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Family Secrets (was "Secrets" on VA Yahoo message list)
Comments: This is my first. Feedback and criticism always welcome.
Summary: When the team helps BA's friends find foster care, Face reveals a secret part of his past. Sap and mush.
"What's the big deal?" Face couldn't understand why his team members were upset with him. He thought that they would be happy that he had found a foster home for Keisha, Tonya, and Baby Hope. Instead, Hannibal and BA were furious and Murdock looked like he was caught in between a rock and a hard place.
"The big deal, Lieutenant is the secrets that you keep affect all of us," Hannibal's blue eyes glared at him. He could not understand why Face continuously kept them at an arm's distance. This particular situation wasn't potentially dangerous, but it had the team wondering what else he may be keeping from them. "What if the Army had found you? How would we know?"
"That's precisely why I didn't tell you," Face was beginning to get exasperated. "They're good people and I don't want them dragged into this. BA, you know what it's like for your mother around the holidays. It's bad enough that you can't be there, but she has to deal with the Army camped out and hassling her. Besides that, all of you have special memories from your life before Vietnam that isn't an open book. Why do you constantly insist that mine has to be?"
This discussion had quickly become a battle of wills between Face and Hannibal. The two men glared at each other, neither wanting to back down or able to see the other's point of view.
Face could not understand how they had wound up at this point. It had all started with little Keisha. She had went to the children's center where BA volunteers and had told him that bad people had taken her sister's baby. BA had spoken to her sister Tonya who had just recently given birth to a little girl. Being only 16 with no money or insurance, she had given birth at one of the clinics downtown. After the delivery, her baby had been taken away and she was drugged and released a few days later. When she kept asking for her baby, nobody would believe her story. Nobody, except us, Face mused. It had actually been a simple case. They were able to track down a nurse who was beginning to feel guilty and managed to get Hope back to Tonya. The nurse even confessed on the other clinic members who were involved in trying to sell the babies of poor teenage moms. The only down side to this case was that they found out that Tonya's mom was an addict who had helped arrange the sale of her grandchild. It was likely that social services would split the three girls up into separate homes. That was when Face found a foster mother who was willing to take the two sisters and Baby Hope. A perfect ending so why was everyone so angry?
"All right, fine," Face finally conceded. "Tomorrow. Tomorrow we'll go over to say good-bye to the girls and you guys can meet everyone." With that he got up from his chair and left the room.
BA and Murdock looked to Hannibal for his reaction. He didn't like being walked out on, but he figured that Face probably needed some time alone. Face never really let them into his most private thoughts so this wasn't easy for him. If Hannibal really didn't think that it would cause the team harm one day, he would leave it alone, but he truly believed that too much distance was growing between them.
The next twelve hours seemed to drag for the team. Face pretty much kept his distance by staying in his room and the rest of the team respected his wishes. At exactly 10 am the next day, he walked in to the living room. "Are we ready?"
"Just waiting on the crazy man," BA commented without looking up from the television set.
Face bit back a sigh and called for Murdock. No answer. When he looked to BA and Hannibal, they just shrugged their shoulders. Releasing the pent-up sigh, Face turned and headed towards Murdock's room.
"Hey, Murdock," Face tapped the door slightly as he walked in. "What's taking you so ..." Face stopped mid-sentence at the sight before him.
The usually animated and comedic pilot was standing in front of his dresser mirror, coming his hair. His trademark blue baseball cap was hanging from a hook on the inside of the closet door. His serious expression revealed his heavy thoughts. Clothes were strewn across the bed as Murdock had searched for the perfect ensemble. He had finally decided on Navy blue pants and a crisp white Oxford shirt. Several ties were laid out on the dresser in front of him. Face could tell from the serious expression that this was indeed HM Murdock and not one of his many personas.
"Hey, Murdock, what is all this?" Face kept his voice even, still not sure of what to make of everything.
Murdock turned towards him, uncertainty radiating from him. "Is this ok to wear? I didn't really know what to wear." Murdock glanced down at his attire and then over to Face who was wearing faded blue jeans and a pull-over short-sleeved shirt.
