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The Darkest Hour

The Darkest Hour
by Wendy W

Rating: PG-13
Warning: Possible death of a main character in a VERY unpleasant manner (E-mail me for specifics), nothing graphic, but VERY intense situation with serious angst
Summary: A difficult case lands one of the team in a life and death situation
Disclaimer: Don't belong to me; couldn't afford the ammo
Comments: As long as they don't involve fruit or vegetables being hurled at me
Thanks: to Stephanie, who planted the seed for this story, then watered my subconscious to make it grow (utterly without my consent, I might add)


Part 1

Consciousness returned to him slowly, and it brought with it, confusion. He had opened his eyes, but still found himself enshrouded in complete darkness. Where was he, and why couldn't he see anything? He sensed he was in a small, enclosed space, however, he was lying down, and rather comfortable, all things considered, so it couldn't be an ordinary box or a crate. Shaking off the last vestiges of sleep and disorientation, he blindly began surveying his surroundings. There was absolutely no light, so he figured that the container must be completely sealed, and... air tight. Fighting off momentary panic, he began to explore the area around him with his hands. There was a large pillow beneath his head, and he felt the soft texture of velvet above him, and on either side of him. Beneath the soft cloth, he felt the cold, hard sensation of metal. Moving his feet to explore the lower half of the container, he found that the fabric was against the sides down there, as well. The container seemed to be rectangular, and he became aware that while he could move around, and even sit up a little, the overall size of the thing wasn't much bigger than him. Sealed rectangular box, velvet lined, made of metal... Horrible realization flooded through him. He was in... a casket!



Part 2


The panic he'd kept at bay only a few minutes before, seized control. He frantically pushed up against the decorative fabric panel that masked the curved shape of the top. The panel pressed against the hard, metal lid, but the lid, itself, remained firmly in place. Desperately throwing himself against the sides while screaming for help, he tried to rock the casket enough to draw attention from anyone who may be outside. Again, the casket failed to move even an inch. Realizing he was wasting precious energy and oxygen, he laid back against the pillow. How had he gotten himself into this, and where were the guys? He rubbed his eyes, as if trying to wipe away the darkness. The last thing he remembered, was Joseph Proffetti and his "advisor".

The team had been hired to help protect a jeweler, Antonio Beraducci, and his family, after they had been repeatedly robbed by a man the team had discovered was the nephew of reputed crime boss, Joe Profetti. This nephew, Dominic Sartori, was a favorite of his uncle, and seemed oblivious to the rules of "honor" that governed his uncle's world. Sartori chose to take what he wanted, rather than earn it, and despite his disappointment in his favorite nephew's way of "making a living", Profetti shielded him from the penalties of his crimes. Profetti's ties in the local police department and his vast network of "soldiers" on the streets, had left Antonio with no way to protect himself or his family, and the robberies had been becoming bolder, and more frightening. The last one had landed his only son in the hospital, with a broken arm and a skull fracture, and had resulted in the loss of a week's worth of profits. Antonio had realized that if he didn't do something, he would soon be out of business, or perhaps even dead. That's when he had gone looking for the A-Team.



Part 3


After accepting the case, Hannibal had decided that the only way to stop Sartori was to take down his uncle, first. As he'd devised a plan to 'step on the slime-ball and his cronies', Hannibal's eyes had sparkled so brilliantly with the jazz, that they had rivaled the finest diamonds Antonio displayed in his store. Knowing his usual front door approach would be suicide for them all, Hannibal had opted for a less direct route to Profetti, namely, Profetti's beautiful and somewhat rebellious daughter, Teresina Rosa, or "Rosie" as she liked to be called. Counting on the notorious charm of his second-in-command, and Rosie's well known desire to embrace all things "American", Hannibal had decided Face would be the team's ticket into Profetti's world. With the help of his Lieutenant and his special brand of creative paper pushing, Hannibal had constructed an elaborate background cover for Face designed to impress any young woman, and soothe any self-respecting mafia dad. "Robert Reale", as Face would be known, was the son of a wealthy, but obscure, American tycoon. He was fiercely loyal to family, but loathing of the usual fame that comes with money. He was in New York to establish a base for his dad's European export business, and was well renown for his business sense and his way of making a woman feel as though there was no other woman as exquisite as she. The paper trail in place, the Lieutenant, thanks to Murdock and BA's surveillance skills, had been provided with a list of Rosie's favorite haunts, and had easily made contact with the beautiful Italian girl. She had quickly succumbed to his charms, and almost as quickly, he had been brought before her father, by Profetti's most trusted henchmen.

