CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT

Kurt sat on the porch, a hot cup of coffee warming his hands. It was chilly this morning, an early warning of what was soon coming. He'd never spent much time in this part of the country, but its reputation for cold weather was enough for him to know he didn't want to be here much longer.

He could hear an occasional rattle of dishes and murmur of voices through the open windows, the colonel and Randy cleaning up from breakfast. It had been damn cold last night with the windows open, but the colonel had insisted. And he let them all know that today, those who weren't dealing directly with Sam would be dealing with cleanup. Well, Kurt couldn't blame him. Although it was obvious Randy had tried to keep it somewhat sanitary, the cabin reeked.

Kurt had to wonder at how easily Randy had turned over 'command' to Colonel Smith. Hardly made a frown when the older man started giving directives. Said a lot about Randy's state of mind. He really wasn't much better off than Sam.

Kurt, somewhat guiltily, took another slow swallow of the hot coffee. He was due to relieve Daryl in a few minutes. Things were starting to happen now. Sam had slept for most of the night, but early in the wee hours of the morning, the problems had started. One didn't subsist on alcohol for as long as he had and get off it scott free. That, coupled with the fasting and an already vulnerable mental state, meant very hard times for all of them over the next few days. Or longer.

He was also worried about Smith's men. He knew they would be coming shortly. Today, maybe tomorrow. Smith had insisted on sending them a message, confident they would put aside their problems with Face and come to help. Kurt just wasn't so sure it was a good idea to have them around Sam. The last thing he needed was more people telling him he wasn't who he thought he was. Especially now.

He also knew they were playing with fire, acting as if Face really was Sam. To Kurt and Daryl, it was more normal to act that way, since they'd only really known him in that character. But it wasn't reality, and at some point Sam was going to have to accept his 'death' and Face's life. But, as Daryl had explained, right now it was more important to get him stabilized, physically and mentally. Smith had concurred. They would deal with the bigger issues later. Which, unfortunately, would have to include Stockwell.

Kurt finished off his coffee and stood, looking out at the lake. Dew was heavy all over the grass and trees, everything twinkling in the early sun. Beautiful. So different from what was waiting inside. If Kurt didn't like Sam and Randy so well, if he didn't know what they had both gone through, it would be so easy to walk away from all of it.

Sighing deeply, he turned and stepped into the nightmare.


*****

Hannibal had just put the last of the breakfast dishes away in the cupboard. Kurt had gone into the bedroom a moment before, Daryl was settling in at the kitchen table, and Randy was picking up the debris in the living room. The sooner all those empty bottles were out of the house, the sooner that particular smell would be gone. Hannibal swore he'd never drink another beer as long as he lived. He didn't think he could stomach it.

Hannibal handed Daryl a cup of coffee and started frying some eggs. He wouldn't ask any questions until the man had at least had some breakfast. It was hard to be patient, but just looking at Daryl told him it hadn't been an easy night. It had been quiet until a few hours ago, but Hannibal knew Daryl had stayed up the whole time, waiting.

Hannibal himself had had a restless night. His mind was in a turmoil over Face. About three he'd heard the first rumblings of trouble from the other bedroom. Voices, sometimes quiet, sometimes not so quiet. Hannibal knew what was coming. He'd seen it before, Nam, Korea. If he reached back far enough, home. Hated it then, hated it now. Had to keep that in check. Probably a good thing Face didn't want him around; that's all they needed, letting Face see the contempt he was feeling.

He felt guilty about that, too. He'd had a heavy hand in putting Face in this position. And it wasn't like Face was a chronic drunk. He'd never had any problems with alcohol before this. Hannibal couldn't really blame him for turning to something. Anything. That didn't keep those old reactions from popping to the surface.

Seeing that Daryl was already half way through his eggs, Hannibal took a cup of coffee and sat down at the table. Randy also grabbed a cup, leaned against the counter, waiting. That had been another surprise, Randy letting Hannibal take over so easily. He looked over at the younger man, seeing again more than just the physical resemblance between this man and his lieutenant. In another place and time, he probably would have taken Randy under his wing, made him into someone to be proud of. Hannibal knew the kid would have had the potential, just like Face. Too bad. Too damn bad. He quickly turned his attention to Daryl.

"So, it's started then?"

"Oh, yeah. Big time. Headache, dizziness, restless as hell. Sweating up a storm and can't sleep any more. This early...it's going to be rough." He swirled the coffee in his cup, frowning. "I'm not sure how to say this politely, Colonel, Randy, so I'm just going to say it. You two have to stay out of the way. No contact unless absolutely necessary. And, unfortunately, that means if Sam gets violent. If he needs to be subdued, I don't want either Kurt or me associated with that. Right now, Sam trusts us. I don't want anything to subvert that."

