CHAPTER THIRTY

He lie on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. He'd heard Randy go back into the other room, where Clifton was, and heard the soft murmuring. Idly, he wondered how long 'Superman' would hold out. Surely he'd been trained in dealing with this kind of interrogation. Probably experienced it many times. Obviously had never succumbed before. So what made Randy think it would work this time? Clifton's dislike of Stockwell? Or was Randy just stubborn enough to believe he could outlast Clifton? Sam chuckled at that. He knew Randy well enough to believe he just might.

But that thought just led him right back to his present dilemma. Randy helping Smith. That was counter to everything they had done so far. And yet...he and Randy had agreed. In fact, it was Sam who had been so concerned that Randy would not hold up his end of the bargain. Was that why? Randy was just trying to fulfill his promise?

That made more sense than the alternative. Yeah. Randy was not so much helping Smith as he was keeping his promise to Sam. And it was, after all, Sam who had broken the agreement. With good cause, of course, but still...

He shouldn't have done it. He should have just warned them off, as agreed. Maybe if he had, then Face wouldn't have made such a strong attempt to come back. Force the lies back into his head. Damn. That had been bad. The programming had been strong, much stronger than he had realized. False memories that even the team hadn't tried to give him, pushing through the barriers he'd erected. Where had they come from? Stockwell? Barish?

Barish. That son of a bitch. He was glad Clifton had taken care of him. Saved Sam from having to do it. And he would have had to, eventually. Stop him from ever doing it again; stop him from coming after him and Randy again. Sam could have handled it, he knew that. Barish may have played games with him, but it was Randy he'd totally screwed up. Even now, Randy was still vulnerable to the games. That was obvious, the way he kept trying to convince Sam that Face was real. Maybe that was another reason why he'd helped Smith. Yeah. That made even more sense. Randy thought there really was a connection between Sam and the team.

Sam smiled. It all made sense now. He should've thought this all out earlier, instead of letting the confusion take over. He was a rational man, a thoughtful man. He didn't usually give in to fantasies and lies. Well, it wouldn't happen again.

Still smiling, Sam got up and headed into the other room, to join Randy. They had work to do.


*****

He lie on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. Murdock's words kept coming back to him. "He's out of control." He didn't want to admit it, but it was true. What Murdock didn't realize, what Hannibal had only come to know, was that he'd never been under control. Not with Barish, not with Randy, not even with the Team. There had always been that kernel of independence, that snag in his personality, that kept anyone from totally controlling him. Hell, not even the Church had been able to make him conform as a child. That's what made him such a good XO. That's what had allowed him to pull Randy away from Barish in the first place. But it was also what had kept him from just accepting the truth the team had given him.

Out of control. Or doing what he had to, to preserve what he had chosen for reality? Difficult to do, keep the lies coherent, deny the facts, manipulate the truth to fit what he wanted. What he needed. Scamming himself, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. But what did Face really want? Hannibal thought he'd known, assumed, like the rest of the team, that Face wanted the excitement of high-powered wheeling and dealing, wanted to be a player, wanted the chance to make it big in the real world. He'd accepted that facade that Face had lived for so many years. Now, surprisingly, Hannibal found himself thinking that what Face really wanted was boredom.

Okay, maybe not boredom per se. But the kind of boredom that meant he was in control, where he didn't need to worry about getting beaten up, or shot, or imprisoned. Where the team was an interlude, an aberration he was drawn to, the excitement that let him know he was alive, and yet he could step away from it whenever he wanted and go back to a life like anyone else could live. Where he could playfully tweak the system and still be safe. That was Face.

So who was Sam? Why did Face choose him over reality? Hannibal should have realized this so much sooner. He would have if he hadn't been so damn stubborn; it would have made things so much easier. Face chose Sam because Sam had that normal life, had always had that normal life. Sam had a family, a mother, a father, maybe even siblings. Sam hadn't spent a lifetime in one institution or another. Sam had a job, a career, that gave him the adrenaline rush he craved, and yet one from which he could step away when the task was completed and go back to his normal life, a life that had an everyday, dull, secure history, where everything didn't depend on the latest threat. A life that wasn't a newly-scammed apartment, under a newly-assumed name, with a newly-invented past, that wouldn't blow apart if the wrong people showed up. Sam had everything Face wanted. Sam had himself.

And the team threatened that. Stockwell threatened that. They were the enemy that had to be stopped, had to be kept from destroying everything Face wanted to have. Everything he did have, as Sam.

