Disclaimer: These characters and original scenario belong to the copyright holders. I'm just getting them off the shelf to visit with them for a while. Parts of "Blackjack," the original transitional episode between Season 3 and Season 4, were awful. But I wanted to explore Saint John's realization of what his brother has gone through to find him. This story follows "All in the Family."
Call of the Hawkes
Saint John stepped out of the Jet Ranger and walked up the path to the cabin with a look of determination. String met him on the porch. "Sinj," he said happily. He thought he would never get over the joy of his brother's return.
"Let's stay out here, String," Saint John said. He sat on the porch railing.
Puzzled, String sat on the bench. "What's wrong, Saint John?"
"What did you do to find me?"
"You know. Dom and I told you some of it. I think Michael told you the rest."
"I come back and you and Dom are nearly dead in a hospital. I'm only just seeing how much trouble you got into when you stole Airwolf for me. Dunkirk kidnapped me; you and Mike got me out, but you worked with Dunkirk in the past? You were dealing with people like that to find me? What were you thinking? You didn't owe me that."
"Dunkirk was months ago. Why are you worrying about it now? This isn't about Mace again, is it?"
"No, we've been over that, but Bogard was just a few weeks ago."
"I came home from Vietnam without you, Sinj. So I did what I thought I had to do. I looked for you because I wanted to. Remember, you couldn't tell me what to do when I was a kid, and no one, not Dom, not Michael, could stop me once I started looking for you."
"Michael used you."
"We used each other. Dom and I did some pretty fine work with Airwolf. Did you know we were the best-regarded hurricane hunter on the West Coast? I'm surprised Jason hasn't sent you back out on hurricane detail. We flew a research mission around a volcano as it erupted, though that was a bit too close, as it turned out. That's besides the other stuff."
"You almost died in that bombing."
"You almost died many times in Southeast Asia. But you're home. You know, I met Cait and Le Van through Airwolf. Dom has an instant grandson. Dom met Toni and they really like each other. Dom and I are putting the bomb behind us, and you should too. Besides, if you had been able to get a letter to me from that village in Vietnam, you wouldn't have been able to call me off!"
"Idiot. You probably would have gone over there and restarted the war single-handed."
String was starting to get annoyed. Suddenly it felt like a squabble when they were kids, and younger and smaller, if he let his formidable temper loose and took a swing at his brother, he usually lost, but not always. It might be worth getting really angry just to clear the air. He took a deep breath, considering it, when Saint John crossed over to him quickly and wrapped his arms around him.
"Don't even think about it. I'm not going to fight you."
"You knocked me across the room when Dunkirk was holding you."
"Yeah, well, I feel really awful about that." Saint John stepped back, quickly and out of range of his brother's reach.
String shook his head. "Sinj, stop it. Guilt is pointless. The drama is over. Let's just live."
"It's not a light switch. You can't turn it on and off."
"Guilt or happiness?"
"Have you calmed down?"
"I am calm. All right, you felt you had to do it, but why did you involve Dom?"
"Saint John," String said, holding onto his temper with difficulty, "In what universe did Dom ever do anything he didn't want to?"
"You nearly got him killed. He lost his leg."
"Do you think I don't know that? But he's read me the riot act over saying that. Maybe it's your turn."
"And what about Marty Vidor? You said you'd tell me about it. Well, it's high time you did."
"Okay, come on in and I'll get you a beer. Let's get it out of the way. Remember Bo Di Thung?"
Saint John followed String into the coolness of the cabin. "Sure I do. Marty shot Bo Di's MIG down with his helicopter and took his helmet."
"Wait a minute."
String climbed the stairs to the closet and dug something out of a trunk. He came down with a battered pilot's helmet with "Bo Di Thung" stenciled on it.
"Where did you get that?"
"Mrs. Logana sent it to me."
"You mean Mrs. Logana, the first lady of Limbawe, who I just rescued?"
