We Can Be Heroes
An A-Team Movie Verse & Club Denial Fan Fiction
by Darth Stitch
DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Belongs to 2 TV gods by name of Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell and is now a movie directed by Joe Carnahan. Will put the toys back when I'm done.
Characters appearing from The Silmarillion and the Lord of the Rings are of course the creations of the one and only J.R.R. Tolkien. The characterization of a Certain Somebody around here as "Morrie" has been borrowed with permission and a lot of love and affection, from the story "Blue Notes" written by Murasaki99. With Murasaki99's kind generosity, "Morrie" came to play in my universe and first appeared in my Club Denial stories. Blue Notes can be found on Murasaki99's Live Journal and stands as a classic and enjoyable WIP.
This is also an answer to a prompt on the LJ comm a_team_kink.
DISCLAIMER TO SAVE MY SOUL FROM GOING TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET: Yes, I know I'm doomed. There has got to be a way for me to turn off my slash radar when I watch these kinds of movies. Or maybe movie!Hannibal and movie!Face have got to stop flirting with each other on screen. :P
WARNING: This story is part of a fan fiction series with slash elements. As in, two men being sweet on each other. So if this is not your cuppa tea, time to clicky-click on the back button and run for it.
I, I can remember
Standing, by the wall
And the guns, shot above our heads
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall
And the shame, was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever
Then we could be heroes, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day...
- "Heroes," by David Bowie & Brian Eno
PROLOGUE: Or Why Iluvatar Has a Wacky Sense of Humor
The first time the man who now called himself Morris Bauman ("Morrie" to his friends) had set eyes on James Holland McTyeire Murdock, he was dead sure that Iluvatar was playing another one of His little jokes on him.
The One had a seriously whacked-out sense of humor. Only the Creator Himself could draw, with such exquisite skill, the crooked lines that would allow the one who was once Morgoth Bauglir, the Great Enemy, to save the world. Still, Morrie couldn't complain much. He ended up with his music, his beloved Steinway and the company of Feanor Curufinwe and there was Club Denial, which was a multiverse unto itself, with infinite chances for fun and mischief.
When Morrie met James, he was just a tiny, messy-haired toddler, looking at him with those big blue-green eyes. His lovely young mother was one of Morrie's neighbors, who lived in one of the apartments upstairs and worked as an elementary schoolteacher. Thanks to Mrs. Hailey, the local gossip - so very typical that every community, no matter what, had one of those - Morrie had learned that the young woman had been recently widowed. Her husband was a combat pilot, killed in the line of duty.
Those were just the details. What mattered was that he had recognized who James was right off.
It wasn't as if he could forget, right? Morrie had been having run-ins with James' family for thousands of years.
Feanor Curufinwe - "Fred" to the rest of the world - had confirmed it with his startled "Ai! Elrond's twins!"
While Elrond Half-Elven had left Middle-Earth all those ages ago, his sons had been allowed to delay their choice for a while and had stayed for as long as they possibly could. And it would be those rapscallions, wouldn't it? While it was true that Morrie hadn't met Elrond Half-Elven's sons while he was still running the Big Bad and Nasty Business (as Spike so eloquently put it), he had heard enough of them from Feanor and then got acquainted with them later to understand Feanor's reaction. The twins had decided that the Club was a nice place to visit and eventually became among its Regulars. Feanor had always said that the real crazies didn't come from his side of the family, oaths-that-should-never-have-been-sworn notwithstanding.
Manwe's balls, those two were absolutely nuts!
Despite the fact that there were thousands of years in between, the ancient bloodline that came from the very first union of Elves and Men, with that strain of the Ainur, was still true in little James Murdock. Besides the obvious "good" qualities, there was that propensity for mischief and adventure, that hint of wildness and ferocity in his soul and that need to be free. All these things bespoke of Elrond's sons, the twins Elladan and Elrohir. James was a bright kid and he was a frequent visitor to the Club, taking in all its wonders and oddities - which would have driven a lesser mortal quite mad - with easy, sunny acceptance.
So Morrie, Feanor and whenever the twins came to visit - Eru help them all - kept an eye on the child. Not that any of them were expecting world-shattering things to come from James H.M. Murdock. There was no prophecy to fulfill, no Great Quest to undertake and as of the moment, Everyone Qualified was engaged in their own never-ending battles agains various and sundry Bad Guys. But that wasn't the point, really.
They watched over the boy and his mother because they were family. Even if it was a gap of generations over thousands of years.
Truthfully, all of them thought that James would grow up, grow older, "forget" all the Decidedly Fantastical Things That Went On at Club Denial and live a fairly ordinary life. Well, given his ancestry - it wouldn't be that ordinary. One way or the other, a lot of that bloodline inevitably ended up somewhere where they would be helping people. But it would be a simple mortal life, untouched by any of the magic and the mysteries that Morrie, Fred and the Club Regulars dealt with on a regular basis. And that was how things were meant to be.
When James H.M. Murdock turned eight years old, his mother was killed.
There were a great many ugly things that went on in the world - hell, Morrie was intimately acquainted with most of them. But even one of the Valar could not adequately explain why a little boy would have to live with the memory of holding on to his mother's battered body. The two of them had been crossing the street on their way to school when a drunk driver barreled through. Anna Murdock had just enough time to get her child out of the way.
She bled to death in the arms of her young son.
And there were some things that even the Valar who was originally the Great Rebel, could not interfere with.
The boy hadn't cried, not once during the funeral or while his mother was buried, only staring blankly ahead, blue-green eyes dull and focused inward.
It was Morrie who'd found young James in his room after his mother's funeral. He was idly playing with his G.I. Joes, apparently engrossed in a story of his own making, having the Joes off on an adventure in that unknown territory that was Under the Bed.
"So how are the Joes going to find Cobra Commander's new super-secret base and destroy his Particle Blaster?" Morrie asked the boy quietly, not wanting to give the Joes' position away to the bad guys.
"I don't know," answered the child. He held up one of the G.I. Joe toys, all too obviously the main hero of the series and quite well-loved, given that the original yellow color that had made him have blonde hair had already faded almost to white. "He hasn't come up with the Plan yet."
"I'm sure he'll figure it out," Morrie agreed solemnly. "Maybe he'll be able to think things through a little better if you guys come out from under the bed for a bit."
James shook his head. "Can't."
"Mama'll see me. Can't let her do that. I promised, her, you see?"
Morrie gulped. Oh, he wasn't so good at this. He wasn't supposed to be any good at this. But he was going to ask the question anyway. "How can your Mama see you? And what did you promise?"
James lay down and shifted just a little bit under the bed, so he could stretch out his arm and point in the general direction of the window. "Mama's star is out there. She'll see me. And I promised her that I'll be brave and....it's awful hard to be brave right now." Blue-green eyes blinked rapidly, the little face wanting to crumple in tears but maintaining its courageous faade.
Morrie sighed and leaned against the bed, looking up at the window. Somehow he knew which star James meant. It still shone bright up in the night sky, as it would now and forever more.
Earendil was a mariner
that tarried in Avernien;
he built a boat of timber felled
in Nimbrethil to journey in;
her sails he wove of silver fair,
of silver were her lanterns made,
her prow was fashioned like a swan,
and light upon her banners laid.
"That's pretty," the child whispered.
"That's the real story of your Mama's star, you know?" Morrie told him, trying not to think how terribly ironic it was that he, of all people, would be telling this story to this child of Earendil's blood. "Bearing the Silmaril wrested from Morgoth's crown, he sails the skies in his mighty ship Vingilot, the Flammifer of Westernesse."
The words came easily to him as he told the story from its beginning - he'd lived through parts of it after all. He told the story as it was and if James thought his rendition of Morgoth Bauglir was suitably terrifying, he took it as a compliment. Slowly, he was able to coax the child out of his hiding place so they could watch the stars together.
And if, at long last, he could see the tears running down the child's face, Morrie said nothing about it.
"I'll fly up there one day, you'll see," James declared fervently. He was not sniffling and he just had something in his eye, so Morrie lent him a hankie so he could wipe away the wetness on his cheeks.
"Yeah, you will," Morrie confirmed. He was dead sure of it.
The boy didn't fall asleep until Morrie finally ended the story, at least until as far as up to the part where Earendil was set to sail across the starry skies each night, only to be met by his beloved Elwing when morning came.
"You really should have been the one telling the stories here," Morrie told the other member of his audience, who had been standing at the door the entire time. "Especially that story."
Feanor smirked. "Now, Melkor, who am I to interrupt a storyteller in the midst of his tale? Especially when he's been telling it so well."
Morrie snorted. "You get to tell him the family histories next time."
The Elf smiled and went to sit on the bed. James was fast asleep, head pillowed on Morrie's thigh. They'd be putting him on his own bed soon.
"There will be other nights and other stories to tell," Feanor said softly. "We're not letting him go anywhere, are we?"
It was not a question. It was more a statement of fact.
"We'll figure it out but yeah, he's staying," Morrie confirmed gruffly. No sense in letting the Elf think he'd gone that soft - he'd never hear the end of it. But they would fight like hell to keep the kid with them.
He was family after all.
Legends had to start somewhere.
Naturally, the story of a Special Forces commando team gone rogue made the headlines for a couple of weeks. Speculation ran high on exactly why the group had done so - thievery, the murder of a well-respected and honored general, framed for a crime they did not commit and the possible involvement of the CIA. Outside of a Tom Clancy novel starring Jack Ryan, since when was the CIA portrayed as the good guys? Others pointed out how dangerous these four particular men could be - being former Army Rangers, their additional Special Forces training enabling them to survive in impossible situations and to be capable of nearly anything.
Somebody had dropped the ball somewhere on these guys and heads had rolled.
But then, the whispers and the rumors started trickling in, passed on through emails, blogs, tweets, networking sites - even through good old fashioned word-of-mouth.
The descriptions of the four men were always the same - a slightly older good-looking man with silver hair, a blonde handsome smooth-talker, a slightly odd fellow with a red cap who could switch accents at the drop of a hat but seemed to have the touch of a Southern drawl the rest of the time and a burly black man with a mohawk.
And soon enough, even if "A-Team" had been used to describe Special Forces units for a good long while, that particular moniker had stuck to these four men. "The A-Team" sightings soon began to come up from all over and almost always the stories would say that these so-called dangerous federal fugitives inevitably ended up helping people.
There was the story of that truck driver who'd been hijacked and was consequently helped out by his four hitchhikers. There was the tale about the owner of a diner being terrorized by local thugs and had received assistance from her four customers. There was that family camping out and it was thanks to the efforts of four men who'd also been camping in the area that their little girl was found and brought back home to them. There was that farmer being bullied into selling his land but was able to keep the farm going with the help of his four new farmhands, who incidentally managed to scare off the greedy landgrabber trying to muscle his way in.
And for the stories that said otherwise - soon enough, they would be proven false, one way or the other.
Somewhere out there, a certain lady Captain, upon learning of those stories and safely away from the general clusterfuck that had exploded in the wake of The A-Team's escape, laughed and wished a certain Lieutenant well.
Part I: Club Denial: On Idiots Trying to End the World
Sometimes, Morrie wondered if he shouldn't just come out and publish the Official Handbook for Evil Overlords.
Hell, he was the original Dark Lord - if there was anyone who could be an authority on the subject (certain Other Fallen Powers Not Counted As They Served a Whole Other Purpose Entirely), it would be him.
Now it was true that there were Rules about this sort of thing floating about somewhere - it was just, as a certain pirate captain had put it, guidelines and not exactly the bloody Ten Commandments, savvy? Still, no matter how ridiculous it was, because there was always going to be some snot-nosed Hero/Heroine who was going to get in the way with their assorted Sidekicks, nearly every Evil Overlord-wannabe planned to take over the world. This Goal was something Morrie could understand - he'd Been There, Done That, spun the cotton to make the lousy T-shirt and hell, even grew the damn cotton plant.
Of course, none of these bozos had the right to do so - it was his world, damn it and he made it and Eru help him, he should have had a say on what happened to it before his brothers and sisters decided to put other creatures in it like Elves, Men and animals.
(Okay - maybe he should calm down before he ended up doing something on the order of the Cosmically Stupid.)
Still, he understood the desire for World Domination even if he was going to do everything in his power - if he was called upon to do so - to put a major monkey wrench in their Nefarious Plans.
Morrie wasn't asked to do that fairly often. Most of the time, every Evil Overlord-wannabe had their corresponding Heroes/Heroines to deliver the Righteous Ass-Kicking that they so richly deserved.
(The Author would like to note that despite his current status on the Good vs. Evil Roster, Morgoth Bauglir still has a tendency to backslide every now and then and conveniently forget the roles the other Valar played when they all gave their contribution to the Great Song that forged the world into being. The Author would like to caution the Gentle Readers not to point this out to "Morrie" for the sake of their continued existence.)
But what Morrie absolutely could not stand was the Evil Overlord who wanted to bring about The Apocalypse.
Yeah - everyone was familiar with that. The kind of Nasty Big Bad that wanted to destroy the world completely, bring about the Final War Between Good and Evil, Ragnarok - all that bad shit. These guys didn't even care about World Domination or covering the world in darkness or recreating it into their own twisted vision. They just wanted oblivion.
Morrie didn't have a problem with the oblivion part - some people were just whacked enough to want that and hell, if they wanted to end their lives, well, whatever floated their boat, right? What he did have a problem with was their insane need to drag everyone else who was actually minding their own damn business and getting on with their lives, thank you very much into their demented self-destructive fantasies.
With that kind of Nasty Big Bad, Morrie would be the first in line to deliver Righteous Ass-Kicking. And he'd do it with a Song on his lips.
Tonight, the Club was closed and most of the Regulars had gone home. The Little Blue Fuzzy Creature that helped Morrie run things had thoughtfully left some pastries out for snacks, had a few bottles of various liquors out and what suspiciously looked like miruvor. She also managed to brew a pot of good coffee for anyone who wanted it.
Morrie rather suspected that the Little Blue Fuzzy Creature had been hanging around the Hobbits for way too long. Hobbits were rather particular about their comforts, not that he wanted to complain about things. The atmosphere would be warm and pleasant, even if this impromptu Council would be discussing dark and terrible things.
