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Fanfiction: Reality Check - Part IV

For disclaimers and author's note see Part I.

 

Part 5


Hawke resisted consciousness, burrowing back under the blankets seeking oblivion. Sounds nudged at him. A door closing. The chatter of a departing helicopter. They poked him slowly but insistently out of sleep. He was groggy as his eyes opened little by little and he instinctively reached across the bed for Caitlin. His hand closed on an empty space and the memory of the helicopter hitting the ground arrowed through him like a knife.

He closed his eyes on a wave of pain that stole his breath. His body asserted control and air rushed into his lungs. He couldn’t understand why he was still breathing; he didn’t want to be breathing. He pressed his body into the mattress, cold despite the warmth of the blankets and the fire that burned in the hearth, tried to seek the comfort of sleep and dreams where reality could be avoided.

His body refused to cooperate and made its own demands known. He slowly crawled out of his nest. His body protested and he felt every bruise, every scrape and every pulled muscle. He limped naked into the bathroom and after relieving himself, turned the shower onto full power and stepped under the punishing stream of cold water. He stepped out and towelled off the excessive water before he brushed his teeth and walked back to the bedroom with his skin damp and shivering. He headed back for the bed, back to oblivion. He’d barely gotten under the covers when he heard a sound at the bedroom door. He ignored it and closed his eyes.

‘String?’ Dom’s voice carried from the doorway and he heard the older man’s footsteps approaching the bed. ‘I’ve brought you some soup.’ There was a small thud as a tray was pushed onto the bedside table. Hawke turned away from the sound, turned away from his oldest friend and surrogate father. He wanted to be alone.

‘You have to eat String. It’s been two days and you’ve barely had anything.’ Dom wheedled and Hawke felt a hand on his shoulder, heard the other man sigh. ‘Patrick called.’

Hawke flinched.

‘The funeral is the day after tomorrow.’

There was silence.

Dom pressed on. ‘I thought we’d take the Lady and…’

‘You can take the Lady.’ Hawke corrected. His voice sounded hoarse and rusty to his own ears.

‘You have to go to the funeral; you have to say goodbye properly.’ Dom insisted.

‘Why?’ Hawke asked bluntly.

‘Because you need to pay your respects.’ Dom said his voice rose in volume. ‘And her family are expecting us, they’re expecting you. Please, String, they’ve been real understanding about…’

‘About my killing their daughter.’

The words were so softly spoken that for a moment Dom thought he hadn’t heard them. ‘You didn’t kill her! Horn killed her…’ He fought back the image of the helicopter crashing headlong into the ground. ‘You can’t think that! She would never have wanted that.’

Dom sighed as Hawke continued to lie stiffly in the bed without any sign that he’d listened to a word. ‘Look, we’ll be in and out. We’ll take the Lady, just stay for the service and be home for bed.’

Hawke closed his eyes.

‘Dammit, String!’ Dom’s own grief and frustration bubbled up. ‘You can’t not go to Cait’s funeral!’

Hawke felt a weight settle on his chest and he struggled to breath. He pushed the covers back violently and Dom took a hasty step back. Hawke ignored him; he had to get out, had to get some air. He strode to the closet and pulled on jeans, a sweater and a pair of shoes.

‘Where are you going?’ Dom demanded. He followed Hawke out of the bedroom and down the stairs.

Hawke froze half-way down and had to fight the urge to bolt back to his bedroom, to safety. He blinked at Michael and Marella who were rising to their feet from their places in the sitting area. They were wearing black rather than their ubiquitous white. The colour of mourning floored him. It was the first time he’d seen either of them since…since they had pulled him away from the wreckage.

Michael felt a jolt of shock that he covered with a smoothing of his moustache. The younger man looked like a thin shadow of one who had set off to Texas. Hawke looked…lost. His blue eyes were blank and empty, devoid of any emotion, all the light in them erased. Michael exchanged a look of worry with Dom as Hawke stepped off the final stair and without a word walked out of the cabin.

The spy looked questioningly at Dom as he approached the sofa; they’d heard him yelling.

‘Dammit!’ Dom sank back onto the sofa. ‘I shouldn’t have…dammit!’

