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Salvation

Authors:  Quentillian & Nora

 

Chapter Twenty-five

It had been, without a doubt the longest car ride in Hannibal's life. The trip had started in blessed silence. Then Face woke up. The threats and fuck you's and half assed, too weak to put up a real struggle attempts at getting out and running gave way to vomiting, sweating, shaking, nauseating misery that was withdrawal. He'd seen it once and hoped to god to never see it again. Face had bought him another round.

The only thing Hannibal could do was keep driving. It was Murdock who was left in the back dealing with a desperate junkie who was willing to do anything to score. Face was a con, he should have been able to get one past easy going Murdock. Except all the smooth, suave, sell ice to an Eskimo without breaking a sweat, had been stripped down to a desperate need for drugs. One of the few things that Murdock had no give for.

Of everything Face could have gotten into, all the over the top scams and games, drugs were the one guaranteed to go straight to that ice cold core of rage that Murdock had buried under thick layers of over the edge laughter and stunts. When it came right down to it, Murdock was the angriest man Hannibal had ever met. Hannibal had divided his attention between the road and keeping an eye the all too combustible pair in the back.

Hannibal hadn't been surprised in the least that they had gotten arrested for beating the shit out of each other. No he expected it; Murdock and Face fought just as hard as they got along. What surprised him was the looks Murdock gave Face; not the ones full of rage, but the ones that left the pilot looking haunted and sad. Like a terrified twelve year old boy, living in the streets again. It was a one sided version of the nonverbal conversations Face and Murdock had been so good at.

It made Hannibal's stomach clench.

That look made it crystal clear things were even more fucked up than Hannibal knew. Murdock was keeping something back. But he was the one who had spent a childhood drying out everyone that was supposed to love him, only to have his best friend take a high dive into the same festering pool of misery. Hannibal didn't need to push it. Not yet. Not when Murdock was hanging on by a barely there string just to keep Face alive.

As sickening as it was to see the barely living, skeletal remains of Face, Hannibal could deal with that. There was a plan for that. Get Face away, get him sober, keep him that way. But the details? The levels Face would go, the when he could be trusted, the what truly needed to be done. . . that was on Murdock. A kid who was too broken to make it on his own. Because Hannibal didn't have the knowhow.

There wasn't a god damned thing Hannibal could do to fix things. Not Face. Not Murdock. The only thing he knew was the only hope they had was keeping those two together. It was a mess. A used up junkie and a section eight in the making, and Hannibal's decision had helped create all of it.

Taking a puff of his sub par cigar, Hannibal leaned back against the wall and watched Face heave while Murdock went to work. As soon as they'd dragged Face into the cabin Murdock had gone to the bathroom. Hannibal could hear the opening of cabinets and drawers. A few moments later Murdock had everything from the mouth wash to the razors in a bag that he threw out side. Anything Face could use to get high, drunk or dead was trash.

"We need to get him in the shower." There was no hint of the laughing mania in Murdock's order.

Hannibal snuffed out his cigar in the ashtray, managing not to bristle. He wasn't used to taking orders from his men, but in this time and place, he wasn't in charge.

Face was still on the ground where the latest round of dry heaves and muscle cramps had left him. Sweating, eyes closed against the world, he was as miserable as any man Hannibal had ever seen.

"Upsy Daisy Mazy, Time to wash the stink off." Murdock reached down and grabbed Face's upper arm, ignoring the groan, and lifted Face.

"Get off me." It was a shaky protest as his head lulled back, too weak to support himself.

"Sure, after you stop smellin' like vomit, I'll let you go."

Hannibal grabbed Face's other arm, the way his hand almost encircled it was just a reminder as to why they were there. The muttered curses didn't stop them from getting him into the bathroom. Neither did the weak pulls or threats.

"Fuck." Face shook his head, trying to dig his heels into the floor again and pull back. "Leave me alone!"

"Nope. You gonna get your shirt off or do I have to?"

Face tried in vain to get out of their grip. "Fuck you Murdock! Get. Off. Me!"

"Look at that, the hard way. Gotta say I'm shocked, bet old Hannibal here is too." Shaking his head, Murdock used his free hand to turn the shower on.

Hannibal had had more fun at the dental office than this. The three of them just managed to fit in the space between the sink and the tub. A wrestling match with Face, no matter how thin he was, wasn't going to be easy. There was one thing he could always count on with Face, high, stone-cold sober, or dog-sick, he never, ever did anything the easy way. Seemed one thing was always true. If you were too tired breath, you were too tired to find trouble. The first few weeks Face'd been on the team had proved a learning experience for both of them, left Hannibal exhausted, and Face run straight into the ground.

It could have been so easy, but no, instead it was Murdock and Hannibal all but wrestling Face into the tub. The spray from the water getting everyone half drenched and cold in the mountain air before Face had finally untangled himself from them and started floundering around on the slick porcelain of the tub until he eventually wound up settling right side up, his head to the side and away from the shower spray.

"Oh look at that, you're getting a shower." Murdock tossed a washcloth and scrap of soap at Face. "Clean the hell up." Murdock's jaw was working back and forth, grinding his teeth. It was a sure sign he was at his limit. Murdock was aware of that fact. "Keep an eye on Peter Pan here, I'm gonna' clear the rest of the place."

"Take your time Murdock. I've got this." There was just a nod and then he was gone. Hannibal propped his hip on the sink, watching and waiting. That's what he did now. Hover in the background and make sure his two wayward wards didn't kill each other. The water had Faces shirt plastered against his skin, showing all the bones that should have been covered with muscle and the dog tags.

The tags mattered. As much as Face hated the military and Vietnam, and at this point Hannibal, he hadn't taken them off. They meant Face hadn't entirely given up, one tiny glimmer of hope on the festering pile of pain the kid had wound up in. Hannibal watched them move up and down, proof that Face was still breathing.

"I got everything out. We can dry him off and change. . . ." Murdock's words trialed off. Standing in the door of the bathroom, something had him stopped mid sentence, frozen, with a look of pure fury in his eyes. The one that Hannibal had been watching out for.

"What's wrong Murdock?" Nothing had changed since he'd left the room. Face hadn't even moved.

"Get those the fuck off." Murdock jabbed a finger at the dog tags. Hannibal had seen Murdock lose it once. He didn't ever want to see it again, especially not in a small bathroom with Face semi aware in the tub.

He eyed Murdock for a moment longer. But there was nothing else to see. "Alright" Keeping his own voice matter of fact Hannibal knelt by the tub and reached for the tags. It wasn't until Hannibal had grabbed the standard issue ID that Face reacted, his own boney fingers wrapping around Hannibal's wrist.

"Leave 'em alone."

"Those are Face's, not yours." Murdock's voice was the low warning sound of an animal pushed to it's limits.

"It's the only worthless thing I have left." Face's laugh was humorless, without any fight in it. Even Face knew that at this point that he wasn't in charge of things.

"Wrong Face." Murdock's hands balled into tight fist and he took a half step.

"Easy Murdock." Hannibal kept his voice low and calm, but sure. He wasn't in charge but he was in control. It worked, for just a second Murdock turned his attention to Hannibal. Behind the rage was a pain flaring so brightly it almost burned to look at.

"That ain't the only worthless thing still hanging on Face, you got me here."

"You weren't here!" Face shook his head, fingers tightening around Hannibal's wrist. "Fuck it. Take 'em, I don't give a shit anymore." He let go of Hannibal, leaning his head back against the dingy tile and stared up at the ceiling. Goddamn it, Face couldn't have hit harder if he'd tried. Even half dead Face hadn't lost the vicious self protection streak.

