CHAPTER SIXTY-SIX

Murdock stood in front of the mirror, tilting his head one way, then the other, twisting the hand mirror until he could see the back of his head. He frowned.

The problem, he decided, was the transients. The people who came, stayed a while, left - and then came back. Like Joe. Joe was one of those guys who noticed everything and forgot nothing. He should've just gone home and stayed there. Then he wouldn't have noticed Murdock's hair or made that remark. And then Murdock wouldn't be listening to all kinds of theories as to why his forehead was "suddenly" getting longer.

He looked at the mirror straight on and stuck out his tongue. Who cared, anyway? He hadn't really noticed it until Joe brought it up. Nobody else had either. And it wasn't that bad.

Yet.

He slumped down on the bed. He didn't mind. Really. It was more having to deal with all the attention. All these guys coming up, sympathizing. A lot of them claimed it was Agent Orange. He didn't even want to go there. Not after... Other guys said it was all the medications they had him on. Considering he only took them occasionally, when Richter or one of the nurses got hinky, he didn't think that was it. And then there was the vitamin deficiency theory. Eating at the VA all the time, he didn't know how much merit that had to it.

He sighed. Someone once told him that guys who were bald in front were thinkers. So that was a good thing, right?

Face. Face had told him that. A long time ago, and they'd been talking about some other guy, but still...

He missed Face. Maybe they hadn't gotten along all that well, over there, but he'd been okay. And he worried about him. Hannibal hadn't mentioned him during any of his visits. But that was Murdock's own fault, really. Murdock hadn't told Hannibal he remembered that hospital. Remembered the rescue. Remembered the trip back to LA. Remembered all that.

Almost.

There were mix-ups, of course. He had to think about some of the stuff, try and figure out when, exactly, it had happened. And he wasn't always sure he'd gotten it right. Especially with having to keep his stories straight. One story for Richter, with its own set of fictional characters. Not letting him know some things, having to fill in the blanks with nonsense. Keeping track of the nonsense. And another story for Hannibal. The one that ended when their trip started. He couldn't tell Hannibal he remembered past that, even though Hannibal could straighten out all those mix-ups. Even though Hannibal wanted him to remember, tried to help him remember.

But there was something missing, something... gone. Something Murdock only knew he didn't want to ask about. Or have Hannibal bring up.

Something... very, very bad.

Richter sometimes asked about the 'dreams', as he called them. And some of the things Murdock had seen in them touched an alarm. Like he knew there was more to it. But that's as far as he wanted to take it. He allowed Richter, like Hannibal, like Murdock himself, to believe what he wanted.

None of that shit had ever really happened.

The noise from the hall brought him back to the present. Dinnertime, and everyone moving along the halls like automatons, headed for the cafeteria. Murdock waited. He preferred to go last on days like this. He could find a corner or table where he could eat his meal in peace. No stupid theories about his hairline, or dumb claims of controlling the weather, or other meaningless ramblings disturbing his digestion. Some days he could deal with that crap. Not today.

He stood again in front of the mirror, frowning. He grabbed his cap, his precious black cap from ages ago and jammed it on his head. Standing back, he took a last, critical look. Yeah. That was better. Much better.

He smiled, feeling his mood lifting. He strode to the door and swung it open, ready to face anything that was out there. He stopped for a moment, watching the last stragglers head for the cafeteria.

Yeah. Sure. He was ready.

For almost anything...

*****

The door swung open after the soft knock. He looked through half-open eyes as Hannibal stepped in, making no move to stop him. Earlier tries at getting out of bed had already proved there would be no point. Instead, he tried to stop the tremors, tried to appear uncaring, as he watched Hannibal come closer to the bed.

He was surprised when Hannibal stopped and pulled a chair over, sitting down slowly as if preparing for a long wait. Face watched him for another moment, apprehension turning to puzzlement. He remembered full well how the colonel had been... over there, when his men had let off steam a little too much.

But then, that was a long time ago, and Face wasn't his man any more.

Hannibal's voice, soft when it came, still startled him.

