CHAPTER SIXTY SEVEN

Nick and Charlie looked over the map, making quick calculations based on the Nick's recollections of his journey. If they were right, they were maybe an hour's cross-country drive from the village. With luck and caution, only an hour.

In his confusion, Ed had pulled them all in a huge circle. They had been so intent on following his trail, and his trail had, at first, been so determinedly headed for the distant mountains, no one had noticed the gradual movement back around. Maybe they should've realized, when he'd started zigzagging, but then they'd been too intent on not losing him.

An hour. Over some of the worst terrain in the area.

Nick crumbled the map up and climbed into the Jeep, Charlie taking the seat vacated by Decker. The other men were crowded like sardines in the back, Hannibal and BA on the seat, holding Ed, Dr. Feist crunched between them and the front seats where he could monitor his patient, Murdock and Decker perched precariously on the wheel housings. Charlie kept Petey on the floor in front of him, held tight by his leash. With a precautionary glance back, Nick put the Jeep in gear and tore off across the desert.

Only an hour.

If the drive itself didn't kill them all, they might just have a chance.


*****

Murdock was having a hard time hanging on. And not to the Jeep.

With every bounce of the Jeep, everyone grimaced or grunted. Everyone except Face. He never moved, not voluntarily, at least. Just...so still.

So still.

Murdock couldn't bear the thought that he might lose this man. Face was too important to him. Like a brother, more than a brother, a soulmate. He kept Murdock going. Always had. Even those first few weeks in Nam, when the LT had been so green he practically needed mowing. Murdock had been there a lot longer, and yet it was Face that kept his calm, kept his faith that things would work out in the end. If it hadn't been for that, Murdock wouldn't have lasted as long as he did.

Face always knew what Murdock needed. Always.

But when the tables were turned, when Face needed something from Murdock, from the team, none of them could give it to him. Murdock had tried. He really had. But nothing he did seemed to work. He'd given Face elbow room, given him support, tried to help him find his way, but Face had rebuffed his every effort.

Murdock didn't know what to do. How to help.

Helpless. Helpless to save his friend, helpless to save himself. He was falling, falling into that abyss again and there was no Face to save him this time. They were falling together, and Murdock knew neither of them would come out of it this time, no way they could survive this time, they were doomed, doomed together, they couldn't make it, not by themselves, only together, but they weren't together because Face was dead and only Ed remained and Ed didn't want Murdock and Murdock didn't want Ed, not really, not truly, Murdock wanted Face, only Face, his best bud, his friend, his savior, he wanted...

"Murdock!"

He looked up, saw Hannibal glaring at him. Gulped.

"Stay with us, Captain. Understand? You stay with us, or God help me..."

Murdock tightened his grip on the Jeep, tightened his grip on his mind.

"Understood, Sir!"

Hannibal glared for another moment, then smiled sadly and nodded. Went back to looking after the lieutenant.

With a man down, now was not the time to lose it.

Murdock always brought them back.

Always.


*****

Decker watched the exchange between Murdock and Smith with interest. He had caught the vacant look on Murdock's face, but hadn't realized the significance until Smith spoke. It made him think about the pilot. All these years, he'd been convinced Murdock was faking things, taking advantage of the VA's gullible doctors in order to work with the team without seeming to. He'd known full well Smith considered Murdock his ace in the hole, but Decker had never been able to prove it. Not to the satisfaction of his superiors.

Until now.

But if this little exchange were any indication, Murdock wasn't as stable as Decker had thought. Certainly more sane than the VA thought, but not out of the woods. Definitely not out of the woods. Or was it just Peck that was causing this?

He looked down at the lieutenant. Not the pretty boy he had once been, not by a damn sight. The result of that accident, the one that had caused him to supposedly throw himself off that cliff? Had to be. Those scars were long healed now. But why the fake suicide? There was no way Smith or the others knew it was a fake. They'd stayed around too long for that, been way too visible. So why? And where had Peck been all this time? Out here, with these desert freaks? And why this run out into the desert? Had it finally gotten to him? Had he really made a serious, no-holds-barred attempt at killing himself?

That was not Peck. Decker hadn't wanted to believe it before, and he couldn't believe it now. There had to be some other explanation.

Had to be.

Because if it was true...

Decker looked from Peck to Murdock, back again. Then at Smith, Baracus.

They hardly looked like the crack commando team he'd been chasing all these years.

Just a bunch of broken, scared men.

Decker looked around at the desert flying by them, the Jeep bouncing and sliding as Nick forced it into as straight a line as possible. Trying to save Peck. Desperate to save him. Nick, and that Charlie character.

Why? What was Peck to them? They couldn't have known him that long. Why put themselves out like this?

None of it made sense.

Decker scowled, bringing his gaze back to the prone figure and the men around him.

He had a lot of thinking to do.


*****

BA held on to Face's legs, tight, not too tight, enough to keep him from bouncing off as the Jeep tore across the ground. He watched as Hannibal gripped the shoulders, holding Face's head against his chest. BA knew Hannibal was daring God to try and take his man. Hannibal would fight the devil himself when it came to one of his own. BA took a different tack - he was praying as hard as he ever had, as hard as he had back in Nam.

He looked at Murdock. Ever since Hannibal had brought him up short, the pilot had seemed to gather himself together again. How long he could last, BA wasn't sure. He knew if Face died, Murdock was lost. There'd be no coming back for him then.

But Face wasn't going to die. BA wouldn't let himself even think that, not now. Not when they were so close. He didn't know what would happen afterward, what Face would do, what Hannibal would do, where any of them would end up, but they were going to at least have a future to decide that.

All of them, dammit. All of them.

He adjusted his grip, tried to hold the body as steady as he could. He looked up, noticing immediately that the Jeep was slowing down. They were coming over a hill. BA looked over the shoulders of the men in front as the Jeep began descending into a valley.

A valley, with the village now in sight.