//There’s no one in town I know
You gave us someplace to go
I never said thank you for that
I thought I might get one more chance//
Dear Captain Murdock,
Please forgive me for writing you like this, but I didn’t know how else to
contact Alvin. I tried to call, but the duty nurse said you had been checked
out to vacation with family.
I’m afraid I must be the bearer of bad news. Monsignor Maghill suffered
a heart attack on Friday evening and made peace with our lord before
passing away early Sunday morning. It was one of his last wishes that
Alvin receive the enclosed package. The funeral is April 5. We leave it
to you and your colleagues to decide it if is safe for Alvin to attend.
Please tell him that he is in our prayers.
Sister Mary Benedicta.
H.M. Murdock turned the small package over in his hand and looked at the single word printed in shaky pen on the front – Templeton. Funny. The sister referred to Face as Alvin, the name he had been given when he entered the orphanage – security, he supposed, or sheer stubbornness. Murdock seemed to recall Face mentioning that Sister Mary Benedicta was the nun who had named him. But even in extremis Father Maghill had honoured the name Face had chosen for himself. Murdock wished he didn’t have to give this package to his friend. More than that, he wished he could turn back the clock. It was April 6.
As soon as he could he slipped back to his room and dialled a number he had long ago memorized. “It’s Murdock. I need to see you. Come alone,” he said, when the answering machine picked up, then hung up and made another call.
It was nearly midnight before a dark figure slipped into his room, preceded by the familiar smell of tobacco. Murdock often thought that if Lynch truly wanted to track down the team all he’d have to do was trace all large purchases of Cuban cigars. But then Face would never be so careless as to leave a trail.
Murdock waited until the door was securely closed before he flicked on the bedside lamp. “What took you so long?”
“I only got your message an hour ago,” Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith replied. His eyes narrowed when he realised that Murdock was dressed in street clothes. “What’s going on, Captain? We only just got back.”
Murdock handed him the letter and watched as a frown spread across his features. “Oh, no,” Hannibal sighed. “This is going to break his heart.”
“I don’t know how to tell him, Colonel,” Murdock said. “He loved that priest. How can I tell him?”
“We’ll tell him together,” Hannibal replied. “And then we’ll be there for him. It’s all we can do.”
Hannibal stopped the van in front of the temporary base Face had scammed for the team, a gated house outside Malibu. It was the kind of house Face always gravitated towards, elegant and isolated. It had a large garage where BA could tinker unseen on the van to his heart’s content, but Hannibal had stopped in the driveway and looked at the house. It was after one in the morning, but the downstairs lights were on, meaning that either BA or Face was still up. Probably both – after all, Hannibal had disappeared in the middle of the night without a word of explanation. They would be waiting.
He knew he should move the van into the garage, but he couldn’t bring himself to drive the final few feet, so he and Murdock sat silently as the engine idled. After a few minutes, the front door opened and BA Baracus stepped out, holding his Ruger in the ready position.
Hannibal sighed and switched off the ignition. He opened the van door and stepped cautiously out, hands held in clear view above his head. “It’s just us, BA,” he called out, motioning for Murdock to reveal himself.
BA kept the gun trained on them an instant longer until he was sure it wasn’t a trap, then lowered it reluctantly. “What crazy game are you playing now, Hannibal? Don’t you know better than to break procedure?”
Hannibal did know better. He knew very well that he should have driven straight into the garage, should have called ahead to say he was returning and bringing Murdock. There were a great many things that he should have done, but none of them seemed important at the moment. “Is Face up?” he called out.
“He’s got you covered from the side,” BA snapped back. “Do you think we’re amateurs?” He waved his hand towards the bushes at the side of the house. “All clear, Faceman,” he shouted and a slim figure slipped into view.
Even in the early hours of the morning Templeton “Faceman” Peck looked as though he’d stepped out of the pages of GQ, 556 and all. “You scared the hell out of us, Hannibal. We thought you’d been captured or worse. What’s going on?”
Hannibal hesitated, knowing that in a few minutes he was going to shatter his lieutenant’s world. “Let’s go inside. The van will be all right for now.”
Face frowned, but followed Hannibal to the front door. “Hey, Murdock, why didn’t you call me if you needed to be sprung?” He nudged the pilot with his elbow. “You didn’t have to drag Hannibal out in the middle of the night.”
For a second Hannibal thought Murdock was going to cry, then he shrugged deeper into his bomber jacket. “Aw, Facey, you just dropped me off. I thought you might be sick of my company.”
Face slapped an arm around the lanky pilot’s shoulder. “Come on, Murdock. How could I ever be sick of your company? It’s too quiet when you’re not around.”
“Then you can listen to the crazy fool babble all night long,” BA growled. “I’m going to bed.”
Hannibal put out a hand to stop him before he could storm upstairs. “Not yet, BA. There’s something we have to discuss first. Face, could you put on some coffee?”
