Part 2

No Turning Back

Nancy woke the next morning, and smiled at the warm brown eyes that greeted her, "Good morning, Short Cake, have a good rest?" He ran a finger along her jaw line and leaned in to kiss her forehead.

Nancy sighed contentedly, she felt more relaxed than she had for several days.

"I feel great," she said, then added teasingly, "maybe it's the exercise!"

"You know, exercise first thing in the morning is s'posed to really help get the blood pumpin'!" Murdock said suggestively, leaning down and nuzzling her neck.

Awhile later, Nancy swung out of bed and headed for the shower. Murdock wandered in a few minutes later, "Can I help?" he offered.

"NO," Nancy said, laughing, "I don't think I need your kind of help!"

"Could be fun . . ." he said hopefully, sticking his head in the shower and whistling appreciatively.

Nancy splashed water at him, "Honestly, HM, you're getting a little greedy," she said good-naturedly "Besides, we need to get over to the compound and we're already late." She turned the water off and reached out for the towel.

As she stepped out of the tub Murdock caught her in a bear hug, wet towel and all, "I could definitely get used to this," he said playfully.

After a brief kiss, she wiggled out of his embrace and pushed him towards the shower, "You need to get ready to go," she admonished.

Reluctantly, Murdock let her go and got into the shower.

Half an hour later they were both dressed and in the truck. Murdock stopped briefly by his apartment to grab a clean t-shirt then they headed to the compound for breakfast.

When they walked in, breakfast was in full swing, and Maggie greeted them, "You're late - better fill up your plates before everything is gone."

They sat down and joined the rest of the crew eating pancakes and sausage. Conversation was sporadic until the food was gone. Then Hannibal called for attention, "I know Frank's been feeling kinda lonely this weekend, so I thought maybe we'd give him his Christmas present early," Hannibal held out an envelope to Frankie, "Go on, kid, open it."

Frankie opened the envelope, which contained a round trip ticket to LA. Hannibal was grinning broadly, "It's from all of us. It's good for two weeks. I'll leave it up to you when you use it, but the General said it's gotta be before the first of the year.

Frankie grinned happily, "Thanks, guys," he said sincerely, "I'm gonna call my family and see what works with their schedules. Man, I can't wait to smell that lovely LA smog!" Frankie jumped up from the table, going around and shaking each of the guys hands in turn, and heading straight to the telephone to make arrangements with his family for going home.

"Well," Hannibal said, "Maggie and I made breakfast - who's cleanin' it up?"

Nancy and Amy both stood, and grinned at each other, "Nan and I'll do it," Amy offered.

Nancy looked at Murdock and Face, who were sitting between them, trying to be invisible, "You two can help by clearing the table for us," she suggested, compellingly.

Nancy and Amy picked up their plates and glasses and headed into the kitchen to get the dishes started.

Face and Murdock stood up reluctantly. Murdock grimaced, "Drafted, again."

Face shook his head as he started stacking dirty dishes to take into the kitchen, "You weren't drafted the first time - you signed up," he said coolly, "No different this time."

"How do you figure that?" Murdock asked.

"This," Face said, indicating the stack of dishes, "is what happens when you start seeing a woman seriously - and I'll take this opportunity to remind you that it was your idea."

Maggie looked at both of them severely, "It's good for you," she admonished, "You two need to be kept in line."

"Get the lead out," Amy called from in the kitchen. Murdock and Face looked at each other, and quickly began gathering dishes to ferry into the kitchen.

Amy shook her head, "I've seen those two move faster than greased lightning, but heaven forbid they should do it when they're s'posed to be cleaning up!"

Nancy chuckled, "I guess it all depends on the motivation."

Amy nodded in agreement, as she started drying dishes, "True, certainly bullets or MPs at your back are a great motivator . . . maybe I could get Decker to run herd on 'em. I heard he's retired . . ."

"What's this about Decker?" Face asked dropping a load of dishes on the counter by Nancy.

"Who's Decker?" Nancy asked curiously.

Murdock came in with fingers full of dirty glasses, "An old army buddy of the Colonel's," he said, "Colonel Decker and Hannibal never quite saw eye to eye - especially after the war was over."

"Doesn't help when you're not on the same side of the fence," Face said, crossing his arms and leaning against the counter.

"You were on the same side of the fence most of the time," Amy corrected, "the problem was, Decker was always trying to get you guys on the other side, permanently."

"Never managed it, though," Face said smugly.

"Not for lack of trying," Murdock said, "and lucky for you guys that Amy and I managed to get your butts out of trouble when Decker did get the upper hand."

"That's the truth," Amy said triumphantly, "Murdock and I pulled some pretty good scams on Decker!"

Murdock looked at Nancy, who was quietly washing dishes and listening to the conversation. He walked over and put his arms around her waist, putting his head down and kissing her cheek, "Whatcha thinking, Short Cake?" he asked quietly.

Nancy smiled and shrugged, "That there's a lot I don't know about you."

He smiled affectionately at her, "That goes both ways," he said, kissing her cheek again, "we've got the rest of our lives to learn, though."

Nancy smiled and they kissed lightly, then she gave him a nudge towards the dining room, "Go get the rest of the dishes."

"Yes, ma'am," he said with a mock salute, "Come on, Facey, we've got a mission."

Amy turned back to drying dishes as Face and Murdock headed back out of the kitchen, "You and Murdock seemed to have reached a new stage of your relationship," she said leadingly.

Nancy chuckled, "Well, he spent the night last night, so I guess you could say that," she said bluntly, "I'm still surprised he wanted to see me after the way I treated him last week."

"I think anything short of shooting him, he'd have been waiting for you when you came back," Amy said smiling, "He's really crazy about you . . . No pun intended."

Face and Murdock came in with another load of dishes and miscellaneous stuff for the refrigerator. As Murdock set the dishes on the counter by Nancy, he reported formally, "That's the last of 'em, ma'am."

Nancy dropped another batch of dishes into the water and started washing again, "Thank you, Captain," she said smiling.

Murdock put his arms around her waist again, started nuzzling her neck, "You're hindering more than you're helping now, Captain," Nancy said giggling and trying to wiggle out of his grip.

Amy was having a similar struggle with Face, and pointed forcefully at the door, "Alright, you two out of here and let us finish the dishes."

"Don't you want some help?" Face asked, a devilish grin on his face.

"As I told HM this morning, I don't think that we need that kind of help right now," Nancy said laughing, and pushing Murdock towards the kitchen door.

Face shrugged, "Suit yourselves," he said, "come on, Murdock, we can tell when we're not wanted." Murdock turned and followed Face reluctantly.

Amy sighed, "They're great guys, just a little over-enthusiastic at times."

Nancy nodded in agreement and the two women set to work.

A few minutes later, Nancy broke the companionable silence, "How long have you known them?" she asked curiously.

Amy shrugged, "'Bout 10 years," she said, "When I first met them it was just a few years after the war was over. I was a struggling investigative reporter who'd lost her mentor, and thought she'd be smart and hire the A-Team, you know kill two birds with one stone . . . find my mentor and get a great story in the process. Little did I know what I was getting into . . ."

Amy looked at Nancy, who had stopped washing and was looking at Amy, in disbelief. Realization dawned on her, "You didn't know they were the A-Team, did you?" she asked.

Nancy shook her head, "I knew they looked familiar," she said quietly, "I even said something to HM about it early on . . . He told me BA just had one of those faces . . ." she finished lamely.

Amy chuckled, "I guess Murdock hadn't gotten around to telling you."

Nancy turned back and started washing dishes again, "No, I guess not." she agreed quietly.

"Well, trust me," Amy said firmly, "Once the A-Team enters your life, you're never quite the same."

Nancy and Amy finished the dishes, with Amy relating the story of how she met the Team. Nancy listened with interest; trying to come to terms with the fact that she was dating the A-Team's pilot . . . it certainly explained a lot of things.

After finishing the dishes, they went outside and found Murdock and Face sitting on the back deck lounging and enjoying the sunny morning.

Nancy dropped into the chair next to Murdock, still looking a little shocked. Amy sat down next to Face and looked at Murdock, "You really should have told Nan about the Team, Murdock," she said severely.

Murdock looked at Amy, then turned to Nancy repentantly, "I meant to tell you . . . It just hasn't come up . . . recently. I had to check with Hannibal, make sure it was alright . . ."

Nancy interrupted him, "It's OK," she said, smiling, "just came as a bit of a surprise. I would have recognized them eventually . . . I think."

"You aren't mad, are you Nan?" Murdock asked worriedly.

"No, I'm not mad," she said, "I just feel kinda stupid I didn't recognize them sooner. What are you doing in Langley, anyways?"

Hannibal and Maggie had come up from the back yard, "What's up?" Hannibal asked, seeing the serious faces.

Amy ignored Hannibal's question, and nodded, "That's an excellent question, Nan. Face hasn't given me a straight answer about that yet. What are you guys doing in Langley?"

"I'll answer that," Hannibal said, to the relief of his junior officers, "We are working on securing our pardons."

Nancy looked at Hannibal discerningly, "Who are you working for - CIA?"

Hannibal looked at Murdock, who shrugged, "No, we don't work for the CIA," Hannibal held up a hand as Nancy started to ask another question, "I think it's best if you don't know anything more. We'll have our pardons in a few months, and it will all be behind us. I don't see any point in involving you ladies."

Maggie was standing with her arms crossed, "I don't really understand why we can't know what's going on . . ." she said, obviously continuing a conversation that she and Hannibal had already had.

Hannibal looked at Maggie pointedly, "We've been over this Maggie - I think it's best if you stay out of it."

"I have to agree with Hannibal on that," Murdock said, "It's better all around if you aren't involved . . ."

Face was agreeing, and finished his friend's thought, ". . . in any way, shape, or form.""

"But maybe we can help . . ." Amy said.

"No," Face said flatly, "Like Hannibal said, it'll be over in a few months, just let it alone."

Murdock was looking at Nancy, who had been quiet, but had a thoughtful look on her face, "Nan, please promise not to nose around about this," he said beseechingly.

Nancy looked at him and shrugged non-committally. Murdock turned to her, his look very serious, "Nancy, promise me!"

The others were watching the exchange with interest. Having known Nancy for only a few days, they weren't sure how she would react. It was obvious she was feeling a bit stubborn about the whole thing. Nancy and Murdock locked eyes for a full minute, before she finally capitulated, "OK, if that's what you want."

Murdock sat back, relief obvious on his face. He had a feeling that if Nancy set her mind to it, she could get herself into quite a bit of trouble trying to find out about the General. He nodded in satisfaction, "That's what I want - I really don't want you exposed to this guy. And if you started nosing around about him, there's no telling how he'd react."