"She's the only Mrs. Logana I know. Have a seat, and I'll tell you a story."
Saint John sat down on the old beige sofa. "I'm not going to like it, am I?"
"Maybe. It's interesting. If you hit me again, please don't knock me toward the cello."
"I told you I'm sorry about that." Hawke snorted and pulled a can of beer out of the refrigerator behind the bar. He handed it to his brother and then he turned a chair from the dining area around and straddled it, facing Saint John.
"Well, what happened to Colonel Vidor? You said that he committed suicide but you and Dom were there."
"First of all, back in Vietnam, he was shot down in the same action as you. Didn't you see him?"
"I knew other people were captured, but they separated us. No, I didn't know what happened to him."
"Well, he never came home. He was declared dead, but it turned out that he became a mercenary and used the name 'Bo Di Thung.' He was running a sort of mini-air force for the rebels in South Limbawe, all helicopters, good pilots but they sure were a sleazy bunch. Marty was drinking heavily and had this fantasy about some sort of perfect air combat. When Michael sent Dom and me to stop South Limbawe from launching missiles at the North, he saw Airwolf and me as the chance for the air battle he had been waiting for and picked the fight. We shot down the rest of his helicopters. His ship was damaged. I begged him to land it and let us help him, but he flew it into the side of a ravine."
"You know, he never talked about a family or anything stateside. I don't think he had anything but the service."
"Yeah, that's kinda what he said. But he wasn't a good man anymore, Sinj. The side he was working for wasn't just a political opposition of the Loganas. They were allied with the Soviets and they were getting ready to launch chemical weapons. Marty didn't care. I asked him if he had any idea where you were. Just before he crashed, he said, 'I know where Saint John is.'"
"What a mess."
"Sure was. Mrs. Logana had someone retrieve his belongings and sent the helmet to Archangel. He brought it to me."
"But that's what I mean. You and Dom had to fly against Marty because you had Airwolf. You had it because of me."
"Not entirely. Archangel recruited me to be her test pilot, after I resigned from the astronaut corps at NASA. I had a reputation as a pilot, remember."
"He knew you in Vietnam. You were in contact with him before Airwolf, trying to find me."
"And you know, he's become a pretty close friend. Saint John, give it up. Traffic is dangerous. Some people die from bee stings. You've got a family, you're living with the woman you've loved half of your life. Things are pretty good, now. Welcome home. Talk to the minister or priest or whoever he is at the Vietnamese Buddhist church you're going to. What does he say about guilt and forgiveness?"
Saint John stood up. "I've got to get going."
"You could stay for supper."
"More trout? Actually, Ellie is expecting me." He shrugged into his leather flight jacket and walked out the door, letting it slam behind him.
That night, after a family supper of eggplant parmesan and jello for dessert and a game of Monopoly with Le winning it all, Hawke faced Cait in bed in the quiet of their bedroom in the new wing on the cabin. "So what do I do?" he asked her. "Saint John is wallowing in guilt over what happened to me and Dom while we were looking for him, and I couldn't get him to see all the good parts."
"What good parts?" she asked.
"Like all your good parts," he said, leering at her and waggling his eyebrows.
She giggled and kissed him.
"No, he can't see those good parts," he said and kissed her back.
He pulled back, reluctantly. "Seriously, Cait, any ideas how I can get him to calm down? This guilt thing is a terrible burden. I know. Should I call Ellie? Maybe invite them up for dinner?"
"How about calling Jason?"
"You and Saint John need to fly a mission together."
"Do you think that would help?"
"Let's say I hope it would."
He kissed her again. "Cait, I think you're a genius."
"All of a sudden you're talkative. Just make love to me."
"Yes, Ma'am." And he did.
Hawke couldn't help but hear the amusement in Jason's voice on the phone the next afternoon. "So now you want me to be a family counselor?"
"No, if I wanted that, I would have called Moishe. But Saint John and I need to fly together on a mission. Obviously, I'm a bit wary of a mission with much physical action, yet."
