CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN



December 7 1977

1 year, 2 months

The sun was long gone behind the mountains when Hannibal finally returned. Before BA could give him an earful or Murdock that reproachful look, Hannibal nodded outside.

"Hot sandwiches in the van. I'll call you when I'm ready."

The two men immediately left, trading puzzled looks and nothing more.

Hannibal shut the door firmly behind them, looking at Face, still lying impassively on the bed. He reminded himself that he had to remain calm, not make demands, do nothing to put Face on the defensive - or the offensive. This was to be a conversation, however difficult, but not a confrontation. That was vitally important if he had any chance of success.


*****

There was no ignoring the "Colonel" tone of voice. It had been directed at him too many times. He heard the door shut as BA and Murdock retreated, and realized the inevitable had finally arrived.

Hannibal moved over to the bed, sitting on the end. Face frowned, seeing that faint shadow in the corner behind the colonel, and pulled himself carefully to a sitting position, prepared to flee if necessary. He knew he couldn't fight a two-front war, and he wasn't sure which of the other two would win.

Hannibal smiled, trying to 'reassure' Face, falling back on the methods used when they'd first found him. Like he would fall for that again.

"I thought we should have a talk, Face. Just you and me. I know it's difficult for you, that there are... distractions. That's what you've been doing, isn't it? Trying to shut him out?"

He must have let something show, despite his efforts. Hannibal smiled again, softly. "I've spent time with Murdock, too, you know. He's come up with a lot of ideas over the years - counting tiles is one of his favorites. It helps, doesn't it? But you can't do it forever. And that's what we need to talk about. We need to talk about Harry."

No fucking way!

Face immediately tried to get up, but Hannibal moved quickly, gently pushing him back down. "Not about what he did, Face. I won't put you through that again. But we do need to figure out how to get rid of him."

Get rid of him? Face looked at the shadow, darker now. Closer. Get rid of that? After all these years and years of trying, Face had the chance, right in his hands, and Hannibal... Hannibal had taken it away. Didn't he know that?

He know nothing. He never listen to you. Now too late. You mine.

Face slumped against the headboard. "I can't. Not now." Not ever.

"Why now? Has something changed?"

God, did he really not understand?

"Wrenn's still alive, isn't he?"

Hannibal sat back, cocking an eyebrow. "Was that why you went after Wrenn? To kill him?"

Face stared at the bathroom door. He could keep both of them out, if he could just...

He will stop you. Like he did at that house. He wants you to be with me.

No!

Harry laughed.

"Face - was that why you went after Wrenn?"

Still with that quiet, reasonable voice. Why did he even care? He should be angry, telling him to hit the road, that he'd finally crossed the line.

Face looked at his colonel. Saw nothing but... concern?

"Face?" Hannibal wouldn't let it go.

"Not at first. I just knew he'd have the records for the robbery."

"The originals would have been destroyed in the bombing."

"Wrenn would have something. He always had 'something'. His network was almost as good as mine." Almost. Wrenn had never had the finesse to pull in as many people, not like Face had. Used to have...

"And?"

"And that was the only way I could clear you."

"And yourself."

"That didn't matter. I was dead anyway."

"The Army knows you're not."

Face just shook his head. Hannibal just didn't get it. Probably never would.

You not dead to me. I remember. I remember it all. Just like you do...

Hannibal frowned. "So you wanted to find the 'something' Wrenn had, but you ran out of time. We showed up, you got hurt - plans changed?"

That other man cut you. I told you what happened. They lie.

Face looked Hannibal in the eye. Let's find out.

"BA lied to me. Said I tripped."

Hannibal hesitated. Sighed. "It was an accident, Face. And you were too out of it to explain."

See? They lied! Lies! Always! Only I tell you the truth!

Icicles and flame fought in his veins, his heart stopped in its tracks...

"Face?"

They lied to him. Again. And Harry... Damn it! Harry knew...

"He... he told me BA lied. He knew."

"Who - no, Face. No. Harry didn't know a damn thing."

Face wasn't buying it. He saw BA, heard him telling that lie...

