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The Team is Waiting

The Team is Waiting

by Johanna

 

Rating: PG-13 Violence, torture, some language, threat of death to a major character

Disclaimer: Stephen J. Cannell and/or assigns own the A-Team and all it's characters.  No copyright infringement is intended and no profit, either. 

Summary:   An unusual mission involves confrontation with a ruthless former adversary and endangerment of Face's life. 

Author's Notes: For well over a year I have taken immense enjoyment from the literary gifts of so many writers on this and other A-Team fan fiction pages.    I especially salute emmastark, Jasmine, Lark, Witchbaby, and lamardeuse for perceptive stories that I have read over and over again–which is by no means is to leave unappreciated the many others who have contributed wonderful stories.  This is my meager attempt at thanking you all, and hoping that you will keep writing. 

 

 

*****

 

It was a rare assignment or adventure when the Team did not, at some point, complain that they had made a mistake to ever get involved.  It was rarer still that they didn't go through the standard distraught objections from Face before they even got started.  That standardized ruefulness was not a harbinger of things to go wrong.  Nevertheless, Hannibal would remember later the brief but intense protests that framed the beginning of this affair. 

 

"You really think we can just walk in and out, no problem?  Some things might be that easy, like stealing from the U.S. Mint.  This will not be that easy." Face was as exasperated as Hannibal was jazzed.  And the Colonel was on the jazz, too, as Face and BA both could readily tell from the smile playing around the edges of his cigar, and the distinctive flash in his ice blue eyes.  That perturbed Face even more.

 

"Course we can, piece of cake," Hannibal replied, mostly speaking to Face's back, as the Lieutenant had turned away from Hannibal's delighted countenance.  This was an all-around score for the Team in his estimation.   A quick job, with a fairly big financial pay-off.  A chance to rack up a favor with an old and reliable friend in one of the government's shadow agencies that spied on other spies.  A score against an enemy once before met, someone who in any estimation deserved any and every swatting, trick, or undercut that could be delivered.  In 24 hours, it would merely be something to look back on with a sly grin.

 

Hannibal would distinctly remember that thought later, as well. 


"I have to go in, not you," Face had rounded back to face Hannibal, looking down at first, but staring straight into his eyes as he finished his simple remark.  BA observed, or thought he did, that some private message passed between the Colonel and the Lieutenant.  Since being on the run in the U.S., the team rarely took cases that did not involve all four of them, but in 'Nam, there were more occasions when Special Ops required only one or two of them.  BA had a momentary feeling that there was some history here, some mission that he was left out of, so he didn't understand all the dynamics.  He shook it off as Face turned away again, his body tenseness still clearly expressing his irritation.  Face mumbled something under his breath about his own plans for the day shot, then stopped short and turned back at Hannibal one more time. 

 

"We get Murdock.  If we have to do this, we do as a complete team."

 

Before Hannibal could answer, BA interjected, "What good will that fool do on this job?  Ain't no flying needed.  Ain't none of his crazy talk needed either."

 

Face was cool.  "Just in case.  If this one goes bad, it will go bad spectacularly.  We should have the whole team together.  In case."

 

Hannibal agreed.  "Sure kid.  We get the gear, go by the VA, then to the airport.  We'll have Murdock back out of BA's personal space by dinner." 

 

"Right."  Face paused, then went into his bedroom to select a proper outfit for a German courier to wear.   Hannibal grinned at BA. 

 

***

 

Hannibal was right that the job was simple and fast.  In fact, that's why the Team was able to pick it up: even shadow intelligence agencies couldn't react within the few hours that would elapse between foreknowledge of the courier's mission and the exchange.  At 1:00 p.m. a German businessman would arrive at LAX.  He was a regular in the U.S., coming as often as once a month, but only staying two or three nights.   Biotechnology software sales executive, purportedly.  His route and contacts had been established over several years.    On this trip, he would drive a rented car from LAX to downtown LA for a dinner meeting with the president of a Japanese-owned surgical laser manufacturing agency.  On his way, he would make a side trip in this most diverse of American cities, as he usually did at least once when in the U.S.  This time, for the first time, he would stop by the Afghan embassy building.  There he would exchange something in his briefcase for something that a German national wanted.  Perhaps the German national was merely a front for the true intended recipient, but the courier knew better than to ever exercise his imagination.  He kept his thoughts to himself.   Perhaps it was that dispassion and lack of imagination that prevented him from noting, over time, that he was on an international intelligence watch, and that a gleeful unit of intelligence officers were thrilled with the chance to intercept the pending exchange because they knew that the courier and the embassy staff were strangers.   Reflecting an odd sort parallel lack of imagination, the intelligence officers did not learn that the courier service had built-in redundancy.  But they did know that their staffing options were limited if they wanted to deploy and execute a mission in only hours. 

 

So, Principal Systems and Operations Analyst Harry Fielding managed to get a message  to his secret friend, Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith, and the mission was set into motion.


With Face impeccably dressed in a new four-button leather car coat, wool trousers, and casual shirt, the Team went first to Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal, where Hannibal went into the concourse men's room long enough to pass a wink with Harry at the sinks, then pick up the locker key which Harry had set down while washing his hands.  The locker key yielded a slender black sheepskin portfolio, and an aluminum case like a make-up box.  Back in the Van, Hannibal and Face examined the contents of each as they swept to the VA for Murdock.  The portfolio's key contents were obvious satellite photos, and documents evidently encrypted.  Also some cash.  The other box contained an audio transmitter about the size and shape of a 1" bandage, and receiving and amplifying gear.  BA checked out the audio while Face checked out Murdock.  Back in the Van, Murdock was suspiciously silent while the full team went on it's way to LAX.  The other items in the portfolio were photographs of the courier, and papers that, like the exchange documents themselves, Face could only hope were sufficiently genuine-appearing to get them ("scratch that," he thought, "me") through this.    He took deep breaths as they pulled into the rental car lot at 1:15 p.m.  This was definitely going to tap his deepest conman talents. 

 

They spotted the courier in short order.  He was loading his small suitcase into the trunk when BA jumped from the Van, collared the courier entirely in a single arm-hold, and pulled him inside in seconds.  A punch had him out cold immediately.  Murdock grabbed the suitcase and the genuine portfolio and joined BA in the Van.  Hannibal drove off as Face began tying up their guest. 

 

They did not notice the second man, several rows away, taking in the lightening-fast abduction, then jumping into his own rental car and flying out of the lot.   As for U.S. intelligence, they were monitoring the embassy vicinity only.

 

According to the plan, the courier would have been to the Embassy about 3:00 p.m.  The team dropped off Murdock and the conscious but irritable courier at the back of Mr. Lee's laundry on the way, with a radio and a weapon.  BA almost felt bad for the courier.  "He'll be out of this business after Murdock's through with him."

 

"I have a feeling he'll be persona non-grata after this anyway," Face tried to make a light comment.   "He'll need to find a desk job." 

 

Hannibal figured that Face would be nervous on this one, but that for the Lieutenant, admitting he was nervous would be worse than what he was about to face.  Instead, Hannibal verified that Face had the clever listening devise on the inside of his shoe, as planned.  It's principal purpose was to overhear what went on during the transaction.  For Face, it was going to be an extra credit assignment to plant it somewhere useful inside the embassy for future use.  Focusing on that task was going to be one of the ways he would corral his anxiety.

 

Two miles from the Embassy, and at 10 minutes after 3:00, they parked behind a blue Lexus rent-a-car.   "Well, Lieutenant, it's time.  We want you out by 4:00.  You're expected at your pre-dinner engagement at 4:45.  If you're on-time, you get to decide what we do with the real courier.  If you're late, Murdock gets to decide."  Hannibal cast amused eyes on Face, who grudgingly smiled back slightly.  The Team was all here, and with Hannibal waiting for him, it was all sure to work out.  It–almost–always had before. 


"Back soon."  Face breathed in and out again deeply, jumped in the Lexus, and drove off.  BA turned on the receiver.

 

*****

 

Listening in from two miles away, Hannibal and BA both thought they could feel Face's tension in the embassy, but it was as much generated by their ability to hear but not see as anything untoward really happening.  In fact, since Face had the advantage of seeing the expressions and demeanor of the embassy guards and staff, he was actually able to settle with some degree of security into his role, as he was allowed into the grounds, into the house, and after a thorough search (though not touching the inside of his shoes), up to the second floor waiting area.    He was treated with courtesy and no particular threat.  But he was left to cool his heels for a while.  At 3:40, a secretary offered him water, which he declined.  At a little before 4:00, another secretary invited him to follow her into one of the office suites.  His last frivolous thought, before coming face to face with Rhona, was that Murdock would be choosing the fate of the courier after all.

 

Rhona Amelick was the name by which she had been known long enough that it was considered her name.   She ran a network of assassins that made her an ally of a host of terrorist organizations, despite her womanhood.  She was not exactly a model of femininity, Face took the time to note.  She was pushing 50, had done little to protect or enhance her features, and though she was physically strong, she had no shape, at least not in the jeans and green shirt she wore.   Her hair was shortened by a buzz cut, and she was smoking.  She came around the desk to shake hands with her visitor, greeting him in rough German and waving him to a seat.

 

But Face stood still.  Poised, curt, and cool, he said in English that sounded schooled but not native, "I would like to finish my business and be on my way.  I have an engagement later this afternoon.  Lateness could be misinterpreted."  He looked generally in Rhona's direction, but chose not to look into her eyes, lest his comment be construed as challenge.

 

She put down her cigarette and sat at her desk, nodding.  "I see," in English as rough as her German.  "Alat, get the folder," she directed one of her minions.  "Let me see the delivery," she told Face. 

 

Obligingly, he opened his portfolio and handed her the phony documents.  She looked them over in a cursory fashion and dropped them on her desk.  "I don't know," she shook her head, picking up her cigarette again.  "I don't think they are as good as these versions," and she pulled out similar photos and files from her top left drawer. 


