Disclaimer—Don't own the characters, except for "Ready To Rumble" Romie, from the Class Reunion series, and Judge Ronald Clevenger, from multiple stories.
A/N—This is my interpretation of where Saint John was all those years that he was presumed MIA, written from Saint John's POV. And, this story is a one-shot, written as a companion piece to Surprise Confession. Enjoy, and please, as always, review—robertwnielsen
Summary—Saint John Hawke returns home to reunite with String and Dom—and make some new friends.
"Gentlemen," I said as I surveyed the room, "do we all understand our assignments?" Thirteen heads nodded affirmatively, then I heard thirteen hearty "YESSIR's!" from each member of the squad. "All right, then," I said. "Let's do it! On your feet!"
As we marched out to our transport, a CH-53E helicopter, I went over the mission orders once again in my mind—a simple mission to knock out a Soviet command and control bunker in Eastern Czechoslovakia. Piece of cake. I felt the transport rise into the air, and my mind was drawn back to a night some sixteen years earlier.
"I'm not leaving without you, Sinj!" My younger brother, Stringfellow Hawke, shouted as the NVA opened fire on our position.
"Goddammit! Get the hell outta here, NOW, String!" I shouted back, knowing the helicopter String was flying was dangerously overloaded. If the rest of the squad and I joined String on that chopper, we'd never make it.
I saw String still hesitating. "That's an ORDER, goddammit!" I shouted in my most authoritative voice. "You hear me?"
"Yes SIR," String shouted back, and I heard the helicopter lift into the darkness, even as NVA troops surrounded us. We surrendered peacefully, hoping that they would go easy on us.
But they didn't. I felt myself wincing as I remembered the three months of torture that followed—beatings almost every night, bamboo shoots under the fingernails...basically everything you ever heard of in an old war movie. I had seriously begun thinking we'd never get out of there alive...and then the raid happened. I remember it like it was yesterday—we were being led back to our cells after yet another round of torture when the first bombs went off. What the hell? I ran for cover, then saw a group of what appeared to be U.S. Army Special Forces Commandos fast-rappelling out of a helicopter.
"Saint John Hawke?" the lead trooper demanded.
"Yeah?" I shouted back.
"Glad we found you, sir! We're your ticket outta here! Let's go!" I made sure the rest of the group was accounted for and we ran for the helicopter, lifting off moments later.
"Welcome home, Lt. Colonel Hawke," the rescue team leader said a few minutes later as we landed back at Da Nang Air Base.
"Lt. Colonel? You must be mistaken, Captain," I said, shocked. "I'm a Major in the Army."
"Not anymore," another voice said, and I turned around to find Brig. General Howard Spielman standing in front of us. "Every member of your team is being advanced one rank, by order of the President of the United States." Gen. Spielman smiled and saluted me and the rest of the team, and I had no choice but to return his salute. The next day, we were all on the tarmac in full dress uniform as Gen. Spielman officially promoted us. "Congratulations, Lt. Colonel Hawke," he said, unclipping the gold oak leaves from my uniform and replacing them with the silver oak leaf insignia of my new rank.
"Thank you, sir," I replied, saluting him. He returned the salute, then moved to the next member of the team, promoting him as well. Once all the team members had been promoted, we began an exhausting series of debriefings—medical evaluations, psychological profiling, and everything else I expected. By the end of the psych profiles, I began worrying that I'd wind up a retired Lieutenant Colonel before the end of the week—I was displaying signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—which didn't surprise me in the least, considering what we'd been through in the two years we were held captive.
That's when those guys in the white suits showed up—I'm not kidding—they were all in white suits, but not coming to take me to the funny farm. Instead, they offered all fourteen of us the opportunity to form a new Special Operations Group. We'd be classified Top Secret Umbra, and nobody would know we existed—officially. Since I was beginning to realize my career in the military was probably over, and String and Dom probably thought I was dead anyway, I jumped at the opportunity, and convinced the rest of the guys to go along with it.
And, here we are now. The chopper landed just outside Prague. We disembarked and headed for the site of the C&C bunker, finding it just as the briefers had told us. "Perfect," I said to myself as we formed a circle outside the building, and my explosives expert, Captain John Black, moved forward into the night with two other officers to plant a series of explosive charges around the building.
"Gotcha covered, Cap," I said as he moved into the night. A few minutes later, we heard gunfire approaching from behind. "Ambush!" I shouted, turning into the sound of AK-47's. "Open fire!"
The firefight was quick and deadly—the ambushers had hoped to use the cover of darkness against us, but they were unaware of our night-vision goggles—we could see them as clear as day, and it was simple to pick them off as we saw them approach. A few minutes later I shouted, "Cease fire! Cease fire!" as we picked off the last Czech and Soviet troops. And not long after that, we heard the satisfying roar of several hundred pounds of C4 explosive detonating, as the command bunker we'd been sent to eliminate went up in flames.
"Casualties, Captain?" I asked Capt. Black, who I saw returning with his group.
"Negative, Colonel," he said as we ran back to the chopper. "Let's get the hell outta here!"
"Good idea, Captain," I agreed. "Mount up, men!" We moved back into the helicopter and were headed back to base.
"Another milk run, eh, Colonel?" Captain Black said to me.
"Yeah," I agreed, smiling at him, relieved that we hadn't lost anybody. "Just another day at the office for the NightHawkes," I said, coining the nickname we'd given ourselves.
