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AULD LANG SYNE

AULD LANG SYNE

Author:  Shadowwalker213

 

Rating:  PG-13

Adopted from:  Auntie Hill

Disclaimer:  The characters from the series 'A-Team' and any other characters used from television and film belong to their relevant owners and are used here only for pleasure and not for profit. Any similarities with real life characters or situations is unintentional and coincidental.

Summary:  An old friend comes to the Team looking for Face.

 

 

*************************************************************************************************************

 

May God defend me from my friends; I can defend myself from my enemies. ~ Voltaire

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

"I'm looking for Templeton Peck."

 

Mr. Lee looked at the stranger. Dirty, disheveled, looking about as much like a client the A-Team would take as a mud hen. But he hadn't asked for the team. That in itself made Mr. Lee look at the man again.

 

Not tall. Thin, almost skinny. Deep, dark eyes, hard to tell what color. Dark hair, again hard to tell the color as it was so dirty. The face, under at least a couple day's worth of whiskers, was pale. It was obvious the man hadn't had a shower in some time. Clothes, nondescript, worn to a sheen, equally dirty.

 

Definitely not someone the Team would want anything to do with. Certainly not Templeton Peck.

 

"Don't know Mr. Peck."

 

"I was told I could contact him here."

 

"No, not know him."

 

"Well, if he should come in, would you tell him Ronald Cousins is looking for him? I'm staying at the Kolbe."

 

"Not know this man."

 

"Okay, whatever. Just tell him when he comes in." The man turned and walked out the door, not quite slamming it behind him.

 

Mr. Lee stared after the man, slowly pulling a cigar out of his pocket. There was something about that guy he just didn't like. At all.

 

*****

 

"Ronald Cousins? You're sure that was the name? Ronald Cousins?"

 

"Yeh, Face, I'm sure. I don't usually forget names."

 

Face turned toward the window, hands on his hips, staring out at the ocean view. They were in yet another of the con man's opulent dwellings, this one belonging to a director who happened to be filming in Europe at the moment.

 

"You know this guy, Face? He didn't exactly look like someone you'd be spending time with."

 

Face didn't say anything for a few moments. Hannibal was about to ask him again when he spoke. His voice was tired.

 

"I knew him a long time ago, Hannibal. In college. We were roommates."

 

"And...?"

 

"And we lost touch. I went to Nam. He didn't. I haven't seen or heard from him since."

 

"Until now. So, you going to connect with him?"

 

Another long silence.

 

"Yeh. Yeh, I think I'd better. Where did you say he was staying?"

 

"The Kolbe. Isn't that more or less a flop house? Not a great neighborhood. Want some company?"

 

"No. No, I can handle it." He finally turned to Hannibal, and the Colonel was surprised to see tension on his face. "Thanks for letting me know, Hannibal."

 

"No big deal, kid. Just take it easy, okay? You haven't seen this guy for a long time. He may have friends we don't want to find out about."

 

"I don't think that's a problem, Hannibal, but I'll be careful."

 

Hannibal looked closely at his lieutenant. "Anything else, Face? Anything we should know about?"

 

Face shook his head. "No, just an old friend. A very old friend..."

 

*****

 

He'd watched the hotel for some time. Taken a few turns around the block. Looked clear. No reason not to go in. No reason at all. Yet he stood watching the hotel. Lots of seedy characters around. Drunks. Addicts. Whores. The dregs. Patrol car on a fairly frequent basis, but paying no attention to him. The 'vette wouldn't have fit in here, so he'd taken a cab. Dressed casually. Very casually. Didn't want to stick out. Didn't want to look like he had money.

 

He should go in.

 

He glanced up and down the street one more time. Not that much traffic. Too early in the day. When it started getting dark, things would liven up. Right now it was pretty quiet.

 

Yeh. Pretty quiet.

 

One more glance around, then he straightened up. Unconsciously taking a breath, he started across the street.

 

He stood outside the hotel doors, staring at them.

 

He should go in.

 

The doors opened. Two hookers waltzed down the steps, eyeing him closely. Smiling, if one could call it that. Inviting him. He shook his head, almost apologetically. Always the gentleman. Stepping out of their way, moving cautiously through the doors. He was in.

 

It was dark, moldy smelling. That and some other unpleasant smells he pretended not to recognize. Walked up to the desk, trying not to step on whatever it was spotting the floor. The clerk ignored him for a few moments, busy on the phone. Talking to his bookie. Face wouldn't have made the bet. He knew the horse. Bad move, buster. Kiss that money good-bye.

 

"Yeh?" The clerk hung up the phone, picked up a newspaper, never looking at Face.

 

"I'm looking for Ronald Cousins. He's supposed to be staying here."

 

"Yeh?"

 

"Yeh. Can you tell me where his room is?"

 

"You a cop?"

 

Face would have laughed, but the clerk was looking at him without any humor. "No, just a friend."

 

"Right." The clerk pulled the register from the top of the desk, glanced through it. "427."

 

"Thanks." The clerk was already involved in his newspaper.

 

Face took one look at the caged elevator and decided he could use the walk. Heading up the stairs, he had to move around various piles of newspapers and other debris. A man - at least Face thought it was a man - was on the third floor landing, mumbling to himself.

 

427 was at the end of the hall. The only light came through a window next to the door, looking out to the fire escape. The door itself looked like it had seen more than a few police raids. He took another deep breath. Knocked on the door. Waited.

 

He heard movement behind the door, the chain being released. The door opened and he stared into a face he hadn't seen for more than 20 years. Had almost hoped he would never see again.

 

"Hello, Ronnie."

 

*****

 

Face tossed the clothes disgustedly into a trash bag, tied it tightly and threw it outside the door. He purposefully pulled shirts and slacks from his closet, adding them to a pile of newly purchased socks and underwear lying on the bed. His movements were jerky, almost angry. He was having to push old memories to the back of his mind. He would not dwell on that. Ronnie was here, now. Things were not the way they used to be. The past was past. He heard the shower shut off and headed into the kitchen.

 

Face had never laid claim to culinary talents. All he was doing was warming up the selection from the take out shop down the road. Good, solid, All-American fare. Lots of it. Ronnie hadn't eaten in a couple of days, apparently. Was on the verge of being tossed out of the Kolbe. Just as well. He shouldn't be staying someplace like that anyway.

 

He heard the bathroom door open.

 

"Your stuff's on the bed. Food's ready when you are," he called from the kitchen.

 

He heard a muffled response. Well, he hadn't washed away, then.

 

A few minutes later, Ronnie came out, dressed in Face's loosely-fitting clothes. Dark blond hair still damp from the shower, clean shaven. Clean. Face motioned for him to sit at the table, which was piled with food. Ronnie sat, immediately started filling his plate. Face brought them each a beer.

 

Neither man spoke while Ronnie ate. Face took a small helping, not wanting the other man to feel self-conscious. Finally satiated, Ronnie sat back and took a long draught of beer. Sighed. Looked at Face.

 

"Thanks, Tem. I appreciate it."

 

"No problem, Ronnie."

 

Silence. Ronnie rolled his finger around the top of the beer bottle, staring at it as if he'd never seen one before. There were things waiting to be said between them, but neither seemed willing to say them.

 

Ronnie cleared his throat. "You got kind of a raw deal from the Army, huh?"

