CHAPTER FORTY FOUR

He wasn't sure, at first, if he'd actually seen them or not. He'd been sitting here for so long, listening, but not listening, to his friends, to the rodents in the tall grass, the birds wheeling above. Feeling the heat. He should've been used to it, but this was different from home. He wasn't walking around, climbing down into cool crevices, standing under the trees and savoring the sparse shade, feeling the breeze as it drifted around the rocks. Here he just sat and felt his body slowly baking.

Thinking.

He was aware of Murdock a few feet away. Knew he was dividing his attention between the van and Face. Murdock shouldn't be doing that. Should be concentrating on the job. So should he. Except he wasn't part of it any more. Or was he? Part of the team; not part of the team. Didn't know which he was, what he wanted. Did Hannibal?

Shunted off to a safe place. Hidden. Protected.

He knows.

He looked at the Colt, laying by his side. What a joke. Hannibal trying to make him feel useful. Feeling sorry for him. The gun didn't even feel right, and that bothered him, too. He'd had it specially tooled and balanced, made uniquely his. He hadn't told the others about that, though. He knew they would have laughed at the "typical Face extravagance". It wouldn't matter that it was all his. His. They had never understood what that meant. Probably never would.

He looked out at the meadow again. This time he was sure he saw something moving. Pretty sure. Hell, he wasn't sure of anything he saw, or heard, or thought any more. Not for the first time that afternoon, he wished Petey was with him. Petey would've known if there really was something out there, would've warned him. But Petey was tied up in the van. Hannibal's orders. Didn't want the dog giving them away, or getting in the way. Face looked over his shoulder, trying to see the van. All he could see was the open side door. He hoped Petey was okay; neither had been happy with the situation, but Hannibal was the boss.

Just like always.

He turned back to the meadow, and saw clearly the shape of a man moving through the grass, maybe a hundred feet away. A movement to the right of that caught his eye. Another man. He suddenly felt cold. Very cold. They were here. They were coming. For him.

He should tell Murdock. Now. Tell him. Warn him. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He knew what was going to happen. And it scared the hell out of him. He didn't want to go back to those people. He didn't want to get the shit beaten out of him again. Or worse. But he knew that was exactly what would happen. They'd been right, just like always.

Hannibal was going to get him killed.


*****

BA took up his radio and then set it down again. The damn things squawked. If he called Hannibal or Murdock, the guys coming up would know exactly where they were. How the hell had they gotten so close without being seen? Who the hell were these guys?

He glanced up again at the man on top of the hill. He still had his weapon pointed at the van, but he had his head up, just a bit. BA looked down at the two men from the Jeep. They were moving slowly toward the van, not paying any attention to their surroundings.

Confident. They knew their men were in place, watching for the team.

That wasn't good.

He looked over at the two men moving up on Murdock and Face. Another glance to the north, at the two men coming in there. They were nearly as well hidden as the other two. BA frowned. A little overconfident. As Hannibal would say, it was a classic diversion tactic. These guys all figured the team would be watching the Jeep guys, and not see the North guys or Murdock's. He shook his head. Dumb. The only one BA was really concerned about was the sniper up above. He wasn't sure the guy was in a place where Hannibal could see him. Murdock might have, but he was so far below the road surface, he couldn't have seen the others yet.

These guys wouldn't have the advantage of a complete surprise, but close enough.

BA came to full alert as he heard Face's dog start barking. He paid no attention to the men by the van; he turned quickly, quietly, taking a bead on the sniper. Sure enough, the rifle was no longer pointed toward the van. The bastard was putting his sites on Hannibal. BA lifted his own rifle, taking careful aim. He wasn't as good at this as Face - no one was - but he wasn't bad. His finger tightened on the trigger. He took a deep breath, slowly exhaled.

He was about to set hell loose.


*****

Hannibal felt it building, just a bit. Old habits die hard. Seeing those guys, moving in, the expectation of the engagement to come...God help him, but it felt...good. Felt right. Different from that scene at Queenie's. Those were just thugs. These guys...no, these guys were good. They were coming for the A-Team, and they were prepared for the A-Team. This wasn't going to be just a simple take down, despite what he'd told Murdock. This was going to be a fight.

