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A-Team fic: Acceptable Margins (1/5)

December 24th, 2016 (06:36 am)
groggy

feeling: groggy

Title: Acceptable Margins

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

A/N: Unbeta’ed. Technically set in movie verse with heavy inspiration from the show.

Summary: They all know Murdock’s crazy, but sometimes they’re still not sure how crazy.

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR
PART FIVE



-o-

The plan had really gone very well, all things considered. It had been ambitious from the start, involving terrorists, gun runners and corrupt governmental officials. They had been forced to work covertly, gaining access to restricted areas with tenuous covers that the army would never back up if the worst should happen.

It had been very heroic, to say the least. BA had outdone himself with a retrofitted tank they had found on the side of the road in the desert. Face had achieved new heights of glory when he talked his way onto a secure militant base with nothing more than scrawled papers and a British accent. And Murdock had managed to fly on a self-propelled rocket, which was truly about as ridiculous as it sounded.

The odds of success had been against them, but no one had been surprised when they came back in one piece with the necessary intelligence. Hannibal’s plans always worked.

They were, of course, not without their contingencies.

He made plans with flexible parameters and acceptable margins. His definition of success was singular in its purpose but broad in its application.

At least that was how he framed it to General Morrison, who had to debrief him while he was in a hospital bed.

“So, this,” Morrison said, nodding at Hannibal’s freshly casted arm. “Was part of the plan?”

“This?” Hannibal asked, wiggling his fingers. “It was a mere side effect of the forced landing we did back on base.”

“You mean the crash landing,” Morrison clarified. He tapped his pen on the notepad in front of him. “You nearly took out the entire security perimeter, you went so far off the runway.”

“Well, Murdock was flying with a serious head injury,” Hannibal said. He made a vague gesture to his face. “Had him seeing double.”

“So you’re saying his concussion wasn’t a part of the crash?” Morrison asked, skeptical.

“No, that happened during the rushed exit we made from the militant headquarters,” Hannibal explained. “Nasty incident with an angry guard and the butt of a gun.”

“Uh huh,” Morrison said slowly, as if he wasn’t sure what part of the story to question first. He shook his head. “Was this before or after Baracus broke his leg?”

“After,” Hannibal confirmed. “Otherwise we wouldn’t have been slowed down at all.”

“And how did he--”

“We crashed the tank,” Hannibal said, as if this should have been obvious. It felt obvious to him, given his team.

Morrison, to his credit, didn’t choose to argue that point. “Which you made from spare parts in the desert,” he said instead, flipping back a page to reread the account he had transcribed earlier. “And none of this explains why Peck ended up in surgery with internal bleeding.”

“Minor internal bleeding,” Hannibal corrected him. It seemed worth noting. He shrugged. “They almost didn’t have to operate, but with the second crash on the runway, it aggravated the condition.”

“Which started when, exactly?” Morrison asked, looking up from his notes again.

“He may have gotten pushed out a window,” Hannibal said, somewhat apologetic now. “That part, I’ll admit, I didn’t plan on. It wasn’t related to the mission, though.”

Morrison furrowed his brow. “Then what is it related to?”

“Well, Peck is the most outgoing member of the A-Team,” Hannibal said with a diplomatic smile. “He is always making new friends.”

Morrison’s eyebrows went up. “Who push him out of windows?”

“Well, their husbands do,” Hannibal said. “But even that, sir, was part of the plan. We needed a distraction, you see--”

Morrison was nodding along even as he put the papers down with a sigh. “A distraction for some crazy-ass plan that no one else would ever think of and probably never should have worked.”

“But did,” Hannibal said with a keen glint in his eyes. “A plan that did work.”

“Hannibal, the way you get things done -- I can’t even explain,” Morrison said with a long shake of his head. “And I have to, too. With the crashed airplanes and property damage -- you better believe, I have to.”

“Fortunately, you have an easy explanation,” Hannibal told him.

Morrison let out a weary laugh. “And what is that, exactly?”

“A successful mission where no one else even tried,” Hannibal said.

To that, Morrison could have no argument. He could pose no objection.

He collected himself, let out a breath and got to his feet. “You know, someday, you’re going to have a plan that falls apart in ways you can’t account for,” Morrison said, voice heavy with a warning. Then, his face widened into a grin. “But I’m sure as hell glad this isn’t it.”

Hannibal smiled back. A broken arm, a broken leg, a moderate concussion and minor internal bleeding. All things considered, the pla had gone very well, indeed.

-o-

After a successful mission, Hannibal always felt a certain high. It was this sort of feeling he figured made good men into alcoholics and drug addicts, because it was fully engrossing. His team had grown to understand this about him, even appreciate it. They called it the jazz.

That didn’t mean they shared it.

“Three weeks, man,” BA said, shaking his head. “They want me to stay in this damn bed for three weeks.”

“It’s the best way to make sure you heal properly,” Hannibal said. “And then they’ll give you a walking cast.”

“So I can hobble around for another three,” BA sulked. He had been given the other bed in Hannibal’s room, at Hannibal’s request. He was starting to wonder if that request had been a mistake as BA stared at him with unmitigated vitriol. “You broke my leg in three places, Hannibal.”

“Not to be picky, but I do believe you were the one driving,” Hannibal said. “And for the record, you came through the plane crash without a scratch.”

“Because you drugged me up again!” BA snapped. “You’re not really helping yourself any.”

The threats, though they sounded angry, did little to instill actual fear into Hannibal. He’d known BA too long; at this point, the man was more bark than bite.

“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing,” BA said, interrupting his thoughts. “You’re still the only CO I’ve never hit.”

“If you haven’t by now, somehow I’m skeptical you will,” Hannibal said.

