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This page last viewed: 2017-12-13 and has been viewed 666 times
Authors: Quentillian & Nora
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.
"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."
"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."
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.
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.
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.
"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.
"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."
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."
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?"
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.
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."
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.
He never heard the shot or saw the blood. Murdock had kept his eyes open, he owed Face that, but the things in his head; the chemicals and short circuits that made him different and crazy rewrote the truth. Instead of seeing the blood and gore he'd caused, Murdock's brain was trying to trick him. A complete and whole Face was standing in front of him, hand on the cylinder of Murdock's revolver, keeping it from firing. Face's ghost was looking at Murdock with fractured pain and shock radiating out, threatening to burn him.
Murdock pulled back, jerking the weapon with him, creating space, not stopping until his back hit the wall. Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck! It wasn't supposed to be like this. Face was supposed to go to a Catholic version of heaven, not be stuck damn it! Murdock could feel the blood rushing and his heart pounding against his chest. Shit, he'd fucked up bad. Fucking Trace was laughing and the little girl was clapping her hands and giggling. They had a new friend. Another ghost Murdock had made.
He didn't want to see anymore, or hear the laughter of the damned any longer. He'd planned this. He knew what he had to do. Murdock knew he had to die. A death sentence for all of his crimes. Not like he could live after killing Face.
"I'm sorry Face. You were supposed to be completely dead, not like the others." One more worthless apology.
"Murdock!" Ghost Face yelled.
"I always could see the monster in you Face. A little bit like mine, but turned in on yourself." Face hurt himself, others only got caught up if they tried to stop him. Murdock's own monster would hurt anything it could grab. "By the time I got here, it was backwards. I could barely see Face in the monster."
"Murdock stop!" Face was standing there, frozen, not partaking in the celebration that the others were. Death hadn't dulled the intensity of his eyes, that was clear. "Put the gun down. I fucked up, I know, but don't do this. Just put the gun down and we'll figure out how to get through it."
"You should have gone to heaven Face. The monsters won." Murdock had to die, it was the only way to make the balance right and keep everyone safe. He had to do it, he had to figure out how to stop. How to let go. Putting the gun under his chin, he aimed for the brain-stem.
Face's eyes were fixed on the gun, watching closely. "They didn't win, Murdock. I'm not dead, you're just fucking crazy." Could ghosts get frustrated? "Just listen to me, please buddy. I can't do this without you."
For the second and last time Murdock pulled the trigger. Ghost Face was grabbing the gun in a tight grip and pulling it away. The bullet exploded from the chamber, this time deafeningly loud. Face's shoulder slammed into Murdock's with enough force to send pain down the nerves. The gun clattering to the ground.
Hallucinations couldn't touch you. They hurt and attacked with words and taunts; Face's go to game, but they didn't touch. Unless Murdock was dead too….
"I'm sorry I killed you, Face." The Face that was trapped in hell with Murdock was pushed in tight, pinning Murdock to the wall. "I love you. We lost you. I promised Face." Tears were hot and wet, rolling down his cheeks. You could still cry in hell. "I'm so sorry you're stuck in hell with me." Maybe he could make him understand, or maybe this was his true hell, trapped forever with the ghost of the best friend that he murdered.
"Me too." Ghost Face was weak, most of his weight leaning into Murdock. He was exhausted, even dead Murdock could see the strain wearing through him. Boney pale fingers found their way to either side of Murdock's face, blue eyes holding his brown and a world of words and emotions flying between them. "We're not dead, Murdock."
He wanted to believe that. He wanted to be alive. He wanted a chance, hope, and more than anything he wanted Face alive and whole. But there was Trace and the little girl and the Vietcong soldier and all the others laughing. "How can you tell?" He wanted an answer to that so bad he could taste it.
Face shook his head ever so slightly. "You didn't shoot me, Murdock." Something changed in Face's eyes that Murdock couldn't quite place. "I don't want to die, not like this."
