Christmas Surprises

Disclaimer—Don't own the characters...either Bellisario or Universal does, as usual.

Summary: String has a surprise for Caitlin—the last thing she ever expected.

A/N: Just a short Christmas present for my readers.

It's time, Stringfellow Hawke said to himself, the day before Christmas Eve day. He and Caitlin O'Shannessy had been dating exclusively for about six months, and Hawke was getting the feeling that Caitlin wanted something more from their relationship.

If somebody had told me six months ago that this all would be happening, I would have said they were crazy, String thought to himself. He had always thought that anyone he loved, or might love, would die—and that had put a halt to any thoughts of a romantic relationship between himself and Cait—and String had seen how much it had hurt her. I can't believe she didn't leave, String said to himself, remembering the many times Caitlin had threatened to do just that—pack up her stuff and head back to Texas. Finally, though, after seeing how Cait reacted when she helped rescue him from John Bradford Horn, and hearing Dom tell him about what she'd said in Archangel's limo, String had admitted his feelings about Caitlin, and they began seeing each other romantically. And then, something amazing happened—about three months after String began seeing Cait romantically, his brother Saint John came home.

I remember Dom tellin' me about what Cait said, String thought to himself. 'Dom, don't do that to me. I care about him, too, you know. Probably MORE THAN YOU KNOW.' If that isn't a giant clue, then I don't know what would have been. String admitted to himself that if Dom hadn't told him that, he might never have acknowledged his feelings about Cait...and, they most likely would have lost her forever.

Sometimes...I wonder what would've happened if Saint John hadn't come home, Hawke said to himself. I mean...Cait and I had already started dating...but I was still afraid...until that day about three months later. He recalled the day when the FIRM's limousine had pulled up to the hangar, and Marella asked Caitlin, Dom, and String to come to the hangar immediately, but she wouldn't tell them why. String had asked what was going on, but Marella said, "Michael will explain when we get there," effectively ending the conversation, and only serving to increase String's anger. When they reached the office at Knightsbridge, Hawke was boiling mad, and Caitlin knew it. She took his hand, and when Hawke glanced down at her, she simply smiled and said, "String...relax." He was even able to smile at her, surprising everyone in the room, including Michael.

Finally, Michael said, "Relax, all of you...this isn't a mission. There's...there's someone here who'd like to say hello." Just then, the door to Michael's office opened, and an older man walked in. No one said a word for a few moments, until the older man looked at String and Dom, and said, "What's the matter, little brother? Don't tell me you've forgotten me, after all this time?"

Through the tears that had erupted in his eyes, String almost didn't recognize the man standing in front of him...but when he heard the voice, he knew. "S—Saint John? Is—is that really you?" Of course, he remembered how, two years ago, a terrorist organization called the Schwartzkrieg had disguised a man as Saint John, as part of a plot to steal Airwolf.

Marella stepped towards String and Dom at this point, and handed String a large manila folder. "Stringfellow, we've done every test possible...including DNA matches. This is your brother Saint John—no question about it." Without thinking, String dropped Caitlin's hand and ran over to his older brother, engulfing him in a huge hug, which Dom joined a few seconds later.

"That seemed...awfully rude, don't you think?" Marella asked Caitlin.

"If I didn't know the whole story, I'd agree with you, Marella," Caitlin said as she watched Dom and String reuniting with Saint John. "But, c'mon. String hasn't seen Saint John in sixteen years...they need some time." Marella reluctantly agreed with her friend.

Almost as if he'd heard Marella's comment to Caitlin, String said, "Geez, I am so rude. Cait, come over here. Saint John, this is Caitlin O'Shannessy...she and I are...together," String said as Caitlin walked over and exchanged a friendly embrace with Saint John.

"It's nice to meet you, Saint John," Caitlin said, smiling at him. "String's told me a lot about you."

"Well, I look forward to getting to know you better, Caitlin...but could I ask a favor? Please, call me 'Sinj.' String called me that all the time when we were growing up."

