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Ourobouros

Ourobouros

By Lonely Walker

 

This is an older story (circa 1999). I'm reposting it because Pam was kind enough to send me some missing text from the end. Thanks Pam!

 

Rating: PG-15

Summary: The children of the A-Team decide to follow in their parents' footsteps...

Warnings: Slash, language, some violence

Explanation no. 1: "Ourobouros" is the image of a serpent devouring its own tail. It means "In my beginning is my ending".

Explanation no. 2: There are major discrepancies with the ages of the children, because the guys are the same age they were in Vacuumland II. This is either because of a strange vortex operated by a deranged German word or because it's a nice plot device. Take your pick.

 

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The young man lifted his clenched fist to the door, but could not bring himself to knock at that instant. Instead, he brought his hand back down to his side and took a step back to lean against the opposite wall. Hesitation wasn't usually his style and it certainly hadn't made him captain of the college basketball team for two years running. The problem was that this wasn't basketball - it wasn't a game of any sort. Then again, it also wasn't a matter of life and death. It was much more important than that.

Remembering that famous quote brought a sudden grin to his face. Gallows humour? Perhaps. But it wasn't so much an execution that was waiting him at the other side of the door than - at worst - severe embarrassment. So why was he so scared? For the first time since making the decision to come here, he thought he knew why.

Juan Santana was everyone's favourite college hero - excepting most of the teachers, who thought that his nickname of 'Pirate' perhaps suited him too well - but he knew what happened to college heroes. They end up on the sidewalk, searching for another game. Pirate Santana was determined that that was never going to happen to him. What had happened a few days ago had given him the reason he had been looking for. He would finally do something that wasn't the idea of his parents, his teachers or his brother. He would knock on this door.

In one fluid movement the teenager levered himself off the wall and almost fell into the required door. He made a noise that sounded like knocking, anyway, and had managed to stand upright by the time the door opened. The questioning blue eyes that met his brown ones were a disappointment. It meant that before reaching safe ground, he would have to deal with the one man he really didn't have any idea how to deal with. Jackson.

"Juan!" Jackson smiled in surprise. "Nice to see you again. Come in!"

Scratching the back of his head through his close-cut black hair, Juan slid through the open door, silently wishing that the whole building would suddenly blow up. It wasn't that Jackson shared a bed with Richie Bancroft that disturbed him - it was more the fact that Jonathan Jackson hadn't started out on the right side of the tracks and that it was still somewhat of a mystery as to what he spent his days doing. "Hi Jack." He muttered, bearing a hopefully friendly smile on his face.

"Hey, Richie!" Jackson called and, hearing nothing in reply, set off to find his errant flatmate.

Juan was left standing next to the door, staring down his own image in the mirror that hung there. In the few moments he had alone, he thanked every lucky star he could think of for making him the match, physically at least, for any challenge these two men could send at him in objection. He was tall - that was writ in stone as a qualification for being on the basketball team - and thanks to Zack Baracus, had more muscle on him that he would have had a year before. The short black goatee beard made him look older than his nineteen years and had deceived a few people before now. Still, these people weren't strangers. They had been friends - or at least acquaintances - of his father before he was even born. And it was for that reason that he was here.

Jackson and Richie Bancroft, both in jeans and T-shirts - it was a hot night in Los Angeles - came out into the short hallway in the midst of some lighthearted argument. Richie brightened up when he saw Juan standing there. "Hey, Juan!" He shook the youngster's hand firmly. "What are you doing here?"

Juan glanced at Jackson before he answered and immediately wished he hadn't. Those cold blue eyes tore into him and for a second he believed that Jack knew everything he was about to say. In the same second he forgot what he was about to say. "Ummm...I..."

Richie saved him, interrupting. "But, look, we've got you standing out here. Come on - have a seat."

"Uh, thanks." Juan followed the blond-haired man into the small sitting room and sat down carefully on the edge of a chair. Bancroft did likewise, but Jackson silently closed the door and stood by it, taking out a silver cigarette lighter. Juan swallowed and began. "Ummm, you heard about what happened to my brother?"

Richie nodded, as if only then remembering. "Oh, yes. How is he?"

"Uh, he's all right. I mean, he's conscious and everything, but he'll be in hospital for a while." Juan stuttered out, not sure if that had made sense.

"What happened?" Jack looked between them. "Did I miss something?"

"Frankie J got knocked down by a car, Jack." Richie filled in.

"Not just knocked down!" Juan started, letting some of the rage in him out. "They meant to do it! They were chasing him!"

"Who were, Juan?" Richie asked gently.

Juan gritted his teeth. Great, they were treating him like a kid now. "Some guys Frank and I know. Real bad kids. You don't know them."

"You'd be surprised." Jackson muttered, but as soon as either Juan or Richie could look at him, he was intricately involved with the workings of his lighter.

Juan took a long breath. "Anyway, that's sort of the reason I'm here. It seems to me that, well, since the A-Team were pardoned, there's been nowhere for bullied people to go."

Richie leaned forward. "Juan, there's always somewhere to go - the police."

"The people you helped could never go to the police - and you know it!" Juan argued. "In some places the cops are the worst people to go to. And some people just can't go to the police - like the kids Mr. Baracus helps. You know what I'm talking about!"

"Maybe we do." Jackson looked up, deadly serious. "So, are you the hero these people are looking for?"

Juan shook his head. "I'm not a hero. I just think that I can help people."

"Then do voluntary work at BA's school." Richie smiled. "He always appreciates the help."

Juan leapt up. "NO! I don't mean that! Man, you're just like my parents. I thought if I came to you that you'd maybe understand. You guys are hardly being model citizens, are you?"

Oh no, he thought. I've blown it, now. But much to his amazement, Richie just glanced at Jackson, who was now wearing a grin across his face, and sat back in his chair. "Okay, Juan. Maybe you'd better tell us what you do mean."

"I mean I want to set up the A-Team again. Me and whoever else will accept." Juan stated his case openly. "We won't need fees, either, since we have jobs. We just need some help from people with some experience of this game. Someone like me - I know the streets, but I've never been to war. And I've never worked for the Industry. If it's to work, I'll need help. From both of you."

"Wouldn't work." Jackson snapped his lighter shut with a bang. "The Industry would be onto you in five seconds and you'd all be exposed, or dead. You don't have the resources, the contacts or the experience. In fact, you don't have any skills at all. You want to go teach BA's kids how to play basketball - fine - just don't ask me to vouch for you."

Pirate Santana stood up a little bit straighter and gave Jackson an evidently false grin. "Scared, Jack?"

"I think that you would be scared a lot more." Jackson replied coolly.

"I'm willing to take my chances." Pirate said. "And I think that there is a lot more that we can do for the folks of LA than teach them basketball."

Richie sighed. "Juan, I can see what you're trying to do, but you're being stupid. You're going to end up dead or in jail for no reason. The A-Team had to do what we did because we were already fugitives. You're not and you have no reason to become one."

"Then why didn't you just turn yourselves in?" Pirate replied and pointed a finger at Jackson. "Why did you hook up with the United People's Front? You both felt that something needed to be done, so you did it." He held them both in his gaze for an instant before finishing off his case. "Besides, I'm fairly confident we can stay inside the law - considering that in a couple of months I start at law school."

"I hate to say this, kid, but how are you going to pass the bar exam if you're out chasing hoods all day?" Richie said.

"I thought I was going to die at the first attempt?" Pirate fired back. "Juan..." Richie started.

Jackson straightened up and interrupted. "Look, I'll make a deal with you. I won't tell your parents - or anyone else for that matter - if you agree to come to us with any new case you get."

"That ain't a deal, Jack." Juan grinned. "Not if Richie doesn't agree to it."

Richie looked between the two and eventually rolled his eyes in disbelief and grinned. "Okay, okay, fine. I'm in. But if anyone tells Murdock, remind me to be somewhere else!"

Jackson smiled. "I'll see you out, Juan, before I agree to anything else dangerous to my health."

Juan followed him to the door, which the pilot swiftly unlocked. "Thanks, Jack. I'm sure you have your reasons, but thanks, anyway."

"You're right. I do have my reasons." Jackson nodded. "But I do also think that you're doing the right thing. And that isn't only because I've seen your test scores. Be seeing you around!"

Juan nodded to him silently and walked away back down the corridor to the stairwell. It was only once he heard the dor click closed that he hopped up on one foot and thrust a fist up into the air in a bad impersonation of Ryu from StreetFighter and screamed out an almost-silent "Yes!!!".

Well, even heroes have to get excited sometimes, he justified, creeping away down the stairs.

"This is a bad idea." The high-pitched voice of a boy was the only recognisable noise in the cemetery. "And, I mean, not just a bad idea. This is in fact a really bad, Oscar-winning attempt at the forefront of bad ideas." There was a pause as he ran that last sentence through his head again. "I think."

"Shuddup, Alan." His one and only companion, a tall dark-haired girl who happened to be his sister, jabbed him in the ribs. The actual familial tie was about all that linked them. The boy, Alan, was a few years younger than his sister and knew the part of the annoying little brother very well. To all adults he was the adored little choir boy with his blond hair, blue eyes and straight As at school. To the one person he *couldn't* pull that chameleon trick on, he was the devil's own. It was fortunate for his sister that tonight the little demon was quite simply bored.

"I hope you realise that Dad's gonna kill you." Alan grinned, showing uncannily white teeth. "By that, I am of course highlighting the 'you' part. Bad, bad Tanya, getting poor Alan into trouble."

Tanya turned her blazing coals of eyes onto the schoolboy. "I said shuddup. I meant it. If you think you can threaten me with what Dad's going to do, you can forget it. I don't take orders or punishment from a crazy coward like him."

Halfway through Tanya's speech, Alan had tensed up and turned back towards the gateway, not far off and surrounded with the ethereal glow of orange streetlights. "Something Baracan this way comes." He whispered, as if heightening the suspense of a bad ghost story.

For once, he was right. The tall and muscular form of Zachary Baracus, guitar as ever strapped to his back, made its way towards them. "Hiya, guys!" Zack's face was, as ever, bearing its broad smile. "Seen any zombies yet?"

"I'm more frightened of not doing my Maths homework." Alan muttered.

"Yeah, yeah." Zack crouched down next to the grave they were now almost surrounding and laid his guitar across his knees. "So, when's the party start?"

"Whenever you're ready!" Juan Santana appeared as if from nowhere, trying his very best to appear like some legendary pirate that everyone would look up to. That was hard enough to do, but keeping a straight face was impossible. In order to compose himself, he ducked his head down and stepped forward to be next to the other three.

"We're ready, all right." Alan said, and a more unenthusiastic voice could never be heard. "But what's the deal, Juan? What's going on?"

Pirate Santana grinned. "I take it you've all heard of the A-Team."

"Go to hell, Santana." Tanya Murdock glared at him. "While that might have been your Dad's business some time, it isn't anymore. And it isn't BA's, either. The A-Team, as far as I'm concerned, are a dead guy, a crazy guy and two psycho homos who think they're something great. That ain't anything to do with us!"

"Is that how you feel?" Juan said, his breath cold in the air. "Then I suggest you leave. Unless you actually want to achieve something Captain Murdock achieved."

"What's that?" Tanya asked. "Insanity?"

"Friendship." Juan said bluntly. "And purpose. I propose resurrecting the work of the A-Team in order to help the people of LA who can't help themselves and to help us all as well."

"We don't need your help." Tanya spat back at him. "We've got futures - our parents didn't."

"Do you have a future if you're killed by the same goons who attacked Frankie J?" Juan shook his head. "Even you can't argue that."

"I won't be a vigilante, Juan." Zack Baracus spoke up. "My parents worked hard to give me what I've got. I won't throw it away."

Juan nodded. "That's fine, because you won't have to. I swear to you that we'll never be prosecuted and, if we are, I take the fall for you all." He glanced at the headstone of the grave and placed his hand upon it. "Are you with me?"

"I have to say, you're the worst inspirational speaker in the entire history of the world." Alan Murdock shrugged and placed his hand on Juan's. "All right. I'm in."

"If a Murdock can hack it, so can I." Zack grinned and put his palm down as well.

All three stared at Tanya, waiting for her to make a move. "Fine." She put her hand down. "But only if I get to fly any damned planes we come across!"

