The Achieve of the Thing


Chapter Three

In the morning Hannibal was heartened by Face's appearance. He still looked a little on the fragile side, and Hannibal was surprised at how that made him feel—he didn't like the idea of Face hurting, didn't like it at all, but apparently he did find it all easier to deal with if Face had been in love, not just chasing Frankie like he did his women. But he looked better than he had yesterday. His dark tawny hair was carefully blow-dried and he'd dressed with his eyes open for a change. Hannibal looked at him and nodded to himself: for the last two weeks Face had basically worn whatever he'd put his hands on first and it was reassuring to see him neatly put together, wheat colored slacks and sweater with a gold and brown pattern over a crisp dress shirt. When Face didn't care what he looked like, he was in trouble.

Face intercepted Hannibal's gaze. He glanced down at himself and then asked, "What?"

"Nothing, kid," Hannibal grinned at him. "You look good this morning, that's all."

Face didn't protest that he always looked good; he was aware of the way things had been. He didn't say anything at all in response, just asked if there was coffee.

"Sure," Hannibal said. "You hungry?"

"Not really," Face shook his head, pouring himself a cup of coffee. He held up the carafe. "Heat yours up?"


Face filled Hannibal's mug and sat down at the table. They sat in silence for a while, savoring the coffee and the early morning and just being together. Face hadn't been noticeably avoiding Hannibal the past week, the way he had Murdock for a few days, but the colonel realized that they hadn't been alone together since they'd reached Portland. He was abruptly very grateful to Murdock: if that had gone on he'd have noticed it, pushed to find out why... and probably have managed to. And not handled it at all well.

He pulled a cigar out of his pocket. By the time he had it in his mouth Face was leaning across the table with his lighter. They smiled at each other and Hannibal sat back, puffing contentedly. It wasn't all right, but it was better.

"Hannibal," Murdock's complaining voice reached them from the hall. "I can't believe you're smoking before you've eaten breakfast!"

"I have eaten, Murdock," Hannibal said. "Some of us don't lie around in bed all day."

"It's not even eight yet!" Murdock protested.

"You eaten?" BA asked Face.

"I'm not hungry," Face answered.

"Ain't what I asked." BA opened the refrigerator. "Gonna make pancakes. You want something else, fool," he addressed that to Murdock who was looking over his shoulder, "you make it."

"No, no," Murdock had too much sense to mess around in BA's kitchen when he was there. "Pancakes is good." He poured himself some orange juice and sat down at the table.

The three of them watched BA and made small talk. Hannibal, at least, and probably all of them were remembering Frankie; he'd usually made breakfast. He'd enjoyed it and had been up before even Hannibal most days. He'd have been chattering and they'd have been annoyed. At least Hannibal and BA would have been; Hannibal suddenly wondered if Face had been truly annoyed or just pretending to be, and if so...

Damn, he thought. Was everything he thought he knew about Face going to have be thrown out or, at the least, reevaluated?

BA put a stack of pancakes down in front of Face.

"BA, I said I wasn't hungry," Face protested.

"Shut up and eat," the big man said. "You ain't been eatin' right for weeks."


"Eat." BA turned back to his griddle.

"Now, Face," Murdock said, "you know breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Have some syrup."

Face shrugged gracefully and poured syrup over his pancakes.

There was silence for a few minutes more. BA put pancakes in front of Murdock and told him he'd have to get his own if he wanted more, and unobtrusively put two more on Face's plate. Murdock complained about having to do his own cooking and BA threatened to cook him.

"Is this fair?" Murdock asked dramatically.

"I cooked mine," Hannibal said amusedly. "BA's not our chef, after all."

"That's right, fool. You do all your own cookin' if you don't like it," BA said from the stove. "You don't even live here."

Murdock subsided. At least, for as long as he was capable of it.

"What are we going to do today, Colonel?" the pilot asked as BA settled down with his plate. "Shooting? Or waiting for Stockwell to call?"

