Title: Of Cigar Smoke and Moonglow
Disclaimer: The poems used within, which are untitled (Whitman almost never titled his poems), belong to Walt Whitman and/or his estate. The A-Team belong to themselves and Steven J. Cannell. This fic and the rather pointless rambling you are reading belong to me, Skybright Daye.
First Author's Note: This was inspired partly by my freshman English teacher, Mrs. Roller (who was the one who taught me the Cardinal Rule of Critical Reading), partly by my own odd imagination, and partly by my friend Shan, who introduced me to Whitman (for which I shall forever be grateful).
Quan Troy is, so far as I know, a fictional place, as are the events I briefly describe as happening there. If some portions of this fic seem eerily familiar, don't worry. They are neither plagiarized, nor are you losing your marbles. (They're excerpted from my earlier A-Team story "Wailing Wall", which is also on Fanfiction.Net. )
Set a few weeks after the events of "Without Reservations" .
And, as always, reviews would be very appreciated.
Of Cigar Smoke And Moonglow
Spring was in the air in Langley.
Granted, the actual season wouldn't arrive for several months, but the weather had turned warm enough to make it seem like Spring was already here. Even at night, it was unseasonably warm -- and on cloudless afternoons like this one, with the sun beaming down, it was downright balmy. It was perfect weather to be outside in, sitting quietly (as Face, BA, and Hannibal were doing) or tossing a baseball back and forth like Frankie and Murdock.
"Aaaw-right, batta. C'mon, c'mon, saaa-WING, batta!" Murdock bantered, pounding his fist into a battered baseball glove. His ever-present blue baseball cap was turned backwards on his head, and an enormous wad of pink bubble gum bulged in one cheek.
BA, seated at the picnic table, looked up from the broken radio he was tinkering with. Half-frowning, he shook his head, muttered something quietly about the "crazy fool", and went back to tinkering. The day was too nice for him to really get worked up over Murdock's energetic antics.
Hannibal looked up from his thumb-worn copy of The Art of War, letting his gaze wander across the mansion's backyard. Frankie wound up for a pitch, Murdock went on with his baseball routine, and BA held a radio component up for closer scrutiny. Were it not for the security cameras trained on the yard's activities, he almost could've convinced himself that it was a normal scene.
He glanced over at the other patio chair, where Face sat concentrating on a battered hardback book, pencil in hand. From time to time he'd make a note in the book, or turn back a few pages and scribble something there.
Now that was odd. Hannibal raised an eyebrow. "You always write in your books, Face?"
"Huh?" Face looked up, and Hannibal noted with concern that the kid was still paler than he should be. Face was still recovering from the near-fatal gunshot wound he'd suffered three weeks ago, and Hannibal couldn't help worrying about him. The kid was practically his son, after all.
"I said," Hannibal gestured at the pencil, "You always make notes in your books?"
"Oh." Face half-grinned. "I can't help it. It's a bad habit I picked up in college."
"Most people I know," Hannibal noted, "Pick up a little more common habits in college. For instance," He pulled a cigar out and held it up cheerfully, "Smoking."
"Yeah, well," Face replied as Hannibal lit the cigar, "Most people you know didn't have Kimberly Myers for Intro to Literature. She had one Cardinal Rule of Critical Reading-- Read with a pencil in your hand!" He held up the pencil and half-laughed. "And boy, she drilled it into us until we could say it in our sleep. For homework she gave us handouts -- and expected to get them back, fully annotated, the next day." Face twirled the pencil thoughtfully in his hand. "I guess I just picked it up."
"Huh." Hannibal nodded and reopened The Art of War. "Well, I guess there's worse habits you could've picked up."
"Oh, trust me." Face grinned, as he too returned to his book. "I did."
The afternoon and evening wore away, and that night Hannibal found himself restlessly tossing and turning in bed. Maybe it was spring fever . . .
Or, more likely,He thought dryly, Maybe I could use a cigar.
He rolled out of bed and pulled on his robe, then grabbed a cigar and his lighter off of the dresser. Not that he had any compunctions about making Stockwell's expensive drapes smell like cigar smoke -- but the night was too good to pass up a little fresh air. He headed outside, letting himself quietly out of the sliding glass door to the patio.
The night was cool and clear, a lot clearer than the night usually was in Langley. The full moon shone bright as a gun barrel, the stars like a scattering of spent casings. Hannibal took a deep breath and lit his cigar, then sauntered over to one of the patio chairs to sit down. As he did, the sight of a battered hardback book on the chair's seat caught his eye.
