What Just Happened?

By

Chico Casanova

Rating: Mostly G with a few bad words.

Disclaimer: I do not own The A-Team. All copyrights to original characters belong to S. Cannell and Lupo. Original other characters belong to me. I am making no profit from this. I wrote this story for fun, as a writing exercise, and as a gift for a good friend.

No character deaths.

No reprinting or posting anywhere on Facebook or the internet without my permission. That means don't put any of it on your website or someone else's. Unless I decide to post it elsewhere, it stays on this page and only on this page.

Constructive criticism is welcome. Criticism because you don't like the theme of the story and how it doesn't conform to your ideas of your favorite characters is not. And will be treated as such.

Final warning before reading. This is not a typical A-Team story. Some of you most likely won't like the direction the story takes or the ending. I decided to add reality to the mix as some of the decisions and actions made by certain members of the team throughout the run of the show do not portray them as being "a good guy in the white hat." Read and figure out who.

This story will remain up for only a little while.

Again, do not copy/paste the story and place it elsewhere. It remains right here.

Remember, one action, one decision, can change your life or someone else's life forever.

What Just Happened?

By

Chico Casanova

Lt. Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith sat next to Sergeant Bosco "Bad Attitude" Baracus at the picnic table in Johnson Park under the shade of a large leafy oak tree. First Lieutenant Templeton "Faceman" Peck was directly across from him.

"So, why did you call this meeting, Lieutenant?" Hannibal asked.

"New case," Face replied.

"With whom?"

"A lady I met at the country club. Her older sister is missing. She left for a business meeting in Las Vegas a week ago and hasn't been seen since."

"And how long have you known this lady?" Hannibal didn't like this one bit. It smacked of a setup.

"Ahh…a week."

"A week! How do you know she isn't a military plant?"

"No way, Hannibal. She's too pretty…too…built."

"Meaning she has huge double-D boobs. That doesn't mean she couldn't be working for the Army. How many times have you slept with her? You need to stop thinking with what is inside your pants, Face. The answer is no."

"Because you say so," Face snarled, standing and slapping his hands on the wooden tabletop.

Hannibal matched him in the stare-down, leaning forward on his hands until he was nearly nose-to-nose with Peck. He had never seen Face in this much of an uproar when he declined an unvetted client. "Exactly. Consider that a direct order."

"Hmmm." Face sat back on the bench. "I hate your fucking orders!"

Hannibal ignored the bout of insubordination and returned to his seat. He couldn't report and discipline Face to anyone except himself. "Since we are all here, I have a proposition, guys. We can't do this forever. Especially me. I have some evidence now. I've been contemplating turning myself into Decker and requesting a meeting with JAG to plead our case."

"You called my client a plant, then propose us going to prison on a lark. Have you lost your bloody mind?"

Hannibal smiled. "No, I haven't. Face. I've given this some pretty deep thought. I can get the ball rolling. I will turn myself in. You guys just lay low until it is over."

"How long will that take?"

"Who knows?" Hannibal shrugged. "The unofficial Army motto is 'hurry up and wait.'"

"You have lost your freaking mind? Maybe you should take up residence with Murdock in the psych ward?"

"Maybe I should. At least I'll have a warm bed and decent meals. You two would be in the stockade sleeping on cots, taking ice-cold showers while avoiding getting butt-bumped, and eating cold, preprocessed garbage in less than a week."

Face clenched his teeth, wanting to say something but remained quiet.

BA gave Hannibal a stern glare but also remained quiet, something not unusual for him.

A small swarm of bees landed on the dandelions sprouting up in the grass. One bee landed on BA's neck. Hannibal didn't want him to get stung and waved his hand behind BA to scare the bee away.

BA stood suddenly, catching Hannibal's wrist and jerking him to his feet. "What you doing, sucker?"

Before Hannibal could reply, BA released him, drew back, and threw right into Hannibal's jaw, snapping his head back. His heels caught on the wooden supports. The force of the blow flipped him over the bench onto the ground. BA pulled Hannibal up by his shirt collar and launched a left hook into the right side of Hannibal's ribs.

Hannibal felt several ribs break, which wasn't the first time. The POW camp guards tended to cave in the same ribs at regular intervals. The pain sent him to his knees. His vision blurred, and he fell onto his back, holding his side, looking up at the blue sky. He had a hard time breathing. The agony sent waves of fire up and down his spine with every breath. What in the hell just happened? What did he do wrong?

"That's what you get, sucker, for trying to get me on another plane." BA stomped off toward the parking lot.

What plane? Hannibal didn't have a clue as to what BA was referring. He declined Face's dubious mission.

Face stopped next to Hannibal. "See what you get when you make stupid decisions based on your so-called experience. Who do you think you're fooling with that bad acting? You're not hurt. No wonder you have to wear monster costumes." He left in the direction of the parking lot.

Hannibal lay there in the grass, unable to get up. They left him. He was hurt by BA's own hands, and his so-called friends, the men who made a pact never to abandon each other, left him. He never left anyone behind in 'Nam, but Face and BA just left him alone in a city park. Were they ever really his friends, or had Face used him in a great big con as he did with his "marks" to avoid Leavenworth? The same with BA. He faced ten years at hard labor for striking a general when Hannibal stepped in.

