CHAPTER SEVENTY-THREE

June 22, 1977

6 Years, 4 Months, 20 Days

"What's going on, Murdock?"

BA got no answer, and turned in his seat to watch the tower shrink behind them. He'd thought they'd been awfully high to touch down, but put that down to Murdock's being out of practice. Especially for a night landing. He would've shrugged it off if he hadn't caught Murdock's low question over the radio.

"You got foam?"

Now Murdock had his full attention. A tiny, ice-cold lump formed in his stomach as the plane rose, and Murdock flipped on the cabin speakers.

"Brace, guys! Gonna be a rough one!" He glanced at BA. "Hang on, man."

BA's hands tightened over his seat belt, as he stared ahead at the starlit sky. Seconds later, the plane began rocking from side to side, gathering momentum. About the time BA was ready to lose his stomach, Murdock leveled it out and began turning once more. BA prayed they were headed for the runway this time.

"Tower, clear for go-around?"

No. No, not a go-around. A landing. They needed to clear for a landing!

"Murdock - "

"Not now, BA."

Once more, BA watched, frustrated, angry - scared - as the tower went flying by. And once more, the plane flew out into the sky, making yet another interminable circle. Damn it, man, just land the thing!

"Murdock - "

"Not now, BA!"

Murdock hadn't used that tone with BA in...

BA gripped the armrests, watching as the airport lights came into view. And then the runway, rushing at them. The eerie silence as the engines shut down sent goosebumps up BA's arms. They hit the runway with a bump BA felt the length of his spine, jarring his teeth. Murdock was mumbling, his voice getting louder and louder as they swayed down the asphalt, talking to the damn plane like - but they were going to make it!

"No worry, BA, just like a bike, man!" Murdock practically laughed.

BA wasn't laughing. He was staring straight ahead, watching as the nose dropped, the plane tilted to the right, dirt and debris flying up from the wing - and then everything heaved and they jerked wildly to the side, pitching down and over with dirt and metal and glass flying...

*****

For the briefest of moments, Hannibal wondered why he was hanging by his waist, his head resting uncomfortably against the window. The sharp ache in his head overrode any further thoughts, as did the pain across his mid-section. Flailing blindly, he found the back of his seat - or maybe the one next to him - and hauled himself painfully up to a mere tilt. An ill-considered flip of the seat belt catch dropped him between his seat and the one in front. Hard.

"Fuck!"

He heard an echoing groan from... somewhere. Pulling himself up by the seat backs, he finally looked toward the rear of the plane, the side of the seat at chest level. Why exactly it was positioned that way while he was standing, he wasn't sure - until it finally dawned on him that the plane was on its side.

Definitely not right.

"Hannibal?" The voice, while welcome, sounded strained.

"Yeah, Face." He peered through the dimness of the emergency lights in a vain attempt to see how badly Face might be injured.

"You okay, Hannibal?"

"Yeah, I think so. You?"

"Other than being in a sideways plane, just great."

From outside, he could hear shouting, and he was now aware of lights reflecting through the windows above his head. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to ignore the chaos he'd found himself in.

"Check on, uh... on what's-his-name, will you? I gotta go up front."

Another time, he figured Face would have laughed at the sight of Hannibal trying to manipulate his way across the seats to the cockpit door. But then another groan came, and Face was on his own less-than-graceful - and apparently quite painful - climb over the seats, looking for 'what's-his-name'.

"Bitte..."

Hannibal sent a quick glare toward the back.

My team better be okay, fucker, or you'll wish the crash had killed you...

In the few but long moments it took Hannibal to reach the cockpit door, the fog in his brain had cleared. Well, mostly - he resorted to brute force when the door wouldn't open before remembering he had to actually turn the handle. Even so, he had some maneuvering to do to lift and twist it open. His frustration only compounded the worry of what he was going to find on the other side.

He never should've let Murdock come on this job. He planned on having a long talk with Face about that...

The door finally snapped, allowing Hannibal to push it up and away and climb forward. The first thing he saw was Murdock, leaning down from his seat, mumbling as he ran his fingers over BA's arm.

