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Salvation

Authors:  Quentillian & Nora

 

Chapter Four

"Wake up, Sergeant."

Cruiser groaned as the words somehow managed to fight past the fog in his head and settle into a nice harmony of Hannibal's voice and an order. Any doubts as to how serious the colonel was about waking his ass up that instant disappeared as the bed suddenly shook and rattled beneath him and forced Cruiser to reconsider sleep and open his eyes.

What the hell had they done last night?

Scratch that thought - Cruiser blinked and forced his eyes to focus, past the hungover burning and stinging, and out the small window in the room that barely had any light coming through it. Last night was, in fact, only a few hours ago. And now, judging from the look on Hannibal's face, they had shit to do. At the asscrack of dawn.

Great.

Cruiser pushed himself up and reached down to the floor grabbing the fatigues he'd dumped there "last night". He'd barely had his pants fastened before BA shoved a warm cup into his hands.

"Coffee." BA, the man of many words, managed to make that sound like a threat. Cruiser didn't bother to respond. Just took a sip of coffee and wound up coughing and spluttering. What should have been a wonderful way to greet an awful almost morning, turned out to be sludge he could feel coating his teeth and almost chew.

Throwing a glare over to Hannibal, Cruiser chewed his coffee and waited for the fun. Judging by the throat burning, gut punching strength of the coffee cud he was working on, the colonel wanted them sober, quick. Until then Hannibal was just leaning against the thin plywood walls, smoking a ratty ass cigar and waiting for them to get their act together.

Whatever he wanted, Hannibal's grin wasn't a good sign. Course, they'd done worse and survived the fallout from Hannibal. Finally Cruiser's brain was functioning enough to remember English. "Colonel."

"Explain." Short and to the point. Thank God.

"Which part?" At least it was just Hannibal and BA. There would be no dancing around all the details and trying to weave a story from Face and Murdock. There was no way Cruiser would be able to tolerate that shit right now. "The bear or the club?"

"Neither." Hannibal would know about both of those, and even if he didn't, all he had to do was ask. Face and Murdock both knew that if they didn't want Hannibal getting the answers he was looking for, then they needed to leave Cruiser out of it. "What I am curious about is how a night of blowing off steam turned into a gridiron challenge with Spider's men."

Cruiser just shrugged, his free hand fishing out the crumpled pack of smokes from his pocket. "Face was playing off the bottom of the deck."

"He left his lighter out, read the cards off it." BA corrected.

Cruiser flipped his lighter closed and narrowed his eyes on BA. The boy scout who couldn't imagine doing anything to disappoint Mommy Dearest knew how to cheat at cards. "Or that."

"Ain't for high stakes. Dudes didn't know."

"They figured it out quick enough." Everyone knew Face cheated. The only reason anyone played with him was because he tended to loose for a hand or two. Smart players left with their winnings. If you didn't, you were either just having fun or up to the challenge.

"Nah, they looking for an excuse to start trouble. Trace got beef with Face. From before."

Cruiser shrugged again. He'd never bothered to follow the fallout from when Face had been peddling drugs. It wasn't worth the headache to keep track of the score when it came to that enterprise. Face wasn't doing it now, so it didn't fucking matter. Until some jackass couldn't let things go, then it became his problem. If Trace wanted to start shit up in an effort to even whatever score he wanted to settle, well, they could take care of that.

"Is this going to be a problem?" There was nothing tangible that had changed, but Hannibal was different. More serious, more of a threat, maybe even more deadly than he had been two seconds ago. "Not one we can't handle."

"Spider's guy's just as big of fools as Face and Murdock. Ain't gonna let it go 'til someone makes 'em or they dead."

Hannibal nodded. It was just that simple. A quick glance to both of them was enough to make it clear he understood how bad the situation could get if it went unchecked. That was it, then like a fucking lightswitch, Hannibal was back. Grinning like the cocky bastard he was, he chomped on his cigar. "I'll see you boys in the team room in ten. Full gear and packs, we're going for a run." Giving them a little wave, he strode out calling back, "You can thank the brain trust when we're done."

Great. How much water could he guzzle in ten minutes and not vomit while running obstacle courses in a thirty pound rucksack? Face was so going to pay up for this, and it better be with Jose Cuervo and cigarettes.

XXXXX

Six hours of running their over exuberant asses later and Hannibal was in the TOC. He had effectively traded in his rifle for a twenty cent Bic pen and a stack of paperwork that was ever growing. Paperwork was paperwork in every sense of the word; boring, mundane, rudimentary and the direct opposite of everything he thrived on. But with it came silence. Something that was on short supply in remote jungles of Vietnam.

Paperwork may be the bane of everyone's existence - especially after Face had touched more than his fair share of it. But for now, right at this moment, it brought some peace and quiet and order. Scribbling his name on the bottom of requisition forms didn't require ducking bullets or pleading his case or trying to make the upper brass bureaucrats understand that their politics were going to get his men killed on the field.

No, instead he scrawled his signature across the bottom of a form requesting new combat boots. He wouldn't get them through this channel, he knew that. But Face would through his channels, which on paper, would look a whole lot like what Hannibal and just filled out. It was tried and true and safe and it actually got the results they needed. However, if they got all of the equipment they needed and Hannibal never filled out a form, brows would raise that needed to remain interested in other things that didn't involve Hannibal and his team. So he scrawled his name when he needed to and played the game the only way he knew how: to win.

But most of all, it was quiet. There were no pissed off SEALs waiting to take off half of his team's heads, no body count, no CO telling him how much they'd screwed up his nice tidy war, and for now, at this moment, there was no impending mission looming over their heads. Which mean nothing for him to figure out and no minute detail for him to worry about missing that would result in having to write a letter home to his team's families.

Right now - in this moment - paperwork was peace. That is, until he heard the footsteps coming up to his door. Measured and paced just like the good ol' US of A taught. But instead of a knock like he'd expected - like rank and military standing brought - the door flung open without his say so.

"Attention soldier!"

Hannibal was up on his feet, snapping to attention before he even had a chance to put his pen down. "Yes, Sir!" Eyes dead ahead on the wall in front of him, he was looking past the man - no, the General - as the man circled the plywood desk. He carried the full weight of the US army with him in every step. Slow, measured, and intense scrutiny of every detail like Hannibal hadn't seen since his days as a Plebe.

"I've seen a hell of a lot of sorry ass, broken down, cluster fucks in my time, but your jack off attempt at proper military channels is the most Mother Mary fuck up I have ever had the misfortune of wandering across." General Reins was inches from him, leaning in close like a cobra ready to strike. "You wanna give me one good reason why I shouldn't have your pasty white ass up in front of a military tribunal?"

"Sir!" Hannibal barked, just like a buck recruit. "Then you'd have no one to share ten year old scotch with, Sir!"

Hannibal almost had the grin contained, but sure enough, he broke stance with a warm chuckle as Reins just stood there in front of him, face slate blank and expressionless. It was a full three seconds before a heavy calloused hand dropped on his shoulder. "You make a hell of a good argument, Smith. Now how about you stop playing West Point Cadet and break open that bottle." The General's teeth flashed white against the deep tan of his face. "I could use a good drink that we never had."

