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This page last viewed: 2017-07-20 and has been viewed 1921 times
Dates Written: June 21st, 2001 - August 22, 2001
Disclaimer: Oh man, these guys are sooooo not mine, and it's probably a good thing. They'd never survive in Real Life. And I'm absolutely NOT making any money off this, although satisfaction of a concluded story is good enough pay for me. Thanks Stephen J. Cannell For letting me play in your universe, really sorry for what I do with them though.
WARNINGS: PLEASE READ THESE! ALL OF THESE!: Where to begin? Okay, this is Slash. This is a Death Story, but not of a Major character, or it could be depending on how much you like the character. There is a mention of Rape (several times as to try and explain some behaviors). There is Suicide. There is Depression.
There is a graphic description of a Psych Ward. There is The Team not behaving like they normally do in Slash stories. There are Character Flaws. There are Character Weaknesses. There is Realistic descriptions of Homo-Sexual Bashing. There is Realistic Descriptions of the stages of Grief due to Death. The 'F' word is used, and so is another 'F' word which is as equally disturbing. There is anger. There is resentment. There is Dissention Among the Team. There are unresolved Issues From The VIETNAM PRISON CAMP! Man, I sincerely hope I've covered everything.
IF ANY OR ALL OF THE ABOVE DISTURBS YOU DO NOT READ THIS STORY!
Episode Spoilers: small ones for that model episode and a miniscule one for whatever that treasure map one was. If I missed one or two, I apologize.
Summary: Gee, like you can't figure out the plot from all the warnings? Well, okay. Someone has a secret that isn't received well.
Comments: I'd like all comments that don't pertain to any of the warnings mentioned. I warned people for a reason. However, if I've left something off the warning list, or you may actually like this story, please feel free to comment. Believe me, I won't be put out if you hate this story so much you never want to comment at me again on anything. I tried to stop writing. I tried to stop posting. But it didn't work.
Author's Notes: Good grief after all that you still want me to say something? Okay. I don't know where this story came from. I don't know why I was the one chosen to write it. I only know that it's in my hand, on my computer, and now I'm sharing a vision of the Team with you that was in my head.
I don't know if I dare say enjoy it or not . . .
Templeton Peck gazed at his reflection in the mirror, and carefully combed his hair, then checked his eyes, and he sighed as he noticed the tiny lines that were in the corners, and ran a light finger over them.
"You're beautiful, Face." His Colonel's voice said, and Face turned, then scowled at the three men that laughed at him.
"Laugh it up guys, but don't forget that this face is your meal ticket, and when it goes, so does the free ride. You just remember how you laughed now, when you're standing in the cold because I can't scam anymore." He looked back into the mirror and straightened his bow tie, and checked the creases on his black tuxedo pants.
"We're serious, Face." Murdock said with a frown. "You look fine. I don't know why you're so worried about this date. It's not like you won't be able to get another one."
"I don't want another one. I like . . . REALLY like . . . this one." Face smiled, and tilted his head.
"This makes what, the ninth date with this person?" Hannibal asked, and the corners of his mouth turned down slightly. "That's quite the record, Lieutenant."
"Is this the same one you've dated every time we've gotten back from a job for the last five months?" B.A. asked.
"And who you've called every chance you could while we were out on those same missions?" Murdock added, and Face's smile widened, as Hannibal groaned.
"Face, what is it with you and relationships? I thought that fiasco with Rina would have taught you something." He asked, his voice heavy with concern. "You're on the run. You can't possibly be contemplating a serious relationship . . ."
"And what if I am?" Face asked. "Besides, Toni doesn't mind. Knows I'm on the run. Knows who I am, and doesn't care. Willing to wait as long as it takes." His grin widened.
"And does this person know what you have to do on some missions? You know, like sleep with other women." Murdock asked worriedly, and if it were possible, Face grinned even wider, and his eyes softened as a sigh left him.
"Yes. And it's one of the things I adore. Toni doesn't mind. To Toni, it's just a job, something I have to do to survive and to help people. No jealousy at all. It's so refreshing and wonderful and amazing. I've truly never met anyone like Toni." He stopped and blushed as he realized he'd gushed like a love-struck teenager.
"Adore?" Murdock mouthed behind Face's back, and the other two just shrugged, as a knock came on the door. Face almost ran to the door, but he stopped just before he reached it, cleared his throat, then straightened his jacket. Despite their reservations, Hannibal grinned and Murdock rolled his eyes, as B.A. chuckled. Face inhaled deeply, then opened the door. A woman stood in the doorway in a chauffeur's uniform and carried a huge bouquet of exotic flowers
"These are for you, Mr. Peck." The woman said, and Face stared at the flowers, then took them and he grinned at the chauffeur.
"Thanks, Marisa. I'll be down in a moment." The woman nodded, then left, and Face turned to the others who stared at him. "What?" He demanded as he grabbed a vase off the table, filled it with water, and put it on the table, then stuffed the bouquet into the vase.
"She sent you flowers." Hannibal said, and Face nodded.
"Yup. I get them every time I get back into town." Face cut one of the flowers off and put it into his lapel, then checked the mirror again. "Isn't it wonderful?" He chuckled. "It was embarrassing at first, but now it's kind of reassuring in a way. Let's me know I'm thought of as someone special in my own right, and not just as a Con or as a commodity." He grinned. 'Well, I'm off. Don't look for me tomorrow. I'll be occupied." He winked, waved, and almost ran from the room. The guys went to the window and watched as the female chauffeur opened the door of a long white limo, and Face climbed in. The woman closed the door, got into the driver's side, and drove off.
"I never thought I'd see the Faceman completely swept off his feet before." Murdock observed, and B.A. shook his head.
"Don't like it, Hannibal. He ain't tellin' us nothin'. He ain't done that before, except wit' that model woman."
"I know. He's obviously VERY serious about this woman." Hannibal nodded. "I just hope he's not setting himself up for yet another heartache."
"Well, if she does let him down, he'll have us here to catch him, just like we've done before." Murdock grinned, and the other two nodded, then Hannibal clapped him on the shoulder.
"And that's what makes us a team, Captain." The older man grinned.
"Right." B.A. nodded, and the three men went their separate ways.
Face smiled as he looked at the face before him in the limo. He couldn't keep the grin from his face as he took in the shoulder length, ebony hair, the jet black eyes, the curved jawline, and then the strong, well-formed body that was encased in a white tuxedo. His blue eyes softened and he reached out and placed a light kiss on the mocha-colored cheek.
"Anthony." He almost whispered. "I've missed you so much." He said to the man in the seat, and the handsome man grinned and wrapped Face in his strong arms.
"And I've missed you my beautiful Templeton, but that was hardly the greeting I was hoping for." His tenor voice sounded disappointed as he pouted, and Face grinned and allowed himself to be pulled into the strong arms, then closed his eyes as the other man's lips gently brushed his own and settled firmly. Face gave a small moan and opened his lips. Anthony's tongue gently caressed his open lips, and Face touched the tip of his own tongue to the gentle one and took it into his mouth. Anthony deepened the kiss and Face responded vigorously. After a moment, Anthony broke off the kiss and Face almost whimpered with disappointment. "I know, my darling, but we don't want to ruin our tuxedos, do we? And I say, you do look wonderful tonight."
"So do you, Anthony." Face sighed and sat back. "And I loved the flowers."
"They hardly do you justice." The other man said, and pulled out a velvet box, then looked at Face. "Tem, I want you to have this. I got it to celebrate our sixth month together."
"But . . . but Anthony . . ." Face's eyes widened. "I don't have anything for you . . ."
"My darling, Templeton. I don't expect anything from you . . . except for one thing, and that's for later." The very handsome man's black eyes glittered and his mouth curled up as his heavy lids dropped half-way over his eyes seductively. Face wanted nothing more than to take the man and make passionate love to him then and there, but he forced himself to be patient. He answered Anthony's seductive look with one of his own, and ran the very tip of his tongue over the bottom of his perfect teeth. He was rewarded with a small groan from the man across from him.
"And you'll get it later too." Face almost whispered, and the darker man grinned widely, and Face's eyes flickered to the box and he tilted his head. "But why did you get me a gift? I mean, it's only the sixth month . . ."
"Perhaps it is to you, but to me, my darling, it means that you have come back to me once again and that you are safe. I love you my precious, and every time you come back to me, it makes me only love you more. So with all that in mind, this is for you."
Face made no move to take the box, and Face looked into the dark eyes, and blinked, then bit his lower lip. "Anthony, there's . . . I . . ." Face started, and Anthony smiled softly.
"Let me guess, my love. You had to sleep with someone to get you and yours home safely."
"Yes." Face whispered, and he looked down, ashamed. "I didn't want to . . ."
"My darling, you know that you can do whatever you have to, to bring you and yours home safely. I told you that when we first got together. And speaking of them, they still don't know, do they?"
"No, Anthony. They think I'm with a woman named Toni, that's spelled with an 'I'. I... I can't bring myself to tell them..."
"Are you ashamed of me, my dearest?" Anthony's voice was low, and Face shook his head almost wildly.
"No, Tony! I swear! It's not you! It . . . it's me. It's been so long since I was attracted to a man, and the Team never knew. In the Army it wasn't exactly encouraged. And then when we were in the Prison Camp . . . they . . ." He shuddered and swallowed, hard. "The guards raped me . . . us. All of us. Me, Hannibal, B.A., and Murdock, and it . . . it left scars. Scars that can't be seen and they . . . the guys I mean, well, we haven't exactly talked about that specific thing . . . what happened I mean... with each other. I know, just from some things that've come out over the years that they're still wounded . . ."
"My darling." Anthony's voice was thick with compassion. "The day we first met, I saw the fear and anguish in your eyes as it warred with your interest in me as a man. It was extremely difficult to get through your barriers my darling, and if they are as difficult and as stubborn as you . . ."
"I'M stubborn, Anthony? It was YOU that didn't take 'no' for an answer. You became my friend, then so much more." Face smiled into Anthony's eyes, then sighed. "But, the guys, Anthony, I know they'd never understand how, after all that went on in the Prison Camp . . ." Face swallowed with difficulty. "After what all those other men did to us, to them, they'd never understand how I could not only let another man touch me like . . . like that, but how I could actually – me, of all people – and with the reputation I have, how I could actually fall in love with a man." Face raised his troubled blue eyes to Anthony's compassionate dark eyes, and blinked, then looked out the window. "I swear, Anthony, it's not because they aren't open-minded or anything, but they . . . they have this block . . . this hatred . . . because of the camps and what happened to them . . . us . . . in there. I'm afraid if I tell them, they won't react very well and will possibly throw me off the team, and right now . . . right now, I couldn't stand losing them. It's not that I don't love you, you know I do . . . more than I have anyone else in a long, long time . . ." He dropped his eyes, and the other man gently lifted his chin until their eyes met, and he brushed Face's bangs with gentle fingers.
"My beautiful, Templeton, relax. It's all right. Believe me, I've been at this lifestyle for a long time. Enough so that I am not only comfortable with it and myself, but I am also quite used to all kinds of attitudes and reactions." Anthony's voice was low and gentle. "I will not make you choose between me and your team – your family, for I have been in such a position before, and it isn't pleasant. Not to mention that I love you far too much to do that to you and I love you far too much to try and force you to stay with me, for you have an adventurous spirit that should not be tied down. Also, you would grow lonely for your team, my darling, and I would not cause you such pain, as you have already known more grief than you should ever have been exposed to. In that vein, I am content to have you with me here whenever I can." He sighed. "Perhaps one day, we can be together on a permanent basis, but it is not now. And, it's not as if you didn't tell me where we stood from the outset of our relationship. I knew what I was in for my love, and nothing has changed, except for the fact that I love you more and more each time we're together." He smiled broadly. "And you know darned well that I have not told my parents that I have found a lover who is an unpedigreed orphan who just happens to be a famous Con-man criminal who is wanted by the military. So, my love, we both have our secrets, and I would be a horrible hypocrite if I were I to condemn you for the same thing that I have done, if indeed, not for the same reason."
"Oh Tony." Face's voice trembled and his heart over-flowed with emotion. "What in the hell good did I do in my life to deserve you?"
"You stood at the edge of the ocean and stripped to a pair of black Speedo's, my love." Anthony winked, then held out the box again. "Now, here. Open that before we get to the Opera House and need to pretend that we're just friends."
Face took the box from the man and opened it, then stared at the lapel pin that resided in the rich black velvet. The pin itself was gold, and an Arctic Fox, filled with Diamonds while brilliant Blue Sapphires made up its eyes, was entwined with a Black Fox filled with Black Spinel, while its eyes were perfect black Star Sapphires. Face's eyes went wide, and he swallowed. "Tony, I can't . . ."
"Tem, my darling, I do NOT hear the words 'no' and 'can't'. I keep telling you this." Anthony sighed, then removed the pin, and pinned it to Face's lapel. "It looks good on you, and the sapphires have been purposely matched to our eyes. They represent us, my dear man, even if we can't shout it to the world."
Face gathered the man into his arms and they kissed passionately until Marisa announced that they would be at the Opera House in ten minutes. The two men broke apart, and gathered themselves as best as they could.
"You are so beautiful." Anthony said, much later the next day as he ran light fingers down Face's shoulders, and traced the large black bruise that marred the pristine surface. "Even your bruises are beautiful." He kissed the bruise, and Face winced, then sighed. Anthony wrapped his arms around Face, and pulled the white, blond man to him, and Face ran his hands through the thick waves of ebony, then kissed the face that hovered over his.
"I am only a pale shadow of you." Face told the darker man, and arched against Anthony as he held him.
"Light and Shadow, my dearest. We are two sides to a whole." Anthony proceeded to kiss a trail over Face, and the blond cried out. "I want you, Templeton." Anthony whispered. "And it is my turn to take you to paradise."
% % %
"I love it when you scream my name." Anthony grinned.
"I love it when you make me scream your name." Face panted after the love-making had ended. "But then, I love you, so that's not surprising."
"We've been in bed for the last twelve hours, my darling." Anthony grinned and kissed Face on the cheek. "And as nice as it is, we still need to eat." He laughed. "And I have certainly worked up an appetite, and I know you have." He winked. "So, where would you suggest we take our appetites?"
"The ones for food you mean?" Face asked, his expression wickedly seductive.
"Templeton, you are insatiable." Anthony kissed him lightly on the nose, then tapped it with his finger. "But I need regular food. So, yes, my love, where shall we go to satisfy our appetites for regular food."
"How about that new restaurant downtown?" Face grinned. "The one that overlooks the bay?"
"Oooohhhhh. Not only are you good-looking, but you have very nice taste in restaurants." Anthony bent down and kissed Face again.
"But I have better taste in lovers." Face grinned and the two men rose, showered, changed, and within twenty minutes, were on their way to the restaurant.
% % %
"Hey Murdock." Hannibal greeted the voice on the other end of the phone, as he pulled his monster tail out of the way of the studio traffic. "Guess what? The lead actress just had a temper tantrum and we've been released for the rest of the day. Figured that since I got off early, you and B.A. could meet me for lunch."
"Sure, Colonel. Where you want to go?" Murdock's voice answered, and Hannibal grinned at the chance to do something normal.
"There's this restaurant that Face told me about the other day. Said they had really good food. It's right on the water, and the windows overlook the bay."
"Sounds good. I'll have the Ugly Mudsucker get the van ready."
"I'll be waiting, but give me fifteen minutes to shower and change." Hannibal told the pilot, who nodded.
"You got it, Colonel." Murdock grinned, and they both hung up the phone.
"You were right, Templeton, my love." Face's comfortable full stomach fluttered as Anthony gazed at him from under his long dark lashes as they walked out of the restaurant. "That WAS a wonderful meal. But now, whatever shall we do about dessert?"
"I have a few ideas . . ." Face grinned wickedly and ran a lazy tongue over his lips, and Anthony grabbed him and pulled him into a warm embrace, then Face laughed as the other man reached under Face's shirt and tickled him on the ribs. Their eyes met, and for the two men, no one else in the whole world existed and their lips met in a crushing, passionate kiss. Face wrapped his hands in the thick ebony hair and closed his eyes as a low moan left the lips that opened so readily under his hungry and greedy mouth. The passion built between them and their bodies pressed together.
% % %
"There's the parking lot, big guy." Murdock smiled and pointed to the parking lot of the restaurant. B.A. pulled from the relatively busy street into the parking lot, and the trio got out of the van. As they walked toward the front entrance of the restaurant, they heard a familiar laugh. "Hey! That's Face's laugh!" Murdock said happily, and the other two grinned.
"Talk about coincidences." Hannibal smiled. "Maybe now we can meet this mystery woman of his."
They rounded the corner of the restaurant and suddenly stopped in shock. They watched as Face gripped another man's hair in his fists as the other man swallowed Face's tongue. The dark man had his hands under Face's clothes and groped at Face's body as both men practically screwed each other against the wall of the building.
"Hannibal, that ain't no woman." B.A. snarled, and disgust twisted all three of their features into caricatures of their own normally easy going expressions, as each one was hit with memories they'd rather stayed forgotten forever. Their pain turned to anger, and their anger only had one outlet.
"I SO can't deal with this." Murdock covered his eyes and turned away. "This is going to set my therapy back at least a year."