Joseph Profetti was a distinguished man, his salt & pepper hair and dark olive skin handsomely detracting from the ruthless, calculating mobster that lay beneath the polished surface. Having thoroughly investigated "Robert's" background, and judging the man to be a safe and harmless distraction, at least compared to some of the other men he'd "interviewed" out of concern for Rosie's happiness, Proffeti had allowed the two to see each other without any interference. Face had then taken every opportunity to eavesdrop, search desk drawers, and identify key staff, all while zealously "courting" Rosie in a way that left her breathless.

Breathing... how he'd always taken that basic bodily function for granted..., until now. Taking in the already stale air that surrounded him, he desperately wanted the chance to inhale the fresh, salty air of the ocean, again. He longed to feel the cold, crisp, air of a night in the mountains, revive his lungs. The mountains, the ocean, LA, Chicago, Borneo, and even Vietnam... all the different places they'd been. The team had traveled all over the world, but there were still so many more places he'd wanted to go, things he wanted to see, and not just because a job or a war took them there. Now, he realized he may never have the chance. He felt the first, faint stirring of a headache, as his thoughts returned to the ill-fated case that had landed him here.



Part 4


It had been two weeks, and despite the amount of information Face had gotten with his rather limited access to the house and staff, he still hadn't gathered enough to nail Profetti. His break had come the next day, when Rosie had again invited him to her home for dinner, and the meal had been interrupted by one of Profetti's top men. Excusing himself, Profetti had gone to his office, leaving the young couple alone. Pretending to be a little sick from the wine, Face had gone out onto the patio for some air. The warm evening breeze had carried with it the loud voices coming from the office above them. He'd overheard Profetti detailing a major drug shipment that was set to arrive the following day. While Face had been wining and dining the lovely Teresina, the team had been making a nuisance of themselves by disrupting Profetti's business wherever they could, and Profetti was outlining the dire consequences should anything go wrong with the next day's shipment. So far, the team had been unable to do much beyond interfering with the mobster's gambling, and loan sharking businesses, but intercepting a large shipment of drugs would be exactly what they'd need to wrap up the case.

Quickly stepping back into the dining room, he'd excused himself by telling Rosie he'd needed to use the bathroom. Hurrying into the nearby library, he'd quickly called the van's number and gave the information to Hannibal. He'd hated having to take such a risk, calling the guys from Profetti's own home, but knowing Hannibal would need every second to formulate a plan, he'd taken the chance that he wouldn't be caught. Hurrying back to the dining room, he'd realized Profetti had already returned. Face had quickly returned to his own chair beside Rosie, and resumed his dinner as if nothing had happened. An hour later, the three had retired to the sitting room for coffee. Eager to leave as quickly as possible, but without arousing suspicion, Face had yawned "discreetly" and had risen to leave. Rosie had gotten up to walk him to the door, and Profetti had shaken his hand, warmly. Exchanging a gentle, but heartfelt kiss, "Robert" had bid Rosie a good night and headed down the sidewalk to his car.

Just as he'd been about to open the car door, a voice behind him had caused him to jump and turn around quickly. Standing there had been Joseph Profetti. "Robert, I wanted to speak with you alone, if you don't mind?" he'd asked pleasantly. Face had agreed, and they'd walked over to a nearby bench and sat down. The warm breeze he'd felt earlier seemed to have disappeared, and a sharp, chilling wind had replaced it. Preparing to feel a bullet tear into his chest at any second, he'd instead sat and listened, as Profetti talked about the village in Italy where he was born and had grown up, and all that he had built after coming to this country. Becoming more nervous as each moment passed, Face had prayed that whatever was coming, would be over with soon. He'd never enjoyed waiting... especially for death.



