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This page last viewed: 2017-08-12 and has been viewed 1121 times
Author: Viskey Utsadanas
Disclaimer: I don't own either the A-Team or the Halliwell sisters (unfortunately). I'm never sure who really does, I just always hope they're kind enough to let me borrow them for a fic here and there.
I do own the other characters in this story, especially Khatga and Tabitha
Notes: Crossover Charmed / The A-Team
Setting Charmed: pre-Cole, but with Leo already established as their whitelighter
Setting The A-Team: pre-series (1980), which is also why BA is driving a blue van instead of our beloved black one (that one's not built until 1983 or 1984, I forgot what year exactly)
According to a Chinese dictionary I consulted, xīn means joyous, péng means friend and yīn means reason, because and continue. (How it can mean reason as well as continue, I'm not sure, but it's what the dictionary says.) I thought these were good words to describe a future Whitelighter/Elder.
Summary: The A-Team faces a completely new enemy: a demon. (No, not Stockwell!) Help arrives in form of the Halliwell-sisters, who travel back in time to assist the Team and insure that the timeline stays intact
Khatga put down the phone.
"Mr. Mason?" Susanne Osmond, a rather dumb looking blonde in her early twenties stood in the doorway.
"Yes?" Khatga answered evenly. He didn't like her very much, but the alias he'd built up for himself called for a secretary, so he'd gotten himself one. And after the progress he'd just made, his mood had lifted a bit.
"Mr. Mason, I was wondering..." she looked down for a second, "... if I could leave an hour early today. You see, my mother's stopping by, and "
"Alright, alright," Khatga cut her off. "I won't be needing you anymore today. Just spare me your family history."
"Very well, Mr. Mason. Thank you." She backed away, and was gone a second later.
Khatga sighed heavily after her departure. She not only looked dumb, she was dumb. But for him, that was only an advantage. A clever secretary would soon realize that things in this office weren't quite normal. There was not much correspondence. Actually, there was no correspondence at all; the mail consisted of brochures and leaflets only. Hardly anybody ever called. All there was to do was file away bills for electricity and such.
A clever woman would become suspicious, but not Susanne Osmond. She was happy with her generous pay check, and the hours of idly polishing her fingernails and phoning her friends.
Just as well, Khatga thought pensively, and got up from his chair. He walked around his showy office, and went over the last phone-call in his thoughts. It seemed that he finally had found the right person for the job. Samuel Recliffe was an ambitious man with his priorities in the right place. There was not much he wouldn't do for money; it was all just a question of how much of it would roll his way. And if there was one thing Khatga had in abundance, it was money.
Things were falling into place; the plan could finally be set into action.
Xīn Peng Yin, dubbed Tabitha Penning for the American tongue untrained with Chinese names, wiped her face on her sleeve. At last everyone was fed. BA had outdone himself once again. Tabitha had no idea how and where he got the huge amounts of food all the time, but he came over to her place about once a week, always with his van stuffed full of goods.
Sometimes there was really healthy food amongst all the substantial, too. Like this time: fresh, ripe apricots. Two boxes full. Tabitha so liked it when she could feed her people something good. Not just noodles and thick soup. Those filled their stomachs, but they were poor nourishment when it came to vitamins and such.
She heaved one of the huge pots off the oven and over to the sink.
"Here, Tabby," Joseph, a homeless man in his fifties, jumped to help her. He left his meal alone and took the pot from her. "Lemme do that..."
"You eat your stew, Joseph, before it gets cold. I'm not cooking for you to eat it cold, you know!"
"That's too heavy for ya, Tabby," Joseph insisted and effortlessly put the pot into the sink. "I'll help ya with the washin' up later."
"Too sweet of you," Tabitha thanked him, then ushered him back to his seat.
Joseph had hardly sat down when there was a loud boom outside at the back of the house.
Tabitha, followed by half of her people, rushed to investigate.
'No,' she thought desperately, seeing that the shed, which served as her storage room, was nothing but a pile of debris. Somebody seemed to have blown it up. Just why... just who... how... A weeks' worth of food, a year's worth of clothing and shoes.
"Oh, Tabby," Joseph, right behind her, muttered defeated.
"Oh... oh..." Tabitha moaned. What to do now? She would have to call BA... See if he could at least organize some noodles or potatoes. Really, what she'd do without that man, she had no idea. It had been the luckiest day in her life when she met BA in early '74. The man was heavensent.
Hannibal was about to get out of the van, to get them something to eat before they'd check out a potential client, when the phone rang. Since Face was with them, it could only be Murdock on the other line, probably just being bored.
"Lou's Pizza?" Hannibal greeted.
"Oh... Can I speak to BA, please?" a soft-spoken female voice came through the line.
Hannibal almost dropped the receiver. Face giving out the van's number to girls had happened before, but BA?
"BA, is there something you want to tell us?" he half joked.
"What?" BA gave him one of his best scowls.
"There's a lady on the phone... asking for you."
Expectedly, Face sat up straight in his seat, completely forgetting about the paper he was reading. "Just happy it's not me this time," he muttered, his eyes sparkling. This promised to become interesting.
BA just snatched the receiver from Hannibal. "Yeah?" he grumbled.
"Oh BA, it's good to hear your voice... It's really bad news I have."
BA straightened up in his seat, alarmed by Tabitha's tone of voice. She sounded very upset, and it took a lot to upset that woman. "Calm down, Tabby, what's wrong?" he said calmly and completely forgot about Hannibal and Face.
"Oh, somebody... Could you get me something? Some more food? Just a few basic ingredients for simple stew?"
"Sure, but what happened to all the stuff I brought you yesterday?"
"Gone," Tabitha admitted defeatedly.
"Gone, how can it be gone?" BA asked unbelieving.
"Blown up, I'm afraid." Tabitha giggled nervously. "I know this sounds completely silly, but..."
"I'm comin' round. Don't worry, Tabby." BA put down the phone, and gave Hannibal a serious look. "Checking out that client will have ta wait, Hannibal."
"What do you mean?" Face teased from the back.
"Friend o' mine's in trouble," BA explained, shooting Face an angry glare. "Tabitha Pengyin, Tabby for short. She runs a shelter for homeless people. They get a free meal there, a place ta sleep... clothes if they need, basic medical treatment. She's really a good woman."
"And what kind of trouble is she in?" Hannibal asked.
"Apparently all the stuff I brought her yesterday was blown up... somehow."
"Someone's blowing up stuff for homeless people?" Face asked, now serious. "What the hell for?"
Hannibal answered, "We'll find out. Maybe it's just some stupid guys with an attitude. You know, folks who want the homeless extinct."
"Whatever, they're gonna pay," BA decided, before he turned to Face. "You gonna have ta organize some more food. They need it."
Face nodded. He had been scraping together a lot of food over the last year for BA. He hadn't known exactly what for, BA had just told him that it was for one of his welfare projects, which was good enough for Face. So now he knew. He cast a quick look at Hannibal.
"Yeah, you go, Lieutenant. But first get Murdock."
"Aw no, man!" BA complained.
"Aw yes, man!" Hannibal contradicted with exactly the same intonation, but a glint in his eyes and wiggling eyebrows.
"An' don' get anything fancy, Faceman," BA warned. "Just basics..."
"You do know it's a lot easier to organize a load of caviar than a load of potatoes?" Face moaned, but got off the van.
Prue, Piper and Phoebe were in very good moods. It had been almost three weeks since they'd been last pestered by a demon, and the one that had bothered them, had been extremely easy to kill. That aside, they were going on a daylong shopping trip, and that was bound to raise anybody's spirits.
So, one after the other, they stepped through the front door of their house. Prue first, then Phoebe, and last Piper, who pulled the door firmly shut behind her.
"Uh-oh." Prue whined unbelievingly, the moment Piper shut the door.
"Oh no..." Piper seconded the sentiment.
"What...?" Phoebe asked wearily and bewildered.
They were not standing on the front steps of their house, as would have been expected. No, they stood on a dirty back street, surrounded by trash containers and loose garbage.
Phoebe testily lifted her right foot and accusingly glared at her high-heeled shoe, like it was its fault. "And me, with my best shoes on," she complained.
"Leo?!" Prue called for their whitelighter, but nothing happened. "LEO!" Still nothing.
"Why isn't he coming? And where the hell are we?" Piper demanded to know, jumping at a rustling sound in a corner.
Instead of answering, Prue determinedly set out towards the end of the street, and after only a second, Phoebe and Piper followed her. Soon they stood on a lively street in a city that was most definitely not San Francisco. Again it was Prue who took the lead. She headed over to a newsstand where she bought a paper, the "LA Courier".
"Great," she commented, half weary, half angry, and thrust the paper at Phoebe, who caught it and needed a second to realize what Prue was so upset about. Then she saw it: It was January 21st, 1980. At least that explained why Leo didn't listen to their call. He had become their whitelighter only in 1999.
"A... time-travel?" she asked. "They've thrown us backwards in time? Are they nuts?"
"They? Who do you mean by they? Surely not the Elders," Piper spoke up. "They wouldn't go so far as to... would they?"
"Who else?" Phoebe asked back, and added after a moment: "At least it explains why Leo didn't listen to our call."
"It could be that some demon has done this," Prue thought aloud.
"But don't we have to assume that we're here to help somebody?" Phoebe stuck to her theory.
"Of course," Prue agreed, "but it always pays to be careful."
"So, what do we do now?" Piper asked the crucial question.
"We find out what we're supposed to do... do it and then... zoom!... back to our own time." Phoebe declared in her unique, cheerily optimistic way.
"Great idea, Phoebe. Just great." Piper griped.
"What, try and think positive!" Phoebe defended her plan of actions.
"Well, I really don't want to ruin your little positive thinking," Piper said, "But just on a stray thought: what about our powers?" She looked inquisitively at Phoebe, then at Prue "Last time we ended up in the past "
"That was different," Prue quickly interrupted. "Last time we were in the past, our younger selves had the powers. But then Grandma bound them... So they should be with us."