"Hannibal, that's disgustin'." B.A. declared, and Hannibal's face turned bright red as he went livid. He ground his cigar under his foot and strode forward, almost in a rage, followed by B.A. and Murdock.
% % %
Face felt a heavy hand on his injured shoulder, and with a gasp of pain, he was pulled roughly backward. "Lieutenant Templeton Peck, what the HELL do you think you're doing!?" Face went absolutely white as he looked into the angry faces of his friends, and for once he couldn't speak -- condition that Hannibal did not appreciate in his anger. "I asked you a question, Mister!" Hannibal's grip on Face's shoulder tightened, and he grimaced in pain.
"Hey!" Anthony exclaimed. "Remember his shoulder! He's hurt!"
"Faceman don't need you ta' speak for him." B.A. advanced on the darker man, and Face suddenly yanked himself out of Hannibal's grip and placed himself in front of Anthony.
"B.A.! Stop! This is Tony! Anthony! The one I told you about last night!" Face exclaimed, and looked at the others as they stared at him.
"This is the person you're in love with?" Hannibal's mouth dropped open as images he'd never wanted assaulted his mind, and Face suddenly scowled.
"And what do you mean what the hell do I think I'm doing? What do you think YOU'RE doing!? I could have killed you!" He removed his hand from the shoulder holster he wore under his jacket, then sighed. "And yes, this is the person I'm in love with. Anthony Parelli, meet Hannibal, Murdock, and B.A.."
"I've heard a lot about you." Anthony said gracefully and held out his hand, but it was ignored.
"Love him!?" Murdock stared at Face. "Face, he's . . . he's a man!"
"You both men!" B.A. took refuge in his early training, which had only been strengthened by his experiences in the Prison camp, and he moved toward Face. "You can't be in love! It ain't right an' it ain't natural!"
"Yeah!" Someone cheered from the street. "Give the fags hell!"
Suddenly, the door to the restaurant opened, and two men in maitré d outfits exited. "Gentlemen, this is a place of business, and you are disturbing my customers. If you do not take this elsewhere, I will be forced to call the police."
"Templeton, my love." Anthony spoke up, his voice heavy with regret. "With the position my parents are in, I cannot be involved in a common street brawl. Especially one that involves known felons."
"I . . I know, Anthony." Face answered miserably.
"I'm truly very sorry to leave you now." Anthony pressed his hand into Face's, then raised his head proudly and met B.A.'s glare, and the teams anger head on. "And so, if you would kindly move the Neanderthal from out of my way, I'll be going..."
"Anthony, I . . ." Face started. His aspect still pale.
"It's all right Templeton. I'll wait for you to call me." He squeezed Face's hand a second time, and with his head held high, crossed the street.
"How could you have done that?" Murdock demanded, as they stepped away from the building. "I mean, cripes, Face you were all over him!" He shuddered. "After what you . . . we . . . went through in the camps, I would have thought you'd never let another . . . another . . ." He pointed at Anthony. "HIM . . . touch you!"
B.A. looked around and grimaced, obviously ashamed of Face and his actions. "And right on the street too. Ain't no call ta' be doin' that at all, let alone on the street in public."
Face paused as he watched Anthony walk across the road to the limo, then Hannibal spoke, and his voice dripped venom.
"So tell me, Lieutenant, are you coming with us, or did you want to go after your lover and maybe get a kiss goodbye. I can see the headlines now." He held up his hand and sketched a box in the air. "'A-Team Member Caught in Gay Clinch'." He dropped his hand, and his scowl darkened. "Is THAT the image and the reputation you want for us to have, Face?" He demanded. "Do you want to make the entire world see us as a perverted, sex-crazed, Orgiastic Team?" Hannibal's voice would have frozen fire, and Face looked at him, then at Anthony as he continued to cross the busy street.
"What Anthony and I have ISN'T perverted." Face shot back. "And you don't have ANY right to speak to me that way. NONE of you do! And I'll be damned if I'm going to stand here and listen to you belittle him . . . and me." Face moved toward the street. "Anthony, please! Wait up! My stuff's still at the hotel!" Face called out, and moved further into the street. He was almost halfway over when Hannibal suddenly snarled as he watched the man he'd come to know, or thought he knew, as he walked away, and his rage, shame, and pain took over.
"Lieutenant, we're not finished talking about this! If you take one more step toward him, you can just KEEP on walking, because this is the last time you're going to lie to us! If you finish walking across that street, you are off the team for good! I'm not taking any more of your lies or your excuses! Do you hear me!?"
"That's not the real reason and you know it. You just can't stand the fact that I've fallen in love with a man AND gone against you!" Face spit.
"Whatever you say, Face." Hannibal mocked. "You're always right about everything, aren't you? Choose, Face, because I'm not waiting around for you to make up your mind!" Face looked over at Anthony as he thought back to their conversation of the night before, and blinked, completely lost and deflated as he looked back at the team.
"Please, Hannibal. Don't make me choose between you guys, because I can't." He almost begged, and Hannibal turned and started to walk away. Murdock looked at Face, then shook his head as B.A. turned away as well. Face was totally and completely lost in his indecision and he didn't hear the car as it careened around the corner, until it was almost on top of him.
"Templeton!" Anthony screamed, and the others turned around just in time to see Anthony as he dashed into the street and pushed Face out of the way of the car. Face fell face and upper-chest first into the pavement, but Anthony went up and over the hood of the car, slammed into the windshield, then over the back of the car onto the pavement as the car swerved, rolled, and then crashed into a post.
"Anthony!" Face howled and crawled to the form that lay prone in the street. Anthony's eyes fluttered weakly, and he reached up and stroked Face's cheek, which left a smear of blood on the bruised, scraped aspect.
"You . . . are ok?" Anthony asked weakly, and Face caught the hand in his, and nodded, barely able to speak.
"And you will be too." He whispered, and Anthony sighed.
"Now . . . my love. Don't lie. You soldier. You know death. Hold me . . . so cold."
Face couldn't keep the tears hidden as they poured down his face. He stroked the dark hair back from Anthony's face, and ignored the blood as his shoulders collapsed forward in grief and pain. "I love you so much Anthony. Please, please don't leave me."
"I... must... my dearest. I do... love you." Sirens suddenly sounded, and Anthony sighed. "You... you must leave."
"No." Face shook his head and stubbornly held onto Anthony's hand. "I'm not leaving you."
"Face. We have to go." Hannibal's voice sounded from behind him and Face shook his head.
"Faceman, if we don't go now, they'll arrest you." Murdock's voice was tense, and Face shook his head as Anthony's eyes landed on the team.
"Please . . . take him." Anthony sighed. "Go . . . love." His last word was a whisper as his body collapsed, and the sirens turned the corner.
"No time for this." B.A. said and yanked Face from the ground.
"No! At least let me close his eyes! Anthony!" Face screamed and fought, but B.A. threw the smaller man over his shoulders and the four of them ran for the van. Seconds before the ambulances, rescue vehicles, and the police turned the corner, the van squealed away, and the team made their escape.
"You didn't let me close his eyes." Face whispered as the tears rolled down his cheeks and he looked at them from the floor of the van where B.A.'d thrown him.
"If you'd been there any longer, you'd've been arrested. There wasn't any time." Hannibal told him shortly.
"Geeze, Face what the hell were you thinking?" Murdock stared at his friend. "You just stood there right in the middle of the street."
"I couldn't choose." Face shook his head.
"That was a man. Shouldn't'a been wit' him in the first place." B.A. scowled, and Face pulled himself off the floor and into his seat.
"I love him."
"He's gone, Face. The word is loved, and you'll get over it, I'm sure. And Just as easily and quickly as you've gotten over the many other . . . objects . . . of your . . . infatuation." Hannibal's voice was cold, and Face all but pulled his body into himself.
"Hannibal, please . . ." Face's voice was a whisper, and he wrapped his arms around himself. "I'm sorry. I couldn't help it. We met, and it was like a strike from the blue. He looked at me and our eyes met . . ."
"Don't want no details." B.A. gripped the wheel until his knuckles were white, and Face swallowed.
"I . . . I need to go back to his hotel room. My . . . my stuff is there."
"It'll stay there too. It's too dangerous to go anywhere near his stuff. People probably recognized you." Hannibal snapped.
"You . . . you don't understand . . ." Face's aspect was ghastly white, but none of the team looked at him.
"You've just said an understatement there, muchacho." Murdock shook his head. "A man." He shook his head. "And they call me crazy. I can't believe you, Face."
"Murdock, please, it . . ." Face reached over to touch Murdock's arm, but the pilot pulled away from him, and Face's hand snapped back. He pulled his legs to his chest and wrapped his arms around his chest.
"Oh, knock it off, Lieutenant. It's not like it was a woman who died." Hannibal shuddered and his blue eyes blazed with an almost insane rage as images he tried to ignore of what Face and the man who'd died had done, warred and blended with images of the past from the Prison Camp.
"Ain't right ta' be wit' no man no how for nothin'." B.A. snarled and if he hadn't been in the driver's seat, he would have closed his eyes and tried to force the memories that threatened to engulf him out of his mind.
Face's blue eyes blinked rapidly, and he glanced over at Murdock, but Murdock had pulled himself into his own chair, and wouldn't meet Face's eyes as he started a steady stream of nonsense, his own defense against the memories that Face knew he had brought to the agonizingly painful surface. He swallowed and dropped his legs. "I'm sorry." He whispered, and after that, the only sound in the van was Murdock as he mumbled, sotto voiced, whatever the voices in his head told him to say to escape the Prison Camp's memories.
% % %
Face entered the silent hotel room, and lit the small flashlight in his hands, then prowled around the main room of the suite, only to freeze, as the light suddenly blazed. Face blinked rapidly in the sudden light and felt a handgun pressed into his side. He looked up as a petite woman with her long ebony hair pulled back, and expressive dark brown eyes entered the room. She wore a long, black gown and she would have been attractive but for the expression of hatred and utter contempt with which she gazed at him.
"So, you came back. Thought you might." She snarled, and Face swallowed.
"M . . . Mrs. Parelli." Face's voice shook, and a man walked from behind him, and Face saw the gun first, then the dark- haired, dark eyed, dark skin, and he bit his lip. "M . . . Mr. Parelli." His voice dropped to a whisper.
"So, you were the man my son loved." Mr. Parelli's voice was no less contemptuous than his wife's and Face blinked.
"I'm so sorry." His voice caught in his throat. "Your son is . . . was . . . a good man."
"WAS being the operative word." The woman spit. "And it's all because of YOU!"
"I'm sorry." Face said again, though he knew it'd have no effect on the pair before him. I'm so, so sorry."
"Save it, you CROOK." The man sneered. "We know who you are. The police told us who you were, and we figured you'd be back. After all you left THIS here." Face's eyes flickered to the pin that Mrs. Parelli held up, and his hands automatically reached for it, but the gun rose and stopped his actions.
"Thought you could get one last thing out of my son, didn't you?" She snorted. "One more piece of his property... his money." She looked Face up and down as if he were a particularly disgusting bug, and he flinched.
"No, Mrs. Parelli, please, it . . . it's not like that. I love . . . loved . . . your son. He was everything to me. That pin was the last thing he ever gave me. I . . . I just wanted it to . . . to remember . . ."
"And the other gifts aren't enough?" Mr. Parelli scowled. "I've got the credit card receipts. I know what he gave you."
"I'll give them all back, but I just want that one." Face desperately pointed to the pin, and no longer cared about the gun. "That's all, I swear. I just want that pin. He told me . . . told me it was US. He and I . . ."
"How dare you!?" She suddenly screamed at him. She reared back and slapped him as hard as she could, then did it again for good measure, and her ring cut a small trench on his already bruised face. "My son is DEAD, Mr. Peck! Dead! He's never coming back! And it's because of you! YOU killed him! You're right, my son was a good man, and he's dead! But YOU!? You're nothing but a nobody! Just a common criminal whose life was worthless compared to my son's! YOU should have died, NOT my son!"
Face gasped, and mindless of the gun, spun and fled from the room.
% % %
"And just where the hell've YOU been?" Hannibal demanded as Face slunk into the room.
"I . . . I went to the hotel." Face whispered, and three laser-beam like eyes pinned him all at once.
"I THOUGHT I told you not to go there, Lieutenant. Something about it being too dangerous right now, I think I said." Hannibal's voice was even and controlled, and Face looked down at his hands.
"There . . . there was something I needed. Something that An . . ."
"There's that name again!" B.A. punched the wall. "I hear that name one more time, I'm gonna' pound you! He's what started this whole thing and I want it finished!" B.A. advanced on him, and Face tried to explain even as he shrank from the bigger man.
"It was the last thing he gave me, B.A... I . . . I wanted it to remember . . ."
"Remember?" Murdock turned misery darkened, haunted eyes to Face. "I remember. I remember the camps. I remember the guards. Their hands. What they did." He tilted his head at Face. "How can you have forgotten, Face? How could you have broken the promise?"
"I didn't mean for it to happen." Face held out his hands helplessly. I . . . I hadn't felt that way about a man . . ."
"You ain't supposed to feel nothin' for a man! Ever! It ain't right what they do ta'getha'! Ya' got that, sucka'!?" B.A. grabbed Face's shirt in his hands and pushed him up against the wall. Face was suspended off the floor, and he knew the ONLY way B.A. would calm down was if he agreed with him. Face looked over at Hannibal, but the older man merely sat by, impassive, and Murdock just stared out the window.
"Yes, B.A.." Face finally said, and swallowed as a part of him shriveled and died as he knew that he betrayed himself, Anthony, and what they had meant to one another and had shared. Satisfied, B.A. dropped him.
"Now, you want to tell me what happened to your face?" Hannibal finally commented. "That's kind of a nasty cut there."
"Mrs. Parelli slapped me. She and her husband waited . . . waited for me there, in the hotel. They said they knew I'd show up . . ."
"She didn't like the fact you were screwing her son either, huh?" Hannibal's voice was cold, and Face flinched.
"It wasn't like that, Colonel! We lo . . ." He exclaimed before he thought and B.A. advanced. Face's nerves were just about shattered, and he couldn't stop himself as he dropped to the floor and curled into a defensive ball. It was a defensive maneuver he hadn't ever had to use against any of the team, but it was the only one his confused instincts came up with as his shattered nerves screamed at him and B.A. advanced on him.
Nothing happened after a moment and he cautiously opened an eye, then looked around. The room was empty of all but Murdock, who had his arms wrapped around a pillow, and who watched Face in complete silence. Face couldn't summon enough energy to stand, and he leaned his back against the wall. He wrapped his arms around his legs, and buried his face in his arms... a position of abject misery and personal protection that he hadn't indulged in since the camps, and Murdock quickly left the room as well.
"Where do you think you're going, Lieutenant?" Hannibal scowled at Face, as he headed toward the front door, and Face swallowed.
"An . . ." He glanced at B.A.. "The funeral's today. I . . . I wanted . . ."
"Oh, yeah, that'd be real smart." Hannibal frowned. "Go where the military can get you, and us too after you tell them where we are."
"I'd never . . ." Face started, but B.A. snorted.
"You lied to us for months. You lied to us before that. An' you'll lie to us again. Ain't no way we can trust you no more for nothin'." B.A. snarled, and Face paled.
"You . . . you don't trust me . . ." His voice was hoarse and he looked at Murdock.
"Give us a reason too." The pilot answered. "You broke your promise. You and me, we made that promise . . ."
"That was more than twenty years ago, Murdock, and we were drunk . . ." Face held out his hands in supplication as his voice trembled. "I . . . I didn't know then . . ."
"You promised!" Murdock exclaimed and jumped up, then left the room.
"You screwed . . ." Hannibal grimaced. "You messed up big time, Face. Don't expect us just to be able to put this all behind us." He glared at Face. "And it's been over a week. You should have gotten this . . . infatuation . . . you had . . . out of your system by now."
"Can I just go to the cemetery, then? Hannibal. I swear. I'll stay back. I promise I won't go anywhere near the grave site at all." Face almost begged the older man for permission, but Hannibal shook his head.
"You can't. It's too dangerous." Hannibal stated flatly. "Besides, we've got a meeting with an out-of-state client today, so you'd better take care of that cut and get ready to leave."
"Yes, Hannibal." Face's voice was a mere whisper, and his shoulders slumped and he left the room.
% % %
Face tossed in his bed and shivered as tears poured down his face. "Anthony!" He screamed as he saw as the car once again slammed into his lover, and he felt himself pulled away as Anthony's staring eyes followed him. He jerked as he sat up, and wiped the perspiration from his face.
"Keep it down in there!" His unknown neighbor pounded on the wall, and Face picked up a picture that had been cut from a society paper, and traced the face that grinned so happily from the frame.
"Anthony." Face whispered and lay back down, but slept no more that night. "Oh Anthony. I'm so sorry."
% % %
Face sat in the restaurant, and looked down at his plate. He pushed the food around with his fork, and blinked at the pasta. It had been the last food he and Anthony had shared, and suddenly, his throat closed up and he dropped his fork as he forced down the sudden nausea that threatened to engulf him.
"Is everything all right, Mssr.? " The waiter approached, and Face nodded.
"I'm just not as hungry as I thought." He forced out, and gave a smile that nowhere reached his eyes, paid his bill, then left.
