Title: Dog Park
Author: Reckless (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Disclaimer: The A-Team characters belong to Stephen J. Cannell and Universal.
Warning: Lots of angst. Some sap.
Comments: Please. Honest criticism is welcome.
[Special thanks to Lark, Fingers, auntiehill and Elizabeth Kent for their comments]
************* NOTE *************
He drove the little Mercedes through the canyon. Even though it was not rush hour, the single lane up Crescent Heights moved slowly. Inching along, he tried to look over the cars in front of him to see if there was an accident. Damn, Face thought, I'm going to be late.
At least he wasn't stuck in the 'vette, he mused. The stick shift in this traffic on a hill would have been a major annoyance. He had been forced to get rid of the other convertible after he went back into hiding. "Too conspicuous," Hannibal had said when he gave his command decision. After all, the car had been the subject of its own news coverage when the press was speculating about its owner, the "mystery man" who had saved a bunch of hostages in a restaurant.
Face finally saw the cause of the problem. The few trailers blocking the right lane signaled a movie shoot. Actually, seeing only a couple of trailers, he guessed it was probably for TV. Inwardly he groaned. Gee, you'd think these guys owned the city from the way they blocked traffic. It wasn't as if anyone else needed to use the streets in L.A.
Seeing the moonlighting cop who was waving traffic, Face lowered his head so that the officer could not see under Face's baseball cap. No reason to take chances. Then, finally free of the roadblock, Face hit the accelerator. His lips did a little dance as the new car took off down the road. There really was no comparison between the Mercedes and 'vette. The Germans sure knew more about handling, making the new convertible a joy to drive. Still, he missed the flashy corvette and wondered how its new owner was treating it.
In only moments, he hit Mulholland and took a left. Scanning both sides of the road, he finally saw the turnoff. There it was, Laurel Canyon Off-Leash Dog Park. Turning left, he followed the entrance down the hill from the road.
There were barely any cars in the lot, which was not too surprising given the time and the weather. As he pulled into a parking spot, he looked around, but did not see what he was looking for. For the second time, he wondered if he was too late.
He slowly opened the door and pulled his jacket close. Even in early April, L.A. could still be cold. As he stepped out, he felt a stab of pain in his right leg, a reminder of everything that had happened. As if he might somehow forget. More than three months had passed since Stockwell had broken the limb and it still hurt in the cold weather. Face's orthopedist said it probably needed surgery, but right now, Face was staying as far away from hospitals as he could.
He glanced up at the ominous, gray clouds overhead and adjusted the baseball cap on his head. It would have to rain now, he thought. That would be just the perfect topper to this day. Then he looked around, saw the gate, and walked toward it, gingerly flexing his leg to see if the pain would go away. Slowly, he made his way past the gate as the sound of barking dogs greeted his entrance.
Where would they be? he wondered as he surveyed the mountainside grounds and the city below. The fenced-in area was fairly large, though mostly unoccupied. A long slope led downward to the trees that surrounded the enclosed area, though a few remained inside to provide shade on hot summer days. Of course, they were hardly necessary on a day like today. To confirm that thought, a cold blast of wind stung his eyes, and he lowered the bill of the cap to ward off the chill. He thought he felt a few drops of rain against his cheek, but it might have just been his imagination.
Near the entrance, Face saw a couple of old ladies sitting on a bench tossing bits of food to a tiny, white, fluffy thing. A couple was walking a basset hound and a few people were hovering over two terriers that were rolling over on one another. No, he surmised, those were definitely wrong. He scanned the rest of the park, but it was completely empty.
Face cursed himself for being too late and vowed to honk his horn the entire drive back down the canyon in order to disrupt the TV shoot. A small measure of revenge perhaps, but revenge nonetheless.
As he turned to leave, a dark flash from the bottom of the hill caught his eye. He turned back and saw a black dog circle and race behind the trees. He could not see where the dog went, but it meant there must be more to the park than he could see from the top of the slope. Suddenly the black dog reemerged from its hiding place and raced after a bouncing ball. Even from a distance, Face could tell the dog was a beauty. Its long coat flowed and a bushy black tail laid out straight behind the dog as it chased the ball. A retriever, he realized as he allowed a wistful smile to cross his face.
