AN: This is NOT a slash story. However, there is a mildly slashy (H/F) version going up on my Live Journal site if anyone would prefer to read that. Link is here: indigo - angels . livejournal 50430. html (just copy into browser and delete the spaces). Thanks! Happy reading... Indigo x
Hannibal stood at the foot of the medical cot and stared incredulously at Colonel Robert Steele as he tried to absorb the information he'd been given.
"You don't know?" he repeated, his eyes wide with building anger, "What the hell does that mean Rob?"
The man in the bed shifted uneasily and tried to ease the pressure off his broken ribs and his shattered shoulder. "It means I don't know, Hannibal," he answered tiredly, "I know it's not what you want to hear, but it's all I can tell you." Hannibal just stared at him, obviously waiting for more, and with a tired sigh, Rob provided. "The whole thing went to shit in seconds," he whispered dryly. "Jackson was on point and must have triggered a mine, he certainly didn't know anything about it, and then they were on us in seconds. Tiger and Jimmy were killed instantly, Dibs was caught in one of those sharpened bamboo traps and the next thing I knew, a log swung out of the fucking jungle and sent me flying."
Hannibal just stared at him. "And Face?" he asked quietly.
"I told you," Steele replied tiredly, "I don't know."
"But where was he when you were hit?" Hannibal persevered.
"Rear guard," Steele was white, his face pinched in pain and a nurse bundled up to them, instantly checking him over, feeling his forehead, taking his pulse.
"So, was he taken? Shot? C'mon Rob, you must have some idea!"
Steele's eyes were now shut tightly in pain and the nurse turned to Hannibal, "I'm sorry sir, but you will have to leave now," she said firmly, "Colonel Steele needs quiet and rest."
Hannibal's eyes flashed on to her in anger, "I'm sure he does, but I need to find my lieutenant," he snapped before turning back to the man in the bed, "Come on, Rob," he pleaded, "think! Where was he? Did they take him? Why wasn't he there when the extraction came in?"
Steele was having trouble breathing now and the nurse was fumbling with the oxygen tank. "I'm sorry, John," he rasped as the mask was placed over his face, "I just don't know."
"Colonel Smith, sir..." the nurse started again, "I really must insist!" But Hannibal was already moving, turning on his heel and marching out, almost sweeping the curtains off their rails as he burst through them.
If BA thought he'd known rain before he came to Vietnam then he was wrong, very, very wrong. Even coming from Chicago as he did, and everyone knows that Chicago gets more than its fair share of the wet stuff, rain wasn't rain until you got here. Someone said to him once that it was okay the rain, here, at least it was warm, but really, in BA's head, that was part of the problem.
Once the heavens opened, and BA silently suspected that it was more likely this rain came from hell, then you were soaked to the skin in under a minute. Literally. To the skin. Every layer of clothing drenched, right down to the regulation skivvies and socks, soaked through, and because of the damn heat and humidity, never to get dry again. BA knew about the difficulties for the troops in World War One with the mud in the trenches but he never expected it here. Really, in fifty years had no one come up with a better way to prevent trench foot than to keep changing your socks? And then, BA groused, heaving his pack further up onto his shoulders, what the hell chance did you have of keeping your spare socks dry when the regulation packs soaked up the rain like a damn sponge. When they found Face he was going to get him to try and track down some proper waterproof boots and packs. If they had to walk around in a damn waterfall, knee deep in mud, then they should at least have the right equipment.
He sighed loudly as kept on tramping through the mud and the rain and tried not to let the traitorous thought that they might not ever find Face from entering his head.
For about the twentieth time in the last five minutes, Murdock felt his feet slide out from underneath him and this time, only Ray's firm grip on his collar stopped him from pitching off the rough path and into the jungle gorge next to them. He smiled sheepishly in thanks and precariously felt around for a more secure foothold in the mud, sending a nervous glance up at the Colonel as he did so.
Hannibal hadn't wanted him to come on this mission with them, pointed out, quite accurately, that Murdock didn't have the experience on the ground, or indeed the training, that the rest of them did. But Murdock knew he couldn't just sit around on the base twiddling his thumbs while the rest of the team went out and looked for Face; Face was his best friend, the anchor in reality for his sanity, the person who knew him instantly with just one look – and if that friend was in trouble, then Murdock wanted to be there. Eventually Hannibal had relented, Ray's quiet promise to look out for him had helped, and even BA's gruff, "Maybe the fool might even be helpful since we one short," had helped to change the colonel's mind.
But now, Murdock mused as he slipped yet again in the thick mud, maybe Ray was regretting offering to babysit him, perhaps he hadn't realised just how clumsy he was in these conditions, and if BA rolled his eyes just one more time, Murdock was worried they would stick right up in his head. Fortunately Hannibal hadn't seemed to notice the potential liability they had in their midst just yet.
Murdock had never seen the colonel so focussed, so driven with single minded determination and he felt reassured. The terror he had experienced when he heard that Face hadn't returned from a seemingly routine trip out with Steele's boys was still there, but one look at Hannibal's face, knowing the pig headed stubbornness he'd had to employ to get this little search and rescue operation authorised by the right people, Murdock managed to keep all those fears locked out of sight. Face was in trouble, there was no doubt about that, but if you were in trouble then having a fired up Hannibal Smith on your trail was just what you needed. They would find Face, they would bring him home and he would be okay; Murdock truly believed all that, because if he didn't, then he knew he wouldn't be able to go on.
