Author's note: As promised, my (slightly revised) original ending. Unlike the published ending, this ties up all the loose ends and explains everything in detail. The epilogue gives some closure. As I was deciding whether to publish this or not, I realized something about myself. I like closure...A LOT. The ending as published might be more "professional" fiction wise, but it just did not have enough closure for me. After reading both, I'd love to know which ending the readers prefer so feel free to comment.
This picks up after the December 12, 1981 memorial service.
December 12, 1981, VA Hospital Psychiatric Ward, Los Angeles
Dr. Richter's office was too small for a meeting of this size, so a nurse ushered them into a conference room down the hall. Ray looked around anxiously for their missing teammate as Dr. Richter entered the room.
"Hello everyone, my name is Dr. Richter. I'm a specialist in combat related post-traumatic stress, a relatively new field. While post-traumatic stress, formerly called 'shell shock' has been around for as long as war has existed, treatment for the condition has been limited."
A nurse came in, and apologized for interrupting. "Dr. Richter, Captain Murdock is here."
Dr. Richter smiled. "Please send him in."
Murdock breezed in on high energy, as usual. "Sorry guys," he said, remorseful, "Flying charter for these Hollywood types is good money, but when they throw a hissy fit, the world stops."
Ray wasn't the only one who breathed a sigh of relief. Murdock was their best chance of fully understanding the psychiatrist's report, and for a few moments, it had looked like he would altogether miss the meeting. After two years in this place suffering from depression after the war, Murdock knew his way around psychiatrists and their language better than any of them.
"I'm glad you could make it here today. I know it's a sad day for you, so thank you for making time." If Richter expected a response, he didn't get one.
Murdock sat down next to Maggie. It must be hard for her. The Army found Hannibal in the jungle, his mind gone. He cried for Face, and moaned about leaving the bodies of his dead teammates in the jungle. The team couldn't get through to him, and neither could Maggie.
Richter began to pace slowly, speaking as he walked. "You all know his history, but I want to be thorough," Richter said tentatively. "Briefly, Colonel Smith suffered several traumas that caused severe post-traumatic stress. He retreated so far into his own mind that none of you could reach him."
"Hey man, tell us something we don't know." BA showed his legendary impatience with redundancy.
Richter continued, undeterred. "He hates the light, and screams when anyone enters the room. The only exception is his daughter."
Ray smiled slightly. No one could explain why Hannibal allowed her to sit with him, why he stroked her hair, almost as if he knew her.
"Modern Psychiatry functions on the presumption that the patient is both capable of and desires to get well." Richter paused as his audience processed. "The doctors who have previously treated Colonel Smith presumed a desire to recover. To that end, they medicated him, but that hampered communication."
Ray looked around the room at an audience that was only half listening. Maggie stared at a far wall as Murdock and Leslie murmured a conversation. BA played with his gold and looked at the door several times as if contemplating flight. Ray felt bad for Richter, but they had been down this road so many times before.
"I've been treating Colonel Smith for over two years. The first thing I did was stop all his medication. That took several months."
Silence came over the room as everyone suddenly focused. Maggie spoke first. "Why did you stop…?" Her eyes widened as the ramifications sunk in, then her gaze narrowed. "Are you saying that my husband chooses not to recover?"
Murdock shook his head as he popped up on his chair, shifting from one leg to the next. "I don't understand. What…why would he choose to stay in that state?"
Richter put up a hand. "Please. Once the medication left his system, we began to communicate."
Maggie stood suddenly and faced Richter, her voice raw. "Wait, he spoke to you?"
Murdock grabbed Maggie's hand and gently pulled her back down to her seat as Richter continued.
"Please, Dr. Sullivan. Let me explain. At first, it was simple questions. Then a dialogue. Now I have gotten a full picture of where he believes he is."
"And where exactly is that Doc?" Murdock asked, his tone cynical.
"With you," Richter said simply, "With you and Lieutenant Peck, Sergeant Barracus, and occasionally with Captain Brenner." Dead silence ensued.
Richter sighed deeply. "Colonel Smith has created an entire world in his mind. A world where none of you are dead."
They stared at him with mouths agape.
Finally, Ray found his voice. "Most of us are not dead," Ray reminded Richter.
"Agreed, but one of you is dead, the one he loved like a son. Colonel Smith's file says he feels directly responsible for Lt. Peck's death."
Ray nodded in understanding.
"Where I am exactly in this world Doctor?" Maggie asked as she pulled her knees up to her chest and hugged them.
"Well, that's a little bit of a story." Richter had the look of a man navigating a minefield.
"Oh really?" Maggie spat as her feet hit the floor hard. Murdock put a calming hand on her shoulder and was rewarded with a feeble smile.
