Part 11

"O! I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial."

Othello, 2. 2

William Shakespeare

"Is this gonna take much longer?" Corporal Cortez pouted. His Hispanic features contorted with impatience as he distractedly hacked at a piece of bamboo with his combat knife, ignoring the shavings that gathered in a little pile at his feet.

"Colonel said for us to wait here, sucker!" BA Baracus spat, matching and doubling the other man's attitude. "So we wait until he says we done!"

"What is that you're carving, Cortez, anyway?" Murdock asked.

Cortez threw him a toothy grin. "Damned if I know," he confessed. "But I'm fast running out of wood; the Colonel better hurry up!"

"Colonel'll come when he's ready, soldier!" Baracus retorted.

Corporal Andy Sharp wiped the sweat from his brow and lit himself a cigarette. Shit, it was hot, now the rainy season was finished and the goddamn flies were so annoying. He looked up into the murky sky and squinted at the hazy South Asian sun beating down on them. He threw a jealous glance to the area behind the supplies hut, the only part of the compound currently in the shade and it had been snaffled by BA, Brenner, and Captain Murdock, using the privilege of their superior ranks. They were lounging lazily in apparent comfort while leaving the rest of the Team to swelter somewhat resentfully in the blazing sunshine.

'Sharpy' had been part of the Team for almost three months now and considered himself to have a permanent place. He looked around at the other 'newcomers', all of them Green Berets and accomplished soldiers in their own right but nevertheless all forced to prove themselves again to win a place as part of Colonel Smith's elite. They were an unusual lot these guys, all characters in their own rights, but Sharp was kind of proud to be associated with them. He was happy to learn from their various experiences and to share his own.

For the last three months they had been slogging through the mud and the heat working hard on becoming a cohesive unit, a Team, and he believed it was all coming together – Colonel Smith was one hell of a leader and the guys were anxious to please him.

Over the time, however, one thing had become blatantly apparent; the one component that they lacked was a good Executive Officer. Since Sharp had been on the Team, Smith had taken on and just as quickly gotten rid of five First Lieutenants. None of them were very bad but equally none of them had what Colonel Smith, the cunning old soldier that he was, was looking for.

Naturally curious, Sharp had tried to find out what had happened to the Team before he joined. The remaining members always turned tight lipped when the subject was broached, but he had heard the gossip around the camp; they had been in one hell of a fire fight that had decimated their number – leaving only the four members he knew to stay on in Nam and even they had been injured. The Team had had to be rebuilt once they were fit and able to continue the fight. Sharp had assumed that the incumbent XO must have bought the farm in that action and Smith and the rest of the team had been searching for a replacement ever since.

And now they were going for another one!

Sharp took a long draw on his cigarette and waited, building a small bile of red dust into a heap between his boots and then squashing into nothing again – wasn't anything else to do but wait, as Sergeant Baracus had said, the Colonel had decreed they should wait until he came back with the new Lieutenant and so wait they would. Cortez, although he was mouthy, would not dare to go against a direct order; he was just showing his impatience, Latin temperament, Smith called it.

Sharp turned back to the more senior members of the Team. "What do you think he'll be like?" he asked.

Brenner shrugged. "Like all the others; irrelevant."

"Waste of time!" BA put in cynically.

"I don't know guys," Murdock said, "I read my tea leaves this morning and they were kind of optimistic."

"What did they say?" Sharp asked, realising it was a set up but playing along.

Murdock smiled. "Sharpy, Sharpy!" he said shaking his head slowly. "I'm surprised at you, tea leaves can't talk!"

"Fool!" BA muttered.

Sharp smiled. "The old ones are the best, eh, Murdock?"

At that moment the door to the General's office opened and the well-known greying head of Colonel Smith appeared. Beside him a slightly smaller figure, smartly turned out in an immaculate First Lieutenant's uniform, a significant amount of ribbons proudly on his chest, and his beret pulled down roguishly low on his head so his face was slightly obscured.

Behind him, Sharp heard Brenner draw in a harsh intake of breath and Murdock muttered, "It can't be!"

Both BA and Lowrie had leapt up into the sunshine, eyes wide with disbelief and no little excitement.