 

Face shrugged. "Shit happens."

 

Ronnie chuckled, mirthless. "Got that right." He looked at Face, concerned. "These guys you're with - they okay? I mean, they watch out for you okay?"

 

"Yeh, sure they do. As well as they can, anyway."

 

Ronnie just looked at him.

 

"It's a rough business, Ronnie. Nobody's safe all the time."

 

"If you say so, Tem. Just...doesn't sound right."

 

Face shifted uncomfortably. "So what's been happening with you, Ronnie? Hard times, obviously." He didn't worry about hurting the other man's feelings. They'd always been honest with each other, no matter how much it hurt.

 

It was Ronnie's turn to shrug. "You know how it goes with me, Tem. Tried this, tried that. Never quite had that finesse you did." He smiled ruefully. "The Midas Touch. Everything you touched turned to gold." He looked up at Face. "Nothing's really gone right since...Don't know why, just never has."

 

"Hmm."

 

Ronnie looked at him, hesitating. "Why'd you do it, Tem?"

 

Face grabbed his plate and beer and stalked into the kitchen. "Does it really matter now?"

 

"I'd like to know."

 

'So would I.' He almost slammed the dishes into the sink. "I'd like a lot of things, Ronnie. Doesn't mean I get them. Forget it. We're talking a fresh start. For you. Okay?"

 

"Easy to say, Tem. Not so easy to do."

 

"It is when you have help. And I will help you, Ronnie. I owe you that. I know that."

 

"You don't owe me, Tem. I told you that back then. I only did what friends do for each other."

 

"So now it's my turn, okay?" Face smiled to take the sharp edge off his tone.

 

Ronnie looked at Face. Something in his expression made Face uneasy, but he brushed it aside.

 

"You can stay here until we find you a place of your own. Get you some clothes, too. And a job. I've got contacts around LA. We'll get you set up. You'll see." I'll make it up to you.

 

"Sure, Tem. Sounds good."

 

Face finished his beer in two long swallows.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

Face answered the door almost immediately when BA pounded on it.

 

"C'mon, Face, Hannibal's waiting. We're s'posed to meet that client in an hour."

 

"Shhh, BA. Keep it down, will you? Ronnie's still sleeping. I'll be ready in a few minutes." Face closed the door quietly behind BA. He looked like he hadn't slept much last night, and his clothes were rumpled. "Let me grab a quick shower and we'll go."

 

"Well, hurry up, man. Ain't got all day to wait on you." BA growled as he lumbered into the living room. The couch was covered in sheets and pillows. BA glanced at Face as he headed for the bathroom. Obviously this friend of his had taken over the bedroom.

 

BA had hoped to meet this guy. From Hannibal's description, he sounded like a real loser. Why Face wanted to get back together with someone like that was beyond BA's understanding. Hannibal said Face hadn't sounded too happy that he had shown up, either. So why bring him to his house? There was something wrong with that picture. So BA wanted to meet him; at least see what he looked like.

 

Some ten minutes later BA heard muffled voices from the other part of the house. A stranger's voice, saying something about making 'Tem' go out so early. Face's mumbled reply. Like it was any of that guy's business. Face came out hurriedly, dressed and ready to go. He almost pushed BA out of the door.

 

"What's goin on, Face?"

 

"You're the one who said we were in a hurry."

 

"Your friend stayin with you, then? How long?"

 

"He's just staying until he finds a place of his own. Won't be long, if that's okay with you."

 

BA stopped and looked sharply at Face. "What's that s'posed to mean?"

 

Face shook his head. "Nothing, BA. Sorry. Just a little tired."

 

BA didn't say anything more. It wasn't like Face to snap at him. His dislike of this Cousins guy was growing, without even meeting him.

 

The ride to the meeting was silent. Face quietly watched the scenery pass by, but BA noticed he wasn't nearly as calm as he seemed. His jaw was clenched tightly. His fingers kept up a staccato rhythm on his knee. And he was repeatedly running his hand through his hair. More signs things were definitely not okay. Man, this dude had been here two days and already things were coming apart.

 

The client, a middle-aged, slightly balding shop owner, was being blackmailed. He claimed it was a past business dealing where he had been slightly less than honest, but the blackmailer was asking an exorbitant amount of money to keep quiet. It would put him out of business and cost his five employees their jobs. He wanted the team to find the blackmailer and stop him.

 

But something didn't add up. Face gave the man a real grilling, almost came straight out and called him a liar. Not even a pretense of believing what was said. Granted, the points he'd brought up were legitimate, but BA had never seen him so aggressive before. As it turned out, the man had some secrets he didn't want his wife to know about, and had modified his story about his problem to keep those secrets from the team as well. The blackmail had nothing to do with his business dealings. And he knew exactly who the blackmailer was - an ex-girlfriend. The client was really looking for enforcers - someone to 'convince' the girlfriend to lay off. Not the kind of job the team would even consider. After the man left, Hannibal turned on Face.

 

"I appreciate your diligence in getting to the truth, Face, but what the hell was that?"

 

"The guy was lying to us, Hannibal. I don't like being lied to."

 

"Nor do I, Face. But I've never seen you attack someone like that. Even Decker's plants got better treatment. So what's going on?"

 

"Nothing's 'going on'. Decker's people are at least entertaining. I don't like some jerk wasting our time."

 

"Wasting our time, or just yours? You got something waiting, you need to get this done in a rush?"

 

"Actually, I do. Ronnie and I have to go look at an apartment for him."

 

Ronnie again. Why didn't that surprise him? "He find a job, did he?"

 

Face hesitated. "Not yet. He's got to have a place to live first."

 

"So who's paying for an apartment?"

 

"I'm just staking him for little while, Hannibal. That's all."

 

"Hmm." Hannibal didn't like the sound of that. "Must be a pretty good friend, doing all this after not seeing him in 20 years."

 

"He just needs some time to get back on his feet, Hannibal." He smiled his best con man smile. "That's what friends are for, right?"

 

"Friends help each other out, yeah. Like we do for each other. But you can take it too far, too, y'know."

 

"I realize there are limits, Colonel. More and more..."

 

*****

 

"Geez, Tem, I can't believe this place. I can't afford anything like this, even if I get a job tomorrow."

 

"Don't worry about it, Ronnie. Consider it taken care of, at least until you get back on your feet."

 

They looked around the apartment. It wasn't on a par to the kind of place Face would live in, but it was close. Unfortunately, it wasn't scammed. Face would be paying out the nose for it. He didn't want Ronnie involved in anything not on the up and up. Nothing that could bring attention to him or Face or the team. He wasn't getting the team involved with Ronnie at all, or vice versa. Not if he could help it.

 

"So, we'll get the lease signed then, and then we'd better get you some clothes that fit. And groceries. I'll get in touch with some of my contacts this week, see what we can do about a job."

 

"Tem, I don't know what to say. Doing all the stuff for me, it's too much. I mean, you don't owe me that much."

 

Face hesitated just a moment. Well, he did owe the guy. Big time. That little reminder just... irritated him a bit. Ignore it. Part of the cost of debt.

 

"Don't worry about it. Now let's get some food in here." The two men headed out to the 'vette.