In that instant, Face, and Hannibal, and BA, knew they were in very big trouble.  All their minds raced, each in separate directions.  BA was on the radio instantly to Murdock, confirming he was still there with the prisoner.  Murdock acknowledged that all was under control at his post–but was now also demanding over the radio to know what had gone wrong.  BA told him to shut up.  Hannibal was reviewing each word Harry had said for the hint of betrayal, but couldn't find anything.  Face was thinking the obvious–and he was right.  There was a principal courier, who they had in the back of Mr. Lee's laundry, and then a back-up courier, who was entering the office now from a side door with a bemused but largely disinterested  expression. 

 

Alat returned with a stack of folders.  Rhona took them, leafed through to be sure of their contents, then handed them to the courier.  He opened his black portfolio, tucked in the folders, and bowed slightly at Rhona.  He left. 

 

"Well, that bit of work is taken care of.  Now we can analyze both the true information and the false you have given, to see what things you Americans are most concerned with hiding or altering from us.  Thank you."

 

"They must have had a second courier," BA whispered. 

 

"Or the first was a decoy," Hannibal breathed back, fearful at the turn of events but still believing it unlikely to have been a set-up by Harry.

 

"So," Rhona began, "I don't have a lot of time from my busy schedule to deal with you, but I am curious about who you work for exactly and if there is any value to you." 

 

Face remained calm under her stare.   He'd been in tough jams, although this was a clunker, being that the embassy was essentially like another country, with another country's laws.  But the Team was outside, and listening to everything. 

 

Rhona didn't wait long.  She flicked her eyes up to a few of the guards standing behind Face's chair, sending a signal to them to see what they might jar from the interloper.  One brought the butt of his automatic weapon onto Face's neck knocking him to the floor.  Both moved in to kick him several times.  He steeled against the worst of it, but drew himself up into a ball as though he was hurting worse–thus he was able to get the listening device out of his shoe and in his hand.  Under two more blows, he was able to twist enough to grab the bottom edge of the desk, as though seeking it's protection, and that is how he was able to plant the listening device in the office of Rhona Amelick. 

 

The guards dragged him away from the desk and up to his feet.  He was dizzier from the blow to his neck than he was yet bothered by the kicks.  "Fingerprint him," Rhona ordered.  "Take him to the basement and tie him there for now."

 

Hannibal and BA heard the manhandling of Face out of the room, but then still heard Rhona's voice.  "He planted the bug," Hannibal wondered.  BA was only annoyed, "That's great, now we won't know where he is or what's happening." 

 

Hannibal looked up as the real courier drove past in his rental.  "Let's start with him," Hannibal pointed.

 

******


Within another 30 minutes, both good things and bad things happened.  The decoy courier now had a companion, and both were bound, gagged, and left in the rental car in downtown LA, with the documents from Rhona, for timely pick-up by Harry's men.  That was good. 

 

However, Hannibal and Harry had been cut off during their initial phone call, or more likely Harry had cut it off, which was bad, because it meant the Team was on their own for the time being.  It became worse when they realized that Rhona had been able to run Face's fingerprints and she now knew the identity of her uninvited guest.   But at least Murdock was back with them, and  together they were listening to the embassy's transmitter.

 

Rhona and others were speaking in a mix of Arabic, Afghan, and infrequently English.  It was unmistakable, however, when they heard "Lieutenant Templeton Peck" and Colonel John Smith among the conversations.  "How did they get access to the military records that fast?" Murdock fumed simply.  Hannibal was just listening, head down, thinking about Face alone in there, and thinking about what Rhona was famous for.  "Let's visit our new friend," Rhona's voice was clear, and the accompanying sounds let them know that Rhona and entourage were headed out.  "BA, we need to head to San Marino, we have to find Harry."

 

"That's 30 minutes away, Hannibal.  Who knows what will happen to Face while we're gone an hour?"

 

"I know exactly what's going to happen, Sergeant, and if we don't get the right kind of help fast, we aren't going to be able to stop what happens in the end.  Let's go."  Hannibal looked at Murdock but refused to give in to the fear he saw flicker there with his words.

 

*****

 

No audience of Team members or rescuers in the distance listened in as Rhona went to the basement of the embassy with a few compatriots and a baseball bat.  The basement was fairly clean, poorly lit, and damp smelling.  Two ropes, about eight feet apart, hung from under the first floor joists, and Face was securely tied by each hand, his arms then pulled and hanging just about at his head level.   His fine new car coat and his shirt were tossed along the side somewhere, leaving him in trousers and undershirt only.  Again, Rhona wasted little time. 

 

"Your name is Lieutenant Templeton Peck, and your commanding office was, or is, Colonel John Smith.  He had the balls to allow himself to be mis-named Hannibal, like a great general from a part of the world you know nothing about."  She paused.  Face stared.  He was tightening his grip on his emotions because he estimated that what was coming next would be horrible, but that she wouldn't kill him at first, hoping to bargain.  Therefore, he could hope for rescue, while she negotiated.  Face knew Hannibal.  He trusted him and he trusted the Team, literally with his life.  He figured that if he hung on to that trust, he could survive a few hours of whatever that baseball bat was about. 


"Now, Lieutenant Peck...," she paused to mutter an aside to one of the soldiers with her, a youth unlikely to even be 20, "Do his legs first."  As the youth with the bat approached, Rhona stepped back to give him swinging room and continued speaking to Face in her gruff English.  "I'm still not sure that you have any value to me or not."  The guard crouched and swung against Face's left leg, snapping the bone.  Face screamed, but pulled in the sound immediately.   "Maybe you can tell me if you still associate with Smith," she went on, as the bat was swung again, snapping the other leg.  Face was left hanging from the ropes, unable to stand anymore.

 

"Not interested in telling me?"  She moved back closer again, but Face was concentrating fully on adjusting his arms to allow breathing and narrowing the sense of pain in his legs.  He suddenly understood very well what the simple ropes and bat could accomplish–if he could not stand, he would have to hang, and rather quickly he would have trouble breathing if he just hanged.  Eventually he would strangle or start defying the pain in his legs to stand for relief.  Two thousand years ago, something with a similar effect on the human body was called crucifixion.

 

Rhona stepped back again and perused Face.  "I'm sure he's still with Smith.  They have some antics going on called the A-Team.  He's not bad looking, I will say that."  She paused, then turned to her second in command but spoke loudly, for Face's benefit, too.  "We can do his arms or his hips now.  What do you think?"  She looked again at Face.  "Hmmm.  He might seem irreparable if we did his hips.  If Smith comes for him, we're better off with some useable bait.  Do the arms." 

 

Rhona walked away as the bat swung two more times, snapping two more bones, but  engendering first one full scream, then one strangled scream as the ability to breathe was instantaneously inhibited.   All the guards followed Rhona, leaving Face alone in the dim basement.

 

He could not afford to let unconsciousness take command, because he would surely die.  Weight on either leg was agony, so much so that he felt like he could not breathe anyway when trying to stand–yet, the only way he could fill his lungs was to stand.  Likewise to pull against the ropes with his arms, and thus improve his breathing, was more agony.  His limbs were on fire, and yet only by enduring the fire could he pull in the air to keep enduring it.  Through it, he droned to himself, the Team is coming, the Team is waiting.   

 

****

 

Hannibal had guessed wrong on Harry's house the first time, and gave someone else's housekeeper quite a start, with three wild-eyed mercenaries on her porch.  At the second, and correct, choice, Hannibal went alone to the door at first.  A teen answered, called her Dad to come, and closed the door to a crack as Harry joined Hannibal on the front porch.

 

"You've been unable to reach my cell phone, Harry."

 

Harry was expecting this, and didn't like what he was about to have to say.  He said it any way.


"You know as well as I do, Hannibal, that team members are expendable on missions like this.  Regrettable, but true.  Expendable.  There is nothing I can do."  He turned back to the front door, wanting to dive into the safety of his upscale neighborhood home.  Hannibal was not about to let him go, and lay a gloved hand against his arm. 

 

"Jesus, Harry, we never did that.  You never did that.  We never wrote guys off like that.."

 

"Only three guys in the org even know about you or this, Hannibal.  There isn't anybody to help.

 

"Harry," Hannibal's voice changed slightly, not threatening, just....serious.  "I have a man missing.  A part of my team.  I don't leave men behind.  I do whatever I need to do to get back what's missing on my team."  He swallowed.  "You know what Rhona's signature bait and execution are.  I can't leave Face there.  If I have to die trying, I'm going to get him out.  And you have to help."

 

Harry caved in because he wanted to.  "But what can you use?  I told you I don't have manpower, I can't give you manpower." 

 

"That's okay.  I need some stuff, everything you have on the embassy, a helicopter, meds...," they met eyes on that one, knowing exactly what range of meds Hannibal would want, "...other gear.  Now.  In an hour." 

Harry shook his head.  "No way."  He relented.  "Okay, we'll try.  Come in and I'll try to track down the Director."

 

******

 

It was nearly two hours later that Harry had finally gotten through to someone powerful enough to give instant orders in line with Hannibal's wishes.  The A-Team was dispatched to a tiny airport in the San Fernando Valley, another 20 minutes away from downtown LA and the embassy building.  In the time between Hannibal's first words to Harry and the Van heading to Whiteman Airport, fluid was already building up in Face's lungs.  He had managed to find a rhythm of how to gently balance on his broken legs to give his broken arms a bit of relief, and gulp agonized deep breaths, then slowly relax off his legs to hang again, slightly twisted, in a subtle shape that he had learned to be the less painful of a terribly painful ordeal.  He could see his forearms, swollen and purplish already, although the left arm seemed stronger even with the heavier swelling and deeper color.  His legs were hidden from his eyes, but he could discern through the larger pain that they were likewise swollen.  In the opposite of his arms, it was his right leg that served better to handle some of his weight than the left.  The youth with the bat wasn't hitting 1000 today, Face thought fleetingly, although in fact the youth was well practiced at the exercise and quite deliberately aimed the breaks to create intense pain but allow breathing still, if the will to survive was strong.


