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This page last viewed: 2017-12-14 and has been viewed 501 times
Authors: Quentillian & Nora
1500 in the afternoon on a Monday and surprisingly enough, the bar was half empty. Apparently it was not prime drinking time for most of the free world. That was fine with Murdock. Mostly 'cause the not empty half consisted mainly of his team and people who weren't actively trying to kill him. It was a nice change of pace.
So was the air conditioning and nonexistent repressive humidity. Even the street clothes and lack of combat boots was something to appreciate and savor.
Face said something to the waitress that had her giggling as she set down the fresh round of drinks. There was an extra swing in her hips on her return trip to the bar. It was a nice view that all of the guys at the table enjoyed watching.
"To whatever Face said to make her walk that way," Murdock help up his glass. Not just any glass by the way. It was an honest to God clean, real glass beer mug. Filled with real, honest to God, ice cold beer. It was like a freezing cold slice of heaven, in a convenient glass.
Wearing a large smile, Face joined in the toast, raising his mug to the center of the group with the rest of the team. "I do have a gift." There was an appreciative sigh at the end of it.
Cruiser was resting his elbows on the table, bottle in hand. "Gift, my ass, man. Chicks clothes are still on." Clear and simple it wasn't going to count as anything until Face had sealed the deal, at least not in Cruiser's world.
Face shook his head and took a sip of beer. "You've got to enjoy the chase, Cruiser."
"You enjoy the chase, sucker." BA was snarling over his real honest to God cow, not Water Buffalo, not Goat, but Cow's milk. Murdock wasn't surprised, hell none of them were. BA was as locked down and strict as a Southern Baptist preacher at a prom. It was just how BA was wired. Near as Murdock could see, the guy never let go or smiled unless he had just built something or decked a particularly annoying officer. It was nice to see him have fun, just for once, but hey you couldn't expect miracles. Maybe that's why Murdock almost choked on his beer when BA grinned and added "I'd rather enjoy the ladies."
"The chase just makes enjoying them an even better payoff."
"Don't need no payoff to enjoy 'em." BA.. he.. Murdock's brain did a happy little skip. There was no doubt about it. BA was enjoying talking shit with them. Christmas came early.
"Now wait a second, hold up there, big guy." Murdock sat his beer down and cocked an eyebrow at BA. "Are you trying to tell your good ol' buddy Murdock that you've got better game than Face?" It was a direct dare, one that Murdock knew for sure Face would run with, and he hoped like hell BA would too.
"I would take that bet just to see the look on Face's face when he loses." Cruiser laughed at the whole idea.
"I got a twenty on the big guy." Murdock shrugged at Faces offended look. "Sorry Face. I got your six and all, but I gotta go with BA on this."
Face almost looked offended at that. "You know, if you're going to test my skills here, you should at least make it worth my time."
"What do you say, BA?" Cruiser was looking between the two of them, "Whoever lands the waitress first? You give Face a handicap preference with the head start." His smile turned wicked at the challenge.
"I ain't bettin' on that. BA Barracus don't kiss and tell" BA's growl was real. Looked like play time was over. "But I kin bet you that she leave here with me, not Face." BA reached into his pocket and dropped a twenty on the table
The shock alone had Murdock laughing out loud, for real. Like he hadn't laughed in a long time.
Face looked far too confident about the whole thing. And somehow the guy was suddenly just oozing sex as he lounged on the chair at the table. Funny considering he hadn't moved a muscle. "You want to bet on who she leaves with first?" Yup. dumbest bet. Ever.
Before anyone had a chance to reply, the door clanged open and in walked Hannibal. He didn't look at all surprised to see them there. "Gentlemen, I see you're starting R and R off right."
"Hannibal!" Murdock was up, clamping an arm on the bosses shoulder. "You got time to have a drink?" There was no reason to ask that, no reason to feel so damn happy at seeing Hannibal in a dive bar. Maybe it was the fact that Hannibal was the heart of the team, or maybe it was just things were always safer with him around. Not like any of that really mattered. There were rules that even Hannibal had to follow, and none of them allowed for having a drink with the guys who would kill and die for him, and vice versa.
Hannibal's normal shit eating grin beamed right back at him. "Damn right I do." Hannibal cackled, pulling out a cigar as the table shifted and room was made. "So," Hannibal started as he sat down, "What's going on?" The pile of money in the center of the table was more than enough of a clue.
Murdock's shock at Hannibal joining them disappeared into a smile that started in his boots. "BA was just about to educate Face in the fine art of picking up women." Murdock couldn't help it, he really couldn't. The opportunity to start trouble always had an irresistible magnetic appeal to him.
"Well that ought to be good."
Cruiser slid an empty beer mug across the table to Hannibal who easily caught it. "Who's the lucky lady?"
Face tipped his head towards the bar, towards a young lady who was straight out of a Hawaiian vacation pinup calendar, brightly colored lei and all. She was of course watching Face, her smile getting bigger at his attention. Seems BA would have his work cut out for him. That didn't seem to be stopping the big man from pushing it further.
"Sucker's got a lot to learn to 'bout the ladies."
"I haven't heard any of them complaining." Face was way too cocky about this. BA didn't make bets and he didn't throw down smack talk unless he knew he could back it up. No running your mouth no matter what was Cruiser's game. And Face wasn't taking that into account. Not like Murdock. "Everybody in?" Face was reaching for the pot like any of them would trust him to hold it.
BA's hand came out of nowhere, landing right on top of Face's, stopping him just a few inches short of the prize. "You wanna play you gotta pay."
BA's fierce growl was balanced by Murdock's barking laughter. "Big guy got you on that one, Face."
Face's smile just turned choir boy innocent, eyes wide like it had been an honest mistake. There wasn't a soul in all the world that would be able to call him a liar. Except the for people who knew him best who happened to be sitting around the table with him.
BA snarled out a warning before letting Face's hand up so he could pull his own twenty out and toss it on the pot. Smiling the whole time like nothing had happened. "See there big guy, all in." Funny how Face even then held open hands up for everyone to see… almost like he'd been accused of cheating before...
Keeping his eyes on Face's, BA scooped up the cash and dropped it in front of Hannibal. "Hannibal hold the dough." Wise choice all things considered. Things being Face's habit of causing mayhem.
"Happy to." Hannibal didn't miss a beat, straightening out the pile of cash and folding it up before slipping it into the breast pocket of his baby blue button down shirt for safe keeping.
BA didn't waste anytime. Without a word he looked at his watch and was up, moving to the bar with the grace of a Panther.
Lighting himself a smoke Murdock divided his time between watching BA and watching Face watch BA with studious and curious eyes. There wasn't a whole lot to watch, not at first. BA had spent a lot of time in bars thanks to the team, but they sure weren't his natural habitat. Nope, the big guy was most at ease in a room full of parts, not a room full of half lit (or completely lit in some cases) people. His discomfort was clear even across the room. It had Face beaming with unbearable smugness.
"You guys can go ahead and just give me the money now. Make things simple and less embarrassing for the challenger over there."
"You kidding me?" Cruiser chimed in and drained the rest of his beer before reaching for another bottle. "I paid for a show."
Face just shrugged, leaning back in the chair and watching, as smooth as Cool Hand Luke himself, like he didn't have a care in the world.
"Colonel, what's got you slummin'?"
"Change of plans, looks like I'll be staying with you guys." Hannibal was grinning. Not the usual 'I'm Laughing at you and the Entire World' grin either. This was different, this was his grade A, USDA Prime, 'The Plan Went off the Rails and I'm Going to Love Every Moment of it', smiles. Yes, Hannibal had oddly specific smiles. The trick was in knowing which was which.
"If things go right you can take BA's bed." Cruiser volunteered before cutting his antagonizing look over to Face. "Sorry Face, I think he's got her number."
Murdock howled in laughter, both at Face's shocked look and BA's skills. Damn, he loved the states!
For Face, it turned out the cure to relaxation was simple; booze, more booze, and some good old fashioned sins of the flesh. Alana smiled into the kiss, her hands on his ass, pulling him further against her. She felt good. Warm, and soft, and alive in a way that he had forgotten existed, and had never been able to get lost to. His hands slid underneath her shirt and up her back as she pushed his shirt off of his shoulders. He let her go long enough to let the shirt drop to the floor, catching a quick glance of Murdock and June in an equally tangled embrace.