"I'm afraid BA got a little 'exuberant' the other night, hauling you out of there. I don't think he broke anything, but those ribs are going to be sore for a while."

Face frowned. That night was a bit of a fog to him - they always were, after - but he did remember someone grabbing him. BA. Yeah. Exuberant wasn't exactly how he would describe it.

"I don't suppose you'd care to tell me what you were doing that night. Truthfully, anyway. I have a pretty good idea though. Had a long talk with Ralph, when we were tracking you down. You remember Ralph."

Face felt his face grow warm. Yeah, he remembered Ralph. Remembered how he'd started feeling safe there, safe for the first time in... and how he'd ruined it all. Started a whole new nightmare...

He suddenly sat up, a sharp pain reminding him he shouldn't. What had Ralph told them?

Hannibal shook his head, as if he read Face's mind.

"Sit still, Face. Ralph didn't tell me anything I didn't need to know - as your CO."

"You're not my CO!"

"Technically, we're still in the Army, Lieutenant. So technically - "

"So technically you could call the MPs and have me thrown in the brig, right? Colonel?"

The sneer practically rang across the room, and for just a moment, Face thought he'd finally gone too far. Instead, Hannibal just sighed and shook his head.

"The point is, Face, that I understand your need to... well, taking off and getting into fights isn't going to accomplish anything. You need to find some other way of dealing with... "

Face almost laughed at Hannibal's obvious discomfort. Maybe it showed.

"You think it's funny? Creating a near-riot? You know where we are now, Face? Have you looked around? This isn't your little hide-away. It's a dump in LA. We had to leave San Ysidro, thanks to your little stunt."

"I didn't want to be there anyway."

"You don't want to be anywhere, do you?"

"Not really."

"Damn it, Face - we're trying to help you!"

Face did sit up this time, ignoring the searing heat that ran across his ribcage.

"I never asked for your help!"

"Well, you're getting it anyway!"

"Why?"

"Why?" Hannibal stared at him.

"Yeah, why? It's because of Murdock, isn't it? The one who talked you into looking for Kyle? He's your conscience. Always has been. That's why he ended up in the nuthouse. He wouldn't let things slide; had to find out. Had to know what you wanted to forget or ignore.

"And that's why I'm here. Why you have to 'help' me. Because Murdock expects you to and won't let you off the hook until I'm 'back to normal'. You don't want to help me - you're just stuck with me!"

"When are you going to get it through your thick skull that... that..." Hannibal stood suddenly, stepping around the chair and gripping the back. Tightly. Face almost winced when Hannibal shoved the chair up against the wall.

Almost.

"Murdock has nothing to do with this! He thinks you're dead!"

*****

BA sat in the living room, trying to concentrate on the television, but it was hard not to hear the raised voices. He slumped further into the couch. He should be used to it by now. It was almost like they were back in Nam - either totally in sync or fighting like cats and dogs. Except now, if they weren't fighting, Face just shut Hannibal out. He wondered if they would ever get in sync again. He winced as the voices rose yet again.

Not likely.

Before, he would've been in there with them, breaking things up, getting Face away before things got completely out of hand. That had been a mistake. Once in a while, yeah. Hannibal got a little too pushy, a little too persistent. But BA had interfered too much, and now he had to force himself to stay out of it. Unless he thought they might come to blows, he was determined to butt out.

Then he heard a muffled thud and he was up from the couch like a shot, hurrying down the hall. Without another thought of non-interference, he swung the door open wide and strode through.

Face was sitting up on the bed, which was the immediate surprise. But BA could see the effort was costing him - his skin was practically snow white and the arm he leaned on was visibly trembling. He was glaring up at Hannibal, who stood near the wall, hand still gripping the chair, glaring right back at Face. Neither man seemed to notice BA's entrance.

"You two okay?"

"Why would he think I'm dead, Colonel? Did you tell him that, to shut him up? Is that why you've been keeping us away from him? Keeping me away from him? So he can think it's all over?"

"If I wanted him to think you were dead, I'd - "

"Hannibal!"

