Saying Goodbye

Disclaimer—As usual, Airwolf and its characters aren't mine...just playing with them again.

A/N—Not unlike Troubled Times, this story came about because of a personal experience—the death of a pet, although in my personal experience, it was a cat. It will be written from Hawke's POV. Hope you enjoy it—robertwnielsen

Summary—Hawke and Caitlin lose a very special friend.

I'm worried, I said to myself as I watched Tet moping around the cabin. Tet just...doesn't seem like himself today. I mean, I knew Tet was not the quickest-moving dog around—Dom danged near landed on him several times, I thought to myself—but this seems even worse. Even when he's been with the kids, which usually gets his attention, Tet just hasn't been himself.

"He's gonna be okay, String," my wife Caitlin said as she walked up beside me. I nodded, distractedly, and slipped my arm around her shoulders, even as I felt her arm going around my waist. Cait worries about Tet almost as much as I do—which I suppose shouldn't surprise me—after all, Tet's been a playmate to our daughters, Sally Anne and Saoirse Marie, for the past couple of years, and they've grown to be very fond of each other.

"How the heck did you—oh, never mind," I said as I turned and looked at Caitlin. One of these days, I'm gonna figure out how she does that, I said to myself, marveling again at my wife's ability to almost pick up on what I'm thinking. I know I can't read Cait's thoughts nearly as well as she can read mine—and quite frankly, that worries me sometimes. But right now, I'm more concerned about Tet, and I suppose my concern's written all over my face.

"Think we should take him to the vet, String?" Caitlin asked me. I could see the worry in her blue-green eyes as she looked at me, then looked over at Tet.

"Maybe," I said, not entirely comfortable with the idea. "Let's...watch him for a few more days, and see what happens."

"Okay, String," Caitlin said, and I could tell she was as uncomfortable with hesitating about having Tet checked out, as I was about having Tet checked out.

I know Tet's no spring chicken—I've had that dog ever since before Michael recruited Dom and me to help him find Airwolf. Every now and then, I still remember how Tet would look at Gabrielle, Michael's pilot at the time, who I had fallen in love with—especially when Gabrielle wore one of those white dresses. I caught Tet looking at her as she sat by the fireplace, and she quickly adjusted her skirt in response to his gaze. I just sat there watching, and Gabrielle voiced her opinion about it during dinner one night.

"You know, anyone who would teach a dog to—UGH!" Gabrielle had shouted, disgustedly, as Tet had tried to look up her skirt.

Now that I think about it, though, Tet's never done—what he likes to do—with Caitlin. Part of that, I'm sure, is because Caitlin wears a skirt, or a dress, about as often as Michael wears blue jeans—which is to say, not very often. But even on the rare occasions when Caitlin has worn a dress or a skirt, Tet never took advantage of the situation, and Caitlin once asked me about it not long after we got married.

"String? You notice Tet never...well, you know...does what you told me he liked to do—to me?" Caitlin had asked me.

"Maybe Tet likes you too much," I said, smiling at her.

"I guess it just...surprised me, that's all," Caitlin replied. "I mean, even when I first started comin' up here, he never looked at me the way you told me he did"—

"Like I said, Cait...I think Tet just liked you too much even then—and, so did I." I remembered Caitlin smiled when I said that. But even when she first came up here, I knew Tet liked her too much to do—what he liked to do—to her. Maybe that was part of what helped me fall in love with Cait. I guess I'll never know, but it's something to think about. Right now, though, I've got more important things to worry about—like how to help Tet feel better.

Over the course of the next few days, I watched Tet more and more carefully, especially when he took a walk with me. Caitlin and the girls did what they could when they were with Tet, and I began not worrying so much—Caitlin, Sally Anne, and Saoirse Marie reported that whenever they played with Tet, or just walked with him, he was as responsive as ever to them.

This continued for about a month, until one day I heard Tet whining—but I wasn't sure where he was. Finally I found him—stuck between a dresser and the wall in our bedroom. I didn't think there was enough room between the two for a dog Tet's size to get through—but somehow, he had, and he'd gotten himself stuck about midway through. I ran up to where the dresser was and pulled it far enough away from the wall so that Tet could get out, then gave him a friendly scratch behind the ears.

"You okay there, Tet?" I asked him, and he licked my face in response, so I didn't worry too much about him—but I left the dresser far enough away from the wall so he'd be able to walk between them without getting stuck again.

