Through My Eyes, Chap. 3

Disclaimer – Don't own 'em, not making any money...just having a little playdate.

A/N—Another chapter that wasn't planned...but was generated due to the voices talking and comments from other readers, and this chapter closes out this little story arc. Hope you enjoy it—robertwnielsen

"Cait?" I mumbled when I regained consciousness in my room at John Bradford Horn's compound. I wondered why she appeared to be crying, but I resolved I'd have to ask her about it at some point.

I really didn't know what had happened to bring Caitlin into my room at Horn's compound, until some time later. Apparently, she, Dom and Archangel decided to mount a rescue mission after seeing the video tape that I'd sent for Dom, describing the reasons for my abduction—Horn was looking to add Airwolf to his private collection—and to help install him as absolute dictator of an island nation. The plan was simple—Dom and I would go in and neutralize the island's defenses, then radio a squadron of Horn's planes, which were orbiting out of range of the defensive emplacements, which would then move in and finish the operation.

From what Caitlin's told me, she came into my room right after Horn's daughter Angelica walked out. I don't know whether they saw each other or not—and I have a bad feeling I don't want to know. Don't get me wrong—I don't remember sleeping with Angelica, or anything like that—yeah, I remember we kissed a few times...a little making out on top of my bed, but nothing intimate—nothing that Kelly's dad never caught us doing on a Friday night at her house. But when I turned around and saw Caitlin standing in front of me—I didn't know it was her, thanks to the drugs that had been used on me—and I reacted out of fear, anger, and paranoia.

"SPY!" I shouted, and attacked her. We scuffled for a few minutes, until she kicked me square in the gut—I still have an imprint of the boots she was wearing on my chest, even now, almost a week and a half later. Then, I charged again, and that's when I felt the needle jab into my gut—and that's the last thing I remember, until I woke up and saw Caitlin staring at me, eyes red and puffy from crying. Later, I found out that Caitlin had injected me with a drug that Michael had given her, that counteracted whatever chemicals Horn had used on me—but, it also knocked me out for a short time—so far out, in fact, that Caitlin thought that I was dead. Which, I remembered thinking after she told me about it, would account for the tears. She thought she'd killed me. Just like I thought—I'd killed Dom.

That was actually the first thing I thought of after I regained consciousness—I remembered firing three rounds from a pistol I'd been carrying into Dom's chest, and I thought he was dead—and that I'd killed him. "NO!" Caitlin shouted, trying to get my attention. "He's in a cell here—your gun was filled with tranquilizers! He's all right! I've seen him! I've seen him!"

"Hawke. Who is this guy Horn?" Caitlin asked. I was still trying to shake the effects of whatever Horn had used to brainwash me, but I felt myself getting stronger all the time, and hearing that Dom was still alive only helped matters.

"It was all over the news. He bilked billions with—high-rises that didn't get built, and oil wells that didn't get drilled, and government contracts that didn't get filled, and I don't know."

"The government had him under a grand jury indictment," Caitlin finished, and I nodded. "What does he want with you?" Caitlin asked.

"An Airwolf mission," I said, shaking my head again. Sighing, I said, "We gotta find a way. We gotta find a way to get us all outta this."

Caitlin replied, "We will," and in spite of everything, I saw something in her eyes, like she knew everything was going to be okay.

The next morning, bright and early, I got my final mission briefing from Horn and lifted off in Airwolf, alone. I had no idea where Dom was, but Caitlin had assured me that she'd rescue him—I just had to get us all out of this. I flew for a few minutes on the heading that Horn had programmed into Airwolf's navigational computer, then, I activated the weapons systems and turned back towards Horn's compound, firing a Hellfire missile both to get his attention, and to let Caitlin know that the rescue operation was underway.

For the next fifteen minutes or so, I alternated fire between Airwolf's 30mm chain guns and Hellfire missiles, creating a series of fireballs around the compound. Then, I saw Caitlin and Dom running from the compound, so I stopped the missile firings and proceeded to lay down a barrage of cover fire from my cannons, to allow Caitlin and Dom to get back to Airwolf.

A few minutes later, we were in the air again, Dom back at the engineering console, and Caitlin in the countermeasure specialist's chair. I had a score to settle with Horn, and I didn't want either Dom or Caitlin involved.

"I'll handle this. Stay out of it," I ordered. "Horn's mine."

"I've got dibs on Angelica," Caitlin said from the countermeasure specialist's chair. In the short time I've known Caitlin O'Shannessy, I have never heard her voice sound so cold—and it made me wonder what Angelica had done that had Caitlin so upset. But, I reasoned, there'll be time for that later. After we find them.

It didn't take long for us to find the car that Horn was using to attempt to escape the compound, and I fired a couple of Hellfire missiles into their path, causing the car to stop short. Once we'd set Airwolf down, all three of us approached the car with our service weapons drawn. I opened the driver's side door and found the chauffeur, dead from a single bullet wound to the head. Caitlin opened the passenger side door, and Dom opened the trunk, but we found no one else inside the car.

"Where'd they go?" Dom demanded.

"Horn's gonna show up again," I said, surveying the scene, "and when he does"—

"And the daughter!" Caitlin shouted, angrily. "Remember, she's mine!"

"Well, we'd better notify the authorities," Dom said. "Let's go!" We all lowered our weapons and got back aboard Airwolf, calling the authorities to dispose of the car and chauffeur.

