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Sam Axe wasn’t a particularly principled man. He had principles, sure, and did his best to stick to them. But he was a soldier, even if it’d been years since he’d been in the field in a uniform, and principles didn’t win wars or make sure your guys got back home safe. These days especially, he was a lot more concerned with what would get his people home safe than holding the moral high ground.

Now, that didn’t mean that looking up from grabbing a perfectly harmless drink on a long stretch of empty road to find he was seconds away from plowing over a guy sprawled out over said stretch of previously empty road wasn’t absolutely terrifying.

“Jesus!” He dropped the beer in favor of white-knuckling the steering wheel, twitching when the beer skittered out of his lap, foot jammed hard into the brake, watching the guy’s body get closer and closer, bigger and bigger as force fought with momentum to stop the car.

A sweet little convertible he’d borrowed from Veronica that did not deserve to get splattered with blood and guts.

The car jerked to a halt with feet to spare and Sam let out the breath he’d been holding. Thank God.

The guy hadn’t moved. Sam jabbed the seatbelt free and shoved the door open. Sandals weren’t the best to run in, and he wasn’t in the best shape for running anyway, but he gave it his best shot, considering the distance, and drew up short when he got close enough to be ninety percent sure the guy wasn’t injured.

He wasn’t young, probably in his mid-thirties, brown hair and a long face, dressed in a bomber jacket, t-shirt, neat khakis, and red Chucks hi-tops—all clothes Sam wouldn’t be caught dead in in this Miami heat, though dead would be the most likely result of layering up like that. His eyes were closed, his hands folded over his stomach like an undertaker would arrange a corpse, his legs straight. No sign of blood. No rips or tears. No dirt. Almost like he’d walked out into the middle of the road and laid himself out for slaughter.

Or to stop a passing motorist, and what kind of lunatic took the risk the next driver flying along the highway was going to see him in time to stop?

For the second time in under a minute, Sam skidded to a halt feet from the guy’s body.

In time for him to sit up with a gun levelled at Sam’s face.

“Hey, woah, now!” Sam threw his hands up, hoping the easy capitulation would lull the guy into a false sense of security and let the former SEAL take advantage of his remaining momentum to disarm him, but the guy’s dark eyes stayed unnervingly intense, his grip on the gun steady and professional, and Sam grimaced as he came to a halt.

And that was before he heard the rustling behind him. The guy’s eyes didn’t flicker so much as a millimeter, but Sam didn’t care to have unknowns at his back. He didn’t think the guy would shoot him unprovoked, so he twisted around to see who’d come out of hiding.

And turned around completely once he saw the three men struggling down the side of the dune. He didn’t know the young white guy on the right, though the dirt and sweat-stained suit and nice haircut, three days’ stubble notwithstanding, suggested he played confidence games. Nor did he know the large black guy, who was dressed in someone’s idea of muscle with a bloody hole in his gut. But he did know the third.

“Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. Hannibal Smith. I thought they finally managed to drop you in a black hole.”

Smith’s gun didn’t waver even as those piercing blue eyes narrowed on him. Sam didn’t cut the most impressive figure, not bare-chested in a garish Hawaiian shirt and white linen trousers and sandals, with an extra five pounds or so around the middle, not that that small detail detracted from his charm. He wore it well, if he did say so himself.

It also didn’t stop recognition from flaring in Smith’s eyes. “Axe,” he said.

“You know this clown?” the young pretty boy demanded, huffing when his foot slipped and dropped him half a foot, nearly bringing his companions down on top of him.

Sam’s hands twitched with the urge to help and he planted them on his hips instead, drawing up a smile a couple shades brighter than he felt. “I’m not really a fan of the face paint. It does horrible things to my skin.”

“Guys, meet Commander Samuel Axe, U. S. Navy SEAL,” Smith grunted.

“Retired,” Sam interjected lightly.

The pretty boy scoffed.

“He was part of Operation Provide Support in Columbia,” Smith continued, straightening once they reached blacktop.

“Seriously?”

"Hey. We all make bad decisions.” He spread his hands to the side in a what can you do. “Some bad decisions are made for us.”

"What have you heard?” Smith demanded.

He’d heard a lot. He might have been a fallen angel in some circles, but most of his contacts were still willing to talk to him, trade information. “Heard you got burned bad,” he said simply. “Heard you got the guys responsible.”

“And now?” the pretty boy demanded, his glare a few shades less impressive than his mentor’s.

Sam jerked his chin at the black guy. "How bad is it?"

"Bad," Smith said. "We could use a lift.”

Sam rocked on the balls of his feet, considering the guys in front of him, the crazy guy behind him, the tension thrumming through all of them, a restrained violence he could feel in his teeth. “If I said no?”

Another car would come, sooner or later. Probably too late for the black guy, who hung insensate in his teammate’s grasp.

“We won’t kill you,” Smith said. He didn’t say, But you’ll wish we had, though that was the promise he read in the Colonel’s eyes. “But I can’t take no for an answer.”

Sam had expected that.

“Ok,” he agreed, because he’d never really had a choice, “but let me get the blanket out of the trunk. This beauty isn’t exactly mine and it’s pretty hard to explain blood stains on the upholstery.”

Sam rounded the door, bending to pop the trunk release. The crazy guy paced him down the other side of the car while his friends got their burden across the road. His silence was unnerving. "What's your name, kid?"

The smile he got was all teeth. “My friends call me Howlin’ Mad Murdock.”

"Yeah?” If he remembered Smith’s roster correctly, that made the pretty boy Face. He grabbed the blanket and closed the trunk with the heel of his hand. “What do your enemies call you?”

"Crazy."

"Murdock!" Face called. The guy jolted into motion, snatching the blanket and rounding the car. He had it spread out on the back seat before Sam could get back around. Getting two-hundred plus pounds of muscular dead-weight into the convertible’s conservative backseat took the four of them working together, and still ended with Sam pulling something in his back.

With the black guy--who should be BA Baracus—propped against the side of the seat, that left Sam in the driver’s seat, Smith in the passenger seat, and Murdock practically sitting in Face’s lap. Sam spared them a glance, not sure how they’d managed it despite seeing it with his own eyes.

He stepped on the gas as soon as they were settled. The nearest hospital was a good thirty minutes away, forty-five minutes with traffic, and only that if they got lucky. He glanced at Smith when the Colonel twisted around to check on his man, listened carefully to the worried back-and-forth, answered the man’s questions about distance and timing, and didn’t like the odds.

Smith’s face was grim when he faced forward. Sam knew how he felt. The hospital wasn’t safe for any of them, but it was Baracus’ only hope—and a longshot at that. It had to be tearing the Colonel up knowing he could be putting his guys at risk, and one of their men might still die.

Sam Axe wasn’t a particularly principled man. Principles didn’t win wars or make sure your guys got back home safe. These days, he was a lot more concerned with what would get his people home safe than holding the moral high ground, so when they hit city traffic, he pulled out the bubble light he used for emergencies and got them to the hospital in thirty-five minutes flat.

He found the business card with a hand-written phone number wedged into the seat when he detailed the car.

It was probably better for all of them if he forgot their number, but he tucked it away anyway, just in case.