Disclaimer: These characters and original scenario belong to the copyright holders. I'm just getting them off the shelf to visit with them for a while. This story follows the bomb explosion at Santini Air in "Blackjack." String is recovering from his terrible injuries with Cait's help, but the threat is not neutralized. Like Robert Nielsen and his charming stories, and several other fan writers, I wanted to explore String and Cait's relationship as it developed.

This is a rewritten T-rated version of the original story, with the M-rated portion now a separate excerpt; see "Finding the Way Excerpt."

Finding the Way

After Hawke's visit to his doctor, Caitlin landed the Jet Ranger in front of Santini Air. Hawke swung his legs out with a sign of his old athletic grace, even though he still depended on the leg brace and a cane. At least the cast was off his leg. Results of weeks of exercise and therapy were starting to show.

Of course, that begged a question. If Hawke didn't need her any more, why was Caitlin spending nights at the cabin? She had been flying down to Santini Air several times a week to work, but still slept on a cot in the first floor. He slept upstairs in his bed.

That morning they had worked together to clean up the breakfast dishes. Hawke sensed her restlessness. When she finished drying the dishes, Hawke took Cait's elbow in his hand and turned her to face him. "I don't want you to leave."

"You can take care of yourself, now. I can't stay here like a babysitter or a permanent visitor, sleeping on a cot, far from my apartment, from my things."

"You could sleep upstairs, with me."

"Just like that, Hawke?"

He slid his hand under her chin and tilted her head up. He framed her face with his hands and pressed his lips to hers. Cait was nearly as tall as he. He wrapped his arms around her and deepened the kiss and tasted her lips and her tongue. She leaned into the kiss, closing her eyes and sliding her arms around his neck. He could hear her heart beating. Or was it his? "That's how I want you to stay, Cait," he said. "That's why." He returned to kissing her. She turned her head away.

"I think we need more time. I think we need rules of engagement." That slip caused her to blush and turn away. "That's not what I meant," she muttered.

He couldn't help a gentle laugh. "I know."

She met his lips again, then stepped back. "Dom will be here to pick us up in a minute. Come on, Hawke, you're not the only man to fall in love with his nurse."

"You're not my nurse, you're my friend. I've been in love with you a long time, but I was too dumb to know it."

"Say that again?"

"I'm in love with you. I've loved you for a long time."

"Oh, String," she said. He kissed her again. When she could speak, she said, "You may be many infuriating things, but dumb isn't one of them. I love you. I've loved you, maybe since you saved me in Texas, but I think you know that. Let's go to work and we can try to sort things out later. We've been circling around each other too long to rush into anything now."

Suddenly serious, he said, "Cait, I'm free to do something about it, now."

She understood. "You're giving up Airwolf."

"I can't sleep with you, then order you into danger. You know that I couldn't do that. We couldn't do that."

Cait stepped back, put one hand out to keep him from following her. "What if I give her up? She has a team now. I'm not part of it, although Jason invited me to fly as back-up engineer. But I've sort of assumed for the last few months that I wouldn't fly her again. Then you wouldn't have to step down."

"I have stepped down already. Cait, I'm not fit and I won't be close to fit for months. I'll miss her, but I won't misuse her. She's a war ship, not an excursion chopper. The deal always was to return her when Saint John came home. Well, he's home and he's flying Airwolf. You'll have to make your own choice on joining the team, but now, you and I can make decisions about the two of us."

He wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her again. They separated reluctantly. "Hawke, I'm not being coy, but I want to be courted. I want to court you, too. After everything we've been through together, it's worth taking some time."

When Cait would have stepped away, Hawke held her arm and pulled her into his arms again. "It is worth some time, maybe our whole lives. Let me know what you want. Kind of an adventure, isn't it?" He kissed her cheek, then cocked his head, listening. "There's Jo to pick us up." He let go slowly and picked up his cane. "I said I'd get back to normal life, life after Airwolf. How about dinner and dancing?" He looked down at the cane. "Make that dinner and a movie."

