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Stronger

Stronger

By Akin

 

Rating: NC-17

Warnings: angst, torture, language, suicide attempt, possible major character death, minor character death, swearing, rape, drugs use -it's nothing explicit or something, don't worry, the rating is just for sure....I will give special warning before the rape, though, you don't have to worry 

Summary: It's my version how the team got together

Disclaimer: they don't belong to me ( I would like to have them, though) I only torture them, so please don't sue me. Mark, Samuels are mine but you can use them whenever you want.

Author's note: I hope you enjoy this, be brutal we learn this way. I want to thank all the great people who helped on the way. Especially my good and patient beta readers Sherry and Fingers, I know you suffered a lot, thanks. And for encouragement to Joanna and Shaytis. Thanks to Reckless too..

 

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

 

 

Captain HM Murdock was walking to the barracks when he noticed a blonde haired man rushing through the camp. It was one of the new ones. No matter how many of them were sent to the battle, the camp was always full of them, kids. Murdock carried on watching the man and he noticed that he was trying to get away from the goons running behind him. However it was obvious that he didn't have a chance. *Man, Morrison's platoon, poor guy.*

 

The name of that snake Morrison was enough to make captain's skin crawl. He hated fiercely him and his unit- a group of idiots of the worst kind. The boy would have a hard life there, that was for sure. And Murdock couldn't do much for him but...not interfere. The captain knew how it would end up if he did. It would be to no one's benefit. Tyrannising of the new ones wasn't a nice thing, but definitely not a new thing either. Especially not in the Morrison's platoon.

                                           

*Just the innocent face of this one would be enough to bring the idiots to alert.*

 

 He turned to go away, he heard the laughing behind him.

 

*It's a hard life in the army. You should have thought about it twice when you joined, boy...don't interfere captain, don't interfere!*

Some weeks later...

He landed with his chopper. This time it was a good flight. He looked back at the soldiers he had picked up in the jungle, all pretty battered, but alive. Colonel Smith tapped him on the arm.

 

"Thank you captain, that was a close call. I owe you one for saving my platoon."

 

Murdock smiled back broadly. The captain was glad that in the army were such good men as the Colonel, the ones, who REALLY cared for their men. Murdock hadn't met him many times before, but everyone had heard about him and his famous Fourth unit, called only the rotten unit. Murdock thought about the unit for a while.

*Yeah, the "rotten" unit, the  guys with the worst possible records. No one would take them voluntarily in their unit, but of course, Smith is not everyone. *

The Colonel somehow managed to make his men come together, stick together, work together and win together. The "rotten" unit was to the dismay of all officers, the best unit in action.

Murdock went slowly to the club. Man, this had been a difficult day. He was bone-tired. All he wanted to do, was to sit down and have a drink.

The canteen was full, but he found a place to sit by the bar.

 

"The usual, Suzie." Suzie smiled and gave him his drink. He poured the liquid down his throat, relishing the bitter taste. After staring into space for a while, he turned into the club, observing the soldiers coming in and out. He saw some new faces. *Seems

like some new ones came in.* He tried hard not to look at their faces.

 

*Only kids and only a few of them...fuck...kids.* He knew that most of them would not survive the first days in the jungle. Some of them would be caught and sent to the POW camps. No one was a kid after the camps, they changed so much. He couldn't look in their eyes. Never. *Fuck, only kids!!!*

He was pulled out of his depression when his eye caught a blonde head in the corner. His heart stopped for a second or two.  Could it be that the blonde-innocent-church-boy was here? The captain didn't understand the sudden urge to find out moving in him- the need to protect the boy and keep him so innocent, to keep something so shining clear in that rotten place.

 

*This is ridiculous. Captain, you are a softie...or you drink too much!* He chuckled at the thought when he noticed a red head near the blonde. He knew that head quite well...J.J. Samuels! The snake had been there just as long as Murdock, nearly a year...too long. Long enough to find out that he wouldn't change the world, that he wouldn't save them all, enough to know that he didn't like JJ Samuels. He was a slimeball, not worthy of trust or friendship. Toying with people's minds and even worse...there were a few rumors about Samuels, very wild and very bad that included drugs, but the pilot was very close to believing them. No one and nothing was sacred to JJ Samuels.

Murdock stood up and tried to make a way through the full canteen until he came close enough to see, that both men. They obviously fell down drunk. He snorted. Somehow it didn't feel right for...he looked at the name on the kid's uniform ... Peck... Lieutenant?

He knew a lot of soldiers came in at the end of the day to forget the terrible images of the war in their beer. He knew it himself. As good as he knew that trying it is a losing battle.

So why was he upset that this man here was utterly drunk? * Man? Kid! He can't be more than 18!* The pilot made his way out of the bar, totally forgetting the reason why he came there, to do the same...drink until he passed out.

He went to his barrack and laid down on the bed, trying to forget the faces of guys who had died. The ones who had got caught and sent to the POW, the ones who were suffering here and one blonde...

He woke up the next morning. The dull headache was, as usual, present. But this time it wasn't hangover. *Man. New day in the Vietnam* he sighed. *Why, damnit? Why couldn't they just sit around the table and speak? No! They had to blow each other's head off.*

 

He sighed again and got out of the bed. He made his way out to eat something. The food was terrible, as usual, but a long time ago he had learnt not to taste it, not to smell it, just get it down the throat. He sat wearily at the empty table not in a mood to talk to anyone, cap pulled down deep over his face, covering his eyes- a clear sign for everyone to go away. He was fidgeting with his food, listening to the muttered voices around him when he caught something that made him listen more carefully. "...and you would've thought they were stinkin' drunk, but you know Samuels, he just has to have troubles...."

Surprising the guy who was talking, Murdock spun around and asked.  "What happened?" the soldier surprised by the interest of the officer eagerly explained.

 

"I was  in the canteen yesterday, when Samuels started a fight with the huge guy from Riley's old platoon...Baracus. It seemed very bad, so Peck joined Samuels. Then Baracus' friends showed up. Man, that was a fight...I tell you, but then raced in the MPs and Peck and Samuels were arrested. I think they are now under house arrest. I think that this time they will end up being court-martialled."

The captain frowned. Somehow the idea of provoking someone who is good two heads bigger than you seemed crazy to him, especially a man with as hot blood as Baracus. But, on the other hand, they had been drunk. But the blonde head...but men  change...especially here... but the itching in his mind didn't want to go away....


 
The next day, he cautiously knocked on the door of the office and after a stern "Come in!"  Murdock found himself standing in front of the "almighty" himself. The Colonel's piercing blue eyes rose, ran the captain up and down. He somehow managed not to flinch under the stern scrutiny. For a second  he doubted if it was really such a good idea to come here after all.

"Excuse me Colonel Smith...."

"Yes, Captain." Although the  nearly legendary Colonel obviously had enough work to do, he waited patiently for the young captain to voice his needs.

"Sir,  I know that it is not appropriate behaviour, but I would like to ask you to do me a favor."

The Colonel frowned, but didn't say anything. Considering this was the man who had saved his platoon by getting them out of the jungle...he couldn't do less then to hear the captain out.

"Well, I heard that you're looking for a supply officer, and I think that I have one who is more than good. He is very smart..." This time Smith didn't let Murdock complete the sentence. Although his was always open for suggestions, the placement of  soldiers in his platoon was one of the areas where he refused to accept any kind of interfering.

"I let you ask only because you saved my platoon, but only because of that......Who is it...."

"It's Templeton Peck."

"Peck, that's the one from the Morrison's platoon...."

 

Murdock cursed inwardly. *Damn, Peck, I didn't know that you're already that popular among the officers. How many stunts did you pull man?!*


"Well, yes." The voice of the captain only confirmed that they were definitely talking about THAT soldier. "I heard that they brought some charges against this man and with all due respect sir, I think that it would be a shameful waste to stick him in jail."


"Don't you think the judge would know better? Peck has quite a reputation here."

"Yes sir....no sir...no."

Smith smiled inwardly at captain's discomfort, but his face showed no emotions. "Do you think that I need in my already "rotten" platoon a character like him?" Murdock somehow felt that this wasn't an argument about the rotten platoon. Pilot  had woken up Colonel's interest. Smith was giving him chance to win this argument and convince him. That was a good sign.


"I think that he is very smart guy and capable. I asked a little around and the soldiers from the other units like him. He is a little hot shot and has a lot of problems, but I can tell you, he is far more smarter he seems. I heard he had one of the best psychological and intelligence test results. He is perfectly trained soldier. I think that his problem is being together with Samuels. Samuels has had problem with each officer and he's had several charges brought against him.... "

"Just like Peck from what I heard, just that Samuels he's been caught more often. Right?"

Murdock had no argument against that. "Well sir, I..I thought...when I saw him on his first day in the camp...by Morrison's platoon..."

"Save the speech captain, I was there, I saw the men too..."

This surprised him and  left the unanswered question hanging in the air.

"I didn't interfere for the same reason you didn't. It would have made things only worse. The army is not a sweet home with garden and roses. No one will be always by him to protect him. He has to learn to stand on his own, to fight and shoulder responsibility for his actions. Dismissed!"

Murdock knew that their conversation was over and... he had failed miserably.

Colonel John 'Hannibal' Smith was standing in front of the barracks. Although he wasn't sure why he stood there, he had to admit that the young captain had woken up interest in him. He looked into Peck's file, finding indeed a very interesting man. He was confined to quarters now. So the Colonel was surprised when he saw Peck walk casually out of barracks, without an MP on his heels and obviously free.

*Seems like Morrison convinced them to let his sinners go, again...*

 

He observed the young man. *Man?* He'd seen Peck before, but despite it, he was stunned how young the kid looked.

*Too young and innocent-looking to be here.* But Hannibal knew better. He saw that small devilish flame in Peck's eyes when their eyes locked for a second. Innocent? Crap.

The Colonel just opened his mouth to speak, when a familiar voice warned him.

"Give your hands away from him, Smith! He is under my command."

"Hi, Morrison. So this is your soldier? Isn't he too young to be here?"

"Cut the crap, Smith."

Hannibal stood watching them going away. The kid was good, a very talented conman. One Hannibal surely needed. Morrison's unit wasn't for this kid. Nothing good would awaited him there, it was a waste of his talents...

A smile slowly crept over the Colonel's face. Man, if not for Peck's sake, then he would get that man just to annoy that idiot Morrison.

He went straight to the General Mason. Without knocking he went in. The general was sitting behind the huge desk, his voice betraying both mixed emotions: pleasure to see his friend and curiosity as to why he came there. 

 

"Hello John, what can I do for you?" Smith casually sat on the chair and took out a cigar, toying with it a little, he looked straight at general's eyes.

"Well, Bob. You know I need a supply officer. I found one who would be perfect, but he is in the unit of Colonel Morrison."

 

"And what is the problem? Speak with Morrison."  Smith lighted the cigar, steel blue eyes fixed on general's forehead.                                                                                                    

"Nah, that won't go. He wants to have Peck in his unit."

