Beginnings 2 - Three's a Crowd
by HannibalFan52 and Jullian Gray
Beginnings 2: Three's a Crowd
by HannibalFan'52 and Jullian Gray
Summary: The Team is on the run from Lynch at the start of their career.
"Pull over here, Sergeant."
At the Colonel's direction, B.A. Baracus pulled up outside a large indoor flea market not far from Maysville, KY. It was hard to believe they'd spent several days in the dingy motel nearby only a week or so before.
"Okay, guys," Hannibal continued as they all climbed out of their newly-acquired car, "you know what we've got, which isn't much. With Lynch occupied in the south, it's best we keep going north, so I need you to look around in here to see what you can find that we can use. Face?"
"Give me a couple hundred, kid. I've got a few errands of my own to run."
Reluctantly, Face counted out the requested amount of money and handed it over. Taking the keys from B.A., Hannibal got behind the wheel.
"All right, I'll see you guys in about an hour." With that, he backed out of the parking space and headed off on his own, leaving his men to stare after him with bewildered looks before turning their attention to the building behind them.
Face and B.A. looked around as they stepped inside. They considered splitting up to maximize coverage, but decided to stick together rather than risk duplicating purchases. With limited resources, they couldn't afford to waste money.
They settled on a compact second-hand tent that set up on a framework of aluminum tubing and could sleep four people. B.A. found a set of nesting aluminum cook-pots and large coffee pot, plus dishes and utensils. Next, they picked up three sleeping bags that were reasonably priced, if a bit shop-worn, and a few extra blankets. A couple flannel shirts and a jacket apiece were soon added to the collection.
Face drifted away when he spotted a vendor selling Army surplus. He checked the heft of a Kabar knife, missing the one he'd had in `Nam, the one that had saved the Team's lives on more than one occasion. But that had been stripped from him, along with everything else, when he'd been arrested by the Military Police. He sighed at the memory.
He talked the guy down to a price he was willing to pay, and bought three, plus a whetstone. It was still more than he felt they could afford, but he knew the knives would earn their keep.
When B.A. joined him, they picked up some extra ammunition, plus tarps to protect their stuff from inclement weather, a few more duffle bags in which to stow the gear, and ropes to tie their baggage to the car's roof-rack. They then scoured the rest of the stalls for anything else that might come in handy. It all cost a pretty penny, but everything had a purpose.
Their shopping done, they collected their assorted purchases and went outside to wait for Hannibal to return for them.
Hannibal stood outside the menswear shop he'd passed a few weeks before. The silver-grey wool sweater he'd been dreaming about ever since was still in the window. The price tag still read $40, fully 20% of the money he'd gotten from Face. Still, he went inside and asked to see it, and the young woman behind the counter was happy to get it out for him to examine.
Hannibal smiled as he ran his fingers over the soft Merino wool; he could just imagine it resting against his lover's smooth skin. The color of the wool would help bring out the color in the blue-grey eyes, and the blond hair. And, of course, there was the warmth it would bring him on cold nights, the practical part of Hannibal's mind tried to add, though Hannibal knew that it didn't really matter. The second he had seen it, he knew that he wanted Face to have it, and despite that it would use more money than he had planned, he was still going to get it for him.
"It is a fine piece of work, handmade by a local artist."
"It does have a nice feel to it." Hannibal turned to look at the shopkeeper, his mind once again imagining it lying against Face's skin. "And you can't come down on the price any more?"
The young lady looked at the older gentleman for a moment, then smiled.
"I can take another $10.00 off, and wrap it up for you."
"Sold." Hannibal smiled back at her. He knew that he shouldn't spend the money, but Face was his one great weakness. When it came to the kid, he always wanted him to look and feel his best.
Once the sale was made, Hannibal took the package from the clerk and went back out to the car. He laid it on the front seat beside him for a moment, then a thought occurred to him. Picking up the parcel, he slid it under the front seat before putting the car into gear and heading to his next stop
Next on Hannibal's list of errands was the local supermarket. Restaurants, and even fast-food joints, would be too expensive in the long run. Besides, summers spent camping with his father and siblings had been a perfect training ground for their current circumstances.
Methodically cruising up and down the aisles, he concentrated on foods that wouldn't spoil: anything dehydrated, dried, smoked, salted, or not likely to go bad easily in the first place. Luckily, the weather was still chilly enough to help prolong shelf life, even without a cooler.
He indulged in one half-gallon jug of milk for B.A. He knew it wouldn't last long enough to go bad, and they'd be able to pick up more easily enough.
At the checkout, the headline on a local newspaper caught his attention. He picked up a copy and placed it with the rest of his purchases, planning to peruse it in depth later.
Next, he looked around for a liquor store. Repacked into discarded liquor cartons, the groceries would have their own reusable, space-saving storage. Besides, he wanted to pick up bottle of cheap rum. He had a feeling it would come in handy.
Face and B.A. were relieved when Hannibal pulled up in the multi-colored car. Watching it approach, B.A. considered the idea of getting it repainted, as it was easily identifiable the way it was. That, however, would have to wait until they had the money to spare. In the meantime, they'd just have to stick to the back roads.
They showed their purchases to Hannibal. As each one was approved, it was stowed in a box or duffle bag, then stashed in the car, its location and accessibility dictated by frequency and order of use.
"Okay, guys," Hannibal said, settling into the front passenger seat and taking the map from the dashboard, "let's see how far we can get before we lose the light."
About an hour before dark, they found themselves near a KOA campground. It was a year-round site, so it was open, despite it being late February. Face was happy about that - it meant one more day of having amenities like showers available to them.
After paying a modest fee, they followed the manager's directions to their assigned spot. Looking around, Hannibal approved of the carefully-leveled site. If they had to sleep on the ground, it would be nice to do it without worrying about stones and roots poking into one's back. Their only neighbors were renting retired house-trailers closer to the manager's office, and that suited them just fine.
With an efficiency born of long practice, they had the tent set up and a fire going in no time. Taking advantage of the picnic table, Hannibal prepared sandwiches while coffee boiled in the pot. and the others laid out the sleeping bags in the tent. He set out the food and poured the hot brew into three enamelware mugs, then called his men to chow.
"Better let that settle a bit more," Hannibal said as Face reached for his mug.
