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TITLE:

Eventually Hell

AUTHOR: Viskey Utsadanas

 

RATING: NC-17

PAIRING: Face/Murdock

DISCLAIMER: I don't own the characters of the A-Team... All the rest is mine, though.

WARNINGS: Rape, but not graphic, violence and a lot of pain for Face, mild slash.

SUMMARY: This story is hard to sum up! Roughly, it's a year in the Team's life. It consists of four sub-stories: Dog-Tags, Kid, Teach to Touch and Senseless. The first two concentrate more on the war and the prison camp, the second concentrate more on Murdock and Face, and their blossoming relationship. But it's not too sappy, I swear.

THANKS: To T-Bird (wherever he may be), Mooncat and Leia Fee, who all three helped to make this the story it is, and to everybody who likes this story, cause that's why I write.

 

 

EVENTUALLY HELL PART ONE - "Dog Tags"

 

 

Face looked up. He was alone. At last. Sometimes he felt, they were shift-working on him. It could happen just any time of the day or night. And it did happen just any time, day or night. And when it happened, it lasted for hours. Towards the end of these "dates", as they called it, he was numb, which was a good thing. But each time, when he thought they could rape him for days now and he wouldn't even notice, they stopped. They gave him time to recover; time to regain his senses. God knows, how they always knew, when to stop. But if God knew... Face drew a cross in the dirt, stared at it for a moment, then wiped it out. He had ceased to be a good Christian. Good Christians never despair.

 

It was one of the rare occasions, when he thought of the team. He hadn't seen them for quite some time now. For all he knew, by now they could be all dead and rotting away. Or, of course, they could be in some other little dark cell, just like him, which, although, wasn't very likely since the others weren't blond. Rotting would be the better choice anyway, Face decided.

 

The door to his cell was unbolted. 'Oh no,' he thought, 'not now, please...' And he was lucky this time. They were not coming to rape him once more. This time it was just feeding-time. A dirty dish and a mug of water were put on the floor. Then the door was locked again.

 

In the dim light that fell through the cracks in the door Face crawled over to the food. He felt uneasy, drinking the water. It was dirty and every now and then it had given him diarrhoea. But he was thirsty and his body needed some liquid. As for the food... Slop, just as usual. But when you're fed only every third or fourth day, you tend to eat just about anything. Face quickly poured the water and devoured the slop, before they might get the idea to take it away from him. Which had happened, as a matter of fact. Since then all the food he got was swallowed in practically one go. Not the best for the digestion, but still better than air.

 

<+++++>

 

Murdock tugged his clothes. He was bored. The camp could be incredibly boring. It could be incredibly cruel too, no doubt about that. But mostly it was just boring. And since they'd taken Face... Murdock sighed unhappily. Face. He remembered the day. It was about two or three months ago...

 

========================================================

They've been in the camp for only a few days now, hardly a week, and Hannibal was working on an escape-plan. Actually, he had finished working on it. All he waited for now, was new moon, so it would be dark. Darkness had always been a friend to those who wanted to sneak away.

 

And of course he had to take the guards into calculation. And many other details, some of which not even he himself could name. He waited for the right feeling, more or less.

 

"Tonight," Hannibal said in his most casual, by-the-by voice. Just this one, silent word. He didn't want to rise suspicion. But more he didn't need to say. They were a team, well adjusted to each other. They knew what it meant. The idea was to break out, get backup and then free the others in the camp.

 

Murdock had had his objections to the plan at first. He'd said, he felt uneasy, leaving them all behind. But in the end Hannibal had convinced him. It was becoming more and more difficult to speak reasonably to Murdock. Guessing the war was taking its toll on him. But finally he'd given in, seeing that they really couldn't take them all with them. If only four prisoners were missing, Charlie maybe didn't even notice. All missing... altogether different story.

 

But then, fortune turned against them. The sun had but set, and they were seemingly settling in for the night. A look now and then was their only communication. They didn't need much more, either. "Wait until it's dark," Hannibal's glances said.

 

"How much longer?" Face asked him.

 

"Keep your cool, it's still too bright," Hannibal answered.

 

"Yeah, keep your cool, buddy," BA joined in. Later Hannibal would wonder if Face had known on some level that at least he wouldn't break out if they didn't do it soon.

 

"How much longer, Colonel, I'm itching!" Face shouted with his eyes. Hannibal was about to answer, when he saw guards approaching the line of cages, they were kept in like animals, if even.

 

"Later," he told Face, then turned his attention to the guards with their guns pointed inside the cages. A Vietcong captain came walking along the line, glancing into the cages like a visitor at the zoo. Hannibal clenched his teeth in bitter rage. He was not an animal! And this was not a zoo, much as it looked like one! But speaking up wouldn't be wise, especially today. So he kept his mouth shut.

 

Every now and then the captain would point at the cages and say something. He was still too far away for Hannibal to understand what it was. He concentrated so hard on the captain, he needed BA to put him into the picture:

 

"They're selecting us out," he whispered. Hannibal cast a glance at him and saw fear displayed on his face.

 

Why would... His head snapped back into the captain's direction. What, rather who, was he looking for? The captain reached the adjacent cage. He stretched out his arm, pointed inside the cage and said: "This."

 

Hannibal saw the cage door being opened, two armed Vietcong getting inside and dragging a young soldier out. He struggled and fought, but all in vain. Then the captain was in front of Hannibal's cage. Again he stretched out his arm and said: "This." Hannibal followed the line of the arm and outstretched finger. It pointed right at Face.

 

No! Hannibal shook his head, was about to protest aloud, but caught Face's look and his silent communication: "Don't," he said. "It'll get you into trouble, that's all. Leave it. Don't." So he didn't. But he went on shaking his head, he couldn't stop that. And then the cage door was unlocked. Two Vietcong came inside, grabbing for Face, who was pressing himself hard against the bamboo-bars of the cage.

 

Face was not an idiot. Of course he knew he was in big trouble this time. Whatever Charlie had planned, it was no good. Four strong arms were grabbing for him.

 

Face tried to escape them, tried to fight them, as escaping didn't work, tried to hold on to the bamboo-bars, as fighting didn't work. But he kept quiet, all the while, didn't say a word. His strained breathing the only sound; unbelievably.

 

"Face..." Hannibal's whisper wasn't too loud, but in the eerie silence that had fallen around the camp, everybody heard it. Face turned to look at him. Even now trying to communicate; now, as the fear of what might come, threatened to overpower him. "Shut up!" He silently shouted at Hannibal. And one last glance at Murdock: "Make sure he shuts up!" Then he was dragged away, out of the cage, which was locked again. Two other soldiers "took care" of him. One on his left and one on his right, they guarded him across the dirty yard toward the wooden barracks that were there. He disappeared from their view, walking straight and seemingly unimpressed by it all.

========================================================

 

Murdock sighed again. They had postponed their escape. "Either all of us or none of us," Hannibal had said. And BA had nodded, agreeing fully, finding the thought dreadful to leave one of his friends behind.

 

Murdock, though, had had his doubts. It was well possible, that they'd killed Face, unwelcome, painful and threatening as the idea was. But if so, were they to wait here for ever? Wasn't it wiser to escape and come back to save Face so he still lived with the others? But he was a member of a team. The team leader had decided differently and the other team member had agreed. He was in the minority. So he'd stayed with the others. Breaking out alone wouldn't have made much sense anyway.

 

And by now, they were all too starved to try an earnest escape. And Face was dead. For Murdock Face had been the main reason for breaking out; avoiding whatever pains there were for Face, keeping him safe, keeping him out of danger, out of the line of fire. Funny, how important he'd suddenly been. When they had taken him, he had wanted to go, go and get help to save Face and be it only his body to bury. The other captives... Murdock felt sorry for them, but not more than for himself. So, let somebody else break out and get rescue! His reason for escape had died.

 

Some of the selected ones had returned the next day. Some had returned during the following week. But they had all returned. All, except two. One of which was Face and the other one a boy Murdock hadn't really known. But when he remembered him, he had looked a little like Face: tall, delicate shape, even features, big bright eyes and blond. Murdock sighed a third time.

 

"What's up?" Hannibal asked. He still felt responsible, although meanwhile there wasn't much left he could do. He could still worry about his team, though. And he did.

 

"What's up?" Murdock asked back ironically. "Nothing's up. - - - I was thinking of Face."

 

Hannibal felt a lump in his throat immediately. He missed Face so much and damned himself that he hadn't listened to Murdock. Maybe they could have saved him. But now their chances were naught. He was not convinced yet, that Face was really dead. But... they were unable to work as they needed to, emaciated and weak as they were. Hannibal joined in with his own sigh.

 

"I hope they did it fast and clean," Murdock murmured.

 

"Me too." But they both knew, Charlie didn't kill his prisoners like that. Charlie had turned killing into entertainment.

 

<+++++>

 

Face had rolled up in one corner of his cell. He did his best to keep himself warm. Which, without clothes, can be very difficult. All he had was a small, stinky piece of cloth that was full of vermin. But thanks to exhaustion he fell asleep only a few minutes later. In his sleep his brain ran amok. He dreamt of all different sorts of violence he was doing to Charlie in revenge. And in his dream he was strong enough to actually do it all.

 

"Up!"

 

The rag was snapped away from him. Face woke promptly. Another date, he thought warily. But he was wrong once again. The two Vietcong just looked down at him for a minute. Then one drew his gun.

 

"Ohmygodno..." Face whispered. Fucked up as his life was at the time, he didn't want to die.

