Standard fanfic disclaimers apply - I don't own these characters, I just figured they needed a seasonal outing.

"Jingle Bell Hawke"

"Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way..."

Stringfellow Hawke froze on the path from the dock to his mountain cabin as he was met by the strains of Christmas music, coming from his stereo. Every window of the cabin was lit and so much smoke was billowing from the chimney, it looked like the darn thing was on fire. What the heck was going on? The cabin was supposed to be empty except for Tet, his faithful blue-tick hound, who was hardly likely to have lit the fire or be playing Christmas carols on the stereo.

Racing the rest of the way to the cabin with his gun ready in his hand, he burst through the door and skidded to an abrupt halt, the expression on his face identical to the one he had worn the time he came home to find his entire art collection missing.

His first thought was that it was definitely time he got a lock for the door.

His second was that the forest had moved indoors.

Every one of his paintings was framed in evergreen boughs. Masses of garland, interspersed with silver pine cones, red bows, and bits of holly, were wound through the banister and along the handrail of the second-floor loft. The massive stone mantel and the surface of his bar had all but vanished beneath more of the stuff, and yet more of it hung from the ceiling light fixtures. But the centerpiece of all this was a ten-foot Scotch pine standing next to the bar, complete with lights and decorations.

The music on his expensive stereo system moved on to "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Hawke didn't think he even owned any Christmas music.

After the first stunned moment he began to notice a few more details.

Two red and white striped stockings, hung by the chimney with care.

The miniature black and white helicopter on top of the tree, in place of a conventional star or angel.

Tet, lying as close as he dared to the conflagration in the fireplace and looking as sheepish as a dog possibly could, wearing a pair of fuzzy antlers.

The smell of fresh-baked cookies and roasting turkey filling the air.

"Merry Christmas, String!" called a voice with a Texas accent, and he realized Caitlin was in the kitchen, wearing a Santa hat and bouncing back and forth between the antiquated range and the dining table like an over-caffeinated elf. The table was already fairly groaning under the weight of dishes, glassware and assorted food, and she was adding even more.

"Huh?" was all Hawke could think of to say.

This was even worse than the time his paintings had been stolen.

"You can put your gun away," Caitlin told him helpfully, bouncing toward him with another Santa hat in her hand. God in heaven, was she going to try to make him wear it? Automatically Hawke brought up his gun, realized he really couldn't shoot Caitlin, and turned to flee instead, fight or flight being the only two options currently presenting themselves to his overwhelmed brain.

Showing an impressive turn of speed, she managed to get between him and the door and slammed it shut before he could bolt back outside.

"It's okay. It's okay," she said soothingly, like someone trying to calm a terrified mustang. The hat vanished into a pocket of the apron she was wearing (red with Santa's reindeer dashing across it) while she stood barricading his escape route. "Come in and sit down. You want some eggnog? How about a glass of mulled cider?"

He was looking nearly as confused and disoriented as he had when he'd woken up from the influence of John Bradford Horn's brainwashing thinking he'd just murdered Dominic Santini. Caitlin put her hands comfortingly on his shoulders just as she had done then, but this time followed it up by giving him a firm shove backwards so that he sat down on the sofa with a thud. A moment later he found a crystal tumbler containing neat Scotch in his hand, Caitlin deftly substituting it for his gun, which she caused to vanish even faster than the Santa hat. He drained the tumbler, feeling his heart rate drop slightly, although he felt like his eyeballs were still spinning in their sockets and he couldn't trust himself to speak in anything more coherent than sentence fragments. Tet came over, whining an apology for looking so goofy, and Hawke pulled the antlers off and tossed them into the fire, being rewarded by a nasty smell of burning synthetic fabric and a reproachful look from Caitlin.

"Sorry, Cait," he said. "Beat me up if you want, stake me to an anthill, but don't put fuzzy antlers on my dog. Now what's going on here? Why all this...this..." Words failed him again - at least non-profane ones - and he waved a hand in the general direction of all the Christmas overdrive.

