Disclaimer: S:AaB owned by FOX, who should have taken better care of it. I'm not making any money off of this, and anyone who is has some 'splaining to do. This was supposed to have epigraphs from "Hurt Hawks," by Robinson Jeffers; policy says I can't have them here, but you can hunt down the full poem on Google or check out the LJ community "angryangels" or the S:AaB Fanfic Flightdec to find a version with the epigraphs intact. This takes place a while after Tell Our Moms We Done Our Best, so bewaaaare. My first (completed) S:AaB fic, so don't expect perfection. ...technically, this fits in with the Call of Duty series I'm writing as a missing scene--but I'm not writing CoD very fast, so enjoy this one. I dunno, as a preview or something.
Hawkes haunted the flight deck after hours.
At first it had been to catch the scraps of conversations the flight crews would let slip after hours. The things he couldn't find out any other way, because Nathan didn't know and he wouldn't ask the rookies and he couldn't ask McQueen. The Colonel had come back on a supply ISSCV--had stepped off (limped off, Hawkes couldn't help but think, even when the Colonel had held his back ramrod-straight as if receiving orders from the Commodore) with the men hauling equipment, bag over one shoulder and cane in one hand. He wasn't wearing his black flightsuit then. And for all his amazement at having McQueen back on board the Saratoga--he couldn't help feeling that that moment was when everything had come crashing down around him.
He hadn't mentioned it to Nathan, because he didn't know how to say it and Nathan probably wouldn't understand anyway. He had hung around the flight deck, catching the snatches of gossip the techs threw out when they forgot he was there. An artificial leg, they mentioned. A prosthetic. But something had gone wrong--something about indirect trauma and damaged nerves, more stuff he didn't understand. The leg worked, but not perfectly.
That McQueen had fought his way up from a wheelchair in impressive time didn't surprise Hawkes--and he couldn't understand why it was that the flight crew talked about it as if it was surprising, in awed tones as if they had never expected it. (Of course,) went the reasoning in Hawkes' mind. McQueen had killed an alien ace when the doctors said he'd never be able to fly a Hammerhead again. No injury was too severe for the Colonel. Even having his leg blown off couldn't slow him down.
But it had. The techs whispered to each other that he was grounded--not only from flying the SA-43's, but from ground duty as well. Between him and Boss Ross, the rumor went, every string in the military's command structure had been pulled to get him back on the Saratoga at all--and then only in a strictly advisory position. A fitting place for the man who had engineered the defeat of Chiggy Von Richtofen--who was rumored to have engineered the victory at Ixion as well.
But not, Hawkes felt instinctively, a fitting place for Colonel. T.C. McQueen, who was always going to exist in his mind as Commanding Officer of the 58th Squadron, 51st MEU.
But things were different. Everything had changed above 2063 Yankee--with Vansen and 'Phousse missing (he still refused to think of them as dead), Wang gone, and McQueen replaced. Major Indira Nazareth was the 58th's XO now--a woman he had very little respect for. She wasn't McQueen; therefore she could never compare.
He and McQueen had exchanged few words since his reappearance--a brief conversation upon his arrival, rushed nearly to the point of incoherence on Hawkes' part and terse nearly to the point of hostility on McQueen's. Bridge officers had whisked the Colonel away for briefings and debriefings, and Hawkes had slunk back to the Wildcard quarters and hidden from conversation by feigning sleep. He hadn't searched out McQueen again--as much as he wanted McQueen nearby, as if he could make the past months disappear just by being there, the notion of actively seeking him out never crossed his mind.
So, as long as no one found him and reported him, as long as Brass didn't sound general quarters and lock him in his bunk, he came to the flight deck and did... whatever. He checked on his hammerhead--obsessively. (By now it had to be the most-inspected plane in the fleet.) He found all the oddest places to sit--just to perch and think. Sometimes he worked out--a silent tribute to McQueen, and nearly an unconscious one. Tonight was no different.
He had finished a set of chin-ups and dropped back to the deck when he felt someone watching him.
He turned, half-expecting it to be some wandering Major out to bust him or a techie insomniac, but he froze upon seeing a familiar figure standing in the shadows of the dimmed hangar door. "...Colonel," he said, suddenly intensely embarrassed--as if he had been caught in doing something he hadn't been supposed to do.
McQueen wasn't looking at him, though. His eyes were locked on the bar above him, staring at the spot his hands had been moments earlier. Cooper couldn't have named the Colonel's expression, but he knew what it meant--yearning.
