Summary: Revised & Expanded - Murdock falls in love, but there are complications - is the relationship strong enough to weather the storm?

I'd like to acknowledge singer/songwriter Atoosa (check her out on ). Her songs were the inspiration for this story, you'll see the lyrics of several throughout.

No, I don't own the A-Team or any of the associated characters (darn!). Nancy Clay Murdock and her friends and family (other than Stockwell) are mine, for better or worse.

Across the Tarmac

The Team had just returned from another mission. They had been working for General Hunt Stockwell for just over a year now, and it was almost becoming routine. They were working on unloading the cargo plane that had been their transport for this most recent mission to South America. Murdock was taking a quick walk around the plane to survey any damage. They had taken some heavy fire as they exited the airport in the back country of Columbia, and he knew Doc would need a rundown on needed repairs.

Murdock looked up as a small plane landed on the strip and grabbed Face's arm, "Looky there Faceman - I think I'm in love! That is one sweet bird, a Taylorcraft BD12."

"I'm glad to hear you're finally getting a social life, again, Murdock - now if you're done wandering around you can help me with the bags."

Murdock picked up a couple bags and headed towards the van, parked on the tarmac, "It's kinda hard to have much of a social life when you spend all your time lookin' for a job. I'll probably be on the unemployment line again. Figures, too, I liked working at the turkey farm - them gobblers are great company!"

"Only you would like working on a regular basis with fowls! They stink! You're better off with a different job anyway, you got way too attached to those birds." Face said with a grimace.

"Nice thought, Facey, but there are only soooo many minimum wage jobs in Langley, and I think I've held most of them in the past year."

"Look on the bright side, Murdock, you get to expand your horizons once again." Hannibal said, clapping Murdock on the shoulder.

"Hey," Face offered, "have you talked to Doc, the guy that runs the airfield - maybe he could use somebody. One big advantage would be that you can tell him when you're gonna be gone, He already knows you work for Stockwell."

"Let's get this straight," Murdock said irritably, "you guys 'work' for Stockwell, I'm along for the ride. Stockwell's made it clear where I stand in the overall order of the universe. Besides, I already talked to Doc - he said Stockwell told him 'no way', I'm persona non grata."

"Listen fool, at least you get to go where you want." BA growled, "I ain't seen Mama in a year - an' it's looking like it's gonna be even longer."

"I know BA, and I don't mean to complain. I'll find another job eventually." Murdock said soothingly. "Maybe I will talk to Doc again. He's been havin' trouble keeping a mechanic on . . . maybe if I promise not to tell Stockwell, he'll give me the job."

"Hello," Murdock stopped, and stared toward the Taylorcraft again. A young woman, about 5'4", with auburn hair was standing up from looking under the hood. "I think I am in love."

"Yea, yea, Murdock, we heard before, it's an Andy Taylor plane. Whoopee!" Face said.

"Taylocraft - but I ain't talkin' 'bout the plane, Facey, take a look at the pilot!" Murdock exclaimed, "It takes more than a little skill to fly those little puddle-hoppers - my kind o' lady!"

Meanwhile the young woman had turned and started walking towards where the Team was unloading, between her and the hangar. Murdock was still standing there gazing fixedly towards her and her plane. He absently checked wind speed and direction thinking that she had to be a darn good pilot given her smooth landing in the stiff cross-wind, and as she moved closer thinking she was a very pretty woman.

Frankie came up beside him and hissed, "You're staring, Murdock." Murdock's eyes grew wide as the young woman caught his gaze and smiled.

She was only a few yards away and had heard Frankie's admonishment, and her sky blue eyes danced with amusement, "He's absolutely right, it's not polite to stare," she said. Murdock looked quickly down in embarrassment.

Face turned at the new voice and raised an eyebrow at his friend, as the young woman continued on her way to the hangar. Once she was past, Murdock began walking in a small circle, mumbling to himself, and Face grabbed his arm and hissed, "Go talk to her Murdock - maybe you really could have a social life."

Murdock shook his head, "Naw, I can't just walk up to her and start talkin'. . ."

"Sure you can, Murdock," Frankie encouraged, "she even smiled at you."

"More likely laughing at me for standing there like an idiot," Murdock said miserably, "Besides how do you know, maybe she was smilin' at you . . . or Faceman. Probably not me."

"You're never gonna know if you don't talk to her." Face said, pushing his friend after the young woman, who had disappeared into the hangar.

"Face is right, man, you gotta have more confidence in yourself." BA agreed, nodding.

"I don't know what to say to her . . ."

"How about trying, 'Hi, I'm Murdock, what's your name?'" Face said, exasperated.

"You could ask her about her plane . . ." Frankie offered.

"What's going on here, you guys are supposed to be unloading the plane, not standing around yapping," Hannibal barked, striding towards his gathered men.

"Hannibal, tell Murdock he should go talk to that woman. He's feeling shy," Face said, grinning and ignoring the Colonel's glare.

Hannibal looked at Murdock in surprise, "Murdock, since when do you have trouble talking to anyone," he asked the glare dissolving into a wide smile, teeth locked on his cigar.

"Just pretend she's one of your socks, fool. Then you won't have any problem!" BA said, laughing.

"Very funny, BA," Murdock said irritably. Facing his four team mates all looking at him expectantly, he finally gave in, "Alright, I'll go talk to her," he turned and started towards the hangar, still grumbling, "but I don't think that pretending she's Socky is gonna work. She looks nothing like him - she's way prettier . . . I gotta go talk to Doc, anyways."

Hannibal chuckled as he watched Murdock walk towards the hangar, then he turned to the other three, "What are you guys still standing around for - Come on - let's get this equipment unloaded!"

Nancy Clay was just returning from another weekend visiting her father in Chicago. It was the third weekend in a row that she had decided to go home and visit with Dad. But then, if she'd hung around Langley, she'd just have ended up working anyway. She didn't really have anything better to do.

As she approached for the landing, she caught a rough sound in the engine noise. It had been recurring periodically throughout the flight, and it was starting to worry her. She taxied to her normal storage spot and shut down. She opened the door, tossing her bag to the ground from the seat next to her then unfolding herself from the cockpit.

She took a deep breath and stretched- there were times when she thought it would be nice to get a larger plane. But her Taylorcraft was a classic and she loved it. She had restored it herself and couldn't imagine flying a different plane, it would be like committing adultery.

After tying the plane down, she opened the hood, quickly scanning the engine components that she knew so well and carefully checking connections and looking for leaks on the cooling engine. It was a routine she followed pre-flight regularly, but nothing popped out at her as being wrong. It had been a rough flight, and she was too tired to really dig into it. She also knew she wasn't likely to have time over the next week to work on it herself so she decided to head to the hangar and see if Doc had time to check it out.

She straightened up, closed the hood, picked up her bag and slung it over her shoulder. As she turned to head towards the hangar she noticed a tall, lanky guy in a brown bomber jacket, 'Another flyboy captivated by the Taylorcraft,' she thought, it certainly wasn't the first time. But as she got closer she noticed that his eyes were following her.

'He has a nice smile.' Nancy thought to herself. She was a few yards from him, when she heard the dark young man next to him say "Murdock, you're staring." Nancy chuckled to herself, and smiling into warm brown eyes she said, "He's absolutely right, it's not polite to stare," but he had already looked away.

Nancy sighed, running a hand self-consciously back through her tangled hair. She certainly wasn't at her best after the long, cramped flight from Chicago, 'I probably scared him to death,' she thought ruefully. She hurried on to the hangar, wondering at her lousy luck with men.

Once in the hangar, her thoughts turned back to the plane, she walked up to the desk and smiled brightly, "Hi, Doc, how's it going?"

"Lousy, lost another mechanic today. Don't know any reliable airplane mechanics looking for work do ya?" Doc asked, distractedly.

"Sorry, no . . . I hope that doesn't mean you won't have time to take a look at Aunt Bea and give her a tuneup," Nancy said, her tone hopeful, "she's running rough every so often during the cycle . . . I took a quick look but didn't see anything right off," she caught Doc's eye and held it, "She probably just needs some tender loving care, but I don't thing I'm gonna have time this week to provide it."

Doc smiled and shook his head, "I'll put her on the schedule, Nancy, but no promises. If I can't find another mechanic, I'll be doing the work myself, and I've got planes that need serious intervention, not 'tender loving care'!" he leaned down and made a notation in his repair log.

Hello . . . Maybe next time

The door to the hangar opened and Murdock walked in. He delayed walking to the desk, where he saw the young woman standing talking to Doc. Try as he might, he couldn't think what to say to her, his mind was a blank.

Nancy sighed, "Alright Doc, do what you can. If you don't get to her by this weekend, I'll make some time myself. I guess a weekend in the hangar with you and Aunt Bea is no more pitiful than a weekend at home with Dad!"

"I'm not such bad company, am I?" Doc asked jokingly, then he turned and caught sight of Murdock, "Hey, I see you brought this plane back in one piece!" Nancy raised an eyebrow at Doc, who smiled and winked, "Any problems?" he asked in a more serious tone.

"No real problems," Murdock replied, quietly, walking slowly to the desk and leaning at the end opposite where the young woman was standing, "other than the fact that she's leaking oil like a sieve and flies like a tank. May need a little body work, too . . ."

Nancy glanced casually down the desk at the speaker, noticing that it was the same man she had passed on her way into the hangar. She ran a hand back through her unruly hair again - she knew she had to look like someone's forgotten laundry, and it made her unaccountably self-conscious in front of this guy. Maybe it was time to make a quick exit, before he got too good a look.

She glanced at her watch, it was getting late anyways, "Well, I'll see you next weekend Doc - good luck finding another mechanic." she turned and hurried out to the parking lot.

"See ya later Nan." Doc said, then turned to Murdock, "Do me a favor, Murdock, and fill out the repair log with the work that needs to be done." Doc consulted his rental flight schedule, "Damn, what a time to lose a mechanic. That plane needs to be back in the air by Tuesday!"

Murdock's eyes had been following Nancy as she left. As the door closed behind her he turned his attention back to Doc. He moved down the counter and pulled the repair log forward. He noted the long list of critical repairs. "You know, Doc, I could help you with this."

"Listen Murdock, I'd love to hire ya, but you know what I'm up against . . ." Doc let the sentence hang.

"You'd never know I was here, Doc - I'd keep a low profile." Murdock looked at Doc with puppy dog eyes. "Please, Doc, I know I'm on the unemployment line again, after this last week, and I really don't wanna answer another want ad."

Doc looked at Murdock with a calculating gaze, and finally said, "Alright, Murdock, I'll give it a try - but we're gonna have to keep it low profile. I don't want the General seein' ya here. And, if he shows up you better disappear. He's my best customer, and I cannot afford to alienate him."

"You got it, Muchacho . . . and Doc, thanks, you won't be sorry!" Murdock turned to leave then stopped and glanced back asking casually, "By the way, who was that lady?"

Doc glanced up, and smiled knowingly, "That pretty little thing that just left?" he asked. When Murdock nodded, he answered, "Name's Nancy Clay. She's been a customer for five or six years. Why, you interested? I'm pretty certain she's single . . ."

"Naw, just curious," Murdock said indifferently, "she's got a nice T-craft. I noticed it when she landed."

"Is that all you noticed, son?" Doc asked, raising his eyebrows, "If so, I'd be thinking you're crazier than you let on."

"I mighta noticed a couple other things . . ." Murdock said hesitantly, an uncertain smile on his face, "but I think maybe she's a little outta my league."

"You never know if you don't try . . ." Doc said leadingly.

"Maybe next time . . ." Murdock said with a shrug.

"Suit yourself," Doc said. He looked at Murdock seriously, "By the way, I need you to start tonight, the repair backlog is killin' me."

"I'll be back as soon as I'm sure the General's cleared out. I assume he'll be in this evening for a debriefing - so I'll be scarce 'til he's gone." Murdock turned and headed back out to the tarmac. "See ya later, Doc."

The Job

As expected, General Hunt Stockwell showed up that evening to be briefed on the mission just completed. Everything considered the mission had gone well, and he was pleased. Truth was that the A-team had turned out to be a very valuable asset. He had not been overly charitable to them at the start, part of that stemming from his history with Captain Murdock. But now he was seriously considering how he was going to convince the Team to sign on for work voluntarily after their pardons were received.

Time would tell. He'd been giving them more freedom lately, but the situation was still not secured with the military. They were being stubborn where the A-team was concerned - apparently too many years of being made fools of. But within the limited confines of Langley he could keep the vultures at bay. He knew that the Team members were getting restless, and hoped that the extra freedom would stave off any foolish attempts at longer treks.

After the debriefing, he headed back to the airfield, he had meetings in Washington before the holiday, and it was much more convenient to attend those from Dulles.

Murdock called Doc from the compound, "Has the vulture taken flight yet, Doc?"

"They left almost 45 minutes ago. Get your butt over here, boy, time's a-wasting!"

"On my way, Boss-man."

Maybe this time . . .

Murdock spent the next week working on Doc's backlog of plane repairs. BA even came and helped him. The van was in tip top condition, and BA was bored.

It was Friday evening, and Murdock had pulled the Taylorcraft into the hangar to start work. He'd managed to work his way through all the critical repairs. He and BA had even worked late on Monday to get the cargo plane fixed up. Doc seemed pretty happy with the arrangement, and had told Murdock he'd allow it to continue indefinitely, as long as the General didn't find out.

"This is a classic, BA, deserving the utmost respect. Handle her with kid gloves, big guy!"

"I handle ever'thing careful, fool, unlike you!" BA glowered "and stop talking 'bout the plane like it's alive - it's just a plane!"

"Just a plane, JUST A PLANE?" Murdock cried. "I'll have you know that this is one of the great classics - an aeronautical wonder to be beheld. Not only is it a great flier but economical to boot. Give her the respect she deserves, you big ugly mudsucker!"

"Don't you start with me, fool, I'm here helpin' you 'cause I was feeling generous. But your crazy talk is wearing thin, man!" BA was advancing on the pilot as he spoke.

From the hangar door came Hannibal's voice, "Sounds like the boys are getting cranky . . . probably because they're hungry. Come on and get some pizza!"

"You're lucky Hannibal has good timing, Murdock." BA growled, "Or I woulda had to pound you into the ground."

As they headed for the counter, where Hannibal was setting out the pizza boxes, Murdock grinned at BA, "Ahh, I know you don't really mean it big guy. You're just a big pussycat under all that muscle."

Face looked at BA, then at Murdock and said, "Murdock, I wouldn't test that theory until after BA has gotten to eat."

As they started to eat, conversation turned towards Murdock's failure to talk to the owner of the plane sitting in the hangar.

"I can't believe you didn't talk to her. I've never seen you at a loss for words before. What's the problem?" Face asked.

"I don't know," Murdock said "She was talking to Doc when I walked in, and then she was gone - I didn't really get a chance . . ."