Marella laid a hand on his shoulder and looked helplessly at Michael. They didn’t know what to say; they were all grieving.

Dom sighed. ‘I’d better go after him…’

‘Maybe you should leave him for a while.’ Marella said gently.

‘Maybe you’re right.’ Dom grunted.

‘Look, why don’t you take a break? Go and check your air service.’ Michael suggested.

‘Jo’s home. She’s taking care of everything.’ Dom reminded him. His niece had flown back from Bulgaria as soon as she’d heard the news.

‘You need a break, Dom.’ Marella said gently. ‘Michael and I will stay with him.’

Dom frowned unhappily and got to his feet. He undid the apron he wore and went to get his blue jacket. He hesitated at the cabin door and turned back to Michael.

‘You won’t leave him?’ Dom asked. ‘He can’t be left.’ His fearful eyes communicated his unspoken worry that Hawke might be suicidal.

Michael held his gaze. ‘You have my word. I won’t leave him alone.’

Dom nodded. He paused on the porch to put his coat on, removing a bright red baseball cap from the depths of a pocket and placing it firmly on his head.

Hawke was standing at the edge of the lake looking out on the blue rippling water, his body tensed with arms folded and legs planted firmly apart. Tet stood next to him; he’d hardly left his master’s side since their return. Dom went to stand next to him.

‘I’m sorry, kid.’ Dom said, his voice breaking a little. ‘It’s just…hard for all of us.’ He reached out and tried hard not feel hurt when Hawke moved further away from him. ‘I’m leaving for a little while. Michael’s going to stay with you.’

‘Dom…’ Hawke’s quiet voice arrested the older man as he began to move away. ‘I’m sorry.’ He went back into the cabin before Dom could say anything more.

Hawke ignored Michael and Marella; he made his way back to the bedroom, oblivious to the dog at his heels. He stripped and climbed back under the covers, sought the void of sleep.

The nightmare crept up on Hawke slowly.

He was flying Airwolf alone. The sky ahead of him was filled with wisps of white clouds and although Airwolf cleaved through them easily there was no end to them. He felt fear and frustration building; his heartbeat and breathing escalating; he had to get through the clouds and find Caitlin.

He took Airwolf into a steep dive. Suddenly the clouds disappeared and he broke through into clear sky, the ground zipping past underneath his feet. There was a helicopter ahead and his heart lurched in his chest recognising it as the one which Caitlin had been bundled into. He chased after it, weaving in and out of the hilly countryside, but no matter how hard he chased the helicopter, he knew he wouldn’t catch it, couldn’t prevent what was coming…

It plummeted out of the sky.

All the remembered horror rose up and grabbed him by the throat. The nightmare shifted as he fought to breathe and he was suddenly on the ground and running through the burning wreckage. He continued to search desperately. He saw the scrap of blue material and his heart stopped. No, it couldn’t be… He stumbled forward, branches and thorns grabbed at him, tearing his flesh. He fell by the body of a woman dressed in a blue flight suit with red hair cascading down her back and onto the ground. She faced away from him. His hand reached out trembling… trembling because he couldn’t…he couldn’t believe it could be Caitlin and the body slowly rolled toward him…

Hawke bolted upright, gasping. The crackle of the fire snapped his eyes to the cheerful blaze. Tet whined beside him and he reached over to ruffle the mutt’s head as he sank back on the pillows. He’d had the same dream every night since…since…he couldn’t even bring himself to think it. He staggered out of the bed and into some jeans. He searched his bedside table and frowned when he couldn’t find his gun. Dom, he thought tiredly. He didn’t check the other side for Caitlin’s gun; he figured it was probably gone too.

He wandered down to the bar and poured a large drink of whiskey. He tossed the liquor back. It burned the back of his throat, brought tears to his eyes. He poured another and opened up the cupboard at the bottom of the bar. He reached in and took out a cigar box stuffed at the back behind a stash of wine and spirits. When he opened it a black gun stared up at him, a box of ammo tucked next to it. He took his drink, the gun and the ammo over to the sofa. He picked up a picture of Caitlin on a side table and placed it on the table in front of him.