Maybe he should have let the Army court-martial them instead of pleading with his commanding officer to give them a second chance. Perhaps he was the fool to believe they were worth saving.

Hannibal rolled onto his left side, struggling to get up.

"Easy, lay back," a male voice said. Unknown hands eased Hannibal onto his back.

A man knelt on either side of him.

"What in the hell just happened, Smith?" a growling, gravelly voice said.

Hannibal knew that voice and looked at the man's face. He'd heard that voice since they were cadets at West Point in the same company. Roderick Decker. "I can't answer the question because I don't know myself. How'd you get here so fast?" He thought for a second. "That bimbo at the country club was a plant, correct?"

"Yes. I saw Baracus hit you then both men took off. Since you were down and not getting up, we came to check on you."

"And you couldn't follow them. Convenient." Hannibal gripped his right side. It was becoming harder to breathe. "I think you'd better call an ambulance."

"Already did." Decker placed a reassuring hand on Hannibal's chest. "Hang in there."

Even that light touch sent shockwaves through his body. "Trying," Hannibal said, sucking in air at a rapid rate. He wouldn't be conscious much longer. And now the Army had him before he could set his plan into motion.

"Stay awake. What did you say to them?"

"That the bimbo who wanted to hire us was an Army plant, and we were not taking the mission…and I wanted to turn myself in to get a date with JAG."

"Turn yourself in? JAG?"

Hannibal nodded weakly. "Yeah, I want to prove we were ordered on that mission. I think I can do it now." He grabbed Decker's sleeve, gripping it with his remaining strength. "If I die, Rod. Find the truth. Clear my name. Bury me at Arlington." Decker was the only one he trusted. Everyone else, including the U.S. Army, would bury him in a pauper grave and forget he ever existed.

"You are not going to die."

"I'm not so sure." Hannibal's vision grayed at the edges. "Promise me," he whispered. "Please."

Decker's face softened. "Since you asked that way. I promise."

"Call my uncle, Tim Smith. He should be listed as my next of kin. He'll tell you everything." Hannibal let go. To stay awake meant to take the brunt of the unyielding pain. He couldn't do that anymore. His body had taken too much of a beating over the years.

###

Slowly, Hannibal became aware of his surroundings: cold air on his face, beeping, the rustle of clothing, the uncomfortable mattress under him, and the soft blanket over him. He was alive. Bit by bit, he forced his eyes open. At first, they refused to focus. Everything was blurry. He blinked a few times until this vision cleared.

Above him was an all-white ceiling with recessed fluorescent lighting. An oxygen cannula tickled the inside of his nose. He glanced left. A clear bag of fluids hung from an IV pole. The tubing ran into the catheter inserted under the skin of his forearm. Next to the IV pole was a heart monitor. That was the source of the annoying beeping. His rapid heartbeat.

He looked to the right. Decker sat in a chair, his legs crossed, reading something in a manilla folder.

Hannibal cleared his throat. His throat felt like dry, unprocessed cotton. "Got any water around here?" he whispered.

Decker looked up from the folder in his hands. "Look who finally decided to join us."

"Us?" Why would there be anyone else here?

"Yes." Decker nodded at a man sitting on the couch near the large bay window as he poured water into the plastic cup on the bedside table. This wasn't an ordinary hospital room. It was a private suite.

Hannibal didn't recognize the man wearing two stars, the rank of a major general, on the collar of his heavily starched and pressed OD-green fatigues. "Sir."

"Colonel," the general answered. "I'm General Bullen."

Decker pressed the small pinkish plastic cup into Hannibal's left hand. "Drink this."

"Thanks." Hannibal brought the straw up to his mouth and sipped the water. It cooled his very sore throat. He must have been intubated at some point while he was unconscious. "How long was I out?"

"About fifteen hours."

"What now?" Hannibal asked, setting the half-empty cup on the table.

"Simple. You heal." Decker picked up his discarded folder and sat in his chair.

"Rod, there is more to it than that." What's he not telling me?

"True. But right now, John, you're bed-bound until that tube comes out."

"What tube?" He wasn't restrained. IV lines and the damn Foley catheter shoved up his penis wouldn't keep him in bed.

"The honking big one the size of a semi-truck brake line in your chest."

Hannibal pushed down the light blue blanket covering him up to his armpits. A blood-filled tube inserted into the right side of his chest ran into the electric-powered vacuum suction collection device on the floor. It looked to have about 500 ccs of blood showing in the clear plastic display.

Decker stood and returned to the bed. "John," he said softly, his voice cracking with emotion.

Hannibal looked up at him, shocked to hear such caring in Decker's voice. "Yeah."

"Your prediction almost came true. By the time the ambulance got you to the hospital your face was turning blue. You survived by the thinnest whisker."

"Well, you don't have to keep that promise now." Hannibal released a small laugh. His ribs wouldn't allow him to do much more. And even that hurt like the dickens.

Decker didn't laugh. "Oh, I intend to keep it anyway. This was way too close for my comfort. And guilty men don't give dying declarations asking their current rival to find the truth and clear their name."

Hannibal had to give Decker two points for that one. "True." What else could he say? Decker was right. And only following direct, lawful orders by pursuing them. Hannibal would have done the same thing if their roles were reversed.

