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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

A-Team fic: A Long Way From Mexico (5/6)

December 29th, 2016 (08:54 pm)
indifferent

feeling: indifferent

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



-o-

The medical staff was well acquainted with Murdock. Although they were all prone to some injuries from time to time -- such was the nature of their missions -- Murdock was the most frequent visitor. It didn’t have anything to do with missions, however. It had everything to do with being crazy.

He had a tendency to ingest poisons and a real knack for pissing off the wrong people. Which was to say they’d spent more than their share of time in the medical tent. Hannibal worked hard to control all the mitigating factors, which had helped things a lot in the last year, but he still made a point to talk to the medical personnel wherever they were stationed in advance, just to be sure.

This was largely because he understood that Murdock’s psychological conditions were already on the Army’s radar. It wouldn’t take much to get him sectioned again, and there were only so many strings Hannibal could pull. By keeping medical personnel in the loop, so to speak, Hannibal could curry their favor a bit more easily. They wouldn’t report things they were expecting, after all.

That was the kicker in all of this, really. Hannibal had always worked his ass off to protect his team, and Murdock was no exception. Except he’d been so preoccupied with his mental health that it hadn’t occurred to him that his physical well being might be in the foremost jeopardy.

Such idle thoughts were superfluous, however. The only thing that mattered now was getting Murdock the help he needed.

Without asking, he helped take Murdock’s weight, shifting it from Face and BA and guiding the sick man onto the waiting stretcher. Grabbing the straps across Murdock’s chest, he helped secure the pilot, seamlessly pushing one of the medics out of the way to pick up the end of the stretcher near Murdock’s head.

The primary medic was running a quick assessment, his fingers ghosting over Murdock’s pulse point and feeling his forehead with a frown. “Let’s get him back and set up with monitors.”

Hannibal didn’t need to be told twice. He was already moving, directing the stretcher in his backward march toward the infirmary.

Morrison came alongside him for a moment. “John, the mission--”

“--is over,” Hannibal snapped, watching as another medic maneuvered a fresh oxygen mask over Murdock while they moved.

“But the plane--”

“--is destroyed,” Hannibal supplied, circumnavigating a group of guards and daring them to stop him.

“And the Russians--”

“--will have no evidence of whatever you were doing there in the first place,” Hannibal told him. “Some of which probably would have been nice to know before I dragged my men into a volatile situation.”

“You know how need-to-know works, Hannibal,” Morrison said. “I don’t make the calls here.”

“No, but you sure as hell give the orders sometimes,” Hannibal said, picking up his pace with the infirmary in sight.

Morrison went a little stiff as he kept up alongside him. “Colonel, I will remind you of your duty.”

“My first duty is to my men,” Hannibal said, in a tone that did not invite argument. A glance up confirmed that BA and Face were following, squeezed out of the action by the medics. Below him, Murdock’s lips were dark, offset by his pale, pale cheeks. “So, if you don’t mind--”

Hannibal pushed through the door, effectively blocking Morrison out. Morrison wasn’t his enemy, this much was true, but he was also his commanding officer. He’d given Hannibal some leeway after he’d formed the A-Team, but it had barely been a year since Mexico. Not everyone understood Hannibal’s projects, the military brass less than most. Morrison believed in results, though. After Russia, he might just learn to give Hannibal all the leeway he asked for -- and then some.

If he didn’t, though?

The doors slammed shut as the other medic brought the rear of the stretcher through the doors of the infirmary.

Well, Hannibal would come up with a plan for that later.

-o-

In the examination room, the stretcher was laid out on the table, and the medical personnel swarmed, moving in perfect synchronization. Someone hooked up an IV, ripping open Murdock’s sleeve and prepping a vein. Another officer cut through the front of his shirt and jacket, flaying the fabric wide to start placing electrodes on his chest.

As the monitors came to life, the doctor slipped in next to Murdock’s head, using a penlight to check his pupillary response while a nurse pressed a thermometer to his forehead, waiting for a reading.

“Fever’s 105.2.”

“Pulse is racing.”

“Oxygenation is low -- 52 percent.”

The doctor leaned over, pressing a stethoscope to Murdock’s lung and listening, repeating the process on the other side. She shook her head. “Lots of congestion, but we’re going to need an x-ray,” she said. “We’ll also want to run labs to rule out other infections.”

