Disclaimer: I own no characters of the original A-Team, though their families are my creations for this fic. "Lynx" Murdock is especially mine (an original char from a fledgling story that may or may not ever be written) so hands off! (an original character from one of my other A- Team stories also makes a cameo appearance — extra brownie points to them that spots her!)

Author's Note: After six months, our world is beginning to return to normal . . . but it will never be the same. This story is my way of saying goodbye to the world as it was, remembering the ways the world has irreversibly changed, and looking forward — with hope — to the way it will be. It began as a few incoherent notes, and has slowly grown to the complete story you're about to read. It was written in spurts, as a labor of love. I hope you enjoy it — please review if you do. God bless the USA, her allies, and all who love freedom.
— Skybright Daye

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September 11, 2001
Bad Rock, CA
6:15 am PST

Maggie Smith was up early that morning, as she was every morning; habits learned as an Army nurse died hard, even thirty years later. Sliding quietly out of bed, she snatched her robe off of the bedside chair and leaned over to plant a gentle kiss on the still-sleeping man next to her.

"Whatimeisit?" he mumbled, cracking open one steel-blue eye.

"Quarter after. The alarm's set for quarter till." Maggie belted the robe and headed for the door. "I'll start the coffee."

"Mmmmph." The eye closed again, and within a moment his breathing revealed that John "Hannibal" Smith had fallen back asleep.

Downstairs, Maggie let the cat out, set the coffeepot perking and pushed back the curtain of the kitchen window. The eastern sky was only just beginning to lighten from night-black to lighter charcoal, and the stars were winking out of existence one by one. Maggie loved this time of the morning.

Humming softly to herself, Maggie crossed the kitchen and switched on the little plastic radio that two of her granddaughters had gotten her for Christmas, expecting to hear the familiar tunes of her favorite oldies station. Instead, the kitchen was suddenly filled with the voice of an announcer . . .

"-- Confirmed the reports . . . I repeat that we do have confirmation now that a second plane crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center approximately fifteen minutes ago . . ."

*What?* Eyes wide with shock and confusion, Maggie raced into the living room and switched on the television set. She was greeted with the image of the Twin Towers, smoke billowing up from their tops in a double column of black. One hand flew to cover her mouth, the other clutched at the front of her robe as Maggie backed away from the set, newscaster announcing

" . . .Second plane struck the North tower at 9:04 Eastern Standard Time this morning . . . rescue personnel have been called in . . ."

*It's a dream. God, please, let this be a dream. This can't be happening . . . .*

"Casualties are unknown at this time . . . ."

*God . . .* Eyes closed, trying to block out the horrible image, Maggie turned and bolted for the stairs.




The sound of his shouted name had him awake in a moment, rolling out of bed and grasping for the gun he no longer kept under his pillow. Like Maggie's, his old habits died hard. Mentally chiding himself for reaching for a weapon he'd discarded five years ago, he settled for grabbing his wife's hairbrush off the dresser and dashed out of the bedroom.

On his way down the hallway he ran through the list of things that might have gone wrong. Maggie could have burned herself, or dropped the coffeepot and cut herself cleaning it up, or maybe a snake had crept into the laundry room through the dryer vent — Maggie hated snakes . . . .

They met in the middle of the stairs. Maggie looked stricken, as she had last year when they'd received word that her sister had died.

"Who is it?" He asked gently, gathering her into his arms.

Maggie clung to the front of his pajamas for a moment, composing herself. "In New York . . . there's been something — an accident or attack or . . . something . . . ." She pulled away. "At the Trade Center."

The words hit him like a slammed door. Hearing the still-playing television, he stepped around Maggie and, dumbly, marched down the stairs and into the living room. He was met by the same sight Maggie had seen — the twin billows of smoke, the falling debris, the panicked evacuees. Hannibal was only dimly aware of it when Maggie joined him, twining her arms around his waist. He put his arm out and drew her closer, the one solid thing in a world that had just shattered. The hairbrush slid to the floor, unheeded.