Murdock dropped his head, unable to keep eye contact; another bad sign. Eyes on the floor and already turning away Murdock managed to choke out, "Forget it. Leave 'em. I gotta go." He waved vaguely towards the cabin door. "I gotta secure the perimeter." It was a lie, one that Hannibal let him have.

Letting go of the tags Hannibal waited until the cabin door shut to drop to the side of the tub. "Goddamn it kid, what have you done to yourself?"

Face just laughed. "Everything." Dry and humorless and full of angst. "What's it matter anymore, Colonel?"

The way he said everything had Hannibal thinking about the other shoe that had yet to drop, but fact was he didn't have time to dwell on it at the moment. "Christ kid, Murdock left the Marines and came halfway around the world to find you." Hannibal didn't know if Face was even able to understand what he was saying, but it still needed said. "I made a mistake. I thought you wanted out of the army more then you needed to stay. I was wrong, I'm sorry. But if you thought you could hide somewhere and die like no one gave a damn, you were damn well wrong."

Hannibal waited a few moments, giving Face time to breath and himself time to think. Carefully he dropped a hand on Face's shoulder, half expecting the younger man to move away again. Instead there was a heavy shudder that wracked someone that used to be all too strong. It was deep silence that got lost to the noise of the shower and the weight of why they were there. Thin fingers found their way down to Hannibal's. There was something all too familiar in the way Face's boney fingers grabbed him. It was what men dying on the battlefield did; reach out. Try to feel someone else near, try to hold on, or give their dying words. Without thinking Hannibal's hand closed over his.

"I don't want you here." It was a plea. A statement of fact seeded in sorrow that ripped at heartstrings, a plea from a child. And that was it; Face was a kid, scared and trembling, half dead and wasted away. But he was still just a kid.

"I know." Hannibal's voice was low, yet it still reverberated off the tile. "But you need us here." More than Face could understand now. Maybe more any of them could.

XXXXX

Cruiser had waited till the last of the kids had been loaded up on the transport vehicle before taking Koala's hand and kneeling down in front of her. It had taken an act of God to get everything aligned to pull this off. Bunny, as much as her name set his teeth on edge, had proven to be a valuable asset to have in their corner. She'd spent most of her time making paper bag puppets with the kids, but it seemed as though when she wasn't being stupidly crafty she was somehow making heads roll and armed transports show up to escort a village full of one armed kids from Vietnam middle of fucking nowhere to safety. Today was the day that these kids would start a new life. Less privileged in the way of limbs, but perhaps more privileged in the way of opportunity.

Cruiser had to hang onto that thought. Otherwise they'd all suffered through a needless amputation for absolutely no reason. And the smiling girl standing in front of him didn't deserve that. Pulling out a teddy bear out from underneath the back of his shirt, Cruiser held it out to her, it had a scrap of paper with the doodle of a Koala with a bright smile and a superman cape tucked into a bow that was wrapped around it's neck. It had been Murdock's. Cruiser wasn't sure where it had come from, but it was in the pile of things Murdock always had on hand to trade back and forth or use as jokes and pranks. He wouldn't miss it and Koala needed it.

She leaned in, wrapping him up in a fierce one armed hug that let him know just how scared she was to be leaving the base. She was brave though. "Thank you." It was broken English that she'd been able to pick up in the last couple of weeks. She was a quick study and would get it sooner than a lot of them. "Koala love it." She pulled back and gave him a peck on the cheek, her toothy smile genuine in only a way that young kids held. "Koala love Cruiser."

Cruiser ducked his head, eyes slipping to the ground. He wasn't any good at emotion and goodbyes. This one was killing him in the same ways that saying goodbye to Katie had. Bunny came around the corner before he could wander down that road too much. Good thing too. Raising hand, Cruiser softly put it to the center of Koala's chest, where her heart was. "Cruiser love Koala." She smiled at him again, the message not getting lost in translation this time.

Glancing up to Bunny, he gave the little girl a reassuring pat. "You stick close to Bunny, she's going to take good care of you." With that, he stood up, ruffling her hair as Bunny reached down and took Koala's hand, leading her away in a mad flourish of chatter.

He hated watching them go, but there was no other way. BA knew it too. Arms crossed in front of him the bigger man watched with a fierce scowl. It wasn't until the trucks pulled away and the two of them were staring at nothing but a cloud of dust that BA spoke. "Momma says if somethin' hurts bad to say goodbye to, then you was lucky to know them."

Cruiser swallowed the lump in his throat that had formed somewhere along time line and pulled out his pack of smokes. Nicotine was a nice old friend that he never had to say goodbye to. "Then," his voice cracked and he cleared his throat. "I'm tired of being so damned lucky."

"Ain't none of it right." BA shook his head, not hiding the fact he was crying

"Fuck man. . ." The whole thing was wrong and had been for months now. Missions that should have been child's play were kicking their ass and the ripple of misery it caused was strewn throughout. "I'm done with this shit."

"Don't belong here like this. Need to find the team."

Cruiser let that hang in the air as he pulled in that oh-so-good and burning smoke. BA was right, they needed to find the team. Get out of dodge and regroup or they would all wind up up in smoke.

"Colonel Mifflin wants to see both of you in his office." Dwyer interrupted, uninvited as usual, smug little punk that he was. Cruiser kept it to a two fingered salute with his smoke and waited for Dwyer to get the hint and leave. If he was expected either of them to jump at his announcement, he'd been sorely mistaken.

Dwyer just eyeballed them for a long moment. "ASAP."

At least some things never changed, like how BA didn't say shit. Looking like he wanted to rip Dwyer's head off, BA turned ever so casually towards Mifflin's office. Slow was the key to that. BA was still playing nice, but with the team and the kids gone, they were both struggling to find motivation.

Hannibal's parting order to play nice was it.

Cruiser had no idea what Mifflin wanted with them. Neither of them were the ones who had a problem staying out of trouble. That was Face and Murdock. Cruiser enjoyed a good fight though and he got his fill of them hanging around as back up with those two. Ever since they'd been gone, there had a significant lack of coping via smashing.

He could feel himself getting closer and closer to that breaking point. The last thing he needed was Mifflin finding some reason to crawl up his ass and top him off. Flicking the butt of his smoke to the ground, Cruiser went through the door to Mifflin's office a step behind BA.

Neither one of them hurried to attention, but eventually they got there, BA even managed something that was almost a salute. Mifflin barely bothered to look up anyways. The idjit was too busy looking over papers, thinking he was important.

"I assume the children have been safely evacuated?"

"Miss Schrowder just left with the last of 'em." He never could bring himself around to calling her by Bunny. It was a stupid fucking name. Swear to God he wasn't sure how anyone took her seriously.

"Excellent." Straightening the pile of papers, Mifflin finally looked up. "I want the two of you to pack your bags, your flight out is 0500 tomorrow."

BA's frown deepened, but he didn't say a word

Hannibal. It was his first thought. "Flight out?" Even the lazy, half assed at attention posture he'd accomplished gave way with the unexpected announcement.

"The children are safe and I have no further use for you. With your ringmaster stateside, I don't dare let you run loose on my base." Mifflin turned the papers in his hands towards them. "I made arrangements for three weeks of R and R stateside before you report to your stateside rotation.

Cruiser started to protest. The idea that the base and the men on it were better off without him and BA at their disposal was a shit for brains move. An elbow to the ribs cut him off and a quick exchange of glares between BA and him straightened it all out. Fact was for the first time since he'd step foot into that recruiting office, seventeen years old and wet behind the ears with life, Cruiser did not want to be here. Logic told him the men needed him. Lives were going to be lost without him; but it was all too distant. Secondary to the fact that he needed out, and there wasn't a damn bit of good he was going to do anyone if he couldn't concentrate on anything past out. "0500 it is."

Mifflin did something Cruiser had never seen him do before; he smiled. "Goodbye and good riddance. Dismissed."