Cait rested her right hand on his shoulder and her left around his waist. She started to hum "Unchained Melody." He rested his forehead against hers and moved with her and the music.

~~~~~~AW~~~~~~

A week later Cait and String completed the regular maintenance of the Jet Ranger. After they finished for the day and put away their tools, they cleaned up. Cait changed into her jeans and shirt in the bathroom, String shrugged into his in the back of the hangar. She came out and wrapped her arms around him from the back. Hawke turned in her arms and took her face in his hands. He leaned in to a long, deep kiss. "What are we waiting for?" he asked.

"We're courting each other, remember."

"We have. Aren't we done yet?"

"I might get talked into the next step."

"What's that, Cait?"

"What do you think? We're sleeping in two separate beds. It's inefficient."

"Very inefficient." He kissed her again. "What should we do about it?"

"Careful. Remember how big my family is. A small wedding might look like the Oklahoma Land Rush."

"Couldn't we ask your parents for a ladder for a wedding present?"

"A ladder?"

"It's an old joke. Couldn't we just go get married and tell everybody about it afterwards?"

"I wish. Really, I've never been interested in that dream wedding that so many girls wanted. But my mother would have a conniption and so would Dom. You and I need to have a talk back at the cabin. Meanwhile, I have to run over to my place to check the mail. There are a couple things I wanted to pick up from my apartment, too."

"Cait," he called her, his voice suddenly serious. "It's been too quiet. Let me come with you."

"A hunch?"

"I dunno. I may just be paranoid. Let me come along."

She looked into his face. "You're not kidding. Well, you have good hunches." She took a deep breath. "Okay, let's go."

They stopped at the safe in the office. Hawke retrieved a handgun and checked the safety. He shoved it into his waistband, beneath his jacket. "Dom," he said to him, where he was fiddling with the Tyler Mount.

"What?"

"We're going over to Cait's place. She needs to check her mail."

"Oh, sure," he said, absently. "I was thinking of getting a sandwich and working on this until I finished it."

"I tell you what, we'll bring back sandwiches and some soda. You said you were avoiding coffee after five o'clock. Jo was going to fly us up to the cabin around five."

"Thanks. That will help. The parts we needed just arrived today and I'd like to get this thing done already."

"Dom, pay attention for a minute. It's been too quiet. Lock up after us. Put your handgun where you can reach it."

Dom's head snapped up. They shared a look. "You got it. You be careful, too."

The parking lot looked normal at the garden apartment complex and Hawke took a deep breath. He must be jumping at shadows. "Shall we?"

Cait retrieved a handful of catalogs and a bill from the mailbox. Hawke's weeks of physical therapy were paying off; he led the way up the stairs to her second floor apartment. The door was ajar. "Wait," he whispered, and pulled the gun out. He flipped the safety off and pushed the door open. The room was a nightmare, the contents of drawers were on the floor, cushions were torn open and stuffing was strewn across the floor, books, some torn, were scattered around the room. Hawke wheeled around the room, pistol in front of him. "Clear," he whispered to her, and stepped into the bedroom. The mess was worse. He checked the closet, then the bathroom. They finished in the kitchen, where dishes were broken on the floor, silverware and pots scattered around, cabinets hanging open.

Cait returned to the bedroom, knelt down, and rummaged around on the floor until she found her open jewelry box under some blouses. She held up her grandmother's locket and started to sob. "They didn't take it," she said. "I don't think they took anything. What were they looking for? Who are they?"

Hawke knelt next to her and put an arm around her shoulders. "I think they meant this as a warning." He helped her to her feet. "Let's get back to the airfield. I'm worried about Dom. I don't think any of us should be alone right now. We'll help you clean the place up. I want to call Jason, but from a payphone, in case there's a tap on any of our usual phones. Do you want to call the police from here? It would be a normal reaction."

Cait shook her head. "What would be the point?" Hawke grabbed some toilet tissue and blotted her tears. She swallowed and said, "You're right. I don't want to leave Dom alone. Let's get back there."

They locked up carefully. Cait drove back to the airfield, after stopping at a payphone to call Jason's office. Hawke was worried. He sat hunched over with his hands clasped white-knuckled around the top of his cane. They pulled too fast into the parking lot. Hawke practically fumbled his keys unlocking the door. They ran into the hangar. "Dom," Hawke shouted.

"Here. My stomach is wondering if my throat's been cut. Where have you been? Jo said to call her when you're ready to fly home."

Hawke sagged in relief and stopped, out of breath. Cait said, "Dom, someone tossed my apartment."

Dom wiped his hands and hugged Cait. "I'm sorry, Honey. What can we do for you?"

Cait's voice trembled, "I want to go home."

"To Texas?"

"No, back up to the Lake."

Hawke said, "How about we go get something to eat, and then Dom can fly us home. I'm not sure any of us ought to stay alone right now."

"Jo and I will be careful. Is Le okay with the Okushiros?" Dom asked.

"Le is probably safer with them than with me. Give Saint John a call, warn him and Mike, will you?" They stopped at the diner at the north end of the airstrip, then Jo met them at the airfield and flew Cait and Hawke to the cabin.

The sun was going down by the time they walked into the cabin and shut the door. The stillness was a refuge. Tet looked up from his spot by the hearth. Hawke fed him and opened the door so he could go outside. He put some classical guitar music on the stereo, then he sat down on the sofa and patted it. "Sit with me, Cait." She sat tight against him. She was trembling. The display of nerves was unusual for her. Concerned, he put an arm around her. "I can't promise I'll keep you safe," he told her, "but you know I'll try. We'll all try."