 

The two soldiers laughed.

 

"Don't worry, you not die," said the one with the gun. "We are enjoy you still." Silly enough, Face corrected the sentences in his mind. But he was aware enough not to speak up.

 

"I want this," said the other one and pointed at Face's dog-tags. Face looked up at him, uncomprehending. What did he want those for?

 

"GIVE IT!"

 

Face hurried to take his dog-tags off. And he felt like he was giving away his life, his identity, his entire being. If they killed him now, nobody would know it was him, should they find his body. And they would kill him eventually.

 

Face watched them leave his cell, leave with his tags. He saw the door close, heard the bolt being put back into place. He felt tears rising, but fought them down. He wouldn't cry.

 

<+++++>

 

"You! Colonel!"

 

Hannibal sat up and looked the Cong-officer right in the eye. They say, poor men can't afford pride, though it doesn't cost anything. Well, Hannibal thought the saying was not quite right. When you have literally nothing left but your life, pride is the only thing you can and should afford.

 

"Here, I think, you want this." The officer held out his hand, clenched into a fist. "You collect this, I hear." And with a derisive smile he opened his fist. Something silver fell into the dirt. The officer stepped back and watched, as Hannibal picked it up.

 

Dog-tags.

 

One last grin and the officer turned to leave. Hannibal wiped over the tags. He didn't have to read the number embossed. He knew, they were Face's. So now he was dead.

 

Murdock had come over and now looked at him with his big puppy-eyes. He knew, just like Hannibal, but refused to believe. Hannibal wanted to console him, but he couldn't think of anything to say. He needed someone to console himself. It was his fault. He should have listened to Murdock. Break out with only two of his three men and return to free the third. But now it was too late.

 

"Damn," was all he managed to say.

 

<+++++>

 

Murdock patted Hannibal on the shoulder, trying to comfort him. But it was only mechanical. He felt like he was separated from the whole scene. Once again. He'd experienced this strange... this strangeness a few times now. Usually when he was supposed to be stressed. So, it was only sort of a stress-reaction, he tried to persuade himself. It had started even before the camp, but here it had become threateningly worse. He wasn't exactly "there" for most of the times.

 

Whatever it was, Murdock knew, he should feel sad now or angry, or whatever else. The only problem was: he didn't; he didn't feel anything. He knew he should pity Hannibal, who reproached himself for the death of Face. He knew, he should miss Face. He did none of that. He registered facts and that was that. He reached out to touch the tags Hannibal held in his fingers, so tight, they were all white. Maybe that helped him back to reality. Cold metal under his fingertips. Cold metal. But not more.

 

<+++++>

 

Hannibal let Murdock touch the tags, although he'd rather not have anybody touch them. He wanted to keep them exclusively to himself. It felt like Face being taken away from him a second time, and Hannibal couldn't bear that. It was his fault, all but his fault.

 

Murdock needed to say good-bye, though. For the time being Hannibal still knew that. For the time being he could act accordingly, put his futile and selfish feelings aside. So he let Murdock touch the tags and when Murdock withdrew his hand again, Hannibal closed his fingers all around the tags and lifted the fist to his lips. "So sorry, Face, my boy, so sorry," he whispered. Cold metal cut the palm of his hand.

 

<+++++>

 

Face lay on the ground, dozing. Being raped was more demanding than one might think. Even when you didn't struggle and fight. But most likely it wasn't just the raping this time.

 

He had once again tried to catch some sleep. Sleep was the only good thing he had left, after all. But he had merely bedded his head on his arm, when the door was unbolted. 'They're coming for me,' he'd thought, just like every time since they'd taken his tags, some weeks ago. But it had been "just" yet another date. Or so he'd thought.

 

========================================================

"Here, got company for you." A young Vietnamese woman, hardly a woman yet, was pushed into his cell.

 

Face looked at her with his eyes wide open. 'What had she done?' he wondered. 'And why are they throwing her into my cell?' He got that second question answered sooner than he'd wished.

 

"Rape her."

 

"What?!" Face was shocked. They couldn't be serious. Or could they?

 

"Rape her," the man repeated. "Now, do it!"

 

Face still didn't react. He just stared up at that man. He couldn't quite distinguish him standing against the open door and his eyes used to dim twilight at the best.

 

"Do it, or you suffer." The voice ordered coldly, not even with a threatening undertone. And therefore only the more threatening.

 

"I... I can't."

 

"It is your decision. Rape her or suffer."

 

Face had an idea, what this "suffer" meant, but still he couldn't do it. For all the might in the world, he couldn't sink that deep. Better die than that. The man bent down to the girl and tore her clothes off. With an inviting gesture he repeated his order once more.

 

"I just can't," Face said again, plainly. Thinking that rape was their dirty business, not his. And should he have wavered in his decision, one look into her frightened, black eyes had been enough to stable him. Frightened was hardly the expression, though. Terrified hit it better. "I can't."

 

The man shouted orders at somebody waiting outside. The girl was dragged away from him. And even if she had to know that she'd be raped anyway, a glimpse of gratitude found its way through her terror as she looked at Face. That warmed him. That helped him pass the next thirty minutes when they were beating the living daylights out of him.

 

"Maybe you do better with a boy?" the man wondered, looking down at Face, battered and half unconscious on the floor, bleeding from several lacerations.

 

And Face couldn't believe, didn't want to believe, that they'd do it now. But he was hauled up, tied to that iron ring that was fixed to the wall. And then they were coming for him. Shift-working. He fell unconscious once or twice, but was wakened again by a swell of icy-cold water.

 

Until he went numb.

 

Until he didn't care anymore.

 

Until he

========================================================

 

Only then they had cut him loose and let im drop to the floor, bolting the door behind them, as they left, probably for dinner or something.

 

Face woke from a troubled, not restful sleep to rumbling in his bowels. 'Oh, nice, the water again,' he thought. He crawled over to the distant corner which was only a couple of feet away, anyway that served as his toilet. Walking was out of the question, and even crawling hurt like hell and took him hours.

 

He didn't register there was blood coming.

 

<+++++>

 

Against all common sense Hannibal had started planning again. In the back of his mind he knew, of course, that they had no chance. But at least it kept his mind moving, and that's why he really did it. Otherwise the thought of Face would have overwhelmed him. He was responsible for his death. He should not have waited for new moon, so they wouldn't be spotted so easily in the moonlight. They might have made it anyway. And while that was forgivable, the other mistake he'd made was not: When they had taken Face, he should have listened to Murdock. Two mistakes. Two deadly mistakes.

 

He was so occupied with his futile planning, that he needed a time to realise what was happening. The sounds in the camp were not the usual ones. All the Cong were agitated and alarmed. Murdock came over to him and looked at him with regained hope, at pains to hide it anyway. "They're coming," he said, "our boys, right?" As Hannibal didn't answer: "They're coming to get us, right?"

 

Hannibal stared on for a moment. Then he remembered, that he was the Colonel, that he was the one they all still relied on. So he nodded. At least it seemed as if they were coming. Hannibal cast a look over at BA. He was silent. Has been ever since they'd taken Face. The voting whether they should or should not break out without Face was about the last time he'd spoken. It hurt Hannibal to see BA like that. Such a strong man, and yet tipped over by fate so easily.

 

Hannibal turned his attention to Charlie outside their cages. They were indeed behaving very unusually.

 

Early in the afternoon, about an hour after Murdock's tentatively hopeful question, choppers were audible in the distance. A few minutes later they came flying over the camp, firing at the barracks. Several VC dropped dead. And even those that weren't dead, were left behind to die by their comrades, who fled the scene in apparent panic.

 

As he saw the first American soldiers step out of the green, Murdock broke into a hysterical cry of triumph, even as he threw himself to the ground to dodge. Several of his friends and comrades did the same and some even applauded. The battle was violent and short. However, the cages that held them all were to be opened only an hour later. But nobody worried about it. Charlie was being defeated, that was all that counted. They would be taken care of. They would be free. Everything would work out just fine for them.

 

Hannibal was glad, that this torture was coming to an end, although he couldn't help thinking of Face. He felt for Face's dog-tags, which he'd stored in his pocket. They should be warm, warmed up by his body-heat. But they were cold. Cold metal, icy cold.

 

<+++++>

 

Face didn't hear or see any of that.

 

He lay on the ground, blood coming from his backside as well as from his mouth, when he was throwing up, which he did quite often. Not that he cared, he was practically unconscious, unable to determine what was real and what was but imagination. He moved uncoordinated, reacting only to the immediate needs of his agonized body. He heard the cracking of the door, saw the flash of bright sunlight flowing in, but was convinced it was only an echo in his head; an echo with its own light-show.

 

But when a pair of hands touched his upper arm, it came to him that it might be real after all. He reacted in the way he'd learned over the past few weeks or was it months? He tried to crawl away from these hands, tried to escape. He couldn't stand another rape just now, not now, maybe tomorrow, but not now. It'd kill him. He was almost positive of that. And he still didn't want to die.

 

"No, no," he whimpered, trying to fight his torturer. His movements were as uncoordinated as they had been for approximately the last twelve hours. His vision was a blur, but his hearing was still ok: "Don't worry, chap, we're gettin' you some help," was the unexpected reply to his weak protest. Face recognized the language to be genuine American. Not that colourful, sing-sang English Charlie spoke. He lifted his eyes but saw only a dull silhouette against the bright sun, coming through the doorway. So, was he dreaming, fantasising? Was it real? Or was he snapping at last? Any further consideration was put to an end, as he had to throw up; it was blood he threw up.

