Technically, this story is a sequel fic to my other P.O.W. era stories, "Together" and "Even Here". That said, I believe it can easily stand on its own. :)
Also, just a quick note for the sake of clarity...
In the episode "Recipe for Heavy Bread", the General who was in charge of the P.O.W. Camp where the Team was held is introduced. According to IMDb his name is spelled "Chow", but in the 1984 novelization of this episode (written by Charles Heath), his name is spelled "Kao". I hesitate to challenge IMDb (they are so often right about so many things, lol), but "Kao" struck me as a more authentic spelling. So for this series, I'll be using "Kao".
Okay, on with the story!
Hannibal smiled faintly as he watched Face with Murdock. The pair sat cross-legged, facing each other, engrossed in some kind of make believe. Based on the gestures and a few random whispers Hannibal had caught, he gathered that Face was performing magic tricks for Murdock and his imaginary puppy named Billy. The Colonel had always known magic was the art of illusion, but somehow he felt their conman had taken things to a whole new level. It wasn't every magician who could cause invisible bouquets of flowers to disappear.
After a complicated flourish left Murdock grinning, Hannibal grinned, too. Even more so when he heard the growling beside him. "What's the matter, B.A.? You don't appreciate a good magic trick?"
"I ain't seen no magic trick, Hannibal," he muttered. "And neither have you, because there ain't nothin' there."
"I don't know, B.A.," Hannibal said softly. "I see Murdock smiling. In this place and after the way he's been, I'd say that's a pretty neat trick, wouldn't you?"
B.A. continued to scowl, but the expression lost most of its heat.
It was as close to an agreement as Hannibal knew he was likely to get, and the acquiescence made him smile a bit more.
Murdock really was getting better. A fact Hannibal was ashamed to admit surprised him. When they'd finally gotten the pilot back a few weeks ago, the Murdock they knew had been so… absent. It was as though the VC had stolen his soul and left nothing behind but an empty, fearful shell. But bit by bit he was coming back to them.
Or, more to the point, he was coming back to Face.
When it came to getting what he wanted, the kid never had known how to take no for an answer—and he wanted Murdock back. It was as simple as that. Didn't matter if he had to talk himself hoarse during the night to keep the other man's nightmares at bay or sit around for hours playing make-believe like a five-year-old.
For Hannibal, witnessing his Lieutenant's obsession was as heartwarming as it was terrifying. He didn't want to know what would happen if the VC ever came for Murdock again.
So far, whatever tainted pieces of intelligence Face kept finding to give their captors, had prevented that from happening. Because, yes, the Prince of Conmen had decided even Charlie's sadism was no match for his golden tongue. Honestly, Hannibal should have seen it coming; should have known the moment the kid came back to their cell with Murdock hanging on his arm. Instead, it'd taken him almost a week to piece the story together. To figure out Face had 'broken' in order to ransom Murdock back, and then somehow turned that single act of desperation into a habit.
The ritual was simple. Every few days guards would come and escort Face to General Kao's personal quarters. There, in the Lieutenant's own words, he'd waste everyone's time going over intel that had just enough verifiable facts to keep them coming back for more, but was actually so rife with missing, outdated, or false information they'd get burned if they ever tried to use it. For hours, Kao would grill Face on every minute detail; twisting words and laying little traps with his questions, in hopes of sussing out even the smallest error or missing piece. The day Face failed to pass his tests would be the day he didn't come back. It was a dangerous play, but the kid didn't care.
He didn't care that the whole arrangement had the rest of the prisoners thinking he'd really turned traitor, either. While Hannibal and B.A. silently raged at the threats and insults being tapped out on their walls, the Lieutenant just smiled. The more people he had believing he was a traitor, he'd say, the safer they all were. Because, like always, Face hadn't been satisfied with just sticking to one deal. No, he'd made three: one for each of them. Four if you counted the small influx of medical supplies that had been distributed to the rest of their cell block. Face hadn't said a word about that one, but his studious lack of interest when they'd arrived had spoken for itself.
The accusations being tapped on their walls had softened a bit after that. And again when each of the cell's began receiving an extra cup of water every few days. Which brought Face's current total of (known) deals up to five. Hannibal found his stomach churning at the thought of just how many more the kid might try to pull off. There was nothing more addictive for a conman than success—and Face was hooked. It made an already dangerous situation even more treacherous. For all the kid's talent, it was still only a matter of time before Charlie figured out he was lying. And if that time came before Hannibal had nailed down their escape plan, his Lieutenant was as good as dead.
In spite of all that, the Colonel couldn't help but smile as he continued to watch his men. Face was going through the motions of taking a hat off of his head and brandishing a handkerchief from his pocket. Neither the hat nor the handkerchief existed, but Murdock was enraptured by the process all the same. With great care, Face turned the hat upside down and covered it with the handkerchief. A hushed and very mysterious incantation followed, that ended with the handkerchief being pulled away dramatically. Murdock's expression widened with awe as Face pulled something invisible from the hat. Unfortunately for them all it turned out to be a rabbit.
Imaginary rabbit meet imaginary pup Billy.
The chase that ensued put anything the animals' visible counterparts might have attempted to shame. Apparently invisible rabbits and puppies could climb walls and pass through colonels and sergeants. Who knew, right?