When the third airliner struck the Pentagon, Hannibal's mind whirled through the near- endless list of military friends and acquaintances, dimly trying to place them anywhere but in Virginia. His shirtfront was damp: silent tears were streaming down Maggie's cheeks. Then the scene switched back, once again, to New York, as the harried newswoman announced that the first tower had collapsed. There was a flurry of white sheets in the dust-gray air around her . . . .

"These papers that you see around me — these are files, resumes, Rolodex cards, tax returns and stock certificates. . . ." Tears cut parallel tracks through the dust on her face.

*Stock certificates — * Hannibal pulled away from Maggie's embrace, dropping to his knees as the horrible thought struck him. The thought that somehow, impossibly, terribly, had failed to strike him until now . . .

Los Angeles, CA
7:30 am, PST

"Daddy, brush my hair." Ten-year old Joy Murdock held out the pink plastic brush expectantly. "Puh-leeze?"

"Sure, pumpkin dumplin'." H.M. Murdock chuckled, finished tying his shoelaces, and accepted the hairbrush. His oldest child plopped herself down on the footstool in front of him, tossing baby-fine hair that was the same shade as his over her shoulder. "So," He said conversationally, glancing at the sculpted characters adorning the brush, "Thes're those Powderfluff Girls, right?"

"POW-er - PUFF Girls, Daddy." Joy giggled. "You know that."

"Yeah, I guess I do, don't I?" Murdock drawled, giving his little girl's shoulder a quick squeeze. "Just seein' if you're payin' attention."

Just then Joy's two younger brothers galloped into the living room. Nine-year-old J.T. and seven-year-old Frankie grinned conspiratorially at their father.

"Hey, Dad, can we watch Digimon?"

"Yeah, can we Dad?"

H.M. put on a mock-serious face and gestured at the two with the hairbrush. "John Templeton and Franklin Thomas Murdock, you two know the rules. No TV in the morning, period — especially before you've got your books together." He winked. "Your mom'd kill me. Besides, you know that TV rots your brain, right? It turns it into purple mush."

Frankie burst into laughter as his older brother rolled his eyes.

"Jeez, Dad, you're weird."

"'Course I am." Murdock nodded, returning to the brush. "I was on the A-Team, remember? It comes with the territory."

Before he could elaborate, however, there was a firm, rapid knocking on the front door. Murdock set the hairbrush down and crossed the room. Peering through the peephole, he swung the door open to reveal a large, very agitated Black man in a denim jacket. Two children, a boy about JT's age and a younger girl, clung to his legs.

"Oh, hey BA!" Murdock furrowed his brow in puzzlement. "I thought it was our turn to drive carpool today. And besides," He shot a glance at the clock, "You're early . . . ."

"Turn on the TV, Murdock." BA Baracas interrupted as he strode into the house, not at all hampered by the small forms of his son and daughter.

"Huh?" Murdock raised an eyebrow at his own sons as he shut the door. "Listen, I don't know how the boys got you in on this, but . . ."

"What you talkin' 'bout?" The older man whirled to face him, and only then did Murdock realize he was trembling. "The kids got nothin' to do with this, man. Somethin' . . ." An unreadable look crossed his bearded face. "Somethin's happ'nin. In New York."

Sparing a quick glance at Emily and BJ Baracas, Murdock crossed the room in several long strides and switched on the set. As the images filled the screen, he took a step back and shook his head slightly. Hearing tiny gasps behind him, Murdock turned to find his sons and daughter huddled together. Frankie was clutched in Joy's arms, and JT stood next to his sister with his hand on her shoulder. BA knelt on the floor, five-year-old Emily all but disappearing in a one-armed embrace and the other arm around his son's shoulders. BJ's fists were clenched, a scowl on the young features that were so much like his father's.

Wordlessly, Murdock crossed to the chair behind his children. Sitting down, he reached out and pulled them all onto his lap — heedless of the chair's groan of protest. *No . . .*

"H.M.? Are you letting the boys watch TV?" Cassandra "Lynx" Murdock stopped short in the doorway from the kitchen. "Oh, BA! I didn't hear you come in. What's . . . ?" Her voice trailed off as she, too, was captivated by the horrible images on the TV. "Oh, no." Instinctively, she went to stand by her family, bracing herself against the chair back. Her free hand found Murdock's, and she clung to it.