"Peck?! John, I know that you are a good officer, but I don't think that Peck would be a good choice into your unit."

"I would like to have him, Bob."

"You seem to have already decided. So is there any reason why I should transfer him into your unit?"  A devilish smile run across Smith's face, his eyes shone.

"Well, let's say that he spoils the good unit of Colonel Morrison."

Peck was lying on the bunk when a soldier entered the tent.

"Lt. Peck should report immediately to General Mason's office."

 

Samuels, on the next bunk, looked over at Peck, who shrugged. "Don't look at me like that, I don't know either."


Peck
stood up and casually followed after the soldier to general's office. Young Lieutenant went in and stood straight at attention.

"Lt. Peck sir."

"Yes, Lt. I have called you to inform you that you have been transferred from the Colonel Morrison's unit to the Fourth Unit."

"May I ask why, sir." 

 

"Colonel Smith requested you for his unit and I agreed to the transfer."

"Colonel Smith?"  Peck had heard about legendary Colonel a lot, but he saw no reason why Smith would ask for him.

 

The general smiled to himself, as he literally saw the brain in the golden head work, the cogs turning like crazy to get out of this. The process was interrupted by an unfamiliar voice.

"Yes, me." The voice said.

 

Peck turned to face the man he had seen in that morning. Lieutenant wanted to object, but at the sight of the look on the stern face of his new CO, the words stuck in his throat. The realisation dawned in him, he was stuck with Smith for good...

 

The "almighty" Colonel  flashed him a huge smile which he just couldn't return. General Mason interrupted the exchanging of various facial expressions, between the Colonel and lieutenant. 

"Dismissed Peck. Colonel Smith, I want to speak with you."

The young lieutenant went out, still stunned. Mason turned to Smith.

"Christ, John! I still don't understand why you want him."

"I think that we might be surprised, Bob."

"Do what you want...but he is openly refusing it, you know..."

"Since when have you been interested in opinions of your soldiers?"

Peck came to the old bunk where he had lain just minutes ago. Why did he suddenly have the feeling that everything would be different now? He felt JJ's eyes on him.

 

"What's up buddy?" Samuels asked.

"Guess I am not your buddy anymore." Samuels's face reddened. Peck flinched surprised. J.J.'s mood was changing so often and fast. There were even times when Peck was really afraid of him. They went through thick and thin together, yeah, mostly through the thick. JJ was just too temperamental to let people around be, the mood swings didn't help the matters. They had fought very often with another units. Peck didn't really want to, but Samuels was his friend, so he stood by his side. But now, it was different, something was wrong. Peck felt that his friend needed help like never before. But Peck would be too far away to help if he was stuck in the Smith's unit.

 

"Officially I belong to the Fourth unit now." Peck announced.

"Does Morrison know about this?"

"You bet he does." Smith's voice cut them off.

"C'mon Peck, I want to show you your new bunk. With your new unit."

 

Peck reluctantly packed his things and reluctantly followed Smith. They went to the barrack, which was supposed to be his new "home". He sighed. They stepped into the room where were some men joking together. They smiled on the Colonel. 

 

 *What? How can they just smile at their CO? What about the saluting?* Then his eyes stopped on a huge black man whom he  recognized immediately-the man from the bar that he had fought... Their eyes met and in a second and Peck knew the man recognised him too- deep trouble. In a split second the man jumped on the lieutenant grabbed his throat, began to choke him.
He felt his lungs start to burn due to the lack of the oxygen. From a distance he heard the Colonel. "Now, now BA. This is a new member of our unit. You don't want to kill our supply officer now, do ya?"

The deathly grip on Peck's throat eased a little. He started to cough, but managed to squeeze out between the coughs. "Bad temper, huh?"

The Colonel laughed "More like bad attitude."

"This ain't funny Hannibal." *Hannibal?*

"So you already know our sergeant, BA Bosco Baracus." Hannibal introduced. With a motion to the other men in the bunk he continued. "This is Mark Bennings, Jack, Ben, Bob."

 

Peck looked at the men. They were all older except for Mark, who had grinned at him friendly, blue eyes shining. Surely Mark was a new kid. Lieutenant felt he had to say something.

"Then...hello." It sounded stupid, but under the menacing look of BA Baracus, he wouldn't dare to pray loud. 'Hannibal' Smith showed him his bunk.

 

*Damn, why does it have to be exactly next to this gorilla?* Peck cursed inwardly.


Hannibal looked at his watch.
"Guys, I have to go do something, but I will be back in a while, I would like to talk with all of you, so please stay here." The good Colonel didn't wait for someone to acknowledge what he just said and paced away.

Peck sat down on one of the bunks. He was relieved that the introductions were behind him and glad that fidgeting with his things gave him a reason to stay out of the way of that gorilla. He was aware of the questioning looks he was getting from his "roommates", but he chose to ignore them. He stood up to walk away when a strong grip on his arm made him stop and flinch. He was spun around to face a very angry BA. "Hannibal said to stay here, so you stay here."

"OK,  I just wanted to go to the john. I am already sitting you see. See? Here, I am sitting."

He caught the supporting look of Mark. This wasn't good, this was very bad. He lied down pretending to read a book. Oh, man!

Hannibal Smith wandered out of the room. He didn't really have much work to do. He just wanted to let the men handle the situation alone. He was wondering how Peck would manage against BA. Hannibal chuckled at the thought. He was nearly sorry for the guy.

"Colonel...Colonel!" He turned just in time to see the gangling pilot coming up to him.

"Um, I just want to thank you Colonel. I owe you one."

"I don't want to disappoint you, Captain, but we have to first of all see how he manages. You know I can't let him stay in my unit if it should endanger my men." Murdock's optimism faded a little.

"I understand, sir."

Over the next few days,  Peck was under heavy scrutiny from Hannibal. In those days, he had managed to keep his new man out of trouble, which was more than anyone had managed before. So it was surprising when general Mason called the Colonel.

 

"Hey Bob, what's up?"

 

The general frowned deeply and his voice was grave. "Hannibal, I think we have a problem. Colonel Morrison is pushing me really hard in this case. He wants Peck back in his unit. "                                                         

 

"Crap."

 

"That's not what surprises me. It seems like it has been your good Lieutenant who was pulling the strings behind the scenes. The effort to return to his old unit is coming from Peck himself."                                                                  

 

"I won't give that man away. I managed to straighten up him a little. He hasn't had any kind of problems for more than week."

 

"I won't confirm his transfer. But I thought you might want to know about it."

 

"Thanks Bob. It seems like something here is smelling pretty bad."

 

After the talk with general Mason, Hannibal watched Peck even more closely, however there was nothing he could reproach to the young man. He was doing his job. The fact that Peck was with Samuels  every free second was making Hannibal nervous, but he just couldn't place his fingers on it why? They were trouble together, sure, but it was nothing serious. Not as much as before, but it still didn't sit well in his mind.

He ended his work and slowly dragged himself to the bed. It was around two o'clock in the morning when he heard quiet whispering behind one of the barracks. *Maybe just a guard* but his inner voice desperately pulled him to go and look. He never ignored his inner voice....

......Peck woke up short before two o'clock. JJ had asked to meet with him. He crept through the camp successfully hiding from the night watch until he came to the meeting place. JJ was already there, casually waiting.

 

"Hello, Faceguy. I see that you managed to get away."

"I always do manage." He smiled at JJ, whose face stayed stone cold and straight.

 

"I heard that you are going away with your unit." He tried hard to ignore how JJ spat the words about the Fourth unit. Peck liked it there. The guys were a good team and Hannibal was a perfect CO. If JJ didn't need his help, he would gladly stay there.

 

"I have a little time. We go in a week." He saw JJ's arm stretched and offered him hand rolled cigarette. Peck hesitated...

The bigger man menacingly snorted.

 

"Isn't good enough for you anymore? You are not a saint virgin, so stop acting like one. It's not the first time." The JJ's tone voice scared the lieutenant. It was nearly unbelievable that they were friends. He was helped JJ and vice versa. The harsh, menacing words surprised him. He took the offered cigarette and lit it. JJ smiled back at him. The sudden change of mood was stunning. What was going on?


"You know Face...." JJ never had chance to end his thought. From nowhere appeared behind Peck Colonel Smith. Hannibal spun young lieutenant around to look him in the eyes....

"So Face, is it?.....Yes the name is really good. Fits you great, Lieutenant." The sheer horror in the "Face's" eyes genuinely surprised the Colonel. He grabbed the smaller man by the arm and dragged him away back to their barracks. Hannibal switched on the light making everyone wake up. He stood over Peck's bunk.

 

"Now Lieutenant "Faceman" Peck, I want to see all your belongings. All..." The men of the unit were surprised, but didn't ask. The Colonel was apparently pissed off and that was enough to make everyone shut up. They looked at each other. Face? Where did that come from?


When all of Peck's things were spread on the bed, Smith carefully searched them through. Then he ordered his men get back to sleep. There were no cocaine cigarettes or any drugs in his belongings and he would care that it stayed so...

"Face, wake up!"


*Not that name too!!!!*

"The Colonel will be here in a minute. Hurry up or he will be pissed off."

*Don't worry, Mark. He won't do anything to me, I am not under his commando anymore.* He slowly got into his fatigues. He was ready just in time. *Just in time for major humiliation. Bring it on, Colonel.*


"Attention men. I have been informed by the general today that we are needed. We have to leave for the jungle mission tomorrow. Flying will be our good captain Murdock...." Hannibal kept speaking, speaking, speaking.

 

*So this is how it feels to wait on something really bad? You really want to relish this, Colonel, don't ya?*

".....Lieutenant Peck, why did you not make your bed!!!!!!! Everyone in this unit is doing as ordered. Do you think that you are something special? Do you have an excuse?"

The words stuck in his throat. In this unit?

 

"We will talk about IT later. Right now we have important things to do. I want everyone to very carefully check his gear. Every missing or needed thing will be reported to our dear Faceman. It will be his responsibility to get what you need. He will be working with me, so if you need him, try in my office. Dismissed. Peck, you're with me." Although Face was sure that he was supposed to work with the Colonel the whole day only because Smith wanted to keep a close eye on him, he didn't mind. He was sure now, that all his attempts to get the transfer back to Morrison's unit were in vain. It was the first time he didn't manage something like that. It was the first time he had not manage to accomplish something and it surprised him. Normally, his CO's were glad they got rid of a problem kid and sent him away. Apparently this one wasn't the case.   

 

The next hours went very fast. Peck spent them with Hannibal, working hard, but it was fun, in a way. It was a good feeling to know that people can tell you even something else than only curses. After a long time spent by Morrison he felt valuable.

He didn't notice Mark, who was looking at him with sympathy.

 

Mark observed the working man closely. Face could have been maybe one or two years younger. Around 18. Mark coughed to get Peck's attention. "Where is the Colonel?"

 

"I dunno, but he should be back in a minute." Mark invited himself in, sat down and  observed the man once again.

 

"Have you ever been in hand to hand combat?"