“Just wait until they give me that damn walking cast,” BA said, making a fist with one hand. “No military court would blame me.”

Hannibal rolled his eyes. “I already said I was sorry.”

BA slumped back in his pillows with a glower. “When are they going to bring Face and Murdock up here?”

At this, Hannibal did his best not to smile. There was the real issues, the underlying fear that had set BA on edge. For as much as BA surely was angry about being out of commission, he was worried about his team. He just had his own way of expression that fear, and it usually involved copious threats of violence.

Of course, just because Hannibal knew that didn’t mean he was going to provoke it. Copious threats of violence could someday become violence, and Hannibal doubted that a cast would stop BA Baracus.

“Face is in recovery, and they’re keeping Murdock in the ICU until he wakes up,” Hannibal said. “Just to be sure.”

BA harrumphed, crossing his arms petulantly over his chest. “Probably just as well,” he muttered. “Face spends all his time preening.”

“He would be able to get us a few extra perks, I’m sure,” Hannibal said by way of consolation.

BA’s lips ticked upward in a slight smile. “Extra breakfast and more pillows,” he said. “He isn’t so bad to have around. Unlike that crazy fool.” Hesitating, BA did his best not to look actually concerned. “So he’s not awake yet?”

“Moderate concussion,” Hannibal reminded him without being overtly sympathetic. “He passed out once we were on the ground -- exhaustion, probably. Scans don’t show anything out of the ordinary.”

With a scoff, BA lifted his chin. “Out of the ordinary? Murdock’s whole brain is out of the ordinary.”

Despite his efforts, Hannibal smirked. There was no way to tell BA without risking an incident that Murdock wasn’t the only one. Their team of misfits, it was all out of the ordinary.

As far as Hannibal was concerned, that was why it worked.


BA shook his head, muttering under his breath. “Three damn weeks in this bed. What the hell am I going to do for three whole weeks?”

Hannibal made a note to himself. Three weeks was more than enough time to come up with a diverting plan for BA’s aggression.

BA fisted his fingers again with a scowl. “Three weeks.”

If not, he could always talk to the doctor about an alternative to a walking cast.

-o-

As reassuring as it was to have one team member up and bitching, Hannibal was more than ready to see the others, too.

He was also ready to stop listening to BA complain. For a man who prided himself on being tough, he certainly could pitch a fit like Face under the right conditions. Face was notoriously petty and vain, but BA was doggedly perverse when he was out of his element.

The fact that this was partially Hannibal’s fault was notwithstanding. He jumped at the opportunity to sit with Face while he came out of anesthesia.

Literally, jumped.

That was how he explained it to BA, at least, when he said the corporal couldn’t go with him. Jumping that certain team members couldn’t do while their legs were in traction.

Because it was reassuring to have BA safe and sound at his side.

It was less annoying to have him safe and sound in another room.

Hannibal was a team leader, after all; not a masochist.

Besides, minor was the word he used for everyone else’s benefit.

Internal bleeding was the term he focused on.

How could he not? For all his confidence, the ends wouldn’t justify the means if something actually happened to his boys. And Face -- he was always getting himself into some kind of mischief. Sure, BA picked fights, and yes, Murdock had a penchant from bringing out aggression in people, but Face?

Face didn’t know how to shut up, and he never thought through the consequences of his actions. He was brash and reckless, and Hannibal had spent too many years making sure the younger man didn’t get himself killed to ever feel truly at ease.

He wouldn’t feel better until Face woke up and smiled that stupid shit-eating grin at him.

And then he would promptly tear him a new one.

“What the hell were you doing?” he asked, after watching Face come to over the better part of a half hour.

Still groggy, Face scrunched his nose up in concentration. It looked like it hurt. “Uh, dying?” he ventured.

Hannibal was not amused. He gathered a terse breath. “I told you that getting pushed out of the window wasn’t part of the plan.”

Face blinked tiredly, smacking his dry lips together. “You want me to apologize for nearly dying?”

“I want you to apologize for being reckless,” Hannibal scolded him.

“Hey,” Face said, words still a little slower than they normally were. “It was your plan that needed me to stall.”

“And you thought getting pushed out the window was your best choice?” Hannibal asked.

Face opened his mouth. He closed it with a giggle. “Well, maybe not,” he admitted. Then he looked at Hannibal, big blue eyes wide and trusting. “But I knew you’d figure it out. You always do. Your plans never fail.”

Only Face could do that. Only Face could turn the conversation around so it wasn’t about him anymore, but Hannibal. Only Face could manipulate an honest emotion into something purposefully contrived for his own benefit.

Only Face.

Only Face could make it work.

Hannibal let out a breath, feeling the tension loosen in his chest. “The damage was minor,” he said. “You’re going to be fine. In fact, the doctor thinks you’ll be up before BA. Hard to say about Murdock; nothing about him is predictable.”

The drugs were still coursing through Face’s system, and the younger man blinked dreamily. “And they’re...okay?” he asked, as if trying to pin down who exactly they were.

“BA’s not too happy about his leg, but he’s fine,” Hannibal reported. “And Murdock took a blow to his head, but they’re just calling it a moderate concussion.”

Face laughed, making a small, tight face while he shifted on the bed. “So no real damage there, then.”

Hannibal chuckled in reply, patting Face on the arm. “You’ll see them both when they transfer you to a room,” he said. “I already got us approved to all be together -- I convinced them it was easier that way or they’d spend all their time trying to keep us away from each other.”

With a snort, Face nodded while also trying to keep himself as still as possible. It sounded like a contrary task, but only for those who had never met Templeton Peck. “It’d be sort of funny to see them try.”