"You got any family, Colonel?" Captain Black asked me once we were back on base.
"A younger brother, Stringfellow Hawke," I said. "You might remember String...he was the pilot that last mission before we got caught by the VC."
"Oh, yeah," Captain Black replied. "I completely forgot about your kid brother...and then that guy who raised you and String after your parents died...what was his name?"
"Dom," I volunteered. "Dominic Santini." John smiled at the mention of Dom's name, and I smiled back at him, thinking about the brother and surrogate father I'd left behind all those years ago.
"You miss 'em, don't ya?" John asked me.
"Yeah," I sighed. "Wonder if I'll ever see them again."
"Who knows, Colonel?" John replied, shaking his head. "Who the hell knows? I mean, I know you knew what signing up for this goddamned group would entail, we all did...but..."
"You don't have family, do ya, John?" I asked him.
"Nah...and I think that's part of the problem," John replied. "I was an only child...I got no reason to live other than the service. But you...you got a brother, and your friend...Dom, you said? You should go home, Colonel."
"I know," I said, sighing. "But...I just can't."
So we left it at that. I know String and Dom have both gotta be hurtin' real bad, thinkin' that I'm dead or whatever...but I had a job to do...and I was gonna do it, until somebody told me I didn't have to do it anymore.
A few weeks after the Czech raid, I was surprised to see a man and woman, both in impeccably white outfits, outside my office door on base. "Lt. Colonel Saint John Hawke?" one of them asked me.
"Correct," I said, standing up. "Come in, please."
"Colonel," the first man through the door began, "My name is Richard Long...my associate, Catherine, and I are with..."
"The FIRM," I said, recognizing the attire immediately. "To what do I owe the pleasure, Mr. Long?"
"Please, call me Richard," he said, as he and Catherine stepped into the office. "May I call you Saint John?"
"Please," I said, relieved that these two individuals were not forcing me to stand on formalities. "Now, can we get down to business, Richard? Where are we going this time? Libya? Panama? Iran? Iraq?"
"Home," Richard said, causing me to do a complete double-take.
"Can you repeat that, please, Richard?" I asked, incredulous.
"You're going home, Colonel," Richard repeated, staring into my eyes. "Zeus has asked me to inform you that your services are no longer required—so effective immediately, your unit is being disbanded and you're free to go. We have a group of helicopters outside waiting for all of you."
"You're kidding me, right?" I didn't want to believe what I was hearing—that after almost seventeen years, I was being told to give up the life I'd come to know—and, despite my protests to John the other day during the mission, really enjoy.
"No kidding, Saint John," Richard repeated, handing me a sheaf of paper. I read through the documents and found that yes, the "NightHawkes" were being disbanded—Zeus himself, the head of the FIRM, had ordered our unit to stand down, effective immediately. I sighed and handed the papers back to Richard, saying, "Okay. Let's go." I turned out the lights in the office and followed the two agents out to one of the helicopters, taking a seat next to John.
"Can you believe it, Sinj?" John said as I sat down. "We're goin' home!"
"Yeah," I kept trying not to believe it, but being forced to as the helicopter left the ground, and I could tell by looking out the window that we were headed to Ramstein Air Force Base. Once we arrived there, all fourteen of us were transferred to a Lear jet which took us back into the sky, headed for the United States.
I couldn't believe what had just happened—after sixteen years, twelve of them serving with the NightHawkes, probably the best group of guys I'd ever met—I was a free man. What was I gonna do with the rest of my life? Well. The first thing I'm gonna do is find Dom and String...it's gonna be great to see them again, after all these years! I wonder how String's doing. Is he still living at the cabin? Has he gotten married? Does he even have a girlfriend? Of course, I remembered Kelly, the girl he'd been dating right up until the night before we shipped out—and the terrible car accident that took her. I still can't believe String wasn't hurt in that crash—from what I've read of the police report, it should have killed both of them...but String walked away without a scratch. I just wish Kelly could've been as lucky—she and String looked so good together, and I really thought they were gonna get married when we got home...but I was wrong. Then, I thought about Dom. What's he doing these days? Is he still running Santini Air? Does HE have a girlfriend? Or is he married? I didn't think I'd ever get my mind to shut off, but I finally did, and the roar of the engines lulled me to sleep.
I was surprised that I slept as long as I did, but I heard the pilot's voice on the loudspeaker. "Gentlemen, this is the Captain. Please fasten your seat belts, and prepare to land." Had I been out that long? I asked myself as I tightened my seat belt. I felt the plane descend and touch down shortly afterward, and I wondered what was going to happen next.
We didn't have to wait too long to find out—we were subjected to just about every test I could think of—psych evaluations, physical tests, mental evaluations—we were nearly exhausted by the time it was finished—but, we were also surprised when we were informed that the FIRM had set each of us up with an apartment. Finally, the rest of the group was allowed to leave and head to their apartments, but I was asked to stay behind. I wondered what was going on, but was soon introduced to the Deputy Director of the FIRM—a man named Michael Coldsmith-Briggs III, otherwise known as "Archangel." Archangel proceeded to inform me that he had been helping String look for me, since my official duties had been strictly classified—which made perfect sense. On the other hand, I couldn't help but wonder what String would think if he knew that the same people who'd been helping him look for me were the ones who kept me away from him all those years in the first place. Something tells me I don't wanna know, I said to myself. Archangel also informed me that String and Dom were on their way to meet us, and that I would be kept away from them for a few moments. I understood, but I didn't like it. Michael also handed me the keys and address information for my apartment, and informed me that my personal effects had been shipped there already. "Thank you, Michael," I said, surprised and yet happy.