 

Face didn't usually go grocery shopping. He kept enough food around to handle the guys if they stopped in, but that was it. Apparently, Ronnie liked to cook. They moved slowly through the aisles, Ronnie picking out what he needed for a good month. Face didn't want to have to do this again. Ronnie would have enough food to last until he could afford to do his own shopping.

 

At the beginning, his friend was hesitant about getting anything. Face encouraged him to get what he wanted.

 

"Man, I haven't had a good steak in a long time. Is that okay, Tem?"

 

"Sure, Ronnie, no problem."

 

Ronnie picked up four Porterhouse steaks. Glancing questioningly at Face, he picked other cuts as well.

 

Ronnie liked poultry. Again, the questioning look, followed by a nod from Face. Cornish game hens. Pheasant. Ronnie had expensive tastes. Face ignored it; indulged him.

 

By the time they finished, the basket was overflowing and Ronnie was no longer asking Face if he could have anything. What he wanted, he took.

 

Back at his new apartment, Ronnie was almost ecstatic.

 

"I'll fix us a couple of those steaks, Tem. C'mon. First meal in my new apartment with my best friend. New life, right? New beginnings."

 

"Right, Ronnie."

 

Ronnie ate with his usual enthusiasm. Face found he wasn't all that hungry.

 

*****

 

"Where's Face, BA?"

 

BA scowled. He was watching behind them, as the orderlies came racing out after Murdock. BA hadn't even tried to scam him out, just called and told him to haul his butt out the back door.

 

"BA?"

 

"He's with Ronnie, o'course. Shoppin."

 

"Ronnie? Who's Ronnie? And what are they shopping for?"

 

"Face didn't tell you? I thought you two talked 'most ever day?"

 

"We do. We did. He hasn't called the last few days. I tried calling him but never got an answer."

 

Chalk up another one for good ol' Ronnie. "Some old buddy o' his from college showed up a few days ago. A bum." BA's voice held contempt. "Came to 'Mr. Lee', lookin for Face. Soon's Hannibal told him, Face goes and gits him outta this flop house he's livin in and takes him to his place. Now he's got him an apartment with all the trimmins. They're out gittin clothes today. Whole damn wardrobe. Throwin money all over."

 

"Face is paying for all of this? Paying for it?" Murdock was incredulous.

 

"Yeh, says he wants this all legit. Don't want him near us, either, I guess. I ain't even seen him. Face says he don't want any trouble for him. I guess that makes sense," he concluded, grudgingly.

 

"So, Face is out shopping for this guy's clothes and you have to come get me for a job. Hannibal was okay with that?"

 

"No, the Colonel was not okay with that! Hannibal's chewin nails. Face told him he'd be out in the mornin but would pick you up. Then he calls and tells him they got 'delayed'. Nothin left to do but for me to git you out. Face better show up in time for the take down or Hannibal's gonna have him runnin more laps than McD's got burgers."

 

"That just doesn't sound like Face." Murdock was obviously concerned. And hurt. He expected Face would have at least called to let him know about his friend coming.

 

"Nothin's like Face since that dude come. I don't like it. And it better stop pretty darn quick."

 

The two men rode the rest of the way in silence.

 

*****

 

The problem was Ronnie's legs. They didn't fit off-the-shelf slacks. Not properly. So that meant alterations. Same with his arms. More alterations.

 

"It's okay, Tem. They don't have to be perfect fits." Ronnie looked again in the mirror, pulling first one, then the other pant leg up, just a bit.

 

"No, they don't look right. You can't go into a job interview looking like you borrowed your clothes. Go ahead, Henri, make them fit right. Same with the shirts. I want them perfect."

 

Henri nodded, gathering up the dozen pair of pants and shirts.

 

"Okay, let's look at the ties..."

 

"Tem, your friends are waiting for you. You don't have to do this. Really. I've got a couple decent ties. I mean, they need dry cleaning but..."

 

"Don't worry about it, Ronnie. Besides, I threw your ties out." Face marched away, grabbing two boxes of silk handkerchiefs on the way. "Ties are over here..."

 

*****

 

Hannibal slammed down the phone.

 

"We're waiting another thirty minutes. He's on his way." The Colonel stalked off.

 

Murdock looked at BA, who looked almost as thunderous as Hannibal. This wasn't right. Face may run late for meetings; never for missions. Never. Murdock followed Hannibal.

 

"Hannibal, what's going on with Face and this friend of his?"

 

"I don't know, Murdock, but I'm sure as hell going to find out!" Hannibal chewed furiously on his cigar.

 

"What do you know about this Ronnie, anything?"

 

"No. Face said they were roommates in college. They lost track of each other when Face joined up. Then he suddenly shows up here, looking like something the cat dragged in, and Face is all over himself getting the guy fixed up. It's bad enough spending all this money on him. But this, today, is inexcusable. I don't care how good a friend this guy is - Team business comes first!"

 

Murdock nodded, but inside he was struggling. Nobody on the team liked him, but Hannibal seemed to have taken a special dislike of him. Just who was this guy, anyway?

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

Face arrived just in time to take off with the team. He noted the sullen silence that greeted him. Well, it couldn't be helped. He glanced guiltily at Murdock, who was rather obviously studying the hem of his shirt. Face sighed.

 

They were going to the bad guys' office. Their client was being threatened by extortionists. Unless he signed over his share of the business to them, they were going to send forged documents to his business partners, making it look like he was embezzling. It was up to Face to break into their safe and steal the documents. Once the documents were safely out of their hands, the bad guys would be rounded up by the rest of the team and deposited with the local authorities.

 

BA at one entrance, Hannibal and Murdock at the other. Face in and out before anyone knew he'd been there. As Hannibal had it planned, a piece of cake.

 

As most of Hannibal's plans worked, it was more like a mud pie.

 

The leader of the extortionists was supposed to be at a meeting on the other side of town for most of the afternoon. Even running late, Hannibal figured they had plenty of time before he got back to his office. They didn't know the meeting had been cut short. The leader was already on his way back, fighting traffic on the freeway, when Face entered the office.

 

The office was actually two small rooms, one leading off the other. Face moved quickly into the main office and knelt in front of the large safe. It only took him a few moments to open it, and hurriedly started sorting through the papers inside. Unfortunately, his target was mixed in with a mountain of legitimate paperwork. He had to check them all over to make sure he got everything. They hadn't counted on that. He checked his watch. He didn't care what Hannibal had said about that meeting, he didn't want to spend all afternoon in the lion's den.

 

The extortionist, frustrated with the slow pace, took a quick exit from the freeway. It would be quicker taking a side street...

 

Too many damn papers in here. Face was getting frustrated. Sometimes Hannibal just expected too damn much. He kept sorting, page after page...

 

The extortionist pulled into the adjacent parking garage. Finally. It was cheaper than the one in his own building, and had an access passage directly to his floor. What more could a man ask?

 

Face had just finished going through the safe when he heard the outer door open. He rushed to the door and peeked out. Damn. The head honcho. Where the hell were the guys? Quickly he locked the door. Face just needed a couple seconds to scoop up the papers and shove them inside his shirt. He grabbed the desk lamp and stood beside the door.

 

He heard the fumbling with the lock, a swear word, key going in. The door swung open, and Face prepared to use the lamp on the guy's head. But no one came in. Shit. He waited. Seconds passed.

