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As I Went Down in the River to Pray

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Face stood up from the city maps he had been poring over for the last two hours, stiff with tension. There was only an hour or so before Richter arrived - time to wake Murdock, if he was to have any chance of making his way out of the med-induced coma-like state that usually had hold of him when he first woke up. Face climbed the stairs slowly, trying to push away that tension - the low-level anxiety about Murdock that had an almost constant hold on him at the moment. Murdock – always volatile of course – was ropey at the moment. Except ropey was generous. Ropey was optimistic. Ropey would have been good. He had been low, sleeping fitfully at night and at length in the day, prone to tears or long (long) periods of fugue-like silence, and when he was fully responsive he was easily obsessed by tiny insignificant details on every day objects, that suddenly seemed to him to have great meaning. The touch sensors on the induction hob of their current house, the fact that the buttons on one of Face’s new shirts only had two needle-holes, rather than the usual four -

(Murdock’s fingers, playing on the collar at his neck as he pressed into Face’s side, so close Face could feel his warmth, his breath whispering lightly over Face’s own skin, making Face want to melt through the sofa they’d been sitting on, Face turning his head slightly to kiss him…then seeing the awful, vacant yet somehow horrendously preoccupied look on James’ face that he wore when he was slipping away, and other things were taking over, that look that meant that they couldn’t….that they could never..….)

- the number of lights on the chain of multi coloured fairy lights Face had bought him, him counting them again, and again, and again, and again…Face waking up alone morning after morning because Murdock had to watch every minute on the clock between 7:18 and 7:22, Face going over to where Murdock stood in the kitchen, looking increasingly drowned and frail in Face’s t-shirt and his batman pyjama bottoms, Face putting his arms around him from behind with his chin on his shoulder, and silently watching the clock with him until the last minute turned and James relaxed beneath him and Face could turn him round, draw him in to his chest, lead him back to the dark, warm depths of their bed where he could hold him, cuddle him, provide some vestige of safety, until Hannibal knocked on the door. And even Hannibal was leaving that time later and later, seeing as he did Murdock’s decline, and Face’s perpetual worry…), the line of paint that wasn’t quite straight on the bannisters, Murdock’s continual questions about where things were kept – sellotape, snooker cues, coasters, headphones, spare candle sticks....

Face had watched with growing despair as James unravelled before him, helpless to do anything but try to reassure him, comfort him, distract him. His breaks from reality were no longer breaks. They were his life. Brief forays back into normality were the vacations that he apparently couldn’t afford. Clearly, something in Murdock’s pharmacopeia wasn’t working – or was conflicting (contraindicating, Face's brain corrected…. There was little doubt that these days Face could pass first year psychiatry) with something else. It had been ten days since he had started the new combination of Bromazepam and Olanzapine - the latter being Richter’s latest attempt to replace the dreaded Thorazine. Murdock had, at least, stopped throwing up after the first three days, but Face could only assume this terrible patch was due to the new drugs. So he had called Richter – God bless the eternally kind Richter and his wonderfully warm and reassuring bedside manner that any of them including BA could have gladly sunk into – and Richter was, of course, on his way to them as soon as he could make it. He had been concerned when Face told him what was happening; concerned, but not agitated, or very troubled. Although, Face knew, Richter did this for him as much as he did it for James: Face’s worry was already at an optimum level, and Richter was protecting him. Again, God love the man.

Face reached the top step. The hand that he extended to push the door open (they never properly closed any doors when Murdock was behind them), it was already shaking. It was as if, on some level, Face already knew.

As Face stepped into their bedroom, he was surprised to find Murdock awake. Usually when he was this low, he slept straight through the day, especially if Face had upped his Quetiapine as he had decided to do the night before, in a bid to help Murdock at least get some respite from his torturous consciousness. The curtains were still closed, and the lights were off, but Murdock was clearly sitting up in bed. Face stopped in the doorway. There was a heaviness about the air – different from the usual staleness of a room that has been slept in for over 24 straight hours. There was a slight odour. But there was something else, something ominous that he couldn’t place. Then he realised - Murdock hadn’t reacted in the slightest to Face coming in. He hadn’t spoken, he hadn’t moved. In the faint light, Face could see the gleam of his open eyes, but they were fixed somewhere other than Face. Face’s heart rate started to climb, his chest tightening from the bottom up… Suddenly he placed the faint smell and a part of him in the back of his Ranger mind shouted that he, with ten years in the army, could not possibly have missed it. But he hadn’t wanted it to be here, hadn’t wanted it to be true. Metallic and sour. It was blood.