Less than a minute later, Hannibal had two very nice glasses and a bottle of scotch pulled out of the bottom drawer of his desk that every man on this base would envy if they knew it existed. And those few that didn't were paperpushers. Well, paperpushers and BA. But he was another story entirely.

Filling the glasses to two fingers worth, Hannibal slid one over to Reins as he sat down and both settled in. "It's been a while, Reins. How have you been?"

"My head's aching from all the pissing and moaning from the guys under me. My back's sore from carrying the dead weight officers who got their commissions on the friends and family plan. My ass is burning from all the smoke being blowing up it, and I'm dog ass tired from trying to explain that war isn't like the movies to politicians who couldn't tell a rifle from their asshole with both hands and a field guide." Reins took a sip and smiled. "So dead normal. How about you?"

Hannibal chuckled, shaking his head as he took a sip of the scotch and savored the burn. "I've got team that can't be stopped and a CO who wants to see the majority of them in the stockade. A mission success record that's unbeatable, and I just got my ass reamed for a mission that was a success, but looks messy on the books." Hannibal shrugged. "So dead normal for me too."

Hannibal met Reins the first day he'd landed in country. Fresh out of Westpoint, with more energy than brains, Hannibal had almost gotten himself killed in under twenty four hours. Reins had saved his ass and showed him how to turn theory, intellect, balls, and good old American military strategy into results. And how to get the job done without the upper brass getting their panties into enough of a twist to decommission him.

"To the military life and us fools who live it." Reins chuckled and held up his glass.

"God help us all." Hannibal returned the gesture and relaxed back in his chair, letting a friendly silence come over them.

These days Reins spent his time rubbing elbows with politicians. Hannibal had never been able to beat Reins at the waiting game. His skills had been too advanced when they'd met, and they would've only improved in the years since he'd taught Hannibal the nuances of the game. Finally, Hannibal just had to smile at the whole thing. "Just like the old days, huh, Reins? What brings you to my part of this little slice of heaven?"

"I like the slop your cook calls food. That and some groundwork for a mission." There was nothing in what he said, but a world in how it was said. The steady, piercing look let Hannibal know this mission was big, and bad, and men were expected to die. His men. And by proxy, Reins'.

"Well let's hear it."

"You still need to work on patience, kid." Reins shook his head. "Can't say much yet." There was more, he could see it in the way Reins shifted forward, and put his full attention on Hannibal. "But I can say, when the orders come down it will be you and Spider's men in the thick of it."

"That should be interesting." Suddenly his nice, quiet, peaceful paperwork had started to give way to a headache. It was important for crews to be able to put aside their differences in the field as it was. Now, if they had something brewing that was this intense? The bullshit that had started at Face's not club, had better see its end on the gridiron.

"So should the apocalypse, doesn't mean I want to be there." Fishing his pack of smokes out of a his pocket, Reins gave him a few seconds. "Some of Spider's men have a beef with Sergeant Peck. In turn, your men have beef with them. Mifflin has a beef with you and any other s.o.b. who has a low threshold for bullshit." Reins waved his hand, cigarette smoking from between his fingers, in the universal "so on and so forth" gesture. "And me? I couldn't give a fuck about any of it. Unless it interferes with the job at hand."

"It won't." And if it did wind up interfering with the job at hand, Hannibal would have failed as their CO, and there would for damn sure be hell to pay. "There's a football game tomorrow to settle whatever score there is left between my guys and Spider's. They already know it doesn't go past that." He quirked an eyebrow at Reins. "If anyone has a different idea, I'll make sure to shut it down." His voice dropped a notch, letting that no nonsense hard edge slip into place. "Hard. So there's no more misunderstandings."

"It's festered too long for anything but trouble." The tone, the half smile, they eased the sting of missing something critical. The fact that Face had enemies wasn't news to Hannibal. Face's past, hell every member of his team's past, tended to rear its ugly head at the most inopportune time. Now was just the latest of a long list. Face's incidents however only seemed to be gaining speed instead of letting up like Hannibal would expect. Like steam building up until the explosion finally erupted. And now it was running the risk of jeopardizing a mission and taking them all out.

The risk was real enough and the mission important enough to have General Reins show up in person. It had Hannibal's jaw clenching tighter. He'd seen the danger, but he'd misjudged the distance. And mistakes like that are what got men killed.

Reins was still looking into him when he leaned back in his chair and blew a cloud of grey tinged smoke towards the tin roof. "You have the entire armed forces to pick from and you chose a pathological liar, a section eight waiting to happen, and not one, but two borderline psychopaths." Hannibal couldn't help but smile as Reins continued. "All of them should be locked up serving long term sentences in the stockade. Except for one guy who's such a straight arrow you could use him to slice Goddamned Wonder Bread and Bologna sandwiches." Reins shook his head and took a deep drag. The kind he used just before he hit you with the knockout punch. "Only a grade A, five star, fucking moron would have picked those men."

Hannibal was still chewing that over as Reins stood up, stubbed out his smoke and grinned. "Only a genius could make it work." Reins' hand slapped him on the back. "No one else could see what you did. Trust that thing that makes those sorry ass, fuck ups, the single best weapon this man's Army has to offer. Makes me proud to be a part of it. And you, son." He wasn't done, he never left it at that. "You've got some of the best damned instincts I've ever seen. Don't get lost in what the machine can do and miss what the parts need to function." Reins sighed as he strode towards the door. "I'll meet up with you in a few days. Right now I gotta go meet with Milktoast Mifflin and calm his tits."

Like that Reins was out the door and out of sight. Hannibal leaned back in his chair, finishing off the last of his scotch, and staring at the closed door as though it would reveal something he'd missed in the roshambo of insults and compliments. But in the end, the bottom line was that they were the best damned team the Army had seen. His men. The best. That made Hannibal sit a bit taller and shoulders push further back. Feeling heady, he had nothing else to do but turn back towards his paperwork. And think.

XXXXX

Mail call was a sacred ritual around anything Vietnam. Hell anything military. Precious packages and letters were a reminder the world wasn't entirely full of shit eating bastards trying to kill you, and there was something waiting for you to come back to. Someone real who loved you and cared.

Ray and BA never missed it. Even Cruiser managed to untangle himself from whatever booze riddled shenanigans he'd found himself mixed up in to make it. Not even a full eight hours of Hannibal's near death, learning lessons, managed to stop them. Covered in sweat, cuts, mud, and something that may have been water buffalo piss, they'd managed to drag their aching, sorry asses to see if they got one of those small trinkets from home.

Face didn't have a home back in the World, let alone anyone to write. It didn't bother him. In fact, sometimes that made things simpler. No worries outside of the immediate, no doting wife like Ray had to consume his attention or distract him on the battlefield. No mother or sister or other relative to try to save from the heartache of loss. His existence didn't matter.

The most interest he had in mail call was larcenous at best. But he wouldn't deprive even the likes of his worst American enemy the reminder of what awaited for them after this 'conflict' was over. Face cut off those thoughts though. There was no need for it and he was too damned tired to think about it.

God he hadn't been run like that since the time Murdock, Cruiser, and him had taken that borrowed chopper to Saigon. The fact that they had come back with fifty giant cartons of ice cream for everyone on base, and not drugs or hookers was probably the only reason Hannibal let them live that time. Face shook off the memory.

