Hey, folks. Welcome to my newest fic. This is my first Behind Enemy Lines fic, so be nice. Please.
Disclaimer-the characters belong to whomever. Admiral Vern Clark is, at the moment, the real Chief of Naval Operations. So I guess he belongs to himself. Much thanks to my sister Akila for the title. She's a great sister.
I used Scott O'Grady's book for some of the information here. His book is called Basher-Five-Two. Check it out.
Started on November 10, 2002
Ended on November 28, 2002
NO ROOM LEFT TO PRETEND
For I had come to hate the world
This world has always hated me
------ Les Miserables------
The nightmares never stopped.
They were always there, even when he took so much medicine that he thought his throat would dry up. They were always hunting after him, even when he was awake. He could always hear the gunshots, could always see them running, and could always see the gray, filthy bodies. Nothing could stop the nightmares, nothing at all.
When he slept, he dreamt. He dreamt of things no one should ever have to dream about. The gunshots, the exhaustion, the bodies… it was all there, still fresh and vivid in his mind. When he woke, he was a zombie. He could never sleep, it was as if there was this monster inside of him, clawing at him to return to the nightmares and feel guilty because he survived… and his best friend did not.
He wanted to scream, but screaming never solved anything in the world. Nothing at all. All it did was make the images more real, the gunshots even louder. Screaming answered nothing, but in the bliss of the moment it brought relief. He trained himself not to scream because he knew that he couldn't deal with the aftermath of what it brought. He didn't want the gunshots to become louder.
What could end this? What could end these horrible images plaguing at him.
Nothing, he thought. Nothing at all.
Chris Burnett hated Christmas. He hated the fact it was so jollier, so nice and tidy when the world wasn't like that at all. He hated the present giving; to him; the money should be saved and used on something else. His parents waltzed around like they couldn't be happier, and it sickened Chris to death. How could they be so happy when there were others around the world dying?
He watched them trim the tree, carefully hanging up ornaments that had been in the Burnett family for decades. He couldn't bring himself to join in. He was too tired, and the holiday fought against his principles.
"Chris, come and help us!" his mother said playfully.
He couldn't believe her. But he didn't want to hurt her feelings, so he looked for an escape. He found it in the means of the clock. "But, Mom! I need to get ready. I don't want to be late. You guys should get ready too."
Confused, his father looked to the clock. "But we've got an hour and a half!" he protested. His voice protested at the fact his son was trying to avoid being with them.
"Yeah…but I need to iron my uniform, polish my shoes, do my hair… I don't want to be late! This is an important dinner with Admiral Reigart. I want to look my best, don't I?" He gave them a forced grin.
"Well…if it's that important," his mother said. "Then-"
"See you," Chris said shortly and ran up the stairs.
His parents exchanged a worried look.
"He's getting worst," his mother said softly.
Chris tried to lose himself in the music.
The music was always his way out. He loved the feeling of lying on his bed and not knowing how long he laid there. At times, he would lay there on the bed and fall asleep to the music, and only then with the music at it's highest volume did he sleep without dreams. He depended on the music for sleep, and the music depended on him to be played, because none of his parents enjoyed the classical music he had dug up in the attic.
Classical music was so… beautiful. He couldn't understand why he loved it so. It was so beautiful and Chris had given up on everything being beautiful again. Except the music. The music was the most beautiful thing he had ever heard, and sometimes it took on a shape. He could see the notes flying from his radio, swirling into a dance. He watched, as they were small in pitch one minute and then so grand in the next. He couldn't understand why everything wasn't as simple and complex as his music.
He was especially fond of Bach, Hayden, Mozart, Berloiz, and of course, Beethoven. He loved the romantic period of classical music, because it was easy to dive into, so easy to understand. There was a continuing theme throughout every song, and one of the biggest romantic themes was faith.
Faith was a weird word. Was it faith in God? Was it faith in teachings? Was it faith in the fact that you would always be taken care of? Was it faith that you would always be watched? Was it faith that you never lost your faith? Chris indulged in these questions because it gave him something else to think about except the gray bodies and the gunshots.
He polished his shoes good, ironed his uniform and put his insignia on the uniform. It was his dress uniform, and he hated this one the most. He couldn't stand the tie.
As he put on his ribbons, he stopped when he came to the medals. He had two of them now. As a result of what had happened in Bosnia, he had been given a medal for bravery and another one for being wounded in action. His breath caught in his throat as he ran his fingers over them.
He didn't deserve these medals. He had done nothing but run, run like a dog with his tail between his legs. He didn't want the medals; he didn't deserve them in the least. But did you say no to Admiral Vern Clark, the Chief of Naval Operations? It had been his duty to shake the Admiral's hand, stand at the POA (position of attention), and then force himself not to jerk back when the medals had been placed on his uniform. The ceremony had taken all but a minute, but it had been a nightmare for him.