The thin, pale, shivering young man who was telling most of the story tonight was Oliver Wilmington - Ollie to his friends. Ollie was one of those cheerfully geeky kids, who'd grown up with Morrie and Fred's adoptive nephew James. He would have been at home with his laptop and his papers, in the relative safety of dusty libraries. But Ollie, however, had a yen for adventure.
He just didn't expect that he'd be in over his head before he knew it.
A wealthy, eccentric English gentleman who was known to them as Albert Pallando had offered to fund the research Ollie and his team of fellow geeks were doing into the Atlantis legends. Ollie had actually discovered certain ancient texts what Morrie had realized had to be records of the lost kingdom of Numenor.
Feanor had once observed that the memory of Numenor would never really fade from the minds and hearts of men - that beautiful, ancient kingdom ruled by those kings born from the united bloodline of Elves, Men and the Ainur. It would endure, even as tangled myths and garbled legends capturing what poor memory that they could of its greatness and the terrible hubris that led to its destruction.
Of course, since Ollie and his team were just the researchers, Mr. Pallando had assembled a team of undersea treasure hunters to aid them in their explorations. And while they were off on the Irish Sea, they somehow managed to find a large, exquisite jewel in its depths. It seemed to shine with an inner, radiant light. Very briefly, it had lit up the entire area around the ship like a small sun before it faded to a brilliance that would be bearable to the human eye.
Feanor had visibly started when he heard this - Morrie already had his own suspicions on exactly what that jewel actually was.
Unfortunately, instead of delivering the jewel to their benefactor, the treasure hunters opted to keep it for themselves and sell it to the highest bidder. Ollie had been foolish enough to trust the leader of these treasure hunters, who had assured him that they would get the jewel to Mr. Pallando, as promised. But it looked like the treasure hunters had definitely disappeared with their prize.
Obviously, Mr. Pallando was not pleased.
And one by one, Ollie's team began to die, until he was the only one left alive.
To anyone else, reading between the lines of this story was fairly obvious. Mr. Pallando was proving to be a man one should not betray and that he'd sent his own people after Ollie and his group, being as they were the last link to those treasure hunters. The solution seemed to be simple - protect Ollie, find the jewel and bring it back to this rather unscrupulous but obviously powerful man.
But Ollie spoke of Shadows...Wraiths... that came in the night, implacable in their demands that the jewel be found and returned. He described his friends going to sleep one night, only to find them mysteriously dead in the morning, their faces almost twisted beyond recognition with horror.
"You should have seen them," Ollie said, his voice trembling. "They were so black....so cold...like I was being dragged right into the grave and I'd never be warm or see the sunlight again.... No, you don't want to see them, you really don't, I wouldn't wish it another soul..."
Feanor stood and poured him a cup of miruvor. "Drink this - it will help ease your nerves."
Ollie did and immediately, color returned to his ash-white cheeks. "It feels... warm. And good."
The Elf smiled at him.
"So basically, Uncle Morrie, that's Ollie's story," Former Army Ranger Captain James H.M. Murdock concluded, glancing at the shivering, nervous wreck that was his old childhood playmate. "He sort of ran into us, screaming about Shadows and babbling about horror-movie stuff. Figured that was more up your alley."
"Both of you are crazy fools," grumbled one of James' companions - introduced to Morrie as Bosco "B.A." Baracus. Although Sgt. Baracus was actually the shortest member of the team, he was solidly built, seemingly made out of the very bones of the earth, like the Dwarves of long ago. "Ain't no such thing as ghosts and creepy shit."
"Look," said James' second companion, the distractingly handsome young fellow so aptly nicknamed "Faceman." Lieutenant Templeton Peck might be fair of face and form, but one had to note that he was just a shade over six feet tall and that the well-built body that was shown off by the simple but carefully chosen casual clothes would tell the astute observer that those muscles weren't earned by long hours in the gym. "I get the basics - Ollie here's got bad taste in friends and he's been left in the lurch. I'm sure this Mr. Pallando guy's going to send somebody after Ollie and I'm sure those somebodies will be very ordinary and very human and we're likely going to have a bastard of a time getting rid of them.... If this is a safe place for Ollie, I'm all for it."
James sighed, removing his cap and running a hand through his unruly hair. "For the nth time, boys, you gotta trust me on this - you don't wanna mess with all this hoodoo and crap! This ain't no joking matter."
"Easy there, Captain," soothed the silver-haired man who was presented as James' commanding officer, Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith.
Morrie had done a double take when he'd first set eyes on the man.
"Colonel," James said earnestly. "I'm serious about this - this ain't me trippin' out on you guys. I'm not steering you wrong - this is some really fucked up bad shit right here and my Uncle Morrie and Uncle Fred can help us."
"You don't understand!" Ollie burst out. "They're all real! The Shadows were already chasing me when I ran into James. But..." And at this, he looked at James and Colonel Smith with wondering eyes. "You two frightened them away. They were afraid of James and the Colonel... I know he ordered them to go."
Morrie sighed and poured himself the strongest whiskey he had. Yep, Ollie had spotted exactly what Morrie had seen the first time he had set eyes on John "Hannibal" Smith. He recognized the expression in those steely blue eyes, determined and completely unafraid.
He'd seen that same look in a certain Man's eyes, once upon a time and long ago, that foolish, courageous soul who'd gone on an impossible, suicidal quest so that he could honorably win the hand of the woman he loved, the most beautiful woman who had ever lived.
Somewhere Up There, Eru Himself had to be laughing.
B.A. and Face looked at their Colonel with varying expressions of disbelief. Feanor only raised his eyes heavenwards, murmuring, "Ai! Beren and Luthien..."
Colonel Smith returned the looks of his men steadily. "I did see...well, something."
"You've got to be kidding," Face told him.
"Like I said, the Colonel's got the Force with him," James said with evident satisfaction.
"Will you stop it with the whole Jedi thing?" B.A. said gruffly.
It was very significant that with their leader's sudden, reluctant admission of the impossible, the two skeptics in the team were slowly but inevitably being made to see the truth of the matter.
"I did see Shadows, all around the kid here," Colonel Smith admitted reluctantly. "I just knew I could get them away from him. So...well... I did."
Morrie pounced on that. "Did this sort of thing before, eh?"
The silver-haired man had the grace to look absolutely sheepish about the whole thing. "You could say that." He rolled his eyes at a wide-eyed James, Face and B.A. "Long story, tell you later, maybe once you've got a few drinks into me."
"I'm holding you to that, Boss," Face answered.
Ollie nodded excitedly. "I saw you and James! You were both filled with this kind of light... and you... you were crowned, sir."
"Crowned with silver and a star set on his brow," Morrie murmured. Yeah, it was just too perfect.
"Exactly that," Ollie confirmed.
"Okay, I'm getting lost here," Face admitted. "Somebody bring us up to speed?"
"I can," Morrie drawled. "But I'll need two things from all of you - you give me a listen, no matter how crazy it sounds and you don't interrupt until I'm done. Sounds fair enough?"
Feanor snorted. "Mortals!"
"Now don't you start," Morrie admonished him. "Unless you want to do the storytelling here - it's your family history I'm retelling!"
"No, no, you're much better at this than I am," Feanor had the audacity to smirk at him. "Also, your point of view is unparallelled."
"Guys - flirt later, story first, please?" Face broke in, even as James burst into laughter. "I've a feeling this is going to be a doozy."
Morrie took another drink - really, he needed this, before he began. He looked at James fondly. "Some of this stuff - you already know. Told you this before when you were a kid - all about your Mother's star, remember?"
"Yeah, Uncle Morrie," James' eyes were suspiciously bright. "Every word you were tellin' was the absolute truth, right?"
"Yep. And now, you fellows need to know more."
Morrie had already suspected exactly what was it that Ollie and his team had found. The Jewel filled with Light, found in the depths of the sea. The way that the treasure hunters were immediately filled with the burning need to possess the jewel, to profit from it themselves - the inevitable betrayal and the bloodshed that stemmed from this. It was an age old pattern that had been repeated throughout this particular precious stone's history. The connection with Numenor. The Shadows and how Ollie's friends had died, the victims of a malicious, implacable will. The stench of darkest magics around the whole series of events and Morrie had a very bad feeling about the real nature of this Mr. Pallando.
It had to be one of the Silmarils.
Morrie gave them the basics. There wasn't time to delve into each and every back story but he gave them enough to start with. That long ago, the Three Silmarils were jewels crafted by Feanor Curufinwe. That he had, in their making, somehow managed to contain the light of the Two Trees, the first sources of Light in the World that Came to Be. That they had been stolen (and how Feanor had winced at the memories) and that a terrible Oath was sworn that they would be returned. That endless battles and blood had been shed for their sake, in keeping that accursed Oath. And that the first to successfully retrieve one of the Silmarils were Beren Erchamion, a mortal Man and Luthien Tinuviel, fairest of all the Elves to ever walk Middle-earth. It was the jewel that Beren and Luthien had recovered that was set to to shine in the skies, borne by Earendil the Mariner on his ship. The second Silmaril was cast into the very bowels of the earth.
And the last into the Seas.
And there were the three jewels meant to be, until the time would come for the Dagor Dagorath and for the world to be remade.
"Okay, this is a good story, some real good shit right here," BA said. "Call Peter Jackson - he can get about three more movies made over this. All I'm sayin' is why we can't just find this jewel and just give it back to this Pallando guy."
"Uh... Bosco, do you really want to give something like that to this kind of asshole?" James pointed out. "Even if you don't want to believe in the magic stuff, he is bad juju, buddy."
Feanor had been letting Morrie do all the talking this entire time but now he couldn't let this slide. "Have you not been listening? He has no claim on the jewel - if anything, I would be its rightful owner -"
"Easy, Firesoul," Morrie cautioned him.
Feanor whirled on him, eyes blazing but stilled when Morrie reached out for his hand, fingers closing gently on his wrist. "Do you really want to invoke your Oath, at this time, in this place?"
The Elf held his gaze for a few more moments and then sighed, and shook his head. "You were serious about helping me, weren't you?"
"You just have to ask."
"I will not, Melkor, you know that."
It was an old, long-standing agreement between them. Frankly, Morrie was glad Feanor still had some sense about this but he had a lot to make up to the Elf later.
"You said you are the jewel's rightful owner?" Trust the Colonel to pick up on that one.
"Jesus," Face breathed. He'd been paying attention to the story and he didn't miss that exchange between Morrie and Feanor. Nor was he missing on what his commander had just picked up. "It's real, this stuff you're telling us. It's all real."
Hmm. Definitely more than fluff in that pretty blonde head.
James rolled his eyes. "It's like what I've been sayin' all along. Just 'cause I like bein' on the crazy side don't mean I don't see sense!"
Ollie, who had quietly been sipping his miruvor the entire time, was now staring at Feanor. "You are shining too. Brighter than James or the Colonel here. And... you're different..."
"Because he's not human," the Colonel said quietly. "I noticed that when we came in. I was just waiting for you two to tell us the backstory - you know it so well because you two have lived it, haven't you?"
"Not human?" B.A. burst out.
"Cast aside your doubts now," Feanor told them, tucking a stray lock of hair to reveal a delicately pointed, elfin ear. "Believe us when we tell you that these are not merely stories - they are history - the shared history of Elves and Men. I crafted those jewels all those ages ago..."
"And I was the one who first stole them," Morrie bared his teeth in a feral grin.
And for a few brief moments, Feanor Curufinwe and Morgoth Bauglir, once ancient enemies but now firm allies, allowed the humans with them to glimpse what they truly were.
Yeah. Finally, all of them believed - no room for doubt left.
"Yeah, Uncle Fred and Uncle Morrie can be a bit overwhelmin' when they do the light show," said James with an irreverent grin, breaking the silence that had followed those few moments of shock and wonder.
"So where do we come into this?" the Colonel asked.
Morrie sighed. "Somebody's got to get that jewel back and cast it back into the Seas where it belongs. I can guarantee you that this Pallando guy's the one who's been sending the invisible nasties after you. He'll come up with more and probably worse, eventually."
"There are all sorts of mischief that this one can get up to with the Silmaril in his hands," Feanor said, shaking his head. "There is a power there that should not be unleashed upon the world, especially if he somehow manages to find out how to shatter the jewel. And that name he's taken troubles me greatly."
It troubled Morrie as well. A Wizard was a generally useful person to have around on the Good Side, whether or not they happened to be one of the Istari or a human gifted with Power. But a Wizard lost to the darkness, that could just be completely, utterly mad... that was a huge problem. Especially if this one happened to be the exact type of oblivion-seeking, world-destroying Evil Overlord-wannabe that Morrie hated the most.
At least that bloody idiot Sauron just limited his vision to World Domination.
For once, James dropped the light-hearted, zany act that he'd learned to put on to deal with all the insanity that life threw at him and regarded Morrie seriously. "And you and Uncle Fred are just too close to this thing to take care of it yourselves, aren't you?"
"Considering what we're supposed to do if we get our hands on the Silmaril, well, yeah," Morrie admitted to his nephew. "Not planning to switch back to the Bad Side any time soon - not that your Uncle Fred will let me get away with it!"
"Hah!" The Elf snorted.
This was true. With Morrie's current standing on the Roster of Good & Evil, he wasn't quite sure how that was going to work out but he actually didn't want to take a chance on this. Frankly, he didn't feel like inadvertently bringing on the Final War - he was quite happy with his jazz music and his Club, thank you kindly.
James sighed. "Oh, hell." And then, he recovered his high spirits with his usual swiftness. "I'm in! Off to Mount Doom and Mordor and Deadly Peril! Hannibal?"
His commanding officer leaned back and lit up his cigar, lost in obvious thought. Morrie figured he'd love being introduced to the Hobbits' leaf.
"Special Forces training doesn't cover impossible Quests and magical jewels," Face complained. "Hannibal! You can't seriously be thinking about saying yes to this!"
"You're Airborne Rangers, aren't you?" Morrie could not resist this one. "This kind of thing is completely in your league!"
"Close enough to be Rangers of the North," Fenaor put in just as dryly. "Although, two of them are of the Dunedain... so it does suit them."
"Men of the West?" Ollie said, managing to translate that ancient word.
"Okay, I'm getting lost here again," Face complained.
"I been lost since those two gave us the light show," said a dazed B.A.