Juan smiled. "For the sake of justice, and for Hannibal Smith, we do this. Remember that, if you can't remember your heads." He straightened up and looked each of them in the eye. "And if any of you breathes a word of this to anyone, I'll slam dunk *you*."

"Come on, Pirate. I'll buy you a drink." Zack clapped a hand to his back and led him off. Still grumbling, Tanya and Alan followed them off.

"Though the land perishes and the heavens fall, justice shall be done." The speaker laid a gloved right hand on the cold gravestone. "I wonder if they realise what they're talking about."

"We all know what we're talking about." Jonathan Jackson smiled grimly. "But it doesn't last."

The stranger swept a strand of white hair from his face and looked up at the sky. "For once, Jackson, I have to say you're right." He brushed the top of the stone with his fingertips as he walked away towards the gate. "But justice *will* be done."

"Hey, guys, time for school!" HM Murdock hollered in the direction of upstairs, in the hope that his two children might hear and perhaps decide that today they really wanted to go to school. The fact that fifteen year old Alan strolled out of his bedroom, bag over shoulder and in some semblance of school uniform was perhaps breaking the Murdock record book of punctuality.

"Where's Tanya?" Murdock asked his son as the boy walked past him and through the open door.

"She left hours ago. Wanted to get some work done at the airfield without you being around." Alan threw back over his shoulder.

As he watched his younger child walk away down the street to catch the school bus, Murdock felt as if he had been dealt a very physical blow to the chest. He had heard of the stereotypical teenager, hard to get on with, loud, rebellious and impossible to control. He had also thought that Tanya had miraculously turned out to be a totally different idea of a young woman - until a few weeks ago, she and her father had been the best of friends, working together on her engineering project on the airfield. Until a few weeks ago, everything had been fine in the Murdock household. A few weeks ago, Amy had returned from yet another assignment abroad and had brought back with her all her old newspaper files, containing all the stories she had ever written on the infamous A-Team. Amy had let Tanya and Alan read them, confident that her children already knew everything about their parents' past lives. Everyone else seemed to, anyway. But the Murdocks had forgotten to include something in the short story they had told their children many years ago, something that everyone else in their lives had all but forgotten.

Once upon a time, Captain HM Murdock had been a certified lunatic.

Murdock angrily slammed the door shut on the back of his departing son and went to bury his frustration in the report from his accountant.

"I think it was G minor." A voice sounded from one of the sheds in the grounds of BA Baracus' school for disadvantaged children which were used for various workshops.

Zack Baracus adjusted his fingers and strummed a few bars. "No, that can't be it." He shook his head.

"Oh, darnit, sorry, Zack. G *sharp* minor." Juan Santana nodded to himself as Zack played out the same bars in what was now the correct key. "All right. Want to go through the song?"

"Sure, but we'd better wait for our esteemed percussionist to get her ass in here!" Zack said loudly to the approaching form of Tanya Murdock. "Where've you been?"

"Had to check in at the airfield with Richie." Tanya picked up her drumsticks and sat down. "That's where Alan's told *him* I am."

"I don't get it - why can't you just tell him you're practicing with us?" Zack frowned. "I mean, you are, aren't you?"

Juan grinned. "Tanya here is a bigger scam-artist than the ol' Faceman of legend. She figures the Cap'n'll figure out she's hiding something from him - which she can say is this."

"When it's really the A-Team?" Zack smiled. "All right. Just so I don't think you've gone crazy. Wanna go through the song now?"

Juan hopped up onto the edge of a table in the shed and laid his bass guitar across his knees. "No, we have to talk. Plan."

"Plan what, exactly?" Tanya asked. "The A-Team always had people come to them. They already had publicity."

"Which we're going to get by stopping that gang that half killed Frankie J." Juan explained. "Zack, can you ask around, try to find out anything about Whit Crawford and his pals?"

"Aw, man, I got work to do." Zack groaned.

"You agreed you'd work with me, Zack. Don't pull out on me now." Juan warned.

"Okay, okay, I'll do it." Zack held up his hands. "But Whit don't like people talking to him or talking about him. I don't wanna get my skull kicked in."

"I don't want that either." Juan grinned. "I'll ask around as well, make it look as if I want a fight. Tanya - any chance you can take a look at the police report on Frankie J?"

"Maybe. Can't you?" Tanya gently beat her sticks against her snare drum.

Juan shook his head. "Not really. Dad'd know about it, and no one but Richie and Jack can know about this."

"I don't even trust them." Tanya objected. "Richie's *his* best friend and Jackson's just...creepy."

"He's helping us out, kid, and no one else can do the same." Juan pointed out. "Until he actually double-crosses us, I suggest we stick with him."

Tanya nodded in agreement. "Okay."

"Are we gonna do some practicing here or what?" Zack said.

"Sure thing - from the top, people!" Juan called out.

Seconds later, to any passer by, they were just three kids making a helluva lot of noise.

"Hiya, Captain!" Davey Grant, the guard at the gate of Murdock's airfield waved his boss's car through without stopping it. Murdock was, this morning, not in the mood to discuss last night's football scores. Ditching the car on the patch of ground inside the gate that was by default the car park, there being no other unoccupied space inside the new perimeter fencing, he made his way up the dune of unused sand and rocks that Richard Bancroft was making his office.

"Hi Face." Murdock sat down beside his friend on a handy piece of jutting stone. "How're things?"

Bancroft looked up immediately at the use of his now discarded nickname. "Fine, but I'll guess that you haven't had the best of mornings?"

Murdock took off his baseball cap and picked nervously at the stitching. "Was Tanya here earlier?"

"Oh, sure. She checked out the hangar and did some notes for her project. Tanya's a good kid, you know. Most people I know can't get their children to do any work - let alone get up at six to do it." Richie grinned, trying to make light of the difficult situation he knew was coming.

"Yeah, yeah." Murdock blinked into the sunshine. "I do appreciate her, Richie, but she... she seems to hate me now. And I don't really know why. Okay, I guess I'm not the best material for a father in the world, but I've done my best. And I've got two great kids."

"But?" Richie prompted.

"But I can't escape the past." Murdock admitted. "Tanya found out about what happened after Nam, and she thinks I'm a coward because of it. And maybe I am."

"Murdock..." Richie started, but Murdock was back on his feet.

"Leave it, Richie. It's my problem. You don't know anything about it, anyway." The pilot started off back down to ground level. "And I'd like those timesheets totalled up by this afternoon."

"Okay." Richie muttered in reply, too low to be heard. "Time to get out those Dr. Spock books..."

"Hiya Dad." Zack Baracus sped into the kitchen of the Baracus family home, guitar on back, and grabbed an apple from thr fruitbowl. "You working tonight?"

"I'm teaching some of the young kids to play baseball." BA reported. "You can lend a hand, if you want."

"I will." Zack grinned. "But I have some lyrics to put down first. If I don't I'll forget them."

"You never forget nothin'." BA gave him a friendly punch. "How's the band?"

"Awful." Zack replied cheerfully. "Hey, have you seen Mr. Bancroft around lately?"

"Face? Naw." BA shook his head. "Not Face. But I've seen Jackson around here with some new boyfriend of his."

"Jackson?" Zack bit into his apple. "I figured him and Richie be together for life."

"Maybe you did, but seems he didn't." BA frowned. "What you want Face for, anyway?"

Zack shrugged. "Wanted to ask him about the record business - see what our professional chances are. Richie knows a lot about that stuff. I only know about music."

BA laughed. "And not a lot about that either, from what I hear. What you call yourselves, the 'Dying Cats'?"

"That's not a bad idea!" Zack smiled and slipped away towards the shed.

"I do not believe you're actually going to do this!" Tanya exclaimed in the direction of an alley wall as her brother knelt over a small plastic box. "Where'd you get that makeup, anyway? Mom?"

"Get ta." Alan muttered. "Doing a Drama module has its benefits, you know." He turned around. "How'd I look?"

At the first sight of him, Tanya was ready to tell him that he looked exactly like a kid who had messed around with his mother's makeup. She couldn't get that idea out in the open, however, before she saw someone different before her - a guy in a business suit who, althought admittedly young, looked nothing like her *adorable* little brother. "Uh, I..." She started.

Alan gave a childish whoop of delight. "Chameleon Murdock strikes again! Come on, dear sister, we must now vanquish the forces of evil by doing a little evil ourselves." He pocketed the box and straightened his tie. Tanya had no idea where he had got the costume from - her father might have owned a suit, but he was at least eight inches taller than Alan. She followed him out onto the main street with some hesitation.

"So what are we going to do?" She asked.

"I'm getting the police report on Frankie J's accident. You just agree with everything I say - like you usually do. In the case of emergency - we run." Alan grinned. "Got it?"

"Got it." Tanya said as her brother pushed open the door to the local police station and walked up to the desk there. A few seconds later, they had been directed to some mysterious office up a flight of stairs, where apparently they would meet someone who could help them. The someone was a portly detective who was about five minutes away from a coffee break and dying to get rid of them.

"Good afternoon, detective." Alan smiled, sitting down opposite the police officer. "My name's Robin Quint, of Bancroft Law Limited."

"Yeah? Whaddya want?" The detective asked, staring at the clock rather than Alan.

"I represent the Santana family, Detective. Some days ago, Franklin Santana Junior was allegedly assaulted by a gang of youths. The family are thinking about legal action. In order to review this possibility in earnest, it will be necessary for you to allow me access to the official police report on the incident." Alan stopped and smiled sweetly.

"Can't do that without the family's written consent." The detective muttered.

Alan produced a document from thin air. "The family's written consent." He supplied. "Now, the report, please?"

"Man, he was great!" Tanya enthused to Juan Santana as the three visitors entered Zack's shed. "You should have seen him, or should I say, 'Robin Quint'. How'd you do it, Al?"

"Pure talent!" Alan grinned, his face now back to its normal state as a result of a good scrubbing. "Hey, this is your studio? Cool!"

"You play anything?" Zack asked.

"The recorder..." Alan said. "I'm not much of a musician."

"That's okay, Alan." Juan replied, locking the shed's door and taking a seat. "You keep on pulling scams for us and we'll keep letting you talk to us."

"Yeah, Pirate, but he just impersonated a lawyer - that can't be legal!" Zack protested.

"No he didn't." Pirate lifted a finger. "He said he was from a law firm. He could have been the office gofer for all the detective knew, and if they can't be bothered to follow correct procedure, that isn't our fault!"

"But even if he was a gofer, it's for a law firm that doesn't exist!" Zack said.

"It does exist actually." Pirate smiled. "Bancroft Law is the limited company that Richie sells himself as. It isn't actually a law firm - just one guy that happens to deal with Captain Murdock's accounts and legal affairs - but if the cops want to think it is, that's there business. And by the way, for this week only, Richie is employing a helper by the name of Robin Quint, who will never be heard of again. Alan - you know what you'll be doing the next few days."

"Man, I *always* get the shit end of the stick!" Alan moped.

"I still don't think this is right, Juan." Zack frowned.

"Well, no, it isn't *right*." Pirate said. "But you have to answer for yourself whether the ends justify the means. For me they do. If you feel otherwise, no one's holding you to anything. But remember - this is what our parents did. It's ultimately a noble cause and we have to stand for that cause of protecting the weak."

"Juan gets an 'F' for Pep Talks again." Alan hit his hand off one of Tanya's cymbals. "What did you find out, Pirate-boy?"

"What did I find out?" Juan answered. "That we have a trap to set."

"Hey, Richie." Jonathan Jackson kicked the front door of their apartment closed behind him and hung up his jacket behind it. "How boring was your day?"

"What?" Richie looked up, eyes blinking, from the documents he was bent over.

"That bad, huh?" Jackson grinned. "You should get that boss of yours to cut you some slack."

"Murdock?" Richie laughed. "Murdock knows I can do this in a certain amount of time, so he gives me exactly that time to do it. Unfortunately he doesn't factor in the time taken for me to go to the bathroom, eat or sleep."

"Sounds familiar." Jackson grinned, sitting down next to Bancroft on the couch.

"Here." Richie held up a sheet. "Total this for me, will you?"

Jackson, to Richie's surprise, didn't make a move for the paper. "No... I can't."

