Summary: Does the team always watch out for its own?
Warnings: Death story, language, adult situations, rape, violence. Some of it is quite gruesome.
On the balcony of an expensive penthouse in Santa Monica, a handsome man finished his second bottle of very good wine and rose unsteadily to his feet. Gripping the railing with both hands, he closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of the ocean, letting the salt-sea air blow through his dark blond hair.
He had survived many things, this man. He had known terror, pain, loss, and the cold touch of death; had known them all, in fact, before his twentieth year. He had been hunter and hunted, sinner and sinned against, lover and fighter and brother and son
Now he only felt tired and discarded, like a spent casing ejected from a rifle and forgotten in the dust. Stumbling back to the table where the empty wine bottles spun slowly on their sides, he grasped one of the rattan chairs and dragged it to the railing. He stepped onto its seat and from there onto the railing, making his way carefully with bare feet. Balanced precariously, he turned his gaze to the heavens, as though awaiting one final order. After a moment he closed his eyes, a small, peaceful smile touching his lips even as tears streamed from beneath his lids. "Okay," he whispered, nodding his head. "Okay."
Arms outstretched, he leaned his body forward, the wind fluttering his loose white cotton pants like doves wings around his body. With a grateful sigh, Templeton Peck free man, holder of an official government apology, and career orphan succumbed to gravity and fell.
Six months ago
Colonel Roderick Decker shut off the engine of his Chrysler LeBaron and stepped into the late afternoon sunshine. Tugging at the jacket of his dress uniform, he gazed upon row after row of neat white crosses and wondered, not for the first time, if he was making a mistake in coming. The day smelled like freshly-mown grass, but for a brief moment he was sure he smelled napalm
Decker shook his head slightly at his own foolishness. Youre getting old, Rod. Old and sentimental. He had lived too long, seen too much, to start regretting things now.
He locked the car and started walking towards the group gathered on the hill. He could hear the shutters of cameras clicking from the cordoned-off area that contained the press, but his eyes sought out the people clustered around the flag-draped casket. He knew them all from years of intense study the reporter, the veterinarian, the VA shrink, Brenners widow, the doctor from Black Rock; and behind them former clients of the A-
Team, come to pay their respects. Deckers eyes noted and dismissed each face in turn, finally seeking out the three men standing at rigid attention before the casket.
Standing at attention in their class As, the remaining members of the A-Team kept their gazes locked on the casket while a uniformed chaplain recited scripture. Decker tuned the words out, concentrating instead on the men hed spent so many years pursuing. Baracus was minus his trademark gold and had somehow fit his special forces beret over his garish haircut. His uniform was straining to cover his barrel chest, and there were streaks of gray in his beard that somehow made him look even more fierce, but his eyes were wide and vulnerable in a way that brought a lump to Deckers throat. Beside him stood Murdock, tall and lanky as hed always been, swallowing rapidly and blinking back tears. Next to him, Peck stood as though carved out of granite, back ramrod straight, features frozen, eyes cold and shadowed under his beret. He was thinner than Decker remembered, harder somehow, and like his team mates, older.
The chaplain stopped speaking and stepped back from the grave, nodding to the officer in charge of the detail. In short order, seven uniformed men raised rifles to their shoulders and fired three precisely-timed shots each. Peck flinched slightly at the sound, but regained his composure almost immediately. As the last gunshots echoed through the quiet cemetery, two uniformed soldiers stepped forward and lifted the flag from the casket, folding it with crisp, silent movements. When they were done, a three-star general took the flag and presented it to the lady doctor from Black Rock. Dry-eyed, she accepted it, then moved forward to lay a yellow rose on the caskets lid.
The officer in charge called the detail to attention with a sharp bark. "Present arms!" came the command, and all uniformed personnel, the A-Team included, saluted the casket. They remained that way while the bugler played Taps and the casket was slowly lowered into the waiting grave. Baracus chin was trembling now, and Murdock had tears coursing freely down his face. Decker himself felt vaguely ill at the wrongness of the whole moment. Only Peck seemed untouched by the emotional atmosphere, holding his salute with a steady hand, his expression never changing.
And then it was over, and the crowd began breaking up. The team members spoke to a number of people, receiving hugs from more than a few while camera shutters clicked. The three men stood together for only a moment, speaking quietly, then Baracus walked slowly away with his elderly mother, Murdock with the lady veterinarian, until Peck alone remained, one hand in the pocket of his uniform pants, staring dully at the hole in the ground.
Decker was stunned. If he hadnt witnessed it for himself, he never would have believed it: the A-Team had just abandoned one of its own.
He found himself moving across the grass as the sun set, taking up a position next to the silent mourner. "A heros burial," Decker said after a few moments of gazing at the grave. "I think hed be pleased."
"I think hed rather be alive," Peck ground out. Turning abruptly, he stalked down the hill in the direction opposite the one taken by the other mourners. Decker hurried to catch up with him, though he wasnt sure why.
"Why are you here, Decker? To gloat? Cause Im really not in the mood to hear it."
"Im not here to gloat," Decker said. "I came to pay my respects."
"What respects?" Peck never slowed in his stride, never turned his head in Deckers direction. "You hounded the man for years, never gave him a moments peace. Hes been cleared of the Hanoi job. Hes free now, Decker. Free of you. Let him rest in peace, for Gods sake."
"I had great respect for him as a commander, even if our methods differed. I think he knew that."
