(Or, Five Kisses That Don't Count and One That Definitely Does)
Their luck has to run out sometime.
Looking back, Red will almost want to laugh at how close they came to escaping with their lives intact. Her team had been due to ship out of Iraq with the remainder of the troops in a matter of days – they'd been stationed here for months now and they've survived one close call after another, what difference could a week possibly make compared to eight years?
As it turns out, it makes all the difference, but they won't realize that until it's already too late.
They are supposed to be done. Her team had returned from what was supposed to be their final mission early this morning, and now they're resting, tending to their wounds and celebrating their impending leave.
Face has broken out his prized kiddie pool, something he won a while back in a bet, and is soaking up the late afternoon sunshine on skin that simply refuses to burn. She finds this personally offensive, seeing as how she's been severely sunburned no fewer than eighteen times since they've been here. She'd discovered rather quickly that sunscreen is, in fact, ineffectual at protecting her skin in the desert, and wearing clothing that covered more of her body had resulted in several cases of heat exhaustion, and on one terrifying occasion, a stroke.
It had gotten so out of hand that one night Hannibal had simply shown up at the door of the women's barracks and shoved a massive box into her hands with a barked order of, "Use it, Lieutenant."
Inside had been the most obnoxiously-large woven sunhat she'd ever seen, and she hadn't known whether to laugh or cry in relief. She can't wear it on missions, obviously, but she's never seen without it on the base. Her skin is still essentially one massive freckle, but the burning has been reduced greatly.
She'll take looking like a walking UFO over looking like a lobster any day of the week, and anyway most of the guys here are too intimidated by her to say anything less than complimentary about it.
"A little late in the day for the satellite dish, isn't it?" Except for her own team members, of course, who are quite content to rib her about it as frequently as possible.
She glowers at Face and sniffs primly, before settling herself in the chair next to his and propping her boots up on his cooler. "I can get a burn from a full moon, Face; I'm taking no chances."
"I think you're displaying impeccable fashion sense as always, Lady Red," calls Murdock from behind her, where he's firing up his grill for celebratory steaks. The pilot actually likes her hat so much he's been known to swipe it when she isn't looking and wear it around himself.
"Thank you, Captain." She turns and winks at him over the rim of her sunglasses.
"Ain't smart, takin' fashion advice from a crazy man," BA points out, looking up from tinkering with one of his bikes, and she makes a face at him. He's probably right, though – Murdock's sense of style is… questionable, at best. She very deliberately does not stare at his "Kiss the Cook" apron and leans back in her seat, closing her eyes in an attempt to relax.
It's been four long, peril-filled years since Paris, since her Very Upsetting Realization, and thus far her plan to simply get over it (him) has failed. Miserably. If anything, she's more in love with him now than she's ever been, and it's becoming increasingly distracting.
She's never acted on it, and he hasn't either, but why would he? He's apparently the saner of the two of them when it comes to things like falling in love with teammates, and the irony of that isn't lost on her, thanks very much. So she does the only thing she can do and watches, quietly and from a careful distance, and protects him – them – as she always has, and it's enough.
Distantly, there is the sound of a chopper touching down, and soldiers scrambling to intercept it. This isn't unusual given how chaotic the withdrawal from this godforsaken desert has been, so she doesn't even open her eyes.
"Face, you want it napalmed or nuked?" calls Murdock from behind them, and she hears her friend pop open another beer.
"Nuke it," he drawls, and she grimaces when BA echoes the order. For her boys, the scale for cooking meat ranges only from "charred" to "total damnation".
"Burn the whole place down, buddy."
"That's revolting," she murmurs over the sudden fwoosh of the grill erupting in flames behind her – ah, so the gunpowder dry-rub's on the menu tonight.
"Don't say it, Red, don't even think about –" Murdock tries, but she cuts him off with a grin.
"I want mine still mooing. Red as my hair, if you please." Her team makes their habitual noises of disgust, and her smile only grows wider. "You guys are all pansies."
"They call ya Red cuz you're a vampire, be honest," Murdock says, and Face laughs beside her.
"Look, that's why she burns so easy! Her kind can't be out in daylight."
"Murdock, you got any garlic? I hear they don't like that stuff."
"I think I got some around here, BA…"
"Hilarious," she says dryly, "If you morons wanna eat shoe leather, be my guest. Some of us like flavor, and that's in the blood."
"Pretty sure that's a quote straight out of Dracula."
"It's actually not, but your ignorance is understandable since you'd have to put down Playboy to check."
Face's no-doubt snide retort is cut off by Murdock – which is probably a good thing, since the two of them can and will go back and forth in a similar manner for hours if they get going. It drives Hannibal nuts, especially when it happens while they're on assignment. "You guys want secret sauce?"
"No no no, none of that antifreeze."
"Hannibal was very clear about using alternative marinades on the base, man," she chimes in, and BA laughs behind them.
"You're crazy. Everybody knows."
"Nobody does an antifreeze marinade like you can, Murdock," continues Face, "but I got a little Bell's palsy last time I ate that."
"You aren't the only one," she mutters, "at least he warned us this time."
"It's only a partial paralysis." He almost sounds like he's pouting, which will garner sympathy from exactly no one here.
"Yeah, but I don't wanna be in the field partially paralyzed, bud."
A sudden shadow falls over her, detectable even behind her closed eyelids, but she can only be bothered to investigate the source of the disturbance at Murdock's quiet, wary warning of, "Visitors…"
She opens one eye lazily, and upon seeing just who it is that's so graciously blocking her light, she immediately sits forward, hackles rising. Beside her, Face has removed his glasses, and is surveying their guest with an unreadable expression.
In fact, his lack of reaction is so conspicuous it's practically a reaction of its own, and she feels both a sudden rush of concern for him and a flare of rage towards the woman he's looking at.
Red supposes the animosity she shares with Charissa Sosa would be surprising to some, given their many similarities; after all, they're both military, both used to having to fight and claw for respect, and both have an astounding lack of tolerance for idiocy. However, they're also both alpha females – and there's a reason Red has never had close friends that weren't guys.
But they differ fiercely in one crucial aspect: Sosa is intensely ambitious, while Red is decidedly not. And while Red understands the desire to ascend the ranks and even encourages it, especially in her fellow female officers, Sosa's methods for doing so are a little more cold-blooded than she's comfortable with.
They had sized each other up within seconds of meeting, with Sosa searching for a threat to her relationship with Face, and Red for a threat to Face himself. The other woman never found what she'd been looking for, but Red had, and she'd been wary of the woman until the very end. And she'd been right to be, since Sosa had, in a bizarre plot twist, actually managed to break Face's heart.
