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Warnings: Rated for consensual explicit sex, nonconsensual sex/torture (not of an A-Team member)
Synopsis: What happened the day the Team robbed the Bank of Hanoi? A woman from Murdock's past has the answers locked in her memory. Can the Team help her find the key in time to save them all?
Disclaimer: No, I don't own the A-Team, just like to play with them in my warped little mind. I make no money from this, just the enjoyment of spinning a good tale about my favorite fantasy soldiers.
Author's Notes: This is the final, edited version of the story. I do my own editing, so any errors are mine and mine alone. I would like to thank Buffalo1fromSalem, C.A. Connor, and Kristen for sticking with me through the cold posting of the draft chapters, and making comments and suggestions about the story as we went. It was a great process, and their feedback helped me to craft a better story. Thanks!
Prologue to Chapter 1
A tall, handsome man, with golden brown eyes and a shaved head just showing the stubble of dark hair, trimmed hedges outside McLean High School. He was enjoying the physical labor. As the trimmer hummed over the bushes, his mind was free to evaluate his current plan of action, yet again, and tighten it, yet again. If all went well, Sydney Wilson and her daughter would be joining him on a lengthy hiatus from their mundane existence. He had enough money put away for them to live quite comfortably in a tropical paradise of their choosing. If all went well.
If all did not go well, he had contingencies. The schedule the good doctor had laid out was too protracted for his comfort, but there was little he could do to shorten it without risking Sydney's mental health. The longer the schedule, the more chance for things to go wrong, and the more important planning for contingencies became.
That was why he was here today. He turned the electric hedge trimmer off and checked his tool belt. He patted the satellite phone tucked into the place where a tape measure normally would have been stored. It was wedged into the compartment tightly, so he didn't think he would lose it, but he didn't like to take chances.
He had been careful to ensure that his work took him to the front of the building in time for dismissal. His timing was perfect, as usual; he would be sweeping off the front steps right on schedule.
Upon school release he would be able to catch Syd's daughter and give her the sat-phone. She was predisposed to aid the handsome man who knew her mother as an old friend. Yes, she would gladly take the sat-phone as an insurance policy, he was certain of it. It wasn't as good as being able to put a 24-hour detail on them, but at least once this chore was complete he could track them, if necessary.
He turned the trimmers back on and shaped the bush precisely. No matter how menial the job, it was essential to do it right.
CHAPTER 1: Not So Blissful Ignorance
"The anxiety attacks have been worsening, ever since we moved here." Alexis Smith sat across the expansive mahogany desk from Dr. David Asher, in a large, wing-backed leather chair that made her feel vaguely like Lily Tomlin's Edith Ann.
Asher looked over his half-moon glasses at her. "So move back to Chicago. I still can't fathom why you moved from Chicago in the first place." He sat back and folded his hands across his generous stomach. "Perhaps you can enlighten me?"
She winced at the doctor's derogatory tone. Asher was the first American doctor she met after she woke in a field hospital in Laos in February of 1972. With no memory of her own identity, she had latched on to the capable and reassuring psychiatrist as a lifeline to sanity. For the past fifteen years she had bared her soul to the man; or at least what she could recall of it. He helped her work out her anger, her anxiety, her excessive mood swings, and her lingering paranoia; but in all those years, he had been unable, or perhaps unwilling, to help her recover her identity. She unclasped her hands and ran thumbs over scarred finger tips a constant reminder of the mystery of her former existence.
She lifted her chin. "I told you why we moved." She had been quite open with him about her reasons; after all, that had been over two years ago, when she still trusted him. She vividly remembered unfolding the newspaper that day after Haley left for school. The headline 'LA Boys Take Down Local Mobster' splashed across the front page. Below the title were military photos of three men, purportedly living in the LA underground as soldiers-for-hire, calling themselves the A-Team. Normally, she would have skimmed the article and moved on, but she found herself staring at the pictures. She felt particularly drawn to the Lieutenant, but the other two were also familiar. She was sure she knew them. She called Asher in her excitement, since she had to share the news with someone. That was just before she had one of the worst anxiety attacks she could recall. Thus began her fixation on the A-Team, and the slow, but inexorable deterioration of her relationship with Dr. Asher.
"The A-Team, yes I remember. Your continuing obsession with them is not healthy. Those men were executed last year, Alexis. It's time you accepted that and moved on."
She allowed his words to hang in the air, fueling her self-doubt. He had become progressively critical after she moved to LA in search of the A-Team. Asher didn't maintain an office in LA, so other than long-distance phone calls and an aborted visit to one of his colleagues, the move allowed her the time and distance to dissociate herself from him. It had been liberating in many ways, even though her efforts to find the A-Team were frustrated at every turn by the Military Police.
Normally, Asher would sit and patiently wait her out, allowing the silence to work its own medicine on her, but not today. After a minute, he shifted, and stood unusual signs of agitation in the staid doctor. "Alexis, I ask you again: If it bothers you so much being in Virginia, then why do you insist on staying? The A-Team is not here."
But Alexis had heard differently. It began as a whisper, built to a murmur and became a legend in the underground of LA; a world she had become intimately familiar with. The heroes were not dead. They had been spirited away to Langley, Virginia, forced to work for the corrupt government that had scorned them. So Alexis had uprooted her daughter, yet again and moved her all the way across the country in search of a group of renegade Robin Hoods. Sometimes she really did think she was losing her mind.
She took a deep breath and blew it out. "The A-Team is not why I'm still here."
Asher moved around the desk. "If not them, then what?"
In her minds eye Alexis saw the three men, side by side in a photo with one end ripped off. The missing piece fluttered into the mists of her fickle memory. It was that piece that she desperately wanted to find. She decided to sidestep the real question. Asher wouldn't like the answer, anyway. "This is a new start for us. And I don't want to totally upheave our life again, so soon after our move from LA"
Asher leaned against the front of the desk and crossed his arms. "You've only been in McLean a few weeks. Surely, if you told your daughter you were moving back to Chicago she would be happy about it. You said she's been homesick."
"Chicago is out of the question." Chicago felt empty, lonely.
Asher cleared his throat. "Alexis." He spoke in his most soothing tone, even going so far as to place a gentle hand on her knee. She forced herself not to flinch at the touch. "Please, make another move, maybe back to LA, or to somewhere else on the west coast; or in the Midwest for that matter. Find a place where you and Haley can relax and live your lives. This renewed pursuit of your lost past is proving stressful and I fear unhealthy."
"How can knowing who I am be unhealthy?"
"We've talked about this, Alexis. Even intense hypnotherapy did not unlock your memory. I have to believe that whatever is in your past, it's too painful for your conscious mind to contemplate. Let the past be, and live your life now. If not for yourself, then do it for Haley."
Haley, the child she was carrying when she awoke in Laos. The girl who was born seven weeks premature and through some miracle lived and grew to be a beautiful, intelligent, and curious young woman. A young woman who encouraged Alexis every time a flash of long-forgotten memory became her next obsession. Haley would want to stay and find out what they could. She ached to know who her father was -- and who her mother had been -- almost as much as Alexis herself did.
"I'll take it under advisement." She looked at her watch and stood, moving away from Asher. "I have to get going."
Asher crossed his arms. "I think we should discuss this further."
"Not now, I have to go." At Asher's disapproving gaze, she sighed. "I'm not avoiding, doctor. I really do have to go. I have to get to the high school to pick up Haley."
"You'll be back tomorrow?"
"I want to get unpacked. I think that may help with the anxiety more than anything else."
Asher leaned across his desk. When he turned back to Alexis, he held out a pill bottle. "Here, take these. They'll help you sleep. Just follow the instructions on the label."
She tucked the pills into her purse. "Thank you."
"Please be back in on Friday, Alexis. And if you need to see me before then, don't hesitate to call. I'll be in Langley all week."
She pressed her lips into a thin smile. "Of course."
* * *
Captain H.M. 'Howlin' Mad' Murdock, jumped when the phone in his tiny apartment rang. He dropped the Rolling Stone magazine he was reading, and grabbed the phone. "Al's Aviary Abode, which cage do ya want?"
"Huh?" Lieutenant Templeton 'Faceman' Peck's grunt was unmistakable to his best friend.
Murdock sighed. Face didn't sound like he was in the mood to joke with him today. He looked at his watch: 2:15pm. "I'll be leaving in about 15 minutes, Faceman. Hannibal said 3 o'clock, right?"
"Um, that's why I called."
Murdock groaned. "You're not canceling on me?"
"Afraid so . . ." Face's voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. "Stockwell's dug in here. Hannibal thinks it's probably best if you make yourself scarce for now. We're hoping that he's working on the pardons, and you just tend to well, you know, irritate him. I'll call when the coast is clear."
"Yeah, OK. Bye." Murdock put the phone down and looked at the table. The want ads created a backdrop to all of the other reading material he had used for the day to avoid looking at them. The last mission had been timed such that he held his most recent job only three weeks. The thought of looking for another one didn't enthrall him, especially with the pardons so close. Who knew where they would end up? It seemed a waste to get a job at this point.
He glanced into the little galley kitchen, and frowned. If he wasn't going to the compound, that meant no pot roast for dinner. Damn. His gaze landed on the grocery list hanging on the refrigerator. The cupboards were getting kind of empty. He shrugged into his leather jacket, grabbed the list, and headed out the door. If he couldn't have Hannibal's pot roast, he'd just have to go buy some comfort food of his own.
* * *
Alexis pulled her little blue compact car up in front of McLean High School, and waited. She opened her purse and pulled out the pills Dr. Asher had given her. Opening the bottle, she spilled the pills out into her hand. Thirty little pills to 'help her sleep.' She dumped them back into the bottle and shoved it into her purse. She would dispose of them once she got home. She firmly believed, no matter what the good doctor told her, that medication was not the answer to her problems. She was beginning to think Asher might just be the problem.
Teenagers began trickling out of the school, and Alexis smiled when she saw her daughter come out arm in arm with another girl. Haley towered over the shorter girl by at least half a foot. At 5'10", she was taller than most of her class mates, as well as Alexis, who was barely 5'4" herself.
The two girls stopped just outside the door. That was when Alexis noticed the tall, bald man standing in the shadows. Whatever he said made the girls laugh, but Alexis was bothered by the fact that Haley hung back to continue talking to him, while her friend bounced down the steps to catch up to another group of girls in the yard. Buses began pulling into the drive between Alexis and the school and she lost sight of Haley.
She was debating whether to go retrieve her daughter personally, when she caught sight of Haley and her friend on the sidewalk, between two busses. The two girls hugged and waved goodbye as they went their separate ways. Haley ran toward the car, her long legs carrying her quickly across the parking lot.
Haley folded her thin frame into the passenger seat and dumped the backpack over her shoulder. "Hi, Mom! How was your day?"
"OK. How was yours?" Alexis left the car off. The line of traffic was going to prevent immediate exit anyway.
"Great! Lisa asked if I could come over this coming weekend. Her grandfather is taking her to the Smithsonian complex for her birthday, and said she could bring a friend. Can I go?" Haley's warm, brown eyes were pleading.
"I would like to meet Lisa's folks first."
"You could drop me off Friday and meet them then."
"Alright. But, if for any reason I decide you can't go at that time, I don't want any arguments. Understood?"
"Mom, the Cheneys are normal people. What possible reason would you have for not letting me stay?"
"I don't know, but if I say you're coming home with me on Friday, that's that."
Haley slumped in the seat and crossed her arms. "If you're going to embarrass me, I'll just stay home."
Alexis shrugged. "If that's what you want. By the way, who was that you were talking to when you left?"
Haley's brow furrowed. "Lisa, I just told you."
"Not Lisa. The man you spoke to just outside the school."
Haley shook her head and answered quickly. "Just one of the janitors." She laced her hands together as if about to pray and turned to her mother with an exaggerated pleading look on her face. "Please, Mom. Please just let me go with Lisa. I promise, I won't get kidnapped, raped, assaulted . . . or whatever else it is you're so worried about."
"You promise, huh?" Alexis sighed. "You know I'm just trying to protect "
"Protect me, yeah, I know. But you've been acting weirder than usual since we got to Virginia. Did you go see Dr. Asher today?"
Alexis cleared her throat. "Yes, I saw Dr. Asher today."
"What did he say about the anxiety attacks and the paranoia?"
"I have not been acting paranoid!"
Haley raised her eyebrows. "Mom, remember our honesty pledge."
"You never let me forget." Alexis rolled her head and started the car. "I went and saw Asher, today, like we agreed I would. He thinks . . ." She reviewed the conversation in her head and chose her words carefully as she pulled into the thinning traffic in the drive. "He thinks we need to talk again. I'm going to get the unpacking done, so we feel more settled in, then go see him again on Friday. We'll see if things have improved."
"Good. I'm glad you went to see him. You seem more settled then you were this morning."
Alexis nodded in response as she pulled out onto the road from the school drive. She often found herself wondering who the parent was in her and Haley's relationship. Her daughter was far more familiar with psychiatric therapy than a girl her age should be. At 14, she should be thinking about school and boys not obsessing about her mother's ongoing mental problems.
* * *
Murdock pulled into the neighborhood grocery store located a few blocks from his apartment, and parked his little red truck. It wasn't cherry, like the one he won on the Wheel of Fortune, but it was a nice little pickup. He grabbed a cart from the corral he parked next to, and whistled the William Tell Overture as he road it across the parking lot and into the store.
* * *
Alexis pulled into the parking lot for the grocery store nearest their new neighborhood, and Haley groaned. "I thought you were going to go shopping before you picked me up."
"I didn't get a chance - since I went to see Dr. Asher." Alexis smiled at her daughter. "Besides, I thought we could pick out some treats. I got the living room unpacked this morning, and the TV and VCR set up. Maybe we can stop and pick up a couple movies and relax tonight in our new digs."
"Mom, people do not say 'digs' anymore." Haley rolled her eyes as she hopped out of the car. She stopped and pointed. "Now this is what I'm talking about, Mother. We need a little red pickup like this one."
Alexis looked at the truck in the adjacent parking spot, and shook her head. "I like our car just fine."
"I cannot be seen driving that little blue,
four-banger, Mother." Haley said. "A nice red pickup would be
perfect. And just think how convenient it would be for hauling things around."
"What kinds of things?" Alexis grabbed a cart as they passed the corral.
"Like our things. Like when we move we wouldn't have to hire a moving company."
"Who says we're moving, again?" Alexis snapped. "We just got here. What's your hurry?"
Haley slid between her mother and the cart. "No hurry. I like it here." She put a red-sneakered foot up on the back of the cart, and pushed off, gliding to a stop by the sliding door.
Alexis looked up at her daughter when she caught up to her and shook her head. "It's a grocery cart, Haley Marie, not a skate board."
Haley grinned. "Works almost as good as one."
* * *
Murdock glided to the end of the first aisle and hopped off the cart by the dairy section to pick up whole milk, eggs, cheese, and tortillas, before turning the corner and heading for breakfast foods.
Alexis turned into the first aisle and froze as she watched a leather jacket with a faded tiger on the back disappear around the end of the aisle. The Flying Tigers had been an early obsession of hers, back when she first returned to the states. Unfortunately, the group pre-dated her international trip, and she was never able to determine how her own history could be related to the aerial group of World War II fame. But the glimpse of the man wearing the jacket with the tiger on it sparked a flurry of disjointed images flashing through her mind. She hurried down the aisle.
"Mom, where are you going? We need bananas." Haley huffed in aggravation as her mother kept moving away, oblivious to her calls from the produce section at the head of the first aisle.
She grabbed a bunch of bananas and jogged to catch up with Alexis, grabbing her by the arm as she was about to round the end of the aisle. "Wait, aren't milk and eggs on your list, too?" She dropped the bananas into the cart.
Alexis shook her head. "Uh, yeah, we need . . .," she pulled out her list and looked at it, as the images faded into the recesses of her erratic memory. "Milk, eggs, cheese and orange juice."
In the breakfast aisle, Murdock grinned as he approached a man loading the last of a pallet of pastries onto the shelf. "Hey, Joe. What's good today?"
The gray-haired stocker returned the smile. "Hello, HM. I would recommend the strawberry toaster pastries. Fresh off the truck today!"
"Hook me up, buddy!"
The voices carried over the shelves between the aisles, and Alexis froze. The voice, HM, she was sure she knew that voice. More images flashed through her head. She closed her eyes and messaged her temples, trying to hold some of them in the conscious part of her mind.
Haley put a hand on her mother's arm. "Are you alright, Mom? That's the second time you've zoned out since we walked in the store."
"I don't know . . ."
"Maybe we should just head home. We can order pizza tonight and do the grocery-shopping tomorrow." Haley was worried. Her mother's face was pale, and she could see beads of sweat forming on her forehead, even though the store was chilly.
Alexis sighed as the memories faded, again. "No, we're here. Let's finish up." A gray-haired man nodded to her as he rolled an empty pallet past her at the end of the first aisle. She nodded absently and rounded the end cap to enter the next aisle. Her eyes fixed on the man examining cereal ahead of her.
She left the cart and moved forward, scrutinizing him as she approached slowly. Tall and thin, with brown hair curling out from under a blue baseball cap, and that jacket she was certain she should know who he was.
She vaguely heard Haley calling to her, "Mom, you forgot the car . . . Mom?"
Murdock lifted his head when he heard a girl call out to her mother, her voice sounded mildly distressed. But what he saw made him drop the cereal box he was holding. "Syd?"
He turned to face the woman now immobile in the middle of the aisle. "Sydney?" It felt like someone was standing on his chest. "Syd, is that you?" He slid around his cart and took a step toward the apparition that stood in front of him. It felt like his feet were planted in concrete as he tried to move toward her, and it occurred to him that this was probably a dream. Any minute he would wake up.
Alexis couldn't take her eyes off of him HM . . . Murdock. The name floated through her head. She knew him. More images, flashing in fast-forward now, like a reel to reel movie out of control. His face, younger, thinner, settled in her mind's eye with an expression that made her knees weak. She tried to focus on the man in front of her. He was talking to her, but his voice was muffled by the sound of the blood rushing in her ears. Her head felt like it was going to splinter into a million pieces, over-loaded by the onslaught of memories associated with HM Murdock. Her vision tunneled.
Murdock lunged forward and caught her just before she hit the floor. A tall girl came running forward. "Oh my God, Mom? Mom, are you alright?"
Murdock patted her face and marveled at the solidity of it. She was real. "Sydney. Syd. C'mon, wakey, wakey."
The girl gaped at him. "Her name is Alexis . . . I . . . I think."
It wasn't Sydney. Murdock felt disappoint hit him like a sucker punch. "Alexis. I could have sworn wait a minute . . ." He looked up at the girl. "What do you mean, 'I think'?"
The girl's face reflected as much confusion as Murdock felt. The woman emitted a soft moan; she was starting to come around. The girl standing above him dropped to her knees. "Oh my God! Is she going to be alright? Mom?"
Murdock's grip on the woman had tightened, and he consciously forced himself to loosen it. Maybe this wasn't Sydney, just his overactive imagination seeing what he wanted to see. He focused on the girl. "She's your mother?"
She nodded, wringing her hands in worry. "She's been acting strange ever since . . . well, since we got here."
Joe came running forward, leaving another pallet of stock sitting in the middle of the aisle. "Jesus, what happened? Should I call 911, HM?"
Before Murdock could respond, the prone woman's eyes sprang open, the familiar sky blue fooling his suggestible mind into hoping again.
She shook her head. "No! Don't call anyone. I'm fine."
Murdock stared at her, she even sounded like Sydney. But it couldn't be. Sydney was dead. "I kinda think paramedics might be a good idea."
She pushed herself to a sitting position. "I said I'm fine. No medics."
Murdock swallowed, she definitely sounded like Sydney; could be her doppelganger even. He sat back on his knees, but kept close enough to catch her in case she fainted again. "You're the boss."
She turned and looked at him, unblinking, while a muddle of emotions flittered across her broad, expressive face.
Murdock felt his heart lurch. The sky-blue eyes staring
at him out of that lovely face were unmistakable. It had to be her. "Sydney?"
"HM." Her face finally settled into a tentative smile. She nodded slowly. "Yes, I'm Sydney Wilson. And you're HM Murdock."
Emotions threatened to overwhelm him. He reached out a hand to brush her cheek. She was still solid, real. He had almost convinced himself that it wasn't her. His voice came out as a hoarse whisper. "I can't believe you're alive."
"Mom? Do you remember?"
Unshed tears glistened in Sydney's eyes. "I remember."
* * * *
Prologue to Chapter 2
Isaac Cheney half-listened as his granddaughter, Lisa chattered on about her day. "And Haley said she'd ask her Mom if she could come with us to the Smithsonian this weekend. Oh, Gramps, I think you'll like Haley. She's really smart, and funny."
Isaac, or Ike as most people knew him, wished he could just enjoy his granddaughter's dissertation on the minutiae of her day. He felt he owed that to her. After all, he had taken advantage of her unreserved extroversion. A few gentle suggestions were all it took to get Lisa to befriend the new girl at school. It was fortunate, for him, that Lisa was the same age as Haley the manipulated connection had given him the in he needed to insert himself into an investigation in which he had a vested interest.
It had been a shock to many in the Company when Haley's mother, Sydney Wilson showed up in McLean, Virginia three weeks ago. Semi-retired, Ike only went into the office a couple times a week and had nearly missed the tremors. Sydney Wilson was supposed to be dead according to official records, she was killed in shelling on a military base in Vietnam on January 27, 1972.
Fortunately for him, he had always been quick on his feet. He had himself assigned as a consultant on the case in short order. With his current personal connection to Haley, and his historic knowledge of the players involved, it had been an easy sell.
The knee-jerk reaction of the higher-ups had been to pull her in and find out what the hell had happened. Ike had nipped that in the bud. If they were going to drop the net, he wanted to make sure it fell precisely. That was going to require some delicate maneuvering. To Ike it was as if fate had dropped Sydney Wilson in his lap. She would be irresistible bait to his target: a man who was no fool, and was already on-guard.
"So Gramps, do you think we'll have time to see all of the museums?" Lisa asked.
"Hm, oh, no, there are too many for a single day, but we can always go back," Ike said. "Where do you want to start?"
"You suggested the Air and Space Museum. You said you knew some of the guys that are in there, right? Haley said she's always wanted to take flying lessons. I think that would be a great place to start. Then maybe we could . . ."
As Lisa rambled on, making plans for the weekend, he had to smile. It was times like this that he was glad he accepted his son's offer of a place to live. The cottage he now called home had started as little more than a garden shack. With the help of a specialty contractor suggested by his former colleague, Hunt Stockwell, he had renovated it into a bachelor's pad that suited Ike perfectly. It was private, and secluded, with its own rear entrance to the grounds, and all the electronic bells and whistles that an old spy was accustomed to. Best of all, it was close enough to give him a chance to reacquaint himself with his family. All he had to do was wrap this last little project up and he should be able to retire for good.
CHAPTER 2: Filling in Some Blanks
It felt like the last 15 years had melted away, as Sydney stared at HM Murdock. He had put on weight since they'd met in Vietnam, but he had the same open face and warm brown eyes. His voice, his smell, everything about him was achingly familiar.