"How come?" the younger man asked before taking a large sip. He instantly spat it out when he got a mouthful of coffee grounds, much to B.A.'s amusement. "Hannibal, what are you trying to do? Poison me?!"
"No, but there was no basket in the coffee pot you guys picked up, so I had to boil the coffee the old-fashioned way."
"Why didn't you just get the instant stuff?"
"Because it's more expensive, and the glass is dangerous. Besides, we can re-use the tins for storage. As the weather gets warmer, more bugs'll be appearing, and I don't think you want ants in the sugar, now do you?" Hannibal concluded with a grin.
The younger men had to agree that Hannibal had some good points.
They finished their meal in relative quiet, only passing the occasional comment or observation. When they were done, Face cleared away and washed the dishes, while B.A. checked the perimeter of the area and set up a few tripwires, just in case. They settled by the fire to relax for a while before turning in for the night.
Hannibal tapped the newspaper he was reading by lantern-light.
"Listen to this, guys," he said. "There's an article about those three murderers who escaped in Ohio."
"The ones the cops were looking for at that roadblock?" Face asked.
"Them suckers made us do a lot of hikin' we didn't need to," B.A. growled angrily.
"Lucky for us they did, huh, B.A.?" Hannibal asked, grinning. "If they hadn't, we wouldn't have that car you're so happy to be driving."
"Guess so, Hannibal," B.A. agreed grudgingly. "Don't mean I have to like it, though."
"What does the article say, Colonel?"
"Seems the local and state police have some leads, but haven't been able to locate them yet," Hannibal told them. "They're expanding the search into the tri-state area - Ohio, Kentucky, and Missouri."
"They better not cross my path," the black sergeant stated, pounding his fist into the other hand. "They gonna be sorry if they do."
Hannibal folded the paper so that they could all see it. Under a two-inch headline, the article went on to name the three wanted men: Lawrence Patterson, Ryan Townsend, and Thomas McKnight, all members of a mid-western racketeering syndicate. The black-and-white photos in one column showed three very ruthless-looking men.
"If they was smart," B.A. said, "they'd head for the East Coast. Even Lynch could track `em the way they seem to be goin'."
"True, but who ever said criminals were smart, B.A.?" Face returned.
"In any case, guys," Hannibal said, "it's just as well we're heading out of the area. These jamokes were convicted on several murder counts each, and I'd rather not be mistaken for them." His men had to agree that it was not a pleasant prospect.
Face snagged the section with the financial reports, and B.A. took the sports section, while Hannibal got out a large box of strike-anywhere kitchen matches and started dipping the heads in clear nail polish, using the spaces between the boards of the table to hold them upright while they dried. The younger men looked up briefly at the acrid tang of the polish, but went right back to their reading. They`d seen this water-proofing trick of Hannibal`s before, in Viet Nam..
"All right, guys," Face said at last, letting out a yawn, "I'm going to call it a night. In spite of that lethal coffee, I can't keep my eyes open. Wake me if you need me."
Hannibal nodded at that.
"Okay, kid," he said. "I'll take first watch; B.A., you're up next."
"You got it, Hannibal. But I think I'll stay up a little longer. Gotta check the perimeter." With that, he moved off.
Hannibal watched the sergeant go, amazed yet again that he could move so silently when needed.
After banking the fire, Hannibal entered the tent to find Face settling down for the night. He sat on the ground, facing him, a serious look on his face.
"What's wrong, Hannibal?" Face asked nervously.
Hannibal reached out and touched his lover's face.
"You scared me, kid," he said softly, "that night at the pool hall."
"Hannibal..." Face began, but Hannibal cut him short.
"Stop, Face," he said sharply. "I know what you're going to say - that you're a big boy and you don't need anyone to look after you. I know that, and I know that your Special Ops training goes far beyond mine. But that still doesn't mean you can disobey a direct order and go off on your own like that. I expect my second-in-command to be available when I need him." His tone softened. "And I need to know that the man I love is safe."
Face looked down.
"I'm sorry, John," he said quietly. "It's just that I was going stir-crazy. I needed to get out and do some thinking, and you wouldn't let me. I - I'm not used to having someone care about me when I'm injured. Life in the orphanage wasn't like that, even though the nuns did their best, and I'm still having a hard time accepting it."
"I understand, kid. And I know you've been having trouble sorting out your place with us. But you've always been an important member of the team, in whatever capacity, and that will never change." Hannibal placed a hand under the younger man's chin, raising it so that they looked each other in the eye. "I was really proud of you that night. And when you drove up in that car this morning, I couldn't believe my eyes. You're the best XO I've ever had, and I don't want to lose you, either as my friend, or as my lover."
Face's heart swelled at Hannibal's words, and his eyes lit up as he smiled. The older man leaned forward, kissing him gently.
"Now, there's something I want you to do for me," Hannibal said as he pulled away. Reaching beside him, he picked up the bag from the liquor store, pulled out the bottle of rum, and handed it to Face.
"Take a sip, kid," he ordered gently.
Face unscrewed the cap and took a sniff, then held the bottle away from him, pulling a face.
"God, Hannibal! That stuff smells horrible!"
"I know, kid, and it'll taste even worse, but it'll keep you warm at night."
"Uh, Hannibal, doesn't alcohol actually lower your body temperature?"
"Yeah, but not if you trap that initial flush of heat in your blankets. And rum's particularly good for that."
Face looked at him skeptically.
"What about you and B.A.?" he asked.
"You haven`t been eating properly since we were arrested," Hannibal reminded him. "You`ve lost too much weight, so you don`t have the body mass we do." Face had to admit that was true, but still he hesitated. "Come on, baby; just a sip. Try it. For me?"
Face could never resist that last wheedling plea. He took a small sip, then slid inside his sleeping bag. He hated to admit it, but he could feel it working already. Looking up, he smiled at his lover.
"G'night, John," he whispered drowsily.
Hannibal bent down, and brushed his lips over the younger man's.
"Good night, Tem," he whispered in return, as Face pulled the covers over his head.
Sure that Face would sleep comfortably through the night, Hannibal stood, and went to rejoin B.A. by the fire.
BA and Hannibal sat by the fire for another hour before the Colonel tilted his head toward the tent.
"Why don't you go get some sleep? I said I'll take the first watch."
