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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

A-Team fic: A Long Way From Mexico (3/6)

December 29th, 2016 (08:49 pm)
envious

feeling: envious

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR
PART FIVE
PART SIX



-o-

BA could have stayed awake -- Hannibal was sure of that -- and it wasn’t Hannibal’s orders that made him lay down. Instead, he drifted off next to Murdock, resting his head close enough to the pilot’s face to make a point. Because if Murdock was willing to risk waking up Face or Hannibal, there was no way in hell he would do it with BA. With the big man sleeping right next to him, he had no choice but to follow suit.

It was BA’s own version of emotional manipulation. A little blunt, but effective.

Hannibal felt a swell of pride.

He’d trained his boys well.

Stranded in the Russian wilderness, he had to hope it was well enough.

-o-

When Face traipsed back inside, Hannibal was getting drowsy. He roused himself, though, giving the lieutenant a curt nod.

“Everything quiet?” he asked as Face wiped his feet, putting aside his gun to remove his sodden overlayer.

“You mean besides the rain?” Face said, a trace of sarcasm in his voice.

“That’s a given,” Hannibal said, forcing himself to his feet. His legs ached with the movement -- the cold and wet had done a number on him, too -- but he willfully ignored it. “Just want to be sure we don’t have any company.”

“No, no company,” Face said, easing himself out of the makeshift raincoat. He made a face, putting it down by the door. “The only people crazy enough to be out in this kind of weather are right here, on this plane.”

Hannibal spared a glance toward Murdock and BA. It was a testament to their exhaustion that they hadn’t stirred at Face’s entry. “It’s only a matter of time,” he said, the admission grim under his breath.

“You’re really worried about it, aren’t you?” Face asked. They could all probably sense it, but only Face would call him on it. They’d been together the longest. Face knew him well -- sometimes, too well.

Hannibal knew Face too well, too. It made him trust him -- more than he intended to, at times. That was, perhaps, a weakness. One he didn’t have the willpower to avoid at the moment. “This whole mission, it smells rotten,” he said, shaking his head. “I probably should have seen it before we left.”

“We take on stuff like this all the time,” Face replied, sounding horribly reasonable. It was just like Face to complain and whine and bitch -- before becoming the most pragmatic one in the room. He was a chameleon, and Hannibal appreciated the sarcasm as a barometer of just how bad any given situation was.

“I always knew the original mission had to be top secret -- because this was a scrub job, through and through,” Hannibal said. “But the intelligence shared with me indicated that it had gone down on its own. Nothing suggested enemy fire.”

Face nodded somberly. “It does change things if the Russians have a heads up as to the location.”

“It changes everything,” Hannibal said. “And not that we can’t handle Russian military on the run, but in these conditions? With Murdock like this?”

Face swallowed, nodding toward his teammates. “How’s he doing?”

On the ground, Murdock was still tucked against BA, breathing noisily through his mouth.

“Better than I would have expected,” Hannibal admitted.

Face turned his attention back to Hannibal. He cocked his head, expectant. “But?”

Hannibal inclined his head. “Out in the cold, he was at risk for hypothermia.”

“But we’re out of the cold,” Face said.

“And what he was experiencing -- that wasn’t hypothermia,” Hannibal pointed out. “The cold didn’t help, but he was sick.”

“Okay,” Face said slowly. “So now that he’s warmed up…”

“I think we’re going to see what he’s really sick with,” Hannibal said.

Face looked vexed. “But it could just be a common cold, right?”

“Or it could be something a lot worse,” Hannibal told him.

For a moment, Face rocked back on his heels, chewing his lip. He looked at Murdock and BA before turning a keen eye to Hannibal again. “You have a plan, right?” he asked. “I mean, you always have a plan.”

He added a smile, somehow hopeful, just to accentuate the point.

And Hannibal felt it like a punch to the gut.

“I’m working on it,” he said, ducking his way to the door. He turned back with a perfunctory nod. “Get some sleep.”

Face let out a scoff. “But, Hannibal--”

Weary, Hannibal let his facades slip for a moment. Around Face, that was easy. The kid knew him -- better than the rest. “Face.”

He managed a lopsided grin. “You know, if there’s anything you need to tell me, you can,” he said, giving a nonchalant shrug. “We can handle it. We’re not made of glass -- we’re not going to shatter.”

“No, you won’t,” Hannibal promised. “But if you don’t get some sleep, you might just pass out when I need you most.”

Face rolled his eyes. “Fine, but what about you?”

“Me?” Hannibal replied, opening the door to head out in the rain. “I need to think.”

He was out the door before Face could protest -- and Face would, too, he always did -- and he adjusted his coat around himself, trying his best to block out the worst of the ongoing rainfall.

He needed to do more than think.

No, tonight, Hannibal needed to plan.

-o-


On patrol, Hannibal was efficient and thorough. He marked a clear path, timing himself to make even rounds throughout the night. Despite the fact that he was supposed to maintain a two-hour shift, he kept count until morning, trusting that his team needed the sleep more than he did.

Rather, more than he would use it.

Because every plan he came up with was woefully inadequate. Hiking out of here with Murdock would be too slow -- and too risky for his captain’s physical well being. Not to mention the fact that abandoning their campsite would require them to torch a second military plane, and the extra effort they would have to put into covering their tracks would prove almost impossible to accomplish on such short notice.

They could, of course, split up. This option intrigued him, and he knew it wasn’t without precedence. His boys were good as a team, but they were fully functional on their own as well. He had complete trust in every one of them, and if he sent off Face and BA to look for shelter and assistance, it was a job they wouldn’t shirk.

