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The Right Choice

The Right Choice

By Jenny

 

Rated: PG 13 for cursing

Thanks to many, including, Ange and Wallygator for the first hands of  friendship, Reckless for being the first to offer to help with the beta, Roady for the support, Jipster for great beta reading, and Fingers for wonderful feedback.  Plus everyone on the A-TeamFanFiction list for comments.

Summary:  Face knows that lots of choices are made in a lifetime. Were they all right?  Or were there choices made for him that he never suspected?

Disclaimer:  They don't belong to me, but to Stephen J. Cannell and  whoever bought the rights to the series.  Don't sue me.  You won't get anything!

 

 

Chapter One

 

Templeton "Face" Peck stood at the mailbox of his latest high-rise

apartment and stared at the envelope in his hands.  The handwriting

was somewhat stilted and not at all familiar to him.  His gut was

twisted into knots that didn't make any sense to him. 

 

Somehow, he knew that whatever was in this envelope was going to

change his life, forever.  He'd had that feeling once before, when he

had opened the letter from the Army recruiting office and learned

that his application for enlistment had been accepted and that he was

to report immediately for assignment.  His gut had been right on

then.  After finishing boot camp, he had been assigned to active duty

in Vietnam. It seemed that fate had decided his destiny for him the

day he'd entered the recruiting office to escape the pain of losing

the only person he had ever truly loved.

 

Soon he had met the strange but surprisingly well-meshed Special

Forces unit that had become his family and his home.  He should not

have been eligible to join the elite team, but its commanding

officer, one Colonel John Smith had 'arranged' things and soon he was

the fourth member of the A team.  His life had never been the same.

 

'Would he change any of it?'  He wondered to himself as he tapped the

envelope thoughtfully against his palm.  'Not really.  In fact, not

at all.' 

 

Dismissing the thoughts of fate and destiny as foolish, not to

mention that his life was confused enough without adding some other

monumental event to it right now; he tossed the letter onto the table

inside the door of the apartment and hurried down the stairs to the

parking lot.  He was late to meet the others for lunch and talk about

what their next mission should be.  Hannibal was on some kick about

the make-up girl from his latest creature feature being involved with

the mob and wanted to "look into it".  Face shook his head to think

of how little make up girls were paid and expected a dramatic drain

on the team's financial reserves soon.

 

The attractive blond man slipped into the flashy white corvette and

wheeled into the streets of L.A., heading for the restaurant on Tenth

Street where the team was meeting to discuss the case and observe

this mobster in action.

 

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 Twenty minutes later Face arrived and became immediately embroiled

in the debate of how involved Candy, the make-up artist, was or

wasn't with the mob.  Before a decision could be reached, Candy

herself solved the dilemma for them by showing up on the arm of a

notorious mobster, looking quite happy and content.

 

"Uh, Hannibal, isn't that your poor, oppressed Candy now?"  Face

gestured to the entrance.

 

"Yeah, man, she don't look too unhappy to me..." BA growled.

 

"Well, I guess she must like the tough-guy type."  The oldest member

and the leader of their team shrugged. "It's good thing you guys

didn't talk me into getting involved.  She'd never go for a sensitive

guy like me."  He smiled jovially at the simultaneous groans of the

men around him. 

 

"Hannibal, you know as well as I do that you were trying to convince

us to meddle in her business.  Don't try to put this near miss off on

us!"  Face lectured his colonel, knowing that the other man would

never admit that he had made a near mistake, much less a near

disastrous mistake!

 

"Now, Lieutenant, I was just testing your deduction skills and your

instinct.  I'd hate for you guys to get soft while we're between

cases."  Smith lit the ever-present cigar and puffed contentedly.

 

The three men finished their meal and were soon off to their

individual cars to travel back to Face's apartment for a much

needed "financial meeting."  Cash was low and they needed a case or a

scheme to generate some revenue.  Face had just such a scheme in mind

but he needed the help of his best friend and sometime business

partner, HM Murdock.  Therefore, he detoured by the VA and donned his glasses and lab coat to spring the team's pilot and resident

nutcase. 

 

A mere ten minutes and one totally confused, but definitely smitten

nurse later, Face and Murdock left the VA lot en route to the

apartment and the rest of the team.

 

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Face and Murdock entered the living room, already involved in the

ongoing debate of whether or not Murdock could be as suave and

persuasive as the Faceman.  It was old familiar ground, but neither

man ever seemed to tire of the cycle of 'Yes, I can' and 'No, you

can't' verbal sparring that it produced.  Finally, exasperated with

trying to convince Murdock that his success as a conman wasn't

entirely due to his good looks and impeccable wardrobe, Face cut off

his last argument.

 

"Look, Murdock, we'll debate this another time when you're not

so...doggish about it, okay?"  Face waited for his response before

approaching the other team members.

 

"Arf, arf, Facey master.  Murdock, your faithful companion will obey

your orders."   The taller man panted, with his hands bent before his

chest. He attempted to lick the cheek of his friend and sometimes

imagined master. 

 

Ducking to avoid the affectionate gesture, Face watched as Murdock

frolicked over to the couch and sat on bended knees, panting at the

others.

 

"Oh no, Murdock, not the dog thing again.  I tol' you that if you

ever did that again I was gonna to have you put in the pound. 

Hannibal, you better make him stop!"  BA reached for Murdock and

yanked him to his feet. 

 

Canine yelps from Murdock resulted in Face bodily placing himself

between the two men.  "Would you guys please keep it down?  My

landlord is still upset about our 'borrowing' his truck the other

day.  You're going to get me evicted!"

 

Murdock licked his imagined wounds and started to pace away from the

angry black man.  The pilot/puppy began to paw through the papers on

the counter in search of potential treats or chew toys.  He discarded

several items then started to study an unopened envelope.  "Hey

Faceman, who ya' know in Hawkinsville, California?"

 

Across the room, Face stopped mixing drinks abruptly.  The expensive

crystal decanters rattled loudly against each other as his fingers

went lax.  His expression was one of disbelief.    

 

 "Was it something I said?"  Murdock looked at Hannibal and BA.  He

shrugged and waved the envelope in Face's direction.  "Yoohoo,

Faceman.  Earth to Faceman!"

 

"Murdock, why did you ask?  What have you got there?"  Face had

snapped to attention, crossed the room and grabbed the envelope from

the waving hand.  He inspected the item, realizing that it was the

letter he had tossed aside earlier.  He noted the postmark was indeed

from Hawkinsville, California.  There was only one person he knew

there and he'd never expected to hear from that person again.

 

This handwriting certainly did not belong to that individual.  Face

knew that script well; from rereading the last missive he had

received nearly four years ago.  He shrugged inwardly and broke the

seal on the envelope. 

 

Face withdrew a single, folded sheet of paper.  The thud of his heart

in his chest grew more rapid as he read the words again and then a

third time.  Swallowing hard, he looked up at the rest of the

occupants of the room. 

 

"Uh, you know, this isn't really a good time for this meeting.  Why

don't you all go and we can do this some other time?  You don't

really want to hear me go on and on about our fiscal fitness."  Face

went to the door and opened it.  He waved his arm and waited for his

bewildered teammates to file past him.

 

"Lieutenant, what is that?  What's going on?"  Hannibal stalled at

the door and attempted to grab the letter. 

 

Face quickly pocketed it and shook his head.  "Nothing, Colonel,

really.  Just a bill, that's all...." He went on when his gaze lit on

an obviously curious Murdock.  A curious Murdock wouldn't stop until

he knew what was in the letter and Face wasn't ready to go there

yet.  "Oh and Hannibal, drop Murdock off for me, will you?  I'm not

really feeling well.  Too much rich sauce on that pasta, I think."

 

He all but pushed the team out the door and slammed it in their

face.  Any other time, he might have tried something more

complicated, more convincing, to persuade them to leave.  But that

required more concentration than he had at the moment.   After they

had all left, he pulled the paper from his pocket and looked at it

again.  "Only one way to know for sure."  His reflection in the hall

mirror nodded agreement. 

 

He went to the phone and started to dial a number he knew by heart. 

His shaking hands froze over the keypads.  What if they wouldn't talk

to him?  Or what if they did?  What was he going to say over the

phone?  He swiftly replaced the phone receiver and walked instead to

the bedroom closet, withdrew a suitcase and started to pack.

 

Ten minutes later, he loaded the suitcase into the car and headed for

the open road.  Hawkinsville was four hours away and he had lots of

time to think about what he had learned from that letter.  So how

could it be, that the only thing he could think was 'why'? 

 

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Meanwhile, in the familiar black and red van, Hannibal, Murdock, and

BA were sitting in the rear of Face's parking lot, waiting on

Hannibal's hunch to pay off. 

 

"Man, what makes you think that Face was lying?  He did look funny in

the face.  Maybe he was sick from that fancy food."  BA, ever

impatient, didn't like to just sit around and wait on things to

happen.

 

"Oh, great Baracan one.  Anyone with eyes could see that the Face guy

was terribly upset about something..." Murdock was obviously about to

launch into a full scale, but utterly insane lecture on how BA should

pay more attention to the feelings of others. 

 

Hannibal cut Murdock off before his rambling could irritate the

Sergeant into bodily harming the pilot.

 

"Now, Murdock, leave BA alone.  Besides, I see Face's 'vette leaving

now.  Follow him, BA.  I've got a feeling that we are heading for

Hawkinsville..." Hannibal clenched the cigar between his teeth and

narrowed his eyes against the flash of headlights on chrome bumpers. 

BA turned the big van expertly and worked it into the stream of

traffic far enough behind Face, so as not to be noticed.

 

 Hannibal had a real bad feeling about this.  He knew who Face knew

in Hawkinsville, even if Face didn't know the Colonel knew.  He

thought back on their last night in Hawkinsville and one particular

conversation.  Face has seemed rather reluctant to leave the small

town and Hannibal had questioned him about his sudden desire for the

quiet, rural life. 

 

At that time, Face had given him a rather nonchalant reply about

escaping the smog and noise of the big city.  Hannibal had a few

vague doubts, but knowing that his second in command would not talk

unless he was ready, had accepted the half-truth.