Over the course of the next few weeks, with help from Michael, Dom, and Caitlin, I began piecing together what had happened—Angelica had evidently drugged me while we were out together one evening, which allowed Horn to take me to his compound and administer a type of brainwashing on me—a combination of drugs, light, and sound that reprogrammed my mind, and allowed Horn's "doctors" to give me an entirely new personality. From what Michael told me during debriefings, I was an extremely lucky man—almost a third of the tests on the drugs that brought me back had ended with the test subject dying. But, I remembered saying to Archangel, that means two-thirds of them didn't die.

All the same, I kept thinking about the way Caitlin had looked at me when I came to in my room—she looked like she'd been crying her eyes out for hours, but of course, I had no way of knowing how long I'd been brainwashed, or how long I'd lain unconscious before I finally came out of it. And there seemed to be something in her eyes—something that said she was happy that I was alive, for more reasons than just the fact that we're close, good friends. And then, there was what she said aboard Airwolf—I've got dibs on Angelica, and what she said after we found the limo—And the daughter! Remember, she's mine! I decided that sometime, I'd have to ask Caitlin about why she said that. But something told me I didn't want to know.

And Dom told me what Cait said to him in the limo, when he said he would deliver Airwolf to Horn alone. "Dom, don't do that to me. I care about him, too, you know. Probably more than you know." Now I have to admit—hearing that from Dom worried me—I was worried that Cait was in love with me, I mean. Why else would she have said something like that to Dom, for Pete's sake?

Don't get me wrong—Caitlin O'Shannessy is a very attractive woman. I mean, I've seen the way other men have looked at her—and on more than one occasion, it's made me jealous. But I can't think of her that way—not with the curse that I have on me.

Ever since I was twelve years old, when my parents were killed in a boating accident, I've felt like anyone I've loved—or anyone I might love, will die. And events haven't changed that perception in my mind—first, I lost my parents in that boating accident—then, right before my brother Saint John and I were supposed to ship out for Vietnam, my girlfriend Kelly and I were in an accident—and she died. Then, Saint John and I went down on the same mission—except Saint John didn't get picked up, and he's been an MIA for nearly 16 years—I remember Michael telling me, after I recovered Airwolf, that the odds against Saint John still being alive were ten-thousand to one.

Finally, of course, there was Gabrielle Ademaur, the pilot who first flew Archangel up to the cabin two years ago, to tell me about the theft of Airwolf. She stayed behind at the cabin after Michael left, and we quickly became lovers. I still remember the day Dom came up to the cabin and met her.

"String, if you don't teach that mutt to keep outta my way, so help me, I'm gonna land on him!" Dom had said as he walked through the front door of the cabin with a box of groceries and other supplies.

"Well, you know I've never been one to tell anybody where to land," I said with a smile, giving Dom a friendly slap on the back.

"You coulda given me a hand," Dom said.

"He's not big on helping hands...but I am," Gabrielle said, pulling on her sweater as she came downstairs from the sleeping loft. I remember Dom staring at her in shock, as if he wondered what we'd been doing up there. Then, when we went out to the canyon that eventually became Airwolf's Lair, I remember Dom saying, "I like her, String. A little skinny, maybe, but I like her."

"Well, she'll be thrilled to hear that," I said.

"Yeah, but don't tell her the skinny part," Dom said. I think Dom was already imagining us getting married, which, I'll be perfectly honest, was something I'd thought about, too.

But Gabrielle wound up becoming another victim of the curse, when Michael sent her to Libya to help Dom and me recover Airwolf, after Moffet stole her. Dom still blames himself for Gabrielle's death, saying that if he'd figured out Airwolf's scanners faster, maybe we could have gotten to Gabrielle in time to save her. It's a moot point, now, but I can understand where Dom's coming from. But I've told Dom over and over again—I don't blame him for what happened, I blame Moffet, pure and simple. Of course, Dom turns my words around on me every chance he gets—saying that Gabrielle would've been killed even if we weren't seeing each other, that Moffet probably didn't even know we were lovers, which I suppose is true—but it doesn't change my feelings.

Which brings me back to Caitlin—I won't deny it, like I said before—she's a beautiful woman, and I've grown very fond of her, but I can't think of her in terms of a girlfriend, or anything else like that. Even though, as Dom has pointed out to me over, and over again, Caitlin's a pretty tough gal—last year, during the Carter Anderson affair, when she was flying Anderson to a meeting and her plane got ambushed by Robert Villers, flying an old, WWII-vintage Corsair, Caitlin had been able to evade some of Villers' rockets all by herself—which was a good thing, considering that Airwolf's number 2 engine had been giving us problems, and we were lucky to shoot Villers down and escape. We knew Cait was dating Villers, but didn't know he was the one attacking her, until I brought his Corsair down and we heard his voice over the radio.

"I'll see ya, Cait. That's a good show, fellas." I didn't recognize the voice...but Caitlin did.

"Robert?" Caitlin called out, and Dom and I could hear the fear and sadness in her voice. Caitlin had seen Villers' Corsair headed for the deck, and when there was a small explosion a few seconds later, she knew he was dead.

I have to admit, I wished to hell I hadn't had to do that—but we didn't have a choice. It was either shoot Villers down, or Villers would have shot Caitlin's plane down...and might have had a chance to bring Airwolf down, too, considering the problems we had with Airwolf's number 2 engine.