 

"No." Face answered harshly than he intended and regretted it immediately. More mildly he added. "Only with BA."

 

Mark's eyes brightened a little. "Are you afraid?"

 

Face nearly laughed out, there was so much naivete behind the question, but he couldn't smile, sensing how important the answer was.

 

"I don't know. I don't care very much what happens." Though he tried, he couldn't suppress the bitter undertone of those words. It obviously wasn't the answer Mark expected, but he didn't seem to be disturbed by it. Mark replied.

 

"I am afraid, a little...I think. Not for me, I have a friend back home."

 

He searched in the pocket a second and took out a photo. There were several people on it. "This is her, Cynthia." The girl on the photo was smiling. She was really cute, innocent-looking, just like Mark. Face didn't really want to know. He didn't want to get closer.

 

"Who are the others?" Face asked.

 

Mark smiled and fondly touched the picture. "The background is our house. This boy on the left is Richie, my brother, he will be four in two months. The blonde girl next to him is my sis Mary and these are Mom and Dad. What you gonna do when you get back? When I get back, I'll marry Cynthia.  We want to live with my parents until we can afford our own house."

 

Face couldn't resist and his soft features curled into a smile.

 

"It's a shame we go tomorrow." Mark smiled. "I wanted to have a drink with you."

 

"We can have one when we come back. I don't think the Colonel would release me today."

 

"You are damn right, Lieutenant! You won't move a single inch from this office until your work is done."

 

Hannibal came from general's office, his mood was grave. They had mission to fulfill and it wasn't an easy one. He needed capable men whom he could rely on. He knew the day would come when he had to make the final decision of whether he would take Peck or let him go, and it had to be done fast. He looked over to the kid. Mark retreated fast after asking some question. The distraction was gone and Peck was working again, his concentration on where it belonged, on his task.

 

*How could this kid get into drugs?* He had the itchy feeling in the back of his mind that this was exactly the man he needed, the one who would make the team come together. Now Peck had made many mistakes and he definitely wasn't the picture of a perfect soldier, but who in his unit was? No, he won't let him off the hook so easy. It wasn't Peck or Lieutenant, it was Face, the name stayed.

 

They all liked him, especially Mark seemed to adore him. In fact, they were really similar. Young and in a strange way innocent, however there was one thing that was different. He couldn't quite put a finger on it. It was as if Face was stripped of all illusions and all dreams. None of it was really good in war and they were in the middle of one, but it was still making him a little upset. It was a shame that kids became men so soon. He liked the kid, he would never admit it, but he knew that he really did. Somewhere under the shell of a liar and conman was a scared kid needing help. *You might have managed to shove people away before, but not me...you belong now to my unit. Whether you like it or not.*

 

He looked back to his papers on the table. "Face, come here." The younger man looked up. "Yes?"

 

"As a second- in- command you must be informed about our mission." The kid was surprised, trying to hide it, but that wasn't working, not by Hannibal Smith.

 

"Look," he pointed at the map "Here is a fight between the Third unit and the VC soldiers. They are still holding on, but they won't last long. They got far into Vietcong territory and could  have some very important information, which could be a great advance for us. That's why the Vietcong is so hot to get them. They sent us the coordinates. We should get there, pick them up and knock out the enemy. We have to hurry, we haven't heard a single thing from them in a day. "

 

"Are we sure that the VC didn't kill them already?"

 

"No, they can be already death...or still alive."

 

"How long do we have to get there?"

 

"A day, we leave tomorrow."

 

The sun was only starting its way up in the sky when Smith with his men were prepared to leave. Murdock looked at them. They had grave faces, surely a difficult task was ahead. With pleasure he observed the lieutenant working with Smith. They seemed to understand each other well. He looked at the coordinates where he would fly them. It was deep in the VC territory, not a picnic.

 

"Gentlemen, it's time. The show must go on." The helicopter flew fluently and with unexpected grace headed to the point X. 

 

After a while Murdock reported in matter- of- fact voice. "We are over enemy territory. The snipers might start shoot soon." As a response to his words came the first bullets. All of sudden the machine jumped in the air roughly and started to spin.

 

"Our rotor is hit..." he said urgently into the microphone "We are going down...our coordinates are.... I am going to try a crash landing, send a rescue party over there......I repeat I am going to make crash landing, if we survive we will fulfill the mission, send a rescue party over there...."

 

He turned to the passengers. "Keep your heads down, we are landing." Face obeyed fast, closing his eyes. After a while he didn't know where up or where down was anymore, his stomach spinning just as fast as the machine, maybe even faster. A sound of twisting metal filled the air. The rough punch which Murdock called a landing kicked all air out from his lungs. Gasping he looked at the others, they were shocked, but held professional faces.

 

"Everyone out, we have to find cover. VC will be here in no time." They jumped out running into the high grass promising more cover. "Faster, we are as visible like flies on a wedding cake......" In less than 20 seconds they were as good as invisible.

 

"Murdock we have to take care of the helicopter...."

 

"Not necessary, Colonel, VC already done the job, they hit the tank too...the copter will blow." As a confirmation to his words an explosion followed.

 

"Ok, one task less, now which way?"

 

"We have to go to the East. If we go fast, we should be there today, before the sunset."

 

"Glad to hear this pleasant news. We move now soldiers! Everyone keep your eyes open for the VC." They moved at a swift pace. The morning sun turned into a oven, the heat was unbearable. The sweat was pouring from them, but there was no time to stop. Too many lives were at stake to give up just because of being tired. They had to hurry, so the times for rest were reduced only to small pauses for drinking water.

 

Face looked all around him, everywhere was endless grass, no trees, no shadows, just endless grass. But according to the map, they were supposed to be there, on the place marked X. He didn't see anything what would confirm that there was any kind of fight.  There was nothing, only high grass. He took a few steps, looking around for anything. He tripped over something and fell into the squashing mud. His head bumped into something soft. He looked up...and screamed horrified. He backed away fast. He was looking into a bloody face. He recognized the man, he had seen him several times in the camp. It was Charlie... his chest was bloodied mess, he no longer had legs. His eyes opened wide, staring, cold, death. His lips were blue, slightly apart as if trying to scream in agony for the last time. Face couldn't tear his eyes away, hypnotized by the terrible image. He heard someone crouch behind him. "Damn, we are late." Hannibal tried to hide the shaking of his hand as he closed the unseeing eyes and took the letter of the soldier's pocket. He had seen death men before. Damn, he had killed many, but it always made him nauseated.

 

They found fast the others and picked their letters. No body wanted to stay there for too long. The VC soldiers were not the only reason they were trying to get away fast. They'd gone several miles when the sun started setting in bloody glory. "We'll stay here. The first night watch goes to Mark, then BA, Face and I will take the last one." The soldiers sat down relived after a day-long jog. Face sat between Mark and Murdock. After a while Mark looked at his friend, he was leaning fully against Murdock who obviously didn't mind, the were both already asleep.

 

No sooner had he closed eyes (or so it seemed to him), someone shook him to awake trying to be as gentle as possible, but no one could be gentle enough in the middle of the night. Slowly he made the effort and opened the eyes to see nothing but teeth grinning at him. His heart nearly jumped out of his chest, then he realized that it was BA, who was obviously finding the whole situation very amusing. The huge man laid down, softly snoring by Hannibal in no time. Face huddled closer into his fatigues. The night was surprisingly cold in comparison to the hot weather during the day. He looked above on the full moon and stars, trying to recall all the names of them. "The stars are the only  thing reminding me of home. They remind me of my mom." It was Murdock, his voice full of emotions.

 

"I was dreaming of a day when I will fly to them. Everyday when I am in the air, flying, I am closer to them. They are so beautiful." He looked at Face, whose face was pale and he would swear he saw tears in his eyes, Face hastily turned away, his voice strictly neutral. "I'll go to wake up the Colonel, it's his turn."

 

Face would never admit it, but he was scared. His whole life, he was building a wall between him and the world. Who was this guy, when he managed with few words to pull this wall down, making him feel uncomfortably uncovered and naked. He woke up Hannibal, and tried  to sleep again, but he didn't manage. His heart was pounding...  he was still taken aback and a little scared at how strongly the pilot's words  affected him. Somehow he had the feeling that the man saw right through him, into his heart. No he couldn't let him see, he would like what he saw there.  He felt strangely comfortable and complete by the man. But they couldn't be friends, he couldn't let him see.... Finally he fell into uneasy sleep.

 

He woke up harshly on the sound of shooting, he knew immediately that something was very wrong, they were caught off guards. He opened eyes, it was already  morning air was filled with flying bullets.  The soldier next to him was dead. The smell of blood was nauseating.  He looked at Hannibal. They were like sitting ducks to just shoot at. They didn't have a chance to survive if they fought. Face didn't like the choice, but it was first rule of Hannibal's code: Do whatever you have to in order to survive.

 

Hannibal lifted his hands in international sing of giving up, so did the rest of the team. He looked around horrified. Only five men survived from the unit........

 

Around 20 VC soldiers suddenly appeared out of the grass. The team was promptly disarmed and led far away into the jungle. After a while Hannibal realized there could be only one place where they were leading them, into a POW camp. He was sure that his men realized it too.

 

When they arrived, he tried too look around as much as possible. The place was full of VC soldiers. Each of them armed with a gun. 

 

He saw many bamboo cages. There weren't very large, but men were packed in them. He looked closer at the prisoners. They were painfully thin. Most of them were showing signs of torture and different illnesses. But the guards were watching them very closely. Some people were walking around, it weren't soldiers, probably villagers, but they didn't do anything to help the hostages.

He didn't see much more, they were shoved into a similar small bamboo cage. Each was afraid to know what was going to happen,  they had heard enough about POW.  Hannibal was proud of them. BA was cool as always. The same composure tried to show Face with Mark, however less successfully. Murdock was only staring in space. There was no sign of fear in their faces, however he was certain they felt it, awaiting what would happen, who will come. The door of the bamboo cage flew open. "Get out!" the man ordered pointing at them. After rough pushing and tossing they were separated, feeling that they stand now each on his own.

 

When they were leading him away, Face caught Hannibal's supporting gaze, that scared him even more. He'd heard some things about POW camps, but they couldn't be true, or could they? * I will find out fast, won't I?* he realized bitterly. After several punches into ribs and kidneys the guards shoved him into room without windows, terribly smelling from sweat, blood and body rejections. It took him a little while for his eyes to adjust to the dim light, then he saw the man who had been awaiting him. The man came closer casually, looking deep into his eyes. The look was making young lieutenant nervous. It was intimidating, piercing through him, making him feel very small. Face tried to look back with bravado which was really difficult especially with the guards still holding him tight. His effort seemed to amuse the man.

 

"I am general Chao." He announced apparently awaiting some kind of a response. Oh no, he won't give him the satisfaction that easy. The man smiled dangerously.

 

"Very defiant one..." it was a rotten mocking tone. The guards grip on him tightened twisting his arms even more painfully. Chao touched his face and traced his jaw. Face flinched. In response came a fast punch into the stomach making him grit his teeth.