Peck finally stopped, rounding on him with barely controlled fury. "What he knew, ROD, was that he couldnt marry the woman he loved, could never have kids or grandkids or a home or a FUTURE, because you were always behind some bush waiting to jump out with your little toy soldiers. Now that hes dead, the government decides he was a hero and all the top brass in the damned Armed Forces want to pay their respects. You wanna know what hed think of that? You wanna know what hed do? Hed spit right in your face, ROD, because above all else, he hated a hypocrite. So get out of my face, and get the fuck out of my life before I haul off and belt you one in his memory."
Peck started walking again, but stopped a few paces away, breathing heavily. It took a moment for Decker to realize that the lieutenant had no idea where he was going. "Peck," he said, "look at me." The younger man hesitated, then turned around. Decker kept his distance, but captured his gaze with steel-blue eyes. "Im sixty-eight years old, son. If hitting me will make you feel better, you go right ahead. But knocking an old man on his ass wont give you back everything you lost." Peck blinked at him, and the colonel could see the anger draining from his body. "I know the government, the military, cheated you out of a whole lot, and I know you dont care that I was only doing my job when I pursued you. My advice is to put it behind you. Theres no way I can make it up to you, and thats something weve both got to live with."
Peck let his gaze travel across Arlington National Cemetery, to the rows of white crosses now bathed in shadow, to the fresh grave on the hillside. He sighed and reached into his pocket, producing a crushed cigarette pack and a battered silver lighter. Shaking a cigarette out of the pack, he put it between his lips and lit it, rubbing his thumb absently over the lighters finish. Finally, he turned his attention back to Decker. "Buy me a drink and well call it even."
A short walk later and they were seated at a small table in a small pub. Peck took off his beret and tossed it on the table, then loosened his tie and collar buttons. He pulled the ashtray toward him and slouched in his chair, smoking and brooding in silence. Decker flagged down a waitress and ordered himself bourbon. Peck ordered whiskey and drained the glass as soon as it was set before him, then ordered another one. Decker raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
Peck was downing his third whiskey before Decker decided to speak. "Why arent you with your team?"
The lieutenant snorted. "Because there is no team. Not anymore." He set his empty glass down, waved for the waitress, and lit another cigarette. "B.A. and Murdock have places to go, lives to live."
"And you dont."
"I have business to attend to in L.A.. Ill be leaving in the morning."
"I always figured youd land on your feet," Decker remarked, still sipping his first drink. "Movie deal, no doubt?"
"Not exactly. More like unfinished team business."
Deckers eyes narrowed. "Tell me something, Peck."
"How did Smith die?"
Peck turned the silver lighter between his fingers, flipping it back and forth, back and forth. "He was murdered by a he was murdered."
"And youre going after his killer."
Peck smiled then, a broad con-man smile that told Decker hed hit the nail on the head. "Of course not, Colonel. The team has some assets in California that need to be liquidated. Once I take care of that, gee, the world is my oyster. Maybe Ill go into business, invest in one of those Internet startup companies. Or maybe Ill re-enlist, what do you think?"
"I think you need time to deal with losing Smith before you go running off half-cocked. Id hate to see you make a mistake that big."
The grin was a little forced, but Peck held it anyway. "I dont know what youre talking about, Rod. The riskiest thing Ill be doing is playing the stock market."
"For a con man, youre a damn poor liar, Peck. Tell the police what you know about the murder, then move on with your life. You men were a lot of things, but you werent cold-blooded killers. Smith didnt raise you that way."
The smile faltered, and Decker knew hed scored a hit. Peck finished his drink and set a coaster on top of his glass. "Maybe you dont know as much about us as you think."
"I know youre still hurting from losing your CO. Its too soon "
"Ill let you in on a little secret, Rod. Hanibals been dead for four months."
Decker knew he was doing a poor job of hiding his shock. "Four months?"
"Yep. We buried him in Black Rock. After the pardon, Maggie faked the death certificate so it would look like it was recent."
Pecks face softened for a moment. "So everyone would think he died a free man. One last victory. One last plan coming together."
"Im sorry," Decker said after a moment. "He deserved better."
"Yes," the younger man replied. "He did." He was still aimlessly toying with his lighter. "Do you know I bought this when I was nineteen years old?" he said suddenly, holding it up to the light. "I was on my way to the delta, green as you please, and I saw this in a little shop in the Philippines. I dont know what made me buy it, I didnt even smoke, but something told me I was gonna need it. Then I met Hanibal with his damned cigars, and it all made sense. I carried this thing through the entire war, through rice paddies and helicopter crashes, even the POW camp. Took it off the body of the guard who stole it from me. After the Hanoi job, I even got it back when we broke out of Bragg. Yup, all those years on the run, all those times I had to leave everything behind cause you were breathing down our necks, I still managed to hang on to this lighter. Its a little worse for wear, but it can still do the job." Peck gave a short, sad laugh. "Kinda like its owner."
Peck grabbed his beret and stood suddenly, a little unsteady from the whiskey. "Thanks for the hooch, Colonel. See you around the LZ." His smile was warm, bright, and completely fake.
Decker rose and offered his hand. "Take care of yourself, son." Peck shook his hand, nodded once, and walked away.
The colonel sat in thoughtful silence long after his companion had left, wondering what, if anything, he should do. When his glass was empty he laid some money on the table, then rose and left he bar, resolving to track down Baracus or Murdock and give them a heads up. He supposed he owed the team that much it was the least he could do.
Four months earlier
He woke up on a cold cement floor and began counting the number of times that had happened to him. He had just reached a truly ridiculous number when Hanibals voice caught his attention.
"Upn at em, Kid. We got a little problem."
