CHAPTER EIGHTTEEN

Face felt a chill run up his back. Here it was. He'd been waiting for it, expecting it any day. Ever since that night...

"You want me to leave?" He took his hand away from the skeleton and nervously rubbed it on his jeans, looking at the floor. "It won't take me long to pack up..."

"What? No! No, I don't want you to leave, Ed. God, no. I told you, you could stay as long as you wanted, and I meant that. Okay?"

Face was silent for a moment, then swallowed and nodded. He didn't quite believe it, but maybe...

"It's about Sinon, Ed."

Still keeping his head down, he looked up at Charlie, frowning. "They causing trouble?"

"Not yet. But...well, I know you've got your own plans for them. But I thought you might use some help."

"Help? I don't need any, Charlie. I can do this. I can."

God, had he come across as helpless? Again? He wasn't. No. He just...people...

"I'm not saying you can't, Ed. I know you can. But I thought it just might make things a little...easier if we brought in some backup for you."

He sank back in the chair, looking hard at Charlie, forgetting for a moment to hide his face. Backup? He didn't need backup. Not for what he had planned. Those goons over at Sinon would never even meet him. Never see him. He could ruin them without any of that.

"What kind of backup?"

He knew something was wrong now. Terribly wrong. Charlie wasn't looking at him. Charlie always looked at him when they talked. Always. Face felt that chill go up his back again.

Still not looking at him, Charlie gave him the news.

"I called your friends, Ed. I called the A-Team. They're here in the village."


*****

"Hannibal?"

"Yeah, Murdock?"

"You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm okay." Hannibal chewed on the cigar, studying the papers in front of him. He was thinking of a couple of different scenarios they could use, but he couldn't finalize things until he talked to Mordake. He glanced at his watch. Charlie had been gone all afternoon. He damn well better get back pretty soon; Hannibal had no doubt Sinon's goons would be making plans for a nasty reprisal after today's events.

"Hannibal..."

Sighing impatiently, Hannibal sat up and looked over at Murdock, noting that BA was watching them closely. "What is it, Captain?"

Murdock swallowed, glanced over at BA.

"He wants to know if you was gonna shoot that guy." BA's bluntness shouldn't have surprised Hannibal, but it did.

"Since when do we cold-bloodedly shoot people, Murdock?" He turned back to the files, determined to ignore any further interruptions.

"You looked like you was gonna. Like you wanted to. So did you want to?"

Okay. Legitimate question.

"Yeah, Murdock, I wanted to. Very, very much. But I didn't, did I?" He purposely addressed the pilot with exaggerated patience, ignoring the glower on BA's face.

"What about the next time?"

"What the hell is this, twenty questions?" This time Hannibal glared directly at BA. "You want to know if I'm going to go ballistic and kill the sons of bitches? Is that it? All right, I'll tell you. I don't know!"

He stopped, shocked at the words that had come bursting forth. He didn't know? He looked at BA, no longer angry. Shook his head.

"I don't know, BA. Maybe." He looked away from the look of disgust on BA's face, turned to Murdock, only to see a mixture of anger and sadness there. He looked out the window, sighed. "When I saw that guy, holding that woman, I got angry. So angry...angry at that bastard for doing that to her, angry at her for not telling him what he wanted to know. Angry at all the assholes who do things that we have to clean up. And I was angry at Charlie and this whole damn band of hippies, for dragging us in on this, at that Mordake for playing his little games with all of us...

"And, damn it, I was mad as hell at Face."

"Hannibal..." Murdock's voice was pleading.

"No, Murdock, I was. I am. I am! What the hell was he thinking? What was he afraid of - the surgery? The pain? He could've handled it. He has handled it. Damn it, the worst of it was over and done with! No, you know what he couldn't take? What he couldn't stomach? Losing his looks! He jumped off that cliff over his goddamned fucking vanity!"

"That's not right, Colonel!"

"You know better, Hannibal!"

"Okay, you tell me why, then? It sure as hell wasn't because he felt abandoned. We told him, over and over, that he'd be taken care of, that we wouldn't walk out on him. That we'd be with him every step of the way.