Face's will was, of course, quite overpowering.  He had been through imprisonment and torture before.  One of his tricks was to retreat so far inside himself that his mind numbed to the pain in his body.  He was trying that now, but it was no mean feat.  Breathing was very difficult already, and he was finding himself needing to push onto his tortured legs more and more frequently to get air.  Suddenly as though he was hearing it in real time, Face replayed a lecture from one of the nuns in the orphanage about Christ's crucifixion.  It was one of those grisly Passion Week efforts to make children as uncomfortable about Christ's torment as He was.  Unbidden and unwanted, Face remembered with crystal clarity the nun explaining that the crucified would keep pulling themselves up to get air, and that it was a sign of mercy to break hips or legs or arms so that the condemned would stop struggling and merely suffocate into oblivion.  Face immediately tried to erase the overwhelming horror of that with another memory of another voice.  Onto his legs, quiet moans, breathe, hang again.   The memory was one that was always in the background of his environment, no matter how minor or trivial a possible threat, and in cases like this one, Face could summon a certain set of words as clearly as if Hannibal were standing right beside him–the words were an answer to a question asked long ago.  "You're right," Hannibal had assured, "I'll always come for you."

 

***

 

Not surprisingly, Hannibal was thinking of the very same incident as they drove through the early evening darkness to pick up the promised gear, including a helicopter.   Murdock was muttering lullabies to himself, BA was staring at the road ahead, and Hannibal was remembering an early episode in the life of Lieutenant Peck, as he knew him.  The kid could not have been more than 18 or 19 (his exact age was a mystery even to Colonel Smith).  He was captured with about 15 others, by and large all more seasoned men than he, and held in unpleasant circumstances.  Three of the group had died right away.  Hannibal lead a rescue mission that snagged them all during a march from one camp to another, after four weeks.  The survivors were in terrible condition, another one dying even after they were back in the Saigon.   Face's behavior was immediately remarkable upon their rescue, fairly ignoring his own brutal injuries to help others as they made their way to safety.  Later, Hannibal would hear similar stories to a man about how kind and cool Face was, never complaining, never defiant to their captors, just disinterested, and absolutely convinced–so convinced that he held the faith for all of them–that Hannibal would come to save them.   At the time, Hannibal had been both flattered and frightened, because it was war and one never really knew what might happen the next time.    When the Lieutenant was released from the hospital in Saigon, however, Hannibal was confronted by the full impact of Face's decision to choose him, and only him, to trust. 

 

Hannibal was driving him back to the base, in the early evening like that very night.  Face had offered little detail of his particular experience, which worried Hannibal because most men needed some confession or release to maintain mental health.  Hannibal endeavored to be sure Face was coping emotionally as well as he was physically, and made a remark about how long it took to find the prisoners.


He got a more powerful reaction than he bargained for.  Face was quiet for a moment, then began explaining to Hannibal that he had never trusted anyone because every time he did, he was betrayed, but that he instinctively trusted Hannibal, hanging on the belief that Hannibal could not abandon them, no matter what it took to make a rescue.  He was crying softly as Hannibal listened to him talk a little more about what he endured, all the while gripping his faith in Hannibal to hold him together.    When Hannibal in fact lead the rescue, it was like divine fulfillment.  "I knew you would come, Colonel, and you did come," he finished.  Then Face asked Hannibal his question: "You will always come, right?"

 

Hannibal's eyes were closed in the Van as he relived his reaction in 1969 Vietnam.  "You're right," he had said, almost murmuring it aloud right then.  "I'll always come for you."

 

The Van turned into the tiny airstrip's entrance, and they drove to the AirWays hangar, as instructed.  A tall man with chiseled features came out an office door and approached with two huge black duffle bags.  Hannibal jumped out of the Van and took the bags.   Murdock came out of the back of the Van. "I'm the pilot," he said simply, "Show me the bird," and was lead away by the silent spy.    Hannibal and BA went through the contents of the bags.  Bulletproof vests.   Weapons.  Tiny communication devices.  Climbing vests.  Cable.  A rolled-up field first aid kit with several hypodermics labelled with long names.  "I'll explain on the way back," Hannibal answered BA before the question could be asked. 

 

Hannibal hadn't revealed the successfully planted office bug, yet.   But maybe Harry was worth his probably exorbitant salary in intelligence, because after losing the cryptic character with the duffle bags, out of the building came another, younger man, who watched them complete the inventory and then said, "I'm Jake Hammarijan.  I translate.  Harry asked me to come with you to help listen in."

 

Hannibal sized him up briefly and shrugged.  "Get in our way in any way and you'll likely get killed," he warned without much feeling.  "We're on a rescue mission and we have no margin for error." 

 

Jake was both excited and insulted.  "I'll stay in the Van.  No worries.  I'm not even armed."

 

Hannibal didn't care.  He was focusing on the details of what they needed to accomplish in the next hour, for Face's sake. 

 

Murdock and his silent guide materialized.  "Bird's okay.  Older, but it has what we need."  He looked at BA, expecting a problem, but BA was strained and silent.  He turned his stare back to Hannibal.  "You aren't going in."   It was a bare phrase, but it was full of meaning.  This time BA was sure that there was something which he knew nothing about.

 

"No, I'm not exactly going in.  BA needs to be the one to penetrate the embassy basement to get Face out."

 

BA was talking over him without listening much to his last comment.  "Hannibal, what are you not telling me?  You did the same trick with Face before this ever got started," BA challenged. 


"We had a little run-in with Rhona years ago, in 'Nam.  Really, just me.  Not a big deal, but the kind of thing that she would like to forget, and instead always remembers.  A dressing down.  I suppose she holds a pretty nasty grudge."

 

Before any questions or accusations, Hannibal said, "Let's use her irrational anger at me to get Face out."  He outlined a plan.

 

*****

 

It was nearly 8:00 p.m. when they were geared up and on the freeway back to downtown LA.  The translator Jake indeed sat unobtrusively in the rear-most seat, listening as best he could to the frightening but fascinating exchanges between the men in the front.  Murdock was waiting in the helicopter at the air field for word to go.

 

As the plan was laid out, BA would need to cope with a bare minimum of time off the ground as they beat a retreat from the embassy.  He was worried, but for Face's sake he would do what he needed to do.  As a way to keep his mind off the flying part, he asked about the medical kit.

 

"You said I would have to be the one to get Face.  What's that about?  What's in the medical kit?

 

Hannibal was chewing on the end of a cigar.  "Rhona has a special reputation in her little world of notoriety for her method of execution.  For a good twenty years or so, she's perfected a crucifixion method."  BA's head snapped in Hannibal's direction, but Hannibal ignored the interruption, continuing without a beat.  "It's hard to tell how long some one can last, and it depends on exactly how she handles it.  But generally we're talking hours.  The kit has three meds: an anti-inflammatory and some Demerol to help a little with the pain.  That's so you can get him out.  He'll need to be carried and hoisted out of the basement.  That's why it has to be you.  The third shot is something to let him go if it's too late." 

 

BA's head snapped again.  "You mean help him die, Hannibal?  I can't do that.  Don't even say that."

 

His voice lower, Hannibal said, "I've been in the shoes you're going to be in.  You ask Face what he needs or wants to take.  He'll understand all three.  I pray you won't have to use the third, but it may be the only thing that can help Face."  Near to losing his composure, Hannibal stopped talking.  They were silent the rest of the way.

 

****

 

Back to their usual parking area near the embassy, Hannibal reactivated the transmitter to listen to the goings-on in Rhona's office, while he and BA finished getting into their gear.  Jake interjected once, "She's there, talking about...," he paused, "....something classified," he finished simply.  Hannibal and BA didn't care.  They put on their own communicators, then told Murdock it was time to roll. 

 

"They are sending a man down with some water for the prisoner," Jake said suddenly.  "That means he is still alive."


"Or they are going to see if he is."

 

"Wait until he returns," Jake advised, so they told Murdock to fly slow, but BA jumped out and headed to the back wall of the compound, the plan views of the grounds and buildings very fresh in his mind, so that he would be in position when the all clear sounded.  They would have 5 minutes or less after this started.   In fact, he decided to head over the wall already, to be even closer to the basement window.   He was over and threading through the intruder alert system like a very large jungle cat, when the 20-year-old bat swinger approached the struggling Face with a plastic bottle of water.

 

"You want water?" the soldier asked, holding up the bottle so that he could squeeze out a stream of water if the man was sufficiently cognizant to affirm.  He knew Face was alive, thanks to the labored, muddy breathing and the constant contorting as he hung.  The soldier had seen it before. 

 

"Yes," Face managed to croak, and opened for the water.   He drank way too fast, and in seconds he spit most of it right back up on the soldier, who socked him across the chest and strode away swearing in whatever native language he claimed.    BA was nearly to the window.

 

*****

 

"He's alive," Jake reported.  "Threw up on the guard.  He's pissed." 

 

"That's it," Hannibal said over his radio.  "BA, you're in.  Five minutes and counting.    Murdock, five minutes."

 

"Yes, Colonel., Murdock replied.  "In," BA breathed into his tiny device.  The window latch was alarmed.  He cut the entire window circumference at the frame and pulled it out entirely, then slid in. 

 

Meanwhile, Colonel. John "Hannibal" Smith walked to the Afghan Embassy drive way and spoke to the surveillance camera.  "Excuse me, I'd like see Rhona.  She has something I'd like to get back."

