Epilogue - Nobody's Fool
The nighttime darkness encompassed them, yet the lustrous stars overhead went unnoticed. Normally, her eyes would be turned upwards on a clear night like this, but instead they were fixed to the ground. It was a slow, relaxed pace; a symphony of crickets and other insects tweeting about.
"So," her voice was quiet; subdued. "I'd say her first test flight was a success."
"I never doubted her for a second." His arm, still resting on her shoulders, pulled her closer. "I told you she was a tough bird."
"You were right all along. I just hope I never have to see her all torn up like that again." Teasingly, she added, "Guess I'll have to keep an eye on you, Tiger."
When he didn't respond, her curious glance shot his way and saw his brow wrinkled in a troubled frown. "I was kidding, you know. What's wrong?"
"Mm, I'm just trying to figure something out here."
"Oh no, not this again." She pursed her lips at his perturbed tone. "I thought I already explained things, Stockwell was going to-"
"No, not that you came after us," he interrupted. "Matter of fact, I'm just going to have to accept that," he emphasized, referring to the earlier adventure, "and blame it on your wild genetics, Ace Junior."
She snickered. "Okay, so what is it then?"
"Mmm, I'm just trying to figure out how they could let you walk away so easily with talent like that."
"They - you mean the Force?" She reached into her pockets and hesitated. "You really want to know?" When she turned back to him, he'd stopped in his tracks and the look on his face indicated he indeed wanted an answer - and that he was waiting.
"It was... mental," she began, embarrassed as she recalled the memory. "The day I found out my Dad died, I told my CO that I just couldn't fly anymore. My Ace died with him."
"So you pretended to be...?" He trailed off in surprise.
"I don't know, I was so grief stricken and alone." Her voice shook as she admitted, "Honestly up until today, I really thought it had died. Thanks for showing me it's still there."
He stared at her in astonishment, then began walking in stride once again.
"Besides, you're the real Ace," she told him confidently. "The way you pulled us outta that roll so easily..." she trailed off and breathed a sigh of relief. "You know, you can't toss the clients around with crazy moves like the ones you pull. They tend to get mad at ya."
"Do they?" He chuckled, then knowingly smiled. "And how would you know that?"
She sheepishly shrugged in reply, then came to a stop as they stood before the chopper once again.
"Her we are." Murdock cleared his throat then sported a British accent as he opened the cockpit door. "Your chariot awaits, madam."
"Hold up there, guys!"
They turned around, surprised to hear another voice. "Was that Hannibal?" she asked.
"Sounded like it." He squinted in the darkness and saw a figure running to catch up with them. As soon as he saw it was indeed him, he was concerned that he'd rushed all the way out here. "What's wrong, Colonel?" he yelled.
"Nothing," Hannibal called out as he approached, trying to catch his breath. "Nothing's wrong. It's just... before you leave, I wanted to... to tell A.J. something."
Wondering what was so important that he had chased them down, she looked at him with morbid curiosity. Adding to the anticipation, he reached into his inner pocket for a cigar. Puffing away as he lit it, he finally drew a long inhale.
"I just wanted to say that your old man would be proud of you, Lieutenant, for what you pulled off today." The smoke blew from his lips as he finished the sentence. "Real proud."
She frowned in confusion. That was it? After staring into his eyes for a moment, she finally sensed his recognition. "You knew him, didn't you?" When he nodded, she ventured further. "From Korea?"
Hannibal pondered a moment, his thoughts back in time, then answered, "Your dad was in command of the air support that would pull us out when things got hot." He seemed to be reliving each detail as he continued. "Well, one night, it got real hot and we were backed into a corner with no way out. The rescue squadron that was supposed to intercept with us bailed early... only one stayed behind. Turns out he had been ordered to cut and run with the others, but he didn't. He stayed and protected us; even set down right in the middle of the heavy action to shield us from the fire."
She hung onto every word as his story slowly sank in; not just into her memory, but deep into her soul as well.
"His heroism saved a lot of us that day, including me." Hannibal continued, his eyes still fixed on her. "I was hit that night and evac-ed out, so I never got the chance to see him again to thank him. But I've carried that appreciation of his bravery with me to this very day." Exhaling slowly, the wisp of blue smoke lingered in the air as he removed a black glove and held out his bare hand.
"Thank you, Lieutenant."
She looked at hand, her eyes brimming not only with tears, but confidence. "No," she told him, ignoring his hand and fiercely hugging him instead. "Thank you, Hannibal... for everything you do." She pulled away, then entered the cockpit, without another word, leaving Hannibal and Murdock standing before one another.
"Captain. Make sure she gets home safe."
"I will, don't you worry none about that."
The familiar hug between them had been perfected over the years as the sound of the familiar engine started.
"See you soon, then. I'm sure Stockwell will have another mission before we know it." Hannibal backed away and began the trek back to the house, as Murdock joined her in the cockpit.
"Ready?" He glanced her way as he latched his safety harness, noticing she was wiping the last of a few tears away.
"Yeah." Composing herself quickly, she nodded. "All this time, I had no idea. Do you think everything that's happened here... do you think it's all just coincidence?"
His confident jaw squared as he told her, "Hannibal doesn't believe in coincidence."
She nodded as she pulled the headset on, then looked his way. "Do you?"
All he could do was smile as he pulled his own headset on. The blades overhead began to spin and with the start-up sequence now complete, her playful glare shot his way.
"So, Tiger." Their eyes met. "What's wrong with my genetics, huh? Shooting down the idea of kids already?"
A wide-eyed look of panic crossed his face, as her quick pull of the collective shot them in an ascent towards the starlit heavens above.
Back down on the earth below, Hannibal watched the chopper pull a speedy flyover over the house, then turn east, fading away until it was just another blinking light against the stars.
As he walked back into the house, a smile appeared, knowing they'd just taken off safe and sound...
...to begin their own adventure.
To a person in love, the value of the individual is intuitively known. Love needs no logic for its mission. ~Charles Lindbergh
*** FINI ***