Surprise Confession, Epilogue
Disclaimer—don't own anything or anyone, just having another little playdate.
A/N—This chapter, set around three months after Hawke and Caitlin's marriage, as depicted in earlier chapters, closes this little story arc. I want to thank kaidiii, Ms. Anonymous, OldSFFan, Riabhach, Bamboozlepig, and PJF for their reviews. Hope you enjoy the final chapter—robertwnielsen
I wonder if we'll ever see her again, Stringfellow Hawke said to himself. He was thinking of Inge, that Czech defector he'd been saying good-bye to about eight months ago. I wish we could. We...we both owe her so much, he added, remembering what Inge had said to him after Caitlin made her startling confession.
"Hawke," Inge said, forcing his attention back into the moment, "I...I know that young woman has very strong feelings for you. Not just because of what she said a minute ago...but I saw her expression before I embraced you just now...and it definitely looked like the expression of a jealous woman. But there's something you can do...if you want to. First, don't be too upset over what happened. Secondly, but most important of all...don't let her get away from you. I think...I think you would be good together."
Little did she know how right she was, Hawke said to himself. Between being married to Cait, and the fact that Sinj is finally home, I'm...his thoughts were suddenly interrupted by his wife's voice.
"What are you thinkin' about, String?"
"I...I was thinking about...Inge," String replied, embarrassed. I almost hate to admit that, especially now that we're married...but Cait deserves my being honest with her.
"You were, huh? I thought I was the only woman in your life now, String," Caitlin said teasingly.
"Oh, you are, Cait...trust me—you are," String replied, gazing into her blue-green eyes. "I was just thinking about...how much we owe her."
"Yeah," Caitlin said, leaning into her husband as they sat on the couch at the cabin. "We do owe her a lot...besides the engraved apology from me." Caitlin remembered how she'd blurted out, "TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF HIM, YOU BITCH! I LOVE STRING! DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND THAT?", and how embarrassed and humiliated she'd felt afterward. String had tried to reassure Caitlin over and over that Inge didn't hold any grudges against Cait for what happened, but Cait still wondered about how Inge felt.
"Well, do you think Michael knows where she is?" Caitlin asked him.
"That's a good question," String replied. "I may just have to ask him sometime."
Annoyed, Caitlin shook her head at her husband. "You've only been sayin' you're gonna do that since...I dunno, about three weeks after we got married, I think. Why don't you talk to him, for heaven's sake?" If you don't, String, then I will, Caitlin said to herself.
"Okay, okay," String replied, smiling as he stood up, pulling Caitlin with him. He walked over to the briefcase which contained the secured satellite phone that Michael had left there all those years ago, and dialed the number. "Hawke?" Michael's voice came through a few seconds later.
"Michael, listen...there's something I've been meaning to ask you."
From his office at Knightsbridge, Michael smiled. I've been wondering when you were going to do this, Hawke, he said to himself. "Aha. And I think I can guess what that 'something' is, right?"
"I'm sure you can, Michael," Hawke replied. "So, do you know how we could get in touch with Inge? We...we have some things to say to her."
I just bet you do, Hawke, Michael said to himself as he recalled the scene in front of Dominic's hangar, the day he took Inge into asylum, and Caitlin made her startling confession. Aloud, he said, "Well, Hawke...I wouldn't do this for just anyone...but since it's you, and considering what happened that day back at the hangar, I think I owe you this one. Let me do some checking, and I'll call you back when I find something out...okay? I can't promise anything, though," Michael said, knowing how deep the records of Inge's asylum were buried.
"Okay, Michael, and, thanks," Hawke replied. He hung up the phone and turned back to Caitlin. "Michael said he'll check into it, and let us know when he finds something," Hawke said.
From the expression on Caitlin's face, it was obvious she was disappointed. "I sure hope it doesn't take too long. There's so much I want to tell her." I doubt String would've ever figured his feelings out about me, if it wasn't for what Inge said to String after I made that confession, Caitlin said to herself as she recalled Hawke telling her what Inge had told him, after Cait ran into the hangar.
