CHAPTER TWENTY TWO

No.

No no no...

Face heard the voice behind him. Loud and clear. Unmistakable. He looked over at the bobbing light. Charlie. Charlie.

You son of a bitch...

Pain laced through his head. He heard Hannibal again. Saying his name. Only not his name. Never his name.

Hannibal had never used his name.

He grabbed his head, clasping it tightly between his arms. Trying to stifle the pain, trying to hide from the colonel. Shrinking.

His friends were screaming at him still. Why hadn't he listened? Why? They always knew.

Always...


*****

Hannibal, still grinning, waited for Mordake to turn around. When he remained facing away, stiff as a board, Hannibal frowned.

"Mr. Mordake? I'm Hannibal Smith. I didn't mean to startle you..."

With a stifled moan, Mordake suddenly put his head down, wrapping his arms around it. The small dog, already straining at the belt attached to his collar, started barking wildly, growling at Hannibal. The colonel reached for Mordake as he started to sink to the ground, but the dog went ballistic, snapping at his hands. Only the tight grasp Mordake had on the belt kept Hannibal from getting seriously bitten.

Damn! Hannibal looked over where he'd last seen Charlie's light. The dog's frenzy had apparently gotten the man's attention, as Hannibal could see the light suddenly bouncing in his direction.

"Charlie! Charlie! Over here! Quick!"

It took only moments before Charlie was beside Mordake, grasping him by the shoulders, supporting him. The dog quieted, but remained hyper, bouncing at Charlie, at Mordake. If Hannibal moved, the snarls would immediately flare out at him. Finally, Charlie had the man up on his feet again, although Mordake kept holding his head. Hannibal could hear him, mumbling; occasionally a soft moan would escape as they picked their way to the trailer. Hannibal, helpless, trailed behind them.

It took several minutes to negotiate the way to the trailer and inside. Charlie hissed at Hannibal to turn on the light at the front of the room, while he helped his friend to the couch at the opposite end. Hannibal fumbled around for a bit until he found the switch. The light came on, filling the room with soft yellow tones, and he turned back to the other men.

Charlie had gotten Mordake down on the couch, and was quickly covering him with a blanket. He looked over at Hannibal.

"In the cabinet over the stove - there's a bottle of pills. Get them. Quickly. Water's in the fridge down below." He turned again to his friend, who lay shivering, head still held tightly.

Hannibal quickly found the bottle, reading the label. A powerful pain killer. Apparently these episodes were not unusual. Charlie would know what to do.

It would be all right, then.

He grabbed the water bottle from the fridge, and a glass. He rushed over to the couch, where Charlie had finally gotten Mordake to put down his arms, and was gently massaging the man's temples. Hannibal started to hand the pills to him when he got his first look at Edward Mordake.

And felt his heart drop through his soul...


*****

Nick knocked lightly on the cabin door. The one they called BA opened it, scowling at him.

"Hello, there. I, uh, thought I'd let you know that Colonel Smith and Charlie went out to Ed's. I'm not sure how long they might be."

"Hannibal didn't say nothin about meetin the guy tonight."

"It was rather sudden. I told Charlie about what happened today, and he wanted Ed to know right away."

BA didn't say anything, just kept glaring at him. Nick cleared his throat, uncomfortably. "Well, I guess I'd better be going. G'night."

The door was shut firmly in his face. Shaking his head, Nick stalked away to his own home, thinking they should have let Ed stay here in peace.

Murdock looked up as BA came back into the kitchen. "Hannibal back?"

"No, man went to see that Mordake character. Him and Charlie."

Murdock frowned. "Hannibal didn't say anything..."

"I know. That's what I told Nick. Charlie wanted to tell the guy about those goons today. Hannibal went with him."

"So, he's finally going to meet Mordake."

"Guess so."

Murdock sighed. One of them should have gone with Hannibal. As backup. In the old days, no one went anywhere on a case alone. Or without at least telling the others in advance. But then, in the old days, they had...

BA was scrubbing his hands again.

"You okay, BA?"

"Sure, I'm okay."

Murdock looked at the floor, then up at BA. "How come you keep washing your hands, BA? If you're okay, I mean?"

BA finished rinsing his hands, drying them off. " 'Cause they got grease on 'em, that's why."

"Grease from what, BA?"

He stopped drying his hands, looked down at the towel, tangled in his fingers.

"There's no grease, BA. You know that."

BA dropped the towel on the counter, stared out the window over the sink.

"It's Face, isn't it?"

"What d'you mean, Face? What's he got to do with it?"

Murdock swallowed. He knew BA needed to talk, needed to let it all out. Murdock had Dr. Richter to help him through it. BA and Hannibal didn't. It was up to Murdock to be their soundboard.