It did, however, leave everyone painfully exposed. What kind of help could they get out this far? The military wasn’t going to be okay with sending in another rescue mission, especially with two failed attempts already on the ground. It would, naturally, give BA and Face a legitimate chance to escape, and he had no doubt that the two of them could evade capture and slip back into friendly territory with few problems.

Unfortunately, that meant that whoever stayed at the plane was likely going to give themselves up as lost. The Russian military would find this site -- sooner as opposed to later. Hannibal would go down for his team if that was what was required, but the thought of taking Murdock down with him didn’t sit well with him.

There were variations on these plans as well, and Hannibal seriously considered torching the plane and finding alternative cover. That would provide them better longevity, but without the plane, their mission would be expanded -- indefinitely. It seemed premature, for the moment, when Hannibal didn’t know what the morning would bring.

After all, maybe things would be better in the morning. Maybe a good night’s sleep would bring Murdock further around. Maybe the rain would clear and the runway would dry out. Maybe they would be wheels up before the Russians even had a chance to clear their radar.

There was that chance of success that Hannibal had to cling to. That was how he played the game. He played to win. Sure, he knew some things were expendable along the way. But not his boys.

He blew into his hands, starting his rounds again.

Never his boys.

-o-

By the time he finally made his way back to the plane, he could see the black sky turning gray. It did nothing to improve the conditions, though, and Hannibal could feel the rain still crystallized on the outside of his clothes. Stretching his fingers one more time in the cold air, Hannibal took a deep breath, feeling the moisture freeze all the way into his lungs.

This much cold for this long -- he was putting himself at risk. Hannibal wasn’t invincible, even if he acted like he was sometimes. He knew his limits, though, and he knew when he was willing to risk himself for the greater good.

That wasn’t what this was about, however. Hannibal wasn’t trying to be a martyr. He wasn’t trying to lay down his life for his team. This was more than guilt or duty or obligation.

This was his way to remind himself exactly what was at stake.

He couldn’t be warm. He couldn’t be comfortable. He couldn’t let himself feel safe.

No, he needed to remember the stakes. He needed to remember just how much was on the line. More than that, he needed to remember how hard he needed to fight to beat it.

They’d come a long way since Mexico, his team.

It was up to Hannibal to make sure it didn’t end here.

-o-

Inside, Hannibal was relieved to find that all was quiet. He had worried, however slightly, that Face or BA might attempt to come after him, but both men were passed out on the floor of the plane, deep in sleep. Face probably had considered it, but Face knew him too well. He knew what game Hannibal was playing, and he knew better than to talk Hannibal out of it at times like these.

Besides, they needed the rest. Hannibal needed them in tiptop shape -- for whatever plan he eventually decided on. So it felt damn good to see them getting the sleep they would need to finish this mission.

What was less good, however, was Murdock.

Instead of being asleep between the other two, the pilot was gone, nothing but a rumpled pile of blankets where he should have been.

A thousand thoughts went through Hannibal’s head, each worse than the last. He gauged the weather, how long he’d been gone, and how far a man could possibly travel through the woods in the rain under these conditions. But there was no sign that Murdock had left the plane.

In fact, other than the rumpled blankets, there was no sign of Murdock at all.

That was when Hannibal heard the cough.

Turning his head, he looked to the back of the plane.

There was another cough, more productive than the last.

The bathroom.

Murdock had gone to the bathroom.

On some level, this was a good thing. If Murdock was able to get up and get to the bathroom, then his condition couldn’t have worsened too badly.

On the other level, the sound of that cough was hardly reassuring.

Especially since it wasn’t stopping.

And it was getting worse.

At the back, he hesitated for a moment, holding his fist up to rap on the door. He abandoned that tact, however, when the coughing intensified, following by a deep, retching gag. Like that, Hannibal had the door open and he scooped his pilot up off the ground, tipping him forward and bracing him, his large palm splayed protectively over Murdock’s back.

Murdock choked for a moment before coughing again, a series of coughs that racked his entire body until he went stiff from exertion and red faced from a lack of oxygen.

“Easy, easy,” Hannibal coached. “The more you fight it, the worse it’ll be.”

Murdock was trembling now, his muscles taut beneath Hannibal’s touch as he coughed again before managing a large, wheezing inhalation. The tenuous in-and-out was marred by more hacks, and Hannibal did what he could to support Murdock as he spit into the toilet. Hannibal didn’t want to looked, but the sputum was thick and colored with mucus, brought up from the lungs.

“You have to breathe,” Hannibal said, trying to keep his voice even. “Captain--”

Murdock coughed, his body bucking against Hannibal’s grip.

“That’s an order, Captain,” Hannibal said, more sternly now. His own heart was thudding rapidly against his chest. “In and out--”

Struggling as he was, Murdock managed to obey with another tenuous inhalation.

Hannibal nodded, keeping his grip steady. “Good, and out.”

Shuddering, Murdock followed the directions, pacing himself as best he could with Hannibal’s meticulous coaching. It took several long seconds before Murdock found the rhythm, and several more after that before the tension peaked and Hannibal felt the pressure dissipate in his chest.

Finally, Murdock’s weight went weak, and he slumped in Hannibal’s grip. Shifting, Hannibal adjusted Murdock until he was sitting on the ground, propped up against the wall. Concerned, Hannibal tipped Murdock’s head back, sweeping the captain’s hair out of his face with a frown.