He'd never said as much, of course, because he's a guy and an extraordinarily thick-headed one, but she knows him better than anybody else, and knows how he looks when he's hurting.
It's remarkably similar to how he looks now, actually.
Sosa gives a saccharine smile and tilts her head, and Red wants to slug her. "Yeah," says the woman, basking in his shock, and Face starts to laugh.
"Wow, I'm a little taken aback, I'm not gonna lie."
"Lieutenant," she greets coolly, and he frowns.
"I'm sorry, am I supposed to call you 'Lieutenant' back?"
"No, you're supposed to call me Captain," the woman replies, and Red almost chokes. Of course, of course, she'd be suddenly outranked by the single most irritating woman she's ever met. Because sure.
Red wants to continue to listen and provide support for Face, she really does, except that if she can't hit this woman she doesn't want to hear her talk because she might end up doing it anyway, and being dishonorably discharged isn't currently on her to-do list for the evening.
So instead she stands, and Sosa seems to notice her for the first time, ridiculous hat and all. And because she's a good soldier and her daddy would turn over in his grave if she didn't do it, Red salutes without an ounce of insincerity, and then takes her leave of the situation before the other woman can say a word.
The two soldiers who flank Sosa – Ravech and Gammons, judging by the tags on their fatigues – are unfamiliar to her, but the one labelled "Ravech" gives her the same dopey, star-struck smile she's seen women aim at Face dozens of times. She only rolls her eyes at him and moves towards BA, who is currently being tormented by Murdock and one of his many hand puppets. This one looks like Percy the Pig, arguably the one BA hates the most.
Better intervene before Howlin' Mad ends up on his own grill.
Sure enough, she arrives just in time to hear BA threaten to break every bone in his hand. "Behave, or I'll ground you both," she cuts in swiftly, and Murdock pouts at her again when she confiscates the puppet.
"You ain't my mama, woman," BA grumbles, but it doesn't escape her notice that the threats of bodily violence stop immediately.
"You know where Hannibal went?" she asks, leaning against his bike and watching as Sosa and Face's conversation seems to grow more heated, judging by the set of the other woman's jaw and the way she's leaned forward in Red's vacated seat, appearing, for all intents and purposes, ready to pounce.
"I think he was on his way to the General's tent," Murdock supplies helpfully, and she nods at him in thanks.
"Whatcha need the Colonel for?" asks BA, and she frowns, giving a significant nod to where Sosa and her lackeys are.
"If the DOD's sniffing around the team, he needs to know."
BA follows her gaze and then straightens, nodding. "I'll come with ya. Wanted to show the Colonel pictures of my new van anyway."
"Ooh, is she finally ready?"
He hands her a stack of pictures as they walk, and she fawns and makes appreciative noises in all the right places, despite having little to no technical understanding of cars beyond how to hotwire and/or wreck them. His new van appears to be an exact model of the one that they'd used to rescue Face in Mexico, which had, perhaps inevitably, been totaled by Murdock on their wild helicopter escape from the hospital. She's always found it to be a bit bulky and garish, but BA takes any insult to his van very, very personally, so she doesn't rib him about it overmuch.
"You gonna go see your brother when we get back?" BA asks as they move towards the center of the base where General Morrison's tent is located. The question surprises her for a few reasons, mostly because they don't really tend to bring up the subject of family all that much, but also because no, she really hadn't been.
A massive supply truck rumbles by, honking to clear the path as it throws up a cloud of dust and exhaust, and she uses the interruption to buy herself time to think of a response. "I dunno," she finally replies once the air clears and they start moving again, "I was kind of thinking I'd just stick around LA, you know? Have a staycation, or whatever. What about you? Are you gonna go see your mom?"
It works – BA's whole face lights up as he lists the plans he's got for when he goes back home to Chicago, and the subject of her family life is mercifully forgotten.
It's a tricky thing, her relationship with her brother. Reagan is her only living relative, and, wheelchair-bound and missing both of his legs below the knees, he lives alone in their childhood home in Wyoming. Like most everyone else in their family, he'd been in the military, but unlike everyone else, he'd not only survived his tours, he'd come home with a Purple Heart and a powerful case of PTSD. He is crippled by his paranoia and isolated by his injuries, and, while she knows he loves her, she's also very aware of his resentment of her, which can make going home for leave… awkward, to say the least.
She's never been sure, what, exactly, he resents her for. It's possibly because of her continued position in the military while he can no longer serve, or for the way their father had doted on her when he was alive, or possibly because she's on the best commando team in any of the branches, but the feeling isn't mutual and she has always done whatever she can to make sure he knows it. He's the only family she's got left, after all.
Her last visit had ended in a shouting match, mostly about how Reagan wanted her to leave the military, settle down and do something with her life that didn't involve risking it at every turn, and she hadn't exactly responded well. Reagan is turning into a bitter, hateful old man, and while he claims he doesn't want her to suffer the same fate he did for an institution that would only turn its back on her in the end, he just doesn't get it.
She'll suffer loss of limb and more for her boys, for her country. What right does she have to let them stay and risk their lives and not do the same? What right does she have to claim peace and security while the men she'd fought to protect for the better part of a decade stay and make war?
Besides, she's a Wayne, and Waynes don't just leave the military.
Hannibal is still in Morrison's tent when they come upon it – Red can smell his favorite brand of cigar, pungent and heavy and faintly sweet, from out here. She and BA lean against a nearby stack of crates and wait for him to emerge, and their conversation gives way to a companionable silence. She's always had an easygoing relationship with BA – the larger man is something of an introvert and she's always found his presence to be a steady, refreshing one when she doesn't want to talk but doesn't want to be alone with her thoughts, either. The pair of them have spent hours in his workshop while she cleans weapons or reads and he tinkers with his project of the week.
"Your brother's a good man, Red," he murmurs suddenly, as though he knows the bleak direction her thoughts have taken, "Jus' got a bad break, ya know? Should go see him."
"Yeah," she says, and can't quite meet his eyes, because what happens when she gets a bad break? Will she turn out like him? Lonely and resentful and broken down by something that used to mean everything to her? She's got shades of that in her, she knows, shades of darkness and bitterness and hate, but when Hannibal had found her he'd given her direction, taught her to master herself and direct her darker emotions towards protecting her teammates.
She doesn't want to think about the kind of person she'd be without him, without them.
When Hannibal finally emerges from the tent, he's got a familiar glint in his eye, and she sighs as she rises to greet him. Looks like we'll be staying a little longer, then.
