Disclaimer: These characters and original scenario belong to the copyright holders. I'm just getting them off the shelf to visit with them for a while. Following "Blackjack," I wanted to explore String regaining consciousness in the hospital to find his brother there, to find out whether Dom survived, and I wanted to explore whether Saint John is Half Pint's father. This story is becoming episodic. Bouchard couldn't have arranged the bombing and the careful trail of clues all by himself from Burma so the ultimate bad guy is still out there, possibly John Bradford Horn, and I can't figure out how to catch him. So this may end up just a couple vignettes.

Awakening

"String, it's time to wake up," Dom's voice. "String."

"I'm trying, Dom," Stringfellow Hawke complained. Or thought he did. But how could it be Dom? It happened all over again in his mind. Eyes tightly closed, he remembered running toward the helicopter. He could see Dom set the ship back down and start to climb out, he remembered seeing the flash of the explosion and feeling the awful heat. There was a deafening boom as he was lifted off his feet. Then he was lying on his back on the tarmac with his arm over his eyes in the middle of the smell of burning rubber, burning metal, maybe burning flesh. He wanted to get to Dom but couldn't move, and all the while he knew it was too late, too late for Dom and too late for Saint John, because now he'd never be rescued.

"Come on, String."

"Come on, String," Saint John echoed Dom. His brother? Voices seemed very far away or as if they were heard through a wall. The sound of Saint John's voice jerked him awake. His eyes were shut but there was too much light.

"Not again." The sound of his own voice, a harsh whisper, startled Hawke. Talking set off a coughing fit.

"Not again what, String?" his brother said. But Saint John was missing in action, missing for over fifteen years. No, he'd sent Jo to rescue him. Was it the East Germans? Had they kidnapped him again? "String, look at me."

His left arm was in a cast. Both arms were tied down. Hawke struggled against the straps. Black panic was rising up to choke him.

"Steady, String. I called the nurse." Dom again. "They tied your hands because you were yanking out the IV."

He couldn't make any sense out of what Dom said. His brother's voice again. "Come on, String. Look at me."

This time Hawke tried to focus on the man standing by his bed: blonde hair with some gray, face tanned to leathery brown, blue-gray eyes, very, very thin. Exactly how he imagined his brother would look. "Saint John?"

"Who else would I be?"

"Wasn't you, before."

"Dom, what is he talking about?"

"The East Germans grabbed him and brainwashed him a couple years ago to get their hands on Airwolf, made him think he was waking up from a coma and someone else was you. I thought he was over it."

The nurse walked in. "Mr. Hawke."

Both String and Saint John said, "Yeah?"

The nurse said calmly, "Stringfellow."

"Untie me."

"Not until you stop trying to get out of bed."

"Got to get…"

"You've got to stop fighting us. Your leg is in traction. You have to lie still and give it a chance to heal."

String looked down for the first time and could see the elaborate apparatus that suspended his left leg above the bed. "How bad?"

"A compound fracture, so you're going to have to stay put for a while longer."

"Where?"

"You're in Northridge Hospital. You were in the trauma center at Cedars-Sinai, then you were transferred here." She started checking his blood pressure, stuck a thermometer in his mouth, and bustled around for a few minutes checking dressings and tubes. He fell asleep.

When he awoke the next time, he looked around the room, very cautiously. He was very stiff. Dominic Santini was in the next bed, asleep, with the blankets elevated over his legs, the beloved face battered and decorated with gauze dressings, Dom, breathing, alive. The odd fragments of memory and voices from the last few hours, or was it days, fell into place. Dom was alive.

He looked around to the other side of the room. Jo Santini sat with her blonde head bowed over a book. "Jo?" Trying to speak made him cough again. It took a moment to stop.

"String. Oh, thank God."

"Jo." She rushed to his side and leaned over the bed rail. "Saint John?"

"He's here. He's stretched out on a couple chairs in the hallway. Let me get him."

"Jo, untie me." It was hard to be urgent at a whisper.

"I should get permission."

"I'm lucid."

"Oh, bother." She undid the straps that held his hands to the bed rails. She kissed his cheek and he wrapped his good arm around her shoulders for a moment.

"String, do you need something for your throat?"

He nodded. Jo poured some water into a glass. She slid an arm beneath his head and let him sip the water.

"Better." His voice was stronger.

Jo stepped out into the hall and returned with a sleepy Saint John rubbing his eyes. "String, do you believe it's me, now?"

"Saint John?"

"It's me."

"How?"

"You sent Jo to rescue me." Saint John enfolded Hawke's shoulders in his arms. "My God, String."

Hawke wrapped his free arm and the broken arm in its cast around Saint John's neck. "Sinj." He clutched his brother. "Really you, Sinj?" Tears started in his eyes.