 

"DOC!" Sergeant Kellerman cried out. Part of him was relieved. He didn't want to shoot anybody, be it Vietnamese or any other nationality. This half dead man was his excuse to stop shooting. Kellerman lifted him up.

 

<+++++>

 

Murdock looked around, watched with cool interest how the fight went on. Once again he felt separated from the scene and even himself. He felt as if he were on the phone, long distance call, getting though precise only second hand information. And then he saw Face. He shook his head. He must be wrong, Face was long dead! But there he was, undoubtedly, carried by some of their rescuers. And though he didn't look at all well, he was unquestionably alive. Murdock pressed his eyes shut for a second or two, and when he looked again, there was no sight of Face. Good. Or rather not good. It proved, that he started hallucinating for real. He had noticed quite some changes with his perception. Not only did he feel cut off from reality most of the time. It was almost as if he was making up a new reality instead. He was seeing and hearing things, nobody else heard or saw and vice versa. He dreaded reacting by now, for he was never sure whether he was reacting to reality or just his overactive mind.

 

"You ok?" asked a lieutenant, as he broke off the padlock on the cage. A nod and a muttered yes here and there were his only answer. Hannibal summoned the remains of his strength and cleared his throat. "Good to see you, lieutenant. I'm Colonel Smith."

 

The lieutenant saluted. "Colonel Hannibal Smith?" he asked carefully. And as Hannibal nodded: "I'm honoured, Sir!"

 

"The honour is mine, lieutenant. Now, is everything under control?"

 

"Yes, sir!"

 

"Good job, lieutenant, very good job. Where are the meds? As you can see, we need attention."

 

"They're standing by fifteen minutes from here. We didn't want to run the risk of losing them."

 

"Good thinking. Call them." The lieutenant nodded, saluted and then turned, shouting for a radio. Hannibal thankfully leaned back against the bamboo-bars. He was exhausted. Strange, how such a short conversation could draw so much energy.

 

'Good,' Murdock thought. Maybe a little medical attention would put his brain back into order.

 

<+++++>

 

Kellerman met the meds in their waiting position.

 

"Sergeant! Why..." The doc didn't talk on. He saw why the sergeant wasn't fighting with the others. "Put him down here," he ordered instead. Kellerman obeyed and gently laid that man down.

 

"Will he make it?"

 

"How shall I know? I've to take a look at him first. Most probably, no." The doc turned his attention to the naked, dirt- and blood-covered man in front of him. He was very thin, undernourished. But undernourishment and a Vietcong death camp, well, if that didn't go well with each other... And undernourishment was not the real problem. The real problem with this man was: He was spitting blood.

 

"Sergeant, where're you hit?" Kellerman was asked by another doc. "What? Oh, the blood. It's not mine, it's his, not mine. I'm ok. I'm ok." Kellerman cast one last worried look at the man he had probably saved but most probably not. Then he returned to the camp.

 

<+++++>

 

Face missed the strong arms that had held him close and carried him. He missed the voice, that had spoken to him occasionally. Stupid little things like: "Don't give up, now, buddy." As if it were in his power or will. Just a few encouraging words now and then. The man had smelled of sweat, but hey, they all did! Other than that, it had been the most positive experience in his life for months.

 

Other arms took care of him now. Other genuine American words were addressed at him. "What's your name, son?" he was asked. Face frowned. Why did they want his name?

 

"Guess I need attention," he said instead, unvoiced, sounding astonished that he should be in the position to be able to ask for his needs to be satisfied. Or in the position, to actually have needs in the first place.

 

"We're gonna do our best."

 

"I'm cold."

 

"Blanket! Somebody get me a blanket! You'll be warm soon. Call one of the choppers down. We need to fly him to a hospital. We can't help him here. He's got a high fever and lost lots of blood and's still losing it. If he doesn't get an infusion soon, he'll be pushing up the daisies! Don't worry, son, we'll get you fixed up."

 

Face couldn't help giggling. Did the doc think he was deaf? Or just dumb? Telling him not to worry right after... The giggle turned into a cough which produced more blood. 'Well, rather the daisies then,' Face thought to himself. And suddenly he urged to tell his name, but there wasn't anyone there anymore to tell it to. "Peck," he whispered despite of it, "Peck, dat's my name. Temmelton Peck, Lieutenan'. Peck, hear me? Write i' down... Peck." He faded mumbling his name over and over again.

 

<+++++>

 

Hannibal ran his hands over the uniform-jacket. It was clean. How good to wear clean clothes. He let his tongue run around in his mouth. The last remainders of the recent meal stimulating his sense of taste. How good to have a meal when you're hungry or simply feel like it. He sighed contentedly.

 

But then he slipped his hands into his pockets, his fingers automatically searching for the small piece of metal and the chain. Nothing.

 

Face's dog-tags, they were still in his old uniform. Hannibal rushed to get it.

 

"Colonel!" The private who was taking care of the old uniforms saluted negligently.

 

"You found dog-tags?" Hannibal asked, forcing himself to patience.

 

"No, sir."

 

"Help me search, then." Hannibal grabbed for the first pair of pants and slipped his hand into the right-hand pocket. Nothing. "Face, Face, Face," it chanted in his mind. He had to find all that was left of Face.

 

After five minutes of frantic searching the private pulled the tags out of a pocket. "You looking for these?" he asked tentatively.

 

Hannibal snatched the chain out of his hand. "Yes, these are the ones. Thank you private. And sorry for the mess." Hannibal motioned to the untidy heap of uniforms on the floor.

 

"No problem, sir. Was... was he... He was a good friend?"

 

Hannibal fought down a rush of anger, 'none of your business!' he thought, but then looked up at the young private with sad eyes. He was only being sympathetic. "Yes," he answered, "very, very good." Then he turned away, as tears gathered in his eyes.

 

"Sorry for your loss," the private said earnestly. Hannibal nodded in response, while he was leaving.

 

Reluctantly he moved over to the headquarters. He had to inform the army about Face's death. He was sure neither BA nor Murdock had done it. He was the team leader, not them. This was his job. A few men stood there, all feeling the same reluctance to report the death of a friend. Hannibal could read it in their eyes. He straightened up, which was still demanding and unaccustomed after almost five months in too low "accommodation".

 

"Colonel?" The officer in charge of the registrations asked casually, trying for sympathy in his voice but failing.

 

"I want to report the loss of one of my men," Hannibal answered in his coldest voice. All emotion cut out for the moment, he couldn't bear it.

 

"Name, rank?"

 

"Templeton Peck, first lieutenant."

 

"Thanks for reporting, sir. We'll contact his family."

 

"He didn't have a family!" Hannibal snapped unjustly. How should that poor officer know, after all? "We were his family." Yeah, and we let him down, let him die, didn't we, colonel? Well, not we did, you did, isn't that so? Hannibal briskly turned away, trying to ignore that voice in his head. He was responsible for so many deaths, true. But none cut even half as deep as this one did. Not even all of them summed up could. These other deaths... they were war. This one death was failure.

 

<+++++>

 

Face half woke up. He realised whiteness. So, that's what heaven looked like. A place made of glistening white. But would it really stink like that in heaven? Like of sickness and death? Maybe this was not heaven, after all, but purgatory. It wasn't hell, that much he was sure of. He hadn't been that a bad person.

 

"Hello there, awake at last?" A friendly female voice asked.

 

"Wake?"

 

"You've been out for quite some time. You feelin' better?" that voice asked on.

 

"Better?" he echoed.

 

The nurse, Rosanna, decided that there wasn't much sense in following that line. So she just wiped his brow. She liked him. He was pretty handsome, despite his swollen face. Once the swelling was gone... Then she remembered that he was still not identified. They had not found his tags and he hadn't told his name or anything. So, maybe now.

 

"What's your name, buddy?" she asked, although she'd rather have called him darling or something. That was ridiculous, of course. He was a patient, still closer to death than to life, at that. All the blood they were infusing him, he had long refused to keep it inside. He had vomited it, he had excreted it, it had gathered in his abdomen. It had taken them quite some time to find all the leaks inside his body. But now, he seemed to be fixed at last.

 

"Name?" Face asked, wondering what all this inquiring was about. Was that some kind of a test? Didn't the heavenly creatures know who he was? Only slowly it dawned to him, that he might not be dead but still alive. "Name?" he asked again, nonetheless.

 

"Yes, your name, baby." There she had it. She was stupid. "We still don't know who you are. And though I like calling you baby, the doctors, I think, will have their problems with it."

 

Face managed a faint smile. He decided that he was alive. "Face," he answered. And then drifted away, passing out once again.

 

"Face?" Rosanna repeated confused. Of course she didn't know that that was his nickname. She thought he'd just mentioned the word. Maybe he wondered, what his face looked like? Was he such a superficial guy? Knowing good looking men, probably yes. She shook her head and left.

 

<+++++>

 

Murdock patted his belly. He was full. God, was he full! He'd never realised before, how many different tastes there were in the world. How many different kinds of food. And he wanted to have them all. He was sick of starving. Almost literally. And one other thing was good: While eating he didn't feel estranged from the world. He was there, fully and completely and absolutely.

 

"Hey there, fool." BA sat down beside him. He was still incredibly silent and guarded. But since they were out of that hell-hole of a death camp, he was getting better.

 

Murdock made a face. He didn't like BA calling him a fool; it was too close to the truth. Only reason he didn't plead for retirement was, he dreaded to confess it. Sooner or later though, he had to. He wasn't sure whether he should fly another chopper or plane in the state he was in.