% % %
Face stood on the boardwalk of the beach and watched the people as they walked by. He sighed as he watched as the het-sexual couples made out in the sand, then bent his head as, unbidden, the memories of the last time he and Anthony had made love, entered his mind, and he bit his lips as tears tried to fight their way down his face. He opened his eyes, and his heart stopped in his chest.
He stared hard at the tall, dark-haired figure on the beach, and moved before he thought. Halfway to the beach, the person turned around, and Face's heart again dropped to his feet. It wasn't Anthony. Of course, Face had known it wouldn't have been, but his brain hadn't quite gotten used to the fact that Anthony would never come back, and Face clenched his hands into fists, and forced himself to turn away as the tears he forced himself not to shed burned painfully in his eyes and his soul.
% % %
"Well, that was one of your sloppier missions." Hannibal scowled and looked over at Face, who nodded.
"I can't believe you were so badly off your game, Face. That con you ran was terrible!" Murdock exclaimed, and Face nodded.
"I almost got shot 'cause you messed up so bad." B.A. snarled, and Face nodded.
"Damn it, Face!" Hannibal hovered over the Con-man who barely looked up. "It's been almost two months since that... incident! Get over it already! You aren't sleeping, you aren't eating, and you're starting to look like crap!"
Face merely blinked and examined his nails. "Are we done here?" He asked. "There's somewhere I've got to go."
"Off ta' meet some other man, I bet!" B.A. growled, and Face shook his head.
"No. I . . . I promised you guys."
"You promised us before too." Murdock answered, and Face merely nodded.
"I have to go mail some stuff." He finally said.
"Don't you forget, sucka', I still owe you for almost gettin' me shot." B.A. snarled.
Face nodded. "I know, B.A.." He stood up and went to walk by Murdock, then stumbled. He reached out and tried to use Murdock's shoulder to steady himself, but Murdock almost jerked away from his hand, and Face grabbed the couch instead and silently gazed around the room at the team. Not a one of them had let him touch them since they'd found out about Anthony. Maybe they'd never let him touch them again. Pain lanced through his soul like a shot, and he realized that nothing would ever be the same between any of them ever again.
He'd managed, with one lie, to do what none of their enemies, including the Prison Camp guards, had ever managed to do, no matter how hard they'd tried. He, their second-in-command, their friend, their own team member, had completely destroyed them.
With that thought, Face imploded.
"Dear Mr. And Mrs. Parelli." The woman read aloud to her husband. "Here is everything Anthony gave me. Everything but the flowers and dinners, and this check takes care of that. I was never penniless, and I know you won't believe me, but we are innocent of the charges. I truly loved your son and hope that one day, you will forgive me. Please know that you were right, and nothing I can do will ever make up for your loss, but I will try. Sincerely, Templeton Peck."
The two looked over the small pile of gifts, cards, and letters that had come to them in the mail, then looked at each other, and picked up the letters that their son had written to his 'Dearest Love: Templeton'.
% % %
"Dear Hannibal." The white-haired man read the letter, and frowned. "I know I brought back bad memories for you, and you'll never know how sorry I truly am for that. One day, I can only hope that you'll forgive me and think of me once again as your 'Lieutenant'. Thank you for giving me that chance all those years ago. Ever Yours, Templeton Peck"
Hannibal dropped the letter to the floor and reached for the phone.
% % %
"Dear B.A.." The big African-American scowled and gripped the paper tightly in his fists, and his lips thinned as he read the next line. "Please forgive me. If not now, then one day. I never meant to hurt you. I can only promise you it won't happen again. I hope one day you'll think of me with kindness. If not, then at least without shame and anger. Your friend, Templeton Peck."
B.A. growled and dropped the letter, then headed for the phone.
% % %
"Dear Murdock." The lanky pilot leaned up against the wall of his room in the VA, and sighed as he continued to read. "I know that there's nothing I can say to make anything up to you. I know I hurt you, and I'm so sorry for that. You'll never know how truly I mean this. You've stuck with me through a lot of stuff, but I guess this last was just too much for you to take. One day, Murdock, maybe you'll be able to think of me without pain and betrayal and be able to forgive me. Maybe you'll even be able to think of me as your best friend again. Love, Templeton Peck."
Murdock gasped, sat up, and lunged for the phone.
As he stood on the beach lost in thought, Face, dressed in the black tuxedo that he had worn the last night that he and Anthony had made love, didn't hear the phone as it rang in his Corvette that was parked in the driveway of the beach house, miles away from any civilization. He gazed at the waves as they crashed over the huge rocks in the wind of the approaching storm, then looked down at the gun in his hand and sighed. Shooting himself was a seriously messy way to die, but he knew that it was the way a man usually, according to the statistics at any rate, took himself out.
And he was a man. Just because he'd fallen in love with another man didn't make him anything less than that. He looked again at the beach and knew that just because it was deserted at the moment, didn't mean that it would stay that way. He sighed and looked again at the gun, then the waves. If he missed, or if his hands decided at the last minute that he'd changed his mind, or he totally screwed up and only injured himself, he didn't want some innocent person, maybe a child, to see the results.
And what if the water DIDN'T drag his body out to sea . . . it wasn't an unheard of occurrence, especially with the storm brewing. He didn't want someone else to see his blood-covered body and staring, dead eyes. He closed his eyes briefly and the wide, empty, dead eyes of the man that had been his lover filled his mind and he shuddered. He'd wanted so desperately to close those beautiful eyes: To make sure that it looked like Anthony had only fallen asleep and that he would wake up and hold Face in his arms and tell him that it had all been just a horrible dream. Face threw the gun into the water as hard and as far as he could, which, with his football past, was actually quite far, and he nodded in satisfaction as it sank. No child would be able to accidentally find it, and no other innocent would be hurt by him or anything he did.
He felt the wind as it whipped his hair around his head and he watched as the waves crashed over the rocks, then irrevocably decided his final course of action. Slowly, deliberately, he waded through the waves that churned around his calves and lower thighs then climbed onto the slippery, treacherous rocks that jutted out into the ocean. Waves of cold water washed over his back, and the wind chilled him quickly as he climbed, but he continued unfalteringly forward and headed out to the farthest and the largest set of rocks that would put him out into the ocean past the point of no return.
From over the crashing of the waves, Face barely heard the sound of car horns as they blared, and he stopped for a moment, then turned his head. His eyes and throat burned from the constant bombardment of the salty ocean water as it pounded over him, but he stopped his climb, and turned his head. He gasped and inhaled water, then coughed as he saw the familiar silhouette of the van parked next to his 'Vette in the wide driveway. The sound of horns reached him again, and from the distance saw Murdock as he was bent over the driver's side door of Face's car. Face watched as Hannibal straightened and raised his arms, and Face instinctively knew that Hannibal had a pair of binoculars trained on him. B.A. was probably inside the van on the other horn.
"No." Face shook his head and almost wept in frustration. "I can't let you stop me. Not when I'm this close." He turned and headed back out to the rocks.
% % %
"Colonel, what are we going to do!? What if we're too late!?" Murdock's voice was horrified as, with a screech of the tires, they pulled up next to the 'Vette.
"We ain't gonna' be too late ya' Crazy foo'! Stop talkin' like that!" B.A. ordered as he threw the van into park.
"B.A.'s right, Murdock." Hannibal's voice was calm, but he couldn't keep the fear out of it, even as he opened the door and stepped out. Murdock almost danced around the men as they climbed from the van and looked around. "You know Face, Murdock. Maybe . . . maybe he just wanted some time to himself. Maybe he thought he could get our attention this way. Maybe the notes didn't mean what we think."
"Then what COULD they have meant, Colonel!?" Murdock shouted. "I've BEEN there, remember!? I've READ notes like that from guys and they only meant one th . . ." He suddenly turned and looked out at the ocean, then saw movement on the rocks. "Oh my god! Colonel! Look!" Murdock screamed and pointed, and B.A. and Hannibal turned and followed Murdock's finger with their eyes, and Murdock screamed Face's name a second and a third time. However, Hannibal knew that over the wind and the waves, Face would never hear any of them, no matter how long or loudly they shouted for him. He pushed Murdock over to the 'Vette and scowled deeply.
"The horns!" He yelled. "Blow the horns! That'll get his attention!"
Murdock and B.A. leaned on the vehicles' horns, and Hannibal reached into the van and yanked out a pair of binoculars. The figure on the rocks paused a moment and Hannibal raised the binoculars to his eyes. It took him a moment to focus them, but when he did, his heart jumped into his throat as he saw that Face was thoroughly drenched, shivered violently, his lips were blue, and his fingers bled. Hannibal forced himself not to reach out to Face, as he knew it would be a useless gesture, but then his heart almost stopped as Face spoke, and Hannibal, through long years of practice that went back to Korea, read Face's lips.
"No. I can't let you stop me. Not when I'm this close." Face's words almost didn't register in Hannibal the man's mind through his shock, and for a moment he froze, uncomprehending, as Face turned back around and climbed the rocks once more.
Hannibal the Colonel, however, took over almost immediately, and he barked out orders as fast as his mind could work. "Sergeant! Lose the jewelry, and grab the rope! Captain! Grab a couple of blankets and unhook the cover of the weapon's cache, and get the rubber bungee cords with the hooks!" When Hannibal spoke like that, no one bothered asking why he demanded what he did of them, for they knew that his incredible mind had automatically, and instantly, planned for almost every contingency. They threw themselves into their tasks and after both Murdock and Hannibal had dropped their coats to the ground, the three of them dashed to the ocean's edge.
They watched for an agonizingly long second as Face unsteadily made his way over the rocks. The wind picked up and the waves crashed around them higher and harder, and they knew they didn't have much time. As quickly as they could, they fought their way onto the rocks and kept low to the stone's surface as the water choked them and the wind tore at them. They watched, helpless, as Face slipped and went down to his knees, but then caught himself and pushed onward again.
"Face! Stop!" Murdock screamed, but there was no reaction from the figure in front of them, even as he slipped again. He was slower to stand and they could tell that he had weakened considerably as he crawled the last few feet to the tallest rock in the outcropping.
Face had heard Murdock as he had screamed Face's name, but there was nothing to be done about that but to outrun them. When they saw how dangerous it was for them to come after him, they'd quit and go home and be rid of him once and for all. He couldn't understand why they were even after him in the first place, except for the fact that they may have felt guilty. Well, so did he, and he knew that he could relieve everyone of any and all guilt for whatever it was they felt guilty for.
He just had to get to the last rock.
The waves battered him constantly, and it was a battle to keep his feet, but he smiled as he watched the water as it surged upward, as if someone with a giant conductor's baton had directed it. Another wave followed that one, and then another, and then another. Face kept his eyes on the waves, even as he slipped to his hands and knees again, and could barely regain his footing. Finally, he just stayed on his hands and knees, and as he choked on the seawater as it filled his nose and mouth, he crawled forward until he looked out over the edge to the swirling ocean below and beyond.
He took a quick look behind him and wondered when his pursuers had gotten so close. However, they weren't close enough to stop him, if he didn't delay too long, and he fought his way to his feet. He looked out into the ocean and spread his arms out wide to either side of his numb body and threw his head back. He knew that what he did at that moment was wrong, terribly wrong, both for him and for those that he had befriended over the years, but nothing about his life, except the team and Anthony had been right, and he'd blown both of those things. He didn't deserve the Eternal Life they had taught him about in the orphanages, and he didn't want to go on living if it meant living without the team or Anthony.
With his arms splayed and his face pointed at the sky, Face threw himself off the rocks and into the water.
% % %
"Oh God, please. Face, don't do it." Hannibal whispered as they watched Face as he stood. They saw the effort it took for him to do it, and they watched as he spread his arms out wide. As if in response to his gesture, a wave crashed around him and over him, and he lifted his face to the sky.
"Faceman, this ain't the way." B.A. whispered as if he hoped his friend would get the message and turn around, but they knew, as he stood stock still, despite the buffeting of the waves against his clearly exhausted body, that unless they could get to him in the next few seconds, he was going to be gone from them forever.
When Face threw himself into the next wave that swept upwards from the surf, it wasn't a graceful dive, it wasn't some heroic movie leap, it wasn't even a dignified plunge. What it was, was a complete surrender of himself to the pain in his own mind, and they were helpless to do anything but watch as he crumpled forward and fell into the surge.
One minute, he was there, and the next he was gone as if he'd never existed.
But he had existed, and the agony that lanced through his long time companions -- his friends – his family, was immeasurable, and they all knew that one sight, that space of less than a minute, would haunt their dreams for the rest of their lives.
"NO! FACE! NO!" Murdock screamed, and his scream was no less horrified than the others' silence.
All thoughts of caution and their own safety fled immediately from their minds, and they dashed forward. They slipped and slid on the rocks and cut their own hands, knees, and arms, but took no notice as they forced their way to the edge of the rocks. All three of them threw themselves flat against the rock, and looked over the edge.
None of them knew why they had done it, or just what they had expected to see, but when the wave surged out, they saw a craggy outcropping just below the large rock. Face's body was caught in a crevice between two spire-like rocks, and every time a surge swept in, Face's body moved with it. They knew that with the force of the water, Face would be swept out to sea in a matter of minutes, and there would be no saving him at all if he wasn't already dead.
"B.A.. Grab the rope and anchor it. Murdock. Feed the line." Hannibal wrapped the rope around his waist and he took the blankets, the bungee cords, and the floorboard from Murdock.
"But Colonel . . ." Murdock protested, and Hannibal scowled.
"You weigh less than I do. You'd be smashed against the rocks in the force of these waves and we'd have to rescue you as well." He was forced to wait as a wave washed over them, then spoke as he spit out water. "B.A.'s the strongest and we'll need him to pull us up. You just be ready to help pull Face . . ." He purposely avoided saying Face's body, and blinked. "Then me, over the edge of these rocks. We're all losing body heat pretty fast here, and we've only got one shot at this, especially since we don't know what condition he'll be in when we pull him up. This is the only way." Hannibal took refuge from his grief in his professionalism and his plans, and the other two nodded.
"Yes, Colonel." Murdock said and B.A. jammed his body into a crevice on the rock as Murdock wrapped the rope around his waist and Hannibal lowered himself over the edge of the rock.
"Face!?" He called out, but there was no response and he dropped next to the bobbing body of his Lieutenant. Hannibal quickly checked for a pulse and noted with only a small modicum of relief that though it was weak and thready, it was indeed there. There was no time to check for anything else, and Hannibal knew they had to get Face at least back to the beach before anything else could be safely done for him. Hannibal slid the floorboard under Face's body, then used the bungee cord to hold his head to the floorboard so it wouldn't move around in case he had a neck injury. Hannibal silently cursed the storm that raged around them and everything else that impeded him, as he completely enshrouded Face in one of the blankets. He wrapped the other bungee cords around Face and the floorboard at the younger man's shoulders, waist and hips, then tied the other blanket around the younger man as if it were a giant carry bag. Hannibal had known that there was no way that B.A. and Murdock could pull both him and Face up the rocks, and he untied the rope from his waist, tied it to the corners of the blanket, then signaled the two at the top to raise the rope.
A moment later, slowly, too slowly for Hannibal's comfort, he watched as Face rose toward the relative safety of the rocks above and his two other teammates. Hannibal floundered as his exhaustion and the waves warred with one another and threatened to tear him from his precarious perch between the spires that had kept the ocean from taking Face from him. He choked as water filled his own mouth and nose, and his hand slipped from one of the rocks as he shivered, and almost lost his grip as he scrabbled for purchase with the other one.
He looked up as something hit his head, and gratefully, he saw that it was the rope. He grabbed it and tied it around his waist, then weakly signaled for the others to pull him up. He tried to help them by placing his feet against the surface of the rocks, and realized that if he used the momentum of the upsurge of the waves to push him up, the ascent wasn't as hard, or as slow, as it could have been. There was no time for him to recover himself as he was hauled over the edge of the rocks and B.A. dropped the rope almost immediately after he was over, and Hannibal freed himself as Murdock checked Face's pulse, and then his breathing.
"He isn't breathing, Hannibal!" Murdock screamed, and Hannibal nodded. He'd suspected as much, and was surprised that Face even had a pulse. The rescue had obviously taken less time than it had seemed, and as he coughed out water, he thanked every deity that he'd ever heard of.
"B.A., you and I will carry him." He decided. "Murdock . . ."
"You're exhausted, Hannibal." Murdock said and he and B.A. took an end of the blanket. "You breathe."
Hannibal had no breath for a response, and he bent over Face as the other two men fought to get their burden back from the rocks and to some sort of safety. Every few steps, they stopped long enough for Hannibal to breathe for Face. As Hannibal breathed, a small part of him reflected that the Lieutenant's mouth felt exactly the way it had the last time he'd had to breathe for Face in order to save his life. Despite his relationship with Anthony, Face hadn't developed anything odd, and no sensations other than desperation filled Hannibal's mind. He reflected briefly that it wasn't even that unpleasant . . . just necessary. With a sudden pang, he wondered if what he'd experienced as they'd watched Face go over the rocks was even remotely what Face had felt as he'd watched the man die in his arms, and if it were, then they had all done Face nothing short of evil with their callous treatment of him.