He picked it up and sat down, recognizing the book Face had been reading -- and writing in -- earlier that day. The pencil was still shut inside the front cover, and the moonlight glinted off the silver letters of the title.
LEAVES OF GRASS
Hannibal thumbed idly through the book. Many poems had dates next to them, or the names of people or places. Hannibal glanced at one -- only three lines long -- which was headed with Quan Troy, 1970.
Hannibal nodded. He remembered Quan Troy. They'd been sent to scout the village and the surrounding area -- why, he couldn't exactly remember. But he knew what Face had remembered about Quan Troy . . . .
Something rustled in the brush just ahead, and from his position walking point Face held up his hand. The rustling continued. Without hesitation Face swung his rifle up and fired . . .
And the agonized cry of a young voice split the jungle . . .
The Viet Cong soldier hadn't been much older than Face, and had shared his rank. Face had stood for a long, long time staring down at that black-clad figure, until Hannibal had finally led him away.
Hannibal glanced through the poem again.
Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why
Should you not speak to me?
And why should I not speak to you?
Something in those words echoed the lost, sorrowful look he remembered Face having so long ago -- like he'd killed his brother, instead of an enemy.
"Maybe there's something to this, after all." He puffed on the cigar as he leafed through the book. More dates, names, here and there a poem with line after line of Face's handwriting in the margin.
Kennedy, Lincoln, King -- this at the top of "When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd".
Loss of innocence?
Home -- worth what we give up to keep it?
Bond of brotherhood -- friends you love like Life
Everything I see I am, whatever I do becomes part of me . . . What does that say about me?
And then his eye was caught by a single word, written large and double-underlined.
His own name.
Hannibal. He paused for a moment, then glanced at the poem on the page and the pencil in his hand. Then he grinned.
"Well, kid," He whispered, "What does Whitman have to say about me?" And what will I have to say to Whitman?
He bent his head over the poem.
As I lay with my head in your lap, camerado,
The confession I made I resume -- what I said
to you in the open air I resume:
I know I am restless, and make others so;
Hannibal chuckled softly. It was true that "the Jazz" was contagious; it spread to every person he came in contact with, every soldier he'd ever led. Just being around him seemed to turn people into temporary adrenaline junkies. And for some, it never wore off. He penciled Sounds like me, alright into the margin and kept reading . . .
I know my words are weapons, full of danger,
full of death;
For I confront peace, security, and all the
settled laws, to unsettle them;
That made him think of all the taunting he'd done, all the times he'd baited his enemies with words -- and the danger it had sometimes gotten him into. Hannibal puffed thoughtfully on his cigar. After a moment's pause he wrote Aren't all words weapons? and under that, Some things need unsettling.
I am more resolute because all have denied me,
than I could ever have been had all accepted me;
You get stronger when you're pushing against something.
I heed not, and have never heeded either
experience, cautions, majorities or ridicule;
"Though I've heard enough of all of 'em." He grinned.
And the threat of what is called hell is little or
nothing to me;
"The threat of hell?" Hannibal grew sober. He thought of all the men he'd seen die; of the things he'd witnessed in Vietnam, and in the prison camp; of the arrogance, self-centeredness and betrayal the Army had turned on him and his men. Then he put the pencil to paper. Because I've already seen it.
And the lure of what is called heaven is little or
nothing to me;
Now that one I don't quite agree with.
Dear camerado! I confess I have urged you
onward with me, and still urge you, without
the least idea what is our destination,
He froze. The silver night seemed eerily quiet, as if someone were waiting for his response . . .
Or whether we shall be victorious, or utterly
Quelled and defeated.
Hannibal was confronted with the sudden, agonizing memory of Face as he'd been that night at Villa Cuchina, his eyes wide with fear and pain. He'd reached out to grab Hannibal's shirtfront, his breath coming in ragged gasps and his eyes begging Hannibal to say it would be okay.
And Hannibal, watching as his son's life had nearly bled away, had been unable to say it, because in that moment he had been absolutely unsure that it would be okay.
That next night, Tuesday night, nearly twenty-four hours since the nightmare had started, he'd blindly stumbled out of the hospital and gone to the only place he could go.
He rubbed his eyes and remembered that evening . . .
It was cold, and growing colder. Not many people had braved the chilly air to visit the Wall that night. He'd stood alone for a long, long time, staring atthat name. At Kenneth's name.