He gives a noncommittal answer when BA asks him how his conversation had gone, and instead directs his attention to fawning, much the way she had, over the corporal's pictures of his new van. This only confirms her suspicion they'd taken a new assignment – the fact that he's not willing to say much about it means he's probably still running simulations in his head, facts and figures and battle strategies that won't be voiced aloud until every last detail has been smoothed out. That particular trait of his is why she's never been suckered into playing chess with him.
"Listen guys," Hannibal says, "we're extending our stay a little bit. We're going back into Baghdad."
Red inhales sharply and promptly chokes on the dust kicked up by another passing truck. That's an extremely risky plan, even for Hannibal. The city has descended into complete anarchy in the days since the withdrawal, and US or US-friendly personnel in particular are now walking targets.
"I thought we were ordered to stay out of Baghdad," BA beats her to the statement, but before Hannibal can reply he's interrupted.
"Smith," says the newcomer, and Red groans audibly. What's this jackass doing here?
They had encountered the independently-contracted mercenary team known as Black Forest – and subsequently the repulsive Brock Pike – for the first time back in LA six years ago. Red's impression of Pike had been one of immediate dislike, particularly after he'd given her a very deliberate once-over and wolf-whistled the moment they'd first met.
He hadn't actually been coming on to her and she'd known it immediately – his actual intentions were much worse, an attempt to demean her, to diminish her presence as merely ornamental, and she'd almost crossed the room and knocked his teeth down his throat.
Her boys had bristled immediately, but she'd taken the initiative by very gracefully flipping him off. Pike had merely grinned in response, and they'd been bitter enemies from then on.
He goes out of his way to be openly combative with Hannibal, dismissive of BA and Face and outright vile to Murdock, to say nothing of the way he treats her. He either makes sexist comments the entire time they're in the same room or blatantly disregards her, and she's had to talk her boys down more than once from breaking his limbs in her defense.
If Sosa is the most irritating woman Red has ever met – and she's known her share – then Pike is easily the most irritating man.
"Pike," Hannibal greets coolly, and she comes to stand on his right side, presenting a united front against this idiot and his pet thugs that follow him everywhere.
"I understand you and your grunts are now stealin' my gigs. I don't like that," Pike begins without preamble, jaw working obnoxiously over a stick of gum.
Ah, so Baghdad was supposed to be a Black Forest mission. Suddenly, she's one-hundred percent in favor of taking the assignment. They can raid Hussein's underwear drawer for all she cares – so long as they're stealing the mission from under Pike.
"I figured you Black Forest guys would be busy installing a dictatorship or overthrowing a democracy somewhere." Hannibal is, as ever, unfazed by the other man's posturing.
Pike looks back to his cronies with a snide laugh. "Nah, it's still the weekend yet. That's nine-to-five stuff, Pops." His gaze travels to her, and she can feel it slide over her body even behind his sunglasses. It makes her skin crawl, but she'd eat glass before she'd let him know that.
"Hey, Princess. Nice hat you got there."
On the other side of Hannibal, BA growls, but she only laughs and adjusts the brim. "Pike, I could kick your butt in this hat, and we both know it."
Hannibal turns to her, clearly amused. "Look at these clowns, Red. They're not soldiers. They're assassins in polo shirts."
BA laughs, and she lowers her sunglasses to give Pike a deliberate, mocking once-over, as he is so fond of doing to her. "Cheap polo shirts," she agrees, "and seriously, you guys need to cool it with the Axe body spray."
Pike's grin never falters, but his response is tight. "We'll make in a week what you guys make in a year."
Red scoffs, disgusted. You don't join the Army if you care about money, moron.
"Cash don't buy guts, kid," Hannibal says, steely gaze fixed on Pike as he takes a long drag off his cigar, and then smirks, "or brains. And you're short on both."
He then steps close to Pike, so close he manages to breathe smoke in the younger man's face. "This is Morrison's base. Bug outta my op." And then he simply moves on without another word, his point made crystal clear, and Pike's lackeys clear a path for him instantly. She thinks, absently, that she'd like to achieve that level of intimidation someday.
Red moves to follow, but Pike steps into her path so quickly she has to recoil to avoid touching him and subsequently contracting a disease. "Where you goin', honey?"
Beside her, BA growls again and steps forward to physically intervene, but she waves him off. She's not gonna let these idiots bait them into a fight – Hannibal had been very clear that there were to be no stockade visits on Morrison's base.
Instead she smiles. "To do your job for you. I'll bring you guys back a souvenir from Baghdad." She cocks her head and shifts her gaze to his team. "Maybe some of those shirts that say, 'I'm with stupid', but in Arabic?"
Pike's infuriating smile never leaves his face, to her annoyance, but he does lean in so close she can smell his breath, disgusting even with the aid of his mint gum. "That's real cute, Princess. You know, one of these days you and me are gonna go round and round, teach you some manners."
She leans in too and smiles just as big as he does, because she's spent her entire life around alpha males and they've long since lost their novelty. "Nah. I don't fight guys like you, you're all too pathetic. Wouldn't be fair." Then she pushes past him, deliberately slamming her shoulder into his.
"And don't call me princess."
She hears Pike hiss something at BA too, something asinine about the color of his shirt and possibly the abbreviation of his name as well, and then they're both finally clear of the gauntlet of stupidity. And without a single punch thrown – she marks it down as a victory despite the trembling in her hands, which have been clenched into fists in their eagerness to make forceful contact with Pike's face.
"Screw that guy," she murmurs, adjusting her hat again to settle the twitchiness in her arms, and BA gives an enthusiastic grunt of agreement as they head off towards Hannibal's command tent.
And, apparently, Baghdad.
They're going after stolen engraving plates. Guarded by former Iraqi Special Forces. In Baghdad. Where Sosa has, according to Face, threatened to court martial them if they go. Because why wouldn't they, really?
In spite of this, her boys are excited about Hannibal's plan – which, as usual, is clear-cut in theory but will inevitably get messy in practice – and she is too, particularly since it will involve killing terrorists and Face having to crawl through a sewer.
The fact that they get to vandalize Black Forest property in the process is just icing on the cake.
They wait until nightfall to get what they need, she and BA and Murdock creeping out under the cover of darkness to the lot where the mercenary's cars are kept, each with their own objectives. BA swipes a car door, Murdock removes two batteries – claiming they may need a backup, but he doesn't like Black Forest any more than she does so it's likely he's just being petty, which she can definitely get behind – and Red herself works on removing the airbags. The boys keep watch as she moves from car to car, jimmying the doors in record time and prying the bags loose with her Bowie knife even faster.
