Operation—To Fool A Hawke, Chap. 1

Disclaimer—Don't own anything here, except the idea. Characters are the property of Bellisario or Universal. Just taking one of my usual playdates.

Summary—Caitlin's had enough of Hawke and their life together...or has she?

A/N—This is an original idea, something that I've been kicking around for about the past month and a half. Bringing back the acting lessons Cait was taking in And a Child Shall Lead to try and explain things. Doesn't start out the way my usual stories do, but hang with it 'till the end, and please, as always, read/review.—robertwnielsen

A/N #2—As usual, big thanks go out to Sirius7, OldSFFan, Ms. Anonymous, and Riabhach for their reviews. Glad you like my stories, and hope you like this one.

"I'm leaving, Hawke."

At first, Stringfellow Hawke thought his wife Caitlin meant she was taking the helicopter to go into town for something—until he saw her standing at the front door with their children. Then Hawke realized what she meant by "leaving." To hear those words, out of his wife of nearly ten years, Stringfellow Hawke knew immediately that something had to be terribly, terribly, wrong. He just didn't know what—but when he saw Caitlin and their twin daughters, Saoirse Marie and Sally Ann, standing at the door of the cabin, Hawke knew he had to figure it out—fast.

"Caitlin?"

"You can't tell me you didn't hear what I said—not with your hearing," Caitlin replied. "I said, I'm leaving, Hawke," Caitlin repeated, and Hawke heard her voice shaking, which told him she was fighting a wave of tears. "I—I can't do this anymore. Living with you, it's—it's just getting too hard." Caitlin was fighting something as she stood there trying to convince String that it was really over—that after almost a decade of marriage, and two children, she was leaving him—but I can't let him know what I'm really thinking, Caitlin said to herself as she glanced down at each of her kids and noticed their impatience. I know, kids, Caitlin tried to tell them with her eyes.

"What—what happened, Cait?" String demanded as he crossed the cabin to the front door, hoping to get some explanation from his wife before she and their daughters flew out of his life forever. He hoped Caitlin could hear the concern, actually, the downright panic in his voice as he stopped in front of them.

"It's—it's been coming for a long time, String," Caitlin replied, and Hawke saw the tears in her blue-green eyes. "I—I'm just tired of all of it—the secrecy, Michael, Airwolf...everything."

"And—me? You—you're tired of me, too?"

"Yes, Hawke," she admitted, as she finally allowed a few tears to flow from her eyes. "I'm—I'm tired of your constant brooding—even though you got better after we got married, ever since Dom..." She stopped herself after she mentioned their friend, and the twins' surrogate grandfather, Dominic Santini, who had passed away earlier that year. Even though it had been expected, his death had still hit both String and Caitlin hard, and String had regressed to old habits, brooding for days after Dom's death, until Caitlin and the kids had been able to pull him out of it.

"Cait," String began, unsure how he was going to handle losing the three most important people in his life, other than Dom, his brother Saint John, and Saint John's son Le. "What are we going to do about—?"

"Don't worry about it, String," Caitlin assured him, her voice still quavering. "I—I'll have my lawyer get in touch with you once I've figured out what we're going to do." At those words, String felt the tears welling up in his own eyes. How can this be happening? String asked himself. What have I done, or not done, to make Cait want to leave?

"Cait, if this is about Airwolf, then I'll"—

"It's not just Airwolf, String, but that's a big part of it," she said, noticing that the children were getting anxious. Hang in there, kids, Caitlin's eyes tried to tell her children as she glanced at both of them, one on either side of her. "I'm sick of feeling like we're gonna get blasted out of the sky every time I climb into that machine, or being kidnapped because somebody figures out they can use me as bait to get to you and Airwolf, like Sawyer did. Don't get me wrong—I love flyin' her just as much as you do—I always have. But—there comes a time when I have to think about me, String—and about my kids."

"Dammit, they're my kids, too, Cait!" String roared, angrier at Caitlin than he could ever recall being, even after she had accidentally armed a Hellfire missile without first deploying the ADF pod, the first time he took her aboard Airwolf, over ten years ago, to help him rescue Archangel from East Germany. He noticed both his children jump at the tone of his voice, and immediately regretted screaming at their mother.

"I—I know, String," Caitlin replied, trying not to respond to Hawke's anger with her own, "I'm sorry I put it that way. But that's my whole point—do you want these kids—our kids—growing up without one—or, God forbid—both of us, if somethin' ever happened on a mission?"

That made Stringfellow Hawke stop and think for a moment. Have I been ignoring our kids, and my wife, because of Airwolf? And what if something ever really happened to me, or to Caitlin? What would happen to the kids? Have I become that selfish, that I put Airwolf over my family? He knew that before he and Caitlin had gotten together, Airwolf had been the most important part of his life—other than finding his brother, even though the two had gone hand in hand for years—but he thought things were different now that he was married, and a father. Guess I was wrong, he said to himself sadly.

