CHAPTER SIXTY FIVE

Hannibal stared out the library window. One part of him wanted to go kick the shit out of that asshole; another part wanted to run to Maggie and apologize. Yet another part wanted to just shut out the whole world. Too much had gone wrong. One fucked up thing after another. He could understand now why Face had hidden the way he had. If Hannibal thought it was bad for him, it had been a hundred times worse for Face. But now...now all he could think about was this guy talking to Maggie that way, and grabbing her, and hitting her. His Maggie.

But not his Face.

He had to remember that. He had to. This had not been done by his lieutenant. Face would never, ever do something that reprehensible, especially not to Maggie. Face didn't even know that anything had happened. He'd tried to tell BA that; so had Murdock. They tried to tell him what had happened over the past few weeks, how the other guy had taken over again. That it had to have been 'him', not Face, that did this to Maggie.

But BA didn't buy it. Face had done too many things, way too many things, that everyone said he would never do. As far as BA was concerned, enough was enough. He wanted Face off the team, off the farm, away from anyone and everyone the team cared about. Send him back overseas. That's where he belonged. That's where he fit in now. After BA knocked the crap out of him first.

As Hannibal started calming down, he started thinking about that. Maybe, God forgive him, but maybe that was what needed to happen. Not literally. But this guy hadn't tasted defeat. Not real defeat. He'd had to make some strategic retreats, but he'd never really been routed. He'd always come out in one piece. And always came back, usually stronger. So just maybe it was time for him to pay the piper. Hannibal just had to figure out how. The only problem was, Face might have to pay right along with him. But if they could save him in the long run...

Murdock just sat. Totally still. He knew something had set BA against Face, but this...No wonder BA had looked so murderously at him last night. No wonder he and Mama had left so abruptly. But Maggie. She had acted as if nothing had happened. She had continued to work with Face, and talk with him like nothing had happened. Never had one look, one word, even hinted that there was a problem for her. Granted, she hadn't been alone with him since the other guy had come back. But that didn't matter. What mattered was before. He clung to that like a life preserver. If Maggie, the one with the real 'right' to hate Face, could look past what he'd done, then so could the rest of them. She realized it wasn't Face who had done it. She knew it. Murdock knew it. Hannibal must. BA would have to.

He had to talk to Maggie. He had to bring her back here to talk to BA and Hannibal. She had to tell them what happened and that she was still okay with Face. That she didn't blame him. That they shouldn't. Yeah. He would go and get her right now. She would bring them around. Without a word to the others, Murdock hurried out the door. Neither BA nor Hannibal paid any attention.


*****

Face stood in the meadow, soaking in the sun. He had to get back, somehow. He had to talk to BA, to Hannibal. Try to make amends. Somehow. He just didn't know how. Not any more. Everything was so jumbled up in his brain. When was the last time he'd really been in control of his thinking, his actions, his life? His life - almost never. Someone else always calling the shots. The Church, the Army, Hannibal, the 'Deckers', Stockwell. Stockwell. Damn his soul. If he'd had one. Thinking about him made Face angry, terribly, terribly angry. He felt the anger building, flowing through him, energizing him. That's what he needed. Energy. Anger.

Slow down, bud. Ain't your time any more.

Oh, I think it is, 'Bud'. I think it's time I came back. Get this fucked up mess straight with BA and Hannibal.

No, you let me handle it. Like always.

No, not like always. I let you help, that's all. I never let you handle things on your own. Not until Stockwell. And he's dead. He's not going to ruin my life any longer. Neither are you.

The blood started rising up from the meadow floor. Face steeled himself.

You're not going to win this time. I can handle fake blood. That's all it is. Fake blood.

The blood kept rising, faster. Up over his ankles now.

It's not real. It's just you.

Up to his knees in blood. He could feel the wetness on his skin. Body parts started drifting by.

Fake. Fake.

Waist deep. Warm and thick. Rising faster and flowing stronger. Hannibal swept by, sinking...

Fake...

Up to his chest. The sky a sickly pink, reflecting the ocean of red. BA's jewelry, caught on an arm drifting by...

It's not...real...

Murdock. Murdock standing on the side. Away from the blood. Reaching for him. Too far...

Not...real...

He was drowning. Couldn't breathe. Couldn't see. Drowning in the blood.

...not...real...

He tried to pull up to the surface. Clawing through the blood. It was too thick. Too heavy. It sucked him down into the depths.

Told ya, bud. Not your time any more...you don't have them any more...all you got is me...


*****

"You gotta tell 'em what happened, and how. You gotta make 'em understand, Maggie. Or Face is gonna be in big trouble. Please."

It took Maggie only seconds to drop her jacket on the desk. She made one quick phone call to her only scheduled patient and was headed out the door before Murdock realized she was leaving. He hurried to catch up to her. Slamming into the driver's seat, he roared out of the drive and headed for the farm. Maggie sat stone-faced beside him. She didn't want to talk about what happened, but damn if she was going to let BA or Hannibal harm Face for something he'd had nothing to do with.

Murdock flashed through the gates of the farm, setting off the alarms. No one came running out of the house. He didn't like that. Hopefully it meant they knew it was Murdock returning. Hopefully it didn't mean they were out with Face. Hopefully...


*****

Face had tried and failed once again. He'd put up a strong fight. But Face had kept that thought - that he'd lost BA and Hannibal. So he lost the fight, as expected. Murdock had almost saved him again, but Face was too desperate to realize it. Too late now, bud.

Time for the second act. He'd seen Murdock leaving. Didn't know why but it was opportune. Without Murdock there to defend him, Face would be wide open for BA and Hannibal. All he had to do was push the right buttons. And he knew exactly which ones they were.

He moved quickly toward the house. Hannibal must know by now. Murdock wouldn't have taken off before BA could tell them about it. He stepped into his room through the outside door. Glanced at his bed on his way through. Should he take the gun? No, didn't want to go that route. Not unless he had to. He'd been preparing for this for weeks. Knew BA's weak spots. And Hannibal's. Practiced for them. Practiced for this whole little scene. Not only the moves, but when to give Face what he wanted - out. One hell of a surprise waiting for him this time.

BA and Hannibal were coming out of the library. He looked at Hannibal. Barely concealed anger. Ah, he was trying to give Face the benefit of the doubt. Wasn't working, was it, Colonel? Good. And BA - he looked squarely into those thunderous dark eyes. He stayed calm. Cool.

"Ah, BA. I believe you and I have some unfinished business." Smiled.

"Later." BA started to move past him. He stepped directly in the big man's way.

"Now."

"Face..." Hannibal, trying to diffuse things. Forget it, Colonel.

"It's okay, Hannibal. BA only wants to defend a certain lady's honor. A very nice lady. Very nice." He made the words slither from his mouth. No mistaking that tone. He watched Hannibal carefully. Yeah, worked beautifully. He knew exactly how the colonel worked. There would be no interference.

He wasn't watching him so closely that he missed BA's move toward him. He sidestepped without seeming to.

"Outside, BA? Less damage that way."

"Only damage is gonna be to you, sucka. Lots of it."

He smiled at BA. Walked calmly but briskly toward the door. "Sure, BA. Sure."

The three men stepped out into the sun. What a beautiful day it was going to be.