"I don't want to be dead Facey, and I don't want you to be dead. But we can't let the monsters win. The stakes are too high." The truth was a harsh whisper almost like Murdock was afraid to say it. "I'm not safe without you Face, if my monster gets loose…."
"They didn't win, Murdock. And I'm not going to let yours win either." Face's eyes were searching him, looking for some sort of understanding. "Please just trust me."
There was nothing but truth and Face in that. The Real Face. Adrenaline rushed out of him, leaving Murdock weak and shaking. Murdock bent his head until he and Face were forehead to forehead. Murdock's shaking hand was on the back of Face's neck. "I trust you. Always have."
The crack of wood splintering echoed through the small cabin as the door came off the hinges, crashing to the ground. Neither Murdock nor Face moved out of that moment. Hannibal coming through the door, gun drawn, Cruiser a step behind him, kicking Murdock's further away from them, and BA sad and shaking his head at the scene in front of him.
Murdock could barely hear Face over the commotion in the room. "No regrets."
The team was here, they were alive and Real Face back. He was broken, but back. For the first time in a long, long time Murdock knew he was safe. "No regrets." God help them all, Murdock meant that.
Hannibal was running. He didn't waste time thinking about how. His body took over, legs moving, mind focused solely on the cabin he was running for. Fear, icey and cold was squeezing at his chest, trying to distract him. He ignored it. The men in the cabin needed him, securing their safety was the only goal and focus.
Mind racing faster than his feet Hannibal sorted information, rapid fire, in the seconds it took him to get to the cabin. Gun? It had to be Murdock who had it. Face had nothing. Murdock burned everything Face brought to try and keep him clean.
The cabin door was locked. Hannibal stopped breathing. Everything slowed down to half speed. It was like watching highlight reels. Everything moving in clear snapshots. BA moving in, large shoulder slamming into the door frame. The broken door and splinters floating, suspended in time, in the air before landing on the floor.
He was in the cabin, scanning the area, looking and knowing what he would find would change everything. Which one of his boys was dead? How long would the other last? Through the light haze and smell of gun smoke Hannibal spotted them in the the corner of the room. It took him far too long to process the details.
Too men, upright, no blood, no obvious injuries. In fact the two of them were resting their foreheads against each other, talking low. Exactly like they did in Vietnam when one of them was having a nightmare, or one of them was thinking of being extra special stupid and needed a reason not to.
The tightness that made it hard to think or inhale was gone so fast it had Hannibal having to think about how to remain upright. They were both alive. Son of a bitch, I almost lost them...
"They okay man." It was BA's heavy hand on his back and quiet words that had Hannibal's mind kicking into gear. BA was right.
Hannibal nodded his thanks. It was a reminder of how badly Hannibal had missed the rest of his team. They didn't need to be told what to do, they did it, each one knowing what the other could and would do.
That's why Cruiser was re holstering his gun. He'd drawn it because he knew BA, like Hannibal, wouldn't be able to pull the trigger on Face or Murdock, even if it had to be done. Cruiser would, and he would carry it with him without ever saying a word.
A new realization hit Hannibal hard and swift.
He needed his team every bit as much as they needed him. He was their commander, but the separation, the boundaries an officer should have were gone. With the type of war they'd been waging and how they'd done the things they needed to, was that any shock? No. But standing in an old cabin with a drug addicted con man, a mad man, and two other angry men who fought the prejudices they faced with fists instead of words, Hannibal knew it was forever different.
These were his mean, his team. His only team. He couldn't replace any of them. That's why they'd been struggling since Ray and Face had left. Whatever magic this team had, it couldn't be replicated. Others would come and go and fill needs and spots, but this, right here in the cabin was the heart and soul of it. As sure as he knew that, he also knew he would never command another team.
The Army didn't function like that and he be damned if he could see how it would work, but it was still fact. This was it, his team, his family.