And deep down, String knew Caitlin was right—for all her bulletproof armor, Mach 1-plus speed and fourteen firepower options, Airwolf still had her vulnerabilities. Hawke remembered when he and Michael were flying Airwolf to rescue Dom, back before Caitlin came to them, and someone managed to down Airwolf by hitting her in the tail rotor with a rocket. And later that same mission, another missile had penetrated Airwolf's hull near the EDCC and released a poison gas, that had obviously been intended to knock Hawke and Archangel out. It did knock Michael out, now that I think about it, Hawke remembered. But I was able to go on internal oxygen and save the ship—and us—that time. But—what if something ever happened, and either Caitlin or I—or both of us—didn't make it?

"Caitlin, I—I'm sorry," String began, knowing those words would not erase whatever he'd done—or hadn't done—that had driven her to this point. "I'm sorry for yelling just now, and I—I won't fight whatever you decide to do. If this is what you think is best, then all I can say is—good luck and—goodbye." Hawke knelt down sadly and hugged both of his children—for all he knew, for the last time. When he straightened up, he saw the tears running down Caitlin's face.

"Goodbye, Hawke," Caitlin said through tears that she had resolved not to fight anymore. She reached out and touched his face one final time, then she and her daughters turned and walked to the dock, where their chopper waited for them. String stood in the doorway, tears flowing down his cheeks, as he watched the helicopter fly away.

"Well, kids," Caitlin said, her tears forgotten as she watched the cabin disappear out of the corner of her eye, "do you think he bought it?" She'd been fighting her true emotions ever since she turned and walked away from the cabin, but she knew that with Hawke's super-hearing, if she had let those emotions out before she started the helicopter, they would have given her intentions away. No doubt he woulda heard me all the way to the helicopter, Caitlin said to herself. Now, in the helicopter and far away from the cabin, she allowed herself a moment to laugh.

"I think so, Mommy—you saw him crying, didn't you?" Saoirse Marie asked, then added, "But I don't like that we're doin' this. This seems like a real mean thing to do to Daddy, even knowing why you did it, and everything else."

"Well, Saoirse, I guess you're right. I just—I hope everything works out," Caitlin replied, and added to herself, and that String'll forgive me...someday. She'd considered this plan for days leading up to today, and had spent long hours trying to perfect what she would say—she just hoped she hadn't gone overboard. The way he screamed at me, Caitlin said to herself sadly, I just might have. String never—never yelled at me like that—not even during that first time I flew in Airwolf. Caitlin sighed as she flew on, hoping that her decision had been the right one.

Back at the cabin, String sat on the front porch, where he and Caitlin had spent so many romantic evenings over the past nine years, wondering where he'd gone wrong with her. Hell, if Airwolf's the goddamned problem, String said to himself, then first thing tomorrow morning, I'll call Michael and tell him I'll turn her over to him. If that's what I've gotta do to save my family—to save my marriage—then that's what I have to do.

"Yeah," he said to Eagle, his faithful hound, who had come up to stand beside him, and gazed up mournfully at String. Eagle had been a Christmas present from Caitlin three years ago, after Tet had passed away. Caitlin had said that Tet was bugging Dom in Heaven now—of course, Hawke wasn't completely sure he believed in Heaven, or God. Especially now, Hawke said to himself sadly. Hawke recognized the expression on the dog's face—it was the same one that Hawke saw on Tet's face when he arrived back at the cabin after Gabrielle had been murdered by Moffet—and Hawke felt his world crashing down on him the same way he'd felt that night. He took one last look into the sky, finally convinced himself that Cait wasn't coming back, and then turned and walked back into the cabin. A thought suddenly crossed Hawke's mind—Meeting Cait was the best thing that ever happened to me, even though it took me two years to admit it. And I went and screwed it up, like I have so much of my life.

Later that afternoon, as he sat in his favorite spot and played his cello, Hawke was surprised as he finished a piece to hear a familiar sound—a helicopter. Who's coming up here? Especially at this time of day on a Sunday? Hawke said to himself. He hadn't heard from Saint John all day—actually, he hadn't heard from Saint John since they closed the hangar on Friday—so String supposed it could have been his older brother, but he worried about who else it could be. And if that is Saint John, how the hell do I explain what's happened to him?

Then another thought struck him. If that's Michael, Hawke said to himself, growing angrier by the minute, I swear I'll tear him limb from limb. He is the absolute last person I want to deal with right now. I mean—I'll have to deal with him sooner or later, about Airwolf—just not now, dammit. Especially since it's being involved with him—and Airwolf—that created this mess in the first place. String had already made a few decisions—he would sell the cabin and everything in it, leave the money for Caitlin and the kids, and become a recluse again, even more than he'd been before. He'd turn Airwolf back over to Michael, and totally divorce himself from humanity, since the most important person in his life wanted to divorce him.

Hawke thought about the reason he'd pushed Caitlin away for as long as he had—the fear that he was cursed, that anyone he loved, or might love, would die. That was his reason for not admitting the fact that he loved Caitlin—when in fact, had loved her practically since the day he'd met her almost thirteen years ago—he didn't want to lose her, like he'd lost Kelly, his parents, and Gabrielle. Now I am losing her, String said to himself sadly. And she's gonna be—wherever she's going—with our kids. Finally, Hawke resigned himself to what was happening—to the fact that Caitlin had decided to leave him, and take their children with her. And he'd have to figure out what he was going to do with the rest of his life—now that the rest of his life would no longer include Caitlin.