Saint John rested his face against his brother's head. "It's really me, String."

"Now that's a sight I waited sixteen years to see," Dom said from across the room, his voice thick.

Hawke didn't want to let go of his brother but eventually he fell back against the pillow, good hand wrapped around Saint John's wrist. "What happened?" he asked. "Where were you?"

Saint John said, "Well, after I was captured…" He looked down and realized that String was asleep.

"Well, it's a long story," he murmured.

Later, String asked Dom, "How did I get here?"

"What do you remember?"

"Helicopter blew up. Dom, I knew you had to be dead."

"I thought you were."

The dry chuckle hurt his throat, but Hawke said, "Me too." He had to swallow to continue. "Dominic."

Dom said, "We dodged the big one, String."

"Looks like we did." Hawke swallowed again. "I can barely hear you."

"One of your eardrums is broken and the doctors say you're probably hearing some ringing. I am too. We're a fine pair. They'll operate to repair your eardrum when you're stronger. We'll try to talk louder. "

"I remember…" he rasped, but stopped. Jo walked into the room. "Jo, you went for Saint John, with Cait." He paused, "I was in ICU, then a hospital room? I saw Saint John there?"

"Yes, as soon as we got back. You were in intensive care. You insisted Cait and I should rescue Saint John. But Jason Locke and Mike Rivers agreed to come and I was afraid they'd stop me if I waited, so we went without Cait."

Hawke couldn't follow what she said, but he focused on what was most important to him. "Jo, thank you…same room as Dom."

"Saint John and I arranged it. We knew you'd be trying to find each other. And since you can't, it seemed easier to put you two together."

"Why can't Dom?"

"Nothing for you to worry about now," Dom said. "I survived to see my family whole again."

"Saint John?"

"I'm all right," he said, walking in.

Dom snorted. "He weighs about the same as he did in junior high school. His teeth are a mess. He's more sunburned than he ever got when he was surfing. And he's got all sorts of tropical parasites. But he's a sight for sore eyes."

Hawke looked around, bothered, searching for two other faces. "Cait? Le Van?"

"Le Van's staying with Cait. He's scared. We've been telling him that you're going to be all right. Cait will bring him tomorrow."


Caitlin O'Shannessey came the next morning. "You were right," she told him. "You did it. It's unbelievable. I can hardly believe it, but Saint John was alive all along, and now he's home."

"Does Archangel know?"

"I'll ask Jason. Apparently it's just Michael Coldsmith-Briggs III these days. Michael was transferred out of the country."

"Need to know," he muttered.

"And we have no need to know," she finished. "He may have no need to know." She sat back to look at him.

"How bad?"

"You haven't seen a mirror yet? I'll get you one. Your hair got singed off in patches but don't worry, it's growing back. Your beard is darker than your hair. You look kinda scraggly at the moment."

"Rugged, not scraggly."

"I calls 'em like I sees 'em." She realized he was covering fear with bravado. "You look okay, String. You have some serious burns, but on your head, neck, face, and hands they're superficial."

"What are the damages?" he asked carefully, fearing her answer. The doctor had gone over his condition with him, probably more than once, but he hadn't been lucid enough to understand her.

"Well, you were running into the blast when it went off, so you were hurt as badly as Dom. He was moving away, thanks to you, and it blew him away from the helicopter. You saved his life, String. You were blown the other way. They think you protected your eyes and face with your arms, the leather jacket protected your arms, your back and chest. You have a broken arm but that's minor, your left leg is badly broken. You and Dom were both hit by a lot of debris. Your hands got burned but they're healing. Your legs were burned. You have several broken ribs. One punctured your lung and collapsed it, on top of smoke inhalation. You were out for the first few days with a severe concussion. You're having trouble hearing. But you survived. You survived and the doctors think you're going to be all right. You're both going to be all right. It's almost a miracle."

"After all that, are you sure?" he asked.

Cait got very serious. "Don't joke about it."

"Sorry."

"String, Jo and I were going to get Saint John. But she was practicing with Airwolf when Mike Rivers and Jason Locke found the Lair. They were willing to go with her, so they went without me. But the worst part was no one would let me see you in the hospital for three days after Jason left. Someone had you moved out of intensive care. You almost died, String. When Jo got back they got you back into ICU. You were there until two days ago. You woke up a few times but I guess you don't remember that. Jason is trying to find out who gave the order to move you into that isolated room and he's posted guards outside this room."

"Staying away from me might have kept you safe. I don't know Rivers. I met Locke once. But I owe them." He scratched at his face. "Brush my teeth? Shave?"

"I'll go get a nurse. Are you okay right now?Are you hurting?"

