CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN

October 9, 1976

5 Years, 8 Months, 7 Days

Hannibal closed his eyes, effectively curtailing any questions from BA and Murdock, but he didn't sleep. He couldn't. There were too many things running through his head, things he didn't want to talk about, think about, dwell on. He forced his thoughts elsewhere, to that place that always made him feel safe, calm. Back home, where his parents still lived, he and his brother were children, and nothing bad ever happened.

And then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the first movements from the other bed.

He almost got up then, but Face suddenly stopped, and Hannibal thought he'd gone back to sleep. He glanced over at BA, then Murdock. Both were also watching. After a moment, they turned away, and almost immediately Face started moving again, sidling toward the edge of the bed. Clumsy, slow, but determined.

Now Hannibal's curiosity was aroused. Granted, he knew Face was still off in the netherworld someplace, but at the same time, he seemed to have a course of action in mind. This might be Hannibal's opportunity to see what his lieutenant was capable of, while he was still relatively safe to deal with.

He watched, keeping his eyes nearly closed, as Face inched to the edge of the bed, and his foot fell to the floor. Hannibal glanced up, shaking his head ever so slightly at BA. Face waited a moment, and Hannibal could almost feel the tension as he gathered his strength. Then, with effort that almost made Hannibal sweat, Face pulled himself up to a sitting position, both feet now on the floor. His hand reached out, grabbing the corner of the bureau by the bed. It took him almost a full minute before he could stand, swaying dangerously. Hannibal got ready to jump up and catch him, but he steadied himself. Hannibal glanced at the hand on the bureau. The knuckles were white.

BA and Murdock were both standing now, watching him, but still keeping back. Face looked around the room, his head nodding as if too heavy for him to control. His whole body was shaking now, and Face was glaring at the room in general. His arm swung around, and he grabbed the lamp from the bureau, knocking the shade off, holding it to the side like a bat.

Hannibal decided it was time to call it quits. He cautiously sat up, moving toward the foot of the bed. He didn't want to get too close to that lamp, or cause Face to panic. He nodded slowly at BA, and he and Murdock began moving in, just as slowly.

Face looked at them, one by one, and suddenly drew himself up straight. His jaw tightened, and Hannibal stared as a look came over the man's face that he hadn't seen since Saigon.

"Watch him, guys. Easy." Hannibal spoke softly, but Face turned his full glare on him. Hannibal looked him over. The shaking had gone to a occasional shudder now, and his breathing was controlled, if somewhat labored, eyes cold, hard. Again, his thoughts went to Saigon, the Marine beaten to death in that old building, and Hannibal mentally kicked himself; he should've stepped in sooner. There was nothing 'safe' about the man facing him.

Taking a deep breath, Hannibal took a tentative step forward, keeping the others back with a motion of his hand. Face adjusted his grip on the lamp, still staring at him.

"Face, put the lamp down, kid. You don't have to fight any of us. We're your friends, Face. You remember us. You remember me. Hannibal. We're not here to hurt you. Nobody's going to hurt you."

Face's eyes flickered at Hannibal's name. He licked his lips, glancing over at the others. Hannibal took another small step forward. Face immediately turned back toward him, and there was the slightest stagger as he regained his balance.

Calm. Hannibal had to keep things calm, quiet. Let the energy drain away. He didn't think it would take long. And he had to take advantage of that reaction to his name. Somewhere in that fog, Face recognized it. Would he recognize Hannibal? He thought suddenly of the dyed hair. Shit.

He forced a soft chuckle. "The hair's kinda different, huh, kid? All in the line of duty." He stopped, watching Face's eyes narrow. Was he buying it? "Just a disguise, Face. We had to run a few scams to find you. But it's me, kid. Hannibal."

The anger was fading, Hannibal could tell. Confusion taking over. And he was getting tired; the tremors were coming back.

"Hannibal?"

The voice was low, hoarse, questioning...suspicious. Hannibal knew he wasn't quite ready yet.

"Yeah, kid. Hannibal. We're all here - Murdock and BA and me."

Another questioning look, and a glance at the others. The tremors were rapidly increasing in intensity, and Face was getting pale. His forehead shone with sweat. The lamp dropped from his hand.