"Clear, Colonel." Cruiser tucked Murdock's 38 revolver into his waistband.
Face and Murdock didn't move during the commotion. Eyes closed, they were lost to their own thoughts and silent language. It was their way of figuring out whatever they needed. By the time those two starting acknowledging the rest of the world again, they would finally be on the same page.
Hannibal dropped onto the kitchen chair and watched. For the moment he didn't have to do anything else. BA checked the cabin and then left to make sure the grounds were secure. Cruiser managed to check and tend to Face and Murdock without them seeming to notice. By the time he was finished BA was back and Murdock and Face were huddled in the corner, sound asleep.
At some point Hannibal had managed to light himself a cigar. He had a mouth full of smoke when BA yanked the blanket off one of the beds and dropped it over Face and Murdock. BA Barracus, baddest, angriest man in the Army was a Mom wrapped in a body made of steel. It had Hannibal smiling, blowing smoke up and away.
Hannibal lost track of what was going on and the next thing he knew a cup of black coffee was getting pushed in front of him and Cruiser was taking a seat. "You okay, man?"
"I thought they were dead." Truth was the only language Cruise understood.
Cruiser glanced over to the still forms, taking a slow sip of coffee himself. "They probably were."
"They do any permanent damage with the gun?"
"To themselves, no. The cabin on the other hand. . . ." Cruiser shrugged, the bullet holes didn't stand out amidst the rest of the decor. "They're malnourished as shit, but other than some superficial soft tissue injuries they're fine."
His men were fine and together, and he was exhausted. "One's a drug addict and the other one is as crazy as a shit house rat." More truth.
"Yup." Cruiser agreed, letting the silence sit for a moment. "And BA's the wrong color, you're an adrenaline junkie, and I'm one fight away from a my own court martial." He just looked at Hannibal with a raised brow. Facts were facts. "Or one's the best pilot we've ever had and the other is the best supply officer around." Still facts.
"I almost lost them, Danial." It was the hardest thing he'd ever had to say. They'd been this close to disaster. "I still might." They weren't out of the woods yet, they'd only added hope.
"You've lost men before and it's never been for a lack of trying to save them." There was only so much Hannibal could do. They all had their limits, even if no one wanted to admit to them.
"You're not just men. You're family." The truth and damned if that didn't change everything.
Cruiser leaned back in the chair, nursing the coffee and contemplating. Hannibal had read his file, family was a broadly defined term when it came down to it. "I think that just makes the failures hurt more, Colonel."
As usual Cruiser cut right to the point. "It makes it Goddamned terrifying. More so because there's a damn good chance one of my orders will get you killed. " That was at the heart of why enlisted and officers weren't supposed to fraternize.
"You could always retire, become a civilian and sell spatulas for a living." It wasn't an option, but it did solve the problem. Cruiser looked at him, holding his gaze for a moment. "We're the best there is because we're not just another unit. But that comes with a price, and I think it's one everyone in this room is willing to accept. There's no team and there's no missions without a commander willing to shoulder that burden, but you can't let it paralyze you."
"I'm not paralyzed, son." Hannibal was smiling, dropping a hand on Cruiser's shoulder. Leave it to Cruiser to put things in perspective "But I am damn exhausted."
"Unless you were looking to sleep in a corner too, I'd suggest the empty beds." Setting his coffee cup down, Cruiser's smile dropped a notch. "Get some rest. We'll figure things out tomorrow."
It was all he needed. Nodding slowly Hannibal snuffed out his cigar and pushed himself out of his chair, heading for the bed. The tension, pain and worry was pushed aside by the deep need to sleep, a need Hannibal had been denying for too long. Hannibal was asleep before his body hit the worn out. BA and Cruiser were here, Murdock and Face had made the kind of connection that only made sense to them. His team was safe, he could sleep.
