Out Of The Night
Face was where BA had thought he would be: on the roof. If he didn't go to ground, he went up high. Like those leopards you saw on the TV, or a sniper, though he could hide just as well below, be just as deadly if it came to that. Still, considering what had happened in the basement earlier that day, ground hadn't seemed the likely choice. And here he was, sitting on the parapet in the dark, looking over Chicago and wishing... what, BA wondered; you could know a man well enough to predict his moves but that didn't mean you always knew what was on his mind, in his soul, eating at him enough to make him slip away from a party and hide out by himself in the darkness. Knowing where he'd go if he went wasn't the same as knowing he'd go, or why...
BA shut the roof door behind just loud enough for the other man to know someone was there, not trying to sneak up on him, and looked at him for a minute, letting his eyes adjust. It wasn't purely dark, of course, this was Chicago not some wilderness, but it was dark enough, no lights on the roof and the streetlights three stories below them. Slowly Face came into focus: arms braced on the parapet beside him, feet touching the wall instead of dangling, wind messing unnoticed with his hair, and tension in every line of him. BA stood there a moment longer, and then walked over towards the edge. Not right up to it, to lean over and look out, but close enough.
After a moment Face spoke. "Nice view," and he sounded dead serious. He probably was; he liked cities.
"You okay, Faceman?"
"I'm fine," he said.
Which meant he didn't want to talk about whatever it was was bothering him. BA sighed silently. The lieutenant had never been an easy man, but it wasn't in BA to walk away and leave him. Never had been, back when he was a little butterbar (what's the most dangerous thing in the army? a second lieutenant with a clipboard) as green as those raggedy palm trees, and wasn't now even when they weren't, not really, lieutenant and sergeant. Second nature gets to be first after a long enough while. BA didn't move.
After a few minutes Face sighed; his was audible where BA was standing. He bowed his tawny head for a couple of seconds and then swung around, all one graceful motion, like one of those gymnasts, lifting his arm for his legs and finishing up sitting in the same position as before except now facing BA instead of the city. His face was still in shadow and BA wasn't sure of his expression, but after a moment he spoke. "That was a nice job, before, BA. With the bomb."
BA was surprised to hear him say it. Hannibal had said it before, the simple "Nice, BA" that was worth any two-page commendation and always had been, but Face? He'd said, "Could you take a little longer next time, BA? That way I could die of a heart attack and not have to worry about being blown to smithereens." Even then, when BA was telling him he could make the choice next time, he'd known what Face had meant, just as Face had known what he'd meant... Sixteen years, or was it seventeen? You knew what the other man meant. Face's ways were as familiar, and as comforting, as Hannibal's, though they couldn't have been more different on the surface. For Face to be saying this now, out loud... BA thought back to the moment, looking at all the things he hadn't been paying attention to then because the bomb had been taking all of it, and found the right bit. He thought for a moment about whether to say anything, and then how to say it, and then said,
"You know if that bomb had gone off the whole buildin' would'a come down."
"I know it." Face sounded a little testy. "I wasn't worried." The silence lasted fifteen, maybe twenty seconds. "Much."
"I know that," BA said. Face's retreat to the doorway hadn't been fear; well, not cowardice, anyway. BA had known Murdock was standing right behind him, and he had felt Murdock's nervousness, felt him give way when they'd realized it was a guessing game: BA's wits against the bomber's. Murdock had backed away, and Face had moved after him, touching him, pushing him a little, positioning him in the angle of the doorway, as safe a place as you could get in the time, and holding him there. Of course Face had been scared, they all had been, even Hannibal, for all his grinning. BA had been sweating... "I know that," he said again. "But if the buildin' had come down, he wouldn't'a been safe anyplace you could'a put him."
The silence stretched out until Face shrugged and relaxed a little, his right hand drifting to rest on his stomach. "I know," he said.
BA didn't say anything. There wasn't much to say, when you came right down to it. He'd been thinking about second nature becoming first, but Face protecting Murdock had never been second nature. It had surprised both of them, BA thought now, but they'd been close from the first day, when Face had found that town car for Hannibal and found his way inside the colonel's guard at the same time. All of them's guard. All of them different, all of them guarding something different for different reasons, and all of them falling like a ton of bricks for the young Californian. But the bond between Face and Murdock, who'd already been more crazy than not, had been strong and instant and all those years it had never even looked like it was weakening. No matter how dangerous, how crazy, how anything...
But there wasn't anything to say, really.
But BA wasn't sure why Face was out here in the darkness, and that meant he was sure he shouldn't walk away and leave him. So he looked for something to say and finally settled on, "Mama was wonderin' where you got to."
Face's answer, when it came, was slantways. "I like your mother."
"She like you."
"She wants to adopt Murdock."