 

*****

Rhona was almost giddy when she confirmed visually that it was Hannibal.  One of her Lieutenants tried to hold her back, but she ran out to the front balcony and shouted for him to enter the driveway.  Under the house, BA had crept across the basement to Face's side.   He heard Face's deep, stuttering, damp breaths, like water running over stones, coming only every several seconds.  He thought that Hannibal's remarks had prepared him for what he would encounter, but it did not.  Face hung miserably, arms purple and swollen, suddenly  twisting or shifting, groaning, and making that deep, soggy breath, just as BA padded across the dark basement to him.   At his side, behind his ear, he said softly, "Face, it's BA." 


Instinctively, Face turned his head sideways to hear again.  BA had not wanted to startle him, but with the soft warning, now walked around and close to him.  "We're getting you out," was all he could say.

 

"Is he down?" Hannibal murmured to be heard in his transmitter, hearing BA's comments but awaiting the trigger for the next step in the rapidly unfolding plan. 

 

"Hang on," BA breathed, then without warning or further consideration, grabbed Face by the waist, just under the ribs, lifted a bit as Face struggled to inhale, and cut him down with a few swipes of a short blade.  He laid him on the floor, spun a bag from his back and opened it, pulling out a few things.  Simultaneously, he said, "He's out of restraints.  Two minutes.  Four if you can manage it."

 

Murdock, on line with the other two, chimed in, "I'm 45 seconds out, Colonel.  Give me the word when you are ready." 

 

Hannibal did not need to answer his men; they had the plan, they had assignments to concentrate on as he distracted Rhona for just that time they needed.

 

"No, I think I'll stay right out here on American soil," Hannibal shouted at the embassy building generally. 

 

"Give me a weapon," the enraged Rhona screamed, and while two of her lieutenants tried to reason that she shouldn't, a third just handed her the gun and she fired expertly at Hannibal, 400 yards away.  She squeezed five or six shots, and one felled Hannibal.  But in a moment he was back on his feet, winded but fine, and showing a bullet-proof vest by pulling off his jacket.

 

"Nice, but I'm after something, and I'm not interested if you aren't going to deal, bitch," Hannibal shouted.

 

BA had rolled Face on his back and was rapidly reviewing key information.  "We have only a few minutes.  I need to get this harness on you–" it was really a vest "–and get you out the basement window to the grounds.  Murdock is standing by."

 

"Hannibal is safe, he isn't coming in," Face asked against a rattling breath.  Funny, BA thought, that Face was generally the arbitrary whiner, but when something really mattered–Team came first.

 

"Face, you have to trust we have this under control.  Now..." he pulled out the vest and made himself oblivious to Face's groans as he put purple arms through the holes and rolled him to buckle on the vest.  "I have some anti-inflammatory and some pain killer.  Hannibal said I should ask you what you needed."  He declined to even mention the third med.

 

"Both," Face said, not at all reasoning, just reacting to the thought that anything would give relief.  BA spun open the medical kit, pulled out the Demerol and injected it, then the anti-inflammatory.  He hoisted Face up on his shoulder and padded to the empty window.


"No, you come.  We talk.  No more shooting." Rhona was doing what passed as her best attempt at coaxing, but with the gun still hanging loose in her hand, Hannibal knew well that she wouldn't have bargained even if it was actually his plan to negotiate. 

 

"Show me the man," Hannibal roared.  He and Rhona exchanged invectives briefly, then mercifully, and just as he had hoped, she launched into a vicious debate with her soldiers about bringing Face up or not bringing Face up and if they had weapons that could penetrate the vest or not and if they should try to use them or not, when the body would fall outside the boundary of the embassy.  A few minutes needed by BA would fling by.

 

"BA, " Hannibal intoned, "Status."

 

At that moment, Face was hanging half inside, half outside, the high basement window, where BA had shoved him.  "Thirty seconds," BA promised, and pleaded with Face.  "You need to get through, Faceman.  Just drop.  Have to come through after you.   We only have a few seconds."

 

Wracked and nearly out of energy to live, at least for that moment, Face protested, "I can't.  I have no way to get down."  The drugs seemed to be dulling the edges of his perception, but not drastically changing anything for the better.

 

BA was extremely unhappy, but committed to the obvious.  "You have to get through, you have to make this," he said, then pushed Face through to land on broken limbs outside the window.  He pulled himself up and half through, checked to see where he needed to jump to avoid Face, then pushed off to land near him, outside the building in the planter.

 

"I'm on my way," he heard Murdock say.

 

Face was moaning, but BA ignored it again and grabbed him again by the waist, leaned near the building looking up, and waited.

 

Rhona's attention was back on Hannibal.  "We'll get him, but only if you at least cross the line."

 

Hannibal took an exceedingly deep breath and counted to 15.  He heard, because he was listening for it, the sound of Murdock's helicopter.  Another breath, and he wiggled under his two heavy vests to feel the confidence of the vest with the hook.  He took one step just over the line.

 

"Well?" he demanded, knowing that guards would be running his way.

 

The helicopter with bright lights swooped almost instantaneously over the roof of the embassy, cable dangling.  Hannibal pulled out his hook, and miraculously grasped the cable on the first pass.  As guards leapt as his legs he was whisked up and away, wildly swinging on the long cable, as weapons fired all around him and the helicopter.  In the Team's favor, the shots were equally wide. 


BA saw Murdock whiz over, heard the shots, knew his turn was within seconds.  He dreaded the flying, he so dreaded having to grab that cable and rise up into the air, without protection, but he steeled himself to it by feeling the ripple that coursed through Face each time he took a labored breath.  "Just a few seconds, then I'll be down," BA comforted himself, "and Face will be safe."   Then the helicopter sound had circled back over the embassy, weapons fire trailing, and he looked up for the cables.

 

Hannibal had been half winched, half climbed himself, into the helicopter.  They had two cables, but a contingency was that BA would hold Face if Hannibal was not off one of the cables.  In deference to the fact that his Sergeant. was mortified of heights and flying, but doing it anyway because of Face, Hannibal exerted himself to make it the best possible situation.  Gunfire they would have to keep dodging.  At least BA and Face would each draw up on their own cable. 

 

Rhona was running from the front balcony to her office, which faced out back.  Her gut told her what was happening.  There was not really time to react save to hope they could catch one or more with a bullet, and she sent a few men to the roof to help that hope along.

 

The cables with their hooks paused in mid-air swinging far, but BA caught one right away on the arc near him, and clasped it to his vest, the second one, caught on the second arc, he clipped into Face's .  Up went the little winch motor.  Up went BA and Face, as Murdock gently withdrew simultaneously, and bullets flew all around.  One or two or three hit BA, but the vest deflected them with bruises.  Then it was Rhona herself, within feet of the Team making it beyond the range of gunshot, who realized that she still had bullets, and that her victim was freed, and in a blast of anger leveled her gun at Face's dangling frame and squeezed off the remaining bullets. 

 

She was a very good shot, even at a twisting, rising, retreating object in the blackness of night.  A bullet lodged in Face's chest. 

 

BA saw it or sensed it from the new way Face twisted below him.  He could see flakes of something dribbling out, which he would realize quickly to have been the first trickles of blood.  He looked up at Hannibal in the helicopter and tried to shout, "Hurry, Hannibal," but could not be heard.  It was many seconds later that he was finally up and in the helicopter, breathing hard himself from tension and exertion, and shouted again, over the din of the helicopter, "Hurry, I think Face is hit."

 

Hannibal wanted to have not heard, and proceeded with his task of raising Face.   As the helicopter roared far from Rhona's range, Face's body made it to the helicopter bay so that Hannibal and BA could heft him in on his stomach.  BA caught sight of the ground below and visibly wavered.  Ever aware of the feelings of all his men, Hannibal grasped his wrist and said, "BA, you have to hang on.  We can't drop you right away after all."  The plan had been to drop him immediately at the Van.  Now, running on instinct, Murdock was automatically sprinting to the nearest Trauma Center hospital. 


Hannibal rolled Face over and the entry wound stared back at him from the left side of Face's chest.  Blood welled from it gently but determinedly, like water bubbling up in a fountain.  Hannibal covered it expertly and held down to attempt stanching the flow.   Face's eyes flew open almost although a button had been pushed, and he focused on Hannibal as determinedly as his blood was attempting to escape. 

 

"Say nothing, hold on," Hannibal ordered.  "You're safe.  BA, get a coat or a rag."

 

Face didn't pull his eyes off Hannibal.  But something was clearly wrong.  His lungs simply did not work any more.   "I kept breathing, Hannibal, for you.  But I can't breath any.....more...."  Then everything went black for him.

 

"ETA," Hannibal screamed at Murdock.

 

"Two minutes.  County USC, best trauma center in southern California."

 

"They have to be ready Murdock.  He's in respiratory arrest."   Murdock stopped breathing himself, glancing back involuntarily but really seeing nothing, yearning to go back and hold Face himself, but knowing that this sterile act of flying was now the difference between life and death for the Team.  He got on the radio.

 

"BA, hold the wound," Hannibal instructed, and leaned in to give mouth to mouth.  Every time he tried to breath hard into the Lieutenant's lungs he met a seeming ocean of resistance.  He could only have tried 15 times or so before he felt them lowering, and glanced out to see they were closing in on, then hovering over, the massive County-USC hospital building, a landmark in Los Angeles.  Hannibal had, strangely, never had occasion to be at that famous hospital before.  

 

The skids hit the roof marks and Hannibal was on the ground instantly, Face still laying at the edge of the bay, not moving any air.  BA jumped down, too.  "Where's the doctors," Hannibal yelled, veiling a threat somewhere, at someone, that no one was ready to handle Face, when a team of medical personnel with a gurney materialized out of the building and came up beside him.  Hannibal and BA pulled Face off the edge and on to the waiting gurney as Hannibal said to anyone, "He stopped breathing one or two minutes ago.  We tried mouth to mouth."  The one who was apparently the doctor nodded without looking at Hannibal and expertly inserted a breathing tube down Face's throat without missing a beat, all the while cataloging as best he could all the other injuries.  After a nod, someone else jammed a hand pump over the tube and began pumping air into Face.  Other's were pushing gauze over the bleeding wound. 

