Operation: To Fool A Hawke, Chap. 2

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

A/N—The voices won't shut up...so I'm letting them out to play again. This chapter will be written from Caitlin's POV, picking up after she left the cabin, and said "I just hope everything works out" to Saoirse Marie. References are made to my Troubled Times storyline. Enjoy—robertwnielsen

"I just hope everything works out," I said to Saoirse Marie as we flew away from the cabin after I told my husband, Stringfellow Hawke, that after nearly ten years of marriage, and our twin daughters, I was leavin' him. Except for one small detail—I wasn't really leavin' him, even though I'd sure made him think I was. Boy, do I hope everything works out, I thought worriedly, as the full weight of what I'd done finally hit me like a Hellfire missile from the Lady. It all stemmed from an assignment I'd gotten from Mr. Conrad, my acting coach, a week previously. I'd started takin' those acting classes again because, even though I love flying, I know it's not gonna last forever, and I'm gonna need somethin' to do when it finally happens that I don't want to fly anymore—and being an actress sounds like fun. I've had little roles before, like the first time Hawke ever kissed me, but I kinda want somethin'...more, if that makes any sense. Or at least, somethin' to occupy my time when my flying days are done and my kids are grown. As we flew, I felt my mind wandering back to where this all started, in Mr. Conrad's acting class on Friday.

"So, your assignment this week will be to play an April Fools' joke on someone very important to you," Mr. Conrad was saying to the class. "There are a few requirements for this assignment, and they're listed on the paper that I've handed out to you." I glanced down at the sheet of paper that had been handed to me, and read over the list of requirements: Running lines, like that time I did with Dom when I had him convinced I was pregnant. No big surprise there. Play the joke or prank on someone very important to your life—like a family member or very close friend. No big surprise there, either. And I know the perfect person to play it on. Then, Mr. Conrad spoke up again.

"One other thing, class," he was saying, "whatever you do, you need to make sure that whoever you play this prank on will never forget it." That made me nervous—I'd already decided I'd be pranking my husband—he is, after all, the most important person in my life—but I also know two things about Stringfellow Hawke. Number one, I know his temper—after all, I've been on the wrong side of it a couple of times, and that is not a place I like being—and number two, I know he has a very quirky sense of humor. Oh, it's there—and I've seen it on more than one occasion—but I just don't know how he's gonna react when I pull this little prank on him. Of course, I've gotta figure out what that prank's gonna be, first of all.

All of a sudden, it hit me. What would have the biggest effect on Hawke? Simple. Make him think I'm leavin' him and takin' our kids with me. Now I am worried, though. Yeah, this is probably a prank he'd never forget, but the question is—what else might he do about it?

When I told Mr. Conrad about my idea, his reaction was...surprising, to say the least.

"This isn't exactly what I had in mind, Mrs. Hawke," I remembered Mr. Conrad saying. "Are you really sure you want to make your husband think you're divorcing him? After all, the assignment was an April Fools' joke, and I hardly think this qualifies."

"You're right, Mr. Conrad," I said to him, "And I'll be perfectly honest with you—I don't want to do this assignment."

"Well, Mrs. Hawke," Mr. Conrad said, "You're perfectly free to decline to fulfill the assignment. With the corresponding effect on your grade in my class, of course." That got my attention.

"No, Mr. Conrad," I said, "I don't want to do anything that's going to hurt my grade in your class—and I wish there was some other way to do this, but you don't know String like I do. If I've gotta make this prank something he's never gonna forget, then it's gotta be big. And I can't think of anything bigger than this."

"Well, Mrs. Hawke," Mr. Conrad said, "and I certainly hope you still are Mrs. Hawke when this is over with—if I've learned one thing about you since you started in this class, it's that once you've made up your mind about something, it's nigh onto impossible to change it. So, all I'm going to say is—good luck—because I think you're going to need it."

You have no idea, I thought as I began preparing what I'd say to my husband, to try to convince him that our marriage was really over.

So I stood there earlier this morning, with our kids at my side, and told String that, after almost ten years of marriage, I was leavin' him, and as I'd expected, he was angry. I stuck to the script I'd written out after class on Friday, though, telling String I was sick of feeling like my life was in danger every time I climbed in Airwolf (which was fib number one), and that I was sick of bein' kidnapped and used for bait every time somebody wanted to get to Hawke and Airwolf—which I guessed was true enough—but I added that I was tired of Hawke brooding all the time (which was fib number two.) Yeah, he still broods occasionally, especially right after Dom passed away a couple of years ago, but he's gotten so much better since we've been married, and become parents. I decided a long time ago, before we got married, that meeting me was probably the best thing to happen to String, even though he refused to acknowledge it for so long. I know for a fact that meeting him, even under the circumstances that it happened, was the best thing that ever happened to me, no question about it. Heck, if I hadn't met him, I'd probably be dead—either because of Bogan and his boys, or I would have died when the plane I was on tryin' to get home for Erin's wedding got hijackedso, yeah, I think meeting Stringfellow Hawke qualifies as the best thing that ever happened to me. And, like I said before—in my not so humble opinion, meeting me was the best thing that ever happened to Stringfellow Hawke—even if it did take that stubborn mule almost two years to realize it.