Nancy looked over at Amy with a small smile and a shrug. Face caught the look and turned to Amy, "I saw that," he said, looking at her through narrowed eyes, "I want you to promise to leave it alone, too . . . Promise!"

Amy sat back, defeated, "Fine," she said flatly.

Hannibal looked at Maggie, "And you?"

Maggie shrugged, "I'll stay out of it, if you really want me to, John. But it doesn't mean that I agree."

Nancy sighed, "I just don't understand what all the mystery is about . . ." she said sullenly.

Frankie had come out at the tail end of the conversation, "They're just trying to protect you," he said with a knowing look, "This guy is really unscrupulous when it comes to getting what he wants. He certainly doesn't need any more ammunition against the Team - and that's exactly what you ladies would be."

"Exactly," Hannibal said, looking at Maggie, Amy, and Nancy in turn, "Now the discussion is over, and you're going to stay out of it."

The three women nodded, and dropped the subject. They visited for a while, until Amy stood and said she needed to pack. Her flight left that afternoon for LA, and she was going to have to head out to the airport soon.

Nancy and Murdock decided to take a walk back to the pond, and headed down the path, hand in hand. Hannibal and Maggie were left sitting on the back deck alone. Hannibal was puffing thoughtfully on his cigar, "You know, Maggie, I think maybe Face and Murdock are gonna be OK."

Maggie smiled, as Murdock and Nancy disappeared from view, "I take it you had some doubts."

Hannibal nodded, he definitely had. Face had seemed incapable of making a commitment to anything other than the Team. It had been fine when he was younger, but he was getting to an age where he really needed to think about settling down. He knew Face had always dreamed of the proverbial white picket fence, and he could begin pursuing that dream with Amy once they had their pardons. She'd known Face long enough to know what she was getting into, and she loved him anyway. Not to mention that she had the gumption to keep him in line.

Murdock had always been a wild card. He'd never really talked to Hannibal about having a family, but the way he was with kids, Hannibal could imagine him with a whole house full . . . and what a fun house it would be! But Murdock was a bit of a quandary, and Hannibal had been thinking that maybe he'd never find a woman who could understand him. He didn't know Nancy very well, but he liked her instinctively, and she and Murdock seemed to be right for each other. He had a good feeling that it was going to work out for them.

Out loud he said quietly, "Ever since 'Nam I've had doubts. But I think life is finally turning around for us . . . all of us."

As they entered the path to the pond, Murdock pulled Nancy closer and put an arm around her shoulders, "It's nice to be alone for a little while . . . I mean I like hangin' out with the Team, but I think we need some time to ourselves," he looked at her repentantly, "I really meant to tell you about the whole A-Team thing, but there really hasn't been a chance."

"It's alright," she said, giving him a squeeze around the waist, "It actually kind of clears up a lot of things that had me curious. Like why you spent 10 years living at the VA . . . why you moved to Langley . . . and why you hang out with this bunch of guys that looked so damn familiar."

"So, what's the deal for your pardons?" she ventured, curiosity evident in her tone.

"A set roster of missions in return for the pardons," he said, "The only hang up at the time was that the guys were on trial for the murder of Morrison."

"Your . . . benefactor didn't help them out of that?" Nancy asked in surprise.

"Oh, he helped," Murdock said bitterly, "as little as possible. He didn't want to be implicated if things went sour. Frankie and I handled the implementation of the escape plan, but the General provided some of the necessary materials."

By now they had reached the clearing by the pond, and Nancy stepped in front of Murdock and looked up into troubled brown eyes, "It doesn't sound like you and 'the General' get along very well."

He shrugged, and bent to pick up a stone and skip it across the pond, "The General and I have a rather long history . . . and most of it isn't good," he said ruefully, "I'm grateful to him for helping me save the guys, and I'll be grateful when he secures the pardons, but he and I really don't get along."

Nancy had picked up a stone and was turning it idly in her hand, "Kind of like making a pact with the devil, huh?"

"Yea, kinda," he said with a chuckle, "but I don't think he's on the other side of the fence from us morally, he's just a hard ass that holds a grudge."

She looked at Murdock in surprise, she'd never heard him swear before, "My virgin ears!" she said mockingly.

"Virgin, baloney," he said, laughing, "You swear like a sailor."

"No I don't," Nancy said, feigning offense, "I swear like Riley . . . and I'm pretty sure he was never a sailor."

Murdock smiled, shaking his head, "I gotta meet Riley."

"Eventually . . ." she said with a smile, "I gotta coach him first, there are some things that I don't want him telling you . . . at least not right away!"

He looked her, his eyes dancing, "Like what kinds of thing?"

Nancy shook her head, "I'm not telling you . . ." she said stubbornly.

"Well, then, maybe I'll just have to . . . tickle it out of you!"

He grabbed her around the waist, and pulled her down to the ground, both of them laughing. It had been chilly that morning, with heavy dew, though the weather had warmed up as the sun rose. The grass around the pond was kept mowed and was beginning to dry out, but it was still definitely damp.

Nancy landed on top of Murdock laughing, "You're gonna be all wet."

He shrugged, "I'll dry," he said, laying back and pulling her into his arms. She snuggled down into the crook of his arm, making a face as her hip hit the damp ground, "We're definitely going to have to change into dry clothes," she said, wiggling closer to him, "It's a good thing it warmed up today."

He put an arm behind his head and looked down at her, smiling, "What's wrong, you made o' sugar - gonna melt?"

She leaned up on his chest, "I don't think anyone has ever accused me of being made of 'sugar and spice and everything nice'," she said with a smile.

She leaned down and kissed him briefly, and he pushed her hair out of her face, "I think you're pretty nice," he said smiling affectionately, "But you know too much sugar is bad for your teeth, so I wouldn't wantcha too sweet."

She laid back down, and closed her eyes, enjoying the warm sun and the feel of Murdock's arms around her.

"This is so relaxing," Nancy said dreamily, a while later, "I've always wanted to live in a big old farmhouse, with a pond out back . . . maybe a couple great big dogs . . ."

Murdock stroked her hair, "What about a husband and kids?"

She opened her eyes, looking thoughtfully up at the sky, "That would be nice."

"How many kids do you want?" he asked curiously.

She shrugged, "I haven't ever really thought much about it," she said, then smiled, "Definitely more than one. I wouldn't want to have an only child, they tend to be kinda bratty - and I should know."

She leaned up on his chest again, "How about you - you want kids?"

"Yea, lots," he said, smiling broadly, "at least nine or ten."

Nancy raised her eyebrows, "Nine or ten," she repeated incredulously, "That's quite a few."

He chuckled at her expression, "The actual number is negotiable," he said reassuringly, "But definitely more than one."

Her expression turned serious, "You don't have to change your mind for me," she said uncertainly.

"You're worth changing my mind for, Short Cake," he said warmly, pulling her down and kissing her lingeringly.

Awhile later, he caught site of his watch, "Jeez, we better head back to the house - Ames is gonna be leaving soon."

They made it back to the house just in time to say goodbye to Amy before Face took her to the airport.

She shook hands with Frankie, "It was nice to meet you, Frankie . . . maybe I'll see you at Christmas?"

Frankie smiled, looked at Face, and leaned in to give Amy a light kiss on the cheek, "I'll be here," he said certainly, "I'm heading to LA myself early next week, so I guess I'll be back for Christmas."

Amy turned to Nancy and gave her a warm embrace, "It's been great getting to know you, Nan," she said smiling, "You take good care of the crazy man, OK?"

"I will," Nancy said, smiling, "See you soon."

Amy gave Hannibal a big hug next, "See you in a couple weeks for Christmas."

"Have a safe trip, kiddo," Hannibal said.

Maggie hugged her like she wasn't going to let go, "You take care of yourself, Amy," she said sternly.

Amy smiled, "I will, and Maggie - keep Face outta trouble while I'm away," she entreated.

Maggie nodded, patting Amy's cheek affectionately.

She hugged BA and squeezed his mother's hand, "You two take care of each other."

Finally she turned to Murdock, who picked her up off her feet in a bear hug, "Take care, Chaquita."

Amy smiled, and whispered in his ear, "I'm so happy for you, Murdock - you two are right for each other."

He grinned, "Yea, you too," he said as he set her on her feet.

"Come on - you're gonna miss your flight if we don't get moving," Face said irritably.

Murdock looked at Face curiously, then smiled sympathetically at Amy, "He's just gonna get crankier the closer you get to gone," he said, "Good luck."

Amy nodded, and squeezed his arm before turning to Face, "OK, I'm ready to go."

Everyone waved as Face and Amy disappeared down the drive. Murdock turned to Nancy, "Whatcha say, Short Cake," he said, "Wanna go see how Aunt Bea is doin'?"

She grinned at him, raising an eyebrow, "If I didn't know better, I'd think you were dating me just to get to my airplane."

Hannibal laughed, "That was the first thing he noticed . . ."

Nancy and Murdock grabbed a quick lunch at the Compound then spent the afternoon at the airfield. They took Aunt Bea up for an hour or so, then pulled her into the hangar to give her a once over before tying her down. Then Murdock started piddling with one of the planes staged in the hangar for repair, and soon they were working companionably, side by side.

They stopped at the grocery store on the way to Nancy's and picked up fixings for dinner. After eating, they sat and listened to music and talked until midnight. Looking at the clock ruefully, Murdock stood, "Guess I should get going," he said reluctantly, "We've both gotta go to work in the morning."

Nancy stood and moved into his arms. They kissed and held each other tightly both reluctant to end the evening. Finally, she looked up at him, "You know, you don't have to go . . ."

He looked at her carefully, "Before you know it, I'll have a toothbrush in your bathroom," he said, "That's not gonna freak you out, is it?"

She smiled and shook her head, "I'll even give you one tonight that you can keep here."

He smiled, "This could definitely become a habit."

"I hope so," she said contentedly.

Meeting Dad

Nancy and Murdock fell quickly into a routine during the next week. Nancy would call him when she got home, and he'd come over. He didn't spend a night at his own place all week. They kept to themselves, getting to know each other and both growing more sure in their relationship. The next Saturday, they made the trip to Chicago, so Murdock could meet her father.

They arrived at Carl Clay's home in time for supper. He had been expecting them and already had dinner ready. After they had taken their bags up to Nancy's room, they all sat down at the table.

Carl was obviously very curious about the man who had won his daughter over so quickly, "So, HM, Nancy tells me that you work at the airfield for Doc," he said.

Murdock nodded, "Yep, I've been working for Doc for a few weeks, handling all his plane repairs."

"Where did you work before that?" Carl asked, in what Nancy referred to as his 'lawyer' tone.

Nancy looked at her father sharply, but Murdock replied unperturbed, "Here and there . . . mostly food service . . . I have another obligation that crops up periodically and takes me out of town. Makes it difficult to hold down a regular job."