Another doctor leaned over, inspecting Murdock more closely. “Any other injuries?”

“Negative,” Hannibal replied. “It was a recovery mission in Russia. The details are classified, but we saw no action.”

“When did he start to feel ill?” the first doctor asked.

“Just under a week ago,” Hannibal reported, watching as Murdock roused slightly with the increased oxygen flow again. “Weather conditions were less than favorable.”

“Do we have his charts?” the second doctor asked. “What sort of history are we looking at here?”

“What history aren’t we looking at?” the first one countered. She gave Hannibal a small, tight smile. “Captain Murdock is a frequent flyer, so to speak.”

“No usually for this, though,” Hannibal said. On the exam table, Murdock blinked, clearly confused up at the bright lights on the ceiling. “It started as a cold, but it just got worse.”

“Well, the best laid plans, Colonel,” she replied with a sympathetic tilt of her head. “Are no match for the human body. Or the Russian cold, for that matter.”

“Let’s expedite those labs,” the other doctor called. “And let’s move him to x-ray.”

“That’s your cue, Colonel,” the first said. “We’ve got it from here.”

It was tempting, perhaps, to argue, and Hannibal didn’t like the idea of leaving one of his men unattended. But he knew his part in this. He wasn’t a doctor. The best thing he could do was let these people help Murdock. Hannibal knew that.

That didn’t make it easier.

As the wheels of the gurney were unlocked, Murdock startled, trying to flail. Hannibal was there in an instant, though, putting himself into Murdock’s eyeline and wrapping his hand around the other man’s forearm.

“Easy, Captain,” he said. “You just need a few tests, okay?”

At this, Murdock’s eyes widened. “But -- I haven’t -- I haven’t studied -- sir.”

Hannibal shook his head, using his other hand to press back the pilot’s hair. “Not the psychiatric ones, I promise,” he said. “We don’t need to relive the debacle of ink blot tests again any time soon.”

Murdock visibly relaxed. “That’s good, that’s good,” he mumbled. “So good.”

Strange things often made his pilot anxious, but his fear over psychological evaluations was marked and honestly, not so strange. For a pilot who had been grounded once, it probably was fair to expect him to be worried about having it happen again. Moreover, Murdock knew he was crazy. Give him the test, and he’d fail, every time. Hannibal had used many types of emotional manipulation on his men, but he’d learned very quick that threatening Murdock with a psych eval wasn’t manipulation. It was downright cruel.

“Just take it easy, Captain,” Hannibal said, working to keep a smile in place. “I’ve got everything under control.”

As they wheeled Murdock away, it wasn’t hard to see that the younger man believed him.

Hannibal just had to hope that it wasn’t a lie.

-o-

For all that Murdock worried him, he was actually the easiest one to help. It was a plaintive thing, obtaining medical assistance for a sick man. That was a problem with a simple solution, and though Hannibal liked creativity in his execution, he valued results more than anything else.

Handling the rest of his team would be a whole different kind of challenge. One with no ready or easy solution.

He sighed, collecting himself. He had to wonder, sometimes, if he were really up for the task. Hannibal was a soldier; he planned military exploits, not emotional interventions. For all the daunting tasks he’d faced in his career, this was perhaps the most unnerving.

Because it was the most important.

Face was in the waiting area, sitting at the edge of a chair and bouncing his leg. He saw Hannibal approach and straightened, hope written all over his face even as he tried to hide it. Anxiously, he half got to his feet before he stopped himself, settling back even more tense on the very lip of the chair.

“So?” he asked.

Hannibal finished his way across the room before settling himself next to Face. He felt old, suddenly, the weariness in his bones unlike anything he’d ever felt before. He was getting too old for this.

He looked at Face again, pursing his lips. He wasn’t too old. He was too attached.

“They’re running tests right now,” he reported, dutiful as ever. “We’ll know more after that.”

Face nodded, blinking a few times. He waited, as if he were expecting Hannibal to continue. “But he’s okay,” he said, as if seeking clarification. “I mean, Murdock, he’s going to be okay, right?”

Hannibal sat back somewhat, running a hand through his hair. “When is Murdock ever okay?”

“I know, but this is different,” Face said, his hands moving nervously. “I mean, I know how to deal with his invisible dog, and I’m pretty good at directing his voices, but he was going blue.”

