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The Exchange... Excerpt from Bitter Harvest
by Rita Ractliffe (lovpeppard)
Rated: Entire book will be R-X overall, this chapter PG-13
Summary: Hannibal has surrendered himself to Vietnam to save his 4 year old son, telling the Team to go back to US and follow through on info and evidence they've found in Bangkok that will absolutely free them and get their pardons, WITHOUT Stockwell's help. They're trapped, can't do it and help him too. He says to go, he'll survive.
Warnings: Ultimate book: Very Adult themes, cons M/F sex, VC/Russian torture for information, Laotian/Cambodian border atrocities. Ultimate book not for weak stomached.
Disclaimer: A-Team characters were created by Cannell and Lupo and are owned by Universal. Original characters and story otherwise belong to me. Copyright: 2000
Maggie nodded, her mood starting to go downhill. It was beginning to hit her, hard, that these were the last moments she was going to have with Hannibal for a very long time and now the damned Vietnamese had even screwed that up. She rolled over and reached for her own clothing, pulling on undies, then slacks and a blouse she'd set out the night before. Managing to carry through Hannibal's hard-boiled lack of modesty, Maggie moved around the room, brushing her hair as she did so. Finally put together, she reached down for the briefcase with all the papers they needed to take with them. She set it on the bed, then went to him, wrapping her arms around his waist, while looking up at him.
He looked down at her. "Some party, huh, doc?" He bent down and lightly brushed the top of her hair with his lips, while his frosty eyes glared at the guard. //Damn the bitch! Hope she gets her jollies for the day//. Then he returned his attention to his wife. "C'mon, doc, we gotta go. Do you have all the papers?"
Maggie raised swimming eyes up to him. "Yes." Her voice quavered.
"Hang in there, Mags. It'll be done soon."
"I don't want it done ...soon."
"I know... I know. But there's no help for it now. C'mon, stiffen up that chin and be that gutsy broad I've always been so proud to have by my side." He placed his finger under her chin, and titled her face up for a long lingering kiss. The emotion was exuding in waves and the Vietnamese watchdog couldn't help but feel the intense feelings between the two people in the room.
He reached down for the briefcase and hoisted it up, holding out his right hand for Maggie. She joined grips with him and united, they headed for the door, intent on finishing this sad journey.
The ride to the magistrate's area had been long and silent. It was hard to carry on their usual light banter with both Thuy and the prissy woman sitting next to them. Hannibal tossed out a couple of questions about procedure to Thuy, who answered with short, clipped answers. From everything he could tell, he was as ready as could be to effect the swap. He had kept his hand wrapped tightly around Maggie's the whole trip. It was probably the only thing that was keeping him from getting a worse case of nerves than he already had. The bravado was fine, it was and always had been a big part of him, but internally he knew he was dreading the next few hours. Once they were done, then it would be simply a matter of getting into a new routine and surviving it -- but now it was a matter of just getting through those hours.
As the jeep came up to an outpost and then stopped, Hannibal squeezed Maggie's hand hard. "D-day's here." //God it's gonna be so hard to let go of her.// He steeled his nerves. He'd agreed to this -- he'd see it through.
An outside guard came over and opened the door. Hannibal stepped out then holding Maggie's hand, assisted her out. He pointedly turned his back on the two Vietnamese. //Let them fend for themselves. They're not getting any help from me!// He followed the guard in front of him as he led the way into a large bamboo building. The guard stopped, then motioned for him to go inside. As Maggie moved to join him, the soldier placed his arm across her chest, indicating she was to stay outside. Panic flooded her eyes as she wondered if this was where they were going to be separated.
Thuy pushed past her to join Smith at the doorway. He glanced back at her for a brief moment, understanding her fear. With a moment of unusual awkward compassion, he tried to reassure her. "You must stay here, lady. You will join him later."
Maggie's eyes flashed her gratitude for this small scrap of consideration, then her eyes caught Hannibal's and wished him well. He nodded, understanding, then turned and went in.
Hannibal pushed open the bamboo door and stepped stiffly inside, aware of all the heavily armed guards standing around, watching every move he made. Then his gaze settled on the small person across the room - the focus of all this attention - the small duplicate of himself ? and his gaze softened. The boy looked up at him with apprehension. His whole future now lay in this man's hands. Would he be rejected and cast away forever? The blue-grey blue eyes were filled with moisture as he bravely tried to stand tall, to be a son to be proud of.
