Please Send This Author Comments!
This page last viewed: 2017-08-15 and has been viewed 1806 times
by Joy Riddle
Copyright: Joy Riddle, 2000
Warning: Some nasty dream imagery, violence or its aftermath; touch of the supernatural and dreamwalking
Synopsis: Murdock is having bad dreams once more, and the A-Team is hired by Harry St. Cloud to get to the bottom of things.
He wasn't at all sure he liked this plan; for one thing, his hands were tied behind his back, and for another, there was a rope around his neck that forced him to follow along or be choked.
"Guys, are you sure about this?" he asked plaintively, stumbling on yet another rock. His high-top sneakers weren't made for this sort of thing. And he didn't much like mucking around in caves, either. Something kept niggling at his brain but it wouldn't come into focus; something hinky, but he didn't know what.
"Of course we are, Murdock -- have we ever steered you wrong before?"
He tried to think of a time, but couldn't quite; then again, he'd been having a bit of trouble remembering what was real and what wasn't lately. He could usually tell delusions from reality, and a lot of that was sheer mischieviousness, teasing people, just having fun. Harmless, really. It was easier to stay in a more childlike state than to have to snap into adult, military mode -- but he was capable of being so many people, so many types; why should he limit himself to only one personality?
Stumbling again, he almost fell. "Can't we walk a little slower? What's the hurry?"
"You'll see, fool -- you'll see."
The guys weren't talking to him much, and he didn't like that, either. Usually he was burbling his head off, but right now that didn't feel right . . . anymore than this plan did. He didn't want to go on with this, he wanted out, now! Digging in his feet, he tried to stop the procession and get some answers.
That just got the rope around his neck yanked; he sputtered, gasped, and gave up. Didn't look like any of the guys were in a talking mood . . . and they didn't want to stop, either. He shrugged as best he could and kept shuffling along. This wasn't much fun . . .
Suddenly the tunnel ended, and they were in the cave proper. It was brightly lit, and he squinted a bit, trying to figure out where they were. There was a big rock right in the middle of the cave, and it had a ring hammered into the side . . . he started to shiver, he wasn't sure why, and gulped as he looked around, trying to figure out what was going on.
Something familiar . . . and frightening . . . he balked again, desperately trying to remember what was so upsetting about this place, why he was beginning to breathe erratically, his heart hammering in his chest -- what was going on here?
His tether rope was tied to the ring in the stone and he swallowed hard, eyes wide, still uncertain of what was spooking him. Something . . . someone . . . what was it . . . who -- ?
A small man stepped into the light, and he felt a stone drop into his stomach. The man was dressed in a white lab coat; his dark hair was perfectly in place, his cold light eyes taking in the sight before him. It seemed to please the newcomer, but it didn't help Murdock much.
"Guys -- please! What're we doin' here?" Once more he tried to get answers, and this time he was rewarded.
"Simple, really -- Shreck gets you, and leaves us alone. Sounded like a good plan to me." The other three then turned and left, leaving Murdock alone with the maniac who wanted to torture and kill him. He could hear their laughter as they went back down the tunnel, and he was suddenly cold, so chilled to the bone that he couldn't think straight.
They wouldn't do this to him -- would they? No, he didn't believe it . . . but here he was, helpless and facing the one man that frightened him as badly as any childhood boogeyman. "Hey, somebody -- help! Guys, come back!"
Murdock's eyes flickered from one point in the cave to another, trying not to focus on the small, deadly man drawing nearer. His gaze slid past something that suddenly clicked as familiar; he searched for the thing again.
A body had its hands chained above it to the wall; it was obvious whoever it had been was dead. The corpse wore a grey suit and there was a grey hat and a pair of wire-framed tinted glasses at its feet. Long silvery-blond hair still clung to the skull, obscuring the shirt and tie it probably wore; Murdock could feel all hope freeze as he recognized who the body had to have been.
A sharp pain brought his mind back to his present situation; Shreck jabbed the point of his knife into Murdock's neck again, not enough to cause serious harm, but enough to get his attention. Blood trickled down his throat and stained his tee-shirt and all he could feel was cold, cold so deep it froze his soul.
The night was shattered by the full-throated scream of a man caught in hopeless terror; the orderlies jumped up and raced to the room. One produced the key and unlocked the door. Inside, the patient was huddled up by the headboard of his bed, legs pulled up tight, arms clasped around them as if to keep him safe from whatever nightmare had awakened him.. Sweat matted his hair to his head, and he shivered uncontrollably.
"Murdock? What's wrong?"
Murdock didn't acknowledge their presence; he was apparently locked into whatever nightmare had caused him to scream. His eyes were wide and unseeing.
"We'd better call his friends and a doctor; he might need to be sedated."
"NO!" The pilot jerked from his trance. "No -- I don't wanna sleep anymore! I don't wanna dream! Don't give me a sedative, please!"
"Do you want us to call your friends?"
"N-no. Call the second number -- p-please. I d-don't know how many more bad dreams I can stand . . . " He let out a deep breath and tried to control the trembling without much success. Part of him knew he was reacting to a nightmare, but another part whispered that the A-Team might be better off without him, might actually give him to his worst enemy if it would spare them . . .
"All right, Murdock, try to calm down. We'll call the lady and see what she can do to help." The orderlies let themselves out and locked the door, leaving the confused pilot to his own devices and imaginings.
"Might have to put him in a padded cell," one commented to the other. "Or a straitjacket. But if sedating him sets him into another nightmare, well . . . I don't want to be held responsible for that."
His partner nodded. "No, Murdock's had several rough nights lately . . . might be flashbacks to Vietnam. I don't want him sent to another ward, but that might happen if we can't get him calmed down and get him to sleep a little bit."
"Let's call this lady and let her know what's going on . . ."
* * * * * * *
In Chicago, Mrs. Baracus was wakened by her telephone. Grumbling a bit, she fumbled for the receiver and held it to her ear. "Yes, who is it? And if this is a wrong number, you'd better apologize to me and not just hang up!"
"Mrs. Baracus?" She frowned, not recognizing the voice. "This is the V.A. Hospital where Captain H.M. Murdock stays. We need to talk to you and ask you some questions."
She agreed, wondering what was going on. Why call her if Murdock was hallucinating? Shouldn't they be calling the A-Team? After a few questions, some of which she could answer, some of which she had no idea if there was an answer, the man at the hospital told her about the bad nights and little sleep Murdock was getting. Any time he managed to get some rest, he woke up screaming with little or no memory of what he'd dreamed.
"Thank you; I'll get in contact with my son and he'll come and check on Murdock. Good-bye." Mama Baracus wasn't sure what good her Scooter could do, but surely having his friends come and check on him would make Murdock relax and sleep a little bit, hopefully without dreams.
Outside her window, eavesdropping and floating in midair, legs in a lotus position, was a man in a grey suit and matching hat. He looked thoughtful and a little upset himself, and shook his head. Nothing he could do if no one called on him, unless he broke his own rules and butted in. And the way things looked, he might have to.
Harry St. Cloud sighed and vanished; he'd already meddled enough in other people's affairs, particularly Murdock's, and he wasn't sure if there was anything he could do . . .
* * * * * * *
B.A. took the phone and listened to his mother describe what was going on. "Why din't th' fool call us if he needs help? Don' worry, Mama, I'll go see him an' knock some sense inta his head. Love you too, Mama -- I'll call later, okay? Bye."
The big man thought about the information for a while; bad dreams . . . didn't Murdock have that problem a while back? What was he doing, repeating things? No matter -- one of the Team needed help, and the others would go to the hospital with him and see just what had set the fool off.
Hannibal and Face also wondered why the V.A. had called B.A.'s mother rather than them. Face finally offered, "Maybe he thought we were in trouble and couldn't come? You know, Decker's come awfully close to catchin' us recently."
"We just got a bit sloppy," Hannibal shrugged. "I don't think this has anything to do with Decker. Murdock sometimes goes off on a tangent of his own and it's difficult to follow his logic. C'mon, Murdock needs us; if we don't get him back to normal, he could be shipped off to another hospital or even stuck in a rubber room."
"That would be a bit more difficult to break him out of," Face acknowledged. "Might as well go see what we can do."
B.A. grumbled but drove his van to the hospital. He was secretly a bit worried; Murdock was crazy, yeah, but this didn't sound like his normal craziness. This sounded a lot more serious than how he usually acted.
After checking to make sure there were no military vehicles around, B.A. parked the van in a secluded area of the V.A. parking lot. The three men went in, asked to see Murdock, and were warned that he was acting violently -- unusual for him -- and refusing his medication or sleeping pills, let alone a sedative.
"We'll make sure he doesn't hurt himself or us, nurse. But he needs to see his friends haven't forgotten him -- we won't let him go through this alone. We helped him recover somewhat in 'Nam. Maybe we can help here."
Face nodded, and turned his best puppy-dog expression on the hapless nurse, who naturally fell for it, practically melting into a puddle at the scam artist's feet. "He's my best friend -- surely you'll let me see him, won't you? He's like my big brother, my pal. He needs to see me, maybe it'll help snap him out of this cycle."
Of course that got them to Murdock's room; Face didn't see him when he first looked in. "Is he in therapy or something?"
"He may be under his bed or one of his pinball machines, but he's in there somewhere," they were assured. "He hasn't made a peep since he screamed last night and woke up most of this floor."
They looked at each other. Murdock -- scream? Yell or shout, maybe, but not scream; he'd never screamed before, even when he was wounded in 'Nam or one of their cases. After the door was unlocked, they went in, looking under things to see if Murdock was hiding.
Murdock was squashed into a corner where he wouldn't be seen from the door; his hands were clenched into fists and pressed against his forehead, his legs drawn up close as if he were trying to make himself as small as possible. He was pale, his cheeks were hollow, and there were dark circles under his eyes; it was evident something was wrong with him, even if they didn't know him so intimately.
"Murdock? What's wrong?" Face knelt beside him and could see the pilot stiffen and try to make himself invisible.
"Go 'way." Murdock's voice was low, almost inaudible.
"Talk to me -- this is Face, you know me. C'mon, relax, talk to me . . . "
Murdock shook his head. "No. You wouldn't talk to me, I'm not gonna talk to you."
"When was that, Murdock?"
"When you gave me to Shreck to save your own rotten hide, that's when!" The usually soft brown eyes flashed, turning almost black as he finally looked at Face with hatred and distrust. He quivered, his fists clenching tighter, before he suddenly struck at his friend, taking him by surprise and dumping him on his tush. Face wasn't actually hurt, just startled; there hadn't been a lot of strength behind the blow.
"Shreck? What are you talking about? We'd never give you to an enemy, you know that!" Face grabbed Murdock's wrists and tried to get him to really see him. "This isn't a nightmare, we're all here. What makes you think we'd let a madman like Shreck take you from us? We're practically brothers, Murdock! Come on, think!"
Murdock's head drooped, he swallowed, and finally looked at Face, then over to Hannibal and B.A., who were both stunned by his actions. "I . . . I can't tell what's real an' what's not anymore . . . I can't sleep, I can't go on like this! They want to sedate me, but if they do, I -- I'm not sure I'll wake up." His shoulders shook and Face realized he was near exhaustion from lack of sleep, close to sobbing and breaking down emotionally as well.
"Why didn't you call on your friend if you thought Shreck was after you? Don't you have that card with St. Cloud's number on it?"
Murdock drew a shuddering breath. "I . . . think Shreck killed him. I saw a body -- "
"That was in your nightmares, that wasn't real!" Face gripped Murdock's shoulders and actually shook him a little. "I'm sure he's alive!"
"H-Harry's okay?" Murdock sniffed; his eyes glittered with tears, but whether from lack of sleep or the thought of his friend being alive -- and the A-Team standing behind him and not delivering him to an enemy -- Face wasn't sure. "Y-you think so, Face? An' you wouldn't hand me over to Shreck on a silver platter?"
"No way," B.A. came over and added his gruff assurance to the shaken pilot. "No freak's gonna kill you -- not if I can hep it. If anyone kills you, fool, it's gonna be me. You woke my mama up an' scared her so bad she called me an' woke ME up. You're gonna pay for that, sucker."
Murdock chuckled weakly. "I love you, too, big guy . . . "
Face felt his emotional state was still a little to fragile for them to leave him alone, but he wasn't sure the V.A. would let them check Murdock out for a few days since he'd shown violent tendencies. He looked at Hannibal, who was standing rigidly, gloved fists clenched tightly and face a stiff mask. Someone was in for a world of trouble from the A-Team -- if they could find him, because it looked like the self-proclaimed demon master was back. How he was influencing Murdock wasn't clear, but if he was dreaming about Shreck then the madman was undoubtedly behind that in some way.
Someone cleared his throat behind the A-Team, standing just inside the door; no one had heard anything. They all started a bit and turned to stare at the interloper.
"Is this a private feud, or c'n I join in? I owe Shreck a few lumps f'r killin' me, I think . . . " Harry St. Cloud, dressed in his usual grey suit and hat, brightly colored shirt and hand-painted tie, lounged in the doorway to Murdock's room.
"Harry!" Murdock gasped. "Face -- you were right! Shreck didn't kill Harry!"
"Well, yeah, he did, as a matter o' fact, but I'm feelin' much better now." The Mage frowned slightly, studying the pilot. "What's been goin' on, anyway?"
"Don't you know?" Hannibal said, slightly sarcastically. He might need the busker's help with supernatural foes, but he didn't have to like it.
Harry shrugged, walked over and squatted down beside Murdock. "I ain't omnipotent, no. I've got limits just like anybody else." He tentatively touched the pilot's temple, ignoring the glare Face shot at him. "Spit. Why didn't you call me sooner? How long has this been goin' on?"
Murdock shook his head slowly, not displacing Harry's fingers. "I can't remember . . . maybe a coupla weeks. Up 'til last night, I didn't remember any dreams clearly, just knew somethin' bad was happenin', both to me an' the Team. Pain, blood . . . no real details."
St. Cloud nodded. He removed his hand from Murdock's head and settled back on his haunches, eyes slightly unfocussed behind the dark-tinted glasses. "I don't think this is an intentional attack. If it were, you'd have some marks on you somewhere, like last time."
Murdock brought his hand up to his neck, felt for some sign of injury, then shook his head. "Shreck poked me in the throat with a knife a coupla times in the nightmare, but I don't feel any sore spots or scabs . . . "
Face searched Murdock's throat and saw nothing, not even a red spot. He was a bit confused,but then, he was about as knowledgeable about the supernatural as Harry would probably be about guns. Not a subject he actually thought much about; he could strip a gun down and clean it, put it back together, and load and fire it. Guns he knew inside and out. Magic, though -- not something he knew the slightest bit about, but Harry could probably strip down a spell, figure out how it worked, and change it around so it would work for him rather than an enemy.
*I'm gettin' to be as crazy as Murdock,* Face thought to himself. *This is getting us nowhere.*
Harry caught his eye and nodded. "You're right; we're not getting anywhere with this. I could probably locate Shreck, but then he'd know I was still alive, and I don't think he knows that for certain. I'd just as soon he didn't find out for a while longer, either."
The man in the grey suit stood up, glanced around. "You guys got somewhere safe t' hole up? Murdock needs t' rest before I try t' do anythin' . . . an' since this is where the nightmares have been happenin', I don't think he'll be able to sleep here. Not t' mention, this room is a bit small f'r five people t' crowd up in . . . "
Face rose to his feet, offered Murdock a hand up, then sighed. "I can scam us a place. Any particular preference?"
"You don't have t' con it outta anybody," Harry shook his head. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a wallet, opened it and took out several bills. "That should more'n cover a beach house. I think we need t' get away from the more occupied places."
"Where'd you steal this from?" Face took the money he was offered, raising his eyebrows as he rifled through the stack.
"I worked for it; it's not stolen." The busker shrugged. "I don't have much use for money most of the time, so I just stockpile it until there's a need for it."
"There is the problem that Murdock's been behaving erratically," Hannibal reminded them grimly. "And apparently, he's attacked an orderly or two -- "
"They were gonna sedate me!" Murdock broke in; he'd been gathering up a few things to pack into his ever-waiting overnight bag. "I couldn't let 'em do that, could I? All I did was push one of 'em back and knock the pills outta the other one's hand before they could grab me and force me to take them."
"Well, that might qualify as violent, Murdock. To them, you were acting uncharacteristically. Why didn't you just hide the pills under your tongue and spit them out later?"
"Because they've caught on to that an' wait until I have to swallow or the pills melt, that's why," Murdock grumbled. He zipped the overnight case angrily and turned to face the group. "I think they might want me dead, that's what I think. One less nut to worry about."
Harry sucked on his front teeth. "These dreams have brought out some paranoia, that's for sure. No one's out to get you, 'Dock. Least of all the people here, who just want to try and help you regain your mental health."
"We might not be able to check Murdock out, just the same."
"I can get him out," Harry stated.
"How are you going to accomplish that?"
"Just watch me," Harry took off his dark-tinted glass and placed them safely in an inside pocket of his jacket. He pulled his long hair back -- the length was only a few inches past his collar, no where near the length it had been the first time the Team met Shreck -- and shaped it slightly to stay smooth and tucked the longer part back inside his shirt collar. Then he snapped his fingers and the wildly colored shirt and tie were replaced by an off-white shirt and sedate, muted patterned tie. Straightening his shoulders, his entire personality seemed to change -- except for the slow strobing of his bright blue eyes, he looked a great deal like a respectable doctor or businessman.
"Those eyes are going to give you away as not being human," Hannibal remarked.
"Those eyes are going to get us all out of here," Harry shot back. "I don't wear tinted glasses because my eyes are light sensitive -- I wear them to keep from hypnotizing people. C'mon, let's go."
There was a different nurse at the desk; Harry approached it with a confident stride and waited for her to look up. When she did, he smiled at her, drawing her gaze upwards and into his eyes. Within seconds, she would have done anything he'd asked her to, even up to dancing naked by the light of the moon. "I'm Doctor St. Cloud; Doctor Richter asked me to take a hand in Captain Murdock's case. I have a great deal of experience with multiple personality disorder, and the Captain seems to be heading that way. I need to check him out for an extended period in order to study him, possibly help him."
Even though he'd produced no papers, the nurse signed the documents necessary and gave the duplicates to Harry. He thanked her and walked back to the corridor where the A-Team waited. Handing the papers to Hannibal, Harry pulled his glasses out of his coat and settled them back into place. "We can leave now; I'll keep up the Doctor St. Cloud appearance until we're safely out of here."
"How d'you make your eyes do that, Harry?" asked Murdock as the five men walked leisurely out to the van. "That's kinda neat, how they brighten and darken like that."
The busker shrugged. "I always figured it was a result from the MageWar I was in; they always strobe when I'm healthy. I can control it, but the dark glasses usually work just as well." He glanced over at Hannibal, who was chewing on the end of his cigar; being around Harry was not something he cared for much. "Is it all right if I ride in the van with you?"
"It's B.A.'s van," came the sharp reply. "Ask him."
Face gave a dubious glance at Smith; Harry was here to help and Hannibal wasn't being very grateful or gracious about it. When it came to the supernatural, none of them knew any way to fight it; the last time, Hannibal had shook Harry's hand and welcomed him to the Team as the supernatural expert, but it looked like he was having second thoughts.
Harry nodded as if he'd suspected the Colonel's reply would be along that line. "Sergeant Baracus, may I ride in the van? I think I can get Murdock to rest if I'm with him, and he desperately needs sleep. He'll be more relaxed around you anyway, and if another nightmare hits, well . . . he could hurt himself or you, maybe cause the van to crash."
"You can share my ride, sucker, but if Murdock goes crazy, I'm holdin' you responsible."
*I don't feel much like sleeping, Harry,* Murdock sent telepathically, knowing the Mage would hear him. Then he proved the statement to be a lie as he yawned and drooped slightly.
**You will, 'Dock. I just want to make sure you're safe when you do get to sleep.**
*Thanks . . . 'preciate it . . . * Murdock's eyes were beginning to close even as he settled into a comfortable position on the bench in the back. Shortly afterward, his breathing evened out and he relaxed into slumber.
Once in the van, none of them spoke much; Face was working out the best way to get a beach house big enough for five people with the money Harry had given him. He pulled out the bills and then started as he realized it was more than enough for a beach house for several months. "Ah . . . did you mean to give me this much? I mean, it's more than enough for a large house and -- "
Harry waved the money away. "We have to eat, and I'm vegan. Which means, no meat for me, although I will eat unfertilized eggs and milk by-products, like cheese, yogurt and ice cream. You guys, though, are steak-and-potatoes types when you can afford it. Murdock may have to be on a weight-gaining program; he's too thin. That all costs a good bit unless I miss my guess. And you might have to get a barbeque grill, pots and pans -- beach houses may have all the kitchen accommodations, but I doubt they keep plates and silverware in them."
He grinned suddenly, an impish, crooked grin, and Face found himself liking Harry despite some of his misgivings about the Mage. "Besides, whatever's left over is for your fee. Since Shreck will be after me just as much as he will you guys, I figure I'm hiring the A-Team."
Putting it that way brightened Hannibal and B.A. up a bit; neither of them was particularly comfortable around the magic man, as B.A. tended to refer to Harry when he wasn't around, but he was showing human concerns, proving he wasn't quite as abnormal as they'd always thought. They had no idea that Harry often visited Murdock at the V.A., whisking him away for adventures far beyond the cases the Team usually handled.
Harry's attention was drawn back to Murdock, who had shifted in his sleep and was frowning slightly. The Mage immediately touched his fingers to Murdock's temple, drawing out whatever image was forming mentally while he was asleep, preventing him from dreaming.
It wasn't pleasant; closing his eyes, Harry saw the projection clearly, keeping it from penetrating Murdock's mind and turning into a nightmare. The A-Team was in a cave, watching, wary of something or someone unseen, and a fog started rolling in. As the fog engulfed each man, they disappeared to another place where they found themselves in chains.
Shreck entered -- well, a dream representation of Shreck, much more powerful than the madman actually was, proving this probably wasn't any of Murdock's doing -- and waved his hand. Each member of the A-Team was immediately placed into some sort of torture device; Harry knew full well that Shreck didn't have that much power, even though he noticed with a bit of wry amusement that there was a skeleton dressed in a grey suit chained against one wall, evidently a trophy of past victory.
Face was in an iron mask sort of affair, which evidently had spikes inside it; blood streaked his neck, coming down from the mask, but the spikes weren't long enough to penetrate very far, just enough to scar. B.A. was in an iron maiden -- Harry was detecting a real lack of imagination in materials, here -- again, not with enough spiky objects to do more than irritate him, other than he couldn't move. Hannibal was stretched on a rack, although it wasn't ratcheted to a painful position, mostly enough to keep him uncomfortable and watching in helpless rage.