Mail call was something he didn't need. It lead to thinking and pipe dreams that had no place in a war-zone. They just lead to heartache. Murdock was the perfect reminder of that. As dedicated as every other soldier out here to the reminders of their loved ones, when they were taken away, it only hurt worse.

Cruiser had been the one to tell Murdock his CO wanted him. Just a few words from a telegram, informing him his grandparents, the only family Murdock had, had died in a fire. A few days later Ray handed him a nondescript envelope. A copy of a will naming Murdock as sole heir, two obituaries and two death certificates. It was the last piece of mail Face had seen Murdock get.

Now, when it came time to receive envelopes and packages from halfway around the world, they always managed to find some sort of distraction away from the festivities. An unspoken agreement. Today was no exception. Well other then they were dog tired and run almost into the ground. It had taken an embarrassing amount of time and groaning to get on top of an empty deuce and a half. When they finally did, Face let his legs dangle over the sides and leaned back, letting the sun hit his already tanned skin. Murdock was panting with the effort as he dropped on his back next to Face.

"I ain't been this sore since the great Saigon ice cream incident." Too exhausted to move, Murdock could still talk.

Face just chuckled and let the silence hang a bit, enough for both of them to catch their breath. "You know, semi trailers are more comfortable than the tops of choppers." He didn't bother to look at Murdock. Less than a year ago, that first meeting between the two of them, Face had been sure that Murdock was going to beat the hell out of his drunk ass for climbing up his chopper. Instead, Murdock had just taken his booze.

"Nah, the choppers are way more comfy." He could hear the grin in Murdock's tired drawl. "Just harder to keep from sliding off when you're all shit faced."

"Gravity's a fickle bitch when she wants to be."

Still on his back, Murdock lit himself a cigarette. They had some time to kill before they needed to be anywhere. And every reason to lay low. The base commander, Mifflin, was making Hannibal's life a paperwork hell, and that was trickling downstream. No more leeway on showing up a few minutes late for assignment or cutting a corner here and there. Didn't matter what blond or how voluptuous she was. It was making things a bit mundane.

"Tell me about it. When she gets pissed at me, it involves plummeting towards Terra Firma at terminal velocity." The off handed tone at the idea of a fiery plane wreck was disconcerting Then again it was Murdock.

"If you'd stop trying to beat her at the one-up-manship game, you may have a better chance of surviving." Face let his aching muscles relax with that deep satiating heat. They'd escaped that fate more times than he liked to count.

Murdock twisted his neck to look at him, squinting against the blazing sun. "I don't wanna beat her. I just need her to do my bidding." Judging by the loopy smile, that made sense to him.

"Perhaps you need to sweeten the pot. You know, entice her more."

"No need to tempt her, Face. She gets me." He was leaning back again, looking up at the blue sky. "Always has. Everything makes sense up there. Lift, thrust, mass, acceleration, torque, gravity; all of them just different instruments in the band that I get to lead." He hadn't moved, but there was the odd sensation that Murdock was drifting further away with each word. "And the music they make. Like the Stones and The Beatles and Hendrix and Mozart, all rolled into one slick metal package. That may or may not kill you if you hit the wrong note." There was a flash, just a glimpse of something calm and sure, a rare second of peace for the man. "But the feeling, of making her sing like that for me? Better than anything else in the world."

Face had seen Murdock in his element in the air. It didn't matter the danger; bullets, bombs, fire, and brimstone. Murdock lived more in those moments than in the entirety of his waking life on the ground.

"Nothing like it when it all comes together." He agreed. Face knew that feeling from his own experience. Running a con, seeing it before he made it happen, all those players that needed to be lined up just so and made to sing that perfect note. It was a magical moment when all was said and done. "Few bumps in the road just make the end result that much better."

"Man, you sound like Hannibal. He likes the bumpy road too."

"That worked to my advantage." The back of Face's hand hit Murdock's arm in a request for a smoke. Waiting until he got one, and leaning up just enough to light it. "Besides, you have to admit it's more fun."

"It ain't dull, that's for sure. Bumpy beats boring hands down." Murdock sat up, draping his long arms over his knees and let his smoke dangle from his lips "Don't really care how I go, so long as it's not dull."

"I never really think about it." It was a rare moment when he wasn't watching what he was saying. Murdock and he had known each other for under a year and more had happened in that time than friendships that survived a lifetime back in the World. "It's gonna end, I don't particularly care how. But I don't need to be answering to anyone but myself on the details that go into it."

"I know how I don't want to go." The sudden coldness from Murdock made him want to shiver inspite of the oppressive heat. As quick as it had come it was gone. "Sides, I figure given what we're doing and where, it's not gonna be ordinary. Something like an exploding yak or slipping on a banana peel and landing on a deadly snake, then rolling onto a land mine and having a coconut fall and knock me on the head, killing me." He raised an eyebrow at Face. "Would love to see the official report write up on that one."

"I am not dying of a snake bite." Face took a long drag off the cigarette, letting the nicotine filled smoke burn his lungs before exhaling. "I'm sure I could get my hands on the report and make it live up to your post mortum expectations."

"Could you add something about clog dancing strippers? You know, just to make it a lively read?" The crazy grin was back. "I'd be the only guy in all of Vietnam who had clog dancers."

"I'll even give them nipple tassels if you want."

"Clogs don't have nipples."

"You might be missing the point of dancers then." Face frowned.

"Or you really don't get clogging."

Face's frown deepened, jaw working for a moment before he let it go. "Right."

Throwing his head back Murdock laughed. Not a polite laugh, or a mild one. But a real, bone deep, belly laugh. "Awe, don't worry about it." Murdock dropped an arm on Face's shoulder as he managed to get a few words out in between peals of laughter. "I don't think the pentagon is ready for both clog dancing and strippers."

If he had more to say it was lost in helpless laughs. By the time the lanky bastard got it together, his cigarette was half gone.

"Thanks Face. I needed that." Finally able to breath, Murdock took a deep drag.

"Mmm, I bet." Yup, there was nothing more that Face liked than providing an unsuspecting source of amusement.

For awhile there was nothing but the two of them alone and silent, refusing to think about life past the right here, right now. Under the warm heat, Face almost fell asleep. Almost. He knew how bad that shit would be right now.

Stretching and stifling a yawn Face was up and moving. It was only then that he noticed Murdock had gone still. Looking off into the distance, forgotten cigarette threatening to burn his fingers. It happened sometimes. Sort of like Murdock would get lost in his head.

"Come on buddy, we have a football field to prepare."

For a minute, Face wasn't sure if he was going to get up. He was about to repeat himself and figure out how to get him back when Murdock blinked and in one motion dropped his smoke and stood up, hands in his pockets. "Sounds great."

Just like that he was back. Perfectly fine, except for the slight twitch in his cheek when he smiled. Face looked at him for a moment, eyes narrowing at that sudden change. Sometimes Murdock was the bigger con man.

"Sure." Either Murdock would talk or he wouldn't.

Choosing the not option, the man scrambled down the side of the deuce. Why take the ladder when you could act like George of the Jungle.

Using the ladder like the dignified soldier he was, Face followed suite at a slower, more forgiving pace that his aching muscles appreciated.  "Hey Murdock how much do you want to bet that I can get a football of Nurse Lola?"