They'd left the bar not too long after BA had won the pot and graced them with a nice I Told You So smile. It wasn't what Face expected, but it didn't really matter. There were plenty of women on the island and it didn't take long for them to run into Alana and June. It took even less time for them to decide they all wanted far more of each other than was allowed in public. June had a tiny apartment a few blocks from the beach that they'd all gone back to. And all of it was details that Face didn't feel like paying attention to. No, what he wanted Alana had, and she was just as eager to give it as Face was to receive it.
Wet kisses down his neck, the scraping of her teeth making his skin prick in response. "I want you." Her breath was warm in his ear, just for a second before she latched on to his neck, using her lips and tongue to imitate what she could do to other, more sensitive body parts. What had his attention was the unbroken English and oh so American accent.
He groaned his appreciation, hands running down her long back as he let his fingers slip inside her skirt and explore her ass. "And I want you." He punctuated the words with soft kisses, never pulling his lips away from her as he explored. Even pressed against him as tight as she was, it felt like she wasn't close enough to be real and truly there under his fingertips. "All night and all day and all different ways."
"Um, maybe then we could use something to help set the mood." While she was purring in his ear, Alana's hands slipped over his and together they pushed her skirt and panties off, exposing soft, white skin.
How long had it been since he'd seen true white skin... and pussy? Moist pink folds of tender flesh inviting him to sing her praises. That thought alone had him groaning in want and the blood pooling in his groin. "What'd you have in mind?"
Hanging on to one hand, Alana reached behind her, into the drawer of the small end table. Face's imagination went into overdrive at just what could be in that drawer. So many naughty options, and he was game for any of it. He wasn't expecting her to hold up a joint. "A little something to open the mind and heighten the mood." Joint still in hand, she wound her self back around him, her very naked, warm body molding to his again to share a deep probing kiss.
"Heighten the mood." He kept the taunt out of it with a charming smile that didn't waiver. In his experience it dulled the senses into a cottony pillow of tranquil.
"Sex without inhibitions is mind blowing."
Was the whole island high? He gave her a deep, probing kiss, showing her exactly how uninhibited he was. "Inhibition has never been my problem."
She just smiled back at him and found her lighter. Taking a deep breath Face looked over to Murdock. Maybe he was having better luck with June.
He wasn't, even though he should have been. June's dress was gone, along with the rest of her clothes. She was on her knees, hands running along Murdock's naked thighs. That wasn't what caught Face's attention. What had him plummeting back into memories of mud and burning flesh and screams, was the look on Murdock's face.
It was his eyes and the silent scream. Wide open and staring at Face, and in horror at a girl who was long dead. Every line of Murdock's body was locked tight and rigid with tension and terror, tightly wound and under a hair trigger that had Face moving. It was only a step across the whole apartment and Face's hand was on June's shoulder, hard enough to not be argued with as he guided her back up. A quick glance to Murdock let him know that simply removing June from the equation was not enough to make it all go back to where they couldn't see it again.
"Alana wanted to set a more… relaxed mood." He let a stupid smile float across his lips just in case there was any question as to what he was referencing. June got it, those two hadn't just met and getting high was always more fun in groups. She was smiling at him, hand floating across his groin as she passed him and went over to Alana to light up.
Face didn't say anything when he turned back to Murdock, just raised his brow in an unspoken question. Beads of sweat, not the good kind. Not the hot in the moment of passion and sex kind, no it was the cold, awful, stomach churning kind of sweat were running down Murdock's brow. It was several long quiet seconds before Murdock was looking at him. And God fucking damn it there it was again. Everything Face didn't want to think about, the bodies, the blood and mud, and the raw animal urge to kill - it was everything Murdock couldn't hide. In one fucking heartbeat it was all back and fighting to draw Face into the past.
Without talking or even unfucking curling the hands he had knotted into tight fist, Murdock said it all without one fucking word. Murdock was a man drowning in sickening pain and anger. Face knew what happened if the anger won. It was one thing to witness it deep in the jungles of 'Nam against sick fucks who didn't deserve to live. It was another monster entirely if it came out here. Where normal was as normal does.
He didn't think about it, they'd been through it before. A hand on either side of Murdock's head, Face made the pilot look at him. Deep tormented brown eyes met his, words too complicated to ever be formed flew between them. And in that moment time stood still, the girls not five feet away, inhaling that sweet aroma to a land far away, ceased to exist, and there wasn't a damn thing around except them. Murdock lost in the past and Face trying his damnedest to anchor him to the present and not fall to the past himself.
"Am I safe Facey?" It was a question that didn't get said out loud. Words couldn't convey what that meant. It was beyond the two men with unknown names, and it was part of them. It was something no normal man needed to connect with and was a reminder of how fucked up their normal was.
"Yes. You're safe and I'm here."
Murdock got the message in Face's look. Face knew even before Murdock's ice cold hands grabbed his and held them to Murdock's temples, like he needed something to hold on to. He did. Murdock could see for miles in the sky, but he got lost in the dark on the ground. Face's demons like to indulge in things that would kill him with pleasure - death by avarice. Murdock's demons tried to hold him down and lock him in, forever, tight in their nightmare grip.
Head slowly tilting forward, Face pulled Murdock's towards him until their foreheads met. It was several shaky breaths before Murdock managed to close his eyes and speak "Yeah, maybe ya'll best heighten the mood ladies. I'm just gonna.." Murdock let go of Face and jerked his thumb towards the bathroom door. "You know take a minute." Accent getting thicker by the second Murdock even worked up a small grin. "Enjoy darlin'. I'll be right back."
Heighten the senses and dull the world. Face watched him leave, closing the bathroom door behind him. If only it were that simple to get the image of Sunshine lying there lifeless in the mud, eyes wide open and staring at him, out of his Goddamned head.
Long smooth fingers on Face's back almost had him jumping. Keeping the surprise internal he turned to see Alana, eyes glossy and full of wonder. She drew herself up on her tiptoes, hand going to his neck, she pulled him in for a kiss, exhaling her smoke into his mouth. Why fight it? He could use some dulling right about now. Face sank into the kiss, his hand running along her arm until he found hers, he took the joint from her fingers. Keeping her naked body pressed tight against him, it didn't take long before he was taking a deep toke of the joint. The burning hot smoke hit his lungs and seeped into his head, turning things to that dull cottony feeling, honing down the edges, and making things like time and distance variable. And shoving those postcard flashes of a time he didn't want to remember back to the recesses of his mind. It let him forget and focus on the touch and feel of Alana and June.
He'd sobered up for this?
Cruiser was wandering around from store to store with BA trying to find gifts. Again. Well, he was, BA had made quick work of it once they'd gotten to the store he needed. Cruiser had tagged along on the premise that if he were in the store with BA, who was embracing the shopping experience that Cruiser dreaded, maybe some of it would sink into Cruiser - osmosis or something and Cruiser would be able to figure out what the hell to get for Katie.
She deserved something. Hell, she deserved everything and yet none of it seemed right. No matter what he wound up walking away from the store with, boxing up, and sending to her, she'd love it. BA was right, she loved drawing, but somehow sending her a box of pastels or graphite pencils seemed lame.
BA was carefully inspecting a deep red hat and coat. One that was heavy wool and out of place in Hawaii, but one that apparently his Momma would love through and through. And not one thing around seemed like something Cruiser's sister would like. "How do you know she's going to like that?"
"Cause it's the same that used ta make her smile even when she was dog tired from workin' three jobs.'" It was just as simple as that to him. BA's dark face split into a grin. "Don't know how Face did it."
Eyes narrowing at BA, Cruiser didn't bother to hide the skepticism. "The same one? Exact same?" Face was good, but that seemed ridiculous. Either that or something Face was wheeling and dealing and BA was buying up oceanfront property in Arizona.
"That it. Exact same one. Drew him a sketch, told him the store it was in and when, and dude make it appear. Too bad he a fool or he could have some serious game."
"Face don't need serious game. Higher the stakes the bigger the boss you're stealing from is."
"That's why he a fool. Smart man know his game limit. He don't." BA's growl was firmly in place, but it was hard not to notice the way he was looking at that coat and brilliant hat. Like he could see his Momma smiling at it.
Cruiser's game limit was zero. He'd watched Face and Murdock run wild with them though. Taking one end goal and arranging the whole caper twenty moves out. Adjusting things here and there when their master plan didn't didn't go quite right. In the end, they always seemed to come out on top. Even if it did wind up with Cruiser and BA busting some heads up while they slank out of the back doors.