The colonel's whole body seemed to snap to attention at BA's shout. And shout it was. God only knew what Hannibal had been about to say - but BA knew damn well as angry as Hannibal was, it wouldn't have made things any better.

"So what have you been waiting for?"

Damn. Just from the tone of voice, that quiet resignation, BA knew they'd lost whatever progress they'd made over the last three months. All Face's suspicions confirmed...

"I was going to say, Face, that if I'd wanted Murdock to think you were dead, you would be. So I could prove it to him. " Hannibal's voice was quiet, calm. "But I don't want him to believe that. And I don't want you dead. I never - I repeat - I never wanted you dead."

Face watched as Hannibal gently pulled the chair away from the wall and sat down. Only then did he glance at BA. Looking for confirmation, for assurances? BA nodded slowly and, deliberately casual, leaned against the doorframe.

"I don't know why Murdock thinks you're dead, Face. Maybe things finally got to him - he'd been fixated on finding Kyle for a long time, and then finding you and the whole trip back... Maybe just getting back to the safety of the VA made him want to get away from all that for a while. He simply cannot, or will not, remember anything after we left LA."

BA knew Hannibal was lying, but it was a good lie. Wouldn't do anybody any good if Face knew the real reason. Hopefully he'd never know.

Now the question was, would Face believe him?

"You didn't tell him I was dead?"

"No. But I haven't tried to convince him you're alive either. He's remembering more and more, and when he's ready, then I'll tell him. I think he's just dealing with so many emotions, so many conflicts about this whole thing, he just... well, he just needs time to adjust."

Face looked at Hannibal for another long moment before slowly sliding down on the bed, closing his eyes. BA wasn't sure which had given out - his body or his will - and he still wasn't sure if Face believed Hannibal or not. Then it came, so softly BA almost didn't hear it.

"Okay."

Not exactly a vote of confidence. BA thought there was a little too much 'I give up' in that one little word, but it was a start. He looked at Hannibal to see what he thought. For a few moments, the colonel just sat, head down, not saying a word. Maybe he couldn't believe it either. But then he cocked his head, studying Face. BA remembered that look. Always saw it just before Hannibal came up with some new hair-brained plan.

That's all they needed...

*****

Hannibal watched Face for several minutes, considering. Bringing Murdock into the mix right now had been unexpected, and he wasn't sure if he should move on with his plan or not. Then again, Face wasn't feeling as hostile - or as confident - as he had been. If Hannibal could get him to agree to this now, there was little chance he'd back out later. That much about Face he knew for sure.

And he didn't see that they had much choice. They needed the money now more than ever, and maybe, just maybe, it would give Face the focus he needed.

Or at least keep him from killing somebody.

He thought he knew how to get both BA and Face onboard. Explain that they wouldn't be joining some private army, traveling to some foreign country to help overthrow whatever government was in place, financed by a bunch of rich and power-mad guys in the US. He'd use their sense of fair play, looking out for the little guy - BA would throw in with that in an instant. And if he phrased it just right, he'd have Face, too. Because Hannibal knew, better than any doctor, why Face went on these wild 'flings'.

You couldn't be the victim, helpless, if you swung first.

And that's what they'd be doing. Taking the first swing for the people who didn't know how. Who couldn't protect themselves. The victims.

He took a breath, mentally crossing his fingers, and began.

*****

June 7, 1977

6 Years, 4 Months, 5 Days

"You sure this is a good idea, Hannibal?"

Hannibal stared ahead, not wanting to answer because he was no longer sure it was a good idea. In fact, it might be a lousy idea. He looked over at BA, studiously watching the road ahead - and behind. One last chance to back out. Yeah. The Great Hannibal Smith, backing out of a challenge.

BA wouldn't hold it over him. No, BA would do what he always did - grumble and bitch and then do his job, whatever it was. As long as Hannibal told him to, he'd do it.

Even if it meant going back to being 'sort of' mercenaries. BA still didn't like it. No matter how many times Hannibal explained that it wasn't really mercenary work. This was different. Solving problems for people that couldn't take care of them by normal means. Not mercenaries.

