Last Minute Reservations
by Elizabeth Kent
"How's it look, Nat?"
"She's good to go, sir. Are you expecting Mr. Peck soon?"
"He should be here any minute." Adam Chambers checked his watch and drummed his fingers on the back of the pilot's seat. They were scheduled to leave in less than half an hour, and Templeton hadn't arrived yet. He hoped that just meant that Templeton's injury slowed him down and not that General Stockwell had changed his mind about allowing Templeton to leave Langley while he recuperated from the shooting. Adam headed back toward the passenger cabin, checking to make sure the galley was stocked and that there were plenty of blankets in the storage compartment. It was going to be a long flight from Washington to France, and Templeton needed rest. Toward the back of the jet was a bed which Adam had already made up. It was already late in the day, and Templeton would probably arrive exhausted just from the car ride to the airport.
Templeton had been sent home from the hospital far too early, but Stockwell, who had hung around outside Templeton's hospital room without ever actually coming in, had required him to recuperate at the Langley house. Adam had started making plans right away to spring Templeton from Langley while he recovered. He wouldn't be any good to Stockwell until he was fit, anyway, and Stockwell was probably smart enough to see that allowing Templeton this short break to reunite with his lover was the most efficient way to make sure he returned physically and mentally fit to work.
Adam had known Templeton was alive, but that was all he knew. Murdock filled in the blanks while he and Adam sat side by side next to Templeton's hospital bed. The team's capture, the fake but terrifying execution, the suicide missions in such rapid succession that neither physical nor emotional trauma had time to heal before more trauma was heaped on top of it, Stockwell's bevy of enticing females thrown at the team in a vain effort to pacify them between missions, and Templeton's attempts to leave the team, to go home to Adam.
They were all anxious to get away from Stockwell, to return to the people they loved. There was a doctor in California waiting for Hannibal. Like Adam, she had received a hurried call from a pay phone a week after the execution informing her Hannibal was still alive. As Adam had, she put her life on hold until her lover returned. Murdock's fiance, Frankie's father, BA's mother. All of them waited for the day the team was free of Stockwell.
"They're here, Mr. Chambers."
Adam turned at the sound of Nat's voice and joined his pilot in the cockpit to watch the team approach. Templeton was sitting in a wheelchair studying something intently. Murdock pushed him, and the other team members were ranged around the chair, carrying Templeton's luggage. They'd all come to see him off. When they reached the plane, Hannibal and BA helped Templeton out of the chair and up the stairs into the passenger cabin. Even the short trek up the steps left him winded and shaking. They lowered him onto a leather couch and sat on either side of him until he got his breath. Adam stood back and didn't interfere. The team had been taking care of Templeton since well before Adam had met him, and they were his family.
"You okay now, kid?" Hannibal asked.
"Yeah." Templeton's voice was weak.
The others were smiling, but Templeton looked grim and anxious. Hannibal stood and relinquished his spot to Adam. Adam slipped an arm around Templeton's shoulders and could feel his muscles quiver with fatigue. He was chilled, too, though the day was fairly warm. He rubbed his hand up and down Templeton's back, trying to soothe him. "What's the matter?" he asked.
Templeton's hands shook as he held the paper out to Adam. "This!"
"What is this?" Adam asked, reaching for it.
"It's his pardon," Hannibal said.
"You got it!" Adam exclaimed. "Thank God!"
Templeton shook his head angrily. "No, it's a fake. I know it's a fake." He took the paper back and looked at it from another angle, examined the envelope he also held, and shook his head again. "I've just got to figure out how they did it and what they want."
Hannibal put his hand on Templeton's shoulder and squeezed it lightly. "It's not a fake, kid. It's real."
"How come I got one and not you guys? This is just another scam like the last one. I was too stupid to see it for what it was last time, but I'm not falling for it again!"
"We'll get ours," Murdock said. "They'll be waiting for us at Langley by the time we get back. You needed yours now, before you headed off to France."
"We have Stockwell's word on it," Hannibal added.
"That's supposed to reassure me?" Templeton's voice was strained, and he pressed one hand against his still-tender abdomen.
Hannibal shrugged. "The man's a louse, but when he tells you he'll do something, he'll do it. We'll get the pardons."
Murdock sat on Templeton's other side and put an arm across his shoulders. "Jody-Joy's already shopping for a wedding dress," he said. "By the time you get yourself healed up and come back from vacation, we'll be knee-deep in bridesmaids. Now stop worrying about it and just go have a good time." He patted Templeton's cheek.