"Dad, stop with the cross-examination," Nancy said quietly, looking at her father pointedly.

"Sorry," he apologized, "It's a habit . . . Nancy says you have some friends living in Langley?"

"Guys from my unit in 'Nam," Murdock said.

"What were their names again, they sounded familiar," Carl said curiously.

"Hannibal Smith, BA Baracus, Templeton Peck, and Frankie Santana," Nancy said, watching her father with interest. She wondered if it would take him as long to figure it out as it had her.

But Murdock didn't wait, "I was the pilot for the A-Team," he said frankly.

Carl looked at Murdock in surprise, "The A-Team?" he said incredulously, "I had heard a rumor that they escaped execution, but I figured it was just wishful thinking. What are you doing in Langley?"

Murdock sighed, looking at Nancy, who looked purposely down at her plate, avoiding his gaze, "We're working on securing the Team's pardons," he said, "But as I've told Nancy, I really can't say too much about it."

Carl nodded in understanding, "Yes, I'd imagine your benefactor is in a rather delicate negotiating position - trying to keep the army happy while securing your pardons isn't going to be an easy task. Especially after you've made fools of the Military Police for so long."

"Yea, it probably is going to be a hard thing to swing," he agreed reflectively, then continued, "I really don't want anything to jeopardize the pardons. We've waited too long for them."

"But, you'll have the pardons soon," Nancy interjected, "Hannibal said hopefully by March or April."

"Hopefully . . . depends on the schedule. The General seems to like to save the best missions for us," he said sarcastically.

Carl caught the inflection, "I take it your relationship with this General isn't exactly warm and friendly," he said with interest.

"I think everyone involved will be happy when the obligation is fulfilled," Murdock said simply, "We're definitely not bosom buddies."

"So," Carl said, "Once your obligation is fulfilled, what do you plan to do?"

"I'm enjoying working at the airfield . . . I hope Doc'll take me on as a regular employee," he looked at Nancy with a warm smile, "I definitely plan on sticking around Langley."

"I'll hire you if Doc won't," she said, returning the smile, "I don't want you to have any reason to leave Langley."

"Pilot for the A-Team," Carl said reflectively, "bet you have some interesting stories . . ."

Murdock grinned broadly, and started regaling them with his favorites.

After dinner they headed into the living room to relax. Murdock sat on the couch, stretching his long legs out, while Nancy kicked off her shoes and curled up next to him. Carl served drinks and then sat down as well, watching the pair with interest.

He had taken an instant liking to this man, who had an infectious smile and a quiet intelligence that he seemed to try to hide with his sometimes off-the-wall behavior. It certainly weighed heavily in Murdock's favor that Carl had never seen his daughter as happy or relaxed as she seemed to be in his presence.

"So, Carl," Murdock said mischievously, "Got any good stories to tell me about Nancy? I think it's time to even the balance here - the guys have already filled her in on most of my antics over the years."

Nancy shook her head, "I don't believe they've even scratched the surface," she said laughing, "I have a feeling it's going to take years before I hear all the stories!"

Carl grinned, "Well, there was this one time in high school when she found out that the star of the football team was popping amphetamines and she turned him into the local police."

Nancy grimaced, "It was for his own good . . ."

"Yes . . .," Carl agreed, "but boy did you pay for it. She took the blame for every loss the football team had that year . . . and they lost a lot!"

"There was also the time when she decided she was going to dig up some dirt on the principal, because he kept giving her a hard time . . ." Carl started.

"He was always picking on me, giving me detentions for nothing, and treating me like a truant - it was really annoying," she said in explanation.

"Anyways, she found out that he was having an affair with one of the single mothers and told him to end it or she was going to tell his wife," Carl shook his head, "I don't think that's the only thing she made him promise, either. He called me in and told me that I needed to teach my daughter to mind her own business."

Nancy shrugged, "At least he left me alone after that. Besides, Dad, didn't you tell him that he needed to set a better example for the youth of the community."

Carl nodded, "Yes, I did," he said, "But you were still grounded for a month for blackmailing your principal."

"It was worth it," she said matter-of-factly.

"Course, she wasn't always in the right," Carl continued, smiling at his daughter, "like that time you thought the cheer leading squad was going to play an April Fool's joke at the old folks home, when it turned out they were just volunteering there for the day, as part of their community service."

Nancy pursed her lips, "Who'd have thought the Annie Kale had any interest in volunteering anywhere . . . turned out her grandma lived there. Jeez, did I feel stupid."

Murdock was laughing, "Sounds like you were born a snoop," he said teasingly, "You sound almost like a female Encyclopedia Brown."

Carl nodded agreement, "You could say she was the conscience of the school . . . nobody crossed her too much, because nobody wanted her snooping into their lives."

"Probably explains why I didn't have many friends," Nancy said ruefully.

Carl looked at his daughter sympathetically, "I shouldn't have allowed you to move ahead two grades, you were a little immature for high school when you started. You caught up eventually."

She shrugged, "I wouldn't go back to high school on a bet," she said honestly, "college was fun though."

"That's definitely when you came into your own," Carl said, "You and Trixie were like two peas in a pod."

Nancy sat up at the mention of Trixie's name, "Speaking of whom," she said ashamedly, "I'm going to get in big trouble if I don't call and arrange for dinner so you can meet her and Joe. She's been asking to meet you since before our first date."

Carl raised an eyebrow, "You haven't met Trixie and Joe, yet, huh?" he asked, and when Murdock shook his head, he said conspiratorially, "She's the one you want to pump for juicy stories about Nancy. They're probably much more interesting than anything I have!"

Christmas Preparations

The next three weeks leading up to Christmas passed quickly. Nancy and Riley had wrapped up several cases, but more had come in, and Riley was seriously considering hiring another operative after the first of the year. Murdock was buried at the airfield, with everyone wanting to get their planes serviced and in good operating conditions before the shop shut down for the Christmas week.

They spent most of their time on the weekends at the compound. Maggie and Mama B were staying at least until after the New Year. With Amy gone, Face was in a bad mood and Murdock spent a lot of his free time trying to cheer him up. Nancy helped Maggie and Mama B with cookies and other Christmas preparations. She really enjoyed being in the company of older women, it was something that she had missed growing up without a mother.

The kitchen at the compound was like a mini food factory. After breakfast, they would clean up all the breakfast dishes and then set to work. Nancy learned a lot about cooking. Her father had never spent much time in a kitchen, Hannah had always handled meal preparations, and usually everything was ready for her dad to put on the table when they arrived home. She appreciated the culinary lessons, and Mama B and Maggie were more than willing teachers.

"You're going to have to learn how to cook in large quantities with HM around," Maggie said with a chuckle, "I've never seen anyone that could put food away like that man."

"He even outstrips Scooter," Mama B said fondly, "and that takes some doin', my Scooter has always been a healthy eater."

Nancy smiled, "Well, HM is a pretty good cook himself. I haven't had to make dinner in some time."

Maggie looked at the young woman, "How long have you two known each other now?"

"Three weeks," Nancy said, "Seems like a lot longer, though."

"You know, John worries about those boys terribly," Maggie said musingly, "but I think Face and HM have found themselves a couple of young women that can take care of them."

Nancy laughed, "I think you may have that backwards in mine and HM's case!"

"Don't let him fool you," Maggie said, "John said that HM was getting down. The General hasn't made things easy for him."

Nancy sighed, "He won't talk to me about any of it . . . it's about killing me to keep that promise."

"They're right, though," Mama B agreed, "Scooter said the man workin' this deal is pretty harsh. I think it's pr'y best if you girls are kept at arms length from the whole thing. They'll have their pardons soon 'nough."

"That's true. From what John's told me, which isn't a whole lot," Maggie said, "If they only have two missions to go, they should be done within a few months."

Mama B nodded, "But BA said that the General is interested in signing them on long term."

"John said that will only happen if he keeps up his end of the bargain and they all agree to it," Maggie shook her head, "Part of the hang-up is going to be the animosity between HM and this General, but I really think John would like to figure out a way to continue the arrangement. He can't let go of the jazz, and no civilian job is going to provide that."

Nancy sighed, "And is it going to continue to be a big secret?" she asked in frustration.

"I don't know for sure, Nancy," Maggie said soothingly, "but I think that if it's possible, they'll let us in on what's going on . . . at least I hope so."

Shopping

Nancy called Trixie and invited her out Christmas shopping the Saturday before Christmas. Murdock was working to finish up the last couple planes before the holidays, and she needed to figure out what she was going to get him for Christmas.

Trixie picked her up in the mini van and they headed for the nearest shopping center.

"So, bring me up to date - you are still seeing the pilot regularly, aren't you?"

Nancy grinned, "Yes, I'd say I'm seeing him very regularly." She filled her friend in on the basic events of the past few weeks.

"Sounds serious," Trixie said, "And you haven't even brought him over for dinner yet," she looked at Nancy severely.

"Sorry, Trix, I meant to, I really did. But, it's been a crazy couple weeks, and there just hasn't been time." Nancy said apologetically, "You tell me when, and we'll be there." she promised.

"How about tomorrow?"

Nancy laughed, "Boy you are anxious, aren't you? OK, tomorrow. But right now I need help figuring out what to get HM for Christmas!"

They chatted continuously while they wandered around the mall. Nancy didn't find anything that jumped out her. Towards the end of the afternoon, they stopped by a 'Things Remembered' so Trixie could get a first Christmas ornament engraved for Emma. While there, Nancy pulled her house key out and decided to get a copy made for Murdock.

Trixie raised an eyebrow, "Just how much time is HM spending at your place?" she asked.

Nancy reddened, "Quite a bit," she admitted, "Seems kind of silly for him to keep his apartment, to be honest."

Trixie grinned at her friend, "Sounds like the kind of Christmas gift any guy would be thrilled to receive," she said winking, "You should just wrap up the key and ask him to move in."

Meanwhile, Murdock was finishing up on the last plane on the maintenance roster. He had called Face and asked him to meet him at the airfield. Face had been pretty despondent since Amy had left, and Murdock hoped that some Christmas shopping would shake his friend out of his funk.

He was just cleaning up when Face arrived, "Hey Facey, I really need help finding something for Nan for Christmas," he said beseechingly.

"No problem, Murdock," Face agreed, "I need to find something for Amy, too."

"When is she coming back?" Murdock asked.

"Couple days before Christmas," Face said, "But then she'll have to leave again," he added, "This living on opposite sides of the continent is for the birds."

"So, make a permanent commitment," Murdock suggested, "She has to have a pretty darn good reason to give up her career and move out to Langley."

Face looked at Murdock uncertainly, "I'm not sure I'm ready for that."