After moments that seemed like an eternity, BA finally looked up at the Murdocks and spoke. "Sharisse is at the school — we're sendin' the kids home. On a day like this . . ." His grip on his son's shoulders tightened. "Fam'lies need ta stay togetha'."

That brought Lynx — art teacher at the private school where BA was the principal and his wife was the first-grade teacher — back to her senses. She gently loosened her grip on Murdock's hand. "I'll call Maggie and Hannibal . . . maybe they . . ." She took a deep breath. "They might have heard from him."

Murdock nodded, then took a deep breath and patted his daughter's shoulder. "Listen, kids, I want you to run to your rooms and get some clothes together. We might go out later to visit Nan-mo and Grandpa." JT nodded and — his arm around Frankie's shoulder — left the room. After a moment, BJ leaned over and whispered something in his father's ear. Then he followed his cousins.

"Joy-bee." Murdock ran a gentle hand over his daughter's hair. "It's gonna be okay, honey, I promise. C'mon, now, do like I ask?"

She nodded, gave him a fierce hug and slipped off of his lap. Then, she turned back to him. "Daddy, that's . . . that's a long way from where Amanda and Jess live, right? I mean, New York is really big and that's . . . that's a long way from them, isn't it?"

Murdock forced a smile and nodded. "'Course it is, Joy-bee. A real long way from them."

Watching as his daughter left the room, Murdock stood and moved to sit on the floor next to BA. Trying to gather his thoughts, he was about to speak when BA's cell phone went off.

Shooting a glance at Murdock, BA maneuvered his free arm around to pull the cell phone out of its holster. "Baracas here." A frown appeared. "Yeah, Mrs Johnson, we're sendin' the kids back home . . . well, I'm sorry . . ." The frown deepened as the woman on the other end continued speaking.

Murdock looked up when he heard footsteps in the doorway. It was Lynx, her face tearful. In answer to his questioning look, she lowered her eyes and shook her head. Murdock's heart dropped.

BA had also caught the negative reply, and his patience with the woman on the line finally ran out. His Chicago accent grew thicker as he grew angrier. "Look, mama, Ah don't care if ya got housework, right now Ah don't care if ya got termites! This ain't somethin' that's just happ'nin' in New York!" He scowled. "Why not? Ah'll tell ya why not — 'cause MY LITTLE BROTHA'S IN THAT BUILDIN'!"

Bad Rock
12:20 pm PST

Maggie hung up the phone with a deep sigh. The lines into Manhattan were a mess, the operator had informed her for what seemed like the millionth time. Parts of the phone grid had been destroyed, and everyone in the nation was tying up the remaining lines by trying to contact their loved ones in New York. She could try again at a later time.

* "What if there IS no later time?!!"* Maggie had fought the urge to scream. After all, the operator, like everyone, was doing the best she could.

Just as Maggie was. She rounded the corner and paused in the doorway of the living room. Hannibal was on the couch, staring at the TV ("We might see him." He had said, desperately, when Maggie had moved to shut it off) and chain-smoking. A long succession of cigars had been lit, smoked down to the stub, and then used to light the next cigar since Hannibal had lit the first one that morning. In the twelve years they had been married, Maggie had kept one firm ground rule: no smoking in the house. The leftover ash and pungent odor irritated her, to say nothing of the medical statistics she could quote about second-hand smoke. Hannibal was breaking that rule . . .

But somehow, Maggie just couldn't bring herself to care.

She bit her lip and turned back towards the kitchen. *Maybe, just maybe, the call will go through this time.*


*Six hours.* Hannibal spared a glance at his watch. Six hours since the world had come to a screeching halt. Six hours since Maggie's cry had jolted him out of a dream and into a nightmare. And five hours since the moment he had realized that his Lieutenant — his son — had been somewhere in one of those buildings.

Five hours. Enough time for a battle to be fought and lost. Enough time for a crucial message to work its way from front lines to HQ and back. Enough time for Face to contact them, if he were able to . . . .

Hannibal ripped his thoughts away from that idea. The lines were down. New York was in chaos. Face was still trying to find a working phone.

That was it. That had to be it. The kid was a survivor, one of the toughest he knew. He was alive. He had to be.