Face looked like he was about to object, then shook his head and went into the kitchen. Hannibal waited until he was out of sight, and gestured for the others to follow him into the living room.
Murdock immediately began to pace the length of the room. “I can’t tell him, Hannibal. I can’t. Don’t make me tell him.”
BA placed himself in Murdock’s path, forcing him to back up. “What are you talking about, fool?” he demanded. Murdock silently handed him the letter, and kept backing away.
BA read it quickly, then turned to look at Hannibal. “Is this for real? It’s not some trick to draw Faceman out of hiding?”
Hannibal shook his head. “Murdock called Amy to check it out. There’s no way Lynch could have faked this. And you know Maghill would never have let himself be used to hurt Face. I’m afraid it’s true.”
“We missed the funeral,” BA whispered. “It’s my fault. If we’d flown home, we woulda been here in time.”
“We didn’t know, BA. We couldn’t have known,” Hannibal soothed. “Face won’t blame you.” He knew it was the truth. For all his complaining, Face was the one most tolerant of the others’ foibles, humouring Murdock’s fantasies, riding the slipstream of Hannibal’s jazz, calming BA’s tempers with a smile or a clever misdirection. It wouldn’t occur to Face to blame BA for the delay any more than it would occur to him to blame Hannibal for taking the case that took them out of state in the first place.
“Faceman won’t blame no one but himself,” BA snapped. “That don’t make it right.”
“I can’t tell him,” Murdock repeated, having backed up against the wall. “I can’t tell him.”
“Tell me what?”
All three men spun, surprised by their teammate’s quiet entrance. Face was standing in the doorway, holding a tray with four coffee mugs and containers of cream and sugar.
Hannibal took the tray from him and placed it on the coffee table. “Sit down, Face,” he said, trying to guide the younger man towards the couch.
Face pulled away from his grasp, his blue eyes darkening with suspicion. “I think I’ll stand. What’s going on?” His eyes darted over to where Murdock cowered in the corner. “Did something happen at the VA?” He took a step towards Murdock, holding out his hands. “You know if something’s wrong, we’ll fix it.”
A half flicker of despair flashed through Murdock’s expressive eyes, then he visibly pulled himself together, straightening up and reaching out to take Face’s hand. “I know that, Facey. You can fix anything for me. I just wish I could fix this for you.”
Face’s features were too well schooled to reveal any emotion, but he betrayed his sudden fear by glancing quickly from teammate to teammate. There wasn’t anything on any of their faces to reassure him. “What is it? Tell me, Hannibal.”
Hannibal stepped towards him and took the hand Murdock wasn’t holding. “I’m sorry, Lieutenant,” he said, hoping the formality would give him the distance he needed to relay the news. “Monsignor Maghill died on Sunday.”
Again no flicker of emotion crossed Face’s features, nothing but a quick, involuntary, tightening of hands within hands.
“I’m sorry, kid,” Hannibal said, wishing there was some way he could reach through the wall Face had automatically erected.
“He was a beautiful man,” BA said gruffly, trying to force Face to meet his eyes. “He’s with the angels now.”
“Thanks, BA,” Face whispered, gently pulling his hands free. “You know, every time I saw him I told myself that it could be the last time. But I never thought it would be true.”
Hannibal felt the muscles in his chest tighten at the pain in Face’s voice, then he remembered the package Murdock had given him. “He wanted you to have this.”
Face took the package and looked at the salutation, then raised his eyes at last to look at Hannibal. For an instant the mask fell and Hannibal saw a look of emptiness that he hadn’t seen since the worst days of the POW camp, a look he’d never wanted to see again.
And then the mask resettled. “It’s been a long day,” Face said. “I’m going to bed.”
His three teammates watched as he walked out the door, listened as he slowly climbed the stairs, and stood in a silence that none of them could break.
//What would you think of me now?
So lucky, so strong, so proud
I never said thank you for that
Now I’ll never have a chance//
My dearest Templeton,
My only Templeton, of course, and all the more dear for your singular
self. I have been blessed. I have always believed the Lord balances
every sorrow with joy, and while I grieve that you have endured such
pain, never doubt that having you in my life has brought me anything
but joy. God granted me a great gift when he brought you to the
steps of my orphanage.
My only regret at dying now is that I can’t say these words to you in
person. I know you doubt yourself. I know how lost you sometimes
feel, but God set you on this path for a reason. You have done so
much good, helped so many people. I am so very proud of you.
I’m leaving you my bible and rosary. I hope they give you as much
comfort as they have me. I’m sure they’ll add credibility to your
next appearance as a member of the clergy. I always thought you made
a fine priest.
Remember that I love you.
Face folded the letter carefully and replaced it in its envelope, then lifted the bible from the box and ran his finger across the smooth leather of the cover. He placed it gently on the bedside table, then picked up the rosary, letting his fingers slip through the well-worn beads. He lifted the cross to his lips, fancying that it still smelled slightly of the sandalwood soap the Monsignor had favoured. He could discontinue that supply line now.
