receding hair and gave it a sharp yank. Murdock let out a higher pitched scream and threw his head back and threw everything off balance and they both went under the water with a loud splash.
As soon as they resurfaced, they heard somebody applauding. When they were able to see again they looked and saw Hannibal walking over to the pool and he said, "Very nice, now how much does it cost to get in for a night show?"
"What's up, Colonel?" Murdock asked as he hopped over to the edge of the pool and folded his arms over the side.
"Oh not too much, just thought I'd come and see how you two were doing," he answered.
Jean was more to the point and she asked Hannibal, "What about Fulbright?"
"Oh he's had…a little accident," Hannibal answered casually, "He got in a little car accident and…I don't think he'll be coming back to work for a few days."
"Well," Jean shrugged, "It's a start. Hannibal, would you like to stay for dinner tonight?"
"We were planning to go out," Murdock started to explain, and looked to Jean, "But…"
Jean didn't give him a chance to finish and told Hannibal, "We just decided it'd be easier having dinner at home. Less chance of anything going wrong."
"Eh…I'll have to get back to you on that," Hannibal said, "What's on the menu?"
"Spaghetti," Jean answered.
"I might pass," he noted.
He could tell there was more than these two weren't saying, but he didn't feel like poking and prodding just now. And he was right, there was something more than just the face value. Earlier in the day Murdock had brought up the suggestion that since they had a few days' worth of down time, that they make the most of it and go out on another date. Jean had tried not to be too quick on the draw as she turned down that idea, but all the same, Murdock had wanted to know why. She hadn't been very open about it with him either, insisting only that she just wanted to stay home for the night. There was more to it, but neither man knew what it was. But it did remind Murdock of something he'd been wanting to discuss with Hannibal for quite a while now. They got out of the pool to dry off, and once he got dressed again he went to have a few private words with the Colonel.
"Is something wrong, Captain?" Hannibal asked when he noticed the distant look on the pilot's face as he sat on the foot of Hannibal's bed and kicked his feet repeatedly, anxiously.
"Uh…no, not really, Colonel," he answered, "It's just that lately…I've been doing some thinking."
Hannibal bit down on a new cigar and lit it, "About what?"
"About getting married to Jean again," Murdock told him.
Hannibal looked up and over at the pilot, took the cigar out of his mouth and said, "Now don't tell me you're having second thoughts too."
"Well no, not exactly," Murdock answered as he stopped kicking his feet, then stood up, "It's just that I've been realizing something lately, and I'm really not sure what to make of it."
"What's that?" Hannibal asked.
"I…" Murdock couldn't quite figure how to say it the first time, so he tried again, "Well Hannibal…who am I really marrying?"
Hannibal had a confused look on his face, "I'm not sure I understand the question, Captain."
"You see," Murdock's hands were gesturing, trying to say what he couldn't, but he still tried, "I've noticed that when we talk…uh…well, you notice how Jean really doesn't go into many details about her past from before she joined the Army?"
Hannibal was trying to figure out what Murdock was getting at, slowly the pieces were falling into place but Murdock tried explaining it faster than that.
"She doesn't talk about her past, not really, every once in a while we get a small tidbit, a vague detail out of her, but not really, it's not enough," Murdock shook his head, "I've been trying to figure out what the big mystery is for a long time, and I'm not getting anywhere. Haven't you ever wondered, Colonel? She never dated in school, why? She moved out here from New York, she didn't leave any friends behind, why not? And if she did, she never talks about them, how come? You see where I'm going?"
"I think so," Hannibal answered, "To be fair, Murdock, we don't tell her much about our pasts either."
"I know," Murdock replied in frustration, "I…I try…it's not easy."
"Not for any of us," Hannibal said, "That's why we usually opt not to talk about them."
"I know, but us, it's one thing, what could be in her past that she'd be the same way?" Murdock asked, "You know, I said before…I asked her once, what her parents did to her to make her the way she is now?" he shook his head, "She said that anything she was before the Army doesn't exist anymore, and she's tried to bury that part of her life as well, so that just leaves now."
"But you don't believe that," Hannibal noted.
Murdock shook his head again, "No I don't…it's the things we were in that time that make us what we are today, so there's something to her that's her old self shining on through now, but she won't let me in on what part that is."
Hannibal shrugged, "Might be painful for her to talk about."
"Maybe," Murdock thought about it, "But Hannibal, if we were to put together everything we know about her life before she went off to break open the army's trafficking ring, what would we have? I mean really?"
"Hmmm," Hannibal considered it, "Well, she mentioned once that in high school, she was passed over for the part of Frankie in the school's production of 'The Member of the Wedding', officially she said it was because she was too histrionic, now how that's possible is beyond me."