His eyes were locked on her, now, and she knew she could lose herself in them. She was replaying the last time they were together before . . . she felt a jolt of frustration. Before what? She still couldn't remember what had landed her in a hospital in Laos. The last place she remembered being before that was the supply shed on base arguing with Murdock about the Team's upcoming mission.
Murdock's voice interrupted her thoughts. "Do you think you can stand?"
He took her hand and helped her up off the cold linoleum floor, his other hand sliding naturally to the small of her back. Once they were standing, he moved closer to her, his gaze worried. "You sure you're alright?"
She became aware of Haley, hovering at her other side.
"Mom, m-maybe we should go to the hospital."
"No. I'm fine. I think the rush of memories was just . . . a little overwhelming, that's all. Let's . . . let's go home." Her eyes locked on Murdock as she considered the phrasing of that statement. "I think we need to sit down and talk."
Murdock's brows were drawn tight. "What do you mean, 'rush of memories?'"
Sydney took a deep breath. "Until a few seconds ago, I didn't know who I was, let alone you."
He searched her face, glanced at Haley and nodded. "We . . . definitely need to talk."
Murdock still held her hand in a firm grip, like he was afraid if he let go she might disappear. Sydney knew how he felt, but Haley looked freaked out. She squeezed his fingers, and gave him what she hoped was a reassuring smile as she stepped away from him.
She turned and took Haley's hand. "Are you ok, honey?"
Haley glanced at Murdock uncertainly, but nodded. "I'm ok, if you are."
"HM is . . . a good friend, Haley," Sydney said. She put a hand on the cart. "We should put the groceries back . . ."
Joe stepped forward. "It's alright, ma'am. I'll take care of that."
Sydney smiled at him. "Thank you."
As Sydney and Haley started down the aisle toward the front of the store, Joe leaned into Murdock. "She's new around her. How do you know her, HM? Is she some kind of amnesiac?"
"Just started coming in the store a week or two ago."
Murdock He pushed his cart to the stocker. "Could you put my groceries back, too, Joe?"
"Sure thing, HM. See ya later?" Curiosity burned in Joe's face.
Murdock didn't blame him, but he didn't have time to satisfy it right now, if he even could. He had more questions than answers, himself.
Sydney and her daughter were rounding the end of the aisle, about to disappear from his line of vision. He waved at Joe absently as he hurried after them. He was terrified of letting Sydney out of his sight.
Out in the parking lot, Sydney and Haley stopped at a little blue compact car parked next to his truck. He followed Sydney to the driver's side, and leaned on the window after she closed the door. "So, where are we going?"
She gave him the address, and his eyes went wide. "That's just around the corner from my apartment. How long have you lived there?"
"Just a couple weeks." She reached her right hand over and brushed his where it rested. "Let's get to the house. Then we'll talk." She glanced over at Haley. "We'll all talk."
Murdock nodded, and stood. "I'll follow you."
"Where's your car?"
"I'm in the red truck right here." Murdock nodded to the adjacent parking space.
"You own the red truck?" Haley asked with a smile.
Murdock leaned down and reflected her smile. "Yep."
Murdock followed Sydney out onto the four lane road in front of the grocery store. Now that the shock of finding her was wearing off, he was wondering where the hell she had been for the last fifteen years.
And why had he come back from the war in a straight jacket because he thought she was dead?
* * *
Haley watched her mother out of the corner of her eye. Her excitement at the prospect of learning about her mother's past was countered by anxiety. She had followed Alexis Smith for the last three years on an increasingly-obsessive quest to find her identity. But what now? She didn't know Sydney Wilson.
"It's still me, honey," her mother said.
Haley started, and then smiled. When she was younger she thought her mother could read her mind and had eyes in the back of her head. But now she knew that it was keen observational skill that allowed her to anticipate actions and questions. Over time Haley had watched and learned, and now prided herself on her own abilities.
She glanced over her shoulder, at the little red truck that followed them down their street and into the driveway. She really liked that truck, but she was keenly curious about its driver. "Who is he?"
"Captain HM Murdock . . ." her mother's eyes narrowed. "Your father. I think."
Haley stared at her in shock. "You're not sure?"
She put the car in park and stared out the window for a moment. "I don't believe it could have been anyone else, but I find that perhaps my memory recovery isn't totally complete."
"You have to be kidding me."
"I'm sorry, honey, it's the best I can do."
HM appeared at the driver's-side window. He cast a tense glance toward the road, then looked down at Sydney. "Is everything alright in here?"
"Does he know?" Haley asked.
He pursed his lips. "I can guess."
* * *
Murdock sat in the living room, staring at the tall, brown-haired, brown-eyed girl in silence. Sydney paced back and forth in his line of vision, her blue eyes, honey hair, and short stature a stark contrast to her daughter his daughter. He was barely controlling the urge to walk over to Haley and give her a huge bear hug. He wasn't sure he'd let go. The words kept echoing through his head: he had a daughter. It all felt like some crazy dream, and he kept thinking that any minute he was going to wake up.
"I know it was only that one night, but there was no one else, HM. There is still a period of time that's really hazy, including an entire month or so in the hospital . . ."
"While she was in a coma," Haley inserted. "That was before I was born."
"And they didn't know I was pregnant."
"The doctor said it was a miracle I was born without any lasting effects from the drugs," Haley said.
Murdock shook his head slowly. "How do you know so much about this?"
Haley crossed her arms and directed a stern look at him that made him smile. He couldn't help it. She walked across to the couch and sat rigidly next to him, her expression serious. "We have a strict rule in our home. No lies ever. Mom always tells me the truth. It's our honesty pact. And since you are apparently part of the family, you're bound by it, too."
Murdock pressed his lips into a thin line and glanced up at Sydney, who was looking at her daughter worriedly. "You can't hold him to a pact you and I made eight years ago, Haley," Sydney said. "HM has other promises that may prevent him from . . . being entirely truthful."
Haley turned her familiar and intent brown eyes on him. "Do you promise to tell the truth as much as possible?"
"I'll tell you what I can," he offered. "Unfortunately, I have some memory problems with that general time-frame myself."
"Jesus!" Haley launched off the couch. "Does faulty memory run in the family or something? Am I going to lose my mind when I get older?"
"Haley Marie Smith that was uncalled for." Bright red spots appeared on Syd's high cheeks. "You have no idea what we went through at the end of the war."
"Obviously neither do you!"
"That's not entirely true," Murdock stood up and moved toward Syd. The general pallor of her face worried him after the blackout in the store. He was careful to keep his voice quiet and even. "I remember all but the last few hours of that day. You know, I really think you should give your mom a break she remembered an awful lot for one day. Don't you think?"
"Let's get one thing straight." Haley turned to face him, her arms crossed. "You may be my biological father, but that doesn't make you my boss. I don't even know who you are."
Sydney opened her mouth, but Murdock shook his head slightly as he put an arm around her shoulders and guided her back to the couch to sit. Being close to her was incredibly distracting, and it took every ounce of self-control not to sink onto the couch with her and gather her in his arms. He had an overwhelming urge to cocoon himself somewhere with the two of them and spend the rest of his life catching up. But there were problems with that idea, and as it became more and more apparent that this wasn't a dream, the reality of the situation he had observed on the way into the house was starting to register.
He turned resolutely away from Syd and took a couple steps toward Haley. "I'm not trying to act like your father. But it would seem to me common courtesy to consider just what your mom has been through in the last hour. You need to cut her some slack."
Haley blinked at him, and her shoulders slumped. "I'm sorry, Mom." His eyes followed her, and he found himself distracted again, as she slid onto the couch and gripped Sydney's hands. "Can I get you a drink of water, or a cup of coffee?"
Sydney smiled at her daughter. "I'm fine, really. I'm as frustrated as you are, honey. I'm hoping that the rest of my memory will come back over time."
"But it may not." Murdock found himself in the odd position of offering some realistic perspective. "Sometimes traumatic experiences are never recovered. It's something we may just have to accept."
"We should call Dr. Asher," Haley said.
Murdock was gazing at Sydney, and saw the uncertainty reflected in her clear blue eyes. "Who's Dr. Asher?"
"Mom's therapist," Haley said. "I've known him all my life. He's really good."
"Not that good he never has been able to help me remember who I am." Sydney glanced at Murdock, and then patted Haley's hand. "Maybe I will take a cup of coffee, if you don't mind making it."
Haley jumped up and disappeared into the kitchen.
Murdock turned on the television and increased the volume before taking Haley's spot next to Sydney on the couch, careful not to touch her, and intent on sorting out what was going on. "I notice you haven't told Haley about your former profession."
Sydney sighed. "I'd like to keep the life-altering information dumps to one a day. Let's get her used to the idea that she has a father."
"I'm afraid that may not be possible, Syd." Murdock glanced toward the window. "How long has that white panel van been sitting outside your house?"
Sydney's face blanched. "Jesus. There's been at least one panel van on the street for the last week, bearing one company logo or another. You think they're watching us?"
"I'd bet on it. This place is probably crawling with bugs. God knows what they're looking for. Hopefully my appearance doesn't set them off."
"You think it would?" Sydney's brows drew together. "I mean, that would imply that someone is still worried about something that happened during the war. That seems kind of far-fetched."
"I'd agree, except that it was only last year that Curtis shows up alive, accusing the A-Team of a murder we didn't even know occurred. Then Morrison's body was miraculously recovered from Vietnam with two bullet holes in it. And now, you show up, very much alive. We thought all three of you had been killed in the base bombing that day, but obviously something much shadier was going on. What happened to you the day of the Bank of Hanoi job?"
Sydney shook her head. "I can't remember anything after you left the supply shed that morning."
"I remember dropping the guys off at the LZ and starting back to base. After that it gets hazy. We make a hell of a pair, don't we?" He smiled at her, covered her hands with his before remembering that he wasn't going to touch her. The contact prompted a flood of memories and emotions that he didn't have time for right now. "God I missed you, Syd. I wish we could just sit here for the next year and get reacquainted, but we're gonna have to move. My gut is telling me it's not safe here."
"Where are we going to go?" Syd glanced worriedly at the kitchen. "I don't know anyone around here, except Asher, and I don't trust him. He's probably up to his eyeballs in whatever's going on."
"We've gotta get to the compound and talk to Hannibal. We'll be safe there. I just need to get to a pay phone."
"Hannibal's alive? What about "
"They're all alive. It's a long story."
"I have a phone "
"That's probably tapped." Murdock shook his head. He wouldn't feel comfortable until they got out of this house.
"I've been out of the spy game for too long."
"I'm sure it'll all come back to you " He stopped as Haley came walking out of the kitchen carrying a cup of coffee.
She handed her mother the cup, walked to the television and turned down the volume. "Are you two deaf, or something?"
Murdock gave an un-amused snort. "Or something."
Sydney squeezed his hands, and stood up. "It's such a nice day, we were talking about taking a walk through the neighborhood. The boxes make me crazy." She looked down at Murdock. "I'm going to change into some more comfortable walking shoes. I'll be right back."
Murdock watched as Syd headed down the hall, and felt a wave of apprehension when she disappeared from his sight. He forced his mind to contemplate the best exit route to the nearest pay phone; preferably on a busy street.
"Where are we going?" Haley's question startled him out of his thoughts.
"I thought maybe I'd take my ladies to Prior Attire. It's a vintage clothing shop just around the corner. I'll buy you some new duds."
"Tell me you didn't just say 'duds.'"
Murdock raised his eyebrows. Did she just roll her eyes at him? "Well, if 'duds' isn't the proper term, then maybe you should help me get with the times."
"You could say something like, we're going out to get some new gear."
"Gear?" Murdock shook his head. "Sounds like I'm headed to stores to get a new pack or something. Try again."
"How about 'threads' that's a cool term."
He grinned at her. "Talk about retro. I thought that term went out with the Rat Pack."
He sighed. "Never mind."
Haley shrugged. "Maybe you should just stick with the technical term, 'clothes.'"
Sydney came jogging out in a pair of sneakers and a light jacket. "OK, I'm ready to rock n' roll."
"Oh my God!" Haley stood. "Really, you two should just talk like normal old people."
"We're not old." Sydney and Murdock said in unison.
"I meant 'older,' not old." Haley hastened to the door. "Are we ready to go?"
Sydney and Murdock looked at each other, expressions conveying a much more serious message than the light banter suggested. Murdock nodded and they turned to follow Haley out of the house.
At the door, Murdock's gaze was drawn immediate to the cleaning van sitting in front of the house to the right of Syd's. Scanning the opposite way down the street, he saw another panel van kitty corner across from Syd's, this one for a lawn care company. Kinda late for either kind of work. His instincts all told him someone was very interested in what Sydney remembered who else would they be watching on this sleepy residential street? He was convinced it was all connected, somehow, to what had happened the day the Team robbed the bank of Hanoi. Someone had gone to an awful lot of trouble to keep him, Sydney and the guys out of the way.
And whoever it was, they were frighteningly well-connected in the spy community.
* * * *
Prologue to Chapter 3
Lewis leaned against the mantle of the non-functional fireplace in his townhouse apartment. The black and white photo he stared at was in a simple, ebony frame, and showed Lewis standing next to his then-partner, Sydney Wilson. Abruptly, he snatched the picture frame off the shelf and flung it across the room. The glass shattered against the wall and the wood broke into pieces.
Lewis' expression was emotionless as he crossed the room and crouched to extract the photo from the broken remains. He ran a thumb over the image of his former partner. Like a lioness, beautiful, canny and deadly, Sydney had captured his fancy like no other woman he had ever met. They were an ideal pair, and he thought their relationship would grow over time. Everything was going fine . . . until Sydney met that damn pilot.
And now, 15 years later, the same pilot was fucking up all of his carefully-laid plans. He shoved the photo into the inside pocket of his jacket, and stood. After cleaning up the mess, he opened the duffle on the sofa and took a quick inventory of the contents before closing it and slinging the strap over his shoulder. He wouldn't be back to this apartment again.
It was time to implement one of his contingencies.
CHAPTER 3: Defining the Enemy
Sydney slipped her hand into Murdock's as they moved along the front walk toward the street. Haley walked along beside her, oblivious to the danger that stalked their movements. She wished she could insulate her daughter from it; but even as the thought crossed her mind, she knew it would be impossible.
Murdock squeezed her hand, but his uneasiness was infectious. She glanced at his profile; it reflected the same watchful anxiety she felt in every tense muscle of her body. His heightened awareness of his surroundings recalled the man she had met in Vietnam; an almost frightening combination of special forces and intelligence agent; a man she had been warned her to be wary of; a man that, despite her best defenses, she had fallen in love with.
Haley took her other hand in a carefree grip and forced Sydney back to the present. She scanned the neighborhood with a newly-jaded eye. Across the street, a father was playing catch with his son in the front yard. A couple of pre-teens road past on bicycles, and a woman stood out in the yard, watering her flower beds.
It was the most benign scene Sydney could imagine. Even the panel van, today marked with a cleaning company logo, seemed innocuous in this setting. It was parked in front of the house next door. Murdock bypassed the sidewalk and guided them across the street, to avoid passing by the van too closely. He veered right and Sydney quickened her pace, tugging on Haley's hand to urge her along.
"Prior Attire is on the next block." Murdock was keeping his tone light, but Sydney could see his eyes darting side to side, taking in every detail as they moved at a less-than-leisurely pace through the neighborhood that was bustling with early evening activity.
Syd felt Murdock jerk in surprise when Haley broke the silence. "So when you say vintage clothing, you mean, like clothing somebody else has worn before, right." Haley made a face. "That's kinda gross."
A genuine smile of amusement illuminated Murdock's face. "They do wash them, Haley."
"But still . . ."
"It's no different than buying clothes at a garage sale. We've done that plenty of times," Sydney said.
"I know. I think that was kinda gross, too."
Sydney shook her head. "Stop acting like such a little priss, Haley Marie. What's gotten into you?"
"Lisa always gets her clothes brand new. She said it's the only way to keep up with the latest fashions."
Sydney grimaced. That kind of attitude had always irritated her. "I definitely want to meet Lisa's folks before you start hanging out with her too much."
"Mom." Haley's tone conveyed her distress at Sydney's statement.
"Here we are." Murdock opened the door and ushered Sydney and Haley into the little shop, ending the deteriorating discussion between mother and daughter.
* * *
Syd and Haley were in the one dressing room in the shop, putting on their new clothes, while Murdock went to the checkout. He handed the tags to the woman behind the counter. "I think they'll be wearing their new purchases out. Can I have a bag to put their other clothes in?"
"I'd rather you brought the clothes out for purchase." The woman looked at Murdock narrowly.
He held out a hundred dollar bill and gave her what he hoped was a smile Face would have been proud of. "That should more than cover our purchases. Do you have a rear exit?"
She took the offered money, and waved a dismissive hand. "Down the back hall, just past the dressing room."
Outside the dressing room, Sydney took her and Haley's clothes and stuffed them into the bag Murdock held open. He threw the bag behind a shelf just inside the retail area.
"What are you doing?" Haley protested. "That's . . . , um, that's my favorite t-shirt."
"I'll get you a new one, kiddo," Murdock said. "I can't believe I'm caught in this situation without a weapon. I mean hopefully we won't need it but . . ."
"A weapon?" Haley's eyes were wide, and grew wider as her mother pulled a gun out of a holster at her ankle.
Sydney handed the gun to Murdock. "It's only a six shot, but it's better than nothing."
Murdock checked the ammo, nodded, and grinned at Sydney as he shoved the gun in his pocket. "You are the woman of my dreams."
She smiled at him, but quickly sobered. "Did you see the cleaning van?"
"I saw 'em. And the lawn care van on the other side. Not very original. Hopefully we won't have company as soon as we walk out of here. But I'd say they're definitely worried about something. You've got surveillance all over you."
"What are you two talking about?" Haley looked from Sydney to Murdock, her mounting anxiety apparent in the rising pitch of her voice.
Sydney put a hand on Haley's shoulder. "Haley, we don't have time for a full-blown explanation right now, so you're going to have to be satisfied with this: I was an intelligence agent in Vietnam. And whatever it is I might remember has someone very worried. HM is going to take us somewhere that we'll be safe, but you're going to have to keep quiet, keep close, and do exactly as you're told. Understood?"
Haley nodded mutely. Murdock checked out the back door. "It's clear. Once we're outside, we can head straight to Main. It'll be too busy for them to make a move there. There's a pay phone on the corner of Main and State we should be able to get some backup then. Ready?"
They walked out the back door casually and headed through the alley to Main Street. They made it to Main and State without incident, and Murdock slid into the phone booth, dropped in a quarter, and dialed the number the General had given him for emergencies.
The phone rang, but when the line picked up, Murdock swore, as a mechanical voice intoned, "Your call is very important to us. Please leave your name and number after the beep and we'll get back to you as soon as possible."
Murdock hung up, dropped in another quarter, and began to dial again, just as a stretch limo slid up to the curb. He put the phone down as General Stockwell stood and held the door open. "Captain, Special Agent, Miss. Please, get in the car."
Murdock felt Sydney stiffen beside him. One look at her face told him that not only did she know Stockwell, but she was not happy to see him. He groaned inwardly, as he added another question to the rapidly-growing list he needed to ask her. Unfortunately, right now there wasn't time to hesitate, as he watched a white panel van turn the corner.
He looked down at Sydney, noting the stubborn set of her jaw. Yep, she knew Stockwell alright. "Syd, you gotta trust me."
"You, I trust." She ground out. She turned to Haley. "Get into the car, honey."
Murdock was relieved when Sydney followed Haley through the door. He ducked in after, followed closely by Stockwell.
Murdock looked over at Sydney and Haley. "You two alright?"
Sydney didn't respond, just stared at the General as if he were a cobra about to strike.
But Haley was nodding. "Yeah, I think so. Are we safe now?"
"Safe is a relative term." Murdock turned to the General. "We have company."
"You forget, I am closely allied with the spy community in this town. They won't make a move on my vehicle. They know you're safe inside."
Murdock's eyes narrowed. "How did you get here so fast?"
"I would have picked you up outside of the clothing establishment, but you disappeared out the back," Stockwell said. "I would think you would know by now, Captain, when something happens to you, I am the first to find out. I always protect my assets."
Murdock leaned back and closed his eyes. As grateful as he was, it pissed him off that Stockwell treated him like property. It also nagged at him that Stockwell seemed to know he needed picked up before he did himself. He opened his eyes a slit. "So, where are we headed?"
"The Compound would be safest right now. Someone is apparently very interested in exactly how much Special Agent Wilson has remembered about her final days in Vietnam. Obviously, their interest, interests me a great deal." Stockwell turned to Sydney. "So, Special Agent, what are they so worried about?"
"I have no idea."
"I thought you recovered your memory?"
"Most of it." Sydney spoke in clipped notes.
"But not all. Unfortunate." Stockwell leaned back. "I believe you. However, I doubt whoever is watching you will be nearly as lenient in their questioning."
Sydney crossed her arms. "So tell me, Colonel, am I worth more to you as fodder for your contacts, or as leverage?"
"It's General now, Sydney, and I will not throw you to the dogs. Not yet."
Murdock slammed a fist against the window. "You won't throw her to the dogs at all, Stockwell, or you'll be dealing with me."
The General's lips turned up at the corners. "I have been dealing with you for half of my career, Captain. You need to relax. Nothing is going to happen to Special Agent Wilson. Her failing memory is an issue, however. We need to know who is worried about what."
Sydney placed a hand on Murdock's knee. "He's right, HM. You know he's right."
Murdock sat back and crossed his arms. Right or not, Stockwell pissed him off. And what the hell did he mean, he'd been dealing with him for half his career? He'd only just met Stockwell last year. He still couldn't decide if that had been good or bad. One thing he had learned in dealing with the man, as long as your objectives aligned with his you could trust him. Beyond that, all bets were off.
But what really had him curious was how Sydney knew the General. Because based on her behavior toward him, she knew him pretty damn well.
* * * *
Prologue to Chapter 4
Ike read the email for the fourth time, and pounded a fist on his desk. Of course. Asher was that pushy psych evaluator with the big head. Every CIA agent in 'Nam had visited with the Doctor at one time or another, including Ike; and Lewis. Hell, even Quinn and Stockwell knew the guy. Asher had severed his ties with the Company precipitously near the end of the war and gone into private practice; a practice where one of his first patients was Alexis Smith, a.k.a. Sydney Wilson. Like most people in his profession, Ike didn't believe in coincidence.
It was also interesting that Sydney had apparently been found just over the Laos border, in a camp the CIA had used for training Hmong tribesmen. Ike would have to check, but he wouldn't be surprised to find out that Lewis had spent some time at that training camp. Lewis had orchestrated Sydney Wilson's disappearance, and with the help of David Asher, had made sure she stayed off the radar for 15 years. The son of a bitch was good, Ike had to give him that.
He smiled as he considered the irony of the entire situation. Ultimately, Lewis had sealed his own coffin by not eliminating Wilson when he had the chance.
That was too bad for him; too good for Ike.
CHAPTER 4: Uneasy Allies
Hannibal took a drag on his cigar, and watched the smoke curl in front of his eyes. "The General seemed dug in, and all the sudden he jack rabbits outta here. Wonder what's up?"
"With Stockwell, who knows?" Frankie Santana dropped onto the end of the couch, joining the other three men already sitting in the living room. "I, for one, am glad he's gone."
BA flipped the channel on the TV. "I second that. That dude does nothing but make our life miserable."
