CHAPTER FIFTY-SEVEN

October 15, 1976

5 Years, 8 Months, 13 Days

"I want to go with Murdock."

He hated the shake in his voice; he felt like his whole body - hell, his whole being - was shaking. But what choice did he really have?

Once he'd gotten his wits back - as much as he could, anyway - he'd started thinking about things. Realizing a few things. Like how he hated Hannibal but felt safe with him. He didn't trust BA but was...scared when he'd left the van. Murdock - Murdock he just wasn't sure about at all. He was part of it but wasn't. And he was the only one Face really believed when he'd said he was sorry.

He didn't like it. He needed to get that hatred back, that distrust. The only things that had kept him going. He'd fed on them, like a rat at carrion, for so long. It was the only way he'd survived. The only thing that kept him going. What else was there?

But now...it was all fucked up. He was all fucked up.

Worse than he'd thought.

And then Hannibal had told him about Murdock, what had happened, where he lived....

Murdock liked it there.

He felt safe there.

Safe.

How long had it been since Face had felt safe? Anywhere? Until now. Until Hannibal...

But he knew that wouldn't last. Couldn't. Too many...complications. On his part. On theirs. He knew what BA was thinking. Knew it every time he looked away from Face, every time he glared at Hannibal.

And Hannibal. Face didn't kid himself about Hannibal. Thinking the same thing as BA, only trying to pretend he didn't. Pretending because that's what commanding officers were supposed to do. Pretending because he knew it was his fault.

And when Face thought that, he knew. Knew without doubt he couldn't stay with them. Knowing what they were thinking, what he was thinking...No, he was too far gone now. Too many things had been let loose, things he could no longer keep hidden, no longer hide from. No longer control.

And that meant he couldn't go back to living the way he had been, either. No. He couldn't even trust himself any more. Absently, he reached toward his throat, stopping himself before Hannibal noticed.

He couldn't stay with Hannibal and he couldn't be on his own. He had no choice now. He had to have help. Help Cleary had tried to give him, but Face hadn't been ready for it back then. He didn't know if he was ready now, but Murdock's VA was the only option he had.

He couldn't use Kyle's name any more. And he couldn't use his own name. The authorities would know from his fingerprints who he was, would adjust those assault charges accordingly. He would have to come up with a new name, a new identity. Then there were his military records, medical records...he could get those from Cleary; he'd have to go through them, changing the name, some of the circumstances to fit the new 'him'...

He wasn't sure he could do that. No. He knew he couldn't. Not now. His head wasn't on straight enough for that. And going through those files, having it all thrown in his face again...no. He couldn't do that now.

Dammit! So many things he couldn't...

But Hannibal could. Face would have to convince him, make him realize the plans he'd made wouldn't work. That he had to do this.

Hannibal owed him.

He fought aside the tremors, the sudden fear that made him want to bolt from the van. He looked Hannibal in the eye, and said it again. To convince Hannibal. To convince himself.

"I want to go with Murdock."


*****

He should have seen it coming. Should've paid more attention to the questions, the way he asked those questions. Should've realized there was something more than just concern for Murdock.

He looked at BA, who had straightened suddenly, arms down at his sides, eyes fixed on Hannibal. The look on his face would've been laughable under other circumstances. Shock. Pure shock.

Hannibal looked at Murdock. He was practically gloating.

Damn.

He sighed, looking at Face now, who was staring at the floor. Waiting. For what? Approval? No. Support? Possibly. Or wanting someone to talk him out of it? What did he want Hannibal to say?

It was impossible, of course. Didn't he realize that? Kyle Hanson was a dead man. And those felony charges in Georgia...the least of his problems. The Army...

Hannibal closed his eyes. Oh, shit. What exactly did Face know about that? Hannibal had never had a chance to talk to him about those news reports, what they'd said...hadn't said. Shit.

He opened his eyes to find Face was now looking at him. How to explain this?

"I want to go with Murdock."

The voice was stronger this time. More resolved. Hannibal didn't miss that. Couldn't miss it. Any more than he could miss that look in his eyes. The first time he'd seen it since Nam, but he knew it. Knew it well.

But it didn't make sense. Face had resisted any therapy, fought every attempt to lock him up, to help him get his head on straight. Yeah, he'd gotten a pile of shit thrown at him the last few days, but...was he finally realizing he needed help? Or was he just seeing this as another way of hiding? Was he that desperate?