There was a soft knock on the door and it opened before Face had time to tell whomever it was to leave him alone. Hannibal.
“I saw that your light was still on, so I thought I’d see if you were all right.”
Face knew that Hannibal would stand there until he answered, so he looked up, fixing a reassuring smile on his face. It failed miserably. He saw Hannibal’s lips thin and then the colonel strode across the room and sat next to him on the bed.
“Ah, kid, I know it hurts like hell.”
Hannibal rested a hand on Face’s shoulder, but otherwise sat quietly. Face wondered how it was the colonel always seemed to know what to do. He didn’t think he could have handled Murdock’s manic, heartfelt sympathy, or BA’s awkward condolences, but Hannibal’s silent, solid presence soothed him.
He remembered how Father Maghill had let him curl up in his lap when he was scared or hurt, holding him until he knew he was safe. Face reached up and angrily brushed the beginning of tears from his eyes.
“It’s okay to cry, Face,” Hannibal said softly. “It’s okay to hurt when somebody you love dies.”
He shook his head, wrapping his arms around his body, as if he could hold all his emotions physically in. He took one deep, shuddery breath and held it until the need for oxygen overpowered the impulse to sob aloud.
“It’s okay, kid, it’s okay,” Hannibal murmured.
And slowly the terrible wave of grief passed over him and he let his body relax, knowing that Hannibal was there to hold him up. He fingered the rosary, trying to grasp the reality that the man who had counted its decades would never again scold him or hold him, laugh with delight at his latest scam or hide him away safely when the past caught up with him. “He was the only one who really loved me,” Face whispered.
“That’s not true,” the colonel replied gently. “There’s three people in this house who love you very much. You know Murdock couldn’t cope without you – he’s only holding himself together now, because he knows you need him. BA’s down there tinkering on your car, because it’s the best way he knows to show you how much he cares.”
Face held himself still, afraid that if he moved he’d lose this too.
“And me.” Hannibal laughed self-mockingly. “You know, I can talk my way in and out of anything, but I can’t find the words for the important things.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” Face replied quickly. He sat up straight running his hand reflexively through his hair, neatening it with a practiced pat. “I’m okay now. I’d just like to get some rest.”
For a brief moment Hannibal looked uncertain, then he got the expression on his face that presaged one of his classic frontal assaults. “I know you loved him, Face. Why won’t you cry for him?”
“I can’t!” Face exclaimed, startling both of them. Face grimaced and clenched his jaw shut before anything else slipped out.
Face glanced at him suspiciously. Hannibal didn’t ask questions he didn’t already know the answer to, which made every conversation a tactical confrontation. This time Face opted for a surprise attack – the truth. “You learn not to cry in an orphanage. It marks you as weak, makes you vulnerable. Besides, nobody cared. Nobody ever came.” But that wasn’t true. Father Kerr had come. After that he had made sure never to cry again.
Again Hannibal looked off-balance and Face took the opening to retreat further. Still clutching the rosary, he lay down on the bed and deliberately turned his back to Hannibal. He heard the colonel sight and the bed shift. For a moment he thought Hannibal was leaving. Strange how he could feel the loss even as he pushed him away. Then a weight settled close to his head and a hand rested lightly on his hair. It reminded him of Maghill’s gentle benediction and his chest tightened.
“I care, Face. And I’ll always come when you need me.”
Templeton Peck had spent most of his life learning to con people. A lifetime’s instincts told him that Hannibal was sincere. Fifteen year’s experience told him it was true. He sat up and leaned against the headboard, then forced himself to look Hannibal in the eyes.
The older man’s expression was uncharacteristically sombre. “You can’t bottle this up, kid. Something’s gonna crack and I don’t want it to be you.”
“I’m okay,” Face said softly. “Really. I just need to get some sleep.” He waited until Hannibal nodded and then slid between the sheets, this time curling up to face his CO.
Hannibal pulled the covers up and patted him shyly on the arm. “Do you mind if I stay here until you fall asleep?”
“I’m okay, Hannibal. You don’t have to babysit me.”
“I know,” Hannibal replied. “But I want to. Humour an old man.”
Face laughed. “The Aquamaniac is ageless. You’ll live to a hundred and never be old, Hannibal.” He closed his eyes and settled deeper into the bed, as Hannibal leaned over to turn the light off. He fumbled to place the rosary safely on the bedside table and remembered there was something he needed to tell Hannibal. “There’s a letter for you in the box. It’s sealed with wax, so the Monsignor must not have wanted me to steam it open.”
“Oh, is that the rule?” Hannibal said, laughter in his voice. “I’ll remember than in future.”
Face thought maybe he should have a smart-ass reply for that, but he couldn’t summon the energy. The worst of the grief had passed, but it left behind an exhausted emptiness that was beyond his resources to fill. For once it was easier just to be. Hannibal was watching over him. He reached out blindly with one hand and found a pant leg. “I’m glad you came.”