After what seemed like hours, they made it to the beach, and Hannibal felt for Face's pulse as they set him down, then felt it as it slowed, and finally stopped. "No kid, don't do this." He said, and began immediate CPR. Murdock threw himself to his knees by Face's head and breathed for his friend, as their Colonel fought to restart the heart that Murdock realized suddenly had actually stopped a long time before the moment that Face's physical pulse had quit. Murdock remembered that when the life had left Face's lover's eyes, the light of life had fled from Face's eyes as well, and had left behind only a shadow of the man that he'd been. Murdock bent over Face's cold lips and touched them with his, and knew that he never wanted Face to ever be cold again, emotionally or physically, and he resolved that Face wouldn't be if he had any control over Face's future at all.
"Please, Face, don't go. Not yet. I'm so sorry, Face. I'm so, so sorry." Murdock almost wept as he bent again and again over his friend's face and forced air into Face's lungs.
"Change!" Hannibal ordered as he saw that Murdock labored for his own breaths, and B.A. dropped down to the younger man's side and added his breath to that of the other two as it filled Face's lungs, but was rejected.
"We ain't lettin' ya' go. Not this way!" B.A. scowled. "So ya' just better breathe, sucka'!" He still felt, not only with the upbringing he'd had, but also with the memories of the camps, that what Face had done with Anthony had been wrong. However, what Face had done on the rocks was even worse . . . but it wasn't just from a biblical standpoint. It was wrong because B.A. was going to lose one of the best, and as oddly as it sounded to say about a Conman, one of the most loyal friends he'd ever had. At that point, he really didn't care WHOM Face loved – he only wanted Face to be alive TO love, and if that meant that Face would love men, then so be it. With a determined sense of purpose, he forced air back into Face's lungs and it was filled with all of the fear and all of the friendship that he'd ever felt for Face.
Hannibal started as the pulse under his hand jumped, then remained, though it was weak and thready at best. Face choked and water ran from his mouth as the three of them turned him on his side until the spasms receded and the water stopped coming. Face's eyes remained closed, and they knew that though they had brought him back, he wasn't anywhere near safe.
"Get him in the van." Hannibal ordered as they all stood wearily and stumbled to the vehicle. They gently placed Face on the floor and unwrapped the wet blankets from his body then threw a dry one over him. For added warmth, Hannibal and Murdock placed their jackets over him as well. Murdock sat beside Face as the other two climbed into their accustomed seats and as the van roared to life, Face's blue eyes flickered open. His eyes were glazed and unfocused, and he smiled slightly as he as he looked into Murdock's brown eyes.
"Anthony. I'm so cold. Is . . . is this what you felt?" Face whispered, and reached up, but Murdock pulled back. Face whimpered and his eyes closed.
"Damn it!" Hannibal cursed. "Murdock, try and keep him conscious! B.A., crank up the heat in this thing and get us to the nearest hospital."
"He called me Anthony!" Murdock exclaimed as B.A. did as Hannibal had ordered.
"I don't care if he calls you Doris!" Hannibal barked. "Keep him conscious!"
"And what am I supposed to do, Colonel!?" Murdock demanded. "I know he's... been... with a man.... maybe others! All I can see... feel... is..." He closed his eyes. "Is THEM and what they did to me... to us!"
"We know what you see, foo'! We've all seen it too! Why do you think none a' us has stayed in th' same room wit' him for more'n a minute!?" B. A. scowled.
"If we let him go now, we'll NEVER get him back. He may live, but he won't be alive, and you know it." Hannibal ran a weary hand over his almost grey face. "We've really screwed up here guys, and we . . . I . . . didn't see it until it was too late. Murdock, if it helps you to look at things this way, technically, we all just kissed him, yet we all managed to stay alive without freaking."
Face moaned, and Murdock knew that Hannibal, as usual, was right. He swallowed, then lay down beside Face and placed his arm gently over his friend's chest as he lay beside him and willed some of what was left of his body heat into Face. "Anthony." Face smiled as he whispered again. "I missed you."
"It's not Anthony, muchacho. It's me, Murdock." Murdock swallowed and wondered at the brief flare of jealousy that suddenly sparked in him at the trust and love that Face so obviously had for the other man, but then was gone just as quickly. I've got you, Buddy, but right now, you've got to stay awake."
"Mur . . . dock?" Face asked quietly and blinked, then his eyes briefly focused. The overwhelming pain that filled Face's eyes as he'd recognized his friend struck Murdock silent, and Hannibal looked at the two of them as Face coughed. "What . . . what are you doing?"
"I think the question should be what did you think YOU were doing?" Hannibal asked quietly, and Face coughed and Murdock wiped away the seawater that dribbled from Face's mouth.
"It hurt too much. It hurt you too much . . . to stay." Face answered weakly.
"And ya' think that yo' dyin' wouldn't hurt us?" B.A. asked gruffly.
"You hate me." Face's voice shook.
"We don't hate you, Face." Hannibal denied, and his voice was heavy with regret. "Never you. It . . . it was what happened in the camp. The memories of it." Hannibal looked at the cigar he held more out of habit than need. "We didn't understand how you . . ." He swallowed. "Look, all these things . . . these reasons . . . sound like sorry excuses, I know. And what's worse is that there's nothing we can do to make up for it, the words, the actions, how we treated you, but . . . but you've got to understand Face, we've never hated you, and we never . . ." His voice shook, and the team knew how hard it was for him to speak. "We never, under any circumstance have EVER wanted you dead, Face."
"You wouldn't let me talk about him. You wouldn't let me go to his grave even, and you kept me out of town so I couldn't go, and then when we did get back into town, there was always another case waiting." Face felt his strength as it drained from him, and he sighed. "I love him, Hannibal, and nothing in the world, nothing you can say or do, will ever change that."
"I'm sorry, Face. It . . . it was a shock. You of all people. I mean. You never gave any signs of being Homosexual." Hannibal answered without thought, and adrenaline pumped through Face's veins.
"And what should I have done, Hannibal? Wore a dress? Walked like a faux woman? Maybe talked with a lisp?" Face sighed. "I hate stereotypes, Hannibal, and none of that was ever me. And for your information, I'm Bi-Sexual, and have been that way as long as I can remember. I thought the camp 'cured' me of it, Hannibal, but it's not a disease. I hadn't been attracted to another man in years. Not like I was to women at any rate." He sighed and closed his eyes. "But then I saw Anthony . . . " His voice caught in his throat and he coughed, which left him even weaker than before as the adrenaline, and the fight, left him. "He helped me through. He held me during the nightmares. For the first month, he just slept next to me because I kept screaming and trying to kick him out of the bed in my sleep." He sighed. "It was so hard on him, but he loved me enough to deal . . . to help me deal . . . with it."
"I didn't know, Face. I didn't know how to deal with it... with the memories. And as for Anthony, I thought it was just something... an infatuation. Some new spicy angle of sex that you wanted to explore and to exploit. Something... someone... you'd get over..." Hannibal dropped his head into his hands. "Hell, I don't know what I thought, Face. I just knew the memories."
"I know, Hannibal." Face's voice was low and there was no recrimination in it. "I've got 'em too." He looked at Murdock. "I remembered . . . remember . . . everything. How the hands felt as they grabbed me. The agony as they . . . as they did what they did. But Anthony wasn't like that. He was loving and gentle and kind. He was so good and special and . . . and right." Face shook and Murdock tightened his hold on the man. "In his hotel room, his mother said it should have been me. She said I was a nobody and a nothing criminal who should have died in his place. I should have too . . . would have, but he pushed me out of the way . . . the wrong one died she said."
"He died savin' yo' life." B.A. suddenly put in, alarmed at the direction the conversation had suddenly taken. "He di'n't think you was a nothin'. He thought the life a' the . . . person . . . he loved was worth somethin'." B.A. answered gruffly. "I don't think he saw it as a waste."
"And Face, I don't think he'd approve of what you tried to do today." Hannibal tried desperately to give Face something to hold on to. Some reason to stay with them.
"He wouldn't, but I miss him so much. I didn't know what else to do. You were so angry . . . I knew I couldn't talk to you." Face yawned, then his breath wheezed in his lungs, and Murdock raised the backboard slightly and took some of the pressure from Face's chest as the blond man's eyes closed.
"No, Face." Murdock stroked Face's still almost frozen cheek. "You have to stay awake here. You'll die if you sleep!" Murdock gently shook the man's shoulders and Face blinked, then reopened his eyes and the others saw that they were glazed and roamed almost sightlessly in his head. When next Face spoke, his voice barely rose above a whisper even as he raised his hand and gently cupped it around the side of Murdock's face and the pilot felt the long fingers as they trembled weakly.
"It's okay, Anthony. This is the way it should be." Murdock knew that Face had slipped further away from them and he viciously spit on the voices that sounded in his head and stomped on the memories that threatened to engulf him, then gripped Face's hand in his. He held it tightly and placed Face's palm over his mouth so that Face could FEEL his words as much as he could hear them.
"Face, please." He begged and stroked the wet hair back from the marble-like pallor of Face's forehead. "You can't leave us this way. We need you as much as Anthony did. In fact, we need you even more." Face sighed and turned his eyes away and Murdock knew that both his words and actions were too little and had come too late, and his grief overwhelmed him. "Damn it, guys! We should have said this stuff three months ago when it might have mattered to him!" He couldn't stop the tears that ran down his face and Face, drawn by the sudden explosion of noise, looked back at Murdock.
"It's okay, Anthony. Don't cry. This is the way it's supposed to be. Me . . . gone. You alive. Anthony, I had a dream where I couldn't close someone's eyes." Face frowned as he wracked his mind for a memory that didn't exist. "And he stared at me as he went away." Face sighed. "It . . . it was horrible. But, Anthony, I'm not going to stare at anyone. I'm going to close my own eyes so no one else has to close them for me." He sighed. "I'm going to go to sleep now, Anthony."
Murdock knew the look in Face's eyes, and he grew more and more frightened by the minute. "B.A., how much longer?" He demanded, and Face twitched.
"Shhh." Face barely moved his lips, and his voice was softer than any of the others had ever heard it. "Don't yell so loud, Anthony. I'm so tired. I'll be with . . . you in a little . . . bit. I just need a nap . . . first." Face's eyes closed fully and Murdock tapped Face's cheek and the eyes cracked.
"Stay with us, Face. For god's sake, PLEASE stay awake!" Murdock pleaded, and Face sighed.
"I want to be with you, Anthony." Face sighed. "The team hates me now. They won't let me see you."
"Lieutenant, damn it! We don't hate you! Stay with us!" Hannibal gazed back at Face and swallowed the damnable pride that had essentially brought them all to the point they were at. "We Don't hate you! Listen to what we're saying, Lieutenant! We WANT you WITH us! You have to believe that!"
"I know we ain't given you no reason ta' think we di'n't hate ya' Li'l Brother." B.A. tossed back as well. "But ya' gotta' b'lieve us!" B.A. swerved around the corner and Murdock cradled Face's head and shoulders.
"I love you, Anthony. I'm coming to . . . you." Face sighed, then smiled, and his smile scared Murdock. He'd seen too many smiles like the one Face wore NOT to be scared, and Face gave a long sigh then his eyes closed fully. His grip on Murdock's hand loosened and his fingers slipped from Murdock's cheek as his hand fell, palm up, fingers splayed, on the floor of the van.
"FACE!" Murdock almost howled, and checked the pulse, then slapped the man's cheeks sharply. "B.A. get this thing moving! I can't wake him up!" Murdock's voice bordered panic and B.A. literally stomped the gas pedal into the floor.
The team broke through the doors of the hospital Emergency Room more panicked than any of the men had been in a long time. Fortunately for them, the medical personnel had recognized the panic as well as the need for it, and took Face immediately into an examination room. Hannibal managed to come up with a song and dance about how Face had been swept off a boat in the storm, as well as a glossed over version of their rescue, but was unable to do much more.
From Hannibal's descriptions, the medical team recognized that not only had Face been injured, but that his companions barely hung onto their sanity as well. They somewhat forcefully submitted the team to treatment for hypothermia, shock, and various other cuts and bruises that they all had sustained and hadn't noticed and/or had ignored in their friend's rescue.
% % %
Hannibal looked down at the man he barely recognized as his usually calm, self-assured, slightly acerbic Lieutenant, and mentally catalogued all of Face's injuries: Severe head trauma with bleeding that had needed to be operated on immediately, four broken ribs, a broken ankle, a broken collarbone, and various other relatively minor contusions and wounds that had been treated as well as a severe case of hypothermia. The doctors had told the other men that Face had actually been lucky, all things considered. However, as Hannibal looked down at Face, he had to wonder if that were really the case.
Almost a week had passed since they'd pulled Face back from the brink of death . . . Hannibal shook his head and frowned. No, they hadn't just pulled Face back from the BRINK of death, they'd actually pulled him back from death itself. Either way, the truth was that a week later Face still hadn't woken up, which had even the Doctors worried, though they'd done their best not to transmit that worry to his friends. However, all three of the team members knew that the longer Face remained unconscious, the less chance there was that he'd actually wake up at all – if ever.
Hannibal closed his eyes. He knew he'd never forget the sight of Face after they'd been allowed to visit him the first time, and he lightly stoked the younger man's bandaged forehead as if to assure himself that Face was indeed still alive. Face had been on a respirator then and had been hooked up to so many tubes, lines, and monitors that he'd resembled something from a Science-Fiction/Horror film rather than an actual living, breathing human being. Face had come off the respirator four days after his operation, but he'd remained unconscious.
In the week that Face had slept, and that was how Hannibal preferred to think of it even if were only in his own mind, the bruises that Face had sustained had turned spectacular colors, and Hannibal lightly ran a finger over one directly over the younger man's eyebrows. Even as he made the loving, parental-like gesture, he tried to tell himself that his concern for Face was only as his Lieutenant and as a long time friend. However he knew that he had fooled no one but himself and Face, and he looked up as B.A. and Murdock entered with trays of sandwiches and coffee.
The entire team had made it a point to be with Face whenever they could, though they hadn't made pests of themselves, no matter how much they'd wanted to, as they all knew that would have brought suspicion on them and quite possibly, someone could have recognized them. In fact, all of the men were on their best behavior as far as the rules and the like were concerned, which was, more-than-likely, why they were allowed a few leniencies. However, their restraint was a severe drain on all of their nerves, as they'd wanted to be with Face twenty-four hours a day each and every minute of every day.
"How is he?" B.A. asked gruffly, and Hannibal sighed.
"No change. Vitals are all as good as can be expected, but he still isn't waking up." Hannibal answered quietly.
"I don't get it, Colonel." Murdock looked down at Face. "Why isn't he waking up? I thought that when they took him off the respirator, it was supposed to have been a good sign."
"So did I, Murdock." Hannibal shook his head, and they all looked down at Face, and Murdock took the unusually thin hand in his strong one, even as Hannibal stroked Face's still marble-white, but bruised, cheek, and B.A. rested a hand on Face's unbroken shoulder.
"This is hard." Murdock finally spoke again, his voice hoarse. "Watching him every day and not knowing whether he's going to come back . . ."
"Or even if he's goin' ta' want ta' come back." B.A. reminded them, and the others were silent, their food forgotten.
"Damn it." Hannibal cursed. "Damn it all to hell. I wish there were some way of turning the clock back and making all of this different. Making all of this pain and anger just go away."
"Life don't work that way." B.A. growled, and they all started as a small, mewling gasp sounded from the figure in the bed.
"Face?" Hannibal leaned over and B.A. tightened his grip on Face's shoulder, as Murdock squeezed the man's hand.
"Come on, Face." Murdock pleaded. "You can do it. Show us you're still there, Buddy."
A small moan left Face's parted lips, and B.A. clenched his other fist. "You can do it man. Ya' gotta' wake up now."
"Anthony?" Face whispered, his voice raspy from the respirator and disuse. His blue eyes flickered, then opened, and the light that had been missing in his eyes for the last few months shone as brightly and as clearly as any lighthouse's beacon. The team saw not only life, but love and hope in his eyes and they held their breaths as they watched their fallen teammate. He inhaled deeply and his eyes slowly focused on the room.
Face looked at the faces that hovered around him, and suddenly, the light in his eyes was extinguished and his blue orbs were dark and empty. Face and his emotions were just as they had been before he'd surrendered himself to the ocean, and with a wave of pain that washed over the entire group, the others knew that not one iota of the talk in the van had made any impression on him.
IF he'd even remembered it at all. The Doctors had said there could, and would, have been some memory loss due to the severity of the head trauma. However, out of all the things he'd had to forget, it had been their reassurance that they all cared about him.
The darkness in his eyes was immediately replaced with only desperate grief, despair, pain, and loss, and he immediately closed his eyes. A moment later, the team knew that he'd gone back to sleep, and they gazed at one another silently. They'd all watched as the light had left his eyes, and the pain that had sliced through them had been no-less agonizing than Face's had been when he'd opened his eyes and seen only them, rather than the person he'd so obviously expected.
"Come on, open your eyes, Mr. Peck. I know you're awake. Besides, you've been asleep a long time and your friends are worried about you." A strange male voice compelled, and Face tried to do as he'd been asked, but a light flared brightly into his eyes, and he squeezed them shut again. "Just once more and I promise we'll be done here." The voice continued relentlessly. "We just need to check you over and see how you're feeling." Face opened his eyes again, and suffered through the light, then looked around the room at the team and what was obviously a Doctor.
"Well, that's a good sign." The Doctor said over his shoulder. "He's reactive and alert." He looked at Face again. "So, tell me, Mr. Peck. Do you remember what happened to you?"
