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For disclaimers and author's note see Part I.

 

Part 3


Hawke turned Caitlin over, dragging her into his arms, his head shaking in denial even as his shocked eyes catalogued the scraped lump on her head and worse, the bloody wound in her shoulder. ‘No. Please God, no, not Cait.’ He smoothed her hair away from her, his trembling fingers following the line of her neck searching for a pulse.

‘Is she..?’ Byrne crawled up beside them.

Hawke found a beat against his fingers and he breathed out sharply in relief. He clutched her closer to him, put pressure on her wound and rocked her gently. ‘Stay with me, Cait,’ he murmured, his lips grazed her forehead, ‘don’t you dare leave me.’

A bullet hit the ground by their feet. Then another. Hawke’s head whipped round.

‘Hawke, we have to get out of here.’ Byrne said anxiously.

Hawke nodded and ruthlessly pushed his panic aside. A mask fell over his expression; his eyes became blank, deadly. He felt around and found Caitlin’s gun. He threw it at Byrne. ‘I’ll take her. You cover us. Count of three.’

They started to inch back, slowly first on the ground until they were behind an old derelict wall. As soon as they were covered by the meagre protection, they got to their feet and Byrne fired some warning shots. Hawke carried Caitlin into the hangar, running as fast as he could. He balanced her in his arms as Byrne opened Airwolf. Hawke carefully lowered her into the co-pilot seat, trying to ignore the spreading red stain across the front of her uniform. He ran around to take his own seat as Byrne made his way into the cockpit and took the empty seat at the engineer’s console.

‘You remember how to set up the weapons?’ Hawke asked harshly, starting the engines, bringing the systems on line.

‘Hawke…it’s been three years…’ Byrne looked at the vast switches and buttons aghast.

‘Remember. Fast.’ Hawke snarled, moving them out of the hangar, hearing the weapons deploying as Byrne found the right buttons. As soon as they were in the open, they started taking small arms fire, the bullets ricocheting harmless off the armour. He triggered the chain guns, loosening a barrage to keep their assailants at a distance and called for the turbos. He ignited them, taking off like a jet into the sky which was beginning to lighten with the first rays of the morning.

‘Raise our radar suppression.’ Hawke snapped at Byrne. ‘And reconnect our communications.’

‘Right.’ Byrne followed his instructions with shaking hands, calming as the once-forgotten actions came tumbling back to him. The monitor in front began clicking through aircraft id. ‘Uh…Hawke…radar’s picked up a helicopter on their way to us.’

Hawke dived, keeping Airwolf level. ‘Adjust our radar deflection see if we can’t confuse them.’

‘On it.’ Byrne said. ‘They’re firing missiles – heat-seeking.’

‘Deploy two sunbursts.’

‘Deploying sunbursts. Got one. Missed one. Evade.’

Hawke banked hard left then right, and then came off the turbos. The missile flew past into the mountain beside them. He reignited the turbos and sent Airwolf into a power climb, turning to dive back behind the helicopter. He fired a missile and didn’t wait to see it impact, sending the helicopter to the ground a burning ball of steel.

‘We’re clear, Hawke.’ Byrne noted. ‘They’re toast.’

Hawke pressed the buttons to connect him to Michael. The image of the FIRM’s deputy director flickered into view on the video link.

‘Hawke, where the hell have you been? You’ve missed…’

‘Michael,’ Hawke’s urgent tone halted Archangel mid-flow, ‘I need a hospital in Maine prepared to handle gunshot wounds and possible head injury. Cait’s been hit bad.’

‘There’s a FIRM clinic. We’ll send coordinates now and notify the clinic of your ETA.’ Michael nodded at someone beyond the camera to make the arrangements and then leaned forward. ‘How is she?’

‘Unconscious, Michael.’ Hawke glanced at her still form. ‘She’s…’ His fear reached up and choked him.

‘Airwolf is monitoring her vitals as erratic, Archangel.’ Byrne said. ‘Pulse is weak. She’s losing a lot of blood.’

‘Byrne?’ Michael’s voice rose. ‘What’s he doing on the controls?’

‘Helping to save Caitlin’s life.’ Hawke snapped.

Michael nodded slowly. ‘I’ll meet you at the clinic.’

Hawke nodded and disconnected. ‘Lock in the coordinates and put her on auto, Byrne.’

‘Receiving and locking in coordinates, Hawke.’ Byrne said. ‘Auto engaged.’

Hawke took his helmet off and shifted in his seat. ‘Byrne, there’s a first aid kit…’

‘Already on it.’ Byrne handed him the pack and gently attached a breathing mask to Caitlin’s face, hooking it up to a small oxygen canister. Hawke reached over and started to press a bandage to her shoulder. He tried to ignore how her uniform was already soaked through. Byrne taped it to her and then handed Hawke a blanket to wrap around her. The younger man wrung a cloth out using water from the stock they kept and laid it over her forehead.

‘This should help with the swelling.’ Byrne said.

Hawke nodded, his eyes glued to Caitlin’s pale face and slid his hand into Caitlin’s. His fingers rubbed against hers. ‘Hold on, Cait, just hold on.’ He found his mind drifting back to the past, to the moment he’d met her…

A jail cell was a jail cell whether it was in ‘Nam or Pope County, Texas. Hawke had stretched out on the thin mattress covering the cot’s rickety frame, following the old maxim to rest when the opportunity presented itself. Jimmy’s friend was right, the sheriff was a mean one; the deputy on the other hand a dweeb. If he was going to get out of this cell alive it wasn’t going to be because either of those men helped him. The sound of raised voices outside in the office caught his attention. A woman. The door opened and footsteps had his head turning.

Not here huh?’ The Texan accent tinged all her words.

Hawke fought with the bed a little and got to his feet as the deputy babbled something about the story that he’d given; that he was James Blake and his id had been stolen.

You’re not him.’ The eyes under the cap scouring him as he approached the cell bars were somewhere between blue and green. God, she was young, he thought, and pretty, kinda cute. Highway patrol not local law enforcement, he realised taking in the cap legend and the uniform as he asked if she was looking for Jimmy.

If that’s the biker I saw Sheriff Bogan run to the ground yesterday, yes.’ Damn, that didn’t sound good.

I sure would like a word with you miss?’