"Murdock - how bad you hurt?"

The fingers stopped moving, and Murdock dropped his head, staring at the mangled controls around him.

"I'm okay, Colonel. Probably bruised some ribs, but... BA's not so good."

Hannibal knew that just from seeing the tip of the propeller poking up over the seat back. He hadn't felt like this since Nam, but he reached around, placing his fingers on BA's neck.

And breathed a deep, shuddering sigh of relief.

"Hannibal?"

"He's alive, Murdock." He leaned forward, getting a closer look. "A lot of cuts - looks like the propeller clipped his head, but just a slice. Doesn't look deep, thank God. But his arm's wedged in there pretty tight." Hannibal twisted around, careful not to bump anything, and looked at Murdock's situation. "I'm afraid you'll just have to hold on until the folks outside can pull you out. There's no way I can get you down without both of us ending up on top of him."

"No problem, Colonel."

Hannibal grunted as he turned back to BA. Murdock's breathing was a little too forced; hanging from that seat belt had to be putting pressure on his lungs. And Hannibal wasn't totally convinced of Murdock's self-diagnosis.

"Can you brace yourself on my shoulder, Murdock? Take some of the pressure off that belt."

It took a moment, but then Hannibal felt Murdock's hand on his shoulder. The weight was more than he'd anticipated, but the slight tremble at least confirmed his suspicions. He hoped those guys outside would get in here, and quick.

"I'm sorry, Colonel."

"What?" Hannibal glanced up at Murdock. "What for? This wasn't your fault."

"Yeah, it was. I never should've come on this job. I shouldn't have let Face talk me into it. I just... I can't fly any more. I should've known - "

"That's enough. Do you think for one minute I'd have let you come if I didn't think you were ready? If I didn't know you were the best damn pilot I ever worked with? What makes you think any other pilot could've gotten us down without killing us all?"

"But if I hadn't screwed up that first landing - "

"Yeah, landing on a piece of corrugated ground covered in rock is child's play, isn't it? Don't you go playing martyr on me, Murdock. Shit happens. Sometimes it just gets a little deeper than others."

The last thing Hannibal needed right now was Murdock losing it. There was going to be hell to pay at the VA as it was. He could just imagine Richter's next interrogation of 'Uncle Tyrone', trying to explain Murdock's injuries on top of his latest disappearance. How many times could he plead ignorance when he was practically the only person who had verified contact with Murdock? Suddenly the pilot had all kinds of friends on the outside? Sure...

He turned his attention back to BA, looking more closely at his situation. The head wound did indeed look superficial. They always bled a lot anyway. But that arm... There was something odd about it - hard to tell what with the debris covering it.

BA's eyelids fluttered and he moaned softly.

"It's okay, BA. Just lay still."

Hannibal put his hand on BA's shoulder, trying to be gentle. He had to keep him still. God only knew what internal injuries there might be. BA started mumbling, his head jerking spasmodically.

"Shh. You need to be quiet now. Let these guys get you out of here. Just lay still, Sergeant."

*****

He kept his eyes shut. Pain surrounded him and it seemed, however stupid, that keeping them shut kept the pain from taking over. Besides, he was afraid of what he would see if he opened them. The last things he remembered were Murdock yelling a mile a minute, the runway tilting suddenly, falling down below them, coming up again, then Murdock swearing as it disappeared in a tornado of dust and smoke and shrieking metal...

Noises around him. Muffled, contorted. He listened but they made no sense. Like the creaking of a ship. But they weren't on a ship. They were... someplace else.

And the smells... Burning. Fuel, smoke... something else he couldn't put his finger on. Something... foul.

Another noise - no, a voice. Close to him. Very close.

Hannibal?

"It's okay, BA. Just lay still."

He started to open his eyes, but the pain...

A hand on his shoulder, pushing down. Not hard though. Just enough so he knew Hannibal meant it. Lay still.

And that meant he was hurt. Real hurt. But he'd already known that. Because of the pain.