 

"BA, what's up, Big Guy?" he asked, acting normal, though he felt drifting back into that other reality once again.

 

"Nothin's up. Just..." BA fell silent. He didn't know, what he really wanted. He hated to admit it, but he was shaken. He missed Face like hell. Even more so since they were out of the camp. It occurred to him over and over again that he thought, he had to go and tell Face about something. That he had to go and show him something. That he thought, Face would organize this and that. And then... Face wasn't there anymore.

 

"I miss him too," Murdock offered. BA looked thankful for just a moment, before he hid it behind that grim looks of his. "We all miss him. Hannibal's half killing himself over it," Murdock added, to make it easier for BA. BA was an emotional guy, but he hated to let it show.

 

"Yeah, noticed that one. We gonna have to do some about that."

 

Murdock nodded. Question was: What? He felt pretty much guilty himself. He felt, he should have insisted more that night. It was as much his fault as it was Hannibal's. Or god's, for that matter. He wondered, if BA felt alike, but didn't ask. That was no question you just asked BA.

 

<+++++>

 

Rosanna walked her rounds. It's been two days since that handsome soldier had been awake and aware. Almost aware. The swellings had eased, not yet gone completely, but almost. And he *was* pretty. Even though it became more obvious now how thin he was. He had dark rings under his eyes, the eyes themselves deep in their sockets. He was fed artificially, which didn't help much in putting on weight, artificial feeding rarely did.

 

"Sister?"

 

Rosanna swirled around. The man was awake. She almost flew over to him. Apparently, she was falling in love with that man ok, already had fallen in love.

 

"Hi, buddy. How you doin'?"

 

"I'm cold. Can you get me another cover, please?" He looked up at her, saw her in a way, but Rosanna had the feeling he didn't really see her. She felt as if he was looking at someone else, though he focused on her. "Sure. Anything else I can do for you?" She asked, ignoring the creepy feeling rising inside her. She was a nurse, dammit, and she would do her job, come what may!

 

"No," he shook his head, "thank you, Sister."

 

"Sister? I'm not..." But he had already trailed off again. The fever just wouldn't ease down. "I'm not a nun," she finished the sentence. To her surprise he turned his attention back to her, looking at her.

 

"Not a nun? Where... Where am I? Not St. Mary's?"

 

"No, buddy, you're in the hospital, Hue. Don't remember?"

 

The man dizzily shook his head. "I'm not home?" Rosanna bowed down to him, stroking his brow. "No, dear, no you're not. Better sleep now."

 

"So, Rosanna, we have a name at last?" Doc Wissman had approached her from behind. Rosanna swirled around. "No. He thinks he's at home, or in some Christian institution. He kind of mixes up things. Anyway he doesn't think it necessary to tell me his name, it appears." Doc Wissman sighed. Well, they would find out, eventually. It looked, as if he'd make it.

 

<+++++>

 

Murdock received his orders with mixed emotions. He still wasn't sure whether he was still qualified to fly, but he yearned for the sky. And since it was an easy mission, he decided, there wasn't much to lose. So he hopped into the pilot's seat, checked the papers, adjusted the headset, checked the papers once more and waited for his permission to take off. It was given and Murdock started the engines, pressed buttons, flipped switches just as he always had. And something wonderful happened: He was there again. He was real again. He gave a howl of joy and relief. He still could fly. Even better: Flying made him real. The sensation was so great, he forgot everything for the moment. Even Face. He just felt through and through, down to the bone good fantastic, really!

 

<+++++>

 

Hannibal watched Murdock take off. He looked ok, thank god. In the camp, Hannibal had had the feeling, Murdock was tipping over the edge. He'd become really creepy sometimes. Sure, he'd always been nutty in a way. But in the camp it had turned somewhat serious. Hannibal turned his eyes down to the ground again. BA came walking up to him. Hannibal sighed. No time to flee him. He was working hard on avoiding BA and Murdock. He didn't want to fail the two men he had left like he'd failed Face. He just missed that with his evasive behaviour he did exactly that.

 

"Hey, Colonel."

 

"BA."

 

"We goin' on mission?" BA asked matter-of-factly. Hannibal shook his head. No missions anymore, not as a team, anyway. There was no team anymore, thanks to him and his stubbornness.

 

"Hannibal, stop that." BA made his decision to speak up. His voice was soft and tender, very unlike him.

 

"What?" Hannibal was taken by surprise.

 

"It's not your fault. Face... It's life, you know? That's what it is. Murdock... Honestly I wish he'd talk to you about it, but he's tumblin'. So I have ta do it. Looks, I'm the only one of us who's still got some wits in his brains." Hannibal stood silent. He was overpowered by the speech. It wasn't BA's speciality, after all. "Git it in your head, Hannibal: You're not more responsible than me or Murdock."

 

"I should have listened to Murdock," Hannibal insisted stubbornly.

 

"Well, so should've I. I didn't, you didn't. And in the end, not even Murdock himself did. We listened to you. But that's not your fault."

 

"I'm the leader, I should think straight. I should be able to see consequences."

 

"You're human, first of all. You're not a machine, you cannot always be right. Don't interrupt!" Hannibal shut his mouth again and let BA go on: "You are the leader, alright. And you are a damned good one. The best I know."

 

"You don't know so many."

 

"Enough to know what I'm talking about. And I may appear stupid to you and some of the other fellas 'round here, but I do know quality, when I see it. So stop kickin' yourself, man."

 

"You don't appear stupid to me, not in the least," Hannibal contradicted determinedly, finding it vital BA knew that. But BA wiped it away. What Hannibal thought about his brains was not the point; besides: he knew Hannibal didn't regard him as dumb.

 

"But he..." Hannibal choked, then forced himself to speak on. "He looked so strong, when he left."

 

"He was strong."

 

"Yeah, guess so."

 

"He was, believe it." BA affirmed gently and patted Hannibal's shoulder. "Forgive yourself. I'm sure, Face ain't mad at you up there." He pointed at the sky.

 

Hannibal nodded, blinking away tears. He wasn't sure whether he could ever forgive himself, though.

 

"Nobody but yourself blames ya, Hannibal, remember that." BA patted him again then left. Hannibal sniffed. In his head he knew BA was right. But his heart told a different story.

 

<+++++>

 

Face woke up. And for the first time in weeks he seemed clear enough to realise his condition. He was alive, well, he'd suspected that earlier on, but now he was sure. He was freezing. That was strange, since he saw big fans on the ceiling, all revolving. And he saw patients in other beds who were sweating. Well, that could be due to fever. But the lightly dressed nurses and doctors indicated that it was just him.

 

"Nurse?" his voice was croaking.

 

"Hey, chosen to wake up for real at last, have you?" the man in the bed next to him asked. Face turned to him. "What?"

 

"It's just, we've been running bets on you. Some days you looked like you'd make it. The next day you looked good as gone. Guess, I've lost a few bucks."

 

"Thanks, very encouraging." Face answered wryly.

 

"Chris Baker," the soldier introduced himself instead of an answer. "Say, Faceman, what's your name?"

 

Face looked uncomprehending. After all, Faceman kind of was his name.

 

"We started calling you Faceman, 'cause whenever you've been asked your name, you didn't tell. Only sometimes you answered 'face'," Chris explained. "So worried 'bout your pretty face, chap?" And he giggled.

 

"No, actually, Faceman is my name." Chris laughed only harder after that. "My nickname, alright?"

 

"No kidding?"

 

Face shook his head, then smiled, seeing the funny side of it. "Face is short for it. All my friends do call me Face... Guess that's why. Real name's Templeton Peck."

 

Chris mocked a salute. "What happened to you?" He then asked, trying for some conversation, being anyone's idea of being insensitive.

 

Face's expression turned dark. All at once everything came back to him. It made him feel sick. "None of your business. Nurse?!" This time his call was answered. A nurse came to him with a both questioning and curious look in her eyes. "Finally among the living, Mr. Faceman?" Face pulled a face, how that sounded: Mr. Faceman terrible. "Lieutenant Peck," he therefore corrected.

 

"Pleased to meet you, Lieutenant. What's your problem?"

 

"I'm cold. Can I have..." He looked down his body. He already was double-covered. "... oh."

 

"Never mind that. If you're cold, we're gonna do something about it. How does a hot-water-bottle sound to your ears?"

 

Face smiled at her and nodded. "Gorgeous," he said. He was charming as ever. The nurse left to get the bottle and Chris beside him started giggling once again.

 

"What?!" Face asked annoyed.

 

"Too bad, it ain't Rosanna. She's got a real crush on you. Always there to... well..." He broke into more laughter. "She'd probably use herself as the hot-water-bottle."

 

<+++++>

 

Hannibal had finally accepted fate. He still felt that Face's death was his fault. But meanwhile he had come up with the conclusion that he had had to make that fault. That it had been written in his book. So now he had to do his best to deal with it. Therefore he was doing a little better lately. Murdock, on the other hand, worried him. Only yesterday he'd refused to listen to his name. "I'm Captain Skymaster!" he'd exclaimed, all agitated. BA, in response, had threatened to beat him up and make him Captain Groundmaster.

 

So far things were running their course. Hannibal sighed. He'd still have to go and talk to Murdock about it.

<+++++>

 

"Hannibal!" Murdock greeted him cheerily. Too cheery, actually.

 

"Murdock, I wanna have a word with you."

 

"Sure, man. What's oppressing your fine heart?"

