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Ratings: Overall PG-13.....Prologue is Definitely R, But from Part One On, It's A PG-13
Disclaimer: Still Not Mine, No Matter how I Wish To Make It So, And If I Were Making Money On This Stuff, Why Would I Still Be In Financial Straights And Wondering If I'm Going To Have To Go Another Couple Months without Gas & Electricity To Go On The Dirk Benedict Cruise?? ;-D
Warnings: For The PROLOGUE, And ONLY The Prologue, There IS A Male/Male Touching Scene That IS Invited, But Unexpected Character Wise. However, It's VERY Short, AND Integral To The Plot. In The Rest Of The Story, It's Merely Referenced, So You Can Skip The Prologue And Still Catch The Gist Of The Story. Also For The Prologue, One Of the Team Kills And It Is In A Rather Descriptively, Violent Fashion, But Also Integral To The Plot. If You Do Not Like Any Of the Above, Simply Skip The Prologue, and Go Right To The Story...
Episode Spoilers: As Far As I'm Aware, There Aren't Any
Summary: Face Wants A Pardon In The
Comments: Sure Enough, And With A Comment Card, But PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, READ the Warnings and Ratings, and Preferably BEFORE You Comment
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Read Warnings And Ratings, and Reasons For Them.
Prologue (This part Rated R)
Frankie was barely conscious as he hung from the chains by his wrists. Blood ran down his formerly unmarked body from the many whippings he had endured, and he spit out the blood that tried to run down his throat from a bloody nose, and he couldn't keep the sob of pain inside himself any longer. He looked over at Face, and shivered. Face lay on the bunk, his hands shackled to the railings, and his body covered in just as many bleeding wounds, if not more so, than Frankie's was. Face wasn't much better off than Frankie, and had even been treated worse than Frankie, if such were possible, yet he hadn't said a thing during the whole session. He hadn't spoken or retorted to the taunts their captors had thrown at him. He hadn't even screamed. Not once.
Frankie looked down, ashamed of himself. He'd screamed. He couldn't help it. He'd never been tortured or beaten before, let alone with such cold efficiency. He saw that Face's eyes were on him, and he shivered. There was nothing in Face's eyes that he recognized -- fear, hatred, pain, compassion -- nothing. Frankie's head snapped up and he couldn't stop the shivers that coursed through his body. Their captors were on their way back, and he knew that he couldn't take another pounding. His lips quivered, Face merely blinked at him, and he forced his body to be still, although he couldn't keep the fear from his eyes. The two men watched in silence as the Commander of the camp they'd been sent to infiltrate entered the cell and contemplated each man individually, then walked up to Frankie. He raised his hand and Frankie couldn't stop the flinch as the man touched his face and gently wiped away the blood.
"Brave men." He smiled, and looked over at Face, who looked back completely emotionless as his blue eyes tracked the man's hands as they moved over Frankie's exposed torso. "Or foolish. Which is it?" He pressed closer to Frankie, and the younger man tried to inch away, but the leader gripped him just above the hips and jerked him to him so their bodies pressed together, and Frankie shuddered. "Such a pretty boy you are." He stroked a hand through Frankie's long-ish mane of ebony hair. "I bet you'd like a bath, wouldn't you?"
"No thanks." Frankie gasped.
"Then I'd suggest you tell me where your other friends are hiding. Otherwise, you and I are going to have a close . . ." He breathed into Frankie's ear. "Personal conversation."
Frankie bit his lip then swallowed as his breath caught in his throat, and he couldn't keep the shudder of terror from his body. Face suddenly snorted.
"Should've figured you'd go after him." Face's voice was cold and detached, and the leader looked over to him.
"You have something to say to me?" The Commander asked, and Face raised his eyebrows.
"I think I just did. So tell me, just out of curiosity you understand. What is it about Frankie that turns you on? The fact that he's bleeding, chained, helpless, or young?" A slow, calculating smile spread its way across his face. "I bet it's all of the above, isn't it? I bet you like young, helpless, bleeding boys,
don't you, Commander?"
The man's face went livid, and he looked down at Face. "I could kill you now." He hissed.
"And that would mean that you'd have Frankie all to yourself." Face's voice was even. "Not a bad plan if a little . . . uncreative. What have you got planned for Frankie, huh? A bath? A dinner perhaps? Instill fear into the heart of a boy, and then a quick jab up the ass? Is that the way it works around here? 'Cause I've got to say, that's not exactly the most imaginative plan I've ever heard. In fact, I'd say it was pretty standard for guys like you. You never go after the ones who'd present something of a . . . challenge . . . for a while." Long lashes dipped seductively over shadowed blue eyes and the Commander's eyes passed over Face's body as he lay stretched out on the bunk.
"What are you saying?" The Commander demanded, and a smiled quirked Face's lips upward.
"Face . . ." Frankie whispered, horrified, but the blond man ignored him and his eyelids half-closed over his eyes as he slowly ran his own eyes over the camp's leader.
"I've been here a hundred times, Commander, and in a hundred different ways. I could do a hell of a lot more for you than he could. And besides, if you're as good as you so obviously think you are . . . " His voice dropped seductively and he licked his lips as his hips slid slightly against the cot as he raised one leg and leaned it against the bars of the cell, and his body radiated with seduction and the promise of sex. "Well, let's just say that you can never underestimate the power of pillow talk."
The leader smiled and bent over Face's inert body, and ran his hands over the man's chest, then his face. "I don't trust you." He grinned, and Face shrugged.
"You don't have to trust me to fuck me. You can even leave me tied up." The corners of his mouth turned up sardonically. "I wouldn't expect any less." He almost whispered, and took the man's
fingers into his mouth.
"Oh my god. Face, don't . . ." Frankie choked, but Face's eyes were riveted to the Commander's and the man leaned over him and ran his hands down Face's body and smiled.
"You do seem to respond . . ." He said, and leaned over. His breath was warm on Face's cheeks as his lips brushed Face's own. Face gripped the bed rails in his hand, and he slithered his hips along the mattress of the cot, as he placed a foot flat on the floor. "I like you." The Commander whispered, and Face smiled, then moved.
In fact, he moved so fast that what he did next was almost invisible, and by the time anyone could react, it was over. Face gripped the bed rail until his knuckles were white, then he launched his lower torso upward, via the foot on the floor. The one leg he'd bent on the mattress swung upward and curled around the leader's waist, then threw him off him and onto the floor. The man lay stunned for a second too long, and Face raised his foot and promptly stomped, as hard as he could, onto the man's exposed throat with his heavy combat boot. The sound of crushed bone and the gagging stench of blood and released bowels filled the room, and the stunned guard raised his gun and aimed it at Face.
Frankie, who'd watched the whole fast and extremely gory scene in horrified shock, suddenly kicked upward, and his abused wrists took his weight as he kicked the gun out of the guard's hand and knocked him to the floor. Face kicked out with his boot, and the guard too found Face's boot on his neck. Frankie gagged himself, but Face scowled at him.
"We don't have time for that." He snapped, his eyes blistering cold. "Get that key ring off the leader's belt. Hannibal's counting on us right now, and we're behind."
Frankie stared at Face, and dragged the Commander's body across the floor with his foot, and put the toe of his sneaker under his hip and scraped the keys out of the man's pocket. He slipped off his shoe and gasped as his sock soaked into the puddle of blood, and left a trail as he curled his toes around the key ring. He frowned in concentration as he slowly lifted the keys into the air and swung his leg over to Face, then dropped the keys into Face's hands. Face made quick work of the locks, and Frankie almost hit the floor as he was released. With his expression as dispassionate as it had been throughout the entire ordeal, Face heaved on Frankie, and grabbed the leader's gun. Frankie hesitantly reached for the other's gun, but Face hauled on him, and the two men left the room. Guards tried to stop them, but with quick shots to their chests or heads, Face took them out. Frankie stared at the man he thought he'd known, and
gasped in horror every time Face shot. Frankie suddenly feared the blond stranger who dragged him through the valley of death, even as alarms blared throughout the compound.
knew that was to be
what happened here?"
"We got caught. We escaped. We caused confusion from the inside." Face inclined his head briefly, then looked up. "All according to the plan . . . Colonel."
"I don't recall planning on dead bodies, Lieutenant." Hannibal snapped, and Face snorted.
"There was only one way out, and they blocked it . . . Sir."
"Face, what the hell happened to you?" Murdock asked as he looked deeply into Face's eyes for some signs of life, but found only the same cold, hard stare that Frankie had seen the entire time they'd been captured and tortured.
"Johnny." Frankie's voice shook. "They tortured us. The leader . . . he . . . Face . . ." Frankie's mind and his body had enough, and he sagged in Face's arms. B.A. caught the young man, and he looked at the blood and the welts that crossed Frankie's torso, then Face's. He swore, then swung the young man into his arms.
"I got the information Stockwell wanted, and we've got the plane on
"Good. I'm ready to get out of here." Face answered, and the others nodded, then grabbed a jeep and blasted their way out of the compound.