Face blinked at the friendly face. Anthony's death was what had brought him to what was obviously a hospital. He sighed as he remembered that he'd consigned himself to the ocean, then frowned at Hannibal and the other two. They must have saved him somehow, because he distinctly remembered going into the ocean, but nothing else after that. Face sighed and nodded, and the Doctor frowned slightly. "And do you remember how you got here?" Face shook his head, and the Doctor leaned forward. "Is there something wrong with your voice?" He asked, concerned, and Face sighed. Talking was an extreme effort, and summoning the energy to even begin to formulate whole sentences was out of the question. All Face wanted to do was go back to sleep. In answer, he shook his head and the Doctor narrowed his eyes. "Are you sure?" He pressed, and Face rolled his
"Yes." He answered shortly, and the Doctor stood up.
"Well, I can see that someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning." He smiled cheerily. "Your friends saved your life."
"Bully for them." Face snarled. "Tired. Going back to sleep." He closed his eyes, and did just that.
"Uh . . . I don't know what that was all about . . ." Hannibal stared at the Doctor and the Doctor sighed.
"I've seen patients come out of comas in all manner and degrees of mental distress, and I assure you, a certain amount of depression is normal at first gentlemen." He smiled encouragingly. "But it should clear up as we get him on a working schedule of painkillers and he starts to feel better. I'll be back in to check on him later. "
"Thanks, Doc." Hannibal nodded, the Doctor left, and the three men returned to Face's bedside.
% % %
"Face?" Hannibal asked as he entered the room, and though Face had been awake for the better part of two weeks, he hadn't said a word since his terse answers to the Doctor. In fact, Face hadn't done a whole lot of things. He barely moved, he never looked at anyone who came into the room, and he didn't eat, though he'd been cleared to do so. Murdock looked up from the bedside, and his face was a mask of worry, while B.A.'s face spoke only of frustration. "Face." Hannibal said, though he knew that he'd get no answer. "C'mon, you've got to do something . . . say something. You're worrying people."
Face just blinked and looked out the window, and the Doctor entered right behind Hannibal. "Not the least of all your Doctor." The man said, and Face looked up at the ceiling. The Doctor's eyes narrowed, and he motioned to Hannibal. "Mr. Smith, may I see you for a moment, please?"
"Sure, Doc." Hannibal sighed. "You guys stay here." He looked over at Face, though the younger man took no notice of him or anyone else in the room. "I'll be right back, Face." Seemingly relaxed, but to anyone who knew him, his rigid, militaristic posture screamed that he was anything but serene. Hannibal followed the Doctor out to the hall, and both men waited until the door had closed behind them, then the Doctor spun on Hannibal, and a dark scowl marred his otherwise friendly, older face.
"Do you remember, Mr. Smith, when he first woke up, that I said I'd seen patients come out of comas in all manner and degrees of mental distress?" The Doctor asked without preamble.
"Yes." Hannibal's nod was careful and reserved.
"Mr. Smith, I'm a doctor, and as such, I've seen things that would make most people, including SOLDIERS . . ." He looked long and hard at Hannibal. "Sick. However, most, and notice I say MOST of my patients are grateful to be alive. In that vein, once they find out they ARE alive, they'll do their best to stay that way. This man falls into a category that I am not prepared to deal with. He is most clearly NOT grateful to be alive and he's NOT working very hard to stay that way. Is there something you are NOT telling me about his 'fall' into the ocean? Something that we, as his medical advisors, SHOULD have been on the alert for?"
"Doc . . . " Hannibal stepped forward, and his face was serious, his eyes steady. "Do you know who we are?"
"Of course I know who you are." The Doctor's frown deepened. "So what?"
"If you've known, why haven't you turned us in?" Hannibal raised his eyebrows slightly, and the Doctor sighed, obviously impatient.
"I've known since you first brought him in. I don't know about the rest of my staff, but I assume no one has turned you in since you've been here for almost four weeks and the military hasn't shown up yet. As for why I haven't turned you in, a little under four weeks ago, I treated a very sick patient who had just returned from the dead, literally. The first thing on MY mind was saving his life, not some almost fifteen-year-old crime committed in some foreign country in the middle of a stupid war that should never have happened anyway. NOW, I have a very sick patient who shows no interest in his life. Again, I assure you, my interest does NOT extend to anything OTHER than finding out why he's sick and what I'm going to do about it. " He shook his head. "However, I'm NOT going to stand around here and waste my time on someone who doesn't WANT to get better when there are people better equipped than I, to deal with his special brand of 'stubbornness' as far as getting better is concerned." He crossed his hands over his chest. "Mr. Smith, I believe I've answered your questions honestly, and in order to properly treat your friend, you really need to answer mine equally as honestly."
"Doc, if you know who we are, then you know why we can't get long-term care for him. But, there's extenuating circumstances you aren't aware of. Face lost someone who meant a great deal to him, and because of our lifestyle . . . because of us, he hasn't had a lot, actually, to be honest, he hasn't had any time to grieve. He's kind of . . . lost right now, but he'll snap out of it. He just needs a little more time." Hannibal swallowed and refused to unburden himself and the team to a stranger. "Maybe it wasn't the wisest course of action he took, but I can guarantee you that it won't be repeated."
"Can you, Mr. Smith?" The Doctor looked seriously at Hannibal. "In my experience, people as severely Depressed as Mr. Peck is, don't just 'snap' out of it unless whatever is troubling him is resolved, and if the person is gone permanently, and from your inference and the depth of Mr. Peck's Depression, they are, then he's not going to 'snap' out of it, he'll just keep sinking deeper into his depression. As it is, he's still on an IV because he won't eat. If he doesn't at least start to eat and stop sending his trays back to the kitchen full, he's going to have to be moved to the Behavioral Science floor . . ."
"That's the psych ward!" Hannibal exclaimed, and the Doctor nodded.
"Exactly. We're not equipped to handle him here. We don't have the time, the staff, or the special equipment he may need down here. If Long-term care is the problem, I can get his paperwork so lost there'll be no one who'll be able to find him here. I'll even make him a new person complete with records if I have too, but I can't let him out, knowing what he tried . . ." He frowned. "No, I don't mean that. Knowing that he actually DID commit suicide, I cannot, in all good conscience AND be able keep to the words and deed of my Hippocratic oath, let him out of here just on your assurances he WON'T do it again."
"What if we can get him at least to eat?" Hannibal's mind turned over quickly. "Would that buy us some time?"
The Doctor inhaled and looked at the floor, then at Hannibal. "You people are known for making miracles happen with a nail and a piece of duct tape, but understand me, Mr. Smith. My devotion is to my vocation and to my patients, no matter who they are or what they did. I won't watch someone that I've worked my ass off putting back together self-destruct. You've got three days, Mr. Smith. Three days for him to make improvement, and I don't mean just getting him to eat. I mean, I want him to at least show some interest in his treatment. In the meantime, I'm going to call a psychiatrist down from the upper floor for an evaluation."
"Okay, that's fair enough, Doc." Hannibal's eyes were lit up like fourth of July fireworks, and he gripped the man's hand. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. But remember, three days. No more."
"Right, Doc. Got'cha'. Three days." Hannibal spun and returned to the room, as Murdock and B.A. quickly backed away from the door as Hannibal almost barreled through it.
"I assume you heard." Hannibal stated quietly, and they nodded, then looked at Hannibal oddly as they recognized the gleam in his eye and the spring in his step that had been missing for quite a while.
"Um . . . Hannibal . . ." Murdock frowned slightly. "You definitely look like you're on the Jazz here."
"You got a plan, man?" B.A. stared at him no-less incredulously than Murdock had, and Hannibal grinned and nodded.
"Yes, B.A., I've got a plan." He glanced over to the wan figure on the bed, who had indulged in the one thing he still did, which was to sleep, then Hannibal sighed. "I need to take the van, B.A.. I'm going to be gone for a while, but I'm not sure how long. I want you both to stay with him. WE may not be able to get through to him, but I know ONE person who can."
"Sure thing, Hannibal." Murdock answered, and B.A. nodded, as they all walked over to Face's bedside.
"Face." Hannibal frowned as Face's breathing hitched, and they knew he was awake. "Lieutenant." Hannibal's tone sharpened to The Colonel's, and Face, long conditioned to react to it, flicked his gaze in Hannibal's direction. "Look, Face." Hannibal continued. "If you don't start responding to people when they come in here to look at you and if you don't start eating, the Doctor's said he's going to move you to the upper floor. You know what that floor is, right?" Face blinked, but didn't turn his gaze away. "Lieutenant, that's the Psych Ward. We know you're grieving, and now they do too, AND they know what you did. You've got three days to start doing what the Doc's said, Face, or he's going to commit you. We don't want that to happen. After all you've been through, you don't deserve that." He ran a hand over his eyes. "And I hate to do this right now, but I have to go away for a little while. I promise you though, I will be back just as soon as I can." Face merely turned his eyes away and looked at the ceiling again, and the three men gazed at one another in despair, then Hannibal addressed the other two. "I'm putting you two in charge of him. I want you to at least make sure he eats SOMETHING from every one of his trays. DON'T take 'no' for an answer. No matter what you have to do, short of forcing it down his throat of course, do it."
"Righty-O, Colonel." Murdock answered with forced cheerfulness, and gave Hannibal the universal 'okay' sign.
"Right, Colonel." B.A. nodded sharply, and Hannibal patted Face on the shoulder, but Face merely turned his head away. Hannibal gave one last look at the other two, turned, then left the room. A moment later, Murdock and B.A. returned to their silent friend's bedside.
"You heard the Colonel, Muchacho." Murdock told Face after a minute as a nurse wheeled a tray into the room, smiled encouragingly, then left when Face didn't even look in her direction. "He said you had to at least eat something." Face ignored him, and B.A. frowned.
"I know ya' heard him. Ya' depressed, but ya' ain't deaf." He growled, and pushed the fork into Face's hand. Face promptly threw the offending cutlery across the room. Murdock retrieved it, washed it off, then poked it into the salad himself.
"You know, Buddy." He said, and his voice gained a hard edge that he had never used on his friends before. "I've been at this insane thing a lot longer than you have, and I can out insane the best of them. Now that you've proven there's a flash of Templeton Peck in there somewhere, we can get around to some serious work. And I've got to warn you, there's two ways we can get this food into you: We can go at this all afternoon with you throwing this fork and me retrieving it, and maybe having B.A. tie the thing to your hand, or you can just buck up and eat at least this salad. Now, what do you want to do?"
Face almost snorted, but like everything else as of late, with the very satisfactory though short-lived exception of throwing of the fork, it was too much of an effort. What he REALLY wanted to do was to die. Why the team just couldn't leave him alone to do just that, he had no idea. They had come after him and saved his life, but for why? They'd made it more than perfectly clear how they'd felt about everything in the first few weeks after Anthony's death. He looked out the window again, though he didn't see anything out there. He'd known, after all, how they'd react.
So what if they'd been at the hospital day in and day out and hadn't left him alone once. They'd talked to him and touched him, and it was like the old days. But it WASN'T the old days. He'd changed, and he knew it. With the advent of Anthony, a lot of his old ideas and ideals had fallen around his ears and crumbled into so much dust. And with the discovery of his Secret, he knew that he had changed the team as well. Once he got back on his feet, and the team was sure that he wouldn't rat them out, they'd leave him, just like Anthony had, just like his parents had, just like Leslie had, and he'd be alone.
It was better just to die than be alone again. He'd lived through his mother's death, even though he didn't remember any of the circumstances that surrounded it except a vague feeling of terror, he'd lived through things that children had no choice but to live through, he'd lived, barely, and that was only because of the team, through Leslie's leaving him, and he'd lived through the loss of Anthony. What he WOULDN'T live through was final loss of his team. He knew beyond any shadow of any doubt that he'd never survive his last bastion against loneliness and a string of faceless strangers who would never take the time to even want to get to know the REAL him, throwing him away. Suddenly, Murdock's voice and B.A.'s growls filled his head, and he wanted only to plead for them to be silent and to leave him alone so he wouldn't have to feel again, but it was too much effort at that moment.
"C'mon, Facey." Murdock called, and Face grimaced in his head at the hated nickname, as he looked at the fork that performed loop the loops around his mouth. "Ya' gotta' make a hanger for the plane to land Buddy!"
"Cut it out, ya' foo'!" B.A. declared. "He ain't no baby!"
"Well, he's certainly acting like one." Murdock sniffed, and Face knew that neither man would leave him alone to let him sleep and be by himself until he gave in and at least ate something. So, to shut them up, he grabbed the fork, and though it galled every nerve he possessed, he ate.
Over his head, Murdock grinned at B.A., and the bigger man actually grinned back.
Hannibal picked up the van's phone and with one eye on the road, dialed a number he hadn't used in a while. Not since she'd gotten married at any rate. He waited for what seemed an eternity, then her familiar voice answered the phone.
"Hello, this is Tawnia, how can I help ya'?" She laughed, and Hannibal reflected that she'd been giddy before she got married and had only gotten worse since, but at that moment he would have talked to Satan himself if he could have gotten what he needed.
"Tawnia, Hannibal." He said, and she gasped.
"Hannibal! What on earth . . . you're calling me!? What's wrong? Are you all right? No one poisoned you again, did they? I can come . . ."
"No, Tawnia. Everything's fine . . . more or less." He amended. "I just need some information."
"Oh." She nodded and grabbed a pencil and a notebook, then raised her eyebrows. "Nothing's happened to Face, has it? Usually he's the one who calls me for information." At his silence, she sighed. "I'll help in any way I can, Hannibal, you know that. What do you need?"
"I need some information on someone. All I've got is a first name, a description, and an assumption. First name: Anthony. Description: Tall, dark hair, medium brown skinned, and dead. From the way he spoke, what he drove, and from the gifts he gave, I'm assuming he was extremely wealthy . . ."
"Anthony Parelli." Tawnia sighed sadly. "He was the son of Mr. And Mrs. Antonio and Antonia Parelli. And that's no joke. They were pledged to marry before they were born. Anyway, Anthony died as a result of a hit and run with a speeding, drunk driver. Fortunately for us, the driver died as well." She sighed. "I knew Tony through the Society connections with my husband. Rumors were that Anthony had a VERY hush-hush secret love affair, but the few times anyone actually saw Tony with anyone, it was with Face, and with Tony's proclivity toward members of the same sex, I don't think the rumors were true..." Hannibal couldn't stop the hitch in his breath, and Tawnia stopped. She may have not been one of the brighter female specimens on the market, but she WAS a reporter and she DID have a Reporter's Instincts. Hannibal almost heard the gears as they slammed to a screeching halt in her head. "Um . . . Hannibal." She finally spoke again. "You aren't . . . you can't . . . Tony? And Face!?"
"Yeah, Tawnia." Hannibal finally answered. "And we'd appreciate it if this stays with us."
"Are you kidding me?" She asked, her eyes wide. "Who the hell'd believe that the most notorious Lady-Killer in the world, one of the Underground's most Desirable Bachelors was GAY!?" She shook her head as the concept planted itself in her mind, and she ran a hand over her eyes. "You know, Hannibal, I DID see them together at a couple of society functions, but Face looked right through me. It was as if I wasn't even there. I thought at first that he may have been just pretending that he didn't know me simply for safety's sake, but when I think back on it now, he didn't look at ANY woman, though they were CERTAINLY looking at him. He just kept his eyes on Tony. And Tony was pretty much fair game for a while too, but then he suddenly stopped making himself available. That was why the rumors started. Oh man, Hannibal, if Tony loved Face enough to stop his running around, and if Face loved Tony enough to put his Womanizing on hold . . ." Her voice thickened with sympathy and compassion as her feminine instincts took her over. "And with Tony dead . . . oh my god, Hannibal! The rumors were right! And the man that was dragged screaming from the scene. Hannibal, it WAS Face, wasn't it?"
"We had to get him away, Tawnia." Hannibal's voice caught in his throat. "Had we stayed . . . he stayed, he would have been arrested."
"I understand, Hannibal." She said, and he wished he could have explained the whole situation, but he knew there was no time for that, as she continued. "But, Hannibal, how's Face holding up?" Hannibal sighed and envied Tawnia's easy ability to accept the completely alien idea that Face had not only liked men as well as women, but had fallen in love with a man. "Hannibal, I've got to know, just for my own peace of mind, I guess, and you can tell me it's none of my business, but did you and the others know about Face?"
"No." Hannibal's voice was low with regret, and his tone conveyed more than his simple word.
"I guess it didn't go very well when you found out." She sighed.
"To put it mildly. But Tawnia, to answer your question, Face isn't doing well at all. Which is why I'm calling you." It was with relief that he finally got a word in edgewise. "I need the address of Parelli's parents. I'm going to go see them."
"What on earth for!?" Tawnia demanded. "Do they know that Face and Tony . . ."
"Yes, and they weren't pleased, to say the least. At least from what Face said."