Deputy…Caitlin.’ Yeah, young enough to get flustered. He introduced himself, his real name, to the shock of the boy stood next to her. He brushed him off quickly and looked hopefully at Caitlin as he repeated his request to speak to her.

I’m listening.’ Her face was tilted up to his, her attention on him.

I’m getting Sheriff Bogan.’ The boy started out of the cells and she looked pleased to see him go, her annoyance with the deputy evident in the flash of temper sparking through her eyes.

You do that deputy. All right Mr Hawke. What have you got to say?’

There was something about her that compelled him to tell her the truth; that he’d gotten a phone call to come rescue Jimmy, about what the friend had said about the sheriff; she told him what she’s seen and he found himself finishing with a plea to let him go for Jimmy’s sake; it was Jimmy she was concerned about. She asked him how he was going to find him and he gave some glib answer to cover for the truth that he would use Airwolf.

The deputy…Caitlin paced away, pulling the cap from her head and shaking loose red hair in a short page-boy style. ‘I’m going to nail Sheriff Bogan’s butt on a couple of counts…’ Taking on the corrupt sheriff; she’s young but she’s got guts, he thought as she continued ‘…including the murder of your friend if he did that but I’m not busting anyone out of jail.’ She was under the wall light when she spun round to face him again and a shock of recognition ran through him; the previous night in Airwolf, he’d rescued a woman who’d tried fighting off a truck full of cowboys on her own.

You’re her.’ Dammit, did he just say that out loud!

What?’

He covered and fast. ‘You kinda look like a lady I met recently.’ He looked at her. She was honest and straight as an arrow, of course she wouldn’t bust him out of jail. He had to find a way to work within her principles or he wasn’t getting out. ‘Listen if you won’t get me out at least let me make a phone call to a friend who will.’

Sheriff Bogan didn’t let you make a phone call?’ She walked back over.

Does it look like it?’ He gestured at the cell.

No.’ Caitlin gave him a half-smile and an unexpected knowing look. She’d wanted to help him and he’d found the compromise she’d accept. She started to walk away to get the keys and he gave an inward sigh of relief. He’d call Dom and…and she was stopping, turning back to him with a hint of suspicion in her eyes. ‘If you try anything cowboy I’m going to make what he did to you look like love-taps.’ She glared at him, her chin up as though daring him to take a shot or worse, laugh.

Their eyes connected in the dim lighting. He replied with quiet sincerity. ‘I know.’

Hawke heard the footsteps running towards him down the hospital corridor and he rose seeking the man who’d been there for him his whole life. Dom didn’t hesitate, just opened his arms to the boy he’d raised regardless that he was now a grown man and held on whilst Hawke clung to him. When Hawke finally inched back Dom breathed in sharply as he caught sight of his damp shattered eyes.

‘Caitlin?’ Dom asked fearful of the answer, trying hard to ignore the dried smeared blood on Hawke’s uniform.

Hawke took a breath, fought for his control, wondered when he’d lost it. Maybe in the fraught minutes before they arrived at the clinic as he’d held Caitlin’s hand and seen her grow paler and weaker with each minute. Maybe in the chaos of arriving at the clinic at seeing her being placed on the stretcher, of refusing to leave her side until the doctor had forcibly shoved him away. Maybe at the moment they’d shouted they were losing her and the dull tone of the machine as her heartbeat failed…

‘Surgery.’ Byrne answered. ‘They almost lost her in the ER but they got her back and took her straight to surgery. We haven’t heard anything since.’

‘Marella, go and see if we can’t get some information.’ Michael instructed. She nodded and laid a hand on Hawke’s arm before walking away, her stilettos clicking down the linoleum floor.

‘Byrne.’ Michael took the young man aside away from Hawke and Dominic who both sank onto the bench to wait, the older man with a comforting a hand on Hawke’s shoulder.

Byrne handed over his watch. ‘Your designs are on a microdot in the centre of the clock face, Archangel.’

‘Thank you.’ Michael motioned for another one of his aides to step forward. He handed her the watch. ‘Laura, see this and Mr Byrne get to where they need to go.’ He turned back to Byrne. ‘Everything is as you requested it.’

Byrne nodded and hesitated, glancing at Hawke. ‘I’d like to know if she makes it. She saved both of our lives.’

‘I think we can work something out.’ Michael covered his surprise by rubbing his moustache as Byrne walked back over to Hawke who got to his feet. The two men stood and regarded each other for a long moment.

Byrne folded his arms defensively. ‘Good luck, Hawke. Tell Caitlin thank you when she wakes up.’ He gave a mock salute and went to walk away.

‘James…’ Hawke waited until Byrne turned in surprise at Hawke’s use of his first name. ‘Thanks.’

Byrne nodded and followed Laura out.

Hawke sat back down and waited.

Michael left the security guard he had been talking to and joined them a few minutes later.

Hawke didn’t react, didn’t seem aware of the other man joining the vigil. You have to make it Cait, he thought, you always have before, from the very first time…he stared at the floor, back in the past…

He was back in Airwolf. One minute he was running through brush, dodging bullets from hunters and the next running through a pack of lions chewing down on what looked like one of Dom’s old uniforms and into the cockpit; safe, back where he was meant to be. But it wasn’t over. He’d gotten his call to Dom but at a cost to Caitlin; the sheriff had her. She had helped him, now he needed to help her. He’d brought Dom up to date before ribbing him about the uniform…

I don’t want to hear anymore about it.’ Dom said with a tone that told Hawke he’d pushed the bantering as far as he could. ‘ETA in three minutes. She’s a chopper pilot huh?

Yeah for the Texas Highway Patrol no less.’ He still couldn’t believe she was a cop.

What’s her name?’

Caitlin.’ Hawke’s eyes narrowed on a sudden thought. ‘I just hope she’s OK. I don’t think her being attacked by those men last night was a coincidence.’

You think..?’

I don’t know,’ Hawke cut across Dom’s worry, ‘but either way, we’ll get her out.’

You’re right about that String. Main street dead ahead.’

Hawke brought Airwolf in on a fast approach, angling straight for the Pope County jail, swinging around he pressed the turbos and the turbine ignition sent a wash of pressurised air that took out the windows in the police station. He ordered up the chain guns and he shot up the vehicles outside; a demonstration of Airwolf’s fire-power. He hovered in front of the shattered window and stared at the sheriff. Dom hit the button for voice projection.