Hannibal tried to remember the kid's face, his grin, the cut of his suit, the way his eyes sparkled when he was winning at gin. He tried to conjure up the carefree wave Face had given him the day he and his family had left for New York . . .

But all that would come was Face as he'd been that night long ago at Villa Cuchina — the pain, the blood, the wide-eyed, terrified look he'd given Hannibal as he carried him out to the Van, and the awful feeling of his pulse growing fainter and fainter. Hannibal had seized Face's shoulder, terrified, desperate at the thought of Face dying. "Kid!" He'd shouted. "Come back, Face! Come back to me!"

And Face had, barely, come back from the edge of death. He'd gone on to stand with the rest of the Team as they accepted Presidential Pardons from Ronald Reagan. He'd gone on living, stubborn as ever, if a little more cautious— the same old Face.

Janice had been a blessing when she'd come along; a sweet, gentle woman who was willing to give Templeton the love he'd always needed so desperately. The girls — Eight-year- old Jessica and Amanda, who was nearly six — turned out golden-haired like their father and sweet like their mother, though Jess was more than willing to "scam" her dad into things with her wide blue eyes. Not that Face needed much convincing — he adored his daughters.

He also loved his job. Playing the stock market was one thing Face could do better than anyone (and, luckily, it was a *legal* job skill). But a late start had put him farther down the ladder than most men his age — which was why he'd jumped at the chance to work at the Trade Center.
"Just for eighteen months." He'd assured Hannibal and Maggie. "Then we'll be back, just like we never left. But it'll be equivalent to five years of experience in the LA office."

"What about the girls?" Maggie had wanted to know.

"Jan's going to teach them at home. We'll get an apartment, somewhere nice and homey — and in a year and a half we'll be home. Trust me," Face had grinned.

"This is going to be a great thing for us."
Hannibal groaned and buried his face in his hands. *Please.* He pleaded silently. *Please, God. We need him — the girls need him — Jan needs him.* Hannibal paused, fighting back tears. *I need my son. Please . . . bring him back one more time.*

When Maggie entered the living room again she found Hannibal sobbing into his hands.

Outskirts of Bad Rock, CA
12:55 pm PST

It was fifteen years old and had seen more action than some tanks, but BA's Van still ran like a dream — and it was still the workhorse of the A-Team.

JT, Frankie and BJ sat in the backseat, heads bent over the latest issue of Spider-Man, while Joy and Emily in her booster seat occupied the two middle seats. Murdock sat silently on the passenger side. BA, of course, was driving. Murdock glanced in the rearview mirror at the Nissan on their tail, driven by his wife. Sharisse was riding with her.

It had taken them a few hours to contact everyone at the school and explain the situation. With the exception of Mrs. Johnson, they had all been sympathetic — of course the school could run for a few days without them, sure Ms. Meyer would sub for Sharisse; no, don't worry about a thing.

*Like that's going to happen.* Murdock looked back at his daughter, who was staring absently out the window. "Joy-bee."


"You aren't gonna get carsick, are ya?"

"Nuh-uh. M'fine." She mumbled, turning back to the blur of scenery.

Murdock sighed and stared out his own window. Who had done it? Why? Was there a war coming? What kind of world were his kids going to have to deal with? How was his Joy- bee's life going to change? And his boys? What was going to happen to . . . .

From the corner of his eye, BA caught the shadow of panic creeping across Murdock's face. Keeping one hand on the wheel, he reached out to nudge Murdock's shoulder. Snapped out of his reverie, Murdock turned startled eyes to BA, who glanced between him and the road.

"One hour at a time, Brotha." BA said softly, his hand still on the other man's shoulder. "Take it one hour at a time."

Murdock nodded slowly, a faint smile creeping across his face. "Thanks, BA. Thanks."

"I can see it!" Emily shrieked suddenly, clapping her hands together. "I can see Nammo an' Grampa's house!!"

Murdock grinned and twisted around in his seat. "That's right, Em." He unbuckled his seat belt and slid into the backseat as BA pulled up in front of the house. "C'mon, let's get ya out of that carseat."