“I still have a few tricks up my sleeve when I need them,” Hannibal told him. “I should let the doctors know you’re up, though. They wanted to do a post-operative checklist.”

Wrinkling his nose, Face huffed, looking up at the ceiling with a groan. “Can’t you pull a few more strings? Get me out of it?”

“Once they make sure you’re coming around all right, they’ll give you the good stuff,” Hannibal reminded him. “Take an edge of the pain.”

“You mean the gnawing ache in my stomach that feels like someone went inside and tied my intestines into knots?” Face asked with a grimace.

“And it’s only going to get worse -- they repaired a tear in your stomach,” Hannibal said. “So let the doctors do their thing. I met your surgeon, by the way. I don’t think you’ll find it to be a hardship.”

Face’s grin up at hims was wide and sloppy. “Is that part of the plan, too?”

“As much as I’d love to take credit, that’s just luck,” Hannibal said, starting to push his chair back to get to his feet.

Face reached out, grabbing Hannibal’s wrist. “I meant it, though, what I said about the plan,” he said, earnest eyes on Hannibal. “Your plans, they always work, boss. Always.”

Face was being honest; he was being vulnerable. That was the most unsettling part, more than the equipment and the monitors. Of them all, Face was the one who had the most disguises; he didn’t let his guard down -- ever. Hannibal had always suspected that Face liked to play other people so he didn’t have to come to terms with himself at all.

Hannibal was inclined to let that go most of the time -- he accepted his boys; he didn’t try to change them -- because the alternative was outside his comfort zone.

Because Hannibal was a man of action, a soldier. He lived for the field.

Emotions?

Were variables he accounted for, nothing more.

This, though.

This wasn’t part of any plan.

Awkwardly, he smiled, using his hand to pat Face’s fingers. “Nothing works out all the time,” he said, unwinding Face’s fingers and place his hand back on the bed with a smile. “But we’re on a hell of a streak.”

-o-

He stayed just outside, watching as discreetly as possible while the doctor examined Face. She was an attractive woman, just a few years older than Face. Although she wore a perky ponytail, she exuded confidence and self-possession, which meant Face didn’t have much of a chance.

Not that he wouldn’t try, though. Hannibal had no interest in intervening in Face’s romantic overtures -- he made a point not to know about it, if it wasn’t relevant -- but he counted it as a good thing for Face to like his doctor. It might make him listen for once.

That would make one less thing to worry about. Being stuck in a bed would make BA angry, and it would make Face whiny -- neither of which Hannibal wanted to deal with at the moment. Terrorists with guns Hannibal could handle, no problem. His team’s eccentric vices?

No and thank you, if it was all the same.

That was why Hannibal had a plan.

Hannibal always had a plan.

He watched while Face flashed a brilliant grin at the doctor. She rolled her eyes, but smiled back. So she had a soft spot for self deprecating soldiers in her ICU ward. Hannibal wasn’t one to judge.

Not when her good graces could only work in their favor.

If Hannibal was going to get his team through the next several weeks, he would need all the help he could get.

-o-

BA would mellow with time; Face would find ways to preoccupy himself.

That just left Murdock.

Murdock was the most outwardly eccentric of the team, but that didn’t mean he was the most difficult to contend with. If anything, his time in the psychiatric ward simply gave his neuroses a straightforward diagnosis, and Hannibal could certainly work with that. The doctors had always wanted to cure Murdock; Hannibal, on the other hand, simply wanted the other man to flourish. It was a tactic he’d handled with great care and, despite a few missteps, he’d had a great deal of luck with it.

That was to say that Murdock would be the least violent and the least whiny. The chances were that the pilot would simply come up with his own alternate reality to pass the time, making him a much needed escape for all of them. Either that, or he’d try to escape.

Given the current circumstances, Hannibal was hoping for the former.

He’d have to see what Murdock’s mood was when he woke up.

If he’d finally wake up.

The doctor had shown Hannibal the scans. He’d demanded a timeline, and he had been given the unequivocal answer: any time now.

Granted, this was a doctor who knew nothing of Murdock. The pilot did things in his own time and his own way, and really, an unconscious Murdock was probably easier than any of the rest of the team, but Hannibal wasn’t one to put off the details.

Besides, every moment he spent in ICU with Murdock was a moment he wasn’t making sure that BA was happy. Worse, it was another moment in which Hannibal couldn’t be sure that Face wasn’t finding a way to rip out his stitches.

Drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair, Hannibal checked his watch. Patience was a virtue, one that Hannibal was full-up on.

Being idle, on the other hand, was not as much his area of expertise.

Not to put too fine of point on things, but just because Morrison had officially debriefed Hannibal didn’t mean the mission was over. It certainly didn’t mean that Hannibal’s plan was complete. He worked on his own criteria, and one plan couldn’t be complete until he had another in motion. Which mean he needed to get BA in a walking cast without any physical altercations, and he needed to get Face sitting upright with all his internal organs in place.

And he needed Murdock to wake up.

“Any time now, Captain,” he muttered, closing his eyes and rubbing his hand over his face.

“Did you...say something?”

Hannibal looked up, surprised.

On the bed, Murdock was staring at him, forehead wrinkled in absolute concentration.

It was a beautiful, beautiful sight.

“Hey,” he said, scooting forward with a large smile. “You’re awake.”

Guilelessly, Murdock blinked. “Seems that way,” he said, taking a moment to look down at himself. He turned uncertain eyes back at Hannibal. “Unless you’re part of the dream.”

Hannibal laughed. “No, no,” he said. “I’m quite real, I’m afraid.”

Murdock didn’t seem overly reassured. Of course, Murdock was prone to mental lapses even under the best of circumstances; a moderate concussion was only likely to make his tenuous grip on reality somewhat precarious.