I saw the tears in String's eyes when I said, "Goodbye, Hawke," and turned with our kids to walk down the dock to get into the helicopter, and I felt myself wishing I hadn't decided to do this. I shoulda done somethin' simpler, I remembered thinking to myself, like putting a whoopee cushion on his chair in Airwolf, or somethin'. All the same, I gotta admit somethin'—I was biting my tongue all the way to the helicopter, 'cause I was so ready to bust out laughing. I can't believe it, I thought as I started up the helicopter and lifted off the dock—the same dock where we took our wedding vows—but he bought it. He bought it hook, line, and sinker. At least, I think he did. I finally asked the kids if they thought their daddy had bought what I'd done, and Saoirse Marie said she thought so, but thought that what I was doin' to String was really mean...which, in all honesty, it was. I'll be lucky if he doesn't throw me out—for real—when this is all over, I thought. I've gotta admit, when he screamed, "Dammit, they're my kids, too, Cait!" I was more frightened of Stringfellow Hawke than I'd ever been—even that first time I flew in Airwolf with him, and almost blew us both to Kingdom Come when I accidentally armed a Hellfire missile without deploying the ADF pods. I mean, in the time I've known Hawke, I've been kidnapped, hijacked, held at gunpoint, tied up, almost raped, shot at, almost shot down, and almost killed more times than I like to think about—but I've never felt fear the way I did when String screamed at me like that. I really didn't know what String was gonna do—and even though I'm a black belt in karate, seeing my husband, the man I love more than anything in this world, that angry at me scared me half to death. I didn't know if he'd take his anger out on me or our kids. And that, quite frankly, terrified me. He calmed down quick, though, and apologized for yelling at us, which, given the circumstances, was about all I could expect him to do.

By the time I'd landed at Santini Air, I was really having serious second thoughts about what I'd just done. Little late, I thought, but I suppose hindsight is 20-20. I dunno why I headed to the hangar—it was the weekend, after all, and the hangar was closed until Monday—but when I glanced at the fuel gauge, I knew I'd need to refuel the helicopter at some point—if I decided I had the guts to go home and face my husband, after what I'd done to him. Even Mr. Conrad warned me what I was doin' was a bad idea—and I shoulda listened to him, I thought sadly.

I could only imagine what was goin' through String's mind right at the moment—and none of what I was imagining was any good. He's probably tryin' to figure out what he's gonna do with the rest of his life, if I know him, I thought, and I couldn't blame him. Especially since he's figuring that the rest of his life now won't include me. Then, I had a horrible thought. When we left this mornin', we didn't take any of our luggage with us to make it look like we were goin' somewhere. I wonder...I worried that the absence of any bags would tip String off to the fact that this wasn't for real, but then my mind rationalized how I could explain it—I made the decision and wanted to go before Hawke could convince me to stay. So I didn't take time to pack. I'd planned on comin' back for our things later. It actually sounded like it made sense to me when I turned it over in my mind, so I hoped, when the time came and I went home to face my husband, that he'd see it the same way.

String's probably hurtin' more right now than he ever has, I thought. I mean, I know all the stories about how his parents, his old girlfriend Kelly, and Gabrielle all died, not to mention the fact that Dom was gone, too, and how much each of those hurt String...but this is different, I thought, 'cause String knows that I'm not dead, but I've just walked out of his life, forever. At least, that's what he's thinkin' right now, I'm sure, I thought as I set the chopper down. If I know my husband, he's either sitting on the front porch, or out on his favorite spot on the dock, with his cello, playing one of them Prokofiev pieces. The ones that depress me no end, I thought sadly.

"What are we gonna do, Mommy?" Sally Anne demanded.

"I—I dunno, Sally Anne," I said, and knew I meant it. I really didn't know what we were going to do...until I felt my stomach rumble, and realized it was almost lunch time.

"You kids hungry?" I asked, knowing the answer immediately.

"YES!" came the answer from both kids.

"I thought so," I said as I shut the chopper down, then led the kids over to one of our Jeeps. Once I had them buckled in, I headed for Burger King, knowing that was my kids' favorite place to eat. A few minutes later, we sat down to have lunch, and I was overcome with the emotion of what happened—and what I'd done—that morning. Just then, I happened to glance at my wristwatch, and something I saw on my left hand horrified me—my wedding and engagement rings. I—I forgot to take 'em off before I went downstairs this morning. But, I realized there was no way I could change what happened—if String had seen that I was still wearing my rings, and suspected something was up, then I'd—I'd just have to deal with the consequences, when—or make that if—I decided I had the guts to go back to the cabin and face my husband.

"Mommy? Are you okay?" Sally Anne asked me.

"I'm—I'm not sure, Sally Anne," I said. "I'm—I'm just worried about what your daddy's gonna do—and feelin' real bad about what I did to him."

"Well, Mommy," Saoirse Marie said with a very stern look in her eyes, "maybe you shoulda thought of that before you decided to pull this little joke on Daddy. I told you it wasn't very nice, you know. And it wasn't." I remembered when I told the kids what I was planning to do, and how Saoirse Marie had said that doing this to String wasn't very nice. I agreed with her, but tried to explain. "Saoirse, I'm not really gonna leave your daddy, but I've gotta make him think that I am. It's somethin' important for me, and I need you and Sally Anne to help me, okay?" The kids had agreed, reluctantly. But when I looked at Saoirse Marie just then, I realized how angry she was. That was the first time I'd ever seen her look that upset with me—but I also knew it wouldn't be the last. She and Sally Anne are gonna be teenagers before I know it—heck, they're already almost eight—and once they become teenagers, they'll be upset with me almost all the time. Especially if... I couldn't bear the thought of possibly raising my daughters alone, without my husband by my side. But I knew it was a distinct possibility, considering what I'd done.

