WARNINGS: Wartime violence, referenced torture (ya know; the usual)
A.N.: I can't tell you how long I've had this story in the works. Just know that it's been a while, and that I'm not quite sure I like the result... But, I can't keep it locked away for forever!
"How's that plan coming along?"
The question snaps you out of your thoughts. Your thoughts on yet another failed escape plan, another way your team could die trying to escape maximum security for a second time. You've lost count now of how many plans that is.
(That's a lie. It's your 62nd failed plan. This one ended with Murdock flying in to save them, but being shot out of the sky.)
You squeeze your eyes tightly, hoping to block out the images of your pilot's 26th possible passing. Unfortunately, it doesn't help.
There's only been one other time where you've frozen like this – where you've been completely unable to come up with an executable plan. But, you haven't been thinking of that at all.
(That's a lie. Ever since the MP's threw you in that first cell, you've been fighting your mind tooth and nail to forget that other cage.)
No, you certainly haven't been thinking about the time you and your A-Team spent at the hands of the Viet Cong. You haven't been thinking about how similar this situation really is - being accused of crimes you didn't commit. You especially haven't been thinking about the slope of your Lieutenant and Sergeant's shoulders, the curve you haven't seen since the first time the Captain was dragged back to your cell.
(That's a lie. As your two teammates slowly collapse in on themselves, you have been actively fighting the very same fate.)
You open your eyes, looking over at the two men under your care - no, under your command.
The conman, the one known for his ability to hide all emotions behind a smile, seems to have finally lost hope. It reminds you far too much of the look that had crossed his face when the VC pulled the body of your pilot out of the plane.
Next you look towards your mechanic, the man who had been famed for his terrible response to authority. The man now sitting on his bunk, hunched over. You never trained the lack of respect out of the man. You didn't see the need to. No, if anything, he trained you.
Putting your head in your hands, you think about the missing man, the missing member of your team. In a way, the pilot is probably the strongest member of your team. He was when you were 'Nam, and he was again when he was sitting in the courtroom, watching the proceedings.
Propping your head on your chin, your thoughts turn towards yourself. You had been a career military man; you had skipped your graduation, instead going to the nearest recruitment center. Even in the time between Korea and Vietnam you had been military; it had made the arrest all the harder. The army was what you dedicated your life to, but they didn't feel the need to honor your service. You missed your father's funeral, your sister's marriage, the birth of your brother's first child… You'd missed your life, and Uncle Sam didn't blink an eye.
You shift again, this time leaning against the cement wall of the cell. You close your eyes, but snap them back open after images of a gangly man come unbidden to your minds eye.
It was supposed to be a simple mission; that's what the intel had reported, and that's what you had prepared for. You didn't usually listen to the intel, preferring to have at least one contingency plan in place. That was the first mission you hadn't had a Plan B.
(That's a lie. As you were dragged along the forest floor by Charlie, you realized that you had become increasingly complacent in your mission planning.)
It was just a reconnaissance mission. You didn't need a big team, which was why it was only the five of you. You hadn't even planned on landing the huey.
There was a huge difference between a landing and a crash.
(That's a lie. Your Captain was fond of saying that 'a good landing is one you can walk away from, but an excellent landing is one you can reuse the plane after'.)
You had an excellent team; the Major, the Captain, the Lieutenant, and the Sergeant were the perfect pillars. They supported and trusted each other unconditionally, even with all of the bickering. Not only that, but you could always rely on one of them taking a new team mate under their wing.
Sure, they were a little rough around the edges - that was alright, you were, too. It was true that your XO never showed an emotion that wasn't deadly calm. You'd admit that your pilot hid his questionable state of mind behind a facade of foolishness. You were well aware that your supply officer was getting most of his "special sales" illegally. No one needed to to tell you that your mechanical officer was quicker to punch than to contemplate.
All of that was fine. You truly didn't mind.
(That's a lie. Whenever the Major kept his cool when he shouldn't have, the Captain did something ridiculous, the Lieutenant got you some Cubans, or the Sergeant clenched his fist, you could feel your lifespan loose a few years.)
They were the best in their fields; they were focused and strong and quick on their feet.
But that all changed 50 klicks north of Da Nang.
(That's a lie. It all changed in a small cell over 60 miles from Da Nang.)
You can't remember the crash. When you asked the other members of your team, only one could remember the impact - the pilot.
You asked the pilot what the crash was like once. The Captain had been behind the wheel of B.A.'s van, humming to himself. You were in the passenger seat, unable to fall asleep.
The younger man said that time slowed to a snail's pace. He had crashed before, but time had never slowed down that much. He would blink and only fall a centimeter more.
You wish you could recall it.
(That's a lie. You're so glad you can't remember what happened. How the Captain described it... You don't want to ever experience that.)
The first thing you can recall is the sound of angry voices speaking a language you can't understand. As much as you don't want to face what's happening, you open your eyes, already knowing what's going to greet you.