"Should..." Phoebe picked out the operative word.
"Well, easy enough to find out," Prue said self-consciously, looked up and down the street, and then, with more nervousness than she would have admitted, she waved her hand at a discarded can. It jumped into the air and flew across the street. With an internal sigh of relief Prue smiled triumphantly at her younger sisters. "See?" she said.
"Well, chasing demons and general time-travel complications aside," Phoebe piped up after that, "don't you think this is cool?" She grinned excitedly.
"Cool?" Prue asked uncomprehending.
"Well, this is the eighties! The coolest decade this century has to offer!" Now she all but beamed.
"So? You've already lived through them once," Piper chided.
"Hardly," Phoebe contradicted. "I wasn't even ten when they started. The best part of the eighties was over when I was finally old enough to enjoy them."
"Phoebe, this is not your personal trip into entertainment, okay? We have a demon to fight," Prue reminded her sisters of their obligation.
"Yeah..." Phoebe pushed her bottom lip forward in a momentary pout. "Okay, if nobody has any other plans, I could do with some food." And with that she headed over to a take-out pizza stand.
"Food? Food?!" Piper complained loudly. "You spurn my breakfast, but eat take-out pizza?"
"Sorry," Phoebe apologized lightly over her shoulder before she placed her order: Quattro Staggione with extra cheese. Soon she returned with the pizza, which she shared with her sisters. Piper only taking a slice after glaring at her younger sister.
"It'll be tricky, finding out what exactly we're here for," Phoebe said around a mouthful of pizza, hit by a rare bout of realism.
"We'll manage, somehow," Prue answered confidently.
"No, no, no!" A man in his thirties, approaching the pizza stand, interrupted the sisters' lame conversation. "That you can't understand! Magic is a very real concept!" He animatedly complained to another man of about the same age.
All three Halliwells perked up, almost choking on their pizza. Tricky? Well, maybe not.
"Murdock, elves, gnomes, wizards, witches... I have them here!" The other man tapped his fingers to his forehead for visualisation.
"God, why don't you get it? There's real magic out there!" Murdock made a swiping gesture with his arm, and stopped the motion, unintentionally pointing right at the Halliwell sisters. "Can we have pizza?" he then asked completely out of context.
"Sure you can, but hurry up. You know I still have to get that food for BA. Here." He pulled a bill from his pocket and handed it to Murdock, who took it absently, already placing his order. "Now, if all witches look like them," the man commented softly to himself, his eyes on the Halliwells.
"What did you say, muchacho?" Murdock stepped up to his friend, pizza in hand.
"I said... well, I said if all witches look like these ladies here, I'll reconsider converting."
Murdock grinned and took a step towards the Halliwells. "Please, tell my friend here you're witches. It's the only way to convince him." He wrinkled up his face and exclaimed, "I'm a desperate man!"
"You're a crazy man, Murdock, now stop embarrassing the ladies and come on." The man pulled at Murdock's sleeve, but Murdock didn't budge.
"I'm not embarrassing you, am I?" he asked sweetly.
"No," Phoebe quickly answered. In fact, she thought he was quite cute... extremely cute. His taste in clothing left something to be desired, but his face was... and his voice... and the way he talked about magic...
"Phoebe!" Prue hissed a warning.
"Phoebe, what a lovely name," Murdock commented without missing a beat.
"Thank you," Phoebe beamed, rather speechless.
"Murdock, what are you doing?" the other man interfered.
"Aw, you're just jealous, because I got the first move this time," Murdock grinned broadly at his friend, before he turned his attention back to Phoebe.
"Murdock, do you mind? We still have something to do..."
"You have, I don't." Murdock seemed totally unimpressed.
"No, we have," the man said meaningfully.
"Oh... well..." Murdock sighed and waved his hand at Phoebe in a somewhat childish manner, before he changed his mind, bowed deeply and with a bright smile said, "Farewell, my fair lady of the pizzastand... May the Powers That Are be with you, shelter you from evil, guide you -"
"Murdock!" his friend interrupted him impatiently.
"- guide you through the darkness of life!" Murdock finished with another bow. Then he turned and continued down the street with his friend. "Do you think BA will let me drive his van?" he asked.
"Not in a million years," his friend answered.
The Halliwells stared after them for a moment, before they set out to follow them. These two were their best bet, the way Murdock had talked about magic. It had to be a sign, it just had to.
"Why not? I can drive, you know?" Murdock sounded indignant.
"You don't have a license."
"So, I don't have a license for flying either, and I still fly."
"Yeah, and BA half kills you each time you do."
"Oh... yeah." Murdock sounded outwitted for a moment. "But maybe it's different with driving!"
"And you think that because...?"
"Don't know... 'cause of the fairy that lives in my closet?"
"In your... I give up." The man threw his hands up, but didn't sound too unnerved.
Murdock giggled and quickly finished his pizza. After half a block he threw his napkin into a waste bin.
Phoebe rushed towards it and fished it back out.
"Ew!" Piper commented on this action, but Phoebe didn't let that stop her. She took the napkin tightly into both hands, concentrated and:
Murdock his friend raising his hands, an energy ball flying from them Murdock being hit by the energy ball and dissolving into flames
"Phoebe?" Prue asked, one hand on her shoulder, concerned like always when Phoebe had one of her premonitions.
"He... Murdock... I think he's our Innocent." Phoebe looked up, her eyes huge with apprehension. "And his friend... I think he's our demon."
"What're we waiting for then?!" Prue quickly resumed her pursuit of the two men, with Phoebe and Piper following her.
They kept about fifty feet between the men and themselves, trading plans on how to take out the demon and save Murdock. It would be a difficult task, because Murdock seemed to believe that the demon was his friend, so he wouldn't just stand aside and watch him being killed believing in magic or not.
Murdock and the demon turned around a corner.
"Well, I'll just stop the time, and then we can deal with the demon," Piper suggested.
"Nice plan," Prue countered, "except that we're in public. We'll have to wait until they're inside somewhere."
"Well, that shouldn't be a problem. They'll hardly be walking around forever, right?" Piper said.
The Halliwell sisters turned around the corner.
"Only my feet already feel like we've been following them forever," Phoebe added.
"The price for vanity," Piper mocked, looking down at Phoebe's high heels.
Phoebe didn't pay any attention to her, but instead issued another suggestion. "Maybe we should just walk up to them, and ask them for a lunch-date?"
"Are you crazy?" Prue asked bewildered. "Dating a demon? Besides, there's only two of them, but three of us. Doesn't add up." She took her eyes off their targets for a moment to give Phoebe a pointed look.
Innocent and Demon turned around another corner.
Phoebe huffed. "But it would get us some time with them."
"Time for what?" Piper asked.
"Working out a plan on how to destroy him," Phoebe answered. "Too bad, really," she then added with a sigh.
"What?" Piper and Prue asked as one.
"That we have to kill him when he looks so good. Isn't it a shame a demon should look so handsome?"
"I thought you had eyes for Murdock only," Piper teased.
"Well..." Phoebe started, turned the corner, flanked by her sisters and... stood on an empty pavement.
"And hello again," the demon said sweetly, smiling, his hands leisurely resting on his hips, as he stepped out from an entryway. Murdock followed suit, smiling too.
The sisters jumped with surprise. They had been sure that the demon had shimmered away with his victim.
As the initial shock wore off, Phoebe concentrated on the two men in front of her. She saw the demon, with his self-satisfied smile and pose. He was so sure of himself that, had she not been one of the Powerful Three, she probably would have been afraid.
Then she looked at Murdock. And although he was smiling as well, his smile was of a completely different kind. It almost looked staged, and there was something in his eyes...
Phoebe willed herself to look back at the demon, and instantly could feel something emanating from him in powerful waves. Not quite aggression, not quite danger, to her surprise not even unpleasant, but strong.
"Piper?" Prue asked Piper to stop the time. If nothing else, it was always a good stalling tactic, and since he had detected them, they couldn't afford the luxury of avoiding the public anymore.
Piper dutifully raised her hands and... nothing happened. "Uh-oh."
"What?" the demon looked at her in confusion, the smile almost completely swiped from his face. Almost as if in his surprise he'd forgotten to properly switch it off.
"Oh," Murdock said in a voice like he suddenly understood Einstein's theory of relativity.
"What?" This time the demon's question was directed at Murdock.
"Face," Murdock said slowly and sincerely, "I think we have some important business to do with these ladies."
"What?!" It came not only from the demon, Face, but the sisters as well.
"Magic, Face... Magic," Murdock said hesitantly.
"Okay, stop it now, Murdock. This isn't funny."
"Never said it was," Murdock replied earnestly.
"Okay... You're starting to spook me now. I'm gonna get you back to "
"No, Face, you're not. I'm not crazy."
"No? Since when?" Face asked sarcastically.
"Not in this matter. Please, believe me."
Face turned to look at the Halliwells. "He... He is..."
"I told you, I'm not crazy!" Murdock interrupted angrily, but went on softly, "As a favour... please?"
"Murdock, we have to..."
"... organize food, yes, I know. But this may turn out to be a lot more important."
Not long after, Murdock, Face and the Halliwells were assembled around a table at a small Chinese restaurant.
They had ordered a light lunch as an excuse for their gathering, and now ate silently in an atmosphere of uneasy nervousness, nobody quite sure just how to start.
"You handle these chopsticks pretty well," Phoebe said to Face just to break the silence.
Murdock grinned tersely, before he answered, "It's two little sticks against one fully grown man. You bet I put my money on the man!"
"Murdock, do you ever listen to yourself?" Face asked, his voice just a tad irritated, but the ice was broken.
"Nah, stopped a while ago. It was boring, you know? I mean, I always knew what I was going to say next, y'know?"
"Are you sure about that?" Face gave back slowly.
Murdock shrugged, and then dropped his chopsticks onto his plate. "Well, maybe now that we're back on speaking-terms, we should discuss why we're here."
Face instantly dropped a noodle.