 

Chapter Five

There was a sound like a sack full of bricks slamming into flesh at terminal velocity, then a grunt of pain and splash! Through the mud in his eyes, Murdock saw BA pinning the man to the ground. A flash of movement. Something slipped through the enemies fingers, tumbling through space. Murdock moved without thought, long arms reaching, legs pumping, fingertips clutching for the object, pulling it close and protecting it with his body. Then the shockwave hit, jarring him. Noise, bodies, and mud flew around him. Time slowed down. Nothing but instinct had him covering the sphere.

Face down in the Vietnamese mud, Murdock couldn't feel or see anything and his ears were ringing. Vaguely, he was aware of shifting and movement around him. Then hands landed on his shoulders and turned him onto his back. Had it mattered? He stared up into Face's worried eyes and BA's dark, serious ones. Cruiser was there, too, he could hear him yelling something. Shit, it had to be bad if the medic was here. They were too quiet, too stunned.

Not wanting to see the looks on their faces, Murdock let his eyes close. He had failed.

"Hell yes!"

Murdock opened his eyes just as Face jumped to his feet. "Hell Yes! Interception!"

BA's giant hand grabbed Murdock's shoulder and hauled him to his feet. Looking down at his hands, Murdock grinned. Well, look at that. He was still holding the football Face had conned of off the lovely nurse Lola. Hot damn.

"Timeout." BA snarled over the rain and the voices, dragging Murdock to the sideline. It wasn't until he was standing in what might loosely be described as a huddle with the rest of the team that BA let him go. All eyes were on the figure crouched in the middle.

Clasping his hands together, Face began his own version of "Win one for the Gipper". "Okay, guys. It's the bottom of the fourth quarter, just under a minute to play and we're down by seven. Now's the time when you're really going to have to dig down deep and-"

"Ain't gotta dig down to nothing Jack!" BA snarled. "Been playing hard. You the one who said we couldn't lose to them. You the one who got 'em mad when you got Marcon sent to Japan for 3 months. You the one who didn't check Marcon's replacement! And you the one who bet them our R and R fund!" BA pointed a small tree-sized finger at Face. "Now you better tell us how we gonna win this. Understand!"

Now, Murdock figured BA had a reason to be mad, but there was no reason to put it all on Face. Sure Face hadn't noticed that man replacing a college football star, and the newest member of the SEAL pack, happened to be Earl "Mad Dog" Kaslowski, former Pro bowl linebacker. Come on, what were the chances?

And yeah, they could've ignored the SEALS when they accused Face of cheating at their 'friendly' poker game. And perhaps Murdock shouldn't have told the biggest, meanest-looking one that his mother had cheated with a mentally retarded, physically deformed sibling. But he knew that even BA knew you couldn't just let people go around and accuse your best friend of cheating. Never mind that he was.

Not that now was the opportune time to point that out. They were in the middle of the biggest comeback in U.S. history, after all, and distracting BA with a tangent with less than sixty seconds to go to claim victory wasn't the way to make good on it.

"How was I supposed to know they had two ringers?" Face shot back. And hadn't that been a surprise. SEALs were SEALs - they weren't supposed to play anything. And one set of unexpected transfer orders should have been enough to seal this deal!

Not that twenty-one unanswered points was playing.

"You and BA are supposed to be ringers!" Ray's voice was sharp and tight, and oddly complementary to the big guy's. Not that Murdock could blame him for being upset. If Murdock had had plans to fly his lovely wife to their R and R destination and lock-down in a cozy hotel room, he'd have been a mite touchy about his friend gambling it away, too.

Naturally, Face's answering glance was all innocence. Don't look at the man behind the curtain.

"You better have something real good up your sleeve, Face, or you're gonna pay!"

Of course, Murdock thought with a grin, the big guy had plans for that money, too. Not many people knew that BA faithfully sent half his pay home to his Mamma. Fewer still knew he wanted nothing more than to buy her something special while on R and R.

"Alright, alright, alright." Face raised his hands to ward off the rest of the attack.

"Aw, don't worry, big guy. Face will make sure you get plenty of money to buy your Mom something real pretty." Murdock's grin widened even as BA's arm twitched in an aborted punch. No, he wasn't crazy, but it was just so much fun to derail the big guy – especially when Face was already pushing it. Besides, he was being nice. He really, really was.

"Take it easy, BA, we've got this." Face assured with a charming smile. "Besides, do you really think I would make a bet that I couldn't guarantee?"

There was a rare moment of Gestalt-like clarity as every last person in the huddle answered Face in unison: "Yes!"

Face looked as though he'd taken a blow to the gut before realizing he was peddling his act to the wrong crowd. And, more importantly, that the clock was ticking down. "Okay, Murdock, you have another dead-man's sprint in you?"

"Sure, Face, you know I can run for days and days. That's why I ain't been beat to death yet." Murdock smiled, wondering if anyone understood just how true that was. Funny, that stuff really didn't bother him when the rest of the guys were around.

"Man, whatchya' planning for the fool?"

"Alright, good." Face smiled that shit-eating grin he got when he was about to sell something ridiculous. Like ice to a group of Eskimos in a cold snap. "Now, I know you guys aren't all Catholic, but Murdock-" Even in the pouring rain, covered in mud, with the odds stacked against him, there was reverence in the way Face was pitching this. "Do you know what a Hail Mary is?"

XXXXX

BA crouched low, one hand in the mud as the line formed beside him, the SEALs setting up opposite. This was a battle he understood. Get the ball and move it where you wanted it. Stop the other guys from doing the same. Simple, clean; a contest of skill. That's how it was supposed to be. But like everything else in this God forsaken country, football had been made more complicated. Only this time, BA thought, lips curling at the defender unfortunate enough to line up opposite him, it wasn't politics that messed it up. It was his teammates.

Face, and his petty ante, street-level grifting – good for keeping a brother alive in the 'hood, not so good for rulin' the world like Face and Hannibal was always tryin'. Murdock and his fool mouth runnin' all the damn time. Wasn't so bad when it was just himself getting' harped on, but the crazy man lost whatever sense was in his head when guys went after his friends – 'specially when it was Face.

BA shoulda known it'd be trouble when he first saw Face cheating. He'd known there weren't no way the SEALs would let that go if they saw, but it'd been small stakes and he'd figured it was keeping them out of worse trouble. Like that mess with the General's car. His Mamma wouldn't have liked it, though. BA didn't much like it, neither, but if he wasn't goin' to call out his friends over fifteen bucks and some beers, he wasn't gonna leave 'em in the lurch after.

Behind him, Face called out some nonsense like he was giving an audible and BA heard Murdock shift. Standing well back from the line, Jarvis waved Jacobs up close on Murdock, that was a mistake. Murdock was faster.

"Hike!"

BA beat them all off the line. He dropped Trace on his ass in the mud and pushed Kasowski back and out, keeping after him when the man tried to spin past. Behind him, he heard Ray grunt, followed by a bigger splash-slide and wondered if Ray had gone down, but the SEALs weren't celebrating a sack so he kept going. Somewhere out to the side, he heard a curse – Jacobs, probably losing Murdock down the sideline. One-one-thousand, two—

Jacobs cursed again, louder, and BA shoved Kasowski back, getting some space to look for Murdock.

