CHAPTER FORTY SEVEN

Murdock knelt over Face, gently pulling him up to lean against him, holding on when Face tried to pull away, speaking softly but firmly.

"No, you don't, muchacho. You've been pulling away long enough. I'm not letting you go this time, so just relax."

Face remained tense even as he gave up the struggle, letting himself rest against Murdock's chest.

"I'm sorry, Murdock. So sorry..."

"Hey, there's nothing to be sorry for. I told you that. If anything, it's my fault for not watching the back door."

"But..."

"No 'buts', Face." Murdock gave him a little shake. "Over and done with. Okay? For all of us. We're starting fresh."

Face didn't respond, and Murdock noticed, unhappily, that he didn't relax one bit.

"Murdock?"

"Yeah, Face?"

"Would you please not call me that?"

Murdock looked down at him, frowning. "Uh, okay. But what do I call you?"

Face was silent for several minutes, and Murdock was about to ask again when he finally answered in a low voice. "Ed. Edward Mordake. That's who I am now." He looked over at the body still waiting for Hannibal and BA, and Murdock felt him shudder, very slightly. "Whoever the hell he is."


*****

BA stopped suddenly and Hannibal looked up, frowning.

"C'mon, BA, I want to get out of here before the wrong people show up."

"Hannibal, did you look at this guy? Close, I mean?" He spoke softly, glancing over at Face and Murdock.

"What about him, BA?"

"I figured we got him, right? I mean, all that shooting..."

"Yeah, BA. Kinda hard to miss him at that range."

"Yeah, but look, Hannibal. At his head."

Hannibal leaned over and looked with distaste at the man's head. And looked again. There was no mistake. A neat round bullet hole was just under the man's ear, and an exit wound, not nearly as neat, just above the left temple. No way that bullet had come from any of their rifles. No way it had come from the team's direction. And no way he would have survived it. Hannibal leaned back, shaking his head.

BA looked again over at Face and Murdock. "You gonna tell him?"

"What would I tell him, BA? That, despite everything, his lethal instincts are still intact? That he doesn't have to worry about being a 'nothing' any more, he can have his claim to fame as a killer? No way."

"What if he already knows he did it?"

"Then we lie through our teeth. We make sure he thinks he missed the guy by a mile. Period." Hannibal looked down at the body. "I don't know what the team's future is, BA, or if Face will even be with us - but I know one thing for damn sure. Wherever he ends up, the kid's going there with his hands clean."

BA nodded and turned his attention back to the body. Despite his task, he smiled quietly to himself.


*****

The dead had been placed behind the jeep and covered with a tarp. The three survivors had been tied securely to the front of the jeep. Face was once again lying down in the van, with Petey clutched firmly by his side and Murdock sitting as close as his seat would allow. BA started the van, and looked over at Hannibal, waiting. Hannibal looked out at the battlefield for a moment, finalizing his plans.

"Okay, BA, head north, but steer clear of Alturas. We'd stick out like a sore thumb and I want us invisible for a while."

"What about those guys?"

"I'll call the FBI after we've put some distance between us. Let those guys enjoy the desert heat for a bit."

BA did a small double-take at the venom in Hannibal's voice, but wisely decided to say nothing. He pulled the van out onto the road and headed north.

Other than Hannibal's call to the FBI, the van was silent for the next couple of hours. Hannibal's mention of Sinon had been met with a hail of questions from the agent about Edward Mordake's whereabouts, his safety, his willingness to come forward. All of which Hannibal ignored. Once he was sure the agent knew exactly where the prisoners were, he hung up without another word. He didn't like the idea that the FBI was still looking for Face...Ed...whoever. He thought Charlie had taken care of that. No, he didn't like it. Not one damn bit.

When they passed a small motel, Hannibal made BA turn around. He knew everyone was worn out. They needed a safe haven for a few hours, a good night's sleep, some decent food. The basics. Nothing more complicated than that.

Unhappily, they had to take two rooms. Hannibal wanted the team together tonight. Then again, it might work out for the best. He would have Murdock room with BA. He realized Murdock wanted to be with Face, but he somehow knew that Face needed Hannibal right now. Murdock and BA were important to Face, but, vanity aside, Hannibal knew he was...more than that. He was Face's CO, father figure, mentor, friend...and Face thought he'd lost all of that.

Hannibal had to prove him wrong. Soon.


*****

Face wasn't sure about the arrangements for the motel rooms, but it was out of his hands. Everything was out of his control now. It was up to Hannibal. He reached down and rubbed Petey, pressed up against his knee. He wasn't sure how long Hannibal would put up with the dog. He supposed he should feel grateful they hadn't just dropped both of them off somewhere along the way.