"Thought I'd take it first. You should be with Face in case he wakes up."
"He's fine." Hannibal smiled as he looked over at the tent. "Probably sleep through the night."
BA eyed the older man, a scowl forming on his face.
"What'd you do to him?"
Hannibal noted the slight sound of anger in the other man's voice.
"I just gave him something to help him sleep. Besides, I would like to be with him when he wakes up in the morning."
BA glared at the older man for another minute before he got up and moved into the tent without saying another word.
Hannibal shook his head as he watched the big man go. He knew most of his men pretty well. He knew how they would respond under the pressures of battle, or in the thick of a fight, but sometimes, when everything was quiet, he wondered if he really knew them at all.
BA quietly slipped into the tent and took off his boots and shirt; he left on his pants and socks so that if he had to get up in a hurry, he would be ready to go in a few seconds. He slid into his sleeping bag beside Face and smiled when he noticed that there was only a tuft of blond hair sticking out from top of the sleeping bag. Within a matter of minutes, he was fast asleep.
A few hours later, he was awakened by a soft moan of the word "No..." Rolling over, he noticed that Face had uncovered himself from the sleeping bag and was tossing his head back and forth; obviously in the throes of a nightmare.
"Sleep through the night, my rear," BA growled as he sat up. Carefully, he wrapped his arms around Face, who immediately began to struggle against him. "It's all right, little brother; you're safe. Ain't no one here gonna hurt you."
Face slowly stopped struggling and came to rest against BA's chest, his breathing coming out in short pants. When he finally had his breathing under control, Face apologized.
"I'm sorry, B.A."
"Ain't got nothin' to be sorry for," BA responded, though he continued to hold Face to him. He couldn't explain it to Face, but he didn't want to let him go. He knew that Face was safe in his arms, and that is where he wanted the younger man to be safe.
"I'm just so tired..." Face started to say, then went silent.
"Tired of what?"
The blond just shook his head as he tried to move out of the other man's arms, but B.A. prevented him from moving.
"Tired of what?" the sergeant repeated as he hugged Face tighter to him.
"The nightmares." Face swallowed hard. "Of being scared all the time."
"Don't got no reason to be scared." BA loosened his grip on the young blond and turned Face so that they were looking at each other. "You know Hannibal and me will always be here for you, right?" Face nodded.
"It`s all right," the burly man said again as he pulled Face close again. "I'm here, Hannibal outside, and we ain't going to let nobody lay a hand on you, understand?"
Face nodded his head against B.A.'s chest.
"Good. Now, lay back down and get some sleep." BA let Face loose and allowed the younger man to lie back down. As soon as Face was settled, he wrapped his arms around him and pulled Face to his body so that he was spooned in behind the blond, the younger man's head resting just under his chin.
Turning his head slightly, BA breathed in the scent of Face's hair, closing his eyes as he did. He could feel his body stir at having the blond so close to him, and he was so glad that there were two sleeping bags between them. He loved Face with all of his heart and wished that he could wake up every morning with Face in his arms. However, he knew that Face was in love with Hannibal, and that the two of them were meant to be with each other, though it still didn't make it any easier to have Face so close and not be able to have him as his own. He knew that Face cared for him as a friend, but that was as far as the younger man's emotions went when it came to him.
"Just one time," BA whispered as he kissed the top of Face's head. "What I wouldn't give for you to love me, just one time."
They took the journey north in easy stages, to avoid attracting unwanted attention. They stuck to the back roads as they passed through southern Indiana and Illinois, giving Chicago a wide berth, then made their way north through Iowa until they reached Minnesota.
Whenever the opportunity presented itself, B.A. would let the others out for a break while he practiced tactical and evasive driving techniques at race clubs and other open spaces. He had a feeling it would come in handy should Lynch be lucky enough to pick up their trail. He knew he needed to teach his companions, as well, but he wanted to make sure he had mastered it first.
As B.A. drove down the road, Hannibal sat in the passenger's seat, dozing lightly. Years of experience with the military had taught the Colonel to get sleep when and where he could. Face sat staring out the window in the back seat of the car, his mind a thousand miles away in L.A., wondering how and what Murdock might be doing. His head was resting against the glass as his hands rested on his right foot, which was crossed over his left knee, occasionally brushing the back of B.A.'s seat.
Any other time, B.A. would have simply and politely asked Face to stop, but right now, after so many days on the road, he was irritable, and Face was just adding to it by the second.
"Stop kickin' my seat!" he growled.
Face, lost in his own world, didn't hear a thing, and kept on bouncing his foot as he stared out the window.
"Stop kickin' my seat!" B.A. glared at Face in the rear-view mirror.
Face looked up at B.A. when he heard the barked order, and stared at him, truly hearing the big man for the first time, and not liking the tone of voice that was being directed at him.
"I said stop kickin' my seat!" B.A. demanded.
"I'm not kicking your seat." Face looked at his foot, and then back BA.
"The heck you ain't. You been kickin' it for the last twenty miles, and if you do it again, I'm going to pull the car over and pound you into the ground!"
Normally Face would have let B.A.'s threat slide off him and go on, but he had been cooped up in the back seat of the car for two long weeks, and he'd had enough.
"I'm not kicking the back of your seat. If I was kicking the back of your seat, it would feel like this!"
As soon as the last word was said, Face drove his right foot into the back of B.A.'s seat as hard as the limited space would allow him. The back of the seat shoved B.A. forward into the steering wheel, causing him to smack his head against the dash. As soon as he got his wits back, B.A. slammed on the brakes, which instantly woke Hannibal as his seatbelt tightened to prevent him from crashing into the glove box.
Before Hannibal could figure out what was going on, B.A. was out of the car and around to the back seat. Face turned sideways, ready to defend himself if need be. As B.A. pulled the door open wide and grabbed one of Face's ankles, the blond pulled his other leg back, while B.A. started to pull him out of the car, the sergeant's fist raised to clobber Face as soon as he was clear.
"Don't either of you two move another muscle!" Hannibal yelled as he saw what was about to happen. His command stopped both men dead in their tracks. "I want to know what is going on right now!"
"I have no idea," Face answered as he continued to glare at BA.
"You know darn well what you doing, so don't sit there acting innocent," B.A. growled.
"What `s he been doing?" Hannibal asked with one eyebrow raised.
