Going Home III: Are We There Yet? by Maureen S. O'Brien (firstname.lastname@example.org) [Airwolf doesn't belong to me. Spoilers for "Horn of Plenty". I haven't seen an Airwolf episode since 1991, so my dialogue, quotes, and information may be inaccurate to the show. I hope not, though. In this segment, Admiral Albert Calavicci, Lt. Commander Harmon Rabb, Sr., Lt. Harmon Rabb, Jr., and Lt. Maggie Poole do not belong to me; they definitely belong to Belisarius Productions. Sorry, I couldn't resist.] ------------------------------------------------------------ If a man hates, he can't love. --- Pete Peterson, US Ambassador to Vietnam and former POW. Are we there yet? --- traditional question asked by US children on car trips. The Firm plane lifted off from Saigon, its passenger seats full of "Australian businessmen". Archangel smiled. He'd earned a few more gray hairs, but the POWs were out at last. He glanced over at Marella. She was already hard at work on the next little task -- finding out who had set them up. They both suspected that someone on the Committee had sold out to Horn, probably to get rid of Archangel. Archangel looked grim. The Committee cared too much about its political games and not enough about the operatives in the field. It was time to call its members to account. It was time to get rid of its bad apples. And, though he hated even considering it, perhaps it was time to move up and become a member. He grimaced. He'd save that option for the final extremity. But Marella was doing what needed to be done on that front. So he had time to do something a bit more enjoyable. He picked up the phone installed in the seatback facing him and dialed a number. "Admiral Calavicci's office." He smiled. "This is Michael Coldsmith-Briggs. Please tell the Admiral I need to speak with him on an urgent matter." "Please hold." He didn't have to wait long. The Admiral's aide had recognized his name. She didn't know exactly what Mr. Coldsmith-Briggs did. But he ended up calling the New Technology division fairly often, the Admiral didn't refer to him as a 'nozzle', and he didn't overuse the word 'urgent'. She wasn't surprised when the Admiral told her to put him through. "Hello, Admiral." "So how are things in the spook business, halo boy?" Archangel raised his eyes to heaven. So much for security. "Fine. I have some rather urgent business flying your way, but I think you'll enjoy it for once." "Oh, yeah? How urgent?" Time to drop the bombshell. "A planeload of rescued POWs will be flying into Pearl tomorrow morning." Archangel counted off the seconds. One thousand one. One thousand two. One thousand three. One thousand.... "WHAT!?!" Archangel smirked. "Precisely. We got them out of a prison camp in Laos where they've been held for the last fifteen years or so. I thought you wouldn't mind playing host until they can be treated in the base hospital and sent back home. They're mostly Army and Air Force, but there's also a Navy man. A Lieutenant Harmon Rabb." "Harmon Rabb, Sr." "Oh?" Archangel raised an eyebrow. "You know the name?" "Know him? Hell, I flew with him! He was one of my best friends. I'm Little Harm's godfather." The Admiral's voice went quiet. "Are you sure?" "Quite sure." "Damn." Admiral Calavicci's voice went tight. "Fifteen years! Those bastards had him fifteen years!" Archangel heard his fist slam into his desk. "His wife Trish got remarried. Can't blame her really...but she didn't do that for years. She had to raise Little Harm all by herself. The boy's flying Tomcats now. And all that time, Harm was rotting away in some cell in Laos? Damn!" It wasn't histrionics. Admiral Calavicci had been a guest of the VC for a few years. If a reporter hadn't taken a picture of him, alive but a prisoner, his wife Beth might well have presumed him dead and married again. His little girls might never have been born. "We can't change the past, Admiral," Coldsmith-Briggs was telling him. "But we can help these men get their lives back. I've got a list of names, ranks and serial numbers. If you could get the various forces to notify the men's next-of-kin...." "We can do that." And they'd make damn sure to brief and debrief the relatives before they let them in. He didn't want anyone finding out the hard way that his wife was dead, or thought he was. "But we're gonna do more than that," the Admiral continued. "It's not gonna be like it was back then. When they fly into Pearl, we're gonna welcome 'em home with style, and that's a promise." "Good," Archangel found himself replying. "These men deserve it." The Admiral came out of his office. "Elaine, call Sam and tell him to hold off on any