Not only that, but there was the incident with Holly Matthews a few months prior to the Anderson affair—Dom and I had rescued Holly from a man named Ahrens, who she told us was holding her prisoner. Unfortunately, Holly was crazy—and she saw Caitlin as a threat, and tried to kill her three separate times—first, she sabotaged a helicopter that Caitlin was flying for a movie stunt, and the cyclic had jammed—Cait was lucky she brought that chopper down in one piece. But not too long before that, Caitlin and I shared a kiss as part of the movie, and when I thought about it later, I realized that seeing Caitlin kiss me might have been what made Holly snap. Later, Holly sent herself a tarantula in the mail, and Ahrens made mention of that when we confronted him. Not in those exact words, but he said, "She even sent herself a dead cat once in the mail!" That got Dom's and my attention, since the tarantula incident had only just occurred.

Then Caitlin was flying up to the cabin with Holly, and Holly pulled a gun on Cait, and forced her to fly through an Air Force security zone—and the chopper was almost shot down by F-15's that were scrambled from a nearby Air Force base. But once again, just like during the Anderson affair, Caitlin evaded some of the missiles without Airwolf's help. Plus, after she knocked Holly out, the chopper went into a flat spin...but Cait was able to get control back just before they augured in.

And, Holly almost killed Dom, too—she sabotaged a helicopter that Caitlin was going to take to the cabin, but Cait had to go back into the office for her map case, and she asked Dom to crank the chopper up, and when Cait came back out, the chopper was on fire—Dom only escaped by the skin of his teeth, when Cait came out of the office and shouted that the chopper was burning—and it exploded a few seconds after Dom escaped. But, I remembered thinking to myself later, he did escape.

Dom's tried his best to get me to understand how tough Cait is—over, and over, and over again...and, I hate to admit it, but I'm finally beginning to see it. I mean, it took a lot of guts for her to stow away in the missile compartment aboard Airwolf and get into Horn's compound, then come to find me, and I still remember when she kicked me in the chest. I saw the reminder of it every night for two weeks after I was rescued, when I got undressed for bed—the mark of her combat boot, imprinted on my chest. I have to admit, she's a lot better hand-to-hand fighter than I am. Not to mention what she told that guy on the plane, I said to myself, remembering how Cait had told us about a guy being extremely rude to her when she was flying back to Texas for her sister's wedding. Finally, Cait decided she'd had enough of the guy, and said, "Do you know karate?" And when the guy said no, Cait told him, "I give free samples." And it was one of those "free samples" that had left that boot print on my chest.

Then one day, I had to do a little scouting for a shoot we had coming up—the production company that hired us had their own helicopter pilot, so all I'd have to do would be work the camera for a while—even though I would have just as soon been the one doing the flying—but I figured Cait and Dom wouldn't even need to get involved. Piece of cake, I remembered saying to myself as I drove back to the hangar. When I got there, I found Caitlin and Dom outside, both looking very serious about something.

"What's with all the long faces?" I asked.

"Nothing, String," Dom said, smiling at me. "Well, it's about closing time, so let's button this place up and get outta here, huh?" Dom hurried to finish the last few things he'd been working on and shut the hangar down, then we got into a chopper so Dom could fly me up to the cabin.

"So, everything look good for the shoot?" Dom asked me.

"Yeah," I said, smiling. "I can handle it myself. You and Caitlin don't even need to get involved." Then, I turned serious. Something had been bothering Dom ever since I got back, and I wanted to know what. "You got something else on your mind, Dom?" I asked, and I have to admit, I think Dom was a little worried.

"Nah," Dom said. "Just a little worried about the location, that's all."

"Sure, Dom. Whatever you say," I said with a shake of my head, then added, "Hey...what were you and Caitlin talking about when I came back?"

"Nothing important," Dom said. Aha. Right. And I'm Charles Lindbergh, I said to myself.

"You sure?" I asked. "Sure looked like it was important from where I stood...I haven't seen you two look that serious in a long time."

"String," Dom said, and I suddenly got the impression Dom was trying to keep a secret, "it's nothing, okay?"

"Whatever you say, Dom," I replied, and I hoped Dom could tell by the tone of my voice that I wasn't convinced. By that time, we'd arrived at the cabin, and Dom set the chopper on the dock so I could get out.

"See ya in the mornin', String!" Dom shouted, waving at me.

"G'night, Dom!" I called back, smiling as I stepped back to allow the helicopter to lift off and head back towards Van Nuys. I watched until the helicopter disappeared from sight, then walked back into the cabin, still trying to figure out what Dom had on his mind. No doubt it's about Caitlin, and me, I said to myself as I grilled a trout for dinner.

That night, when I went to sleep, I couldn't help remembering Caitlin's expression when I'd come around at Horn's compound...and the kiss on the movie set. But, we were only pretending! I thought.

Maybe you thought you were only pretending, a voice in my head seemed to be saying, but evidently Holly thought different. That's part of the reason she went nuts, you know. I had to admit that the voice had a point, even though Ahrens had said Holly was crazy from the time we found her. And besides, the voice went on, you know how tough Cait is. You can say that again, I thought, wincing as I remembered how she kicked me in the gut just before she gave me the antidote. Well, I said as sleep finally claimed me, I'll figure it out, somehow.

The next day, while Cait and Dom worked around the office, I went to do that shoot, and once I'd settled myself behind the camera, I had time to think once again—and, once again, my thoughts seemed to be centering themselves on Caitlin. Ah, it can't be, I said to myself. I can't be falling in love with her, can I? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that, yes, despite my best intentions, I was falling in love with Caitlin. Now, I said to myself, I've just gotta figure out what I'm gonna do about it.

That night, after I got back to the hangar and Dom took me back to the cabin, he asked me, "String, when you were Horn's prisoner, did you and Angelica, you know," I was surprised at Dom's question, even more so when he didn't finish his sentence, but somehow, I had a feeling what he was asking me.