"He been kicking the back of my seat for God knows how long. I asked him to stop, and he kicked it as hard as he could."
"Face?" Hannibal turned his gaze on his lover.
"I was looking out the window. I wasn't doing a thing. He started yelling at me about kicking his seat, so I showed him what it would feel like if I really did kick it."
Hannibal shook his head as he reached for the map in the glove box. Without looking at either of them, he gave the two men a direct order.
"B.A., let go of Face's leg; Face put that foot down and move over here behind me. Don't either of you think about laying a hand on the other, or you'll both be doing push-ups until your arms give out. Do I make myself clear?"
A half-hearted Yes, sir came from the back seat and outside the car at the same time.
Checking the map, Hannibal saw that they weren't too far from a national park located halfway between Minneapolis and Duluth, in the vicinity of Lake Superior. It seemed the perfect spot for a time-out.
"That`s it, guys," he said firmly as he climbed out of the car, "I'm pulling us off the road. B.A., give me the keys, and get in the back seat!"
B.A. was reluctant to hand over the car keys, but he knew that Hannibal was in no mood to be contradicted. He got in the back seat behind his CO, keeping as far away as possible from Face, who was pressed up against the other door. Hannibal, checking the rear-view mirror, just shook his head and smiled wryly.
"Kids!" he murmured as he put the car in gear.
Just over an hour later, during which there hadn't been so much as a peep from the back seat, Hannibal pulled up outside the ranger station.
"All right, you two - out!" he ordered, opening his own door. He herded his sullen charges toward the rustic building and in through the door marked "Office".
A pretty blonde with a nametag that read "Swanson" looked up from her place at the check-in desk.
"Good afternoon, sir. I'm Ingrid. Can I help you?" she asked, her eyes flicking to Face, and noting the disgruntled look on the otherwise handsome visage.
"Yes, I think you can," Hannibal said, turning on his most charming smile. "I'm John Smith, and these are my nephew Templeton, and his friend Bosco." He laid a hand on each one's shoulder as he spoke. "We're traveling cross-country, and we've decided to take a bit of a break. Is there any way we can camp here for a while?"
"Well, it's a bit early in the season, and our cabins aren't ready yet."
"We don't need cabins," Hannibal assured her. "We've got our own equipment. We just need a place to stay that's off the beaten track."
"All right," she said, smiling as she led Hannibal to a wall map, "there's a nice spot by this stream here." She indicated the place with her pencil. "It's kind of far from the station, though."
"It's perfect. We're used to fending for ourselves," Hannibal said. "Templeton, will you sign us in?"
Face's lips quirked in a tiny smile. He knew why Hannibal had given him that task. He was the forger of the team, and there was no way anyone would recognize his handwriting if he chose to disguise it. As he signed the register, he considered that false last names would do for now, while Lynch was thousands of miles away. He realized, however, that they'd have to be more circumspect the closer they got to California.
"With pleasure, Uncle John," he said, a tinge of laughter in his voice. Ingrid looked up at the change of tone, and saw that the young man was even more handsome when he wasn't scowling.
Taking a site map and their copy of the camping agreement, they left the office.
As they headed back to the car, Hannibal noticed an ice locker at the far end of the building. Tapping B.A. on the shoulder, he jerked a thumb in its direction.
"Might as well load up the cooler while we can, B.A."
"You got it, Hannibal," he replied, pulling out the cooler as he spoke. Within ten minutes, they were on their way.
As they unloaded their equipment, Hannibal took the time to look around. This area was very much like the places his father had chosen for camping trips when he was young. He felt another twinge of homesickness, but he was ultimately satisfied. It would give his "sons" an opportunity to "rough it" without worrying about VC troops trying to kill them. No, there was only Lynch and his MP's trying to put them back in jail, but even that was better than `Nam.
With over 50,000 acres in which to hide, Hannibal decided this would be a good place to take a break from traveling. A couple of weeks on the road had taken their toll, and he felt they deserved it after the cramped quarters of the car. While it was still fairly cold, there wasn't much in the line of snow except in the hills, and the weather forecast was for clear skies with little to no chance of precipitation of any kind.. The sound of honking made him look up to see scores of geese heading north, a sure sign that Spring wasn't very far away.
Leftover lentil soup and sandwiches would have to do for the night. They didn't want to leave the park grounds unnecessarily, but providing for themselves would not be a problem. Many were the times they'd had to fend for themselves while out on patrol in 'Nam, and those experiences would serve them well now. Small game and fish were plentiful - and free.
Hannibal smiled. If their previous dinners were anything to go by, they'd be eating well, indeed.
A Few Days Later
Face sighed as he looked over at BA from where he was preparing supper. He still couldn't believe that the big man had cut his hair like that. Sure, he understood why he had done it, but they were trying to blend in with the rest of the population, and now B.A. stood out like a sore thumb. No, not just a sore thumb, but a sore thumb with a Mohawk. And to top it all off, he had started to grow a beard, as well.
He glanced over at Hannibal. His lover's beautiful light-blond hair, which had been greying at the temples, was now dyed a light brown, and his own hair was now a dark dirty blond, not to mention that it was now shorter than it had been in years, no thanks to Colonel Lynch and his military regulations.
Hannibal set up a new tripod of green branches over the fire, and hung the kettle of water below it to heat before looking across to where Face was using his Kabar knife to skin the rabbits they had caught that day. He'd taught the city boy these skills when they were in `Nam. There had been several occasions out on patrol when their C-rations had run out or couldn't be trusted, and they'd fended for themselves.
Once the rabbits had been gutted, Face buried the offal as deep as he could, so it wouldn't attract scavengers to their camp. They didn't need to be awakened by a bear in the middle of the night - or any other time, for that matter. When that was done, he cut them into smaller pieces and sprinkled them with flour, ready to be browned once the vegetables had sauted sufficiently. After that, they'd add hot water from the kettle, and in an hour or so they'd have a nourishing stew for their supper.
Hannibal stirred up the stew one last time, and noticed that the meat was all but falling off the bone. Tasting it, he decided it was ready. He stood, and whistled the first line of "Come and get your beans, boys!" loudly enough to carry to where Face was out exploring. At the first note, B.A. appeared from the tent. Grabbing the dishes, he set them out, his appetite whetted by the brisk evening air.