Hawke loaded the gun with a thoughtless efficiency that hinted at his training. When he was done he laid the gun down by the picture and picked up the drink. His eyes caught on the image of Caitlin staring up at him. He set the glass back down without taking a sip and picked up the photo. Grief bowed his head and he felt the cool metal of the frame against his skin. She couldn’t be gone…he couldn’t have lost her too…his fingers tightened on the picture and he rocked helplessly back and forth against the pain. He didn’t hear Michael, didn’t notice him until the other man put his arm around Hawke’s shoulders and held him whilst he shook with tears he wouldn’t let fall.

The day of the funeral dawned impossibly bright and sunny. Michael had bullied Hawke into attending with a ruthlessness that Dom had admired and envied; the older man hadn’t been able to break through to Hawke at all. Hawke’s grief surrounded him like a shroud. The pilot was slowly willing himself to die and none of his friends knew how to stop him from simply fading away.

Michael and Marella waited at the back of the O’Shaunessy ranch-house with Caitlin’s parents to greet Hawke when Airwolf landed. Hawke stepped out of the helicopter. He pulled at the collar of his shirt and wished he hadn’t worn the suit Dom had bought him. It felt too tight, too suffocating. He barely had time to recognise Patrick before his father-in-law hugged him tightly, releasing him with a hearty slap on his shoulder.

‘You came.’ There was a suspicion of tears in Patrick’s eyes as he looked at the shattered man in front of him.

Hawke simply blinked in response.

When Patrick stepped away, his place was taken by Maggie who wrapped him into her arms. Hawke resisted for a second before succumbing to the maternal comfort, his own arms moving to hold her. He wondered if his own mother had lived whether she would have hugged him like this, smelling of peppermints and some floral scent that shrieked ‘mom’. She finally moved away to stand in front of him, her arms slipping around Patrick as her husband’s slipped around her in familiar support.

Hawke searched for something, anything to say and said the only thing that came to mind. ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.’

‘We know you did all you could.’ Patrick said, the sincerity in his eyes reminding Hawke so much of Caitlin that he forgot to breathe.

Hawke couldn’t respond and Patrick and Maggie turned to greet Dom and politely welcomed his niece, Jo. The young blond woman kept her arm tucked into her uncle’s. She had travelled with Dom and Hawke in Airwolf; she’d wished her second trip had been prompted by a different situation.

Michael gestured at the house. ‘Shall we?’

‘Come with us.’ Maggie took hold of Hawke’s hand and led him into the house.

The house will full of people. Hawke caught sight of family and friends…a lump lodged in the back of his throat. He retreated into himself and everyone took their cue from Dom leaving the bereaved husband in his cocoon of silence. Hawke was barely aware as they all made the procession to the O’Shaunessy’s burial plot.

It all seemed unreal, Hawke thought as he stared sightlessly into the impossibly blue sky, looking anywhere but at the casket being lowered into the grave. The quiet words of the minister drifted away on the faint breeze that washed over them. He suppressed the urge to leave ruthlessly and his fingers tightened on the yellow rose he carried like all the other guests.

The sun was warm on his back and burned through the new black suit. He wasn’t aware of the others; how Dom’s face was drenched in tears and the way he leaned on Jo; how Michael and Marella held hands with an intensity that bespoke their own fear of someday facing what Hawke was having to and their own grief for the bright, bubbly redhead who had become their friend. Hawke didn’t notice any of it; he was consumed by his own pain.

The service had almost finished; each person threw their yellow rose into the grave to lie on the casket. It was almost Hawke’s turn; his fingers clutched on the rose stem, a missed thorn pricked his finger.

He couldn’t do this.

He couldn’t say goodbye to her.

Beside him, Dom threw his rose and wiped his wet eyes as he looked to Hawke to continue the ritual.

Hawke froze; he couldn’t do it.

Michael moved forward seamlessly instead, as if it had always been planned for him to do his next. The moment passed and others continued, stepping forward and letting go of their roses. The service ended.

There was a reception up at the ranch-house and people started to drift away. Hawke remained standing next to the grave.

Dom put a hand on his shoulder. ‘String…’

‘Please.’ Hawke managed to get out the words out. ‘I need a minute.’