"Did we, sleep together, you mean?" I asked, and I saw Dom nod, sheepishly. Okay. That was a pitch outta left field I wasn't expecting, I remember thinking to myself. I thought about it for a few minutes, then replied, "Not, that I remember. I mean, I remember we kissed a couple of times. A little making out on top of my bed—nothin' that Kelly's dad never caught us doing on a Friday night at her parents' house, but I don't recall actually being in the bed with Angelica—and certainly not sleeping with her. Why would you ask me somethin' like that, anyway, Dom?"

From the look on Dom's face just then, I could tell he was remembering how many times Kelly's father had caught us making out on their couch—and in other places. Dom once told me that Kelly's dad had told him that I was damned lucky to still be alive—and I don't doubt it. But Dom simply said, "Well, Caitlin was kinda wondering about that. You remember when she called dibs on Angelica?"

"Yeah," I said, surprised at the direction the conversation was taking. "But why would Caitlin care whether Angelica and I slept together?"

"I dunno, String," Dom said, even though I got the feeling that Dom knew perfectly well why Caitlin cared about it. "Maybe, maybe she was worried about you. Or maybe it was somethin' else, I dunno. But, String, you can't tell me you've never noticed how attractive Cait is," Dom said.

"If I said I hadn't, you'd call me a liar, wouldn't you?" I asked him, surprised at yet another quick change of subject, and yet not surprised at all. I mean, I know Dom's been trying to get me to look at Caitlin as more than just a friend for a while now, and even though I'd never admit it to Dom, he does have a point—he's not gonna be around forever, so he'd like to know that somebody's around to take care of me—and if that somebody happens to be Cait, it's all the better, at least as far as Dom's concerned.

"You're darned right I would, buddy boy," Dom said, smiling at me.

"Yeah, Dom. I have noticed," I said resignedly, then continued, "But, Dom. You know I can't think of Caitlin like that. I mean, she's my friend, yeah; and I care about her like that, but you know it can't be more than that. Especially not with..." Suddenly, Dom lost it. Completely, totally lost it. Worse than he'd ever gotten angry at Saint John, or me. I was actually worried that he might lose control of the helicopter, and made sure I was ready to take control if that happened.

"Oh, for the love of God, String!" Dom shouted. "Doesn't the word accident mean anything to you? I've looked over the reports on both your parents' accident and the one that killed Kelly, and so have you, and there was nothing—nothing, do you hear me, about either of those that was your fault! Now, Gabrielle, fine. You wanna keep carrying the torch for her, that's your business, I guess; but lemme tell you this, String; and I know I've said it before, but this time, you're gonna listen to me, dammit! Moffet was out of his mind. A couple of bricks short of a full load, cuckoo as a Swiss clock, goofy as a pet coon, or whatever the hell other cute little phrases you wanna use. Do you really think he killed Gabrielle just because you two were seeing each other, for God's sake? I suppose that's why he killed Angela, all those people at Red Star, the crew on that Navy destroyer, not to mention those Mirage pilots. Guess those were all your fault, too, huh?"

"Besides which," Dom continued before I could say anything, "do we really know, one way or the other, that Saint John is dead?" He stopped at that point, and I have to admit, I was angry—how could Dom, who'd raised Saint John and me ever since our parents were killed, just gloss over Saint John's disappearance like that? Then I realized—Dom's right. We DON'T way or the other. And that realization felt worse than Cait's kick to my gut, when I realized that I may have been pushing Caitlin away because of worry about something I knew next to nothing about.

I sighed and said, "Yeah, Dom, you're right. We don't know what's going on with Saint John." Dom quietly breathed a sigh of relief, and just as he was about to add something, I decided I had more to say, and continued.

"And, you're right about Moffet too. Gabrielle told me the same thing when I found her in that dressing room at the Red Castle. She told me that Moffet stole Airwolf and took her to Libya so he could do exactly what he wanted with women. And, there was no way he knew Gabrielle and I were seeing each other," I continued, and I had to wonder if Dom was thinking that I was coming around to their way of thinking—his and Caitlin's, that is. Which, to be perfectly honest, I am, I said to myself. By this time, we'd arrived at the cabin, and just before I got out, Dom laid his hand on my shoulder and said, "String. I'm, I'm sorry for yelling at ya before. I shouldn't have done that."

"Well," I replied, "maybe. Then again, maybe that was somethin' I've needed to hear for a long time. I'll, I'll see ya in the mornin', Dom," I continued, opening the co-pilot's door and stepping out, closing the door behind me.

As I watched Dom flying away, I thought about everything Caitlin and I have been through; including several instances that could have killed her, including the ones I mentioned before, and yet, she survived. Every time, she survived. That night, when I went to sleep, I made myself a promise—I'm going to see what happens with Cait. I'm, I'm going to let her in, if that's what she really wants. I had to admit something to myself—whether Cait felt the same way or not, I was in love with her, and not the way good friends loved each other, either. And, I suddenly understood—at least, I thought I understood—why Caitlin made those comments about Angelica—she thought we slept together—and, unless I missed my guess, Caitlin was jealous.

The next morning, I noticed Dom didn't meet me at the door like he usually does, so I walked out to the dock and climbed in the chopper. As I strapped in, Dom didn't say "'Morning, String!" like he usually does—in fact, he didn't say anything. And he continued not saying anything for about twenty I finally decided if Dom wasn't going to say anything, that I needed to.

"Dom," I said, turning towards him with a worried expression, "you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine, String," Dom said. "I was about to ask you the same question."

