CHAPTER SEVENTY TWO


"I'm sorry, Hannibal." Face shook his head. He didn't want to look at Hannibal. "I don't know what else to say." He flopped his hands down on his lap.

Hannibal had listened much as Father Magill had, trying to hold his reactions inside. He looked at it all from a very different point of view than the priest, however. He was a soldier. He knew, better than the priest, what every day over there had been like for Face, what every move had meant. He appreciated the kind of planning, concentration, and determination that had been involved. He also knew what Face had been like after certain missions in Nam. At least back then, he'd had the support of his teammates. They didn't have to say anything or do anything - just the fact they were there and knew what he was going through had been enough.

But on Stockwell's mission, Face had been alone. Almost totally alone. And that had been by design. He could not afford to have anyone know what he was really doing, or what he really looked like, or know where he was for any length of time. Other than phone calls or deliveries from Stockwell's drones, what little human contact he had had was when killing. No one to fall back on. No one to depend on. No one to get advice or solace from. No one to talk to.

Did he blame Face for killing the terrorists? No. Did he blame him for killing those other men? No. Face had been put in an impossible situation. Should he have sacrificed himself for doing what he had no choice in? For doing the only thing he could to save the lives of his family? No, Hannibal didn't blame Face. He didn't look down on him. He didn't feel he had to forgive him any more, either. Having heard the whole story, there was nothing to forgive. Nothing at all. So how to get Face to believe that? How to get Face to understand that the hell he had put himself through the last year had been unnecessary? How did he put Face back together again? Was it even possible?

He stood, moved over to the bed. Placing his hand on Face's shoulder, he waited until Face looked up at him. "You haven't anything to apologize for. What you just told me was very hard to listen to. Not because of what you did, but because I finally understand what you went through over there, and what you've been going through since you came back. I can only repeat, you have not lost me. Or Murdock. Or BA. You are a member of the team and you always will be. Always.

"We can talk later about what you want to do, what you feel comfortable doing. But whatever that may be, it will be as a full member of this team. I do not want you to ever feel you need to pick up a gun in order to stay with us, Face. I don't ever want you to feel that you need to do something you aren't ready for, just to stay on. If you never do another thing for the team, you will still be a part of it. And I will be damn proud of that. Do we understand each other?"

Face said nothing, just nodded. He looked quickly out of the window. Hannibal squeezed his shoulder and walked out. BA and Murdock were waiting. Hannibal closed his eyes for a moment. Sometimes, he really wished... never mind. Time to deal with the next crisis. Whatever the hell that was.


*****

Face sat for a few more minutes, thinking. Mulling things over. There had been no recriminations, no "you should have" or "you shouldn't have". No judgments. Even after... He was still a part of the team. Hannibal had listened through everything - everything - and he was still a part of the team. '...you have not lost me...', '...I will be damn proud of that...'. He had to hang on to that...

So what did he want to do? He had thought the most important thing to him was to be back with them, like nothing had happened. In on the missions, the scams, taking down the bad guys. Feeling the Jazz. Now he wasn't sure. He didn't know if he could feel it again. Didn't know if he could really do it. Not without...repercussions. Too many things he didn't know.

He got up, wandered to the window. Maybe for now, for a while, it would be best not to do anything. Just stay away from the missions, the clients. Definitely stay away from the guns. Just let things ride. See how long he could stand it. How long he could stay away from it. Maybe come back slowly. Little things here and there. He could still handle their finances. Nothing dangerous in that. For any of them. Be the bookkeeper. Why not? He could do as much for the team with that as if he were with them in the field.

Except keep them safe.

What if they really did need another gun? Another lookout? What if one of them got hurt because they were down a man? How would he feel then? Face looked out at the meadow. Inviting. Beckoning. Damn. Nothing was ever simple any more...


*****

It was time to force Carla's hand. Hannibal was tired of playing her game, waiting for her to make some move on their clients. It was time to take the heat off Molly and Joe and make the team what it was - the real target. Molly and Joe were not real happy when they heard what Hannibal's plan was, but going up against Hannibal when he was on the Jazz was not something civilians could deal with easily.

The colonel went with Molly the next morning and had heart-to-heart with her boss. BA went with Joe for 'moral support'. They met at the house midmorning, and by noon, Molly and Joe were on their way to the airport. The dog, much to BA's dismay and Murdock's delight, was staying at the farm.

Hannibal knew Carla would be furious. She wouldn't have expected Smith to send away the only contact they had with her. She would know then that Hannibal wanted her to come directly after the team. And she would come after them. She wouldn't just walk away, accepting defeat. Not this time. Whether she would want to come after them on the farm or try to draw them out, he didn't know. He intended to make her come to them.

A second perimeter, midway between the farm's boundaries and the house, was established with the same kind of security system that guarded the outer edge. Hannibal hated depending on electronic gizmos, but the property was too large, their manpower too small. Within that second boundary, they had installed a variety of little surprises for any unexpected guests. Regardless of how many people Carla brought to the party, Hannibal was confident not enough would be left by the time they reached the house and barn to pose a significant problem.

There remained only one thing left to take care of. And Hannibal wasn't quite sure how that was going to work out...