Murdock, though, was in the worst shape and position of them all. He was in the center of the dungeon where the other members of the A-Team had to watch as he was being tortured. A round upright frame had been constructed, and Murdock was stretched on it, his entire body exposed to whatever Shreck had planned. The worst part of that was, instead of tying him by his wrists and ankles, thin -- and wet, it looked like -- rawhide strips were tied around the base of each finger and thumb, and around his big toes, keeping him stretched tautly, suspended in mid-air.
The pilot's body already showed signs of abuse; it looked as if he'd been whipped, and his clothes -- if the miserable breachclout could be called clothing -- were in tatters. His head was drooping as much as possible, and his breathing was measured in short gasps of pain.
Shreck approached Murdock, a thin knife in his hand. He lifted the pilot's chin and stared into the brown eyes, searching for fear and any other emotion he might be causing. Snorting, he let Murdock's head droop again, and placed a hand on the captive's stomach. Murdock flinched and tried to escape the touch, to no avail. The madman seemed to be measuring a length along Murdock's body, extending almost to the groin, but what that meant, Harry had no clue.
"I think," Shreck said casually, as if discussing the weather, "I need to bind a book. A very special volume, detailing how I defeated the A-Team. Do you know what that means?"
Murdock stared at him miserably; whatever the crazy man was talking about, it was going to involve him, and he dreaded it. Shreck's hand caressing his body possessively didn't ease his mind much, either. He swallowed, ran a dry tongue across his lips, and finally shook his head.
That seemed to be the signal Shreck had wanted; he stroked Murdock's chest, playing with the hair and then tweaking a nipple to see the jerk it caused. "My books are bound in human skin. I think yours will do nicely . . . "
"N-no," Murdock managed to croak. He was trembling from the strain of all his weight hanging on his fingers, and the wet rawhide was beginning to dry, cutting into the skin and drawing his body even more tautly within the frame.
"Oh, yes. From here -- " Shreck traced a line just below Murdock's collarbones, " -- to here." The final line was low along the pilot's hips. Shreck raised the knife to begin the cutting --
The van hit a bump, but Harry managed to hang on. His eyes flew open and he glanced around, not sure what was going on, before sighing and returning to monitoring the dream. This part was not going to be fun for him as he hated unneccesary suffering, couldn't begin to understand sadists in the least. Torture of an enemy might be considered necessary to Shreck, but it wasn't something Harry could condone even in war times, which this wasn't -- other than one madman against the world and particularly the A-Team.
The dream had progressed slightly since Harry had been distracted; a thin line of blood marked the first incision high on Murdock's chest. The cut wasn't deep enough to really injure Murdock, just enough to penetrate a few layers of skin, but considering the way he was tied, which put strain on his entire body, and whatever Shreck had said adding to the horrific impact, well . . . the dream image of Murdock was in poor shape. And if the real Murdock had been immeshed in the dream, he could well wake up shrieking and flailing, dispite not being able to really remember what he'd dreamed.
Because this was a dream, but not Murdock's dream -- this was something Shreck was doing unconsciously. At a guess, Shreck schemed and dreamed while playing with Murdock's tee-shirt that he'd stolen the last time he'd had the A-Team in his clutches, and his dreams projected into Murdock's mind became nightmares.
Harry wasn't sure if there was anything he could do other than locate Shreck, take the shirt away, and hope nothing else would be transferred to Murdock. He couldn't, in all honesty, punish Shreck for simply dreaming, even if that dream was terrorizing Murdock; Harry had admitted more than once that his own personal codes limited his actions more than anything else.
But if Shreck actually started acting on his fever dreams, then Harry could -- and would -- be able to stop him. Even then, the Mage had never been a cold-blooded murderer; being a Healer prevented him from taking a life even when that person deserved death. Supernatural things usually didn't die, either, although it might appear so to onlookers; usually they were sent back to their own worlds. Harry had destroyed evil beings, though, when necessary and there was no other option. Self-preservation won out over Healer instincts every time . . .
In the dream, Shreck had made another incision down Murdock's side, connected to the top one, and was peeling back a little of the skin, possibly just to see if it was going to be easy but probably to torment the pilot even more. Dream Murdock was in pitiful shape by now; stretched and cut, every nerve shrieking in pain, mentally abused -- that could send the real Murdock spinning into insanity very easily, and he'd never even know what had happened.
Even insane, Murdock would be plagued by the dreams . . . there was only way out for Murdock, and that would be for Harry to confront Shreck in person. Not something he wanted to do, but that would make him the primary target for Shreck then, and it would leave Murdock alone so he could recover.
He'd have to do it later, probably the next time Murdock dreamed. Harry didn't think the A-Team would like him taking over the lead and doing this on his own, but he didn't see a way clear to take them all with him. Gently shaking Murdock, Harry tried to waken him.
The dream was still in progress; dream Murdock was sinking his front teeth into his bottom lip to keep from screaming and letting Shreck know how close he was to breaking. Not that Shreck hadn't already figured it out, and was just toying with his victim, enjoying the agony he was causing. Harry wasn't sure that Shreck's idea of how Murdock would react was actually the way the pilot would take this sort of punishment; the Mage suspected Murdock could and would take a lot more physical torment before coming to the state the dream image of him was in.
Harry shook his head and once more tried to wake Murdock. He frowned, opened his eyes, and started as he looked at his friend's hand.
Deep grooves were beginning to form around the juncture of palm and digits. A slight red stain spread slowly across his tee-shirt, starting from just under his clavicle and extending down his right side. "Spit," St. Cloud snarled, pulling his lips back from his teeth as he realized what had to have happened. "He's spellbound."
He might have been able to keep Murdock from having the dream, but that had caused an unexpected repercussion; unable to dream had caused the tortures to manifest on the pilot's body instead of only echoing in his mind. Harry's hands clenched into fists as he weighed all his options, and they all led to one conclusion; he had to invade the dreamscape, rescue Murdock before more damage was done, and that would let Shreck know he'd survived being stabbed and attacked by a demon when they'd met before.
"Spit, spit, spit . . . " The A-Team was more or less ignoring him, but he had to act fast. "How close are we to the beach?"
"Not far. Why?" Face turned to stare at Harry, not sure why he was asking.
"Watch Murdock for me; he isn't dreaming right now, but Shreck's managed to mesh his body into this insane fantasy of revenge, and I'm going to have to go in and get him out. I'll meet you as soon as I get Murdock's mind free." The Mage suddenly disappeared from view; Face had no idea where he'd gone.
"I wish he wouldn't do that," Face complained, going back to watch Murdock. He gasped as he saw the marks on Murdock's hands and the blood seeping through the light tee-shirt. "What the -- ?"
Murdock had rolled up his flight jacket to cushion his head as he slept, so Face didn't have to worry with that. Face carefully pulled the pilot's tee-shirt free from the waistband of his pants and rolled the shirt up to see why he was bleeding. The only mark he saw was a white line that had crimson liquid slowly oozing out; as he stared in disbelief, another white line began to appear, slowly drawing down the left side, connected to the top mark. After another second, red dots began to flow down the marks, making a rectangle across Murdock's chest and sides.
On the right side, a small flap of skin had been pulled free from Murdock's chest. It wasn't enough to be serious, not even a half-inch of loose skin, but it worried Face. What could be going on? Then he thought over St. Cloud's cryptic comment. When Face had been attacked in the movie theater by a demon, he'd had a deep gash in his arm that the Mage had Healed, leaving only a small scratch behind. And that had happened when he'd dozed off, not while he was fully awake . . . was that what was happening to Murdock?
Whatever Harry was doing, Face wished he'd hurry; he had no idea if Murdock was actually bleeding or if he was being painted on. Unfortunately, with that flap of skin loose, he had the uncomfortable feeling that something nasty was going on that he couldn't do a thing about.
Spotting the first aid kit that was usually stored in the back of the van, Face grabbed it and opened it, looking for gauze pads. He found the package, ripped it open, and snatched the first square up to daub at the blood running down Murdock's chest. On close examination, there was a very tiny line cut into his skin, not enough to hurt, but enough to bleed. Face grimaced; that had to feel something like a paper cut, which hurt like the dickens but wasn't anything to really worry about.
Just the same, Face cleaned the blood off and got out the tube of antiseptic cream to smear on the cuts -- and that one little pulled-back piece of skin. Through all his minstrations, Murdock never moved, never made a sound.
That, worried Face, was the worst part of this; something was being done to Murdock and he wasn't even aware of it . . .
* * * * * * *
Harry entered the dreamscape through the tunnel where the A-Team of Shreck's imaginings had been captured, and crept carefully through it until he came to the main cave. Glancing about, he could see the three men stuck in their various chains and torture devices, rather sketchily filled in and not all that solid. The only two figures there that had enough weight to seem real were Shreck and Murdock. That bothered him a little; he wasn't sure if his powers would work to his advantage in Shreck's mind. The shock of seeing an enemy alive would probably help, though.
St. Cloud spied the skeleton in grey that undoubtedly represented him, and knew that could be to his advantage. Concentrating on the figure, he made it vanish and nodded grimly. It HAD been a dream trophy meant to be him; that meant he was established in the dreamscape and should be able to work magic normally, even though Shreck wouldn't believe he was the key to Harry's being able to really work here.
Harry gestured and his appearance grew skeletal to match the vanished image, then stalked forward to the center of the cave. Poor Murdock was on the verge of collapsing, his lungs unable to sustain enough air to keep him conscious, and Shreck was happily making a few deeper cuts here and there on the pilot's body before attempting to pull his "book cover" off.
Human skin didn't peel off that easily; that would really damage Murdock in the van if Shreck managed it. Harry didn't intend for him to carry through with that little bit of insanity. He moaned, an eerie sound of a lost soul, and raised his arms. He suspected Shreck was a little leery of anything he hadn't manufactured in this nasty imaginary realm, and he was right.
Shreck started and whirled, finding himself face to skull with something he didn't remember wanting in this daydream. The skeletal figure had flowing blond hair, and blue eyes strobed from the skull's sockets; its arms were raised as if to throttle the smaller madman. Shreck yelped and dropped the knife, eyes darting hither and yon for an avenue of escape.
Harry didn't intend for him to escape; he wanted the little creep to suffer a bit for all the unintentional grief he'd been giving Murdock. The Mage summoned up enough energy to start blue fire crackling around his body, gradually filled in the skeleton to his real appearance -- simple illusion, that -- and let the sparkles dance from hand to hand, forming a barrier that would undoubtedly hurt Shreck if he was caught in it.
Shreck knew that blue electricity did weird things to evil; he'd seen both his henchmen collapse before from a combination of the blue fire and Harry's blood being splattered over them. Both of them had woken changed men -- and changed for the better to some people's estimation, since any violence had become anathema to them -- and Shreck had been unable to use them any more.
Since it was Shreck's dream, he simply disappeared, temporarily escaping his just punishment. Harry kept the dreamscape solid for a few minutes more, sending bolts of magic towards the other three members of the A-Team and freeing them from their imprisonment. Naturally, they converged on the frame holding Murdock and helped bring him down more easily than Harry just zapping him off the frame and onto the ground.
The Mage Healed the various members of their cuts and bruises -- they weren't really concrete enough to speak; Shreck wasn't fixated enough on them yet to make them more realistic in this ephemeral place -- and then turned his attention to the dream Murdock. The cuts sealed over, the little piece of skin went back into place, and, since it was a dream and there was no real reason not to, Harry let all the A-Team completely Heal instead of leaving a bit of it for their bodies to handle. Then he let the dreamscape dissolve, with the Team around Murdock, helping him wake up . . . and Harry nodded, smiled a bit ruefully, and vanished.
In the van, Murdock's chest stopped bleeding, the thin cut lines vanished, and his hands slowly lost the grooves that had formed on them (as did his big toes, although no one thought to check there); his body had never felt the strain of being stretched, so he did not become sore from that. Face jumped as Harry St. Cloud suddenly reappeared beside him, checking on Murdock.
"Thanks, Lieutenant Peck. I owe ya one."
"Warn me before you do that poppin' in and out, wouldja?" Face complained. "I mean, that's just not normal!"
Harry raised an eyebrow. "It is f'r me, but I'll try t' letcha know next time b'fore I do that."
"I'd appreciate it, believe me. My nerves can't handle all this magic stuff."
The Mage stuck his tongue in his cheek and said nothing. He nodded his head towards Murdock. "Is he all right? No yelling or anything that Sergeant Baracus can hit me for?"
"You -- you can't mean you're afraid of B.A.," Face grinned, delighted at the idea something might scare St. Cloud. "He's not really all that mean."
Harry shook his head. "No, I'm not afraid of B.A. -- I just don't want him to try anything that I might react to unintentionally. I could hurt him badly . . . "
"Yeah," said Face skeptically. "Sure you could."
Picking up a rusty crowbar that was lying in the floor, Harry studied it for a second, then gripped either end with his hands. "The first time you met me, I wasn't in good shape," he said conversationally. "I was pretty weak, as a matter of fact. But I've recovered quite a bit since then. I'm still not one hundred per cent yet, but it shouldn't be much longer." He slowly brought his hands together, easily bending the crowbar into a semi-circle, paused a second, then stetched his hands back out, straightening the thing just as easily as he'd bent it.
"You did that with magic," Face refused to believe Harry was that strong; he couldn't weigh more than one hundred eighty dripping wet.
Harry shrugged. "If that's what you think, fine. I still bent that metal bar, and I doubt you could, magically or not. Baracus, maybe, but not you, and not Smith."
Murdock stirred a bit, drawing both men's attention to him. "You feelin' all right, 'Dock?"
Rubbing his head, the pilot slowly opened his eyes. "Yeah," he said in a sleep-fuzzed voice, "Better'n I did . . .whazz goin' on?"
"We need to let Face go rent a beach house big enough for all of us; he's the one best dressed for it, and I know he's your bookkeeper." Harry glanced towards the front of the van, where B.A. was pulling in to an office building. "Just make up something; we need the place for a movie conference, whatever works and will get us something quickly."
Face nodded; this was his line of work for the Team, after all. He hadn't been aware Harry knew what his function was but the busker evidently had everyone's part in the operations worked out. No doubt about it; Harry St. Cloud was one sharp observer.
As Face left the van, Hannibal turned back, noticed the blood on Murdock's shirt and frowned. Harry had no doubt that, if he'd been able to without falling over something, Smith would have been right there and he'd be nursing a bloody nose. "What happened, Murdock? Why are you bloody?"
"Huh?" Murdock raised himself to a sitting position and studied his shirt front. He fingered the stain and came up with reddened fingers. "Dunno . . . musta scratched myself in my sleep . . . " Pulling up his shirt, he studied the skin below and found nothing to account for the blood. He shrugged. "Don't see nothin', Colonel. Nary a mark."
Harry noticed Murdock's usually light accent was a bit more pronounced, almost twangy, and the colloquilism was pure Texas. He frowned, trying to figure out why that bothered him; Murdock was always changing accents and acting out different personalities, but this felt . . . off. Or as Murdock would put it, hinky. Filing it away for future pondering, he turned back to the matter at hand.
"Shreck's behind this; I found him, but lost him again. I'll need a map so I can try to pinpoint where he's hiding, then we can all go after him. He managed to send another nightmare to Murdock, but I caught it so he didn't dream it, but . . . Shreck's imagination is pretty strong, and he's been working on what he wants to do to Murdock if he catches him so . . . "
Hannibal sighed; he hated all this magic stuff. Hard to be on the jazz when regular planning and weapons didn't work. He didn't care much for St. Cloud, either, but he was the only one who seemed to know what to do against other magic types, so -- for now -- he'd tolerate him. If he ever found someone else who could help with the mumbo-jumbo, though, and who was a bit more human, well . . . no more use for the Mage, as he apparently called himself.
Smith had no concept that, being telempathic, Harry was well aware of the emotions roiling through his mind and could have picked up the surface thoughts as well, had he been less ethical. At the moment, Murdock reverting back to a more country --and younger, it seemed -- personality bothered him more than the colonel's irritation about being around him. Being around people with intense emotions tended to affect the Mage, so he usually kept most of his telepathic senses dampened down as much as possible.
Before an argument -- or loud discussion -- could ensue, Peck came back with a map and keys. He seemed particularly happy with whatever arrangements had been made.
Handing the map to B.A., he went back around to reclaim his seat in the van. "Off season -- no one's here, so we pretty much had the pick of the best beach houses. Got a nice one, all the amenities, even some dishes and pots and pans left behind because usually it's saved for visitors who forgot about bringing that sort of thing."
"Nice, Face," Hannibal agreed, although his thoughts were still coldly centered around a certain Mage who'd evidently slipped up and still let Murdock be hurt, even if he erased the cause before anyone could figure out what was going on. Harry shook his head and tried not to let the anger infect him; he didn't need to lose his temper as well. And although he hadn't really shown much of that temper yet, he had a bad one once it was roused, and it could well overwhelm all his normal caution and caring.
Murdock noticed the slump in Harry's shoulders as the Mage blocked out Smith's growing annoyance; the pilot saw and remembered a great deal more than most people would think. "You okay?"
"Yeah, just a bit tired, 'Dock . . . Shreck's got a real nasty imagination. I c'n see why you haven't wanted t' sleep an' dream with all that goin' on . . . "
The pilot shuddered. "Wish I could jus' forget about Shreck . . . he's meaner'n a rattlesnake. I can't 'member too much about those nightmares, other'n I was bein' hurt, or the guys were . . . lots of pain an' blood."
Harry reached out and put a hand on Murdock's shoulder as if to steady him, reassure him that nothing would get him without a fight. "Maybe we'll be able to shut Shreck down for good this time. He can't always be lucky and escape." Even through the tee-shirt, the Mage could feel minute changes in Murdock's state of mind; his empathy kept him from touching anyone except in extreme cases or Healing, which the pilot seemed to understand even without being told.
"I'm okay, I'm okay," Murdock mumbled, then reached up and put his hand over Harry's for a brief second. *I know you don't like bein' touched; 'preciate the gesture, but you don't have to do this, you know . . . *
**I know I don't, 'Dock, but we're friends. Friends do touch sometimes . . . I've just never had anyone I could be comfortable enough around TO touch, if you see what I mean . . . or to be touched by.** There was a slight feeling of longing in the mental comment; Murdock knew that communicating mind-to-mind prevented any sort of lie from coming through.
Impulsively, the pilot reached over and gathered the startled Harry into a brief hug. *You can touch me anytime you need to, Harry. I'll be here for you.* The Mage had tensed slightly at the quick movement but relaxed as he was folded into someone else's arms, however quickly it was over.
"What's that about?" Face grumbled, not sure what was going on -- as if he ever did, when Harry was around. Murdock was pretty touchy-feely even at the worst of times, but he didn't usually embrace strangers.
Murdock shot Face a puzzled look. "Jus' looked like Harry needed a hug, Faceman. Even guys need love sometimes."
"Thanks, Murdock. Just . . . thanks . . . "
"Any time, Harry. You've been there for me in some nasty scrapes, so I was jus' returnin' the favor." He gave the Mage a big grin and Harry had to smile back.
"Hey, let's break up this buddy-buddy stuff," Face grimaced as if he'd bitten into something sour. "We're at the house." They all tumbled out of the van to stretch their legs and look over the building that would be their headquarters for a while.
The beach house was rather large, and had four bedrooms. Harry nodded at Face's choice. "Pick out which bedroom you guys want; I'll be bunking with Murdock. I'll have to sleep during the day and monitor him at night when he sleeps, try to get a fix on Shreck." Checking the cabinets, he wrinkled his nose slightly at the bareness of the shelves. "Looks like we're gonna have t' write a grocery list; nothin' much here."
"I wanna go to the store!" Murdock chimed in. "I never get to do that at the VA since I forgot myself and bought some water balloons. Everybody was wet for hours!"
"I believe it," Hannibal nodded. "You trust Murdock to drive your van, B.A.?"
"I trus' him more'n I trus' the magic man," snorted B.A. "You hurt mah ride an' I'll hurt YOU."
Harry glanced over at Murdock, then back at B.A. "I can drive, but I'd just as soon Murdock had the chance to clear some cobwebs outta his head first. He did get some rest, but not enough for a long trip."
Face shook his head, pulled another map of the immediate area out of his jacket. "It's only a couple of miles to a small convenience store. You can just grab some grub for tonight, and we'll make up a list and go really shopping for food tomorrow." He pointed at the road on the map; a small shop was within a mile or so of the beach house.
"You up f'r a short drive, 'Dock?" Harry asked a bit dubiously.
"You got it! I need to get outta here if I'm gonna be stuck here for who knows how long while you find . . . uh, you-know-who . . ." B.A. flipped Murdock his keys, which the pilot caught in both hands as if catching a baseball. "Thanks, big guy! You got any preferences for dinner, other'n lotsa milk?"
"Git on," growled B.A., "or I might change mah mind 'bout this."
"Okay. Ready to ride, amigo?"
Harry shrugged, wondering what he might be getting himself into. "May as well. I know what I'll eat, an' you don't."
The two roared off to the store. B.A. winced as his baby was taken out by a fool and a stranger.
"You think he can find Shreck by watching Murdock?" Face asked Hannibal once they were sure the two were gone for a while.
"He thinks he can," Hannibal nodded. "I'm not too certain about all this, but he did pay for the house, he's paying for the food, and he might be able to find that madman. On the other hand, there's no reason we can't go scouting around for ourselves; Murdock's a member of our Team, not St. Cloud's."
"Harry's . . . not exactly a Team player," Face admitted. "But he did help Murdock in the van." He described what he'd seen on the way up tersely, answering any questions Hannibal thought important enough to ask as accurately as he could. "At any rate, something weird went on, and that's when Murdock started bleeding. After Harry came back, Murdock was fine . . . "
"Mebbe the magic man is the cause of Murdock's craziness," B.A. frowned, not believing it but having to say it. "Mebbe not. They seem to be awful close, though, an' I thought Murdock only met him once before."
"Ahhh . . . I get the feeling Harry goes and visits Murdock in the hospital quite a bit," Face offered. "I don't like it, either, but we can't always be with Murdock, so . . . he needs other friends if he's ever gonna get better." He didn't like admitting that, but it was true. He hoped.
"Not with that fool eggin' him on, man," B.A. huffed, then turned and started investigating the house and the bedrooms.
Hannibal shook his head and held out a hand for a cigar. Face handed him one and Smith looked around the beach house with a big grin on his face. "Now, we can plan for this. And you know how I love it when a plan comes together!"
*Oh, yeah,* thought Face. *Hannibal's on the jazz . . . Shreck had better watch himself now, because the A-Team's out to get him.* With any bit of luck, they'd find that madman before he could grab Murdock again and try to sacrifice him to a demon or whatever he had planned. A little more luck, and they wouldn't need to call on Harry St. Cloud ever again, either.