"Please, I can explain everything. Let me start from the beginning. I have presumed that Colonel Smith used parts of his own past, your pasts, and your shared experiences to create this world. Perhaps you can help me put the pieces together." For the first time, the audience seemed open.
"Some of this is assumption. I can only get so much out of him. Everyone suspected the war would end soon, but judging from his file, he lived for doing missions with his team. Would you agree?"
BA responded, smiling. "Yeah, man, he loved 'The Jazz'."
Richter returned the smile. "He's mumbled the phrase. Normally it's accompanied by a grin. I take it that's a code word for danger?"
"It's a bit more than that," Ray tried to explain, happy at the thought of Hannibal grinning. "But basically, yes."
Richter appeared ecstatic. The guys were starting to pay attention.
Murdock jumped up and asked questions in rapid fire succession. "Where is he in this world? What are we doing? Are we still together?" Richter put up his hand to staunch the flow as Murdock sat back down in his seat, still shifting.
"Captain, please. All valid questions. Colonel Smith's mind has created a very complex set of circumstances that ensured you would not only be forced to stay together after the war, but also could do the types of missions you did during the war. My first question: Is there a reason why he would separate Captain Brenner from the rest of the group?" The team exchanged glances.
"Well," Ray said thoughtfully, "I was supposed to go home in January 1972. We got taken by the Pathet Lao just before then. He knew I wanted to go home to Trish in Barlow Creek and work my in-law's farm. I wasn't in his…world?" On his face, Ray saw the pieces started to come together for Richter.
"You flit in and out, visits and such, but in his world, you die heroically in 1983, killed trying to stop a bunch of thugs who terrorized Barlow Creek. Your former team, 'The A-Team' as they are known, go to your funeral and bring them to justice."
Glances passed between them, brows furrowed. The current year was 1981. Richter seemed to anticipate their confusion.
"Time passes differently for him than for us. In his mind, it is 1987. He doesn't experience the days and nights in the real world because he is in there. I know that is difficult to understand. Let me ask you a question. Does robbing the Bank of Hanoi ring a bell for any of you?"
"Well, yes, actually," Murdock said. "We were hanging out in the team room one evening before a drop about a year before we were captured. Glacier asked Face what he would do when the war was over. Face wanted to get Hannibal back for…" Murdock glanced furtively at Maggie, not knowing if Hannibal had told her that story, "…something he had asked Face to do on short notice. Face told us he was going to rob banks for a living. After we picked our jaws up off the floor, Face went on about how, if we robbed the Bank of Hanoi, no one could really pin it on us because, well, how could Americans get up to Hanoi?"
Leslie's stared in shock. Murdock hurriedly gave the punchline.
"Then he said 'Smile, you're on Candid Camera' and we all had a good laugh. We knew he was just goofing around." Murdock's shoulders slumped as he looked at the floor. "He did that a lot. He was fun that way." Maggie took his hand. "How does that fit in with his world, Doc?"
"In his mind, your last mission in Vietnam was to rob the Bank of Hanoi. The ground team was Colonel Smith, Lieutenant Peck, and Sergeant Barracus. Captain Murdock, you dropped them off and picked them up. When you returned to base, the Army arrested all but Captain Murdock. The Army had not sanctioned the mission, and the orders were blown up in a shelling along with Colonel Morrison. Before the court martial began, you escaped from Ft. Bragg and went on the lam."
The shocked faces of Ray's team mates mirrored his own horrified feelings. Given his team's devotion to duty, this scenario would have crushed them had it been real.
Richter pressed. "In the meantime, you become a sort of do-good mercenary team who helps the less fortunate, people being harmed by bad elements, that sort of thing."
"Hey man, in his mind, we doin' vigilante stuff? That's not Hannibal. Don't make no sense," BA said shaking his head.
"Given his "back story", it does," Richter replied.
"Of course," Ray said in sudden understanding. "It makes sense. How else could a team of commandos operate in normal society?"
"Exactly!" Richter said, obviously excited. "Captain Murdock stayed in the VA psychiatric ward voluntarily so you could have a fixed point of contact for people trying to get help."
Murdock grinned broadly. "Wow! I should get a medal for that, people! I mean, putting myself on the line for my guys. I'm the best!" The comic relief came at the right time; this was all too surreal.
"Yes, Captain, I heartily agree," Richter said smiling, then became serious. "Psychologically, you being in the VA is likely his subconscious acknowledgement of his own situation. You're his substitute at the VA."
Murdock appeared pensive. "Mentally, I struggled during the war, especially after we were captured, so I guess I'm the logical candidate."
Richter nodded. "In his mind, Colonel Smith has created years of missions where you help people. Maybe they came from his own past, or from things people have said to him. I don't really know."
Maggie had been quiet, but Ray knew this hurt. She was here in the real world, and Hannibal wanted to be anywhere but. Richter seemed to sense this.