Maybe—maybe I could go back to that retreat, Hawke said to himself, remembering the religious retreat he'd visited several years ago and wound up rescuing the inhabitants from a man who was using the retreat as a front for his own revolutionary intentions. It's an idea, anyway, Hawke said to himself as he took the cello back to the cabin to put it away. He'd turn Santini Air completely over to Saint John, and let him decide what to do with it. He'd—he stopped his planning when he heard something at the front door—and recognized the person standing there, which caused him to do a double-take, to make sure that who he thought he saw really was who he saw.

"Caitlin?"

"Hello, Hawke," she said, and something in her voice sounded different to him. She didn't sound sad, or angry like she had earlier, before she left with his heart, along with his children. She sounded—Hawke didn't know how she sounded, exactly, but something seemed different to him, although one thing stuck out in his mind. She called me "Hawke." She hasn't done that for years, Hawke said to himself sadly. At least not since we've been married.

"You forget something...or just decide to come back and kick me while I'm down?" Hawke scoffed at her. Then something struck him. When they were at the door this morning—I didn't see any bags. No suitcases—nothing. Something's going on here—I just don't know what, and I don't like that.

Ouch. That stung, Caitlin said to herself, even though she knew she deserved it, and whatever else Hawke might decide to do or say to her. "No, String," she replied, stepping through the door into the cabin, "I—I just needed to say a few things to you."

"Go ahead. I'm listening," he replied, hoping against hope that by listening, he could understand where he'd gone wrong, and maybe—just maybe—figure out a way to put his life—and his family—back together. Then String noticed something—her wedding ring. She's still wearing it. Why would she still be wearing her wedding ring, if it's really over? Now I know something strange is going on.

"String," Caitlin began hesitantly, "there's no easy way to say this..." String felt his heart fall straight through his feet to the floor of the cabin. "But I—I had to come back here and tell you something."

"Go ahead, Caitlin. Like I said, I'm listening," String replied, even as he resolved not to lose his temper with Caitlin (he couldn't think of her as his wife anymore—not now) again.

"Well," Caitlin replied, walking closer to him, and stopping when she got within an arm's-length of him, "there's a reason I did what I did this morning, and I thought you needed to know."

"You're right, Caitlin, I do need to know," String replied, confused. "What—what went so wrong between us?"

"Nothing, Hawke," Caitlin admitted, sighing. How dense is he? She asked herself, then reprimanded herself. Dumb question, Caity girl. You know how dense Hawke is better'n anybody. Except maybe Dom.

"Nothing?" String repeated, incredulous. "You stand at the door with our kids this morning, tell me you're leaving and that you'll have your lawyer contact me, and you say nothing went wrong between us? Caitlin, just how dumb do you think I am?" Hawke immediately regretted the question. Um, something tells me I don't want to know the answer to that, String said to himself ruefully.

You really don't want me to answer that, do ya, String? Caitlin said to herself as she fought to keep a grin from breaking out across her face. "I—I'm sorry, String. That wasn't what I meant."

String felt his anger building again. "Then what the hell did you mean, Caitlin?" He wasn't exactly sure he wanted to know what Caitlin meant, but then again, he knew he had to ask her.

"I meant"—Her eyes grew wide and the grin she'd been trying to suppress ever since Hawke had seen her at the front door finally broke through. "I meant to say—April Fools, Stringfellow Hawke!" She steeled herself for whatever reaction Hawke might have to being fooled the way he had been. He might throw me out for real, Caitlin admitted to herself. I hope not—but there's nothin' I can do about it now. If he does, he does...and I can't say I'd blame him if he did. Heck, if he ever pulled somethin' like this on me, after I beat the snot out of him, I'd throw him out. And it's his cabin.

String stared, dumbfounded, at the woman he loved more than anything in the world. "'APRIL FOOLS'? What the hell is that supposed to mean?" he roared, his earlier resolution forgotten, as his anger took over once again. Dumb question. I know it's April Fool's Day...aw, dammit. Hawke said to himself as he realized what had happened.

"String," Caitlin said as she moved closer to him, relieved when she saw he wasn't drawing away from her, "I'm sorry. This whole thing was—was a project from my acting coach. We were given an assignment last week—to play an April Fool's joke on someone important to us. Naturally," she said, reaching out to put a hand on his shoulder, "I chose to play one on you. After all, you are the most important person in my life," Caitlin said, hoping fervently that String believed her.

For his part, String was remembering how Caitlin had been taking acting classes several years ago—and how convinced Dom had been when she ran lines with him, saying that she was pregnant and had decided to raise her baby alone. Of course, she wasn't really pregnant, String said to himself, but Dom sure thought she was—just like I thought Cait was really leaving this morning. He also knew that she'd restarted her classes several weeks ago, after being away from them for nearly ten years, after she and Hawke married and had their children. She hasn't lost her touch, String said to himself. She got me as good as she got Dom that day. He was still upset, though, and decided to let Caitlin know it.