"It's nothing to be nervous about," Phoebe reassured him, not knowing exactly why she bothered to reassure a demon, and reached out to touch him soothingly on the shoulder.
pink, nicely glittering pink with a few silver sparks here and there, but pink pink more pink even more pink
"What... are you alright?"
Phoebe opened her eyes and looked straight into Face's concerned eyes. Slightly unsettling, considering he was a demon.
"Ah... yes. Yes, thank you. It was just... for a moment I thought I was going to..." But then she stopped with her silly explanation. If they were going to do anything about him and Murdock... And since Face was a demon, he knew about magic anyway. No matter what he'd told Murdock earlier. "I just had... sort of a... vision," she confessed.
"A... vision..." he didn't seem to believe her.
Or maybe he just didn't know what she was talking about. Could it be she had misinterpreted her earlier premonition? He didn't look or behave like a demon, after all, and she really had troubles reconciling the colour pink with the concept of demons.
"Sort of?" asked Prue.
"Ah... yes," Phoebe affirmed hesitantly. "I didn't see anything except pink glitter." She looked at her sisters cluelessly, who returned the look in kind. Usually Phoebe's premonitions were more specific. She wanted to say more about it, but was interrupted from it by Face, who turned to Murdock.
"Since when is your craziness contagious?" he asked. "And when will I catch it?" The disturbing thing about it was that he sounded absolutely serious.
"Let me explain," Murdock mumbled, not too enthusiastic about what he was going to say. As Face simply kept on staring at him, he continued. "My mother, before she died, told me a story. It's the only story I remember her ever telling me, she... No, stick to the relevant things," he admonished himself. "It was really a prophecy, not a story. Well, both, but... Stick to the relevant things, right." He cleared his throat. "When I'm a grown man, she said, three witches will be born, the most powerful witches the world has ever seen. Each on their own will be extremely powerful, but together, as the Power of Three, they will be invincible and defeat evil like nobody has ever done before them. They will be born in San Francisco, because that's where the Nexus is... Of course, I never knew what this Nexus was supposed to be. I always imagined it as an ivory tower with diamonds and gold and silver and... stick to the relevant things, right. It took a while till I learned that it's a point where several beams of power connect and unite."
"Murdock, you're giving me a headache," Face said irritably.
"We are from San Francisco," Piper whispered. It was not new to them that they were the subjects of a prophecy, but somehow it was still freaky.
"Yes, I know," Murdock answered plainly. "And I know further what those powers will be: one will have the power to move things with her mind, one will have the power to stop time, and one will have the power to see the future. That would be you, then." He looked at Phoebe.
"No," Face got up from the table. "No, I don't believe any of this. If you'll excuse me. Murdock have fun with... with who- or whatever they are, but spare me. I've got a job to do."
"Wait!" Prue called after him, getting up, but Murdock caught her arm and stopped her.
"Let me go," Prue warned, "or..."
"Or what?" Murdock asked unmoved.
Prue waved her free hand at him, but nothing happened.
"It's not gonna work," he said in that same even voice. "Your magic does not work on me."
"You knew that," Phoebe stated the obvious. "How did you know that?"
"I tell you, he's an Elder," Piper snapped. "That's exactly what they feed us all the time!"
"I'm not an Elder, whatever that may be," Murdock contradicted. "But... well, my guess is, I don't know what my guess is. I only know that you tried something when you caught up with us, and it didn't work. It's only logical to assume that it won't work now."
Face was fuming. Murdock... How could he? And how had he drawn those three women into his scheme? Talk about a charming nature and enthralling personality... master of making people do what you want... Wasn't that supposed to be him? Yes, it was! So how come Murdock was pulling three complete strangers into his magic-tick in a second?
Unless... but no, surely *not*. No, no, no, no way.
Face rubbed his forehead. Not the time to think about it right now. He had some food to organize. Enough to get a good forty people through the next week. He couldn't go to his usual places obviously, so he had to find somewhere new. But that shouldn't be much of a problem. There were numberless supermarkets around, supermarkets that had to throw away goods because they expired or weren't exactly fresh anymore, although still edible. They couldn't sell the stuff anymore, so they didn't mind giving it away for welfare if you just asked them nicely. Of course, some managers didn't think anything of welfare and would rather throw it away.
It was about two hours later that BA picked him up and a respectable amount of food.
"Where's the Fool?" he asked.
Face grimaced. He had pushed it to the very back of his mind, had conveniently forgotten all about it, and now BA had to come and remind him. Damn, but BA would give him a big piece of his mind. He was always so protective, where Murdock was concerned, over protective. But maybe that was just natural, after all, BA had been there, when Murdock had had his first break-down, still back in Nam. Although Face had read reports about it later, being there and seeing it all happen must have been a whole other ballgame.
"We went to a Chinese restaurant, I'd say he's still there," Face answered apprehensively. "And if not... He's got the van's number."
"You left the Fool alone?!" BA shouted.
'Here we go,' Face thought, then went on to defend himself. "Not exactly, no. He was... There were..." Face couldn't tell BA that he was with three women claiming to be witches, or he'd bite his head off, so better trail off, and let BA fill in the blanks himself.
"Where's that place?" BA asked angrily.
"Ah... just two blocks from here..."
BA stepped on the gas and drove to the restaurant where they found a couple of friendly waiters, but no Murdock.
"Anything happens to him, you pay," BA said, deathly calm, holding a beringed fist right under Face's nose.
"I... He can look after himself," Face answered, trying to explain away all potential guilt on his side.
"He's crazy, he can't."
Much to Face's relief, the phone rang before he had to have an answer for BA.
"Yeah?" BA answered it gruffly.
"Heya, Big Guy," Murdock chirped. "Care ta pick me up?"
Prue stood at the window of the small hotel room they'd booked, looking out, watching Murdock climb into a dark blue van. She was not happy with the situation, but had eventually given in. Murdock had assured them, quite passionately, that Face was most definitely not a demon. He would know, since he sometimes just *knew* things, like he had known who they were. A bit of magical heritage from his mother.
Face was a good man, he'd repeated over and over. Not even Phoebe telling him about her premonition had changed his mind. He had declared it to be wrong, plain and simple. Phoebe had told him that she'd never been wrong before. He had told her that there was a first for everything.
It was a lost cause.
Of course, for all they knew, Murdock could be a demon as well. It wouldn't be the first time one demon blew up another.
"Phoebe?" Prue asked, turning to look at her younger sister.
"What exactly did you see in that vision?"
"I've told you," Phoebe griped, tired of the issue, but then started with a sigh: "There was Murdock, then there was Face, an energy ball flew from his hands, and then Murdock again, who's hit by the ball, and... dies."
"So he *is* a demon," Prue concluded. "How could he not be?"
"He..." Phoebe shrugged. "But I do believe Murdock, when he says he isn't."
"And what does Murdock know about it?" Prue insisted.
"He *knows* things," Phoebe gave back.
"Well, and who tells you that he isn't a demon himself? If he is, everything he tells us would be a lie, and Face could still be a demon."
"I would know," Phoebe insisted. "I've seen them in my vision. My visions never lie."
"But you have misinterpreted them before," Piper threw in.
"Yes," Phoebe had to admit. "But when I touched Face, I only saw pink. Pink with beautiful silver sparks in it..." She pulled herself together and added in a more serious tone, "I just think that pink and demons is a ridiculous combination. Don't you?" Phoebe looked at her sisters.
"Ridiculous or not... he may be dangerous." Prue insisted.
"So what about Murdock?" Piper focused the conversation back on him. "We can't just declare him a demon and do nothing. If we're right, then we've been transported here by... by whatever... to help an Innocent. And, from all we know, this Innocent is Murdock."
"Yes," Prue agreed grudgingly.
"So why are we sitting around here instead of following him?"
BA parked in front of a three-story building. It wasn't exactly run-down, but could have been in better shape.
The door opened as soon as the van stopped, and Hannibal came out. In his wake came a small, slender Asian woman, about forty, with a resolute but gentle expression on her pretty face.
"Tabitha, I take it?" Face asked with a sideways glance at BA.
BA just grunted. He still hadn't forgiven him for "abandoning" Murdock like that. He climbed out of the van, and his expression turned from a scowl to a bright smile in a second. "Tabby," he greeted her, let the woman hug him enthusiastically, and even hugged her back.
"Oh, you're too good, BA!" she called out. "You made it, and you got us something to eat!"
"Actually, *I* am the one who got the food," Face threw in pointedly, "*repeatedly*..." He wasn't petty usually, but to let BA get the praise for his work, *years'* worth of his work... especially after this afternoon...
Tabitha looked him up and down once. "You must be..." she looked between Face and Murdock, who meanwhile had gotten out of the van as well.
"Templeton Peck," Face introduced himself. "Or Faceman, if you prefer."
"Then you are Murdock!" Tabitha went over to shake Murdock's hand.
Face looked down at her in disbelief, as she walked by him after just a quick glance. What, had he caught the scabies in the last five minutes without noticing it?
"And you too, Faceman," Tabitha turned back to Face. "Come inside, come inside, everyone." Well, okay. So maybe BA had told her about Murdock, his best friend, but not Face, his... friend. That was a plausible explanation, though it didn't make Face feel much better.
They walked after Tabitha, BA first, then Murdock and Hannibal, and Face lagging behind a bit.
Tabitha led the team into a small living room, where they sat down and Tabitha started to hand them cups of coffee whether they wanted it or not.
"Maybe you could repeat what you've been telling me earlier," Hannibal asked Tabitha when she finally sat down herself, sipping at her own coffee.
"Well," Tabitha put down her cup. "It's about two months now that this guy, Samuel Recliffe, came into my house, offering me a check for my house. Not bad money either, but not quite what the house and the rest of the property's worth." She got up and searched through a pile of papers.
"You own this?" Face asked.
"Yes. Inherited it from my father. He's one of the few lucky Las Vegas winners. Went there with a twenty, and came home with almost a million. He never gambled ever again. Anyway, Recliffe, he comes and tells me he wants to buy my house and estate. Here we are..." She pulled a piece of paper from the pile and handed it to BA, who handed it to Hannibal, who after only a short glance handed it to Face.