That was a problem with running scams on a military base. You couldn't run far and everybody had guns. Friendly fire wasn't always an accident. Just like those SEALS they'd been squaring off against. Hannibal and Spider and made them all pay side by side in a way that Cruiser could still feel. But it had kept those two alive past the teams' next mission.
"Eventually someone will teach him." Cruiser flipped his fingers along a clothing rack, not really considering any of them for Katie. He didn't know her size or her style.
BA nodded and pulled out his wallet, settling up the tab. Packages in hand he turned and looked at the pastel and oil sets Cruiser had been eying up. "You should get that for yo' sister."
"Yeah, get her the oils, pastels, charcoals, and some paper. Put in a drawin' you do. Something just she would get. Somethin' special, that make it feel right."
"It's just a drawing." They did it all the time. Katie would send him a doodle and he'd send one back. If it was something that only she would get, it would be his fist clenched tightly around a gray cat's neck and it's cartoon eyes bulging out of its stupidly whiskered head. He knew that. Why it made it special was a different thing.
"Nah man, it something you do just for her and she does for you. You don't draw for no one else and what she draw, you keep. That's all it takes, man."
"It's all beyond me." Cruiser let the shopkeeper know what he wanted and a minute later, cash exchanged, he was holding a bag full of art supplies all nice and contained in a sleek Cedar box. "How'd you know I draw?"
BA shrugged his massive shoulders. It looked a little like watching a mudslide. "You do it when it quiet and you ain't reading."
Cruiser just watched BA for a moment. For a guy that was most well known for being nothing more than a grease monkey, he was more than a little observant. Cruiser didn't keep his down time hobbies to himself, but he didn't go out of his way to share what he was doing either. And the occasional doodle here and there when he had a moment of peace and quiet and gone unnoticed by everyone else. At least he thought.
"You know you're supposed to be a greasemonkey, not Freud."
"Who Freud?" It took Cruiser a few beats to figure out Bad Attitude Baracus was fucking with him. BA let him off the hook with another shrug. "Where I grew up, it payed to keep your mouth shut and your eyes open."
Cruiser didn't say anything else. He didn't need to.
Bright, clear, sunlight filtered through the tropical print curtains and got stuck in the haze of smoke that was leftover from the night before.
Smoke - something every pilot feared.
It had Murdock bolt up right - panic and logic crashing into each other and fighting for the upper hand. Fuck. Smoke - danger - but the soft naked woman beside him countered that? Heart trying to run its way out of his chest, Murdock was reaching for weapons he didn't have. He was a blink away from fighting his way out of dodge when he saw Face. Sound asleep, with a naked brunette wrapped around him, her dark hair fanned out around Face like a blanket.
Leave, rest, relaxation, fun.
Fuck, he'd forgot. Sagging back against the couch, Murdock took deep, calming breaths, making himself feel where he was at. He concentrated on the fabric itching along his back, the silky, warm, soft, feminine body under his hand, the smell of tropical flowers and the cloying scent of stale pot smoke and sex.
It was the last two that had him silently slipping away from June. There wasn't really a need to be quiet. She was all but passed out from whatever they had been smoking and several rounds of sweat inducing, name screaming, oh my God yes sex. It should have had Murdock just as boneless and relaxed. It didn't. Pulling on his boxers, Murdock grabbed his smokes and a bottle of gin and slipped out onto the patio. Or was it a lania? Face would know the difference. Right now Murdock didn't care. Right now all Murdock wanted was fresh air and ocean breezes.
Things that didn't have one Goddamned thing to do with Vietnam or Texas.
It wasn't long before Face joined Murdock on the balcony, he had always been a light sleeper. And this morning was no different, Face was a mess, hair strewn everywhere, bite marks and soft red streaks from the girls' nails. Murdock couldn't say much, he looked just as bad if not worse. Reaching over to the pack of smokes on the railing, Face didn't say anything, it wasn't time for words yet. He pulled a cigarette out and lit it up, finally leaning back against the railing. It was good to see him relaxed.
Murdock took a drag of his own smoke and looked at Face, letting the silence do the talking. It was better that way. Things with them were clearer when the nothing did the talking. Like now, one look let Face know Murdock was here and together and last night's slip up was an unexpected aberration And damn yes, Murdock was glad as hell that Face was there to keep the monsters from winning this time.
One look from Face let Murdock know that Face got it and it was all good. Nothing more than a favor Murdock would repay one day. And there was no doubting that.
Knowing that part of the talk was done, Murdock took a swig from the bottle and was once again reminded of how close gin was to tasting like floor cleaner. Oh well, he'd had worse. Taking his time with his bottle and smoke, Murdock found himself looking up at the incredible blue Hawaiian sky and wondering what the seagulls thought when the air currents off the ocean sent them higher and faster, almost out of sight of land and people.
Murdock, for once didn't have to run off with the conversation. Face would start when he was ready. Until then Murdock was fine with doing barrel rolls and death dives with the seagulls.
"I miss the beaches." If Murdock hadn't been listening, he would have missed it getting lost to the breeze.
"You're in the right place to make up for some lost sand time." Murdock grew up in Northwest Texas, beaches were new territory for him to explore. If they made Face relax then why the hell not. Murdock was in, and hey and maybe it could be like an offering for Face. "You wanna get the girls and go explore?"
"Yeah." Face threw a glance back towards the room where the two naked women were still laying. It had been a fun night. "I heard there was a pier that goes pretty far out into the ocean not too far from here."
"Sounds good." Murdock took another swig and lit another smoke. "Hey Face, how come you didn't offer me a toke last night?"
When Murdock had finished splashing his face with cold water and staring at himself in the bathroom mirror last night, he'd come out to a scene that was all too familiar. Except this time he didn't have to turn anyone down, and the women who had joined them were there because they wanted to be.
Still leaning his weight on the railing, Face watched him with a sideways glance. "You knew where to get it if you wanted it." Shrugging Face just smiled at him with a lazy grin. "Besides, you can't fly if you're high."
"My sister used to smoke it all the time. Don't think I can remember a time when Lanie didn't smell like pot. I kinda think it helped her forget Mom was long dead and the man she'd left us with was all fist, kicks, and wrong looks."
Overhead the bird he'd been watching stalled out, dropping altitude and tumbling over and over in a free fall and then righted himself and soared up towards the clouds. Damn that looked like fun. Wonder if you could do that in a chopper? "When she took off I went with her. Kinda figured anywhere we went to was better than where we came from, you know?" Cocking his head away from the sky Murdock looked at Face.
Face nodded. Not offering any of his own commentary, but Murdock could see his eyes drifting back. It was a statement that hit close to home for him.
"Thing was, she wasn't runnin' to anything, she was runnin' away from shit we couldn't control. Ended up in alleys and flophouses doing whatever, just so she could get high and not feel anymore. Till she was all gone and it was just drugs and pain left,"
"Away is full of possibilities, Murdock." He didn't hide the wonder and allure Away seemed to hold. Turning back towards the ocean, smoke being forced from his nostrils, Face was lost to his own wandering thoughts. Murdock just watched as Face's eyes slipped closed and he took a deep breath. Face and Lanie, they were the same that way. Always wanting to feel good and always running to where the real couldn't touch them anymore. Lanie had let it destroy her though. And Murdock had been too young to stop it that time around. And this time? He didn't know. Hell half the time he didn't know why he told Face things. Other than Face understood and sometimes he needed to hear it. Maybe he could listen and not learn the hard way this time.
Murdock nodded and dropped his cigarette butt to the ground, already lighting another one. It was nice and automatic, nothing he needed to think about. "I wanna forget things, Face. I wanna be safe and numb to it. But it can't be like that. It's got to be real. We've gotta be real. One hit, Face, one night without dreams and we ain't coming back. And if we ain't around, what keeps people safe from me and everything I have hiding inside?" Once again he was looking, really fucking looking at Face - into the perfect liars eyes and to the kid who was so hurt and scared he spent all his time trying to feel good and be on top so he didn't have to see or deal.
Last night, Murdock could have hurt someone just like that. He could have stayed lost and trapped and fighting monsters that he'd already slit open and gutted. The thought of how close he'd come and what could have happened if Face hadn't been there, or had been too high? No shit had to be said. "Can't let the guard down, Face. There's too much to lose." It wasn't just Murdock's life or Face's life anymore, and they both knew it. If one of them went down, the other was going too.