"And you couldn't think of something else to do?" String demanded, still hurting. "Like sticking a whoopee cushion on my chair in Airwolf, or somethin' like that?" Almost immediately, Hawke felt himself once again regretting his choice of words. She'd do it, too—stick a whoopee cushion on my chair, that is. Guess I'll have to pay more attention to my seat when I climb into Airwolf from now on, Hawke said to himself wryly, especially next year. That is, assuming there is a 'next year' for us, even though I know this was a joke, String thought to himself, admitting that the damage done by Caitlin's little prank—and his reaction to it—just might be too much for their marriage to overcome.

Oh, boy. I may have taken it too far, Caitlin said to herself, worriedly, as she looked at her husband. I know that expression—he's angry. And he's got every right to be. Aloud she said, "String, I figured doin' something like this would make you angry, and I'm sorry. But my coach said I had to actually run lines—you remember, like I did that time when I ran lines with Dom." String again found himself recalling what Dom had told him about that incident.

"If he won't accept his responsibility, then he just doesn't exist for me anymore," Caitlin had said, tears streaming down her face. "And I don't care what you say! I'm gonna have this baby, and I'm gonna raise it alone!" She'd turned on her heel and stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind her. When Caitlin opened the door again, she was nervous as to what Dom thought—until he started applauding, and she took a bow, like all good actresses would. He felt himself drawn back to the present when he heard Caitlin's voice again.

"Believe me, String—I didn't want to do it, and I told my coach just that in class last week—but he said we needed to make it somethin' that whoever we played it on would never forget—and I think this qualifies, don't you?" She wanted to give him her best impish grin—hell, forget that, I want him to take me upstairs and make love to me right now—Caitlin said to herself—but I know I can't, and he won't. At least not yet.

"Yeah, Cait," String replied. He felt his anger already lessening, and he didn't like that—he wanted to hold onto his anger for as long as possible, to express how angry he'd really been as he watched Caitlin and their kids walk out of the cabin this morning, to make Caitlin feel like she'd made him feel earlier that morning, when she'd announced that she was leaving him. But even as mad as I was when she left, I can't, String said to himself. Even as angry as she made me and as frightened as I was, I can't do that to her—or our kids—because, dammit, I still love all of them—especially Caitlin—and I always will, no matter what. And besides, String said to himself, I remember what Dom said before we got married.

During the rehearsal dinner, when Dom stood up to give the customary toast, he had said, "String, Cait. Always remember—never go to bed angry. Resolve your problems before they start. And, tomorrow's the first day of the rest of your life. And every day should be just like tomorrow. Every day should be your wedding day. That'll make the rest of your lives very special. And always remember this, too—I love you guys." Hearing Dom's voice in his head again, String felt the last vestiges of his anger draining away, and he promised himself that he wouldn't go to bed tonight angry at Caitlin for what happened.

Out loud, String said, "Yeah. I'd have to say this definitely qualifies. You—you scared me, Caitlin. You had me convinced you were really going to leave."

"Then, would you mind writing that down?" Caitlin asked, knowing she had no right to ask this of him, but knowing she had to. She handed him a sheet of paper with the lines she'd repeated to him that morning, and String noticed the single word at the bottom—Reactions:

"I guess—I guess that's for me, huh?" Hawke replied, smiling at Caitlin. She noticed the smile and relaxed...just a little. After all, Caitlin said to herself, String said I scared him. And I know Stringfellow Hawke—he doesn't scare easy.

"If you don't mind," Caitlin replied as Hawke got up and walked over to the dining table. Taking a pen out of his shirt pocket after he sat down, Hawke wrote, "If the object of this exercise was to scare me half to death, Caitlin Hawke passed with flying colors. When she said she was leaving this morning, and taking our kids with her, I fell for it hook, line and sinker, and I thought my world was coming to an end. Caitlin definitely succeeded in fooling me—she played the part perfectly. Sincerely, Stringfellow Hawke."

"That good enough?" Hawke asked his wife, who he noticed was standing behind him, and had wrapped her arms around his shoulders from behind.

"That's perfect. Thanks, String," Caitlin replied as she released his shoulders, took the paper, and put it into a folder on the other side of the table. Then, String stood up, walked over to Cait and took hold of her hands, and said, "Cait, I was really scared after you left. I—I really thought I'd lost you." Caitlin nodded, and pulled her husband close to her.

"I—I know that, String. But don't worry—you're not gonna lose me, unless you're stupid enough to let me go." She grinned at her husband, and was relieved when he grinned back at her.

"Then I've got nothing to worry about," String replied, "because I'd never do anything that stupid." He pulled Caitlin to him and kissed her. When they separated, Caitlin looked up at String and said, "I'm—I'm sure glad to hear that, String." Suddenly, she noticed String looking around, confused.

"What's wrong, String?" Caitlin asked, noticing his expression.

"Where are the kids, Cait?" Hawke asked, when he realized that their daughters had not come into the cabin with her.

"Outside, playing with Eagle," Caitlin replied. "I didn't think they should come in with me, in case things got too heated between us, String," Caitlin said as they moved to the door still holding one another. String nodded, knowing that Caitlin's decision had been the right one. The kids have never seen us seriously fight, Hawke said to himself, and I don't want them to ever have to see that. Aloud, he said, "Good decision, Cait."