"Look, Jack, it's only a few sums." Richie said, exasperated. "I'm behind schedule - can't you just give me a hand?"

"No!" Jackson abruptly stood up. "Look, I'm sorry, but I can't. Numbers, they... they screw my head up."

"What? You mean... dyslexia or something?" Richie scratched his head.

Jackson shrugged. "I guess so. I mean, I can get by - the guys at the airfield I grew up on taught me what they could jam through my skull. I can punch in coordinates and read maps, but there it ends. Lucky for me I ended up living with someone who can figure out bills and stuff."

"Jack, that's accountancy. *Nobody* understands that stuff." Richie laughed. "Okay - you got out of being my calculator. Are you here tonight?"

"Um, yeah, actually." Jackson sat back down. "Jonathan Jackson Incorporated has given its one, perenially hard-working employee a holiday. I was wondering if I could come out to the airfield with you tomorrow?"

"Sure. I think Murdock would like to see you again." Richie nodded.

"That would be nice." Jackson replied. "Richie... you doing anything much tonight?"

Richie jabbed a finger at the columns of figures in front of him. "Only these."

"Okay, so why don't we turn in early, huh?" A boyish smile tugged at the corners of Jackson's mouth.

"Early?" Richie looked at his ever-present wristwatch. "It's almost midnight!"

Jackson sighed. "You're arguing! Don't argue!"

"I'm not arguing." Richie said as he felt his lips touch Jackson's. "Okay?"

"Fine with me, pal." Jackson kissed him back. "Fine with me."

"Shit!" Alan Murdock said in a loud whisper, landing on his rear in a particularly muddy part of his back yard. "This is always a lot easier in the movies!"

"Shuddup, Alan. The whole point of sneaking out through a window is so that we *don't* wake up everyone else in the whole street!" Tanya whispered urgently back.

"Oh yeah." Alan muttered under his breath. "I'd forgotten that part."

"Here." Tanya held up the red mountain bike that her brother usually appropriated. "Get on and start pedalling. We have to be at BA's in fifteen minutes!"

"I'm going, I'm going!" Alan swung a leg over the saddle and pushed off, rolling off down the driveway with Tanya in pursuit.

"I don't get this, Juan." Zack Baracus said, squinting down into the darkness at the door to the back of a shop in downtown LA. "Our parents get to have car chases, shootouts with the military, embarrass Mafia hoods, scam planes and make tanks from popsicle sticks - and we're calling the cops?"

"Yup." Juan Santana grinned. "Go figure, huh?"

"Hang on a sec, Juan..." Tanya prodded him in the ribs. "The cops didn't go after the guys who beat up Frankie J. Why should they do it now?"

Juan grinned. "Because several hours ago, they found a mysterious document detailing that Frankie was definitely attacked and that the fragments of paint on his clothing matched that of the paint on Whit Crawford's car. Plus the names and addresses of folks who will testify that Whit Crawford and his pals attacked Frankie J. By now, they'll have checked most of this up and will be looking for the aforesaid Mr. Crawford in order to book him on a charge of assault with intent to murder. What they probably don't know is that Whit and his mates are down there right now, playing a bit of pool."

"And you're going to tell them?" Alan sniffed. "Man, this gig is no fun at all. What about the publicity you said you'd get us?"

"Justice is worth more than publicity, Al." Juan said, taking out his mobile phone. "Let's ring us up a few goons."

"Awww..." Richie Bancroft raised himself up on his elbows and looked at the clock that was two inches away from his face. "My head...!"

"That'll teach you to be a slave to numbers." Jackson said, buttoning up his shirt over by the window. "You'd better hurry up - Murdock'll be expecting you in with his accounts in about...an hour."

Richie blinked twice and then, as realisation hit him, launched himself across the room into the bathroom. "You couldn't have woken me up?" His voice sounded muffled through the door.

Jackson grinned and put on his coat. "I didn't have the heart."

"That's what I get for living with a psychopath." Richie said, hurtling out of the bathroom and towards a pile of his clothes. "And stop laughing!"

"I'm not even sure they're open this early." Richie objected as he hurried after Jackson down the road, carrying his document bag.

"They are." Jackson checked his watch. "Trust me."

"Do you know *everything* that happens in this city?" Richie asked.

Jackson shrugged. "Pretty much. You didn't think I spent all day at the movies, did you?" When Richie made some indistinct noises about that idea, he pointed to the bag. "Get your stuff?"

"Yeah..." Richie stared at the bag, as if to bring further information to light. "Weird though, it was all finished. I thought I still had a couple of pages to do."

"You probably forgot it." Jackson suggested. "You were pretty tired last night."

"Uh huh." Richie frowned as he saw a group of skinhead kids gathereing up ahead of them on the street. "The garbage is up early."

"Actually, they haven't slept yet." Jackson smiled a wolfish grin and took Richie's hand. "Come on."

"What? Jack, this probably isn't a good idea." Richie whined as the terrorist dragged him towards the hostile group.

"Hey, gayboys!" One of the youths called out as they approached. "What's up?"

"You are." Jackson spat in his face and landed a painful jab to the boy's knee. "See ya." He smiled as the kid landed on the sidewalk. "Ouch."

"What're you doing, Jack?" Richie asked nervously, but didn't have much time to inquire further as the rest of the gang attacked. Fortunately, he still had some of his old A-Team reflexes - the ones you needed in order to get away from BA when aeroplanes were involved - and the first couple of boys ended up literally grounded. When he turned back to see how Jack was doing, the first thing he saw was the knife one of the youths had pulled.

"Not so smartass now, huh?" The kid said in a nearly incomprehensible accent.

"Now that's hardly an atomic bomb, is it?" Jackson asked.

The kid merely swore forcefully and made as if to stab his opponent. Jackson grabbed his head and pushed down, cracking the boy's skull off the kerb. At that sound, the remaining conscious gang members took to their heels and fled. Jackson let go of the boy and looked up at Richie. "Look at the state of children today, huh? Come on, Rich, we have some photocopying to do."

Juan Santana entered the 'studio' with a large smile on his face and a newspaper in his hand. "Looks like we hit the jackpot, Zachary, old pal." He said. "Whit Crawford and two of his friends are being prosecuted for attempted murder. With the evidence, they might as well confess."

Zack Baracus put down his guitar and looked at the newspaper. "You sure they can't trace this stuff back to us?"

Juan shook his head. "Why would they want to? It's not as if we made up the evidence - we just pulled together some evidence they already had. Besides, we're only talking about Whit Crawford - not Charles Manson!"

"Your parents pleased?" Zack asked.

"Sure they're pleased!" Juan frowned. "Well, to tell the truth, they'd probably have preferred to pretend the whole thing never happened, but they're pleased that Crawford won't be able to do this to anyone else in the near future."

"Yeah, I guess..." Zack handed back the newspaper. "We going to see Frankie J tonight?"

Juan nodded. "Have the Murdocks been by?"

"Nah." Zack said. "School. But they'll be here later."

Murdock lay down under the belly of a battered plane that had just been brought to the airfield the previous day. One of his employees had heard that it was going for scrap metal elsewhere, so Murdock had purchased it for next to nothing. What had seemed like a good deal at the time was now turning into a nightmare.

"Hiya Murdock." Jackson crawled under, trying not to give himself a concussion on the steel body. "Been looking for you everywhere."

Murdock prodded a finger at a rusty metal panel. "Hi Jack. Face done those reports for me?"

"Yup." Jackson rolled over in the dust to take a look for himself. "Was up all night too... Hey, where'd you get this hunk o' junk?"

"Oh, don't ask." Murdock got to his hands and knees. "You here to take up that job I've been offering you for... how long?"

Jackson sighed. "I can't yet. Look, if you're holding the position open just for me, forget it! When I get out of this thing I'm in, I can find work someplace else. I haven't even got a pilot's licence!"

"Don't flatter yourself, Jack." Murdock admitted. "If there was anyone else I would take them, but right now there's nobody who wants to work on a little airfield for practically no pay and no benefits."

"Can't imagine why..." Richie pitched in, looking under the aircraft. "There a party going on under there or something?"

Murdock and Jackson took the hint and came out into the sunshine. "Maybe you should use it as an office, Murdock." Richie suggested. "Peace and quiet..."

"About all it's good for, too." Murdock scratched his head. "I'd set Tanya to work on it, except she isn't talking to me..."

"You should fire her." Jackson said and then saw the looks her got. "Sorry! Sorry!"

"Maybe I should talk to her." Richie suggested. "I mean, it isn't as if either of you's done anything!"

"Leave it, Rich." Murdock grabbed the documents from Richie's hands. "Hey! Great! Do I need to sign any of this?" He headed in the direction of his more commonly used office.

"Uh, I'll be right there!" Richie called after him and turned to Jackson. "Are you going now?"

"Yeah." Jackson looked around the airfield. "I'll try to call you, but I don't know..."

"Uh huh." Richie nodded and hurried off after Murdock without another word.

Jackson absently patted the old aeroplane and walked slowly back to Richie's car.

"Right, okay..." Amy Allen said over the telephone. "And I'm meeting Nighter tomorrow... Yeah, the crazy guy... Okay... Bye!" She put down the receiver and turned to see her two children lined up, waiting to speak to her.

"Talking about Dad again?" Tanya asked, not one to miss an opportunity for a sarcastic remark.

"Tanya..." Her mother started.

"Who's Nighter?" Alan demanded, stepping in to avoid the inevitable quarrel. "I've heard that name before."

Amy sighed. "He's a cultist who's proclaiming the end of the world or something."

"And you have to interview him?" Tanya inquired. "Have they relegated you to page ten again?"

"Don't be stupid." Amy shut her diary. "Now don't you kids have homework to do?"

"Ethan De Bree, alias Aytan Nighter." Juan Santana read from a recent news report. "Self-styled Messiah. Claims the world will end when he dies... Blah de blah de blah. His followers, the Dead Of Night group, have been linked with a few murders and suicides in California, but the connections are a bit tenuous so far, so they have never been charged with anything." Juan looked up. "Obviously your mother's got something on them."

"Or the cops do and she's following it up." Tanya replied.

"Same difference." Alan yawned. "But what are we going to do? We're not exactly helping the oppressed by digging up evidence on this guy, are we? And we're sure not making any money!"

"This isn't about money, Al." Zack explained. "This is about helping people."

Alan sighed. "I should have stayed with the lemonade stalls."

"It isn't much, I agree." Juan stated. "But it is a lead. We'll have a look around and see what we can come up with. I think we should wait until Amy's article is published - maybe the cops are going to arrest this guy anyway. We don't want to mess up one of their operations."

"Heaven forbid." Alan said.

Jackson looked up from his watch and blinked into the sun overhead. "Do you think I'm going crazy?"

His companion shrugged. "Why do you think you are?"

"I read my encyclopedia today." Jackson explained. "Found out a psychopath is incapable of having relationships with people and is recklessly irresponsible."

"Sounds like a few people I knew at school..."

Jackson glared at him. "Today I attacked a group of kids because they called me a couple of names. Richie was pretty shocked. But at the time, I didn't care. What do you think that says about me?"

"That you're an ordinary human being? Who doesn't go crazy sometimes? And with the Industry being on your back an' all." The young man pointed at the youth centre across the street. "Baracus is watching us."

"When Tommy was around, I didn't do those kinds of things." Jackson sighed. "I wish he was here."

"Life goes on. And BA comes to talk to us."

Jackson stopped walking. "Hi BA."

BA Baracus stopped as well and looked at the white-haired teenager who was hovering nervously to one side. "What's your name, kid?"

"Uh, Nicholas, sir." The youth replied.

"What age are you?"

"Uh, twenty, sir."

"You sure about that?"

"Yes, sir."

BA glowered in Jackson's direction. "Can I have a word?"

Jackson nodded. "I'll catch up with you later, Sully."

Nicholas seemed glad to get away from BA, who was about three times more muscular than he was, and hurried away around the first corner he could find. BA prodded Jackson's chest. "I don't want you meddling with any kids around here."

Jackson held his hands up in protest. "I'm not meddling with anyone! Sully's a friend, that's all. I know his father. I'm just looking after him while he's in the city."