"It's my pleasure, Saint John," Michael replied, walking back into his office. I was introduced to Marella, Michael's aide and, I suspected, something more. I don't know why I suspected it...there was just something about the way I saw Marella looking at Michael that made me curious about their feelings for one another.
A few hours later, Marella walked back into the room where I was waiting, and said, "They're here, Saint John. You ready for this?"
"As ready as I'll ever be," I said, as I heard Michael saying, "This is...well—there's someone here who'd like to say hello." I saw the door open and Marella led me into the room where I saw String and Dom standing, both looking at me like I was a ghost.
"S...Saint John?" String asked, incredulous. "Is—is that you?"
"Yeah, little brother," I said, and saw both Dom and String's eyes light up, "It's me. I'm home, String." Marella proceeded to hand String a folder full of papers, the test results from all the evaluations I'd undergone, and assure him that I really was Saint John Hawke. I couldn't understand why that was in doubt, but I resolved that I'd ask String about it sometime.
"I can't believe it's really you, Saint John!" String said, running over and enveloping me in a huge hug. I was relishing the fact that we were all together again, and finally, I heard String say, "I—I was beginning to think I'd never see you again, Saint John." I felt a pang of guilt over what I was going to be revealing to him...soon.
"I know, little brother," I replied. "I know."
A few hours later, Michael and Marella took us back to the hangar and once we were alone, String said, "Okay, Saint John. I have one question for you—where the hell have you been all these years?" Here we go. Let's hope I can prevent World War III from breaking out between us.
I proceeded to tell String about the raid that freed me from the VC, and how I'd been recruited by the FIRM to form the Special Operations Group. I worried that I shouldn't have gone into quite as much detail as I did, but I realized that String and Dom were acquainted with Michael, so I figured it was okay. Finally, String shouted, "Do you mean to tell me that you've been running around playing mercenary for the past fifteen years, and never once tried to contact me...or Dom?"
I could tell String was angry, and tried to appease him as best I could. "String, we weren't mercenaries—we were still part of the U.S. Army, just classified as Special Ops. Totally legal, and sanctioned by the government. As to why I never tried to contact you or Dom—well, I figured you and Dom thought I was dead anyway...and I couldn't see the harm in it. Besides, the SOG was classified Top Secret Umbra—none of us could contact our families. But, String...I swear, if I'd known how hard you've been lookin' for me..." I was suddenly cut off when String exploded.
"Dammit, of course I've been lookin' for you! You're my brother, for God's sake! The only family I've got left besides Dom! Did you really think I wouldn't have torn Vietnam apart tryin' to find you?" Ouch...I said to myself, knowing there wasn't much I could say to appease String, and knowing that I deserved every ounce of the anger he was directing at me...but still, something seemed...different from when we were kids. It was like he wasn't as angry as he used to get.
"I know, String. I know," I replied, "and all I can say is that I'm sorry. So sorry that I was so selfish all those years." From the look on his face just then, I could tell String was getting angrier, and I began worrying that he might actually take a swing at me. I sure hope not, but if he does, I'll be ready. Just then, I heard Dom speak up.
"String," Dom said hesitantly, knowing how angry String was, "if it helps any, I...I think I understand what Saint John was doin'. I mean, c'mon, String, if the roles were reversed, wouldn't you have done the same thing?"
When I saw String's face scrunch into that deer-in-the-headlights look that he gets when he's thinking...really thinking...about something, I relaxed...a little. At least, he's thinkin' about what Dom said...so maybe things will change, I said to myself.
"You're, you're right, Sinj," String said, and I noticed his lapse into the childhood nickname he had for me, "you're right, as usual. And I probably would've done the same thing if I'd been in your shoes. Don't get me wrong—I'm not happy about what you did, but I can understand why you did it. I'm—I'm just glad you're home, Sinj!" He smiled as he stood up and walked over to me, and hugged me again.
"I'm glad I'm home, too, String." Now I know something's different. Normally, String would stay mad at me for at least a week after something like this. What's going on with him? I asked myself, but decided to table that discussion for a later date.
"So," I said, changing the subject, "you still living at the cabin, String?"
"Yeah. Dom comes up and visits sometimes, and brings supplies every week or so, but other than that, it's just me & Tet."
"You don't have a girlfriend, String?" I asked him, and I saw him and Dom exchange a curious look.
"No, Sinj. I don't." I thought I heard a note of sadness in his voice. But that's gotta be my imagination, I thought.
"Too bad," I said as we got ready to close the hangar down. String invited me to go up to the cabin and go fishing, but I decided to take a rain check. I told String and Dom about Michael setting me up with my own place, which didn't seem to surprise them. "You and Dom are welcome there any time."
"I should hope so, Sinj," String said just before we left.
When I reached the address Michael had given me, I found that I'd been set up in a luxury two-bedroom apartment not far from the hangar. I set about organizing as much stuff as I could, finally taking a break to have some dinner, since I noticed Michael's people had fully stocked the fridge and the kitchen. Once I had finished eating and cleaned up after myself, I went straight to bed, feeling like I could sleep for days.
And, that's exactly what I did. I think I slept for at least two days, before I finally woke up. I can't believe I slept that long, especially with no nightmares. I fixed breakfast and continued cleaning up and organizing my apartment, and meeting with a psychiatrist Michael had set up for me. Somethin' I owe you for, Michael.