"Fine...Sinj," Caitlin said, not completely comfortable with the nickname, "but only if you call me 'Cait.'"

"Okay, Cait," Saint John replied, smiling. "I look forward to getting to know you better, Cait. How long have you guys been together, anyway?"

"About three months...as a couple...but we've known each other for two years, ever since Cait came to Santini Air lookin' for me, after my friend Jimmy got killed."

Later that afternoon, Cait, String, Dom and Saint John were back at the hangar, and Saint John told String about how, after he was rescued from the POW camp where he was being held, some men from the FIRM had approached him about forming a Special Operations Group—and that they were classified Top Secret Umbra, which was why String had had so much difficulty getting any information about him.

"I—I wanted to let you know what was going on after I got rescued," Saint John said hesitantly, "but we were told not to contact anybody, even our families. And, I figured you and Dom thought I was dead anyway, so I couldn't see the point. I'm—I'm real sorry, String. I've heard how long you've been lookin' for me—Marella told me—and I know I hurt you real bad. All I can say is—I hope someday, you can forgive me."

"Sinj," String said, "I hope you understand that I should be absolutely furious with you—you were alive all this time and couldn't contact me, or Dom." Saint John tensed, preparing himself for the very real possibility that String would take a swing at him. Finally, String said, "But—I understand why. If I were in your shoes...I might've done the exact same thing. So...I forgive you, Sinj. I'm—I'm just glad you're home!" Saint John stared, shocked, at his younger brother, wondering why String was so accepting of what was going on. Then it hit him—It's Cait...it's gotta be Cait. That night, before he left the hangar to go home, Saint John caught up with Cait and said, "Cait, thank you."

"For what, Sinj?" Caitlin asked, puzzled.

"For whatever magic you've worked on String," Saint John replied, smiling. "I couldn't believe he didn't want to take a swing at me today when I told him what I'd been doing all these years. I didn't get it then, but I get it now—and whatever you've done to String, please don't ever stop doing it."

"Don't you worry about that, Sinj," Caitlin said as String walked up to her and slipped his arm around her shoulders, as she slipped hers around his waist. "As for 'magic,' I don't know if I'd call it 'magic'—but, I do call it love. In case you haven't noticed, Sinj, I love String very much...and I'm not plannin' on goin' anywhere for a long time. So don't worry about String—I'll help you and Dom take care of him from now on." Saint John brightened noticeably at Caitlin's statement, as Dom had told him how concerned he'd been that someone would be there to take care of String after he died.

I've just got to play this out right, String said to himself as he put his mother's engagement ring into a small jewelry box. He and Saint John had discussed the ring, and the codicil that was read at their parents' will reading.

"Sinj? I—I've been doing some thinking...and I think...I think I'm gonna ask Cait to marry me," String had said about a week ago.

"Seriously?" Saint John demanded, incredulous. "I think that's great! I think...I think Cait's awful good for you, little brother," Saint John had said, smiling at String.

"Yeah, I think Cait's good for me, too, Sinj...and that's what I wanted to talk to you about," String said. "Do you remember that codicil that was read at the will reading? The one that said"—Saint John nodded, and interrupted String.

"The one that said that if neither of us was married when Mom died, whoever fell in love and wanted to get married first, should give Mom's engagement ring to their intended, right?" String smiled and nodded. Saint John smiled back at his brother and said, "Go ahead, String. After all, you are the first one to fall in love...so it's only right for you to give the ring to Cait."

"Yeah, Sinj, but didn't you tell me that..." String said hesitantly.

"Yeah, I might have told you that I wanted to give the ring to Nori, but heck, String, that was back in Da Nang. I mean, I don't know what she's doing these days—whether she's married or anything like that...I don't even know if she's alive, or if she still loves me, or anything like that...for all I know, she's married with six kids, for heaven's sake—and it's obvious how much Cait loves you, so go ahead." Saint John smiled and hugged String, and String knew everything was okay.