A real fight.

He knew the two guys walking up to the van were just decoys. He'd seen the others. Knew BA must have seen them, as well. He frowned. Murdock had no idea what was coming up behind him, but surely Face had seen them. Hell, from where he'd been sitting, he must be looking right down their throats. So why hadn't he let Murdock know? Well, in this heat, and exhausted as he was, maybe he was just asleep. Had to be. Wasn't like Face. Back in Nam, he would've been on the alert, seeing things almost before they were there...jobs stateside, he was tight, he was always tight just before...but then...well, they could handle it. Between the two of them, he and BA would give Murdock enough cover to take care of those two. All they really had to do was send one shot behind the pilot; he'd know the back door was open...just had to wait and see who fired the first round.

Hannibal turned his attention back to the guys coming in from the north. Instinctively, he knew BA would deal with the guys by the van. He watched as the two men moved cautiously through the grass and boulders, making slow but steady progress toward the van. They didn't act as if they had seen any of the team members yet. Which was good. Obviously, they expected a trap, but until the firing started, the team had the advantage. He wondered if they were arrogant enough to think they hadn't been spotted yet. Shaking his head, he carefully raised his rifle and aimed it in their general direction. He thought about getting things started himself, having a little fun before getting down to business, but then remembered Murdock and Face. Those were the guys he had to take his cue from. He sighed, glancing over in their direction. Damn it, why didn't Face do something?

Then the damn dog started barking. It was muffled, but loud enough. Would these guys actually think they'd left the dog behind? He had no time to think about it.

A shot rang out from BA's direction, and Hannibal was startled to see a body rolling like a rag doll down the hill between them.

Shit!

He turned and sent several rounds at his guys before looking over at Murdock. He saw him turning around, just in time to point his weapon at his attackers. No sign of Face. Hannibal had to duck then, bullets ricocheting off the rocks around him.

Shit.

He started firing furiously at the two men now racing toward his position.


*****

He'd told Hannibal he could protect Face, and he would. He'd told him he could watch their backs, and he would. He just didn't want to have to. Reluctant he may have been over the years, going into the fray against assorted bad guys, but it was nothing compared to the way he was feeling now. Given his druthers, he'd just as soon be heading back to the VA. No, he'd just as soon be at the VA.

He sighed. He hated feeling this way. He thought, after Hannibal knew how he really felt about going on jobs with the team, it might be easier. But it wasn't. He felt like he'd let Hannibal down. That he should've been able to handle things better. Now he wondered if he'd really be able to stay with the team after all. If Hannibal would still break him out now and then, just to do...what? Was there anything they could really do together, if not missions? But if he didn't stick with the team, who'd look out for Face?

Murdock's muscles were starting to protest in earnest now. He'd been laying on his stomach, rifle ready, watching the van, for way too long. He tensed now, finger worrying the trigger, as he watched two pair of feet moving along the far side of the van. He couldn't see too much except that, but he wasn't worried yet. He knew Hannibal and BA had a full view of the area, and Face was watching their backs from his position. As long as no one tried to sneak up behind them, Murdock may not even have to fire. Which, for some reason, was very comforting just now.

He shifted slightly, trying to ignore his back. Man just was not meant to lay on his stomach and elbows. Not for this long. He should've found a better position to begin with, but he never thought it would be this...

Petey was barking. The feet behind the van stopped abruptly. Murdock turned slightly to alert Face.

Oh, no...

Face was sitting there, mouth slightly open, white as a damn ghost. Hand on the Colt, but not moving a muscle.

A shot rang out. Murdock didn't look. He was too busy squirming around to face whatever it was had Face scared shitless.

Dammit to hell!

He raised his rifle, instinctively firing at the man standing there, rifle raised, aimed right at him. He barely had time to register the man falling when he saw the second one. He wanted to cry in frustration.

The end of the rifle barrel was up against Face's head. And the man holding it was grinning like a fucking Cheshire cat...