"Come on in, kids!" she called out as String reluctantly let go of her. String felt an enormous sense of relief wash over him as his daughters ran to the door, almost knocking him over in their excitement.

"Hi, Daddy!" Both girls squealed as they launched themselves at their father. For his part, String wrapped his arms around both his daughters, again feeling relieved that they, along with Caitlin, weren't leaving his life forever.

"Daddy," Saoirse began hesitantly, "we—we're real sorry about this morning. Mommy told Sally Anne and me that it was somethin' important. I—I wanted to tell you we weren't really gonna leave, Daddy, but Mommy told us not to." She hoped her father could understand, and wouldn't be too angry.

"I—I know, kids," String replied, holding his daughters close to him. "I know. And," Hawke said, pulling back to look at his kids, then looking back over his shoulder at his wife behind him, "I'm sorry I yelled at your mommy this morning." He noticed Caitlin thanking him with her eyes, and resolved silently to never yell at Caitlin like that, ever again.

"Now," Caitlin said, smiling at her children and her husband, "I think it's time you two go and get ready for dinner. Okay?"

"Okay!" Sally Anne shouted as she and her sister scampered down the hall to their rooms. They spent dinner discussing Hawke's reaction to what had occurred that morning, and after awhile, even String had been able to see the humor in the situation—something that was not lost on his wife or children—especially after Sally Anne said, "Daddy, your eyes were THIS BIG!" She held her hands over her eyes in the shape of two large circles, which caused everyone at the table to laugh, including String.

"I just bet they were, Sally Anne," String said with a smile. "I was pretty scared this morning, you know."

"We know, Daddy," Sally Anne replied.

"Face it, String, you fell for it—hook, line, and sinker!" Cait told her husband later as they did the dishes—together. She grinned wickedly and splashed a little of the water on his shirt. Caitlin had started the dishes, as another way of apologizing to him over the whole April Fool's prank, and how much she knew she had hurt him, but String had quickly stepped in to help—and wouldn't take "No" for an answer.

"Yeah, I did," String admitted, shaking his head as he returned the favor, splashing some of the water onto Caitlin's shirt. "You were very convincing, Caitlin—your coach would have been very impressed. Even though you've been away from those classes for so long, you've still got it, Cait...whatever the hell 'it' is. You got me, Cait—you got me good," String admitted.

"Thanks, String," Caitlin replied honestly. "I—I really hated to do that. You—you know that, right?" She lay the dishes aside and moved over to String, and slipped her arms around his neck.

"I know now, Cait," String replied, sliding his arms around her waist and pulling her close to him. "I know now," he murmured again, in that throaty tone that he knew Caitlin loved, just before he took her lips with his. The kiss began gently, but it didn't take long for the passion to begin to build, until Saoirse Marie's voice rang in their ears and broke the mood. "Eww. Don't look, Sally Anne—'cause they're kissing!"

"Guess that means Mommy and Daddy aren't mad at each other anymore, huh?" Sally Anne giggled, as String and Caitlin separated and each grabbed one of their children.

"No, kids, Mommy's not mad at Daddy," String assured their children. "And Mommy never was mad at Daddy—so even though I yelled this morning, Daddy's not mad at Mommy. Nobody's mad, and nobody's goin' anywhere. Okay?"

"Okay, Daddy!" Both girls squealed happily.

Later that evening, after they finished the dishes and put their daughters to bed, Caitlin and String headed towards the sleeping loft. String patiently walked next to Caitlin as they went upstairs, and he tried to figure out the best way to respond to what Caitlin had done that morning. I'm not angry anymore, String said to himself, but I've gotta make sure this never happens again. When they reached the loft, Caitlin moved towards String with her best come-hither expression, and she hoped that he'd been able to forgive her for what she'd done, since she'd explained it had all been part of her acting classes.

"Caitlin," Hawke said, gently taking hold of her hands before she could slide her arms around his neck, "I know I said I wasn't mad at you—and I'm not—but before we go any further, I just need to hear five words from you."

"Um..." Caitlin replied, not sure which words her husband meant.

"I'll—never—do—this—again," String replied, gazing deeply into her blue-green eyes as he released her hands.

Smiling, Caitlin returned his gaze and, as she took his face in her hands, replied, "I'll—never—leave—you—String." Okay, it wasn't exactly what he said. But I mean the same thing, Caitlin said to herself as she looked into Hawke's eyes, unsure what those ice-blue orbs were telling her.

"That wasn't what I said, Caitlin," String replied, his tone of voice and facial expression both making her nervous. Then, he curled his upper lip into the boyish grin he knew she loved and said, "but I'll take it." He wrapped his arms around her waist, and felt Caitlin relax at his words.

"And—me? What about me, String?" She asked as she slid her arms around his neck, finally grinning impishly at him as she did so.

"If that's what you want, Caitlin," String replied as he scooped her up in his arms to lay her gently on the bed, but as soon as she felt the bed underneath her, Caitlin interrupted him by pulling him down to her in a passionate kiss.

When she released him, Caitlin whispered, "I want you, Stringfellow Hawke. Always, and forever—you. I'll never get tired of you, Stringfellow Hawke. Never. I'll never leave you...and I love you, String," Caitlin said, hoping her eyes could convey the sincerity in her words.