Admiral Leslie Reigart had been asked to say a few words about the young man under his command. He did so with pride beaming on his face and through every word. He had spoken about how Chris had evaded troops day after day, how he had done so without losing his cool, and how he had put his own life on the line to retrieve the photos of the graves. He had called Chris "an ideal Naval Officer that everyone should try to follow."
Chris wanted to kill him when he said that.
And then at the end, they had done something unexpected. Chris remembered standing there in shock.
They had asked for a moment of silence for Jeremy Stackhouse, the pilot murdered right in front of Chris' own eyes.
Chris finished polishing his shoes and changed the CD.
He switched it to Beethoven's "The Storm."
Admiral Leslie Reigart was a respectful man who believed strongly in his principles, and when he had been demoted, he hadn't whined about it. He had taken it in stride, retiring instead of losing his subordinates' respect.
But that didn't stop them from whining.
The wave of support for him started with Lt. Chris Burnett, the pilot who had been shot down behind enemy lines. America was willing to listen to him because he was a hero in their eyes. Chris was a damn good supporter at that, appearing on TV with his arm in a sling and talking about how it had been the Admiral's determination to save him that had gotten him home. As a side note, he had said slyly, "and then they demoted him."
There was a cry of outrage in America. How could the Navy demote someone who had put his own life at risk to save another? They had filed petition after petition for the Admiral to be given back his Battle Group, and the petition went all the way to the White House, the president supporting it.
With the president against them, the Navy gave up, formally apologizing to the retired Admiral and offering his job back.
Reigart did not want to take it. He had spent two months is retirement and he quite liked it, even though his blood burned to be back out on the sea. He had his wife with him, and his children and grandchildren stopped by daily. He was happy, very happy.
But Burnett would not have it. He rallied a gang of supporters and begged the Admiral to take back his job. He was stunned at their support of him. Even his wife was nagging him to go back.
He gave it three week's thought and with great reluctance took back his job.
He was happier this year, though. He was allowed to have Christmas at home with his family, and his wife had invited many people from his work that were off duty, including Chief O'Malley, Glenn Rodway, and Lieutenant- Captain Chris Burnett and his parents. The Navy had shared Reigart's feelings and Chris had been promoted two levels up.
This was a formal military party with all the men showing up in uniform. Vern Clark was Reigart's personal friend, so he would be attending as well. It was an honor to have so many fine young men in the Navy at his large mansion-like house in San Diego. Not to mention Admiral Clark was traveling from Washington to come.
Reigart took out his dress blue uniform, prepared to put all his ribbons on when the phone rang. His wife answered, then yelled up at him it for him. He set the uniform on the bed carefully and took the portable.
"Hello?" he answered.
"Admiral?" Chris Burnett's voice was cautious.
"Captain, how are you?" Reigart said, pride swelling in his voice.
"I'm fine, sir, thanks. But… well, I don't think I can make the party tonight."
"What? Why not?"
"Well… I'm a bit under the weather, you understand?"
"Yes, but… Chris, I'm sure you can make it. We were looking forward to having you."
"Thank you sir, but I think it would- be in my best interest… excuse me for a second, sir."
Reigart waited, agitated. He was looking forward to having the Captain in his house. He had not seen the man in three months.
"Mrs. Burnett? How are you?"
"I'm fine, thanks. Don't worry, Chris will be there."
"But he said-"
"Yes, well, I just got home with medicine, I'm sure he'll be able to make it."
"If you're sure."
"You bet. I'll see you later, Admiral."
"What was that about?" Laura Burnett roared at her son. "Why would you lie to Admiral Reigart like that?"
"Mom," Chris began.
"You're going to the party."
Anger erupted inside Chris like a balloon. He didn't want to go. Reigart had invited Jeremy's parents, and to see them again would be torture. They had caused the nightmares! They would just make it all the worst.
"You can't tell me what to do anymore," the young man said hotly, rising from the bed. His uniform looked a bit wrinkled, but still ok. It made his form tower above his mother. "I'll decide if I wish to go or not. I don't want to go anymore. It's not that important, it's just a party. I'll see Admiral Reigart when I return to active duty."
"And when will that be, Chris? They've given you a year of absence I honestly don't think you need. You're free to return whenever you wish yet you don't! The doctor cleared you to return!"
Chris' face contorted. "You can't tell me what to do," he repeated.
"Damned right I can't," Laura growled. "But you'll listen to your father, I know it. Maybe he can talk some sense into you."
Chris crossed the room to the door. "Mom, I'll see you later."
"Where the hell are you going?"
"Out. And it's my car, so you can't do anything about it."