"I know. Sometimes I just want a time out. Forget it all and just feel good and relaxed for once."
That was all Lanie wanted too. All it got her was used and old and sadder. He couldn't let it happen again, but damned if Murdock knew how to stop it. There had to be something though. He couldn't just give up, not on Face.
"Yeah. Maybe some time with them." Murdock nodded to the two beautiful girls in the little apartment. "At the beach, listen to the waves. Or maybe some con game. Hell Face, anything you want, anything you need to get a little quiet that ain't the end game of pills, needles, or smoking, we will get. No regrets."
"No regrets, Murdock." Face was looking at him now, the way he did when he was serious, and more importantly, when he wasn't bullshitting him. "I'm good. I'm not gonna turn into some used up junkie. It's R and R. I'll get back to the straight and narrow when the pajama party starts shooting at us again."
The door opened and there was June standing in the sunlight, wearing nothing but Murdock's shirt. The talk was over, it was time to start living and find some other way to turn off the pain and amp up the fun. Find the place where Face and he could just be real and be able to handle it. There had to be a way. Murdock was older and wiser now and Face was every bit of a brother as Lanie was his sister. Maybe more so. Face had walked through the shadow of the valley of death with Murdock and he'd made sure they both found their way out. It was something you didn't just forget. It was too important.
It was time to start having that fun again. Sliding over to June and dropping his arm over her shoulders, Murdock took the reigns. "Hey Darlin'. Face here says there's a pier close by that got all kinds of ocean magic. Can't wait to see it with you and Alana. Maybe hear some Dolphin song and see some birds, or even vice versa." June looked up at him and smiled, blinking, clearly still half asleep and working to catch up. Best way for that? Murdock kissed her, not with hot passion, but a 'Hello, Time to Have Fun' kiss. A little loose and reckless. Kind of setting the pace. "But first I gotta ask Face something." Tipping the bottle in his hand, Murdock grinned at Face, letting the wild need for fun to peak out at the edges. "Is this a patio or a laini?"
"You know, BA, I'm surprised. Almost two weeks and no one has wound up in a holding cell." Hannibal almost didn't know what to do with himself. Wrapped in a thick terry cloth robe, he was lounging on the chaise. The glass French door of the hotel open and a nice sea breeze blowing through the room. Just enough to keep everything fresh.
"You ain't surprised man, you got both me and Ray's money off that."
Hannibal just smiled at BA. That earned him a growl.
"How you know they was gonna keep their stupid contained?"
The door to the bedroom opened just then. Cruiser and the woman he'd come back with last night headed towards the front door. The fun of their night was over. The boredom was written all over Cruiser's face. He was ready to be done with her. "There's plenty of distractions to keep them out of trouble."
"It's the distractions that get 'em in trouble."
Cruiser opened the door for the woman, a disinterested kiss goodbye and he was shutting the door before she had a chance to even figure out which way the elevator was. It was a good thing Cruiser could take a punch and it was amazing that he didn't get hit more often. But his sergeant's lack of social graces was not something Hannibal needed to worry himself about.
"Well, there's trouble and then there's trouble."
BA shook his head. "They ain't right man."
That Hannibal wouldn't argue with. They weren't right. And none of them would be while a Viet Cong bullet lurked around every corner with their name on it. What was a lecture or a jail cell when Death was knocking on your doorstep as it was?
"It take two of 'em to make one person."
"They just a need a few less things to crash against." War was a great equalizer. It didn't care about who you were or what your story was. It took whatever weakness you had and it broke you with it. Murdock was already broken. He was compensating right now with Face. Face though? Face still had a chance to make it out. But that chance was dwindling and the show at the airport had made that perfectly clear.
"Something happen to one of 'em and you gonna lose the other." It was the lack of anger or growling in BA's voice that got Hannibal's attention.
"No BA, Face needs to grow up and Murdock needs to realize Face isn't the only answer." It was almost as simple as it sounded. Hannibal had watched those two go from hating each other to stuck at the hip. At least when they hated each other it was only the team that got dragged into their bullshit. Now it was whoever happened to wind up on the wrong side of too much energy.
Beer fresh out of the fridge, Cruiser dropped onto the couch. "Nah," Cruiser said flipping the top off the bottle, "Murdock's gonna lose his shit no matter what. Just a matter of time."
That got a growl from BA to which Cruiser just raised his brow. A silent challenge for some facts to point out he was wrong.
"Face keep him grounded and he keep Face from goin' too far." BA's arms were folded tight, but Hannibal noted, BA wasn't denying anything Cruiser said.
It was interesting that BA thought Murdock kept Face from escalating and going too far. Hannibal had seen too many times how that wasn't the case. Murdock would interfere and they both wound up in an escalated situation. It was just one that Face couldn't claim or deny on his own.
"How long you think that's gonna last, BA?" Cruiser asked as he kicked back. "Murdock was batshit crazy the day I met him and he still is. Face is just a distraction for the crazy."
"Face an anchor for Murdock and Murdock keep Face too busy to try big scheme, fool jive like before. They like two gears, as long as they workin' together it's alright."
Cruiser didn't argue it. Letting the conversation go with a shrug. He had never been one to argue a well known point. BA was right though. Face and Murdock were more co dependent than a set of Siamese twins. "Those days are numbered, BA."
"All of our days numbered."
"True," Hannibal agreed, "but Face is short and the last thing I want is for him to wind up back in jail inside of two weeks back in the World."
"If he ain't got Murdock or us, he gonna end up dead."
Hannibal didn't say anything to that, letting it echo in the room. It may be true, but Face had never wanted to be in Vietnam in the first place. His time with Hannibal's team had been extended beyond the first mission only because Hannibal had seen his potential. Mifflin had pushed for a dishonorable discharge and Hannibal had fought to at least give the kid a chance to prove himself. After what Ivan - that Russian fuck - had put him through, Face deserved at least that.
It wasn't Hannibal's place to talk him into going indefinite into a death sentence. No one would ask a friend to do that.
Face let himself lay there on the sandy beach. They'd found that pier and it was just as gorgeous as he'd heard. They'd ended up there every day. Old growth lumber that had been beaten by years of storms and Hawaiian surf, faded by the sun until parts were almost white, others colored green by algae and seaweed. It held it's own beauty that was far away from the refined upper class Edridge Knots, champagne, and Rolex watches he'd only managed to view from the outside. But that was America for you - land of the free, home of the poor, run by rich, and balance maintained by the powerful.
Face let out a deep breath that echoed the crashing of the waves not a hundred feet away. No matter where he turned, there he was. Right back to where he didn't want to be. He pushed himself up, careful not to disturb Alana as he reached over the curves of her warm body, chest slowly rising and falling with her deep, slumbering breaths, and grabbed his boxers. What little time they had left here, Face wanted to enjoy. Not dwell on the past, a nonexistent future, and everything in between that wouldn't leave him alone.
Fingers slipping inside of Alana's open purse, he pulled out her cigarette case, grabbing a joint before snapping it closed and putting it back. Face glanced around, making sure Murdock was there before lighting the blunt. Murdock wouldn't breath a word about it to Hannibal, but in truth, if Face were really honest, a small part of him felt guilty about putting Murdock in that spot. They could just add it to the list of things Hannibal didn't need to ever know about.
Postcard images of crimson blood mixing with mud and slicking pale skin and Face was inhaling as deep and as fast as he could. Keeping the unwanted memories at the bay of a haze. Face sat back, away from the rest of the group looking out at the waves and letting himself sink into that drug induced sedate. Not being able to relax was fine when everyone in your corner of the world was trying to kill you. Now though? It was downright fucked that he couldn't leave Vietnam in Vietnam the moment his feet had left foreign soil. He only had a short time left here and he was damn well going to enjoy it.
Out in the water, Face finally spotted Murdock, dancing with the waves until he was finally deep enough to swim out towards some rocks the water had been lapping at. Up and out of the water and back in in screwball dives that had Face wincing at the idea of unseen rocks. Murdock may be an ocean virgin, but he wasn't dumb. He just seemed to swim like he flew; right on sanitie's edge. Snuffing the last of the join out in the sand, Face headed out to join Murdock. The water was just was just as warm as he remembered the California surf to be, maybe warmer and definitely bluer. Swimming out, it took him longer than it should have to reach the rocks, but he was out of practice. Pulling himself up, water draining off of him and pooling in the rock crevices, Face found a perch, and took a seat.