 

Several hours and interminable rounds of Murdock's own version of "99

Bottles of Beer on the Wall", Hannibal's suspicions were confirmed as

they reached the sleepy city limits of Hawkinsville, Cal.,

population, 5,001.

 

"I remember this place now, Colonel.  We busted some mangy, no good,

drug runners here who were trying to keep the good folks of this town

quiet about their illegal activities.  Them outlaws nearly had the

town completely cut off to the rest of the world."  Murdock, calm for

the moment, sat up and looked around.

 

"You're right, Captain.  And I do believe that Face stayed behind on

that one to help the businesses rejuvenate their bank accounts after

it was over...one Meagan Burkes and her father in particular.  He was

here, off and on, for nearly three months."  He knew exactly how long

Face had been here and exactly when he had come home, for good. 

 

"Rejuvenate their bank accounts, nothing!  Face was trying to

rejuvenate his little black book with that Meagan Burkes!"  BA

snorted.

 

"Well, let's just find a place to stay and some food and watch for

Face.  He may need us." 

 

The team obeyed their colonel's orders and soon pulled into a

combination motel/restaurant and booked rooms for the night.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

Templeton Peck exited his car in front of the General Mercantile and

stretched his legs.  He had driven straight through, no stops, and

saw no reason to delay now.  He looked again at the letter that he

had read over several times as he drove, considering how to go about

this business.  He had no clue what to say when he finally saw her,

but he decided that it would just come to him, like everything else

did, so he entered the store to look for her.

 

The storefront was deserted.  No customers, no workers, no nothing. 

The sign clearly said 'OPEN' and the door was unlocked.  He wondered

if there was a problem.  Face walked to the back and heard the voice

of the person he sought.  He could just see the pair beyond the stack

of packing crates near the door.

 

""Look at you!  Look at your shoes!  It hasn't rained in a month, how

on Earth did you find mud?"  Her words, although admonishing, were

undeniably amused.        

 

Face edged closer to see the two speakers.  The small, high voice he

heard next took his breath away.  

 

"But Mommy...I just took Dreyfus for a walk.  It's not my fault he

found mud and made me go through it!  You should punish Dreyfus, not

me."  The argument was couched in the most calm and logical tone Face

had ever heard come from any child, except himself of course.

 

"Natalie, that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.  I

can't punish Dreyfus, I can't see Dreyfus."  The petite brunette

stood after removing the muddy Keds from the feet of the tiny, little

person in front of her.  She braced both hands on her hips and waited

for the next excuse.

 

"Well, that's even worse isn't it, Mommy?  Dreyfus shouldn't hide

from you at a time like this!"  The tiny voice began to move as its

owner started to look around for the naughty Dreyfus among the boxes

of stock stored in the back room.  "Dreyfus, come out now.  Mommy has

to punish you.  You've been a very bad dog!"  The words were filled

with all the proper indignation that this situation obviously called

for.  "Mommy, I'm so sorry.  I can't seem to find Dreyfus anywhere!"

 

"Natalie Michelle, you stop that this instant...." The mother's voice

trailed off as she focused on the miniature perpetrator. 

 

From his position near the door, Face could just see the back of the

barely thigh-high  child.  Her shoulders drooped and she sighed as

she turned to face her mother.  Her face was solemn and her bright

blue eyes were huge in her face.  The sandy blond hair was bobbed off

shoulder length and swung about her pixie face.  She had apparently

resigned herself to her fate, when she caught sight of him standing

in the doorway.

 

Grasping for any port in this maternal storm, she began to speak

quickly, "Mommy, I know that I been bad and that Dreyfus has been bad

and we'll be right here when you finish with that customer."  She

sat, primly, on a box.  Her hands folded over her denim-clad legs and

she bestowed an absolutely angelic smile on her mother.

 

"What? Oh!"  Meagan Burkes spun around, already apologizing for the

delay. "I'm so sorry...OH!" She stopped and stared at the man who had

moved further into the room.

 

He glanced for long moments at her then his gaze was drawn back to

the child.  She was beautiful.  Her blue eyes pleaded with him to buy

something, anything.  She needed just a few more minutes to plan how

to get herself out of her latest scrape.  Face found that he couldn't

refuse and stepped closer to the little girl.  His hands longed to

reach for her, just one touch, but he didn't want to frighten

her....she didn't know him at all.  

 

Instead, Face knelt to her level and spoke, "You know, Natalie?  I

just saw a big ole shaggy dog, looked like a Dreyfus to me, running

across the back lot, and boy was he muddy!"

 

"Oh boy, thanks mister!  I bet that was my dog.  I'll go get him,

Mommy and you can punish him good!"  She jumped off the box and ran

out the back door calling, "Here Dreyfus!"

 

He straightened and faced the mother.  "Meagan."

 

"Temp, why....?"

 

"Well, she just seemed so desperate.  I mean it couldn't be her fault

that Dreyfus took her through that mud."  His blue eyes sparkled as

he recalled the look on Natalie's face as he offered her a way out of

her trouble.  

 

"No, that's not what I mean.  Dreyfus isn't real, Temp.  He's

imaginary." Meagan shook her head negatively.  She looked up briefly,

but couldn't hold his gaze for long. 

 

"Yeah, I figured."  The previous humor disappeared from Face's eyes

as he watched Meagan avoid him.

 

"Why are you here, Templeton?"   Meagan crossed her arms over her

body in a protective gesture, but valiantly, she met his eyes boldly

this time.

 

Face figured that the truth actually was the most appropriate defense

at this time and simply pulled out and handed over the envelope.  "I

got this in the mail this morning."  

 

Meagan reached for the slip of paper.  Her fingers brushed against

the tips of his and she jerked away quickly.  She gulped away her

immediate response to his touch.  It was just as she remembered,

quick, fiery, and all consuming.  Exchanging hands, she rubbed her

tingling fingers on her jeans before opening the flap. 

 

She read the words and gasped.  Her mind whirled with questions.  Who

in the world would have sent this?  No one knew, no one.  She hadn't

even told her father.  Meagan had remained silent when questioned,

allowing her only family to believe that Natalie was the result of a

one-night stand, instead of the creation of the relationship with the

only man she had ever loved, Templeton Peck. 

 

"I can assume you didn't send that then?"  Face walked closer to

her.  She looked pale and he feared she might faint.

 

Just as he got within reach, she stepped back.  She held up her hands

to stop him from touching her.  "No, stay right there."

 

"Meagan, I would never hurt you.  Surely, you know that." His

bewilderment was apparent.

 

"Not intentionally, no.  But you could hurt Natalie."  She drew

herself up to her full height of five foot two inches and dared him

to deny it.

 

Ignoring that particular implication for now, he grasped onto the

fact that she hadn't denied what the letter had stated.  Natalie was

his daughter and Meagan had never told him about her.  What he wanted

to know now was, why?  Why hadn't she told him?  She had sent him on

his way, four and a half years ago, probably knowing that she was

pregnant with his child.  Why?

 

"Meagan, why didn't you tell me?"  Face ignored her warning hands and

reached for her arms.  He touched her and felt the heat of her skin

through the thin T-shirt she wore.  He sucked in a deep breath at the

feeling.  It was still the same.

 

Before Meagan could answer, the back door slammed open and little

feet pounded the floorboards.  Meagan pulled out of his grip and

looked him deep in the eye, pleading for some more time and for his

silence, before turning her attention to the little girl.

 

"Mommy, Mommy!  I saw Grandpa!  He's coming now."  Natalie bounced in and pulled on her mother's hand.

 

"Why don't you go let him in the front door, honey?"  Meagan

struggled to control the shaking in her voice.  How many times had

she dreamed of seeing them both in the same room?  She'd dreamed, but

never dared to hope...and she didn't dare hope now.  Now matter what

he said, she had to make Temp go...for his own sake.  

 

"But Mommy," she giggled, "it's open!"  She rolled her eyes at the

man still visiting with her mother. 

 

Face smiled back and whispered conspiratorially, "Well, if I was your

Grandpa, I sure would like to be met by such a pretty little girl

when I came in."

 

The girl giggled again, but went to the door to so as she was told.

 

Face turned back to Meagan.

 

"Temp, please just go."

 

"Meagan, we have to talk about this."

 

"I know.  I...meet me at the park this evening, about nine.  I'll put

Nat to bed and have someone sit with her.  Now just go!"  She whirled

away and entered the front of the store, careful to pull the door

closed between the two rooms.

 

He watched the door close against him and knew that he had to play

this very carefully.  He suddenly feared that his entire life might

depend on it.

 

 

Chapter Three

 

Face checked into the local motel and out of habit, he glanced down

at the registrar.  "It never hurts to know who your fellow guests

are."  He grimaced as he saw familiar handwriting and one name in

particular, Smith Johnson.  'So they did follow me...what else did I

expect....you'd think that the Colonel could at least pick a new

alias that I wouldn't recognize...'  He made note of their room

number as he picked up his suitcase and his key. 

 

After dropping his suitcase in his room, he decided to go confront

them.  If he was lucky, he could send them back to LA.  Hoping to

startle them, he picked the lock on the door and quietly slipped in. 

They were all gathered in the room registered to Smith Johnson and

Face was the current topic of conversation.  He wasn't particularly

surprised.  He leaned against the doorframe and loudly cleared his

throat.

 

"Uh hum, excuse me, but didn't I leave you guys in LA?"  Face raised

his eyebrows in question.

 

Three guilty faces, attempting to look innocent, turned to him.  No

one spoke for a long time until finally Face did.

 

"Now look, guys.  I know I ditched you kind of fast back there, but I

really need to handle something alone.  So will you please leave me

alone so that I can do just that?  Go home and I'll be in touch,

okay?"

 

"No, we won't.  Not until we know that you don't need us."  Hannibal

refused as the others nodded their agreement.  His cigar came out and

he chewed on it thoughtfully, waiting for Face's response.

 

"Hannibal, this doesn't have anything to do with a case or business. 

This is strictly... personal, all right?"

 

Hannibal studied the face of his second-in-command.  He saw truth,

but not total truth.  Face was hiding something.  And he wasn't going

to admit in front of all the others.  Hannibal thought fast and

bought some time for him to work on Face, alone.