"String? What did Inge say to you, anyway?" Caitlin asked him one night as they got ready for bed.
"Well," String replied, surprised that she would ask him about that, "Inge told me that she knew you had feelings for me, even before you said what you did. She had seen your expression as we walked out of the hangar, and she thought you looked jealous. She also told me not to be too upset over what happened—how you lost your temper that day. Then she said, 'Most of all, don't let her get away from you. I think—I think you would be good together.' And, she was right."
"Oh, really?" Caitlin said, a certain spark coming into her eyes. "In what way was she right, String?"
String walked around the bed, wrapped his arms around Caitlin and said, "We—you and me, that is—we are good together." String noticed Caitlin's broad smile just before he kissed her.
"Yeah, she was right, String," Caitlin said, snapping him out of his reverie. "You and I are good together." Very good together, Caitlin said to herself, her cheeks turning a slight pink as she remembered their activities of the night before.
"How the heck did you...oh, never mind," String answered his wife. One of these days, I'm gonna figure out how the heck she does that, he said to himself, marveling yet again at what he perceived as Caitlin's ability to read his thoughts.
"So Michael didn't say anything about where she might be, or what she's doing?" Caitlin asked.
"No, and in a way I'm not surprised," String replied. "Those records are probably buried deeper than ours are." Caitlin smiled as she recalled Michael telling her that he had the records of her marriage to Hawke sealed with Top Secret Umbra classification. I know he said it's not foolproof...but anything that helps keep us safe, Caitlin said to herself, remembering how Ken Sawyer had kidnapped her in order to get to String...and, how John Bradford Horn had kidnapped String, both because of Airwolf. String knew that even with the extra security measures Michael had told them about, their marriage would make them both targets even more than they already were, so shortly after they got married, String actually broached the idea of giving up flying Airwolf.
"After all," Hawke said, "there's no reason for us to keep flying her, now that Saint John's home, and the agreement I had with Michael no longer applies, so now that we're married, maybe it's time we think about giving her up."
"Give up Airwolf?" Caitlin retorted. "Over my dead body we will! Listen, String—I know you're worried about somebody kidnapping one of us like Horn and Sawyer did, but we'll be fine—as long as we're together." String had finally relented and dismissed the idea of giving up Airwolf.
"Besides," Cait had told him, "you know I love flyin' the Lady just as much as you and Dom, when I get a chance to fly with you guys; and especially when it's just you and me, together, flying her. So if you gave her up, I'd be very disappointed. Not to mention what Dom would say if you gave up his Lady," Cait added. Hawke had to admit that if he gave up Airwolf, especially without consulting Dom, he'd probably never hear the end of it. Cait continued, "And don't forget that Airwolf is what brought us together, String." She smiled at him, and could tell from his expression that he was recalling the first time they met, back in Pope County, Texas, and their reunion a few months later when she came back to California looking for String, after he blew up the county jail, Sheriff Bogan, and 'half the cowboys in town.'
"I get the point, Cait," String said. "I won't give up flying Airwolf."
"Good. But there is one thing you can do for me," Caitlin said hesitantly. "Promise me that she'll always be the only Lady I ever have to share you with."
"Cait," String said, pulling her close to him, "I promise—no. I guarantee that." She smiled up at him just before he kissed her.
A few days later at the hangar, Caitlin and String were surprised to see the FIRM limousine pull up outside.
"Michael? What's going on?" Hawke asked as Michael climbed out of the limousine.
"I have a surprise for you," Michael said, grinning. "A friend of mine in Records was able to dig up some information on Inge. She's actually living here in California, under the name Valentina Terasimov. Here," Michael said, handing String a piece of paper.
"I think I know where this is," String said as he read the address. "Thank you, Michael."
