CHAPTER FORTY SIX

He'd failed them. In the worst possible way. He'd watched as the two men had crept up on Murdock, and hadn't said a word in warning. And because of it, the team had been taken by surprise, put in jeopardy. Men had died. That hadn't happened since Nam. It shouldn't have happened now. It wouldn't have, if he hadn't been such a coward.

As Murdock stepped over to check the second body, Face tried to say something, anything, to explain. To apologize. But Murdock had just looked at him, and the disgust and anger in his eyes stopped Face cold. He watched silently as Murdock hurried away from him, going toward the gunfire.

He could've taken it from Hannibal. He already knew how the colonel felt about him. And BA. Despite his words earlier, he knew how BA felt about cowards. But Murdock...that was different. So many times, Face had been sure Murdock had seen through him, and still he stayed. But now...

Even Murdock couldn't forgive this.

He should never have come with them. Never. He was happy back there in the desert. As happy as he needed to be. He wanted to be there now.

The shooting had slowed. He looked up, trying to see Murdock. Instead, he saw another man, walking up, calmly, as if there were no one else around. Face looked quickly, panicky. There was no one else around. Murdock was over by the van, gun pointed at something, someone. Not paying any attention. He had no idea where BA was, or Hannibal.

There was no one. Just him.

The man continued to walk toward him, smiling. As he got closer, he put a finger to his lips. He held a pistol in his hand, lightly, casually. He stepped closer, looking over toward Murdock. Face let his hand tighten on the Colt, slowly drawing it closer to him, hoping the man wouldn't see it. The man looked back at him, still smiling. Knelt down, only a foot away.

"So, you're Mr. Mordake." Voice soft, speculative. "Not much to look at, are you? Well, wait, my friend. When my employers are finished with you..." He chuckled, still softly. He looked up again toward Murdock, frowning slightly. "Well, looks like your friends were better than I thought. Not that it matters." He looked back at Face, who was sweating profusely. "Are you scared, Mr. Mordake? You should be. You shouldn't have interfered. Now, if you will excuse me..."

The man stood, again looking toward Murdock, keeping the pistol aimed at Face.

Face kept staring at that pistol. Heard the man talking, other voices, Hannibal's, off in the distance. Everything sounded like it was in a tunnel.

He's not going to kill you. Not yet.

Face shuddered.

He's going to hurt you.

He felt his arm grabbed, felt the man trying to pull him up.

You have to stop him.

I can't...

You have the gun. Use it.

Face felt the Colt, lying hidden just under his hip.

Use it.

The man's voice moved out of the tunnel.

"Three..."

Counting? Why?

"Don't do it, mister."

Hannibal...

Use the gun.

His hand tightened on it. He drew it out. His hand was shaking.

"Four..."

Use it.

"I'm telling you, guy, don't..."

Use it.

"Five..."

NOW!

Almost unaware of his actions, Face drew the gun up and pulled the trigger, felt it jerk in his hand, heard the report pounding through his head...


*****

BA wasn't even aware he was pulling the trigger. He heard the bastard say "five" and the sound of a gunshot and then suddenly there was gunfire all around him. And then deathly silence.

The man who had seemed so confident, so sure of himself, was laying on the ground, blood coming from everywhere. BA looked to his side, and saw both Hannibal and Murdock, staring at the man, breathing hard. And then he looked at Face.

Face, trying to crawl away from the body that lay next to him, holding his Colt, finger still on the trigger. He was gasping for air as he struggled to get away.

BA dropped his rifle and stepped toward him. Immediately the revolver came up, and BA heard the unmistakable sound of the hammer being pulled back.

"Hold it, BA!" Hannibal spoke sharply, and the revolver turned toward the voice. Hannibal immediately softened his tone. "Face, put the gun down, kid. It's all over now."

The gun never wavered. Face pushed himself back a little further.

"Hannibal, let me try." Murdock slowly put his rifle down on the ground.

"You sure, Murdock?"