 

"Look, Face, we'll go, but not tonight.  It's getting late and I'm

tired.  It's past the Aquamaniac's bedtime."

 

Murdock and BA caught on and also feigned tiredness.  Face shrugged

and made them promise to leave first thing in the morning.  After

they agreed, Face left telling them that he was in the room down the

hall and to yell if they needed him.

 

Hannibal waited ten minutes then followed Face to his room.  He

knocked quietly, surprised when the door opened before his hand even

fell.  "Lieutenant..."

 

"Save the excuse, Hannibal.  I knew you wouldn't just leave it be. 

Come in."  Face held the door open further and waved him in.

 

He stepped to the small table and offered the Colonel a seat.  At the

accepting nod, Face sat at the table across from the other man.  They

sat in silence for a minute then the younger man spoke.

 

"Well, aren't you going to ask?" Face sat back and mentally prepared

himself for the inquisition he expected.

 

 "No, you'll talk when you're ready, not before. I know that." 

Hannibal pulled out the now rather abused cigar and looked for a

lighter. 

 

Face automatically leaned forward again, lit the cigar and perused

his leader and friend.  While Hannibal wasn't the best friend and pal

that Murdock was, he was one of the few people that Face trusted,

with his life and, this time, perhaps even with his secrets.  "Hannibal, did you ever want to have a family, kids, white picket fences, the whole shebang?"

 

"White picket fences, huh?  No kid, I can't really say that I did.  I

guess a wife would have been nice to come home to at the end of a

long, hard day.   But I can't imagine that one might have stayed

through what we've been through, can you?"

 

"Hmm...maybe not.  But it might be nice to try, you know?  A normal

life, a routine, 2.5 kids and big shaggy dog named Dreyfus?"

 

"Dreyfus?  You okay, Face?"  Hannibal was genuinely puzzled.  He

figured this had to do with a woman-- one woman in particular-- but

where was the talk of kids and dogs coming from?

 

"Oh, never mind, Hannibal.  Just take the team and go back to LA, all

right?  I'll be in touch."  Face waved away the concern as easily as

he did the cigar smoke that wafted around his head.  Maybe no secrets

were to be shared tonight.  'Just as well,' Face thought. 'Never was

much good at sharing them anyway.'

 

"No way.  I'm not leaving you here alone. What if Decker gets wind of

where you are?  Alone, you'll be vulnerable.  We're staying!"

Hannibal jabbed the air in front of him to emphasize his decision.

 

"Fine, but you'll stay out of the way, right?  I mean, I'm a big boy

and I don't need any of you around to 'help' me through this one."

Face whined just a bit, knowing that it annoyed the Colonel and that

it might get Hannibal off his back.

 

Hoping that his earlier hunch that Meagan Burkes had contacted Face

for some reason was right, Hannibal played his trump card and waited

for the reaction.  "So you going to tell me what Meagan Burkes wants

or not?"  He was not disappointed.

 

Face jumped up from his spot at the rickety table and paced to the

window.  "What are you talking about Colonel?"  He sputtered then

turned, his handsome face completely masked and calm.

 

Only those who knew him best knew that this 'oh so calm' façade,

along with his millions of others 'faces' was Face's best self-

protection mechanism.  Hannibal recognized this and called him on it.

 

"Don't give me that innocent look, Lieutenant.  I know that there was

more than your usual dalliance with the Burkes woman..."

 

"You know?  How do you know that?  I never said anything."  Face was

bewildered.  His last meetings with Meagan had been long after the

Team returned to L.A.

 

"She came to L.A. about three months after the case.  She used the

same drop she used to connect with us in the first place.  Said she

needed to see me and asked about your life here.  Said she wanted to

know more before she committed herself to anything further.  I

thought she was looking for a way out because she was scared, so I

gave her one.  Told her that we moved around a lot and that a serious

attachment like a woman might get us in trouble.  She asked me not to

tell you that I saw her.  When you came home all broken up about

leaving her, well, I just figured it was best left alone."  Hannibal

said this all matter of factly, in his best 'on the jazz' voice.  He

hoped Face believed him.  At the time, Hannibal had thought he was

doing the right thing.  The anger growing on his friend's face

convinced him that he had not.    

 

The blond man stared at him in astonishment.  "You saw her and you

never told me?  You told her that she would get us caught and you

never thought I needed to know this?  Do you know what you've cost

me, us?" 

 

Face could only stand in front of the colonel for long moments as he

contemplated what he had just heard.  Four years of Natalie's life,

lost to him because Hannibal... He forced his mind to stop.  It was

more than he could cope with for now.    His voice was strained as he

continued.  "My God!  How...?  Never mind.  I've got go now.  Don't

be around when I get back.  I don't want to see you right now!"  He

strode to the door and exited the room.

 

Hannibal heard the 'vette roar off and winced at the sound of tires

squealing.  "Do I know what it cost him?  Not exactly, but I'm damn

well going to find out."  Hannibal's mind was whirling with

possibilities and he really hoped, for the first time ever, that he

was wrong, very wrong about what his head was telling him.

 

He rushed back to the room he shared with BA and Murdock and grabbed the keys to the van.  He left just as quickly, never saying a word to the surprised men who waited there.

 

"Hey, man!  Where you going with my ride?"

 

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

 

Restless and agitated, Face paced the strip of sand that separated

the stream from the grass.  The small stream ran through the center

of the park where he was to meet Meagan.  The area was far from the

path used by the rest of the park's walkers.  Surrounded by trees,

you had to know the clearing was there to see it, and Meagan had

assured him that only a very few people knew.  It had been 'their

spot'.  Face stopped abruptly, sat down under the shady pecan tree

and began to remember.

 

He and Meagan had started coming here soon after realizing how they

felt about each other.  While sitting on the red plaid blanket with

Meagan next to him, Face had felt a sense of peace and belonging that

he had never felt before.  He belonged with the team.  He knew that. 

But this was different, more intimate, more personal.  He was meant

to be with this woman at this time, maybe even forever, who knew? 

Certainly a lot of his time had been spent considering just that.

 

One day, right before returning to LA, while looking into her gray

eyes, the conman had told her what he had said to no one in more

years than he could recall.  He had said, "I love you."  And he had

meant it.  He promised to return soon so they could discuss what

their next move was.  On that afternoon, he had made love with her

for the last time.  There, in the warm sun, with the birds and clouds

soaring overhead, Face showed her exactly how deep his feelings for

her were and he had thought she felt the same.

 

Soon, he left for LA and their mission, determined to ask Hannibal

for advice about how to join the two parts of his life as soon as

possible.  In the weeks that followed, Face grew lonely for her and

the feelings he felt with her and his mood showed it.  Naturally, the

others had assumed that he was just cranky about being pulled away

from his latest 'girlfriend'.  He saw no need to enlighten them, just

yet.  Not until he knew just what to do.

 

Three weeks later, Face had returned to Hawkinsville.  He spent

several days with the woman he loved and seriously thought about

asking her to marry him.  However, her father was a suspicious man

and while he appreciated the help the team had given to the town and

to him personally, he didn't like Face and Meagan would never leave

her father anyway.  He was older and not well and she was all the

family Wallace Burkes had.

 

Soon, a close brush with Lynch sent Face scrambling back to LA and

the safety of the team.  He promised to return soon and Meagan sent

him off with passionate kisses and sad eyes. 

 

Not long after, still recovering from the last plan gone wrong, Face

had returned to his apartment to find her letter, her last letter. 

Meagan had written that she couldn't live with the worry that he

might not come back to her or that he might not come back at all.  A

clean break is what she asked him for, no calls or coming back.  He

was already disregarding this as he headed for the phone when he read

the last lines.

 

Besides, I'm not sure that I really ever loved you anyway.  I think I

loved the idea of you, the conman, and the fugitive.  I don't think I

can love Templeton Peck, the orphan with no past and no apparent

future.

 

She hadn't signed it or said anything more-- she didn't have to.  The

parting barb had hit its mark with complete accuracy.  Right dead

center of the nearly buried part of him that still felt the pain of

being abandoned by his parents and his friends as they were adopted

or moved to foster care.

 

For months, Face managed to convince himself that it didn't matter. 

After all, Meagan Burkes was just another woman.  He even almost

believed it, until he thought he saw her getting out of a cab near

his apartment.  Running after her, calling her name, Face imagined

her turning and embracing him and saying that this was all another

bad dream.

 

When he realized that the woman wasn't Meagan, the fresh wash of pain

and disappointment brought it home to him that she wasn't just

another woman.  Meagan Burkes was the woman he was to love, no matter what.  Sure, he had moved on and continued to see the beautiful women who were his trademark.  But in his heart, he knew, they weren't

Meagan and never would be. 

 

Now, back in the spot where he had been the happiest, Face felt more

miserable than he had in a long time.  Thumping his head back against

the rough tree bark, he groaned, asking aloud, "What am I going to

do?"

 

"You don't have to do anything, you know."  Meagan's voice answered

him from the nearest break in the tree line.

 

Face's eyes flew open and locked with hers.  She held his gaze for

mere seconds before turning away, walking to the edge of the water to

nudge small pebbles with her toe.

 

Suddenly nervous, Face pushed himself from the ground to his feet. 

Not knowing just exactly what to do with his hands, he pushed them

into his front pockets and cleared his throat.  He stepped up beside

her, glanced sideways at her profile and studied her face.  Her eyes

were downcast and her teeth worried her bottom lip.  Face wanted to

hold her, tell her not to worry.  He would never do anything to hurt

her or Natalie, but first he had to know.... so he asked.

 

"Meagan, I'm not sure just what to say to you.  I want to ask a

million questions, about you and Natalie.  I want to know all there

is to know about that little girl, my little girl...but mostly, right

now, I just want to know why?  Why, Meagan, did you keep her from

me?"

 

"I wasn't keeping her from you.  I was keeping you from us."  For the

first time, she faced him and looked him right in the eye for more

than a second or two.  As if hugging herself for comfort, her arms

crossed over her stomach tightly.

 

Incredulously, Face stuttered, "What?  Meagan, that....that's the

same thing.  What are you talking about?" His hands were out of his

pockets and gripping her arms tightly.

