If you just want to find out how the story ends, you can skip this part and go on to the chapter! But I've had so much interest in what happened to this story that I owed you all some response to your comments.
I am truly sorry that this has taken me soo very long to update. I always intended to finish it, but events in my life made it impossible for me to work on more than one story at a time and pretty sporadically at that and since I had several stories on the go at the time this has taken some time. Over the past few months, I've been steadily plugging away at the outstanding stories, and regrettably this one did get left till last because the original premise kinda of got away from me and I wasn't 100% sure how I was going to finish it. I also don't usually write in the 1st person and I've discovered I don't like doing it very much and I didn't want to post something just for the sake of finishing the story if I wasn't happy with it.
Thanks to each and everyone of you for your reviews, I'm glad so many people have enjoyed it and thank you to everyone who begged for an update! I try to write the kind of stories that I like to read and I especially like ones that focus on that father/son feeling between Hannibal and Face and a feeling of family with the rest of the team. My apologies to those of you who found the flashbacks confusing, when you can se the actors clearly sometimes its hard to know whether you are transmitting the full sense of that to your audience. As to grammar and punctuation, I do my best but don't always get it right when I'm tired!
And a minor note re military protocol, just because it came up. I'm afraid I know extremely little about American military protocol, and I'm sorry if that offends, but my aim was simply to portray the characters in character (and thanks to crazy 109 and abrose for backing Hannibal re the rattling sound!) and to move the story along in the context of the plotline. I thank you all for your patience and loyalty to the story and I hope the update is worth the wait.. Now onto the story!
Abruptly, Face surged to his feet and started pacing back and forth across the room, leaving small bloody footprints from his abused feet on the rugs as he walked.. B.A. and Ray exchanged a look, but they held their peace, giving Face the space he needed. The kid ran a hand through his hair and looked at each of us in turn.
Nervous was not a good look on him.
"Face. Whatever it is. We'll deal with it. As a Team." I assured him.
"Oh damn, Hannibal." Face visibly crumpled.
I felt myself pale. He's scared. I could only imagine a handful of scenarios that would elect such an extreme reaction from my unflappable Lieutenant. And they were all bad.
"Face." I waited until the blue eyes looked at me. "Sit down, OK?"
He sat, but his eyes continued to dart around the room, as if to have them settle in one place for too long was physically painful to him.
Silently B.A. went into the bathroom. I heard a tap running. He came out holding a damp towel.
"I'm just gonna clean you up lit'le bro. OK?" Like tending to a wounded animal BA waited until Face dipped his head wearily before gently wiping the bleeding sores and cuts on his feet.
"Hannibal?" Face sounded lost.
"Right here, kid." I got off my chair and hunkered down to put my hand on Face's shoulder.
"Here Facey," Murdock knelt at his other side and offered a glass of water.
Face tried to drink, but his teeth chattered sharply against the rim of the glass.
"Easy Face," I soothed, gently plucking the glass from my Lieutenant's shaking hands. I slipped my palm behind his head and helped him to drink the cool liquid, the kid took grateful gulps. His eyes sought mine.
"Its just reaction," I soothed.
Frankly, I was surprised it hadn't happened earlier. The kid had almost died. But then, Face never liked to show any kind of weakness. It was an insecurity that even the Team couldn't quite banish. It worried me. Sometimes, it was no bad thing to holler louder then you needed, so the enemy would think you were closer to breaking. If we were ever captured .. still better not to think that way. I don't know how long we sat like that. But gradually, I felt the worst of the tension leak out of the kid and he started to pull away. I didn't let him.
"What happened, Face?"
"Hannibal .. Can't you just drop it? Please? " I'm not accustomed to hearing my second sounding so defeated. I almost gave way. Almost.
"Try again, Lieutenant."
"Yeah, Facey. Why didn't you say you were hurt?" Murdock looked worried.
"I'm fine." Face assured him.
"I'll tell you when you are fine, Lieutenant," I scold, feeling more like a worried parent than a military commander. "Now cut to the chase."