Keeping his eyes locked on Murdock’s face (he daren’t yet look anywhere else), he moved as quickly as he dared towards the bed. Murdock still wasn’t looking at him. As Face went to reach a hand out to place against Murdock’s jaw, to bring him back to him, he was finally forced to look down. When he swallowed, his throat wouldn’t close properly and for several moments he was sure he was going to be sick instead. Fear – pure, unbridled fear – washed over him. For there, darkly staining the sheets where they hung over the edge of the bed, and pooling on the carpet below, was probably the most significant amount of blood Face had ever seen off the battlefield. And it was still fresh – it was dark red, wet, shining, and moving.

“Oh God, James – baby, what’s happened – what have you done?” Face’s voice came out cracked, desperate immediately. In one movement he had slammed the bedside light on and dropped to his knees, seizing Murdock’s hand. Murdock jumped at Face’s (extremely rare) sudden movement, and tried to pull his hand away with a sound like a frightened animal, but Face predicted him and held on. He pulled Murdock’s hand to his chest, his free one going to Murdock’s face, making him look at him. There was no time to forestall his own panic, it had already set in good and proper. “HM-”, Face went to try and pull the sheets back, away from the area the blood was coming from, but Murdock jerked away, jolting from himself an obviously unintended cry of pain. “James, baby – please”, Face tried again, moving in closer to Murdock, closing the space between their bodies, putting his lips to Murdock’s cheek, trying to reassure, to comfort, but unable to hide how frightened he was. “I need to see – I need to see what’s happened. I have to help baby - please”.

Over his shoulder, Face shouted for Hannibal. He knew the tone of his voice conveyed the urgency. Face shouted a lot…but not with that shrill overtone. That was reserved for two things: Imminent sudden death in combat – and Murdock. Murdock had a tight hold of the sheets, clutching them up around his chest, one of his hands still maintaining the grip even though Face’s fingers were between his too. He was crying now, beginning to shake with it. Face stayed where he was, his own tears threatening. He could leave it another few seconds – then he would have to be firm. He hated that stage, hated it. But (another sickening glance down that made Face’s vision swim) - Murdock was bleeding badly. There was no more time. For just one more second, he once more put his hand to Murdock’s cheek and kissed the other, trying to hold him as closely as he could without further disturbing the wound, trying to get his own frantic consciousness to meet Murdock's. Murdock would hear him, surely, Murdock always heard him, no matter how far away....

Please don’t leave me……you can’t leave me….please be ok…..just please be ok….

Finally, Murdock’s resistance cracked, and he turned his head just slightly towards Face. Face held his head between his hand and his own, using his thumb to stroke James’ temple. “Come on James”, he whispered, eyes tightly closed, prayers old and new flitting manically across the back of his mind, willing Murdock to come towards him, to not go further into wherever it was that he was already so trapped – wherever it was that had made this happen. “Come on baby, please….tell me….we need to fix this….”

He almost missed Murdock’s first whisper. He dipped his head. “What was that, baby?”

“I’m sorry, Face”, Murdock managed. “I’m so so sorry”.

And he trailed off into racking sobs that Face was sure were going to kill both of them right there and then.

No, Peck: he mentally slapped himself. Get a grip. There are things here you need to sort out.

There are things here you could have stopped….

No. Later.

Face shook his head. Came back to the moment, the awful awful moment, to Murdock, sobbing against him, his tears wet on Face’s own cheeks.

“No baby, no…” Face whispered, and he heard in his own shaking voice that it would have been impossible to tell who was in more anguish. “No, no, no, it’s not for you to be sorry – don’t be sorry, it’s not your fault. I just need to see what’s happened, ok? I need to see now….”

He went for the sheet again, and was almost caught a glancing blow by Murdock’s hand flying to snatch it away again. Face got hold of Murdock’s wrist. Behind him, Hannibal arrived. Face heard a sharp intake of breath. “James, no – I have to see now, ok?” Face was straining for what little force he could get into his voice. He was still gentle – Murdock was hurt, who knew how badly, and bleeding, and terrified, and to his horror, even in the gloom of the dim room Face could see the colour rapidly leaving his face. More strongly now, he held Murdock’s hand against his chest again, and pried the sheet loose from the other hand. Murdock’s grip went slack almost immediately this time, and he fell back against the pillow, awkward and breathing rapidly. He was losing strength. As Face lifted the sheet away, his heart thundering so hard that he could feel it in his stomach and every limb of his own body he saw why. His breath caught somewhere between his chest and the back of his throat. Behind him, he heard Hannibal's deep, quiet voice. “My God….”

