Fevers of Unknown Origin
They were running back from the LZ, with Hannibal chomping on a cigar and Face bickering with B.A. about the flight in from Florida. "Seriously, was it that bad? Really? Come on—man up, Bosco! He didn’t do a single barrel roll –give him credit for that!" B.A.’s reply was indistinct but decidedly grouchy.
The Colonel glimpsed back at Murdock, who was climbing down from the chopper with a lot less than his usual bounce. Smith doubled back but slowed to a stop on the tarmac, turning back to watch Baracus and Peck amble away, laughing and arguing, and once they were gone he went back to the chopper at a slow pace, not wanting the pilot to think he was being coddled—Murdock hated that. The rotors were finally slowing down, and Murdock was leaning against the door, his head down, taking slow, deep breaths. He coughed, wheezing and mumbling miserably.
Hannibal had noticed the coughing as they had left Miami, and it had gotten progressively worse through the flight. Face had been too busy trying to keep B.A. from destroying the interior of the chopper to make any comments, and it had been hard enough just to get Baracus to transfer from the plane from Caracas into the chopper. With all that shouting and arguing, Murdock’s coughing and obvious fever had had to go down Smith’s list of priorities. Not now, though: the pilot was clearly very ill.
"Doin' all right there, Captain?" he asked mildly, dragging on the cigar.
"Just a little tired, boss," the pilot answered. He sounded weary, which was unusual. Hannibal frowned, practically hearing alarm bells going off as he studied Murdock. The normal post-mission giddiness was missing entirely. Instead, he looked rather pale and shaky. He was dragging, frankly—something was clearly not right.
"You don't look too good, captain. Go down to the base hospital and check in…"
"I'm okay, sir…"
"That's an order," Hannibal said, keeping his voice gentle and calm. He rarely gave Murdock orders, really. More like firm suggestions that implied immediate obedience. Murdock was independent-minded, and as headstrong as a colt--of his boys, Murdock was the most willful and mule-headed, to the point that Face and B.A. often wondered why he wasn't as careful with them. As if they didn’t already know. With Murdock, it took a lot more care and a great deal of mental agility to keep ahead of him
He put a fatherly hand on Murdock’s shoulder. "C'mon. You can chat up the pretty nurses, eh?"
"I 'spect I'd just barf all over 'em," Murdock mumbled, sounding uncharacteristically pitiful. His shoulders slumped. "And then they wouldn't want to talk to me. They'd just show me the bill from the… the cleaners…" He coughed again, a painful sound that made Hannibal's own ribs hurt. "I haven't been gettin' much sleep lately, boss. Just… nightmares and… I'm just real tired, that's all… " His voice trailed and he squeezed his eyes shut against the lights of a fighter jet cruising in.
"Like I said, head over to the hospital. You have your meds, right?"
Murdock nodded absently, and Hannibal sighed. The pilot usually handled that in stride, without making any comments about all the medications he had to take, but there were times Smith could tell that Murdock resented the whole damned business, particularly when he had to get his prescriptions refilled. That required a talk with the base psychologist, who usually didn’t know him. Considering that the team hopped from base to base, country to country, disaster to disaster, it meant a different head shrinker and another long, exhausting diagnostic exam and skepticism from the doc about how much mental illness really touched Murdock and how much of it was really just stress, Oscar-worthy acting, and a longing for… Hannibal frowned, studying the wavering captain. Longing for what? Freedom? Peace? A decent night’s sleep?
"Come on, I'll walk you down there," Hannibal said at last.
"Don't you have to… to… debrief the general or somethin'?" Murdock asked, his voice strangely flat. Hannibal eyed him, wishing it wasn't so dark. With better lighting, he'd be able to tell if the younger man was just coming down with a bug or if he was having some kind of episode. He prayed it was just a bug--that would be easy enough to deal with.
"That can wait – he's probably asleep anyway."