"I know, Saoirse," I said, trying to finish my burger and fries. "And you're right." Just then, I looked up and thought I recognized someone coming towards our table. Oh, no. Please tell me that isn't—

"Hi, Uncle Saint John!" Sally Anne said, squashing my hopes. I looked up and saw String's brother standing in front of us holding a tray, which I saw contained his lunch. Swell, I thought as I smiled at String's older brother.

"Caitlin? What the heck are you doing out here? And, on a Sunday, no less?" Saint John demanded after he set his tray down, and the kids each gave him a hug. Then he noticed the tear streaks down my face. "Is something wrong, Cait? Something with String, maybe?"

"Yeah," I said, even as Saint John pulled up a free chair next to our table so he could eat with us. "I—I did somethin' this morning, Sinj. Somethin' that's got String real mad at me—and I'm not sure what's gonna happen."

"Well," Saint John said, "why don't we finish our lunch, and then I'll take us all out for ice cream, and you can tell me all about it. Okay?" I could see the expressions on my daughters' faces, and I nodded affirmatively. Besides, I know my kids can't resist ice cream, and they need somethin' to take their minds off what happened this morning, I thought. Suddenly, somethin' started bothering me.

"How'd you know where to find me, Sinj?" I demanded. "The hangar's closed on Sundays, so I figured you'd be home with Le."

"I was," Saint John replied, "until I got a phone call from Charlie." Charlie, I knew, was the weekend security guard out at the airfield. I remembered waving at him as we left to go eat, but I thought he'd recognized me, so I didn't give him a second thought. Oops, I thought, realizing what must have happened. He did recognize me, and immediately called Saint John, 'cause he wondered what I was doin' at the hangar on a Sunday, especially since I didn't let Charlie know I was coming. I'm just danged lucky he didn't call String on the CB, I thought, then realized the only thing String could've done was call Saint John anyway, since I had the helicopter, so unless Sinj had gone to the hangar and then flown up to the cabin to get String, this probably would've happened anyway.

"Charlie knows you and String usually stay at the cabin on the weekends, or at least you let him know if you're comin' in. When he saw you leaving the hangar in the Jeep, he called me, thinking I'd know what was going on...which, of course, I don't, and I told him that. As to how I figured out where to find you, I knew it was about lunch time, and that this was my nieces' favorite place to eat when they come out with you and String. So I took a guess, and I was right." By this time we had all finished our lunches, and left the restaurant to drive over to a Baskin-Robbins that was just a few blocks away. Once we were all there and seated around another table with our ice cream, I started telling Saint John about my class assignment, and the April Fool's prank I'd chosen to play on String.

By the time I'd finished, I knew Saint John was wondering the same thing I was—what the heck is String gonna do when he finds out this was all a joke?

"Cait," Saint John began, "no offense, but this has got to be the..."

"...dumbest thing I've ever done," I finished for my brother-in-law, and he nodded. "Not to mention, the dumbest idea I've ever had. I won't disagree with you, Sinj. And if I could take it back, I would."

"I know, Cait," Saint John told me.

"Uncle Saint John," Saoirse Marie said around a mouthful of ice cream, "I told Mommy after we left this mornin' that I didn't think she did a very nice thing to Daddy, and that she shouldn't have done it, even though I know why she did it. Do you think Daddy's gonna be mad at us?"

"I don't know, Saoirse," Saint John said, and I could tell he was remembering something from the look on his face. "I just don't know."

"What are you thinkin' about, Sinj?" I asked him.

"Oh, just remembering another time when you and my kid brother were having problems," he replied, and I instantly knew what he was referring to—the problems with our sex life, I thought.

"But this is different," I said.

"How?" Saint John asked.

"Because I"—I stopped myself before I could say, Because I caused it, since I'd caused it the other time, too, and Saint John knew it. I still remember the day he took the kids, so String and I could have some time alone to talk—and when he and the kids came back to the cabin, String and I were necking on the couch like a couple of lovestruck teenagers...and we got caught red-handed. I remembered hearing Saint John say, "Whoops! Le, Saoirse, Sally Anne—this is what is known as bad timing!" Which, in all honesty, it was, considering what we were doing—and what I thought String was about to suggest we do, I thought.

"Yeah, Sinj," I finally said, "you're right. This isn't different—I caused this problem, just like I caused that one. I just—I hope that String can forgive me—someday."

"I hope so, too," Saint John replied, shaking his head. "Because this time, I don't think I'd be able to help just by taking the kids for a few hours."

Sighing, I raised my hands in a gesture of defeat, and said, "Okay, Sinj, I get it, already. I screwed up." I just don't need it shoved in my face like this, I thought.

"Big time," Saint John replied, shaking his head. I could only imagine what he was thinking as we finished our ice cream and got ready to head our separate ways. Saint John gave Sally Anne and Saoirse Marie both hugs and kisses good-bye, and I said, "Make sure and give Le a hug from his Aunt Cait, Sinj—'cause it might be for the last time."

