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This page last viewed: 2017-07-23 and has been viewed 278 times
Authors: Quentillian & Nora
The smell of jet fuel was still hanging in the air and the deafening roar of twin turbine engines had barely begun to fade when Hannibal saw Mifflin in a full out run across the base. BA nudged him in the shoulder, letting Hannibal know that he was aware of the shit show coming their way. Mifflin was moving so fast he was sending up splatters of mud onto his normally pristine uniform.
Hannibal didn't need to be a psychic to know the man was an extra special shade of pissed. Join the club.
There was no sense in avoiding things. Instead of even entertaining the idea, he lit a cigar and waited. He needed the calming rush of smoke and nicotine to distract him away from all the anger and frustration of the situation. Face was gone, hopefully far enough out of Mifflin's reach so that it wouldn't be worth the Army's time to bring him back just to send him to the stockade. The irony in using one of Face's own forgeries to send the kid home wasn't lost on Hannibal. Hopefully it wouldn't land Hannibal at a court martial.
Mifflin was rapidly closing the gap, General Reins following behind him at a slower, calmer pace. Reins being there was just another helping of douche sauce on Hannibal's shit cake of a day. Committing felonies to get his bone headed, jackassed, dimwitted, emotionally stunted, genius of a sergeant out of trouble he'd created for no reason other then he couldn't use his big boy words was not what Hannibal considered his finest hour. It wasn't a moment he would have chosen to share with someone he respected as much as Reins.
There was nothing he could do about it now.
Cigar in his mouth Hannibal snapped off a salute to Reins and Mifflin
"Where the hell is Peck?" Mifflin demanded, one hand holding his hat on against the jet wash.
Firm smile on his face Hannibal pointed his cigar towards the rapidly disappearing plane, like maybe that was exactly where Face was supposed to be.
"The hell he is!" Spit was flying, Mifflin's face turning red and veins popping out on his forehead.
"Is there something you needed from him?" Choirboys couldn't have feigned innocence as well as Hannibal. "Maybe I could help, sir."
"He just put two of my guys in the hospital and now he's on a plane!" Mifflin ground out through clenched teeth. "I'm gonna have your bird for this shit, Smith!"
"Two of your men are in the infirmary?" Hannibal added a layer of surprise to his sincerity. Swear to God he should have been an actor. "I'm terribly sorry to hear that Commander." Mifflin was right on the edge, it wouldn't take much to push him clear over. A few more overly confident replies and Mifflin's head would explode.
Trying to piss your commander off to the point where he lost his mind and started swinging wasn't one of Hannibal's more elaborate or well thought out plans, but he didn't have much to work with at the moment. Given the fact that most of Hannibal's faculties were still trying to work out all the different levels of destructive idiocy Face had managed, functioning at all was an impressive feat.
Goddamn that kid. Why the hell hadn't he just said something?
"You goddamned..." Mifflin lost the ability to form words, unraveling to spitting and sputtering until finally he took a step back and clenched his fist, letting Hannibal see the punch coming a mile away.
Hannibal moved enough that Mifflin's blow glanced off him. Failing to land a solid punch had Mifflin charged Hannibal screaming, "I'm gonna make you pay!" Hannibal let Mifflin take him to the ground and grab the front of his fatigues, slamming his back further into the mud. "You wanna pull this shit for that pissant, I'll make damn sure you live to regret it!" Mifflin was a paper pusher, a noncombatant, not a fighter. Unless he actually pulled his sidearm, Hannibal wasn't worried about getting injured.
"Sir, you seem to be a little upset, sir."
Mifflin's answered by cracking his fist against Hannibal's temple. Anyone else and it might have been a problem. Commander Richard Mifflin though? Not so much
"Stand down Mifflin!" Reins barked out. "That's an order!"
The Commander wasn't listening though, he was too enraged and focused on trying and failing to choke the life out of Hannibal.
"Commander your form is getting better have been working out?" Hannibal had no issues with being assaulted and still witty. It was a gift. Mifflin had lost control, he may be on top but Hannibal had won this round.
Learning his weight in on Hannibal, Mifflin bared his teeth. "You are going to rue the day we ever met, Smith."
"I will try my hardest to commence ruing, sir." Before Hannibal had a chance to continue the banter with even more irritating retorts, a shadow moved over them, blocking out the sun for a second. The brief eclipse was followed by a meaty thud and in quick order, a splat. Mifflin was laying on his back in the mud, out cold. In his place was the ever angry and intimidating BA, looking more pissed than normal.
Maybe it was the lack of sleep or the last minute scrambling and stupid risk, or the sheer shock of having read Face so absolutely wrong. But for just a second Hannibal was pretty sure BA had made a joke. Hands in the mud, Hannibal pushed himself up, brow raising as he squinted against the rain. "Strong work, Sergeant."
Mud splattered as the MPs that had just put Face on the plane ran and grabbed BA. The bigger man didn't fight, letting them pull his arms behind his back and cuff him. One of the MP's looked over at Reins asking what they were supposed to do with Mifflin. It was a fair question, Mifflin had just disobeyed a direct order from a General and topped it off with assault.
"Get a medic to look him over." Reins strolled through the mayhem on the tarmac. "It seems we have some things to discuss, Lieutenant Colonel Smith."
"Yes sir!" Pulling himself up, Hannibal snapped off a real salute.
"Commander Mifflin will join us after he is cleared by medical." It sounded like a question, but it was an order. One that had the MP's almost dizzy with relief. They may have lost Peck, but they didn't have to arrest their commander. Not yet at least.