 

"No, Temp, it isn't.  I know that you don't understand.  I'll try to

explain if you'll give me a chance."  Still face to face with him,

Meagan uncrossed her arms and placed her hands on his bare

forearms.  "Please, let me try to explain, then I'll tell you

whatever you want to know about Natalie."

 

"Fine, talk."  Face released her abruptly and stepped away.  His arms

tingled where she had touched him.  He wasn't ready for that right

now.  He needed answers, not emotions.

 

Meagan walked back to the tree and sat.  Plucking a blade of grass,

she used it to trace patterns in the sandy dirt as she began to speak.

 

"I found out about Natalie just before you were here for the last

time.  I couldn't wait to tell you about it.  I even went to Los

Angeles to look for a place to live there.  I thought it would be

easier on both of us if I were closer.  I went to your apartment

first.  Even though I knew you probably weren't home yet, I wanted to

be there when you did get back."

 

Smiling sadly, she recounted her eagerness to see him.  "I went

straight to your door.  I was about to let myself in with the key I

talked your landlord into giving me when I heard this woman around

the corner talking about you.  I didn't see who she was talking with

at first, but the next thing I knew there were military police

everywhere.  I just managed to get into the stairwell before they

realized I was at your door.  This really angry, loud man started

yelling for you to come out and then he let the others bang the door

in."

 

She shivered as she recalled the near mad glint in the officer's eyes

when he realized that the apartment was empty.  "It scared me when I

realized that if I had been there already they would have used me to

get to you.  Or you might have been there with me and not really

paying attention to what was going on.  I don't think I really

realized until then that it was all real."  Her fingers had stopped

using the grass as a stencil and were now twisting it mercilessly. 

Cast downward, her eyes were hidden from him as she paused.

 

"What was real?" Face, absorbed in her words, found himself sitting

next to her on the ground close enough to touch.  But he didn't.

 

"The fact that you're a wanted man, that the Army really was looking

for you and that madman wasn't going to stop until he caught you

all."  Meagan stopped twisting the blade of grass and finally looked

up at him again.

 

"Madman?  That would be Lynch. He found me about that time as I

recall."  Voice tinged with light humor, Face informed Meagan of the

madman's name.  To himself, he thought bitterly, 'So now the blasted

military has cost me even more than my own life, it's cost me, my

daughter's.  I could have kept them safe from it all, couldn't I? 

But once again, I didn't have the chance to find out...thanks to good

ole Uncle Sam.' He brought himself back to the present when Meagan's

voce continued with her explanation.

 

"Whatever.  Anyway, I didn't know what else to do, so I found the

Chinese laundry and discovered that Hannibal was already back there. 

He said that you were on your way back to me.  We talked for a while

and by the time I was ready to come home, I knew that I couldn't tell

you about the baby.  I was so afraid that I wouldn't be able to not

say anything that I almost didn't go home.  At the same time, I knew

I had to see you once more." Shrugging almost apologetically, Meagan

continued briefly.  "I just couldn't help myself."

 

"I heard about your conversation with Hannibal.  But not until today,

I'm so angry I could just explode."  Restless again, Face stood and

renewed his pacing.  "When I think about what his high-handed

attitude cost me...."

 

Meagan rose and put herself in his path and demanded, "What are you

talking about?  Why are you angry with him?  He's your friend, your

family, he loves you."

 

"He loves me?  He told you that you might get us caught!  He's the

reason that you didn't tell me.  That I missed the first four years

of my daughter's life.  What kind of friend is that?"  Angrily, Face

demanded the answers.

 

"He's the kind of friend that can keep you alive and out of prison. 

I couldn't.  He was right.  I would have gotten in the way.  You

would have been more concerned with Natalie and me than with watching your back.  Meagan's voice was low and soft, as if the words were painful even now.

 

"But Meagan, I....cared about you.  I would have loved our daughter,

too.  I want to know her.  I want to know you again."  Beseechingly,

he asked her to see reason.

 

Meagan blinked and slowly answered, "Okay."

 

"Okay?"  Her sudden acquiescence threw him off balance and he stared

at her, uncomprehending.

 

"Yes, okay.  I told you I would tell you about her.  I'll do better. 

I'll show you.  Come to the house tomorrow.  We'll be home until

noon.  I have lots of pictures and you can even spend some time with

Natalie if you want."  Her tone was calm, accepting.

 

Face smiled broadly.  "Really?  I can see her?"  He reached for her

hands, wanting desperately to be in contact with her, at last.

 

She pulled away from his attempted hold.  Her gaze was sad as she

looked at him.  "Of course.  I've never wanted anything more than

I've wanted to see the two of you together.  She's so much like you."

 

"Meagan, can we talk about us, our future?"  Face tried once more to

hold her hands.

 

She whirled away from him, hugging herself tightly again.  "No, Temp,

there is no us."

 

"No us?  You meant what you said in that letter?" Harsher than he

intended, his voice brought her back around to him.  He held the

offending paper in his hand.  He had brought it, as well as the more

recent, anonymous one.

 

"That letter?  No, I didn't mean it, not like that.  But it still

holds true.  There can be no us.... no happy ever after, not then,

not now."  She bravely struggled to keep her voice even and

convincing, to continue to hide the tears he couldn't see shining in

her eyes.

 

Too hurt by her continued rejection, Face missed the near tears and

slight tremor in her voice.  "I can see her, but I can't be her

father?" He watched as the slim back stiffened in what he took as

agreement.    

 

When she did not answer, Face disgustedly threw the letter to the

ground.  "We'll see, Meagan.  We'll see."  The anger towards her that

he had been trying to push down broke free and he spoke low but

clear.  "You won't keep her from me.  I have the right to know her

and she deserves to know that she has a father that cares."  He

strode away from the stream and into the growing darkness.

 

Holding her sobs until he was out of hearing, she watched as he

walked away from her and the pain she had inflicted on him.  She

dropped to her knees and gathered the papers.  Holding them to her

nose, she inhaled the scent of him that lingered where he had

clutched them tight.  She whispered to herself, "To keep you safe and

free, I sent you away once and I'll do it again.  Even if it breaks

my heart.... again...."

 

 

Chapter Four

 

Hannibal stood at the edge of the park and watched as Face stalked

away from the stand of trees.  The colonel had arrived only minutes

after the younger man and had been about to go to him when Meagan

Burkes arrived and followed Face's path into the secluded area. 

 

Twenty minutes had passed and now his second in command had left the

grove, alone and agitated.  Face was already angry with him at the

moment, and Hannibal knew it would do no good to try to speak to him

in his current state. Instead he decided to go directly to the source

of his agitation, Meagan Burkes.  Waiting until Face was out of

sight, he then advanced on the trees, quietly. 

 

He paused, listening closely for indications that the woman was still

there.  He got it in the form of muffled sobs.  Hannibal cleared his

throat gruffly and stepped into view of the woman kneeling on the

ground.

 

"Oh...Mr. Smith.  I should have known you were close by."  Meagan

stood quickly and dried the tears from her face.  She swallowed hard

and struggled to appear calm. 

 

"Ms. Burkes. Yes, you should have known I would be close by.  We are

a team and we don't let anyone go anywhere they might be in danger,

alone."  Hannibal pointedly remarked.

 

"You think I'm a danger to him...?" It wasn't really a question.  She

already knew the answer in her heart.

 

Seeing no point in denying the truth, Hannibal replied, "Yes, I do." 

 

The woman nodded slowly, still holding tight to the papers in her

hand.  She stuffed them into her front pocket and began to walk

away.  Before leaving the clearing, she turned and reassured the

colonel.  "Don't worry.  I think so too....you'll be able to take him

home soon enough."

 

Hannibal watched her walk away and pondered her parting

words...."Somehow, I don't think so, not this time...."

 

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

 

Murdock watched from the motel room window for either man's return. 

Something was very wrong with this situation and he just couldn't put

his finger on it.  He knew Face was here for some very specific

purpose, probably related to Meagan Burkes.  He also knew that Face

had cared for her more than he had cared for any woman since his

college sweetheart, Leslie.  What he didn't know was what had

Hannibal so stirred up. 

 

Hannibal generally let them live their own lives, only interfering

when it jeopardized the safety of the entire team or one of its

members.  Therefore, it followed that Face was in danger.  But why

was he refusing to allow Hannibal to help?  That was certainly what

Face appeared to be doing....

 

The familiar roar of the 'Vette's engine brought Murdock out of his

reverie.  Face jumped over the door, something he only did when he

was in the greatest of hurries or when he was extremely upset.  Since

he lingered at the side of the car, watching Murdock watching him, he

obviously wasn't in a hurry.

 

 Just then, the pilot heard BA open the door of the room with the ice

and soda he had just went after.  BA spoke gruffly to Face in the

parking lot, but got no response.  The big man came into the room

grumbling about Face's moods, obviously perturbed about being

ignored.  Murdock, carefully staying out of the irritated man's way,

was just about to head for the door anyway when Face looked directly

at him. 

 

Face twisted his mouth in thought and suddenly beckoned Murdock to

join him.  He walked swiftly to his room and opened the door, waiting

for Murdock to join him before closing the door behind them.  "Where

did Hannibal go?"

 

"Don't know, Facey....probably after you...where did you go?" 

Murdock stuffed his hands in his pockets and tried to appear casual.

 

"Crazy, Murdock, I went crazy."  Face sighed and flopped on side of

the bed closest to him.

 

"Well, umm, you know, I've been there and I got to say, it is not the

best place to be."  Murdock walked to the chair across from his

friend and sat down to wait it out.  Face would, undoubtedly, choose

the longest possible way to spill whatever was eating at him.

 

"Murdock, we've been together a long time, right?  The team, I mean,

not just us..."  Face didn't wait for an answer.  "Not once in all

the years since we were thrown together have I questioned that

Hannibal would do the best thing for the team and it's members.  So,

why now?  Why would he do this to me?"

 

Murdock, seeing the look of anguish on the normally calm face before

him, decided to try to push the matter ahead a little quicker.  "Face, what are you talking about?  Of course Hannibal always does what's right for the team.  He's always looking out for all of us, especially you.  You've given us all more trouble than 10 broken mirrors..."

 

"Trouble?  What trouble?  I don't get us into trouble...Hannibal's

the one with the jazz flowing through his veins..."

