CHAPTER THIRTY SIX

"Where are you?"

He jerked, just a bit. Petey looked up at him, curious. The dog was laying next to his right leg, head resting just above Face's knee. Face idly stroked the soft fur, and Petey relaxed again. A glance to his side told Face Murdock hadn't heard. He tilted his head, just a little. He could always hear them better if he did that. He had no idea why.

"We looked for you. Where are you?"

He looked toward the front of the van, the only view he had of the outside world through the windshield. From his position, all he could see were mountains in the distance, and sky. He had no idea where he was.

"I don't know."

"What's that, Face?"

Damn. He didn't think Murdock could hear him. He shook his head. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Murdock looking at him, puzzled, but he ignored him. After a minute, Murdock went back to his comic book.

"You're not here. Why?" Puzzled.

Face shook his head again. Could they see, as well as hear? He'd never thought about that before.

"Come home."

"I can't."

This time Murdock wasn't the only one who heard. Hannibal was looking at him in the mirror. Murdock had put the comic book down once again, but didn't say anything. He just looked at Face.

"Yes, you can. Just...tell them."

Face didn't dare even shake his head now. Not while they were watching.

"We found something for you."

Face tried to ignore them, but they knew they'd piqued his curiosity now.

"Something nice..." Almost purring now.

Hannibal wasn't looking any more, but Murdock still hadn't gone back to his comic. Face squirmed uncomfortably.

"You okay, Face?"

"Yeah."

"Something verrrry nice..." Definitely purring.

Murdock had picked up the comic, but Face knew he wasn't reading it.

"We found a falcon..."

"What!?"

"Face, what the hell is going on?"

Damn! Hannibal had turned around this time, glaring at him. Murdock was shaking his head at Hannibal. Shit. Even BA was looking at him now, in the mirror.

"It's hidden away, waiting for you..." Giggling with their secrets...

"Shut up." He tried to say it as quietly as possible, but...

"What did you say to me, Lieutenant?"

Oh, he remembered that tone of voice. It usually meant latrine duty.

"You don't have to listen to him any more. Come home. Where you belong." Petulant. Impatient.

God, how he wished he could. He wanted to be there so badly, it made his head ache.

"Come home. Come home to us."

He closed his eye. If he didn't look at Hannibal, maybe he'd just leave him alone.

"We don't yell at you, do we? We're your friends. We love you." Pleading.

I know.

"Come home."

Face pushed the voices from his head. He couldn't go home.

Hannibal wouldn't let him.


*****

"They've gone? Are you sure?"

"Nick took off before dawn with the dog, came back without it. And yesterday he and the doc took off for parts unknown with an old gurney. They didn't bring anyone back on it. Doesn't leave much to the imagination."

"Okay. Do you know where?"

"No, but I can find out."

"Do that. Our friends overseas are not very happy with us, as you might have guessed. They have a thing about revenge. If we can give them new game, we may be able to salvage things after all. How soon can you get back to me?"

"A couple of hours at the most. Feist won't be that hard to get around."

"He won't cause problems?"

"Does it matter?"

"Oh, yes, it matters quite a bit. There's still a little matter of uranium..."

"You still want to go through with that? How?"

A small chuckle came over the phone line. "When one door closes, another one opens. We have our methods - and the finances to make them work. Call me when you have the information."

The line went dead. He glanced at his watch. Dr. Feist would be getting back to his office shortly, going over his paperwork before his first appointments showed up. The man was practically addicted to routine.

Cal smiled as he walked out the door.


*****

Murdock thought at first that Face was talking in his sleep. He didn't usually do that, but then that didn't mean anything now. Murdock looked over at his friend, surprised to see he was wide awake.

"What's that, Face?"

Face just shook his head, looked away. Murdock watched him for a second before going back to his comic. For a few minutes there was nothing but silence in the van, then Face muttered something else. Murdock looked over, getting a bit concerned. He glanced up front, noticed Hannibal watching from the front seat. Looking back at Face, Murdock thought he looked as though he was listening to someone, but no one was talking. He saw Face sneak a look at him - yes, sneak was the operative word - and shifted on the gurney.

