The Right Words
by Capt Deb
Summary: An old memory leads to an understanding. Vague enough for ya?
Warnings: allusion to adult subject matter
The Right Words
Colonel John "Hanibal" Smith extinguished his cigar, propped his feet up on the coffee table, and laced his hands behind his head. He stretched until his joints popped, ignoring B.A.'s grimace of distaste, and sighed happily as he settled deeper into the comfy chair. The A-team was between jobs at the moment, enjoying a rare vacation at a scammed house in the country. They'd spent the day fishing and now, after a delicious meal of freshly-caught brook trout, Hanibal and B.A. were relaxing in front of the TV while Face and Murdock cleaned up the supper dishes. Hanibal listened to them argue good-naturedly while they worked. Smiling, feeling that all was right in his world, he closed his eyes and fell into a light doze.
The sound of a gunshot had him up and out of his chair, gun drawn, before he was fully awake. It took only seconds for his mind to replay and identify the sound - not a shot, after all. Probably a pot, dropped by the rough-housing men in the kitchen. His brain sent the signal for his body to stand down. Sliding his gun back into its holster, he was about to sit back down when Murdock's pale face appeared in the doorway. "Colonel," he said, his voice a strained whisper, "you better come in here."
Hanibal exchanged concerned glances with B.A. before bolting for the kitchen, the big sergeant hot on his heels. What he saw there alarmed him much more than a gunshot.
Face was crouched under the table, eyes wide and unseeing, body coiled tight with tension and completely still. The sleeves of his blue cardigan were pushed up to his elbows, and his hands, still wet and sudsy with dish detergent, were clenched into fists and pressed tightly to either side of his head.
Hanibal ran a weary hand over his face, and then the mask of control was back in place. "Murdock, B.A., secure the living room," he barked.
Murdock seemed inclined to argue, but B.A. steered him gently from the room with a large hand on the pilot's shoulder. "C'mon, fool. Hanibal knows what he's doin'."
And then they were alone. Hanibal turned a kitchen chair around and straddled it, then lit a cigar and puffed it thoughtfully for a moment while he searched for the words that would bring Face back. He felt old, horribly so, as he watched the still figure of his lieutenant, frozen in terrified tableau. "Déjà vu, kid," he muttered softly. "Déjà vu."
* * * * *
This time the V.C. had to drag him back to the pen. God, he hurt all over.. His muscles refused to obey him, and for a long, almost-peaceful moment, he lay where they had dropped him, face down in the mud. All too soon he felt a questioning touch to his back. "Colonel?" With a groan, Hanibal pushed himself up and allowed B.A. to help him to a sitting position. "Thanks, B.A.," he muttered, leaning wearily against a post."
"Hanibal, we got a problem."
"Yeah, no kidding."
"'M serious, man. Somethin's wrong with Face."
Hanibal opened his eyes. The kid had been taken early yesterday and not returned to the pen at night. In the darkest corner of the pen he could see huddled shapes, hear Captain Murdock murmuring soothing nonsense words. With a heartfelt groan, he rolled to his hands and knees and started to crawl. "When did they bring him back?"
"Little while after they came for you. They hurt him this time, Hanibal. Hurt him real bad."
Something about the way B.A. said 'hurt' made Hanibal's heart sink. "Let's have a look at him," was all he said.
Face was crouched unmoving in the mud, the tattered pieces of his uniform soaked through by the monsoon rains. His eyes were huge and seemed fixed on something only he could see. As Hanibal drew closer, he could smell blood and fear rolling off the young lieutenant in waves. Face had his hands up, but not in a defensive posture; rather, they were clenched tightly to either side of his head, as though he could physically hold on to his sanity. He seemed completely unaware of Murdock's attempts to soothe him.
Hanibal hauled his aching body to a spot near his catatonic officer. "Hey, kid," he began, keeping his tone casual, "you look rough. Wanna tell me about it?" As expected, he got no response. Hanibal turned to the rest of his team. "Give us a little privacy, okay?"
There wasn't much privacy to be had in the POW camp, but the team did the best that they could. Hanibal gave his man a visual inspection, noting the pattern of his injuries and drawing a grim conclusion. Dammit, he thought wearily, what the hell do I say to him? How do I get him through this?
"Okay, kid," he sighed. "I think I understand. I know it feels like the end of the world right now, like the very last straw, but it isn't, not really. It's just one more dirty trick to break you down."
Taking a chance, Hanibal reached out with both hands and grasped Face's wrists. "Look at me. C'mon kid, look at me!" The colonel gave his man a rough shake, hoping for some reaction - any reaction. "Some day we're gonna bust outta this hellhole, and this will all be a bad dream. You will have your life back, lieutenant. I promise." Hanibal held his breath and waited. When the blue eyes blinked and started to focus, the colonel allowed himself a smile. "That's it, kid. Come on back."
Finally, a shudder ran through the martyred body before him. The tense muscles softened, and Face fell slowly forward until his head rested on Hanibal's shoulder. The colonel sheltered him within his arms, rocking him a little while the younger man shivered. "It's okay if you want to cry, kid. They won't see you."
When the young man finally spoke, it was with a voice small from terror and hoarse from hours of screaming. "I didn't tell them anything, sir."
"I know, son."
And then the floodgates opened, and Hanibal held him while he grieved.
* * * * *
"I don't know what sent you back there, Face, but you're safe. I need you to come back now." Hanibal shook the old memories off and rose from his chair. His knees creaked ominously as he joined Face on the floor.
"I'm getting a little old for this," he chided gently. "Probably gonna need B.A.. to get me up again."
Hanibal studied the blank features of his long-time friend and was a little startled at the signs of aging he saw there. Face's jaw had squared out, no longer softened by the traces of baby fat he'd carried at nineteen -and when had he gotten those lines around his eyes? 'I watched him grow up,' Hanibal thought, then, 'I raised him.' The thought brought a lump to his throat, and he reached out and smoothed the golden hair in sheer wonder. 'My kid,' he thought in amazement and wordless pride. 'The only one I'll ever have.'
When he found his voice, he knew exactly what to say.