"Come on, Face," Murdock pressed, "You've been mopin' around ever since Ames left. If you need her around, then admit it and get on with life."

"I have not been 'moping around' since Amy left," Face protested.

Murdock clapped him on the back, "You really need to get over this commitment psychosis, Face. It's not healthy," he said grinning.

Murdock stripped out of his coveralls, and finished cleaning up, then they headed out. Face asked Murdock if he had any idea what he was looking for, "I was thinking, maybe a ring," Murdock ventured.

"Like an engagement ring," Face asked, surprised.

"Not exactly, well . . . maybe. Do you think it's a bad idea?" Murdock looked uncertainly at his friend.

"Well, it's awful quick," Face said, "You've only been dating for a few weeks."

"You're probably right," Murdock said with a sigh, "it's too soon."

"You could buy her a necklace," Face suggested.

"Naw, I've never seen her wear a necklace. She wears her college class ring all the time though, that's why I thought a ring would be nice."

"Well, if you've got your heart set on a ring, I know a good jeweler in DC. Maybe you could just call it a . . . promise ring."

When they arrived in DC, Face found a parking garage near the jeweler, and they headed in.

Face greeted the sales lady behind the counter with his usual charm, "Hello, my friend here is interested in finding a ring for his girlfriend."

The young woman smiled and turned to Murdock, "Are you looking for a diamond engagement ring?" She asked suggestively.

"Actually, I was thinking of something with a blue stone - to match her eyes," Murdock said, smiling reflectively, "She's got eyes the color of the sky."

"Murdock, that's just plain corny," Face said with a grimace.

"I think it's sweet," the sales lady said, laughing when Murdock stuck his tongue out at Face, "Come right over here, I think I might have just what you're looking for."

Murdock followed her to a nearby case and his eyes widened at the selection, "How do I know what to pick?"

"Does your girlfriend wear a lot of jewelry?" she asked. When Murdock shook his head, she glanced down and pulled the key ring off her wrist. She took out a tray of unpretentious but pretty rings and Murdock smiled appreciatively, "These look like something Nan would wear."

The sales lady selected three that she said were particularly nice settings and set them in a velvet display for him to consider. Murdock looked at them for a few minutes, then said, "I hate to bother you, but could you put them on, I want to see what they look like on a finger."

She grinned, and obliged. After she'd tried each on in turn, Murdock pointed to the middle one and asked her to put it back on, "That's the one," he said with certainty.

Face interjected himself, "Let me take a look at that." He pulled out a jewelers eye piece, and looked carefully at the ring. He asked about the price and haggled with the sales lady for a few moments, before settling on a fair amount. Murdock just stood back, shaking his head. Face always had known the finer things in life better than most orphan boys.

While the sales lady was finalizing the paperwork for the sale, Face wandered on down the cases, idly looking at what was available.

After Face had moved away, Murdock leaned in to the sales lady and said, "You know, he's looking for an engagement ring, even though he doesn't realize it," he said, winking at her.

She smiled conspiratorially and motioned to another sales person to come over and asked her to finish up the sale. She moved on down and started a sales pitch to Face and Murdock watched with a self-satisfied grin.

Face ended up purchasing a traditional diamond engagement ring, but swore he wasn't going to give it to Amy until after they had their pardons in hand. Murdock let it go, at least he'd bought the ring . . . it was definitely a step in the right direction.

Face dropped Murdock back at the airfield at his truck. Murdock stopped at the grocery store on the way to Nancy's and picked up the fixings for a nice supper. He beat Nancy back to her townhouse and found it locked. He was glad Nancy had introduced him to her neighbors. They watched her place when she was out of town, and he knew they had a key. He knocked at their door, and they let him in to Nancy's place without question.

Trixie followed Nancy into her townhouse, carrying Emma, and took a deep breath, "Smells like you've got supper waiting for you," she said, raising an eyebrow at her friend.

Nancy had turned to look at her friend as she was talking, and had her back to the kitchen when Murdock came walking out and caught her in a bear hug from behind. Nancy turned in his arms, and they kissed affectionately.

Trixie was grinning when Nancy turned to her, "HM, this is Trixie Martin, Trix, this is HM Murdock."

Murdock smiled and held out his hand, "Nice to finally meet you," he said, his smile turning mischievous, "I hear you've got some great stories about Nan."

Trixie returned the grin, "I sure do," she said conspiratorially, "I'll fill you in on all the best stories tomorrow night when you come over for dinner."

Murdock turned his attention to Emma, who had wrapped a tiny fist around his finger, "Hey there, beautiful, how are you?"

Trixie held her out, "Would you like to hold her?"

He took Emma without hesitation and started talking to her, "Come on, sweetie, let's go check on the s'ghetti," and he disappeared into the kitchen chattering at the baby happily.

Nancy watched them disappear, then turned to find Trixie with her arms crossed and a satisfied smile on her face, "Oh, he's definitely a keeper, Nan," she said with certainty.

Nancy smiled, she couldn't have agreed more.

Nancy and Murdock both enjoyed themselves at dinner the next evening. Trixie's husband, Joe Martin, was a Vietnam veteran, as well, and he and Murdock hit it off right away. He had served two tours of duty just before the end of the war, and the two men had seen a lot of the same territory while in country.

Joe was now a homicide detective in Langley. He had met Nancy and Trixie not long after they had moved to Langley a little over 7 years before. At the time Nancy was attending Quantico and Trixie was working on her PhD in criminology. He and Trixie had tied the knot in LasVegas after a whirlwind two-month courtship, and had been happily married ever since.

After dinner Nancy helped Trixie clean up while Murdock and Joe took Emma down to the recreation room to visit. Joe laid Emma on the floor under a little kick gym and motioned Murdock to a seat.

Murdock ignored the chair, and sat cross-legged on the floor next to Emma, playing with her, a big grin on his face. Joe smiled as he sat down, "You really like kids, don't you?"

"Love 'em," Murdock said, "They have such a great handle on the important things in life. They really are my role models!"

Joe chuckled, "They do definitely give you a different perspective on what's important," he looked at his daughter lovingly, "She's sure made me rethink my priorities. Somehow that career thing just doesn't seem nearly as important any more."

Emma had hold of Murdock thumb and pinky on one hand, and was cooing happily. He sat back and looked at Joe thoughtfully, "How many kids you and Trixie planning on?" he asked curiously.

Joe shrugged, "Two or three," he said, "probably depends on whether the next one is a boy or girl."

Murdock nodded, "I told Nan I wanted 9 or 10," he said with a chuckle, "I think it shocked her a little bit."

Joe laughed outright, "Honestly, I've never been able to picture Nancy as a mother," he said, "but then I never thought I'd see her as a wife either," he was looking at Murdock with interest.

Murdock smiled, "Well, I guess I should take it one step at a time," he said ruefully, "But I've waited a long time to meet someone like Nan."

"Well, I'm glad you came around," Joe said, "I really couldn't sit through another one of Trixie's blind date set ups. Talk about painful . . . and I do mean for everyone involved! There were times when I was sure it was going to end their friendship. Not to mention getting me ostracized from the police force."

Murdock grinned, "Well, if I have anything to say about it, that won't be a problem any more."

In the kitchen, Trixie was loading dishes into the dishwasher while Nancy cleared the table, and put things away. When Nancy had brought the last of the dishes off the dining room table, she started packaging up the left over food and putting it in the refrigerator.

Trixie finished loading the dishwasher, then turned and put an arm around her friend, squeezing impulsively, "Nan, he's great," she said enthusiastically, "I was beginning to think you'd never meet anyone that could handle you."

Nancy pursed her lips together and said, "I told you before, I don't need anyone to handle me," but then she smiled, "He is pretty great, isn't he?"

Trixie nodded, then waved dismissively at the remaining mess in the kitchen, "Just leave the rest of it - let's go visit," she smiled wickedly at her friend, "I believe I promised HM some juicy stories about you . . ."

"Not too juicy," Nancy said worriedly as the two friends headed down to the rec room.

When Trixie and Nancy walked in, Joe had just finished relating one of the funnier blind date stories, and he and Murdock were laughing, but stopped abruptly as the women entered.

Nancy looked at Murdock, sitting on the floor playing absently with Emma, and had to smile. But she looked at Joe through narrowed eyes as she sat down on the floor next to Murdock, "What's so funny?" she asked suspiciously.

Joe looked at Murdock, and they grinned at each other. Joe turned to Nancy innocently, "Nothing much, we were just discussing one of Trixie's less successful set ups."

Trixie sat on the arm of Joe's chair and grimaced, "Which one would that be," she said ruefully, "None of them was really successful."

Joe chuckled, "No, but you have to admit that some of the evening wrap ups were more amusing than others."

Nancy looked very uncomfortable with the subject, "I always hated it when you set me up, Trix," she said quietly, "You just couldn't let it be."

Trixie smiled apologetically, "I know, Nan," she said, "I just couldn't seem to help myself."

Murdock had put an arm around Nancy's shoulders and squeezed reassuringly, "I'm sure Trixie had the best of intentions . . . she was just a little misguided in the execution."

"Misguided is what I'd call Joe's involvement," Nancy said teasingly, "Trixie, on the other hand, was totally off course."

"Hey," Trixie said in mock offense, "I wasn't totally off course - just somewhat out to sea . . ."

"Like I said," Nancy looked at her tolerantly and smiled.

Emma started to fuss, and Nancy leaned across Murdock's lap, cooing at the little girl soothingly. Emma started crying more urgently and Murdock patted Nancy's back. She sat back and Murdock picked Emma up, and settling her in the crook of his arm, began bouncing her lightly. She quickly calmed down.

Nancy offered a finger to Emma, who wrapped a tiny fist around it and proceeded to coo and blow bubbles at Nancy animatedly. Nancy smiled and looked at Murdock, "I think you're spoiling her."

"I think you're both spoiling her," Trixie said, chuckling, "She knows when she's the center of attention."

Soon, nothing was making Emma happy, and Trixie took her, "She's getting hungry and tired," she said, "I'll get her to bed and be back in a few minutes."

When Trixie got back from settling Emma in bed, they decided to play some cards, and spent the next couple hours visiting and playing pinochle. Around 11, Emma started fussing again, and Nancy and Murdock took that as a cue that it was time to leave.

As they were pulling out of the driveway, Joe turned to his wife after a final wave and put an arm around her waist, guiding her back into the house, "Looks like I'm gonna have to dust off my old suit . . . hope it still fits," he said ruefully.

Trixie's brow furrowed, "Why do you need to get out your suit?" she asked curiously.

Joe grinned, "You always make me wear my suit to weddings . . ."

"Oh, that," she said, nodding and smiling broadly, "definitely."

