CHAPTER SIXTY SIX

"Hannibal, what are we going to do? We're running out of water, and he's not cooling down."

Murdock wrung his cap, which he'd been using to fan Face in a futile attempt to deflect the afternoon heat. He wished he had his jacket with him; at least that would've afforded Face some little shade. All they could do in that regard was use their own bodies in an attempt to shield him from the sun. Meanwhile, they continued to bathe him in the ever-warming water from their canteens in a desperate attempt to reduce the heat in his body.

Hannibal shook his head, glancing down at Face, held gently now by Charlie. Face had quit struggling some time ago, and reacted to absolutely nothing that was said or done to him. Hannibal then looked at Dr. Feist, who was continuously monitoring his patient.

"Doc?"

Feist sighed. "He's not getting any worse, but I definitely don't like his vitals. We have to get him back to my office. Period."

Hannibal nodded, frustrated and frankly, scared. All they could do was wait for BA to return with the van, but that could be hours yet. The sergeant had headed back as soon as he was sure Face wasn't going to die outright, carrying one of their few remaining full canteens. Hannibal was worried about him. Even though he'd given BA strict orders to pace himself, he knew BA would push himself as far as he dared, and the last thing Hannibal needed was another man down.

"He'll be okay, Colonel." Charlie smiled oddly at Hannibal, gently wiping Ed's face while simultaneously rubbing Petey's head, inches from Ed's.

"And how do you know, Charlie? Spiritual revelation?" Hannibal hated the sarcasm in his voice, but he hadn't the energy to suppress it. Some small part of him still blamed Charlie for all of this.

Charlie kept smiling, not letting Hannibal goad him. "His friends, Hannibal. His voices. They won't let him go. They can't. It's their only way to survive."


*****

The Jeep hit yet another deep rut, and Decker's head snapped back. Nick winced in sympathy; the colonel had definitely not had an easy ride here. But his prisoner's comfort had to take a back seat to the mission. Nick had a desperate feeling that time was running out fast.

He glanced one more time at the compass on the dash. He was more than glad, now, of the mental discipline the Army had instilled in him. He had to keep track of their direction, and how far in each direction they'd gone. It would be vital if they were ever to find their way back from the desert.

The longer they drove, the more worried Nick got, wanting speed but not daring to go too fast lest he lose the trail. His eyes were focused just in front of the Jeep, watching for any sudden turns. If it hadn't been for Decker's sudden muffled exclamation, he never would've seen the apparition rising over a small hill ahead.

Even at this short distance, it was difficult to recognize the sergeant. It was obvious he'd been walking for some time; his entire being was coated in the fine dust that permeates everything in the deep desert. He was walking almost mechanically, and it took several shouts from Nick before he staggered to a stop and looked around, confused.

"BA! Here!" Nick bounded out of the Jeep, stopping only to grab his canteen before racing up to BA, who was still looking confused and exhausted.

"Nick? Where'd you come from, man?" His words were slurred, and he tried to lick his lips, grimacing distastefully.

"Here, have a drink. Slowly..."

BA glared at the warning before putting the canteen to his lips. Nevertheless, he did sip at the cool water, pausing to catch his breath before taking another longer drink. He sighed deeply as he poured some of the precious water over his face, then looked over at the Jeep.

"Decker?"

"Yeah. Look, where's Charlie? And the rest? Did you find Ed? We saw the wreck - what happened?"

"Shut up, man." He took one last drink. "How far is the van from here?"

"A few miles."

"Okay, we'll go get that later. We gotta go back where I come from. Ed's not good."

Nick didn't ask any more questions but followed BA back to the Jeep. BA took one look at the glaring captive, allowing himself an obvious smirk, and climbed into the back.

"Let's go, man. I'll keep you on track. You jus drive."


*****

Hannibal glanced at his watch yet again. It was nearly four in the afternoon. Murdock had used up the last of their water a few minutes ago. Each man had taken one last drink, and, somewhat surprisingly, Hannibal had insisted that Charlie give Petey a palmful. The rest had gone to the seemingly useless task of reviving Ed. Dr. Feist confirmed that his body temperature seemed to be lower, but he still hadn't come to.