You're the last one to rouse. The earlier shouting had, in fact, been directed at the Major, Lieutenant, and Sergeant.
The Major is standing tall, or at least as tall as someone who's leg is at an unnatural angle. The Lieutenant is grinning brightly, though it seems to be more of a grimace. The Sergeant is spitting mad, when only seconds ago he was terrified.
The Captain isn't there.
You shake your head, focusing on these foreign captors instead of the pain in your shoulder or the loss in your heart.
(That's a lie. Your nerves scream in pain while your mind weeps in agony. You had lost soldiers before, but you couldn't believe that your damn dinky dau pilot was one.)
You can tell the exact moment the Lieutenant realizes his friend isn't amongst the survivors. He starts struggling with his captors, desperately trying to reach the huey.
Your focus is on the enemy, getting a sense of their hierarchy in mere seconds, and you grin brightly at the man you can tell is in charge.
You don't speak, not trusting your voice to stay strong. And you have to be strong - that's what your men need.
You hear a growl coming from the mechanic, and your eyes quickly follow his line of sight. His attention is on three of the VC, three men who are currently climbing over the rubble of the downed aircraft.
The urge to kill is far from your mind.
(That's a lie. You've never wanted to feel the life slip out of someone more. The pilot deserves his rest, and you've been aware of his sneaking out of the hootch to sleep in the helicopters since the first night. The man should sleep in death as he slept in life – underneath the blades of a helo.)
You watch as the vulturous Charlie's scavenge the plane, hoping to find anything they can use for their own war effort.
Your supply officer is still fighting, even though the VC has hit him several times in an attempt to shut him up.
Your focus is wrenched away from the young man when you hear a victory shout come from the Viet Cong men by the downed craft.
You expect to see them returning with one of the guns you had packed away. What you see instead shocks you.
(That's a lie. You certainly wouldn't describe the emotions welling up inside you as shock; it's excitement, nervousness, sorrow, dread, desperation. But foremost, it's hope.)
The three men are dragging the broken body of your pilot from the craft. You glance at the Lieutenant, and you hardly recognize the broken man before you.
It's your XO who first realizes that hope is not lost. The man's utterance of your name is what get's your attention. Glancing at him, you see him purposefully start breathing hard.
The information regarding the Captain's rapidly moving breathe hardly affects you.
(That's a lie. You want to shout to the skies, or to sing one of those damn songs the pilot is always humming, or hell, even to dance.)
You can tell that the Lieutenant and Sergeant have both realized that the Captain is still with you by the decreased struggle and the unclenching of fists.
The Lieutenant barely manages to stop his body from sagging to the ground in relief.
You find yourself contemplating the exact nature of the supply officer's relationship with the pilot.
(That's a lie. You're well aware of the men's... proclivities. Caught them in one of the Lieutenant's supply tents. You had understood - you all were men at war, and the two in question were hardly past puberty.)
It had been obvious that the two were more than friends rather early in the team's relationship. Whenever a celebration in the Officer's Club lasted longer than an hour, the two would move to their own separate table in the corner and spend the rest of the evening with their heads dipped towards each other.
You were always a bit surprised on these evenings; it was incredibly brazen of the two men. Not everyone was as open as you. You figure it must be the Lieutenant who decided on the action - as long as you have known the Captain, he's tried to avoid making others angry.
But, they were good for each other. You had been able to see that from the beginning. When the pilot had first become apart of the team, before the supplies officer had joined, he had rigidly followed the code of conduct. He always saluted you, always called you 'Colonel', and always refused to to listen when you asked him to call you by your first name.
But then the Lieutenant had arrived, and it was like you had a whole new pilot.
(That's a lie. He wasn't a whole new pilot, he was a man finally allowed to share his true personality.)
The Captain, who you couldn't remember ever seeing smile, only ever seemed to be grinning now. The man who had previously preferred spending post-mission celebrations working on his helicopter, now was sitting in the center of the team, sharing jokes.
Admittedly, the pilot did still salute both you and the Major every time you entered a room. But, he had also started referring to both of you by your nicknames. And that was a baby step, at least.
(That's a lie. It wasn't a step, it was a leap.)
The hours, days, weeks of travel blend together in a sea of mud and blood. If you aren't marching, you're fighting for slumber. If you aren't fighting for slumber, you're marching. There really isn't anything of note happening.
You don't become truly conscious of the passage of time until you arrive, sore and starving, at the camp.
(That's a lie. You can remember every bump in the road, every time one of your men is hit by the butt of a rifle, every whimper of pain that passes the lips of your pilot.)
You're sickened to find that you're glad to be in a cell with your men. You haven't been allowed to acknowledge the existence of your team. Now you can look over them, reassure yourself at the very least.
The Major's been walking on a broken leg. The Lieutenant is still hunched in pain, most likely due to a few broken ribs. The Sergeant is best off, with a sprained wrist as his only injury.