But I'd noticed something else when I looked at Tet—his eyes weren't the same color. They seemed...cloudier than I remembered. He's probably just getting old, I said to myself, filing the situation away in my mind for future reference.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I kept a close eye on Tet—his behaviors around the kids, and Le when he came to visit. He seemed to be getting more lethargic every day...and I noticed something else—he'd quit eating as much, and was losing weight. He was probably a good fifteen pounds lighter than he'd been the day he got stuck between the wall and the dresser. Now, I'm really getting concerned, I said to myself.

"Sinj?"

"Yeah, String?" My older brother said to me, as we sat in the office at Santini Air.

"I...I think Tet's getting sick," I said, then proceeded to tell him about Tet's getting stuck between the dresser and the wall, and the other things that had been happening. "You know a good vet?"

"Yeah, actually, I do," Saint John replied. "Dr. Anderson—he helps us keep Le's cat Jester healthy. You want me to call him?"

"Nah," I said, then changed my mind. "Well...maybe. I'll—I'll let you know, Sinj."

"Okay, String," Saint John said, and we left it at that for the day.

When Caitlin and I got back home that night, Tet seemed to have taken a decided turn for the worse. He was wandering around bumping into things, even more so than usual, and occasionally just walking around in a circle, then moving to another area of the living room and doing it again. And, he was hiding more—behind the couch, the coffee table, under the coffee table, and his favorite hiding spot, under the bed.

"Daddy? What's wrong with Tet?" Sally Anne wanted to know.

"I—I don't know, Sally Anne," I said, shaking my head sadly. "But we'll keep our eyes on him, okay?"

"Okay, Daddy," Sally Anne replied.

I'd brought a different form of dog food with me and put it in Tet's bowl—a more "wet" food, as opposed to the dry food that he'd been eating before, and this change seemed to help. Over the next few days, I noticed Tet eating more, which seemed to help him get stronger, and he became more like his old self, more playful with the girls and attentive towards Caitlin and me, and I began thinking that maybe...just maybe...he was going to come through this crisis—what right then seemed to be a minor crisis—okay.

But just that quickly, he got worse again—he went back to his circling habit, which made Caitlin and I both nervous, and began hiding more again. I started thinking more about Saint John's suggestion to call the vet, and made a point to suggest it to Sinj on Monday, since today was Friday and we probably wouldn't see Saint John until then.

When we got back to the cabin Friday night after shutting down the hangar, Tet was outside waiting for us, like he normally would be, but I noticed he didn't jump up on me the way he had for so long—in fact, I noticed he was walking funny, almost like he had developed a limp, or something. Maybe I better not wait until Monday, I said to myself.

Later that evening, I looked at Tet and said, "You okay, Tet?" His expression was blank, almost like he hadn't even heard me, and I got teary-eyed.

"Tet," I started, not sure what exactly I was going to say, "you and I've been together a long time...but I'm afraid our time together is coming to an end. I'm—I'm afraid we might have to—to put you down, Tet. You're getting old, and I don't like seeing you in pain like I did today. I—I hope you can understand, Tet, if that's what we have to do—it's not 'cause we don't love you—if we have to do it, it'll be because we do love you, and we don't want to see you hurting anymore." I felt a few tears sliding down my cheeks, and was startled when I heard Caitlin's voice behind me.

"String's right, Tet," Caitlin said, and I heard the tears in her voice just like they were in mine. I turned and embraced my wife, knowing that she loved Tet as much as I did, and didn't like seeing him in pain any more than I did.

I'd set up a box with a towel over it, open at one end so Tet could crawl in and at least partially hide himself, and I noticed he took to it right away...so I didn't think much of it as Caitlin and I went upstairs to bed a few hours later. I resolved that I'd check on Tet before I went for my morning swim, just to make sure everything was okay.

I don't know when Caitlin woke up, or how she got out of bed without waking me up, but I noticed she was gone when I heard a sharp gasp coming from downstairs. Sounds like trouble, I said to myself as I jumped out of bed and threw on my robe. I hurried downstairs and found Caitlin on the couch with Tet's head in her lap.

"He's—he's dead, String!" Caitlin sobbed as she cradled Tet's lifeless head in her arms. Quickly, I walked up and laid my hand against Tet's chest, waiting to see if I could feel him breathing—but I didn't feel anything. I wrapped my arm around Caitlin's shoulders and pulled her head against my chest, even as I petted Tet with my other hand, and we stayed that way for a long time, crying and cuddling each other.