Face sat up slowly, the mild dizziness and nausea he experienced telling him hed been drugged. Looking around, he saw that he was in an iron-barred cage, about ten feet square and eight feet high. Craning his neck, he saw that a heavy chain was fastened to the top of his prison, connected to a series of pulleys that allowed the cage to be lifted from the floor. Clever, that; no door, and no lock to be picked, even if hed had his tools. Hanibal was in an identical cage fifteen feet away. Face raised an eyebrow at his commander.
The colonel shrugged. "Just woke up myself. My guess is, were guests of Crazy Dougie Kyle."
Face glanced down and realized he was still wearing his tennis whites. "He grabbed me right out of the country club?"
Hanibal shrugged. "They dont call him crazy for nothing."
"Good point," Face conceded. "Ah, Colonel, you are working on a plan, right?"
"Sure thing, Face. Just need a little more intel."
At that moment a door beyond their line of sight opened and closed with an echoing clang. Were in a warehouse, Face thought immediately, lots of open space. Footsteps rang out, coming closer with a leisurely pace. Face resisted the urge to drum his fingers on a bar or tap his foot in impatience. Hanibal merely leaned against his cage, lacking only his cigar to appear a man completely at ease.
Finally, Dougie Kyle came into view, flanked by two very large, neckless associates. Hanibal grinned gleefully at him and started speaking immediately.
"Well, look what the cat dragged in, Face! Crazy Dougie Kyle is having a tea party and wanted us to come along!"
Face got into the act. "You think the only way he can get people to attend is to kidnap them?"
"Well, if hed do something about that breath, at least the neighborhood dogs would sniff around here."
Kyle waited patiently for the wise cracks to run down, grinning toothily. "You done, Smith? If not, I can wait. Hell, I can wait all night, cause whats coming next is gonna keep this grin on my face for years."
Hanibal didnt lose his grin. "You screwed up this time, Kyle. Leaving half the team free is an amateur mistake. When B.A. gets here, hes gonna wrap these bars around your neck. Right Face?"
"Maybe tie them in a little bow," Face answered, his wise-guy grin firmly in place.
Kyle busied himself pulling on a pair of black leather gloves. "Your little friends will be here soon enough, Smith. Its all part of my plan."
"You here that, Face? Dougies got himself a little plan. Isnt that cute?"
"Adorable," Face answered, but his smile was getting harder to maintain. Crazy Dougie had approached his cage and was now looking at him like a starving wolf at a beef shank. "Hiya, Kyle. How ya been?"
Still grinning, Kyle reached into his jacket and withdrew a hand-held weapon. Face had a millisecond to see the blue electricity arcing between the tazers electrodes before the current was biting into his flesh. He was flat on his back, struggling to draw a breath, when he felt the neckless thugs drag him to his feet. The lower rail of the cage hung a few feet over his head. His wrists were fastened to it with handcuffs, forcing him up on his toes to take the pressure off his shoulders.
Taking his time, Kyle walked slowly around his victim. Face held still and kept his head up, unwilling to let his captor know how the wait was unnerving him. Finally, Kyle stopped in front of him, wearing a sick grin and still holding his tazer. Once more the blue energy sparked, and Face felt his whole body convulse as electricity raced along his neural pathways. The shock left him hanging, limp and shaking, by his wrists. It took a moment to gather his legs under him and stand up. When he raised his head, he saw that Kyle had put his stun gun away and pulled out a very large knife.
Kyle turned slightly, so Hanibal could see. "Me and your little friend are gonna have some fun now, Smith. Well see how many wise cracks you got left when were done."
Hanibal had grown quiet, and now fixed his steely gaze on Kyle. "Careful, Dougie. Dont do anything thats gonna make me have to kill you."
Face was a little startled. Hed heard Hanibal make dire threats before, but for a moment he actually believed that the colonel would commit murder. Face knew that he had to be strong during what was to come, for Hanibals control depended on his own. His voice barely a whisper, he turned to face Kyle defiantly.
"I was in a V.C. POW. camp when I was nineteen, Kyle. Ive been worked over by the best sadists Southeast Asia had to offer, men who spent their whole lives dedicated to inflicting pain. Men to whom torture is an art form. So no matter what you do, youll know, and Ill know, that you are a rank amateur." The final words were said slowly and clearly, and Face could see that Kyles manic rage had been tapped. The knife came up and pressed into his neck, hard enough to draw blood. They waited there, in frozen tableau, while Kyle decided whether to proceed with his plan or kill Peck outright.
The knife flashed down, flaying the fabric of his tennis shirt and leaving a faint red line on his chest. Face jerked involuntarily as Kyle grabbed the shirt and ripped it from his body. "You know something, Peck? Youre right. No matter what I do to you, its not gonna compare to what happened to you in Nam." Kyle was right in his face now, and Face thought humorlessly that Kyle really did have bad breath. "So heres what I think. Instead of creating new scary memories for the little lieutenant, lets see if we can wake up the old ones. What do you think, Smith?" he called over his shoulder. "Think your buddy would enjoy a little trip down memory lane?"
Hanibal was gripping the bars with both hands. His teeth were clenched, and his jaw was thrust forward. "You touch him, Kyle, and youre through. Theres nowhere you can hide from me if you do this. Do you understand?" Hanibal was so intense that Kyle actually hesitated. Face knew he wasnt going to be spared, but at least the colonel had won him a minute to get his thoughts in order. To find the headspace that had served him so well before, when his mind had been whisked away to someplace safe while his body had endured. True, the memories had come back, eventually, but he would deal with it later.