"I kinda figured that." Randy set his cup on the counter, a little harder than necessary. "I'm in the enemy camp, right along with Smith and Stockwell now, aren't I?"

"Couldn't be helped, Randy." Hannibal had winced at Randy's statement, but he had to acknowledge the truth, all of it. "We both knew Face - Sam - had to accept the facts, and even though we went about it differently, the outcome was the same. He wasn't ready for it, and we didn't see that. Now we just have to accept it and try to pick up the pieces. I think Daryl's going about this the right way." He looked back at Daryl. "We'll do it your way. Not going to be easy, but it's the only way I can see."

Any reply Daryl might have made was cut off abruptly by Randy, who straightened suddenly and hurried to the living room. Hannibal and Daryl stared after him, only then noticing a little red light above the door blinking rapidly. Randy pulled his Beretta, and stood by the window.

"I hope that's your guys, Smith, or we've got more problems."


*****

"So, uh, what do we do if Johnny hasn't gotten here yet?"

"We wait. But he's here. The guy at the store said they came in yesterday, so he's here. The colonel doesn't like to waste time."

"Okay, next question. What if Randy's got them and not the other way around?"

"Then we go in and get 'em anyway." BA shook his head disgustedly. Sometimes Frankie could be so dense...

The three men remained silent as they traipsed down the steep path. Like Hannibal and the others the day before, they were almost on top of the cabin before they saw it.

"Shit." Murdock muttered under his breath as they slid back amongst the trees. "Nothing like giving a little warning that we're coming..."

"It wasn't clumsiness that gave you away, guys."

Hannibal stepped from behind a tree, grinning, cigar in mouth, rifle in hand. "Randy's got a nifty little infrared setup out here. Got us, too."

"You okay, Johnny?"

"Yeah, we're fine."

"We?" Murdock looked at him, The Question in his eyes.

The grin disappeared immediately. "Well, most of us. Face isn't doing too well. C'mon, I'll fill you in. Had breakfast?"

Half an hour later, the team sat on the porch, finishing their quick meal, trying to come to grips with all they had been told. Randy remained inside, ostensibly cleaning, but they all knew he was less than happy having them all here. Kurt was still with Sam, and Daryl had gone to bed.

If Hannibal had hoped the team following him to the North Woods meant they were reconciled to bringing Face back into the team, he was sadly mistaken. While there was sympathy for Face's current problems, his past actions had not been forgotten. Or completely forgiven. It was made clear to the colonel that his men were there for him, and that, despite the past few weeks, they always would be. The same did not hold for Face.

"So what happens when this is over with, when Face is well enough to leave here, try to straighten out this identity problem? What am I supposed to do with him then? Turn him over to Stockwell? And what about Randy? You guys have plans for him, too?"

"Whatever you want to do, Hannibal, we'll back you. Except for bringing him back to the team. That's over. It has to be." Murdock wouldn't look Hannibal in the eye when he spoke, a good sign, as far as the colonel was concerned. "As to Randy, by rights he oughta be turned in to Stockwell, or the authorities. He's a murderer and an extortionist."

"He swears he didn't kill that courier, and I believe him. He might kill for self-preservation, or a misguided sense of patriotism, but I can't see him doing it for greed. As to the extortion, well, none of us are exactly happy with some of Stockwell's methods. We're only with him because of the pardons."

"Which aren't exactly forthcoming now, thanks to Randy and Face."

"He hasn't reneged, and he won't. Randy's still got those files. And I intend to use them."

"What?" BA turned to Hannibal, aghast. "You'd blackmail Stockwell?"

"No, not blackmail. Just make sure he keeps his bargain. And I want protection for both Randy and Face. I may not agree with what they did, but I understand why. And when I look at that man in that cabin, and see what all of this has done, damn it, Stockwell's got to answer for that. And if that means I hold those files over his head, I'll do it!"

Hannibal stood suddenly. He'd been angry for a long time, and had held it in check. But listening to these men, who had been Face's family for so long, was too much.

"I started this team seventeen years ago, and I made it into my family. And, damn it, no one, including any of you, is going to tear that apart. You put yourself in Face's shoes for a while. You all think long and hard about what was done to him, and what we did to him, and think about how you would have handled it. And then you remember all the things Face has done for all of you over the years. You remember, damn it, because if you can't, I'll remind you. I'll make you sick of hearing about all the shit Face has gone through and done for you, not because he had to, not because he was ordered to, but simply because he wanted to. And I don't want to hear another goddamned word about his not coming back to us! Understood?"

Silence.

"Is that understood!"

"Yessir!"

"Good. Now get your sorry asses into that cabin and help Randy clean up."

Hannibal stood outside for a long time after his men had gone in. He hated losing his temper. But something had to be done. He'd been in freefall for too damn long. It was time to bring his team back together.

Period.