Here it is, the final chapter - thank you so much for sticking around until the end, for all your nice reviews and for all the alerts and favorites :-)
Again, the biggest thank-you to montez for betaing my story, I owe you! *hugs*
Thank you, ShakespeareIsMyMuse, for your great comments, I really appreciate your advice.
When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return. (Leonardo da Vinci, 1452 – 1519)
Six months later…
Squinting his eyes against the bright Hawaiian sun, Danny pulled the cyclic stick to the right, causing the small black helicopter to fly a soft curve over the ocean. He smiled, enjoying the short-lived feelings of independence and peace before he'd have to face his most dreaded task.
As much as it hurt to admit, McGarrett had been right after all – Danny was back in a cockpit only a few days after Steve had been released from the hospital. During the last six months he had spent every spare second of his life cramming and practicing for his pilot's license and today was the first time he was flying alone. So far everything had been going as smooth as expected, the take off and the flight itself had never been a problem.
No, it was the landing that worried Danny the most, too many bad memories resurfacing in his mind every time he neared the runway. Trying to get rid of those unwanted emotions, his left hand involuntarily curled into a fist, sending a faint wave of pain through his pinky and ring finger. The pain in his once broken fingers was the only reminder of the horrible crash half a year ago, but it was a price he didn't mind to pay as long as it meant that he and Steve came out of it alive and safe.
Danny looked out of the window, only a few more minutes before he would be back at the small airfield. He felt his heart beating in his chest a little too fast, and he noticed that his fingers trembled slightly when he raised his hand to wipe the sweat from his forehead. Taking a deep breath, Danny unsuccessfully tried to calm his frayed nerves.
During his many flight lessons he'd performed countless take offs and landings, but never alone, always with his flight instructor right by his side. Not a single one of those landings had actually required the assistance of his instructor and yet it was something completely different to be all alone in the cockpit.
Williams took another deep breath, convincing himself once more that he was fully capable of landing the helicopter, in a few moments he would safely be back on the ground. He hadn't told his teammates that today was his first solo flight because he somehow felt that it was something he wanted, he needed to face alone.
The landing area slowly came nearer, but this time no security vehicles were waiting for him next to the runway. He briefly squeezed his eyes shut to chase away that last bit of unwelcome memories, tightening his grip around the flight controls as he flew a big circle over the airfield.
Danny looked up in surprise when he heard static crackle over his headphones. A short glance at the radio controls told him that everything was fine but then he winced slightly when a well-known voice sounded in his ears.
"Hey Captain Danno, this is Nostradamus speaking. How ya doing up there?"
Fighting back an annoyed groan, Danny rolled his eyes. Wasn't there anything at all he could hide from McGarrett? How on earth had the guy found out that he was flying today?
"Steven, what are you doing here?" he asked exasperated, adjusting his microphone in front of his mouth. "Don't you have some fancy little SEAL business to do? Something to blow up? Some ultra-classified mission somewhere far away?"
"Nope, nothing. Today's completely reserved for mission 'Danno's first solo flight'," Steve said happily. "Why didn't you tell me that today was the big day? Didn't you want your partner to witness your triumph over gravity?" There was a little pause and Danny could practically hear Steve's goofy grin. "Or did you fear I'd witness you going all sissy about your upcoming task?"
"Going all sissy? On that you can wait until hell freezes over, you jerk. I've had about three million flying lessons during the last six months, believe me, I'm perfectly capable of landing this pretty little helicopter," Williams replied self-confident, even if moments ago he wasn't so sure about his capabilities.
"That's good to hear, brah," a female voice came through the headphones. "Try not to smash one of the buildings this time."
"Yeah, and if possible return the helicopter in one piece," a third voice joined in.
Danny wanted nothing more than slap his forehead in annoyance, now the whole team was there? He pursed his lips, so much for facing his first solo flight alone.
"Kalakaua and Kelly, the crazy chaos cousins, how nice that you joined the little party," he said, his voice dripping with faked sarcasm. "Even if I can't remember having invited you."
"Hey brah, you don't want us here? That really hurts," Chin replied good-naturedly. "What happened to best friend forever?"
"Wait, wait, wait, what does that mean? I thought I was your best friend, Danno?" McGarrett chimed in before Danny could answer.
Danny grinned mischievously, "Bad luck, Steven, you gambled that away when you were lying around motionless for days while I was not only starving but also in danger of getting poisoned with vegetable soup. That's when Chin earned that position by bringing me something proper to eat."
"If I remember correctly, it was a mere candy bar," Chin modestly played down his role while Danny could hear Kono chuckling in the background.
"Seriously? You traded me for some chocolate?" Steve asked and even if Williams could not see it, he was convinced that there was a pout on the other man's face. "Wow… that's just… wow."
"Well, face it, babe," Danny replied unperturbedly, "that's life."
"Hm," McGarrett mumbled grumpily, changing the subject as he asked, "are you gonna talk the whole day or do you plan on joining us down here sometime soon?"
"I'm not sure. Perhaps I'll fly another round and look for a quieter place to land, there's way too much blather around here," Williams answered impishly. "And now shut up, will you? I need to concentrate…"
"Okay," McGarrett agreed immediately, "see you soon, Danno."
"Good luck," Chin and Kono said almost in unison and the static crackle in Danny's headphones died down as abrupt as it had begun.
Danny slightly shook his head, he had absolutely no idea how they found out about his flight today, but suddenly he was glad that his team was there waiting for him, he felt much calmer now, their presence somehow seemed to help him keep his emotions at bay.
He took a last deep breath, recalling everything his flight instructor had told him about landing a helicopter. Danny blanked out everything else, solely concentrating on the flight controls and on his designated landing area.