Face whooped. "All right, Murdock!" Just as BA caught sight of the lanky pilot making the catch in the endzone. "Way to—"

Without the frantic splashing of six people in close quarters, the collision was easy to hear, even over the rain. BA whirled with Face's pained grunt in his ears, anger propelling him forward to yank Jarvis away. "Hey, man!" Only long ingrained sportsmanship rules kept him from swinging on the SEAL. "The play done. You do that again, I'll beat you like a rented mule."

"What? You afraid the pussy can't take it?"

Without a thought, still riled, BA planted his hands on Jarvis' chest and shoved. Satisfaction curled through him when the SEAL landed on his ass. "Afraid I'm gonna hafta rip your arms off and beat you with 'em." Peripherally, he was aware of Ray moving to Face and Murdock and Jacobs jogging back. A part of him wanted to finish this before they made it, keep Murdock out of it, but looking into Jarvis' eyes, BA knew it'd take a knock-out. Now, BA didn't mind knocking Jarvis on his ass after that foul stunt, but fighting didn't have no place in football.

Trace stepped up to Jarvis' side as Jacob regained his feet, bouncing a little on his toes as he eyed BA. "If he can't take a few hits, maybe Pretty Boy shouldn't be on the field."

"Bunch of fuckin' pussies," Trace agreed, eyes hard and calculating more than angry. "Cheatin' at cards and bitchin' when it comes to playing real sports. Y'all aren't nothing but talk."

BA growled.

Ray said, "Back off. Play the game, Jarvis."

"Bring it, Brenner."

Face laughed. "Nice, Jarvis." His voice was strained, breathy. But the kid was sitting up on his own, able to push himself to his feet as he smiled at the Basic Underwater Demolition man. "I mean that. Really taking that win back to do your Trident proud."

"Let's play, man," BA interrupted. Murdock had reached the edge of their group and was staring at the way Face was holding his ribs with wide, dark eyes that never meant anything good. "Gimme the ball, fool."

Murdock danced out of the way before BA could close, grin wide and sudden. "I don't know, BA, sounds like the little BUDS here wanna quit. Guess since they're starting to lose they wanna take their ball and go home. Maybe we should give 'em a chance to forfeit. That way they won't have to explain to all the other tough guys how they got beat by us regular type guys. Get their he-man macho badges taken away."

Trace, who'd started drifting back, charged forward, stopped by Jarvis' arm. Jarvis added, "You and your pet monkey startin' more shit you can't back up, you cocksucker, or you finally realize your place is on your knees?"

BA hadn't been watching Murdock when Jarvis had started talking, but he was by the time Jarvis finished. So he saw the way Murdock's face went white and still, the way his lips pinched then twisted, and the way his eyes flattened then flared. Even if he didn't have enough time to register any of it as more than "pissed."

BA lunged as Murdock hauled back the arm with the ball. His arms went up as Murdock's flashed forward. He felt the ball skim past, saw Murdock's wrist follow through the flick, heard the slap of pigskin on flesh. Then his arms wrapped around Murdock and he hauled the pilot off his feet, pivoting to face the likely attack.

He wasn't expecting the frustrated yell from Face. "Fucker! Get off me!"

"Shut the fuck up!" Ray, arms around Face, got his feet planted and pushed, swinging Face off his feet and dumping them both in the mud. "Face, stand down!"

"You're a dead man!" Jarvis promised, nose gushing blood. Trace's hand kept him from charging.

"And you're ugly." Murdock's eyes fixed on Jarvis, lanky frame coiled tight, but he wasn't pulling against BA's grip.

"Let's just finish the game, man," BA said.

Jacobs picked up the ball and tossed it to Jarvis. "We gonna play, Cap?"

Jarvis' gaze darted from Murdock, still and silent in BA's grasp, to Face, who'd finally stopped fighting Ray, and the SEAL laughed.

"Sure, let's play." He tossed the ball so it bounced off Ray's back.

XXXXX

"Alright, everybody ready?" The pure adrenaline of seeing every detail play out in his head, perfectly, had Face's heart pumping hard as he put his hand out in the middle of the huddle. His smile widened as, one by one, every member of his team put their hand on top of his - signaling their confidence in his plan, their willingness to follow his lead. Knowing his team could and would do their parts without fail, that their belief in Face outweighed their doubts, just verified Face was right to be completely and utterly confident in his plan.

They were not only going to outplay the SEALS, they were going to out think them. They were going to leave them beat, broke, dejected and forlorn, and it was all going to happen because of Face. After the shit Trace had said, that was the very least those jackasses deserved.

"Break!" At his word, they broke the huddle, just like back in high school, and headed back to the game. He didn't watch them - he didn't need to. They would go where he'd pointed them.

Combat boots squelching through the mud of some piss poor piece of land in the middle of some forgotten jungle, Face had no doubt they could and would pull this off. He was going to make damn sure they did.

The rain had picked up intensity. The sound of the needle-sharp drops hitting the ground and splattering, the growling men lining up in front of him, drowned out the steady stream of muttered curses and threats that had been part and parcel of this particular game since word one. He crouched behind BA and a strange feeling of calm slipped over Face as he took a deep breath.

It was a rare second of complete clarity.

He was supposed to be here, doing exactly this - fighting with his team. He belonged here.

Grinning, Face looked to his right at Ray, set and ready next to BA. He'd be able to take Trish somewhere special after this.

"Hut One!" When he looked to his left, there was Cruiser and Murdock, about to come into women, booze, and comics or whatever-the-hell Murdock spent money on.

"Hut two!"

Eyes now focused over BA -he'd spoil his Mother rotten - he saw the play unfold in his mind. It was fucking perfect.

"Hike!"

Face started to close his hands a soon as he shouted the word. BA moved with deceptively fast speed and he needed to be ready. Sure enough, the wet pigskin ball was right there.

He tightened his fingers around it and dropped back a few feet with precision and ease as BA popped up and plowed in Romanowski, sending the man sprawling backwards in a wash of water and mud. Cocking back his arm, Face left the rush to BA and Cruiser and looked for Murdock.

Just as planned, the pilot ran down the sideline, arms up, ready for the pass, Jarvis glued to his heels. Face pumped hard and, God bless his crazy ass, Murdock made a flagrant jumping grab, using his body to pull the ball tight, and hopefully unseen, to his chest. At least half of the SEALs descended on Murdock as the man hunched over and bobbed left then right, determined to make it to the end zone.

Face didn't stick around to find out if he was successful. Hugging a ball that had never left his hands to his chest, he bent over, catching his breath, and launched himself forward. Trace was only a few feet from him, eyes blazing with hate. But as much as he may have wanted to lay Face out, there was only a few seconds to stop Murdock. There was plenty of time for revenge.

Trace yelled as he veered away, clumps of heavy mud kicking up from his feet as he barreled towards Murdock.

Face couldn't help but grin as Murdock went down, buried under two or three men because the SEALs knew one wasn't enough. And that left him free-and-clear. Still hunched over, Face darted forward, towards the open space BA had cleared on the field. Then he locked eyes with Jacobs just in time to see the man's gaze dart to the pigskin in his hands.