"This man is responsible for the death of soldiers, our wives and children..." Chao fed the hatred of the guards with perfectly chosen words. "Let him feel the same pain our children felt when they were killing them."

 

That was enough to take the hatred to the top. With speed much faster than he would thought is possible, came hard punches from every side. Each stronger than the last one. Kidneys, stomach, face...everything was suddenly in fire. He felt wounds open, warm blood streaming freely from them. From the foggy edge of his consciousness he heard Chao's voice. "Indeed, a very interesting one." After that the pain suddenly went away and blessing unconsciousness engulfed him....

 

He woke up in the small place, it could be maybe 2x2x1.5 meters big, made from  bamboo, not much light was coming in. He didn't have any idea how long he had been out. Every inch of his body was burning from the heat and pain. He was covered in sweat. It was so terribly hot there. He heard the insects humming all around him creating a whole orchestra.

 

"Man. One thing  is for sure, the room service is terrible here." as a response to his thoughts, voiced for himself, came only silence. He didn't like to be alone, even as a kid he was scared of it.

 

"Don't panic...you are surely not alone. They are somewhere near, behind the corner waiting for the panic strikes, you don't want to give them that much satisfaction..." the thought of guards waiting on his giving up gave him a little strength, but it didn't make the torturing thoughts about the fate of his friends go away.

 

It was impossible just to sat there, he started to get restless, he had to do something- anything to keep his mind occupied. He decided to look a little around, to look for something useful. It was foolish, but it was better than just sitting in the suffocating darkness. So inch by inch he searched through the small place. The only light showing through was a little light coming from under the door. He sat there in silence a long time, when he started to count seconds........... one............... two.............. three .................................................................... 8hours32 minutes3seconds .......................... the time was so slow ............... four ............. five ............... six.................... seven ................ 12 hours 45 minutes ................ no this is foolish..... "Concentrate, keep the mind sharp, so when the guards come back.....God, please, make them disappear, so they never come back ..........................................................................................................................................................................."

 

"..........................................................................................................................................................please come back, someone, anyone......." he knew that it was insane to wish for the guards to come back, that would mean only more pain, beatings and torture, but his body was beyond any feeling of pain. He sat there in silence, alone. He was certain that weeks had passed, but he couldn't say how many of them. The only contact with the outer world was the, so called, food, he was given through a small opening in the door which always immediately closed. He heard no voices, saw no men...it what seemed to him like ages. He sang all songs he knew from the orphanage. He tried not to scream when the darkness became too suffocating, determined not to give up, but it was working only a few days, then he gave up,  screaming and screaming for hours, just to hear something. Something what would remind him on being a human being... for the sake of his sanity......

 

Hannibal wasn't in any state to worry anymore. He was beyond brink of exhaustion.  They were working all day for month now in the terrible health. Each night they tried hard not to surrender to the brutal torture and interrogation, sometimes lasting the whole night. He noticed in himself and the others that the situation took was taking its toll. But despite that, they were holding up pretty well. They were all worried about the others, but no one dared to voice the worries about the men who were separated the first day –Murdock, Face, Mark.

 

The first day...that was month ago...a month was a long time. No one had seen them since then. Deep down inside, Hannibal, as well as the others, started to doubt if they ever see them again. All of them tried very hard to deny this thoughts, because to think of it meant to accept that it might have happened.

 

He heard the guards laugh and his blood ran cold. Into the cage was thrown a limp body. As soon as the guards were gone he crawled to the man. His hair was damped and full of mud. The skin had unhealthy color. He was very dirty and thin. The malnutrition was very visible on him. Hannibal recognized the man and his heart wrenched, he took him into his lap.

 

"Oh kid, I am so glad I see you. I thought they you are probably..." he couldn't bring himself to end the thought.

 

"Hannibal, is that you?...Please talk...talk to me....talk" the desperate plea from the kid brought tears to his eyes. Yes, he knew this pain. It was the pain of one who hadn't seen a human being for month...locked away from the rest of the world in the solitary confinement. So he talked, nothing  in particular, mostly trivialities. But that was enough to make the smaller man calmer, to relieve him a little from his mental pain and that was enough for Hannibal. He knew that as the commanding officer he could stop the torture by telling them everything he knew, but he couldn't do that. He could only watch how his men and friends were tortured, and he couldn't help. He had the power to stop it, but he couldn't. So he tried to give them as much comfort he could, knowing that it wasn't enough, but it was worth of the effort. If it could help just little to relieve them from their torment. Face slept in his lap when BA came back with the guards from his daily ordeal in the rise fields.

 

BA slowly dragged his aching big body to Hannibal and the man in his lap, he touched the young man surprisingly gently.

"Man, I am so glad you are back lil brother, I thought that I'd see you again."

 

No one had the strength to say more words, but that was enough.

 

They all woke up in the middle of the night on the sound of the guards dragging someone to the cage. They barely recognized Murdock.

 

"Billy , Billy...come here..." he was looking around him wildly "...Billy, here, to me!" The guards looked at each other confused, then threw the man without mercy into the cage. Hannibal moved to him, but Face was faster. He jumped out of the Colonel's lap, sat to the confused man, putting arm around the painfully slim shoulders. "Murdock..." he tried to sooth the man, but the pilot flinched away from his half embrace.

 

"Billy, c'mon, Billy...."

 

Face was stricken by surprise, the pilot obviously wasn't noticing him, shut in his own world. He touched him, lighter this time. Murdock opened eyes wider and looked at Face.

 

"A butterfly brushed me....hello Face. Where have you been for so long? I missed you....I missed watching stars with you......." Hannibal looked confused on the youngest team member, he didn't have an idea what was the pilot talking about. Face didn't want to give up on him now when he had his attention. Not wanting to slip Murdock away, he tried to hold  him in the world of reality.

 

"So what do you think about the service?"

 

Murdock grimaced. "Billy doesn't like the quisine...I think that the rooms are too small....."

 

"Where is ....Billy?"

 

"Ah, chasing mosquitoes. I should take him for a walk. He was the whole time locked with me in that small box. We needed more space....space....don't want to be alone anymore..."

 

"I won't let you HM." Despite the need for space, Murdock allowed Face to hold him. Both feeling the comfortable presence of another human being, feeling a little more security. Face continued talking to the distressed man.....

 

Hannibal woke up in the morning, Face was still talking to the pilot...Murdock's eyes were closed and he was relaxed. Face shot Hannibal nearly apologizing look.

 

They heard someone coming. Face jumped to his feet, away from Murdock, waking him roughly with this action.  No bond among the soldiers could be shown to the guars, otherwise they were used against them in interrogation. They were glad they did so when the sadist himself appeared-Chao. He looked at the inhabitants of the small cage.

 

"All out!"

 

They obeyed trying to drag their weary bodies out as fast as possible. However not fast enough, the strikes with canes from every side. When they finally stood in line Chao snorted, slowly walking by, looking at each of them. He pointed at Hannibal. "This one..." then slowly passed BA. He stopped at Face. The young lieutenant had to put together all his courage to not flinch. Chao touched him, nearly gently on the cheek.  

 

"Pretty one, you had been long alone...don't worry, we will take care of that...." Hannibal saw the color drain from the face of his friend, but felt strangely proud when the smaller man retorted.

 

"You know, with the breath of yours, I prefer solitude." Immediately following the comment came the nasty slash of a cane. Chao lifted lieutenant's chin.

 

"I will teach you manners, pretty one, just wait...Take him and him too!" he pointed at Murdock. BA was shoved back into the cage.

 

Chao led them through the camp, all along the way they saw imprisoned soldiers working. They stopped before the only stone building in the camp. They were showed into one of small cells. Chao grabbed Face by the elbow.

 

"I would take you immediately, but I don't have time right now...but don't worry, it will be soon. I will be looking forward..." The door shut leaving Face standing wearily. Hannibal put a hand on his arm feeling the invisible trembling. Face woke up from his contemplating of what might the future hold. Their eyes locked for a second, then he broke the contact.

 

Hannibal was taken aback, he saw something very rare-anxiety. But suddenly it was  gone and Face returned to his friend to take care of him. The next hours he spent talking to Murdock, while Hannibal tried to pretend to sleep. It took several hours to reassure the pilot that Face was there with him, but then he fell asleep. Hannibal looked at the couple. "And how about you Face? I already know how Murdock feels, his dog Billy, but what about you?" Face shot a smile which never reached his eyes. "Don't try it on me, kid." The smile faded away replaced by very sad look.

 

"What should I say. I am afraid.....that we won't make it, from what could happen to all of us. That I am not strong enough to hold on to Murdock, to hold him here....but maybe he is better there, where he is. He is on the edge you know....I think that anything can push him over and we won't get him back."

 

"I know." They sat in silence, knowing that any comfort offered would be a lie.

 

"I am proud of you, kid."

 

"Of me....?"

 

"Of you....It was Murdock who talked me into trying you in my unit.... I am glad I did it. I am proud of how you handle things. We thought that you won't be able to hold out through the first interrogation....but here you are...having enough moral energy to support all of us...and help Murdock" The pale features blushed with red crimson. Hannibal smiled a little, something he hadn't done in a long time. In a way, Face was still a kid, a very smart one, but still a kid..... in a difficult position more suited for an adult than him. It took a little while, but then the kid slowly closed the eyes and fell into a light sleep lasting only a few hours. Too short for battered, aching bodies of soldiers suffering from different diseases and malnutrition, hardly working through the day.

 

The doors flew open and guards, without a word, dragged the young lieutenant out. Face knew that the day of Chao threat's had come, but he wouldn't give up...not without a good fight. He saw the stone building where they were leading him. Face knew what was awaiting him there. It was far enough from the cages, so the painful screams couldn't be heard. He knew that in a hour or two, he would be probably scream and beg for mercy too. He couldn't allow that! He tried to make a mental barrier, but he felt his mental shields quiver when he faced the general. He refused to tremble though. He wouldn't show the guards, who held him by his arms, how afraid he was.

 

"I've been awaiting this moment..." Somewhere from behind he registered a swift swish and the pain exploded. One cane strike followed the other. All were tearing the delicate skin and the flesh under it, making his back feel like it was on fire. The blood was running down his sides, back and legs. His head was light from pain and blood loss...he tried not to scream. His throat was raw from muffled cries. He saw Chao through the tears and heard his distinctive voice. "Not that smart now, are you? We will meet later." The guards stopped supporting him, he fell on the cold stone floor. They left him alone. Only when he was sure they were far enough, did he allow the cries to escape, to relieve him from pain.....

 

He was moving back and forth between the consciousness and the blackness. He didn't know how long was he had been out when he finally woke up...his head was spinning and foggy. For a while he didn't know where he was, the cold stone relieving the fire in his back. He laid there several minutes listening to his own harsh breathing, trying to block out the pain, when he heard crying...it was coming from behind the wall. Someone was crying in the cell next to his. Only pure excitement and strength of will supported him on his way to the wall. His head started to spin again and his stomach was calling for relief.