"Yes, Michael," Caitlin added. "Thank you, and your friend. I hope nobody's getting in any kind of trouble for digging this up for us."
"No trouble, I assure you. As soon as I told my friend who was asking, and why, he was happy to get the information for you. I assume Caitlin asked for this?"
"Yeah, actually she did, Michael," Hawke replied. "Cait felt really bad about what happened at the hangar that day and, even though I've reassured her, many times, that Inge didn't hold any grudges, Cait wants the chance to apologize."
"I can understand that, Hawke," Michael said. "And I assume you also told Cait that we didn't hold anything against her for what happened?"
"Many times, Michael," Hawke answered. "And, I know you told her the same thing the day it happened. But I think Cait just wants a chance to apologize to Inge face-to-face, you know?"
"Yes, actually, I do know," Michael replied. "On another subject, how have you adjusted to married life, Hawke?" Michael asked, smiling at both Hawke and Caitlin, who had walked over to join her husband.
"I've adjusted just fine, thank you, Michael," Hawke replied, noticing Caitlin's smile out of the corner of his eye. "I could ask you the same question, you know." Michael nodded, since he and his aide Marella had gotten married not long after String and Caitlin did.
"To tell you the truth, Hawke," Michael said, casting a glance back towards the limo where his wife stood, "I'm wondering why we didn't get married a lot sooner. Would have saved Marella and me both a lot of grief."
String nodded, smiling at Michael. "I know the feeling, Michael," even as he recalled how much grief Michael had given him before he finally figured out his feelings.
"I'm sure you do, Hawke," Michael said. "And, I know I said this before, but I think it bears repeating—between being married to Cait, and Saint John finally being home, you are almost an entirely different person—and I have to admit, I like this Hawke a lot better." Hawke and Caitlin both laughed, even though they both knew what Michael had said was the truth. He turned to go back to the limo and said, "Let me know what happens, will you?"
"We will, Michael," Caitlin replied. You're not the only one who likes this new String better, she said to herself. I love this new String—even more than I loved him before, if that's humanly possible.
"All right," Michael said as he climbed into the limousine. "Cait...Stringfellow...good-bye."
"Good-bye, Michael," Caitlin and String said in unison before Marella closed the door of the limousine. As the limo pulled away from the hangar, Dom came outside.
"What'd Mr. Clean want this time? He need the Lady to go somewhere?"
"No, Dom," String answered his friend. "Michael was just bringing some information I'd asked him about." Dom's expression indicated that he knew exactly what information String was referring to.
"I was wonderin' when you were gonna get around to that, String," Dom said, smiling at his younger surrogate son. "I had started to think you'd forgotten about finding out where she went."
"I almost did," String replied, embarrassed. "Until Cait reminded me of it a few days ago."
Why am I not surprised? Dom asked himself. "So, when do you guys think you'll go see her?"
"I dunno, Dom," String replied, then added after Caitlin playfully elbowed him in the ribs, "but it won't be long."
"Good decision, String," Dom replied as he winked at String.
The following Friday, String decided it was time to see their friend.
"Cait," he said as they closed down the hangar Friday afternoon, "what do you think about going to..." Caitlin suddenly interrupted him.
"Sure, String," she said, then hesitated. "You were talking about going to see Inge, I mean, Valentina, weren't you?"
"Yeah, I was, Cait," String replied. "So, we'll come out here first thing after breakfast?"
"Sounds like a plan," Caitlin said as she and String climbed into the helicopter to head home.
The next morning, after they flew out to Van Nuys, String and Cait took one of the Jeeps to the address Michael had given them, a spacious condo about five miles away from the hangar. "You ready for this?" Hawke asked Caitlin as they climbed out of the Jeep and walked to the front door.
"Of course I'm ready," Caitlin replied. "I'm the one who suggested it, aren't I?" They were stopped for a moment by the security guard at the front door. They both showed the guard their identification, then were allowed into the lobby. Hawke asked the guard not to tell Valentina who was there to visit them. "I want it to be a surprise," he said, and the guard understood.