"According to your doctor, you have three broken ribs, a bruised jaw, and a bruised liver. One of those ribs punctured…ahh…ahh—" Decker snapped his fingers several times. "What was it."

"The pleural space," said a white-coated man standing on the other side of the bed with a clipboard under his arm.

The doctor entered so quietly that Hannibal didn't hear him. Or maybe that was all the drugs. The IV bag had an orange label – Morphine. Morphine was an opioid that dulled severe pain and muted the senses.

"Your 5th rib to be exact, Colonel Smith," the doctor continued. "The pleural space around your right lung filled with blood and air, causing it to collapse and putting pressure on your heart. I had to intubate you, do an emergency thoracostomy, and give you IV fluids along with six rapidly infused units of blood before you coded on me."

Hannibal nodded. So it was really close.

"Dr. Hebert," Decker said, acknowledging the doctor's presence.

"Colonel Decker," Hebert replied.

"What now, Doc?" Hannibal asked.

"You rest. Your release will depend on when that tube is empty." Hebert knelt and checked the collection container. "And looking at the amount of blood still flowing into the container, that won't be for several days." He wrote on the clipboard and left the room.

Hannibal leaned back into his pillows, drank the remaining liquid in his water cup, and set it on the table.

Decker refilled the cup. "Any ideas as to where the other two went to ground?"

Before yesterday, Hannibal would have told Decker to pound sand. Today, he was torn. But he couldn't get past the betrayal. Years of friendship gone up in a single puff of smoke. "Lieutenant Peck is shacking up in a penthouse apartment somewhere on Wilshire, going by the name of Dr. Donald Blake, a world-renowned gynecologist. Bet that gets him the girls."

Decker looked shocked. "You're going to tell me just that quick?" He glanced at the general then back at Hannibal. "Without a second thought?"

"Yes. They left me to die."

"While I won't argue with that fact, Peck and Baracus probably didn't know you were hurt that bad."

"How the tables have turned," Hannibal said. "You're now the one defending them. They didn't check. Lieutenant Peck said I got what I deserved, then called me a bad actor and walked away."

"Understood. And where can I find Baracus?"

"Sergeant Baracus rents an apartment in a cheap hotel called The Majestic in Central City East."

"Great. Skid Row. Do you know the apartment number?"

"Two-two-three."

"Do you know something else I noticed?" Decker asked.

"What's that?" Hannibal wondered.

"You're using their ranks and last names, not nicknames."

"Nicknames are for friends. I don't consider them my friends anymore. They're soldiers to me. Nothing more. Lock their fucking asses up like I should have done years ago instead of convincing the brass to drop the charges and let me turn them around. What a mistake I made that day."

Decker laughed.

Hannibal cocked his head. "What's so funny?"

"You. Instead of the cocky, arrogant Hannibal Smith, I've been dealing with for the last couple of years, now you sound like Colonel John Smith, the battle-hardened soldier I knew in Vietnam before our fight."

"Yeah, I do. And before we go any farther." This was hard to say. "I'm sorry."

"Me too." Decker pointed at Hannibal, then himself. "We were drunk off our asses that night and let the alcohol do the talking instead of our brains."

"Yes. We both made the same mistake trying to drown the memories of dead friends. Do I get a watcher?"

"You're the one who wanted to turn himself in. You can't even get out of bed. Do you need one?"

"Nope." Hannibal pulled the blanket up to his shoulders. "Go find the two assholes. We'll talk later. I'm going to take a nap. I'm tired."

###

Hannibal dropped his spoon into his empty bowl. The doctor had him on a bland diet. He wanted a hamburger and fries. The nurse brought him a glass of milk, applesauce, a banana, and a bowl of unsalted plain white rice.

Decker entered the room with a massive smile on his face. "Good afternoon."

"I guess you could call it that. From that shit-eating grin, you got them," Hannibal said.

"Sure did." Decker dusted off his hands. "Thanks for the tip."

"You're welcome. Are they cooling their heels in the stockade inside a tiny barred cell?"

"Not yet. They're downstairs in a transport van. I thought you might want to see them."

Hannibal was taken aback. "Why?"

"To show them what they did. They asked if I had captured you. I said yes and no."

"As in, no, you didn't capture me, but yes, I am in custody. Sure. Why not." He wondered what their reaction would be to seeing him in the bed without restraints.

Hannibal turned on the TV. It would take a few minutes for Decker to get downstairs and bring Peck and Baracus back with an entourage of guards. He wondered if he might need protection if they discovered he gave Decker their locations.

Afternoon TV programming mainly consisted of boring game shows, talk shows, and soap operas as he flipped through the channels.

The door opened. Peck and Baracus shuffled in wearing handcuffs and leg irons. Decker wasn't taking any chances with them escaping, or the precautions were purely a defensive move on his part to protect Hannibal from them. Behind them stood four burly MPs armed with wooden batons and holstered .45 caliber pistols.

"Hannibal!" Face blurted out, moving closer to the bed. "Are you okay?"