"What the…?" Cortez muttered, picking up the surprise of the other Team members as they surged forwards. His curious gaze was mirrored on the faces by all the other relatively new boys. They waited as the Colonel and the new man made their way towards them, smiling broadly. There was an expectant silence hanging on the air; a burst of potential that promised so many good things; something remarkable was happening.

The centre of this incredibly potent sensation, the new Lieutenant, raised his head and pushed back his beret to reveal blond hair, a little longer than regulation length, and almost angelically handsome features blazing with the most brilliant of smiles. "Hi, guys!" he said, looking down again almost shyly.

Murdock was first to move, almost bowling over the others he leapt at the Lieutenant and smothered him in a tight embrace. "You came back!" he yelled.

The Lieutenant's smile widened, his blue eyes came up twinkling mischievously. "Didn't I say I would?"

"I don't recall that!" Murdock shrugged, feigning a pout. "Besides, you say a lot of things, but that don't mean you mean any of them! Bet, you don't even remember that you owe me, kid!"

"I remember," the Lieutenant chuckled. "And from what I recall you may not be the best kisser in the world, Murdock, but you sure are effective!"

Murdock puckered up. "Wanna try again?" he asked batting his eyelids suggestively.

Sharp noted a flash of emotion sparkle across the newcomer's face. Surely, if he was such a good friend he would know how crazy Murdock was – that the pilot's mouth said things his brain was unaware of - but there was a definite nervous lick of the lips and flash of uncertainty in the new Lieutenant's eyes, as if he was taking the pilot seriously. It was, however, so quickly quenched that the lower ranked soldier dismissed it almost instantly.

Brenner was shaking the Lieutenant's hand now. "I lost your helmet, Ray," the Lieutenant said. "I'm sorry."

The older soldier laughed. "Better that than your head, kid!"

"Hey, Lowrie," the newcomer turned to the recently promoted Sergeant. "You read any good munitions manuals lately? I need to know the range and trajectory of an M79. How big a bunker does it make?"

Lowrie's eyebrows rose skyward excitedly. "An M79? A single-barrelled, break-action grenade launcher, which fires 40mm projectiles, nicknamed the blooper, thumper or thumpgun?"

"Enough already!" Smith's authoritative voice cut through the light, jovial atmosphere. "And don't you wind him any further, Lieutenant. Makes a change to hear him though – he's hardly said a word since you left!"

BA's normal scowl had thawed into a warm smile. "You OK, man?" he asked as he stood before the new arrival.

The Lieutenant nodded. "I am now," he responded his eyes, for once shining with honesty. "Thanks for blowing the bridge, BA. There was a time back there when I thought you wouldn't come through for me."

"You can count on me, always," Baracus beamed and only then landed a playful punch on the Lieutenant's shoulder. "It's good to have you back, li' brother!"

"Boys!" Colonel Smith raised his voice so it carried to include all of his Team; he placed his arm around the newcomer. "May I present our new, or should I say our old, Executive Officer, Lieutenant Templeton Peck." He stood back proudly, his eyes burning fiercely fuelled by the jazz.

"You know this guy?" Sharp asked doubtfully.

"Oh sure we do! But I don't get it," Murdock said, turning back to the new Lieutenant. "I thought you got a medical discharge."

Peck's face glowed knowingly. "That's not what my records say," he said nonchalantly.

"Yeah, well your records are not the most accurate are they? I recall they said that you had had all your shots last time!" Murdock snapped back.

"And have you had your shots this time, Lieutenant?" Smith asked his eyes twinkling although his voice was uncompromising.

"I had a full medical, Stateside, Sir!" Peck replied elusively.

"And?" Smith pushed, refusing to be distracted by the Lieutenant's customary disinclination to answer the question fully.

Peck looked down, shuffling his feet and smirking. "Nurse was kind of pretty, Sophie she was called, blonde and curvy, lovely blue eyes…… we…."

"Lieutenant!" Smith barked. "I'm not allowing you in a combat zone without…"

Peck's smile was awesomely confident. Sharp realised in the time he had been on the Team he had never seen anybody survive baiting the Colonel like this but Smith seemed totally comfortable with playing along with it. Peck raised his hands in a placating motion. "I'm joking," he beamed. "Let's just say; she gave me my injection before I gave her mine!"