After the hugs and kisses and subdued greetings had died down, Lynx and Sharisse helped Maggie get the kids assigned to bedrooms, while "the Boys" unloaded the suitcases and then retreated to the back porch. Maggie was glad for the diversions, both for her sake and for Hannibal's. She set her grandkids up in the upstairs family room with a tape of "Robin Hood" (which, surprisingly, even BJ agreed to watch) and then she and "her girls" retreated into the kitchen.

Maggie wasn't exactly sure when Lynx, Sharisse, Janice and Rosa Santana had become "her girls". All that mattered was that they had — that somewhere along the line she'd gone from having no daughters to having four of them. She desperately wished that the other two could be here now, as she went through the motions of making tea and getting out teacups.

"Frankie's all right?" She turned to Lynx, eyes searching.

"Yeah." Lynx — nicknamed for the wildcat temper that she'd had as a child — pushed dark curls out of her eyes. "He's in Canada filming some Steven Segal flick. I called his cell phone." She took a drink of tea. "Rosa's . . . fine, but scared. She's at her mother's." Lynx shook her head. "Imagine being pregnant at a time like this."

"The border's closed." Sharisse added quietly. "And all flights are grounded — until who-knows-when." She, too, took a drink. "Have you . . . ?"

Maggie shook her head, eyes lowered. "I can't get through. I've been trying all day — at the house, on Temp's phone, on Jan's phone — but I just can't get through." She set her teacup down with a sudden, frustrated clatter. "I just wish I could *do* something."

"That's what I said to Mama B when I called this morning." Sharisse laughed softly. "She's getting her whole building organized — ready to give blood, forming emergency plans . . . but Mama B. says the best thing we can do is hope and pray."

"And that's *all* we can do for now." Lynx agreed. "Hard as it is, all we can do is hope . . . and pray."

Bad Rock, CA
2:03 pm PST

"I don't believe it!" JT crossed his arms, scowling and shaking his head. "I don't!"

"Jay . . ." BJ Baracas stood up, crossing the room to his best friend.

On the small family room TV, Robin Hood and Little John had just executed a daring prison break. Emily, Frankie and Joy still sat on the floor near the TV, but JT had leapt to his feet as the heroes onscreen escaped with all the prisoners. Now his scowl deepened and he jabbed his finger at the screen.

"I don't believe any of it, Beej. Heroes, escapes, the bad guys getting theirs in the end . . . it's all nothing but *crap*!" The trio on the floor stared, and BJ put a calming hand on the older boy's forearm.

"You're scarin' the girls, bro." He shook his head to silence JT's protest. "C'mon. Let's go talk."

JT relaxed slightly and let his friend steer him out of the family room and into the next room down the hall — Hannibal and Maggie's bedroom. BJ sat down quietly on the bed and watched for a moment as JT paced back and forth. Finally, JT stopped in front of the dresser and stared at the framed photos that rested there. From the bed, BJ looked at the snapshots as well. Photos of himself and the other grandkids mingled with shots of Nan-mo and Gramp on their wedding day and pictures of the A-Team together. JT reached out and picked up a smaller photo — a grainy, head-and-shoulders color shot of a very young Lieutenant Templeton Peck in uniform. He turned abruptly, photo still in hand.

"There's no such thing as heroes, BJ."

"Sure there is." Bosco, Jr. leaned back slightly and crossed his arms.

"No." JT shook his head stubbornly. "There's no such thing as Spiderman or Batman or Superman. There never was such a thing as Robin Hood. Never." His voice grew small and shaky. "If there were heroes . . ." He looked down at the photo in his hand. "If there were ever heroes then today never would have happened."

BJ stood up, moved to stand just behind his friend. "I know there's heroes, Jay." He began, "Maybe there's no Spiderman, maybe there never was a Robin Hood, but there are heroes. I know there are," He put his hand on JT's shoulder. JT gave him a doubtful look, but BJ kept speaking. "There always were heroes. There'll always be heroes. 'Cause heroes can give up, and heroes can . . ." He faltered, glancing at the photo, "Can die. But there'll be heroes there to take their place. *Real* heroes, not make-believe ones. I know there are real heroes."

"How?" JT, behind his defiant question and firm-set jaw, was fighting off tears.