The next few days were spent similarly—working on getting my stuff organized at home, and visiting with the shrink. He determined that I'd suffered major PTSD because of my captivity in North Vietnam, but that the time I spent with the SOG had helped clear out some of those demons. Finally, after a couple of days, I decided to head over to the hangar to see String and Dom.
The first thing I noticed when I got to the hangar was that there was a woman there. How could I not notice her? Even in that coverall, I can see she's a very attractive woman. when I looked at her, as String said, "By the way, Cait, this is my older brother, Saint John Hawke. Sinj, meet Caitlin O'Shannessy." We shook hands, smiling at each other.
"Nice to meet you, Saint John. I've heard a lot about you from String."
"Nice to meet you, too, Caitlin," I replied, then turned to look at String. String subtly shook his head, and I got the message he was sending loud and clear—Later, Sinj. I'll explain everything later. And somethin' was rubbing me funny—String hasn't stopped smiling all morning, and especially at Caitlin. And for him, that's weird. Eh, it's probably just because I'm home, I thought as we got back to work.
A little while later, my curiosity about Caitlin finally got the best of me. "String, there's somethin' I've gotta ask you about Caitlin. Is she, like, available?" I don't know why I asked String that, but now that I had, I couldn't very well take it back. Don't ask me why, but I was afraid that String might just take a swing at me, again, and so I was surprised and relieved when String grinned at me, shook his head, and said, "Hate to break this to ya, Sinj, but Cait's already taken. By me. I know I told you I didn't have a girlfriend—and it was true, when I said it—but, not anymore." I swear, somebody could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard that. But, things are starting to make sense. Just like in those cartoons we used to watch when we were kids, I feel like the light bulb just went on.
I couldn't help myself. I slapped String on the shoulder and said, "Congratulations, little brother. If you don't mind me saying this, I think she's good for you." I was relieved when String smiled at me.
"I think she's good for me, too, Sinj." Now I get it, I said to myself, remembering how quickly String's temper had cooled when we were reunited a few days ago. I couldn't figure it out before, but I get it now. His attitude. It's because of Caitlin. I resolved right then and there to do something nice for Caitlin someday. But first, I felt like I needed to apologize for my question. "Sorry about asking if Cait was available, little brother. I shoulda—"
"Sinj, forget it," String interrupted me. "You had no idea that Cait and I are dating...and we only started a couple of days ago, so forget it." I gotta admit, I breathed a sigh of relief that String wasn't mad at me for askin' about Caitlin, but, it's like he said, I didn't know. And, like Dom told String and me both when we were kids, The only stupid question is the one you never ask.
Over the course of the next few days, String, Cait, Dom and I spent as much time as possible together at the hangar—and the more I saw them together, the more I became convinced that Cait was the best thing to happen to String for a long time. Finally, one night before Dom and I left for the evening, I steered Caitlin aside and said, "Caitlin, thank you."
"For what, Saint John?" She asked, and I could tell she was puzzled.
"For everything you've done that's keeping String sane. I couldn't believe he didn't want to take a swing at me the day I came home, and for the life of me, I couldn't understand it; but now I do. Whatever you've done to my brother, please, don't ever stop doing it." I smiled at her as I saw String walking towards us over her shoulder.
"Don't you worry about that, Saint John," Caitlin said to me. "In case you haven't noticed, I love String very much, and I'm not planning on letting him go for a long time!"
"That's good to hear, and I did notice how much you love him, Cait, and that he loves you just as much," I said as String walked up next to Caitlin, and I saw them slipping their arms around each other. Heck, I'd have to be blind, or as dumb as String used to say I was, not to see how much Cait loves String—and how much he loves her. Or not to see how much the love he's finally acknowledged has helped him.
"What were you conspiring with Cait about, Sinj?" String demanded, but I could hear the glint of humor in his voice.
"We weren't conspiring about anything, little brother—I was just saying thank you to Cait for what she's done with you," I said, smiling at her, and then at String. "Now I understand why you didn't take a swing at me the day I came back—or the day I asked, well, you know."
"Yeah." String smiled at me, then at Caitlin. "I do know what you're talking about—and, I thought I already told you not to worry about it, Sinj. I'll say this much, though—it sure feels good having Cait in my life."
"So I see," I said, then added, "and, I hope I never stop seeing it. You two look good together." And I meant it—as good as I thought String looked with Kelly, there was something about seeing him and Caitlin together—I couldn't put my finger on it, but I could tell just by looking at them that Cait belonged with String.
"Thanks, Saint John. I think we are good together."
"So do I, Cait," String said, and I got a feeling from the way they looked at each other, kind of like the feeling I got when I watched Marella and Michael back at FIRM headquarters. He wouldn't, would he? I found myself wondering if String was thinking what I thought he was thinking, about asking Cait to marry him, soon. But I felt like I had to tell Caitlin something kind of important.
"Caitlin, please call me 'Sinj.' That's what String calls me, you know."
"Okay, Sinj. But only if you call me 'Cait.'"
"You got it, Cait," I said, just before I left for the night.
A couple of days after I met Cait, Dom told me about the curse String felt like he had on him, up until recently. "I think you comin' home helped him see that it doesn't really exist," Dom had said to me. "Well, you comin' home and having Cait in his life, that is."