And if she happens to slash a few tires for good measure, well. That's beside the point.
Red's almost finished with retrieving the last bag they'll need when a sharp whistle from her left signals the arrival of Pike and his circus troupe of morons. She curses when her knife slips in her surprise and slices across the back of her hand, leaving a seriously bloody gash in its wake.
Still, there's no time to do anything about it, so she simply grabs the duffel she's been using to stash her stolen items and darts off, Murdock close behind and giggling. BA had split in the other direction as his door is bulkier, and she prays he'll figure out a way to maneuver with it as exclamations of outrage split the air behind them – the heavily-armed bachelor party has clearly discovered their vandalism.
And apparently they're giving chase, Pike's annoyed snarl distinctive amid the voices. She and Murdock weave their way around the tents, keeping low and shushing each other when their laughter gets loud enough to risk their pursuers hearing.
She curses, breathless with adrenaline and mirth as she realizes they've hit the wall of the compound, and that they're in danger of being illuminated by the ever-sweeping searchlights that are about to swing back in this direction.
"Red, this way!" Murdock hisses, nudging her with one of his batteries towards a darkened tent to their right, and she enters it immediately, unsurprised to realize it's a supply tent, nearly emptied of his contents from the withdrawal, but not quite. They quickly take cover behind a large stack of crates, taking a moment to set their load down and let the Black Forest goons pass. She still can't manage to stifle her laughter, so Murdock does it for her, placing a warm hand over her mouth and grinning, his teeth gleaming in the near-black.
She fights a childish urge to lick his hand to get him to pull it away – and then considers doing it for other reasons before managing to get ahold of herself, because down girl, we talked about this.
"Serves 'em right," Murdock whispers, low and close, "Heard about what happened with you and Bosco and the Colonel today."
She wrinkles her nose and moves his hand. "They'll have their day."
"Looks like they're having it now," he replies, gesturing to the batteries at his feet, and then falls quiet again as a silhouette passes by outside. In the weak light, she can barely make out the way Murdock's eyes track the shadow until it's completely gone, and then a thoughtful look passes over his face.
"Listen, Lady Red, I was wondering…"
She cocks her head curiously as he trails off, clearly unsure of something. "Wondering what, Howlin' Mad?"
"Well, I was… it's just… I just wanted to know…" He's blustering, which means whatever he's about to ask is sincere, and while she's normally really good at reading between the lines with him, she's got no idea what's going on right now. Upon further inspection, he actually looks… kind of scared, and it kicks her Mama Bear instincts into high gear.
So she reaches out, grabs the hand that had previously covered her mouth and grips it tight, smiling in an attempt to relax him. She's guided him through panic attacks in a similar manner before – she's usually the only one who can. "What is it?" she asks, still very confused as to what's suddenly gotten him so worked up.
"Areyougoinganywhereonleave?" It comes out of him in a rush, a full sentence combined into one, breathless word, and it takes her a second to decipher it.
She frowns, more confused than ever. Why on earth would that question have given him so much trouble? The only one whose plans they never ask about are Hannibal's, because the majority of his private life is just that, and he has always given pointedly vague answers in reply to all personal questions.
But she's an open book and her boys know that, so his hesitance is somewhat confounding. "Well, I had planned to stick around LA for the duration, but BA got me thinking I might need to go see my brother."
Murdock, she knows, does nothing, goes nowhere, sees no one. Ever. And suddenly it comes to her – he doesn't want to be alone on leave this go around. Being stationed the desert for this long has taken a lot out of all of them, she knows, and has affected them all in different ways. She has consistently begun to resemble an angry, freckled tomato, Face is irritable and antsy with the lack of female company, and Murdock is developing separation anxiety. That's fine, and it's nothing new on Murdock's end, even if it is rare for him to come out and ask to not be alone. That must have been why he'd had such trouble with it.
She smiles again, cutting off whatever stammered reply he'd been about to make. "Howlin' Mad, if you want to come with me to Wyoming, you totally can. Reagan won't mind the extra company." Reagan will mind, actually, he'll mind a lot, but he can get over it.
Something like frustration passes over the pilot's face. "That's not… listen, Red, I was thinkin' we could –"
He's cut off by more movement from outside, and another pair of silhouettes appear on the tent wall behind Red, presumably more of Black Forest's guys. "Can't find them anywhere, boss."
"Search the tents, they're not ghosts. They're still around here somewhere." That is unmistakably Pike, and Red grimaces in habitual disgust even as the tent flap at the front of their hiding place is abruptly shoved back.
Wordlessly, she nudges Murdock, who still appears frustrated but doesn't say anything further as he picks up his batteries and follows her quickly out of the back entrance to the tent.
It takes them another ten minutes to make it back to their newly-acquired command tent, well out of the way of Sosa's inevitable warpath, and another five after that to make sure they're absolutely clear of any tails before she speaks again.
"I think we're good, Howlin' Mad. Those idiots will be scrambling for new parts for weeks," she says with a grin, setting her bag down behind some crates in case someone comes looking for them, and Murdock does the same with his batteries. BA has already been here and left, if the tarp-covered object leaning against the table that looks oddly similar to a car door is anything to go by.
The pilot chuckles in agreement, but it doesn't escape her notice that it's somewhat more subdued than usual. More exasperated than confused now, she turns to him and flicks on a nearby lantern, eyeing him suspiciously with her hands on her hips.
"Alright man, out with it. What's got you acting so weird? Weirder than usual, I mean?"
Confronted with both the sudden brightness and the full force of her attention, he begins to stammer again, adjusting his cap and wringing his hands like mad. "Penguins."
"…Right, okay sure. Penguins. That clears everything up."
"No just… The LA zoo got a new penguin exhibit. They're adorable."
She cocks her head at him again, more lost than ever. "I'm… sure they are?"
He fidgets some more instead of answering, so she makes yet another attempt to dig deeper into his words, to try to figure out what's bothering him and this time come to the right conclusion, since apparently the Wyoming thing wasn't the issue.
She places her hand at her temple, rubbing thoughtfully. "Did you… want to go see the penguins, Murdock?"
He opens his mouth to reply, then closes it again sharply, taking an abrupt step forward and pulling her hand away from her temple with startling gentleness.
"Red, you're bleeding. A lot. When did this happen?" He's pulling her towards a chair before she can answer, and she allows herself to be nudged into it, head spinning once more at the spontaneous shift in conversation. In all her years serving beside the pilot, she's never known him to be quite so… erratic. At least not this consistently, not when it was just the two of them.