"Hopefully he's working on making our lives our own." Face was slouched in the easy chair, watching disinterestedly while BA channel-surfed.
Hannibal took another drag on his cigar and watched the flickering images on the screen through the resultant haze as he blew the smoke out. In the smoke, patterns shifted, coalesced, shifted again, and Hannibal let his mind drift. He hoped to hell Stockwell's sudden departure didn't have anything to do with the pardons. They had waited too long for them already.
Unbidden and unwelcome thoughts flitted through his mind, ever-present and disturbing. He acknowledged that there was a part of him that was afraid of getting the pardons. He worried that he would not be able to lead his men into freedom. After fifteen years on the run, and the war before that, he wasn't sure he understood what freedom, true freedom, was anymore. He smiled inwardly at the irony. Having fought for freedom all of his adult life, he was now afraid to embrace it himself.
He heard a car pulling up outside. Frankie must have heard it, too. "Sounds like Stockwell's back," Frank said.
But a moment later it was Murdock that strode into the room, followed closely by a petite woman and a tall, willowy girl. As the woman emerged from the shadows near the front door, Hannibal started, and stood. "Sydney Wilson?"
The woman's full mouth curved up in a smile. "Hello, Colonel Smith."
Face and BA had bolted to their feet beside him, both looking as shocked as he felt. "Syd, what the hell? We thought . . ."
Face's eyes strayed to Murdock's face, and Hannibal knew what worried him, but decided that since she was standing right in front of them there was no harm in finishing the sentence. "We thought you were dead."
"Seems to be a common misconception, Colonel."
The girl that had accompanied Sydney and Murdock through the door, moved closer to Sydney.
BA found his voice. "Who're you, li'l sister?"
Sydney reached out and pulled the girl to her. "This is my daughter, Haley."
Murdock's face was visible over the girl's head, and Hannibal was struck by the similarities. "How old are you, Haley?" Hannibal asked.
"I'm almost fifteen." Haley's voice carried a defiant lilt that reminded Hannibal of her mother. He suppressed a smile, as he did the math.
"She's mine, Hannibal."
Hannibal snorted. "No shi " Haley's youthful face gazed at him unblinking, and he automatically censored himself. "Uh, no kidding. I seem to recall, Captain, that we had agreed that that relationship was off limits."
Sydney crossed her arms and shot him an exasperated look. "Oh, give it a rest, Colonel. You condoned our relationship when it was useful to you. You don't turn something like that on and off. You knew damn well what was going on."
Hannibal raised an eyebrow and considered the petite woman in front of him. Despite her tendency to be insubordinate, or maybe because of it, he had always admired her; but he was reluctant to let this one go that easily. "It was against regulation. You both knew it. I spoke to Murdock, and I know Lewis talked to you. I brought you in strictly to help Murdock recover; not to seduce him."
Face snorted next to him, and Hannibal turned a reproving gaze on his second-in-command. "You have something to add, Lieutenant?"
Face shook his head, but BA wasn't going to let it lie. "Give it a rest, Hannibal. None of us understood why you was throwing the reg book in Murdock's face by then."
Hannibal smirked inwardly. They weren't going to get the truth out of him. He'd spent too long building up the image of uncompromising commander. Sydney certainly didn't need to see how far he had slid since the war. "You all knew where I stood on that not that it mattered much, apparently." He crossed his arms and turned to Sydney, his thoughts finally settling on the disturbing possibilities that her presence conjured in his already over-active mind. "Just where the hell have you been for the last 15 years, S.A. Wilson?"
The girl stepped in front of her mother, the cub protecting the lioness. Hannibal found the thought amusing. "She's been living as Alexis Smith. Until today, she didn't know who she was."
Hannibal looked from Haley to Sydney. "How did you get out of 'Nam?"
Sydney shook her head, frustration etched in the lines around her mouth and eyes. "I don't know. The last thing I remember is Murdock and . . ." A flush crept up her neck and colored her cheeks. "The last thing I recall is Murdock leaving me the night before the Bank of Hanoi job. After that, it's blank until I woke about five weeks later in a hospital in Laos."
"Hospital?" Face asked.
Her gaze shifted to Face. "I had been . . ." Sydney swallowed and took a deep breath. "There was evidence of torture. I really don't remember anything."
Hannibal worked his jaw, as the events of that day played in fast-forward through his mind, as they had countless times before. "I remember Murdock coming to talk to me that morning. You had offered some vague warning that the job was a set up. At the time, I couldn't see how, but over the last 15 years, that warning has played over and over in my head. What was it you suspected was going on, Sydney?"
She shook her head, blue eyes reflecting anger, but he recognized that the anger was directed internally, and not at him. "I'm not certain, Colonel. Smuggling, I think, but the details are fuzzy."
"Smuggling would fit with what Curtis and Kyeh testified to at the trial," Face said.
"Smuggling what?" Hannibal asked.
"Drugs, guns, maybe both." Sydney shrugged. "There was a booming market for either or." She glanced at Murdock, who shifted uneasily.
"What is it, Captain?" Hannibal asked.
Sydney crossed her arms and looked at Murdock. "That's what I investigated you for at the beginning of my tour, Murdock. At Stockwell's request, no less."
"What?" Murdock looked surprised. "Why would Stockwell be involved? I didn't even know him then."
Sydney shifted, obviously uneasy. "Well, Stockwell knew you."
Murdock turned to face her, eyes narrowed. "Is that why you hit on me? That whole thing was to investigate me? I thought you were on some top-secret mission."
Face's expression was as accusing as Murdock's as he stepped forward. "I can't believe that even after I called you on the mat you lied to us."
There was a defiant tilt to Sydney's head as she confronted the two men. "I wasn't allowed to talk about it. I thought you both understood that especially you, Murdock."
Murdock's shoulders slumped. "Fine, Syd, I understand in principal. But why were you investigating me?"
Face's stance relaxed somewhat, and he snorted. "Well, truth be told, it's probably a good thing Hannibal got to you before Syd did, Murdock or you might have been on the hook."
Murdock's eyes went wide, and he shook his head at his friend, pointing at Haley behind her back.
Sydney crossed her arms, and tapped a foot. "And here I gave you a clean bill of health, Murdock."
"I never ran guns," he protested.
Haley turned and gaped at him. "But you smuggled drugs?" Hannibal was impressed that the girl seemed to be following the conversation well, impressed and maybe a little disturbed.
Murdock's expression conveyed that he was more than disturbed; he was mortified that Haley had picked up on the undercurrent of the conversation. "I was clean . . ."
Hannibal cringed when Face smirked and said, "By then." That wasn't helping.
Sydney sighed. "And that's what I told Stockwell. Honestly, I think he was relieved, but I didn't really understand why he wanted the investigation in the first place."
"Stockwell?" Murdock looked a little shell-shocked, his gaze locked on Haley's accusing face. "You know, I think it might be best if we took this discussion outside, while Haley watches some TV in here."
"That won't be necessary, Captain." Stockwell came striding into the room. "Carla, please escort Ms. Smith back to my office and set her up with a movie on the video system."
"No!" Haley turned to Sydney. "Mom, tell them. I want to know what's going on. I deserve to know as much as you do."
"Yes, you do." Sydney sighed. "But the fact of the matter is that we can't get to the bottom of this with everyone censoring themselves because you're here. I'll tell you everything later. For now, do as the General says." Haley hesitated, and Syd reinforced her decision, "Go now, Haley. We'll talk later. I promise."
Hannibal had to stop himself from laughing at the daggers that Haley shot her mother as she complied. He remembered being on the receiving end of those kind of looks from Sydney. Haley might look like her father, but she definitely had her mother's attitude.
* * *
Sydney was surprised when the wall at the end of the living room slid up to reveal a large screen and video/audio equipment. Her instinctive distrust of Stockwell was allayed somewhat by the routine with which Hannibal and the others moved to that end of the room for the conference. When she met Stockwell during the war, she had taken an immediate dislike to the man. Though she hadn't interacted with him much, each time they met his attitude had reinforced her initial assessment. He was definitely a man to be wary of. She followed the others, but chose not to sit within the circle of men, and instead stood behind Murdock.
Stockwell turned to the assembly. "I suspect we are all agreed that whatever is going on here, it is somehow associated with the Team's orders to rob the Bank of Hanoi on January 27, 1972 orders reportedly lost in the shelling, that then made a miraculous reappearance during the trial last year."
Disgruntled mutters among Hannibal's men hinted at the unease and uncertainty that the subject raised:
"Yeah, and where the hell did they find Morrison's body all of the sudden?" Murdock looked at Face who sat to his right.
Face grunted. "And wasn't it interesting that he had two bullet holes in him from a service revolver. Anybody could have done it."
Hannibal sneered. "Sure was convenient that Kyeh fingered us, too. Morrison was afraid of us, my ass."
"We was framed." BA crossed his arms and glowered at no one in particular.
"Are you done, gentlemen?" Stockwell waited for the grumbling to end, then clicked a button on a remote in his hand. A photo appeared of herself, standing next to her partner of the time, Jeremy Lewis.
Stockwell spoke in a detached, analytical tone. "Carla has gathered information on the current status of the players that may have been involved. This is Jeremy Lewis. He was a CIA recon operative at the base camp for three years before the end of the war. His last partner: Sydney Wilson." Another photo flashed onto the screen, showing Lewis in a three-piece suit, hair shaved close to his head. "He is now Section Chief for International Operations at the Central Intelligence Agency. He has top level security clearance, and travels extensively in his current position."
A series of photos depicting Sydney's psychiatrist appeared next and Sydney felt her bile rise as Stockwell continued. "Until recently, Sydney has been living as Alexis Smith, and long term amnesiac under the care of one, Dr. David Asher, psychiatrist and hypnotherapy specialist. Asher worked with the CIA during the waning days of the Vietnam war, conducting research into hypnotic interrogation techniques. Subsequently, he severed ties with the CIA, but has continued to publish cutting-edge research papers in the field of hypnotherapy and memory manipulation."
Next, a grainy black and white photo General Kyeh flashed onto the screen, and Syd started when BA growled. Stockwell ignored the dark looks on the faces of the Team members. "NVA General Kyeh. Investigation after the war revealed that Kyeh was Morrison's primary contact in the NVA. Kyeh was brought to the US as a deal for revealing his pipeline." A more-recent photo appeared on the screen, showing Kyeh in civies, apparently in the US, based on the background of the photo. "He was deported shortly after the A-Team conviction, and is now living in Laos."
A photo of Josh Curtis flashed onto the screen and Stockwell turned to the assembly. "Curtis, as you know, was killed during the trial. We thought, originally, that he was killed by the arms dealer he was collaborating with. I have recently learned that is not the case."
"Sulay admitted to killing Curtis," Hannibal said.
"He may have admitted it, Colonel, that doesn't mean he was telling the truth." Stockwell leveled a gaze at Hannibal that Sydney thought looked vaguely accusing. It made her curious about the circumstances of Sulay's confession. "The fact is that Curtis' murder remains unresolved, but is likely connected somehow."
He turned to Sydney. "Have you remembered anything else of interest?"
Sydney shook her head. Even if she did remember something, she wasn't sure she was ready to reveal it in front of Stockwell. She crossed her arms. "I notice you didn't include your own bio, General."
A smug smile curved Stockwell's lips. "Nor did I include Isaac Cheney, or Peter Quinn, or Silas Arnold. Do you recall any of those names, S.A. Wilson? No, I can see by your face you don't. I think our best course of action, rather than reviewing endless bios of all the men involved in the intelligence arena at that time, is to see if we can recover the memories locked in your head. I have Carla researching specialists in hypnotherapy with that goal in mind."
"No shrink that you recommend is getting into my head." Sydney's gaze was uncompromising.
"Richter practiced hypnotherapy," Murdock said. "Maybe he could help."
Sydney started. "Allen Richter?"
"Yeah. You know him?" Murdock twisted in his seat so he could meet her eyes.
"He's the therapist Asher referred me to when I moved out to LA."
"Dr. Allen Richter?" Murdock's brown eyes drew tight. "You're sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. I visited his private office. It was at his estate."
"That's not possible."
"That's who I saw, HM."
"Richter would have known who you were."
Sydney shook her head. "How? I went in there as Alexis Smith."
"He'd seen your photo dozens of times during my sessions. You haven't changed that much since the war, Syd. Richter should have recognized you."
Sydney swallowed. "Maybe he knew who I was before I ever walked through the door."
A range of emotions flitted across Murdock's features, culminating in a rage that startled her with its intensity.
* * *
Murdock had to get out of the house after the revelation about Richter. No one stopped him as he slammed out the patio door and took off around the obstacle course. He didn't even remember shedding his hat and jacket. He ran the course at least half a dozen times through, without a break.
He dragged himself onto the deck, physically and mentally spent, expecting to find Hannibal, and dreading the encounter. Instead, Sydney lounged in a deck chair. Just the sight of her eased his mind.
"Hey, flyboy. Seven times around the course. Not bad for an old man."
He dropped into the lounge next to her and concentrated on regulating his breathing. "I . . . expected . . . Hannibal."
"Yeah, he and I . . . discussed the options. We agreed it would be better if I talked to you when you were ready. I have a little more insight into what you're going through right now."
A bark of a laugh escaped his lips. "Discussed, huh? I remember your and Hannibal's discussions."
"I'm older and not nearly as, uh, hot-headed as I used to be. I think maybe Hannibal has mellowed some with age, too. It was a civilized discussion."
"Glad to hear you've both grown up." Murdock straddled the end of the lounge, elbows on knees, and cradled his head in his hands. Now that his vitals were settling into an almost-normal rhythm, he noticed a throbbing pain in his head.
He heard Syd shift next to him. "I'm sorry about Richter, HM. It's a hell of a blow to learn the guy you've confided your deepest, darkest secrets to is a cattle prod."
He chuckled and sat back. "Cattle prod of the mind what an image. You always did have a way with words, Syd."
"Then again, he might not be a cattle prod. We don't know what's going on, and jumping to conclusions isn't going to get us any closer to the truth."
Murdock took and deep breath and blew it out slowly. Syd's logic was as flawless as he remembered. "Doesn't mean I can trust him. I've always trusted Richter." He rubbed his hands down his face then looked up at her. "I keep thinking this can't get any worse."
"Yeah, I know what you mean." Sydney swung her legs to the side of her lounge to face him; the earnest smile on her full lips mesmerizing him. "But I keep coming back to the one bright spot in this whole God damn situation - we're back together. I always felt like I could take on the whole NVA after we spent time together. It's no different now. That's what I'm holding onto."
Murdock considered her silently for several seconds. Though a lot had changed in the last 15 years, how he felt about Sydney had not. Even when he believed she was dead, he hadn't been able to let go of his feelings for her.
The problem was that he didn't know how to cope with the tangle of intense emotions that she reawakened in him. A large part of him wanted to slip back into the relationship that he had fought so hard to forge with her more than fifteen years ago. Unfortunately, there was a lot about the intervening period of his life that she didn't know, and her reaction to it could make or break him, literally.
Her smile had faded, and it was like his sun had wandered behind a cloud. She touched his knee. "What's holding you back, HM?"
"You could always tell, couldn't you?"
"Actually, I think you were much better at reading me, than I was at reading you." Syd smiled at him, and his heart gave a lurch. God he loved her smile.
"We both had our moments." He gazed at her, his thoughts wandering through the minefield of their relationship in Vietnam. He shook himself. That was all ancient history. A lot had happened since then.
"Please talk to me, HM."
He ran agitated hands back through his hair. "There's no way to sugar-coat this, Syd. I spent 13 years living in the mental ward of the VA hospital in Brentwood."
She tilted her head to the side and asked, "Why?"
Her mild reaction caught him off-guard. He stared at her for several seconds, gathering his thoughts. "It was good cover. Kept me off the MP's radar, but free enough to help the guys when they needed it." He pursed his lips and looked into her eyes. "And . . . I belonged there after the war, Syd. I was really messed up."
Her full lips parted, her wide eyes full of regret. "I'm sorry, HM . . . about a lot of things, but most of all, that I wasn't there for you."
He smiled sadly. "I think what pushed me over the edge was that I felt like I wasn't there for you."
"You were there for the Team, Murdock, and that's where you belonged. You told me so yourself. Whatever the hell happened to me was not your fault."
He sat back, searched her face. "So you're ok with the fact that your daughter's father is a crazy man?"
She grinned at him. "What, did you think I was any less screwed up after the war? It is amazing Haley is as well-adjusted as she is. She ended up in foster care more than once during the first 5 years of her life. Pissed as I am at Asher right now, he did help me work through the worst of my problems. If not, I probably would have lost Haley for good."
"Haley." Murdock ran a hand back through his hair again. "I've made a stellar impression on her. The drug thing just had to come up. Did you see the way she looked at me?"
Sydney laughed out loud, and Murdock stared at her in shock. "Oh, c'mon, HM. Haley looks at me like that at least once a day. She's a teenager. She feigned shock, but what she's really thinking is 'leverage' for the first time you catch her doing something she shouldn't."
His eyes narrowed. "How do you think she'll feel about having a father fresh from the loony bin?"
"She's lived with a crazy mother all her life. I'd wager she knows almost as much about psychiatric disorders as Asher or Richter. She'll take it in stride."
Murdock felt himself truly relax for the first time in several hours. "Thanks, Syd." He pushed himself against the back of the lounge. "I was really afraid I was blowing it."
"You definitely are not blowing it."
They sat in silence for a minute, when Syd suddenly moved to sit in front of him on his lounge chair. A determined tilt of her head turned questioning blue eyes toward him. "HM, what do you think is going on here?"
Murdock's brows furrowed, he was fairly certain Syd wasn't referring to the intrigue stuff. "I'm not sure." He sat forward and laced his fingers into hers. "Finding you, Haley. It's . . . overwhelming."
"It is." Syd looked at their entwined fingers for a moment before lifting her eyes to his, again. "Fifteen years is a long time."
He decided he had moved too fast, and loosened his grip on her hands. "Yeah, I guess it is."
Syd tightened her own hold in the next breath. It was like a levee had breeched somewhere in her brain, allowing a flood of words to crash over him. "I'm throwing my usual caution to the wind here. I mean 15 years is a long time, but I only just remembered and maybe that's what makes it all so fresh in my mind. When I saw you, all those feelings that I kept fighting back in 'Nam bubbled right to the surface, and now I find myself wondering why the hell I wasted so much time. Fifteen years 15 years - are gone, and I don't want to fight it anymore. I . . . understand if you don't feel the same, but I just had to "
"You talk too much, Sydney." Murdock pulled her forward and covered her mouth with his.
* * *
"She shut down as soon as you talked to her, General."
"What do you suggest, Colonel?"
Hannibal crossed his arms. "I suggest you take a hike so we can get Sydney to open up. She's having trouble remembering everything, and your presence just seems to aggravate the problem."
"You think you can overcome fifteen years of hypnotherapy by making her comfortable?"
"Well, I'm fairly certain bullying her isn't going to work. She and Murdock are both agitated, and your presence is just making things worse. Leave and let me do my job."
"And I'm sure you'll have my best interests in mind?" Stockwell's snide tone grated on Hannibal's last nerve.
"Godammit, Stockwell, this isn't about you. It's about two people who have been manipulated nearly half their lives by an intelligence community that you are intimately involved with. If you don't back off, one of them may just snap, and you could end up on the receiving end."
"You're being a bit melodramatic, don't you think, Colonel?"
Hannibal walked forward, placed both hand on the desk, and leaned in so his face was inches from Stockwell's. "Tell me you haven't been involved in this."
Stockwell gazed at him impassively. "I am not involved."
"You sure as hell better not be," Hannibal growled. "If I find out different, you're a dead man. Are we clear?"
"Idle threats, Colonel. Your cowboy intimidation tactics have never worked on me. Regardless, I am as much in the dark about what is going on as you are."
Hannibal considered the General silently for several beats. He seriously doubted Stockwell was as 'in the dark' about what was going on as he was, but Hannibal didn't think he was involved in whatever happened. At least he hoped not. He pushed off the desk and began pacing. "Give me a few days, General. After that, if we haven't made any progress, we'll discuss other options. I'm just asking for a few days."
"Fine. You have 72 hours."
"I'll need a plane."
"Because, we need a change of scenery." Hannibal's ice-blue eyes glittered. "Crystal Lake is relaxing this time of year."
"Very well." Stockwell's teeth ground. "But I better see results, Colonel. I am trusting you with this. If you are headed out of state, I'll have to run interference for you. Otherwise, you will have company."
Hannibal shrugged. "You do your job, I'll do mine."
* * * *
Prologue to Chapter 5
"I'm telling you, I think she suspects something." David Asher stared out his office window, where dusk was descending on the parking lot for his office complex. "She doesn't trust me. I think she's remembering more than she tells me."
"I told you letting her go to LA was a mistake, Doctor. You said you had it under control."
"I did have it under control."
"Obviously, you didn't."
"You should have dealt with this 15 years ago. It would have been easier . . . and safer." Asher turned to face the man sitting in the shadows of his office. "Instead you nurtured that soft spot you have for her."
"If I hadn't nurtured that soft spot, as you call it, I wouldn't have needed your help, now would I? Where would that have left you, Asher?"
"Still working for the CIA, that's where," Asher snapped. "I only severed ties because you thought it would be best. Do you know how far I could have taken my research if I had the Company backing?"
Jeremy Lewis stood up to his full 6 foot 2 inches, his eyes glowed golden in the fading light of the day. "As I told you then, Doctor the Company was ready to dissolve their relationship with you. The war was almost over and the backlash back in the states was making them sensitive to marginally-ethical programs. You were on your way out when I found you."
Asher's teeth ground. "But it's your fucking ego that's going to blow the whole operation. 15 years of building a network down the fucking tubes because you won't take care of business." Asher sneered at the man. For all his machismo, Lew was soft where Sydney Wilson and her daughter were concerned always had been. "You want to retire, fine. But you better suck it up and take care of Sydney Wilson first. There is no happy ending with her, Lewis. Surely, now, you realize that."
Lew walked to the window, stopping slightly behind Asher, and crossed his arms, his gloved fingers beating a staccato rhythm on his arm. "You know you could have taken care of it yourself. You could have slipped her an overdose any time made it look natural. Anything more overt would have raised too many questions."
"I'm a doctor, Lewis, not a killer. That's your job."
"For once, Doctor, you are right." Lew pulled out a gun, and in swift silence, held it to Asher's head and pulled the trigger. Asher slumped forward, his blood forming a black puddle on the dark mahogany.
Lew placed the gun into Asher's hand, and slipped the prepared suicide note onto the desk, before leaving through the rear entrance, careful to leave no trace.
CHAPTER 5: Harmony and Discord
Haley, Frankie and Face all whirled from the window as Hannibal strode into the kitchen with BA in tow.
Hannibal poured himself a cup of coffee, shaking his head as the three tried to look busy. "So, what's so interesting outside?"
"What? Nothing," Frankie said.
Haley opened the refrigerator door. "We were just finishing up the, uh, the salad. For dinner." She reached in and tossed a head of lettuce to Frankie.
Frankie caught it, a smile spreading across his face. "Yeah, yeah. The salad."