//May angels lead you in
Hear you me my friend
On sleepless roads the sleepless go
May angels lead you in//
Hannibal sat on the side of the bed watching Face sleep. The younger man had drifted off about half an hour earlier, but Hannibal couldn’t bring himself to leave right away. He had only intended to look quickly in on Face, make sure he was all right, but the lost expression on his lieutenant’s face had pulled him inexorably into the room. He had wanted nothing more than to gather Face into his arms and comfort him as he would a grieving child, but he didn’t know how. He was free with all the accepted signs of male affection – a slap on the back, a forearm resting on the shoulder, a hand ruffling through hair – but he couldn’t bring himself to embrace the man he loved like his own blood.
It had been different in the camp. There, touch had been survival and sanity. When the guards threw his bleeding, brutalized boys back in the cage, Hannibal had held them like infants, rocking them until they fell into a restless sleep. Sometimes only the beating of a heart in his ear, the rising of a chest beneath his hand could convince him that they were still alive. Back then he had been filled with a fierce love for his boys that had been tempered by time, but not diminished. Even now, looking down at his sleeping lieutenant, he was nearly overwhelmed by the need to protect him, to shelter his boy from danger.
Hannibal pulled the blankets snugly around Face’s shoulders, then stood up slowly, not wanting to reawaken him with a sudden movement. Face had an enviable ability to fall asleep in any circumstances, but he was so attuned to his surroundings that he was always the first to awake if they suddenly changed. But Face didn’t stir, and Hannibal liked to think that it was because he felt safe.
There wasn’t a lot that Face had to feel safe about, really. The last fifteen years of his life had been spent either in-country, in prison or on the run. And the kid had let enough slip over those years to suggest that there hadn’t been much in the first 19 years of his life to feel safe about either. Not that you could tell by looking at him.
Hannibal remembered his first glimpse of Templeton Peck. He had been told to expect a new lieutenant, a replacement for a replacement for a replacement. It seemed as though they were getting a new junior officer every other week – most of them were so green they couldn’t find their way around camp, much less the jungle. They didn’t last. This new one didn’t seem much better. Only nineteen, just weeks out of Special Forces training, and just one step from the stockade. Hannibal wondered who’d get him first, the MPs or the NVA.
And then a car squealed to a stop in front of his tent. Not a standard-military jeep, but a Caddie convertible. Driven not by a motor-pool driver, but by a blond boy with wide, guileless eyes and gleaming lieutenant’s bars on his shoulder. The boy jumped out of the car and snapped a crisp salute.
“Lieutenant Templeton Peck reporting for duty, sir.” The posture was flawless, the salute regulation. But Hannibal quickly realised that the innocent expression was deceptive. When the kid popped open the trunk of the Caddy, he revealed a small arsenal nestled amidst an unheard of store of chocolate bars, bottles of single malt whisky, blankets and records. Peck had taken in the cigar dangling from the corner of Hannibal’s mouth, burrowed through the trunk, and tossed him a pack of Cohibas. This one, Hannibal revised, might make it.
And he did. He was greener than his beret, but he learned fast and had instincts that couldn’t be trained. For all his outer flash, he could move more quietly through the jungle than the stealthiest guide and he was deadly with any weapon. More importantly, he could find anything the team needed anywhere. Before the month was out Hannibal couldn’t imagine life without the brash young lieutenant.
And then they were captured.
He leaned over and brushed his hand through Face’s hair, then gave in to impulse and placed a light kiss on his lieutenant’s temple. Templeton’s temple, he thought, a bubble of laughter rising inappropriately in his throat. He backed away from the bed quickly, afraid that if he stayed longer his emotions would boil over altogether.
He paused at the door, wishing there were something he could do to take away Face’s pain. “I’m sorry, son,” he whispered, then closed the door and walked slowly downstairs to where he knew the rest of his men were waiting.
Murdock jumped up as he walked into the living room. “Is he okay? Is he asleep? Did he say anything to you?”
“Shut up, fool,” BA growled, putting down the spark plug he’d been cleaning. “He can’t answer you if you’re jibber jabbing away.”
Murdock’s eyes darted between BA and Hannibal and he opened his mouth, then clamped it shut again.
Hannibal could tell what it was costing Murdock to stay silent and smiled reassuringly at him. “He’s asleep now. I’d hoped maybe I could get him to open up, let go some of the pain, but you know how he is.”
“The Faceman don’t cry,” BA agreed. “Not even in the camp.”
Hannibal remembered. He remembered being thrown back into the cage, exhausted by too little sleep and next to no food, every inch of his body aching, and knowing that there was nothing he could do to protect his men from the torture. He remembered curling up in a ball in the far corner, letting the hot tears course down his cheeks, tears of rage and pain and frustration. And he remembered his lieutenant – heartbreakingly young, yet impossibly old – settling down beside him, saying nothing, just rubbing his hand in slow circles on his back. Even BA had cried for his Mama after the worst of the beatings, but not Face. Face had just retreated within himself, and each time he emerged, the smiling con man had taken further hold, until all you could see was the surface gloss. Only when he was asleep, did the rest leak through in stifled screams and thrashing limbs. But even then there were no tears.
