Disclaimer: Taylor and Eric belong to Saban/Disney. Hawke belongs to Belsarius Productions. Ben belongs to Ekat. Frank Peterson, Gina and everyone else belong to me. That which is borrowed earns me no money.
This is my twist on the Airwolf universe. The base assumption is that season four doesn't exist (I've not seen it and barely know the plot, which makes it incredibly difficult to write about). There are a couple of other assumptions I've made -- but they'll become clear as this unfolds.
This is also a sort of a crossover with my on going PR fanfic universe. For those who know that universe, this slots in about a month or so after Barroom Blitz (some ten years prior to the start of Far Future), but you don't need to know that universe. This is essentially a stand-alone story.
Many thanks to Gamine for the beta'ing and checking and being an all round wonderful person. Also thanks to 'Nessa, Mandi, Jacks and anyone else who's seen bits of this as its been developed. Lastly thanks to Nessie for inspiring this story with her wonderful Airwolf trilogy. (Really, go look it up -- it's probably the best piece of AW writing available on the net.)
Please offer feedback -- it tells me how I'm doing...
The voice made Taylor freeze mid step. "Yes sir?"
There was a chuckle from behind her. The speaker seemed amused by her reaction. "I don't bite."
She turned to face him and found Eric Myers shaking his head, half-smile on his face. "I know you don't," she retorted primly. "Can I help you?"
He shot her an amused look. Whatever his first impulse was, though, he swallowed it back and simply said, "You mentioned on interview you'd done some chopper flying."
Taylor blinked. "Uh, yeah -- few years ago."
"I know you didn't qualify -- you said you were willing to finish it -- how close were you?"
Eyes widening at the questioning, Taylor shrugged. "To be honest, sir, I can't remember. It was a few years ago."
Eric's expression turned pensive. "Hm. How about your fast jets rating?"
"Is this a roundabout way of you asking me to go back into flying?" Taylor asked, not bothering to answer the question.
"No, it's a roundabout way of asking if your rating on fast jets is expired -- and if it is, how expired," Eric retorted, a touch of irritation in his voice now.
"I'm not gonna get a straight answer."
"Not until I have one, no -- and not necessarily then, either." Eric folded his arms. "Taylor, I wouldn't be playing twenty-questions with you if it wasn't important. Believe me, I have a pile of paperwork I could be doing right now and which is liable to be keeping me here until after Alice's bedtime at this rate."
"Fine." Taylor sighed, exasperated. "My rating is expired. It expired about eighteen months ago. But since then and six weeks ago, I've been piloting a zord, which is at least as complicated as an F18 -- if not more so. Would take me two sessions tops to get my wings back."
"Cocky bitch." But it was said without rancour. As much of a compliment as an ex-Marine Sergeant could manage for an ex-Air Force Lieutenant.
"Yeah, yeah, jarhead," Taylor shot back.
He just offered that irritating half-smile/half-smirk. "Thanks, Taylor." He turned on his heel and started to walk off.
"Hold on a goddamn minute!" Taylor exclaimed. "You don't go through all that rigmarole with me then not give me an explanation."
Eric paused. "Commander Earhardt..."
Oh shit.Taylor winced.
"...don't make me pull rank." The words were good humoured, but there was an edge to them that made his point. "I'll expect to see you in my office at two thirty this afternoon."
And with that, he walked away, leaving Taylor to quietly fume. I had to go run off at the mouth...but he's an arrogant son of a bitch. A real piece o'work. She grimaced.
"Someone's been tangling with the boss again," observed a fresh voice.
"Uhg. How did you guess?" Taylor retorted, groaning. "Ben -- I swear that man was born impossible."
Ben chuckled and offered her a shoulder squeeze. "Nah. Took him practice. And if you think he's bad now, you shoulda met him when he first started here." He grinned wolfishly. "He was worse."
Taylor stared at Ben for a moment, trying to work out if he was kidding, and decided he wasn't. "I'da remembered him as a jarhead if he'd been this much of a pain in the ass in Germany -- what did the attitude adjustment? Electro-therapy?"
Ben's smile faded. "Not funny, girl. And ain't my place to tell you. Only found out myself by default when it all blew up. Nu-uh." He shook his head. "Don't ask me. You wanna know, you ask him."
Taylor snorted inelegantly. "And get my ass handed to me on a platter -- no thank you."
"In that case take it from me that he's more than earned the right to be the sonovabitch he is."
The space in Ben's words was enough for Taylor to add two and two. She wasn't sure where the Marines who'd arrived with her in Germany had been rotated to, but she did know that posting had been a staging point for postings to Yugoslavia -- and she'd heard rumours about some things that had gone down in that part of the world. If Eric'd been involved in any of that...
"So he's earned the right to be a cranky wise-ass. Does it mean he's gotta pull this shit with me?"
Ben smirked. "Does it mean you gotta fall for it every time?"
Taylor lifted an eyebrow. "Who's side're you on anyway?"
Ben's smirk turned to an outright grin. "My own."
Taylor growled. "I have stuff to do." She moved to stalk off.
