Stockwell straightened his tie and looked around the grounds. Not for the first time, he felt a bit of resentment when he thought of the men inside. Certainly they weren't there of their own accord, but neither were they in prison cells. This was practically luxury living, and considering what he was offering them in exchange for their services, it irritated him that they continued to push his patience to its limits.
The men had gotten back about an hour ago, and he knew they were still cleaning up and preparing for the debriefing. The latest mission had gone well. Not exactly the way he had wanted it to; probably not the way Smith had, either. But the end result was the same. He knew he was in for more jibes and anger. More complaining because there were things that had occurred that they hadn't expected, and they would blame him for not telling them everything.
He wished, at times, that he could be more forthcoming. Give them all the information he had at his disposal. There were times when that was possible; more often there were too many other factors to consider, too many other people involved at higher levels, governments that were shaky enough without certain information being bandied about.
He and Smith had, on occasion, been able to discuss some details, out of earshot of the others. Smith didn't like it. He trusted his men implicitly. Stockwell also trusted them, but he could not take the chance that one of them might be captured and made to talk. And they would be. With the United States government denying any part of these missions, each member of Smith's team was open to any and all methods of interrogation.
He stepped into the house and settled in the living room. He could hear them in the other part of the house, and knew they were well aware he had arrived. It was a game for them, to make him wait. Never too long, but long enough. He glanced over at Carla, who was coolly pulling out the portfolio for the next job. He sighed inwardly. That would, of course, provoke even more protests. It wouldn't matter that they needn't leave until the next night, or that they would only need to be gone a day, at most. He could have them guarding that potted plant in the corner and they would argue. That was the way they did things, now.
He watched as they moved into the room, one by one, casually acknowledging his presence. They all looked tired, relieved to be back. Or at least, finished with the mission. While Smith went over the details, they would talk among themselves, quietly, waiting until Stockwell gave his assessment. Then they would start giving their opinions of how things had been done badly, while Smith sat back and let them go.
Stockwell was really tired of it all. He needed them in his organization, but he knew they were reaching the point where they would no longer ask about, but demand the pardons. He only hoped he would be able to fulfill his promise when that time came. Because, although he had the clout to do it, it would cost him, and he had to make sure the price wasn't too high.
An hour later, he and Carla were once again outside, ready to enter the limo and head back to their offices. Everything had gone just as he had expected, complaints and anger, and then he'd left the team going over the information for the next job.
As always, they were doing it 'his way'.
Hannibal stood at the window, watching Stockwell's limo turn and disappear through the far gates. Stockwell, going home after handing over yet another suicide job.
Home. What a concept.
He turned and looked around the living room. Frankie was the only one left. He sat on the couch, leaning over as he fiddled with the television. That's how Frankie coped with everything if he couldn't sneak out with Face. Turn on, tune out.
Something like that, anyway.
Frankie glanced up at him, gave a half-hearted smile, and turned back to the television.
Hannibal sighed and headed out to the patio, where the rest of his men had gathered. BA was seated by the pool, staring at the ripples of the water. He was fiddling with one of Stockwell's cameras, tearing it down without even looking at it.
He didn't look at Hannibal, either.
Face and Murdock were standing by the barbecue. They had it lit, and Murdock appeared to be trying to get the flame at exactly the right height, turning it up, looking at it, and then turning it down again before examining it yet again. He finally had it where he wanted it, and only then looked over to Hannibal and smiled.
A forgiving smile, or so Hannibal hoped.
Face was, as usual, another matter. He'd been watching Murdock, but as soon as he'd had come out of the house, Hannibal had felt those eyes on him. Boring into him, half angry, half just frustrated. Of all of them, Face was the one who had always had the most trouble reconciling himself to Stockwell and their new way of life. The one who never, ever cut Hannibal any slack about it.
Hannibal sighed again and moved over to a chair at the far end of the patio. He wanted to be with his team, and yet he didn't, so this position, near and yet not too near, suited him for now. The last job had been hard, very hard, and he knew none of them were in any mood to be handed yet another this quickly. If they had been on their own, Hannibal would never had accepted a new client this soon. But that wasn't his call anymore. Instead, it had become part of his job to rally the troops and hope they could pull off yet another miracle.
Sometimes it seemed as though almost everything had changed. The only constant was when they were in the field, doing the job. Then everyone came together like always. Even Frankie was working as part of the team now. But then they came back here, and it all went south.
He would have to talk to them about the new job. Tomorrow. Tonight, he had to calm frayed tempers, soothe jangled nerves, answer unanswerable questions. Frankie would be all right. He was still in that hero-worship mode, would accept whatever bullshit Hannibal gave him.
Frankie was easy.
BA would listen to reason. Practical, that was BA's thing. The more jobs they took, the sooner they'd be free and he could see his family whenever he wanted. Practical, and sentimental. That was what BA needed to hear.
Murdock was almost as easy as Frankie, because Murdock was already free. He could go or stay as he chose. So far he'd chosen the team, and as long as Hannibal led the team, Murdock would do whatever Hannibal asked him to...
Maybe Murdock wasn't all that easy.
Hannibal could be whoever and whatever Frankie, BA or Murdock needed him to be. That hadn't changed.
He stole a look at Face, who was once again watching Murdock.
Hannibal would avoid Face until the very last. Another change. Back in Nam and out in LA, Face was the one Hannibal had turned to first. Always. Tomorrow, yeah. Tomorrow Face would be his XO once again, making sure the right questions were asked and answered before Hannibal got too carried away. And he would be okay then, once they were actually doing something.
But tonight Face was to be avoided until he couldn't be avoided any longer. Hannibal wasn't Face's hero any more, and he didn't believe Stockwell would ever hand over the pardons. Hannibal wasn't sure Face even accepted him as the real leader of the team any more. More as a go-between for Stockwell.
Hannibal looked at Face again, and this time Face was looking right back at him. That look. The one that said, "I don't know you any more."
And Hannibal felt the same damn way...