Problem solvers.

Absently, his fingers traced the edge of the holster pressing against his thigh. It had been a long time since any of them had actually carried a gun. Kept them close, just in case, but... He wasn't sure if he liked how natural it felt.

Not that he thought he'd need it. All they were doing was meeting this guy, seeing if his "problem" was something they'd even be interested in. He was pretty sure they would be, considering the amount of money the guy was willing to spend. Hannibal couldn't dismiss that.

Then again, they'd had two close calls with the Army since placing that ad. Hannibal found it hard to believe Lynch was that smart, but somehow or another, the MPs had shown up instead of the supposed client. Damn near lost Face that first time; Hannibal had completely forgotten Face didn't know him from Adam.

After the second ambush, they'd almost given up. Almost, but not quite. It made them all angry and frustrated - and determined. If for no other reason, they weren't going to let the Army screw them over again.

But Hannibal just knew someone else was pulling the strings. So he'd pulled the ad and started spreading the word through people they knew, people they could trust. And finally they'd gotten a bite that seemed genuine.

So far, anyway...

"Hannibal?"

He sighed.

"Yeah, BA. I'm sure."

*****

He stood across the street, watching every car, every truck, every pedestrian who came near the building. No one paid any attention to him. Kyle's jacket, cap pulled low, a rake pilfered from somebody's yard - just another drudge, cleaning up the grounds. He glanced at his watch - almost five. He looked around, stretching, then casually started across the street. He had to make his way around the back of the building, ditch the rake and hope he could get inside without anyone stopping him.

He grinned at the thought of being stopped, then shook his head. Not the time for that. Don't draw attention, cause trouble. Hannibal would be expecting him to be back at the apartment with the supplies when they got done. Wondering, all the while, if Face would come back.

He smiled. He'd known eventually Hannibal would have to let him go off on his own. With this new 'business venture', they didn't have manpower for a babysitter. And he'd made damn sure he was cooperative, not giving Hannibal any reason to think he was anything other than a team player.

He frowned suddenly. He didn't like the idea that he wasn't with them to meet this new client, as Hannibal called them. They'd researched the guy pretty thoroughly, and the colonel was convinced the guy was legit. Still...

He didn't want anything happening to Hannibal or BA. Not yet.

He took another look around and casually crossed the street. Still being ignored. Good. He ran the rake over the grass, slowly working his way toward the corner of the building. Another quick glance around and the rake went behind the bushes. Hands in his pockets, head down, he shambled around the corner and into the mix of patients, orderlies and visitors - just another nutcase, out getting some air.

A couple of patients stepped towards him, questioning looks. Cigarettes? He glared, sending them off, mumbling angrily. Patients with no income besides their government allotment, no relatives to bring them luxuries. Nobody to give a shit what happened to them. Just plain nobodies in the grand scheme of things. Another time he might have obliged them. Now...

Welcome to the club, boys.

He reached the door without incident, walking into the building like he belonged there. He just hoped they hadn't moved Murdock again. A nurse frowned at him as he stood by the door, trying to get his bearings. He forced a smile, but she was already moving determinedly down the hall. He turned and walked just as determinedly in the opposite direction.

He saw a public restroom and, after yet another check to see if anyone was watching, stepped inside. Luckily it was empty; he checked the stalls twice before slipping into one and turned the latch. Then, hand suspended above the handle, he stopped. He knew it was locked, just as he knew he could unlock it whenever he wanted. He dropped his hand.

No more of that shit.

He swallowed, stepped back, and glanced at his watch. Visiting hours would be over in just a few minutes. Then they'd be serving supper. He leaned against the side of the stall. He'd wait until he knew the patients had all gone in. That would keep the staff occupied, with only a stray orderly here and there in the halls. He could get by them. The ward nurse might be a little harder to slip by. Well, once past her, a short walk down the hall, hang a left and, if he'd heard Hannibal right, he'd be in Murdock's room.

After that, it was a crapshoot.