CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Murdock looked back, saw the horse, piled high with supplies, rushing forward, pushing the men out of the way, running into the first horse, Roger and McCaleb being dragged behind, the horses ramming into Kollman, shoving him to the side, tipping the litter, Face falling, Hannibal raising his arms and shouting, trying to divert the oncoming horses, Zach dropping his end of the litter, Richie's wild-eyed grin, shouts from BA, men running, Murdock raised his gun, firing at them...

And then it was over.

The absolute silence that filled the woods was invaded only by the heavy breathing of the horses, now held by BA, and the moans from the figure by the litter. The two men who had tried to run were standing frozen where the spray from Murdock's rifle had cut off their retreat. The two others, still tied to the rope behind the horse, lay on the ground, breathing hard, bruised and shaken. Spiro leaned heavily against the second horse, breathing hard, watching Hannibal, who, after a moment of stunned inertia, moved painfully toward Face. BA was talking softly to the horses, calming them.

"What the hell happened?" Murdock moved up cautiously.

"Horses spooked." BA spoke softly, beginning to move the horses back and away from the men.

"Spooked? From what?"

They both looked up as a chuckle came from Spiro. He wiped his face with his hands, raw from holding the rope as he'd been dragged along.

"Seems you fellas have a real streak of bad luck going..."

The last thing Spiro saw was BA's fist crashing into his jaw.


*****

Hannibal had no idea what happened. One minute they were walking through the woods, the next, all hell broke loose. He remembered seeing the horses charging toward them, and shouting at them. The next thing he knew he was holding Face, trying to calm him, saying whatever came into his head. Face was shaking almost uncontrollably, practically sobbing from the pain. Hannibal finally forced himself to look at the leg, and was almost overcome himself when he realized the splint had held. Granted, it was mud-covered and the bandages torn, but at least the damage was minimal compared to what could have happened.

He pulled Face in closer and looked for Murdock. He and BA were rounding up the poachers, making sure the two runners were tied up tightly. Spiro was on the ground; Hannibal didn't know or care why.

"Murdock."

The pilot swung around and hurried over.

"Fix a hypo. I want Face out. Now."

Murdock didn't say a word, just hurried over to the now calm horses and pulled out the somewhat battered medical kit. He was nervous as he placed it on the ground, afraid of what damage might have been done. It looked like things had been shaken up, but nothing was broken. He hesitated only a moment, trying to remember what time Face had gotten the last shot, and then drew out enough to put him out. He hurried back and quickly shoved the needle in. Face's body slowly relaxed.

"What happened? Anybody know?"

"I think Richie spooked the horses. He was pretty happy about the whole thing." For a moment, Murdock thought Hannibal was going to lose it completely. He'd never seen such anger on his commander's face before. "BA took him out, Hannibal. But good."

"That's the least of that bastard's worries." Hannibal looked away for a moment, then gathered his emotions together. "Okay, see if you can find one of the cots, and let's get Face settled. I'll check him over while you and BA get camp set up. We're obviously not going any further today."

"Right, Colonel." Murdock went off in search of the cot, while Hannibal sat and held onto his lieutenant. And thought about what he was going to do to Richie.


*****

Murdock had set the cot up in a small clearing away from the path, away from the chaos. BA quickly repaired the disheveled stretcher and laid it on top before bringing Face over and placing him gently down. Hannibal had cleared an area for a fire, and soon had water heating. He had a job ahead of him, cleaning off the dirt and debris. He had to force himself to stay calm, but it was hard. Every time he looked at the man on the cot, he wanted to go over to Richie and blow his brains out. Hannibal had never felt so angry before, and he didn't like it. Not one bit. Sighing, he started cutting away the torn and dirtied bandaging.

BA was dealing with the poachers in his own way. To his mind, they needed to be taught a lesson. They didn't mess with any of his Team. Ever. When he was finished, the five men were on the ground, side by side. Their hands were tightly tied behind their backs, their ankles crossed and secured. Last, BA gagged them. A night like that and they'd keep their mouths shut in the morning.

Spiro, of course, tried to argue, but BA wasn't having any of it.

"You cause me any more trouble and you'll be slung over that packhorse when we leave. Got it?"

Spiro got it. He wasn't beaten, not by a long shot, but he was smart enough to know when to keep still.