“Don’t worry,” Hannibal said. “You’re going to be fine.”

“Oh,” Murdock said, sounding surprised.

“Just wait until the guys find out you’re awake,” Hannibal said.

Murdock swallowed, tentative. “The guys?”

“I’ve already got it arranged for us to be in the same room, so that won’t be a problem,” Hannibal continued, heedless. “The doctor will probably have a few questions, but they’ve already got their hands full, so I don’t think it’ll take much time.”

“Oh, well, that’s good,” Murdock ventured, still hesitant.

Hannibal paused, frowning as he looked at his pilot. The bruise blossoming on the side of his face was notable, and his cowed countenance was uncharacteristic. The plan didn’t work without three recovering men under his command. “You feeling okay?”

Murdock gave him an apologetic look. “Hard to say,” he said, licking his lips. “Do I ever feel okay?”

With a laugh, Hannibal got to his feet. “And they say you’re the crazy one,” he said, giving Murdock a strong, reaffirming nod. “I’m going to go get that doctor now.”

-o-

Murdock’s doctor was a man about Hannibal’s age. He was short, stocky and stringent. The second the man came out of Murdock’s room, Hannibal knew he was going to be a problem.

“You talked to him, didn’t you?” the doctor asked. He was hedging, though; and not with any amount of subtlety.

“Yes,” Hannibal said, forcing a smile.

The doctor knitted his bushy brows together in a look that was probably supposed to make him look reflective. “And his mental state to you,” he continued. “It seemed normal?”

“Well,” Hannibal said with a deflecting shrug. “Captain Murdock has always had a colorful sense of reality.”

Colorful was euphemistic, to say the least. It wasn’t, however, inaccurate.

“He keeps asking for someone named Billy, but I can’t find anything--”

Hannibal shook his head. “Billy’s not a person; he’s a dog.”

The doctor looked even more dubious. “A dog?”

Hannibal hemmed gracefully. “More or less.”

Perfunctory though he may have been, he wasn’t stupid. “I have read the notes on Captain Murdock’s file, and frankly, I’m surprised anyone cleared him for active duty in the first place.”

Hannibal’s polite smile became decidedly less so. He knew where this was going.

He always knew where this was going.

It was often well intentioned. When people got ahold of Murdock’s file, the copious notes certainly did make for a disconcerting read. No one wanted to think about a man with delusional episodes and PTSD triggers being in charge of anything related to war or weaponry. Hannibal had had to pull more than a few strings to get Murdock released into his care, much less reinstated to active duty. Most of the time, Hannibal made a point to talk to Murdock’s long term care doctors in advance, to help them understand the full picture of what Murdock was all about.

That was a luxury he hadn’t had, coming in hot after a plane crashed off the runway. The team’s physical well being had taken a necessary precedence.

That was then, anyway.

Now, Hannibal was able to identify a new threat in a stethoscope and an MD. “With respect, Captain Murdock has already been psychologically evaluated.”

“Follow up examinations are standard--”

Hannibal shook his head, refusing to listen to the spiel the doctor had obviously crafted in his head. “Out of the question.”

“But his mental state--”

“--is not up for debate,” Hannibal interjected, more forcefully than before. He wasn’t one who leaned toward physical intimidation, but he wasn’t opposed to it, either. The doctor was short and stocky, making Hannibal’s taller figure an imposing one as he drew himself to full height and squared his shoulders. “Your job is to assess his physical condition. Is there anything wrong with Captain Murdock physically?”

The doctor was cowed, but trying badly not to show it. He spluttered slightly, trying to square his own shoulders and coming up painfully short. “Physically, no,” he confirmed. “All of his reflexes are normal, and the scans we took after admission are clean.”

There was a but -- there was always a but -- but Hannibal had no interest in it. “Then all I need from you is a signature so we can transfer him to a room.”

“But Colonel Smith--”

“Unless you’d like me to bring in General Morrison on this one.”

The threat wasn’t exactly fair. General Morrison gave Hannibal leeway, which kept BA out of the brig and Murdock out of the psych ward. This protection came with numerous caveats, and for as much as Morrison was Hannibal’s friend, he was also a military man. He had a lot at stake, and Hannibal knew better than to think he’d lay everything down for Hannibal’s men.

Hannibal knew that.

And he was banking hard on the notion that this doctor didn’t.

“Well, no,” he said, fumbling badly now. “I didn’t realize Captain Murdock’s file was so....closed.”

“Now you do,” Hannibal said, leaving no room for argument in his tone. He raised his eyebrows expectantly. “Now, how about that paperwork?”

-o-

Paperwork.

One might think, given the nature of his team, that paperwork was the least of Hannibal’s concerns. In truth, he found the reality quite the contrary. A plan in action was a beautiful thing. The paperwork to make it happen?

Well, that was why he’d recruited Face in the first place. He didn’t care whether Face actually did the paperwork or charmed someone else into getting him out of it, as long as Hannibal didn’t have to deal with it, all was well.

That, of course, didn’t go so well when Face was the one recovering from abdominal surgery. It wasn’t like he could ask BA or Murdock to take care of it -- though, the results would be interesting -- but this was Hannibal’s responsibility on a mission like this.

There were waivers and consent forms. There were admission papers and informational releases. Hannibal okayed the use of narcotic medications and approved standard medical procedures with acceptable risks for side effects. Yes, he understood that he was responsible for keeping BA from getting out of bed and that Face had to limit his movement until his stitches were held. And of course, Murdock had to be observed for any unusual mental changes.

Yes, yes, yes, yes. These were responsibilities Hannibal had undertaken a long time ago, when he first brought this misfit band of soldiers together in Mexico. It seemed tedious to have to sign a stack of papers to make it legal, but Hannibal would do what was necessary.