Cruiser returned the favor, offering Mifflin his nicest smile and tight salute. Out the door and suddenly only hours away from being out of Mifflin's world, Cruiser lit up another smoke. "I hate him just a bit less right now."

"Don't care 'bout him. He a fool." BA fell into step beside him.

"No shit, Einstein."

"Smart enough to know I ain't going to Chicago."

"Yeah, but do you know where Hannibal is?" Last Cruiser knew LA was not a one horse town where everyone knew your name.

"Said he was going to a friends place in Lake Isabella. You coming with me?"

"You kiddin'?"

"You got a sister."

"Yeah." Cruiser stopped and looked at BA. "I got a team too." Letting the smoke blow away from BA, he let it all settle like it should. It was the closure? Release? Whatever it was, he needed it. "Three weeks is more than enough to do both."

BA nodded. The discussion was done. Both of them had blood waiting with baited breath on US soil for their safe return, but there was one last battle they needed to fight.

XXXXX

Murdock did one last walk around the cabin, cool mountain air forcing his hands deep into his pockets. The perimeter was clear, unlike his damn head. The voices and ghost that had been forced into the background when Hannibal arrived were back, trying to demand Murdock's attention. All fucking in fucking threes. More of them this time. Not just the new ones, old ones joining in too, trying to distract him. Trace, the girl, the barely teenaged Viet Cong missing his intestines would finally fade away just to let his Mom and Dad and sister show up. Laughing like the threes do. He was never enough. Never, never, never...

No, Fuck that and fuck them. They were gone and he was here and he'd promised Facey, and he'd fucking meant it. But Heroin Face was wearing Real Face's dog tags, and not lettin' anyone touch 'em, Like real Face would do, but he was Heroin Face. The things he'd done, that couldn't be Real Face. There was no threes. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong...

When the fuck had he ended up in front of the cabin door and where the hell had the smoke come from? Why was he so very aware of the Polaroids he'd found in Face's jeans? All sharp and warm in his chest pocket? Oh Fuck. Oh Fuck. Oh Fuck...

The cigarette burned his fingers and he dropped it, crushing it with his boot, knowing he had to go in and deal and not having any clue how the hell to do that. There was no hope out here though and Hannibal was inside. Hannibal, he would help. He always did.

The inside of the cabin was dim and quiet. One quick look let him know Face was still in the now empty tub, sound asleep, under a blanket, no doubt provided by Hannibal. Damn it, how long had he been gone? Before Murdock could try to do the math he saw Hannibal beckon him over to the tiny table in the kitchen.

Hannibal had had enough time to rifle through the cupboards and make a pot of coffee. Taking a half step up he reached the counter and poured hot coffee into an already waiting cup, putting it in front of Murdock on the table. "He's been out for about a half hour."

"Good, Good. He's gonna need sleep, he's got a whole lot of feeling like shit to do." Murdock focused on the mug of coffee and how warm it was in his hands and not thinking about Real Face doing Heroin Face's dirty work. And not looking at Hannibal.

"How're you holding up?" Hannibal was never one to beat around the bush with things and now was no exception. He looked casual, half leaned back on the rickety wooden chair with his cigar in place, however, Hannibal was anything but. There was too much going on, too much out of his control, too much to do and yet nothing at all.

"Don't know sir." Hannibal was the only person he ever called sir and meant it. "It supposed to be all clear like. Heroin and Real and never the two shall meet and then it's all dog tags and Real and Face can't live like that knownin' what he did and all and I can't stop it again." Hot coffee spilling over onto his shaking hands was the only reason Murdock stopped talking. Damn it. He lost the thread again and those fucking pictures where burning bright in his pocket. No, no, no. Threes, threes… all threes no, not his secret to tell. Nope, he had lots of secrets but this wasn't his.

Hannibal was watching him with those all seeing eyes, like he did when he was focusing on the bits that needed sorting. Fuck, nothing ever got past Hannibal like that. "Yeah, speaking of what he's done, I asked and he said everything." The pictures were white hot. No, no, no. Don't ask Hannibal, don't, don't, don't... "Any idea what that means?"

The coffee cup hit the table hard enough for the thud to echo in the still, thick air. God Damn it. It wasn't his secret to tell, but damned if he could lie to Hannibal. He was so fucked, fucked, fucked. Without looking up Murdock felt his hand drift to his pocket, over the burning hot Polaroids. They'd burned through his shirt and skin and scarred into his heart, or what was left of it.

"Yeah." Murdock choked, not wanting any of it to be real. Not for Face, not for him, not for Hannibal. "I know." Please let it drop Hannibal, please don't ask, please... you don't want to know... you already know too much.

Hannibal took a slow sip of his coffee, watching Murdock. Watching, watching. Fucking watching, like only Hannibal did. "I need to know, Murdock. I've dealt with one detox and that was for a guy who was forced and wanted nothing to do with heroin." He was right and Murdock knew it. It was a different animal passed out in the tub. One that Hannibal had never encountered. "I need to know what battle we're fighting."

There was a pathetic sob from a worn, beaten animal. It was him. Fuck. He couldn't look up, he couldn't be part of it. Even when he had no choice, even when it had to be. They were so fucked.

His hand, his Goddamned hands betrayed him. The pictures were in them and holding them out to Hannibal.

"I was too late Hannibal. That's what he was doin' to score." He didn't want to look up, he didn't want to see the hurt and pain and disappointment in Hannibal's eyes, but he couldn't stop himself.

Hannibal was frowning as he took the pictures. He hadn't seen them yet. He would understand too soon. Holding them there, across the table, Hannibal looked into a snapshot of time; a freeze frame of just what heroin had done to Face. Why Real Face couldn't be Heroin Face. Murdock could see it, the slacked jaw and cigar that froze halfway between Hannibal and the table. It was only a few seconds before Hannibal put the pictures face down on the table, but it seemed to hang in the air like a lifetime. Glancing to the bathroom Hannibal was for once at a loss for words. Hand over his mouth, Hannibal sagged into the chair. "Thank you, Murdock."

"No, no, no…." The words got caught and everything, every feeling clogged Murdock's throat and threatened to drown him. He couldn't get out the sorrys or the memories of Lanie, he was too busy hanging his head and crying for all the pain and lost and missed chances. Hannibal's hand was on top of his, the other one on the side of his head, letting Murdock break as he stood guard and took the burden of one and accepted the responsibility of carrying it in the space between heartbeats.

 

Chapter Twenty-six

Murdock cried until the tears gave way to exhaustion. Hannibal got him to the couch and covered him with a blanket, hoping that the nightmares would be exhausted also and the man could finally get some well deserved rest. Pulling one of the kitchen chairs over Hannibal positioned himself to have a clear line of site to both of his sleeping men. Lighting up a cheap cigar, there wasn't shit Hannibal could do other then watch his men suffer.

He'd learned the theory of leading men at West Point; Southeast Asia taught him the practice, but this was beyond anything he'd ever encountered. He'd seen senseless, he'd been helpless, he'd watched his men tortured, seen them die. But never like this; never by their own hand.

Everything Hannibal knew involved attacks from an enemy. This was friendly fire. How in the hell could a kid with all the skill and scams that Face had, end up like this? How in the hell could the most brilliant pilot he'd ever seen, get locked so deep into crazy? Odds and fates had been stacked against them, genetics too in Murdock's case. But how in the hell did that work out to choosing to live like Face was? It wasn't even living, it was getting high and nothing else.

How broken did you have to be to get as bad as the kid in the Polaroid? How much had Hannibal added to that by sending him state side. He'd been trying to save his life and somehow Face's and Murdock's souls had paid the price. Now all Hannibal could do was watch.