"He wants to build a block of apartments here," Tabitha continued with her story. "Even guarantees me a free apartment to live in for the rest of my life."
"Sounds like a fair deal," Hannibal commented. "What're the figures on the check saying, Face?"
"Hm... this is the first check?" Face held it up to Tabitha.
"So?" Hannibal asked Face again.
"Well... not quite a fair deal," Face answered, "but not really criminally bad either."
"Anyway," Tabitha continued with her story. "I don't want to sell. You see, this is not only my home, but the home of about fifty 'homeless' people as well. They sleep in the empty apartments. Only a few of them stay permanently, but I'm proud to say that I've helped a few stranded people back to their feet. You know, providing them with a steady address and some good clothes so they could get a proper job. They do have their own homes now, their own families, and they are my truest and most faithful supporters now." Tabitha smiled an introspective smile for a moment. "So you see that I can't just sell this place. I have a responsibility for those people. That's what I told Recliffe, too. I told him he'll have to find another place for his high class apartments."
"High class apartments?" Face interrupted. "No offence, lady, but this is hardly the area for high class apartments."
"That's what he said," Tabitha insisted, though not offended in the least, she knew what area she lived in. "Anyway, I sent him away that first time, but he came back the next day, with a bigger check. I sent him away again."
"But he kept returning," Hannibal guessed, "only now the checks didn't become bigger, but smaller and smaller, and 'things' started to happen..."
"Yes. How do you know?" It was the first time she seemed to wonder what the team was doing at her house at all.
"Usual practice," Hannibal explained. "If they don't get what they want right from the beginning, they start bullying. They only keep offering money to maintain the show."
"Maintain the show?" Tabitha asked.
"Show of buying what they want," BA explained. "But they're really stealing other people's properties."
"And..." Tabitha looked from one to the other. She still didn't quite know what to make of them.
"We know how to deal with bullies of that kind," Hannibal assured.
Face entered the building of the LA Courier, happy to be out of Tabitha's crazy house. He didn't mind the homeless; it was Tabitha he wasn't exactly fond of. She either ignored him or looked at him like he had two noses or something.
Face shook off those thoughts, as he had to concentrate on the job at hand: Hannibal had ordered him to find out everything there was about Recliffe.
Face checked his appearance in the elevator's mirror. His clothes were simple; a pair of jeans and a bleached sweater, his hair was a bit untidy, with sunglasses resting on top of his head. He wanted to pass as a not too bright man who did mainly little, temporary jobs and was constantly low on money. Somebody who didn't come across as a threat in any way.
He went down to the basement that housed the newspaper's archive. Newspapers were usually a good place to start a research. They kept every little snippet they ever published for possible later references.
"Can I help you?" A bespectacled, but otherwise pretty, girl asked him in a tone that said: "You better have a very good explanation, or I'll have you kicked out of this place faster'n you can say 'beep'."
"Oh yes," Face answered, schooling his features into an expression of confusion and relief. "I'm looking for the archive."
"This is the archive," the girl answered.
"What, all of it?" He looked around in reverent amazement.
The girl smiled at him after that. "Yes, all of it. The LA Courier isn't just any paper, you know? We have a lot to archive."
"Oh, sure, yes." Face nodded submissively. "What I really need is information on... oh wait, I've got it written down." He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. "Uh, Samuel Recliffe."
"What for?" the girl asked, but already turned to lead the way into the depths of the archive.
"I don't know. I'm just helping out, and one of those guys, he tells me, go down to the archive, and get me everything you find on Samuel Recliffe. So here I am." He grinned at her, and she smiled back.
"You should find everything you need at the end of this aisle," she told him, then with obvious reluctance left him to his work.
Samuel Recliffe stopped his car in front of the Penning estate. As usual, there was a bunch of bums surrounding the house. Unfortunately none of his "contacts" were around this time. He had paid a few of them good money for the odd disturbance at the chink's house. A smashed window here, a defective electric wire there. Nothing big, just little things to keep her distracted and annoyed. And, not to forget, all those little things cost money, money she didn't have. That should have convinced her that selling was the better option, after all.
But unfortunately, she had proved immune to all those little setbacks. She had paid for the repairs, had installed some crude security measures. Futile, and actually rather funny, when she had the culprits sitting right inside her house and even fed them! On the downside, she still refused to sell.
So two days ago Recliffe had given one of "his" bums 50 dollars to deposit a little package at wherever she stored her food.
She should be ripe for the picking now.
Recliffe got out of his car, eyeing the bums suspiciously. Most of them were imperturbably loyal to the chink. Of course they knew about the trouble she had with him, and by Recliffe's judgement it was not beyond them to damage his car in retaliation.
"Hey you!" he called out to a man that didn't look familiar, and therefore was probably new. "Ten bucks if you watch my car."
The man came slowly nearer, wiped his nose on his sleeve, and said, "Money first."
Recliffe was tempted to give the man a piece of his mind, but then thought again. He might go and do something himself if he insulted him. So instead of shouting at the man, Recliffe pulled a fiver from his pocket. "The other half when I get back and my car is still shiny and new," he said.
The man took the money hesitantly.
That cleared, Recliffe straightened up and entered the house. "Miss Penning?!" he called out.
"Miss Penning!" He went further into the house, feeling uneasy and a bit left alone. Usually, the woman showed up soon as he took the first step into the house. "Miss Penning! It's me, Samuel Recliffe!" He proceeded down the corridor, knowing that at the end of the hall was the door that led to her living room. "Hello?"
Suddenly the door to the living room opened, and she stood in the hallway, arms akimbo. "What do you want, Recliffe?" she snapped.
"I've come to ask if you've maybe reconsidered your answer to my offer," he asked in the most polite tone he could muster around a chink... or just anyone who wasn't a genuine American.
"That's not an offer, that's an insult!" She snapped.
Recliffe did wonder for a brief moment what had gotten into her, because usually she was rather civilized, but he didn't let his puzzlement show. "Lady," he started in a greasy voice. "What do you want with all those bums, anyway? They don't bring you any money "
"Well, I know that goes over your tiny little mind, but there are people to whom money isn't everything!"
"They cause you nothing but trouble," Recliffe went on as if she hadn't said anything. "I've heard that one of them even toyed around with explosives in your backyard?" He tried to give himself an innocent and sympathetic appearance.
"I know it's been you," she claimed.
"Me? Oh, now you're hurting me, Ma'am. I would never do such a thing. Now, to come back to my offer. I have here with me a new check, if you'd like to take a look?" He reached inside his jacket.
"You can leave that lousy check right where it is," the woman interrupted him. "I won't sell, never. Not to you, not to anyone. You'll have to kill me to make me stop caring for these people," she declared heatedly.
"That could be arranged as well," Recliffe answered evenly, like it was a completely normal thing to talk about somebody's death as part of a business-transaction.
"I'm not sure I caught that, Mr. Recliffe," a soft, male voice suddenly came from Recliffe's left.
Recliffe swirled around and saw a man standing on the bottom step of the stairwell, a tape-recorder in his hand.
"Would you mind repeating that last sentence?" the man asked, "I think my recorder's a bit jumbled up, y'know? But maybe we're lucky, and I caught it after all." The man grinned broadly. "Let me check..." He rewound the tape, then pressed play. "...op caring for these people! That could be arranged as well." The man pressed stop. "Lucky us, everything's just fine." The guy's grin got even broader.
"You're..." Recliffe started.
"... very pleased with the acoustics in this place," the man answered lightly. "Ever considered organizing concerts here, Tabby?" He turned to the woman with a silly smile on his face.
"Give me that!" Recliffe jumped at the man who was apparently not paying any attention to him, but reached into thin air, because the man stepped aside just in time.
"Ya better stop threatening him," came yet another male voice, this one deep and threatening.
Recliffe turned and saw a nigger with a wild hairstyle and lots of gold chains around his neck stare at him. He thought he'd seen him around here before... helping out... bringing goods...
"And you also better stop threatening my friend here," the black man pointed at the woman. "I see any more of you round here, you're dead meat."
No matter what, that man looked dangerous, so Recliffe found it fit to retreat. He'd have to think of something... better still, let Mason think of something. All of this had been his idea after all! What he wanted this patch of land for so badly, Recliffe couldn't imagine... didn't matter... So let Mason deal with it.
Recliffe left the house, angry over being defeated, angry over his own give-away. He slammed the door shut behind him, and stopped dead in his tracks. His car... his beloved car... brand new, only four weeks old... all the extras you could think of... turned into a wreck. All the windows were broken, the lights too, one dent next to the other on the whole car body, all four tires cut. And standing next to it, rolling something between his fingers was the bum he'd paid to keep an eye on it.
"YOU!" Recliffe stormed over to him. "What the hell do you think I paid you for?!"
"You paid me to watch your car, sir," the man answered calmly, still rolling that thing between his fingers, and Recliffe distractedly realized it was a cigar stub. "Which is exactly what I did," the man continued, and then pulled out a fiver no doubt Recliffe's and a lighter from his pocket. He clicked the lighter on, held the fiver into the flame, and then used the burning banknote to light his cigar. "I've been watching real close, you know, Mr. Recliffe?" he continued in that annoyingly calm, forthcoming voice. "Real close." He puffed on his cigar.
"You... you... piece of... YOU SHOULD HAVE WATCHED IT AND KEPT THEM ALL FROM DAMAGING IT!!" Recliffe screamed at the top of his lung.
"Oh? Well, you should have said so." The man waved the banknote till the fire was out, and dropped the charred rest of it onto Recliffe's shoes. "All you said was I'd get another fiver if the car's still shiny when you come back out. But while you were gone, I realised that I don't really need your money." The man took a few more drags off his cigar, before he continued in a smooth, level voice, pronouncing every word very clearly. "On a more serious level though, Mr. Recliffe, if you show up here ever again, and be it just that you want to apologize to Miss Penning, you will regret it." He took another drag from his cigar and puffed the smoke right into Recliffe's face.