"Well, sure, Murdock, if that's what you want...."
"It's just that these people are really special to you, and I wanted to make a good impression," Murdock interrupted as he started to ramble.
Face was stunned for a moment and could only stare at his friend. "You know, Murdock," he began, "what you have on is good, but I know just the outfit for you." He walked over to the closet and pulled out a pair of khaki pants (Murdock's favorite). Then he went to the dresser and pulled out a blue t-shirt. "I think this would be perfect for today."
"Are you sure?" the pilot questioned.
"Positive. This shirt will make her smile. You'll make her smile." Before the moment could turn any more intimate, Face headed for the door. "Now hurry up and change so we can get going."
The ride over was a little strained. Face was worried about introducing the team to the family that he had wanted to be his own. He could also tell that Hannibal was still ticked off at him. He wanted to settle things with him, but he had learned long ago to keep his most vulnerable emotions to himself. Besides, soon enough, Hannibal would know everything he wanted to know.
Face gave BA directions through the changing neighborhoods. "Take the next left, BA. It'll be the house on the end. Go ahead and pull into the garage."
BA followed Face's instructions and pulled into the driveway of an older two-story house. Face fought back the memories of playing in the front yard or sitting on the front porch after sunset, watching the fireflies.
As they pulled into the attached garage, a tall dark man came out and closed the door behind them. His complexion was light brown and his hair was cut into a short afro. A "medium reg", as Face had often called it. He waited for Face to exit the van and then walked over to him and pulled him into a bear hug. "Whassup, lil bro?" The team looked on in stunned silence. They had been expecting an elderly couple or something similar. Definitely, not a young black man. The young man broke the embrace and looked Face over. "You look good." Then he glanced at the team, noting their expressions. "I can tell by the looks on your faces that he's told you as much about me as he's told me about you. I'm Shemar," he extended his hand towards Hannibal.
After introductions had been made, Shemar invited them into the house. "Come on in. Mama's just dying to meet you."
As if to prove Shemar's statement, Mama was standing just inside the door and greeted all of them with a hug and a smacking kiss on the cheek.
The Team didn't know what to make of any of this. This was definitely not a side they would have ever associated with Face. Mama was a beautiful black woman with smooth chocolate skin. Her black hair was tinged with gray and pulled back in a ponytail. She was slightly overweight but still a good-looking woman. Her face radiated love, pride, and excitement.
"Come in," she beamed, as she ushered them into the living room. "I've waited for such a long time to finally meet the A-Team. Templeton's been so secretive about you."
Hannibal stopped before entering the living room and turned to face Mama. "You'll forgive us if we seem a little bewildered."
"Don't worry," Mama shushed him before he could continue. "I know that Templeton hasn't told you anything. Us either. That's why we're so excited to meet you." Mama herded everyone into the living room. The room was brightly lit with sunlight and decorated in similar bright colors. Mama sat on one of the two sofas and patted the seat beside her "Oh no you don't, Templeton," Mama chastised as Face sat in a chair in the far corner of the room. "Right next to me."
Shemar smirked as he had done so many times in the past when Mama was able to see through one of Face's ploys. Mama was right. The family had waited a long time to meet the A-Team. They had known for a while now that Face was a member, but his unwillingness to talk about it had made it a taboo subject.
"Where are the girls?" BA asked. At that moment, Keisha and Shemar's daughter Olivia came bursting into the room full of animated chatter. Shemar shooed them into the backyard to play.
"Keisha seems to be adjusting well," Mama told them. Tonya is upstairs with Hope, catching up on her sleep."
"I really appreciate you looking after the girls," BA thanked Mama.
"It's a blessing for me. You can never have enough children or family," Mama said as she reached out and squeezed Face's hand.
Face met her eyes, his containing a sadness that he couldn't quite mask.
"Ok, so what's the story here?" Murdock couldn't contain his curiosity as he asked the question that was on the minds of the other team members.
"I thought you'd never ask," Mama replied enthusiastically as she got ready to tell her story. "This is my favorite story."