Murdock had cut himself, clearly with a with a razor, four or five times, from what Face could see on first inspection. The cuts were at the top of his left thigh, almost at the groin, all at different angles to each other. But these were no 'cuts'. They looked more like surgery incisions; wide ovals, well over 4 inches long, so dark that in this light they were almost black, so deep that blood was still visibly pulsing. The one at the top, closest to his groin, was the worst. It had opened like a zip. From this wound, the blood ran incessantly. How Murdock was still conscious, Face could not comprehend. For maybe five seconds, Face simply stared in abject terror, as the precious life-giving fluid flowed out of Murdock before his very eyes. Then, instinctively, he clapped his hand over the top wound. Apart from a slight start at the pain, Murdock lay unresisting beneath him, bloodied, weakening and crying silently…..and Face, an experienced and talented field medic for so many years, did not have the faintest idea what to do. All he could do was stare at his own hand, beginning to slip in the blood, his palm literally connecting with the inside of Murdock’s flesh. He opened his mouth to speak, to leap into some kind of action, but he was transfixed by the sight, and there was only one thing he could think, only one thing that would come, hoarse, barely audible, and useless:

“Baby……why?”

Suddenly, Hannibal was at his side, large and present. Dropping to his knees down and moving swiftly, he took Face’s hand away and pushed a large towel down onto Murdock’s leg. “BOSCO!” he shouted. “GET UP HERE! Face – just be with Murdock, ok? Just…just keep him here. I’m going to do what I can to stop the bleeding now, but we need a hospital – or better still, one that can come to us”. Face nodded, still opened mouthed, and petrified, responding to Hannibal’s words out of habit, and from the sheer blessed relief that someone was doing something. He quickly wiped his hand on the towel, so that he could bring it back to put two hands on Murdock. He began carding his fingers through Murdock’s hair with that hand, and held Murdock’s still with the other, all the while murmuring soothingly to him as Murdock sobbed and choked on a stream of broken and confused many sorrys. He put his face close to Murdock’s again, and kissed him and kissed him, on any patch of damp skin he could reach. “Why, baby, why?” he couldn’t help but whisper through his own tears. “Why? Why didn’t you come to me, why didn’t you come and find me?”

How was this the better option?

“Face”. Hannibal’s tone was low, and soft – a quiet warning. Face nodded, dropped his head onto his arm, a single silent sob of his own escaping him that his shoulders betrayed. He felt Hannibal touch his back lightly – a reminder, gentle but necessary, of his part to play in what was at stake here. Face took one deep breath, and brought his head back up, kissed Murdock’s fingers and fixed his gaze on his lover’s unearthily beautiful eyes. Murdock looked back at him, from behind a glaze. Behind them, BA arrived in the room. Face heard his deep but stifled gasp of disbelief and horror, heard Hannibal say something to him, felt Hannibal moving around behind him at Murdock’s legs. Face kept his focus on the man in front of him. The man he loved more than anything else on the face of the earth….the person he wanted to marry, the person around whom his entire life revolved. While Murdock’s own life was ebbing away, because he hadn’t come to Face before he had reached this point… No. Face banished the thought again, for now. Kept his focus on pulling Murdock through, comforting him, on somehow getting them from one moment to the next as Hannibal worked behind them and Murdock cried in pain and shame and total unadulterated misery. But Murdock did eventually answer his question.

“They said it would make it better”, he croaked.

“Who said that baby?” Face asked, tightening the space between them so that Murdock could lie his head in the crook of Face’s arm. Face dropped a gentle kiss on his forehead, desperately trying to ignore the activity behind them, desperately wanting to know what was happening. “Who told you that?” But Murdock could go no further. His crying lessened as unconsciousness loomed. Face knelt further up, the panic physically rising in him. “James, God – no! James, please baby, please, stay with me. My God, please stay with me…” Face whipped around to Hannibal. “Hannibal, for fuck’s sake, what – “ Hannibal was replacing the first towel with another. The original was soaked. He was covered in blood to half way up his arms, and he was pale. But he spoke steadily into the stream of Face’s panic, and still moved with purpose.

“BA is calling Richter, and will tell him what’s happened. He would have been here in half an hour or so anyway – BA is telling him to come immediately, and to bring a theatre kit”. Hannibal glanced over at Murdock and suddenly raised his voice. “Captain”, he demanded, in full rank tone. “Captain, stay with us ok? Stay with Face. Don’t go to sleep, if you can”. Face turned back to Murdock, whose eyelids were fluttering. “Come on baby”, he whispered, into the warm couple of inches between them, kissing Murdock’s wet cheek, his nose, anything he could reach. “It’s ok – everything’s going to be ok. Just stay with me, ok? Stay with me. I love you……I love you so much James, you have no idea….Everything’s going to be ok…” I need you…I can’t be without you….I can’t…. "

Murdock managed to open his eyes, which filled with tears again immediately.

“I’m so – “ he began, but Face shushed him, clutching his hand hard.

“Nothing, nothing you could do could ever make me love you less, ok?” he said, almost fiercely. “Nothing. And this isn’t your fault baby. You’re poorly...it’s just that you’re so poorly at the moment. And we’re going to fix that too, ok? But for now we need to fix your poor leg. And you need to stay with me, James”. Face kissed him again, and again, and again, as if he could somehow pour his own life-force into Murdock that way. “Stay with me…..”