Two days before Christmas, Nancy talked to her father. As was her Uncle's habit, he was planning to come in Christmas eve and spend a few days with them. Nancy hung up and turned to Murdock, who was cooking breakfast.

"So how are we going to work Christmas?" she asked.

"Well, I thought maybe we'd spend Christmas Eve with the Team, then we can head to Chicago first thing Christmas morning," Murdock offered, "If that sounds OK to you."

"Sounds like a plan," Nancy said, she dropped her chin into her hand, "By the way, I should warn you that my uncle will be there. He's not a bad guy but he's got a tendency to be a little . . . well . . . critical."

"Critical?"

Nancy sat up, and sighed "Well, basically, I haven't made a good decision in my life, and my guess would be that he will think you are the latest in a long line of mistakes. I don't want you to take it personally."

"Great," Murdock said, bringing two plates with eggs, sausage and toast to the table, "I can't wait to meet him."

Nancy picked up her fork, picking at the eggs reflectively, "He means well," she said, feeling a need to explain, "He just doesn't understand that I'm not motivated by the same things that he is. It's kind of an ongoing problem. I just want you to understand that it doesn't have anything to do with you . . ."

"Don't worry about it, Short Cake," he said, smiling at her warmly, "I'll just have to figure out how to win him over with my charm."

She grimaced, "Don't bother," she said flatly, "Nothing short of becoming President would win my uncle over - it's a pointless endeavor."

"We'll get through it," Murdock said certainly, "He can't be any worse than some of the other people I've had to deal with over the years."

Nancy sighed, she certainly hoped not. She decided to change the subject, they'd deal with her uncle when the time came. Right now she wanted to get into the Christmas spirit, "Maybe we should go ahead and get some Christmas decorations out . . ." she suggested.

"That's a terrific idea - we could go pick out a live Christmas tree today!" Murdock said enthusiastically.

Nancy looked at him in surprise, she'd never done much more than put lights around the window and hang an evergreen wreath, "I don't really have the decorations for a tree," she said uncertainly.

"So, we'll buy some," he said, "Can't have Christmas without a Christmas tree. There's plenty of room in the living room for it - we can even get a pretty big one."

Nancy smiled at his enthusiasm, "OK, but you're gonna have to lead the way," she said, "we only ever put up a little artificial tree when I was a kid, so I know nothing about live trees."

"No problemo," he said, "Let's finish breakfast and head out . . ."

First they headed to the department store and got a tree stand and a bunch of ornaments, garland, and tinsel. These they dropped at the townhouse before heading to one of the open lots that had been taken up by one of the tree vendors. They wandered around the lot for half an hour, looking at trees.

Murdock unerringly went for the tallest trees in the lot, and Nancy kept trying to convince him to select something that would fit through the door, "HM, how are we ever going to get it in the door and stood up if it's that big?" she asked for what seemed like the tenth time.

He grinned like a little kid, "They can wrap it for us, it won't be any trouble getting it in the house."

Nancy smiled, "That may be, but it's at least two feet too tall to stand up in the living room!"

He looked to the top of the tree, which towered above him by quite a bit, and nodded in capitulation, "Yea, you're probably right," he said, disappointment apparent on his face.

"Come on," she said encouragingly, "Let's look at these over here, they aren't quite as tall but they're nice and fat."

They finally agreed on a nice white pine that was about 7 feet tall and probably almost 6 feet in diameter at the base when all the branches were spread out. They had the tree wrapped and headed home.

They had gotten the tree into the stand, but it was tipping precariously to one side, "Now what," Nancy asked, looking at Murdock with raised eyebrows.

"Now we straighten it," he said matter-of-factly. He took off his ball cap and put it on her head, kissing her nose, "I'll work on adjusting the set screws, and you tell me which way to move it to get it straight."

They were still working on getting the tree straight when the doorbell rang.

Nancy left Murdock lying under the tree, and answered the door, "Hi," she said warmly upon seeing Amy and Face, "Come on in."

Murdock grinned up at them as they came in, "Hey guys," he said happily, then looked at Nancy, "Is it straight yet?"

Nancy stood back and tilted her head to the side, "It looks OK from this angle, Amy, Face?"

Amy considered the tree, "I honestly don't know how you can tell, it's like a big evergreen ball. I don't think I've ever seen a tree as wide as it is tall."

Murdock sat up from under the tree, "Guess that means it's good enough," he said. Nancy took his hands and pulled him to his feet, sighing exaggeratedly, "Thank goodness - we've only been working at this for the last hour."

Murdock reached for his hat, and Nancy ducked, "Nu-uh," she said, teasingly, "get your own hat."

"That is my hat," he said sullenly.

She grinned at him playfully, "You gave it to me . . ."

"To hold while I was under the tree . . ."

Nancy pouted, but her blue eyes sparkled with mischief, "And here I thought you were giving me an early Christmas present."

Murdock snatched his hat off her head and put it on his own. He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her into a bear hug, "I'll give you an early Christmas present," he said suggestively.

Face cleared his throat, and Murdock turned guiltily to their guests, "Sorry, it's this woman, she tends to distract me."

Nancy took his hat back and put it on her head backwards, "You're just easily distracted . . ."

Amy laughed, "That's the truth!"

Murdock grinned self- deprecatingly, "Yea, I guess I am," he admitted, then seemed to realize that Amy was there, "Hey, did you just get back into town, Ames?"

Amy smiled, "Yea, last night," she said, "I managed to bump into a late night flight. The airlines are nuts right now."

Nancy waved them into the living room, "Have a seat," she offered, "Can I get you something to drink? We've got milk, OJ, iced tea, and Mountain Dew."

Amy and Face both asked for iced tea, and Nancy disappeared into the kitchen, returning a few minutes later with drinks for all of them.

Murdock was sitting in a chair, and Nancy came and sat on the arm, next to him handing him his drink last. He put an arm around her waist, then turned to Amy and Face, "You're just in time to help us decorate the tree," he said, "we had to go get everything for trimming this morning . . . Nan's never had a live tree before."

Amy and Face hadn't seen Nancy and Murdock together since Thanksgiving, and both were surprised at how comfortable the two seemed to be together. They were acting like they'd known each other for years instead of weeks. Face spoke up, "We just stopped by to say 'hi' - I wasn't even too sure this was the place . . ."

"I'm glad you did," Murdock said sincerely, "Can you stay for supper? We got the stuff for tacos . . ."

Amy smiled, "That sounds great!" she said enthusiastically, "But we should probably call Hannibal and Maggie and let them know we won't be back for supper."

The two couples spent the rest of the afternoon decorating the tree and putting up lights. Then they went into the kitchen and worked together to prepare everything for supper. Afterwards, Murdock coerced Nancy into playing a song. Neither Face nor Amy had ever heard Nancy sing, and were very encouraging.

Nancy finally picked up her guitar and strummed a few chords, "Any requests?"

"What was that song you sang at Charlie's?" Murdock asked leadingly.

"That was by Atoosa . . ." she said thoughtfully, still strumming absently. She smiled suddenly, "I know, here's another one by her . . ."

I see you everywhere

I have one single care

That you stay mine

That you don't mind

I don't believe in perfect pairs

It's more about how much you dare.

Cause I would stare with you for a thousand years.

This is how I love,

This is how I love

As free as a dove and sometimes

Dirty as mud.

Nothing is fair

But this, this is fair.

And I just throw my hands up into the air

When you say things I don't want to hear

That's when I hate you

Sometimes I hate you

But that's when I break through, so

Sometimes I need to.

Now you've got me feeling low tonight

Truth is I wouldn't want you otherwise.

In a world where wrong can feel oh so right.

Every high ends in goodbye.

This is how I love,

This is how I love

As free as a dove

Dirty and tough.

Murdock smiled, he didn't think he'd ever get tired of hearing her sing. He turned and looked at Amy and Face, "She's great, isn't she?"

Amy nodded, enthusiastically, "You have a lot of talent, Nancy," she said, "You could work professionally."

Nancy laughed, "I think you're being overly generous," she said disbelievingly, setting her guitar back up on the piano, "I just play for myself mostly . . . HM just seems to be joining ranks with Charlie trying to get me to play for other people."

"You really don't realize how good you are, do you?" Face said in surprise, "I'll be your agent if you ever do decide to go professional," he offered with a grin.

Murdock pulled Nancy onto his lap, "See, it's not just me - you are good," he looked at Amy and Face, "I've been trying to convince her to bring her guitar for Christmas eve."

"That would be a lot of fun," Amy agreed.

"We'll see," Nancy said uncertainly.

Conversation turned to Christmas preparations. They sat and visited idly until about 9:30, when Amy stretched and yawned, "I'm exhausted, Face," she said regretfully, "I hate to leave, but I'm gonna fall asleep sittin' here if we don't go soon."

Nancy and Murdock walked them out, "We'll see you tomorrow morning," Murdock said as they walked down the steps. They waved goodbye until the car was out of site, then headed into bed.

Christmas Eve

They spent the entire day Christmas eve at the compound, arriving early in the morning to help with breakfast. The day went quickly. They exchanged presents after breakfast. Everyone had several gifts under the tree, and there were a lot of thank you's exchanged as the gifts were opened.

Face and Murdock had gotten each other a set of six-shooter rubber band guns and after the gift exchange was over, they proceeded to have a rubber band fight over and around everyone sitting in the living room. Hannibal and BA got fed up with them, and each managed to get one of the guns. Soon all four men were out in the back yard. This left Frankie and the four women spectating from the back deck.

Frankie crossed his arms and shook his head, "You'd think they'd get enough of this in real life."

Maggie laughed, "I don't think those four will ever grow up."

"I'm pretty certain that HM's goal in life is to be a big kid," Nancy said with a smile, "Too bad they didn't get enough rubber band guns for all of us . . ."

"My thoughts exactly," Amy agreed, then looked at Nancy with a wicked grin, holding out her index finger and thumb like a gun, "But I've got a pretty mean single shot weapon right here."

They giggled like a couple of school girls, taking a pocketful of rubber bands each and heading into the fray in the back yard. Mama B looked at Maggie and shook her head, "I think you need to add a couple to the 'never growin' up' category."

Amy and Nancy found that they were actually at somewhat of an advantage. Though they didn't have the rapid fire capability, it took them a lot less time to reload. The two women were definitely getting the upper hand in the battle, when Hannibal ordered Face and Murdock to abandon their weapons and proceed with a full frontal attack, which pretty much ended the rubber band fight.

They all retired to the house for a lunch of ham sandwiches. Then they spent the afternoon visiting, playing board games, and watching 'It's a Wonderful Life'. At five o'clock, they decided they were getting hungry again, and threw together a quick dinner.

After dinner they were all lounging around the living room again, and Murdock glanced over at Nancy casually, "How about a song, Short Cake?"