The sound of Face dry heaving had Hannibal getting up. Murdock was still asleep and that was best for everyone. Groaning in misery, Face clambered around the tub, pulling himself up on the edges, doing his best to get out of the tub and instead winding up in a pile on floor.

One quick glance at Murdock was enough to let him know the man was still sleeping. Funny how he looked like he was twelve. Damn it, there was no time for this crap. Stubbing out his cigar Hannibal made his way to the bathroom. Speaking of looking like a twelve year old. . . at least this time Hannibal knew not to touch Face without warning. "Need a hand?"

It took him a minute to work through it, but eventually Face gave him a nod and held out his hand. "Yeah." It was not often that Hannibal ever saw Face choose the easy way, even in the most minimal of the meaning. It was a sign of just how bad of shape he was in.

He didn't talk, with Face sometimes the less said the better. It gave him less opportunity to be obstinate. Sliding his arm round Face's back, Hannibal felt ribs poking out under the skin and wet clothes. More things he really couldn't think about now. Right now, he needed to get Face into the main cabin and get him some dry clothes. It wasn't much of a mission but anything was a welcome distraction. It was several long moments to get Face to the bed and by that time the kid was sucking air like a swayback nag.

"Have a seat." Hannibal lowered him onto the edge of the bed and quickly backed off. Turning and reaching into the duffel, he gave Face a few moments to get his bearings while Hannibal gather the clothes that Murdock had packed. "Here, they aren't the best but they're dry." Hannibal kept his voice down, both to keep Murdock sleeping and to keep Face calm. Dropping the clothes on the bed next to Face, Hannibal nodded at them. "If you need help let me know."

"I've got it." Between the tremors and trying to keep the dry heaves down, it took far too long, but Hannibal didn't push it. Face was cooperating for the moment and he wasn't making a bunch of noise that would wake Murdock up. Finally though he had dry clothes on. Hannibal could see the toll it had taken on him; sweating and shaking from the effort. "Where are we?"

"Middle of nowhere California, at a friend's hunting cabin." It was a compromise of information. There couldn't be a lot of harm in telling Face that, and it showed Hannibal was willing to work with him.

"It's cold."

"Dry clothes and blankets will help."

Face just looked at him. Whatever he was thinking he let it go. Or the nausea pulled his attention away. It was hard to tell at this point. "I feel like shit."

"Dehydration and drying out will do that." Hannibal made sure to leave judgment out of that. It was just cold fact.

"I can't fucking keep anything down, how am I supposed to stay hydrated?"

"Once you're past the worst of the detox you'll be able to keep it down." It was true and it meant Face was doomed to a lot more mystery.

"I can't even remember the last time I drank any water." Lying down on the bed, Face curled up, eyes closed and arms wrapped around his stomach. "Come on Hannibal, there's gotta be something you can do to help me out."

"If memory and Murdock serve me right, the only thing that helps is time." He was so damned tired of having no answers and nothing to do.

Face let it go, choosing silence between the spells of rapid breathing and inability to stay still. "What about . . . can you start a line on me or something? Give me some fluid that way? It would help ease things up, right?"

Hannibal could start a line in his sleep. One thing a good leader needed was the ability to treat his men in the field. Cruiser had worked with Hannibal until he could drop an 18 gage IV in the dark, under fire and out of time. The question was, should he? It was just fluid, not a narcotic, it couldn't actually hurt Face. Murdock was the one who knew this shit, but a quick glance showed the kid was still sound asleep. How long had it been since he'd actually gotten rest? Did he really need to disturb him?

"Please, Hannibal." Learning over the side of the bed, Face grabbed the garbage can that was there as his stomach turned on him again. There was nothing left in his system; stomach acid and bile that the kid spit out. He laid there, not moving, just trying to breath and get it under control again. Just watching him looked painful.

Decision made, Hannibal grabbed his pack and the med kit from it. Face for once relaxed and let him do his work. Not that it was easy, Faces arms were lined with scars and marks, kid had more tracks than a railroad yard and the tremors just added to the challenge. It took a few moments and two sticks but Hannibal finally landed a spot up high on his biceps.

"Thanks." Face stayed on the bed, keeping his arm still while Hannibal hung the saline bottle.

"It will take a little while to help." Hearing a thanks from Face was a rarity in the best of times; he most often chose gifts to show his gratitude instead of words. Hearing it now, in this place, had just a fraction of the tension easing from Hannibal's shoulders.

Nodding, Face stared up at the ceiling. There was nothing else to do. Murdock was tossing and turning, but still actually and blessedly asleep and Face was too damn wrung out to do much more then sit back and wait for the fluids to start bringing a fraction of relief. Leaning back against the wall by the bathroom Hannibal lit what was left of his cigar. Setting the lighter by the ashtray on the sad end table, Hannibal took a deep drag. Working his tongue around the warn smoke filling his mouth, Hannibal allowed himself a few rare moments of peace and just a fraction of hope.

Face acting mostly rational, Murdock sleeping and not looking like he was on death watch. It was better than Hannibal had dared hope since he'd gotten that late night call from Murdock. No, if he was completely honest, and Hannibal prided himself on being nothing less, it started before that. Hell, he'd had that sinking, kicked in the gut feeling since Murdock had punched him for sending Face home.

The drugs, the self destruction, the complete debauchery and depths Face had fallen to, were ultimately Face's own doing, but Hannibal had been the start; the catalyst. He'd read his man wrong and it damn sure had cost them. All of them.

At least for right now Face was not trying to send himself off the rails. It was something, and more than Hannibal had a right to expect. Hell, at this point just these two knuckleheads being alive was a win.

He was halfway through a second cigar when the kid's IV ran out. Leaving his cigar in the ashtray, Hannibal replaced the empty bottle with a new one. Face still looked like shit but his color was less green and the dry sunken look was lessened.

"How you feeling now?"

"Like shit." Face didn't hide the exhaustion from his voice. "The cramps are easing up a bit though. I think. It's hard to tell."

Hannibal nodded. There wasn't any need to respond to that. It was all true and it was how it had to be. If you spent months putting poison into your veins, then you had to pay like hell when you stopped.

"I need to use bathroom."

"There's a trashcan next to you if you're going to be sick."

"No, I need the head."

"I'll need to get Murdock."

"Why?"

"He's the one with all the experience, kid."

"He's asleep." Face lifted his head off the bed to make sure he was right. "I've gotta take shit, Colonel. I'm on a leash with this IV anyway. You can let him sleep. I'm not going anywhere."

Maybe he was tired, but Face was actually making sense. It was a windowless bathroom that Murdock had cleared already and Face was barely able to stand. What the hell could he get up to? "Alright."

XXXXX

Face couldn't get into the drawer fast enough. Hands shaking with want, he could feel it. So close to being so damn good in his veins. He had done it. He'd gotten past Murdock and past Hannibal and all their fucking bullshit sobriety. And now, finally he pulled out the baggie he'd stashed under the sink while no one had been looking. A parting gift from Marco, the sick fuck. All the more reason to push things away and forget. Dear God it was like he was staring at salvation itself. So bright and white and beautiful. His body was shaking with want. So fucking close to that release, that warm nothingness he wanted so bad, he couldn't get his fingers to unwrap the baggie fast enough. Like he was trying to take the panties off his first lay again, his body half sprung just being this close. But there it was, finally open and just waiting for him to take it. His mouth was watering. If he didn't know how damn good it was to slam that plunger home where it belonged he'd have been lapping the stuff up like a starved puppy. As it was, it was all he could do to pull the syringe out of his pocket. Fucking Hannibal and his self righteous bullshit had been too stupid, lapping up Face's acceptance of his help to realize he'd packed up too few supplies after starting the line on him.

