North Vietnam. September, 1971
Face jerked out of a fitful doze, not certain at first what had woken him. He kept his eyes closed, unwilling to acknowledge his surroundings, but it was impossible to ignore the hard press of bamboo bars across his back, the damp chill leeching through his clothes, the heavy weight sprawled across his hip and chest, the dull ache in his shoulder or the pounding pain of his head where he'd been slammed into the ground by one of the guards the day before.
"Facey?" It was a whisper. "You awake?"
Murdock. He cracked his eyes open, vaguely remembering the two of them sitting next to each other, Murdock leaning on his shoulder, before he'd drifted off into an uneasy sleep. At some point his friend had slipped down so he was now mostly laying across him, and his leg had the telltale pins and needles from being pinned in one position too long.
He shifted his weight to take some of the pressure off the leg as he responded to his friend. "Yeah, I'm awake." Talking and moving made his head give a sharp throb of protest, and he barely bit back a gasp. He made sure his voice would be steady before talking again. "Can't sleep?"
Murdock shook his head slightly where it rested against Face's chest. "C'n you talk to me? Havin' a hard time stayin' here." The soft voice was shaky.
Face could hardly blame him. "Here" was the backwater North Vietnamese prison camp they'd been imprisoned in for almost five weeks, after their chopper was shot down as Murdock attempted to evac them from a mission. By some miracle they had all escaped serious injury in the crash, although Face could do without the experience of having a dislocated shoulder being shoved brutally back into place ever again.
The camp was small, with, from what they'd been able to tell, a current total of seventeen prisoners and, at their last count, twenty-eight North Vietnamese Army personnel. Five of those prisoners were the four members of the stripped-down version of Hannibal's Special Forces A-Team that they used for their most covert, fast-moving missions, and their pilot: Hannibal, as Commanding Officer; Face as Hannibal's second in command, in charge of logistics and supply; BA Baracus as Operations Sergeant; Ray Brenner as Medical Sergeant, and HM Murdock as their pilot. The remaining twelve prisoners were four US Navy pilots that had already been in the camp when the Team showed up, shot down in various locations, two Australian servicemen who'd been separated from their unit on a routine scouting mission, and two US Marines and four US Army infantry who had all been captured on a joint op they were refusing to talk about. Well, Face could understand their refusal - his team wasn't talking about their op either.
Their treatment by their captors had been steadily worsening over time as they'd all refused to give up any useful information or give the canned propaganda statements that their captors wanted to film. Ten days into the team's captivity their food and water rations were reduced and their limited exercise time was taken away. Then twenty days in came the removal of the roof tarps on their bamboo prison cells, leaving them exposed in what were little more than cages to the chill of the air and the brunt of the rains when they came. Being clean, dry and warm had become a vague memory, and sore muscles, hunger and thirst a constant companion. Face's once-dislocated shoulder ached constantly in the cold and damp.
But a little over a week ago, as their captors became visibly more and more frustrated with their prisoners' lack of compliance to their demands, the harsh treatment had started to turn physical. It had started with the occasional kick or punch, but yesterday's incident, when Face had failed to move away from the cell door quickly enough for his captors, had felt like a turning point. Two of the guards had opened the cage door, grabbed him, then brutally slammed him sideways into the cell bars and then face first into the hard dirt floor. He'd managed to turn his head enough to take the brunt of the impact on the side of his head instead of his nose, but the hit had been forceful enough to make him black out for a few minutes. He'd woken to stabbing pain in his head, blood in his eyes, a furious Hannibal and a very upset Murdock. The attack had left him with an unnerving amount of nausea and vertigo - he could still feel the effects now, more than eighteen hours later - but more importantly it had left all of the prisoners stunned at its brutality and afraid for what was to come.
So no, Face couldn't blame Murdock for his flights of fancy or his desire to escape. He forced some lightness into his voice. "Well, anywhere beats here. Where would you like to go?"
Murdock's shaky breathing steadied a little at the response. "Huh." He drawled. "Anywhere I want?"
Face tightened his grip on his friend. "Yep, anywhere you want."
When Murdock didn't respond immediately, it was BA who chimed in. "Chicago." BAs gruff voice came out of the darkness from the cell next to them. "I'd go to my Momma's place in Chicago. Sunday Pot Roast."
There was a collective groan from all around them. "Oh, BA, don't you go talkin' 'bout food." Ray said from the same cell BA was in. "I vote for Disneyland."