crises out at Project Starbright. We've got other fish to fry." "Yes, sir." The Admiral rolled his eyes. "And that's another thing. You've been working for me for three months, Lieutenant. I keep telling you to call me Al. Call me Al, for God's sake!" "Is that an order?" He groaned. "No. Just a request." "I was kidding, sir." Her eyes glinted with dry amusement. "They just didn't teach us at Annapolis to call senior officers by their first names." "You just did it again. Will you at least try?" "I'll try. Sir. Al." "All right. Now, let's get down to business. There's a fax of names that'll be coming in -- you'll want to forward a copy to the Army and another to the Air Force. Make sure they look up the names fast, because those folks are POWs who are coming in tomorrow morning." "Distinguished Visitors?" "Nope. Well, yeah, they’re gonna be DV’s, but I mean they were POWs in Laos till yesterday! Second, we need to alert the boys in charge of the base. They'll need to know the plane's coming in. Tell 'em I'm handling the welcome and get 'em to send the protocol guys over here." She was unfazed by the POW revelation, but this order gave her some trouble. "Uh, sir...Al. You're not in that chain of command." "Just tell them I said I wanted this. Hell, I'll tell them. You call 'em, though; I hate waiting to get transferred. Then I want you to call all the schools near here. I know tomorrow's a school day, but tell the principals what's happening. Ask them if they could send some kids over here on...a field trip or something. We'll give the kids some flags to wave." "Why?" "I want those men to feel appreciated. Their families won't be able to fly here in time. So a crowd full of cheering kids is the next best thing, even if the kids are only cheering ‘cause they get out of school for a while.... Oh, and make sure the protocol boys get leis for those men. This is Hawaii, damn it." "You'll want the base band, too, I gather." "Yeah. Playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America". Maybe we can fit in that country song everyone likes, too." "'God Bless the USA', sir?" "That's the one." She wrote 'singer' right under 'band'. Everyone else might know the words, but the new arrivals wouldn't. "We'll need to alert the hospital. That's a lot of patients to dump on them at once." "Good one, Elaine. You get on it, and I’ll check back in a while and see if we forgot anything...oh, and reserve a private room in the Officer’s Club for me sometime later this week. I want to have a party!" ----------------------------------------------------- The first Harm heard about it was from the CAG. "We've got some special folks flyin' in. We're gonna be their escort." ----------------------------------------------------- ----------------------------------------------------- The silence stretched between them. It felt strangely companionable, for two people who'd met for the first time only a few days ago. Then St. John cleared his throat. "While my brother's out...what's between you and him?" Cait shrugged. "Ask him." "If I thought it would do any good, I would've sent you on that errand." Cait grinned. "Well, if you figure it out, you tell me!" "I don't need _two_ people being evasive with me. You love him, don't you." "He's my best friend, if that's what you mean...." St. John rolled his eyes. "Oh, cut the bullshit. Do you love him?" She answered, "Yes, sir, I do." Her eyes met his steadily, but her cheeks flushed. "Good. I'm not sure about your taste," he joked, "but you're good for him. I can tell." Cait turned pink again. "Listen, I don't know what you think is going on, but your brother isn't interested with me." "So he keeps looking over at you every three minutes because he doesn't care about you." "Excuse me?" "What, you haven't noticed? You should have, considering how often you look at him," teased St. John. Could she blush any more? Oh, yeah. Now her ears were turning red, too. He relented. "Look, you may have gotten the impression that my brother's messed up because of what happened to our parents. Yeah, that didn't help. But he was a pretty strange kid to start out with. There was this one time...well, actually this happened after our parents died, but he did the same thing lots of times before...Uncle Dom was getting us bicycles, because we'd never lived in town before. He was letting us pick. And I picked mine, but String wouldn't pick one. Said they were all just bikes, and it didn't matter which one he got. But I told Uncle Dom I knew which one he really wanted." "How'd you know?" "It was the bike he wouldn't look at, wouldn't touch, wouldn't test ride. Somehow, he also wouldn't