Murdock nodded and added, "We also know that she used to be allergic to a lot of stuff, and that she started getting migraines early…"
"Yep…but you're right," Hannibal said, "Other than that…" he shrugged.
"And I married this woman," Murdock said with a grave realization, "And you know, I've never been able to get an answer out of her about who used to beat on her."
"Maybe she made it up," Hannibal thought.
Murdock glared at Hannibal and asked, "Could someone make that up?"
"I suppose not," Hannibal replied as he recalled that early conversation they'd had with Jean.
"I just don't know what to do," Murdock said helplessly, "Obviously if she wanted to talk about her past, she would, she's had plenty of opportunities."
Hannibal watched Murdock and said observantly, "There's something else that's bothering you, isn't it?"
Murdock should've known that by now Hannibal could read him like the sports page. "I don't know what's wrong with her. I mentioned us going on a date, she doesn't want to, all she wants to do is stay home."
"Murdock," Hannibal decided to point out, "She's still got bruises over half of her body."
"So?" Murdock asked, completely unfazed by that reminder.
Hannibal felt slightly taken aback by the pilot's response, and he tried to elaborate, "Murdock, you remember a few months ago when she broke the mirror on the medicine cabinet because of her scars?"
"It's taken her two years just to get this used to them," Hannibal said, "For the most part in public it was a non-issue because most people would never see them. But they're going to see the bruises on her."
"That's never stopped her before," Murdock reminded him.
"True…but it's never been quite this bad before either," Hannibal said, "It could just be this time was the straw that broke her back."
"You know how Jean is, she's never been self conscious about bruising before," Murdock said as he shook is head.
"No, that's true," Hannibal said, "But you also know how society is. One bruise is enough to draw questions and start the whispers, the murmurs behind your back. A woman shows up with just a black eye and it's scrutinized to death how it happened, who did it…and none of them even if they were as banged up as Jean is, would ever let anyone see it. They'd either cover it all in makeup or wear longer clothes to cover everything, but she doesn't do that. But it doesn't mean she's open to the ridicule either. It's possible that she just wants to get through the night without people talking about her. Everything's different here because it's private, it's just us, it's just family, and she knows we're not going to say anything."
Murdock nodded slowly, "True, I hadn't thought much about that I guess. But there's still the other matter...if I'm going to be married to her I think I'm entitled to find out more about her past and how am I going to do that if she won't talk about it?"
Hannibal shrugged, "Something will come to you, necessity is the mother of all invention."
Murdock's eyes lit up, "Hannibal, that's it!"
"What's it?" he asked.
"Her mother, I can ask Jean's mother what she was like when she was younger, she'd tell me," Murdock said.
Hannibal nodded and said only in response, "Why not?"
He didn't say anything to the Captain, but Hannibal had wondered a few of the same things. The more time he spent in this house, the more he'd tended to look around and take in just how big it was. And he remembered that Jean had spent the first three months out here completely alone before she caught up with them again. His small dive apartment had been bad enough for one person to live in, he couldn't imagine what it must've been like for Jean; first time away from home, first time actually on her own, 3,000 miles from her family, in a 4-bedroom house and just her to live in it. If it had been him, especially at her age, Hannibal was sure he would've gone crazy. They'd seldom known any silence in this house but he imagined being all alone it was very easy to lie awake nights hearing every little sound: the ticking of the clock in the next room, the rumble of the icemaker in the fridge downstairs, and every time wonder if it was that, or if it was someone breaking into the house. Anybody who'd ever lived in either New York or L.A. was very conscientious about that, crime was always out there and always looking for a new victim, and if it didn't find one out there, on the streets, then it would find one in here, behind closed doors. Several times during his stay, when it was actually quiet at night, he laid really still in his bed and tried to imagine what it must've been like for Jean when she first arrived. He'd never really asked her, and once again she hadn't volunteered the information, he didn't know how she lived before they got reacquainted with her, but he was glad that wasn't how she lived now. He was equally thankful that his Captain was out of the V.A. and had a place of his own to stay, and he was thankful that it was here with Jean, so that she seldom need be alone. As he'd decided earlier, they were both good for each other.
Jean hadn't been able to help overhearing part of Murdock and Hannibal's conversation, she'd been passing by in the hall after getting a shower and washing the chlorine out of her hair and it had been inevitable, though fortunately they hadn't known that she'd heard anything. It was true, she had looked plenty better than this, but it didn't really bother her, it wasn't like she was Amy and always had to look perfect. Ha…perfect, something that's only achieved after 2-3 hours of covering and concealing every single imperfection in your skin, though she swore Face's personal best was 4 hours in front of the mirror getting ready for the day.