It wasn’t the most horrible thing either of them had seen, not with the missions they’d pulled in the combat zones they’d been assigned. They all knew, all of them to a man, the horrors of war and the indiscriminate reality of casualties. Face himself had a penchant to getting into scrapes, and unlike BA, he wasn’t always the winner.

But this was different.

This wasn’t a split second gone wrong. This wasn’t a line of enemy fire they could evade. This cut something deeper between them. Murdock was the one with the fever, but they’d all been infected in their own way by this thing they called a team. A year since Mexico, and they were still trying to figure out if they were okay with that.

As a team, nothing could stop them.

Nothing outside, anyway.

No, if this team fell apart, it would be because of the four of them and no one else.

Now it was Hannibal’s job to make sure that didn’t happen.

As tempting as it was to lie, Hannibal didn’t -- he wouldn’t, he couldn’t. “We got him here,” he said. “That’s the best we could do. He’s in good hands.”

Face draws his lips into a thin line, and his brow creases with consternation. “But what if it’s not enough?”

It was a funny question, coming from Face. Face had made a career of doing as little as possible. It wasn’t that he was lazy in the purest sense, but he had a strong sense of personal comfort, and he certainly was bright enough to know how to manipulate a situation to his advantage. It made Face inventive and capable -- it also made him difficult to deal with sometimes.

Face wasn’t looking to do the bare minimum, not with his team. No, Face wanted to give everything.

That was ironic, of course, because Face had never been much of a team player. It’d been the primary note in his file when Hannibal took him on -- that Templeton Peck looked out for one person, and one person only: himself.

Yet, here he was. Worried about a crazy man Hannibal had taken from a mental hospital in Mexico. Sure, Hannibal had needed a pilot, but Face had needed something more than that. A family.

Hannibal had accepted his role as a father figure when he first recruited Face all those years ago, but he had never considered just how well Face would take to the role of big brother.

Because he did. With a damn flourish. Face could be all things to all people, and he pulled out all the stops for strangers. For his friends, though? For his family?

Face pulled out more than the stops.

Face gave them himself.

No guises, nothing held back.

“We all have to play our part,” Hannibal said. “Whether we like it or not, that means we have to let the doctors do their job. More importantly, we have to trust Murdock to pull through.”

Face was already shaking his head. “You’re talking about a guy who crashes planes for a living.”

Hannibal’s lips twisted wryly. “And he’s still the one who got us home.”

“That’s my point,” Face said with a futile gesture. “I have to do more. I have to be able to do more. Hannibal, what can I do?”

He sighed, more weary than before. The reassurements, the platitudes, and there was still just one truth left. “Exactly what you have been doing, ever since Mexico,” he said. “You be there for him.”

Face snorted incredulously. “But that’s nothing, Hannibal.”

“Son,” Hannibal said with a long nod. “That’s everything.”

-o-

He didn’t have to search the hospital to find BA.

Not when Hannibal already knew that BA wouldn’t be in the hospital.

If he had to guess, BA never stepped foot in the hospital. The corporal had been in the hospital just as much as the rest of them, but never of his own volition. It was a small consolation that they didn’t have to trick BA to get him to come inside like they did planes and helicopters, but hospitals offered a totally different kind of utility.

Hannibal often liked to use aircraft in his elaborate schemes.
Hospitals, not so much.

Given current circumstances, BA wouldn’t want to be sitting in a waiting room.

No, tired and worried, there was only one thing BA would be doing: looking for a fight.

Controlling BA’s anger had been a singular challenge, less creative than corralling Murdock’s insanity and less roundabout than circumnavigating Face’s selfish insecurities. Hannibal had always found sufficient ways to redirect that kind of energy, but he’d been otherwise preoccupied.

It was a testament to BA’s personal growth that the only fight he’d picked so far was with a wall on the side of the hospital.

The siding was dented in several places, and BA was slumped against the side, butt on the ground and knees up in front of him. His bloodied hand was in his lap, the scraps on the skin marring the f-o-o-l.

Hannibal stood a few feet short and waited.

From his position, BA sighed.

“I know, I know,” he muttered. “Got to keep my temper.”

Hannibal shrugged. “I didn’t say anything.”

BA scoffed. “Like you had to.”


Hannibal tilted his head to concede the point. “Actually, I was impressed that you only hit the wall.”

Dropping his head, BA looked sheepish. “No one else was around.”