"Watch your step, son." The old lady's voice startled him. He turned and saw one of the women who had previously been feeding the white fluffball looking at him. The little dog also looked in his direction, but more in annoyance that his arrival had interrupted the dog's snack.
"I. . . I'm sorry? I didn't hear you."
"I told you to watch your step. That slope is a little slippery and I see you're limping a bit."
He smiled at her. He had not realized he had started walking down the slope.
"Thanks, ma'am. You're right. I'm a little unsteady, but I'll be okay."
The woman squinted at him slightly and her brow furrowed. He recognized the look as one he received often. "You look very familiar. Have I seen you somewhere before?"
Though the real answer was undoubtedly yes, he shook his head. "No ma'am. I don't think so."
He could see her cheek expand outward as her tongue pushed against it. She raised one finger to her lip and studied him. Under her scrutiny, Face was glad that he had dyed his hair a dark brown and had grown a goatee. More of Hannibal's commands that Face had initially opposed, but now conceded were smart decisions. Between the dark hair, goatee and baseball cap, he doubted the woman would be able to connect him to the old news reports. Finally, the woman lowered her hand and shrugged her shoulders. "No, I guess not. You must just look like an actor on TV or something."
He nodded. "Maybe. Anyway, thanks for the advice. I'll be careful on my way down."
With care, he walked down the slope. The woman had been right about the slope being slippery, and Face could picture his embarrassment at having to explain to Hannibal that he had reinjured his leg at a dog park. Knowing that Hannibal would ask why Face was there in the first place made Face even more cautious.
As he approached the treeline, he saw the black dog come into view again. For the first time, he could see the sheen in the dog's coat, as if its long hair were tinged with satin. It loped after the ball with its mouth pulled back as if in an ear-to-ear grin. It grabbed the toy and turned back to return in the direction from which it had come.
WHOMP. Face barely saw the gray blur before it ran over the retriever. Another dog leaped from behind the trees and careened into the black dog. Seeing that the force of the impact had knocked the ball free from the retriever, the other dog picked up the ball and proudly pranced back behind the trees. The black dog followed in hot pursuit. The image of BA chasing Murdock after a plane ride suddenly popped into Face's head.
Moving behind the trees so he could not be seen, he peeked around to where the dogs had gone. There, sitting on a bench about twenty feet away, was a lone figure. A woman.
Even in the cold, he felt beads of perspiration form on his brow. He wiped away the sweat as he stared at her, thankful that the bench was angled so she had her back to him.
Face watched her take the ball that the gray dog had dropped. She held it patiently until the black dog sat in rapt attention, still with that wide grin on its face. Then she tossed the ball over her shoulder in the direction of the trees where Face was hiding. He noticed that her eyes never followed the ball, but instead looked down at her lap. She's reading a book, he realized.
The black blur whizzed by him, but Face kept his eyes on the bench. He could only see the back of her head, but even that caused his pulse to speed up. Her hair had grown longer. When he had seen her last in January, it was just above her shoulders. Now it was falling down to her shoulder blades. Did hair grow that quick? he asked himself. Or was it just that so much time had passed? More than anything he wanted to sneak up behind her and run his hands through that thick hair, but something held him back. The uneasiness stirred within him. So much might have changed in four months. She probably had moved on. Would she even want to look at him?
Something hitting his leg broke his reverie. Looking down, he saw the gray dog. Well, not exactly gray. Its mottled coat, with splashes of black, white, brown and gray, only gave the overall appearance of gray. The dog stared up at him. In its face, between a mask of gray, brown and black fur, Face was astonished to see bright blue eyes, almost the color of his own.
Face recognized the pleading look in those eyes. Reaching down, he rubbed the dog right along the ridge above its mask. In response, the dog tilted its head, pushing Face's hand behind its ears.
"Oh, a dog that knows what it wants," he commented before he could stop himself. Realizing that he had spoken, he jerked his head back to the bench in the hope the seated woman had not heard him. She had.
Without turning, she spoke. "Is Duke bothering you?"
He lowered his voice and tried to disguise it with a slight twang. "Oh, no. He's just being friendly."
"I'm sorry," she sighed. "He can be a nuisance sometimes."
Just hearing her voice made his stomach do a flip. He tried to think of a way to keep her talking. "It's not a bother. He's a real unusual looking dog. I don't think I've ever seen anything like him."