"Oh, are we voting?" Hannibal pitched in from Face's other side, voice gravelly with sleep. Face winced - he really hadn't wanted to wake anyone who had actually managed to be sleeping. "No to Disneyland - this is enough of an E-Ticket Ride we're on right now. Put me down for the Iowa State Fair on a summer night. Eating funnel cake with a pretty girl."
"Funnel cake?" Face asked, then immediately shut his mouth. He was usually better about silently sticking things in his ongoing mental file of "Things To Find Out About If I Ever Get Out Of Here" instead of asking stupid questions. Maybe the head injury had affected him more than he thought.
"Oh, Facey." Murdock was looking up at him, the sad cast to his eyes and voice seemed only partially exaggerated. "You never had a funnel cake?"
"Not a lot of opportunity to go to the fair in the orphanage?" He tried for nonchalance and lifted one shoulder in a partial shrug.
Murdock seemed to accept the explanation. "Oh, we gotta fix that when we get outta here." He said softly. "Gotta have funnel cake."
"Tim, what about you?" Face turned to their cell mate, a tall, redheaded, freckled, lanky Marine with a distinct twang in his voice. He was nineteen and had grown up on a farm in the state of Nebraska. He talked a lot about getting up at the crack of dawn and milking cows. Mucking stalls and feeding the horses and the pigs and the taste of cherry pie and his Mom and Dad and five brothers and sisters. His descriptions were so vivid that even Face was homesick for it all, and he'd never experienced anything like it personally in his whole life.
"Hmmm." Tim replied. "How about the Grand Canyon. Always wanted to see it."
"Been there. Worth it." Hannibal quietly said in response. "Bigger than you could ever imagine."
There was a dirty joke buried in that comment somewhere, but Face couldn't get his scattered thoughts to produce it before the conversation moved on.
"I'll go next." That was Harrison, one of the four Army infantry guys. Dark skin and eyes, and an innate unflappability in any situation. He was grinning now, white teeth gleaming in the darkness. "Neighborhood block party in Harlem on a hot summer day, when the fire department turns on the fire hydrant, and all the little kids play in the spray, and everyone comes out on their front stoop to watch the kids and gossip."
"Nice." Murdock replied, before continuing more loudly. "George, you're up." Face looked back down at Murdock. His voice had steadied completely, the shakiness gone, and he was clearly fully back with them. Well, that was one mission accomplished.
George was the other Marine, who'd grown up in Washington, DC. "A summer night on the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. You can get these crazy toys that look like a dog leash. They hover over the ground, so it looks like you're walking an invisible dog."
"Huh. Gotta get one of those so I can walk Billy." Murdock said, so softly that Face thought he was the only one who heard it.
"You started this, Face. Your turn." Hannibal's voice interrupted Face's thoughts about the odd thing Murdock had just said.
He looked around, realizing they'd worked their way through everyone who was within earshot of the cell. Everyone but him and Murdock.
"And you can't pick the beach, already taken by George." Murdock was grinning up at him.
"Woulda been a different beach. George is on the wrong coast." Face grumbled back, "And I think under the circumstances I should be allowed to go wherever I want." Although, when he thought about it, it wasn't so hard to come up with an alternative to Malibu.
"Tucson, Arizona." He finally said softly. "There's a place on a cliff where it's a forest of cactus as far as you can see, the sunset sets the sky on fire, and at night it's so dark you can see every star in the sky."
"Remember that thought, Facey." Murdock drawled softly. "Gotta hang on to pretty things like that in here."
"Trying to." Face murmured to the man still half sprawled across his lap, then raised his voice. "Ok, Murdock. Where do you want to go?"
Murdock gave a soft huff of laughter. "Think I wanna build a rocket ship and head for those stars you're talkin' 'bout, Face."
"Huh. You and me both, buddy." He tilted his head back to look straight up through the slats in the cage ceiling. It was a surprisingly clear night, and the clearing the camp was in allowed for enough of a view to do some stargazing. "Want to pick a star and I'll see if I can find you a rocket ship to get there?"
Murdock gave a faint snort at that comment, but rolled over, ending up on his back with his head in Face's lap, also looking up. "Damn, everything looks wonky. Shoulda learned the Vietnam sky 'fore I came here."
Apollo's hands, gently unrolling the star maps across the rustic dining room table in a house in a desert halfway around the world. Once they'd found the right one, they'd spent a long time looking at it, and he'd fixed the star patterns in his head he could see from Vietnam that would surround the tiny patch of nighttime sky that represented the way to Caprica, so many millions of light years away.
"I learned it." He blurted the words before he could convince himself not to.
Murdock made a soft, pleased sound, but it was Hannibal's voice that replied. "Want to share, Lieutenant?"