"Itches."

"String."

"What?"

"I just like saying it. You were out for so long. I talked to you."

He closed his eyes for a moment. "You know, I think I remember that."

The slender redhead grinned happily, and went to get a nurse.

Dom was awake by the time a nurse's aide came to help Hawke wash up. "Dom, how about I keep the beard and get love beads and sandals. What do you think?"

The guffaw was everything good about Dom. Hawke was smiling as he scrubbed his teeth with stiff, sore hands. He needed quite a bit of help from the nurse. Shaving was harder and she did most of it. He was asleep when another nurse brought him lunch, the first food since he was injured. It was clear broth, jello, and tea, not coffee. He found that he had no appetite but dutifully finished some of it. Cait sat next to him, helping him with a spoon that his hands struggled to manage, chatting about Le Van, Santini Air, Tet, and her mother. He liked listening to her.

"Cait?"

"What?"

"Dreaming? Saint John is really back?"

"You're not dreaming. If you were, you wouldn't be dreaming you were stuck in this hospital bed, would you?" Cait kissed his cheek.

Saint John walked in. "Cait, I need to talk to String for a minute?"

"Oh, sure. I wanted to bring Half Pint in."

"Wait a minute, okay?"

He waited until she left the room. "String, are you awake enough to listen to me for a minute?"

Hawke's fire-reddened face broke into a happy smile. He said, "Saint John," and repeated it, "Saint John," just to hear the sound of his brother's name. "Sure I'm awake, Sinj." His slightly slurred words made that statement uncertain. "What's up?"

"Le Van isn't my son, String. There's no way he could be."

That brought String to full alertness. "Does he know?"

"I haven't told him."

"Let me tell him. Tell Cait to bring him in."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to keep him. I promised him."

"String."

"It's okay, Saint John. We tried to find other relatives and we hit a dead end. Since he's not your son, I think you're going to have a nephew." He twisted to see Dominic. "Dom, are you okay with getting a half-grown grandson?"

"I already think of him that way, String. He's a great kid."

Cait walked in with Le Van, her arm around his shoulders. The thin, half-Vietnamese twelve-year-old stood by Hawke's bed. He looked down, afraid to look Hawke in the eye. "What's up, Half Pint?"

"I don't think Saint John is my Dad."

"I know," Hawke said gently.

"You can't give me back to Uncle Darren. He's in jail."

"Would you mind if I asked you to stay with me?"

"You don't care that I'm not your nephew?"

"No, not at all. I'd really like it if you would stay with me. You're my ward now. Would you like to be my son?"

Le Van turned away. "No one really wants me, Uncle String. You're just being nice."

"People don't usually call me nice. Le, listen to me. It's hard for me to talk so let me say it just once, okay?"

Le turned back, reluctance on his face. "Okay."

"Your Mom tried to make a life for you and after you were separated, she tried to find you. Your aunt loved you and brought you to the United States. Darren may not be a good guy and he tried to trick me into bringing drugs into the country for him, but I think he cares about you. That night you went downtown, he was really upset. So you have several people who want you very much. Pretty good, huh?"

"I guess." He looked down shyly. "You really want me to be your son?"

"I'd be honored to have you for my son. Will you?"

Le shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. Finally, he said, "Yes, Uncle String, I'd like to stay with you very much." Le straightened his shoulders. "But what should I call you?"

"How about String, or Dad? Not Hawke, because Saint John might answer. Besides, you're going to be a Hawke, too." Hawke fumbled with the bed railing until it dropped. "Come here."

Le reached around Hawke's shoulders. "String."

Hawke embraced him, awkwardly, because of the cast on his left arm.

"String, are you going to be okay?"

"Well, not right away, but I will be. Really. But I made sure that you'll be taken care of no matter what. Cait, Jo, and Dom, they would love to have you live with them. I already rewrote my will. Do you know what that is? You have a family now. Families are for keeps." Hawke started coughing and fumbled for the water on his bed table.

Cait filled his cup with water and let him sip from it. She set the cup down and stepped back.

Le Van asked, "Are you and Cait going to get married?"

"Why?"

"Then she'd be my Mom."

"Well, I don't know, yet. We haven't talked about it. One man can't push another man into something like that, you know. Or a woman. It's between me and Cait. And we're kind of embarrassing her right now."

"Oh. I'm sorry, Cait."

"That's okay. I'd like to be your friend, if I'm not your Mom."

String pushed his head back into his pillow, eyes closed for a minute. He was very tired, but he looked back at Le Van. "Then we're all set? Give me another hug."

Le Van hugged String again. "String, thank you."

"It's what you do for each other, father and son."

Cait asked, "Are we good?"

"We're better than good," String said. "We're family."