"I know, Dom," I said, still marveling at the change in my younger brother. "He's, I dunno, he's more like he was before the accident when Kelly got killed, y'know?"
"Yeah, Sinj," Dom said, smiling. "I do know. I never thought I'd see String smiling the way he has been the past few days again. Ah, Sinj. I gotta tell ya, it was a good day when Cait walked into the hangar lookin' for String, even if it did take that stubborn mule almost two years, not to mention you comin' home, among other things, to figure it out."
"Well, Dom," I said, "String always was the stubborn one." We both laughed, even though we both knew what I'd just said was the truth. And I thought about askin' Dom what he meant by 'among other things,' but I decided that could wait for another day.
I also learned something about String's involvement with Michael—it went a helluva lot further than just Michael helping find me. The real reason Michael and String know each other is—that machine. The one that looks like a normal helicopter, but isn't one. It's more like a battleship. A black battleship with rotors—at least, that's what I heard Cait called it when she came to California from Texas, lookin' for String. I've even ridden in the thing a couple of times—I remember the first time I saw her, all I could think was—Damn. If 1st Air Cav had only had a couple of these babies back in the day, the NVA wouldn't have stood a chance.
I also learned the story as to why String had the helicopter—he'd recovered it from its original designer, a man named Charles Henry Moffet, who I thought sounded as crazy as anybody I'd dealt with in North Vietnam, or during my duty with the SOG—and, String was keeping the helicopter until I was either found, alive, or proven dead, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Once I came home, though, I knew that deal with Michael was shot, but I figured that was String and Michael's problem, not mine. In a way, I hoped like hell String wouldn't have to give that machine back—I would love to get a chance to fly it—someday. That is, if I can pry String outta the pilot's seat, I said to myself, knowing how much a part of his life that machine had become.
And, I learned there had been another woman in String's life before Caitlin. Her name was Gabrielle, and she had been Michael's prime pilot until she wound up being sent to Libya, after the FIRM's main operative there was murdered by Moffet—like I said, the guy sounded completely nuts—but Gabrielle's murder sent String even further into depression, and actually, it explained a great deal about why he was so hesitant to let Caitlin into his life. Now that I was home, though, it was great to see String and Cait acknowledging their feelings for each other—feelings that Dom told me String had kept at bay for a long time—and I understood why. I mean, if I'd been in String's shoes, I probably woulda done the same thing—or at least, something similar. But then I started wondering what had given String the kick in the behind about Cait—especially after Dom said 'among other things' a couple of nights ago. So I finally asked Dom, "When you said, 'among other things' a couple of nights ago, what exactly did you mean?"
Then Dom told me about Inge Janek, the Czech defector that they had rescued from the KGB, and what happened the day Michael took Inge into protective asylum. When I heard what Caitlin had blurted out that day, I had to bite my lip to keep from busting out laughing. I mean, it sounded incredibly funny to me, but I'm sure it wasn't funny to Dom, Caitlin or String—at least, it wasn't funny when it happened. Now, I said to myself after Dom told me about it, I'm not so sure. But, I could understand why she got so embarrassed after what she said—but look at the results, Cait, I said to myself. It just goes to prove that old saying that 'the end justifies the means.' Because in this case, the end—String finally pulling his head outta his behind and acknowledging how Cait felt about him, and the fact that he felt the same way about her—definitely made what happened that day worth it.
I also learned why String had been so hesitant to acknowledge that I really was his brother the day I came home—there had been a group that called themselves the Schwartzkrieg, who was trying to steal Airwolf—that's the name of the helicopter that String has—and return it to Libya...and they disguised another man as me, even convincing String that Dom and Michael were killed in the raid to rescue me—which was ridiculous, but part of these guys' plot. And from what Dom and String told me about it, they were damned convincing. Fortunately, Dom—who, along with Michael, was alive and well—was able to help String fool the terrorists, and save both Airwolf and String.
"So you understand why I acted the way I did, Sinj?" String had asked me later.
"Yeah," I said, and I meant it. "I'm just glad everything worked out." Judging by his expression, String agreed with me one hundred percent on that score.
Caitlin also asked me what I meant when I said, 'or the day I asked, well, you know.' "Well, Cait," I said, embarrassed, "When I first saw you, I wondered if you were, available. So, I asked String about it—and he let me know—in no uncertain terms, by the way—that you two were together. But I'd been worried when I asked him about it that he might take a swing at me, just like I was the day I came home."
From the expression on Caitlin's face, I got the impression that she'd thought about what String would do if I asked if she was available—and his reaction, as far as I could tell, was a relief to Cait. "I'm sure glad he didn't, Sinj," Cait said to me, "and don't worry about it—String and I weren't together that long when you asked about me. And," she added with a grin, "I'm kinda flattered that you did ask about me—but, don't tell String. Okay?"
"Don't worry about that, Cait," I said, smiling at her. "That'll be our little secret." She smiled back at me, and I immediately understood why String had fallen in love with that smile.
A few days after I came back, String told me that he'd learned something from Michael—Michael had spoken to Zeus, the head of the FIRM, and been informed that Airwolf was now, for all intents and purposes, String's and Dom's, as long as they kept doing what they'd been doing—flying her whenever the FIRM needed her. I gotta admit, I was happy to hear that String wouldn't have to give that bird up. Like I said before, I'd love a chance to fly her. Or even fly with String and Dom. We'll just have to see what happens.