She tried looking at her back in a full length mirror once she got back to her own room, it took a little doing but she could see the large purple and yellow splotches that covered most of the skin back there. They didn't hurt so much now, that was the main thing. If they wanted to think, if they needed to think that that's why she wanted to stay home tonight, then fine, let them, it made things that much easier for her. Much easier than saying what the real cause of it all was, that she didn't think it would be safe for them to go out tonight. It wasn't something she'd be able to explain to any of them, not even Murdock, without them thinking she'd really lost her mind. Right now she just couldn't shake the feeling that something bad could happen to Murdock, she knew she was paranoid but there wasn't anything she could do to get past the idea that he might be in danger if they'd go out and somebody would recognize him. Somebody, but who? And how would they know where he'd be? Those were the questions she couldn't answer and she knew it all proved she was overreacting, but she couldn't help it. Keeping Murdock safe from anything or anyone that was remotely foreseeable was a priority for her, she'd do anything to make sure he was safe if she could.
She couldn't be sure, but somehow she was slowly starting to think that she had somehow unintentionally actually stumbled upon the real answer of what was going on, and she didn't like it. Until they could get Decker back in his old position and back in his office, she had no way of confirming her ideas one way or the other. Nonetheless, somehow Jean felt confident that whenever Stockwell returned to the great U.S., he would find some way to announce his arrival, and when he did, she was going to be ready for him. And if by some off chance she would turn out to be right on what his plan was…there weren't enough evil thoughts of what could and should happen to him to answer that one. She felt one hand clenching itself into a fist, and it sent a tightness through her wrist and up her arm, and when the hand opened, it was gone, then it clenched up again and the tightness returned. Ohh the things she was going to do to that General when she got her hands on him…
"If you wanted to find out the details about my life, why didn't you just ask me in the first place?" Jean asked Murdock that evening as she drained the big pot of spaghetti she'd cooked for the both of them.
Murdock merely shrugged and replied, "I didn't think it was something you wanted to talk about."
"Never had anyone to talk about it with before," Jean told him, "My mother was asking a while back about sending some old photo albums out here so I'd have some of the pictures they took over the years. That ought to answer a lot of your questions when they ever arrive."
Jean ran hot water over the spaghetti, then picked up the colander and shook it to get the excess water out. After that they dished up spaghetti, meatballs, and buttered rolls and sat down at the table. Hannibal had declined the offer to stay for dinner, which Jean understood but she'd hoped that his presence would help take Murdock's focus off the fact that he'd rather they actually went out somewhere tonight. But so far things seemed to be going fairly well regardless. She thought of the yellow bruises on her face and her back and she reminded herself, if that's what Murdock needed to think, then by all means let him, if it convinced him that this was a better idea, let him think that's what it was about.
"I can tell you now though there won't be much to tell," Jean said as she spun the spaghetti around her fork until it was as big as her mouth, "I'm a very boring person who has led an even more boring life prior to meeting you guys."
Murdock looked at her across the table and Jean about laughed because he almost had a 'dreamy' look on his face as he stared at her and replied, "Darling, ain't nothing boring about you."
"Just you wait," was her response, "You'll see."
After dinner, Murdock went over to the fridge and surprised Jean by pulling out a prepared, chilled bottle of wine and asked her, "How 'bout a drink?"
"Why not?" Jean replied, "Unless something comes up, I'm not driving."
They each had a drink, then it turned into a couple more drinks, then maybe a couple more, Jean didn't remember after a while. They didn't actually reach the point of drunkenness, maybe slightly tipsy, but they were both aware of what they were doing, even if it made them giddy. Murdock was giggling to himself a while after their last drinks, and Jean wasn't sure what it was about until he started crowding her and was practically on top of her everywhere she went from room to room. Finally she turned to him and demanded to know what was going on; Murdock's only answer was to grab Jean, pick her up in his arms and laugh maniacally as he headed for the stairs and took her up to their room.
"Why is it our dates only seem to work when we never go out for the night?" Murdock asked Jean as they lay alongside each other in her bed later that night.
Jean grabbed one of Murdock's hands in both of hers and nuzzled it against her cheek and replied, "Just seems to be the only thing in the cards for us."
"So far," Murdock replied, "One of these days…"
Jean shook her head and nuzzled her cheek to his hand again, "Don't say it, because it'll never come. Just have to take the chance where you can find it."
Murdock said nothing in response and merely gave what she said some thought. He looked over at Jean and saw the bruises that were still on her arms, the oldest ones were still from the car crash, the more recent ones were from the beating she'd taken a few days ago, and as they moved up towards her shoulders, they trailed off under her shirt. He hooked a thumb under one strap on her tank top and pulled it back to see how far they went. Jean smacked his hand away, but not for the same reason.