"You mean you delayed until you didn't have a chance. You know she's not just gonna stand around waiting for you to make a move." Hannibal wasn't accustomed to Murdock being overly interested in a woman. He'd talked about this Nancy Clay more than once over the last several days.

"Well, it doesn't really matter now, does it?" Murdock said dismissively.

Doc came in a few minutes later and walked over to the counter, picking up a piece of pizza. "Can anyone join this party?" he asked.

"Help yourself, Doc." Hannibal said. "We were just finishing up."

"Speak for yourself, Hannibal," Murdock said, picking up his fourth piece of pizza, "I'm just getting started."

Hannibal grinned, "Better eat up Doc, before the human garbage disposal gets going."

Doc noticed the plane in the hangar, "You got the Clay T-craft in, huh," he said.

"Yep, haven't started yet. She sounded a little rough, but not bad." Murdock said.

"A little rough is the worst she gets, Nancy really babies her." Doc said. "In fact she may show up here tonight - she called earlier today, and I told her that we hadn't gotten to Aunt Bea yet. She said her schedule was letting up and she might stop by later."

"Aunt Bea?" Face asked.

"Yea, Nan said that since it was "Taylor"craft, she decided it needed a Mayberry name." Doc chuckled, "Girl's got a weird sense of humor."

Face looked at Murdock triumphantly, "I told you it was an Andy Taylor plane!"

"Technically, it's a Bea Taylor plane." said a voice from near the door. Nancy Clay was standing there watching the gathering with amused interest.

Murdock caught sight of her and panicked . . . He still couldn't think of anything to say, and he knew the guys were none too subtle when it came to something like this. He decided the best strategy was to separate himself from the group, so he turned and his long legs carried him quickly to the other side of the plane.

Hannibal watched in consternation as Murdock disappeared on the other side of the plane, then smiled at Nancy around his cigar, "Piece of pizza?" he offered.

"No thanks," Nancy said with a smile, walking towards the gathering by the desk, "I had fast food a little while ago, and can't handle any more grease tonight." She had noticed the pilot from the previous weekend, in mechanics coveralls, striding towards Aunt Bea, and found herself thinking that she was glad she had taken the time to stop by home and freshen up before coming to the 'port.

Doc took up the introductions, "Nancy this is Hannibal, BA, Frankie, Face . . ." he trailed off looking about the hangar.

Nancy smiled shaking hands around the circle, "It's nice to meet you."

"Murdock is hiding on the other side of the plane, Doc," Face hissed in response to Doc's casting glances. Face was beginning to get irritated, here was Murdock's chance to meet Nancy and he had wandered off again.

Hannibal was taking matters into his own hands, "Nancy, I don't think you've met Captain Murdock." He took his cigar out of his mouth, indicating the way, and offering his arm.

Nancy smiled uncertainly, but stepped forward, taking the offered arm. He escorted her purposefully across the hangar and to the other side of the plane, where Murdock already had the hood up on Aunt Bea and was getting ready to start work.

"Murdock, I don't think you've met Nancy Clay, yet," Hannibal said, "Nancy this is Captain H.M. Murdock."

Murdock stood up from where he was crouched beside the tool box with a nervous, but broad smile, "Hi, it's nice to meet you," he held out his hand.

Nancy took it in a firm hand shake, "Likewise," she said smiling.

"I'm gonna go clean up the pizza," Hannibal said and abruptly left the two standing there looking awkwardly at one another.

"A little match making, Hannibal?" Face asked quietly as the Colonel returned to the desk. Hannibal put his cigar back in his mouth and grinned.

Aunt Bea's the Real Matchmaker

Nancy watched Hannibal's retreating back. When she turned back, Murdock was crouched by the tool box again. She stepped to the side of the plane, looking under the hood, "Did you listen to her?" she asked tentatively, "She's been sounding rough."

Murdock stood and watched Nancy picking idly under the hood, "She did seem a little rough, but it didn't sound serious. A tune up will probably do it. Could just be some dirt in a line somewhere. She'll be good as new in no time."

Nancy glanced up at him uncertainly, and he smiled widely, "Don't worry, the big mean-looking guy over there is the best mechanic I know, he'll make sure that I don't mess anything up. Trust me, he doesn't let me get away with anything."

Nancy smiled, "OK, I'll trust you - but you better be careful of Aunt Bea, she's a special lady!"

"I'll keep that in mind." Murdock said, picking up a socket and moving towards where Nancy still stood by the raised hood.

She stepped aside slightly as he set to work, and cocked her head off to the side, "Maybe I should help, just to make sure."

"I don't think there's room under this hood for more than one person, even a little short cake like you," he said grinning, "Why don't you have a seat and supervise. You know it's never a good idea to operate on your own child, anyways."

"That may be true, but this child is more like a Frankenstein than a blood relative, I think there's a difference." Nancy said, taking a seat on a stool nearby.

"So you restored her yourself?" Murdock asked, interested.

"Yea," she said, smiling, "Dad gave me a choice at 14, a car that ran or a plane that didn't. I think he was trying to discourage me from flying but it didn't work."

As Murdock worked, they discussed the restoration work that Nancy had done, which segued into other aviation topics. After the rather hesitant start, the conversation was relaxed and constant. Hannibal and the others left the hangar quietly, but neither Nancy nor Murdock appeared to notice.

An hour and a half later, Murdock had finished cleaning and lubing everything. He asked Nancy to get in a crank her over to see how she sounded.

The engine purred and Nancy smiled, "She sounds perfect!" Nancy called over the engine noise.

"You're all set," Murdock said, "You might as well taxi her on out to bed and tie her down."

Murdock stepped back from the plane and Nancy moved it to its normal space and tied down. When she came back in, Murdock had most of the tools put away, and was cleaning up.

"Thanks a lot HM." Nancy said.

"Any time, Short Cake," Murdock said smiling, "It's a pleasure working on such a fine aircraft. Besides, none of the other planes comes with as good company."

Nancy smiled self-consciously, then glanced towards the clock on the wall, "Well, it's late, I guess I should get going."

"Yea, it is late," he said, looking absently at the clock. He was trying to come up with something to say to keep her from leaving.

Nancy waited expectantly. She had really enjoyed talking with him and found herself hoping that he would ask her out.

Murdock finally sighed in defeat, his mind was a total blank, "Well," he said, smiling at her ruefully, "Good night."

Nancy looked down at her feet in disappointment, "Goodnight, HM," she said quietly, then turned and headed out of the hangar.

About half way to the door she stopped, 'this is stupid,' she thought to herself, 'he's the most normal guy you've met in ages, if you want to go out with him, you ask him.' Shoving her hands into the back pockets of her jeans she turned resolutely, "So, HM, what are you doing for dinner tomorrow?" she asked, rocking back nervously on her heels.

Murdock straightened and looked at her in surprise, "I haven't got any plans," he said, "rarely do."

"Would you like to maybe get a bite to eat with me? Charlie's has great burgers."

Murdock did a mental head slap, 'of course, a date, why hadn't he thought of that?'

The hesitation spooked her, 'damn, guess I read that wrong,' she thought, and rushed forward to fill the silence, "It's alright if you've got other plans . . ."

"NO," Murdock said, louder than he'd intended, "I mean . . . I don't have other plans . . . and I love a good burger. Can I pick you up around 5?"

Nancy let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding and a relieved smile lit her face, "Five sounds great!" She pulled a men's wallet out of her back pocket and took out a business card. She walked over to the work bench and picked up a pencil, writing her home address and phone number on the back of the card.

He moved over to the bench and took the card from her as she stood up and held it out, "It's not hard to find," she said, continuing uncertainly, "and my work number is on the front . . . if something comes up and you can't make it."

He smiled as he realized that she was just as nervous as he was, "Wild horses couldn't keep me away," he said reassuringly.

"Well, I guess I'll see you tomorrow, then," she said with a shy smile, backing towards the hangar door. After a final wave she turned and walked out to the parking lot.

"Yea, see ya tomorrow," Murdock said as Nancy left. He turned and tapped the card on the bench with a reflective smile, then let out an Indian whoop. Outside, Nancy heard him and smiled to herself as she headed to her car.

Thanksgiving Plans

When Nancy arrived home, the message light on her machine was blinking furiously. The first two messages were from Riley Adams, her mentor and boss. He wanted to know how the surveillance had gone. Truth was it had been a bust. Nancy had been watching this guy for three weeks, off and on, and hadn't seen anything to suggest he didn't deserve the workman's comp money he was receiving. This was one of those cases that was exceedingly tedious - and Riley always managed to pawn those off on her.

The third message was from Trixie Martin, her best friend, who wanted to know where the heck she was and when she was going to stop by for a visit. Nancy felt bad, it had been at least a week since she'd seen Trixie and she knew that her friend was going stir crazy since she'd decided to take a 1-year sabbatical following the birth of her first child. Truth was Nancy was a little jealous - at 30 Trixie had it all, a career that she loved as a professor of criminology, a terrific husband, and now a beautiful baby girl. She resolved to call her in the morning and set up a lunch date.

The fourth and final message was from her father, "Nancy, your Uncle called and he'll be here at 2 for dinner on Thanksgiving Day. I'm planning on picking up Hannah and bringing her to the house first thing in the morning. I was just calling to find out when you were planning to come home, Wednesday night or Thursday morning. Should I wait for you to pick up Hannah? Give me a call when you get a chance."

It was hard to believe that Thanksgiving was less than a week away. So her Uncle was going to be able to make it. Thinking back she was pretty sure she hadn't seen him since last Christmas. She had mixed feelings about this. Her Uncle was her only real link to her dead mother, besides her Dad. He always had interesting stories to tell about when he and Mom were kids, and she never tired of hearing them. But it never failed that he would bring up her "disappointing" choice of careers, failure to finish law school, and other short-comings. The visits almost always ended with them angry at each other, and Nancy feeling like a disappointment.

Her father said it was because they were too much alike - which just irritated Nancy more. Her Uncle said it was because she was too much like her Mother - and she wondered if that was so bad? In the end, Nancy felt certain it was because she was just herself, independent and stubborn and more than a little determined to make a life for herself that pleased her, and to hell with everyone else that thought they knew what was good for her - including her overbearing Uncle.

Stringing Them Along

Saturday morning dawned cool and crisp and sunny. Murdock woke early, as usual, and headed for the galley kitchen in his small apartment to start coffee. He went down and picked up his paper then headed back up to the apartment to read the news and drink his coffee.

The phone rang at 8 - it was Face, "So, how did it go last night?" he asked.

"OK - Aunt Bea is in top-notch working order, once again." Murdock said.

"Great," Face said, "Did anything interesting happen."

"Naw, it was a pretty routine tune up," Murdock said, grinning mischieviously, "Hey, what are you guys having for breakfast, I haven't eaten yet."

"I think Hannibal's making your favorite, pancakes. You should come over . . . We can talk about your evening." Face offered. Murdock hadn't even mentioned Nancy, and he was hesitant to ask outright.

Murdock knew what Face was fishing for, "I'll be over in about half an hour," he said, and hung up.

At the compound, Hannibal had outdone himself. He had pancakes, bacon and sausage and had cut up fresh apples and fried them in maple syrup to put over the cakes. Murdock took a deep breath as he walked in, "Hannibal, it smells absolutely heavenly in here. When do we eat?"

"As usual, Murdock, your timing where food is concerned is impeccable. Everything's ready, and I think Frankie's already set the table. Let's dig in!" Hannibal called.

They all sat down at the table and passed plates. Conversation was scarce until most of the food was gone. Then Face looked at Murdock and asked tentatively, "So, Murdock, Nancy seemed like a reaaly nice girl . . . did you have a nice talk?"

"Yeah! You know she restored that plane herself? It wasn't even in running order when she got it and it took her the better part of a year. No wonder she babies it so much." Murdock was smiling, knowing that he wasn't providing the information that his friend really wanted.

"Sounds like you two really hit it off," Hannibal said leadingly.

"It was nice to have someone to talk to, since you guys all left." Murdock said looking pointedly around the table.

There was a long silence, broken by Frankie, "Enough!" he exploded, "Just tell us, did you ask her out or not?"

"Nope," Murdock stated flatly.

All four of his friends started talking at once.

"What do you mean, you didn't ask her out . . ." Face said.

"I can't believe you, Murdock . . ." Hannibal chided.

"Fool's losin' it . . ." BA growled.

"You've got to be kidding me . . ." Frankie sputtered.

The outbursts faded to silence as they all realized that Murdock was sitting there, arms crossed, grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

"Alright," Hannibal said, "what's the rest of the story."

"She asked me out . . . to dinner," Murdock's grin was wide enough to split his face in two, "I'm pickin' her up at 5 this afternoon."

"All right, Murdock!" Hannibal said. Face clapped his friend on the shoulder with a big grin.

"Man, ya gotta love women's lib!" Frankie said.

Two Women and a Baby

Nancy returned phone calls in the morning when she woke up. Riley told her that she should pick up surveillance for the afternoon. She said she'd put in a couple hours, but that was it. She called her Dad and told him she'd be home Wednesday evening, and would help with Thanksgiving dinner. Her last call was to Trixie.

Nancy and Trixie met, as planned, for lunch at the local Applebee's. Nancy was first to arrive and got a table for two and a sling for the baby carrier. When Trixie arrived, she lugged in the baby carrier and all the paraphernalia that a baby required. She set the carrier, complete with sleeping baby, into the sling and dropped into the seat opposite Nancy.

"You know, when I was pregnant, I had people falling all over themselves to open the door for me. Now, when I'm carrying a real live baby and 10 lbs of accompanying luggage, they let the door slam in my face. Now I ask you, does that make sense?"

Nancy laughed - Trixie always had been one to call it like it was. "Emma sure is growing" she said, looking at the sleeping little girl, "She's 2 months old now, right?" Trixie nodded affirmative. "She's changing so fast!"

"That's what babies do." Trixie said, "She's really holding her head up now, and looking around. She recognizes mine and Joe's voice, and she's been smiling - and no it is NOT gas!"

"Are you enjoying your sabbatical?" Nancy asked.

Trixie shrugged, "It's nice being home with Emma . . . I'm enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. You remember, I was really afraid I was going to get bored, but so far that hasn't happened. We'll see if that lasts the whole year."

The waitress came, brought coffee, and took their orders. Emma stirred and cooed, then settled back to sleep.

Nancy looked from Emma to Trixie, and said earnestly, "You know, Trix, you're really lucky."

Trixie smiled, "Don't I know it!"

Nancy sat back and took a sip of coffee, then said, "How's Joe been - seems like it's been ages since I've seen him."

"He's fine," Trixie said, "he's actually been taking more time to be at home, with Emma here, which has been really nice. He's scheduled for some training up in New York next week, so I'm going to be on my own for a couple days. It's kinda cute - he really doesn't want to go, he's afraid Emma will go to college while he's away!" They both laughed.

"So," Trixie said, "What have you been up to?"