Face settled himself slightly more comfortably in the circle of our concern and attempted to collect himself and his thoughts.
"Alright, you remember what I told you once .. about what makes a good con?"
"I remember everything you tell me kid," I stated simply. "The mark or the con man?"
When Face didn't answer I looked over to see him regarding me with an odd expression.
"You remember everything I tell you?"
"Oh," Face gave me a crooked smile. "Well anyway. The mark."
"You have to let them think they're getting something they want."
"Exactly." Face nodded.
"Face, if this is about you posing as a photo journalist from Time Magazine to take risqué photos of the Nurses again .." I warned.
"No .. no .." Face assured me hurriedly, before pausing. "Um. You know about that?"
"I know everything kid," I smirked.
"Well, no .." Face said, looking a little put out. "It isn't about that."
"Or the hooky deal you got playing in the motor pool to bring in ice-cream in return for unlimited use of the jeeps?" B.A. put in.
"No," A faint scowl marred Face's perfect features, that that too, was apparently known. "It isn't about that, either."
"What about that scam you pulled last week, so that we got fresh pineapples in the mess hall?" Ray added.
"This has nothing to do with the pineapples!" Face protested.
"That's good, Faceman," Murdock spoke up. "Cos, I'd hate to think you were corrupting innocent young minds. Bad enough that the pineapples had to leave their home and their families and .."
"Shuttup fool," B.A. put in. "Faceman tryin' to talk."
"Look, guys," Face shifted uncomfortably. "Its not like a pretty face and some smooth talking works on every mark."
"Faceman, you better not be telling us you let somebody beat on you like this for some con." B.A. warned.
"Yeah man," Ray put in. "There ain't nothing we need that badly."
"No?" Face said softly. "What about Hannibal?"
Me? I sat up a little straighter, how the hell did this get to be all about me?
"If somebody doesn't tell me exactly what has been going on, you're all gonna have lots of time to reflect on the wisdom of keeping your commanding officer out of the loop while you are running the obstacle course, .. backwards." I said tightly.
It was an empty threat. I would never punish Face like that when he was hurting so badly. But I was far more interested in knowing what is going on with him and I'm not above making him think he'd better spill or his team mates will suffer. Sometimes, worrying about someone else, is the only way to get the kid to open up.
"Turns out Richards isn't as stupid as he looks." Face laughed hollowly.
A horrible cold certainty settled in my stomach like a lead weight as the pieces of the puzzles started to come together.
"Not again," I sighed.
"Richards?" B.A. scowled. "That fool bin after Hannibal again? Didn't he learn his lesson the last time?"
"Yeah," Ray chuckled at the memory. "We sure made him look dumb."
"You know, Colonel, one of these days you're gonna have to tell us you ever did to get him so riled up against you." Murdock said softly.
I sighed as I ran a hand through my hair. Murdock's right, Richards and I do have a history, one that goes back long before Nam. Nothing would please the man more than to see me busted back to private, .. or worse.
"Face, I was only gone for a couple of days. What the hell happened?"
I let him talk, not interrupting as he explained how Richards had set us up. A recent scam to help a soldier in need had, in fact, been entirely engineered by Richards to gather the evidence that he needed to see me before a court martial. It was just chance that I was called away to a meeting when Richards was ready to spring his trap. I pressed my lips together tightly, this was my fault. In future I would be far more careful about vetting our prospective "clients".
"That still doesn't explain why he went after you, kid."
Kicking the shit out of Face might have given Richards some temporary satisfaction, he knows I care about my people, but it wouldn't compare with the immense pleasure he would gain from taking me down.
"C'mon Hannibal, if he could pin any of this on you, he wouldn't rest until he had you up in front of a damn firing squad," Face protested with only slight exaggeration.
"So, you deliberately put yourself in the line of fire?" I felt my temper begin to rise.