Smith looked at him for the longest moment, aching with yearning. The damned Vietnamese had rigged it cleverly so that he would not leave this room a free man. He had resigned himself to that. Maggie elected to wait outside, to give him his precious first minutes with his child alone. He slowly dropped to one knee and held out his hand to the boy. Truan looked nervously up at the men who had been his keepers. They nodded curtly, and he began to move hesitantly toward the tall man. In a moment emotion took over and he was running to find himself swept up in the strong arms of the man and hugged tightly to his chest. Hannibal's throat shut tight at the emotion he was suddenly feeling and he held on to the boy for dear life. "Thee are well?" he finally managed to gasp out in rigidly formal Vietnamese. He felt the child's almost frantic nod.
"Thee art here, father... I am well." Truan was thrilled that his father spoke Vietnamese.
Hannibal was amazed at the level of maturity the boy was exhibiting. "And thy mother?"
"She is well."
Hannibal caught the catch in his voice. "Thee may speak the truth to me always, Truan. I shall not hurt thee." He pulled back and finally gazed the child full in the face.
Teary eyes looked back at him, searching for his roots, the confirmation that he was finally where he belonged. "My mother is well, but I am sad I will never see her again." His lower lip quivered slightly. It was so hard being grown-up but he'd promised her he would not shame her before all the members of the cadre.
Hannibal looked at him and nodded, soberly. "If it be possible, perhaps we can bring her to our home; I cannot say now. We must wait to see what the good government wishes of us."
His gaze rose above the child's head and stared coldly at the various party members around the room, who returned the look back every bit as contemptuously. Let the American have his moment of pique; he would remain to feel their wrath. They could afford to be patient and pleasant in the meanwhile.
He returned his gaze to the child. "We must talk, small one. The lady - ba - who shares my life waits outside. She desires to be thy American mother. Thee shalt have two mothers." He reached up and gently tousled the boy's whispery fine hair, so like his own in an earlier time. Truan looked at him curiously, but sensed the gesture was not meant to harm him or belittle him. Hannibal slowly stood up, holding the child's hand tightly in his own.
He was beginning to realize how desperately hard it would be to let go of that hand and watch this boy leave with Maggie out that door. He felt waves of raging hormones and protective instincts the like of which he'd never experienced, even with the Team. He suddenly intensely regretted that he'd never given in to Maggie's pleas to give her a baby of her own a continuation of him should he be lost to her. He suddenly understood -with a great jolt - just what she'd been feeling. Shaking off the oncoming mantle of gloom from his shoulders for awhile longer, Hannibal asked a favor of the senior officer. "I would like to meet the child's mother. I would like for the child to have photographs of his mother and be able to write to her with no reprisal to her from your government. I ask these favors..." he paused for a moment, trying to get his mood into the right shade of subservience, "humbly of the kind and lenient government of Angiao Phong." //Words I never thought to utter again of his own free will as long as I lived... how little any of us know of life.//
The officers leaned in towards each other and began chattering furiously. This was not in their neat plans. Finally, one of them answered him. "It is most unusual, the request you have made. The woman is nearby until the child has gone. If you wish it, we can bring her here."
Hannibal nodded tersely. "I do wish it."
"The other is difficult. We have no pictures of the woman. It is not to her best interests to receive letters from America."
Hannibal's patience was unraveling. "It can harm no one, and will calm her mind. Do this and I will cooperate in every way with you." That enticing tidbit caught their interest immediately. They were all aware of his formidable reputation and were anticipating a trying time with him. Perhaps they had a better hook here than they realized. After a round of animated discussion, they agreed. A guard was dispatched.
Maggie sat by the closed door, watching the minutes tick by on her small diver's watch. When the two soldiers swept by her, hurrying outside, she stood up, feeling a sudden sick lurch in the pit of her stomach. She looked around to see if anyone could or would tell her what was going on. She looked helplessly from one to the other. None of them even returned her gaze. Worried now, she slowly sat back down, trying to compose herself.
Hannibal wanted time to stop entirely so that he could fill himself with the image of the small person standing next to him. All the missed opportunities, all the times not to be were clamoring at him, and he was truly afraid that if he remained here for too long, he would fight to remain with the boy, while his sensible side knew that was the worst thing he could possibly do. In a deep husky voice he asked for Maggie. "I ask that the lady doctor be allowed to join us."
His request was immediately carried out. Maggie had been waiting for this moment and as soon as she'd been called, she'd gotten up and gone to the door, willing herself to be strong and brave for Hannibal's sake.
The door opened and Maggie stepped in. She was caught up instantly at the exquisite sight of two Hannibals standing before her: one large, one a miniature counterpart.