"Are you sure, Murdock?" Templeton's voice sounded plaintive. He wanted to believe, but who could blame him for being suspicious?
Murdock pressed a kiss to his friend's temple. "I'm sure, Facey. Everything's gonna be okay now."
Templeton nodded, but the worry line between his eyebrows didn't disappear.
Hannibal took a paper sack from Frankie and said, "Adam, Face is still on medication. Why don't we go to the galley and I'll go over the schedule with you."
"Sure." Adam knew there was more to the request than the necessity of discussing Templeton's medication. Adam could read labels as well as the next guy. But he followed Hannibal into the galley and started looking over the orange bottles. Hannibal handed him the schedule they had already been following to administer the medications and quickly reviewed it with him. It was all routine stuff.
When he'd finished going over the schedule, Hannibal glanced back to where Templeton sat scowling at the pardon. "He doesn't believe it's real yet," he said.
"Should he?" Adam had never met Stockwell face to face, but he already knew enough to distrust him.
Hannibal shrugged. "His pardon is real." He emphasized the first word.
Adam met steel blue eyes that gave away nothing. "And yours?"
"We have one more mission. When we're done with that, we're free. It'll all be over before you two get back from France."
"You're sure? After what you've all been through, it's a simple as that? One more, then you're free forever?"
"That's what he says."
"You believe him?"
"What choice do I have? With or without the pardon, we're still under his thumb."
"You could wait for Templeton to be well enough. He's going to be very angry when he finds out you've taken a job without him."
Hannibal shrugged. "He won't even know about it until it's all over."
"And if something goes wrong and one of you gets killed? How am I supposed to explain that to him?"
"If I thought doing this mission without him would endanger one of the others, I'd wait. They're no more expendable than he is." Hannibal leaned against the counter and folded his arms across his chest. He looked tired, Adam thought, but not concerned. Not like he'd been at the hospital or during the days of Templeton's recovery at Langley when worry about Templeton's continued weakness and constant pain kept Hannibal and the others up nights. Stockwell had allowed Adam to visit the house only twice in the week after Templeton went home, and both times Hannibal had looked nearly as bad as Templeton did.
"The other guys are as anxious to be out of this arrangement as Face is. They don't want to wait if they don't have to." He started gathering the pill bottles off the counter and putting them back in the paper bag. "It'll be months before Face is back in good enough shape for us to include him on any job, even a milk run. And I'm not going to endanger him or the others by letting him try it when he's not ready. And you know that's what he'd do."
Hannibal was right. Templeton would push himself, lie to the others, and start the team's last mission in less than top shape because he wanted to get the others their pardons. That mistake could finish the job the gunmen had started at the restaurant. But waiting the several months it would take to regain his health and strength before taking the last job would be just as stressful for Templeton, knowing the others' pardons were waiting on him. Finishing the last job without Templeton was the best option they had. Templeton wouldn't like it when he found out, but eventually he'd see the sense of it.
"Why are you telling me all this?"
"Because when he does find out, he's going to need to hear from you that he did the right thing going out of town while we finished the last job."
"It's not like he's really got a choice," Adam said.
"He'll feel guilty anyway," Hannibal said with a shrug. "You can take the Catholic out of the church..."
"All right," Adam said, smiling. "Will you call us at the number I gave you and let us know when you're back so I can stop worrying?"
Hannibal. grinned. "No need to worry about us, Adam. We've been taking care of ourselves a long time. But I'll call you when we get back."
"Fair enough. In the meantime, I'll see he gets plenty of rest and all the croissants I can stuff into him."
"I'd appreciate it," Hannibal said. He shook his head a little. "When Stockwell caught us and brought us here, I thought Face would be the one who'd adjust the easiest. He'd never really had any roots or a place to call his own. I knew it'd be hard on BA and Murdock, but I didn't have any idea what Face was going through."
"And you wish someone had told you."
"I might've done some things differently."
"Maybe that's why he didn't tell you."
Hannibal chuckled a little. "Damned kid screams like a mashed cat when he's got a hangnail but won't tell me when there really is something wrong. He's been that way as long as I've known him."