"As good as I can be with three broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and a bruised liver, courtesy of Sergeant Baracas' fists." Hannibal pulled down the blanket for them to see the blood-filled chest tube. He wished he could wear pajamas and underwear instead of a drafty, nearly non-existent hospital gown. He felt exposed in some private areas for all to see. And he was well above average. Something the nurses noticed from their peeks at his penis and grins when giving him a sponge bath.

Both men gasped.

"That's from BA hitting you?" Face asked.

"Yes," Hannibal replied, scratching his nose. The oxygen cannula in his nostrils made his nose itch. The cannula would stay, giving him supplemental oxygen until his lung was fully inflated and the chest tube came out.

Face turned his head away from Decker and winked.

He thinks I'm faking. Hannibal turned to Decker. "Can I have a few minutes alone with them?"

Decker looked at the two men, then Hannibal. "Two minutes." He pushed the MPs out. The swinging door slowly closed.

Hannibal knew Decker was standing close to the door, listening to the conversation in case things got out of hand.

"How'd you fool the doctor, Hannibal?" Face whispered.

"Fool the doctor?" Hannibal pointed at the chest tube clearly inserted into his flesh. "Do you think I'm faking this, Lieutenant?"

"Well…yeah. Aren't you?" Face looked confused.

"This is real! I damn near died, no thanks to the two of you. You fucking left me! My right lung collapsed, and I couldn't breathe. Decker was watching us in the park due to your country club bimbo. He came to check when I didn't get up. He saved my life."

The two men looked at each other then Hannibal.

"We're sorry, Hannibal," Face said emotionlessly, clearly giving an empty apology.

"Sorry doesn't change what you did, Lieutenant Peck, Sergeant Baracus. I learned a lot about our so-called friendship in those few minutes as I struggled to breathe. I was your biggest mark, correct?"

"No, Hannibal. We made a mistake," Face whined. "We're sorry."

"That mistake nearly cost me everything. My life!"

Decker came in, interrupting at the right moment. "Time to go."

The MPs grabbed the men by the arms and led them out.

BA glared at Hannibal. "Just wait, sucker."

"The next time a bee lands on you, Baracus, I hope the thing sinks that venom-laden stinger into your fucking fat neck."

BA's eyes widened. "You weren't trying to put me on a plane."

"No! Why in freaking hell would you think that?"

The MPs shoved Face and BA out the door. They clearly didn't want to leave. Whether it was out of concern or to beat him up for revenge, Hannibal didn't know.

"That didn't go well," Decker said.

"Yeah, it did. I got to air my grievances with them. You heard?"

Decker nodded. "Yeah. How could I miss it? Peck thought you were fooling the doctor. Does he think Army doctors are that incompetent?"

Hannibal shrugged. "I guess. Who knows what goes through Peck's conniving mind."

###

Hannibal picked up the phone beside his bed. Before he dialed the number, he glanced over at Decker. "Can I make a phone call?"

Decker looked up from the paperwork in his hands and smiled. "Sure. You're not restricted. The other two are in the stockade, and I know you're not planning to escape."

"Yeah." Hannibal dialed the well-known number, put the receiver to his ear, and waited for the ringing to stop.

"LA County morgue, you stab 'em, we slab 'em," a familiar male voice said in a humorous tone.

"Murdock, it's me," Hannibal said, laughing as much as his ribs would allow.

"Hey, Hannibal. Have you heard from BA or Face lately? I called the van, and no one answered."

"They are in the stockade at Fort Franklin, Murdock."

"When?"

"The Army caught them a few hours ago."

"Do you need some help? What are you going to do to get them out?" Murdock asked.

"Nothing. I'm in the hospital at Fort Franklin."

"For what?" Murdock exclaimed so loudly Hannibal had to pull the receiver away from his ear for a few seconds.

Hannibal explained everything that had happened.

"You know they didn't mean it, Hannibal."

"Yes, they did. Baracus hit me with enough force to break my ribs and collapse my lung. Peck stood over me, said that's what you get when you make stupid decisions, called me a bad actor, and walked away. They fucking left me, Murdock. Something they swore never to do, but they did anyway. I can't forgive that."

"You turned them in, didn't you."

"Yes, I did. Got a problem with it, Captain?"

"Yes, but I understand why you're angry."

"Angry doesn't even start to explain how I feel, Murdock. I can't do this forever. My body has been telling me to stop for several years now. The adrenaline kept my Vietnam demons away, so I kept going. I want a normal life. I want to see my kids graduate high school." Hannibal stopped. That was not something he planned to say. It just slipped out.

"See your kids graduate high school? Is there something you're not telling me? Is Maggie pregnant?" Murdock asked.

Hannibal glanced at Decker, who stared at him. He caught the faux pax, too. Oops. Damn drugs. "Yeah, twins. That's why I haven't been in LA much lately. I've been taking care of her and fixing things around the house. I even stopped smoking cigars cold turkey. She needs me. I want to marry her. I can't do that on the run and put her life in danger."

"I get it, Hannibal. Maybe you should have told them why you wanted to turn yourself in. Why you wanted to plead your case with JAG."

"That was my plan until Baracus broke my ribs, and they left me to die. I never got the chance."

"Oh!"