After he didn't know how long he'd been joined by another -- a girl, not very old. She was uncertain, hanging back as if she feared what he'd say. But then at last she stepped forward to the black stone, put out her gloveless hand to touch a name.
To touchKenneth's name.
He'd been startled enough to reach out without thinking, almost-but-not-quite touching her before she turned to meet his eyes. He'd been unsure of how to begin.
"I . . . Did you know him?"
She was scared, as if she'd done something wrong; and she squirmed as she admitted "No . . . no, I never met him." Then the words had burst free:
"He and I were born in the same town. I . . . he . . . he's buried in the same place as my grandparents." She looked down, like she was ashamed. "I saw his grave when I was little, and after they built this place I told myself I'd come and I'd find his name. He's the only connection I have to the War." Then finally she'd met his eyes, still cautious, still uncertain.
" I'm sorry." She finished sadly. "I didn't have the right."
He'd stepped forward, touched Kenneth's name next to where her hand still rested. "You've got the right. Everyone's got the right."
He'd talked, then. Of Kenneth, and the day he died. And though he hadn't meant to, he also talked of Face, and the vow he'd made, and how very close it was to being broken.
He talked of how close he was to losing another one.
She'd looked at him then, sideways, eyes full of what might have been sorrow -- or hope. "Is it . . . Your son?"
"You could say that." A pause, a deep breath. "He's been unconscious for almost a day. They say . . . He might not wake up."
"I hope he does."
"So do I."
And something had happened, then. He'd looked at The Wall, at his own uncertain reflection . . . .
And somewhere in that ocean of black he'd found hope. Something had reminded him of all they'd survived, had told him that Face would make it . . .
Something had even whispered that soon they'd really be free. That it would be all right.
And that was what he'd told her, fishing a cigar from out of his jacket, sharing a smile with this kindred stranger that Fate had thrown his way. That was what he'd said.
"It's going to be all right."
The words seemed like small assurance. Stockwell still had them tight in their gilded cage. And it would be weeks, maybe more, before Face would be well. The future was uncertain, too huge and too complicated for him or anyone to see into. He had no guarantees, no real view of their destination -- only six words that flickered like one lamp on a stormy night.
But somehow, they were enough. It would be all right. With or without a Plan, one way or another, it would be all right.
Hannibal had to believe that.
He cast away the burned-out stub of his cigar and put the pencil to paper once more. The world held its breath in a shimmer of silver . . .
Trust me, kid. He wrote. Trust me.
Then he stood, stretching the kink out from between his shoulder blades. He tucked the pencil back inside the cover of Leaves of Grass, took one last look across the moon-washed backyard, and went inside to get some sleep.
The next morning dawned clear and warm, a day that promised the same clear weather they'd had all week. Hannibal dressed slowly and wandered into the kitchen, drawn by the smell of coffee that he hoped wasn't Face's. The kid was good at a lot of things, but making coffee wasn't one of them.
Face was seated at the dining-room table with a cup of coffee at his elbow. He must have caught the tail-end of Hannibal's quick grimace, because he laughed when he looked up. "Don't worry. BA made the coffee."
Hannibal nodded. "Good news." He walked into the kitchen.
"What is it you guys have against my coffee, anyways?" Face asked, a mock-hurt tone in his voice.
Hannibal chuckled. "Kid, the EPA has sanctions against your coffee." He poured himself a cup, then returned to the dining room. He found Face closing the cover of Leaves of Grass and setting his pencil aside.
Hannibal set his coffee cup down as Face stood up. "Look, Face, I . . . ."
But Face just handed him the book, shook his head, and gave Hannibal that infuriatingly knowing half-smile of his. "I'm gonna go get dressed."
Hannibal sank into a chair, watching as the younger man walked -- slowly, still -- down the hallway to the bedrooms. Then he turned his attention to the book, flipping it open and thumbing through to the page he'd found last night. Inwardly he wondered what response the kid had written -- or if he'd simply erased what Hannibal had written.
The right page finally fell open, and Hannibal quickly skimmed over the writing . . . and then leaned back in his chair. He blindly reached out and found his coffee cup and took a drink, filled with a growing sense of . . . something. Peace, maybe. Security. A sense of things being well.
Hannibal took another drink of the coffee, then looked down once again at his final written words.
Trust me, kid. Trust me.
And below them, in Face's precise, honest handwriting, the response.
Don't worry, Colonel.
(Next chapter contains an Author's Note. If you would be so kind as to read it, it would be appreciated.)