It had been perfect. Hannibal always carried a medpack with him and now was no exception. True blue boy scout he was, it hadn't taken much suffering to elicit exactly the offer Face had wanted. Please Hannibal, I can't take it anymore, anything to help me. Fucker. He had no clue what type hell he was putting Face through right now. It had taken everything Face had not to scramble his way into the bathroom and claw at the heroin he'd known was there as soon as that line had been started. Hannibal was a damn good start. Face had given up on his arms weeks ago, tracking up his legs was easier and he'd never been a good shot with his left hand anyway. Flicking Hannibal's lighter open, Face pulled back the top, twisting, until the metal bit into his finger. Not like he cared, the only thing he cared about was that it popped off. Packing the lid full of smack he left just enough room for the water to mix.

Come on, come on, come on, he wanted it so damn bad. Igniting the lighter he watched the heat work it's magic. The flame danced around the cap, melting the powder all down, mixing into that fucking potent serum that would solve all his problems. Dark and warm just like its embrace. Just like his life. Pulling all of it up into the syringe he'd swiped off the table Face didn't even wait to sit down before he went to work on the IV. Pulling his arm back, he pinched the rubber tubing off so the saline didn't keep running and dilute the shit out of his high, Face steadied the medication port between his palm and pinky, guiding that needle home. He couldn't wait. Not another millisecond. He slammed that plunger down.

He felt it. That wonderful warmth that raced up his arm and wrapped itself around him like an old friend, one that never left. It was the most incredible feeling in the world. Safe and warm, pushing all of the memories, all the screaming voices back to nothing where they belonged. It pushed Hannibal and Murdock in the next room off of his list of problems. Made the world go away, no made him go away, until there was nothing left but that deep floating void. He was lost on clouds, drifting too far away to be found. Peaceful, with the angels passing by, their carefree forms and serendipitous looks adding to the perfect. It was peace on earth, hark the herald angels sing, the hallelujah choirs, all coursing through his veins. It was glorious darkness that ravaged him until there was nothing left.

XXXXX

Engulfing silence was interrupted by an out of place sound. Not the low murmur and comforting babble of soft voices. This was something else. Flopping onto his side Murdock tried to escape the sound and retreat back into the calm abyss. There was so much badness outside and so much quiet inside, he just needed to rest. He needed the silence and the serenity and Face.

Face.

Murdock was sitting straight up, gasping for air and trying not to scream. Fuck, where was he? Who was here? Why did things feel so wrong? As fast as he'd woken up the answers came screaming into the darkness. Drugs, abuse, Face... Fuck. Sucking in cool air, Murdock took in Hannibal sitting in the corner The sense of dread growing, why? Long, agonizing seconds ticked by before it hit him.

Where the hell was Face? By the time his brain put together the clues, his stomach was tightening and dropping. The bed was empty and the bathroom door closed. It couldn't be Hannibal in there because he was here looking at Murdock. No, no, no….

"Where's Face?" He knew the answer but he still asked.

"In the bathroom."

He was moving before Hannibal finished, knowing the future and not wanting to. Fast, forward movement felt like slow motion. Hand on the knob, it wouldn't turn, locked, slamming his shoulder and franticly muscling into the frame had it crashed open and the world stopped.

Face was dead.

"Hannibal!" The voice screaming was his.

Lying on the bathroom floor, was the body of his best friend. No, no, no. Not Face, not again. God please no.

"Face!" Murdock was on the floor grabbing at Face's head, hands shaking as he tilted Face's forehead back, breathing into his mouth, knowing it was pointless, knowing he was too late, still trying.

Hannibal was there looking just as stunned. Hand on the doorframe for less than a second Hannibal was moving away, yelling. "Hang on, Murdock!"

Over the breath counts and chest compressions, Murdock heard things landing on the floor, getting riffled through for a painful amount of time before Hannibal was finally back.

"Don't die, Facey. Please. Don't leave me here."

Ripping a box, Hannibal dropped things onto the ground and opened a syringe. "Cruiser gave me Narcan. It reverses heroin." Clear liquid drawn up, Hannibal reached over to the IV port and pushed the medication in, squeezing the still hanging bag of saline to slam it into Face.

His back up against the tub, Murdock ended up with Face's head in his lap. "Please stay, I just need to know. Don't be three. Please." It was too late, he was too late. He was holding the dead body of his best friend and nothing would ever be the same.

Staring at Face's body, the syringe still in his hand, Hannibal was watching like he expected the dead to rise. No, no, no….

Face's arm moved. What the fuck? Dead was dead until you ended up a ghost in his head.

There was a sucking, deep, gasping breath and Murdock found himself staring into a dead man's eyes. It couldn't be real. Face was dead. Trembling hands touched Face's cheek, it was comfortingly solid and warm. How? He was dead and dead wasn't alive and what the hell was even real?

Face was taking deep raspy breaths and moving, trying to push himself up. They were starved breathes but enough to make his chest rise.

"Nice job, kid." Hannibal was pissed, all jaw tight and angry, ice cold narrow eyes staring at Face. He didn't bother to hide any of the anger.

Face was too busy rolling onto his side, unaware and gagging.

Murdock had seen too many overdoses, he knew you didn't come back. He knew there was no hope, but Face was moving and breathing. How? No, there was only one answer. He'd lost what was left of his mind. Wait, how was Hannibal talking to Murdock's hallucination? What the hell? What was going on? What the fuck was real? Not sure what was up or right, Murdock went to the only source that was always true.

"Hannibal?" He couldn't get more out, he had to trust it was enough. Was this real or was he lost?

"Yeah, Murdock?" Hannibal was moving to Face's side, grabbing under his arm. "Help me get him up to the tub."

Murdock was doing what Hannibal asked without question, not sure if it was real or another one of his hallucinations. Still better to err on the side of Hannibal. Face couldn't fight them, too busy dry heaving, his body trying to figure out if it wanted to breath or vomit more. Hannibal kept a fist full of Face's shirt, making sure he didn't try anything else stupid.

"Which one of us is dead Hannibal?"

"No one is dead, Lieutenant."

"No sir." Murdock shook his head, trying to work out how two known facts that couldn't both be wrong, could be wrong. "You don't get undead. This can't be real." Panic was slinking up to him and bedding down like an unwanted guest.

"No, you can't get undead." Hannibal stiff armed Face when he tried to push up, dropping him back down. Whatever sympathy Hannibal had when he'd first gotten here was gone. "Cruiser gave me something called Narcan. Said to give it to Face if he overdosed. The stuff is like the antidote to heroin." He looked at Murdock, his entire demeanor changing to something genuine and grateful. "You found him in time, Murdock. You saved his life."

"Jesus Christ." Face wasn't dead. He wasn't dead, he could breath, he could move. Murdock's hands were shaking, a tide of emotions he couldn't deal with, didn't want, and couldn't handle hit him hard. Jesus Christ. The asshole was alive, and moaning and flopping around the empty tub like a fish. Face lied, schemed, played on Hannibal's guilt, and used caring for him as a means to an end. A few days sober was all the fuck Murdock needed from him and he couldn't fucking do it. No, thinking about another human being was too damn much to ask, all Face gave a shit about was heroin. God damn it.

That selfish son of a bitch was alive.

Emotions fought and fury won. Murdock was up, standing over the thing that used to be his friend. "You really wanna get high huh, Facey Boy? You wanna float off on the dragon, far away from the pain?" Murdock's smile twisting, he yanked the IV out of Face's arm, smiling at the blood. "Too God damn bad." Keeping the needle in his hand and away from Face he turned the shower on cold, laughing when Face tried to get away from the icy water pelting down on him. "You're stuck in hell with the rest of us."

Face scrambled, slipping and sliding around the porcelain tub, unable to get away from the water, he finally managed to kick the knob and get the spray off. "Just leave me the fuck alone."