Part 5


Waiting for death.... Is that what he was doing now? He didn't know much about what happened when someone died from suffocation, but he couldn't imagine it would be quick, or pleasant. Would he know that the end had come, or would he merely fall asleep, never to wake again? He tried hard to imagine that he was just waiting for his friends to come for him, but the harsh reality of an all encompassing silent darkness, was making it more and more difficult. The tiny fingers of pain that had drummed across his brain a short time ago, now seemed to be squeezing all coherent thought from his mind, and he was having trouble remembering what had happened next with Profetti. After his brief journey down memory lane, the mobster had confided that
he was concerned that his daughter was becoming too attached to "Robert", and although he respected the young man, he was not Italian, and therefore, could have no appreciation for what that heritage meant. He wanted to appeal to the young man's honor and ask that he break off their relationship in a delicate way. For a moment, Face was stunned into silence. He'd been sure that Profetti had somehow discovered his true identity, or had realized he'd overheard the conversation regarding the drug shipment. Instead, he was being handed the excuse he'd needed to get out. Setting his features to look disappointed, but agreeable, he'd assured Profetti that he cared enough about the young woman to do what was in her best interests, and in the best interests of her family. After all, "Robert" knew the importance of family. Looking relieved, Profetti had shaken "Robert's" hand in a gesture of farewell and appreciation, then turned to walk back toward the house. Face had walked back over to his car and climbed in, still cautious. Starting up the car and shifting into drive, he'd headed down the driveway toward the main gate. The guards at the gate had looked up when they'd seen his car approach, but had quickly opened it when they'd recognized the young man. As he'd pulled onto the main road, he'd taken a deep breath, releasing it slowly.

From that point, all that he would have had to do was act normally until the rest of the team intercepted the shipment at noon the next day. He'd had only had limited contact with the team since he'd become "Robert", having realized that Profetti's men would be watching him very carefully, at all times. The team had devised a series of "drop points" for Face to use, to give them any information he had been able to obtain, but until his call to Hannibal, he hadn't spoken to any of them directly, since becoming "Robert Reale". He hadn't liked being so isolated from his teammates, and was relieved that an end to the case seemed to be in sight.

Part 6

After his dinner with Rosie and Profetti, he had returned to the apartment he'd been using as part of his cover, and had tried to sleep. He and Rosie had already had plans to meet for breakfast the following morning, so he'd decided that would be a good time for the "break up". He'd hoped that Profetti would be too busy comforting his broken hearted daughter to worry about his shipment. He'd wanted to be with the team when everything went down, but he'd also realized that any deviation from his routine might cause suspicion, and they had been too close to success to make any careless mistakes.

So, at 9:30AM, "Robert" had gone to meet Rosie at their usual breakfast spot. They'd finished enjoying an elegant brunch, when "Robert" had broken the news to her that he felt it was best if they ended their relationship. He had cited the difference in their backgrounds, and his loneliness for his own family as reasons, hesitantly awaiting her response. She had looked at him with despair etched across her face, and saying nothing, had risen to walk away. She'd only taken two steps, when she swayed slightly and slid quietly to the floor. Several diners had gasped as Face had hurried to her side. Not wanting to draw anymore attention, he'd gathered her in his arms and hurried out of the restaurant. He had taken her to his car to try and bring her around, when their silent chaperones had approached from both sides. Casting suspicious looks at him, he'd explained that she wasn't feeling well, and he was going to drive her home. Hesitant and watchful, they'd assured him they would follow him, to make certain that everything was really okay. It was at that moment that Face had known he was in trouble. It had been almost 10:30 by then, and by the time he would have taken her home and then left without raising questions, it would be after 12 and Profetti would know his drug shipment was gone. If Profetti had been able to figure out that "Robert" had been involved, Face had realized he would be walking right into the lion's den, with no back-up and no way out. Resigned to dealing with the consequences, he had driven toward the Profetti mansion. Rosie had stirred a few times, but had drifted off again.