 

"Nope...nuh uh... I don't mean that kind of trouble.  I mean, your

kind of trouble...you keep secrets, you don't talk about anything to

anybody and eventually it all builds up and blows just like Old

Faithful and you pull some crazy stunt, like running off alone and

worrying us all to pieces.  A lot like today...."                    

 

"Ah well, Murdock, you know...." Face had the grace to look

chagrinned.

 

"Yeah, buddy, I know..." Murdock settled into his chair, crossed his

legs and held ready an imaginary notepad and pencil.  "Now let Dr.

Murdock help you with your woes."

 

Face looked askance at his friend, shook his head briefly before

replying, "Okay, Murdock, but I am NOT laying down!"

 

With the utmost respect, Murdock intoned, "Whatever makes you

comfortable.  I'm here for you."

 

Seemingly doubtful once again, Face almost backed out, but the

gnawing in his gut wouldn't let him.  He took a deep breath in and in

one fell swoop, he laid the bomb on his impromptu counselor. "Meagan

Burkes and I have a daughter and I just now found out about it and I

think Hannibal kept me from them on purpose."

 

Imaginary or not, the pen and paper in Murdock's hands fell to the

floor as his hands and jaw dropped in disbelief.  "You wanna run that

by me again, muchacho?"

 

"OHHHH!"  Face leapt to his feet and paced around the cramped room.

One hand raked through his hair while the other clenched at his

side.  "That letter, this morning?  That was from someone here in

Hawkinsville.  It said that Meagan Burkes had a baby girl 4 years ago

and that I was the father.  It also said that they needed me, whether

they knew it or not and that I should come see them."     The

agitated man ended up propped on the radiator behind Murdock, head

bowed and hands clasped together between his knees.   "Hannibal told

me today, that four years ago, Meagan came to LA asking about our

lives....He told her that she would get us caught....I think she sent

me away, from her and our child because of that.  How could he be so,

so, so ...."

 

"So Hannibalish?"  Murdock supplied.

 

"Exactly!"  

 

So caught up in his own anguish was he, Face never heard the door

open or saw that Hannibal was listening intently to this entire

conversation. 

 

Murdock, realizing that the two men had to work through this on their

own, motioned their leader in and stood to leave.

 

"Murdock!  Where are you going?  I need...." Face began.  He turned

to stop the other man from leaving and saw Hannibal heading toward

the center of the room.  "I told you not to be here.  Hannibal, I

meant it."

 

"And I mean this, kid.  I'm not going until we've got this straight. 

I didn't know about this baby.  I would never have tried to keep that

from you....but, if she asked me again, I'd say the same thing....an

attachment like a woman could get you and the entire team caught by

Decker."  Hannibal stared at the younger man unflinchingly.  "And if

you would just stop to think about this, you'd agree with me."

 

"Think about this?  Think about this?  What do you think I've been

doing all day?  Ever since I opened that letter, this is all that I

can think about...I have a child, who might have needed me, wanted

me.... and I've let her think that I didn't care, that I didn't want

her.  I, I KNOW how that feels and I've promised myself for years

that if, if I ever had a child, I'd never let them feel like that!" 

Face was nearly completely out of control at this point, pacing

wildly and aimlessly around the small room.  When he quit talking, he

found himself in Hannibal's face, jabbing his finger against the

other man's chest.

 

Murdock stood by, on guard to insert himself between the two should

things become more volatile.  Hannibal and Face normally got on very

well.  But the same, shared qualities that made them think and act in

perfect accordance on a mission also brought them head to head,

locked in willful battles on personal levels. 

 

Hannibal waved the pilot away while discarding his cigar.  Hannibal

then stepped back from Face and crossed his arms over his stomach. 

He spoke slowly and calmly, hoping against hope to not have the fight

that Face was obviously spoiling for.  "Face, I know that you must be

very hurt, but..."

 

"How?" Face demanded.  "How do you know?  You've never been told that yes, you have a child; yes, you can see her, but no, you can't be her

father, can't tell her that you want to know her and hold her and

help her find her invisible dog."

 

"Okay, fine, I don't know exactly what you mean...but I'm willing to

listen and to try to help you find out if this woman is telling you

the truth...." Hannibal knew Face already believed.  He could

practically see the Lieutenant's mind whirling with plans for this

child.  Unfortunately, Hannibal was not quite as likely to believe in

the happy ever after that Face was and until he saw more proof, that

kid could belong to the milkman, and he needed to make Face see that,

too.  Hannibal waited for the violent response he expected. He didn't

wait long.

 

"How dare you....  How dare you try to tell me that Meagan's lying to

me?  You don't know her the way I do...." Infuriated beyond all

control by the cool expression in the Colonel's eyes, Face finally

lost his control.  He turned away quickly only to whirl back and

plant his fist in the seemingly taunting face before him. 

 

Face was not the muscle bound giant that BA was, but when he meant

it, he packed a hell of a punch and he meant this one more than any

other, ever.   Hannibal dropped in a heap at his feet.

 

From his spot near the door, Murdock raced toward Face before he

could lean over to repeat the action.  Pinning Face's arms behind his

back, he yelled for BA and tried to talk to the heavily panting man

in his arms.  "Face, now you gotta calm down.  Come on,

now...breath...let's go over here and sit down now...."

 

Expecting the worst, BA burst through the door, brandishing his

weapon.  He looked around, wildly, for the enemy, but saw only his

own men.  "Whatch you yelling about, fool?  Why is Hannibal on the

floor?"  He slammed the door behind him, propped the gun next to the

man on the floor and leaned over to pull him to his feet. 

 

Shrugging off the arms holding him, Face put some distance between

himself and the recently assaulted man.  More in control now, he

regretted hitting Hannibal but not enough to apologize for it.  So he

waited, in silence, to see how Hannibal would explain the situation.

 

Accepting assistance from the sergeant to stand, Hannibal looked

steadily at Face while speaking to the room in general.  "It's okay,

men.  We had a misunderstanding, but we're going to work it out now,

right, kid?"  He wiped the trickle of blood from the corner of his

mouth with his handkerchief then tucked it back into his pocket. 

 

Defeated by the apparent forgiveness, Face nodded yes, then dropped

to the chair, and tried to massage away the headache starting to

throb in his temples.  Giving up, he finally looked up to meet

Hannibal's eyes.  Guiltily, Face tried to look away, only to have his

gaze captured and held.  Once again, he thought he should apologize. 

Face knew he had been so out of line in hitting his Colonel, but damn

it, he just couldn't deal with it any more.  Hoping to avoid further

confrontation, he sighed heavily then spoke, "Hannibal, let's just

save this for morning, humm?  I'm tired and testy and we're just

going to fight about this anyway."

 

"No dice, Lieutenant.  What affects one of us, can affect the team

and this is definitely affecting you.  We're going to work this out

between us right now and in the morning, we'll deal with Meagan

Burkes."  Hannibal sat gingerly on the chair across from Face. 

 

The familiar refrain was issued and Face, as well as the other

members, knew that no one was going anywhere until this was

settled.   

 

"What are ya'll talkin' about, man?"  BA glowered at the other

three.  He sat down on the corner of the bed as Murdock took the spot

closest to Face, behind him on the radiator.

 

Face, knowing that there was no other way around it, started the

story over at the beginning.  Beginning with the letter that morning

and his meeting with Meagan and Natalie at the store and ending with

his confrontation with Meagan this evening at the lake, he laid the

whole story out for them all to rehash.

 

Each man thought about what he had heard, then spoke up one at a

time.  Murdock began the conversation.  "So, you're telling us that

this woman had a child that she claims is yours and she won't let you

see her?"

 

Face shook his head.  "No, I can see her, tomorrow in fact.  But I

can't tell her who I am. Meagan says I could hurt her without meaning

to.  She won't take that chance."

 

BA growled, "I know you, Faceman, and you' a lot of things, but you

wouldn't ever hurt no kid, no mor'an I would."

 

"I don't think she means it that way, big guy."  Murdock jumped back

in and thoughtfully cupped his chin.  "I think she don't want the kid

to get attached, knowing that Face can't really just hang out around

here in Hawkinsville."

 

Face nodded in agreement then looked to Hannibal who had been silent

up until now.  "Well?"

 

"I know you don't want to hear this, Face, but how do you really know

that this child is yours?  Do you have any proof?"  Playing the

devil's advocate was usually Face's job, but this time Hannibal

willingly stepped in.

 

Quickly but calmly, Face responded,  "I know Meagan Burkes and what

kind of person she is.  I know that she lo....cared for me and that

she has no reason to lie.  What does she have to gain by lying?  I'm

not rich or powerful, hell; I'm a wanted man.  I'm probably the last

guy she ever pictured as being the father of her child.  Besides, she

didn't write the letter.  She was surprised to see me, blown away

actually.  She had no idea I was coming."

 

Pausing to allow this to sink in, Face remembered.  Going back to

that morning, he remembered how his heart had jumped at the first

sight of the little girl who had called Meagan, 'mommy'.  His breath

hitched all over again as he heard her tiny voice calling to the

invisible dog, Dreyfus. 

 

Face had seen lots of cute kids in his time but none of them had ever

reached out and grabbed him the way Natalie had, just by looking at

him with those eyes.  Eyes that looked a whole lot like the ones he

saw every morning in the mirror. 

 

"Hannibal, you didn't see her.  She's...just...perfect.  Her eyes are

blue and she's got the tiniest little voice.  Murdock, she's got an

invisible dog, named Dreyfus.  BA, she's smart I tell you.  She's got

her mother wrapped right around her little finger."  As Face spoke,

he paced again, going to each man and looking him in the face as he

spoke about the child.  Stopping suddenly, he swallowed hard and said

with finality, "I can't take the chance that she is mine and not try

to know her, Hannibal.  What if she needs me some day?  I couldn't

live with that."

 

"I know, Face.  Just take it easy.  You'll see her tomorrow and try

to work something out with her mother.  In the meantime, do you have

any ideas who might have written that letter?"  Unable to look over

the niggling doubt in the back of his mind, Hannibal tried to give

reason to it instead.  Something just didn't add up here.

 

"No, not really.  I guess I haven't given that much thought."  