"No shooting today," Hannibal said. "It's going to rain."

"Already is," BA nodded.

"I need a haircut." Face looked up from his breakfast; for a man who wasn't hungry he'd eaten a lot.

"I suppose that could be arranged," Hannibal said.

"Not today," Face said as though it should have been obvious. "I'll have to call for an appointment. I missed one, I'm afraid, and Phillippe may make me wait."

"Go to someone else," Hannibal suggested.

Face looked appalled at the very idea. "There is no one else, not like Phillippe, and if he hears I let someone else cut my hair he'll never let me back in his salon."

"Your hair looks fine to me, muchacho," Murdock said encouragingly.

"Oh, thanks, Murdock, that makes me feel so much better."

No, thought Hannibal, not everything. What had BA said the other day? He, too, had known Face since he was nineteen, the whole of his adult life. He knew what he was like. This was just one facet of his character, just one, well, not so little thing, but just one thing. Essentially Face was the same as he'd always been. Right now the difference was that he was grieving.

And that Hannibal would have slugged him had he found out before Malaysia. Well, no; he rejected that notion. He wouldn't have slugged Face, at least he didn't think he would have. But BA was right, in spirit: he would have beaten the living daylights out of Frankie for putting his hands on Face like that. It was a good thing he hadn't known, really, that Face would never know what his first reaction had been. He'd have hated himself for the rest of his life if he'd left Face alone with that grief, no matter what he thought about its cause.

And speaking of that... "We got Frankie's things back from Stockwell. The boxes are in his room. Thought you might like to go through them, decide what to do with them. You know," he continued as Face remained silent, "keep what you want, send the rest to his grandmother, whatever."

Face finally blinked. "Yes, his abuelita would like some of his things, I think. His father might, too."

"That might be tricky," Hannibal pointed out.

"Wouldn't want his daddy thinking he was to blame for Frankie's death," BA added.

"True," Face said reflectively.

"Frankie'd want you to have something." Murdock's contribution seemed a bit obvious to Hannibal, but Face considered it as though it were something new.

"Yes," he finally answered. "All right."

"Good," said Hannibal. "You do that, and—"

"Hannibal—" Face interrupted him. "Guys... would you... I don't want to do this alone."

"Sure, kid." Anything he asked for.

So they all went up to Frankie's room. The rain had picked up and now drummed on the roof and streamed down the window panes. Hannibal was glad they were all there; the room was depressing enough with its empty shelves and unmade bed without adding the rain to it. Five large boxes stood on the floor. It didn't seem like much, Hannibal thought, to sum up a man's life.

He wasn't sure his effects would take up much more room, if any.

"Frankie was more than what's here," BA said as if he'd read Hannibal's mind.

Maybe he had; they'd been together for so long it wouldn't be at all surprising if the big sergeant knew him that well. Hannibal watched Face pull up his trousers so they wouldn't get baggy at the knee and sit on his heels in front of one of the boxes, and then opened the biggest box himself as Murdock and BA both stood watching Face carefully. He appreciated the thought but, Don't hover, he wanted to say. This is Face, he won't like it. Instead he just ripped the packing tape off and looked inside. "These look like his clothes."

"Goodwill," Face said without looking up.

"You're sure?"

Face nodded. "What would his abuelita do with his clothes? Goodwill..." He ripped the tape off another box and looked in for a minute. "Damn it. Where are his pictures?"

"Photos?" Murdock asked.

"He had an Ansel Adams print he really loved. It was called—" he circled his hand in front of him, trying to remember. "Birches," he said finally. "No... Aspens. It was white tree trunks in a black forest. I want it."

"We'll find it, kid," Hannibal said. "Don't worry. Just that one?"

"He had a poster, too," Face said, sitting back on his heels. "A dog of a movie called 'Lobster Men from Saturn'."

"That was not a dog," Hannibal said.

"Oh, come on," Face protested. "I looked it up. It didn't gross five thousand. Sure, it's big on the old Saturday night Monster Chiller Horror Theaters, but being a dog is almost a requirement for those."