Hannibal was okay. Must be, or he wouldn't be here. But Murdock? Face? Where were they? He tried to ask, but his lips didn't want to work right. His voice came out thick, wet.

"Shh. You need to be quiet now. Let these guys get you out of here. Just lay still, Sergeant."

An order. Okay. Okay. He didn't like it, but... He wished he could open his eyes. Wished the pain would let him. Not that he was ready to see what was happening. Wouldn't be so bad maybe - not with Hannibal here. Still, he kept his eyes shut, focused on the pain.

Anything to keep from seeing that propeller coming at him again.

*****

Other than a large, ever-darkening bruise on his temple, Face could see no obvious injuries to their prisoner. Luckily for the bastard, he'd been sitting next to the cabin wall and not left hanging like the others. Face gingerly touched his own throbbing side; nothing to do now but wait for the rescue team to come get them out.

He looked over at the cabin door. He could barely see Hannibal's back, and couldn't hear anything but a low murmur of voices. He wanted to look through the window, see what was out there, but the ones above him showed only dark sky with flashes of light, the ones below nothing at all.

He swore again as Neumann grabbed his sleeve, drawing his attention away. He yanked his arm away, wincing.

"Bitte... help me..."

"You'll get help, right along with the rest of us. Now shut up."

"Please, I pay you! Get me out before they come for me. I pay you!"

Face's hand stung from the force of the blow. A momentary satisfaction at shutting the fucker up, followed by shame. He'd never struck a defenseless man before. Never.

Harry's soft chuckle came from somewhere behind him.

"Get us out of this, Hannibal," Face whispered, and it wasn't just the plane he was talking about.

*****

What happened over the next few hours was a mix of blurred and stark memories. Hannibal, stuck in the cockpit, keeping Murdock steady and BA still, could only listen helplessly to the commotion in the cabin. It was obvious what the priority was, and just as obvious what Face thought about it. Hannibal heard a lot of shouting - English, German, something that was probably Hebrew.

Murdock shifted slightly above him.

"Sorry, Hannibal." His voice was shaky.

"It's alright." He glanced at the cockpit window above him, and muttered, "Where the hell is the emergency crew?"

"They don't have one here. And, uh, 'someone' put the kibosh on calling in the cavalry."

Hannibal looked up at him, grimacing as his shoulder muscle pinched.

"Who?"

"Guess our Israeli friends out there." He nodded toward the cabin. "Politics, Hannibal. You know."

Yeah, Hannibal knew. Another thing to consider with the next client. He checked BA's pulse once again, glaring at the cabin door. If there was another client...

Murdock shifted once again, and Hannibal's shoulder protested in response, all the way down to his ribs. He hadn't really thought about his own possible injuries up to now. Maybe he should have. The fog in his head was starting to make a strong comeback.

Then there were people swarming around the cockpit windows, cutting away at the metal shell. He felt Murdock's weight lifted from his shoulders; he couldn't remember being pulled out himself. He was hustled into the back of a pickup truck. A pickup, no ambulance. Thanks, Fiedler, you son-of-a-bitch. BA lay next to him; somebody was checking the sergeant's pulse. He didn't see Murdock or Face, and no one seemed to know anything about them. Moments before the truck jerked forward, a dark limousine skidded around the front end and raced away. Then the wind blowing over the bed of the truck, hot even in the pre-dawn.

The last thing Hannibal remembered was the sun coming over the top of the mountains, blazing in his eyes before he was manhandled through some glass doors. A strong smell of disinfectant hit him, and everything went black.

*****

He wasn't supposed to be out of bed, but nothing - including a ruptured spleen just this side of surgery - could keep Face in that room any longer. He knew Hannibal was pissed about it, but they both knew he couldn't do anything with his ribs taped up and a solid gold concussion. Thus Face had ignored the glare boring into his back as he wheeled determinedly past the colonel's door.

The halls were basically empty. A couple nurses checked in on them routinely, otherwise sitting at the desk at the apex of the semi-circle of rooms. They weren't happy with him either, and the knowledge of why made him both angry and embarrassed.