In the years before the team's capture, when Templeton occasionally mentioned the man he worked for, it was always with fondness and great respect. Until recently Adam had had no idea who that man was or what Templeton did for him, but he knew it was someone Templeton deeply admired and whose regard was important to him. It didn't surprise Adam at all that Templeton would hide from Hannibal anything that smacked of real weakness or disability.
"He's never wanted you to think less of him. Any of you."
"Facey has a lot of self-esteem issues."
Hannibal turned to Murdock, who stood at his elbow. "No kidding."
Murdock always was right on the money where Templeton was concerned. The only thing he'd ever missed noticing was Templeton's attraction to him, the revelation of which was one of the most traumatic experiences in Templeton's life. To Murdock's credit, he had not let the discovery come between them or change the brotherly affection with which he treated Templeton. He accepted Templeton's homosexuality without question or recrimination and in so doing had helped Templeton move past the incident himself.
"I doubt Stockwell will spring for a shrink," Hannibal said.
Murdock grinned and nodded at Adam. "Face already has all the psychiatric help he's gonna need. All he's ever needed is someone to let him love them and to love him back. And I ain't talkin' brotherly love." He winked, and Adam colored slightly.
"We'd better go," Hannibal said, glancing at his watch. "We have a plane of our own to catch tonight."
They moved back into the passenger cabin, and Hannibal crouched in front of Face and put a hand on his knee. "We're leaving now, kid."
Templeton shook his head. "This isn't a good idea, Hannibal."
"Yes, it is a good idea. Even if that pardon were fake, which it isn't, you'd still need to take time to rest and recuperate."
"What if someone recognizes me? What if something happens here while I'm gone?"
"Who's going to recognize you in France? Even we're not that famous. Look, if Stockwell didn't want you to do this, you'd still be at Langley under guard." Templeton started to protest, but Hannibal cut him off with a wave of his hand. "Face, I've talked to him about this. It's for real. He's done with us."
Templeton sighed. "Could you just check the plane? Please? Make sure it's clean?"
Hannibal looked at BA, Frankie, and Murdock, then over to Adam. "Do you mind?" he asked.
"No, not at all."
Templeton leaned heavily against him while they watched the others check the plane for bugs. Murdock moved to the cockpit to check things out, and Adam could hear him questioning Nat. And Nat, as cool and unflappable as always, answered matter-of-factly, as if it were routine for a stranger to show up and drill him on his pre-flight check.
"I'm sorry, Adam. I just want to be sure." Templeton looked at Adam a little sheepishly.
"It's all right, Templeton. It's all right," Adam said. "If it eases your mind, it's fine with me."
A few minutes later, Hannibal was back. "It's clean, kid."
"Everything looks good in the cockpit, too," Murdock said, strolling back.
"Looks like you're off to gay Pair-ee," Frankie said. The others fell silent and looked at him. "Gay as in, you know, happy," Frankie amended. BA rolled his eyes, but Templeton smiled a little.
"It's almost time for you to take off, Facey," Murdock said. "We're gonna get out of here."
Templeton couldn't come up with any more objections, so he only nodded. He stood, though, with Adam's help, to say goodbye. Frankie held out his hand. "Come see me when you get back to L.A., man. See the world's best special effects man in his element."
"I've had about all the explosions I can take for awhile, but I'll try," Templeton said. "I bet you'll be glad to get back home, though."
Frankie nodded. "I ain't cut out for real spy stuff, you know? I like to just make my fireworks then go back home to a cold beer and a pretty girl at the end of the day. Know what I mean?"
Templeton nodded. "Yeah, Frank. I know what you mean."
BA was next. "You take care of yo'self, Faceman. And I'll get your stuff packed up and delivered to yo' new place. Be there when you get back."
"Can you believe it, BA? Can you believe we're really done with Stockwell? Done with running?"
BA nodded. "Yeah, Face. I can believe it. And you can, too." BA had been the last of the team to accept that Templeton and Adam were together. It had taken Adam awhile to realize it wasn't because he was gay, but because he was someone who, in BA's eyes, represented a threat to Templeton. One more person who could hurt him. BA had no way of knowing Adam and Templeton's history, and he exhibited the same defensiveness that Murdock had the first time Adam had met him. Eventually, though, after spending a long afternoon keeping vigil with Adam beside Templeton's bed, he had come around.
Adam extended his hand, and BA took it. "You take care o' him, Adam."
"Or you'll rip my arm off and beat me over the head with it?"
BA smiled. "Somethin' like that."
"I'll do my best."