"So why? Why would he do that to us? Tell me!" He glared at his two remaining men. "There's no other reason - he couldn't take not being the good-looking playboy any more, not having that fucking life any more! He still had the team, but that wasn't good enough!"

Murdock didn't say a word, just turned and walked into the bedroom, softly closing the door behind him. BA sat, staring at the floor, clenching and reclenching his fists. For several minutes, there was nothing but silence in the room.

Breathing hard, eyes stinging, Hannibal finally stood and walked out, yanking a cigar from his pocket. Outside, he glared at the people walking about, ignoring him. He stepped off the porch and headed determinedly toward Charlie's cabin.

Inside, BA had stilled his fists, but remained staring at the floor. He felt so...dirty. Why the hell had he wanted the team to get back together? The team...he shook his head, staring up at the ceiling, blinking hard.

There was no damned team...


*****

Face couldn't think. Nothing. Charlie's words were flowing over him, but he didn't take them in. Just noise. He felt cold...he felt hot. Numb. He could feel his head vibrating. He stood, or tried to. He had to get out. He was suffocating. His lungs were filling up. He turned toward the door, but he couldn't see it. He couldn't see anything except a black cloud rising up...had to get...out...

"Ed?"

The voice was muffled, soft...he opened his eye, slowly.

Charlie.

"You okay, Ed?" His voice, his face. Concerned. Scared.

Face closed his eye again. He didn't want to look at Charlie right now.

Charlie had betrayed him.

"Ed, I'm sorry. I thought it was for the best. I thought, if you saw them again, talked to them..."

"No."

He slowly turned on his side. He was on the couch. He sighed.

"Ed?"

"Go away, Charlie. Please. Just...go away."

Charlie didn't leave. Instead, he sat down on the edge of the couch, talking to Face's back.

"I can't leave until I know you're all right, Ed." He paused. "I asked you to hear me out, before you made any decisions. Will you?"

"No, I don't..." A sudden thought hit him, and he bolted to a sitting position, immediately regretting the sudden movement. He grabbed his head with one hand, Charlie's wrist with the other, holding both tightly.

"Did you tell them?"

"What? Tell them..."

"Did you tell them where I was?" Face was shouting now.

"No, Ed. No. They don't know where you are. They don't know who you are."

Face looked up at him. Charlie shook his head.

"I told them about Ed Mordake. That's all."

Face let go of Charlie's wrist, almost shoving it away. He leaned back against the wall, holding his head with both hands. Charlie remained seated, visibly calming himself.

"Why, Charlie? Why did you do this to me?"

"I did it for you, Ed." Hesitating, he reached over slowly and placed his hand on Face's shoulder. Face flinched, but didn't move away; he couldn't stop a shudder from running through him. It had been a long time since anyone had gotten close enough to touch him.

"Ed, this is no way for you to live. I thought, when you first came here, that this is what you needed. Time to yourself, time to get used to things as they are. But then I listened to you tell about John, and Murdock, and BA. I saw the way you looked when you talked about them. Ed, you belong with them, not stuck out here."

"Ghost stories, Charlie." He dropped his hands, stared at the wall opposite him. "Ghost stories that belong to someone else. And he died."

"Ed..."

"No, Charlie, you don't understand. It's..." Face sighed, heavily. He knew Charlie was trying to be a friend. "You don't understand these guys. They're the guys that do what other people can't. Or won't. They work in sync - they have to. To have me around...it would throw things off. I couldn't go on jobs with them - it would be a distraction. And we already tried just living together. It drove them up a wall. No action. No challenges. No life."

Charlie started to protest, but Face cut him off.

"Charlie, I know you did what you thought best. But it's not for me, not any more. I can't be who they want me to be. I'm not who they need me to be. I can't offer them anything. I'm...useless to them. Worse, I'm a liability to them."

"Is that what they said?"

"He didn't have to." Face sat up, again ducking his head before standing and heading for the back door. "I've got things to do, Charlie. You can stay if you want, but..." Face hesitated at the door, "I think it would be best if you steered clear of here for a while. Until they leave."

He stepped outside, called to Petey, and headed out into the desert.