"I certainly hope not, Cait," Saint John replied. "No matter what happens between you and String, you'll always be Le's Aunt Cait—you hear me? Always." I forced a weak smile at Saint John to let him know I'd heard him. Heard him, yes. Believe him, that's another story, I thought.

"And I know you heard this before," Saint John continued, "but—good luck with String—'cause I think you're gonna need it."

"I know, Sinj," I said, fighting a wave of tears again, and the kids and I said good-bye to Saint John.

After saying good-bye to Saint John, and promising to let him know what happened with String, I drove back to the hangar, and Charlie was standing at the gate waiting for us.

"Sorry, Mrs. Hawke, about callin' your brother-in-law like that," he said, shaking his head as we pulled up to the gate. "How come you didn't let me know you were gonna be here today?"

"That's a long story, Charlie," I said. "And, I'll tell you about it, someday."

"Okay, Mrs. Hawke," Charlie said, smiling. I caught myself before I said, I hope so to him. I certainly hope I still am Mrs. Hawke when this is all over, I thought.

"Come on, kids," I said as I parked the Jeep and herded them back over to the helicopter. "Your daddy's reaction to my little stunt this morning isn't gonna change no matter how long I stall, so let's get it over with." First, though, I needed to refuel the chopper, so I plugged a gas line into the tank and waited for it to automatically shut off. Once I knew the tanks were full, I unplugged the fuel line and put it away, then climbed in and after getting the kids settled and strapped in, I began my preflight sequence and radioed the tower that I was leaving.

After getting takeoff clearance, I throttled the helicopter up and headed back into the sky, pointing it towards the cabin. I haven't thought of it as just "the cabin" for years, I thought sadly. It's—been "home" to me for so long—have I already decided it's over, just like that? I wondered again if the fact that I was still wearing my wedding and engagement rings might tip String off, but by that point, I was already setting the chopper down on the dock, so I knew it was too late. If he figured out the "joke," he figured it out, and there wasn't a danged thing I could do about it. Except for one thing.

"Kids," I said as we got out of the chopper, "why don't you stay out here and play with Eagle for a while?" Eagle, String's hound dog, was a Christmas present from me after Tet had passed away. I remembered telling String that Tet was bugging Dom in Heaven now, even though I know String has a hard time believing in either Heaven, or God, and what I'd done this morning wouldn't change it. But I had a feeling things between me and String were about to get real ugly, and I didn't want our kids to see it. I stalled as long as I could, waiting for the kids to chase Eagle a short distance away from the cabin, but finally, Hawke figured out that I was standing at the door.

"Caitlin?" He asked. I was surprised he hadn't called me "Cait," like he had for so long, but I figured he was angry with me, so I let it go. I wasn't about to debate names, not at a time like this. I inwardly winced when he said, "You forget something—or did you decide to just come back and kick me while I'm down?" Ouch. That really hurts, I thought, knowing I deserved it. I had to struggle to silence the voice that was telling me to wrap my arms around String, kiss him breathless, and tell him it was all a joke—a very bad, very poorly conceived, joke. I can't do that. Not yet, I thought, even though that was exactly what I wanted to do—I still knew I couldn't actually do it.

I told String there was somethin' I needed to say to him, and then proceeded to tell him that there had been a reason I did what I did this morning. He said he needed to know, and asked what went so wrong between us. I said, "Nothing," even as I thought to myself, How dense is he? Then I realized what a dumb question it was. Dumb question, Caity girl, I thought. I know how dense Stringfellow Hawke is, better'n anybody. Except maybe Dom. Or Saint John.

When I finally sprang my surprise on Hawke, I was more frightened than at any time since I met him—even when Sheriff Bogan and his boys had me cornered in that cell back in Texas, or even when the bomb Sawyer had strapped around me started ticking. I didn't know what Hawke was thinkin', or what he might do about the fact that he'd been played for a complete fool by his wife. Whatever he does, I thought, even as I felt my body preparing itself for a fight that I hoped like hell wouldn't happen, I'm ready.

"APRIL FOOLS'?" Hawke roared at me. "What in the hell is that supposed to mean?" All I could do was hope like heck that the kids were far enough away that they couldn't hear their daddy yelling at me. Not that I don't deserve it, I thought, but the kids don't need to see it—or hear it. And I have to admit—even with all the terrifying situations I've been in, both on the Texas Highway Patrol, and since I've gotten involved with String and Airwolf—I've been kidnapped, shot at, almost raped, held at gunpoint, almost shot down in an airplane, and generally faced death more times than I care to count—but nothing terrified me more than String's reaction to what I'd just told him, and what I was even more frightened of was what he might do because of it.

I went on to try to explain the assignment from Mr. Conrad, laying my hand on String's shoulder—and I was surprised, and relieved, when he accepted it and didn't draw away from me like I'd figured he would. Maybe—maybe there's still hope, I thought, not wanting to read too much into Hawke's actions...but feeling encouraged about what I was seeing and hearing—or more accurately, not hearing—specifically, String had stopped yelling at me, which I took as a good sign. All the same, though, I couldn't completely silence a nagging voice in my head, that was saying I might have pushed String just a little too far. I certainly hope not, I thought anxiously.