"He's just a mutt. Probably part blue heeler, an Australian breed." Her rehearsed answer betrayed no emotion and she still did not turn around. Obviously, she had participated in this conversation before. He watched as the black dog returned with the ball and the owner patiently tossed it again. Ignoring Face, she returned her attention to her book.
Watching, Face lifted his hand, but the dog shoved a wet nose insistently back against his palm. Face laughed slightly at the demand for attention, but he kept his eyes trained on the woman.
He tried to think of a witty remark. A few months ago, it would have been easy. He would have flashed a broad smile, a twinkle in his eye and she, like any woman, would have fallen into his arms. An easy conquest perhaps, but one without meaning. Now words eluded him.
But what could he really say? I'm sorry for leaving you without a word for four months? I love you, but I chose my friends over you? I'd like to spend my life with you, but I have to leave on a deadly mission tomorrow? Somehow, none of them seemed appropriate as he watched the black dog return the ball to its owner.
"You really have the black one trained," he said lamely. Was that really the best he could do?
"Ella just likes to chase things." Her tone never wavered.
"Duke and Ella," he chuckled to himself. "You've got a good jazz combo there."
She didn't respond and he could tell she wanted him to leave. Probably she was sick and tired of getting harassed at the park. Face knew how attractive she was. Granted no one would mistake her for a model or a movie star, but, to him, she was the most beautiful woman in the world. He could not imagine any man not wanting her.
Again the thought crossed his mind. She's moved on. She probably has found someone else. She's forgotten you. You should leave.
Face turned to go, giving one more vigorous rub to Duke's ears. But he stopped. He needed to know the truth. If he left now, he would spend an eternity wondering.
Coming up with a quick strategy, he spoke again. "You know, if you're such a big jazz fan, maybe we could go out sometime. I know a few good clubs."
"Look," she said and he could tell even without seeing her face that she was exasperated. "I'm sure you're a nice guy. But I come here so I can spend a little peaceful time with my dogs. Isn't it possible that I could just do that without someone hitting on me?"
"I didn't mean it . . . I'm sorry . . . It's just that I could hardly let this opportunity go by . . . But, um, you probably have a boyfriend anyway."
Her response sounded tired, a mix of resignation and the same exasperation as her previous comments. "If you must know, yes." Softly, she added, "There is someone."
Her words slammed into his gut like a punch. He shut his eyes tight and tried to capture a breath. But a tiny voice at the back of his head reminded him, 'you wanted to know.' Struggling to recover, he forced himself to speak without showing his disappointment.
"Oh . . . I'm, uh, glad . . . I hope you're very happy together."
He was already walking away when he heard her trying to suppress her nearly silent sobs. Most people would never have heard them, but he had honed his hearing during late-night watches in the jungles of Vietnam. Looking back at the bench, he saw her book on the ground. She had curled her knees into her arms and was resting her head against her knees. Her entire body trembled. The black dog stood beside its owner and nuzzled her gently. Face looked down at the gray dog still by his side, only to see the dog's blue eyes staring up reproachfully.
"I-I'm sorry . . . I didn't mean to make you cry," he apologized. To the woman, not the dog.
She lifted her hand above her shoulder and waved it dismissively. "No. It . . . It's not that . . . It's just what you said . . . There is someone, but . . . but he's gone . . . he had to leave . . ." Her voice trailed off quietly and her sobs grew a little louder.
Her words should have made his heart leap, but seeing her like this made him ache even more. He wanted to comfort her, to hug her, to hold her. But he couldn't do that to her. If she was in such pain now, it would only cause her more pain if he came back now only to leave again.
In anguish, he cursed himself for doing this to her. Why couldn't he do anything without screwing things up and hurting people? And getting hurt himself. Why was he even wondering? After all, wasn't that the story of his entire life?
"I'm sorry," he whispered quickly. He noticed that the gray dog had returned to its owner and, like the black, was trying to comfort her. At least she isn't all alone, he thought as he turned and started for the hill.
Her soft voice from behind his back carried through the park. "I just want to see him . . . If only for a moment . . . To know he's okay . . ."
Face spun around.
Her head no longer rested in her hands. Still with her back to him, she stared across the park out to where the city below stood visible through the trees. He imagined her wondering where in the city -- or anywhere -- he was. He pictured her scanning crowds at restaurants and movies in the faint hope that she might find him there. The same way he looked for her whenever he was in a public place.