Ben just chuckled. "Well, make sure you're in Eric's office by two thirty."
She stopped and span round to face him. "How'd you know about that?"
Ben just smiled. "Call it a perk of writing personnel rosters -- as of," he paused and looked at his watch, "twenty minutes ago, you're pulled from all assignments, pending this meeting. And no," he added, "I don't know what it's about."
And before she could say anything else, Ben had disappeared. Taylor sighed. Some days, you just couldn't win.
At two twenty-five, Taylor made her way up to Eric's office. Whatever this was going to be about, she was determined not to give Eric any edge over her. He was difficult enough to deal with without handing over something as easy as being late.
Gina was hard at work over paperwork -- and to judge from the pile, Eric hadn't been exaggerating, Taylor realised -- although she looked up as Taylor entered the antechamber.
"Go on through, Taylor," Gina advised. "He's expecting you."
Damn -- can't even be early to surprise him,Taylor found herself thinking, somewhat irrationally. Dismissing the thought and smiling at Gina, she did as she was bidden and entered Eric's office.
The room was large. Easily the same size as the smaller of the two conference rooms on the first floor of SGHQ, it could have been taken as a matter of ego that the boss had the biggest office -- except Taylor knew full well it wasn't. It had been a combination of Ben, Wes and Jen that had forced Eric into taking an office larger than a broom closet. As they had argued, Eric's office wasn't just his office, it tended to be the base of operations as well. The compromise was that the room had been partitioned with light, head-high screens, which could be moved around at will. One half of the room -- the half first seen when you entered -- was arranged as a lounge. A couple of comfortable chairs and a couch had been set around a low table. It was an area designed for informal meetings. Or for waiting to face the firing squad, Taylor couldn't help but think, because it was where people waited to see Eric for any sort of interview. The other side of the partition was Eric's real office. That was something that Taylor had so far not seen, but she guessed it was probably Spartan -- just a desk with two chairs. She couldn't imagine Eric having anything more lavish than that.
"Ah -- Taylor." Eric had appeared while she'd been wool gathering. It surprised her, somewhat, to see him carrying a tray of coffee cups, cream, sugar and a jug of rich, dark coffee. "Good."
Good?Aloud she responded, "Reporting as ordered, sir."
Eric offered her a smile. "Well move your duly reported butt and let me put this down."
"Your command style," said a new voice, "leaves something to be desired, Eric."
"Yeah, yeah, Frank. Not all of us get to go to West Point," Eric retorted, even as Taylor was dumbly moving aside, cursing inwardly. "Besides. In case you've forgotten, I still have pins in my right leg and this tray is heavy."
Pins?The comment brought Taylor up short in her indignation. I know he was only just out of plaster when I first met him but surely...
"High velocity, hollow point sniper round," Eric stated, setting the tray down on the table, "will tend to make a mess of your femur."
Taylor stared. "Huh?!"
"It's a long story," said the new voice, as its owner finally managed to enter the office. "And not terribly germane."
Taylor got a good look at the man as he took up a seat on the couch. He was tall, easily over-topping Eric's relatively short stature, and willowy in build -- although Taylor was willing to bet he gave as good as he got in a fight; there was something very predatory about the way he moved. The military haircut he sported furthered that suspicion, although the craggy, chiselled features and the salt-and-pepper dappling to his hair suggested that if he was military, he was very senior or retired. The most disconcerting thing, though, was the eerie familiarity to his face. Taylor knew she knew his features, the shape of his face, heck, even the relaxed yet alert posture. It was all familiar and yet she couldn't place it.
"Frank," Eric stated, as he sat down. "This is Taylor Earhardt -- formerly a lieutenant in the USAF. Taylor -- Colonel Frank Peterson...still military Intel?"
Frank offered a smile. "Yes and no. I'm on assignment with another body, but officially..." He shrugged.
"Help yourselves to coffee," Eric directed. Taylor leaned forwards and did just that. "How long will...?"
Almost as if cued, Gina poked her head into the office. "Vanessa's just sent Mr Hawke up."
"That answers that," Frank observed.
Taylor sat back and debated asking a snide and pointed question about what the hell was going on. Then she felt Eric's eyes on her. The expression on his face told her he was waiting for her to do just that. Not gonna give you the satisfaction. She sipped her coffee instead.
Taylor ground her teeth.
The door opened to admit another man Taylor had never met before. Like Peterson, he had a wiry, slender build. His hair was streaked with grey, which combined with the pronounced lines on his face suggested to Taylor that he was Peterson's senior and by some margin. And yet there was something to his movements that suggested that wasn't true. Aged by experience, then, rather than years.
"This it?" the stranger asked, tone brusque.
Someone with a worse attitude than Eric!Taylor mused.
At a nod from Eric, Peterson agreed, "This is it." Taylor half expected the stranger to offer some sort of snide remark, but he didn't. Instead he just took up a seat and helped himself to coffee. "I guess a few proper introductions are in order." Eric nodded. "String, this is Eric Myers, head of the Silver Guardians -- Eric; Stringfellow Hawke."