You almost don't want to examine the Captain, terrified at what you might find. The few hours of sleep granted to you and your men on the march had always been broken by whimpers, sometimes full screams, of pain. And looking at the man now, you are all the more amazed by his survival.
(That's a lie. The cigars will kill you. The Major's constant need to do good will do him in. The Lieutenant will lie to the wrong man. The Sergeant will be lost in some stupid fight. But the Captain… He'll survive.)
The pilot finally silences as you examine him – his previous screams of pain now just a whimper. The change is probably more due to the supply officer's presence, though. The blond man is letting his fingers slide through the greasy and matted hair of the brunette, humming a song that you could vaguely recall hearing from the man lying prone. The conman was soothing the pilot, comforting him as best he could.
The Captain's injuries are bad. The worst you've seen, besides death. His head is cracked open, the blood having long dried and crusted. His leg is at an even worse angle than that of your XO. He's burning up and shaking. He's on death's door.
So you do the only thing you can do. You pray, and after, you sleep.
(That's a lie. There's so much else you could have done. You could have tried wrapping his wounds; you could have found a way out; you could have made his last hours on earth a little more comfortable.)
You wake to the sound of harsh whispers. You don't open your eyes; instead you try to glean something useful.
It's the Lieutenant who's whispering the loudest. His quiet words are infused with emotion: anger, fear, heartache, sorrow, pain. He's harshly saying that the Colonel has given up on the Captain.
(That's a lie. You haven't given up. You've recognized a lost battle.)
Your Sergeant replies in a tone you've never heard from the big man; you have to strain your ears to hear. He said something about the Captain being hurt real bad, and that he's worried enough for both himself and the Colonel.
Your Lieutenant's reply is sharp and instant. He says that the mechanic shouldn't need to worry for the both of them because the Colonel should do his damn job.
His response surprises you.
(That's a lie. The supplies officer has always thought more with his heart than his head, just like the Captain thought mostly with his head, the Sergeant with his anger, and you with your gut.)
The Major speaks next, quietly saying that he's wrapped the Captain's wounds and tried to make the man more comfortable. He says, the only thing left to do is wait. The 'for morning' or 'for death' goes unsaid.
The Lieutenant responds by saying, you mean you did what our CO should have done.
The Major stays silent.
The Captain moans.
(That's a lie. It isn't a moan. It's more of a whimper; a sob; a groan; a wail.)
You let your eyes flit open just the slightest bit, and let them glance at your supply officer. The man has the Captain's head in his lap, and his fingers are still carding through the man's hair. You can see an anger in his eyes.
People who don't know your team very well always expect your Sergeant to be the dangerous one. Hell, maybe even the Captain, if he's in the mood. But you know better.
You know that the real danger comes in the form of your blond Lieutenant. The man could con a homeless man out of his cardboard box. You were always glad that those skills were being put to good use – helping instead of hindering. But the fact that nobody ever expected the conman to be the most dangerous just went to prove what a threat the man could pose.
The person everyone thought could do no damage usually ended up doing the most.
(That's a lie. It's not that the damage they are doing is any worse. It's just that the betrayal creates a double edged blade.)
You make it appear that you are noticeably rousing from your sleep, hoping that none of the men have realized that it's a lie.
The knowing look in the Major's eyes let's you know that one man is not fooled.
You murmur an inquiry to the Captain's health, hoping not to rouse the other prisoners. The disruption in your team shouldn't have to affect the other men.
(That's a lie. You feel like you should be screaming, waking every man in this damn camp. Everyone should know that a good man - a great man - is dying.)
The conman narrows his eyes at you, a hissed 'fine' coming from his lips. The 'no thanks to you' goes unsaid.
The four of you stay in silence for a few minutes, with the whimpers of the wounded pilot the soundtrack to your thoughts.
It's the Sergeant who finally breaks the quiet, asking what Charlie wants from the Captain. The other two men murmur their lack of knowledge, and you once again feel like caving in on yourself.
(That's a lie. You feel like collapsing, disappearing.)
You know that the pilot has run a few black ops missions, helping out the spooks. It isn't explicitly stated in his file, but the large blanks share a story that even the exact logistics could tell. Not only that, but the fact that he's a pilot makes him an even bigger target.
The Viet Cong love pilots.
(That's a lie. They hate pilots. It's torture that those beasts adore.)
My mama's recipe for chili, is the answer given to the mechanic. It's a slurring of words, nearly impossible to make out, and it comes from your pilot.
The supply officer let's out a broken chuckle, the mechanic snorts, even your XO gives a huff of laughter. You stay silent, but let a small grin flit across your face.
Suddenly, it's not so bleak. You can feel a plan forming - a way to get your men out of this danger and to safety.
(That's a lie. It's weeks before you finally come up with a plan - weeks of beatings, starvation, and sleepless nights.)
Just like that, you're back in a small cell, on a small island, awaiting a firing squad. You look to the Sergeant, finally giving the man an answer.
(That's a lie. It's all a lie. But you're an actor. Actor's are allowed to lie.)