"Guilt."

"Don't know what you're talkin 'bout, Fool. My hands get greasy from working on the van."

"You didn't work on the van today, BA. But you've washed your hands at least four times since we got here. It won't change anything." Murdock stood up from the table, walked over to BA's side. "BA, what happened wasn't your fault, any more than it was mine or Hannibal's. Or, it was just as much my fault, or Hannibal's, as it was yours. Face, too. We all played a part, we're all blameless."

"You're talkin nonsense, Murdock. Can't have it both ways." BA stepped away, and Murdock could see he was getting more and more uncomfortable.

"It's not nonsense, BA. Any of us could've called it off. None of us did, including Face. Hannibal might have put up a fight, but if he'd thought any of us was serious, he would have stopped it. We did what we always do, BA. All of us. Including Face. This time, our number came up, that's all. We all knew it could happen, one day."

BA stared at the counter, resting his hands on it, feeling the coolness against the heat in the kitchen.

"Maybe, Murdock. But Face...how could he...why did...he knew we'd stick by him, didn't he? He had to know that. Right?"

"Maybe it just wasn't enough, BA. Sometimes," Murdock swallowed past the lump in his throat, "sometimes, no matter how much friends want to help, it just isn't enough. It has nothing to do with the friends, nothing to do with how much they want to help, how much they try. No matter how much they care. No matter how much he knows they care. It just isn't enough. Face couldn't handle it, period. It was something inside him. Something we couldn't touch, BA. We couldn't."

Murdock moved again to BA's side, and put his arms around the muscled shoulders, which started shaking uncontrollably.


*****

Hannibal was sitting on one of the hard straight back chairs in what passed for the living room. Less than three feet away, Charlie was cleaning out the cuts and abrasions, gently, calmly. Face was sleeping, drugged with pain killers.

Hannibal wasn't sure how long he'd been sitting here, watching. He remembered Charlie jumping up, grabbing his arm, taking the pills and water. The glass had already broken when it hit the floor. And he remembered Charlie's voice. Not the words, just the tone. Impatient. Almost angry. And then things had just kind of faded out of focus. He hadn't passed out; he just hadn't thought, for a while.

He straightened a bit, causing Charlie to glance up at him and then go back to work. Hannibal felt guilty, for some reason. As if he had interrupted something he shouldn't have. Trying not to disturb him again, Hannibal turned slightly in the chair, looked over at Face.

The eye patch had been removed, apparently to wash away the sand and grime. There was a small abrasion on his cheek. His face was deeply tanned, his hair, longer than Hannibal had ever seen it, bleached almost white; obviously he had spent a good deal of the last few months out in the desert. Normally it would have made him look even healthier than usual; instead, it brought out the dark redness of the scars, and where the eye patch had rested was a stark white in comparison.

Hannibal kept looking at him, questions pounding in his head. Why had Face faked his suicide? Why? And why had he come here, of all places? What part had Sandy played in all of this? Why didn't she tell them he wasn't dead? Why hadn't he contacted them? Why?

Charlie finished with the cuts, and sat back, stretching a bit. Face stirred, mumbling softly, before turning over on his side, facing Hannibal. Charlie stood, careful not to disturb him. Immediately, the dog, coming from some corner where Hannibal hadn't seen him, hopped up on the bed and snuggled in by his side. Face's arm came around the animal, and he sighed. Hannibal moved, thinking the dog shouldn't be there, and immediately there was a small growl.

"Leave him be, Colonel. Ed will sleep better this way." Charlie's voice was soft, without censure. He motioned toward the door, and Hannibal, feeling like he was sleep-walking, followed him outside.

The two men stood silently in the darkness. Hannibal absently pulled a cigar out and lit it. Charlie stood a few feet away, staring up at the night sky. Hannibal was feeling so many things. Anger. Confusion. Relief.

Hurt.

He realized Charlie was now looking at him. He stared back, all feelings draining away save one. The anger remained.

"Okay, Charlie. Let's have it. From the beginning."

***** *****

Sandy stepped slowly into the room, not wanting to disturb him. But he was awake, waiting for her. He glanced up, and quickly looked back down at the floor. She recognized the gesture. Embarrassment, shame, fear. Self-loathing. All the things that people felt when they were dealing with those first few months of disfigurement. She had seen it many, many times, and it always saddened her.

"Good morning, Tim. How are you?"

"Okay."

She sat on the edge of the bed, near the chair where he sat, the sun coming softly through the sheer curtains. It glinted off his hair, and smoothed the harsh edges of the recently removed sutures. She saw, better than he ever would, what he could look like, in the future. If only she could make him see that.

"So, how are you, really?" She smiled at the guilty look he flashed at her.