Laughing harder Murdock turned the water right back on. Leaving It to soak, he snagged all the shit Face used for his little party. The lighter, the smack, the needle, he dumped it all into a towel and knotted the corners up into a bundle. "Still got some drugs left, bet you want 'em real bad. Hell, I bet after all the shit you did to get 'em, you need them real bad."

Murdock smiled at the frantic look in Face's eyes. The bastard could still feel, just only for himself. Murdock bolted out the door and down the deserted path to the empty lake. Screaming up at the sky to a God who only showed up when he was flying, Murdock threw the bundle as far out into the lake as he could. "You want him to use God? You want him to keep fucking shit up, huh? You want that? Too bad you son of a bitch! I need to talk to him, fucker! So you can fucking wait." Leaving the remains of Face's stupidity to sink beneath the water, Murdock sprinted back to the cabin, letting anger push him faster.

Just like when he'd left, Hannibal was keeping Face from getting out of the tub.

"Stay down or I'm going to knock you out and tie you down." Hannibal wasn't kidding around.

"Damn it, just let me fucking go." Face was shaking, blood trickling down his arm. His voice was lifeless and desperate, on the verge of tears as the only lifeline he had was gone. Hannibal ignored it. Perfect.

"Bad news Face, the only things gonna get high with your shit are the fishies." The bathroom door was already sitting crooked from where Murdock had put his shoulder through it, two good kicks took it off the hinges. Murdock tossed it outside on the empty fire pit. This time when he went back into the cabin he locked the door behind him. The water was off and Face was looking like a drowned rat. Good.

"Congrats, asshole! You lost your drugs, your dignity, and the bathroom door. Privacy is for winners."

"You did not. . . I. . ."

"I sure did." Murdock smiled. "There's nothing left and nowhere to go Sunshine, so shut the fuck up and dry out."

"You fucking asshole." Face's eyes were closed, head shaking with self pity.

"Oh yeah, I'm an asshole Face, and don't forget it." He'd been playing around, feeling for the man and friend, that was all done now. Time was short and he had to know. From now on it would be simple. No give, no mercy.

"Forget it . . . how can I? You took all my fucking smack, I can't forget shit!"

"Welcome to the club."

"What, Sunshine?" Face finished off for him with a barb that should have stuck.

"Yeah, Sunshine." Murdock let his eyes lock with Face. He wasn't going to back down, Murdock would have nightmares until he died, there was no forgetting, that was just fact. He was haunted and it would never change. He'd be damned before he let Face use it as a weakness. Face closed his eyes and went back to his misery. Good.

It was time to set things straight.

"Hannibal, I'm sorry he used you. From now on he doesn't get shit." Hannibal nodded. "You can leave shit for brains here, take a break. I can watch him from the sofa, anyways there's not a damn thing he can get into." Hannibal needed to regroup and Face didn't need anyone to rail against.

Hand on going to Murdock's shoulder, Hannibal gave him a nod and solid, grateful squeeze before leaving the room. If Face wanted to spit and sputter and piss and moan he could do it from the tub while they ignored his bullshit words.

 

Chapter Twenty-seven

"No!" Face woke up with a start, covered in a cold sweat, heart pounding. Davies holding a gun to her crying head, yelling at him, demanding he do the unspeakable - unthinkable. All of it flashing before his eyes. No, he wasn't back there. He wasn't stuck in a mud hut and he wasn't watching his best friend turn into a monster. Blinking slowly and breathing rapidly, the wood panel walls of the cabin came back into focus. Right. He didn't know where he was, but he was stuck with Hannibal and Murdock, and the nightmares were coming back because there was nothing left to keep them at bay.

Hannibal was in the same position he'd been in when Face had fallen asleep; sitting on one of the crappy dinnet chairs he'd dragged over so he was within arms reach of the bed. Sitting with his arms folded and an unreadable expression. Only the cigar that smelled like cheap tobacco and burning tires was new.

Hands shaking, he didn't know if it was because of the adrenaline or the withdrawals, Face pushed sweat soaked hair off his forehead and out of his eyes. Taking deep breaths and closing his eyes, he waited for his heart to finally calm down. He hated this. There was no controlling it, no getting away from it. Even awake the memories intruded and there was nothing he could do about it.

Hannibal wasn't helping. The past three days had been a steady, mostly silent rotation of Murdock and Hannibal taking turns watching from the chair. It was his own personal prison. This time he'd won Hannibal. Murdock must've been outside, again. Good. Face couldn't deal with that bastard right now.

Pulling the thin blanket off, he swung his legs over the side of the bed, removed his sweat soaked shirt, and ran it over his face to dry off. It made his teeth set on edge. It wasn't his shirt, it was fucking Murdock's. Same with the sweats he had on. Lanky fuck had burned all of Face's stuff. Now he was stuck with clothes that were too big and had been broken in in all the wrong ways. Just like when he was a kid.

The bag of clothes he was lucky enough to share was on the other side of the cabin and he needed to get there. He wasn't as weak as he had been a couple days ago, but it would leave him exhausted. God, he just wanted this to end.

Face ignored Hannibal. It wasn't hard, it was a skill he'd learned years ago with the guards in juvie. Making his way over to the bag, Face dropped the shirt on the small table. Before he had a chance the bag was gone, relegated to Hannibal's hand.

"What do you want?"

Face let out a frustrated breath. "A shirt. What do you think I want?"

Without asking Hannibal opened the bag and rummaged around, pulling out a change of clothes. Tossing the bag out of reach, Hannibal patted down the article of clothing before holding it out to Face. "Here."

Face didn't have much of a choice. Tension in his jaw, he took the shirt. It was either that or not have clean clothes at all. "You can lighten up, if I had anything left I'd have found a way to use it by now."

"Believing you is a suckers bet."

"That's never changed." Face put the dry shirt on, tremors making it more of a challenge than it should have been.

"Apparently."

"Right." So they finally agreed on something. It still didn't get him anywhere. Looking out a small window that hadn't been washed in years, Face wanted out. It was too much like jail, too much sobriety, and too much confinement. No getting away from Hannibal or Murdock or Davies or Ivan or any of it. No. Stop. He couldn't go there. He didn't want to picture it anymore. Pulse picking up again, Face could feel his breathing following suit. He turned, took a step and stopped. There was nowhere to go. He turned again, facing the wall this time, hands going up, Face put his forehead on his arms closed his eyes. Enough. They weren't here. Those memories were a world away, those monsters were dead, never to rise again. Those were facts. The nightmares were just that. He knew that.

"Bad, isn't it?" Hannibal's voice was flat talk. "Having to deal with your shit."

Shaking his head against the past, walls closing in on him, the memories pelting him relentless. Legs giving out, Face wound up on the floor. "Stop. Can you please just stop." He couldn't take it. He knew he couldn't.

"I can't." Hannibal actually sounded sorry.

"Why the fuck not?" Focusing on Hannibal's voice, bastard that he was, was better than the memories. "I get it. I'm a piece of shit smack fiend."

"You are." Hannibal agreed with him again. "And you're one of the best men I've ever served with."

Face laughed at that. It was sinister even to him. "That's a bunch of shit and we both know it." You didn't discharge your best without even asking them. You did that to the people you just wanted out from under foot.

The bastard had the nerve to do nothing but look at him like he had a clue. Face stared back. "Come on," It was almost taunting. Almost daring. Anything to keep his attention off his nightmares. "Tell me I'm wrong."

"I know better then to tell you anything." Hannibal was standing there, staring at him like the pathetic specimen he was.

No. That wasn't doing him any good. He didn't even know what the hell that meant. "Isn't that why you're here?" Wait. "Why are you here? You ship me off like yesterday's news and now I can't get away from you, I don't get it. I don't get any of it." His voice dropped, becoming insistent at the end. He couldn't help it. He didn't have the energy to control any of it anymore.