It almost sounded like an order, and Face became aware of the stillness in the cages around him. The imprisoned men silent and waiting, the shadows of the ones that he could see in the dim starlight all looking upwards.
He tipped his head back to look up again, the pain in his head flaring anew at the movement. "Well, what better place to go to escape it all than the stars?" His voice sounded rough, so he worked to smooth it as he considered how to start. "Can everyone find the North Star?"
There were a few murmurs of agreement. "Polaris." Tim said softly.
"Yes. Polaris is the brightest star of the Ursa Minor constellation. The Little Bear."
There was silence for a moment.
"Don't see a bear." B.A. sounded disgruntled.
Murdock laughed softly. "Awww, BA. There's a bear. He's upside-down."
More silence. Then, "Still don't see no bear." BA said definitively.
"I see the bear." Harrison replied, equally definitively. "The bear is there."
There was faint laughter from some of the men at that.
BA actually growled. "You makin' fun of me."
"Nah, no one's making fun, BA. Some of them are just hard to imagine." Face said. "Try again. Can you pick out the Big Dipper?"
"Yeah." BA sounded a little less mad.
"And the Little Dipper upside down above it?"
"The handle of the Little Dipper is the tail of the bear."
Another pause, then, "No bear there." BA didn't sound angry anymore, now he just sounded sad.
Well, that won't do. If you're going to get out of this place for awhile then you need to see the bear. "BA, come on over here." Face said. "Lean up behind me."
There was some shuffling in the cage next to him, then BA was lowering himself down right behind him, until their heads were almost touching, separated only by the bars. It felt oddly intimate as Face reached through the bars and joined their hands together, then moved their hands upwards until they were pointing the way to the North Star together. "Polaris." He said softly, then moved their hands, tracing the outline of seven bright stars. "Ursa Minor."
BA huffed in frustration. "Ok, now I see it. But still don' think it looks like a bear."
Murdock gave another soft laugh. "Big guy, gotta use your imagination."
"Ain't had much use for imagination in my life." BA grumbled.
"You're wrong there, BA." Hannibal responded. "All those things you've built? Those things you can fix? You use your imagination every day."
"Man's got a point, BA." Ray murmured.
"Don' have to be a bear, BA." Murdock again. "Can play connect-the-dots however you like up there. It can be whatever you think it should be. Been called lots of other things by lots of people."
Face kept their hands joined together. "Well, now that we've finally sorted that one out..." Harrison made a soft noise of amusement. "...next up is Ursa Major. The Big Bear."
"No more bears!" BA said, but Face could hear the grin in the voice as the cages around them erupted into laughter.
The jungle canopy limited what they could see, but Face showed them what he could: Lynx, Camelopardalis, Cancer, Canis Minor and Canis Major "Dog!" Murdock yelped when he got to those), Auriga, Hydra, ("Hail, Hydra." Tim had intoned, then he and Murdock had dissolved into giggles and that went onto the Things To Find Out About List, too), Orion and Lepus. When he ran out of stars he could see, he let go of BAs hand - he was still using it as a pointer - and simply stopped. "And that's all we can really see from here tonight."
"So much we can't see from here." Murdock's voice sounded scattered and drifty, and when Face looked down at him his eyes were closed. "So many billions and billions of stars. Wonder what's really out there. Or maybe who. Who's really out there. Gotta be someone in all that space."
Oh, if only you knew. Lots of someones. And some of them aren't ones you want to meet, Murdock. Really you don't. But Face isn't supposed to know about any of that.
He looked back up one final time, focused on the tiny patch of sky that represented the way to Caprica, so very, very, very far away. And he let himself, for just a minute, imagine he was back home, on a beach on a planet he would never see again, looking up at a very different night sky.
"Where's Cassiopeia?" Ray asked, breaking the almost reverent silence that had followed Murdock's words. "Thought there was a constellation named Cassiopeia?"
Face flinched, old grief resurfacing and the name a blow against the carefully constructed walls separating who he once was from who he had to be now, walls that had already been getting harder to maintain in the close confines of the prison camp. Dead. She's dead and Apollo and Athena are Greek Gods and Starbuck's a coffee loving first mate on a whaling ship. And what the fuck is wrong with me tonight? He gave himself a hard mental shake. No matter who he was he couldn't fall apart now, not when Murdock was so close to losing touch with reality, and Tim and Harrison and even BA were just so young and Hannibal was leaning on him, on his ability to pull out the right words for every problem, a different face for every situation, depending on him to hold everyone together. Gods, (God, remember? Monotheistic) his head really hurt. "There is." His voice came out sounding as raw as he felt, and he sensed more than he saw the sharp concerned look Hannibal gave him. Get it together, Lieutenant. He has enough to worry about without adding you to the list. The next sentence came out much stronger. "The canopy is in the way. She's behind the trees."