One of the thugs handed Kyle a long, slender device that he ran lovingly through his gloved hand. "Oh, Peck," he crooned, running the bamboo cane down Faces chest, "remember this? Hell, I bet you still have scars from the last time. Maybe not, though. Those professional torturers you mentioned, maybe they could beat you all day, all night, and not leave a mark. I bet thats worse, huh? Suffer so much and have so little to show for it? Dont worry about it, like you said, Im not nearly that skilled."
Kyle moved around behind him and yanked down his shorts. Face was still searching for the headspace when the first blow landed across his shoulders. He flinched, sinking his teeth into his lower lip and locking the cry inside. He could hear the displacement of air, the mighty whoosh, as Kyle swung the cane again.
The blows rained down on him, drawing blood and setting his back on fire, and he couldnt find the headspace. The pain ricocheted around his brain, finding no egress, shedding fiery red light on dark corners he didnt want to see. If he closed his eyes, he lost perspective, and it became difficult to remember where and when he was. But opening his eyes meant seeing Hanibal in all his helpless rage, and he couldnt bear that. Knowing the Colonel was witnessing his beating was the worst part of all.
He screamed in the end, to his eternal shame. His shoulders, back, buttocks and thighs were burning and slick with blood. Hed lost the ability to stand upright, and his full weight hung heavily from his wrists. He would not open his eyes, would not see the Colonels disappointment that hed let Dougie Kyle break him. He thought he could not possibly feel worse.
He was wrong.
Kyle shed his gloves and moved around behind him once more, trailing his fingertips through the blood and humming softly to himself. "You take a beating pretty good, Peck. I like the way you scream," he whispered into Faces ear. Kyle began to rub himself against his victims body. Face could feel the erection pressing against his buttocks. "In fact, its starting to turn me on."
His eyes flying open, Face turned his wild gaze to Hanibal, who was cursing and gripping the bars with white-knuckled fists.
Headspace! Please God, give me the headspace! Face felt Kyles hands on his hips, felt his body being roughly invaded, and his internal mantra switched to a steady litany of no no no nononononono
Face became aware of the voice gradually, a low murmuring of nonsense sounds that slowly resolved into Hanibals soft tenor.
"Youll never know, dear, how much I love you "
He was cold, and he hurt all over. He was naked. Hanibal was singing to him. Obviously, something very bad had happened.
" please dont take my sunshine away "
Slowly he forced his body to relax its fetal position and sit up, feeling the tugging and tearing of wounds reopening all along his back. Another pain abruptly made itself known, and he sighed. Not again
At least hed found the headspace. He remembered Kyles hands on him, and the first stab of pain, but everything else was a blank, the memories tucked safely away into the dark closet with the very big padlock. Face leaned his forehead against the cool bars and panted his way through the worst of the pain. Hanibal had stopped singing and was softly calling his name; Face raised his head and met the colonels gaze.
On the surface, Hanibals face radiated concern and sympathy. Beneath that, though, Face could see a flicker of murderous rage that made his stomach tighten. "Im okay," he whispered, surprised to find his voice hoarse. Was I screaming?
"Hang in there, kid," came Hanibals murmur. "Just keep it together for a little while longer. BA and Murdock will be here soon, theyll get you out of here."
"What about you?" Face found his shorts and pulled them painfully over his legs. His shirt was a fluttering scrap of rag, so he tossed it away and wrapped his arms around his chest. It was so cold
"Got something to settle with Kyle, kid. Then well both get the hell outta Dodge." Hanibal shucked out of his jacket, wedged it through the bars and gave it a shove. It spun across the floor and came to rest against the bars of Faces cage. He looked at it for a moment before realization dawned. It took an incredible effort to reach his arm out and wrestle the leather through the bars, and by the time he worked his arms through the sleeves he was panting again. At least he wasnt cold. He closed his eyes and slumped against the bars, but he hadnt forgotten his commanders words. "What are you gonna do to him?"
Hanibals voice rang with forced nonchalance. "Let your old colonel take care of that. You just rest and be ready to move when the rest of the team gets here."
Face sighed, exhaustion dragging his chin towards his chest. "You cant kill him, Hanibal. Were not murderers."
"At this point it wouldnt be murder. More like putting down a rabid dog."
"Cant do it," Face insisted, his voice down to a mumble. "Dont want you to, Hanbl "
"Sleep, kid. Well talk later."
No Face wanted to insist, wanted to make Hanibal promise, but his eyes wouldnt open, and his tongue wouldnt move. He drifted into exhausted sleep with his protest still on his lips.
"Wakey wakey, Peck." A clammy hand was slapping his face through the bars. Face jerked awake, in pain and not sure why. His eyes focused reluctantly, then slid closed again when all they saw was Dougie Kyles face.
"I dreamt I was being pawed at by the ugliest monkey in the zoo," he muttered, forcing a tiny smile to his dry lips. "His breath was better than yours, though."
"Youre funny," Kyle remarked, glaring at him with beady eyes. "Nice to see being my bitch hasnt hurt your sense of humor."
Face raised his head and pulled his aching body into an upright position. "Ah, Dougie, you say the sweetest things. Next thing ya know, youll be sending me flowers."
When the hand grasped his hair and slammed his head into the bars, Face actually saw stars. "Ive had prettier dates, Peck, but none Ive enjoyed so much."
"Yeah, but will you respect me in the morning?"
Face waited for another blow, but Kyle only smirked. "Ill call you." Kyle rose abruptly from his crouch and turned his attention to the other cage. "Well well, Smith, have you had time to think about everything youve cost me? Repent your sins, so to speak?"