Face let his back rest against one of the wood logs that had been pulled into a circle. With the sun setting it was the last of the warm rays he was going to get for the day. Eyes closed he let the calm of it wash over him. It had been months since he'd simply rested and let the moment be. He wasn't one to take pleasure in the sounds of nature and he preferred the crashing of rolling waves and the ocean air over the crackling fire, chirping crickets, and frogs croaking out their twilight serenade, but he'd take it.
The sun felt better against his skin than he remembered. That bone deep warmth that soothed his soul and stilled his world. It was part of what had been absent these past few months. He'd found it as a kid by sneaking out of the orphanage and running to the ocean shore, sitting in the beach grass watching as the sun set, taking with it it's warmth and peace. Later on he'd shared that time with few; a blanket, a girl - Kimberly Rillion and he had kept each other warm into the wee hours of the night more than once, but never anyone else. Those ocean waves powerful and soft in the backdrop. He'd been enamored by it.
"Hey!" Cruiser's voice brought him back to the present. "You're going three alarms there."
Sure enough, the marshmallow on the end of his stick was well beyond the golden brown he wanted, engulfed in charing flames instead. Shit. He flicked his wrist, trying to get the flame to go out while not sending the thing flying, but it was pointless, finally he just flung the thing off the end of the stick and into the fire pit.
"I'm no expert but I don't think that's the most efficient way to roast marshmallows." Hannibal sat down next to him smiling. "Then again I could be wrong. It wouldn't be the first time."
"Yeah," Face agreed, "My technique could use some refining." In the time it had taken Murdock to eat half a bag of marshmallows on his own, Face had managed to eat one and burn two. "I may need to hire out."
Murdock grabbed the stick from Face's hands and smiled. "I got your six Face."
With that he slipped off to the far side of the fire and the special spot he had found. He swore it was perfect for the right degree of marshmallow tan.
There was still too much silence and too much tension in Murdock, but the brittle, sharp edges were fading. It was good to see.
"How you holding up kid?" Hannibal's voice cut into his thoughts.
"I'm better." It had been a long couple of weeks, but the cold sweats and stomach cramps that had doubled him over had finally eased up. "The cravings are still pretty bad though."
"The mental part is harder than the physical. You still have a long road ahead."
"Yeah." He watched the flames dancing around the logs, consuming the fuel, cracking a popping with life. "Take it day by day I guess." It was the only option out there. He glanced over at Murdock, turning the marshmallow slow and steady, getting it just right.
Hannibal's hand was on his shoulder. "You won't have to do it alone."
Face dropped his head, forearms resting on his knees. He was more at home in these woods with people he'd known for less than a year than he'd ever been. It was foreign and subtly comforting in a way he'd never let himself feel. "I don't think I can."
Face nodded. He was starting to understand that in ways he couldn't quite articulate. But Hannibal was right and Murdock was all the proof Face would ever need for that. The pilot was sick, just as sick as Face was, maybe even more so. Somehow the only way either of them was going to survive their cancer was in union. "I always thought it was my only choice, you know? It almost killed us."
"For a few minutes I thought it had killed you."
Face looked back at Hannibal. "I should have told you I didn't want the discharge."
Hannibal nodded. "I should have asked you. We learned our lessons the hard way."
He meant it. Face had learned long ago in life about forgiveness, but it normally came with disappointment or some other strings attached. Hannibal meant it and there was nothing else there. They'd made mistakes, they'd paid the prices. It was done and over. Almost. "What about Murdock?"
"He's crazy, but stable." Hannibal moved his hand, taking the cigar out of his mouth. "Whatever you choose to do, he's going to be there."
"No," Face shook his head, it wasn't as simple as that. "He needs to fly and I can't leave the state right now."
"I'm not leaving the states without you." Murdock held two perfectly golden brown marshmallows out to Face.
Hannibal cut in before Face could talk sense into Murdock. "I'm not either."
BA added, "Ain't none of us leave you fool asses. Got it, Jack?"