Part 1 (PG-13 rating for rest of story)
TWO DAYS LATER (After The Prologue)
"That was a good job you gentlemen did down there." Stockwell grinned at them from the wide screen video connection to them and his plane, and Carla smiled at them from her place next to Stockwell's side. "You got us the information we needed AND you put down a potential Dictator."
"Yes." Stockwell frowned. "I was informed of the death of several people, including the Dictator himself. I thought you people didn't kill."
"The heat of battle." Face blinked at the screen almost as emotionlessly as he'd been in the military camp, and ran a hand through his newly cut short hair and tugged on the jacket of his brand new, VERY expensive suit. "That and Frankie and I weren't ready to die, and certainly NOT at the hands of that perverted bastard and his men."
"Yes." The General nodded. "I saw the medical reports. I hope you and Mr. Santana are recovering."
"Been better." Frankie shuddered as the thoughts of the torture he'd gone through filled his mind.
"Which reminds me, General." Face stood, and looked at Stockwell. "What has someone got to do to be released from this place?"
"What are you talking about?" Stockwell's eyes narrowed, and Face tilted his head thoughtfully, as the rest of the team watched him suspiciously.
"I would have thought my question fairly obvious. What do I have to do to get a pardon?"
"Face . . ."
"I want a pardon." He scowled. "And HE is the one to talk to about it." He snorted and raised his head proudly. "After all, YOU aren't going to do anything about it . . . Sir." He almost sneered.
"You will GET your pardon when I say you will." Stockwell leaned forward. "THAT'S how things are done here. Remember, Lieutenant? My way."
"I'm sick of your way. It sucks." Face answered, then smiled sardonically. "No offense intended."
"I see." Stockwell sat back, and his observation was NOT a question. "You realize that you are challenging my authority here, don't you."
Face walked over to a chessboard that he had set up earlier that afternoon, and ran a hand over the pieces. "Do you play chess, General?" He suddenly asked.
"Face, what are you doing?" Murdock asked, but Face raised his head and silenced the man with an almost feral grin.
"Stockwell likes things done his way." Face's eyes gleamed. "So, I'm doing things his way. So tell, me, General. Do you play chess?"
"As a matter of fact, I do. Why?" Stockwell asked, and Face smiled.
"I want to challenge you to a game, General. The prize, a pardon."
"A pardon? As in one?" Stockwell raised his eyebrows. "Not five?"
"One game, one pardon." Face answered, and a slow smile crossed Stockwell's face.
"So, you're finally showing what you are made of, Lieutenant. I wondered how long the others could trust you."
"Trust is not the issue." Face denied. "I want a pardon. THAT is the only issue at hand."
"Say I agree to this . . . Game." Stockwell paused. "If you win, you get a pardon. What do I get if I win?"
"Whatever you want that is within my power to deliver, for as long as you want, and no further protests or attempts, on my part at least, to leave." He grinned widely, but without humor. "And you know, I do have access to quite a lot, actually."
"That takes up a broad spectrum, Lieutenant. Are you sure you don't want to qualify that?" Face shook his head. "Hmm." A slow predatory smile that matched Face's from earlier, spread over the General's face. "Shall we flip for color?"
"No need. I've already chosen mine."
"Then I suppose white is spoken for, although I thought white would be more your Colonel's color."
"No, General. I've chosen black. White implies purity of thought and deed. And in this case, I am most definitely NOT pure, nor are my thoughts. I intend to win this game, General, and purely for my own selfish reasons and motivations." Face lifted the black king with long, graceful fingers, and stroked the smooth finish.
"I see. But you give up the opportunity for an opening gambit." Stockwell pointed out, and Face shook his head.
"This IS my opening." He answered, and Stockwell laughed.
"Then first point goes to you, I guess. I'll be in touch with you soon." He signed off, and one by one, the others turned to Face.
"Did you go nuts while we weren't looking!?" Murdock demanded, and Face scowled.
"I've had it. I've had it with the pain, the blood, the torture, and the screams. I want that pardon."
"Stockwell's going to eat you alive." Frankie spoke up, and Face snorted.
"Face . . ."
"I. Want. That. Pardon." Face repeated slowly, as if Hannibal were retarded. "And I'm GOING to get it."
"And if you DON'T get it, then what?" B.A. snarled.
"I'll deal with that when it comes up." Face looked at his watch. "But now, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I've got things to do." He turned and walked out of the room, and the others stared at each other.
"What do we do now,
"What can we do?"
"That ain't Faceman!" B.A. declared.
"Yes it is." Frankie's voice was low. "He looked just like that in the . . . in the place." Frankie couldn't bring himself to say the word, and he swallowed. "When they . . . that guy . . . did what he did." Frankie's body shook, and Murdock put his arm around the shaken, young man.
"It's okay." He soothed. "We've been there. You don't have to talk about it. But Face was like THIS? The ENTIRE Three days you two were there?" He indicated the direction that Face had gone, and Frankie nodded mutely.
"He must have been planning
this Challenge to Stockwell the entire time you guys
"I guess Face has finally reached his breaking point." Murdock looked at Hannibal who just nodded. "Colonel, he's in full, I'm-A-Criminal-Don't-Mess-With-Me-Con-Man mode now."
"I know." Was all
"What does that mean?" Frankie looked at them, confused, and the others swallowed.
"It's his form of 'The
"He's crossed that
line." B.A. growled, and
"And now he'll get so into his plans and get so focused on them and what he needs to do to win this 'Game' as he calls it, that there'll be nothing that can get through to his conscience until he's played his 'Game', and played it to completion, one way or the other."
"He must want that pardon real bad then." Frankie looked down at the floor and wrapped his arms around himself.
"He does. Obviously more than we thought." Murdock looked at Frankie.
"It ain't right ta' get a pardon this way." B.A. scowled and shook his head.
"Don't you DARE judge him!" Frankie jumped up and scowled at them "You weren't there!" All his fight seemed to leave him at once, and he sagged. "And if I thought for a minute that I could get away with it, I'd do the same thing." He shivered, then wrapped his arms around his stomach. "I don't feel so good." He said suddenly. "I'm just going to go lay down." He left the room, and the other three looked at one another.
"What we gonna'
"And until either of them DO
talk to us, and Face gets over this . . . this what-ever-it-is there's nothing we CAN do."
"I didn't either. Not to go into full CM Mode at least. Colonel, the last time this happened . . ." Murdock's voice ground to a halt.
"We were there ta' pull him out." B.A. finished Murdock's sentence.
"And we can't. Not this time."
TWO DAYS LATER
"Face brought it in." B.A. supplied, and
CPU. His eyes flickered over the room as he calculatingly and coldly took in everyone's position, then placed the CPU on the desk. His face never changed expression as he left the room and re-entered with a monitor. The others might as well have been pieces of furniture for all he paid attention to them as he again left, then came back with a keyboard and a mouse as well as a phone modem, and several large, black, floppy disks. The last thing he carried into the room and over to the desk was a large, dot matrix printer.
"Quite the fancy set
"Latest equipment. A contact of mine turned me onto a company called NEXT. Kind of expensive stuff, but the very cutting edge of technology. Microsoft would be cheaper, but Next is the best. In fact, word is, they're spreading the technology and creating a system to connect the entire world. Something called the World Wide Web. That'll be very, very useful." Face's voice was clipped and short and he lay on the floor as the wires and cords tangled. Patiently, methodically, he straightened them out, then plugged each piece into a multiple socket strip.
Suddenly, the phone on the table
B.A. grinned and took the phone from Hannibal. "Mama! Hi!" He suddenly frowned. "They is!?" He demanded and his countenance darkened. "Men in dark suits?" Face stopped working and lay completely still as he listened. Frankie sat up, startled out of his sleep by the sudden noise, then gasped as his back reminded him of the abuse he had suffered. "Do you want me to come out . . ." B.A. continued, then his frown deepened. "Okay, but if they do more than watch, you tell me." He nodded, then turned away and his voice lowered. "Yeah, Mama, I love you too." He almost whispered, then slammed the phone down. He stalked over to Face and grabbed the blond man by his shirtfront and hauled him to his feet. He held him off the floor and inches from his angry features.
"I take it you have a problem with me." Face blinked, and B.A. was angered further by Face's cold impassiveness, and he went to shake the Con-Man, but Murdock suddenly yelped.
"No, B.A.! He's been hurt . . ."
"And he'll be hurtin' a lot worse if my Mama gets hurt!" B.A. snarled, but didn't shake Face. "She's bein' followed, Sucka'!" Face blinked, then tilted his head.
"I'm assuming you mean that she's being followed by Stockwell's people." He said mildly.
They're wearin' dark suits, and they just showed up! My Mama's in danger 'cause a' you and your stupid pardon. If anythin' happens ta' her, ya' crazy Con-man, I'm holdin' you responsible. And then, foo', I ain't gonna' stop! I'm gonna' turn that pretty face 'o yours ta' powder!" He curled his hand into a fist and held it directly in front of Face's eyes.