'Go to her,' the voice in the back of his mind urged. There was nothing that he wanted to do more, but something still held him back. She was suffering now, but would it be any better if he came back into her life? Wouldn't she suffer this same pain after every stolen moment he spent with her? A day here, a day there, broken up by months when death was an everyday possibility. How could he put her through that?
He felt a white-hot rage beginning to replace his pain. All his life he had never been able to have what he wanted. Now he was standing a few feet away from the woman he loved but could not have. Damn the world for giving him a life he would not wish on his worst enemy. Damn the army for giving and then taking away a real future. Damn Hannibal for putting him through twenty years on the run.
No. Damn himself. He could not blame Hannibal. Face had been old enough to make his own decision. He had decided to run. Twenty years ago . . . Four months ago.
He could almost hear the colonel's voice: "Come on, kid. Snap out of it." The colonel would probably add some witty comment about how self-pity would destroy the lieutenant's youthful appeal. As if anything about Face felt youthful right now.
He stared back at where she sat. Even from behind her, he could tell she still scanned the city, still wondering where he was.
That knowledge amazed him. He knew exactly what she was thinking. How? he wondered. He had only known her for a few months, and, yet . . . he knew. He just knew. Somehow, even in the short time that they had been honest with each other, he had exposed more of himself to her than to anyone else. More than Murdock. Far more than Hannibal. To the team, he was still the same old Faceman. A bit more somber perhaps since he had given up his pardon, but to them that was understandable after what he had gone through. Or at least what they thought he had gone through. Certain things were better left unsaid.
But there was something different with her, something greater than both of them, something only the two of them shared. There really was no other way to explain it.
BA would laugh and say Face was "bein' as crazy as the fool," while Murdock would come up with some psychobabble explanation of questionable validity. And Hannibal? What would the colonel do? He would definitely look Face in the eye. But would the look be a cold, icy stare or a brilliant gleam in Hannibal's blue eyes? Face wasn't sure.
He wasn't sure of anything.
He looked at the bench again. She had picked up the ball again and was absentmindedly preparing to throw. The black dog watched her owner with rapt attention, but the gray dog glared at Face with a look of reproval. As if the dog knew exactly what Face was thinking.
As she raised her arm to throw the ball, one thought leaped into his mind. I'm sure of one thing. I love her. It would have to be enough.
"I'm glad you found real dogs . . . Retrievers . . . not rats," he said in his real voice.
The woman froze, her arm still raised, her hand still holding the ball. Then, as if in a daze, she rose and, ignoring the insistent barks of the black dog, she turned around.
God, she was more lovely than he remembered. Her black hair framed her oval face and her mouth hung slightly agape. Her eyes, still red from crying, were as dark as he remembered. Though he wanted to blink away the tears forming in his own eyes, he forced them to stay open, afraid of losing sight of her, if even for a moment.
He watched as she took a deep breath, knowing that the look on her face and the tears in her eyes mirrored his own.
"Tem," she whispered. "Is it really . . ."
"It's me, Nancy," he answered as his voice broke.
Slowly, tentatively, they approached one another. He grasped her arm in his right hand and used his left to brush back some of the hair that had fallen onto her cheek. Brushing her cheek reminded him of the first time they had touched, the first time he realized what she meant to him.
"Nancy . . ." He could not hide the anguish in his voice. "I'm so confused . . . I want you so much, but I can't stay . . ." He swallowed heavily before continuing.
"I don't want to hurt you again."
"Shh, Tem. You could never hurt me. As long as I know that you'll be coming back -- if only for a moment -- it's enough." She reached up and traced the line of his jaw as he stared into her dark, tear-filled eyes. "It's better than knowing you're out there without me."
He felt something rub against his jaw and realized that she still held the ball in her hand. Taking it from her, he backhanded the ball into the distance and saw, out the corner of his eye, the black dog race away. As Face leaned forward to kiss Nancy, he saw the gray dog watching them from behind her. Like Face's own eyes, the dog's eyes had darkened in the gray of the day, taking on a cloudy quality that, to Face, reflected the turmoil that still raged in his mind.
"It's okay," Face said. "Everything's okay." The clouds lifted as the dog held Face's gaze for a moment longer. Then the dog suddenly turned and sped away.