"Yeah." BA considered. "And I know you. You betta be careful, Jack, or you gonna have no friends in this city."

"That a threat?" Jackson smiled.

"No." BA showed Jackson his fists. "These are threats."

"Hey, Frankie!" Juan Santana, Zack Baracus and the Murdocks crowded around the young man's hospital bed. "How's it going?"

Frankie Santana Junior craned his neck upwards. "Aren't you supposed to bring me chocolates or something?"

"Sorry, pal, we don't get paid enough for that." Zack grinned. "When you gonna get out of here and play keyboards again?"

Frankie shrugged. "The nurses say a day or two. Then I might be able to move without feeling like jelly."

"I feel like jelly all the time." Alan muttered, a smile on his face.

"Well, see you soon, FJ!" Tanya grabbed Alan around the neck and dragged him off towards the doors. Zack, pretending that he had never met either of them in his life, hurried in the same direction.

Juan sat down in the single chair next to Frankie's bed. "It'll be good to have you around again."

Frankie frowned. "Yeah. And I won't have Whit to worry about. I wonder why the police reversed their decision on prosecuting anyone?"

"Well, actually, I had something to do with that." Juan admitted, leaning closer.

"*You* had something to do with that? How?" Frankie demanded.

Juan smiled. "I decided that if the police weren't going to do anything, I'd better. I got Zack and the Murdocks to help me dig up some evidence. We've decided to reform the A-Team, Frankie."

Frankie Jr.'s reaction was not what Juan had hoped for. "You did *what*? Are you crazy?"

Juan frowned. "Hey, calm down! Our parents did a job that still needs to be done and we're doing it."

"Uh huh. Remember that Dad only got into the A-Team because Stockwell forced him to!" Frankie replied. "He's not some war hero and he would probably have got killed if he hadn't had those four war heroes on his side!"

"Maybe, but I'm not intending to go up against the Mafia or war criminals quite yet, Frankie." Juan tried to placate his brother.

"Oh, yeah? You don't choose your enemies, Juan." Frankie told him. "And you're bringing other people into it too! Come on, Juan, Alan's only fourteen!"

"He would've found out anyway." Juan told him. "Look, I want you to be a part of this, Frankie. I don't want us to fight over it."

Frankie Jr. shook his head. "Don't even ask, Juan. I'm not going to tell anyone that you're doing this, cause I figure you can make your own decisions, but I'm not being part of your suicide squad."

"If that's the way you want it." Juan stood up.

"Yeah." Frankie agreed. "I do."

"Juan?" Tanya Murdock said, telephone held between her jaw and shoulder. "I found a pre-print copy of Mom's article." She looked at the two typed pages she held in her hand. "Yeah... It seems that the police aren't doing anything about Nighter, even though a couple of key witnesses have mysteriously disappeared, along with several cult members. My bet is he has some people protecting him from the inside. Juan? Juan?"

The phone line was dead.

The room slowly drifted into focus as Richie Bancroft woke up, seeing his flatmate standing at right-angles to his curent position on the couch. He sat up, yawning. "What's the time?" He asked.

"About eight." Jackson sat down next to him. "You pass out or something?"

Richie blinked, trying to remember. "Murdock sent me home. I was about falling asleep then... I guess I came back about three."

Jackson pointed a finger at him. "You have been working too hard. Tell Murdock that you have to sleep occasionally."

Richie shook his head. "I can't. Murdock needs me."

"I need you." Jackson stood up. "And I definitely prefer you alive and talking. Want some coffee?"

"Yeah, please." Richie decided as the doorbell went. "I'll get it." He levered himself up off the couch and opened the door. "Oh, hi Juan."

"Hey Richie." Juan came into the flat. "You ever heard of Aytan Nighter?"

"Uh, should I have?" Richie rubbed his eyes.

"Yeah." Juan nodded. "I'm going to infiltrate his organisation."

HM Murdock collapsed onto his sofa and began to flick channels with a vengeance. "I don't suppose the kids have bothered to come home?" He asked his wife, who was half-buried under a heap of documents at the far end of the room.

Amy shook her head. "Alan called a couple of hours ago - said they would be at BA's. I think there's a baseball match going on or something."

"Are they *ever* at home?" Murdock demanded.

"You're one to talk." Amy replied sharply. "I don't see there's any point to them coming here if you're at the airfield and I'm at the office."

Murdock sighed. "I know, I know. But it occurs to me that other children do actually sleep in their bedrooms." He switched off the TV and wandered over to the table that Amy had appropriated. "Do you think I should talk to them?"

Amy shrugged. "That would be a change."

"Are you crazy?" Richie asked and immediately calmed down. "Of course not. You've just inherited the Santana gene of immense stupidity."

Juan grinned. "At least I didn't get the grease gene. But I don't think it's stupid. You went undercover a lot of times."

"That's because of my amazing charm." Richie pointed out. "I suppose you'd better sit down."

Juan did so. "Uh, I hope I'm not interrupting anything..."

Jackson stuck his head out of the kitchen. "You're interrupting Richie's caffeine dose. Want some?"

"No thanks." Juan smiled. "I'm here on business."

Jackson reappeared after a few seconds, handed Richie a mug and leaned back against the wall. "What's brought this bout of suicidal insanity on?"

"Amy Allen's writing a piece on Nighter. Seems the cops are doing nothing about him, even though there is evidence to convict him." Juan made his case. "Someone needs to go inside that cult - the Dead Of Night - and find out who in the police force is protecting Nighter."

"That someone being you?" Jackson laughed. "There was me thinking you were smart enough to do this A-Team gig."

"What's your problem, Jack?" Pirate Santana asked.

"Uh, well, you're Frankie Santana's son. Frankie Santana who was pardoned a few years ago for the crime of rescuing the A-Team from their execution." Jackson related the facts. "You really think Nighter wants an A-Team brat in his organisation?"

Juan shrugged. "It's not as if I have to tell him who I am."

"If he has friends in the police, he'll check up on you." Jackson replied. "Stay out of it, Juan."

"No!" Juan exclaimed. "Look, I didn't come here asking for permission. I'm going in! Now, are you going to help me or not?"

"I am helping you." Jackson pointed out. "By telling you your mistakes. You need a good story - a believable one - to get into the Dead of Night. Otherwise you're the object of a lynch mob."

Juan shrugged. "Any suggestions?"

Richie put down his mug. "In this situation, I'd say that the truth is probably your best bet."

Murdock hiked up to Face's 'office' on the mound of dirt that surrounded the airfield and sat down heavily. Richie carefully put the documents he had been working on away and eyed his friend. "Problems?"

"Nothing but." Murdock admitted. "You don't have any idea what the kids get up to at night, do you? I mean, I would hope I knew them well enough to know they weren't doing anything wrong or taking drugs or something, but the fact is I haven't had a proper conversation with either of them for at least a month."

Richie sighed. "I wouldn't worry, Murdock. BA keeps an eye on them when they're at his place, which they pretty much always are."

Murdock shook his head. "That doesn't exactly make me feel a lot better. I always got the impression that kids were supposed to hang around their own houses."

"Look, Murdock." Richie started. "They didn't want me to tell you this, but if it'll ease your mind - they're over hanging out with Zack because they have a band they're working on."

"A band?" Murdock looked at him in amazement.

Richie shrugged. "Didn't you want to be a rock star when you were a kid?"

"Hmmm." Murdock mused. "Well, I guess it's better than the invisible harmonica."

Richie laughed. "Things were much less complicated back then, huh? I'll tell you, Murdock - I'm glad I don't have kids running around."

Murdock looked at him. "How are things with Jackson?"

"Fine." Richie answered. "Why?"

"I was talking to BA a couple of days back. He says he's seen Jack hanging around with a kid called Nicholas. You know anything about that?" Murdock quizzed his friend.

"He hasn't mentioned him." Richie said. "But Jack still does some work for the Industry."

"Since when did the Industry employ children?" Murdock asked. "I mean, the kid claims to be twenty, but BA doubts it."

"What are you getting at, Murdock?" Richie demanded.

Murdock shrugged. "I just think you should be careful. You're not exactly the one true love of his life, you know."

"Excuse me?"

"Well, you have to admit - if Tommy was alive, Jackson wouldn't be looking twice at you." Murdock explained. "And if I wasn't married, you wouldn't have looked twice at him."

Richie leapt to his feet in a rage. "Take that back, Murdock!"

Murdock got up. "All right. But I seem to remember you were pretty much infatuated with me not so long ago."

"I was wrong." Richie protested.

"Maybe." Murdock began to skid his way down to ground level. "But Jackson wasn't."

"Man!" Zack Baracus paced the few metres between the wooden walls of his studio and scratched his head. "I wish you weren't doing this."

"Well I am doing it." Pirate Santana asserted himself as he took the battered old trenchcoat Alan had appropriated from somewhere and put it on, completing his image of a penniless young man. "If I get the chance I'll call back here, but I won't do it unless I can be certain they don't know about it. So make sure one of you is here all the time."

Zack sighed. "You mean I have to stay here all day? What if Dad wants me to muck in? He does pay me, you know."

Tanya chuckled. "Our parents didn't have these problems."

"Nah." Juan frowned. "Okay, just try and be here. Tell BA you're making up a demo tape or something. We could probably do with one."

"All right." Zack considered. "But..."

He halted when the door of the shed opened and Jackson stepped in. "Ah, the next generation." He looked around. "Nice shed."

"Hi Jack." Juan said. "Is Richie working?"

"Uh huh." Jackson replied. "You leaving?"

"Yeah." Juan answered. "Just going over some details."

Jackson looked sharply at him. "Make sure that if you get in, you can get out."

Juan smiled. "I don't think getting out will be the problem."

"Jonathan." The A-Team and Jackson turned as one to see a young woman lurking in the shadows near the door. No one had heard her come in.

"Erya." Jackson addressed her.

"Hey, lady, what you doin' in here?" Zack asked her, angry that any stranger had dared enter his sanctuary.

Jackson kept his eyes on her. "It's okay, Zack. She's just leaving. Good luck, Juan." He muttered absently as he escorted the lady out of the shed and closed the door.

"That was slightly freaky." Alan ventured.

Juan picked up the rucksack which carried the items he had carefully decided to take along and hoisted it over his shoulder. "Well, I'd better be going. None of you follow me. Hopefully I'll be out in a couple of days with the evidence we need to convict Nighter." As no one said anything else, he hurried out of the door.

As the door slammed closed, Alan turned to his sister and Zack. "Anyone else worried that there wasn't an 'or' in that sentence?"

Pirate Santana found the headquarters of the Dead Of Night by following the address Tanya had 'borrowed' from her mother. It was not entirely what he expected. The entrance bore merely a number over the door and beside it sat a man dressed in an overcoat, bent over a cigarette. Juan looked around for any evidence of this being the house of a murderous cult, found none, and went inside. Up the flight of stairs at the end of the passage, he found a well-lit hallway leading off to several rooms. The first was labeled 'Admin.', so he pushed open the door.

There had evidently been some sort of meeting going on, as the man and woman in the room immediately ceased talking and stared at him. The man jumped down from the single desk near the door and stood inches away from Juan. "Yes?" He asked in the most inpolite way possible for one word to be spoken.

Juan felt that his role of the indecisive, rebellious young man was not going to take much acting. "Uhhh, am I at the right place? For the Dead Of Night, I mean."

The man's eyes bored into his skull while the woman was busily pushing all the documents that they had been looking over into a drawer. "Why, yes." The man smiled a hollow smile and then it dropped away from his face. "You're not a reporter, are you?" Juan vehemently shook his head. "Good. We're pretty sick of reporters right now. So, are you here to join us?"

Juan took a breath. "Well, I don't... I don't want to have to be a member for life if I hate it within a couple of days, you know. I mean, I've read some articles about the group and I'm interested, but..."

"But you're not sure." The man smiled. "Yeah. Okay, you can sign up for a week. After that you decide whether to commit yourself to us."

'Commit', thought Juan. Good word. He smiled. "That's great."

The man turned on his heel and brought out a register from the desk drawer nearest the door. "What's your name?"

"Juan Santana." Juan stated. "Do you want me to sign something...?"

"This isn't a hotel." The man replied sharply. "What have you got in that bag?"