"You just don't know how lucky you got with this," Morrie told Ollie. "Run to anyone, anywhere else, and you'd have been toast. But you got to the two men who would have been able to protect you, by the grace that they still carry within them."
"Grace?" The Colonel said, with evident startlement, slanting a glance at James.
James shrugged, his own eyes wide and wondering. "I don't know - this is the first time I've heard about this. I just know that the stories they've been telling me since I was a kid were all for real."
"We didn't think you needed to know," Feanor told him, gently. "You and your Colonel are both from a very, very old bloodline and you both possess certain gifts. They will only wake at need... although in your case, you are already somewhat aware of these things, are you not, John Smith?"
Red spotted Smith's cheeks. "It's not something I like talking about. I just learn to live with it, that's all."
"And as for you, dear nephew, it's just a matter of time," Feanor told James. "Your longing for the sky is like the Sea-longing for us - why so many others of your kind call you mad for it. It has ever been a part of you, as it has been for your forefather, Earendil. You and your Colonel are of the bloodlines that had joined Elves and Men - of which Beren and Luthien were the very first. This bloodline has always ever endured - never shall it fail."
"In any case, this is why this particular Quest is all yours," Morrie said. "No one else can pull it off. Might as well keep it in the family, eh?"
"Which is why I believe it was more than just chance that led young Oliver to you and then to us," Feanor said softly.
"Huh," Morrie snorted. "Tell me about it. It's Somebody Up There's idea of a cosmic practical joke."
"What?" Morrie put on his best innocent look, which, of course, fooled no one.
"No matter how random things may appear, there's still a plan, eh?" John Smith said ruefully. He slanted a look at his second in command, clearly expectant. "Face?"
"You shouldn't even have to ask, Hannibal," answered the younger man. "Find a magical jewel, throw it into the sea, kick some ass, possibly prevent the end of the world - have I got it all covered?"
"He's as smart as he is pretty. He's a keeper," Morrie told the Colonel, not knowing why he had to say that but realizing the reason why as the man ran his hand over his face, obviously trying to hide the fact that he was blushing yet again.
B.A. sighed. "Somebody's gotta look after all you crazy fools. What's the plan, Hannibal?"
The Colonel smiled ferally, managing to recover his equilibrium in an admirably short space of time.
"Give me a few minutes."
Interlude: A Conversation and a Tune in the Key of Sunshine
John "Hannibal" Smith sits alone on the stage of Club Denial.
His fingers absently pick out a tune on the piano keys. The former Dark Lord had seen the way the Colonel had looked at his beloved Steinway and gave permission for Hannibal to play if he wished. Hannibal's already got the glimmerings of the Plan in mind within the few minutes he'd asked from B.A. - the music helps him focus, helps him think so he can fine tune all the details.
Hannibal knows Morrie understands that all too well.
Making music isn't a luxury he can indulge in too often - it doesn't have a place in the midst of a war. He's not really playing seriously - right now, it's just a game, rearranging an old familiar tune in a different way, one part of his mind enjoying the diversion while he thinks about this new mission they've got.
Murdock still insists on calling it a Quest, though.
Hannibal's not really a stranger to the odd and bizarre - he doesn't like to admit to it, but he knows he has always been something of a weirdness magnet since childhood. He's also gone through some completely screwed up, Twilight Zone-worthy missions in his long career as a soldier. He knows he's got buddies who still wake up screaming from the nightmares.
But somehow, Hannibal's always managed to find that spark of defiance, to not give in to the terror and the fear and the madness that beckoned so invitingly. He'll fight against it, with everything he's got, to the bitterest end. He can leave those memories in the past where they belong because he's here now, alive and whole.
Special Forces training doesn't cover impossible Quests and magical jewels, Face has told him. Hannibal knows that. But he also understood what was really at stake here when Morrie had laid it out all before them. The former Dark Lord didn't tell those stories like a storyteller would - he was telling things as any old soldier would talk about what he'd seen and lived through, the truth plain as day.
This wasn't like the mission with Morrison - a little of that was pride talking but the intention to help and to make sure Pike's Black Forest goons weren't going to pull some scam and indulge in their bloody excesses was absolutely genuine. This was one of those missions that the team had to take, because duty demanded it and because there was no one else who could do the job.
He didn't need Feanor telling him and Murdock that cockamamie story about belonging to some special bloodline - Hannibal still had difficulty wrapping his head around that, not to mention the somewhat awed looks that kid Oliver had been giving his way. There was just no one else to help except Hannibal and his team.
Figuring out where the treasure hunters and the Silmaril were hiding was probably going to be the easiest part of the plan. Making sure that he and his boys made it out alive was the tricky part.
Hannibal wasn't going to fail his team. Not this time.
The other night dear, as I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms
But when I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
So I hung my head and I cried.
Hannibal knows that voice, of course. He smiles but he doesn't stop playing.
"This is what we call being literally on the jazz, Boss," Face teases him, coming over and leaning against the closed piano lid.
"I was remembering how we were trying to distract B.A. while Murdock was about to knock him out so we could get him on that plane," Hannibal tells him. "It was the first song that popped into my head."
"Yeah, you said that too the last time when we were playing bait during that gag in Puerto Rico," Face points out. "You got that as your Last Song Syndrome, Hannibal, I swear."
"Lucky I didn't end up playing that when you were doing your shows in New Orleans," Hannibal doesn't know what devil of mischief made him say that.
What happened between them on that stage in New Orleans should be a closed book. Hannibal knows Face is far more comfortable calling it as part of the act and he doesn't want to push the issue. And he doesn't want to dwell too closely on thoughts of how good and how oddly right it felt to kiss the other man and how much he wants to do that all over again and not call it acting.
Hannibal rather likes how that tell-tale flush starts creeping up over Face's cheeks though.
"Next time, you be the one in drag," Face grumbles.
"Noooo," Hannibal teases him in turn. "You look better in that than I would." He tries not to laugh as his lieutenant stops himself from visibly preening.
"I've put the word out," Face tells him, all business now and Hannibal lets him change the subject. "Gotta be some news out there of a sparkly rare jewel up for sale. Those guys won't be able to resist."
"They'll probably scam the poor sap who'll put up the money and still keep the jewel for themselves. Morrie and Feanor say that things seem to always work out that way when the Silmarils are involved." Hannibal nods his approval. "An excellent start, Lieutenant."
"Damn and here I was supposed to gripe at you over how crazy and fucked up this is, Colonel," Face answers dryly. "Don't get me wrong - whither thou goest and all that, y'know? I still claim dibs on griping about it though."
Hannibal snorts. "Smart-ass. Go to sleep - we'll be very busy tomorrow."
Face salutes him at his snappy best. "Sir, yes, sir!"
"Get!" Hannibal makes a threatening gesture and Face laughs. As he takes his leave, he's singing the first lines in the chorus of the song Hannibal's been playing with the entire time.
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,
You make me happy, when skies are gray...
It's not until Hannibal is sure that Face is gone and is out of earshot that he softly sings the next lines in answer.
You'll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away...
Hannibal means every word.
PART II: Check on the Rep, Yep, Second to None
Templeton "Faceman" Peck is the best at what he does and he's damn proud of it.
Ask any Army Ranger and they'll give it to you straight: if you really need something, Face can get it for you. Supplies, gear, putting the fun in a party - Face could get it done. There are soldiers who still speak, in awed tones, about the time Face somehow managed to find the latest Ducati motorcycle model in the middle of a (insert favorite expletive here) war zone, trying to follow the orders (read: whims) of a rather sadistic general with a serious grudge. Face also managed to rescue the missing daughter of a trusted asset into the bargain.
Hannibal doesn't fondly refer to him as "my professor of procurement" for nothing.
But other than just supplies or gear - Face is also good at gathering information. Know your enemy is part of what Face calls "Hannibal Smith's How-To Manual" - he might gripe about it on occasion (read: when Face gets in over his head and Hannibal has to save his ass and will again deliver the Lecture of Doom afterwards) but he understands the reasoning behind it.
Face also knows the original of that saying: So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.
Yeah, Face has read Sun Tzu as well.
They might have just been dragged into a situation straight out of a fantasy film (complete with 3D Special Effects) but the mission parameters were pretty much the same. Getting good intel was the first thing to do and Face could get that job done no sweat. Eventually, he was able to assemble all the data Hannibal would need.
The treasure hunters were the first on the list. Captain Anthony Bright and his team weren't exactly going to star in the next National Geographic documentary on ancient historical treasures any time soon. They were in it for the money involved, plain and simple. Bright wasn't known to pull this kind of scam too often - screwing over a client gave one a bad reputation and could get one killed if they crossed the wrong guy. There really had to be something about that Silmaril if it could get Bright to do that.
Face had managed to get the files on Bright and his crew fairly quickly. Bright had the look of a man who'd spent most of his life on the high seas. He was roughly Hannibal's age, early 40s, a tall, well-built man, with dark hair and gray eyes. Bright was a former Navy SEAL, did the mercenary route for a time and then turned to the salvage and treasure hunting business. His crew was composed of three men - Vance Bennings, who was his first mate on the ship, Donald Burke and Howard Meeker. Of the three, Vance Bennings and Donald Burke were the ones who had military in their background and like Bright initially worked as mercenaries. Bennings was also a Navy SEAL while Burke was once with the Marines.
Bennings was a huge guy, bald, with tattoos all over his body. Face had heard of this guy's reputation - he wasn't Bright's second just because he was probably the strongest man on the team. Donald Burke looked like he was just a kid fresh out of high school - very pretty, almost effeminate-looking, with reddish-blonde hair and pale blue eyes. Ollie said that he seemed so bright and perky most of the time but Burke made him oddly uneasy. The picture Face had of Burke showed him with this big grin, but that smile wasn't reaching those eyes, which were absolutely stone-cold and calculating.
Meeker was another big guy, built like a linebacker but he wasn't as huge as Vance. This one was the real muscle-head of the group, dull brown eyes staring lifelessly out of the photo Face had. Meeker had fought for a while as a boxer and in martial arts tournaments both legal and illegal. He never made it to the big leagues and usually ended up as a bodyguard or a hired thug. Meeker had previously served jail time for assault, usually because he was caught up in the fight and wasn't smart enough to get away. He seemed to be doing a lot better for himself since he had joined Bright.
Albert Pallando was another deal. This one was a genuine member of the British aristocracy. He was actually a baron with a title that dated back to the Tudor period. He was in his late 60s, looking perfectly distinguished and quite respectable. But it was known that he did dabble in the occult, hence his reputation for being eccentric, which was pretty much the rich people's version of crazy as a loon.
Morrie said that crazy as a loon was one thing, but having genuine Power and the intelligence to use it, made this guy a Major Problem.
He'd wondered why, if this Albert Pallando was some sort of evil wizard, couldn't they assume that Bright was dead by now, killed by the same Shadows or Wraiths, as Morrie referred to them, that had come after Ollie and his unlucky team of nerds. Feanor had explained that the holy power of the jewel would be protecting Bright and his team which meant the Wizard would also have to resort to mundane means in order to find them.
Which begged the question how they were going to be safe from the Wraiths. Murdock had the answer:
"Original Dark Lord," he pointed to Morrie.
"Hey! Former Original Dark Lord, thanks much!" Morrie protested and the red gleam in his eyes just gave Face the Cold Chills of Dread and Doom. He couldn't help it - Morrie just set off all his alarm bells ringing and the crazy thing was that the man seemed to just take it all in with amusement and understanding.
Face could live with that, though.
"High Elf," At that point, Murdock gestured to Feanor - Face really couldn't wrap his mind around the "Fred" nickname.
Feanor sighed. "You let us worry about Pallando and his spells. Do not fear, we will keep you safe as long as you are here."
"Once you get out there - we'll make sure you'll get everything you need," Morrie said with a feral grin. "I know a place where you can go."
And that was how Face found himself standing at this nice little bargain-bin bookstore quaintly named Bag End.
Face had been here before.
When he was a kid and he'd been placed with a foster home here in New York City, he had discovered this bookstore and had spent a lot of time here. Bag End's owner, Fro Baggins, was a sweet, kindly soul and had welcomed the lonely child Face had been, often offering a cup of tea and snacks, letting him spend as much time in there as he wanted. Often, Face helped Fro around the store. It was one of the places he missed the most when he finally ran off from that foster family and ended up with Mama Vee and his Aunts in New Orleans.
Later, he would come back here whenever he was on leave and the team found themselves in the city. He knew Hannibal liked books and he made it a point of looking for the titles Hannibal had mentioned he most wanted to read. Somehow, Fro always had them.
He didn't realize that Fro Baggins knew "Morrie" and was very well acquainted with the people at Club Denial.
The store was thankfully empty of customers when Face stepped in. And Fro was completely delighted to see him.
"Templeton! Good heavens, when I heard about you on the news -" And at that point, Fro moved with surprising swiftness, switching the store sign to "Closed," locking the door and drawing down the shades. Fro Baggins was a tiny guy - not more than four feet tall. Old habits kicked in immediately - Face helped him draw down a couple of window shades that were somehow set a bit higher than he could reach.
"Hey there, Fro..." Face began awkwardly. They were innocent and they had done nothing to be ashamed of but the news and all the speculations about what they did and didn't do pissed Face off sometimes. He just didn't like the idea of Fro having to hear about all that crap.
"Not to worry - we can never be too careful," Fro assured him, looking at him fondly and far more importantly without any judgment in his eyes. "Come on over and we'll have tea, lad, you're just in time for it."
They sat down at the counter - Fro always had tea and all sorts of pastries and other good stuff out.
"Thanks," Face said gratefully, sipping at the tea. It wasn't really his drink of choice but somehow, the tea was always good at Fro's.
The welcome was as warm and as genuine as ever. It was odd that Face had never really noticed that Fro didn't seem to change or age - he had looked exactly the same when they had first met - dark curly hair, youthful features, big blue eyes...
Slightly pointed ears.
"My dear Templeton," Fro said gently. "How can I help you?"
The ears. Not like Feanor's but coupled with the fact that Morrie sent him here and all that Face had learned recently...
"I think that the password for today is Morrie sent me," Face said, unable to help but stare at Fro's hands. He had lovely hands, really, delicately long fingers but one of the ring fingers was missing.