Nancy shrugged, "Not much . . . mostly work. I've got surveillance and a couple missing persons cases. Time consuming but not too exciting."

"You know, you really ought to tell Riley to take a flying leap and find a real job. You'd be a shoe-in for the FBI or CIA - I hear they're both hiring right now."

"You're starting to sound like my Uncle," Nancy said, sitting forward, "I have no desire to go to work for the government - too much bureaucracy. Besides, what would Riley do without me? He'd have to handle all those boring cases himself!"

"That's what I mean Nan - you were top your class at U of C. What're ya doin' schlepping around for Riley Adams?"

"Well, there are advantages to working for Riley. I know the work isn't always exciting, and the pay isn't great, but I don't feel bad telling him off, and he lets me get away with it. And I don't have to worry about world or even national politics when I'm working a case," Nancy chuckled, "And that's not even considering the fact that it really annoys the hell out of my Uncle."

"Still sticking to your Uncle? You know, Nan, that's a lousy reason to stay in a sucky job," Trixie said.

"My job isn't that 'sucky'," Nancy said with a frown, considering what Trixie had said, "I like what I do. You know that Adams Investigations has doubled its business since I started there. Riley's thinking of hiring another operative to help with the case load, and he's been hinting at making me a partner," she shrugged, "Not that he has much choice. If I decided to set out on my own I'd take half his client base with me."

"Besides," she added, "I like Riley, we make a good team. And I still have a lot to learn."

"I question who teaches whom more," Trixie said, "But I have to admit that you seem suited to this PI business. I don't think I could do it."

"Don't sell yourself short, Trix, you're just as nosey as I am!" Nancy said, smiling.

"Who're you callin' nosey?" Trixie glared at her friend.

The waitress showed up with their lunch and the two friends dug in with relish.

"So, is there anything else interesting going on in your life? I haven't seen you for a week and seems like we're having the same conversation we always have," Trixie said.

Nancy looked up at her friend with a little smile, "Well," she said, "I do have a date tonight."

"What - really?! Trixie exclaimed. "Who is he? Do I know him? Where did you meet? Where's he taking you?" Trixie ran out of breath.

"Whoa, one question at a time," Nance said, laughing, "Has it been that long since I went on a date?"

When Trixie started to reply, Nancy held up a hand and said, "Don't answer that."

Trixie laughed, then prompted, "Well . . .," turning as Emma began to fuss.

"I don't think you know him, his name is HM Murdock. He works for Doc out at the airfield, as a mechanic. That's where we met. And as far as the date, I asked him out, and I am taking him to Charlie's for dinner."

Trixie was preparing to nurse Emma, who had awakened very hungry. "So, what's he like?" she asked.

"He's kinda shy, but he seems really nice. He's got one oddball bunch of friends that always seem to be hanging around. Something about them is familiar . . .," Nancy said reflectively, "Anyway, he's a pilot and served in Vietnam. He moved out here from LA about a year ago. I guess that's about all I know. We talked for long time last night, but mostly about air planes."

"What's he look like?" Trixie asked, waggling her eyebrows.

"Nice . . .," Nancy said smiling thoughtfully, "he's about 6'4", with brown hair and brown eyes . . . and an incredible smile."

"Sounds promising," Trixie said approvingly. "You'll have to bring him over for dinner some night so I can meet him."

Nancy laughed, "Let's see how the first date goes first!"

After leaving Trixie, Nancy went over and spent another few unproductive hours on surveillance. At four o'clock, she headed home and called Riley.

"Adams Investigations," Riley answered on the first ring.

"Hey Riley," Nancy said, "This surveillance is going nowhere."

"You haven't been at it that long - see what happens tonight." Riley said, "You know these kind of things take persistence.

"As much as I'd love to spend the evening in my car watching a guy scratch himself and drink beer in front of the TV, I can't," Nancy said facetiously, "I have a date at 5."

"You've got a date?" Riley said disbelievingly.

"Yes, I have a date," Nancy said flatly.

"With a guy?" Riley asked.

"No, with an ape," she said irritably, "Of course with a guy."

"Sorry . . ." Riley said hesitantly, "It's just that, you know, your dance card has never been that full . . ."

Nancy was beginning to get angry, "I know I'm no model, Riley, but I'm not exactly a hag either . . ."

"That's not what I meant," Riley said, "You're just always sort of . . . stand-offish, especially when it comes to the opposite sex. I'm just surprised that you're going out. It's not like you've ever dated a whole lot, at least since I've known you."

"That's because I have an asshole of a boss that makes me work all the time."

"Now I know that's not true - you're boss is like solid gold," Riley said teasingly, then continued more seriously, "Come on, Nan, you're a great girl, and I love working with you. You're really good at what you do, and you don't take crap from anybody - which is a definite plus in this line of work. But that's just it," he hesitated, "You can be kind of intimidating."

"Thanks, Riley," Nancy said, frowning, "you're really setting me at ease about this date tonight."

"It'll be fine," Riley said soothingly, "Just don't be too . . . you. Ya know what I mean?"

"No, I don't know what you mean. If I'm not me, who am I supposed to be?

"You know, act like a . . . a normal woman." Riley grimaced as he said it, knowing the reaction was not going to be pleasant.

"Go to hell, Riley."

Something in Common

Nancy had been ready for about half an hour and sitting in the living room getting more and more nervous as the minutes passed. She kept going over her conversation with Riley, and each time she got more worried. She almost jumped out of her skin when the doorbell rang at five o'clock sharp.

She walked to the door and took a deep breath before opening it. Murdock was standing on the front steps, holding a fistful of daisies and looking just as nervous as she felt.

"Hi," Nancy said with a tentative smile, "Come on in."

"Hi," Murdock grinned and stepped through the door. He held out the flowers, as if on afterthought, "Um, these are for you."

Nancy took the flowers, "Thanks, daisies are one of my favorites. Come on in to the kitchen, and I'll put them in some water."

"This is a great place," Murdock said, looking around as he followed her through to the kitchen, "Real roomy."

"Thanks," Nancy said, pulling a vase out from under the sink and filling it with water, "Where do you live?"

"Over on the east side of town, in a little efficiency apartment. It's not much, but I'm accustomed to cramped quarters. Not sure what I'd do if I had this kind of space."

"Lived in a small place in LA, huh?" Nancy asked conversationally as she arranged the flowers and finished filling the vase with water.

Murdock shoved his hands in his pockets and took a deep breath - this topic didn't usually come up quite so early in a conversation, but there wasn't any avoiding it, and he really wanted to get it over with. It was better to know what she thought now, before he got too attached. Erica's reaction to the revelation had just about done him in.

"I lived at the VA in Brentwood . . . in the mental ward," he said, then rushed to explain, "Towards the end of the war I . . . we . . .," he took a deep breath, "my unit spent time in a POW camp and I had trouble dealing with what happened there, among other things . . . " he let the sentence trail off.

Nancy set the vase on the counter, "Post-traumatic stress?" she asked curiously

He nodded, looking down, "Yea, that's what they call it. It's not something they really cure you of, they just help you learn how to manage it. I do pretty good most of the time."

Nancy nodded, "You know, I learned a lot about the theories surrounding treatment in a criminal psych class. I understand a lot of Vietnam vets suffer from it. Victims of violent crime often suffer from it as well."

Murdock hadn't been prepared for this flat acceptance of his past residency at the VA, and found himself inexplicably pushing the issue, "So, it doesn't bother you that I spent ten years living in the mental ward of a VA hospital?" he asked pointedly.

Nancy turned and looked at him in surprise, "Do you want it to bother me?" her eyes narrowed, "Post-traumatic stress is nothing to be ashamed of. I suffer from it, myself."

Her eyes widened as she realized what she'd blurted out. She looked away suddenly, heading towards the refrigerator, "Can I get you something to drink, OJ, iced tea, milk?"

"Sure, I'll have a glass of iced tea," Murdock said, taken aback by her statement, "What - - - what happened?"

Nancy filled the glasses reflectively. She didn't usually talk about this with anyone, and certainly not with someone she'd just met. She walked over to the small table and handed him his drink, sitting down across from him. She hesitated, but finally said, "When I was four, two men broke into our house. My Mom and I were home alone 'cause Dad was out of town for some reason. I don't really remember the night very well. Anyways, Mom heard them coming in and managed to get me hidden and quiet before they got upstairs. But apparently I watched as they raped and then killed my Mother."

"You don't remember?" Murdock asked.

"Not really. I have nightmares about it, but it's hard to figure out what's real and what isn't. I went to therapy for several years, and it helped me learn to deal with the anxiety, but I still don't remember," Nancy gazed out the window as if trying to see the past, then shrugged, "In the end the doctor said it was probably just as well that I didn't remember."

Murdock's brown eyes were sympathetic, "I'm really sorry about your Mom, Nancy. It must have been really difficult to come to terms with it, especially at such a young age."

Nancy looked at him with a discerning gaze. She had had several people over the years tell her the same basic thing. But coming from Murdock she felt certain that it was more than just a platitude.

"Thanks," she said sincerely.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, sipping the drinks, each lost in their own thoughts. Nancy found the lyrics to a song running through her head:

Like a crumbling tower you fall to pieces

And mend the cracks on the surface

And hope to God nobody notices

The best of you fell in the creases

She considered how appropriate these words were for her. Sometimes it was very easy to hide behind that façade of normalcy that therapy had allowed her to construct. But deep inside she knew that her life would always be affected by what she had seen - even if she didn't remember it except in her nightmares. She could certainly understand Murdock's uncertainty about her reaction to his past residency at the VA - and she admired him for bringing it out in the open so readily.

She pushed her chair back, and smiled at him warmly, "You know, this conversation has taken a decidedly depressing turn. Why don't we head on over to Charlie's and see if we can find something more upbeat to talk about."

Murdock grinned and stood up as well, "You got it, besides, I'm starving."

First Date

When they arrived at Charlie's, they took a booth near the back of the restaurant. Charlie's was a bar and grill with a big screen TV in the bar to pull in the sports crowd. At just a little after five it was still pretty empty, with the big crowd coming in around seven for whatever prime-time game was playing.

They placed their drink orders and then sat flipping through the menus and talking idly about the entrees.

A thought seemed to occur to Murdock and he looked up from the menu, "Oh, Doc said to tell you that he put the tune up on your tab."

"I figured he would." Nancy said, "Doc doesn't usually work gratis." She smiled at him, "It was worth it. I got the bonus of a handsome escort for the evening."

Murdock grinned too, "Don't let Doc hear you say that, he already told me he was going to dock my pay for the dating services rendered. Next thing you know he'll be setting up a paid escort service."

"I can see the ads now, 'Dinner and a Lube,'" Nancy said. Murdock burst out laughing. Nancy's face reddened and then she started laughing, too, "I cannot believe I said that."

They were still laughing when the waitress stopped by to take their orders. After she left, Nancy asked, "So where is home? You said you lived in LA for ten years, but you didn't mention where you grew up."

"Well, I was born in Houston, but when my Mom died I guess Dad couldn't handle a hyperactive 8-year-old, so he shipped me off to my grandparents in Oakland, Texas," Murdock said.

"I sometimes wonder how my Dad did it," Nancy said speculatively, "it's gotta be tough raising a kid on your own. Are you going home for the holidays or sticking around Langley?"

"No 'home' to go to," Murdock said ruefully, "My Dad basically dumped me on Gram and Gramps, and disappeared, I haven't seen him in more than 15 years. Gram died when I was 16, and Gramps was only 6-months behind her," he smiled in reminiscence, "I don't think Gramps wanted to go on without Gram - they were real close. As for my Dad . . . he didn't even come to their funerals."

"I'm so sorry," Nancy said.

"Don't be, it's not your fault," Murdock shrugged, "Besides, my Dad was no great loss and I figure Gram and Gramps are still keepin' an eye on me."

"So, how about you, where did you grow up?" he asked.

"Just outside of Chicago, Dad still lives there and I can go visit fairly often, with Aunt Bea." Nancy said. "What are you doing for Thanksgiving, if you don't go home?"

"Oh, Hannibal will make his signature roasted turkey, and we'll have Thanksgiving dinner together. The guys are the closest thing I have to family, now."

"It's great that you've stayed so close all these years," Nancy said. She got that far away look in her face again, like she was trying to remember something. She looked at Murdock quizzically and asked, "Is BA like a professional wrestler or something?"

Murdock cocked his head to the side, "If you're asking 'cause of how he dresses, naw, that's just the big guy. He likes to be unique."

"No, I was asking because he seems so familiar, and I can't figure out why." Nancy said.

In explanation, Murdock offered, "Oh, BA just has one of those faces."

"Oh yea, I see guys that look like that every day." Nancy said raising her eyebrows.

"Yea, like I said, one of those faces," Murdock repeated, abruptly changing the subject, "Look, here's dinner - it looks great. I'm starving."

Nancy laughed, "Yea, you kinda look like you're starving, you sure you get enough to eat?"

"It's high metabolism - I can't seem to put on any weight no matter how much I eat. Drives Facey nuts!" Murdock said, picking up his burger and digging in.

"'Face', where did that nickname come from?"

"We call him 'Face' 'cause he's so good lookin' that's all you notice. You totally miss the hands which are busy taking everything you got." Murdock said, smiling, "He was our supply officer in 'Nam. He was known as the Miracle Worker. He even kept Hannibal in those expensive cigars - most of the time," he amended.

"And 'Hannibal', that's an unusual name - makes me think of Hannibal Lecter." Nancy said with a grimace.

"His given name is John, but he's the man with the plan. Developed a reputation as a great strategist, like Hannibal of Carthage - you know the guy that crossed the Alps with an army? So he was nicknamed Hannibal by some of the upper brass, and it stuck."

"BA . . . ?"

"Stands for 'Bad Attitude', and trust me he earns the nickname," Murdock said. He grinned mischievously "But, if you really want to annoy him, call him 'Scooter', that's what his Mama calls him."

"He looks like he could snap me like a toothpick," Nancy said, shaking her head, "I don't really think I want to annoy him."

"Oh, annoying the big guy is something I do a lot - though not intentionally . . . OK, not always intentionally," Murdock amended, "He's really a big pussy cat."

"Sounds like you don't get along very well," Nancy said.

"Oh, I know BA'll always be there for me. The problem is, he'd give me the shirt off his back, but he'd be torn as to whether to let me wear it or use it to string me up by my toes!"

'Hannibal, Face, and BA,' Nancy thought, out loud she said "How does Frankie fit in?"

"Frankie's a late addition, I guess you could say he was kinda drafted." Murdock said, "He didn't serve with us in 'Nam. He's a special effects artist, worked with Hannibal on a couple of movies."

"Hannibal's an actor?" Nancy asked.

"I guess you could say that . . . he starred as the Aquamaniac in all those B-movies that came out over the past decade."

Murdock glanced around and said, "You're pretty good at keeping the subject off of yourself," he said, "now tell me about Nancy Clay."