 

"You might as well come out of there, whoever you are. There's no other way out."

 

Face stood perfectly still. Poker rules. The bad guy bluffed, Face bluffed. Who would fold first? Face held his breath.

 

Minutes passed. The bad guy folded. He slowly moved through the door. Face brought the lamp down hard on his gun hand, followed immediately a right hook to the guy's chin. He hadn't hit the floor before Face was in the hall way, making his way to the elevators. He sent one on its way to the basement level, and ran through the door to the stairwell, making sure he forced the door shut completely behind him. Then he ran like hell down the steps.

 

"Go!" he gasped as he jumped into the van, and BA took off, not knowing why Face was in such a hurry but figuring something had gone wrong. He made a screeching turn around the block, picking up Hannibal and Murdock.

 

"Face? Get them?" Hannibal turned to look at his out of breath lieutenant.

 

"Yeh, just before the owner walked in the door. Where were you guys? And I thought that meeting was supposed to last all afternoon!"

 

Hannibal chewed on his cigar, nonchalant. "Musta been an entrance we missed. Hey, sorry, Face, but sometimes you just gotta improvise. Now let's go get the rest of these jerks."

 

Face glared at the back of Hannibal's head. Improvising would get him killed one of these days...

 

*****

 

The bad guys were all tied up back in their office, the forged documents left for evidence, and the police notified. Mission accomplished. Face had explained what happened by the time they got back to the warehouse. While Hannibal was sympathetic, he reminded Face that, had he been on time, he would have had ample time to retrieve the papers before the extortionist got back to the office. Face held back an angry retort, acknowledging the truth to Hannibal's words.

 

"Face, before you go, we need to talk. BA, why don't you and Murdock meet me back at my place?" There was no doubt that Hannibal intended to have a full discussion with Face, and not just about his tardiness.

 

Face watched unhappily as BA and Murdock drove off. Damn, he did not want this discussion. There was no way in hell he was going to explain Ronnie to Hannibal. No way.

 

"Well, Face? Want to tell me what's been going on with you lately?"

 

"Look, Hannibal, I'm sorry about today. It won't happen again. I misjudged the traffic, that's all."

 

"You wouldn't have had to worry about it if you hadn't been out with your friend all day." Hannibal made his voice softer. "You've been spending a lot of time with this Ronnie. And spending a lot of money, too, from what I can see. You have that kind of money to spend, Face?"

 

"You want to check my books, now, Colonel?" Face's voice was cold. "I'm not spending any of the team's money, if that's what you're worried about."

 

"I'd never worry about that, Face. I know you better than that. But I am concerned about your relationship with Cousins. Murdock says you haven't called him in over a week. You know he depends on that communication, Face. Helps him keep things together."

 

Face looked down at the ground, shook his head. "Damn it, Hannibal, don't pull the guilt trip on me. You and BA know how to dial a phone, too."

 

"It's not the same thing and you know it. Besides, since when did it get to be a burden to call Murdock?"

 

"Calling him is not a burden, Hannibal. No more than the rest of you are."

 

Hannibal stared at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"

 

"I mean, I'm a little tired of having my entire life revolving around the team. I meet up with a friend I haven't seen in years and I want to help him out, and all I get is grief. What, I need your permission to have a life outside of you guys?"

 

"Face, that's ridiculous. I have no problem with your friend, except," he emphasized, "when it starts affecting the team, like it did today. And yes, I get concerned about your finances because I don't need you worrying about that when you should be concentrating on the job. It could get you killed."

 

"A lot of things can get me killed. But for your information, my finances are just fine. And what happened today won't happen again."

 

"I hope not." He looked intently at Face. "Anything you want to talk about, Face? Like why this guy is almost an obsession with you?"

 

"He's not an obsession, Hannibal. I just want to help him get back on his feet, and that takes some time and effort. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to go home."

 

Hannibal sighed. He knew there was no point in trying to talk to Face when he was on the defensive. "Go ahead. Just watch yourself."

 

Face stared at him for a moment, then stalked out. Hannibal heard the 'vette screech out of the warehouse and down the street. Great, he'll get his ass picked up by the cops next.

 

*****

 

Face had barely gotten in the door when the phone started ringing. It was Ronnie.

 

"Tem, hope I'm not disturbing you..."

 

"No, it's fine, Ronnie, what's up?" Face ran his hand through his hair; all he could think of was a hot shower and bed. The day had been way too long.

 

"Well, I was wondering...there's this play. I meant to see it when I was in New York, but it's here in LA now. But, well, it's the last night. I hate to ask, but...it really is a wonderful play. I think you'd enjoy it."

 

Face closed his eyes. He really did not feel like going to a damn play, tonight of all nights, but...

 

"Yeh, okay, Ronnie. When and where?"

 

"You don't have to, Tem. You sound tired. I just thought you'd like to go out with a friend who won't get you shot at or something." He gave a sympathetic chuckle. "Hey, look, just forget it, okay? It's not a problem."

 

"No, no, that's okay, Ronnie. Let me take a quick shower and change clothes and I'll pick you up."

 

"Well, if you're sure, Tem. I mean, I've been taking up a lot of your time lately. You don't owe me that, you know."

 

"Don't worry about it, Ronnie. Give me an hour."

 

The play was boring as hell to Face. He didn't care at all for these so-called modern dramas. It was all he could do to stay awake. Ronnie had no such problem. He was constantly jabbing Face in the arm to discuss either what had just happened or what was about to happen.

 

Face should have called it quits. Had it been anyone else, he would've dropped him like a dirty rag. But he couldn't do that. Ronnie was just trying to be a friend. A real friend. Besides, Face owed him. Big time...

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

Face woke the next morning at Ronnie's apartment. With a pounding headache. Ronnie had wanted to stop after the play and have a few drinks, so Face had taken him to an exclusive club not far from the theater. Face hadn't intended to drink so much. It just seemed like there was a fresh drink in front of him constantly. Face didn't remember ordering them. Even the meal he found himself eating hadn't done much to reduce the effects. He'd ended up giving Ronnie the keys to his 'vette and letting him drive them home. He didn't understand why his friend hadn't gotten that bad.

 

Face hated to think what the evening had set him back. Not that Ronnie had insisted on going out. He never insisted on anything. Just the opposite. He was quite apologetic when suggesting anything. He just seemed to suggest a lot of things. Face couldn't say no. After all, the man didn't even have a job yet. Things would be different when he had his own money coming in. Face was going to call back some of his contacts today and see what he could set up.

 

Yeh, things would be easier when Ronnie had his own job. When Face finally had him set up. When it was paid in full.

 

*****

 

Murdock was not happy. BA had dropped him off at the VA in the wee hours of the morning, and he'd been able to sneak back to his room unseen. He knew the nurses and Dr. Richter would have a fit when they discovered his return, but that wasn't what was bothering him. It was this friend of Face's. Ronnie. Hannibal had told them about his talk with Face, and BA had already told him the rest. It was obvious to everyone that the con man was being taken for a ride. Everyone except Face himself, apparently. But Face should know better.

 

They needed to find out who this guy was. Who he really was. What he'd been doing for the last twenty years. And what hold he had on Face. Because that was the only reason Face would allow himself to be used this way. This guy had something on Face, and it was something Face didn't want the rest of the team to know about.