Now, I just have to figure out how to do this, String said to himself. I mean...I know what Caitlin wants...and I'd be crazy to deny that I don't want the same things. So...I think I'm going to plan a special Christmas Eve for both of us, he decided, then, knowing Caitlin was away from the office running an errand, String said, "Hey, Dom!"

"Yeah, String?" Dom said as he walked up to his younger surrogate son.

"Can you do me a favor on Christmas Eve day after you and Cait close the hangar? You know I'm not comin' in that day...but when you guys close down the hangar...could you bring Caitlin up to the cabin...and then leave us alone?"

Dom brightened, and said, "String? What are you thinkin', buddy?"

"Simple, Dom," String said, smiling. "I'm gonna ask Cait to marry me on Christmas Eve...and then...we'll see what else happens." The glint in String's eyes told Dom what String thought that "what else" might be.

"Well, doggone it, String, you bet I can do that!" Dom said, smiling and giving String a warm, friendly embrace. "I'll be happy to."

"One other thing, Dom," String said. "Don't let Cait know what's going on when you take her to the cabin. I want to make this a surprise. Okay?"

"Well, String, you know how I am about keepin' secrets...but I'll do my damnedest to keep this one...I promise!" Dom embraced String again and they began planning what was probably going to be the most important evening in String's life, including some things he wanted Dom to bring to the cabin to make a special dinner for Caitlin.

On Christmas Eve day, Caitlin was surprised when Dom came to the hangar alone. "Where's String?" Cait asked, worried.

"He...he decided not to come in today," Dom said hesitantly, knowing String had sworn him to secrecy. "No biggie, really—we got no jobs scheduled, so we're probably gonna close around 3:00, anyway." Dom didn't say anything more, which made Caitlin worry just that much harder. I sure hope nothing's happened to him, Caitlin said to herself around lunchtime. Maybe...maybe I should go up to the cabin when we're done today.

"Is—Is String okay?" Caitlin asked, worried.

"He's fine, Cait...don't worry about it," Dom said. Phew, he said to himself. Almost let the cat outta the bag there, String.

What is going on? Caitlin asked herself as they shut down the hangar for the day. Why didn't String come to the hangar today...and what is he doing at the cabin, alone?

When the hangar was closed, Caitlin walked over to her car, worried about String, and debating asking Dom to fly her up to String's cabin. Suddenly, Dom said, "Cait? You wanna take a ride with me?"

"Dom? Are you sure?" Cait asked, surprised. Dom replied, "Yeah, Cait. I'm sure. C'mon," he said, opening the co-pilot's side door and allowing her to climb in.

Cait strapped herself into the co-pilot's seat, wondering what Dom was up to. Her confusion only increased after the helicopter lifted off, and pointed in the direction of the cabin.

"Dom? Where are you takin' me?" Cait asked. I mean...I hope he's takin' me to the cabin...so I can figure out what's going on with String...and why he didn't come to the hangar today. Dom didn't answer her, but she got her answer about an hour later when she saw String's cabin come into view. Good, Cait said to herself. Maybe I can get to the bottom of this, once and for all.

When Dom set the chopper down on the dock, Caitlin said, "I won't be a minute, Dom...I just want to figure out what's going on here." Dom smiled and nodded, knowing he was going to leave shortly after Caitlin walked into the cabin. She quickly unstrapped and got out of the helicopter, walking towards the door anxiously, wondering what was wrong with String.

"String?" Caitlin asked as she opened the door, worried. She looked through the living room, but couldn't find him. Just then, she heard String come down the stairs from the sleeping loft.

"Cait? What are you doing here?" String asked innocently.

"I came because...because I was worried about you, String. Why didn't you come into the hangar today? Are—are you okay?"

Not really, Cait, String said to himself. Aloud, he said, "I'm fine, Cait...I just had a few things I needed to do today."