Nancy smiled and said, "Nothing much to tell. I grew up in Chicago . . . went to U of C . . . graduated with a degree in Human Psych. I tried Law School for about a year, but decided I didn't like it. I've always been kind of inquisitive and I absolutely loved The Man from Uncle," she added with a wide grin, "So I thought I'd try law enforcement in some way shape or form."

"How'd you end up in Langley?" Murdock asked.

"I went to the FBI Academy at Quantico for training. It was a great experience but I discovered that I wasn't cut out for the . . . umm . . . discipline required of an FBI Agent. Sooo, I dropped back and punted, that's how I ended up at Adams Investigations. Private Investigation seemed a natural place to go with my background."

They had basically finished their meals as they were talking, and a short, dark-haired man, who looked like a manager, stopped by the table, "Hello Nancy," he said familiarly.

"Hi Charlie, how are you?" Nancy said warmly. Charlie looked at Murdock, then back at Nancy and asked, "Who's your friend?"

Nancy introduced him, "Charlie Clark, meet HM Murdock." The two men shook hands.

Charlie grinned broadly, "You'll have to excuse me, we aren't used to seeing Nan here with a man. She's usually sitting in a booth by herself, reading a book and looking totally unapproachable."

"Thanks, Charlie, I needed someone to come over and make HM want to run away." Nancy said pressing her lips together in a thin line.

"I was just impressed that a man had the guts to ask you out," Charlie said, his eyes taking on a teasing gleam.

Murdock was unabashed, "Unfortunately I can't claim that honor - Nancy asked me out."

Charlie looked at Nancy in surprise, but didn't comment. Instead he indicated the piano in the corner, and wheedled her, "You haven't been in for awhile, are you willing to provide some impromptu entertainment?"

Nancy looked decidedly uncomfortable, "Charlie, I don't think . . ." But Charlie interrupted, "Come on, Nancy, I'm sure HM would love to hear you sing." Murdock grinned and nodded enthusiastically.

Nancy looked from one to the other, shaking her head, "It would be rude . . ."

But even as she said it, Charlie was pulling her up from the table and steering her towards the piano, "Come on, I'm sure HM won't mind and one song won't kill you!"

Nancy looked over her shoulder at Murdock, who was watching with interest. "Alright, one song," Nancy relented, "but that is it."

She sat down at the piano, with her hands on her knees and thought a few minutes about what to play. Finally she decided on a song by Atoosa:

You can lie but I am on your mind

And the way that you've been searching I'll be searching all my life

You remind me of an old, old song on the radio

That I used to sing to myself at night

You remind me of an old, old friend that I used to know

And when I think of him it always makes me smile

I'm pulling time through the trenches

With you burning down my fences

Run with me in gold and purple dresses

Speaking your native tongue, draw me into trances.

You remind me of the gold that floats through my window

Bleeding through purple horizon folds

There are times that I'd admit that I miss you

And watch the fall bring in the cold

Sweep out the old

I'm pulling time through the trenches

With you burning down my fences

Run with me in gold and purple dressed

Speaking your native tongue, come on draw me into trances

So I'm going to shut down all my senses

When you scream, you can be offensive

Did you know I would rather be reckless?

And panting I'd much rather be breathless

You can lie, but I am on you mind

And the way that you've been burning I'll be burning all my life.

Murdock was still clapping when she got back to the booth, and she gave him a little mock bow before sitting down.

"That was great!" Murdock said, "I've never heard that song before. I really liked it."

Nancy smiled, "It's by an independent artist I heard at a coffee shop awhile ago - I really enjoy her music."

She glanced back over her shoulder, than looked back at Murdock, "I'm really sorry about that. Charlie thinks it's his mission in life to get me to be more . . . out-going."

As if on cue, Charlie came back over, "Not bad, not bad at all - wish I could convince you to do it on a more regular basis," He turned to Murdock, "You know, I never would have known she could play and sing like that if I hadn't gotten her drunk one night. Just a little tip," he added with a broad grin and a wink, before turning away. Nancy just closed her eyes and shook her head in dismay.

The waitress had brought over the check and dropped it on Murdock's side of the table. Murdock picked it up, looking at it idly.

"Hey," Nancy said, snatching it out of his hand, "I asked you out, so I pay - no arguments," she added when he started to protest.

"OK," he agreed, "but only if you let me take you out for dessert."

"You have room for dessert?" she asked incredulously.

"I always have room for dessert!" Murdock smiled, "There's a great little diner near my apartment that has the best pie in the world, not to mention good coffee."

"Sounds good - The sports crowd is starting to show up and it's getting a little loud in here, anyway," Nancy said. She left enough money to cover the bill and tip, and they left for the diner.

They talked non-stop on the road. At the diner, they took another booth, this time near the door. The waitress, who greeted Murdock like an old friend, brought coffee over and they ordered pie.

They talked easily. Murdock shared some stories of the team's antics, being careful to limit it to non-mission-related stories. Nancy shared some of the more amusing stories from her work with Riley. Their pie came and they ate it, drank coffee and continued a non-stop stream of chatter.

"You are never going to get to sleep tonight," Nancy said, as Murdock drained his fourth cup of coffee, "I'd have a killer buzz with that much caffeine this time of night."

"Naw," Murdock said, "you want a real buzz you drink Mountain Dew - the caffeine and sugar combo is killer. After a six-pack you need coffee to bring you back down!"

By now they had been sitting and talking in the diner for a couple hours. Nancy stood and said, "Well I've got to drain some of this coffee, or I'm gonna float away!"

When Nancy came back they resumed their conversation, talking about movies and songs they liked or disliked, TV shows, whatever came to mind. At around 11, the waitress started cleaning up around them, a tolerant smile on her face. An hour later she came over, "I hate to do this to you kids, but we're closin' up," she said.

Murdock looked at his watch, "Jeez, look at the time. Sorry Blanche, didn't realize it was gettin' so late. Hope we haven't held you up."

"You ain't hurtin nothin', HM," she said smiling, "I hated to interrupt. You two seemed to be having such a good time."

Murdock handed Blanche enough money to cover the bill, with a generous tip, "Sorry for taking up space for so long Blanche. Buy Terra an ice cream cone on me. G'night!"

He held the door for Nancy and they walked on out to his truck. He drove slowly back to her place.

"You must eat there a lot." Nancy said.

"I eat there a fair amount, it's convenient," Murdock agreed, "and Blanchey's a sweet lady. She's raising her granddaughter on her own, and I don't think she's got two nickels to rub together."

Nancy looked at him appraisingly, "You're a really nice guy HM Murdock."

"You're not so bad yourself," he said, smiling.

They rode in comfortable silence the rest of the way to her townhouse. He parked in the drive and walked Nancy to the door. She pulled her key out and opened the door. He was standing a couple steps down, with his hands dug deep in his pockets.

Nancy turned in the doorway, "I had a really good time tonight, HM."

"Me, too," he said smiling broadly at her, "maybe we could do it again, real soon. Like . . . ," he cocked his head to one side, "tomorrow?" his tone was hopeful.

Nancy had to smile at the puppy dog eyes, "OK, tomorrow it is," she agreed readily, "What are we gonna do?"

"How about a picnic lunch? I make a mean chicken salad!" He said, "I'll pick you up around 11?"

"OK," she agreed, "do you want me to bring anything?"

"Just yourself," he said.

He moved up a step, so he was one step down from where she was standing. With their height difference, it put their faces at about the same level. He smiled tenderly, looking into her sky blue eyes, then with a hand behind her neck he gave her a brief but firm kiss on the lips. He pulled back and looked into her eyes again.

She opened her eyes and smiled shyly at him before looking down self-consciously.

"Good night, Nancy," he said warmly, backing down a step and putting his hands back in his pockets. He turned and walked down the steps.

She looked up, "Goodnight, HM," she replied, belatedly.

At the bottom of the steps he turned, a wide grin once again plastered across his face, "Can't wait 'til tomorrow!" he said taking a few steps backwards as he spoke. With a final wave he turned and jogged to the truck.

Nancy waved, too, then backed into the house and closed the door. She leaned against the wall and rested her head on the door. Her heart was pounding in her ears, and her face felt hot and flushed. 'Man, I'm like a teenybopper getting her first kiss, what is wrong with me?' Nancy thought to herself. She closed her eyes and shook her head, but her lips curved in a smile.

How Did it Go?

Murdock actually woke up kind of late for him - it was almost 8:00 - and the phone was ringing.

"Hullo?" he said groggily.

"Did I wake you up?" Face asked in surprise.

"Maybe . . ." Murdock said, lifting his head and looking at the clock.

"Just called to see how things went last night," Face said, "You must have been out late."

"Got home about one." Murdock said. He smiled thinking about the evening.

"So . . ." Face prompted.

"We had a great time," Murdock said, "In fact, we're goin' out again today. I'm picking her up at noon for a picnic."

"Another date, already, huh?" Face asked, "Where are you gonna take her?"

"I thought we could go in to DC to the Mall and have lunch then maybe check out the Smithsonian museums," Murdock said.

"Murdock, are you sure you want to go to a museum - doesn't sound very . . . romantic," Face said.

Murdock considered what his friend had said, "I don't know, Facey, I think Nancy will like it. I thought we'd go to the air and space museum."

Face sighed, "Murdock, it's your second date, you should take her somewhere more . . . normal."

"Listen Face, I know you mean well, but I gotta do this my way," Murdock said.

Nancy woke late, as well. She got a shower and got dressed, changing her shirt three times before settling on her white cotton button down, with blue pin stripes. She wore her usual jeans and white tennis shoes. She looked at herself in the mirror, and decided that while it wasn't anything spectacular, it was at least presentable. Then she shook herself, it wasn't like her to worry about what she was wearing.

The phone rang, and she ran down the stairs to answer it, "Hello?"

"So, how did it go?" Trixie asked bluntly.

Nancy smiled, "Good."

"And . . .," Trixie asked, "you aren't getting away with that. C'mon, give."

Nancy had walked into the kitchen to start the coffee, "We had a nice meal at Charlie's, and then HM took me over to Mabel's Diner, and we had coffee and pie, and talked." Nancy smiled as she remembered the evening.

"You sound kinda . . . dreamy, must have been some conversation," Trixie said.

"It was nice, we talked about all kinds of things. You know, kind of . . . got to know each other," Nancy said.

"So, are you going to see him again?"

"Yes," Nancy said, "we're going on a picnic - and this time he asked me."

"Nancy, that's great! I mean it."

"You make it sound like it's amazing that he asked me out after the first date," Nancy said in consternation.

"It's just that . . . well Nan, you know the few guys that I've convinced you to go out with have said that you can be a bit intimidating."

"Thank you, Riley Adams!" Nancy said angrily.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Trixie asked.

"That is exactly what Riley told me yesterday, before my date. Well, for your information, HM doesn't seem to be intimidated at all."

Trixie found herself smiling, "Don't get mad Nancy, I'm glad he's not intimidated. Maybe you finally found a guy that can handle you."

"I do not need to be handled by anyone," Nancy said testily.

"Nancy, you are purposely misunderstanding me, now stop it," Trixie admonished, "I mean that he isn't scared off by your . . . umm . . . confidence."

"What you really mean is that I'm overbearing." Nancy said.

"No - just very competent and self-sufficient." Trixie said, "A lot of men find that to be a put off."

"So, basically, you are once again agreeing with Riley, and think I'm not a 'normal' woman. Honestly, do you two get together and think, 'How can we make Nancy realize that she's a bitch?'"

"You say 'bitch' like it's a bad thing," Trixie said laughing out loud at the indignance in Nancy's tone, "I was merely pointing out that part of the reason you haven't gone out more is that you tend to scare men off."

"Well, I guess it doesn't matter, because HM doesn't seem to be bothered it," Nancy said. 'At least not yet,' she thought.

Second Date

Murdock picked Nancy up at noon, as planned, and they headed into DC. Traffic was light, for Washington, and they made good time into the center of town. Finding a parking place was more of a challenge. Once parked, Murdock grabbed a backpack, stuffed with food and drinks, out of the back of the truck and slung it over his shoulder and they headed for the Mall.

It was a nice day, in the upper sixties and sunny. Still, they both wore jackets, because when the breeze blew and the sun wasn't shining it felt chilly.

"Maybe a picnic wasn't such a great idea," Murdock said as a strong breeze whipped up, briefly.

"Oh, I don't know," Nancy said, hugging her arms around herself, "It's not bad for mid November, and it's good to take advantage of a nice day. There won't be too many more of them!"

Murdock looked at her and smiled, "I'm glad you don't mind. I've been feeling a bit claustrophobic . . . I was ready for a day out in the open."

"I thought you were used to cramped quarters," Nancy teased.

"Not all the time," he said.

"Yea, from all the stories you told about Face breakin' you out of the VA I question just how much time you actually spent there," She cocked an eyebrow at him.

He grinned, "I'll never tell."

They found a spot near Mirror Lake, underneath one of the old elm trees and leaned back against the tree and ate. Murdock had made chicken salad sandwiches, carrot, green pepper, and celery sticks, and had also brought a bag of pretzels. He had a thermos of coffee and for dessert, apple wedges and caramel dip. They enjoyed the weather, the view along the mall, and people watching.

Nancy felt totally at ease and relaxed. She'd never met anyone like HM, and she was really enjoying his company. He was pointing at the Lincoln Memorial and telling her some historical fact, and she found herself thinking that he was the most intriguing, and handsome man she'd ever met.

"Ugh," Nancy said awhile later, taking a napkin and wiping here fingers, "I think I ate too much!" She added hastily, "Everything was delicious - you do make great chicken salad!"


"Maybe we should just lay down and take a nap," Nancy suggested, leaning her head back and closing her eyes.

Murdock turned and looked at her - she looked so peaceful and beautiful. He resisted the urge to touch her cheek and instead said, "I think we should get up and walk - that'll counteract the effects of overeating."

Nancy opened one eye and looked at him, "Are you some kind of masochist or something?" She asked.

"No, but if we don't get moving, we won't make the Air and Space Museum before it closes at 5," Murdock said, standing up.

Nancy looked up at him with a big grin, "The Air and Space Museum is a great idea! Jeez, I haven't been there since I was a kid!" Murdock had to smile at her enthusiasm. He helped her to her feet and they packed up the leftovers, threw their trash away, and walked on down the Mall. As they walked along, their hands fell together naturally, and they continued hand in hand down past the Washington Monument and to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

They spent the rest of the afternoon at the museum wandering around and discussing the various displays. Murdock tried to convince Nancy that they should hide out in on of the rooms so they could stay after closing. As it was they didn't leave at 5 and a guard came hunting them down and was not very happy. He escorted them to the door at 5:30, with a stern admonishment about listening to the closing announcements and watched as they walked out to make sure they left.