"In many ways, this is better. I learned their true character the hard way and shed some weight off my shoulders. Peck, I'm sure, wouldn't let The A-Team go and bug me constantly to join them." Something he didn't want to do anymore. Hannibal laughed. He hated the name, The A-Team. It wasn't even Peck's idea. The title came from the media. Commando team saves whoever or whatever didn't have that headline ring, but The A-Team did. Even with Murdock, four men didn't even come close to making up an actual Special Forces "A-Team," or "B" or "C" Team, for that matter.

"You really feel it's over with them!" Murdock sounded distraught.

"Yes. It is for me. They broke the pact, Murdock. They…left…me. Decker saved my life." Something that now didn't feel all that strange to say. They had been friends long before he ever met Murdock, Peck, and Baracus.

"I understand, Hannibal. Call me when you can. Take care of yourself."

The phone clicked as Murdock hung up.

That could have gone better. Hannibal placed the receiver on the cradle.

Decker scooted his chair closer to the bed. "Is there something you want to tell me?"

"You heard?" Hannibal knew Decker did. He was just being polite.

"That was hard to miss. You didn't intend to say that, did you?"

Hannibal shook his head. "No, but now that I did. Yes, I have a pregnant girlfriend who I want to marry." Why not. He was deep in the weeds now. "Her name is Maggie…Sullivan. She served in Vietnam at the 12th Evacuation Hospital at the Củ Chi Base Camp, covering the 25th Infantry Division's area." He had a hard time saying this. "I've spent many nights with her holding me and my head against her shoulder, crying, spilling my guts about what happened to me in that POW camp, battles in Vietnam, the men I lost. I can tell her things for some reason that I can't tell anyone else."

"You know I understand. But now everything makes sense on why you decided to do this now. You're going to be a father. Congratulations. JAG is interviewing your uncle and following up on those leads. From what he told me, you've been so royally screwed over. I had no idea he was part of Nixon's cabinet."

"That's how all this got started. After my father died in World War II in France, he raised me with his son, Jason. When Jason died in Vietnam, Uncle Tim immediately asked the Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff to send me home. He considers me his son. I'm all the family he has left."

Decker nodded. "Yeah, I know. He's been investigating this since you were arrested. He knew those orders were cut and delivered to Morrison's office six days before the three of you left for Hanoi. You shouldn't have even been still in-country but were never notified of those orders or your promotion to full bird. Why didn't he get involved then?"

"Politics. I wanted to protect him, especially after Nixon resigned, but when Maggie told me she was pregnant, my status had to change. He agreed, made copies of everything, and sent them to me. Now you and JAG have them." Hannibal sighed. "And now we wait for the brass to make a decision."

"We know how that goes, don't we?"

"Yeah. Forever."

"I can arrange for Maggie to visit you." Decker tugged on his sleeve. "She is former Army, and what…a nurse?"

"No, a doctor."

"Shouldn't be a problem to ask your doctor to sneak her in for a while."

Hannibal never expected to hear Decker contemplating on how to circumvent the regulations.

"Close your mouth. Don't look so surprised."

Hannibal shut his mouth. "But I am."

"You'd do the same thing in my place."

"True." He would.

Decker pointed at the eagle on the collar of his OD-green pressed fatigues. "Did your uncle ever tell you what your next posting was supposed to be once you arrived back in the "world?"

Hannibal shook his head. "No." Was it something special?

"Commanding officer of the TAC officers and a tactical instructor at West Point. He used your Medal of Honor to get you that assignment."

"And I would have loved it." Yep. Special.

"Once the charges are dropped, do you still want it?"

Would the Army really give it to him? "Absolutely. It would ease me back into the ranks and make everything full circle."

"I'll tell General Bullen. He can forward that request up the chain of command."

"Request?" He hadn't even been cleared. And there were still possible pending charges from the prison escape. He wasn't out of the woods…yet.

"Stop worrying. Things will work out."

"I hope so because they haven't in over twelve years."

###

Hannibal opened his eyes and glanced around the empty hospital room. It was 0800 hours. Decker usually arrived around 0730, right after his nurse delivered breakfast. Where was he? And his nurse didn't wake him by slamming a food tray on his bedside table.

Dr. Hebert entered the room with his usual clipboard. "Good morning, Colonel Smith."

"I guess you can call it that," Hannibal replied.

"Someone is in a bad mood."

"Doc, I'm ready for this damn tube to come out. I want to get out of this bed. My butt is numb."

Dr. Hebert laughed. "I'll call in a neurologist to check on that."

"Haha, Doc. It ain't that numb."

"I have a visitor for you." Hebert pushed the door open.

Maggie came in dressed in a purple maternity blouse with her stomach protruding slightly over her faded blue jeans. Her beauty overwhelmed him with her silky brown shoulder-length hair framing her delicate features. He was so glad to see her. Now he knew why Decker wasn't here. What he didn't see, he didn't have to report.

Hannibal sat up in his bed, stuffing his pillows behind his back. "Hi."

"Hi yourself." Maggie kissed his cheek then checked the collection container on the floor. Always the doctor. "That tube should come out soon."

"Thank God."

Maggie rolled her eyes. "Always the impatient one."

"And he's a horrible patient," Dr. Hebert said.

"I know that all too well," Maggie replied.

Dr. Hebert checked the container as well. "I agree with her on the tube. It may come out this afternoon or tonight. I'll leave you two alone for a while."