Face knew that story.
Fro paused just as he was about to take a sip of his tea. Dark blue eyes sharpened. "Morrie, is it?"
"Frodo of the Nine Fingers," Face blurted out.
The Hobbit smiled ruefully. "Oh, my. Cat's out of the bag, isn't it?"
Face felt like the floor had dropped out from under him. Again. "This is nuts."
"Oh, that was pretty much how I felt when Gandalf told me exactly what was the Ring Bilbo had left to me," Frodo Baggins chuckled. "Tell me your tale, my dear boy - I've a feeling that Morrie wants me to give you some very specific items that were left into my keeping."
And so Face did.
Morrie took one look at all the things Face brought back from Bag End and groaned. The latter actually had to call Murdock and B.A. over to help him. Man, some of these were heavy! They were still in their respective boxes and wrappings but somehow Morrie seemed to be dead sure on what they contained.
Well, Face knew - he was just waiting for B.A.'s reaction when they got to take all the stuff out. That was going to be priceless.
Morrie sighed. "Manwe's balls - Hobbit had to lay out the entire freakin' armory, eh?"
"Did you expect Frodo to do anything else?" Feanor asked archly. "I'm sure you heard the complaints when the others just gave all of these things into his safe-keeping. And they are going to need it."
"Yeah," Morrie looked rueful. "Well, they are going to be hunting for that sparkly toy of yours. We'd better let them loose in the playground so they can try their new stuff."
And at that, Murdock perked up. "Playground?"
"It was something that kid Urahara cooked up for us. Dead useful when we have Shinigami come to visit, don't pardon the pun. You and your friends'll love it, nephew."
"What is in these things?" B.A. had to ask.
"Toys," Morrie said and smiled.
Morrie wasn't kidding when he said "playground."
The place they were taken to was underground. Whoever did this designed it to be a wilderness terrain, with nothing but dry ground, dead trees and huge rocks. Clever lighting simulated sunlight while the upper walls and ceilings were painted in a near-perfect replica of the sky. It also gave the impression that the place was a lot larger than it actually was.
From the looks of things, Face would say that this area had been used quite extensively. The marks and damage and broken rocks pretty much resembled what a place would look like after a live-fire exercise. How on earth Morrie and Feanor managed to have friends who could do that and not bring down the New York Police Department on their heads was something Face didn't want to think about too closely.
"For your friend Bosco," Frodo had told Face, uncovering the huge axe from its coverings. "Dramborleg - once wielded by Tuor, the only Man to be counted among Elvenkind and allowed to dwell in Valinor. It had been lost for many thousands of years but was found again quite recently." His expression turned wry. "Just in the nick of time, I should say."
"Swords and axes," B.A. said flatly.
"Actually, Bosco," Murdock pointed out helpfully, "What we got here are three swords, a dagger and one huge mother of an axe."
"You've gotta be shittin' me," B.A. growled, glaring at Murdock and then Face, who was trying not to laugh. "We need serious weapons here - not something out of freakin' Warcraft!"
"Oh, if you're talking about guns, Bosco, that's covered and we'll be getting them," Face said airily. "But we are going to be fighting stuff out of Warcraft, remember?"
"Actually, we're talking more of the stuff that inspired Warcraft in the first place," Murdock said, still in helpful mode. "Guns ain't going to be much use to us if we have to fight Wraiths and Other Non-Human Nasties. Besides, this is cool!"
"The axe really is for B.A. here, by the way," Face pointed out to their disgruntled sergeant. "Frodo said you should give it a few swings and try throwing it at something....umm, preferably an inanimate object for starters."
"Uncle Morrie did say we could go wild!" Murdock cheered.
Hannibal was quiet. Hannibal was never quiet when they were messing around like this and it worried Face. Still, he was going to give his Colonel a while to get into the groove before he stepped in.
In the meantime, B.A. hefted the axe that was provided to him easily, thoughtfully giving it a few swings, testing the balance.
Face could understand where B.A. was coming from. It was just that there wasn't much call for swords and axes these days and in a real hand-to-hand fight, all of them tended to make things along the order of "take them down hard and fast before they get you." In other words, fancy high-kicking, cool-looking martial arts forms and other stunts that made Hollywood action heroes look good on the big screen were thrown out the window when one was in a real life or death struggle.
And then, B.A. swung back and threw the axe towards a huge boulder.
Dramborleg hit the thing and absolutely shattered it before mysteriously curving back to B.A. Face knew his physics and his weaponry. You could throw a boomerang that way but there was no way outside of fiction could you throw an axe like that and have it return to you.
"Jesus," Face breathed.
"Hammer of Thor, baby!" Murdock crowed.
B.A. looked at his new weapon with awe and then made his hilariously high-pitched giggle. "Hey, I like this."
"For your friend Murdock - Glamdring, Foe-hammer," Frodo said, his eyes twinkling. "Gandalf the White Wizard wielded this sword against Sauron and his creatures while the Ring endured. I'm sure your friend will wield it splendidly."
"Whee! Lookit the shiny!" Murdock said, drawing out the sword that was handed to him. It was a beautiful blade, straight out of a fantasy novel, gleaming briefly when Murdock had first drawn it out. It wasn't just pretty though - that weapon was definitely made for real war and could do some real damage in the right hands. Although he was bouncing as usual, Face saw that he had carefully made sure he was quite clear of everyone else before he tried a few practice swings.
And then, he proceeded to surprise the hell out of them by doing a few totally unfamiliar forms in a graceful and totally expert fashion. They were reminiscent of the kata moves that Face knew but not quite.
"Buddy, since when did you do the swords thing?" Face asked incredulously.
For the first time, Hannibal spoke up. "That was very good, Captain." Damn him, he didn't even look surprised!
Murdock blushed. "I got my Gramps and Grand-Uncle Elladan and Elrohir to show me. Wasn't a bad way to pass summer vacation."
"For you, my dear Templeton - Orcrist, Goblin-Cleaver," Frodo said. "This was once the sword of the great Dwarf-lord Thorin Oakenshield." The Hobbit smiled. "And I shall also give you my Sting. Sam would never forgive me if I didn't see you suitably prepared."
Face had been given two weapons - a sword and a dagger. Like Murdock's sword, both were exquisitely and finely made but weren't just made for decoration. Face being a skilled sharpshooter and sniper was part of his records for anyone who cared to look. But few people knew that he was also pretty good with a knife.
The sword, oddly enough, resembled a classic Japanese katana, although the hilt was somewhat different, of course. Face took up kenjutsu when he'd been living with Mama Vee, learning from a Japanese man with the oddest coloring Face had ever seen on an Asian - naturally red hair and violet eyes. Kenshin Himura was again one of those very few people that Face had learned to respect - this guy didn't take on wannabe dojo tigers. What he taught was less a sport than it was Face's first exposure to a skill that meant the difference between life and death on an ancient battlefield.
Kenshin was also one of the nicest, sweetest people alive...unless one pissed him off, in which case, they would find out how lethal a tiny Japanese redhead could be, even when wielding a sword with the sharp edge on the wrong side. What Face managed to learn served him well when he finally joined the Army and went to Ranger School.
"This sword belongs truly to your Colonel Smith - Anduril, Flame of the West, wielded by Aragorn Elessar, King of the Reunited Kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor," Frodo said, shaking his head in amusement. "I'm sure poor Morrie was probably having conniptions when he first saw your Colonel."
While B.A., Face and Murdock were messing around with their new gear, Hannibal had been mostly quiet the entire time. It wasn't like him, especially when they were starting on a mission. In fact, Hannibal was usually the one full of energy - completely on the jazz and ready to go.
The Colonel had drawn the sword given to him from its scabbard, also carefully testing its weight and balance. His eyes took on a faraway expression, evidently lost in memory and looking oddly haunted.
"Damn," he sighed. "Never thought I'd have to use something like this again."
All right. Enough was enough - Face had to do something about this.
"Again, Hannibal?" Face threw it out like a challenge.
That jolted Hannibal back to the present. Somewhat. "Yeah, it's another one of those very long stories that I'll probably tell you after..."
Face's patented "What-you-got-bitches" grin was the only warning the older man had before steel flashed.
Kenshin had taught Face to be very, very fast.
But Hannibal wasn't a slouch either. Orcrist met Anduril, held by its wielder with strong, steady hands.
Face's grin grew bigger as he finished Hannibal's sentence: "...after I beat your ass into the ground, old man?"
That brought the sparkle back into his Colonel's eyes. "Keep dreaming, kid."
"Dayum," B.A. breathed.
Murdock's eyes gleamed. "Oh, this is goin' to be fun."
Steel kissed steel as the Colonel and his lieutenant faced off. The older man was all business, matching Face's speed easily, moving with a deft economy and finesse. Hannibal fought the way Kenshin had - like a man who'd really taken up the sword to fight in war.
"Not bad, kid," Hannibal praised, when they closed in on each other. "You do your teacher credit."
"It's not a lightsaber but it'll do," Face answered. "Been in any swordfights lately, boss?"
Hannibal gave him that familiar smile - the one that made him look like the world's most amused shark. "Thought you were going to beat my ass first? I haven't even worked up a sweat."
"I think the whole Jedi thing's gone to your head, Hannibal. You're getting delusions of grandeur," Face teased.
They broke off and circled each other, all senses on alert. And then, they rushed at each other again, moving in their complicated, deadly dance of feint, thrust, jump, parry, blades missing flesh by inches and both of them knew they were doing this deliberately to each other, not really wanting to hurt the other man.
Hell, they were just having too much fun!
Finally, Hannibal managed to disarm Face, sending Orcrist flying out of his hands. The Colonel chuckled darkly and drew Face close enough so that he could feel the cold kiss of Anduril against his throat. "You were saying, Templeton?"
Face gave his own version of the shark-grin as he let Hannibal feel Sting against his ribs. "I'd say we call it a draw, Colonel."
"Shouldn't have drawn Facey-boy that close, Hannibal!" Murdock called out, blue-green eyes dancing wickedly.
"He's right, you know," Face pointed out helpfully, trying to believe that it was just the recent bit of exercise that was making his breath just come a little bit faster and not because Hannibal was close enough to kiss.
And to make matters worse, Hannibal bent closer and for just the briefest moment, Face's heart skipped a bit. But the other man only brought his mouth close to Face's ear and murmured, "Now where would the fun be in that?"
Face blinked and somehow, Hannibal was suddenly a few feet away, sheathing Anduril. Damn that whole no-we-are-not-teleporting trick - he knew how it worked too.
"I hate it when you do that!" He called.
"I know," was the smug reply. Hannibal's expression turned rueful as he evidently reached some sort of decision. "If you really want that story out of me, Face - you'd better get a few drinks into me first." He paused. "Maybe a couple more."
Face raised a brow. "Remind me to get you drunk ASAP and have my wicked way with you." Oh hell, why did he have to put it that way?
Hannibal evidently decided to ham it up again. "Templeton, if that was your intent, you only have to ask nicely! Taking advantage of a poor, old man like me..."
Murdock patted his shoulder commiseratingly, joining the comedy routine without hesitation. "Yeah, Hannibal, Facey's a cad, an utter cad!"
Yep - Face walked right into that, didn't he? No choice but to play along. Anyway, he was actually telling the truth!
"Two words, Hannibal - Silver. Fox." Face gave his commanding officer his sunniest, sweetest smile and was rewarded by Hannibal pinching the bridge of his nose, unsuccessfully hiding the blush that spread across his cheeks.
Goddamn - he made Hannibal Smith blush. Payback was sweet. Also, he liked the look on his Colonel too.
Murdock laughed all the harder.
B.A. rolled his eyes. "There they go, being all nuts again."
Vance Bennings didn't like the way things were looking right now.
He'd been with Tony Bright for a pretty long time and the Captain had never really steered them wrong, even if he decided to pull a scam. They were always able to get away with things, scott-free. That was the important thing, really, Vance knew. Finding the treasure was just the beginning - holding on to it was the real trick. At least, holding on to the prize long enough to make a profit off it was the ultimate goal. Vance liked that game - and no bullshit here, he knew he and Tony Bright were among the best in the world at this.
Now, he was wondering if Tony was beginning to lose it.
It happened, sometimes. You'd find that one thing, that one precious, rare object that you know you couldn't give up, not for all the money in the world. You'd want to hang on to it, hoard it, guard it jealously from anything and everything. Vance knew men like that - obsessed with finding their own particular Holy Grails - that legendary treasure that would hold all the answers in the world.
He wasn't one of those men.
He'd found a lot of weird shit in his long career as a treasure hunter. Oh, he had an eye for beauty and he knew value when he saw it - but he also knew how it was like to be hungry and starving and trying to make a meal out of dried pizza crusts found in the trash and smoking the cigarette butts thrown away in the gutter to take the edge off the constant gnawing in his stomach. He liked where he was at now - comfortable, assured of his next meal, knowing he had something stashed away somewhere safe against the inevitable day when they would pull that one scam that would go wrong or when it was really time to call it quits because they were getting too old for this shit.
Vance Bennings had every intention of dying old, rich and comfortable in his own bed.
The hotel they were staying in was pretty nice, at least for the moment. Normally, he and the other guys would be going out, each on their own thing. Burkie, he knew, liked the club scene, dancing to that loud, ear-destroying shit he called music. Meeker would probably be going to some fighting match or the other - boxing, martial arts - it didn't matter.
Ever since they got that jewel, they all had that feeling that they had to stay close - stay together. Okay, so they did screw over that His Nibs "No need for titles" Albert Pallando. They were going to have to stay a little low for a while. But this was different and Meeker had put it best when the three of them had gotten together to talk about it.
"It's like, I don't wanna be away from the Captain right now, y'know?"
Not the Captain. The jewel.
That fucking jewel.
Vance should have listened to his instincts. First time he set eyes on that thing, with the way it had suddenly seemed to light up like a Christmas tree when they first brought it out of the water, he had wanted to take it and chuck it right back into the ocean. It was like he suddenly had this odd vision of looking at himself in a mirror and he could see every ugly, fucked-up, crazy thing he'd ever done and been done to him in his life and he just hated
He knew the histories of a lot of the stuff they'd found on their expeditions. He knew all that shit about curses and bad voodoo spells. He didn't believe in it. But with that jewel - he was beginning to wonder if there was some kind of curse at work here.