"Why you want it, then?" BA asked. "Frankie work on it?"

"Yeah," Face actually smiled. "It was his first movie... good thing for him nobody ever notices the FX guys' names, just things like ILM or whatever. Wouldn't have done his career any good, being associated with that thing."

"Ahem," Hannibal said. "When you looked it up, did you happen to notice who played the Lobster King?"

"Lobster King?" Murdock tried to control his laughter but only succeeded in postponing it for a minute. He collapsed over the box he was looking at. "Lobster King?"

"Hey, that role was a challenge," Hannibal said, observing the corner of Face's mouth twitching.

"A stepping stone to the Aquamaniac, no doubt," Face said.

"As a matter of fact, it was an important piece of my résumé."

Face laughed.

"Here's the print," BA said, holding out a framed photograph. Face took it and laid it on the desk. "And I think this is that poster."

"I can't believe they folded it!" Murdock said. "That cuts the value in half, maybe more."

"Frankie folded it," Face said, touching the lurid red letters gently. "Folding it made it easier to keep. He wasn't ever going to sell this; he wanted it for himself."

"What's this?" Hannibal said after a moment, looking through the box Face had abandoned when BA had found the print. "I didn't know Frankie rode." He held up an old brown leather bridle with elaborate silver conchos and other adornments on it.

"Did his grandfather make that?" Murdock asked almost apprehensively.

Face raised his eyebrows at the tone but said only, "His great-grandfather. He was a silversmith, Frankie said." He held out his hand for the bridle. He stroked the silver almost absently, looking into space. "It already went from Chees to Yazzies to Santanas, and now..." He blinked and then put the bridle on the desk next to the photo and poster.

"Most of this is books and stuff," BA said. "Magazines. On tricks, you know."

"Effects," Face said precisely. "I don't..." He fell silent as BA held out another photo.

"But there's this, too. You want it?"

Face just stared at it so Hannibal reached out and took it from BA. It was a photograph of the two of them, not compromising in any way, just two friends sitting next to each other on the steps of an old weathered house. Frankie's elbow was resting on Face's shoulder, but his left shoulder, the same side Frankie was sitting on; it wasn't an overt embrace, just a friendly masculine touch. They were both smiling at whoever had taken the picture. In the summer sometime, Hannibal noted, because Face's hair was sun-lightened and his skin glowed golden. His polo shirt was white with dark grey collar and cuffs and something on the left breast, though the angle put Frankie's hand in front of it and Hannibal couldn't make out what it was. Frankie's t-shirt was a brilliant jade, with a Baltimore Aquarium logo; Hannibal had never seen either shirt before. He squinted to make out the background: a river? Yes, that was sunlight off water behind that house. This was where they went...

Face spoke suddenly. "No, I don't. Send it to his abuelita. I don't want it."

Hannibal opened his mouth to ask if he was sure, but then they heard the front door open. "Smith?" Stockwell's raised voice reached them over the rain.

"Well," Face said lightly. "Our master's voice." He rose effortlessly to his feet, automatically brushing his trousers and tugging his sweater into place. "We'd better go see what he wants of us this time."

"Face—" Hannibal reached out and detained him. "You okay?"

"I'm fine, Colonel," he said impatiently and shook loose. His eyes fell on the box next to BA and he took the photo from Hannibal and dropped it inside. "The others can go to Goodwill, but this one and that one," he gestured," we should send to his grandmother." For the first time he used the English word, distancing himself from the dead man. His eyes were cool, shuttered; defenses Hannibal had first seen erected in Viet Nam were going up again. Things Face no longer shied from showing them Stockwell would never get a glimpse of. "Let's go," he said and left the room.

Murdock reached into the box and picked up the photo. "I'm gonna hang on to this, Colonel," he said. "If he doesn't have a copy, he'll want one in a while."