Nancy and Murdock were laughing and glancing over their shoulders at the guard as they left the museum, "Jeez, you'd think we were gonna steal somethin'," Murdock said, "I feel like a kid that got caught with his hand in the cookie jar."

"You're a pilot caught in the air and space museum after hours - I'd say the 'kid with his hand in the cookie jar' analogy is pretty apt!" Nancy said, laughing again.

"You're in the same boat, Short Cake!" Murdock said, affectionately. He put an arm around her impulsively and squeezed. She laughed and gave him a playful nudge, "Hey - be nice I'm just telling the truth," Murdock said in mock pain.

"You're just lucky I didn't rat you out to the guard," Nancy said teasingly, "If he knew you were planning on trying to spend the night, he'd have your picture posted at the door like a wanted man!"

They teased and joked as they continued down the Mall, taking their time. By the time they'd worked their way back down to the Washington Monument, it was after six, and they were both getting hungry, again. They headed up Virginia Avenue to the nearest café and had a leisurely dinner. After dinner, they lingered over dessert and coffee, and then headed back towards the Lincoln Memorial, past the State Department. They walked arm in arm, taking their time and enjoying the pleasant evening. It had become cooler as the evening darkened, but it was still clear and the breeze had died down.

As they approached the Mall, the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial was almost directly in front of them, and they wandered in that direction. They stopped at one end of the Wall, and stood still, both lost in their own thoughts. A cool breeze blew, and Nancy was brought out of her reverie by a shiver running up her spine.

It was the first time she'd been to the Wall. She had heard a lot about it since it was dedicated just a few years ago, in 1982, but she had always avoided downtown DC - traffic was terrible and she had no real reason to go.

Now, standing here, she was struck by the simplicity of the statement. It seemed hard to believe that all of these people had had their lives cut short in Vietnam. The realization was humbling. Just thinking about the number of people, both living and dead, that had been touched by the conflict in Vietnam was sobering.

She looked up at Murdock, he had been there and lived through it, he and his friends. That kind of experience had to forge a deep bond. It was no wonder they were so close. She wondered what his thoughts were as he stood there gazing at the monument. He was standing right next to her, but from the look on his face she could tell that in his mind he was somewhere else entirely.

After a few minutes, she placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, "HM . . ." she said quietly. He seemed to come back to the present slowly, and turned to look at her, a smile appearing gradually as he took in her presence.

"Seemed like you were a million miles away," Nancy said with a tender smile.

"Naw, just a few thousand," he said looking back at the Wall, "Sometimes it seems like it was just yesterday, the memories are so vivid . . . it's almost like I'm there again."

Nancy put an arm around his waist and squeezed, "That's OK, as long as you come back," she said.

He turned towards her, again, and looked deep into her eyes, "I'd always come back to you, Short Cake."

Their eyes locked and the world around them seemed to fade away. They moved together, as if in slow motion, and when their lips met, they were both swept up by feelings that they had been holding in check. When they parted, Murdock smiled as the wind blew her hair around her face in a cloud. He reached up to help her tame it, his fingers caressing her cheek in the process.

Nancy felt an electric jolt at the touch, which only served to make her feel more uncertain about the whole thing. The kiss had caught her off-guard, and looking in his eyes, she could feel herself drowning in the feelings he was arousing. She was beginning to feel the first tingling of panic, with an accompanying, almost overwhelming, urge to escape.

She latched onto the first excuse that came to mind. Glancing at her watch, she said hesitantly, "It's getting late - and I've got a whole week's worth of work to get done in two and a half days. I really should be getting home," She looked up at him with a weak smile.

He slid his arm around her shoulders, "OK," he said, turning her in the direction of the truck. Nancy allowed him to hold her, unwilling to totally break the connection, as she attempted to quell the panic and sort out what she was feeling.

On the way home, she was grateful for the gear shift between them. It gave her some breathing space and a chance to get her chaotic emotions back under some semblance of control.

At her townhouse, Murdock walked her to the door. When she turned after opening the door, he was standing close, and Nancy felt that same electric jolt she had earlier. They kissed again, and both found themselves reluctant to end the evening.

Nancy was finding it nearly impossible to think clearly with him standing so close, and finally broke the contact, stepping back into the house, "Good night, HM," she said, a little breathlessly.

He smiled at her tenderly, "Good night, Short Cake. Can I call you tomorrow?"

Nancy nodded mutely, then found her voice, "I may be late . . ."

He chuckled, "That's OK, I don't have anything better to do than wait for a lovely lady to get home."

Nancy smiled shyly at him, her cheeks reddening at the compliment, "I'll talk to you sometime tomorrow, then."

"Can't wait! 'Night again, Short Cake - and sweet dreams!"

Back to Reality

Nancy woke the next morning, and just lay in bed staring at the ceiling and thinking about the previous night. She had never before felt like that with anyone, and in many ways it scared her to death. She didn't want to need anyone or anything - she'd always prided herself on her independence and self-sufficiency. Now, she found her thoughts crowded with HM Murdock.

She dragged herself out of bed and headed in to the shower. As she showered and dressed she ran over the entire evening in her head. Just thinking about the kiss made her feel hot and flushed all over again.

Nancy sighed audibly as she headed down the stairs, she needed to put Murdock out of her head and concentrate on the day ahead. He had promised he'd call that evening after work, and she found herself wishing the day away, anxious to hear his voice. 'Get a grip, Clay,' she thought to herself sternly.

She glanced at the clock in the kitchen, it was late, and she really needed to get into the office and find out what the case load was for the week. Riley had told her they had a new client, and they still had several other open cases, besides - and it was a short week to begin with. She didn't even bother to make any coffee, deciding to pick some up at the McDonald's drive thru on her way to work.

Murdock had to get to work, too, and as was his habit, he was up early. He had breakfast, then called Doc and made sure that the General wasn't scheduled in before heading out for the air field.

As he drove, his thoughts turned to the woman that he was now certain he was falling for. More than anything he had wanted to stay with Nancy last night, but he didn't think she was quite ready for that step, yet. Something had told him that he was going to have to take this slow - but he was hoping not too slow.

It was a long day. Doc had gotten in three planes with problems, none of them straight-forward. Face had stopped by around 10, but Murdock was elbow-deep in a Corsair and didn't have time to talk. So Face asked if he wanted to come by the compound for lunch and he agreed to show up around noon.

When Murdock walked in at the compound, he could smell a roast - one of his favorite meals! He wandered in to the kitchen, and Hannibal turned and greeted him, "Hey Murdock, how's it goin'?"

"Sure smells good, Colonel," Murdock said, "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Sure, why don't you set the table while I finish carving the roast."

"Where're Face, BA, and Frankie?" Murdock asked as he started getting out plates and silverware.

"Out back, running the course," Hannibal said, "I told Face and BA that we were getting' soft. Work out wouldn't hurt you any, either." Murdock grimaced and took the stack of plates and silverware out to the dining room table.

"We've missed you hanging out here this past weekend," Hannibal ventured, "You and Nancy seem to have really hit it off."

"Hannibal, I've never met anybody like Nan," Murdock said, "You know, she knows about my time at the VA - it doesn't seem to bother her a bit." Hannibal knew that Murdock had become sensitized to people's reactions to him when they found out that he had been a mental patient. He understood the difficulty, even the Team had been uncertain about Murdock when they had first moved out to Langley - worried about how he would do out on his own. But the last year had proven that Murdock could handle the outside world, and everything it threw at him. He was proud of how Murdock had weathered the difficulties.

Certainly Stockwell hadn't made Murdock's transition any easier, with his obvious antagonism towards the pilot. Hannibal knew that Stockwell and Murdock had crossed paths during the war, but he had never been able to figure out the whole story. He remembered when he had first started looking into Murdock's background, before he joined the Team, he had been concerned about certain inconsistencies in his record. Face had managed to dig up some information indicating that Murdock had been CIA, and then transferred into Army Intelligence. He knew Stockwell had been in Army Intel during 'Nam, and suspected that he and Murdock had worked together during that time, but he had never been able to get Murdock to discuss it. In fact, Murdock refused to talk about his time in either the CIA or Army Intelligence, at all.

"There is one thing, though," Murdock said, interrupting Hannibal's thoughts, "She recognizes you guys . . . she hasn't remembered but she was feeling me out about you pretty thoroughly at dinner Saturday. Do you think it's a problem?"

Hannibal shook his head, "I doubt if she's the first - Stockwell's been giving us quite a bit more freedom, and I'm sure there are people that have recognized us. It's no secret that we escaped the execution. I don't think it'll hurt if Nancy knows. But I'd keep her at arms-length from Stockwell, himself."

"Trust me," Murdock said seriously, "I don't want Nan anywhere near Stockwell."

The back door opened and BA, Face, and Frankie came panting in, looking exhausted, "Good work out, guys?" He asked, grinning.

"Hannibal, where did you go? You were the one that said we were getting soft, not just me, BA, and Frankie, but you included." Face plopped on the sofa and groaned, he eyed Murdock, "Besides, it's not fair - Murdock should be out there, too."

"Don't whine Lieutenant, it's not very becoming," Hannibal said, "Besides, I had to finish lunch and Murdock has a job."

"You guys better get cleaned up, lunch'll be on the table in 10 minutes," He added.

One by one, Face, BA, and Frankie all got showers, and about 20 minutes later they were all seated at the table, and eating.

"So Murdock, are you going to be seeing Nancy again?" Face asked.

"Hope so," Murdock said between mouthfuls, "I'm gonna call her tonight, after work."

"She could come over for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday," Hannibal offered.

"She's headed home to Chicago for Thanksgiving," Murdock said.

"She from Chicago," BA asked, "What part?"

Murdock looked at BA thoughtfully, "You know, I'm not sure, I'll have to find out" he said, then turned to Hannibal, switching subjects, "Hey, Hannibal, did you still need me to pick up the turkey for dinner?"

"Yes Murdock, and try to get a nice bird," Hannibal said.

"Yea, but don't get too attached to it!" Face teased.

The Push

Nancy didn't get home that night until almost 8:00 and she was exhausted. She'd gotten a break in the missing child case that they had been working on for a month, and had spent the better part of the day in the car running down leads. It had been worth it, though. She had found the little girl, with her estranged father, in a small seedy motel outside of Chatham, Maryland.

The message light was blinking, and Nancy found herself thinking of HM, who had said he'd call after work. She pressed the play button and flopped on the couch, listening to the messages. One was from her father, just checking to make sure that nothing had come up to keep her from coming home for Thanksgiving. The second was from Murdock, and Nancy found herself smiling as she listened, "Hey, Short Cake, guess you're not back from work yet. Give me a call when you get in. I'll be sitting by the phone waiting!" then he gave his phone number.

Nancy picked up the phone, and then put it back down, uncertainly. 'What is up with me - I haven't even taken off my jacket.' Nancy felt more than a little annoyed with herself. It was like Murdock had control over her actions. She deliberately delayed picking up the phone, testing her resolve; getting up and putting her jacket away; going into the kitchen and getting herself a drink. Finally, she gave in to the urge 10 minutes later and dialed his number. True to his word, he must have been sitting by the phone, because he picked it up on the first ring, "Funny farm, which cage do ya want?"

Nancy couldn't help but smile, "The cage with the crazy pilot," she said warmly.

"Hey Nan, are you just gettin' home?" he asked.

"Yea, it's been one hell of the day." Nancy closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the couch.

"You sound tired," Murdock said, "Have you had dinner yet?"

"No, I couldn't face anymore fast food today." Nancy said, "So I decided to see what I had in the fridge."

"How about I bring you something over?" he asked.

"HM, you don't have to do that . . ."

"I want to do that," he said, "It gives me an excuse to come see you."

Nancy smiled, "OK, I'll take you up on the offer. I could use some good company anyway," she added.

I'll be over in half an hour," he said, and rang off.

When Nancy hung up the phone, she wrinkled up her nose as she noticed the smokey smell that permeated her clothes and hair, and decided to get a quick shower. As she was drying off, she heard Murdock pull in the driveway, and hurriedly pulled on a pair of sweats and a tank top, running the brush through her wet hair. She had just started down the stairs when the doorbell rang.

She ran the last few steps, and opened the door. Murdock had two carry out boxes - Nancy guessed that they came from the diner.

"Blanche said to tell you 'hi,'" Murdock said as he came in, confirming Nancy's suspicions, "She packaged these up herself. Hope you like cabbage rolls." He looked Nancy up and down, thinking that her attire was really going to test his resolve to behave himself.

The smell of the food was making Nancy hungry, "Mmmm, let's go get some plates and eat!"

In the kitchen, Nancy reached up into a cupboard to get a couple plates down. Murdock came over, "Let me help," he said, at her elbow, making her jump.

He grinned at her, "Sorry, did I scare you?"

Nancy took a steadying breath, she was starting to feel that tingling of panic that seemed to grow with proximity to Murdock, "No . . . I . . . uh . . . I can get the plates - how about you get the silverware. Over there," she pointed to the opposite side of the kitchen.

But when she looked up he was still standing there, and he smiled repentantly when he caught her eye, "Sorry, guess I got kind of side tracked - you smell really good."

Nancy laughed nervously, "You wouldn't have said that half an hour ago - I spent a good portion of the afternoon in a smokey station house," She gave him a gentle nudge to the other side of the kitchen. "Go get the silverware, flyboy," and he went, reluctantly.

She pulled the plates down, transferred the food to them, and took them to the kitchen table, where Murdock had laid out the silverware and sat down.

"This really smells great - much better than PB&J," Nancy said, picking up her fork.

"So, what were you doing in a station house today?" Murdock asked curiously, as they began to eat.

"When the responding officers say 'Ma'am, you're gonna have to come with me' it generally means you're going to get to spend some quality time at the local police station," she said ruefully.

"And what exactly did you do to gain the interest of the local constabulary?" Murdock asked facetiously, in his best Englishman impersonation.

Nancy tipped her head to one side, "How do you do that?"

He grinned at her, "I think you're trying to change the subject!"

She smiled guiltily, "Well, I was trying to convince an uncooperative gentleman that he should take his daughter back to her mother. He didn't want to, and the situation sort of deteriorated from there."

Murdock looked at her uncertainly, "Maybe you should start from the beginning . . ." he suggested.

Nancy finished chewing her mouthful of food, and started "It's actually a missing child case that I've been working on for about a month . . . after talking to the client I was pretty confident that her estranged husband had taken the girl, so I put out feelers to try to find him. I had talked with all his friends, family and acquaintances, asking for information and it paid off, today. It turned out that he has a bit of a drug problem, and when he stopped by his mother's for breakfast this morning he was high. She didn't want to get the authorities involved," she grimaced, remembering the woman's admonishments about her son and what a 'good boy' he was, "But she also knew that she needed to get her granddaughter away from him before she got hurt - so she called me."

"Unfortunately," Nancy continued, "When I arrived, he'd binged, and was in a really pissy mood. I thought I might be able to talk him into taking his daughter back himself, but that just wasn't going to happen.'