"Yeah, I'm okay, Dom," I replied. For the first time in my life, or at least, since Gabrielle died, I think I'm really okay, I said to myself.

"Look, String," Dom said hesitantly, "I'm...I'm sorry about what happened yesterday. I said it before...I shouldn't have yelled at you like I did, and..."

"Dom," I interrupted, and I could tell Dom was surprised by my expression, "I told you yesterday that I think what you said was something I needed to hear for a long time. I did a lot of thinking last night about what you said, Dom. And, I think things are gonna be, different," I said, mysteriously.

"Different?" Dom echoed, surprised. "In what way, String?" I was in what Dom likes to call my "deep-in-thought" mode, and didn't answer him, but I don't think he really expected me to. Then, without warning, I turned in my seat and said, "'Goofy as a pet coon,' Dom?" I don't know why, but that comment struck me as incredibly funny—accurate, especially where Moffet was concerned, but incredibly funny. And for some strange reason, it sounded a lot like something Cait might have said.

Dom laughed and said, "Heard that on TV somewhere. But it fit Moffet, don'cha think?"

"Yeah, Dom," I said. "It sure did."

When we got to the hangar, neither of us was surprised that Caitlin was already there, and everything was open for business. She always beats Dom and me to the hangar, after all, and this morning, she was standing outside, like she usually does, and waved brightly to us as we got out of the chopper. Well, here goes nothing, I thought, smiling as I climbed out of the helicopter and walked to the hangar.

I had to stifle a chuckle at Caitlin's expression—she looked more confused than I've ever seen her, mainly because I was smiling at her, one of my friendliest, warmest smiles. Then, without Dom having to elbow me in the ribs like he usually does, I took off my shades and said, "'Morning, Cait."

"Mornin', Hawke," Caitlin finally stammered, and I got worried. What'd I do? I asked myself.

"Cait? You okay?" I asked her, and I caught Dom's expression of surprise out of the corner of my eye. Well, I said to myself, I did say things were going to be different. I could see how excited Dom had suddenly gotten, and I knew the reason why—but, I had something more important to worry about.Right now, I need to figure out what's bothering Caitlin. I gently laid a hand on Caitlin's shoulder as she composed herself.

"Yeah. I'm fine, Hawke," Caitlin replied. "Just a little surprised. I mean, you don't usually say 'good morning' first, y'know." And boy, did I know that was right. She could probably count the number of times I've done this on one hand, and still have at least three fingers left, I said to myself. And I noticed Dom's expression change, almost as if he were wondering what was going on in my head.

"String?" Dom asked me later in the afternoon.

"Yeah?" I answered, surprised that it had taken Dom this long to ask me what I was doing.

"When you said that yesterday—you know...about what I said being something you've needed to hear for a long time—how many times have I tried to tell you the exact same thing?" Of course, I knew it was a rhetorical question—if Dom had a dollar for every time he has tried to tell me that, Santini Air would be a much more upscale operation, there's not a doubt in my mind.

"Dom," I replied, "I know. You've tried to get me to see sense about Cait practically since the day she got here...and I've been blowing you off most of the time...especially after the hijacking." I could still remember what happened when Caitlin hung up the phone after talking to—make that arguing with—hermother yet again, after she missed her sister's wedding when Flight 093 was hijacked.

"Y'know, maybe, maybe your mommy's right," Dom had said. "You should be lookin' out for your future! And, there's a lot of guys out there."

"Oh, yeah? Where?" Caitlin had demanded. Dom simply pointed at me and said, "Well! Huh?" I have to admit that Caitlin's expression shocked me. I didn't know what she was thinking, and I know she was worried about what I was thinking, and what I might say or do, so I did what I usually do in situations like that. I just kept my mouth shut. Which, I remembered thinking to myself, was probably what she expected me to do, anyway.

I still remembered the look on Caitlin's face when Dom pointed at me—and Dom's used that instance as another example of how she feels about me more than once when we've talked about it. Finally, he said, "Yeah. I have been kinda pushing that, and I'm sorry, String. But look. You and I know I'm not gonna live forever, and it'd be nice if, twenty years or so from now, when it is my time to go, it'd be nice if I knew there was somebody here lookin' after you. Y'know?"

I laughed, something Dom hadn't seen or heard me do a lot of, until recently. "Twenty years, huh, Dom?" Then I turned serious. "I know what you mean, Dom. And I appreciate it. But let's not get carried away here, okay? You know me better than anybody. I've got a lot of issues to work through, you know that, right?"

"Yeah, I do know that, String," Dom said, and embraced me. "And I'll, I'll try to be patient, and not push you so hard, okay?"

"Okay, Dom," I said, and we left it at that for the day. All the same, I know Dom and Cait were both surprised by my change in attitude, and wondering how long it would stick.

Over the next few weeks, I made a concentrated effort to be nicer to Cait—I bought her lunch every chance I had, and always made sure to say "Good morning" first, when Dom and I got to the hangar. And I was smiling a lot more—and I know Cait and Dom both noticed it. One day, in fact, I overheard Dom saying to Cait, "Can you believe it? String, smiling. I never thought I'd see the day."

And Caitlin simply smiled and said, "Yeah. That makes two of us, Dom."

As the days went by, I became more convinced that what I'd felt a few weeks ago was right—I am in love with Cait. And unless I'm completely misreading the signs I've been getting, she feels the same way about me. Finally, I decided to take a shot—one night after work, I said, "Cait, you want to grab some dinner? My treat." With that smile that she'd gotten so used to from me.

"String?" Cait turned to me, surprised. "Are you—are you asking me out on a date?"