Chris grabbed his combination cap and trooped down the stairs, not even stopping to explain what was happening. He could hear his mother starting to scream after him. He grabbed his keys and cloak, then sprinted outside to his green Chevy. He ripped open the door and slid inside, seeing his mother dash out of the house. He turned the keys and checked his back, then pulled the car bumpily out of the driveway.
"Chris!" he heard his mother scream.
He slammed his foot on the gas and roared away.
There was nothing in the world better than flying. Sometimes the only thing he wanted to do was fly. He was a pilot; he belonged in the air, in his plane, the Superhornet. It was a wonderful plane with excellent agility and speed.
He belonged in the air.
All he wanted to do was fly.
Fly and fly and fly…
Admiral Reigart picked up the phone a second time. "I got it!" he yelled so his wife could hear. Answering politely, he was shocked to hear the voice of Admiral Vern Clark.
"Admiral Clark, how are you?"
"I'm fine, thanks, Leslie. I need to ask you for a recommendation."
"On what, sir?"
"I need a pilot and navigator for a mission in Albania. I know you're heading out the day after tomorrow, and your group is heading that way."
"Well…" The first person that popped into his mind was Captain Burnett. "Sir, what about Captain Burnett?"
"Is he good to go?"
"Should be. He hasn't been on a mission in a year. I'm sure he's eager to get back up in the air."
"Excellent. Now all I need is a pilot. I know he doesn't have one."
"A pilot… is this mission important."
"Then I would suggest Noah Turmak. He's a good pilot, been in the Navy for a few years. He'll do you well."
"I'll get notices out to them."
"Well, Captain Burnett is coming to the party tonight, so you can tell him then. I'm sure it will be a real honor for him."
Chris made it to the party two hours after it had started. He had wandered the city, stopping at numerous gas stations to purchase cigarettes. It had become a habit after Stackhouse had been murdered. He went through half a pack a day, but he knew he should start stocking up. There was talk in the Congress that they were higher the prices and on his pay he could barely afford them now.
He stepped up the stairs, putting out his cigarette. He knew that Reigart frowned on smoking. He rang the doorbell, waiting anxiously. He had seen his parents' car parked in the large driveway. No doubt they were expecting him to show up, and here he was.
After a few minutes Samuel Reigart, Leslie's son, opened the door. He smiled in recognition. "Chris, how are you? You're a bit late, you realize? My father needs to see you."
"Sorry, Sam. I… I guess I lost track of time." He stepped inside, removing his cover and tucking it under his left arm. He was greeted by the rich smell of turkey and potatoes. Mrs. Leslie Reigart knew how to throw a party. The entire room was decorated with lights that blinked alternately. He followed Samuel into the living room where everyone was clustered, listening to Admiral Clark talk.
Upon walking in, he spotted his mother and father seated on the couch. They glanced up and saw him. His mother's face pinched in anger. He could see she was about to speak, but Glenn Rodway stepped in, blocking her from view.
"Chris, you moron!" Rodway said, shaking his hand warmly. "I haven't seen you for a while! How goes it? You realize you're late, right?"
Chris smiled at his friend warmly. If anyone could bring him out of his "dream state", it was rough and tough Rodway. "I'm good, Glenn, I'm good. Yeah, I'm late. You know how fast time goes. It's weird. I was getting ready, and then suddenly, it was like I had no time left. I hauled ass over here as fast as I could. My parents are pissed."
"Little Chrissy needs his parents to take of him?" Rodway mocked. "Wait until the boys on the Carl Vinson hear about this…"
"Yeah, you tell them and you're taking a swim in the Pacific next time we cast out."
Chris winced at the voice. It was Admiral Reigart. Putting on a forced smile, he turned and nodded at Reigart. They shook hands. "Chris, we were getting worried! Your parents said you weren't coming, that you "fled" the house."
Chris wanted to give his parents a dirty look. "Um… well, I guess I did, sort of." His mind grasped at what to say. He figured it would be better to tell the truth- sort of. It was time to spill his secret. "Well, sir… I needed to go buy some… uh… some cigarettes."
He could feel Rodway's and Reigart's shock. "You smoke?" Reigart said.
"Yes, sir," Chris said.
"Smoking a bad habit, Chris," Rodway said disapprovingly. "When did this start? You didn't smoke the last time I saw you."
"Um… actually… I did."
"I have to agree with Glenn, Chris," Reigart said, his eyes set with worry. He didn't feel like Chris was telling the truth. He was evading the question of why he had left the house. And there was something about his eyes… he was too thin, Reigart decided. He looked starved, and there were bags under his eyes. His eyes looked… dead.
"Well… you know what? I need to talk to my parents. I should go do that."
"Hold on a second."
Chris spun around and wanted to scream. It was Admiral Clark. He didn't want to talk to him!
"Chris, I need to speak to you urgently. Captain Rodway, if you would leave us?"