 

"Cut it, Murdock. I'm serious." He sat down. "I keep wondering... Murdock, you aren't really sane anymore, are you?"

 

Murdock changed from cheery to serious in a heartbeat. But between cheery and serious there was a split second of blankness in his eyes while he was crawling back into himself. Had it become that obvious? "I still fly alright, Hannibal," he said. An answer that was a true statement, but also buying time.

 

"I know, and that's not the point. Nobody's complaining."

 

"Nobody but BA, you oughta say." Again just buying some time.

 

"That's a different story. But apart from flying ..... You aren't perfectly sane anymore." This time it wasn't a question.

 

"Oh, come on, Hannibal! If you were perfectly sane, you wouldn't be over here. And when you come over here perfectly sane, you'll lose it within a week."

 

"Murdock, stop beating the bush. I'm not blaming you, understand? And as long as you keep up being the best pilot I've ever come across, I don't give a damn."

 

"Well, I guess..." Murdock sighed and started again: "I guess, I am... I feel..."

 

"Murdock, can't you just make it a little less obvious? I mean, Captain Skymaster's probably ok, but that talking about Billy the Kid..."

 

"Dog," Murdock interrupted, "Billy the Dog."

 

"Whatever."

 

"But I..." Murdock broke off. How should he explain it? Captain Skymaster and Billy the Dog and all the other things he'd started to make up. He needed them. They kept him in touch with reality. When he himself was pulling back, rolling himself up in some dark, cosy corner of his existence, somebody had to keep contact with the world for him. And that would be Captain Skymaster, or whoever else came up. Most of these "contact-holders" listened to the name of Murdock, some even called themselves Murdock, but none of them was. They would just gather information, pass them on to the dozing real Murdock, so he got the picture, when he reappeared. It wasn't strictly a split personality, for Murdock was aware of these other personalities and could, to a certain degree, control them. But it followed the same concept.

 

"Captain?"

 

"Sorry, I was thinking. I guess I can reduce it a little. I'll do my best, at least," a fake though very similar to the real one Murdock said, smiling faintly.

 

Hannibal nodded. Not satisfied, but becalmed. It was, as he'd suspected: Murdock still could judge if and when things turned serious and would work alright when needed. And that was all Hannibal needed to know. He just hoped, it was not another misjudgement.

 

<+++++>

 

Rosanna had her big day. She pulled the infusion-needle from Face's arm and helped him sit up. His muscles had weakened, because he hadn't used them in a long time. His circulation protested against the unaccustomed position. His vision turned into negative image before it went black, his mouth was filled with a mixture of sour taste and a prickling sensation. But after a minute it normalized.

 

"Hungry, Lieutenant?" Rosanna asked with a smile, her arm still around him. The artificial feeding had an end. He was to have real food at last. She shoved another cushion behind his back.

 

"Actually, no."

 

"That'll come while you eat. It's not a feast, but it's tasty, I've been told." She put a plate in front of him and a glass of water. "Enjoy it." Then she had to leave him. There were other patients waiting for their meal. Face let his gaze linger on her back for a moment, before he turned to his meal. It was some kind of ragout. Though he really doubted there was any meat in it. He wasn't an expert on food-for-the-ill, but he suspected his stomach wouldn't go too well with meat. He picked up the fork and shoved the food around. He'd last used cutlery so long ago, it almost seemed like a challenge.

 

The food was outright delicious. But maybe everything would have been, considering his unemployed sense of taste. Anyway, he devoured it. And after he'd finished his plate, he did feel hungry.

 

"Nurse?!" Rosanna rushed to his side. "Can I have more?" he asked.

 

But Rosanna disappointed him: "Give your stomach a chance to get used to it, Peck." She smiled. "There'll be more for dinner."

 

"But I'm hungry now," Face insisted.

 

"All I can offer you is a little rusk." Rosanna looked truly sorry. Therefore Face was prepared to forgive her. She was just following orders, he thought, just like a soldier. He nodded.

 

"Another thing, Rosanna." Face smiled up at her. "Is it possible I could make a phone-all?"

 

"Who you gonna call?"

 

"My team. So they're still alive."

 

"I think that can wait until later, don't you? I mean, you can hardly sit up. Give yourself some more time to rest." She patted his shoulder. Face let her.

 

<+++++>

 

"HANNIBAL!" BA came rushing into Hannibal's office.

 

"BA, what's up?" Hannibal asked innocently though he was sure to know: Murdock was up.

 

"It's Murdock! Hannibal, ya know, I'm not the complaining kind o' guy but, Hannibal, I have to complain. About Murdock. We've been loading the plane, y'know? And suddenly he's pushed back one of the trunks, telling me I can't put it there. It's 'cause Billy was sitting there. BILLY!" BA angrily punched air.

 

"I'll take care of it." Hannibal assured, got up and walked over to the plane, where Murdock was rearranging the loading.

 

"Murdock!"

 

"Yep, Colonel?" Murdock looked up from his work.

 

"Murdock, BA told me 'something'."

 

Murdock understood at once and dropped his eyes guiltily back to the trunks.

 

"Now, didn't we have an agreement?" Murdock didn't react. "I told you to reduce it, right?" Murdock nodded. "I asked you to make it less obvious, right?" Again Murdock nodded. "Now, Billy's your dog?" Murdock nodded a third time. "So why don't you just tell your dog to get out of the way? That's what you do with dogs." Hannibal paused. "Business comes first, Captain, copy that. Business comes always first. Nobody cares what you do in your spare time, but business does come first." Hannibal said it a third time. He needed to make sure Murdock got it.

 

Murdock nodded yet again. No cunning personalities showed up to help him this time. He had to go through it all by himself, he had to stay awake and in contact with the world himself.

 

"Whenever you like, Murdock," Hannibal said gently, stepping nearer, "but not on duty." He laid his hand on Murdock's shoulder, squeezed it gently and let go of him again. "We must be able to rely on you. Tell me now if we can. Or do you wanna go home?" Hannibal asked it hesitantly. It would be for the best, probably, but he hated the thought of losing another one.

 

"No, Hannibal. I volunteered. I can't just resign now. I'm not a quitter."

 

"It wouldn't be quitting, you know? It would be... You've done your duty, more than your duty. I would approve your request..." Hannibal tried to keep objective. He didn't want to influence Murdock into either staying or leaving.

 

"No, Hannibal, thanks. Maybe later... maybe later I will come back to that offer, but for now, I'd prefer to stay here. With you." He grinned, 100 % there for a minute, "After all, mine is the only chopper, BA gets on. It's either sending him home with me, or just letting him here on the ground to get shot. I can't leave him to that." The grin faded. "And he wouldn't be sent home."

 

Hannibal nodded. He had contradictory feelings about Murdock staying. He was relieved on one hand. He was concerned on the other hand. Murdock should see somebody about his 'problems'. And he wouldn't find that someone in Nam.

 

<+++++>

 

Face made good progress. He was able to sit up on his own, was able to even walk short distances. He had worked hard on that, for he hated to ask a nurse to help him to the toilet and hated even more to use the bedpan. Now, with a walker, he could make it on his own. He only had to make sure he started early enough. He needed a stop or two on his way. He kept wondering, how a human person could be so weak.

 

"Hey there, Peck," Rosanna spoke to him, as he just returned from his daily walk to the toilet. "Anything I can do for you?" Yes, she had definitely fallen in love with him.

 

Face smiled a subtly mischievous smile, but she didn't get it, her glasses were too deep pink.

 

"Nothing you haven't already done, sweetheart." He sat down heavily on the edge of his bed gladly accepting her helping hand. He accepted her hand, still around his waist, when it wasn't helping anymore. He breathed in her perfume. An attractive smell, expensive. She was quite pretty as well. A girl not hard to fall in love with. But he had no desire to fall in love. He had a desire for peace. He wanted... friends, *his* friends. What had become of them?

 

"Rosanna, maybe now I can make that phone-call? I asked you 'bout it, remember?" He flashed his most charming smile at her to persuade her.

 

"I don't know, baby. You're only just walking, and you've been up just now. You'll need some more rest."

 

Face swallowed his irritation. It almost seemed as if she kept him from calling on purpose. But he had not the strength to fight her, not yet.

 

<+++++>

 

Murdock sat up. He'd had a bad dream. They occurred increasingly.

 

In the dream he'd had, he was in the cage, sitting in the corner, leaning against the bamboo, talking to Hannibal, BA and Face with his eyes. It was the night of their planned escape. Then the Cong-captain showed up, selecting Face.

 

In the dream Hannibal was crying out for Face, shouting at the captain to leave his man alone. Face turned around then, telling Hannibal something with his eyes. Murdock didn't know what, he couldn't see Face's eyes anymore, they were but black hollows. And Face turned towards him, staring with his hollows, opening his mouth to speak: "Make sure he shuts up," he said, his voice hollow as his eyes. "Make sure he shuts up, make sure he shuts up, make sure he shuts..."

 

In real life Murdock hadn't had to make sure. Hannibal had remained silent on his own. He had just sat there, shaking his head and looking... hollow.

 

Murdock shook his own head now and got up. He hated this dream. It wasn't always that one, but mostly. And all dreams he had were about Face. About Face being taken away and killed. In his dreams Murdock saw how they killed him. Sometimes it was a bullet, but mostly something not quite that clean and not quite that fast. In his dreams Murdock could hear Face's cries of pain.