Hanibal slowly stood up, locking eyes with his captor. "What do you say you let me outta this playpen so we can settle this man to man? Dont wanna look like a chicken in front of your goons, do ya?"
Face smiled a little and wished he had the energy to make clucking noises. Crazy Dougie, however, wasnt taking the bait. "Sorry, Smith, but times a wasting. See, I called your boys and theyre probably on their way right now. Too bad for them, theyre gonna be too late." Kyle reached into his pocket again. Before Face could shout a warning, the tazer had flashed and Hanibal was on the floor. The cage surrounding the colonel began to rise.
Face found himself on his feet, clutching the bars with a white-knuckled grip. "What are you going to do to him?" he demanded, fear clenching his stomach. "Come on, Kyle, you tired of me already? I thought you wanted to break me, give up so soon?"
Kyle paid no attention to his attempted diversion, merely moved to stand over Hanibals still form. He smiled at Face and snapped his fingers. One of the goons moved forward and handed him a ten-gallon gas can.
"No! Jesus Christ Kyle, whatever you want, Ill do whatever you want!" Face pressed himself against the bars, as though the sheer force of his panic could propel him through. His eyes began to water from the fumes when Kyle upended the can and liberally doused Hanibal with gasoline. Face was praying now, praying and cursing, begging and threatening all at once, anything, God, ANYTHING
Kyle used the last of the fuel to leave a liquid fuse leading towards the door, then he tossed the can aside. Face looked up from Hanibals motionless body to find his captor standing in front of him, just out of arms reach. "Look what I got," Kyle said, pulling an object out of his pocket. The overhead lights glinted sharply off the well-used silver lighter in his hand. "Look familiar? I got it out of your locker in that fancy-shmancy country club. How many cigars did you light for him with this over the years? A thousand? A million?" Dougie Kyle laughed. "You shoulda warned him, kid. Smokingll kill ya."
In his terror, Face did something hed never done before. "Please," he whispered, knowing that he was begging and not caring. "Please dont do this. You win. Just please dont "
Kyles face grew dark. "You never shoulda fucked with me, Peck. You or your friends. Now you gotta pay the price." He turned and walked back to Hanibal, stopping half-way between the cages. Kyle pulled a gun out of the waistband of his pants, an old six-shot revolver. Making sure he had Faces attention, he laid it gently on the floor. "Try and do the right thing, Peck."
Face could only stare dumbly at the gun, not understanding its purpose. "Please," he said again, his voice barely audible.
Kyle laughed and shook his head. He walked to the end of the gasoline trail and flipped open the lighter. "Have a nice life, Peck. Tell your pals I said hello. Sorry I cant stick around for the barbecue." Face watched the callused thumb rest on the flint wheel for an unbearable, eternal second, and then the silver lighter hed bought in the Philippines a lifetime ago to light cigars for a man he hadnt met sparked and leapt forth into flame, sailed gracefully through the air and landed in the trailing edge of gasoline. With a mighty whoosh the fuel ignited, the flames charging across the concrete floor in their hurry to devour John "Hanibal" Smith.
Face wailed and threw himself against the bars, reaching his arms out. He could feel the warmth on his palms. Then the screaming began, the most horrible sound he had ever heard in a life filled with horrors, and the smell of burning flesh filled his nose until he was screaming himself, bashing his head into the bars of his cage, seeking the blessed oblivion of unconsciousness. At first he was too blind with madness to realize his cage was rising, but then he threw himself forward and hit nothing and was scrambling toward the burning, writhing, screaming heap he had, in his secret fantasies, called father. Running on instinct he ripped off his coat, Hanibals coat, and used it to smother the flames.
Too late, he knew it was too late, but he pulled the coat aside and looked anyway. The beloved features had melted and run like wax, the laughing blue eyes milky and obscured, the silver hair burned away to nothing. Clothes gone, skin blackened and burst and what was that noise? It was difficult to hear under the sounds of his own crazed sobbing, but in a moment of pure, gut-wrenching horror, he heard the gurgling moan and realized that Hanibal was still alive.
Face had been a soldier for most of his life, and his military training abruptly took over. It took him less than a minute to assess the situation and decide on a course of action. The injuries were obviously fatal. He could not stand by while his colonel was in such horrendous pain. He could not let him suffer, not when he had the means to put an end to it. The colonel would have done it for him.
Face crawled over to the revolver and picked it up, feeling its cool weight in his palm. Scrubbing away tears that might affect his aim, he cocked the hammer and raised the gun. "I love you," he choked out.
He pulled the trigger. The moaning stopped.
He stayed that way for a while, on his knees with the gun laying limply in his open hand, staring at nothing. Then he blinked and took a deep breath, placed the gun against his temple and pulled the trigger.
He pulled it again and again, then lowered the gun to stare at it in shock. It was then that he realized the depth of Kyles revenge.
One bullet. No easy way out for Face.
He was meant to live with this, this sin of patricide on his conscience and on his soul. In a moment of rage, Face drew his arm back and hurled the useless gun away with a scream, hearing it skitter across the floor into the shadows. From the corner of his eye he saw a glint of metal. His anger gone, he reached for it and closed his fingers around the lighter. It was still hot enough to burn his hand, but he didnt feel it. He hunched over, wrapping his arms around his body and rocking, his mind numb. He was still rocking twenty minutes later when B.A. and Murdock burst in.
Later, he would tell them he hadnt seen the killer, that Hanibal had been shot to death and his body burned afterward. It was easier on them that way. No point in all of them carrying that burden, hearing those screams day and night no reason to confess that Hanibals real killer had been Face himself.