For his boys, it was worth it.

-o-

It was worth it until Hannibal actually got them all in the same room, and he realized exactly what the next several weeks would entail.

BA’s angry; Face’s whining; Murdock’s antics.

Hannibal often planned on the eccentricities of his team, but how would he find a plan to live with them in a small, confined space where bedpans were sometimes involved?

“I still don’t get why I had to change beds,” BA grumbled. His bed was in a more upright position now, which only served to make everyone else more aware of how unhappy the corporal was about their current situation. “None of this was my fault.”

“I told you, I have to be closer to the bathroom,” Face said, trying to sound earnest. It was a fair approximation of it, but Hannibal knew when the kid was working them. “And since you’re still in traction, it’s not like it’s a big deal for you or anything.”

“Yeah, traction,” BA snapped. “You asked a man in traction to switch spots with you.”

“Oh, the beds all have wheels,” Face said dismissively. “Do I need to remind you I just had surgery? Do you want to see the stitches? Because they’re itching real bad right now, they might be inflamed--”

BA lifted a fist. “I’ll show you inflamed, just come a little closer--”

Hannibal let out a terse breath and regretted skipping his last dose of painkillers. He’d double checked with the doctor, who had relented enough to call them optional, but the low ache building in the back of Hannibal’s skull was starting to become aggravated. He’d just spent hours doing paperwork with his left hand, and here he was, reaping the so-called benefits of his dedication.

“That’s enough from both of you,” Hannibal said, resting back on his own bed. He was closest to the door, naturally, and though he’d picked the spot for security purposes, he was starting to wonder if a quick escape might actually be more what he needed at the moment. “We’ve all had enough injuries for one mission.”

“Yeah, thanks to all of you,” BA said. “Knocking people out and crashing airplanes.”

“And let’s not forget tanks, shall we?” Face said. “Or are you conveniently overlooking that detail.”

“My tank saved all our lives,” BA argued.

“And then it nearly killed us,” Face returned. He shrugged. “So I guess that sort of makes it break even.”

“I’ll break you, fool--”

“Hey!” Face yelped. “I didn’t crash the tank or the plane!”

“You guys are so loud,” Murdock said, forehead wrinkled. He winced.

“Oh, and you think you’re one to talk?” BA snapped.

Murdock blinked. “Yes?”

“See, at least he owns to it,” Face said. “Everyone here is able to acknowledge their missteps in this mission except you.”

“Since when? Murdock crashes planes, you get thrown out windows, and Hannibal tells us it’s all part of the plan,” BA said. “What kind of damn plan is that anyway?”

Face looked thoughtful, eyes flicking to Hannibal. “He has a point.”

This time, Hannibal rolled his eyes. “It’s not my fault you’re all short-sighted,” he said. He gestured with his good hand. “You have to see beyond the present circumstances to really grasp the big picture.”

“Yeah, sometimes I think you say that just so we won’t ask questions,” Face said.

BA shot him a pointed glare. “You have us crashing things all the time,” he said suspiciously. “No one can plan for that many accidents.”

“All our successful missions, all these years, and you’re questioning me now?” Hannibal said. “Need I remind you where I found each of you?”

“I could have run your ass over in Mexico,” BA muttered.

Face nodded vigorously. “And for all the times you’ve saved us, you’ve also put us in danger. You know what I’m talking about, right, Murdock?”

Murdock didn’t reply, glancing anxiously between his teammates.

“See, Murdock’s so worried that he’s quiet,” Face said. “You made Murdock quiet. How does that make you feel?”

“Hey, that’s the one good thing about this mission,” BA said.

“Oh, please,” Hannibal said. “None of you would ever want the responsibility for what I do. This way, BA gets to be angry and Face gets to flirt and Murdock gets to talk crazy, and we all still get paid. It’s a win-win for everyone. All completely and totally part of the plan.”

BA shook his head, but his face was decidedly less hostile than before. “That’s an awfully convenient excuse.”

“Yeah, and it seems like I should be able to argue that point, but I don’t know, I’m coming up with nothing,” he said. He looked to Murdock. “How about you?”

Murdock looked startled. “Uh. Yes?”

Hannibal found himself smiling now. Maybe all that paperwork had been worth it after all. “Okay, then,” he said, feeling marginally mollified. “So maybe we can all be quiet and get some rest and finish this mission the right way.”

-o-

That was the plan, anyway.

And Hannibal’s plans always worked.

-o-

The night was good.

Pleasant banter, good rest. Better drugs.

Hannibal slept well with the intention of taking point on the various recovery processes. He would have to make sure Face’s stitches were in check while pushing to see when the younger man could be up and about. He would ask for follow up on Murdock’s head wound, making sure he was given regular exercise around the ward. BA would be a little tricky, but he wanted to run a few upper body exercise that could be completed from the comfort -- or discomfort, as it were -- of a hospital bed.

His own recovery was all but tangential. He would surely get the physical exercise he needed while making sure the rest of his boys got theirs. Win-win.

At least, that was his intention.

When he woke up, he immediately knew something was off. Staring up at the ceiling, it was impossible to say way, but he had a sense about these things. You didn’t plan the plans Hannibal did without a sixth sort of sense about the execution of them. For all that his plan seemed sound, there was something he was overlooking.

He paused, considering. Maybe the doctor would be more problematic than he expected -- if he called Hannibal’s bluff on having Murdock reassessed, there wouldn’t be much he could do. Or maybe the other doctor would be a problem, and maybe she did have a thing for invalid who were far too confident in their own prowess.