"Richards, doesn't care about me," Face pointed out. "All I had to do was convince him that it was all down to me and that I would be far more of a liability to you here than I would be cooling my heels in Leavenworth."
"And this was what it took to convince him?" I nodded at his injuries.
"That and giving me that mission to the middle of hell and back to teach me to be a good little soldier."
"Face, he nearly got you killed." Murdock worried.
"People don't like something for nothing. They don't trust it. They need to feel that they've worked for what they get." Face shrugged.
"By working you over?" I protested. "Damn it Face!"
"Yeah man," B.A. added. "You coulda come to us. I'd have convinced Richards to keep his mouth shut!"
"Or we could have given him a little swimming lesson." Ray offered with a tight grin.
"Why didn't you want us to help you, Facey?" Murdock asked sadly.
"Look, this was my fault," Face admitted. "I'm the scam artist, I should have been watching our backs. If one of us had to go down for this, I wasn't taking any of you guys with me." He looked up at me. "You'd do the same for me." His quiet sincerity took my breath away.
"That's where you're wrong kid," I grate out. "Damn wrong."
I turned away then. I needed a moment to gather my emotions. But not before I caught sight of the stricken look on his face and the shocked expressions of the rest of the team. I couldn't worry about that now. I had a point to make and I wanted to be certain that the kid got the message before he got himself killed.
"Face," I turned back and looked him in the eye. He looked wary, braced, as for rejection. "You listen hard and you listen good. We are a team. That's what makes us stronger. We work together. We listen to one another. We look out for each other. You go off half cocked because of some misplaced sense of honor or duty or whatever and you're nothing but a dammed liability. If I ever hear of you trying to sacrifice yourself like some vestal virgin ever again, I'll kick the shit out of you myself. Do I make myself clear, Lieutenant?"
You gotta give Face credit. He may come across sometimes as if his world has come to an end if he gets a wrinkle in his shirt but the kid has guts. There's not many people who would stand up to me when I'm in that mood.
"Yes sir, Colonel, sir," he mocked, his eyes blazing. "Next time, I'll just leave the Colonel to get f…"
"Face," I spoke more gently. "You have to trust us."
That stopped him cold. His jaw dropped open slightly in surprise.
"Yeah, little bro," B.A. spoke into the silence. "You don't gotta fight all your own battles no more. We here for you."
"Course we are," Ray grinned. "You're our lucky charmer Faceman. We'll always be there man."
"You came after me." He said, almost with a sense of awe.
"That's what a family does, Facey." Murdock put in.
"I .." he swallowed hard and I heard the emotion in his voice. "I haven't had a whole lot of practice of that."
"Well," I gave him a tight smile. "We'll have to do something about that."
He looked up. "Hannibal .." he says warily.
"You're grounded, Lieutenant," I grinned openly at his surprised expression. "So, you and I are going to be spending a whole lot of time together."
"Guys." Face called out plaintively.
"Sorry, Faceman," B.A. chortled. "You on your own man."
"Oh, very funny." Face rolled his eyes.
"Don't fret Facey," Murdock encouraged. "Me and the pineapples will fight to free you."
"C'mon Lieutenant," I pulled him to his feet and steered him towards the bedroom. "Time for bed."
I keep a hand on his back to steady him as he limps slowly towards the bedroom and climbs into the bed.
"Want me to tuck you in?" I made my tone teasing.
A brief tired smile lit my second's face. "You would as well."
"Damn straight." I perched on the bed and gave him a searching look.
"You doing OK?"
"Its not like I've been shot or anything."
"Still. You've had a rough couple of days."
"I've had worse." Face quipped, apparently without thinking, wincing slightly at the frown that put on my face. "I'm OK. Hannibal. Really."
"You make sure you stay that way, son."
"Yes, Dad." He murmurs sleepily.
I reached out and smoothed a lock of blonde hair off his forehead. He relaxed under my hand and I was pretty sure he was asleep.
"And here I was, thinking I was the one rescuing you." I murmured.
"You already, did," his soft reply surprised me. "The first day we met."