"That's good to know, Caitlin," Hawke said as he helped her to sit up, then added, "Because I love you, too—and I'll never get tired of you, either. So like it or not, you're stuck with me—because I'll never leave you, either, Caitlin," he said, grinning.

"H mm. I'm stuck with you, huh?" Caitlin asked, moving closer to her husband. "I love the sound of that—and I love you, Stringfellow Hawke," she said, leaning her forehead against Hawke's and smiling at him, relieved when he returned her smile with one of his own. "So I guess you're stuck with me, too."

"Well, I can't think of any person I'd rather be stuck with, Caitlin Hawke," Hawke said, earning a playful elbow in the ribs from Caitlin. Then, Caitlin noticed Hawke's face turn serious, which concerned her until she heard what her husband had to say.

"Cait—I'm sorry I yelled at you like that this morning," String admitted. "And again downstairs, a few minutes ago. I was just—so angry, and so hurt—and most of all, scared. I really thought you were"—He felt his voice crack and couldn't finish his sentence, but Caitlin knew what he was thinking.

"I know, String," Caitlin replied. "And I'm really sorry I did this—I never...never meant to scare you like that." She considered his reaction when he had recognized her at the front door earlier in the evening. The last time I saw his face like that was at the Horn compound, when he thought he'd killed Dom. And I don't ever want to see his face like that again. EVER. "And I'll never—EVER—do that again, String. I—I hope you believe that," Caitlin said, even as she thought to herself, but I won't blame you if you don't believe me.

"I know, Cait," Hawke answered his wife. "I know." Then he added, "And I—I believe you, Caitlin." He saw Caitlin's eyes light up, and figured he knew what was on her mind. A moment later, Caitlin's words confirmed his suspicions.

"String? You mind if I ask a really stupid question?"

"Go ahead." Even though I think I know what she's gonna ask me, Hawke said to himself, stifling a grin.

"Why are we still dressed?"

I knew it, String said to himself. "Good point," String replied with a laugh as he moved to remedy the situation, even as Caitlin reached for him, with a similar intent shining in her eyes. Finally, Caitlin looked into her husband's eyes and shyly whispered, "String, please. Make love to me."

Hawke merely smiled and leaned into her, gently rotating them so she was on her back, and he felt tears coming into his eyes as he marveled at how beautiful she looked, and how he'd fallen for her prank, and doubted how much she loved him. As he hovered over her, Hawke fought back his emotions and whispered, "Caitlin O'Shannessy Hawke, don't ever—ever—doubt that you have the right to ask me to make love to you." Unable to speak due to the growing lump in her throat, Caitlin merely nodded as she felt Hawke move inside her.

Later, still wrapped in each other's arms, String thought about what had happened that morning. Even though it was an April Fool's prank, and a class project, there was a point to what she did. Finally, he felt like he could construct a complete sentence, but when he spoke, he uttered only a single word. "Cait?"

"H mm?" Caitlin's brain was still wrapped in the afterglow of the recently concluded activities, and she didn't trust her voice enough to say much more than that.

"Listen, Caitlin. I know this morning was a class assignment...but, I do think there's a bigger issue here. Do—do you want me to give up flying Airwolf?"

"WHAT?" Caitlin demanded, suddenly sitting up, her mind snapped back to full alertness when she heard the last part of String's question—"give up flying Airwolf?" "You—you'd do that—you'd give up flying Airwolf, for me?"

"I was saying that I know, now, that what you did this morning was for class—but yes, I'd give up Airwolf—for us, Cait," String replied honestly. "Look, you said it this morning—there comes a time when we've gotta think about the kids. I know what it's like growing up without parents, and I—I don't want them to lose either one of us."

"String," Caitlin said, gliding her fingertips across his chest, "We're safer in Airwolf than just about anyplace else I know. Our Lady's never let us down yet, has she?" Caitlin grinned at her husband.

String sighed resignedly. "No, she hasn't, Caitlin. But what if"— String was suddenly cut off when Caitlin kissed him again, pressing her body against his. Before things got completely out of control, though, String separated them and said, "Okay, Cait, you made your point. I won't turn Airwolf over to Michael. Okay?"

"Okay, String," Caitlin replied. "Besides," she continued, "I woulda been real mad if you had given the Lady up. I told you this morning—I love flyin' her just as much as you do." Then her face took on a decidedly worried expression as a thought ran through her mind. Aw, no. He didn't. Did he? "Um, String? When you said you'd give up Airwolf"—She stopped herself before she could voice the question on her mind. It'd be just like String to say somethin' like that and be pulling an April Fool's joke on me, she said to herself, then added, and I'd deserve it, too. I probably deserve a lot worse, actually, after what I did, makin' him think I didn't love him anymore, and all that.

"No, Cait," String replied, having anticipated her unspoken question, "that wasn't an April Fool's prank. I meant what I said—if you wanted me to, I'd give Airwolf up. Our marriage is more important than Airwolf—more important than anything—to me. Besides, there's no reason for us to keep flyin' her, since Saint John's home and the deal no longer applies. Not to mention the fact that—while you were gone today, I had some time to think about something Michael asked me several years ago."

