Summary: A surprise visitor pays his respects.
Warning: Character death.
I pulled up in a van, shortly after the service had begun. I hadn't really arrived late on purpose, but I had to admit I was grateful that I was a little late. If I had gotten there sooner, there may have been questions to answer… questions I didn't really want to answer, anyway.
I stood at the far back of the church, and gazed out over the crowd. I have to admit, it was an impressive gathering. The church wasn't exactly small, and yet it was near bursting with people. I recognized a lot of them, a lot of them I didn't. The room was so full that I didn't look out of place standing, as many people were. I had to wonder who some of the people were, as I stared out over the crowd. I identified some of them, a few ex-soldiers from Vietnam, two or three of Hollywood's more infamous B-movie directors, and even a few clients from The Team's assorted missions. That girl over there; wasn't she from that incident with the car thieves…?
Of course, at the center of attention was The A-Team itself. I spotted them quickly, in the first row, sitting amongst themselves. Templeton "The Faceman" Peck, his infamous countenance drawn and looking slightly angry. I thought I knew why. Peck probably had been closest to him, and his death left Peck feeling betrayed. I had been there myself, and understanding forced me to be sympathetic for the suffering man. I understood that he was dating that irritating reporter who had traveled with them for a short time; Amy Allen. She was at the far end of the pew, however, as Peck chose to sit with the rest of his team, next to HM Murdock.
I remembered Murdock rather well, the "insane" lunatic who had also more than helped out the A-Team in their varied escapades. I saw him for the first time without the flight jacket and baseball cap, somber and filled with angst as he tried to deal with the circumstances. I understood that he had gotten married to a veterinarian in Los Angeles shortly after he was released from the Veteran's Administration Psychiatric Ward. She, as well, sat at the far end next to Allen. Murdock himself sat next to BA Baracus.
I saw Baracus in a light that I had never seen him in before. He looked powerless, and afraid. It made me feel uncomfortable suddenly, I was used to seeing Baracus be the one that didn't budge, who had no emotion other than anger. Yet, now Baracus almost embodied the crushed and heartbroken man. I had never liked the team, but I was surprised to realize how much empathy I had for them at that moment. Baracus shifted in his seat, as if he could feel my eyes upon him. I glanced around, and noticed that he had left his wife and children at home. Quietly, I turned my attention away from him.
I had done my own research on The A-Team before coming back. One should never go into a situation unprepared, as I have well-learned. There was the other reporter who had known the team, Tawnia Baker, sitting next to a man I assumed was her husband. And sitting near her was a Hispanic man, the one who had helped rescue the team from execution. Frankie Santana was his name, I think.
And sitting far from everyone was Maggie Sullivan. The woman who held the admirable task of "hooking" him. She carried herself well, chin held high and not looking nearly as destroyed as I would have expected. She was a proud woman, and wouldn't have wanted for the world to see her shed her tears in front of everyone. And I suspected that wherever he was, he approved. I could understand why he would've fallen for her, in that moment. He'd always liked a strong woman…
The preacher, a man I recognized from having hired the A-Team once, asked if anyone would like to say something on behalf of the deceased. I think everyone was shocked that no one from the team volunteered, though a lot of hands were raised. One by one, they each paid their respects. They all kept things short, but simply stated what an inspiration, what a hero he had been. There were a few soldiers who had served with him in Vietnam. Several "clients" of the A-Team thanked him profusely for his efforts to save their businesses and/or their lives. Some were just friends of the departed.
As the last man left the podium, the preacher asked if anyone else had anything left to say. Without thinking, I raised my hand and approached the front.
A few people gasped, but I didn't bother to look at them. I kept my eyes focused on the image in my head rather than what was really in front of me. It's a handy way to deal with situations, especially when you're in the military. I didn't have a clue as to what I was going to say, but instead just opened my mouth and began speaking.
"Colonel John 'Hannibal' Smith was my greatest enemy. For years, I dedicated my very existence to tracking him down. I spent years of my life on hold while I fought against him. There were a few times where I came very close to putting him away for good, too. It was the goal I lived for every day for three years. And in the end… Smith was just too resourceful to catch.
"I hated him. More than anything in the world, I hated him. I was sent to Alaska on a tour of pure hell because of my failure to bring him in. For four years, I cursed his name and there wasn't an hour that didn't go by where I didn't bemoan the day he was born. There finally came a day where someone *did* catch Smith. He and the rest of his team were put on the firing line. And they once again proved to be more wily than we gave them credit for. They escaped that one, too.
"Smith was irritating, insolent, and the bane of my existence. But I respect him. And to an extent, I even admire him. It's not every man who outlives his own execution, after all. And I stand here before you all today to pay my last regards to my most insufferable foe. He… he died as a hero to many, but will ever remain a villain to me."
I stepped down and turned to the casket beside me. It took me a long moment, but I humbled myself and gave Smith what I felt he deserved after years of beating me. I saluted him.
I stayed until the end of the service. I don't know why. Maybe I felt that it would be disrespectful to leave before it was over. As it wound down, though, I headed for the door. I'd be relieved to get out of this itchy suit, and get back to things. Before I made it out, however, an arm grabbed me and turned me around.
It was Peck, flanked by Baracus and Murdock. I couldn't read their expressions, but remained stiff and cool. I had done what I felt was needed and if they had a problem with it… just because they had been pardoned didn't mean that I had forgiven them. Instead, though, they shocked me.
"Decker… thanks. It… what you said meant a lot to us. And it meant a lot to Hannibal, too."
I had to laugh bitterly. "You know, Peck, in the end he still beat me. I bet somewhere out there, he's laughing his shrewd little head off. He never did let me win."
I smiled and turned once again to leave, to leave my rival to bask in victory.