One nod from Reins had The MPs moving, dividing up between hauling BA off to the stockade and waiting for Cruiser to check out Mifflin. Hannibal needed a new cigar, his was lost in several inches of mud. Now that Face was gone he would have to be more careful with them. Hannibal glanced up at the sky and the clouds Face had disappeared into. As a rule Hannibal didn't pray. God and he had come to a silent understanding, but right now he really hoped the Catholics were right. Face had a lot of nuns praying for him, and Hannibal had a sinking feeling that Face was going to need all the novenas he could get.
"I'll see you on the other side man."
It had been the last thing Cruiser had said to Face before the MP's had hauled his drunken ass onto the Freedom Bird. It almost hadn't happened. Cruiser had spent an hour stitching Face up, listening to him ramble incoherently about random shit Cruiser didn't understand. But between concentrating on tying surgical knots, listening to Dwyer a few cots down, and trying to keep the MPs away from Face, he hadn't caught much of what had been going on. Cruiser had been on the verge of getting arrested himself, just to get him out of the MPs way, when BA had come stomping his way through the MASH tent with a stack of papers in hand that had the MPs grousing about the whole thing being bullshit.
Cruiser hadn't known what was going on, but he knew by the way BA hadn't been willing to look him that the MPs were right.
It had worked though.
Now, pulling down the cherry of his smoke as he inhaled the nicotine, he didn't bother opening his eyes or looking at BA as they flaked out in the team room. "Hannibal's risking a court marshal for this."
"We all are." BA had been arrested and released. Again.
"No we're not. Hannibal would never let it get that far." His voice was flat - tired from all the different aspects of all the emotional drama that he never bothered paying attention to rearing their ugly heads all at once. BA had been arrested, Cruiser had cleared Mifflin: fit for desk duty with a nice concussion, and Hannibal was having a heart to fucking heart with Reins and Mifflin. All within two hours of Murdock touching down. Flyboy hadn't even had a chance to wake up from crashing in the chopper and the entire world had managed to turn upside down.
But one thing was sure: Hannibal would not let them burn for this.
"I knew he die for us... but this." BA shook his head.
"Is fucking bullshit? Yeah, I got that part figured out."
"This gonna get worse."
"I don't know BA, if anyone can get out of this it's Hannibal. If not, we're all fucked." If Hannibal got the full wrath of Mifflin for this - and Cruiser didn't even know the extent of what "this" truly was, he'd be losing his rank, the team, and possibly even the military. And that left the rest of the team up in the air.
"Hannibal real good at getting out of a jamb." BA almost smiled, almost. Just like that the growl was back. "Even if he get out of this, someone still gotta tell Murdock."
"Hannibal's gonna tell Murdock." Cruiser had been the one to unknowingly deliver the telegraph about Murdock's grandparents being dead. He'd done his duty and then some with the delivery of bad news. Informing his CO that his man was dead, that there was nothing more he could do, that there was another letter getting written home - those were all things that fell on his shoulders. Telling Murdock that Face was on a plane headed back to the states was not. And even more importantly, it fell onto Hannibal's shoulders. That was all Cruiser needed to know in the end.
BA looked round, making sure no one was listening . Leaning closer he locked eyes on Cruiser, growling out low and slow. "Don't know what the fool's gonna do. Think we better be there."
Cruiser flinched internally at that. He did not enjoy the prospect of what was going to happen. "Man, I did not sign on to restrain my own fucking team." Shaking his head, he pulled the rest of the cigarette down and swung his legs over the side of the bunk. "Dude's gonna lose his shit in a big way."
"Least he knew Face was short timing. Still ain't gonna be pretty." BA looked like he wanted to rip off someones head.
"Right, so you're saying the stable one of the two handled it so well…"
"Face ain't stable, he just a real good liar."
'Cause that was helpful. Cruiser didn't say anything to it. There was nothing more either of them could do except wait for the fallout, know it was coming, and be ready for when it did. No matter what that entailed.
Humidity and dreams forced Murdock awake earlier than he wanted. Stifling a yawn he made his legs move up and out of the chopper. Two hours of sleep was nice, about forty more and he just might feel human again. Ever since he'd come back from R and R he'd been in the flight line. They were down three pilots, Purvis was injured, Whitey was KIA and Franks was MIA. That meant that if he wasn't sleeping Murdock was flying.
At least this light run had been fun. General Reins was one of the few in the upper brass who got it. He'd also been trained as a pilot. He wanted to see what a huey could do, so while Mifflin fought to keep his lunch down, Murdock got to show Reins a few things he'd learned. By the time they landed Murdock had no doubt Mifflin was regretting picking Murdock for his little jaunt.
Smiling at the memory of a green faced Mifflin puking his guts up out of the side of his chopper, Murdock said goodbye to his girl. One last quick look around confirmed everything the post flight check had shown. She had a few dings, but she was still fine. A pat on her nose and Murdock tucked his head against the rain and jammed his hands into his pockets. Missing most of the puddles, he managed good time across the compound.
He wanted a cigarette, coffee, food, and a shower. In that order, but first he needed to see what Face was up to. Ignoring his caffeine and nic fits, Murdock went to the team room. Shaking off the rain he grinned at BA, Cruiser, and Hannibal; they looked like shit and in need of a laugh. He could help with that.
"Good news. After exhaustive research and first hand knowledge I can now confirm Saigon is right where we left it. Imagine my relief."
Cruiser was sitting on the edge of his bunk, elbows on his knees, head hung with a cigarette between his fingers. "That's great." Turning his attention to Hannibal he asked, "What do we need to do, Colonel?"
Hannibal looked like he hadn't slept for a week. "For starters stay out of Mifflin's way." Cigar clenched between his teeth, Hannibal was in front of him. "Murdock we need to talk."
"Look Hannibal if this is about Mifflin getting airsick and tossing up his lunch all over the side of my chopper, I swear that wasn't my fault. That was just, you know, physics. Cause and effect and sure I may have laughed a little but come on, have you ever seen a man try to hang his head out of a chopper door to puke. I mean the wind shear alone... yeah not pretty."