Juan placed the bag on the desk. "Some clothes, books, this and that."

"Okay." The man didn't give the bag another look. "You can bunk in room four. We just had someone leave us from there."

"Leave?" Juan asked.

"Yeah." The man smiled reassuringly. "Cancer. Very sad."

"Oh." Juan responded. "Okay. Is that all?"

"That's it." The man closed the book. "Lights out in half an hour. Rise and shine at six." There seemed nothing more to be said as he immediately turned back to the woman and began talking about the cost of pencils. Juan picked up his bag and hurried out of the room. He shut the door quietly and turned around to collide with the man who had been outside.

"Hey!" Juan exclaimed. "I'm sorry. Are you okay?"

The man, who was in his thirties, stared at Juan with glassy blue eyes and opened his mouth to speak. Nothing came out as the man from the Administration room flew out and grabbed him. "Come on, Ethan. You have work to do." Ethan was pushed into the Admin room and the first man glared at Juan. "I suggest you get to bed."

"Bed. Right." Juan looked around and started off down the corridor again before anyone else could assault him.

The other people in his room - four women and an elderly man - were either asleep or pretending to be when he got there. A dim light burnt at the window, but he could see practically nothing. Juan climbed up to the bunk above the old man and put his bag in between the wall and his pillow. He decided not to dare getting undressed until he knew that nothing strange was liable to happen during the night. Above his pillow were inscibed the words: "Have hope, friend, for the end is nigh."

With this reassurance, Juan set about falling asleep.

The wake-up call came at 5:58 by Juan's watch, but he supposed that it could be out by a couple of minutes. He had spent half the night tossing and turning before realising he was getting nowhere and deciding just to lie staring contemplatively at the ceiling, which was perhaps the most boring - and unthreatening - object in the room. The others in the beds around and below him stirred from their sleep almost immediately, although none of them seemed too happy about it. Juan jumped down from his bunk and touched a middle-aged woman on the shoulder. "Excuse me, I just came in last night. Is there anything I should be doing?"

"Leaving." She said abruptly before shaking his hand off and beginning to get properly dressed.

Juan took a step backwards, confused, and knocked into the old man who had been sleeping directly below him. The man smiled slightly. "Wait here." He said. "You'll be told what to do."

Juan leaned back against the wall at the window and stared at his old friend the ceiling in order to avoid any accusations from the women that he was looking at them. They appeared to be working to a clock, as within three minutes all five of them were out of the door, leaving what belongings they had behind them. Juan wondered whether to rifle through any of the bags on the floor, but if they caught him it would instantly label him as a spy and it was unlikely that any of them would have anything to do with the murders or the contacts in the police force. He had just about enough time to run these thoughts through his head when the door opened and the administation woman from last night walked into the room.

"Good morning." She said pleasantly. "Please come with me." She turned away and out the way she had come, like a train picking up a passenger. Juan glanced at his bag and decided to leave it. If they wanted to look through it, they could. There was nothing incriminating there. In the corridor there was no sign of any of the other members and no sound of them from other rooms. Juan assumed that they had been taken elsewhere for breakfast or prayer or whatever the Dead Of Night did at six o'clock in the morning. It was the unlabelled door opposite the administation room that she opened. "In here, please." She gently pushed him inside, then shut the door.

The room appeared to be a library, as all of the walls were filled with bookcases. There were, however, two chairs in the centre of the room. On one of them sat the man Juan had crashed into the previous night, although he was now in a smart Italian suit, impeccably groomed and examining Juan with interest. He seemed to realise that he had stared at Juan a fraction longer than was polite and stood up with a jerk. "Please." He said with a slight, inpenetrable, accent, pointing at the other chair. "Sit down."

Juan did so, keeping his eyes on the other.

The man took a breath. "My name is Aytan Nighter. I am the founder of this... organisation. They tell me your name is Juan. Mexican?"

"Puerto Rican." Juan supplied.

"Ah." Nighter smiled as if a mystery that had plagued him for years had been solved. "So, Juan, why are you here?"

Juan shrugged and did his best to look uncomfortable. "Isn't it good enough that I am?"

Nighter looked at him with amusement. "I have a private bet with myself every time a new one turns up. Always I get the best odds on family problems. Hmmm?"

"Well, I guess..." Juan had memorised his story well enough. "See, all of my Dad's friends, they were in the army. They won a lot of medals and stuff. Dad just wants me to do as well as they did and as well as their kids are doing. But he doesn't realise that he didn't do a thing in his life! He's putting pressure on me to succeed at something I don't even know I want to do."

"I see." Nighter nodded. "So why are you here rather than at a psychiatrist."

"Because I understand what you're doing." Juan smiled. "And I want to do the same thing. I want to change the world."

"We all want to change the world." Nighter said. "I suppose we all do, whether we like it or not."

"Do you want me to stay?" Juan asked. "Cause if you don't, I'll have to leave... Find somewhere else..."

Nighter at once looked sad. "Stay, Juan. We'll see what we can do for you."

Juan grinned and stood up. "Thanks a lot, Mr. Nighter. I won't let you down. Oh, and I'm sorry for running into you last night."

Nighter looked up, confused. "I didn't see you last night. You must be thinking of Mr. Jonas, the manager here."

"Uh, maybe." Juan smiled again. "Thanks." He hurried out of the room, to where the woman was waiting for him.

"The lights don't work." Jackson muttered to himself, flicking the relevant switch back and forth, with no results. He spun around to face the dark figure he knew was there. "Why do the lights never work?"

"Company policy." She replied without a flicker of jest in her voice. "So, Jonathan, how are things?"

Jackson blinked and a smile came to his face. "I'm assuming that this isn't one of those 'simple courtesy' things people who don't work for the Industry do?"

"Hmmm."

Jackson sighed. "All right, what do you want to know? Specifics, Erya. I'm not your lapdog anymore."

"Sadly, you never were." Erya blew him a kiss. "All right. The boy."

The pilot stiffened involuntarily. "Boy?"

Erya came closer, into the faint light Jackson could see by. She had some Spanish blood in her, he considered: a beauty spoiled by the thick black patch over her right eye. Her smile showed white teeth. Other men might have been swayed by such a display of affection. Jackson thought it reminded him of a wolf. "The boy Santana. He has been going where he is not welcome. You should have stopped this."

"Really?" Jackson let sarcasm cover his relief. "*I* should have done something? I did do something. I tried to stop him getting killed. Unfortunately Juan only listens to advice when it's telling him he's doing the right thing. Such a man will only be stopped when he decides for himself that it is the wrong thing to do."

"Or he dies." Erya supplied the other option. "Then you should have asked us for advice."

"I'm not one of you. He isn't one of you." Jackson replied.

"You're one of us until you've paid your debt, Jonathan." Erya smiled sweetly. "If you haven't completely blown your chances by letting the boy enter the Dead Of Night organisation."

"If you wanted to stop him going, you could have." Jackson said, knowing what the answer would certainly be.

"Our policy is of persuasion and slow poison, not bombs." Erya answered. "But I will give you an incentive to listen to what I'm saying: Santana's actions are more dangerous to himself than to us. He has everything wrong and he will be stopped forever if he does not leave Nighter's organisation quickly."

"That a threat, Erya?"

"No." Erya turned away. "The Industry has no claims on the boy."

"Then who?"

She shook her head. "That's it, Jonathan." She was about to walk away when he touched her shoulder.

"Why did you come to see me?" Jackson asked.

Erya looked indecisive for a moment, then quickly kissed Jackson's cheek. "Be seeing you, Jack."

Juan Santana waited almost an hour after lights out in his dormitory before creeping outside of the room. It was still only ten o'clock, but the authorities at the Dead Of Night had obviously decided that a hard day's meditation, exercise and odd job work was enough to tire everyone out by nine. Or bore them all to sleep.

There was, once again, no one in the corridors. Jonas, Nighter and the others obviously thought that their converts were well enough versed in the rules of the house to keep to their rooms without guards being posted. Juan smiled. Rules were only made to be broken. He went directly to the Adminisration room and listened at the door. There seemed to be no one inside, so he took the initiative and went inside, on the basis of the excuse that he had forgotten where the toilets were. It was fairly legitmate, considering that they were probably the most hard to find facility in the whole building. Once inside, he tried the drawers, but they were locked. Fortunately, Zack had taught him a few things that he wasn't supposed to know.

The register revealed no surprises. All of the names on it were as unfamiliar to him as a fish was to a tree. Beneath it, however, were details of many transactions with a business called 'Great Import', for what was apparently stationery. A *lot* of stationery, Juan thought as he looked at the prices. Nothing else was forthcoming, so he put the drawers back together as best he could and crept out. He only got a step when a voice stopped him dead in his tracks. It took him a moment to realise that it wasn't directed at him.

Inside Nighter's study, some rather quiet yelling was going on. Either that, or the walls were soundproofed. Juan found that the door was already open a crack and dared to push it a little further. Neither of the room's two occupants were paying much attention to the door - Jonas brandishing a gun and doing all the yelling; Nighter looking unkempt and ill, as he had done the previous night, sitting in a chair. Juan squinted at him and tried to make out what he had done with his hands. They seemed to be handcuffed together around the back to the chair. Juan stood there, mouth open, for a few sedonds until he decidedthat he had better listen in on whatever Jonas was talking about.

"Your little plans are nothing, Ethan!" Jonas said, a devilish grin on his face. "Nothing! We are in control now! Understand me? Huh? Understand me?"

Ethan either could not or would not reply, as Jonas grabbed him by the neck. "Aah, you're nothing, either." Jonas dealt the preacher a vicious blow to the side of the head with his pistol. Ethan collapsed to the floor, taking the chair with him, his glazed-over eyes staring at Juan. Juan straightened up and quickly left the scene of the crime. In a minute he was back in his bunk, heart racing.

It was at times like this he really needed someone else to turn up and tell him what was going on.

Juan spent the night trying to piece together a reasonable explanation to what was going on in the Dead Of Night organisation. From what he had observed among his fellow followers, they were all committed to Nighter's creed to changing the world to be a better place, so that by the time another generation came about, the world would have been reborn. This was the truth behind the media's view of this 'cult' - that the world would end when Nighter died - but Juan suspected that the image of the psycho cult had not been created by accident.

Although Nighter, in his impassioned sermon to the faithful yesterday, had condoned the stranger aspects of the cult - for instance his change of name and the name of the group itself - considering that he did not appear to be the same person half of the time, nothing he said could be taken for granted. Jonas, however, seemed to know what was going on - it was probably him who was responsible of the Dead Of Night's business dealings. Whatever they were, they were almost certainly illegal. And if Jonas was simply using the cult as a front, then Juan needed to get evidence of this. Since there was no incriminating paperwork, except for the strange numbers of pencils being imported, the next best thing would be a witness.

Juan grabbed his bag and jumped down from his bed.

"Hey!" The old man whispered to him. "What you doin'?"

"Bathroom." Juan explained and hurried out, not waiting to see if he was satisfied with this explanation. Nighter's library seemed to be the logical place to go, and this time there was no sign of Jonas anywhere. Obviously he had gone wherever he went to sleep. Nighter himself was still sprawled on the floor, chained to the chair. Juan knelt down beside him and gave the man a shake. "Hey!" He said quietly. "Are you okay? Can you hear me?"

Nighter opened his eyes and looked as if he was about to vomit, but kept his innards in check. "Who... Santana." He whispered. "You have to leave."

"Like hell." Juan replied. "I'm getting some evidence and you're the only evidence I have. What's Jonas importing?"

Nighter sighed. "Heroin, mostly. But you have to go..."

"Go?" Jonas' voice broke the series of whispers. Juan spun around and saw why he wasn't afraid to talk loudly - he was the one holding the gun. "On the contrary, Ethan, our young guest must stay and keep you company. Hmmm?"

"Let him go." Nighter sounded tired. "He knows nothing."

Jonas looked shocked. "But that would spoil my fun. How are you liking the carpet, Ethan?"

"Painful."

Jonas smiled and pushed past Juan to put the chair, and Nighter, in an upright position again. "Time to put you to sleep, pal." Out of nowhere, he produced an almost invisible syringe and stabbed in into the back of Nighter's neck. The older man cried out and then slumped forward. Juan saw no more, as he had reacted instantly and was by this time out of the door. He hurried down the stairs and crashed through the door at ground level, to be blinded by the many lights outside as a heavy hand was laid upon his shoulder.