Her Hannibal's eyes were moist and she could read the sudden intense ache and longing there. Of course, he wasn't prepared - he had no idea how a child changed everything. For the umpteenth time, she wished she could have had Hannibal's baby herself. She read in his eyes that he finally understood her need all this time and now hated that he had denied her. It was a bittersweet feeling, but in a perverse way, one that she was glad he was finally experiencing. There's no turning back now, Hannibal. We've lost our last chance. She looked down at the tightly contained boy next to him, just barely out of his toddler years.
Truan stood stalwart and straight, anxiously gazing at her, waiting for her verdict. Just because his father had accepted him did not mean that his father's woman would. His own mother warned him that his father probably had a wife -- a wife who would not be pleased at having a bastard child come into her life, and that he must at all times strive to please this woman, for she was the one who could send him from his father's house. He almost didn't dare breathe, for fear of displeasing her.
Maggie looked at him with almost the same longing Hannibal had exhibited moments before. She likewise knelt down in front of them. "You are Truan?" Her voice was pleasant and light, and held a large note of affection. Truan nodded, answering to his name only, still uncertain. "Hannibal, he's adorable," she said looking up at Smith in amazement.
He nodded back, striving for a bit of lightness. "Yeah, Maggie, the genes tell every time." She screwed up her face and punched him in the knee for that.
Truan stared at her aghast, totally uncomprehending of what the people were talking about, and shocked that a woman would hit a man. Then he looked up at Hannibal and saw the same light of love in his eyes for the woman that he'd given to him. Truan shook his head, bewildered. These Americans were strange people.
Maggie realized almost instantly the cultural gaffe she had committed and hastened to reassure the boy. "It's all right, Truan. He is a soldier and needs a woman's hand to gentle him at times." She looked deeply into the boy's eyes, knowing he spoke no English; hoping her voice alone would persuade him. He could see the affection in her eyes and understood she was comforting him. He nodded solemnly. "May I take your hand?" Hannibal was translating rapidly, before the government man could jump in with his own version. Truan nodded again and proffered his hand to her. She took it, stroked it lightly and then took it fully in her own. She stood up, beside them, the three of them linked together.
The door rustled and then opened. Hannibal saw the girl first. She was still tiny, but stress had aged her. She had to be maybe seventeen or eighteen now, yet looked so much older. She saw the boy almost instantly and had to stifle the cry that came to her throat. Truan tried to look brave, but he was wavering. Hannibal let go his hand, and nodded to Maggie, who did likewise. "Go to thy mother, child. We honor her and ask her permission to take thee with us." He locked gazes with the girl, remembering the time four years earlier when they had locked gazes of a much different sort. She looked back at him in utter amazement that any man, much less an American, could so completely comprehend her tumultuous feelings. Truan ran over to her, gave her a huge hug. She bent down and picked him up, cradling him in her arms.
Maggie's heart gave a lurch at watching them. What a choice... to have to give away this beautiful child to a complete stranger. //God, could I do it?// She reached for Hannibal's hand to give it a tight squeeze, feeling suddenly very vulnerable and overpowered at just what everyone was giving up here..
Back with the one person whom he trusted, Truan's staccato Vietnamese was more relaxed, animated and less formal... "It is alright, mother, he wishes me as his son. His lady also. Perhaps you can join us in America later... father has said it." He cast a bright-eyed, sparkling gaze back at Hannibal, who nodded and smiled warmly back.
Ngyuet began to cry, even as she stood there, tightly holding onto her small person. This man was miles above any man she could possibly visualize in the depths of his compassion. Choking her tears back, she asked tremulously, "You wish to go with him then, my son?" Truan nodded enthusiastically. Ngyuet bent down and placed his feet on the floor. "Then go to your father, my son, with your mother's blessing." She stood there watching as the boy scampered back to the Americans.
Maggie caught his hand as he went hurtling by. Hannibal took a few steps over to the distraught woman. "Ngyuet, I thank thee for this gift - you cannot know how precious it is. I also thank you for your courage and love in releasing thy son. I promise he will never cease calling you mother. He shall remember and be filled with pride of his Vietnamese mother. I will see to it." He took her and pulled her into a gentle embrace. "I pray that life will be better for you."
She looked up into his eyes, remembering so long ago when she'd been utterly captivated by his eyes, and then his body. She stole a glance over to Maggie, momentarily envying this woman who had the love of this man. She suddenly felt very lucky indeed to have been in his life at all. As she continued to watch him, a flush began to suffuse her features, and she pulled away slightly, mortified at her initial part in all of this.