Hannibal watched the show with a smirk on his face, before walking to look out the window for himself. Murdock sat in a lounge chair with Sydney on his lap. They were making out like a couple of teenagers. He turned back to Face, who remained silent. "So, it looks like they're picking up where they left off?"
Face grinned. "Yeah."
Hannibal sighed. "Just how long were they that serious in 'Nam, Face?"
"You practically sanctioned it after the POW camp . . ." Face hesitated.
"C'mon, Lieutenant. I need to know everything if we're going to get to the bottom of this." Then Hannibal caught Face's significant look at Haley, who had given up pretending to be busy. "Haley, maybe you should go let your folks know that supper is just about ready."
Haley stared Hannibal down for a few seconds before huffing, "Fine. I'll leave. But I am not going to talk to them right now." She stomped out to the living room and flipped on the TV.
Hannibal turned back to his men.
"It was Lewis, Hannibal," BA said.
"He and Murdock didn't get along," Face said. "Lew had an annoying tendency to slip through our defenses and interrupt. The first couple times, Murdock blew it off, but after that, he started getting irritated."
BA snickered. "Irritated's a nice way of sayin' Murdock lit into him."
"The weird thing was that Lew didn't pull the reg book out, like you did. He'd just spirit Syd away from base after their confrontations, sometimes for days at a time. Drove Murdock crazy."
"Crazier'n usual," BA said.
Hannibal nodded. "So what you're telling me is Lewis was trying to keep them apart, in his own way." That, in and of itself, didn't surprise him.
"Yeah, only he was way more successful than you were," Face said.
Hannibal shrugged. "Obviously. But why not just call them on it? He could have gotten Syd transferred."
"Maybe he didn't want her transferred," BA suggested.
Face and Hannibal looked at each other, and Face nodded. "Maybe. But why?"
"The answers are locked in her head, I'm sure of it. We just need to figure out how to get to them," Hannibal said.
"But Stockwell's right," Face said. "How do we overcome fifteen years of . . . whatever the hell Asher was doing with her head?"
Hannibal crossed his arms and stared at the floor, seeing a path forward through the chaos of his thoughts. "We recruit Richter."
"Hannibal, we don't know what side Richter's on," Face protested.
He looked up at his Lieutenant. "We don't know what side Stockwell's on, either, but we have to use the resources available to us. Do you know any other hypnotherapists?"
"Asher, but something tells me Syd would balk at that. Of course, Murdock's going to be less than happy about Richter."
"That may be, but I have more confidence in Richter than in Asher. At least we have some history to draw on there. Asher is a total unknown at this point. I'm not willing to risk it."
Face nodded in agreement. "So, you want me to see if I can get Richter out here?"
"Nope, we'll go to him." Hannibal grinned. "We're headed to the relaxing shores of Crystal Lake. We have 72 hours to recover Syd's memory."
"Cyrstal Lake, huh?" Face's eyes widened as the rest of Hannibal statement registered. "72 hours? Three days? You have to be kidding me."
"I ain't flyin'," BA growled.
"72 hours, and you are flying, Sergeant. The General's supplying a plane, and we're on a tight timeline. I want to leave early in the morning. Lieutenant, you know what you have to do."
* * *
Sydney had lost all sense of space and time. Murdock's lips were her world, and his hands caressed her until every nerve was tingling with a desire she hadn't felt in a very long time. He cradled her on his lap, and try as she might, in her current position there was no way to get closer to him and she desperately wanted to get closer. She could feel his own need straining against her leg, and longed to shift and straddle him, but decided that the clothing would definitely be in the way. That was when it occurred to her that they were sitting on the deck, in full view of the house. She became uncomfortably aware that the house had many eyes two of which likely belonged to her own impressionable, teenaged daughter.
With sheer force of will she unlocked her arms from around Murdock's neck, and placed flat hands against his chest. She pulled back slowly to find a pair of questioning, and definitely disappointed brown eyes pleading with her. "HM, this really isn't the place "
"Or time, I know." Murdock's voice was low and thick. He took a deep breath, and quirked a smile at her. "Maybe we'll get to bunk together."
Sydney felt herself flush at the thought. "You really think Hannibal's going to allow that?"
"You have a point." His smile turned manic. "We could go out back . . . I bet I could get Face to run interference."
Sydney launched off his lap. "I don't think, so, Captain."
"C'mon, where's your sense of adventure? We could go back to the utility shed. It'd be just like old times."
Sydney crossed her arms and turned on him, but the teasing smile on Murdock's face killed the comeback before it left her mouth. She satisfied herself with a curt, "Asshole."
"Ah, don't be like that honey."
She relented and flashed him a half-hearted smile. "I should go find Haley, anyway. I promised her that I'd talk to her after I talked to you."
Murdock stood up and stretched. "Where is she?"
"Hannibal recruited her to help Face and Frankie make dinner."
"Well, I need a shower a cold one." He sniffed at an underarm and made a face. "I don't know how you stood me."
Sydney chuckled. "I never really minded how you smelled. Except maybe that time Ray locked you and Face in the latrine for half the day."
"Yeah, good ol' Ray." He laughed "It was a great stunt. We got him back, though."
Syd shook her head. "Did it ever end, or are you still pulling pranks on Ray long distance?"
Murdock's jaw clenched. "Ray's dead, Syd."
"But he went home." Tears sprang to her eyes and she shook her head in disbelief. "How did it happen?"
"He tried to take on a bunch of scumbags in his hometown by himself. They killed him."
"Jesus. After all that time in 'Nam, he ends up murdered in his own hometown?" Sydney swallowed and tried desperately to check the tears threatening to overflow.
"Yeah. Trish, his wife, was pregnant at the time, too." Murdock's carefree attitude had evaporated. "Face sends her a check once a month, just to make sure she's taken care of. She's makin' a go of it on the farm with the help of a hired hand." A slight smile returned to his lips. "Last I heard, she was kinda sweet on the guy."
Syd swiped self-consciously at her face, and took a steadying breath. "What did she have?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah, a little boy Ray, Jr. He's, like five now. I got a picture of him and Trish at my apartment - get one every Christmas."
"I remember that photo of Trish that Ray carried around in his pocket. You guys teased him mercilessly about it, but I always thought it was sweet." Syd smiled at the memory.
"Yeah, Ray was head over heels for her, no doubt about it. Kinda how I feel 'bout you." Murdock stroked her cheek, and the smoldering look in his eyes made her feel hot. "I'll be hittin' the shower . . . you're sure you won't join me?"
Syd shook her head, and Murdock snapped his fingers. "Didn't think so. Catch ya later, chaquita." He reached down and pinched her on the butt before sauntering away.
Sydney watched until he disappeared into the house. She sighed. She always had enjoyed the view when he walked away.
* * *
"I can't believe you're doing this to me!"
Sydney stared wide-eyed at her seething daughter. She should have recognized the signs that Haley was upset. Maybe it was the after-effects of her make-out session with Murdock, or the fantasies that flooded her mind when she heard the shower running in the bathroom and knew he was inside wet and naked. Either way, she didn't notice the anger in her daughter's face until they got back to Hannibal's bedroom to talk in private.
"I didn't do anything to you." Sydney tried to keep her voice even, but couldn't prevent the lilt of confusion she felt.
"Two years, Mother. Two years I've followed you around Chicago to LA, LA to Virginia all with the promise that we might find out the truth about your past. Then when you start to remember when things finally get interesting - I'm suddenly shut out. Relegated to the sidelines with all of the information filtered through you, like I'm some kind of . . . child."
"Haley, I told you "
"I know what you told me. And when the time finally comes for me to hear your censored version of the truth, you decide to stay out there 'talking'" Haley made little quote marks in the air, "to him."
"If by 'him' you mean HM, yes, I was talking to him. And I told you when I was done, I'd be in to talk to you. Here I am."
"You weren't talking," Haley spit the words out in contempt. "You were practically screwing him on the deck."
Sydney drew her hand back, but managed to contain her anger enough to stop it from flying forward. Instead she wagged a shaking finger in Haley's face. "You watch your mouth young lady."
"Oh give it a rest, Mother. I'm 14, I could see what you were doing out there. You were out in plain sight, pawing all over each other. God, it was disgusting."
Sydney's hands balled into fists at her sides, and she silently counted to ten. When that didn't cool the anger, she spun on her heel and stalked to the door.
"So you're just going to walk out on me?"
Haley's mocking tone brought Sydney to a halt. She turned and glared at her daughter. "If I stay, I'm going to do or say something that I'll regret, almost as much as you'll regret what you just said to me. We both need to cool off. We'll discuss this later."
She jerked the door open and strode into the hall, where a concerned Murdock stood in the bathroom doorway, hair dripping, t-shirt clinging to his still-damp chest. "Syd, is something wrong?"
Her body reacted to the sight of him, and Haley's words echoed in her head, 'You were practically screwing him on the deck.' Self-disgust contorted her face into a scowl, "Everything is just fucking perfect," she muttered as she brushed past him.
Murdock stared after Syd until he heard the sliding door slam shut, then his attention turned to the bedroom she'd just walked out of. He hesitated, but decided that he should check on Haley. It had sounded like one hell of a fight, and he was listening to it through two closed doors.
He leaned against the door jamb and looked at his daughter. It still felt strange to think he had a daughter, especially one as grown up as Haley. She was pacing the length of the bedroom, and when she turned to retrace her steps, she caught sight of him. "What do you want?"
Murdock was startled by the venom in her voice. "Um, I heard you and your mom yelling at each other. I just thought I'd come and see what was going on."
"It's none of your business."
He took a deep breath to steady himself. A big part of him wanted to turn and walk away, but he was her father, and she was obviously distressed. Surely that called for some action on his part. "You know, sometimes it helps to talk about it."
"Don't play the understanding dad bit with me. She's not even sure you are my father."
His jaw dropped. "I, uh . . . I was just trying to help."
"You want to help?" Haley strode toward him, her expression fierce. "Then leave me alone!" She slammed the door.
Murdock was left staring at the closed door two inches in front of his face. He took a deep breath and blew it out. Maybe he really wasn't cut out for the whole father scene.
* * *
Hannibal stood before the tense and quiet group sitting around the dinner table. Animosity radiated from Haley like heat waves from a furnace. No one, not even BA, dared talk to her. Hannibal found it ironic that the youngest person at the table had the biggest attitude. It was one of the main reasons he was glad he never had any children. He liked the young ones, he enjoyed the young adults, but teenagers were unpredictable and moody. He would have killed one if he'd had it had come close with both Face and Murdock, whom he suspected were barely out of their teens when he first met them.
He drew a bracing breath, and took a moment to look at each individual at the table to ensure he had their attention. "I wanted to get you all prepared for our trip tomorrow. The General is providing a plane, and we're going to head out to Crystal Lake for a relaxing weekend."
"Is Stockwell coming?" Syd's tone made it apparent that she hoped not.
"I don't expect to see Stockwell again until our return," Hannibal said.
"Any other questions?"
"Do I have to go?"
Hannibal took a deep breath and gazed unblinking at the sullen teenager. "Yes, you have to go. We're safest if we stick together. Anyone else?" He looked around the table one more time. "Good. We'll leave at 6am, sharp. Now, let's dig in."
Haley inhaled her food, and disappeared back behind the closed door of Hannibal's bedroom. She didn't speak to anyone. Frankie and Face tried to start a conversation, but it died quickly and eventually everyone ate in silence.
Based on the fact that Murdock and Sydney were sitting at opposite ends of the table, Hannibal decided that perhaps having them do the dishes was a bad idea, not that the alternative was terribly appealing. "Sydney, please clear the table. BA, Murdock, you've got dishes."
Sydney pushed her chair back and began stacking the dishes closest to her. She gave Murdock a wide berth, and Hannibal's curiosity peaked.
As Syd disappeared into the kitchen, where she made a lot of noise stacking dishes in the sink, Hannibal turned to Murdock and hissed, "What the hell is going on?"
Murdock shook his head. "I don't have a clue. All of a sudden, Syd and Haley aren't speaking to each other or to me."
Face looked at his friend sympathetically. "Women, can't live with 'em."
Syd reappeared, gathered the rest of the dishes and disappeared again. More crashes from the kitchen.
"Can't live without 'em?" Murdock finished.
"Actually, I was gonna stop at 'can't live with 'em.'" Face flashed his friend a wicked grin. "They sure are nice to hang out with once in awhile, though, huh buddy?"
Stockwell chose that moment to appear in the entryway. Hannibal groaned. Why couldn't the General just do as he asked and back off?
"Where's S.A. Wilson?"
Syd walked out of the kitchen and addressed BA. "The dishes are soaking in the sink." She turned to Stockwell and crossed her arms in irritation. "I haven't been a Special Agent in 15 years, General."
"What do you want, Stockwell." Hannibal spoke through clenched teeth.
Sydney noticed Haley creeping to the end of the hallway, likely because she had heard the car pull up outside and didn't want to miss anything. She felt her irritation at her daughter roil to the surface.
"I'm sorry to interrupt your leisurely dinner." Stockwell's condescending glance took in all of them. "But I fear I have some unfortunate news, and I did not think it could wait."
"The suspense is killing us, General," Murdock said.
Stockwell shot the pilot a withering look, then turned his shaded eyes on Sydney. "Dr. David Asher is dead."
Haley gasped, causing the men to all turn toward her. Sydney, in contrast, ignored her. "How?"
Stockwell turned back to Sydney. "It appears to be a suicide. He was found by the cleaning crew this evening in his office. Single gunshot wound to the head."
Murdock looked over to where Haley stood, pale and sobbing. "Haley, maybe you should "
"No," Sydney said. "She wants to know what's going on so badly, she can stay and hear the cold, hard truth."
"Syd " Murdock's entreaty was cut off by the look Sydney shot him.
"She stays." Sydney turned to Stockwell and said flatly, "It wasn't suicide."
"They found a suicide note with the body."
"So? If I was going to kill him, I'd make it look like a suicide, too. But it wasn't. Asher's far too egotistical to kill himself. He wouldn't want to deprive the world of his presence."
"Well, the local authorities see it differently."
"Then they're morons." Sydney was allowing all of the frustration of the last few hours to fuel her tirade. "I want to go to the crime scene. Surely you can arrange that with your connections, General?"
Stockwell appraised her, an enigmatic smile on his face. "Very well. I'll be waiting for you in the limo."
"Whoa," Hannibal said. "She can't just waltz out of here. If Asher's dead, who's to say she's not next on the list?
"Well, then, Colonel, I suggest you send a detail with her, unless you think you can deter her." Stockwell turned and walked out of the house without a backward glance.
Murdock shoved his chair back and stood. "Get a grip, Sydney. What can you possibly accomplish by going to the scene of Asher's death?"
Sydney set her mouth in a stubborn line. "I have a firm grip, Captain, and I am going."
Murdock looked at the Colonel, who just shook his head. "BA, Face, go with her. Don't let her out of your sight."
"Colonel, I ," Murdock said.
"You stay put, Captain. One target per excursion. It's all I can handle."
Sydney locked eyes with Haley. "How about you, little girl? You're so anxious to learn what's going on first-hand, do you want to come?"
All eyes turned to her, and Haley shook her head slowly, eyes wide and red-rimmed, her mouth forming the word 'no,' though there was no sound.
"That's the first rational decision you've made this evening." Sydney turned and walked out of the house, as Haley fled down the hall to the sanctuary of the bedroom.
* * *
"C'mon, Captain. You and I are gonna do the dishes." Hannibal turned to Frankie. "You got a free night, Frank."
"And nobody to fight over the remote." Frankie headed straight for the living room.
Murdock stalked into the kitchen without a word. Hannibal looked after his pilot with a grimace. He took a deep, bracing breath and followed. Murdock had shed his coat, and was elbow deep in suds, scrubbing dishes with an intensity that Hannibal was certain didn't bode well for the ensuing discussion.
"Get it over with, Murdock. Let me have it," Hannibal said, as he rolled up his sleeves.
"You can rinse and dry."
Hannibal considered his pilot warily, before grabbing a towel to start drying. "I know you wanted to go with her . . ."
"I didn't want to go with her, Colonel. I didn't want her to go." Murdock never raised his eyes from the sink. His voice was unusually low and even.
Hannibal sighed. He hated it when Murdock got reasonable on him. "You really think we could have kept her from going?"
"You didn't even try."
"I figured it was useless to try. As I recall, Syd has a stubborn streak about a mile wide. She'll be fine. Face and BA will make sure of it. Besides, we may get some good intel out of this little excursion."
Murdock's jaw worked for several seconds before he responded. "It's risky."
"Syd is accustomed to risk."
Murdock threw the dish rag into the sink and turned to Hannibal, his gaze serious. "She's been out of the game for fifteen years, dammit!"
Hannibal tried for a reasonable tone. "She's been working as a PI, so she hasn't totally been out of the game. And she seems to have slipped back into it pretty seamlessly. You're over-reacting, Murdock. Syd will be fine."
"And if she isn't?" Murdock leaned on the sink and dragged his hands back through his hair. "I can't lose her, again, Hannibal. I . . . I can't handle it."
Hannibal put his hands on the pilot's shoulders. "You aren't going to lose her, Murdock. We aren't going to lose her. I promise you that."
The haunted look in Murdock's eyes twisted Hannibal's gut into knots. He squeezed Murdock's shoulders. "We will end this."
Murdock took several deep, unsteady breaths. When he spoke, his voice was barely audible. "How do we end something when we don't even know what it is? How can we guarantee Syd and Haley's safety? How, Colonel?"
"That's the crux of it, isn't it? Keeping Syd and Haley safe." Hannibal released Murdock's shoulders and stepped back.
Murdock's jaw set. "To me, it's the most important thing."
Hannibal searched Murdock's face, nodded. "As it should be. You have a family, now Murdock. They have to be your first priority." He pursed his lips. "But that means the Team isn't."
"The Team is my family, too."
Hannibal smiled. "I'm not asking you to make a choice between your brothers and your child and her mother, Murdock. The point I'm trying to make is that your focus in this case is not on the Team. Don't get me wrong. I don't think it should be. But, for the time being, you are as much a client as Sydney and Haley are."
"Oh." Murdock took a few moments to absorb that; then his gaze turned thoughtful. "Does that mean that I'm not bound by the rule regarding client relationships?"
Hannibal smirked. "Like that would have stopped you?"
"Might have slowed me down a little," Murdock said. Hannibal was gratified to see Murdock's lips turn up in a grin.
"C'mon, Captain, let's finish the dishes."
They worked in companionable silence for a few minutes, but Murdock's mind must have been working. He looked up at Hannibal. "I gotta know, Colonel. Were you really that against my relationship with Syd back in 'Nam?"
Hannibal picked up a stack of plates and put them in the cupboard to allow himself time to develop an adequate response. "After the POW camp I was under a lot of heat to get you back in the air. Morrison seemed almost religious about it. But after I brought Syd into the picture, I think Morrison took a lot flack from Lewis, who was pissed when he realized what was going on. After you were out of the infirmary, Morrison started getting on my case about you and Syd continuing to see each other. I told him basically the same thing Sydney said to me tonight you don't turn something like that on and off. He told me to get control of my men."
Hannibal turned and grinned at Murdock. "I had to make it look good. I told Ray he had to make it look good, too."
Murdock shook his head and chuckled. "I should have known."
* * * *
Chapter 6 Prologue
Isaac Cheney sat at the desk in his cottage. All hell had broken lose this afternoon, right around the time he was talking to his granddaughter. Now he was on damage control, hoping it wasn't too late to salvage the situation. At least Stockwell had managed to get hold of Sydney and Haley before Lewis could make them disappear. Unfortunately, it appeared that Sydney had not fully recovered her memory. That was a problem. And now Asher was dead. He was still hoping to manipulate the situation to kill two birds with one stone, but right now he was too busy fighting fires to re-strategize on the new playing field.
He held the phone in a tight grip while trying to keep his tone appropriately light. "I'd appreciate it if you could take this one for me, Lew. It's Lisa's birthday, and we're having a family gathering to celebrate. I hate to miss it."
"Sure, Ike," Jeremy Lewis said. "It's no problem. I'll get you up to speed tomorrow at the office before I take off."
"Thanks, Lew." Ike rang off with a grimace. Shit like this always happened at the most inopportune times. This one just had to correspond to Lisa's birthday. This evening festivities would have to be cut short, and the weekend trip to the Smithsonian was definitely out. He sighed; his son had never forgiven him for these sorts of SNAFUs; would his granddaughter? He hoped she would forgive him at least this once. After this op was over, he was retiring for good.
He leaned back, chewing over the current situation with Jeremy Lewis. He had known Lew for 20 years; had mentored the gung ho recruit when he arrived in Vietnam, as he had many recruits, paying particular attention to those with promise. Lew had a confident reckless streak that propelled him forward in the Company at a breakneck speed. He also had a certain lack of a personal ethical code that made him particularly useful. Given the volatile situation in Southeast Asia at the time, an asset like Lewis was quickly put to use, running his own ops. Ike had taken pride in his part in Lew's success, both inside and outside the Company. Unfortunately, Lew had a few secrets of his own, and was obviously as concerned about Sydney Wilson as Ike was; though perhaps not in quite the same way.
Lewis and he had made a good team: efficient, methodical, thorough, innovative. Those were qualities that Lewis possessed in spades qualities that made an excellent CIA field agent, an exceptional partner and a formidable target.
Ike turned to the computer screen mounted into the wall and clicked several keys in rapid succession. Lew had returned his call from a payphone a few blocks from Asher's office. He'd wager the son of a bitch knew Asher was dead before the authorities did. Too bad he hadn't gotten to the doctor first. He had a feeling there was a lot he could have learned from the man. But there was no point in mourning lost opportunities.
He picked up the secured satellite line he maintained for coordinating projects. He had misgivings about it, but maybe as running into the pilot had done, seeing Lewis would prod Sydney Wilson to recall something more. He was sure his old associate, Hunt Stockwell could arrange for her to be at Asher's office, somehow.
As Sherlock Holmes would say, 'The game is afoot.'
CHAPTER 6: Evening Out
Sydney leaned on the filing cabinet and stared at the huge mahogany desk. She had sat in front of that desk a scant eight hours before. She wasn't sure if it was that fact, or the metallic smell of the blood pooled on the desk and soaked into the plush carpet, that was so nauseating. At least Asher's body was gone. With him had gone the ME and the crime scene technicians, leaving her alone in the office.
Voices in the outer office made Sydney jump. She adjusted the folder shoved into the back of her jeans so it wasn't too noticeable. It was a good thing BA and Face blocked the door into the inner office like sentries. Voices from the outer office floated in to her.
"I don't like this, but seeing as how the techs are done, I don't suppose there's anything they can hurt."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. I appreciate your tolerance."
Sydney caught her breath. She recognized that voice, and turned. Over Face's and BA's heads she could see Jeremy Lewis, her old partner.
Lewis stepped to the inner office door as the police lieutenant he'd been talking to left. BA and Face did not move aside.
Syd could see Face's smile in profile. It wasn't pleasant. "Sorry. This is a private party."
"Lewis. I'd say it's nice to see you, but I never really liked you that much."
"Gee, here I thought we were best friends."
"Let him in, Face."
Face looked back at Sydney, his gaze questioning. At her nod, he motioned to BA and stepped aside. BA offered a warning growl, before moving out of Lew's way.
Lew moved into the office. "Hello, Syd." He shook his head. "It really is you."