"She's not kidding," Shemar interjected. "This has become a patented Mama bedtime story."
"It all began when Shemar was taken to the same orphanage as Templeton. They took him in until other arrangements could be made. At that time, segregation was still in place, and they didn't want a black child in the midst of all the white ones. But despite their differences, Templeton and Shemar became the best of friends. When Shemar was placed with me, I tried to get Templeton also, but they felt that it was better for a white child to stay in the orphanage than to be placed with a black family," Mama couldn't keep the bitterness from creeping into her voice. "The nuns understood how close the boys had become, and they arranged play dates and sleepovers. It was the next best thing to having him here all the time. Unfortunately, as the boys got older, the racial climate around them got tense. The boys in the neighborhood gave Shemar a hard time about having a white friend. Shemar didn't mind, but Templeton stopped coming around as much. He said he got busy, but we know that he was trying to protect us." Mama turned to look at Face.
"You knew?" Face asked.
"Yes, we knew. And we loved you for it. We still saw each other occasionally. I'd find roses on my doorstep on Mother's Day. We went to Templeton's graduation. The bond between us never got weaker, just stronger. When he came back from Vietnam, we could tell something was wrong, but talking about his problems doesn't come easily for Templeton, so we left it alone. We found out a few years later that he was a member of the A-Team."
Face's head shot up, his discomfort at being the topic of conversation forgotten. "You've known all this time?"
"You must think I'm stupid. Traveling salesman, my a#*!" Mama snorted.
Hannibal laughed in spite of himself. He was still hurt and angry at Face, but he could see how much these people cared for him. He probably would have made the same choices.
"So, we play by his rules," Shemar finished the story. "Mama, Deborah, and me and my wife Toni are the only ones who know. The children think Uncle Temp is a traveling salesman."
"Deborah is my daughter," Mama explained.
"And she and her motley crew will be here soon," Shemar commented.
"Deborah's coming over also?" Face asked, surprised but pleased.
"Are you kidding? Did you really think that any of us would pass on the opportunity to spend the day with the A-Team? Now, we've got a backyard barbecue to set up before those hellcats get here."
"Actually, we were just stopping by to see the girls...."
"Nonsense," Mama interrupted Face. "The van is in the garage, nobody knows you're here. We've got plenty of food; the family is coming over. There's no reason to be rushing off. Colonel?"
Hannibal wasn't used to feeling bewildered or taking orders from anyone else. Mama made him feel as if he was ten years old sitting in his mother's kitchen. He looked at his other team members. He couldn't quite read Face's expression, but both BA and Murdock looked as if they wanted to stay. "No reason at all, ma'am. We'd be honored to stay."
"Yahoo!!" Murdock leapt up. "What can I do?"
"Well," Shemar began. "We need to set up the volleyball net. Deborah and Toni are picking up some fish along with the steaks so we'll need to set up a table for the deep fryer."
"Man, I haven't been to a fish fry in ages," exclaimed BA. "Let's get to it!"
Hannibal smiled as BA and Murdock followed Shemar out of the room.
"Templeton," said Mama, " I have some boxes upstairs in the bedroom. Could you carry those down to the basement for me? Colonel, would you mind to help me in the kitchen?"
"Not at all," Hannibal replied. He noticed that Face still wasn't talking much and how he had hesitated when Mama had asked for his help in the kitchen. Still, Face had been obedient to the woman who so obviously adored him.
Once in the kitchen, Mama and Hannibal started making potato salad and desserts. They worked in companionable silence, getting the food prepared. When they had finished, Mama poured them each a glass of iced tea.
"Don't you want to join the others?" Hannibal asked as she motioned to the kitchen table.
"Heavens, no," Mama exclaimed as she sat at the table. "In a couple of hours, this place will be a zoo. Take the peace and quiet while you can get it."
"Are you sure it's such a good idea for us to be around with so many people? I mean, we are trying to keep a low profile."
"Don't worry," Mama reassured him. "It's just the immediate family and only the adults know who you are. We love Templeton dearly and would never do anything to hurt him. Besides this will be his last day with us, and I want it to be special."