"Cut it when I was trying to get the last airbag free. Would you relax? It's nothing."
"It may need stitches," he says, and he's almost frantic now, rummaging through the crates beside them for a first aid kit and only swinging back around to look at her once he's found it.
She smiles despite her concern in an attempt to lighten the mood, to ease the expression she can't quite read, but knows isn't pleasant, from his face. "Well you're not stitching a lightning bolt anywhere on my person, Howlin' Mad, so put that out of your head right now."
Red cheers internally when her comment is rewarded with a small, but genuine, half-smile. "You and BA are no fun."
"Excuse you, I'm plenty fun," she says as he plops down beside her and withdraws a roll of gauze from the kit, taking her hand as gently as before and wrapping it tightly, but delicately.
"I can do this myself, you know," Red murmurs after a moment, but the truth is she doesn't want to, not even a little bit, not when his hands are large and warm and careful on hers.
He doesn't respond even after he's finished, taping the bandage down firmly so it won't move but not releasing her hand, not removing his gaze from it, not stopping the rhythm of his fingers as they slide over and back, over and back across the wound.
The tenderness in the gesture pulls at something in her chest, at that feeling she's tried so hard to bury, to abandon, to forget, and she opens her mouth to make a quip to hide it, to expel the heaviness from the room.
And then she can't, because he's finally looking up at her, and she sees something she's never seen his face before – something deep, and intense, and familiar.
And she knows.
"Murdock –" she tries, because she has to be wrong, she has to be, there's no way she's seeing what she's seeing, because it didn't make sense when it happened to her, how could it happen twice? How could it be reciprocated?
"Yes," he says, and it sounds like an answer but not in response to his name, and she frowns.
"Yes, I want to see the penguins. Will you… will you come with me? When we get back?"
She knows what he's asking now, what he really wants, but she's so stunned she does the only thing she can think to do, which is deflect. "Yeah, sure. Have you already asked the others?"
He sighs then, like she's being obtuse and she is, but she can't help it, because things like this don't happen to her and she has no idea how to respond in case she's reading this wrong.
(She really, really isn't, though.)
"I was thinkin' it could be… just us. You – you know, like a… well, like a –"
He looks just as nervous as she feels, but the difference is he's plowing ahead instead of pulling away, and she swallows, takes a deep breath, and finally, finally, meets him head-on.
"Howlin' Mad, are you asking me on a date?"
"Yes," he says in a rush.
"Then yes," she replies, equally as fast, and the smile that breaks across his face nearly makes her lunge for him, to embrace or kiss or possibly throttle for making her feel things, she isn't sure.
But, just like Paris, now isn't the time for that step. Now, they have to report to the barracks, because they have a long day of preparation tomorrow and an even longer night of order-defying after that, and neither one of them can afford to be distracted.
But after… well.
"That's… that's great, Red. You'll love 'em, I promise," he's saying, breaking through her racing thoughts, and she wants to jump up and dance and do cartwheels.
Howlin' Mad, I love you. She gives him a soft smile rather than tell him that, though, because it's definitely not time for that step, either. Instead, she cups his face with her free hand and gently – reluctantly – pulls the other from his grip, trying and failing to ignore the way he seems to lean into her touch. How long has he felt like this, she wonders, how long have I been missing it?
"We should get going before somebody catches the light and comes snooping around."
He gives a soft hum of agreement and reaches past her to flick the lantern off, momentarily overwhelming her with his scent, his warmth, his nearness, until her resolve almost crumbles into dust right there.
But she wouldn't be Red Wayne if she didn't have incredible willpower, and as a result she's able to stand without embarrassing herself, brush dust from her bloody pants – apparently her hand had been injured worse than she'd thought – and tug him up out of his own seat.
And together, they walk side-by-side from the tent. There will be problems that arise from this, she knows, issues with the team and his rank in relation to hers and what the brass would do if they found out, but tonight's not the night for worrying about any of that.
Tonight, they are together, and they've got plans to see the penguins, and it's enough.
The team spends the next full day in prep, avoiding Sosa and her two lapdogs, as well as the Black Forest stooges, with practiced ease.
Murdock and Face sneak off to the media tent early that morning, swiping a camera and press credentials and likely a woman's heart in the process, if the way Face is grinning when he returns is anything to go by.
BA spends the day developing a magnet out of one of the batteries Murdock had stolen, and tinkering with his bike again when Face finally takes it to conceal in his contraband camera. She personally spends the day with Hannibal, helping him construct a pair of zip lines and corresponding handlebars to use with them. It had been her idea to use the poles from Black Forest's flags for that particular project, and she's only too pleased with how well they turn out.
Their progress is halted only once, when Murdock sneaks by, covered entirely in blue paint he'd gotten from who only knows where, and wipes his dripping hands all down the back of her shirt before giggling and running off.
Naturally she'd had to chase him down, threatening to cut off several of his limbs as he'd continued to shamelessly flick paint at her. She'd stopped only when BA stepped in, bodily halting her progress by picking her up around the waist and carrying her, kicking and squirming, back to Hannibal's side.
"Having fun, Lieutenant?"
"I'll get my revenge for this, he'll see. It may not be swift or particularly original, but it will be terrible."
The Colonel only laughs with that annoying twinkle in his eye he'd had since Paris, since he'd worked out her deepest secret with a glance, and she ducks back down over her work to hide her flaming face from him.
That night, they are huddled around a bonfire, their work finished, their preparation complete. General Morrison sits with them as they laugh and talk and drink, and she's leaning on Murdock's shoulder, one of BA's bandanas securing her wild hair in place and her ruined shirt replaced with one of Face's, and one of Hannibal's spare cigars is perched between her lips.
And in that moment, everything is perfect.
"You guys ready to go downtown?" asks the General in that quiet way of his, and she and her boys give cheers of agreement and raise their glasses. Morrison's eyes find hers, warm and soft and, bizarrely, just a little bit sad.
"You gonna take care of these boys, Lieutenant?" It's an old joke between them, starting with the day he'd found out Hannibal had taken a woman on his team, saying it was about time the Colonel had gotten someone with some sense on his side. This had, of course, been before he – before anyone – knew how very reckless she could be, knew what lengths she'd go to in order to aid her team.
"Till my dying day!" she crows, her voice loud and bright and elated with the prospect of yet another impossible mission laid out before them, and her boys cheer yet again.
The General smiles once more, but it looks even sadder than his eyes had been, and he raises his glass to the sky one last time and bids them all good luck.