Nancy shrugged, "Sorry, I forgot to bring my guitar . . ."

He grinned at her, "You may have forgotten, but I didn't," he said, "I'll go get it."

He returned from the front hall a minute later with her guitar and handed it to her. She took it from him with a wilting look, which he ignored. She strummed a few chords absently, as usual stuck for something to play. Amy prompted, "I liked that song you played last night, do you know any others by that artist?"

Nancy smiled at Amy gratefully and began playing . . .

I build dream castles out of weathered leaves

I believe in fairytales, I believe in reveries

I don't want to be stagnant; I've got to learn to be strong

But now I've got this ailment

Something must've gone wrong, so wrong.

Somebody write this song for me

Somebody write this song

I've been working way too hard and it's taking way too long

Yeah I've got to fix this; I've just got to be

Free as God intended, there's a plan for me.

I spent years being censored and I don't want to go home

What's wrong with the whole of me when I never took nothing at all

Took nothing for granted, took nothing from you

Now all of our truths are precious, and endlessly misused.

So this is my story and it's plain to see

Everybody writes one and every day they read

All about their triumphs, all about their scars

And everyone's a lion and everyone's a star

Oh you are.

Oh you are.

Oh you are.

And everybody writes one and every day they read

All about their triumphs, all about their scars

And everyone's a lion and everyone's a star

Oh you are.

As she finished everyone began talking at once, telling Nancy how much they enjoyed it. Nancy just looked at Murdock and shook her head, "You set this up," she said quietly, so only he could hear her.

He put an arm around her and leaned into her ear, "No, I didn't . . . maybe someday you'll believe that you really are pretty darn good on that thing."

Nancy offered to play a few Christmas carols, and they all agreed to join in. They enjoyed singing carols together for the next hour or so, each picking their own favorite hymn. Nancy didn't know the music for all of the songs, but could usually pick an appropriate chord to at least get them started.

At about 7 that evening Nancy and Murdock said their goodbyes and headed back to Nancy's place. They needed to finalize preparations for their trip, since they planned to leave bright and early the next morning for Chicago.

When they got home, Nancy ran upstairs to finish packing. Once she was done, she walked back downstairs to see what was keeping Murdock, who had never materialized in the bedroom. They should be getting to bed, since they had an early morning planned.

Nancy took a deep breath as she walked down the stairs. She had to admit that it was nice to have a live tree. The whole downstairs smelled of pine, and it really did put her in the mood for Christmas.

When she walked into the living room, all the lights were out except for the Christmas tree and a couple candles. It looked beautiful. Murdock came walking in from the kitchen with a bottle of wine and two glasses, "Come on, Short Cake, let's sit down and relax." He put an arm around her and steered her to the couch.

A few minutes later they were sitting back in the couch, Nancy lounging in the crook of his arm, sipping wine and enjoying the quiet.

"So," Murdock ventured, "when do you want to exchange gifts?"

"Can't wait 'til Christmas?," Nancy asked, sitting up some, "I suppose we could do it tonight, that's two less we have to find space for in Aunt Bea." The plane was crowded as it was.

She looked at him and said teasingly, "Have you been a good boy?"

"Never," he grinned.

She stood and went over to the tree, which had a few scattered gifts underneath it. She picked up a large box, and walked back to the couch, holding it out to him, "I've seen you shaking it for the past week, have you guessed what's in it yet?"

Murdock took the box and looked at it ruefully, "Nope, but now I get to find out." His face broke into a grin. He ripped the paper off and tore open the box, only to find another box amongst a bunch of newspaper.

"My favorite thing in the whole world," he said gleefully, "A present!"

Nancy laughed. And they went through the process again. In the second box he found a t-shirt that said 'I'm with her,' but there was still another box. He opened three more boxes until he got to a small one. He opened it and held up the key, "What's this for?" he asked.

She looked at him with a shrug, "I thought maybe it was time you had your own key to the townhouse."

"Does this mean what I hope it means?" He asked.

"Well, it does seem kinda silly for you to keep an apartment you're never in," she said with a smile.

He gave her a kiss, then reached in his pants pocket and took out a ring box with a small bow on it, "Alright, now it's your turn." He handed her the box.

Nancy opened the box and looked at the ring. It was a sapphire solitaire in a low setting in white gold, with swirls on either side of the stone that reminded Nancy of the high cirrus clouds in a summer sky, "It's . . . it's beautiful, HM," her voice was barely above a whisper, and her eyes were shining.

He reached over and took the ring out of the box. Taking her hand, he put the ring on her finger, "It's up to you what we call this," he said, his expression uncertain, "Face told me that it was too soon for it to be an engagement ring . . ."

Nancy caught his gaze and held it, "Are you asking me to marry you?"

"Only if it's what you want, Nancy," he said seriously.

She smiled slightly, " I couldn't imagine myself with anyone else," she said frankly.

He took both her hands, his expression turning hopeful, "Does that mean you will marry me?"

She smiled at him affectionately, "Of course I will," she said with certainty.

Murdock put his arms around her, holding her tightly, "You just made me the happiest man in the world."

Nancy squeezed back, "Just returning the favor," she said blissfully.

A Shakespearean Christmas

By 10 the next morning, Nancy and Murdock were pulling in Carl Clay's drive. He welcomed them warmly, hustling them in out of the blustery Chicago morning.

"Merry Christmas!" Carl said, giving his daughter a warm embrace and kiss on the cheek, "Good to see you again, HM," he added, shaking Murdock's hand warmly, "I was hoping you'd be able to come."

They deposited their coats in the closet and Carl motioned upstairs, "You'll be in the same room as before, if you want to take the bags up."

When Murdock came back downstairs, Nancy and her father were in the living room and Nancy was relating the highlights of their previous day at the Compound.

She was in the midst of regaling her father about the rubber band fight, with much hand waving and gesticulating. Something seemed to catch Carl's eye, and his gaze became curious as his eyes followed her hands. Rather suddenly, he interrupted her by grabbing her left hand, "What's this?"

Murdock had been watching from the entryway, and now moved into the room. Carl looked up at him as he came to Nancy's side and put an arm around her. Nancy was practically beaming, "Well, I was going to wait until Uncle arrived to tell you, but . . . HM and I are engaged."

Her father's face split into a broad grin, "That is terrific news," he said enthusiastically, catching Nancy in a bear hug, "I'm so happy for you sweetheart."

He then turned and clapped Murdock on the shoulder heartily, "Congratulations! And welcome to the family!"

They sat and visited for the next half hour, then Carl stood, "Guess I should put the ham in the oven and get the rest of dinner going," he said and headed into the kitchen, with Nancy and Murdock following close behind.

They all set to work on the meal. Carl looked in the refrigerator, and noticed he was out of butter, "Nan, would you go to the basement and get some butter out of the freezer?"

Murdock was closest to the basement door, "Right down here?" he asked, at the affirmative nods, he offered, "I'll go get it," and headed down the stairs.

Nancy looked up from the carrots she was peeling, "When is Uncle coming?"

"He said he'd be here around noon," Carl said, "He also said that you weren't allowed to run out on him this time. I don't really think he comes to these holidays to spend time with me."

Nancly glanced at the basement door, she could hear Murdock whistling cheerfully, "You don't think he'll be weird about HM?" she asked hopefully.

"Probably," Carl said, looking at his daughter seriously, "you certainly aren't expecting a warm reception, are you?"

She sighed, "I like to try on optimism every once in while. Unfortunately, it just never seems to fit, especially not where Uncle is concerned. I can't seem to do anything right."

"Oh this one has nothing to do with right or wrong, dear," Carl said, "This has everything to do with you bringing another man into the family. A man that is likely going to have more sway over you than he does."

"Uncle has never had any sway over me to begin with," Nancy said tersely.

"I think you're uncle has influenced your life far more than you realize, Nancy," Carl said, ignoring the glare he was receiving, "Even if it is in the direction opposite to what he wanted."

Murdock had come back up while they were talking. He set a pound of butter on the counter, "I wasn't sure, but I brought up the full pound instead of the quarters, is that OK?"

"That's fine," Carl said taking it to unwrap and put on a dish for the table, "Hopefully it thaws some before dinner."

Murdock walked over to Nancy, kissed her on the cheek, then snatched a carrot, "Can I help with anything else?"

"Yes," Nancy said, "Get a knife and cut the carrots - I want to glaze them for dinner."

"Okey dokey," Murdock said cheerfully, and set to work.

They finished dinner preparations, and headed into the living room. Carl served drinks, and they all sat down to relax until dinner was ready.

"I imagine Hunt will be here soon, I can't picture anyone that he could arrange to meet with on Christmas Day, so I'm guessing he'll be on time." Carl said conversationally.

"If anyone would arrange a meeting on Christmas Day it would be Uncle," Nancy said, then turned to Murdock "You need to be prepared for this meeting, HM. Uncle isn't likely to be very pleasant."

"You have to love that Stockwell charm," Carl said with a grin.

Murdock paled, "Did you say Stockwell, Hunt Stockwell?" he asked quietly, standing slowly.

Carl looked puzzled, "Yes, that is my brother-in-law," he looked at Murdock with concern, "Are you OK?"

Murdock took a deep breath and turned to Nancy, "You never told me your uncle was Hunt Stockwell," he said flatly.

Nancy shrugged, "I usually just call him 'Uncle' - Uncle Hunt can be gravely misunderstood," she grinned, but her grin faded when she looked in Murdock's face, "I take it you know him."

"He's the Team's . . . 'benefactor.'" Murdock said, his look reflecting worry.

Nancy stood up abruptly, looking at Murdock intently, "You mean you work for him?"

"In a matter of speaking 'yes' - and he and I don't get along very well, to put it mildly," Murdock was becoming agitated, and starting to pace.

Carl stood up as well, striding to the bar, "We never have normal holidays in this household," he said, pouring himself another drink, "This is going to be even more interesting than I thought."

"Maybe I should leave," Murdock said quietly.

"No," Nancy said flatly, "Honestly, let's not over-react. So you work for Uncle, what does that have to do with us?"

Murdock looked uncertain, "I hate to take any chances," he said, "Especially if there's a possibility that it could jeopardize the pardons."

Carl turned to Murdock, "Son, I may not be overly fond of my brother-in-law, but he won't go back on his word, I'm pretty certain of that. If you have a deal for the pardons, he'll honor it, regardless of what he thinks about you and Nancy being together."

Carl glanced out the front window, "Besides, I think it's too late," and as Carl said that, the front door opened and General Hunt Stockwell strode into the living room. He apparently didn't notice Murdock at first, because he walked straight over to Nancy and gave her a stiff hug.

Nancy kissed his cheek in return and said, "Merry Christmas, Uncle," casting an apprehensive glance towards Murdock.