 

"Hey, who's there? Are you OK?" That was a ridiculous question, no one in the POW was OK.

 

The cries silenced a little. A pain filled voice answered. "Face...is that you?"

 

He recognized the voice immediately. "Mark, Mark? what happened? Can I help you somehow?"

 

"We'll never survive this...never." Those words struck Face. Mark was always so full of energy and faith in better world, in people...now he didn't recognize the broken spirit...

 

"No Mark, don't say that, you can never say something like that. Do you understand!?"

 

"We will NEVER survive this...." his voice broke.

 

"God, Mark, what happened to you...."Face felt stinging in his eyes, his voice was trembling.

 

The answer scared him. "He...he raped me...."

 

The words of comfort stuck in his throat. What could he tell him? Were there any words which could help the torn, broken soul? Face wanted to hug him, hold him, support him, but his friend gave up, resigned... "Mark, you can't let them get you...they may have your body...don't let them get your soul...."

 

"They already got it, my friend." The questions were spinning in his mind like crazy...but then he heard Mark cry out. "No, go away...I don't want this..." Then the voice silenced.

 

Face's heart stopped, he didn't get further in his thinking...the door on his cell opened. He tried to get up to face his captors with all the dignity he had. His knees felt like jelly, but after a while he managed. He stood face off with the man who was, without any doubts, responsible for Mark's ordeal-Chao.  The hate in lieutenant grew, giving him new strength. He grabbed Chao, trying to break his neck, but he wasn't fast and strong enough. Somehow Chao got out of his hold what followed a sickening crack...The wounds on his back opened again, his shoulder hung limply by his side, broken or dislocated. He felt to knees trembling in pain.

 

"Take him up!" the guards lifted Face, bringing him more pain. This time he couldn't help himself and screamed in pain.

"Defiant one...that's the way I like it..."

 

The guards started to kick and beat the battered young man, making sure that he felt each of the strikes. It seemed like an eternity until they finally stopped. He hung limply in their hands, feeling nothing as if the body didn't belong to him anymore. The guard forced him to stand straight.  Chao, who was watching the whole scene came closer and then...he kissed Face. Roughly forcing his way in with his tongue, exploring his mouth. The nausea  in his stomach grew stronger...but Face didn't have the strength or space to move. The guards effectively held him in place, so he did the only thing he could to protect himself. He bit. Chao flinched away with a yell which broke into laughter, blood was trickling out of his mouth....then the words shot out. "Tie him to the table."

 

Face knew what that meant. He fought. Fought for all he was worth, knowing he could never win.

 

Chao looked at him with hint of entertainment and desire, then he thought that the game was lasting too long. He backhanded the younger man, setting his spinning mind into the fog. Maybe it lasted just a moment, but it was long enough. But when his mind cleared, Face felt his wrists being tied down, then his legs too. His head was spinning from pain, shame, hate...fear. He felt his pants pulled down. He tried to remember something Murdock had said...

 

 'It's easy Muchacho....just think of something nice, a place you like and stay there as long as you want...'

 

The pain erupted in him, making his previous torment worthy of nothing. He tried hard to think of something else, but the pain tearing him from inside out didn't allow him to go away, holding him firmly in the reality.......

 

Hannibal was in the cell trying to calm Murdock, but he didn't know what to tell him to not send him over the edge. Finally he just sat across from him, trying to look as casually as possible when guards came and escorted them to their old bamboo cage. BA sat, watching them when they'd returned. His big fists clenched in frustration at being unable to protect his friends.  They sat in silence when the guards threw in a bloodied figure. The body fell with a sickening 'thud'. Everyone immediately jumped to help to the fair haired lieutenant. The first by him was Hannibal. With tightened throat he knelt by the man, praying that the camp didn't take another toll on the lives. At first he spotted the old and new wounds on the back, but they weren't bleeding anymore, so where was all the blood coming from? Then he realized what had happened to his second- in- command. He looked at BA and Murdock. They were both pale, probably coming to the same conclusion. Murdock's eyes were glassy, an obvious sign that the pilot was fleeing into the secure world of his imagination. "Damnit! Murdock, snap out of it.... I need you here to help me with Face."

 

At hearing  his name Face started to stir, his slowly moves changed into fluid ones when he scurried into the corner, putting knees to his chest, hugging himself. Even Murdock was surprised by the fast development and snapped out from wherever he was.

 

BA moved to the man in the corner. "Hey Face-" he didn't get further, for when he touched the shocked man a fist flew out.

 

"DON'T TOUCH ME!!!" the scream tore into BA's heart, so much was his lil bother suffering!

 

"Let him be, BA...come here." The men stood on the other side of the cage.

 

"What we gonna do, Hannibal? Did you see his back?"

 

"Yes, some of the wounds are pretty deep, we have to clean them out or they will get infected. He doesn't recognize us, he won't let us near. We'd better do it now, fast and clean. Each hour of waiting means risk. Murdock, try to talk to him. If he doesn't react, BA you know, what you have to do...I will clean the back." they slowly approached the lieutenant, who was obviously in his own world.

 

"Hello Muchacho, this is me...good old Murdock." He looked at him as if he was assessing his condition. "You don't look that good, your back hurts, hm? Let me help you." He touched him, but met only fierce refusal. "BA, help me!" It was only a matter of seconds. BA pinned the weaken man down trying to be as gentle as possible, not harm him.

 

When Face hit the ground, he started to sob silently, but after Hannibal touched his lower back, he gave up and went silent, though waiting tensely on what was to come. Murdock soothingly whispered into his ear, ruffling his hair. "It's OK, we won't do you any harm. It won't hurt. Hush, please. Stay calm, it will be fast over..." The words didn't have any effect, but Hannibal couldn't wait longer. With the little water they had he started to clean the bloody and dirty back trying not to add to the pain of the suffering man even more.

 

This time it was pain that helped Face snap suddenly out. "Mur...dock, is that you..?" the words came out as short painful gasps.

 

"Me, the one and only."

 

"Murdock, don't go away...please"

 

"I am not going anywhere Facie..."

 

"Face, I think you have dislocated shoulder, we have to bring it back to its normal position. BA."

 

"Now don't worry brother, it's not the first time I've done this. Hold still." BA forcefully repositioned the shoulder with a 'Crack'.

 

Face gasped loudly and his eyes rolled back.

 

"He passed out, it was too much for him."

 

"Maybe it's better yet."

 

It was several hours before he woke up again. "Hey kid, it's time to eat something."

 

"I don't wanna..."

 

"Now, Face stop it. You have to eat." Face turned on the other side, away from Hannibal.

 

"Let him be, Colonel." Murdock sat next to him and started to sing silently. Face flinched by his touch, but didn't back away. They were at ease for some minutes until the guards came, taking Murdock and Face none too gently out.

 

They were brought to the same room in the stone block where Face had been the day before. They were surprised to find Mark there, the guards left them alone.

 

Murdock made few steps forward to Mark. "Mark, am I glad to see you, I thought you are death..." The pilot stopped in tracks when he noticed that Face and Mark were looking at each other, having a conversation on their own with their eyes.

 

Suddenly Mark broke the silence. With strange certainty he said: "He did it to you." He didn't wait for a response but continuing agitated. "Don't let him steal your soul!" Face wanted to ask, but didn't get to it. They were interrupted but the entrance of the man who caused all of them so much pain and more of it was coming-Chao, followed by the guards.

 

He looked at Face and blew him a kiss. The lieutenant shuddered, but stayed otherwise impassive.

 

Mark started to tremble, cold sweat on his brow. "Hold them!" Face and Mark were effectively pinned down by guards. Chao punched  Murdock.

 

"Why where you there?" he punched him again. Face heard some ribs crack. But Murdock stayed silent. Face closed his eyes, as much as it hurt to see his friend suffer, he had to hold on. He heard another punch followed by kick and heavy breathing from the pilot. He tried to break free from the guards...with no effect. Holding him put, making him watch, as Murdock after several kicks, passed out.

 

He looked at Mark who was trembling, his face was white as sheet of paper. Suddenly a strange thought came to him. Mark didn't seem to be afraid of Chao and his sadism.

 

Chao seemed to be reading his thoughts. General smiled at him, turning his attention to Mark. "It's already bad, isn't it?" Mark tried to preserve as much dignity as he could, but that very difficult with his intestines twisting in pain, knowing Chao was the only one who could take the pain away. "How bad do you really want it?"

 

Mark knew what Chao wanted, doing before his friend should be the last step of the humiliation, but there wasn't another way. He stepped to the man he feared and hated, and kissed him.

 

It wasn't a passionate kiss, but Face couldn't believe his eyes...Once again Chao seemed to be reading his thoughts. "He does much more, trust me...and so will you" He brought our from his pocket a syringe and gave it Mark who eagerly used it, injecting the contents into his vein. Those bright eyes Face remembered were full of shame and regret,  then the drug induced fog clouded everything in them.

 

Chao took another injection. "So will you..." the guards tightened the grip on him. He tried to get away from them, the fear making him stronger. The punch from one of them came out of nowhere, making him see all stars and saints and sending him into blackness.

 

"IDIOT! I wanted to have him conscious, co I can relish the fear in those defiant eyes. Never mind...bring him to his cage. It will take a little time to have another opportunity like this one."

 

Hannibal's throat clutched as he saw the two of his team brought back into the cage. After a short check he was certain that Murdock had at least two broken ribs and was obviously kicked into unconsciousness. He looked closer at his junior officer. Except for the old injuries he could recognize only that he had been hit in the head, the red swelling of his jaw was telling the story itself. When the night fell, they still hadn't woken up.

 

Hannibal  woke up deep in the night. It took him a little while to realize what had awakened him. Then he heard it, soft sobbing. He looked at Murdock, lying  sleeping or still unconscious. By him was someone curled into a ball, softly crying. From the little he heard in between the sobs he could picture what had happened.

 

"I am sorry, I should have told him...I should have protected you...forgive me..." The sobs continued a while, then stopped. The rest of the night was silent after that.

 

In the morning came guards for them to lead them to the fields to work. The small amount of water and daily heat were making the work unbearable. The sun was up, high on the sky, making all the prisoners who were working sweat.

 

Face worked automatically, trying not to think too much. It was the only way how to keep sane- not to think about freedom. He nearly didn't notice when someone came closer to him. He lifted his eyes a bit to see, but not to be noticed by the guards.

 

It was Mark, whose body was tense and trembling. Their eyes locked for a second, he read in the tired eyes a need for freedom. *Don't dare to do it, Mark. They will shoot if you try to run.* He was sure that was Mark's plan. But that was a suicide and Mark knew it....he looked at his friend in sheer horror. There was only one thing he could do for him...do nothing. Could he do that? His body stiffened as he looked a last time at Mark, pleading to him with eyes. His will wasn't strong enough to hold onto his friend. Mark ran first step, second...the bullet was faster. The body looped, then fell down. It was a clean shot. Face bowed head. It was over...he didn't do anything. No one looked up, as if nothing happened.

