by tag [tagwriter(at)gmail(dot)com]

Airwolf is copyright © Belisarius Productions and Universal Studios. No infringement of that copyright is intended by this story.
"Gladiators" is copyright © 2003, tag.
Author's Note: The dialogue in the first part of this story is taken from the tag scene of the episode "Daddy's Gone A Hunt'n", and is copyright © 1984, Burton Armus.
Thank you again to Vathara and Loui, who betaed this story.

Michael Archangel studied Hawke carefully.

The pilot was leaning against the mantle, and staring outside, where Major Roper, his wife, and their son were playing with Tet. The boy didn't seem to have suffered during his time in Russian hands – he may have only been a pawn, but the KGB agent who'd taken him from Vietnam had evidently decided there was no need to mistreat him.

"You did a good job," Archangel said after a moment. "Of course, you're going to receive a reprimand on your service record for not arriving in Alaska with Roper." Not that that would have any effect on Hawke. His record had numerous reprimands in it... one more wouldn't make that much of a difference, particularly as Hawke wasn't even in the Army any longer.

"That mean I ain't going to make general?" Hawke said, his tone holding a hint of amusement.

The thought of Hawke as a general, considering his personality, was almost too ridiculous to contemplate. "I certainly hope so," Archangel replied. His mouth twisted slightly. "Have you considered a career in airplane theft?" Certainly, between spiriting Airwolf away from Libya, and this latest little adventure, Hawke seemed to be developing a talent for it.

Hawke looked at him.

"You know, I still haven't quite figured out how you managed to keep switching planes and still keep our radar in the dark," Archangel continued, as Hawke straightened and turned to face him directly. Not that I think you'll tell me....

A hint of a smile crossed the pilot's face; he glanced back outside, and then returned his attention to Archangel. "You'll have to ask Dominic about that," Hawke replied.

He really is enjoying doing this to me, Archangel reflected ruefully, glancing down for a second so that Hawke wouldn't see his amusement before he could control it. Hawke knew perfectly well that he and Santini simply did not get along, and Santini's constant cracks at him over the past few days had made it even more evident. "Dominic's not talking to me," he replied. "I'd like to keep it that way."

He was about to continue, when a purposeful movement outside the window caught his attention, and he looked over to see Ni Hong heading for the porch.

Archangel didn't even have to see her face to know that she would want to speak to Hawke privately; he knew perfectly well that they had some issues to discuss. After all, even though the boy's light colouring could have come from Ni Hong's maternal grandfather, who had been French, it was still unlikely – not impossible, but unlikely – that Sam Roper was the boy's biological father. There was one man who was a much better candidate – the man he was facing right now.

"Oh, uh.... If you'll excuse me, I think I'll just go stare at the lake," he said out loud, and headed for the door.

He brushed past Ni Hong as he walked out of the cabin and she walked in.

"Looking at them, I know..." Archangel heard Ni Hong say, as he walked down the steps. He consciously turned his attention away from the cabin, not wanting to hear any more. This was Hawke's private business, and as much as he also wanted to know the truth, he did have certain standards.

Major Roper and Ho Minh were still playing catch with Tet; he nodded to them as he headed down the path to the dock, but didn't stop to talk. He had no interest in discussing anything with Major Roper.

Once he reached the dock, Archangel leaned against the railing, and – as he'd told Hawke he would – stared out at the lake, thinking.

Aside from the actual recovery of Airwolf, this was the first mission Hawke had taken for the Firm since they'd parted ways two years ago – and it was almost reassuring to know that he hadn't changed. For that matter, neither had Dominic Santini. They were both still focused on the human side of the equation – as opposed to the strategic, which was what he focused on.

Of course, he didn't have the luxury they did, Archangel thought, shaking his head absently. Hawke and Santini were only occasionally involved in the Game, but he lived in it. If he were to focus on the human side of things to the extent that Hawke did, the Committee would have the Zebra Squad after him in a heartbeat.

He did what he could, though he doubted that Santini would believe that. Hawke might – Hawke knew him better than Santini, and was more skilled at reading between the lines – but he wasn't certain. Their interactions had never given him definite proof, one way or another, as to just how well Hawke did know him.

Did Hawke realize that the fact he looked at the human side of things first was one of the reasons Archangel had recruited him in the first place – and the major reason he'd assigned Hawke to this particular mission?

Archangel hadn't known about Ho Minh at first, of course – it hadn't been until Hawke had asked Santini to look into Ni Hong that he'd discovered the boy's existence, not to mention his involvement in the situation – but he'd been fairly certain that there was more to the matter than a simple traitor. Each of the suspects – of whom he'd already thought Roper to be the most likely – had given no indication of selling out to the Russians before this, and they'd all worked on other secret projects the Russians would have loved to get their hands on.