“Even so,” Hannibal said, letting the silence linger. He knew that BA could best him in a physical fight, but in a conflict of wills?

Hannibal already had that won.

Looking inevitably vexed, BA craned his neck to look up again. “So?” he asked, completely expectant.

Hannibal wasn’t going to let it come easy. BA needed a fight, so Hannibal would give it. “So what?”

BA looked annoyed, but the defiance was gone. “How is he?”

Hannibal inclined his head back toward the front doors of the medical building. “They’re running tests.”

It was a vague answer, and purposefully so. While it was true that Hannibal didn’t have any concrete answers, he knew how important it was for BA to actually ask the questions.

“That’s it?” the younger man asked. “I get on a plane for that fool, and that’s all I get?”

“What did you expect?” returned Hannibal, not even missing a beat. BA was the resident bad-ass on the team, but Hannibal could be downright cruel when he put his mind to it.

“That was supposed to fix it,” BA said. “Fix him.”

“I’m pretty sure what’s wrong with Murdock can’t be fixed,” Hannibal quipped.

“His mind, no,” BA said. “But I got on a plane and got out of Russia so we could get him to a doctor. Now we’re here, and you’re saying we still don’t know how he’s actually doing.”

It was a less fortunate truth, one Hannibal had forced himself to reconcile the instant they landed. He crafted his plans with definitive end points to make them easier for his men to follow. But life couldn’t be fit neatly into steps or measures. Getting out of Mexico had been the first part of building a team.

Getting out of Russia?

Hannibal could only hope the picture after this would be even better.

“You want instant gratification,” Hannibal surmised. “You always have.”

BA glared at him, brow darkening. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You went all the way down to Mexico to get your van back.”

“Yeah, that’s called persistence, man.”

“I checked into it after we got back, when I had your van shipped to your mother’s house in Chicago,” Hannibal said. “It was slated to be shipped back the day I met you down there.”

“Slated, my ass,” BA said. “You don’t know who I was working with.”

“I know you lost the van in the first place because you picked a fight with a Mexican cartel.”

“Pushing drugs to kids, man,” BA said sharply.

“You knocked them each out minutes prior to a police bust,” Hannibal said. “You didn’t want to wait, so you did it yourself, and while you were manhandling them, one of them got away in your van. You wanted the short term and didn’t think about the long term.”

BA’s scowl was darker still, and Hannibal could see his fist clenching.

“You’re the only CO I haven’t hit,” BA said. “That can change real quick.”

“The point is, you need to learn to wait,” Hannibal said. “The important things -- the things you really want -- they usually take time. A lot more time than you’re going to want to give. Now you can punch some walls or take a swing at me. Hell, let’s walk into Morrison’s office and have a go there. It’ll make you feel better, I’m sure. But it won’t address the problem.”

“The problem is Murdock not being able to breathe,” BA said. “You talk about time, Hannibal, but we don’t always have it. Murdock might not have it. And the reason I use my fists is because I don’t like playing the odds. That’s your thing, not mine.”

“No,” Hannibal corrected him. “My thing is doing it right.”

This time, BA gave a light scoff. “This is doing it right?”

Hannibal didn’t let the obvious jibe ruffle his feathers. Nothing BA could say would be something he hadn’t already considered. “Doing it right and getting it right -- those are very different things,” he said instead. “You lost your career once. You even lost your van twice. Don’t make the same mistake and lose your team.”

The starkness of the assertion made BA mad, but he didn’t look away. “If I’m fighting, then I’ve still got a chance is all,” he said, shaking his head. “If I can curl a fist, I’m not helpless. Not yet. I can take anything, but I can’t take that.”

Hannibal nodded solemnly. “I know.”

“It’s impotence,” BA continued. “Like I can’t move. Worst damn feeling in the whole wide world.”

“I know.”

Steady and sure, Hannibal would be the rock BA couldn’t budge. He’d be the immovable force he couldn’t throw down.

BA set his jaw, raising his eyes a little more. “Then how do you do it?” he asked.

“We have to be brave in the face of any danger,” Hannibal told him.

“There’s no danger here, Hannibal,” BA reminded him.

“Being brave isn’t always a physical fight,” he said. “Sometimes the bravest things are a lot simpler.”

BA’s brows furrowed, clearly confused.

“We wait,” Hannibal clarified. “Bravest thing we can do is accept that, for a time, not all the control is in our hands. Your fingers, they make fists. This time, they need to let go.”