 

"Doc," Hannibal began, grabbing the arm of the lead doctor, Joseph Hershenburg, who jerked away after the gurney without even listening. 

 

"Not now."


"Doc," he said more firmly, grabbing the arm to hold him this time, the gurney escaping somewhat.  Dr. Joe's eyes travelled over the two men who had brought the victim, and the man leaning now out of the cockpit, saw the bullet holes, their clothes, their guns, their expressions.  "Who are these guys," he first thought with a trance of distaste. But the intensity of concern in the eyes of the grey-haired one holding him......Dr. Joe softened just a bit, and allowed himself to let go of his patient fixation for just a second, so that these men might communicate with him.

 

"What?" he said.  "I have a patient."

 

"He's had some meds, already," Hannibal started.  He inclined his head to BA.  "What did you end up giving him?"

 

BA named the two and the doctor nodded, still wanting to get at the patient.  Hannibal pulled him back again. "When he comes to, you have to let him know that the Team is waiting for him."    He didn't repeat it.  He let go of the doctor.  But Dr. Joe stared a moment longer, still wondering, what had happened to bring this strange assemblage to his hospital.  Then the patient welled up again in his forethoughts and he spun away.

 

"We have to get out of here," Hannibal said, but without really moving.  How badly he wanted to be with Face and tell him how wonderful it was that he had kept breathing.  But he knew he could not. 

 

Even BA said it.  "We have to go, Hannibal.  We have to let the doctors do their thing now.  Take me back to the Van, fool."  And to reinforce his suggestion to his Colonel., BA stepped into the helicopter.  Hannibal followed.

 

****

 

Hannibal and BA were back in the Van, with Jake, watching him listen to gibberish while making copious notes, moping over Face.  They were waiting for Murdock to be driven back to the Van after returning the cosmetically damaged helicopter, but had not been there long before Jake alerted them to more trouble.

 

"They're talking about you again."  Jake had earphones, but he turned up the external speakers so they could make out "Smith" and "Peck" in the conversation.  Jake looked at Hannibal.

 

"She doesn't like you," Jake said, in reply to which Hannibal muttered deeply, "I don't like her either."

 

Jake listened some more.  Rhona was railing about Hannibal beating her, and someone was protesting that going after Hannibal was not in the best interests of her business.  Suddenly, Rhona came to the realization that she had not, in fact, been in a contest with Hannibal, but really only Face was the offender.

 

"It's not about Smith.  Smith did nothing.  Peck came in disguise.  Peck escaped me.  That's what I must finish to avoid shame," she said as Jake translated. 

 

"You shot him already," a Lieutenant said.  "It's over."


"Maybe," she replied.  She followed up with orders.  "Send Mohammad and Alat. Finish it if it's not done.  I bet they went to County.  If not, he should be easy enough to find."

 

Hannibal issued his own orders. "Jake, radio your buddies to take Murdock to the hospital instead of here.  I'll alert Harry and get us another car."

 

****

 

Dr. Joe had been near the end of a shift which had started at noon when the mystery torture victim was dumped off the helicopter.  Three hours of clean-up, stabilization, emergency surgery, and consultation later, he was more than exhausted, but at least he had a patient with hopes.  Strange thing to see, the torture done, even for a crew which worked an inner-city Los Angeles emergency room.  Strange effect that man had had on the doctor, a doctor already quite dedicated to preservation of life, but who was almost frightened to think that the blond man might fade away from them. 

 

He walked from the intensive care area to the other side of a glass screen, behind which patients had some sense of isolation.   As he moved toward the center nurses' station, where a guard stood, a few men other men unknown to him immediately congregated before him.  One was in a lab coat of what Dr. Joe guessed was another medical facility.

 

"Dr. Hershenburg?"  Harry Fielding asked.  "I'm a special agent for the government."  He flashed something that might have been a badge or identification, but the only thing Dr. Joe noticed was a gun.  "Can you tell me his condition?"

 

Dr. Joe cocked an eyebrow as the special agent, a few others in suits, and the man in the lab coat drew closer into to a circle.  "He's stable now.  We've operated to remove the bullet, but it's torn up his lung.  We're respirating him, giving him blood and fluids, he's got a reasonable chance to pull out of this."  That seemed to be enough to offer in Dr. Joe's book. 

 

"We need to move him," Harry announced.  "He's in danger here."

 

The doctor was incredulous.  "I'm sorry, what did you say? Maybe I wasn't clear that he is in very serious condition and requires intensive care."

 

Murdock strained inside at the thought.  He had positioned himself with his back to the patient behind the glass, so as to not have to see his friend. 

 

"Sorry, doc, but we have to do what we need to do to protect him.  And that means moving him.  Now, what do you recommend?  Is there a convalescent facility near......"

 

Dr. Joe cut him off with a growing anger.  "No.  NO.  You cannot move him.  This is County-USC mister agent or police man.  We have an entire security ward here.  We have criminals and we have movie stars.  He can be kept safe."

 

Harry tried to interrupt, but was cut off again.


"Look, I have no idea what that man might have done, or done in the past, but I cannot in my heart accept that he deserved what was done to him.  Do you realize he was essentially crucified?  His lungs are full of fluid and blood and he won't spontaneously respirate for us.  His limbs are so swollen we can't even splint him yet.  I am determined to do whatever I can to save him.  And in the meanwhile, or if I can't, I'm going to do whatever I can do to ease his pain–he's heavily medicated now.  Am I more clear now?  He cannot be moved!"  He ended his diatribe on a higher pitch than he started. 

 

Harry sighed.  He understood.  Between the passion Hannibal had communicated for his Team, and the delight of the early findings reported by Jake Hammarjian from the planted listening device, Harry found himself very professionally and emotionally involved in seeing this episode to a safe conclusion with all hands alive and well.  But he knew Rhona, and he launched into an argument with the doctor.

 

Murdock tried to divert his attention from the doctor's words and Harry's protests.   Hannibal knew how emotionally fragile Murdock was when it came to any endangerment of Face, his best friend.    The threat had to have been serious, real, and immediate for Hannibal to tell him to stop at the hospital ahead of the rest of the Team.  It was as hard for Murdock to think about Face's trauma, or worse, to have to witness it without moral support, as it was for BA to fly.  But of course, BA had flown to rescue Face.  And Murdock would bury his distress and do or say what he needed to for the protection of his buddy.

 

"You don't realize how serious this threat is," Murdock finally said aloud, interrupting both Harry and the doctor. 

 

"Who are you?" they both said, turning irritably to his direction.  Realizing they had the same reaction to Murdock, they locked eyes back with each other.  "He's not with you?" they also said simultaneously.   Had it not been such dire circumstances, it would have been very funny.  As it was, Harry had his gun half out of his holster and the safety unclicked before any of them could blink again.  Murdock thrust his empty hands forward instantly, "Not armed.  I'm Murdock.  I'm with the Team." 

 

Harry recognized the name, but the gun kept moving out.  The doctor backed up against the nurses' station counter.  Murdock did not even breath.  Behind him, the agent from the airfield, who had driven him to the hospital, nodded to Harry, and the gun was pushed back into its place.  The doctor stood straight again.

 

Murdock lowered his hands and looked at the doctor.  "I'm a friend of his," he said softly and sadly.  The doctor did then remember his face from the helicopter, and nodded ever so slightly.

 

Harry took a breath and started again, more calmly, with the doctor.  "You see, none of us can be sure of his safety here."

 

The doctor was not convinced.  "He," jerking a thumb at Murdock, "got in because he was with one of your men.  That's no proof that my patient isn't safe here."


Murdock lost focus on the doctor again and looked around at the other medical staff.  His eyes fell on an orderly with a beige plastic carry-all stuffed with plastic-suited hypodermics on one side and little bottles sticking up on the other.  He wandered into one care space, turned right around and came out.  Same thing in the next.  The next.  He was one away from Face's when Murdock's eyes travelled down to the floor and he saw that the orderly wore pointed cowboy boots.  He circulated right out of the adjoining care area and into Face's now.  Cowboy boots. 

 

Murdock reacted, and so did Harry, whose adrenaline was heightened already anyway by the incident a minute before.  Both shouted, "Stop him," as the orderly–or, intruder–inserted one of the hypodermics into Face's IV and starting pushing its contents into the fluids.   Murdock flew to knock it out of his hands as agents reacted a split second behind him and gave chase to the intruder, who indeed dropped the hypo and ran.  The needle hung from the IV tube, half expelled, as Dr. Joe leapt pass Murdock, shouting himself, "Pull out the IV."  The startled nurse couldn't react fast enough, so the doctor reached out and yanked the tubes roughly right out of Face's arm, causing a little spurt of blood to start dribbling out.  Face reacted slightly and his left arm moved a few times, weakly, but he did not become conscious.  Murdock was frozen to the spot, growing nearly nauseous as he watched over his friend.  The doctor gently but quickly moved Murdock back from the bed so that he could check out his patient.  Other medical personnel moved in as well to help and restore the fluids.  Even in the space of a few minutes, the removal of the stabilizing medications were allowing a dawning pain to creep into Face's body, which was having immediate and noticeable effects on his vital signs.  The medical personnel hurried up, as Harry pulled Murdock completely outside the area again.  They stood silently as several agents came up, shaking their heads and empty handed.   Dr. Joe Hershenburg stepped out to address them a few minutes later. 

 

"Okay, you've convinced me.  Let's talk about how to move him."

 

*****

 

Dr. Joe opened his eyes from a confusing dream about chasing men with guns down his emergency room hallways.  Not quite a dream, he remembered.  The doctor's lounge was not too dark, and the sofa not too soft, but it had afforded him a bit of a nap.  He looked as his watch: 4:30 a.m. 