He shook his head. "It's...I don't know. The guys...they're trying, so hard, and yet..."

"Trying a little too hard, maybe?"

He nodded.

She looked around the room. Cheerful, bright. John had done a good job, making it as homey as possible. The whole apartment, from what she'd seen of it, was the same way. A nice, safe place to stay. To hide. No reason to leave it. Ever.

John had done too good a job. She smiled softly. Well, that was John. Always over the top.

"I need something from you, Sandy. A favor."

She looked at him, surprised. She'd made several visits to the apartment over the last month, over her lunch hour, for a bit after work. BA had asked her to, saying Tim needed to see someone besides the two men all the time. Needed someone who wasn't so...involved. She'd laughed at his discomfort, but agreed readily enough. The apartment was close to the hospital, and she'd developed a liking for the trio, as a whole. There was something about them she couldn't quite put her finger on, but she had decided she liked it. So, given the opportunity to help them out, she'd agreed easily. Not only did Tim get a break from routine, but John and BA got a chance for a real breather, knowing he was in safe hands.

But Tim had always seemed apologetic, as if it were an imposition for her to come. So for him to ask her for a favor was definitely out of character. She started, realizing she'd been wool-gathering, while he sat there, waiting for her answer.

"Sorry, Tim, I zoned out there for a second. A favor? Sure, if I can."

She expected him to look relieved, but instead he frowned.

"It's kind of a big favor..."

***** *****

"It started out that Ed, or Tim, or whatever you want to call him, just wanted someplace where he could have some 'space', some time away from the...pressures."

"Pressures? What pressures? We were bending over backwards to make things easy for him." The anger Hannibal had felt was almost bursting out. "He faked his death, goddamn it! And Sandy helped him!"

"No! No, Sandy had nothing whatsoever to do with that. She called me as soon as she heard the news, devastated. She thought things were going to work out for him, and to hear that he'd committed suicide nearly destroyed her. Afterward, when he contacted her, it was too late. She couldn't say anything without destroying his trust in her, and God only knows where he would have gone then."

"So what exactly was their little plan? How did she think this whole little charade was going to go down? Alien abduction?"

Charlie shook his head, his own anger and frustration starting to show. "He told her he was going to discuss it with all of you. It was supposed to be a mutual agreement."

"We would never have agreed to that, and he knew that!"

"Well, Sandy didn't! She went ahead on the assumption that you would know what he was doing, if not where. He was adamant about that. Again, he told her that he would also make that clear to you."

"So the plan?"

"He wanted her to find someplace he could go, to recuperate on his own, come to terms. She immediately thought of me and the village. It was a perfect place, secluded, welcoming. She called me, explained the situation, and naturally, I told her he would be more than welcome here.

"She told me his name was Edward Mordake. Again, something they had agreed to do, using a false name. He didn't want you trying to track him down. I never knew him by any other name, until a couple of months ago. When he first arrived, I had expected that he would take one of the cabins in the village, but he was too...unsure of himself. How he managed to get himself here without a complete breakdown, I don't know, but he was nearly a basket-case."

Hannibal looked at the ground. He knew what Charlie was talking about; it didn't take much to remember how Face had been anytime he had to leave the apartment. He must have wanted this 'retreat' very badly. Still...

"I let him stay with me until we found this place. It wasn't until he was moved out here, by himself, that he seemed truly happy. Or as happy as he could be. I found him to be a very quiet, almost painfully shy man. Even more so than would seem warranted by his...circumstances. It took some time before he felt comfortable enough with me to actually have a real conversation. Even then...

"But there were problems. His need for isolation became greater and greater. He began wandering out in the desert. Conversations became harder; at times, he would just stop talking, and act like he was listening to something only he could hear. He kept the radio on constantly, would get upset if I suggested he shut it off, even if only while I was here. He started developing phobias - like being out at night. I brought him the dog after a few weeks, a stray that showed up. I thought having something to take care of, something to care about, might help. In a way, it did, but it also kind of backfired on me. Petey became a substitute for human companionship."

"What about the little 'favors' for the people here? Was that a way of ensuring his privacy?"

"Oh, no. Not at all. He knew no one would discuss him with anyone. That's not our way. Sandy had assured him of that. No, those were more of a 'thank you', I think, and something of a surprise to me. I'm not sure how he managed it, although I have some idea. We talked about the people in town frequently; he seemed to want to know about everyone, and had a phenomenal memory. So, when someone would have a stroke of luck, I'd stop out to let him know. And nearly every time, I'd find him flat on his back, in the throes of one of these horrendous headaches."

"And what about Sinon? When did you bring him in on that? And why let him take over like he obviously has?"

Charlie sighed.

"That's a long story..."