I knew String was angry, especially when he asked if I couldn't think of anything else to use as an April Fool's prank, like putting a whoopee cushion on the commander's seat in Airwolf—something I filed away for future reference—even though I know I shouldn't have, 'cause since Hawke brought it up, he'd be expecting it. Maybe not right away, but someday, I thought as I worried about what I was gonna tell String. Finally, I said that my coach told me—told the whole class, actually—that we had to actually run lines. And I mentioned the time I ran lines with Dom, when I talked about being pregnant and told Dom that I had decided to raise the baby alone. And then, I saw String's face twist into that deer-in-the-headlights look that he gets—the one he gets when he's thinkin' real hard about something—so I knew he was at least thinking about what I'd said, which gave me some hope again.

"Believe me, String," I said, "I didn't want to do it, and I told my coach just that last week in class, 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?"

String reluctantly agreed with me, and I had to wonder what he was thinking at that point. I knew what I wanted, of course—I wanted to give him my best impish grin, and have him take me upstairs and make love to me—but I knew I couldn't; and more importantly, String wouldn't. At least—not yet.

"Yeah, Cait," String said to me—and I think I already felt his anger lessening—and I wasn't sure how to take that. I know String—when he gets angry like this, he wants to hold onto that anger for as long as possible, and make whomever he's angry at—in this case, me—feel as badly as he does. And, quite honestly, I deserved it. I probably deserve a lot worse, I thought anxiously. I didn't think String would do anything to me physically—and even if he did, I'm more than capable of defending myself—but emotionally, I had prepared myself for anything, from being told "Get the hell out of here, and don't come back" to seeing Hawke withdraw completely back within himself, like he started to do when we had those other personal problems a while back—and to be perfectly honest, I don't know which would be worse. I mean, even with all the frightening situations I've been in, nothing, not even being tied to a chair with a time bomb strapped to my chest, like happened after Sawyer kidnapped me—had me as frightened as I was at that moment. I mean, I knew I could take String in a fight, if it came to that—I am a blackbelt in karate, after all—but the thought of String never wanting to speak to me again—or worse, telling me that because of what I did, I should leave for real—scared the livin' daylights outta me. And I sure hoped like hell that an actual, physical fight didn't break out between us—'cause I'd just as soon hurt myself, as hurt String. And even though he probably hates me right now, I think String feels the same way about me, I thought, then added, at least—I hope he does. 'Cause I'd really hate to have to put my hands on him, in that way. Now, putting my hands on String any other way, I thought as a rush of hormones flooded my body, I certainly won't object to. Nor would I object to String putting his hands on me, as long as he wasn't being violent. But, after what I've done, I guess we'll have to just wait and see.

Then String proceeded to tell me, "I'd have to say this definitely qualifies. You—you scared me, Cait. You had me convinced you were really going to leave."

I found myself relaxing—a little—at my husband's words, and I knew I had no right to ask him for his help with my project, but I also knew that I needed to—so I asked him if he would mind writing down his opinions of my presentation, and handed him the paper with the lines I'd delivered earlier that morning. Near the bottom was a single word—Reactions:

Hawke correctly guessed that was for him, taking a pen from his shirt pocket and sitting down at the kitchen table to write his reactions down. I couldn't help myself—I walked over to his chair and wrapped my arms around him from behind as I read what he'd written—"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 and turned his head towards me.

"That's perfect," I said, and smiled at him. "Thanks, String." I released his shoulders and took the paper from him, putting it into a folder on the other side of the table. Then, String startled me when he stood up and took hold of my hands. Then, he looked into my eyes and told me how scared he'd been when I left with the kids this morning—that he was afraid he'd lost me. And I know String—he doesn't scare easy, I thought. I smiled up at String and said, "I—I know that, String. But, don't worry—you're not gonna lose me unless you're stupid enough to let me go." I was a little nervous about sayin' that String would be stupid to let me go—of course, I think he would be stupid to let me go, I thought, but String told me, "Then, I've got nothing to worry about, because I'd never do anything that stupid." I sighed with relief as he pulled me closer to him and kissed me. When we separated a few minutes later—which was way too soon, in my opinion—I looked up at my husband and said, "I'm—I'm sure glad to hear that, String." That's when I noticed String looking around like he'd lost something. Finally, he said, "Where are the kids, Cait?"

"Outside," I told him, "playing with Eagle." I went on to explain that I decided I didn't want the kids coming in with me, in case things got ugly between String and me. He thought about it for a minute, then agreed with my decision. I don't want the kids to ever see us seriously fight, I thought, recalling their reactions when we had our problems before, so that's why I did it. String and I quickly moved to the door, still wrapped in each other's arms, and String reluctantly let go of me just before I called out, "Come on in, kids!"

Just like that, Saoirse Marie and Sally Anne charged towards the door, almost knocking String and me off our feet in their enthusiasm. As I heard them call out, "Hi, Daddy!," I stood and watched as String wrapped his arms around our children, and silently vowed that I would never play another joke like this on him, ever again.

"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."

"I—I know, kids," String replied, holding his daughters close to him. "I know," Hawke said, pulling back to look at our kids, then looking back over his shoulder at me behind him, and apologized for yelling at me this morning. Silently, I thanked him with my eyes, not wanting to disturb the moment.

"Now," I finally said, smiling at our children and my 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. Dinner was spent discussing Hawke's reaction to what had occurred that morning, and before long, even String had been able to see the humor in the situation—something that was not lost on either me or the kids—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, and all of us—including String, to my immense relief, started to laugh.