"In the flesh."
He nodded over is shoulder. "Still hanging out with the A-Team? I kept telling you they were trouble." He glanced around the inside of the office. "Where's the flyboy?"
"Not here." Sydney crossed her arms. "What are you doing here, Lewis?"
"Is that any way to greet an old friend who's doing you a big favor?" Lew's dark brows arched over his eyes, and Sydney flashed back to when she first met him. His eyes, an odd shade of golden brown that would shift subtly under different lights, had captivated her. She also recalled a mop of unruly brown hair on his head the kind of hair that made you want to run your fingers through it. The hair was gone, now cropped close to his head, but that just served to make his leonine eyes even more striking.
Sydney shook herself. "I'm sorry. It's been a long day. How are you, Lew?"
"I'm good." He took a step forward and put a hand under her chin, his thumb stroking cheek. "You look great, Syd. Time has treated you well."
Over Lew's shoulder, Syd saw Face take a step forward and she cringed inwardly at the murderous look in his eyes. She stepped away from Lewis and shot a warning glance at Face before responding, "The body's held up ok; too bad the mind didn't. Took me until today to figure out who the hell I was."
Lew shot a goading glance over his shoulder before turning back to Sydney. "So the General tells me. Ran into Murdock at . . . the grocery store, was it? Lucky guy."
"Guess we're both pretty lucky." Sydney pursed her lips. "So, Lew, what's your interest in a local suicide?"
"Asher still has ties to the CIA. I'm just here protecting the Company's interests."
"Well, I appreciate you getting me in the door. I don't know what I'm looking for, but I had to come. I've been seeing Asher for 15 years. It's quite a shock to lose him so suddenly."
Lewis closed the distance she had put between them and placed an arm around her shoulders. "I'm sorry, Syd. I can't imagine how difficult this must be for you. From what I've heard, Asher was a hell of a therapist."
"You didn't know him?"
He shook his head. "I'm working international affairs, so I don't do a lot of domestic work anymore. I'm just here as a favor to a buddy who didn't want to miss his granddaughter's birthday party."
Sydney slid out of the circle of Lew's arm and walked around the desk, trying to put some space between them. It didn't work. He followed and stood close behind her. "It really is good to see you again, Sydney. Really good." His voice was low, meant only for her ears.
"15 years is a long time, Lew."
"Too long." He leaned forward, so close she could feel the heat coming off of him. "Why don't you ditch the gruesome twosome so we can go get a drink somewhere?"
He waited, unmoving. His eyes smoldered with an emotion she couldn't name, though she instinctively shivered under the intensity of the gaze.
Lew must have noticed her reaction. He smiled, and leaned closer, his lips almost brushing her ear as he spoke in a low, seductive murmur. "C'mon, Syd, let's blow this place. Find somewhere a little more . . . private; where we can get reacquainted."
Sydney took a deep breath. "I don't think so, Lew."
His face hardened. "Need to get home to the flyboy?"
She turned and gave him a hard look. "No. I need to get home to my daughter."
She pushed past him and spoke to Face and BA. "I'm ready to head back."
Face put a hand at the small of Syd's back, where he could feel the flat bulk of the file she lifted. He urged her quickly out of the office area and down the hall to the rear entrance. "I don't like the way he looks at you."
"Like he wants to devour you."
She chuckled. "C'mon, Face. You're starting to sound like Murdock . . . and I don't recall sleeping with you."
"Almost." Face smirked at her, but then his gaze sobered. "This is serious, Syd."
"You're taking it too lightly. You let Lew get way too close for comfort. If he'd tried anything there's nothing BA or I could have done. And what if he had noticed the file?"
"He didn't, and there's no way he'd try anything while you two were there. I was safe."
"It was reckless, Sydney." Face decided he was wasting his breath. He took a calming breath. "Nice job with the pick, by the way. I couldn't have done much better myself."
"Thanks. I've kept in practice."
"Did you find anything interesting?"
They reached the limo and BA retrieved a scanner from the trunk.
Sydney held out her arms, and BA swept her. Up at her shoulder, it began beeping. He reached up under the collar of her jacket, and pulled out a tracking button.
"What did he say to you when you were standing by the window?" Face asked.
Syd looked at the button, and pursed her lips. "He wanted me to ditch you and go out for a drink."
"Murdock is gonna flip."
Sydney grabbed Face's collar. "Not if we don't tell him."
He pulled his shirt out of her grip and straightened it, his eyes narrowed. "Tell me you weren't thinking about it."
"Of course not," she said as she got into the limo. Face couldn't help thinking she had answered a little too quickly.
"What do I do with this?" BA held out the tracker.
"We'll find somewhere interesting to plant it." Like maybe up Lewis' ass, Face thought with a grim smile.
Then he can chase his own tail and leave Syd's alone.
* * *
Sydney gripped the file and shook her head. "It's private, Hannibal. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with you reading it."
Hannibal took a long drag on his cigar. "OK, Syd, I can see your point. But I want a full report on anything of interest that you find. And I do mean full. Understood?"
She nodded, and Hannibal jabbed his cigar in the direction of the deck. "Now get your ass out there and at least talk to Murdock. He's been driving me crazy since you left."
Sydney started toward the hallway, and Hannibal grabbed her arm. "You're goin' the wrong way."
"I'm just putting this in the bedroom." She gave Hannibal the sincerest smile she could muster. "I promise, I'll go talk to him in just a few minutes."
Sydney felt heat creep up her cheeks at Hannibal's appraising look. "I promise, Hannibal."
He nodded and let her go.
She dropped the file on the desk in Hannibal's room, and slipped out to the deck through the private door.
It was a warm and clear Virginia night, with a full moon and millions of stars overhead. Syd took a deep breath, and the sweet smell of the viburnum shrubs that lined the back of the deck gave her a heady feeling. She sighed, that probably wasn't the right frame of mind to go talk to Murdock in. She was going to have enough trouble keeping her hormones in check as it was. And she was resolved to do just that.
Sydney jumped and spun around to face the lanky shadow. "You scared the shit out of me, HM."
"Sorry. Heard you come out the door." He moved out of the shadows and Sydney cursed silently as her heart rate refused to slow down. It was a tactical error on her part. She should have asked him to come into the living room to talk.
"So how did it go?"
"Um, fine, it went fine. Turns out it was Lew that got us in the door."
Murdock's jaw tensed. "Was Lewis there?"
"Yes, he was there."
He walked forward and leaned on the rail, his white-knuckled grip on it the only hint to his true feelings. "So, how is ol' Lew?"
"He hasn't changed much."
Murdock nodded and leaned down so his forearms rested along the top of the rail. He gazed out across the compound grounds, and the silence stretched. Sydney moved to the bench, about five feet from where he stood. She hoped the distance would help her maintain some emotional detachment, as she cast about for a way to raise the subject they needed to discuss.
"So, was it worth the risk?"
She started at Murdock's voice. "I managed to lift my file out of the office, so I'd say it was worth the risk. Though I question how much risk there really was. BA and Face followed Hannibal's orders they didn't let me out of their sight."
"Face could have handled that chore, Syd." His voice was tight, almost accusing. "There was no reason for you to go there."
"Face already gave me the lecture, thank you." Sydney sighed. "You know, it used to drive me insane how you two could complete each other's sentences. It was like dating a guy with two freaking heads."
Murdock chuckled, and Sydney was glad to see him finally relax his stance, as he shifted so he could face her. "Faceman always has my back."
"Yeah, I know. Face, Ray, BA, Rem, Hannibal . . . you all looked out for each other. Gave me some peace of mind when we were apart."
"Wish I had the same peace of mind."
"Regardless of what you think of Lew, he never would have let anything happen to me. He had my back as much as Face had yours."
Murdock looked down at the decking. "Was that all he had, Syd?"
He took a deep breath and looked at her directly. "Were you and Lew . . . involved?"
"No." She cringed at the uncertainty she saw reflected in his face; uncertainty about her. She gazed at him steadily, and repeated her denial. "Never."
A slight smile curved his lips, though she thought she still detected a hint of doubt in his warm, brown eyes. With difficulty, Sydney ignored the urge to put her arms around him. She knew if she did, she wouldn't be able to let go.
"Lew was my partner, HM. There was never anything more."
"OK then let's stop talking about him. He may have been your partner, but that doesn't mean I liked the guy. For one thing, he got to spend way more time with you than I did." Murdock grinned at her. "Never thought I'd want to rejoin the Company for a girl!"
She returned the smile. "The real question is: 'did you ever really leave the Company?'"
"Once a spy, always a spy?" He rubbed a hand across the back of his neck and took a deep breath. "What about us, Syd? What the heck happened this afternoon? And what the hell is up with Haley?"
She shook her head. Murdock's tendency to switch subjects abruptly was disconcerting, though she was glad he'd brought up what she wanted to discuss. "What did she say to you?"
"She basically told me to mind my own business, since you weren't even sure I was her father."
Sydney winced. Now the Lew discussion was in context. "HM, Haley was in a hurtful mood this evening. She's frustrated, and she takes it out on the people she's closest to. You should take it as a good sign that she lashed out at you it means you're in."
Murdock shoved his hands in his pockets and started pacing. "Made me feel out way out. What's she frustrated about?"
"Perhaps you haven't noticed, but she's sent out of the room every time the discussion gets dicey. I know why you guys are uncomfortable talking in front of her, but she's as vested in discovering the truth as I am. It's a tightrope, and I'm afraid I kinda . . . misstepped this afternoon."
"I promised her I'd talk to her after I was done talking to you. Then . . ." Sydney swallowed, and felt a warmth spread through her body as she recalled their encounter this afternoon. "Well, you know what happened. Anyway, she saw what was going on, and stewed about it, and basically worked herself into a thither over the perceived injustice."
"Oh." Murdock grimaced. "Damn. I didn't even think about Haley."
"Neither did I, but I am now. As anxious as I am not to waste another minute with you, I really think we're gonna have to put on the brakes and give Haley some time to adjust to . . . everything."
Murdock's pacing had brought him inexorably closer to Sydney. He stopped in front of her, and she became giddy with his proximity. She stood and took a step back, but the railing prevented further retreat.
"So, we're on hold."
"I'm afraid so."
"And here I just got the green light from Hannibal." He took a deep breath. "That's gonna be a challenge."
Sydney licked her lips. "Yeah."
He took a step forward, and Sydney caught her breath. He was far too close, now. She gripped the railing at her back, her fingernails biting into the wood. "We should say goodnight, HM."
He shoved his hands deeper into his pockets, as if trying to make sure they would behave. He leaned down and kissed her lightly. Sydney closed her eyes, savoring the brief pressure of his lips on hers.
"Goodnight, Syd." His voice was warm with a timbre of desire that swept through her. She was glad she had a tight grip on the railing, or she might have forced him to catch her. That would have been a disaster.
He turned on his heel and strode down the back steps, disappearing into the shadows of the compound grounds. It was a few minutes before Sydney trusted her jelly-legs enough to carry her to the bedroom she was sharing with her daughter.
* * * *
CHAPTER 7: Nocturnal Activities
Sydney sat at the desk and turned on the lamp, illuminating the file she lifted from Asher's office. She weighed the need for sleep against the desire to find out what was in the file, and decided that sleep would be elusive anyway. Lying in bed, in the dark, with only a wall between her and Murdock was not a recipe for a good night's rest. If she was going to be awake, she might as well make the time productive.
The first record in the folder was her medical history from the Laos hospital. At the top of the sheet the Lao word for 'Unknown' had been crossed out, replaced by 'Jane Doe' and highlighted overhead was her elected name 'Alexis Smith.'
'Jâo seu nyãng?' The words echoed through the recollections of her first few waking hours, as the question was asked again and again. 'What is your name?' She remembered her frustration and terror wanting to scream at them to stop. She understood the question, in both English and Lao, and it didn't matter how many times they asked. She simply couldn't answer. She didn't know.
Enter Dr. Asher. He had seemed like a savior at the time. Though she hated the Jane Doe moniker, it was far better than being called nothing. It was almost a week later that he showed up with the baby name book, and had her select a name that 'felt' right. By then, he already had transport back to the states arranged. They left Laos the next day.
The chart had a grocery-list of the injuries with which she had arrived at the Laos hospital. She read through it several times, making notes of technical terms that described her condition at the time.
Sydney sat back and stared at the page of scrawled medical jargon: fractures of the proximal phalanges, costal ribs, and left humerus, concussion, excessive intercranial pressure, multiple contusions, lesions and burns located across the body, including fingertips, making fingerprinting impossible; all of that she knew. However, the 'evidence of rape' was news to her. She knew she shouldn't be surprised; but in truth, the possibility never crossed her mind. Dr. Asher never mentioned it, and she had always assumed that he was honest with her. She pushed the chair back and walked to the patio door, staring out at the stars, her thoughts a chaotic tumble of absent and conflicting memories and hard evidence. She shook her head.
"Mom, are you OK?" Haley's sleep-laden voice startled Sydney.
"I'm fine." Sydney allowed the white lie to hover between her and her daughter. "It's late honey, you should get back to sleep."
Haley squinted into the light, now streaming into her face from the desk lamp without Sydney in the chair to block it. "Are you coming to bed?"
"I'm too wired to sleep." Sydney walked to the desk and flipped the file shut to pick it up before she switched off the light. "Sorry I woke you. I'll go out to the dining room."
Sydney stopped by the bed and smoothed the hair back from Haley's face. "Sleep, honey. We have to be up early in the morning."
"Do I have to go to Crystal Lake?"
"Yes, Haley. You heard Hannibal. We have to stick together."
"Fine." she rolled over, back to Sydney.
"You know, Haley, this is difficult for everyone concerned, not just you." Sydney sank onto the edge of the bed and laid a hand on her daughter's shoulder. "I'm sorry about this afternoon, honey. I really am. I never meant to exclude you, or ignore you. But you have to understand just how overwhelming it is to remember . . . and just how upsetting some of what I'm remembering is going to be for you to hear. So much that happened during the war was . . ." Sydney cast about for an adequate descriptor: disturbing, frightening, terrifying all seemed inadequate.
"I'm a big girl, Mother."
Sydney looked down at the file on her lap. "Yes, you've always been mature for your age. But I'm talking about things that even I am having trouble dealing with. You need to give me time to come to grips with what I'm learning."
"I suppose that includes HM?" Haley looked over her shoulder, eyebrows raised.
"I suppose it does." Sydney sighed. "We're both coping with a lot of unresolved feelings. I know it's been 15 years, but it's all fresh in my mind "
"When you conceived me in a passionate encounter?" Haley's tone was wistful.
"You're romanticizing it, Haley." Sydney weighed what to say, unwilling to completely burst her daughter's bubble yet. "I think you've been reading too much Harlequin, young lady. Now, really, you need to go to sleep."
She stood up and walked to the door.
"I know. There's just one thing." She shifted to face Sydney again. "How certain are you that HM is my father?"
Sydney stopped, hand on the door knob. She had hoped to avoid this question. She turned and looked into her daughter's warm, brown eyes HM's eyes. "As certain as I can be, honey."
Haley sighed. "But maybe he's not?"
"The timing of our . . . encounter would be about right for him to be your father, Haley. I don't recall the next five or six weeks, so that's the best evidence I can give you; that and the fact that you have his eyes."
Sydney turned to leave, but stopped one last time and fixed her daughter with a stern gaze. "Speaking of HM, you need to apologize to him tomorrow.
Haley sat up. "For what?"
"Don't give me that line of crap. You know damn well 'for what.' He's having just as much trouble with the new playing field as you are. Give him a break."
"Good. Now, go to sleep."
Murdock lay on his back, across the maze of tires on the obstacle course, his jacket folded and propping up his head. The heat of the day was fading, and he could feel the humidity settling on him. He hoped it would get cold enough to put out the flame burning his core. Every time Syd walked into a room his penis stood at attention. It was embarrassing.
Face appeared, standing over him, hands on hips. "What are you doing out here?"
"Trying to cool off."
Face laughed. Murdock debated whether it was a 'with him' or 'at him' kind of laugh.
"Syd cut you off, didn't she?"
There was his answer. "Don't rub it in, qui no sabe." He enunciated his words carefully.
"I thought it was 'kemo sabe?'"
Murdock flashed a mocking grin at his friend. He knew Face hated it when he played linguistic games with him. It made it that much more fun. "Depends on what you're tryin' to say."
Face kicked his foot. "So, what does it mean?"
"Loosely translated, it means clueless."
"Mismo a usted."
"Speak fucking English, Murdock."
"Same to you."
Face dropped onto one of the tires, and rested his arms on his knees. "And here I was trying to be a good friend and come out here to cheer me up."
"Hell of a Freudian slip there, oh Facial one."
"More of a slide." Face looked sideways at Murdock. "What happened? Looked like you two were getting along fine earlier."
"Syd and I are fine. Haley and I, not so much." Murdock turned to his friend. "I don't have a clue how to be a father especially to a teenage girl. I mean all I did was ask her if she wanted to talk about it. Was that wrong?"
Face shrugged. "How long have you known Haley?"
"An hour or two longer than you."
"And you think that in less than 12 hours she's just going to accept you as her father? That's a stretch, Murdock."
"I thought . . .." Murdock's face fell. "I know it is. It's just . . . I want this so bad, Face."
"I know. We all do. A family, white picket fence, normal life." Face stretched his legs out and leaned back on his elbows. "But to Haley it all has to be pretty weird. I mean, it sounds like it's just been her and Syd for all this time, and suddenly here are all these strange men who treat her mother like the prodigal daughter. You have to realize how strange it must seem to her."
Murdock sighed. "I guess. Syd said we needed to slow down and let Haley get used to . . . . everything."
"Not that it makes it any easier, but she's probably right."
"There's logic, and there's libido in this case, never shall the twain meet."
"Ah, that pesky libido has you thinking with your little brain, doesn't it?"
"The little brain has a mind of its own that doesn't mean it's in control."
Face raised an eyebrow at Murdock and smirked. "I have to admit, pregnancy must have agreed with Syd, 'cause she sure did fill out nice. She was a stick when we knew her back in 'Nam. Now she's got curves in all the right places. Honestly, can you blame little brain?"
"You're not helping, Face."
Face shrugged. "Didn't say I was trying to help. So you have to wait a couple days. You still get the girl."
Murdock turned and looked at his friend. When they first met Syd, they had engaged in a brief rivalry over her attention. "Still wishing you hadn't headed off-base for that weekend with the pretty nurse, Face?"
"Not sure I'd give up that weekend for Syd. She was a little . . . tame for my taste." Face grinned at him. "Of course, then we learned that she was lying. I have to admit, when she told us she was in intelligence, she was way more interesting."
"Way more interesting," Murdock agreed. He remembered the first briefing after Syd had returned as part of the Team's CIA recon detail. The realization that she wasn't some USO fluff chick, but a working intelligence agent had turned him on. It seemed to have the opposite effect on his best friend.
Murdock shook his head. "There's only one problem with dating a spy. You know they're lying to you, you're just never sure what they're lying about."
Face grinned at him. "Admit it, you just thought it was hot that she carried a gun."
"It was way hotter knowing she could kill a guy with her bare hands. Made the prospect of wrestling with her just a little risky, know what I mean?"
Murdock sighed at the inevitable reaction of his body to thoughts like that about Syd. He rolled himself to a sitting position and decided it was time to change the subject. "Tell me what happened at Asher's office."
Face shrugged. "What did Syd tell you?"
"Evasive, Face." He waited, but when Face didn't respond, he baited him. "She told me Lewis was there."
Face blew out a pent-up breath. "Good. And yes, he was there; walked in just a few minutes after Syd got the damn file door shut. Too close for my comfort."
"You let him just walk in?"
"Chill, Murdock. Syd was safe. BA and I never left the room."
Murdock's gaze narrowed. "I can't help thinking Lewis is involved in this somehow. I never did like that guy."
"He planted a tracker on her collar. I'm thinking he's at least been recruited as a lackey, if nothing else."
Murdock turned wide eyes on his friend. "Just how close did you let Lewis get to her?"
"Uhhhh." Face stood up. "Close enough to plant a bug, but not that close."
Murdock shot to his feet. "What the hell does 'that close' mean?"
"I told Sydney you'd flip." Face backed off, holding up his hands.
Murdock leaned down, plucked his jacket off the tires, and shrugged into it. "I did not flip."
"OK, you didn't flip." Face chuckled. "But you gotta admit, Lew still makes the green-eyed monster rear its ugly head."
Murdock turned his back on Face and strode away. "I'm going to bed."
Face caught up to him and slugged him in the shoulder as he jogged by. "Last one to the deck sleeps in the dog house. Oh. I forgot. You're already there."
"You're a dead man, Face."
He flashed Murdock one last mocking smirk, before he spun around and took off at a sprint. Murdock pounded after him, but Face never slowed and never looked back. He ran all the way to the back door, where he paused only long enough to jerk it open. Murdock put on a last burst of speed to reach the door before his friend could lock it on him.
Face came to an abrupt stop just inside the living room, and Murdock plowed into him with enough force to send both of them several feet further into the house. "Why did you stop "
"Hi Syd," Face said, as Murdock caught his shoulder to keep them both from falling on their faces.
"You two better keep it down before you wake up the whole house." Sydney shook her head. "Out for a midnight run?"
"Just working out some, uh -" Face looked at Murdock, and chuckled. "Just working out some frustration, that's all."
Murdock's hand shot out and missed the back of Face's head by inches, as the agile man hopped away.
A slight smile played around Sydney's lips. "You two haven't changed at all."
We're older." Face moved back to Murdock's side, and nudged him with a shoulder.
"Speak for yourself," Murdock countered.
Face shrugged. "True, you've actually regressed."
This time, Murdock's hand connected with the back of Face's head.
Face grimaced. "I'll take that as my cue to leave." He gave them a broad wink. "You two kids have fun." He took off down the hall.
Murdock closed his eyes and shook his head. Then he turned to Sydney. "Sorry. I . . . should probably head to bed, too . . ."
She pressed her lips together, and nodded, but something in her face stopped him.
He tilted his head. "Are you OK, Syd?"
She gave a bark of a laugh and rolled her eyes.
Obviously not. "Stupid question, huh? Anything you want to talk about?"
She fingered the first few pages of the file, then looked up into worried brown eyes. "You know how you felt when you realized that Richter might be part of . . . whatever this mess is?'
"Imagine learning that it's almost a sure thing." Syd flipped the file shut.
Murdock sighed, and sat down. Obviously, she needed to talk. Maybe if he stayed on this side of the table, he'd be OK. "What did you find?"
Sydney stared at him, and he wondered at the uncertainty he thought he recognized in her eye. She looked down and sighed. "Asher's been lying to me from day one. How many lies has he told me over the last 15 years, HM? And more importantly, why?"
"I don't know. But we will find out. You know how Hannibal is. We'll get to the bottom of this, Syd."
She gazed into his eyes, and he felt a familiar stirring in his core. He covered her hand and squeezed. "It'll be alright, Syd. You have to believe that."
"I hope you're right, HM. I really do."
"Faith, sweetheart. Have faith."
She snorted. "In what?"
"In us. In the Team."
She flashed him an apologetic smile. "That I have."
Murdock gave her hand one last squeeze and stood up. "Good. And now, I'm going to bed. And you should, too."