Taylor choked on her coffee. Stringfellow? Geez -- and I thought my mom was heartless -- at least she left me with an alternative...
There was a tiny flicker of amusement across Hawke's otherwise impassive face. "It was m'mom's idea. Not mine."
Taylor found herself blushing.
With a roll of his eyes, Eric said, "This is Taylor Earhardt."
Hawke gave a nod and said nothing.
"If I may?" said Peterson, with the introductions out of the way. "I'm currently being employed by a branch of the intelligence community called The Firm." Taylor noted that Hawke rolled his eyes at that. "We look after aspects of national security that are too hot for other agencies to deal with."
"And something's come up." That was Hawke.
"Well, that's all very nice," said Taylor, "but what does it have to do with me? Or the Silver Guardians as a whole?"
"I need a pilot." Peterson smiled. "A very particular pilot for a very particular, extremely classified aircraft."
Taylor's eyebrows lifted at the unspoken implication.
"Read your file," said Hawke shortly. Taylor's eyes widened at that. "You're it."
"What do you mean 'I'm it'?" Taylor asked. "If you read my file you'll know I quit flying two years ago."
Peterson shot Hawke a jaundiced look. "Ms Earhardt, the aircraft we need you to pilot is extremely specialised, and not just in terms of technology. Mr Hawke and I were looking for an individual based on a specific skill set and personality profile. You matched ten for ten, even allowing for the two-year gap."
"I..." Taylor stopped. "Surely there were other people who matched. People who don't have two-year gaps in their resumes."
"I'm told," at this Peterson glanced at Eric, who was sitting, arms folded across his chest looking impassive, "that there is something you've been doing in that gap that would count instead." Taylor had no answer to that. "Besides, of the people we looked at -- and we reviewed over three hundred candidates -- you were the only one who matched."
"'Sides," Hawke tossed in, "doesn't it fit with your first name?"
Taylor stared at him.
"First name?" said Eric, sounding surprised.
Hawke merely displayed that glimmer of humour again. "Doesn't it, Ms Earhardt?"
Taylor glared at Hawke. "Like you said, buddy, wasn't my idea."
"Laying that aside," Peterson continued, likewise glaring at Hawke, "you are the best person for this job. Will you do it?"
"And have to work with him?" Taylor jerked her head in Hawke's direction. "No thanks."
The look Peterson treated Hawke to clearly said 'now look what you've done'. Hawke shrugged. "Ms Earhardt..."
"Frank -- allow me," said Eric, getting to his feet. The look on his face told Taylor this wasn't an optional 'chat'. "Taylor?"
Reluctantly, she stood up and followed him into the other half of the office.
"One thing," he said quietly, although the lack of volume didn't prevent his irritation from showing through. "Frank can -- and will, if he needs to -- order you to do this, and I can't stop him from doing that. I think we'd all sooner you did this voluntarily."
Taylor stared. "He can't do that!"
"Oh yes he can," Eric retorted. "That man has enough pull in enough departments to make your life thoroughly unpleasant if he wanted to -- which he doesn't. And he wouldn't need to, either. All he needs to do is reactivate your commission, have you declared AWOL..."
"He...this is blackmail!"
"No, this is political hardball," Eric answered grimly. "It's also a matter of national security -- which tends to give people a lot of latitude."
"You know what's going on?"
"I know something," Eric agreed. "And I know Frank. More to the point, didn't you say you wanted to work for the SGs because you wanted to continue making a difference?"
"Now who's playing political freakin' hardball," Taylor shot back, temper roused.
Eric shrugged. "I never said I wasn't. Taylor, do yourself -- and me -- a favour. Stop looking for people being out to get you. I know you had problems with Remart. I'm gonna take a wild guess and say they didn't end with that night in the bar. Frank sure as shit isn't like that. Nor is Hawke."
Taylor stared. "I don't think like that!" she exclaimed, although a little voice at the back of her mind retorted, Don't you? "I don't."
He lifted his eyebrows. "Who're you trying to convince? Me or you?" He shook his head. "Look. This is probably not the time to be getting into psychoanalysis. Peterson needs a positive answer..."
"All right, all goddamn right." Taylor glared. "You are such a pain in the ass. You know that?"
"So they tell me," Eric retorted, heading back towards the lounge area.
With no other alternative, Taylor followed. Hawke, she noted, looked fractionally contrite -- or at any rate, a fraction less impassive. Peterson chewed you out too, huh?
"Ms Earhardt," Peterson began as she sat down once more, "have you reconsidered?"
Conscious of Eric giving her a 'do this or else' type of glare, Taylor sighed. "Yes. All right. Whatever it is you want me to do. I'm in."
Peterson nodded. "Good." He glanced at Eric. "She'll be back at the end of next week."
Huh?Taylor blinked. "I...what?"
"In due time, Ms Earhardt," said Peterson somewhat condescendingly. Surprisingly, that earned her a sympathetic look from Hawke. "A week, then, Eric."
"OK, Frank." Eric nodded. "Good luck, Taylor." And before Taylor could respond, Eric had stood up and left the office, leaving her alone with Peterson and Hawke.
TO BE CONTINUED...