 

Which didn't mean diddly.

 

*****

 

Hannibal was already making a few inquiries. Face had said that Cousins had not served in the military. A couple quick phone calls from 'General Hardin' confirmed that. So what had this guy been doing for the last twenty years?

 

Hannibal made the next call to the alumni office at the college Face had attended. If the woman who answered got the impression that her spilling the beans meant a rather significant contribution to the school, Hannibal couldn't really help that. Ronald Cousins had indeed been registered at the same time as Face. Within a couple months of Face joining the Army, Cousins had dropped out. The last address they had for him was in Santa Monica, but that was immediately after he left school. The woman had no idea why he'd dropped out. She did remember that there was some kind of scandal after he'd gone, but couldn't remember what.

 

So where else would one look for someone who'd effectively dropped from sight for twenty years? In fact, Hannibal realized, it was almost exactly twenty years.

 

Hannibal's next call was as Captain Hardin of the LAPD, to the records division of the LA County Courthouse...

 

*****

 

Ronnie had driven the 'vette back to the beach front house. Face sat in the passenger seat, head back, eyes closed. He couldn't believe the headache he had. And it didn't get any better. Ronnie had given him some kind of aspirin but it had only gotten worse. He stumbled into the house and settled down on the couch, Ronnie fussing over him like a mother hen.

 

The phone rang. Face started to get up, but a wave of dizziness hit him and he flopped back down. Ronnie hurried over and picked up.

 

"Hello?...No, this is Ron Cousins. Who is this?...Oh, yes, Colonel...Templeton's not feeling well...No, we, uh, went out last night to a play and then stopped afterward and, well, I guess we celebrated a little too much, heh heh...well, no, I wouldn't call it a hangover, no, just a headache, really...me? Oh no, I'm fine. I didn't have that much...no, I'm not much for alcohol...yeh, well, he was like that in college, too. Did cause a few problems, but...no, no, I'm sure he'll be fine...I'll let him know you called, Colonel..."

 

Face hadn't paid much attention to the call. He was still trying to fight through the cotton that seemed to be engulfing his brain.

 

*****

 

Hannibal was pacing. Fast. This was not good. Face never drank heavily. Despite his image, he rarely had more than a couple drinks at one time, ever. He'd told Hannibal once that he didn't want to lose control of the situation, social or otherwise, and alcohol did exactly that. Hell, he was almost phobic about it. Ronnie wasn't 'much for alcohol', huh? But he managed to get Face drunk. Damn.

 

He was still waiting for a call back from the courthouse. A little risky, giving out this number, but at least there really was a Captain Hardin, if anyone bothered to check. He called BA. Told him to come over, just in case. And to bring Murdock.

 

Then he did something he never thought he would do. Shortly after they had escaped from Fort Bragg, Face had set up an elaborate system for their personal finances. It was necessary so they wouldn't leave a paper trail. Each member had access to all the accounts; it was a practicality in case any of them were captured, to protect their assets. It was a matter of trust that that would be the only time that access would be used. Hannibal felt guilty, but only for a moment. One of them had been captured, to his way of thinking. And he needed to protect those assets.

 

He started making calls, seeing what funds had been used, transferred, spent. BA and Murdock arrived while he was in the middle of it.

 

BA heard part of the conversation, scowled, and walked out to the kitchen, pulling Murdock behind him. Whatever Hannibal was doing, BA did not want to hear. What he was talking about on the phone was none of BA's business. But he understood that if Hannibal was making those calls, things were more serious than he had realized. Exchanging looks with Murdock, he knew they were thinking the same thing.

 

Finally, Hannibal came out into the kitchen. He was scowling almost as darkly as BA.

 

"Face has been spending a lot of money. Way too much. And all in the last week. All since this Cousins fella showed up. If he keeps this up, he's gonna be broke in a month."

 

"He said somethin about gettin this guy a job, through his contacts. So maybe he won't have to spend so much then. Maybe this guy is gonna pay him back."

 

"Yeh, and maybe the moon's made of cheese. This guy is trouble, BA. He and Face went out last night. Face got plastered. Cousins answered the phone at his place this morning, sounding very chipper. Face had a headache - bad enough that he couldn't come to the phone."

 

"Face doesn't drink like that." Murdock was adamant. Face hadn't gotten drunk since Nam.

 

"He did last night. I also called the college and the military. The guy dropped out of college shortly after Face joined up. Disappeared a few months later, after some kind of scandal. Shows up here almost exactly twenty years later." He looked sharply at them.

 

"Prison?"

 

"I'm waiting for a call back."

 

"Didja call Amy?"

 

"Yeh, she's checking things on her end. One way or the other we're getting to the bottom of this."

 

*****

 

Face woke up sometime in the afternoon. He knew it was afternoon because the sun was hitting him full in the face through the west windows. He felt like he'd been run over by a truck. He staggered into the bathroom, turned on a hot shower. Stood under the scalding water as long as it lasted.

 

When he finally came out, he still didn't feel good, but at least felt like he would live. He looked around. The house seemed different. Something...out of place. He looked around again. The desk. His briefcase with his personal papers had been moved. He looked through it. Someone else had been through it. Certain papers were in the wrong place.

 

"Ronnie?" Silence.

 

He stepped outside, looked at the carport. The 'vette was gone.

 

Face moved slowly back to the living room. Sat down on the couch. Something was wrong. Very wrong. If only he could think straight.

 

*****

 

Amy called back.

 

"I don't think you're going to like this, Hannibal. Ronald Cousins was arrested and convicted of the murder of one Lonnie Saenger. The murder occurred while he was attending school with Face, but he wasn't arrested until several months after he dropped out. Apparently, he was attending a beach party, drugs, alcohol, the whole nine yards. Things got out of hand; he tried to rape a girl, and her boyfriend, this Saenger, interfered. Cousins killed him and hid the body. According to testimony, he threatened the girl to keep her quiet. She didn't say anything for a couple of months, but then broke down and it all came out."

 

Amy hesitated. "Hannibal, she said Face was there when it happened, but was too drunk or...stoned...to do anything. Anyway, apparently neither the DA nor the defense felt he would be a credible witness, so there was no point in trying to bring him back for the trial, or even getting a deposition. Hannibal, I just don't understand why Face would want anything to do with someone like that."

 

"I don't either, Amy, but I'm going to find out. Right now."

 

Hannibal still had his hand on the phone when it rang again. The county courthouse. Short and sweet. Not only did they confirm Amy's information, but Cousins was in violation of parole. In other words, they couldn't find him.

 

*****

 

Face heard the car pull in and stepped wearily out of the door. Ronnie was just getting out, talking to someone still in the car. He stopped, startled, when he saw Face, and motioned for whoever it was to stay inside.

 

"Hey, Tem. Feeling better?"

 

"Yeh, Ronnie. A little. Where were you?"

 

"Oh, I had some errands to run. I would've waited for you, but I wasn't sure when you'd be up again. Hope you don't mind. I didn't want to disturb you." He looked so apologetic. "I'm sorry, Tem, I wouldn't have taken it otherwise, but I don't have a car and, ...well, I got you some stuff for your headache. Believe me, they really work..." His expression changed to almost puppy-dog hopeful.