‘String…’

‘It’s OK, Dominic.’ Maggie said gently. ‘He can stay here as long as he needs to.’ Her hand patted Hawke’s gently in understanding and he felt Dom squeeze his shoulder before moving away, leaving him to say his goodbye in private.

For the longest time he simply stood where he was, letting the sudden hushed silence of the little burial plot seep into him. His blue eyes were fixed to the grave in front of him but he vaguely remembered the walk up the small hillside at the back of the ranch and how there were wild flowers teaming over the green ground like a carpet of colourful jewels, hiding the older gravestones, masking simple white crosses of previous generations.

Hawke’s gaze drifted unwillingly over the bright, white marble-stone of the newest grave. He took one step and another until he was at its side, the fingers of one hand reaching out to trace the words inscribed there; ‘Caitlin Hawke. Beloved.’

Beloved.

His vision blurred and he pulled his fingers back as though burned. He staggered as the overwhelming loss he’d been keeping at bay for four days broke through. Grief poured over him, dragged him under like a surfer caught in a riptide. Tears streamed down his face and he sank to his knees, unable to stand, unable to do anything but to sob helplessly.

Eventually, there were just no more tears. His throat was raw when he spoke. ‘How, Cait?’ His fingers traced back over her name. ‘How do I say goodbye to you?’ His voice broke. ‘This is all my fault.’ Hawke swallowed around the lump in his throat and raised his eyes up to the sky which seemed impossibly blue, impossibly bright. The sky should have been grey; the air thundering at him instead of the sun bathing him in a warm glow.

‘I can’t do this.’ He admitted. ‘I can’t say goodbye to you.’ He looked again at the headstone and shook his head. ‘I can’t believe you’re gone. I know what I saw…but I keep waiting for you to come back.’ His voice dropped to a whisper and he closed his eyes against the pain. ‘I don’t understand why don’t you come back?’

Hawke couldn’t say goodbye to her. He couldn’t. To say goodbye would be to admit she was gone and his heart just wouldn’t believe it. A breeze washed over him and the feeling that if he turned around, he would see her standing there smiling at him cheekily, her eyes twinkling back at him and their baby safe within her was so strong for a moment he was tempted to check.

This was all wrong, he thought furiously. It was all wrong that she was dead. She had to still be alive.

She was still alive.

The thought slammed into his head abruptly, ripping away the protective haze around him. His eyes snapped open and his mind shook free of the fog that surrounded him, started working again. His tears dried in the breeze as he tried to make sense of pictures of the rescue cascading through him, images flickering like broken film, snapshots of frozen time, questions and answers, bluffs and double-bluffs; disguises and deceptions until his heart and mind came to a single, shattering realisation.

Hawke got to his feet and looked back at the headstone; a keen intelligence gleamed from eyes now clear as the sky above. He faced the grave and gently threw his crumpled yellow rose on the top of the casket.

‘I don’t know who you are,’ he murmured, ‘but you’re not my wife.’

Part 6


‘She isn’t dead.’ Hawke insisted.

He tried not to be disheartened by the looks of complete disbelief on Michael and Dom’s faces. He had hustled the two men into Patrick’s study as soon as it had been humanly possible. There was a milling crowd just beyond the door still saying goodbye to Caitlin with finger food and alcohol.

‘What you’re suggesting Hawke….it’s just not possible.’ Michael leaned back in the leather chair and wondered apprehensively if Hawke was having some kind of breakdown. From the worry gathering in Dom’s eyes, it was a thought the two of them shared.

‘I know I’m right. The whole thing was all about misdirection. Horn wanted Caitlin. She has to be alive.’ Hawke jabbed his finger on the arm of his chair.

‘Why would Horn want Caitlin?’ Michael reasoned. ‘He can’t know for certain she can fly Airwolf and why would he take her and not the machine?’

‘I don’t know.’ Hawke was forced to admit. He shoved himself out of his chair and walked to the window, pushing his hands into the pockets of his trousers. ‘It’s not important. The important thing is that he has her.’

‘Hawke, I don’t see how she could have survived.’ Michael swivelled in his chair, his voice thoughtful.