Brenner shook his head, while the others chuckled lecherously, but Murdock remained uncharacteristically serious, his eyes scanning Peck's as if searching for enlightenment. "No after effects?"

The perceptive Sharp thought he detected once more something deeper in the look the blond shot the pilot, Peck's smile faltered somewhat, but it brightened again soon enough into the annoyingly arrogant grin as the Lieutenant regained his composure and covered the lapse by replying smugly. "After Sophie?" Peck rolled his eyes suggestively. "You know I don't do afters, HM."

"Not Sophie, you idiot! The tetanus! You were pretty bad when they shipped you out; well out of it. Maybe I should get Major Parrott to look you over – just in case."

Colonel Smith let out a sharp breath as the name brought him back his own chilling memories of the formidable nurse and Peck snorted. "No after effects – in fact I'm even better than I was before. And don't even joke about the Major – I survived her bed baths didn't I? Reckon I should get a medal just for that!"

Murdock could control his excitement no longer and his face twisted into his trademark gentle mocking grin. "Better than before; I find that very hard to believe!" his voice was warm and his eyes bright with camaraderie. "And you loved that female attention!"

Peck opened his mouth as if to argue but stopped as his name echoed across the square.

"Lieutenant Peck!" One of the clerks stuck her pretty head out from the General's office waving a piece of paper. "I took a phone call, you got a message," she called. "Something about a 1958 Cadillac?"

"Oh great!" Peck turned to the Colonel. "Excuse me just a second, Sir. It's in your interest, believe me."

Smith smiled. "Opening night at the DMZ Club, Lieutenant?" he asked.

"The DMV Tennis and Racket Club, Sir! You hadn't forgotten then?"

"Of course not. I'm waiting for the bikini clad women! Been waiting a while, too!"

"All in hand, Colonel, trust me!" Peck turned to cross the parade ground towards the waiting clerk. "Thank you so much, Lizzy!" he enthused. "We still on for later tonight? Sweetheart, we are going to have a great time!" Her smile was dazzling as she nodded eagerly.

"Something tells me things are gonna get interesting around here!" Brenner muttered.

The rest of the Team exchanged bewildered looks, Murdock nodded his head slowly. "About time we had some fun – he's been away way too long!"

After taking the paper from the clerk, Peck came back to them, reading the message, pursing his lips and fiddling with his tie. He let out a troubled sigh.

"Problem, Lieutenant?" Hannibal asked.

The arrogant, confident smile was back instantly. "Why Colonel," Peck purred assuredly. "There is no such thing as a problem only a solution waiting to be found!"

"Good! Come on then," the Colonel said, matching the smile. "This calls for a celebration. I got some Jack Daniels in the hootch – I want to make a toast to returning friends!"

He threw his arm around Peck. "Did you see the look on Colonel Potter's face?" He laughed loudly as the pair began to walk away. "I thought he was going to have a coronary right there!"

"I guess I was the last person he expected to see," Peck agreed.

"How in hell did you swing it?" Murdock butted in from behind them, still puzzled.

Peck hesitated and turned back to him. "Official orders, of course, HM!" he said in all seriousness.

"Official orders?" Murdock repeated, his eyes widening suspiciously.

Peck threw him a look that was stunning in its confidence and lifted his hands palms outwards. "So official, so legitimate, so genuine ….. and so written by my own talented hands."

"Unbelievable!" Brenner said as Baracus shook his head.

"Oh I believe it!" Murdock said unable to hide the admiration in his voice or the spark in his eye.

"I had some help from the Colonel," Peck continued. He turned to Hannibal and was suddenly and modestly earnest for at least a second. "It means a lot to me, thank you, Sir."

"We've been missing you, kid, waiting for you to show." His eyes twinkled with mischief, "Mind you a couple of those Looeys they offered me could have worked out OK!"

The Colonel laughed loudly at the disbelief that flicked across Peck's perfect features. "I don't think so Colonel," he responded with affected affront. "There's only one me, remember? I have it from the very best source – I'm special!"

Patting the Lieutenant's shoulder fondly, the Colonel continued to chuckle. "I'm joking, Lieutenant! And I think we're passed that 'Sir stuff' now, kid, call me, Hannibal!"