* * * * * * *
It didn't take long to get to the little store, which turned out to be more of the mom-and-pop variety rather than a 7-11, and Murdock, who'd rattled on during the whole trip as he drove got out and stretched luxuriously. A little bit of rest with no dreams had refreshed him immensely. Harry, on the other hand, was rather quiet and thoughtful, trying to juggle all the pieces of this puzzle into proper order and get a good perspective on what was happening.
He followed Murdock into the store, watched as the pilot grabbed a cart and stated cruising the aisles, making a few selections here and there -- junk food, of course, and sweetened cereal since they didn't have any sugar -- yet -- and coffee, several containers of milk, some sodas and a few other things that caught his eye and interest. Murdock finally grabbed some old-fashioned oatmeal and a small bag of sugar. Harry found some macaroni and cheese, canned vegetables and fruit juices, and tried to find something for a main course for the others. Looking in the frozen foods, he found a few things that might work; pizzas, lasagna, frozen dinners -- and called Murdock over to check out what he thought his friends might want.
Picking up a pizza and the lasagna, Murdock dropped them into the cart and kept digging. Eventually he came up with a cheese pizza and vegetable lasagna, which he added to the food he'd already chosen, then grinned. "Should be enough for tonight an' part of tomorrow, don'tcha think?"
"Yeah, guess so. But after we eat, I want you t' relax, see if you can't get a bit more sleep, okay?"
"If I get full enough, I'll go to sleep, you betcha." Murdock took off with the cart to the checkout counter, too full of nervous energy to stay behind and walk with Harry, who had the money.
"New 'round here, aren't you?" The little old man behind the counter looked a bit like some of Hannibal's disguises, thick white hair, mustache, and glasses perched on the end of his nose and threatening to fall off. "Must've rented one of those beach places. That's more than enough for two; got others staying with you?"
He was just being conversational; Harry telepathically checked to make sure, not going further than the surface thoughts, which were amused by what most young people thought was edible. The proprietor seemed to approve of the foods Harry had selected, but was a bit puzzled by the cereal and the water guns Murdock had picked up.
"Yes, we're at one of the beach houses; had to get some work done on a new project. Might as well have a nice place to work on figures and statistics." Harry shrugged in reply. Since he was still wearing his grey suit and the white shirt and mundane tie, he could get away with it. Murdock's tee-shirt was hidden by his flight jacket for the most part, so the brown stains didn't really show.
"It's nice this time of year; don't know why more tourists don't come, but I guess they mostly like the summer months. Have a nice stay, and I hope you get your project finished in jig time, so you can get out and play in the outdoors."
"Thanks. You'll probably be seeing us again."
They left with two bags to carry apiece, and loaded the groceries into the back of the van. Murdock clambered back into the driver's seat, started the van, reversed it, and started on the short trip back.
He was telling some story or other -- Harry had basically tuned him out for a short while -- and gesturing with his right hand when Harry cried, "Look out!"
Murdock hit the brakes, but the van skidded forward. He tried to swerve.
Too late. A thud indicated Murdock had hit something darting across the road. No traffic was coming, and Murdock slammed the van into park and leaped out and over to the object. Harry followed a bit slower, checking to make sure no vehicles were around.
"Awwww, no. Harry, I hit some kid's dog. It's got a collar and tags -- can you help it?" Murdock turned sorrowful brown eyes on the Mage, knowing he could Heal humans and hoping beyond hope he knew something about animals.
"Dunno, 'Dock. I'll see what I c'n do . . . " Harry squatted beside the dog and ran his hand above and over the body. "It's not good . . . spine's injured. I can't Heal that too quickly, sorry."
"You can't leave it here -- it'll die!" Harry frowned and looked at the pilot; it wouldn't be good for him to get too upset at this point in time.
"It's gonna die anyway, Murdock. It's too hurt inside. But I can do something for an animal that I don't do for humans . . . " Harry slipped a knife out of his pocket, and for a second Murdock was afraid he'd slit the dog's throat. Instead, he clipped a bit of the hair from the dog's coat, took a few drops of blood, and then folded his hands over the bits and concentrated.
When he lifted one hand off the other, there was a small, perfectly formed replica of the suffering animal lying in his palm. Murdock had no idea what that was good for, as he stroked the dying animal's head and murmured encouraging words, but he trusted Harry to do something that would help.
Harry gently placed the tiny dog beside the large one; the small body began to glow blue and seemed to suck up the earth under it to enlarge it to an exact duplicate of the other. Letting out a long-held breath, Harry watched the suffering dog and as it relaxed into death, made a snatch for something in mid-air. Carefully bringing his fist down to the replica, he pressed his fingers open onto its chest.
The replica dog suddenly began to breathe, get its wits about it, and woke up. Harry took the collar off the body and buckled it around the new one's neck. "Take it to its owner, 'Dock; I need to bury this one."
"What'd you do?" Murdock gathered the perfectly normal dog into his arms, staring at the body on the ground.
"It's a homunculus. You might call it a clone, but it's the exact duplicate of the dog we hit, except there was no spark of life to it, couldn't be. Just a spare body, so to speak. When the dog let its spirit go, I managed to catch it and put it into the homunculus, which it then brought to life." Harry glanced up at Murdock. "Humans understand dying; animals don't see it the same way. They're either here, or not here. All Fido remembers is, he got hit and now -- he's fine."
"Did you ever try to do that with a human?"
"Yeah, one from my world, but he didn't understand what was going on, and when he did -- he went mad. A lot of good saving him did, huh? I wasn't as good at Healing then as I am now . . . I made a lot of mistakes. We all did -- it was war, after all, and fought with magic, which is much nastier than anything you faced in 'Nam other than torture by the hands of the enemy when you were caught." He sighed and picked up the body, walked to the edge of the wooded area. "Take it home, let them know it was out, and that you almost hit it. The dog doesn't know it's in a new body, since it's just like the old one, and can live out its life like it should."
Harry watched Murdock drive the dog home, and laid down the body. This part wasn't exactly nice, and he didn't want his friend to watch . . . he magically compacted the body, concentrated, and sent the remains into the new one's stomach, where it would complete the process of reforming the organs and bones properly. The old body helped form the new at this point, which was where most humans went a bit crazy; on a certain level to them, it was cannibalism. Harry reflected that he could probably do it to himself, but he understood what was going on; he wouldn't have been able to work that particular magic on Murdock. In fact, he hadn't even thought of it when the pilot had been hurt by Sean StormCalled on Hallowe'en. Some things were too dangerous to leave to chance.
He shook his head and waited. In about fifteen minutes, Murdock came back to pick him up, and they rode the rest of the way back to the beach house in silence, until Harry asked, "Were they happy to see their pet?"
"Oh, yeah . . . they were glad to see him. It's the son's dog, last present he was given by his grandfather, so they were just sick he'd gotten out. They've promised to keep him in the house from now on, unless they take him out on a leash or can watch him in the back yard . . . Thanks, Harry. I don't think I could take that sort of Healing, no sirree, but it did all right for the dog."
"It's okay, Murdock -- that sort of thing isn't easy to do, and you're right, I wouldn't do it with a sentient being."
*Mostly 'cause it wouldn't work,* Murdock mused, unaware he was sending the thought Harry's way, so the Mage ignored the comment. *Although I do wonder if some people -- like Shreck! -- could even be considered sentient. Well, sentient, but evil, wantin' to do wicked things an' kill people . . . *
Harry decided Murdock needed to quit thinking about Shreck, so he tried to steer the pilot's thoughts to something mundane as they neared the beach house. "What d'you think the guys will want for dinner? Th' pizza or th' pasta?"
Murdock shrugged, and spotted Face outside, barefoot, hands in jeans pockets, looking up towards the skies. It was beginning to grow dark, and clouds were gathering; on the other hand, Peck might just be looking at a glorious sky, lilac and pink clouds backlit by the sun going down. The pilot drove up, parked, and turned off the engine.
"About time you got back," Face shook his head. "We were beginnin' to worry about you. Ah, well, B.A. was wondering if you'd wrecked his van or not."
That was probably closer to the truth, Harry decided. The big man was very protective of that vehicle . . . And Peck might've just been hungry and wanted to see them first. Except some other emotion seemed to be riding him as well, and Harry was having a bit of a problem deciphering what it was.
He closed his eyes as he gathered up his two sacks to carry into the house. Face's mind was racing, full of questions, and Harry had to wonder what, exactly, the A-Team had been doing while they were finding food. Concern for Murdock was there, and irritation, since it looked as if they'd just been dawdling at a quick errand, and . . . something else . . . He couldn't quite make out what.
Face abruptly changed the subject as he grabbed one of the bags from Murdock. "Have you seen today's paper?"
"They don't let us read the newspapers, Faceman. An' they don't use 'em for the bottoms of our cages, either." Murdock frowned as Peck failed to respond to his joke. "Why'd you ask?"
"Ahhh . . . we can talk about it after we eat." Harry and Murdock trailed after the con man as he whisked into the beach house, exchanging puzzled glances.
"There you are, fool!" B.A. snarled, worry evident on his scowling face, and fear being uppermost in his emotions. Fear for what, Harry wondered; they hadn't been gone longer than an hour, even with the incident with the dog. "Beginnin' to think you ran off with mah van. Call us nex' time you gonna be late."
"But I don't know the phone number here, B.A. -- I jus' know the number of the phone in the van, you know that. Why's ever'body bein' so jumpy? We almost ran over a dog, an' we hadda take it home so it wouldn't get hit by anybody else." Murdock asked in bewilderment, throwing B.A. back his keys. He scuffed his way into the kitchen, his puzzlement showing plainly on his face. Harry followed, and after a second, Face joined them with his bag of groceries.
Eventually they got the bags into the kitchen, unloaded the food into the refridgerator and cabinets, still with no concrete answers.
"Don' know what we did to get ever'body so upset," Murdock groused. "We weren't gone that long . . . an' it was their idea in the first place."
"Let's just fix something -- maybe they're hungry?" Harry set about warming up the oven, ignoring the microwave on the counter. Truth be told, he knew how to run a conventional stove and oven but wasn't too cognizant of microwaves and such -- his culture wasn't mechanically oriented. Every place he went, he had to learn the language, the culture, the machinery to some extent -- that wasn't always easy -- and try to fit into the fringes of respectability.
The busker read the instructions on the lasagna packages, then the pizzas, and decided the quicker pizza was the better way to go, and if anyone was still hungry, they could put in the pasta. He was getting uneasy readings off Face and B.A., and wasn't too sure where Hannibal was -- which was a bit worrying in itself. Smith was the leader but a bit of a loose cannon, always going off when least expected.
"Which room is Murdock's and mine?" He asked after the pizzas were put in to bake. "I need t' change my clothes . . . this is too formal f'r eatin' in."
"Oh . . . " Murdock glanced at Face; evidently while Harry had been fussing with the food, Peck had told him what was up. "Which one? I dunno . . . Face, where am I sleepin'?"
Peck looked exasperated, but showed them the way. It turned out to be one of the two bigger rooms, since two people were staying in it, and Murdock went back out to the van to get his overnight bag. Harry stayed where he was, snapped his fingers, and an old trunk materialized beside him. He sluffed off his coat and then decided not to waste time, snapped his fingers again, and he was dressed in bluejeans, boots, and a white shirt -- the suit he had been wearing was nowhere to be seen, safely stowed into the trunk.
Murdock came in and did a doubletake. "You're fast!" Then he thought back to Hallowe'en and grinned. "No fair -- you cheated! You did that by magic."
"Right you are -- th' cook needs t' get back t' th' kitchen so the food doesn't burn."
The pizzas were ready by the time Smith finally showed up. "Perimeter's secured," he announced. "Smells good in here . . . been a while since we ate -- breakfast, wasn't it?"
Harry shrugged. "Just followed th' instructions on th' package. What d'ya mean, perimeter's secured? Are we in a war?"
"Could be," Hannibal shot a sharp glance at the busker. "We'll go into that after we eat."
Feeling distinctly like an outsider, Harry simply let it slide and finished cutting the pizzas. The bigger one was the combination pizza -- lots of meat, which Harry wrinkled his nose at, wondering if he should try to stay in the room while the others ate -- and the cheese was enough for possibly two people, but no more than that. The Mage wished the little shop had had more in the line of salads, which would have prevented him from having to cope with evident carnivores. Usually meat didn't bother him quite so much, but the attitudes of three of the A-Team were battering at him and it was difficult to keep himself centered.
Murdock appointed himself waiter and took the others their quarter of the pizza before coming back to claim his own. Harry grinned weakly at him. "Think I should put the lasagna in? Or let 'em finish up with cereal or something?"
"I think we'll just let 'em have the pizza for right now . . . they can scavenge cereal or whatever later. I got some candy for dessert, after all."
Harry didn't remember any candy,but then, he hadn't paid a whole lot of attention to what Murdock had gathered up. He shrugged mentally and let Murdock grab his food and scamper back to his friends. As Colonel Smith had made it pretty obvious he wasn't wanted, Harry took a small piece of cheese pizza and ate without much appetite. He never ate much unless he was injured badly and needed to reconstitute himself while in a Healing trance, anyway, but no need for the A-Team to know that.
No need to worry Murdock with why he wasn't hungry, either. Smith's anger was centered on him, and it wasn't pleasant to try and block out, while Peck and Baracus were more worried than angry and that was directed towards Murdock. He blew out a deep breath and set the half-eaten pizza down, looking out the kitchen window towards the ocean with unseeing eyes.
It was never easy for him to fit in anywhere; Smith was making it harder on him than he knew. Harry realized the colonel wasn't a bad man, but he was concerned for his troops, and outsiders were just that -- outsiders. "Spit," he said softly to himself. After all he'd been through before, dreamwalking with each one and even sacrificing himself for them, Smith wouldn't accept him as anything but some intruder . . . he found himself echoing one of Murdock's frequent thoughts in the VA, *It's not fair.*
**And then you die,** he thought wryly to himself, **In my case, not just once, either.** Harry drew in a deep breath and slowly let it out again, repeating the process until he felt calm and collected once more.
After a while -- Harry lost track of time, trying to work out his problems -- Murdock poked his head into the kitchen. "C'mon, Harry," he said in a subdued voice. "You need to hear this, too."
Rubbing the circular scar in the center of his forehead, St. Cloud nodded and after a second's hesitation, followed his friend into the midst of the enemy. He'd felt the little spark zip from the area as it did when he was well, knew that scar -- or dent, or whatever it was -- had something to do with his magic, but no one had ever known why. Or if they'd known, they hadn't told him. He'd been trained too well to try and pry it out telepathically, and empathy didn't give answers except for general emotions unless he was using it to Heal . . . Still, it comforted him a little to know most of his abilities were back, and besides, too much emotional battering tended to give him a headache. And he could tell the minor pain he had now was probably going to escalate with whatever he was going to hear.
The plates with what was left of the huge pizza had all been thrown into the center of the table; St. Cloud's nostrils flared slightly in disgust at all the meat smells, but that was the only effect it had on him. A fifth chair had been pulled up, placing Harry between Smith and Murdock. **Great,** he thought, knowing full well he wasn't being heard by anyone at the table, not even Murdock, since it was closed off and not broadcast towards the pilot, **between the devil and the deep blue sea . . . **
He sat down in the empty chair and waited. Betting he was a more patient man than the colonel, he simply remained quiet, the silence stretching until Smith finally tapped the newspaper laying in front of him. "Have you seen this?" The voice was quiet but there was a hint of steel lying underneath the seemingly harmless question.
"I don't usually read newspapers, or listen to the radio, and I'm not usually inclined to watch television, either." Not after he'd watched, read and listened to gain a knowledge of the language and general culture, although he did tend to frequent libraries and read histories. No need to tell anyone, though; wasn't their business.
"Read the article I've circled." Not a request, an order. Shrugging mentally that Smith had no idea how much that annoyed him, Harry reached for the paper and read. And frowned.
"I didn't know anything about this. For that matter, until earlier today, I wasn't even in California." Harry scanned the article again. "I don't quite see what this had to do with anything, either."
"Read the description of the suspected murder victim again."
Sighing, the Mage read it again. It was an article buried in the metropolitan section about the body of an apparent murder victim being found, name withheld until he was identified. No information on how the man died, and it was only after he let the description sink in that he knew why the A-Team was upset.
" . . . judged to be within the age of early to mid-thirties, six foot, two inches tall . . . caucasian, light brown hair and eyes . . . one hundred sixty to one hundred eighty pounds . . . " Harry's head shot up and he looked to his left. "That could be a quick description of Murdock, couldn't it?"
Murdock nodded miserably. "Hannibal thinks maybe Shreck is . . . carryin' out his revenge on men who look somethin' like me. Experimentin' with various tortures . . . "
"Possible, yeah," Harry nodded. "Shreck's crazy. Not like Murdock and his friends at the VA, though. They're pretty harmless unless someone finds the trigger that tips them into aggressive behaviour. Shreck . . . he enjoys hurting other people, so being involved with demons and such is right up his alley. He may have even sacrificed this guy to bring another demon through . . . "
"Or maybe he just decided to use this man for a trial run of how he wants to kill Murdock."
Harry's eyes shifted to his right, meeting Hannibal's blazing blue ones. "I'm no judge for what Shreck might do. I'm nothing like him, and he's not someone I know. Besides, he tried to kill me, too."
"And succeeded, but you somehow came back." Smith pointed out. "How do we know he hasn't somehow forced you into flushing us all out so he can pick us off one by one?"
"Colonel, that's not fair!" Murdock burst out, clearly upset at the accusation. "Harry's nothin' like Shreck! You don't know how many times -- " The pilot stopped, swallowed, and his eyes grew big.
"Go on," Hannibal said grimly. "How many times, what?"
Murdock looked down at the floor. His lips thinned and he obstinately refused to answer.
"I visit Murdock at the VA," Harry confirmed. "I've helped some of his friends a little. Mikey, mostly, and he's almost well enough to be released. I've also checked Murdock out and we've gone to movies, amusement parks, out to eat . . . "
"Why weren't we told about these outings?"
The busker shrugged. "Murdock doesn't usually tell you about all the times he goes out with Doctor Richter, either, now does he? Richter's fascinated with him, checks him out several times a month."
"Why weren't we told?" Smith demanded, and Murdock surged to his feet, knocking his chair over.
"Because it was none of your business!"
"Calm down, 'Dock. He's just worried about you." Harry remained calm, difficult as it was, with Smith's anger beating against his senses. After all, he'd had to deal with hostile attitudes before, sometimes even with people determined to kill him if they could. "I c'n understand that; you're not with th' Team at all times, so if you go missing, they wanna know why."
Murdock slowly picked up his chair and set it back into place. He didn't seem inclined to simmer down; all the hostility directed towards Harry had finally gotten to him and he wanted it stopped. Now.
A sullen expression marred the usually animated face as Murdock finally sat down again. The wrong move, a harsh word, and he'd be right back up and ready to fight. It took a lot to get the pilot to that point, but once there, it took a while to work back out.
"I could possibly go to the morgue, get a look at the body," Harry finally offered, wondering why the other two were so silent. This felt like a trial, and the other two might have been the judges, but it was obvious who was the District Attorney and which was his lawyer . . . "I'd need the address, and a look at a map -- "
"I'm not letting you out of my sight. If you go, I go."
Sucking on his front teeth, Harry studied his hands in his lap. "That would involve me touching you, and to be honest, Colonel Smith, I really don't want to take you there, even if I could do it without holding your hand. I can get in and out without being spotted; you can't."
Hannibal bared his teeth in a feral grin. "Try me."
"I'd rather not." Harry abruptly stood up and found a gun trained on him. "Right. That's the answer to most of your questions, isn't it? If you can't get your way any other method, you use threats and force."
Murdock was on his feet again as well. "You shoot Harry, Colonel, an' you're gonna have t' shoot me first. He's doin' his best to help me, and you're gettin' pretty pissy about it all. What -- you jealous? You think I'm gonna desert the Team and join forces with Harry? That's pretty low . . . I don't see why you three can all have separate lives from the A-Team, your own set of friends, your own hobbies or jobs, and I get stuck being the retarded kid in back of the class who isn't allowed to have a life of his own, simply because I might get hurt."
Face finally spoke up. "We have been actin' a bit like Murdock was helpless in all this, like he couldn't take care of himself, and we know better. It's just that magic is so far out of our league -- "
"Enough, Face. I can handle this myself. You -- " Hannibal jerked his gun in the general direction of the door, but still brought it back squarely pointed at Harry's chest, " -- outside."
The busker's blue eyes grew silvery behind his tinted glasses; he straightened up to his full height of six foot four and looked down at the irate Smith. "I don't want to fight you, Colonel Smith."
"Didn't figure you did. Out." The leader of the A-Team was set to give Harry a lesson; as most did, he'd made the mistake that Harry was no fighter simply because he usually refused to fight.
"Hannibal's gonna snap him in half," B.A. muttered. "Magic man ain't no good with his fists."
"You don't know that, Mudsucker," Murdock snapped back.
"Ahhh . . . he's pretty strong for all the fact he looks like a good breeze might blow him away," Face admitted, thinking back to the bent crowbar in the van. "Hannibal may have bitten off more than he can chew . . . "
Outside, Hannibal gave his gun to Face. "He tries to run, you shoot him in the leg," he instucted the lieutenant. "Might not stop him from runnin', but it'll sure slow him down."
"Don't worry, Smith, I'm not about to run. You have no idea what you're doing here -- I don't want to hurt you, but I might."
"Shut up!" Hannibal swung at the taller man, and Harry easily avoided the blow and just stared at him with his arms crossed. "Fight, damn you!"
"I don't see as it will do any good; I've somehow upset your authority and you think I need punished for it. I don't." Again stepping out of the way, he let Hannibal's fist go past him before he moved. Quicker than the eye could follow, he had Hannibal's arm in one hand, effectively stopping him in his tracks. "You know I don't like being touched unless warned about it first. Nor do I like touching most people."
Murdock had seen this particular facet of Harry's once before; he knew exactly what was going on. Harry would keep Hannibal off-balance until he was too mad to think straight -- excpet the colonel seemed to have hit that point already.
"Only if you'll listen to reason." Harry said in a neutral voice. Unfortunately, that seemed to infuriate Smith even more. He jerked his arm out of St. Cloud's grasp -- mostly because Harry let go rather than injure him by gripping tighter -- and tackled the Mage.
Both men went down in the sand. B.A. had seen enough, and was about to wade in, when he realized there was no real struggle.
Hannibal had knocked off Harry's glasses; his blue eyes strobed fiercely and the colonel was frozen, his hands in Harry's shirtfront, stradling the Mage. "Get off, please," he was asked, still in a neutral tone.
He obeyed, sitting meekly in the sand. None of the Team had ever thought Hannibal could be hypnotized, but Harry had managed. The busker picked his glasses out of the sand, shook them, and replaced them on his nose. "He'll snap out of it in a moment; hopefully he'll have cooled off a bit by then." While the A-Team stared at their leader, Harry disappeared.