Handling the controls as if he'd never done anything else in his life, the aircraft came down slowly and steadily and before Danny knew what happened, he felt the skids smoothly touch the ground.
Unconsciously shutting down the engine, Danny slipped off the headphones in one swift move. He watched the rotor blades sluggishly coming to a halt as he leaned back in the seat, suddenly all the tension dropped away from him and a big grin spread on his face.
He'd done it.
He'd really done it.
Bathing another moment in these glorious feelings of success and satisfaction that streamed through his mind and body, he just sat there, completely happy and at peace with the world and himself.
After a few heartbeats Williams took a deep breath and opened the door, nonchalantly jumping out of the helicopter, slowly crossing the airfield to join his teammates who were waiting for him in the shadow of a small hangar.
The big grin still on his face, Danny came to a halt a few steps in front of the little group, casually spreading his arms in a piece-of-cake gesture and before he could react he found himself in a vivid, bone-crushing group hug. Congratulations were shouted in his ears, he felt hands patting on his back and he wasn't completely sure if the tightness in his chest was a result of the fierce hug or of the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him.
"Enough, you're crushing me," he said, choked up, as he tried to wiggle himself free from the embrace until the arms around him finally loosened. Danny looked up into three beaming faces, knowing that his face probably mirrored the very same expression.
"How did you guys find me?" he wanted to know, raising his eyebrows when he saw the expression on their faces slowly turn from cheerful into sheepish. Steve exchanged a look with Kono and Chin but none of them seemed eager to answer Danny's question.
Danny sighed quietly as he slightly turned to the left, directly facing Chin. "You triangulated my cell phone," he mused, waving his hands through the air.
"I'm totally innocent," Chin replied with a little smile, defensively raising his arms.
Staring at the older man for another second, Danny finally averted his gaze, stabbing his finger in Kono's direction. "You hacked into my online calendar," he accused the young woman.
Kono fiercely shook her head, looking at him in shock, "I would never do something like that, brah."
"Yeah, right," Danny murmured under his breath, earning an impish grin from Kono.
Crossing his arms in front of his chest, Williams narrowed his eyes, taking a deep breath before he addressed his partner, "Okay, what did you do? Did you spy on me via satellite? Attach a tracking device to my car or my clothes? Did you threaten my flight instructor? God, you didn't torture him, did you? Is he still alive?"
Steve grinned broadly as he replied, "Dammit, I hadn't thought about that, that would probably have worked too."
Danny cocked his head, looking appraisingly at the other man, not really convinced that McGarrett was joking.
"Honestly, guys, how did you know I was here today?" he impatiently rephrased his former question.
"Well, you know, one of the secretaries in the office over there…" Chin started to explain, vaguely gesturing toward one of the small buildings nearby.
Danny rolled his eyes, suddenly pretty sure where this would lead. "Let me guess, she's your… cousin? Aunt? Sister-in-law? Grandmother? Ex-wife?"
Kono burst out into laughter, barely bracing herself enough to chime in, "You're almost there, brah, she's my neighbor's girlfriend."
"Your neighbor's girlfriend? That means, she's not even related to you?" Danny frowned in astonishment. "I'm shocked, I thought the whole bloody island is related to you," he said, the grin back on his face. After all, he was kind of pleased that his team obviously cared so much about him.
Rubbing his hands, Williams looked expectantly at the three people in front of him, "Okay, now this is cleared, tell me what you think about my landing? Did I good?"
"Good?" McGarrett shook his head, failing miserably to hide his smirk behind a straight face. "I don't think you did good, buddy." He turned his head toward Kono and Chin, "What do you think, did he good?"
Danny narrowed his eyes as he saw the cousins also shaking their heads. Not really knowing what his friends were up to, he looked suspiciously at the three people in front of him, impatiently waiting for further explanations.
"You don't know the saying about landings, do you?" Kono finally took pity on him.
"No?" Danny answered hesitantly.
"Well, any landing you walk away from is a 'good' landing," Chin explained good-humoredly. "But I think your landing today would rather be marked as 'great'."
"Yeah, because a 'great' landing is one after which they can use the helicopter again," Steve said, laughing happily.
Danny stared at his partner for the blink of an eye before he joined him in his laughter, "I think your definition sucks a little because it means that our landing half a year ago was 'good'?"
"We didn't exactly walk away from it, but yes, according to that definition, it probably was a good landing," McGarrett nodded pensively.
"Well, good enough, since we're both alive," Danny replied quietly, hoping that the unpleasant memories of that fateful day would soon fade away.
"Good enough, that's true," Steve agreed, wrapping his arm around Danny's shoulder as they walked together toward the parking lot.
Only a few steps later, Steve once more rose to speak, "Let's talk about this best friend forever thing..."
"Jeez, McGarrett, how old are you?" Danny asked, rolling his eyes as he looked up at his partner. He blinked in surprise when he saw the expression on Steve's face. "What's that face? Are you… are you really upset that I called Chin my best friend?"
"I'm not upset," Steve denied sheepishly, unable to completely banish the pout from his face.
Williams tried his best to suppress the laughter that tickled in his throat. "Okay, listen you goof, here's a deal. Beers are on you today and you're back in business," he offered, immediately knowing that this was exactly the right thing to say when Steve's face lit up.
"Deal?" McGarrett asked, briefly squeezing Danny's biceps, his arm still loosely resting on the smaller man's shoulders.
"Deal," Danny nodded good-naturedly. He would never admit it, but Steve always held a special place in his heart and no amount of candy could ever change that.
So, Paul Baines is still on the run, but I'm pretty sure that I can see him, somewhere on one of the beautiful Hawaiian Islands, sitting on a chair, planning his revenge while petting the nice little plot bunny that is sitting on his lap ;-) As soon as he's willing to unleash it, there will probably be a sequel to this story...