Continuing the exploration of String and Dom's survival, after the bombing at Santini Air in "Blackjack," concluding some unfinished business.


Awakening, continued. It's Hard to Surrender the Pain


Cait pulled the paper sack of donuts from her purse. "Brought you guys a treat," she said. "I bet you could use a break from hospital food."

"All right," Dom said, "I am getting so sick of what passes for food in this place that I sent some back last night." He gestured at String. "Even Mister Fish and Rabbit Food, here, sent some vegetables back."

Hawke grinned. "Dom is grousing because they have him on a diet."

"Oh," Cait said, suddenly embarrassed. "I shouldn't have brought these, should I?"

"Cait, you are performing a good deed," Dom assured her. "You are showing mercy to the wounded and the needy. How can that be a mistake?"

"How, indeed," she said, and kissed Dom on his cheek. "Are you sure you aren't Irish, with that gift of the gab you have?"

"That gift of the gab was Italian, originally."

Hawke watched the friendly sparring with deep contentment, despite being confined to the hospital bed, still depending on pain killers for comfort, still a little queasy from the concussion. Dom was alive and Saint John was home.

Cait reported, "So I dropped Le off at school, I walked Tet, who is getting tired of living in the city, and I have a charter scheduled this afternoon. Jo had to turn away some film business, since we need you to set it up and Jo hasn't done that sort of flying before, but we can talk about that when you come home."

String remembered there was something he wanted to ask Cait, but the thudding at the back of his skull, even though it was growing much fainter, seemed to make dredging up the fugitive thought too much work to bother. He moved his right hand automatically to scratch his left arm, encountered the cast, and recalled what it was. "Cait, is my watch or POW bracelet with my clothes? " He realized that the small wardrobe in the hospital room probably didn't hold any street clothes and he blushed.

Cait opened her large purse and rummaged around. "You know, the emergency room staff gave me what they could salvage. Good thing you'd left your wallet in your locker at the airfield." She pulled out a manila envelope holding the few things he had been wearing that survived the blast. "The watch isn't running."

"That's too bad. It's waterproof. It's my favorite fishing watch." He pointed to his injured left arm. "Not surprising it stopped, though. Could I have the bracelet?"

"Why? Saint John is home."

He looked away uncomfortably, then admitted, "I imagined giving the bracelet to him when he came home, dreamed it for years. I'd really like to do that."

Cait slipped the bracelet out of the envelope and slid it onto his right wrist. "There. When will he come in today?"

"He had an appointment at the V.A. this morning. I think Mike Rivers is going to bring him over to the hospital this afternoon. He said that Mike gets a kick out of how Dom kept his room for him, all these years. It's still the nineteen-sixties in a room in Van Nuys."

"They're getting to be friends, Rivers and Saint John, aren't they?" Dom asked.

"Yeah. Good thing," Hawke said. "I'm not much use to Saint John stuck in here. But I can't see it. Sinj is pretty quiet. Rivers, well, he never seems to stop talking. But, maybe Sinj needs that."

Cait laughed outright. "Mike is a crash course in something, maybe happy Mike-ology. He's a fine pilot, though. Jo raved about how well he flew the Lady, even though none of them understood all her capabilities. Dom, I think Jason Locke is going to bring Mike in to talk to you about flying for Santini Air."

"I can't afford another pilot," Dom sputtered.

Cait dropped her voice. "Jason has taken over the…" She looked for a way to avoid saying "Airwolf" out loud in the hospital room, "…our project from Archangel for now, and apparently Santini Air will be involved."

Hawke broke in. "We are? The deal is, well, the Firm fulfilled its part of the deal. I have to honor that."

"I don't understand it, but the Lady is still in the Lair, and I think Jason will be coming to talk to you about it."

"Jason, is it?" Dom picked up on Locke's first name.

"We seem to have a team these days. Don't worry, Dom. Jo and I are taking good care of the business, and we'll keep bringing paperwork and all in here for you."

Dom looked very troubled. "Cait, wait. You know, well, we know the bombing was directed by that mercenary who was holding Saint John. But we still don't know if that was the end of it. Maybe this team thing should wait."

"We're taking precautions. Not much more we can do about it until Jason gets more information. And nothing is going to happen with the Lady while you're still in the hospital. I get the impression the final decision may depend on what Hawke wants to do about it. Face it, Hawke, everyone thinks of the Lady as yours."

"She never was mine," Hawke objected. "I just kept her for a while. Locke can talk to me about it, but since he knows where the Lair is, I'm not sure he needs to. His call." He fingered the bracelet. "I loved flying her, but I feel, well, I feel free right now; weird, isn't it, with my leg in traction and a guard on the door to our room? But I feel like there's no more intrigue, no drama, I can fly helicopters when I get out, and get to know my brother again, and get used to thinking of Le Van as my son, and well, go back to what life was like before every minute, waking and asleep, was spent worrying about Saint John."