"Okay, this is what I'm talking about, Face. You remembered what happened, that's all. Not Harry. You remembered. And you know BA would never have lied to you if the whole situation hadn't been so extreme. This is why we have to figure out how to get rid of Harry, once and for all."

"I tried, Hannibal! Damn it, I was going to and you stopped me!"

"Stopped you? From killing Wrenn? How would killing him get rid of Harry?"

"He said - "

Face abruptly looked away, silent. He would not go there.

"Harry said what, Face?" Patience again.

Tell him. Tell him about... us...

Shut the fuck up! I had no choice, you sick bastard! I had no choice!

But you didn't kill Wrenn. You didn't kill the man who -

Shut up!

Face closed his eyes, closed them so tight he saw flashing colored lights. Concentrated on them, shut out Harry, shut out Hannibal, shut out everything.

In that quiet, he knew. He couldn't do this, not by himself. Not anymore. He just couldn't. So what choice did he really have? Only one other, and he wasn't ready for that. Not yet, anyway.

He opened his eyes, not looking at Hannibal, not wanting to see if he would believe Harry, but grasping at straws.

"He said Wrenn was why I ended up with him. That if I didn't kill him, it was because... because I..."

"Harry was dead wrong, Face. On all counts. All counts. You know that. You let us stop you because you knew it was wrong to kill Wrenn, no matter what kind of low-life son-of-a-bitch he was."

Face felt Hannibal's hand on his chin, turning his head so he had to look at Hannibal. And he saw only determination.

"We can get rid of him, Face. And we can get you on the road back. But not if you give up. Not if you refuse to see the good that's still inside you, if you give up on yourself, on having a future. It won't be the future you wanted, but how many people really get that, anyway? We're all making the best of a shitty situation. I want to help you do that, Face. And I will, if you let me."

Face sat, fiddling with the blanket, watching the corner where Harry had been, where only a faded shadow lingered.

Could Hannibal really mean it? More to the point, could they really do it? They'd tried before, over and over, so many different things, so many... failures.

"Face, look, we both know it won't be easy, and it won't happen overnight. But we've seen what doesn't work. I think we can learn from that. Sure, we'll take a lot of hits on the way - but we'll have our victories as well. Those are what count - the victories, however small."

Hannibal sounded so sincere. Like he really did mean it. Face looked over at the corner again - nothing. Just an empty corner in a shitty motel room.

Maybe...

"But what about BA and Murdock? What if they don't want to mess with it anymore? What if it takes too damn long? What if I just can't do it?"

"I can't speak for the others. But if you're up to it, I'll bring them in and we'll talk. Really talk - all cards on the table. Then you and I will decide how to proceed from there. Okay? But the point is changing things for the better, and for the long term."

'You and I.'

He and Hannibal, figuring things out. Together. Like they used to. Probably pushing each other's buttons a lot, but they'd always done that.

And almost always won, in the end.

Almost...

But again - what other choice did he really have?

Face sighed. "Okay. Okay, I'll... I'll try."

Hannibal nodded, taking what he could get, and headed for the door.


*****

Murdock was close to being throttled when the motel room door opened and Hannibal waved them in. BA gave the pilot one more warning glare before slamming the van door closed and following Hannibal. Murdock wasn't in such a hurry. He had a feeling things were going to be said or done that he really didn't want to get into.

BA was leaning against the wall by the TV. It was easy to see that he was as much at sea as Murdock at this turn of events. He was very deliberately not looking at Face, and giving Hannibal that "You better know what you're doing!" glare - which always meant BA expected disaster.

Hannibal was seated on the other bed, calmly puffing on his cigar. Too calmly, which was never a good sign.

Murdock was a bit more than surprised to see Face sitting up on the bed, feet firmly planted on the floor. He actually felt reassured when he noticed the clenched hands and the way Face looked everywhere except at the other team members. He also noticed the occasional glare directed at nothing Murdock could see.

Sighing, he took a seat on the couch and waited to see what the hell Hannibal had planned this time.


*****

Hannibal looked at his men carefully, trying to gauge their level of unease, then deciding it didn't matter. Unpleasant or not, they had to hash this out, once and for all. As a team. Like it or not, he would not lead them into making the choices he wanted them to. His plan, his hopes would not work if they didn't go into this voluntarily. Only one thing was rock solid in his mind - that he and his lieutenant would be going forward, together.