Hannibal didn't have the heart to be mad. He'd been knocked over and slightly trampled before, and by much more aggressive foes than these. Not to mention that the sight of his Captain and Lieutenant tumbling over each other as they tried to stop the invisible carnage, was well worth the few bruises it might cost him.
B.A. was not so generous.
But it was the VC's potential lack of generosity that ultimately stole Hannibal's enjoyment of the moment. Outbursts weren't tolerated in the cells—even by supposed traitors. Violations always brought the wrong kind of attention.
"Face!" he hissed.
"I know, Hannibal, I know," came the frantic reply, even as Face took a mad dive that landed him and Murdock both against the back wall. The handkerchief made a re-un-appearance and with a few magic words, the rabbit was declared safe in the arms of Vanishment—the dimension where imaginary animals apparently went to disappear.
A tense silence descended on the cell block, broken only by the muffled sounds of Face and Murdock panting.
Hannibal glanced at B.A. who was alert and listening by the door. The Sergeant shook his head. Nothing.
With any luck, their infraction might just slip by unnoticed.
Daring to let himself relax for the moment, Hannibal turned back to his second in command. Face was waiting for him, eyes wide with fear and abject apology—Murdock wrapped tightly in his arms. Hannibal wasn't sure if the pilot actually understood the danger they were in or if he was simply reacting to Face's fear, but either way he looked scared and apologetic, too.
Which was totally unacceptable on both counts.
So he winked at them. A quick bat of the eye and flash of a smile, just for them.
Some of the tension immediately drained out of Face's shoulders, and he allowed his hold on Murdock to ease. Again, it was hard to tell what Murdock was reacting to—it could've been Hannibal or it could've just been the change in Face—but he also relaxed.
"Next time, Lieutenant, go for something big," Hannibal stage whispered. "Even a puppy as brave as Billy would think twice about chasing an elephant or a walrus."
With a huff, Face dropped his head back against the wall. But he was smiling. "I'll remember that, Colonel."
"Hey, man, I ain't sharin' this cell with no animal that's bigger than me. I don't care what Hannibal says."
The laugh was out of Hannibal's mouth before he could stop it. "Why, B.A., I didn't think you believed in Face's magic tricks."
"I don't. But I just got trampled because of a rabbit and a dog that ain't there. I may have to put up with that, but I draw the line at bein' sat on by invisible elephants."
This time it was Face who laughed. The sound was soft—a ghost of what it should have been—but genuine nonetheless. "Aw, c'mon, B.A., just one elephant?"
Hannibal opened his mouth to play peacemaker, but stopped short when he saw Murdock begin to squirm. Still held close to Face's chest, he wiggled around just enough to whisper in the Lieutenant's ear.
Face listened, expression shifting through too many emotions for Hannibal to track, before he finally nodded and whispered something in return. Then he brought a hand up, cupping Murdock's neck and gently tucking him back against his chest. As soon as the other man was settled, Face closed his eyes.
Curiosity—and the new, slightly erratic pattern of his Lieutenant's breathing—had Hannibal shifting closer. He frowned at how tightly Face was once again holding Murdock. As if he was afraid the pilot might join the rabbit in Vanishment if he didn't hold on tight enough. "Face?"
Blinking repeatedly, gaze skittering around their cell, Face cleared his throat. "I'm sorry. It's— we're okay, he's okay."
Hannibal laid a hand on Face's shoulder. "Look at me, Lieutenant."
It took a moment, but the kid finally complied.
"What did he say, Face?"
"He just said it's okay. He doesn't really want an elephant anyway." With a ragged laugh, Face looked up at the ceiling. "He, ah, he said all he wants is us."
The words were like a balm and a deep wound all at once. Without conscious thought, Hannibal found his hold on Face tightening.
A brush of movement and suddenly B.A. was there beside them, too. He stared down at Murdock, hands clenching into fists over and over again. "You've got us, fool. We ain't goin' nowhere."
"What he said, Captain," Hannibal murmured.
The quiet assurances seemed to catch Murdock's attention. He peered up at them, a fragile but oh-so-hopeful smile on his face. "Can Billy stay, too?"
Hannibal grinned. "I think that can be arranged. What do you think, B.A.?"
The Sergeant glared at him and rumbled some kind of an answer.
"Yes," Face translated. "B.A. said 'yes', didn't you B.A.?"
The Lieutenant flashed a smile as he said it, but his tone suggested he was prepared to take on B.A. and the entire Viet Cong Army with nothing but a toothpick if that's what it took to get the answer he wanted.
It made Hannibal grin even wider. Particularly when he spotted Murdock's own smile growing bigger by the second. The two of them locked eyes as B.A. growled again. And this time when Hannibal winked, Murdock winked back.
Author's Note: After seeing the penthouse suite Face has scammed his way into in the episode "Recipe for Heavy Bread", Lin Duk Coo grins and says, "Faceman does not change. Still scam like crazy." Which means Face must have been running some serious scams even in the Camp. A delightful thought, really, but as I was working on these fics, it struck me just how dangerous that would have been-and how truly desperate Face must have been to attempt it. And what better-and more desperate-reason could he have had, than trying to get Murdock back before it was too late? Or trying to find some way to spare his hurting teammates from even worse torture, you know?
But anyway, just wanted to share what kind of inspired me to take the Team's situation in this direction. Hope it feels right to you guys! As always, I would love to hear your thoughts. 3
Take care and thanks so much for reading!