 

They had needed another thirty minutes to be sure the mysterious victim was indeed stable again, and not threatened by any of the cyanide that had been in the hypodermic.   The steel-eyed, grey-haired man had come in at some point to talk to the lead agent, and had the big black man still with him, the ones who had been on the helicopter.  After a few moments, those two and Murdock had walked to the edge of the man's bed and spoke to him, although he was profoundly unconscious.  Then they departed.   Dr. Joe heard from the emergency room nurse that the "Murdock" character and the black man had climbed into the ambulance bearing the decoy patient.  Under the sheet and the apparent medical gear in that ambulance was a special agent.  They went to a rest home in Chatsworth.


The main relocation had been under Dr. Joe's supervision, to an area at the end of the labor and delivery wing.  The labor and delivery rooms had all the technical support they needed for a patient in the man's condition, but was an unexpected and somewhat isolated location from other patients. 

 

That business took until well past midnight.  In fact, he hadn't hit the sofa until 1:00 a.m.  He couldn't quite bring himself to leave, but he knew that he should get a little rest to be in optimum condition.   He stood and got a mug for coffee.  After a cup, he would take a look at his patient.

 

*****

Murdock and BA were mostly quiet during the ambulance ride to Chatsworth.  Hannibal had gone one step beyond Harry's plan for diversion, and he was the one left at the hospital to protect Face.  Murdock was about used up emotionally from witnessing his friend's vulnerability, and BA was needed to add to the visual picture that the ambulance move was truly Face being transferred.  At the rest home, they accompanied the ambulance crew and false patient to a room, then sat in chairs in the darkened room, in case the bait actually worked.  They all doubted it.  They all figured that Rhona would go for the labor and delivery room.  They yearned to be with Hannibal but knew that, as a Team, they all had a part and needed to make their part work right.  If Rhona was aiming for the hospital, part of drawing her out into the open was convincing her that it was safe because Face's protectors were gone as part of the charade.  After some time, Murdock curled in his chair a little and allowed himself to doze, his right hand in BA's left one for comfort.  BA sat awake and alert, ready for the phone to ring.

 

****

 

Dr. Joe walked through emergency to check on some activity there, then walked to the opposite end of the ground floor.  He took a staircase up two floors, to the surgical wing, but walked past the main theaters and the scrub rooms to a corner door.  He knocked twice, paused, and entered the storage room.   Inside was a nurse and a patient.

 

Carla Hansen, surgical nurse, looked up and shrugged her eyebrows.  "Not bad," she nodded.  "He's strong.  All his signs are strong.  He's been breathing on his own for nearly two hours now, without a hitch or a hiccup.  Pressure is good, too."

 

Dr. Joe looked over the clipboard notes she handed him.  He pulled out his own stethoscope and listened to Face's lungs work from various angles.  He checked the conditions of his limbs.  He was back up to Face's wound, looking at the cleanness of the repairs, when he realized that clear blue eyes were on him.  He finished his probe and pulled the covers back over the man's chest. 

 

"Hello," the doctor said gently.

 

Face was very disoriented.  His last memory was of Hannibal's face in the helicopter, and to his brain, no time had passed from that moment to this.  Except, of course, it clearly had, because he was not in the helicopter, the face above his was not Hannibal's, and the tube in his throat was obviously no mere lump.


He blinked once at the doctor but kept staring.  He could not talk, not even swallow.  He couldn't really feel the rest of his body, but he guessed it was still there.  He wished desperately that the tube would be gone, or at least that one of the Team would come up from behind this doctor to assure him that all was well.

 

The doctor seemed to perceive his desire to be rid of the breathing tube, and in a flash of compassion, motivated by the record of solid respiration of the last few hours, the doctor decided to take it out.  As expertly as he had slid it in, out he pulled it, barely giving Face a warning.  The nurse handed him a nasal tube in it's place, which the doctor placed on Face, pulling the tubing over and around his head.    "That's better, I think," he said.

 

Face nodded a bit but found in a test that little sound would still come out.  "It's hard on your throat, don't push trying to talk.  Here," the nurse spooned toward him a little chipped ice.  "Let this melt in your mouth."

 

Face obliged.  The ice felt good.  He opened for another spoonful, then without thinking about whether he could or not could talk, whispered, "Where am I?"

 

"You are at County-USC.  I'm Dr.  Hershenburg, this is Nurse Hansen."  If he was thinking of a reciprocal introduction, he was wasting his time, as primary training prevented the Lieutenant from saying anything about his own identity.

 

"You're safe with us," the doctor assured mostly himself, since the patient could not possibly know about the persistent attempts to kill him.  The doctor also had no way of knowing how much the patient remembered about what had happened to him, so he went on in the most general way.  "You were shot in the chest, but we seem to have patched you up quite well.  Your arms and legs will be fine, too."  That vagueness he hoped would cover if the patient didn't remember the broken bones.

 

But Face did remember, and was grateful to hear a positive word.  "Thank you," he mouthed, and opened again for ice.   Dr. Joe indeed felt quite optimistic about this patient, who showed such strong signs that he would recover.

 

Then the doctor remembered one other thing that he needed to tell his patient.  "And I have short message from your friends."  Face's eyes fixated on Dr. Joe.  "They said to tell you that the Team is waiting for you."  The doctor was quite sure he had recalled the phrase exactly, because something like a smile came over the man's mouth, and his eyes almost glittered, as though tears of relief were hidden there.


The door opened without a knock, and a woman entered in a blue lab coat.  As the door closed behind her, she pulled an automatic weapon from a holster behind her back and waved it a bit.  "Back against the wall," Rhona said.  Nurse Hansen, about the same age as Rhona and having plenty combat experience herself in Vietnam as a field nurse, looked at the panic button attached behind the bed, and wondered if she could cover the few feet and hit it before the woman would shoot.  She wasn't sure.  Dr. Joe was confounded at the motivation that would drive this determination to kill the blue-eyed figure in the bed.

 

Those blue eyes were on Rhona, watching her as she stepped to the left side of his bed, between the doctor and nurse and him.  His eyes travelled to the gun in her hands and rested there, on that target.  Rhona looked at Face.  "If only I had time to enjoy this more," she said, "but I think I need to make my time here short."

 

The doctor moved in a little as Rhona reached for the IV and pulled it from Face's arm. 

 

"Don't try it.  I have no interest in killing you, but if you interfere I will, simple as that.  Makes no difference to me."  The doctor felt his blood pressure rise.

 

Rhona turned back to the bed and reached over Face to the oxygen flow control, turning it off.  Then her hand reached for a blue coverlet next to the bed, with which she was going to hasten the end she had started by suffocating him.

 

Then the door banged opened again, propelled by a shop vacuum or floor waxing machine of some sort being pushed by a janitor.    Rhona glanced over, as the doctor thought to himself, "This isn't really a closet anymore!" 

 

What happened next took place in the space of only seven seconds, but to each party their part of the drama had its own place and extended life.

 

Face grabbed Rhona's loosely-held gun with his left hand, thankful that she had settled on his partially working left side, and tossed it toward the doctor.  Dr. Joe kicked the gun across the floor.  Carla Hansen dove for the panic button and held it down.  Rhona screamed up at the ceiling like an animal, ripped out the drainage tubes on Face's chest, while vaulting onto the bed to straddle him.  She brought her elbow down on his windpipe and clasped his throat with angry, choking hands.   The janitor swung the metal machine attachment against Rhona's jaw, knocking her completely off the bed and on to the floor, where she rolled back to her feet and sprung up to face her attacker.  Colonel John Smith pulled a weapon from his waistband, aimed at Rhona, and their eyes met for an instant, as she was about to pounce.  He fired twice in rapid succession, the first bullet entering her heart, the second blasting out the back of her brain as she collapsed.  Hannibal was frozen in his firing stance for several more beats, unconvinced at first that she would not rise from death and attack again. 


The doctor and nurse did move instantly.  Dr. Joe grabbed the breathing tube and slid it down again, sure without needing to verify that the man's breathing had arrested.  He slammed on the pump as the nurse dug around the chest wound, calling out something about new bleeding.  Suddenly Harry was in the room behind Hannibal, his hand on Hannibal's right arm, slowing lowering it, slowly pulling the gun from his fingers as other agents poured in and confirmed her death.  "It's over," Harry said.  "Not for Face," Hannibal replied, refocusing on his Lieutenant. Other medical personnel were flooding in, and the doctor was shouting.  "Get him down to ER 2, we've got a bleeder," and the nurse adding something about what she needed waiting for them, and that her hands were getting tired.  Apparently, she was pinching shut a vein or artery with her fingers.  Hannibal, helpless to do anything to help them, watched them push the bed out of the room and down the hall, and he prayed to save Face one more time.

 

Harry wiped off his weapon and then pointed it towards the wall now splattered with Rhona's blood.  "Watch out," he warned, and fired once.

 

"Well," he said, "I got her.   My gun.  My prints.   Residue on my hand.  My story."   He patted Hannibal on the back and they walked outside.

 

"We have both her key Lieutenants too, Hannibal.  One was in the stairwell.  One was in the car.  It's a score unlike I could have dreamed."  Harry watched Hannibal's exhausted expression.  He had just killed a person in cold blood, a difficult thing no matter how deserved it was or how necessary to save his friend.  It was just a difficult thing to come down from.  Not knowing if Face would survive anyway, that absolutely deadened him.

 

"Let's get the rest of your Team here, Hannibal.  That will help."  They walked to the elevator, and Hannibal said, "You need to promise, me Harry, that when Face gets well, he'll be able to get out of here, and not go to prison." 

 

Harry was relieved that Hannibal insisted on maintaining his optimism about his friend.  "I really don't know who you are talking about.  In fact, I don't really think I know who you are, either. Or maybe you were never here.  That's what the Director and I decided."