 

When he was brought to the cage Hannibal knelt to him. "Kid... Mark is dead. He was shot today in an escape attempt. I am sorry." Murdock paled.

 

Face looked away, bad news were always spread fast, so Hannibal heard somewhere, but did the Colonel know, that he could have saved Mark? Face couldn't look at them, He could have stopped him, but he hadn't...

 

*Why did you go away? You promised to stay with me. It's not fair. You left me behind. You left me behind...* he started to sob.

He felt Hannibal's eyes piercing him...as if he suspected something. He tried to avoid his gaze, he wanted to be left alone with his thoughts. The waves of fire was running up and down his spine making him shiver. He couldn't help himself as he curled on the cold ground crying until he fell into an uneasy sleep.

 

The next morning someone was trying to wake him up. He felt shaking, but he couldn't open eyes, the lids felt so heavy. His mind was foggy. It took him a little while till he recognized a person bending over him and the words he was saying. "FFFFFFaaaaaaaaaaaaaacccccccccccceeeeeeeeeeee, hhhhhhhheeeeeeeyyyyy, kkiiid wake up, hey...." Face groaned.

"Kiddo, wake up."

 

Why was he so hot? Was the sun up already? He looked at Hannibal confused. The Colonel frowned, he probed lieutenant's forehead. Face flinched away.

 

"He is running a fever." He bent closer to Face, speaking slowly, patiently waiting till realization sunk in the feverish eyes. "Face I need you to hold on. The guards will be here in a while....you have to stand up and work..." They all knew what happened to the soldiers who were a burden because they were ill or gravely injured. The guards didn't bother to cover the traces of the murders.

It took several minutes to make his body cooperate, but then he definitely started to pull up.

 

BA stepped to him, helping and supporting him. "Can you hold on your own?"

 

Face nodded. If he couldn't, he would be as good as dead. His vision wavered. He heard guards coming. BA slowly took his large arms from him. Somehow he managed to stay on his own without support. The guards took them out of the cage, then led them towards the fields. It was on the halfway when Face's foggy brain realized that they were not going in the direction of the fields, but to the interrogation building. Somehow the realization made its way through the fog in his brain. He tried to remain as calm as possible. But the panic was settling in.  The walk there passed as if in a dream. He caught a sympathetic gaze of Lin Duk, the camp's cooker. The Vietnamese were not allowed to be in contact with the prisoners, but Lin Duk or his wife or daughter managed to fool or bribe the guards and from time to time brought something extra to eat to the suffering soldiers. He helped as much as he dared. Now he looked supportingly in his direction, but then broke the contact fast.

 

Chao was already awaiting him with a cold, wicked smile. "If I remember right lieutenant Peck, we had a little session we didn't manage to bring to the end." The tone was cheery, but the eyes stayed deadly serious.

 

*Life is a one way to street to Hell. I've made much mistakes, but I will never ever became your doll. I let my friend commit suicide.... I am so sorry, Mark. I wasn't enough of a good friend. That I wasn't strong enough...that I AM not strong enough.*

 

The punches started mercilessly, he felt them, he felt the arms of the guards who held him, the last energy draining from him. Then it stopped as abruptly as it started, letting him wavering in the guard's hands. He sensed more than saw Chao coming closer with the injection. He knew that it is a ticket to hell, but he was already in hell...could it be worse...? A sharp prick to his arm made him wince, then his senses fogged. He heard people around him, talking, moving...they lifted him. They talked and talked...couldn't they just shut up and go away, let him alone in silence, die?! Go away!

 

"Muchacho...don't let me behind...you can't do that...you can't let go...please...come back." The pleasing voice came to him through darkness. He knew that voice, another one joined him.

 

"Come back kid, hold on. I will get us out of here. I promise." The Colonel, Hannibal...he promised something...he promised...he had a plan. He will get them out. Someone's arm wrapped around him. Comforting, supporting, promising. He had to hold on... Colonel promised.

 

The fog was thick as a cotton blanket around his brain, allowing him to feel no pain. It felt so good. He knew that something had to be terribly wrong when he didn't feel the pain. What was it? Something flickered in his dazed memory. Was it the drug? He was so hot, why was he so hot? Someone was shaking him. His eyes felt heavy, but the demanding voice just didn't go away. Finally he forced the eyes open to see Colonel leaning over him. "Hang on. I need you to give everything you have now, Lieutenant. Now stand up!" the voice was demanding and at the same time soft, not allowing room for arguments or weak will. He  looked at the doors of the cage. It was opened. An Asian was standing by it. A sudden panic filled him. Were they here to take him again?

 

Then he recognized the familiar features in the dark. It was Lin Duk. What was he doing here? Didn't he know they would shoot him if they saw him? His feet were so heavy, Hannibal was practically dragging him out of the cage. He thought he heard women giggling...was it the fever?

 

"The guards? Out?" Lin nodded slowly and indicated for them to follow. They were going slowly, partly trying to avoid unwanted eyes and because of Face. It was obvious that he was near the end of his rope. "We should take the other too..."

 

"No. The group too big. Obvious like sitting chick." Hannibal was still looking around trying to get rid of the suspicion that it was a trap and they would be caught and punished. He noticed Murdock and BA were doing the same. 

 

Murdock was breathing harshly trying effortlessly not to. The broken ribs must have been a one hell of a pain, Hannibal knew. Lin Duk was a few meters ahead.

 

"Now follow me exactly. This a mine field. Out of it, are free."

 

Lin started to move through the field. Fast and sure, there was no slowing down or hesitating. Hannibal looked right, in the dim moonlighting he recognized something metal- a part of exploded mine. Next to it was laying something he couldn't identify so fast, but when he did, his stomach spun. It was right hand torn away from a body. He prayed a fast prayer for the one who had found the mine that cost him his life. Carefully following one step after other Lin's footsteps they were moving forward. Suddenly they stopped. "You go alone now, you are free. Go as far as you can, the guards will look..."

 

"Come with us, you don't have to stay here." Lin smiled sadly at Murdock.

 

"No, I stay here, to help I have to...to pay. I have to. Now go, fast, to the west. Take care of your friend." He indicated to Face who was leaning heavily against Hannibal.

 

"How can we thank you?"

 

"No thanking, I am paying my debt....I promised..."

 

"Thank you."

 

"Too many words you speak...go." He turned and ran fast back to the camp again.

 

"W..what debt Hanibl..."

 

"No idea. Now quickly, we have only a few hours till the morning. We have to get moving as fast as possible, we don't know how much time we have." Soon the shadows of the jungle cowered them, hiding them before enemy's eyes.

 

They walked continuously not allowing themselves a break, stumbling across branches and thick vegetation. The pace was slow. Chao's handiwork was too visible on all of them. They were hurting and exhausted. The only thing keeping them going was strong will and the smell of freedom only miles away. Hannibal was sure that about 20 miles west they would sooner or later run into another unit or if they were lucky, a copter would find them. He looked back at his men. If they could make it- that was another question. The guards and Chao himself were undoubtedly already alarmed and on their trail. The question was, who was faster... they couldn't afford to stop, the time was an essence they didn't have. His men seemed to grasp it too.

 

"Only a several miles...we have to hurry..." those weren't the words he would like to say to have said,  but it was nothing new for them. The sun was nearly half way up. The trees blocked the rays from them, but the air was more humid and hot. Murdock stopped and pointed at BA who had Face heavily leaning on him.

 

"I will take care of him now, BA."

 

"You will take care of your own ribs, I will take care of Face."

 

"Oh, guys, there is no need for you two to argue, I will go alone." Face whispered.

 

"Yeah, and the hell will freeze over..."

 

Murdock looked at the space by him and soothingly whispered to something only he could see. "Don't worry Billy, we are nearly there."

 

"Billy is not afraid HM, see how he is wavering with his tail, he is happy...."

 

BA shifted uncomfortably.

 

"There is no Billy, you fools."

 

"Easy BA, it's the fever."

 

"I know, but there is no Billy, tell him to stop the jabbering."

 

They moved again, walking, dragging and stumbling...

 

They decided to stop when there was no way they could move further. The thick vegetation let moonlight filter through here and there moonlight, but it really wasn't any help. Every minute one or another fell and it was more and more difficult to stand up.

 

They settled down for the night. "I don't get it, why aren't there any VC soldiers following us?"

 

"I am not very sure either, Captain...it's strange."

 

"Don't call them on us you two. Maybe Lin Duk somehow managed to send them in another direction....or they just found out who helped us."

 

"I still don't understand how he managed to get rid of the guards."

 

"Well, I am not sure, but I think I heard women giggling." Hannibal added tiredly.

 

"Wait a minute, doesn't he have a wife and daug..." Face interrupted him harshly, speaking for the first time they sat down. He was now sitting by Murdock, leaning against him. His handsome features were covered in sweat and twisted with pain and exhaustion. From his tone they knew that he had been surely thinking about the matter the whole day as they walked. Murdock stroked his hair. He felt the heat radiating from his friend, literally feeling the energy slipping out of Face's body. He wheezed through clenched teeth, trying to hold the pain of his own injuries out of his voice. "Stop torturing yourself, Muchacho. It's already done. There is no way we can make it not have happened. They did it to give us a chance...we have to use it. We have to survive." Face head lolled on the side......

 

The night was short. Four hours of sleep built a little strength back, there were already somewhere about half way back. Hannibal looked at BA who was once again dragging Face. BA himself looked bad,  but he was in best shape compared to the other.  The brutality seemed to take the least toll on his bulky body.

 

Murdock was wheezing dangerously and leaning to one side, implying that his ribs were worse than he let on, but he was holding on his own. And Face...each time it took him longer to react...Hannibal suspected that it wouldn't take very long until the fever took completely over young lieutenant. They were running out of time. Each hour spent without medical attention brought Face closer to death. One day or two... *Don't you dare die, not now!* Another day in hot and steamy hell began...

 

Murdock was sure that most of their journey was already behind them. He listened a while to Face's breathing...harsh and uneven. Not a good sign. Yet he was wheezing just like him.

 

They were out of the jungle now, but all of Murdock's whole power and concentration was spent on walking straight through the watery mud and high grass, and not to trip.

 

The sun was now directly shining down on them. The wind was calm, nearly to much. There were no signs of living form... suddenly he heard something. A soft click... "Hannibal, down..." No sooner he had squashed into the watery mud, bullets whizzed over his head. He saw Hannibal's graying head in the grass only inches from him. The bullets were flying from each direction. This wasn't simple crossfire.  Snipers were in a wide circle, and they were the target in the middle of it... It was nearly funny. Here they were, miles from the camp, in their own territory, maybe mile or two from help. *So this is how it's gonna end? VC soldiers? At least it would be a quick death. I am not sorry Chao, you fucking bastard. The only thing I regret is that I can't break that neck of yours. *

 

Murdock buried his head deep in the mud. He knew that the death was only matter of minute or maybe only seconds...*If it be now, 'tis not to come: if it be not to come, it will be now: if it be not now, yet it will come, the readiness is all.*

 

Something registered in the back of his mind alarmed him, a distant humming.