"I'm sure you don't."

Face stared at him. Was he going to explain any of it or just leave it there? When Hannibal didn't continue, Face gave up on it, shaking his head at the whole thing. He didn't get a say in it. He just got to try to figure out which existence was worse; his nightmares or his reality.

"I've told you why I sent you to the World and why I'm here Face. It hasn't changed."

"I was never coming back here!" He could feel himself falling to pieces and he couldn't stop it. "I've got nothing here but a Sister that sent me to juvie. That day on the chopper, when I pulled you out of the river, even back then I was never coming back here."

"And I should have listened."

Looking at him, Face didn't know what to say or think to that. "I just wanted to sleep." That was it. He'd been defeated.

"We all do."

Shaking his head, Face closed his eyes. "But I can't. I've fucking tried everything and I can't sleep. I can't get any of that shit out of my head." Maybe they all had problems and Face was just the weak link. He couldn't take it like everyone else could and it had finally just snapped him like a twig.

"The only way to survive is learning to come to terms with it." Hannibal was on the floor next to him.

"There's no coming to terms with it." Face leaned towards Hannibal, voice faltering with words he'd never spoken out loud. "I watched my best friend, Sgt. Butch Davies, rape and murder kids because he fucking could and I didn't do a damned thing to stop it. Tell me how I come to terms with that. How do I get their pleading out of my head? How do I silence their mom's screaming as he took her daughter's apart?" Face stopped. Damn him for saying it and for bringing it out to the surface and in the light. It was bad enough that he knew about it. Nobody else needed to see his true colors.

"You can't save them Face. You never could. No amount of hating yourself will change that son."

Son. It broken him. A simple three letter word that sent a world of guilt flooding through a dam of denial and hatred. "I never tried." He couldn't stop the tears or the shaking. He hated everything about it. He hated Davies for turning into a monster, and Thomas for holding him down and he hated the fact that he'd ever stepped foot in that village and that all he'd done was his best to run as far away as he could.

Hannibal's hand was on his shoulder. "There's nothing you could have done."

"There's no absolution for me." His sins ran too deep and were colored in crimson. He'd known it for a long time and it had finally caught up to him. Crushing him like stones levied against Saint Margaret.

"There's nothing you could have done. This isn't your sin, Face."

"I wish you were right."

"I am."

Face didn't argue it. There was no fighting the pain, there was just riding waves of emotions he didn't want until they were done with him. Like a kid's raft get thrown into the rocks by the ocean waves until the tide finally fell back, leaving him beaten and battered and exhausted. Face lost track of it all, somehow he had his dogtags in his hand, looking at them like they were foreign. He knew the truth for what it was, holding them out to Hannibal he said, "I'm not that guy anymore."

XXXXX

Lake Isabella was a dirt covered, middle of nowhere town that, from what Cruiser could tell, consisted of a gas station, a small market, and a mixture of rundown trailers and shacks that passed for houses. He knew that because they were surrounded by broken down, rusted out chain link fences to keep the dogs in. Hannibal sure knew how to pick 'em.

No matter, the dirt road they'd been following for the last several miles had led them out of town and around a curvy hill to the middle of nowhere even by Vietnam standards.

"Man, you better be right about that last turn." BA groused. "I don't wanna be showin' up at some redneck's by surprise."

"You don't want to make friends with our new backyard neighbors?" BA was right though, anyone who lived out here wasn't going to welcome them with open arms. Perhaps just their carry license. Didn't matter anyway. Cruiser smacked the back of his hand against BA's shoulder as they rounded the corner and saw the Dodge Hannibal had told them about in the driveway. "And you doubted me."

BA curled his his lip, ignoring Cruiser's comment and handling the car into the dirt driveway. Hannibal walked over to meet them as they got out.. "I'm damn glad to see you boys."

"Going that well, huh?" Cruiser took Hannibal's hand, the two of them leaning in as they shook, a firm slap on the back to let Hannibal know it was good to see him again. Hannibal, a crazy flyboy, and a heroin addict… what could have possibly gone wrong? "Good to see you, man."

BA got the same treatment. "It's been one hell of a ride. Still not sure how it's going to end."

BA growled his disapproval of that as Cruiser pulled out his smokes and leaned against the truck. "End with those fools gettin' their heads fixed up."

Hannibal had said it was a hunting cabin that a friend owned. Apparently he wasn't high up in the command structure. The hunting cabin was small enough that it made Cruiser think sleeping outside under the stars may be a better idea than cramming them all into the building. A nice lake a hundred yards out was the only nice thing about the place. "So what's the rundown?"

"Face is hooked bad, Murdock had him holed up and was drying him out. We dragged him here to keep him from scoring. Three days ago he conned me into starting an IV. He OD'd in the bathroom." Hannibal looked at the ground and then locked eyes with Cruiser. "He died in Murdock's lap. If you hadn't given me that narcan..." He didn't finish.

Cruiser took a long inhale of smoke. If Face had died in Murdock's arms. . . that was bad on so many levels.

"There's more…" Hannibal was never hesitant and it had Cruiser's eyes narrowing on him as he continued. "He got tangled up with some bastard named Marco who traded drugs for sex."

"He what . . ." Marco was a dude's name. He looked at BA and back to Hannibal. He had to have heard that wrong.

"Face aint gay." BA had that low still anger that was more alarming than when he yelled.

"That's the part Marco liked best."

Cruiser just looked at Hannibal shaking his head. What the hell did he say to that? Face was high enough to take that, overdosing in the bathroom wasn't a surprise. Hell, Cruiser would want to OD too.

Hannibal blew a stream of smoke into the air. "I made mistakes with this. Big ones, but this is his own self destruction."

"What the hell, Colonel? We've seen a lot of shit but this is. . . ." Cruiser let it go. He knew lots of guys that wound up using. Whether it was because they couldn't cope, wanted a quick way out of the military, or just wanted to get high, Cruiser had never figured it out. He'd seen enough of it growing up to lose any curiosity he may have had.

"I've never dealt with anything like it before." Hannibal had an edge and hardness to him that was out of place in the California sun. "But Murdock has."

"What's he say?" There wasn't a lot Cruiser could do. All the medical knowledge in the world wouldn't fix needing to dry out and sober up. And it for damn sure wouldn't stop him from using again if that's what he wanted.

"That we aren't dealing with Face, we're dealing with a sickness wearing Face's skin. And he'll do anything to score. All Murdock's been waiting to do is talk to the Real Face."

"Well, he can have fun trying to score way out here in bumfuck nowhere." Cruiser looked around. Twenty feet away behind wooden walls there was a disaster waiting for them.

"He was slick enough to stash something that even Murdock couldn't find. Christ only knows how."

"He that slick, he had any left he'd a used it by now." BA's tone didn't leave any room for doubt. He'd grown up in inner city Chicago, Cruiser didn't doubt that he knew.

"That's pretty much what Murdock said, he still burned all of Face's clothes and the door to the bathroom."

"Well that's effective." Cruiser pulled down the last of his smoke, flicking the butt of cigarette onto the ground and smashing it out with his heel.

"Murdock's had to deal with too much of this shit in his life." Hannibal chomped down on his cigar and folded his arms.

"Doesn't take much." Cruiser watched Hannibal for a long moment. The man looked tired in a way the bush had never left him. "How you holding up?"

Hannibal took a slow deep breath. "I'm exhausted in ways I never imagined."

"Yeah well," Cruiser's hand found Hannibal's shoulder. "BA and I can take over, you and Murdock can get some rest."

"Thank you, Daniel." Hannibal dropped a hand on his shoulder "Thank you, BA."