"You okay, Face?" He'd been sitting in the same position for over an hour now. Maybe he was just uncomfortable.

"Yeah."

Murdock picked up the comic, but kept watching Face over the top. He had his head tilted funny again.

"What!?"

Damn! Murdock nearly dropped the comic. Face looked like he'd just been handed the keys to a brand new Porsche - and then Hannibal barked at him and the look was instantly replaced by...guilt?

What was going on with him?

And then he did it. Face told Hannibal to shut up.

For a mad moment, Murdock thought Hannibal was going to come out of his seat and into the back right then and there. He shook his head, nearly knocking himself silly in his urgency. Drop it, Hannibal, drop it, please!

Hannibal looked at him, and Murdock could see the willpower it took for him not to say anything more and turn around, shoulders stiff as he looked out the windshield. Face had just closed his eye and ignored them all.

Murdock couldn't understand what was going on. Face, talking to himself, baiting Hannibal...what was that all about? Murdock knew Face hadn't wanted to come on this trip, but this...

Murdock sighed, looking out the front, but not really seeing.

It was going to be one hell of a long trip.


*****

Charlie sat in his overstuffed chair, glass of scotch beside him. The sun was just pushing through the windows now, and glinted off the glass. He sighed, and reached for it.

Way too early for this. At least, it would be if he were just starting. But he'd been sipping away at the bottle since last night. Waiting for it to take him away into the place where he no longer felt anything, no longer cared about anything.

Or anyone.

It hadn't worked. So, he'd spent the night, thinking. Playing with Petey, watching him sleep. Waiting for Nick to come back and take the dog away. Take the dog back to Ed. Knowing that that signaled Ed's departure.

Not knowing if Ed would ever come back.

Not being able to say goodbye, because the FBI still had people watching over him.

Not wanting to say goodbye, really. Wanting to go back in time, to that day he'd gotten Ed drunk, that day he'd made the decision to bring Colonel Smith back into Ed's world.

Still not sure if he would have made the same decision or not. Wishing he had forgotten all about it, let Ed stay where he was, the way he was.

Happy.

Or as happy as someone like Ed could be. Maybe he would have been okay. Maybe he would have moved further and further into that fantasy world he seemed to enjoy so much. Or can one really enjoy a world they fashion only to escape from reality?

He'd known about Smith's plans before Nick had told him; Sandy had called him the day Smith got in touch with her. She was going along with it, which didn't surprise him. Sandy was, after all, a nurse whose only concern was with the patient. Ed needed to see this new surgeon, so she would do all she could to help make that happen. But she'd also worried about Ed. And Charlie.

Besides Nick, Sandy was the only one who knew Charlie's background. Knew what Ed's friendship had meant to him. Knew why Charlie had started this little community to begin with.

Knew about Cody.

Cody.

Charlie's son, who had died, ironically, because of information Charlie had provided. "Ambush" is what the military called it. Murder was what Charlie called it. Troops sent where they shouldn't have been, because the CIA didn't tell the military everything the CIA knew. Didn't tell them what Charlie had found out.

So Charlie had quit the CIA. Not an easy thing to do. But by then, Charlie didn't really care. He quit the CIA, quit living in the city he'd been born and raised in...quit living. Until he'd met Nick, one of how many disgruntled and disillusioned vets who'd somehow found their way to his door after Cody's death. And the two of them had found this place, out in the middle of nowhere. Nick hadn't come to live there right away, but Charlie had. And so many others, from all walks of life and pain, had come to join him, and given him some measure of contentment, as he gave them a place of peace.

But there had always been something missing. Until Sandy had called him about Ed. Until he'd met Ed, and talked with him. Ed hadn't talked much, but what he did say was wise and naive, old and young, jaded and innocent.

So much like Cody. So different.

Charlie raised the glass to his lips, and stopped, looking around the empty cabin, thinking about the empty trailer.

"Salud, my friend. Go maire sibh bhur saol nua."

He drained the glass, poured another.

"Yes, my friend, yes. May you enjoy your new life."