"Of course. See you later, Chris." The Marine turned and strode away.
"Leslie, have you got somewhere private we can talk?"
"Yes, sir. The parlor should be empty." He turned and led the way, Chris dreading what they wanted to talk to him about. What could possibly be so important they wanted to talk to him on Christmas Eve?
They stepped into the parlor, Clark closing the doors behind them. "Have a seat," Reigart said. They sat into large wicker chairs. The light cast funny shadows on the floor. It made Chris jumpy.
"Captain Burnett, it is true that you haven't been on a mission in a year, correct?"
Clark glanced at Reigart. "Chris, I talked to your mother. She has expressed concerns over your… mental health."
Chris jerked his head. "Sir, excuse me? My "mental health"? Sir, I assure you that there's nothing wrong with my mind, if that is what you are implying."
"Chris, she has some… disturbing details about your life over the past year," Reigart said heavily.
Chris' face scrunched up in shock. "Sir, no! There's nothing wrong with me! I'm fine. I requested this year of absence to rethink my value system! I mean, I have no intention of leaving the Navy, I just had to get my priorities in mind, and I've done that."
"She tells me you barely eat," Clark said. "She says that you have been having nightmares and you drift into space from time to time and that she has to scream to get your attention. Your mother is a reliable woman, Captain. I have to believe what she is saying. She says that you wake up screaming and that the only time you go out is to fill up your car or down to the bay."
"And now I find out that you just started smoking," Reigart said, exchanging glances with Clark.
"Sir, I've been smoking now for about a half a year. It's not a recent thing."
"Studies show that you start smoking past your mid-twenties because you have a problem. I believe you do have a problem, Captain." Clark's face was sad.
"I'm only twenty-seven!" Chris protested. "I'm am not past my mid-twenties…and what does this have to do with anything, Sir?"
Reigart took a deep breath. "Chris, last year, you were shot down behind enemy lines."
Did he have to state the obvious?
"No." Chris leapt up. "No. We are not having this discussion. I refuse to discuss this with you. I've talked to you enough times about it. I've talked to you, the press, my parents, everybody! Everyone knows what happened!"
"Chris, Jeremy Stackhouse is dead. I think you're still suffering from his death. I know he was not only your pilot, but your best friend." Reigart was startled when Chris backed up a few feet and clenched his fist.
"Admiral. I would appreciate it if you do not TELL me what I am feeling. I know this. Please."
"Chris, I have a mission for you," Clark said roughly.
The Captain blinked his eyes and stood against the wall. His jaw dropped. "A… a mission? Sir, I'm not even on active duty!"
"Which will be changed," Clark said, forcing his tone to be merry. "A year off is more than enough time, Captain. Your doctor has cleared you to work. If you not have a reasonable excuse not to be put back on active duty, then I will gladly return you to the air."
Reigart watched Chris' face closely. The man's brow was furrowed, his jaw ajar. His eyes were open wide, sweat trailing down his face. He looked scared to death. "Chris, if you do not want this mission," Reigart said, "and want to seek mental help, then the Navy will pay for it. They understand what happened last year and what you had to go through."
"No, sir!" Chris started towards the door. "Sir, I'll take the mission. Thank you!" He threw the doors open and disappeared from view.
"He's not ready," Reigart said with doubt.
"But he's going up," Clark said. "I want the best and that man is the best. You can't begin to understand how important this mission is, Leslie. I can't tell you now, but when we're out to sea, you'll be the first to know."
"Sir, are you sure he's ready? I don't want to send him up if he's not going to function properly."
"Leslie, if he doesn't get over it now, when will he get over it, then?"
Reigart looked out the door.
Reigart's house had a beautiful big porch with a bench. Chris retreated from the party and sat on the bench in the night. It was a good San Diego night with a soft breeze and the wind just chilly enough. The air was clean, scented with the rich salty smell of the ocean.
Chris leaned back, his combination cap gleaming. He sighed; knowing his parents would find him soon. He didn't even want Rodway's company. As stupid as it sounded, he wanted Stackhouse's company. That was so stupid. Stackhouse was dead…
The Captain closed his eyes, wondering. Why were they sending him on a mission? The only thing he wanted to do was sleep, and he couldn't do that either. It was so freaking STUPID! He hadn't been on a mission in a year, and here they were sending him on a very important one! Sighing, he rubbed his hands together to warm them.
He struggled to look on the bright side. The only thing he could think of was flying. His breath caught in his throat.
Flying was the best thing in the world. He had enjoyed it once, before Stackhouse had been murdered. He probably still enjoyed it… only he didn't know.
He didn't even hear the person step up behind him.
"Captain," Reigart said.
Chris jumped up, spinning on his heel to face the Admiral. He came to the POA and quickly saluted. "Good evening, sir," he said automatically.