 

He knew that sound very well, he couldn't be mistaken.... *...oh, the devil has to wait, come closer the music of the Elysium.*

 

A wave of air washed over them and then it appeared, a gigantic green dove gracefully sweeping over them. Pinning them more in the mud, but offering protection and salvation- a chopper. The rear doubled with shooting...after a while it was over...

 

Face felt that he was choking in the mud, but he didn't have the strength to lift his head. He heard distant roaring and voices, then strong arms pulled him up, then he left the reality go.....

 

Hannibal looked on the four men in the chopper. They were looking just as curiously at them.

 

"I am Lieutenant Torres, the seventh unit."

 

"I am Colonel Smith, former fourth unit."

 

"Colonel Smith?! You were MIA...."

 

"Not anymore, I might add."

 

Hannibal's eyes dropped on his blonde lieutenant who was slowly coming to the consciousness. He pulled him into his lap. "It's over, kid. We are saved. Hold on, now, hold on." Face moaned a little as if he understood.

 

Hannibal felt Torres' eyes on him. He didn't care.

 

It didn't take long when the camp appeared. It was all tents a simple MASH unit from the fifties, but there was nothing they were more pleased to see. The chopper gracefully went down. Medical staff was immediately by them. Then they were separated...

 

It was two weeks after their sensational escape. Hannibal didn't feel like a hero. He was slowly making his way through the camp, trying to not stretch the healing muscles too much and ignoring the stares of soldiers. He knew that the younger staff considered them as something special, heroes. Stupid kids. There was nothing heroic in being caught, in killing people, in the war. There were no heroes, only survivors.

 

To enlighten his mood he went to see some fellow officers. It didn't help him to find out how much paperwork was awaiting him. How was it possible that military couldn't get rid of that crap even in the war!

 

He needed to get out. So he persuaded or rather forced the doc to let him out. It still left a smile on his lips when he remembered the face of the poor young doc. He would have to buy him a drink or something to make it up. The man was an excellent doc, helped him a lot, but more day in the bed and he would go crazy.

 

He needed to see his men and do so many things. He could lie in bed while waiting for his retirement. He had met with BA who came to visit him and brought him some news. The man himself was good. Far from his former form, but much better.

 

Murdock came to visit him too. The pilot was so thin that Hannibal nearly dreaded to touch him as not to hurt him. But Murdock was in good mood, pretending to be his old self. He could fool the staff, but not Hannibal. He couldn't quite mask the mood swings during their talk. He knew that pilot is far from well. They all were. It would take much longer to come with terms with all they have experienced.

 

Now he was on his way to Face. Murdock told him that they had not allowed anyone near, nor informed about his condition. Hannibal was fairly surprised at that. He knew Face's doc. He had already seen him before. He was a fine man, more like village doctor than military. He was the best care Face could get there. He thought about what would convince the doc to let him see the kid. He still didn't know what to say when the doc seemed to notice him and waved to him.

 

"Colonel Smith, I knew you would came by today to  visit Lieutenant Peck. But before you do so, I would like to discuss several matters with you. In private."

 

He led him to the small improvised room for medical staff. The room was empty.

 

"There is something I want to talk with you about." Hannibal already had an idea what would the talk be about.

 

"Go ahead."

 

"After your arrival I examined Lieutenant Peck's condition thoroughly. The first tests proved only what was to be expect. He was malnourished, had several contusions, concussions, dislocated shoulder. Also profound signs of brutal torture and beatings which ended up infected, causing the high fever. We managed to get theses under control. However, there is one matter I would like to talk with you about.  From our examination we found evidence of rape."

 

Hannibal knew this conversation had to come, but he was surprised how easily the words describing such a violent and terrible act were said...rape. Which happened to his friend, because he wasn't able to protect him. He was owing him this.

 

"Listen Doc. I know what had happened there. You don't have to tell me. But please, do me a favor, don't put this into his record."

 

Doc looked at him stunned. He had never been one to strictly follow the military protocol, but this was something different. He sensed how important it was to this man. He understood. It was hard enough to carry the memories.

 

"I have never been much into the paper stuff, there are only problems with it. But are you aware that this set of injuries are his ticket home?"

 

Hannibal was shattered. He hadn't thought of that. He realized every second how bad the damage was, but not that it was THAT bad. He wasn't prepared to let him go, not after he had  got so close to him so much. He was a great kid.

 

"I haven't spoken with him about this matter. He is not eating properly and is being sort of uncooperative. But there is one more thing. I heard that your lieutenant was very close with JJ Samuels."

 

"Yes, that's right."

 

"I have one bit of bad news. I didn't tell him now because he was in delirium for a long time and I thought that it would better coming from someone who is close to him. I guess no one told you, but Samuels was found death about three weeks ago."

 

Hannibal was nearly sure what the cause of his death was. He knew how close came Face to this fate, but he had to ask. "How?"

 

"He overdosed on heroin. I'm sure you know Mr. Peck's relationship to this man better than me. Mr. Samuels will be send back home for burial tomorrow...I take from what I've heard, that it would be important for the lieutenant to know..."

 

"Is he strong enough to be able to take it?"

 

"You know the man better than I do."

 

Hannibal sighed. Should he tell him? A chill went down his spine. How close to this had been his young innocent friend....

 

The man he saw laying on the bed by the wall was not at all innocent kid, not anymore. Something had died in him, literally. He was numbly staring at the ceiling. Hannibal noticed how thin and bad he looked, he didn't seem to have made progress at all.

 

"I heard you don't want to eat.... OK, I know, the food is terrible, but hey we have to eat it too. This is Army. No way you would get decent food here."  Face's eyes fixed on him, but stayed expressionless. His heart wrenched looking at his devastated friend, knowing that he would bring him only more pain. He had to know, he owed him that much. The mask of cheerfulness fell down.

 

"I have some bad news.... JJ is dead. He overdosed on heroin three weeks ago."

 

At first he thought Face didn't hear him. A second later his features curled in pain. It seemed impossible, but he went even whiter and...passed out.

 

*Oh, damn. So much for the question if he is strong enough for this. I am sorry.*

 

"Nurse, please, take care of him. I will come later again." He walked out and almost ran into the captain. "Murdock! Don't you have to be at the doc's?"

 

"Yeah, Colonel...I was just on my way, but I wanted to check on Face first."

 

"I just told him about JJ's death."

 

"Yeah, I heard about that. How did he take it?"

 

"Doc warned me that he might be strong enough, that it is soon after the fever and all. He was right, Face passed out."

 

"Damn. I should have been with him. This all has to be so hard for him."

 

"Yes. He is in a very deep depression.  I wouldn't be surprised, if he went home."

 

"He is going home?"

 

"I don't know, didn't ask him yet, but I think so. "

 

Later that day, Hannibal went to Face's room. He hoped that the kid was already better. He knew that such a trauma wouldn't heal in one day though. He spotted an empty bed...panic grabbed him and his heart stopped for a second. An image of his friend, lying there so vulnerable in the bed after he had passed out came to his mind. He looked so weak, he couldn't have...

 

"Nurse, where is Lieutenant Peck..." he felt nearly sorry when the young girl cried out from pain when he grabbed her, but she stayed absolutely professional.

 

"Lieutenant Peck was brought to X-ray.  He will be back in no time. Wait for him if you like" She smiled at him softly.

 

Hannibal released his breath relieved. Yeah, he would wait on him. He had to help him through this hard times. They were team, through thick and thin, together, one for all, all for one, right? He had to help him over the depression....he sat on the bed into the ruffled sheets. His hand touched something  hard...what was it? He pulled it out from the covers and looked at it curiously. It was a small black book, obviously read very often. He gently opened it. He was surprised it was written with pen. He recognized immediately Face's small, neat handwriting. He never realized that Face had a diary, but according to the pages it was an old one. Then his heart stopped with all the possibilities he held. He couldn't read it, now could he? He didn't have right to do so, to step into his lieutenant's privacy. But after all of they had been through, did they have any kind of privacy?

 

He knew that he was doing something terribly wrong, but he couldn't stop himself from starting to read the last entry.

".....Why did you do that! Was it so important? I was so stupid. I saw it in  your eyes. I knew something was going on and I didn't recognize it. One cigarette from time to time, to forget to dive into another world. I understood that... hell I was doing with! I am so sorry...I wasn't hard enough on you. I sensed the danger....then it was too late. Your eyes were already dead, you are dead, gone. You will never come back. Come back! I don't believe my naivity. I thought that you are still in hold, that you still controlled it, I believed it...or I wanted to, to believe that everything would be alright. I was so wrong. It's too late to ask for forgiveness. There is no one left who could or would forgive me. I betrayed you and...."

 

He put the book carefully down... someone was coming. He hid it where it laid before and sat back casually.

 

"...I am pleased that the back is already showing improvement..." Doc's voice was kind. The nurse was smiling softy at Face in the wheelchair who kept his features carefully expressionless. It could work on the stuff, not on his CO. Not after what he had just read.

 

"Ah, Colonel. I take you want to talk and have some privacy, but please Mr. Peck only has begun to improve, he needs his rest, don't stay too long."

 

Hannibal smiled assuring at the doc, so he and the nurse would leave

 

"So, I am glad you ...." Hannibal started, but another voice interrupted him.

 

"Hello Muchacho." Murdock's tone was silent and sad. He leaned to Face and embraced him. "I am sorry what happened, Face."

 

"Me too, HM, me too."

 

BA stood behind Colonel not daring to hug the youngest man, who looked so small.

 

Hannibal took again the word and continued empathetically.  "I just wanted to say, that the copter which takes JJ's ashes back to the US can take you back home too."

 

Face stared at him for a while. Hannibal cursed when he realized why.*Didn't the doc told him that he can go home? No... damn!*

 

"I don't want to go home." Face's words were silent but firm.

 

"Face, don't be stubborn..."

 

"No, you don't understand...I don't want to go home."

 

"Man, Face. We have to go back to the fight..." BA didn't end the thought, but they all grasped what he was trying to say.

 

"I will be able to go back. I will be able to stand on my own and do all my duties satisfactorily."

 

"Are you sure? Back home, you would be a hero. Your family, friends..." Murdock piped out.

 

"I have nothing to return to. I want to stay here! Please give me the chance!"

 

"I understand that, now calm down." Hannibal soothed the younger man.

 

Face trembled from effort and agitation. But after those words he fell exhausted down on the pillow. His back protested.

 

Doc appeared in the door.  "I am sorry to interrupt you, but I think that's enough for today. I have to ask you to leave now."

 

They turned dutifully to the doors when Face caught Hannibal's sleeve. "Please, stay with me a while..."

 

Hannibal caught the doc's disapproving eyes. "Sure, kid." He waited for the others to leave, sensing that it would be something personal.

 

"I want to go to say goodbye to JJ tomorrow. I'm asking you to help me, I can't manage it alone."

 

"No need to ask I am with you whenever you need."

 

"Thank you." He smiled weakly. His eyes dazed over and closed. The Colonel smiled at the small figure. He was so glad that he could longer relish the blessing company of this man.