Taking a deep breath, he began.

"This is a team meeting, one we should have had a long time ago. As I told Face, we're going to talk honestly, all cards on the table. That's the only way this will work. No more holding back, no more keeping secrets, no more doing what you think I want instead of what you think should - or shouldn't - be done.

"Now, I'm not going to rehash the past. That's done and over and nothing we can do about any of it."

BA and Murdock glanced at each other; Face merely stared at the floor.

"When we found Face, there was no question he would come back with us. I don't think anyone disputes that decision, but it's been one hell of a rocky road since then. A lot of mistakes have been made, a lot of bad decisions acted on, and frankly, what we've been doing is just not working. Face told me he's willing to try other... ideas. So now we have to decide where to go from here. Or more accurately, we each have to decide where to go from here. And I mean each of us. Individually. So the question for each of us is - do I really want Face back or is it just guilt? And we each need to give a fuck it all honest answer."


*****

BA foundered in the silence that followed. What the hell did he mean, did they want to keep Face? No, not 'they'. BA. Did BA want to keep him. And his knee-jerk response, though unspoken, was "What did we go through all this shit for if we didn't?". He actually started to say it, but a look from Hannibal said, "No - shut up and really think about it.".

Do I really want Face back or is it just guilt?

Shit.

Guilt played a part, sure. And for all of them. But for BA, it was more anger. Anger at Wiley, for what he'd done.

Okay. Honesty, right, Hannibal?

If BA hadn't listened to Wiley from the git-go, none of this would be happening. Yeah, Face had a bad rep coming in - but they all had. BA was the last one Hannibal should've taken on, considering how many officers he'd put down. Wiley knew more ways to cheat at cards than Carter had pills, and he spent as much time fighting cheated players as he did the VC - when he wasn't in the brig. Ray was probably the best of the lot - but he tended to mete out his own kind of justice to soldiers the brass chose to ignore. Funny how the brass chose to ignore him, as well.

And then there was Murdock...

He looked over at the pilot, who had been staring at the wall ever since Hannibal posed that question. Murdock was the only one who had nothing to be ashamed of - and he was the one who felt the most guilt.

Finally, BA looked at Face. Still staring at the floor. Waiting for the verdict, like he'd waited all those years ago. He'd known he'd have to earn his way onto the team, just like the rest had. But the rest hadn't had the well poisoned.

BA felt that anger come over him again. But this time the anger was at himself. He'd never given Face a fair shake. Hadn't been man enough to make up his own mind about him. Ignored the things Face had done for the team - including Wiley. Gave him his due out in the field and then turned his back on him once they were back, safe. When he could play the smart-ass sergeant again.

Maybe Hannibal didn't want to bring up the past, but BA had to. Had to think about the man who'd had their backs out in the boonies. The man who put his life on the line to get them out of that camp. And the man those other guys had talked about - Arnhold and Green.

He stood up straight and looked at Hannibal. Remembered how he'd felt that day at the furniture store.

Wrenn be damned.

Face was theirs.


*****

Murdock was upset. Why had Hannibal asked him that? Him, of all people! He's the one that wanted to find out what happened to Face. He's the one that wouldn't let it rest. He's the one that found Face! He would never turn his back on him!

But you did, you know.

Damn it. Of all the times for his brain to let that Face out...

I didn't turn my back on him. I didn't know it was his body Arnhold wanted. And it wasn't his body anyway. Just go away.

What about when he talked to Hannibal? Before the robbery? Remember that?

I misunderstood. I made a mistake.

How did you know he'd talked to Hannibal, anyway?

Murdock rubbed his eyes, stared at the wall. Face faded back into his head as the conversation he'd had with Wiley took over. When Wiley told him what he'd overheard. When Wiley had told him to watch himself around Face...

He should have talked to Face.

His eyes wandered to a picture on the wall. Cheap generic print of a wheat field with a generic farmhouse in the background. Reminded him of his grandparents' farm. Right on the edge of a little town. Everybody knew everybody else. Everybody welcome to come visiting any time.