It hadn't meant that there was definitely something more going on, but he'd been suspicious enough to choose Hawke as his agent. He'd known that if there was more going on than simple treason, Hawke would be able to winkle it out.

Not that he'd been able to tell Hawke and Santini about his hunch. It was generally safer – both personally and for one's country – to assume that a traitor was working for the other side out of loyalty to that side, or pay, rather than blackmail that could be dealt with. As Archangel had told the two of them, much as he disliked it personally, he'd rather have seen the boy dead than have had the high-altitude recon jet turned over to the Russians.

Neither of them had been too happy about that, of course, but it was the truth. In the ultimate scheme of international relations, the recon jet was more important than a single child, no matter whose child he was.

All in all, however, the mission had gone well, as he'd told Hawke. The Russians hadn't gotten the jet – it hadn't even entered Russian airspace – and the rescue of Ho Minh was a definite bonus.

Admittedly, it was the sort of bonus that Archangel had become accustomed to when dealing with Hawke. Somehow, the pilot always seemed to have a gift for saving people, whether he'd been ordered to do so or not.

Not really a gladiator at all, Archangel reflected, remembering the conversation they'd had in the back kitchen of the officers' club, when he'd called Santini Hawke's gladiator. In many ways, I think he's more like the knights from the old tales of chivalry and romance. So is Santini, in some ways, much as I hate to admit it.... Not that he'd ever mention that in Hawke or Santini's hearing... Santini, at least, would never let him hear the end of it – and it would provide Hawke with more information about him and his personal feelings than Archangel was comfortable with the pilot having.

The thought of Santini's probable reaction brought to mind the phone conversation Hawke and Santini had had yesterday, and Archangel had to grin as he remembered listening to Santini's 'suggestion' concerning cleaning fluids.

In some ways, it was almost as though the last two years hadn't really happened; both he and Santini and he and Hawke had slipped right back into their familiar relationships, pretty much as soon as Hawke had called him to say that he had decided to agree to Archangel's proposal concerning Airwolf. It was somewhat strange, yet at the same time a great relief, considering how and what Hawke had said during the last meeting they'd had before he had come to get Hawke's help to retrieve Airwolf.

He and Hawke had always had a... strange relationship. Part of it was due to Hawke's obsession with finding his brother, and the promises Archangel had made him concerning that. Part of it was the difference in their worldviews – the human side versus the strategic side of decisions.... And part of it was the way they could read each other.

Quite often, they didn't like each other. Hawke certainly didn't entirely trust him, and Archangel was well aware of the fact that although he trusted Hawke more than anyone else – except his angels, of course – he didn't trust anyone completely. He couldn't afford to.

Yet they knew each other well enough to guess how the other would react to a given situation. Despite the fact that Archangel always claimed that no one could predict Hawke's actions – and certainly no one else had ever seemed able to, with the possible exception of Dominic Santini – he was fairly skilled at it. He didn't have 100% accuracy – Hawke had surprised him before, and there were things he'd done that Archangel didn't understand – but he was accurate enough.

The sound of a helicopter approaching cut into his absorption, and Archangel looked from the water to see a white helicopter coming toward him, with Marella in the pilot's seat.

Time to get back to work, he thought, straightening up as the helicopter eased down onto the dock. He waved to Marella, indicating that he just had to go back to the cabin for a moment, and turned around.

Hawke and Ni Hong had joined Major Roper, Ho Minh, and Tet in their game, but when Hawke saw him coming back up the path, he tossed the ball for Tet and headed over.

"Marella?" he asked.

Archangel nodded. "I just have to get my briefcase." He glanced over toward the Ropers and Tet. "Everything go well?" he added quietly.

Hawke's expression flickered for a second, before settling back into his usual cool mask. "Everything's fine," he replied.

Archangel wasn't sure if he believed the pilot, but it wasn't really any of his business. "Good." He walked into the cabin and headed for the bar, where he'd left his briefcase.

"So, I assume I'll be hearing from you," Hawke said, having followed him in.

"Of course," Archangel replied, picking the briefcase up. Nodding to Hawke, he walked back to the door, started to go out, and then stopped as something occurred to him.

This will be fun... Santini ought to throw a fit. I wonder if I could get away with placing cameras in Santini Air to catch it? No, Hawke would notice them... but it would almost be worth it.... "Oh, and Hawke," Michael added, just before he slipped out, "tell Dominic that lemon juice works much better."

He couldn't help but grin at the confused look on Hawke's face as he left.

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Last modified July 21st, 2003.
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