"Dr. Sullivan," Richter said softly, "Your husband thinks about you all the time. I can tell you that for certain."
Maggie reacted with bile, her fists tightly balled. "Sure, that's why I'm absolutely nowhere in his little creation."
"He wants to isolate the team around him. For instance, in his world, Lieutenant Peck never married Leslie Bectall. She became a nun in some South American republic. It's not that Colonel Smith has anything against Mrs. Peck. But their marriage would split Lt. Peck off from the team."
"Am I in there at all?" Maggie looked up at the ceiling, fighting tears.
"Yes. About ten years into 'his world' Sergeant Barracus was badly injured and they stop in the closest town, called Bad Rock, to get help from the local doctor."
Maggie's head snapped up. "I grew up in Bad Rock," she said.
"Yes, well you and he have a romantic encounter," Richter said avoiding her gaze.
"Is that the only time?" Maggie asked, her tone edgy.
"No, you also helped him when a group of mercenaries tried to pick off the team one at a time and they poisoned him. Actually, it was at that point I realized he was starting to let you in more often. After that, he 'sees you' in Bad Rock every so often."
"Well, I'm glad I'm in there somewhere."
"You know, Dr. Sullivan, I record him when he sleeps, to see if anything from his subconscious slips out. He says your name almost every night. I'm willing to wager he's dreaming about you. But if he allows you into his conscious world, you separate him from the team." Maggie nodded, somewhat mollified.
Murdock obviously liked Dr. Richter and what he had to say, but there were still questions. "This is great information, Doc, but how does it facilitate his recovery?"
Richter smiled. "Right now, he seems to be coming to the end of his fantasies. Before I respond, have any of you heard of a man named Stockwell?"
Maggie shivered. "The day we got married," she said softly, "there was a man at the restaurant. He looked at Hannibal almost as if he wanted to own him. It terrified me. His name was General Stockwell."
Richter seemed pleased. "Right now, in his world, Stockwell has maneuvered you, the team, into a situation where you have been tried and convicted, not only for treason and robbery, but also the murder of Colonel Morrison." The room erupted and Richter put his hand up to quell the noise.
"Remember, this is his imagination. In his mind, Stockwell uses the convictions to 'acquire' your services on a specified number of suicide missions, after which you'll get presidential pardons. Hypothetically, once you get those, you would be free to separate and live your own lives." Ray could see the logical conclusion of this information run through their minds.
Murdock finally spoke. "Then that's good, right? If the missions are ending, maybe he is ready to come out?"
"I think so too," Richter confirmed, "and I'll need all of you to help me." The room erupted again as everyone agreed, hugged, and asked what they could do.
Richter outlined his plan, which included getting Hannibal accustomed to light, and of course, his friends and family. When finished, Richter asked "So what do you think of the plan?"
"Well," Murdock said grinning, "I think it'll come together nicely."
December 12, 1983, St. Theresa's Cemetery, LA
His team and his family had been doing this for 12 years but this was his first memorial. Since he had slowly come back to the world, Hannibal had pushed the guilt about Face's death aside, replacing it with that of abandoning his wife and daughter for more than 10 years. The pain and loss of Face's death and losing his team made him hide away from those he loved.
Maggie and Kaitlin forgave him, although that was a slow process. Dr. Richter helped them learn how to be a family. Hannibal considered him part of the team now too.
As Father O'Malley said the Our Father to close the service, Hannibal so clearly saw Face standing in that camp, saying the same prayer, knowing he was about to die. He shuddered at the memory. Maggie moved closer and took his arm.
The service ended and most of the attendees drifted away to talk and share memories. Hannibal knelt by the grave, and briefly touched the headstone. Carved into it was an American Flag and the logo of Special Forces, one in each corner. Between them and slightly lower was a cross. Face never talked about his faith, but Hannibal always knew it was a part of him.
The stone read:
Templeton "Faceman" Peck
1945 – 1971
Loving husband and father
Devoted teammate and friend
He gave up his life for his country and his friends.
He will never be forgotten.
Hannibal had so much to say, he didn't know where to begin.
"Face, I'm so sorry. I let you down. I let all of you down. Everything I did in that camp led to your death. I wish I could change that. I dishonored your memory by disappearing into myself, not taking care of the team, or your family. I wish I could change that too. I hope you can forgive me."
A breeze rustled the trees. If Hannibal was a religious man, he would have sworn he felt Face's hand on his shoulder. Suddenly, Ray knelt beside him, then BA, then Murdock. Hannibal realized this was the first time they were all here together, kneeling by their friend's grave. It almost felt like…closure. He wondered if they felt it too. They bent their heads in honor of their fallen comrade. Then they stood and shook hands, an understanding passed between them that they would be together always, no matter where their lives took them. For Hannibal, that was finally enough.