First off, he knew they shouldn't have screwed over Pallando - they should have just handed him the pretty toy and walked away with their money. It wasn't as if the man wasn't generous with the dough - the amount they were going to get was more than reasonable. But Tony had been so persuasive that they could get more and Vance cursed those few minutes that he'd somehow lost all common sense and decided not to talk the Captain out of it. They'd always checked their clients out first before accepting any job - one of the most important reasons for that was to see if they could get away with doing a scam.
Vance didn't like it that he wasn't able to turn up a lot of intel on Pallando. That was what scared him. They'd gone into this without a real plan and that wasn't like Captain Tony Bright - not at all.
The Nerd Squad who'd been with them had been nattering about Atlantis or Numenor, as they had called it - how that kingdom was lost when its last king had sailed away, in his complete arrogance, to challenge the gods and steal immortality for himself. From what Vance could remember, that king had gone down with his kingdom or maybe he was sealed away by the gods in some kind of hell, only to be released when it was time for the Final War - Armageddon or whatever name the Nerd Squad had for the deal.
Vance wondered if they weren't sailing right on that very same course.
He was walking down the hallway of the floor their rooms were on. He could see a very faint light coming from under the door of Tony's room. Most people would think it was just the TV but Vance knew that light - it was like nothing he'd ever seen, like it was the very first thing that exploded in the darkness when God had asked for Light to appear.
Tony had taken the jewel out again.
Vance knew he did that a lot, take the jewel out, hold it in his hands, almost fondling it in this weird, almost obscene way. Once, he'd even heard Tony whisper, "My precious...."
It was an endearment and damn it, you don't whisper sweet nothings to a fucking shiny piece of rock. First time he heard it, the hairs had risen on the back of his neck.
Vance Bennings stifled a curse. He had a date with his laptop and some creative screwing around on the Internet. Tony had mentioned putting the jewel up for sale, although Vance could smell another scam in the works and probably it would get even more dangerous for them.
It didn't matter - they were all going to get their money and they were getting rid of that jewel and this was the last fucking time Vance Bennings was going to work with Tony Bright and play this game.
Maybe it was time to walk away and Vance was going to walk away from the game a winner.
Part III: You've Got A Hell of a Lot to Learn About Rock n'Roll
Unfortunately, Face here couldn't get Hannibal drunk yet.
Actually, Facey is the really entertaining drunk - although he was pure hell on my nerves that one time he started lecturing about the utter bitch that is unrequited love to our Filipino Ranger cousins and damn near gave himself away to the entire planet (a.k.a. our good Jedi Master Hannibal). Look, as much as I'd like our favorite Long-Suffering LT to 'fess up - he couldn't spill the beans at that point, not without shocking the hell out of our Oblivious Colonel and opening up a whole world of hurting for the both of them.
(Well, they're my buddies and I love 'em and as much as I'd like to see them with the happy ending, you just can't mess around with people's hearts like that, you know?)
Now it's Face's turn to be the Oblivious One and Hannibal gets to suffer for a while. Can't believe how Face could miss the Clue Bus with that kiss, no sir.
Guess karma's a bitch too.
Of course, I can remember the few times we got our Colonel really wasted away. Well, I can remember him singing You Are My Sunshine and buddy, you ain't really heard one of Louisiana state's favorite songs until you've heard it sung by a crazy drunk Irishman.
So anyway, we couldn't get Hannibal to tell us the stories of his escapades A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away just yet. We had some stuff to do. Bosco still wasn't happy that we were going into this using swords and that big mother of an axe as our primary weapons. Feanor had to explain to him that those things were enchanted and blessed - guns could probably work against something ordinary and mundane but not something that could be witched up by that Pallando guy.
And then, Bosco said, "Well, silver bullets work against werewolves. Can't there be some way we can enchant or bless bullets too?"
Man, I never knew my Uncle Fred could light up like that ((Hm...I guess I have to say Uncle Feanor now that we've let all sorts of cats out of the bag). See, just like Bosco, Uncle Feanor's got this knack for building things and tinkering with stuff. So Uncle Morrie started banging his head against the bar counter when he realized Uncle Feanor's got a kindred spirit in Bosco and there went Uncle Feanor, dragging Bosco off to his workshop. God only knew what crazy stuff they were gonna come up with.
Bet they'll be really fun toys though.
So while Bosco and Uncle Feanor spent a couple of days cooking up stuff in what Uncle Morrie calls "Frankenstein's Laboratory," Hannibal went on the computer and on the phone, trying to get in touch with some old buddies of his. Probably rounding up the tattered remnants of the Jedi Order, I thought. He had a picture of them that had fallen out of his pocket while he was getting all distracted talking to whoever it was. I picked it up and gave it back to him.
What? Of course I looked at that picture before I handed it back! Colonel was a lot younger then, maybe like his mid 20's, but even at that time, he already had mostly silver hair. Most of the people in that picture were your typical soldiers - some were even brother Rangers who we'd met over the years and worked with. But there were three of them that kind of stood out from that crowd.
There was this kid - little girl maybe about thirteen or fourteen and I could clearly see the hilt of a sword peeking from over her shoulder. She was too short to carry it at her side and had to get it strapped across her back. I would bet that she was probably lethal with that thing and she was probably a lot older than she looked - no way she'd be hanging out with this bunch otherwise.
The other was a guy who I'd swear I've been seeing over the years at the Club while I was growing up. Tall, dark-haired, lanky fella with a big nose and who really loved his beer - I couldn't forget that detail because Uncle Morrie was always after him to pay his tab. He was like the other people who dropped by the Club from time to time, knowing what the place really was - he never aged and he always looked the same. I just couldn't figure out what the deal there was but figured he had to be some kind of immortal being.
I'm just sure he didn't have fangs though.
The last guy was in really old-fashioned clothing - maybe later 17th century, I'd guess. He was very pretty, with very long, light blonde hair going all the way down his back. I was willing to bet that wasn't a Halloween costume he was wearing.
Also, I was willing to bet on the fangs.
Hannibal's story was sure going to be real interesting.
And then, just when I thought I could probably just slack off for a bit - Faceman walked in with that look on - the one where he's all "Bring it on, bitches!"
Oh, we had some work to do after all.
Now, since Facey didn't have the armory with him but a couple of very, very sweet laptops, I figured that we were stormin' the Information Superhighway for this mission. Hackers of the World Unite! Hack the Planet! Hack the Planet!
God, Angelina Jolie was hot in that movie.
Won't bore y'all with the technogeekazoid babble - although geeks are sexy these days, so I hear. Suffice it to say that Face and I know our little dark corners of the Internet world - places where a bunch of treasure hunters might want to put up a certain sparkly Holy Jewel up for auction? These boys are smart, at least for ex-SEALs, anyhoo. Just put up your goods for sale and you just meet with your buyer and close the deal. No need to hawk it out in the "open" space that was Real Life, so to speak, having to think about other unknown buyers who might not take it kindly if they lost the auction and screw things up for everyone.
Money wasn't a problem - Uncle Morrie and Uncle Feanor have got that covered. And it wasn't as if we were going to be carrying cash when we meet Bright and his boys. Everything's electronic these days. Naturally, when we won the online bidding, we had to have the merchandise in our hands first before we transferred the money over.
Uncle Feanor had grumbled that it was a heck of a lot easier now, instead of just really playing jazz for the money, which was how it had all started for him and Uncle Morrie. Ancient history, I gathered, although not as ancient as all the other stuff.
So we fired up our new babies and went hunting for treasure. And hit the jackpot. Took us several hours and we had a few bad moments when we faced up against this other Super Rich Buyer but the Little Fuzzy Blue Creature who helped Uncle Morrie out with the Club kept us supplied with coffee and other Good Things to Eat.
Face didn't even notice the Fuzzy Blue One as she handed him his coffee mug.
Bosco freaked out a little though.
Colonel just laughed, patted her head and thanked her kindly when she handed him his coffee. I never thought I could see something that blue turn so red. Colonel's got that effect on people, including Little Blue Fuzzy Alien Critters.
The meeting place was set for Poienari Castle, in Romania. Somebody on the Other Side probably has a sick sense of humor to use a place where Dracula used to live for a business meeting.
"Dracula's fucking castle?" B.A. broke out when he heard the news. "In Romania? Aw. Hell. No - we ain't flyin' there! I ain't walkin' into no haunted castle and I ain't getting' bit by no vampire!"
"It's not that bad, B.A.," Hannibal said, trying to soothe the big guy.
"It's all just ruins now, Bosco - it's all just a pile of rocks and stuff out in the open. They even made it a tourist attraction of sorts," I added.
"Don't think I don't notice none of you fools are telling me vampires ain't real!" B.A. growled.
Hannibal was muttering something that sounded remarkably like, "-vania shouldn't be around for the next hundred years yet..." Yeah. It sounded like one of those things the Boss-man don't like to talk about. I keep hearing the brogue creeping up there and that's always a sure sign Hannibal's feeling something very strongly - in this case, it means he's going to a place in his head that's Not Happy.
Facey really has to get those few drinks into him soon.
Eventually, we managed to convince poor Bosco to get on the plane. Well, Face and Hannibal broke out singing that You Are My Sunshine song which is pretty much their code for "Yes-we-are-in-love-with-each-other-we're-just-being-stupidly-clueless-about-it." And while Bosco's saying he ain't falling for that trick again, I just moseyed on up and got him knocked out so he could sleep like a baby.
Well, of course I handled the flying! You have any idea how hard it was going to be to sneak weaponry past customs? And Uncle Morrie was very clear - we were going to need the things once we left the Club. Uncle Feanor also gave us this box of whatever it was that he and B.A. had managed to cook up in their workshop. I had some idea of what they did - Face was taking inventory of the more modern weapons we had and was muttering about missing stuff.
The Dracula movies make you think that Romania's all gloomy and scary with vampires lurking in every shadow. Far from it - it's a beautiful country. Think of mountains and dense forests, where it's like you can take just one step from the city with all the cars and the noise and the smog and you're clear into this whole other world where it's nothing but trees and greenery and the silence that's only broken by birds singing or other animal noises. Step into that world and you'll have this sense that nothing's touched it, that it hasn't changed for hundreds of years.
At least Bosco had something pretty to wake up to.
Well, of course I had the coconut curry tapenade ready when he came awake!
On our first night in Bucharest, while we were getting settled in our hotel room, Hannibal gathered us together and pretty much laid down the law. He normally isn't that way - he knows how we operate as a team. It was a sign of how worried he really was and just gave me a pretty good idea of how badly things like these went for him before.
"Boys," Hannibal said. "I know this isn't our normal kind of mission so I want you to be extra careful. Consider this the kind of deal where 'all bets are off' and keep the gear that Morrie and Feanor gave us with you at all times. Mind how they told us the things are going to work and don't just lightly dismiss anything as just your imagination working overtime."
"Shit, I knew we was goin' to be vampire-bait," Bosco groaned.
"Actually, I don't think we'll be having trouble from that quarter," Hannibal quipped. "I made sure of that."
I'll bet, I didn't say that aloud but I was thinking back to that picture of Hannibal's old buddies and some of the stuff that Uncle Feanor made us take along that weren't exactly pointy or had the potential to blow up. Protection, he said.
"Don't worry, Bosco," I said instead. "Garlic's not gonna work if a vampire's really hungry but that crucifix you've got around your neck's a lot better." So it doesn't work all the time but I knew Bosco was a true believer and there's a lot of power in faith, y'know?
"I knew it! I ain't ending up as vampire dinner, y'all hear me?" Bosco was panicking already.
"Vampires, Boss?" Face said, raising a brow.
"You heard me," Hannibal said calmly. Yeah - he was dead serious and I knew it. "I don't have a lot of time for stories, kid - not right now anyway. But that's part of it."
"Jesus," Face sighed, shaking his head.
"That means," Hannibal said pointedly at our LT, "that you're not supposed to go chasing after the first pretty face in a skirt that you'll see on this mission. You might just end up getting fangs in your neck!"
"That's not fair, Boss!" Face protested. "I haven't gone after any pretty faces in skirts for ages! Give a guy a break!"
"Yeah, you were the one wearing them, last I heard," Hannibal said dryly.
I wished I'd brought along the popcorn on this trip. Popcorn's real good especially if you spike it with a bit of chili flakes, you know? Best thing to snack on while watching Hannibal and Face snark (a.k.a. flirt) with each other. Of course, the fact that they were also effectively distracting poor Bosco from the whole vampire thing was part of the game too.
Face put on his sweetest smile - the one that should set off all the alarm bells ringing in any sane person's head but everyone else falls for it anyway. "The shoes that go with those skirts are really killer on my feet but if it makes you happy, Hannibal..."
"I think you've done enough drag for the rest of the year and I happen to love you just the way you are, Templeton," Hannibal answered and pretty much won the game, set and match right there.
You'd think that Face would finally catch a clue at this point but the Idiot just blushed all pretty-like and went, "This is payback for the 'silver fox' comment, right?"
The Bigger Idiot - excuse me, our Colonel - just went and changed the subject instead, "Now, Face, were you able to get in touch with that guy I was telling you about so we could get something to drive around here...?"
I had to take a look at Bosco at this point and the big guy's rolling his eyes heavenwards. Yeah. My sentiments exactly. Must. Not. Hit. CO. And. XO. Upside. The. Head. With. Clue-by-Fours.
Driving something that has four wheels and stayed firmly on the ground always made Bosco happy and Face was able to get something that had some resemblance to the big guy's precious van. We got lucky - sometimes the roads in Romania can be really bad at certain times of the year or so we were told, mostly if the weather's bad. The largest city near Poienari Castle was Curtea de Arges and that was where we were heading.
We ended up staying in a little village pension just outside the city - close enough for us to take in the lay of the land. People around here were just beginning to catch on to the whole deal with Dracula and the whole vampire thing with Stoker's book and the umpteen movies that came out of it. From the conversations I was catching, they figured that we were just another bunch of flaky Dracula fanatics tripping out. Heck, to them, ol' Dracula was a national hero, fending off the Turkish invaders - not some vampire in a cape and fangs.
Vampires were still not a joking matter in those small villages though and the old lady who ran the pension had been pretty firm telling us that it wasn't a good idea to go wandering off at night.