And then it's time.
Here is the plan.
The stolen engraving plates and over a billion dollars are being transported through Bagdad via armored convoy. Both are kept in an armored semi, surrounded in the front and back by cars loaded down with trigger-happy thugs.
They have four-point-six miles to secure both the plates and cash, take out the thugs, and, of course, survive, all without the convoy ever stopping.
Face will come into play by entering a hotel near the target point using his confiscated press pass and battery-turned-magnet-turned-camera, before sneaking down through the connecting sewer to the access point directly below the road the convoy will be using.
From there, he'll use the magnet inside the camera to hitch a ride on the undercarriage of the semi carrying the plates and money. If he can time it right, and manage to hold on, and take out one of the guard trucks behind him using metal spikes designed for exactly this purpose, step one will be complete.
BA will be waiting in a nearby alley with a motorcycle full of gas, which will serve as a very literal, very explosive roadblock for the remaining guard truck in the rear. He'll attempt to leap clear in time to avoid being roasted alive and aim his jump to land directly on the semi, and if he can take control of the vehicle, they'll have finished step two.
Step three is where she and Hannibal come into play – he'll slide down from a nearby rooftop on the first makeshift zip line, hopefully landing on top of the semi, and she'll do the same a little farther up the street, and the pair of them will clean up any thugs left over from BA's forced takeover.
After this, BA will swing the semi towards the river, and she, Hannibal, and Face – assuming he's still alive by that point – will begin attaching as many airbags as possible to the container before the front guard realizes what's happening and kills them all.
At that point, BA is to make sure the semi is headed on a collision course for the river and then secure himself inside the container with the plates and money, and she's to climb back up to the top of it and assist Hannibal and Face in firing at the remaining guard truck.
At least until the semi flies off the road and into the water below them, of course, at which point hopefully the airbags will deploy, keeping the semi and its contents afloat, so Murdock can swoop in on his chopper, take out the truck firing at them if necessary, and pluck the container holding the stolen goods and BA out of the water.
From there, it's a straight shot back to base, and if they've all survived and BA doesn't kill them for tricking him into flying – again – then the mission will be a success and they hopefully won't be court martialed for directly defying the Department of Defense.
And, to her own private surprise, this unbelievable plan goes off without a single hitch.
Until it doesn't.
They land back at the base with the usual fanfare, and it sounds like Morrison is on his way to greet them personally, but it's difficult to hear anything with BA still kicking up a fuss inside the container.
"Not it!" she calls immediately, touching a finger to her nose, leaving Face and Hannibal to argue over who, exactly, is going to let him out.
In the end, Murdock, of all people, is the one to convince the furious corporal to abstain from force-feeding them all their shoes by promising to make some of his frankly excellent curry as an apology. It has the desired effect, and when the door finally opens, BA is still grumbling, but considerably less murderously than before.
Behind him are stacks and stacks and stacks of money, more money than she's ever seen or will see again, and she has to side with BA when he grouches about going through all that trouble to not even be able to spend a dollar of it.
"Money can't buy happiness," Murdock points out, and she makes a face at him.
"No, but think of all the pretty, pretty guns I could have, Howlin' Mad."
To her right, she can see a familiar armored car approaching, and she nudges Hannibal to signal the arrival of the General as they begin to head in that direction. She's got one arm wrapped around Face's neck – he still smells like a sewer and she wastes no time in telling him so – and the other wrapped around Murdock's, and BA is still grumbling, but laughingly, as he walks ahead of them next to Hannibal.
She's got her boys, she's completed her mission, and this is the last normal moment of her life.
The Colonel is already lighting a cigar, habitual phrase already on his lips as they move as one unit to greet Morrison. "I love it when a plan comes –"
And then Morrison's car explodes in a blast so loud the ground shakes, and everything goes spectacularly to hell.
Immediately they're running for the flaming remains of the truck, guns in hand for all the good they'll do, and for a full fifteen seconds all they can do is watch, horrified, as it burns.
And then movement, out of the corner of her eye, and she's already swiveling, AR-15 cocked and aimed.
"Colonel!" she yells, because it's Pike and Black Forest, running away from the container with a briefcase that can only hold the stolen engraving plates they'd just reclaimed.
"Contact rear!" the Colonel responds in the next second, and then all she's aware of is gunfire. Even Murdock, who carries the least amount of weaponry on his person, has his handgun out and is unloading the clip in Pike's direction.
They give chase, Hannibal in the lead and her close behind, and there is vengeance and a vicious anger she hasn't felt in years welling in her blood, but after a moment doesn't matter because then the container explodes the same way Morrison's car had, knocking them all flat on their backs at precisely the wrong moment.
The wrong moment, because Pike gets away.
The wrong moment, because there is nothing but heat and light and smoke and burning money, raining around them like snow, singeing her hair, staining her clothes with soot.
The wrong moment, because the MPs choose that exact second to arrive, and she knows exactly how this looks and exactly what's going to happen next, because the general is dead and the money is destroyed and the plates are gone and so is Black Forest.
They've been framed.
Her eyes sweep over her boys, instinctively checking to make sure they're alive and relatively unharmed by the explosion, before focusing once more on her surroundings. She makes it to her knees, aware that the approaching guards are demanding she and her team put their weapons down and their hands on their heads, but she only knows that because she can see BA and Murdock doing it, not because she can hear them. Her ears are still ringing and her eyes are watering from the smoke and something else, something she'd never ever name, and she has never seen that expression on Hannibal's face before.
Because for the first time ever, they have lost.
Things move quickly after that. Their worlds narrow down to one cold cell after another as they are transported to DC to await trial.
Hannibal is calling in every favor he has, making every appeal he can, but she doesn't think – no, she knows – it won't be enough.
She can see it in the eyes of their guards, can feel it in how roughly they're handled, in the words that are hissed at them when superior officers can't hear.
Their guilt has been decided, and all that remains is their fate.
It is a small mercy that they are kept together, albeit in separate cells, in the same hallway in the week leading up to the hearing.
They aren't supposed to talk to one another, but they do anyway, cracking jokes when they can and telling stories when they can't, and the only one who never joins in is Hannibal. He never speaks at all, actually, unless prompted to do so, and even then it's only to reassure them that everything will be fine, that the mission isn't over, that it won't end like this.
He's grieving his friend, she knows, and she's grateful they let him go to Morrison's funeral in Arlington at the very least. She mourns the General too, in her own way – her father had served under him briefly, years ago, and he had always been kind to her, never judging her for being a woman in a man's world or snubbing Hannibal, as so many had, for giving her the position.