It was also possible, he conceded, that Morrison would come back demanding more answers. For all his success on this mission, Hannibal was aware of the inherent costs, including one badly damaged airplane that might never be airworthy again. Morrison understood him, as best one could, but friend or not, Morrison had his orders, too. Accountability sometimes went down the line, and cooped up in a hospital bed, Hannibal wasn’t positioned the best to defend against it.

He sighed with a frown. These were all contingencies he had planned for. They were within the margins of error. Perhaps his own injury was putting him on edge, because nothing was wrong.

Turning his head, Hannibal first looked at Face, pleased to see the younger man’s color was better and his pulse was steady. Even BA looked peaceful, sleeping sounding with his leg in traction not far away. As for Murdock, the pilot was still for once.

And looking right at him.

Hannibal smiled. “You’re up early.”

“I didn’t know the time,” Murdock admitted.

“Clock’s by the door,” Hannibal said with a nod.

Murdock looked, almost expressionless. “Oh.”

“All the same, I appreciate you lying low while we get back on our feet,” he said, starting to sit up a bit, mindful of his casted forearm. “How are you feeling?”

With a frown, Murdock seemed to consider this. “Compared to what?”

Hannibal winced as he settled himself back. His arm was throbbing; he was clearly due for more pain medication. “Normal, I suppose,” he said. “Though I suppose that’s relative, isn’t it?”

Especially where Murdock was concerned.

The pilot stared at him for another moment, unsettling blank.

Hannibal leaned forward a bit more. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I...do have a headache,” Murdock said, in a sort of slow realization. “Things feel a little fuzzy.”

Hannibal felt himself relax marginally. “That’s a pretty normal side effect for a concussion,” he said. “What about nausea or vomiting? Blurred vision?”

“Stomach’s been making all sorts of noises,” Murdock confessed.

“You probably haven’t eaten enough,” Hannibal said, mindful of the gurgling in his own stomach. “We’ve got a busy day, but we’ll definitely start it off with some breakfast.”

Faintly, Murdock nodded, eyes still locked on Hannibal as though he thought his colonel might disappear.

With a gentle smile, Hannibal swung his legs over the side of the bed. “Don’t worry. You know I’ve got everything under control.”

“And that’s a…” Murdock paused, as if looking for the word. “A good thing?”

Surprised, Hannibal raised his eyebrows. “You’ve never doubted my orders before.”

This didn’t have the reassuring impact Hannibal intended. His hackles started to rise again.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked, glancing surreptitiously at the call button.

Finally, Murdock smiled with an anxious laugh. “Honestly, it’s a little hard to tell.”

The tension escaped Hannibal’s shoulders as he laughed in return. “I hear you, buddy,” he said, pushing up to his feet. “But we always come out on top, don’t we?”

Murdock offered him a meager smile in return. “If you say so.”

“I do,” Hannibal said, giving him a wink. “I really, really do.”


-o-

Murdock’s subdued behavior was not what Hannibal had expected. In the past, injuries had made Murdock skittish -- a man with a history of being committed understandably had anxiety about hospitals -- but for once the racket between Murdock’s ears was working in Hannibal’s favor. Not that he wished an injury on any of his men, but the truth be told, Hannibal had his hands full otherwise.

“Are you sure you can’t get me a mirror?” Face asked, not for the first time since breakfast. “Because it really seems like the sort of thing we should be able to have.”

Hannibal, with credit to his unparalleled self-control, remained neutral. “When they get you out of bed, I’m sure the bathroom will be the first stop.”

“Yeah, so some nurse can watch me take a crap,” Face said. “That’s not going to do anything for my face.”

“There’s nothing that can be done about your face,” BA muttered, more contrarily than usual.

“Hey, no need to kick a guy while he’s down -- literally,” Face said. Then he made a helpless gesture at his face. “I can actually feel the oil, clogging up my pores. Do you know how much work good skin takes?”

“Having had you under my command for the better part of three years, yes,” Hannibal mused, checking over his paperwork again. He was reading their charts and cross-referencing a medical journal abstract, just to be sure.

“Then you know we’re reaching the critical point,” Face said. “I mean, my hair hasn’t even been washed since we left. Why the hell isn’t there any mousse here?”

“Well, there’s only so much room in the emergency kit,” Hannibal said.

“Like we really need everything in the emergency kit,” Face said. “I mean, emergency flares? Really?”

“Aw, shut the hell up,” BA groused. “At least you will be able to get up soon. I’m still stuck here in this damn bed for weeks.”

“And you think I want to go anywhere?” Face asked, pointing to his head. “Looking like this?”

“If I wasn’t stuck here I’d get your ass out of that bed for you, and I promise you, your hair would be the least of your concerns,” BA threatened.

Hannibal turned to the next abstract, trying not to engage them. It wouldn’t help; Hannibal knew from experience that the boys had to work out these things on their own.

At least, that was what he’d thought he known prior to the nonstop bickering since Face and BA came to this morning.

Hannibal thanked God that Murdock was watching the exchange placidly. The last thing he needed was for vanity to meet anger and get mixed up with insanity along the way.

“Oh,” Face said, squaring his shoulders indignantly. “Is that how we’re going to play it now?”

“I’m not playing anything,” BA said with barely feigned innocence. “I’m a large men stuck in a small bed, and you’re over there, preening about nonsense.”

“My looks? My hair? They have saved your life more times than I can count,” Face said. “That’s not nonsense.”

“Nonsense? What are you talking about, nonsense?” BA said back sharply. “I let you blink your eyes and flirt because Hannibal doesn’t like it when I make a scene.”

“That’s because you make scenes,” Face said. “I make impressions.”

“You make a damn fool is what you make,” BA said. “Only impression you made on this mission was your ass on the cement outside that window.”

