CHAPTER SIXTY EIGHT

"I'm sorry, Kurt. I thought he might change his mind. But we have to get moving. It'll be daylight soon and I want to be a long way from here before then."

"I understand, Colonel. I'd hoped he'd come with us, too, but I can understand his thinking. After all, what does he have to look forward to? Running from Stockwell? Versus a pretty lucrative life with Mick. Like there's a choice..."

Hannibal happened to think otherwise, but he wasn't about to say anything. He found it hard to believe that Daryl would really stay with Mick. But then again, Hannibal hadn't had much of a family to be loyal to, so what would he know? He looked over at his men, sitting around waiting for the order to move out. Thought about a life without them, versus the one he had now. Maybe he could understand, after all.

Hannibal took one last look around. There hadn't been a sign of movement from the ranch, and the only sounds around them came from the local wildlife. It was time.

"All right, let's move out."

No one looked at Kurt as they moved toward the van and started climbing in. They all knew what he must be thinking, feeling.

Hannibal waited until everyone else was in the van before approaching Face, who was sitting on the log Maggie had previously occupied. He was staring intently down the hill, toward the ranch. He seemed calm, but earlier, when Murdock had approached him, he had moved away. It was obvious he was letting them know where his comfort zone was. It was going to be tough, dealing with the close quarters in the van.

"Face? We need to go now."

Face didn't move, just kept staring down the hill.

"Face, remember, you were going to meet that guy I told you about? We have to leave now, so you can do that."

Still no response. Hannibal sighed in frustration. Face had been cooperating so far; why did he have to cause a problem now?

"Face, look, I know it's going to be pretty close quarters in the van, but no one's going to bother you. Tell you what, you sit up front with BA, okay? You won't have to be any nearer to anyone than that."

Hannibal looked over at the van, starting to lose patience. He couldn't let Face jeopardize everyone's chances of getting out of here. He was about to grab Face's arm when the man suddenly stood, looking off to the right. Hannibal stopped dead, knowing without even listening, that someone was coming. He pulled his pistol, waiting.


*****

He'd spent the last few hours in his room, waiting in uncomfortable silence with Smith. Every now and then, the colonel would make some attempt at small talk, but he ignored him. He was waiting, wondering who would find Mick, what they would do. He had figured it would be Daryl; almost counted on it. No one else left on the ranch would have any reason to visit the man. But he couldn't be sure. One could never be sure. So you made contingency plans. And hoped you wouldn't have to use them.

When Smith had finally decided it was time to leave for the cave, he'd followed without argument. He knew if anyone other than Daryl had discovered the body, they would all be in 'custody'. Or dead. So he knew Daryl had found him, and was deciding what to do about it. He dismissed the emotional reaction the agent might be experiencing; that wasn't important. What was important was that Daryl think straight, and make the decisions he was supposed to. It wasn't just Daryl's future he was thinking about.

His own success depended on that.

It had been difficult traveling cross country with only the moon for light. His shoulder screamed at him every time he stumbled, but he refused to let Smith get close enough to lend a hand. He had himself under control but only just. He knew, instinctively, how far he could push himself and he wasn't about to go any farther. He worried briefly about the van. Another reason Daryl had to come to his senses. Daryl was his insurance policy. Because Daryl would know who had killed Mick, and that meant no one else would get their hands on him.

They arrived at the cave with about an hour before the deadline for leaving. He found a log, sat down thankfully, and started watching for Daryl. He heard Smith talking to Kurt, explaining how Daryl had decided to stay with Mick, how sorry he was, on and on. He wanted to tell Kurt not to worry, that he'd fixed it, but, of course, didn't. Kurt would survive a little anxiety. He tuned them out, concentrated on the hillside below him.

After a while, he didn't know how long exactly, Smith's voice filtered through to him. Saying something about going to see that guy. The priest. He wondered why Smith didn't come right out and say it; afraid he'd refuse to go? He ignored the voice, the words. He wasn't going anywhere yet. Daryl would come. He had to. He had no other choice now.

He heard Smith moving closer to him almost at the same time he heard the branch snap. He stood immediately. He had to be the first one Daryl saw. Because then Daryl would know, for sure.


*****

Finished with the letter, he signed it "Daryl Marucchi". Hadn't used that name in some time. But it was his. About time he reclaimed it. He folded the letter, slid it into the envelope and wrote Leandro's name on it. An identical letter, addressed to Mick's sons, was already on the desk. Daryl had spent some time on the letter. He wanted it to be very clear what he was doing. Mick had died on his watch; it was his responsibility, not theirs. Duty to the family was something Ben and Nicky would respect. That's why he'd written the letters. He stood up from the table, straightened his hair, and moved to the door.

He spoke quickly and firmly with the guard outside the door. The man was shaken, and looked scared. No wonder. Mick had died while he stood outside the door. Ben and Nicky would deal with him when they got down here. Daryl had made some promises, wanting to make sure the guy did as he was told. He knew all along they were meaningless; that was the chance you took when you worked for someone like Mick. Welcome to the real world.

It took him less than ten minutes to get ready. He didn't worry about the guards seeing him. No one would stop him or question what he was doing. He smiled, mirthlessly. If they knew Mick was dead in his office, it might be another story. But until the guard reached Leandro, no one would know anything. That would give them the time they needed.

He nearly sprinted up the hillside, finally having to stop and catch his breath. He glanced at his watch; running out of time. The colonel would not wait forever, although Daryl figured he would give him a little extra, just in case. He had to make it. He couldn't let the team get away.

He was scrambling through the brush now, just a few more yards to go. He stepped awkwardly on a large branch, which cracked like sharp thunder. Well, they'd know someone was coming. He pushed through some bushes and found himself looking at two men, one with a gun drawn and pointing right at him.

"It's me, Colonel. Don't shoot." He spoke to Smith, but his eyes were on Sam. They stood for a moment, staring at each other.

"Daryl?" The colonel was obviously surprised. "I'm glad to see you, but what made you change your mind? You sounded pretty firm this morning. Did Mick say something, or suspect..."

"No, nothing like that, Colonel. I just...came to my senses." Daryl remained looking at Sam. He could swear he saw him nod, ever so slightly. "I think we'd better get going, Colonel. We don't have a lot of time before sunrise."

Hannibal looked from Daryl to Face, then back. Something was off, but he had no idea what it could be, and no time right now to find out.

"You're right, we need to go. I was just trying to talk Face into getting into the van, but he doesn't seem too enthusiastic about it. I was afraid he wouldn't care for the cramped quarters, but..."

"Don't worry about it, Colonel." Daryl stepped up to Sam, looked him right in the eye. Sam never blinked. "It's okay. Sam will sit next to me, by the door. Right, Sam?"

Sam tilted his head just a bit, as if considering the question, and Daryl saw the smallest of smiles play on his lips. Small it might have been, but it was the coldest smile Daryl had ever seen. Without another word, Sam turned and headed toward the cave. Daryl watched him go, feeling the colonel's eyes on him. He turned and looked over at the man he had come to respect, and felt nothing but regret.

"I think Sam and I have an understanding now, Colonel. I can't explain it, but don't worry about him. In the end, everything will work out for the best."

Hannibal's eyes were frigid. "I hope so, Daryl. I'm going to do my damndest to make sure it does."

Daryl accepted the unspoken warning. The colonel wasn't fooled; he knew there was something wrong with this whole thing. And most likely suspected Mick was involved. Daryl only hoped he would understand, some day.

The two men walked silently to the van.