"Mrs. Terasimov?" The guard said. "Yes," they heard through the small speaker. "You have some visitors," he told her.
"I'll be right there," the voice came back. A few minutes later, Hawke and Caitlin were surprised when Valentina walked out with another man. She recognized Hawke immediately.
"Hawke!" She smiled and walked forward to embrace him. "It is so good to see you again! And, I see you have brought a friend with you," she added, glancing at Caitlin. Caitlin wondered if String could sense her discomfort at being acknowledged as Hawke's "friend," until she thought about it for a second. Inge may not know about us, Caitlin said to herself. "Well. We should go upstairs and have this conversation," Inge said with a smile, leading her guests up to their condo.
"How did you find out where I was living, Hawke?" Valentina asked once they were all inside. "I was under the impression that nobody knew where I was living now."
"I asked Michael," String replied. "We have a lot of things to tell you, Valentina."
"Please," she replied, "that is only my name to the rest of the world. Here, in our home, and among friends, I am still Inge."
"All right, Inge," Hawke replied, smiling. "First off, let me introduce...my wife, Caitlin Hawke."
"Your wife?" Inge replied, shocked, as the man she had come downstairs with brought in coffee for everyone. "Hawke, when did this happen?"
"About three months ago," Caitlin replied. "And that's one of the big reasons I wanted to come and see you. I—I owe you an apology for my outburst that day at the hangar, and the name I called you. And I know I said I didn't know what came over me that day, but I lied—I was jealous, angry, and I let my feelings run away with me. What I did—and more importantly, what I said to you, especially calling you that name—was uncalled for—and I'm sorry." Caitlin anxiously searched Inge's face for her reaction, and was relieved to see a friendly smile.
"Thank you, Caitlin," Inge replied, "but your apology is unnecessary. Maybe I was being a little—what is the word I'm looking for? Ah, yes—being a little forward with my affection toward Stringfellow, but if everything that happened that day helped to bring you two together, then it was worth it, yes?"
"Definitely yes," Caitlin replied, smiling at Inge. "And, thank you. I did overreact that day—I mean, String saved your life, for heaven's sake. That was worth at least a hug, if not more. And besides—I realized after I said what I did that there was no way you could understand how I felt—and how I feel—about String—because neither one of you knew how I felt, until that moment. It's just—You have no idea how jealous I was that day, and then how embarrassed I got after what happened."
"Oh, I think I do," Inge replied, and the look on her face told both Hawke and Caitlin that she remembered Caitlin's outburst that day all too well. Inge added, "If it makes you feel better, Caitlin, if the roles had been reversed, I might have acted similarly. Now it is my turn to apologize to you, Caitlin, for my rudeness toward you downstairs. I—I really had no idea you were now Hawke's wife, but I am very happy that you two have found each other." She smiled at Caitlin, and was relieved to see Caitlin return her smile.
"No apologies necessary, Inge," Caitlin said with a smile, reminding Hawke yet again why he loved her so much. "After all, like you said, you had no idea that String and I are married." Hawke was relieved that the two women seemed to be getting along well.
Then, Inge realized she had forgotten something. "Oh, my goodness. Stringfellow, Caitlin, please forgive me again. I am so rude. Let me introduce—my husband, Sergei Terasimov," she said, gesturing to the man String and Caitlin had seen before when she came to meet them. "Sergei, this is Stringfellow Hawke, who rescued me from the KGB and introduced me to the people who arranged my asylum, and his wife, Caitlin."
"A pleasure," Sergei said as he shook hands with both String and Caitlin.
"Same to you," String replied, then glanced at Inge. "How did you two meet, for goodness' sake?"