"Yeah, Cait," I said, smiling as she walked up to me, "I guess I am."

She didn't have to answer me—I know it sounds corny, and overly romantic, but I could see what she wanted to say, shining in her eyes, but she finally said, "Sure, String. What did you have in mind?"

"I thought we could go out for dinner, maybe try that new place up the road a bit," I said, and I noticed Cait's eyes filling with tears. "Cait. We don't have to. I mean"—I have to admit, I was wondering what would happen when I finally asked her out, and her reaction was not something I'd expected.

"No, String," Cait said with a defiant shake of her head, "I want to. Believe me, I want to—I'm—I'm just really happy right now, okay?"

"Okay, Cait," I said as she excused herself to go retouch her makeup.

"What took you so long, buddy?" Dom demanded, smiling at me.

"Dom," I replied, "you know I was always the stubborn one."

"Well, String," Dom said, "I'm just glad you finally came to your senses, y'know?"

"Yeah, Dom," I replied. "I do know." Just then, I saw Caitlin coming back, absolutely beaming. That's more what I expected, I said to myself, relieved that her tears a moment ago weren't because she was upset with me.

"Okay, String," she said, I'm ready."

"Okay, Cait," I said, slipping my arm around her shoulders. " okay for a couple of hours?"

"Huh? Oh, sure," Dom said, and I could tell he was trying to keep the excitement out of his voice—and failing miserably. I smiled at him as we walked over to one of the Santini Air Jeeps, and felt Caitlin's arm slide around my waist. When we got to the Jeep, I opened the passenger side door for her, just like Dom and my dad taught me to do, before walking over to the driver's side, getting in, and starting the engine.

"String," Cait said as we pulled up to the restaurant a few minutes later, "there's a lot of things I want to tell you."

"Well, Cait," I said as I parked the Jeep, then got out and opened her door for her, offering her my arm, "there's some things I need to tell you, too." We walked in and were quickly seated, and Caitlin said, "You go first, String."

"Well," I said, taking hold of her hand, "I've, I've been doing some thinking about, us. You and me."

"What do you mean, you've been thinking about us, String?" Caitlin asked, surprised. "There isn't any 'us,' you know that," she continued, and I noticed the sadness in her eyes.

"Would you like there to be, Cait?" I asked, and I hoped she could see the sincerity in my eyes.

"String? What are you trying to say?" Caitlin asked, and I saw the tears coming again.

"Cait," I began, not exactly sure what I was going to say, "I know I've been terribly rude to you, especially recently, pushing you away and all that, but I'm tired of running away from my feelings. Especially my feelings about you."

"And just how do you feel about me, String?" Caitlin asked.

"Caitlin," my voice broke and I wasn't sure I could continue, until I looked up and saw the anticipation, and love, shining there in her eyes, and I felt an enormous wave of peace come over me. I smiled and said, "Caitlin, I love you. And I have for a long time."

When she didn't respond for a few minutes, I got worried; until I realized she was trying to find her voice. Finally, she whispered, "String? Did—did you just say that you—love me?"

"Yeah, Cait. I did. I love you, Caitlin O'Shannessy, very much. And, I'm—I'm sorry that I've been denying it for so long." I was preparing myself for Caitlin's reaction, even though I didn't know what to expect.

Finally, she looked at me and whispered, "String, I love you, too. I have loved you for so long, String. I think practically since the day I came back here lookin' for you. And I have been hoping, and praying, to hear those words from you." Just then, the waiter came with our dinners, so I reluctantly let go of Caitlin's hand so we could eat...and I could see by her expression that she was as disappointed about it as I was. But, I said to myself as we ate, I'll make up for it, later.

As we ate, I realized Caitlin had said she had some things she wanted to tell me. "Cait," I said, looking across the table at her, "I completely forgot. What was it you said you wanted to tell me?"

"Well, String," Caitlin replied, "A lot of what I wanted to tell you doesn't matter anymore." I winced inwardly, thinking I knew what she was referring to. She was gonna tell me she was leaving, I said to myself, then pulled myself back into the conversation. "I guess the only thing I have to say now is—I love you, String. Don't ever forget that."

"I won't," I promised her. "On one condition."

"Condition?" Caitlin asked, puzzled. And, if I'm not mistaken, worried about something, I said to myself.

"Yeah," I said, grinning. "That you don't forget that I love you, too." I could see her sigh with relief at my words. Like she'd ever forget that, I said to myself as we finished eating and got ready to leave.

As we drove back to the hangar, I decided I'd ask Cait about something. "Cait, when Dom pointed at me that time, after you argued with your mom about your future, what was that expression all about?"

"Well, String," Caitlin said, somewhat embarrassed, "I have to admit—I wasn't exactly sure what you were thinkin' at that moment, and, I was embarrassed 'cause of what Dom did. I didn't know what you were gonna do, and it scared me a little," she said sheepishly.

I was afraid of that, I said to myself as I pulled the Jeep off to the side of the road, and after I'd stopped and turned off the engine, I turned to Caitlin and said, "I'm sorry, Cait. I didn't mean to scare you. I guess I was kind of shocked at what Dom was hinting at, or at least, what I thought he was hinting at, and I didn't know what to do, so I did what I usually do in situations like that, and just kept quiet. But," I said, grinning at her, "that's all academic now, isn't it?"

Caitlin simply smiled back at me and said, "It sure is, String. It sure is." Then she leaned over and kissed me before we headed back to the hangar.