Caitlin mentally filed away the anthill-staking offer for future blackmail reference and said brightly, "Well, since Dom closed the hangar to give us a few days off over Christmas, I thought it would be real nice if I came up here and put up a few decorations, cooked a good dinner, and we had us a nice cozy holiday."

"Well, that was really thoughtful of you, Cait," Hawke replied awkwardly, "but I'm going north for a few days' ice fishing. I just stopped in here to get my gear."

Caitlin had known this was the first response she was going to get, and had planned accordingly. She worked all the reproachfulness she could into her face and voice, while silently blessing all those acting lessons. "String, are you saying you'd rather spend time with some frozen fish than with me?"

"Oh, Cait, it's not that," fumbled Hawke. "It's just that I've never really done Christmas. Not since Sinjin - well, you know."

Uh oh. Time to bring out the big guns. Whenever Hawke started moping and maundering about his brother like this, Caitlin felt like dropping a Shrike missile on him. "You stop that right now, Stringfellow Hawke," she snapped, her Texas drawl getting stronger as her ire rose. "You know perfectly well that you're just looking for an excuse to sit around by yourself moaning about how awful your life is and how damned you are. Well, wake up and smell the eggnog, buster! Just because your brother's been MIA since the Spanish-American War doesn't mean you can't unwrap a Christmas present. This is supposed to be the season of happiness and good cheer. Just for twenty-four hours once a year, don't you think you could forget about all the gloom and misery, and stop scowling at everyone, and try to have a good time? I'm real sure God isn't going to damn you any more than He already has just for eating a turkey dinner, and someone close to you isn't going to get hit with a lightning bolt if you open a Christmas stocking. This year you're gonna enjoy a proper Christmas if I have to chain you to that tree over there!" By now her face was nearly the color of her reindeer apron, and Hawke's eyeballs were practically being skewered by the emphatic finger she was jabbing in his face. Hawke found himself almost cowering back into the couch.

"Well - I guess I could put off my trip for just a bit," he finally gulped.

Caitlin softened immediately. Who could resist the deer-caught-in-the-headlights look on the man's normally stern face? "That's wonderful, String."

"But I'm not really into the whole Christmas thing," he warned her quickly. "Kind of out of practice, I guess."

"That's okay. I might have overdone things a bit. Christmas is always a big deal in my family."

Hawke felt like asking her why in that case she hadn't gone home to Texas for the holidays, leaving him to his planned three days of solitude, angst and fish, instead of suddenly taking up home invasion for a hobby. He managed to keep that comment to himself. Of course, the gracious response would have been to assure her that she hadn't overdone things at all, that the place looked great; but graciousness had never been one of Stringfellow Hawke's more prominent virtues, especially when as far as he was concerned his cabin now looked like a really tacky set dreamed up by an insane set decorator for some cheap TV commercial.

However, with Caitlin's huge eyes fixed on his, he couldn't say that either.

Instead he waved in the direction of the monstrous Scotch pine and said weakly, "Um - that's some tree."

She beamed. "Isn't it a beauty? And all the decorations are handmade. I've been working on 'em since October."

So that solved the mystery of why he and Dom had been finding bits of red yarn and glitter all over the Santini Air hangar for the last couple of months.

"Where did you get it from?" he asked, genuinely curious. Had she managed to somehow airlift a whole tree up to the cabin?

"Oh, I chopped it down this morning, just up the mountain from here," she replied cheerfully. "That's a real nice axe you've got."

"Oh. Thanks," he said, even more weakly. (And just what had she done with his gun, anyway?) "I never knew I was working with a lady lumberjack."

"Stringfellow Hawke, there's a whole heap of things you don't know 'bout me," she told him solemnly, eyes still fixed on his, beginning to lean toward him with an unmistakable gleam in her eye.

Hawke wriggled a couple of inches further along the couch and then was jammed against the armrest. "Hey, I think I smell something burning," he gulped.

"Oh!" Caitlin shot into the kitchen, opened the oven door and whipped out a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Saved by the smell, thought Hawke, scurrying after her before he could be trapped in his own furniture again. Besides, now that he was starting to get over his shock, he realized that whatever Caitlin was cooking smelled really good. His stomach suddenly rumbled loudly.

