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Playing for Keeps

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 “Wwwwakey, wakey, John. C’mon now.” A light slap to the cheek. Playful. Mocking. “Open ‘em eyes for me, will ya?”

The voice is oddly familiar but the semi-conscious man can’t call to mind a name or face to go with the singing tones; mainly because everything still sounds like he’s underwater, and his head hurts like a bitch. Upon this realization, a groan rumbles deep in his chest, not yet escaping his lips, but it still must be audible enough to be heard because the tapping against his cheek stops, and he can sense the smile leeching across the other’s lips without even opening his eyes.

“Atta boy, Johnny. Was afraid I’d have to kick out one of the boys’ knees or something, let their screams wake you up. You know, like birds chirping in the morning.”

Now that sociopathic comment spurs John “Hannibal” Smith’s mind into full throttle just like a big gulp of 5 hour energy or a swift kick to the rear. Biting back any future groans by setting his jaw tight, gray-blue eyes groggily blink open, vision blurry at first. There is definitely someone in front of him though, and it is definitely a man – a familiar man. The lighting in whatever room he is in – and he can tell it’s a room, the air tastes stale and it’s too chilly to be out there in the warm July season – is too white and too artificial. It hurts his eyes. But slowly, things begin to swim into focus, and the first thing that does is the smile that he just knew was there. Somehow, it reminds him of a snake; even if those don’t really smile at all.

Now we’re ready to get his party started!” the smile laughs, drizzling Hannibal’s lower jaw with spittle that he doesn’t escape even as he turns his head; goddamn his head hurts, and the horrid shouting isn’t helping either. It spins, and the man tries to remind himself why he bothered coming back to miserable consciousness in the first place.

The voice that suddenly speaks up from a few feet behind the snake smile is what hammers the answer to that question firmly in place. “Get away from him you crazy fucker.” The voice is low, and growling; a thunderstorm between two lips.

Bosco Baracus has a certain tone – not even a voice, a tone – that could shake the dead from their graves, and it were those kind of tones that one could never forget even if they tried. And it reminds him of the threat that had shaken the man out of blissful unawareness. Was afraid I’d have to kick out one of the boys’ knees or something, let their screams wake you up. Boys.

His boys.

Immediately, a stiff neck snaps up and Hannibal is peering past the man with the snake smile to catch sight of the room he’s in – a large room, entirely empty, with a few white florescent bulbs illuminating what gives off the ‘serial killer basement’ vibe. There’s a heavy oak table nearby, only ten feet away from him, bolted into the cement ground (adding onto that ‘basement’ suspicion).

And there he sits, BA, glaring coldly at the man with the snake smile, seated on the left, still in the black jeans and gray long-sleeve Hannibal remembered him wearing this morning. On his right, at the far head of the table, is Murdock, his beloved cap nowhere to be seen and thus exposing wild black hair that just adds onto the his crazy appearance. His eyes are wide, like a frightened child’s, and they are glued to Hannibal himself as he fidgets in sweatpants, a white undershirt, and a dirty, unbuttoned Hawaiian t-shirt.

And to his right sits Face, the young man looking at neither Hannibal nor his tormenter; instead, blue eyes are staring straight up at the ceiling tiles, every muscle in his body wound so tight that Hannibal can feel the tension even from this distance. He’s in normal jeans, a black t-shirt, and a simple black jacket; his face flickers as he switches and flips through different expressions and facial masks so fast the colonel can’t even keep up. He can tell, though, that Face is looking for just the right façade to use to deal with the situation; as if genuine fear or concern or emotion were an impossibility. All three men seem to have one hand chained directly against the table so that they couldn’t lift their palm or lower arm from the wood – the other limb cuffed to the bound one.

And finally, the man with the snake smile himself comes into focus; blonde hair smoothly slicked back, icy eyes twinkling. Cheeks as pale as an infant’s ass all rosy with a calm excitement that’s barely contained. Hannibal’s only ever seen him without his cool, Ice King expression once before; and it was as he stood ready to put a bullet straight through the colonel’s head, after already putting two into his Kevlar vest.

“Lynch.” The name is spat out of his mouth as if he were spitting out a lemon seed, just as sour, just as distasteful.

“John.” Lynch’s tone carries the same disapproval, the same loathing, but instead of dipping down, his voice goes up. Derisive. Sneering. It sends a burst of anger rushing through the old soldier like nothing he’d felt since last seeing the man’s young, ugly face one year ago. The fact that it’s not ‘colonel’ or ‘Smith’ but ‘John’ gives the man the unwanted feeling that this isn’t some official CIA interrogation. 

Or maybe, all this betrayal and frustration and hatred between the two men has finally just bound them together in a way that runs deeper than any relationship fathomed by mankind. Hannibal nurses the sarcastic thought in order to engineer his own matching sneer. “I’m going to guess that you and your goons are the ones that set up this whole shebang,” he grunts, keeping his gaze firmly drilling through Lynch despite seeing in the corner of his eye how Murdock’s fidgeting kicks up about ten degrees. “Doesn’t really surprise me; some people don’t learn the hard way or the easy way.”

“Always quick with your tongue, aren’t you, John,” is the cool response, Hannibal’s words failing to wound that once so-so sensitive ego of his; he’d built walls, he’d thickened his skin. He’d spent a year planning out exactly what he was going to do to Hannibal Smith and his team, exactly what he was going to say, and damn him if he’s going to let ‘sticks and stones break his bones’. “Now that doesn’t really surprise me. Not like I could believe Peck picked up the skill all on his own – any skill, really. It all, ties back, to you in the end. Doesn’t it?”