"Wha -- where is he?" As soon as the Mage vanished, Smith regained his senses. He glared at his men but saw no one else. Before he could get to his feet, St. Cloud reappeared behind him holding an official-looking folder.
"Right here. I've got a copy of the autopsy, and some of the photographs of the man. His name was Charles -- can't quite make that out -- oh, Endicott. No known family, single, homeless -- street person, I suppose. Wouldn't have been hard for Shreck to grab him if he was drunk or drugged. Superficial resemblance to Murdock."
He dropped the folder into Smith's lap and continued. "Apparently tortured to death; several tentative cuts on the torso before someone tried to skin him -- he was still alive -- but didn't manage it. It's not that easy to do, actually, since human skin is fairly fragile compared to an animal's pelt. Endicott was tied down -- rope burns on wrists and ankles -- and suffered for quite some while."
Harry stared out over the ocean into the darkness; stars twinkled coldly in the night sky since the moon hadn't risen yet. "He died from blood loss -- someone finally slit his throat, almost severing his head. I'm fairly convinced you're right, Colonel Smith -- Shreck used Charles Endicott as a test subject."
The Mage told the A-Team what he had seen while Murdock was napping in the van, ending with, "Since I disturbed his daydream, I think he'll be after me. Until then, Shreck thought I was dead. It should at least give Murdock some peace to sleep well. I doubt you'll want me around you any more if that's the case."
"But Harry -- I don't want you hurt, either!"
The Mage shrugged; he'd given Smith something else to work on rather than anger. Odd how giving Hannibal some evidence had settled him into a more affable frame of mind . . . and the thought that Harry might soon be on his way. **One track mind . . . get rid of the guy who just might be an enemy in friend's disguise . . . **
"S'okay, 'Dock. Shouldn't've run off like that, even t' get this, but I c'n get mad, too. Had t' prove a point . . . got in, got th' folder, copied it, an' got out." He sighed. "Better go in an' look that over; too dark t' see much right now."
Harry stayed outside, sitting on the porch, again putting pieces of the puzzle together, sorting them out, taking them apart, and trying new combinations . . . Shreck was obviously close. He might have even planned to invade the VA and take Murdock out in the next few days, but he had to perfect the skinning method if that was what he'd settled firmly on. As unstable as the madman was, he probably forgot about Endicott as soon as he'd finished with him.
What worried Harry the most about the death was the fact part of Endicott was missing; part of a thigh and a large portion of muscle from one arm. Shreck couldn't be using them for spells or calling up demons, and the man hadn't had his heart pierced or cut out, so . . . that left only one thing Shreck wanted those bits for.
St. Cloud wondered when -- and why -- Shreck had turned cannibal.
* * * * * * *
Murdock didn't look at the photographs; he'd seen one of the victim's face and that had been enough for him to shudder and turn away. It wasn't so much Charles Endicott looked like him -- same general face shape and coloration, basically -- but the fact it reminded him too much of Vietnam. Shreck -- if it was Shreck who'd killed Endicott -- had made a few small cuts in his victim's face along the cheeks and throat. The one photo Murdock had glanced at was after the body had been cleaned up; the others were from the crime scene and the autopsy.
Face was sickened as well, once he managed to look away from the photos he'd been staring at in horrified fascination. B.A. grew more incensed by the cruelty evidenced in the black and white images, made even more clear in the color ones. Hannibal studied them all minutely, trying to fathom just what made a man do this to anyone, let alone to a complete stranger.
The crime scene was in what appeared to be an abandoned building near a pier. A body was tied to a table, limp and pale in death. Part of the chest's skin had been peeled back before it tore free, and several stab wounds showed on the torso. The man had been wearing ragged jeans and black high top tennis shoes that had seen much better days; he was thin and looked a bit sick, although that might have been from the torment he'd endured in his final hours of life.
After looking at the photographs, Smith read the autopsy. Most of the injuries had been performed before Endicott died, but the final removal of muscles from his arm and leg had been done after death. It made no sense to him; why mutilate a dead man in that way?
He never thought to ask Harry what he made out of all this; the Mage was no detective, not a soldier, probably never dealt with anything like this before.
Hannibal Smith was wrong about that, as well.
"I'm goin' to bed," Murdock swallowed hard, his pizza threatening to come up as he thought about the man who'd died simply because he reminded a madman of the pilot. "I still want Harry to monitor my dreams . . . maybe I can receive 'em even if Shreck's concentratin' on Harry now."
Smith grunted, still trying to make heads or tails of the information Harry had retrieved so easily. He waved Murdock away, and he left, glad to be away from those pictures before he saw any more.
Murdock went out the door and sat down beside Harry. "I wanna try to sleep some more, see if you can find out what's goin' on with Shreck."
"Might be dangerous," Harry admitted. "Shreck almost had you spell bound in the van, so much so you demonstrated physical harm to your body. I may have accidently contributed to that; I'm not sure. At any rate, Shreck is even more insane now than he was when we first met him. I doubt any sane man would torture a stranger like that, let alone decide to -- "
"Decide to what?" Murdock's brow furrowed as he tried to follow Harry's string of thought.
"I think . . . Shreck . . . " Harry shook his head. "As far as I can tell from what I read and saw, Shreck's decided to go on a new diet. He can't get what he craves from a supermarket or exotic meat shop, either."
Murdock's eyes widened as he suddenly flashed on what that meant. "He's eating -- people?"
The busker nodded. "I think so, yes. Can't prove it, wouldn't tell Smith that, either, as he wouldn't believe me."
"I do . . . Shreck is one big nutcase. Worse than even the ones at the VA who like to clobber smaller inmates an' tear out sinks."
Harry chuckled at the image. "Tear out sinks?"
"Yeah, one guy did that. Big guy. I didn't wanna tangle with him, believe me -- I wanted transferred to another hospital!"
"Don't blame you . . . I wouldn't wanna tangle with someone like that, either." Harry glanced over at his friend. "You wanna try t' sleep, see if we can find Shreck before he kills someone else for food?"
Murdock nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I do. Maybe this time we can put him away so no one else gets hurt." Then he snorted. "Will kill for food. Sounds like that guy I read about . . . Albert Fish, I think. He was really nuts, killed little kids. And ate them, too."
"What sorta thing do they let you read in the VA?"
"Who said it was in the VA? I read all sorts of things, mostly deviations of the brain, psychoses, neuroses, sadism, masochism -- takes all kinds to be crazy. Me, I specialize in hallucinations. Mostly harmless, keeps me from going too gaga when I get bored."
"Like I said once, you aren't really crazy, are you?" Harry grinned, knowing the answer most likely wasn't going to be truthful.
"Harry, I'm as crazy as you are human." Murdock caught the Mage's eye; Harry always said he was either less than human or more than human, but he never claimed to be human. "But those nightmares of Shreck's pretty well pushed me to the edge. I'm pretty sure I snapped in 'Nam, but I don't really remember it. I've tried, but I can't."
"Sounds like me . . . I've tried to remember my past, and can't. Or maybe I don't have one . . . don't quite know which." Harry puffed out a huge cheekful of air. "C'mon, let's get you to bed. Maybe we'll be lucky."
"I just wanna get Shreck off the streets and outta my head."
"So do I, 'Dock. so do I . . . "
* * * * * * *
The madman in question, who called himself Shreck, toyed with the tee-shirt that he kept with him constantly. It had originally belonged to one Captain H.M. Murdock, but as far as Shreck was concerned, it was his now.
He'd been weaving a delightful daydream of what he would do once he had Murdock in his power again when the vision went sour. Somehow that magic user friend of the pilot's had popped into his mind, destroying his concentration and sending him from his own imaginary realm. Of course, some noise outside his little hideaway might have penetrated his mind, but still . . .
Shreck had believed the Mageling dead, destroyed not only because of his being stabbed but the demon that had been called up by his heart's blood would have eaten the body . . . one could gain strength by eating one's enemies . . . and possibly some of their talents, as well. Not proven, of course -- any research like that would have been highly classified and Shreck wouldn't've been able to get his hands on it.
His methods for learning such secrets had finally gotten him thrown out of his own country; commiserating with a similarly banned colleague, he had gained some information about the A-Team, and how they went about smashing various crime lords and spying on other countries. In his already twisted mind, he'd decided the Americans needed to be taken care of, in his own methods and time.
Originally, Shreck had been working with one of the scientific studies on parapsychology and telekenesis, and how these abilities could be used against the enemies of his country. Testing and retesting had been too slow; he went searching various old book stores and even managed to sneak outside his country and find occult practitioners, long outlawed where he was from, who had a lot of information and old books of spells.
He bought information and books, and when the men and women would not sell, he either stole what he wanted or killed them and took his prizes. Setting up a safehouse had been relatively easy; luckily he had the foresight to do so, since he had been tossed out like so many rags when his private research had been discovered. The men he'd worked with had been afraid to kill him, as he demonstrated his ability to call up monsters they didn't believe in but who could tear them limb from limb if Shreck chose.
Shreck never saw why the vivisection of those less fortunate was so frowned upon; one could learn so much from the pain they suffered. The poor and homeless were barely human, and suitable only for study. He hadn't been able to carry on much private research into the occult before he was discovered. How did he know that what he thought of as a test subject would turn out to be the runaway son of one of his country's top dignitaries?
Not that he'd had time to do much other than strip the boy of his clothing and strap him down before his laboratory was overrun by the local constabulary. Still, once he'd been hauled in front of the man and his constinuants, Shreck had called up a minor imp and had it attack one of the guards; gunfire didn't faze the supernatural thing, and it tore the man apart easily before Shreck called it off to stand behind him and glare, talons twitching as it scented more prey. When he thought the men were sufficiently cowed, he sent the beast away.
He'd thought they'd be afraid of him, and they were; it didn't stop some of the other guards from jumping him from behind, gagging him and handcuffing him to prevent him from calling any other preternatural aid. But they were afraid to execute him. Instead, they sent hand-picked men to "escort" him to the border, pitch him over the boundaries, and throw the keys to the handcuffs at him before they left. Everyone who patrolled the border had been notified, and he was to be shot on sight if he tried to re-enter his homeland.
But he had his safehouse outside his country, where all his books and scrolls had been hidden, and he had begun to take an interest in the A-Team. They had ruined so many of his countrymen's plans . . . He studied and fell deeper into madness, believing himself to be a master of demons, never realizing his control of the things was tenuous at best. Minor imps could be easily controlled, but not true demons unless one knew certain spells that Shreck had no access to. Once they had done his original bidding, they were free to do whatever they liked, and Shreck had forgotten that demons hated to be summoned by mortals for petty assignments.
Or, more likely, Shreck didn't consider himself mortal anymore. No one had managed to do more than get him out of his country, and once he took care of the A-Team, they would be sure to welcome him back, let him do his research in peace, even to supplying him with prisoners for that research.
Eventually, he made his way to the United States and settled in, researching how to get in contact with the enemy.
It was all proceeding very satisfactorily, except the demons he kept sending to kill the A-Team in dreams didn't return. He'd managed to get something each member had touched -- a fairly long and arduous task, but necessary -- by bribing the servants who worked at each man's home base. Templeton Peck was the hardest to pin down; he kept changing addresses and disappearing at inopportune times, while H.M. Murdock was the easiest. All Shreck had to do was show up, proffer forged credentials, and he was hired as part of the VA staff, which needed help at the time.
He observed that Murdock had one particular friend among the inmates, a fairly childlike man called Mikey. Shreck sent a very minor imp to Mikey and instead of the information he sought, Mikey went into catatonia. When he set that same imp after Murdock, something went wrong. The imp never returned.
Each time he sent one of the demons to a member of the A-Team, it did not return. It was all rather frustrating, so Shreck decided to use Murdock as the sacrifice to bring in a major demon, only to discover the pilot had been checked out of the VA by his friends.
And once Murdock returned, and Shreck had him on the altar, things really went to pieces. A stranger -- obviously a Mageling who followed the white path -- appeared. Shreck had stabbed him in the heart and his demon had come through, but Smith, the leader of the A-Team, had shot Shreck in the shoulder. He had to leave before he could see the fruition of his plans. True, he had to leave his two enthralled henchmen behind, but they were expendable; Shreck was not.
He'd had the foresight to grab Murdock's tee-shirt before he read a scroll and teleported out of the caves underneath the VA hospital into his VA office. He gathered up all he could carry, using magical methods, and teleported out. Bolting for his hiding place, he had to rest before he could find a doctor who would take care of his wound, no questions asked.
Of course, he had to kill the man afterwards. Pity, but he knew Shreck's face, and could be questioned.
Finally regaining his strength of mind as well as body, Shreck attempted to snatch Murdock from the VA on Hallowe'en. Somehow, the whole hospital had been shut down and he could not get in by regular channels, so he went to Murdock's room and chanted a spell by his window.
Murdock was missing -- again. There was a dummy in his bed, and Shreck quickly scribbled a note and placed it on the pillow, plunging a knife into it to keep it pinned, and placed the cowboy hat the dummy had worn over the message.
He'd been limited to minor attempts to kidnap Murdock since, and they had all failed, since he didn't want to use a demon and call attention to himself, just in case the Mageling had managed to survive. Shreck was fairly certain the magic user was dead, but there was still that niggling bit of doubt . . .
Idly stroking the tee-shirt, he began to daydream once again . . .
* * * * * * *
Inside the beach house, Murdock gathered up his travelling bag and disappeared into the bathroom with it. Harry figured he wanted to change in privacy, and since he was going to monitor Murdock he didn't need to change clothes, although he did pull off his scuffed brown boots and white socks to be a bit more comfortable. Wiggling his toes, he relaxed a bit, wondering what new horrors Shreck would have in store for his friend.
It wasn't as if he hadn't seen such things before; he had, but that was war, and this wasn't. His society did tend to be a bit . . . well, uncivilized, in such things as compared to the world the A-Team inhabited. From what he'd read of the various wars of this place, though, torture remained pretty much the same other than using more modern implements such as electricity and drugs to ferret out information.
He thought that was pretty barbaric, too. Being a Healer, he hated the fact such methods had to be used, although he could see how anyone without telepathy would have to use them. In some ways, MageWorld was better -- and worse -- than this Earth he was on.
His sensitive ears heard Murdock wishing his friends good night and the soft pad of his bare feet as he came back to his room. As Harry had thought, Murdock had changed into something more comfortable, drawstring cotton pajama pants and an undershirt -- muscle shirt? Harry wondered if that was the term -- and had washed his face and brushed his teeth. His nostrils flared at the different smells of soap and toothpaste, as well as Murdock's own unique scent.
"You ready t' sleep now?" he asked cheerily, trying to put a good face on it for Murdock's sake. The pilot was still a bit apprehensive, but he needed rest badly, even though his long nap had refreshed him immensely. Harry patted the bed, where he'd pulled the covers back invitingly. "C'mon, it won't be so bad with me here t' help. At least we know Shreck ain't around here t' really carry out his daydreams . . . "
"Yeah, but that guy really needs to learn better daydreams than cuttin' me to pieces. What's with him an' knives, anyway?"
Harry shrugged. "At a guess, he's using the knife to represent a certain portion of his anatomy . . . he's probably impotent. Or very small . . . "
Sputtering with laughter, Murdock sat on the bed and yawned. "Ya may have somethin' there, Harry. I don't care to find out which reason it is, either -- that's getting a bit too personal for me!"
Grinning, Harry pushed Murdock's chest in a gesture that meant lie down and don't think about it. "G'won, get in there. Get to sleep. I can't do anything if you're awake."
Another yawn, and Murdock settled down, easing onto the bed and curling on his side to look at Harry as he fell asleep. "Usually it's Face that does this sorta thing . . . well, B.A. an' Hannibal take turns, too . . . They sit beside me an' watch over me when I'm wounded or have bad dreams about 'Nam . . . "
Pulling the covers over his friend, Harry smiled. "They come together, don't they? I have th' same problem, only mine're about th' war I was in . . . " He smoothed a stray lock of hair out of Murdock's eyes; a distraction like that would keep him from getting to sleep.
"Why c'n you touch me but not Hannibal?" The pilot's voice was already beginning to fuzz slightly as he relaxed. "Well, I mean, you -- "
"You're my friend, 'Dock. You accept me as I am, don't try to typecast me as a con man, or a kook, or have a preconceived notion of what a magical type should be. I don't have too many friends like that . . . even on MageWorld, I was . . . I didn't fit in. Your colonel worries about me; I'm an unknown factor, I can't be pigeonholed as easily as most. For all he knows, I could very well be an enemy; he's not open-minded enough to let the truth sink in."
"That . . . doesn't tell me . . . why . . . " Try as he might, Murdock slowly drifted off, without the answer to his question.
**Why?** Harry touched Murdock's forehead, traced a small worry line to smooth it out so he would sleep better. **Because I like you . . . and you're fond of me, as well. There's no anger there to batter at me, only trust and affection . . . I feel like I've known you forever, or maybe in another life . . . I can't explain it. Maybe you're the reincarnation of a friend I once had, or a forgotten memory of a friend . . . or a brother, more likely . . . sometimes I feel that close to you . . . sleep well. I'll be here. You can trust me to try and keep you safe . . . **
Leaning back in the chair he'd pulled up to the bedside, he settled down to watch and wait.
Around midnight, Harry glanced over at Murdock, who'd been sleeping peacefully since around ten. It was only a hunch, but he suspected if Shreck was going to be sending dreams it would be around this time. On the other hand, Shreck might be an insominac, or more inclined to rest during the day; those who were inclined towards the darker side of magic tended to be more nocturnal.
He didn't have to wait long before the sleeping pilot stirred slightly, a frown beginning to etch itself on his face. Murdock shifted uneasily and his breathing became quicker, as if he were runnning or frightened by something he saw.
Harry sighed and placed his fingertips on Murdock's temple, closing his eyes to get the image clearly in the darkened room. To keep Murdock from being spell bound again, he had to see and hear -- and feel -- this dream, no matter how awful it was. He had to be able to remember, as well. And it was possible that this time, he could control the imagery to some extent, which would confuse Shreck.
There was no preliminary capture scene this time; Murdock was in the middle of a very nasty situation. Shreck had helpers for a change; demons of some sort, since they were able to work in the heat of this place. even though they appeared human. Two of them were stoking a fire in a pit in the center of the room -- Harry supposed it was yet another cave, as Shreck seemed to have a preference for them -- when Murdock was led out into the area by another henchman. Not unexpectedly, he had his wrists tied behind his back and was being tugged along by a rope around his neck. He was also barefoot, wearing his customary khaki slacks, and a tee-shirt under a checkered shirt, both upper garments tucked into his pants, which were held up by a belt.
Even in the dream state, the sleeping Murdock, now that he could see what was happening, reinstated his own personality. He dug in his heels and tried to resist being dragged even though it was useless. Bare feet weren't much help on rocks and dirt floors and he was yanked forward.
If his resistance bothered Shreck, he ignored it. Fingering a knife -- Harry reflected Murdock had been right about Shreck and blades -- the small man approached his taller captive and touched the tip of the weapon under the angle of Murdock's jaw, forcing him to raise his head or be cut. Two more men -- Shreck was pulling out all the stops, henchman-wise -- grabbed Murdock's arms, pinning him in place while the one who'd led him out dropped the end of his rope and went over to a table nearby. Murdock's eyes flickered in that direction but he knew better than to act too curious.
Shreck put the knife carefully between his teeth and studied Murdock's defiant glare before grabbing each side of the patterned shirt and pulling, ripping the buttons off in the process. He then took the knife out of his mouth and slowly positioned the tip in the hollow below Murdock's adam's apple; the pilot's breathing changed slightly but that was the only outward sign he gave of noticing what Shreck was up to.
Instead of pushing the tip into the soft skin of his captive's throat, Shreck slashed downwards, severing the collar of the tee-shirt and slitting it all the way down to where it disappeared into the waistband of Murdock's pants. Somehow, the razor edge cut only the material and not Murdock's chest; Harry wasn't sure if that was Shreck's idea or Murdock's, since the pilot was making subtle changes that might work to his advantage later.
Shreck made the mistake of dropping the knife and leaning over to unbuckle Murdock's belt; the pilot's knee met the madman's chin with stunning force, and using the two goons holding him as leverage, he then managed to kick Shreck's legs out from under him, dropping him to the cave floor. Since the demons were only dream images commanded by Shreck, they stayed where they were; Murdock's arms were still too tightly gripped for him to get away, but his eyes glittered like topaz diamonds as he looked down at the dazed Shreck.
He knew that was probably a mistake; Shreck still ruled the dreamworld with the exception of Murdock's actions, and there was no grey-clad skeleton in view for Harry to work with. But the pilot had had more than enough of Shreck. He intended to fight the madman in any way he could, and if he wanted to call Harry in, he bet that he'd be able to. But he was holding that ace in the hole until he really felt he needed it.
Shreck rubbed his jaw and stared up at his captive, a thoughtful look on his face. He snapped his fingers and the two creatures that had been tending the fire came over and roughly removed the rest of Murdock's clothing, leaving him with the rags of his shirts temporarily until Shreck ripped them off himself.
Naked though he was, Murdock held himself with dignity; he'd been in the presence of his enemies many times minus clothing. He kept his breathing slow and controlled, stilled the frightened mutterings of his mind and the many memories of Vietnam, and stood his ground.
The four henchthings picked Murdock up and carried him, struggling, over to the table where the fifth monster was working with something. It looked like some sort of metal strut, flat and long and fairly wide, with holes along the length; either end, however, seemed to round off and become like a pole. Murdock was dropped onto the flat strut and chains that had been threaded through some of the holes were pulled around him and padlocked into place. He attempted to move and could make no headway against the tight metal binding him; his rope-bound wrists were now under him and his hands were beginning to go numb.
Harry was getting the uncomfortable feeling that Murdock had better try to call him in fast; this looked bad. And the Mage knew it would probably get worse, but Murdock's pride would keep him from calling for help until he could take no more.
He hadn't thought about that, hadn't realized Murdock would fight against Shreck to establish his own control over his reactions to the various nightmare scenes the madman planned. Just because Harry knew how Murdock would normally take things didn't mean he knew how his friend would act in a stressful situation.
The odd metal bar Murdock was chained to was picked up by the five demon helpers Shreck had provided himself with and carried over to the firepit. The rounded ends fit into two large, slotted beams buried in stone on either side of the pit, which placed Murdock directly over the flames, not near enough to burn him, but enough to let him feel the fire crackle and leap towards him. Another piece of metal was attached to one end of the bar, a crooked handle that would let him be turned around above the pit like a piece of meat on a spit.
Shreck meant to roast Murdock alive.
Murdock's jaw tightened and a stubborn look crossed his face. He would stand the heat as long as he could; he had no intention of letting Shreck have any satisfaction in this. Just because Shreck wanted a shrieking, begging victim didn't mean he had to play that role. Not this time. Not like he'd been forced to before, when the madman invaded his sleep and spilled images of pain and blood into his mind and made him teeter close to the edge of madness.