Hannibal looked once more at Murdock, whose wide, confident grin had faded to a smile. A shaky, uncertain smile. Hannibal took a long breath. He was going to have move very carefully now.

"Face, it's not that simple."

"I know. I know. We have to make up a new ID, change the records. It'll take some time. I haven't done anything like that for...and I...I don't know if I can...I mean - "

"Face, listen to me!" Hannibal hadn't meant to startle him, but he recognized that tone of voice, the increasing tempo of words - he'd been around Murdock often enough to know what it meant. "Face, you can't go with Murdock. You just...can't."


*****

"I want to go with Murdock."

Murdock's mouth fell open as Face looked at Hannibal. For a moment, and only for a moment, he thought no, you can't. And then - yes!

Richter was a good doctor. Really good. If anyone could help Face, he could. And with Murdock there as Face's backup, they'd get him back to normal in no time. Well, maybe it would take a little time, but...Murdock could show Face the ropes, make sure he knew someone was watching his back - man, Murdock wouldn't let anyone near Face, not like that. No way. Face could relax, feel safe, start opening up.

And Murdock wouldn't have to spend so much time alone. He'd have a friend now. Yeah, he and Face would really, really get to be friends, no more pretending they were, or just tolerating each other. They'd get to be best buddies.

It would be great...

But it wouldn't be easy. Of course not. Murdock knew that; so did Face. Face may be crazy but he wasn't dumb. They'd have to make up all kinds of shit - but hell, that's okay. Blame any gaps on the Army bureaucracy. And that doc back East would help. Hannibal said Cleary had wanted to do this very thing. Yeah, we can do it. We can, Hannibal. And then I can...I can make it up to him, Hannibal. For all of us. He looked over at Hannibal, who was looking dubiously at Face.

Murdock opened his mouth, closing it almost as quickly as Hannibal suddenly paled, closing his eyes. Face was looking up at the colonel now, and Murdock could see the abrupt straightening of his shoulders.

"I want to go with Murdock."

Oh, yeah. Face was with it now. He knew what he had to do. Knew Murdock would help him. They all would. They'd get him set up here and Hannibal and BA would come by and visit and give him support, just like they had Murdock, and get all stern when he was getting off-track, just like they did with Murdock, and then...and then Hannibal looked at Murdock, and the confidence he'd felt started slipping.

Say something, Hannibal. Tell him how we can fix it. You know how. You can fix it for him. Tell him, Hannibal.

Tell him.

"Face, it's not that simple."

No, Hannibal, no, don't start telling him we can't. We can! You know we can - we just have to take a little more time, set it up right. See, listen to Face, he knows, he knows...

"Face, listen to me!"

Murdock eyes jerked toward the front, staring past the seats, through the windshield, seeing nothing. He ignored the startled glance Face shot at him, the glare from BA. Hannibal didn't get it. He's ready, dammit! He's ready and -

"Face, you can't go with Murdock. You just...can't."

Hannibal was going to ruin everything. Everything! Face didn't need to know about the Army thing. Not now, anyway. They were gonna give him a new ID, change that file...

Murdock glanced back at Hannibal. Shit. He was practically sitting on Murdock's duffle bag. On that file. Right now he was too busy talking to Face. Yeah, Face, ignore him. You stick to your guns. You and me, buddy. You and me.

He looked over at BA. Glaring at Face. Sure, BA, sure. Like this is all Face's fault. We're supposed to help him, remember? We're supposed to! That's what we do. 'Cause we're a team.

His attention switched back to Hannibal, who was shifting around. He was losing patience with Face, Murdock could tell. He was getting that set to his jaw, like he did when Murdock went off on a tangent. He's going to blow it. Face knows what he wants, Hannibal. He knows. Let him do it. Help him, dammit.

He paled when he heard the little crunch. Hannibal had moved again, trying to get Face to look at him. Had he heard it, too? That little crackle of paper? No. He was still talking, trying to talk over Face. Won't work, Hannibal. Face had his own reality and it ain't yours. Don't destroy it. Can't. He won't let you.