As the weeks went by, though, I became more and more convinced that String was gonna ask Caitlin to marry him; it was just a question of when he'd get around to doing it. Then things started happening that really got me curious—first, String told Dom and me one morning when he flew back to the hangar, with Cait, that they'd spent the night together at the cabin—and, Dom and I both marveled that they'd actually gotten any sleep that night. Then, a week later, Dom and I helped Cait finish moving into the cabin—she'd been taking stuff a little at a time since she spent that first night there, so there wasn't much more to do when she finally, officially moved in with him. I remember one morning, before Cait moved up to the cabin, when Dom came back from the cabin with String—Cait was already at the hangar, which meant she hadn't been with him the night before—and boy, could I tell they'd missed each other when String got out of the helicopter at the hangar. Dom finally asked String, "Hey, String. Don't you think it's ridiculous that you and Cait aren't living under the same roof?" I guess he'd seen somethin' in the way Cait reacted when String got there, just like I had. That really got me thinking that String would be asking Cait to marry him sooner, rather than later. Then about three months later, String told Dom and me that Cait's mom and older sister would be coming to California, and that when they arrived, at the end of the day, Dom and I were supposed to fly them up to the cabin, and keep our mouths shut. Which'll be a piece of cake, I said to myself, at least, for me. 'Cause I don't have a clue what you're up to, little brother. But I know what Le and I both hope you're doin', and I think Dom does, too.
That night, Dom, Le and I flew Cait's mother Maggie, along with her older sister Erin, up to the cabin and waited. Maggie asked me if I knew what was going on, and I simply said, "Sorry, Maggie. String just told Dom and me to bring you up here tonight, but he didn't say why." And I thought I saw the wheels turning in Maggie's head, and I wondered if she was thinking the same thing I was—with all of us here, is String actually gonna pop the big question? When we met Maggie and Caitlin's older sister, Erin, I made the mistake of saying 'Mrs. O'Shannessy' when she introduced herself to Dom and me. Maggie said, "Listen here, Mr. Saint John Hawke! I haven't been called 'Mrs. O'Shannessy since Caity and Erin's father, Patrick, died when Cait was twelve years old, and I sure as heck don't intend for you to start callin' me that again now! You and Dom both can call me 'Maggie,' thanks so much!"
"Okay, Maggie," I said.
When String and Cait arrived a few minutes later, I could tell Cait didn't have any idea what was going on, either—but when she saw her mom and sister there waiting for her and String, she got worried sick. And when she asked String about it, all she got was, "It's a surprise, Cait." And, just by looking at her, I got the impression that Caitlin was wondering the same thing I was—make that, the same thing we all were wondering. It would make sense for him to pop the question tonight, I said to myself as Dom moved into the kitchen to start dinner. After all, we're all family here, so why wouldn't he pop the question? My mind went back to the first time I saw my son Le Van after I came home—we talked about how he was doing, and how String and Cait had been taking care of him, and then, out of the blue, he said to me, "Dad, how come Uncle String can't see how much Cait loves him?"
I have to admit, that statement kinda shocked me. "I—I dunno, partner. I mean, even you can see it, can't you?" I asked him.
"Yep," Le replied. "Every time I look at Aunt Cait when Uncle String's around, I can tell she's in love with him, but Uncle String just doesn't get it. I wish we could do somethin' about that."
"Me too, pal," I said. "Me, too." I told Le that Cait wasn't really his aunt—since she wasn't my sister, and she wasn't married to String—but, Le proceeded to tell me that she didn't mind him calling her that, so I didn't worry about it anymore. "Besides," Le said, grinning, "maybe hearing me say 'Aunt Cait' all the time will give Uncle String a clue." I had to smile at that.
"I hope so," I said, laughing. And, I sure hope String doesn't get mad about it, I said to myself.
Sure enough, though, a couple of days after Le mentioned it to me, Cait asked me why he'd been calling her that. "Not that I mind, don't get me wrong," she said, "I'm just, curious, that's all."
"Well, Cait," I said, "Le's been noticing how much you love String, and that he doesn't seem to get it, so Le figured sayin' 'Aunt Cait' whenever String's around might give him a little extra clue, y'know what I mean?"
She thought about it for a minute, then said, "Yeah, I do know what you mean. And, I've gotta admit that I like the sound of it." I was relieved to hear that, and of course, I knew why Cait liked the sound of it. Because that would mean she was married to String—which I get the feelin' is exactly what Cait wants, I thought to myself.
But before Le and I flew up to the cabin with Dom, Maggie, and Erin, Le said, "Dad? Are you thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?"
"If you're thinkin' that your Uncle String's gonna pop the question to Cait tonight, then yeah, I am thinkin' that, and hoping that!" We laughed as we got ready to head up to the cabin.
By the time dinner was finished, I got the feeling String had better do, whatever it was he was planning to do, pretty damned quick—or Cait might never speak to him again. Actually, from what I've heard, Cait never speaking to him again might be the LEAST of String's worries, if he doesn't get his rear in gear. And he'd definitely be sleeping on the couch tonight, I said to myself, not to mention, Le, Dom, and I will be extremely upset. And I didn't even want to think what Cait's mom or sister might do if things didn't start happening, soon.
Finally, just about the time I thought about sayin' something, String walked over to where Cait was sitting on the couch, reached into his jacket pocket, and pulled out a worn-looking ring box as he got down on one knee. I heard Erin squeal as he opened the box containing the ring, and said, "Caitlin O'Shannessy, will you marry me?"