Hannibal scouted the horizon in the direction BA had disappeared. He and Charlie had considered starting to move their whole party in that direction, hoping to meet up with BA on his return with the van. But neither Hannibal nor Charlie thought any of them would be able to carry Ed's dead weight in this heat. Hannibal wasn't sure any of them could carry their own weight at this point.

He moved slowly, stiffly, silently changing places with Charlie, holding Ed's head in his lap, taking the almost dry rag from Murdock, wiping down the scars and the scratches and the heat...

How had they come to this, him and his lieutenant? After all these years together, sharing so many things...how could they end up so far from each other? Strangers to one another, after all. If he was guilty of never seeing Face beneath the surface, wasn't the same to be said of Face? Did he really not know that his Colonel was exactly that - his? Did he really not understand that Hannibal would never turn his back on him? If only Face had given him some time, time to accept, time to adjust, he would have come around. But there hadn't been time. Face hadn't given him time. Just taken matters into his own hands, made decisions, not only for himself but for Hannibal, for the team.

It wasn't fair.

Hannibal hadn't been blameless. He should've talked to Face. Really talked. Let him talk. Made him talk. Made him say the things that frightened him. Saying them made them manageable. Made them workable. He should've made Face share the nightmares going on in his head. He should've had the strength to share those nightmares with Face, as he'd shared so many other horrors over the years.

But that wasn't the way they did things, either of them. Never openly acknowledge their fears, or their hopes. Never admit there were chinks in the armor. Never say what each one meant to the other.

Never be human. Being human meant failing, sometimes. They couldn't afford to fail. Couldn't afford to consider it.

Failing could get one of them killed.

He looked down at the now dry rag in his hand. At the head held in his lap, face so flushed with heat and exhaustion. A good face, scars and all, belonging to a man he'd always been proud to know, always would be proud to know.

And, dammit, that man was going to live to know how proud Hannibal was of him. And not just because of what he could do for Hannibal, or the team.

"Don't you dare give up on me, Kid. You're going to live. Understand? You're going to live, and you're going to find a new life, and you're going to be happy in it, you got me? You're going to live!"

The whisper was fierce and strong. And Hannibal was sure, very sure, he saw a little flutter of his lieutenant's eyelid. Just a little.

But Hannibal knew he'd heard, and understood, and would obey, if only this one last time.


*****

The Jeep bounced over one last rise, and BA stood up, grabbing the roll bar and pointing.

"There! Straight ahead! Hurry up!"

Nick could see in the distance a small dark mass. As the Jeep bounced over the rough terrain, the mass slowly distinguished itself, and he could see the men. Two stood up, looking at them, then started waving their arms. Nick bore down on the accelerator, nearly knocking BA out of the Jeep. Seconds later they were pulling to a fast stop a few yards from the group. Murdock and Charlie came staggering over, Petey racing ahead of them.

"C'mon, Nick, we gotta get Face back to..." Murdock stopped, staring in horror at Decker.

"Okay, okay, we'll get everyone in here somehow." Nick ignored the two, hurrying along with BA to Hannibal and the doctor, heart beating fast when he realized they were kneeling beside Ed.

"Thank God, Nick. He's not good. We've got to..." Dr. Feist began a hurried explanation.

"Yeah, doc, I know. Let's get him in the back. You guys get in first, you can hold on to him."

Hannibal, Charlie and BA grabbed Face as gently as they could, but, in their own poor shape, staggered with the weight. Nick shook his head, frustrated. "Wait! You guys get in the back. I'll get him." Nick ran back to the Jeep, pulling his knife. With a couple quick jerks, he had Decker free from the seat. Ripping the tape from the colonel's mouth with some ferocity, he ignored the groan of pain.

"C'mon, Decker, we got work to do." He pulled the captive from the Jeep and pushed him toward Face just as Hannibal walked up.

For a brief moment, the two colonels stared at each other.

"Peck's alive?"

"Barely."

Decker nodded, and was pushed past Hannibal. If Face's condition shocked him, he said nothing as he and Nick picked up the prostrate form. BA stood guard, making sure Decker did nothing to cause problems. Not that he intended to. The sooner they were out of this hell hole, the sooner he could try to get things under his control again.

The sooner he'd get the A-Team in custody.

All of them.