Chapter 1

Prologue

Fire radiated from the .38 caliber hole in his leg. Goddamn Stockwell. Nothing like faulty "intelligence" to make a plan unravel on a suicide mission. The makeshift tourniquet didn't stem the blood flow. His vision swam as he looked at BA and Face, unconscious on the floor of a South American jungle prison. Stay awake, Colonel! The wound in Face's abdomen would kill him if Hannibal didn't apply pressure; it might kill him anyway. He hoped Murdock could find a way to free them in time.

Heart racing, he fought back the panic and focused on the wound. Something deep in his subconscious flickered to life at the sight of the blood - something he couldn't quite reach and didn't want to. He floated between waking and sleep, unable to stay tethered to the present as pieces of his life drifted in and out. Regrets…mostly regrets. His men - How would they fare without him, if they lived? Maggie – He had wanted to spend his life with her after his pardon. Would she even know he died? And Face – Did Face know how he felt? How Hannibal considered him a son? The pride he felt? Reality slipped away into snippets of his past mixed with fears and dreams. Hurry, Murdock…hurry….

November 28, 1971, POW camp, Laos, Just over the North Vietnam Border

"Fuck you Chou! Oh, and your mother wears combat boots." Face warmed to the sound of Hannibal's weak voice even as he shuddered when his friend hit the cage floor. It meant he was alive...for now. He faced the bars like a coward; he couldn't stand the sight of Hannibal's bloodied back, cut up like chopped meat by one of General Chou's infamous bamboo cane beatings.

He suddenly couldn't breathe. Each time they took Hannibal, Face envisioned his best friend, face contorted as he died from internal injuries, doubled over and coughing up blood. Please not today. He took in a deep lungful of air, then another, to quell his nausea at what he would see and smell. When ready, he turned to face reality.

"You know, Captain, one day you will regret insulting me." Chou spoke impeccable English.

"Well, since you don't feed us, I'll insult you for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Fun and nutritious," Hannibal grinned weakly.

Face expected nothing less than bravado from Hannibal, despite his obvious suffering.

"Mark my words Captain," Chou said, smug as he turned and walked calmly away. Although the Laotian Pathet Lao ostensibly ran the camp, the North Vietnamese Army pulled the strings, as evidenced by Chou and his NVA goons.

Face waited, shaking, until he regained some control. "Jesus, Hannibal. Do you want to get yourself killed? Because if not, you're doing a great job of pretending," Face spat, then relented as Hannibal convulsed, the effects of his injuries taking over. "Glacier!" Face's voice trembled as he called their medic.

Largely silent during their captivity, Murdock spoke up, his voice grim. "Face is right, Hannibal. Every time you bait Chou, he ignores us and goes after you. You're going to die pretty soon."

"That's the idea. They go for me, I've done my job." Hannibal struggled to speak. In the first few weeks, each of them encountered Chou's torture, experiencing the physical and emotional scars from his bamboo cane and other sick methods. Now, Chou only took Hannibal. "Look, Glacier, if I die…"

Ray "Glacier" Brenner cut him off. "I'll watch over the team. But not as well as you, so don't die, OK?" Glacier sounded resigned.

Hannibal smiled as his eyes closed. Relief flooded Face; Hannibal needed the sleep. He hoped they wouldn't come back before Hannibal recovered.

Glacier growled as he tended Hannibal's injuries. "They caned him pretty good. I'm barely seeing skin, just raw flesh." Glacier's eyes met Face's. "His previous injuries were already infected."

Face smelled the rotting flesh, what Glacier called 'necrotic tissue'. It reeked of impending death.

"What about the fever?" Face's voice broke. "He had a low-grade fever before they yanked him."

Glacier shook his head, "He's burning up now."

Face's insides constricted. Damn Hannibal and his heroic urges. That bastard Chou wouldn't kill the only man to treat him as a son. Face would make himself a lightning rod for Chou's anger. Maybe then his CO could heal.

November 29, 1971, POW camp, Laos, Just over the North Vietnam Border

"He ain't awake yet," BA growled, using his large frame to block the cage gate. "Leave him be!"

Helpless, Face watched one of Chou's guards hit BA in the stomach with a bamboo stick, doubling him over and leaving Hannibal unprotected.

Face's hands balled into fists. "Hey asshole, when we get out of here, I'm going to cut off your tiny balls and shove them up your ass! Maybe that wouldn't even hurt because they are really incredibly small," his voice raw as he tried to goad Chou into taking him instead of Hannibal.

Chou looked at Face thoughtfully, as if he were weighing some terrible fate he might unleash if provocation were enough. "Hmmm, yes, perhaps you." His tone scared the crap out of Face.

Not deterred, Chou gestured toward Hannibal. Bastard is not taking him! Desperate, Face gave Murdock an imperceptible nod.

Murdock understood. "I'll bet his balls aren't the only small thing. I've heard the Vietnamese have itty-bitty peckers."

"And you. You'll do nicely as well." Chou laughed as if he had a private joke no one else knew. Face's blood turned to ice. Murdock seemed equally unnerved.

Face saw red as the guard's dragged Hannibal out of the cage toward Chou's 'torture chamber'. His fist slammed the bars.

"Watch that!" Glacier scolded, then softened. "Look, I know you two are close, but breaking your hand won't help."

Face acquiesced as Glacier examined his hand. Unable to confront his fear, Face stressed the practical reason for his anger. "Aside from all of our feelings for Hannibal, he's the only one likely to come up with a workable plan to get us out. If his brain isn't functioning or he dies, none of us will get out alive."

Eminently pragmatic, Glacier agreed. "Let's just make sure he has a team to rescue, okay?"

Face nodded, his agreement hollow. His mentor and best friend slipped away as Chou forced him to watch. His feelings for Hannibal weren't rational; Hannibal meant everything to him. He would stop Chou, even if he had to die.