"You want excitement, you should stay in the city," she told us sternly. "Night air not good for tourists, not here. Especially these recent days."
Of the four of us, Hannibal and I are the ones fluent in Romanian - Face understands enough to get by but his Hungarian is a lot better and Bosco just knows a couple of words here and there.
The Colonel just nodded. "I understand, Grandmother. We're not really here for the night life."
Grandma's clearly skeptical. "Huh. You foreigners all think our vampires are just the stuff of bad American movies, eh?"
Bosco twitched and I saw Face put a hand on the big guy's shoulder, trying to keep him calm. Unfortunately, Bosco did understand enough Romanian to get "vampire." They're not all that bad really - I ought to introduce him to Uncle Nick one of these days.
Hannibal reaches into his pocket and shows Grandmother something that looked like an old golden coin. Whatever it was, her eyes went wide.
"The young Prince!" she gasped.
Hannibal smiled. "He hasn't forgotten this place, Grandmother and asked me to send his regards."
Grandma was pretty happy after that and she was a real good cook too. I had to get her recipe for paprika hendl - have to get some variety into the menu after all.
When night fell, things changed. I didn't like to think about it and Hannibal was probably feeling the worst out of all of us, which accounted for why he was a bit jumpier than he should be. But I had been getting the heebee-jeebies ever since we all stepped out of Club Denial. Feanor had warned us that our Enemy was aware that Ollie had run into us but he couldn't breach the protections of the Club, as long as we were staying there. But now that we were out in the open - we should be expecting trouble.
"He'll know that there is at least one in your team with a certain power
but I am not sure if he is aware that two of you are from the Dunedain. I would
rather assume that he does know and his hatred for that bloodline will
run deep, if he is who or what I think he is."
Grandma was feeling it too - she had made sure that the crucifix that was hanging over the door to her home was secure and she was muttering prayers under her breath as she went all over, checking the other doors and windows. We all agreed that we'd be turning in early for that night and Bosco and Face had already gone up to their own respective beds. We actually had this nice little room with four beds - which was a godsend, because brother, Bosco can really hog those sheets if we ended up sharing bedspace. Which happened pretty often over the years - we'd all gotten used to that.
Hannibal grumbles about it in the morning but we all knew he'd gotten used to being Face's pillow on those kinds of occasions. How Hannibal managed to stay oblivious to that after all these years is still beyond me too.
Just before I went to our room, I made the mistake of looking out the window in the kitchen.
You know that expression horror writers love using? The blood froze in their veins. You'd think it was Clich City but I finally knew exactly how that felt and believe you me, there's already a lot of horrors out in the world without adding supernatural ghostly shit into the mix. I'd seen those and they've given me nightmares over the years.
This probably ranked up in the Top Ten for me.
My night vision's damn good and I could see those Shadow-Wraiths Ollie was talking about. Blacker than black, moving out in the dark, making me feel like I've been dropped in the middle of a frozen Alaskan lake, the cold going right into my very soul.
And then, I could really see them, the Eyeless Ones, withered skin stretched tight over bones, bleached completely white - dead-white, in fact. They were Things that should have long been resting easy in their graves. They had been dragged out screaming and kicking and were pissed as all hell that their peace had been disturbed. And they were ready to take out that anger on the first available target they could find.
We See you, Son of the Mariner, Bearer of the Star-Jewel.
I was sorry for them, honestly - that bastard wizard shouldn't drag these poor sods into this. But then, I heard Face scream.
Son of a bitch.
I ran upstairs to our room. I don't know why but the first thing I grabbed was Glamdring and the sword was glowing bright enough to light up the whole house. Hannibal was already there and he had Anduril in hand. For this brief, crazy moment, I could see our Colonel as Ollie had described him, standing tall and unafraid, crowned with silver and a star set on his brow. Suddenly, we weren't in this little pension somewhere in the Romanian countryside - we were Somewhere Else - this Somewhere that was nothing but mists and shadow.
Colonel just drew the sword out of its scabbard and showed it to the Wraiths. It too was glowing.
"Get. Out." He said. They blanched and drew back.
The Sword That Was Broken will be shattered again, Son of the Sea-kings! They howled in those dead voices.
The Colonel wasn't budging. "You've got nothing but empty threats - get the hell out of here and leave us in peace!" And then he spoke - ancient, familiar names that I had only heard Uncle Feanor mention a long time ago, always with reverence.
A Elbereth Gilthoniel. Star-queen, Star-kindler Everwhite.
I knew those names and before I knew it, I was saying the words right along with him.
A Elbereth Gilthoniel
O Elbereth Star-kindler,
o menel palan-driel,
from heaven gazing afar,
le nallon s di'-nguruthos!
to thee I cry now beneath the shadow of death!
A tro nin, Fanuilos!
O look towards me, Everwhite!
And then, it was as if I had just blinked and we were back in our little room. Hannibal was sitting on the edge of Face's bed, hand stroking through our LT's hair. Face was sleeping peacefully now.
Bosco, it looked like, had never even woken up during the ruckus. He was still sleeping nice and quiet, holding on to this rosary that Grandma had given him. It had probably kept him safe through the whole thing.
I knew the Colonel couldn't help himself. He just bent and brushed a kiss against Face's temple and I could just make out the whispered, "Sleep well, Templeton. I've got you."
Yeah - Face ought to figure things out pretty soon. He was missing out on a hell of a lot of stuff here.
I hated to interrupt the moment but somebody had to look out for these two idiots. "Colonel."
"Yeah, Captain?" Hannibal had turned to look at me but he still hadn't moved away from Face, fingers still absently stroking through his hair.
"I'll take the first watch for the night," I said. We both knew that we were going to have to do that - warding us from any other attacks by those damn Shadow-Wraiths. We were the only ones in the team who were capable of it.
Hannibal shook his head. "I'll do it. You get some sleep, Captain."
"Hannibal," I said a little more firmly. I don't like doing this often but every now and then, somebody's gotta remind our Colonel that he doesn't have to deal with this crap all alone. "I'll do it - you and Facey here will be running most of the show and we can't have you running on empty."
Colonel gave me this look and it's pretty much the same one he gave me when we first met in that VA in Mexico, all those years ago. It's that look that pretty much just sussed out who and what I am, honestly and truly, without adding the words "crazy as a loon" into the mix. Somebody who believed in me, plain and simple.
He smiled. "All right. Promise you'll wake me - I don't want you to be without sleep the next day."
"Roger that, Master Jedi." I had no intention of doing that but of course, Hannibal used the Force on me again. Damn.
"Murdock. That's an order, you hear?"
"Yes, sir!" I saluted right smartly.
The Colonel sighed, drawing up the blankets over Face and muttering, "If it's not one smart-ass kid, it's another..."
Interlude: "In Dreams"
He sees the crest of a great wave, slowly, inexorably rising, coming up over the seas.
Templeton knows he must get up to the Meneltarma before it is too late.
The wave, green and cold, tipped with foam, higher than the mountains of his
beloved home, is slowly claiming the land in its wake, unstoppable, terrifying.
The peak of the Holy Mountain, the highest in Numenor, is his only chance.
The earth shudders and shakes beneath his feet. He stumbles but he knows he can't stop. He does not want to die, not here, cold and alone, swallowed by the dark. Despite the tremors and the destruction that he is seeing, it is oddly silent - he knows he should hear the screams of the people dying all around him.
There is no time to wonder at that - no time to think. He has to run, as fast as he can, before the sea claims him.
He reaches the mountain and begins the torturous climb up to the very top.
In the back of his mind he believes that this is only fitting. It is his punishment, for the sins he's committed, for the blood he's spilled. He's never been worth anything, nothing more than a pretty face and a charming smile and a knack for lies and deceit that can get him anything and everything he wants. He feels the truth of that, a cold spot that begins in his chest, in his heart, spreading out to the rest of his body, freezing him so that he can't move, can't breathe, can't do anything.
He is nothing.
The great wave has claimed nearly all of the land now and it is still not satisfied. The waters are rising, faster and faster, all around the mountain, all that is left of Numenor now. There is no hope, the Meneltarma will be no refuge - it too shall go down into the deep, into the dark.
The sea claims him.
"Sleep well, Templeton. I've got you."
Strong arms are around him and Templeton is no longer on the mountain but on the decks of a great ship, watching as Numenor falls into oblivion. He leans back into that embrace, feeling a kiss brush his temple and a gentle voice, touched with that brogue he loves so much, whispering comforting words into his ear.
"I've got you, Templeton. I won't let you go. It's all right."
Their world has been lost - destroyed by the mad ambitions of their fool of a king. But he and his beloved are sailing into a new world now, to carve out a new beginning. He should have remembered that - he would always follow his other half, even if they would be led to the very ends of the earth. Templeton knows that unlike their king, his beloved would die first before he would lead them astray.
Templeton turned his head, lips beginning to shape his beloved's name...
Part IV: We Could Steal Time, Just For One Day...
The pieces are all in place. The game is set.
Vance Bennings and Tony Bright are within the ruins of Poienari Castle, waiting for their customers. The Jewel is safe in the sturdy metal briefcase handcuffed to Bright's wrist. Their other team members are somewhere else - Burkie's got them covered with his sniper rifle and Meeker's close enough to come in if things get ugly.
Vance has convinced Bright of this - no fucking scams, not today. The Jewel goes and they walk away with their money, free and clear, no matter what. He's got the rest of the team backing him up on this - Burkie's as antsy as he is and he's tired of constantly looking over his shoulder. Meeker just wants to get things over with as well.
Bright, as expected, gives them a hard time, but they all convince him to agree in the end. It's just another piece of shiny rock. While it's true that it is rare and beautiful, in the end, it's not going to be worth shit if they all ended up getting killed over it. So here they stand, dressed warmly against the cold mountain winds, waiting for their buyers.
The view here is spectacular - they can see the roads from the ruins of the castle's highest tower. Small wonder that Vlad Dracula had wanted to build his citadel here, where he can easily see his enemies coming. Vance appreciates the history of the real Prince Dracula, who was a far more brutal, terrifying bastard than the vampire persona created for him by Bram Stoker. The castle was literally built from the blood, sweat and tears of the nobles who were Dracula's enemies - all of whom preferred hard labor to an excruciating death by impalement. Vlad had his mighty fortress and had gotten rid of his political nuisances all in one fell swoop.
Vance appreciates the Prince's eminent practicality. Like him, it was time for all of them to see that practical side of things.
He sees their buyers making the long climb up the stairs that had been built much later, for the tourists wanting to visit. Fifteen hundred steps is a hell of a long climb and the two men coming up don't look like the usual flaky Dracula-freaks checking out the so-called "haunted ruins." They're also dressed warmly against the cold, both wearing almost identical long coats.
As they get closer, Vance gets a better look at them. The first one is apparently the real buyer - young handsome guy dressed casually but expensively, carrying himself like he owned the ground he walked on and everybody else in his path. Vance knows the type - arrogant, spoiled assholes that had nothing better to do but just spend their money on the next new toy.
Vance would bet his last dollar that the second man was former military, probably this guy's bodyguard, just slightly taller than his companion, sharp blue eyes seeming to watch everything. This man is the one to look out for - one doesn't get to be an old soldier by being an idiot and this one might have left his military career behind but he certainly didn't look like he'd left his skills rusting.
Their breath is coming out in white puffs in the cold air but they look quite relaxed by the time they reach the tower. Apparently, Pretty Rich Boy keeps himself quite fit in what probably was his expensive state-of-the-art gym. They exchange pleasantries and their false names.
After that, they get down to business.
"We want to see what you have first," Pretty Rich Boy says casually. "I'm sure you understand. It's a no-return, no-exchange kinda deal, yeah?"
"Of course," Bright answers smoothly. Quickly, he cradles the case in one arm as he flips it open. The jewel is nestled securely in the black velvet that cushions it. The Light within seems to shimmer like it was alive and for a moment, all of them are stunned silent by its radiance.
And also in that same moment, Vance feels an echo of that possessiveness that Bright feels, that need to take the Jewel away from all other eyes, to cradle it in his hands, glorying in its Light and the sense that the Jewel was his and his alone.
He shakes his head to clear it. It's like he lost his head for the last few minutes because Bright's suddenly drawn a gun on Pretty Rich Boy and demanding that he make the money transfer to their account now, before he blows his fucking head off.
Oh fucking hell. The shit's just hit the fan. Tony Bright's eyes are fever-bright and utterly mad, as he repeats his demands for the money. Vance taps his comm to give Burkie his orders. It's all gone to hell in a handbasket within the space of a few minutes. He just knows their Captain's gone batshit insane and things were going to get real ugly real fast but he has to get them out of this somehow because he was the only one left who could do it.
Split seconds to make a decision and Vance doesn't know if he's about to tell Burkie to shoot Tony Bright or their buyer but the decision is taken away when he hears Donald Burke scream like a lost, damned soul.
And then, things take a sudden tilt into sheer insanity.
The minute Hannibal laid eyes on Tony Bright, he already knew that things were not going to turn out well. Vance Bennings still seemed capable of reason - his Captain was most certainly not. They had all been taken off guard when Bright had shown them the Silmaril - he thought he already had a good idea of what to expect when Feanor had told them that this stone contained part of the Light that had shone upon the world before Sun and Moon were set in the sky.
He really should have known better.
And now, he could truly understand why Elves and Men and Gods were so willing to wage war for the sake of the Silmarils. Soldier that he was, Hannibal only found himself saddened at the wasted lives and the spilled blood. He too could understand why this particular Silmaril had to be returned from whence it came.
Face didn't miss a beat when he found Bright's gun pratically shoved almost right between his eyes. His lieutenant was already doing some fast talking, trying to distract Bright from Hannibal drawing his own gun.
Bright swung in Hannibal's direction. "Don't even think about it! I've got you both covered and I can shoot you dead faster than you can draw that gun - "
But Face had already drawn Sting from his coat and he was not going to hesitate. Hannibal knew his lieutenant was good with a knife and he'd always known Face was fast but Face underestimated how sharp an Elven-forged blade could be and his strike managed to neatly sever Bright's gun hand from the wrist.
Bright screamed and went down on his knees. He'd managed to snap the briefcase containing the Silmaril shut before he'd drawn the gun on Face, and it was now dangling from the handcuff securing it to his remaining hand.
