CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE



December 4 1977

1 year, 1 month, 27 days

For a moment - a very, very short moment - Face dismissed the sound as just Harry. But Harry was still standing in the corner, smirking at him, waiting to see if he was still the coward. He looked at the door, watched as it swung open, saw who was there.

No.

No, that can't be right. He had at least an hour before they showed up. At least.

You make mistake. Big mistake. Harry grinned.

"No!" Face glared at the three men. He hadn't made a mistake. There was no way in hell Hannibal could've gotten here in such a short time. No way in hell.

Harry grinned and moved out of the corner, closer to Wrenn, who stirred, moaning softly.

You gonna fail. Just like always fail.

"Shut up!"

The men in the doorway stopped.

Your boss gonna ruin everything. Just like before.

"He can't! He's not here!"

Yeah, he not really here. Like he tell you about me. Not here. You just crazy. Harry laughed again.

"I'm not crazy!"

"Face... take it easy, kid."

"You shut up! You are not supposed to be here!"

He had to think. Think! How did Hannibal get here so fast?

He not here! Only me. And this guy. Harry poked Wrenn. You forget him, eh?

"No, I didn't forget him! Now shut up and let me think!"

"We're not saying anything, Face."

He can't talk 'cause he not here. You just crazy.

"Both of you just shut the fuck up!"

Face started pacing between Wrenn and the bed. The room was broiling. He swiped his forehead with the back of his hand, glaring at the other men in the room. Except for Wrenn, they all looked just fine.

Why weren't they sweating?

Because they not really here! You stupid as well as crazy!

Face turned to retort, stopping short. Harry was sweating.

Face was sweating.

Harry was sweating.

He looked again at the three by the door.

No sweat.

Not one drop.


*****

Hannibal pushed open the door, heard that gentle swish as it swept over the thick carpet of the bedroom. For a moment, he was back at the hospital, hearing that same sound as the door to Wiley's room swung open, seeing the nurse, so sympathetic, watching as Wiley's breathing slowed down to nothing. And for an instant, he could swear it was Wiley sitting in that chair, covered in blood, beaten senseless. Such a little thing, that swish of the door, and yet...

He forced the picture out his head. He could not let himself go down that road, knowing what it had done to Face. He'd deal with his own demons later. Pay attention to Face now, standing by the bed with that knife, a mere step away from his hostage. Staring at them in disbelief, obviously not expecting them to be here so soon. Hannibal knew he had to take advantage of that, if he could.

Wrenn moaned softly, and Face shot a quick, sudden look at him - no. No, behind him, behind the chair. The disbelief snapped into anger.

"No!"

A equally quick glance between the three men. Hannibal sighed. After Murdock's tale of the trip here, it didn't take a rocket scientist to know who he was talking to. They started slowly moving further into the room.

"Shut up!"

As one, the three men froze. Whatever Harry was "saying", Face didn't like it one bit, and Hannibal didn't want that anger turned on them.

"He can't! He's not here!"

It was like listening to one side of a telephone conversation. Who the hell 'wasn't here'?

"I'm not crazy!"

Time to calm things down...

"Face... take it easy, kid."

"You shut up! You are not supposed to be here!"

Hannibal was starting to think he'd waited too long to interrupt the interrogation - not for Wrenn's sake, but for Face's. Too much frustration, too much adrenalin, too much violence...

Face, in the meantime, was talking to the room again.

"No, I didn't forget him! Now shut up and let me think!"

"We're not saying anything, Face." Calm him down, bring him back to reality...

"Both of you just shut the fuck up!"

Face started pacing, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand, throwing baleful glances at everything and nothing. Hannibal dared a quick nod at Murdock, who cautiously stepped toward Wrenn, BA moving toward Hannibal's other side, nearer Face. They had to act, but without attracting Face's attention, at least until it was too late for him to respond. The man was already on a very short fuse - Hannibal didn't want it lit.

As suddenly as it had started, the pacing stopped. A puzzled frown appeared as Face stared first at Wrenn, then at that space by the chair - and then his gaze turned slowly toward the team.

In that whole little world of wrong, things got decidedly worse.


*****

BA did not like this one damn bit. The way Face had looked at them just now. Alabama all over again. BA sighed, softly. Very softly. No, man, the LT was gone, way gone, and BA didn't think Hannibal could talk him back. Not this time.

So then what?

He looked at that knife. Nasty piece of work. He'd always hated knives. Least with guns you usually knew where the bullet was going to go. Knives - hell, all you had to do was keep slashing and you could pretty much guarantee damage. No, he didn't like that knife, or the capable way Face held it, even now. And BA definitely hadn't forgotten that fight in New Mexico.

He cautiously moved a little more to Hannibal's left, all the while keeping a close eye on the LT. He knew they shoulda kept a tighter rein on him the last few months, that things were going where they shouldn't. Hannibal hadn't seen it. Fell into Face's traps, just like he always had. Thought he was really bringing Face back into the team. But Face knew he'd never really been part of it.

Didn't matter now that it was their fault. All their fault. Knowing didn't change anything. Nothing he could do about that. Right now there was only one thing he could do - not let the LT kill Wrenn.

Or anyone else.


*****

Face turned away from the group at the door, obviously dismissing them, moving again toward Wrenn. Hannibal had to say something, do something to delay him. None of them were close enough yet to stop the carnage.

