Father Magill leaned over the bed, concern deepening the furrows on his face. The man on the bed was staring blankly up at the ceiling; Magill had doubts if he had slept at all last night. Frankly, from the looks of him, he probably hadn't slept since arriving.
"Yes, Father?" The voice was rough, and he coughed softly. The eyes never wavered.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes, Father." Voice steady now.
Magill sighed. He straightened and reached for a chair. Seating himself beside the bed, he placed his hand gently on Face's forehead. Face flinched, but otherwise didn't react. He felt a little too warm. Magill sat back, not sure how to proceed.
"Tell me about the bicycle."
Fear washed over him. Had he been wrong? No, no, he couldn't be. Not again. He waited, almost not daring to breathe.
The priest remained silent for what seemed an eternity. Suddenly, Magill straightened in the chair, chuckling.
"The bicycle! Of course!"
He felt light-headed.
"You were...nine...maybe ten. We had gotten a bicycle, brand new. A donation from...oh, what was his name now? Well, doesn't matter. There were maybe a dozen of you who were big enough to ride it, and only a couple of you knew how. So the sisters and I started teaching each of you."
He felt a shimmer of disappointment. It wasn't quite right...
"Oh, and Javier. I don't remember the last name now. He was a volunteer." Magill frowned. "No, he wasn't exactly a volunteer. Community service. But a nice young man. Very nice."
He almost smiled at that.
"Anyway, back to the bike. We were working with each of you, but something happened. You suddenly didn't want to ride that bike any more." The priest looked over at him. He remained quiet. "I believe there was some problem between you and Michael, wasn't there? Neither of you would say anything, but I know there was something. The two of you never did get along..."
You got that right, Father. Michael was a 'foster', one of the kids who were there temporarily until whatever family problems they were having were straightened out. Unlike most of the fosters, Michael had lorded it over the others, taking particular interest in tormenting Templeton.
"You started disappearing with Javier. One of the sisters noticed it first. I didn't like it, I remember that. I wasn't too sure about Javier." Magill again looked over at him, but he remained still. "I do believe it was Javier who taught you a few things I wish he hadn't."
Oh, yeah. Javier taught me a lot of things, Father. Things that came in very useful, later on...
"I tried to talk to you about it, and you wouldn't tell me what was going on. Just kept saying you didn't care about the bike any more. Denied that you and Javier were doing anything together. I believe that was the first time you ever lied to me."
After all these years, the disappointment was still there. He shifted uncomfortably. After all these years, the guilt was still there, too.
"At any rate, I started keeping an eye on the two of you. And finally, I caught you." Magill shook his head, a smile on his face. "There you were, in the old shed at the back. Greasy and dirty, working on that old, battered bicycle Javier had found at the junk yard. You had it almost finished when I discovered what you were up to."
He did smile that time. He and Javier had spent hours rebuilding that wreck of a bike. He wouldn't have traded it for anything...
"The looks on your faces when I walked in on you! Guilt and pride fighting each other. But it didn't matter. The three of us finished it that day, and we had you riding it in a couple of days. Oh, how my legs ached from running down that alley beside you!" Magill laughed out loud. "And Javier. I don't think that boy could've been any prouder...He went on to become a social worker, did you know that? Working with kids in trouble with the law. Turned out to be a fine man..."
It didn't surprise him. Javier had been like a brother. He remembered all those hours, working together, talking about everything and anything. Sometimes not talking at all, just working together.
"What made you ask about the bicycle, Templeton?"
He didn't say anything for a few minutes. It was back to the now, the here, the today.
Don't worry, Father. You passed the test...
He suddenly felt bone tired. He closed his eyes and drifted away...
He awoke feeling refreshed, ready for the day. It had been good, talking to the priest yesterday. It solidified things for him. Put the last pieces of the puzzle into place. He now saw the reasoning his new partner had used, and he agreed with it. The perfect compromise.
No one would be totally happy with it. But no one would have to die, either.
He glanced at the alarm clock next to the bed. He'd have plenty of time to shower and grab some breakfast before going to the apartment. It would just be a matter of waiting, now, until the right time. He would have to contact the general sometime today, to let him know what was going on. That would be a little tricky. Everything he intended to tell Stockwell would be a lie, and it would be discovered as soon as he presented their deal. That made his future a little dodgy, but, as his partner had explained, it would work out to his advantage in the long run.
Stockwell admired audacity. To a certain point.
But, after all, he would be getting what he wanted. Mostly...
Hannibal had finally gone back to bed after BA had grumbled long enough about it. He'd spent the remainder of the night tossing and turning, tired but unable to fall into sleep. He couldn't get rid of that nagging feeling that there was something wrong, something he should know about, something he should do.
It wasn't until morning, when he heard the rest of the men stirring about the apartment, that he suddenly felt at peace. Whatever it was that had bothered him throughout the night was gone. He shook his head. Figured. Time to get up and now he felt like he could sleep forever...
BA quietly opened the bedroom door, concerned that the colonel might still be awake. It wasn't like Hannibal to have trouble sleeping. Looking in, he smiled, satisfied.
They could handle things without their leader for a few hours...
He listened to the story with keen interest. It explained a few things. And told him one other.
It was almost time...