Two days ago
Roderick Decker was two months into his retirement, seated in a sun-drenched breakfast nook reading the paper and wondering whether he should take up golf. He was skimming through the National News section when a two-paragraph summary with an LA by-line made him drop his toast. He read it three times, his heart thudding fast in his chest, before picking up the phone. "Major Crane, Rod Decker here. Hows the new office treating you? Dont I know it listen, Tim, I need a favor. Can you see what you can dig up about Douglas Kyles murder?"
Two hours later, a courier delivered a thick file to his door. Decker spread the reports out on the kitchen table, his experienced eyes picking out the important details amongst the law-enforcement jargon. Coast Guard responded to a boat fire body in the wreckage dental records identified the victim as Douglas Kyle four men found drifting in a life-boat half a mile away, unconscious but unharmed evidence of an accelerant, suggesting arson silver lighter recovered at the scene.
Decker let his head fall into his hands. Every word was an accusation: you didnt try hard enough, Rod, you failed. You failed them again.
He stumbled to the sink and held a glass under the tap, raising it to his lips with slightly trembling fingers. Even after half a glass his mouth felt Sahara-dry. He took a deep breath, preparing himself for what he had to do next.
B.A. pushed himself out from under the Buick and sat up on the creeper when he heard the phone. Before he could get up, his mamas voice answered, "Scooters Garage!" B.A. shook his head. His business was Baracus Automotive, it said so clearly on the sign, the invoices, and everything else in the garage, but his mother conveniently forgot that whenever she answered the phone. He started to roll back under the car when his mamas words changed his mind.
"No! I told you not to call here. Scooter doesnt want to talk to you, now leave him alone!" Mama slammed the receiver down hard enough to crack the plastic.
"Who was it, Mama?"
"That Colonel Decker again. Keeps saying he needs to speak to you, says its important."
B.A. shook his head and slid under the car. Decker had called him constantly for a two-week period about six months ago, and hed refused to take the calls. He had a new life now, and sure wasnt interested in anything Decker had to say. His last letter from Murdock let him know the Colonel had tried calling him, too, but the fool wasnt talking either. B.A. wondered if Face had gotten calls, but the con man had stopped writing within a month of Hanibals funeral. "Probably out in California, living the high life. Maybe in a movie, lotsa pretty girls. No time for his old teammates " B.A. shook his head and tried to concentrate on the catalytic converter in front of him. They all had what they wanted now. It was no time for sadness.
The phone rang again, and B.A. felt anger swell inside him. "Ill get it, Mama!" he shouted, swinging out from under the car and leaping to his feet. He snatched the phone off the hook and bellowed, "You best stop callin here, Decker! I dont want no part "
"Peck is in trouble."
B.A. stopped in mid-rant. Decker sensed his advantage and hurried on.
"Douglas Kyle was murdered yesterday morning in Santa Monica. I have reason to believe Peck was the killer."
"Man, youre crazy. Face aint no killer." B.A. found his voice again and with it, his anger. "You call me up, botherin my mama, to say somethin like that?"
"Baracus, listen to me "
"I aint gotta listen to you, sucka! Why should I?"
"Because if youd listened to me six months ago, this wouldnt have happened!" Deckers anger came through the phone line clearly. "I tried to warn you AND Murdock that your friend needed help, but you couldnt be bothered. If you really dont give a damn what happens to Peck, let me know now and Ill save myself the trouble."
B.A. was shocked into silence at the outburst. Did Decker seriously think he didnt care about his little brother? Just because they hadnt talked for awhile "Why do you think Face killed Kyle?" he finally asked. B.A. found he was holding his breath. Suddenly, he didnt feel too good.
"Kyle was burned to death on his boat. Soaked in gasoline and set on fire with a silver lighter."
B.A. groped for the office chair and dropped into it heavily. "A a silver lighter?"
"Yes. You wanna tell me how Smith died?"
"He " B.A. wiped his hand across his face and looked around to make sure his mother was out of earshot. "He was shot in the head, his body was burned up. Face was there, saw the whole thing he told us he didnt know who did it, never saw the guys face."
"I think he did," Decker said solemnly. "I think he planned on going after Kyle right from the start. Baracus, theres something else."
B.A. wasnt sure he could handle any more. "What?"
"I checked a few things. When Smiths body was exhumed and moved to Arlington, an autopsy was done. Theres a pretty good chance he was still alive when he was burned. The doctors think the gunshot came later "
B.A. dropped the phone to the desk and covered his ears. "No. No. Aint true," he mumbled. "Face said he was shot first. Face wouldnt lie. Face wouldnt lie." Even as he said the words, he knew how ridiculous they were. Of course Face would lie, to protect himself, or to protect his team. Suddenly, B.A. understood completely. He was assaulted by a vicious sense memory, of napalm being dropped off target, the screaming of the horribly burned men, the smell, oh God, that smell like no other, and then B.A. remembered one grim-faced C.O., firing round after round into the shrieking, misshapen lumps of flesh.
He leaned over the trash can and threw up for what seemed like days. When he was finished, he picked up the phone with a shaky hand. "Decker? You got an address for Face?" He picked up a pencil and scribbled something on the desk blotter. "Ill take care of it. Decker? Thanks, man."
B.A. hung up and looked up to see his mother hovering in the office doorway, a concerned look on her kind face. "Im okay, mama. Im gonna have to take a trip out west, though. A friend needs me." He grabbed his address book, flipped through the pages with oil-stained fingers until he got to the Ms.