It wasn't long before Face returned to camp, trotting back from wherever he had been. He didn't come back empty-handed, either, bringing with him a load of firewood to last until morning.
As the meal progressed, Hannibal could see that the two younger men were becoming more relaxed. He decided that, from now on, they would spend no more than five days on the road before taking a couple days off from traveling. Yes, it would take them longer to reach Los Angeles, but with Lynch's tendency to jump to conclusions, that could work in their favor.
He was also pleased to note that Face had been eating more the past few weeks. The younger man's appetite still wasn't what it should be, in his opinion, but it had definitely improved. And it seemed to date, he thought, from Face's discovery of where Murdock was located. Whatever the reason, he was content.
As Face cleared away the dishes, Hannibal shook his head and smiled. Even in the middle of nowhere, the young man couldn't stand to leave a mess lying around.
While Face was occupied with that chore, B.A. approached his commanding officer.
"Hannibal, could I have a word wit' you?"
"Sure, B.A. What's the matter?
Silently, the sergeant drew Hannibal towards the edge of the clearing. He looked back towards the fire before speaking again. He'd made a hard decision, and the only way to carry it through was to be completely open with his commanding officer and friend. Besides, he knew only too well that the intuitive Colonel had probably guessed already.
"Hannibal, don't tell Face, but I... umm... I love him, too." The gruff black man was rather nervous admitting this, but Hannibal took the revelation in stride. "Oh, I know that Face don't love nobody but you, and I ain't gonna try to come between you, but damn it, Colonel! It's hard to see you two together and not feel a bit jealous."
"I thought something was up, Sergeant. You haven't been your usual charming self." Even B.A. had to grin at that. "The question is: what do we do about it?"
"I plan to head out at first light, Hannibal. Make my own way to L.A., an' meet up wit' you there. You know the old saying: Two's company..."
"Yes, I do. But I also know that we're a team, and splitting our forces, few as they are, is not a smart move right now, even if the MP's are following a false trail at the moment. If you're spotted, no one will be around to help."
"I'm willin' to take that risk, Colonel."
"That may be, but I'm not willing to let you. You're needed here." Hannibal put an arm around his shoulders. "Now, I appreciate your being so candid with me, B.A. I've no doubt there's someone out there waiting for you."
"Nah," B.A. sighed. "How could anyone love a angry mudsucker like me, anyway?"
"You might be surprised," the older man murmured, guiding him back towards the fire. "But I also want you to consider something: what will Face think if you just up and leave? You know how he feels about people leaving. If you just bug out, he'll think that he did something wrong."
"I ain't doing this to hurt him. It ain't his fault I feel this way."
"But how do you think he's going to take it?"
BA looked over at Face, who was kneeling beside the fire, adding wood to it. Even though his hair had been dyed, the firelight still managed to play off the highlights in it, and his face glowed in the orange light.
"Like he ain't worth being with." BA turned to Hannibal, his eyes soft and caring. "Don't want to hurt him, Hannibal. Don't ever want to hurt him."
"Exactly what I was thinking," he said. Raising his voice, he called, "Hey, Face!"
"I need a little help here!"
Face finished poking the fire to get it to burn better, and got to his feet. Joining Hannibal, he found himself being positioned as one point of a small triangle.
Hannibal held out his right hand, palm up. First B.A. and then Face placed their right hands on his.
Next, Hannibal placed his left arm around B.A.'s shoulders. B.A. did the same for Face, and Face for Hannibal.
Hannibal closed his eyes and bowed his head, as did the others.
"We are Team," he said softly. "The good of the one is the good of all, and the good of all is the good of the one. The one will not be sacrificed for the other. We go in as a Team, we come out as a Team, and we never leave a man behind."
"We are Team," they said together.
Hannibal looked up, and the moment passed.
"Now," he said, "I`ll take first watch. You two get some shut-eye. Lieutenant, I'll wake you in six."
"Yes, sir, Colonel." He grinned. "Come on, B.A.," he said, taking the Sergeant by the arm and guiding him towards the tent.. "We`ve got our orders."
An hour later, Hannibal sneaked a peek into the tent. He smiled when he saw the other two sound asleep. They were in separate sleeping bags, but B.A. was holding Face as they nestled like spoons. Strictly for warmth, of course...
Hannibal slipped into the tent and crouched by his lover's sleeping bag. Carefully, he took Face's wrists in his hand before waking him. The younger man's eyes opened; seeing who it was, he nodded. Hannibal let go of his hands, and he extracted himself from his sleeping bag, careful not to disturb B.A. The sky was beginning to lighten, and he realized that Hannibal had done it again, keeping a longer watch and letting him sleep.
Once dressed, he went outside and joined Hannibal, who knelt by the fire, making breakfast. It was only oatmeal with raisins, but anything was better than nothing.
"How you doing, kid?" he asked quietly.
"Not too bad, considering," Face replied as he dipped some hot water out of the kettle, mixing it in the enamelware washbasin with some cold water from the stream. He washed his hands and face, then pitched the dirty water before he looked at Hannibal. "Missing you."
"I know, Tem," Hannibal said as he got to his feet. He'd heard the longing in his lover's voice. He put an arm around the younger man's waist, and lightly kissed the soft lips. Face leaned forward, opening his mouth to invite him in.
Reluctantly, Hannibal broke off the kiss and released his hold on Face.
"Awwwww, Hannibal," the younger man pouted.
"Sorry, kid," he said regretfully, laying a hand on his shoulder. "I want this as much as you do, but we can't take any chances. It may not be Charlie out there, and the MP's may be concentrating their search elsewhere, but letting down our guard could be a fatal mistake. There's bound to be a reward out for our capture by now."
Face sighed and nodded. Everything his lover said was true. That didn't make it any easier, though.
"I don't know how long it's going to be before we can settle down anywhere," Hannibal continued, "but I promise that I'll make it up to you once we do."
"I know, John," Face replied. "It's just that the waiting is so hard sometimes." He looked around. "I'd better check the snares and get some more firewood."
Hannibal watched sadly as the man he loved moved away into the woods, and shook his head. The boy had been through so many harrowing experiences in his nineteen years; it wasn't fair. He wished circumstances were different, and he could give the younger man the attention he deserved. Tem gave so much, and asked so little in return.