"Hannibal?" Face looked around the room yet again, lost. "Where..."

"We're in Alabama, at a motel. You're safe now, Face. You're with us."

Face, all anger, all energy gone, fell heavily to his knees, grasping at the edge of the bed. Hannibal stepped quickly to his side. Face looked up at him, and Hannibal barely heard the soft words.

"It can't be you...you never came..."

Face slid down, falling against Hannibal as he passed into oblivion once more.


*****

Hannibal sat in the chair by the television, the lamp, now moved to the top of the set, giving off a soft light. BA and Murdock were asleep on the second bed, although neither could be said to be sleeping soundly. The slightest move or sound from Face and both were sitting up, watching. Waiting.

The day had dragged by. The room wasn't small, but with four men in it with nothing to do, it felt claustrophobic. They kept the television on, in case there were any further news releases. Murdock found a deck of cards, and the three played a few absent-minded games of poker. Hannibal and Murdock were lucky; they were able to leave the room and not worry about being seen; BA just got more and more surly.

There hadn't been another incident like that morning. Face had definitely been coming out of the fog, but more quietly. More and more frequently, he would move restlessly on the bed, and mumble, though the words were slurred beyond recognition. The guys got used to that, only listening for anything that seemed too strident. By that evening, he had managed to sit up, propping himself against the wall behind the bed, dozing, not quite sleeping. He would open his eyes when any of them came near the bed. Watching them.

BA saw it the first time. He stepped back from the bed, not quite startled, but...wary. Murdock looked up, concerned, as BA came back to the card table, shaking his head.

"What's wrong? Is he okay?"

"Huh? Yeah, yeah, he's...okay." BA glanced back at the bed.

"Okay, BA, what's going on?" Hannibal hadn't gone back to bed, and his patience was at an all time low. BA grimaced, and Hannibal was surprised to realize he was embarrassed. "BA?"

"I dunno, Hannibal. He was lookin at me, watchin me, but...it was like he wasn't really lookin at anythin...here. I dunno." BA rolled his shoulders uncomfortably. "It was just...spooky."

Murdock frowned. "It's just the drugs, BA. Like before. He doesn't know where he is yet, that's all."

"He ain't that drugged up now. This was somethin else. I tell you, it was..."

"Yeah, BA, we know - spooky." Hannibal shook his head. "Look, we're all a little off our game here, okay? We have enough to worry about without..." he looked at BA's growing scowl, "without letting his confusion confuse us. And that's all it is - confusion. Another couple of days and he'll be..." Hannibal stopped. He'd almost said 'normal', but that didn't quite fit.

"Yeah, right, Colonel." BA got up disgustedly and moved to the window, staring out at the parking lot, and grumbling to himself.

By the time they'd decided to call it a day, they had all seen that 'look'. And he had to admit, it was spooky. He noticed even Murdock began checking on Face from a distance.

Hannibal sighed, now staring at the unopened file on his lap. He'd waited until the others were asleep before taking it out. Everything they knew about Kyle - no, Face - was in this file. All the reports, and all the notes he had scrupulously written down after they had spoken to various people. He hadn't thought he would ever read this again. Never wanted to. But it was necessary now. He couldn't afford to have missed any little detail.

Murdock had gotten takeout for their suppers. Both he and BA had tried to get Face to take some of the broth, but he'd just sat and stared at the bowl. Hannibal knew he had to be starving, but he wouldn't eat. Wouldn't even try, no matter how much they'd tried to coax him.

Until Hannibal remembered. Rule number one in Chao's camp - you never touched your meal until the guards were gone. If you did, there was damn good chance they'd knock it out of your hands, just to be 'funny'. Maybe it had been the same where Face had been.

Hannibal reheated the soup, and told BA and Murdock to step away. He placed the bowl and tray on the bed and moved back, giving Face plenty of room. Face had looked uncertainly at them, then at the bowl. One more look in their direction, and he'd reached for it, shakily bringing it up and drinking, ignoring the spoon on the tray. He carefully put the cup down, arm's length in front of him, and placed his hands flat on the bed, head down.

Murdock solemnly went over to the bed and removed the tray. He looked at Face, still with his head down.

"It's okay, Face. You...you did good."