On their third day in DC, a guard calls down the white brick hallway, successfully breaking the monotony.
"Wayne, visitor for you!"
At this, she eases herself upright, having spent the last hour doing sit-ups to work off nervous energy. She's surprised to see her brother wheel himself into her view, a small smile on his face and the hand-woven blanket she'd gotten for him at a bazaar in Iraq stretched over his lap.
She can't even speak for her surprise; all she can do is stand there and take him in. His baby blue eyes, the key difference between their faces, look tired and drawn, his body seems almost hunched in his chair, and her heart aches for him.
Her dad had always said he looked like their mom, despite the red hair and pale complexion, which are Wayne traits through and through. But the blue eyes and the sharp, angular features belong to the woman Red is named after but never really met – she'd died due to complications from giving birth two days after Red was born.
"Hey, baby sister," Reagan greets, cocking his head in the way that he does when he's evaluating something.
"Hey yourself," she breathes, approaching the bars to be nearer to him, to have some form of contact with the first bit of normalcy she's been offered since this nightmare began. "What are you doing here, man?"
"My sister's in trouble, what do you think I'm doing here? How are you holding up, kid?"
Sound carries well in this hallway, and her boys can hear them even if they don't want to, so she's mindful of her answer. "Just peachy. Hannibal's got this sorted, we'll be out of here in no time."
Her brother gives a barely-audible scoff and rolls his eyes, and she frowns at him. There's something… off, about his expression, something Face no doubt would have been able to recognize immediately, but that she can't quite put her finger on. "What?"
"You should have listened to me, kid. You think they're just gonna let you walk out of here? When they've got no one else to blame for what happened? You're smarter than that."
"We're innocent, Reagan."
He scoffs again, and she feels it, the first shift in how she sees her brother. Or maybe it started a long time ago and it's only just now coming to light. "We are."
He studies her for a moment, then wheels closer, closer than he's probably allowed, but the guards aren't about to reprimand a Purple Heart recipient unless they absolutely have to. "Listen, kid," he says, and he's being quiet but she knows her boys can still hear, just the same, "you need to confess. It's the only way they'll let you have any part of your life back."
She paces away from him, and it probably looks like she's considering it when really she's trying very hard not to reach through the bars and strangle him.
"Confess to what, Reagan? We're innocent. I'm not about to take the fall for something I didn't do."
"I never said you had to."
Her heart stops cold then, because there's no way, no way, he's suggesting what it sounds very much like he's suggesting.
"Why are you really here?" she asks, and when he doesn't answer right away, she knows. He hadn't come because he was worried. He'd barely so much as called after Egypt, this shouldn't have been any different.
No, he came because he'd been asked to. Because someone up high thought that by sending her brother, by emotionally manipulating her because she's a woman and of course the weakest member of the A-Team, she'd give them something they could use.
They need someone to blame, and they want her to point the finger, and they want her to point it at Hannibal.
When Hell freezes over, she thinks, and balls her hands into fists.
"Reagan, why are you here?" she repeats, very deliberately. She's going to give him the benefit of the doubt, a chance to prove she misheard, that she jumped to the wrong conclusion in her paranoia, because if she's right – and she desperately, desperately wants to be wrong – then she wants to be sure before she takes her next step to protect herself, and more importantly her boys.
Her hopes are dashed when he wheels even closer and, futilely, lowers his voice even more.
"Red, you have to tell them Colonel Smith made you do this. Or that you didn't know what you were getting into. That you trusted your team, and they betrayed you. Something. You cut a deal, you tell them what they want to hear, and they'll let you come home."
Everything just sort of stops. The blood in her veins, the breath in her lungs, the tremble she's had in her hands since the moment Morrison died, all of it, just still. The heart that had ached for him when he first wheeled up to the bars has now set itself against him.
Then, very, very carefully, she turns back around to look at him. The expression on her face must give him pause, because he very subtly moves himself out of her reach. It's a good thing too, because if it weren't for the bars she'd already have her hands around his throat.
"So you want me to lie. And not only to lie, but to lie in court. And not only to lie in court, but to do it to save my own skin, at the cost of my team? You want me to play the victim and throw them under the bus, my boys, men I've fought with and nearly died for, and would have died for, happily, and for what? Huh? A chance to come home with you? You make me sick, Reagan!" She doesn't realize she's shouting until the echo of her voice has already died, and her blood is buzzing and her hands are trembling and she wants to rip something apart. It's been a very long time since she's been this angry.
"Red, keep your voice down," Reagan tries, looks back down the hallway where the rest of her team have no doubt already heard, and she snarls at him.
"Dad would be ashamed of you."
"He was ashamed of me anyway," Reagan snarls back, which is honestly such a lie but she can tell it's one he's told himself so many times he'll never be convinced of anything else. "I just want what's best for you. I'm your brother, Rosalie, can't I want that?"
The sound of her given name in his mouth only serves to infuriate her, to wring her next words from her throat with more vitriol than she'd ever used towards him. "I already have all the brothers I need," she hisses, "now get out."
He could not have looked more wounded or stunned had she physically reached out and slapped him across the face, which at the moment she very dearly wants to do.
"Alright, Red," he says after a moment, visibly subdued, "I'll go. But just… just think about what I said, okay?"
"No way in hell," she hisses, before turning her back on him again. Another beat passes, and she hears the squeak of his wheels as he rolls back down the hallway.
"And Reagan?" she calls out, and her blood isn't buzzing now, it's burning and frothing and seething, and she hears him stop, hears the hope in his voice when he calls back to her.
She steels herself, and places the last nail in the coffin. "Don't ever come back."
And then he's gone.
The day of the trial arrives, and they're given their "monkey suits", which is what Murdock has always called their dress uniforms, and she feels a little more human after she's bound her hair up in the immaculate regulation bun and tipped the beret at the precise angle.
The pencil skirt is still heinous, but she can overlook that.
"You clean up nice, Howlin' Mad," she murmurs in an attempt to lighten the mood as they enter the courtroom, looking at him over her shoulder as she absently adjusts BA's jacket. The larger man fidgets under her meddling, but doesn't pull away, a sign that he's actually far more anxious than he looks.
Murdock has always looked particularly handsome in his dress uniform, but there's something about him today that stands out, that's trying to bury itself deep in her memory. She wants to reach out and touch his face and knows that would be the exact wrong thing to do.
There's a panel of old men in crisp, highly decorated uniforms facing them, and a group of spectators to their left, Sosa and Reagan among them. Red glances over only once and then doesn't do it again.