Frankie curled up on the couch and covered his ears as Murdock sat beside him and Hannibal stepped up to B.A. "Let him go, B.A. I think he gets the message." His own steel blue eyes hardened and he glared at Face. "DON'T you, Lieutenant?"
"Yes, I got the message." Face nodded and B.A. set him down. He straightened his shirt and tie, then walked calmly over to the chessboard. He took a black pawn and a rook from the board then placed them on the white side, off the board. "Good move, General." Face nodded. "Got a pawn AND my rook. Two out with one blow."
"My Mama ain't got no part o' your game!" B.A. snarled and Face shrugged.
"She does now." He answered and only Hannibal's restraining hand on B.A.'s arm kept the bigger man from going after Face once more. "Hmm." He stared at the board as if he weren't aware of their presence in the room. "I'll have to see what I can do to counter that . . ." Face turned and walked away, but Hannibal caught him by the arm.
"If you're going out, you might want to change your shirt. There's blood on the sleeve."
"I have no time." Face shook his head. "I have to go. The jacket will cover it for now." He nodded briefly, grabbed his jacket from the back of a chair and left the room.
"I mean it Hannibal. That crazy man gets my Mama in trouble, I'm gonna' make sure he ain't able ta' do it again!" B.A. smacked his fist in his palm and Frankie jumped.
"Cool it, B.A.." Hannibal ordered, and they both looked over at Frankie, who swallowed and Murdock kept his hand around the young man's shoulders.
"I . . . I'm sorry to be such a wimp." Frankie's voice shook.
"You ain't a wimp." B.A.'s voice, though gruff, was kind, and Frankie sighed.
"I was. In the camp." He shook his head. "Face didn't even flinch. Not even once. He just took it . . . all of it. He never made a sound." He looked at the floor. "I didn't want to scream." He whispered. "But I did. It was all I COULD do. I couldn't stop myself."
"It's okay, Frankie." Hannibal knelt in front of him and put his hands over Frankie's. "You did fine. It's okay to be scared and to scream." He sighed. "We've all been scared, and we've all screamed."
"Some of us are still screaming." Murdock confirmed. "You just can't hear it."
"Is . . . is this Face's way of screaming then?" Frankie asked quietly. "Fighting Stockwell for his pardon? I . . . I mean he has a right to it after . . . after what . . . what . . . what . . ." Frankie couldn't force the words from his mouth and he shuddered and buried his face in Hannibal's coat. "I want to go home, Johnny." He wept, and the three men in the living room were silent as each remembered a time they had wished for the very same thing for themselves, and for the very same reasons.
TWO DAYS LATER
"I say we go look for him." Murdock tapped his hands on the kitchen table as he, Hannibal, B.A., and Frankie sat around the table over barely touched coffee.
"We can't look for him, Captain." Hannibal reminded him. "We don't know where he is."
"He could have been arrested." Frankie suggested, but B.A. shook his head.
"We'd've heard about it on the news." He said.
"You think Stockwell grabbed him?" Murdock's voice was low.
"Stockwell'd call just to gloat about it, so no, I don't think he got him either." Hannibal stood and paced, then rubbed his eyes. "I hate this not knowing." He admitted. "The last time this happened, he was gone for four days and when he finally showed up, he had a knife wound in his side the size of a small island." He exhaled. "Damn. Damn. Damn. If we were still on the run, I'd just grab him, knock him, out, and drag him off to one HELL of a MESSY training exercise until he got his brains out of his ass, but now . . ." He scowled and viciously bit the end off a cigar. "Now there's others involved . . ."
"Like my Mama!" B.A. declared, and Frankie swallowed.
"And my Dad. My . . . my mother told me he was being moved." Frankie's voice fell. "My Dad was the reason I agreed to all this . . . stuff . . ." He shuddered. "Because Stockwell takes real good care of my Dad. But with what Face's doing, I KNOW Stockwell's going to stop my Dad's treatment, and my family can't afford to take care of him, not without me working and sending home money."
"Frankie." Hannibal put his hand on the younger man's shoulder. "We won't let anything happen to your Dad, I pro . . ." Hannibal stopped as a gunshot thundered throughout the house and was followed by a small explosion that came from the living room. Frankie flash-backed to the camp and screamed, then threw himself under the table.
"Murdock, stay with Frankie! B.A., you're with me!" Hannibal shouted and Murdock slipped under the table and held onto Frankie as Hannibal and B.A. ran into the living room with their weapons drawn.
They stopped short at the sight that met their eyes. Face stood in the living room, in the same clothing he'd had on two days before, only stained, torn, and bloody. His feet were apart, while one arm hung down at his side and the other was held straight out. He held his gleaming, silver .357 in his hand, and they followed his aim to a jagged hole in the corner where the ceiling met the walls. Face turned and the gun roared again. There was another small explosion and plaster and paint rained down on them from another jagged hole. He suddenly spun and blew another hole out of the ceiling, and Hannibal had enough.
"Damn it all to forty FREAKING hells, Lieutenant!" He shouted, his tone just shy of a scream. "Just WHAT in the name of all that's HOLY do you think you're doing!?" Face didn't bother to answer him and casually blasted a hole in the light fixture.
"He's shootin' out the cameras!" B.A. shouted as the three men protected themselves from the shattered glass as best they could, and Murdock angrily ran into the room.
"Damn it, Face!" He shouted. "Cut it out! You're scaring the crap out of Frankie!"
"I'm done." Face blinked, then smiled. "I'm just getting the General's attention."
"If that doesn't . . . doesn't get it." Frankie's voice sounded from the doorway. "Then nothing will." He entered the living room and licked his lips nervously as he wrapped his arms
around himself tightly, and his eyes never left the gun.
"That was my thought too." Face blinked, then nodded. "I'm going to take a quick shower. Call me when the good General calls, will you?" He left the room and silence reigned for a few minutes, then Murdock looked over at Hannibal.
"Colonel, there's GOT to be something you can do. This is getting out of hand."
"I agree." Stockwell's voice sounded a moment later, and they all looked over to the video set-up. "Your Lieutenant is making quite a nuisance of himself."
"You threatened my Mama!" B.A. accused angrily, and Stockwell looked at the man, then slid his glasses further onto his face as Carla hovered by his side.
"I haven't threatened anyone, Mr. Baracus. I have merely put my pawns in place. Your Lieutenant is the one that challenged me. If you have any complaints, I suggest that you take them up with him. Where is he anyway? He owes me for the damages he's done to the facilities."
"In the shower." Frankie supplied, and Stockwell looked at his watch.
"Well, then get him out of it. I'm a busy man and don't like to be kept waiting."
"Busy threatening old ladies and infirm men." Face's voices sounded from the doorway, and he entered in another immaculate cut and tailored suit and looked as if he'd stepped from the pages of a fashion magazine. "And blackmailing innocent people into doing your dirty work." Face blinked at Stockwell.
"I was telling your friends, Lieutenant, that it would be better for you if you'd quit this silly game and stand down. We can merely attribute all this . . . silliness . . . to your recent
trauma, and go on with our normal lives."
"I am attributing all this to the recent trauma, and I'm NOT going to stand down." Face's head rose an inch. And as for normal lives, General, we don't have them. We've got blood and suicide missions, and screaming and torture. Some people live for things like that, and some people die for them, but not everyone wants to do them. You promised me a pardon, General, and I'm calling you on that promise. If you can't make good after this 'Game' then perhaps, these guys . . ." He jerked his head in the direction of the team. "Will finally see what you're made of. I. Want. That. Pardon." He stared Stockwell directly in the eyes, and the General's eyes flickered to the chessboard.
"I see. And I also see that you've removed a pawn and a rook. How much more are you willing to lose to pursue your pardon?" Stockwell looked directly at Face, who never blinked or moved.
"The question is, General . . ." Face intoned. "How much YOU are willing to lose? If I were you, I'd have the beautiful Carla there check on the status of Ables nineteen, twenty-three, twenty-seven, twenty-nine, and thirty-two."
"General, those are the people . . ." Carla stated nervously, and Stockwell frowned.
"I know who they are." He snapped. "Check on them." Carla left the room, and Face walked over to the chessboard.
"In all fairness." Face commented and removed a second pawn from his side and placed it on the General's. "I should count Frankie's Dad a point for your side as well. I didn't think you'd actually go after him." He shook his head. "But, oh, just to inform you, I had him moved BACK into the medical facility, and arranged it so that he can't be moved again without me knowing."
"Sir." Carla re-entered the room, and looked at Stockwell, who raised his eyebrow at her.
"You may as well report, Carla." He told her. "I'm sure the Lieutenant knows already. . ."
"Able nineteen was found in a dumpster unconscious in Chicago, Able twenty-three is in the hospital with a concussion and a broken wrist, also in Chicago. Able twenty-seven was found tied in his trunk in LA, while Able twenty-nine was found unconscious in a hospital bed also in LA, after being injected with a pretty strong sedative, and Able thirty-two left the organization suddenly, and has moved. We've been unable to locate him as of yet."