"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!" I told String later as we did the dishes—together. I grinned wickedly and splashed a little of the water on his shirt. I had started the dishes alone, figuring it was another way of apologizing to String over the whole April Fool's prank, and how much I knew I'd hurt and frightened him, but String had quickly stepped in to help me—and despite my best arguments, he wouldn't take "No" for an answer. Doesn't make any difference, I guess, I thought as I stole a glance at String out of the corner of my eye. 'Cause I'm always happiest when String's beside me—no matter what the circumstances.

"Yeah, I did," String admitted, shaking his head as he returned the favor, splashing some of the water onto my shirt, which caused me to smile at him. "You were very convincing, Cait—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," I replied honestly, swallowing my surprise when I heard String say 'you've still got it, Cait, whatever the hell 'it' is.' Typical String, I thought. "I—I really hated to do that...you—you know that, right?" I laid the dishes aside and moved over to String, and slipped my arms around his neck. I hoped my eyes and my voice would convey my feelings about the whole incident to my husband, and that we'd be able to move past it.

"I know now, Cait," String replied, sliding his arms around my waist and pulling me close to him. "I know now," he murmured again, in that throaty tone that he knows I love, just before he took my 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 our 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 separated us, and we each grabbed one of our kids, causing them both to laugh. I couldn't help but remember again how Saint John and the kids walked into the cabin and found String and me necking like a couple of lovestruck teenagers—until we heard Saint John's voice at the front door. "Uh-oh. Le, Saoirse Marie, Sally Anne, this is what is known as bad timing!" Which, in all honesty, it was.And just like that day, we couldn't resist the laughter of our children—String and I both joined in, until finally String said something.

"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. I sighed inwardly with relief, thinking that maybe—just maybe—we were moving past the morning's incident and getting on with our lives. At least he hasn't thrown me out, I remembered thinking as we finished the dishes and put the kids to bed. That's gotta count for something.

All the same, as we went upstairs to our sleeping loft, I wanted to know that everything was all right between String and me. The kiss downstairs and Hawke's reactions had told me a lot—but any judge or lawyer I've ever met would probably say they were circumstantial evidence, at best—and I needed more. I needed my husband, dammit. I put on my best come-hither expression and walked over to String, but he gently grabbed onto my hands just as I was about to slide my arms around his shoulders, and try to start something. And the look on his face got me worried again.

"Cait," String said, and I was relieved that he'd gone back to the shortened form of my name that he'd used so often since we've been married, "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..." I said, trying to think where I'd heard this before—maybe in a movie or somethin'—and, to be quite honest, I wasn't exactly sure which words he meant.

"I'll—never—do—this—again," String said, gazing deep into my eyes. I hesitated, then, gazed just as deeply into his eyes as I responded to him, after I felt him let go of my hands.

"I'll—never—leave—you—String," I murmured in response, holding his face in my hands to make sure that he was looking into my eyes, and I hoped he could see the sincerity in them. Okay, it wasn't what he said, but I meant the same thing—and if he really needed me to say those exact words, then I would.

"That wasn't what I said, Caitlin," String replied, and I have to admit his tone of voice, and the look in his eyes both made me nervous—until I saw him curl one side of his lip into that boyish grin of his, the one that makes my heart flip every time I see it—and said, "But, I'll take it."

Finally feeling myself relax, I slipped my arms around his neck and, with my best and most seductively impish grin, I replied, "And—me? What about me, String?" I felt his arms slide around my waist, and held my breath as I waited for his answer.

"If that's what you want, Cait," he replied with a smile, before he swept me off my feet and laid me down on our bed. As soon as I felt my back hit the mattress, however, I pulled String down to me and smothered his lips with mine in a passionate kiss.

When I let us both come up for air, I said, "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."

"That's good to know, Cait," Hawke said as he helped me 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, Cait," he said, grinning.

"H mm. I'm stuck with you, huh?" I asked as I moved closer to my husband. "I love the sound of that—and I love you, Stringfellow Hawke," I said, leaning my forehead against Hawke's and smiling at him, relieved when he returned my 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 me. I was all ready to admonish him—playfully, of course—but I saw his expression turn serious again, and I decided to listen to whatever my husband wanted to say to me.

"Cait—I'm sorry I yelled at you like that this morning," String admitted. "I was just—so angry, and so hurt—and most of all, scared. I really thought you were"—I heard his voice crack, one of the few times I've ever heard Stringfellow Hawke get that emotional, to the point where I thought he was going to cry—but I knew what he was trying to say.

"I know, String," I replied. "And I'm really sorry I did this—I never—never—meant to scare you like that." I found myself recalling his reaction when he had recognized me 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," I said, even as I worriedly thought, but I won't blame you if you don't believe me. 'Cause I wouldn't blame him, and that's the God's-honest truth.

"I know, Cait," Hawke answered me. "I know." Then he added, "And I—I believe you, Cait." I know he had to have seen my eyes light up at his words, and I figured he knew what I had on my mind. So, I decided to ask him something that had been bothering me ever since we came upstairs.

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

"Go ahead."

"Why are we still dressed?"