After the door closed, Maggie sat in the chair beside the bed, holding Hannibal's right hand. "I got a surprise call from Colonel Decker last night. He told me your plan is in motion and what happened with BA and Face. I can't believe BA hit you that hard or that they left you."

Hannibal sighed. "I can. Peck is a narcissist and selfish beyond belief. He thinks only of himself and that everyone owes him for being an orphan. Baracus has always been a hothead, slugging anyone he believes wronged him instead of thinking first. A bad combination. Both of them were never a fit for a career in the Army."

"Is your friendship really over? Having seen you guys work together, knowing how close you are, it's hard for me to fathom."

"Yes. Like I told Murdock, I can't forgive them for leaving me. Something I would never have done. It is what it is."

Maggie laid her head next to Hannibal's on the pillow. He enjoyed her presence and touch in the quiet tranquility of his hospital room.

The door hinges squeaked, causing Maggie to stand and face the door. Hannibal was annoyed. They only got about fifteen minutes of alone time.

Decker entered, then held the door open. "I'm sorry, but this can't wait."

General Bullen came into the room wearing his class A green dress uniform with his hat tucked under his arm. A few steps behind him was another man in a class A uniform, carrying a brown leather briefcase. Hannibal recognized him from the TV news reports. General Anthony Banner, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff.

Hannibal straightened, nearly jumping out of the bed at attention. Only the painful pull of the tube in his chest and Maggie's tight grip on his hand reminded him that was not a good idea.

The last man to enter was a shorter, stockier, older man with pure white hair wearing blue jeans and a gray polo shirt, his Uncle Tim. The man who got the ball rolling.

Unlike Decker and the generals who moved to the other side of the room, Uncle Tim came directly to the bed and held out his right hand. "Hey, kid. It's good to see you."

Hannibal smiled and shook his uncle's hand. He hadn't been called "kid" in a long time. And at over fifty years old, he was definitely not a kid anymore.

"Same here, Uncle Tim. If you're here, this must be good news…I hope."

"I'll let General Banner explain it." Uncle Tim looped his arm around Maggie's shoulders and kissed her cheek. "How are my grandkids?"

Maggie patted her stomach. "According to my last ultrasound, doing good."

Hannibal saw a smile on Decker's face. He loved seeing Hannibal squirm about this. They hadn't told Tim the ultrasound results showed the babies were boys.

General Banner set his briefcase on Hannibal's bedside table, opened it, and pulled out a folder. "First, Colonel Smith, I want to apologize for the length of time it took for this wrong to be righted. JAG took the information provided to Colonel Decker by Tim Smith. They confirmed the orders issued in 1972 by then Army Chief of Staff General Westmoreland for your return to the states, your appointment as an adjunct tactics professor and CO of the TAC officers at West Point, and your promotion."

"And sir? There is always an and," Hannibal said.

"I guess there is. They also confirmed that Morrison's office received those orders and notification of your promotion to full colonel. Why he sent you on that mission in violation of his and your orders or never informed you of said promotion has not been determined."

"And sir?" Make that two ands.

"We located the top secret, compartmentalized orders for that mission. The CIA issued them."

Hannibal wanted to scream. He hated working for the CIA. Their missions were always FUBAR-Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. No wonder it became such a political mess.

"As of this morning, Colonel Smith, all charges against you have been dismissed without prejudice." General Banner held out his hand. "Welcome home."

Hannibal shook the general's hand. He had waited so long to hear those two words. The thousands of pounds weighing down his shoulders since 1972 suddenly disappeared.

"What about the escape, sir?" Would he be charged?

"Forget that even happened. You shouldn't have been there in the first place."

"That decision also pertains to Lieutenant Peck and Sergeant Baracus, correct, sir?" Hannibal asked. While they weren't his friends anymore, he was responsible for them.

"Yes, it does, but there is another issue to be determined here, Colonel."

"Which is, sir?"

"What to do with them. Technically, when Sergeant Baracus hit you a few days ago, you were still an Army officer. He can be charged with assault on a superior commissioned officer, which could give him up to ten years at Leavenworth. And this isn't the first time. He had a long record of doing this to multiple officers."

"I know, sir. What else?"

"Lieutenant Peck, by leaving you injured, can be charged with conduct unbecoming an officer, which can include fines, reduction in rank, confinement for up to a year, a dishonorable discharge, or all of it."

"You're leaving the decision up to me?"

"I think that is fair. Don't you?"

"Yeah." Hannibal thought about it for a moment. "Don't release them until I can go see them at the stockade. I want to have a long talk with them."

Maggie, Uncle Tim, and even Decker stared at him. He understood why.

"I want to see their reaction to what I tell them I could do and go from there," Hannibal explained. "After that, I never want to see them again. They can live their own lives. I just don't want them part of mine anymore."

"Understood, Colonel." Banner nodded. "I like your approach. Your next assignment is the one you never got."

"West Point?"

"Yes. The current cadets would benefit from a tactics instructor who earned the Medal of Honor as a PFC for his use of tactics in saving the lives of over a hundred men during the Korean War. All before he was a cadet at West Point. I'd love to hear your version of what happened sometime."