Murdock wasn't sure what Hannibal was going to say, but he'd looked serious and really it was best to divert trouble. Hannibal let him finish, but something was off, like the colonel was reading him, biding time or something… waiting for a lull.
"It's not that Murdock." He hesitated for just a moment, that was bad. Hannibal never hesitated. Hannibal was always in the lead. "Face went at Dwyer and Mifflin's after his head. Now I got Face sent stateside and his discharge papers pushed through. But they're all Face's own forgeries and if we have any chance of keeping this from turning into a court martial, we've got to scrub the place of Face's entire larcenous enterprise."
"What discharge papers?" Murdock was asking the question before he'd even finished figuring out what Hannibal was saying. Why the hell would Face go after Dwyer? Sure they had been in the same unit, but Dwyer had tried to start shit before and Face never bit. It wasn't worth it.
"Face's. He was short and I had his discharge pushed up to two weeks to get him out. But Mifflin wants his head with this stunt. The only way to keep his honorable discharge was to forge the papers and get him on a plane before Mifflin got back from his tour with Reins."
Hannibal was talking, Murdock's brain freezing in one direction and the facts of what Hannibal was saying clicking into place in another. Murdock grabbed Hannibal by the shirt front, slamming his back against the plywood walls so hard it shook dirt and dust down on them. "You sent him back to the states? What the fuck were you thinking?" Murdock lost track of everything around him except Hannibal and the sicking residual hurt and rejection Face would refuse to feel.
Hannibal didn't grab him back and didn't fight Murdock's hold. But his eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened. "Check yourself Lieutenant. An honorable discharge beats jail any day of the week."
"He didn't want a discharge you jackass! He was going indefinite!" Murdock slammed Hannibal into the wall again. "He wanted to stay here, with the team, where he belongs! " His fist was moving. A distant part of Murdock was horrified, but most of him was trying to hurt the person who'd hurt Face. Just like everyone he hadn't been able to protect Lanie against. But Hannibal was quick and before he knew it, Murdock's feet were suddenly off the ground, his back was on the hard floor, and his wrist was getting bent back by Hannibal.
"Face has never wanted to be here and you know that. The day he pulled me out of that river he'd been running out of here and he never stopped."
"Do you really think he's the same fucking kid?" Murdock teeth were gritted against the pain and tingling sensation of his arm being this close to torn off. What the fuck did it matter if Face was gone? "Did you ever fucking think maybe all his running had led him to where he needed to be?" Fuck Hannibal for his arrogance and fuck Face for running right to ruin and fuck him. None of it mattered anymore. They were fucked.
"If Face wanted to stay here all he had to do was open his mouth. He's never been at a loss for words." Hannibal barked.
For an instant there was a nanometer of ease in Hannibal's grip, enough that Murdock was able to get a leg kicking out, hitting as hard as he could, grim satisfaction making him smile when his boot hit flesh and Hannibal was off balance for a split second. There was no thinking, he didn't need too. He let all the anger inside do the work. Hannibal was back to the ground, Murdock on top raining down blows at faces that weren't Hannibal. It was his Father and strangers in a long neglected alley and VC and every other face that haunted his dreams. "All you had to do was fucking ask, you arrogant fuck!"
"And all Face had to do was open his Goddamned mouth!"
Suddenly Murdock's leg was getting kicked out from beneath him and Hannibal was moving.
"Either way, he sealed his fate the moment he decided a bender and sending a few soldiers to the hospital was the way to solve whatever problem he had."
"Yeah fucking Face open up and spill his guts you, simple bastard." He was up and going right back after his target, hitting fist on what ever got in his way.. "You sealed his fate - you gave him up! Might as well put a gun in his mouth, you've goddamn killed him!"
Murdock could see it in his head, feel it in his gut. Face found a place, a home, he finally understood what he needed to do and Hannibal pushed him away. Face wouldn't understand, wouldn't see past the hurt, pain and past. Hannibal should have known, and he didn't and he didn't ask and now Face was lost. He was a dead man walking - just like Murdock.
Hannibal's elbow caught Murdock, sending him rolling onto his side in a tangled heap. Something inside him lept at the fight, wanting to crush the threat, wanting the pain out of him. Anger and violence, fists and kicks, his old friends. Murdock knew how to take that, how to use it. Blood was in his teeth, salty and coppery, familiar. It was warm and comforting.
It all came down to this, you didn't have to think or feel, all you had to do was swing and hit and crush until it all stopped. It was dark and right and satiated him in a way that had him smiling as he stood up and rushed Hannibal.
"Come on! Hit me again! Make me shut up, drown out the fucking truth, see how that works for you!" Murdock's sense of self preservation - ancient and honed over time- took over, attacking the threat on muscle memory, his body taking the shots and swinging blindly.
"You can't even tell what reality is let alone the goddamned truth!" Hannibal wasn't holding back. "Face wanted to stay all he had to do was say the word. From day one Vietnam has never been anything but a prison to him."
There was more blood, Hannibal's and his, and damned if it didn't feel good.
"You changed all that, good fucking work." He'd barely said the words when his head cracked to the side with the force of Hannibal's punch. The world went gray for just a second, then it blinked and bounced and snapped back into focus. It made him laugh, sickening and primal. This was a game he understood. "Go ahead, hit me again. I'll still be nuts and you'll still be dead fucking wrong."
"You fucking ungrateful shit. I gave up everything just to get him out of here with half a fucking chance at a life. Mifflin's gonna have my rank and pull the team - and that's just to keep him from pressing charges and going through the hassle of getting Face's discharge changed over to a dishonorable."
"Life?" Murdock laughed again, so hard he forgot to swing, so hard had tears rolling down his beat and bloody cheeks. "We're all fucking dead. You're commanding ghosts, you stupid fuck." Murdock's left fist slammed into Hannibal's gut.