The table was already set with Hawke's best china, silverware and crystal, and crowded with everything he owned that could be pressed into service as a serving dish. It looked like there was enough food to feed a small army, and Hawke began to wonder if Caitlin had invited guests that she'd forgotten to mention (the way she'd conveniently forgotten to mention her own holiday plans to him), and if so, whether he'd be relieved or not to have yet more people descending on his cabin. He might have had to give up three days of solitary brooding, but at least there were some interesting possibilities in the current situation.

All the same, he wished he knew what Caitlin had done with his gun.

Caitlin popped the gravy boat on the table, told him to sit down, and disappeared upstairs. She returned a moment later wearing a rather tight-fitting white sweater, a calf-length black velvet skirt, and high-heeled strappy sandals. He thought she might have done something different to her hair, but he was too hungry to bother gazing at her long enough to decide about it. (As a matter of fact she had spent the whole of her last paycheck from Santini Air on new clothes and a small fleet of new and glamorous cosmetics. Personally she was quite pleased with the results, but when Hawke's attention switched back to the food before she'd even gotten to the foot of the stairs, she realized ruefully that she might as well have stuck with jeans and a tee shirt. Stringfellow Hawke could spot a new paint job on one of Dom's helicopters from a mile away, but it was too much to expect of him to notice a new shade of lipstick.)

She sat down at the table and began to carve the turkey, wielding the carving knife and fork with casual efficiency.

"Where'd you get the turkey?" he asked as she piled a plate with meat and stuffing.

"Shot it this morning, before I chopped down the tree," she replied casually. "Nice shotgun you've got."

Now he really wished he knew what she'd done with his gun.

He was letting his imagination run away with him, he scolded himself. Cait was hardly going to hold him at gunpoint to stop him from leaving the cabin. She wouldn't need to – not when she was so handy with axes, shotguns and carving knives.

"You know, I feel kind of not properly dressed for the occasion," he said awkwardly. "You look so nice, and I'm just in my old work clothes. If you can wait a minute, I'd better just go put on – "

"You look absolutely fine, String," she assured him. He looked, as far as she was concerned, more than fine; in fact he looked positively good enough to eat. However, after a day of turkey hunting, tree-chopping, cooking and decorating, Caitlin was pretty hungry herself, and qualified that last thought by deciding that maybe he didn't look quite so delicious as the slices of turkey she was now piling on her own plate.

However, he'd make a pretty tasty dessert.

"You just stay right there or the food'll be getting cold."

Caitlin was a good cook, but Hawke had to admit that she'd outdone herself with this meal. After putting away slabs of roast turkey, mounds of stuffing, a whole lake of cranberry sauce, and mountains of mashed potatoes, green peas, carrots, and corn, not to mention the wine Caitlin kept dispensing with a liberal hand (just whose cellar was being depleted here, anyway?) he knew that not only would it be incredibly churlish of him to try to leave now and resume his interrupted vacation plans, but he doubted he could even waddle as far as his helicopter parked down at the dock. He'd probably have to recalculate the amount of fuel required to haul both him and this supper to the fishing camp, and in his current state he was pretty sure any calculations at all were way beyond him. Much better, after the flaming Christmas pudding had been eaten, just to surreptitiously unfasten the waistband of his jeans so that he could breathe more easily, then slump on the couch with an arm around Caitlin and watch the glowing fire. (Fortunately for his peace of mind, he failed to notice the sprigs of mistletoe that had been hung in several strategic locations around the cabin, including right over the couch.)

Whoa, wait a minute! An arm around Caitlin? How had that come to pass? he wondered drowsily.

Then he asked himself if it really mattered.

Before he could make up his mind whether it did or didn't, he had drifted off to sleep.

**************

He came semi-awake again as the clock on the wall was striking midnight. The blazing fire had dwindled to a soft romantic glow. The rest of the cabin was in darkness, the worst of the Christmas excess hidden from view in the shadows. Caitlin was still inside the circle of his arm (which had now gone to sleep), leaning on his chest. She smiled at him as he stirred.

"That was a great meal, Cait," he said sincerely. "Thanks a lot."