Trembling so hard that his teeth were chattering, Face remained like that, kneeling on the blood-stained carpet, cradling Murdock as best he could and soothing him for what felt like the next 12 hours before Richter arrived, although it was only another ten minutes. When the doctor came through the door, moving more quickly than Face had ever seen before, every bone in Face’s body was aching from shock, and the strain of maintaining that position. But he wouldn’t move. He kept his lips against Murdock’s cheek, and two fingers on his pulse, and listened to the three other men talking. He heard Richter’s low questions, Hannibal’s low explanations….he heard BA’s silence. Then there was the feeling of the other side of the bed sinking. He looked up to see BA sitting down there. As their eyes met, Face’s rimmed with red and shot through with fear, BA gave him the smallest of tight nods. But it was enough for Face to understand. BA knew that someone needed to be there for Face, as Face was struggling to hold it together for Murdock. BA’s nod was not to Murdock, although Face had no doubt that the big man’s heart would be being wrung out, as loath as he would be to admit it. It was, to him, a tiny but enormous show of solidarity, without with Face may well have collapsed, under the gravity of the situation, and of his own pain. For the millionth time in his life, Face wanted to cry with gratitude for his team.

He turned back to Murdock then, tucking his face in against Murdock’s own, and continuing to whisper to him. Murdock formed no words in reply, but he was just about conscious. His pulse, however, was weakening. His grip on Face’s hand was slackening. Face was a moment away from howling with the despair. But just as he lifted his head to start shouting at the men behind him, just as the panic began to make his breath jerk and tear at his ribcage, Hannibal was passing a drip bag to BA, and Richter was gently taking Murdock’s arm farthest from Face, Murdock’s hand now finally falling from Face’s as Richer inserted a cannula. Hannibal was leaning down onto Murdock’s leg with a fresh towel. Then Richter was peeling the top of the towel back, to get close up against the worst of the three gashes in Murdock’s leg, checking that crucial factor: the state of the femerol artery. Face knew exactly what he was doing, and why – there was enough blood to make the carpet beneath them squelch. It couldn’t be completely ruptured – the walls would literally have been repainted. But he could have caught it, nicked it –and then sewing it up without causing further, possibly lethal, bleeding would be almost impossible. It was why Hannibal hadn’t already started stitching. They might need a hospital – but they weren’t prepared for a hospital. If they took him there, they would be exposed, and for all Face could stand the idea of going to prison for the rest of his life, the idea of going anywhere without Murdock was, quite simply, a violation. He held his breath, held Murdock’s other hand in his own against his forehead, closed his eyes tightly – and prayed. To the God that had ensured he had at least ended up in that particular orphanage, to the God that had had a bigger plan and had brought him, despite all of Face’s own best efforts to screw everything up, to Hannibal and to this team – to the God who had somehow, inexplicably, given him James H.M. Murdock, and made him love Face almost as much as Face loved him.

Almost.

“No”, he heard Richter say, finally. “The femoral’s intact”.

Face let out a breath so long that his head swam.

“It’s close, though”, Richter was continuing, taking over the towel from Hannibal so that he could inspect more closely. He adjusted his glasses. For one insane moment, he almost looked comical. But although Richter kept his voice low, Face heard the tone of severity. “Another half a centimetre”, Richter said, “he’d have gone straight through it”. Half a centimetre. Half a centimetre was all that had stood between Murdock and certain, instant death – all that had stood between Face’s dreams for his and Murdock’s life together, between Face coming in to find Murdock the way he had done and between never seeing him alive again, between Face’s own ability to himself stay sane, and his completely losing his will to live.

Halfacentimetrehalfacentimetrehalfacentimetre…..

“….which is going to make it very hard to close”, Richter was saying. “I can’t staple it, the staple will go straight into the artery……He won’t stablise…” He was talking almost to himself, and vaguely to Hannibal, who was assembling antibacterial spray and iodine and latex gloves alongside Richter’s theatre kit. For a few moments, there was silence. BA was holding the drip aloft above Murdock, as stonily immobile as a statue. Hannibal was kneeling beside Richter, ready for any instruction. Face closed his eyes again, and pulled Murdock’s hand closer, pressing his lips against the fingers. Murdock himself was completely still. But he was conscious. Just. The third towel, it seemed – unless it was Face’s frantically hoping imagination – didn’t seem to be saturating quite as fast as the first two. Still, it had been at least twenty minutes now since the cuts had been made, and they had bled for all this time. Still were bleeding. This thought obviously occurred to Richter at that moment, because suddenly he stopped fretting about how he was going to do this, and swiftly began prepping the anaesthetic. Find a way, Face’s heart was pleading, please find a way…..make it stop, make him better……save him.