Funny about that. People always came to the back door. At everyone's house. You could walk right into the kitchen that way. Sit at the table, coffee hot and waiting (milk or lemonade for the kids), a plate of cookies or bars, sometimes pie. People wouldn't even knock - just open the screen door, holler hello and walk in, the homeowner coming in with a smile, ready to sit and talk...

The only people that came to the front door were strangers, or people from the county. Oh, and the preacher. He was Important so it was always the front parlor. New people would move in, and they'd come to the front door, for a while. You knew when they were accepted because they'd come to the front door and be told, "Oh, don't be so formal! C'mon around back..."

Murdock sighed. Never told Face that. Comics for Murdock, brand-new parts for BA instead of used crap - all those little things that the guys wanted or needed suddenly appearing. Just taken for granted. Nobody realized Face was knocking at the front door except Hannibal.

Murdock really wanted to open that screen door for him now. Because Face was his friend. An angry friend, a very messed up friend, but still...

Better late than never.


*****

Hannibal noted BA's change in stance immediately, though he'd taken pains not to look at either man directly. Moments later, Murdock also straightened, both now looking at Hannibal.

He pushed aside the sudden feeling of dread. Neither man had looked at Face.

"Okay, who wants to go first?"

"I vote for keeping him." Murdock jerked his head decisively.

"This ain't no vote, fool. And it ain't no game, either. You talk for yourself. That's all."

"Okay, BA, let's just accept that for now, Murdock wants to keep Face." He frowned at Murdock, cutting off his protest. "Have you decided?"

"Yeah, I have. I'm sticking by him. I never give him a fair shake, always letting somebody else decide for me. Got to be a habit to look for the bad, never the good. Never think for myself. I shoulda known better. It ain't guilt, Hannibal. It's finally looking at the truth. All of it. So yeah, I'm sticking by him."

Hannibal nodded, turning back to Murdock. "Captain, I know you didn't like my choice of words. We'll talk about that in a minute. I want to know why you want to stay with Face."

"Because he's my friend." He glared at the looks of skepticism. "He is! Aren't you, Face? You even told that priest all about me, in your letters to him. You said we were friends."

Hannibal looked at the two men carefully before turning to look at Face. He was holding his head now, though still looking at the floor. He knew Face really hadn't expected this, not from Murdock and definitely not from BA.

"Face, you said - "

"Murdock..." Hannibal waited, knowing Face needed a minute. But he also needed to speak for himself.

"Face, do you consider him your friend?"

Face raised his head, hands practically scrubbing his pant legs, still not looking at anyone directly.

"He, uh, he was one of the few people I trusted. I guess that's... friends."

Murdock didn't look particularly happy, but Hannibal was. The first step - tentative, to be sure - but a step in the right direction.

"What about BA? Do you trust him as well?" A warning glance as BA shifted.

More waiting, a sudden glare at the empty corner, more fidgeting.

"I couldn't, back then. He was Wiley's best friend. Now... mostly."

Well, it was honest, at least. Hannibal expected BA to get angry, but he just looked at the door and said nothing.

And like it or not, Hannibal had to ask.

"And me?"

"With my life. At least, before..." Face shook his head.

He'd known that would come up at some point, but Hannibal still felt like he'd been hit in the chest with a sledge hammer. He took out a cigar, took his time lighting it, giving himself and everyone else a chance to settle down. Nobody looking at anyone else, nobody saying anything. Hannibal caught Face look over at him, and he smiled, encouraging. Face was doing what he needed to, what he'd promised to do, being honest. Hannibal couldn't expect miracles, any more than the others. He and Face both knew they were just getting started, and neither man was taking any bets on the final outcome. He turned back to the others.

"Okay. Now we need to think about the realities facing us. We need to understand at what point, if any, either one of you might feel like throwing in the towel, walking away. He's been back with us for over a year, after all, and things haven't changed all that much." Hannibal waved his hand at Murdock, again forestalling the protest. "We need to consider the things Face has done, and continues to do, and understand that those types of actions are not going to stop overnight. His view of things isn't going to, either."

"Some stuff's gettin better, Hannibal. He ain't been getting into fights so much."