"Getting any better, Hawkes?" McQueen asked, stepping into the hangar proper. His cane made a low tap--deceptively quiet.
"I, uh--" Hawkes was intensely uneasy. "I just come here, sometimes."
McQueen's glance shifted--first, briefly, to him, then to rove the darkened hangar. "It's a good thing to do," he conceded.
There was a moment without speech--but Hawkes wouldn't call it silence. His blood was pounding in his ears. "Colonel," he began, if only to have something to say. "Can I ask you--"
McQueen's eyes fixed on him again, an expression of open expectation stamped between them.
Cooper swallowed. "--never mind."
"Out with it, Hawkes."
Cooper felt his own eyes drop to McQueen's leg. At fist he didn't realize that it was probably rude--but it was uncomfortable, and he looked away anyway. "...they said you couldn't fight."
McQueen took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "No," he confirmed. "I haven't passed the physical requirement to return to active combat duty."
"Well, are y'going to?"
McQueen cast him an irritated glance. "It's not quite that simple."
McQueen turned to the line of Hammerhead cockpits, looking them over. Cooper watched him.
"But you miss it," he said.
"I'm still in the war, Hawkes."
"But you miss it," Hawkes insisted. "Flying."
McQueen looked annoyed, again--but mixed in with it was something else, something Cooper couldn't identify. "Yes."
"Then why don't you?"
McQueen tapped one finger against his right ear. "At the start of the war, the 127th was ordered to engage a chig skirmishing party above Earth. Most of us didn't even make it back; of the ones who did, I was the only one who survived. So I guess I got off lucky." He made his way to the open cockpit, carefully stepped up onto the docking clamps, and lowered himself to sit on the edge. "In the dogfight, I took fire. Had to eject, came down hard. I damaged my vestibulo-ocular nerves--they're a part of your visual balance. The docs installed a MEF to compensate. MyoElectronic Feedback device. The MEF can't withstand the G-forces of a Hammerhead."
"But you flew since then," Cooper pressed on. "You took out Chiggy Von Richtofen."
"I had the device removed. It's since been reinserted."
Cooper gestured to the cockpit on which he sat. "So get 'em to take it out again! You don't need working legs to pilot. I mean, not really."
"It's more complicated than that," McQueen said. "There are certain... concerns. I can't function without the MEF."
His tone warned Cooper not to pursue the issue further. Cooper looked away. "...it's not fair," he mentioned.
McQueen snorted. "Who ever told you that life is fair?"
"No. I mean--" Hawkes shook his head, searching for the words. "It just doesn't make sense. I mean--"
McQueen opened his mouth to cut him off, but Hawkes plunged on regardless.
"--Colonel, everyone knows you're the best pilot in the Corps. I mean, we know that. You can't just stop flying right at the start and then get your leg blown off so you can't fight, either. It's stupid."
"Well, Hawkes, maybe you should write an angry letter to the Chig embassy!" McQueen snapped, and Cooper jerked back, instantly aware that he had gone too far. The ensuing silence was deafening.
"...sorry," he said.
McQueen glanced down at his cane. "This wasn't my idea."
Cooper found that he had run out of politic things to say. He made his way to another cockpit, and sat across from McQueen.
After a bit, McQueen made a halfhearted attempt at reviving the conversation. "How are the Wildcards?"
"Dead. Or missing." Cooper spat out the words. McQueen almost winced. If this was an indication of how well Hawkes was adjusting to the replacements, it didn't bode well for group unity.
"They died in the line of duty. It was an honorable act."
"That doesn't make them any less dead."
Cooper folded forward, resting his elbows on his thighs. "How do you deal with it?" he asked, and neither one was quite sure what he meant by it.
"I deal with it," McQueen said. "I deal with it by waking up each day and asking myself 'What can I do from here on out?' You can't change the past. All you can do is take hold of the future."
Cooper stared at him, a question forming in the back of his mind. "What happens if we win the war?" he asked.
McQueen regarded him carefully. "What do you mean?"
"I mean..." Cooper gestured helplessly. "What happens? To you. To us. What happens?"
"Well. The Corps will find a job for me." (Probably sitting behind some damn desk, filling out forms and sweet-talking Command.) "When your term is up, you'll be free to go back Earthside."
Cooper snorted. "Then what?"
"That's not for me to say."