Hannibal could have sworn he heard Murdock mutter 'Lucky bastard', but wasn’t sure. He put his arm around Murdock’s shoulders and walked toward the infirmary, growing increasingly aware that he was basically keeping Murdock propped up. By the time he reached the door to the base hospital, he was more than alarmed: he was getting kind of scared. The pilot wasn't speaking, and he was stumbling with almost every step.
The door opened and a sleepy medic answered, looking slightly disgruntled at being awakened, but when he saw the sickly pallor of the well-known pilot, who was leaning against his CO, his expression changed to real concern. "What's wrong?"
"He's sick," Hannibal said, feeling that being succinct would be best at this point.
Fillmore, the chief attending, came out of an exam room and glimpsed around the medic, frowning. "Colonel Smith… y'all are back early."
"Yeah. But our captain here isn't doing so well."
Murdock chose that moment to finally collapse, dropping to his knees first and then pitching forward, halfway inside the room. Hannibal sighed and Fillmore nodded. He and the medic picked up the unconscious captain and carried him to a bed. "On several drugs, right?"
"Yeah. They're all in his file. I can't pronounce most of them."
"Right." Fillmore pulled open a file cabinet drawer and poked around, finally pulling out Murdock’s thick chart. "Yeah. Yeah… lotsa stuff, 'sides a bunch of RX's." He scanned the list of meds and shook his head. "Hell of a pilot. Makes damn good barbecue, too." That got a smile from Hannibal.
"The best--barbecue and pilot." Hannibal didn't particularly like the way the medic had deposited Murdock on the gurney, but at least he was being checked over, and Smith recalled that Fillmore had treated the pilot two years ago, after he had taken a bullet somewhere in Turkey. He remembered that night--the terror in Murdock's eyes, on top of the searing pain, and Fillmore's level-headedness. At least Murdock was in good hands--Fillmore had gone out of his way to avoid scaring the traumatized pilot then, and had actually been remarkably patient with him as he had recovered (a feat in and of itself, considering how much Murdock had resisted being bedbound and had tried to escape from the hospital three times, in spite of the gunshot wound). Come to think of it, that mission in Ankara had been just six months after Hannibal had sprung Murdock out of that hospital in Mexico. Could it really have been that long? He had heard about the pilot’s brilliance long before even meeting him, but the brilliance and the package containing it continued to surprise him every day.
"High fever," the medic said to Fillmore. "Caught a bug, I think. We'll take care of him, sir."
Smith nodded. "I'll be back tomorrow morning."
"Virus, huh?" Face sat back on his beach chair and waggled his feet in the kiddie pool. "Damn. Poor guy--he hates being sick. It’s hard enough just gettin' him to go to sleep. I'll take him some books and video games… I'm sure I’ve got some spare Playboys, too." He grinned, knowing Murdock had a strange antipathy toward porn.
"Good idea, but he was still out cold when I checked on him this morning.” Hannibal watched B.A. remove a tire from a Jeep and roll it away. "Fever of one-oh-four. But at least he’s sleeping… and Fillmore said there were no night terrors, no screaming… " He sighed and took a sip of his coffee.
"Jesus… " Face shook his head. "I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. And how depressing to think that him havin' nightmares would be a good thing... "
"Crazy fool… he wasn’t actin’ right 'fore we left Panama,” B.A. said from his position beside the Jeep, where he was shoving the jack underneath. "He looked all pale and wobbly. Didn’t say or do anything really… crazy… the whole time."
"We’ve been pushing him too hard," Hannibal said, frowning. "Or, actually, I have."
"Stop kickin' yourself, Boss," Face said. "He's never turned down a job, and he didn't join the Army for tea parties."