"Last day?" Hannibal questioned.
Mama raised her eyes to Hannibal, the sadness she felt causing them to tear slightly. "This will be the last time Templeton comes to visit me. He doesn't want to do anything that will endanger my chances of keeping the girls."
"He told you this?" Hannibal couldn't believe what he was hearing. Ever since he'd met Face, he could tell that the kid yearned for a family, and he was about to walk away from the people who obviously adored him.
"He didn't have to," Mama replied. At Hannibal's questioning gaze, she continued. "I may not have given birth to him, but Templeton's my son. I love him with a fierceness and protectiveness that only a mother could have. My only heartache with him is that I have to love him from afar. He'll do what he feels he has to do to protect us."
Hannibal didn't know what to say. The more he found out, the more he wondered how much he knew about Face. He was so distracted that he didn't realize that Mama was talking to him.
"Sorry. You were saying?" Hannibal asked.
"This may seem like a silly request, but I wanted you to look after that rascal for me. Oh, I know that you already do, but I know this will be hard on him. Throughout the years, he would drop in with no notice, spend the night or a few hours and then be gone again. I think we were an outlet for him when things got to be too much. He won't have that anymore. He's going to need you even more."
Hannibal studied her closely, "I'm not sure what you want me to do. Face isn't exactly the most open person."
"Don't underestimate your influence, Hannibal. When Templeton left for war, he was just a boy. He was still a boy when he returned. A young boy who was terrified and had seen too much death. Now he had that to deal with in addition to the scars from his childhood. As the years went by, I've seen him grow into a spectacular young man. That happened while he was with you. With the team."
Hannibal couldn't deny the pride that he felt at Mama's words. But lately, he'd been beginning to feel as if he and Face were on a collision course. "I'm not sure what you want me to do."
"Don't let him close himself off from you. That's the one thing I regret. I tried my best to respect his wishes and his privacy and not press him. There were times when I could tell that something was troubling him, but I let it go. I swear that boy carries that whole world on his shoulders."
"Why didn't you?"
"I don't see him enough. That's where I failed him. I didn't want him to feel as if he couldn't come home," Mama's voice was sad.
Hannibal sighed and resisted the temptation to pull out a cigar. Mama was giving voice to many of his own thoughts The Team was his family, and although they didn't express their innermost emotions freely, Hannibal knew that Face carried more baggage than the rest.
"Mama," Hannibal began and then stopped shortly. "I'm sorry. It's just a little awkward for me to call you Mama."
Mama smiled. "My name is Shirley."
Hannibal returned her smile. "I can see why my Lieutenant is so taken with you."
"I can say the same. I wish I could have had more time to spend with you. Ever since my husband passed away, I've been Mama to everybody. It's nice being Shirley again."
Neither of them saw Face watching from the doorway.
The afternoon proved to be as rowdy as Mama had predicted. Deborah and her girls were every bit as outgoing as the rest of the family. Tonya and Keisha seemed very content in their new home.
Hannibal noticed that the family was able to draw Face out more, but an air of sadness still lingered around the young man.
It was early evening before the team said their goodbyes. Hannibal didn't mention to BA or Murdock that this was to be their last visit. He also made sure that Face had the privacy he needed to say goodbye, but judging how quickly he returned to the van, Hannibal knew that his Lieutenant hadn't told them that he wouldn't be returning. Still keeping things to himself, Hannibal thought sadly.
The ride home was filled with tired chatter. Hannibal watched his men and knew that today had been just what the doctor ordered. It has been a long time since he'd seen them so relaxed and at ease. He just wished that Face had been able to enjoy himself as well.
Hannibal rolled over and punched his pillow in an attempt to get more comfortable. He'd been lying in bed a half hour and still could not fall asleep. His mind wouldn't stop thinking about Face. He had tried to talk to him earlier when they had arrived back at the house where they were currently staying, but Face had made up an excuse about a headache and turning in right away. BA and Murdock, both being tired themselves, saw nothing unusual about Face's behavior and had also gone right to bed.