"Face..."

"Save your breath. You can't stop me, and I've got a good hour before the real ones get here."

Shit.

"Face, I don't know what you think Harry's been telling you, but - "

Face actually laughed.

"That's great. Angel versus demon. But which is which? Huh? Both nothing more than delusions. Harry's just a delusion. Isn't that what you keep telling me, Hannibal? Not really there. But here you are, when you can't be, so maybe it really is Harry that's here and you're just the figment of my imagination. How about that?"

Face gripped the knife a little tighter and looked at Wrenn. Hannibal glanced at BA - still not close enough. Murdock wasn't much closer to Wrenn either.

Murdock...

"You can ignore me and BA Face - but not Murdock."

Face frowned impatiently. "I thought I told you to - "

"Murdock's here, Face. In the flesh. You left him just a few blocks from here, remember?"

Hannibal would have felt sorry for him if he hadn't still be holding that knife. Instead he turned and looked deliberately at Murdock.

"Tell him, Captain. Tell him who's here and who isn't."


*****

He lies! That man not here!

Face was still staring at Murdock, trying to shut out Harry's voice. Murdock could be here. Face had told him to stay put, but that didn't mean anything. Damn it. Murdock would be a witness. That wasn't supposed to happen...

"I told you to call Hannibal, not follow me."

"I...I know, Face, but - "

"But nothing, Murdock! You weren't supposed to be part of this, damn it! None of you were." He glanced at Harry, who wisely said nothing, for a change. "Did you at least call Hannibal?"

Murdock glanced over at Hannibal, causing Face to frown. Could he see them, too? No, no, he was trying to trick Face. He remembered where Face had looked when he'd yelled at the apparition, that's all.

"Look at me, Murdock! I'm not stupid, you know. Did you call him, or did you decide not to follow those orders either?"

Murdock's turn to glare. "I didn't know I had to follow your orders." Hannibal cleared his throat. Murdock took a breath. "Yes, I called him. And they already knew about the plane and they were only a few minutes away. So yeah, he's actually here; so's BA. Just like me."

See? He lie, too! All your friends - not your friends! They lie. That's all. Now they stop you from -

"Shut the fuck up, damn it!"

Murdock took a step toward him, but Face was too quick, turning the knife toward him. "And you can quit lying to me. Bad enough you're here." He regarded Murdock with distaste. "Now what the hell am I supposed to do with you?"


*****

Hannibal wanted to hit something. Anything. Not only had his gambit to challenge his lieutenant's logic and bring him back to reality failed, but said lieutenant was now faced with a man he wanted to kill, three 'ghosts' antagonizing him, and a witness he didn't want. And Hannibal had no idea what Face intended to do about any of it.

Unfortunately, Harry seemed to have all the wrong answers. It took less than a second for Face to grab Murdock, spinning him around and shoving the pilot's arm up tightly against his back, knife hand pressed to his shoulder. He spared only a moment to glower in Harry's general direction before shoving Murdock toward the door.

"Hey!" Murdock tried to pull away, but Face jerked his arm higher.

"Shut up and move!"

Hannibal quickly waved off BA. As long as Face didn't seem inclined to undue violence toward Murdock, he was willing to hold back; he didn't care to startle Face while he still held that knife. They followed carefully behind as the duo headed down the hall, Hannibal desperately hoping Murdock wouldn't do anything stupid, unconsciously touching his shoulder holster.

Thankfully, Murdock kept his mouth shut as the four men trailed through the house, Face paying no attention to the two men behind him. Hannibal wasn't sure if he still thought they weren't real, or if he knew that knife would keep them at bay. He was taking a bit too much for granted, either way, and Hannibal knew BA was equally aware of that failing.

Down another hallway, one the guys hadn't checked on earlier - another error in judgment - and Face reached for a door. Hesitated. He muttered, "No, not in there. The next one.", and pushed Murdock to another door at the end. He pulled him around, knife up, but thankfully not pointing at anyone. BA moved just ahead of Hannibal, still keeping his distance, but ready.

"Now, you listen carefully, Murdock, 'cause you screw up this time and everybody pays, got it?"

Murdock swallowed and nodded.

"I figure you did call Hannibal; I also know Hannibal found out a while ago where Wrenn lives." Hannbial and BA shared a resigned glance. "So when you aren't where you were supposed to be," clearly Face hadn't forgiven Murdock for that yet, "they'll come here. Now this is how it's going to go.

"You didn't see me here. At all. You just found Wrenn, dead. So Hannibal's got a choice - call the cops or clean up the mess. I figure he'll clean up the mess and get the hell out - that is, if he's smart. Wrenn won't be missed for a few days - that'll give me time to come back and find the files I need to clear the team."

"You know he's got them?"

Hannibal held his breath. Did Face know, or had he only hoped, as Hannibal had?

"Of course he does! Wrenn always kept meticulous records, the idiot. I just need to... I just need to remember some of the code he used." His tone got defensive. "It's been a while, all right?"

"Hey, no problemo!"

"So I get the files, send a copy to the right people, and we'll prove we were under orders in Hanoi. Then you guys can get on with your lives."

"Well, what about you? I mean..."

"Me? Don't worry, Murdock. You guys will be free of me as well."

With that, Face shoved Murdock into the guest room and slammed the door.

Just before BA slammed into him.