"So you called the cops after all?" he asked.

"Actually, no," Nancy hesitated, "I was a bit preoccupied trying to keep him from shooting me, the little girl or himself. The hotel manager called the police."

She looked at him a smiled, "So, what did you do today?" she asked, as if she'd just told him about a trip to the market.

"Whoa - he had a gun?" Murdock was looking at her in disbelief, "was it loaded?"

Nancy nodded and swallowed before replying, "Yea, but the safety was on and I don't think in his state he could have figured out how to get it off. I had things under control by the time the police arrived, but at that point, there's no getting out of taking it to the station. It took all afternoon to sort the mess out," she sighed, "At least the little girl is back with her mother. That's most important. Hopefully now the father will get some help with his habit, but I'm not holding my breath."

Murdock was just staring at her, "Do people threaten you with guns regularly?"

Nancy looked up at him, "It's not like a daily occurrence or anything but it happens periodically," she said matter-of-factly, "I can take care of myself."

Murdock just nodded and started eating again, his mood thoughtful. They ate in silence for a few minutes, then Nancy said, "You didn't answer my question, what did you do today?"

"Spent most of the day at the airfield - Doc had several planes in for repair and maintenance - nothing even vaguely interesting, especially compared to your day," he said with a smile.

"Have you ever thought about giving lessons?" Nancy asked.

Murdock shrugged, "Have to have an instructor's license for that . . .," he said vaguely, then switched the subject back to her again, "You know, I can't believe you're so relaxed about this guy holding you at gun-point - doesn't it bother you at all?" he looked at her, his expression serious.

She looked up and their eyes locked for a few seconds before she picked up her empty plate and glass and headed towards the kitchen sink, "I wasn't relaxed about it at the time, but it's over now and nobody got hurt. No point in stewing over it," she said flatly, "It's a hazard of the job - if we're gonna be together, then you're gonna have to get used to it." Nancy had rinsed her dishes off and started to put them in the dishwasher, stopping suddenly when she realized what she said. What did she mean 'if we're going to be together?'

She had her back to Murdock, who had a thoughtful smile on his face at her comment and replied, "Yea, I guess I will have to get used to it," his tone conveyed his feelings, and Nancy lost her grip on the glass she was putting in the dishwasher. It crashed to the floor and shattered on the linoleum, scattering glass shards all around her bare feet.

Murdock jumped up, "Are you OK?" Nancy nodded mutely, and he continued, "Don't move . . ."

He stepped gingerly across the kitchen, stopping at her side. Nancy looked up at him and mumbled something about 'butter fingers'. He smiled, and before she could protest picked her up and carried her to the carpet at the doorway into the kitchen, setting her gently on her feet, "Go take a load off in the living room - I'll clean this up," when she started to protest, he interrupted her, "I said go sit down - I'll get this cleaned up and be in in a few minutes."

Nancy watched for a minute as he got the broom and started to sweep up the mess, then turned and headed to the living room. She sat stiffly at one end of the couch, on the very edge of the cushion and stared blankly at the quiet TV. She was still wondering what she had meant by them being together - and what had he implied by saying he would have to get used to it? Her thoughts were whirling, and she was feeling that rising surge of panic again. She went over it several times in her head, eventually deciding that she was definitely reading more into the whole thing than was there.

Fifteen minutes later, Murdock came silently into the room. He sat on the arm of the couch next to her and started rubbing her shoulders, "You need to relax," he said soothingly, "It's all cleaned up - only casualty was a glass."

Nancy closed her eyes. She did feel tense, and his fingers working her stiff muscles felt good. She turned so that her back was to him, and he slid down onto the couch beside her as he continued to massage her neck. She could feel his breath stirring her hair, and it sent a shiver down her spine. She stiffened again, standing up abruptly.

She turned and looked at him, "Um . . . You should go," she said flatly.

Murdock dropped his hands to his lap, looking at her in confusion, "What's wrong?"

"HM, I'm tired, and I really do think it would be best if you left."

He stood as well, "OK," he said uncertainly, "I'll see you tomorrow?" he asked tentatively.

Nancy crossed her arms across her chest and shrugged, "Maybe it would be best if we waited to see each other again until after Thanksgiving," she said haltingly.

Murdock didn't want to agree to it, but he knew he'd stepped over some line and wasn't sure how to get back, at least she hadn't said she didn't want to see him again at all, "If that's what you want, OK," he said carefully, "But at least say I can call you."

Finally, a small smile touched her lips, "Of course you can call," she said, "It's just that . . . I have a lot to do during this short week, and I don't really need any . . . distractions," she finished lamely.

Murdock gave her his most winning smile, "I'll call you tomorrow, then, and I'll try not to be too distracting," he was trying to look in her eyes, but after a brief glance up at him with a small smile, she had looked back at the floor, her demeanor more than a little uncertain and shy. He leaned down and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before heading for the door. "Take care, Short Cake," he said, as he left.

Nancy put a hand absently to her cheek where he had kissed her, and thought, 'Damn, he really does scare the shit out of me.' She hadn't felt this much of an adrenalin rush when the guy had pulled the gun on her this afternoon. She walked absently into the kitchen to finish putting the dishes in the dishwasher, but the kitchen was spotless. He had cleaned up everything, including mopping the floor. She gently touched the daisies that he had brought her on their first date, and noticed that he had even added water to the vase. He was such a nice guy and she was wondering what the hell he wanted with her.

Murdock drove home slowly, uncertain how to handle his own feelings about Nancy. He had fallen fast and hard, and he had thought that she felt the same. When he got home he called Face, he needed to talk to someone about it.

He described what had happened and asked Face what he thought.

"Maybe she's frigid, Murdock." Face offered.

"No way, Facey, not after the way she kissed me last night." Murdock was hoping for a more helpful suggestion.

"Maybe you just caught her off guard," Face said. He really wasn't sure what to tell his friend, he'd never dated a woman that hadn't been more than willing to jump into bed, "Maybe she has some kind of sexual problem."

Murdock sighed, "Really, Face, everything isn't about sex." He said in exasperation. "I mean, we were having a really nice time and she was starting to relax, then all of a sudden she doesn't even want me around. I'm getting mixed signals, and I don't know what to think. We've had a couple great days together, talking and getting to know each other. Then suddenly, when it starts to get comfortable, she's pulling away . . ." Murdock trailed off, as a thought occurred to him.

"You know, Facey, she's acting a lot like you do when you're around Amy lately," he mused out loud.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Face asked guardedly.

"I mean," Murdock said pointedly, "That you're afraid to show Amy how much you care about her, 'cause you're afraid of what that's gonna mean."

"And just what does it mean, Murdock," Face asked testily.

"It means that you need her. That you want to have her around. That you want to make a commitment."

"They shouldn't have let you out of the VA, you're still delusional." Face said, almost angrily.

"See, that's exactly what I mean," Murdock continued calmly, "Every time we talk about it, you go into this big denial mode, and pretend that you don't love Amy - but I know you do, I've seen the way you look at her."

Face sat at the other end of the line, absolutely dumbfounded. How had a conversation about Murdock's love life turned into this? He did not love Amy, sure he cared about her, she was member of the team, but that was all there was to it.

"Murdock, you're wrong."

"No I'm not, and you know it - deep down you know it. You just need to admit it to yourself. And you better hurry up, Facey, 'cause Ames isn't gonna wait forever." Murdock said with conviction.

"Thanks, Face." Murdock added gratefully, "Talking about it really helped."

"Anytime, Murdock." Face said uncertainly.


Nancy and Murdock spoke briefly on Tuesday night. Nancy had gotten in late, once again, and didn't call him back until almost 10. She was short with him on the phone, claiming fatigue. She told him that she'd be leaving for Chicago the next afternoon, and she'd call when she returned.

After she got off the phone, she sat at the kitchen table and idly flipped through the paper, not really seeing anything. She was hoping that a few days away from Murdock would help quiet the feelings he aroused in her every time he was near. Unfortunately, even hearing his voice was starting to have that effect. In her heart, she desperately wanted to see him, but her head was stubbornly refusing to give in. She gave up pretending to read the paper, and headed upstairs to bed. She needed to get in to the office early, so she could finish up some paperwork before packing and taking off for Chicago.

The next morning was uneventful. She finished up the reports and billing that needed to be done. Riley came in around noon, and they discussed the holiday, and case status. Nancy told him she'd be back sometime Sunday, and would see him bright and early Monday morning.

By 12:30 she was packed and headed to the airfield. When she walked in, Murdock was standing at the desk, making notes in the repair log. He looked up and a dazzling smile lit his face when he saw her, "Hey, Short Cake," he said, straightening up, "Doc said you had called. Aunt Bea is all gassed up and ready to go."

Nancy felt like her heart was going to thud itself right out of her chest. She smiled and managed, "Thanks, HM," with only a slight tremor in her voice.

He came around the end of the desk, walking towards her, still smiling broadly, "Missed seein' ya yesterday," he said, "Do you have to go right away?"

Nancy backed away, looking at him almost warily, "I really should get going," she said in a rush, "It's a long flight and I promised Dad I'd be home for supper." That was a flat out lie, she'd told her father she'd probably be late, and not to wait supper for her, but she had to get out of the hangar, it was starting to feel very crowded.

Murdock's smile faded and he looked at her almost sadly, and said, "Well, have a good flight. I'll see you when you get back?" It was almost a plea.

She looked at him, and saw how much she was hurting him. But she couldn't seem to help herself, "Sure, I'll call you . . . sometime next week." It sounded lame, even to her ears.

"Right, next week," he said quietly, the hurt showing plainly on his face.

"Well, 'bye," she said detouring around him carefully and hurrying out to the back field.

"Goodbye, Short Cake."


Murdock arrived at the compound early Thursday morning. He had promised Hannibal he'd help him with dinner preparations. Hopefully, that would help keep his mind off Nancy - certainly having some company wouldn't hurt.

When he arrived, he met BA driving down the drive, "Hey, where ya goin', big guy?" Murdock asked as they came even with each other.

"Don' tell Face, but Hannibal convinced Amy to come out for the weekend. I'm goin' to pick her up at Dulles now."

"Amy's coming? That's terrific news!" Murdock said enthusiastically. Amy was like a sister, and her presence always lightened the mood.

When he got in the house, he found Hannibal alone in the kitchen, stuffing the bird. He looked out the back sliding door and saw Frankie and Face playing one on one. He headed on into the kitchen and set about making the cranberry relish without so much as a greeting.

"How's it goin', Captain?" Hannibal asked, taking in the long face. "You're awfully quiet today."

Murdock shrugged, "Guess I'm not really in the mood to celebrate," he admitted, "Nancy left yesterday," he added offhandedly.

Hannibal looked at his pilot appraisingly, "You've got it bad, Murdock," he said, "This girl has really got you on the hook."

"I just wish she'd reel me in, 'stead of throwin' me back," Murdock said glumly, talking about it was making him feel worse.

"What's wrong?" Hannibal asked curiously, "I thought you two were getting along really well . . ."

Murdock put down the knife, and turned to face Hannibal, leaning against the counter, "Yea, I thought so, too," he said quietly, "Then Monday night I went over, and things seemed to be goin' great when all of the sudden she told me I should go . . ."

Hannibal raised an eyebrow, "That sounds kind of weird, Murdock. Exactly what happened?"

Murdock launched into the whole story, starting with her phone call Monday night. When he got done relating the events of Monday evening, he continued with the brief phone call on Tuesday night, then ended with her departure the previous afternoon, "I mean, it was like she was runnin' away from me, Hannibal. I don't know what I did wrong . . ."

Hannibal was nodding in understanding, "I think I know what you're problem is, Murdock," he said, "I had the same problem when I first met Maggie."

Murdock looked up at Hannibal in surprise, "You and Maggie had problems?"

Hannibal shrugged, "Maggie had a hard time accepting her . . . feelings. Our relationship compromised her independence, and she really resisted it, at least at first she did."

Murdock looked at Hannibal shrewdly, he doubted that Maggie had been the only one with that problem in that particular relationship, "That actually makes a lot of sense, Colonel," he said, "but what do I do about it?"

Hannibal turned back to the turkey, "Wait her out, Murdock. From what you said, I think she'll come around pretty quickly," he chuckled, "I'd say you're not the only one that's hooked!"

Murdock was shaking his head doubtfully, "I hope you're right, Colonel," he said. Picking up the knife, he started cutting up oranges for the cranberry relish, "I shouldn't let it ruin the holiday, anyways. After all Turkey day is one of my favorites."

"I thought they were all your favorites." Hannibal said with a chuckle.

Nancy woke up Thursday morning and looked thoughtfully around the room that she'd grown up in. Her father had left it basically as she had always had it, and it used to make Nancy feel safe being here. Unfortunately, even being in Chicago wasn't helping her hide from her feelings for Murdock. She swung out of bed, deciding that keeping busy would be better then laying there thinking about it. She showered and dressed and headed downstairs.

When she got down to the kitchen, her father, Carl Clay, already had the turkey out of the refrigerator and was cutting up veggies to stuff it. She walked over and kissed him on the cheek, then poured herself a cup of coffee.

Her father looked over at her appraisingly, "So, what have you been up to over the past week or so. I missed you last weekend. Is Aunt Bea OK?"

"Aunt Bea is fine, she just needed a tune up," Nancy said, sipping her coffee.

"I talked to Hank at the airfield last evening," Nancy looked at her father in surprise, "He was concerned, said you didn't look too good when you landed yesterday afternoon, and that you ran out without saying hardly a word."

Her father turned and looked at her directly, "If you got in in the afternoon, where were you until 9 last night?" he asked.

Nancy had ended up getting in late the previous evening, mostly because she had driven around aimlessly after arriving, not feeling much like talking with her father. He'd always been able to tell when she was having one of 'those' days, and she hadn't felt like answering any questions about the cause.

She sighed, there was no point in lying to him, he could see through that a mile away, "I was just driving around," she said vaguely, "I needed to think."

"The flight from Langley didn't afford you enough time for that I take it - must have been one heck of a thought process," Nancy could tell he wasn't going to let it go.

She looked down into her coffee, stalling. Finally, her father said, "Alright, out with it. What's bothering you?"

Nancy felt tears sting her eyes. She took a deep and steadying breath then looked up at her father, who recognized the anxious and almost haunted look in her eyes. "It must be pretty bad, I haven't seen you this upset since you were 8, and I told you that Ginger wasn't real." He remembered the scene vividly. It was about four years after Ruby had been killed. Nancy had been playing with Ginger, her invisible dog, in the kitchen and had made a terrible mess, which she, of course, blamed on the dog. He'd just returned from a very bad day at court and was furious. He'd lost his temper and told her she needed to grow up, Ginger wasn't real, and it was time she started living in the real world again. Not his most stellar moment as a parent.