"Where were you?" Three words, quietly spoken, brought Jonathan Jackson back to consciousness as he found himself on the couch in his apartment. Safe, if it wasn't for the man staring daggers at him.

Jackson sat up and brushed his hair out of his face. "What?" He asked, buying some time.

"Where were you?" Richie Bancroft repeated, his voice containing a studied amount of anger in it.

Jackson put his hand out. "You agreed not to ask me that."

"Really?" Richie smiled, but there was no happiness in it. "Maybe I did, but I'm not going to sit here while you disappear for days. Who is he?"

"What?" Jackson looked up, genuinely surprised.

"The kid you've been hanging around with." Richie explained. "BA tells me you two have been getting pretty friendly."

Jackson stood up and tried to think up a plausible explanation. There was nothing he could say. "I can't tell you, Richie."

"Uh huh." Richie nodded. "After all this? I guess Murdock was right. I never was anything to you, after all."

"Richie!" Jackson touched him on the shoulder. "I love you."

"No you don't!" Richie lashed out, sending Jackson staggering a couple of paces backwards. "Now get out of here." He looked around, trying to calm down. "And take your damned soccer ball with you."

Jackson knew better than to say anything more and so picked up the rubber ball from where it lay next to the wall and marched out without looking back. Sully's apartment was a few blocks away, but it seemed too close. His body was stuck between wanting to sleep and wanting to fight someone. Anyone. A key to the door of the flat wasn't necessary - since no one in Sully's building had anything to steal, locks were redundant. Sully was out, somewhere. Maybe seeing his mother out of town. Jackson angrily thumped his ball against the wall and sat down heavily on Sully's worn bed.

The clock read 4.39. In a few hours, there would be hell to pay.

Richard Bancroft. Templeton Peck. Faceman. Whoever he was, he sat on the floor with his back to the wall and wished that for once, life wouldn't be so complicated. His wish wasn't granted. The telephone rang.

Richie debated about picking it up, because if it was Jackson, he didn't quite know where he stood on that particular issue. But Jackson, if he wanted to apologise, would have done it face to face several hours ago. He picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

"Face!" BA's voice was the last thing he expected to hear. "We got some trouble."

"What?" Richie stood up, his thoughts turning to guilt at what might have happened to Jackson after he had been thrown out. But if it were Jackson in trouble, what was BA doing calling?

BA sounded genuninely worried. "It's Juan. He's been arrested."

"You know, I just don't understand!" Frankie Santana paced the length of BA's living room and back again. "Why did you have to do this? Why the A-Team, Juan?"

Juan stayed where he was, sitting nervously on the edge of an armchair. "It was the right thing to do."

"The right thing to do?" Frankie raised his hands to heaven. "You were arrested! You're on charges for possession of cocaine!"

"I told you they planted it in my bag." Juan muttered, knowing that it would do no good for the defence. "Look, it's stupid for us to be sitting here! The police didn't capture Jonas!"

"Who's Jonas?" Amy Allen asked him, feeling that if it was something to do with the Dead Of Night, she should know about it.

"The guy who's been doing all this stuff! And he's got Ethan with him!" Juan stood up. "We have to go and help him!"

Murdock stood up as well. "Let me get this straight, kiddo. You want us to go *help* a drugged-out maniac who has been supplying heroin to half of California? You had no right to do this in the first place, dragging my children into it, and you have no right to do this now!"

"He's right, Juan." Frankie Junior ventured. "Just keep quiet and we'll clear you of the charges. This hasn't gotten you anywhere except to mess up a police sting operation that they'd been setting up for weeks."

"Keep quiet?" Juan stared with amazement at all those in the room. "I don't think so." He pushed Murdock out of the way and charged out of the house.

"Great." Frankie muttered.

Richie reached BA's house as Murdock and Amy were getting to their car. "Hey! Murdock!" He hurried over. "What happened?"

Murdock glared at him. "What happened is we found out about this A-Team you, Juan and Jackson have been keeping quiet. What happened is Juan got arrested and charged for possession of drugs he claims some guy called Jonas planted on him, but frankly I'm not so sure."

"What?" Richie frowned. "Murdock, you're being stupid. You know Juan is as good a young man as you're likely to find."

"Yeah." Murdock nodded. "He was - until he started putting my kids in danger. By the way, they're now grounded - perhaps forever. And I don't want either you or Jackson anywhere near them, okay?"

"I threw him out." Richie said suddenly.

Murdock smiled. "Good. Make sure he stays out." He got in the car and slammed the door without saying another word, leaving Richie stranded on the pavement.

"Uh, hi Jack." Sully closed the door to his apartment and sat down next to the terrorist. "What're you doing here?"

Jackson looked at him. "Didn't have anywhere else to go."

"He throw you out?"

"Uh huh."

"Why?"

Jackson sighed. "Because..."

"Because of me?" Sully asked, nervously.

"Yes." Jackson admitted. "But if it was only you, I could explain. But there are too many other things going on that I have to deal with. Maybe it's better this way."

"No." Sully said bluntly. "It isn't."

Jackson laughed quietly. "You're right." He stood up and checked his pockets. "You got any change?"

Alan Murdock defiantly kicked the wall of his room. "This is crap."

"No, Alan, it's a wall." Tanya sighed. "We have to do something. Juan'll get himself killed."

"Yeah." Alan agreed. "But in case you hadn't noticed, our parents are older, wiser and better than us, so naturally everything they say is correct."

Tanya sighed again. "I hate life."

"Hi Richie." Tanya Murdock sat down beside him on the rocky slope and pulled some kind of blueprint out of her pocket. "What do you think this means?" She asked him innocently.

Richie scratched his head. "Your dad said I shouldn't talk to you."

"Uh huh." Tanya nodded. "And when did you become his personal slave? He's only a crazy coward anyway."

"He's not, Tanya." Richie protested. "And he wasn't. He saved my life when it was dangerous to him to do so. It was probably even stupid of him to do it. But he did it. So he's not a coward, okay?"

Tanya shrugged. "It's weird to hear you defend him. Seems that you two haven't been on the best of terms lately."

"It's not me and it's not him." Richie explained. "It's just..."

"Jack?" Tanya suggested.

At that, Murdock tore out of his office and yelled up to them from the bottom of the slope. "Frankie just called. Juan's gone."

Lone sharking was not a business Jonathan Jackson was into much. Most of his life involved with the Industry, he had been accompanied by his team: Price, Ross, Rourke, Baker and Thomas. Tommy. The one person in his life who had always been there, no matter how crazy he might have got, Tommy never gave up on Jackson. Even when Jack gave up on him.

Jackson involuntarily winced and took another sip of orange juice. The bar in Bad Rock was about as interesting as a toothbrush, but since his contact had requested that they meet here, there wasn't much he could do. He had been sitting on the same stool for almost an hour when Ty Russell slid into the seat next to him, seemingly out of a gap in space. "Mornin' Johnny." Ty grinned and ordered a beer from the bartender. "How're things?"

"If things were good, do you think I'd be talking to you?" Jackson replied.

Ty shrugged. "I thought you might have had a change of heart. Anyway, you want Jonas?"

"Erya told you?" Jackson covered his surprise with a random guess.

Ty smiled. "I never reveal my sources. But I'll tell you one thing - if you're after the hard stuff, you don't need to go near Jonas. He's on the run, you know. You want to go with someone safer."

"Uh huh. Thanks for the advice, Ty, but I don't do that anymore." Jackson turned his attention back to his juice.

"All the same to me." Ty said. "I'm just trying to drum up some business. So, Jonas. What's your beef with him?"

Jackson sighed. "You want your money or not?"

"Okay! Okay!" Ty stood up and whispered conspiratorially in Jackson's ear. "Rumour has it he has a safehouse about five miles away from here. I'm sure you can figure out which direction."

"Ty..."

"Yeah?"

"If you see Erya, tell her something suitably rude."

"Anything for a friend." Ty nodded and disappeared.

Jackson sat back and finished off his drink.

This whole secret service thing was a lot easier than the movies made it out to be, Juan reasoned as he waved goodbye to the truck driver who had given him a lift along the road to Bad Rock. It was reasonable to assume that Jonas had a base of operations somewhere out of LA and where was a question quickly answered by telephoning directory inquiries. Jonas had seen no reason to disguise his operation, due to the fact that the Dead of Night was supposed to be a legitimate business. So far there had been no sign whatsoever of the cops, but if Jonas hadn't been listed as a member, there would be no reason for them to be looking for him. In fact, they probably thought that it was Nighter who was behind it all.

The group of buildings Juan was headed for were surrounded by an iron fence, which was scaled easily enough. There were no guards, on the assumption that no one would want to rob a supposedly penniless cult and from Jonas' point of view, that would mean letting more people into his little drugs empire. Juan slung his bag over his shoulder and climbed the fence. There was no sound except for the rattling of the fence. Looking out for any sign of Jonas, Juan crept towards the main building. He was a few paces away from the doors when he heard a gunshot and a bullet impacted into the door in front of him.

"Stay right where you are, kiddo." Jonas shouted from the roof of the building opposite. "We have some talking to do."

The handcuffs snapped shut around Juan's wrists and Jonas pushed him backwards into the wall. Jonas stepped back and examined his prisoner. "Ah. What a pretty picture you make, Santana. I should take a photograph, but I suppose it might be considered a little paedophilic. Hmmm?"

Juan didn't answer and glanced at the prostrate form of Ethan De Bree, unconscious on the floor beside him. From the condition he was in, it looked as if Jonas' pistol-whipping tactics were being overused. "He's sick." Juan pointed out. "He could die."

Jonas laughed in his face. "Yeah. And you're worried about him. How cute. You know, Santana, I'm glad you came. You're a little bit of light relief for us here while we wait."

"Wait?" Juan frowned. "Wait for what?"

Jonas licked his lips and extracted a syringe from the box next to him. "Time to go to sleep..."

Zack Baracus sat and drummed his fingers on the old wooden bench in his studio while what existed of his demo tape played through his headphones. It was good for a first attempt, but not a good enough recording for any radio station or recording company. Part of this was due to the poor equipment he had, part because his band had only very rarely been together to record it. In the past few days, he had recorded Juan's vocals separately from his bass guitar and Tanya's drums. The result was somewhat out of sync.

Richie Bancroft stuck his head around the door. "Zack?"

"Uh huh." Zack took off his headphones. "Hi Mr. Bancroft."

Richie indicated the headphones. "Can I listen?"

Zack shrugged. "Sure. Bet you won't like it, though. It's not finished."

Richie didn't reply and took the headphones, pressing one to his right ear. "How're things?"

"Not good." Zack replied. "Mom's paranoid. She thinks I've turned into a junkie or something."

"And BA?"

"I think he trusts me. But he'll do whatever Mom wants." Zack sighed. "Which means I do a full day's work for him. Not that I'd be working on my music career, anyway, since the rest of my band are either missing or banned from going near me."

Richie smiled. "Yeah. Okay, I get your point. Things haven't exactly been going well for us this week, have they?"

Zack kept his eyes to the ground. "Dad said you threw Jackson out. Was it true that he was two-timing you with that kid?"

Richie took the headphones away from his ear. "I don't know. I... I wish I could talk to someone who knew him. I mean, usually people have family and friends you can ask about things. Problem is - Jack's a bona fide orphan and the only guy who ever knew him very well is dead. So I'm stuck with him by himself, with no history besides things he can't or won't talk about and Tommy, who... Well, I don't think I can say what he feels about Tommy." Richie sighed. "I just don't have a clue, Zack."

Zack met his eyes. "That isn't the question, Richie. The question is: do you love him?"

"Yes." Richie whispered.

Zack smiled. "Then get him back."

Right now would be a good time to call for backup, Jackson decided, except that he had neither a telephone nor anyone to call. Jonas' base had been easy enough to find as it was the only major building on the quiet road. In fact, absolutely no traffic had passed him as he walked towards it. The problem was what to do now that he had got there. He had no idea how many people might be inside and he didn't want to risk shooting Juan or any other prisoners Jonas might have. But if he didn't go in, they might be shot anyway. His dilemma was solved when, abruptly, the gates to his left opened and a truck drove out, then stopped. A bullet passed Jackson's ear and shot off into the distance. Jackson dropped to the ground and aimed his gun at the truck.