*****

"Colonel, you've come up with some stupid plans in your life but this has got to be the dumbest, most idiotic, ridiculous one I've ever heard. You cannot be serious!"

Hannibal had expected strong objections from Murdock; even so it took him by surprise.

"There's no need to be insulting, Captain. I know it's dangerous, but we can deal with the possible exposures. It's the only way I can think of to definitely bring her in."

"I don't like it, Hannibal." BA's scowl couldn't possibly get deeper. He agreed with Murdock 100%; Hannibal just wasn't thinkin straight or he'd'a never come up with somethin this reckless.

"Have you asked him yet? Or were you going to spring that as she waltzed through the door?"

"I'm not going to ask him, because he's not going to be in any danger whatsoever."

"What do you mean, no danger? Being bait for Carla is a picnic in the park?"

Hannibal closed his eyes. He was finding that sometimes it helped to blot out the people in front of him, just for a few seconds. Opening them again, he tried to be patient with the pilot. "There's no danger because he's not really going to be the bait. We're just going to make Carla think he is - I mean, Carla's going to think she can get to him. That's all. He won't be anywhere she can get near him."

"And where the hell would that be?"

"I'm going to send him to visit Trish. I've already talked to her. She can't wait to see him. And us, when we're done here."

Murdock and BA looked at each other. They never would have thought of Ray's widow. Leave it to the colonel.


*****

There was no belligerence, no anger, just a very calm, quiet, "No."

Hannibal stared at his lieutenant. "Face, you can't stay here. When Carla comes, she's going to be coming in full bore. And she's going to be looking for you in particular. I can't have you in the line of fire."

"Either I'm part of the team or I'm not, Hannibal. If I'm not, then I'll go. But I'll go where I decide. If I'm on the team, I stay with the team. I'm sure there's something I can do." The voice was still calm, impossibly reasonable.

Hannibal looked at BA and Murdock for support. BA looked at his shoes. Murdock started whistling softly, looking everywhere but at his colonel. No way they were going to get in the middle of this. They had been all in favor of sending Face away to Trish's, but they knew better than to get between these two mules. It was just as well neither were looking at Hannibal right then, or the glare he was giving them would have ground them right into dust.

He turned back to Face. He knew the man wanted to help, wanted to pull his own weight, but this was dangerous, especially for Face. He really didn't think Face understood that.

"Face, look. I can't have you here. I can't be worrying about whether or not you're safe while dealing with Carla. Neither can BA or Murdock. And you know that's exactly what would be happening. I - we - need to know that you're where she can't possibly get at you. Otherwise we're not going to be performing at our peak."

It was hitting below the belt and everyone knew it, but Hannibal felt Face had left him no choice. There was no way he would leave his friend anywhere near the farm when Carla arrived. If Carla got to him, he didn't know if Face would try to fight, or be forced to flee - either way, it wouldn't be good.

Face looked Hannibal in the eye for only a second before turning and walking out the door. They watched as he moved purposely toward the meadow. With a glance at Hannibal, Murdock hurried after him, keeping him well within view without getting too close. BA headed out toward the barn and his van, giving Hannibal a reassuring slap on the shoulder as he moved past. Hannibal just watched as his friend disappeared from sight.


*****

Murdock moved quickly but quietly several yards behind Face. The pilot didn't care if Face knew he was there; at the same time, he didn't want to intrude if Face wanted privacy. Finally, Face came to an abrupt halt and looked over his shoulder at Murdock.

"You might as well walk with me as behind me." He hadn't lost the calm control of his voice. In a way, Murdock almost wished he would sound angry or upset. At least he knew how to deal with that. He moved up next to Face, who showed no interest in moving farther into the meadow. They stood for several moments in silence, Face looking around the grassland, Murdock looking at Face.

"He's right, you know." The sudden quiet statement startled Murdock. He kicked perfunctorily at a stone in the grass.

"Yeah. But it can't be easy to hear."

"No. But the last thing I want to do is pose a threat to any of you. And I would, if I stayed. Whether Carla had a chance in hell of getting to me or not, you guys would be worrying about it. He was right to bring it up."

"So you'll go stay with Trish for a while?" Murdock hoped Face would say yes. That would mean he understood he was still on the team, even if he had to go away this time.

Face sighed. "Sure, yeah. It would be nice to see her again. And Ray's boy. He must be pretty big now."

"Yup."

They stood in silence for several more minutes, each deep in his own thoughts. Face turned abruptly and started walking back toward the house. Before Murdock could start after him, he turned and looked at Murdock.

"I won't always be like this, Murdock. I don't want you guys thinking you're always going to have to protect me from the bad guys."

Murdock stepped past Face, giving him a nonchalant glance as he did. "Never entered our minds, Face."


*****

Maggie came out to the farm later that day, to "check up" on Face. When she left, he was laying under a blanket in the back seat. She dropped him off at a small airfield several miles from town. He would catch a local flight to LA and head from there to Barlow Creek. She couldn't help thinking he looked very much alone standing in front of the terminal, wishing he had allowed her to wait with him for his flight.

He watched until her car was out of sight before going into the terminal. He hurried to the telephone bank and placed a call. When Trish answered, he told her he would be coming a couple days later than planned, as he wanted to stop in LA and see Father Magill. Hanging up, he headed for the rental car agency.