Cait caught her breath in a huge gulp. "It's not just me. We're all in the cross-hairs."

One of the things String liked best about her was her steady good nature. Her distress was all the more disturbing. And she was right; he and Dom were the proof. "Yeah, I know."

Tears were running down her face. Eventually she rested her wet cheek against his shoulder. "Thank you. They sure know how to keep us on edge, don't they?"

"Sure do. Cait, sleep upstairs with me. I'll hold you." He opened the door to let Tet back in and returned to her side.

"Are you sure?" In answer, String took Cait's hand and led her past her cot and up the stairs. She started to take her clothes off. He reached out and stopped her.

"Our first time will be for joy, not comfort, or fear. Put on your pajamas and I'll hold you."

In the darkened sleeping loft, Hawke let Cait cling to him. "Pretty good teddy bear," she told him, as she wrapped an arm around his stomach and rested her forehead against the back of his neck.

"Cait, are you okay?" His voice was a raspy whisper. She rested her hand on his chest above his diaphragm and felt him speak as much as heard him.

"Much better. I feel safe with you. I always feel safe here."

"Good," he told her. "And I think my teddy bear is holding me." Hawke slept in a t-shirt and sweatpants. She wore cotton pajamas. They started out with Cait tucked against his back and holding him, but in the dark, String woke with Cait nestled against him with her back against his chest and her bottom in his lap. His arm was draped over her waist. He stopped himself from moving his hand to her chest. "My teddy bear," he murmured.

Hawke thought of the nights when he was newly home from the hospital with an enormous plaster cast on his leg. He had always been able to trust his own strength, but the bombing left him fragile and shaken. At first, when he could not climb the stairs to the loft, Cait slept on the sofa and he slept on a cot. He needed her help with almost everything. Later, when he could sleep in his own bed in the loft, she slept on the cot. As his injuries healed and he grew more self-sufficient, he was still grateful for her care and company.

Sometimes, when Hawke's uncomfortable cast and his itching, healing burns made it hard to sleep, he'd gotten up, and leaning on his crutches, went over to the railing where he could see Cait asleep downstairs. He thought about her patience with him when he was in pain or when he was just grouchy, but there was nothing saintly about her. When he snapped at her, she snapped back. And then she laughed, until he laughed at himself, and when he doubted he would ever be well enough to fly again, she made him feel that there was no obstacle he could not overcome. Still, her generosity was breathtaking. Watching her, he was careful not to make any noise because he knew she would rush upstairs out of worry for him. Just the sight of her there helped to steady him and let him sleep.

But there were times when the thought of Cait sleeping so close had nothing to do with care and friendship. One night, a shaft of moonlight illuminated her face. He usually thought of her as cute-he had thought of her that way since they met in Texas and Dom pointed out how cute Cait was-but in the moonlight, Cait was so lovely String caught his breath and he wished that the twenty-pound plaster cast didn't keep him from a cold shower, or a quick swim in the icy waters of Eagle Lake. Now Cait was in bed with him, and he had promised just to comfort her. String rested his forehead against her and smelled the light, flowery scent of her shampoo. He was afraid he would be unable to fall back to sleep, but he listened to her breathing and after a while he drifted off.

In the morning Cait was awake before String, an unusual occurrence. She lay on her side facing him, watching him sleep. His face was rather solemn. He breathed softly. She reached out and gently traced his eyebrows and his lips with her forefinger, then followed some fading burn scars on his neck. He rolled onto his back, then rolled over and pinned her flat on the bed. "Tickles."

"You're ticklish," she declared, with satisfaction. She was reaching for him when he grabbed her hand, then tried to catch her other hand as it danced maddeningly over his neck and ears. He finally put a stop to it by kissing her. She reached up and wrapped her free arm around his neck and kissed him back.

"That's better than coffee," Cait murmured when he stopped.

"Better than coffee." He rested his forehead against hers. His heart was hammering. "But if we don't stop, this is going to go further."

"Good."

"Remember, we're courting. Are you ready for this?"

"I can't wait."

"Cait, let's wait until tonight."

"Why?"

"Too much light now."

"String, what's wrong?"

"I look like a jigsaw puzzle."

"I've been with you since the bombing, remember? The scars are fading."

"How can you stand to look at me? I can't."

Cait didn't answer. She pulled up his t-shirt. A broken rib had punctured his lung. The scar from the surgery to repair it was still livid. She kissed the surgical seam. "The scars are part of you, and I love you."

He kissed her, until they were both breathless. "There's one on my back."

"Let me see."

Cait helped him pull off his t-shirt. He rolled onto his stomach and she pressed her lips to that red, jagged welt and trailed kisses up to the sensitive nape of his neck.

"My turn," he said. They kissed again until Hawke rested his forehead against hers and tried to catch his breath. "Let me love you," he asked, when he could speak.

Cait pressed her lips against his. "Let me love you," she answered.

******M-Rated Excerpt Begins Here******

******M-Rated Excerpt Ends Here******

His kiss threatened to delay their dressing further, but he pulled away reluctantly. He swung his legs around to the edge of the bed and sat up. Suddenly, he was embarrassed and then elated by the intimacy of sitting naked in his bed with Cait, his Cait, who for some unfathomable and incredibly lucky reason, loved him. "Cait," he said gruffly.

"What, String?"

"Everything's changed. Are we good?"

Cait sat up next to him and pulled him to her so she could kiss him on the lips. He reached around her and returned the kiss. She said, "Everything's changed and everything's the same, only better, and we're very, very good."