 

Face sighed as he took the pill bottle. "Thanks, Ronnie. And don't worry about the car. I was just..." He shook his head. He almost felt guilty asking the next question. "Uh, did you open my briefcase for some reason, Ronnie?"

 

"Oh, yeh, I'm sorry. I was going to tell you. The Colonel called again; he said you had some papers he needed. He was pretty insistent, but I didn't want to disturb you. I didn't know exactly what he was talking about, but I saw your briefcase and thought they might be in there. I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to pry..."

 

"No, no problem, Ronnie. I just wondered. Uh, who's in the car?"

 

"Oh..." Ronnie actually blushed. "That's Tia. I met her a couple days ago. She lives in the same building as me. I was gonna ask you if I could borrow the car, take her out to dinner. Oh, I'd have to borrow some money. I mean, I haven't asked her out yet, just took her for a drive, I wanted to ask you first, you know. I mean, if you can't, that's okay, but..."

 

Face sighed. "Don't worry about it, Ronnie. Go ahead." He took out his wallet. He was surprised there was any cash left in it. "Here, take her out someplace nice. Just be careful with the car, okay?"

 

"Sure, Tem. Thanks a lot. Really. I mean, I know you owe me, but still..."

 

"Just take the car, Ronnie. I'll see you later." Face turned and went back into the house. His headache was getting bad again. He sat on the couch, looking at the bottle of pills. OTC. Okay. Label said take two every four hours. Standard. He shook out two, giving them a quick glance. Something odd about them, but he didn't pay much attention. Swallowing the pills, he slid down against the pillows and closed his eyes.

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 

Hannibal, Murdock and BA arrived at the beach house a couple hours after Ronnie had gone. Hannibal had taken one further step before leaving. He pretended to be Face's attorney and put a freeze on each and every one of his assets. It would probably be one hell of a mess to get them opened again, but he was not going to let his friend's resources be further depleted. Or worse, have them disappear altogether. He didn't know what this Cousins fella was up to, or what hold he had over Face, but until he found out what was going on, he was taking over. Face would just have to live with it for a while.

 

"He's not home, Hannibal. Car's gone."

 

"Let's just check the house anyway, Murdock. I want to make sure."

 

BA looked over at the Colonel. "He ain't home, Hannibal."

 

"Maybe he let Ronnie take the 'vette."

 

"No way, man. He don't let nobody drive that car 'cept him."

 

"Hmm."

 

BA shrugged and pulled into the drive. He thought it was a waste of time. Face wasn't home so they oughta be checkin out that other guy's place. But you didn't argue with Hannibal when he made his mind up.

 

Hannibal knocked at the door with no response. He knocked again, louder. There was a noise inside, then silence. He looked at BA, who popped the door open with one shove.

 

"Face? Face, you home?"

 

They heard a mumbled reply from the living room, and hurried in to find Face on the couch, nearly incoherent.

 

"Face?" Hannibal grabbed him by the shoulders, shook him gently. "Face, what's the matter?"

 

Murdock picked up the pill bottle from the table. "He's doped up, Hannibal. Some kind of pain killers." He opened the bottle, shook out some pills. "Something's not right, Hannibal. Pills are supposed to be marked. These aren't."

 

"Let me see those." Hannibal took the pills, looked closely at them. "These aren't legal, whatever they are. Where the hell did he get them? And why?"

 

"What we gonna do, Hannibal?" BA was looking at Face, frowning in concern.

 

"Get him up and moving. I'll get some coffee going. We have to wake him up."

 

BA grabbed the nearly unconscious man up from the couch, drawing his arm over his shoulder. "C'mon, Face, move those feet. C'mon..."

 

Hannibal was making the coffee, fuming the entire time. He had a damn good idea where those pills had come from. The bottle was for an everyday pain reliever. What was inside was something else altogether. But what? If they couldn't get Face to wake up, they'd have to take more drastic measures. Get that shit out of his system. If that didn't work, they'd have no choice but to chance taking him to the hospital. Damn it.

 

He listened to Murdock and BA in the other room. He could hear Face mumble something now and then, so maybe he was coming around. He stepped around the corner, and watched as BA practically dragged Face around the room, Murdock asking him questions, saying his name over and over. The mumble would come occasionally but Hannibal wasn't sure if it was a response or just random talking.

 

The coffee was ready. Hannibal poured a cup and headed into the living room. This was not how he'd planned to spend this night.

 

*****

 

Ronnie dropped off Tia very late that night, and headed back to Peck's house. He wanted to be there in the morning when Peck came to, all solicitous of the monster headache he knew Peck would still have. He was reaching the end of his run here. Not that Peck was a problem. He hadn't thought he would be. No, that was coming along just fine. It was those other guys. Those friends of his. The famous A-Team. Peck had done his best to keep them away from him, and Ronnie had no problem with that. But just from his conversation with that Colonel earlier today, he knew they were suspicious. He wondered if they had done any checking on him. No real reason to. Not yet, anyway. He'd given no indication he was interested in the reward, and that would be their only concern. How Peck spent his money was nothing to them, regardless of what it had added up to.

 

He'd been a bit surprised at that himself. He hadn't realized how well off Peck really was, considering his 'life style'. But then, even back in college Ronnie had known Peck would do well. Not only was he great at con jobs, but he was a whiz with figures. Knew his stuff. That was the one thing that held Ronnie together all those years. Knowing that he'd managed to set Peck up for this. For once in his life, Ronnie had thought ahead.

 

It would have been different if that girl hadn't screamed. If she hadn't done that, her boyfriend wouldn't have come running. Yeh, life would've been a lot different. If Peck hadn't been there, life would be a lot different now, too. Peck. Drunker than a skunk that night. Higher than a kite, too. Quite a cocktail he'd had. No stranger to booze, but pills? Peck had stayed away from them. Always. If he hadn't gotten so drunk that night, probably never would have tried them. But he was mooning over that girl. What the hell was her name? Leslie? Had enlisted, for God's sake. After all the plans they'd made to go into business together. Enlisted because of some bitch.

 

So it was a farewell party in Peck's honor, and Peck had drunk himself into near oblivion, and it hadn't taken much to dump a few pills down him. Childish revenge. Ronnie hadn't planned what happened next. It just happened. The girl came wandering over to where the two of them sat, Ronnie listening to Peck's maudlin ramblings, back behind a sand dune. She had on the skimpiest bikini he'd ever seen. Ronnie was hopped up on speed and alcohol. Decided to take advantage of the opportunity. Then her boyfriend showed up. Ronnie couldn't remember everything that happened then, only that it ended with a broken piece of fence board slamming into the boyfriend's head.

 

Peck didn't even know they were there. He'd been in Never Never Land long before the boyfriend ever showed up. Didn't know anything had happened.

 

Until afterward. After Ronnie had sat there, looking at the body, listening to the girl's whimpers. After Ronnie had time to think things over. Told the girl what would happen to her if she said anything and sent her scrambling home. And then Ronnie had roughly brought Peck back to consciousness, convinced him that they needed to hide the body. They had to, or instead of a new military career, Peck would be facing the gas chamber. Over the next couple of days it got a little hairy. Peck, filled with guilt and remorse, wanted to turn himself in. Ronnie couldn't let him do that. The girl would've gotten on the stand and told them who really did it. So Ronnie sat on him, telling him how he'd get Ronnie into trouble, too, for helping hide the body. Make him an accomplice. Ruin his life. So Peck kept quiet. And Ronnie knew he had a meal ticket just waiting for him. All Peck had to do was come back from the war alive.