Beneath the touch, Murdock shuddered visibly, blinking dazed eyes as he struggled to even out his breathing even more.

“Easy, Captain,” Hannibal said, relaxing his voice and taking it down several notches. “Just breathe.”

This much Murdock did, but barely. His breathing, which had been bad before, was audibly rattling in his chest, and his sweat-slicked brow suggested that hypothermia had really been the least of Hannibal’s concerns. No, Murdock wasn’t cold anymore -- he was burning up. The fever had spiked hot and fast over the night, and Hannibal cursed himself for the extended walk after all.

He’d wanted to let his men sleep.

He hadn’t accounted for Murdock’s condition to deteriorate quite this badly quite this quickly.

That was his oversight.

This was his fault.

For a second, the weight of guilt eclipsed everything else. Hannibal took the hardest missions with the biggest risks. That was what he did because he was good -- hell, he was the best. He counted those successes as his own -- and rightfully so.

It meant that the failures were also his.

It was his job to account for everything.

And he had no explanation for how the hell they ended up here.

Miles from safety; the Russian military due to show up at any second; the worst weather imaginable; and an exit plan that needed a pilot.

Not to mention a pilot that was too sick to sit up on his own.

For a second, Hannibal allowed himself this.

But just for a second.

If this was his responsibility, he was going to take it.

More than that, he was going to fix it.

Gently, he reached down, slipping his arm underneath Murdock’s and hoisting him up. “Okay,” he coaxed, keeping his voice as conversational as possible. “Back to bed.”

Murdock hummed a little, his feet tripping over themselves. “Colonel?”

“Yeah, kid,” Hannibal said, maneuvering them both out of the small door to the airplane’s bathroom.

Murdock’s head tipped forward, lolling for a moment against Hannibal’s shoulder. “Are we still in Mexico?”

Frowning, Hannibal lifted Murdock a little higher, carrying more of his weight as he started them down the aisle. “Mexico? Why would we be in Mexico?”


“Just so hot,” Murdock mumbled, face scrunching up in discomfort.

Hannibal’s mouth twisted into a wry smile. “Unfortunately, this is Russia,” he said, guiding Murdock several more steps. “If we’re not careful, we’ll end up out in the cold -- permanently.”

Murdock hummed again, and Hannibal couldn’t be sure just how much his pilot was comprehending at the moment. Murdock sometimes had a creative relationship with reality, but somehow he doubted this situation had anything to do with his mental state.

“Why did you get up on your own?” Hannibal asked. “If you needed help--”

“They were sleeping,” Murdock drawled, the words thick between them. “I thought -- I thought -- it was just the bathroom…”

Hannibal nodded, adjusting his grip to pull his captain a little closer to him. “There’s nothing too big or too small,” he advised. “You don’t have to do this alone.”

Murdock lifted his head, rolling it up to look Hannibal in the eyes. “Then this is Mexico,” he said, sounding reassured somehow.

Hannibal gave him a blank look in reply.

Murdock’s smile stretched thin over his flushed features. “Team’s all here,” he said. “That was the plan, wasn’t it, Colonel? That was your plan?”

The question twisted in Hannibal’s gut, reigniting the guilt he’d refused to let himself indulge. He’d had a plan in Mexico, but a year later, he wasn’t sure if this was it or not. He wasn’t sure what this was or what he’d intended to start. This team was more than a team since Mexico.

He just didn’t know where they’d be after Russia.

If they survived Russia.

Hannibal returned Murdock’s smile, thin and strained. “You know me,” he cajoled, deflecting easily. “I always have a plan.”

Murdock’s smile brightened as Hannibal moved them another step forward. “I never doubted it, sir.”

Hannibal gritted his teeth, gripping Murdock a little tighter.

That made one of them, at least.

-o-

Face and BA were at alert by the time Hannibal made it back to their makeshift sleeping area. They had moved out of the way, repositioning the blankets and pillows as Hannibal eased Murdock down. Murdock, for his part, allowed himself to be guided, slipping back into sleep before Hannibal laid his head upon the pillow.

Stepping back, Hannibal let out a terse breath.

“I just went to sleep for a few minutes,” Face started. “I had stayed up for a bit, trying to get something out of the radio, but all I got was static, so I went to sleep.”

“And I told this fool to wake me,” BA said with a glare at Face.

“He was fine,” Face continued, shaking his head.

BA’s frown of consternation was formidable. Even more so when he pinned it on Hannibal. “Where was he going anyway?”

“The bathroom, as best I can figure,” Hannibal said, running a hand through his still-damp hair. He flicked the water free. “Once he started coughing, he couldn’t stop. He almost passed out by the time I got him to settle down.”

“Why didn’t he just wake me up?” Face asked, and Hannibal knew that his anger was directed at himself, not Murdock. “I didn’t even think--”

“He wanted you two to sleep, no doubt,” Hannibal said, sitting down wearily in one of the seats. “And he never has been a man who understood the reality of limits very well.”

“Yeah, but I thought he was getting better,” Face said. “I mean, I know what we’ve talked about, but he did so well yesterday.”

“Almost sane,” BA added. He shook his head. “That should have been the first clue.”

They fell silent for a moment, the silence turned loud by the sound of Murdock’s breathing, each breath more raucous than the last. They hadn’t accounted for it, and how could they? When Hannibal himself hadn’t managed to take it into consideration?

That was idle speculation, though. It wasn’t exactly relevant to the issues at hand. They couldn’t think about what they should have done. They had to think about what they were going to do.