"Yeah. I think I am." Murdock swallowed, and put on a smile, one he hoped was reassuring. He took a very small step forward, and looked at the gun now pointed at him.

"Face? Put the gun down, Face. Nobody's going to shoot anybody else now, okay? Everything's cool now."

Face was focusing on him, but he didn't put the gun down.

"Face, c'mon, muchacho. You don't have to shoot anybody now. It's all over. It's done."

Face looked at him, and Murdock felt a shiver run through him. There was something...otherworldly... about that look.

"Face?"

"No. It's not over yet." His voice was low, almost sad.

"Sure it is, Face." He moved a little closer as the gun came down. Carefully, he knelt down in front of Face, still maintaining a distance he figured Face would find safe. "We can put all the guns away now. We don't need them any more."

Face looked away, pulling the gun closer to him, but pointing it away from Murdock. "I do."

Alarm bells rang loud in Murdock's head. No, oh, no, you don't. "Face, you don't need a gun now. Put it down. Put it down, now."

He could sense Hannibal and BA moving ever so slowly forward. He hadn't imagined it, then.

"Face..."

"No, Murdock, please. I'm sorry. I can't..."

"Face, there's nothing to be sorry for."

"I didn't warn you. You could've been killed, and it would've been my fault. I...I froze, Murdock."

"That doesn't matter, Face. That wasn't your fault."

"This is all my fault. All of it. All I do is make trouble." Face pulled himself up further, bringing the gun up into his lap, finger tightening on the trigger. Murdock held his breath. "Look at you guys, Murdock. It's all falling apart. Because of me. Because of this." Face brought the gun up, pointing directly at his face. He held it there. "I'm tearing everyone apart."

"No, Face. No. Never." Hannibal moved in closer now, kneeling down so close it made Murdock edgy. But Face didn't seem to notice. "Face, if anything, you're the reason we're together at all."

Face looked at Hannibal, clearly not believing him, but the gun did move down, a little, and Hannibal pressed his advantage.

"Face, I swear to you. After we thought you were dead, everything did fall apart. Everything. This was the first job we took on, after. But it wasn't until we knew who you were that we really started working together again." Hannibal looked over at Murdock and BA, and they nodded quickly. Now was not the time for the complete truth.

The gun came down some more. Now it rested on his chest, but his finger was still too close to the trigger. "But...I...you've seen what I am now. I've proved it, Hannibal."

"Proved what, kid?"

"That I'm not the man you took on, Colonel. I'm nowhere near that man. I'm just, just a coward. Selfish and childish, just like you said I was."

Hannibal closed his eyes. Damn. If he could turn back time...

"Face, I didn't mean that. I was angry, frustrated. I wanted you back with us so badly, and I couldn't understand why you didn't want that, too."

"But don't you see, Hannibal? This is why! Because I knew I couldn't do this any more. I can't even..." He stared at the body of the last fallen man before looking bleakly back at Hannibal. "I lost Peck! I lost Face!" He waved the Colt in the air, and laughed, and there was a note of hysteria in that laugh. "I lost... everything. Because it was all fake, Hannibal. I was all fake. Made up. A cardboard cutout. I had to leave, before you saw that. Before you realized I was nothing." The gun moved up once more, the barrel now resting under his chin. "But now you know. There's nothing left to hide from. There's nothing left..."

BA moved closer now, drawing Face's attention away from Hannibal.

"Face, listen to me, man. Maybe you ain't Face no more, but that don't matter. I tol you that before. I don't care who you want to be now, you're still my friend, and I'm proud that you are. Understand me? I'm proud of that!"

The gun came down once more, and this time Hannibal was ready for it. With Face's attention firmly on BA, Hannibal reached over and pulled the gun from his hand. Face made a half-hearted grab for it before he slumped down on his side, burying his head in his arms. Murdock was next to him immediately, pulling him in close.

Hannibal and BA stood up and stared at each other. Then, slowly, they picked up their weapons, and began the grisly task of gathering up the bodies.