It had been just past 11:30 when he'd pulled through the gate, and had breathed a sigh of relief when he'd realized Profetti wasn't home. He had helped Rosie to her feet and escorted her into the house, the silent chaperones hovering nearby. He'd helped her into the living room, and despite his every instinct to leave immediately, the raw pain in her gentle, dark eyes, which had so reminded him of Murdock's, kept him from leaving until he'd known she would be all right. They had talked for several minutes, each shedding tears for what might have been, and had shared a quivering kiss as a last goodbye. Not daring to look at his watch or breathe, he had walked quickly toward the front door. As he'd been about to touch the handle, it had swung open, revealing the enraged face of Joseph Profetti. As their eyes locked, he had known the shipment was gone, the team had won, and he... was in serious trouble. Profetti's henchmen had escorted him to the very office from which the means to Profetti's demise had been overheard. They had shoved him into a chair, and had silently left the room. Face's last memory of those moments, was looking at Profetti's advisor, and then at Profetti, himself. In the deafening silence of the immaculate, lavishly decorated office, Face had stared at the man before him. All traces of the warm, caring, father he'd listened to on that bench only the night before, were gone, and in their place he had recognized cold, calculating, murderous, rage.


Part 7


As he lay in the dark, Face realized that the missing moments of the confrontation with Profetti, were invariably what had led to his current situation. He wasn't sure how Profetti had known about his involvement, and it didn't really matter. He was still here, trapped in a sealed casket. As he lay against the soft pillow, he noticed that something was tucked between the mattress and the side of the casket. Pulling it up, he realized it was a small oxygen tank with a face mask. Now, he was thoroughly confused. If Profetti had entombed him here, why would he want him to have an oxygen tank? Was this supposed to prolong the torture of knowing he was going to die a slow and painful death? He shivered. He became aware that the temperature seemed to be dropping, or maybe he was going into shock. It was becoming difficult to think straight. He put the mask up to his face, and breathed in the pure oxygen, deeply, as though the precious substance could help him regain the confidence and self-assurance that were usually his trademarks. He wondered how much time had passed, and if his friends had discovered that he was missing. Even if they had, it seemed unlikely that they could ever find him. Profetti was a professional killer, who didn't allow loose ends, and didn't bury his secrets in his own back yard. Face laughed at the irony of that image. Maybe that's exactly what Profetti had done, buried him in the back yard. He touched the small oxygen tank again, calculating that it contained only an hour or two of oxygen at best. He wasn't sure how much oxygen was in the casket itself, but then he couldn't be sure how much oxygen he'd used while he'd been unconscious, either. At most, he figured he had three hours, but it could also be as little as one. Just one hour to live. He would die here alone, in the dark, scared, and without his friends ever knowing what had happened to him.

Part 8

No, he couldn't think like that. Somehow, the guys would find him. BA! Yeah, BA had incredible powers of "persuasion". He would get Profetti to tell them where he'd been buried. Buried... Face took a deep breath. Had he really been buried? When he had tried to move his prison earlier, it had given no indication of even the slightest movement. He also hadn't heard even the tiniest sound, other than his own terrified cries, since waking up. He certainly would have been able to detect 'some' noise if there was anything around him. Everything he'd observed, everything he felt, every instinct he possessed told him that he had, indeed, been sealed in this casket, and buried deep in the ground... to die. For a moment, he felt as though the walls around him had disappeared and he could actually feel the weight of the cold, damp, earth. His shivering increased, as the temperature and his optimism continued to slowly drop. He wanted to tear apart the metal fibers that imprisoned him with his bare hands, anything to vent the terrible flood of emotions that were quickly threatening to consume him. But, he couldn't. All he could do was lie there and think about his impending death... and his teammates. They had gotten Profetti. The drugs that would have destroyed so many lives would never make it onto the streets, but as he felt his head pound in waves of pain and the tension begin to elevate his heart rate, he wondered if that small victory was worth his life?


Part 9


He and his friends had spent fifteen years believing that it WAS worth it, and had risked their lives time and time again, proving it. They had helped so many people, stopped so many "slimeballs"... he smiled as he thought of his Colonel and his favorite expression for the vast sea of criminals they'd encountered, but just when did the price they had to pay become too high? He remembered the time when BA had been shot. Things had looked bad until Murdock arrived to give him a transfusion, yet BA hadn't even gotten back on his feet before they were out fighting the good fight again. What about Murdock? How many times had they broken him out of the VA to enlist his help with one of their cases? He'd been shot on one of those cases, and if Hannibal hadn't removed the bullet when he had, Murdock would have died. He thought back to how close to death his friend had been, but he'd still managed to recover quickly enough to torment Decker when he'd come to see him at the VA. Then there was Hannibal. Kyle had managed to drug the Colonel into unconsciousness, yet he'd still found the strength to get help, free all of them, and exact a unique brand of revenge on Kyle and his band of mercenaries. Then, he'd been ready and eager to resume their team training. The were all so strong, so tough. They'd told Amy that you had to accept death, and he'd certainly faced it many times over the years, but this reality was something for which he was simply unprepared. As he caressed the oxygen bottle beside him, he realized that he was afraid to die. All those years, first in Vietnam and then on the run dodging the military and bullets, and he'd only realized now, that he was truly and honestly afraid to die.