“We’ll delay next patrol, just for an hour or two,” Hannibal said. “I want to see what we have for a fever reducer in this bird, and I want cool wash cloths. It’ll be tricky to balance, but we don’t want him too hot or too cold until we can get this fever under control. Speaking of which, do we even have a thermometer?”

“I can look,” Face said. “I know we had to pack a first aid kit in here somewhere.”

“It just depends which one you requisitioned,” Hannibal said. He looked to BA. “Do you think you can handle breakfast this morning? I want it hot and filling. If you can find one of the soups for Murdock, that’s even better. But I want all of you to eat -- and eat well. We’re not out of the cold yet on this one.”

“No sign of the Russians?” BA asked.

Hannibal shook his head. “And no sign of the rain letting up.”

“Well, the good news just doesn’t stop on this one, does it?” Face asked with a sarcastic lilt.

“First, breakfast and the first aid kit,” Hannibal ordered. “When we’re finally out of options, then we’ll start looking for luck.”

-o-

His men, they followed orders.

It was something that was easy to take for granted, especially in the year since Mexico. Hannibal had never operated with absolute authority, but he led with a certainty that his orders would be followed. Not without question but without exception. That was the expectation Hannibal had set, and it was the expectation his boys had complied with ever since that mission that had brought them together.

Of course, in everything, it had never occurred to Hannibal whether or not he was worthy of such trust. The obvious answer of an implicit yes didn’t seem so obvious right now. He’d made them into the best unit the army had. But had he let them make him into a better leader?

Or a worse one?

The fact that they weren’t asking that question made Hannibal feel even worse than he already did. It was hard, watching them comply so readily, when Hannibal knew that he was the one who had gotten them in this mess in the first place. When Hannibal knew that he couldn’t guarantee them a way out.

They deserved better.

And yet, there they were. BA making breakfast, and Face playing nursemaid. In the expectation that Hannibal had a plan that accounted for this.

In theory, he probably should have. Enemy involvement had always been a possibility, but Hannibal had been more concerned with the logistics. He’d been more focused on getting in and out quickly to consider the probability of enemy forces converging on the site.

Of course, that didn’t even get him started on the weather. To his credit, he’d studied the weather reports and found them acceptable. He’d packed enough clothes to account for the cold and even a little rain. But he hadn’t counted on a sudden shift in air pressure, stalling the rain pattern and leaving it overhead. If he’d found an airstrip with concrete, this might have been avoided.

As for Murdock, well, he knew the other man’s history with illness. He’d been sectioned off to the VA for bipolar episodes that were increasingly frenetic due to PTSD, but the hospital hadn’t cured Murdock of that. In fact, the only thing the hospital had given the pilot was a string of illnesses and infections from being cooped up in the ward so long.

Honestly, it was questionable whether or not Murdock’s physical history would have been approved for the field, much less his mental one. In the grander scheme of things, a few extra colds a year had seemed like a minor thing compared to possible hallucinations and a penchant for poisoning himself. But Hannibal had pulled his strings, and a year later, here they were.

With a pilot coming down with a nasty case of what Hannibal could only assume was pneumonia, given the way it had settled into his lungs.

To think how much Hannibal had come to rely on the unlikely.

It was probably only a matter of time until all the variables came together to work against him.

Watching his team work through the morning, Hannibal could only hope they wouldn’t be the ones to pay the price.

-o-

Breakfast left something to be desired. For all that BA could put anything mechanical together and have it run perfectly, he didn’t know how to mix ingredients to save his life. Their rations were designed to be foolproof, a fact that Hannibal decided not to mention to BA when he served the haphazard mess for their morning meal.

Besides, it was the thought that counted, and it didn’t escape notice that the soup prepared for Murdock was piping hot and meticulously laid out.

“I got the fever reducer,” Face announced, settling down on the other side of Murdock. “Tylenol is better than nothing, right?”

“If we can keep his fever in check, we can at least keep him a bit more comfortable,” Hannibal agreed, trying not to point out the fact that the fever wasn’t the real problem.

He didn’t need to, though. Murdock’s painful breathing made the point for him.

“Okay,” Hannibal said, reaching over to jostle the pilot. “We need to get him up.”

That task, as it turned out, was much easier said than done. With the fever raging -- upwards of 104, according to the thermometer Face had found -- Murdock was pretty out of it, and he didn’t respond to verbal commands. When Face propped him up, BA bracing him on the other side, Murdock didn’t respond to physical touch either, and it wasn’t until Hannibal took the captain’s face in his hands that he mustered any kind of a response.

Even that wasn’t coherent. Murdock mumbled and tried to pull away, and it took several stern orders before he even got the younger man to recognize who he was.

Which didn’t help.

When Murdock tried to salute, he ended up coughing, and the ensuing fit woke Murdock up enough to leave him gasping in pain.

It took all three of them to settle him again, and as Murdock’s head lolled back obediently, he took his chance to press the pills into his mouth. Out of instinct -- Hannibal had seen Murdock’s list of medications prior to Mexico -- Murdock tried to spit it out, but Hannibal pressed a bottle of water to his lips, letting water flow in before Murdock had any opportunity to fight back.

Murdock thrashed, sputtering for a moment as he swallowed it down. He coughed, half choking again -- from the water or the phlegm, Hannibal had no idea -- and Face’s knuckles were white as he held fast to Murdock. BA’s expression was lined and deep. When Murdock cried out, a small, muted sound, something wrathful quivered in BA’s countenance.