When we got back to the hangar, I happened to notice Dom working on 4-4 Charlie, the helicopter Cait had taken to the cabin that day—the day Holly proved how nuts she really was. I still remember seeing the helicopter in a flat spin, and thinking to myself, They've had it, before Cait managed to pull the helicopter out of the spin just a few feet above the ocean. It looked like Dom was trying to wear the paint off a single spot on the helicopter, but I saw him turn towards the door when he heard the Jeep pull up. Without a glance in his direction, I got out of the Jeep and opened Cait's door for her, then the two of us walked over to where her car was parked, and just before I took the keys to open her door for her, I took her in my arms and kissed her, even more passionately than the one from the movie set. By the time I separated us, which I'm sure Cait would say was way too quickly, I could tell Cait's head was absolutely spinning. And she's not the only one, I said to myself, glad that Dom would be handling the flying. I opened her car door for her and gave her one last, quick kiss before she closed the door and started the car, heading out of the parking lot to go home.

When I came back to the hangar, Dom was standing at the door, grinning like the proverbial cat that ate the canary. "Did you two kids have a nice time?" He asked as we climbed in the helicopter and he started up the engine.

"Yeah, Dom," I said, shaking my head, "we did. And we each learned something."

"What would that be, String?" Dom asked, although I think he knew the answer.

"We both learned that we love each other," I said, smiling. Of course, I'd already had an idea how Caitlin felt about me—I was just glad I was right. And, I was also glad that she didn't hold a grudge against me for denying my feelings for so long.

"YEE-HAA!" Dom shouted, grinning. "Oh, String, that's a load off my mind!"

"Well, Dom," I said, trying to caution him, "let's not be too hasty. I mean, you know me better than anybody. You know I've got a lot of issues to work through, right?"

"Yeah, yeah," Dom said, brushing my comments aside, or so I thought. "But at least, now, you've got somebody to work through those issues with, String. That's gotta make you feel good."

"It does, Dom," I said as we landed on the dock back at the cabin, and I fought down a wave of loneliness. "Believe me, it does." As I watched the helicopter leaving, I said to myself, I'm already missing her. Well, I said to myself, maybe I'll just have to do something about that. I have to admit—I'm still a little paranoid about the curse and everything, but it does make me feel good that I've finally acknowledged my feelings about Cait—and that she's going to help me work through the issues that I've got. I fell asleep that night happier than I'd been in a long time.

The next morning when Dom and I got to the hangar, Caitlin gave me a hug that just about broke my neck. In fact, I swore I felt at least one rib snap. She blushed furiously and said, "Sorry about that, String...but part of that was from Mom." Uh-oh, I said to myself, remembering some of the letters that Caitlin's mother had written her, as well as Caitlin's end of several phone conversations with her mother, which turned quickly into arguments.

"Really?" I said, still trying to get my breath back. "What else did your mom have to say?"

"Oh, just that she's real happy, no, make that ecstatic that you finally saw sense about me." Caitlin's eyes gleamed as she told me how the conversation with her mother had gone.

"Well," I said as I pulled Caitlin close to me, "I'm glad things all worked out."

Later that day, I decided I'd ask Caitlin about something that had been bothering me for a couple of days. "Cait," I began, "when you called 'dibs' on Angelica that time, what were you thinking?"

"String," she started to say, but her voice broke almost immediately, but she recovered almost as quickly and continued, "when I saw Angelica coming out of your room, I thought that she just looked like she was real satisfied about somethin', and I thought that you and she had, had slept together."

I knew it, I said to myself, gently laying my hands on Caitlin's shoulders. "Cait, nothing like that happened. I promise you. I mean—we kissed a couple of times, a little making out—but nothing intimate, or sexual, if that's what you were worried about."

"Yeah, String," she said with a sigh of relief. "I was worried about that, but thanks," she said, and I noticed her eyes brightening.

"Any time," I said, giving her a friendly, yet loving kiss.

Two months later, Dom and I were shocked to see the FIRM limousine pull up to the hangar one morning, and Michael not step out. Instead, Lauren, his prime pilot, stepped out and informed Dom, Caitlin and me that we were to come to Knightsbridge immediately. Not knowing what was going on, we all climbed into the limousine for the short ride to Knightsbridge.

When we got there, we were all ushered into Michael's outer office, and I swear, when his door opened, Dom and I thought we were looking at a ghost. I almost didn't recognize the older man standing in front of us, through the haze of tears that had erupted in my eyes, but then, I heard it—the voice I had begun to suspect I would never hear again. "What's wrong, little brother? Don't tell me you've forgotten me after all this time?" Even after almost sixteen years, I knew my older brother's voice like I knew Caitlin's.

"Yeah, little brother. It's me," Saint John said as we all gathered around him. "I'm home." Neither Dom nor I could speak, even though we had a million questions, but Saint John answered most of them without our needing to ask.

It turned out that Saint John, along with a group of guys from 1st Air Cav, had been rescued from a POW camp in Laos shortly before the war ended—but they didn't stay home long. As senior officer, Saint John was approached by a member of the CIA and asked if he would be interested in forming a clandestine ops unit—capable of recon, strike missions, intel gathering, anything that might be required, and actually not too different from what Caitlin, Dom and I do with Airwolf. He'd gone on to explain that his unit was operating under Top Secret Umbra classification, which I knew was the highest security classification in the United States. When I heard that, I understood why it had been so hard to find out any information on him—it was like he'd just disappeared from existence. When Saint John first told me about why he'd been gone so long, I was very angry, and hurt, and I let him know it. Finally, though, Caitlin and Dom sat down with me and Saint John, and the three of them helped me understand Saint John's way of thinking—he figured that Dom and I thought he was already dead, so he didn't see the harm in taking this new assignment. After a couple of knock-down, drag-out screaming matches that Dom was forced to referee, Saint John and I finally made our peace about a month after he came home.