The Lieutenant rolled his eyes as the scepticism vanished from his face to be immediately replaced by a bold smirk. "Of course, Sir!" Smoothly he reached into his top pocket. "Cigar, Hannibal?"

"Don't mind if I do," Smith chuckled as he accepted the offer, popped the cigar into his mouth and bent forwards slightly to use the Zippo flame that had instantly appeared in the blond's hand. "And get your haircut, Lieutenant!" he growled cheerily.

"Yes, Sir!" They snickered as they moved away together, the Colonel's arm around the younger man's shoulder in a fatherly embrace.

"Well I'll be…!" Brenner whistled through his teeth and shook his head ruefully.

"Wouldn't believe it if I ain't seen it!" Baracus snorted.

"But he's back!" Murdock said. "And suddenly everything seems right somehow." He glanced skyward. "Thanks for looking after him and bringing him home," he muttered softly.

Lowrie sighed deeply and began reciting, "Name: Peck, Templeton Arthur. Rank: First Lieutenant. Birth date: 7 December 1950. Service Number: 522-78-5444C. Height: 5'11", Nickname…. nickname…" he stopped and scrunched up his face in distress. "Hey guys…. isn't it time we gave him a nickname? Reckon he deserves one after……." He stopped, still unwilling to put words to that awful experience in the jungle.

"But I don't get it," Sharp chipped in as he walked beside Murdock and Brenner. "Where do you know him from? What's so special about this guy? Why does he deserve a nickname?"

The two older men smirked.

"What's so special about Lieutenant Templeton Peck?" Murdock repeated. "You never heard of Templeton Peck? You don't know the guy's reputation? What he did? You never heard of the fear he brings to the heart of the VC, the love he so unselfishly shares with all the nurses on this base, not to mention the female clerical staff and the envy he creates in all us 'normal' guys?"

Sharp shook his head, noting it was the first time he had heard Murdock refer to himself as normal but deciding not to pursue it at this time. "Nope, never have, who is he?" he said instead, grinding his finished smoke into the dust with his boot heel.

"Who is he?" Murdock parroted in mock incredulity. "Who is Templeton Peck?!"

Brenner smiled, feeling irrationally jubilant and thrilled at the surprising happenings of the past few minutes and wanting to join in the fun. "He's Colonel Smith's Executive Officer," he ventured as they moved off down the path.

"He's our Supplies Officer," Murdock agreed enthusiastically. "He'll get you anything, any time, any place!" He pursed his lips, pondering. "But a nickname, Ray, a nickname!"

"He's the ladies man!" Brenner continued, trying to get his notoriously vague imagination into some sort of gear. "The pantyhose kid?" he suggested.

"The golden, the eloquent, the fluent and with an 'oh- so' expressive tongue!" Murdock was dramatically waving his arms about excitedly and at the last sticking out and retracting his tongue like some manic lizard as he circled around the bemused Sharp.

"The expert soldier." Brenner was more refined and stifling his guffaw at the pilot's antics.

"How about something around BBB - the Brilliant Bridge Blower?" Murdock enthused, bounding down the path eagerly. "Or the Subtle Cigar Supplier or even our Colonel's boy!" He finished with a triumphant flourish and stopped abruptly.

Sharp managed not to walk into the unexpectedly stationary pilot and looked from him to Brenner, his face showing his complete bewilderment. He opened his mouth to respond and as he did so, Baracus growled impatiently behind them.

"Describe Peck; that's easy!" The big guy snorted as he pushed past, "He the perfect face, man!" he snarled.

"What a great line, BA!" Brenner said with admiration.

Lowrie nodded his agreement.

"The perfect face ….man. The perfect …faceman, face…, Faceman!" Murdock repeated, playing with the name and the feel it made as it came from his lips. "You know, Big Guy, oh Baracan one who must be obeyed in all things," he pointedly ignored, as only he could, Baracus' annoyed growl at him. "I think that might stick!"

And of course it did……………………….

The End

Author's Note: Thanks for all your kind remarks and reviews, words can't express how much I appreciate your support, so I dedicate my happy ending to all you guys out there in the hope you remain on the jazz forever!!!!