Nancy wasn't sure where to start, "I hurt someone I . . . I've come to care about," she admitted, as much to herself, as to her father. She'd thought about it a lot over the course of the evening yesterday. Every time she thought about Murdock it hurt. All she could remember was the look in his eyes.

"I don't know what came over me. We had such a wonderful time, and then all of the sudden Monday I started feeling . . . trapped and I just started pushing him away," Nancy said miserably, "Oh, Dad, the look on HM's face yesterday afternoon when I practically ran away from him. . ." her voice trailed off.

"Who is 'HM'?" her father asked, coming over to sit by her, the turkey forgotten.

Nancy took a deep breath, "Maybe I should start from the beginning . . ." and she did. She told her father everything, almost. When she finished she looked at him and said candidly, "I didn't mean to hurt him, Dad, but it was like I couldn't help myself."

Her father smiled knowingly. He remembered after her mother had been killed, Nancy's reaction to anyone who tried to get close to her, including him, had been the same. The Therapist had explained that it was a natural reaction, and part of the PTS, but it had taken three years of therapy before she had begun to overcome those problems. This guy must have really gotten to her for her to begin reacting like this. He stood and went back to stuffing the turkey, "I think maybe my little girl is in love," he said casually.

Nancy looked at her father sharply, "I've known HM for less than a week, Dad, I think 'love' is a bit of a stretch."

"You know, I only knew your mother a month before I asked her to marry me. She resisted, too, but in the end she gave in. Don't scoff at it, honey. You've always known your own mind, and never taken long to make decisions. In so many ways, you're like your mother," he smiled in reminiscence, "I think in your heart, you know the truth. What you need to do is convince that stubborn Stockwell head of yours that maybe it's not such a bad idea."

At the compound, Murdock had turned on the Macy's parade. Frankie and Face had come in, and all three were sitting around the TV, watching the floats and balloons go by. Murdock rose from his spot on the couch, "Anybody want anything to drink?"

Face and Frankie both mumbled 'no,' so Murdock turned and headed into the kitchen. He heard tires crunching on gravel, which meant that BA was back from the airport with Amy. So, Murdock detoured and headed out the front door.

The van pulled up and Mrs. Baracus open the passenger side door while Maggie Grant and Amy Allen came out the side door. Murdock smiled, the Colonel had more than one surprise up his sleeve. BA looked happier and more relaxed than he had in some time.

Murdock grinned at Amy and gathered her into a big bear hug, "Man is it good to see you, Chaquita!" He said enthusiastically. Amy smiled and gave him a big hug in return. "It's good to be here," she said.

"Hey there, HM, how 'bout a hug for an old lady?" BA's mother asked.

"I don't see any old ladies here," Murdock said, stepping forward and giving her a hug as well. Then he turned to Maggie, "Hey Mags, the Colonel sure will be glad to see you."

She came forward and gave Murdock a kiss on the cheek, squeezing his shoulders affectionately, "It's been way too long since I've seen my boys."

Murdock moved to the back of the van and helped BA unload the luggage.

"Where is Face . . . and Hannibal." Amy asked.

Murdock smiled, "I don't think they realize you're here - they're inside."

They moved up the steps together and Amy held the door open so the others could pass inside.

Hannibal heard the front door, and walked out of the kitchen and towards the noise. He also caught Amy in a big hug, "It's great to see ya kiddo," He said warmly.

"Hi Hannibal - thanks for inviting me," Amy said, returning the hug.

Maggie moved up beside him and his arm fell naturally around her shoulders, "Hey, babe, it's great to see you!" They kissed briefly, then Hannibal turned to Mrs. Baracus, "Was BA surprised to see you?"

BA's mother was beaming, "Scooter just about turned himself inside out," she said, "Thank you for sendin' Maggie to get me. I really wanted to see my Scooter for the holidays."

Face had heard the voices and his head popped up over the back of the couch like a jack in the box, "Amy?" He said, and jumped up, heading towards the gathering in the hall, "What are you doing here?"

Amy made a face at him, "It's nice to see you, too, Face," she said sarcastically.

"I didn't mean it that way, it's just . . . well, I thought you'd be with your folks for Thanksgiving," Face explained.

"I get to see Mom and Dad and Angela and her family all the time," Amy said, "But I really miss you guys. Life seems awful boring without you around."

By now, Frankie had moved into the hall, and Hannibal indicated him, "Amy, Maggie, Mrs. Baracus, I'd like you to meet Frankie Santana. Frankie, this is Amy Allen, Maggie Grant, and Mrs. Baracus."

Frankie shook hands with each in turn but wore his most charming smile for Amy, "It's a real pleasure to meet you Amy. I've heard so much about you. But none of the guys mentioned how beautiful you are," he leaned over her hand and kissed it.

Face looked like he wanted to pound Frankie, "That's enough," Face said testily, "Amy's a team member and off limits."

Murdock looked at his friend, and a fiendish smile lit his face, "I don't think that's true, Facey, 'member, when Ames went to Jakarta, she gave up her official team-member status." Face looked at Murdock sharply as Frankie took Amy's arm and escorted her into the living room. Murdock just smiled and shrugged, tagging along behind carrying luggage.

Frankie laid it on thick, and Murdock was beginning to wonder if Hannibal hadn't coached him. Face was turning red, and looked absolutely priceless. After about half an hour, he stood up and literally slammed out of the house. Hannibal caught Murdock's eye, and Murdock nodded and followed Face out on the back deck.

"So, Face, what seems to be the problem?" Murdock asked casually.

"You know damn well what the problem is," Face said angrily.

"I think maybe you're jealous," Murdock said.

"No," Face said forcefully, "I just don't think that Frankie should be hitting on Amy, she's a member of the team!"

"Not anymore, Face . . . that excuse doesn't hold water," Murdock said evenly.

"Well, Frankie doesn't have any business drooling after her like that," Face sputtered, "It's . . . it's just embarrassing."

"Embarrassing for whom?" Murdock asked directly, "Frankie, who's just paying attention to a beautiful woman, or you, who's being a total idiot."

Face just glared at Murdock and remained stubbornly silent.

"Alright, Face, listen," Murdock said calmly, "I'm gonna do you a big favor . . . I'm gonna go inside and send Amy out to talk to you. I think you should do yourself a favor and tell her how you feel." With that, Murdock turned on his heel and headed back inside.

True to his word, Murdock sent a rather confused Amy out to the deck a few minutes later, and before she could say anything, Face said, "Listen, Amy, I don't know what Murdock told you, but he doesn't know what he's talking about . . ."

"Face," Amy interrupted, looking puzzled, "I don't know what you're talking about. Murdock just said that you wanted to talk to me."

Face looked at her, and allowed himself to really just look. Murdock was right, he did feel more for her than he cared to admit. What if she didn't feel the same? 'Well,' Face thought, 'As Father Magill would say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.'

He took a deep breath, looking at her feet, "Amy, I . . . ," he looked up into her eyes and continued, just as uncertainly, "I don't know how to say this . . . but, I was thinking that maybe you, well . . . you and I . . . you know, maybe we could . . ." his voice faded.

"Face, you're an idiot when it comes to women," Amy said flatly

Face searched her face, the line of her mouth was grim but there was a light in her eyes. He gave her a winning smile, "But I'm a cute idiot."

Amy looked at him severely and his expression sobered, "I know I don't have a great track record, Amy, but I'm willing to try to change . . . for you . . . Scout's honor," he held up his hand in the Boy Scout salute.

Amy moved forward and put her hand over his, "You were never a Boy Scout, Face," she said, but she moved closer, "I have some major reservations about this."

"Join the club," Face said, pulling her into a warm embrace, "but I can't stand the thought of you with somebody else."

Amy looked at him very seriously, "Face, I'm willing to give this a try, I really care about you, but promise me one thing . . ."


Amy looked down, as if trying to decide how to put it into words, then looked up at him, her expression very serious, "If you decide that you've made a mistake, please be honest enough to just tell me and end it. Can you give me that much respect?"

Face cupped her face in his hands, "Amy, I respect you very much. I think that's probably what's held me back all these years. But now, I'm ready to make a commitment . . . to you. I would never cheat on you."

Amy smiled at him, "I'm going to hold you to that, and Face," she grabbed his shirt collar in both hands, "If I ever catch you with another woman, I'm gonna have BA break you in two."

"Sounds like a deal too good to pass up," Face said, before kissing her thoroughly.

Inside, Murdock was watching the pair with keen interest. Hannibal came over, and said, "Captain, don't you think you should give them some privacy."

"I would, Colonel, if I wasn't worried that Face was gonna chicken out . . . again." But when he looked back out the window, it was obvious that Face had finally given in. Murdock smiled and moved back into the living room to watch the rest of the parade.

Nancy and her father picked up Hannah Gaylord, the woman who had been housekeeper and friend all the time Nancy was growing up. Hannah lived in an assisted living home now, since she needed constant supervision to ensure that her diabetes remained in check. When they arrived back at the house, they finished the trimmings for the turkey dinner, laughing and reminiscing about old times.

At 2:30, Hunt Stockwell arrived and swept into the house. He apologized for his tardiness, but explained that it was unavoidable. He greeted his brother-in-law formally, then stopped in front of Nancy, who smiled warmly and welcomed him with a kiss on the cheek. He squeezed her shoulder and said, "It is so good to see you again Nancy. It's been far too long."

"Well, you could stop by sometime when you're in Langley," Nancy said with a slight smile.

Dinner was already on the table, and so they all sat down, said grace, and then started to eat.

"So, Nancy, are you still working for that Riley character," Her uncle asked.

"Yes, Uncle, I still work for Adam's Investigations," Nancy said, trying to keep the annoyance out of her tone. Nancy knew her uncle well enough to know that he knew damn well where she was working. He might not stop by, but he had enough connections in the Langley area to keep that much of an eye on her without necessarily visiting.

"You know, I heard that the FBI was hiring again," he said conversationally, "Agent Fiore said that there's still a spot for you, if you want it." Agent Fiore had been one of Nancy's instructors when she went to the Academy.

Nancy grimaced, "Do you have to start this so early in the dinner," she asked, "I've told you a dozen times, I have no desire to work for the government."

Hunt Stockwell looked at his niece appraisingly and said bluntly, "You are wasting your talents at Adam's Investigations."

"Maybe I want to waste my talents."

"You have so much promise, so much potential. At least talk to Agent Fiore, maybe you'll change your mind."

"I have not, and will not change my mind."

"Why must you be so stubborn about this. There is so much you could learn at the FBI. Have you considered your future at all?"

"Riley is going to make me a partner."

"Partner in a dead-end business."

"Just drop it, Uncle, I refuse to debate my career with you, yet again." Nancy said, "I've made my choices, MY CHOICES. Now let it be. I'd like to have one dinner as a family where I didn't feel like I was under constant fire from you." Her frustration was showing plainly on her face.

Her uncle's expression was inscrutable, as usual, and he didn't reply, but he did stop badgering her. The remainder of the meal was eaten in relative silence, with some innocuous conversation about the weather and current events.

After dinner, Nancy and her father cleared the dishes and cleaned up while Hunt took Hannah into the living room. Nancy and Carl joined them a short time later.

They sat around the living room and had after dinner drinks, chatting idly. Carl Clay watched with interest as his daughter rose from the chair and prowled the room once again. That was the third time in the last half hour that she'd made that same circuit. Her agitation was plain to see, and he had a feeling he knew what the source was. She hadn't admitted it, but he felt certain he was right about this HM person she was seeing. She hadn't known him long, but she had fallen hard, and now was having trouble dealing with her feelings. The best thing would be for her to go and see him.

Carl stood and looked at Nancy, "Sweet heart, would you come help me in the kitchen for a moment?" he asked.

Nancy looked at him curiously, but said, "Sure, Dad."

When they got to the kitchen, her father looked at her and said, "Go on, get outta here. You've been pacing like a caged cat. You need to go take care of this thing with HM."

Relief warred with anxiety on her face, "Dad, I can't just leave . . ."

"Sure you can. Besides, you don't really want to spend the rest of the evening with a bunch of old fogies like your Uncle, Hannah and me. I'll give your apologies to our guests."

"Dad, I don't know what to say to him," she said apprehensively.

"You'll think of something - the point is that you need to face up to the situation. You hurt someone, and you should make it right."

Nancy looked down, "You're right," she said nodding.

"Of course I am," her father said smiling. He gave her a quick hug and a push towards the door.

"You're sure you don't mind . . ."


Nancy arrived at the airfield about 8pm and quickly tied down and hurried into the hangar. Doc came out of his apartment, a surprised look on his face.

"Doc, I need to know where HM is," Nancy said, knowing that he was having dinner with his friends.

Doc pursed his lips and said peevishly, "What do you want to see him for?"

Nancy gave Doc a stricken look, "How bad was it?"

"He moped around here until almost 11 last night - I don't know what you said to him, but he definitely wasn't himself," Doc was looking at her severely.

Nancy leaned forward earnestly, "Doc, come on, I need to see him. I know I screwed up yesterday, I want to apologize."

Doc relented, and gave her a small smile, "I'm glad to hear you've come to your senses, he's a good guy." He pulled a pen and paper out and wrote down the address with some basic directions.

Murdock had gone for a long walk, back to the pond behind the compound. He was happy for Amy and Face, they seemed to be easing into their new relationship without any problem. But sitting in the house with them, and Hannibal and Maggie, was driving him to distraction. He was resisting a very strong urge to hop on the next commercial flight to Chicago and hunt Nancy down.

He threw stones into the water and watched the ripples spread across the water surface. He shoved his hands in his pockets and thought about Nancy - if he closed his eyes he could see her face, smell her hair. He didn't want to lose her, and more than anything he was worried that Hannibal was wrong and she was just going to run away from him, for good.

What was he going to do if she didn't call when she returned from Chicago? He was still contemplating this question when Face walked up, "Hey, Murdock, you OK? You disappeared and we wondered where you'd wandered off to."

"I'm alright, just needed some fresh air - walk off all the turkey and trimmin's," Murdock replied with a slight smile.

Face looked at his friend in concern, "Hannibal said Nancy was being . . . stubborn. Is that what you're stewing about?"

Murdock sighed miserably, "What am I gonna do, Face? I love her . . . Hannibal says she'll come around, but what if she doesn't?"

Face put a comforting arm around Murdock's shoulders, "Hannibal can read people and situations better than anyone I know, Murdock - if he says she'll come around, she will. You just gotta have faith."

Murdock nodded, and smiled weakly at Face, "Thanks, Face," he said quietly.

Face rubbed his arms, "Come on Murdock, let's go back inside - it's getting cold out here."

"Go on in, Face - I'll be back in a little bit," Murdock said smiling, "I'm too wound to sit in the house right now."

Nancy arrived at the compound and pulled up behind a black van, which was parked behind Murdock's truck. She felt a surge of relief, followed quickly by the first tingling of panic, that he was still here. She got out of the car and stood on the front porch indecisively, trying to decide what she was going to say to him when she saw him.