Sally Anne woke up about two hours after we'd discovered Tet was gone, and came downstairs, Saoirse Marie right behind her.

"Uh-oh," Sally Anne said as she noticed the scene on the couch. "Something's wrong...isn't it?"

"Yeah," I said as Sally Anne clambered up into Caitlin's lap. "Something's wrong, sweetheart. Tet...Tet is gone."

"No, he's not, Daddy." Sally Anne insisted, and I marveled at the naivete of an eight-year-old child. "He's right here with you and Mommy."

"Sally Anne," Caitlin said, "Tet's here...physically. But in every other way...he's not here. I'm sorry, honey, but...Tet's dead."

"He's—dead?" Sally Anne stammered. We'd had a similar conversation a year before, when Dom passed away, and I was hoping we wouldn't have to have it again for a very long time...but here we were. "Dead like Grandpa Dom, you mean?"

"Yeah, Sally Anne," I said. "Tet's dead, like Grandpa Dom."

"In fact," Caitlin said, her face brightening a little, "I'll bet when Tet gets to Heaven, Grandpa Dom will be the first person he goes to look for." I had to smile at that—I've never been a big believer in God, although I've gotten better since Cait and I have been married—and the thought of Tet's spirit annoying Dom's spirit for all eternity was a thought I'd never considered, but it actually warmed my heart, if it were true.

"Daddy? You and Mommy aren't gonna die, are you?" Saoirse Marie demanded.

"No, sweetie," I said, pulling her closer to me, "your Mommy and I aren't gonna die...not for a long time." We sat together with Tet's body for several more hours until I heard Saint John on the CB radio. "String? It's Saint John. C'mon in, String. String...where are you guys?"

"Excuse me," I said, letting go of Saoirse Marie and Caitlin to walk over to the CB. "Hey, Sinj. Sorry it took so long for me to answer."

"String? You want me to call Dr. Anderson for you?"

"That—that won't be necessary, Sinj," I said, catching myself. "Tet—Tet died sometime during the night."

"Aw, String," Saint John said, and I could hear the tears in his voice, too. "I'm—I'm so sorry. I tell you what—Le and I'll come right up, okay?"

"Okay, Sinj," I said, and saw Caitlin nodding. We all went upstairs to get dressed, so we wouldn't be in our pajamas when Saint John showed up with Le.

About two hours later, I heard a helicopter coming towards the cabin, and wasn't surprised when I saw one of Santini Air's choppers landing on the dock. We had another chopper parked a short distance away from the cabin, of course, that we used to get to and from the hangar, but Friday when we got home, we landed away from the dock, in case Saint John wanted to come up at some point during the weekend. As he and Le walked out of the helicopter, we could see the tears streaming down both of their faces.

"String," Saint John said, "I'm—I'm sorry. I—I shoulda called Dr. Anderson myself yesterday. It's my fault, String. It's my fault that Tet's"—Saint John's voice broke, but I knew what he was going to say, and I moved to stop him.

"Sinj," I said, grabbing my brother in a powerful hug, "what happened wasn't your fault—any more than Gabrielle dying was Dom's fault, or our parents dying was mine." Dom had blamed himself for Gabrielle's death for months after it happened, saying that if he'd only been able to figure out Airwolf's scanners a little bit sooner, we might have found her in time to get her to a hospital. I had adamantly told Dom that I didn't blame him—I blamed Moffet for what happened, pure and simple. And of course, there was the curse that I felt like I had on me—that everyone I loved, or might love, would die—and that's why I had pushed Caitlin away for as long as I did. Now, though, I needed to reassure Saint John that Tet's death wasn't his fault.

"I don't blame you for what happened to Tet," I said emphatically. "Tet had—he'd been sick for a while now...I just hadn't been paying attention. If this is anybody's fault, it's probably mine." Then, in spite of everything, I forced a smile. "But, it's funny. Yesterday, I told Tet that—that we might have to put him down, because he was getting so old. And, you all might think I'm crazy, but I think Tet decided he didn't want to put me or Caitlin through that—and he made the decision for us."

"Nah, String," Saint John said as he forced a smile of his own. "I don't think you're crazy at all. In fact, I think you might be right. Tet loved you, Cait, and the girls a lot—and he didn't want to cause you any pain, any more than you wanted to see him in pain."