“Oh, okay,” Face said. “And how well did brute strength work when you bashed your leg into the interior or a tank?”

BA’s eyes flashed with anger. “That wasn’t my fault,” he said. “You all--”

“Blah, blah, blah,” Face said mockingly. “It sounds an awful lot like whining to me.”

BA’s face twitched. “I’m not whining.”

“Like a kid,” Face said smugly He made a cloying expression, altering his voice to an irritating level of childish farce. “I don’t like to fly but then I crash every other vehicle I’m in, and then I don’t want to lie in bed and face my responsibility--”

“You better stop talking,” BA growled.

Face was just getting started, though. “And I’m big and angry, but that’s just a cover up for how much I care, because I’m a big love-y, wuv-y teddy bear inside--”

BA tensed, fingers clenching to fists. “I’m warning you--”

“And I like to hit things because I feel the need to project my fears and inadequacies onto others,” Face continued in his singsong voice.

“Don’t think I won’t do it,” BA warned.

But Face wasn’t about to stop now. That was Face’s problem. He didn’t know when to stop. Not with a girl, not on a mission, not with BA Baracus.

It was a miracle Hannibal had kept him alive this long.

And if he didn’t intervene soon, he couldn’t even guarantee this mission.

Face threw his head back with a loud, obnoxious laugh. “You’ve been saying that for a year! Watch out or I’ll hit you!,” he said. “I don’t believe you. None of us do. Do we, Murdock?”

The appeal to a third party was inevitable Face’s way. He was good at rallying people to any cause, even one they didn’t exactly believe in. That was the power of Face’s, well, Face. Murdock didn’t usually need much convincing, though.

Especially against BA.

“Murdock, buddy,” Face said. “Don’t leave me hanging.”

At this, Hannibal glanced up. Face was looking at Murdock intently. Murdock furrowed his eyebrows together quizzically, as if he wasn’t sure what to make of the question. “I...guess?”

“See!” Face said, clapping his hands.

“See nothing,” BA said. “You know Murdock don’t count. He still owes me toast points, and don’t think I’ve forgotten.”

Murdock looked startled. “Toast points?”

“With curry tamponade,” BA said, lifting his chin. “For that stunt with the plane.”

“Oh, please,” Face said, flitting his hand through the air. “You weren’t even awake for that.”

“Don’t matter,” BA said. “I want my damn tapenade!”

“Curry tapenade?” Murdock asked.

BA scowled at him. “With toast points!”

Murdock’s eyebrows lifted. “That sounds delicious.”

“It is!” BA said. “Better than this crap they’re feeding us.”

Face pointed, nodding his head. “You know, contrary to your lack of support, I will back you up on this,” he said. “The way they’re treating us here, Hannibal -- it’s unacceptable. I mean, shared rooms? Common cafeteria food?”

This time, Hannibal shook his head, flipping to the next abstract -- stress relief following bone fractures. “And let me guess? No mousse?”

“Not even a bottle of hairspray,” Face said. “Can you imagine?”

Hannibal didn’t have to imagine; not with reality staring him in the face, making its presence known one hair-raising argument at a time.

-o-

Hannibal was grateful when the doctor rounded early, and he was happier still when the nurses came by to start their morning treatments promptly thereafter. His team needed to recover, yes.

And Hannibal needed to separate them before he murdered them where they lay bedridden.

He made sure, therefore, that Face was okay as the nurse helped him out of bed; he all but hovered when the therapist explained the exercises BA could do; and he half escorted Murdock to the door while the nurse decided that a trip around the ward was in order.

For all their banter, they were all working harder than they would let on. For as angry as BA was at the situation, he was surprisingly compliant with the therapist because he understood the value of the instruction. Face, for all his preening, was white faced and pale with exertion, and he didn’t make a single comment to the attractive nurse who had been assigned to his care. And he could hear Murdock, asking nonsensical questions -- but really, are you sure you know where this hospital is, because I don’t know -- as he followed step by step, lap by lap around the ward.

They were going to be okay, his team.

“But what about you?”

Hannibal looked up benignly. “I’m sorry, what?”

His own nurse -- middle aged and round -- stared him down. “Don’t think I can’t see what you’re doing.”

“I really don’t know--”

She waved her hand through the air. “You think you’re the only commanding officer I’ve seen in here? They all come in here, looking tough but acting like a damn mother hen. They think they can order the medical system into giving them what they want.”

Hannibal smiled, as politely as he could. Some wars could be won with intimidation; others required a certain amount of charm. Contrary to popular belief, Face wasn’t the only one capable of a winning smile. “I haven’t given a single order here. I know my place.”

She scoffed. Loudly. “You think you’ve got a better plan, then?”

“With respect, I’ve always got a plan,” he said.

“I know, they always do,” she said. “Some are better than others, I’ll tell you what, but in the end, a plan is just our way of trying to control the future. And you can’t control the future, no way, no how.”

He could explain how a good plan anticipated such things; how a thorough pre-visualization of events could accurately predict outcomes and circumvent problems. But there didn’t seem to be a lot of point in discussing that with a nurse.

She actually clucked her tongue. “Look at you, thinking I don’t know what it’s like.”

He gave her a sheepish grin. “I’m sorry--”

This time, she tutted him even more distinctly. “We all got plans,” she said. “Having a plan; that’s not impressive.”

Hannibal sat back, studying her a bit more intently. She was here by choice, this nurse. She was old enough for a career anywhere, but here she was. Someone with nothing to lose, maybe. Or perhaps just everything to gain.

That was something that Hannibal understood. “Okay,” he said with a slow, even nod. “Then, if I may ask, what do you find impressive?”