"What was that, String?" Caitlin asked.

"It was after Dr. Winchester developed that simulator," Hawke said, "and Michael was trying to get me to sign off on it. I remember he asked me, 'What happens ten years from now, when your flying skills begin to erode?'" He shook his head and then turned to his wife. "Well, what does happen? I mean...it's been over ten years since Michael asked me that, and I don't want to get one or both of us killed because my flying skills aren't what they used to be."

"Forget it, String," Caitlin insisted. "You're—I mean, we're not giving Airwolf up. Besides," she said, "as far as I'm concerned, your flying skills are still top-notch. I wouldn't keep flying with you if I didn't trust you with my life, just like you trust me with yours. So—now that that's settled, I'll say it again—we are not turning Airwolf over to the FIRM. You understand me?" Her voice had turned colder than Hawke recalled hearing it in a long time, even at its worst that morning, but he saw the spark of laughter in her hazel eyes.

"Yes, dear," String replied, shaking his head.

"Good," Caitlin replied, grinning impishly at him. "I'm glad we understand each other." She sighed with relief at String's smile as she sank back into his arms.

"Besides," String said, "Even if we gave her up, I'd probably still have to help Michael train a new pilot—and you'd be training a new backseater, and the FIRM doesn't have that simulator anymore, so"—Caitlin cut him off the best way she knew how, with a deep and passionate kiss.

"String," she said breathily after she let him go, "I thought we understood each other—that we're not giving up Airwolf."

"Okay, Caitlin," Hawke replied, but his mind had already shifted back to the events of the morning, when he thought Caitlin was leaving him. I certainly hope we never go through this morning again, Hawke said to himself. Caitlin caught the worry in his expression, and guessed what he was thinking.

"Don't worry, String. I said it before and I'll say it again—I'll never play another April Fool's joke like that on you again. I promise." He read the expression in her eyes, and knew she meant what she'd told him. "Now," she continued, her eyes taking on a decidedly mischievous gleam as she slipped her arms around him, "I don't want to talk about Airwolf—or this morning, or anything else—tonight. Okay?" Her impish grin spoke volumes to her husband.

"Okay, Caitlin," Hawke replied, curling his lip into the boyish grin he reserved for his wife. "No more talking."

That Friday, Caitlin turned her paper in to Mr. Conrad, who read it over and commented, "Well, Mrs. Hawke"—but just like that, he stopped, and asked, "You are still married, I take it?"

"Yes, Mr. Conrad," Caitlin said. "It was touch and go for a bit, just like I figured it'd be, but String finally saw the humor in what I did. I—I just hope I don't have to ever do that again."

"I'll keep that in mind, Mrs. Hawke," Mr. Conrad told her, then told the class that their grades for the assignment would be available in a week's time. Just before the class broke up, Mr. Conrad said, "You know, Mrs. Hawke, I just make up the assignments. It's up to you as the actress to figure out how to present them. I hope you understand."

"Yeah, Mr. Conrad," Caitlin said. "I do understand. And you were right last week, when you told me I shoulda done somethin' different. I shoulda listened to you, and I'll remember that next time."

"I'm glad to hear that," Mr. Conrad said. Caitlin smiled again and walked outside, where she saw String waiting for her a few moments later.

When they were back home, after Hawke picked Caitlin up from class that day, she had something that she had to ask him. "String," Caitlin said, anxiously, "how come you forgave me so quick? I—I figured you'd be mad at me for at least a week after that little stunt of mine. Not that I don't appreciate your forgiving me so quick, I'm just confused."

String just smiled at her and said, "Cait, once I'd calmed down and thought—really thought—about what you did, I realized it'd be stupid for me to stay angry at you. Besides," he said, "we promised each other when we got married that no matter what, we'd never go to bed angry, didn't we?"

Caitlin smiled as she remembered him saying that to her the day they got married. "Yeah," she said, looking up at him and remembering what made her fall in love with Stringfellow Hawke in the first place—besides his good looks, that is, Caitlin said to herself.

"Not to mention the fact that Dom always taught me and Sinj never to hold grudges—at anyone, especially people we love," String said, and Caitlin remembered Dom saying that to her, too. "So it was a lot easier than I thought it would be for me to forgive what you did," String finished, and pulled her close to him. She relaxed in his arms, wondering yet again just what she'd done to deserve this man—and thanking God for whatever it was.

Finally, String said, "Cait. I realized something else while you were gone that day—meeting you was the best thing that ever happened to me, even though I didn't realize it until almost two years later." He glanced down at his wife and wasn't in the least surprised to see her beautiful blue-green eyes filling with tears.

"Thanks, String," Caitlin replied. "I—I really needed to hear that." Without another word, she pulled his head down to hers, and claimed his lips with her own.

One Week Later...

"Did you get your grade on that assignment, Caitlin?" String asked his wife as they drove back to the hangar, after String picked her up from her acting class on Friday afternoon.

"See for yourself, String," Caitlin said as they parked the Santini Air jeep. She handed him a paper with a large red "A+" circled at the top.

"Congratulations, Cait," String said with a smile, leaning over to kiss his wife. "That makes everything worth it—wouldn't you say?"