Morning, Sheriff.’ Hawke said, ‘I’m going to make this real easy, even for you. You have thirty seconds to send out the girl.’

There was movement in response to his demand; he could see it but his gut was telling him the sheriff wasn’t going to back down.

Hey String two people going out the back.’

He lifted Airwolf, peeked over the top of the building and saw Caitlin running with the dweeb of a deputy around the side to the front, where her aircraft was.

There she is. I hope he’s letting her go.’ He frowned as she climbed into the patrol chopper. Her shirt was torn. Gunshots hit the dirt floor in front of the chopper; the deputy went down. Hawke put Airwolf between the chopper and the jail, protecting her as best he could but the shots kept coming.

Come on Sheriff don’t make me do it.’ Hawke murmured as the gunfire continued. He’d been right; the sheriff wasn’t going to back down at all. ‘Yeah.’ He hit the trigger on the chain guns and thinking about the torn shirt on Caitlin, gave in to his temper; he blew the jail up with a missile. The resulting explosion drenched the cockpit in the orange light of a fireball. He swung Airwolf around to face the patrol chopper.

Are you OK?’ He asked gruffly. If she’d been hurt…

Yeah.’ Her voice was a tangle of emotions. She lifted the chopper off the ground a little. ‘Stringfellow Hawke?’

Both he and Dom jumped. ‘She knows you?’ Dom asked incredulously.

She’s guessing.’ He hoped. ‘Who’s that?’ He radioed back.

Well whoever you are…thanks.’

Hawke relaxed and tried to ignore the wash of pleasure at the simple word of gratitude. ‘You’re welcome.’ He hesitated and then moved off; she was safe, there wasn’t any more reason to stay.

Hey wait a minute. Hey you can’t leave.’ She was following them, he realised amused.

Why not?’ He teased, letting her catch up, happy to humour her.

You just blew up the Pope County jail, the sheriff and half the cowboys in town.’

To save you.’ Dom answered.

Who said that?’ She shot back, the surprise at someone else being there evident.

I ain’t telling.’ Dom was laughing now.

Well whoever or whatever you are a hearing’s got to be held and you’ve got to answer some questions.’ Completely outmatched and still trying to do what was right. She either had more guts than sense mused Hawke, or she’s true to the bone. Or maybe both.

For what?’ He murmured.

Cos that’s the law.’ That was his cop – honest and straight as an arrow. And Michael thought he saw things in black and white, Hawke thought wondering wistfully at her idealism. He looked across the sky at her. They couldn’t stay even if, Hawke realised with a twinge of regret, he wanted to. He started to ease Airwolf forward, getting some space between her and the small patrol chopper.

Well, see you around kid.’ He hit the turbos as soon as they were clear and Airwolf shot forward, leaving his cop behind.

The wait seemed endless. Dom managed to coax Hawke into changing out of the ruined uniform and into spare clothes. At some point Marella came back with coffee.

‘What’s taking them so long?’ Hawke wondered out loud, getting to his feet and pacing.

‘You just have to be patient, String.’ Dom said.

‘She’ll make it Hawke.’ Michael reassured him.

Hawke rubbed a hand over his face. ‘She lost so much blood.’ He said softly.

Dom looked down unable to speak, tears pricking at the back of his eyes.

Michael cleared his throat. ‘She’s a lot of tougher than she appears, you know that Hawke.’ He attempted a small smile. ‘After all she has to be to put up with the two of you.’

Dom harrumphed, secretly appreciative of the other man’s attempts to lighten the moment.

More footsteps walking towards him…Hawke whirled and the others got to their feet to greet the approaching doctor with anxious eyes.

‘Doctor?’ Michael asked when it looked like Hawke wasn’t going to speak.

‘We’ve stemmed the damage to her shoulder caused by the bullet. It luckily didn’t hit anything major but it did make quite a mess of the muscle and soft tissue. The head injury looks minor but we won’t know the full effects until she wakes up.’ He hesitated. ‘Her recovery may be complicated…she seems to be in the early stages of an infection of some kind. We’ve started her on antibiotics and transferred her to ICU.’

‘Can I see her?’ Hawke asked gruffly.

‘Of course.’ The doctor gestured for a nurse. ‘When you go in, don’t be alarmed by the equipment she’s hooked up to; it’s all there to help us keep a close eye on her and do our jobs.’

‘Thank you, Doctor.’ Michael said.

The doctor nodded and moved away. The dark haired nurse gestured up the corridor. ‘If you’d like to follow me.’

Hawke followed the nurse into the recovery room with Michael and Dom close behind. His heart pounded hard against his ribs as his eyes caught on the figure of Caitlin lying prone on the hospital bed. An oxygen mask covered the lower half of her face, a small bandage lay over her head injury and a larger one covered her shoulder and peeked out from under the hospital gown. A monitor registering her vitals was hooked up on one side, an IV drip on the other. She looked incredibly pale, incredibly fragile.

Hawke rubbed his chest and walked over. He sank into the leather chair by her bedside and took her limp hand in his own. He was oblivious to everything and everyone else. At the back of the room Dom and Michael exchanged an uncomfortable look and both backed out slowly. Dom closed the door quietly and stared at it with a worried frown.

‘What’s going on with the two of them?’ Michael asked bluntly.

Dom turned slowly to meet his gaze. ‘If I knew…’ he opened his hands expansively.

‘Why weren’t you with them?’ Michael asked.

‘Don’t remind me.’ Dom pushed away the useless guilt…if he’d been with them…

‘Why?’ Michael insisted. He sighed at Dom’s mulish expression. ‘Dominic…’

Dom gave a huff of annoyance. ‘Caitlin’s been thinking of leaving.’

‘She’s going to leave?’ Michael’s eyebrows shot up.

‘No.’ Dom sighed. ‘She was thinking about it, that’s all. It’s just...I figured if they had some time alone...’

Michael sighed and decided he didn’t need to walk through that particular minefield; he had another one to deal with. ‘Dominic, I have Airwolf.’

Dom’s head whipped back to him so fast Michael feared the older man would have whiplash. ‘You what?’

‘I have Airwolf. Hawke left her on the roof. Unsecured.’

Dom folded his arms and glared at him. ‘Of all the low down…’

‘If I hadn’t taken her, someone else from the FIRM would have.’ Michael pointed out. ‘She was already gaining attention.’