Sting was glowing.
Jesus! Hannibal knew what that meant and he wasn't surprised to see Anduril glowing as well, as he drew it partway from its scabbard. It was supposed to be midday but now it looked like the sun had been hidden by a thick, dark blanket of clouds. Hannibal felt the fine hairs on the back of his neck rising as he could again feel the presence of the evil that had been stalking them ever since they had arrived in Romania. It was done with hiding - Hannibal could visibly see the Shadows drawing near, taking shape...
Taking material form...
There was another scream - Hannibal was only thankful that he could not recognize that voice. He'd sent Murdock after the other group's sniper. Next to Face, it was the pilot who was actually one of their team's best marksmen. But Hannibal was quite sure that it wasn't Murdock who'd taken down that sniper.
Hannibal took aim at Vance Bennings who had been evidently trying to contact their team's sniper before they had all heard him being effectively taken out of play. The man had also been dazed for a few precious seconds by the Silmaril's light and had been slow to react. But his eyes are wide and terrified seeing the Shadow-Wraiths gathering around them.
"What the fuck - what the hell is this..."
"If you want to live, you let us have the jewel and work with us on this," Hannibal said, keeping his voice calm and cool, keeping the gun trained on Bennings. "It's the jewel they want, that's all."
Bennings looked at him and then at his downed Captain, who was trying to open the briefcase again, even with his maimed stump of a hand.
"Don't be a fool, son," Hannibal pleaded with him. He was banking on this one's common sense coming into play - he had the distinct feeling that Bennings had not been willing to pull this scam at all.
"Fuck this," Bennings whispered. He ran over to Bright, who screamed incoherently as he still had enough sense to realize what his companion was about to do. The other man still had enough strength to try and use the heavy briefcase as a weapon but Bennings was having none of it.
Hannibal ran over to help him. "Face! Draw your sword!"
It felt strange to give that order but guns weren't going to work against those things and they had already tried to get to Face just the night before.
Bennings was still struggling with Bright. Suddenly, he was thrown off by the other man, who was displaying surprising strength after all the blood he's lost. Bennings hit the old stone walls hard and slumped unconscious on the ground - he was only lucky that those walls were there to keep him from going over the mountain. But he did succeed in getting the briefcase open - the Silmaril tumbled out on the ground, rolling in Hannibal's direction.
Hannibal did not hesitate - he dove to the ground to pick the jewel up. The Silmaril fit comfortably in his hand and was small enough to slide into the inner pocket of the coat he was wearing.
Tony Bright screamed again - first at the loss of his treasure and finally as one of the Shadow-Wraiths seems to merge right into him. It was a sickening sight - blood and flesh slowly melting away, sucked right in by that creature, as if by doing so it helped the thing take on a more solid form.
His gun was going to be useless - Hannibal stashed it away and drew his own sword. His old sword masters had taught him that there was no room for hesitation - not in a fight like this, not when his opponents were faster than a normal human could be. Anduril sang as he brought it against the Wraith, the blade slicing cleanly down through the thing's shoulder and neatly severing it almost in half. Whatever enchantment had been woven into the blade was surprisingly effective - the Wraith gave one cry and shuddered into dust.
Face was doing just as well - Hannibal made a note to himself to find out just who taught the kid so that he could track them down and personally thank them. If the situation hadn't been so dire, Face was beautiful to watch as the Wraiths tried to surround him - moving fast and sure like he'd been fighting with a sword and dagger all his life - each strike calculated to take down the enemy, no move wasted.
More and more Wraiths seemed to be coming out of the woodwork - this place was certainly not any kind of hallowed ground, Hannibal knew. Too much blood had been spilled here, too much evil done, too much death - it was practically fertile ground for the goddamnned things.
Hannibal heard gunfire and B.A. giving a war cry as he'd opened fire on another cluster of Shadow-Wraiths.
"Holy Jeebus, Bosco!" he heard Murdock cry out in wonder and delight. Murdock wasn't kidding - those were like no bullets Hannibal had ever seen. It was as if B.A. was attacking the things with fiery points of light and it was surprisingly effective at taking them down.
Hannibal knew a few old buddies who'd be mighty interested in that.
And then, there wasn't time to wonder anymore as another cluster of Shadow-Wraiths made for him, effectively cutting him off from reaching his lieutenant. Hannibal swore and got moving - the few days that they had in Club Denial were enough to shake the rust off his old skills. Some of the Wraiths did have weapons of their own and Hannibal had paid enough attention to Morrie and Feanor to know that getting nicked by one of those things was not an option.
Somehow they had to make it out of there - probably need to make it to hallowed ground if they possibly could. Hannibal had no intention of following the footsteps of his fool of a commanding officer long ago - he was bringing his boys home and alive no matter what.
He heard Murdock crying out the words to the ancient hymn to Elbereth. This time, it wasn't just a vision - the pilot seemed to blaze with an inner light and power that Hannibal had only seen in a very few people as he fought. Hannibal did remember when he was first taught that hymn, long before he'd met any of his boys. Somehow, he'd understood the words in that beautiful, alien tongue, like a half-forgotten memory finally restored to him.
And the words were reminiscent of the prayers of his childhood and wasn't it all the same in the end?
Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our deaths...
le nallon s di'-nguruthos!
to thee I cry now beneath the shadow of death!
Murdock had the right idea. And Hannibal had one more thing to try. He drew the Silmaril out of his coat pocket and raised it high, crying out:
A tro nin, Fanuilos!
O look towards me, Everwhite!
Perhaps it was the speaking of the ancient names of the beautiful Queen of the Valar, named the Star-kindler. The Silmaril in Hannibal's hand responded to that and blazed bright like a tiny sun, burning away the Wraiths in its radiance. Hannibal had to close his eyes against the sight - not because of the brightness but because the beauty of the Silmaril was too much to bear.
But when Hannibal opened his eyes, it was to see Face, held at dagger's point by a strange old man.
"Well played, son of the Sea-kings," the stranger said mockingly.
The old man was quite tall and apparently, deceptively strong for somebody his age, one arm locked securely around Face's neck and shoulders, the other hand closed around a short sword, its blade the disconcerting color of old blood. That blade was held threateningly against Face's throat - all it would take was one swift move and Hannibal could just see Face go down with his throat sliced wide open.
Albert Pallando - Hannibal finally recognized him. So the old wizard had finally decided to show up for this little party.
"You have something that rightfully belongs to me," said Pallando. "I suggest you return it as I am sure you hold your lieutenant's life quite dearly."
"Funny," Hannibal answered. "Story I heard was quite different - Feanor Curufinwe made the Silmarils long ago and you don't look like any Elf I've ever seen."
"Toss the goddamnned thing into the river, Hannibal!" Face yelled, before being cut off by the wizard hissing some word in a tongue Hannibal didn't even want to name. Whatever he did seemed to briefly cut off Face's air intake, the younger man turning ash white.
"Stop!" Hannibal cried out. He had to stall for time, had to make his move when it was just right. The Silmaril was in his hands and there were a lot of things that he could do with that jewel - he knew how to pull them off too. While he wasn't a wizard, not by a long shot, there were ways to take guys like Pallando down.
But Pallando had Face and every one of those options would end up in Face getting killed or worse and Hannibal knew all too well there were some things that were worse than death.
And Pallando knew it all too well. Hannibal could see Face visibly slump in the wizard's grasp as the ability to breathe was restored to him. The wizard pressed the flat of the blade just against Face's jawline.
"I don't even have to kill him, you know," Pallando said conversationally. "One nick, just enough to break his pretty skin and draw his blood and he'll be mine."
"Do that and I swear that there won't be any place you can hide from me," Hannibal snarled. "I will find you. And I will kill you."
The wizard laughed.
And the world began to shift.
Hannibal knew he had to stop Pallando, somehow, before he dragged all of them into that Place In Between where he could possibly call more of the Dead to him. He met Face's eyes and it was he could do not to react to the complete and total trust that he could see there. That and the fact that Face had somehow managed to hold on to Sting, having slipped it up in the sleeve of his coat.
"You've got nothing but cheap tricks, Pallando," Hannibal growled, holding the Silmaril aloft, mentally preparing himself. It responded to him easily, holding off the wizard's attempt to change the battlefield.
"And here we all were thinkin' you were a wizard worthy of the name you been takin'," came a familiar drawl. Murdock had just stepped up next to him, Glamdring in hand. Hannibal had a very odd sense of Someone Else hitching a ride with their pilot and he found the Presence reassuring. "But you're just nothing but a kid with a whole bag of magic tricks you just want to try out, ain't you?"
For the first time, the wizard faltered, grip loosening just slightly on Face. "I am Pallando the Blue! I am of the Order of the Istari!"
"You been a long time out here then," Murdock said casually. "Been out so long that maybe your skills have gone to seed. You'd think you'd gone on and done the whole World Domination bit by now, if you're so strong."
And Hannibal understood what Murdock was talking about. Feanor had feared that they were facing not just a human gifted with Power but a Maiar, a near-angelic being. But even Sauron had been taken down by Men once, a long time ago. And it was a Hobbit, of all things, that had dealt him the final blow.
"Sauron at least had the sense to make some rings for himself," Hannibal added, getting into the game, blessing Murdock for his glib tongue. "Instead of going after somebody else's jewelry!"
He just had to stall a little bit more, get a little more time. The jewel was pulsing in his hand and Hannibal could feel the power gathering around him and Murdock.
Pallando spoke another word in that foul language and Hannibal could feel the attempt at the jewel in his hand. It seemed to shrug off the attack, blazing briefly bright in answer. Murdock was right - Pallando had a lot of tricks but he was, in the end, just a Shadow without true substance.
Just a few more seconds. That was all they needed.
"It is not yet time to shatter the jewel, Pallando - though you have no right to that name," said Murdock or was it Murdock? Hannibal wasn't so sure, but he thought he'd recognized the voice that suddenly spoke.
Feanor and Morrie did promise to lend any aid they possibly could.
"It is my name! Mine! And the Jewel is mine!" Pallando screamed, waving the short sword far too dangerously close to Face, so close that if Face just breathed, he'd get cut by that thing.
"If Pallando is your name and you are of the Order," Hannibal returned quietly, "then where is your staff?" Murdock was not the only one paying attention to all the stories Morrie and Feanor had been telling - Hannibal had been listening quite closely as well. And he'd spent some time in Club Denial's library before they left.
And all of a sudden and perhaps this was the Silmaril's work, Hannibal could see Albert Pallando clearly. A family long steeped in the occult and magical works, claiming for themselves a name steeped in legends so old that the truth in them had already been lost in the endless distortions wrought by the long ages. There was genuine power there, it was true, but it was lost in Albert Pallando's delusions and lies.
The Silmaril held the Light that had shone upon the world before Sun or Moon was set in the sky. The Light would never tolerate lies - it would banish its shadows, leaving only the truth.
"Give me the Jewel!" Pallando snarled. This time, he struck out again, a blast of power aimed straight for Hannibal himself.
Several things happened all at once, all at the same time.
Hannibal cried out to Elbereth and the Silmaril blazed to protect him.
Face took advantage of that brief moment of inattention to slide down and strike out with Sting. The wizard was too fast - Face succeeded only in grazing his belly but not before taking a hit across the chest with the wizard's short sword. Face was fast enough not to make the wound mortal but the wizard had drawn blood from him.
And B.A., who had been carefully sneaking up on Pallando the entire time, finally brought the axe Dramborleg on the wizard's head.
Murdock had followed up with Glamdring soon after and what was left of Pallando fell to the ground.
A dark mist emerged from the wizard's fallen body, making Murdock and B.A. fall back. It dove for Face, enveloping him completely for a few terrible seconds.
Jesus! "Face!" Hannibal dove for his lieutenant, Silmaril blazing in his hand.
A cold, clean wind suddenly blew, blowing the mist away.
"You guys just kept disappearing from my sights," B.A. said, sweating profusely despite the cold, eyes wild. "I just had to keep going and trust all y'all were still there."
"S'okay, buddy," Murdock told him. "You were there right when we needed you."
"You did fine, B.A.," Hannibal said, sparing a moment for their sergeant, even as he knelt and turned Face over. That wound, at any other time, given by any ordinary weapon, wouldn't even need stitches. But Face was completely white, his skin cold and those bright blue eyes were dull and lifeless.
"Jesus, kid, don't do this to me," Hannibal breathed. Not Face. Not like this!
Face gasped and then started shaking, eyes wide and unseeing. No, Hannibal didn't want to think about what he could be seeing.
He pressed the Silmaril into his lieutenant's hand. The thing wasn't meant for healing but it was Light and perhaps it would help keep Face with them, just a little bit longer.
"I won't lose you," Hannibal growled. "You hold on for me, do you hear, lieutenant? You hold on for me, soldier, that's an order!"
He could, vaguely, hear Murdock giving B.A. orders. Something about his pack and making a fire and for once, B.A. wasn't saying things like "crazy fool!" in response.
Then, he felt Murdock's hand on his shoulder. The pilot's blue-green eyes were suspiciously bright. "Now I know what Uncle Feanor was nattering on about making sure I kept the athelas with me all the time."
Hannibal stared at him blankly. They had to get Face out of there, right now. He wasn't sure how they would manage to get him down 1500 steps and to the waiting van, but they would manage, somehow. He opened his mouth to give the orders but Murdock beat him to it.
"Hannibal. The hands of the King are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known."
Interlude: "A Light in Dark Places... "
The great wave had claimed nearly all of the land now.
Templeton stood alone upon what was formerly the highest peak of his homeland. It too was slowly sinking beneath the waters, sinking deep into the darkness.
He could swim but he couldn't hold out indefinitely. It was just so easy to let go, to give into the darkness and the cold. He let the waters close over his head, sinking down....
I won't let you go!
You hold on for me, lieutenant!
Templeton knew that voice.
You hold on for me, soldier, that's an order!
Orders? He wasn't always good at following orders but he did follow when it came from that particular person. He always did, didn't he?
If he could only remember his name.
Templeton found himself in this Place that was really No Place at All. It sounded so silly, so crazy, to call it that. But that was what it was, a place that was nothing but shadows and mists. Empty of everything. Completely silent.
Don't do this to me, kid.