Sighing, Hannibal returned to his cooking.
Face looked back briefly as he made his way deeper into the forest. He knew Hannibal loved him; he could see it in his eyes. But while his brain knew it, his heart was hurting. If it wasn't for the nights spent wrapped in his Colonel's arms, he'd begin to wonder if perhaps Hannibal was falling out of love with him.
Using a folded tarp as a log carrier, he gathered a good-sized load of kindling and small branches. He also cut loose curls of bark from the birch trees he passed; they could be used as tinder, since they would burn even when wet.
Checking the snares he'd set the day before, he found a few squirrels and a couple more rabbits. He collected this small bounty and re-set the snares. With potatoes, onions, and carrots, the squirrels would make a nice stew for that night's supper, and the rabbits, dressed and staked in the stream to keep cold, would keep well for the next day, just in case.
A few days later, Hannibal woke to find himself alone in the tent. Face had taken second watch, and apparently B.A. hadn't slept very long.
"Morning, Sunshine!" he called as he emerged from the tent.
"Morning, Hannibal," the younger man returned, looking up from where he was tending the fire. "Water's almost boiling, if you need it."
Hannibal stretched and yawned as he joined Face.
"Good; I could use some coffee," he said. So saying, he grabbed the coffee-pot, measured out the grounds, added some of the hot water from the cook-pot, and placed it inside the ring of stones that kept the fire contained. "Where's B.A. gotten to?"
"He headed upstream, sharpening a long stick as he went. Didn't say what he was planning to do, though."
Noting that the coffee would take some time to brew, Hannibal decided to check on his sergeant.
"I'd better go see what he`s up to," he said, giving Face a light kiss. "I'll see you in a little while."
Face just nodded and went to set out the fixings for breakfast.
Just out of earshot of the camp, Hannibal found B.A. below a small waterfall. He was crouched over the edge of the stream, intently watching the quiet water of a shallow pool carved out of the bank, a long, sharpened stick in his upraised hand. He was just about to say something when the improvised spear flashed down. Moments later, B.A. pulled it back out, a nice-sized fish wiggling on the end.
"That's pretty good, Sergeant," Hannibal said quietly. "Where'd you learn to do that?"
"Hey, man, I may be from the projects, but I read a lot in school," B.A. told him. "Read about woodland Indians and how they'd catch fish. I noticed this pool attracted a lot of fish, so I thought I'd try it." He pointed proudly to collection of several good-sized trout, held in the water by a slender stake through their gills. "I think I done pretty good for a amateur."
"You sure have, B.A.," Hannibal said, clapping him on the back. "I'm proud of you."
B.A. practically glowed at Hannibal's words.
That night, there was broiled trout for dinner; threaded on green sticks and hung over the fire to cook.
Hunger is the best sauce, Hannibal reminded himself as he watched the younger men vie amicably for the last piece.
Yes, he considered, they were adapting quite well to life on the run. Deep anger at Morrison surged through him for a moment. It pained him that it had to be this way, but there was always the hope that they would, in time, be vindicated.
As idyllic as their situation was, Hannibal became increasingly aware that it would soon be time to move on. When he told the younger men, they could only acknowledge the wisdom of his decision, and admit that they were beginning to feel the same way.
On their last day, it was decided to take a hike together for the first time since their arrival, so after breakfast, they broke down most of the camp before setting out.
Hannibal finished setting up some unobtrusive warning signs, things easily disturbed, that only they would notice If anyone entered their camp while they were off on their stroll, they'd know about it.
They went further than any of them had on their own, with Hannibal pointing out animals, plants, and geographic features the two city boys had never seen before. It felt funny taking on the role his father had taken during those camping trips all those years before, but it felt good to see the younger men eagerly soak up all the knowledge.
An hour later, the three stopped for a break. While Hannibal and BA sat under a tree, Face actually climbed it so that he could see what was on the horizon.
"Acts like a squirrel sometimes." B.A. shook his head.
Hannibal smiled as he looked up at his lover, who was now sitting close to the main trunk, his legs pulled up so that they were mainly hidden by the branches. If he hadn't known what he was looking for, he would have missed the younger man.
"Comes from being an advance scout and a sniper." Hannibal's eyes sparkled as he continued to eye his lover. "No one ever looks up."
"Not that you could see him anyway." B.A. shook his head as he watched the way Face seemed to sit completely motionless.
"Very true." Hannibal cupped his hands so he could be heard over the slight breeze. "See anything interesting, kid?"
"Nothing but trees, trees, and more trees," Face called back as looked out across the forest. Sensing that he was being watched, Face looked down to see Hannibal staring at him. "What?"
"Nothing, Tem. Just enjoying the view."
Even at the distance that separated them, Hannibal noticed a slight blush that covered the younger man's cheeks.
"Still just a kid," Hannibal chuckled to himself as he turned back to look at B.A., who was also staring up at Face.
"So, what do you think, Sergeant? Do we turn back toward camp, or keep going?"
Before B.A. could answer, they heard a noise coming from above them. Looking up, they both watched as Face descended from the tree with the same ease with which he had climbed it.
"Colonel, there's smoke coming from a fire a few miles up."
"Smoke as in a forest fire?"
"No, as in a campfire."
"According to the ranger, we're supposed to be the only ones in here."
"Think we should check it out, Colonel?" Face asked, and Hannibal noted that the younger man had already switched to military mode.
"Right," Hannibal nodded. "Lieutenant, you take point; B.A., you behind him; I'll bring up the rear." Before the three of them could depart, Hannibal placed his hand on Face's arm, squeezing it lightly. "You watch yourself. We don't know what we're going to find. I doubt that it's the MP's, but you never know."
"Yes, sir." Face nodded, but he also noticed that Hannibal's thumb was playing along the inside of his arm. "I promise, John."
Hannibal offered the younger man a slight smile. He always hated to send Face out in front, it worried him no end that something might happen to him. But he had always had a job to do, and Face was the best when it came to taking the lead position.
The three of them had hiked a little over two miles when Hannibal decided stop for a quick break. As soon as they were grouped back together, Face climbed back up a tree to get his bearings. He was only up there for a moment before he came back down.
"Not far, Colonel. About half a mile North, and we're there."