‘Well, I guess that’s that then….’

Michael tapped his cane impatiently. ‘I had her airlifted to a secure location as soon as you’re ready I’ll take you. You can fly her to wherever you want.’

Dom’s eyes flew to his. ‘You…you…’ He stuttered before gesturing at the spy. ‘Why?’

‘Because I made a deal with Hawke and I’ll keep it.’ Michael said firmly ignoring the more personal reasons that had prompted the action.

Dom’s eyes slid to the door. He wouldn’t need to be here for a while and this was something constructive he could do to help. ‘Lead on then.’

Hawke was swearing under his breath at the Steerman. It was a hot day and the last thing he needed was to be flat on his back on a metal trolley wrestling with wing-nuts. He could feel the heavy cotton material of the overalls sticking to his back. The old plane needed dismantling never mind overhauling, he thought grumpily. He heard the sound of someone walking towards him; cowboy boots. Well, whoever it was they were just going to have to wait, he grumbled to himself as the footsteps stopped right next to him; it had taken enough time to get into position, he wasn’t planning on moving until he was done.

That’s the thing about these old Steermans. You think getting the oil can cover off is trouble enough but then you drop a wing-nut and you have to be a contortionist to get it.’

Right on cue, he dropped a wing-nut. He had an upside down brief glimpse of the slim-figured woman in a cotton shirt and jeans as she handed it back to him; half her face covered in sunglasses and a cap pulled low over her forehead hiding her hair. Nice smile, though.

Thanks.’

My pleasure.’

He turned back to the Steerman. ‘Something I can do for you?’

Something I can do for you? Well I thought I’d get a much better welcome than that after travelling all the way from Pope County Texas just to find you Stringfellow Hawke.’ He dropped the wing-nut in shock and stared at her. ‘You know you could wear this around your neck.’ She said handing the wing-nut back to him again.

He took it from her and twisted, shifting onto his stomach on the trolley to take a better look and found himself smiling.

Caitlin. Deputy Caitlin.’

I know that.’

She smiled at him and he gave a small laugh, pleased to see her rather than nervous. And he should be nervous; the last time he’d seen her she’d been trying to get him to stay and answer for blowing up the Pope County jail.

How’d you find me?’ He asked.

Chopper pilot with a name like Stringfellow Hawke? I just called the first,’ she turned away from him, the Santini Air chopper catching her attention and removed her sunglasses to take a better look, ‘ah…three hundred S Hawke’s in the phone book. What is that?’ She pointed at the equipment in the chopper.

He struggled off the trolley and went to stand next to her by the Steerman’s wing.

That’s a Tyler mount. You use it for shooting film out of choppers.’

You do that fancy flying stuff?’

She sounded so impressed he was eager to confirm that he did. For a beat, the two of them stood leaning on the wing, looking at each other.

So what brought you here?’ He asked finally. Please don’t say to arrest me, he thought.

Oh I had some time off.’ Caitlin removed the cap and shook her red hair loose. ‘You know after you shot up the town and everything I took a leave of absence. Didn’t want to be a flying meter-maid anymore.’ He tried hard not to react to her comment about shooting up the town and felt the bottom of his stomach drop out at her next question. ‘So where do you keep it?’

What?’ Maybe he could pretend he didn’t know anything, just bluff his way out.

That monster machine of yours.’

What monster machine?’

You know, that black battleship with the rotors. It’s most incredible helicopter I’ve ever seen in my life.’ Black battleship with the rotors. It was the best description he’d heard of Airwolf for a while. He’d have to remember to tell Dom. Damn, but she was persistent though. He pushed away some disappointment that it had been Airwolf that had brought her to the airfield.

I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Their eyes connected.

Her face dropped as she read his. ‘Oh. You don’t want to talk about it.’

Ain’t nothing to talk about.’ Hawke muttered. Drop it, Caitlin please, he thought.

OK.’ She said. He knew as he looked into her eyes that she hadn’t bought it; she knew the truth but his honest, straight as an arrow cop was going to let it go. For now, at least.

Caitlin looked down and then back at up at him. Hawke wondered why she was nervous.

Ah. There’s one thing I have to tell ya. I brought your friend back.’

He swallowed hard. Jimmy. She’d brought back Jimmy. He tried to focus on what she was saying, something about finding his remains out in the desert. Her eyes caught his and then he was drowning in compassion as she saw right through to his sadness and regret.

I’m real sorry.’

He attempted a smile, failed. So he responded to the compassion instead. ‘Thanks.’

Hey. You saved my life even if you don’t want to admit it.’

He was still looking into her eyes and realised with some surprise that she’d come for him, to be with him when he found out about Jimmy and not for Airwolf at all. That was it; without even thinking his arm was around her and he was leading her into the hangar, into his life.

Hawke raised his head from the bed with a jerk. He’d thought he’d heard…he scanned Caitlin’s face anxiously. She was so still, her chest falling and rising in shallow breaths. It had been almost twenty-four hours since she’d been shot. He searched for the words to bring her back to him. He scrubbed at his face with his hands trying to banish the tiredness eating at him, eroding the last of his defences…he shook his head…he’d lost those before she’d been injured…

‘Cait,’ Hawke whispered as his fingers traced over her face before he clasped her hand in his, ‘please don’t…don’t die.’ He held her hand against his rough cheek and closed his eyes. ‘Come back to me…I love you.’ The murmured words whispered through the silent room, drifted on the sunlight beginning to filter through the blinds.

Caitlin stirred; a tiny movement.

Hawke’s eyes flew open and he raised his head from the back of her hand. He reached over to gently stroke her hair away from her face. Her eyelids fluttered open and he found himself looking into blue-green eyes fogged with sleep and the painkillers they had given her. She raised her free hand weakly trying to move the oxygen mask. Hawke helped her remove it completely and when she licked her lips, he helped her take a drink of water.

Caitlin frowned at how pale Hawke looked with shadows under his eyes and the rough shadow of his beard covering his lower face; even his casual clothes created an unexpected impression of vulnerability. He put the drink back on the bedside table and she winced at the myriad of aches and pains assaulting her as she settled back against the pillows.

‘What happened?’ She asked her mind failing to recollect why she’d ended up in a hospital bed.