"I'm going back to work tomorrow," Jean told him, "Staying around the house all day is starting to get maddening again."
"Even with me here?" he asked as he gave her one of his puppy dog faces.
"Sorry," Jean said with a small laugh.
"Oh well," Murdock groaned as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her against him briefly.
"I know you don't like it," Jean told him.
"Oh no, that's not true, only anytime you get hurt," Murdock insisted, "But, I'm determined to be supportive, I go as long as I can without saying one word about it whatsoever."
"Because you're such a good sport and you know what it means to me," Jean mockingly retorted, "Meanwhile, you may note I never say one word to you about when you come back from one of your jobs with a hole blown into you."
"Because you're far more supportive than I am and you can appreciate the seriousness of the situation," Murdock replied playfully, "Jean, I know why you do what you do, but I swear I'll never understand…"
Jean shook her head and told him, "A lesson I've learned the hard way over the years, don't say never…because you always will, sometime, somewhere, eventually it always somehow becomes inevitable."
The next morning Jean was back to work at the film studio and getting ready for a new stunt, but on her way to the set, she found herself being followed by Hannibal, Face and Murdock.
"I appreciate your concern, Hannibal, but I didn't need an escort out here," Jean told him as she tightened the strap on her MP helmet.
"I didn't come out here because I'm concerned about you," Hannibal insisted, "I came out here to make sure while you're in this getup," he grabbed for her MP jacket but instead snagged the neck of the shirt underneath it and snapped it against her, "You stay here and don't go gallivanting over to pay old 'Bull' a visit."
"Oh give me a break, Hannibal," Jean said as she snapped the strap under her chin, "You really think I have nothing better to do with my time than go pestering your old friends?"
"Yes," the three men responded.
"Hannibal, will you get out of here?" Jean asked as she walked over to an MP jeep and started giving it the once over, "We're going to be shooting here in a few minutes."
"What's the stunt this time?" Face inquired.
"Well you see we're gonna flip it," Jean said, and pointed at the marks ahead on the ground as she explained, "It starts off as a speed chase, and then there's an explosion, and this jeep goes flying in the air, turns completely over and crashes over there by those trees."
Face did a double take, "With you driving it?"
"Certainly," Jean answered, "What do you think the helmet's for?" and beat the side of it with her knuckles, "It's not an MP helmet, it's a crash helmet, the idea is they have so much flying dirt and debris from the explosion that you can't notice it. There're supposed to be two people in the jeep so they're going to strap a dummy in the passenger seat."
Face did some quick thinking and thought back, and he told Jean, "You've never done a stunt like this before."
"No, that's true," she replied, "But you know what they say, there's a first time for everything."
Murdock looked at the jeep and at the area marked for blasting, and then at Jean, with a disapproving scowl on his face and he told Jean, "You're not going to go through with this."
Jean looked to Murdock and said, as if he'd meant it as a question, "Oh sure I am, Murdock, that's what they're paying me for."
Murdock was shaking his head, "Jean, it's dangerous!"
"That's why it's stunt work," Jean replied, "And it's why they picked me for the job."
Murdock followed her over to the jeep and told her, "No-no-no, now Jean, this is not like speeding a 'Vette through a closed off course or being in a rollover in a Cadillac, or falling out of the back of one of these things. This is really dangerous, Jean, you could get hurt."
Jean very calmly and very nonchalantly replied, "I know, Murdock."
"Jean…" Murdock was silent for a brief second before he regained his composure and told her, "You're not doing this."
"Of course I am," she said.
"No you're not," Murdock told her, "I forbid it."
Jean laughed and remarked, "Good one, Murdock."
"I'm serious," he told her, and to prove that he meant business, he sideswiped Jean and took off with her draped over his shoulders in an awkward fireman's carry.
"Murdock!" Jean yelled at him as he stormed off with her.
Hannibal and Face just stood back and laughed at the unusual and unorthodox sight.
"Now that's funny," Face told Hannibal.
"Too bad she doesn't switch to comedy films, she might have a shot there," Hannibal remarked.
Face got out a few more guffaws as they went around the jeep and looked at it, and then he asked Hannibal, "What do you think she's going to do to him when he finally lets go of her?"
"I don't know," Hannibal replied, "But somehow I don't get the feeling that he'll be needing our help. You know he's right, granted anything could happen in any of the other stunts Jean pulls, but this one?" he shook his head, "Sounds like a good way to break your neck."
"But somebody's still got to do it, Hannibal," Face pointed out.
"That's right," he said, "So they can get someone else for it, maybe they can find someone who doesn't have a family to think about, or who thinks about them."