"Because there was the A-Team, Jay — that's how I know. Our dads were a part of it. And we're part of it too, sort of. There's heroes, man. You've got to believe that."

JT sagged, turned to face the shorter boy. He looked helplessly at the photo. "He taught me to fish, Beej. And use a computer and pick a lock and play cards and . . ."

"I know." BJ put his other hand gently on JT's other shoulder. "Me, too. I know."

Without another word, BJ pulled his best friend into a tight, close hug.


The past hour on the back porch had been a largely silent one. Hannibal sat on the top porch step, flicking cigar ashes into the flower bed. Murdock was perched on the porch railing with his back against a post, and BA sat meditatively on the porch swing, rocking slowly. The quiet had been broken only by an occasional half-conversation and the creak of the swing's chains. It was the same quiet they had lived with so many times before, in a country and time long gone — the quiet that came with waiting for word, wondering who wouldn't be coming back this time, praying it was no one you knew.

Hannibal extinguished the butt of his current cigar, then reached into his pocket for another one and his lighter. He bit the tip off the cigar, spat it into the bushes, lit the cigar and placed it in his mouth. Then he paused, turning the lighter over in his hands. It was a pretty simple affair, just a little silver Zippo with a white enamel elephant inlaid in it. It had been a gift from Face — part of a longstanding joke between them.

Very quietly, Hannibal began to hum.

BA looked up, half-frowning. Murdock glanced at the Colonel, then turned his attention to the backyard. He began humming as well. Then, very quietly, he began the lyrics.

" . . . you'll never know, dear, how much I love you,"

"Please don't take my sunshine away." Hannibal joined in, his voice growing louder. "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,"

"You make me happy when skies are grey." BA's deep, rich voice joined the other two, creating a three-part harmony that was obviously, achingly missing its fourth part.

"You'll never know, dear, how much I love you,
Please don't take my sunshine away."

After three or four repeats of the chorus, BA and Murdock's voices dropped off — leaving Hannibal to carry the last line.

"Please don't take my sunshine away."

Hannibal tucked the lighter back in his pocket and sighed, running his hand through his hair. He glanced up at the clear blue sky, irrationally waiting for a chopper to arrive with his missing Lieutenant onboard.

The silence . . . and the waiting . . . resumed.

Bad Rock, CA
5:45 pm, PST

"Kids! Wash up for dinner!" Lynx called from the foot of the staircase. Scattered calls of assent drifted down to her, and she nodded — satisfied that they'd hear her.

Maggie, Sharisse and Lynx had occupied themselves with making dinner — salad, roast beef, cornbread and mashed potatoes — and talking quietly about trivial things. The only phone calls had been a brief one from Jenny Decker (to confirm that she, her brothers and sister, and her father Rod were all okay) and a longer one from Rosa Santana. There had been no word from New York. Lynx sighed and went to help Sharisse set the table.


Maggie quietly opened the back screen and stepped out. "Dinner's ready."

Snapped out of his reverie, Hannibal turned, then stood and crossed the porch in two long strides to embrace her. "Thanks."

"For dinner or for putting up with you?" She asked tenderly.


After a long moment, she pulled out of the hug to open the door. Hannibal went in with her, his arm still around her shoulders.

BA glanced at Murdock. "Been just about twelve hours."

"Just about." Murdock leapt lightly down from the railing.

BA stood as well. "You think he . . . ." His voice trailed off.

Murdock sighed deeply, fidgeting with the zipper of his aging bomber jacket. "BA," He said softly, "Today I been tryin' my hardest not to think at all."

"Yeah." BA nodded slowly, feeling for the moment a great deal older than his fifty years. "Yeah. Me, too."

They went in to wash up for dinner.


There had been a time, years ago, when Maggie — then just plain Maggie Sullivan — had been convinced she would never have a need for the massive dining room table left to her by her grandmother. If someone had told her then that the matching set of fourteen chairs wouldn't be enough to seat her extended family, she would have laughed in their face. Yet most holidays did find her scrambling for extra chairs to seat all of the kids.

This was far from a holiday, however; and even with all of them seated there were three empty seats. Maggie tried not to think of who should be sitting in those chairs. She concentrated on getting everyone's milk glass filled and napkins on every lap. Then, finally, she sat down.