‘You got shot, banged your head, caught an infection.’ He slid his hand back over hers. ‘Nothing serious.’

Her blue eyes searched his face seeing again the shadows and the paleness. She’d scared him, she realised as her mind started to sludge through the morass of drugs. ‘Sorry.’ She managed.

Hawke nodded sharply. ‘I should get a nurse.’

‘In a minute.’ Caitlin blinked at him trying to focus properly. ‘You were here...the whole time?’

Hawke squeezed her hand. ‘I’ll get the nurse.’

‘String…’ her fingers clutched at his, keeping him with her even as the tiredness and drugs pulled her back under; her eyes closed and she drifted into sleep again.

Hawke stood paralysed for a long moment. She was going to be OK. The relief rocked him backwards. He sank back into the chair still holding her hand. He held it to him tightly. He’d almost lost her…the thought scared him to death. He tried to take a breath, get air into his lungs. What the hell was he going to do now?

Part 4


Hawke was pacing impatiently, waiting for the doctor to finish examining Caitlin when he saw Dom and Michael approaching. He came to a standstill and sat down on one of the hard plastic chairs in the corridor. Dom took the one next to him; Michael remained standing.

‘How is she?’ Dom asked, his eyes taking in the younger man’s tension.

‘Coming to.’ Hawke said.

Dom relaxed seeing the clarity was back in Hawke’s blue eyes; Caitlin must be doing better. He gave a gap-toothed smile. ‘That’s good news.’

‘Yeah.’ Hawke allowed a small smile to cross his lips. She was safe. For the time being.

‘Are you up to telling us what happened?’ Michael asked.

Hawke shrugged and folded his arms. ‘She got shot.’

Dom’s eyes filled with amusement as the spy gave a long-suffering sigh. Hawke was definitely back to his usual self.

‘How?’ Michael asked.

‘Does it matter?’ Hawke asked.

‘I need to know if Byrne was involved in anyway…’

Hawke shook his head at Michael. ‘It was my fault.’ He watched Dom and Michael exchange a look. ‘It was.’ He insisted. ‘I was out in the open without cover. If Caitlin hadn’t…’ He took a breath. ‘She pushed me out of the way and took the bullet. She saved my life.’

‘Ah hell.’ Dom said quietly. No wonder Hawke had acted so crazy.

Michael sighed. ‘You can’t blame yourself, Hawke.’

Hawke shrugged again and changed the subject. ‘Byrne get to his new life OK?’

‘Yes.’ Michael sat down, leaning on his cane. ‘The designs he brought us were valuable.’ He hesitated. ‘I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you but…’

Hawke sighed. ‘Byrne told me he stole the info back in eighty-two to pay for his mother’s health care. Is that true?’

Michael nodded. ‘He was very young, Hawke. Brilliant but young. He took a wrong path.’

‘Yeah.’ Hawke nodded. Byrne had certainly come through for them in Airwolf…Hawke’s eyes went wide in alarm and he shifted suddenly, turning to Dom. ‘Dom, the Lady…’

Dom waved him back down into his seat. ‘She’s safe.’

‘Safe.’ Michael agreed, amused as Hawke’s head whipped round to him. ‘No thanks to you I might add.’

Hawke looked from Michael to Dom and then back again. Both wore matching bland expressions. He shook his head. ‘I don’t want to know.’

‘I’m not telling you either.’ Dom said.

Michael smiled enigmatically and stroked his moustache. He cleared his throat. ‘I took the liberty of calling the O’Shaunessy’s. They should be arriving soon.’

Hawke glanced at him in surprise. He hadn’t even considered her family but of course Caitlin’s folks should be told; they would want to be with her and she would probably want them close. He glanced at Dom; by the look on the older man’s face he wasn’t the only one who’d forgotten that Cait had another family.

The doctor came out of Caitlin’s room and all three men rose to greet him.

‘She’s doing well.’ He said. ‘She’ll be out of commission for a while with the shoulder and she’s going to need some care for a time. She was very lucky. She’s sleeping now.’

Hawke breathed out in relief. ‘Thanks, doc.’ He was already walking back into her room and missed both the doctor’s nod of acknowledgement and the look Michael and Dom exchanged. He closed the door behind him and returned to his seat by her bedside. She was off the oxygen but there was a machine hooked up and taking her vitals. She still looked too pale. He took her hand. Caitlin turned and her eyes opened to meet his.

‘Hey.’ She said groggily.

‘Hey.’ He replied. ‘The doctor says you’re going to be fine.’

‘That’s good.’

He gave a small smile. ‘Michael called your folks.’

‘He did?’ Caitlin frowned. God knew how her parents were going to take the news she was doing more than flying stunts. They were going to be furious. She couldn’t handle them. She blinked at sudden tears.

‘Hey.’ Hawke almost panicked at the sheen in her eyes. ‘It’s going to be OK. They’ll be here soon and…’

‘They’re going to be so mad at me.’ She said interrupting him.

Hawke stared at her. ‘You’ve never told them?’

‘About Airwolf?’ Caitlin blinked at him in shock. ‘Of course not. They don’t know anything.’

Hawke was staggered. ‘Well, you don’t have to worry about that right now. You’re tired.’ He noted, rubbing the fingers he held. ‘Close your eyes. Get some rest.’

She sighed and glanced over at him. She was tired; she could barely keep her eyes open. ‘You’ll stay with me?’

‘I’ll be right here.’ He promised as she closed her eyes and gave in.

He must have fallen asleep himself because the room was dark and only dimly lit with the lamps on the side tables when he jerked awake. He pushed a hand through his hair, his eyes automatically going to Caitlin. She was still sleeping. His head tilted. Voices outside. Raised voices. There was an argument going on. He frowned. If they got any louder they’d wake her. Hawke let go of Caitlin’s hand reluctantly and went to investigate.

The opening of the room door brought the argument outside to a halt as all the participants turned in his direction. He slipped out of the room and closed the door behind him while he reviewed the situation. Dom stood unusually shoulder to shoulder with Michael; Marella was next to the spy. Hawke could read the strange mix of hurt and defiance in Dom’s expression. His blue eyes slid to the middle-aged couple and pregnant woman they were faced off against; Caitlin’s parents and her sister, Hawke deduced. All three had flushed cheeks and temper in their eyes. The silence was painful even for him; he cleared his throat.