"Yes, sir. I'll probably tell it the first day of class as an icebreaker." Hannibal smiled. "That medal still didn't get me out of bracing, mail calls, marching to class, inspections, being the Gunner or Beverage Corporal at the mess hall, regurgitating info ad nauseam from the Bugle Notes, reading my five articles in the New York Times, or endless, unwarranted demerits from the upperclassmen." However, he still had fewer demerits than Decker, who led their flanker company—M-2—in area tours in front of the barracks in the North Area. But neither one of them was a Century Man with 100+ area tours. That award went to Cadet Dennis Kelce in one of the runt companies—L-1.

"Meaning they hazed and treated you badly just like every other lowly Plebe."

"Yes, sir," Hannibal popped off. "But that medal on the light blue neck ribbon sure turned heads when I wore my full dress gray uniform to formal events." The only good thing about having the Medal of Honor was it got him into West Point. He was glad he wasn't the first cadet with the Medal of Honor to attend the academy. That title went to Cadet Calvin Pearl Titus, Class of 1905, who received his as a private at the Battle of Peking during the Boxer Rebellion in the year 1900, fifty-three years before Hannibal arrived for Beast Barracks.

###

The bright white full moon shone brightly as Hannibal stood before the base hotel room window, staring at the darkness beyond. Lightly, he fingered the taped-down white gauze bandage covering the hole where the chest tube was located until about ten hours ago. He still ached all over but was glad to be out of the hospital. Now he had more of an expectation of privacy instead of a nurse barging in every hour to check his vital signs. And get a lot more sleep.

Maggie placed her hand on his bare shoulder. "John, it's three o'clock in the morning. You had a very long day yesterday with the brass taking you to the Officers Club to celebrate. Come back to bed. It's going to be another long day. You need your rest."

"I will in a few minutes." Hannibal chuckled. Maggie would only let him have one small glass of champagne last night. Not that he wanted more, but she flipped his glass over immediately after he drank the contents, saying since he was still on pain medication, he shouldn't be drinking.

"Look at me." She turned him to face her, looping her arms around his neck. "That wasn't a something funny laugh. What's wrong?"

Hannibal shook his head. "Nothing."

"Don't lie to me. You're a bad liar."

"Just thinking about what I am going to say to Peck and Baracus."

"That I understand. I wouldn't either in your place." She released his neck and took his hand, pulling slightly. "Come back to bed before I made it a medical order…Colonel."

"Okay." Hannibal shut the blinds, allowing her to lead him to the bed. He let her lie down first and get comfortable. Then he lay beside her on his back. Laying on his left or right side put too much pressure on his ribs, and it hurt to breathe.

Maggie snuggled up against him. Her warmth made him feel safe. He closed his eyes and let sleep take him for a few more hours.

###

Hannibal looked up at the large, imposing red brick rectangular building. The large black and white sign above the door proclaimed it to be the Fort Franklin stockade. He wanted to forget the last time he shuffled into a building similar to this one under arrest, shackled hand and foot, and not knowing what in the hell was going on.

He brushed his hand across the ribbons on his class A green uniform jacket he has earned throughout his career, including a few new ones. In addition to the medals he knew about: The Medal of Honor, DSM, Silver Star, Soldiers Medal, Bronze Star with V device, Joint Service Commendation, Army Commendation, Purple Heart with a silver oak leaf cluster, National Defense with bronze star, Korean Service with three battle stars, Armed Forces Expeditionary, Vietnam Service with a silver star, and Vietnam Campaign. Somehow, he'd earned several others General Banner awarded him last night at the Officers Club: Distinguished Service Cross, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service, Air Medal, and a brand-new medal for former Prisoners of War. Above the ribbons was his 2nd Award Combat Infantry Badge, and below them was his Senior Parachutist Badge.

The best part of the evening was when the general swore him in front of everyone in the dining room, pinned sterling silver eagles to his shoulder epaulets, and everyone applauded.

Today wasn't going to be that good of a day.

Hannibal straightened his jacket and Green Beret with the 5th Special Forces Group flash, opened the door for Maggie, then followed her into the building. This time, he was greeted by uniformed soldiers snapping to attention instead of being naked for a chemical wash down with a hose and a bad two minutes as the barber scrapped his head bald with a dull straight razor.

General Banner, Colonel Decker, and Uncle Tim waited for them in the lobby.

"Are you ready for this?" Decker asked.

"As I ever will be," Hannibal replied, gripping Maggie's hand.

"I was about to ask the same question," Maggie said. "You told me how being locked up bothered you the last time."

"Yeah, well, I'm on the outside of the bars this time."

Decker led them through several locked doors into the maximum-security prisoner cellblock.

Hannibal smiled. Decker had placed Peck and Baracus in the dankest, darkest, nastiest place in the entire facility. The concrete walls were damp from floor to ceiling with dripping condensation. The stainless steel toilets and sinks inside the cells were covered in layered-on bodily waste and filth. The smell of the room would offend the dead. From the boot prints in the dust, the bare concrete floor hadn't been swept in a long time. Even all that feculence wouldn't teach either Perk or Baracus any humility or compassion.

Peck and Baracus stood and approached their cell doors. Both men were dressed in faded OD-green fatigues with a large black P on the back of the shirts.

"Are you okay, Hannibal?" Peck asked.