 

And sometimes he dreamt of the day of the rescue. He dreamt of that big, strong soldier, he had forgotten the rank, or had never known it. Who cares, anyway? And that big, strong soldier carried Face in his arms. This image sometimes haunted him even when he was awake.

 

Face had been incredibly thin. Just harsh skin taut over bones. His hair had been stuck to his head with what might have been sweat but was more likely something else. And there was blood. All over Face was blood.

 

Murdock squeezed his eyes, rubbed his temples. He had to get rid of that memory. 'It's not a memory, dummy, it's a fantasy. You made it all up. Out of grief, maybe. But more probably just because you're going nuts. So cut it, buddy and face facts: You're a loon.' Murdock sighed. Oh, he missed Face so much. He had never realised how important he had been to him, not until they'd ended up behind bamboo-bars. That was the first time, he had deeply worried about Face. He was sure, Face would break first of them. Face was a fragile, very complicated construction with its strengths but also many weaknesses. Murdock had cared more about Face than he had about himself. And when they had taken him those few days later, Murdock had fallen into a deep hole. Deep, deep, deep blackness had swept over him and taken him away for the next months. He'd been awake just occasionally. And each time he'd found the cage empty. Empty meaning: Face wasn't in it. And no rumours approached him, that one of the last two selected ones had returned. Face was gone. So he'd gone back to sleep again; inside himself.

 

And that's, where in general he still was. Only flying woke him. Flying, these dreams and sex. Murdock had found out about the last one on a night-out shortly after their rescue. He had flown some supplies from Huong Hoa to Da Nang.

 

========================================================

He pressed buttons and flipped switches as he always had. He saw Hannibal seeing him off, but not caring about it anymore. He felt the engines roar. He felt the torque, as the plane speeded up on the bumpy runway. He let out a howl, as the tires left the runway and the plane was in the air. He was so incredibly there, no: here! The sky, deep blue above him, the jungle deep down below him, falling further and further away. It was just him and the plane, him and the air, him and life. He felt like dancing, as he sometimes did when flying. He pulled the stick and the plane rose at a steep angle. "Woooooohoooooo!" Murdock felt the forces, pressing him deep into his seat, when he was practically vertical. Only then he remembered, that looping wouldn't be clever with the supplies on board. He pushed the stick forward cautiously and levelled the plane. Maybe on his return-flight. Instead he flew a sharp left curve and a sharp right to bring him back onto his course, singing nonsense-songs happily all the way.

 

The landing was routine. The runway in Da Nang was way smoother than the one in Huong Hoa. The unloading and reloading took hours. He was scheduled for return only tomorrow noon. So he had the night off. Murdock was still euphoric from the flight and headed into town. He roamed the markets and little shops. He checked his cash and was surprised to find quite a heap of it. It was enough to buy a few things, then a few drinks in a bar and maybe...

 

He'd hardly ever paid for sex. With his looks he had no problems finding volunteers. However, sometimes paying saved you from trouble. And in Nam, it was an altogether different story anyway. Few girls did it for free. Even if they really liked the guys, they made them pay. They had families to support and if not families, then they had pimps and if not pimps, then they had dreams. Murdock didn't mind paying, anyway. They didn't ask much, so he could afford them if he felt like it.

 

The shop was quite hidden. Murdock liked that. Too obvious 'whatevers' made him suspicious. He liked the hidden things in life. Subtlety was a character trait he wished he had and admired with anybody who had it. Like Face.

 

A lump formed in Murdock's throat. Face could have been so subtle. And yet he could have been so direct. Face had mastered all nuances of addressing people. Whatever was the quickest way into their hearts. Whatever it needed to make these people give him what he wanted. Face never had had to pay for a girl. He'd been the one, with whom they'd done it for free. In spite of that he had given them money in the end. Or little gifts. He had been such a sweet. He had really liked the girls.

 

Murdock pushed the memories aside. He wanted to stay real, and remembering Face didn't help him there. He quickly entered the shop. It sold all kinds of things. There was canned food in one corner and flowerpots in another. Newspapers right next to those, then lamps, a sewing machine and a stand of clothes. Murdock walked over to these.

 

"Can I help, Mister?" An old woman approached him checked his uniform and corrected herself: "Captain?" Murdock was impressed. Many Vietnamese refused to learn English, especially the older folks. And not many could distinguish ranks correctly. It was then, that he decided to buy something from her.

 

"I need a jacket, Ma'am." He nodded at her, western-style. She stifled a giggle. "That one's real nice, I think," he went on, drawing just any jacket from the stand.

 

"No, no, Captain, you not want dis. Dis is better for Captain." The old woman snatched the jacket out of Murdock's hands and put it back into place. Instead she took a brown leather jacket. "Dis, Captain, yes." She nodded satisfied. Murdock smiled. She was so pleased with her choice, that he couldn't say no. He would have bought a pink jacket with baby-blue flowers printed on it. But the jacket was ok, indeed it was great! A tiger's head was sewn on the back and "Da Nang 1970" in a bow over it.

 

"It's 1971 already," he said with a smile. The old lady shrugged it off. "You not tell your son," was her solution. Murdock laughed and drew some bills from his pocket to pay.

 

With his new purchase on he dived into the next bar. One glass of whiskey preceded some glasses of coke, he wasn't much in the mood for alcohol. He finished off with a second whiskey, then he decided on a girl. She was willing, of course she was, he'd shown her money.

 

Trin Thi her name was. She led him to her place and undressed right away. She helped him with his clothes. And Murdock, who'd started drifting once again, was back in reality. He felt cool, smooth skin when he laid his arms her small body. He bowed down and tasted her delicate, small breasts. He breathed in deeply. She used some cheap perfume, but with the smoke from the bar, a hint of alcohol and her sweat it made a good mixture.

 

Trin Thi ran her hands over his chest, playing with his hair, ran her hands deeper down, playing with that hair, before she turned her exclusive attention to his penis. Murdock breathed in sharply. He let her lead the way. She pushed him onto her bed and straddled him. Not letting him in, not yet.

 

Murdock stretched out his hands for her, brushed her breasts. He groaned, when she let him slip inside her. She was a professional, no doubt, but that didn't make it less sweet. Didn't make it less good. He brushed her cheeks.

 

And then it was over. She stopped moving on top of him. She looked down, ran her fingers through his hair again and smiled. Murdock reached for his new jacket. He wanted a replay.

========================================================

 

Murdock sighed with the happy memory. Sex was not available now. Neither was flying. Although he did play with the thought of just jumping into a chopper and flying over to Da Nang. He had visited Trin Thi several times since that night. Practically each time he was in Da Nang. And he started arranging opportunities.

 

<+++++>

 

Face's condition continued to improve at an almost eerie speed. He was still weak, but the toilet wasn't miles away anymore. He didn't need to pause anymore. He put on weight, but was still too thin, although he could and did eat anything he was served. The docs were very pleased with him. So were the nurses not to speak of Rosanna and even the patients. He was always friendly and charming, never cursing, as so many soldiers did, not even harsh words. He always understood. He always listened. He did talk quite some himself, but he was a good listener too. He easily came up with solutions for about any problem and he offered his help freely and to everyone. He was a ray of warm, golden sunlight in this dim hospital, where on a daily routine patients died.

 

Face reached out for his crutches, the walker was history. Well, serving some other tortured man now. Today he'd make his phone-call. No matter what. He had to know what had become of Hannibal, BA and Murdock. He hoped, they were alive. Rather he needed them alive. They were what kept him going. For the first time he felt he understood what it was like to lose a family-member.

 

"Sorry, this is a restricted area, soldier, no patients in here." A Vietnamese girl informed him with firm looks and almost accent-free.

 

"I'm aware of that, Miss, but I need to make a phone-call, really, I *need*. It's urgent." He gave her just the right mixture of seriousness, charm and a smile.

 

"Who do you want to call?" the girl asked suspiciously.

 

"It's just the headquarters. I have to know about the rest of my team." Face didn't have to fake the worry. "I have to know that they are alive... if." He swallowed. "Please? I won't tell anybody you disobeyed orders." And he smiled. In connection with his worried eyes, the smile did the trick.

 

"Ok, but only five minutes. Not more. If you don't have an answer then, I'm sorry. You know, I shouldn't do this. This phone is for hospital-business only." She still looked firmly at him. But Face didn't bother how she looked as long as she let him make that call.

 

"Office of registration, Captain Maebourne."

 

"Good afternoon, Captain. This is Lieutenant Peck. I've been separated from my unit and I... I want to ask... if they are still alive, you know." Face took a deep breath. It was about the hardest thing he'd ever said.

 

"Names?" Maebourne asked.

 

"There's Colonel Smith, John. Colonel Hannibal." Face started with him, because he was sort of a celebrity and if he'd died, it had probably made the round.

 

"I heard he's been rescued from a death camp outside Huong Khe some weeks ago. But no guarantee on it, Lieutenant."

 

Good, Hannibal was alive, that was at least something. "Then there's Sergeant BA Barracus. He's been serving under Hannibal. Or still is, I hope."

 

"Don't know about that one."

 

"And the third I'd like to know about is Captain HM Murdock, also under Hannibal's command. Can you check on them, please?"

 

"Sure thing. Will take a while though. Where can I contact you, Lieutenant?"

 

"At the hospital in Hue. Lieutenant Templeton Peck. And I guess I don't have to say I'd appreciate a quick response?"

 

Captain Maebourne laughed. "I'll do my best."

 

"They've all been in that camp outside Huong Khe. Does that help?" Face asked anxiously. It did. Face thanked the captain in advance and hung up. "Thank you so much," he said to the girl before he left. He'd been standing all the while and that was still exhausting. He hurried to get back to bed.