‘You must be Caitlin’s parents?’

Patrick O’Shaunessy’s green eyes narrowed at Hawke. Caitlin had always talked with fondness about Santini but this one…Caitlin was worryingly quiet about and when she did talk about him…there was always something in her voice that as her father set his teeth on edge. ‘I’m Patrick O’Shaunessy.’ He held his hand out automatically and found it briefly in an iron grip before being released.

Hawke dropped the other man’s hand and wondered what the hell to say as the other man introduced his wife, Maggie and their daughter, Erin. ‘This must be quite a shock for you. Caitlin told me she hasn’t told you about the nature of the work we do.’

Patrick’s eyes gleamed and flickered briefly to Michael before returning to Hawke. ‘She hasn’t told me anything and I’d like some answers.’

‘We all would.’ Maggie added angrily. ‘My daughter is lying shot…’

‘She saved my life.’ Hawke said.

‘And exactly what was it you were doing that meant she had to save you?’ Maggie asked.

‘They were on a mission for me.’ Michael said firmly.

‘A mission.’ Patrick repeated.

‘As I was trying to explain before,’ Michael said, ‘Santini Air has a contract with the FIRM to perform surveillance and occasional missions in the interests of national security.’

‘And as I said to you, I’ve never heard of this FIRM.’ Maggie rejoined.

‘The FIRM is a highly covert agency,’ Marella said calmly, ‘we were established by George Washington after the War of Independence and the establishment of the first US government. We work under the same mandate as the CIA.’

‘And what was this mission she was on when she was shot?’ Maggie asked.

‘I can’t tell you.’ Michael returned. ‘National security.’

‘But you should know that the work your daughter performs is critical and essential.’ Marella added.

‘And dangerous.’ Maggie pointed out.

‘So what the hell happened?’ Patrick asked.

‘It was my fault.’ Hawke admitted.

‘Your fault?’ Patrick folded his arms and glared at Hawke. ‘You want to explain that?’

Hawke adjusted his stand, prepared himself for the punch he deserved to get. ‘Just what I said.’

‘Pat,’ Maggie O’Shaunessy laid a hand on her husband’s arm before he could react, ‘this isn’t the time.’ Her blue eyes flickered to Hawke. ‘How is Caitlin?’

‘She’s sleeping.’ Hawke took a breath. ‘The doctor says she’ll make a full recovery.’

The O’Shaunessy’s breathed a sigh of relief.

‘Thank God.’ Patrick uttered.

‘Well, thank you for your concern,’ Maggie stated, ‘but we’ll take it from here.’

‘But…’ Dom looked at Hawke. The younger man’s face was impassive, his blue eyes guarded.

‘We appreciate your staying with her but we’re her family.’ Maggie insisted. ‘We’ll take over now.’

Dom’s brow lowered ominously. Hawke shot him a look before the older man could erupt.

‘Ma’am,’ Hawke met her determined blue eyes with his own, ‘I promised her I’d stay with her. I’m not going anywhere.’

Maggie frowned but before she could say anything, Erin put her hand on her mother’s arm. ‘Thank you. We’re all tired from the journey and could do with a rest, maybe some food?’

‘There’s a cafeteria down on the second floor.’ Marella said quickly. ‘I’d be happy to show it to you.’

‘Thank you.’ Erin stared meaningfully at her parents who both nodded reluctantly.

‘I guess some food wouldn’t hurt.’ Patrick admitted. He stared at Hawke. ‘Perhaps you could let Caitlin know we’re here when she wakes up and send someone for us.’

‘Yes, sir.’ Hawke replied.

‘If you’d like to follow me.’ Marella led the O’Shaunessy family down the corridor.

As soon as they were out of earshot, Hawke turned to Dom and Michael. ‘Well that went well.’

Dom looked abashed. ‘They took it real bad, String.’

‘And they weren’t prepared to listen.’ Michael added. He wondered how he’d let the argument escalate though; diplomacy, negotiation was his daily existence. Maybe he’d been affected by the events of the last day more than he’d thought. It was an uncomfortable conclusion.

‘Their daughter got shot.’ Hawke pointed out to his two friends. ‘They’re hardly likely to be OK about that.’ He sighed. ‘Like I said Cait told me she hasn’t told them anything about Airwolf or what we do.’

‘So it’s been a complete shock to them.’ Michael sighed and tapped his cane on the floor as though impatient with his own inability to have seen it for himself.

‘We care about her too.’ Dom said firmly gesticulating in fine Italian style. ‘And they should realise that. You’ve hardly moved from her bedside.’

‘They are her family, Dom.’ Hawke gently reminded him.

‘Even so, Hawke.’ Michael added.

Hawke turned as his ears picked up the sound of approaching footsteps and a moment later, Erin O’Shaunessy came to a breathless halt in front of them. She’d practically run back to the room. She tried to take a breath, her hand stealing to her rounded abdomen and Hawke steered her into a chair as he ordered Dom to get her something to drink.

‘Thank you.’ She gasped. ‘I just…’

‘Catch your breath.’ Hawke advised. His eyes flickered over her. ‘Should you be running around like this?’

‘I’m pregnant not an invalid.’ She sounded so like Caitlin, Hawke found his lips twitching.

Dom arrived back with some water. ‘Here you go. You drink it slowly now.’

‘Thank you Mr Santini.’ Erin smiled up at the old man who her sister spoke so fondly about. Her gaze drifted to Michael and his sartorial elegance and then back at Hawke. So this was the man her little sister was so confused about. ‘I just…I didn’t want you thinking we were all unappreciative for what you’ve done.’

Hawke’s lips twitched again. ‘Your folks are upset. We understand.’

‘For them to find out that she’s involved in slightly more than stunts and border hops, well…’ Erin shrugged. ‘I think they figured when she stopped being a cop that they could stop waiting for ‘that call’, you know.’

Hawke nodded, his eyes grave. He had gotten Caitlin involved with Airwolf; gotten her involved in something that might necessitate a call to her family to tell them she’d been hurt like she was now or worse one day…he tuned back into Erin.

‘…they’re a little shocked right now, that’s all. We’re glad she had you all to turn to.’

Dom’s face lit up with his trademark gap-toothed grin and even Hawke’s blue eyes warmed at Caitlin’s sister.

‘Thank you.’ Hawke gestured at the room. ‘I’ve got to get back to her.’