Recliffe retreated a small step, this man was suddenly scaring him, and not just a little.
"To be more precise, Mr. Recliffe, you will share the fate of your car." He pointed at the wrecked car. "Or maybe I should rephrase that. Because whereas your car is still salvageable... barely..." he paused, giving Recliffe a steely stare. "... you won't be."
"WHAT?!" Khatga actually jumped off his seat, probably giving Susanne next door a heart attack. "What the hell do you mean, you won't go back there?!"
"It's like I said, Mr. Mason," Recliffe said in a small, yet surprisingly determined, voice. "I love the money you offered, but I love my life just a bit more. This woman has surrounded herself with really bad folks."
"Of course they're bad folks," Khatga thundered, "they're bums!"
"No, not that sort of bad. More like... you know... They ruined my car!"
"Oh, screw your car, Recliffe!"
"It's brand new! Dozens of extras, cost me a fortune!"
Khatga really wished he could send an energy ball through the telephone line, but unfortunately, this kind of magic still worked directly only. "I don't care about your car," he said in a carefully controlled voice. "From the money I would have paid you, you could have afforded ten of them... what do I say, a hundred!"
"Mr. Mason, I... They said they'd kill me if I ever go there again..."
But Khatga could hear the man's greed as well, and it made him smile. Too bad he wasn't giving second chances... "I'm terribly sorry, my friend," he said in an oily voice, put the receiver down onto his table and shimmered to Recliffe's office.
Recliffe jumped a few inches off his chair, when he suddenly saw "Mr. Mason" plop out of thin air into his office. "Mis... Mis... Mis-ter..."
"Mason," Khatga completed Recliffe's stutter in a very cultivated and calm voice. "But you may call me by my real name: Khatga."
Recliffe stared at Khatga with his eyes wide open in terror.
"You've been doing a good job, Samuel," Khatga went on in his deathly smooth voice. "Until today." He held out his right hand and produced a fiery energy ball that he bounced playfully up and down. "You know, you should have just killed her. That's what I really wanted of you." He smiled, and Recliffe pressed deep into his chair, like that could save him.
"Unfortunately, I don't work with losers." Khatga cast the ball, hit Recliffe squarely in the chest, and a moment later there was nothing left of him but a few black shadows of soot on Recliffe's red leather chair and the smell of burnt hair.
Khatga shimmered back to his own office where he picked up the receiver and put it back to its cradle. Now what? Organise somebody else to get the job done? Or do it himself, after all?
Prue, Piper and Phoebe stood in front of a big, rather shabby house that appeared to be a homeless shelter. They were fairly well hidden behind a bush on the other side of the street, having agreed on staying out of sight for the time being.
"And Murdock is in there?" Piper asked. She didn't like the untidy look of it, or the group of dirty, badly dressed men sitting on the front steps. Besides, there was a totally wrecked car parked in the driveway, which indicated violence.
"That's what the crystal says," Phoebe told her, holding up a newly acquired crystal-pendulum and a street map of Los Angeles. "By the way, have we made up our mind on him?"
"Hm?" Prue asked absently, staring across the street.
"Murdock!" Phoebe said louder than she'd intended. "Is he an Innocent now or not?"
Prue and Piper exchanged a glance, and then chuckled.
"What? A girl's gotta be sure," Phoebe pouted.
"Wait, there's something happening..." Prue stopped laughing, as a dark blue van pulled up the street. It was no doubt the same that had picked up Murdock earlier. It parked next to the wrecked car and a moment later Face jumped out of it. He threw a curious glance at the wreck then approached the men on the steps.
He said something in passing, and one of the men answered, but the sisters couldn't catch what.
"Too bad," Piper whined, "it'd be helpful if we knew what they're saying..."
"Couldn't have been much," Prue thought aloud. "Probably just hello."
"So what now?" Piper asked. "Should we just go inside and ask?"
Two puzzled looks met her.
"For Murdock," Piper clarified.
Phoebe and Prue earnestly considered this option, when the door opened again, and Murdock, as if on cue, stepped out. Apparently he hadn't been lying when he'd told them that sometimes he just knew things, because he headed straight at them.
"Not that I'm overly surprised, but how did you find me?" he asked in way of greeting.
Phoebe held up the map and the pendulum, but Murdock just looked at it uncomprehending.
"We can locate witches with this," Phoebe explained. "It drops wherever the witch in question is."
"Handy," Murdock commented. "But I'm not really a witch."
"You're close enough to one for the pendulum," Piper explained.
"And what exactly are you doing here?" Murdock asked, ignoring Piper.
"Looking after you," Prue answered.
"I don't need anybody looking after me, but thanks." He looked at all three of them for a moment, lingering just a bit longer on Phoebe and giving her a quick smile. "No really, I can look after myself. And things will turn nasty around here sooner or later. Dangerous."
"Well, as you've stated yourself earlier today," Prue started, "we are the Powerful Three. We can deal with a bit of trouble."
"Oh, so you're bullet-proof? Mom forgot to tell me that bit!" He sounded angry, but also a bit doubtful of his own words.
"We're not bullet-proof," Piper said, wanting to continue, but Murdock cut her off.
"Well, you'd better be, or stay out of the way."
"We can't do that," Prue started to explain, but he cut her off as well.
"So you're still following that stupid idea that Face is really a demon who wants to kill me? I told you, that's rubbish."
"But I've seen it!" Phoebe argued.
"Phoebe," his voice softened just a bit, "I have no idea what you saw. I only know this much: Face is a good man. If he really wanted me dead, I wonder why he's risked his neck so many times saving my butt."
The sisters fell silent.
"Murdock?!" a gruff voice called from the house.
"Coming, BA!" Murdock called back. Then he turned to the sisters. "Leave him alone. Or I swear, Powerful Three or not, you'll have me as your enemy." He turned to leave.
"Wait!" Phoebe stopped him. "We... We only want to save your life," she said.
"And I appreciate that," he replied earnestly. "But you're looking for the bad guy in the wrong place."
"But I saw him throw that ball at you!" Phoebe had no idea what else to do to convince him. So she kept repeating this one argument.
"I know next to nothing about your power," Murdock replied softly. "I just know that what you saw can not be what really happened... or will happen. Face is my buddy, my friend. I know him. He wouldn't kill me, not for anything in the world. Not even to save his own life." He turned to leave again, but Phoebe caught his hand. "Let go, Phoebe," he said gently. "I'm safe." He even managed a small smile. "With you standing watch out here, and my team inside... I'm the safest man in the universe."
"Oh... it's you again..." A new voice joined the conversation.
Phoebe looked up and recognized Face. "Yes... us," she said defiantly.
"BA came inside, saying you're chatting away with a couple of girls," Face said, ignoring Phoebe. "Joked that you're going to put me out of business."
"Face, they are not bad," Murdock tried to convince Face, still holding Phoebe's hand.
"I don't know about that. Hannibal wants you inside." He smiled a small, evil smile. "I think I'll ask him to give you the third watch."
"Murdock, stop it!" He sounded just a bit hysterical. "I've had it with this magic-trip you're on. I have no idea how you got those girls to play along with you, and I really don't care, just stop it now!"
Phoebe was hit completely off guard.
pink pain despair loneliness pink death grief more pain pink restlessness longing pink weaved through it all a strong feeling of confidence and love pink
"Phoebe?" It was Murdock, not Prue, who asked her.
"Oh my God," Phoebe uttered. What a life...
"What? What did you see?" Piper asked.
"Nothing. Just... pink... and lots of emotions..."
Murdock pulled his hand from hers. "Pink?" he asked, his voice uneasy and curious at the same time.
"Murdock, I'm leaving. Let Hannibal deal with you." Face rushed off.
"Pink?" Murdock asked again.
"Yes. It's the same thing I saw when I touched Face in the restaurant."
Murdock turned around to watch Face walk away, then turned back to face the Halliwells. "Okay, on second thoughts... maybe you should..." He sighed. "Aaah, they will love it, they will just... *BA* will just love it. He'll love it so much he'll hug and kiss me..." He shook his head in silent despair.
Phoebe still found him awfully cute, but he was definitely off the rocker, and she was not quite sure how to deal with that.
Murdock straightened up and cleared his throat. "Okay, I think it's best if you come inside with me."
"Your *friend* will kick us right out again," Piper said, nodding her head meaningfully at the house.
"Face? No he won't. If I tell him no, he won't."
"It's not exactly a secret what he thinks of us," Prue backed up her sister.
"Irrelevant. If I tell him no, he won't. He'll give me hell about it, but he'll do as I say."
Piper looked as doubtful as Prue and Phoebe felt.
"Honestly," Murdock promised, then turned and headed for the house.
Murdock heard the sisters follow him, and nodded once to himself. Yes, he had to take them inside. If what Phoebe had seen was true and he had no doubt that something about it was true then Hannibal had to know. Really bad things were going to happen soon, and he and Face were involved somehow. That meant that *Face* had to know above all. But how could he make Face believe?
He had to somehow convince the Powerful Three to protect Face, because Face had nothing to put up against a demon. He had a certain shielding ability that made it hard for Murdock to read him sometimes, but that was no match for an energy ball. Murdock remembered these balls vaguely. He'd seen his mother fend off a man throwing fiery balls at her once. He couldn't remember how the duel had ended, but a week after that, his mother had been dead, and Murdock had got used to not thinking about it too much.
They reached the door, and some of the homeless were grinning at the three young ladies in his wake.
Murdock had to smile when he felt Prue's forced indifference, Phoebe's compassion, and Piper's circumspect reserve. "Behave yourselves, gentlemen," Murdock advised good-humouredly. "These young ladies here are princesses."
The men's attitude changed immediately from close to leering to friendly welcoming. And a moment later they were inside the house, Murdock leading the way to Tabby's small living room.
"Murdock, about time," Hannibal greeted, when Murdock entered. "What took you so long?" then he looked up and saw Murdock's company. "Ah," he commented meaningfully. "I see why Face is so... cross."