"All right, men, we stick tight. Make sure that you can see each other. I don't want us getting separated. Also remember that I don't want us scaring the hell out of some couple honeymooning up here."
Both men nodded and began to get ready to move out. Face was just getting ready to take the lead again when he noticed a flash of silver in the sunlight. As he started towards it to investigate, he saw B.A. talking to Hannibal and walking backwards toward the object. Face sprinted the distance and shoved BA to the ground right before he stepped on it.
"What you doing, you crazy fool?" B.A. growled at Face as he shoved the younger man off him.
"I saw something," Face grunted as he landed flat on his butt.
"What did you see, Face?" Hannibal asked, helping the blond to his feet before the two younger men could get into another argument. As soon as Face was standing, Hannibal offered his hand to B.A. and pulled him to his feet.
"It was metal." Face carefully moved back toward the tree near which he had seen the object. Being as careful as possible, Face began to dust the debris away from the metal object. He was about to pick up a stick that lay across it when Hannibal quickly grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back.
"It's a leg-hold trap, Face!" he hissed. "Must be poachers in the area."
"Poachers?" Face shook his head, "Are you sure about that, Colonel? Maybe they have permission to be out here trapping game. Not to mention the trap could have been out here for a long time. We don't know when it was set."
The Colonel moved back over to the trap. He grabbed a piece of wood from the forest floor and pushed down on the plate in the center of the trap. Instantly, the trap sprang up and clamped down on the wood, biting a deep grove into it. Once it was deactivated, Hannibal ran his fingers over the hinged sides. Holding his fingers up, he showed both men the fresh grease that was smeared over the hinge.
"Does this answer your question?"
"Yes, sir," Face answered softly as he dropped his head.
Moving over to the younger man, Hannibal lifted Face's head by placing his finger under his chin. When their eyes met, he stated: "Don't you ever be afraid to ask questions. I need you to be able to do that as my second-in-command; understand?"
"Yes, sir." Face offered Hannibal a soft smile that warmed his heart.
"Good. Face, I want you to keep us heading toward the fire you saw." Hannibal turned back to B.A.. "We need to find out what we are dealing with here. If there is one trap, then there have to be others. I want us to fan out, but be careful where you step. These damn things won't blow you up like a claymore, but they'll break or even shatter a bone in a matter of a second. That`s why they`re illegal."
It was only a matter of minutes before Face was able to pick up a well-worn trail that led them straight back to the camp the smoke had been coming from. As they got closer, Face pointed out several traps and trip-wires that were set around the camp in an obvious attempt to make sure that the occupants of the camp were alerted if anyone got too close.
Hannibal took a quick glance in the camp, and his stomach rolled at what he saw. There were corpses of animals piled in mounds, crows picking at the rotting meat, while their pelts were stretched out to dry on frames in the sun. Before Face and BA could get a good look, he backed them off. He didn't need his men any more upset than they had to be.
"Hannibal?" Face looked at the Colonel for clarification.
"Definitely poachers," Hannibal frowned as he looked at Face and BA. "Okay, guys," Hannibal said quietly, the Jazz glinting in his ice-blue eyes, "let's give these jamokes a taste of their own medicine."
"Yeeeeeeah," B.A. said slowly, a grin splitting his face.
Face just shook his head, knowing there was no stopping Hannibal once a plan started coming together.
At Hannibal's signal, they silently crept away, heading back for their own campsite.
Once the three men were properly equipped, they started back toward the poachers' camp. They were just a half mile from the it when Hannibal called them to a stop to go over their plan one more time.
"I got it, I got it.," Face said, then sighed as he repeated Hannibal's plan back to him for the fifth time.
"B.A.?" Hannibal turned to the sergeant.
Without any further prompting from the Colonel, BA quickly repeated the plan back to Hannibal and Face.
"Good." Hannibal nodded. He was about to move when Face placed his hand on the Colonel's shoulder.
"Don't you need to repeat the plan back, just to make sure you have it?"
Hannibal stared at Face, not knowing what to say at first. It had been a long time since the younger man had risked a joke like this. In fact, he hadn't been this brave since before they were arrested for the bank robbery. He was about to address his lover's humor when he heard a snicker come from his left. Turning his head, he noticed B.A. trying hard not to laugh.
"You get fifty push-ups," Hannibal told B.A., then turned to his lover. "You get a hundred, Lieutenant."
At the threat, Face broke out in a fit of laughter which he muffled with his hand. Hannibal just shook his head. He knew it was Face and B.A.'s way of settling their nerves before they went into action, so he allowed them a moment to get it out of their system before he pulled them back into the frame of mind they needed to be in for success. Once they went over the plan one more time as a unit, they went into action.
Face slipped quietly from his place at the top of the tree, just 50 feet from the camp where the poachers were set up. Moving back as silently as the night that surrounded him, he went to tell Hannibal and B.A. what he had seen on his day-long surveillance.
"Just the two of them, Colonel. They've banked their fire for the night and gone into their tent."
"Good work, kid." Hannibal rested his hand on Face's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I want you to get some rest. I'll take over `til dawn."
It was just barely light when Hannibal woke his men. With hand-signs, he sent them on their way.
Face moved silently to the edge of the camp on one side, while B.A. made his way to the other. Hannibal moved to the top of the campsite, so that when the team came together, they made a triangle. Carefully, they moved forward through the half-light, taking care not to step on anything that might alert the poachers. When the three of them were in position, each man grabbed a tent cord and cut it. Less than a second later, the two poachers came out of their tent, cursing one another for not setting it properly. They both came to an abrupt halt when they saw the three men standing there with guns drawn.
"Hey, guys!" The first man out looked at the team. "If you're with the park, we have permits..." He stopped and stared the young black man with the cut-off sleeves. "Or are you guys looking for a cut of our action?"
"No, fool! We lookin' to put you out o' action," B.A. growled as he pounded his fist into his hand.
"Tie them up, B.A." Hannibal smiled as he tossed rope to the sergeant, while he kept his gun trained on the men. His sergeant happily complied.
"I'm going to see what we can pack up to leave as evidence when we drop these scumbags off," Hannibal said when B.A. was finished with the first one. "The larger stuff we'll leave for the rangers to collect." He looked around the camp, a smile pulling at the corner of his lips. "Face, why don't you see if there's anything we can use. Like a coffee-pot with its innards?"