About four months after we "officially" got together, I made a decision—I love Caitlin, and she loves me. It's time. So, without telling Dom or anybody else, I bought plane tickets for Caitlin's mom, along with her older sister Erin, and sent a letter, along with the tickets, inviting them both to the cabin. If Cait goes along with this, and Erin's not involved, I'd be in big trouble, I said to myself. Now, of course, the challenge would be keeping my secret from Dom and Cait until Cait's mom and sister arrived, and then keeping it from everybody until I was ready to finally propose to Cait.

On the day Caitlin's mom and Erin were supposed to arrive, I told Dom that they'd be coming, and that I wanted him to take Caitlin's mom and Erin up to the cabin, and fix dinner that night for all of us—his spaghetti and garlic bread.

"What's the deal, String?" Dom demanded just before their plane arrived. "Why'd you invite Cait's mom and sister out here?"

"It's, a surprise, Dom," I said, and told him that if either Caitlin's mother or Erin asked about it, he should tell them simply that it was a surprise. Dom gave me a dirty look, but agreed to go along with whatever I was doing, and I thought back to something that happened after our parents died.

When our parents' wills were read, there was a handwritten note from our mother with her personal effects, along with her engagement ring—the note said that if Saint John and I were single when Mom died, whichever of us, Saint John or myself, got engaged first, should give the ring to our intended. I checked the pocket of my blazer before I changed that night, and took Caitlin over to one of the helicopters after we'd finished shutting down the hangar.

"What's going on, String?" Caitlin demanded as soon as she realized we were headed to the cabin.

I simply turned in my seat, smiled, and said, "It's a surprise, Cait."

Something in Caitlin's expression told me she didn't buy it...and I began worrying as to whether or not I could pull this off. When we landed, Caitlin recognized two people who were there with Dom, and if she hadn't been worried before, now she was definitely worried. She introduced her mother Maggie, and older sister Erin to me, and both Maggie and Erin demanded to know what was going on, since Dom wouldn't say a word to them. I simply smiled and said, "It's a surprise, ladies."

By this time, I knew that I wouldn't be able to keep the secret much longer, so after the dinner dishes were cleared, I asked Dom to serve up champagne to everyone; and then, not being one for big speeches, I simply reached into my blazer and pulled out the box containing the ring. Opening it, I dropped to one knee and said, "Caitlin O'Shannessy, will you marry me?"

I have to admit, the silence that followed my question made all of us nervous—me, most of all, I'm sure—but, finally, Caitlin managed to whisper, "God, yes! Yes, Stringfellow Hawke, I will marry you!" As I heard the applause from Dom, Erin, and Maggie, I slipped the ring onto the third finger of her left hand, then stood up and drew Caitlin to me for another deep, passionate kiss. Once I separated us, Caitlin apologized for hesitating so long, and explained that she couldn't find her voice, which I understood. Then, Caitlin's mom apologized for all the bad things she'd ever written, or said to Cait, about me. I simply smiled and told her that I accepted her apology, even though I didn't think it was necessary—after all, I explained, I had been being incredibly stupid about Caitlin for a long time, and Maggie was simply telling Cait, and by extension, me, exactly how she felt—and I reassured her that I didn't blame her for anything.

Later that evening, Dom got ready to take Erin and Maggie back to the hangar so they could go back to their hotel, and Dom almost asked Caitlin if she was going with them, but something stopped him. As the three of them moved out to the dock, I turned to Caitlin and said, "Was there a reason you wanted to stay here tonight, Cait?" I don't know why I asked, actually. It made perfect sense that she'd want to spend the night with me, now that we were engaged to be married.

"String, don't ask stupid questions," Caitlin replied, grinning impishly at me as she pressed her body close against mine. She kissed me again, and I felt all the love and desire we had for one another building with every second that we held each other. Finally, though, I pulled away for just a moment. "Cait," I said, "if this isn't what you want, you tell me, right now."

"String," Caitlin said as she tightened her arms around me, "shut up, take me upstairs, and make love to me. Now. Right now." And without another word, I proceeded to do exactly as I'd been told.

I wasn't in the least surprised the next morning when Caitlin announced that she wanted to move up to the cabin, permanently, even though we'd only spent that one magical night together. Saint John, Dom and I were able to get her moved out of her house and up to the cabin in a day's time, and while we had dinner that night, Caitlin asked Dom if he would walk her down the aisle at our wedding. Dom, who wouldn't be able to do it for his own daughter, Sally Anne, responded that he would be honored to do it, which made Caitlin and me both happy. Saint John agreed to stand with me as my best man, and Cait's sister Erin would stand with her as maid of honor.

Now, some two years after we met, Caitlin and I were finally married. The judge who performed the ceremony summed up our relationship quite nicely: "From what I've been told, these two have traveled a long and, interesting road, to get to this time and place, together." Caitlin and I simply looked at each other, and we instinctively knew each other's thought—You have no idea.

That night, as I slipped into bed next to my wife, I thought about how Caitlin had become such an important part of my life in such a comparatively short time. Now, she is my life, I said to myself as we moved into each other's arms and fell asleep. As I pulled her body tight against mine, and felt her arms around me, I realized that I knew, finally, who I belonged with. Thank you, Caitlin Hawke, I said to myself as I felt sleep claiming me. Thank you—for everything.