 

Hannibal understood, and was exceedingly grateful.  He went to the basement cafeteria to wait for Murdock and BA.

 

***

The cafeteria did not reopen until 6:00 a.m., and it was only 5:00 yet.  Hannibal looked sourly at his options, vending machine coffee, soft drinks, and snacks, while some reasoning part of his brain reminded him that he had not eaten since late breakfast yesterday, a thousand years ago.

 

He bought a coke and a bag of chips, and sat at one of the tables.  His mind kept re-playing over and over the image of Rhona leaping upon Face and attacking him.  If only he had been quicker.  His gut instincts had obviously been right when he guessed that Rhona would be disinterested in following any bait.  He knew that she would identify and follow the doctor, if it took a day or two or three, as the sure lead to finding and killing Face.   She must have been delighted it happened so quickly.  Hannibal therefore had also stuck with the doctor, but distantly enough that Rhona was not deterred.  And so distantly enough that it took him at least 45 seconds to figure out which door she had entered, and follow. 

 

Well, he thought, perhaps it really for the best, because if he had come sooner, she might have fired at Face immediately, and that would have been the end of him. 


Face had to grab the gun away himself, came another grim thought, full of guilt.  But it was what it was.  They had taken on a monster, and monstrous things had happened to them.   Hannibal leaned back in the plastic seat and closed his eyes against the memory of Rhona and Face.

 

He had actually fallen into a dozing state when BA put his hand on Hannibal's shoulder, stirring him.  Hannibal looked expectantly, but BA shook his head.  Murdock said, "They just sent us down to get you, Hannibal.   They said the doctors haven't reported anything yet."

 

"Let's get to a 24-hour burger place," BA said gruffly, crumpling Hannibal's half-eaten bag of chips.  "We all need food.  We can be right back.  I have the Van again." 

 

When did he get the Van back? Hannibal wondered.  But it was true, they all needed some food.  "Straight away," Hannibal confirmed.

 

****

 

They were finishing their food, back in the downstairs cafeteria space.  BA and Murdock had waited patiently for Hannibal to be ready to tell them the details, and with some food in him, he finally retold the events in the silent hospital corridors just a few hours before.  "I shot her twice.  Point blank.  It was done then."  Even Hannibal was a bit trance-like in completing his story.

 

"Three shots," Harry corrected from behind him.  And I did it.  My service weapon."

 

Murdock and BA didn't understand at first, but it dawned on them when Hannibal did not contradict him.  It was a coverup, but one protecting them for a change, instead of framing them. 

 

"The doctor who has been handling Peck is ready to talk to me.  I figured you'd rather hear it directly."

 

*****

The four of them gathered outside Face's room door, where an armed guard stood watch.  The doctor came out a minute later. 

 

"I'm Dr. Joseph Hershenburg," he began, again hoping that the courtesy of names would be returned to him.  Again the Team did not respond.  He paused at that point, almost a little wistful.  "I don't know his name, either.  Something not right about that."  He looked into the eyes of the silver-haired man, the obvious leader, the one who had ultimately saved the life of his friend and destroyed the killer. 

 

Hannibal accepted that and answered, after a fashion: "We call him 'Face.'  We'll share it with you."

 

The doctor owed the man something else.  "The last thing I was telling your friend, before she came in, was that message about the Team waiting.  It seemed to mean a lot to him."

 

That small statement meant quite a bit to the rest of the team, too.  Silence reigned uncomfortably, until BA said, "So, how is he?"


"Well, we had a lot of damage again at the chest wound, which I think we have clamped up.  We're a little concerned about his pressure–he might still have a little bleeder in there, so we are watching for that.  He's fighting infection now, too, which is typical in these types of wounds, so we were prepared for that and are aggressively responding with antibiotics.  He doesn't want to respirate reliably, however, so for the foreseeable future we are going to help do the breathing for him.

 

"On the good side, the orthopaedic surgeon has splinted all the broken bones.  Simple breaks fortunately, really more designed for pain than lasting damage."  Dr. Joe was sorry that came out, especially with the look on Murdock's face, so he rushed on.  Also on the good side, we have some innovative pain management programs here, and I called our Assistant Director to approve some special protocols for your friend, so I think we can control the pain quite well, without danger of addiction, which will be important to his recovery."

 

"So, he'll be okay," BA concluded.

 

Dr. Joe took a deep breath and turned exclusively to Hannibal.  "I can't tell you that.  If it were possible to will a man to live, after what we have all seen and been through with him, then I could write you a guarantee.  But it doesn't work that way.  It's very grave for him.  He has a chance, that's all I can say."  He knew that he was at the end of his emotional rope, as well.

 

Hannibal was so short of words in the last few hours, but he finally said, "Doctor, our friend is a Catholic.  Would it be appropriate for us to call for a priest now?"  It was another way to ask about Face's prospects. 

Dr. Hershenburg nodded, "I hope it's not necessary, but considering the circumstances and if it's important to him, I think you would want to do so, just in case."

 

Hannibal had not wanted that answer, but at least it was now in the open.  "Can we go in and see him?"

 

"Yes.  Just stay out of the way if you are asked to get out of the way.  I'm heading off duty now.  I'm so exhausted I'm at the point of making mistakes."  The moment out of his mouth, Joe regretted that remark, too, as the men before him looked far more ragged than he felt.  "Things will go well here.   Many fine staff members have a personal interest in this case.  I'll be back later in the day.  You should get some rest yourselves."  And he walked away from their dejection, hoping that the man would pull through and redeem them all.


Hannibal went in alone without further comment.  The room was dimmer than the hallway, with the overhead room lights off, and only the fluorescent lights immediately over the bed glowing.  Sunlight buzzed behind the drawn blinds and as Hannibal noticed it, he realized that it was morning of the next day, and not even 24 hours had passed since the ordeal had begun.  "If it goes bad, it will go spectacularly bad," Face had said.  He wanted the whole Team together in case.  How right he was, damn him, Hannibal thought.  He walked across the squeaky hospital vinyl floor and stood immediately over the left side of Face's bed and stared down at him, at the machines and monitors all attached, at Face's pale, damp face, at the mechanical heaving of his breathing under influence of the machine.    He dropped his hand on Face's left arm, wishing that somehow he could transport a message through the unconsciousness so that Face knew the Team was there, knew that Hannibal was there, knew that Rhona was gone and that he was safe. 

The door cracked open to allow BA and Murdock to slip in, then move to the foot of the bed.  Maybe the presence of all three created a synergy that Face could feel, because he distinctly twitched and made a bit of sound in his throat.  Attentively, the Team all leaned in a bit to see, and Hannibal saw Face's eyelid move open a bit.  Patiently, he waited, barely breathing himself, and was rewarded as Face's eyes opened again, half-way this time.  He had wildly contradicting physical stimuli racing through him.  He felt numbed, but his chest felt like a ten-ton weight was upon it.  His throat was bruising around a breathing tube, and he thought, "Back to that, why back to that?" Then he remembered Rhona, and the gun, and the last thing, her leaping upon him.  With that his eyes came fully opened, expecting somehow that no time had elapsed and that he needed to fend her off.  Instead, his brilliant blue eyes settled on Hannibal, who pressed more noticeably on his shoulder to transmit comfort. 

 

"We're here, Face, all of us.  We're all safe..." somehow Hannibal thought Face would first want to know that, "...and you are safe too."

 

Face stared, blinking once, exaggeratedly, as though acknowledging him.  His eyes roved around for BA and Murdock, but he could not move and his field of view was very small.  Hannibal looked up at them and they came around to the right, plainly in Face's view.  "We're here.  Team's together," BA said.  Murdock couldn't speak. 

 

Me, Face thought, are they worried about me?  He flicked his eyes back to Hannibal again for verification, and this time took note of the fear in Hannibal's eyes.  But he was so tired, as though his body was being pulled through the bed, he knew that he would be conscious only a few moments longer.  Hannibal knew the same.

 

"Kid, we've talked to the doctor, and he thinks you're going to pull through, but....." talk faster, before you lose him, Hannibal thought, "...he suggested that we might want to get a priest to come by, in case."  It wasn't either a question or a statement, but something in between that Hannibal wanted Face to dispute.

 

Face tried to concentrate.  Hannibal talking to a priest?  In the fog, he could see a priest and hear words mumbled.  Oh, he suddenly realized, Last Rites?  Clicking suddenly to the request, Face summoned every bit of strength still in his body to nod a barely perceptible, "No."  No, he thought, not after all this.  I can't go.  Don't let me go, Hannibal."  But of course he was unable to speak. 

 

Darkness came over him then and he fell unconscious again.

 

****


Over the next ten hours, at intervals of two or three hours, Face would be propelled back to consciousness by a sense of fear more powerful than his injuries.  But he was so ill and so heavily medicated that when he would surface, barely conscious, he first struggled just to remember where he was or what had happened.  And bone-shatteringly weary, he could only stay conscious thirty or forty seconds, hardly time to figure that out.  "Hospital," he'd realize, then remember the embassy and Rhona.  The first two times, he then spotted Hannibal, who leaned in when he realized Face was stirring.  "What was it," Face tried to dig through his memory, then, looking in Hannibal's eyes, he would remember, "Priest."  No priest, he wanted to say, but could not speak as a machine was down his throat breathing for him.    Instead his brow knit and his eyes filled with tears, but then he lapsed again, leaving Hannibal torn and fearful himself.

 

The third time he came to, Face hung on a little longer, and after appealing to Hannibal with his eyes, weakly lifted his left arm to this mouth and throat.  He motioned slightly.  "He wants the tube out, he wants to tell us something," Hannibal said to no one in particular, but the duty nurse heard him.  Then Face was gone again.  Hannibal made a specific request, but the nurse could do nothing until Dr. Hershenburg returned in any event.