"Yeah, String," Caitlin said as they got out of the Jeep and walked arm-in-arm over to the hangar, where Saint John waited for them. Saint John smiled at Cait and said, "Guess you got a good grade, huh?"

"Top of the class," Caitlin replied, beaming. "My coach said he wished he could've seen the look on String's face when I told him I was leaving."

"Heck, Caitlin, I wish I could've seen String's face when you said that," Saint John said with a laugh as he hugged her, then his brother. "H mm. Y'know, on second thought, maybe I don't. I'd guess String was pretty angry that day."

"And you'd guess right," String said. "Although when the helicopter left, I was more sad than anything—but when she came back that afternoon, I was angry."

"Well, it's over now," Saint John said, smiling. "I just hope there aren't going to be any more assignments like that in your future, Cait."

Looking at her husband, Caitlin said, "I hope so too, Sinj. I mentioned it to Mr. Conrad today, and he reminded me that, as the actress, I have the choice as to how I interpret the assignments. I just—made the wrong decision this time. But I won't be doin' that again—'cause that is not something I want to go through again." String and Saint John both nodded at her. They said their good-byes to Saint John, then rounded up their children to head home.

When they arrived back at the cabin, String set about making dinner while Caitlin went to see what her daughters were doing. When she came back, Caitlin noticed the aroma of steaks grilling outside.

"What's the deal, String?" Caitlin asked, surprised. "You only do this when it's my birthday, or after we've fought about something."

"Consider this congratulations, Cait," String said with a smile. "Congratulations on being top of the class on your assignment."

"Gee, thanks, String," Caitlin said, blushing.

"And," String said with a familiar grin, "there'll be a—special reward later." His tone of voice when he said "special," coupled with the look in his eyes, left no doubt in Caitlin's mind what the "reward" would be.

"M mm," Caitlin said as she moved closer to him, "I'm definitely lookin' forward to that." She wrapped her arms around Hawke's neck and pulled him down for a deep and loving kiss.

"I kinda thought you would," String said after Cait released him.

Their daughters noticed what String had done when they sat down to dinner, and String said, "Kids, your mommy has some good news."

"Well, girls," Caitlin said, smiling, "I was graded top of my class on my assignment from last week."

"Yay!" Sally Anne and Saoirse Marie both shouted, clapping their hands for their mother. "Congratulations, Mommy!" they both shouted, jumping out of their chairs to run over and give Caitlin hugs.

"Mommy, promise me and Sally Anne somethin'," Saoirse Marie said.

"Oh—kay," Caitlin said, not exactly sure what she was being asked to promise her kids.

"Promise us that you'll never play a joke on Daddy like you did last Sunday, ever again!" Saoirse demanded.

"I promise," Caitlin replied, smiling at both her children. "In fact," she continued, linking her pinky finger first with Saoirse Marie's, then with Sally Anne's, "I'll pinky-swear it."

"Wow," Saoirse said, "you must really mean it!"

"Yeah, Saoirse," Caitlin said as she kissed her daughters, "I really mean it. No more scaring Daddy, or you two, ever again."

"Good!" Saoirse Marie stated emphatically as she and Sally Anne both kissed their mother.

That night, String and Caitlin once again told their daughters the story of how they met and fell in love—they hadn't told that story for a while, but String thought it would be a good idea to tell it tonight, given the circumstances, and the children didn't seem to mind.

"Well, String," Caitlin said as they headed upstairs for the evening, "I dunno about you, but I'm glad this whole mess is over—that we're still together, and that you still love me. I have to confess something, String—I was worried sick about comin' back the other day. I really thought you might throw me out for real." Hawke saw the tears welling up in Caitlin's eyes and quickly embraced her.

"Cait," String murmured, "you know I'll never stop loving you." He locked eyes with her and repeated, "Never. I will always love you, Caitlin. In fact," String said with a smile, "I'll pinky-swear it." He linked his pinky finger with hers as Caitlin smiled.

"Wow!" Caitlin exclaimed, "You must really mean it!" String smiled, remembering what Saoirse Marie had said during dinner, and without any hesitation, Hawke pulled Caitlin closer to him and kissed her again, pouring every ounce of love he had for her into it, and he felt her returning his emotions with equal passion. When he separated them, Hawke said, "Yeah, Caitlin—I really mean it. I will always love you."

"And I'll always love you, String," Caitlin said as she relaxed in her husband's warm embrace.

"But I can understand why you might have felt the way you did," String said, "and I apologize again for the way I yelled at you, and at the kids."

"Thank you, String," Caitlin said, relieved. "But, just so know you—I don't blame you for bein' angry with me."

"I know, Cait," String replied. "I know." He pulled her to him and kissed her again, even more passionately than before.

Finally, String said, "Now then. I believe I promised you a special reward tonight, didn't I?" Caitlin grinned as his hands moved to the buttons on her blouse.

"Why yes, String," Caitlin said in her most alluring Southern drawl, her eyes darkening with the feelings she felt rushing through her, "I believe you did." They moved closer to one another, both shedding clothing as they did, until their bodies finally touched, and when their lips met again, there was no more time—or ability—for either one to speak.