Still, Hannibal would not apologize. Not for something that needed to be done.

Not for this.

“Keep him steady,” Hannibal instructed, reaching for the bowl of soup.

“He can’t even sit up straight,” BA snapped. “What makes you think he’s going to eat?”

“On his own, he’s not,” Hannibal said, preparing a spoon and blowing to cool it.

“So, what?” Face asked. “We’re going to feed him?”

Hannibal didn’t even shrug, pressing his face closer to the soup to gauge its temperature. “Would you rather not? Because, by all means, we can skip this part and let him continue to lose his strength and get dehydrated. That way, it might not be the fluid in his lungs that kills him. Maybe we can just let him dry out, right here in front of us.”

Face blanched, and Hannibal almost felt guilty. It wasn’t Face’s fault, after all.

“How do you know you’re not going to choke him?” BA asked, and he made no secret that he, too, knew who to blame for this mess. “I mean, if we wait--”

“We are waiting,” Hannibal said. “We’re waiting for the rain to stop. We’re waiting for the runway to clear. We’re waiting for the damn Russians to show up. None of those things are within my control, but this, right here, I can do something about. And I refused to wait until it’s too late.”

It came out harsher than he intended, and the rush of emotions made him flush. For all the things that he couldn’t do on this mission, he would take control of what he could. What he didn’t tell them was that saving Murdock’s life was very likely to save all of them.

He didn’t have to, not in so many words.

They had always understood when it mattered. The most important orders were the ones that Hannibal never actually had to give.

BA propped Murdock up a little higher, and Face lifted the pilot’s head, coaxing him to wake up again. Murdock, groggy and fevered as he was, actually did his best to comply.

They were remarkable, his team.

Hannibal accounted for a lot of things, but sometimes he forgot to account for that.

-o-

It was a slow, messy sort of process. Not to mention awkward. They were close -- as close as a team could be -- but the intimacy of feeding one another left them all quietly embarrassed. If anything, Murdock was the lucky one in this: he wouldn’t remember the indignity of it later.

To their credit, though, they didn’t stop. Face held Murdock’s head in place, talking a string of reassuring words into the pilot’s ear to keep him from fighting on every bite. BA didn’t flinch or flicker, not even when Murdock tensed or pulled away, spilling the hot soup over himself and the bigger man. And Hannibal lifted bite after bite, heedless of how the prior one went.

When the bowl was empty, Hannibal cleaned up as best he could, letting BA lay Murdock back to the bed they’d made up. Face adjusted the blankets, folding them low over his chest before inching away and lowering his voice.

“He’s really not getting better,” he said. “I mean, your plan still doesn’t involve him flying us out, does it?”

“We could always leave the plane,” BA suggested, joining them. “I don’t care what the army says, but I think leaving the plane as a pile of ash is better than us going up in smoke.”

“But how are we going to drag Murdock through the woods if the Russian military is after us?” Face asked.

“How do we even know for sure they are after us?” BA returned.

“It’s only a matter of time,” Hannibal told them. “And dragging Murdock out in this weather would give us a head start, but if he gets any worse, I’m not sure it’d be worth it.”

“Which bring us back to the question,” Face said. “What’s the plan?”

“Yeah, you’ve always got something in your back pocket,” BA said.

“That emergency contingency I know you’ve always got,” Face told him, daring to smile. “I think this could definitely qualify as an emergency.”

Hannibal let his gaze linger on Murdock, watching the staggered rise and fall of his chest. His eyes flicked to the ceiling, where he could still hear the rain pounding against the outside of the plane. In a year, Hannibal had pulled off the impossible with his men. The brass believed his A-Team was nothing short of magic. They were myths, legends. They were gods among men. This exaggeration had been fine with Hannibal; the mythos only helped him get what he needed when he needed it.

He’d just never intended to fool his men into the same mindset. He’d never meant to make himself invincible to them. He’d never thought that incurring their loyalty would come at the price of their full-hearted faith.

They didn’t account for everything.

They just accounted for Hannibal.

That made his failure in this case all the more difficult. He’d brought them into a poorly planned mission with variables he couldn’t and didn’t control. He’d made them vulnerable. And, worst of all, he’d made them believe beyond a shadow of any doubt that he had it all figured out. That over confidence right there was the greatest vulnerability of all.

It was also the most unforgivable oversight.

Hannibal had let himself get lazy since Mexico. He’d let himself get too dependent on his team, and allowed them to be too dependent on him. Because they were looking to him for answers, and he didn’t have any to give.

“Not yet,” he said, clearing his throat against the thickness of his guilt.

“Not to question you, boss, but when were you thinking?” Face asked.

“We barely got him to eat anything,” BA said. “He’s getting worse.”

“Flying out of here with the team and the remains is still our safest bet for a successful mission,” Hannibal told them. “The plan hasn’t changed.”

Face slumped sullenly, and BA cowed over with tight shoulders. Hannibal kept himself steady, and hoped they couldn’t see how much he wished the plan could change.

How much he suspected it probably needed to.

Because this plan? When it came together?

Might just get them all killed.

-o-

Hannibal didn’t order it, but BA went out on watch, insisting that he had to find something productive to do. Even Face seemed restless, tuning into the different radio frequency and looking for anything that wasn’t static. When he gave up on that, he sat down next to Murdock and pulled his knees to his chest. There were a thousand questions in his expression. He refused to give voice to any of them.