"Things more important than coming to the hangar to see Dom? And to see...me?" Caitlin asked. I sure hope he understands how worried about him I was, she said to herself.

"Yeah," String said, wondering how much longer Dom would wait. Just then, he heard the helicopter's engine throttling up.

"Dom!" Caitlin shouted, running for the front door. By the time she got outside, Dom's helicopter was a small dot in the sky.

"I can't believe it," Caitlin said as String came up behind her. "Dom left me here! Oh...wait a sec...there's a chopper here, right? So I can go home whenever I want." String was surprised at the last part of her statement, but decided not to say anything.

"If you say so, Cait," String said, and Cait thought she detected a note of sadness in his voice. But that's probably just my imagination runnin' away with me, Cait said to herself as she and String walked into the cabin. Caitlin couldn't help herself—she reached over and slipped her arm around String's waist, and was relieved when he slid his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close as they walked inside.

String fixed a glass of wine for himself and Caitlin, then the two of them sat down on the couch. String could tell Cait was still upset about being left at the cabin. "Cait? Are you okay?"

"Yeah, String," Caitlin said, smiling at him. "I'm fine. Just...a little upset about bein' left up here. But," she said, smiling at him, "I've gotta tell you somethin'...today, when you didn't show up at the hangar with Dom...I missed you. I missed you all day long."

String smiled, feeling a great sense of relief. "Cait," he said, setting his wine glass down on the table, then reaching out to pull her into his arms, "I missed you, too." He kissed her, a deep, longing kiss that threatened to take both their breath away. When she separated from him, once she had caught her breath, Caitlin said, "Wow. What was that for, String?"

"Because I love you, Cait," String said, smiling. "I love you very much...and...there's a reason Dom left you here. There's...there's something I want to ask you, Caitlin."

The expression on String's face, along with the tone of his voice, started Caitlin thinking. Oh, my God...is he...is he gonna do what I think...no...what I hope he's gonna do? Is...is String gonna ask me...the question? She struggled to hold back her excitement, but she knew she was failing miserably.

"Cait, I know...I know you probably wanted your mom and your sister here...but I wanted to do this alone," String said. "I have a very special Christmas present for you...and I wanted to give it to you here," he said, standing up and reaching into the pocket of his slacks. Caitlin caught her breath as String pulled a small box out of his slacks pocket and got down on one knee in front of her, opening the box to reveal the engagement ring inside.

"Caitlin O'Shannessy, will you marry me?" String asked, causing Caitlin's eyes to flood with tears. The longer she went without saying anything, the more nervous String became. Finally, Cait wiped the tears out of her eyes and said, "Yes, String. Yes, Yes, YES, I'll marry you!" She smiled through her tears as String slipped the ring onto the third finger of her left hand, then Caitlin took both his hands in hers as they stood up, and she pulled String to her in a deep, loving, and passionate kiss.

"String," Caitlin said, staring at her new ring, "where...where on Earth did you get this gorgeous ring?" She twisted her left hand this way and that, marveling at the way the diamond sparkled in the light.

"It...it was my mother's, Cait," String said. "When the wills were read, there was a special codicil that Mom had written, saying that whichever of us, Saint John or myself, fell in love first, should give the ring to their intended. So now," he said, taking both of her hands in his, "the ring belongs to you."

"Oh, String," Caitlin murmured, her emotions threatening to take over again, "I—I can't believe it. And...the ring...it fits perfectly," she said, surprised.

"I guess...I guess that means you and I are supposed to be together," String said, smiling.

"Yeah," Caitlin said, pulling String close in her arms. "And soon...very soon, I hope...we will be." But in the meantime...I want us to be together...right now.

"String?" Caitlin asked. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, Cait, I am," String replied, smiling at her. "Now...what do you say we have dinner?" He pointed to the oven, where Caitlin noticed the aroma of her favorite baked ham. "String? How did you know?" Caitlin asked.