 

In the end, the girl had given Ronnie up anyway, despite his threats. At least his father's lawyer had kept him from the death penalty. Pleaded out, got prison time instead. Fortunately for Ronnie, Peck never found out. Well, now he was out and taking advantage of that little set up from way back when.

 

Peck thought he owed Ronnie for saving his skin. He really owed him for screwing up a legitimate - and rich - life. Ronnie figured he'd collect that debt in the next couple of days. He'd have Peck so wrapped up in those 'painkillers' he'd do whatever Ronnie told him. And after wiping Peck out financially, he'd place a call to a certain Colonel who was very interested in Peck and his friends. The reward money would be the icing on the cake.

 

*****

 

Walking him around and almost drowning him in coffee hadn't done the trick. Murdock pulled out their medical kit. Ipecac. Within the hour Face had gotten most of it out of his system. They'd taken turns holding him over the toilet while he retched. Hannibal wasn't sure who felt worse afterward.

 

Face was sitting on the couch, showered and dressed in a robe. BA and Murdock were helping him drink down yet more coffee; he was still too shaky to hang on to the cup himself. Still not very coherent. They kept asking him questions, what had happened, where was his car, where was Ronnie, but all he could mumble was, "I don't know."

 

Around 1:00AM headlights flooded the side of the house; someone pulled into the drive and abruptly stopped. Hannibal opened the door, looked out. Caught a flash of the 'vette as it reversed out of the drive and raced down the road. Damn. Probably the last any of them would see of Mr. Cousins. He would've sent BA after him, but he knew they had to get out of there. Now. After that exit, it didn't take a rocket scientist to know Cousins realized the jig was up. And having an idea of the kind of man he was, Hannibal had no doubt he'd be calling the MP's the first chance he got.

 

It didn't take long to gather Face's things. He never kept much with him; none of them did. Hannibal went over the house thoroughly one last time, as BA and Murdock half-carried Face out to the van. He noted that Face's briefcase was open, his papers shuffled around, completely unlike the way Face kept things. He no longer felt guilty about his earlier actions.

 

He locked the door carefully as he left. Too bad. It was a very nice house.

 

 

CHAPTER SIX

 

Ronnie drove straight back to his apartment. Seeing that van in Peck's driveway had stunned him, but he figured Peck would be keeping the others occupied for quite some time yet. The first thing he did was call the military base. It took some time but he was finally put through to Colonel Decker. He gave Decker a post office box for contact. He planned to cancel the lease on the apartment, take the money and run. He knew the team hadn't lasted this long by being careless, and he didn't intend to be anywhere they could find him if Decker screwed up.

 

The phone call taken care of, Ronnie set to work packing. He had a huge wardrobe, thanks to Peck. Plenty of cash, too. He wished he could have gotten more information on his bank accounts, but he had enough. Once the car was packed up, he sat down with the phone and prepared to start transferring funds from some of Peck's accounts to his own.

 

It didn't take long for him to find out someone had been there before him. Everything was frozen. He slammed the phone down. Damn it! It had to have been the Colonel, although how he'd been able to do it, Ronnie had no idea. He should've made his move sooner. But he enjoyed living the good life at Peck's expense, and, he had to grudgingly admit, Peck was extremely good company. Well, no point in crying over spilled milk. He still had plenty of cash, clothing, and that 'vette. He'd be able to get a pretty penny off that, even if he couldn't produce a pink slip. Plenty of people who didn't care about that little detail. It wasn't like Peck would report it stolen.

 

By the time he'd finished with the packing, loading and phone calls, and fixed his last meal there, it was time for the building manager to arrive for the day. Ronnie headed down to break the lease and hit the road.

 

*****

 

By midmorning, Face had recovered, more or less. He still had that damn headache, and felt worn down and shaky. But mostly he was angry. The problem was, he didn't know who he was most angry at.

 

First, Hannibal told him about the pills. Face couldn't believe it. Wouldn't believe it. Ronnie would not do that to him. No way.

 

The second shock came when Hannibal had told him about his now frozen accounts. Face was livid. It was going to be one hell of a mess getting that straightened out. Hannibal had no right to do that. The balls of the man. He wasn't his father, he was his colonel, and not even that any more.

 

Then he looked at their faces and knew there was even more. And he didn't think he was going to like it. At all.

 

When Hannibal told him about his inquiries, and what Amy had dug up, it sent him reeling. Literally. If BA hadn't grabbed him, he would have fallen. BA helped him to the couch, Hannibal and Murdock hovering over him. They knew hearing all of this would hit him hard; they hadn't realized it would be this bad.

 

He felt hot and cold all at the same time. It wasn't true. It couldn't be. Ronnie had been his best friend in college. His roommate. How could he have done that? How could he have made Face believe that he'd killed that guy in a drunken, drugged-up rage? And let him continue to think that, all these years after? And come to him now and taken advantage of that lie?

 

He remembered that night. At least the beginning. It was just after Leslie...he'd enlisted. Ronnie was so angry with him, but there was nothing either of them could do about it. Maybe it was that anger that had brought everything to a head that night. Ronnie had pictured the two of them going into business together after graduation. Taking the world by storm. Which was okay with Face. He liked Ronnie, knew he was almost as smart in business as he himself was. Between the two of them, they could have done well. Very well. But that ended when Face enlisted. And Ronnie had been very, very angry.

 

Face thought his friend had gotten over it. A few days after, he told Face he'd set up a farewell party at the beach for him. Face hadn't felt like partying at all, but went along with it, wanting to make amends of sorts to his friend. It really had been a great party; Ronnie was good at the social end of things. And Face had gotten drunk. Very, very drunk. He remembered someone handing him some pills. Different colors. He'd never done drugs before or since, but that night he didn't care. That was all he remembered until Ronnie had shaken him awake, sometime just before dawn. And then he'd seen the body. And listened to Ronnie telling him what had happened. What Face had done.

 

Ronnie had convinced him they needed to get rid of the body. Convinced him that he was on the way to the gas chamber otherwise. So they'd buried it deep in the sand. They'd thought about dragging it out into the ocean, but Ronnie said it would wash up.

 

Face shivered, thinking about how cold-blooded it all sounded. How panicked he'd been. And he remembered how he had been persuaded not to go to the police, because it would mess up Ronnie's life. Now, of course, he knew the real reason. But back then, he'd gone off to the Army, gone to Nam, and had more than Leslie swimming around in his head. More than enough reasons to put himself in harm's way. Until he'd met Hannibal.

 

All these years, he'd never forgotten Ronnie's voice, telling him what Face had done. He'd racked his brain over the years, trying to remember the act and it tore at him that he never could. How could one forget killing someone like that? Many nights he'd wake up with nightmares, imagined memories of the murder swimming in his head. And yet, that's all it ever was to him - imagination. During conscious periods, it was a total blank. And now he knew why he'd never remembered. It had all been a lie. A vicious lie. Why? Why would Ronnie do that to his supposed best friend?