"Merry Christmas, Nancy," he turned to his brother-in-law, "Carl," he said curtly in greeting.

The General then caught sight of Murdock who had stopped his pacing just inside the entryway to the dining room. He turned to face him and stared, "What in the hell are you doing here, Captain?"

"He came with me," Nancy said, moving around her Uncle and towards Murdock.

"With you?"

"Uncle, HM and I are engaged," she said concisely, taking Murdock's hand and squeezing it reassuringly.

"You've got to be kidding me," her Uncle said, shaking his head, "Do you know who this man is? Do you know that he spent the last 10 years in the mental ward of a VA hospital in LA?"

"Yes, Uncle, I know," Nancy said quietly.

"I'd just like to point out that this is my home," Carl broke in, his voice stern, "And HM is a guest here. Do not start anything Hunt, I won't put up with it."

Stockwell ignored his brother-in-law and looked at Murdock coolly, "Captain, I think it would be best if you and I went to see Colonel Smith together and talked this out. I'm sure we can come to an equitable solution."

Nancy clenched her teeth, and turned to face her Uncle, "There nothing to find a solution to, Uncle," she said irritably, "HM and I are engaged, not in treaty negotiations."

The General's jaw clenched as well, and he was obviously ready to start arguing with Nancy, when Murdock held up a hand, "Listen, I'll go with you to see Hannibal," he said wearily, then his look became defiant as he added, "Tomorrow."

Carl now stepped in front of his brother-in-law and said in a low voice, "Drop it, Hunt. It's Christmas. No one is going anywhere . . . not today, at least."

The remainder of the day was very tense. Murdock and the General avoided talking directly to each other, because when they did it generally deteriorated into an argument. This made it tough for Nancy and Carl, who had to try and keep the conversation going, but on neutral ground.

Stockwell glared when Nancy and Murdock headed up to bed together at 9 that evening. He looked at Carl sharply, "You're going to allow that under your own roof?"

"They're consenting adults, Hunt, just let it go," Carl said wearily.

"You know nothing about that man," Hunt said caustically, getting up and pacing the room.

Carl sighed, there was no avoiding this, "Listen, Hunt, I'll tell you what I know about HM Murdock - he loves Nancy and he's good for her. I haven't seen her this happy in years."

"He has spent that last 10 years in a mental institution, Carl," Stockwell said, "doesn't that bother you in the least?"

"No," Carl said flatly, "From the little bit I've heard, he's been through a lot. I would think that you of all people would understand that. That cannot be your only issue, because it just doesn't hold water. It's not much different from what we went through with Nancy after Ruby was killed, for Christ's sake."

"I don't trust him," Stockwell said, "I worked with him in Vietnam, and he betrayed me. He could do the same to Nancy."

"So your history with him is longer than just the A-Team business, I take it."

"When I met Murdock he was working for the CIA in an Air America scheme. He loved the flying, but he hated what they were doing. So, being the opportunist that he is, he took advantage of my good will and convinced me to transfer him into Army Intel under my command."

"The arrangement worked out pretty well for a few months. He's bright and made significant contributions rather quickly. I was impressed, it had been worth the trouble and the markers I'd had to pull in to make the transfer happen. Then, six months later, he went behind my back and arranged a transfer for himself to Air Command."

Carl looked puzzled, "How could he arrange a transfer without your knowledge if he was under your command."

"I told you he was bright, he forged the papers. By the time I realized what was going on, it was too late to stop it. I considered having him court marshaled, but the commander he transferred under convinced me not to. Pilots were in short supply then and he was a damn good pilot."

Carl considered what his brother-in-law had revealed, then asked, "Tell me, Hunt, how old was HM when you met him?"

"I fail to see how that is relevant . . ."

"Just tell me," Carl said, exasperated.

Stockwell looked into his drink, "Murdock's files indicated that he was 19, but I have reason to believe that that is not accurate," he admitted.

"And he'd probably been with the CIA for at least a few months," Carl speculated, "So, in other words, he was a scared kid looking for a way out of a bad situation. I question who took advantage of whom."

Stockwell just glared at Carl, but Carl wasn't phased, he was used to his brother-in-law's ire, "Did you give him a chance to fly in Army Intel?" Carl was in his 'lawyer' mode again.

"No," Stockwell said shortly, "Flying is done by qualified pilots in Air Command."

"From what I understand, Murdock is a born pilot," Carl said, "Did you honestly expect him to be happy in Army Intel?"

"You are missing the point, this man broke the rules to get himself transferred out of my command. After I had gone to great pains to help him."

"I think it is you who is missing the point," Carl said, looking Hunt squarely in the eye, "He did not get himself transferred out of your command. He got himself transferred in to Air Command. It's where he belonged, Hunt."

Stockwell sighed, he'd always hated debating anything with Carl, it was difficult to win, "I'm going to bed. I will sort this out with Smith and Murdock tomorrow."

"Before you do anything stupid," Carl said, a slight smile curving his lips, "I'd like you to consider one fact, if you try to place a wedge between Nancy and Murdock, all you're going to do is alienate Nancy. You are not going to stop them from seeing each other."

"I have options for bending the Captain to my will." Stockwell said, sounding almost evil.

Carl laughed outright, "I'm not debating that, Hunt. I'm sure that the pardons are a powerful persuader to a group of men who have been on the run for over ten years. But what happens when you issue the pardons? What then? Nancy is a very patient young woman. She'll wait and then you won't have any way to coerce compliance from HM. Eventually, they'll be together."

Stockwell glared at him, "Then I'll hold the pardons."

"Indefinitely?" Carl said, "That's pretty underhanded, even for you. Besides, you'll only hold onto them for so long. Eventually they'll decide being on the run is better than working under those conditions. You'll be in the same boat."

Stockwell set his jaw. He knew Carl was right and it was really infuriating. Maybe he needed to approach this from a different direction. It bore consideration. He stood and headed towards the door.

"And Hunt," Carl continued, "keep in mind that even if you do manage to somehow arrange it so Nancy and HM can't see one another, you're going to really tick Nancy off. She holds a grudge like her mother. So I'm assuming that you'll be making a conscious decision to not ever see her again." Carl kept his face neutral. He knew that would hit a nerve. No matter how much Hunt criticized Nancy, he knew that he cared deeply about his niece. She was his only real family and Hunt wouldn't want to lose that.

Stockwell just glared, "I have some work to finish at the jet. I'll be back in the morning to collect the Captain. Goodnight Carl.

Murdock smiled thinly at Nancy as they entered the bedroom, "I think that went well, don't you?" he asked sarcastically.

Nancy walked over to him and put her arms around his waist, "You are not marrying my uncle, you're marrying me," she said, "Uncle will come around, just give him time."

Murdock relaxed and put his arms around her. He sighed, "Aw well, 'The course of true love never did run smooth."

Nancy shook her head ruefully, "Alright Lysander. Let's just hope that in our case it is one of Shakespeare's comedies, and not one of his tragedies!"

Murdock grinned, "I'm optimistic," he said, "You seem much more the Hermia type than Juliet."

Nancy laughed, "Don't take this wrong, but I honestly can't see you in a tragedy anyway. I love you, but you are definitely no Romeo."

Midnight Confidence

Murdock had trouble sleeping, turning the situation over in his head and trying to see every conceivable angle. When he heard Nancy's even breathing, he slipped out of bed, pulled on some clothes, and went downstairs to get something to eat. That always helped him think.

In the kitchen, he opened the fridge and surveyed the contents before pulling the leftover ham and some mustard out. A ham sandwich would do the trick.

Carl appeared in the doorway, "I thought I heard someone down here. Didn't hear the piano so I figured it wasn't Nancy."

Murdock smiled, "She really used to wake you up with Chopin, huh," Carl nodded, grinning, "Me, I eat when I'm stressed." Murdock said, and sat down at the counter with his Dagwood ham sandwich.

"You know," Carl said, moving into the kitchen, "That looks pretty good. I think maybe I'll make myself one."

Carl fixed himself a sandwich then leaned against the counter opposite Murdock and ate. He looked at Murdock reflectively, "Hunt told me that he knew you in Vietnam."

Murdock nodded, "He helped me out of a bad situation and I really appreciated it. CIA was not for me, and I wanted out pretty bad," he put his sandwich down on the plate, and turned to face Carl, "But Army Intel wasn't much better, and when the opportunity in Air Command came up, I couldn't pass it up. I tried to talk to Stockwell about it, but he was no different then than he is now. If it didn't fit with his view of how things should be he didn't want to hear it. So . . . I figured out a work around."

Murdock shrugged, "I'm not saying that what I did was right. I really figured the General would have me thrown in the brig," Murdock chuckled reflectively, "Heck, maybe that's what I really wanted. I don't know."

Carl took advantage of Murdock's openness, "So, how old were you really when you joined the CIA?"

Murdock looked at Carl in surprise, "I was almost 17," he said quietly, "My grandparents had passed away, and I didn't have anywhere to go. It wasn't too difficult to get a fake ID, and I had already graduated high school, so it wasn't hard to convince the recruiter that I was 18."

Carl nodded his head, "You were even younger than I thought," he said, "Why the CIA?"

"Are you kidding? That Air America recruiter made it sound like the greatest thing next to peanut butter and jelly. I already had my pilot's license, and I loved to fly," Murdock grimaced, "Unfortunately what they didn't tell you was that you had to have a general lack of conscience, or be a total nut case to really make it there. I might have been able to hack it towards the end of the war," he added regretfully, with a self-deprecating smile, "but not then."

Carl looked at Murdock appraisingly, "Have you ever tried to explain to Hunt why you left Army Intel?"

Murdock shook his head, "There really hasn't been an opportunity," he said, "Not that I've tried overly hard to make one."

He looked at Carl, "How angry is the General?"

"Pretty pissed, HM," Carl said candidly, "but I don't think he'll do anything that could alienate Nancy."

"Maybe not, but he could still make my life pretty miserable," Murdock laughed bitterly, "Not that that's anything new."

Dread

The next morning was overcast and cold, which pretty much fit with everyone's mood. They had a quiet breakfast. Murdock had packed his bag and dropped it by the door in anticipation of the General's return. He also called Hannibal to warn him what was going on.

"Murdock, how was your Christmas?" Hannibal asked cheerfully when he came on the line.

"I've had better . . . Hannibal, we have a problem . . ."

"What is it?" Hannibal asked, concern evident in his tone.

"It's about Stockwell . . .," Murdock hesitated.

"Spit it out, Captain," Hannibal ordered.

"He's Nancy's Uncle," Murdock said flatly.

"I think we have a bad connection, Murdock," Hannibal said disbelievingly, "I thought you just said that Hunt Stockwell was Nancy Clay's uncle."