"I know you will."
Murdock dispensed with the handshake and pulled Templeton into a hug. "It's not so bad saying goodbye when I know you're coming back."
Templeton leaned into Murdock's shoulder. "You don't have to give me your grandfather's watch this time, Murdock."
"You still have my grandfather's watch."
"I know. And I really like it. One day I'll give it to your son and tell him how his dad gave it to me the day I left the team."
"You were only gone for twenty minutes. You've been in the bathroom with the sports page longer than that."
"Don't ruin a tender moment, Murdock," Templeton said, pulling back. "Say hi to Jody for me."
Adam watched the men together and noted again the affection between them. He knew there would always be some small part of Templeton that loved Murdock on a deeper level than Murdock was able to return. Templeton slept with plenty of people, but he didn't love often. Where he did, he loved with his whole being, and that was how he had loved Murdock. Pulling back from that love when Murdock could not return it was painful for Templeton, for Murdock, and, surprisingly, for Adam himself. Over time, though, Templeton had learned to relate differently to Murdock, and as that happened, he grew closer to Adam, though neither of them really realized how they felt about each other until Templeton had been captured by Stockwell. He and Templeton needed this time away, not only for Templeton to heal, but also for the two of them to explore their own relationship.
"See you soon, Facey." Murdock embraced Adam as well. "Take care of him, Adam," he whispered. "Make him happy again."
"I will, Murdock. I will." Adam returned Murdock's embrace then watched him shove his hands in his pockets and bound down the stairs to join the others while Hannibal said his goodbyes.
Like Murdock, Hannibal pulled Templeton into a hug. "It's over now, Face," he said. "You're a free man. Enjoy it."
Templeton clung to Hannibal in an uncharacteristic display of emotion. "Hannibal, I just...I don't know. I can't help wondering what Stockwell's up to. What if"
"He's not up to anything, Face," Hannibal interrupted. "Not now. You think the AG didn't ask questions about who foiled his assassination? There are some things even Stockwell can't hide from the government. Someone put some pressure on him. Who knows, maybe it was the fallout from your sister's testimony. Whatever it was, he can't keep us hidden away anymore. The smart thing to do is give us our pardons and let us go while he can still benefit from what we did at Villa Cucina. He looks good, we look good, and he can explain away the last six months as a covert government operation."
Templeton sighed. "I can't help it, Hannibal. I worry."
Hannibal smiled. "That's why you're my lieutenant, kid. You worry. You think about things I don't think about. That's why this team needs you." He relaxed his grip on Templeton and pulled back a little. "But believe me, I've been on top of this since Stockwell told me about it a week ago. I've looked at it from every angle, making sure there isn't some catch that'll work against you. And there just isn't. It's legit, Face. You're home free."
Templeton nodded, accepting the truth of Hannibal's words. And regardless of what Hannibal had said to Adam about their last mission, the words he'd spoken to Templeton had been the truth. Templeton was home free. There was no catch where his pardon was concerned. Hannibal very carefully didn't say anything about the rest of the team's pardons, and if Templeton had been well, if his thinking hadn't been somewhat muddled by emotion and medication, he might have caught the omission. To Adam's relief, he didn't.
"I'll see you next month, kid. Okay?"
Hannibal released Templeton, and Adam helped him sit again. "I'll see him out, check with Nat, and be right back," Adam said.
Templeton nodded absently. He was looking at the pardon again.
At the bottom of the stairs, Adam shook Hannibal's hand. "I'll see to it that he's well by the time we return," Adam said. "Don't worry about him."
"I wouldn't send him out of the country with just anyone in the shape he's in," Hannibal said with a smile. "If I thought you had anything else in mind for him, you'd already be dead."
Adam returned Hannibal's smile, though he was pretty sure Hannibal was only half-kidding. "I love him," Adam said simply.
"So do I."
Adam understood. They were a family, this odd band of men. Like all families, they closed up ranks around one of their own when he was hurt. That they would permit Adam to take him away for a month while he finished healing was either a sign of their trust in Adam or a test he'd better not fail. He thought it was probably a little of both. "Please call me as soon as you get back," he said. "Templeton's not the only one who worries."
Adam watched the others walk away, this time with Murdock popping wheelies in the wheelchair. He mounted the stairs, spoke to Nat, and went back to strap
Templeton in. He found him sitting by the window, watching the others head for the terminal. He still clutched the pardon in one hand. With the other he ran nervous fingers through his hair, longer now than when Adam had seen him six months ago.