The phone rang four times before a cheerful voice answered. "Yello, Flights of Fancy, if youre buyin were flyin."
"Murdock? We got a problem. A team problem."
Later that night, a grim-faced B.A. got off a commercial jet in Nevada, a small carryon bag hanging from his shoulder. Scanning the waiting area, he focused in on a familiar figure and despite the trauma of the flight and the seriousness of his mission, he had to smile. Murdock was still wearing that brown leather jacket and a baseball cap over his thinning hair. The pilot stood up and cracked a smile. "Hey big guy! Youre uglier an meaner than ever!"
B.A. shook his outstretched hand, then gave in to his impulse and pulled his old friend in for a quick, bone-creaking hug. "Look good, fool. Still crazy?"
"Oh yeah," came the cheerful answer. "More than ever. Hows your mom?"
"Shes good. Says you better come for a visit, maybe Thanksgivin."
"Wouldnt miss it." Murdock led him through the airport, past the ticket desks, past the baggage claim, and out the door. "I cant believe you flew here, big guy. Must be mellowing in your old age."
"Still dont like to fly," B.A. grumbled, following the pilot to a large pickup painted an unlikely shade of orange. "Didnt wanna take the time to drive out."
Murdock nodded, reminded of the reason for their reunion. "My planes at a small airfield about forty minutes from here. Well be in Santa Monica before dawn." He started the truck and headed out of the parking lot. "God, B.A., I still cant believe it. Deckers gotta be wrong."
It was odd to see Murdock in the drivers seat. B.A. let his gaze roam over the city lights out the windshield while the pilot navigated through traffic. "Im not so sure. If that stuff about the autopsys true, Faces been hurtin a whole lot more than we thought."
"You really think Face you think he "
"Shot Hanibal? I dunno, man. If he did, hell probably never forgive himself."
Murdocks swallow was audible in the trucks cab. "We saw how bad it was, the burns. There was no way he coulda survived. If Face did if he ended it it was the right thing to do. I dont know if I coulda done it."
They rode in silence for awhile. "Hey B.A."
"Why the hell werent we here when he needed us? Why were we in such a hurry to get away?"
B.A. scratched his head, struggling for an answer to the very question hed been asking himself all afternoon. "I dunno, man. Maybe we thought itd be easier that way. No dwellin on the past, things we couldnt change."
Murdock snorted. "Getting on with our lives? Breaking up the team just like that? I swear, I think I can hear Hanibal turning over in his grave at the way we all bailed out. We had somethin so strong, nobody could break it. Not the Viet Cong, not the military, not all the crazies and bad guys we faced in the all the years weve been a team. So what busts us up? A piece of paper, B.A.! A lousy piece of paper from the government. Without Hanibal, we took the first out we got. Maybe he was the only thing keeping us together all this time."
B.A. was quiet for a moment, then slowly shook his head. "That aint it. That aint it at all, Murdock. I always figured that if something happened to Hanibal, itd be Face that took over. I think maybe thats what we were waiting for, only Face didnt wanna do it."
"Or couldnt do it," Murdock mused. "Can that be it? We were looking to Face to hold the team together, and the whole time he was fallin apart?"
B.A. had no answer for that, so he turned his head to look out the passenger window. Fighting against fatigue and worry, he closed his eyes and wondered what he was going to say to Face when he saw him. Beside him, he heard Murdock murmuring to himself.
"Aw, Hanibal, look how fast everything went to hell without you. I sure hope youre watching out for us, Colonel. Were gonna need one hell of a plan."
Present Day, Santa Monica
He was flying and then he wasnt. Templeton Peck gasped, feeling his descent halt abruptly as a steel band clamped around his waist. He was hauled back over the railing and dumped unceremoniously on the tile, and then a large pair of hands grabbed him by the shoulders and began to shake him hard. He was aware that someone was shouting at him, but the fury seemed distant, unable to penetrate the numbing layer of nothingness surrounding him. He blinked rapidly until his eyes cleared enough to focus on the shakers face.
The shaking stopped, and a deep voice gruff with concern asked, "Whats going on, little brother?"
Looking into the concerned brown eyes, Face blinked and realized that tears were still sliding down his cheeks. A thousand things crowded into his mind, begging to be said, but the only thing he could verbalize was his most basic, childish need.
"Im really tired, B.A.," he whispered. Massive arms immediately enfolded him. Face pressed his cheek gratefully against the metal-covered chest. His exhaustion and drunkenness overcame him instantly, and he fell asleep.
Long moments later, B.A. was still crouched on the balcony, clutching Face to his chest and shaking so hard he could hear his gold rattle over the frantic pounding of his heart. The sight of his friend falling from the railing, disappearing from sight even as B.A. lunged to save him God, if theyd been one minute later, if theyd had to park farther away or wait longer for the elevator Murdock was still frozen in the doorway, his mouth open, his hand splayed over his chest as though afraid his heart would leap right out. "Oh my God," he heard the pilot rasp. "Oh my God "
B.A. whispered a heartfelt prayer of thanks, then rose with Faces dead weight in his arms and carried him inside. Face curled into a tight fetal ball as soon as he was laid on the suede couch. The apartment was freezing; B.A. turned down the air conditioning while Murdock covered his friend with a quilt he took off the bed. The pilot went to his knees and examined Face with a critical eye. "Hes lost weight," he remarked quietly. Dark circles under his eyes, combined with fine lines of stress, made the con man look every one of his forty-eight years. Murdock felt older just looking at him. Rising wearily, he turned and followed B.A. into the kitchen.