"Chris," Reigart sighed, returning the salute and quickly cutting it. Chris followed suit. "May I join you, Captain?"
"Yes, sir," Chris said, watching Reigart sit down and then joining him. "Sir… you want something?"
"I just wanted to look at the stars," Reigart said gently. He tipped his head back and cast his gaze up. They sat in silence for a few painful minutes, Chris wishing all the while that the Admiral would give up his vigil and leave. But then Reigart started talking.
"At sea, you can always see the stars," he said. "At sea, it's beautiful. There's no smoke or fumes… it was clear as glass. If there's no wind, you can hike up to the crow's nest and watch the stars. When I was younger, I did that a lot. It was a way of coping when I was away from home for so many months. But when I got older, I realized it wasn't the right way to cope. I could get lost watching the stars and forget my duties. I could lose myself in their beauty, in their majesty. It wasn't good, because I didn't face my problems. I used the stars as a way to block out the loneliness and pain.
"It was harder to control myself when I became Admiral. I never wanted to leave the crow's nest. It was the hardest than. I missed my wife, my children… It was all too much to handle at times."
He turned to Chris. "I faced my problem eventually. I found a way to get out of that homesickness. My wife bought me some rings. Beautiful rings, very rare. She spent a lot of money on them. I was touched. I put them in a box and kept them shiny. I polished them so much. It was almost pathetic. I think many of my men thought that… although they were too afraid to say it, of course.
"I still have those rings, Chris. They're my way of coping. They come with me whenever I'm away from my family. I don't know what it is about them. I just… they're more than rings to me. I see them as lifesavers. Whenever I'm at sea and lost and drowning, I can always go to those rings and look at them. It works, Chris, I'm telling you. It's something about them…
"Love. My wife gave them to me out of love. Maybe that's it."
Reigart glanced at Chris. The young man was watching the stars, his eyes almost blank. Reigart wondered if he should call Chris back to reality, but then decided to let him have his moment in his mind. He quietly got up and left the porch, hoping that somehow he had gotten through the dark depression lurking in the young man's mind.
Chris stayed on the porch until almost eleven. By the looks of it, there were only a few people still in the house. He checked the driveway and found that his parent's car was still in the driveway. He was now desperate not to talk with them.
He knew he shouldn't leave without saying good-bye to both Admirals, but he refused to speak with his parents. He stood from the bench and scouted the yard, prowling its edges, looking for a way out. He quickly found an easy area to climb over to the driveway. He knew his pants would get dirty, but the fence was covered with greenery, so at least he would make no noise.
Chris grabbed hold of a hole in the fence and heaved himself up. He scaled the fence quickly, his boot camp experience paying off. He checked below once he got to the top. He saw no one and the nearest window was about five yards away. He gracefully swung himself over the top and landed quickly on his feet. He breathed a sigh of relief no one had seen him.
The Captain proceeded towards his car, which was parked far away from his parents. As he exited out into the street where his car was parked, he saw a couple walking towards the car in back of his. He tried to figure out who they were, but their name excluded him. He hoped they weren't important.
As they got to their car, Chris brushed past them to get to his own dark green Honda. He didn't glance at them as he went to the driver's seat of his car.
Stopping reluctantly, he turned and faced them. The voice sounded familiar… and as his eyes fell on the female who had spoken, he knew who it was.
"Lynn, no," her husband said, glaring at Chris.
Lynn Stackhouse marched up to Chris' car, glaring at him the entire way. He wanted to back up, but he knew that would show that he was wrong… and really, he was, but to save himself, he would never let anyone know that. It was his deepest secret. He had caused Jeremy's death… and the only ones who knew were the three people standing around the green Honda.
"Hello, Chris how are you?" the woman asked, her voice laced with malice.
He opened his mouth to speak; thought about it, closed his mouth, then opened it again. "Mrs. Stackhouse, hello. Are you well?" His voice shook.
"My son's dead," Lynn spat. Chris flinched. "How do you think I feel?"
"Lynn, there's no need to make a scene," her husband, Jim Stackhouse tried to reason.
"I'm not making a scene," his wife growled. "I am stating facts."
"Mrs. Stackhouse, please," Chris pleaded.
"Please what? Please what?" Her voice dripped with venom. Her eyes were bright with anger and grief. "What are you asking me for? Are you asking for forgiveness? For what you did? How can you be forgiven?"
"I did nothing wrong, Mrs. Stackhouse."
"You did nothing wrong? You killed my son! You killed my son! I bet you never thought of that! You killed him and all you say is that you did nothing wrong when you know that you did? That you killed him? He's dead because of you! Now I can't talk to him, now I can't hold him, I can't see him! Because of you, everything is wrong! Everything that was to happen can't now! Because of you!