Suddenly strong hands grabbed him from behind. Murdock fought them , even as BA's voice cut through the noise in his head. "Shut it fool 'fore I shut it for you."
Cruiser was pushing Hannibal back across the room. Hannibal was still pressing, trying to get at Murdock, shouting. "I'm the only shot you have at keeping those wings and you Goddamned know it."
"Their my fucking wings!" Murdock was halfway over top of BA, the fact that BA was big and strong as an ox didn't mean shit. "I earned those wings and I'll fucking die before anyone takes them!" Murdock would kill before anyone took his wings
BA's shouting for Cruiser was background noise, secondary to getting to the thing that took Face and now wanted Murdock's wings.
Cruiser yelled at Hannibal. "You go at him again I'll knock your ass out."
Whatever Hannibal did or said had Cruiser shoving Hannibal against the wall. Hard. Making him stay there. Then Cruiser was leaving and Hannibal was clear for the taking. All Murdock had to do was crawl through the wall of stupid BA.
"Come on you fuck! Come and try to get my wings! You're a fucking pussy! A God damned lightweight! My drunk ass old man could go on a three day bender and still hit harder!" BA hadn't budged but Murdock wasn't about to give up. Stop fighting, stop moving and the vultures get you. Murdock learned that shit long ago. "Face might have had to hide and run and smoke fucking dope to keep from hurting, but I don't, I can fucking take it." Murdock's thumb hooked one of BA's eyes and he pushed hard, forcing BA off balance for just a second, long enough for Murdock to scramble out of his grip and at Hannibal.
Murdock was almost to Hannibal when suddenly his legs went out from under him and BA was fighting to get himself wrapped around Murdock's waist. Loud voices shouting at each other and sting in ass that he barely noticed. The gap between him and Hannibal was so small, but so hard to close. It was suddenly much hard to speak and Murock's limbs felt extra long and heavy, like they didn't belong to him.
He was still trying to claw and fight, but Murdock's body was giving up. Too heavy, to hard, head filling with tingling sparks. Darkness was winning, taking over and dragging him down. On the floor Murdock was looking up, the edges of his vision closing in, tunneling down to a pin point. Time was up, he was losing the fight. Something. He had to say something, it was important. The words got tripped up between his head and his tongue. His mouth was too dry, but words managed to escape. "You let go Hannibal and now we're lost." Blackness had closed over by the time he was done. Face was lost and so was he.
Cruiser let the door to the team room slam behind him as he came back inside, sucking the rest of his smoke down. A quick glance over at BA got him a small nod. Murdock was all good. Out cold on the cot BA had put him on. It had taken a while, but BA had assured and reassured Cruiser that he knew what to look for when it came to an overdose on the meds. Cruiser hadn't given Murdock enough to overdose him, but it was called the practice of medicine for a reason.
At least Murdock was finally getting some much needed sleep.
Hannibal was on the other side of the room, back from where ever he had gone while Cruiser and BA had straightened Murdock out. Cruiser walked over towards his kit. He was going to need it again. Glancing from Murdock's sleeping figure back over to BA, Cruiser asked. "All good?"
BA nodded his head. "Pulse sixty four and thirteen breaths."
That was all right where it should have been. He zipped up his pack, grabbing the handle as he spoke. "Peak effect is forty five minutes, so we should be in the clear if you want to get some air."
There wasn't a sound in reply. Instead BA gave Hannibal a long once over. Whatever the fuck it was BA saw was enough for him to nod at Cruiser and head to the door. He didn't leave right away though, no instead he stopped and fix the blanket they had thrown over Murdock. Once BA was satisfied Murdock wouldn't freeze to death in tropical Vietnam, he left the room,
Cruiser took his pack over to Hannibal, setting it down on the cot. "You done being a dick?"
"It's a lifelong affliction."
There was no fight in Hannibal's words and Cruiser gave him a slight nod, sitting down on the cot next to his bag. "I've got nothing to treat it except a hard right cross."
"That's an excellent treatment." Hannibal took a puff of smoke. "On days like this I'm glad as hell you're up to it.'
Cruiser shook his head, cursing under his breath. He wasn't up for it. Fighting the few people in this shithole that had earned their regard did nothing but leave a sour taste in his mouth. On some level, he'd hoped that Hannibal would simplify matters and still be up for swinging. Last man standing was based in the barest of simplicity. "How many times we gone rounds man?"
"One hundred and sixty two. Sixty three if you count the time in Thailand, but compared to our usual bouts that was more like choir practice."
"Yeah." Cruiser contemplated his cigarette for a long moment. Either Hannibal had actually been keeping track, he was making the number up, or Cruiser had been a lot more drunk a lot more often than he remembered. "And all those times I don't think I've wanted to take your head off as bad as today."
"That's because I was an extra special dick this time." Through the thin haze of smoke Hannibal caught his eye. That look alone was enough to let Cruiser know Hannibal wasn't bullshitting. "I lost control, and you guys had to clean up the damage. I'm sorry and I'll be good and god damned before I ever let it happen again."
Cruiser let out a deep breath. He hated these conversations. He would have much rather told Hannibal exactly how he felt about the whole damned thing with a few solid hooks. "You made it about yourself and that's…" shaking his head, Cruiser tried to sort through it all. "You've got my trust and respect but I've seen too much of that shit."
Hannibal looked narrowed down on him, sharper and more intent than before. "I didn't make it about me. I made it about him." Hannibal pointed his cigar at Murdock.
"The fuck you didn't make it about you."
Hannibal took a deep inhale and let the smoke waft around him, making him look the the dragon from that stupid story Katie had insisted on reading to him a million fucking times. By the time Hannibal started talking again he was looking at his cigar.