Hannibal looked around for a long moment. He still smelled faintly of cigars, Maggie noticed — but it was more comforting than anything else. Hannibal cleared his throat and bowed his head.

"Lord, we thank You for this meal which You have set before us, the hands that prepared it and the company we eat it in." he paused. "God, the events of this day have proven that none of us is invincible or alone. We ask You . . ." A long pause. "Be with us, be with our country, be with our soldiers overseas and the rescue workers in . . . New York. Be with our family, those here with us in body and those here with us in spirit. Comfort . . . comfort the families of the victims, and . . . if it be Your Will, Lord . . ." His voice grew very quiet. "Bring Face home to us. Amen."

"Amen."A chorus of voices — including Emily's very heartfelt "Aaaayy-min!" — chimed in. They set to work on the meal. The usual chatter of dinner at Nan-mo's house was subdued, replaced by lowered voices and a minimum of conversation. Even Emily's normal chatter was somewhat quieted by the somber mood.

And then the telephone rang.

Bad Rock, CA
6:14 pm, PST

Hannibal set his knife and fork aside quickly, as if they had stung him, and rose in the same motion. He was dimly aware of Maggie's voice beside him, barely a murmur.

"Rosa said she'd call . . . ."

But he *knew*. Somehow, his Commanding Officer's sixth sense just *knew* that it wasn't Rosa Santana on the line.

By the time he'd stood up, he *knew* they'd found Face.

By the time he'd crossed to the phone he *knew* with a cold, icy certainty that they hadn't found him alive.

And by the time he'd lifted the receiver he was already thinking of how he'd break the news to the crowd of children and grandchildren sitting at his dinner table. The icy certainty translated into his voice, and he answered with the cold military manner he hadn't used for decades.


"This is a collect call from AT&T." An automated voice announced. "You are being called by . . . ." Then came the pause where the calling party was supposed to state their name. Instead, however, there was an impatient voice demanding

"C'mon, c'mon, connect already . . . ."

"Will you accept charges?"

Hannibal blinked. His hand felt numb and his chest suddenly lightened as the dread lifted.

"To accept charges, please press one now."

"Hannibal?" Maggie asked worriedly. "Who is it?"

He jammed his thumb into the 1 key, vaguely heard the automated voice thank him and the connection click through . . . .


He slumped into the nearest chair, hardly daring to believe it. "Kid?"

"Hannibal! Thank God. I thought I'd never get through — the phone lines are a mess here . . ." There was a pause. "Hannibal? You there?"

He shook himself out of his daze. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm here." He looked up, met the expectant gazes at the table and mouthed *it's him*.

The room erupted into a fury of voices and laughter and prayers and questions. Hannibal clutched the reciever. "I'm here, Face."

"What's going on there? Sounds like a wild night at the Officer's Club back in 'Nam."

Hannibal grinned. "It's nothing, kid. Just a whole lot of people who are happy to hear from you."

"Jeeze." Hannibal could almost hear Face slap his forehead. "I'm so sorry . . . . you guys must all have been worried sick . . . ."

"Yeah, we were, but that's beside the point . . . ." The conversation was cut off as Maggie seized the phone.

"Face, are you all right? You had us scared to death . . . ."

Hannibal watched as the phone made the rounds, barely able to hear himself think over the noise. He felt like the sixty years of age he'd gained since that morning had dropped off — and taken a decade or two with them when they went. After what seemed like forever, the phone returned to him. Face was laughing.

"Maybe I should go without calling more often."

"Do you value your life? Maggie'd strangle you." He grew serious. "How is it, kid?"

There was a pause. "I'm . . . okay . . . physically, anyway . . . but it was —" He paused again. "I haven't been through anything that intense since 'Nam, Colonel. Maybe not even there. But . . . I'll be okay. I just need to come home."

"Yeah." Hannibal nodded. "You do that, son. As soon as you can."

"Right." Face paused. "Janice sends love. She and the girls are fine."

"Tell them I love them."

"I will. And, Hannibal?"

"Yeah, kid?"

"I love you."

Hannibal swallowed the lump in his throat. "I love you, too. Take care."