"Real life. That sounds wonderful. Well, that charter is in a couple hours. Toni has a meeting with her editor, but she'll stop by later. Jo will pick Le up at school."

Cait kissed Dom's cheek again, kissed Hawke's, and rushed out the door. "Beautiful girl, there," Dom observed to String. "Beautiful heart."

"Cait is getting to be like the sister I never had."

"Sister!" Dom snorted. "You worry me sometimes, String. For a smart man…"

A nurse walked in and collected Dom's crutches from the corner of the room by his bed. "Time for your morning walk." He glanced at the sack of donuts on his table and looked away, trying not to call attention to it. She spotted it.

"Diet food, I see," she said cheerfully.

Dom jerked a thumb at Hawke. "It's for him. He's too skinny."

"Of course, it is," she said. "And if you walk all the way down the hall today I'll let you keep it."

Despite the embarrassment of being seen with one leg and in a hospital gown, Dom was so happy to get out of bed that he sat up and waited while she lowered the bed so he could rest his foot on the floor. She helped him stand and pull on a bathrobe, then rested the crutches under his arms. "Don't go anywhere," he admonished String cheerfully, and swung himself forward on the crutches.

Hawke groaned at Dom's joke on cue.

Lunch consisted of some concoction of overcooked vegetables. After pushing it around on the plate, Hawke was trying to read despite his headache when Saint John walked in. Dom's snores drowned out the newscast on the television. "How can you hear yourself think, in here?" Saint John asked.

Dom jerked awake. "What?"

"Nothing, Dom." Saint John couldn't help the guilty look. "Just asking what String was reading."

"Sure. You're just making jokes about me snoring, aren't you?"

"I'd never do that."

"Right." Dom turned on his side and went back to his nap.

Saint John sat in the chair between the two beds. He noticed the strip of metal on his brother's wrist. "New hospital bracelet?" he asked.

Hawke carefully pulled the aluminum band off his right wrist. "MIA bracelet, Sinj. See?"

He held it out and Saint John took it, having to squint a little to see it. He pulled his new prescription reading glasses out of his pocket and put them on, but took them off again in frustration. "I can't get used to these things." He held the bracelet a little further away from his face. "My name and the date I was captured?"

"There was an organization that made the bracelets, so the missing in Vietnam weren't forgotten. I imagined, one day, handing it to you."

"What if I'd come home in a box, String?"

Hawke had worn the bracelet too long to let the question shake him. "Then I would have buried it with you."

Saint John took a deep breath. Finally, he asked, "What do you want me to do with it?"

"Whatever you like. You're home."

"So you wore it all the time? All these years?"

"It's a bracelet, Sinj. It just sat there."

The two brothers looked at each other as the silence grew. Saint John broke eye contact first. He looked down. "I listened to your moon shot on French-language radio. God, I was proud of you. And I figured maybe you were flying for Dom. But I thought you'd have a family by now. Why don't you?"

"I have Dom. I have you."

"You didn't have me for sixteen years. String, I imagined you with a wife, with kids, happy, healthy, busy. Instead, you're living like a monk up in our grandparents' vacation cabin in the woods."

"Remember Kelly?"

"Sure, I do. You were going to marry her. That was a tragedy, but you were just kids."

"Well, I didn't feel like jumping into another serious relationship. There was someone else, briefly, but, well, I don't want to go into that. But I haven't been living like a monk. You're not going to get a scorecard from me."

"So you steal a…" He stopped himself. "You know."

"A lot of the time, that's been fun. I hope you get a chance to fly her."

"That's crazy. When I last saw you in the 'Nam, you were a fairly normal kid. When did you get crazy?"

Hawke sighed, "I was never a fairly normal kid. But wait till you fly her, and you'll see. Ask Jo and Rivers - apparently they love flying her."

"Here's your bracelet back."

"No. It's yours. Do what you want with it. I've waited a long time to hand it to you."

Saint John looked unhappy but slipped it into his shirt pocket. "Thank you," he said quietly. He looked at his watch. "Mike is picking me up in a minute." He stood and embraced his brother over the railing of the hospital bed. "Thank you." He picked up the bifocals and shoved those into the pocket, too. He stepped back. "I probably won't be in until late tomorrow. They're going to pull two teeth that are too far gone to be saved. They said maybe I could get implants instead of false teeth, whatever that is. Anyway, I'll be swollen and sore and partly toothless when I come to see you tomorrow afternoon."

Hawke grinned. "Maybe it'll be an improvement."

"It'll be a new fashion. Everyone will want it."

"Would you two pipe down and let me sleep?" Dom demanded. "Sheesh. This is a hospital."

"Yes, Dom," the brothers intoned together.

Saint John turned to go. "And you tell that dentist not to hurt you," Dom added.

Amusement filled Saint John's voice. "I'll do that," he said, and stopped by Dom's bed to give him a quick hug. "See you tomorrow."