Kid? Yeah, that was what he was, just a kid, someone to be taken care of, a soldier under his command.
Come on, Face, come on back to us, kid.
It should be enough, shouldn't it? He could follow that voice back, come out of this No Place - there was something waiting for him out there. He just couldn't remember what that was, why was it so important, why it meant anything at all.
It did mean something, didn't it?
Templeton. Come back to me. Please.
There was something raw and aching in that voice now; the lilt more pronounced than ever. Templeton thought he recognized that emotion but he was afraid to give it a name.
And then, he saw the Other, hand outstretched, blue eyes bright with that nameless feeling that threatened to take away the comforting shadows and cold that was wrapped around him now, wanting him to simply lie down and give in.
Please, Templeton. For me?
"I'm afraid," Templeton whispered.
"You don't feel the same way I do - you never will. I don't blame you, you know. It's just how things are sometimes." The truth was pulled out from him unwillingly - he hated it that he couldn't seem to hide all of a sudden, that the shadows lied - they couldn't give him any refuge, not anymore.
What makes you so sure that I don't feel the same way?
"You've always been like this - you'd run into hell for any of us and we'd do the same for you," Templeton answered.
A soft chuckle, warm with amusement and that emotion Templeton didn't want to give a name to, was his reply.
Templeton Arthur Peck, I would follow any of you boys into hell and bring you back but you're the only one...
And then he drew Templeton close and suddenly, it became clear to him, because in this place, in this moment, there was absolutely no room for anything but the truth.
You're the only one I'd do this to.
And he was being kissed. Kissed suitably breathless and when Templeton found his beloved - yes, that was the word and he could use it freely now - gazing at him, blue eyes alight with the same exact feeling, he could finally speak his name.
Part V: And We Kissed, As Though Nothing Could Fall
Templeton Peck woke up in a nice, comfy bed and just thought of one thing.
That was one hell of a dream.
And then, he realized that there was a familiar silver head resting on the side of his bed and that particular person had taken posession of his hand.
There was a very pleasant scent in the air and Face couldn't really describe it, except that it just felt like everything that was fresh and new and sweet. With the barest hint of expensive Cuban cigars, which was another scent that he associated with Everything that was Good and Wonderful and had something to do with a certain Colonel who should have been in bed, instead of being camped out here. The scent seemed to be coming from the basin of still steaming water that had been set on the bedside table.
"Hey," he said softly, his free hand gently stroking the fine silver hair, unable to help himself.
Bright blue eyes met his, as Hannibal woke up at his touch, almost immediately. "Hey yourself."
Oh, Jesus. Face just felt his heart skip a beat at the sight of that familiar grin. Also because there was no mistaking the expression on his Colonel's face now.
"I think," Face said carefully. "I might still be dreaming but if I am, I'd better not wake up. Because this is a very good place right now and whatever's in that basin is some pretty good shit right there."
"What's in the basin helped me save your life and no, you're not dreaming," Hannibal answered. "At least not right now you're not. The rest was quite real, trust me."
Hannibal's brow went up. "Oh? That's all you've got to say?"
Face's cheeks were burning but he saw that spark of sheer mischief dancing in his Colonel's eyes and realized what he was up to.
"Well," he drawled. "We could pick up from where we left off from my dream, because that was a damn good place to start."
"You might want to get a little more specific there, Templeton." Oh, Hannibal was evil. A completely evil bastard and Face loved him for it.
"Kissing the charming Prince awake from his enchanted slumber was a pretty good way to flip the fairy tale over but this Prince wants more of the kissing. Because that was a very good thing. Especially coming from his true love and all that."
Goddamn, he got Hannibal Smith to blush. Again!
But Face did get what he wanted. He got to bury his hands in the older man's hair as he was kissed, quite thoroughly and then treated to tender, gentle pecks on his closed eyelids and his nose and then, a bit later, little, teasing nips down his throat. And just when he thought it would be a good idea to pull his Colonel down and make things a little more interesting, Hannibal drew back, seeing that he was suitably kissed breathless yet again.
"And that's all you'll get for the moment, at least until you're better," Hannibal laughed at him.
"Damn it, Hannibal," Face pouted up at him.
"I love you too, Templeton."
"That's not fair!" Face protested.
"I know," was the smug reply and Face got another brief, infuriatingly teasing kiss to take away the pouting.
And then, whispered against his mouth was a far more serious, "Never scare me like that again, Templeton Arthur Peck. You hear?"
"I love you too, John," Face murmured back, utterly contented now. At least for the moment.
"Is it safe to come in yet?" Murdock sung out a few minutes later. He waltzed in bearing a tray that had a bowl of probably delicious homemade chicken noodle soup in it and some bread. He frowned as he took in the distinctly neat appearance of the two men - well, perhaps Face's lips might look a little bit swollen but he would need a mirror to be sure about that.
"Is that Grandma's chicken noodle soup?" Face said, feeling greedy and unable to help it. Suddenly he was hungry.
"Yeah, Momma Bear and I'm disappointed in you!" Murdock scolded. "I would think that you and Poppa Bear would be making out like a pair of lovesick teenagers at this point!"
"Murdock!" Both Hannibal and Face growled together.
"Now what you going on about, you crazy fool?" B.A. said, also coming into the room.
"Well, lookit Poppa Bear! Not a hair out of place! You'd think that now they've both been finally hit upside the head by Clue by Fours, we'd see some evidence of shenanigans going 'round!"
Hannibal had already set the bowl of water down on the floor and had gotten the tray of food from Murdock. Half of it was to hide the blush that Face knew was also on his own face and the other half was to get him his food, which Face would be eternally grateful for. Also, Face felt quite capable of feeding himself and he let the Baby Bears squabble amongst themselves while planning vengeance.
"Now why would you be looking for shenanigans here, Captain?" Hannibal asked quite casually.
"Yeah, Murdock - no shenanigans or snugglebunnying going on around here, no sir," Face said innocently, having already taken a few mouthfuls of chicken noodle soup. Damn, but it was good.
Hannibal stared at him, partly amused and partly horrified. "Snugglebunnying, Lieutenant Peck?"
Face shrugged. "What? It's a good word, Colonel, sir! I like it!"
Hannibal made a show of considering it. "Yeah. I'll agree to that. No snugglebunnies around here. Don't see a single one."
Murdock stared at them both, eyes wide. "You two are messing with me, aren't you? Bosco, Hannibal and Face are messing with me!"
B.A. sighed and simply gave his report. "By the way, Hannibal - Vance Bennings and Howard Meeker have gone back to Curtea de Arges. They had enough of the whole supernatural crazy shit. Ain't gonna give us trouble, I expect."
That was all that was left of the other group? Face shook his head. He'd seen what happened to Tony Bright and he didn't want to imagine what had happened to the other guy on the treasure hunter team.
Murdock was still protesting. "They're trying to drive me sane, Bosco! SANE!"
"From where I standin' that a good thing, fool!"
"AUGH! I'm tellin' my Uncle Nunkies on y'all!"
"Honestly, Face, snugglebunnies?" Hannibal whispered as Murdock ranted about hopeless eejits and how stupid love could be and begged B.A. to build him Clue by Fours.
"I found your secret stash of Opus the Penguin comics." Face whispered back.
They laughed softly together.
EPILOGUE: Just For One Day...
The Silmaril wasn't like Sauron's One Ring. It had no will or malice of its own, to compel its bearer to its bidding, twisting and warping the body and soul of the one that carried it beyond all recognition.
The Silmaril bore Light and Light simply cast away all darkness and shadows, leaving only what could live and grow in its radiance.
Truth was one of those things.
Truth could be completely unforgiving. It could strip a man's soul to its barest core, exposing greed and lust and pride and unbridled ambition, everything that was base and unworthy.
Truth could also be completely liberating. It could expose love and loyalty and trust, everything that should be said and expressed.
The Silmaril was like a two-edged sword and it could cut anyone in either of those ways.
There was no place in the world that could truly be safe for the Jewel, other than the deep waters of the earth. It would be found again, as the others would be - to be reunited with its siblings - the one set in the sky as a star and the one cast into the bowels of the earth.
But it would not be this day.
A lone helicopter flew out to the Black Sea. Just another random aircraft, perhaps bearing scientists on their way to their research stations or perhaps even military. It didn't matter. No one marked the small, radiant jewel that was dropped from the chopper.
No one saw the jewel fall and be reclaimed by the waters, to lie waiting, until the very Last Day. And who could say when that could be? Or what the Major Players might decide to do, in the very end?
The chopper flew back inland, its quest over, its mission accomplished.
- end -
THE MUSES BEHIND THE SCENES:
Murdock Muse: Finally, he gets it!
Face Muse: Gets what? (is casually resting his chin on Hannibal's shoulder, arms around the older man's chest)
Murdock Muse: The love, you daft eejit! The love thing!
Hannibal Muse: (innocently) What love thing? We're just friends, that's all.
B.A. Muse: (starts laughing) Payback's a bitch, innit?
Murdock Muse: AUGH!
Hannibal & Face - Ahem. You guys happy nao?
Club Denial - The Club Denial stories...well, both of them, can actually be found on the Harry Potter (Snarry) Masterlist that I have on my Livejournal. But one of them is definitely listed on my FF dot Net Profile. Hopefully, I've done enough that it isn't really necessary to go and read those stories... but hey, you guys are welcome to give them a look-see if you like. Heh. (looks sheepish)
James Holland McTyeire Murdock - The TV spots give "James" as movieverse!Murdock's first name but the H.M. has always puzzled fans. Given that I've got a yen for history, especially WW II history, I've decided that our favorite Captain was named after the famous WW II General Holland McTyeire "Howlin' Mad" Smith. Also, it makes so much sense that Murdock's going to trace his bloodline back to Elrond's twins. (chortles)
The Little Fuzzy Blue Creature - What Author Self-Insert? (looks innocent) This isn't the alien you're looking for!
Hannibal - Does the hint I gave in "Get Back" make sense now? Seriously, think about it. Blue eyes, long shanks (er... I mean long legs), a very accomplished, very clever battlefield commander, a leader men would willingly follow into hell and back, older guy that can still kick serious ass and will for many more years to come.... If there was ever a modern-day descendant of Aragorn Elessar running around, Hannibal has got to be it.
Lord of the Rings Canon - By necessity, there's a lot of tongue-in-cheek stuff here and I do enjoy poking fun at canon every now and then. Especially if Morrie's being a Guest Muse. Oi vei....
"You Are My Sunshine" - music/lyrics by Oliver Hood / Jimmie Davis / Charles Mitchell
"Kenshin, Urahara & Frodo" - They are sneaky bastards and they just slipped in under my radar.
For the record, Face doesn't know actual Hiten Mitsurugi moves, especially the ones that require you to do crazy-ass acrobatics. Kenshin pretty much taught him variations and stuff he's picked up over the "years" he's been hanging around. Kami-sama help us all, I think Kenshin's also picked up some stuff from certain Shinigami Captains! Sano calls it "Kenshin-Ryu" as a Very Bad Joke.
Yes, Bleach fans, Keisuke Urahara is very well acquainted with Morrie. Be afraid. Be very afraid. (facepalms)
Frodo Baggins has the best Big Puppy Eyes Look Evar. You guys expect me to resist THAT?
Hannibal's Sword Master(s?) - Yes, he did learn from a few Somebodies. (glares at her Other Muses, who are all studiously trying to look Very Innocent) Will the Vampires and Various Kinds of Immortals from my umpteen other fandoms please get the hell out? AUGH!
Orcrist - Although Glamdring was designed in the Peter Jackson movies to be your typical European/Western-style sword, I decided to do something different with Orcrist, which is actually described in The Hobbit as being twin to Glamdring. But since Face and Kenshin went in cahoots together (rolls eyes)... it makes sense to redesign Orcrist somewhat.
About Face, the Ducati & "Movie Canon"
I tend to just pick and choose what works from the so-called "movie canon" which isn't much, considering. I really LOL'd when they had Hannibal's height at 5'11. Maybe that was TV!Hannibal but Liam Neeson is 6'4 in real life and even the movie shows him clearly as the tallest member of the team. The ages work for me though - it makes sense for Hannibal to be in his early 40's and for the boys to be in their early 30's, roughly my age (Heh). The movie places the boys at the very beginning of their eventual adventuring as heroic "soldiers of fortune" - makes sense for them to be a lot younger at this point.
Honestly, when I look at the pre-movie comics, I just mentally jump the timeline or place Face in a totally different war where it would have made sense for him to hang around. Hence, I never explicitly gave a setting/timeline to the Ducati incident.
Hannibal's Mysterious Old Team - Yeah. A Certain Really Old Guy of an Immortal and a Certain Dhampire decided to join the party. Sort of. No.... that wasn't a Highlander & Castlevania reference... no no no..... And that little girl who happens to be hanging around isn't the OC who pops up in a lot of my fics... no no no....
Murdock's "Uncle Nick" & "Uncle Nunkies" - Um. That's not a certain vampire detective from this classic TV show (coughForeverKnightcough). You guys believe me, right? And that's not his Vampire Master. Honest! (Yeah, that last bit was for Sushi & Wildrook)
Face & Murdock, Hacking the Planet - You know, it kinda makes sense that the two of them are capable of mad hacking skillz. There are a lot of scams to be run on the Internet now and Murdock's certainly capable of Geek Godhood given enough incentive. Yes, Murdock really loves the Hackers movie. Hey, it's a classic! :)
The Research - Thank you Google and Travel Blogs for some info on getting to Poienari Castle. Also, I went back to the classic Bram Stoker novel for some additional inspiration. I also owe Wikipedia for the translation of the Elbereth Gilthoniel prayer that we LOTR fans all know and love. Why Hannibal seems to know this, even before he had ever run into Morrie and Feanor, is one of those stories that shall be left for later.
Face's Dream - I thought it made sense for Face to have the dream of
the "great wave" and the destruction of Numenor. But I was thinking of Tar-Miriel,
Numenor's last queen and Faramir, who was called back to the living world by
Aragorn, which ultimately gave me the idea for the ending.
Opus the Penguin - Yes, we know Hannibal liked comic books - I didn't realize my Hannibal Muse had pillaged my stack of Berke Breathed comics though. And then it was Face's turn to do the pillaging...