‘I understand.’ Erin got to her feet. ‘I’ll see you later?’

Hawke nodded. He watched her until she was out of sight before he took a step back to the room.

Dom’s hand landed heavy on his shoulder. ‘Want some company?’

Hawke looked at Dom’s hope-filled look and then to Michael’s. The knowledge that they were worried and wanted to be with her too warred with an instinctive reaction to say no; he wanted to be alone with her. His gut clenched; maybe it was for the best…her family were here and he was…he was getting too close…

‘String?’

Dom’s gentle prompt had Hawke sighing. He gestured at the room. ‘Sure.’

Part 5

Hawke checked his watch and then checked again at the clock on the wall in the comfy seating area. In the last few days since the O’Shaunessy’s arrival an informal rota for being with Caitlin had been worked out between them and the Airwolf team. It was an arrangement that suited no-one. While Erin had seemed happy to have them around, Patrick was only beginning to grudgingly accept them and Maggie…well, Maggie seemed determined to keep them away from Caitlin completely. Dom had finally admitted defeat that morning and headed back to LA with the Lady using the excuse of an urgent job at Santini Air as his reason for going. Michael had simply had Marella arrange everything so they could run the division from the clinic instead of FIRM headquarters. Hawke had a suspicion that the deputy director was staying to provide him with additional support although the other man would never admit it and he would never ask.

Hawke checked the time again. It was almost lunchtime. The O’Shaunessy’s generally let him sit with Caitlin whilst they were in the cafeteria. He frowned. Caitlin was improving but she still looked too fragile. She was still sleeping most of the time but the doctor had said it was the best thing for her as it allowed her body to heal particularly with the minor concussion. Hawke sighed. There had been an unexpected side effect from the head wound; short term amnesia. Caitlin couldn’t remember anything after their initial arrival in Maine for the mission. She didn’t remember Byrne or his wife, the attempt to take Airwolf, her saving his life…she also didn’t remember their conversation in the hangar just before she’d gotten shot when he’d asked her not to leave. He pushed the memory aside and glanced up at the clock.

‘We’re almost done.’ The amused Texan drawl so like Caitlin had his head whipping around. Erin.

Caitlin’s sister gestured at the seat next to him. ‘Mind if I join you?’

Hawke shook his head. ‘How is she?’

‘Better.’ Erin smiled. ‘Arguing with my mother so I think she’s on the mend.’

‘She’s in no condition to argue with anybody.’ Hawke commented, a worry line appearing in the middle of his forehead.

‘That’s how it is with them.’ Erin said rubbing her bump. ‘Caitlin’s always been fearless about life and Mom worries about her, that’s all.’ She gestured at him. ‘You were looking pretty serious when I walked up, everything OK?’

Hawke glanced over at her and nodded.

‘Sure about that?’ Erin pressed.

Hawke was torn between amusement and annoyance; the amusement won out and his eyes suddenly twinkled at her. ‘You know you’re a lot like your sister.’

Erin laughed. ‘I’ll take that as a compliment.’

Hawke smiled at her.

‘Come on, what’s on your mind?’ Erin asked again. ‘I promise I won’t tell anyone.’

Hawke sighed at the determined look in her green eyes. ‘When Cait came back from Texas a few weeks back she told me she was thinking about leaving LA.’

‘She told you?’ Erin checked.

Hawke nodded. ‘I was just thinking that it might not be such a bad idea.’ He admitted. Caitlin had been shot saving his life…if she left, if she wasn’t involved with Airwolf or him, she would be safe. He should never have asked her to stay…

‘You know until now I would have agreed with you.’ Erin’s quiet words startled him out of his thoughts. She smiled at his confused face. ‘I talked to her when she visited us in Texas. I thought she’d made a mistake moving to LA because I didn’t think she was going to get what she wanted in life.’

‘And now you don’t think it was a mistake?’ Hawke asked.

‘She could have gotten shot if she’d stayed with the force.’ Erin pointed out. ‘What I meant was that now I’ve met y’all and I’ve seen how much y’all care for her, I think I was wrong. That’s what I’ll be telling her.’

Hawke looked down at the beige carpet unsure what to say.

Erin bit her lip and wondered if she should say more.

The sound of someone moving round the corner into the seating area saved them both from making a reply. Erin stood up to greet her mother and Hawke rose politely to do the same.

‘Caitlin’s asking for you Erin.’ Maggie said. ‘You’d best get going to see her.’

‘Yes, Mom.’ Erin smiled a farewell at Hawke before moving away down the corridor.

Hawke was surprised when Maggie sat down in Erin’s vacated chair but he slowly sat back down.

‘I hadn’t realised Caitlin was thinking of leaving LA.’

Hawke shifted uncomfortably in his chair. ‘You heard that?’

‘I was eavesdropping.’ Maggie admitted bluntly.

Hawke pressed his lips together and folded his arms. What he was tempted to say would only bruise the already fragile relationship he had with Cait’s mother.

‘You know of all my children, I’ve worried about Caitlin the most.’ Maggie continued. ‘She was always the one who pushed herself. It wasn’t enough that she could climb a tree, it had to be the tallest. If her horse jumped a six foot fence, well next time it would be seven. When she said she was joining the police force, I knew…’ her voice broke and she took a deep breath, regained her control before continuing, ‘I knew it would be a matter of time before I got a call because I knew if there was trouble, she’d be in the middle of it.’

Hawke didn’t comment; he didn’t know what to say.

‘Only the force wasn’t risky enough, dangerous enough for her, was it?’ Maggie said. ‘She found something else. And now she’s lying in a hospital bed.’

Hawke sighed and shifted to look at her. ‘What is it you want from me?’

‘I want my daughter safe. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.’ Maggie said. ‘Only she won’t listen to me…’

‘And you think she’ll listen to me?’

‘I think you know you could influence her decision.’ Maggie insisted.

Hawke stared at her. ‘Caitlin has a mind of her own.’

‘She does,’ Maggie allowed, ‘but you and I both know my daughter’s half-way in love with you.’

He broke his eye contact with her abruptly, resisted the urge to leap to his feet.

‘I also think you’re half-way in love with her.’ Maggie continued ruthlessly ignoring the flash of denial and anger that seared her as his eyes shot back to hers. ‘And I think you want her safe too.’ She stood up. ‘I think you know what you need to do. All I’m asking is that you do it.’