 

Face shook his head. He felt sick. Physically and mentally. He didn't know if he should feel anger, shame, betrayal, relief...He looked up at his friends, lost. Now came the worst part of this whole thing. Because now he'd have to tell Hannibal what a coward he had been...

 

*****

Murdock looked worriedly at his friend. He could only imagine the anger and betrayal Face was feeling right now. Taking this guy under his wing when he hadn't even heard from him in twenty years, only to find out that the bastard had lied to him in the worst possible way. And topped it off by stealing from him - that's the way Murdock looked at it anyway. Stealing.

 

"Face, I know it's hard to accept what Cousins did, but at least now you know what he's really like. A low-life, a murderer and rapist. He's not the guy you thought he was. You're better off without him, even if it did cost you to find out."

 

"You don't understand, Murdock." Face was speaking so softly the men could hardly hear him. "Ronnie...is not the only one to blame for what happened."

 

"Hey, you did what you thought was right for a friend, Face." Hannibal spoke up then, angry that Face would even consider sharing the blame for Cousins fleecing him.

 

"No, I'm not talking about now, Colonel." The formal title startled them all. "I don't give a fuck about now. I did that to myself. My choice." Face took a deep breath. "I'm talking about back then, back in college. The girl. The murder. Ronnie wasn't the only one involved."

 

"Face, no, man! That girl, she said herself you were too drunk to do anything. You didn't do anything wrong other than getting snockered, muchacho."

 

"She didn't know. She'd already gone. She wasn't there when I..." Face swallowed hard, "when I helped Ronnie bury the body."

 

The silence pounded in Face's head. He couldn't even look at his teammates. He didn't want to know what they were feeling, thinking. He pushed on.

 

"Ronnie...said that I had attacked the girl...that I had the fight with her boyfriend...and I had killed him. He said if we didn't hide the body, I'd go to the gas chamber. So instead of doing what I should have done, I looked out for me, good old number one. I helped Ronnie hide the body so no one would know a murder had been committed. I did it to save my own skin." His voice was heavy with disgust.

 

"You didn't know, Face. Ronnie lied to you." Murdock spoke as softly as Face had, but there was a pleading tone to it.

 

"That doesn't matter, Murdock. I acted on the truth as I knew it. Oh, I wanted to turn myself in later, but then I thought Ronnie would be tried as an accomplice, and I couldn't do that to him." Ironic anger in the voice now. "But that doesn't matter, either. I still tried to cover up my crime. And I continued to cover it up - for twenty years. Twenty fucking years..."

 

*****

 

BA had listened to Face quietly. He'd been angry at Ronnie. Angry enough to pound the guy into the ground, if he'd been there. But to hear what he'd done to Face, and Face's actions...it was almost too much. He wanted to smash his fist into a wall. Into Ronnie. Into Face. That thought didn't last long, though. It couldn't. This was Face.

 

He thought about the kids he'd seen back home. So many in the same place Face had been. Maybe not murder, but caught up in things they shouldn't have been and no one to tell them what they should do. No one except the same people that got them there in the first place. No time to find that someone who could give them the direction they needed. In a way, Face was lucky, going into the Army, finding Hannibal. Finding the Team. That had saved him, in the long run. In more ways than one.

 

He looked at Face, sitting on that couch, staring at the floor. The self disgust radiated from him. The kid shouldn't have gone through all that. He should have had somebody, somebody besides that jerk Cousins. Well, couldn't do anything about that. But he had somebody now. He had the team now. BA just hoped he realized that.

 

*****

 

Murdock was watching Hannibal. He would take his cue from him. Because Murdock couldn't think right now. Didn't want to think right now. Watch Hannibal. Or BA. BA was strong. He could handle this. Murdock couldn't. Hannibal was strong. He would know what to do. Murdock didn't. Murdock didn't want to be here. He wished he was back at the VA. Anywhere but here.

 

His eyes slid to Face. Fled from that. Didn't want to see him sitting there, didn't want to think about what he had done, what had been done to him. Didn't want to imagine what he had thought about all these years. Didn't want to think about him having that inside and not telling anyone. Not telling the team. Not telling him. Keeping it inside.

 

He wanted to make Face feel okay. He wanted to grab him and shake him and tell him it wasn't his fault. He wanted to make Face understand that it was Cousins that had screwed everything up. He wanted Face to quit blaming a teenager for not acting like an adult. But he couldn't move, couldn't talk.

 

He watched Hannibal. Hannibal would know what to do. And then so would he.

 

*****

 

Hannibal stared out the window, thinking. Knowing that Face had not only helped hide a body, but had done so thinking he was hiding his own crime, had shaken him badly. He knew the others felt the same. He forced himself to remember how old Face had been back then. Just a kid. Maybe 16 or 17. No one backing him up except Ronnie.

 

He turned to look at Face. Still sitting on the couch, looking down at the floor. Couldn't look any of them in the eye. Ashamed. Afraid. Suddenly Hannibal wasn't looking at a fully grown man. He was looking at that scared kid who tried to act so confident. The same kid that had shown up at camp that day, needing someone to keep him alive even when he acted like he didn't care what happened to him. They'd all wondered at his carelessness with his own life. They thought they understood when they'd found out about Leslie. But now it made even more sense. The baggage he'd been carrying with him at that age...

 

"Just a kid..."

 

"What?" Face looked up, startled. BA and Murdock watched Hannibal, waiting.

 

The hell with it. Ronnie was the one who needed to pay.

 

"What name is the 'vette registered in, Face? We need to report it stolen. Stolen by a guy who's in violation of his parole."

 

*****

 

It had been a long three days. Hannibal had suggested Face stay with him, supposedly until he could find a new place of his own, but in reality because Hannibal wanted to keep an eye on him. The shame Hannibal saw every time their eyes met was so intense it made him uncomfortable. And yet Face would not talk about it. Preferred to punish himself by withdrawing as much as he could from them.

 

On the third day, there were several telephone calls, none of which Face paid any attention to. He sat on the balcony, nursing a beer, looking out at a beautiful vista but seeing nothing. Finally, Hannibal came out and rapped him on the shoulder.

 

"Okay, Lieutenant, time to snap out of it. Come with me." There was no questioning or arguing with that tone of voice. Face practically jumped out of the chair and followed Hannibal out of the front door.

 

There, shining in the new wax job BA had just finished, was his prized corvette. BA carefully wiped a last few spots off, while Murdock bounced behind the steering wheel, beating out a quick staccato on the horn, much to BA's displeasure.

 

"What...where...how...?" Face couldn't believe they'd found his car already. At all.

 

"The what's, where's and how's don't matter. But don't get all excited yet, kid. You get the car back under one condition."

 

Face looked at Hannibal, realizing that he was serious.

 

"You accept the fact that teenagers make some really stupid mistakes, but that doesn't change how your friends feel about you twenty years later."

 

Face looked at him, at the others. All three were now solemn and dead serious.

 

"I mean it, Face. First time you start wallowing in self-disgust after this, the car goes right back where we found it."

 

Face took a deep breath. Hannibal did mean it - and not just about taking the car back.

 

"Okay, Hannibal. Agreed."

 

"That's better." Hannibal grinned as he pulled out a cigar. "I love it when a plan comes together!"

 

"Hannibal!"

 

FINI

 


Auld Lang Syne by Shadowwalker213

 

 


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