Face put on a burst of speed, Jacobs was angling to intercept him before the end zone, gesturing to someone else - Kasowski, maybe - and a moment later he felt hands brush his arm. He twisted away. Five yards left to go and a pile of bodies before him with Jacobs coming up fast. He could go through and maybe get stopped, or go around, and give Jacobs a chance to catch him, or -

He grinned, catching BA's eye, and was ready when the big guy's hands propelled him forward - one step, two, then plant - he got a little extra spring off Trace's shoulder, pushing up and over and into a tuck, Trace's swipe missing his ankles. He flew, training and muscle memory taking over - who would have thought the nuns' determination to turn out well-rounded children would pay off in spades - and executed a perfect forward somersault. All that was left was the landing.

He couldn't see through the rain to spot his landing, so he made his best guess. Clutching the ball tight, Face stretched his legs toward the ground and missed. His feet slipped and gravity pulled him face first into the giant mud pit of an end zone.

A resounding splat sent up a geyser of mud that came raining back down on him - and everyone else within a five-foot radius.

Without thinking, he bounced back to his feet. Arms above his head, Face waved the football, laughing and shouting like a madman. He didn't even think to wipe the mud off his face. Seconds later, he was mobbed by his exhausted, filthy, elated teammates. They were shouting and only broke the bear hug long enough for BA and Ray to hoist Face up on their shoulders.

It wasn't the first time Face had won a game, but he'd be good and God-damned if this wasn't the sweetest victory ever.

Trace and Jarvis looked ready to kill, but there wasn't anything they could do as Father Taylor - the one man both teams had trusted to hold the cash - handed a large stack of bills to a smiling, bleeding Murdock.

The pilot yelled "yeeehaw!" - which, seriously, people actually said that? - and did a little hopping dance, waving the money up at Face. "Hey, Face! We're going to take some extra people on leave. To be precise, we're gonna take some long dead great Americans with us! Don't ya just love history?"

Face threw his head back and laughed. They had won. Trace and Jarvis could take their fury and outrage and revenge plots and shove it up their asses because Smith's Merry Band of Misfits had won two weeks in the sun and surf in the real world. It was time to celebrate.

 

Chapter Six

Murdock launched himself into Jarvis, taking the stupid SEAL down at the waist in a flurry of limbs. He grunted with the effort and kicked his legs out, pinning Jarvis to the ground. Murdock's head snapped to the side from a punch before he could get a grip on Jarvis' wrist. He was out of limbs and Jarvis was still fighting. Blood dripping down from his forehead already, Murdock, off balance and in no position to throw a punch, so slammed his head into Jarvis' with a resounding crack!

Moments ago Murdock had been drinking and celebrating their one-of-a-kind, down-in-history win with his team. They deserved it. They'd pulled off the impossible. Again. But sure as shit the SEALs just couldn't accept second place. They'd strutted in and started throwing insults around. All well and good until they'd crossed that line. Murdock returned the favor by throwing a lit cigarette in Jarvis's Face.

Go time.

"You want payback? Huh? That covers interest. Now let's talk about principal, you spineless, little, fuck weasel," he spat, and just for good measure, he bounced Jarvis rock head off the dirt floor.

In the background Murdock could heard the mish mash of the entire not-club in a heavy brawl. The sound flesh slamming into the plywood walls, table legs breaking, cue sticks splintering, glass shattering, all the classics.

Out of the corner of his vision, he saw Cruiser hurl himself off of a table and into Trace. More pounding 'thumps', shoddy wood furniture breaking over and under backs, and ground out cursing that only Cruiser was capable of was all Murdock needed to know that they were still in the game.

Under him Jarvis tried to plant his feet, looking for the leverage to throw Murdock. See, now that just wouldn't do. Grabbing Jarvis by the face and bounced the back of the his head off the floor twice more, for good measure. That rock hard head could take it. Jarvis whipped his elbow around, catching Murdock on the jaw with just enough force to smart, and piss him off.

Dropping low and Murdock wedged his forearm into Jarvis' windpipe, putting enough body weight into it to cut off most of the air.

"Listen up shitface, 'cause I'm about to tell you something that could save your sorry ass life one day. Hating someone 'cause of their skin color is moronic." Murdock pressed a little harder. "Spewing that fucked up shit in front of their friends is Goddamned suicidal."

Sitting up Murdock punched the stupid idiot in the jaw. Before he could swing something or someone crashed into him.

"Fucker." Cruiser growled, okay it was a someone. They tripped over each other, fighting to find balance again. It didn't happen. Murdock wound up beneath the temperamental sergeant in a growing pile of A-Team limbs.

"Get off me!" Face demanded from the wall where Trace and a few friends had him pinned. Murdock managed to shove himself up only to be greeted by a five pissed off SEALs who were all staring down at them.

"Do you guys know any Beetles?" Sometimes, his mouth tried to kill him, or maybe it was his brain...

Cruiser managed to find his feet again and buried his shoulder in the midst of a giant, overbuilt SEAL and all it earned him was a growl. "Oh, fuck." Mortality had finally made itself known to Cruiser.

"Rub his belly!" Murdock yelled. "No wait, that's for alligators -" He was midstream when movement out of the corner of Murdock's eye caught his attention. He was moving before he'd even had time to realize it. Getting to his feet, Murdock slammed his shoulder into Cruiser's side in a sloppy tackle that had the sergeant grabbing at him on the way down. They'd managed to roll under a table before Murdock had a chance to say, "Duck."

And that was it. Several weeks worth of some of Face's finest scams had gone into procuring the jukebox that BA was holding above his head. An almost distraught "No" rang from across the room as Face saw what was about to happen .

BA sent it airborne, at high speed straight into the group of SEAL's. The sound and sight of a Wurlitzer impacting into muscle bound meatheads was something Murdock would keep forever as one of those truly spectacular memories.

"Five on two ain't fair odds, suckers."

BA didn't even bother to inspect his handy work. Not even a SEAL built like a wall was going to survive a jukebox to the body without seeing little birdies tweeting around their heads.

Murdock watched, still under the table with Cruiser, as BA stomped to the other side of the room, eyes fixed on Trace and the group that had Face. He didn't bother stopping for things like chairs or people. He just tossed those out of his way, like Godzilla batting away unsuspecting houses in Tokyo.

Scrambling out from under the table Murdock was booking it towards BA and several unhappy patrons. He was just half a step behind Cruiser when the commanding and out of place shouts of MP's rang through. Even as the MP's tackled him and Cruiser, yanking their arms behind their backs, using more force than was needed, and cuffing one wrist in and one wrist out - thanks guys - Murdock's only regret was not getting to hear the new Rolling Stones single Face had gotten for his now defunct jukebox. A few seconds later, the entire place was filled with the boring armbands as everyone joined them face down, on top of the carnage of what used to be the best Not Club they'd had.

XXXXX

There were very few places in Vietnam that one could consider friendly, neutral territory. Especially when it came to the elite. Especially, Hannibal mused, when it came to elite knuckleheads who couldn't figure out how to bury a hatchet and needed their superior officers to excise the stupid. But when one did, one wound up in the Officer's Club.

Not a place Hannibal spent too much time, to be honest. He'd found a less structured environment frequently served his purposes best. But there were exceptions, and the present clusterfuck was one of them.