Face’s hovering made the time pass slowly, and Hannibal was almost relieved when BA came back and Face relieved him. BA made no pretense of getting anything done, sitting himself down next to Murdock again and refusing to move. He was surprisingly tactile with Murdock, checking his temperature and changing the cool cloth on his forehead. It was the gentle touch BA usually saved for sensitive electronic equipment, but it was even more pronounced when it was skin on skin.

Even though Hannibal was the one with the plan, he was the only one who couldn’t figure out what to do. He refused to let himself get close, taking up a seat across from the others and alternating his gaze between the window and his team.

He was too close to this as it was.

That was how this happened in the first place.

Hannibal did love it when a plan came together; he didn’t know what to do with himself when it didn’t.

And this plan?

Was coming apart at the seams.

-o-

Hannibal made lunch, but hardly had the stomach to eat. Before the others finished, he excused himself for his watch. He was about a half hour in and making his second sweep when he noticed something different.

The slightest change. A new cadence in the raindrops as they pelted the trees.

A thinner cloud cover, letting in a few more rays of light.

Hannibal stopped, looking up to the sky as the rain tapered off and the sun glinted through a haze of gray.

Feeling suddenly conspicuous, Hannibal waited, trying to gauge if the rain was going to start up again. But the sky continued to clear, and the woods echoed with the newfound quiet.

One storm was over.

Hannibal looked back toward the plane, knowing another was about to begin.

-o-

Back at the plane, the others were waiting for him. He barely had time to stow his weapon before Face was on him.

“It’s clearing, right?” he asked. “It has to be clearing.”

“Of course it’s clearing,” BA chimed in. “It’s been raining for days. It had to stop sometime.”

“I know, and that’s good, right?” Face pressed. “This is a good thing?”

Hannibal brought himself to full height, willing the tension out of his shoulders -- and failing. “Well, the runway is still too wet to do anything,” he said.

“A few more hours, though,” Face said.

“If we’re lucky,” Hannibal agreed with a nod. “They’re just coming off a dry spell, which might help us some.”

“So we’ll be able to fly out?” BA asked. “Never thought I’d say it, but if it helps out the crazy man, I’ll let you strap me down.”

“In theory, yes,” Hannibal said, putting his hands on his hips with a sigh. “How’s Murdock?”

“No change,” Face said. “The fever’s creeping back up again -- he’s due for another dose of Tylenol.”

“His breathing’s getting worse,” BA reported.

“Which means in a few hours, we’ll have a runway and a plane, but no pilot,” Hannibal said, feeling wearier than he ever had before.

Face and BA were watching him, though, more intent than before. They couldn’t appreciate the exhausting irony at the moment. No, they just wanted to know that Hannibal this under control.

He rubbed a hand through his hair, shaking his head. “We give it a few hours,” he announced. “We check the runway; we check Murdock. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”

“This is kind of a big thing to just let it go on luck,” Face said.

“Well, luck owes us a few on this one,” Hannibal said. “Besides, BA’s already offered to go up willingly. If anything can give him the motivation to get better, that’s it.”

“So we’re back to waiting again?” BA asked with his brow dark.

“Well,” Hannibal said, spreading his hands on his thighs and rallying his own strength. “Not exactly.”

-o-

Most people didn’t realize that a good plan never just happened. Even a bad plan didn’t appear out of thin air. Preparation was the key to smooth operations, and Hannibal understood that when the margin of error was slight, preparation was even more important.

Also, his boys needed something to do. If they sat around too much more, they were going to start to ask the hard questions.

Questions Hannibal didn’t want to answer.

Besides, just because there were things Hannibal hadn’t accounted for didn’t mean he shouldn’t try to account for the rest before this was over. This mission had gone sideways, yes, but that didn’t make it a failure.

He spared a look at Murdock, still sleeping restlessly on the bedding.

Not yet.

Face passed through, excusing himself on his way back to the cargo area. Hannibal had asked him to stow and document their remaining supplies. Although he was hoping to leave sooner rather than later, he needed to be certain of how much they had in case going wheels up was not an option. If that happened, they would need whatever supplies they could carry, because leaving the plane behind intact was not feasible.

For a moment, he watched Face worked, mumbling to himself as he counted the number of rations before ducking out the back once more.

The sun had cleared the skies, making the temperature seem almost moderate compared to the near-freezing rain of the last few days. Time would only tell to show how fast the ground dried, but the cloudless sky was promising in that regard.

Which was why he had BA running maintenance checks on the plane. The plane had been thoroughly checked prior to starting the mission, but three days in the rain and cold warranted another diagnostic. It was perhaps a bit of overkill, but Hannibal wasn’t known for understatement. If they had the chance to leave, Hannibal didn’t want anything with the plane to prevent them from leaving.

With a sigh, Hannibal turned his attention back to the radio. He changed the dial again, scanning slowly to look for any sign of activity. This far out, there was no local stations to pick up, and aside from a few dispatches of scratchy chatter, there was no indication of activity in the area.

At least, not yet.

That seemed to be the theme of this mission.

Failure or success...but not yet.

As he flipped to another station of static, he was surprised by a sudden sound. He stopped, coming fully alert, but that was when he realized it wasn’t coming from the radio.

His eyes widened, and he was on his feet and crossing back toward the bedding in an instant. “Murdock,” he said, going to his knees. “Captain.”

Murdock turned his eyes up. Bleary and fogged with fever, it took him a moment to focus. Then his eyes went wide, his chest hitching with a rasping inhalation. “Colonel?”