"As well as can be expected after a nearly week-long stay in the hospital with a collapsed lung and a chest tube. If you haven't figured it out yet, Lieutenant. I wasn't faking. I damn near died no thanks to the two of you."

"And we're sorry for that," Peck said, gripping the bars.

Baracus remained quiet, but his hard stare said he wasn't happy about being locked up.

"As I said before, sorry doesn't cut it with me. Not now. Not ever. Are you sorry for what you did or sorry I didn't die."

"That's not fair, Hannibal," Peck whined.

"Yes, Lieutenant, it is. Here's the deal. My, according to you, stupid plan, worked, except Colonel Decker is the one who took the lead on it instead of me. He kept his promise to me when I thought I was going to die that day. You and Baracus broke the pact. Something I would never do. You left me."

"But…but…"

Hannibal cut him off. "But what? Let me finish. As of yesterday, all the charges against the three of us have been dropped, never to return. I'm returning to my career, at least what's left of it. You two, though, are facing new charges if I choose to pursue it."

Peck and Baracus looked at each other, then Hannibal.

"What charges?" Peck asked.

Baracus growled low in his throat. He obviously knew.

"For you, Lieutenant, Article 133 of the UCMJ, Conduct Unbecoming an Officer, which is punishable by fines, reduction in rank, confinement for up to a year, a dishonorable discharge, or all of it."

"Let me step in here, Colonel Smith. JAG called me this morning to provide me with some more information." General Banner said. "If you two don't know who I am, I'm General Banner, the Army Chief of Staff. While investigating this case, JAG checked into your background, Lieutenant Peck. It seems you never took or passed the Special Forces Qualification Course or any other phase of training at the Special Warfare Center."

Hannibal looked at the general. "You mean that was all a con, too." I'm such a fool for not catching that fake paperwork.

"It seems so, Colonel. Therefore, I would listen to Colonel Smith. Lieutenant, keep your mouth shut! I can have you charged with separate counts of Articles 133 and 107 for falsifying your records to get into the 5th Special Forces Group. The floor is yours, Colonel Smith."

"Thank you, sir." Hannibal stepped in front of Baracus' cell. "As for you, Sergeant, Article 89, Assault of a Superior Commissioned Officer, which comes with a dishonorable discharge, loss of all rank, privileges, and ten years hard labor at Leavenworth. The same charge I worked my ass off to get General Ludlam to drop. Now I wish I hadn't put my reputation on the line and gone to bat for you."

Baracus glared at him, finally speaking. "What do you want?"

"I want both of you out of my life. That means no contact unless I initiate it. You have your own lives to live. I suggest you do so. I want to live mine in peace and finish my career on my own terms. Maggie's pregnant. I'm going to marry her, and I don't need to deal with the never-ending complicated baggage that comes with dealing with you two."

"You really feel that way, Hannibal?" Baracus asked. It was finally dawning on him how serious this situation had become and how their recent decisions played into it.

"Yes, I do. I learned a lot that day. You crushed my ribs on purpose. The same ones the POW camp guards smashed with a baseball bat. You knew what you were doing. And I can't forgive you for that. Like I can't forgive Peck for his insults as I lay on the ground, nearly unable to breathe, and both of you walked away. I almost fucking died. You broke the pact. We didn't know doesn't cut it, as you never even checked on me."

"What do we get if we agree never to see you again?" Peck asked, still showing no emotion.

"I don't file charges. It's that simple. And I want to see a check with my part of our retirement account and a full accounting of the money by the end of next week to start a trust fund for my children and Maggie. Is that clear enough for you?"

Peck looked at Baracus, who nodded.

"Okay, deal!" Peck pointed at the cell door. "When do we get out of here?"

"When I say so, Lieutenant. While Colonel Smith is not going to get involved in this, I am. You both will receive less than honorable discharges under my authority." General Banner turned to Hannibal. "Colonel, I'll take it from here. Follow Dr. Sullivan's recommendations. Take it easy. Once you pass a light-duty physical, your orders will be cut for West Point, and moving arrangements made for your personal items. I'll be in contact."

Hannibal snapped to attention. "Yes, sir." Maggie grabbed his hand, and they left the cellblock. Neither one of them wanted to be a witness to the rest of this conversation. It wasn't going to be pretty. He hoped Baracus wouldn't take a swing at the general or Decker, or maybe he did hope that happened. Maybe Baracus would learn to think first before letting loose with his fists after a few years in prison.

Once outside the building, Hannibal came to attention and saluted the American flag at the top of the flagpole. His old life had now ended, and a new one was beginning. A much more happy and joyous life, he hoped. One with a family and a future.

Things were now full circle with his staff appointment to West Point. Never would he say I love it when a plan comes together. That ended a few minutes ago with the symbolic death of The A-Team. And his nickname, Hannibal, died with it. He never liked the name his squad saddled him with in Korea after the Battle of Hill Eerie. It was time to wipe the slate clean. Today, he was John Charles Smith. He liked the name John. It meant "graced by God" in Hebrew and exuded strength, smarts, and kindness. His uncle always told him that he fit all three of those descriptions.

There was an idea. His uncle called him Jack while growing up. If it was good enough for President John F. Kennedy, it was now good enough for him.