Hannibal glanced up and saw Sergeant Buchanan coming toward them, and glanced at Face, who grinned, leaning forward, ready for another interesting interview. She was a rough'n'tumble little redhead, and as usual, she was wearing a grease-stained flight suit and a baseball cap. The suit only barely concealed the fact that she was female, and the first time he had met her, Face had thought she really was a guy, but his faultless 'girl-dar' had kicked in and he had declared her to be very definitely female, and that underneath that flight suit was 'one hell of a hot bod', plus a more than satisfactory rack (which had gotten Peck a sharp reprimand from Hannibal). Murdock had, with only a vague glance at her, declared her a 'right snarlin' little Goodbye Halo', which he had never explained.
Sergeant Buchanan wore her red hair in braids that she kept pinned under her hat, and as usual, her face was streaked with dirt and grease from the planes and choppers she practically lived with. Not even Murdock spent as much time as she did on the airfield or in the hangars.
Everyone on base feared Buchanan. She had a vile temper, could cuss a blue streak when provoked, could fight like a devil, drink anybody under a table, and was one hell of a good pilot. Not as good as Murdock, which was a major sticking point to her, and if anyone brought up this little fact, she tended to get terribly pissed. Hannibal suspected that with years and experience, she might come somewhere close to Murdock’s level of insanity-laced brilliance at the yoke, but right now, she was still just a greenhorn. A frighteningly talented greenhorn, but…
"Corporal," Hannibal said, friendly-like, standing. "Good to see you."
She gave Smith a sharp salute and glared at Face, who was clad only in swimming trunks. "Colonel Smith, sir."
B.A. greeted her in a more friendly manner, as she was a mechanical whiz, like himself. She almost smiled at him, and glanced toward Murdock’s grill. "Where’s the nutjob?" she asked sharply. She was, they all knew, a native of Tennessee, from some poverty-stricken 'holler' from which she had escaped into the Army, and was the daughter of a Scots-born coal miner. According to rumor, she had been born aboard a ship bringing her parents over from Ayr. It was also rumored that her father had been running from the law back in Scotland, but no one knew for sure. No one was brave enough to ask her.
"Not feeling well, I’m afraid. Some kind of virus," Hannibal informed her. "I’m quite sure he will be in your prayers tonight."
Her eyes narrowed. "Why would I pray for him?" It seemed that, to her, Murdock was just a rival for air supremacy, and the fact that he was only ever distractedly polite to her seemed to annoy her even more than if he had taunted her about being a better pilot. Unlike most people, however, Murdock never made any comments about her, and had seemed to accept her belligerence as a matter of course. Otherwise, he barely seemed to notice her at all.
"Ah, c'mon, Corporal," Face said, wondering again what her first name was. He had done a bit of digging one day, out of sheer curiosity, but had only found the initials 'S.A.', which could mean anything. Susan Alice? Sally Augusta? "That's not nice, and really, what would the skies be like without him in command?"
She gave him another cold, narrow look before turning back to Smith. "Any chance he might die?"
"Murdock? No. You can't kill him with an axe. And I’m so glad to see you care," Hannibal grinned back, determined to not let her think he believed she was being insulting. She frowned back, and he saw that she had a black eye and more smudges of dirt and grime on her face than usual. "Been fighting again, Corporal?" he asked her sternly.
"Got into a tussle with some stupid chick," Buchanan shrugged. "Just got outta the stockade." She walked away, and Face shook his head.
"Under all that grease and mean is…just more grease and mean."
"Yes," Hannibal nodded. "But also tons of potential."
"Ach, sittin' up right vigorous-like and able to take some nourishment, me lads," Murdock said, smiling a little, but the light wasn’t in his eyes yet. Even his Scottish accent sounded flat and uninspired, which worried Face immensely.
"Hey, y'think you can take a walk later?" he asked, sitting down by the pilot’s bed. "We'll just cruise by the womens' quarters, see how things are shakin', eh?" He grinned at Murdock, who shrugged slightly.
B.A. shook his head. "He oughta be restin', 'stead'a walkin' around, Face.” He frowned at Murdock. "You look like death served cold on crackers."
"Yes, thank you, and horizontal stripes make you look fat," Murdock nodded back while Face cackled. "I still don't feel too good, I'll admit, but I'll be up and about soon. Doc says it’s pneumonia an' some kinda weird tropical virus that, if it kills me, will be named after me! How cool would that be, huh? Murdock’s Syndrome... sounds like a chess move. Anyhow… I can't hold much down, really, and I seem to just wanna sleep a lot."
Hannibal frowned, concerned. "Nightmares?"
"No. Nights are right foggy, actually." He picked listlessly at his sheets. "Days are kinda dreamy, too. Weird feelin', you know?"
"Oh, you'll never guess who came by this mornin', askin' about you," Face said, grinning. "Corporal S.A. Buchanan!"
"Who?" Murdock asked, brow furrowed.
"You know--the Hellcat."
"Impolite," Hannibal said, giving Face a warning look.
"But she is… that, you have to admit," Face defended himself. "You know her, Murdock. The little redhead--thinks she's a better pilot than you?"
"Least she ain't crazy," B.A. pointed out. "I mean… well… not much crazier than most pilots, I guess."
Murdock still looked confused, and finally shrugged. "Whatever. Listen. I want outta here, Hannibal. I know I'm prob'ly grounded 'til I’m well, but I ain't fit for sittin' in this place. I'm bored." He tried not to sound whiny, but he knew he did. He wasn’t into just sitting around, much less lying on his back with nothing to do but count ceiling tiles.
"We'll get you some more books and video games, Captain. Otherwise, until you're well, you’re staying in bed, per the doctor's orders, not mine. Lots of liquids, too, Fillmore said, right?"
"Mm," Murdock nodded, looking grumpy. "Get me some cards, Face. Unmarked, preferably. All things considered, I still like for Solitaire to be a bit of a surprise." He yawned. "And shut out the lights 'fore y'all leave, eh?" He fell onto his back again, moved onto his side, adjusted his pillow and was soon asleep. Hannibal and the other men left the hospital quietly, and went off in opposite directions.
Face, liking the idea of strolling around the womens' quarters quite a lot, decided to take a detour down there. He was turning a corner when he smacked into the Hellcat.
She saluted him, but her eyes narrowed in very obvious distaste.
He ignored her icy look, knowing that with her, it was a lot of bluster. “Where're you headed, baby?" he asked.
"The infirmary." He was surprised to hear that, wondering if she was off to see Murdock, but then he noted that she was holding a blood-soaked cloth tight against her arm.
"Cut yourself? Or did somebody finally just snap?" he asked with a grin.
He knew she wanted to cuss him out, but her rank had to make her hold her tongue. "I cut myself on a nail."
Face nodded. "Ah. I see. Well, I hope it heals up well." He smiled at her and ambled on toward his target. Buchanan continued to the hospital and went inside, where Fillmore looked up from a chart and frowned at her. "Corporal."
"Captain… sir… I cut my arm." She lifted the cloth and he observed the gash in silence for a moment and shook his head.
"Caught it on a nail," she said tiredly, already resigned to stitches and a tetanus shot.
"So now we’ve got two difficult pilots in here. Fortunately, one's already asleep," Fillmore said, directing her to sit down on a stool so he could examine the wound. "Pretty deep gash, I'm afraid. You'll need stitches… probably six or seven. Go sit down on a bed--we’re stacked up right now. Be quiet--I've got patients asleep in there." He gestured toward the door to the recovery room.
She mumbled under her breath and went into the ward. She looked around the large room, noting that five of the ten beds were occupied by injured or sick soldiers. She made her way down the center aisle, peeking down at charts at the ends of each of the beds, until she came to Captain Murdock's. She frowned at the chart, looked around to note that everyone was still asleep and Captain Murdock was curled up in a ball, covered by his blanket, and snatched it up, scanning the notes hurriedly.
"Green… " she whispered.
"What the hell are you doin' readin' my chart?"
She dropped the clipboard, flinching when it clattered on the floor. Captain Murdock was sitting up, eyes narrowed, glaring at her with righteous anger. She looked around, wishing a hole might suddenly appear in the floor for her to jump into. But no such help came and she took a deep breath.
"Ain't you never hearda them patient privacy laws? Hippo or Hipster or somethin'? Oh… yeah, you're the Hellca--… er… Corporal… what was it again? Some Scotch clan, right? MacPherson… no… McDonald? Kincaid? Buchanan… right! Buchanan, of that Ilk. From Tennessee."
"I wasn't reading it. It fell down!" she snapped.
"Liar." He had turned the light on by his bed, and she took a nervous step backwards. "You were readin' it. What's it say, by the way? They won't tell me exactly what I've got, 'sides pneumonia."
"I… uh… didn't see. Like I said, it had fallen down… " she reiterated.
"What does 'green' mean, then?" he asked her sharply, eyes narrowing in suspicion.
"Nothing. I cut my arm, okay? Caught it on a damn' nail and they're prob'ly givin' me a tetanus shot…"
"Yeah, they do that a lot 'round here. Ever' time I get a gunshot wound or a case of the sniffles, it's 'Hey, ho, let's break out the needles and jab this poor sucker'. In my opinion, if God wanted us to get s' many shots, He'd've supplied us with portals. But what does 'green' mean? I heard you say 'green'. Is that, like, some kind of an alert? Green alert? Is that on my chart? Am I bein' quarantined?” He looked nervous and glanced toward the doors. "Should I run? But if I'm bein' quarantined, shouldn't I be alone? That don't make sense… do they have it, too?" He gestured to indicate the other soldiers, all of who were still sleeping.
"No. No." She shook her head. "Nothing like that. It's just a virus--it'll clear up soon. You'll be fine." She flinched when she realized that she sounded rather kind.
"Oh." He sighed and sat back against his pillows, propping himself up against the headboard. "Damn this place is boring. I've been in far more entertainin' hospitals before." He gave her one of his patented crooked grins, and she looked down, feeling her cheeks warming. The clipboard was still on the floor, and she snatched it up, hanging it back on its hook. "I was in one, once, coupla years ago, and I provided all the entertainment… though I admit, the staff didn't seem to appreciate it when I started doin' the moonwalk on the cafeteria tables… but the other patients liked it. We did the whole dance from Thriller, in fact."
"So I've heard," she dryly.
"Yeah. 'Howlin' Mad', that's me. What about you? What's your nickname?"
"Hellcat," she answered coldly. She hated the name, though she knew she had more than earned it.
"Well, I think that might require some work, baby. You might try demonstratin' some good manners, some graciousness as befits a Southern belle… you could try for… Water Lily… or Peacock… no, I don't like peacocks. They shriek, they got skinny legs, and they attack chickens… " He pondered carefully, and finally gave her a bright smile, clearly pleased to be talking to somebody, even her. "Magnolia Blossom!"
"I am not a Southern belle!" she snapped at him. "Belles make me sick, anyhow. All that simperin' and flutterin' eyelashes, an' actin' helpless. I've been takin' care of myself since I was fifteen, not flouncin' around wearin' lace. I fix planes and I fly 'em. Better'n you, too, Captain. And besides that, I wasn't born in Tennessee. I was born on the sea… during a storm."
"Not a belle, but definitely a rebel--Scotland's where the first rebels came from, eh? And my Mama was a belle, more or less, and she was as tough as nails—iron fist in a velvet glove, and for all that she could shoot straight, make good cornbread and skin a buck." He looked amused then. "Really? You were born during a storm, on the sea, huh? Sounds 'bout right, really." He grinned. "Born on the sea, like Venus?"
"What?" Her eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"Venus… goddess of love and beauty, in Greek mythology… no, wait, Aphrodite was the Greek version. Venus was Roman. Aphrodite was Greek, born on the sea… on a half-shell… goddess on a halfshell. Ever seen that paintin'? Botticelli, right?"
