Absolving All Absolutions
A/N: Sequel to "On the Wings..."
Chapter 1 - Impetuous Encounters
Watching a sunset from this altitude was quite an extraordinary privilege. It felt more than a mere casual encounter with the sky, perhaps a delectable taste of what heaven might be like - an eternity's worth of this luminous wonder. That particular thought could easily make death seem not so bad after all. In fact, it was easy enough to pass beyond that fine line of merely accepting death into something else entirely.
But crazy was a place he didn't care to visit right now. Nah, he'd be better suited to think about what was smack dab in front of him instead - starting with the yoke in his hands controlling a Yakovlev fifty-two airplane. Now his attention was clearly divided between the intricate gauges lining the metallic panels of the cockpit and the picture-perfect sky. Between the two, the plane won him over, of course. Sure, he'd seen plenty of sunsets in his lifetime, but the plane...
This was only one of a handful of opportunities that had presented itself to fly such a prestigious bird, and just knowing that he was directing this magnificent metal beast towards home brought on pangs of excitement that began to grow exponentially. Along with the anticipation, the thought of home brought on a comforting sigh as well, which was loud enough to pass through the headset's mic over to one Templeton "Faceman" Peck, who was comfortably strapped in the co-pilot's seat directly behind him.
"Boy, you said it, Murdock."
Paying zero attention to the plane's controls before him, Face pressed his forehead against the window, also taking in the breathtaking view. He sighed as well, unbeknownst to the fact that his comrade was elated for a completely different reason. "It's a shame B.A. insisted on the boat. He and Hannibal don't know what they're missing up here."
"They would've had to take a seat out there in the nosebleed section; seeing how this birdie has a passenger capacity of exactly dos." Murdock conjured up the image of his other two comrades belly down, clinging to the wings outside, and it brought on a sinus clearing snicker. "By the way, how in the Sam-heck did you scam this bird, Face?"
"Oh, that was easy." Face waved nonchalantly to the seat in front of him. "All I did was convince them that Mr. Travolta needed a plane to get back to the states by tonight to wrap up his next multimillion-dollar movie deal."
"Mr. Saturday Night Fever himself?" Murdock cleared his throat, then belted out, "Stayin' alive, stayin' alive... ah-ah-ah-ah - stayin' -"
Face keyed his intercom, hoping to drown him out. It was a futile effort. He winced at the ear-piercing Gibb impression now screeching in his ears and yelled back, "Okay, Murdock, you're alive already, not to mention disco's been dead almost a full decade - give it a rest!"
"...when you walk!" Murdock finished his solo in dramatic finality, then scratched at the stubble on his chin. "Sounds like the kinda scam even I could've pulled off. Course, I couldn't have pulled off what you did to that pretty daughter of his. I saw the way she was looking at you before we left, Face - all googly-eyed!"
"You saw that, huh?" Face grinned at the window. "Of course, she was happy to help Mr. Travolta's personal assistant. Hell, her dad must've been thrilled too because he didn't even take the down payment we initially agreed on."
"...what?! He didn't take any money?"
"No, he just said if we needed a plane so bad, they were more than happy to help. He did mention something about how it needs some cleaning out, but that it was his pleasure if we took it off his hands."
"His pleasure?" Murdock sputtered a raspberry, then couldn't help but grin wildly. "I guess it's a real good thing he didn't figure out what was going on between you and his sweet, innocent daughter, because he probably would've put a hole in the fuel tank... or somewhere else first." Instinctively, he checked the fuel gauge for reassurance - another eighty minutes left. "I can't believe he would just give up such a beautiful bird. Uh, you know I gotta keep her - right, Face?"
"Go ahead, take her," Face insisted. "I already got my payment, ten-fold."
"Thanks Face! Oh boy, this is a gift that keeps on giving. I've already got plenty of ideas of what to do with her too!" Murdock grinned, feeling like a kid in a gigantic toy store who had just been told he could take the biggest, most expensive toy home with him. And speaking of home... "Hey, can you do me a favor? Since you're so busy sightseeing and all back there, would you mind taking some pictures? I promised I'd bring some back and my hands are pretty full up here."
"Uh, with what?" Face curiously looked around the cockpit. "My photogenic personality?"
"No, Hasselhoff, with my camera. My bag's at your feet, under my seat."
"Oh... okay. Let's see here..." Face reached down, fished the duffel bag from the floor and rummaged around inside. Gun, grenades, another gun, flash bombs... yet another gun, and a camera case tucked away at the bottom, which he quickly unzipped. "Mmm, top of the line here, very nice," he approved as he hoisted the camera from the bag .
"Careful, she's brand new," Murdock warned. "Not to mention it was an early birthday present."
Face lifted the camera strap over his head and inspected the device thoughtfully. Sure, he'd acted like a photographer on more than a few occasions, mostly to score a Playboy namesake's pad for a night or ten, but now as he pointed it towards the sun dipping into the horizon, he began to taste the scam-less life.
This time it was just he and the heavens, ten-thousand feet above sin and deception.
"Looks like minimum wage jobs are officially a thing of the past for you, my friend." Face shook his head in amazement at the quality in his hands after snapping a few shots. "No wonder you've managed to keep this job longer than all the others. You've got one hell of a perk."
"That ain't the only perk, old buddy."