She cracked a smile -- it was smug. “It’s how you deal with failure that counts,” she said. “Place like this, we see failure all the time. Our entire existence is predicated on a plan not working the way you think it will. And that reality -- it can break a man. Even hardened army men like yourself.”

“So the alternative is, what?” Hannibal asked. “Not to plan?”

“No, no, plan away,” she said. “But ask yourself, what do you do when you run out of contingencies? Can you keep it together when the plan is gone?”

She was speaking a truth, plain and simple. Hannibal liked that about her.

Even if he didn’t agree with her.

A plan would always work, as long as it was flexible enough. That was what made Hannibal’s plans different, better.

He accounted for the things the no one could account for, not because of a gift of foresight, but for his strategic understanding of reality. He couldn’t control all the variables, but he could always account for them.

Always.

“So what do you suggest, then?” he asked coyly.

She snorted, dark curls bobbing near her face. “I’m suggesting you give me your arm so we can talk about the stretches you need to do,” she said.

He cocked his head. “That’s it?”

She raised her chin, indignant. “I told you, men like you are a dime a dozen,” she said. “And I can’t fix your plans for you, but I sure as hell can fix mine.”

“And what plan is that?” Hannibal asked.

“To make sure the hard headed commanding officer sits down long enough to listen to me talk about his own care when all he wants to do is worry about his men,” she said. “So stay seated and give me your arm.”

For a second, he stared at her. That hadn’t been the answer he was expected.

A smile played on her lips. “See? You aren’t the only one with a good plan.”

Holding out his injured arm, Hannibal didn’t disagree.

Beaming, she took it. “Now there’s a boy,” she coached, giving him a wink. “There may be hope for you yet.”

-o-

By lunch, they were all exhausted. The meal served look only vaguely recognizable, and in truth, Hannibal was almost too sore to lift his fork and eat it.

Hannibal was going to suffer this indignantly quietly.

He was, however, the only one.

To be quiet.

Not to suffer.

No, they were all suffering, but no one else was choosing to be quiet.

“I think they hire sadists here,” Face moaned, poking at what appeared to be a type of meatloaf. “Like it’s on the actual job description. Four year nursing degree? Check. Good recommendations? Check. Grasp of human anatomy? Check. Sadistic tendencies? Check, check and check.”

“I don’t know what you’re whining about,” BA said. “The pain means it’s working.”

“No, the pain means I’m working,” Face corrected him. “Too hard. I’m not built for manual labor, Hannibal. I’m not.”

Whether he was or wasn’t, Hannibal wasn’t about to debate. Whatever the case may be, Face wasn’t built for anything -- without sufficient whinging in the process.

Hannibal mustered his sternest look. “We need to listen to the doctors about this stuff,” he advised. “It’s for your own good.”

Face, in reply, mustered an expression of abject incredulity. “So they can torture us? Hannibal!”

“So you can get better,” Hannibal returned with a good hold on his self-control.

“I agree, for once,” BA said with an astute nod. He lifted his chin airily. Face was the snarky one, but BA could be a son of a bitch when he wanted to be. “It’s really not so bad.”

BA did have a better constitution for this sort of thing, and it was obvious that the big man was eager for anything that might get him out of bed faster.

But that look on his face?

Meant that this was entirely antagonistic.

Hannibal could see that, plainly. BA was no good at nuance.

Face, however, wanted that bait.

So he bit and bit hard -- and started to pull. “They didn’t even make you get out of bed!”

“Because I’m stuck here!” BA returned with a growl.

“And I had major surgery! Major surgery!” Face said. He gestured to the other bed in the room. “And look at what they did to poor Murdock.”

This much, though punctuated hyperbolic, was essentially the truth. Murdock had come back droopy after his laps around the ward, and he’d never even taken a bit of his lunch before nodding off to sleep. Not even Face’s whining had made him stir.

Hannibal had intended to check in with his pilot again, just to be sure. There hadn’t been time, however, with Face and BA getting settled back down again. He had needed a bit of time to reorganize his notes -- the nurse had kept him from keeping up with the therapy sessions of others while managing his own -- and he wanted to be sure he had a complete assessment of how things were progressing for his own information. Then lunch had been served, and Hannibal still hadn’t asked Murdock if he was feeling any better.

He could wake Murdock up, yes. But considering how peaceful he looked, he was hard pressed to disturb him.

“He’s recovering from a moderate concussion,” Hannibal reminded them. “He’s bound to be a little tired.”

“A little,” BA said. “Man hasn’t said more than five words since he got back here. And none of those were insane.”

“They were a little insane,” Face said. “He kept acting like he didn’t know what we were talking about.”

“We all know the way Murdock’s fantasies work,” Hannibal said. “The nurse made no notes of concern after their time in the ward.”

“But head wounds -- sleeping is bad, right?” Face asked.

Hannibal looked at Murdock again. There was bruising around the temple, spreading to his hairline. A few stitches had been applied to a gash before a hasty butterfly bandage had been applied. He looked significantly worse for wear -- worse than he had yesterday -- but Hannibal knew that deepening bruises often had that effect.

“He needs to heal,” Hannibal said. “We’re monitoring his symptoms, but all his tests were okay.”

“Funny when you say it like that,” BA said, shaking his head. “As if that crazy’s man head is ever okay.”


Hannibal shook his head again with a small eye tilt toward BA. “He’s the only one doing the sensible thing right now,” he said. “We all went through quite a bit on this one. It would do us all for good to take some time to rest. Recover.”

“A little down time?” Face asked with a coy smile. “Is that part of the official plan, boss?”

If it got his boys better; if it got them quiet; then hell yes. “It is now,” Hannibal smirked. “So maybe we can make it an order.”