Curiosity now began to set in and he thought about who might know

about him and Meagan and their relationship four and half years

ago.  "I guess her father might know or her friend, Kim.  She was

around a lot that summer.  I really don't care.  I could kiss whoever

sent it.  I don't think Meagan was ever going to tell me."

 

After another few minutes of discussion about the origins of the

letter, the others began to stand to go back to their own rooms.

Murdock, lingering behind, looked back at his friend, "You want

someone to stay?  I could bed down on the floor, if you don't want to

be alone."

 

"No thanks, Murdock.  I don't think I'll be real good company right

now.  I'll see you in the morning.  I want you to go with me to see

Meagan.  I want you to know Natalie."

 

"No problem, I'll introduce her Dreyfus to Billy."  Murdock snapped

to call the invisible dog to his side then exited the room, leaving

Face alone again.   

 

Face walked to the door and locked it behind his friends, his only

family until now.  Anger again began to bubble inside him.  No matter

what Hannibal had or had not said to her, she should have trusted him

with the knowledge of their daughter.  He would have tried to take

care of them.  What if something had happened to Meagan?  Natalie

would have been alone.... an orphan....  Face vowed that would never

happen and knew that, no matter what, he would be father to that

little girl, regardless of what her mother said or did.

 

 

 

Chapter Five    

(Author's notes: ****** indicate start and stop of flashback

sequences)

 

Meagan Burkes walked along the quiet streets of the town she had

grown up in.  She moved without really seeing where she was going and

without really needing to. 

 

Mrs. Bratton had always lived in the big brown house on the corner of

First Street. Her front window was always lit this time of night by

the soft glow of her antique glass lamp.  And she could always be

seen peeking around the white lace curtains at whoever was walking

by.

 

Mr. Perkins had always run the local pharmacy, just as his father

before him.  The front glass still shone from vinegar applied with

old newspaper and the sign still read, "Open six days a week". 

Various other businesses lined the streets and as she walked past

them, the owners waved or spoke briefly as they went about the

business of closing their livelihoods for the day.  She answered in

kind, not really hearing their words. 

 

Hawkinsville had been the same for as long as she could recall,

except for the six months during and after the town's  'occupation'

by the drug runners.  The A Team arrived and soon had the situation

under control.  Those were months that Meagan didn't think she would

ever forget.  Nor did she want to.  She had ended up with the most

precious things in her life, her daughter and her memories of the

love that produced her.  Standing under the lone streetlight, she

could see in her mind's eye, the scene they had made when they

arrived four years ago.

 

                                                  ******************

 

The entire town had turned out for the impromptu town meeting called

by the mayor, Judy Henderson.  Determined to stop the renegade team

from further destroying her town, the mayor had demanded that Wallace

Burkes call off the A Team, only to be interrupted by the arrival of

several of the more destructive drug runners who had started all this

turmoil.

 

Shooting weapons and shouting obscenities, they had busted up the

meeting, grabbing the mayor and trying to pull her from the podium

into their trucks.  Suddenly, a black van arrived and out jumped the

four men.  Brandishing weapons of their own, they had used their

element of surprise and quickly corralled the three tormentors and

delivered their first message. 

 

The older gray haired man grinned wildly at the men currently held at

bay.  Insolently lighting the cigar he pulled from his pocket,

Hannibal spit the end on the man's dusty black boots.  Pointing the

now smoking end in the slime ball's face, he drove his message

home.  "Tell your boss that this town is now off limits to him and

his goons.  And if he knows what's good for him, he'll clear out of

the state entirely."

 

Sneering, the captive warned Hannibal, "You don't know who you're

messing with, pal!  My boss is going to kill you clowns."

 

Laughing, Hannibal had deferred to handsome man on his right. "Hey

Face, did you hear that?  This guy thinks he can scare us.  Are you

scared, Lieutenant?"

 

"Only of his fashion sense, Colonel.  I haven't seen boots like that

since 1973."  Face nodded his head toward the man's feet.

 

"Yeah, they're real bad, Colonel.  I wouldn't even wear them." 

Murdock shook his head, while clicking his tongue mournfully. 

 

"You're right, guys.  Show these guys what we think about

unfashionable footwear, Captain."  Hannibal and Face stepped away

from the line of fire just as Murdock sprayed the ground before the

captives with a flurry of rounds from his M-60.

 

Stumbling backwards, the men began to run for their lives.  Knowing

their message would be delivered, post haste, Hannibal let them go. 

Turning to face the now excited crowd, Hannibal called out, "Who are

Meagan and Wallace Burkes?"

 

Stepping forward, "I'm Meagan Burkes."  She held out a still shaking

hand.

 

Stepping smoothly into place, Face shook and held her hand just a

second longer than necessary.  He glanced at the older man then spoke

in that ultra smooth voice.  "Ms. Burkes, you've just hired the A-

Team."

 

                                                  *****************

 

Even now, four and half years later, Meagan could still feel the

tingling in her hands from that first touch.  Oh, he had been so

smooth.  Obviously a man used to getting what he wanted, Templeton

Peck had been absolutely stunned when she hadn't immediately fallen

into his arms.  Ruefully, she shook her head at the absolute hilarity

of the chase she had led him.  She had determined early on that she

would not be used and left behind by this gorgeous man.  What she

hadn't counted on was that he could be so persuasive.  Despite

herself, she had watched the defenses crumble between them and the

next thing she knew she had found herself in his arms....

 

Before she could follow these thoughts to their conclusion, she found

herself approaching the General Mercantile.  She glanced through the

front window.  Her father was standing with the phone in his left

hand, a sheaf of papers in his right, obviously engrossed in his

conversation.  Easing the door open a crack, Meagan could just hear

the last of his conversation.

 

"I hear you, Jerden!  Now you hear me, I will not be intimated

anymore.... I've done what you wanted.  That's all that I can do."  A

pause, punctuated by Wallace Burkes' gripping of the phone cord and

twisting it violently, followed.  "I understand.  Yes, as soon as I

know...." He slammed the receiver back into the cradle and heaved a

mighty sigh.  The papers in his right hand were nearly crumpled as he

shoved them back into the manila envelope on the counter.  He next

bent over and secreted the envelope away.  Determinedly, he

straightened and reached for the wooden handled straw broom and went

about his closing chores.

 

Outside, Meagan wondered who her father was talking to...she knew no

one named Jerden in this town.  Who could he be talking to in such a

manner?  As if she didn't have enough in front of her.  Now she had

to try and figure out what her father was up to...sometimes she felt

like she had two children.  But for now she had to get him to go

home.  He was tired and above all she had to look out for his

health.  He certainly wouldn't.  And then maybe she could get a peek

at what was in that envelope.

 

Meagan waited for a very few minutes then entered the front door of

the General Mercantile.  The bell jangled overhead as the door swung

open.  Her earliest memories were of this store and sitting on the

big, shiny oak counter as her father waited on customers.  She was

always here or so it seemed to her.  She went to school, of course,

but after school, she came to the store and when she was old enough,

she went to work.  Now she was the primary caretaker of the business,

but still no matter how she tried, her father insisted on closing the

doors personally, everyday.

 

Meagan saw him now, sweeping the wooden floor and putting away

merchandise that had been mislaid by customers during the day. 

Deciding that she would use a more indirect approach to make him call

it a day, she approached him.  "Dad, you have no business sweeping

this floor.  You know that Kim will do this in the morning before she

opens."

 

"Kim?  Why is she opening?  That flighty girl hasn't got sense enough

to open!"  Wallace Burkes slowly turned to face his daughter.  His

gray eyes were slitted in suspicion and he harrumphed his

displeasure.  His hands, dark and work roughened, gripped the broom

handle tighter as Meagan attempted to pry it from his grip. 

 

Momentarily giving up, Meagan answered his question with studied

carelessness.  "Oh no reason, really.  An old friend called today and

is coming to visit in the morning." 

 

"Old friend?  What old friend?"  The broom stilled, the hands

clutched it tighter.

 

"No one you know.  I met them in college."  Meagan swallowed the lump the lie caused and focused on keeping her voice level.

 

Suddenly very interested in his daughter's friends, Wallace Burkes

shuffled to stand near her.  He eyed her closely.  "You only went to

the community college in Tate.  Who would come to see you that I

wouldn't know?"

 

"Dad!  I am a grown woman.  I know lots of people that you don't!" 

Desperate now, she hoped that anger might work where innocence had

not.

 

"Don't sass me, girl!  Is it that Peck man?  Is he here?"  His voice

was gruff but his hands shook slightly as they laid aside the broom

to reach for a fallen box of crackers.

 

Gasping aloud, Meagan spun to where he had crouched on the

ground.  "Dad!  What do you know about him?"

 

"Hmmph...know enough.  Is he here?"

 

Meagan stared at him, licking her lips nervously.  Slowly, she pulled

the letters from her pocket, separated the sheets and handed the

correct one over.  "Did you send this?"

 

Guiltily, he glanced at the paper.  He cleared his throat and

asked, "Now does look like my handwriting?"

 

"That's not what I asked, Dad.  Did you send this letter?"  Louder

now, she demanded answers.

 

"So what if I did...that boy has to own up to his responsibility.  He

never was trustworthy.  Ran off and left you high and dry, in trouble

and without any real support."

 

"Dad, how dare you do this?  I never said that Templeton was

Natalie's father.  How can you do this to us?"  So angry that her

voice shook, Meagan nearly yelled, all the while thinking rapidly,

trying to find a way out of this impossible situation.

 

"Well, he is, isn't he?"  The older Burkes defended himself. 

 

"It really doesn't matter.  I chose to raise Natalie alone, Dad.  I

made my own decision, the best way I could.  You had no right to

interfere in this..." Suddenly weary, Meagan slumped against a wall

and sighed heavily.

 

"Of course it's my business.  You are my daughter and Natalie is the

light of my life, of my old age.  I need to know that you are taken

care of."  He wore his indignation like a shield. 

 

It was a posture Meagan knew well. And also one she know how to

handle.  She turned it around on him.  "Yeah well, you are the only

family that we have, too. So who were you talking to on the phone

before I came in?  You were very upset and you know that the doctor

says you shouldn't get too upset.  It raises your blood pressure!!"