"A month after I met you, I got the honor of getting tagged by the CIA for a job. That's how I met him. Murdock was the pilot who'd been pegged with the same honor of being the CIA's patsy. Things went real bad, real quick. I ended up spending a few weeks with him in a little horror chamber that never officially existed. You learn a lot about a person; what makes them tick, what they really fear." Hannibal shook his head before looking at Cruiser again. "I used every damn thing I know about him just to get him to lose his shit."
"Because nobody was saying thank you and singing your praises for all the shit you did to get Face out and cover your tracks." It was just as pointed as Hannibal.
It was something that put Cruisers hackles up. He had vague recollections of his dad screaming at his mom for not appreciating all the sacrifices he was making. Moral outrage in the name of liquid courage. It was the same shit with his adoptive father, except it was well placed smile and a backhanded compliment laced with disappointment instead of alcohol.
"I wanted Murdock to hit me. I wanted him to shut up and knock it off, but Murdock doesn't quit. So I needed a reason to hit him back, and excuse to pound the shit out of him." Hannibal turned to face him, voice dropping. " I didn't give a fuck about thank you. All I wanted to was take him out."
Cruiser barely raised an indifferent brow through all of it. "Right. Because instead of saying thank you he told you'd fucked up. And that's where it became about you. Like it or not we can do this all day if you want."
"None of you owe me a thing. Everything you've got you earned. I had no right to say different. "
"No, you don't." It was point blank and there wasn't any leeway in that. Cruiser expected a lot from the men in charge. But they had taken that responsibility knowing full well what they were getting into. There was nothing Cruiser hated more than a sense of entitlement. If there was one thing that growing up in suburbia showed him it was how that sense of self tied to power and status were designed to corral the weak and spineless. And it had his back going up every damn time.
Hannibal nodded. "I was wrong. I fucked up. And like everything I do; I did it big."
Cruiser gave him a short nod, ending the conversation and accepting things for what they were. He reached over to his pack to unzip it. Murdock had gotten a few good blows in and Hannibal was going to be feeling it for the next couple of days. "You know working for the company is always a bad idea. How'd they sucker both of you?"
"We didn't get a choice, we got ordered".
Of course they were. Cruiser caught Hannibal's eyes for just a moment. There was nothing hidden on either side. The company, the history, everything that had played out today was ugly. But in the end, as he cleaned up Hannibal's wounds and got his suture kit, whatever tomorrow and even later today brought, they'd only get through because of those ugly pasts.
Say what you will, but they had been born in blood.
Front and center. That was exactly where Hannibal had wound up. Right in the heat of things with Reins. His biggest failure as a leader on display for his mentor and his commander's commander. When John Hannibal Smith went big, he went big. Reins' temporary quarters were on the other side of the base from the team's and across the way from Mifflin. The pelting rain that had been going on for the last week hadn't let up, and by the time he'd made it to Reins' he was soaking wet. Again.
"At ease." Reins was staring at him in exactly the same way Hannibal's old drill sergeant used to.
"Yes sir." At this point Hannibal didn't have the energy to work up the intensity that it normally should have had. Moving to parade rest without a second thought, he waited. Whatever Reins wanted, it would be the last and final act of this whole damn mess.
Reins moved around to the front of the desk, slow and deliberate and not stopping until he was inches from Hannibal's face. It was too close, an invasion of personal space, someone in power letting you know it. It was a tried and true tactic that Hannibal had used himself.
It didn't make it less intense. Not when it was Reins. Hannibal knew him too well and had seen some of the things Reins had done. The man was a legend for a damn good reason.
"Explain." One word said low and icy calm that carried all the weight of a B52.
Pulling his eyes into focus on Reins, Hannibal laid it all out. "I was doing right by my men, Sir." He didn't have to think about it. It was the truth and he'd do it again.
"Doing right by your men?"
The cocked eyebrow was a bad sign. So was the way Reins' cheek twitched. "One
of the biggest circle jerks I've ever had to shuck and jive my way through and
all you have to say is it was all part of some big, kumbaya,
hippy ass, love fest?"
"Permission to speak freely, sir?"
"Speak freely?" Reins took a step back and leaned his hip against his desk. "Sure, why the fuck not? At this point it's not like you have much left to lose."
"I lead men. Into battle. Into hell. And if I'm lucky I get the chance to lead them back. And that takes trust. Simple and blind trust no matter what the odds staring them into the face are. Say what you will, but every one of the men on my team have earned their place. And Face - Sergeant Peck is probably the only one aside from Ray that has half a shot at a normal life. So I made sure he got it. Because that's what I do. And I didn't learn that from sitting behind a desk at West Point I learned it in the field from you."
"You're going to stand here and lecture me on fucking loyalty? I went to bat for you. I stuck my neck out on the chopping block. I let you pick Goddamned criminals, some of them right from the stockade for your team." Reins was bolt upright and back in Hannibal's face, growling, like a warning from a wild dog. "You and your men have pulled more bullshit stunts and scams and every damn time I stood up for them, because they were "your men". Because I know what the fuck loyalty is and what the hell it means to have someone willing to die on your word. What you've forgotten is it's a two way street, Smith!"
Reins slammed his hand down on a file on his desk. "This mission is critical. That's why I gave it to you! It has to be done. You're the one fucking person I trusted with this! Where the fuck is the loyalty to the mission and the man who earned your loyalty in blood?"
It was a one two punch. Hannibal didn't respect his own father as much as respected Reins and the man knew it. "I…" He took a deep breath, wishing like hell it was laced with nicotine. "It was supposed to happen after the mission." Hannibal had misstepped. One detail he hadn't been aware of and it had set off a chain reaction like falling debris in a minefield of claymores.
"What was supposed to happen after the mission?"