"A nice, safe, friendly mission, of the sort we can use Dom's Stearman, not Airwolf. Great. I'll look for one, but I will insist on coming along as a mediator. I've seen your bad temper in action, and I've seen Saint John's, and I might bring a stun gun."
"Thanks a lot. The Stearman is a two-seater."
"Anything else, String?"
"No. Say hello to your future better half for me."
"Say hello to Cait. I see her wise hand in this. Dom might just bang your heads together."
String hung up, wondering when he started finding Jason funny. When String had his first clash with him, Jason was practically a caricature of a humorless bureaucrat. It might be Mike's wild and crazy sense of humor rubbing off on Jason. Or it might be Moishe's influence. Or maybe they had just misjudged each other. String turned back to the maintenance schedule he was updating.
A week later Jason walked into the hangar at Santini Air. "I have a job for you three, on Airwolf," he announced.
"Jo is busy this week," Saint John said, as he climbed out of the Jet Ranger's cockpit with a gauge in one hand and a wire stripper in the other.
"You, String, and Mike."
"Since when is String flying with us?"
"Well, Jo is flying that stunt with Cait and Toni, Dom is working ground, and I'll be stuck in meetings all week."
"String shouldn't be flying combat yet."
"He took Bogard out pretty handily. But it's not a combat mission."
String walked out of the office with a parts manifest in his hand and the sour look he got when he was dealing with paperwork. "Who did what? Oh, hello, Jason."
"I need you on a mission with your brother and Mike. I'd like you to do the flying. I need Saint John handling normal engineering, and Mike monitoring that new sensor array, since he has some background as a geophysicist."
"Sounds interesting. Why don't we go into the office and discuss it."
"He made a lunch run to the taco place near the airstrip. Why don't you call him and ask him to bring you something? He just left."
"Sure." He punched in Mike's car phone number on the office telephone.
Saint John cleaned off the top of the desk. Mike distributed the salsa and tacos, fish for Saint John, beef for Jason and Mike, cheese for String. Jason outlined the mission to calibrate new, airborne antennas for ground penetrating radar. The object was to correlate the known boundaries of the ancient Portuguese Bend Landslide with the imaged boundaries obtained by the new gear. "So you see, we need all three of you."
"Sounds very interesting and it's the best kind of mission, peaceful work and home for dinner," Saint John responded. "When do you want us to do it?"
"The weather looks favorable this week. We're going to bring in a research team from the U.S. Geological Survey to analyze your results and recommend adjustments."
"You know, I always liked this kind of flying best," String observed, not meeting Jason's eyes.
"Yeah, I do too," Saint John agreed with enthusiasm.
"Well, the gear will be delivered tomorrow and if you can get it installed, you can start the work the day after."
Dom took String aside later that afternoon. Dom was becoming adept with his cane and prosthetic leg. They walked together out to the tarmac and around to a quiet place in the shade between Santini Air's hangar and a parts shed. "So what's going on between you and Saint John?" he asked.
"It's that obvious?"
"The temperature in the hangar drops ten degrees when you're both there."
"He's mad at me, or maybe at himself and me, for risking my life and yours trying to find him."
"Well, I've been expecting him to do something irrational. God knows he's entitled. But that doesn't make any sense."
"That's what I told him. And I'm lucky he didn't hit me."
"You know, he used to be the reasonable one."
"What do you mean? I'm a very reasonable man."
Dom smothered a laugh. "Right."
String chuckled, but got serious again. "Dom, don't say anything, yet. Sinj and I will have to work this out. He's still seeing a counselor at the VA. I hope he gets him to see how unnecessary it is."
"Do you trust shrinks?"
"I don't either." Shaking his head, he slung an arm around String's shoulders. They walked back to the hangar.
"Cait had the idea of us flying together, and Jason agreed with me that it was worth a try. That's why he pulled me in on the scientific survey this week."
"Cait's a smart cookie. I always said so. