Open Season
By Leia Fee

"I don't like it."  Face stared into the trees.  "We should have gone around.  There're too many places for an ambush here.” 

Hannibal followed his gaze but shook his head.

"It's the fastest way." 

“Damn it all anyway.  One group of bounty hunters get close and next thing everyone thinks it’s open season!”

"Catch as catch can,” Murdock shrugged carelessly.  “Soon we'll be up and out of here."  He gestured with his hand.  "Wheeee!  Home in time for Thanksgiving."

"Up?" B.A. asked, suspicion making his tone even sharper than usual.

"Err, he just means up out of the valley, B.A."

"I'm not flying."

"Of course you aren't, B.A."  Hannibal smiled, all innocence.  B.A. glared at him.

"Creepy wood this." Face tried to change the subject.

"Yup.  I keep expecting something to jump out and shout 'BOO!'"  Murdock leapt in the air and spun round to demonstrate but his shout was drowned out by the crack of a rifle shot.  He hit the ground on his back and didn't move.  The others dropped to their bellies and looked around.

"It came from over there."  Hannibal pointed as Face crawled across the ground to reach Murdock.  "How is he?"

Face kept his head down as he checked.  Murdock was unconscious but stirred slightly as Face called his name.  Blood was soaking into his left sleeve from a wound on his upper arm and glittered on the asphalt beneath his head.

"Hit in the arm and looks like he knocked his head when went down," Face reported back.  "There's a lot of blood."

He tore off a strip from his own shirt, wadded it up and pressed hard against the injury.  Murdock woke at that, hissing through his teeth in pain.  He stared up at Face then squinted to try and see his arm without moving his head.


"Could be problematic, yes."  Face answered frankly.  All of them had seen enough injuries in their time to know when they were being told a comforting lie, and didn't appreciate it.  "How d'you feel?  You remember what happened okay?"

"Said something was going to jump out at us.  Shouldn't have tempted it huh?"  His voice was a pained whisper but the familiar twisted humour was reassuring.

"Probably not.  You banged your head pretty good but you don't seem to have done any damage in that department."

"No more than usual."

B.A. and Hannibal dropped down beside them.

"How're you doing?" Hannibal asked.

"Oh, great."  Murdock grinned at him, rather dizzily.


A movement made Hannibal glance back at the ridge.  "Two of them." He pointed.   "Heading down here."

"What we going to do?"  Face followed his gaze.

"Looks like only one of them has a gun."

"Not impossible odds."

"Not good though."

"Better than running and getting shot in the back of the head."



They stood and watched as the two men approached.

The one with the gun jerked it sharply as he spoke. 

"Stand up.  Move over there."

Face pointed at Murdock.  "Let me help him.  He's injured."

"Yeah, and if you don't step away I'm going to put him out of his misery."

Face lifted Murdock's right hand and gave him the wadded cloth. 

"Keep that pressed there, okay?"

He got a short nod in return so stood up and moved to join the others.

"All right.  We're going to take a little walk.  You three move."  The man with the gun gestured at his partner then at Murdock.  "Get him out of sight.  We're not carrying any baggage."

The three of them who'd started to move down the track stopped abruptly.

"We're not going anywhere without him."  Hannibal stated.  "You've got all of us or none of us, friend."

"Yeah?  Well listen, friend.  The reward is higher for your capture than your deaths but I am not a greedy man.  So you can walk or you can be carried but I've only been hired to bring in you three and this is not a 'get one free lunatic with every purchase' deal.  I'm not carrying deadweight."

"One of us will carry him."  Hannibal was still using his most reasonable tone of voice.

"It doesn't matter who carries him.  It'll slow us down and I want to be out of here before dark."

The gunman leaned in close as he spoke, a mistake which became clear as Hannibal's forehead met the bridge of his nose.  The gunman staggered backwards, swearing, and the blow was followed up by a kick which sent the gun spinning to the ground.

Simultaneously with this attack, BA and Face had dealt with the second man who was now wheezing on the ground.

"Take the guns."  Hannibal instructed.  "Tie those two up and leave them by the track.  They can hope someone finds them before they get too hungry."  He crossed the path to where Murdock was now sitting up.

"Murdock, can you walk?"

"Sure."  Murdock climbed shakily to his feet.  "See?  Fine."

"Face, help him."


Murdock's protestations that he was fine died away slowly over the next few hours and by the time they reached the base camp he was leaning heavily against Face, though still refusing to be carried.

"Chopper's still here," Murdock murmured.

"Still here," Hannibal agreed.  "Here, you sit down and rest a moment, while I get some supplies from the stores.  You two give me a hand?"

B.A. followed him as Face paused to help ease Murdock down against the wall.  He lifted the blood-soaked cloth away and tied a fresh strip tightly around the injury.

"Too much blood."  Murdock shook his head.  "Probably looks worse than it is though, right?"  He gave a forced smile.  "You can lie to me about it if you want to." 

"You'll be fine," Face assured him.


"I'll be right back, okay?"


Murdock watched him leave and slowly shook his head again.

"Too much blood."


Hannibal turned to Face as he entered the stores building.

"How is he?"

"He's lost a lot of blood and is kind of shaky, but he's lucid.  He's had worse but it's still bleeding badly.  He needs to get to a hospital."

"Is he well enough to fly?"

"I'm not flying out of here."

Face ignored B.A.'s interruption, instead answering grimly, "He'd better be, because he hasn't got the time to walk out."

"I'm not flying."

"Then you're walking out of here on your own, because Murdock needs to be in a hospital right now and the only way we're getting there is to fly!" Face snapped.

"Face, take it easy.  We're not leaving anyone behind.  I won't agree to that and neither will Murdock."

Face started to protest but Hannibal shook his head.  "Go back outside and check on him.  We'll be right out."

Face sighed and obeyed.


Outside, Murdock was slumped against the wall and didn't look up until Face sat down beside him.

"No supplies?"

Face looked startled then embarrassed.  "Must have forgotten them."

"My ears were burning."

Face smiled.  Murdock may be more than half crazy but he was not an easy man to fool and obviously had guessed exactly what they'd gone to discuss out of earshot.

"Hannibal's trying to talk B.A. into letting me fly us out of here, huh?"

"I guess so."

"I won't leave without him.  If he doesn't get on that chopper, neither am I."

"You need to get to a hospital."

"I know that.  So how'm I doing?"



"Bleeding pretty badly.  You really need to have been in hospital about an hour ago."

Murdock nodded.  "Don't tell Hannibal that, okay?"

"Sure.  So, are you okay to fly?"


Face smiled at the wry tone of voice.


"We'll probably crash and burn halfway there when I pass out at the controls."

Face nodded.  "Um, don't tell B.A. that, okay?"

Murdock smiled faintly.


Face looked up. 

"Speak of the devil.  Here they come."

Murdock tugged urgently on his arm.

"Help me up."

"What?  Why?  You should rest."

"B.A.'s not going to get into that chopper if I look like I'm going to keel over as soon as we take off."

Looking at the scowl B.A. was wearing as he stomped towards them, Face had his doubts that he'd get in the chopper at all.  He helped Murdock up though and stood next to him in case he needed further support.

"You can fly that thing?" B.A. asked curtly.

Murdock refrained from his usual flippant remarks and simply nodded.

B.A. sighed heavily.

"Fine, let's just get on with this then," he snapped.


With some assistance Murdock settled himself in the pilot's seat and put on the headset.  He ran his right hand over his face and took a deep breath.

"Okay.  That bandage tied good and tight?  That's my up-and-down hand y'know."

His tone was light but Face knew him well enough to recognize the nervousness in his eyes.  He checked the bandage and nodded.

B.A. stared at Murdock--obviously the casual tone hadn't fooled him either.

"You said you were okay to fly."

"I am.  I am," Murdock said hastily.  "It'll be fine.  I can manage."

"Get in B.A.," Hannibal encouraged, giving him a little shove.

Muttering to himself, B.A. climbed in and searched for the safety straps.  Hannibal climbed in beside him and gave his shoulder a reassuring pat.

Murdock started running through the preflight checks.

"Okay, there was a map here earlier.  Can you hunt that out and find us a course?"

"Sure."  Face rummaged for a few minutes and eventually fished out the map from under his seat.  "All right.  Head north-east."

"Okay.  Starting up engines now."

The sudden noise made B.A. jump in his seat.

"Okay back there?" Murdock asked.  "I'm taking her up now."


Fifteen minutes into the flight Face wasn't sure who looked worse--B.A, who was rigid in his seat with his eyes squeezed shut, or Murdock who was pale, sweating and had chewed his lower lip raw trying to maintain his concentration through the blood loss and pain.  As he'd warned Face, his 'up-and-down hand' was curled tightly around the pitch control at his left side and every adjustment he made sent a badly concealed expression of pain flitting across his face.

When he spoke his voice was a strained whisper crackling over the intercom.


"Right here."

"The hospital is marked with a helipad.  Get on the radio and get me clearance to land."

Face rearranged his headset and squinted at the controls searching for the right one.

"There, down a bit, to the left," Murdock directed.

"Got it, got it."

After some experimentation he found the right frequency.  Getting the required permission turned out to be rather more difficult.

"Look I did mention this was an emergency didn't I? … No we're not an air ambulance.  We've got a badly injured man here! … No … No…  Listen, you just clear that pad!"

He paused, listening for a moment, then scowled and turned to Murdock.

"They want to talk to the pilot."

"That could be a nasty shock," Murdock muttered.

"Hello? ... No, you clear that pad now. … Yes, we've got an injured man here.  Me.  … Now listen, I'm landing on that pad and the only thing deciding whether I do it conscious or not is how long it takes you to give me clearance.  Got it?  … Yes.  Three minutes then, I've got visual contact now.  Coming in from the south west."

He smiled at Face through chattering teeth.  "Just got to know how to talk to them.  Okay.  We're going down."


Their descent over the pad was erratic and accompanied by B.A. cursing roundly at everyone in the helicopter and Murdock most of all.  Murdock didn't seem to hear him, didn't seem aware of anything except the landing.  He was holding his breath and didn't look like he was even blinking.

They landed with a jolt that made Murdock gasp and B.A. snarl.  Face went limp with relief as the hospital emergency crew ran across the roof, ducked under the rotors before they'd even stilled and hauled the doors open.

"It's the pilot," Face directed them.

Murdock had let his head fall back against his seat and closed his eyes, though his hands still rested on the controls.

"All right.  Let's get you inside."  One of the medics stepped up to the cockpit to look at Murdock.

"Sure."  Murdock opened his eyes and shifted slightly, his movements slow and uncoordinated.  He looked down at his left hand, an odd, bewildered expression on his face.

"Doesn't want t'let go," he mumbled.

Face reached across to slide Murdock's too-pale fingers free.  Murdock gave him a dazed smile before twisting to look at B.A.

"See?  Said I was okay to fly."  He slid sideways as he spoke and was only saved from falling headfirst to the ground by the intervention of the medics.

B.A. ignored the comment utterly, still staring fixedly ahead and muttering curses under his breath.   One of the medics pointed at him as the others lifted Murdock onto a stretcher.

"What's wrong with him?"

"Nerves.  He'll be fine."  Hannibal slapped B.A. on the shoulder as he spoke.

B.A. climbed slowly out of the helicopter and moved to where the medics were preparing to take Murdock inside.

"Don't worry, he's going to be all right," one of them said, looking up to see him there.

"He'd better be," B.A. growled, leaning over the stretcher.  "You hear me, fool?  If you put me through that for nothing…"

"D'worry," Murdock slurred dizzily.  "Gonna live t'take you flyin' lo's m'times."

Hannibal and Face dived forwards to grab B.A. and steer him away as a scowl spread across his face.

"He's delirious!"

"Doesn't know what he's saying!"

B.A shook himself free of their grasp with a growl but followed the gurney inside without further protest.

Murdock slowly drifted back to consciousness and blinked in confusion trying to clear the blur of colour from in front of his eyes.  After a moment, as his vision cleared he realized that the colours were in fact paperchains hanging above his bed.  He smiled, now noticing that the whole room was decorated for Thanksgiving.  Apparently the children's ward had had a hand in it because the central feature was a rather alarming looking oversized collage of a turkey.

"Cute," Murdock croaked. 

Hannibal's face appeared below the decorations.

"How are you feeling, captain?"

"Good."  Murdock tried to sit up and discovered B.A. sat the other side of the bed leaning in to help.  "Thanks, big guy."

Murdock glanced around again.  "Where's Face?"

His question was answered by a loud protest from the corridor.  "You can't bring all that in here!"

A wheedling tone immediately answered.  The sense of the argument was inaudible but apparently convincing because moments later Face appeared in the doorway with a laden food trolley.  He grinned broadly.

"Like you said, Murdock--home in time for Thanksgiving!"

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