Disclaimer – Still not mine. Never will be.
This time. This time someone would answer. I looked around at the anxious, eager, faces of my unit and flashed them my most confident smile.
Please God let someone answer.
I turned my attention to the radio, repeating our call signal, and hoped to hear, something, anything but the empty static we'd been getting for the last few days.
"Face?" A voice came through, worry and hope evident in equal measure.
I blinked. The Team wasn't supposed to be this far out. The brass would throw a fit.
Maybe I was hallucinating. It had been a while since I ate properly.
"Hannibal?" I managed, just before another hail of bullets sent me diving for cover.
"Face? Lieutenant? Report!" the radio barked.
I crawled back towards the radio and clicked it over.
"Sorry about the noise. These guys really know how to throw a party." I rasped.
"Well I've got news for you Lieutenant," His voice softened in amusement and relief. "You're way past curfew."
Another round of bullets came closer than I'd like. I clutched my radio like a talisman.
"Hold on kid." His voice was sure and calm. "We'll get you out."
The Huey came in at an angle that could only mean one thing. Murdock was flying.
The covering fire provided the distraction that we had desperately needed and covered the small clearing in a haze of smoke and dust, as the Huey came in to land.
"Face!" Hannibal was out of the bird, before it had even touched the ground. "Face!"
His eyes are searching the clearing. He looks tried and strained. I swallow.
My automatic reply caught on the lump in my throat. God its so good to see him.
I feel shattered mind. body and soul. My hands shake slightly as I struggled to heft my rifle over my shoulder. My eyes feel like they were burning holes in my face. Five days straight in hostile territory, there were times I didn't think we were going to make it. Any of us.
I draw myself up and take a step to meet him. I make a shaky salute. I see the surprise in his eyes. Its not something I normally do.
"Omega squad reporting as ordered Sir." I manage.
He returns the salute. And I feel an overwhelming sense of relief. He has command.
"You're a little tardy Lieutenant."
His voice is rich and warm and gentle. I swallow and force a smile on my face and try for nonchalance.
"We took the scenic route."
He doesn't buy it. He never does. He's the only person I've ever met that I've never been able to con.
His eyes rake across me.
I know I'm a mess. My face is splattered with mud and blood. My hair is matted and sticking out at odd angles. I've lost pounds I can ill afford to loose. But I'm whole. Mostly.
Numbly I hear him giving orders. Around us the unit makes its weary way to the Helicopters that now almost fill the small clearing.. Then I feel his hand, warm and sure on my shoulder.
"You okay kid?"
The kindness in his voice is almost most more than I can bear. Why is it that I can take a bullet without flinching, but a kind look or a gentle word from this man threatens to rip through all my defenses?
"Yeah." My voice cracks and I swallow. "I'm fine Hannibal." There that sounds better.
Or maybe I'm not as good a conman as I think, because suddenly I'm pulled in a fierce hard hug. The rough kaki of his jacket rubs against my face. He smells of gun oil and sweat and safety.
"You did good kid." He pats my back. "Real good."
"Damn me." Ray appears, his voice was tinged with awe. "Walker, Timms, Sanders, .. " His voice trails off as he realizes we're all here. and I feel oddly light headed. I did it. I kept them alive.
"You're a piece of work, you know that?" Ray's voice is taught with emotion as he reaches out and gives me an awkward one handed hug. "One helluva piece of work." Then he pulls back and smiles that dangerous smile. "Oh man I am so gonna clean up. The odds were enormous."
"The odds?" I quirk a brow. I can see where this is going and I'm not sure how I feel about it.
"Face. It was an opportunity waiting to happen. I had faith in you."
"You bet the lot?" I'm stunned. "All our stash?"
"Every cent." He grinned.
I don't know what to say.
Luckily I don't have to say anything because I'm suddenly hit by a whirlwind of leather jacket and baseball cap. "Face!"
Murdock hugs me – hard and tight – holding on so long that I feel the need to reassure him. "Its OK Murdock. I'm fine. I'm OK."
He pulls back and looks me up and down. "Are you?" he asks. Dead serious.
I squirm a little under that penetrating glance. Don't let Murdock fool you, under all that flakiness he is a force to be reckoned with. "I will be." I say more honestly. Then, as always, I try to lighten the moment. "At least once I've had a hot shower and a change of clothes." I grin shakily.
Ray snorts his opinion of that. Murdock rolls his eyes.
Hannibal smiles but it doesn't reach his eyes and I know I'm not going to get off that easily.
"We're done here Hannibal." B.A. comes up beside us wearing his habitual scowl.
I flick a glance at him. His expression doesn't change.
"O.K. Sergeant. Let's move out." Hannibal acknowledges.
Wearily I reach over to pick up my pack. Only to have a large gentle hand close over my own.
"You done enough today, little brother," B.A. informs me quietly, hoisting my pack and my weapon onto his own shoulders. "Let us carry things for a bit."
He's talking about more than the pack and we both know it.
It scares me. I'm not used to trusting people. Always know a little more than your mark. Always keep control. Its safer.
They call me Face. Most people think its because of my looks and I'm happy to let them. The truth is a little too close to the bone. I remember the way Ray had gawped after that first scam. Hannibal had just arched a brow. "It seem our Lieutenant is a face for every occasion." And Face I became. Somehow its more me that any other name I've had.
"C'mon kid." Hannibal drops an arm around my shoulders and shepherds me to the waiting bird.
As we lift Ray starts to banter with B.A., keeping his mind off the impending flight and then Murdock starts in.
I let their voices wrap around me like a warm familiar blanket.
At least for the moment.
Because, when Hannibal finds out what happened out here. He's gonna kill me for sure.