Everyone looked over at Face as he dispassionately removed five pawns from Stockwell's side and placed them on his own. "These pieces are out of the 'Game' General." Face told him and waved his hands over all the pieces off the board. "And aren't to be used again."
Stockwell raised his eyebrows, as if surprised by Face's intimation. "That would be cheating, Lieutenant. There would be no point to it now."
"Then we understand each other." Face looked at him directly. "You can only Con a Con once." His lips quirked upward. "As I'm sure YOU, of all people, know, General."
"I believe it's my move, Lieutenant." Stockwell told him and the screen went blank.
There was silence for moment, as Face gazed at the board, then looked at the team, and then back down to the board. "Face . . ." Frankie's voice was hesitant, and Face looked
over at him. "Will my Dad be all right? I mean, Stockwell won't . . ."
"No, I don't think he will." Face shook his head. "He's slimy and devious, and a bastard, but, in his own way, honorable. Both your Dad . . ." Face looked over at B.A.. "And your Mother, are protected." He looked at Hannibal and Murdock. "And so are Erica and Maggie. I had them put under protection too, just in case Stockwell decided to go after them."
"Did you purposely injure those Abels, Face?" Murdock asked, and Face blinked, then tilted his head.
"I didn't injure anyone. I merely told my contacts to ensure the safety of those named at any cost short of murder."
"I think I need to meet these contacts of yours." Hannibal frowned, and Face shook his head.
"Hannibal, you know I live, or at least, I did live, two kinds of lives the entire time we've known each other, but particularly when we were in LA. You know the kinds of relationships
I garnered, and the kinds of people I courted and brought into my scams and schemes . . ."
"Beautiful women and rich folk." B.A. piped up.
"Yes, and beautiful women and rich folk, as you so quaintly have called them, ARE and HAVE contacts. Plus, there's all the people we've helped over the years . . ."
Hannibal scowled. "We got paid by those people, Face. We did a job for them and in most cases, we got paid. After that, we were SUPPOSED to leave them alone. I THOUGHT that was understood."
"By me, yes, but you really SHOULD have told the rules to them, or need I remind you about Mr. Beller and the airplane? Besides, how else am I supposed keep our financial records straight if I lose track of the businesses we're part owners of? Hannibal, you really have no idea of how much stuff I have . . . had . . . to do to keep the team solvent." He stretched lazily. "But now, I really need to get some shut eye. I'm exhausted and I need to be alert for Stockwell's next move."
"Damn it, Face!" Hannibal slammed his fist into the wall, and Frankie jumped. "Sorry, Frankie." Hannibal sighed, and lowered his voice, but kept his scowl on Face. "As Commanding Officer of the A-Team, I ORDER you to stop this damned 'Game' you're playing, Lieutenant! Stockwell plays for keeps, and your pardon won't do you any good if you're DEAD, or the Government's equivalent! I don't want to lose you Face, and certainly NOT to Stockwell!"
"No offense, Colonel, but maybe it's time you realize you just don't quite have the power to ORDER me to do anything any more. And, perhaps it won't do me any good at that, but I still want it, and in this case, I AM going to get what I want." Face nodded.
"No pardon is worth a life, Face." Frankie spoke up, and his voice was almost desperate as he reached out for Face, but pulled his arms back in. "Not yours, not mine, not anybody's! Especially not after what you did for me back in that cell!"
Face clasped his hands behind his back and blinked, then snorted. "Which is exactly WHY I'm doing this. I won't be put through that again. I'm going to get that pardon if it's the last
thing I do, and if it IS the last thing I do, which even if I lose, I highly doubt that even Stockwell would kill me outright, then so be it." He merely shrugged, and Hannibal turned away and rubbed a hand over his face.
"Face, what exactly DID go on in that camp? I sent you two in to infiltrate it and cause confusion from the inside so that we . . ." He indicated himself, Murdock, and B.A.. "Could get the information Stockwell wanted. You two disappeared for three days, and we didn't hear word one! Yet, the day we decide to break in and try and find you to get you out, there you were, covered in welts and bruises, and not only shooting at anything that moved, but KILLING it as well!"
"I told you." Face's voice was toneless. "We got caught. We broke out."
"We know that part, Face." Murdock tried to reach out to Face, but the blond man backed away a step.
"We . . . we were . . . were tor . . . tor . . ." Frankie tried to speak, but he couldn't form the words, and Face sighed.
"Tortured." He said, and blinked. "We knew you'd come in after us, after not hearing anything from us, so we held out as long as possible, and took the first opportunity we had to escape. It just happened to coincide with your rescue attempt." He snorted. 'And, like most of your plans, Hannibal, the original one worked, it just didn't work right. We got in, we got out, and got the mission accomplished. I don't know what the problem you're having here, Colonel, but . . ."
"The problem, Lieutenant!" Hannibal almost shook with the force of his anger. "Is YOU and this sudden death wish you seem to have."
"I don't have a death wish." Face calmly shook his head. "I don't want to die at all, as a matter of fact."
"Then why this crazy 'Game' with Stockwell?" B.A. demanded. "And even if ya' do get your pardon, you really think he's goin' ta' let ya' go?"
Face blinked at him. "Once I get the pardon, I don't care what happens to me." His lips turned up slyly. "You people seem to have forgotten that I'm a Con - A Confidence Man - one who swindles using a Confidence Game, which of course is a swindle in which a victim is defrauded using their own confidence in the Con. And in case you haven't noticed, so's Stockwell. In fact, he's a Master, and with as good as I am, I don't get the chance to go up against someone of his caliber very often, if at all." His grin turned feral. "And if I win, I get that pardon, AND the knowledge that I've beaten a Master at his own 'Game'." He bowed to them. "But now, as much as I'd love to continue this debate on morals and ethics, I really do need to get some sleep." Face yawned and left the room.
"Frankie . . ." Hannibal turned to the young man after a long moment of silence. "We need to know what went on in that camp. We can't help either of you if we don't. I know you were beaten." Frankie nodded. "And whipped." Frankie shivered, then wrapped his arms around his chest and nodded. "I'm going to ask you one last question, and I need it answered honestly, okay?" Frankie's eyes widened, but he nodded. "Were you and/or Face raped in that camp?" Frankie gave out with a gasp, followed by a sob, and then he choked. Rather than answer, he turned and fled from the room. The sound of a slammed door answered Hannibal's question more eloquently than words ever could have. Hannibal felt a rage in him that he hadn't felt in a very, very long time, and he didn't know what to do with it. "S**t! S**t! F**K!" He exploded and suddenly kicked over the coffee table. Murdock exhaled a long breath and collapsed against the couch as B.A. curled his hand into a fist and looked around for something or someone to punch.
"Well . . ." Murdock looked down at the floor. "That explains Face's behavior."
"And why he's runnin' over anyone and anythin' in his path ta' get his pardon." B.A. growled. "Hannibal, that's twice this's happened ta' him!"
"And now Frankie." Hannibal ran a hand over his eyes. "He's just a kid, damn it." He paced. "Aw crap. We need a friggin' shrink, we need time to get these guys' heads together . . ." He glanced at Murdock, then in the direction that Frankie had gone. "If we can, AND we need Stockwell's cooperation to do it all. But with Face running his friggin' 'Game', we don't have, and can't get, ANY of that!" He banged out the door and Murdock and B.A. looked at each other, completely helpless and at a loss for anything to do or say that could help their friends.
***WARNING: This Is The Part Where You Find Out What Really Happened In The Camp. It's Two Paragraphs Long <Look For The AUTHOR'S WARNING Telling You Where It Starts And Ends> and Not As Described As In The Prologue . . . Please Remember It's Being Described By a Traumatized Young Man Who's Worked In Films.
Okay, now that's over, if you want to read all the warnings and stuff over again, check out Pardon Me 0/?***
% % %
"Templeton Peck! I'm going to rip your arms off and beat you with the wet ends!" Murdock crashed through the door and threw himself into the living room. Face looked up from the computer keyboard and blinked as he took in Murdock's drenched, shivering form and the fact that his left hand was cradled protectively under his right arm.
"That presents a rather intriguing picture." Face commented calmly and Murdock scowled deeply.
"What happened, Captain?" Hannibal asked as he, B.A., and as if he tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, Frankie, entered the room.
"This!" Murdock held up his hand, and from the way it was bandaged, they saw he had three broken fingers. "And, unless someone declared today a Lets-Kidnap-H.M. Murdock Holiday, I think your . . ." He spat the word at Face. "OPPONENT upped the ante! I managed to get away from the first set with only three broken fingers, and the second set, I LITERALLY dumped into a river! Damn it all, Face, I sure as hell hope your pardon is worth all this!"
"The end result of a Con is always worth any trouble." Face's grin was predatory. "Especially in this case."