“You’re gonna wreck that letter,” BA said mildly, or at least what passed as mildly with him.
Hannibal looked down at his hands, unaware that he had been twisting the envelope addressed to him into a tight spiral. He frowned and smoothed it flat, looking again at the salutation on the front: Colonel John Smith. He wondered what the priest had to say to him. Knowing both BA and Murdock were watching, he sat down in the nearest chair and carefully slit open the envelope and withdrew the single sheet of paper. A cardboard square slipped free of the folds and he turned it over. It was a picture on faded colour film of a small tow-headed boy, smiling tentatively into the camera. There was something ethereal about the child’s beauty, something in the open, vulnerable expression in his wide blue eyes that made his heart ache. He looked up and saw Murdock staring at him and forced himself to smile. He handed the pilot the photo, feeling the loss even as it left his fingers.
“Facey,” Murdock breathed, tracing his finger around the tiny figure.
BA crowded behind him, looking over his shoulder. “He looks like an angel. Why did nobody ever adopt him?”
Hannibal had the feeling the letter would tell him, so he took a deep breath and unfolded the paper.
Dear Colonel Smith,
The diocese lawyers were by today to duly catalogue and reassign my
earthly goods and it has set me to thinking. I have far too many
things for one who took a vow of poverty more than fifty years ago,
but what I most value is not mine to bequeath. I can only ask that
you continue to look after Templeton for me. I know you love him too
and have done everything you can to protect him these long, dangerous
years. He told me what happened to him when he was a prisoner of war
and how you helped him. I wish I could tell you that was all you
need to help him with.
You once asked me how it was that Templeton remembered nothing of his
real parents, even though he was five years old when he came to us.
I told you then that he had been too frightened to speak when he
arrived and that the doctors thought he might have intentionally
blocked memories of his past as a coping device. What I didn’t tell
you was that he didn’t speak for nearly six months, except when he
would scream himself awake at night. There were no physical injuries
or signs of abuse that the doctors could find, but he was
malnourished and dehydrated and we could only assume that he’d been
abandoned intentionally or accidentally some time before. I loved
all the children under my care, but I think I loved Templeton more
because I believed I had saved him from a terrible fate. I was wrong.
You can see from the picture that Templeton was a beautiful child.
Unfortunately the world can be a dangerous place for a beautiful
child who cannot speak to defend himself, and an orphanage is no
exception. I don’t know how long the abuse went on, only that when
he finally spoke it was to stop it. Not for himself, but for the
other children. We found out later that the priest who had been
molesting him had been hurting children for years. It was only when
Templeton discovered that one of the other boys in his dorm was being
taken out of the room at night that he came to me. I’ll never forget
what he said – it was the first words he ever spoke to me. “I
thought it was because I was bad. But Timmy is a good boy.”
I never convinced Templeton that he wasn’t bad. When his girlfriend
left him in college, I believe he lost faith in himself. I know he
went to Vietnam to die. And although terrible things happened to him
there, I believe he found himself again with you and your team.
Thank you for that and thank you for loving him.
God be with you all.
Hannibal stared at the paper, the words blurring. “Oh, god.” He didn’t realise he’d spoken aloud until he felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up into BA’s worried eyes.
“What’s wrong, Hannibal?”
Murdock looked up from his study of the photo and seeing Hannibal’s expression clutched it protectively against his chest. “Colonel?”
Hannibal crumpled the letter into a ball. “Do you remember how we thought he’d been hurt, even before the camp?” BA nodded, but Murdock wouldn’t meet his eyes. “How we could never figure out how a kid so green could have eyes so old?” He threw the paper across the room and when that didn’t release the anger he followed it up with the closest thing to hand, a heavy tumbler that shattered satisfyingly against the wall.
BA grabbed his arm before he could reach for anything else. “What’s wrong with you, man. Didn’t you say he was sleeping? That boy don’t need no more grief.”
Hannibal ripped his arm free. “You don’t know how true that is, BA. I mean, we’ll never know what was so terrible that it could tear away a child’s entire past, but I can imagine that little boy wandering the streets, terrified and cold and hungry. And I can imagine that little boy thinking he found sanctuary, until one of the people who was supposed to be helping him, who was supposed to be saving him…” He couldn’t continue, but he could see the horror reflected back in both BA and Murdock’s eyes and knew they had grasped what he couldn’t say aloud.
“Not Father Maghill?” Murdock asked, wringing his hands.
“No, it was one of the other priests. Maghill didn’t mention his name, but I’m going to find him and when I do…”
“What do you think you’re gonna do, Hannibal,” BA said, grabbing the colonel ‘s arm again.