 

Meagan watched as he thought rapidly.  She smugly waited for him to

respond.  Her dear father, he could dish it out but he never could

take it....

 

"Well, fine then...you just see whoever you want to see in the

morning.  I hope Kim totally screws up the register tape, just like

last time, since you are the one who has to deal with such things....

my blood pressure, you know."  Wallace Burkes now gathered his

indignation around him like a cloak and swept past her to his

apartment above the store.  He harrumphed and left without another

word... about anything.

 

Meagan pushed away from the wall and followed his progress up the

stairs.  She wanted him to shut up, but she also wanted to know if he

had that letter sent and why.  Too late, he slammed shut the door

between the stairs and his entry way soundly and she heard the lock

snap into place.  So much for getting anything else out of him

tonight. 

 

She finished the sweeping, returning the broom to its place behind

the counter.  Bending to retrieve her keys from their shelf under the

counter, she caught sight of the small safe there.  He father must

have stuffed whatever was in that envelope inside.  She quickly

dialed the combination, hoping she recalled it correctly.  She never

used the safe, it was for her father's personal papers and she had

never needed to get in it. 

 

The door swung open and she reached for the manila envelope. 

Crouched behind the counter, she opened the tiny, gold brad and

pulled out papers.  Meagan was just starting to read them, when the

phone jangled loudly in her ear.  

 

Gasping, she reached instinctively for the line that also rang in her

father's upstairs apartment.  Before she could answer, she heard her

father's voice speaking.  "Jerden, is that you...damn fool pager

works I guess...don't know why you can't just stay at home and answer

your phone like anyone else. I think they may be here.  Yes, I think

at least one of them is.  Peck, that's right.  Fine...." The phone

clicked and Meagan stared at her end.  Dear lord.  Her father had

sent that letter.  Who was Jerden and why was her father telling him

about Temp and the rest of the team? 

 

Meagan heard the floorboards above her head squeak and knew that

Wallace Burkes was coming back down for something.  She pushed the

papers back into the envelope and shoved it back into the safe. 

Slamming the door shut, she grabbed her keys and raced out the door. 

She barely made it out of the store before her father entered the

room. 

 

Walking over to the door, his steps now heavier than ever, Burkes

checked the locks and pulled the blinds.  He scrubbed one hand over

his beard-roughened face and tapped his chin thoughtfully as he spoke

aloud.  "All right, Wally old boy.  Sure hope you know what you're

doing here.  If you don't, she may never forgive you.  And I wouldn't

blame her..."  

 

He checked the safe, found it secure and retired to ponder his

harebrained scheme and to pray, it never hurt to pray.

 

       

Chapter Six

 

The next morning at exactly nine o'clock, Face jumped out of the van

in front of Meagan's house.  He turned to walk up the drive, only to

be called back by Murdock.  "Hey Facey, you sure you don't want me or

someone to go with you?"

 

"Um Yeah, Murdock, I'm sure.  But you're going to be back in two

hours, right?"  He looked to Hannibal for confirmation.

 

"Two hours, Face.  We're just going to take a drive around town,

check out the lay of the land.  Then we'll be back. "  The colonel

tapped his watch and repeated,  "Two hours..."

 

After watching the van drive away, Face approached the door with

butterflies rampaging through his stomach.  He wiped sweaty palms on

his jeans and reached for the doorbell.  Before he could ring, the

door flew open and he was nearly swept aside by the miniature

hurricane that blew through.

 

From the kitchen of the home floated Meagan's voice.  "Natalie, get

back here this instant and finish your breakfast."

 

The hurricane whirled to a stop.  The shoulders drooped as the girl

accepted defeat.  Noticing their visitor for the first time, Natalie

stage whispered to him, "If you go in there, Mommy's going to make

you eat oatmeal..." Without another word, she turned and trudged

slowly back into the house.

 

Grinning, he followed her inside and stood at the kitchen doorway. 

Natalie climbed into her chair and picked up the spoon, playing with

the food more than eating it.  Meagan, turning to scold her for

trying to sneak out of the house, once again started at the sight

that greeted her. 

 

"Oh, you scared me!  I should be used to that, I guess...."

 

"Sorry, Natalie let me in, sort of...." Face offered by way of

explanation.

 

Meagan spoke automatically, "Nat, what have I told you about talking

to strangers?"

 

"Sorry, Mommy." Her tone indicated she was anything but.

 

Face watched the exchange mutely.  His heart pounded as he heard

Meagan's words echoing in his head.  "Talking to strangers,

strangers, strangers..." He knew he was a stranger to the little

girl, so why did the thought bother him so?  Despite his inner

turmoil, his pleasant façade never wavered.  There would be a time

and place for his argument about why he was a stranger to his own

child, but this wasn't it.  Today was going to be a good day.  It had

to be....

 

Feeling a bit awkward now, watching the mother and daughter going

about their morning routine, Face finally ventured to ask, "Did I

come by too early?  I had the others drop me off.  I can call them

back, if you want?"  It was obvious that was the last thing he wanted

to do.

 

"No, not at all.  Natalie is an early riser.  We've been up for a

couple of hours." She jerkily removed the bowl from in front of her

daughter, simultaneously wiping the girl's chin with a napkin.  "I

told Nat that an old friend was coming by and that you really wanted

to get to know her.  She's been chattering, non-stop, all morning,

about what she wants to show you."

 

Unsure what, exactly, Meagan had told the child, Face nodded.  He

still had the butterflies floating around and he was unused to

feeling so out of place and unsure of himself.  "Show me?"  He smiled

at the suddenly, very interested Natalie.  "Hi, Natalie.  How's

Dreyfus this morning?"

 

"Fine. Are you mommy's old friend?"

 

"Uh yeah, I guess that would be me." Spreading his hands before him,

he agreed with her assessment.

 

"Natalie, why don't you take him into the living room and show him

the pictures you picked out this morning?" Meagan turned to the

sink, "I'll be out in just a minute, okay?"

 

"Yes, Ma'am." Obediently, she tucked her hand into his and pulled him

out of the room.

 

Swallowing hard, Face allowed himself to be lead to the comfortable

couch.  He watched at the girl clambered up into the center of the

cushions before sitting down next to her.  Her sticky hand left his

to reach for the first album.  He discovered he missed the contact

and wanted to grab it back, just for a minute or two.  He satisfied

himself with just watching her now serious face instead. 

 

Natalie placed the heavy book on her lap and opened it to the first

page. "Hey mister, what's your name?"

 

Before Face could answer, Meagan walked into the room.  She had

overheard the question and rushed forward to answer for him.  "Oh

sweetie, this is Mr. Peck.  Templeton Peck."

 

Giggling, "That's a funny name." Natalie covered her mouth with her

hand at her mother's admonishing look. "Well, it is...."

 

"You know what Natalie?  You're right. It is a funny name.  How about

if you call me Face?  My friends call me Face and I really want to be

your friend."  His smile faded as he looked from his daughter to her

mother.  She had rushed into answering for him like she expected him

to just blurt out that he was Natalie's father and that she could

call him 'dad'.          

 

Once again unable to meet the hurt in the blue eyes that stared at

her, Meagan dropped her gaze to the carpet.  After a few seconds,

taking a deep breath to steady herself, she approached the couch and

sat on the other side of her daughter.  She asked lightly, "What are

you showing Face now, honey..."

 

Forty-five minutes and four albums later, Natalie declared herself

bored with the activity by pushing the books off her lap. Recognizing that her daughter was about to drag Temp away to some other activity, Meagan decided to intervene.  They needed to discuss Natalie and what to tell her and she really needed to tell him what she overheard the night before at her father's.

 

"Natalie, why don't you go upstairs to your room to play and we'll be

up in a while?"

 

Shrugging her shoulders, Natalie headed for the steps at full speed,

calling over her shoulder, "See ya, later, Face!"

 

Meagan made sure she heard the door upstairs slam then turned to her

companion.  "Well, welcome to storm central.  That was hurricane

Natalie..." Her attempt at humor fell flat.

 

"Meagan, we have to talk about this.... I'm not going to just walk

away from her.  I can't...I know what it feels like to be left behind

and that is the one thing that I just can't allow myself to do." 

Facing her squarely, he began the inevitable discussion.

 

"I know." Spoken so quietly, she had to repeat herself to be sure

that he heard her. "I know that.  I won't ask you to leave her.  But

I just don't think we should just blurt out that you are her father. 

There are just too many other considerations...."

 

"I agree that it's complicated, but it's not impossible.  Nothing is

impossible."  He flashed her the trademark smile and gained not even

the smallest hint of a response.  "Meagan, I wish you would try to

see it my way.  I've never had family.  Not really.  Hannibal,

Murdock and BA are like brothers.  But it isn't like having parents

and a home to return to.  I've lived in a million places and none of

them were home.  I don't want Natalie to ever feel like that."  The

words came out, slowly.  He had never really voiced these feelings to

anyone before.  He didn't talk about it, ever.

 

"She doesn't feel that way.  She has me and Dad and we have a home. 

She's a happy little girl." 

 

"Yes, she is. And you've done a great job raising her.  She's smart

and polite and she's just beautiful.  But I want her to have more.  I

want her to have a father.  I can be that.  I need to be that." Suddenly hearing this in his own words and voice, Face realized just how true this was.  He needed that little girl in his life.  Not just for now, but forever... 

He had known about her for less than twenty-four hours, yet he couldn't imagine leaving here and never seeing her again. 

 

Once again, he blessed the unknown person who sent that letter. 

Unfortunately, the natural order of this line of thought brought him

back to Hannibal's parting words this morning. 'See if Meagan has any

idea who sent that letter.... Something isn't right here and we need

to know what it is.'

 

"Look, Meagan, I'm not going to just walk in here and expect to be an

instant father.  I know that she needs time to know me.  Right now, I

just want to spend a little time with her and get to know her, too. 

Does that sound reasonable to you?"  Face reached for her hands,

grasping them gently between his own.

 

Gazing at their entwined fingers, she nodded slowly.  The heat from

his skin soaked into hers and she remembered how his hands had felt

on her body, running up her arms and over her back.  Cupping her face

as he kissed her lips, tangled in her hair as he...