"You aren't the one who's probably going to die of hypothermia and who broke three fingers escaping from some kidnappers!" Murdock yelled at his friend, his face red with rage,
but Face merely blinked, walked to the chessboard and picked up a knight from his side of the board and placed it on the General's side.
"That's true, I'm not." Face nodded impassively and contemplated the white side of the board, and Murdock kicked the wall.
"Damn it, Face! What has to happen to one of us to get through to you!? I'm sorry about the camp! We all are! It should never have happened! Not even once, but you've GOT to stop this! It's NOT a game! Stockwell tried to kidnap me! I'm a REAL PERSON, Face, NOT a piece of plastic on a board! Someone's going to get seriously hurt here!"
"Porcelain." Face broke in.
"What?" Murdock stared, and Face blinked.
"The chess pieces, they're not plastic. They're porcelain."
"I could care less if they were freakin' diamonds, Face!" Murdock raged. As Face bent over the white pieces.
"But, someone's already been seriously hurt, Murdock. And it's not your place to apologize for it." His eyes narrowed. "And I do believe it's time for a countermove." He looked up at the faces that stared angrily back at him, and he blinked. "I have to go out now . . ." He said, but Hannibal stopped him.
"No one goes out of here alone." He said. "It's too dangerous."
"Not to me." Face answered. "And I should be back tomorrow. Been preparing this little move for a while now."
"At least tell us where you're going." Frankie pleaded, but Face merely shook his head, his eyes cold.
"No. Chess is NOT a Team sport." He said, and then left the room.
"Hannibal! Do something! Go after him!" Frankie demanded, panicked.
"Frankie, I can't!" Hannibal snapped, then whirled on the young man. "And why's it so important to you what he does!? He treated you like crap in the camp, and he's treated you like crap SINCE!"
<AUTHOR'S WARNING: Here's the part I told you about up top>
Frankie paled, but he swallowed, and looked at his hands. "He did it for me." Frankie's eyes misted over. "You weren't there. You don't know . . . remember when you asked if we
were raped?" He looked at the floor and no one said a word. "We weren't. But he was . . . sort of, but he did it for me. He did it so that guy wouldn't rape me." The tears finally released, and
Frankie shuddered as his mind relived every horrible moment inside the camp, particularly the last few moments. "He called the guy names when the guy was touching me . . . threatening me, and made him turn to him. He made fun of him even." His voice ground to a halt, and Murdock stepped forward. They all knew that there was no chance for Frankie to heal unless he spoke of his experiences of his own volition, and the one best suited to get him to continue to speak, was Murdock.
"And then what, Frankie?" His voice was low and gentle, and Frankie's head slowly came up and he looked Murdock directly in the eyes.
"He seduced the guy. Face literally seduced him away from me." Frankie shuddered, and Murdock held onto his shoulders. "And he let the guy touch him. My god, Murdock, Face even . . . he even responded. He let the guy kiss him too." Frankie fell to the coffee table and used it as a seat as he wrapped his arms around himself and rocked back and forth. "And then he killed him." He looked up at the team, his eyes wide and filled with the residual shock, horror, and panic. "It . . . it was the only way . . . I knew it was . . . but Face stomped on his throat, Johnny. He squashed him like he was a bug, and then the guard was going to shoot him, but I kicked him and Face killed him too. I . . I had to get the keys from the guys dead body. I used my foot and there was so much blood." The tears fell harder and Frankie curled himself around his body. "It was my fault. I screamed and I was scared, and Face had to get touched and
had to kill because of me. You can't be mad at him because of what I did. Please." Frankie's voice fell to a whisper. "I made him do it."
<AUTHOR'S WARNING: Here's Where It Stops>
The team exchanged looks at one another over his head, and in silent agreement, Hannibal knelt by the distraught, younger man. "Frankie, listen to me." Hannibal's voice held no room for argument, and Frankie looked up at the Colonel. "That's a load of bull. That's not true at all. None of what happened was your fault, any more than what happened to us in Vietnam was our fault."
"Face was a soldier, Frankie." Murdock spoke up and sat beside Frankie and put his arms around his shoulders. "He was specially trained to deal with torture, AND to kill. You're not."
"You a Special Effects guy tryin' ta' help out your family." B.A. stood over Frankie protectively. "Ain't had no trainin' for none o' this stuff, but what you git every day, on a mission. Ain't none o' this your fault."
"Face did what he thought he had to do to get both of you out of that situation. It's no more and no less than what he's had to do before, and if he doesn't get his friggin' pardon, is going to have to do for the rest of his life . . . which may not be as long as he thinks it is, when I get my hands on him." Hannibal sighed. "But you've got to know, Frankie, that what Face decides to do IS his decision. It's NO reflection on you, and it's certainly NOT your fault. If you don't ever believe anything I ever say again, you HAVE to believe that." He ran a hand over his eyes and looked out the way Face had gone. "One thing's for sure, we've got to figure out some way to pull him out of this . . ."
"Don't, Hannibal." Frankie raised his hand, and his arm shook, but he steadied it with an effort. "He deserves this shot, Johnny, and if he wins, he deserves his pardon. It . . . it was real
bad in there, and this makes the second time for him just since Stockwell. I . . . I may not be as good . . . as good as he is at the soldiering stuff, but I can learn. And I can learn to run Cons
too." He grinned weakly. "Hell, maybe I can even take lessons from Stockwell."
"I'm beginning' ta' hate that man's name." B.A. groused. "Seen him more times now, than in the whole four years we been workin' for him!"
"This isn't Stockwell's fault either." Hannibal finally said, and they stared at him.
"What are you talking about?" Murdock paced. "If it weren't for him, we'd've . . ."
"We'd've what, Captain?" Hannibal demanded. "Still been on the run? Still ducking the military? You'd've still been in the VA.. And if I remember right, I almost lost you . . ." He looked at B.A. , then Murdock. "AND you, because we couldn't get proper medical attention when we needed it. If Face had been shot in that restaurant while we'd been on the run, and it could have happened, after all you three were NOT on a mission, do you think he'd be alive today? There would have been absolutely NO way we could have saved him. Stockwell may be a serious pain in the ass, but as bosses go, we could do a lot worse, and have . . . or, we could all be dead."
"You like Stockwell." B.A. almost accused, and Hannibal looked at him for moment.
"I respect him. There's a difference. Look around here, guys. We have a permanent place to live, recuperate, and even party when we want . . . and we seem to want to do that a lot." His blue eyes twinkled merrily for a moment, then he sobered. "We have instant medical help when we need it, retrieval when we need it, at least eventually, and he gives us free reign to work pretty much as we want to. Yes, the cases ARE harder, the stakes ARE higher, and no, we DON'T get to choose our missions, but you know damned well that we could get the hell out of here any time we want. And more importantly, Stockwell knows it too. At the moment, he needs us more than we need him. Remember, Stockwell and I have faced off a couple of times on a couple of different issues before and he's been the one who's backed down first." He leaned forward and his voice dropped. "However, should the scales tip too far into the other direction, I DO have several plans ready to be implemented at a moment's notice to get us out of here immediately if not sooner." He leaned back. "And speaking of noticing things, I've noticed that not
a one of you, outside of Face, and even he only attempted it once before, have tried to leave here."
There was nothing they could say to deny the truth of what he'd said, and Murdock sighed. "But what about Face, Hannibal?"
Hannibal inhaled deeply, then looked over at Frankie. "He's making another bid at leaving. And, like he said, he's doing it Stockwell's way this time. A way that Stockwell would have no choice but to respond to and ultimately respect, even if he hated it." Hannibal leaned back and looked at the ceiling. "However, Stockwell didn't get where he was by backing down from a challenge or being stupid. We can't ignore the fact that Face challenged him first, despite the provocation. Face even set the rules, which was basically, that there were no rules."
"Which got us and anyone wit' us involved." B.A. scowled. "If Stockwell don't kill him, Hannibal, I will."
"Like Face said, I doubt whether Stockwell's going to kill anyone over this, but I think we need to make it perfectly clear to the Lieutenant, the Con, that we are definitely NOT involved in his 'Game'."
TWO DAYS LATER
Face stumbled into the house, and his suit was rumpled and looked as if it had been slept in, his hair was disheveled, and his eyes bore dark circles under them, as if he'd been up all night, and were red-rimmed and puffy. He said nothing to the four men gathered in the room, as he went straight to his computer and turned it on.
"Lieutenant." Hannibal said. "We have to talk."
"Not now." Face waved him away, inserted a disk into the computer and booted it up. Hannibal, however, grabbed him by the shoulders and spun him around.
"You ARE going to listen to me, damn it, Face, and you're going to listen NOW!" His blue eyes shot daggers at Face. "Frankie told us what really happened in the camp, Face. All of it."
Face blinked. "So? Now you know. What of it?"
"You need help, Face, and you aren't going to get it by fighting Stockwell." Murdock raised his hand and scowled at Face. "I asked you before, who else is going to have to get hurt
before enough is enough!? B.A.? Hannibal? Frankie maybe? Did you protect him in the camp just to get him hurt in a bid for YOUR pardon?"