“Hannibal, get as many spare towels – or whatever you’ve got – on hand”, Richter said. “I’ve got to do the top one first, but it’s going to be like trying to sew up a swimming pool – there’s almost too much blood for it to be possible”.

This is how people bled out, despite being in hospital, Face knew. The emergency teams were there, the doctors were trying….but the damage was just too severe.

Find a way……

Murdock twitched suddenly under his hands. “It’s alright baby”, Face whispered. Richter’s voice suddenly cut across him.

“James”, he said, and at that Face knew how serious this was. Richter only ever called Murdock James when he knew he was dealing with the most fragile of his mental states….and Murdock wasn’t awake enough at the moment to have a mental state. The same thing was, at this moment, applying to the physical danger he was in.

“James, I’m going to give you a quick local anaesthetic ok? But I’ve got to inject in about seven places. I’m sorry – it’s going to feel nasty. But it’ll feel even nastier if I don’t. And it will make these awful war wounds themselves hurt less, ok? Is that alright? Hold Face’s hand. Try and keep talking to him. Face – talk to him. Alright, James?”

The ‘alright?’ was merely for form – Richter was already pushing the needle into the third injection site. Murdock whined quietly once, but he didn’t struggle. Face scrabbled through his racing thoughts for something to talk about. Behind him, Richter had finished injecting. While he waited the few minutes for it to take effect, he prepared the needle and suture. Hannibal then lifted the towel away, and Richter slid the needle through the skin at the top of one side of the worst wound. The other side was a good two inches away. Face couldn’t look.

How was that the better option?......Why didn’t you come to me….Why wasn’t I your first option…What have I done? What can I DO?

No. The here and now.

With no topic that he felt he could manage, Face realised that singing was, as Murdock would always have it, the better option. And the song came to him immediately. Stroking the back of Murdock’s hand with his thumb, and gently pushing the hair away from Murdock’s forehead with his other hand, Face – with enormous effort - began the first few strains. “As I went down in the river to pray, studying about that good old way, and who shall wear, the starry crown….”

It was something Murdock’s mother had sung to him when he was very small, Murdock had told him once. Deep in the south of America, where golden fields spread out under a hot sun, and a young Jamie had run about with his toy aeroplanes in an abundance of space, dust and freedom, and had chased low flying aircraft through warm corn, beneath an endless sky. Before they really started testing him. Before they really knew that there truly was something quite seriously wrong – before his mother, who had no idea what to do with her beautiful but incomprehensible son, but who loved him anyway, drove their red, flatbed truck to the shops one day for ice and milk, and was crushed to death against the wall of the convenience store by a lorry whose driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. Before James was left, facing his first psychiatric assessment aged just eight, with only his stricken grandparents to return home to. Murdock had told him this late one night, long before they had got together (although Face considered that line to be extremely blurred, given that he had found himself fundamentally unable to live without Murdock since about the second week of having him in his life), while they were on a deployment on a base, lying on the same sleeping bag, shoulder to shoulder, looking up at a brilliance of stars. There was no woe, no value of any kind attached to the information – he simply told Face the facts, and then sat up and turned round, and looking down at Face still lying on his back -

(and Face’s heart and everything connected to it had almost leapt out of his body at the sight of Murdock leaning over him, illuminated by nothing but fire and starlight, close and impossibly gorgeous, and, at that time, Face thought, so unbearably and painfully beyond his touch – his real touch, the touch with which he would do things he had started dreaming about.....God the things he would do if he was allowed...)

 - was quick to say that the only reason he had reached the topic was because he wanted to teach Face this song that was so simple and peaceful. Was that ok? Murdock had asked. Face had just nodded mutely (anything…..I’d do anything…..you have no idea…), and Murdock had softly sung the first two verses with the chorus in between and then Face had joined in, and Murdock had lain back down next to him, slightly closer this time, his body warm and soft and solid against Face’s as their voices quietly joined – and Murdock had been right, Face had never felt so peaceful in his life. Few people equated Murdock with peace, probably understandably. But he had brought a quiet and a calm to Face’s heart that Face hadn’t known had existed, and if he had, he probably would not have wanted. Face had known that night, lying side by side singing some random deep-south folksong, Murdock effortlessly harmonising with him (effortlessly harmonising with him…..) under the wide night sky that somehow, despite everything - despite himself, his background, his attitude, his problems, his self-destructive streak, his daily facades, and his defensiveness - he had been brought home. It was the moment he had started praying again – in straightforward, astounded gratitude.

Mama B had turned out to know it when she heard Murdock humming it one day while they were staying with her, and the two of them gave a rousing version, with BA gruffly joining in at his Mama’s request, and Hannibal joining in because Hannibal, and Face laughing at BA’s face and inwardly dying at the sight of Murdock happy and free and being overwhelmed generally with a sense of family, of belonging, and of love. Face had sung it to Murdock on other occasions when he had needed bringing back from some awful place, deep and dark in his head, cuddling the pilot into him and almost whispering the words as he rocked him through the fear and the confusion. And when Face was shot in the stomach during a mission a few years ago, just when he and Murdock were in the early stages of admitting to each other what had been so patently obvious to everyone else around them for almost a decade, Murdock had held his hand and sung it to him as Face lay in agony on a cot in a dingy hospital.