"Sure thing, Hannibal." Face nodded as he moved off to look around the camp.
B.A. watched Face move about the camp as he began to tie up the second man. Even in the middle of a mission, he moved with an easy grace that would make anyone jealous, and to be honest, he loved to see the younger man move. The grace and ease, the way his rear moved in the tight pants... B.A. shook his head; he had no right to look at Face that way. He loved Hannibal, not him.
Once he had collected anything useful that would not be needed as evidence, Face looked around the camp in the growing light. It was bad enough to see the hawks, even a bald eagle, in cages; at least they were alive and could be freed. But the wolf pelts nauseated him like nothing had in a long time. For people to kill one another was bad enough, but innocent animals...
He knelt by the wolf the one poacher had been preparing to skin, noting the skinning knives that lay nearby. He stroked the coarse fur gently, wishing it could be otherwise. At the sight of a mangled paw, the bile rose in his throat. Looking up, his eyes searching for Hannibal, he took in what his lover had kept from him the previous day. He just barely made it to a tree before throwing up.
When B.A. saw that, he finished tying the last poacher`s hands in front of him with a savage jerk, then grabbed him by the collar. No one hurt Face; no one.
"You gonna show me where the rest o' those traps are, sucker!" he growled. Shoving a gun in the guy's ribs, he pushed him forward. "Now, move!"
As B.A. and his captive moved off, Hannibal shoved the first poacher to the ground and turned his attention to his lover. Rubbing the smaller man's back, he asked if Face was all right.
"Why, Hannibal?," he asked, turning haunted eyes on the older man. "What we had to do in `Nam was bad enough, but this..." His voice trailed off.
"It's greed, pure and simple, baby," Hannibal told him softly. "As long as there's a market for such things, even a legal one, some people just have to take more than Nature can handle. But at least we've put a stop to it here."
Face nodded sadly.
"I'm all right now, John," he said quietly. "Let's finish this."
Hannibal smiled at the note of steely determination in the younger man's voice.
Heading off along the trail, the poacher looked around nervously for some avenue of escape, but a growl from B.A. dissuaded him from any attempt to get away. Morosely, he led his captor. to the first of the remaining traps, half-hidden under some leaves.
B.A. looked it over. The semi-circular jaws with the jagged teeth were straight out of an old melodramatic movie, but he knew the damage they could do.
At B.A.'s "suggestion", the poacher picked up a long branch, and brought the end down sharply on the trip-plate.
The jaws came together with such force that they snapped the branch in two.
He jumped when B.A.'s hand came down on his shoulder.
"Ain't no call to be usin' them things," he growled in the man's ear. "Oughtta use `em on you; see how you like it!"
Within half an hour, they were back in the camp, the poacher carrying all the traps.
When B.A. arrived back in camp, they forced the poachers into the back of their battered pick-up truck, then loaded the captive birds in their cages. Hannibal gave Face a leg-up into the bed before collecting what had been scavenged and climbing into the cab with B.A.
Hearing a shuffling sound, Face looked at the head poacher, who was easing his way towards the tailgate.
"Don't try it, mister!" he said with a growl to rival B.A.'s. "I killed plenty of guys in `Nam, and I have no problem blowing away slime like you!"
Looking at the young man's cold, grey eyes, the two poachers didn't doubt him for a moment.
It didn't take long to reach their own campsite, and less time to finish breaking camp and loading everything into their car. At Hannibal's suggestion, B.A. drove the car to the ranger station, while Hannibal followed at a discreet distance, so that they wouldn't arrive together. Again, Face rode in the back to make sure the poachers didn't attempt to escape.
Hannibal drew maps of the poacher's campsite and the route to it while he waited to make sure that Face had filled their cooler from the outdoor ice chest before he pulled the pick-up truck as close to the ranger station as he dared. Setting the brake, he climbed out of the cab and walked around to the tailgate. Reaching over, he patted the cheek of the head poacher.
"Well, sorry I can't stay, pal," he grinned as he tucked his maps and a note into the guy's breast pocket, "but you won't be alone for long." So saying, he crossed to the pay phone at the far end of the building. Dropping in a dime, he dialed the park's main number.
Inside, the phone rang just as the rangers were sitting down to lunch. Ingrid sighed and answered it.
"Ranger station; Officer Swanson speaking."
"Uh, yeah," said a strange, rather nasal voice at the other end of the line. "Is dis, uh, Ingrid?"
"Yes." Ingrid couldn't keep the puzzled sound from her voice.
"Yeah, well, me and my friends want to t'ank you all for yer hospitality. So much so, in fact, dat we've left youse a little present in de parking lot. Cheers!"
"Wait! Who is this?" Ingrid demanded. Her only answer was the buzz of the dial tone. Slowly, she set the receiver back in the cradle.
"That's weird!" she murmured.
"Who was that?" Mike called from the table.
"I don't know," Ingrid said distractedly. "I've never heard the voice before. One of our campers, apparently."
"Well, what did he want?"
Ingrid looked toward the front door of the station.
"He said he'd left us a present."
Immediately, five chairs scraped on the floor as the remaining rangers got to their feet, eager to see the unexpected gift.
Hannibal chuckled as he hung up the phone. He would've liked to see the expressions on the rangers' faces when they discovered the gift-wrapped poachers waiting for them. However, it wouldn't do to have the rangers see him and his men, and put two and two together. They were law enforcement, after all.
Besides, there was a distinct nip in the air, and he could hear Face calling him.
Face leaned out the car's window and called urgently to his commanding officer.
"Hannibal, it may be mid-March, but the radio says there's a blizzard heading down from Canada, and we don't have any snow tires. We really need to move?"
Hannibal ran for the car and slid in, looking back just as half-a-dozen bewildered Park Rangers hurried from the station and surrounded the truck parked at their doorstep. He saw Ingrid, the pretty young woman who'd registered them the week before, pick up the papers he'd left for them, a puzzled frown on her face.
Face looked out the back window as B.A. pulled away, and sighed.
"You know, Hannibal, there may be a reward for these guys."
"Yes, I realize that, Face." Hannibal reached back and took his lover's hand, caressing it with his thumb. "And I know we could use the money. But sometimes you've got to do something just because it's the right thing to do."
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