He'd been there more than once and always managed to pull back. Except that once, in Vietnam, he'd never fallen over that edge. He didn't intend to let Shreck drive him there this time and he wasn't about to fall. It had been bad enough he'd regressed slightly from all the intense visions that had been repressed until he'd managed to wake up in the VA, because he thought the A-Team had willingly given him to Shreck.
That had also caused him to distrust his friends, convinced him no one wanted him, until they'd shown up. And Harry -- well, he didn't know the Mage as well as he knew Hannibal, Face and B.A., but he did know that Harry liked him enough to try to help, and the A-Team stood behind him no matter what. They might not like Harry, but if they had any sense, they knew he wasn't one of the bad guys.
How could a Unicorn be evil?
Shreck, on the other hand -- mad as a hatter, crazier than a loon, and deadly dangerous. Murdock shot a quick look over at the delicate seeming man, knowing full well that insanity could give even someone like that more strength than anyone believed. The nutjob was playing with something out of Murdock's range of vision, which was the only reason he wasn't being turned around like a chicken on a rotisserie.
The pilot decided he wasn't ever going to eat meat cooked that way again.
Shreck came back towards him, carrying a large container of something -- Murdock couldn't see what it was and that bothered him a bit -- and smiled cruelly. There was some sort of handle in the pot, and Shreck stirred the stuff around for a few seconds with whatever-it-was before he pulled the brush out, oil or melted butter dripping from the bristles.
Murdock was really beginning to feel sympathy for the chickens now. He'd resigned himself to being roasted, but to be basted? Did Shreck really think he looked like a Thanksgiving turkey?
His sense of humor was beginning to return, and this nightmare was becoming all too hilarious. Murdock couldn't help himself, didn't really want to, and he started chuckling before he burst out into laughter.
Shreck drew back in confusion. His grasp on this daydream had gotten out of his control -- this was the second time in one day! -- and nothing was going as he'd planned.
His victim just kept laughing as if he would never be able to stop. Murdock finally managed to sputter, "What'sa matter, Shrecky? Not prepared for another looney tune, were ya? Oh, man, I had professionals work me over in 'Nam. They couldn't break me, and you think you can? Not with this hokey set-up, uh-uh. No way, no how." And to Shreck's amazement, Murdock tipped his head back as much as possible, considering how he was chained, and started yipping and howling. "What didja think H.M. stood for? I'm Howlin' Mad Murdock, an' don't you forget it!"
The dream abruptly dissolved, and the whole nightmare scene drained away as well. Murdock smiled in triumph, no longer bound, and vanished from view as well, his real self settling down into a now peaceful sleep.
Harry took his fingers away from Murdock's temple and shook his head. He'd never thought that Murdock would be able to handle Shreck by himself, but he'd underestimated his friend -- even as Shreck, and probably countless others, had -- and he was proud of the pilot.
Of course, Murdock had also stayed in the dreamscape long enough for Harry to narrow down the area Shreck was working in, and it was basically within a few miles of where the body of Charles Endicott had been found. The police report had given him the address, but now he knew appoximately where he could find the so-called demon master.
He glanced down at Murdock, and even in the darkness he could see the satisfied smile on the sleeping man's face. **Way to go, 'Dock. I'm proud of you.**
Murdock yipped once as if in agreement, and fell deeper into contented slumber.
* * * * * * *
The next morning -- the other members of the A-Team had uninterrupted rest -- Harry finally emerged from the room and looked at the map Face had gotten of the area. He pointed out the radius he'd pinpointed Shreck to be in and around, thanks to Murdock, and commented, "He's somewhere real close to here. Wish I'd know that sooner, I wouldn't've suggested a beach house."
Hannibal shot him a sharp look; he still didn't trust St.Cloud very far, and if one magic user was bad, well . . . there was the possibility both were. But then, there were good people and bad people; there were probably good magicos and bad ones.
Didn't mean he really knew where Harry stood. The whole inicident from before seemed just a little too easily resolved. Hannibal didn't trust things that went so smoothly; usually meant something else was brewing.
He had no idea how right he was.
Face was rattling pans as if he intended to cook; Murdock suddenly shot out of his bedroom, still in his version of pajamas, and grabbed Peck by the shoulders and started pushing him out of the kitchen. "Uh-uh. You only know how to cook for a cast of thousands, and besides -- I got cereal for this mornin'! Out! There's somethin' for everyone in here. Got healthy stuff, oatmeal, sweetened stuff -- oh, we got sugar as well as milk, unless B.A. drank it all after I went night-night -- tell 'em to come in an' fix it themselves. Until we go big-time shoppin', all we got for brekkie is cereal or toast with no butter."
"Murdock, I was going to make some coffee!"
"Not with pots an' pans you ain't. Harry an' I got some instant coffee for now. There's no coffee pot, anyway, so stop yelpin'." Murdock shooed Face out of the kitchen and started pulling boxes of cereal out of the cabinets where they'd been stashed overnight. He muttered to himself as he searched for bowls and spoons.
"Well," Face glanced back towards the kitchen and winced as something clattered onto the floor as Murdock started tossing things around in the silverware drawer, "a good night's sleep seems to have done wonders for Murdock . . . almost back to normal."
Harry shook his head slightly as he remembered the dreamscape. "It didn't start out real well, but he managed to turn th' whole thing around an' buffalo Shreck. I'm hopin' Shreck didn't get th' idea o' how close we are t' him, or th' fact I'm still alive."
"Why's that?" Face wondered if he could get Murdock to surrender the instant coffee to him, at least. Some hot liquid approaching black coffee might help him wake up a bit more . . .
"We lose our ace in th' hole if Shreck figgers out I'm still around pullin' strings an' helping 'Dock out. He'd love t' get his hands on me now that he's gotten a few other ideas in his head." Harry turned and started towards the kitchen, only to be stopped by Hannibal's sharp question.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
St. Cloud stopped and turned around to look frankly in the colonel's eyes. "Just what I said. Shreck's goin' deeper into madness, turnin' into more of a killer. He's beginnin' t' enjoy takin' people apart, just 'cause he can an' he hasn't gotten caught. Hopefully, he'll also start gettin' careless, make some sorta mistake so the police c'n find him."
He sighed and shook his head. "He's dangerous, more now than he was th' first time we met him. Then, he was a bit delusional, an' didn't quite know what he was dealin' with. He seems t' have ditched dealin' with demons an' is doin' things on his own."
"Are you saying he's gotten more powerful magically, or what?" As usual, Hannibal kept digging until he had an answer he was happy with.
"Shreck's found some o' th' old writings on magic of this world, dark magic, an' he's followin' the concepts there an' elaboratin' on them. Th' last dream he had about Murdock kinda proves it." The Mage frowned, wondering how the A-Team would take the next information he needed to tell them. "He was all set to roast Murdock on a spit -- of course, with Murdock alive and feeling all the heat and pain, or Shreck wouldn't have had fun with the experiment -- and, well . . . he took part of Endicott's body with him when he was finished."
"Yeah, we all read the coroner's report. For some reason, he cut off part of the upper arm and thigh, which he must've taken with him. If he had butcher's paper or something like that, he could've acted like it was just meat from the market. Clever way to get things through traffic."
"Uhm . . . interesting that you should put it that way. I think Shreck's found some ancient texts which indicate that eating part of one's enemies imparts the strength, wisdom, or talents of the one to the other . . . "
"You mean he wants to EAT Murdock? As in, sandwiches or something?" Face desperately needed some real coffee to go with that idea. Cold cereal for breakfast was suddenly a lot more appealing than it had been. The thought of Murdock being sliced into lunchmeat . . . "I think I'm gonna be sick." He clapped a hand over his mouth and ran for the bathroom, thankful that he hadn't eaten anything yet.
"Shreck's crazier'n Murdock an' the magic man put together," B.A. finally said, getting out of his seat and heading towards the kitchen where Murdock had grown silent. "Least they don' try to cut people up an' eat 'em."
B.A. stomped into the kitchen and there was a sudden clang and a yelp. "Whatchoo doin', fool?"
"Oatmeal -- it wasn't the instant kind! I hadda boil the water and watch the oatmeal, didn't I? You're just lucky it hasn't cooked completely yet. You coulda let all the steam escape, an' I'd have to put in more water, an' that'd have to come to boiling, an' -- "
"Never mind. I'll jus' eat some cold stuff."
"I work over a hot stove an' you're jus' gonna eat sugar snackies, huh? That's the thanks I get. No one appreciates me!" Murdock flounced out of the kitchen, spoon still in hand. "If anyone wants breakfast, go in an' get it. But I think the oatmeal's lumpy, thanks to a big ol' ugly mudsucka who interrupted me while I was cookin'. Humph!"
Harry smiled and shook his head. "S'okay, 'Dock, I'll eat some oatmeal. Doesn't matter t' me if it's lumpy or not." He strolled into the kitchen, only stopping for a second to pluck the spoon from Murdock's fingers as he went.
"He says Shreck's crazier than he was," Hannibal murmured when he thought the Mage was out of earshot.
"I agree with that," Murdock nodded, sitting in a chair. "Gettin' a lot worse. Before, he just wanted a clean kill -- quick an' relatively painless -- now he wants people to suffer. Wanted to turn me into a barbequed chicken while I was still breathin'."
"St. Cloud says Shreck's turned cannibalistic."
"Dunno about that. No signs of any big black pots large enough to boil a man in -- or any other sort of pot, anyway. But he did wanna baste me with some sorta oil or butter." Murdock shook his head. "I thought that was just silly; didn't know Shreck really wanted to see what I taste like . . . an' that was a daydream for him, a nightmare for me. But sometimes, you can control dreams. Well, I managed to this time. And then Shreck went away an' I slept pretty well for the rest of the night."
"Might be the last good sleep any of us get." Smith raised an eyebrow. "Instant coffee, you said?"
"Oh, yeah. I'll go boil some water an' make some for all of us." Murdock slipped out of the chair and went back into the kitchen, almost colliding with B.A. coming out with a huge bowl of sweetened cereal.
"Yer frien' mus' have diabetes. I think he wanted a little oatmeal with his sugah," snorted the mechanical genius. "Nevah seen anybody put that much sweetness inta oatmeal."
Murdock just made a surprised face like a cartoon take and went over to Harry. The busker had put a lot of sugar in the oatmeal, but he also had some butter and a little bit of milk in it. Looked like a good idea to Murdock, and he followed suit, plopping some of the thick cooked cereal into a bowl, hollowing out the middle with his spoon, dropping butter into the hollow and then putting sugar on top of that. Then he poured some milk into the side, letting the oatmeal look like a volcano as the butter began to melt and come to the top of the sugar.
"That's a pretty big production for a bowl of oatmeal," Harry observed. He waved at a pot of water beginning to steam. "I think someone wanted some coffee, so I set some water on to boil."
"Oh, right! Hannibal wanted some, so did Face. B.A. mostly drinks milk."
"You a big coffee drinker?" Harry stirred his breakfast around in the bowl, mixing all the ingredients together.
"Naw, not me. Sometimes, yeah, but usually I settle for orange juice in the mornin'. I drink soda pop when I can -- not too much junk food type things at the VA, and they've got weird ideas about what kinda healthful food to serve us. Really monotonous menu . . . " Murdock set a few cups down for the instant coffee and stirred the powder around once he'd added water.
"Your friends need t' get you outta there more often."
"It ain't that easy to do," Murdock picked up the coffee cups, hesitating slightly. "They would if they could, but they're runnin' from th' military a lot of the time . . . Back in a minute."
Murdock took the coffee out to the table and set one cup by Hannibal and the other by a rather pale Face. "There ya go. I'll bring out the sugar an' cream in a minute."
"I'll take it black," murmured Face, stirring the coffee for a second to cool it before taking a sip.
B.A. just grunted and ate his cereal.
"What's with them?" Murdock asked as he came back to gather up the sugar and cream as well as his bowl of oatmeal.
"I told 'em Shreck wants to play big bad wolf and eat people up like they were the three little pigs." Harry took a bite of his sugary oatmeal, remaining where he was, leaning against the counter. He knew he wasn't welcome at a table with Colonel Smith, and it was easier on his nerves to stay as far as possible from Hannibal and his suspicions. "I don't think they were impressed."
"I know *I* wasn't," Murdock agreed. "You stayin' in here? You want me to stay here with you?"
"No, go on. Your friends are probably makin' plans f'r t'day anyway . . . "
Murdock sighed and nodded. "Yeah, guess you're right." He left the kitchen, leaving Harry to his oatmeal. The Mage echoed the sigh and stared out the window before taking up his spoon again.
As Harry had thought, Hannibal was checking out the map and making plans. "We'll start on the outer perimeter, work our way in. Shreck has to have been seen by somebody; we just have to find them and talk to 'em."
Murdock sat down with his bowl of oatmeal and slowly ate it as the colonel outlined what he wanted each one of them to do. "Uh . . . " he said finally, "I don't think we should split up like that. We should go out as partners . . . Shreck might be able to take one of us alone, an' he does know what we look like . . . "
"I agree with Murdock. We should go out in pairs." Face said quietly.
"St. Cloud stays here," Hannibal stated firmly. "Someone needs to be here and watch, as well. And he's already said he doesn't want Shreck to know he's alive."
Murdock had opened his mouth to protest but let the words die before they began. No need to start fights again, and besides, Harry needed some rest. He hadn't slept all night, guarding Murdock from any further bad dreams.
"We'll meet around noon, compare notes, and then we'll head for the supermarket and do some shopping. Ready to move out?"
"I gotta get dressed first. Then I'll tell Harry we're goin'. Face, didn't you eat anything? Hannibal?" Murdock glanced at them; B.A. was finishing his cereal, drinking the milk from the bowl.
"Not hungry," mumbled Face. "I'll make up for it at lunch."
"Same here. Tell him and let's go."
Murdock went to his room, hurridly pulled on his clothes, then came back and stuck his head into the kitchen. "We're gonna go look for Shreck. We need someone to stay here and you didn't get any rest, so you've been elected to stay. We'll get some more groceries an' be back sometime this afternoon."
Harry nodded. "Go on. I'll lock the doors behind you, make sure the windows are all closed. I might just take a nap, after all."
"See you later, Harry."
He heard the van start up as Murdock scampered out the door. "Hey! Wait for me!" A door slammed and the van roared off.
Harry wished them luck, but he doubted they'd have much without him along. Still, it was Hannibal's call; he might eventually learn it was better to track magic with magic. He finished his oatmeal, rinsed out the bowl in the sink, and made sure all the burners were off on the stove. He closed the kitchen window, then went throughout the house making sure all windows and exits were securely locked.
Finally feeling like the house was closed off to invasion, he thought about erecting a ward magically, but that might trap one of the A-Team when they came back. It wouldn't hurt any of them, but with his luck he'd knock out Smith, and he didn't need that sort of grief. Shrugging, he went into the bathroom.
Glancing at his reflection, he scowled. Hair was growing too fast . . . he at least needed to clip his bangs. He saw a pair of barber scissors in someone's vanity bag -- probably Face's, judging by the various after shaves in it -- and snipped a bit off the hair so it was no longer falling into his eyes. He carefully put the scissors back and studied the small hank of silvery-blond mane.
A silly thought flashed through his mind and he shook his head, but still went along with the idea. He spat into his palm, mixed the hair with it, and then cupped his hands over the stuff. Concentrating, he felt the magic work, and lifted his left hand from the right to study the results.
A nude, minature representation of himself lay there. It was a little over six inches long, and the blond hair was extraordinarily long -- it would have wrapped several times around the body -- and Harry reflected that he knew exactly why he kept getting his hair cut. Then he frowned.
**Okay, I've got a spare body. Doesn't seem right to just dissolve it back into what it was and toss it away . . . ** He should've thought of that before. "Spit."
He gently turned the body over. There was a line of silvery hair all down the spine, ending in a little tuft over the buttocks. **The other young Mages used to tease me about that . . . very little body hair except for there . . . I thought they made it up. Guess not.**
Deciding on keeping the little homunculus until he could decide what to do, he formed a silvery egg shape around it, scooping the delicate body up and cushioning it on the long hair before making the egg harden to a steel-like consistency, and carefully placed it in his jeans pocket. Being that hard should keep the minikin safe and no one else would be able to get it open without some rather tough tools.
Yawning, he decided to head to the living room and sleep on the couch.
* * * * * * *
The A-Team headed out towards the piers and warehouses within five miles of where they were staying. B.A. and Hannibal drew the short straws, pairing Face with Murdock, and they synchronized their watches and started working their way inward.
Except for a few homeless men, there didn't seem to be anyone to talk to. Even with Murdock trying to get them to open up, they had nothing to say. It was a study in frustration, and the only thing left to do was start looking for buildings that Shreck might have holed up in.
They each found one warehouse that looked as if someone had stayed in them recently, but there was no sign it might have been Shreck. Still, they searched on, finally meeting at the designated spot at noon after five hours of searching. Comparing notes did nothing to prove or disprove the madman had visited there. Even scouring the crime scene where Endicott's brutalized body had been found was fruitless, other than a few stains that might have been blood, and a strand of rope left behind.
"We'll try again later. St. Cloud may have been mistaken."
They all agreed. Time to hit a grocery store for major supplies, a coffee pot, and other necessities.
For once, Murdock behaved. The shopping trip went smoothly and in no time the van was heading back to the beach house.
Once there, they began unloading the groceries onto the deck. Face started to unlock the door only to find it was open. He checked the lock and saw scratches that indicated someone had managed to pick the lock or jimmy the sliding door. Catching Hannibal's eyes, he drew his gun and the other three followed suit, not knowing what they might find.
Harry might have forgotten to lock the door, but there was also a slight opening in the kitchen window, as if it had been forced open. And there was no sign of the street magician anywhere.
"Maybe he went for a walk?" Murdock asked hopefully as they put away their guns and brought in the groceries. "Harry likes being out in the open."
"More likely he went to find Shreck on his own, tell him what we were up to." Hannibal pulled out a cigar, bit off the tip, and spat it out into his gloved hand. "If he isn't working with him in the first place."
"Don' think so, Hannibal," rumbled B.A. "Look there." He pointed at a fresh stain on the carpet near the couch.
Face went to one knee and touched the stain, bringing up fingers that showed red and clear liquid mixed to a pink color. "I'm pretty sure it's blood, but I'm not sure what the other fluid is."
Dropping to the carpet, Murdock stabbed his fingers into the spot and then brought the wet fingers up to sniff them. His tongue flicked out and he tasted a drop. "That's blood, all right. Not quite as coppery as human blood, either. The clear stuff may be something normal for Harry but for some reason, I don't think so."
Murdock looked up at Hannibal. "I think he's been shot. And then whoever shot him picked the lock and took him away. And I'll bet we all know who that someone is."
The four men spoke as one. "Shreck."
* * * * * * *
He hadn't been asleep very long before he'd heard a scraping noise and that was enough to rouse him into full wakefulness. Staying frozen on the couch didn't seem a wise choice; he fluidly rose from his napping place and glanced around, trying to pinpoint the sound.
A strange *phut* came to his ears, followed by excrutiating pain as something slammed into the small of his back. His legs abruptly buckled and he found himself facedown on the carpet, dazed. Before he could do more than attempt to get his hands positioned to stand up, he knew there was no way he'd manage it. Monitoring his body was second nature; a quick check of his system confirmed his fears.
The bullet from the silenced gun was lodged against his spine. He was paralyzed from the waist downwards. It would take time for him to Heal that if he was given the chance, and he doubted that was going to be possible. His body was already trembling with the pain and he might go into shock if he couldn't stabilize himself some way.
Someone was working at the sliding door, trying to get the lock open. He couldn't even summon enough magic to prevent that; he dealt well with others' pain when he Healed them because it swept through him and then drained away. His own pain was quite another matter. It tended to disorient him, seeming to consume his whole body, keeping him from focussing on anything but where he hurt.
Small things, scrapes and cuts, those he handled well. That sort of thing he could ignore. But major injuries tended to incapacitate him in more ways than just magically. His mind seemed to freeze and things moved in slow motion, including his thoughts which were usually lightning fast.
All he could think of to do was get away, and he couldn't even manage that. Even if he did teleport, it wouldn't be far, not nearly far enough, and he couldn't walk even if he did, let alone run. Crawling wasn't an option, either; he wasn't about to let his assailant know how damaged he was.
The sliding door began to open; he swallowed and waited, unable to do anything else through the blur of pain washing over him. He'd probably lose consciousness any time now; he could feel darkness beginning to encroach on his brain. Shaking his head to try and clear the mists from his mind, he felt fresh pain flare from his left hand and almost fainted from the shock.
His attacker had smashed the heel of his shoe into the back of his hand, crushing a few bones and rendering it useless. While he was absorbing that, the other hand was treated similarly. "That will keep you from pulling any magical tricks on me, Mageling. It's hard to do gestures when your hands are useless."
Unable to do anything, his hands no longer able to support his weight, he slumped forward, allowing the darkness to swallow him and take him away temporarily from the agony he was registering. The tormenter waited for a retort, and hearing none, turned his victim over. It would be better to take him and leave rather than be caught there while he was working.
Grabbing hold of the limp figure's shoulders, he worried his prize through the door and out to his waiting car, where he manhandled it into the back seat. Satisfied with what he'd accomplished, he slammed the door and then moved to the driver's seat, only pausing to throw a blanket over the unconscious man to prevent anyone from seeing he was hurt and not asleep.
The car drove off, carrying the victim to a laboratory where experiments could be carried out in peace.
* * * * * * *
"We've gotta find Harry, we just gotta!" Murdock frantically paced the house, trying to find some clue as to where his friend might have been taken.
"I don't think we can, Murdock. Not in time. We don't even know when he was taken." Hannibal repeated for what must've been the fifth time in fifteen minutes. Surely he could see that nothing could be done without some idea of where Shreck might have taken St. Cloud.
Stubbornly, the pilot held out his hand to B.A. "I want your keys. If you won't help me, I'll find him myself."
"Be reasonable, Murdock. We can't just tear outta here and go chasing blindly after Shreck when we have no idea where he might be." Smith glanced from Face to B.A. to see if they agreed, but was met with stone faces.
"You may not like Harry, but I do. He's my friend -- I don't have that many outside of you guys -- and I WILL find him." Murdock finally managed to get his temper under control enough to speak. "If it was one of us, Colonel, you'd be tearing outta here, an' you know it. You wouldn't be saying, 'Oh, dear, we don't know where Murdock is, might as well leave him and let Shreck carve him into little pieces,' now would you?"
"He's right, Hannibal. 'Sides, we took his money. We're workin' fer him. Quit stallin' jus' 'cause you don' like 'im." B.A. took out his keys. "I'm witchoo, fool. But I'M drivin'."