Now, Face was trying to do the same….but he was faltering. Looking at Murdock lying here, so fragile – so lost to Face somehow, as though he had gone somewhere Face could not follow – Face could hardly bear it. Very often, Face wasn’t as strong as Murdock. Everyone thought Face was the tough one – everyone was wrong. Face was tough in all the ways it mattered in the Army…and desperately vulnerable in every other way. And when it came to Murdock, and how much Face loved him…Well. Face just didn’t stand a chance.

“…the robe and crown…” The words ran out on him. Simply ran out, as though he his voice was the titular river, and it had run dry. But then a deep, low baritone began somewhere behind him.

“…good Lord, show me the way….”

Face looked round, cheeks wet with tears. It was Richter, his face a mask of concentration as he stitched, and glanced up every few seconds to the drip bag, to look at Murdock’s colour, his hands covered in Murdock’s blood. He didn’t look at Face, but as he peered in at a particularly difficult stitch, he continued the verse Face had left off… “Oh brothers, let’s go down, let’s go down, come on down…”

And then Hannibal’s voice, “Oh brothers, let’s go down, down in the river to pray…”

Hannibal and the doctor carried on together into the next verse, Richter rapidly stitching and glancing, Hannibal rapidly mopping and dabbing, but their voices steady and serene, as it was meant to be sung. “As I went down in the river to pray, studying about that good old way..” And finally, Bosco’s voice, deeper than any of them.

"Oh fathers, let's go down, let's go down, come on down - Oh father, let's go down, down in the river to pray".

And Face simply couldn’t help it- he smiled. He turned back to Murdock, heartened, and smiled down at him, whispering “see, baby….see how much we love you…” before joining in again himself.

“And who should wear, the starry crown, good Lord, show me the way…”

Their voices, still soft, but in unison, filled the awful quiet darkness for the next five minutes, as Richter continued with what would result in a grand total of seventy-five stitches. Face stroked Murdock’s hair, and held his hand against his lips as he sang – or in his case, more often whispered – the words, and gradually, with the fluids coming in, and the reduction in blood coming out, Murdock began to show signs of stabilising. When they’d exhausted the song, it was enough to let the silent gravity of the situation rule for a while, as Richter took another few minutes to finish stitching Murdock up. Richter spoke only to ask Hannibal to adjust the towel, or to pass him some implement. Face still occasionally murmured to Murdock, whose eyes were open and looking at him, but still with that beat of fear in them, like he was seeing something else beyond Face. Face felt his pulse. It was stronger now, at least, but it was fast. Whatever it was that had caused this, was still here. This was Face’s fear now, now that it looked as though Murdock would come through this immediate physical danger. How would they get to grips with this, whatever this was? How was Face going to bring him back? What else could he do? Hopelessness threatened to wash over him again, but it was broken by Richter, having finished suturing, leaning over Face to take Murdock’s pulse himself.

“He needs another one drip at least”, Richter said. “They’re in the car – I only took one in the hurry to get up here”. Then, to Murdock, “we’re done, Captain, ok? I’ve patched you up best I can. Well done – you hung on really well”. He turned to Face. “We need to get dressings on now…”.

Face nodded. It would be Face who would be dealing with dressings and bandages, coaxing Murdock out of old ones and into new ones. Face was, if he said it himself, by now a most excellent nurse. Richter had joked from time to time, when the situation allowed for it, that he could do with all nurses he worked with being more like Face.

“I can do that bit, Alan”, Hannibal said. “I assume that you need to have a talk with…”

Face turned back to Murdock and put his head down next to his, tears falling onto both of their skins. How could this have happened….Why didn’t I see….

“Yes…” he heard Richter say slowly, from behind. “Although, not with Murdock today. That’ll be too much for him. I also suspect that we wouldn’t get any answers…not James’ own at least. All we need to do today is make sure he’s safe. We’ll talk about that – Face and I, all of us…it’ll involve all of you”. He looked at Hannibal and BA in turn, and they both nodded tightly. Still pressed into the pillow beside Murdock, Face nodded silently. Level 3 observation. “Obs”, or “levels”. Again.