Only when Murdock moved away did Face sit back, slumping against the wall once more. He'd taken one more look at the three of them, with a sudden moment of awareness. He wouldn't look at any of them after that.

So now Hannibal prepared to reread the file. This time, he had to read about Face.


*****

October 10, 1976

5 Years, 8 Months, 8 Days

Longway was pacing the hall. He stopped long enough to finish the cold coffee and toss the paper cup into the now overflowing wastebasket. He'd been here for at least three hours now and his patience, never his long suit, was at an end.

"How the hell can it take so long to verify a set of fingerprints?"

"They've only had them a relatively short time, Sir." The captain spoke quietly, but it echoed in the empty hall. "And you did tell them you wanted to be certain."

Longway didn't appreciate being reminded of his own orders, and the look he threw the unhappy captain stated that clearly. At the same time, he had to acknowledge that he wanted this ID perfect. If what he was thinking was true, he would need unquestionable confirmation before the brass would accept it. Glancing rather guiltily at the captain, he also had to acknowledge that he never would have considered this at all, if not for him.

When Peck's file had finally arrived, late yesterday afternoon, the first thing Longway had looked for was the death certificate and autopsy report. That was the first time he knew that only a presumptive finding of death had been issued. He scrambled through the rest of the file. The PFOD had been issued based on a Sergeant Arnhold's report of the condition of both Hanson and Peck at the time he'd last seen them. By the time a search team got to the area, there wasn't enough left of the body for a solid ID.

That was when Longway had ordered the fingerprints tested. It took some doing, as it had been late in the evening and the examiner had to be called from home. Then he had to round up another examiner to verify whatever the first one found.

All the while, Colonel Smith and his band of outlaws were getting further and further away.

The door to the examiner's office finally opened. Longway glanced at the clock. Three o'clock in the morning. No wonder everyone looked like shit.

"Well?"

The examiner stretched his back, taking off his glasses. Shook his head.

"Damndest thing I ever heard of. You've got yourself a living, breathing dead man, Major."


*****

"Sergeant Hanson stated that the lieutenant would go ballistic when they'd bring women into the camp..."

"His speech was difficult to understand, but I got used to it. He didn't talk much, anyway..."

"...he'd been hung in the dry well..."

"...in a hole in the ground, with a bamboo grate over it. It stunk pretty bad..."

"...secured in a storage room..."

"...after he attempted to leap through the window, he was restrained to the bed..."

"...refused to wear hospital pajamas, and continually rammed the door and walls of his room, attempting to escape..."

Hannibal pushed the file away. He felt physically sick to his stomach. His head ached. No, pounded like a sledgehammer. Thinking of how Jenny had described him when he first arrived. How he'd chosen to live, alone, on that island. And then trying to...hang himself...

He felt light-headed. Cold. Remembering their talk with Ralph. Before any of them had known who Kyle really was. Before Ralph knew that Hannibal was the CO Kyle had spoken of. When Ralph had told them 'Kyle' was ashamed of what he'd done to survive.

That he never wanted his colonel to know...

Hannibal stood, suddenly, and stumbled into the bathroom, closing the door, forcing himself to be quiet. He locked the door, and sat on the edge of the tub, in the dark. He felt himself trembling, cold. So cold. The trembling got worse, and with every breath, he felt his stomach knot, and he tried, so hard, to control it, but nothing worked. Nothing, because all he could see was Face, his cocky, grinning, oh-so-sure-of-himself lieutenant, stumbling through the jungle, naked and filthy, reduced to an animal just trying to survive...

Afraid Hannibal would find out...thinking Hannibal had abandoned him to that...

Hannibal held his head, grasping his hair tightly, and in throbbing silence, sobbed.


*****

Murdock stepped quietly back from the bathroom door. He wanted to go in, talk to Hannibal, help him, but something told him there were some things better left alone. He moved back toward the bed, stopping to look at the file Hannibal had dropped on the floor. For a moment, he thought about picking it up, reading what had gotten Hannibal so screwed up.

"Murdock! Whatcha doin now?" BA's hoarse whisper came from the dark.

Murdock sighed. "Nothing, BA. Nothing."

He climbed back into bed, staring at the file on the floor until he finally fell asleep.