And like any good soldier, Hannibal had come prepared. He'd graduated West Point, after all; prepared was in his blood. Two chipped coffee mugs that he'd long ago liberated from the mess tent and some good old Johnny Walker Red. He couldn't help but smirk and shake his head just a bit in anticipation of how good that scotch burn was going to feel sliding down his throat. He saved it for special occasions. Never had he envisioned that special occasion being himself sitting down with Garth "Spider" Murphy. But he was the man in charge of the SEAL team that currently wanted Hannibal's team's heads. And arguably rightfully so.

But he wasn't there for that. Neither one of them were. Spider took one look at the cup of scotch on the table and shook his head. "Awe shit, that bad?" Settling down as best as one could on the milk crate that was serving as a chair, he wasn't really asking a question.

Spider was a hard-ass, dirt-eating son of a bitch, and as street smart as a carpetbagger. In a firefight, Hannibal would be glad as hell to have the man coming in as back up. He wasn't much of a conversationalist.

"The scotch will be great Spider." Hannibal held up his mug in a little grunt-to-grunt salute. "Might ease the headache our men that are going to give us."

"If this is all you've got, you're falling way the fuck short."

Spider wasn't the kind of man to sit around and enjoy the delicacies and nuances of finely aged scotch. He was the type of man who went to sleep with his boots on so that he was ready to kick as and eat nails in the morning. He reached for the mug and took a gulp from it. The fact that he even raised a brow at the cup, was enough to let Hannibal know that he appreciated the statement that was being made with that caliber of liquor out here.

"What a Goddamned clusterfuck."

Spider did have a way with words. Hannibal took a sip of the scotch, savoring it the way that it truly deserved as Spider's sentiments settled around them. "Yeah, and none of them are gonna straighten it out on their own." It was simple and true and something that they could no longer ignore. They dealt dealt with their teams or their teams dealt with it. And that would only lead to a mountain of paperwork and a jail cell. And that was just a waste of damn fine talent.

"I already told my fuck heads to knock their shit off. Trace has got some kind of hard on for Peck because of something that happened a million years ago and Jarvis, he just fucking hates everyone. They're all too Goddamned young, dumb, and full of cum to fucking listen. Peck cheating at cards was just the excuse they needed to up the stakes." Spider downed the last of his Scotch with a grimace.

"Face always cheats at cards. Kid can't help it. But it's going to get out of control and I'm all about knocking young and dumb right out of their thick heads."

"Fuck the sweet talk Hannibal, we have to break them, before their pissant teenaged girl drama gets us all killed doing Reins' little mission."

Hannibal couldn't help but smile. "My thoughts exactly." Between the two of them, their jerk off's were in a world of hurt. And every ounce of it deserved.

"Yeah, you got any plans on how to deal with our special little snowflakes?" The pure malice in Spider's grin made it clear he was hoping for a yes.

"I can think of several things that may teach them a thing or two about self restraint and brotherly love." Hannibal let his mind drift for a moment as he took a deep inhale of sweet cigar smoke. Lessons tried and true that spoke to the most thick headed of recipients. If they had thought for a moment that Hannibal's creativeness knew no bounds, they were going to be introduced to a whole new definition of military ingenuity at its finest.

"How about we make those plans fucking 3D and live when your boys get back from leave." With nothing less than an evil wink Spider added. "I'm all in for helping."

Matching that with his own grin Hannibal was just about to reply when the door flew open. Reflexes honed from days of illegal hooch in the dorms at West Point had him palming the bottle and hiding it under the table.

Good damned thing because it was none other than Mifflin looking like someone had just pissed in his Wheaties.

Great. Hannibal didn't even have to ask, or have Mifflin open his cotton stuffed mouth, and he already knew what the topic of this little interruption was going to be. Judging from the set of his shoulders Spider knew too.

XXXXX

"I don't give a damn how many four star asses you've kissed Smith. This is my base and my command." Shoulders back and board straight Mifflin barked at Hannibal like a drill sergeant going after a phleb. The quaint little problem solving shindig he'd been having with Spider had transgressed into this nice little ass chewing in Mifflin's office. "You know what that means, Smith? " A step closer and he was almost nose to nose with Hannibal.

"Sir, yes, sir!" It was all old habit, drilled in by the best West Point and the Army had to offer. This was Mifflin's world. What he wanted, happened. End of story.

A step closer and inches from his face, Mifflin stared him down. "What does it mean, boy?" Each words was metered out for maximum impact

Hannibal kept his stare locked on the door in front of him, just over Mifflin's shoulder. He hated being referred to as 'boy'. That's what his Father called him, just to make sure he knew his place in things. But Hannibal wasn't a boy he was a trained professional and his eyes didn't budge.

Instead he told Mifflin exactly what he wanted to hear and he meant every word of it. Loud enough for the two morons just beyond these walls, out front to hear. "Sir, this is your world, sir. I'm happy to be here."

"Damn straight." The man stepped back, assessing his impact from a few paces. Plotting out how best to drive his point home. Had to hand it to him, what he lacked in ability to inspire and lead, he made up for in tenacity and breaking moral.

"Your men are nothing. Amoral, psychopathic liars, and criminals. Every damn one of them. Even that tag-a-long flyboy. You figure out a way to control them or I'll have them in the stockade for the rest of their miserable lives."

"Sir, yes, sir!" The response was automatic. And Mifflin had the authority to make the threat a reality. It was harsh one, but it was true as the blood spilled on the battlefield. There was no room for the games.

"If those animals act up again I'll have your rank, your career, and your team. And I'll ruin every damn one of them." It was a promise. "Dismissed."

Snapping off a salute Hannibal turned on his heel and marched out like a soldier on parade. Once outside he pointed to his two idiots and jerked his thumb behind him. They damn well knew the signal to follow him.

Jaw set, Hannibal marched them across the compound. Not saying a damn word. Face and Murdock would think it was a scare tactic. It wasn't. At the moment he didn't trust himself to speak. It wasn't until he was in his office, standing behind his desk that he spoke in a tightly controlled voice.

"Explain."

Face took a step forward, an explanatory hand waving out in front of him. "Self defense, Colonel." It explained everything. Just like that twinkle in his too young blue eyes, that told Hannibal just how full of shit Face was.

"Yeah, he's right Hannibal." Murdock stepped up right next to Face, adding to the fray, "I don't think they liked my football playing much, so they came in all wild eyed and snorting like a bunch of ugly, bad tempered bulls. So we had to defend ourselves right? Can't enjoy Hawaii if we're all twisted up into little pretzels shapes, right?" It was a half truth that Murdock was dressing up.

"I shouldn't have thrown that first punch. But I guess it was actually a lit cigarette and then a tackle that I threw first. But yeah... um that's... ah not the point." Murdock tried to reel it back. "Won't happen again..."

Face just raised his brow, waving at Murdock as though it explained everything away. Face may be loving every moment of the high he got from a well woven tale. But Murdock was anything but well and woven at the moment, and Face knew that all too well.

Hannibal had seen the report from the MP's and the story Face had feed them. It was a good thing Face hadn't had a chance to run wild with that.