Hannibal frowned. Face had had "peaceful" periods before. They never lasted. And of course...

"You remember why we're here, BA?"

"This is different and you damn well know it! But there's been no brawls, no stealing cars, none of that shit for a long time. It's gettin better!"

"You're happy it's only taken a year for that to get 'better'? How long do you think it will take before he stops locking doors over and over, takes a shower like normal people, doesn't walk off instead of talking to us, stops thinking we just want to get rid of him, quits letting Harry run his life? How long, BA? And how long will you stick around to see if any of it 'gets better'?"

"He's sitting right there, Hannibal." Murdock's glare put BA's to shame.

"I'm aware of that, Captain. Face knows what's going on better than we do. But if you guys don't understand exactly what's ahead of us, this is not going to work. Hell, it may not work anyway. Face is never going to be the person he was before the robbery. We're not going to magically erase what's happened and have him back like he was. There's been too much damage done, too much time gone. What if this is as good as it gets? What if the failures outnumber the wins? How long before we start second-guessing each other, arguing about how things should've been done, who screwed up what, start blaming each other for this whole mess?"

Hannibal took a breath, glancing at Face. He hadn't meant to let his own frustrations take over.

"What I'm trying to get across is that we have to be 100% together on this. And that means understanding that we're looking at a really long haul. It took years for this to happen. It's not going to get fixed in a few months. But we can at least try to get him to a point where he can function normally, without all that shit clouding his thinking.

"You guys have to be willing to make a commitment to Face, to me. We have to be able to trust that you won't just walk out one day because you're tired of fighting to fix this. I'd rather you dropped out now. I mean that. And you have to believe Face is going to be working just as hard to get better. Even when it doesn't seem like it, which is going to be often. But he's given me his word that he is going to try. I trust him on that."

"You trust him on that, Hannibal, but what about all the other stuff?" Murdock started fingering his jacket. "I mean, if you want total honesty, I'd have to say that I don't know if I can trust him all that much yet." He looked at Face, apologetic. "I said I was your friend, and I mean that. It's just that I don't know when you're gonna go off the rails. You seem to be doing all the stuff you're supposed to, and the way you're supposed to, and then BOOM! We end up in shit we never saw coming. And it's always BIG shit!"

Murdock flopped back into the couch, misery all over his face.

"Hell, I'm not even around it that much and I don't know how long I could deal with that, so - with all this 'honesty', Hannibal - how much longer can you?"

"Sit down, Lieutenant."

Face, clearly ready to bolt into his bathroom sanctuary, shook his head.

"It's no use, Hannibal. They know there's just going to be more trouble, and - "

"And you know what I said about giving up. Now sit."

He sat, but from the look on his face, Hannibal knew damn well Harry was busy whispering in his ear.

"I hate to say it, Hannibal, but Murdock's got a point. I mean, no matter how much we want to help, we don't know what could happen next week, let alone a couple years from now. And we gotta consider the Army, too. They ain't gonna take a vacation until we get Face sorted out."

"True, but if we keep a low profile, it'll be even harder for them than it has been. And we've managed to stay ahead of Lynch for a hell of a long time." He looked at the dubious faces with a sinking feeling. "Okay, it's not going to be a rose-strewn path. Far from it. But let's also remember the major obstacle has already been dealt with - and he's sitting right there, ready and willing to do the biggest share of the work. But he needs people he can count on to be there for him."

Hannibal waited, wondering if there'd be even more problems brought up. He'd wanted everyone to be aware of the realities, but he didn't want that to become the focus. He needed his team together on this.

Finally, BA stretched and headed for the door.

"I'm gonna check out the van, make sure it's ready to head out tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" Hannibal raised an eyebrow.

"Quicker we get back, quicker we can get started."

Murdock grabbed the door as BA walked out.

"Think I'll take a walk. Gotta figure out how to keep my co-pilot's brother out of hot water with Richter..."

Hannibal turned to Face, who looked stunned, not only at the abrupt decisions, but possibly at the sudden reality of his own commitment. Hannibal smiled, exhausted but satisfied.

"Well, kid, you've finally got yourself a team."


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