It was an unmistakeable thunderclap crack of gunfire going off that had them all dropping to the ground and pulling out the weapons they had on them. What the fuck? Who? They? It only took a second for Cruiser to realize there was no threat to them. The shot had come from inside. Shit. "Who the fuck has a gun?"

XXXXX

Face pushed himself up off of the sagging mattress that was all this fleabag, middle-of-nowhere cabin had to offer. Fucking Murdock standing there, that crazy fucking smile

that wouldn't shut the hell up. Apparently it was his turn to watch Face while Hannibal slipped out the front to do whatever the hell he pleased. Must be nice. Fuckers. No, Face was done. The both of them could take their self-righteous bullshit and get the hell out of his life.

"Funny ain't it?"

"Shut up, you asshole." Whatever Murdock had to say, Face didn't want to hear it. He took an unsteady step toward the lanky pilot, jaw clenched, chapped upper lip curled. Murdock, the fuck, looked at him. Silent and judging, because everything wasn't already fucked up enough.

Face's whole body hurt, tight and tense with anger, and not a damn thing he could do. He was stuck. There was no making it stop and no making it go away. He'd tried everything he could think of to get out of here and it had gotten him nowhere. Face was more sober than he'd been in months. He could feel those damn spectres creeping up on him, hear the desperation in their voices, see the pleas in their eyes. They'd haunted his every waking moment since he'd come back "home" and found himself a foreigner. Soon enough, they'd be dogging his reality as though they'd never left. And Murdock - Murdock, of all people! - had no damn right to force that on him. "Fuck you." There was no getting away from Murdock in this place; twenty by twenty square feet of hell.

"Why?" Murdock asked, all calm and casual like he was at a fucking church social. Fuck him.

Face spun back around. He shouldn't have. A small part of his brain that was in control of nothing knew that it was pointless. "Why what?"

"Why should I fuck off? Why don't you wanna sober up and be something?"

That was rich. "Tell me Murdock, what the hell am I supposed to be?" His voice was low, teeth clenched. He fucking hated everything about Murdock.

"Real."

He hated that answer so much he laughed. "Real? You want me to be real? A real fucking soldier? A real fucking yes sir, how high sir, burn 'em down sir? Or is it a different real? A real fucking liar? A real snitch, murderer, rapist?" He was getting more and more insistent and he couldn't stop or even figure out why. He wanted to shove Murdock away from him; out of this cabin and out of his life. "A real what Murdock?"

"A real person." Fucker said that like it made sense.

"I'm all of those things you fucking moron. That's the real person I am and I fucking hate it!" Why couldn't he just get it? Instead, no. Murdock had to stand there reading and judging Face, like he had a right.

"I love Real Face." Why the fuck did he sound sad about that?

"Nobody loves the real Face!"

"I do. Gave up my wings and all. They don't matter if you ain't real. I gotta find you and keep the others away."

"What others?"

The slightest of movements flickered in Face's peripheral vision, but he couldn't turn away from that very wrong look on Murdock's face. It wasn't fight or flight, not even anger or disappointment. He didn't get a chance to sift through his addled brain to place it before Murdock started up again, too calm and too quiet, and with a weird little smile clinging to his lips.

It was a creepy fucking smile.

Murdock's eyes never left Face's. "Trace, Roberts, Michele, Dombrowski. Some with names and the ones without names. I see a little girl crying. I can feel all this blood sliding through my fingers. I see bodies. Carved up, butchered bodies. Wholesale slaughter. The work of a monster, Face. And I know it's me. I'm the monster. Killing and hacking, and it felt so good."

For a second Face could've sworn Murdock was looking straight through him. Straight into the past, right back to that fucking place Face shot up to forget. It was skeletons and monsters, their bodies and ghosts. Face could see it plain as day in Murdock's eyes, like he was looking in the mirror. It had him pinned to the ground as stone cold and dead still as Michelangelo's Pieta.

Murdock closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall, breathing slow and deep. His own breath was sharp, rushing in and out with an anxiety Face couldn't place until his searching eyes caught on the gun in Murdock's hand. The pilot's eyes opened and drifted to the weapon. His knuckles turned white around the grip.

"I made a promise Face."

For a moment, Face wasn't in the shitty cabin. He was in the jungle, the humidity thick enough to smother him, the ground firm and wet beneath his knees, the coppery stench of blood in his nostrils.

"I need to know, to be sure," Murdock said, slow and worn. In another place, Face might have wondered how many times Murdock had said these words without ever saying them. "Are we done fighting? Did the monsters win?"

Did you fail?

Laughter bubbled up from Face, loud and harsh, it cut out as quick as it had burst forth. "Look at me, you stupid fuck!" He yelled. "I'm barely hanging on. I'm so doped up most of the time I can't feel anything, but I've got those monsters all figured out. I know how to lock them out." He threw his arms out towards Murdock in case the man needed another look at the track marks lining his veins. "Every time I take a fucking hit they're right back where they belong. Is that what you want to hear? Is it?" Spit flew from Face's lips, but Murdock didn't react, he never even blinked.

"Or is it that I don't know what to do anymore, is that it? How about the fact that the moment Diz shot me up was the first time in months I felt anywhere near relaxed? That while I was high, those voices finally stopped screaming in my ears and I could close my eyes without seeing it all again?"

Fuck. Here he was,now, seeing it all again, because Murdock wanted him to feel. Because Murdock never could leave well enough alone. And Hannibal. Face couldn't even go there. "Yeah, Murdock they won." He finally said it. "They fucking won and are doing a victory lap around my life and I've got nothing left."

Murdock had the cool barrel of a service revolver hard and unforgiving pressed under Face's chin. Face's breath caught as Murdock stepped in close, eyes going dim and lifeless while Murdock stood there, silent, looking through Face. Tears rolled down Murdock's cheeks.

For a moment, Face didn't know why Murdock was crying. It wasn't Murdock's life Face had turned upside down. It wasn't Face blocking Murdock from getting to the door. It wasn't Face holding a gun under Murdock's chin, waiting for the word to pull the trigger. But maybe it should have been.

Suddenly, it was obvious. It was Sunshine, young and lifeless, blank eyes staring up at him from the mud. It was Murdock, horrified and broken, skittering backward while blood mixed with tears. It was Face, sitting, helpless to do anything but watch as his best friend was taken apart. It was guilt and pain and being stuck, alone, at the mercy of everything and everyone who wanted to take them apart. It was Davies and Thomas and blood slicked children. It was Vietnamese begging and pleading for lives he couldn't save. It was their souls dying with one last agonizing cry.

It was the end.

"Do it." Face's voice didn't sound like his. He couldn't remember making the decision to speak, but the words fell between them, hollow and distant, betraying his secrets. "I can't beat this. You know that. That's why you're here, right? You've seen it."

"I'm here because Face is my best friend, and because I made a promise." Murdock nodded fractionally as he spoke; confirmation, agreement, and lifeline, all in one. Nothing he said was louder than the click of the hammer cocking back. "I'm sorry for letting the monsters get you."

Face closed his eyes. Tears he hadn't expected warmed streaks down his cheeks as his body shook.

"See you on the other side," Murdock's voice was low and choked.

That was it. It would only hurt for a moment, and then everything would be gone. Face wasn't expecting Murdock to add, "God forgive me", but he did.

His words echoed off the walls of heaven and earth, reaching from the caverns of hell to God's almighty ear. It was a moment that hung in the air and lasted a lifetime making it all too clear. There would be no forgiveness. Not for Murdock. No amount of rosaries to undo the bullet that was about to go through Face's brain and put an end to the misery. Murdock wouldn't miss. Murdock would pay his price. Face would finally find solace, at Murdock's expense. There would be no peace for him. Ever.

Murdock pulled the trigger.

 

TBC

 


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

 

 


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