He had been taught not to fear death, but to embrace it as a transition between this life and the next. The devout priests who'd been his family during the early part of his life, didn't just teach that, but they truly and genuinely believed it. Faith, that's what they called it, but right now, he didn't want to think about faith. He wanted to think of a way to survive, to live. Taking another cleansing breath from the oxygen mask, he decided to save whatever was left of its precious contents until the oxygen in the surrounding air was almost gone. Somehow, it made him feel a little bit better knowing he would have something he could "fall back on". As he lay there in the confines of his dark prison, however, he realized even his fall back plan wasn't going to sustain him forever. He needed his team... his friends... his family. Tears began to silently course down his face as he thought of the men who had become his world, in the violence and pain of a war. He had heard the priests and nuns say many times that something good can come from even the most horrible things. After he'd met Murdock, BA and Hannibal in the jungle hell of Vietnam, he'd finally found a reason to believe that. This situation, however, left him at a complete loss. What possible good could come from this nightmare?

Part 10

As he felt his heart rate continue to climb and his head threatening to explode, he was desperate to find something good in this. Focus, he had to focus. Yet, he couldn't. This was worse than any torture or cruelty he'd ever been forced to endure. Even in Vietnam, when he and the rest of the team were languishing in that camp, they had at least had each other. They also had little ways to distract each other from the horror that surrounded them. Murdock had his many personalities and impressions. BA had his threats of violence. Hannibal had planning their escape, and he had... he'd had his illusions of grandeur. He'd spent hours imagining all the money and power that would one day be his. In his mind, he'd purchased and decorated numerous homes, pursued and married several different women, and awaited the births and celebrated the milestones of the children he longed to have. He had been able to dream about those children because there had always been hope. When they were hungry, thirsty, in pain from the interrogations, they'd still had hope. Escape was always just on the other side of the bars, a pick of the lock away... But here, now, he had no reason to hope, no reason to believe he'd make it out of this alive. There was no lock on the inside of this casket he could pick, and the only escape on the other side of these "bars" was death. Murdock wasn't here to distract him with his funny impressions, or warm his soul with those chocolate brown eyes. BA's strength couldn't hold off the effects of the lack of oxygen, and all the jazz in the world wouldn't be able to...


His thoughts drifted off as he closed his drowsy eyes, the pain in his head finally preventing further contemplation. He reached down for the oxygen, promising himself he'd only take one quick breath to wake himself up a little, and to his horror, found that he couldn't get his hands to respond to his desperate commands. His arm and the bottle that was his last vestige of hope, fell lifelessly to his side. His breath was reduced to desperate, small gasps, each becoming more and more painful as his body was quickly losing the battle to sustain life, and he gave up. He couldn't fight the deadly need to close his eyes, and they drifted again. He couldn't even seem to think anymore, and instead, fond images began flashing through his mind. He saw BA, and the powerful muscles that could crush enemies and cradle children with equal ease. He pictured his zany best friend seated proudly in the pilot seat, self-assured and entranced by his ability to command the sky before. Finally, he saw Hannibal. The piercing blue eyes that struck fear into their enemies, yet could also dance with laughter and sparkle with the jazz so brightly that it warmed your very soul, those beloved and comforting blue eyes were fixed on him now, as he reached the end of the battle to survive. He could almost hear Hannibal saying, "Open your eyes, kid. Come on! You can do it." Trusting his Colonel without question, as he had a thousand times before, he opened his eyes, and the darkness that had enshrouded and pervaded the last few hours of his life seemed to lift. As he felt himself drifting toward eternity, away from the pain and darkness, he saw the light he'd thought was lost forever, and hurried toward it.

The End (for now)

The Darkest Hour by Wendy W