"You're welcome, String." She stretched up towards him, that gleam back in her eye.

Stringfellow Hawke felt a sudden overwhelming urge. Unfortunately, it wasn't for romance. After all that wine and food, he definitely needed to visit the bathroom. Besides, it was late and he wanted to be on his way early in the morning.

"Well, goodnight, Cait," he said, pushing himself off the coach and heading upstairs. "See you in the morning. You know where the blankets are."

************

Hawke awoke in the morning with a warm weight lying against his chest. He froze.

The weight shifted with a whine and blew a warm waft of doggy breath in his face.

"Morning, Tet," he said, relaxing and opening his eyes. "Remind me to pick up some more of those breath mints for you."

Winter daylight was streaming in the windows. Obviously he'd slept far later than he intended. He got up and peered over the railing. His dining table and kitchen had been cleared and cleaned as thoroughly as if Santa's elves had dropped by, but the cabin appeared deserted. Maybe Caitlin had gotten fed up with his somewhat less than gracious behavior and packed up and left already?

Wondering what he was going to say to her the next time he saw her, he headed into the bathroom for a quick shower. Stepping out from under the water, he remembered that he'd put his towel into the laundry and hadn't gotten another one out. Dripping wet, he flung open the bathroom door...

... and came face to face with Caitlin O'Shannessy, hand raised to knock.

"Oh, my," said Caitlin, running her eyes appreciatively down his lean, muscled chest to his magnificent –

Oops, sorry, wrong fan fiction site.

In any case, Hawke gave her (or anyone else) little time to appreciate anything. Recovering from his initial paralysis, he vanished back into the bathroom with a horrified yelp. The door slammed shut with a crash that shook the cabin, and Caitlin was left staring at its uncommunicative surface.

"Um – String?" she called out after a moment, struggling to keep the grin out of her voice.

Silence.

"I've just been out chopping some more kindling for the stove. That's a nice little hatchet you've got, by the way."

On the other side of the door, Hawke thought dismally that now it was absolutely imperative to get his hands on his gun, because he really needed to shoot himself. Forget about what he was going to say to her the next time they met, he was never even going to be able to face her again.

"As soon as I've got the stove going, I'll whip up some omelets. You like Western?"

Still no response from the bathroom, but she knew he had to come out sooner or later. He couldn't spend two days barricaded inside there, and the window was too small to crawl out of.

"I'll make some real strong coffee, and afterwards we can open our presents. That'll put some snap in your cracker!" Snickering, she went off down the stairs.

************

Half an hour later, she was peacefully sipping her second cup of coffee of the morning when a fully dressed Stringfellow Hawke, complete with winter gear and a forbidding scowl, came downstairs and marched straight to the door.

He didn't look at her.

She didn't look at him.

He yanked open the door and barely saved himself from crashing into the small mountain of firewood someone had piled there. It was the full width of the doorway and nearly shoulder high.

Fuming, but still refusing to look at Caitlin who was staring dreamily out the window, he headed for the side door, only to discover that she'd somehow managed to move the Christmas tree in front of it.

Glaring at it with his back turned to her, he ground out, "Caitlin, I'm going fishing."

"Sure you are," she said soothingly. "But you can't go off on an empty stomach. Come and sit down and I'll heat up your breakfast."

After a moment, he tore off his heavy coat and marched to the table, sitting down with a heavy thump and glaring balefully down at the tabletop. She put a large mug of coffee in front of him, and then a plateful of eggs and toast, all the while humming "Joy to the World" but otherwise saying nothing. Hawke chewed and swallowed as if everything was ground glass, and the scowl stayed on his face.

Finally even Caitlin couldn't take it any more. "Stringfellow Hawke, I think it's real mean of you to have a temper tantrum like this on Christmas Day."

"I am not having a temper tantrum."

"Oh, well, excuse me! I don't know what else to call it when a person won't open his mouth for over half an hour and walks around looking fit to spit acid. Even your own dog's hiding from you."

It was true. A glance around the cabin showed him the tip of Tet's tail sticking out from under the couch. The tail moved once in response to his name, then disappeared completely from sight.