Darkness was closing in, but Ray knew that Hannibal wouldn't stop yet; he'd want to keep going until they had lost all of their light, following the tracks left by the little band of NVA who had ambushed Steele's boys.
Ray had never wanted Face to go on that damn mission in the first place, Milk Run it may well have been, but Face was part of Ray's team, and Ray never felt happy in letting one of his boys go out if he knew he wouldn't be there to back them up. As soon as he'd seen Hannibal's face as he stormed out of Medical the other night, he'd known that Face was in big trouble, and he'd also known they would be going out to try and sort it. That's why, when Hannibal had finally appeared in the team's hooch, mission authorisation grasped tightly in his hand, they were all ready to roll, packs loaded, ride on standby, Murdock nervously edging from foot to foot, desperate beyond all belief to go out with them. Hannibal had just looked at Ray, nodded once and the proceeded to tell them what they were up against.
Steele ran a ten man team and was one short, Billy-Boy being in the MASH with a bullet hole in his hip, so he'd asked for Face. The kid was keen, was a completely changed person in the four months since he'd tried to protect Murdock and almost got himself thrown out instead, and was making a reputation for himself of being a damn fine soldier. Ray had advised Hannibal against it, but Face had been desperate to go, and Hannibal had said that the kid deserved a chance to let people see what a good job he could do, had spent so long trying to piss everyone off, he needed opportunities to reverse their opinions of him.
Hannibal's opinions, of course hadn't needed any reversing, since that whole episode with Murdock, Ray knew that Face had impressed him more and more with each passing day. Ray himself had only three months of his tour left and then he was out of here, back to the states and the life he had dropped when he decided, in a fit of patriotism, to join up. He knew that Hannibal had already been thinking about his replacement, needed another XO lining up, and had realised just a few weeks ago now, that Face was that man. Ray approved, kid was still a little rough around the edges, but he was damn good, loyal, brave, sharp as a tack, fit and strong, hell of a good aim on him, yeah, Ray would feel happy leaving Hannibal and his crazy jazz in Face's hands, so long as they could pull him out of whatever mess he was in here first...
Ray had seen Hannibal's point about letting Face go with Steele and knew it was valid, but still, he didn't like watching the kid walk out on them that morning, was still too damn young to be out here in his opinion, nowhere near the twenty four that Hannibal insisted he was. And as the chopper lifted up taking Steele and his team out over the wire, Ray couldn't stop the anxious squirming in his belly.
"Right, men," Hannibal's voice cut through his musings and Ray looked up, shocked he'd allowed himself to drift like he had. We'll set up camp here. You all know the drill. BA perimeter check, Ray, first watch."
Hannibal himself turned to his pack as Ray forced his mind back into gear.
Hannibal lay in his bedroll and tried to catch some sleep; they were moving out at first light, and he needed to be well rested, mentally and physically able to cope with whatever the day threw at him. To say he was worried for Face was the understatement of the year, when he'd heard the kid hadn't been picked up by the extraction team that went on for Steele, he'd felt the icy fingers of fear grip him tightly and refuse to let go. Talking to Steele himself, hearing that at least no one had seen Face fall had been scant reassurance in the face of the fact that no one had even the slightest clue as to what had happened to him.
Hannibal had gone straight to General Hasberg and insisted that he immediately take a team out to search for his missing lieutenant, and after token resistance, Hasberg had caved in as Hannibal knew he would. Next he went to see the fittest men to return with Steele from the jungle as well as the extraction crew who had pulled them out, and armed with as much information as he could possibly garner he went to organise his team only to discover that Ray had done it all for him.
Two hours after being given the green light by Hasberg to move out, Hannibal and his team, including Murdock in the back rather than the front, were lifting off into the grey afternoon sky.
They'd been dropped five clicks from the ambush site and moved in cautiously from the west, checking as they went for signs of survivors or bodies, easily finding the last place Face had been seen. The rest of the day had been spent combing through the foliage, looking for signs of their lieutenant, some kind of clue that might just help them get to him, but there was nothing, only a trail leading away, obviously made by Charlie as they left the site. At first light they had followed.
It was obviously not a large group , four, maybe five men, at least one of them bleeding and Hannibal was convinced they could catch them up in a day and a half tops. He'd pushed his team all day, the trail becoming fresher and fresher with every hour, until the failing light had made him draw the day to a reluctant end, the last thing they needed to do now was lose the trail in the darkness, and with it their only hope of finding the kid.
Hannibal couldn't decide what he wanted to find when they finally caught up with their quarry. If Face was with them, then they had taken him for a reason. None of the other men left alive after the ambush had been taken, so why Face? What could they possibly want with him? An uncomfortable thought nagged at the back of his mind, a rumour that had only recently reached his ears of an NVA General and his particular liking for young male POWs. White, blond, young male POWs. Hannibal buried that thought again and turned over, trying to force his overwrought mind to go to sleep.
Tomorrow they would catch Charlie up, they would find Face with them, they would kill all the bastards, and they would call in an extraction and take Face home. That was what Hannibal had to believe in, the alternatives were just too damn appalling.