There was silence from the cages around him then, the only sounds the jungle insects and some distant noises from the guards moving around in the camp.
"Thank you." Tim finally murmured. "Nice to think about something else for awhile."
"Yeah." BA agreed. "Thanks, Faceman. Nice to learn somethin' new." There were murmurs of agreement from the other cages around him.
Face looked back down at Murdock, still sprawled across his lap, seeing the pilot's eyes had stayed closed and his breathing was deepening. Falling asleep, he hoped.
He managed to get into a better position against the bars, but even as tired and uncomfortable as he was, he was unwilling to move too much or lie down if doing so would disturb his friend. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine warmth and safety, and maybe a pillow. Tried to patch up the cracks in the walls in his head. Tried to shove Lieutenant Starbuck from the Battlestar Galactica as far away from this place as he could possibly get him.
"Face." Hannibal's voice, quiet and serious. "Thank you for doing that. How's your head?"
He managed a shrug. "Fine, I think." Hannibal made a faint disbelieving noise. "Ok. It hurts when I move and hurts when I talk." he said, feeling defensive and snappish but somehow still keeping his voice level. "But I guess it's not worse. Can we count that as a win?"
"You heard that too, huh. I don't know, Hannibal." He said wearily. "I'll ask him tomorrow."
Silence for a long moment, then, "I'm working on a plan for getting us out of here, kid. I need you to keep him together."
"It's not Murdock's fault, Hannibal." Face wasn't sure where the surge of bright anger he was suddenly feeling had come from, but he knew Hannibal would hear it in his voice. And he vaguely wondered who was supposed to keep him together while he was trying to keep Murdock together.
Hannibal took a measured breath. "Not saying its his fault, Face. But it's a variable. How long was this going on before we were captured?"
Face glanced back back down at the man in his lap, who was now fully asleep, before replying, voice low. "Three, four months, maybe. He did an evac of fifteen grunts from that total fuckup of a mission near Pleiku and half of 'em died on the way back. Chopper covered in so much blood it was sloshing back and forth on the floor. He had a hard time getting past that one. Kept talking about how all the dead bodies were piling up and looking at him and talking to him. Then right after that was when Jenkins shot himself in the shower and Murdock found the body. And then there was that classified mission he and BA were on that neither of them talk about. That's when he started having the nightmares every night."
"Any particular reason you didn't tell me?" Hannibal's voice stayed quiet and calm.
Face felt another surge of anger at the words but tamped it down, letting out a frustrated breath instead. "Didn't seem to be affecting his piloting and he's always been...unique?" He heard Hannibal's faint huff at the word. "I guess I just didn't..." he trailed off for a moment, defensive and sad and frustrated. "...didn't see it as serious? Didn't want to be the one to take him out of the sky?" Didn't want him to be declared section 8 because then Lieutenant Starbuck can't recommend him for the Colonial viper forces? Hannibal's silence suddenly felt like a giant gulf between them. He felt the anger drain out of him, and he continued softly. "I'm sorry. We all have nightmares, Hannibal. Sorry I didn't see his for what they were. Would have saved him from being in this mess with us, anyway."
"Face. Kid." Hannibal's voice softened, and he found himself vaguely wondering when Hannibal had decided he needed to be gentle with Face tonight. Huh. Maybe Hannibal thought he was supposed to keep Face together while Face kept Murdock together. That was...interesting. "I wasn't blaming you. Just trying to understand."
"Yeah, well. You and me both." The words came out snappish and harsh, and he fully expected Hannibal to call him out on it. But he was just so tired, and the lack of food and sleep and the pain in his head and the still lingering ache from his shoulder and the constant damp chill and the vague fear of what each new day would bring and the need to constantly be so careful about who he was and what he said was sapping his patience and his strength.
Hannibal didn't call him out on it. "Try to get some sleep, kid. I know you haven't been getting much in this place."
"Don't know why not, with such high class accommodations." Face muttered in response, but he knew Hannibal was right. He closed his eyes again and went back to thinking about a soft bed, warm blankets, a pillow instead of hard bamboo. It took awhile, but he finally managed to fall asleep, to a memory that belonged to Starbuck. A memory of the low, steady roar of the Galactica's engines, deep in an engine room twenty decks below.