 

"Faceman!" Chris Baker greeted him with a mischievous smile. Face had learned, it was practically always there.

 

"What you want, Baker?" Face wasn't in the mood. Making that call had exhausted him physically and drained him emotionally. And it had reminded him of the camp. Until now he had succeeded fairly well in not thinking of it. But now the pictures threatened to wash over him.

 

"I heard you were a whiz-kid in poker?" Baker's smile broadened, "Well, you'll have to meet your master there!"

 

Face forced his lips to smile. "Or you will," he replied. Actually, a little game of cards might help to distract him... "Organize a round, I'm game."

 

<+++++>

 

Rosanna came out to sit with Peck in the sun. He loved the sun. He hardly looked at her before he closed his eyes again and turned his face into the sunlight. "You know, I should be mad at you," she said after a second.

 

"You should?" he asked, faking interest and not looking at her.

 

"A Captain Maebourne called this morning."

 

Face jumped to attention. "He did?" A fearful and at the same time excited gleam spread across his face, starting out from his eyes. Oh, these eyes, Rosanna could get lost in them for days...

 

"Rosanna, what did he say?!" He even shook her. And that was remarkable, for he never touched anybody. He allowed people to touch him, did it himself if he was asked to, but never on his own intention. And he was the sweetest, softest, most non-aggressive man she'd ever met. Yet his grip almost hurt her. "Rosanna!"

 

"He, he said... I forgot."

 

"What?!" Face heaved himself up and started for the office.

 

"It didn't sound so important, anyway. He just said something about he's got your information."

 

"And you didn't think it was important?!" Face shouted at her over his shoulder. My god, how stupid can you get?! "I've been asking you to do that call over and over again, and you don't think it's important?! What you got there in your pretty little head? Feathers?"

 

"I'm sorry, baby, I -"

 

"Shut up and get out of my way!" She did both. Face could hear her sob behind him. Good. She'd better be sorry for her stupidity. He reached the office two minutes later. It was not that girl sitting behind the desk, which would have made things a lot easier. This time it was a middle-aged man.

 

"I'm sorry, my name's Peck, Lieutenant Peck. There's been a call for me today, from a Captain Maebourne..."

 

"This is no public phone, Lieutenant," the man informed briskly.

 

"I'm aware of that, but I can't walk to the public phone..." Face cast a meaningful look at his crutches. "All I wanna know is if my team's still alive. Is that too much to ask?" The man warmed up a little. "Look, I don't wanna talk to them on the phone. I don't want to call any relative back in the states, if that's what you're afraid of." Face looked pleading, trying to stay patient. "I just want to know about my friends, know if they're... alive." The man finally nodded, but he didn't hand the phone to Face. He dialled himself and then handed him the receiver.

 

"Office of registration, Lieutenant Moss."

 

"I'd like to speak to Captain Maebourne, please. This is Lieutenant Peck."

 

"Hang on." The line went silent, then it crackled and Maebourne spoke, "Lieutenant, I've missed you this morning."

 

"I know, I'm sorry. What did you find out?" Face could hardly breath with anxiousness.

 

"Good news, all three alive. And in fairly good health, too. All three are back in active service. Hope that cheers up your day, Lieutenant."

 

"You bet it does, Captain, oh my god, yes. Thank you," Face answered, his voice unstable and shaking with emotion. He put the phone down. They were alive. They were alive. They were alive. They were fine.

 

<+++++>

 

Hannibal picked up the phone. "Colonel Smith."

 

"Colonel, this is Captain Maebourne from the registration. I have sort of a problem here."

 

Hannibal rose an eyebrow. "And, what's it got to do with me?" he asked, not really interested.

 

"It's about lieutenant Peck. I have him listed here as killed in action." Maebourne spoke slowly, hesitantly, as if he weren't sure which words to choose.

 

Hannibal stopped breathing, clenched his teeth for a second but forced himself to speak. "Well, that's true, Captain. He was... killed in the camp near Huong Khe."

 

"I understand that you reported him dead?" Maebourne went on tentatively.

 

"That's correct, Captain." Hannibal was losing his patience. What was this about? Were they going to make trouble because he'd kept Face's dog-tags? Unlikely, but one could never tell with the army. Sometimes they got some very strange ideas.

 

"Did you actually see him die?" Maebourne became a bit more sure of himself now.

 

"Captain, tell me what this is about, or I'll just hang up. Lieutenant Peck was my man. He was my friend and I won't answer silly questions anymore. So, tell me what this is about!" Hannibal demanded angrily.

 

"I'm sorry, Colonel. It's just, I'm working through the killed-in-action-list. You know, to inform the relatives."

 

"He didn't have relatives," Hannibal interrupted, wondering what irritated him more: That he had to point out the fact or that there was nobody back in the states to mourn Face's death.

 

"Yeah, yeah. Thing is, as I went through the list, that name caught my eye." Maebourne hesitated for a moment. "And I remembered it. Only two weeks ago I had a request for your status. If you're still alive, you know. It was made by a lieutenant Templeton Peck..."

 

Hannibal felt like his heart was on a trampoline all of a sudden. Hot and cold waves washed over him, a lump in his throat threatened to stop his breath. Cold sweat broke from his forehead, the receiver became slippery in his hand.

 

"Colonel, you still there?"

 

"Ah, yes, Captain." Hannibal cleared his throat. "Are you sure? I mean, I've got his dog-tags..." Hannibal couldn't speak on, due to lack of breath.

 

"Maybe it's another one, though with that name... I thought that would be more than just weird. Could you come over to check if he's the one?"

 

Hannibal squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. "Sure, coming over. Where can I find him?"

 

"I forwarded the information to the military-hospital in Hue. I don't know if he's still there, though."

 

"We'll see. Thanks for calling, Captain." And he hung up.

 

Hannibal had to sit down. He didn't dare to believe. Could it be? But he had the tags. He'd had them all along. And his heart had told him that Face was dead. He had known it, dead certain.

 

And now this. Could it be really Face? Hannibal still doubted, despite what that captain had said was true enough: How many lieutenant Pecks were there? Another John Smith, he'd go with that. Another captain Murdock, he'd go with that. Another Templeton Peck?

 

Hannibal jumped to his feet, he had to fly to Hue. "Murdock! BA!"

 

He found them lurking in the sun, quarrelling once again. Life had normalized. And why not? It was almost seven months since Face had been torn out of their life. Face... If it was true... Hannibal decided not to tell his two team-mates what he was up to.

 

"BA, stop threatening Murdock. Murdock, stop annoying BA. We got a mission." Both men got to their feet.

 

"What kind of mission? Where're we going?" BA asked, happy they were going to do at least something at last.

 

"You'll see." Hannibal answered cryptically.

 

"Man, we're not gonna fly, are we?!"

 

"BA, you really should do something about that irrational fear of flying of yours," Murdock suggested sweetly.

 

"You better do something 'bout your trouble, man. There's a lot more ta fix there, I say," BA grumbled back.

 

"Quit it. Murdock, get the chopper ready. BA, not one word from you. You're coming with us. I need you on this mission."

 

"What supplies?" Murdock asked.

 

"Nothing special. It's... it's just a clearing mission." And that was true.

 

<+++++>

 

Face started to hate the crutches. Unfortunately he still needed them. He ignored Rosanna as best as he could. She was unhappy about that, but he didn't care. It was all her own fault.

 

He made himself comfortable in the day room. A cup of tea in front of him, he dealt the cards. He was lucky, there were always new patients to play with him. Another month or two and he could retire a rich man, Face thought.

 

"Lieutenant Peck?" Dr. Wissman entered the room and interrupted the game before it really started.

 

"Doc, wanna join in? Got paid too much last month?"

 

Wissman smiled. That Lieutenant Peck was one of a kind. "No, Peck, not this month. Next month you may rob me again. There's a visitor for you." Visitor? Face turned in his chair. Who could that be? The team maybe? "He's waiting outside," Wissman advised.

 

Face left the table, stumbling outside with his hated crutches. And he recognised him right away. Hannibal stood in the doorway, looking outside. His back was stiff.

 

"Hannibal?"

 

Hannibal almost slumped at the sound of the voice. It was him. It was Face. My... He slowly turned around. What he saw frightened him. In his memory Face was a young man, strong and vital. What he saw, was a young man, yes, but battered. He walked on crutches. He was pale with dark shades around eyes that looked bigger and darker and older, most of all, than the last time he'd looked into them.

 

"Face... My god, it is you."

 

"Who else would I be?" Face looked confused.

 

"Man, it's good to see you."

 

"Then why didn't you show up earlier?" Face asked. He'd started thinking about that ever since he'd learned they were alive. He had even tried to contact them, but the three times he'd managed to get to a phone, he didn't get connected.

 

"We thought you were dead."

 

Understanding stole into Face's eyes, then defiance. "Dead, eh? Didn't you check?"

 

"I..." Hannibal reached into his pocket and pulled out the silver chain with Face's dog-tags. "They gave me this. I thought I didn't have to check."

 

"My dog-tags!" Face stared at them, then went on in a somewhat dreamy voice: "I've been wondering what they were doing with them." He reached to take them. But Hannibal was faster. He put the chain around Face's neck, like he was awarding him with a medal.

 

"You've been gone so long. And then they gave me your tags. What would you have thought?" Hannibal tried to explain himself.

 

"I would have checked. Where are BA and Murdock?"