Hannibal heard the car pull up outside. They certainly weren't expecting any visitors, so he had a good idea who it was. He leaned over to Maggie, "I would bet that that is a certain young woman come to see our forlorn Captain - maybe you should go let her in."

Maggie smiled. Hannibal had filled her in on what was going on with Murdock and this Nancy Clay, and she had to agree with his assessment. She gave him a kiss on the cheek and headed to the front door.

Nancy turned as the door opened and a dark-haired woman whom Nancy had never seen before stepped out onto the porch and smiled at her, "Hello, you must be Nancy."

"Do I know you?" she asked warily, she hadn't been expecting anyone, especially a woman, to come out and greet her, particularly before she rang the doorbell.

Maggie stepped forward, "No, we haven't met but I've heard quite a bit about you . . .," she said, smiling and holding out a hand, "I'm Maggie."

Nancy smiled cautiously, "It's nice to meet you, Maggie," she said, shaking the offered hand, and appreciating the firm grip.

She looked down and asked hesitantly, "How's HM?"

Maggie cocked her head to the side, considering the young woman seriously, "Quiet," she said honestly, "he talked to Hannibal some this morning, but he hasn't mentioned it since. You can always tell when something's bothering him - he just clams up - Very unlike him."

Nancy turned and leaned on the railing. Obviously she had hurt Murdock badly. What could she ever say to make that up? She gazed out at the driveway, thinking how easy it would be to just drive away.

Maggie leaned on the railing next to her, "I know exactly what you're thinking," she said quietly, "And trust me, it would be easy now, but it would hurt tomorrow. You need to go talk to HM and work this out."

Nancy was looking at Maggie in surprise, and Maggie gave her a sympathetic smile, continuing, "It's never easy to admit you need someone - but once you do, I think you'll find that the compromise is well worth the rewards. HM is a good man, and he cares very deeply about you. You need to set aside that stubborn independence and admit, to yourself and to him, how you feel."

Nancy smiled shyly, "It sounds like you're talking from experience," she said, then admitted uncertainly, "I . . . I really care about HM - it kinda scares the shit out of me."

Maggie chuckled, "Been there, done that," she said ruefully, "Trust me, once you get past this, it's mostly good. I'm not going to say that life will be perfect, but at least you'll have someone to share the good and bad with."

Nancy stood up, "Thank you, Maggie," she said sincerely, then looked towards the house, "Is HM inside?"

"No," Maggie said and smiled at the disappointed look that crossed the younger woman's face, "He walked out back awhile ago, I think you'll find him somewhere between the back deck and the pond. You can't miss the trail that leads back there."

Nancy turned and opened the door, to find Hannibal standing there. He handed her a flashlight, "Here, you may need this, it's getting pretty dark out there."

Hannibal allowed her to pass inside and indicated the back sliding door, "straight through there and down the steps, the trail's straight back, just watch your step."

Nancy smiled gratefully, "Thanks, Hannibal."

Murdock was at the back of the yard when he heard the sliding door open and close. He looked up to find Nancy walking purposely across the back deck.

She caught sight of him as he stepped into the light near the base of the steps, "Hi," she said with a tentative smile.

"Hi," Murdock said, keeping his expression carefully neutral.

She moved across the patio and down the steps fiddling nervously with the flashlight in her hands. She stopped a couple feet in front of him and looked up, "I . . . wanted to apologize for how I behaved yesterday . . . and Tuesday . . . and Monday . . .," she smiled self-deprecatingly, "basically, I've been a real jerk all week and I'm really sorry," she looked up at him trying to gauge his reaction.

"OK," he said, his gaze soft.

Nancy wasn't sure what she had expected, but she didn't feel like she'd said enough, "I didn't mean to hurt you, HM . . . it's the last thing I'd want to do, if I was thinking clearly, which obviously hasn't been my strong point this week . . . truth is, I'm not too sure what to do about this whole thing . . ." she stumbled to a stop

"What thing?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

She began haltingly, "You know . . . this thing . . . between us . . . I've never felt this way about anyone, and I just . . . I didn't know what to do . . . I thought maybe by getting away from you I could make it go away . . ." she sighed heavily, "You know, you really scare the hell out of me."

"You take down a crazed idiot waving a gun in your face and I scare you?" he asked, his expression amused.

"Yea . . .," Nancy smiled self-consciously and looking at his feet, twisting the flashlight in her hands.

Murdock watched her for a moment, then asked, "So, did it work?"

She looked up at him in confusion, "Did what work?"

Murdock shrugged, "Getting away, did it make the feelings go away?"

Nancy looked at him, and felt her heart lurch and leap at the same time, "No . . ." she said thoughtfully, then smiled, "Honestly, you still scare the shit out of me . . . but I was miserable being away from you."

He smiled, "Don't take this the wrong way, but I'm glad to hear that . . . I'd hate for this to be a one-way street."

"Does that mean you forgive me?" she asked tentatively.

"Nothing to forgive," he said, smiling at her affectionately, "I'm just glad you're here. I was starting to think I might hafta fly to Chicago and hunt you down."

"Guess I beat you to the punch," she said with a smile, then looked at him seriously, "There's just one more thing, HM, if I start acting like a jerk again . . ."

"Don't worry Short Cake, I'll let you know."

Nancy chuckled, "Somehow I knew I could count on you."

He put a finger under her chin, and looked at her very seriously, "Just don't forget that, huh?"

A breeze whipped up at that moment and Nancy shivered, she had run out without her jacket and it was chilly. Murdock stopped and put his hands on her bare arms, "You're frozen," he said, turning her purposely towards the house, "we should get back inside."

He steered her up the steps with a hand at the small of her back, "Did you meet everyone?" he asked as they moved towards the back door.

"Not everyone," she said apologetically, "I kinda ran through after Hannibal and Maggie let me in. I didn't want to take a chance on losing my nerve."

"I'm glad you didn't."

They went in the back door, and everyone in the room fell silent. Murdock grinned, "I know some of you have met Nancy, but I thought it might be nice to give a refresher before the final test . . ." he went around the room and introduced everyone, starting with Amy and ending with Mrs. Baracus.

Nancy smiled nervously, she was a little uncertain of their reception given her recent treatment of Murdock, but Maggie and Hannibal had been very helpful and she was hopeful that the rest of them would follow suit. Amy and Face sat up on the couch and made room for Nancy, and Murdock pulled a chair from the dining room and sat down next to her.

Hannibal broke the silence, "So, Nancy, how's Aunt Bea? She must have gotten quite a work out. You just flew to Chicago yesterday, didn't you?"

Nancy nodded, "Yea, that's a bit of a trip to make twice in 24 hours, but I have a good mechanic," she smiled at Murdock, "Aunt Bea held up just fine."

Maggie chuckled, "I never thought I'd see the day HM would spend more time on the ground than in the air at an airfield."

Murdock grimaced, "I really would prefer flying the planes to working on them - I'd rather leave the grease-monkey work to big ugly mud-suckers," his dark eyes glittered mischievously as he looked over at BA.

Nancy looked at Murdock in surprise, then turned her attention to BA with concern as he started growling at the pilot, "If Doc know what's good for him, he find a real mechanic and stop lettin' a crazy fool work on his airplanes."

Amy saw Nancy's reaction, and put a hand on her arm to get her attention. She leaned in to whisper in her ear, "Don't sweat it - this is just how Murdock and BA are - you'll get used to it."

Meanwhile, Murdock was goading BA further, "At least I'm not afraid to get on an airplane . . . I mean who'd believe a big, muscle-bound he-man would be afraid of a little old airplane."

"Only plane I won't get on is one you're flyin', fool," BA retorted.

"Not true - 'member that time we were working on the landing gear of that commercial flight, and it started takin' off - I wasn't flyin' that plane, but you still froze up like the Antarctic."

"That different . . ." BA started.

But Hannibal broke in, "As entertaining as it always is when you two are arguing - I think I've heard enough. Though you have to admit, BA - you did freeze up pretty good that time."

"You guys are always knockin' me out and puttin' me on a plane with the crazy man - why you think I hate to fly!" BA said angrily.

Amy chuckled, "Come on, BA - you know it's the best way to travel. Murdock's a great pilot. It's just that the aircraft he gets to work with aren't always top of the line."

"Yea," Murdock agreed, "It's not my fault Face is always scammin' substandard equipment."

"Hey," Face said in surprise, "How did this turn into my problem?"

Amy looked at him with a small smile, "Well, Face, you have been known to clip more than one plane off the rental repair line."

"That was Murdock that did that, not me!" Face protested.

Murdock crossed his arms, "Where do ya think I learned it?"

Face looked at him sullenly, "Not from me, you didn't."

Murdock grinned at his friend, "Come on Facey, don't be so modest. Everything I know about scammin' I learned from you."

"Ain't much," BA said scornfully, "We always better off when Face doin' the scammin' 'stead of Murdock."

Hannibal laughed, "I think we're all better off when we each stick to our own area of expertise . . . it's just that sometimes the situation requires flexibility."

There were three, knowing snorts around the room, and BA was the one who voiced what they were all thinking, "Hannibal, wi' you we always gotta be flexible."

Hannibal looked at Face, Murdock and BA in turn, "What's that supposed to mean?"

Face took up the explanation, "Hannibal your plans never work the way they're supposed to . . ."

And Murdock finished hastily, "Right Hannibal - they never work right - they just work."

Nancy was listening to the conversation with interest, realizing that there was obviously more to this group than met the eye. Still she couldn't figure out why they looked so familiar, and her curiosity was peaked.

The evening continued in much the same vein for the next two hours. They took particular pleasure in sharing various crazy stories about Murdock. By the end of the evening, Nancy was getting a good feel for the dynamics of the group, and she was thoroughly enjoying herself. There was no doubt that these people cared about each other, though their way of showing it was far different from what she was used to with her little family unit.

Around ten Nancy and Murdock headed out. Maggie told them to be back the next morning for breakfast at 10am. They exited to a chorus of goodbyes, and walked down the front steps together. Murdock walked Nancy to her car.

He leaned against the car hood with his hands in his pockets, "Want me to pick you up around 9:30 tomorrow morning?"

"Sure," Nancy said as she pulled the car door open.

"OK, then, I'll see you in the morning," he said, turning to walk to the truck.

Nancy rested her arms across the top of the door, "I don't get a kiss goodnight?" she asked curiously, her eyes reflecting doubt, "You haven't touched me all evening . . . I'm beginning to wonder if you really forgive me . . ."

Murdock stopped and turned to look at her thoughtfully, "I told you, Nan, there's nothing to forgive," he said firmly, "Guess I'm just a little hesitant to do anything that might make you run away - I don't want that to happen again."

Nancy nodded in understanding, disappointment apparent on her face. He took a step towards her, saying quietly, "I would like to give you a kiss . . . if you aren't going to bolt on me."

She looked up at him and smiled warmly, "I'm not going anywhere . . . and I think I'd be very disappointed if you didn't . . ."

He walked up to the other side of the open door as Nancy straightened up. He put a hand up behind her neck and bent to kiss her. She closed her eyes in anticipation, but opened them when he stopped short and asked her once more, "You're sure about this, right?"

He looked into her eyes seriously, and Nancy smiled and nodded, "Positive."

He closed the distance, cradling her head in both hands and Nancy braced her hands against his shoulders. They kissed, lightly at first, but becoming more urgent. After a minute Murdock pulled back and looked at her with a rueful smile, "The door is kinda in the way . . ."

Nancy took a deep breath, trying to still her hammering heart. She ran her hands up his arms until she covered his hands with hers and smiled up at him reassuringly, "Yes, but maybe that's a good thing . . ." she squeezed his hands affectionately as she pulled away, "I think we need to take this one step at a time, HM. I'll see you in the morning?"

He put her hands to his lips, then let her go, shoving his hands into his pockets. He smiled at her tenderly as he stepped back from the car, "Good night, Short Cake . . . sweet dreams."

Nancy smiled and said, "Goodnight," as she got in the car. She was going to have very sweet dreams tonight.

The Next Step

For the next two days, Nancy and Murdock spent most of their time at the compound, just hanging out with Murdock's surrogate family. Nancy found herself warmly accepted by the group, and truly enjoyed their company. Friday evening, when Murdock walked her to her door, gave her a kiss, and said goodnight Nancy let him go. But Saturday night, she suggested he come in.

He looked into the apartment, shaking his head uncertainly, "Last time I came in didn't end so well, guess I'm still a little gun shy."

Nancy took his arm and pulled him through the door, "I promise I won't get weird on you . . . and if I do, just tell me."

She closed the door behind him, then asked, "Can I get you something to drink?"

Murdock shrugged, "Sure, I'll take some ice tea."

When she came back from the kitchen, he had moved into the living room and was standing by the piano, running a finger over the strings of the guitar sitting on it, "Do you play guitar, too?" he asked curiously.

"Yea," Nancy said, handing him his glass and setting hers down on the end table, "It was part of my therapy, the music was supposed to help allay my anxiety. 'Bout drove my dad nuts, he'd wake up to piano or guitar at all hours of the night!"

"Allay your anxiety, huh," Murdock said musingly, "I'll have to remember that."

He sat down on the edge of the piano bench, "In fact, I'd love to hear you play a song right now," he suggested, looking at her hopefully.

She shrugged and walked over, sitting down on the piano bench next to him. She ran her ringers over a scale absently, trying to decide what to play. A sudden smile lit her face, and she looked at him, "I remember, our first date, there was this song that kept running through my mind - it's called 'Fire'."

She began playing and sang:

Like a crumbling tower you fall to pieces

And mend the cracks on the surface

And hope to God nobody notices

The best of you fell in the creases

But I still get closer 'cause I don't fear the heat rising off your

Army of troubled angels shooting fire

And I'm not blinded by your compliments

Though you I do appreciate

I want to be the star of your revolution

And the biggest mistake you make

What doesn't kill you can make you look dumb and defenseless and

Though it might make you better it starts with holes that you fence in and

I'm not a fair weather friend, but maybe that's what you're used to

Being so idealistic

Can make reality unkind

But it's what's wrong with you that makes what's right so vivid

And in the end you'll find

That I still get closer cause I don't fear the heat and I don't blame you

It's just your troubled angels shooting fire

They're shooting fire.

Nancy smiled as she finished, "Perhaps it would be more appropriate if you were singing to me instead of the other way around," she said ruefully.

He smiled, "I don't know about that . . . I think we probably both have an army of angels. It's just that recently yours has been a little more active than mine."

He reached up and brushed her cheek with a hand, and their eyes met and held. He leaned in and kissed her lightly, pulling back and looking for acceptance. Nancy smile at him and closed the distance between them herself.

When they parted a few minutes later, Nancy caught her breath and looked at him with shining eyes, "I love you, HM," she said quietly.

He looked a bit surprised, but smiled happily at the admission, "I love you, too, Short Cake."