Face shook his head. "I'm with Murdock on this one. Harry hired us, but he was helping Murdock by doing it. He's not a selfish person, Hannibal -- he IS one of the good guys, hard as it may be for you to admit it."
Smith's lips firmed to a thin line. "This may be a falling out between thieves, you know that."
"No, I don't, an' neither do you. C'mon, B.A., Face, let's go back to the two warehouses we thought Shreck mighta been in. At least I won't feel like we just stood around an' let Harry die." Murdock turned on his heel and stalked out of the beach house to the van.
"I know you hate to admit you could be wrong, but on this . . . " Face shook his head and trailed after Murdock, checking his pistol to make sure he had a full clip.
"You're wrong on this, Hannibal. An' you know it. You diden abandon us in 'Nam, but you'd let Murdock's frien' die. Thet ain't right." B.A. left as well.
"Wait up. I'm coming, too." Hannibal had to back his men, even if he thought they were rushing off to do a fool's errand and might not even find a body to bring back. If this was what it took to keep the A-Team together, then so be it.
* * * * * * *
His shot had been carefully aimed; very little blood had been shed, and with this particular specimen, he had to be careful not to let the blood touch his bare skin. As a result, he'd made sure he was protected from any splattering that might have taken place.
The subject was lighter than it looked; it had taken him little effort to bring it into the makeshift lab and remove the shirt once it was laid on the table. Better to be safe than sorry; he curled the hands into fists and tied bags over them, keeping them captured, before he tied the wrists together and secured them at the top of the table. The ankles were tied similarly, mostly to keep the specimen on the table and not let it arch its way onto the floor.
His subjects did tend to flop around so . . . regrettable, but to get the reactions to the pain, necessary. He chose several blades to begin with, placing them on a tv tray next to the subject's head, well within his easy reach.
Then there was nothing to do but wait until it regained consciousness. Then the experiment could begin.
* * * * * * *
The first warehouse was empty. Hannibal had thought it would be. He hoped Murdock would abandon this wild goose chase soon. Shreck was too clever to be found this easily . . .
"We go to the other one, an' if Harry's not there, we go to the first crime scene," Murdock was adamant about this. "We are gonna find him, if it's only to get his body. I won't let Shreck get away this time."
Reflecting that Murdock did mean to find Shreck and take him in, as well as finding St. Cloud, Smith followed his men who were grimly forging on. It was one of the few times he could remember that they'd all rebelled against what was, to him, his better judgement. The busker wasn't human, didn't belong here; he'd survived death at the hands of Shreck once, why not now?
* * * * * * *
Harry's eyes finally slitted open and he tried to see where he was. Below his waist he felt nothing; his hands hurt, though, pain throbbing through them with each pulse of his blood. His wrists felt rubbed raw, and from the draft he felt on his upper body, he was at least half nude.
Even arching his neck hurt as he tried to see his body. Well, he still had on his pants and boots but his shirt was thrown over into a corner of the room. He would've laughed at the incongruity but he felt a bit more like crying. Unfortunately, he didn't shed tears even when he needed to and he sure wasn't going to start now in a bout of self-pity.
If only it didn't ache to breathe . . . the bullet must be affecting him more than he thought. The projectile was still in his back and he needed to force it out telekinetically if possible but he wasn't sure he had the strength.
And with Shreck standing over him, hovering like some expectant vulture, he wasn't going to be able to concentrate enough to do anything. He just felt numb.
It wasn't as if he hadn't been tortured before, it was just that he knew he couldn't handle it right now without losing consciousness. But he wasn't going to give Shreck any gratification by moaning or making any noise. **If your enemy thinks you're hurt, they go in for the kill .** Silence was the only option he had.
"What do you call yourself, Mageling?" The soft voice purred and Harry refused to acknowledge it. "I thought you were dead . . . how did you survive? Tell me, and I might let you live."
**Fat chance,** Harry shot back telepathically, knowing full well Shreck was mind dead and couldn't hear him or even feel him if he decided to try and read the madman's thoughts. But insane minds were hard to read, difficult to understand, and sometimes a Mage trying to help them would get trapped into the cycle of madness themselves.
"I can make you talk . . . "
**I don't think you can . . . ** Despite himself, he tried to pierce the fog surrounding Shreck's innermost thoughts and failed. **Nor can I make you do anything you haven't already made up your mind to do. Spit!**
Shreck ran his hand down Harry's face and frowned, then followed the contours of his chest. Without warning, he rubbed upwards and was rewarded with a slight jerk; it was like ruffling a cat's fur the wrong way, except the feel of the skin was more like it was coated with velvet. Harry could feel his body shaking but was unable to control it, although he made no sound and simply gritted his teeth against this new invasion. Having a short covering of nearly invisible fur wasn't the only thing unusual about him and he knew Shreck meant to uncover all his secrets if he had time.
The small man turned to his tray of knives and picked one up, spinning it between his fingers in front of Harry's eyes. "You are a most interesting specimen," Shreck murmured, lowering the scalpel to begin his work . . .
Within a few minutes the Mage was screaming mentally, but outside he was utterly unresponsive. That only resulted in Shreck trying other methods to make his subject utter some sound, if only a groan.
* * * * * * *
Intermittently, Murdock was having the feeling he could almost hear Harry. He concentrated on that, and when he thought he heard a mental scream, he made B.A. stop the van. "Wait jus' a minute . . . lemme see somethin' . . . "
He crawled out of his seat and got out of the van, closing his eyes and trying to find his friend. But the sounds were gone, if they had ever been there.
"This is where they found Endicott's body," Hannibal mused. "Pretty close to here, anyway. Might as well go searching, see what we can find."
B.A. teamed with Hannibal again as they began looking over the near deserted block. Only a few stray cats roamed, hunting for food.
* * * * * * *
It had not been a very productive session. If he'd had a proper lab, he could have done so much more, learned the subject's secrets, ran tests . . . He replaced his instruments in their case, examined the samples he'd taken and glanced over at the specimen. It was still breathing, but that would stop soon. Even if it survived, it could no longer talk or see to identify him. How it had taken all that suffering without making a sound . . . perhaps it had a different nervous system than his other test subjects had . . . too bad he couldn't take it with him and perform an autopsy, but he'd spent too much time enjoying himself already. As it was, he had enough muscle to work with and gain the subject's powers, if he'd had any.
Shreck walked away from his lab carrying his satchel, climbed into his car, and drove off.
* * * * * * *
The four men rejoined at the entrance to an old warehouse. They had searched and found nothing, and this was the last building left. The A-Team went in as a unit.
Peck found the makeshift slaughterhouse first. He turned pale and tried to stop Murdock from going in, but nothing would prevent him from seeing what Shreck had done to Harry. "I don't think you want to remember him like this -- "
Murdock stopped short and stared for a second before he let out a curse. "Shreck's mine. And he's dead." He came closer to study the damage done to his friend, and all he could feel was cold rage.
Eyelids drooped over empty sockets; from the blood around his mouth, Harry's tongue had been removed. A large section of skin had been excized from his chest, as well as some muscles from his right arm and thigh; the bluejeans had been cut with the flesh, perhaps to carry some other parts of St. Cloud's body. A long incision ran from the collar bone down the sternum; the cavity had been spread open, and internal organs could be seen. Some of them had to be missing; blood still oozed slowly from the cuts.
"It's worse than you think, Murdock," Face said, trying to lead the pilot away. "He's still alive. I don't see how, but he's still breathing."
Hannibal studied the ruin that had been a man. He reached for his pistol, cocked it, and aimed at St. Cloud's head.
"No!" Murdock stopped Smith from completing the job Shreck had started. "If he's gonna die, I'm gonna stay with him. He's not going to die alone, an' you're not going to finish him off."
"Le's go fin' Shreck," B.A. glared at the room as if he could make the madman appear for him to beat into a pulp. "He ain' goin' to get away with this."
"I think I'm gonna throw up," Face admitted, bolting outside into the clean air. Smith glanced back at Murdock, shook his head, and followed B.A. out.
"Harry, I'm sorry! I never thought he'd find you or I would've made Hannibal let you come with us . . . " Murdock found his pocket knife and cut loose the stained ropes from the bloody wrists then carefully ubagged Harry's hands. With a sharp intake of breath, he realized that Shreck had tried to cripple the Mage. And still he breathed, although it was growing fainter. He placed the injured hands on Harry's chest and the movement seemed to waken his friend to some semblance of consciousness.
** . . . 'Dock . . . **
"I'm here, Harry. I'm here . . . " As if that had done any good, Murdock thought to himself.
** . . . pocket . . . find egg . . . **
"Egg? What pocket? Your jeans?" Murdock's skilled fingers searched rapidly and found an egg-shaped object in Harry's left bluejeans pocket and carefully pulled it out. It looked like a silver L'eggs container but it was much harder. "Got it. Now what?"
** . . . put it . . . on m' chest . . . **
Murdock did as he was asked. The egg shimmered and then slowly melted away, revealing a tiny doll inside. "What -- like the dog? But Harry -- "
** . . . don't look . . . please . . . **
He closed his eyes, missing the sight of the homunculus expanding, superimposing itself over the bloody body and then melding with the ruined shell that had been Harry St. Cloud. After a few seconds more, the body blinked, revealing blue eyes still a bit dulled by pain.
"N-not pleasant," he managed to croak, still weak from his ordeal.
"Harry! You did it!" Murdock grabbed him in an impulsive hug, then registered the fact his friend's hair was rather long. "Uh . . . big magic?"
The Mage nodded, then winced. "Shreck shot me . . . we gotta find him, take back what he cut outta me . . . can't let it be found."
Murdock retrieved Harry's shirt from where Shreck had flung it, helped him put it on. "Thanks . . . 'preciate it . . . " Then he pointed at Murdock's pocketknife, which was still sitting on the tv tray near the table. "Cut m' hair . . . can't walk with it this long . . . "
"Uh, okay. How short?"
Harry pulled the hair tightly in his fist at about shoulder length. "Don't drop it . . . I c'n use it . . . t' help reconstruct parts o' me that're missin' . . . another reason I need t' find Shreck . . . "
A few quick sawing motions later and the hair was clipped. Murdock balled it up and handed it to Harry, who gathered it up and shrank it between his hands until it disappeared. He looked a little better afterwards, but Murdock could tell he was still weak. He offered his friend his shoulder to lean on as he attempted to get off the table under his own power.
He nearly fell but caught himself; Murdock was there for support, and he was grateful for that. Moving slowly, he made his way to the door, using Murdock as a crutch.
"Shreck let . . . somethin' slip as he was . . . workin' on me. He's put a spell on Colonel Smith . . . makin' him act strange. Lets his more paranoid thoughts come uppermost, an' he works on 'em. I know he ain't fond o' me, but it ain't like him t' be so . . . aggressive . . . "
Murdock mentally made several connections to Hannibal's odd behaviour and the fact Harry had tried to stay away from him as much as possible. "You suspected something was wrong, didn't you?"
"C-couldn't prove it, though . . . Smith doesn't like me enough t' let me get too close, anyway . . . an' he really doesn't . . . b'lieve much in magic."
"Shh. We gotta get you back to the beach house, let you rest."
"One more thing . . . "
"What?" They were finally at the doorway.
"I'm gonna need t' . . . eat red meat . . . "
"But you're a vegetarian!" Murdock stopped and stared over at Harry, who was drooping visibly.
"Need th' protein . . . t' get back t' some . . . semblance of normalcy . . . " He was fighting to stay conscious; his entire being was screaming at him to lie down, rest, quit pushing himself. But he had so much to do . . . he couldn't afford it until he was somewhere safe. "Form muscle from it . . . some . . . an' it has t' be pretty rare . . . "
"As in, don't cook it, or just barely heat it over a flame. Gotcha."
Harry nodded. "Not pleasant f'r me, but necessary . . . " He lost his battle and went limp; if Murdock hadn't been supporting him, he would have fallen. The pilot managed to wrestle him into a fireman's carry and made it out to the van. Murdock reflected that Harry was pretty light, but didn't know if he was always that way or if it was because part of him was -- missing -- and he didn't like that idea.
Face glanced up and leaped out of the van to help Murdock get Harry into it and onto the floor in the back. He stared in disbelief at the seemingly whole Mage. "He did it again? Died and came back?"
"No, he didn't die an' come back. He's not in real good shape now, either. I'll tell ya later, Face, right now we just gotta get him back to where we can watch him an' try to keep him from overdoin' it." Murdock nodded at B.A, ignoring Hannibal who hadn't even turned around to see if Harry was a corpse or still living. "Take it easy, B.A. -- he needs rest an' I don't think bumps're gonna be real helpful for that."
* * * * * * *
Before too long the van was back at the beach house. Carefully moving the still unconscious man took a few more minutes, but Harry was finally safely in bed in the room Murdock had slept in. He was pale and unmoving for a few hours before Murdock, who was watching him, felt a familiar tingle. ** . . . 'Dock? . . . you there? . . . **
*Yeah, I'm here. Don't try to talk, jus' think it to me.*
**Haveta . . . too weak t' do much more . . . thirsty. Water, please?**
"I'll be right back," Murdock patted Harry's arm and went to the kitchen.
"How is he?" Face actually sounded concerned. B.A was glaring in the general direction of where they'd been , as if he could pull Shreck to him to punish the madman for what he'd done to Harry and what he wanted to do to Murdock.
"I think he's a little better. He really shouldn't've tried to walk so soon, though . . . " Murdock found a cup and put some ice in it before filling it the rest of the way with tap water. "When he can eat, he's gotta have some steak or somethin' like that -- real rare -- to give him some more muscle an' strength."
"What . . . how did he . . . ?" Face couldn't put his question into words; for someone to survive what the Mage had was inconceivable.
"He did somethin' that he'd tried before during a war on his world . . . it didn't work out real well then, but he didn't have a choice. I don't think he'd've made it if we'd found him any later . . . "
"Magic, then." Face nodded. "I don't think you can explain it any more than that."
"Let's jus' say he made a spare body that he slipped the old one into; problem is, some of the old body was missin', thanks t' Shreck, so not all of him is there yet." Murdock swirled the water and ice around in the cup to cool the water.
"I don't think I need -- or want -- to hear any more. In other words, he could only do that for himself and it was a big gamble even then." Face blew out a deep breath.
"Uh-huh. He's thirsty -- I'll be back out when he's asleep again."
Harry seemed to be asleep once more when Murdock entered the room, but moved slightly after a few seconds' hesitation. **Sorry . . . keep slippin' in an' out . . . wasn't sure if it was you.**
"Why does that worry me?" Murdock sat on the side of the bed and helped Harry sit up; the Mage's eyes opened, still dull even without his tinted glasses, and tried to take the cup. He was still a bit too shaky to manage it.
"Here, let me help." Murdock held the cup to Harry's lips and watched him sip slowly, cautiously, as he should rather than gulping the water. Evidently Harry had been hurt before in combat conditions and knew what to do without having to be told.
**Colonel Smith was here a few seconds after you left . . . not sure quite what he was up to.** Harry sighed and shook his head. Murdock looked into the cup and discovered he'd drunk all the water and most of the ice was gone, as well.
"Izzat good for you?" Harry quirked an eyebrow at Murdock's question.
**I have to regain liquids as well as muscle,** he commented wryly. **Shreck did a pretty good number on me . . . **
Murdock nodded. "Yeah, I saw. Remember? I mean, how could I forget! You looked like somethin' that should be hangin' in a freezer . . . humans shouldn't be treated like meat."
**I'm not human, remember?** Harry blinked and yawned, the little effort he'd spent already tiring him out.
"You're more human than Shreck," the pilot stated firmly. "But you'd better rest some more. When you feel like it, I'll get you somethin' to eat."
The Mage made a slight face; he obviously was not looking forward to that part of his Healing. But he nodded and let Murdock lower him back to the bed. **Thanks . . . I wouldn't've made it much longer if you guys hadn't found me . . . an' I don't think I coulda fixed m' body this time, considerin' how much of it was . . . well . . . stolen.**
"We'll catch Shreck yet." Murdock patted Harry's shoulder confidently. "He's not gonna get away with trying to drive Hannibal crazy, kill me, or turn you into a scientific specimen." He went to the window and glanced out; sunlight didn't really hit this window so he hadn't bothered to draw the curtains. "Rest some more; we can talk later."
St. Cloud's eyes were already closed, so the pilot slipped out of the room. He had to do some hard thinking; should he tell Face and B.A. about Shreck's putting a spell on Hannibal, or just let them wonder a while longer?
He silently walked towards the kitchen, and listened to the conversation going on before acting on his gut instinct.
"He's just acting so odd, B.A. I mean, yeah, I know Hannibal doesn't like the guy, but he's been acting real hostile." Face was holding his coffee cup between both hands, rolling it slightly as he talked.
"He ain' actin' right. Actin' real strange, mean, like the magic man was as bad -- or worse -- 'n Shreck. I don' like it one bit."
Murdock drew a deep breath and stepped inside. "Guys? I need to talk to you . . . "
* * * * * * *
Face and B.A. both looked sober as Murdock explained what little he knew about what was wrong with their leader. "I'm jus' afraid he might take it on himself to go and . . . well . . . "
"You mean, he may decide to take Harry out because of the problems Shreck is causing him mentally. He did almost blow his brains out when we found him." Face looked thoughtful "But that's something we'd've done in 'Nam, if any of us were so bad off we couldn't . . . you know, mercy killing."
"Except Harry ain't like us. He's magic -- we don't know exactly what he can do. For that matter, I don't think even Harry knows what all he can do. He was in a war, too -- and he has no memory of who he used to be or what he could do before that. I think he's still finding out." Murdock had a cup of coffee as well, but it had grown cold long before.
"You and him -- you're pretty close, are you?" Face finally asked the question that had been bothering him for a while. "I mean, you know more about him than we do."
"Only 'cause you haven't taken the time to try and learn, Faceman. He's lonely, that's all." Murdock shrugged, took a sip of the cold coffee and wrinkled his nose. " He doesn't feel like he fits in anywhere . . . I know how that feels. I think you do, too. An' B.A. -- didn't you ever feel like no one understood you or wanted to be friends with you? Was there anyone you could jus' hang around an' mebbe take time to enjoy things with?"
Both Peck and Baracus could sympathize with those feelings; it hadn't been easy in Vietnam, but war tended to make men brothers, no matter what color their skin or their religion -- they all bled and died in a common cause. Coming back stateside, there had been those who called them babykillers, murderers, and had turned their backs on the men who should have been thought of as heroes. It hadn't been their fault they were catapulted into a war that should never have been fought, but they were blamed for it just the same.
Face nodded. "He's your friend. Not like me or B.A. or even Hannibal when he's in his right mind . . . "
"Yeah. Harry isn't the same kind of friend, but he's a friend. I mean, we're all family -- Harry doesn't have anyone . . . no family, no memory, an' he doesn't fit in even in his own world . . . "
"Thet ain' right," B.A. finally rumbled thoughtfully. "Ever'body needs frien's."
"Except Shreck -- he probably experimented on 'em an' killed 'em!"
The three brothers in all but blood chuckled or laughed and agreed with Murdock's comment.
**Help! Murdock -- ** the mental call choked off abruptly and the pilot jerked upright, knocking his chair over.
"I gotta see about Harry," he told Face and B.A. "Somethin's wrong!" Murdock took off to his room without looking back.
The two men looked at each other and then stood and started towards the room Harry was in. They heard Murdock blurt, "No! Hannibal -- " and then a thud as something struck a wall.
Face shot a glance at B.A. and they both had an odd look on their faces as they went in.
Murdock was slumped on the floor, shaking his head slightly, dazed from being forcibly thrown there. Hannibal Smith was leaning over Harry St. Cloud and holding a pillow over his face; the busker weakly struggled against him but wasn't able to break free.
Face grasped the colonel by the shoulders but was grabbed and thrown after Murdock; Hannibal had too much strength in his madness to be stopped. B.A. clasped his hands together and struck his commanding officer at the base of the neck; Smith went down.
B.A. picked Hannibal up and grunted, "I'll take care of him; don' think he's gonna wake up for a while." As he left, Face nodded in agreement and helped Murdock off the floor.
"Thanks, Faceman," Murdock said shakily. "He was so strong -- he jus' shook me off like I was nothin'." Then he glanced over at Harry and gasped; the busker wasn't moving and the pillow was still over his face. "Harry!"
He batted the pillow off the Mage and checked his neck for a pulse; it was thready but there. Harry's chest rose slightly with his breathing but that also was faint. Any respite he'd gained while sleeping was undone in a few moments by the bespelled Smith's attack on him. Murdock shook his head sadly; he knew that Hannibal attacking Harry was a possibility since he was so paranoid thanks to Shreck's spell, but he hadn't really thought it would happen so soon.
He sat on the bed and stared at the pale, strained face of his friend. "If he dies, it's my fault, Face. We were jus' talkin' about this maybe happenin', an' . . . "
"I don't think Harry would blame you for it, Murdock. Hannibal isn't really responsible, either." Peck placed his hands on the pilot's shoulders for a brief minute. " If anyone's to blame, it's Shreck. The quicker we find him and neutralize him, the better."
"Yeah . . . you're right. But what are we gonna do with Hannibal? He can't be trusted not to try this again, an' we can't guard both of 'em night an' day -- we've gotta rest, too."
"We'll think of something. I'm gonna go check on Hannibal and B.A. -- you see if you can help your friend." Face left the room, wondering exactly what they could actually do in this situation; keeping Hannibal tied up wasn't an option, nor was a round the clock guard on St. Cloud. But something had to be done . . .
A few minutes after Peck had gone hunting his team mates, Harry coughed and opened his eyes.
"Are you gonna be all right, Harry? I mean, Hannibal didn't hurt you too badly, did he?"
**Caught me . . . asleep . . . couldn't fight him off . . . ** The busker turned on his side and if he'd had anything in his stomach besides water, might have lost it. **Spit . . . I've gotta get . . . some strength back some way . . . **
"I don't think you're in any condition to try an' eat raw meat," Murdock murmured as he rubbed Harry's back comfortingly. He helped the Mage lie back down. "What can I do to help?"
Harry studied Murdock's earnest face for a moment, then sighed. **I know . . . one way . . . but I hate to ask . . . ** He glanced away, a slight furrow creasing his forehead. **It won't hurt you . . . if you agree, that is . . . **
Murdock spread his hands out, palms up. "What are friends for? If it's somethin' I can do, jus' tell me."
**Would you . . . share your strength with me? Not much . . . but enough for me to . . . be up on m' feet . . . **
"Whatever it takes, Harry. Shoot, I've given blood transfusions to B.A., I've pulled Face outta messes an' I've even taken a bullet meant for the colonel -- this can't be any harder'n that." Murdock grinned easily; this was magic, of course, and it would be nice to help Harry out. "What do ya want me ta do?"