Face blinked, and his expression never changed, and his voice was toneless. "No, I didn't . . ."
"Then git this message, sucka', and get it loud and clear!" B.A. snatched Face from Hannibal's hands, and Face merely blinked into his dark, angry eyes. "We ain't gonna' play no more parts in your little 'Game'!" He emphasized his words with a light push, but a light push from B.A. was like a punch from someone else, and Face stumbled backward and fell over the coffee table and landed on the floor.
"I see that things are getting a little messy there." Stockwell's voice sounded from the screen, and slowly, with dignity, and not one change of expression, Face stood, straightened his tie,
and brushed off his jacket.
"And you expected no less." Face inclined his head. "Your pawns injured my knight. You didn't think the Team'd just let that go, did you?" Face smiled sardonically. "I certainly planned for it."
"Mr. Murdock was injured in an escape." Stockwell said. "I wasn't going to harm him, just borrow him for a couple of days to make you see this silliness of yours needed to end. However, he proved . . . stubborn and resistant . . ."
"Damn me to hell for resisting a kidnap attempt." Murdock snorted. "How silly of me."
"Stubborn." Face repeated. "That's a good word." He went over to the chessboard, and completely ignored Murdock as he removed the other rook, the other knight, the two bishops, and finally removed the queen from the board, then placed them by Stockwell's side, which left only a King and several pawns, while Stockwell had every single one of his pieces but for five pawns. A fact which Stockwell couldn't ignore.
"Your King is surrounded by nothing but pawns, Lieutenant Peck. You seem to be in Check."
"Appearances can be deceiving, General." Face smiled coldly, and his blue eyes were hard and lacked any sort of humanity at all. "Where's the lovely Carla today?"
Only silence met his statement, and Hannibal frowned. "Face, what did you do?" His voice was strained, but Face merely looked at his watch, and then the phone on the General's desk rang.
"Right on time. Oh, and General, I took the liberty of providing the speaker phone method for this conversation." Face nodded, and Stockwell answered the phone.
"General?" Carla's voice shook, and was filled with panic, and Stockwell looked at Face.
"Carla? Where are you?" He asked. "We've been trying to contact you all day."
"General, I'm at your house!" She almost squeaked. "The REAL one. Someone broke into my apartment last night -- I think it was Peck . . ."
"No. It wasn't me. But go on." Face put in calmly.
"You son of a bitch!" Carla suddenly screamed. "If you ever come near me again, I'll shoot you where you stand! Do you hear me!?"
"We don't have time for that, Carla!" He snapped, and Frankie jerked, as he remembered Face'd said the very same words to him in the cell when he'd tried to be sick after Face had killed the Dictator, and Frankie moved closer to Murdock.
"I'm sorry, Sir." Carla inhaled, but her voice was no more steady than it had been. "They . . . he . . . I don't know who, but they broke into my apartment and threw me in a blanket, then threw me into the trunk of a car. They drove me to the place that I recognized as your place, but how they knew where the place was, I have no idea. Anyway, they carried me up the stairs then . . ." She cleared her throat. "They tied me to the . . . your . . . bed."
"Did they hurt you?" Stockwell asked, and everyone looked at Face, who merely stood at the chessboard, his aspect bland and stony.
"No." They could hear the gasps in her voice as she wept. "Thank God. They cut a chunk out of my hair, though. And left a phone by my hand . . ."
"Why didn't you call earlier?" Stockwell asked, and her voice trembled uncontrollably.
"I tried. I tried to call you . . . to call anyone, but it's been blocked right up until this moment! This is the first chance I've had to talk to anyone!"
"I'll send someone to release you." He hit the off button, and Face pulled out a big chunk of long blonde hair.
"Just in case you need proof that it wasn't a set-up." Face told him and dropped the hair onto the chessboard as he removed the queen from Stockwell's side and placed it at his own. Stockwell stared hard at him for a moment, but Face never looked away.
"Hmm." The older man leaned forward on his clasped hands. "Rather a devious and nasty move on your part, Lieutenant. One I really didn't think you were capable of making. My compliments to you."
"I'll accept that in the vein it was given." Face inclined his head. "And One never knows what one's really capable of until they've been pushed far enough so as not to want to be pushed any further." Face said. "However, that's a moot point at this moment in time. I believe I've now Checked you General. I want that pardon."
"I still have moves left, Lieutenant. Quite a number of them as a matter of fact. In fact, I could choose to make you a liability. Do you know what happens to a liability in this business,
"General . . ." Hannibal stepped forward, but Face waved him silent with the back of his hand, and Hannibal went absolutely livid with anger, but stepped back.
"I know what happens to liabilities, General." Face said and walked over to the computer he'd started earlier. "And I prepared for the eventuality that you would use my life as the ultimate threat." He bent over the computer keyboard, and typed, then looked up as the computer beeped and loaded a program. "Have you ever really sat in front of a computer, General? Or have just left them to your peons?" Face's voice was almost pleasant, but not quite. "They are truly amazing devices, and the human mind works so well in conjunction with them. Let's see what a little engineering marvel and the human mind are capable of, shall we?" He pushed the enter button and a few minutes later, and the entire audience waited . . . for nothing it seemed, as nothing was exactly what happened, and the General smiled.
"Is there a point to this little demonstration, or would you just like to declare Checkmate now?" Face blinked, but suddenly, the General's phone buzzed, and he frowned, then answered it. "I'm going to change this number." He commented to no one, and went to speak, but a panicked male voice spoke first.
"General Stockwell!" It all but yelled. "Able Thirty-four here! We've got a rather large problem in our Records Department!"
"What are you talking about Thirty-four?" Stockwell demanded, and the voice continued.
"You know how you ordered us to transfer everything to computer!?" The voice didn't wait for a response. "Well, we were doing just that when a glitch appeared in our system!"
"A . . . glitch." Stockwell frowned, and tried to hit the private button on his phone, but nothing happened.
"Yes, Sir! We just lost several files of information!"
"Well, get them back!" Stockwell took off his glasses and leaned forward, and for the first time since they'd known him, the Team heard a trace of trepidation in the older man's voice.
"We can't! They were deleted from our system the minute the information was lost! It's gone, General!"
Face pressed another button on his computer set-up, and the printer grumbled to life. Paper rolled through the machine, and the ball zipped across the paper. "As you can see, General." Face continued conversationally. "Computers are indeed wonderful things, but they do have their weaknesses . . . like they can't tell one order from another and what place that order comes from. Now, as you are more than aware, we've truly entered the Information Age, General, and as both you and the good A.J. Bancroft knew, Information is Power. How much information do you have, General, that you can afford to lose, which actually translates into how much Power can you afford to lose?" Face's fingers hovered over the enter button on the computer again, and Stockwell searched the man's face for any sign of a bluff, but Face gave none, and was, in fact, deadly serious. "After all, General." His lips turned upwards. "You can only kill me once, but with one touch of my finger right here and right now, I could kill you a thousand times. Right at this moment, I could probably bring your whole Organization, or at least a goodly part of it, crashing down around your ears. I'm sure the media would LOVE to get their hands on some of this information. I personally know of at least ONE female reporter who'd KILL for this kind of story . . . you know the one I mean. Secret Government Organization Runs International Assassination Team?" His grin was feral and almost evil. "So, General. I repeat, DO I GET THAT PARDON?"
"You'll have it within the hour." The General finally said. "PROVIDED you read NONE of what you just printed out and hand it over to the Courier immediately upon receipt of your pardon."
"I agree." Face inclined his head, then hit the delete button on the computer. He bent over the keyboard, typed a line, then hit the enter button. Stockwell frowned as his personal
computer screen flared to life. "Isn't this a wonderful program, General?" Face asked. "A contact of mine developed it. You see, General, you can take down the hierarchy, but you should never, never, NEVER completely disregard your pawns."
"I'll have to keep that in mind." Stockwell said, then frowned at his screen. "And just what is the meaning of THIS?"
"It's what I want on the pardon." Face answered as he gazed steadfastly at Stockwell, and the man slowly drew off his glasses, then laughed.
"I must say, Lieutenant, you have been a most intriguing opponent. This was a VERY nicely played game indeed. In fact, forget the Courier. I'll see you myself." The screen went blank and Face pulled a manila envelope from the desk. He barely looked at the papers as he shoved them into the envelope, then sealed it tightly.
"Check and Mate, General." Face said as he exhaled and ran a hand through his hair.
There was a long silence in the room, and Face turned, then contemplated the others. "Well." Hannibal said. "You've finally got it. A real pardon. I suppose congratulations are in order here."
"Maybe." Face went over to the chessboard and tipped over the white king.
"What are you going to do now?" Frankie asked, and Face blinked.
"I have no idea."
"You didn't think you'd win, did you?" Murdock tilted his head, and Face's smile was odd.