Hannibal spun and glared at him. “I’m going to kill the sonofabitch who hurt my boy.”
“What’s going on?”
Hannibal froze and twisted in BA’s grip to look at the doorway. Face was standing there, his always-immaculate hair tousled and hanging in his eyes, his clothes rumpled, as if he had come straight from bed. But of course he had. He had heard the crash and come running, just as he had been trained to do. Except nobody had ever had to train him to help.
Hannibal opened his mouth to ask if Face was all right, but it seemed an absurd thing to say in light of what he had just read. The priest’s letter taunted him, his words of gratitude a condemnation. He hadn’t protected Face, had led him to the POW camp where all his childhood nightmares were revisited on him. He felt BA’s hand drop from his arm and he took a step forward, wishing he could flip a switch and erase the past.
Sometimes on long trips, they took turns reading aloud to help the miles pass easier. They all had their favourites – Hannibal loved Hemingway and Mailer, while BA kept a stash of Heinlein novels in the van. Murdock’s reading tastes changed with his personae, usually paralleling his latest obsession, but Face was even harder to nail down. His Catholic school education had given him a good grounding in the classics, but he had a passion for poetry that Hannibal had never understood. Years before he had risked capture by attending one of the last public readings Robert Lowell gave, arguing that Lynch would never look for him was at a poetry reading. He had returned from the weekend with a spare key to a Lowell summer house and an autographed first edition of For the Union Dead.
At least once a year, however, he pulled out a battered copy of The Great Gatsby, which he read aloud reverently, entire passages from memory. Hannibal thought Face must see himself in James Gatz, the boy from an obscure background who reinvented himself as Jay Gatsby, just as the orphan Alvin Brenner had reinvented himself as Templeton Peck. But in the end Gatsby had been shattered by his past, his dreams broken against harsh reality, and the final line of the book, which Hannibal had always thought so marvellous, now terrified him. “And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Hannibal knew that all their years of running might be keeping them one step ahead of the military, but they would never outrun what had happened to them in Nam and before. He could feel his men’s eyes on him. BA – strong, solid, stoic. Too stoic, maybe. He hadn’t seen his mother in nearly two years and that had to be eating away at him. Murdock, who hadn’t been with them in Hanoi, wasn’t on the run, but who had never entirely escaped from the POW camp. And Face. His golden boy, with the dazzling smile that made sunlight seem dim, a shining armour so bright you couldn’t see past it to the pain it shielded.
Hannibal had tried to protect them, but he had failed. At that moment his failure was so sharp, so undeniable, that he couldn’t face the men he’d so badly let down. And so Hannibal Smith, who rejoiced in the frontal assault, who retreated only when all other options had been exhausted, fled the room.
//And if you were with me tonight
I’d sing to you just one more time
A song for a heart so big
God wouldn’t let it live//
Face didn’t know what woke him, only that in one instant he was in a sleep so deep that no dreams intruded and the next he was sitting up in his bed straining to listen into the night. He got out of bed and padded to his door. When he cracked it open, loud voices filtered from the living room. Hannibal and BA.
He slipped quietly down the stairs, avoiding the spots that would creak notice of his presence. He strained to hear what was happening in the family room, but all he could identify was Hannibal’s voice, taut with anger. He paused at the foot of the stairs. He couldn’t remember the last time Hannibal had sounded like that. Fort Bragg, maybe, just before they broke out, after the guard had tried to… He pushed the thought back, locked it away with all the other things he couldn’t think about and stay sane.
He could hear Murdock now, his voice full of sorrow, and his hand slipped into his pocket and closed around the rosary. He had reached for it instinctively when he woke and the light weight in his pocket was more comforting than a gun.
Father Kerr had tried to teach him the prayers, ordering him to repeat the words, then growing angry at his continued silence. He could almost feel the heavy hand on his shoulder, propelling him towards the office for his punishment, the sharp hand against his bare bottom turning into a caress, fingers stroking him in the forbidden places…
Face bit down on the inside of his mouth, tasting blood. It was too close. Father Maghill dead, no one left to protect him. Not true, he thought fiercely. There’s the team.
He could see them now. Murdock was standing with his back to the living room entrance, but his whole body radiated distress, from the nervous shifting of weight from foot to foot to the way his shoulders hunched under the bomber jacket. BA had hold of Hannibal’s arm and the two men were glaring at each other. Something was wrong, terribly wrong, and Face felt the last of his certainties crumbling beneath his feet.
“What’s going on?” he asked softly and drew back as the three men in the room spun to face him. A swift progression of emotions flew across Hannibal’s face. Anger, sorrow, regret, fear. And then the unthinkable happened. Hannibal lowered his eyes and shouldered past him, practically sprinting from the room. The front door slammed shut, and Face finally let himself see the rest of the room.
He looked at the shattered glass. He looked at the sympathy in BA’s eyes and the fear on Murdock’s face. He didn’t need to look at the crumpled letter to know what it said. “Maghill told him.” He was still wearing his clothes from the day before, but he felt naked standing before them.