"I wonder what Jeremy thought about before he died. I wonder if he thought of me, if he thought of his parents. I wonder if he realized his "friend" had killed him, because of his stupidity and his need to feel important! You killed him! Now he's dead!"
"Lynn, stop!" Jim cried, glancing back up the street to the driveway.
"I will not stop!" she shouted. "He has done wrong and he knows it! By his own admission, he killed your son, Jim! Your son! And he has not been brought to trial, yet he admits that he killed our son! How can this be? How can he still walk be? How can he sleep in his own bed, when ours is dead and six feet beneath the ground? How can this be?
"But you wait, oh, you wait! Because God will get you in the end! In the end, you'll get what my son got! I swear this to you! Your sin will be rewarded with suffering! God knows what you did wrong… he knows you killed my Jeremy! And he'll punish you… you'll be in Hell when you died, you sick worthless animal!"
"Lynn, it's enough!"
"He killed him!"
"I didn't!" Chris cried. He backed into the street from her anger, from the balls of fire that were in her eyes. She followed him, refusing to let his get away. "I didn't kill him! I loved Jeremy, Lynn! I swear! I didn't kill him!"
"You left him!" Lynn roared, driving him to the middle of the dark street. Jim watched; his eyes locked on the two. "He was hurt and alone, and you left him to that animal you say… you say murdered him!" Her eyes pooled. Her voice was laden with grief. "You left him! Do you realize this, Chris Burnett? That if you had stayed, maybe you could have protected him?"
"I would have been killed too!" Chris yelled at her. "I left to get help! I left to try the radio! I left because he told me to! He told me to get help!" They stayed in the middle of the street, walking around each other; each caught in their own dance of grief.
"I don't sleep at night," Lynn said. "I don't sleep at night because of what you did."
"Well neither do I!" Chris cried, so in locked with Lynn that he did not hear the wheels of the Mustang that was roaring his way.
"Oh, because you're so laden with guilt that's it's driving you mad?" Lynn said sarcastically. She, like Chris, did not hear the tires.
Chris opened his mouth to speak.
"CHRIS!" he heard someone scream. "Chris!"
"Lynn! Oh my God, Lynn!"
Chris broke his gaze and looked down the street, to where Leslie Reigart and his parents were screaming at him. And he saw the Mustang, and the driver hanging out of the window, his eyes glazed.
Lynn stood with shock. She stared at the approaching car, not registering, her mind so laden with guilt.
"LYNN!" Jim screamed, running out.
Chris dove towards Lynn, knocking her down just as the Mustang shot by. He rolled to the ground and banged against his car, his head knocking back into the rim of his tire, so great was the force he had leapt. He heard Lynn scream, and then the sliding of tires.
Stars began to shine in his eyes. He heard his mother screaming his name, and still Lynn's voice.
Dazed, he stood. "Chris!" His mother crashed into him, strangling him in a hug.
"Someone get help!" Jim screamed. Chris looked past his mother and saw Jim holding Lynn on the ground. Her foot was bloodied, tears running down her face.
"Go get help!" Reigart ordered Chris' father. The Admiral bent down towards the woman and began to examine her foot. "Are you okay, Chris?" His eyes were washed with worry.
"Yeah, yeah," Chris said, still a bit dazed.
"You're bleeding," Reigart noted softly. Chris glanced down and in the dim light of the house saw his pants ripped and his leg trickling blood. He shrugged, not caring. He grabbed his mother by the arms and pried her off him. "What happened?" Reigart directed the question at Jim and Chris.
The two men glanced at each other. Jim's face flamed. He opened his mouth, then closed it. He looked at his wife, and his eyes pooled. "Lynn, it's ok," he shushed.
"Mr. Stackhouse, what happened?" Reigart asked.
"Ask him," Lynn groaned her face pinched in pain. "Ask Burnett…" She gasped.
The Admiral turned to look at Chris. "Chris, what happened?" Chris looked away. His mother once again grabbed him in a hug, sobbing. "Chris?" Reigart saw that he was not going to respond. "Captain Burnett!"
He loudness of Reigart's voice brought him back down to reality. He glanced at Reigart wildly. "Chris," Reigart said, his voice measured. "Tell me what happened."
Chris took a breath. "Sir, I came outside and was about to leave. I was going to my car and Mrs. Stackhouse approached me. We were chatting, that's all."
"I heard yelling!" Laura Burnett remarked, pulling away. "She was yelling."
Chris looked at her meekly, pulled away, then turned and pulled his lighter and a cigarette from his pocket. His hands shook badly as he struggled to light it.
"Chris," Laura grasped. "When did this start?" Her face was shocked and in disbelief. "Chris, answer me."
The Captain finally lit his cigarette and took a deep puff of it. He savored the feeling it left with him. "Admiral, with your permission, I would like the leave," he said.