It wasn't long before Murdock was pulling himself out of the water and flopping down next to Face. "Gotta hand it to you Face, you were right about the Ocean." From the grin to the long legs pulled up and tan arms dropped over the his knees, everything about Murdock projected an area of laid back calm. It was bullshit.
"Nothing beats it." Face didn't fight with the silence that settled in around them. Letting his mind wander to the sandy beaches of his childhood. "I used to spend all day on the water. Nothing gets women like a surfboard."
"Who you kidding? You don't need any help getting women." Murdock's grin widened, but like Face his eyes were on the water.
Chuckling at that deep in the back of his throat, Face shook his head. "Wrong clothes, wrong hair, wrong everything… the board didn't hurt."
"Is that why you really went to the beach? The women? Or was that just an added bonus?"
"They were a bonus. I would sneak out before mass and get to the beach before anyone else was really out there." Looking out over the horizon line, Face let his mind wander, feeling the California sand between his toes and sun on his skin. It had been an escape. Probably the first time he'd given a girl a fake name and made up a life better than his. It had him smiling. "I did not say no to the women though."
"You were raised by nuns? That explains.." He hesitated. Face saw the flicker, of pain and sadness, new and old, just for a second before Murdock ducked his head and looked back out at the water again. "That explains why you're so good at cards, you got an in with God. And here I was thinking you were cheatin' and all..."
"If you could explain that the next time I get unjustly accused of cheating that would be great."
"Sure thing Face." Everything was just half a frame off. Murdock was better at covering then people thought, but Face knew.
"What?" Face couldn't help it. Murdock was off, covering something and Face wanted to know what.
"I've always got your six." That was one hundred percent true, Face didn't need to read the tells to know that.
"I know. So what's up?"
"This is a first for me. Never been in the ocean before. Did all my swimming in creeks and pools." Murdock, as usual, was looking up at the sky. "Gotta say, the ocean has 'em all beat."
"It has a way of doing that." Face had always been able to lose himself to the vastness of the ocean. The horizon line that held endless possibilities. There, looking out at the nothing was always the key to everything.
"Sounds like somethin' nice to go back to."
An unbelieving laugh that the pot let out escaped him. Face hadn't been on that California beach in years. "Nah, there's nothing there for me." And if he really thought about, he knew there never had been. Lies and stupid teenage games. All of which had wound up sending him with a one way ticket to Vietnam.
"Yeah I get that." Murdock sigh was almost lost under the sound of the surf. "I ain't coming back. There's nothing here for me." He was matter of fact in that way he was so good at. No one ever expected the direct truth, not really.
"Just 'cause you get discharged doesn't mean you have to go back to the states."
"There ain't many places for mostly crazy pilots and combat trained con men." Murdock's grin was still there, but he got that look in his eyes. "I figure the world's a safer place if I just stay where I am." He turned his head away, and looked at Face. "Besides, for once, I got a home. Sure, it's a hot, muddy, snake infested, slice of hell where these tiny little bastards with guns keep trying to kill you. But other than that, it's real nice."
"That's not anyone's home." Face shook his head, the jungle, gunfire, misery, and sheer human waste wasn't a place for anyone. "I don't know where else to go though, you know?" He could barely hear his own words over the surf crashing against the rocks. His eyes slid closed, he'd picked up the paperwork for indefinite status a couple weeks ago. His numbers were getting short but commitment one way or the other had escaped him so far.
"The team's there, Face. Not much else matters anymore, you know?"
"Yeah." He let those those words resonate around them, hitting the core of what magnified his complete loss back in the World. Without the team there was no him. And in that regard the World was more empty than Vietnam. He'd known for a long time that things had been different since he'd met Hannibal. They'd finally started to make sense, the chaos he'd been living, calming. But signing those papers... it opened things up somehow. The commitment was coming from him and for some reason, that made a chill run down his spine. "I know it, Murdock."
"I joined up thinking I would learn to fly everything and after I got my time in I'd become an experimental pilot. Be in charge of millions of dollars of R and D, scream off, breaking records. Further, faster, higher. Taming the sky. Being in charge of the air." The laugh didn't reach his eyes. His gaze went back to the shore and the two women sleeping there, arms thrown over each other. "Now I don't even trust myself alone in a room with a woman, let alone breaking speed records." The muscles in his cheek twitched. A tell Face had picked up on a long time ago. Murdock's next words would be a lie or half truth.
"You should get out Face, pack it in, ditch the military and move to here, or Fiji, or anyplace with a steady supply of beaches and women. There's a lot of living you could do with that."
"I don't know where I'm going, Murdock. I joined up to stay out of jail." He shook his head at how well that had worked. "But what to do… I've never had a real goal except to get out of where I was. That's probably not the best."
"Runnin' with no destination don't work for any of us." Murdock shrugged. "There's not much of a future, not for us. It's just today, and even that's iffy."
"Oh it's all fucked, Murdock." Face let out a deep sigh, head falling backwards as he looked up at a sky so blue that it hurt his bloodshot eyes. "It's just the type of fucked you wanna be. Come on, let's get outta here."
Murdock's hand grabbed his arm, keeping him from getting to his feet. "Stay."
"What? Why?" Was there something Murdock wanted to do? Aside from some diving off this berg there wasn't much else going on here.
"With the team, Face. Stay."
Face sat back down, looking at Murdock, reading those deep brown eyes even through the haze in his head, it was clear that Murdock was asking for a life line. What that meant though… Their friendship had been born of blood and death and in this moment was a lifeline that ensured their peril. It was an invitation to go down in flames for the only thing that had ever meant anything in his short life. "I have the paperwork."
"I know, it ain't right to ask. But coming back to the states is just more headin' to nowhere. Only place we belong is with the team."
"You're not asking. This whole thing..." He jerked his chin towards the shoreline with the girls. "It's all a facade, an escape from Vietnam sure, but going back to the states, it's not this. Never has been."
"These past couple weeks - if I was back in the states, discharged all of it, it wouldn't be anything like this. I think back to how it was and it was all … I don't know." Complicated thoughts that were just beyond his reach as he tried to put them together. "But it wasn't what this whole thing pretends to be."
"What was it?"
"Stupid and …. desperate. This whole thing is not a care in the world. Feel good have fun and feel good doing it. And it's all a bunch of bullshit. I get back to the states and then what? I've got nowhere to go and no one who gives a damn. So its get a job and pay some bills…" Even the thought of that alone left a sour taste in his mouth.
"Stay. You belong with the team."
"Yeah." Face looked back at Murdock, letting him see the truth that was there, that Face knew it. "I know." There was no denying any of it- the life he'd had, what he was looking at going back, even the fact that when he had hopped a chopper ride out of Vietnam before he'd met Hannibal it had never been to the states. "I'll talk to Hannibal. Get the paperwork lined up."
Murdock looked at him, another one of those looks that went further and deeper than Face looked, and then he nodded. "No regrets?"
Duffel bag thrown over his shoulder, Ray joined the rest of his team in the airport terminal. It was a feeling of sombre that rested over him. He'd spent their two weeks of R and R living a normal life. With his wife talking about all the things that they would do when he got back. The house they wanted to buy - not white, it was too impractical a color - but offset and in the country where they could work the land and raise their kids. They wanted five kids but Trish was worried that she'd have problems conceiving. She'd been a miracle child for her mother to have and those problems were genetic after all.
Ray could take a job at the local mill. It wasn't what he wanted, but it would be enough to support them until he could get their farm working. It was something to work towards. A future filled with smiles and love and tranquility.
It was a future that had flown back to Barlow Creek three hours ago.
His future may be with his wife and unborn children, but his right now was with the five men in front of him. This time they were all in their uniforms. Even Face and Cruiser.
Cruiser looked hung over, mostly because knowing him, he was. What was interesting was his lack of cuts and bruises. Usually time off for the medic ended with him practicing first aid on himself. For some reason Cruiser was under the impression he was seven feet tall and a one man army - just add tequila and watch grow. An army of one that loved to fight and against greater odds at that.
"Hey Cruiser, congratulations on a knock out free R and R."
Cruiser raised a brow in return, leaning back in his chair and letting his head rest against the wall. He looked like shit. Murdock, on the other hand, was grinning like usual. Both Murdock and Face looked like they had spent two weeks drinking, having sex and repeating until they were unconscious. They also looked like maybe, just maybe they had actually managed to sleep. Ray had no doubt about the former, and he hopped like hell the latter was true.