With that, Hannibal allowed himself a smile. Maybe this would work out. Maybe the runway would dry and Murdock would fly them out of here. Maybe they’d kick back with a few beers back on base and commiserate about doing the impossible once again.

But then Murdock’s brows furrowed together, a look of concern deepening on his features. With effort, he wet his lips, starting to shake his head. “I thought -- I thought we were going up.”

“We’re just waiting for the runway to clear,” Hannibal told him. “Shouldn’t be too much longer.”

Murdock blinked a few times, pausing to take a struggling breath. “I wouldn’t blame you, though.”

“Blame me for what?”

“Leaving me here,” he said, his drawl heavier before he coughed again.

“Wait,” Hannibal said, frowning. “Leaving you--”

“Mexico’s -- it’s not so bad,” Murdock slurred. “It’s hot, at least. So hot.”

His face wrinkled in discomfort, railing again.

“Feels like fire, sometimes,” he continued, the words coming faster now. “Like they just want to burn it out, burn the crazy out--”

Hannibal shook his head, trying to find his voice. “Murdock--”

“But I need it, I need the crazy,” Murdock continued unabated. “Crazy’s the only way it all m-makes sense, and I -- I can take the fire. S’okay, sir. You can leave me in Mexico.”

“Hey,” Hannibal said, a little bit sterner than he intended. He held fast to Murdock, taking him by the arm firmly. “We are not leaving you behind. Not in Mexico or anywhere else for that matter.”

At that, Murdock looked vexed. “But the fire -- it’ll get you, too,” he said, sounding genuinely concerned. “I won’t blame you, Colonel. I b-belong in Mexico.”

“Murdock, son,” he said, willing the other man to meet his gaze more firmly. “Mexico was a year ago. I didn’t leave you behind then, and I won’t leave you behind this time.”

Murdock’s eyes filled, and his breathing caught in his throat. “But -- it’s so hot,” he started to say before the words got garbled, lost in a cough. The hacking dredged up another, and soon Murdock was bent forward with the exertion. Hannibal did his best to steady him, coaching him with gentle words until his breathing evened out a little, the tremulous exhalations resulting in fine tremors throughout his body.

“Don’t worry,” Hannibal assured him, helping him rest back against the stack of pillows. “I have a plan.”

But Murdock couldn’t hear him. His eyes were slipping shut again, head lolling sideways as he worked to pull oxygen into his audibly congested lungs.

It was just as well, Hannibal told himself.

That way Murdock wouldn’t realize just how badly Hannibal was lying.

-o-

Hannibal probably should have kept watch -- over the radio, over the plane, over Murdock, over everything -- but he didn’t have it in him. If he had to sit there and wait for the worst to happen a second longer, he was going to be crazier than Murdock.

Of course, on this particular mission, Hannibal already felt somewhat crazy. He knew the course of action that had led him this far had seemed entirely rational and reasonable at the time. He just had no idea how that was the case now.

That was a question he needed to answer.

It was not, however, a question he needed to answer now.

He would answer that question as soon as he answered more pressing questions.

Like, how the hell he was going to get out of here.

For that, he had to start with the plane.

BA was outside, his spread of tools next to him while he went over the plane’s parts one by one. It was remarkable, really. How a man with so little patience for people could pay the utmost attention to technical details. For all the people he’d leveled with a punch, BA had caressed ten times as many circuits into doing exactly what he wanted.

Even more ironic, of course, was the fact that BA was double checking the very plane he didn’t want to fly on.

“How’s she look?” Hannibal asked, hoping to sound calm and confident.

BA scowled at him, barely looking up from his work. “I thought you were looking out for Murdock.”

The irony just kept coming. BA claimed to hate Murdock, but he was the first one there whenever their pilot was in jeopardy. This made Hannibal proud.

It was also rather inconvenient at the moment.

“Still asleep,” Hannibal reported with a forced smile. It was partially true. Murdock was asleep. There was no need to mention his unhinged ramblings just yet. “I just thought I’d step out for a moment.”

BA gave him a weary look, laden with suspicion. “If there’s something wrong with that fool--”

“BA,” Hannibal said, cutting him short. “The plane.”

It wasn’t an order; it didn’t have to be. BA swallowed his objections reluctantly, nodding toward the aircraft.

“It all checks out,” he said. “No signs of damage, and the cold hasn’t affected functionality. I ran all the diagnostics, and a few tests of my own. This plane will fly if we can get it off the ground.”

It was another bit of good news -- another bit of good news that didn’t mean anything until Murdock was feeling better.

That was for Hannibal to dwell on.

Not his team.

He smiled, patting BA on the shoulder. “That’s good work, corporal,” he said.

BA scoffed dismissively, averting his gaze. “All the good it does us,” he grumbled.

“Something you need to say?” Hannibal prompted.

“Just, look at us,” BA said with a pointed gesture. “Stranded in Russia, of all places. A year ago, I was getting my van back in Mexico. Sometimes I think I should have stayed there.”

Something clenched in Hannibal’s chest. “Sometimes I think you should have, too.”

BA looked up, surprised. “You regret putting me on your team?”

“No, no,” Hannibal said quickly. “I just worry that you’re worse off here. You knew what you wanted back in Mexico. And I thought I had something better to offer you. Standing here, I have to wonder if I was wrong.”

“You are wrong, but not about that,” BA told him belligerently. “I just wonder sometimes, if you could have used someone better for this team. Here we are, on some top secret mission, and all I can do is check the engine of a plane I don’t even want to fly on. If I wasn’t such a damn distraction--”

“You’re not a distraction,” Hannibal interjected with some force. “Not when it counts.”