Jonas, the driver, laughed and came out into the open. "Ah, Jackson. How nice to see you. I'm surprised that we never ran into each other before."

"Uh huh." Jackson noted that Juan and another man, probably Nighter, were unconscious or at least immobile in the back of the truck. Yet another case of him having to singlehandedly save the world. "What do you want, Jonas?"

Jonas shrugged. "I want you and the A-Team to go away and forget that this ever happened. To forget that I exist. But, unfortunately, people forget promises when there isn't a gun held to their heads. So, in the light of that, I want you and the A-Team to die. But, I do see that they might be of some use to me. Murdock runs an airfield and Baracus has access to street kids. They could be very valuable to me."

"Nice plan, Jonas." Jackson replied. "But you know they'd never go along with it. You don't have a big enough gun."

"Not yet I don't." Jonas said. "But then, I don't think you'll have to worry about that, much, Mr. Jackson."

Jackson noticed that Jonas looked at someone or something behind him as he spoke, but the realisation didn't hit him before the bullet did. He spun around and fell to the sandy ground, staring up at the Industry's premier female agent: Erya.

"Hello Jonathan." Erya smiled at him. "Sorry for everything, but you really brought it on yourself, you know. Escaping the Industry doesn't happen to people like you." With that as her final word, she gave him a resounding kick in the side of the head and picked up his weapon. "Come on, Danny. We have come brats to catch."

Richie heard the telephone ring before he had opened the door, a fact which made him automatically panic and forget how to use a key properly. Still, he got inside, kicked the door shut and picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

"Face?" A woman's voice, that he thought was familiar but didn't quite recognise.

"Hmmm?" He said non-committally, on the offchance that this was a past girlfriend or a past enemy that was calling him up.

"Face, this is Maggie Sullivan." The woman said urgently.

"Oh! Hi Maggie!" Richie stopped mentally going through all the people who might want to kill him. "What can I do for you?"

"I have a message for you." Maggie replied. "Jonas has captured Juan and left Bad Rock a few hours ago. He has at least one accomplice."

Richie frowned. "Maggie, did Jackson tell you this?"

"I... uh, got a phone call five minutes ago." Maggie told him. "He said his name was Jack and that he knew you."

"Okay, Maggie. Did he have any idea where they went?" Richie asked.

"No." Maggie said. "Face, you have to get Murdock and BA... If this boy needs your help..."

"Sure!" Richie replied. "I'll get right on it, I promise! I'll call you when we get anywhere!" He hung up and sat down heavily before dialling Murdock's number. It looked like BA was going to have to dust down the old van again.

BA Baracus frowned. His old friend, the black and red painted van that he had taken care of for more than fifteen years while the A-Team had been on the run was now stubbornly refusing to start. On a different occasion, that fact might have brought a smile to the faces of the other occupants, but now they just looked even more depressed. The man on his right, Murdock, merely sighed and hopped out to have a look at the engine.

"So, we're going to Bad Rock..." Amy muttered, pointing a finger at the map that she had laid out on the floor of the van. "Which is here."

"Bad Rock?" Frankie squinted. "Never heard of it."

"We were stranded there once." Richie explained. "BA got shot. We had to take him to a local doctor - Maggie Sullivan."

"And she's the one who phoned you?"

"Uh huh." Richie smiled. "She and the Colonel got pretty friendly, as I gather, but he never said anything... Anyway, if they were headed away from Bad Rock, they must have taken this road here. Where does that lead to?"

Amy's finger traced the route. "Nowhere. It just...stops."

The engine crackled to life, preventing any further speculation as Murdock climbed back inside, wiping his oily hands on a rag. "Come on, we've got some work to do."

Alan Murdock squatted in the corner of his father's office and rolled a few marbles around on the floor. "I'm bored." He stated. "We should be doing something."

"Like what?" Tanya asked, scribbling down some specifications fror her project.

"Like going after Jonas ourselves." Alan stood up. "You really think Dad's up to guerrilla warfare again? You're only young once, you know..."

"Shut it, Alan." Tanya said abruptly. "Did you hear something?"

"I heard you saying shut up." Alan replied innocently.

"Alan!" Tanya said, exasperated. "Come on, let's go take a look."

Zack Baracus grinned and thumped his workbench as he realised that he had finally managed to clean up the static from his recording equipment. Curiously, there was a matching thump from outside. Zack stood up. "Dad?" He called.

It was too quiet, Richie decided. Normally on an A-Team mission, there would be some happy banter amongst those in the van - BA and Murdock arguing, Hannibal trying to formulate a plan, himself trying to fend of Murdock or chat up any young ladies who were in the vicinity. Not today. Today Murdock was keeping to himself while BA concentrated on driving, Amy looked over the map and Frankie, after realising that no one wanted any of his Santana charm today, was silently staring out of the window. And Richie? Richie was thinking about Jackson.

By all accounts, he shouldn't have been. After all, the man had been growing increasingly detached from their relationship - had maybe even been seeing this kid Nicholas. Not to mention his occasional lapse into psychopathy, such as beating up those kids. Yet, even after Richie had kicked him out, he had gone after Juan. Perhaps he had his own reasons for doing so, but that was fairly unlikely. So Jackson had, for the first time in his life, turned hero. And then disappeared.

How did he know about Maggie anyway? Of course, it could have been total coincidence, but Richie had never been a great believer in coincidences, especially where Jonathan Jackson was involved. One day he would have to nail Jack down and get him to answer all these horribly niggling questions. If he wasn't dead already.

BA muttered two words that made everyone sit up: "We're here."

"Okay, so there really *is* nothing here." Amy scratched her head. "So where was Jonas going?"

"Looks like Jackson's been feeding us some dodgy information, Rich." Murdock suggested.

"Hey!" Frankie yelled from the other side of a mass of gorse bushes. "I found something!"

What Frankie had found was a truck, apparently abandoned and camoflaged. "Why would they leave their truck here?" Richie asked everyone in general. "There's nowhere to go."

The team stood around in a silence which was soon broken by a rumbling from not so far off. "What's that?" Frankie looked around.

"A railway." Amy stated. "So now we know where they were going."

"Where?" BA frowned.

Amy stared at Murdock, deadly serious. "Los Angeles."

Zack poked his head out of the shed and looked about. He saw no one, but then something heavy came down upon the back of his skull. Fortunately he had heard or sensed something coming and the object - a baseball bat from the youth centre - merely glanced off his head. The young man dived forward, crashed to the ground and spun around to face the man who was now jumping down from the roof of his shed.

"Who're you?" Zack scrambled to his feet.

Danny Jonas smiled. "Skip the questions, kid. I'm here to take you to Juan Santana."

"Oh yeah?" Zack took a step backwards. "With the help of a baseball bat?"

Jonas' smile grew bigger. "Now that you mention it..." He swung at Zack's head, but the taller man ducked backwards and lunged out with his foot as he fell again, knocking Jonas over and the baseball bat out of his hand. By the time Jonas had hit the ground, Zack had the bat in his hand, but could do nothing with it. Jonas assessed the situation, got to his feet and limped off in the direction of the gates.

Zack stood up and threw the bat into the shed. "Psycho." He muttered.

"Hey!" Tanya yelled at the woman who was standing next to her father's newest aero-acquisition. "Get away from there!"

Erya turned and flashed a smile at the two teenagers who were approaching. "Don't worry, children. I'm a friend of Mr. Jackson's."

"Jackson?" Alan raised his eyebrows. "He's got a friend? Wow."

Tanya kicked him into submission. "That doesn't give you any right to be on this airfield."

Erya sighed, as if the entire situation was so easy to understand she didn't know how Tanya could possibly take it the wrong way. "Your parents are away trying to find Juan. I've been appointed your bodyguard for the duration. Can't say I much like the suggestion either, but... Now, we have to meet up with Zack Baracus in half an hour. He knows what this is all about."

Tanya and Alan stood exactly where they were. "If Dad was that worried about us, he should have stayed here." Alan muttered.

"Yeah." Tanya stated. "I don't know what your game is, lady, but I suggest you take it elsewhere."

Erya took this in. "Well, I tried to do it the easy way..." She said, reaching for something at waist-level as a shot rang out and glanced off the aeroplane in front of her. She spun around to see her attacker - a lanky young man with startlingly white hair and a gun pointed right at her. "Who are you?" She gasped.

"Their friend." He replied. "Drop the gun and get out."

Erya stared at him and, seeing that he was serious, did so. Once she had disappeared out of the airfield, Tanya and Alan turned to their benefactor. "Who are you?"

He said nothing and instead picked up Erya's gun from the ground and handed it to Tanya. She took it, but merely stared at it. "I don't know how to use this."

The white-haired boy merely shrugged and started to walk away. When he saw that they weren't following, he turned around and beckoned them on. Tanya took a couple of deep breaths and headed towards him. My enemy's enemy...

"We don't know for certain he's after the kids." Amy reasoned. "After all, he could have supplies in LA that we don't know about..."

"The only reason for him to come out here was to lead us off the trail." Murdock told her. "Or Jackson. Or whoever he thought would be following. I think our friend Mr. Jonas must be a bigger operator than the cops think."

Richie nodded. "Uh huh. I'd be willing to bet that the Industry is in on this as well."

"Maybe smuggling in other things apart from drugs." BA pointed out. "If heroin can get in, so can parts for missiles..."

"Secret documents." Frankie chipped in.

"Forged bank notes." Richie ventured, then held up his hands when everyone looked at him. "What? Am I the only one here who ever thinks about money?"

"Whatever it is, we need to catch Jonas before he messes around with our children." Murdock concluded. "And anyone else he's got his hands on."

Richie didn't much like the sound of that.

The strange boy who had not yet spoken a word to them had driven them most of the way to BA's youth centre before they ran into Zack, who was hurrying away from the centre, his guitar strapped to his back. "Hi!" Zack said, leaning in through the window that the boy had opened. "You run into some trouble too?"

"Yeah - a wild woman." Alan nodded. "Totally wacko."

Zack noticed their driver for the first time. "Who's he?"

"Don't ask me." Tanya shrugged. "A friend. Doesn't talk much. I think he wants to take us someplace safe."

"We should get a message to our parents." Zack said.

"Uh huh." Tanya replied. "And you know the number of the van?"

"Well, no, but Dad must have it down somewhere."

"Zack! These freaks could be back here any minute trying to kill us!" Tanya told him. "Besides, the parental units are out at Bad Rock. We should try and find Juan."

"Like how?"

The white-haired boy spoke up for the first time. "I have an idea."

The telephone rang in the van and Murdock immediately picked it up. "Angus' Cultural Greengrocers?"

"Hello, Murdock." A man's voice said. "We've got your kids. Meet us at the airfield tonight. Make sure no one else is there."

"What?" Murdock finally got out, just as Jonas hung up.

"Did I mention that this was a crazy idea?" Alan asked.

"Yes!" Tanya whispered.

"Okay." Her brother muttered. "Just so I'm sure."

The stranger who had brought them to the outside of the building they had spent the last half an hour staring at pointed as the door opened. "Look."

Out of it came Erya, almost unrecognisable in a gangster-style trenchcoat. She didn't look at anything, merely turned the corner left and hurried away. The stranger looked directly at Alan. "You follow."

"Me?" Alan's eyebrows shot up in surprise.

"Him?" Tanya's did the same thing.

The stranger simply nodded and since Erya was getting away, Alan shrugged to himself and crept after her through the shadows. "So what do we do?" Tanya demanded.

The stranger frowned. "Call for backup."

Danny Jonas paced the tarmacked track of the airfield's runway and yawned. Wherever Erya had got to, she was running late and he didn't particularly want to take on the A-team on his own. While his total lack of morality and two prisoners were definite assets, the ex-soldiers had generally in the past managed to get out of similar situations. Jonas kicked the prostrate body of Ethan De Bree lightly in the stomach. "Wake up, Ethan, You've got some screaming to do."

"Yeah?" De Bree curled his knees closer to his chest. "Get out of here, Danny. While you still can."