She and her boys line up and stand at attention, Hannibal on the far right, followed by Face, and then BA, then herself, and then Murdock.
It's almost boring, at first. Each of them is asked to give their version of the events of what happened the night Morrison was murdered, and of course their stories all match. Hannibal is arguing vehemently in defense of the team the entire time, but there is one fact even he can't argue with: they were ordered to stay out of Baghdad, and they went in anyway, and there is no one living who can verify that they had been given permission by the General to do so.
"Colonel," the judge who is leading the panel finally says, "I've been around a long time. Seen units like yours. They're outlaws. And units like that pose a direct threat to the fabric and fundamentals of our military."
That doesn't bode well, and she shares a pensive look with Face over BA's shoulder – and then does it again when another judge states that Black Forest and its personnel aren't subject to military jurisdiction, and so can't be called to trial to account for their actions.
After another hour of this incredible fun, the judges take a brief recess to confer, and the four of them immediately look to Hannibal for answers. This may be a first for them, but they all know what a situation looks like when it's devolving quickly, and this trial definitely is.
"What do we do, Boss?" she whispers, trying not to panic and failing utterly, "it can't… we're innocent, Hannibal. Why can't they see that?" Face is echoing the same questions, and she can feel the confusion and concern practically emanating from BA and Murdock.
"This mission isn't over," Hannibal murmurs, his voice so low it's practically a growl, and only now can she see that familiar fire in his eyes, and it gives her hope despite the fact that she's pretty sure she knows how this trial will end. "I clear our names. We find Pike and the plates. No matter what."
A gavel slams, calling the court back into order, and she and her boys stand at attention once more.
"Your Honors," Hannibal begins immediately, "these soldiers were acting under my command. Any judgement should be levied against me, and me alone."
It takes everything she has to stifle a snarl, because she knows he's thinking back to her conversation with Reagan in the cells and that cannot be allowed to stand. Apparently her boys agree, and her back gets a little straighter each time as they go down the line and refuse point-blank to be tried separately. She makes direct eye contact with Reagan in the stands when she utters her own statement of solidarity, high and clear and resolute in the face of this injustice, this idiocy.
She isn't surprised when she hears the verdict, but it nearly sends her to her knees just the same.
Ten years of incarceration.
Separate, maximum-security prisons.
Stripped of rank.
"Disgraceful," she hears Hannibal murmur, or thinks she does, because it's very difficult to hear anything over the roaring in her ears.
They start with Murdock first, and she hasn't seen his expression that empty, that lost, since the first time she laid eyes on him in Mexico eight years ago. It takes less than a second to remove his stars, and then they take hers.
She can't help it then, the near-inhuman sound that tears from her throat, because no one in her family has ever, ever been dishonorably discharged, ever been stripped of rank, and she can feel the weight of her name come crashing down around her. Her rank, her honor, her boys, her freedom – they're taking it all from her like it's nothing.
BA snarls when they remove his, as this is his second time in this situation, and Face hasn't stopped glaring at Sosa. She'd been the one to go after them, after all – the one who first held them responsible for something they didn't do – and Red knows, she can see it in Sosa's eyes, that Sosa knows they're innocent.
Red won't forget that.
She has to look away when they get to Hannibal. She can't bear to watch the best man she's ever known aside from her father be stripped of all honor – of everything he's loyally fought for and earned ten times over.
Someone is gripping her hand tightly enough to bruise – and it's Murdock, and it's okay, because she's gripping back just as hard.
Her ears are ringing, louder now, and her chest feels tight and her breathing is shallow and she feels like she's about to vibrate out of her skin – and then the MPs step forward to haul her boys away, and everything just sort of… snaps.
They put their hands on Murdock, on the man she loves and they want to take him away from her, forever, and that cannot be allowed to happen, it can't. In an instant her fist flashes out and snaps the first guard's head to the side, spraying blood from his mouth and dropping him like a rock, and then all hell breaks loose.
Two more MPs shove Murdock out of the way to try to restrain her, which only enrages her further, and Face and BA leap to her defense as more come around from Hannibal's side. They devolve into a mass of fists and flailing limbs and if only she wasn't in this stupid skirt, she'd kill them, she'd kill them all for trying to take her brothers away.
A gavel goes down somewhere, and someone tells Hannibal to get his people under control, like that matters now, like any of it matters, like Hannibal has to take orders from them even though they've just taken everything –
She can hear Face screaming something at Sosa, she can hear Reagan too, yelling something to her or the guards or the judges but it doesn't matter because he's dead to her, they all are, every single person in this courtroom but her boys.
And then someone gets a lucky grip around her waist, and she tries slamming her head back but her captor dodges, and then two more come to assist him and if she wasn't in this uniform she could overpower them but she is and she can't and no no no they're taking her away –
Murdock is the closest and lunges for her, but he's being pulled back too, so are all of her boys, they're literally being ripped apart. Using all the strength she has left, she jerks one arm free in time to swing out and latch on to the pilot's. They're pulled to each other by sheer force of will, and with what is clearly his last bit of effort, he leans in and presses a firm, sweet kiss to her cheek.
"Murdock –" she tries, but can't get anything else out but his name. In that moment, she's got nothing else, knows nothing else, wants nothing else.
"We're gonna be okay, Lady Red," he says, and his eyes are gentle and blue and sad and she's not going to cry, she's going to scream, and after everything it takes six men to drag her from the courtroom, and when the doors close, Murdock and her team and her life are gone.
Just like that.
A/N: I'm not crying, you're crying.
…Okay, so I am crying, but there are painkillers involved because I got my wisdom teeth removed this week, what's your excuse? Sorry not sorry this chapter is so long. The next one might be even longer and might not make you cry as much. Or maybe it will. Who knows? Certainly not me, the author of this nightmare.
Anyway, the only thing I own is Red Wayne, and I guess Reagan, but not this angst because that's all canon and belongs to the creators of the A-Team.
Little known fact: Lady Stormbraver is an actual angel in human form, and she took time out of her collegiate lifestyle to edit a story, once again, for a fandom she's not even in. She also lets me gripe endlessly about my currently swollen face, so she gets double brownie points for that.
You guys really came strong with the reviews this time! I'm so thrilled! Special thanks to CopperMax, HeavensWeatherHellsCompany, JennAizawa, SlaveToBenedictCumberbatch, TheRealAlyshebaFan, AFAN, THO12120445, and IloveSam for reviewing! Thanks also to those who fav'd or alerted, you guys are the coolest!
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