With that, he extended his hand, offering down to BA.

BA looked at it for a long moment. It was a tense thing, poorly defined and uncertain. BA talked of impotence, of helplessness. Hannibal knew it all too well. They just had to remember what causes were worth fighting for. More than an outlet for his rage, that was what Hannibal could offer BA: purpose. A reason. Meaning.

BA’s fingers clasped around his and he allowed himself to be pulled upright.

“Good man,” Hannibal said, patting him on the arm.

BA grunted, shrugging his hand away.

Still, they walked back inside together.

Hannibal would take his victories wherever he could get them.

-o-

Of course, there was nothing to say to Murdock. The tests had confirmed pneumonia, which had settled deep into his lungs. Since it wasn’t a bacterial case, there wasn’t much they could give the pilot in way of medication, and although the doctors insisted that was a good thing, Hannibal didn’t find it overly comforting. As it was, the fever reducers and saline didn’t seem to be helping much, and the tube they had shoved down Murdock’s throat just made things worse.

Still, for as bad as it was for Hannibal, the team was taking it worse. Face was restless, fidgeting at Murdock’s bedside and talking with a steady stream of half cocked ideas of things they needed to do. He did his best to help, bringing a few of Murdock’s favorite things to make the room seem more cheery. No matter how much he smiled and tried to hit up the nurses for double dates once Murdock got better, Hannibal knew how hard it was for him. Templeton Peck had grown up without a family; the team was the closest thing he’d ever had. Losing one of them...Hannibal didn’t know if he’d ever fully recover from that.

Not that BA was handling it much better. He was quieter, at least. Brooding next to Murdock’s bed, he complained about everything and made scathing critiques of anyone and everyone. He objected to Murdock’s flying; he seethed about Face’s schemes; he lambasted Hannibal’s plans. This amount of deflection, however, was plainly a way to avoid the fact that he blamed himself more than anyone else. BA relied on his strength to keep the team safe. But illness was something he couldn’t fight.

That said, all it took was a calming word for Hannibal to keep Face from flying off the rails and to keep BA’s anger in check. It was even relatively easy to cajole them into taking care of themselves, making sure they took time to sleep and eat. After two days, he even managed to get BA to work out and reminded Face about a requisition order he’d had planned to head off in order to make sure the content was appropriately distributed.

Hannibal, however, didn’t leave.

Couldn’t leave.

Not with one of his own still lying there, suffering from a string of contingencies Hannibal had failed to take into account.

What he could say about that? What could he do?

Should he apologize? Tell Murdock he was sorry for everything?

Should he promise Murdock that he’d be there? As if that had done any good so far?

Was he supposed to remind Murdock how strong he was? Was he supposed to reassure his pilot that he was as fit and competent for duty as any man Hannibal had ever met? Was he supposed to put it in words that Murdock was, in so many ways, the sanest man he knew?

Murdock, though, he didn’t want words, not like the others did. Not like the others needed. Murdock was a man who heard voices in his head, for better and for worse, and Hannibal’s was just one of many. What Murdock needed -- what he had always needed, even since Mexico -- was a steady, uncompromising presence. He needed an anchor, something to keep him tethered to this world even when he was soaring high in another.

So Hannibal sat, watching and waiting. He measured every breath; traced every rise and fall of his fever. He counted the beats of his heart and reminded himself that Murdock always -- always -- came back to earth.

Hannibal settled grimly into his chair.

One way or another.

-o-

Not that it was easy.

For Hannibal? For his boys?

Things were very rarely easy. In fact, Hannibal rarely trusted the easy things in life, but he probably would have made an exception this time around.

Murdock’s fever got worse, raging despite the medication. BA fretted like a nursemaid, sitting as close as he could to the bed and tipping his head forward, watching every breath Murdock took. If BA settled like an immovable force, Face responded with a supreme restlessness that had him in and out of the room every five minutes, looking for something, anything.

The responses were textbook, but given the current circumstances, Hannibal couldn’t begrudge them that. After all, a year ago, neither one of them would have stayed.

Still, it was hard to keep up with. To be buoyant for BA and an anchor for Face -- the impossibility of those opposites was exhausting, and that didn’t even get him started on Murdock.

“Boss?” Face asked.

Hannibal turned, finding his lieutenant sticking his head in the door. It had been only ten minutes since Face left on a coffee run, but he wasn’t holding a coffee cup.