"Thank you, sir." Chris turned and opened the door. He jumped in and turned on the engine.
"Wait, Burnett!" Reigart rushed towards the door. "I can't believe this. I order you to stay!"
But Chris was already gone.
The voice on the other end was formal.
"This is he," Chris said sleepily. He checked his clock. It read seven 'o clock. He rubbed his eyes.
"This is Master Chief O'Malley. You are to be at the bay at nine o' clock. Do you understand?"
"What?" The order shot through Chris' system. "Why?"
"It is an order, Captain. Wear something you can change out of quickly. Your suit is being delivered as we speak. Do you understand?"
"Master Chief, why?"
"No questions. I'll see you at nine."
Chris hung up his phone, his eyes widening. Why would they want him?
Last night had been a nightmare. He had driven straight to the house after he had left. He had taken off his uniform and had dressed in sweats, nothing more. He had fallen into bed, his headphones on at full blast. And only then did he sleep. He didn't dream, and he never heard his parents come home.
They were asleep, he decided, and very pissed off.
Still yawning, he got up slowly. If he could make it out of the house before his parents woke up, he would be fine. If he left now, they would be dead to the world and not hear him. He left on his sweats and pulled on a shirt and warm sweatshirt. He took his gloves and beanie. San Diego had terrible freezing sea breezes in the winter.
On the way out, he took a bagel and took the time to give his parents a note. Not like they would care. He briefly wondered about Lynn Stackhouse, but it reminded him of Jeremy so he stopped.
It wasn't until he was in his car that he realized that it was Christmas.
At 0900 hours, Chris entered Master Chief O'Malley's office after five cigarettes and a bottle of Aquafina. He was chewing gum in hopes his breath wouldn't smell as bad when he got to see Admiral Reigart.
"Captain," O'Malley greeted him. He stood from behind his desk and walked over. "I've been told to take you to Admiral Reigart's office. I do apologize for taking you away from you family on this day."
"It's all right, sir," Chris responded. Christmas was stupid holiday anyhow. Who was God anyway?
O'Malley led Chris around the ship to Reigart's office. The Admiral was sitting behind a desk when they came in. He rose. "Chris, we're short on time, so let's go," he said briskly. He caught Chris' arm as he went by. "Since this is urgent, I will overlook what happened yesterday. Mrs. Stackhouse is being released from the hospital this morning."
Chris nodded slightly.
"But that doesn't mean you won't have to explain," Reigart said sternly. "As soon as this is done, you and I are having a little chat." Chris nodded again. "Come on then." Reigart led the way towards the locker room. "You're in the air today."
"What?" Chris cried. He stopped. "In the air? What do you mean?"
"Practice for your mission, since you haven't been on duty for a year," said Reigart in an uncaring manner. "You will meet your pilot in briefing."
"My pilot?" Chris repeated.
"You need a pilot," Reigart said. They stopped outside the door to the locker rooms. "Your gear is in there. You're the only one on today, so you have it all to yourself. Take a shower and get changed over. You have twenty minutes. Chief O'Malley will be waiting for you here at the end of the period. He will then take you to the flight deck, where you will meet your pilot. I'm sure you'll like him. He's like you a year ago. He's cocky and arrogant." Reigart grinned and then left.
Chris watched him go, then entered the locker room.
Noah Turmak was a twenty-five year-old man with a degree in engineering, fifteen ribbons, and a Lieutenant ranking. He carried himself high. He was a handsome man, with deep brown eyes and short black hair in a buzz cut. His skin was olive light, his eyes laughing as if they knew the secrets of the world. He had been in the Navy for three years and had enjoyed every moment of it.
Turmak was apprehensive about this mission. It was top secret, and the only thing he knew was that he would be flying with a Captain by the name of Chris Burnett, the famous pilot who had been shot down "behind enemy lines." Frankly, Turmak found it stupid he was so glorified so doing what he was trained to do.
Turmak sighed. The Captain had been off duty for a year. Would he still remember how to fly? Noah hoped so, for the sake of the mission… whatever that was.
The Lieutenant jumped up when he saw O'Malley walk into the hanger followed by a blond person who must be Burnett. Turmak studied him. He was lanky, too skinny, with bags under his eyes and just the look of a person with no sleep. Turmak cocked his head. He hoped the guy was as good as they that said he was.
For both their sakes.
Chris disliked Noah Turmak instantly. He had the look of a cocky pilot who was willing to risk everything. When he stepped in front of the Lieutenant, he looked up at him from his chair, a smirk on his face. He seemed to suddenly remember where he was, because he jumped up and saluted Chris.
Chris blinked, then saluted back, cutting his quickly. Turmak stood standing, waiting.
"Lieutenant Noah Turmak," Reigart said, letting Chris know his name for the first time, "this is Captain Chris Burnett.