Cooper considered that--there was an uneasy silence for several long seconds. Then he began to shake his head--slowly, uncertainly.
McQueen watched him. He could sense the shift in the topic--whatever was going on in the Lieutenant's mind. And it was something that Cooper didn't want to talk about, which meant that more than likely it was something McQueen didn't want to talk about either. But it was bothering him--and it wouldn't be the first time the Colonel had put his own personal comfort second to watching over one of his "kids." (It's easy to walk away. But that's not why I'm here.) "What is it?"
Cooper shook his head again--this time, more emphatic. "I just don't get it. Any of it. Any of this... stupid war."
(Join the club, kid.) "Wars are like that."
Cooper dragged a hand over his forehead and through his hair. "Sometimes," he admitted, "I have dreams about them. Shane an' Wang an' 'Phousse. I dream that they're still here." He glanced up, almost nervously. "Then I wake up, an'... they're not."
McQueen searched for something to say, but Cooper preempted him.
"You ever have dreams of flying?"
The jump startled him. He wasn't blind--he could tell from the beginning he sort of regard Hawkes had for Vansen. It didn't escape his notice that she was the only one Hawkes had called by first name when he said he dreamed of them. That Cooper had drawn the unconscious parallel to McQueen's flight status was--unexpected, to say the least. "...I dream," McQueen confirmed. "About flying. About the Chig Ambassador. About Port Riskin, or the Angry Angels."
Cooper dropped his gaze to the floor. "They make fun of you," he growled. "Lots of people. They think I can't hear them, but I do."
(I'd think they'd wantyou to hear.) "Hawkes. You'd better not be using me as an excuse to get into fights."
Cooper looked up sharply, and for a moment McQueen was caught in a baleful gaze. "They call you the 'gimp tank.' Talk about you behind your back."
"That's just the way things go."
Hawkes wanted to hit something. McQueen could read it in every line. but there was nothing here to hit, save a bulkhead, a Hammerhead, or McQueen--and Cooper wasn't going to try any of the three. McQueen glanced back toward the hangar doors--it was obvious that Hawkes came here to to escape. But things weren't so easy, and the more you tried to escape these questions the harder they hounded you.
"You're better than they are," he said. "We both are. And the best way to prove that is to ignore them."
"Yeah," Cooper said, but it was clear in his voice that he didn't agree. He stood up, grimacing. "I should get back to my quarters."
McQueen stood up as well, albeit a bit more slowly. "We're not defeated yet, Hawkes. Not us, not the Corps, not the fleet. Not yet."
Cooper looked back at him, but he didn't answer. He ducked his head, and took himself out.
McQueen watched him go. This war wasn't going well for anyone--and the two of them had more than just the chigs to fight.
I know with certainty who I am, he had told himself--and it was true. But there was something else missing now--something he wanted to reach out and take, something that hung just out of range. He understood Hawkes' dreams. Maybe better than Hawkes did. He had dreamed those dreams before.
But they were dreams--and dreams, like the past, couldn't rule you. No one was saved by looking back forever.
Maybe coming up here had been a mistake. At first he had worked out here to be near to the planes he loved, the planes he could no longer fly--now that even the workout was denied to him, it was a double mockery. Maybe he no longer had a place there.
He gripped the cane in one hand--he didn't lean on it, didn't surrender to it. It was for those moments, frequent but not constant, when he lost his balance--when he began to stumble. It was a fallback. Maybe he needed another.
He hesitated at the hangar door, looking back over the Hammerheads, taking them in with a critical eye. His squadron--not his technically, but still his in spirit--knew their places, or would come to. It was their role, their duty, to fly those--hunting and fighting on the front lines, the sword edge of the Fleet. He was an advisor to the Commodore and indirectly the Commandant--the eyes, the mind.
He drew himself up higher--if this was what was left to him, this was what he would do. It wasn't glorious, but it was necessary--and as long as his kids were out there, he would be standing behind them, guiding them, watching their backs.
He left the flight deck solemnly. Even if the hammerheads forgot him, even if he would no longer stand in the trenches with his life alongside those of the marines he commanded, even if his image became no longer that of a warrior and instead that of a tactician, an observer, a scholar--even if he died quietly in his bed someday, of old age instead of the blaze of cannons and missiles he had always expected--he would hold that truth within him. And at night, when the darkness of his cabin reflected the darkness of space, he would still fly--if only in his dreams.