"Face was supposed to leave after the mission." Hannibal ran his hand over his face, breaking parade rest, but really at this point he didn't have the energy for it. If Reins felt the need it could be one more thing to dress Hannibal down for.
"He was short but the kid is cracking. I saw it in Hawaii. He's never wanted to be here so I got his discharge moved up. But it still would have been after the mission. The only reason he's gone now is because he went on a bender." Reins would know about Dwyer and his buddy, Hannibal was sure of that, but there was no point in drawing more attention to Face's lapse of judgment you could fit the Grand Canyon into. "I had a chance to keep him out of the stockade and give him his shot at a life. After everything he's been through he's earned that much. And yes, it fucks the mission but tell me when the last time was that I failed? No matter what the resources, no matter what the cost?"
It was like a shot to the gut, leaving Hannibal speechless.
Reins leaned his weight on the desk again. There was no more threat in his voice, if anything, there was understanding. "You lost every person on your team John. There was nothing you could have done to stop that." Reins pulled out a pack of smokes. "Sometimes you can't save them."
Glancing away, Hannibal remembered their names. Sanders, Van Kilner, Wyaate, and Marshal. They were all good men and deserved far better than dying in an enemy shelling while trying to evacuate a village that was on no one's map. When he looked back at Reins there was determination to will the man to understand. "I had to try."
"I know you did son." Reins pushed himself up and dropped a hand on his shoulder. "You have to learn when to let go. You almost died in that Goddamned village." He tightened his fingers on Hannibal's shoulder for just a second and then he was moving again, lighting his cigarette and walking around his desk. "I almost lost you over this. We have an Army full of good men, but only a few gifted leaders. We need to keep them."
Nodding, Hannibal didn't say thing. There hadn't been a question. No, instead what there had been was the same understanding and hard learned guidance that had made Hannibal want to serve under Reins in the first place. Older and wiser, Reins would always have years of experience on him.
"The one good piece of news on this shit filled day is that Mifflin and I have come to an arrangement. You get the mission done and keep your men out of his sight until you rotate stateside in a few months, and I won't have him up on insubordination and failure to obey a lawful order charges." Reins took a deep drag of smoke. "You won't go after him for assault, Peck's shiny discharge will stand, and nobody seems to remember who knocked him out."
There was a weight that lifted off of Hannibal's chest that felt like an elephant had finally gotten a move on. A mission they could handle. Aside from Murdock, staying off of Mifflin's radar should be a piece of cake. "Understood."
"It better be." Once again Reins was steel hard and razor sharp. There was no doubt in how high the stakes were. Whatever he saw in Hannibal it must have been okay, because Reins let out a deep sigh and relaxed a little into his chair.
"Good. Now that that's done, have a seat son." Reins pulled two classes out of his bottom drawer and a bottle of his favorite whiskey. After pouring two generous fingers of the amber liquid into the glasses, Reins pushed one towards Hannibal. "You need this. You've had one hell of a day."
He didn't hesitate. Business was taken care of, whatever else Reins had to say was on the informal side of things. Leaning back on the chair, Hannibal took the glass, shaking his head at the whole thing. "Thanks for fixing this." Reins had made sure everything that Hannibal had put into place had come through in the end, before he'd heard Hannibal's side of the story. There was no repaying that. It was the kind of actions he expected from his team and the kind he'd learned from Reins in the beginning.
Reins took a sip. "Which one of them gave you the stitches?"
"Murdock." Hannibal took a deep, liberal, much needed drink of the scotch. "Seems I missed a few things when it came to Face." Hannibal let out a sigh, internally shaking his head at the stupidity of the whole damn thing. "I never saw it going so sideways. I swear these kids are gonna be the death of me."
"You never see it coming from the people who mean the most to you."
"You get Face's stash from the latrine?" BA asked Hannibal as tossed some more of Face's presigned forms onto the growing pile. It was a shame really, as bad as a stash of military forms, cigarettes, booze, and dirty magazines looked, Face had put it all to good use. Mostly. He knew his audience and what people would trade for what. Cigarettes and dirty magazines were just lonely soldier money, like cold hard cash. Here, in Vietnam, maybe they even held a better value.
Face had always been able to make anything appear. He'd take requests, but you'd pay. The team hadn't been without in a long time. Now it was going to be a whole lot harder to get what they needed done 'round here.
Getting it done and staying out of Mifflin's sight would be almost impossible.
It was all stupid. Face was a fool kid that was gonna wind up in over his head, and Hannibal had shown him just how at bat he'd go for him men, stupid or not. The payoff on that wasn't something you could spend. Hannibal's determination and dedication to making a bad decision better even while you was still in the crash and burn, reminded BA of his Momma from his momma. She had done that for him with Billy Norbet, made the bad not quite so horrible. It was still a hard lesson in reality, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been.
"Yeah. And in the empty hangar and the one in the chopper graveyard." Hannibal was pulling more carton of cigarettes from Face's mattress.
"Anyone get his stash of fake Rolexes? Not the ones in the supply tent, but the one he keep hidden in Nurse Lola's pillow?" BA didn't like Face using women like that, but nurse Lola liked that kinda thing. Girl wasn't right.
Hannibal's raised brow was enough to let him know that this particular stash was news. "The crazy one?"
"Yeah. She had a pillow made outta of Face's old fatigues. Told him it was for storing some of his stuff, but she sleep with it every night." All women loved Face, it was a fact, but Nurse Lola was way past liking and into making a shrine and consulting a witch doctor. Face's ego overrule common sense. He loved the attention and was completely unaware of the danger behind blond hair and a nice figure. A sudden, horrible thought hit him. "Man, somebody else better a told her 'bout Face." BA was growling again, too bad. He'd help his teammate, but he wasn't dealing with that kinda crazy.