"She think he need lookin' after," BA answered what hadn't been said. Or at least what he thought was on Face's mind.
More silence. Face's hand made circles on his stomach while his eyes looked at something inside his head. "He's not taking his meds," he said finally.
So that was it. It wasn't that surprising, really. Murdock was so much better now than he had been; it hadn't been that long ago they wouldn't have dared bring him on a mission even though getting him out of the VA had often seemed to work wonders. Seven years, BA thought, seven years they had thought they'd never get him back. He and Hannibal, they'd hurt over it but they'd have accepted it if it weren't for Face. Face had never accepted it, not once he'd seen a glimpse of hope. Face was like that guy in that old story: he'd have fought Death to save Murdock, fighting Insanity didn't take a second thought. Even though his way of fighting it sometimes seemed more like participating to BA, he'd never given up. And nowadays Murdock was pretty functional, if still crazier than a Betsy-bug. Seemed to BA that Face ought to be feeling pretty good about that.
He said, after a moment, "He don't like takin' his meds, Faceman. He never did."
"That's not the point."
BA shrugged. "Fool's crazy, Face. What you want from him?"
"I want him to take his meds." Face's voice was sharp. "I want him to straighten up, damnit."
The words hung in the Chicago darkness.
BA was silent. The swearing was unusual. Even though Face had, in spite of his youth (or because of it) sworn like a sailor in 'Nam at first, he'd pretty much stopped after a while. Hannibal didn't like it, nor did BA, and somehow their unit just hadn't. Swearing shows a deficiency in imagination or vocabulary or both, Hannibal said, and, well, people just didn't want him thinking they were deficient. In anything. Not that BA's vocabulary was all that extensive. But it suited the image people wanted to have of him... The swearing was unusual. But the sharp-edged anger was more so. BA waited.
Face sighed. When he spoke again, he sounded calmer. "I want him to be normal. I want him take his meds and get well and be who he would have been if he weren't who he is and I know that doesn't make sense, all right, so don't tell me so."
"Wasn't gonna say that," BA said, shaking his head. "'Cause it do. Here."
Face turned to look at him, eyes wide-pupilled in the dark, whites a little wider too from surprise, or something. He took the bottle and looked down at it, then back up at BA.
BA shrugged. He knew Face liked the brand; seemed expensive to him, but then again the lieutenant never had been a man who lost himself in his booze, so taste probably mattered. Besides, he always did go for the expensive brand of anything when he could. Sometimes, if it was a choice between cheap and nothing, he took nothing. It came, BA supposed, from growing up having nothing, and from defining himself by what he had instead of what he did... Sometimes, you just wanted to take him by the scruff of the neck and knock some sense into his good-looking head, that was for sure.
"Thanks," Face said finally. "I can use this." He reached into his pocket, pulled out the slender Swiss Army knife he'd carried for over a decade now--a black one, BA hadn't even known they came anything but red but since they did it was like Face to own a black one--and opened the bottle. BA put a glass down on the parapet next to him; it wasn't a wine glass, but just now, in this particular night, he doubted Face would care. He didn't: "Thanks," he said again, pouring the dark liquid into the glass. It was red, BA knew, but in the darkness it looked black, too: black as the knife, black as Face's mood.
"'Sallright," BA said. He took in a deep breath and leaned up against the parapet. "Thing is," he said after a minute spent watching Face drink, "he is who he is. Cain't be anybody else."
"He's somebody he isn't half the time," Face said.
BA thought about that. "He don't choose it," he said finally, thinking about the way Face, too, slid in and out of different people but seeing that the difference was that Face knew what he was doing, made the choice, and never really, deep down, believed in it.
"He does, though," Face said. "When he stops taking his meds he's choosing..."
BA heard that trail off and filled in the end of it for himself. He wasn't surprised that Face would see it as some kind of rejection, of normalcy or him or both. BA didn't like getting into other people's lives but Face wasn't other people, after all. "He choosin' to be himself when he do that," he said gently. "The meds, they make him someone he ain't. He don't like the meds, he never liked 'em. Make him feel like his mind is all wrapped up in something soft and sticky, like he's all slow and fightin' to think. After a while, he just rather be crazy again."
"That's crazy." Face seemed to hear himself and actually managed a slight chuckle. "I guess that's the point."
"Yeah," BA nodded. "It is. Fool is crazy, an' that who he is."
Face poured more wine, drank. After another long while he said, "I suppose so." He filled his glass again.
BA looked at him but didn't say anything. Face didn't lose himself in drink, but every now and then he gave it a try. He settled himself to wait until the lieutenant was done drinking; he'd carry him downstairs if need be. Mama didn't think Face needed looking after, like Murdock did, and that was Face's own fault. BA knew better. He always had.
And he always would.
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