stray too far from it." St. John shrugged. "String doesn't like to admit that he really wants something. Not until he's got it in hand." "That's the Hawke I know," agreed Cait. She looked rueful. "But I don't know if that's what it is with him and me. Sometimes I see things that make me think that he.... "But I could be imagining things. I probably am." St. John rolled his eyes a little. "Well, maybe not," she admitted. "But I could be. I never met anyone like him before. He can turn me inside out with a smile or a frown. I'd do anything to make him happy. I'm telling you, it scares me." "Love's not for cowards," said St. John. "And String's not going to make it easy for you. But whether or not he admits it, he wants you at least as much as you want him." "I hope you're right." She smiled. "Thanks for the advice," she said, and hugged him. Just then, String walked back into the room. Mentally, St. John groaned. Oh, great. Now let's watch String jump to the wrong conclusion. "Didn't mean to interrupt," said String, backing out of the room, his face stiff. Cait frowned. She was _not_ going to act like she'd been caught doing something. Because she hadn't. Keeping hold of St. John with one arm, she waved at String with the other. "If you ever want to get rid of St. John, I'll adopt him as a brother. He gives good advice and good hugs." String came back in. His face and body relaxed, but they didn't otherwise betray the relief he felt. "I just got him back. Maybe after we get 10,000 miles on him, I'll trade him in." Cait let St. John go and stepped away from him. "I get first dibs, then." ------------------------------------------------------ "Presents." "What?" "I'm coming home from a long trip. I ought to bring presents." String stared at his brother. "My Father Went to a POW Camp and All He Brought Me Was This Lousy T-Shirt." "What?" String sighed. Of course he wouldn't get the joke. "I just don't think it's necessary." "But I want to." St. John shrugged. "If I've got all this money in the bank, I might as well spend some." "They're not going to let you out of the hospital to go shopping in town." "That's what brothers are for!" St. John grinned. "Look, you know what the kid -- Le Van -- likes better than I do. And this way, I won't have a chance to go overboard and make it look like I'm trying to buy him." String considered this. "Okay." "While you're at it, maybe you should get me something for Uncle Dom." "Okay." String paused. "Next you're gonna ask me to buy myself a gift." "Nope. I'll ask your Caitlin to do that." String looked at him disgustedly. "You just want to get out of the work. And she's not _my_ Caitlin." "I'm an invalid," St. John retorted. "Ask the nurses. I don't have to do any work." He produced a pathetic expression. "Too...weeeaaak...." "Yeah, weak excuses." St. John ignored this. "Take her along. Ask her what to get her mother for staying with Le Van. Hell, get _her_ something." "From you." "From me -- but really, you should get her one from yourself. From what you and Dom've said, you owe her." "You could say that." "So get her something! And get the hell out of the hospital before the nurses decide you're a patient, too!" "I'm distracting the cute nurses," translated String. "I'm gone." He left, looking smug. St. John looked equally smug. "Distracting, huh. Little brother," he said to the closed door, "I'll just let your Cait distract you!" ---------------------------------------------- "Oh! This is perfect!" "What'd you find?" String walked around into the aisle Cait was scouting. She was on her hands and knees, gazing enraptured at some kind of mechanical toy. "Something for Half Pint?" "Let him buy his own!" Cait said. "This one's mine." She showed him her prize, gloating. It was some sort of robot toy, the kind that could transform. This one transformed into some sort of nifty looking plane and a humanoid shape. "What is it?" "Gundam," she answered. "There's this Japanese cartoon, see.... My cousin Little Bubba is big into Japanimation. He makes sure to tell me about all the shows with good flying stuff in 'em. No neat choppers yet, but...." "Bubba? You have a cousin named Little Bubba?" "Sure. He's not so little anymore; he goes to Texas A&M. But his dad's Big Bubba, and since he doesn't like being called Junior, he's kinda stuck with the nickname." "At least I'm not the only person in the world with parents who like weird names." "Bubba's a perfectly normal name where I come from." "Exactly." ------------------------------------------------------------ Cait dropped behind for a moment. String checked his stride and waited. He was getting the hang of