"Sergei works with our mutual friend Michael," Inge replied. "He was part of the team that debriefed me after Michael and I left the hangar, and I thank you for introducing me to Michael, Hawke—if I hadn't met Michael, I never would have met Sergei. He made me feel comfortable, and helped me get over some of the anxieties I felt about leaving my homeland. Plus," she added, glancing at him as he sat down next to her, "he is so terribly attractive. He has very expressive eyes, I noticed very quickly after I started working with him." She smiled at her husband, and he smiled back as he turned to Stringfellow.
"So what about you two?" Sergei asked. "Inge told me you and she were interested in each other, when you were helping her escape from the KGB. And yet, you are together with Caitlin now. I assume this has something to do with the reason you tracked Inge down, Hawke?"
"Well, Sergei," Caitlin replied, "I'm sure Inge told you about my outburst that day at the hangar, when Michael took Inge into asylum?"
"Yes," Sergei replied, "I do recall hearing about that. I imagine you were quite shocked, Mr. Hawke?"
"That's putting things mildly, Sergei," Hawke replied, laughing. "And, please call me String, or just 'Hawke' is fine. Michael calls me 'Hawke' most of the time, after all. As far as my reaction to Cait's confession, I was extremely shocked—actually, all of us were shocked—Dom, Michael, Inge, and myself. And I could tell how embarrassed Caitlin was. I couldn't believe that Cait would say something like that. And...I have to admit, I was afraid. Afraid to let myself get close to her, because of that curse I thought I had on me."
"You thought there was a curse on you?" Inge asked, shocked. She noticed Sergei's confused expression and told him, "Hawke told me that he felt like he was cursed—that anyone he loved, or might love, would die. But something evidently happened that changed your feelings about that, am I right?"
"Actually, yes," String replied. "Something did happen. You remember me telling you about my brother, Saint John? The one who went MIA in Vietnam? Well, he came home shortly before Caitlin and I got married. It turned out he'd been doing top-secret undercover work ever since he was rescued from the North Vietnamese. It took a while, but I was able to forgive my brother—after all, he told me that if the roles had been reversed, I might have done the same thing." From the look on Inge's face just then, Hawke wondered if she was remembering her encounter with Airwolf, out in the ocean as the KGB agents who had taken her were headed for a rendezvous with a Soviet submarine, before Airwolf blew it out of the water.
"Hawke, I am so happy that your brother came home!" Inge said happily. "And that also helped bring you and Caitlin together?"
"Yes," String replied. "Between Cait's outburst, what you said to me that day back at the hangar, and the fact that Saint John is home, I realized that I'd been ignoring my feelings about Caitlin for too long—that I loved her—and we started seeing each other. Then one thing led to another, and about three months ago, we got married."
"I once heard that everything happens for a reason," Inge said, "and maybe that is the case with everything that happened that day at Dominic's hangar. What do you think, Hawke?"
"I think that you might have a point there, Inge," Hawke replied. "I doubt I would've ever figured my feelings out if Cait hadn't lost her temper that day—I might still be hiding from them." Hawke smiled at Caitlin as he reached over and took hold of her hand.
"Well, congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Hawke," Sergei said happily. He went back to the kitchen and returned a few moments later with a bottle of champagne, along with four glasses. "Normally, I would suggest vodka, but I believe champagne is more appropriate for this occasion, yes?" He expertly opened the bottle and caught the bubbling liquid in the first glass, which he handed to his wife, then filled and distributed the rest of the glasses.
"I would like to propose a toast," Sergei said, standing up. "To our new American friends, Stringfellow and Caitlin Hawke. May you have a long and loving marriage, and be as happy and blessed as we are." String and Caitlin smiled as they toasted one another and sipped their champagne.
"And to our new friends, Inge and Sergei Terasimov. May you both be blessed with 'Godspeed, and good tail winds,' my friends," String added, smiling at Inge and Sergei.
"Thank you, Stringfellow Hawke," Sergei replied. "What you did for Inge, we can never repay. You will always be welcome in our home."
"And, you and Inge will always be welcome in ours," String replied, smiling. "Are you a fisherman, Sergei? I don't know if Inge has told you, but Cait and I live in my family's cabin on Eagle Lake...and the fishing is excellent."