"Oh boy. Hannibal, the Parelli's aren't known for their tolerance. I mean, they're very much into the Old World customs, and I know for a fact that there's no way they would have approved of Face as a Love-match for their son. He was everything to them, and a non-Italian orphan without a blue blood connection to anyone, as well as being a famous criminal, would have made them absolutely livid with rage. They barely got through the fact that Tony was gay only because of the almost obsessive love they had for him. I mean, I know they tolerated Face's friendship with Tony, but it's only because they didn't think that Face, with his reputation, swung the way their son did. They wouldn't have reacted very well to him when and if they discovered that he was Tony's lover." She paused, and Hannibal wondered if she'd been cut off, then she spoke again, and her voice was low. "Oh. Well, that explains that." She said almost to herself, and Hannibal frowned.
"What explains what?" He demanded, and she leaned forward on her arms, her expression serious.
"That explains the security and the presence of the military police at the funeral, as well as the constant surveillance at the gravesite a few months or so ago, give or take a week." He could almost see her frown. " Hmm." She shook her head. "But it doesn't explain why the security detail was pulled just as suddenly as it had been placed there a little over three weeks ago. . ."
"Pulled?" Hannibal swallowed as he realized that his instincts had been proven correct, and had Face gone to either the funeral or the gravesite, he would, indeed, have been arrested. "Tawnia, can you find out why it was pulled?"
"Well, I'm not exactly one of the Parelli's confidantes, but I did really like Tony, and my husband is one of their associations and on their Guest Lists. I can try and get you some information from them. Maybe I can even get a foot in the door for you, so to speak, although I still think it's a bad plan."
"It's the only one I've got Tawnia, and this is VERY important to the team . . . to me." Hannibal answered, his voice firm with conviction despite his wavering emotions.
"I understand, Hannibal." She answered, and he knew that she really did. "Can you wait about fifteen minutes?"
Hannibal sighed and pulled the van into the parking lot of a coffee shop and parked. "I'll wait." He finally said, and leaned his head back. Idly, but impatiently, he looked across the street at a park, and saw several couples as they made out on the grass in the warm sun. Laughter floated over to him, and his eyes were drawn to two young men as they laughed, then one caught the other by the hand and they drew closer to one another.
Hannibal resisted the urge to look away and he concentrated on the expressions on the men's faces, then compared them to the expressions on the hetero-sexual couples' faces, and he sighed. The expressions were exactly alike. They were nothing like the mocking laughter or cruel pride the Camp guards had worn. They were two people who loved, and saw, only each other.
He continued to watch as the two men reached for one another, and he looked at their hands. They weren't the grasping, ripping claws of pain and hatred that his mind had remembered, they were the caressing fingers of love that needed to be expressed. He continued to watch as their faces neared each other, and when they touched their lips together, it wasn't the lust-filled kisses of power and control that he and the others had endured, but was simply the same kind of kiss of pure joy and love that drew hetero-sexual couples together all over the world.
He thought back to the scene that had so shocked him when he and the others had come upon Face and Anthony, and shame, regret, and self-recrimination tore through him. He, and the others, had made the gentle expressions of Face and Anthony's love into the team's own twisted nightmares and had placed all of their old fears and hatreds onto him, because they had been too afraid to look at themselves. Too afraid to look at themselves and see parts that they hadn't acknowledged, which were wounded, and which, fifteen years later, bled freely.
Hannibal scowled at himself in the mirror and decided that it was time for him to put the past where it belonged, and God willing, that kind of torturous situation would never befall any of them again. Face had dealt with the torture enough to actually be able to allow a part of himself out that he'd hidden from everybody for most of his life, and if Face could deal, then so could Hannibal, if not the others. Also, if it kept Face alive and with them, then Hannibal would damn well face himself AND his memories and deal with them head on, just like he'd done with everything else in his life. However, he knew he'd not only have to deal with the memories, he'd also have to deal with the pain and the deeply ingrained shame and fear that those memories had caused.
He scrubbed a hand over his face, and realized that though he and the team had escaped the Camp, there were parts of them that were still trapped there. There were parts of each member of the team that had been caught in that damned jungle and they were still victims to the hated prison guards even fifteen years later. Hannibal was no-less determined to free their minds now, than he had been when he'd freed their bodies then.
First though, they had to save Face.
Three minutes later, the phone rang and he snatched it up. "Hannibal." Tawnia's voice cut into his ear. "You must live one heck of a charmed life, or someone up there really likes you, because the Parelli's want to see you. In fact, they're expecting you tomorrow morning if you can make it. Their address is 1145 Cherry Hill Road. It's the huge Old Mansion with the two lions guarding the front gate, back in the Hills."
"Thanks Tawnia." Hannibal nodded, hung up, and drove off into the night.
"Face, damn it, you have to eat that." Murdock grimaced through clenched teeth, and Face crossed his arms over his chest. "The Colonel told us to get this down you any way we could, just short of forcing it down your throat, which leaves a lot of area open for interpretation. Tell me, Face, do you have any idea what they'll do to you if you won't eat it?" Murdock badgered, and Face turned away, but couldn't escape as B.A. grinned gleefully.
"They put a tube up yo' nose and down yo' throat." He supplied helpfully, and Face turned almost grey, picked up the fork, and shoved the jell-O into his mouth, then forced himself to swallow the sticky mass. His stomach churned, but he kept it down, and the spoon flew across the room.
"Well, the Colonel did say at least one thing." Murdock tried hopefully, but B.A. scowled.
"He didn't mean just the jell-o." The bigger man snarled. "But it's been over a day now, and he's still fightin' us every step." He retrieved, washed, and then took the spoon back over to the bed, but Face turned his face to the window and closed his eyes, which was the latest tactic he'd used to avoid them, but Murdock scowled.
"Sorry. Ain't gonna' work, Buddy. You can stop looking at us, but you can't tune us out." He shook his head, suddenly frustrated with the whole scene. "Damn it all Face!" He exclaimed. "Do you want to know what they're going to do to you if you get put on the Psych Ward?" Face didn't react and Murdock barreled on. "You're suicidal muchacho, so the first thing they're going to do is take away any and all items of clothing you can kill yourself with, and they're going to lock them away. If you want them, you'll have to ask for them, and they'll watch you as you use them the entire time. You'll be placed in a curtainless room whose door won't lock, and you'll get a shower that also has no curtain. The hallway will be monitored not only by the duty nurse, but also by cameras that record you 24 hours a day. A nurse checks on you every five minutes, and for the first day, maybe two, you're assigned a One on One who'll watch you constantly. In the bathroom you only have a certain number of minutes before someone knocks on the door and if you don't answer right away, they come in, no matter what you're doing."
"That legal?" B.A.'s eyes widened, and Murdock snorted.
"When you're suicidal every second counts. You could be drowning your head in the toilet for all they know." Murdock looked back at Face. "Every door is locked except the afore mentioned one to your room, and you're forced to go to Therapy sessions whether you want to go or not. When you eat, you get plastic spoons and if you're lucky, a plastic fork, and if you need to use a knife, they cut your food for you. You have morning check-in, and evening check-in, and lights out are at 10:30 if you're in the lock-down ward for suicide watches, and 11:00 for the rest of the ward. Oh yeah, and did I mention the drugs?" Murdock stared hard at Face. "You'll love those. They mess with your perceptions and make you groggy and sleepy and may make you see pretty colors and rug swirls. You'll want to sleep, but because you're a suicide risk, you'll have to stay in the common room and you can't sleep there, it's against the rules. And when you tell someone about the drug reactions, they'll tell you it's all in your head. And, my dear Conman, if you think for just one second that pretty face and that fast tongue of yours will get you anything, including out of there faster so you can go off and do your own thing, forget it, because I got news for you. The nurses and doctors in there, well, they've pretty much seen it all, they've heard it all, and you won't say anything they haven't heard before, no matter how sweetly you smile or how intelligently and logically you formulate your ideas, or tell 'em you're cured."
"Murdock, man, ya' layin' it on little heavy ain't ya'?" B.A. shivered, and Murdock frowned.
"If he wants to be part of my world, then he's welcome to it." Murdock scowled into Face's eyes. "But you don't want that, do you? You want to be on the outside. Believe me, I know what you want, Face, but fighting us and not feeding yourself ISN'T the way to get it, so eat the f'n food!" He shoved the fork into Face's hand and the blond man stabbed at the salad and shoved it angrily into his mouth. As soon as he'd finished it, the fork was launched across the room. Face lay back against the pillows and tried to force his feelings back into the numb pocket that they'd been hidden in before B.A. and Murdock had decided that it was their sole purpose in life to constantly harass and harangue him, and he battled the tears he couldn't – wouldn't – shed.
Hannibal walked up the walk of the big, the VERY big mansion that indeed had been hidden deep in the hills. Hannibal had never really felt out of place anywhere, but suddenly, he felt almost dwarfed by the sheer immensity of the palatial mansion he walked up to. He stepped to the porch and actually scraped off his shoes as he rang the bell.
He'd only waited a minute before the door was opened by an actual liveried butler. He gave his name, then was admitted to what could only have been described as a Great Hall. He'd barely looked around before he was shown into another hall, where he was told to wait while he was announced. Hannibal shook his head and wondered, not for the first time, exactly WHY the Parelli's had agreed to see him. A few moments later, the butler returned and showed Hannibal into a sitting room, where he saw a smaller, dark-haired woman and a taller dark-haired man and they looked over at him as he entered. Simply from their appearances and their resemblance from the brief glimpse he'd had of Anthony Parelli, Hannibal knew the people before him were the man's parents.
"Colonel Smith." The man stood and shook Hannibal's hand, and as Hannibal stepped forward, the woman rose as well. "My name is Antonio Parelli, and this is my wife Antonia. Tawnia told us you wanted to see us."
"Mr. Parelli. Mrs. Parelli." Hannibal greeted politely, and out of habit glanced around the opulent room. He noted the exits, the positions of the people, the furniture, and absently noticed two piles of letters wrapped in two different colored ribbons that lay on the table in front of where the woman had been seated. She turned her ring nervously, and Hannibal knew that must have been the one that had cut Face's cheek what seemed half a lifetime ago.
"Would you like a drink, Colonel?" The man offered, but Hannibal shook his head, and the woman sat.
"Please, won't you sit down?" She asked, and Hannibal sat, though stiffly, and somewhat formally. He was followed a moment later by her husband.
"No doubt you're wondering why we agreed to meet with you, Colonel." The man stated, and Hannibal nodded, unsurprised by the formality of the greeting.
"Yes, I am actually. And to tell you the truth, I'm surprised by the invitation. Especially when I saw that little gift you left on my Lieutenant's face the last time he met up with the two of you." His voice was cool, and somewhat detached, but the undercurrent of tension was perfectly clear, and the woman looked down at the table.
"That was an accident." She half-whispered. "I turn my ring when I am nervous, and it was in a bad position when I slapped Templeton." She swallowed. "I . . . I now hope that I did no permanent damage."
"Not to his face, no." Hannibal shook his head. "But I came here for a reason . . ."
"I know, but will you allow us to speak first, Colonel? As you can understand, this . . . situation . . . is very hard for both Antonia and myself." The man seemed almost humble and Hannibal frowned slightly. These weren't the actions he'd expected after he'd spoken to Tawnia or that he had pictured after Face had told the team of his last encounter with the Parelli's, and Hannibal, despite his impatience to conclude his mission and get back to Face, was intrigued.
"Your house. Your rules." Hannibal inclined his head, determined not to let his guard down. "But I don't have much time."
"We'll keep this brief then. Did Templeton tell you of our last encounter?" Mr. Parelli asked, and Hannibal shook his head.
"Not in any detail. Only that you wished that he had died instead of your son, and then of course, there was that cut on his face which gave me a pretty good indication of the type of mood you'd been in." Hannibal leaned forward and looked the woman directly in the eyes. "Did you REALLY tell him that you'd wished he'd died?"
"Yes." The woman nodded. "But please understand, Colonel, my son . . . our son had just died and we had no idea why and we were grieving. We were angry, upset, hurt, and terribly, terribly confused. We were looking for somewhere . . . someone to blame. Anthony was such a brilliant boy . . . man . . . with a brilliant future. Suddenly, all that was taken away from him . . . from us. When we learned that he'd died saving the life of his little friend, Templeton, whom we hadn't known was our son's lover, and by that I mean love as well, our shame and outrage knew no limits. Then, after Anthony's death, we learned exactly WHO and WHAT Templeton was, well, to say that we couldn't believe that someone like him, a known criminal with his reputation and all, had the same taste in lovers that my son did. The thought that he and my son could possibly have been in a mutual love affair was absolutely preposterous . . ." She looked at her husband helplessly, and Hannibal was suddenly sick and tired of hearing what kind of reputation Face had. It sounded more and more like the world at-large thought that Face was some kind of free-wheeling whore with no brains or anyplace to put them. Hannibal frowned, and Mr. Parelli hastily stepped in.
"What my wife is saying, Colonel, is that we thought my son was being taken . . . I believe the vernacular in your world is 'Scammed'. Anthony had a huge heart, a generous nature, and a very large bank account. He was ripe for the picking, and we thought that Templeton was merely another person who wanted to use Anthony, and in the end break his heart." Mr. Parelli's head rose slightly. "I'm a rich man, Colonel Smith, and you wouldn't believe the number of lowlifes I've had to fend off."
"Considering how many lowlife scum that me and my men have fought against and put away, not only for rich people like you, but for the ones who can't afford to fend them off, I CAN believe it." Hannibal's voice was slightly chillier than it had been, and he frowned. "So, let me get this straight. You thought your son was being ripped off, and after his death you actually told Face you wished he were dead. If he were actually after Anthony's money, do you really think THAT would have put him off?" Hannibal's lips thinned.
"We didn't really stop to think about anything, Colonel, Smith. And we certainly didn't know that Templeton truly loved Anthony." Mr. Parelli defended their actions. "Not until we received these in the mail." He held up one of the bundles of letters. "These are all the letters that my son sent to Templeton over the six months that they were together. Templeton sent these back to us with all the gifts, including a check for flowers and dinners, that Anthony had purchased. There was even an itemized list that we compared with my son's credit card receipts."
"And these are the letters that my son had saved from Templeton." Mrs. Parelli held up the other bundle. "In here, in both of these bundles, there are two lives worth of thoughts, fears, dreams, hopes, wishes, and yes, Colonel Smith, love. Not a small, brief, fling love, but the same deep, all-consuming love that we . . ." She indicated her husband. "Share. Even though we were pledged to one another before we were born." She sighed and held up one envelope whose writing on the front Hannibal had recognized as Face's neat, disciplined penmanship. "And then there's THIS letter. It was mailed to US, Colonel Smith. Specifically to us, not to Anthony, but to us, along with everything else. We were hoping that when Tawnia called us, it would be Templeton who would be coming to see us. We wanted to tell him that we were, and are, sorry for what we did . . . what we said. We wanted to tell him we were sorry that we made them both afraid to tell us how they really felt." She sighed sadly. "We always told our son he could talk to us about everything." Tears ran down her cheeks, and her husband handed her a handkerchief. "Yet, we were wrong . . . we weren't ready to hear everything. And he knew it."
"Colonel Smith. To be honest with you, the tone of Templeton's personal letter to us was very . . . worrying." Mr. Parelli finally admitted. "We have tried for weeks to contact him, but even with our resources, no one could, or indeed, would, tell us anything." He smiled sadly. "You have a very loyal band of protectors, Colonel Smith. Now I understand why it is so hard for
the military to find you. The longer we searched, the more messages we go that he was out of town with 'friends' indefinitely and no one knew when he'd be coming back."
"Colonel Smith . . ." Mrs. Parelli's voice trembled slightly. "We need to know, in order to not only honor Anthony's memory, but also to correct the mistakes we've made . . . is Templeton all right?"
Hannibal suddenly felt years older, and he sat forward in his chair and put his head in his hands. "Face . . . Templeton." He wrapped his tongue around the name and thought how out of place it felt . . . and sounded. "Can't . . ." His shoulders slumped, and everything suddenly hit him all at once. "He . . ."
"Colonel Smith?" The woman asked, and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, and he looked up at her.
"I'd like that drink now, if you wouldn't mind." He said, his voce gravelly, and she paled, the stood, and returned with it a moment later. He took it with shaking fingers, and Mr. Parelli sat down as Hannibal almost threw the alcohol down his throat.
"Colonel Smith, I think you've answered our question." Mr. Parelli put his head in his hand. "What have we done? What have we caused?"
"Face tried . . ." Hannibal inhaled deeply and his pride warred with his fear, and he fought not to put the true words to Face's actions, but Mrs. Parelli touched him again, and he crumbled. "Face tried to commit suicide." Hannibal gave up the desperate fight to save his pride and what was left of his spirit, and tears flowed down his cheeks as he remembered how Face's body had lain cold and unresponsive even as he and the others had fought to make the younger man breathe again. "No." He finally forced out. "I was wrong. He DID commit suicide." His voice trembled. "We managed to bring him back to us, but God only knows how."
"May the Saints and all who's Holy forgive us." The woman's lips trembled and she clutched Hannibal to her. "I did that. Oh, Colonel Smith, I'm so so sorry."
"It... It wasn't only you." Hannibal, ever the gentleman, no matter how badly it hurt him to admit to anyone, let alone perfect strangers, that he'd failed to protect his men, shook his head, and the words left his mouth before he could stop them. "We... the team, didn't react very well to finding out that Face had been... with... in love with... a man."