Murdock bounded over to Hannibal and dropped a hand on his shoulder. "Why Hannibal, our babies are growing up."
"I can end that knockout free streak anytime, Flyboy." Cruiser growled. But he didn't make a move to get up and his eyes were half closed. Maybe Face and Murdock had gotten some sleep and Cruiser hadn't.
"Junior is cranky. He gets that from your side of the family." Cruiser must have been exhausted, he knew better than to try and stop Murdock. You couldn't. Hell, even half beat to death Murdock would keep at something - just like a dog with a bone, Murdock never gave up. He either got bored or by some miracle you managed to redirect him.
Face let his bag fall to the floor, plopping on the chair and pulling the cherry down his cigarette. It was the first time in a long time - maybe ever that Face didn't look like he was running game, or planning to run game, or setting his sights on some unsuspecting woman.
Hannibal smiled at Murdock, hand clapping the pilot's back. "He's got all my best traits."
"And my worst. Poor child." Murdock would have kept at it, but BA chose that moment to stalk up and drop his duffel. Ignoring all logic and reason, Murdock launched himself at BA, making a jump, he wrapped both his arms and legs a round a growling, stunned BA. "Hiya big guy!" Murdock was grinning at BA like a skinny white guy hugging a large black man, in public was normal, everyday, ho hum. "Did ya miss me? Did you get me anything? Huh? Huh? Did ya?"
"Get off me sucker Or you'll get my knuckles upside your fool head!" It took him a moment but BA managed to get his oversized paws between him and Murdock and tried to shove the lanky pilot off of him.
Ray just smiled at the whole thing. "Hey, Cruiser you got some Valium you can give Murdock, calm him down a bit?"
"The whole US Army doesn't have enough benzos to calm his crazy down."
Murdock cocked his head towards Hannibal and pouted. "Bad news Hannibal, I think little BA here is hitting his rebellious phase. I blame rock and roll, it's the devil's music."
"I'm gonna rock and roll your head off your shoulders you don't get your fool self off me."
"Murdock," Face finally spoke up, "I think the man wants to be left alone."
"Why?" The way Murdock was looking at Face, so sincere and true with big wide brown eyes. Ray almost bought into it for a second, but no, this was Murdock. There was nothing he enjoyed more then setting people's world on its side. And judging by the open stares and frowns, he'd had some big fun here today.
"Alright guys, cool it." Hannibal cut in. He was smiling but there was only so much attention Hannibal would want to gain before they even made it onto the plane.
Ray looked down at his watch. Three minutes. They were slipping. There was no reason to inform them of that though. They had enough incentive as it was to up their game with pure young and dumb by itself.
"Yeah" Hopping off BA, Murdock agreed with Hannibal. That was suspicious. "We all wanna be on our best behavior for the special good bye treat."
All at one once, dubiously they all asked. "What surprise?"
"That one!" Almost dancing in place Murdock pointed to not one, but half a dozen women dressed in hula skirts and tops, swaying their way towards the team. Look at that, they even had a drummer to help them keep time. Grass skirts twitching and shaking even Ray had a hard time looking away as the girls surrounded them all. Dancing and telling a story without words.
He wasn't sure how long he had been watching when one of the women broke the ranks and dropped a lei of Kukui nuts around his neck, and then kiss his cheek. "This is for luck. Thank you and be safe." It was a calm and quiet voice. It was genuine and warm and suddenly Ray felt an urge to study his shoes while she repeated her good bye to each and everyone of them.
A few soft words from Murdock and the dancers were gone, retreating with the same sway and drumming that had announced their arrival. Ray had no idea how long he had been watching them, semi stunned when Murdock's oddly calm voice broke through the silence.
"I figured the least we should have was a decent goodbye."
Quiet looks that spoke of the heavy weight and responsibility that waited on the other side of the plane ride settled in on them. With a pat on Murdock's shoulder and a silent thanks, Ray made his way to the plane. It would be the last time he fly back in country and it would be with the best friends he would ever have.
Shoulders back, eyes forward, just like at West Point. Hannibal could do attention and parade rest in his sleep. And he may well have done just that a time or two. Except back then he was an eighteen year old rock head, too green, too arrogant, too stubborn to understand how, and more importantly why you had to play the game sometimes. The Army and its finest had done their job; they made Hannibal play along. Then Reins had shown him the value of keeping control, and how you could be in control even when someone else had the power. And that was the trick.
It was the last magic act - the one West Point had never taught him - that he used the most. Like now. Mifflin was his commander, he had all the power, and that was fine. Hannibal had control of his team.
His men. His team.
He'd been in charge of units before, he'd lost men, he'd had men succeed way beyond what he'd imagined, but this team was different. They were a collection of misfits, all of them living in the margins. Hannibal had trusted his gut and they hadn't disappointed. They were the best of the best. So good and unique that even the Army had carved out a special little niche for them. He would die for any of them and each and every one of them would do the same. They had served duty, honor, and country. And now it was time for Hannibal to do right by them.
Mifflin took his time, letting Hannibal wait. Just a little reminder that he was the man in the big chair. That was fine. After all Mifflin had sent for him, eventually he would get to the point. It was almost two minutes while Mifflin finished reading and signing paperwork before finally shuffling it into a nice stack on his desk.
"At ease, Lt. Colonel Smith."
He didn't even have to think about it, his body knew the drill; feet shoulder width apart, hands clasped behind his back, his voice barking in reply. "Sir, yes sir." It was as easy as breathing.
"It has come to my attention that Brenner has changed his status from indefinite and will be discharging in the next two weeks."
There was no question in that so Hannibal kept silent. Ray was going home. The man had gone through hell with them, if he wanted to spend his days on a farm and his nights in the arms of his women, then so be it. Ray had done his time, he'd earned his peace. Mifflin was just upset that he hadn't seen it coming. The man loved living in the details. It helped keep the whole ugly, big picture out of focus.
Hannibal had seen it coming. He knew Ray's loyalty was torn between his unit and his wife. Unlike Bunny, Trish had never pushed, never asked for more. And that's why Ray needed to give her more. One glance at the way Trish and Ray looked at each other in Hawaii and Hannibal knew his man needed to go home, and unlike most of them, Ray had a home.
Mifflin reached over to a different pile of folders on his desk and picked up the top folder, holding it out to Hannibal. "This is your team's next mission."
Hannibal took the folder without a word. It was too light to be much more than an outline. No doubt Reins would be back soon to give the true details to the few who needed to know. Mifflin was not one of them. Hannibal did a quick scan of the contents. Laos, local tribes, weapons. On the surface, pretty vanilla. Except Hannibal knew the tribal leaders name's, and the fact that they hated each other. There was a lot more, mostly not in the papers. Why all the maps of borders between Vietnam and Laos? Why so much detail on VC held ground? Simple. This mission was a cover. Great, the illegal mission into Laos was a cover for the real mission. Whatever it was it had to be a humdinger.
Folder in his hand, Hannibal resumed parade rest. Mifflin had more to say.
"This mission is currently at the top of the priority list. It needs to be handled with care. And it needs to be accomplished inside of the next two weeks." There was no waiver in his voice or the way his eyes were pinning Hannibal down and daring him to challenge the gravity of what he'd just outline.
The irony wasn't lost on Hannibal. The most dangerous thing Mifflin did was eat at the mess hall. He wouldn't last ten minutes in the jungle. A paper cut from that folder and Mifflin would demand a purple heart. Yet he was demanding that Ray go out on a high stakes mission before his discharge came because he could.
"Yes sir." And now to piss on the commander's Wheaties. "When the mission is over, Sergeant Peck will be going stateside." Hawaii had been an eye opener in more way than one. Face was short timing it, he'd done more than asked. Hannibal owed it to Face to get him to college alive and to give him a shot at a real life. It had required calling in some favors, but Face was going home. Hannibal had a meeting scheduled with Face after this so he could give him the good news.
"Sergeant Peck isn't due to discharge out for another six weeks."
"Yes sir. But given his unique service and the distinction which he has served with on missions, the General felt it was appropriate to get him stateside in time to start college."
Mifflin sat back in his chair, contemplating the fact that Hannibal had discussed this situation with General Reins already. Drumming his fingers on the table. Mifflin didn't want Face under his command. He'd made that clear weeks ago. "Make sure he keeps his nose clean between now and then or he'll be on the first flight out of here with a dishonorable discharge."