"It's not that, Hannibal," Murdock tried to explain. "Well, uh... yes, but... Where is he, by the way?"
Hannibal pointed outside. "In the backyard with BA and Tabitha, taking a look at the disaster. Seeing if anything's salvageable, and what needs to be replaced." Then Hannibal concentrated on the three girls Murdock had brought with him. "And who are you?" he asked in a conversational tone that deceived so many people into believing he was just an elderly guy who didn't gather much of what was happening around him.
"Prue Halliwell," Prue stepped forward. "And these are my sisters, Piper and Phoebe." She pointed at them.
"They're witches," Murdock supplied.
Hannibal merely raised an eyebrow. He'd heard about Murdock's latest fixation from Face. "And what are you doing here?" He asked on, completely undeterred.
"Hannibal, they're really witches," Murdock emphasised. "I mean, they're not witches in the sense of Billy being a dog, or my sneakers being Russian agents, or..."
Hannibal turned his eyes from Prue to Murdock and shut him up with just his look. "And that's supposed to mean what?" he finally asked in a covert tone.
Murdock had no idea how to explain it without sounding too crazy, but Prue relieved him of that in a very practical way: She stretched out her right hand, then raised it, and the low coffee table in front of Hannibal raised with it, until it hung in midair.
Hannibal simply stared at it.
After a moment Prue lowered the table back to the ground.
"That's what it means," Murdock said lamely.
"And they're here... why?" Hannibal asked, hoping he sounded not quite as floored as he felt.
"Uh, that's a bit tricky. I think we should get Face for this..." Murdock uneasily cleared his throat.
"Face?" Hannibal asked suspiciously, "why Face?"
"Because we think," Prue started.
"*Because*," Murdock quickly interrupted her, "it concerns him."
Hannibal quickly looked at Prue and Murdock in turns. Something was going on, and he wanted to know what. "Murdock?"
"Really, I should go and get Face for this," Murdock insisted.
"Then go and get him."
Murdock nodded and left, while Hannibal remained, eyeing the girls. He was not quite sure what to make of this. He had just witnessed something happening that couldn't possibly happen. By all means he should be scared shitless. But the girls looked nice enough, even slightly embarrassed, excepting Prue, who stood defiantly half in front of her sisters. No doubt, she was the dominant one, she felt in charge and responsible for her sisters.
It took Hannibal a great deal to keep his calm and unmoved appearance. But years of military training had taught him to not show weakness. Never give your enemy a hold on you if you want to stay on top of things.
"You don't seem to be very surprised," Piper asked curiously after a moment.
Hannibal looked at her and asked back, "Well, what do you expect me to do?" He deliberately unobtrusively patted his pockets for a cigar. "You expect me to whimper and hide under the table?" He found his cigar and lit it. "By what you just demonstrated, that wouldn't help me much, would it?" He revelled in Piper's mildly embarrassed look for a moment. "Besides, hiding from the enemy has never been my style."
"We are not your enemies," Phoebe quickly assured.
Hannibal raised his eyebrows. "Says you... Now I can believe that or not." That shut the girls up. They looked around the room, at him, at each other. But they didn't say anything more.
"You wanted to see me?" With that question Face pushed the door open. Then he saw the sisters and his shoulders drooped. "Oh, *you* again..." He swallowed a sigh.
Murdock appeared behind him and gently pushed him into the room. "Face, they are here to help," he said determinedly.
"Help?" Hannibal asked, his tone demanding an explanation.
"Maybe you should all sit down first," Murdock asked to stall some time, but he was really not thrilled about telling Hannibal about magic and prophecies and visions... telling Face was one thing, telling Hannibal another. The sisters chose to sit down on the couch, but Face had to be physically directed over to a chair and pushed down into it.
Murdock himself remained on his feet, pacing nervously while he told the prophecy a second time. Then he told of Phoebe's premonition, wondering what Face would have to say about it, but Face didn't say anything, so Murdock voiced his own opinion abut the matter. And he only stopped pacing when he was finished talking.
Hannibal had listened intently, but was not quite sure what to think of it all. Therefore "and?" was all he could ask after Murdock had finished, hoping that Murdock could give him something that his mind could process properly.
"And so I thought, it's best if I bring them along, so they can look after us," Murdock answered. "After Face and me... and you... and BA and Tabby... and all..." Murdock shrugged.
"Murdock," Face complained irritably, "we can protect ourselves and others. I mean, it's what we do for a living! And what can *they* possibly do?" He pointed accusingly at the three girls. "They're "
"They're powerful witches, Face!" Murdock angrily interrupted him. "They have ways you don't even dare to dream of!"
"Like I'd want to dream such rubbish!"
"Face, why can't you accept there's more between "
"And stop quoting Shakespeare!" Face glared at Murdock for a moment. "Besides, if they *are* what you say, and if they really *can* do what you say, then I am the bad guy! Then I'm the one who's going to kill you, so why would I need any protection?"
"Because there's no way you'd ever hurt me," Murdock explained calmly.
"Oh, right now... I'm not so sure about that," Face spat out.
"Unless there's something forcing you," Murdock continued totally unimpressed by Face's interjection. "And therefore you must be protected."
Face threw his hands up.
"And how come you're so sure about all this?" Hannibal asked, rejoining the conversation.
"Because I know it," Murdock simply answered.
"Only last week you knew the woman at the VA's kitchen was trying to poison the patients," Hannibal countered meaningfully.
"Well, if you'd tasted her spaghetti, you'd believe it too," Murdock defended himself, but then cleared his throat. "Sometimes I just know things," he said in a more serious tone. "Remember Nam? How I always knew where it was safe?"
"Like there was anywhere in Nam where it was safe," Face snapped and jumped off his seat.
"Some places *were*!" Murdock caught Face at the shoulder before he could leave the room. "Did you never wonder why I got shot down only two times in two tours?"
"Luck," Face quickly explained Murdock's argument away.
"No, I knew where to fly, where to land, where to go to. Sometimes just ten yards to the left made the difference."
"So wherever you went, it was safe?" Face asked cynically, trying to push Murdock's hands off. "So what about Hue? Khe San? Dak To? And what about Huong Khe?"
Murdock didn't reply. The death camp had been just outside Huong Khe. And to call that one a safe spot was really daring. After a long moment he shrugged. "You were there. I had to go and get you. I had to at least try. I thought that I could defeat fate. I thought that maybe my skills would help me escape. I was wrong." And he'd paid the price.
"That's still not evidence," Face said after a moment, shook Murdock's hands off and headed for the door again.
"Wait!" Hannibal ordered, and Face stopped and turned around. Hannibal nodded at Prue, who understood and raised her hand to lift the table, but this time nothing happened. The table rattled for a moment, but otherwise stayed firmly on the ground where it belonged.
Prue looked at her hand, and shook her head in bewilderment. "I don't understand, it just worked... just before..."
"It did," Hannibal confirmed, a bit confused. He couldn't understand how one time it could work and ten minutes later it didn't.
"But why not now?" Piper asked confused and worried.
"Not so awfully powerful then, are you?" Face gloated, grinning at Prue.
And suddenly Murdock thought he understood. If he was right, then by God, Face didn't need any protection. If he was right, then Face was the only one safe around here.
"Face?" he asked.
"What?" Face snapped. He wanted to go, leave those nuts behind. Let them waste their own time but not his.
"Can you, for just a moment, can you act as if magic were real?" Murdock pleaded softly. "Just for a short moment?"
"What?" Face stared at Murdock. Okay, he'd always known the man was crazy, right from the start, but this... this was just... this wasn't crazy. This was impertinent.
"Murdock?" Hannibal wanted to know what Murdock was up to, but Murdock ignored him.
"Just for a teeny-weeny little moment? Open up a little? Just you and me, nobody else, just you and me, muchacho, hm? What you say, can you do that?" Murdock continued to plead with Face. He never paused long enough to actually let Face get a word in. He just droned on, asking the same questions over and over again, begging Face to open up and give magic a chance.
Face stood and listened.
Face was pretty easy to handle once you knew you just had to be nice to him, beg him, not order him. Show him there was a back door if he needed one. Give him a choice. He usually chose what you wanted him to choose; simply because he wanted to please people so they liked him.
At one point during Murdock's droning Face closed his eyes, trying to exclude him, but Murdock didn't let it stop him. He had his attention fully concentrated on Face now. There was just Face, nothing else mattered.
When Face slowly reopened his eyes a short while later, Murdock felt something very powerful being pulled aside from between them. It felt vaguely familiar, but Murdock was sure it had never been so strong before. Like curtains drawn apart, there was a gap forming, and Murdock quickly mentally stepped through it. With a feeling like thunder the power snapped shut behind him, and there he was: inside Face's innermost defences. Inside Face by all means but the physical.
And suddenly the room changed its appearance. Murdock could still see everything, but it was all tinted pink. It was like looking through a veil, or pink glasses. Everything was pink, and little silver sparks were dancing in the air. It was beautiful, and Murdock's jaw dropped in awe. "Does... does it always look like that to you?" He whispered.
Face let his eyes slowly travel around the room once, before he answered with a shrug, "No, just sometimes. When I'm... stressed..." He was whispering as well. "It's kind of pretty too, don't you think? I can imagine worse stress reactions," he joked.
"Kind of pretty?" Murdock asked with a smile. "Pretty pretty I'd say. I wish my stress reactions were anything like this."
Face chuckled and cocked his head. "Can't have everything, now, can we?"
Murdock looked at Face, studied his suddenly so relaxed stance. Unfortunately, he wasn't any closer to his original goal than before. He wanted to know why Face was so averse to magic. It couldn't be his Catholic up-bringing; Face was acting against that one in so many other ways. There had to be more.
Murdock knew there was more.
Phoebe had told him that she usually had to touch things or people to get her visions. He himself usually just knew without having to do anything, but maybe he should give Phoebe's way a try.
He reached out to touch Face.