"You know, it's just Rolexes, they might be lost to friendly fire at this point."
"She ain't given anything up 'bout Face." Hannibal was right. There was no way anyone was going peel something of Faces off her.
"Anywhere else you know of?"
"The mail-room, in the back where they keep extra canvas. The motor pool, in Peter's old locker, the mess hall in the broken coffee urn, the old latrine site, the towel bench in the ladies shower, under the floor of the men's shower and inside the spare tire of Mifflin's jeep." When it came to keeping his stash safe, Face was like a squirrel with his nuts.
"His jeep due for maintenance any time soon?" Hannibal pulled out what was left of a cigar from his shirt pocket and lit it up. "I can take care of the the rest, but messing with Mifflin's jeep is asking for trouble."
"That why Face do it, figure no one gonna look there." It was good thinking, if you was crazy stupid.
"Well he was right about the front half of that."
"Face ain't real good at thinking things through."
"That seems to be contagious these days." There was something that changed in Hannibal's demeanor. It soften somehow, going from in charge and cleaning up a mess to owning the mistakes that had been made. A commander didn't have time to be full of regret, but sometimes it was for others to move on. "Listen BA, I have fucked this up in more than one way and I'm sorry you're getting caught in the middle of it."
"You made a mistake, you human." It was cut and dry to BA. Things happened, and shit went down real bad. They were team though, so they would help each other up. Hannibal included. "We'll make it right."
Hannibal's gaze didn't waver, getting fierce and intense. "You have my word, BA."
BA nodded. He didn't bother with words that could mess things up. BA didn't need to hear the words, he knew it was true because he knew Hannibal. That's how he operated and that's why they all followed him through hell. "You ain't gotta do it solo."
Mamma had taught BA long ago that no one person could do it all alone. There was no shame in asking for help and no point in having too much pride to accept help. Hannibal sometimes forgot he needed help or a break, just like the rest of 'em.
"One of these days BA… I'm gonna have to meet your Momma."
Hannibal wasn't quite as he came up to the bunk that Murdock was in. It had been seven hours since Cruiser had drugged the pilot up and still hours since those drugs had given way to exhaustion and exhaustion had given way to Murdock. Hannibal had seen it before, the steadfast refusal to engage with reality. As though Murdock could make the whole world disappear until he was ready to deal with it on his own terms.
Those were the little insights and treats he'd learned about Murdock thanks to the CIA and their "intel".
Hannibal took a deep break as he sat down on the foot of the bed. Cruiser had checked in on Murdock an hour ago while Hannibal had watched, letting Murdock have his time. The fact that Cruiser had felt the need to administer a good old fashioned hand drop on Murdock was indication enough that Murdock wasn't really asleep. The fact that instead of letting his own hand fall onto his face, he'd classically failed the test by making sure his hand fell ever so conveniently to his side without whacking himself... well that just confirmed that the countdown to dealing with things was on.
Hannibal was more than happy to let his men take the time they needed to cope with everything they had going on out here. But sometimes they needed a kick in the pants. And this time, it came with a nice solid heartfelt apology from Hannibal.
"Murdock, it's time to join the waking world again."
He got nothing in return, not even a twitch. Not that Hannibal was surprised by that. With all the joking and laughing and crazy antics, most people never got anywhere near the real man, hell the real kid. Fact was Murdock was the most stubborn human being Hannibal had ever meet. That tenacity and bone deep determination had helped Murdock survive and thrive despite what would have crushed most. It also meant that Murdock would dig in like a tick on a dog just to avoid having to accept and deal with the fact he'd done the one thing that truly scared him: Lost control.
That was fine, Hannibal could talk while Murdock "slept". Sometimes it was easier than having an actual dialogue anyway. "First I need to apologize. I got Face his discharge papers because I thought it was what he wanted. I know now how wrong I was about that. Something it sounds like you were well aware of. I made a command decision without all the facts and it negatively affected my team. That's on me and I wish I had it to do over again."
For long quiet seconds there was nothing from Murdock. Hannibal was about to try another tactic when Murdock finally spoke. "Face should've said something. I should've said something. We all fucked up." Eyes still tightly shutting out reality, his voice was a dry whisper.
It was a relief to hear Murdock speaking. If for no other reason because it meant he was in a mind frame to hear what Hannibal was saying. "We did. And all we can do is try our best to clean up the pieces."
This time, he got a twist of lips from Murdock. "We're running out of pieces." Despite the attempt at a smile it was a sad statement.
Hannibal nodded to himself. There was a resonance in that statement that cut through to the core. "I know Murdock." His hand patted Murdock's lower leg, offering what little comfort he could in a team that was falling apart in a God forsaken piece of earth that was on fire in a world that was singing their way to change. "We've never given up before and I'm not about to start now."
"I lost control." Murdock's hands clenched tight around the blanket, drawing it up towards his chin, making him look even younger than he was. "Do I need to turn in my wings?"
It was like a knife getting turned in Hannibal's gut. The hollow pain and childlike strained voice from a boy that couldn't even open his eyes to face the reality the answer might bring him. Murdock's wings didn't just mean everything to him, they were him. The last time they had talked Hannibal had told Murdock in the times that he couldn't see it, he needed to trust the team. That was what he was doing now. On Hannibal's word, Murdock was willing to give up the one thing that made him sane and kept him on kilter. "No Lieutenant, you don't."
Murdock sagged back into the mattress and opened his eyes, some of the tension and crushing weight leaving him room to breath a little. "I don't, or I didn't, I..." Murdock stopped, catching himself, like he was trying to force the thoughts into order. "I'm sorry Hannibal, it all got fucked up and I made it worse, and I don't know how to fix it or how to help Face."