"Good thought, Captain," Hannibal acknowledged and levered himself up off the floor; he was no longer young enough to just float upright. Intimations of mortality? he asked himself in an ironic tone. Cut that out. You don't have that leisure, not with Stockwell, no matter how fucked-up the past two weeks have been. "Let's go."

He and BA waited as Murdock ducked into his room with the photo, and then the three of them followed Face downstairs.

"Well, now that Peck is back," Stockwell said. "I'm assuming you weren't as taken with Santana as Smith, since you lost no time running off again."

Face shrugged but didn't answer.

"And I'd like to remind you all that Murdock does not live here. Don't you have a job?"

"Well, actually, I'm sort of between jobs at the moment..."

BA sat back and listened to Stockwell get on Murdock's case, thinking about how different it was now, not needing to jump in and run interference for the fool, knowing he could stand whatever Stockwell could hand out.

Face and he, and Hannibal too though to a lesser degree, had always taken care of Murdock, just in different ways. Almost from the first time they'd gone out, the young lieutenant had had the ability, and the willingness—even rarer—to crawl inside Murdock's madness and promise him protection from it. Total uncompromising support and acceptance... even when he got annoyed, which he did, because you couldn't not: Murdock was profoundly annoying at times; but even then Face reacted within the delusion. "I hate this movie," he'd say, or "For God's sake, Murdock, this is not the time for an interview," or, "Tie that damned dog up inside the van."

And that was good, and it worked, and Murdock needed it. But there was a downside to it, BA knew, and so did Face: if you went inside the delusion then Murdock had no reason to come out, no way to know that his reality was different than everyone else's. So it fell to BA to keep reminding him, to get angry and penetrate Murdock's little world, to yank him back to reality if only for a couple of minutes.

BA had never been quite sure what Hannibal's opinion was. He smoothly accepted everything Murdock did, just weaving it into that jazz-soaked reality he lived in. Sometimes BA wasn't that sure that Hannibal was much saner... He reacted differently. Like that time in Brazil when Murdock had thought he was making a movie and was complaining that props hadn't given him fires on the shore. BA would have told him he wasn't making no movie, and Face would have commiserated, but Hannibal had just said, "That's not props, Murdock; that's set dressing."

But Murdock had come back to them. He was still on the eccentric side, and probably always would be, but he was in the same reality now. He didn't need Face to follow him in and keep him safe, and he didn't need BA getting angry and hauling him out. It had altered their dynamic, having to adjust to him being, well, all right.

Too many things had altered their dynamic, all at the same time. The arrest, trial, firing squad. Stockwell. This luxurious prison. Frankie. A different kind of job. They'd been off balance for too long. BA had seen Hannibal spending too much time trying to come up with a plan to outdo Stockwell, seen Murdock pulling away from Face, seen Face, off-balance and feeling doubly unneeded, turn to Frankie. He hadn't been surprised that Face and Frankie had fallen in love, he'd always seen the look in Frankie's eyes. Face had always been half in love with Murdock, never acted on it—he was a man, after all, not an animal, wouldn't take advantage like that—so when Frankie offered him what he needed, no wonder that he'd taken it. BA could have told Hannibal he'd more or less guessed months ago, but Hannibal would have wanted to know why BA hadn't told him. And he hadn't told him because it would just have skewed them maybe beyond functioning.

Like maybe would happen now, even with Frankie gone so it wouldn't be up in Hannibal's face. With Frankie around, Hannibal wouldn't have had the time he needed, and he'd have had Frankie to focus on and blame, and it wouldn't have been good at all. BA looked sideways at the colonel. It still might not be.

He hoped not. Murdock had come right back to Face now, and that was good. And Hannibal was trying hard to let his heart rule his head, forget what he'd been taught in favor of what he knew. The four of them were back together now, because they had to be, but Frankie was still with them. And Stockwell... BA was just about ready to cut and run next time they went anywhere reasonable. Just like Face had been for the first year or so. Probably would be again, without Frankie tying him here.