"I may take you up on that someday, Mr. Hawke," Sergei replied. "Perhaps your friend Michael can arrange something, no?"
"I'm sure he could, Sergei," String replied. "But Michael doesn't need to be involved, since we know where you live. And don't worry," Hawke replied, seeing concerned looks on both Inge and Sergei's faces, "that will remain between us, Michael, Dom, and Saint John. I can personally vouch for both Dom and my older brother—they would not betray our trust."
"Hawke, your word is good enough for me," Sergei said, and Inge nodded in return. "I would like to meet your friend Dominic. Inge has told me quite a bit about him. He sounds like an interesting fellow, indeed."
"Yes, Dom is very interesting," String replied. "He and my father were best friends, and Dom promised my parents that if anything happened to them, that he would raise Saint John and myself."
"And I take it something happened to your family, Hawke?" Sergei asked, then retracted his statement when he saw Hawke's expression darken. "I—I am sorry, Hawke. I do not mean to pry."
"It's okay, Sergei," Hawke replied. "My parents were killed in a boating accident out on the lake where we lived—a drunk boater plowed into the boat that my parents, Saint John, and I were riding in—but Mom and Dad didn't make it."
"I understand," Sergei said, "and this incident led you to believe you were cursed?"
"That was the first," Hawke replied, "but, there were others." He thought back to his high school girlfriend Kelly, who was killed by a drunk driver before String shipped out to Vietnam with Saint John; and he thought about his older brother, who had been missing for sixteen years before finally coming home, and finally, he thought about Gabrielle Ademaur, the woman who had flown Archangel to his cabin all those years ago, and who was murdered by Moffet when she was sent to Libya to help Hawke recover Airwolf.
"I can see that my questions are bringing back some painful memories, and I apologize, Hawke," Sergei replied, "but sometimes I am simply too curious for my own good. Well," he said, raising his champagne glass again, "here is to hoping that you and your beautiful bride make many wonderful new memories together."
"We'll both drink to that, Sergei," Caitlin replied, smiling at him. "And the same to you, and Inge."
"Here, here," Inge replied.
"Now, there is something else I am curious about," Sergei said, "and, forgive me again if I am prying too much—but, I am curious to know how you met Caitlin, Hawke."
"Well," Hawke began, "Dom and I had been in Texas, where Caitlin is from, and met her down there. Then, a few months later, she came to California looking for me to tell me about my friend Jimmy being killed."
"And," Caitlin continued, "I started working with String and Dom shortly after that. I think I loved String almost from the moment I met him back in Texas—even if it did take this stubborn mule almost a year-and-a-half, plus my outburst the day Inge went into asylum, to get him to realize it." Everyone laughed and Hawke replied, "Well, Saint John always did say I was the stubborn one." He smiled again at his wife.
"Hawke," Inge replied, "you remember what I said to you that day back at the hangar? Well," she said, turning to smile at Caitlin, "I can see that I was right. You two are good together. You seem—I don't know—happy. At least, happier than you were when we first met."
Hawke glanced over at Caitlin, then replied, "Thank you. And, I am happy, Inge. I think for the first time in a long time, I'm really, truly, happy. And, you're not the only one who noticed. Michael mentioned it to me the day he brought me the information about where you were living."
"Well, Inge and I certainly hope you never lose your happiness, now that you have found it," Sergei replied. "And, I have a request—would you two care to dine with us this evening?"
"It would be our pleasure, Sergei," Caitlin replied.
"Hawke," Sergei said, "there is something I'd like to thank you for. Thank you for taking care of Inge after she defected, and for allowing her to meet your friend Michael. If it had not been for that meeting, I might never have been introduced to Inge, and would not have been able to learn what a wonderful and exciting woman she is. So, thank you, comrade, for everything you did."