Slowly the Mage raised his arms, holding his hands out; Murdock looked at the gesture then mimicked it, his hands down over Harry's. The busker gripped Murdock's wrists and the pilot did the same to Harry, then started as he felt something flow from him to his weaker friend. It was a lot like giving blood, he decided, but without the stab of a needle into his arm. He felt a little woozy, but not badly disoriented. Then something surged into him from the clasp on their wrists and his eyes widened.
Harry released his arms and gave a crooked grin, still a shadow of his usual self. "Couldn't take somethin' from you without givin' you a gift back," his voice was hoarse but steady. "Like your present t' me, it'll fade in time . . . "
Murdock glanced around the room; the colors were brighter, edges sharper. He could hear Harry's soft breathing, smell the blood on his cut jeans, feel the sweat and oil on his fingers from their brief touch.
"Is this -- this is what your senses are like?" At Harry's nod, Murdock blinked. "No wonder you don't like being touched! You're just too -- sensitive?"
A chuckle answered that. "You aren't quite at my level of intensity, either." Harry wrinkled his nose at the scent of himself. "I think I need a bath and a change o' clothes . . . when I get done, I'll try an' eat that steak, okay?"
"You need me to help you get to the bathroom?"
"I don't think so . . . but stay close, just in case." Harry levered himself off the bed and carefully put his feet down on the floor. Once he was sure he could manage it, he stood up and walked to his trunk. He felt along the side of the luggage until he found something -- a secret catch, it turned out -- and the trunk swung open, revealing clothes hanging on a short rack inside, as well as a few drawers, holding underwear among other things.
Murdock whistled. "That thing holds more'n I thought!"
"Yeah, this ol' thing's been through a lot . . . follows me around like a faithful dog . . . it's an old friend." A smile played along Harry's lips as he patted the trunk like a pet, then found some more jeans and another shirt, as well as a pair of boxers. He stood up slowly, then turned and glanced at Murdock. "You gonna walk me there, just in case?"
"Sure. What are we gonna do, Harry?" The busker knew Murdock didn't mean about him, but about the entire situation.
"I get cleaned up, eat something, and take off. Without me around, Colonel Smith might revert back to normal. On the other hand," Harry sighed, "he might go a little off the deep end and decide to use you as bait for Shreck. Depends on how far this spell has managed to work on him."
"You can't take it off Hannibal, can you?"
Shaking his head regretfully, Harry murmured, "I've tried a few times already, but I can't seem to figure out how Shreck did it. He must have something that Smith touched, or wore . . . I'd have to get that away from him, just like I have to get that tee-shirt of yours back. Or destroy the thing, whatever it is."
It wasn't that far to the bathroom closest to Murdock's bedroom, and Harry waved the pilot off as he went in to take a shower. "Go see what Peck and Baracus make of this; they may have useful ideas. I know you can't keep the colonel knocked out or tied up all the time while I'm around . . . "
"Yeah, guess so," Murdock bobbed his head in agreement, although he wasn't happy about the idea of Harry leaving. "Won't you be in more trouble if you go?'
"Shreck has to think I'm dead; he won't be looking for me. Which may work to our advantage, we'll have to see."
St.Cloud shut the door and locked it, just in case Hannibal managed to wake up and get away before the others knew it, then began to undress. Even having shared some of Murdock's strength hadn't given him as much energy as he normally had, but once he'd eaten, well -- again, it was a wait and see sort of proposition.
No matter what, he had to get out of the beach house, guard the area as much as possible, and still stay aware of what was going on with the A-Team. No small order, that.
He sighed and turned on the shower, waiting for the water to get warm enough to bathe in.
* * * * * * *
B.A. was watching Hannibal, who was definitely out for the count. He wouldn't stay that way for long, and the big sergeant had no idea what they would do once he woke up, but there had to be something.
Murdock stuck his head in the door and waggled his fingers. "Is he gonna be all right, B.A.? I mean, you hadda hit him pretty hard."
"Hannibal's got a thick skull," B.A. stated calmly. "B'sides, I think this pays 'im back f'r some o' those plane rides he gives me when I don' wanna go."
"Could be, could be," Murdock agreed, although he wasn't smiling his usual crazy grin, just a small show of teeth that almost wasn't humorous. "Harry's takin' a shower, gonna get changed, eat somethin', an' leave so we don't haveta watch Hannibal all th' time."
"I don' like thet idea," Baracus shook his head, making his feathered earrings fly. "He could get in more trouble if we don' know where he is."
"I think it's the only way, though. Otherwise, the colonel's gonna be out to finish Harry off. An' we can't jus' keep 'im knocked out or tied up alla time . . . "
"Guess ya right, there, fool. Don' like it, jus' th' same."
"Me, either. Where's Face?" Murdock shot a quick glance around the room but didn't see Peck anywhere. "Thought he was with you . . . "
"He'll be back enny minute. Went to see if we had enny handcuffs . . . " B.A. looked over at Hannibal who was still out and not showing signs of coming to.
"Oh." Murdock hadn't thought of handcuffs, but it was a logical solution.
Face showed up a few seconds later. He had two pairs of handcuffs, apparently so both Smith's wrists could be secured to the bedstead. "How's St. Cloud? I thought we were gonna lose him."
Murdock shook his head. "I think he's better now. But he wants to leave, keep Hannibal from getting too upset an' try to kill him again . . . "
"Good idea. Not one I particularly like, but -- he's right, it's gonna be hard to keep the colonel in bed if he thinks Harry's a threat to us in any way." Peck looked at the handcuffs and over at the unconscious man. "Think we should put these on him?"
"Naw. We kin wait an' see if he wakes up too soon. I mean, 'foah th' magicman splits."
The Team's scam artist heaved a big sigh. "Hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait . . . "
"Yeah, seems like it." B.A. settled back in his chair and crossed his arms. "You bettah go an' see how yor frien' is doin', Murdock."
"Uh, yeah, right. He may have finished showering already." Murdock glanced at Smith and frowned slightly; his breathing pattern seemed to have changed, but maybe he was going from unconsciousness to actualy sleeping. If Harry hadn't heightened his senses slightly, he probably wouldn't have noticed, so he shrugged and left.
Murdock found Harry in the kitchen, eyeing a plate that had held something in it a moment or so ago. The Mage's hair was damp, his clothes appeared fresh, but he was definitely concentrating on something Murdock couldn't see.
"You okay, Harry?" He picked up the plate and saw some reddish liquid on it. His nostrils flared slightly at the odor and he identified the smell as beef blood. "Didja eat already? Man, that musta been raw!"
"Yeah, it was raw. But I didn't exactly eat it . . . " Harry washed his hands and Murdock saw the water was stained pink for a few seconds before Harry turned off the faucet and plucked up a paper towel to dry his hands with. "More like I just . . . uhm . . . compacted it and put it in my stomach."
"You made it like a capsule or pill and swallowed it?"
Harry nodded. "Close enough. I suppose I could have swallowed it, but I . . . just couldn't take the chance that if I put any meat in my mouth I might throw it right back up. So I sorta . . . telelported it from the outside -- here -- " he pointed at the counter, " -- to the inside." The finger motioned at his stomach, or where a human had a stomach, at any rate.
Murdock thought about it a moment. "You really do have a problem with meat, don't you? It's not like you can't eat it and digest it, but your mind gets in the way . . . "
The busker looked mildly surprised. "I hadn't thought of it that way; you're probably right. I used to eat mean when I first woke up in the MageWar, and then one day -- I just couldn't face it." He shrugged. "Just the idea of eating something that used to move and breathe and had some sort of intelligence -- I couldn't do it. I thought maybe in this case I could, but . . . " His voice trailed off and he looked out the kitchen window.
"So you didn't really eat it; you sorta changed its shape and moved it from one place to another with -- telekinesis? -- is that the word I'm looking for?"
Harry wagged his head from side to side. "Close enough. I did it with some sort of mental power, and telekinesis is as good a name for it as anything is." He looked down at his feet and seemed to make a mental note of something. "Guess I'd better pull on m' boots an' hit th' road."
"I really wish you wouldn't leave, but I can see where it might help to have you out of the way for a while . . . " Murdock tried to keep his face from screwing into a comically sad expression and mostly succeeded. This wasn't a time to be silly. "I'm gonna miss you . . . "
"Same here, 'Dock, but we both knew this wasn't a permanent gig. I do have sort of a life of my own outside of trying to protect people from weird stuff an' people like Shreck. May not seem like it at times, but . . . " Harry spread his hands out, palms up. "What can ya do?"
There was no real answer to that, so Murdock walked with Harry back to the bedroom to get his trunk. The busker picked up his boots, sat on the bed, and tugged them on. "I'll be back for th' rest later. Right now, I need t' walk an' think a bit . . . let you guys get Smith settled down, if possible. Shreck's spell is really messin' him up . . . "
"Are you - you aren't thinking of tackling Shreck on your own, are you?" Murdock protested as he realized that was probably exactly what his friend meant to do. "You can't face him alone!"
Harry's lips thinned. "I think I can. And besides, he's killed me twice -- I don't intend to let him prove third time's the charm." He put his hands on his thighs and pushed, easing his shoulders, before standing up and giving a suddenly impish grin. "Don't worry 'bout me; I'll be fine."
"Yeah," Murdock muttered, shoving his hands in his pockets and kicking at the carpet, "sure."
"You don't believe me for a moment, do you?"
The pilot shook his head. "No, not really."
"I won't go after Shreck tonight, promise." Harry made the childhood gesture for 'cross my heart and hope to die' that Murdock and his pals had used on the playground, bringing a quick smile to his lips that faded almost before it registered.
"Betcha crossed your fingers behind your back," he murmured, and Harry cocked his head to one side with an eyebrow raised.
"Nope, not this time. I really just need to get back to nature and Heal a bit more before I go after our friendly neighborhood madman." Then he turned back to the trunk and pulled one of the drawers out, his hand reaching fairly deeply into it before he found what he was looking for. "Oops. Almost forgot." He pulled out a new pair of wire-framed, grey-tinted glasses and smoothly slid them on.
Then he reached out and appeared to grab something coming from Murdock's ear, and showed it to be an unknown coin. "Keep that for luck," he instructed, putting the golden piece into Murdock's palm and closing his fingers around it. "And to remember me by."
"Harry . . . I . . . "
"Sssh. No time now, we'll see each other again, real soon. But I've gotta go. We both know it. This isn't goodbye, just a see ya later sorta deal."
"Feels kinda final to me," Murdock murmured, gripping the coin tightly. "But you're right; it's time for you to go, before I beg you to stay if only so I know you're all right one more night."
Harry nodded and walked from the room; as he expected, Murdock followed. He opened the sliding door and went out on the wooden deck before he turned and suddenly gave Murdock a quick hug. **Take care of yourself; for me, if not for you, okay?**
"Okay . . . " Murdock watched Harry stride quickly towards the trees that bordered the beach area; the Mage turned at the edge of the woods and waved, then disappeared into the bushes. Murdock slowly sat on the deck and rubbed the coin. *You keep yourself safe, too, Harry.*
He thought he heard an answering mental voice, **I will if you will,** but he couldn't be sure.
Murdock rubbed his forehead with the hand not holding the token, then put his head in his hand and stared out at the wooded barrier and lost himself in thought. Eventually he slid the gold piece into his pants pocket and put his chin in both hands. Something was bothering him, but he didn't quite know what.
He finally figured out what had been bothering him; all this time, Harry hadn't worn his glasses. And his eyes hadn't strobed once, which was proof that he wasn't in good health, according to what he'd learned about his mystical friend. "He shoulda stayed," he whispered mournfully to himself. "I knew it. Gut instinct kept tellin' me not to let him leave . . . "
Hearing a slight noise behind him, Murdock started to turn and see who it was. Before the figure could register, a hard blow to the back of his neck convinced him it was someone who ought to be handcuffed to a bed. *Shoulda known,* he thought to himself as he lost hold of consciousness. *Harry warned . . . me . . . *
Murdock spiraled down into blackness as Hannibal Smith stood over him, watching dispassionately as the pilot slumped and fell into the sand.
* * * * * * *
Face was in the room alone when Smith's eyes had cracked open and taken in the situation. He might not be able to take them both out at the same time, but he could manage them one by one . . . While the blond man's attention was off him -- Face was waiting for B.A. to come back with some coffee -- the colonel eased himself over so that he could catapult off the bed and knock the lieutenant out.
Caught by surprise, Face didn't even have time to yell. He was unconscious and then his limp body was shoved onto the bed on the far side; had to have room to put B.A. there, too.
B.A. was still in the kitchen when Smith crept in, having pulled a slat out of the bed for a weapon. The big sergeant was waiting for the coffee pot to finish percolating; he didn't hear his commanding officer stealthily approach and crack the wooden piece across his back, also taking him out effectively. Smith caught him as he fell, swinging him into a fireman's carry as he'd done so often before to put him on planes, and walked the short distance back to the room where he dumped B.A. on the bed next to Face.
He glanced at the handcuffs on the bedstead, and he nodded. This could work . . .
Before he left the room, the other pair of handcuffs in his hand, the first pair had been looped between the grill of the bedstead, one cuff on B.A.'s left wrist, the other on Face's right. That would keep them out of his hair while he found Murdock . . .
The sliding door was open out onto the deck; the pilot sat out there, wind blowing his hair and plucking at his plaid shirt, as the day wound down, beginning to cool off the hot sand. Murdock was too absorbed in something else to really notice someone coming . . .
It was almost comically easy; Murdock went down without a sound. Smith pulled his arms behind his back and snapped the handcuffs onto his wrists. The pilot was too afraid of Shreck to willingly play bait, but you had to have the right sort of meat to attract your tiger . . .
Before Smith could wrestle the pilot off the sand, he blinked, confused, and stirred, waking up altogether too soon, considering the blow he'd taken. Didn't matter -- kept him from having to carry him. Murdock could walk to where the colonel meant to stake him out and wait for Shreck.
* * * * * * *
"Uuhh . . . " Murdock groaned without realizing it; he shook his head and knew that was a mistake almost before he'd finished the action. Pain seemed to radiate from the back of his skull to his forehead, keeping him from thinking too well. Rough hands grabbed his shoulders and flipped him over onto his back. "C -- Colonel? Hannibal? Wh-what's goin' on?" It finally registered on him that he had his hands cuffed behind his back and could no more get to his feet from that position than he could fly without a plane.
Smith looked down at him with an almost maniacal expression on his face, his eyes fever bright and glassy. Murdock's eyes grew wide and he swallowed hard; he didn't recognize the man standing over him as a rational being, and he'd seen enough true madmen in the VA to know if someone was in their right mind or not. Hannibal Smith was in almost the same condition as Shreck, which meant either he was really under a spell or had snapped because of it -- possibly a combination of the two.
"Wh--what didja do with Face an' B.A.?" He flexed his shoulders, trying to ease them a little, as the constriction brought on by the tight manacles began to make his back ache. Between the pain in his head and the ache in his back, he was in no condition to formulate any kind of plan to break away, and he probably couldn't run, either, without stumbling or falling and being captured again.
"They're taking a little nap," Smith informed him, reaching down and grabbing Murdock's shirt front and hauling him upwards. Murdock managed to get his knees under him and knelt in the sand briefly before he was yanked up again, pulled to his feet by the man who should be his friend. "C'mon. We've got a date to keep."
"I . . . what date?" Maybe if he could keep the colonel talking, he could get him to remember something, make him break the spell himself. "I don't wanna go."
"I don't care if you want to go or not, you're coming with me." Smith spun Murdock around, making him lose his balance, but steadied him so he didn't collapse to the sand again. Murdock hoped for a second that Hannibal's real personality would break through, but no such luck. A firm hand between his shoulderblades propelled him forward, keeping him stumbling ahead and uncertain whether he could keep on his feet as the shoves grew harder and more insistent.
They were beyond sight of the beach house when Hannibal quit pushing Murdock in front of him. Bracing himself, Murdock slowly pivoted, watching Smith with wary brown eyes, trying to outguess exactly what the more experienced military man had planned. Even with his head pounding and his hands behind him, he didn't intend to go down for the count without some sort of fight.
The colonel reached towards Murdock, and the pilot threw himself backwards; Smith's hands were already tangled in his shirt and the action pulled him with Murdock, who had one knee up and buried it in his crazed friend's stomach. Murdock then flipped Hannibal over him as he fell onto his back, using his long shin bone to carry the startled man over his head and he landed in some of the bushes with a yell and a crash.
Rolling onto his side, Murdock managed to get his feet under him and stood up, teetering dizzily for a few seconds before he took off towards the woods in as much of a run as he could manage, doing a bit of broken field manouvering just in case Hannibal had his gun. Normally, the colonel never aimed to really connect with his human targets, just frighten them, but as nuts as he was right now, he might forget Murdock was his friend and actually aim to kill. Murock could almost feel a bullet between his shoulderblades before he also remembered bait was best kept alive.
That didn't mean Hannibal might not shoot to bring him down, though. At a guess, that would be an arm or his leg; neither option was appealling, and Murdock just kept running and dodging, not quite sure where Hannibal was, if he had his pistol or not, or was racing after him in an attempt to tackle him and bring him down . . .
* * * * * * *
Face woke up first, tried to bring his right hand to his aching head, and couldn't. He opened his dazed blue eyes and took in the handcuff around his wrist and B.A.'s left and started searching his pockets with his free hand. Experience had taught him that a paper clip in a pocket would likely be overlooked, or a safety pin, or even an odd bent piece of wire that seemed too soft for any use. With a little bit of bending, any soft wire could become hardened enough to be used to pick a lock; within a second or so, he found the large paper clip he usually had in one pocket or another.
Bringing the clip out, he studied it for a second, then got his thumbnail under the inner loop and pushed it out enough for him to get his front teeth onto it and pull it out of shape enough for him to use as a makeshift lock pick.
After a few tries, the wire clicked the tumblers into the unlock position and the cuff swung free. The real keys were in the other room with his things; he'd pick it up on the way out in case they could find Hannibal before he did anything really crazy -- like hurt Murdock, since he was Harry's friend, and boy, did the colonel have it in for poor Harry!
Face grinned as he realized he'd actually called the man by his first name, and unlocked B.A.'s cuff as well, then patted him on the cheek. "Wakey, wakey. We got jumped, the colonel's gone, and we better find him before he does something stupid."
B.A. growled and batted at the hand, then his eyes flew open and he jerked his head towards Face. "Whut? Ya mean he suckered us? Man, I don't like thet one bit. Le's git goin'."
"Let me get a few things first. If it comes down to shooting the colonel in an arm to keep him from killing Murdock, I'll do it."
"I'll do it," B.A. grumbled. "Ain' nobody gonna sucker punch me an' then kill any of mah frien's, whether it's Hannibal in his right mind or not."
Face sighed, "I doubt he's in his right mind, B.A. I don't think Hannibal's been there for a while, whether we can blame it on Shreck or not."
B.A. just made more growling sounds, and let Face go off to find whatever it was he wanted. He thought about trying to locate the magicman, but that probably wouldn't be easy. No, trying to find Hannibal and Murdock was the best thing to do at this time; later might be different.
* * * * * * *
Murdock ran into the woods, further and deeper, getting himself royally lost. The sky was darkening rapidly now, night beginning to fall, but he still ran despite being less able to see. He could hear someone following him and knew it had to be Hannibal, but so far he hadn't heard any shots, so maybe the colonel didn't have his gun -- or maybe he was so crazy he'd forgotten about it.
It had to happen; his sneaker hung in a vine and down he went with a loud crash, knocking the wind out of him and making him dizzy. Before he could get his wits about him, the colonel reached him, yanked him around, put one foot on his chest to make sure he couldn't get away, and unbuckled Murdock's belt. Once he'd pulled it free, he removed the foot and looped the belt around the pilot's neck, bringing the tongue through the buckle and sliding the leather into a collar of sorts.
Hannibal pulled the belt tightly enough to make Murdock gasp for breath as he yanked on the makeshift collar and leash, trying to make Murdock get to his feet. Murdock couldn't manage that while flat on his back. Instead he choked and began to lose consciousness, which wasn't what Smith wanted at all. He eased up on the strangle hold and grasped the pilot's shirtfront again, levering him to his side and then onto his knees while he was still dazed.
"C'mon. We still have to capture Shreck. Move." Smith jerked on the belt for emphasis, tightening the collar again.
Murdock panted, trying to catch his breath enough to speak. "I -- "
"I don't want to hear any excuses. This is the only way to catch Shreck and you know it. Get to your feet, Captain"
Murdock swallowed, licked his lips, and staggered to his feet. "Sir, I'm lost. I don't know where we are . . . " He halfway expected to have a stinging slap directed his way, and braced himself in case it happened. Falling again would just get the breath choked out of him, but that might be preferable to facing Shreck with his hands useless. Except that would only delay the inevitable in the long run.
Smith seemed to consider the statement. "I know where we are, and how to get back. Follow me." He flicked the belt in a way that didn't put any more pressure on Murdock's throat, but he knew not to try and balk.
Meekly walking after the Colonel, Murdock wondered if he was really going to get out of this mess and how Face and B.A. were doing, if they were just knocked unconscious or worse.
* * * * * * *
Face and B.A. went outside, glancing around and trying to decide which way to go. It was a bit too dark to try and follow footprints; besides, the dry sand didn't hold tracks very well. "What d'ya think, B.A.? Travel that way, or stick close to the trees and follow them around?"
"Don' think we should separate," rumbled the big sergeant. "Think we should go 'round the trees. Magicman might see us, come he'p."
"You really think we'll need him?" Peck glanced out at the rapidly darkening sky. "Then again, we may need all the help we can get." B.A. nodded and started off towards the edge of the woods, Face trotting after him and keeping a look out for any familiar figures. He had a flashlight, for all the good it did them; the batteries were low and the light was almost too dim to be useful.
Within fifteen minutes, they both knew they weren't going to be able to do much on their own. It was all they could do to follow the wooded perimeter, and they had no idea which way Hannibal might have gone after taking Murdock prisoner, whether Murdock had taken off running at first sight of Hannibal, or just what had happened.
"Looks like we're gonna have to find St. Cloud first," muttered Face, who wished he'd remembered to pack a better flashlight -- or extra batteries -- than the one they were using to try and not trip over the fallen branches.
"Cain' yell -- might alert Hannibal," B.A. reminded him. "Mebbe we could jus' go a bit farther, stumble over him."
"More likely we'll stumble over Murdock," sighed Face. "No telling what Hannibal may have done to him by now . . . "
As luck would have it, the two had stopped fairly close to where Harry St. Cloud was sleeping, high in a tree. They couldn't know that he usually slept in trees, keeping in tune with nature and staying relatively safe perched high above the normal eyesight of most people. He heard his name, muzzily opened his eyes, and glanced down.
Harry snapped to full wakefullness on seeing the two men below him, and quickly climbed down the tree. He still wasn't as strong as he needed to be, even after having eaten the meat earlier and resting for a few hours, but it was obvious something had gone wrong or the two wouldn't be out with a flashlight and guns, searching around the woods.