Murdock was the first to move, gliding over and wrapping his arms around Face in a gentle hug. “It doesn’t change anything, Facey. We didn’t need Maghill to know that somebody hurt you badly when you were a kid.” His voice hardened and Face flinched and pulled away.
“Why is everybody so mad, then?” he whispered, feeling as if he were five years old again, waiting in Father Maghill’s office for the punishment he thought he deserved.
“Ain’t nobody mad at you, Faceman,” BA snapped. Face nearly smiled. “We’re just mad for you and we don’t know how to show it proper.”
“Hannibal can’t even look at me.” He wrapped his arms about himself, shivering a little.
BA glowered in the direction of the front door. “That ain’t your fault. Hannibal can’t look at himself right now and seeing you just makes it worse, ’cause it reminds him that he didn’t protect you.”
Face looked up at him, puzzled. “He wasn’t there. He didn’t even know me.”
“But he was in the camp.”
Face stared at them, shaking harder. He couldn’t understand why he was so cold.
Murdock shrugged out of his bomber jacket and draped it over Face’s shoulders, then wrapped his own body around the shivering man. “It’s okay, muchacho,” the pilot whispered. “We’re here. We won’t let anything happen to you.”
Face leaned into Murdock’s embrace, resting his forehead on his friend’s shoulder. He could feel BA’s hand on his back, rubbing gentle circles between his shoulder blades and let himself feel safe in their presence. But he couldn’t cry. “It wasn’t his fault. He couldn’t have stopped it.”
“You know that and we know that, but there ain’t no telling Hannibal that,” BA said.
Face thought about burdens: his a burden of silence, Hannibal’s a burden of guilt. He was warm now, and the last thing he wanted to do was move away from the warmth, but the thought of Hannibal out there in the cold was a different kind of hurt. He straightened up and ran his hand through his hair. “Maybe I should try.”
Murdock looked at him worriedly. “Not now, Facey. You can talk to him in the morning.”
Face shook his head. “Do you think he’d leave me out there?”
“I’ll go get him,” BA offered and turned to the door.
Face touched him on his arm, stopping him. “Thanks. But I’m the one he needs to talk to.” He smiled shyly, his real smile, not the one he used to disarm the world. “Can I wear the jacket?”
“Mi jacket es su jacket,” Murdock answered quickly. “Do you want to wear my hat?” he asked, tipping off his ever-present baseball cap.
Face chuckled. “No. Thanks. Really.” He slipped his arms into the jacket, letting the comforting weight slope down his back. “I’m okay,” he said, his eyes serious now. “It was a lifetime ago. Don’t worry about me.”
Neither of his friends answered, not bothering to insult him with a lie and as Face walked to the front door, he knew they’d still be waiting when he returned. He opened the door, half-expecting to see Hannibal sitting on the front step. He wasn’t, but Face could see a shadowy figure sitting the driver’s seat of the van, which was still parked in the middle of the driveway.
He walked slowly towards the van, not wanting to spook Hannibal. The engine was off, but they were all masters of the quick escape and Face knew Hannibal could have the car started and in gear before he had the door open. He walked around to the passenger side and tested the handle. The door opened and the engine remained off, so he climbed into the van and closed the door behind him. “Hey,” he said softly.
Hannibal’s hands clenched the steering wheel and he seemed to be studying the dashboard with great concentration. He didn’t turn his head in Face’s direction.
Face wondered if he’d made a mistake. Maybe BA was wrong. Maybe Hannibal really was mad at him. But he’d come out to say something and he’d have to stay until he’d done so. “There wasn’t anything you could have done,” he started, angry at the quaver in his voice. “Then, or in the camps.” He saw Hannibal’s hands clench tighter, but forced himself to continue. “I made it hard enough for you to keep me out of regular trouble. You didn’t know you were stuck with jailbait.”
Hannibal slammed his hand hard against the steering wheel. “Stop it!”
Father Kerr’s hand slapping against his Bible – the crack of a lash – leather thongs chafing his wrists – hands forcing his legs apart. He pressed his palms against his eyes, as if he could push back the memories. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he muttered, curling into the seat.
A hand dropped on his shoulder and he bit back a scream, huddling against the door, the handle jutting into his back. The hand was snatched away, but someone was leaning over him. Hot breath against his neck – voices laughing – a heavy silver crucifix bobbing above his eyes – blood running down his legs.
He fumbled for the rosary, struggling to remember the prayers. If he could say the prayers Father Kerr would leave him alone, he would be safe. He closed his hand around the cross. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.”
The litany calmed him until other words began to filter through the remembered terror.
“Face. Face. Listen to me, kid. Can you hear me? Look at me, Face. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you, ever again.”
Face let his hands drop and tried to focus on the person looming over him. He frowned. It didn’t look like Father Kerr or any of the Cong guards.
“Look at me, Templeton.”