Murdock had spent a great deal of his time in various hospitals on levels, but completely necessarily. He simply could not guarantee his own safety. They were all familiar with the questions, those that came with the monthly psyche evals, and the various assessments Murdock had had over the years when he was going through a particularly bad patch and had needed a med adjustment – or, in the days before he and Face, maybe even an admission. Numerous response teams, psychiatrists, mental health act teams: “Can you assure us that you’re not in danger? Can you absolutely confirm to me that you will not attempt to hurt yourself in any way? Can you guarantee us that you will contact someone if you don’t feel safe?” And Murdock – since being with the team at least - had always tried to be honest, even though the consequences of it frightened him, had always done his best to give everyone, and himself, the best shot at some kind of stability. But the fact was, Murdock was so often the one who wasn’t in control. He just didn’t know when something might happen to trigger a break, or when the voices might start up, or when the hallucinations might get beyond the manageable and drag him far, far out into the horrifying tide– and the danger. Sometimes, there didn’t even need to be a trigger. It could come completely out of the blue, shocking them all, including Murdock – and sometimes, it ended like this. They had, with Richter’s help, moved on from the days of admissions and ever-changing IDs and doctors, and since they had been together Face had made it a concrete part of his job to take care of Murdock – even more so than it had been before, when it had always fallen to Face to get up with him in the night, manage (and obtain) his medication, bring him through low phases, watch him during dangerous phases, sleep close with him when necessary (i.e. whenever there was an excuse), distract him. But there still needed to be structure of some kind, for Murdock’s safety, and the best that they, and Richter, had come up with was running the daily routines when they were in situations such as this very like they would be for someone who was on a section in a hospital. Level 3 observations meant that Murdock was never allowed to be out of eye-sight or arm’s reach of at least one person, at any time, on a 24 hour basis. It was the only way that he could be prevented from falling prey to the voices again, from hurting himself – or worse. They had done level 3 obs with him three times before, taking it in turns to ‘do Murdock’s levels’, sitting with him while he slept most of the time (times like this often requiring serious whacks of the heavy duty anti psychotics, such as lithium, and thorazine, just to get him through the worst of it) and whiling away the time with various occupations - reading, and sewing (Hannibal), tinkering with bits of machines and watching soaps (BA), just lying side by side with him, singing with him, or talking lowly and tenderly and keeping him as close as physically possible (Face). Or watching cartoons (all of them - secretly. Hannibal had commented – clearly before he could stop himself - that one of their recent client’s bodyguards looked like Gascon, and BA had given himself away by weeping for a full two hours after Inside Out).

Face, of course, had the majority of the hours. Murdock always quietly accepted obs, used to it after so long in hospital, and always understanding the reason. But of course obs only happened when he was particularly ill, and then – as much as he appreciated Hannibal and BA’s time and dedication - he only really wanted Face. He only ever really wanted Face at any other time also, but when he was ill, it was only Face – as it always had been – who could even come close to making anything any better. Face would have done every single one of the 24 hours, if he could, but during these times Hannibal insisted that Face get out of the house at least once in the day – go for a run, go on requisitions, do the shopping, do the perimeter checks, whatever, just for a hour. Even just have a shower. Of course there were the usual bathroom breaks aswell, to consider, one having to swap in for the other so that Murdock was never left alone. It had been chanced once, the first time they used obs, leaving him for just two minutes, and it had turned out that Murdock had secreted a Stanley knife from BA’s tool kit almost a week previously. At this, the first opportunity he had, he cut both his wrists, at the behest of something that had told him to either let it out from under his skin, or it would eat every last one of his organs, and then start on the team. Hannibal had come back from the bathroom to find the wall of the bedroom spattered in blood, and Murdock kneeling on the bed, blood pouring down his lower half as he held the knife to his abdomen and insisting hysterically that he was doing it to save them all. Hannibal had shouted in panic for the others and BA managed to restrain him (Murdock was strong when he was frightened like this, plus BA was of course prevented from being able to get hold of him by the wrists), although not before Murdock had pushed the blade an inch into his stomach. Face had yelled at Hannibal – properly, truly, no-rank-observed, all-out yelled – for leaving him, while Murdock flung himself into Face’s arms sobbing and bleeding, still trying to hold onto the blade while BA fought to prise it from his fingers and Hannibal himself had soundlessly wrapped the bed sheet around Murdock’s wrists, binding them together until they could get him to a hospital, and silently accepted every last word of Face’s tirade of abuse. It had taken a long time for Murdock to come back from that episode….and Hannibal, if possible, even longer. The hospital had of course wanted to detain him straight to psyche: Face had had to almost carry him in in the first place, with Murdock crying about restraints, and being left, and how Hannibal had promised they’d never send him back, and how it had been more than 28 days so they wouldn’t take him anyway, and he’d be turned into a credit note, and then he’d blow away in the draught from the air conditioning, all the while crying and kicking and trying to maintain contact with Face while Face dodged the hospital staff who were trying to inject Murdock, and terrifying him, trying to keep hold of his hand as he fought and screamed....(terrible, Face remembered. Just terrible). And while they were sewing him up, and taking the now all too familiar assessment notes, Murdock had not once broken contact with Face’s body. Hannibal produced the paper work, procured some months prior by Face on a just-in-case basis, that confirmed a medical professional’s permission to allow Jacob Michaels to remain in the care of Jack Simpson and Robert Schwartz (Face remembered the four of them rolling dice to decide on their fake ID names for this round, laughing, on a warm night coloured warmer by cheap whiskey and – later – priceless kisses deep in the private darkness of their bed), but Murdock was badly shaken by the inside of the hospital, and the entire episode had brought them all dangerously close to detection. They could have been caught and imprisoned again within a week, and aside from the hellish idea of being separated from Murdock possibly forever, Face would still choose a lifetime in prison over Murdock being reconfined, mistreated or forgotten, in some – any – psychiatric unit. Hannibal knew this. And Face knew he knew this – and that Hannibal knew what was at stake, for all of them, but especially for Face and Murdock. After the wrist incident, never again had they ever failed to seal every possible gap in time, until Murdock was mostly back with them, enough time having gone by, or the new meds finally kicking in. Even so…..whenever they ended up here, they had to start all over again. They had obs down to an art form, but the very fact that they had to do them was just as devastating - every time. Seeing this brave, clever man reduced to this.... The world just seemed to have turned inside out. 