"And besides," she went on, "it's not like you're the first guy I've seen buck naked. I grew up with more brothers than I could count sometimes, remember. And there's been a boyfriend or two along the way."

"It's the first time you've seen me naked," mumbled Hawke through eggs.

"No it's not," she replied promptly. "You better remember to close the bathroom door properly at the hangar." It wasn't her fault. She'd had no idea anyone had been in there when she'd glanced in the partly-opened door while walking past one day, and caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror as he stepped out of the tiny shower. She hadn't lingered, and she knew that if he'd realized she was in the building he'd have made sure the door was locked tight, but still... definitely not her fault. And neither was this time. If he couldn't remember to lock doors or put out towels, then he'd just have to put up with the consequences.

He goggled at her. Finally he mumbled, "Oh, God," and dropped his head in his hands. Eventually he looked up at her, and she was relieved to see the beginnings of a smile on his face. "Guess I can be kind of an idiot sometimes, huh?"

"Yup," she assured him.

"Nice omelet," he said a moment later. "I suppose you're going to tell me that you just collected the eggs this morning."

She giggled. "Nope. But if you'd keep a few chickens around here, I could have done."

"Tried it once. Don't know whether it was Tet or a coyote that got 'em, but they didn't last."

Tet, who had been on his way out from under the couch, turned and rapidly vanished again. The subject of chickens was still a sore one with him. Easy enough for his master to say that Tet could look after himself; the man obviously had no idea how hard it could be sometimes for a hound to keep body and soul together when Hawke disappeared for days at a time.

Meanwhile, Hawke was managing to put himself outside of the rest of a three-egg omelet, four thick slices of toast (with homemade jam), and a large cup of coffee. Finally, glancing over at the Christmas tree, he said offhandedly, "Did you say something about opening presents?"

Caitlin looked thoughtful. "Well, that depends. Have you been a good boy this year?"

Hawke scratched his head. "Well, I've blown up a lot of bad guys. All the ones that Archangel asked me to, plus a few bonus ones."

And saved the world for a few other people, thought Caitlin. Oh well, maybe it all balances out in the end.

There were two piles of presents under the tree, one labeled "To String from Caitlin" and the other "To Caitlin from String." Hawke hadn't realized that he'd apparently done so much shopping. He seemed to have bought her a pair of her favorite jeans, a sweater, a pair of earrings and an expensive multipurpose screwdriver (the same as one of his, which she was always borrowing and forgetting to return), without remembering any of it.

"Oh, String, you shouldn't have," she exclaimed when she got to the screwdriver.

"I don't think I did," he said dryly.

"But you will. Dom paid for everything. He's going to garnishee your next month's paycheck."

"You mean Dom's in on this too?" he demanded.

"Sure he was. He thought it was a great idea."

"He would," groaned Hawke. "Is there anyone else I've bought stuff for that I don't know about?"

"Shut up and start opening your presents, Scrooge."

Obediently he started in on the pile of brightly wrapped parcels. Although he maintained a disinterested expression, after the first minute or two he was tearing into them almost as impatiently as Caitlin had been. The first box eventually revealed a pristine new Airwolf flightsuit.

"Thanks," he said, a bit blankly. "How'd you manage to get this? I doubt Marella would give me so much as an extra shoulder patch."

"Oh, I asked Michael. Such a gentleman," she sighed. "He really knows how to treat a lady."

"Oh yeah? Better than me?" snarled Hawke, almost in reflex.

"Well, let's see. He's polite, gracious, and has a sense of humor...you want me to go on?"

Hawke snorted ill-temperedly. "Yeah, whatever. You know, Cait, much as I appreciate the gesture, I don't really need - "

"Yes you do. Your old suit has bullet holes in it," she said flatly. "They're flightsuits, not flak jackets. Besides, after that fiasco at Santa Paula I was never able to get the bloodstains out."

Hawke did his trademark sardonic eyebrow-raise. "So that's what you were doing while Dom and I were busy replacing all of Airwolf's missiles and ammunition."

"Darn right, buster. Did you think you could just send that suit out to the dry cleaners along with your shirts?"

He shrugged. "It's always worked before."