*****

Hannibal was again putting hot packs on the leg wounds when BA and Murdock finished putting the tents up. They carefully moved the cot into Face's tent and Murdock took over when BA insisted that Hannibal take a break.

"You can't keep goin like this, Hannibal." BA handed him a cup of strong coffee and sat down by the fire. "Neither can Murdock. Tomorrow we're gonna stay put. You two are gonna get some sleep and then we'll go to the lake the day after."

"And what about you, BA? You going to take care of Face and watch those slimeballs all by yourself?"

"We'll take turns. And I mean, take turns. And those fools are learnin a lesson about messin with us. I took care of that. They won't be no trouble. Now, I'm gonna heat up some supper for us, and then you and Murdock are gonna call it a night. I'll wake you when it's your watch."

"BA..."

"I said what it's gonna be, Hannibal. You may outrank me, but don't think I forgot how to take down a Colonel."


*****

BA made a quick round of the camp before heading back into Face's tent. The prisoners were nice and secure, a couple of them glaring at him as he passed. They'd be good and stiff in the morning, and hungry as hell, too. They'd learn a good lesson. And when they found out they were gonna be trussed up all day tomorrow...BA almost smiled at the thought. Yeah, fools, you don't mess with BA Baracus.

He looked in on Hannibal and Murdock, too. Just as he figured, they were dead to the world. Two stubborn mules. BA had had to threaten Murdock with a beefy fist before he'd leave Face. Neither one of them thought anybody could do things as well as they could. Especially when it came to Face.

BA had never figured out the thing with Face. Murdock, that was just crazy. Half the time BA thought he was close to Face because Face was the only one who'd always play along with his craziness. But other times, he knew Murdock needed Face to keep him from losin it completely. From one extreme to the other, he seemed to need Face to keep him balanced. Problem was, he wanted Face to need him in return. Tit for tat. And everybody knew Face didn't need nobody. He made sure of that.

Then there was Hannibal. He relied on Face a lot, and yet, he gave him such a hard time. Anytime he came close to givin him a compliment, he'd follow it up with some crack that was sure to make Face feel bad. Not that Hannibal did it deliberately, but you'd think after all these years he'd know how Face would take it. Then again, maybe he did know. Maybe makin Face want to prove somethin to him was how Hannibal made sure he would stay.

As for BA himself...he knew Face was smart and he respected that. And he knew that despite that pretty boy look, the kid was a scrapper. He'd get right in there when he needed to. But more important, BA knew Face would always have his back. Most people wouldn't think BA would worry about that, but it was important to know that about the men you worked with. That you could trust 'em. And BA trusted Face. Well, except for the flyin. BA didn't trust none of 'em with that. But otherwise, he did trust Face. And he knew Face trusted him. At least, BA hoped he did.

Trouble was they all had a habit of pickin on him. Followin Hannibal's lead again, or just plain orneriness, he wasn't sure which sometimes. Maybe it was just that Face took himself so seriously all the time...like that branch the other day. Damn. BA really felt bad about that now. He'd like to make it up to him, but he felt so...helpless.

All he could do was keep puttin those packs on, changin them when they cooled off. Wipin off the crud as it surfaced. Just like the hot poultices his mama put on him when he was a kid and got hurt. Nothin could draw out an infection like a hot poultice. Or so he'd thought. Sure didn't seem to be doin a lot of good now. Maybe keepin up, but not gettin it any better.

Face was stirring now. BA looked at his watch. He shouldn't be comin out of it yet. If he was quiet, maybe Face would just go back to sleep.

Face opened his eyes, not really focusing. Someone was there...

"BA..."

"Yeah, Face. You all right. Just go back to sleep."

"I'm all...fucked...up..."

"For now. That'll be over soon, then we'll get you home."

"Don't...leave me...here..." The words were slurred, but louder, urgent.

"Are you crazy, man? 'Course we're not leavin you here! Where'd you get that fool idea?" Man, that's all Face needed. "Look, your head's just all messed up right now, man. We ain't leavin you. Period." He looked again at Face, wanting to convince him. "Hey, you got my word on it, Face. Okay?"

That seemed to do the trick. Face gave a small nod, and closed his eyes again.

BA just sat and watched him for a few minutes, then picked up another heat pack.