 

"In town. I wanted to see first, if it's really you. I didn't want to disappoint them, if..."

 

"How are they?"

 

"Fine, fine. Getting better. We've been all... we've been missing you. Murdock, though, he's got a real problem."

 

"He freaked at last?"

 

Hannibal hid his surprise. How did Face know? "Not actually freaked."

 

"But he's gone nuts. Bet BA's happy as never." Face nodded to himself. "The camp didn't help to stabilise him, I guess. Were you... What did they do to you? Did they leave you alone?" Hannibal heard terror in the voice. Well hidden, but not well enough.

 

"What did they do to you? That's more important. Where did they take you? What happened in all the time?" But Hannibal was mistaken, when he thought, Face would talk.

 

"I don't know. How long's it been?"

 

"Four months and sixteen days. Now you answer my questions."

 

Face limped over to a chair and sat down. "What were those questions again?" he asked innocently. Hannibal just looked at him. He knew Face had an extraordinarily good mind. He had not forgotten. Or had he? Had Charlie done damage to his memory?

 

"Forget it. You're alive and well. Getting well, that's all that counts, really. When will you be released?"

 

Face shrugged. He wasn't too crazy about leaving the hospital anyway. Here nobody hurt him. Here he was safe. Here he was taken care of. Here he didn't risk another death camp. "So, you believed I was dead. How did you find out I wasn't?" He changed the subject.

 

"A Captain Maebourne called. He found your name on the killed-in-action-list, and then he remembered your request concerning us. He called me."

 

"When?"

 

"This morning."

 

"Wow, you were fast." Face fell silent again. He appeared to be a different person to Hannibal. Not counting the physical changes, the Face he'd known was a communicative boy, always with his mouth open. He was full of ideas and his eyes sparkled. This boy in front of him wasn't a boy anymore. This was a man, silent and thoughtful, not sharing his thoughts, though.

 

Face studied the pattern on the floor. Killed in action. Bitter irony. For once, he wasn't killed. Obviously. And second: If he had been killed, it had hardly been in action. Killed in passiveness, rather. A bitterness crept into his features he didn't notice.

 

But Hannibal noticed. And he remembered it well.

 

<+++++>

 

"What a mission!" Murdock revelled. For what reason ever, Hannibal had given them a few hours off. So he and BA had decided to eat out. They had just finished and Murdock was rubbing his belly. BA grunted what might have been an agreement. "Wonder, what this mission's about. It can't be just hopping into a chopper and spending a few nice hours in Hue." Murdock looked at BA for further agreement. BA grunted something. Murdock took it as yes. "I mean, not that it would be completely unlike Hannibal. But... till now we've been having a nice flight," BA grunted, this time clearly in protest "We have been having a nice flight," Murdock insisted. "Then Hannibal sent us away and we've been eating way too much. Is that a mission?" BA shook his head. "I mean, if Hannibal had a girl here which might be so he wouldn't have forced you onto the chopper. He wouldn't even have forced me to fly him over here."

 

"As if it needed force to make you fly anywhere," BA said, trying his fiercest look on Murdock. Murdock, unimpressed by it, smiled broadly and fluttered his eyelashes. There was a point for BA. "However, it's time to meet him," BA reminded, pointing at his watch.

 

"You mean, I have to move?" Murdock looked down himself doubtfully. "I can't move!"

 

"You must, now get started." BA shoved back his chair and looked threateningly down at Murdock. Murdock sighed. He knew BA wasn't reacting as conciliatory to his antics as most of the other guys. So he got up and followed BA along.

 

Hannibal was already there, waiting. He looked different somehow. Much more alive than he had in months. Something very, very good must have happened. He came almost running toward them with that gleam in his eyes he hadn't had since... since before they got caught.

 

"Colonel?" Murdock asked.

 

"I got great news. Oh, so great news!"

 

BA drew a face, looking at Murdock, and Murdock just looked. To him Hannibal appeared like a five-year-old on Christmas morning.

 

"Come on. You may be a little shocked in the beginning, God knows I was, but it's still good news. It's fantastic! Almost there." Hannibal led them around a corner and they stood in front of the small military-hospital of Hue. There he stopped.

 

"What?" BA asked.

 

"A hospital is our good news? Hannibal, what we gonna do here?" Murdock asked.

 

"We gonna visit a friend," Hannibal answered, trying desperately to sound casual, but failing all along the line. He simply beamed and led the way. Once inside he saw Face nowhere. Had he gone nuts now himself and only made Face up? No, there he was. Face had just gone back to bed. Hannibal walked, actually almost jumped, over to him.

 

"Hey Face, missed me?" he asked.

 

BA and Murdock stopped dead. Face. BA came back to life first. "Faceman! That really you?" He came to embrace his long lost friend. "Man, I can't believe it! How you doin', little buddy? Man it's good ta see ya!" He hugged him again, and tight. He didn't notice the tension in Face, as he embraced him. Only when he let go again, he saw a quick tense expression. But it was gone so quickly, he doubted his perception and put it aside. Now Murdock woke from his catatonics.

 

"Hi, Facey," he just said.

 

Hannibal looked in disbelief. Murdock had suffered so much from Face's absence, he'd expected some Indian joy-dance at least. But nothing. Just a weak "hi, Facey". What was wrong there?

 

What Hannibal didn't know: Murdock had problems seeing Face, the real one. His mind was playing tricks on him. All he saw was Face, starved and covered with blood all over. And it wasn't just blood, he saw, now that his brain gave him the "chance" to watch the picture engraved in his mind a bit longer. There were bruises, hundreds of them. Poor Facey, what did they do?

 

"Hi, Murdock. Good to see you. How you doin'?"

 

Murdock blinked. And then Face was finally there. He looked a lot better than two months ago. Or just seconds ago, as far as Murdock was concerned. "How am I doing? You're lying here in the bed, not me, right?" Murdock smiled. "You gettin' any better?"

 

"Well, docs say so. And you?"

 

"Me? Why should I get any better, I am fine."

 

<+++++>

 

Face woke up sweaty. He'd been dreaming. Well, it had been a question of time only, hadn't it? Or had he really expected things to go back to normal after the cell? Of course he dreamt. He had to deal with it somehow. And since he didn't do it consciously, his subconscious did.

 

He got up and walked outside. The street was off limit, as it was something after midnight. But the corridor did just as fine. It was empty and a little cooler than the rooms. Face walked over to a window and stared down.

 

In his dreams two Vampires were guiding him he'd been very much afraid of those as a little boy. But other than that, everything was as it had really been. It wasn't so much a dream as rather reliving the past.

 

========================================================

Face saw, what they were doing. From his position he had a better view than the others of his team. And he saw, what was happening. Blondes. The boys who got selected were all young. So was he. They were all fair-haired. So was he. Odds were good, he'd join those boys, wherever they were going. He looked over to Hannibal to get some advice or just a little comfort, but Hannibal wasn't looking. Hannibal as all the others looked into the Cong-captain's direction.

 

Two cages, till Charlie reached his.

 

Face didn't dare to say or do something to draw Hannibal's attention. He hoped telepathy would do, but he wasn't really talented or Hannibal wasn't. Hannibal didn't turn around.

 

One cage.

 

Face tried Murdock instead of Hannibal. And be it really telepathy or just Murdock drawing his own conclusions, anyway Murdock turned his head and looked at Face, inquiring him. "What's up, Facey?" he said. "I'm scared!" Face answered, though he'd intended to say something different. Though what exactly, he had no idea himself. He just needed attention. He didn't want to be alone. He'd be alone very soon; he knew.

 

Their cage.

 

"This," said the Cong-captain. Face stared at the tip of the finger, pointed at him. He saw the door being opened. And he saw Hannibal starting to do something very silly. While he was readying to escape how futile, really! he caught Hannibal's gaze. "Don't," he told him. And for once Hannibal listened to him.

 

But then four strong arms grabbed for him. Escaping them was doomed to failure. Maybe fighting them... But of course Face didn't succeed in that either. Desperation made him turn around, grab for the bars, that kept him captured, but might be his saviours now. Might but weren't. Their four arms were stronger than his two.

 

"Face..." Hannibal's whispered voice, Face would've recognised it anywhere. He struggled to turn around and look at him. Bad enough they took him. Hannibal had to keep silent, or else they'd take him too. "Shut up!" Face shouted at Hannibal with his eyes in desperate rage. He couldn't stand the thought of Hannibal being killed because of him. He turned his eyes to Murdock. "Make sure, he shuts up!" he told him. He knew, Murdock could do it. And he got a gaze in respond. A gaze that contained a promise: "We'll always be there for you. I'll always..." Murdock slipped from his view he was forcefully dragged away. He felt like collapsing. He knew he was most probably not going to survive this night, or even the evening. He felt like screaming out in terror, like doing something really crazy, like dragging away from his guards. But that would only reduce his little chances of survival to zero. So he didn't do any of that. He walked calmly between them.

 

And then, that was one more thing the last thing, probably he could do for Hannibal: He could be strong for Hannibal. When he was strong, Hannibal would keep quiet. Face straightened his back, pulled back his shoulders and walked out of life as he'd known it.

========================================================

 

That moment, without him noticing, Face had grown up.

 

 

TBC in part two: "MASKS"

 


Eventually Hell by Viskey
Eventually Hell 2-Kid by Viskey Utsadanas
Eventually Hell 3-Teach To Touch by Viskey Utsadanas
Eventually Hell 4-Senseless by Viskey Utsadanas

 

 


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