You did good, son.
I knew from the start this plan was never going to come together.
I had been dancing the devil's deadly tango from the moment I had first conjured the first threads of my plan. Playing with my friends lives and trying to be as smart as Hannibal. Perhaps I was never meant to be.
The flames were hot around me, blistering my skin uncomfortably. There was gravel and steel digging painfully into my back. A blooming crimson stained the dirt beneath me and was spreading alarmingly fast. My breaths caught in my throat, agonised and rattled and I couldn't get the air into my lungs fast enough. I hadn't been quick enough to stop the bullet before it had bitten through my abdomen and torn a jagged hole in my flesh.
"FACE! FACEY!" Murdock screamed in the darkness.
I opened my mouth but couldn't find my voice and I couldn't stop a whimper of frustration and pain. To them I was lost in this maze of containers and destruction. What if they were hurt and called because they needed help? Lynch could have done something terrible to them and I wouldn't know. Not lying flat on my back, cursing my bad luck and dying slowly. Somehow, I managed to roll myself onto my knees and keep a hold of my fragile grasp on consciousness. Blinking away the bright white stars that had exploded into my vision, I staggered to my feet and swayed dangerously. I stared down at my boots and willed the useless lumps of muscles and bones to move.
"FACE! ANSWER ME!" Hannibal ordered.
My commanding officer. I had to obey him, go to him, help him. There wasn't enough air in my body to form words and I had finally convinced my feet to move forward. My hand crept toward my injury and cradled the ruined flesh, even as hot blood tricked through my fingers and left a trail behind me.
One. Two. Breathe. One. Two. Breathe.
My mantra to keep my fading body moving until I could find my family. I weaved through the wreckage of my plan, stumbling when I couldn't lift my legs up high enough or didn't see the obstruction. A helicopter screamed through the air above me and sent a ringing through my head. I moaned and raised my free hand to clutch at my temple.
"FACE!" BA's thunderous voice startled me.
He was closer to me, within the feeble volume I could raise my voice to.
"BA...I'm here...BA." I gasped.
My knees trembled and my vision blurred frighteningly. I threw my hand out, trying to find something to save myself and a steady arm wrapped around my shoulders. Unprepared for the physical touch, I jerked away and tripped over my own feet. I landed heavily on the floor and undiluted agony rocketed through me and stole away my breath.
I'm going to die.
Someone leant over into my line of vision and I tried to fight them away from me. But my arms were lead and there was no strength left in my legs. The figure crouched closer to me, mumbling in a gravelly voice words I couldn't hear properly. I cowered away from him and curled myself around my injured body.
"Hannibal! I've found him, quick!" BA shouted.
I trembled and hid my face from the hand that fell across my shoulder. But it didn't hurt me, just rubbed small circles on my skin.
"Easy, fool." BA mumbled. "Just me."
"I'm here. Hannibal and Murdock are coming."
"BA? Where are you?" Hannibal demanded.
There was a scrabbling and heavy grunting moments before I sensed two new bodies beside me. Opening eyes I hadn't realised I had closed I glanced timidly up into Hannibal's dirty face. Murdock knelt beside him, his hand a sudden comforting pressure on my leg.
"Hey, Kid. You're going to be fine." Hannibal promised.
He reached out to try and pry my hand away from my wound but I stubbornly resisted despite the pain I caused myself.
"No." I spat and curled up tighter.
Frightened. I was frightened to let him touch me, not sure I could trust what I was seeing. Hannibal persisted and tugged again at my wrist.
"Let me see." He ordered softly. "We need to stop the bleeding."
"No." I repeated.
"Stop being so stubborn, Face! Please, you have to let us help you." Murdock begged.
His eyes were wide and moist, his teeth biting his bottom lip harshly. Startled I relaxed my hand and let Hannibal tug my shirt away from the wound. I watched him warily and arched away from the pain his rough fingers caused.
"Hurts." I gasped.
"I know it does, Kid."
His hand pressed against my stomach and I couldn't have held back the scream of agony even if I wanted too. Pain enveloped me, tearing me apart, burning me, and destroying me. It leaked into my veins and my muscles and founds its poisonous way into my mind. I fought Hannibal and the agony he caused me, lashing out with weak limbs.
"Stop moving, Face." BA growled. "You're making it worse!"
I didn't care. Nothing could be as bad as the pain I was in. Making it worse could put an end to it before I lost myself. Hands were holding my shoulders down to the ground and there was an additional weight to my legs.
"Please...stop..." I pleaded.
"I can't." Hannibal sobbed. "I have to control the bleeding."
The stars were back and dancing violently across my eyes, I tracked them across my private sky and felt exhaustion creep up on me. My eyes slipped shut, there was a strange numb feeling that had crept across my body. The pulse in my ears was loud but somehow comforting, like the last song I would hear.
"Open your eyes, Facey. Don't do this to us."
"Don't give up, Kid. Fight for us. We're not ready to say goodbye yet."
That's the thing about death. Nobody ever is ready to say goodbye. No one knows the right words to say at the time. All those private stories kept in a heart would never be told. Death doesn't frighten me. It's inevitable and the only assured thing we have in life. Eventually, we all die.
"Fool, wake up."
There were phantom lips against my head and fingers cupped my cheek.
"I love you, Face." A father's broken voice wept. "This isn't goodbye."
The Angels came for me with golden wings and sympathetic eyes. I slipped away from my family's loving hands.
Nothing could have prepared me for this. His death. The empty hole he had left inside me. Our fight for freedom had cost his life. It came with a price to high and one I had never wanted to pay.
Murdock howled and buried his nose into Face's bloodied chest. B.A. was stoic beside me, unable to tear his dark eyes away from Face's empty body. I gathered him to my chest, cradling his head loosely in my arms. He looked peaceful even covered in blood and bruises and for a moment I could pretend that he was just sleeping. That I hadn't lost the man I had considered a son.
"You weren't supposed to die, Face." I whispered.
Murdock kept weeping but B.A. had finally moved to wrap his arms around the pilot. The wind blew softly around us and tugged on the flames of the fire. Lynch had been arrested and we had been freed. Because Face had been the one to have a plan this time. I lowered my lips to his messy hair and breathed in the scent of him for the final time.
"You did good, son."