"You're welcome, Sergei," Hawke said as he glanced towards the kitchen where Inge and Caitlin were working on dinner. "You know, I think we both did pretty well for ourselves, wouldn't you agree?"
"Yes, Hawke, I would definitely agree with you," Sergei replied, smiling. "I think Caitlin is good for you," Sergei said as they walked into the kitchen.
"Thank you, Sergei," Hawke replied. "I think she's good for me too...just like I think Inge is good for you."
"Thank you, comrade," Sergei replied as they smiled at each other.
During dinner, Sergei had another question for Hawke. "How did you come to be involved with Michael, Hawke?"
Hawke and Caitlin shot each other a concerned look, knowing they couldn't divulge everything they knew about Michael. "He was helping me look for my brother. In fact, it was people from his agency that found Saint John and convinced him to come home. I'd love for you both to meet Saint John."
"If he is anything like you, Stringfellow Hawke, that would be my pleasure," Sergei replied.
"Well, people always did say we had a lot in common," String admitted. "But I hope to be able to introduce you to Saint John, and Dom, someday soon."
"We hope for that as well, Hawke," Inge replied, smiling at him and Caitlin.
Later, Hawke and Caitlin realized it was getting late. "I hate to cut this evening short," Hawke said, "but we really need to be getting home."
"We understand, Hawke," Sergei replied as the four of them got to their feet. They left the condo and walked back downstairs, where Sergei and Inge said good-bye to their two friends.
"We must do this again, sometime," Sergei said. "Perhaps at your cabin, with your brother and your friend Dominic?"
"We'll look forward to it," Hawke said, shaking Sergei's hand, then exchanging a friendly embrace with Inge. "Do Svidanya, tovarisches."
"Do Svidanya," Sergei replied. Caitlin shook Inge's hand and said, "Goodbye," then exchanged a friendly embrace with Sergei. "And we will see you again," she added.
"We are counting on it, my friends," Inge replied, as Sergei laid his hand on her shoulder. Caitlin and Hawke turned and walked out the door, saying good-night to the guard, as Sergei and Inge turned and headed back upstairs to their condo.
"That went a lot better than you expected, didn't it, Cait?" String asked as they drove back to the hangar.
"Yeah," Caitlin agreed. "I...I was so worried about Inge holding a grudge against me for what happened that day. I'm glad I was wrong."
"So am I, Cait," Hawke replied as they pulled up outside the gate and were let onto the airfield by the security guard. They quickly parked the Jeep and climbed into a helicopter to head home.
"Well, String," Caitlin said once they were in the air headed back to the cabin, "I'm happy that Inge has someone in her life."
"Me, too, Cait," Hawke replied. "And I'm glad you and Inge were able to be friends. I was kinda worried about that."
"I was worried about that, too," Caitlin replied as the helicopter came down onto the dock. As they walked back into the cabin, Caitlin said, "and I'm sure glad everything worked out. She's very nice. Sergei is one lucky man."
"Yes, he is," Hawke agreed. "And, so am I, Mrs. Hawke," he added, wrapping his arms around Caitlin.
"Thank you, Mr. Hawke," Caitlin replied, moving closer in his arms. "And just like Inge...I'm a very lucky woman," she added as she pulled Hawke's head down to hers for a deep and loving kiss.
Two Months Later...
"Stringfellow was right about the fishing here...it is marvelous!" Sergei said as he pulled his third trout from the lake. "We must ice these down so that Inge and I can take them home."
"No problem, Sergei," Saint John Hawke replied. "String and I'll take care of that before Dom takes us all back to the hangar." Sergei smiled at String's older brother. String had kept his promise and invited Inge, Sergei, Dom, Saint John, Le, Michael and Marella up to the cabin for an afternoon of fishing and relaxing.
"It is so good to—what is the English phrase? Ah, yes. 'Get away from it all' for a while. I imagine that is why Stringfellow loves this place so much," Sergei added, glancing at String and Caitlin. "And such a wonderful art collection. Cézanne, Monet; they're beautiful. And you say they are all originals?"