"Good point," String replied with a laugh as he moved to remedy the situation, and I reached out to him, my own intentions shining in my eyes. Finally, I looked into the eyes of the man I loved, the father of my daughters, and the man I promised to spend the rest of my life with, and shyly whispered, "String, please. Make love to me."

I saw String smile as he leaned into me, gently rotating us to put me on my back, and that's when I saw tears come into his eyes, and I kicked myself again for the whole prank. I never shoulda done that, I thought, suddenly feeling guilty at seeing String's eyes darken with emotion. Finally, he whispered, "Caitlin O'Shannessy Hawke, don't ever—ever—doubt that you have the right to ask me to make love to you." I knew I couldn't say anything, 'cause I felt a lump the size of a baseball in my throat. I knew it was just my emotions comin' to the surface, like String's had, so I simply nodded and pulled him closer to me as he moved inside me.

Later, still wrapped in each other's arms, I thought about what had happened that morning, along with what we had just done. Normally I take a more—active role in our sex life, but tonight, I surrendered myself completely to my husband. I figured it was something else I could do, to show Hawke just how much I loved him, to let him do with me whatever he wished. And I've gotta admit, I loved the feelings his hands, and other parts of his body, generated as they worked their magic on my body. Just another reason why I love him so much, I thought at the end. When it was over, I simply relaxed in the afterglow of some of the most passionate and wonderful sex I had ever experienced, until suddenly, four words penetrated the fog that was surrounding my brain—"give up flying Airwolf?"

"WHAT?" I demanded, suddenly sitting up, my mind snapped back to full alertness by the last part of my husband's question—"give up flying Airwolf?" "You—you'd do that—you'd give up flying Airwolf, for me?" I couldn't believe he'd actually consider giving up flying the Lady—especially without talking it over with me first, I thought. And if Dom were here, he'd say the same thing.

"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."

So he was listening to me this morning, I thought, remembering that I'd told him that before I left. "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?" I had said. I know Airwolf's not completely invulnerable—String's been shot down in her a couple of times, and nearly crashed at least one other that I can think of—but flyin' in her still ranks as less dangerous than the drive I made to the hangar every morning before String and I got married, through rush hour traffic. When I said that this morning, I thought String was so angry that he wasn't registering what I was saying to him—but, I was wrong.

"String," I said, letting my fingertips glide 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?" I turned my impish grin back on my husband again, hoping he'd get the message.

String sighed resignedly. "No, she hasn't, Cait. But what if"— String was suddenly cut off when I kissed him again, pressing my body against his for as long as possible. Much to my displeasure, though, String separated us before we lost ourselves in our feelings again, and said, "Okay, Cait, you made your point. I won't turn Airwolf over to Michael. Okay?"

"Okay, String," I replied, then continued, "Besides, 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." Just like that, a crazy thought ran through my mind, and I know my face reflected what I was thinking. Aw, no. He didn't. Did he? "Um, String? When you said you'd give up Airwolf"—I stopped myself before I could voice the question that had just crossed my mind. It'd be just like String to say somethin' like that and be pulling an April Fool's joke on me, 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, knowing what I was asking him, "that wasn't an April Fool's prank. I meant what I said—if you wanted me to, I'd give Airwolf up. 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?" I 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 me. "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," I insisted. "You're—I mean, we're not giving Airwolf up. Besides," I 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." And I meant it, too. Every time I've flown in Airwolf, String's flying skills have always amazed me—especially that he's been able to keep them up so well, even as he's gotten—well—older."So, now that that's settled, I'll say it again—we are not turning Airwolf over to the FIRM. You understand me?" I hoped String could see the sparkle of laughter in my eyes, in spite of the glacial tone my voice had taken. Even at my worst this morning, I didn't sound that cold, I thought nervously.

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

"Good," I replied, grinning impishly at him. "I'm glad we understand each other." I sighed with a combination of satisfaction and relief at String's smile as I sank back into his arms and laid my head against his chest.

"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"—I was really getting tired of talking, so I cut him off the best way I knew how, with a deep and passionate kiss.

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

"Okay, Cait," Hawke replied, but his expression suddenly shifted, and I thought I could read what he was thinking by the look in his eyes. He's thinkin' about this morning. And hoping I never do that again. And I won't, I thought.

"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." By the look that suddenly came into his eyes, I knew he'd considered what I'd said, and the expression in my eyes, and decided that he believed me, which made me just that much happier. "Now," I continued, my eyes taking on a decidedly mischievous gleam as I slipped my arms around String and rolled myself beneath him again, "I don't want to talk about Airwolf—or this morning, or anything else—tonight. Okay?" I knew the impish grin I wore spoke volumes to my husband.

"Okay, Cait," Hawke replied, curling his lip into the boyish grin he reserved for me, as he moved inside me once again, "No more talking."

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

"Yes, Mr. Conrad," I said. "It was touch and go for a bit, just like I figured would happen, 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 me, then told the class that our grades for the assignment would be available in a week's time. Before I left, Mr. Conrad told me, "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," I said, knowing exactly what he meant. "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. I smiled at him again and walked out to where String was waitin' for me.

When we were back home after Hawke picked me up from class that day, I had something that I had to ask him. "String," I 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 me 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?"

I smiled as I remembered him saying that to me the day we got married. "Yeah," I said, looking up at him and remembering what made me fall in love with Stringfellow Hawke in the first place—besides his good looks, that is. And, I thought back to somethin' Dom said to String and me before our wedding day—"Never go to bed angry. Resolve your problems, before they start." Well, we may not have resolved this problem before it started, but we were able to resolve it before it became anything big.