Harry.

He knew - he absolutely knew - that Harry was not here. He couldn't be. No one else ever saw him. No one else ever heard him. He never left any evidence. All things Hannibal had - oh, so gently - brought to Face's attention over the last few months. Harry didn't exist any more. And for a while, Face had started to believe he might be right. After all, he'd only caught glimpses of him; it could've been someone else, or no one at all. A trick of the light. And his voice was a mere whisper on those nights when Face had done a little too much a little too soon, spent too much time around the guys, or out where people were.

Stress. That's all Harry was. Face was really starting to believe that.

Until this job. Then, no matter how hard Face tried to ignore him, Harry wouldn't leave him the hell alone. And now these nurses... they'd wanted to sedate him, for his own sake. Wouldn't listen when he told them no; wouldn't listen when Hannibal told them no. Kept trying to convince him he needed to rest, let the spleen heal...

That one nurse really thought he was going to break her arm.

Then, of course, Fiedler had shown up. Big conference with Hannibal. The nurses left him alone after that. But Hannibal reminded Face that they were stuck there until BA was ready to go. Too much trouble and even Fiedler's money wouldn't keep their whereabouts quiet. Hannibal hadn't had to remind him of where they'd all end up then.

Face couldn't keep the nightmares away. Couldn't keep the walls of that sterile room from closing in. Not with the pain from his injuries, the trauma of the crash still planted in his mind. The last two nights, he'd stolen into Hannibal's room, dozing in the wheelchair, Hannibal's presence keeping him alert to the first hint of Harry's appearances. And in the morning, before Hannibal awoke, he left, haunting the hallways, staring out the windows in the visitors' lounge, waiting until BA could finally leave.

*****

If this had been an operation in-country, they would've called it a success. A huge success, actually. Any time a team could get back intact, and snag a prisoner in the bargain... Yeah, they would have had choppers and planes flying support, hauling their asses out, an Army hospital taking care of their every need, at least two weeks of stand-down to relax and celebrate.

But this wasn't Nam. Here, the ending was sloppy. The client wasn't supposed to save their butts, and Fiedler had. It had cost the man good money to take care of their medical needs, not to mention the favors he'd had to call in to keep them incognito. He hadn't complained, to his credit, but he clearly wasn't happy.

Hannibal shuddered to think what could've happened - would've happened, most likely - if they'd had a different client. Clearly, the team had to rethink how they operated.

Especially now when BA had declared he would never set foot on a plane if Murdock was the pilot. Put definite limits on their area of operations. Not that Hannibal blamed him. They could've lost him. Not that it was Murdock's fault. Not only had he warned Hannibal about that landing gear - he swore he thought it was going to hold after they first hit the runway. Probably would have if Murdock had felt more confident with the plane. If Murdock had felt more confident about flying anything.

Hannibal wanted to blame Face for that, but he couldn't, not really. His logic had been good, and frankly, Hannibal felt a bit of pride in the way the kid had broken Murdock out. Then again, he hadn't taken into account Murdock's unfamiliarity with the plane, or figured out how to get Murdock back into the VA. That had truly a throw-up-your-hands-and-hope-for-the-best situation. In the end, Hannibal had sent Murdock back in a cab, with orders to be deliberately vague about the friend who'd checked him out. Richter would accept that when Murdock explained about the 'car accident'. He wouldn't be happy, but he'd accept it. And when Uncle Tyrone didn't show up for a couple more weeks, Richter wouldn't be able to connect this little adventure to him, either.

Yeah, all sewn up in a neat little bag. Except for BA's broken-in-three-places arm and sour temper to go with it. And Face seeing Harry every time he turned around, making him alternately jumpy and angry. Between the two of them, Hannibal was about ready for the VA himself.

He stopped outside the door, already hearing the raised voices within.

Yeah, they were going to have to reconsider their plan of operations. New set of rules here in the States. New set of hazards.

A smile, slight and brief, hit his lips.

Hadn't turned out quite like he'd wanted, but damn it, it had felt good.