Lame jabs at his comrades. Hannibal lifts his chin and hardens his gaze, the sneer smoothing into a familiar, defiant smirk. “Are you looking for some advice, Lynch? Finally trying to scrape yourself up from the bottom of the barrel?”

“Oh no. No, no, no, John, I’m fine right where I am,” is the hot breath of a response; Lynch can feel the anger squirming like maggots under his skin, and he shifts his weight from one foot to the other. And only now does Hannibal feel the cold metal being run over his skin, just beneath his jaw. It’s the familiar sensation of having a gun stuck right beneath his chin, and his eyes narrow even more, if possible. “Now the CIA has always had the cooler rules, but… when you’re where I am? No rules apply, and that’s.” A laugh. “That’s just the coolest.”

“You say that as if we’re still tethered to those same rules ourselves,” Hannibal states firmly, chin still lifted, lips still pressed into a thin, determined smirk. “We make our own rules but we conform to morals. You don’t. You’re a sociopath in cufflinks, Lynch. A worm who dreams of playing God. Now I don’t know what the hell you are trying to gain by bringing us here but I can ensure you, all you’ve guaranteed yourself so far is…”

“A royal beating, a four man army declaring war on myself, a swift kick in the ass,” Lynch cut him off, each word oozing with contempt. “Do you really think you’re in the position to be dealing out threats, John? I mean…”

The blonde man slowly stepped back and outspread his arms. “Look at you all! My own special edition A-Team collection.”

Hannibal’s now able to view the pistol in his right hand; headache currently shoved into the furthermost corner of his focus, Hannibal finally eyes the table in front of him and the men who sat at it. BA’s glare trailed Lynch wherever he went, but Murdock’s gaze was now flashing between Hannibal, Lynch, and Face. Face himself, at some point, had turned his gaze from blankly counting ceiling tiles to locking onto his colonel – and Hannibal could hear easily the words being screamed at him silently. What’s the plan? Where’s the escape hatch? What do we need to get, and what do we need to do, to get out of this one, boss?

Hannibal, turns back to Lynch quickly but not before giving the slightest of head shakes towards his Lt. No plan, not yet. Stay put, stay smart, and keep yourself alive. Face, in turn, just nods once, a simple tilt of the head, and then finally turns his attention to an anxious Murdock.

“So that’s what this is then, Lynch?” Hannibal shoots at the ex-CIA once he sees Face turn away and relay his silent message to BA and Murdock in a murmur. “Just a chance for you to gloat and boost your deflating ego?”

“Mmm, you’d like that, wouldn’t you. You’re there, all strung up like a piece of meat, and you’re praying I start getting cocky. Sloppy. Looking for a way to pull of yet another one of your great Hannibal Smith schemes, right? Probably already had a full on conversation with Peck or Baracus, right? All your pretty little heads, scheming away, like you’re playing a goddamn game.”

While speaking, Hannibal notes two things: one, that Lynch is now lazily beginning to pace around the table, sending uncomfortable bursts of defensive, threatening anger shooting through as he slides along behind Face, then Murdock, then BA. Enjoying how close he can get without a chance of retaliation.

Secondly, Hannibal hadn’t even bothered to look and see how he was restrained; and now he realizes it’s because his hands are entirely and totally numb. So are his arms, which a tilt of his head as Lynch goes on and on shows him he’s hanging from his cuffed hands against a cold wall, toes just pressed against the floor. The manacles are welded, suspended from a chain that disappears into the ceiling. The restraints look menacing, but he’s escaped harder.

Lynch is right; he is already scheming away, even as the man looks absolutely infuriated for a few minutes that Hannibal doesn’t seem to be getting the severity or gravity of the situation.

“Well it’s my turn now, Smith, and I’m the one whose picking the game.”

And there’s that cold, professional, chiseled-from-hell’s-glaciers tone; no more mocking sing-song voice, no more ‘John’s’. We’re down to business now, and Hannibal is forced to turn his full attention to Lynch when he suddenly slams the pistol hard down onto the table, causing the man’s heart to stop for just a second from the force of the damn movement, Hannibal feels it’s a miracle the gun didn’t go off. The others must feel the same way because even BA startles in his seat; Murdock’s ass flies clear off, eyes bugging out of his skull; and Face shoves himself back as far as he can in the chair that’s apparently bolted to the ground as well, an irritated and tense, “Jesus Christ!” escaping his throat.

Lynch leaves the gun lying there, a sleek black Ruger Blackhawk that the man obviously worked to find and get; and it shows just how goddamn dramatic he fears things are going to get within the next few minutes – or hours. The blonde man enjoys watching the smirk leave Hannibal’s lips. Revels in how BA is growling, Murdock is shaking, and Face is staring at the gun like it’s a snake ready to bite him.

Holy shit. He feels high as the fuckin’ roof right now, and it shows as he straightens, steps away from the table and the gun, and then mockingly clamps both hands down on Murdock’s shoulders, giving a fake little massage to them. Relishing every tremor he felt running through the pilot’s thin body.

“And Smith.” The grin, impossibly, grows wider. “This time, we’re playing for keeps.”