"Ill make coffee," the big man offered. Silence held sway while they watched it brew. It was Murdock who finally spoke.
"All right," he said, pushing back from the counter. "When he wakes up, well get the whole story from him. Well deal with this as a team, like we should have done in the first place." He poured them each a cup of the fresh coffee and sighed, his back to his old friend. "But God help me, B.A., I really dont wanna know."
The ticking of the clock was the only response.
Face awoke feeling like he had a dirty sweatsock stuffed in his mouth. He rolled over and tried vainly to go back to sleep, knowing from bitter experience what awaited him in the waking world headache, churning stomach, and worst of all, the shame and bottomless depression that made him start drinking all over again. But it never worked, not completely. The memories faded but never went away the screams got quieter but could not be silenced.
The smell of coffee tickled his nose and persuaded him to open his eyes. To his utter astonishment, Murdocks face was inches from his own.
Murdock, who he had not seen in half a year and B.A. behind him, somehow managing to look gruff and concerned simultaneously. Faces memory felt as fuzzy as his mouth. When had his former teammates come to visit? He sat up slowly, taking the offered cup and sipping the hot liquid gingerly. His friends were looking at him expectantly, but at the moment, he couldnt think past his full bladder. He rose, taking the coffee with him, and headed for the bathroom.
"Face," Murdock called.
"Dont close the door."
Face frowned at the puzzling command. "Kay," he muttered, even as he wondered if the pilot was overdue for a checkup at the loony bin. What the hell, he thought. Murdock wants to watch me piss, what do I care? It wasnt until after hed used the facilities and was washing up that he remembered.
He froze in the act of splashing water on his face. He reached out with a shaking hand and lowered the toilet lid, sitting down heavily and dropping his head into his hands. Oh my God, he thought in horror. God, forgive me. Has it really come to this?
Murdocks voice sounded from the doorway. "If youre finished in there, maybe youd like to come out and tell us why you want to die." The soft voice held no recrimination, only worry and an honest desire to understand. But the one thing Face couldnt take right now was kindness.
He stood and shouldered roughly past the pilot, ignoring B.A. completely, halting only when he was in front of the refrigerator. He pulled out some orange juice and drank it straight from the bottle, then reached into a cabinet and pulled down some aspirin. B.A.s big hand closed around his and took the bottle away easily. Face stared dumbfounded as the big man shook out two aspirin, dropped them in Faces palm, and slid the bottle into a pocket of his overalls. Face swallowed the pills with the last of the juice, then turned and hurled the empty bottle into the trash so hard it cracked on impact. His next stop was the controller for the AC. In a moment the room was frosty once again. Face slid the balcony door open, but his path outdoors was blocked by Murdocks arm. His quickly budding rage was defused by his friends soft plea.
"Please, Face. Sit down for a minute, okay? We want to understand whats going on with you."
Face remained still for a long time. "Its not your problem," he said softly. "Not anymore. Go home, Murdock. Go back to your life, and stay the hell out of mine."
"So you can do a half gainer off the balcony right after I leave? No way, pal." Murdock was clearly losing his patience. "Look, you either sit down on that couch, or me and B.A.ll tie you to a chair."
B.A. wasnt sure that was the best way to go, but scowled obligingly anyway.
Abruptly the tension went out of Faces body. Slowly, his body language screaming defeat, he turned from the balcony and sat on the couch, moving as though everything hurt. "I just wanted some fresh air," he murmured, eyes downcast. "Too hot in here I cant stand the heat."
"You done had plenty fresh air already," B.A. announced, pulling a chair up close. "Why you wanna do something like that, Faceman? If we hadnt got here in time, youda been a goner for sure."
Face raised his eyes to meet B.A.s gaze. "Why are you here?"
"Believe it or not, Deckers worried about you. Hes got some crazy idea that you killed Dougie Kyle."
"Crazy," Face echoed, not meeting his eyes.
"You left your lighter on the boat, Face."
Face snorted. "No, I didnt. Got it right here." He held up his palm, revealing a rectangular patch of discolored skin where the overheated lighter had burned him ten months before. "Its always with me, see?"
Murdock sat down next to him on the couch and took the hand in his own, rubbing the scar tissue lightly. He was careful to keep his voice firm but soothing. "Youre not sleeping, youre not eating. Youre drinking way too much, and youre ready to cash it in. I think this is all related to whatever happened with Kyle, and I think its time you told us what happened."
"Murdock, you dont want to know about that. Trust me. And what does it matter now? Hanibal is dead. Nothing that was done can be undone. We all have our pardons and our lives back. Just forget it, okay?"
"No, its not okay. Because YOU cant forget it. And whatever it is, you shouldnt have to carry it alone. We are still a team, Face. We want to hear about it."
"No you dont. Thats why you both left so fast, isnt it? So you wouldnt have to hear all the gory details."
Murdock bit his lip, then nodded his assent. "Okay, yes. We didnt want to hear. We still dont want to, not really. But maybe we need to. And you definitely need to say it."
And oh God, but he did. He needed to confess, needed absolution for his sins. Face looked from one expectant face to the other. These two men had been constants in his life since he was nineteen years old, had shared secrets he never thought to reveal to anyone, and he was deeply afraid that what he was about to tell them would end all that. Two acts, each in itself unforgivable, together might make his remaining friends turn their backs on him. Could he survive that, after losing the only father hed known?
It didnt matter, not really. There was always the balcony.
Surrounded by his friends, Face pulled his knees up towards his chest and began to speak.