"Right now it's one thing at a time." Hannibal let out his own exhausted sigh. Trying to help Face was a problem he had yet to triage out. "Reins has agreed to keep Mifflin from screwing up Face's honorable discharge. In turn we stay out of his way until we rotate back stateside."
"I'm not due to rotate back."
"You're on my team kid, let me worry about that."
Murdock nodded, looking at his hands as he fiddled with his blanket, but just like that he was staring at Hannibal, eyes open, but looking through him. Hannibal knew what he was seeing, the little hell Murdock's Dad had made. "You're nothing like him."
Verbally and physically abusive? Hannibal knew bits and pieces of the horrors that Murdock's father had put him through. The memories hidden deep in the recesses of Murdock's mind that had only come out in a time of agony. "Thanks Murdock. I hope you're right about that."
"Unless you start putting cigarettes out on my chest, you won't even come close." Murdock tossed the covers back and swung his legs over the side of the cot. "How did BA and Cruiser take it?"
"Pretty much how you would expect." Hannibal was watching him closely as the pieces came back together and Murdock embraced the world again. "I'm sorry I used your father to make you lose control like that. It wont happen again."
All the distance and lost look in Murdock's eyes disappeared. Inside the space of seconds, Murdock had resolidified. More than that, he was watching Hannibal like he was a trick of the light. Hannibal almost smiled. It was like watching the village kids when they saw BA for the first time. He didn't say anything, giving Murdock the time and space he needed.
"You mean that." It wasn't a question, it was a shocked statement and judging by how soft and low they were, Hannibal wasn't sure he was supposed to hear them. Something that was close to a smile gave the barest tug at corner of Murdock's lips. Nodding his head a little, Murdock patted his pocket, looking for his smokes. "Okay." Murdock had accepted it, just like that. "Tell you what, I'll do my damnedest to never act like him again.".
"Deal, Lieutenant." Hannibal stood up, holding his hand out to Murdock, sealing a foundation to stage the future on, Hannibal pulled him in for hardy embrace. At first Murdock just stood there like he wasn't sure what to do, but then the lanky kid from backwater Texas, sagged into Hannibal, wrapping him in a tight embrace like his life depended on it.. "We'll get through this, son."
Nine days since Face had left. Sitting on an old crate outside the TOC Murdock took a deep drag of his smoke and held it in for a few seconds. The steady flow of nicotine helped quiet the little girl's crying. It was only in his head, just a memory. He knew that, but if he thought about it too long he wound up elbow deep in blood and hate and Face wasn't here to guide him back anymore. Murdock needed a diversion and smoking gave him something to do and something to focus on, and right now it also helped ease the tension of learning just what the big mission was this time.
General Reins himself had briefed Hannibal last week and then headed back to Washington. Leaving Hannibal to prep the team, or what was left of it. In typical Hannibal fashion, he went above and beyond. Rules were clear, this was need to know only, and technically none of them needed to know all the details. All they needed to know was what their part was. Hannibal, however, was willing to risk his job by making sure every one of his team was on the same page. He wouldn't share it with the Montagnards or others, but Hannibal wasn't going to ask his A-Team for an unknown, even though it was the "rules".
Hannibal hadn't lied; it as big. No, scratch that. A POW snatch was huge. Big enough to have the brass types antsy. The United States had never managed a successful clandestine liberation of POW's in the entire time the military had been in South East Asia. To add to the tension it was in Laos. That was a place they officially didn't fight in and this wasn't just any old prisoner, it was a General's Mitchel's nephew. It was the sort of thing that mattered to grunts. Anyone of them could be a POW, and everyone of them knew what Charlie was capable of. It was also the sort of thing that would make careers and have political chips stacking up, to be used at a later date.
It also had Murdock's gut twisting and the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. Part of him hoped it was all in his head. Swear to God, Murdock was pretty sure his mind was like just about everything else in Vietnam and hell bent on killing him. One look at BA's tight scowl and Cruiser's raised eyebrows and Murdock knew it wasn't just him. The rest of the team felt it too.
It was mad mojo or juju or vibes or whatever the hell else you called it. It meant they were screwed. Not that it mattered much. Hannibal was on the hook, he'd been tapped by Washington to go in and do the impossible. They would follow him. He would lead and they would train and plan and try like hell and follow him. The SEAL team would do the same. Football games, cards, racism; it all took a back seat to the fact they were all soldiers. No matter what, they would do as they were ordered to do, the only way they knew how, one hundred percent.
Crushing his kicked cigarette under his heel, Murdock lit another one. Damn it he missed Face. Not just because everything was calmer when Face was around. They shared demons and there was no denying the fact that they fought for safe and sane better together. This went beyond that. Right now, Murdock was missing the information. Out of all the goods Face hustled, it was his information that was the most valuable. In a place like Vietnam knowing who was lying and who was telling the truth was a life or death skill. No one had a better sense of that than Face. It was a gift and a survival skill that had saved all of their lives several times over.
If you asked Face about it he would smile like it was no big deal. Murdock knew better. Nothing made Face bigger and slicker than getting something the people who mattered to him needed. Like a cat he would drop his kill and strut away like he didn't care, all while gleaming with pride.
For all of his layers and quirks and personalities that he wore like clothes, Face was easy to understand. It was finding the real man behind the mask that was the trick. Hiding away how much he needed people was how Face, wounded and scarred, had made it through life. Wanting and hiding, were things Murdock knew all too well. Man, once Face had seen that he had all of that and more with the team, he came to life, as real of a life as any of them could have.
Just like that it was all gone.
Thinking about that had his skin itching and his head ringing. He needed to get up and do something, anything. Letting his legs do the work Murdock headed up and out, only mildly surprised when he found himself at his chopper. The team was fractured and Face was broken, and there was nothing Murdock could do about any of it. Running his hand over the warm metal of his chopper, Murdock focused on the checklist he knew by heart and ignored the ache.
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