"Great," Hannibal mused. "Everyone else is sleeping soundly, and I'm lying awake thinking about my stubborn Lieutenant." Face was not usually open with his feelings, and Hannibal worried about whether he could handle all of his bottled up emotions. Finally, unable to quell the nagging feeling that Face may need him, Hannibal got up and went to Face's room. He didn't bother knocking, in case Face was asleep.
The room was dimly lit with a ray of moonlight coming through a part in the curtains. Face gave no indication of being awake, as Hannibal made his way quietly to the armchair across from the bed.
After a few minutes of silence, Face finally spoke. "Hannibal."
Hannibal wasn't surprised to find that he was awake. Now that he was sitting here, though, he wasn't sure what to say. "We need to talk, kid. More to the point, you need to talk."
"Doesn't matter anymore," Face's voice was almost a whisper.
Hannibal wouldn't be deterred. "I spoke with Shirley about you."
"She knew you weren't coming back."
Exasperated, Hannibal sighed. "Is there anything that you think you don't know?"
Hannibal stood and walked to the door. "Face, I really want to be here for you, but you have to let us in. Was today so bad? What did it cost you to have us meet the people that you love?" Hannibal waited for the answer that never came. He stepped through the door, pulling it shut behind him. He closed his eyes and bowed his head, his hand still resting on the doorknob. He was about to return to his room when he heard a soft noise coming from the room behind him. He opened the door and walked softly back into the room.
Face was lying on his side, his arms curled around a pillow, trying to hold in the sobs.
Hannibal watched briefly as Face struggled for control before he sat on the edge of the bed. He held out his arms, but did not move closer to Face. Face would have to make the effort and come meet Hannibal the rest of the way.
Face seemed to know what Hannibal wanted and hesitated only a second before leaning into his embrace.
Hannibal held Face tightly as the emotions swept over both of them. It only took Face a few moments to reign his emotions in. He tried to pull out of the embrace, but Hannibal wouldn't let him completely break the hold. The older man kept his hands on the younger man's shoulders and stared at his tear-streaked face.
Even though the room was barely lit with moonlight, Face felt uncomfortable under Hannibal's scrutiny. Finally, Face averted his eyes and mumbled, "I'm sorry."
Hannibal sighed as he watched his Lieutenant try to withdraw. He knew that if he didn't get Face talking soon, he would lose the opportunity. Hannibal released his grip on his shoulders. "Move over." At Face's hesitation, Hannibal repeated himself and sat heavily on the bed, leaving Face with no choice but to do as he had been asked.
Now, sitting side by side in the dark with their backs leaning against the headboard, Hannibal hoped that Face felt secure enough in the cover of darkness to share his feelings. "So, do you want to tell me why you never mentioned them?" Hannibal asked.
Face didn't answer immediately, but when he did, he couldn't mask the sadness that he was feeling. "When I was with them, I was someone completely different. Not a wanted criminal or an orphan that nobody wanted. I was part of a family."
Hannibal tried not to let his hurt feelings affect his response. "We're a little more than just a team."
"Come on, Hannibal. We both know that it doesn't take much to run a con. You and Murdock can do it just as easily."
"Face," Hannibal sighed. He couldn't understand how someone who exuded so much confidence could be plagued with so many self-doubts. "You mean more to us than that. You're my second in command. We trust you with our lives. I wouldn't give that responsibility to just anyone. You're a whiz kid with money. I wanted you in charge of the team's money because I know that you're the best person for it. I could sit here all night listing ways that you contribute to this team. I've always said that all of you are free to go whenever you feel it's time, but when one of you leaves, the A-Team ceases to exist."
Face sat quietly, not knowing what to say. He hasn't meant to insult Hannibal, but sometimes when his world seemed so upside down, he just needed to feel connected to something stable. And that's what he told Hannibal.
Hannibal listed as Face described his visits to his surrogate family. "I understand, kid. I really do. But what are you going to do now that you can't visit them anymore?"
Face felt the tears well up in his eyes at the thought of never being able to walk into Mama's kitchen again. A wave of loneliness washed over him.