"Okay." A long pause. "Talk to you later. 'Bye."

"Goodbye." Hannibal held onto the phone until the hangup signal began buzzing in his ear. Then he replaced the reciever in its cradle and turned to look at the throng of rejoicing faces gathered around the rapidly-cooling dinner. He lifted his eyes upward.

*Thank You. I know that's not enough, but . . . Thank You.*

November 22, 2001
Bad Rock, CA
11:22 am PST

"Franklin Santana, you get your fingers out of those marshmallows!" Maggie impatiently swatted at the offending hand. "Those are for Jello salad!"

Frankie pulled his hands back rapidly and tried a wide-eyed, I'm-too-cute-to-possibly-be- guilty look. "C'mon, Maggie, you got it all wrong! I was just runnin' quality control!"

"Sure you were." Rosa Santana — smiling and *very* pregnant — entered the kitchen, planted a quick kiss on her husband's cheek, and made a shooing motion with her hands. "Out."

"All right, okay." Frankie grumbled good-naturedly. "I can take a hint." Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, he retreated to the front porch and took a seat on the top step, next to Hannibal. "Some girls got no sense of humor." He muttered.

"Sampling the marshmallows again, Frank?" Hannibal's steel-blue eyes twinkled.

He threw up his hands. "Where's the trust? Where *is* the trust?"

Hannibal merely chuckled in reply and took a long drag on his cigar. Then he glanced sideways at Frankie. "You and Rosie settled on any names yet?"

"Well, sorta. We're still goin' back and forth about a boy's name. But if it's a girl . . ." He smiled. "She's gonna be Hope."

Hannibal nodded. "Fine name."

"It's your turn to be Decker!" Joy Murdock's voice interjected. A moment later Joy, JT, and BJ rounded the corner of the house.

"It is not!" JT objected. "I was Decker last time!"

"Well *someone's* gotta be Decker." Joy folded her arms stubbornly. "And it's not gonna be me."

"Let's ask our dads." BJ counseled, turning towards the front door. After a moment, the two older Murdock children followed.

"All right." Joy agreed, "But I'm *not* gonna be Decker!" Frank stood up to let the three children by, tugging on Joy's ponytail as she passed.

"Good luck gettin' 'em to answer ya. They're like zombies while the game's on."

Joy giggled. "Uncle Frank!"

"Hey, I'm just sayin'." He sat back down, grinning. Hannibal grinned back.

"You're going to be a great dad, Frank."

He laughed. "Thanks, Johnnie."

"Grandpa! Uncle Frank!" Franklin Murdock shouted from his post at an open upstairs window. "I can see 'em! They're coming!!"

Hannibal stood, grinning, and shouted up to his youngest grandson. "Good boy! Run downstairs and tell your Grandmother they're here!"

The younger Frankie ducked his head back through the window. His older namesake stood as a Subaru Outback pulled up in front of the house. The two animated girls in the backseat were out of the car and halfway across the yard before the Outback had even come to a stop.


"Grandpa! Uncle Frank!!"

Hannibal laughed joyfully as his arms were filled with a pair of giggling blonde sisters. Between kisses and greetings, he looked up to find the girls'mother standing right in front of him. He stood and greeted her.

"Hello, Jan."

She smiled and kissed his cheek. "Hi, Hannibal."

"Hey! You three aren't the only ones who want to say hi to him, y'know."

Janice stepped aside and reached out to hug Frankie. Hannibal stepped forward.

Templeton Peck — his blonde hair flecked with silver, his blue eyes sparkling, held out his hand. "Hello, Hannibal."

Hannibal ignored the hand, seizing him in a fierce embrace. "Good to see you, son."

Face half-laughed and jokingly replied, "Good to be seen."

After a moment they pulled out of the hug, but Hannibal kept one arm around the younger man's shoulder. "C'mon, kid. Maggie's dying to spoil ya."

"Can't argue with that." Face replied as they went up the steps. "But, Hannibal — I'm nearly fifty years old. I'm hardly a kid."

"Face, to me you're always gonna be 'kid'." Hannibal replied, opening the door. "There's nothing you can do about it."

"Aw, Hannibal —" The slamming of the screen door cut off Face's protest.

It was good to be home.