“Face….” Richter was saying, quietly. Face ignored him for a moment, gaze still fixed on Murdock’s face, holding Murdock’s fingers pressed to his lips. He closed his eyes slowly, and the tears dropped onto Murdock’s skin. Murdock – only half aware of his surroundings at best – looked up at him. The sadness there, the fear and the pain and the utter endless hopelessness, scared Face.

“I’m sorry Face”, Murdock whispered, and Face could see the panic swell in his chest again, “I’m so- "

“Shhhh”, Face returned, smoothing the damp hair away from Murdock’s forehead. “You’re not well, baby, that’s what this is….It’s not your fault, it’s not-“

“But that’s it, isn’t it?” Murdock said, with sudden energy.

Hannibal, BA and Richter all looked at him in surprise, then quickly looked away again.

“That’s all I am, all I ever…”

Face leaned in so close that he was breathing Murdock’s own breath, and Murdock his. He spoke quietly and gently – but with a certain firmness.

“That has never been, is not, and never will be, all you are”, he said. “What you are, is my whole world…I will spend my life proving that to you. And when you’re not very well…I’ll just prove it harder”.

Murdock gave a small, hitched sob – and flinched, as Hannibal had to pull at the edge of one of the wounds. Face glanced around. For a fleeting moment, he was sure he saw the colonel quickly dip his head against his shoulder, as if wiping his cheek. Face looked up at Bosco to find him looking down at him, with a look the big man usually reserved for small children, full of kind softness.

“But now, baby,” Face continued, "I need you to stay here, and stay still, just for a few minutes, while I have a quick talk with Alan, ok? I'm just outside that door - I'll still be able to see you. Ok?"

Murdock held silently onto Face's arm for a few moments, then nodded. Face smiled at him, not the wide, charming smile that everyone got to see, that everyone thought was so much a part of Face's beauty. It was the smile that only Murdock drew - of love, and adoration. Of Templeton Peck's utter devotion to the person he loved. Then he gently removed his arm from under Murdock's hand, kissed him, and - with some difficulty - unfurled his stiff and aching knees and got to his feet. Hannibal moved aside slightly from where he was cutting dressings to size at the side of the bed to let Face pass. 

"It'll be ok kid", he heard Hannibal murmur as he passed. "He'll be ok". 

Face had to close his eyes against that stabbing threat to dissolve that is so often caused by sympathy. Then he squared his shoulders, and followed Richter as he stepped out onto the landing.

Face pulled the door to, but didn’t close it, making sure he and Murdock could still see each other. Then he stood himself side-on to it, arms folded, eyes down, defeat curling at the edges of his shoulders and back. 

Richter observed him for a few moments, his face a perfected expression of sympathy and professional medicalism. But it wasn't an impersonal look. He cared. Face knew that. But Face wasn't sure any more if that was going to be enough. 

“He’s very ill, Face”, Richter said, quietly. “More poorly than I’ve seen him for a while. I know you know this, you don’t need telling. I’m just voicing it as an introduction for my own thought on where to go next”.

Face ran the fingers of both hands through his hair. Somewhere in the faintest recesses of his brain, there was an echo of the idea that it might need washing….

Richer continued. "I think I need to assess him again. The proper assessment - the one we did a couple of years ago when we met".

'He - " Face began, but Richter cut him off, held up a hand.

"I know, Face", he said, pushing his glasses back up his nose. "I know it undid him for a while. But.... and I don't mean to be unkind here, you know that - I am not sure at the moment quite how much further he could be undone. There's something we've missed - something I've missed - that we need to get to grips with. I think we need a re-diagnosis."