Face blinked and his vision cleared. “Hannibal?” he whispered. Hannibal never called him Templeton. He struggled to sit up. “What’s wrong?”
Hannibal didn’t answer, just wrapped his arms around Face, holding tight against the initial instinctive flinch. Face forced himself to relax into the embrace, tucking his chin over Hannibal’s shoulder. It was only then that he realised Hannibal was shaking as much as he was. Instead of pulling away, however, he held on, remembering how the colonel had cradled him in the cage, wiping the sweat and blood from his face, telling him over and over again that he was going to be all right, that they would escape and make it to safety. And they had. Hannibal’s plans didn’t always work the way he intended them to, but they worked.
Hannibal was the first to let go, but he didn’t break contact, keeping his hands on Face’s shoulders. “You with me, kid?”
Face nodded, not yet trusting his voice. He forced himself to look into Hannibal’s eyes, steeling himself against the expected anger or revulsion, but saw only worry.
Hannibal must have seen something in his expression that reassured him, for he smiled. “Good.” The smile faded and Face felt bereft. “I’m one hell of a commanding officer. Running away from my own men. I’m sorry, Lieutenant. You deserve better.”
Face decided he had to risk his voice, quaver or not. “There is no better. I’d follow you to the gates of hell, Colonel.”
Hannibal reached one hand up and cupped the back of Face’s head. “You already have.” The observation seemed to unnerve Hannibal, for he dropped his hand and retreated back to the driver’s seat. He fumbled in his breast pocket and pulled out a cigar. Face automatically produced his silver-plated lighter and offered up the flame. It was an exchange that had occurred thousands of times over the past 15 years, but this time it was invested with an import that neither could ignore.
Hannibal puffed silently on the cigar, looking out the window. “You’re wrong, you know. I should have known, no I did know, what kind of danger you’d be in if we were captured. I should have kept you safe, but I couldn’t send you away.”
“Hannibal, you couldn’t have known,” Face protested.
The colonel shook his head. “The kind of missions we were being sent on, it was practically an inevitability. But I was selfish. I couldn’t imagine the team without you.”
Face tried to interject a little levity. “I’d like to think I added a certain je ne sais quoi to the operations.” It didn’t even earn him a glimmer of a smile. “Look, Hannibal, we were fighting a war. I didn’t enlist to play it safe.”
“No, you enlisted to die.” Hannibal took the cigar out of his mouth and glared. “That’s why you scammed your way into Special Forces, took the most dangerous missions. A nice government-assisted suicide.”
Face tensed. “You don’t understand.”
The glare softened. “Why don’t you explain it to me, Face.”
“I loved her and she left me. I wasn’t good enough for her. I was never good enough for anybody. My life didn’t mean anything. I thought maybe my death could.”
Hannibal rolled the cigar in his fingers. “You were always good enough for me, kid. First time I saw you, cruising onto the base in that Caddy, I knew I you were meant to be on my team. There was something about you…It was like looking at myself twenty years before.” He ground the cigar out, then looked earnestly at Face, his expression more vulnerable than the lieutenant had ever seen. “You’ve been a lot of things to me over the years, Face. Supply officer, second-in-command, friend, confidante. But above all, you’ve been the son I never had.” He passed a hand over suspiciously wet eyes. “It’s a terrible thing to say, but I’ve never regretted Hanoi, the years on the run. It’s kept us – all of us – together.”
Face stared at Hannibal, then hesitantly reached a hand out and touched him on the arm. He wasn’t a naturally demonstrative man, but the sorrow in Hannibal’s voice cut through his barriers. “I know I complain a lot, Colonel, but I wouldn’t have it any other way either.” He smiled wistfully. “You know, when I was little, the kids in the orphanage used to talk about their ideal parents. I used to make things up with the others, but the only thing I ever really wanted was someone to make the shadows go away.” He brushed a hand through his hair, laughing a little bitterly. “And then in the camps there was nothing but shadows. I remember they would throw me back into the cage and all I wanted to do was fall into the darkness, but you wouldn’t let me. Even at the worst, when they raped me in front of you…” He swallowed hard to get the words past and felt Hannibal shudder through his fingertips. “I know what they were trying to do, but that didn’t make it any easier. I thought BA was going to tear the cage apart and Murdock just retreated even farther into his head. But then I felt your eyes on me and when I looked at you, I knew that when it was over, you’d still be there for me, you’d still hold me and rock me to sleep, and I knew I could survive it. You were everything I ever needed in a father.”
Hannibal blinked away tears, as he leaned forward and gathered Face into his arms. “It’s going to be okay, son. It’s going to be okay.”
That one word – son – the word he had waited all his life to hear broke down the last of the defences the team had been chipping away at for the past decade and a half.
“I’m here, son,” Hannibal whispered. “Just let it all go. I won’t let anything happen to you. You’re safe.”
And when the tears finally fell freely, it wasn’t sure a terrible thing after all.