"He was afraid of that." Mr. Parelli turned away toward the window, and his voice was soft. "It was in Templeton's letters to Anthony. He was worried that you'd hate him because of the things that happened in Vietnam." He looked up as Hannibal shifted in his seat. "Please understand that we didn't read the letters to shame anyone. We only read Anthony's letters to Templeton first, and then we found Templeton's to Anthony when we . . . we cleaned out his room. We . . . we read those as well. To see what Templeton would say . . . to see if we could detect any falseness in them. There was none, Colonel Smith. He was as open with Anthony as Anthony was to him. In fact, we found out that our son was as afraid to tell us about Templeton, as Templeton was afraid to tell you about Anthony. Only my son was afraid to tell us because Templeton was an unpedigreed orphan criminal."
The woman held onto Hannibal and wept. "What do we do to our children? We think we raise them to be free and independent beings, to go out and do things on their own, to develop their own thoughts, ideals, and to be their own person." She inhaled a sobbing breath. "But then we realize that the minute they go out and do what we taught them to do, we end up resenting it and we resent them if they should disagree with us, or if their opinions differ from what we think they should be, based on our teachings. We make them into our prefect visions of our future, rather than accept them as what they are and what they've become."
"True for Anthony maybe, but Face isn't my son." Hannibal corrected, and Mrs. Parelli smiled sadly.
"Perhaps not by blood, but did you not raise him from what was left of his childhood to his manhood and bring him not only through hell, but what came after?" Mrs. Parelli asked with a small, tight smile. "And, he is more your son than you know. But tell me, not... not that I... we... have any right to know, but you said you brought him back after... after what he did. Is... is Templeton going to..." She swallowed, moved away from Hannibal, then went to her husband's side and gripped his hand.
"Live?" The other man asked quietly. "Is Templeton going to be the legacy of love that our son left behind?"
"I don't know." Hannibal shrugged dejectedly. "You see, he doesn't want to live. We pulled him from the ocean and talked to him, but he was injured too badly to remember, and now he won't talk to us at all about anything. He's in danger of being committed. But I know Face." Hannibal looked up at the two of them desperately. "And right now, he doesn't want to live, and no matter where they put him or how closely they watch him, eventually, he's going to get away, and he's going to go somewhere where we can't search him out. Somewhere where we can't pay people to tell us if they've seen him or not, and then he's going to die. He's going to die because he doesn't want to live without Anthony, and he won't believe that we . . . the team . . . cares enough about him to want him to live for more than just to relieve our own guilty consciences. I . . . I came here hoping that I could talk you into helping me . . . us save him. I was even prepared to promise that you could turn us all over to the military if you would help me."
"His blood, as is the blood of our son, is on our hands, Colonel Smith." Mr. Parelli swallowed. "Even as it is on yours. You may ask us anything, and we will do whatever we can to help you."
"Anything!" Mrs. Parelli exclaimed almost hysterically. "And I swear to you that we will NOT bring the military into this. Not after reading these!" She held out the letters to Hannibal. "What would you have us do, Colonel Smith! Tell us! Please!"
Hannibal inhaled deeply, and looked at the couple as he leaned forward in his chair. "The night that Face went to the hotel . . . the night he found you there, he went there for something. Something that meant more to him than his own life and his own freedom, even my orders couldn't keep him from going and trying to get it back. I never asked him what it was, because I
didn't care. Now though, I think it's the only thing that MIGHT be able to save him. I believe that, right now, Anthony, dead or alive, is the only the only person that Face will respond to, and only he can save Face from himself. I thought that maybe, if you knew what Face . . . Templeton went to the hotel for, you'd have it and you could give it, or just loan it, to me and I could give it to him." He stared at them, and his blue eyes, red-rimmed and puffy, stared intensely at them. "I need to be able to give him something to hang onto. Something that would remind him of Anthony and the life they'd shared, rather than constantly hanging onto the vision of Anthony dying in his arms, that he now carries in his head like some miserable movie he can't escape." Hannibal held his breath and waited for their answer.
"It's just a bowl of cereal for cripe's sake, Face." Murdock was tired, and his voice had been reduced to a mere whine and Face sighed, then looked at Murdock, and the spoon winged its way across the room, only that day, Face added a new element to the game. The bowl of cereal followed. Face went to sweep the tray from the table as well, but B.A. glowered at him.
"Touch that tray and I'll break yo' hand!" B.A. threatened, his teeth clenched, and Face's hand hovered over it as if he wanted to test B.A.'s words. However, the bigger man had a murderous glint in his eye, and Face leaned back against the pillows on his bed as Murdock started to clean the cereal from the wall and the floor.
Face was so tired of it all. He just wanted everything to stop, and him along with it.
"Lieutenant Templeton Peck." Hannibal hissed as he entered the room and looked around. "What the hell is going on in here!? I heard that crash all the way over here from the elevators!" He was followed a moment later by Face's thunder-faced Doctor.
"I gave you three days." He hissed as he scowled at Face. "And that was all. You, Mr. Peck, have shown no sign of improvement, or even wanting to improve, and as for these temper tantrums of yours, we've ALL had ENOUGH of them." He turned on Hannibal. "THIS, Mr. Smith, is EXACTLY what I meant when I said we weren't equipped to handle severe cases like this. He goes upstairs TODAY!" The Doctor turned on his heels and marched out.
"Oh good grief, Face." Hannibal said and ran a hand over his eyes, then looked at the other two. "Wait here, I'll be right back." He left the room and a moment later, re-entered with Mr. And Mrs. Parelli.
Both of them stopped in shock, and gazed, horrified, at the wan figure in the bed who was merely a pale shadow of the vibrant personality that he had been the few times they'd met him with Anthony. Even that night in the hotel he had seemed more alive than he was there in the bed. Mrs. Parelli gasped, then covered her mouth as tears or shame and regret spilled down her face. At the sudden, feminine sound, Face finally looked over at the door and promptly panicked as his eyes went round and filled with anguish as he remembered their last meeting. No one had any doubt at that moment that if he could have moved, he would have jumped out the window to escape everything that had happened and everything he felt.
"Oh, Templeton." She said quietly and went over to him, then sat in the chair at the edge of the bed and reached out for him. He flinched away from her hand as if he'd expected her to slap him, and she moved more slowly, then gently brushed her hand over his cheek, as if she'd stroked an injured bird. "I'm so so sorry." She finally whispered. "We were so wrong about you. We really thought that all you were after was his money."
It was an effort, but he knew he'd had to make it. It was one of the toughest things he'd ever had to do in his life to open his mouth at that moment, but he did it. When he finally spoke, his voice was brittle and sounded as if the only things that kept him together were the casts wrapped around his various body parts. "I swear, Mrs. Parelli. I only want . . . wanted . . . him." Face trembled, and so did his voice. "I love him. I . . . I thought when you got the stuff back, you'd see that. . ."
"I know, Templeton." She sighed. "We understood that the day we received your letter. But why... how... Templeton. Why... THIS?" She indicated his battered, weakened, emaciated body, and he knew what she was referred to.
"To make up for what I did." Face couldn't deny the pain any longer, and he drew his free arm tightly across his body and pulled himself mentally away from the others, and tried to make not only her, but everyone, understand. "To make up for the pain I caused. You were right. It should have been me. I should have died. Not Anthony. Not him, of all people. You were right, he was Somebody with a family and a future. I'm just a nobody who was headed nowhere."
"Anthony never thought you were just a nobody, and he certainly never thought you weren't heading anywhere, especially if these are any indication." Mr. Parelli walked forward, then dropped the two bundles of letters on the bed, and inhaled and exhaled deeply. "Anthony would never have wanted you to do anything like this, especially in his name. And you know that, don't you?" His voice softened, and Face reached out and gingerly ran his fingers lightly over the letters.
"Yes." Face was forced to concede, then looked over the group. "But . . ."
"There are no buts, Face. The one person you tried to die for is the one person you should have tried to live for. " Hannibal finally walked up as well. "Face, we're sorry. I swear to you, we are. We screwed up, Face, and we all know it, and you were the one who paid for it." He pointed to himself and the team and included the Parelli's in the gesture. "Every single one of us allowed our own pain, rage, fear, and misunderstanding to cloud our judgments and transfer our insecurities to you and to ignore your pain." He swallowed. "And we owe you an apology for that Face, although I know that nothing we could say will ever make it up to you properly for what we . . . I . . . did."
"For what we all did." Murdock put in, and his eyes almost bore their way into Face's, as if he could physically force his words into Face's mind. "We . . . we tried to tell you that in the van, muchacho. We tried to tell you we never wanted you dead and that we sure as hell never hated you." Murdock told Face. "But the head injury wiped your memory."
"And we ain't had time ta' tell ya' in here with ya' fightin' yo' own battles in yo' head." B.A. said, his voice gravelly and more stilted than usual with the force of his turbulent emotions.
"But you all . . . all had good reasons for your hatred." Face tried to make them realize that he'd understood, to make them all know that he didn't hate them and hadn't blamed them for anything. However, as he tried to voice his thoughts, his throat closed up and his heart and stomach clenched tightly. He desperately tried to hold onto what was left of his self control so that he wouldn't embarrass his friends, or anyone else, with a breakdown that he knew would happen if the circumstances continued as they were.
He gripped the letters to his chest until his knuckles were white and his nails dug into his hands as the sudden outpouring of love and concern from the team abruptly filled the void that had been empty for so many months, and, despite his efforts to fight it, he felt again. All of the grief, loss, and sorrow he'd tried to repress, was forced to the surface and he closed his eyes. He'd hoped that action would block out not only the people in the room, but his memories and thoughts as well, but it wasn't to be.
"Just like you had good reasons for yo' love." B.A. finally spoke up, and Face's eyes snapped open in shock. He stared at the team as if he'd never seen them before, and his hands shook violently, as his lips trembled.
"And as Anthony had good reasons for his love." Mrs. Parelli leaned forward, took Face's hand in hers, and opened his fingers. "Anthony wanted you to have this Templeton, and there's no reason for us to keep it from you. He loved you and I know you loved him. In the end, that's all that matters, or indeed, that's all that should have mattered, to him and to you, and to anyone else." She placed the pin with the entwined foxes that Anthony had given him into his hand, and he stared at it, as he drowned in shock and grief. He stared at the pin, absolutely frozen and completely unaware of anyone else in the room.
"Our son needed us, Colonel Smith" Mr. Parelli told Hannibal, sotto voiced. "And then he needed Templeton. Templeton, your son, needs you now. Go to him, before it is too late."
"He's not my son." Hannibal corrected a second time, and Mr. Parelli smiled.
"You keep telling yourself that, Colonel Smith, and one day you might actually believe it." He was amused, despite the circumstances.
"Templeton," Mrs. Parelli's voice was almost a whisper. "We have to go now, but if it is all right with you, we'd like to come back and check on you again later." He looked up at her, and his blue eyes swam with tears that slowly dripped down his cheeks, and he nodded. She pressed her lips lightly to his temple, then Hannibal replaced her at Face's side as the Parelli's left.
"So." He cleared his throat awkwardly. "Wha'cha' got?" He leaned over and looked at the pin as Face held it up for the others to see.
"Me and . . . Anthony." Face answered, and his voice shook, and he knew there was no way he'd be able to stem the tide of his grief, and the tears spilled from his eyes faster. "Us. Last thing An . . . last . . ." And that was it as far as Face and any pretext of control were concerned, and he surrendered to his shattered emotions.
He clutched the pin in his hand, blindly reached out, and grabbed Hannibal. He pulled the older man to him, then buried his face into Hannibal's shoulder and gripped the back of his shirt tightly in a clenched fist. Hannibal was too startled to pull away,
and Face trembled against the older man.
"It's okay, Face." Hannibal assured him as he awkwardly cupped his hand around the back of Face's head and gently held him in place, then stroked the back of the bandaged head. "We're here."
"That's right Buddy. We may be a little late, but we're here for you now." Murdock sat on the other edge of the bed and placed a light hand on his other arm, as B.A. stood and patted Face's good shoulder.
"And we ain't goin' no place neither." He declared, and Face broke.
All the pent up grief, loss, fear, horror, and pain welled up all at once and spilled over with terrifying intensity. Face sobbed, wept, shook, mumbled incoherently, babbled, and finally, screamed out his torment and loss.
The Doctor rushed in, but immediately recognized the signs of grief, and simply shut the door of the room. He wasn't one of the kinds of doctors who immediately prescribed sedatives for every emotional outburst, no matter how closely it resembled hysteria, and Murdock, over the keening form of his friend, watched the doctor leave. Murdock silently thanked the man for his knowledge and his realization that strong emotions, and their release, wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
Hannibal held onto Face throughout the entire cathartic episode, and neither of the others moved, for fear of bringing Face out of it before he was really ready. It was only when Face's wild sobs and howling had faded to dry coughs, that Hannibal gently shifted and eased pressure from his spine, but didn't break contact.
Face felt the Colonel as he pulled away, but made no effort to move himself. His throat hurt, his ribs ached, his collarbone seemed to be on fire, and his eyes felt as if someone had taken a steel wool scrubber to them, but he was too drained to really care. He was also more tired than he could remember being in a long time, and he sighed against Hannibal's chest. "My throat hurts and I'm tired." His voice stopped just shy of a whine, and he felt the older man's chuckle as it rumbled comfortably against his ear from Hannibal's chest.
"I can't imagine why." Hannibal answered, and with the assistance of the other two, they gingerly laid Face back, against
"I . . . I'm sorry, Hannibal." Face swallowed, embarrassed, and he grimaced in pain. Hannibal smiled down at the exhausted man, even as the door opened and the Doctor walked in. Face's eyes opened wide, and fear leapt into them as he grabbed Murdock's hand. "I'm sorry." He repeated. "I'm so sorry, Murdock. Don't let them commit me." Face's eyes lit on the Doctor, and his hands shook as he clenched the pin tightly in his fist. " Doctor, I swear, I'll do whatever you want, just don't make me go into the Psych Ward." He looked around at the team. "I will! I'll eat whatever, however you people want. I'll do the physical therapy stuff, and whatever you want to put me through, I promise." Face realized he'd babbled, but was so physically and mentally exhausted that he didn't care. If he had to beg them not to move him where he couldn't see the team, then he'd beg. He'd've gotten on his knees if he could have.
"Well." The Doctor was cautious, and he gazed at Face with narrowed eyes. "I believe that you've just spoken more words to me in the last minute than you've spoken to everyone in the whole time you've been here." Face looked down at the pin and closed his eyes briefly in shame, and his tear-splotched face went scarlet with embarrassment.
"Uh . . . yeah." He swallowed "I . . . I haven't exactly been the most . . . cooperative . . . of patients." He mumbled, and the Doctor laughed.
"You don't have to tell me that." He sobered and frowned. "However, if you really want to stay here, on this floor, we're going to have to establish some ground rules, Mr. Peck. Do you understand me?"
"Yes." Face's eyelids drooped, but he pulled them open and looked at the Doctor seriously.
"Good. First. No more temper tantrums. No more throwing silverware or food."
"Yes, Sir." Face answered, and the other three hid amused smiles at the seriousness of his tone, even as he looked like a kid who tried to stay awake for a lecture.
"Second. You are to do everything that's ordered, including the physical therapy."
"Yes, sir." Face answered again as his head dropped forward, then snapped up again.
"Third. The psychiatrist is going to come down here later and will talk to you. THIS time you will talk to him. I think it may be easier on you now that you've opened up a bit to your friends."
"A bit?" Murdock mouthed over Face's head, as he remembered the screams of grief the blond had released, but B.A. merely shrugged.
Face's answer was slower, but no less convincing, and he nodded. "Yes, Sir."
"Good. We may actually make some progress now. I was wondering how you felt now."
"Tired." Face answered promptly and the Doctor went over to the bed and pressed lightly on Face's ribs, and the younger man flinched. "And my throat and ribs hurt." He amended quickly, and the Doctor nodded.
"I don't think you've done any new damage, but we'll keep an eye on you just in case. Do you think you can sleep, or shall I order a sedative and some painkillers for you?"
"I could sleep through an earthquake." Face answered, and as if to prove it to them, he let loose a jaw-cracking yawn, and the others chuckled. Face looked at them and his voice was low. "Would... would it be all right if... if my friends... Stayed? Just for a little while I mean?"
"I don't see why not. They've been here almost the entire time anyway." The Doctor answered, and Face sighed and his head dropped to the pillows. The Doctor looked at Hannibal, then motioned him across the room as the other two stood like sentinels at Face's bedside. "Mr. Smith, I must say, that was an amazing eleventh hour rescue you pulled." Hannibal allowed a grin to spread across his face, and then sobered as the Doctor continued. "There's still a long road ahead of him, but he just took one major step toward full recovery. I believe I'll take that guarantee you made earlier. However, he's going to need a lot of care..."
"And he'll get it, Doc. We've got places to go where we can hide out and lay low. And like you said, we've got a very good network of friends."
"Not the least are the four in this room." The Doctor said, then shook Hannibal's hand. "Take good care of him, Mr. Smith. I get the feeling that once he starts to heal, both mentally as well as physically, he's going to be hard to pin down."
"Doc." Hannibal sighed and rolled his eyes. "You have no idea."
"I'll be back tomorrow to check on him." The Doctor said, and smiled. "Again, congratulations. And I was right about you people being able to pull off miracles. You certainly pulled off one here."
He left the room and Hannibal returned to Face's bedside, and a companionable silence reigned in the room.