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

Then String surprised me when he acknowledged that meeting me was the best thing that ever happened to him, even though it did take him two years to realize it. Well, I thought, you always were a stubborn one. Even Dom said so. Not surprisingly, I felt my eyes fill with tears as I looked up at him and said, "Thanks, String. I needed to hear that," just before I pulled his head down to mine for a deep and passionate kiss.

One Week Later...

I stood waiting for String outside the building where my acting class was, holding the results of the previous week's assignment in my hand. I felt an enormous sense of pride at what Mr. Conrad had told me during class.

"Congratulations, Mrs. Hawke," Mr. Conrad had said, and I noticed he put a special emphasis on my name, "you received the highest grade in the class, based on your husband's response to this assignment. I almost wish I could have been there to see your husband's face when you and your children told him you were leaving." I shook my head and smiled at my acting coach.

"No, Mr. Conrad," I said, "you don't. Take my word for it, it was not a pleasant experience—and, one that I don't plan on repeating any time soon."

"I got that impression last week, and I'm glad to hear it," Mr. Conrad told me.

Finally, I heard the Jeep coming, and I waved as I saw my husband. He quickly stopped the Jeep and got out, walking over and giving me a deep and loving kiss before we walked back to the Jeep and String opened the passenger side door for me. A short time later, we were headed back to the hangar. We talked a little about other things, but eventually, just before we got back to the hangar, String asked how class went.

"Did you get your grade on that assignment, Caitlin?" String asked me as we approached the hangar.

"See for yourself, String," I said as String parked the Santini Air jeep. I handed him the same paper he saw last week, only now with a large red "A+" circled at the top.

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

"Yeah, String," I said as we got out of the Jeep and walked arm-in-arm to meet Saint John, who'd been watching the kids while I went to class. He smiled at us and said, "Guess you got a good grade, huh, Cait?"

"Top of the class," I replied, absolutely 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 me, then String. "H mm. 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 my husband, I 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." We said our good-byes to Saint John, then rounded up our children to head home.

When we arrived back at the cabin—I mean, back home—String set about making dinner while I went to see what the kids were doing, and told them to get ready for dinner. When I came back, I noticed the aroma of steaks grilling outside.

"What's the deal, String?" I 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," I 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 little to my imagination as to what he had in mind for the "special" reward, and I felt my body preparing itself for the activity, even though I knew it was still a few hours away.

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

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

The kids noticed what String had done when we all sat down to dinner, and String said, "Kids, your mommy has some good news."

"Well, girls," I 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 me. "Congratulations, Mommy!" they both shouted, before they jumped out of their chairs and ran over to give me hugs—but, somethin' in Saoirse's expression told me that even though Saoirse Marie was happy for me, she was upset about something, and she didn't waste any time telling me what was on her mind.

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

"Oh—kay," I said, not exactly sure what my daughters were asking me for. I hope it's nothing too serious, I thought.

"Promise us that you'll never play a joke on Daddy like you did last Sunday, ever again!" Saoirse demanded, and I could hear the hurt in her voice.

"I promise," I replied, smiling at both my kids. "In fact," I continued as I linked pinky fingers with both my daughters, "I'll pinky-swear it. I'll never play a joke like that on Daddy, ever again."

"Wow," Saoirse said, and her eyes grew wide. "You pinky-swore...you must really mean it!"

"Yeah, Saoirse," I said as I kissed both my 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 me again. I had to quickly swallow the lump in my throat as I realized that even after what happened, my kids, and String, all still loved me.

That night, we once again told the kids the story of how we met and fell in love—we hadn't told that story for a while—several months, as a matter of fact—but String thought it would be a good idea to tell it tonight, given the circumstances, and the children didn't seem to mind. They always have loved that story, I thought, remembering how it had been their favorite bedtime story for so many years. And, I love telling it, I thought with a smile as we finished, and kissed both our children good-night.

"Well, String," I said as we 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 thought you might throw me out for real, after what I did—that you—you didn't love me anymore." Hawke saw the tears welling up in my eyes and quickly embraced me.

"Cait," String murmured, "you know I'll never stop loving you." He locked eyes with me 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 mine, which brought a smile to my face.

"Wow!" I exclaimed, "You pinky-swore. I guess you must really mean it!" I knew by the smile that he wore that String was remembering what Saoirse Marie had said during dinner, and without any more hesitation, String pulled me closer to him and kissed me again, pouring every ounce of love he had for me into it. I quickly returned his emotions with just as much passion, until String separated us and said, "Yeah, Cait—I really mean it. I will always love you."

"And I'll always love you, String," I said as I relaxed in String's warm embrace, finally allowing myself to believe that this latest strain on our marriage was over.

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

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

Finally, String said, "Now then—I believe I promised you a...special reward tonight, didn't I?" The smile he flashed at me made me weak in the knees, just like it did every time my husband smiled at me, and I grinned and flirtatiously batted my eyes at him as his hands moved to the buttons on my blouse.

"Why, yes, String," I said in my most alluring Southern drawl, my eyes darkening with the feelings I felt rushing through me as I moved closer to my husband, each of us helping the other shed our clothing, "I believe you did."