Dropping lightly to the ground, he cleared his throat, hoping that Face and B.A. would hold their fire until they saw who it was. He didn't need another bullet wound to go with the one in his back, and for that matter, he hadn't been strong enough to remove that one, yet. The piece of lead was still there, but he had at least managed to undo that damage when he'd merged with the homunculus, although other portions of his body still needed to mend before he'd be able to do certain spells.
Baracus and Peck whirled at the sound, guns at the ready, but didn't fire until they saw who it was. Face drew a deep, shuddering sigh, and Harry could tell his nerves were on edge. "What's up?" he asked softly. "Where's Murdock?"
"He isn't with you, then," the blond man whispered. "I'd kinda hoped he was, but knew better . . . " Face quickly told Harry what he knew; Hannibal had overpowered both himself and B.A. and handcuffed them to the bed, and when they woke up, neither Murdock or the colonel were anywhere to be seen.
St. Cloud nodded. "I was afraid that was gonna happen, but I couldn't take another attack myself." He put his chin in his hand, propping up that elbow with his other hand, trying to locate Murdock by his mental link with the pilot. "They're pretty far ahead . . . dunno if we c'n get there too quicly."
"Can't you just zap us there like you did once before?"
Harry shook his head. "I c'n get me there, but I don't think I c'n take you guys . . . unless . . . Do you trust me?"
"We have to, fool," B.A. snarled, not liking the idea that Hannibal, in his insanity, might have already hurt Murdock severely. "Whatchoo wan' us t' do?"
"Share your strength," Harry murmured. "It's not all that hard, you just have to be willing. I won't take anything not freely given."
"This may be Murdock's only chance," Face gritted. "I'll do whatever it takes to keep him from getting killed."
The Mage nodded; he'd expected as much. He simply put out his hands and grasped each man's wrist. "Lock your hands together like I did; we'll make a circuit. As strong as you both are, I might be able to do a lot more than I think."
The two glanced at each other and grabbed for the other's wrist, Face dropping the flashlight in the process. "Oh, boy -- "
"Don't worry about it; I can provide light in a moment." Harry concentrated and B.A. and Face both felt some small amount of energy flow from them to St. Cloud before something different flowed back into them. Harry released their hands and spread his fingers wide, flexing them a second before he nodded. "Still think you need that flashlight?"
A soft glow seemed to surround all three of the men, illuminating the area around them enough for them to see and make out details they couldn't before. "Uh . . . no."
"Link hands again, after you pick up the flashlight -- it might come in handy to hit someone with, if not to see by. They won't be able to see our light, so we won't tip them off too soon, either." Harry drew in a deep breath, and waited until he felt B.A. and Face take his hands. This was one of the few times any of them touched him, and he could feel their worry for their friends, the anger towards Shreck and their determination to find both Murdock and Hannibal before anything else happened.
As soon as he felt they were all as ready as they could be, Harry teleported them close to where he sensed Murdock was.
* * * * * * *
Murdock didn't know how long he'd been walking; long enough for the gift Harry had given him to start fading, which was probably a good thing. He really didn't want to know what Shreck would smell like at close quarters, let alone be able to tell what the man was thinking by seeing little quivers in his expression, which he'd noticed he could also do with Harry. He hadn't been able to see much of Hannibal's true personality, submerged as it was by the spell, and that frightened him. What if they couldn't get the colonel's mind back? Would he stay insane, paranoid enough to use his friends as stepping stones to find their enemies?
The pilot could see a campfire flickering up ahead; he hadn't thought Hannibal had time to do any preparation before he came running after him. Then he saw a small figure sitting near the fire, dressed in pale clothing, a black bag by his feet. Murdock tried to pull back and found himself choked again, yanked forward and shoved down. Once again he was flat on his back and breathless.
"Hannibal, that's Shreck right there -- what are you doing?" Murdock managed to gasp out once he'd regained his breath. Smith had removed the belt from his neck but before he could think of what to do, the leather strap was looped around his ankles and he was once more unable to move, helpless as he lay in the sand. "Colonel -- no, please!" Murdock shot a look over towards the sinister man sitting by the fire and wished he hadn't.
Shreck's pale eyes devoured Murdock's bound figure, and the pilot knew he'd have been better off not saying anything. The crazy black magic user loved for people to plead and beg. Too late he remembered that Shreck's dream version of him always seemed to be grovelling, but he hadn't been begging for anything but Hannibal to regain some sense, see that Shreck was right there, waiting for them!
The mad doctor smiled, but it wasn't very pleasant. "At last," he breathed. "The end of the A-Team is in sight." He turned to his black satchel, opened it, and began searching for something.
Murdock swallowed and watched Shreck warily, eyes wide. Hannibal was just standing by the fire now, motionless, like some clockwork machine that had suddenly wound down. Smith's face was blank and his eyes were focussed on nothing Murdock could see.
His attention was called back to Shreck when he heard the man give a small exclamation of satisfaction. "Yes, this will do." Murdock turned his head back towards him, surreptiously trying to get some slack in the belt so he could at least kick; his hands had gone numb long before from the tight cuffs and he was no escape artist like Face, even if his hands had been cuffed in front rather than behind his back.
Shreck held up a knife that glittered dangerously in the firelight. *Mighta known it'd be a blade of some sort,* Murdock thought, trying to keep himself from trembling in anticipation and mostly succeeding. He knew that Shreck would love to peel his skin from his body, take him apart bit by bit. That much, he expected.
He did not expect Shreck to hand the sharp instrument to Hannibal and instruct him, "Slit his throat. Take your time, if you like; I don't mind. Then, when your friends find you standing over his body, well . . . that should be the finish for your little group."
Murdock stared in shocked disbelief as Hannibal Smith dropped to his knees in the sand, still holding the knife. The colonel studied his friend coldly and Murdock could feel his body shudder from the icy look in those blue, blue eyes. It was as if Hannibal had never seen him before, didn't even recogninze him as human, but some vile thing that had to be destroyed.
Smith reached out with his left hand and grasped Murdock's hair at the crown of his skull, pulling slowly and making the pilot's head tilt back and expose his vulnerable neck. The bound man felt his breath rasping in his throat as the blade touched the sensitive skin, felt the first slow slice starting.
Murdock did the only thing he could think of to do. "I don't blame you, Colonel; Shreck's makin' you do this . . . " the pilot whispered and began to breath more frantically. He knew once Hannibal regained his senses, he'd be remorse stricken by what he'd done, maybe even go mad himself. And Face -- B.A. -- what this would do to them, he didn't like to think. "I forgive you . . . "
Forcing himself to hyperventilate, gasping for breath, he was unconscious long before another small cut could be made.
* * * * * * *
Harry, B.A. and Face were only a few yards away, but far too late to keep Hannibal from beginning to work on Murdock, who lay motionless in the sand, pale and drained. Both the Team members started as the wild neigh of an enraged stallion reverberated around the clearing and St. Cloud transformed immediately into a tall, white Unicorn, blue eyes strobing madly, which reared and pawed the air before galloping towards the nightmare in front of them.
They remained frozen for a few precious seconds, then ran after the mythical beast.
* * * * * * *
After the first tentative nick, Smith had stopped, frowning as red drops began sluggishly trickling from the cut, and some odd light came to his cold eyes. He dropped the knife and turned towards the small man who was watching the entire proceedings with great interest.
"Go on, finish -- " The war cry of an equine shattered his concentration; Shreck's head shot up and he glanced around, trying to find the horse he had heard scream, then gasped as Hannibal launched himself towards him. The broader Smith took the delicate man down with ease, stradling him and grabbing his coat, shaking him like a terrier with a rat.
"What did you do to me?" The white haired man hissed, pulling Shreck close enough to feel his hot breath and recoil. "What the hell did you DO?"
* * * * * * *
The Unicorn thundered into the campsite, ignoring the two struggling men, its attention centered on the still figure by the fire. It studied the pilot, saw the small trickle of blood on his throat, and knew he was not hurt too badly; something had snapped Smith out of the spell. Whether its scream had helped, or the fact Hannibal Smith was not a killer and had been commanded to murder one of his friends, the spell had been broken.
The Unicorn form dwindled back to that of a man. Harry St. Cloud removed the belt from Murdock's ankles and gently turned him onto his side, studying the swollen wrists where the handcuffs had been too tightly locked into place. Snapping his fingers, the cuffs clicked open and dropped off; Harry carefully moved the numb arms into a more comfortable position then picked up the manacles and glared at them for a moment. He saw the two other members of the A-Team run towards them, then Face nodded as he and B.A. exchanged glances and went on.
B.A. and Face reached Hannibal's side but made no effort to stop him from bouncing the smaller Shreck around a bit. Smith wasn't hurting the madman -- yet -- but he was definitely scaring him enough to make him start babbling. "I -- in the satchel. I put a spell on you using something you'd worn -- don't hurt me!"
Hannibal could very easily have crushed Shreck's hands, but he grabbed his wrists and snarled, "Lieutenant, get that bag. I think there's something in there we need to get out -- something of mine, that shirt of Murdock's, maybe pieces of St. Cloud."
At that moment, Harry stalked over, hands balled into fists. "Let me do that; you two put some lumps on Shreck. I don't trust myself not to kill him at this moment." He took the black doctor's satchel from Face and began searching through it, removing a worn black glove and a tee-shirt with a cartoon dog and the name "Billy"printed on it.
The fragile-looking man stared at the tall St. Cloud in disbelief. "I -- you're dead! I killed you!" He tried to pull away from Smith's grasp and didn't succeed.
"You killed me twice, you piece of slime. And the second time, you enjoyed taking me apart. I owe you . . . no one kills me and gets away with it unscathed." Digging deeper, Harry found several bottles containing bits of tissue and organs, which he took out and studied. "These are mine; the other stuff is parts of Charles Endicott -- what Shreck hasn't munched on, that is. Looks like he dried the muscles, made them into jerky of sorts. I don't think he had time to do anything with what he stole from me."
B.A. stood next to Hannibal, pounding one fist into the other hand's palm. "I wanna shot at 'im, Colonel. He's messed wif th' A-Team too long -- he's gotta pay!"
"I want a crack at him, too." Face said quietly, and his voice was deadly serious. Normally, Peck was not a vindictive sort but Shreck had just tried to rip the Team apart, kill his brother-in-arms through their commanding officer -- he felt the need to exact some vengeance.
"Be my guest -- I get what's left, if anything is," Hannibal got off the madman, still holding his wrists, and propelled him towards Baracus, whose teeth gleamed whitely as he gripped Shreck's shoulders. The insane doctor shrieked once as the big sergeant put on a bit of pressure, then went stock still, eyes staring. B.A. squeezed a bit harder but got no reaction.
"What's with him?" Face frowned, not quite sure what game Shreck was playing now.
"Catatonia," Harry murmured, finding one last piece of himself inside the satchel; what appeared to be the pelt of some animal cut into a square was actually the skin removed from his chest. Once dried, it had become more like horsehide, the white hairs seeming to grow and cover the skin more thoroughly. **Guess I'm always a Unicorn, whether I'm in human form or anything else.** Harry thought wryly before continuing his explanation. "You can't hurt him now, mentally, that is. Physically, I suppose you could kill him, but he's not going to know it."
Dropping the bag, Harry glanced over at the madman, frozen in a moment of terror. "But I can hurt him mentally." Closing his eyes, he gathered a ball of energy around him, thinned it to a small pinpoint and cupped it in his hands for a second. He weighed the consequences of his intended punishment against his teachings, and found nothing to stop him from carrying it out.
St. Cloud opened his hands and made a throwing motion; the small blue light strobed almost as fiercely as his Unicorn eyes and sped towards Shreck. The ball of energy disappeared inside the catatonic man's forehead; after a few seconds, Shreck began to sweat. Another long moment and he collapsed into the sand as B.A. let him go.
"What did you do?" whispered Face, who still wasn't as used to all this magic stuff as Murdock evidently was. "What was that?"
Harry shrugged. "Mental energy . . . he's been carrying around the souls of his victims for a long time, and I just let them in . . . Now he'll relive their last moments with him over and over, but the roles are reversed."
Hannibal frowned. "You mean, instead of him killing them, they're -- "
"Torturing him, yes. And he'll never die, as it's all mental."
B.A. scowled. "I still wanna hit him, jus' 'cause o' all thet he did."
Face stared at the Mage as the implication sunk in. "I think Harry hurt him worse than physically, B.A. He's gonna relive the last moments of all those people he must've killed -- only he's the one dying. Over and over, day after day . . . that's pretty vicious."
"Cold comfort, indeed," Harry drawled, unrepentant. "He killed me twice, wanted your commanding officer to kill you one by one . . . and might have succeeded, if Colonel Smith wasn't as strong as he is. He may be able to break the spell someday, but it'll only be after his victims are satisfied he's suffered enough. The dead are eternal . . . and they don't forgive."
After watching Shreck a few minutes, St. Cloud's lips pulled back in a feral grin, and Face knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was not, and never had been, human, although he lived and walked among them. Something had always bothered him a little bit about the busker, and now he knew what it was. Harry St. Cloud was far closer to an animal than a man, acting on instincts and intuition rather than facts and logic. Peck felt someone observing him and looked straight into the cold blue eyes that he now knew belonged to something far less -- and possibly far more -- than human.
**Don't judge me by your world; mine is far more ruthless than yours, and no one where I come from could deny me this retribution.** The voice was inside his head, and Face felt his mouth dry as he realized what the man being telepathic could mean. He'd thought he heard Harry once or twice before mentally but hadn't been sure.
*I . . . don't think I like this.* The con man gulped. *It's a bit too . . . intimate . . . *
Harry nodded and the connection broke off. "I won't do it again with you, then. Murdock and I speak that way all the time."
"Speaking of Murdock," Hannibal cut in, as he had also been watching Shreck for any sign of lucidity or normalcy and had seen nothing but the staring eyes of a madman, "how is he? Did I hurt him?"
A low groan was the answer; the person in question roused slightly and put a hand to his head, then hissed as the pain of his bruised wrists and constricted back hit. "Wh -- what . . . " Murdock stared at his hand, then tentatively touched his throat, finding the small cut there. "What happened?"
"Shreck went over the edge," Harry told him, coming over and examining his wrists. "I think we should leave him here, alert the authorities, an' let them take him away. He's got evidence in that bag o' his that should land him in a place f'r th' criminally insane f'r a long time . . . You want me to help you get over that pain?"
Murdock shook his head. "No -- 'cause it means I'm still alive an' I didn't think I would be . . . "
Hannibal cleared hs throat. "Ah . . . Captain . . . I . . . "
"It wasn't you, Hannibal, it was Shreck. He put some sorta spell on you, made you act odd. Not so odd we noticed at first, but it was beginnin' to be pretty obvious you weren't yourself towards the end . . . I didn't wanna beg you to wake up, wouldn't give Shreck that satisfaction, so I kinda . . . knocked myself out." The pilot sighed. "Guess it was cowardly, but I really didn't wanna see you cut me up, either . . . I know I woulda broken, babbled like all get out, an' that was jus' what Shreck wanted."
"I think you did the right thing, Murdock," Face came over and knelt beside his friend, placing a hand on his shoulder. "And I don't think it was cowardly. You faced death when it came to you and didn't give in, just accepted it, like we did in 'Nam. Makes you braver, not a coward."
B.A. growled under his breath. "I think we all need ta get back ta the house. We ain't had anythin' ta eat since this mornin' an' that wore thin a long time ago."
"Take Murdock back with you an' call th' police." Harry stared off into some distant place none of the A-Team could see. "I'll stay here, tell 'em what I know. Won't mention you guys, o' course, just th' fact this guy tried t' kill me an' then went weird . . . he shouldn't be left alone. Th' dead may not forgive, but sometimes they forget . . . an' they do eventually need t' go wherever they go after life . . . "
Face and B.A. helped Murdock to his feet; the pilot wobbled a bit before he managed to stand totally erect. "Guess . . . I do need ta eat somethin' . . . "
"C'mon, let's get back to the house. B.A. can fix you something -- hell, all of us need to eat! -- and we can put Shreck out of our minds." Hannibal found a cigar, bit off the end and spat it towards the unfocussed eyes of the madman. "I think we all need to do a bit of debriefing over this particular case."
Nodding, Face and B.A. continued to support Murdock as they made their way back to the beach house. Harry waited for over half an hour before the policemen finally found him, standing besides the man they had been searching for in the murder of Charles Endicott. Harry gave them a statement, gave them one of his business cards, and watched them haul the lunatic away.
With any luck, the spirits of the dead wouldn't be finished with him too soon. Shreck needed to be punished, but the chances were, once he and the spirits were done with each other, he'd be back to what passed for normal and right on Murdock's tail again . . . Harry couldn't mess with his memories, either, once he'd set the victims loose . . . "Spit, didn't think of that . . . "
Sighing, he dug up the bottles that contained bits of his body, opened the lids, and poured out the contents into his left hand, compressing the fragments and restoring them into himself. He felt better once that had been accomplished, and set the bottles in the sand to let the wind scour them . . . they meant nothing to him, after all, and if the police came back, they'd find evidence of some of Shreck's handiwork, but none of the contents.
The real reason for Harry wanting his stolen pieces back was a bit more practical than just restoring them; his DNA was not human, the organs weren't of the earth -- no reason to start a UFO hunt, all things considered. Shreck being involved with black magic and demons would be confusing enough!
Harry gathered up the glove and shirt; neither item might be wanted by the A-Team, but it was best not for them to be left out where the cops might find them later. Sighing, St. Cloud trudged back through the darkness to the beach house.
Surprisingly enough, the Team was still up and there was even a big bowl of vegetable soup and ice water waiting for him. Harry gave a crooked smile and slid into the chair evidently waiting for him, wondering when the questioning would begin. He knew Smith too well to think he'd let a chance to pump him go so easily.
He managed to eat some of the soup before Murdock finally asked the first question. "Did the cops ask you anythin' . . . odd?"
"Nope, they just wanted to know what Shreck was doin' when he went catatonic. Told 'em he'd been chasin' me with a knife, fell near th' fire, an' blanked out. It happens . . . not too often, but usually serial killers want t' be caught."
"Serial killers," Hannibal pointed out, "are usually getting some sort of sexual gratification from the tortures or murders they do. I didn't see any sign of that with Shreck."
Harry laughed to himself. "Just because all his victims were males, usually fairly attractive, and he didn't completely undress them to experiment on them doesn't mean he isn't a serial killer. He mentally denies to himself that he's attracted to certain types . . . "
"Usually fairly attractive -- what's that supposed to mean? That he'd prefer Face as a victim over Murdock?"
"I don't consider myself very attractive, I'm afraid. I'm more a thorn in his side than anything. And Murdock's managed to escape him several times now, so he's fixated on him. Otherwise, yeah, he might be far more interested in Lieutenant Peck than he would be any one else of the A-Team." Harry took a long swallow of water, considering what to say next. "He may yet regain his memories. And if that happens, he's gonna be after all you guys. He's got a real bad hate for th' Team, an' I don't know why. Part of his obsession . . . Did you guys do a lotta cases overseas? Maybe he thinks you're a threat to his country, but there's no telling. He's mad, after all."
The four men around the table exchanged glances; Murdock's pale face showed the strain of the day's activities on him, and he obviously needed to rest.
"Why doncha guys let 'Dock go take a nap? At any rate, I gotta get goin'. You c'n always contact me later. F'r that matter, you all need some rest."
"Why didn't you tell me I had a spell put on me?" Hannibal studied the worn glove and the tee-shirt Harry had brought in with him.
Harry quirked an eyebrow. "Look, you don't much b'lieve in magic in th' first place. If I told you somethin' like that, you'd've denied it, an' th' spell woulda taken that much more hold. YOU don't have to believe in magic for it to work on you; the one who casts the spell has to believe. And Shreck is crazy enough to make a lot of magic things very dangerous and very real."
He stood up and stretched. "Like I said, I gotta get goin'. You ain't th' only people I help out with cases o' magic . . . " To himself, he added, **And I have to go Heal myself a bit more; I'm not nearly up to snuff to go off fighting any more demon masters or dragons or whatevers right now.**
*I'll miss you, Harry,* Murdock sent to him, his eyes downcast as if he were about to fall asleep at the table, but the Mage could hear the sadness. *Do you really have to go?*
**For now, yeah. We all need t' Heal a bit, an' you an' Hannibal are gonna have t' have some long talks . . . he's a bit freaked right now, an' yer gonna haveta get him t' see that what went down with Shreck has nothin' t' do with him. Think you c'n do it? I think you can, an' you don't need me around t' distract him.**
"You really don't have to go," Face started, then remembered there were four bedrooms but five bodies. "You could sleep on the sofa, or you could have my bed and I'd sleep there."
"Sorry, I do need t' be gettin' on. Keep th' money, have a mini-vacation, whatever. You'll be seein' me again, so -- no long good-byes. See ya later!" He winked at Face. "I'm about t' pop out -- ya told me t' warn ya when I did, so -- " With a wave of his hand, Harry was gone.
"Wish I could do that," yawned Murdock. "Maybe he could teach me sometime . . . "
"That's all we'd need -- two invisible men running around making us miserbale!" Face made a swipe at his friend, missing by a mile. "Harry's right -- we need to get some sleep."
"Tomorrow, I can make sandcastles an' play fetch with Billy and -- "
"Yeah, tomorrow. Everyone -- hit the sack!" Hannibal commanded. Like the good soldiers they were, the Team threw him mock salutes, and B.A. helped Murdock up and to his room. Within ten minutes, the others were all in bed and rather soundly asleep a very short time after that.
As for Hannibal Smith, he knew there was no rest for him that night; if he tried to sleep, he'd have nightmares. He had very nearly killed Murdock . . . that thought frightened him. He had to learn about magic, find out how to prevent anyone from being able to get to him that way again . . .
Eventually, he rose, turned out the light as he left the kitchen, and went to his bedroom to lie down and make the others think he'd slept once morning came. But the memories of what he'd done and almost done while undeer a spell played over and over . . .
He needed to talk to Murdock, but that could wait a while. Harry, well -- unpredictable as he was, he did know magic. Some time, some where, he'd make sure all of them got together and discussed this whole case in detail.
Before he knew it, he did fall asleep. Harry materialized beside him, laid a finger to his temple, and commanded, **Rest. Forget the worst details for a while, or at least, don't let them muddle your thoughts. Talk with Murdock, Face and B.A. about this, and let it be therapy . . . ** Once the frown had smoothed out of the colonel's forehead, the Mage nodded, and made sure the rest of the A-Team also had peaceful rests.
Once he was sure he had done the most he could, he faded out of sight again, secure that when the time came, he would once again work with the A-Team and help them against magical foes they had little defenses for.
Very probably, some day soon . . .
Please Send This Author Comments!