"No, I knew I'd win. The prize was too important NOT too win. I just wasn't sure if I was going to be able top play out my last turn. I didn't know if I'd have time what with Hannibal and B.A. passing me between them like some sort of human football. I also didn't know if the computer would boot up in time, and I didn't have any time to test the program to see if it actually worked." He raised his eyes to the ceiling. 'Thank you Kermit." He sighed.
"I just want ya' ta' know, sucka' once ya' git outta here, I don't want ya' anywhere near my Mama." B.A. told him, and Face blinked, then inclined his head briefly.
"I won't, B.A.. You don't have to worry about that."
"And you know, Face, you probably shouldn't hang around here either." Murdock's voice was carefully neutral. "It wouldn't be safe for the others."
"I'm aware of that." Face blinked again, then looked over at Hannibal. "And what do you have to say?"
"I understand why you did it." Hannibal said carefully. "But I don't like the way you did it."
"Yes, sir." Face blinked again, then inhaled.
"Face." Frankie cleared his throat. "When . . . when you get out of here, could you check on my family? Please? Tell them I'm okay and that stuff. They . . . they don't know what goes on here . . . what I have to do, and I don't tell them."
Face didn't answer, but just blinked. "I have to go out again for a few, but I'll be back in time to meet with Stockwell."
He turned and walked from the room and left the others to their own thoughts and pursuits.
ONE HOUR LATER
Stockwell, with a somewhat haggard Carla, who sported a MUCH shortened hairstyle, entered the house, and found everyone but Face in the living room. "Where is he!?" Carla snapped, and as if he'd been cued, Face walked into the living room. Carla strode up to him, reared back and struck him a blow across his face hard enough to leave an angry, red handprint. He didn't even try to stop her, as she panted hard at him, rage on her face, and her hands were clenched into fists at her side.
"Feel better?" He asked, and raised an eyebrow.
"If I ever, ever, EVER catch you anywhere NEAR me again, I'll make sure you'll be able to join a boy's choir and sing Soprano for the rest of your life! Do you hear me!?" She almost screamed at him, and he merely blinked at her.
"Point of clarification, Carla." He answered. "I was never near you in the first place." Face looked over at Stockwell. "But when you swim with sharks, you take the chance of getting bitten at least once." He walked up to the General who held out his hand to Carla and she handed the older man a manilla envelope similar to Face's. "Open it first and show me." Face told the General, whose smile widened, and he did as Face had ordered.
"Exactly as you requested." Stockwell said as Face examined the paper, then nodded. He held up his own envelope and Carla snatched it from his hand. Face smiled, as if he were amused at her actions, and pulled a bankbook, along with two business cards, from the pocket of his suitcoat. Without another word, he turned and headed out of the room.
Suddenly, he stopped in front of Frankie, who looked up at Face, his eyes wide. Dark brown eyes met blue ones, and Face held out the paper. Face's eyes were serious, and never moved from Frankie's as he spoke, his voice solemn and calm. "Congratulations, Franklin Santana. You have officially been Pardoned."
Hannibal's mouth fell open, Murdock apparently decided that the floor was a good place to sit suddenly as his knees buckled, and B.A. just stared at the duo as if he'd gone catatonic. The silence was thick in the room, and no one moved a muscle, as Frankie's hand shook and he took the paper from Face's steady fingers. Almost in fear, he lowered his eyes to the paper. "It's my name." Frankie almost whispered as he ran a shaky finger over the ink on the paper. "Right there in black ink on white paper!" He suddenly yelled and his head shot up and he grinned around the room, his teeth almost all that could be seen in his face. "Franklin Santana is hereby declared innocent of all charges -- etcetera, etcetera blah blah blah and it's signed by the President of the United States himself! Look! He really signed it!" Frankie threw his arms around Face, who actually grinned, and Frankie ran around the room and showed the rest of the team the pardon. "Johnny!" He yelled and almost danced in his over-whelmed joy. "I can go home! I can see my Mom and my sisters and all my cousins and my Dad!" He suddenly stopped. "My Dad. How am I going to take care of him until I get another job?" Face smiled and walked up to Frankie, then held out the bankbook.
"You worked with the Team for four years." He smiled, and his blue eyes twinkled as Frankie opened the book and his mouth fell open at the size of the numbers within. "You get a share of the profits. The overhead's been decidedly low over the last four years, so the interest was able to accrue." Face handed Frankie one of the business cards, and continued. "There's a guy who works at Industrial Light and Magic. He's looking for a good Special Effects person. When you get back to LA, make sure you call him and tell him that Templeton Peck sent you. He'll hire you without question." Face took Frankie's hand and pressed the other business card into it. "And this person is expecting your call as well. She's a Doctor who specializes in the treatment . . ." Face cleared his throat and he blinked. "Treatment of torture victims, and believe me, she's very good at what she does." He looked seriously into Frankie's eyes. "Please, Frankie, give her a call."
"But . . . you did all this . . . stuff . . ." Frankie's eyes glinted suspiciously in the light, and he swallowed. "All this for me. What about you? You gave up your pardon for me."
Face shook his head. "It was never going to be my pardon, Frankie." He quirked his lips. 'If they'll still have me, my place is with the team and this crazy life. You, on the other hand, had a life, Frankie. A life you had no right to be told to give up. I'll survive. I always have." He grinned and for the first time in a little under two weeks, it was a normal, bright, cheerful, Face
grin. "And besides, I got a chance to run a good . . ." He shook his head. "No. I take that back. I got a chance to run a GREAT Con and I pulled it off." He looked at Stockwell, then back at
Frankie, and he sighed as sorrow darkened his eyes and for the first time in two weeks, he touched Frankie's shoulders. "I do want to say how sorry I am for the way I treated you back in the cell, and here. Frankie, I want to tell you that I think you are one of the bravest men I know. You didn't break back there in the cell, not even after that pervert threatened to rape you, and that's the most important thing for you to remember about getting through torture. You survived, Frankie, and I salute you." Face did salute Frankie, and the younger man solemnly, and gratefully, saluted back. "Now" Face continued. "The 'Vette's outside and filled with gas. Get the hell out of here, Frankie, and don't look back. If there's anything you want from here, let me know later, and I'll send it to you."
"You can't send me my friends, Face." Frankie told him and the two men embraced. Frankie hugged each member of the team, then looked at them uncertainly. "I can't thank any of you enough for all you've done for me."
"You did just as much for us." Hannibal grinned. "Now go on. Get out of here."
"Goodbye li'l bro." B.A. graced Frankie with the wide, heartfelt grin he so rarely wore, and Frankie laughed.
"Shoo." Murdock flapped his arms at Frankie. "Go. Flee. Run away, before Stockwell changes his mind."
"There's no chance of that, Mr. Murdock." Stockwell inclined his head. "Have a nice life, Mr. Santana."
With a loud whoop of triumph, Frankie raced out of the house, jumped into the 'Vette, and roared off.
Stockwell moved over to the chessboard and looked at the pieces, then studied Face for a moment. "You did very well, Lieutenant." He finally spoke. "Very well indeed. You are quite a . . . resource . . . I was unaware I had."
"It's the face, General. Throws people off every time." Face answered. "But don't think you can use me or the Team any more than you have already. You agreed . . ."
"Oh, I know what I agreed to. And I do keep my bargains. However, I am curious as to why you fought so hard for a pardon for Mr. Santana and no one else. You could have gone a lot further and perhaps included the others in the deal. You had the Power."
"I'd kind of like an answer to that myself." Hannibal put in.
"You know, come to think of it, you could have practically taken the moon." Murdock tilted his head at Face. "Why didn't you?"
"Yeah, foo'! Ya' gave up somethin' ya' always whined about gettin' . . ." B.A. frowned, and Face inhaled.
"I never wanted the moon or anything Stockwell wouldn't be willing or able to deliver." Face answered. "You see, we . . ." He indicated the team. "Are used to this kind of stuff. The screams, the blood, the torture, the missions. After all, we've been doing it for almost twenty-five years. We've learned what to do and how to survive in situations that would have killed most ordinary men, but Frankie didn't, and there was no reason he had to learn . . . ever. None of us are getting any younger here, but Frankie was only getting old." He smiled bitterly. "I wasn't going to let him throw away his youth and his life chasing after someone else's dreams, not when he had his own. It's been four years we've worked for you, General, and you haven't mentioned pardons except in passing, nor told us how close we are, if we're close at all, to getting them, and it may be a long time before you do. We all know this, and in an odd way, it's comforting to know we're still needed, I guess. Plus, we've all gotten used to this . . ." He waved his hand around the house. "After all, it sure beats being on the run constantly. However, while this is a strange kind of freedom for us, for Frankie it was a prison. A prison he didn't deserve to be in. And he sure as hell didn't deserve to be captured, tortured and used for someone else's perverted 'entertainment'. I was able to stop it the last time, but what about the next time? Or the time after that?" He glared. "I meant what I said when I said I was never going to be put in that position again. I'm never going to hear someone scream in pain, or be used simply because he or she chose to befriend us."