% % %
"You all ready to go, kid?" Hannibal asked as he entered the hospital room, then stared at Face's attire, which consisted of a simple button down shirt and a pair of black pants, covered by a matching jacket he wore open and loose.
"What's wrong?" Face stopped packing his bag, and looked at his Colonel in trepidation. It had been a little under two months since the break down, yet he was still nervous around the team, and they'd known that he would be. They'd spoken with the psychiatrist as well as Face had and even had some joint sessions. They all knew that they were far from over what had happened in the camps, but the decisions they'd made, and the actions they'd taken after Face's suicide, had put them on the right track to recovery. However, each one of them was ashamed of the fact that it had taken something so drastic to put them there, and they'd all vowed that nothing like that would EVER happen again to ANY of them.
"You aren't wearing a suit." Hannibal finally said, and Face nodded.
"Anthony never liked me in suits." He chuckled sadly. "Said they were kind of like a false front . . . like one of those fake house facades. Form but no substance. And he was right. Now I'm trying different styles to see what works and what I'm comfortable in." He touched his very short hair ruefully. "I just can't wait for this to grow out more. I figure another month and I can trim the sides. I'm thinking about leaving the back long." Hannibal frowned slightly and Face smiled as he rolled his eyes. "Not that long, just down to my collar. I'm a little old to wear it like I did in the late 70's early 80's . . . not to mention that style is outdated now. Gotta' keep up with the times, Hannibal."
"I'm glad to see that at least one thing's stayed the same." Hannibal smiled, and Face grinned, then looked up as B.A. and Murdock entered the room, followed by the Doctor.
"The van's out front." B.A. said, and Murdock helped Face into the wheelchair they'd provided for him.
"Doc . . . " Hannibal turned to the man, and his smile was grateful and genuine. "I can't thank you enough for all you've done. When you said you'd lose the paperwork, and make Face into a new person if you had to, I honestly didn't think you could do it so that Decker'd buy it, but you did. I'm impressed."
The Doctor rolled his eyes. "It wasn't just me." He laughed. "It seems that half the staff is desperately in love with your rakish and oh-so-charming teammate, and the ones that are too old for that, want to parent him. Colonel Decker never stood a chance."
Face blushed and the rest of the team laughed, then wheeled Face from the hospital. B.A. and Murdock helped him into the van, Hannibal closed the door, and they drove away.
Face tossed in his bed and shivered as tears poured down his face. "Anthony!" He screamed as he saw as the car once again slammed into his lover, and he felt himself pulled away as Anthony's staring eyes followed him. He jerked as he sat up, and wiped the perspiration from his face.
A moment later, his door swung open, and he blinked in the light from the hallway.
"You okay, Face?" Hannibal's voice was quiet, and Face, his heart pounding, nodded, but Hannibal moved forward and sat on the edge of the bed. They were quiet for a few seconds, the Hannibal sighed. "Bad dream?" He asked, and Face merely nodded again.
"It . . . it's Anthony . . ." Face looked into Hannibal's eyes and looked for reproach, but only saw concern. "I . . . I keep seeing his eyes . . . I keep thinking 'what if'. Was there something I could I have done? What if I'd been able to start CPR, Hannibal?"
"Well you would have been arrested for one thing." Hannibal sat on the bed. "But Face, the emergency people arrived seconds after we left, and they had more sophisticated methods for saving lives than we did, and he stayed dead. Face, you're going to drive yourself insane with what ifs. Anthony died, and in cruel as it is, that's the way life is. But, Face, think about this, okay? Anthony died in the arms of the one person . . ." Hannibal paused, then frowned slightly. "He died in the arms of the one man . . . he loved and that loved him. Sometimes, that's the only guarantee some of us will ever get out of this life is to be able to die knowing we're loved. But I tell you, Face, that's a damn sight better than never being loved at all and dying alone. Anthony died saving your life. He loved you enough to pull you away from death and he loved you enough to want us to take you from his body so you'd be safe. Remember all the laughter, the love, the joy . . . and yes, even the tears and the shouts, Face? All that life?" Hannibal stopped, and Face looked at him, then nodded, and Hannibal continued. "Good, because the most important part of the whole time you spent together is that you both lived. You have to honor his memory, Face and honor the fact that he lived, not the fact that he died."
Face slid back down under the covers and sighed as he looked at the older man as if he'd never seen him before. "Have you always been this smart, Colonel?" He asked with a wry smile, and Hannibal laughed as he unconsciously pulled the blankets up around Face's chin.
"'S'why I got the fancy medals and the title that goes with 'em, kid." He winked, and Face's eyes closed. A moment later he'd gone back to sleep, and Hannibal lightly ran a hand under the long bangs and pushed them off Face's forehead. Quietly, he pulled a chair up to the bed and watched as Face slept, alert for signs of another nightmare.
But there were none.
Face sat in the restaurant, and looked down at his plate. He pushed the food around with his fork, and blinked at the pasta. It had been the last food he and Anthony had shared, and suddenly, his throat closed up and he dropped his fork as he forced down the sudden nausea that threatened to engulf him.
"You okay, Faceman? Ain't nothin' wrong wit' the food, is there?" B.A. asked gruffly as he watched the lines of pain as they drew Face's eyebrows together, and Face swallowed, then shook his head.
"No. No, the food's fine. Really. I . . . it's just me. I'm just not hungry right now."
"You was hungry when we came in." B.A. observed, and Face nodded.
"Maybe I just should have ordered something else. I . . I haven't been able to eat pasta in a while, that's all. I thought it'd be different now. I thought enough time . . ." He looked up uncertainly, and shook his head. "Never mind B.A., it's ridiculous."
"Ain't nothin' ridiculous 'bout it if it makes ya' hurt. It's somethin' ta' do wit' Parelli, ain't it?" He asked, and Face dropped his eyes.
"Faceman, people think I don't got eyes, but I do. I see all kinds of things, but I don't talk 'bout 'em, 'cause that ain't my job. Buildin' things, puttin' things back together – that's what I do. But I know 'bout grief, man. When I lost my Dad, I didn't think I'd ever get over it. I put away everythin' that ever started reminding me of him. I even stopped eatin' foods we ate together, and wouldn't talk about anything ta' anyone. But my Mama came to me one night, and she had a whole plate a' hotdogs. She'd made 'em real special, just the way I liked them. She told me that she knew I'd stopped eating them cause'a my Dad being dead and all, and she wanted to know why. So I told her. I told her it hurt too much and I couldn't get them down. They made me sick." Face stared at B.A., and the bigger man noticed that Face's fingers had strayed to the fork and he played with it as he listened, and B.A. continued. "Ya' know what my Mama did then?"
"No." Face's voice was barely above a whisper, and B.A. sat back a little.
"She asked me what the last thing I remembered my Dad sayin' to me as we ate the hot dogs. It had somethin' to do with basketball, and I talked ta' her, Faceman." B.A. raised his fork to his mouth and Face looked down and stabbed the fork into the food, then swirled it absently through the pasta. "So, tell me, Faceman." B.A. prompted. "What'd you and Parelli talk 'bout when you was eatin' together?"
"Nothing really." Face shrugged, then smiled sadly and tilted his head. "I mainly remember a lot of laughing." Face lifted the fork and sighed. "We sat right next to the window because I liked to watch the way the sun showed off his hair. It was like Obsidian or something." He shrugged, then raised the fork to his face and sighed as he rested his cheek on one hand. "We talked about the opera we'd seen the night before, and how the old man in the box next to us snored so loudly you could hear him halfway across the Opera House." Face suddenly laughed. "You should have seen the old guys face when the Diva hit a piercingly loud, and sour, note." He put the food absently in his mouth, then chewed, and dipped his fork into the food again. "I think, to this day, that the Diva did it on purpose, just to wake the old guy up." Face chuckled again and the fork went back into his mouth, and B.A. smiled slightly as Face talked.
And Face ate.
Face stood on the boardwalk of the beach and watched the people as they walked by. He sighed as he watched as the het-sexual couples made out in the sand, then bent his head as, unbidden, the memories of the last time he and Anthony had made love, entered his mind, and he bit his lips as tears tried to fight their way down his face. He opened his eyes, and his heart stopped in his chest.
He stared hard at the tall, dark-haired figure on the beach, and moved before he thought. Halfway to the beach, the person turned around, and Face's heart again dropped to his feet.
"Face?" He heard Murdock's familiar voice as it pierced his consciousness, and he shook his head.
"Yeah, Murdock. I'm sorry, I . . . I guess I kind of . . . zoned there for a minute."
"Zoned? Face, the way you took off across the beach, I though you'd seen someone in trouble or something."
"I saw . . . something." Face turned away. "But . . . but it was nothing."
"Nothing, huh? I saw the look on your face, and it was one of the brightest, most hopeful looks I've seen on you in a long time. Care to let me make a guess as to what you thought you saw?" The pilot asked quietly, and Face shook his head.
"No, Murdock. You can probably guess." Face answered with a scowl, and his tone was bitter and angry. "Oh man, Murdock, I'm sorry. I . . I don't mean to take things out on you."
"Face, I may not have lost anyone I loved, at least not like you loved Anthony, but I know grief, Face, and I know it from experience, and studies too. I bet you thought you saw him, didn't you?" Murdock sat on a nearby bench, and Face followed him, then sat forward and leaned his elbows on his knees and put his face in his hands.
"I know it's crazy. I know Anthony's d . . . dead and not coming back . . ."
"It's not crazy to me, muchacho, and as you guys are so fond a' pointing out, I know crazy. But let's get something clear here. You're head knows he's gone. Logic tells you he ain't coming back. But it's your heart, Face, well, that part won't be so easily convinced. That's the part of you that loved him, and well, that part hasn't quite got the message yet that he's dead and gone and not going to come back. And that thing about you getting angry at me, forget it. I know it isn't me you're angry at. You're angry at the one person you can't rave at and scream at, Anthony Parelli, and you're angry at him for leaving you behind and not taking you with him and not being able to come back and get you." Murdock looked seriously at Face, and the other man sighed.
"It all sounds so stupid when you put it that way." Face looked at him briefly, then looked down at the ground as he clasped his hands in front of him.
"It's not stupid, Face." Murdock leaned forward and looked at him intently. "That's simply a part of the grieving process. It's your body and your mind and your heart learning to work together again as a whole. Helping you to let go and get over things slowly . . ."
"But what if I never get over it?" Face kicked the toes of his sneakers into the ground and scowled. "What if I get stuck for the rest of my life waiting for Anthony Parelli to walk back into that door and tell me that everything's okay and I've just had the most horrible . . ." He sighed. "Well except for you guys this last few months, at least, it's been horrible, dream and I can wake up any time. I miss him so much, Murdock."
"I know you do, Face, and that's okay to miss him. But you gotta' listen to me, okay, Face? You get up every day, you eat, sleep, take care of yourself, fight criminals and scum, you scam, and do all the things you're supposed to do, right?"
"I guess so. Some days are better than others in those areas, yeah. But what's that got to do with anything?" Face was confused, and Murdock smiled.
"You are still living, Face. You are going on with your life. You haven't let the fact you miss him and still want him around, stop you from doing what has to be done, and if you haven't now, I doubt very much you will. But, even by the simple fact that you're questioning whether or not it's going to happen, is a pretty good indication that it won't. But if it does, Face, you've got to know we're here to catch you. And this time we mean it, and in ALL areas of your life, Face. Not just the ones we like and approve of. We fucked that up once already and almost lost you permanently. Not a one of us wants to go through that again. Not me, not Hannibal, and not B.A.." Murdock's brown eyes were intense, and he stared hard into Face's blue orbs. "And yes, Face, you will get depressed and you will wonder about things and you will wonder if the pain will ever go away. All of those things are perfectly normal reactions to the loss, Face."
"But will it, Murdock? Will the pain ever go away?" Face's voice was barely above a whisper, and Murdock sighed.
"I really wish I could help you out there, muchacho, but you're really the only one that can answer that, and unfortunately, time's the only way you're going to be able to answer it."
"Murdock, do you . . ." Face swallowed, and his voice was low. "Back at the apartment the first week or whenever it was, you . . . you said you remembered the promise."
"Yeah, but I didn't know if you did." Murdock nodded seriously, then shook his head ruefully. "We were both drunk off our collective asses that night." Murdock half smiled. "But I do remember it, yeah. Why?"
"I remember every word of it." Face blinked, and stared at the ground. "I said that if I were ever going to screw any man in Vietnam, I promise, HM Murdock, it'd be you."
"And I leaned over and blinked . . . probably so I could focus . . . and said I'd hold you to that promise, soldier." Murdock laughed. "And then I think we both passed out in the latrine . . . at least, that's where I woke up at any rate. Not one of my better moments."
"I meant it, Murdock." Face actually did whisper, and Murdock smiled at him.
"I know that – now, and actually, I'm flattered that someone who looks like you would feel that way about me." Murdock sighed. "But truthfully, Face, I have no idea why I remembered the promise or even brought it up, except for the fact that I was too busy sorting out the old brain cells and trying to get the past to go where it was supposed to, and not get mixed up with the future . . . present . . . whatever it was."
"I . . . I'm sorry, Murdock, I never . . ." Face couldn't look at Murdock, and the man threw himself on the ground and Face had to laugh as Murdock nodded in satisfaction.
"Now that I have your attention, Face, the fact that I never dealt with that particular incident in my life is not your fault. As a matter of fact, Dr. Richter and I have made a few steps into looking at that whole thing, and he's even recommended me to a person who specializes in the treatment of POW's. If I thought I could do it without getting my nose broken, I'd suggest it to B.A., and Hannibal too."
"What about me?" Face looked concerned, and Murdock swatted him on his forehead.
"You already had your therapy, there Faceman." Murdock blinked prettily at him. "And he was tall and dark-haired and very, very Italian . . ."
"Oh give me a break." Face pushed Murdock away gently and rolled his eyes. "You're a nut, you know that don't you?" Face said as he stood, then laughed as Murdock jumped up from the ground and threw his arm around his friend's shoulders.
"Nope." Murdock shook his head. "I keep telling people. I'm not nuts, I'm condiments . . ."
"I've been promoted." They finished in unison.
Face laughed as they walked off the beach together, arm in arm.
Murdock stared down at the figure on the couch, and ran a hand over his face. Hannibal had separated B.A. and Murdock after Face'd almost ruptured his stitches from laughing at them as they'd fought over the pizza, then Hannibal, B.A., and Frankie had left the room to give Face time to rest. Murdock had hung back, and watched as Face's eyes closed, then studied the pale face of his best friend, who they'd almost lost for the third time in two years.
Murdock gazed at Face's hair that had started to darken with age, the little lines that decorated the corners of his eyes, and the lines that had deepened around his chin, and Murdock shook his head. The man on the couch had matured in just the last five years alone, and Murdock grimaced. Hell, they all had matured, and he shook his head in wonder as he noticed things about Face that he'd never really seen before.
He knelt beside the couch and his knees popped on his way down. He frowned and wondered when that had started to happen, then Face's eyes opened, and he looked over at Murdock, who suddenly couldn't move. It was as if he'd been paralyzed by the ocean blue eyes that, like a siren's song, beckoned him forward. He knew that if he moved, whatever it was that Face's eyes were calling him toward, would be accomplished, and he knew that he was terrified of whatever those eyes wanted from him. However, what frightened him even more, was that he knew that though he drowned in their blue depths, there was no way he wanted to be saved.
Face." His whisper was gravelly, and he cleared his throat. "Do you . . . do you remember a little over a year ago, when we sat and talked by the beach?"
"Yes." Face nodded, and Murdock swallowed.
"Do . . . do you remember about the promise?"
"Every word." Face answered.
"Some promises take longer than others to be fulfilled, don't they?" Murdock asked, and Face nodded.
"Some promises take almost twenty years to be made good on." He answered, and reached up and ran a gentle hand along the side of Murdock's head.
"I . . . uh . . . have to say that, I'm ah . . . kind of scared, here, Face." Murdock admitted as he took Face's other hand in his and looked at their clasped fingers as if he'd never seen them before.
"Me too, Murdock." Face nodded, and looked at each other for a minute. Slowly, Murdock leaned forward, and Face closed his eyes. His hand tightened in Murdock's, and he knew that if they completed the action, then Murdock, like Leslie, Rina, and Anthony, would own his heart. Unexpectedly, he pushed his head further into the pillow and away from Murdock.
"There're no guarantees in life, Face." Murdock turned his head into Face's palm, and sighed. "But if I have any control over anything at all in my life, I can only hope that I'm got going anyplace for the next oh, thirty years, at least. And as for you..." Murdock's voice dropped to a whisper and he leaned further over and looked directly into Face's eyes. "I'm not going to let you go. Not like last time, not this time, and not again. Not ever. No one's going to try and take you from me." And with that, he placed his lips against Face's.
The kiss was hesitant, and searching, as Murdock explored the new sensations of willing male lips on his and his own willing lips as he kissed back, but at the same time, the kiss was no less of a promise than his words had been.
Face surrendered himself equally to the kiss and to the promise, then sighed and silently thanked Anthony for giving him the courage he'd needed to come to the most recent point in his life.
"You are most welcome, my love." Anthony's quiet voice sounded in his head, and as if he had given the permission Face had needed to love again, Face parted his lips as Murdock's gentle kiss of exploration turned into a confident kiss of love.
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