"Awww." Jonas smirked. "Concerned?" The kick was repeated, but was this time more vicious. De Bree groaned and shut up.

"Enough, Jonas!" Erya's voice travelled through the still air on the runway as she approached. "We have business to attend to."

"Any sign of them?" Jonas asked.

Erya shook her head. "They're probably building some super-tank or something. No matter. If they play tricks, their kid dies." She knelt down, grabbed Juan by his hair and knocked his head against the ground. "Awake, boy?"

"Uh huh." Juan managed to get the sounds out of his throat.

"Hmmm." Erya smiled and stood up. "So, where are you, A-Team?" She called out into the darkness. "The players are ready."

With a loud click, the overhead lights along the runway all came on. Someone in the office had obviously flicked the required switch. Jonas and Erya, although startled, stayed where they were.

"Put down your weapons!" A voice, probably coming through a loudspeaker, rang out.

Erya chuckled. "I like your sense of humour, Bancroft. Or is it Murdock?"

"Put down your weapons and you might get out of this alive." The speaker continued. "We don't want anyone to get hurt."

"Oh, but I do." Erya grinned. "Not that I'm a sadist or anything, I just happen to get paid for it. The Industry wants you out of the game, A-Team. Permanently. Now that can mean you walking away from here or you being carried out of here in body bags. You decide."

Jonas stared at her, aghast. "But the A-Team were going to help me with my operation!" He whispered urgently.

"Yes..." Erya sighed. "Bad plan, Danny." As she said his name, two things happened. The first was that several shadows behind them materialised as balaclava-clad men carrying weapons and the second was that a volley of shots began, starting with the one that killed Jonas.

Alan Murdock turned to his sister and opened his mouth, but shut it again quickly when he saw her expression. "I'll take that as a yes, then." He muttered.

"A-Team!" Erya announced. "Put down your weapons and come out here. If you do so, you have my word that the children will not be harmed."

From the shadows, Zack picked up his loudspeaker again. "Your word means nothing to us."

Erya smiled. "But I'm sure your lives do. So, is a return to the Industry out of the question?"

"We were never in the Industry." Zack replied. "And we're not about to join up to your little Union."

The Industry's spokewoman sighed, raised her gun as a signal to the soldiers behind her and began to fire. Hers were the only shots that were heard. She turned back over her shoulder. "Why aren't you firing?" It was then she saw the crumpled black shapes of her bodyguards on the ground next to five people she recognised all too well.

HM Murdock waved his gun at her. "Hi. Nice to meet you."

Erya glared at him, but did nothing to resist when Richie Bancroft took her gun out of her hand and handcuffed her while Frankie and Amy rushed to check what condition Juan and De Bree were in. "Hi Dad." Juan said thickly.

"I'll go phone the hospital." Amy hurried back to the van as her children, along with Zack Baracus, approached.

"Took your time coming." Tanya said in Murdock's direction.

"You know how it is." Murdock smiled. "Traffic."

"Yeah." Tanya agreed. "It can be murder."

Beside her, Alan groaned loudly. "What is this? The association of bad puns? Somebody save me!"

Richie, feeling the odd one out in amongst the reuniting of families, crouched down beside Juan. "Juan? Do you know where Jackson is?"

Juan stared at him. "Richie... I... Jack was shot. I don't know..."

He didn't need to say anymore. Richie stood up, suddenly unable to breathe. "Thanks, Juan." He said absently before wandering back towards the van. No one noticed him leave.

Juan Santana stood in front of the 'stage' that had been constructed out of old crates and squinted at the black speakers at either side of it. "Okay, Zack, turn it on."

 

Behind the left speaker, Zack Baracus and Alan Murdock stood over the board that controlled the lights and sound systems. Once Zack had flicked the appropriate switches, Tanya gave her drums an experimental thump. Juan grinned and gave Zack the thumbs-up sign. "Perfect!!!" He yelled above the din and turned to the man beside him, who was making a point of covering his ears. "What's the time?"

 

Richie Bancroft looked at his watch. "Quarter to six."

 

Juan smiled. "Well, I suppose you'd better let them in, then."

 

Richie nodded and strode over to the small side door of the hangar that the band were using today as an arena. Outside were the usual suspects: Murdock and Amy; BA and his wife Susan; the Santanas and Ethan De Bree, who was hanging around at the back of the queue looking uncomfortable. Richie grinned at all of them. "Well, are you coming in or aren't you?" He asked as they noticed that he was there.

 

"You gonna tell us what this all about?" BA asked.

 

Richie smiled on in the face of adversity. "I don't know a thing, BA."

 

"You *used* to be a good liar." Murdock observed, entering his own aircraft hangar.

 

De Bree hesitated at the entrance. "I don't even know if I should be here." He told Richie. "It was all my fault that the kids got into trouble."

 

"Nah." Richie replied. "It was Jonas' fault for carrying out illegal operations - and it was Juan's fault for trying to be heroic."

 

De Bree looked doubtful. "At least he was doing the right thing. I just let Jonas take over."

 

Richie put his arm around the man's shoulder. "I think the fact that he continually drugged you might put you in the clear."

 

"Well..." De Bree considered. "If you put it like that."

 

Inside, the guests were keenly helping themselves to the food and drink that had somehow appeared in the hangar. "Where did you get all of this stuff?" Susan Baracus demanded of her son.

 

Zack took a breath. "Ummm... Trade secret. See you later." He sped off to go and tune up his bass guitar.

 

Susan shook her head. "I don't know... I think these Murdocks have been a bad influence on that boy."

 

"Well, an influence certainly." Richie smiled and poured himself a coffee as Amy hurried up.

 

"Richie - there's some guy outside. He won't go away. Can you go and talk to him?" She asked.

 

Richie, thinking that BA might have been a better man to go to for help, gave her his coffee and hurried over to the door. Outside, the airfield was unusually quiet, since it was a Sunday and Murdock had packed what workers would have been on duty off home early. The one man who was there, however, was the one that Richie had long given up any hope of seeing.

 

It was a different Jackson that was leaning against the wooden wall of the hangar: a plaid overshirt and jeans had replaced the more familiar suit and someone had cut his hair, although that was probably a result of the pale scar Richie could make out on his temple. "Hello Jack." Richie said quietly.

 

Jackson smiled. "Hi."

 

"I thought you were dead. Juan said that Erya shot you." Richie continued, looking for some answers to cover the mixed feelings of joy and rage that were bubbling beneath the surface.

 

"She did." Jackson tapped the side of his chest lightly. "Not an experience I'd like to repeat, either."

 

"Where've you been?" Richie asked, resisting the temptation either to hit Jackson or to kiss him, neither of which, he reasoned, would have been entirely appropriate.

 

Jackson took a breath, knowing that the answer was not going to be liked. "Bad Rock."

 

"Bad Rock?" Richie raised his eyebrows. "You've been with Maggie all along?"

 

Jackson nodded.

 

"Why didn't you call me?" Richie demanded. "Don't I deserve that much?"

 

"You deserve much more." Jackson sighed. "I'm sorry I didn't let you know I was all right, but if I had called, then you would have come to Bad Rock and then I wouldn't have been able to do what I want to do now."

 

"Which is?"

 

"To explain everything." Jackson said. "If you really wanted me to go when you kicked me out, then I'm not trying to make you take me back - but I do want to set things straight if I can."

 

"Then I suggest you try." Richie replied.

 

"All right." Jackson started. "Since you killed Stockwell, I've been looking for a way out of the Industry. They don't let people go easily, but it was suggested that if I complete one more important mission, I could go free. While they were figuring out what to make me do, I was doing some simple work for them. Since the Feds were always tailing me and had bugs everywhere, I was an excellent choice to lead them off the scent while other operatives were carrying out missions."

 

"Bugs?" Richie said, startled. "The FBI have bugs in *my* flat?"

 

Jackson nodded. "Yes. But I'll take them out if you want."

 

"Oh great." Richie muttered.

 

"Unfortunately the Industry's first choice was to have me blow up a summit which was taking place in Paris. Since I didn't particularly want to be responsible for the deaths of a couple of hundred people, I made my excuses and called off."

 

"You said you were dyslexic." Richie recalled. "Or whatever. But you're not. You did my expenses reports, didn't you?"

 

Jackson smiled. "There was me thinking that I had been living with a nitwit. Yes, I did them. I'm sorry I had to lie to you, but the bugs..."

 

"The *Industry* have bugs in my flat as well?"

 

"No." Jackson shook his head. "They use the FBI's information. Anyway, you'll be glad to know that that was the *only* time I lied to you."

 

"The only time?" Richie asked. "What about the kid you've been seeing?"

 

Jackson stared at him. "Oh - you mean Sully. He's around here somewhere..." Jackson looked about. "Hey, Sully!"

 

The white-haired young man appeared around the corner of the hangar and stopped a foot from where Jackson was. The pilot smiled reassuringly at him. "Sully, this is Richie Bancroft. Richie, this is Nicholas Sullivan. He's a bit shy around... well, anyone, actually."

 

Richie frowned. "Sullivan? As in Maggie Sullivan?"

 

"Uh huh." Jackson replied.

 

"Do you mean...?" Richie stared at them both. "Hannibal?"

 

"Well..." Jackson said. "Maggie won't admit to anything, but I'd say yes. I'm his appointed guardian while he's in the city. By the way, he's looking for a job. In need of an assistant at all, Rich?"

 

"Um, maybe." Richie said, still staring at Sully. "But, Jack, what's happening with you? The Industry?"

 

"Well, since Erya was being a bit of a maverick and no one in the Industry really like her scheme anyway, they've decided to call it quits." Jackson grinned. "No more Walther PPKs for me."

 

"Just like that?"

 

"Just like that." Jackson agreed. "They're very understanding. Besides, I think getting half-killed for someone I barely knew has convinced them that I'm too much of a hero to work with them anymore."

 

Richie ran a hand through his hair. "Well... It seems like I'm the one who should be apologising."

 

Jackson shook his head. "Uh uh. I am officially down on my knees before you for at least a month."

 

Richie grinned. "I think I can deal with that. Want to come in and party?"

 

Jackson glanced at Sully. "Sure. I think I can convince our young friend here that at least some people are worth talking to."

 

"You saved Tanya and Alan." Richie addressed Sully. "Thank you."

 

Sully gave an inpromptu grin. "You're welcome."

 

"See?" Jackson said, nudging Richie.

 

Inside, the three men stayed next to the door, as everyone else was maintaining a safe distance from the stage. Murdock sauntered along. "Hi Jackson. Richie. When's the show start?"

 

Richie stared at Murdock. "You knew he was back?"

 

Murdock shrugged. "Sure. Well, he had to find out if he had a job tomorrow."

 

"You gave him a job?" Richie asked, wondering exactly how many people had known that Jackson was alive while he had been in the dark.

 

"With my credentials, who wouldn't?" Jackson asked. "Oh, and as soon as I actually get a pilot's licence, you're being taught to fly."

 

"That's great, Jackson." Richie said with absolutely no enthusiasm as Juan, guitar in his hands, stepped up to the microphone at the front of the stage.

 

"Good evening ladies, gentlemen and parents. You are privileged to be here at the first ever live performance given by this band, which has been unanimously named: 'The A-Team'." Juan said, to some laughter. "The reason being that today, our manager Mr. Richard Bancroft told us that, as of now, The A-Team are officially Number One in the USA!!"

 

"Well, hey, haven't they always been?" Murdock asked Face.

 

The applause went on well into the introduction to the first song - Dodgy Logic - which, by some feat of Richie's sales strategy, had made it into the charts. Murdock made his apologies to Richie and Jackson and went in search of Amy to dance. Richie turned to Jackson, who immediately backed off. "No. Not unless you want me to bleed all over you."

 

Richie grinned. "Okay, so what about a kiss?"

 

Jackson scratched his head. "I think I could manage that."

 

 

Up on the stage, surrounded by the other members of his band, the new A-Team, Juan Santana surveyed the scene of happy people - people he could now count upon as friends. As the first song faded to almost silence, a sly grin came across his face as he stepped up to the microphone once more and said the thing that first came into his head:

 

"I love it when a plan comes together."

 

 


Ourobouros by Lonely Walker

 

 


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