 

Hannibal hurried through the early morning to the hospital. He knew he had a little time before Face had to say his goodbye. Hannibal felt he had to be strong, for the kid. In his own very pain filled mind, he was still thinking about the others. He knew how close Face and Murdock became during the time in the camps. But Murdock wasn't in the state to represent mental support for him. He was having problems of his own, so his choice fell on Hannibal. The Colonel was proud of it and at the same time he was a little afraid.

 

He stepped silently in the room not wanting to wake up the kid. He was still in sleeping. Hannibal sat in the chair observing him a while. Just to see him, feel him near. It still felt strange...they were here, not there in the hands of those sadists. They were alive, they'd survived. He softly whispered to Face. "It's time to wake up, kid." He didn't dare to touch him, not after such a short time from the terrible experience.

 

Face softly opened his still dazed eyes. He nodded and swung one foot out of the bed. It was still a torment to move. He was sure he wouldn't make it without Colonel's help. Finally sitting in the wheelchair they moved to the ramp. It was early in the morning. The dawn was only breaking. The camp was still silent, except for a few perimeter guards.

 

The helicopter was already waiting to fly away. Hannibal observed from behind the blonde head. He would give everything to know what was going on in that smart brain.

 

Finally they made it there. Pilot looked nervously at Hannibal. He was supposed to be already on his way, but then he backed away in understanding. He'd seen many situations like this one: when people came to say last goodbye. He handed them the urn. Face took it almost reverently. His fingers wrapped around it.

 

"I wish you were here to meet my new family. I wish you were here... I miss you so much." His body started to shake. A single sob tore from his throat, full of pain, sorrow...

 

The tears were falling, like big pearls, rolling down his cheeks, chin, falling on the black marble urn. "I wish I were there to help you, I wasn't there when you needed me...I know it's late, but please, forgive me. I wasn't good enough of a friend....Please take him back home..." he handed the urn back, turning away.

 

"We can go back to the hospital."

 

Hannibal pushed the chair down the ramp. They didn't turn to look when the copter flew into the air and away from them.

 

"Another friend lost to the grave."

 

Hannibal wanted to say to the younger man how meaningless his self-torment was, that it wasn't his fault. That JJ Samuels was dead longer before they went into the combat. That if Face stayed with him, he would be probably on his way home too...also the urn.

 

And he knew that Face wouldn't listen to him, he never did. He tortured his mind with scenarios on how could he have prevented it. Hannibal knew the answer...there was no way he could have prevented it.

 

They spent they way back in silence. Face too sad to talk, Hannibal hurting too much for his friend. He helped him back to the bed. "I would like to be alone now." Hannibal turned to go away, but Face's whisper stopped him at the doors. "Thank you."

 

"JJ wouldn't blame you for his fall, don't torture yourself. He was dead long time before."

 

It took a little time till they were back on their feet. It wasn't the best state his unit could be, but Hannibal was looking to the future very optimistically. The doc finally allowed Face to move back into the barracks. It seemed like the unit was once again coming together.

 

Face was sitting on his bunk, Murdock was sitting by BA and once again making him angry. Yeah, definitely like the old times. Like the old times? It felt different, something was wrong, he couldn't put his finger on it. There was something what had to be made up...but what? Or was it just his imagination? He looked out of the window. Up in the shy were the first stars.

 

He was tired to the bone. Face was already preparing his bunk for sleep. It was the first time he slept with them again. Finally they settled. BA started to snore silently.

 

"Man, the big guy and his snoring. I hate it."

 

"Hush Murdock, Face is asleep too."

 

"Sorry Colonel, night."

 

"Night."

 

Hannibal's eyes opened fast, but he saw nothing but darkness. He waited a little, listening to everything. Something had woken him up. Then he heard it...soft crying from the bed next to him. He stood up. The ground was so cold.

 

"...no...don't...please, sorry...I want to go too...don't leave...so sorry...forgive me...let him be..."

 

He listened to the muffled cries. He leaned over the youngest team member. He heard someone come from behind him. He lifted his eyes, it was Murdock. "Seems like Faceman is having a nightmare."

 

Murdock bent to his best friend. "Hush, it's only a dream. We are here, you don't have to worry. Nothing is going to happen." But the words seemed to have little effect.

 

"...don't...please...you can't do that...don't do that to me...I can't..."

 

"What's he dreaming about?"

 

"Don't know, seems like a dream about JJ. You know, he feels very guilty about him."

 

"But it wasn't his fault." Murdock argued.

 

"Try to explain it to him, he just won't listen."

 

"Shhh, quiet, my friend..." After some minutes of Murdock's mantra the distressed man quieted. The night went without any more disturbance.

 

The morning was very quiet. Murdock eyed Face, who seemed to ignore his stares lost in his own thoughts.

 

After a brief breakfast they went back to the barracks. "What we gonna do now?"

 

"Face should still take things lightly, so we won't do any obstacle courses. Now, no hoping, captain. You will have to go through them...but not today. What about filling out reports."

 

"Ah, I hate paperwork."

 

"Believe me Murdock, the feeling is mutual. But the sooner we do it, the sooner we are free."

 

"Free to go through the obstacle courses..." BA jibed.

 

"I didn't say that BA. But...yes."

 

"Hannibal, sometimes you are just terrible."

 

The papers were stacked on the table in front of them.

 

"Does the form 214/A need three copies, Face?" Murdock waited for a response, but didn't get one. "Face....hallo Faceman...."

 

"Huh? Sorry, HM? What did you say?"

 

"Oh, you absentminded beauty. I asked if the form 214/A needs three copies."

 

"Yeah...I think so," Face thought for a second, then nodded. " Yes...definitely."

 

BA snorted in disgust. "Tsk. I hate this stuff. I don't get how you can hold all those stupid numbers in that small head of yours."

 

"BA, I am a supply officer. I need to know all those things." Answered Face with a little amusement that didn't manage to hide how tired he was.

 

There were still piles of papers to do, but Hannibal couldn't bear the look on Face anymore.

 

"Face, you look tired, the doc said you should take it easy. Go lie down for a little bit."

 

The ashen face looked at him. Then without a word he stood up and walked slowly away.

 

"Man, he has to be really bad. He didn't even argue."

 

It was nearly 1600 when they finished up the paper work.

 

"Man, I ain goin' fill out one more form."

 

"This time me and Billy are with you. BA."

 

"Shut up, crazy fool! there is no Billy!"

 

"Stop it, you two. " Hannibal warned

 

They stepped in their barracks. Face was moving slightly on his bed. He appeared to have cried before falling asleep from exhaustion. The sleep wasn't very peaceful...his voice filled the room with painful moans and cries.

 

"...no...you can't...don't let them...don't let go...MARK!"

 

Murdock jumped to his friend and soothed him, just like he had during the night. It took a while, but finally the nightmare subsided. They went out, leaving their friend to sleep.

 

"Mark?!"

 

Hannibal looked at BA and Murdock.

 

"What's Mark got to do with this? He died when he tried to escape. I saw him the last time when we were caught..."

 

"Ahh, Hannibal. I saw him one more time."

 

"Tell me about it, captain."

 

"It was when Chao's guards took me and Face again, when he broke my ribs. We were taken to interrogation. It was short after... short after... what Chao... did to Face.... When we got there, Mark was already there. I thought he was dead, so I was surprised. He completely ignored me, but was looking at Face. They didn't seem  surprised to see each other. Mark was looking at him. I will never forget the look in his eyes when he said, 'He did it to you'. It sounded so cold. Then he started to babble something about stealing souls. Then Chao came and beat the shit out of me. "

 

"Something must have happened after that." Hannibal surmised.

 

"Yeah, I think it was the last time when I saw Mark alive. Then I remember only when you told us about Mark being dead and Face taking it pretty bad. I'd like to know what happened."

 

"Maybe Face will tell us on his own." It didn't sound very convincing though.

 

Face kept sleeping into the night. It wasn't healing, helpful sleep though. It was plagued with nightmares.

 

The stars were shining bright when Face sat up abruptly, gasping for air.  Hannibal woke up immediately. He heard Murdock leave his bed on the other side. He stood up too, he saw BA already standing over Face.

 

He put hand on the arm of his friend. He felt how tensed it was, trembling slightly.

 

His voice was surprisingly soft. "What is it, Face?" He felt how the figure trembled, heard his harsh breathing. Arms flew up and Face hugged himself. Hannibal knew the gesture, a sign of total distress and insecurity. He watched Murdock as he sat next to the lieutenant and wrapped his arms around him, soothing him, helping him to calm down. BA was standing by them like a big wall which would hold them secure, protect them from everything.

 

This had to come to the end, Hannibal decided. Even if he had to mercilessly push Face, this had to end.

 

"What is it, Face? Tell me."

 

"No, please, no, not now."

 

He was hurt by how the kid begged him, but he wouldn't step back. Not again, it was cruel, it was merciless, it was necessary. "No, Face. I want to know. We are your friends, you can tell us. Tell us...tell me."

 

He saw Murdock's eyes looking at him disapprovingly...no he wouldn't stand down.

 

"What is it with Mark? What happened to Mark?"

 

"He...he died..." Face cried.

 

"What happened?" He felt so cruel causing so much pain to his friend. The man who was the closest thing he had to a son.

 

"Chao...Chao...he...raped him....he gave him...drugs....he gave him sex voluntarily..." the barely coherent words, didn't make much sense.

 

"Chao, drugs, voluntarily...?" He didn't understand at first....what could have Chao....no...no, that was too cruel even for Chao. And Face, he knew...

 

"Jesus, I am so sorry kid." He saw how Murdock hugged Face tighter and they cried together. The tears mixing.

 

"I told him...told him...not to let them steal his soul...he said...that he already lost it....I didn't understand...he kissed him...he slept with him...I thought I am strong enough to save him...I was too weak..."

 

"Face, listen to me, you were not weak..."

 

"He was just a kid...a kid...an innocent...sweet...kid."

 

"Face you were NOT weak. You can't save the whole world. You are only man."

 

"Why? God, why? I couldn't take it, it was too much. Oh God, why did You let him..."

 

"Face, it hurts, but we have to overcome the barriers. They make us stronger...the pain makes us stronger. You are strong."

 

"I wasn't strong enough. I wasn't good enough..."

 

"Face..."

 

"No, YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!!!!" Face yelled "I knew...I knew he was going...going to kill him...himself...I knew he is going to try to run...I knew it was suicide...I stood by and I let him...I let him do it...kill himself...die. I wasn't strong enough...I wasn't good enough...I wasn't a good friend."

 

Face curled up in Murdock's arms, both crying together. So that was it? The last bridge over the past...terrible secret Face had kept.

 

Hannibal wrapped his arms around them both. He knew the pain, knew how great and merciless it can get. There were no words which could make it go away.

 

They didn't need words to defeat it. Face was strong, they were strong. Stronger than the pain. Together, always, forever.

 

 

END

 


Stronger by Akin

 

 


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