Face. He was who they needed to worry about now. For the moment, their dynamic had shifted back to three of them looking out for the fourth, with a pretty big difference being that Face didn't want what he needed. He was going to fight them as soon as he got his feet back under him. Hiding it for two weeks had worn him down, but he'd get strong enough to lock them out again. BA didn't really know what to do about that, he couldn't just keep on feeding him. He sighed to himself. Little brother was hurtin', hurtin' bad. He wished he could take him to Mama...

"Sergeant Baracus, are we boring you?" Stockwell asked.

"You always bore me," BA said. "But I been listenin', if that's what you askin'. You wantin' us to go to Canada, find some guy that stole documents from somebody you don't want to name. That right?"

"It was a bit more complicated than that," Stockwell said.

Hannibal interrupted. "That's the essence of it, though," he said, grinning around his cigar. "The sergeant's a tactician; he knows no plan survives contact with the enemy. He doesn't worry about details till we're on the ground. That way he's ready for anything."

"If you say so."

"We don't need two strategists. We do all right," Hannibal said mildly.

"When are we leaving, Colonel?" Murdock asked.

"Well, Toronto—"

"We can take the train, Hannibal," BA said, a plan forming in his mind.

"Sure," Hannibal said. "This isn't emergent, after all. You'll set up the tickets?"

Stockwell smirked as he stood up. "I'll have everything delivered. I thought it would be a good idea to ease you back into it, considering..."

Face said, "We worked together fifteen years without Frankie. We can work together without him now. So don't think about not counting this one."

"You might think about being a bit more available, Peck." Stockwell turned his gaze onto Murdock. "And you'd better think about finding your own place."

"We can discuss these little details after we get back," Hannibal said.

BA grunted in agreement. Stockwell had no idea how close Face was to... something. Something not good. Not really his fault, Face was hiding it much too well, but as long as there was a chance they'd get out of this with a pardon, it would be a good thing to keep Face from punching the general, or disappearing in Canada.

That latter especially. After all, Toronto wasn't but about four hundred miles from Chicago. And maybe half that from Detroit. And just across the river from Buffalo, not that Buffalo was Face's kind of town.

The door shut behind Stockwell, and Hannibal turned to Face. "You sure you're all right with this, Face?"

"Of course I am," the blond said impatiently. "It's been weeks. We were back out the same day we lost Ray."

"Ray wasn't the same," Hannibal said gently.

"Colonel, I'm fine."

Hannibal glanced at BA and Murdock, telling them to go on. Murdock left after a speaking look back, but BA made sure he didn't go too far away. Whether Frankie had been in his room last night, or just in his head, he'd promised.

"Face, you're not fine. You're brittle as glass—"

"Oh, bullshit, Colonel. I can do my job."

Hannibal was quiet; BA figured he was probably looking hard at the younger man, trying to pierce the facade. If anybody could, it was Hannibal, but that was a big if. Finally Hannibal said, "I hope so. This may be Stockwell's idea of easing us back into it, but I doubt it's going to be easy."

"Damnit, Hannibal, I'm fine."

Hannibal laughed suddenly. "You know, Face, I was wondering earlier how much you were changed, but you haven't changed a bit. 'Not bad' still means 'Pretty good.''I'm okay' means 'I'm functional', 'I'm good' means 'I've been better', and 'I'm fine' means 'Leave me alone'."

Face was quiet for a minute; BA could see him shaking his head. "Well, I'm okay, and I'm fine."

"Okay, kid. But if you get to 'good' and you want to talk..."

"Thanks, Hannibal. But not now."

BA got ready to interrupt them; Face needed to get himself up for the mission, since they had to go. But Hannibal just said, "I understand. But I won't forget."

BA nodded to himself. Hannibal had been out of whack himself lately, but now that he knew what was happening, now that he wasn't in the dark, he was all right again. He might still be having trouble, but he knew the bottom line better than anyone else. He wouldn't push Face too hard. They might get through this.

As long as Hannibal didn't decide Frankie had been just a passing phase in Face's life.

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3
Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6


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