‘Easy.’ Hawke answered, hoping his theory was right. ‘Horn knew that as long as Caitlin was missing we would look for her, right?’

‘Right.’ Dom was pleased he could at least back him up on one point and he felt a twinge of guilt as Hawke sent his old friend and surrogate father a quick smile of thanks.

‘So he had to get us to believe something that would stop us looking.’

‘So you think he staged the crash to make us believe she was dead and we would stop looking.’ Dom summarised.

‘Yes.’ Hawke paced forward eagerly. ‘We were expecting him to ask for Airwolf in trade so he gave us what we expected but there were things that didn’t make sense.’

‘Like?’ Michael asked interested despite himself.

‘Horn could have shot us and taken Airwolf when we were all stood exposed in the Hollow but he didn’t. He provided us with a helicopter ostensibly for us to leave in but why would he let the only people who can fly Airwolf leave? If nothing else he would have been leaving himself open to a future rescue attempt.’ Hawke saw his points were registering with the other two men and pressed on. ‘It was an explosion on his side that started that shoot out – as though it were planned. Dom and I didn’t even get grazed by a bullet even though we were completely exposed in the middle of the clearing. Horn’s men had to better shots than that. We were left alive because we had to witness the crash.’

‘You were almost killed though, String. One of his men did tackle you.’ Dom objected.

‘He tackled me to give the chopper time to get away.’ Hawke gestured. ‘When he made to shoot me the second time, he was ensuring your focus was on rescuing me not on the chopper. It gave them time to make the switch.’

‘How?’ Dom’s face creased in puzzlement.

‘I think they landed the chopper with Cait out of sight almost as soon as they disappeared from our immediate line of vision. When we came after them in Airwolf we checked for an airborne chopper. That’s the one we followed. All Horn had to do was make sure its make and markings were exactly like the one in the clearing and when it crashed we would assume it was the same chopper.’

‘But the body…’ Michael said frowning.

Hawke shook his head. ‘All he had to do was substitute a female the same height and build, same general characteristics, wearing the same distinctive blue flight suit and he was fairly safe in assuming we would think it was Caitlin.’

Michael and Dom still seemed unconvinced.

Hawke sighed in frustration. ‘Think about it. We see Caitlin in a blue suit bundled unconscious into a chopper. We see the chopper take off. There are a few moments of delay before we can follow. We immediately look for an airborne chopper. We see one. It looks the same as the one we’ve just seen take off so we assume it’s the same chopper. It crashes and we find a body similar in height, build and characteristics dressed in the same blue suit as Caitlin. We automatically put two and two together...’

‘And get five,’ completed Dom. There was a spark of hope in his tone and Hawke breathed easier. If Dom could believe it…..

‘Which is what you could be doing now.’ Michael said.

‘Answer me this, Michael.’ Hawke cleared his throat. ‘Did we ever formally identify Cait’s body?’

Michael hesitated before he replied in an apologetic voice. ‘It was too badly burned for formal id.’

‘What about dental records?’ Hawke pushed away the image of a scrap of blue material and a fierce explosion that had flooded in his mind. It hadn’t been Caitlin; he had to hold on to that.

Michael’s hesitation was longer and Hawke held his breath as he waited for the other man to speak. When he did, the tone had changed; it too held a tiny hint of hopefulness. ‘We didn’t do a dental record match. We thought we knew who the body was.’

Hawke breathed out in relief. ‘We need to….’

‘Check the dental records.’ Michael picked up his phone, dialled a number and gave his instructions to an aide. He put the phone down. ‘Look, Hawke, I admit your theory is plausible but it isn’t probable.’

‘I know I’m right Michael.’ Hawke felt a strange calm settle over him. He got to his feet. ‘When will you have the results?’

Michael shrugged. ‘It could take a couple of days.’ His eyes flickered to the study door. ‘I would suggest we don’t tell the O’Shaunessy’s until we have something concrete to tell them.’

Hawke nodded.

‘What now?’ Dom asked.

Hawke turned to him, his blue eyes cold and hard with determination. ‘Now we go look for Caitlin.’

Continued in Part V.

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