"Oh. Right. I have no idea." She was glad for the wound on her arm—it gave her something to do with her hands. She pressed the cloth more tightly against it and looked around the ward, taking in the sleeping soldiers and listening to a cricket chirping.
A weird sort of silence fell between them, and she fully expected him to make some kind of comment about how the notion of beauty could never apply to her, but he didn't. He only continued to observe her carefully, even though he looked terribly tired and pale. But there was a bit of light in his eyes, and he still looked amused.
Fillmore came in then, looking harried. "Oh, Corporal Buchanan. I see you woke Captain Murdock. I should make you try to make him go back to sleep as punishment. Sit down, please. Still bleeding?”
"Like a stuck pig,” Murdock said from his bed, looking quite cheerful in spite of his illness. Fillmore bit back a smirk and ordered Buchanan to sit down on a bed. He sat beside her and began working on her wound. It was on her bicep, and the nail had sliced right through her tattoo of what appeared to be a lion, like the one found on the Great Seal of Scotland--a fierce red lion against a yellow shield.
"Hey, cool lion," Murdock chirped from his bed. Buchanan looked back at him for a second, then winced as Fillmore began sewing up the wound. "Hey, make a lightning bolt, Fillmore. That'd look real cool, doncha think?" He rolled up the sleeve of his hospital gown. "Lookee… I got a Ranger tat here… I was seve--er, eighteen when I got it!" Buchanan couldn't keep from looking at it, and her mouth twitched--it was an Airborne Rangers shield on his muscled bicep. "And a Screamin' Eagles tat here…" He pulled the collar down on his shirt to reveal a vicious-looking eagle, wings spread, talons clutching rockets. "You got any other tats?"
"Quiet, Captain Murdock. Go back to sleep."
"Well, she woke me up!" Murdock protested. "She was readin' my chart and said somethin' about 'green'. Whatcha think she was talkin' 'bout?" he asked eagerly.
Fillmore sighed wearily and gave Buchanan a narrow look, and she looked down, glad for the dirt on her face, because it covered her blush. He got up and snatched up Murdock’s chart, scanning it quickly. "Eye color: green," he said, and put it back. "Now lie still and go to sleep, Captain."
Murdock leaned to the side, so he could see around Fillmore, and studied Buchanan carefully, clearly curious. "You was lookin' up my eye color? Seriously? Whyn'cha just ask?"
"I was not!" she snapped, knowing Fillmore could see her red cheeks through the grime.
"Be respectful of your superiors, Corporal Buchanan," Fillmore warned. "Though that would be a change of pace for you. Punched a Sergeant last week, didn't you?"
"She called me… something." She stiffened.
"A cab?" Murdock called, but at least now he was lying down again. Fillmore smiled, shaking his head. Buchanan bristled visibly, but Fillmore had a firm hold on her arm and continued with the stitching. Fillmore looked at her when he was finished, and shook his head.
"Don't take this the wrong way, Corporal Buchanan, but have you considered… anger management counseling?"
She drew in her breath, ready to expel a string of epithets, but that would only prove his point. She looked down and shook her head. "Can I go now?"
"Maybe she called you by your full name!" Murdock suddenly suggested, sounding very chipper. "What is your full name, by the way?"
"None of your business… er… sir!" Buchanan said sharply, standing up, forgetting to be calm. "Thanks… sir," she mumbled, and strode toward the doors.
Fillmore got up and turned Murdock's light back off. "Have the nurse give you a tetanus shot, Corporal," he said as an aside, before she banged the doors shut behind her. "Go to sleep, Captain, or no Jello with your breakfast."
"Aw… man… that's just cruel. Id'n that in the Geneva Convention? 'No Jello deprivation'?"
Fillmore was laughing by now. He shook his head wearily and clapped Murdock on the shoulder. "Good night, Captain. Sleep well --that's an order."