Yeah, forget the fucking Army, man. We'll get you in there. If Hannibal won't help you, I will. I know all the ins and outs. And I'm the one with that file. Not Hannibal. I can help you doctor it, Face. You don't even have to read it. Don't have to go there. Uh-uh. Never have to go there until you're ready, Face. You're taking the first step - that's a big step, man! Why can't Hannibal see that?

Hannibal shifted yet again, this time shoving the duffle impatiently further back. Murdock turned back, watching as BA stepped away from the van - the coward; he stared out the front, at the seats, the steering wheel, anyplace now. Just don't look at the duffle, don't look at it. Ignore it. Nothing in there but comics. That's all. Just comics. God, if Hannibal saw that now...no way he'd let Face go with Murdock. That would be the last straw. Can't trust Murdock, no way, look how he stole that file. But I can be trusted, Hannibal. If you'd trusted me to begin with, I wouldn't have had to steal that. And I can deal with Face, I can. I can help him.

We could help each other...


*****

"I want to go with Murdock."

BA straightened right up then, staring in disbelief. What the hell... Just from the look on Hannibal's face, he couldn't believe it either. Of all the...

Hannibal wasn't saying anything. Nobody was. Damn fool Murdock just sat there, grinning. What - he didn't think Hannibal would actually...

BA leaned back, bracing himself against the doorframe. Could it work? It'd solve a hell of a lot of problems, for sure. That doc at Mobile, he'd offered to set the whole thing up already.

Sure as hell would make things easier. No more no more worrying about the LT taking off, or fighting, or dealing with all that... other stuff. BA knew Hannibal would want Face to get that out in the open; that's what all these shrinks wanted, for people to talk about the bad stuff. Talk and talk, thinking that'd make it all go away. No way he was gonna listen to all that shit. He swallowed, glancing again at Face.

He just couldn't listen to that.

Yeah, better for everybody if the LT got into the VA. Hell, it'd probably be good for Murdock, too. And then Hannibal and BA could get back to... well, whatever they wanted to. Easier to disappear if it was just the two of 'em. Hell, maybe they could set up new IDs of their own. Start all over.

Forget all this ever happened...

"I want to go with Murdock."

BA looked immediately from Hannibal to Face. He knew that tone, from way back. And it just meant more trouble. Always had. Wiley's face flashed through his head. The way he'd look at BA when the LT would use that tone with Hannibal. Wondering who would win this time...

BA turned back to Hannibal, followed his gaze over to Murdock. Pretty clear what Murdock wanted. One time he and Murdock were on the same wavelength. Different reasons, maybe, but they both wanted Face in that hospital. Wanted him in there bad.

BA frowned. Maybe he was as big a fool as Murdock.

"Face, it's not that simple."

No, sure as hell ain't that simple. Much as BA would like to think Hannibal could come up with a plan, much as he'd like to drive off and let those doctors deal with the LT and all his shit... He wasn't that dumb.

"Face, listen to me!"

Even BA flinched. Sure brought the LT up short. Needed that. All of 'em, maybe. Wake us all up. He looked at Murdock again. What was going on his mind now? Damn fool looked scared...why'd he be scared? BA straightened, stepped back, carefully, moving slowly away from the van. Just a few steps. Close enough to move in if he needed to, far enough so he didn't have to hear the LT and Hannibal arguing.

He glanced around, checking up and down the dark street. This time of the night - well, morning - wasn't any traffic here, just a car or truck now and then down the other side streets. So far they hadn't attracted any attention, and BA knew they'd been lucky. He should've been on watch, instead of... Yeah. They'd been lucky.

Hannibal would have to tell Face about the robbery now, about how they'd been set up for sure. They'd talked and talked about it, there at Bragg, trying to figure out who would've done it, and why. Never did come up with any answers that made sense. That wasn't going to set too well with the LT. BA remembered too well how stubborn he could be about the details, how he'd always demanded to know the 'why' of everything.

Nope, he wasn't going to be happy when Hannibal couldn't give him those answers. Just feed that damn paranoia shit. BA remembered too well what Murdock had been like with that.

He glanced over at the van. The voices were getting louder. Not shouting, but not talking real calm either. He started to move toward the van, just in case, when he saw the squad car drive by, down on the next block. He stepped back, moving into the shadow of the tree beside the street. Not a minute later, the cruiser was back, more slowly, going the other way.

BA moved quickly to the van's driver side.

He hoped to hell Hannibal had made his point, 'cause their time here was over.