"I see." Stockwell nodded his head in obvious approval, but then looked down at the pieces on the board, and picked up the black king, then dropped it to the carpet. "Like I said, Lieutenant, I do keep my bargains and in my own way and time. You used my way, and won, but, this 'Game' ends here, and won't ever be mentioned after this." He stomped on the king, and it shattered under his foot. "Never Challenge me again, Lieutenant."
"Never give me a reason too, General." Face's grin matched Stockwell's and he dropped the white king and crushed that one as well.
"We understand each other then." Stockwell smiled at Face, who merely inclined his head, and Stockwell replaced his glasses, then waved to Carla. "Gentlemen, this has been a most interesting time indeed. You'll be hearing from me soon."
"Looking forward to it, General." Hannibal grinned, and Stockwell and Carla left the house.
A heavy, almost cloying silence reigned over the room, and suddenly, Hannibal applauded. Face looked up, and watched as the man took out a cigar and lit it. "That was a very nice performance, Lieutenant." Hannibal finally said. "You don't see someone who fits his job description as well as you do very often. I have never been so thoroughly Conned in all my life."
"You really had me fooled. I thought you'd gone nuts, and if there was one thing I know how to do, is to spot the crazies." Murdock nodded.
"You didn't tell nobody nothin'." B.A. rumbled. 'Ya' just went on bein' selfish and mean, and never let on what ya' was really doin''."
"I couldn't say anything." Face sighed. "If I'd given any kind of hint or clue as to what I was doing or why, Stockwell would have used it against me. As it is, I've got more dead bodies on my conscience. Hannibal, I really, really didn't want to kill them, I swear I didn't." He sighed. "Well except for that pervert in the cell. If I hadn't . . . he would have . . ." He swallowed. " I had to stop it. All of it." His shoulders slumped forward, and the facade he'd carried for almost two weeks dropped away and left only an exhausted, pained man in its place. Face swallowed and looked at the floor. "I had to keep the focus off you and onto me so I could get Frankie out of here, but then Stockwell went after the others . . . people he had no business going after, and I knew I had to be tough, tougher than I had been. As it was he almost got you, Murdock, and even if it WAS an accident, you got hurt. I never wanted any of you to get hurt. Which is why I said that someone had already been hurt and you shouldn't have had to apologize for it. It should have been me who apologized to you, but I couldn't at that point. I had to go on with the 'Game'. I wanted to stop, but I'd gone too far. The 'Game' itself had gone too far."
"We know that, Face." Hannibal finally spoke up. "But what you did, no matter how generous, was reckless and irresponsible. We're a team, Face. We're supposed to deal with things together. That's what makes us a team."
"You . . . you don't understand." Face drew in a ragged breath. "I . . . I had to redeem myself."
"We'd understand better if you explained everything all at once, and not just in bits and pieces." Murdock told him and Face ran a hand through his hair.
"I almost broke." He finally said. "When I heard Frankie's screams, I almost broke down and told them everything. I almost gave you guys to them on a silver platter, to stop Frankie's screaming." He closed his eyes. "Every time I close my eyes, I can still hear it." His voice dropped and rasped in his throat. "But I had to remember how it was in Vietnam and how even if people did talk, they were more often killed than not. I couldn't let them kill us. I had to get Frankie home, and in order to do it, I treated him like crap. Like he had no right to his fear or his screams, or anything." He looked at the others and swayed slightly, then gripped the edge of the table. "I had to kill and treat you like crap too. And I'm really, really sorry about that. About all of it." He scrubbed a hand over his face. "I'm also really, really tired, and I don't know what else I can say except I'm sorry. Although I'm not sorry for getting Frankie out of there . . . here. There's probably nothing I can do to make up to you for what I've done . . ."
"Shut up, foo'." B.A. said, and his voice, though gruff wasn't harsh, and Face looked up at him surprised. "You're babblin'."
"I guess I am." Face nodded. "I've been living on caffeine and adrenaline for the last two weeks, and I think it's hitting me." He swallowed.
"You haven't slept? At all?" Hannibal asked and Face shook his head.
"Tried, but nightmares and plans took care of those efforts." He let go of the table and wrapped his arms around himself as he shivered. "So many nightmares. So many plans. Damn, I hate being tortured. It's such a pain." He tried to smile but it was more of a grimace, and Murdock stepped forward and touched his arm, but Face drew away.
"None of that." Murdock said. "You took care of Frankie, and now you need to be taken care of too."
"Frankie." Face closed his eyes and the others knew that for really the first time in two weeks he allowed himself to actually think about, and to remember the cell and everything that had happened. "He touched him, Hannibal." Face's voice was weak with exhaustion and remembered horror. "All I could think of was that I had to stop him."
"And you did, Face. Frankie's safe and it'll never happen to him again." Hannibal sighed and walked up to Face.
"I couldn't be weak. Not at all." Face swallowed. "I had to say and do horrible things that I didn't mean." He blinked and shook his head. "Every time I made you mad or hurt, I felt a knife twist tighter and tighter and be pushed further and further into my gut. I could only blink whenever I felt the knife turn, rather than scream." He shuddered. "A couple times I thought you were going to kill me, and I was really scared that I'd gone too far."
"Was tempted." B.A. growled, and Face nodded, then sagged forward, and big hands that had pushed him away in anger gently held him upright, and Face's head fell forward.
"I'm so tired." He moaned.
"We'll get you to bed, then you can sleep." Murdock told him, and Face violently shook his head.
"Can't." He looked around at the team and sighed. 'I don't understand how you guys can possibly forgive me after what I did. After what I said."
"Face, you are one hell of a study in contrasts." Hannibal shook his head. "You gave up practically everything you ever wanted to save Frankie and get him out of here, and now you ask us to forgive you for that?" Hannibal shook his head. "I can't and won't do that. I've been trying to get Stockwell to get Frankie out of here for the last couple of years. He's a good kid and I didn't want to see him hurt and maybe get killed." He shook his head. "I wrote way too many mothers telling them their sons' had died in way too many meaningless ways, and I sure as hell didn't want to make Frankie just another letter."
"Besides, Face." Murdock smiled. "We've all been friends way too long to let words stand in the way. But, you gotta' know, you're not alone here, Face. Not now, not ever."
"So shut up an' listen ta' us for once." B.A. growled.
"Not alone. That sounds so good right now." Face whispered as his relief, fear, shock, and left-over pain hit him all at once and he collapsed against .B.A.. The bigger man cradled him gently against him, and Face's blond head fell against the dark shoulder.
"Ain't ever alone foo'. We're right here wit' ya'." Face's eyelids fluttered as he fought sleep.
"You know, maybe . . . maybe I could learn what Frankie did." Face said. "I could learn to do Special Effects too, maybe not as well as Frankie did, but I'd be willing to at least try." He
started as Hannibal touched his arm.
"I think you should sleep first before trying to learn anything to do with explosives." The older man smiled gently, and Face sighed.
"I'll scream if I sleep. You know that." He told them as B.A. carried him into his room.
"And we'll be here to hear you scream, and to stop it." Murdock promised.
"Don't leave me in the dark, please." Face shivered as Hannibal pulled off the younger man's shoes and B.A. gently laid him on the bed. "The cell was really dark. And there were rats. I
heard 'em." Face whispered, and they could tell that he was ashamed of his fear.
"Ain't leavin' ya at all." B.A. promised and pulled a chair to the bedside and his chains jingled as he sat.
"I . . . I'm sorry I'm afraid. You . . . you think I'd be used to this." Face apologized, and Murdock pulled the blankets over Face's body and he shuddered slightly.
"It's okay to be afraid. And there's no reason to ever get used to being beaten or tortured, Face." Murdock told him and he sat on the side of the bed and patted Face's shoulder reassuringly. "And there's no reason on this earth why you'd have to go through any of this alone. Not as long as we're here."
"And we're not going anywhere, Face. Trust us on that score." Hannibal reached down, and in a very rare, moment of what he admitted only to himself that was fatherly affection, he stroked the blond hair back from the pale forehead that still bore bruises from the recent abuse, then stood by the head of the bed, where Face could see him. Slowly, Face's hand slid out from under the blankets, and rested lightly on B.A.'s jeweled fingers, and he closed his eyes.
He'd only been asleep for two hours when the screams came. His eyes snapped open and he tried to crawl away from the hands that reached for him as his body shook violently with terror and pain that had too long been denied, and which refused to be ignored any longer. However, moments later, he recognized the feel of B.A.'s bejeweled hand, the sound of the crinkle of Murdock's leather jacket, and the smell of Hannibal's cigars, and he stilled.
"Shhh." Hannibal whispered. "It's okay, Face."
"We're right here." Murdock spoke up, and Face smiled as the last voice joined the other two.
"You're safe now." B.A. said, and Face nodded and burrowed further under the blankets.
"I know." He smiled, closed his eyes, then slept again, safe and secure in the knowledge that his friends -- his family -- were with him, and more than likely, always would be in one form or another.
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