"Remind me again why we're supposed to be keeping that helicopter so top secret."

He decided to drop the subject before the waters closed in completely over his head and went on to the next box, which turned out to contain several dozen rounds of bullets for his handgun. "Cait, that reminds me - "

"Open this one next," she told him hurriedly, plopping another parcel on his lap.

It was a box of replacement light bulbs for the gallery lighting over each one of his paintings, which was useful but hardly worth changing the subject for. His last present, however, was a beautiful set of hand-tied fishing lures from a sports shop where he sometimes went to gaze at the merchandise with a watering mouth but rarely to buy.

"They're great," he said warmly, inspecting them with an expert eye. "You really shouldn't have, though. You're gonna have to moonlight for the next six months to pay for these."

She ducked her head, grinning. "That's okay. I'm glad you like them."

It wasn't okay, he thought with a return to his normal level of gloom. She'd put so much thought and expense into planning all this - even if it was way over the top - and all he'd done was buy her a measly paperback book that she'd said once that she wanted to read, and even that he'd managed to forget back at the hangar in his hurry to be on his way on his fishing trip. He didn't deserve to have friends like Caitlin. What could he do – here, now – to show how much he appreciated everything she'd done for him?

While he went into temporary angst mode, Caitlin decided it was time to check on a pot of soup she'd left simmering on the stove for lunch. Tet, sensing a potential food situation (there had already been so many of those since yesterday morning, but a hound had to eat while the eating was good) followed her quickly and silently.

The soup looked ready. Pot in hand, Caitlin turned to reach for the large tureen she'd set on the table. Tet crowded next to her, just in case she needed a reminder that he was there, and half-starved as usual, with the end result that Hawke's guilty reverie was broken by a shriek, a crash, and a series of yelps. He rushed into the kitchen to find that Caitlin had apparently been hit by a tidal wave of vegetable soup, while Tet was doing his doggy best to clean up what had missed Caitlin and landed on the floor.

Hawke grabbed a dish towel and attempted to swab her down, but she pushed him away. "Thanks, String, but don't bother. I'm soaked through. Do you mind if I go upstairs and have a quick shower and change in to clean clothes?"

"Course not. Look, I'm really sorry about Tet."

"Oh, don't worry. It was my fault. I'll be back in a minute. Hey, I can wear my new stuff!" Grabbing the new jeans and sweater that Hawke had "given" her, and holding them carefully at arm's length, she hurried upstairs. A minute later he could hear the shower running.

Since Tet was doing such a good job on the floor, Hawke contented himself with wiping splashes of soup off the table. Then he remembered there were still no towels in the bathroom, aside from the one he'd been flinging around in a petulant fury earlier that morning, and figured the least he owed Cait was a fresh towel. He went upstairs and dug more clean towels out of the cupboard. The shower was still running. He headed for the bathroom, planning to open the door quickly - without peeking! - and slip the towels inside, but halfway across his bedroom he heard a strange noise coming from under the bed. A sort of growling, tearing noise -- the kind of noise that could be made by a blue-tick coonhound who had finished licking the kitchen floor and now moved on to destroying somebody's shoes.

"Tet!" He lunged for the bed. The inch of blue-tick hound tail that had been sticking out into incriminating sight vanished just as rapidly. Cursing, Hawke dropped to his hands and knees and made a grab for his dog. He couldn't reach him, and the tearing noise continued unabated from further into the dusty depths. Hawke finally had to get down on his stomach and wriggle under the bed.

After a near-silent but determined (on both sides) struggle, during which he missed hearing the shower stop, he finally got the shoes away from Tet, and was just hoisting himself to his feet when the bathroom door opened and Caitlin emerged, yelling, "Hey, String, where are the - oh, jeepers!"

Face nearly as red as her hair, Caitlin dove back into the bathroom, leaving Hawke to stare open-mouthed at the closed door. Had he really just seen...

Oh yeah. He had.