And what about Randy? How did he fit into this perfect life Face had found? That was easy. Randy was the common bond between reality and falsehood. Without Randy, without the joint experience, Face would be in total freefall. Randy was the anchor that kept Face from being dragged away into chaos when his realities clashed. As long as Randy stayed consistent, as long as Randy stayed Randy and allowed Sam to stay Sam, then everything was fine. Everything was safe. Everything could be explained, however convoluted that explanation. Randy allowed Sam to live, allowed Sam's life to be the truth. Allowed Face to live in that world, so preferable to his own. Randy validated Sam's existence.

But what would happen when Randy failed to maintain that fantasy? How had Randy dealt with Sam after the shooting? How had Face reacted to Randy helping Hannibal? Had he been able to explain it away, or had it created a rift between them that Sam couldn't explain away? If Face lost Randy, then what? Would he finally be forced to accept the truth of the team, of Templeton Peck? What if he did, and came back on his own? Hannibal paused in his thoughts. What would happen if his own plan succeeded, and the team found Face and forced him back? What would he have?

Besides a life he didn't want to own, he'd be facing a team that no longer trusted him, accepted him, or wanted him. Because, despite his determination of last night, Hannibal knew the guys weren't convinced of Face's 'innocence'. Hannibal could make them act like they accepted Face, but he couldn't make them believe it. And Face would see right through that. Hannibal had a harsh reality of his own, now. If Sam disappeared, Face had no place to go.

Hannibal closed his eyes, frustrated. How the hell had things gotten so complicated?


*****

The sudden light from the doorway made Clifton squint. He couldn't tell if it was natural light, meaning it was sometime in the day, or artificial light, meaning it was night. He didn't dwell on it. He knew better. The only way to get through the disorientation was not to think about time at all. Just let his body decide when to sleep, when to wake, accept the interrogations as they came. He was hungry and thirsty, but he could live with that. For now. Especially now. He'd been waiting to get the two of them in here together. Now he just had to keep his head on straight, long enough to do a little damage of his own.

He couldn't see the two men moving around, but he could hear them. Almost feel them as they came closer to him. He waited for one of them to speak, to clarify who was where.

"Randy tells me you aren't being very cooperative, Clifton. Why make it so hard on yourself? You know it can only end one way."

Ah, Sam. Slightly behind him, to the right. That meant Randy was the one in front, a couple feet away.

"I don't believe that's the only outcome." His voice was a little harsh from lack of water, but still strong. Good.

"Oh, we know. You've been trained to deal with this kind of thing." Randy spoke now. Still calm, still measured, reasonable. "But do you really think you can outlast the two of us? Is that realistic, John?"

"I won't have to outlast you."

"And why is that, John?" Sam again.

"Because, Face, you'll self-destruct long before I do."

There was a long pause before Sam responded. "If you think baiting me with that name is going to help you, Clifton, you're so wrong..."

"Why do you think we'll self-destruct?" Randy coming to the rescue.

"Because you don't know the can of worms you're trying to open, Randy. Apparently Face isn't the only one with memory problems. Either that or you have a huge capacity for forgiveness."

Another long pause.

"If you're trying to play games, Clifton, it won't work. We've played with the master. And won."

"Did you? Well, possibly. But it still amazes me."

"What does?"

"That you've so completely forgiven Sam for what he did to you."

"I didn't do anything to Randy. I helped him. We helped each other."

"Oh, I know you did - after. But before..."

"Before?"

"When the experiment first started. Feeding Randy those pills all the time. Reporting so diligently back to Barish. Making sure Randy did what he was supposed to. The perfect guinea pig. All thanks to you, Sam."

"Sam had no choice. He was as much a part of the experiment as I was."

"No, Sam wasn't part of the experiment, Randy. Face was. It was Face who had no choice. It was Sam who went along with everything. Willingly."

"You don't know what you're talking about. Face never even existed." Clifton could hear the tension in Sam's voice. "And I got Randy away from Barish."

"But not right away. You waited. Waited until you started screwing things up. Like Florida. When you let Randy get away from you, let him get the shit beaten out of him. You knew your own skin was on the line then, didn't you, Sam? You had no choice but to get the hell out."

"That...that's not true..."

"You're lying..."

"Am I? Really? What do you remember about Florida, Randy?"

Yet another long pause. Clifton knew to keep his mouth shut this time.

"Sam?"

"Randy, that wasn't how it was. Barish was going to pull the plug..."

"On who, Sam? Randy - or you?"

"Shut up, Clifton! C'mon, Sam, outta here. Now!"

There was a shuffling around, the blinding light from the doorway, and Clifton watched as the two men practically fell out of the door. In their rush to escape, they'd forgotten the gag. The door slammed shut, leaving Clifton in darkness once again.

Too dark for anyone to see the grin on his face.