He woke up on the floor with loads of new knowledge in his head he really wished he didn't have. Usually his gift let him simply know things about other people or about situations. He never saw actual pictures or anything. However, this time it had been like watching a movie. A movie that came with sensations and emotions; Face's sensations and emotions.
Murdock had felt Face's near panic around the three sisters and their magic, his longing for stability, had felt Face's broken heart when somebody'd left him, a girl. He'd seen Vietnam in pink and Face's general kiss-my-ass-attitude throughout Vietnam.
But worst of all, he knew how Face's mother had died. In detail.
He could see her lying at his feet through Face's young eyes, smell her burnt flesh, feel the texture of her woollen jacket under his hands as he tried to shake her dead body awake. He could feel Face's tears run down his cheeks, could feel his heart dying from grief and guilt.
Murdock's attention was pushed back and forth between the dead woman at his feet and the demon who had killed her. The demon stood, a fiery ball hovering just above the palm of his right hand. It was one of those fiery balls that had most likely killed his own mother, and obviously Face's mother as well. But instead of killing her quickly and dissolving her to ashes like it should have, she was burning, suffering and crying, dying painfully slowly.
Murdock could feel his stomach revolt at all those sensations. His own stomach, not Face's. He was going to be sick, for sure.
"Murdock, you okay?"
Murdock finally focused, and looked up into Face's concerned eyes. Face, who somehow believed that he could have saved his mother from the fiery ball, was blaming himself for her death. These thoughts and the knowledge he had acquired, had to be showing, because Face's concern was overrun by shock and a moment after that by icy-hot fury.
Face stormed out of the room, banging the door shut behind him as he left.
Murdock felt warmth draining away from around him, leaving together with Face, allowing coldness to creep into him. "Oh cripes," he muttered.
"What? What happened? Did you see something?" Phoebe knelt down beside Murdock.
"I... yes, actually I did see something," He answered tiredly, and slowly rose to his feet. "But I won't tell you what. It's private... very private. Face wouldn't want this to be known."
"I'm not sure we can afford the luxury of privacy," Prue said. "I mean..."
"No!" Murdock interrupted her, and dropped onto the chair Face had been sitting in earlier. "You see how me knowing it affected him. And I'm his best friend! Now imagine me telling you. He'd never forgive me. It has nothing to do with what's happening right now, anyway." He fell silent, staring into the distance. The wheels turning and revolving in his brain almost visible, as he tried to catch an evasive thought.
"Can it be," he said solemnly after a moment, "that Face is... suppressing magic around him?" He looked at all three sisters in turn. "I mean, thinking about it, he didn't freeze, when you" he nodded at Piper, "tried to stop time. From all I know, he should have."
"You didn't freeze either," Piper argued.
"No, I didn't. But if Face can suppress magic, of course I wouldn't. And if he can't..." He shrugged, "I don't know why if he can't."
"Good magic doesn't fight good magic," Piper recited.
"That a law?" Murdock asked warily.
"Yes," Piper confirmed.
"Then maybe that's why I didn't freeze if it's not Face's doing. Because there's definitely a bit of magic inside of me, and I'd really like to think that it's good." He smiled tiredly.
"Maybe there's good magic in him too?" Prue thought aloud.
Phoebe gave her older sister an astonished look. "From demon to good sorcerer, just like that?"
"Just ticking off possibilities," Prue answered pointedly.
"Can you do me a favour, Piper?" Murdock asked.
Murdock took the tv-guide from the coffee table and tossed it into the air. "Freeze it," he asked, but Piper had her hands already up, and the fluttering magazine stopped in the air, not moving anymore.
"Okay, why did I just freeze the tv-guide?" Piper asked.
"Just checking your power works," Murdock answered; then pointed at Hannibal. "Freeze him."
"Now wait a mo-" Hannibal slowed down for just a second, before he rose out of his seat, pointing a finger at Murdock. "-ment. Nobody's going to freeze me round here, okay?!"
"Didn't work anyway," Piper soothed him.
"Okay, that's weird," Prue analyzed the situation.
"But Face isn't even around right now," Phoebe drilled a hole into the theory.
"I don't think that his immediate presence matters that much," Murdock answered. "So, can I be right? Can it be it's Face?" Murdock looked at them questioningly.
Prue, Piper and Phoebe exchanged looks. The Book of Shadows probably held the answer, but the Book was in San Francisco, they were in Los Angeles, and they had no idea if Prue could astral project herself that far.
"I'll try and take a look," Prue said. At worst she'd fail, at best she'd materialize in their attic at home, right in front of the Book.
Piper and Phoebe watched her body going slack and sinking deeper into the couch. Apparently it worked.
"What's wrong with her?" Hannibal pointed at Prue.
"She, uh... she is," Piper answered nervously, not quite sure what to say, what to reveal.
"She's okay," Phoebe just assured, patting Prue's knee cautiously. She didn't want to accidentally pull her back.
An uneasy silence settled in the room, which was broken by the arrival of a small Asian woman. "BA said that there's... oh, hello." Her surprised and inquiring look made it clear, that this was really her home.
"Phoebe Halliwell," Phoebe introduced herself, getting up from the couch, Piper followed her example. Prue, naturally, remained where she was. "These are my sisters, Piper and Prue."
The woman studied them for a minute, lingering on Prue for a moment. "Is she alright?" she asked with true concern, already taking a step towards her.
"Oh, yes, yes." Phoebe quickly assured and smiled broadly, stepping into the woman's way.
"Are you sure?" The woman clearly didn't believe Phoebe and tried to get around her.
"Absolutely." Phoebe said determinedly, following the woman's move and again stepping between her and Prue.
With suspicion the woman looked between Phoebe, Hannibal, Murdock and Piper and Prue. "Forgive me if I'm rude, but what are they doing in my living room?" she finally asked Murdock.
"They're with me," Murdock answered. "And it's a pretty long story. Just be sure they're good people."
For a few seconds the woman was silent, then she slowly said, "Alright", and turned back to Phoebe. "I'm Tabitha Penning," she then introduced herself. "Or Tabby if you prefer."
"Nice to meet you," Phoebe answered. "And let me "
"What did BA say?" Hannibal interrupted her.
Phoebe wanted to tell him off for being so impolite, but didn't get the chance, because Tabitha answered his question.
"That I'll have to get a completely new shed," Tabitha turned to face him. "And most of the food's beyond saving as well. Only some cans have survived relatively unscathed, and part of the clothes and blankets as well. He's right now getting a list ready of what he'll need for rebuilding."
Hannibal just nodded.
Phoebe did not understand a word of what was said, but reckoned that it didn't have anything to do with the magical situation at hand.
"I was just going to get my check-book," Tabitha went on. "BA wants to get started as soon as possible."
"Face can scam you the material," Murdock suggested. "You'd save a lot of money."
"Scam?" Tabitha looked at Murdock suspiciously, and then at Hannibal. "No, I want everything around here to be legal. I'm not going to endanger this house by doing something not quite right. Where would my people go if I had to close down this place?" Tabitha vehemently shook her head. "I'll be doing this my way."
Murdock pulled up his shoulders, Hannibal nodded. "As you wish," he said. It was clear he didn't think too much of the idea, probably thinking Tabby should save up her money for more urgent occasions, but he respected her decision.
Tabitha quickly pulled a black purse from a drawer and was gone with a last uncertain look at the three sisters.
Phoebe was debating with herself whether or not she should ask what this was about, but Prue returning from her projection immediately shifted the focus back to magic.
"So, what did you find?" Piper asked, as Prue straightened up on the couch.
"According to the Book, it's very likely that Face is a 'Talisman'." Not surprisingly she got puzzled looks.
"Go on," Murdock urged.
Prue cleared her throat, then related the facts she'd read about Talismans in the Book of Shadows. "Talismans are people of great power. They are very rare, and usually born to protect an important witch."
"Especially born?" Piper asked.
"Yes. Nonetheless, Talismans are extremely wanted by both sides, because, apparently, you can pull a Talisman to either side, good or evil, no matter who he's originally born for. It's obviously all a matter of... persuasion. However, their power is strictly passive. They can only deflect or block magic *all* kinds of magic, good *and* evil. Apparently they don't differentiate much between the two. To them, magic is magic."
"That means, it depends on who's winning him over, whether he's good or bad, right?" Phoebe asked to get the facts straightened out.
"Yes," Prue confirmed and nodded.
"So that means," Phoebe slowly went on, seeing her vision in a completely new light, "that he is not throwing the energy ball... but merely deflecting it."
"Told you, he'd never hurt me," Murdock declared proudly.
"What I don't understand is how can they protect somebody, when they don't have any active powers?" Piper asked. "And how can they be won for a side, when they're especially born to protect one certain person?"
"Well, as I understand it," Prue answered, "Talismans can decide whether or not they'll live their destiny. And for your other question: He can extend his deflecting shield to other people, just any people, whoever he chooses as his charge. Doesn't even have to be a witch. It's not exactly clear how far a Talisman can actually extend his shield, but it's assumed that this ability varies from Talisman to Talisman. The Book is pretty vague on that. But one thing is clear: his protective ability will only reach perfection when he's decided to protect the one he's been born for." Prue paused for a moment. "With a Talisman at your side, you're practically invincible. You have to kill the Talisman first."
Silence fell around the room.
"How can you kill him when he deflects all magic?" Phoebe was the first to find her voice again. "Can you lift the shield with a spell or something?"
Prue shook her head. "The Book says no. According to the Book, no kind of magic works with a Talisman, and that includes spells and tinctures. If you want to kill a Talisman, you'll have to do it the ordinary way. You know, stab, shoot, poison... anything that is not magic."
Once again silence settled in the room.
"And now you're thinking that Face is... one of them, a Talisman," Hannibal asked. He obviously didn't much like the conversation and where it was going. But he tried to figure out the situation, see what concerned him, if anything at all, and Prue could very much relate to that.
"I would say so, yes," Prue answered. "In the Book "
"Hang on, what book are you talking about anyway?" Hannibal interrupted her.