I've gotta admit—as impatient as we all got for String to actually pop the question, it got worse the longer it took Caitlin to answer him. Just by looking around, I could tell Erin and Maggie were both on pins and needles, and Dom; well, let's just say I was damned glad that he'd been to the doctor recently and been told his heart was in good shape; or the night's events could've killed him. And, I've gotta admit, Le and I were getting a little anxious, too. Finally, though, Caitlin nodded, and whispered, "God, YES! Yes, I'll marry you, String!" We all broke into applause as String slipped the ring onto the third finger of Cait's left hand, and Dom finally blurted out, "GODDAMMIT, STRING, IT'S ABOUT TIME!" And judging from the look on Cait's face just then, she was thinking about the same thing. And, to tell the truth, so was I.
I caught Dom's expression just then, and I instinctively knew what he was thinking. "Dom," I said, "was that—?"
"Yeah, Sinj, I think it was," Dom replied, confirming my suspicions; that the ring Cait was now wearing had belonged to our mother, Jane. I remembered something that happened when their wills were read after the accident—there was a codicil that the lawyer had received from Mom shortly before they died, stating that if Mom died before String or I got married, whichever of us got engaged first should give the ring to our intended. "Dom," I said, "remember the codicil that the lawyer read..."
"Right," Dom said, his expression immediately brightening. "I'd forgotten all about that. Guess you did, too, huh, Sinj?"
"Yeah," I admitted, glancing over at Cait and String. Then, I heard Maggie saying something about owing String an apology for everything she'd ever said about him...and String telling her that he accepted her apology, but didn't feel it was necessary. "After all," he said, "I was being an idiot about Cait for a long time, and you were just telling her, and by extension me, how you felt. So, no hard feelings, Maggie."
"That's mighty nice of you, String," Maggie replied, and the look on her face gave me the idea that she was totally reevaluating her opinion of the man who would soon become her son-in-law. You coulda just asked me, or Dom, I said to myself. Yeah, I tease String a lot, but that's an older brother's prerogative. Deep down, I know what kind of guy String is. Cait couldn't be marrying a better man.
Later that evening, as Dom got ready to take Le, Maggie, Erin, and me back to the hangar so we could go home, I said, "Congratulations, String. And you too, Cait. I'm real happy for both of you, and looking forward to the wedding."
"Thanks, Sinj," String replied. "We promise it won't be long. After what I did today, I know Cait wants to get married as soon as we possibly can, and I can't say that I blame her," he quickly added, noticing a particular look in her eyes. Nicely covered, little brother, I said to myself as I stifled a grin.
"That's good to know, String," I said, embracing him, then exchanging an embrace with Caitlin.
"I'm sure glad you could be here, Sinj," String said, "And I'm real glad you're gonna be here for our wedding."
"Little brother, I wouldn't miss it for the world," I said, and I meant it. "G'night, you two!"
"'Night, Sinj," Caitlin replied as we moved out to Dom's chopper and got ready to leave. A short time later, we were back in the air headed for Van Nuys.
"Well, I don't know about anybody else," I said, "but I've gotta agree with what Dom said tonight—it's about time String and Cait get married!" The laughter I heard arise convinced me that everyone agreed with my and Dom's opinion.
"I was about ready to give String a piece of my mind," Erin said, and the tone of her voice worried me—but then, I glanced over my shoulder and saw the grin on her face, which told me she wouldn't have done, or said, anything too terribly harsh. Even though String probably woulda deserved it, I said to myself. Once we'd landed back at the hangar, Dom, Le, and I said goodbye to Maggie and Erin, then Dom left to go home, and Le and I did the same.
"So now, once they get married, that'll officially make Cait your aunt," I said to Le.
"DAD," he said, pretending to be annoyed. "I thought we talked about that already!"
"We did, Half-Pint," I said, smiling at him. "I was just teasing."
"Okay, Dad," Le said, grinning back at me. I could tell he was just as happy about the events of the evening as I was.
Three Months Later...
This took a lot longer than I thought, I said to myself as I helped String get ready for his wedding to Cait, but it doesn't matter. They're only going to do this once, after all. I mean, the more I've watched String with Cait, the more I've determined—they've got the kind of love you only see in the movies...or on TV. Or like Mom and Dad had, I said to myself, remembering how I used to think our parents had the same kind of love. I'll bet String wishes they could be here today. Hell, so do I, I said to myself. I saw String fiddling with his tie, and said, "Here, let me help you with that." As I went to work fastening his tie, I asked my brother, "Well, String, today's the day! You nervous?"
"Nah," String said, and I could tell he meant it. "I mean, I know it took a long time for me to realize it, but I love Caitlin, and I think; no, wait. I know we belong together." I nodded and smiled at him as he slipped on his jacket and we went downstairs to meet Dom and Le, outside. We wanted to keep the tradition of the bride and groom not seeing each other before the wedding intact, and just by lookin' at him, I could tell it was driving String bananas.
"Y'know, you're right, String," I said as I saw Dom and Le walking over. "You and Cait do belong together."
"Thanks, Sinj," String said, smiling at me.
"Ah, String," Dom said, smiling at me, "I never thought I'd see this day, but I've gotta tell you, I'm real happy for you."