"I bet." Face snickered, then snapped a shot of the back of Murdock's head and the cockpit around him. "How's she doing, by the way?"
"Fine... busy. Business is real good too. I knew that area has tourism written all over it, but the D.C. skyline is honeymoon central, lemme tell ya."
"Yeah, so what about you? Things getting, you know... serious yet?"
Murdock's deep sigh passed over the headset. "Define serious, Faceman."
"Well, uh - serious..." Face trailed off, as if he almost didn't even know himself. "As in, I half-expected her to be having your kid by now?"
"Uh, no, not quite!" Murdock sputtered through a nervous chuckle. "You of all people should know it's way more complicated than that."
Face sarcastically asked. "What's so complicated about having to drop everything and run out of the country every other week?"
"Exactly. So, between that and busy with all those clients of hers, there's just no time for that kind of serious."
"It's that busy, huh?" Face scrunched his lips in thought. "Ever worry she might've gotten a little too busy with us being gone so long?"
"No, and about that... uh, Face?"
"Touchy, touchy!" Face gave a one fingered salute to the seat in front of him, then turned the camera around and snapped a close-up picture of himself with a shit-eating grin. "Mm, there's the real money shot. Hey, have this one of me framed, will ya? I'm gonna give it to Stockwell for Christmas."
He peered through the lens again, and watched the last of the sun descend below the line of mountain edges - its rays still reached out magnificently from beyond the horizon, like long illuminating fingers reaching out for him.
He clicked the shutter a few times, then wondered aloud, "How much longer 'till we're back anyways?"
"We're looking at a Maryland touchdown in approximately forty-two minutes."
Face checked his watch. "And Stockwell's deadline to get this artifact back to him is in fifty-oe." He patted his coat pocket, reassuring himself that their next mission credit was still inside and tucked away safe. "Cutting it kinda close, aren't we?"
"In more ways than one - we're already flying bingo here."
"Bingo? The farmer's dog?"
"Low petrol, my friend - just enough to make it back."
"Ah, you know you could've just said that in the first place instead of using that pilot talk. Remember this is me you're flying with now, not your pilot girlfriend, eh? I never thought I'd hear myself say that."
"Hey, if you'd just take the time and learn how to fly like I've been telling you for years, then you'd know about all this stuff too. I could even teach you how to control this baby right now, whadda ya say?"
"Me? Ha-ha, that'll be the day - damn, out of film," he muttered and lowered the camera. "Yeah, no thanks, Murdock. I couldn't teach you the fine art of persuasiveness -"
"You mean scamming."
"You say tomato. Anyway, there's no way, I know better." Face looked at his still-untouched yoke and shook his head, dismissing the very thought. "I've been through enough crashes with you, I'm starting to see why B.A.-"
"Hey, don't you even say it! Flight rules one-oh-one - don't say that word while you're in the air."
Murdock rolled his eyes. "C'mon now, it's bad luck and all... and I promised Ace I'd come back in one piece, so put a lid on it."
"Or what, we're really gonna cr– whoa!" Face jerked his legs up and dropped the camera into his lap. "What the hell was that?"
Resisting the urge to groan at the irony, Murdock tried to look behind him to no avail; he was strapped in tight. "What was what?"
"I don't know," Face wriggled in his seat. "But something just touched my leg and – ow, hey!" As he stamped his feet about, a sudden sharp sting had his nerves tingling.
Murdock winced as Face's loud yelling rattled his eardrums. "What's going on back there?"
"Dammit, I think something just bit me!"
"What do you mean something bit you?"
"I mean the something that is crawling around in here just took its sharp teeth and attached itself to my ankle." Face seethed. "What - do I have to spell it out for you? B- I - T - yikes!" He felt something brush across his leg again and he gave it a swift kick.
"Sounds like we picked up a stowaway." Murdock groaned at the thought. "Say, Face, did that pretty girl's dad ever tell you exactly what needed cleaning out of this bird?"
"Uh," Face peered down at his feet, but the dim light was now too hard to see. At least, that's what it looked like to him. He blinked twice to clear the blurs away and suddenly longed for his reading glasses. "No, he didn't say anything else. I figured it was just the upholstery or something."
"Upholstery? Oh, for the love of Indiana, I hope there's only just one and not an entire nest under there."
"Nest? What kind of nest?" Face nervously shuffled his legs. "We're talking birds here, right?" Cute, fuzzy little birds. Hell, even vultures sounded good.
"Ssssss..." Murdock hissed into the headset.
"S-snakes?" Face's lips suddenly went dry. "You're screwing with me, right?"
"Whassa matter, Docta Jones?" Murdock asked; his accent depicting the familiar Chinese youngster. "You afraid of snakes?"
"Only when they bite, Pasadena." Face answered sarcastically, then a look of panic appeared. "You know I just hope it wasn't - aw, geez, he wouldn't!" He groaned in realization. "I show the man's daughter an unforgettable night on the town and he intentionally put me on a plane infested with poisonous snakes? That's attempted murder right there. Just wait until I get my hands on him. Mm, on second thought, I'd rather get my hands on her again."
"I bet you would - but I have a better idea."
"Better?" Face snickered. "What could be better than that?"
"Finding out what kinda snake just sunk it's fangs into you... and you better hurry."
Face gulped nervously as he peered to the floor below. There was only one way to find out if this snake was venomous or not.