‘If I do, I’ll hurt her.’

His words stopped her from leaving.

‘Yes.’ She admitted. ‘You will.’

‘And you could live with that?’ Hawke asked staggered at the conversation.

‘I love her and I would live with anything if it meant she would be safe.’ Maggie returned. ‘Could you live with knowing you had the chance to keep her safe and didn’t take it?’

Hawke didn’t stop her from leaving again; there was nothing more to say.

Part 6

Caitlin shoved the dish of god-only-knew-what that was her lunch away and tapped her fingers impatiently against the portable hospital table before pushing it away. She leaned into the pillow and winced at the soreness in her shoulder. At least the headaches had stopped the day before. It was the damned last time she was throwing herself into the path of a bullet, she thought miserably, particularly seeing the doctor had told her it would be weeks before she’d be able to fly again. Not to mention the whole debacle with her family now knowing she wasn’t exactly doing a normal job. At least Hawke had stayed with her.

The memory of waking up and finding him with her had her smiling automatically and she raised her good hand to touch her lips. She shouldn’t get too hopeful, she cautioned herself. Hawke was already beginning to blame himself for what happened; she could see it in his eyes and it probably didn’t help that her family had also firmly placed the blame for what had happened on him despite her protests.

A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. She sighed deeply and called out for whoever it was to enter. Hawke stepped inside Caitlin’s room and saw her eyes widen in delight. He felt a twinge of guilt. He’d normally be sat with her by now but after his conversation with her mother he’d needed time to think…Caitlin was struggling to sit up, he realised and he closed the door, walked over and helped her. He shrugged off her thanks and stood awkwardly by the side of the bed, thrusting his hands into the pockets of his jeans.

‘How are you feeling?’ He said finally.

‘OK.’ She smiled a little shyly at him, and noting his serious expression, her heart sank a little.

‘You looked…rested,’ he concluded.

Her red hair was loose around her shoulders, brushing the simple nightshirt that had replaced the hospital gown. Her face was still pale and the bandage over her forehead had been removed revealing a mottled bruise shot through with an angry red scrape but there were no shadows under her eyes and they were looking back at him clear and sharp for the first time since the shooting.

‘Yeah. I’m feeling a lot better.’

‘Good.’ He murmured. He searched for another topic, something else to delay what he’d come to say.

‘Dom get away OK?’ Caitlin asked.

Hawke nodded more enthusiastically than the subject warranted. ‘He called. The Lady’s safely back in the Lair.’

‘That’s a relief.’

Hawke nodded again; he dropped his gaze. There was an awkward silence.

Caitlin picked unhappily at the creases in her sheets and sighed. ‘Why don’t you just come out and say whatever it is you have to say?’

Hawke’s blue eyes shot to hers and she raised an expectant eyebrow. He cleared his throat. ‘Your father told Michael your family were taking you back to Texas to recuperate.’

‘He did?’ Surprise and anger edged the words; it was news to her.

‘I think it’s a good idea.’ Hawke folded his arms and took a deep breath. ‘And I think you should stay in Texas once you’re better. Maybe it’s an opportunity for you to do what you said…leave LA, have that family you want.’ He’d thought about it and it was for the best. She was in too much danger staying involved with Airwolf, with him.

Her eyes narrowed on him. ‘You want…you want me to stay in Texas?’

He held her shocked gaze but didn’t reply; he couldn’t, there was a lump in his throat.

‘I see.’ Her expression became guarded.

‘Caitlin,’ Hawke took a deep breath, ‘you’re important to me and I don’t want to lose your friendship…’

‘Friendship…’ She muttered under her breath.

‘…but I don’t want you to put your life on hold to help me find my brother.’ He wanted to look away from the hurt she was trying to hide but firmed his resolve; he was doing this for her. ‘You deserve better.’

‘I deserve better.’ She repeated dully. She stared at him and he looked away from her intent regard without saying another word. ‘Well if that’s the way you feel…’ Her throat closed on a sob, tears flooded her eyes. She covered her face with her hands. She didn’t want to cry dammit, she wanted to throw things at him but her body, too weak for her anger, was finding the only release it had…she tried to stem the tears cascading over her fingers.

The sight of her tears tore at him and his carefully constructed defences crumbled under his need to comfort her. Hawke took one step forward and then another. He sat on the bed and gently reached out to pull her towards him, her head against his shoulder, burrowing into him as she cried herself out in his arms. His arms tightened around her. Eventually she quietened, swiping her hands over her face and taking first one tremulous breath then another as she brought herself back under control, inched away from him. He let her go that inch.

‘I don’t know why I’m crying.’ Caitlin muttered embarrassed as she avoided his eyes. ‘I want to hit you.’

Hawke almost smiled at the comment.

She took a deep hitching breath and her damp eyes met his. ‘You know it wasn’t your fault I got shot.’

‘It was my fault.’ Hawke met her eyes reluctantly. ‘You could have died, Caitlin.’ His head bowed. ‘You almost did and I couldn’t live with myself if…’

She flinched as the quiet words trailed away. She stared at his bowed head for a long while, suddenly understanding what he was doing. Her hand crept up and her fingers smoothed through the dark strands, comforting him. He stirred and her hand slid over his rough cheek.

‘You don’t have to send me away.’ Her words were a plea.

He raised his eyes to hers. ‘I need you safe.’

Her blue eyes were pained; her emotions too close to the surface to hide them. ‘Then I guess there’s nothing more to say.’ She looked away at anything other than him. ‘When do you leave?’

‘I think it’s best,’ he had to take a breath; it was though he suddenly couldn’t breath, ‘if I leave today.’

‘Well,’ Caitlin said brokenly unsure how much longer she would hold together, ‘you should go.’

Hawke loosened his hold and tried to ignore the rising panic her words provoked, the pain that jolted through him; he stepped back and started to the door. His hand was on the handle when he paused, stared at the wood directly in front of him sightlessly. ‘I’m sorry, Caitlin.’

Hawke didn’t look back until the door was shut behind him. He could hear the sound of her crying through the wood. He rested a hand on it as though he could reach through the solid material to comfort her. The door blurred in front of him. Whether it was right or wrong, he’d made his decision; he had to live with it. He shook his head and walked away.

fin.
 

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