"Thanks, Dom," String said. Michael came over at that point and told String that the records of the wedding were being classified with a Top Secret Umbra classification. Top Secret Umbra, I knew, was the absolute tightest security classification in the United States, and I knew immediately why Michael was doing it—Airwolf. If somebody wanted that helicopter bad enough, and knew Cait and String were married, Caitlin could be used as bait. Hell, it already happened once, I thought to myself, recalling how String had told me about Ken Sawyer, and how he'd kidnapped Cait to force String to use Airwolf to smuggle a dozen nuclear detonators out of the country. And they weren't even married when that happened, I said to myself. I was relieved that Michael was taking these precautions, even though I knew they weren't perfect. Anything that keeps Cait and my brother safe, I said to myself. Aloud, I said, "Come on, little brother, let's get you married!" I slapped String on the back as we walked back to the cabin, String heading down to the dock with Judge Clevenger, while I went to line up with Erin for the processional.
When I glanced back at Cait and Dom behind us, I noticed her eyes were already full of tears—and the ceremony hasn't even started yet, I said to myself. But I can appreciate it. Just then, I heard a quartet of violins begin playing, and Erin and I walked down the dock to where String stood waiting with Judge Clevenger.
When the bridal march started, I have to admit, seeing Cait there on Dom's arm took my breath away—so I could only imagine how String was feeling as they came down the pier towards us. Dom gave Cait's hand to String, and as they turned back towards the judge, the ceremony began.
I have to admit, I caught my breath when I heard Judge Clevenger say, "If there is anyone here who can show just cause why these two should not wed, let them speak now, or forever hold their peace." And, when I looked around, I could see everyone there holding their breath...including me. Although I don't know why, I said to myself. There's nobody here who'd stop what's about to happen. Finally, the judge continued, and we were able to release the breaths we were all holding.
"Stringfellow Hawke, do you take Caitlin O'Shannessy to be your lawful wedded wife?"
"I do," he replied, gazing into Caitlin's eyes as he slipped her ring onto her left hand.
"Caitlin O'Shannessy, do you take Stringfellow Hawke to be your lawful wedded husband?"
"Yes. I do," Caitlin stated proudly, and Dom and I saw the tears shining in her eyes as she slipped the ring onto String's hand.
"Then by the power vested in me by the great state of California, I hereby pronounce you husband and wife." Suddenly, I realized String couldn't wait any longer—he reached out and pulled Caitlin towards him, even as we heard Judge Clevenger continue, "You may now, continue kissing the bride." I couldn't help myself—I started laughing, and noticed everyone else joining in as Judge Clevenger said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, it's my pleasure to introduce Mr. and Mrs. Stringfellow Hawke!" I saw Caitlin beaming with pride, love, and happiness as String kissed her again, and we all applauded. Nice going, little brother, I said to myself. And I noticed something—String was honestly happy. Oh, he'd been that way practically since the day he told me that he and Caitlin were together, but today, it just seemed like there was somethin' about the look on his face that made me realize just how much better his life was, now that Caitlin was a part of it.
Once the ceremony was over, Dom took it upon himself to fix dinner for the wedding party, and the conversation centered, not surprisingly, around String and Cait's plans for the future—and I got the distinct impression that Maggie was already thinkin' about grandkids...which doesn't surprise me, I said to myself. I mean, I know Dom's been thinkin' about that, too. But they can wait a little while, can't they? They've only been married a few minutes, for cryin' out loud! I thought, stifling a chuckle.
Le surprised all of us when he said, "Congratulations, Aunt Cait. You look good with Uncle String." My sentiments exactly, Half-Pint, I thought.
I saw Cait blushing as she stood up and walked over to Le's chair. "Thanks, Le. I think your Uncle String looks good with me, too." She smiled and hugged Le, before she went back to her seat next to String. I couldn't help but think how I used to think String and Kelly looked so good together...but there's something about the way Cait and String look together, almost like they're two halves of the same person, or somethin' like that. All I could think as I saw them sitting there together was—She belongs with String. And I was honestly happy to see them together.
Several hours later, I said, "Congratulations, little brother," as we said our good byes before Dom took everyone back to the hangar. "I have to agree with Le—you and Cait look good together."
"Thanks, Sinj," String said as he hugged me. "And I'm glad you were able to be here with us today."
"I'm glad I was, too," I said, hugging him back.
"Congrats, Uncle String; and Aunt Cait," Le said, grinning. "Now, it's official—finally." I had to bite my lip to keep from saying anything—but I was marveling yet again at how happy String was, now that he'd found a woman to share his life with. His soulmate, as far as I'm concerned, I thought, then brought myself back to the present when I heard Cait say something.
"Yeah, Half-Pint," Cait said, hugging him. "Now, I'm officially your Aunt Cait."
"I sure like the sound of that," Le said, and I had to agree with him. "So do I, partner," I said, as String and Cait laughed. String said, "And so do Cait and I, Le," which prompted another round of laughter from all of us. We said our final goodbyes, then boarded Dom's chopper to head home.
Like Dom said, I thought several hours later, after Dom flew Maggie, Erin, Le and myself back to the hangar, it was a good day when Cait came back here lookin' for String, even if it did take that stubborn mule almost two years to realize it. But then again, he always was the stubborn one. I allowed myself a smile as Le and I headed home. As I went to bed that night, I felt something different in the air, and I wondered if String and Cait could feel it, too—like there was a blanket of peace descending, or something like that—and I knew, instinctively, that everything was gonna be okay. Not just for String and Cait—they had me there to help, just in case anything ever got too far out of hand—but, for all of us. I closed my eyes and smiled as I felt myself falling asleep, and pondered the future.