"Stow it." Hannibal leaned his hands on the desk. He was not in the mood for either flavor of bullshit they had to offer. "You think this is a casual chat?" Hannibal didn't wait for an answer. "Get your asses at attention and shut your blowholes."

"Sir yes sir." Murdock was instantly responding in Marine sharp fashion. A perfect imitation of Hannibal's own stance and stare from a few minutes ago. It was all bullshit, but it shut him up. For now. Next to Murdock and not as sharp, Face was standing at attention. This time the kid had taken the silent approach.

It was the smartest thing Face had done in recent history.

"The games the two of you are so fond of are done." Making sure there was no chance the Sergeant was mistaking what he had to say, Hannibal pressed on. "What the hell is wrong with you.! What sort of fuzz nut gets caught cheating and fighting in their own club?"

"It's my club. Sir." Face's voice was Army perfect, but damn it if the little shit didn't manage a level of arrogance reserved for teenagers and assholes.

Murdock jumped in trying to do damage control. Too fucking late.

"Face didn't start the fight sir, I did! I.."

"Dismissed, Lieutenant." Hannibal cut him, there was no time to play this game. Murdock was ultimately was not under his command, and if wasn't willing to take Hannibal's direction, then he needed to be removed and dealt with later.

"Now." he barked when the pilot didn't move and just stared at him mouth ajar.

Murdock was too damn well trained to do anything, but answer with a salute. "Sir, yes sir.' Like a shot he was gone. But not before Hannibal caught the flash in his eyes. The one the man tried like hell to hide. It was a sign of trouble. And just another thing that would be dealt with after Face had a fact check.

"Listen up Peck, because what I'm about to tell you is the only hope you have right now of keeping your sorry ass out of jail and it just might save your life one day." Hannibal moved around the desk, his focus solely on Face. The kid needed complete attention and energy.

"You are property of the US Military. Everything you think and do is property of the US Military. You steal, the US Army steals, you kill the US Army kills, you knock up a local and the US Military has a brand new Army brat in its numbers." Hannibal was close enough to watch every damn inch of the kid's face for a reaction. It would tell him a shit load more than anything Face bothered to say. "Why? Because The Army owns everything about you." Hannibal paused, watching.

That blank pissed off stare was there. Just like it had been when he'd first dressed him down. The kid was full of teenage stupidity. The kind that had him rolling his eyes and shaking his head. It was why Hannibal had been watching him so close. If he had any chance of getting through to Face and getting him back in line, it was now.

"How about Uncle Sam picks up half the bill I laid out for that place then."

He hand both hands on Face's collar and the the hapless ass yoked up against the wall before he could finish the latest idiocy. Eyes wide, FAce let out a shocked curse under his breath. Somehow Face hadn't seen this coming. One hand wrapped around Hannibal's wrist, the other grabbed his shirt, but it was purely to keep his balance and then it was off again in a split second.

"Stow the teenage bullshit." Hannibal was right back to square one. For every step forwards, every ounce of hard won progress, Face had to push and backslide.

"You're not just fucking yourself over Peck. Keep it up and Murdock's going to crash and burn with you. And the shrapnel from both of you imploding will take the rest of us out." Anger at the futility of the whole damn thing was boiling up. "I'm not about to stand back and let everyone burn. So you'd better figure out real fucking quick that when I say something is unacceptable it's because I will protect my men. And you damn well better trust my fucking calls and respect them." Hannibal let the kid go, and stepped back, but he kept his eyes on him, reading every damn move and wondering if there was ever anyway Face could drop the crap and accept what Hannibal had said and shown him in the past ten months.

Staying against the wall, Hannibal could see Face trying to figure everything out and the internal debate the kid always had going on. Head cocked just a bit to the side Face narrowed on Hannibal. There wasn't any of the bravado he might have expected.

"Yes, sir." There was more question in it than there should have been. But Hannibal let it go for the statement it should have been.

Leaning back against his desk, Hannibal took a deep breath. The anger and frustration ebbing away. "You're a major asset to this team and the men on it Face. You've earned your place and respect. So here's the deal; Mifflin hates me, and by proxy, the team. He wants me gone. If he gets a chance, he'll carry out every single fucking threat he made." It wasn't a condemnation, it was the facts. Face had gotten the point, as much as he could. This was explaining why the normal high jinks were a no go here. Face was one person on the team who needed an explanation.

"Why?"

"I rose in the ranks too fast for his liking. He thinks that's why I'm a cocky S.O.B. And to make matters worse, his commander forced him to play nice and let me have my own hand picked team." Hannibal had to wonder what Face would think of that; the truth. Hannibal wasn't forced to take anyone of the previously labeled malcontents for his elite team. They were all with Hannibal for one simple reason. He wanted them. "Rubbing salt in Mifflin's wounds is the fact that we're so Goddamned good at what we do. We get the job done, every time. Mifflin hates that I can get away with breaking a lot of rules to get the results the brass needs."

"But not me or what? That's not a universal statement."

"Face, you can get away with running an illegal club. Grunts can go blow off some steam, the base turns a blind eye. No harm, no foul. But when you get caught cheating at cards and it leads to open warfare, people are forced to see your "not a club club" as Murdock called it."

"Open warfare was a football game and a fight. How's that different from what goes on any other night?" It was hard reality that Hannibal had to deal with with Face. That slight distinction on where the line was crossed was not something he was able to see on his own. And not something Hannibal was going to be able to show him anytime soon.

"It's a distinction that's a lot easier to see with years of experience." He took a deep mouthful of smoke and let it work its magic. "That's why you need to trust me when I say what's going on is over the line and will cause everyone problems."

Slipping his hands into his pockets Face pushed himself off the wall towards Hannibal. "You've got a guy willing and able to put everyone of us in jail just to fuck with you. I don't want to go back and your years of experience aren't around all the time."

It was a damn good point, and the fact that Face was even asking meant he was taking this serious. The hard work was done. And damned if he wasn't proud of the kid.

"True, and I could tell you to walk the straight and narrow, but you can't and we both know it. When I'm not around, let the others have your back. BA, Ray, Cruiser; they all have good instincts as to the difference between big trouble and little trouble." He left Murdock out of it for now.

"Right." Face nodded confirmation of the whole thing despite the fact that it sounded more like a question than anything. But he did that when he wasn't entirely sure of things. Hannibal needed more than an unsure right.

"Let's put it this way kid. You need to keep your not club a DMZ." Hannibal had no doubt Face would keep the club. "Keep the boys happy and not complaining. And get your best con ever lined up for what to sell Mifflin if the club implodes." He leaned his hip on the desk "You should always have at least one back up plan."

"You know getting caught isn't in my plans."

"All the more reason to have a plan."

"Alright. I'll figure it out."

"Sooner the better." Face still didn't get it. The best Hannibal could hope was that Face knew enough to take his word on things.

" Dismissed Sergeant."

"Yes, Sir." Face snapped off a lazy two fingered salute.

Hannibal waited until he was behind the desk and Face was halfway out the door before he added. "Hey, this time see if you can get some Sinatra for the juke box."

 

TBC

 

 

 


Salvation by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 1 by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 2 by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 3 by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 4 by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 5 by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 6 by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 7 by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 8 by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 9 by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 10 by Quentillian & Nora

 

 


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