Shopping With Cait. If she was just window-shopping, she'd turn around and be back in just a moment. But if something caught her attention, she'd wave him over instead. He waited. Cait's nose was practically plastered against the window. She was not waving him over. Ah. Something so good she'd forgotten his existence. Well, let's see what it was. Ten to one it was something oriental. Cait, he was learning, had a Asiaphilic streak a mile wide, constrained solely by the small size of her pocketbook and her own good sense. Window-shopping was free. He walked to Cait's side. He doubted if she even knew he was there. She was looking at vintage kimonos. He had never specialized in collecting textiles, but he could easily see the fascination. Each piece of clothing in the window (which had some sort of coating to keep off the sun) was a unique piece of art. He could read the motifs on them in a general way. That pink one with the cherry blossoms had probably been worn in springtime while viewing the trees. And the stains on it, he thought wryly, were probably from sake. Not that he had anything against getting drunk while viewing cherry blossoms and writing haikus. Hell, it probably improved the poetry. He let Cait stare a little longer. Then he touched her shoulder. "Just a minute, String," she said absently. "Why don't you just go in the store?" String asked. "The glass is starting to fog up." "Now what would I do with a kimono?" she asked him, not looking away from the window. "I'm too tall to wear one, even if they weren't too pretty to wear and too useful to hang on a wall." "Didn't the Japanese use to use them instead of blankets?" "Awfully expensive blankie." "How do you know if they're expensive if you don't look at them?" She was weakening. He couldn't see her face, but he knew. "Besides, Sinj wanted me to buy your mother a present for taking care of Half Pint. Maybe you can find something for her here." "That's a thought...no. No, you'd have to drag me out of there. We'd never get anything done. Let's just go on." She turned around and started to do just that. String stood still. His eyes glinted with amusement. "We don't have anything else to do today but shop. If I get bored, I'll tell you." Cait looked torn. "I don't know. Are you sure, Hawke? All that looking through the racks, when I can't afford to buy anything anyway.... I don't usually spend that much time looking for clothes to actually _wear_." String stared at her. Was it that Cait didn't want him to see her doing 'girl stuff', or wasn't she comfortable with doing it herself? Did she think he'd think less of her? "Think of it as an art gallery. Remember, I do go to them. Besides," he said again, "how do you know you can't afford them till you look?" "That's true." Cait brightened and her hesitancy vanished. String opened the door for her and they stepped inside. It was a riot of color and texture, but a very well-behaved riot that had cleaned behind its ears. It smelled like your grandmother's attic, if your grandmother had sandalwood chests instead of cedar. Cait's eyes and smile went wide with appreciation. Hawke's eyes softened as he watched her. If she reacted like this to Hawaii, he really wanted to see her hit Tokyo. A little old Japanese lady came out from behind the counter. She was dressed in a simple cotton kimono that reminded String of ones he'd seen people wear on Okinawa. "You like kimono. I can tell. What kind are you looking for?" "Well," Cait said hesitantly, "we were kinda lookin' for one for my mom." The woman almost smiled. Yeah, String thought, she can tell Cait wants one for herself. "Take as much time as you want. Here, let me take your bags back by the counter. You look around. Make sure to touch. Pick one she will really like." And sell yourself on one, String added in his head. "Thank you," Cait said, still sounding unaccustomedly shy. "They're all so beautiful...I'll be really careful, I promise." The old lady smiled. Yeah, String thought, settle in. You've already got Cait hooked. They wandered the racks for a while. Cait marveled at the silks and the patterns, and fingered each fabric with a mixture of desire and dismay. String followed after her, enjoying the play of expressions on her face and her closeness in the narrow aisles. And yes, she looked at every kimono in the store. She came back to a spring-green haori. "I think my mom'd like this one best. If we got her a kimono, she'd probably never wear it. But this is just a jacket, so she will. And it's quilted, for when it gets a little chilly, and she can wear it outside or use it for a bed jacket, either way." "Sounds good." "Then we'd