"I'm almost done with the file. I'll finish it up and then head to bed."
"Syd, it's late."
Sydney flipped the file folder open. "You are not my father."
Murdock watched her for several seconds, before he decided he could weather one last temptation. He walked around the table and leaned down to kiss the top of her head.
When she looked up at him, her smile was again apologetic. "I just can't sleep right now, HM. Thanks for the pep talk, though. I really needed it."
"Promise to go to sleep sometime tonight?"
"I don't like making promises I'm not sure I'll keep."
He sighed and ran a hand over her hair, letting the silky strands run through his fingers. "At least you're honest." He allowed his fingers to brush her cheek before deciding he'd tempted himself enough for one night. "Good night, sweetheart."
Sydney gazed after him, the warmth from his hand still lingering on her cheek. If only that warmth would permeate her frigid mind. She glanced down at the top page of the file, and the words 'evidence of rape' glared at her as if written in neon. Had he seen it while he was standing there? She shook her head. She should have told him. No, it would be better if she told him and Haley at the same time. Haley would be irritated if HM found out before her. At least that was a valid excuse.
Sydney flipped back to where she left off, but unshed tears blurred the words in front of her. A small part of her longed to go back to the ignorance of being Alexis Smith, but it was a very small part. Alexis Smith had no history with HM Murdock at all, and that was something she would not give up for anything.
She flipped the page, even though she had barely absorbed a word. What she saw registered slowly as odd. "What the hell?"
* * *
Haley woke with a start.
"Are you OK?" The disembodied whisper sent her heart racing, before the sleep fog cleared and she recognized the voice.
"Jerry, is that you?"
"Of course. I told you I'd keep an eye on you. What are you doing here?"
"We came here with my . . . um, a friend of Mom's."
"He's not a friend, Haley. I told you, the A-Team are dangerous men."
"They seem like nice guys." Haley was embarrassed. She had let her guard down even after Jerry had told her to beware of the A-Team. In her defense, though, she hadn't realized who they were at first.
"People aren't always what they seem." There was a pause, and she heard Jerry shift. "Why didn't you bring the phone I gave you? I told you to keep it with you all the time. It's difficult to watch over you when you slip away like that."
"Mom put it in the bag with my old clothes after we left home this afternoon and then HM left it at the store. I'm sorry."
"That's where I found it. Here." A hand stretched out in the dark, and Haley took the offered hand set. "Keep it hidden. If the Team finds out you have it, they'll take it away, and we'll be cut off again."
"It's hard to hide. It's too big."
"Do your best. I do have a couple backup plans, in case you lose the phone again."
"Jerry, did you know Dr. Asher is dead? Mom thinks he was murdered. And the Team is planning on taking us away." Haley was having trouble controlling herself enough to keep her voice low. "Why can't Mom and I just leave with you now? I can go get her. The rest of them are asleep."
"Not yet. It's too dangerous. They'll kill both of you, like they did Asher, before they allow you to get away. I don't want to take that chance. I'm working on an exit strategy. For now, you'll just have to play along. You can do that, Haley. I know you can. Now, where are they taking you?"
"We're leaving for Crystal Lake in the morning. All I know is that it's somewhere over in California. I'd guess it's near LA."
"California." The silence stretched so long that Haley thought he might have left. "I think I know what they're up to. I'll head out there tonight, and see if I can neutralize the situation."
She heard movement. "Are you leaving?"
"I have to go. But I'll still be tracking you, Haley. I promise. I won't let anything happen to my little girl." The whisper of the door sliding shut heralded his exit.
His words of assurance helped calm her fears, though not entirely. She wasn't sure who to trust, but felt like she needed to somehow offset her mother's unquestioning reliance on the A-Team. When Jerry first introduced himself to her, shortly after they arrived in Virginia, she had been thrilled. He told her he knew who her mother was and he knew Dr. Asher. They had a plan in place to reveal the truth to Mom slowly. It had all sounded so plausible, easy. All she had to do was make sure her mother didn't cut ties with Asher at this critical juncture. Jerry promised he would reveal everything to her, as soon as he had everything worked out with Dr. Asher, supposedly to ensure her mom would not suffer a psychotic break with the revelation.
Those carefully-laid plans had all been foiled when they ran into Murdock at the grocery store. At first Haley thought it was a good thing, shortcutting the lengthy process Jerry and Dr. Asher had developed. But that was before she realized Murdock was connected to the A-Team. Unfortunately, by that time, she had already developed a soft spot for the quirky man. She had trouble reconciling the Murdock she had met with the 'danger' that Jerry warned against.
The truth was, she wasn't sure about Jerry either; and she knew she had to guard against Murdock's ability to lull her into a false sense of comfort and security.
Until she knew who to trust, she was determined to rely only on herself.
* * * *
Prologue to Chapter 8
Lewis stowed his few possessions in the overhead compartment and dropped into the seat in coach. He was exhausted, and he knew the only sleep he would get would be during the flight. He had to intercept Richter before the team could get to him. If anyone could undo what Asher had done, Richter could. That had to be prevented. He was going to have enough trouble winning Syd over as it was.
He had seriously considered taking Haley up on the option of taking her and Syd at Stockwell's compound, but security was tight enough that he had trouble getting himself out, let alone two other people. He also doubted that Sydney would be terribly cooperative. The combination of circumstances was too unfavorable to risk a move. He would just have to make an opportunity to retrieve them elsewhere. At least he was able to get the sat-phone back to Haley.
Lewis leaned his head back and closed his eyes. The next couple days were going to be long ones. He had better rest while he could.
CHAPTER 8: Trip to Tension
Hannibal tapped Sydney on the shoulder. "Time to wake up sleeping beauty."
Syd's head jerked off the dining room table. She gazed around in confusion for a moment, then yawned and stretched. "What time is it?"
"0500," Hannibal said. "Just how late were you up?"
She shrugged. "No clue."
"She was still up when I hit the hay 'round 2am." Murdock flashed her a teasing grin as he made a beeline for the coffee maker.
"Did you find anything interesting?" Hannibal scanned what he could see of the documents in the file.
Sydney flipped a sheet over, and at first Hannibal thought she was hiding something, but then she pointed to the blue smudges all over the back of the page. "Actually, the content of the file is mostly pretty boring, but this caught my eye."
Hannibal picked the page up and peered at it. He could make out smeared letters that appeared to be mirror images of those on the front. "Carbon copy?"
"Yes, looks like somebody got the carbon paper in backward on this one."
Hannibal shrugged and handed it back to her. "So?"
"Why would he be making a carbon copy of my session notes?"
Murdock stood in the kitchen doorway, the coffee maker gurgling behind him. "Richter routinely made copies of mine."
"Maybe for you it can be explained away, since you were in the VA system. But I was a private patient. No one had any business reviewing my file outside of me and my doctor." Sydney's eyes flashed in anger. "And another thing Stockwell told us Asher wasn't connected to the CIA any longer; but Lewis told me Asher was still affiliated with the CIA. That's why he was at the office last night. You ask me, it looks like someone had something to cover-up."
"Maybe Asher was consulting with another doctor on your case?" Hannibal suggested.
Sydney shook her head. "Asher wasn't one to consult on anything. Besides, he would have had to ask my permissions, and he never did. I'd like to know where the hell the duplicates are."
"Maybe in Asher's Chicago office?" Hannibal suggested.
"Maybe." Sydney's eyes reflected doubt, for a brief moment, before her resolve hardened her gaze. "Or in an office drawer at the CIA, which would explain why there were agents watching me. I think someone at the CIA knew who I was, and knew that I was alive and well."
"There were agents on her, Hannibal. Stockwell seemed to think they were CIA, but who knows." Murdock glanced back as the coffee maker gave a final gurgle and fell silent. "Coffee's ready!" He ducked back into the kitchen.
"That does put a different spin on it." Hannibal chewed on his cigar. "But why have surveillance on you? Why not just pull you in? It seems like an awful lot of trouble for an agent who's been MIA for 15 years."
"All I know is that it will really piss me off if the Company has known all this time, and never bothered to clue me in."
"I'll bet it was Lewis." Murdock handed Hannibal a cup of coffee.
Sydney slowly nodded. "I suppose it's possible . . . though he seemed genuinely surprised to see me last night. I don't know. I always had trouble reading Lew."
Hannibal chuckled. "Yeah, well, Murdock's suspicion is a bit tainted. Lew helped us out last night, but we'll keep him at arm's length. I think it's pretty suspicious that he was in Asher's office at all. The General said he was working internationally why would he be involved in a local shrink suicide? Even if Asher was under contract to the CIA." He started pacing. "Actually, the General's early interest in this whole thing is what really has my juices flowing. What the hell does Stockwell have to gain from you recovering your memory?"
"I don't trust Stockwell, but as far as Lew's presence last night, he said he was there as a favor to a buddy. He told me he didn't know Asher, personally." Sydney stared at the papers in front of her. "I just have trouble accepting Lew was involved. I know he didn't get along with you guys, but he was a good agent. We gathered a lot of intel on the NVA. It's hard to believe he could be in league with Morrison and Kyeh, especially without me knowing."
"Maybe you did know." Hannibal glanced into the kitchen and caught Murdock's eye; he nodded in understanding.
Murdock entered the dining room and put a cup of coffee in front of Syd, as he slid into the seat next to her. It appeared to Hannibal that he took an awful lot of care to not touch her in the process, though a moment later, he put a hand over hers on the table. "We had a hard time accepting that Morrison was on the NVA payroll, too, sweetheart. But when you get slapped in the face with the truth, it's hard to ignore. Hannibal's right, any information leaked to Lewis could get to the wrong people. We need to avoid him."
Sydney took a deep breath and nodded; then gave Murdock a half-hearted smile. "Upsets you, doesn't it?"
He grinned. "Breaks my little ol' heart!"
Hannibal nodded. "We're agreed then. Until we know who we can trust, we keep everything internal as much as possible. We're going to have to leverage outside assets, but they're status is definitely 'need-to-know.'"
Murdock and Sydney both nodded in the right direction. Hannibal put a hand on Murdock's shoulder. "How about you get breakfast going, Captain, while I rouse the rest of the troops."
"I'll go wake Haley." Sydney slid her hand out from under Murdock's, her movement slow and reluctant. Murdock gave her retreating fingers a quick squeeze before standing up to head to the kitchen.
Hannibal watched as Syd and Murdock went opposite directions, and pursed his lips in thought. When those two were near each other, it felt like the moments just before a huge thunderstorm lets loose. It was affecting everyone to different degrees. Something was going to have to give on that front, soon. He couldn't have Murdock distracted like he was. They all needed to be at their best, now that they were leaving the relative security of the Compound.
Though he was concerned about the trip, he was looking forward to returning to the Team stomping grounds on the west coast. Once there, they would have the upper hand.
And there, they could disappear if necessary.
* * *
Sydney woke Haley up with a smack on the foot. "Cmon, girl. Time to wake up. HM's making breakfast."
"What time is it?" Haley's voice was muffled by the covers over her head.
"A little after five."
"AM? You have to be kidding me." Haley sat up, and squinted at Sydney. "Did you sleep last night?"
"I got a couple hours."
"Did you spend the night with HM?" Haley's tone held a hint of accusation.
"I saw him, and we talked, but I didn't spend the night in his bed, if that's what you're inferring."
"Did you talk like you talked earlier?" She cocked an eyebrow at Sydney.
"Haley, we agreed to give ourselves, and you, some time to adjust to recent developments. So the answer is 'no' not 'like we talked earlier.'" As she said the last four words Sydney wiggled her fingers in a mocking likeness of her daughter's quotation mark gesture. "But you are going to have to come to grips with the fact that he's going to be part of our life."
"Whatever." Haley yawned and stood up. "I suppose I have to put on the clothes he bought for me yesterday?"
Sydney waved to the corner of the room. "Face and BA picked up some clothes from the house last night."
"Thank God. Can I take a shower?"
"That's only going to provide a few more minutes reprieve."
"From your apology to HM." Sydney smiled at her daughter. "You didn't honestly think I would forget did you?" She gave Haley a parting glare before she disappeared out the door.
* * *
"'Bout time you rolled out here, kiddo." Murdock flipped the pancake in the pan. "Got a fresh one here just for you. Get yourself a plate."
Less than a minute later, with a quick twist of his wrist, Murdock deposited a perfect, golden pancake onto Haley's plate. She looked at it and scowled. "What's this?"
Murdock tipped the batter dipper three times in quick succession over the sizzling pan, before glancing at Haley's plate. "Looks like a pancake." He leaned over and sniffed at it. "Smells like a pancake. Well I'll be darned. I think it's a pancake."
She grunted. "I mean, what shape is it supposed to be?"
"I'm not 8."
"Right, 14. Almost an adult."
"Did I say you weren't?"
Haley opened her mouth to yell at him about treating her like a child when her mother leaned into the kitchen. "Hey, HM, got a warm one for me?"
Murdock caught the pancake as it descended from its aerial somersault, a large grin splitting his face. "Have I got a warm one for you!"
Haley groaned. "Oh, for God's sake, that's disgusting."
Murdock and Sydney both looked at her, expressions impassive.
Syd sighed. "You have definitely been reading too much Harlequin lately." Haley huffed.
"Is Harlequin that hard core?" Murdock looked sideways at Sydney.
She grinned. "Yeah, some pretty racey stuff. Might be a bit much for you, flyboy."
Murdock chuckled. "Maybe I could pick up a few new moves." He picked up the pan, gave it a shake, and slid the pancake onto Sydney's plate. "There ya go, sweetheart."
Haley looked at her mother's pancake as Murdock poured batter into the pan with the same 3-tip technique. "You made her a Mickey Mouse pancake, too?"
"He makes everyone Mickey Mouse pancakes, Haley - even, BA." Sydney placed a finger beside her nose and glanced pointedly at Murdock. "And don't forget what we talked about, young lady. Now's your chance."
Murdock turned to look at Haley, as Syd ducked back into the dining room. "You need something from me?" When Haley crossed her arms, he held up his hands. "Sorry, my mistake, no understanding dad bit. Forget I asked."
"I'm sorry," Haley said.
"I said, I'm sorry. About yesterday. I " Haley took a deep breath. "I was rude to you, and I apologize."
Murdock leaned on the counter and crossed his arms. "An apology?"
Haley locked her jaw in defiance. "Mom told me I had to."
Now a slight smile; was this guy for real? "So are you really sorry?"
Haley looked away from him. Why was he making this so difficult? "I'm really sorry."
"Doesn't really ring true when you avoid looking at the person to whom you are apologizing."
She looked back at him, and squinted at the amusement she saw reflected in his eyes. "I was angry, but it wasn't really fair to lash out at you. You didn't do . . . much." To me. Yet.
He chuckled. "I didn't do much, huh? Guess I can live with that."
Haley noticed smoke rising from the pan beside him, and she pointed. "I think your pancake is burning."
"Huh? Shit!" Murdock spun around and flipped the pancake, already nearly black on one side. "Guess that one's mine."
"So, does that mean you accept my apology?"
"Of course. Not that it was really necessary. You want me to back off, all you gotta do is say so. Door slamming is optional." He gave her a rueful smile. "I'm kinda new to the whole dad thing, ya know."
"How about we just consider each other . . ." Haley stopped herself from saying 'friends'. "Acquaintances until we know the truth."
The smile fled his face, and Haley felt her own heart drop involuntarily at the hurt evident there. But she reminded herself that she wasn't sure she could trust him. Maybe the puppy dog look was just part of an elaborate act. She had trouble believing it, though no matter what Jerry said.
He didn't look at her, but he did respond, his voice flat. "Whatever you want, Haley."
She waited a few beats for him to look back at her, but he concentrated on pouring pancake batter into the pan. She sighed and called over her shoulder, "Did you hear that, Mother?"
"I heard." Sydney's voice sounded from the dining room, where silence at the table indicated that everyone had been listening to the exchange in the kitchen. "We will have to work on your apology technique."
"Guess she thought I could do better." Haley pressed her lips together. "I'll get a lecture later, I suppose."
Murdock shrugged. "Not my area of expertise." He flipped the pancake, a slight smile returning to his face as it somersaulted in the air and landed square in the middle of the pan. "Look, I even gave this one a little nose. Want it?" He turned and smiled at her, though the smile didn't quite reach his eyes.
"No, this is enough."
As Murdock turned back to the stove, Haley shook her head. He seemed like such a nice, average guy. He might even make an OK dad, though he wasn't what she had pictured. He had the tall part of the equation, but weird and goofy hardly passed for dark and handsome. The truth was that none of that really mattered. She'd accept Goofy himself as her father if she knew she could trust him.
The real question, and the one that held her back, was:
Is HM one of the good guys or one of the bad guys?
* * *
Murdock and Hannibal headed to the airfield first, leaving the rest to load the van and follow. Hannibal reluctantly agreed to a quick stop at Murdock's apartment. They locked the company car they borrowed for the trip, and headed up to the second floor efficiency. As Murdock rounded the corner at the top of the stairs, he stopped and drew his weapon, motioning to the door of his apartment, standing slightly ajar.
Hannibal also drew his weapon, and the two men approached the door, flanking it. Hannibal pushed the door open and took in the visible area of the small living room in a glance. Someone had destroyed it, there were torn books and magazines littering the floor, along with the shredded cushions of the couch and chair. He nodded to Murdock, who led the way into the apartment. They cleared each room as they worked their way back to the bedroom.
Murdock holstered his gun and kicked his way back to the living room. His clothes had been destroyed, photos ripped from broken frames, shattered dishes covered the kitchen floor like shrapnel from a grenade. Nothing was left intact. "What the hell?" He stood in the middle of the mess and looked at Hannibal. "Searching a guy's place is one thing, but this is just . . . vicious."
Hannibal nodded, glanced around. "Is anything missing?"
"Who the hell could tell?" Murdock crouched and picked up a handful of what appeared to be confetti. "Hannibal, look at this. The other photos are just ripped in half, but this one was shredded." He held it out to Hannibal. "It was my photo of us at Ray's funeral."
"Get what you came here to get. I don't want to take any chances. We're too vulnerable with just the two of us."
Murdock nodded and hurried back to the bedroom. Hannibal
walked into the kitchen, and found another photo of Face and Murdock, almost
intact, attached to the wall with a steak knife through Murdock's forehead. Hannibal
pulled the knife loose and smoothed out the photo, which was one he had taken
several years before on one of the Team's retreats.
He shoved the photo into his shirt pocket and glanced around before making his way back out of the kitchen. This was obviously an attack on Murdock and from the looks of it, it was very personal. The questions uppermost in Hannibal's mind were who and why?
Murdock re-emerged from the back of the apartment. He held out a wad of bills. "The motive definitely wasn't money. This was scattered all over the bottom of my closet. At least they didn't find this." He held a battered cigar box, held together by duct tape and bound shut with a large blue rubber band.
Hannibal doubted they would have given it much thought, even if they had found it. He had seen the box several times over the last few years, and each time it showed more wear than the last; but Murdock was always guarded about its contents. "What's in there?"
Murdock tucked the box into his jacket. "Everything that's important." He waved a dismissive hand at the rest of the apartment. "The rest is just for show."
The Colonel watched his pilot walk out of the apartment without a backward glance. It had been years since any of them had put down roots anywhere always ready to pick up and move on a moment's notice. Murdock's instinctive desire to come to his apartment to retrieve what was important to him hadn't surprise Hannibal. They all knew what this trip could mean.
But the fact that the belongings most precious to the man fit into a cigar box struck Hannibal as ironic, and poignant. He knew Murdock had the right attitude this was all just for show. It was the people in your life that were important. They all clung to that as a lifeline to a saner world than the one in which they lived. Someday their fortunes would change. And if Hannibal had any say in the matter, that someday would be very soon.
Out in the hall, he heard Murdock whistle a cheerful tune with a hard, almost angry edge to it that set Hannibal's feet in motion. He really wanted to know what the hell was going on. Right now, their enemy was an undefined ghost with a malicious agenda. They needed to define both the enemy and the agenda to develop a successful strategy for the battle. Only then could they end this feinting game and make some progress.
After all, a full frontal attack was much more his style.
* * * *
Prologue to Chapter 9
"What do you mean 'you let them go?'" If Ike could have wrapped his hands around Hunt Stockwell's neck at that moment, he would have.
"You were the one who wanted to use S.A. Wilson as bait, Isaac. As it was, Lewis's target was far too convenient. Now he'll have to work for her. The farther he has to go, the more of a trail he leaves behind himself. That is how we will get him. That is your goal, correct?"
"It's my fucking op, Stockwell. You should have consulted me, first."
"But I am the one who has control of your bait, Cheney. Like it or not, we are going to do this my way."
Ike slammed the phone down. He had to get back to the fucking drawing board - again.
CHAPTER 9: Exploring the Past While Flying to the Future
"You're on your own, Murdock." Able 8, handed a stack of paperwork to the pilot. "The General just paged me. I have another job that takes priority. I got the flight plans filed with Doc here, and the pre-flight is done, so you should be ready to go."
"You're going to fly the plane?" Haley had just walked into the hangar with Sydney. Excitement pitched her voice high, and it carried clearly to where BA was busy loading baggage into the hold.
"What?" BA glared at Murdock, then turned his angry stare on his commanding officer. "I told you, Hannibal. I ain't flyin' with that fool."
"Well, this should be fun," Murdock muttered. He took the papers from Able 8. "Thanks, Jeff."
But the man's focus was behind the pilot. "Is that the amnesia lady?"
Murdock looked over his shoulder and felt the familiar tugging in his groin that accompanied any glimpse of Syd. He motioned to her and she approached the two men, Haley at her side.
"Hey, HM." Her smile was warm, and only served to quicken his heart rate. He focused on Haley, who wore a sour expression. That helped.
He indicated the Able Agent at his side. "Syd, Haley, I'd like you to meet Jeff Kent."
Jeff shot out a hand. "Sydney Wilson, it's nice to see you."
Syd shook his hand. "Have we met before?"
He absently shook Haley's hand. "Not formally. We were at Quantico at about the same time."
Sydney nodded. "I thought you looked familiar."
He smiled, the admiring gaze locked on Sydney made Murdock curious. Jeff jerked and pulled his pager off his belt. "The General. Again. I better get moving or my ass is grass. Sorry to stick you with this, Murdock."
"Not a problem." Murdock was just as glad he didn't need to worry about ditching the Able Agent.
As Jeff disappeared out the door, he turned to Syd. "He seemed to know you pretty well. You don't remember him?"
She shrugged. "I was the only woman at Quantico at the time, Captain. Everyone knew who I was."
"I hadn't considered that."
Syd's gaze turned curious. "What's wrong with BA?"
Murdock turned the direction she was looking and laughed. BA lay prone on the floor of the hangar. Face and Hannibal were just stooping to get the big man up and into the aircraft.
"We could use a hand here, Murdock," Face grunted as he lifted one large arm.
Murdock chuckled. "Ah, the big ol' mudsucker's just fine, sweetheart. Trust me, it's better if he's out cold while we're in the air." He backed toward the entrance to the jet as he addressed Face. "Sorry, compadre. Maybe Frank can help. I gotta head up to the cockpit and get ready for take-off." He turned and jogged into the aircraft.
"Um, HM," Haley called after him. "Can I come with you?
"Up to your mother, Chiquita!"