But what could he do about it? Abruptly he remembered her comments about Archangel and the dreamy-eyed look she'd gotten when she told him that the other man was – what was it – oh yeah, polite, gracious and had a sense of humor. All attributes which he, Stringfellow Hawke, most definitely didn't possess. If Caitlin liked suave, gentlemanly types, she'd probably stuff a Copperhead down his throat if he offered her the Christmas present he'd just thought of.

"Umm – Cait?" he tried. "You're real pretty, you know. Pretty all over."

From the other side of the door came a sort of gasping noise. Oh great. Now she was crying. Stringellow Hawke, tactless remarks unlimited. Where was that blasted gun? He really needed to put himself out of his own misery, and hers, as soon as possible.

"Sorry, Cait," he said morosely. "I'll just go downstairs and – um – chop wood. Or something." He started to shuffle towards the stairs, still clutching two forgotten pairs of shoes.

"String?" wobbled Cait's voice from the bathroom.

"Yeah?"

"I'm glad you're such a supporter of women's lib."

"Huh?"

"Nothing but equal opportunity nudity around here."

Hawke realized, to his amazement, that she was actually laughing. The situation that had seen him nearly ready to flush himself down the toilet in mortification, she was actually able to find some humor in. A totally uncharacteristic wave of piety (like many other people, Hawke generally reserved his piety for situations of extreme emergency) made him think, God bless Caitlin O'Shannessy.

The bathroom door opened and Caitlin emerged, this time semi-clad in Hawke's discarded, and very thin, towel. "Remind me to get you a decent set of towels for your birthday." She was blushing so much that Hawke could barely make out her freckles, although he was staring hard at her face, that being the only part of her anatomy that he dared look at.

"So – uh – you want another cup of coffee, or something?"

"Or something," she agreed. He was wearing that adorable deer-in-the-headlights look again, the one that always seemed to make her heart rate soar, but she knew she had to get to him before he turned tail and fled. She was pretty sure his heart rate was up too, she just had to make him realize – and fast – that she'd quite happily accept one more Christmas present from him. And unless the rest of his body was lying, it was obvious that he was already in the mood to do another gift exchange.

"Oh, come on, String. How 'bout a little – Christmas spirit – here, or something? I mean, I've already stepped on your dog and thrown soup all over your kitchen, the day can't get any worse, can it?" She groaned. "Oh God, that didn't come out right. Guess my mother was right, I'm no good at sweet-talking guys. Caitlin O'Shannessy, tactless remarks unlimited, that's me."

All the shoes dropped, with a thud. Hawke finally came unglued from the floor, hurrying over to put his arms tightly around her. At that point it seemed only natural for their lips to collide.

A few minutes later, he said, "Forget about what your mother told you. There's one more Christmas present I've been kinda meaning to give you."

"Aw, String, that's real sweet of you!"

"It's not gift-wrapped, or anything."

"That's okay. Can I open it right now? I won't tear anything, I promise."

Hawke gulped. "Sure."

Her fingers started undoing the buttons of his shirt.

"Oh, by the way..."

"Yeah?"

He grinned evilly. "Just to warn you – I don't need anything to put snap in my cracker."

"I didn't think you would."

*************

Some time later...

"Cait?"

"Mmm."

"Can I ask you something?"

"Mmm - hmm..."

"Just what did you do with my gun?"

Great timing, his mind jeered at him. Go right ahead and destroy the mood, why don'cha? The gentlemanly Archangel wouldn't dream of being so boorish – or if he did, he'd no doubt find a way to politely, graciously, and humorously ask the question. Caitlin was probably going to smack him, and he couldn't blame her.

"Well – um – " Caitlin squirmed. Oh God, how was she going to explain this? String was probably going to smack her, and she couldn't blame him. "I know where I put it. I kicked it under the sofa. But I don't know where Tet put it after that, 'cause it was gone this morning."

"Oh." If Tet stole anything he always either chewed it or buried it. Since to his current knowledge Hawke didn't have a headless hound, he probably hadn't tried chewing it, which meant it was almost certainly buried. Somewhere.

"I'm real sorry, String," said Caitlin mournfully.

"Oh, that's okay, Cait..." He leered down at her. "You're just going to have to stay here and help me look for it, that's all. And that could take 'til – oh, New Year's. At least."

Finis