Face looked around the group of them, each in turn, finally landing on Murdock. "You can't give up flying for me." Before he could protest it Face turned his attention back to Hannibal. Out of all of them he should understand. "I have a court date in a few weeks and my only goal right now is to get through the day without shooting up. You can't put life on hold because of me."
"It's not on hold, Face." Cruiser's steady voice cut through the uproar of the conversation. "But we're a team and it doesn't function without you." Cruiser shrugged, flicking the ash from his smoke towards the fire pit. "So you get your shit together and afterwards we all figure out what happens next. It's not on you, it's on us."
Once again Hannibal nodded. "He's right kid. Do you need a hand with your case?"
Face took the stick Murdock was holding out to him, perfectly roasted marshmallow in place. "There's no case to be made Hannibal, I'm guilty. It's whatever the judge wants to throw at me and it's not like I've got a stellar record to play up in my defense." He really didn't want to go back to jail. Even the thought of it made him want to curl up in a ball and ignore everything until it all went away. It wouldn't help and Face knew it, but damned if ignoring reality wasn't an alluring alternative.
"Then I'll visit you in jail and be waiting for you when you get out." Murdock was smiling. A calm, sure, smile. Not crazy - at least not showing the crazy.
"Yeah, I'd like to avoid that option if possible."
"Then fight it." Murdock shrugged. "One thing you're good at is getting in and out of trouble."
Face took a bite of the sugary mess. Murdock was half right. "You know last time I was in a courtroom Mother Superior begged the judge to lock me up." Face looked between Murdock and Hannibal. "Turns out there's no shucking and jiving around a nun's testimony." Turning his attention to Hannibal, he didn't bother to try to hide the worry. "How tied do you think my hands are on this?"
"Depends. I know if you're clean and looking to join up they'll drop the charges. If not then it's showing contrition and that you're a low risk of re-offending."
Proving he was a low risk for re-offending would be more difficult but there was no way he'd pass a physical agility test right now. "I hadn't thought of enlisting again."
"Don't enlist." Hannibal's voice was steady and sure. "Become an officer. I need an XO."
A laugh escaped Face before he could stop it. "An officer, seriously?" Looking at Hannibal was all he needed to answer that. "You are serious." Could he even? OCS was for people with a plan and goals. For people like Hannibal. But Hannibal was the best there was; he commanded troops like no other CO Face had served under. Like any of them had served under and now he was staring Face in the eye asking him to become his XO and all Face could do was stare back.
"You less of a fool than any other officer." BA didn't even look up from the radio he was tinkering with.
"Yeah?" There was awe in his voice. "You promise not to hit me if I wind up with some bars on my collar?"
"Don't worry Face, he never hit me." Murdock offered. "Of course he couldn't catch me… so there's that."
"What are you going to do, Murdock?"
"Depends." Murdock swallowed another marshmallow. "If you go for OCS then I'm joining the army. They need chopper pilots. If not, I'm gonna stay here with you."
"You still seeing Trace?"
Murdock just smiled that crazy smile at him. "Trace? Nah, he's dead. Seeing dead people would be crazy."
Nodding, Face considered it. For the first time in far too long, possibly ever, he had options. Real options. He'd spent his entire life running away from things instead of to them. It was time to change that. "I'll talk to the DA, see what I can work out." He looked over at Hannibal. "You up to being a character witness if I need one?"
"I'll be there. We all will."
Face sat back again, looking around the group of men. His team - his family, all here side by side. Each nodding their heads, speaking and thinking as one. He was home. He could feel it in the calm center he'd finally found and see it in the stillness of everyone else. They were home as long as they were together.
August 2011 - May 2016
Thank you to everyone who has taken this journey with us. It has been five years of fun and enjoyment. This book has seen children born, loved ones lost, location moves, career changes, returns to school, and the rigors of real life and the added chaos of a cowritten body of works from opposite sides of the nation. This is the first book of many that have been outlined, so keep your eyes out in the coming months for the next book in the series.
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