 

Suddenly, she jerked her hands away, breaking the contact, but not

the memories.  Never the memories.  God how she had missed him when

he was gone: gone and never coming back.  As well as she knew that

she had sent him away the first time, she also knew, that he would

have to go again and that the day might come, when he wouldn't come

back at all.  She knew how it felt to lie in bed at night and wonder

and worry and she was determined that Natalie would not suffer

through that, ever.  She had to keep Temp from telling their daughter

who he really was.  But for now, silence ruled and she didn't know

exactly how to break it.

 

Watching her pull away from him, Face felt many emotions, none of

which he really understood.  He felt the return of the anger, aimed

at Meagan, for keeping his daughter from him.  He felt joy, knowing

that he was going to have the chance to know her now and in the

future.  Just now, holding her hands in his, he had lost sight of the

anger and felt.... something...what he wasn't sure.  Desire?  He was

still attracted to Meagan, for sure.  Looking around the house, where

he first came to know the Meagan he had loved, he wondered if he

still loved her. 

 

Love was not something he was extremely familiar with.  He had loved

Leslie, this he knew.  But that had been a young, innocent love.  He

had thought he loved Meagan, deeply and passionately.   But when it

had become evident, four yeas ago, that she wasn't coming back to

him, he had buried that feeling deep and now he wasn't sure what he

had really felt. 

 

What he did know was that he had a lot to deal with and right now, he

had to assume the role of Lieutenant and see what he could find out

about the origins of the letter that had brought the team back to

this town.  He thought 'After all, I have my orders, right?  And if

it gives me some much needed space to sort out all this mess, well

then I just got lucky, right?' 

 

Shaking himself from his reverie, he cleared his throat and addressed

Meagan. "Uh, Meagan, I really need to know if you know anything about

who sent that letter.  I wasn't thinking just real clear at first and

this could very well have been a trap.  Hannibal is going to be here

soon with the others and well, you know how Hannibal can be...."

 

Grateful for the reprieve from the previous, highly charged topic,

Meagan began to tell Temp what she knew.  She had decided the past

night that she should tell them everything.  Maybe she would get real

lucky and they would leave right away...maybe not...

 

Either way, she had to tell them.  She and her father and this town

owed the entire team their loyalty and she had no idea what had

possessed her father to lure them here and then

tell...whoever...whatever...

 

"My father had that letter sent.  He told me last night.  I

confronted him and he admitted it."  She sat on the edge of a chair

and waited for his reaction.

 

"Your father?  But, if he knows I'm Natalie's father, why hasn't he

said something sooner?  I mean, I am not exactly his favorite

person.  He made no secrets of that.  Why wait until now?"  He

shrugged his shoulders, a gesture of confusion.  "And in the letter

he said that you and Natalie needed me.  Is there something wrong?"

 

"No, not that I know of....I was just as confused as you are, still

am to a certain extent."  The doorbell rang at that moment.  "I'm not

expecting anyone besides you, is that your friends?"  She watched as

Face checked his watch.  Looking out the front window cautiously, he

saw the familiar black van and nodded that it was okay for her to

open the door.  

 

"To a certain extent?  Did he tell you something else last night?" 

Face quickly resumed the conversation as the other three filed into

the room.

 

"It's not what he told me, it's what I overheard and saw."  She drew

in a deep breath and said the words she thought she'd never have to

say again.  "I think I may need your help again, and I mean all of

you, the A Team." 

 

               

Chapter Seven

 

Ushering the men into her kitchen and offering them chairs and iced

tea, Meagan debated exactly how to start to tell them what she

suspected, without making her father look terrible.  She was saved

the trouble when Face began to report to his commander.

 

"Hannibal, Meagan told me that her father sent that letter and she

was just about to tell me what she thinks is going on around here." 

Face remained standing by the counter, next to Meagan and nodded to

indicate that she start to speak.

 

Taking a deep breath, she outlined what she had seen and overheard

the pervious night. 

 

Five minutes later, Hannibal sat back and lit his cigar.  He thought

for a few moments, and then spoke directly to her for the first time

since entering her home.  "So, Ms. Burkes, you think that your father

lured us here to get us captured, but you think that he did so under

duress?  You think that this Jerden character is threatening him with

something and that something may have something to do with your

grandfather, who you never met?"  His tone was dubious and the way he

said, "Ms. Burkes" made it all too clear that he didn't really

believe her or trust her, for that matter.

 

"Yes, the papers I saw, clearly, were from my grandfather's

construction firm.  They were dated nearly 40 years ago.  I have no

idea what they were about.  The phone rang and I overheard Dad tell

someone named Jerden that Temp was here and he sounded nervous or

scared or something."  Upon speaking Face's name, Meagan's gaze had

darted toward him, as if measuring his reaction.  The blond smiled

reassuringly and she nodded in appreciation.

 

"Look, lady, I'll be honest here.  My first instinct is to pack up

and get the hell out of town.  You father is up to something and I

don't like it."  He paused and before he could complete the thought,

Face interrupted him.

 

"Hannibal, we can't just leave this...what if he is in trouble?  They

need our help."  Face paced about the kitchen.                     

 

"Kid, if you would let me finish... I said that was my first

instinct.  Not my decision.  We'll see what we can find out about all

this and then I'll decide what we do about it."  He stood up to

indicate that this 'meeting' was over and was about to head for the

door when a flurry of activity was heard above them. 

 

A door slammed and footsteps pounded down the stairs.  Natalie began

to yell at the top of the stairs, "Mommy! Mommy!  Are you finished

talking yet?"  Her voice grew closer and soon she appeared in the

door.  She skidded to a halt and her eyes grew wide and the sight of

the men gathered in her house.  Suddenly shy, she ran to her mother

and hid behind her legs.  Peeking out from behind her, she observed

the others.

 

Face grinned widely and approached the girl and her mother.  "Hey

Natalie, these are my friends.  I'd really like for you to meet them."  He watched Meagan for acceptance; she nodded and stepped away

from her daughter.

 

Holding out his hand, Face smiled and waited for her to come to him. 

The tiny child looked from him to her mother then back again.  She

seemed to make up her mind and reached for the large, warm hand

offered to her. 

 

Face walked the few paces to his team and began the introductions.  "Natalie, this is H.M. Murdock."

 

"Hello, Miss Natalie, you can call me Murdock or you can call me H.M.

or you can call me Fred, just so long as you call me when it's time

for cartoons.  Do you like Scooby Doo?"  He ended the banter with a

big loopy grin and a wink.  He offered his hand to shake.

 

Natalie giggled and shook his hand politely.  He shook hers with

exaggerated force, causing her to giggle harder. 

 

Next, Face led her to BA.  She shied back against his legs and looked

way up to the big man's face.  She held herself rigid until the

fierce features relaxed into a gentle smile.  Just like all kids, she

knew then that this one was not to be feared.  "Natalie, this is BA. 

He's kind of big, but..." He didn't have the chance to finish before

the girl stepped boldly to the other man and tugged on his pants leg.

 

"Where did you get all that gold?" 

 

Her question seemed to tickle the big guy and he chuckled.  Leaning

down to afford her a better look, he touched the tip of her nose

gently.  "I tell ya what, Little Bit.  You be a good girl and do just

what your Mom tells you to and I'll tell 'bout it some time."

 

"Okay."  Happily, she fingered the biggest necklace, shaped like a

moon, once more then turned her curious gaze to the last man she had

yet to meet.

 

Face, feeling more nervous than he understood, turned his attention

to the man as well.  "Natalie, this is Hannibal Smith..." At a loss

as to how to explain this man to his daughter, he simply left it at

that. 

 

Hannibal, never exactly comfortable with anyone under the age of 18,

just nodded and said, "Hello."  He looked at her for a minute or two

then turned away.  There was no denying the resemblance was there. 

The child looked just like Face.  Her eyes, young and innocent,

reminded him of the first time he saw Face.... 

 

Face had been just that, all those years ago.  Extremely young and

innocent in ways that no one really knew.  At the same time, those

ever-changing eyes told the colonel that this smart aleck Lieutenant

had seen more fear, and rejection in his years than anyone child

should have.  He had decided, right then and there, that he would do

everything in his power to make sure that the kid didn't have to ever

face anything like that again.  When he had failed at that, in the

POW camps, he had at least made sure that he didn't have to face the

terrors alone.  Intellectually, Hannibal knew that he had done

everything in his power to keep Face safe.  They had all been abused

and tortured during that time.  But his heart just couldn't accept

that reasoning.  Even now, nearly 15 years later, he renewed his vow

to protect his men and most especially this one, the youngest one. 

No matter how this thing with Meagan Burkes and her father turned

out, Face would know Natalie.  Face deserved that happiness and all

children deserved to know the people who loved them, even the grown

ones...like Face.

 

Forcing himself out of his reverie, Hannibal returned his attention

to the room.  Natalie was talking rapidly to a smiling Face.  He

watched as she whispered something in her new friend's ear, then she

sidled past her mother, who was suitably distracted by Murdock and

his lecture on how to raise the best geraniums.

 

As Hannibal looked on, Natalie reached her goal, looked back at Face

and grinned conspiratorially.  She stretched, on her tiptoes, for the

cookie jar on the counter top.  Frowning in consternation, the would-

be sneak realized that the ceramic apple container was pushed back

further than normal and was beyond her reach.  Searching for an

answer, her gaze lit on the near-by man.  She looked up at him while

tugging slightly on his gloved hand. 

 

Looking into the familiar blue eyes, Hannibal knew he couldn't refuse

them, no matter which face they were looking at him from.  He grinned

first at Natalie, then at Face.  Wiggling his eyebrows, he stealthily

reached over and pushed the cookie jar closer to the edge, then

stepped between the girl and her mother, effectively blocking the

view of the 'crime'.  His reward was a pair of million-dollar grins

and a chocolate chip cookie.

 

Shaking his head, he raised the cookie in a silent toast of sorts to

the girl and her father, munching happily on their 'illegally'

appropriated snack.  Hannibal watched the ear-to-ear grin spread

across his friends face.  He thought, "What the hell?  Face is

happy...so am I!" 

 

                        

Next


The Right Choice by Jenny
The Right Choice 14-16 by Jenny

 

 


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