"Sir yes sir." Face had been walking that line with Mifflin for too long. It was part of the reason Hannibal had pulled some strings to get the kid sent home sooner and not later. Face had a shot at normal. A dishonorable would end that chance.
"You get back from this mission with Lt. Murphy you're short two men." Mifflin may not like the way Hannibal operated. But he damn sure liked the way Hannibal made him look on paper. "What is your plan to replace them?"
"I plan on pulling in any trained men based on the mission needs. In three months we'll be stateside for our rotation and the permanent replacements can be found and trained at that point. Sir." Hannibal didn't want to dwell on the details. Cold hard facts were finding the right fit for the team was beyond needle in a haystack. It was needle in a haystack while blindfolded, drunk, and in hostile territory. Oh and the haystack had a nasty habit of blowing up, sending flaming wreckage in a hundred foot radius.
Looking at what was on paper never gave you the full picture. He needed to meet the soldier, see how they operated when they thought no one was looking, see past the paper and to the man. Hannibal had no idea where or how he would find the replacements, but he was one hundred percent certain, he would know them when he saw them.
What he had to do was figure out how he was going to keep Murdock on the team. He wasn't due to rotate back to the states with them. With the demand for pilots in country, getting Murdock assigned stateside with them for six months might be beyond even General Reins. But with Face living the co-ed lifestyle, Murdock was going to need the team to fill in the missing spaces more than ever. It was one more thing Hannibal needed to figure out and make happen.
"Do us both a favor." Mifflin pushed himself up to his feet. "This time around, don't pick your team out of a line up." He didn't wait for Hannibal to reply. "Dismissed."
Hannibal looked at the pile of papers on his desk and sighed. It seemed like the Army believed war, or in this case 'conflicts' were about numbers and requisitions and paperwork. It wasn't. It was about people. The ones who wanted power and were killing to engage in wholesale slaughter, and the one's who tried to stop them. It was about death and dying, and trying to keep as many innocent people out of the line of fire while keeping his own men alive. There was a grim satisfaction when he thought about his team. Every last one of them did what he asked, without exception, with faith in his ability to lead them out alive. He was damn good at doing just that.
But he was also a realist. He couldn't be successful every time. Men died, and when they did, he was the one writing the letter home, destroying families and putting his failure on paper. He remembered every letter and every body he had sent West. The names held even as the faces faded into time. How they died - their last moment and breath - his to carry.
Hannibal had been lucky, it had been months since his last man had died. Glitch had been killed in his bed. He never had a chance to fight or to escape. Like his other lost men, Hannibal had packed up Glitch's things. The man's whole life boiling down to pretty much a guitar, some photos and, of all things, "On the Road" By Jack Kerouac. He never would have pegged Glitch as the deep type. Maybe that had been before his head injury. Maybe he would have been the next voice of his generation. He was just dust and memories now.
Debating on the merits of lighting his cigar, Hannibal picked up the papers at the top of his pile, smiling a little at the name. Sergeant Templeton Peck. Nothing in his file gave you the real picture. On paper he was nothing more than a bright kid, skating by on his looks and managing to find trouble by having more smarts than skills. On paper he was an orphan, a troublemaker, a thief, and a semi talented liar - let's face it, a truly talented liar wouldn't have any paperwork to back that fact up with.
It didn't tell you that he had more charisma than all of Hollywood, or that he was one of the toughest bastards Hannibal had come across. Under the California laid back looks and charm was pure steel. It also didn't say that if you did what you said, and gave him some trust, he would go to hell and back for you and never think twice.
With the right people beside him, Face had gone from running scared and stupid to someone Hannibal would have been proud to have as his second in command. But that wasn't going to happen. Face had wanted out of Vietnam since Hannibal had meet the kid. He had done more than his share. It was time for him to move on.
The sound of footsteps had Hannibal looking up even before there was a knock at the door. That would be the devil himself.
"Enter." He had just set the papers back on his desk as Face walked in. All smiles and still relaxed from his time in Hawaii, the kid looked like he had just stepped off the cover of a Beach Boys album.
"You wanted to see me?"
Funny, whether Face was in trouble or not, his greetings were always the same. He had a knack for being able to deny wrongdoings that the devil himself would envy. "I did." Hannibal gave in and pulled out his cigar. The thing was a work of art. He was going to have to start rationing them, no one but Face could get them and that meant his supply was about to dry up. Hannibal wasn't sure how Face got them, but he was certain that was for the best.
"Have a seat, kid." Cigar still in hand, Hannibal open the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out his stash of cups and scotch. Pouring two fingers worth of the scotch in each mug, he nodded to Face. "And a drink." Hannibal smirked as Face looked at him curiously for a moment before taking a seat across the desk from him.
"Special occasion?" He swirled the amber liquid around the chipped cup.
"Very." Holding up his mug he gave a toast. "To a job well done." Hannibal took a sip, letting it burn a warm path before adding, "And new beginnings."
Picking up the paperwork he had just been looking at, Hannibal slid it across his desk. "These are for you. Congratulations." Leaning back, Hannibal watched Face reading over his pass to freedom and a real life as he rolled a mouth full of smoke over his tongue.
Face's brow furrowed, getting deeper as he flipped the page. "Wow... I..." He faltered, finally looking back up at Hannibal. "You got my discharge papers pushed through."
Grinning around his cigar Hannibal reached for his scotch. Face was going to make it. Him and Ray had a shot. BA was too full of anger and hurt. Most of the people back stateside wouldn't let a black man near their expensive machines, let alone give him the freedom and respect to create his mechanical miracles. Eventually, he would be forced to use his fists and end up in jail. Fact was BA was safer in Vietnam than his own country in a lot of ways.
And Murdock wasn't real stable on any piece of land for too long. But Hannibal couldn't risk Face for Murdock. He was unstable but the team had kept him going before Face and they would keep it up after Face was gone. Murdock needed to fly - further, higher, faster, and better than anyone. He would and could do just about anything to pull his team out of the fire. In the sky he was unstoppable. On the ground was a different story. Under all the smiles and jokes and songs, was an angry man doing everything he had to hold it together. Put him back home and try to get him to be 'normal' and it would end in disaster. Once, Hannibal had gotten a peek at Murdock when he let that anger take control - the world was safer with Murdock in Vietnam.
As for Cruiser. Man had very little and cared about even less. A sister, his unit, and not much else. He had no interest in leading a regular life. And he didn't give a fuck what anyone thought about it.
Hannibal would give each of his men what the needed, and Face needed this chance.
"I did. What you hold in your hands is a golden ticket. Use it wisely." It was said with as much reverence as he had ever held.
For a guy who had something to say about anything at a moments notice, Face was still sitting there in relative silence. "Yeah." He nodded, a chuckle finally coming from him. "That's great." His voice was a bit higher than normal, but he was raising his cup. "Cheers."
Hannibal drank with him. "Your freedom flight leaves in two weeks. I figure the team will put together one hell of a party for you." It was quick, but life was cheap and Hannibal didn't want Face being on of those tales told in basic about the guy who was hours from leaving when the bullet hit.
There was that laugh again, only this time he was running his hand back through his hair - just like he had in that jail cell when Hannibal had first offered him an out, sans the cigarett. "Right." He tossed the rest of the drink back, setting the cup on the desk as he pushed himself up from the chair. "I'll get right on that."
It was clear something was off. But given the circumstances, he wasn't too shocked by that. Still. Tapping the ash of his cigar, Hannibal stood up and came around his desk. Holding one hand out to Face, Hannibal clasped his shoulder with the other.
"It's been good working with you."
Face clasped his hand, pulling his eyes up to Hannibal's and holding them for a moment. "It has." A moment later he was turning on his heel towards the door.
He was almost to the door when Hannibal called out. "Face." It wasn't until he had turned around that Hannibal brought himself to attention and with the slow deliberate precision learned at West point, gave a textbook perfect salute. "Do us proud, kid." He could have said anything, but there was only so much Face would hear. Face's frown was back as Hannibal snapped off the salute but a split second later, a quick nod, and he was out the door.
Face sat there at the bar staring at the wall, not seeing it as he set down the beer and threw back yet another shot of Jack Daniel's. He didn't wait for the burn or savor the flavor or do anything but swallow it down and clench his jaw as he stared at that damn wall and tried not to feel.