Hannibal saw it and knew instantly what she was thinking. He brushed her cheek lightly with his thumb. "You did nothing to feel shame now. It was a different time. It was meant to be, perhaps. You have brought me this gift which I cannot begin to thank you for." She closed her eyes, willing herself to remember for all eternity the gentle touch on her face. It was all she would have for the rest of her life. Hannibal sensed it too, and made his caress as gentle and loving as he could, softly kissing her lips, finally forgiving her for the earlier pain.
The Cadre officers were growing weary of watching all these people groping each other, and wanted to be done with this whole charade. "It is time to be moving on, Colonel. Make your goodbyes and fill out the paperwork which is required."
Smith glared daggers at the man who dared to intrude reality into his magic moment. He realized that Ngyuet did not know of the bargain he'd agreed to rescue the boy, and he preferred she not have to remember that with everything else. "I think it best if you leave, Ba, and take with you our eternal gratitude." He lightly placed his hands on her shoulders and began to swivel her around. She took the hint, and began to leave, taking one long last glance at her boy. Then she quickly fled the room.
Maggie looked at him with worry in her eyes. //Was it time already? It's not enough time! This isn't right.//
Hannibal must have sensed her thoughts; he went to her and took her shoulders in his grasp. "I think our friends are getting ready to pull the plug on our party, Maggie. It's best if we don't give them any reason to change their minds. Think of me often, my love. I'll never stop thinking of you. And thank you for caring for this part of me. I wish I could..." his voice faltered, the unflappable Hannibal Smith finally at a situation he couldn't command, "could be with you ... and him. Maggie, I'm sorry... I never understood before now... a baby... y'know." He took her tightly into his arms and held onto her as if he could never let go. He finally had to break it.
He knelt down to Truan. "You must go now with my lady, my son. You must act as her escort in my stead. I have business I must finish here to make it possible for us to leave. I entrust you with her safety." Hannibal's voice held no amusement nor sarcasm. He was laying a heavy burden on one so young, but he was also sure the boy would see it through. "I will join you shortly."
He turned back to Maggie, rising to his feet once again. "Maggie, I don't know if I will ever see you again in this lifetime, but..." his hands tightened on her arms.
Her eyes were red from the suppressed tears she would not give the Vietnamese the satisfaction of seeing. "Sshh. I always think positively, John Smith. Until the next time I see you, just remember I love you with every fibre of my being, and be assured, your son will have no finer mother."
"Promise me you'll try to get Nguyet out if you can."
She nodded. //Damn you, Hannibal... always thinking of everyone else except yourself. God. what am I going to do without you?//
"None of this was really her fault. We're all just pawns in a game bigger than any of us." He bent down suddenly, seizing the opportunity to savor the taste and feel of her lips one last time. It might have to last him the rest of his life, however long that might be.
Then he felt the strong arms of the small wiry guards pull them apart. Personal contact was not condoned here, and especially from a My spy.
Fighting free of their tight hold, he took the boy into his embrace for one last time. His head suddenly bowed and Maggie saw his shoulders start to shake. Hannibal was losing it. They had to get out of here - now! She grabbed the boy's hand, and began to move away, pulling him along.
Hannibal relinquished his grip but didn't raise his head; he didn't dare. He would never have allowed them out of the room, otherwise. He hunkered there, his arms clasped tightly around his chest, until they had left, and he had his emotions back under control.
He then stood up, slowly, cautiously, not sure what to expect from the Cadre now that there were no witnesses. Two guards moved forward, took out manacles and began to shackle his wrists. It took every bit of control Smith had to bite down the urge to fight his way out of there. It was not what he had promised, and he had given his word. He looked out the window and could see Maggie's head and the smaller one next to her getting in a jeep and moving away. Hannibal had never felt so alone.
Walking out that door had to be the hardest thing Maggie had ever done in her life. She could still feel his tormented kiss on her lips. Praying she would not hear any gun shots behind her, indicating they had taken care of Hannibal on the spot, she clutched Truan's hand tightly and followed the sanctimonious translator into the office to fill out the final, formal adoption papers which had been processed speedily through the bureaucracy so as to be ready. She handed over the forms and backup documentation they needed to finalize this very bizarre legality. Vietnam had a strict, formal policy for adopting illegitimate children, especially by foreigners. //Even if that foreigner is the child's own natural father, they still throw up all this shit to complicate it.//
Hannibal had read up on the Vietnamese codes and Thuy had told him what he needed to have with him to make the swap happen, assuring him all time requirements had been accelerated or waived. Hannibal assembled all the paperwork he could get together on such short notice to bring with them before he had agreed to anything. Trusting the Vietnamese only as far as he could see them, he had no intentions of giving himself over to them just to have them renege on the deal.
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