He looked with longing at the bed, a few feet from the uncomfortable overstuffed chair he sat in. He'd been able to get to the van with a lot of help, but after the long ride coupled with the ordeal in the desert, he'd barely been able to move. The muscles in his thigh were in almost constant spasms. He wished Hannibal would come back so he could get into bed and try to relax. They were supposedly unloading the van, but Face knew that was really just an excuse for the three of them to have a hurried discussion about him. He wondered if Murdock would tell them about the name. He hoped so. He really didn't want to explain it again. Not when he was so full of doubts, himself.

That was so odd, the way he'd hesitated. He'd been Edward Mordake for so long now, it had sounded strange to be called Face again. It really had been like they were talking to someone else. And yet, telling Murdock to call him Ed...it was like he was taking that final step away from them. Away from that life. Away from that lie.

And suddenly he hadn't been sure he wanted to take that step. Suddenly, when he knew he'd lost them for good, when the thing he had feared most had happened and there was no going back - suddenly he realized that he had never really given up that hope. He thought he'd started a new life, really become a new person. Someone who might be accepted without expectations, without pressures, without performing. And he thought that was what he wanted.

But now, being around them, watching them, working with them...no. No, he couldn't go back. Not now. Not only did they know what he was. He knew. He'd proved it, once and for all. No way they could want him back, no way he could ever go back.

After all these years, after all the lies, the pretending, the faking, he was still Alvin Brenner. And Alvin Brenner had always been, and always would be, a washout.

Even his parents had known that...


*****

Hannibal stepped into the room quietly. The discussion outside had taken longer than he'd anticipated. He hadn't liked what Murdock had to say, but for now they would go along with Face's request. No, Ed's request. It was like swallowing bile, but he'd do it.

He looked over at the chair where Face sat, and frowned. He couldn't tell if Face was asleep or passed out. After everything that had happened today - God, was it only one day? - either wouldn't have surprised him. He stepped over, surprised that, for once, the dog only growled. Gently, he reached over and checked Face's pulse. A little fast, but not bad. Face slowly stirred and looked blearily around him. As soon as he saw Hannibal, his head went down.

"Hey, kid." Hannibal knelt down so he could look directly at him. "Feeling okay?"

"Yeah, just tired, Colonel." He tried to sit up straighter and he couldn't help a quick grimace as the muscle spasms kicked in.

"Yeah, just tired." Hannibal stood and held out his hand. "C'mon, kid, let's take a look at the leg."

"Colonel, I'm fine...," Face started to protest. He really just wanted to lay down and get some sleep. But he also felt suddenly uncomfortable with the close attention. Which was ridiculous.

"No arguments, Fa...Ed."

Face felt himself redden. "I know you think it's stupid, Colonel, but..."

"No, I don't think it's stupid. C'mon." This time Face took Hannibal's offered assistance and settled on the bed. In a few minutes, he was down to his shorts, and Hannibal was carefully removing the dressing. The skin was puckered and warm to the touch, but he couldn't see any serious problem. "You probably just overdid it. You take it easy for a couple of days and it should be fine again."

Face nodded, and stifled a yawn. Just laying on top of the covers felt so good...He heard Hannibal chuckle. The next thing he knew he was under the covers, and Hannibal was sitting in the overstuffed chair, reading a paper.

He watched him for several minutes before Hannibal noticed. He looked up, a question on his face.

"Thanks, Hannibal." He looked away, fumbled with the covers. "I'm sorry. For everything..."

Hannibal folded the paper and came over to the bed. "I don't know how many times we have to tell you this, but there's nothing to be sorry for. We're done with that now."

Face sighed, closed his eye. It took some time before he dared ask it. "So, what comes next?"

Hannibal sighed. "Well, that's kind of a big question, so maybe we'll just take one step at a time. We still have an appointment with Dr. Bursey tomorrow. I'm not going to try and bargain with you on that. If you want to go, we'll go. If you don't, we won't. Simple as that."

"You think I should."

"Yes, I do. I won't bullshit you. You and I both know he can't work miracles. But, if he can help at all, I think it's worth it. For no other reason than it might make you feel better about yourself."

Face just shook his head and sighed. "You don't understand, Hannibal."

"Maybe I do, at least a little. I've been doing a lot of thinking today. Something maybe I should've done a lot earlier." He smiled ruefully. "Look, would you be willing to do this much? Go see Bursey, see what he has to say. That's it. The rest is up to you. Completely."

Face had to think for some time about it. Part of him was screaming to go back to the village, back to his trailer, where it was safe and comfortable and where he had almost been able to put the team behind him.

The other part wanted to do whatever Hannibal asked.

Just like always.

He took a deep breath. He was so tired. Too tired.

"Okay, Hannibal. I'll go see Bursey."