How stupid had he been to think Hannibal would want him on his team? He'd overridden his better judgment. Let emotion talk him into feeling and planning and being fucking stupid enough to want to be on Hannibal's team. To finally think that there was some sort of stupid fucking twisted up reason that he was on this God forsaken earth. That all those little fucking moments that had his gut twisting up like a dagger was being stuck in him, that had Face thinking he'd managed to land in a safe place, they were all bullshit.
Without wanting to Face was thinking about Hannibal stitching his hand up in the back of an abandoned building where he'd been hiding from the drug runners he'd had to skip out on. It was the first time in his stupid life he'd allowed himself to think that there might be a chance of trusting someone. This guy that had come out of nowhere and gotten him out of jail cell and managed to fix all of his problems. Just like that, in the snap of Hannibal's fingers Face had gone from cartel bitch playing on borrowed time to thinking there was some hope to the whole stupid thing.
And why? That moment and a thousand others – signing off on his water buffalo explanation, talking BA into getting him those transmitters so that he could pretend to be Vietnamese royalty. Hunting him and Murdock down in that village and bring them back. Face pulled his eyes off the wall, there were some places that he didn't go no matter what. This time he just took a hard pull off the damned bottle. He wasn't looking for moderation and there was nobody to pretend in front of. Even Murdock was off flying Mifflin around for his upper brass tour of all the good they were doing in this "conflict".
First chance Hannibal had gotten and he'd jumped to send Face back early. He hadn't even bothered asking if Face had any plans or thoughts or feelings on the subject. Because Face's feelings didn't matter. And that was fine. Face didn't need to feel shit. He'd learned a long time ago that it was easier when things didn't matter. Himself included. Somewhere along the line Face had broken his own rules and started to care. And he didn't even know where or when that had happened. And fuck him for allowing it. It was Mother Superior in front of the judge begging for them to haul him off to juvie all over again. It was then - deep into his fifth shot and beer that Face barely noticed the men who set down next to him. Until he heard a voice from the past.
"Oh now look who we have here, Chompers. It's none other than little old Facey boy."
Just that voice had Face's eyes narrowing on that wall and his teeth grating on edge. Corporal Dwyer, that jackass from his old unit, now serving out the remainder of his time in 'Nam directly under Mifflin and his half wit side kick Alfredo, aka Chompers.
"Awe, he looks all sad and lonely." Alfredo took the seat on the other side of Face.
Face took a deep breath and set his beer down. "Fuck. Off."
"What's wrong, Peck? You run out of fucking blow to sell, you worthless little shit?" Dwyer dropped his arm over Face's shoulder and in that second Face shoved himself up, hard enough to throw Dwyer's arm off of him and the corporal off balance. Suddenly they were nose to nose, glaring daggers between them as Face planted the palms of his hands on the man's chest, shoving him backwards - out of his space and away from him. But Face wasn't looking to leave. Dwyer wanted play his games, that was fine, Face was done backing down and finding a way to avoid the fight.
Dwyer charged towards Face, shoving him backwards. Face stumbled trying to catch himself but wound up falling against Chompers. Lucky for him, the guy was dumber than a box of rocks. Instead of punching Face, Chompers just shoved him, sending Face stumbling back towards Dwyer. Face growled deep and low in his throat, he wasn't pinballing between these fuckers anymore. Face barely managed to grab the bottle of Jack as he stumbled back towards Dwyer, swinging the bottle in a backhanded arch right at the oversized asshole's head.
Numb fingers and coordination dulled by the alcohol were the only reason Face had missed his mark. The bottle shattered against Dwyer's shoulder instead of the guy's rock head. Dwyer grunted with pain as glass shards gouged the his skin. Before Face could take a second swing at Dwyer, Chompers had moved. Two hundred and forty pounds of muscle was suddenly crushing him from behind in a bear hug and lifting him off the ground. A sharp, intense pain in his shoulder had Face yelling and back in the present. Fuck. Face remembered a half second too late why the hell they called that stupid shit 'Chompers'.
The son of a bitch had bit him.
He couldn't do shit about it, arms trapped in the bear hug. Face kicked out and forward as Dwyer came in close to him again, sending that motherfucker back a few feet. He tried to catch Chompers with his heal in a back kick, sending his head back, trying to hit Chompers whatever way he could to get out of the tight bearhug.
It didn't work. Booze slowed him down and weakened his strikes. Before he could break the hold he was on the ground, arms still trapped and the air rushing out of him. It was a bad fucking place to be in a fight. More so with Dwyer towering over him and getting ready to kick Face in the head.
Suddenly he was fourteen years old again and getting jumped by the white power KKK wanna be club for being Catholic. On the ground, against his will and not a damn thing he could do about it as they burned their race traitor mark into his skin with cigarettes. Kicking and flailing it was gut instinct snapping at the reality of a different time. The blind fury of a scared kid trapped inside a trained, drunken soldier, and suddenly he was out of that giant's hold, rolling away from the attack. The boot aimed for his head caught his thigh instead. Leg throbbing he kicked out with his other one, hitting anything he could as hard as he could. It wasn't pretty or well thought out but fucked if he was going to let anyone fuck with him again. Fist still tightly wrapped around the neck of that broken bottle, Face shoved himself back up, launching himself at the guy still standing, still advancing on him, and swinging the broken glass. He would have hit the fucker with it too, but instead the wind was getting knocked from his lungs again. Spots flashed in front of his eyes, a lightening bolt of pain in the side of his head and then black. Leaving him all alone. Again.
"Hannibal, we got a problem." BA hated saying those words. He hated waking Hannibal up, he hated bringing bad news and most of all he hated when his rock head teammates tried to stupid themselves to death. This time it was Face.
"What's wrong BA?" Hannibal was immediately up, pulling on his boots. If BA hadn't seen it he never would've guessed the man had just been sleeping. BA had come to believe that Hannibal never really slept hard. Living and breathing the military life must of somehow left him able to exist on two minute catnaps. Flaking out was Hannibal's baseline normal and with this team it was a needed skill.
"Face got in a fight." Fool. Now BA had to say the part he didn't want too. Frowning, BA ignored that cowardly voice in his head. His Momma didn't raise a coward or fool. "It bad. He went at Dwyer with a broken bottle." BA didn't know what the hell Face had been thinkin'. They were all on thin ice, going after the commander's aid was an extra kind of stupid.
"He what?" It was a rarity to see Hannibal at a total loss. But that kind of stupid was hard to comprehend even when you had a full nights sleep under your belt. "He in the infirmary or the stockade?"
"Cruiser with 'em in the infirmary. He got cut up, got the stuffin' knocked out of him and he drunk and ramblin' 'bout all sorts of nonsense." None of it made sense. Sure Face and Murdock and Cruiser redefined stupid. Going after a group of twenty SEALs, taking on the VC, rebels, wild animals, sure. Cruiser thought he was bulletproof and Face and Murdock didn't care if they were or not. It was all in the moment for them. But still, they knew the lines and yeah they crossed them sometimes, but always for a reason and even then they knew how far across to go. But this time Face had gone too far. Something was really wrong. In the bad kinda way that had BA's stomach turning into knots.
Hannibal had his boots laced up and was grabbing his shirt, throwing it on as he walked towards the door. "You know where Mifflin and Reins are?" Hannibal was already ten moves ahead of the game and he didn't even know what court they were on.
The man was planning, BA knew better than to ask for an explanation. It could wait. "Still out. Hear they had Murdock fly 'em up to Saigon for some fool event. Ain't gonna be back till o'eight hundred.
"Damn that kid." Hannibal stopped in his tracks, the frustration clear as he looked at BA. "BA I need you to have Cruiser get Face to the tarmac. And if Mifflin turns up early, you stall him." He hesitated for just a fraction of a second. "No matter what it takes."
"He really going back to the states, Hannibal?"
"Well he is now whether he likes it or not." Hannibal wasn't happy about it. BA could hear it in the tone of his voice and rigid line that was forming along his jaw. "The only question is if I can get the paperwork straightened out in time to keep Mifflin from pulling his honorable discharge."
BA didn't question it. There wasn't time and it wasn't the place. Hannibal had to deal with the fall out and Hannibal knew how bad it was going to get. Nodding his head, BA headed out. Back to the infirmary, he had a job to do. Moving fast and silent across the camp BA found himself silently praying. Not just his usual 'keep all the fools safe' prayer. This time he added a prayer to not have to be the one to tell Murdock that Face was gone.
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