"Lieutenant, Captain Burnett will be flying navigator for this mission.
"Chris, Lieutenant Turmak will be your pilot for this mission. He's a good pilot, he's been on a lot of recon missions."
"This is a recon mission?" Chris asked, staring at Reigart.
"I didn't say that," Reigart said hastily. "Sit down." Turmak waited for Chris to sit before he did so. Chris edged away from him on his chair.
"Ok," Reigart said. "This is just a practice day for you two to get used to each other. We're going to do a couple of spins, loops, plain flying. We're head towards Los Angeles and back. Just a regular flying day. Your course has been marked, Chris, you just need to get there. Understand?"
"Yes, sir," Turmak and Chris said at the same time, Turmak a bit more enthusiastic.
"Okay," Reigart said. "Your ride's the only one on deck, it should be ready by now."
"It's a Superhornet?" Chris asked.
"Yes, it's a Superhornet," Reigart said, grinning at him.
"Just wanted to make sure," Chris sulked, taking Reigart's grin as ridiculing him.
"Let's move," O'Malley said. "Check."
"Oohrah!" Turmak said.
"Oohrah," Chris sighed.
Chris climbed into the plane, a sense of awe and of dread taking him. He strapped his mask on and checked his readings. Everything was running smoothly. Mechanically, he did a systems check of everything.
"What's your call sign?" Turmak asked him.
Chris had to think about that for a second before he remembered what a call sign was and it took him longer to remember his. He had never used it that much. "Longhorn," he answered. "And you?"
"Quicksilver," Turmak said proudly.
"Like that X-Men character?"
"No," Turmak huffed. "Like myself."
Turmak didn't like the guy all ready.
"Your call sign for the day is Apollo Six-Seven." O'Malley's voice said over the intercom.
"The sun god?" Chris muttered. "How grand."
"What do you prefer?" Turmak said, to make conversation. "Captain? I'll call you whatever you want."
"Whatever you want to call me," Chris said softly. "Jeremy always called me Chris."
Chris snapped out of his dream state. "Not Chris," he said hastily. "Anything besides Chris you can call me. What about you?"
"Turmak," the Lieutenant said shortly.
"Ah." Chris said.
"You are ready for take off," the tower said.
"Let's rock and roll, baby!" Turmak said. He waited for the signs, then flipped his switch and pressed on his gas.
The plane shot forward.
Chris was flying.
He was really flying. He watched the lake past by, suddenly peaceful. He had enjoyed flying… he still did. That had not died with Stackhouse. He could still fly, he could navigate. He watched the waves, not speaking.
"Burnett," Turmak said.
"Say," Chris responded absentmindedly.
"We almost to the turn around point?"
Chris checked the systems. He tapped a number into the computer. "About ten more minutes. There's a restricted zone up ahead in about five minutes. It's an airport. Starts going west, about 45 degrees."
"Whatever you say, Mr. Navigator Man."
"What did you say?"
Turmak knew it was useless, but he craned his neck to see Chris. "Mr. Navigator Man."
Chris flinched inside his mask. "Don't call me that. Please don't call me that."
"Because I asked."
Turmak blew out air. "Whatever." He steered the plane.
Chris was breathing hard.
He could see Stackhouse now. Stackhouse was in the pilot's seat, and they were flying over Bosnia. It was a recon mission. They were being spiked. The missiles followed us. SAMS were deadly. They were so deadly it was scary. And then the missile hit… and he was falling… and then the gunshots…
"Burnett? You still in there? Burnett? Hello?"
Chris closed his eyes against the pain.
Chris started to shake his head violently.
"This is Apollo Six-Seven, Artemis Six-Two, this is Apollo Six-Seven."
"Go ahead, Apollo."
"My navigator won't answer me. Systems show… he's jerking around, I can feel him. Advise. Over."
Reigart's voice took over. "Chris. Chris, its Admiral Reigart. Chris, talk to me."
"Jeremy…" Chris whispered.
"He's dead, Chris," Reigart said. "He's dead. You're alive. Now, get control of yourself. Chris, Turmak needs you."
" I killed him," Chris whispered.
"No, the Serbs did, Chris," Reigart said smoothly. "Now, tell me, have you got your boots?"
There was silence.
"Have you got your boots, cowboy?" Reigart asked.
"Yes, sir. They're still tied on."
"What time is it?"
"And you're flying."
"Over the Pacific, reaching the turn around point in about ten minutes.
"Good. Turmak, he's fine."
Turmak's voice was shocked. "Are you sure? Do you want me to come back?"
"Now why would we do that?" Chris asked sarcastically.
"Complete your course. Over and out." Reigart's voice died.
"They're all crazy," Turmak sighed.
Ok, that's the first part. Please review! I want to know how bad it is.