He was holding a file.

“Can I have a sec?” Face asked, jerking his head toward the hallway.

Hannibal glanced back to BA, who hadn’t moved from his position by Murdock. He hadn’t even looked up.

With a grim smile, Hannibal stood. “I’ll be right back,” he said, for what it was worth. He looked at Murdock, still and pale underneath the sheets. “You can take this watch.”

It was a familiar routine, manning the guard, which was the only reason Hannibal used it. Structure, routine -- it helped keep them going. It was what Hannibal had offered each of them in Mexico, and he wouldn’t take it from them after Russia.

In the hallway, he closed the door gently behind him. Face was standing a few feet away, jaw locked as he held out the file.

“What’s this?” Hannibal asked, taking it.

“Got it from a friend of mine,” Face said. “Intelligence division.”

Hannibal flipped it open, curious. “Let me guess, that lieutenant you’re sweet on,” he said. He gave Face a look. “Sosa?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Face said. “Look at it.”

Hannibal did.

It was surveillance footage -- satellite. The vast open space was cold and desolate even in muted colors, making the large military grade vehicles and green-clad troops even easier to spot. More than that, they were converged on a smoking, black heap.

Hannibal didn’t have to check the coordinates. He swore. “Russian?”

“Yeah,” Face said. “Taken the same day we left. Go ahead; turn the page.”

Hannibal did. The next page was a clearing in the trees. There was nothing special about the muddy ground, but Hannibal recognized it immediately as their landing strip. He had, after all, scouted it himself.

It was also swarmed with Russian military. “We just missed them,” he mused softly, noting the timestamp.

“Yeah, and there’s lots of chatter apparently,” Face said. “Russians aren’t too happy about a violation of their sovereignty. Theories are a little wild at this point, everything from someone running test stealth operations to the scouting of potential munitions facilities.”

Hannibal shook his head. “This is a high grade response,” he said, tapping at the photos. “They’ve got elite troops out here.”

“Sort of a coincidence, don’t you think?” Face asked. “Our stealth plane goes down where an elite unit just happens to be based?”

“War games,” Hannibal said, shaking his head again. “A small scale cold war, all over again. The Russians accuse us all the time of falling back into the habit.”

“Um, and they’re right,” Face said. “That far into Russian territory? Our plane had no business there.”

“But if we got caught, it’d start an international incident,” Hannibal concluded for him, flipping through the photos again. “This was no accident; it was a part of an ongoing operation.”

“Sure,” Face said. “But when I asked Charissa about it, she clammed up, wouldn’t tell me anything. What does it mean, boss?”

Hannibal chewed his lip, looking at the last picture again. He could still see Murdock on the runway, barely conscious as he tried to take off. He could see BA badgering him, Face keeping him upright. The mission Hannibal barely held together.

“Like I said before, war games,” he said. “The United States and Russia have been at it for the last fifty years, and it’s not about to stop now.”

Face wrinkled his nose. “And that was it? That’s why we risked our lives? Just so we could save a little face?”

No commanding officer would ever frame it as quite so petty. It would be, without a doubt, an international incident if the plane had been found. But the cover up was nearly farcical. Everyone knew what was going on. The Russians knew; the two pilots who died knew. Even Morrison had to know, safe and secure in his office.

Every knew the risks and the reward, except Hannibal.

And he had taken his team anyway.

After all, he’d thought it was just another mission.

But they weren’t missions.

Not since Mexico.

“I mean,” Face continued, sounding even more incredulous. “Come on--”

He didn’t finish his sentence because the door slammed open and BA stood there, wide eyed and more terrified than Hannibal had ever seen him before.

“Someone get a doctor,” he said, breathless. “I think he’s dying.”

-o-

They could be silly, petty and otherwise distracted, his team. There were times when Murdock was making sock puppets and Face was flirting with everything that moved and BA was picking fights that Hannibal sincerely wondered how they ever got anything done.

But it was a question of context. His boys knew when distraction was an acceptable part of the plan.

More importantly, they understood, almost without being told, when it was time to get serious. When the mission was on the line. When lives were on the line.

When the team was on the line.

And nothing -- absolutely nothing in the year they’d spent together since Mexico -- sobered them quite as quickly as the sound of Murdock’s vitals crashing.