Murdock heard Haley's plaintive: "Please?" Followed by Syd's resigned: "Go ahead." He smiled. He took Haley's enthusiasm about flying as a good sign.
Unlike BA - the last thing he heard before he closed the door to the cockpit was: "C'mon, Lieutenant, put your back into it."
* * *
Haley popped into the cockpit and Murdock glanced back. "About time my copilot showed up." He grinned at her, and Haley couldn't help but grin back. "Take a seat and buckle up. I'm just waiting for final clearance. Here." He handed her a pair of head phones. "Put these on."
She slipped the headphones on, and Murdock helped her adjust them so they fit correctly. A few seconds later a voice crackled in her ears. "Empress two, cleared for takeoff on runway four."
Murdock put a hand over his microphone. "Go ahead and respond 'Empress two, positioning for takeoff on runway four, clear.'"
Haley took a deep, nervous breath. "Empress two p-positioning for takeoff on runway four . . . uh, clear."
"Good." Murdock's smile lit up his whole face as he rolled the plane a few hundred feet to the end of a runway. Haley found herself looking at him in a different light as they prepared to head into the air.
"Is that HM's daughter I hear out there?" The jovial voice of the man on the radio made Haley jump. "You get to be half the pilot your dad is, and you'll have a job here, young lady."
Murdock grimaced. "I, uh, I couldn't resist bragging about you, ju-ust a little." He held his index finger and thumb an inch apart, and squinted at her. "I hope that's OK?"
Haley nodded, a thoughtful smile on her face. "Actually . . . it's kinda cool." She glanced at him shyly, then gritted her teeth. Her desire for a father seemed to trump her good sense at times.
He blew out a pent up breath. "That's a relief."
"But don't make a habit of it." Haley looked at him narrowly, hoping he got the message. It was when he started acting like her dad that she let herself get comfortable. That just couldn't be allowed. She was glad that at least her mother had backed off. Since their talk last night, she hadn't seen HM and Sydney even touch each other.
"I'll try, but no promises." Murdock shrugged. "Take comfort in the fact that I'd treat you this way even if we weren't related."
He stopped the plane at the end of a runway and flipped a switch on the console. "Good afternoon, lady and gentlemen, this is your Captain and Copilot." He smiled at Haley. "The seat belt sign is lit, and we will be taxiing for takeoff in just a few moments. Please place your seats in the upright and locked position and strap in for the ride."
He flipped the com back off and turned toward Haley, his excitement palpable in the small space. "Ready to get this lady in the air where she belongs?"
The anticipation of heading into the sky pushed all other thoughts from her mind as Haley nodded. Twin grins split their faces as they taxied down the runway. When the wheels left the ground, Murdock let out a howl, and Haley echoed it.
* * *
Face checked the straps holding BA upright in the seat one last time before taking a seat across from Sydney, next to the windows. "That should hold him."
Syd looked over Face's shoulder at the mountain of a man. "Is there a reason you're restraining him?"
"Just in case he wakes up before we're on the ground. Makes it easier to knock him out again, if we need to." Face sat back and grinned at her. "Beside, if you value Murdock's life, that's the way it has to be."
She shook her head. "I don't remember BA being afraid to fly. I mean, you guys flew in a chopper just about everywhere you went."
Hannibal took a seat next to Sydney. "He was never quite the same after that crash that landed us in the Hanoi Hilton. He hasn't really forgiven Murdock for that one."
"I thought it wasn't Murdock's fault."
"Hell, it wasn't anyone's fault. Murdock kept that bird in the air longer than any other pilot could have." Hannibal's ice-blue eyes sparkled with pride in his pilot. "But a crash is a crash, and that one was bad."
Face glanced back as BA snorted and shifted. "You sure you gave him enough, Hannibal?"
"He'll be fine."
Murdock's voice came over the speakers. "Good afternoon, lady and gentlemen, this is your Captain and Copilot. The seat belt sign is lit, and we will be taxiing for takeoff in just a few moments. Please place your seats in the upright and locked position and strap in for the ride."
A wistful smile curved Sydney's lips, and Face snorted. "God, you two need to do it, already."
Sydney's cheeks turned pink and she kicked Face in the shin.
"Ouch! What was that for?"
"For being an ass."
Hannibal laughed. "Be that as it may, I have to say that I agree with Face."
Face didn't think it was possible, but her cheeks turned an even deeper shade of pink. She crossed her arms. "For being crude, then."
"Oh for Christ's sake, Syd. You two did it in a supply shed on a military base. If that isn't crude I don't know what is."
"Lieutenant, you are defining crude as we speak." Hannibal's tone offered a rebuke, but his grin neutralized it. Besides, Face was enjoying watching Syd squirm.
"What happened in that supply shed, aside from being absolutely none of your business, was anything but crude. HM was sweet."
"Sweet, huh? Based on the condition of the shed when you two left, it looked like it was pretty hot and heavy." Face gave her a devilish grin. "What I really want to know is: did he make your toes curl?"
"I'm not going to validate that question with an answer, Templeton."
Sydney turned pointedly away from the teasing Lieutenant and looked out the window as they rolled to a stop at the end of the runway. After Murdock was returned to active duty following the POW camp, she had stopped to see him at every possible opportunity. Sydney remembered their first - she smirked, make that only successful encounter - vividly. Everything about it had been so Murdock. He might not have been the most adept lover, but what he lacked in technique, he made up for in enthusiasm. She recalled her own initial reluctance when he first opened the door to the supply shed, with a key Face had lifted for him . . .
~ ~ ~
January 26, 1972
"The supply shed?" Sydney looked into the crowded, shadowy recesses of the building that was little more than a shack on the edge of base.
HM grinned and took her hand, drawing her closer. "There's a cot in the back, where the supply sarge catches z's when the commander isn't watching." He leaned down and nibbled at her ear. "C'mon, sweetheart. Lewis'll ne'er find us here."
Sydney's breath quickened at the sound of his Texas drawl. She knew when he allowed his accent to thicken he was aroused. That knowledge and the feel of his lips erased the last of her inhibitions about the setting.
He traced a blazing path from her ear to her mouth, and she allowed herself to be maneuvered back into the shed. HM stepped away long enough to pull the door shut and lock it. Then he turned his attention back to her. His long arms encircled her and pulled her against him while his tongue probed her mouth eagerly. She could feel his penis straining against her and it stoked the coals of her own desire into a flame that licked along every nerve.
Bodies molded into one, they moved toward the rear of the nearly pitch-black shed. They made it several feet before they stumbled over something on the floor, and fell into a shelf, setting off an avalanche of shoes.
HM looked at Sydney. "Well, now, that was real slick." They both burst into laughter.
Sydney tried to look on the bright side. "At least it wasn't ammo, or something heavy."
Eyes finally adjusted to the dark, HM took her hand and they picked their way through the pile of shoes, along a narrow aisle, to the rear of the shed. "Alrighty, I think the coast is clear back here. Your bed, ma-dam." He indicated the little cot with a flourish that set Sydney to giggling again. There was no way that little cot qualified as a bed. It was a scant 6 feet long, and she sized HM against it with a doubtful eye.
His eyes narrowed, though a lift to the corner of his generous mouth indicated his own amusement at the situation. "Are you laughing at me, or with me?"
"Does it matter?"
"Smart ass." He tipped his head and appraised her with a lustful gaze. "Actually, it's a very nice ass." He pulled her back into his arms and cupped her butt, his long fingers probing tantalizingly between her legs, obliterating all further cautionary thoughts from her mind. She tipped her head back, and he accepted the invitation, placing his hungry mouth at the hollow of her throat before venturing down her sternum.
With his other hand he fumbled with the buttons on her shirt, popping the first one off in his haste. "Oops."
Sydney chuckled and reached up to help him with the rest, letting her shirt slide to the floor, followed quickly by her bra. She found the bottom of his t-shirt and interrupted his fervent caresses long enough to pull it up over his head and deposit it on the floor with her clothing. She ran her hands up his chest, thrilling at stiff nipples she encountered on her way to tangle her hands in his hair. Their lips locked together, and for several long moments they reveled in the intimacy of the kiss, tongues probing, tasting, savoring.
HM pulled back, his breath ragged. "If Lewis shows up right now, I swear to God I'll shoot him."
Sydney knew the feeling. They hadn't quite gotten to this point the last time they were together, when Lew showed up and dragged her away. The frustration of that moment lent an urgency to this one. She pulled his head down and kissed him. "I don't want to talk about Lewis."
He managed to get her pants unhooked, and Sydney gasped as his hands slid along her hips, pushing both pants and panties down her legs, while he kissed his way down to her stomach. There he lingered, his tongue tracing teasing patterns below her belly button.
Having reached the floor with her clothing, his hands made a return journey up her legs, slowing as they neared her hips. His thumbs slid inward and teased her apart so he could flick her clit with his tongue. She groaned and he responded by closing his lips and sucking. Her entire body stiffened with the need for release.
She clutched his head and pushed him away, struggling for control. He stood, uncertain until she reached forward and tugged at his belt. She was desperate to have him inside of her. He undid his pants and discarded them in one fluid movement; then gathered her to him, their bodies pressed together as they moved toward the cot. HM loosened his hold enough to lower her to the cot, but it was in a space barely larger than it was, and not nearly long enough for his lanky form. When he lowered his body over hers, his foot collided with folded blankets, stacked at the foot of the cot, reaching nearly to the ceiling. They were buried in another avalanche, this time of army-green wool.
"Shit." HM pushed the blankets onto the floor and shifted, but even with extra room, couldn't seem to wedge himself into position.
Sydney lay spread-eagle on the cot, giggling uncontrollably. "Maybe we should forego the cot," she suggested.
He looked down at her and growled. "I'm sorry, sugar. I just can't seem to get this right."
Sydney smiled at him and slid herself onto the blankets, now covering the floor. "I beg to differ, my dear Captain."
She pulled him down onto her, his weight rekindling her desire quickly. She wrapped her legs around his as he slid into her. He shifted to plunge deeper, and her entire body shuddered. He withdrew and plunged into her again, and she clutched his firm butt, grinding her hips against his, her need for him obliterating all reason. She could feel him growing inside her, as they both approached the precipice. One more thrust, and the orgasm began to ripple through her body. She felt HM's simultaneous release as an echo of her own, turning the ripples of pleasure into crashing waves that left her breathless.
~ ~ ~
The jet began its forward roll, shaking Sydney from the daydream. She felt flushed, and the feeling intensified when the throbbing of the engines began pushing the aircraft down the runway. The landscape flashed by, faster and faster until the wheels left the ground, accompanied by an exultant howl from the front of the aircraft, a stirring echo from that long-ago night in the supply shed.
The jet took to the sky gracefully under the skilled hands of the pilot at her helm. Sydney smiled as she watched the earth recede below her. The thought of those hands on her body was enough to take her close to the edge of reason just sitting here. She sighed, and leaned her head against the cool window.
She'd never tell Face, but he was definitely right.
"Did you make the course adjustments we talked about, Captain?" Hannibal was bent over in the cockpit door.
"Yep. Doc took care of it for me. ETA 0900, local."
"Good. I'm having everyone flake out for the flight, so we're rested. I want us to be sharp en route from the air field to the ranch."
"I'll get you to Portland. After that, it's up to you guys. I'm just the pilot."
"You've never been 'just the pilot,' Murdock. I'll see you when we land." The door closed behind Hannibal.
"Portland? Oregon?" Haley looked at Murdock. "I thought we were going to California."
"That was just a decoy. As soon as Hannibal said we were headed to Crystal Lake for the relaxing atmosphere, we knew he had something up his sleeve. The last time we went there it was anything but relaxing."
"Where are we going?" Haley's voice was an octave higher then usual.
Murdock put a hand on her arm. "Hey, it's OK. We'll be safer where we're going, and this way the General will have a harder time tracking us down."
"Where are we going?"
"We own a ranch, or sorts, out near Breitenbush . . . well, kind of near Breitenbush." Murdock shrugged and smiled. "It's real pretty out there, and secluded. There's a mountain lake and "
Haley felt her heart rate increase. "How secluded?"
"We have 50 acres situated in the Cascades. Breitenbush is . . . a close town, mmmm maybe not the closest well really there's nothing much close. It's basically in the middle of nowhere, which is what we wanted. I think Face has it incorporated under some shell company, which makes it pretty much impossible to track back to any of us, individually. He's good at that sort of thing."
Haley turned away from him and looked out the window. She wondered if Jerry would be able to track them there. But what confused her was that she wasn't sure she wanted him to. It sounded frightening to be secluded with the bad guys; but it was equally as scary to be secluded with the good guys only to be found by the bad guys.
She sighed in frustration as she tucked her hands into the pocket of her hoodie and fingered the phone.
* * *
Face looked up as Hannibal returned to his seat. "All set?"
"Murdock says we'll get to Portland around 0900. Amy got Richter, right?"
"She arranged to pick him up and head to the ranch this morning. She should get there around dinner time."
"I sure am glad she's back from Jakarta," Hannibal said. "Never could figure out why she'd want to go there in the first place."
Face glanced away, afraid Hannibal would see the guilt in his eyes. He'd been surprised when Amy answered the phone yesterday and actually spoke to him. Though she called and spoke to Murdock frequently, she had been stubbornly silent to him.
He raised his eyes to find Sydney gazing at him, a smirk on her face. "Woman trouble, Face?"
Face gritted his teeth. Syd was irritatingly good at reading him. It had fascinated him when they first met, but had quickly become a source of irritation for the conman in him. He was supposed to be able to fool everyone. "No trouble . . . except maybe you."
"All you had to say was you didn't want to talk about it." Sydney pouted, but her blue eyes held a teasing glint. "Besides, I was never your problem."
"The hell you weren't." Face straightened. "Murdock's woman troubles ended up being the whole Team's troubles."
"You are full of it."
Face turned to face Sydney. "Oh, yeah? Let's take the night in the supply shed, as a case in point." Face noted Sydney's blush as he ticked off points on his fingers. "I had to make the arrangements to have the sergeant out of commission for the night; I had to lift the key; then I helped Ray coordinate the diversions so the two of you wouldn't be interrupted, which was a hell of a trick since Lew chose that night to have insomnia. Then the next day, not only did I have to clean up the mess you left in the shed, but I had Murdock pestering me to find him an engagement ring in the middle of freaking Vietnam, he expects me to come up with a diamond ring."
Sydney's eyes went wide, and Face recognized his mistake.
"Excuse me." She choked, stumbling between the seats and hurrying back to the restroom.
"What's wrong with her?" Frankie asked.
"Good going, Face." Hannibal said.
"I didn't even think about it. Shit."
"She didn't know Murdock was going to propose?" Frankie looked at Face in alarm.
"How could she have known? They didn't see each other after that night." Hannibal motioned to the bathroom. "You better go talk to her, Face."
"You should go talk to her." Face looked at Hannibal in desperation. "She looks up to you like a . . . a father figure."
"Well one of you needs to go talk to her," Frankie said.
"Ray was her father figure, not me. Get your ass over there and talk to her, Lieutenant. It's not a request."
Face sighed as he stood up. "What do I say?"
"Honestly, she needs a good cry," Hannibal said. "Her indifference up until now has concerned me. I also think it's a good idea for her be aware of what we do and do not know about what happened to Murdock at the end of the war."
"That's an awful tall order, Hannibal. Why don't I just give her a blow by blow of the first couple years after the war. Murdock was a fucking mess. You think she needs to know all of that?"
"A blow by blow is probably overkill. I'd keep it to the bare necessities for now."
Hannibal's matter-of-fact tone was beginning to piss Face off. "Why don't you go talk to her, then?"
"I was always the commanding officer that she and Murdock avoided. She'll be more likely to open up and talk with you than with me."
"Fine, but I still don't have a clue what to say."
"You'll think of something, Lieutenant. I have faith in you." Hannibal gave Face an encouraging smile.
Face scowled in response, but did head back to the bathroom.
He knocked on the door. "Uh, Syd, are you alright?"
"I'm fine." The strangled sound of her voice belied the words.
"Syd, I'm sorry." Face leaned his head against the door. "I should think before I open my mouth."
The door opened and Face stepped back. Sydney leaned in the doorway, nose pink, eyes red-rimmed. At least for the moment she appeared to be in marginal control of her emotions. "He honestly wanted you to get him an engagement ring?"
"He was head over heels in love with you, even before that night." Face smiled, remembering Murdock's insistence. "It was all I could do to hold him off until then."
She closed her eyes, her struggle for control allowing only a single tear to slip down her cheek. "He was always so damned impulsive."
"Isn't that part of his charm?"
Syd opened her eyes and swiped at her cheek. "Yes. That and his insistent optimism."
Face pursed his lips. "Only when you were around, Syd. You were the only thing that made the end of the war tolerable for Murdock." Face took a deep breath, knowing this was going to be hard for Sydney to hear. "When he lost you, or thought he lost you . . . that was when he lost himself. It was a couple years after the war before we even considered taking him out of the VA. He was just too unstable."
Syd's face crumpled, and he pulled her into a brotherly embrace as sobs racked her petite frame.
He held her until the tears subsided, and she pulled away with a shuddering breath. "I'm sorry. I don't know what's wrong with me."
"I'm no shrink, but even I know you need a release, Syd. No one can ride an emotional rollercoaster like you've ridden in the last 24 hours and not let loose. You keep telling Murdock and Haley to give each other a break. How about doing the same for yourself?"
She leaned into the bathroom and grabbed tissues. "You're right." She dried her face and blew her nose. "It probably doesn't help that I didn't sleep much last night."
"I'm sure that's it." Face gave her a doubtful look.
Sydney smiled. "I'm kind of a mess, huh?"
Face shrugged. "Considering the circumstances, I think you're pretty amazing."
She laughed. "Amazingly thick, at any rate." She looked up at Face, her head tilted to the side. "I do have one question, just out of curiosity."
"Shoot," Face said.
"Did you get him the ring?"
"How did you and Mom meet?"
Murdock leaned back and considered the girl next to him. Her distress at their change in destination seemed to have abated, and she had taken to quizzing him relentlessly about his past. She insisted on details about his indoctrination into the Team, and what they did during the war. Now she was moving onto his relationship with Sydney. He had anticipated the questions about that topic, but it didn't make the answers any easier. His introduction to and courtship of her mother was anything but traditional.
"Well, that depends. Do you mean when I met her as Sydney Wilson of Chicago, or when I met her as Sheila Downey of Dallas?"
"Oh, yeah. Mom was investigating you for drug running, right?" Haley met his gaze with narrowed eyes. "So, did you do it?'
Murdock opened his mouth and closed it without making a sound. "When I met your mother I was not running drugs."
"And before you met her?"
"Not right before."
"Are you a habitual liar?"
Murdock eyes widened in innocence. "I have not spoken one untrue word to you since I've known you."
"A whole . . ." Haley looked at her watch. "16 hours of honesty. Is that a record for you?"
He clutched at his heart. "You wound me to the quick, me lady."
"Did anyone ever tell you you're weird?"
"That's a lie."
"No-o-o-o." Murdock grinned at her, enjoying the word game. "That was sarcasm."
Haley shook her head and crossed her arms. "You aren't going to puke out on the honesty pact, are you?"
"I didn't think it applied to me anymore, since you aren't sure I'm part of the family." Murdock turned questioning eyes on her.
"Regardless, you promised." Haley gazed at him unblinking.
"I did." He returned the look, marveling at how grown-up she sounded. "The honesty pact stands."
Haley nodded in acceptance. "Alright, so when did you meet Mom as Sydney Wilson?"
"You know, I think it's my turn to ask you a question."
"Let's see. Do you have a boyfriend?"
"I've only been in McLean for a couple weeks."
"That isn't an answer." He raised an eyebrow at her.
"I don't have a boyfriend."
"I am very glad to hear that."
Haley gave him a severe look, and he raised his hands in surrender. "Sorry. I can't seem to help myself."
"My turn. When did you meet Mom as Sydney Wilson?"
Murdock chuckled. "Actually, Face found out who she wasn't. So we took her out and . . ." He glanced at Haley, as awareness dawned that Sydney might not appreciate him sharing this particular story with her 14-year-old daughter. "Um, we, hmmm . . ."
"You got her drunk."
Murdock looked at her narrowly. "How did you know that?"
"I'm 14 not stupid."
"No, definitely not." Murdock marveled at how observant and sharp she was for a young teenager. He wondered if that was typical.
"OK, then when did you start dating her?"
Murdock shook his head. There were no straightforward answers to questions like that. Not when it came to him and Sydney. "Are we talking actual, mutual dating, or me fawning after her like a lovesick puppy? There's a difference. She was pretty stubborn about the whole thing."
Haley's eyes went wide with surprise. "Mom didn't want to date you?" Maybe Jerry was right.
"It's complicated, Haley." He sighed, pressing his lips into a thin line. "Syd and I were friends really good friends. But I wanted something more. Unfortunately, there was this rule about military and support groups fraternizing. A lot of guys didn't pay any attention to it, and the officers usually looked the other way, but that was generally with nurses. Your mom was an intelligence agent, which was really taboo, not to mention unusual, and I was an officer. She said I should set an example. She reminded me of it frequently, in fact."
"Yeah, she's good at rules." Haley looked up at him. "So what made her change her mind?"
Murdock stared out the window, silent long enough that Haley thought he wasn't going to answer. When he finally turned to her, his eyes which usually sparkled with mischief and were definitely one of his best features were flat and empty. The gaze sent a shiver of apprehension up her spine as she strained to hear his response. "Things changed after the POW camp."
He seemed uncomfortable meeting her gaze. "We spent a few weeks as guests at the Hanoi Hilton."
"A hotel?" The smirk on his face intensified Haley's feeling of dread rather than alleviating it.
"No, sweetheart. We were guests of the North Vietnamese Army. The Hanoi Hilton was a prisoner of war camp. No amenities." He shook his head, and when he turned back to her, his gaze was intense. "I can't talk about it, Haley, especially with you. Suffice it to say, I was pretty messed up after the camp. Syd helped me deal."
Haley's curiosity wouldn't allow her to let the topic go. "So, after . . . the camp, how did she help?"
"Syd was the only person I would communicate with at first." He grunted in humorless amusement. "Lew wasn't thrilled about it, but Morrison made him back off. The base shrink told Hannibal that if he didn't want me discharged on a Section 8, they better make time for me to spend with Sydney, so that's what happened; whether Lewis, and Hannibal liked it or not."
"Lewis." Haley dug through the disjointed conversations that she had overheard over the last day. "He was . . . Mom's partner, right? You didn't like him, did you?"
Murdock shrugged. "Lew was OK, I guess. Maybe I was just jealous of the fact that he got to spend more time with your mom than I did. I seriously considered transferring back to the CIA."
"You worked for the CIA?"
His jaw clenched, and Haley got the impression that he was sorry he had mentioned it. His response was sufficiently vague to peak her curiosity. "Once or twice."
The revelations kept getting further and further from the fantasy she had in her mind, though she had to admit, Murdock was actually way more interesting than she had first thought.
He grinned at her, his eyes regaining some of their usual sparkle. "Now it's my turn."
Haley groaned. "Fine, but only one question."
"That doesn't seem fair."
"Like Mom says: life isn't always fair." Murdock laughed, and Haley decided maybe she was wrong about him not being handsome. She hoped Jerry was wrong about him, too.