“But it counts now, doesn’t it?” BA asked. “You can’t be part of a team and take more than you give.”

“Trust me, you give plenty,” Hannibal said.

“When you found me in Mexico, I was driving back up to the United States, going to my mama’s place,” he explained. “But I wasn’t going to see my mama. I was going to beat the hell out of the kid down the street who sold my van in the first place. That was who I was. Bosco Baracus, always looking for a fight. And in Mexico, I found you instead.”

“Well, we’re still fighting,” Hannibal said, his shrug almost sheepish.

“Sure, but I’m throwing the punches that matter now,” BA said. “You gave me that. That and this team.”

It was unusually sentimental, especially for BA. There was something raw about it, as if the rain had washed away the normal layers of protection they wore. More than flak jackets and combat helmets; they never quite talked about those things that mattered most. Those things that held them together.

The things unaccounted for in a plan laid out so precisely.

“It was always in you, BA,” Hannibal told him with candor. “I just gave you the chance to prove it to yourself.”

“Nah, man,” BA said. “You’re the only one who bothered to stick with me long enough.”

“I read your file,” Hannibal replied. “You put up with my antics far longer than any other commanding officer you ever served under.”

BA grinned at that, more than a little sheepish. “That may be true,” he said. “But it’s a two-way street, man. That’s what I’m saying. Give and take.”

But what if Hannibal took more than he could give? What if he took more than his men could afford to give? What if the two-way street just allowed them to set a collision course with disaster?

Hannibal had taken enough.

He wouldn’t take their hope, even if it was an illusion.

Especially then.

“Give and take,” Hannibal said with a resounding bob of his head. “Keep her at the ready.”

“You think we’ll get to leave soon?” BA asked, and to Hannibal’s satisfaction, he sounded more hopeful than before.

“We’ll try,” Hannibal told him, and that much wasn’t a lie as much as it was a creative interpretation of the facts. “You can count on that.”

-o-

It was tempting to make another sweep of the area, but with Face and BA both preoccupied with other tasks, Hannibal knew his best bet was to scan the frequencies on the radio. He was more likely to pick up chatter -- and besides, if he came across anyone in the woods, he wanted to be close to his team, not separated from them.

And if they had an opening to leave, Hannibal needed to be here to take it. They were cutting this one close.

Hannibal looked at Murdock again.

Too close.

With a long exhale, Hannibal started his sweep of the channels again, pretending like the static was enough to drown out the sound of his pilot’s labored breathing. He was getting worse in that. The rattling in his chest was deepening, and Hannibal feared it was only a matter of time before his diminished airflow started to cause other problems.

That wasn’t the only thing getting worse.

Every frequency Hannibal checked, Murdock’s cheeks flushed deeper red. The fever was climbing.

A small cry made Hannibal stop, putting the radio aside as he scooted closer to Murdock again. The wet cloth on his head was tepid now, but Hannibal used it to brush back his floppy bangs, smoothing them as best he could to mop up the sweat collecting on his face. Murdock mumbled at the touched, body tensing in an unconscious fight against something that Hannibal couldn’t discern.

It wasn’t so hard to tell who was winning, though.

“If I could just get up,” Murdock said, voice starting to rise with anxiety. His eyes opened and closed, flashing back and forth in confusion. “Get her up in the air--”

“No flying just yet, Captain,” Hannibal said, steadying him as best he could.

Murdock seemed to startle, his eyes falling on Hannibal and going wide. “But I’m a real soldier,” he said, almost plaintive in his pleading. “A Ranger.”

Hannibal’s chest ached. It was impossible not to miss the reference. He could still remember meeting Murdock. He’d been pretty certain when he read the man’s file that he was a good fit for Hannibal’s team, but he’d had his doubts when he saw the man giggling wildly in a psychiatric hospital south of the border. He’d feared, if only for a moment, that Murdock really had been a mistake.

But the moment Murdock’s eyes had locked on his. The moment Murdock’s face went serious and his voice went steady. That was when Hannibal had known that the best treatment for Murdock wasn’t medication or therapy -- although God knew the man used both -- it was a purpose.

See, Hannibal had figured his men out, each of them, a long time ago. He knew that Face needed accountability. He knew that BA needed a productive outlet for his rage. And Murdock? In a lot of ways, despite his problems, Murdock was the easiest one of all.

All he needed was the room to fly.

Hannibal had given him that, every mission since Mexico.

Every mission until now.

“I know, I know,” Hannibal said. “We just need to get you feeling a little better before we get you back up in the air.”

The concern deepened the creases on Murdock’s forehead. “I swear I can do it, Colonel,” he said, almost begging now as his breaths came in large heaves. “Please, I know I can do it. Don’t leave me -- don’t leave me in Mexico.”

“We’re not in Mexico,” Hannibal started, but he knew that wasn’t what he needed to say. That wasn’t what Murdock needed to hear.

That wasn’t what any of them needed to hear. They had started something, this team; they’d started something none of them had fully understood back in Mexico. A year later, halfway around the world, Hannibal wasn’t sure they understood it yet. Because if they weren’t in Mexico, then where the hell were they?

“Please,” Murdock said, the focus in his eyes abating. “I can fly…”

He was going under again, so Hannibal pressed his hair back once more. “Soon, Captain,” he vowed. “I give you my word. Soon.”

Hannibal looked grimly down the length of the grounded plane.

He just hoped it was soon enough.