BA was at Murdock’s side, and Hannibal came up behind him, scouring the equipment for any clue of what was happening and why. Face took one look and had his head out the door, a call for help already on his lips.

It didn’t make a difference, though.

The medical team barged through, half knocking Face out of the way. A petite doctor all but shoved BA out of the way, and Hannibal found himself pushed back by the swarm of medical personnel who gathered around the pilot.

Funny, how poised they were to act, to do something, and there was nothing they could do.

Nothing but watch.

All of BA’s strength, all of Face’s charm, all of Murdock’s insanity.

Every last one of Hannibal’s plans.

And they were cast aside and helpless while Murdock’s life hung in the balance.

“Okay, he’s in respiratory failure--”

“I’m going to bag him--”

“Have the crash cart on standby--”

The activity was fast and succinct, and Hannibal was reminded that he wasn’t the only one who knew how to execute a tried and true plan under pressure.

“Hannibal,” Face said, voice pitching through the melee.

BA tensed next to him, fists rounded.

His own expression taut, Hannibal stepped forward. “What’s going on?” he demanded. “What’s wrong?”

The doctors, the nurses -- none of them replied. None of them had time to give him an answer.

Besides, there was only one answer to give, clear and indisputable.

The sound of Murdock’s heart stopping.

And a plan falling completely apart.

-o-

Murdock’s heart was stopped for less than a minute. The doctors, they pushed one round of epi, and they cut open his hospital gown and charged the paddles just once. They said clear just one time, one impossible time, and Murdock’s pale chest only lurched once off the table before the rhythm started on the monitor again.

Just once.

No more than thirty seconds, if that.

Beside him, Face looked like he was going to be sick. BA’s knees actually went weak, and he had to turn away. In that moment, in those fleeting seconds when Murdock was dead, it occurred to Hannibal just what failure meant.

Not a lost mission. Not compromised intelligence. Not a strategic loss.

His team.

His boys.

Losing one of them would cost him all of them.

For less than a minute, it wasn’t just Murdock’s life on the line. It was all of theirs, the very fabric of the team.

The longest thirty seconds of all their lives.

They got it back, Hannibal reminded himself with sweaty palms and a pounding heart.

They got it back.

-o-

Futility was not a sensation Hannibal was well acquainted with, and the learning curve on such things was sharp.

And painful.

After several terse minutes, the doctor took him by the arm, half pulling him out of the room. Hannibal didn’t have to say anything -- he couldn’t have, even if he wanted to -- for BA and Face to follow on leaden feet.

“We’re doing everything we can to clear the congestion in his lungs, but it’s taking a toll on his other organs,” the doctor explained without preamble. “This kind of thing, there’s only so much you can do.”

Face gave a small, half-hysterical laugh. BA’s expression was nothing short of murderous.

Hannibal forced himself to swallow, but his throat was as dry as it ever had been when he tried to speak. “Meaning?”

The doctor drew a breath, sounding as tired as Hannibal felt. “We’re doing everything we can to support his breathing, but it’s just a question of whether or not we can keep his body alive long enough for him to kick the virus,” he explained. “The ventilator, it helps, and we’re using humidified air to try to help clear his lungs, but there’s nothing definitive we can do to keep this from happening again.”

As blunt as it was, Hannibal could still read between the lines. If this happened again, there was a worse chance of getting him back. It was always that way with Murdock, keeping him grounded in his own mind. Hannibal had never considered the weight of the stakes when it was his body instead.

“So, what, then?” Face asked, outrightly incredulous. “We just sit here and watch?”

“Watch him die, fool,” BA said ominously. “That’s not a plan.”

The anger, the frustration -- it was clearly just directed as the most convenient target; they wouldn’t actually try to hurt the doctor.

All the same, Hannibal positioned himself just slightly in front of his men, striving for a calm he didn’t quite feel. “No, we remind him why he needs to live,” he said, giving the doctor a purposeful look. He tilted his head back toward his men. “And that’s a plan.”

-o-

Big words, big plans, big everything. That was Hannibal’s way, after all, and there was a reason they’d each made the choice to follow him. And no matter what his rank was and how many orders he gave, it was still a choice. It was always a choice.

He would respect their decision, each and everyone one, if they chose to walk away.

It never occurred to him just how much that scared him.

Of course, grandiose pontificating did well to sell the bit, but that, in and of itself, was never an actual plan. No, the plan was always in the details, the little things. Normally, he delineated those details, but this time, the plan was more his than theirs.