"Yes. My grandfather collected the art, for my grandmother," Hawke said. "And yeah, I did appreciate the solitude of this place for a while," String said as he and Caitlin walked over to them, "although I have to admit, it's a lot nicer now that Caitlin's here. Sometimes being alone gets boring."
"I can certainly appreciate that, Hawke," Michael said as he and Marella walked over to the group.
"That's right," Sergei said. "Michael, I forgot to congratulate you and Marella on your wedding. Did Hawke influence that in some way, I wonder?"
Michael chuckled and replied, "Well, we may have influenced each other, Sergei. I know I gave Hawke a lot of grief over Caitlin's feelings about him before that day at the hangar, and he had been giving me similar amounts about Marella before I decided to tell her how I felt about her. Now, I wish I'd done it a lot sooner," Michael said, smiling at his wife.
"One should not dwell on the mistakes of the past, Michael," Inge told him. "One should always keep their eyes on the moment, and focus on the here and now. We cannot change what has already happened, only how we react to the future."
"Wonderfully put, Inge, my darling," Sergei said as he smiled at his wife.
"She does have a way with words, doesn't she?" Michael said, grinning at Sergei and Inge.
Dinner was a lively occasion, with Sergei and Inge asking String and Caitlin about their plans for the future, and discussing their own. After dinner, Sergei challenged Saint John's son Le to a game of chess, which Saint John immediately tried to discourage. When Sergei asked about it, Saint John only replied, "You'll see, Sergei. You'll see."
"Saint John," Sergei said as Le announced checkmate for the third time, "your son is quite the little chess player. Where did he learn to play so well?"
"That must have been String's doing, Sergei," Saint John laughed.
"Yeah," Le replied, smiling at Sergei and Saint John, "Uncle String taught me to play a while back. You want another rematch, Sergei?"
"Oh, no, Le," Sergei replied, standing up. "I know when I am outclassed. I am just relieved we weren't playing for money." Le, Saint John, and Sergei all laughed. Then, Sergei said, "Now I see why you were trying to discourage me from playing your son, Saint John."
"I tried to warn you, Sergei," Saint John replied, glancing over at Le, "it was more for your protection than his. You're right—he's certainly better at chess than I am."
"He could even give some people at the FIRM serious competition," Sergei agreed, laughing.
Later that evening, Michael and Marella got ready to head back to Knightsbridge, as Dom got ready to take Inge, Sergei, Saint John, and Le back to the hangar, so they could go home.
"We must do this again, soon," Sergei said to String. "Perhaps we can make it an annual event?"
"We could do it more often, if you'd like, Sergei," String replied. "But Cait and I promise we'll be seeing you again very soon."
"Thank you, Stringfellow," Inge replied. "And we promise you and your beautiful bride, the same. I must say, you have a lovely home."
"Thank you," String replied. "And as I said before, you and Sergei are welcome here any time." Embraces were exchanged all around, then Michael and Marella left, followed by Dom's chopper a short time later, leaving String and Caitlin alone.
"That was fun," String said as he sat down and pulled Caitlin close to him. "I'm glad we did this."
"So am I, String," Caitlin replied as she leaned into her husband. "I'm glad Sergei and Inge are so happy. They look good together, don't you think?"
"Yeah, Cait, I do," String replied, and Caitlin noticed a familiar spark coming into his eyes. "As good as you and I are together." He stood up and pulled Cait to her feet with him, then wrapped her in his arms for a deep, passionate and loving kiss. Finally, they separated and looked deep into each other's eyes, and they each could read the other's thoughts and desires. When they reached the sleeping loft, Hawke said, "By the way—just in case I forgot to tell you today, I love you, Caitlin."
Caitlin felt happy tears flood her eyes as she said, "And I love you, String. Always, and forever." Then she was in his arms again, and there was no more time—or ability—for either of them to say another word.