Hannibal sensed the sudden shift in his friend's mood and placed a comforting arm around his shoulder. Face surprised him by leaning into the embrace.
"I don't know, Hannibal."
"Face, we'll be here for you. We always have been. I know it's hard opening up. It makes you vulnerable, but if you trust us, you'll find that we can help. We won't be able to replace Shirley, Shemar, and Deborah and we wouldn't try, but we're also your family."
"Hannibal, I'm sorry," Face choked. I never meant to imply that you guys aren't important to me, but I.... I don't know. We don't normally sit around talking about sentimental, mushy stuff, and I didn't want you to think that I was soft...."
"Never, Lieutenant," Hannibal interrupted, his voice protective as he tightened his grip on Face's arm. "It takes a strong man to be able to show his emotions. And none of us will think less of you if you do."
"I miss her," Face whispered.
"I know, kid. She missed you, too." The two of them sat together in silence, Face drawing strength from Hannibal.
"Face," Hannibal questioned after a few minutes. "How did you manage to see her for this long without us ever finding out?"
"Hannibal, people rarely see what's right in front of them. The women and the dates ñ a lot of times my date was with Mama."
Hannibal was stunned. "So it was all an act?"
"No. I didn't really see them all that much. I'd call or drop a postcard once in a while. No, it's not like I saw her everyday. Shemar and I are good friends, but we each have our separate lives, even back then. I did go out on a lot of those dates, but I'm not really the playboy that you guys seem to think I am. That's another story," Face explained as he sensed Hannibal's curiosity. He stifled a yawn and shifted slightly.
"Yeah," Face nodded, "but every time I try to go to sleep, I can't stop remembering."
Hannibal shifted and pulled Face closer, giving his arm an encouraging squeeze. "Face, it's the remembering that's going to help you get through this. Why don't you tell me some of your memories?"
"Like what?" Face yawned again.
"Anything. Everything. What did you and Shemar do when you were kids? How did you feel when you were growing up and got to spend time with them?"
Face thought for a minute and then started recounting the time that he and Shemar had put in frog in Deborah's bed. From there the stories kept coming until Face fell into a peaceful sleep.
The next morning, Face woke up to find himself alone in the room. He wearily rubbed his eyes and made his way into the kitchen. BA was already in there making breakfast. "Where is everyone?" Face asked as he poured himself a cup of coffee.
BA replied, never looking up from the stove. "Hannibal's asleep and Murdock went out to get some milk."
Face nodded and went and sat down at the table. BA followed and placed two plates of eggs, grits, and bacon on the table.
"You know, we would have understood," BA sat across form Face.
Face sat silently, pushing the food around on his plate. "I'm sorry, BA," he finally apologized. "I didn't mean to deceive you guys. And there were many times when I thought of how much Mama would love you guys, especially you. Mama reminds me a lot of your mom."
BA smiled in agreement but didn't say anything as he waited for Face to continue.
"I felt that if I shared that part of myself, then the reality of the fact that they could never be my family would set in."
"Family isn't just about blood, Faceman. It's how you feel about each other."
"And how the world feels about you. There are a lot of narrow-minded people out there who just wouldn't understand."
"Their opinions don't matter," BA said forcefully. "You can't live your life worried about what others think."
"Come on, BA. It does matter," Face replied defensively. "If it didn't matter, then Shirley Jackson would have been able to adopt me. And I see it with you; the looks people give you. As much as people say they're open-minded, we still have a long way to go."
"Maybe," BA conceded, "but that doesn't change how you feel or how the Jacksons feel about you. They only win if you let them."
Face chuckled softly. "You know BA, I would have never imagined that I would be sitting here with you telling me how to deal with discrimination. And I think I'm even more surprised at how easy it's been to tell you what I'm feeling."
BA nodded. "I know what you mean. It's not easy opening up, but sometimes it helps when nothing else will. My mama told me that."
"I like your mama," Face smiled.
BA returned the smile. "And I like yours," BA replied as he picked up his fork, signaling that all had been said.
Face took his cue from BA and picked up his fork, suddenly not feeling quite as alone.
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