better head up to the register," she sighed. "I thought you were going to try on some kimonos." "Well, I was, but...." "Then go try some on." "I really shouldn't. I've already wasted enough of your time and mine, and...." He stopped her nervous spiel with a look. "Unless I'm mistaken, wasting time and doing useless stuff is the purpose of a vacation. And since we're in Hawaii and we're not doing a charter, this must be vacation." She almost smiled. "You'd better hope Dom doesn't know any local businesses then, or he might find us a job." "He doesn't, but I do. And T.C. would kill me if I got into one of his Island Hoppers helos. He says I'm a magnet for trouble." "Well, aren't you?" String looked hurt. "Et tu, Caite?" She laughed, quickly found the kimonos she'd lingered longest with, and then disappeared behind a dressing room door. String grinned. The little old lady looked at him. "I have men's kimono, too. You can try one." "No thanks." "Just try. You'll make your wife feel more at home." String didn't tell the old woman they weren't married. It wouldn't have been polite. And maybe she was right. Maybe if Cait wasn't the only one playing dress-up, she'd feel more comfortable. There were some interesting patterns and colors on the men's rack, but the old lady just handed him three dark blue ones. Fine with him. He found one that fit, put it on, tied the waist, came back out, and sat down to wait. Cait had had a few more to choose from. But Cait wasn't one to dilly-dally around with her clothes. She quickly found the best fitting of them all. It was still a little short, she thought, but it had probably been made long, to be worn with geta sandals. She tied the kimono waist with the thin black belt the proprietor had given her in lieu of a wide obi. Then, with no fanfare, she came out to show String how it looked. String looked up. Cait was wearing a white kimono patterned with cranes and other symbols of good fortune. Her red hair flamed against the pale cloth. Traditionally, the kimono de- emphasized a woman's curves. But Cait was forced to wear the kimono a bit tighter than it was made to be worn, and it showed her breasts and hips more than Cait's usual lothes. She was beautiful. String tried not to stare. Caitlin looked at Hawke, who had stood up at her appearance. He was wearing a very sober indigo kimono, with small mon- circles on each shoulder. He moved in a whisper of silk. The kimono emphasized the long line of his body and the color brought out his eyes. Though she would really like to see him in a samurai outfit, preferably holding a katana. You're staring, she thought to herself. "So what do you think?" Hawke asked. "Should I get one of these for a robe?" Now that was a heck of an picture to give her. "Uh...yeah." And I think I speak for womankind there! She turned her eyes to his face. "So, what do you think of this kimono?" She did her best fashion-model twirl. She could feel Hawke's eyes traveling over her. On her back, on her legs, even on her backside. But when she turned back around, he was only looking at her face. "It's okay." Her eyes narrowed. So why are your eyes so bright, Hawke? She pursed her lips. Why can't you just tell me? Would it be too much to tell me you like how I look? She thought she saw a pull on one sleeve and looked down at it. Instantly, she felt his eyes on her again. Smooth. Is St. John right? Do you do this all the time, Hawke? Even when I'm under a chopper, wearing my grubbies and getting grease all over my face? Of course, she’d never found him hard on the eyes under the same circumstances. Fair's fair. But she'd never felt him doing it before. She looked fondly at the kimono. She'd wanted it before she saw Hawke's reaction, but now she wanted it twice as much. She turned to the proprietor and asked her the price. The proprietor told her. She thought ruefully about taking back the Gundam mecha. Then she shrugged. No matter what she did, she just wouldn't have the money. At least not if she wanted to pay the rent and eat that month. She sighed. It was true, what they said: if you have to ask, you can't afford it. She went back into the dressing room. Darn it. Well, at least shopping is free. String went over to the proprietor. "I'll take them all," he said quietly. "The haori, this kimono and the one she was wearing. It's a surprise." He handed her his credit card, signed the slip, and told her he'd pick them up later. Then he slipped back into the dressing room himself before Cait could come out. He still didn't know what to get Cait from his brother. But he had seen how much she wanted the kimono. He wanted to give her that himself.