"We're about ready to leave, Templeton. Let's get you strapped in."
Templeton let him fuss with the belt as the plane taxied to the runway. Nat's voice came over the loudspeaker. "Nice to have you aboard, Mr. Peck. Should be a smooth flight. We should be touching down in about seven and a half hours."
"We're really going to Paris?"
"No, we're flying into Tours," Adam said. "Then we'll drive the rest of the way."
"And you really own a chateau?"
"Not personally, no," Adam smiled. "It's sort of the ancestral home, and because I do so much business in France, I got reacquainted with that side of the family. The whole place was renovated about twenty years ago and turned into a bed and breakfast. When I'm in the area, I try to stay there."
"I hope you at least get a discount for being a relative."
Adam laughed. That was the Templeton he knew and loved. Templeton was capable of great generosity, but he also knew where every dime went. Had circumstances been different, he could have been a brilliant businessman. "You'll be glad to know relatives and their companions stay free."
Templeton was quiet during the take-off, but Adam couldn't tell whether it was because the pressure caused him pain or whether he was still waiting for someone to show up and stop him from leaving. His face was pale, though; he'd already had more exercise today than he'd had since the shooting. Once they were airborne, Adam unbuckled their belts. "How are you feeling, Templeton?"
Templeton looked out the window, down at his pardon, and up at Adam. "They let us leave," he said.
"They let us go."
Adam knelt by Templeton's side. "Yes, love, it's over. You're where you should have been more than fifteen years ago. You're free."
Tears filled Templeton's eyes and splashed onto the crumpled pardon. "I'm free."
Templeton laughed through his tears. "I almost don't know what to do. I don't know how to feel." He held up the pardon. "I've wanted this for so long, Adam. So long. And now I've got it and I don't even really know what it means."
"Come." Adam helped Templeton up and led him to the bed. He sat Templeton on the side of the bed and pulled off his shoes and clothes. "Lie down now." He pulled the blankets up over Templeton then pulled off his own clothes and got into bed beside him. He propped himself up on one elbow and brushed away a tear that slid slowly down Templeton's cheek. "I'll tell you what it means to me, Templeton. It means you don't have to hide who and what you are anymore, from me or from the team. It means we can live together, love each other, with nothing hanging over us. It means when I wake up tomorrow and the next day, you'll be here. Now that you're free, so am I." He gently tugged the pardon out of Templeton's hand and set it on the shelf above their heads.
Templeton turned on his side and rested his head on Adam's shoulder. Adam held him close. "Every night for six months," Adam said, "I've wanted to hold you like this. I knew you were alive and that Murdock knew where you were, but that was all he could tell me. So all I could do was wait and hope. That pardon put you back in my arms. For me, that's enough to be glad about."
"You're right," Templeton said. "You're right." He pressed his lips against Adam's chest. "Thanks for waiting."
"There was nothing else to do, Templeton. Nothing else. I'd have waited forever."
Templeton was silent then, and eventually he relaxed in Adam's arms and fell asleep. Adam caressed his arm, his cheek, his back, carded fingers through his hair. This was his Templeton. His lover. His partner. For the next four weeks they would wake together, fall asleep in each other's arms, and spend the intervening hours loving, healing, learning about each other. When they returned at the end of the month, the team would be back, and he'd have to share Templeton with them again. Have to learn to wait and worry, as Jody Joy would learn, when the team took a job, as they inevitably would. They were too good at what they did and too committed to the causes they fought for to give it all up for the quiet lives of ordinary citizens.. But it would be worth the wait and the worry. It was worth it just to have someone to wait for and worry about, someone to love who could love him in return. Like Templeton, he had wasted years loving in vain, yearning for someone who did not return his feelings, and it was only by the grace of God that he found Templeton, another lost soul, to share and deaden his pain. They had comforted each other for so many years, been so sensitive to each other's needs, that they could not say when they actually fell in love with each other. But now they were together, and he was going to make up for the lost time with a vengeance.
He punched a button above his head.
"How's everything look, Nat?"
"Beautiful evening, Mr. Chambers. Perfect flying weather."
"Wake me a couple of hours before we get there, will you?"
Adam lowered the cabin lights, leaving just enough illumination to see Templeton's face, and let the sound of Templeton's breathing lull him to sleep.
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