"Dom told me," String said, smiling. "I talked to him a little yesterday before he brought me home, and we planned the whole thing. And," he said, smiling at her again, "that's the other main reason I didn't come to the hangar today—I wanted to get everything ready for tonight, when Dom brought you up here. I...I wanted things to be perfect for when I asked you to marry me," String said, suddenly worrying when he saw Caitlin's expression.

"Of course you know that ordinarily, I'd be extremely annoyed at you right now, String," Caitlin said, then added, "and, I'd have every right to be." The last part of her statement caused Hawke to worry...mainly because...she's absolutely right, String said to himself. Then her expression brightened and she wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close to her body as she said, "But considering what just happened, how could I be? I love you so much, Stringfellow Hawke...and I can't wait to be your wife," she said, before she took his lips with hers in a passionate kiss.

When they separated, String said, "I love you, too, Caitlin O'Shannessy. And, I can't wait to be your husband, either. Now," he said, moving into the kitchen and taking the ham out of the oven, "shall we eat?"

Dinner was probably the happiest night Caitlin had spent in a long time. I'm here...at String's cabin...with him. And, we're engaged to be married! Oh, Mom's gonna flip when she finds out. And, Caitlin said to herself, I'm sure glad I brought a few things up here the last time String and I were here. She had left an overnight bag with some clothes changes, along with a few other personal items, behind at the cabin...just in case, Caitlin said to herself, then added, and now, those items are going to come in handy. 'Cause if String thinks that I'm leavin' him tonight, then he's got another think coming!

As they did the dishes together, Caitlin said, "Well...this has certainly been a Christmas I'll never forget. Thank you so much, String. This...this has to be the best Christmas present I've ever gotten."

"You're welcome, Cait," String said before he kissed her again. "I'm glad I was able to make you so happy tonight." Cait wasn't able to say anymore, because of the lump that had formed in her throat, but String didn't need her to—he could see how she felt, shining in her blue-green eyes.

Later, String pulled Caitlin off the couch and said, "Okay, Cait. Time to go." Caitlin emphatically shook her head. "No, String," she said, crossing her arms over her chest.

"No?" String asked, surprised. "What do you mean, 'no,' Cait?" I know what I hope she means, Hawke said to himself, I just don't know if that really IS what she means. Just then, Caitlin wrapped her arms around String, pulling their bodies close together before she took his lips with hers in another passionate kiss. She felt String's physical response to her through his clothing, and hoped that he could feel her body's response to him through hers. When she separated them, Caitlin said, "String...I want to stay here tonight...with you."

"Cait, are you sure?" Hawke asked, but he was cut off as Caitlin kissed him again, and this time, he returned her passions fully with his own. Finally, after they had both caught their breath, Caitlin said, "Yes, Hawke." And by the fact that Caitlin had used his last name, something she hadn't done since they got together, String knew that she was becoming very agitated and annoyed with him. She took his hand and led him to the stairs to the sleeping loft, a definite come-hither look in her eyes.

"String," Caitlin said when they reached the sleeping loft, "make love to me. Now."

And for the first time in many, many years, Stringfellow Hawke did precisely what he was told, much to Caitlin's relief. Just before they fell asleep, wrapped in each other's arms, String said, "Merry Christmas, Caitlin...and, I love you."

"M mm...Merry Christmas, String...I love you too," Caitlin murmured as she slipped into sleep. She couldn't keep a few tears from her eyes as she had a vision of herself and String, along with her mother and her sister Erin, Dom, Le, Saint John, Michael and Marella standing out on the dock before a justice of the peace, on Caitlin and String's wedding day.

As String closed his eyes and felt sleep claiming him, he had a vision of the day he'd begun to think would never come—the day he got married...not to Kelly, his girlfriend from those many years ago, but to Caitlin, the woman who had fought through all his defenses and captured his heart. Soon, Caitlin, String said to himself as he pulled her body tight against his, I promise you...we'll be together forever...very soon.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, TO ALL WHO CELEBRATE!