After all, people weren't always what they seemed.
Prologue to Chapter 10
Lewis had been sitting here for several hours, his irritation mounting. Dr. Ricther had not been home when he arrived in L.A. early this morning. He waited until the receptionist arrived, then headed to the nearest telephone booth and dialed. The receptionist answered on the first ring, out of breath. "Dr. Allen Ricther's office. This is Jean. How can I help you?"
"Hello. This is Ron Gunn. I have an appointment with Dr. Richter this afternoon, but I was hoping to talk to him, as I won't be able to make it." Ron Gunn was the first appointment this afternoon in Richter's appointment book. In fact, Richter's schedule had been full today. So where was the good doctor?
"I'm sorry, sir. In fact, I was going to call you to cancel your appointment today. Dr. Richter took an unexpected trip out of town, and won't be returning for a few days.
"But I have to talk to him now!"
"I'm sorry, but I'm afraid that's impossible. If you would like, you can call Dr. Saunders, who will be handling any emergencies while Dr. Richter is away."
"No! I must speak to Dr. Richter. Can you tell me where he's gone?"
"No, sir, I can't. I really don't know."
Lewis took a deep breath. "Fine, have Dr. Saunders call me." He hung up the phone without waiting for a reply.
Lewis dropped into his rental car and pounded a fist on the steering wheel. Haley said they were headed for Crystal Lake, near LA. They had to be in the area somewhere.
CHAPTER 10: Breathless in Breitenbush
"You guys are dead." BA glowered at no one in particular. He had awakened just as they made the last turn off the county road onto a nearly invisible, rough-cut drive that led to the main house on the Team's ranch in Oregon.
"Oh, lighten up, BA," Murdock said from the back seat, where he sat with Frankie and Haley. "In spite of your lack of faith in me, I managed to fly us all the way across the country without crashing even once."
"You're lucky, fool. If we'd have crashed I woulda had to kill you."
"If I had a dime for every time you threatened to kill me, I'd be a rich man, BA."
"If you'd learn how to fly a plane, mebe I wouldn't have to threaten you."
"If you'd get over your acrophobia, we wouldn't have to knock you out every time we have to head in to the great blue yonder, ya big, mudsucking baby!"
Face heaved an exaggerated sigh, "Isn't that your cue, Hannibal?"
"Cool it you two."
The house came into view over the next rise, just as the woods they were driving through gave way to a rocky landscape. Sydney sat up. The house was a huge, two-story shingle-style home sitting on a mid-slope outcrop. An enclosed front deck spanned the front, and adjoined varying levels of open decks circling the sides of the house. Two towers peaked above the front gable, and Sydney could see upper-level decks as well. Everything was designed to allow optimum viewing of the gorgeous mountain setting, at least down-slope. Behind the house, a cliff rose above then angled away to a peak close to a hundred feet higher than the roof of the house. "How many bedrooms?"
"Enough so we can each have our own space." Hannibal grinned. "Except the bickering brothers. They get to bunk together as punishment."
Murdock mocked BA's responding growl.
Sydney put the last of her clothes away in the bedroom she had selected. It was adjoined to Haley's in a mini-suite via the bathroom/dressing room. Located on the north side of the house, it had a large picture window with a spectacular view of the mountain lake located just half a mile down-slope from the house. Woods surrounded the rocky outcrop that house and lake shared, surrounding them like a natural fence. She couldn't imagine ever wanting to leave this place. It was like a slice of heaven on earth.
Haley lounged in the doorway to the bathroom. "I think you just suffer from Florence Nightingale syndrome. You fell for HM because he was sick, and you nursed him back to health."
"Where in the hell do you get these ideas?" Sydney sighed. "I do not suffer from Florence Nightingale syndrome. Honestly, Haley. You truly are reading far too much Harlequin. Why can't you just accept the fact that I fell in love with him?"
"HM said you were just friends until he came back from the POW camp."
Sydney turned troubled eyes on her daughter. "He talked to you about the POW camp?"
"Kind of . . . well, not really. He just told me they were there. He said you helped him recover afterward. Though I don't know what from." Haley pursed her lips in thought. "Was he hurt like you were hurt?"
Sydney considered the question, weighing how to respond. As Haley got older, Dr. Asher had encouraged her to be open with her daughter when she asked questions about what had happened to her, so she always tried to answer with the truth as she knew it. Subsequently, over time, Haley had developed a fairly clear understanding of the injuries she sustained at the end of the war. Perhaps that would be a good place to start with the explanation.
"Sort of. You see, Haley, what happened to me was a one time event, perhaps more intense, but only for a short time. HM and the rest of the Team endured it for weeks, repeatedly. Do you remember when we did the research on torture techniques, when you were doing that paper on Vietnam?"
"Well, imagine being subjected to that for several weeks in a row, day after day, with no medical attention in between, and precious little food to sustain you. And remember, there are mental as well as physical aspects to torture. They lived with that for weeks."
"How did they get away?"
Sydney shrugged. "Hannibal earned his nickname, sweetheart. In the end, the escape was probably the easy part. Even more amazing was that the entire unit made it back to base alive."
"But why would your feelings for HM change when they got back if it wasn't Florence Nightingale syndrome?"
"My feelings didn't change."
"But HM said you wouldn't date him until after "
"Yes, that's true. But what changed was my own resolve about not taking our relationship any further than friendship. I kept telling myself that I was too young for a serious relationship. But I think what I was really afraid of was getting too . . . attached. I didn't want to deal with the emotional ramifications if he was killed which was a likelihood every time he took off."
Sydney took a deep breath. "His time at the POW camp made me realize how foolish that rationale was. I was already attached. I could tell myself and everyone around me that we were just friends, but I realized that it didn't matter. Once my brain accepted the inevitable, it seemed silly to avoid any deeper attachment. If I was honest with myself, I was already in love with him."
Haley slouched in the doorway. "You're certain there was nobody else? Someone that maybe you don't remember?"
"No one." Sydney walked over and stood in front of her daughter. "Why?"
Haley shrugged. "I just want to know if he is my father."
Sydney sighed. "My heart tells me he is, but " She stopped, unsure if this was the right time.
Sydney took her daughter's hands and drew her to the bed to sit. "Haley, I truly think that HM is your father, but I think you should know that he wasn't the only man I had intercourse with in that time frame."
Haley's eyes widened. "What are you saying?"
"I read my early file last night. Dr. Asher never told me, but the medical records from Laos indicate that I . . . had been raped."
"Oh my God. Raped? You mean my father might have been a rapist?"
"I really doubt it, honey, but it's possible."
Murdock cleared his throat, and Haley and Sydney both looked up at him. "Are you two settled in?"
Haley looked at her mother and, for the second time since she had met Murdock, asked, "Does he know?"
"I do now," Murdock said. "Does it really matter?"
A relieved smile appeared on Sydney's face. "No, it doesn't."
Haley shot off the bed. "Of course it matters. He might not be my father." She pointed at Murdock, her tone accusing. "Even worse, my father might be some scumbag rapist? It matters a lot!"
Murdock moved into the room. "Why is it so important to you, Haley? I'd gladly take the title. All you have to do is say the word."
"Don't you understand? I've wondered who I am all my life. I want to know who my father is."
"You may not like what you find out," Sydney said quietly.
"I would at least like to know whether HM is my father or not. Isn't there some test or something they can do to figure that out?"
Murdock crossed his arms. "We could have a paternity test run."
"Just like that?" Haley's gaze was distrustful.
"It's a reasonable request. I'll talk to Hannibal. I'm sure Maggie Sullivan would take the necessary samples and run the test if asked." Murdock tilted his head. "I'm still not sure I understand why it's so important to you, but if it is, then it's important to me, too."
Haley hesitated, but her face cleared. "Thanks, HM. Really." She turned abruptly and disappeared through the adjoining bathroom/dressing room. She glanced back at them briefly, before closing the door, effectively ending the discussion.
Sydney stood and moved to his side. "What if you aren't her father, HM?"
"I guess we'll cross that bridge if we come to it." He flashed her a teasing smile. "Besides, I figure my chances are pretty good. I had a lot of little soldiers swimming for me after that night in the supply shed."
"That you did." Sydney smiled, and their eyes locked and held for several long seconds. Murdock was the one who broke the contact, glancing uncertainly at Haley's closed door. "I should . . . go." He leaned down and gave her a light kiss, before striding out the door.
Murdock put another load of wood into the rack and hung his jacket up on one of the hooks by the door. The vigorous exercise of chopping wood had helped abate his frustrations somewhat. "That should hold us for tonight, Colonel. I don't think we'll need it today. It's warming up out there."
"Great, Murdock." Hannibal stowed the last of the groceries into the pantry. "Haley came down while you were out chopping wood, and I sent her down to the lake with Face and Frankie. If we're lucky they'll catch enough fish for dinner."
"And I reached Maggie. She's coming out tonight, after she closes up shop. She said the paternity testing was no problem, but that it could take up to six weeks to get the results."
Murdock nodded. "Hopefully Haley can be patient."
"I think that's highly unlikely, but it's the best we can do."
Hannibal unlocked the gun cabinet and pulled out two weapons. "I'm gonna grab BA and do a thorough recon of our perimeter to check our defenses. That leaves you and Syd to hold down the fort, here, and maybe get a start on dinner. The rest of us will probably be gone for a couple hours, anyway." Hannibal gave him a broad wink, and then disappeared out the kitchen door.
Murdock stared after his commanding officer in consternation and debated whether he should do as Hannibal inferred. He was worried about how Haley would react, but he knew Hannibal's over-riding concern was Murdock's own lack of focus.
He considered going out to get more wood, but the wood rack was already full. He checked the kitchen to see if anything remained to be put away, and thought about starting dinner, but a glance at the clock told him it was far too early for that. He roamed the other rooms on the main floor, seeking an adequate distraction, but his feet seemed to have a mind of their own, and his meandering eventually carried him upstairs. He froze in the doorway to Sydney's room as she walked out of the bathroom in a cloud of steam wearing nothing but a towel. His involuntary reaction was immediate.
She noticed him standing in the doorway. "Hey. It's awful quiet in here. Where is everyone?"
It took a few moments for her words to filter through the thunder of the blood rushing through his veins. "Uh, Hannibal and BA are doing a perimeter check; and Frankie and Face took Haley down to the lake to go fishing."
Sydney's smile was a seductive invitation. "So what you're telling me is that we have the whole house to ourselves." Her words shot through him like an electric shock that short-circuited his entire body. All he could do was nod.
She walked to him and took his hand to draw him into the bedroom, then closed the door. She faced him, only inches away, and let her towel slip to the floor. Her blue eyes seemed impossibly large in a square face softened by honey-colored hair that cascaded over her shoulders, just brushing the swell of her breasts. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen.
"HM?" Sydney's voice seemed to come from far away. He shook his head.
"It " He swallowed, trying to un-stick his tongue from the roof of his mouth. "It just seems a shame to end the anticipation."
Her responding smile was sympathetic. She stood on her tip toes, hands on his shoulders for support, and placed a feather-light kiss on his lips. "I know exactly how you feel." Her murmur had a breathless quality that intensified his desire. "But I think it's time to indulge."
Time seemed to suspend as he stared into her eyes, their breath mingling. He lifted his hands to her waist, sliding one around to the small of her back, and the other up to cradle her head, savoring the silky warm smoothness of her skin and blow-dried hair as he pulled her to him and claimed her lips in a ravenous kiss. Their tongues played a game of feint and parry, exploring deeply and thoroughly.
He ventured from her mouth, to drop kisses along her jaw, and down her neck, until he reached the smooth sweetness of her breast, the taste and smell of her, familiar and yet new, was arousing all of his senses. He dipped lower and used his tongue to trace reducing circles on her firm breast until he reached her nipple, clenching it gently between his teeth and running his tongue over the tip, eliciting a hiss of pleasure from Sydney.
She put her hands on his shoulders and pulled away, causing him to look up at her curiously. Her lips were parted in a breathless smile. "I need to slow down, and you need to catch up."
He felt her fingers graze the skin of his stomach as she curled them under the hem of his t-shirt and lifted it over his head, discarding it with her towel on the floor. She also made short work of his khakis and underwear. Once all obstacles had been removed, he wrapped his arms around her, molding their bodies together. They clung to one another in an attempt to satisfy a mutual and overwhelming desire to be close. They moved in a slow dance to the bed, where Murdock had no choice but to let her go, but only briefly.
She lay down on the bed, and pulled him down after her. He lowered himself between her legs, aiming high to allow the length of his throbbing penis to slide along her sensitive crevice. Her moan of pleasure was almost too much, and he had to stop and take a calming breath to regain some semblance of control. Then he lowered his lips to one erect nipple, again teasing the tip with his tongue, while he rubbed the other between his fingers. She arched her back, grinding her pelvis against him. Her writhing eroded what little control he had left.
He drew back, and plunged into her warm, moist depths. His need exploded, as he drew back and plunged again, and again, until she clutched at him, her legs widening as she pulled him deep inside of her, shuddering with her own release. Her fingers slid up his back, pulling him down to remove all space between them their bodies becoming one. With each pulse of his orgasm, he felt a responding pulse from Sydney's body, amplifying his pleasure with her own.
As the orgasm ebbed, they relaxed in one another's arms, sated at least for the moment. For several minutes they lay locked together while their respiration returned to normal.
Murdock propped himself up on an elbow. "Wow."
A languid smile curved her lips. "I'll second that."
She pulled him back down and their lips met in an undemanding kiss. Murdock buried his face in the curve of her neck, breathing in the heady musk of their love-making mingled with the lavender scent of her hair. He flicked his tongue out, tasting the saltiness of the sweat on her smooth skin. He felt his need growing again.
Her throaty chuckle prompted him to lift his head and look into her sparkling blue eyes. "Ready for an encore already?"
He smiled and quirked an eyebrow. "I'm up for several curtain calls, sugar."
Sydney searched his face, her gaze half-teasing, half-serious. "Is that a promise, Captain?" The timbre of her voice accelerated Murdock's heart.
"I don't think I've ever been this relaxed." Murdock lay stretched out on his back his arm wrapped around Sydney, their legs intertwined.
Sydney fingered the coarse hair on his chest. "Never?" She leaned up and looked at him.
"Did you know you are gorgeous?"
Sydney chuckled, and swung a leg over him to sit up, straddling his hips. "So, does that mean you're up for one more round?" She slid herself up and down slowly, eliciting the desired response.
"You're gonna wear me out, sugar."
"I'm in my sexual prime, Captain. You are going to be able to keep up, aren't you?" She cocked a teasing eyebrow.
"I'll do my best." He reached his hands around to cup her butt, amazed that he was already erect given the continuous exercise of the last hour or so.
Sydney's attention had been diverted. "Damn." Her tone quickly killed the mood as she rolled off of him and stood, gazing out the window.
"What is it?" Murdock propped himself up on an elbow so he could see what was prompting the sudden change in mood. Coming up the path from the lake were Face, Frankie and Haley.
He glanced at the clock as he swung his long legs out of bed. "Shit, it's almost 3. Guess we've been at this longer than I thought."
Sydney heaved a sigh and turned to consider him. "I suppose I'll just have to wait."
He stood. "We don't even have time for a shower."
"I kind of need a shower." Syd turned and headed into the bathroom.
He picked up his underwear and followed. "We are agreed that we're going to wait to tell Haley about us?"
"For now, yes. But not for long. I think we should sit down with her tonight. Maybe after Maggie gets here, and Haley gets her way with something. Hopefully she'll be more accepting then."
Murdock stood in the bathroom door and stepped into his underwear as Sydney turned on the water. "I wish I could join you."
Sydney turned the water back off immediately. "Actually, I think I'll forego the shower for now. I think Haley may have heard me get one earlier and it could make her suspicious."
"Go ahead and get one, Sugar. I'll distract them for a few minutes."
"You know, I always used to hate it when you called me 'sugar.'"
"You did? But it's a term of endearment!"
Sydney smiled at him. "I know, I just thought it was condescending. I don't mind it anymore . . . in fact I kind of like it. You get a little of your Texas twang back when you say it."
He moved into the bathroom, and gave her a light kiss, then leaned his forehead against hers. "This feels so right."
"That's because it is. We just need to give Haley some time to come to that conclusion."
They heard voices coming up the walk. "Damn, I better get down there." Murdock moved away reluctantly.
"Yeah, I think it may look a little suspicious, both of us coming down at the same time."
Murdock pulled on his pants, buttoning them hastily. He grabbed his t-shirt and blew a kiss to Sydney as he ran out the door.
"Murdock, we caught 'em you get to clean 'em!" Face called.
Murdock ran down the stairs, pulling his t-shirt over his head, realizing that he had tarried just a little too long to beat the fishing trio to the kitchen.
He rounded the bottom of the stairs and nearly collided with Face, holding out a stringer full of fish.
"Sorry," he mumbled.
Face thrust the fish at him. "Didn't you start dinner, yet?"
Murdock accepted the stringer. "Uh, no, I was just . . . about to do that."
"What the hell have you been doing for the last two and a half hours?"
Haley walked into view, trailed closely by Frankie. "Face, don't," he said under his breath.
"Oh, sorry. I forgot, you had to chop wood. Probably needed a shower after that, huh?" Face had his back to Haley, and gave Murdock a wink.
"Yeah." Murdock sighed in relief. "I think we can find some veggies to go with the fish."
Sydney came down the stairs, and stopped between Face and Murdock. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Why don't you get some potatoes and green beans started while I go out to the shed and clean the fish." Murdock was relieved to be able to stand next to Sydney without developing an immediate hard-on.
Sydney nodded and flashed him a contented smile. He felt his own lips turn up in response.
"Oh my God!" Haley put her hands on her hips, her expression furious.
Everyone turned toward the young woman.
"What's wrong?" Syd asked.
"Do I look stupid?" Haley seethed. "I thought you were going to wait!"
Syd glanced at HM, and his eyes begged, 'How did she know?'
She shrugged and brushed between him and Face to stop in front of her daughter. "Why don't you come into the kitchen and help me get the vegetables ready? We can talk." She suggested calmly.
"Talk! It's a little late for that. How could you do this to me?" Haley's anger surprised Sydney.
"Haley, no one's done anything to you," HM sounded bewildered.
Haley aimed her glare over Sydney's shoulder. "And you, I thought you and I understood each other. I thought we all understood each other."
Sydney took her hand. "Haley, you're over-reacting."
But Haley jerked away. "You two can't keep your hands off each other for even one day and I'm over-reacting?"
"Haley Marie, that's enough!" Sydney could hear her heart hammering in her ears.
"You're right, it is." Haley turned and slammed out of the house.
Sydney stared after her for a moment then crossed her arms and turned back toward HM. "So much for waiting until tonight."
He ran his hands back through his hair in agitation. "How did she know?"
"You're kidding me, right?" Frankie snorted. "C'mon, Murdock. Everything about your body language says you two are comfortable with each other. The change is like night and day. If I can see it, then anybody can."
"I didn't think she would react this badly." Sydney shook her head. "I better go talk to her."
Face put a restraining hand on Syd's arm. "Let me go talk to her. Maybe I can reason with her. She's too angry with you and Murdock, right now."
Sydney sighed as Face jogged out the door after her daughter. In five minutes Haley had managed to wipe out the afterglow of the past couple hours with HM. She glanced at him. He looked entirely overwhelmed.
Face caught up to Haley back down by the lake, and sat down next to her on the rough-hewn bench near the dock. "Hey."
"I don't want to talk."
Face nodded. "So, I'll talk."
"I don't want a lecture, either."
"No lecture. I promise."
Face rested his elbows on his knees and gazed out at the lake. "Your mom is a pretty amazing person."
Haley glanced at him and shifted. "Yeah, she is." Her tone held a grudging respect.
Face nodded. "I know you don't know your dad that well "
"We don't know that he is my dad."
Face took a deep breath; there was no doubt in his mind. "Fine. I know you don't know Murdock that well, but I've known him for a long time, and he is one of the most incredibly talented and caring people I've ever met."
"Yeah, they're both great people "
"You said you didn't want to talk." Face raised his eyebrows, and Haley lapsed into a sullen silence.
"Can I continue?"
"Anyway, about your mom and Murdock; I thought it was remarkable when they found each other the first time, especially given the circumstances. The fact that they found each other again borders on a miracle. Don't you think that's a sign?"
Haley snorted. "You mean like fate or something?"
"You don't believe in fate?"
"You really think they were predestined to be together? And Mom says I romanticize." Haley rolled her eyes at him.
Face chuckled. "Yeah, maybe that's a little sentimental. But you have to admit, it's pretty weird that they walked into the same grocery store yesterday, at almost the same time."
Haley gave a slight shake. "Yes, that was weird. Mom acted strange from the minute we walked through the door. Like she could tell HM was in there . . ."
"I know you're having trouble accepting their relationship, Haley it's new to you, and it's all happening fast. But it took them months to get together during the war, and now they've been on hold, through no fault of their own, for 15 years. You're young, but surely you can understand how hard it must be for them to . . . uh . . ."
"Keep their hands off each other?"
"Well, I was going to say 'abstain' but you get the drift."
He could see the wheels turning in Haley's head. She finally broke the silence. "So Mom and HM are meant to be together. Where does that leave me?"
Face's eyes went wide. "Right where you should have been all this time, Haley with a Mom and Dad who both love you."
"If he is my dad."
Face heaved an exasperated sigh. Teenagers could be very thick. "Haley, Murdock could care less about the biology of your conception. You're Syd's daughter. That's enough for him."
Haley stood up and crossed her arms, gazing out across the lake. "Maybe for him. I'm tired of being uncertain about my past. I thought when Mom remembered everything that all of my questions would be answered. Instead, it's just creating more questions . . . and problems."
Face couldn't think of a response to that before Haley turned to him and spoke again. "Thanks for the talk, Face. I just really think they should have respected my feelings and waited. It wasn't too much to ask."
She turned and walked away, headed back toward the house. Face didn't bother to follow. Teenage girls obviously didn't think the way he did. He had to admit, his perspective was quite a bit different from Haley's. He would have been ecstatic to have one parent, let alone two. Maybe Syd could make some progress with her now that she was calmed down. He satisfied himself with the thought that he had at least laid the groundwork for that discussion. Maybe?
He sat back and considered where they were, and where they were headed. Haley was frustrated, yes, but it seemed so minor given what Sydney was dealing with. He wondered what had happened to make Murdock think Syd was dead? It struck him again, the impossible odds she had beat to survive and find Murdock again. No matter what Haley believed or didn't believe, Face was convinced it was Devine intervention that had brought them to this point. Sydney and Murdock were soul mates, swirling around in the chaos of the universe with an invisible bond that might stretch tight, but never broke, bringing them back together again, and again. Truth be told, he had always been jealous of what they had, even before it developed into something more than the friendship that they had all shared.
Then there was Richter. He might be the best hope for helping Syd, but Face was wary of the Doctor's allegiances. He knew Hannibal was, too. By bringing Richter out here, Hannibal hoped to maintain control of the situation, regardless of Richter's loyalties. But Face couldn't help but think that physical control of the situation was an illusion of any kind of true control. He prayed that Devine intervention continued to act in their favor.
Because when it came to mind games, the Doctor definitely had the upper hand.
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