"The connection is just fine, Colonel," Murdock could hear surprised laughter in the background and sighed, if you weren't living it, he had to admit it really was kind of funny, "Hannibal, this is serious. The General is not happy."

Hannibal pulled it together, "No, I don't imagine he is. When is he dragging your butt back here?"

"He said he'd pick me up early this morning . . . that we would work this out with you."

"That sounds ominous," Hannibal said thoughtfully, "What does Nancy think of all of this."

"She thinks it will be fine," Murdock said doubtfully, "But I think she may be delusional."

Hannibal chuckled, "She's known Stockwell longer than either of us, Murdock. Let's hope that she's right. One way or the other, I guess we'll find out shortly."

Murdock sighed, "Yeah, I just wanted to give you a heads up. I imagine we'll be at the compound before noon."

"See you then," Hannibal said, "And, Murdock, try to relax. We're just gonna have to see where this goes. You know the Team will stand by you."

"Thanks Colonel."

After breakfast, Murdock began pacing around the living room. He'd had several cups of coffee trying to stave off the fatigue from being up late and sleeping poorly, and now he was wired.

Nancy sighed as he made his fourth circuit of the room, "HM, please sit down, you're making me crazy."

"Sorry, Short Cake," he said dropping onto the couch next to her, "I'm seriously wondering if your uncle is gonna let me live to see our wedding day."

Nancy smiled, "I know you two don't get along, but I really don't think he'd commit murder. Your life should be safe," Nancy grinned wickedly, "But I wouldn't be so sure about your manhood. Dad said Uncle freaked when we went to bed last night."

"That'll really put a crimp in our family plans," he said, smiling weakly.

Nancy curled up next to him, and he put an arm around her, "It will all work out," she said reassuringly.

"I hope so," Murdock said, "What are you planning to do while I get my butt chewed out?"

"I'm gonna head back to Langley today, too," Nancy said, "I think Dad is going to come with me. We'll probably get out of here late morning, so I should be home by mid-afternoon. Call me when you can?"

"I'll call as soon as I know what's what," Murdock said. They heard a car turn into the driveway, "Sounds like my ride is here."

The General walked in a minute later, "Let's go, Captain."

"Yes, sir," Murdock said, he leaned down and kissed Nancy on the cheek, "See ya later, Short Cake." With that he headed out the door past Stockwell, to the waiting car.

Nancy stood and walked over to her uncle, "Please don't be an ass, Uncle," she said quietly.

Stockwell looked at his niece, "How this turns out is entirely up to Captain Murdock and the A-Team."

The Deal

The General didn't speak to Murdock the entire trip back to Langley. When they arrived at the jet, he went straight into his office and closed the door, leaving Murdock to his own devices. Murdock couldn't decide if that was a good sign or not, but was just as happy to be left alone.

The car ride to the compound was equally silent, and Murdock followed the General meekly into the house when they arrived.

"Colonel Smith, please come with me," Stockwell said as he swept through the living room and back to his office.

Hannibal fell into step beside Murdock and they entered the office on Stockwell's heels, "Well, General," Hannibal said facetiously, his cigar clenched in his teeth, "Did you have a nice Christmas?"

Murdock rolled his eyes and dropped into a chair, why did Hannibal always have to joke at times like this? Stockwell did not look the least bit amused.

"I trust that Captain Murdock has filled you in on my family tree," the General said stiffly, ""We have a situation which needs to be rectified."

Hannibal took his cigar out of his mouth and crossed his arms, "I understand that Nancy is your niece. I guess I'm a little uncertain about how that impacts the deal. Why don't you tell me?"

"Colonel, this situation is intolerable," Stockwell said, "I don't trust the Captain to stick around once this deal is closed, and I will not see my niece hurt in that way."

"Therefore," he stood and walked around the desk, holding out a packet of papers, "I am willing to give you your pardons today, if . . ."

Murdock stood angrily, "I am not going anywhere, General. Nancy and I are getting married and there is nothing you can do about it." He jabbed a finger at Stockwell's chest to emphasize his point.

Stockwell glared at Murdock, "Sit down, Captain, and allow me to finish. I am willing to give you your pardons today, but only if you agree to sign this long-term contract to continue working for Stockwell Enterprises. The deal is for the entire Team, including Captain Murdock." He held the contract out to Hannibal.

Hannibal's expression was unreadable. He took the papers that Stockwell held out, "And if we choose not to accept the terms . . ."

"Trust me, Colonel, I will find the worst missions on God's green earth to send you on to fulfill you're current obligation. It will not be pleasant."

Hannibal nodded in understanding, "How long do we have to make a decision?"

"I will give you 24 hours," Stockwell said, "You know how to reach me. Good day, gentlemen." And with that he stalked out.

Hannibal turned to Murdock, "Well, that was an interesting turn of events. Let's talk to the others."

Decisions

"I don't want to do this for the rest of my life, Johnny," Frankie said quietly, "I want my pardon, and the sooner the better, but not if it means I gotta work for Stockwell forever."

"I understand your reservations, Frankie," Hannibal said. He turned to where Face was sitting at the desk in the office pouring over the contract, "Well Face, what do you think?"

"It's a pretty standard, life sentence contract," Face said, looking up, "Is there any room for negotiation?"

"We can always ask," Hannibal said, "the worst Stockwell can do is say 'no'."

BA looked at Hannibal, "What happens if we don't take this deal?"

"Stockwell said he'd make the last missions . . .," Hannibal searched for a word and finally settled on, "difficult."

"You know, Colonel," Face said, "the compensation plan offered for services is quite generous. I'm guessing this is why the Abels are so loyal." He bent back to reading.

Hannibal sighed, "Honestly, we were all, perhaps with the exception of Frankie here, wondering what we were gonna do when this was all over. There are worse things than working for Stockwell."

BA looked uncertain, "It's not that I mind the missions, man, but it sure would be nice to decide what we do and don't want to do."

Face agreed, "We could add a clause to the contract stating that any mission may be turned down, at our discretion."

"I like it, Face."

"Wait a minute," Frankie said, "I have a career in LA. I don't want to work for Stockwell anymore."

Hannibal put an arm around Frankie's shoulders, "I understand, kid, and I think I can make a good argument to Stockwell not to include you in the long term deal. For the rest of us, it may be the best option, anyways. What do you think, guys?"

Face shrugged, "The money looks really good - I'm in. As long as we can get a few kinks ironed out of the contract," he added hastily.

BA nodded, "If we can turn stuff down that we don't want to do, then I think we should go for it."

Hannibal turned to Murdock, who had been strangely silent during the entire discussion, "Well, Captain?"

Murdock stood and shoved his hands in his pockets, "Either way this turns out I'm gonna end up with Stockwell in my life. You guys make the decision about how you wanna do this."

Hannibal looked around at the assembled group, "Face, mark up the contract with recommended changes. I'll call the General and see what we can negotiate."

Epilogue

As it turned out, the General was more than happy to negotiate the contract, though there were some terms he was set on. He allowed them to add a clause allowing discretionary declination of missions, but only in cases where national security was not at risk. He also agreed that Frankie Santana did not have to be included in the long-term deal, he was free to go back to LA and his career as a special affects artist.

Once the deal was set, the General had the Team's pardons in hand within the week, all official and signed by the President, himself. He even had a special surprise for his future nephew-in-law - a bona fide pilot's license, with qualifications for several of the aircraft that Murdock had flown over the course of the past year.

Over the following weeks, the Team members worked to set everything in order to take up permanent residence in Langley . . . except of course for Frankie.

Once Frankie received his pardon, he said goodbye and headed back to LA, promising to keep in touch. He was anxious to get back to some semblance of a normal life.

BA went to Chicago and had his mother's home put on the market. He then moved her out to Langley permanently where he could take care of her.

Face and Amy took a week and went to LA, where Face formally met her parents, and they announced their engagement. Then they also returned to Langley to find a home.

Hannibal and Maggie tied the knot in an informal ceremony at the Justice of the Peace. They then found a home just outside of Langley and settled in.

Nancy and Murdock also decided to find a home, and move out of Langley proper. They found the farm house Nancy had always wanted, with a pond, and room for a couple dogs, and eventually some kids.

Over the next few months the Team took on their first missions as official Abel agents. Overall the arrangement seemed to work. The General was no less demanding than he had been before, but the Team felt in more control of their lives than they had in some time.

In May, there was a double marriage ceremony at a small, non-denominational church in Langley. Face convinced Father Magill to come out and officiate. Though the Father had reservations about conducting such a solemn ceremony at a non-Catholic church, he agreed, because he understood how important it was to Templeton that he and his best friend take the first step into the rest of their lives together.

Nancy and Amy were given away by their fathers. Face and Murdock stood at the front of the church, both in dress uniform, looking nervous but happy. Hannibal and BA stood for their team mates, and Trixie and Angela, Amy's sister, were matrons of honor.

The ceremony was brief. Father Magill gave a moving sermon about the importance of relying on one another and always being there for the people in your life, "The bonds that tie the tightest are not those wrought of blood but those wrought of love. Blood thins and dries with time, but love, freely given and freely accepted, grows stronger as time passes. This I hope and pray for these young couples here today."

The reception was held at a local hall immediately after the ceremony. There was a live band to provide entertainment, and a huge spread of food. Everyone had a wonderful time.

Late that evening, when just about everyone was gone, Nancy's Uncle arrived. He had come to the wedding, but had not shown up at the reception until now. He strode over to where Nancy and Murdock were standing saying goodbye to Trixie and Joe.

Trixie glanced up as the General approached, and took Joe's arm, "Well, we really should be going before the baby sitter turns into a pumpkin. We'll see you for dinner Saturday night," with that she pulled Joe out the door.

The General came over, "Sorry I'm late, but I had some things to take care of," he smiled fondly at his niece, "You look beautiful, so like your mother." He leaned down and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

He then turned to Murdock, "Captain, I expect you to take good care of my niece," he said sternly.

Murdock saluted him, "Sir, yes sir - I wouldn't dream of doing anything else."

He looked at Murdock gravely, and then held out his hand. Murdock was taken a bit off guard, but quickly took the hand in a firm handshake. The General unbent for just a moment and said, "Welcome to the family . . . son."

When Nancy and Murdock arrived at their new house that night, Murdock swung Nancy up into his arms and carried her over the threshold, "That makes it official, this is our home," he said, setting her carefully back on her feet.

Nancy looked up at him with a thoughtful look on her face. Murdock smiled and said, "Dollar for your thoughts . . ."

The lyrics to 'Fire' were running through Nancy's mind again, like so many months ago, when she and Murdock were first getting to know each other. She put her arms around his neck and said, "I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, our army of angels can finally find a little peace."

For a while . . .

The End