 

Dr. Hershenburg was with his patient when he roused the fourth time, desperate to hang on to life and to make sure Hannibal would be hanging on to him.  BA was with him that time, and it was quite evident to him that Face needed to say something, when he again raised his arm and weakly scratched at his windpipe.  Dr. Joe muttered to himself about vital signs and antibiotics, but BA had full attention only on Face.  He gently touched his hair, but before he could even finish the stroke, Face was gone again.

 

The doctor was discussing the matter with all three in the next half hour.  He was worried about Face, who was unable to rest and thus had not made the positive progress Dr. Joe wanted to see.  He also was worried about the grey-haired, steel-eyed leader, who was rather obviously near collapse himself, with only a two hour nap in–a day, two?  Dr. Joe didn't know. He had studied the copious notes and machine recordings of the last eight hours, however, and elected to remove the tube, with hopes that if Face could both talk and keep breathing steadily as he had in the last 3 hours, he might get more productive rest and stop fighting the medications.    He went in to Face's room as Hannibal almost swayed against Murdock, who had managed the longest nap of the three, and obligingly but subtly leaned back to hold up his Colonel.

 

The wait was not long after Dr. Joe had gone in.  He was back at the door motioning them to come in. 

 

Face was very slowly licking his lips, which must have felt very good, Hannibal thought.  The nurse brought him a few chips of ice.  I remember this drill, he thought.  He still could not move his head at all, and every part of him felt as though made of lead.

 

"Face," Hannibal said softly.  "We're here, we are all safe.  You need to rest more, kid."

 

Finally, he could say it.  Except that no sound really came out at first.


"No priest," he mouthed.  Murdock came closer and took his hand.  It wasn't so bad to cope with now, since most of Face was covered with soft blankets.  And he wanted badly for Face to know he was there with him.  "What did you say, Facey?" Murdock asked him.

 

But Hannibal had heard.  His heart sank.  He never should have brought it up.  He wanted it to be a comfort, instead it was a burden.  No, he corrected, being honest with himself.  He wanted to throw it out as a challenge, to savor denial.  When no denial was forthcoming, he was devastated. 

 

But now the denial was in front of him.  Had he needed it that badly, he wondered.  "No priest," Face repeated, this time audibly, though quite deep and hoarse.  "I am going to live."  This was a lot for him to be able to say.  "I will not leave you.  Don't leave me to a priest." 

 

BA and Murdock were plainly crying, and Hannibal ached inside, yet was also strangely warmed.  He did not visibly cry. 

 

"No priest," Hannibal repeated, leaning just a little closer.  "We need you to live, Lieutenant.  We need you for the Team.  Now rest.  We'll wait while you sleep." 

 

Face kept his eyes locked with Hannibal's for another few seconds, an eternity for him, and searched out only love there, no fear.  He smiled slightly and his eyes started to close, but then they flew open.   "Murdock, BA?" he said in his deep rasp. 

 

"We're here, little buddy," BA answered.  "You sleep so we can get out of here."  That was just the right note of gruffness to relax Face back to sleep.

 

And this time, he slept for 48 hours, slept until his fever was nearly gone and the doctor had decided that his breathing was completely stable.   And Hannibal slept, too.

 

****

 

On the morning of the fourth day, Face was leaned up a little and working to feed himself jello and yogurt with his splinted arms.  It was slow, but he was getting something inside him, all by himself.  Murdock burst in suddenly. 

 

"I'm so excited," he proclaimed upon seeing what Face was doing. 

 

"I didn't know you felt that way about jello," Face whispered back.

 

"I don't but I figure if you're actually eating that stuff to get your strength back, you must want to get out of here pretty badly," Murdock laughed.  "About time to think about moving on."  He pulled a chair near to Face's bed and sat, taking the spoon and jello out of Face's hands, switching to the yogurt and helping him take small mouthfuls.  It was clearly okay now for Murdock to be near Face, to nurse him even, because it was clearly the case that Face was going to be okay.


"Murdock," Face asked, raising his voice above a hoarse whisper as best as he could.  "Why are you guys still hanging out here at all? Why aren't you out of sight?"  The situation didn't make sense to him.  He didn't really realize that he had completely checked out for two full days, but he did know that the guys always seemed to be around, and had been since the beginning, and even in his still-medicated brain, he knew that it had to have been a couple days or more.  They could never stay in one place that long without someone from the Army getting wind of them.  He would have normally expected to be stuck alone by this point, hoping for a rescue before he was well enough to be arrested. 

 

Face had asked Hannibal the same question the evening before, when it already seemed like past the time the rest of the Team should slip out to the wings for a while.  Hannibal just told him not to worry.  So Face asked the next logical question, since he was apparently to be left figuring out the situation by himself: "What happened to Rhona, Hannibal?"

 

"She's gone, Face, she can't hurt you anymore," he had answered, but with a sweet, sad, pained look in his eyes, and told Face to sleep again.   But Face knew he could get the information from Murdock.

 

"Murdock," he asked again, pushing the use of his voice, "there's something Hannibal isn't telling me, and that's not right, and it's not in the best interest of the Team."

 

Murdock looked only at the yogurt and the spoon and Face's mouth.  This continued for a minute, until Face gently wrapped his fingers around Murdock's wrist and pulled the spoon back to the tray, while he inclined his head a bit to pry into Murdock's gaze, and said again, with little voice left, "What happened after I got here, Murdock." 

 

Murdock roused himself.  "We need to get you out of bed soon, and get going, you know.  That's why I'm glad you're attacking the jello."

 

Now Face was silent, just staring at Murdock, his head sort of buzzing because of the wonderful medication that was keeping him from feeling anything but a constant, heavy pressure in places he knew he should rightly be feeling exquisite pain. 

 

Murdock visibly gave up under Face's imploring expression, his shoulders sagging a bit.  "Fine, you win.  Here's the short version.  Within a few hours of you being here, Rhona already sent goons to finish you off.  The first guy almost got cyanide down your I.V."

 

"I don't remember," Face as much to himself as to Murdock.

 

"Yeah, you were just out of surgery," Murdock sighed and kept down a repeat of the hysteria he had felt at the time.  "So we packed up a couple fake Faces and sent them off to various places hoping to pull the goons off your track.  But Hannibal thought that Rhona wouldn't be fooled.  So he stayed around here and watched out for you.  Sure enough, he was right, and she came after you herself."


"I remember a little bit of that."

 

Murdock wondered exactly to what extent Face did realize how determined that woman was to kill him, and if he would be haunted by any of it. 

 

"You should, since you apparently helped save yourself by getting her gun away from her.  Hannibal did the rest."

 

Face's thoughts had wandered to his murky memory of those few moments, but he snapped back as he realized that Murdock was doing it to him, too.   Something was remaining unsaid.

 

"What is it, Murdock, what happened?"

 

"That's it."

 

"And the reason you guys are hanging around here is.....what?"

 

"Hannibal's friend Harry has gotten whoever it is in whatever agency he works for to call whoever can make it that we won't be arrested, and neither will you, at least for a while. Harry thought it was the least he could do after what Hannibal had....." Too much, Murdock cursed himself. 

 

"Hannibal had DONE what.....?" Face asked.  Nothing. 

 

"Okay, so tell me WHY you are hiding something," Face tried.

 

Murdock looked up into Face's clear blue eyes and said, "We figured you didn't need to have to deal with it until you were over the worst of this."

 

"What's happening to Hannibal?" Face's breathing quickened.

 

Well, this had gone to hell, Murdock thought, now he thinks Hannibal is in trouble or hurt. 

 

"Face," Murdock put a hand on his friend's shoulder, "Hannibal killed her.  Shot her point blank."

 

Face pushed back into the pillow and closed his eyes.  No wonder they wanted to keep it from him.  After Vietnam, after they escaped military prison, they all pledged to each other that they would not kill.  It became a challenge to keep a head of the law, and take the projects they undertook, without ever killing, but after a while they had come to welcome it as a good challenge, and while injuries sometimes happened, they had not caused a death.  Always unspoken within that oath was the conviction that if one of their lives was truly on the line, that they would kill, but only if it were literally to snatch life from death.    Now, Face had been the cause of Hannibal breaking that vow for the first time in......how many years?  10?  15?  His eyes teared, then so did Murdock's.  "I'm in it now," Murdock said, "BA is going to smash me."


"For what, fool?" BA had just crossed into the room, took one look at Face's attempt at gaining composure, and knew just what had happened.  He didn't waste time on Murdock (he would yell at him later), but concentrated immediately on Face.

 

"Listen, kid, today's the day you try out those legs a little over the bed, okay.  We figure maybe one more day, and then we need to think about movin' on.  We have to make sure you can make it with us.  So the doc will work with you today, and we'll find out about therapy and stuff."

 

Face acted like he barely heard.  BA tried again, leaning in to speak to him very personally.  "Face, Hannibal did exactly what he had to do to keep the Team together.  No more, no less.  Now we need you to do what you need to do."  He was curt about it, then softened, "And Hannibal is struggling because of what he had to do.  He's coping with it only because you've made it, Lieutenant.  You need to get past this and hold together for him.  Then he'll be able to get on with it, too.  Okay?"

 

This finally registered with Face, his eyes cleared a little and he wiped the edges of his eyes with his splinted hand.  He also nodded a bit.  "Okay," was all he said, but BA fully understood, and by the time Hannibal and Dr. Joe entered the room 30 minutes later, Face was tired but cheerful, Murdock and BA were arguing over something meaningless, and no atmosphere of regret hung in the room.  Hannibal grinned, and Dr. Joe went to Face to discuss some initial therapy for later in the day, after the Lieutenant rested a bit.  Face nodded at the instructions and concentrated on understanding more about his injuries, so that he could evaluate for himself when he could dare to be on his own.

 

No, not on his own.  He'd always be part of the Team. 

 

 

END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Team Is Waiting by Johanna

 

 


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