"Uh... The Book of Shadows," Prue answered. "It's a long story, and it's not important "
"I'll decide that for myself if you allow," Hannibal interrupted her again.
"Prue can wander with her mind," Phoebe quickly explained before Prue could say anything. So what if it wasn't exactly the truth? Hannibal didn't know. "She falls into some kind of trance and..."
"Okay, okay," Hannibal signalled her to shut up.
"Now, where was I?" Prue quickly gathered her thoughts. "Oh, yes. The Book says that for unknown reasons whitelighters often have problems sensing Talismans. Unfortunately that doesn't help us much, because we don't have a whitelighter at our disposal."
Piper huffed theatrically at that.
"But," Prue went on meaningfully, "The Book also says that clear sighted people sometimes get visions of pink around Talismans." She looked pointedly over at Phoebe.
"So he is one," Piper concluded.
"Well, either that, or a very talented demon, who knows how to fake one," Prue cautioned.
"Will you stop calling Face a demon!" Murdock snapped angrily. "He is a Talisman!"
Prue looked at him for a moment. "And you know that because?"
"Because he simply knows things," Phoebe explained instead of Murdock, and was highly surprised, when Murdock shook his head.
"No, not this time. I had an idea, that's why I asked you," he said. "But I know this because I've seen it inside Face's head." He fell silent, and when he continued, his voice was very subdued and heavy with sadness. "He was born to protect his mother. She was killed by an energy ball."
Concern and sympathy were pressing down on everybody in the room.
"But she couldn't have been killed with him being her Talisman," Prue objected after a moment. "The Book says clearly that if a Talisman chooses to protect the one he was born for... Who would chose to not protect his own mother, for heaven's sake?!"
"He was only five when she was attacked," Murdock explained sharply.
"That's why he's so negative about us," Phoebe said compassionately. "Poor boy."
"Does a Talisman's ability have anything to do with his age?" Piper tried to find an explanation.
Prue shrugged. The book didn't say anything about that, but it was safe to assume. Their powers had developed and grown over the time, so why not a Talismans?
"Maybe you're both right," Hannibal unexpectedly rejoined the conversation.
"Huh?" Four pairs of confused eyes met him.
"Maybe he couldn't save her, because she was not the one he was born for."
"But who else?" Murdock asked. "He hasn't met any witches ever since... not that we know of, anyway."
"Well," Hannibal said slowly, tucking his cigar back into his mouth and taking a puff. "He's met you, hasn't he?"
Face was outside the building. The bums had all been moving out of his way, no doubt feeling the fury that was boiling inside him.
And the worst was that he didn't even know what he was so furious about. Murdock knowing how he'd failed to save his mother?
It wasn't like Murdock had set out with the goal of finding out about it. How could he? As far as the Team was concerned and everybody else as well, in fact his mother had left him when he was a kid, happened all the time. That was a good, solid story. Maybe not overly pretty, but far better than the truth: he had killed his mother. At the early age of five years old, he had become a killer.
He remembered one guy in Nam, asking him after their first combat, how he could deal with just having turned into a killer. Back then, Face had fantasised up some story. But the truth was: Not much had changed for him. He had been a killer before, and he had been a killer afterwards. It was a familiar feeling, at home in his heart for years and years. It hadn't been anything new. One victim, two, three, four... once you take another person's life, you're doomed anyway. Killing became easier with each single kill, and that was an incontestable truth.
So what was he so furious about?
If it wasn't Murdock, then what?
Himself? His own incapability?
The man that had finished off his mother?
The world in general?
The injustice of life?
Face sat down on the front steps. Yeah. Injustice. It was all so unfair. His whole life had been one big injustice from the beginning.
He remembered the other kids making fun of him, because he was a bastard, and didn't have a proper father. Only a parade of "uncles". Then he'd been expected to save his mother from pain and death. It was simply unfair to put him into such a situation when he wasn't even in school.
Kids had made fun of him when he'd been at the orphanage. Even though it *was* his own fault that he was an orphan, it was no reason to make fun of a child, and some of the remarks and jokes had really stung. Not to talk about the little tricks played on him and other orphans.
Things had looked like they were finally working in his favour when he'd met Leslie. And then she'd gone and left him for some other guy. Why? He still didn't know. What was so terribly bad about him, that she couldn't have given him a chance? Okay, don't answer that.
Vietnam... True, he had signed up voluntarily. But keeping him there for almost two tours was highly unjust. Especially, when there were guys who were sent home after they got merely grazed by a bullet, and the wound had even stopped bleeding by the time they'd reached the doc. He now? Well, he took a bullet in the leg, a bullet into the right shoulder, a stab to his abdomen admittedly that had been his own fault, plus, not much damage had been done with that one, but it had hurt! And then, of course, he had spent almost seven months in a Vietcong death camp. But had good old Uncle Sam found it fit to call it quits and send him home? No. Uncle Sam had sent him to Hanoi instead, which promptly left him with an unjust conviction for bank robbery.
So here he was, on the run for a crime he'd not committed.
His life wasn't all roses, never had been.
His fury had evaporated, and all that was left was emptiness and depression.
He felt he should go back inside, or just anywhere, but nowhere looked appealing.
Khatga decided to do it himself.
He could have found a replacement for Recliffe to do the dirty work, but somehow he felt an urge to just get the deed done. And for all the advantages a henchman had, it took time to find one time that had run out for Khatga on this one.
His grandmother had been a seer, and he had inherited a little bit of her power. Every now and then he would have a hunch, and over the 217 years, that he had been alive now, he had learned to listen to those hunches, because they were usually right.
If he didn't kill Penning soon, it wouldn't happen at all.
He leaned back in his comfortable leather chair, and put his feet up on his big, showy mahogany desk. What he needed now was an update on the situation at hand. It was dangerous to go into a situation unprepared. He couldn't hire an underling because he simply didn't have the time, but maybe that was just for the better. Things were fishy at the Penning estate; and if you wanted something done to your satisfaction, you best did it yourself, anyway.
Penning would be in her house, where else would she be? She lived for those low folks. She hardly ever went out, even had her food delivered to her doorstep. So there would be only one way of infiltrating her house and gathering the information he needed: going in as one of her charges.
Sure, he could just pop up, kill everybody in the vicinity, and vanish again, but that just had no style. Low demons did that, thinking that the more they killed the better they were. Khatga very strongly believed that that wasn't so. To climb up the ladder, it was important who you killed not how many. A bunch of homeless humans wouldn't be a loss to the world, but neither would they be a win to his score.
Tabitha Penning was the one who counted, a future whitelighter, probably even Elder, and if there was one thing the Underworld didn't need, it was yet another whitelighter or Elder swarming around to protect witches.
So, in the early afternoon and with a feeling of disgust, Khatga organized himself the outfit of a homeless. Well, it wasn't the organizing part that disgusted him, that was actually fun. He didn't kill without reason, but when he did, he enjoyed it. He was a demon, after all. Killing was like expensive wine: have it every day and it grows stale.
No, the disgusting part came when he had to put on the rags that he pulled off the dead body at his feet.
With the new outfit on, Khatga blinked into the vicinity of the house, squared his shoulders, but immediately dropped them again to fit in with the homeless crowd. Bums didn't walk straight, they walked hunched over, making themselves appear smaller than they were. They did know they were scum, and they did have enough good grace to try and shrink into invisibility.
It was about dinner time, and he wasn't the only one heading for the house. About twenty men and a handful of women had the same destination.
Khatga realized with interest, that the nearer they got to the house, the straighter the homeless walked. Like they were allowed to exist in this particular place. Probably the truth. Penning was a notorious do-gooder, she wasn't on the future whitelighter list for nothing.
The closer he got to the house and the bums, the stronger the stench of old sweat, garbage and cheap booze became. He hated it, but there was no practicable way to avoid going with them.
He followed the others halfway down the corridor, and then entered a big room on the left, where tables and chairs of various styles and ages were assembled. At the far end of the room a kitchen was lined up. It looked exactly like he had expected.
He had to behave like one of them. He got into line for some food. He imitated the man right in front of him who was getting his rags into as much order as rags would go. Khatga pulled at his clothes, wiped his nose, although there was nothing to wipe away, but it was always good to keep up the show. He ran his fingers through his hair, rather messing it up than straightening it out, but that was okay. Only the show counted, and the show was good.
By the time it was finally his turn at the pot, he grabbed a bowl, and with his head bent, he waited for it to get filled.
There was a young woman next to Penning Khatga didn't know. He'd had no idea that Penning had hired an aide. He wondered for a moment where she got the money from, what with all the little mishaps Recliffe had organized, but then he came to the simple conclusion that the young woman was just another notorious do-gooder. She probably worked for free.
Yeah, definitely just another one, Khatga thought, as the young woman filled his bowl with a broad, sincere smile. "There you are," she said. "And don't forget to take some bread." She pointed at a big basket full of sliced bread.
Suppressing a sigh, Khatga snatched two slices, and then searched a spot from which he could view the room. Observing the territory was always the first step; taking in the surroundings, the people, the layout.
Penning and her aide were so disgustingly positive and helpful, it made his skin crawl. But other than that, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Just an ordinary soup kitchen like what could be found all over ordinary America.
Just where were the muscles Penning had hired according to Recliffe? It was unlikely that they had left already. Muscles only made sense if you kept them around for a while.
But there was no sign of them, anywhere.
Maybe they were in disguise? Maybe that's why Recliffe had been so spooked? Supposedly harmless bums suddenly going and causing havoc?
Khatga took a scrutinising look around. No, just bums who dove into their meals. Nothing out of the ordinary there either. But it reminded him that he still had a show to play, so he finally picked up his spoon and started eating. He raised both eyebrows in surprise. The food was delicious, better than in some of those expensive restaurants he attended. He looked into his bowl, trying to figure out the ingredients, and when he looked up again, he had the stupid feeling he'd missed something, something important. He looked around trying to find anything out of the normal, but couldn't detect anything. Only at the door he thought he could see something like a light pink mist, but when he tried to look closer, it was gone. Maybe he was getting a little paranoid.
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