EPILOGUE

May 4, 1968

Leaning against the wall of the TOC, Face watched as the helicopter set down and a group of men raced to greet the returning recon team. The One-Zeroes greeted them with smiles and beer and congratulations - they were all still alive. Face dragged deeply on his cigarette, eyes dark and face expressionless as he watched from a distance. He'd been nearly two months in SOG now, and whether or not it was all he'd hoped it would be, he really couldn't tell. It didn't really feel much like the place of loyalty and belonging he'd heard about. But maybe that was just because of him. Everyone else on his team seemed to feel it - even towards him. More often than not, though, he found himself pouring effort into making himself appear to be more connected, more caring, and more appreciative of their concern than he really was. He was still alone, and he had simply resigned himself to the fact that he always would be.

He was good at what he did. In fact, he'd worked up quite a reputation for himself, and an impressive number of drops without any injuries of his own to speak of. That was due as much to luck as to skill, but he was credited with both. The word around SOG was that Templeton Peck was the lucky bastard with a good sense of direction and a determination made of hard steel. Don't tell him what he couldn't do.

The young colonel was out in front of the team moving away from the chopper - smiling, laughing... There was blood spattered all over the front of his sterile, unmarked BDUs. Face wondered whose it was. Enemies didn't traditionally come in quite so close. Friends didn't bleed like that. They left pools where they fell and oozed onto the men dragging their lifeless bodies back to choppers.

"You know who that is?" the unexpected voice beside him asked.

He glanced briefly at Shorty, and dragged again on his cigarette. "By reputation," he answered flatly, returning his gaze to Smith as the man was escorted by the crowd into the makeshift NCO club.

"Heh. Which one?" Shorty asked with a smirk. "I can't think of any guy I've met since I got here who hadn't heard of him. 'Bout half are terrified of him and the other half are too stupid to know better."

Face didn't respond. Still watching the legendary team, he took another deep drag. Smith must have sensed the stare. He looked up, and his eyes found Face's as if he knew exactly where to look. Face didn't look away.

"You ever talked to him?" Shorty asked.

A few steps further, Smith was distracted by the man on his right. He smiled, quickly losing interest in Face's lingering gaze. "No," Face deadpanned.

"Maybe you should," Shorty invited lightly. "Rumor has it he's putting together a new team. These drops he's been doing lately are some kind of fucked up interview process, if you can believe it. C'mon, I'll introduce you."

Another drag. Face shook his head. "Thanks, but no."

Shorty laughed. "You're not afraid of him too, are you?" he goaded, sure that would get Face to engage.

But Face just glanced sideways at the 5'1 sergeant standing beside him, and gave a self-assured smirk. It was enough to make Shorty laugh and shake his head. "Your loss," he rescinded, heading off to join in the festivities.

Face let his smile fall as Shorty walked away. Gradually, his eyes lowered to the ground, and he finished his cigarette in silence before dropping it to the dirt and grinding it out with the toe of his boot. Then he waited. Standing still, watching and listening, he waited for what felt like hours.

The plan, such as it was, had been to wait until Smith was good and drunk. But when the colonel finally emerged from the ramshackle building, he still looked perfectly capable of walking a straight line. Standing in the recessed shadows and planning his words for the thousandth time, Face drew in a long, slow breath before calling out.

"Hey, Colonel?"

Hannibal stopped, turned, and smirked as Face stepped forward into the fading, evening light. "Finally worked up the nerve to introduce yourself?" he taunted.

Slipping his hands into his pockets, Face ignored the bait. Of course Hannibal knew he'd been watching. They'd locked gazes for long enough to make it pretty obvious. "I have a question for you," he said seriously.

Hannibal glanced over his shoulder at the tent he and his team had claimed. "Make it quick," he invited, clearly on a mission.

"I know you had to lie on paper," Face continued. "To the family, to everyone. But I want to know the truth about something. About someone."

Hannibal hesitated, taken aback by the forwardness. Finally, he turned his full attention to Face and studied him with intense curiosity through the darkness. "Alright," he agreed soberly.

Drawing in a deep breath, Face steeled himself before finally demanding, "Where did Sergeant Devon Young die?"

Hannibal didn't flinch at the question. But he did take a long, tense moment to reply. "Devon Young isn't dead," he finally said.

Face blinked in surprise at the unexpected answer. It took him several long seconds to even manage a simple, "What?"

"He's still out there somewhere," Hannibal said again.

Shaking his head in confusion, Face stammered through his reply as shock and relief washed over him in equal amounts. "I... I heard he died," he struggled. "It must have been a miscommunication somewhere. Do you know where he's -"

"No, you're not hearing me, kid," Hannibal interrupted. "He's out there." Hannibal nodded in the direction of the dark tree line, and gave the words a few seconds to sink in.

The reality hit Face like a ton of bricks. "You mean he was taken," he realized.

"In Cambodia," Hannibal answered seriously. "About twenty miles inside the border from Duc Lap. As far as I'm concerned, he's not dead until I see a body. But he'd probably be better off if he were."

Mouth dry, Face nodded his understanding and managed a quiet, "Thank you," before Smith turned and walked away. But he only made it a few paces before Face called out again. "Are you gonna go after him?"

It wasn't really a question so much as an accusation, and it stopped Smith dead in his tracks.

"It's what you do, isn't it?" Face continued. "Those impossible assignments with no chance of success?"

Standing very still for a moment longer, Hannibal finally looked back over his shoulder and gave a soft, sympathetic smile. "Not without orders, kid," he said apologetically.

Face swallowed again, but this time he found no words as Hannibal turned and continued on his way.