"I know, Sinj," I said, feeling the tears well up in my eyes. "It—it doesn't make it any easier, but I know how much he loved all of us. And, he loved you and Le, too."

"I know, String," Saint John said. "I know. And we loved him, too."

"Yeah, Uncle String," Le replied. "I loved Tet as much as you and Auntie Cait did."

"Daddy?" Sally Anne said, "Do you think Tet's bugging Grandpa Dom in Heaven?"

"I don't know, Sally Anne," I said, shaking my head. "But," I said, smiling at Caitlin, "it wouldn't surprise me." I slipped one arm around Sally Anne, and my other arm around Caitlin, who had one arm around Saoirse Marie, as Saint John slipped his arm around Le.

Finally, we buried Tet in a shallow grave we dug near the lake. "He always loved the lake," I remembered saying after we'd finished. "I remember how he'd sit with me on the dock for hours when I played my cello, just listening to the music and watching the world go by." Of course, I had the picture my friend Bobby Phelps had drawn of me walking back towards the cabin from the dock, Tet following just behind, on the desk in the living room, and I decided I'd leave it there, as a remembrance of my beloved friend.

That night, I invited Saint John and Le to have dinner with us, and they happily accepted. We spent a long time after we ate telling stories about Tet, and some of the funny things he did, like the time he accidentally dropped a live rabbit in front of Sally Anne, and scared her half to death. Sally Anne was afraid to touch Tet for a while after that incident, thinking he might drop her in front of me or Caitlin...and it took me several days to convince her that Tet only did that with small animals, like rabbits. Finally, Sally Anne started playing with Tet again, and was even able to laugh about it later. Finally, Saint John and Le left the cabin, and the four of us were alone again.

Christmas Morning

"String?" Caitlin said after the kids woke us up. "I—I got something special for you. Come on," she said, holding out her hand.

"What's going on, Cait?" I asked as I took her hand and stood up. Fortunately, I'd thrown a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans on when the kids woke Caitlin and me up, and Caitlin had done the same. I had a puzzled expression as I followed Caitlin outside.

"String," Caitlin replied as we stepped outside, "meet...Eagle." I looked down and saw a pup, one that reminded me a lot of Tet when I first got him.

"Cait? When did you...how did you...?" I was puzzled, shocked, and at the same time extremely happy to find the dog sitting outside the cabin, and I marveled at just how much he did look like Tet.

"Last week," Caitlin said, smiling at me. "Marella gave me the name of a breeder of dogs like Tet...and this one reminded me a lot of Tet. So...do you like him, String?" Caitlin looked down at me and Eagle, and I smiled up at my wife.

"Yeah, Cait," I said, hugging the dog. "I like him. In fact...I love him already. Thank you, Caitlin. Thank you so much," I said as I stood up and kissed her.

"Daddy," Sally Anne said later that afternoon, "Saoirse and I are gonna miss Tet...but we think Eagle's nice, too." They'd come outside a few minutes after I met Eagle, and started getting to know their new friend—I noticed he took to the kids right away, licking their faces and allowing them to cuddle up against him—which reminded me of Tet again, and I found myself smiling at the memory.

"Yeah," I said, fighting a lump that had suddenly formed in my throat. "Well, make sure to tell your mommy thank you. She's the one who found Eagle for us."

"Thank you, Mommy!" Sally Anne shouted as she and Saoirse Marie ran over to hug their mother.

"You're welcome, kids," Caitlin replied, and I saw the tears in her eyes as she hugged our children. "I'm—I'm glad you like him."

"We don't like Eagle, Mommy," Saoirse Marie said, and I started to say something—until I noticed Saoirse Marie's face scrunch up in an eerie imitation of Caitlin's own impish grin as she said, "We love him! Don't we, Daddy?"

"Yeah, Saoirse Marie," I said, the lump suddenly back again, feeling even larger than before. "We sure do love him."

That night when we went to bed, I wasn't surprised at all to see Eagle curl up in front of our bed, just the way Tet used to. And I made sure Caitlin knew just how much I appreciated her extremely thoughtful gift, even as I wondered for probably the millionth time since we've been married what I'd done to deserve this incredible, beautiful, and generous woman—and hoped that whatever it was, I never stopped doing it. Thank you again, Caitlin Hawke, I said to myself as I pulled her body tight against mine. Thank you—for everything.