This was his team.

This was his mess.

He had to clean this up and keep them together all at once. They had to believe that much was possible, that was all.

The rest, naturally, was up to him.

He would handle this like he handled everything else: one step at a time.

One teammate at a time.

-o-

He started with Face.

Whether this was because he was the easiest or the hardest, Hannibal wasn’t sure, but he required the most finesse.

Because Face -- well, he was running on empty by this point. Vain, self-indulgent, flippant -- these were all apt descriptions of Face, but none of them actually did the lieutenant any justice. Those traits were symptoms of a different trait, something that ran much deeper, something that Face himself never dared to speak of.

Templeton Peck, after all, was a creation. A piecemealed version of someone Face had created from his own mind. An idealized caricature, perhaps; not perfect, but perfectly safe in the ways that mattered.

Hannibal never overlooked the fact that Face was an orphan. That he’d been raised with nothing and with no one. A child who was abandoned and never picked again by anyone until he was a first lieutenant in an army he felt no real loyalty to. See, Face’s vanity, his self-indulgence, his flippany -- that was the way he protected himself. And if he was difficult to live and work with, that only made it easier for him to keep others at bay.

Because letting someone in? Letting himself be vulnerable?

That was Face’s real weakness, for it was the thing he wanted most.

Face was always bad in a team, and always by choice.

Hannibal had changed that.

So asking him to stay? Asking him to stand strong when Murdock could well and truly die?

Hannibal knew he’d never asked so much of the younger man.

The guises, they were worn thin now. Face looked harried and run down; he’d never seemed so old.

But when he looked at Hannibal, the naked uncertainty in his eyes had never made him seem more like a child.

“I don’t think I can do this, Hannibal,” Face said, shaking his head. BA was snoring softly in the corner; Murdock was on the bed, his heart monitor beeping steadily. “I don’t think I can just sit here.”

The inflection in his voice was subtle, but Hannibal understood it well. He sat back, impassive, jiggle his foot as it was cross on his knee. “What do you want to do?”

Face actually laughed, but the sound was sharp and strangled. “I don’t want to be here at all,” he said, the idea of it clearly rankling him.

“It comes with the territory, kid,” Hannibal said. “The missions we take, the jobs we do -- it’s high stakes.”

“But that’s why we have you,” Face half hissed, glancing surreptitiously at BA before looking at Murdock again. “Your plans, they’re supposed to be foolproof, boss.”

That much hurt, because it wasn’t quite a lie and it wasn’t quite the truth. It was the image he had created, just as much as Face had created his, and the implications meant this had blindsided all of them. Because for as much as Hannibal prided himself on holding the big picture in mind, he’d never believed in the contingencies as realities.

Russia would change that; the weight, the severity.

Russia would change everything.

“Would you like me to apologize?” Hannibal said, and it might have sounded sarcastic, but there was nothing caustic in his tone. “Would you like me to admit I messed up? That I’m fallible?”

Face’s brows knit together, and he turned his gaze toward Hannibal. “I just want to know there’s a way out of this,” he said, the undertone a little pleading now.

Hannibal looked at Murdock; looked at the machines keeping him alive. “There’s always a way out,” he said. “I just can’t promise you we’ll be able to find it.”

The muscles in Face’s jaw tightened, and his complexion whitened. “And you expect me to just sit here?” he asked, lowering his voice. “And just watch Murdock die?”


Hannibal sighed, shaking his head. “Promises, answers, platitudes, assurances,” he said with a shrug. “I can’t give you any of them.”

“So,” Face said. “What then?”

Hannibal looked at him, calm and steady. “You can go or stay; BA can go or stay. Murdock can go or stay,” he said. “But me, I’m not going anywhere. Never have; never will. I’ll be the last man standing if I have to be.”

Face looked at Murdock.

Hannibal did, too. “I’ll tell you, though,” he added. “I really don’t want to be.”

After a long moment of silence, Face nodded. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Me neither.”

He said nothing else; he did nothing else. There was no resounding agreement; there was no conciliatory absolution. Face didn’t look reassured; in fact, he looked just as bad as ever.

But, as the hours wore on in Murdock’s hospital room, he also didn’t leave.

The smallest of miracles, perhaps.

As far as Hannibal was concerned, it was a good place to start.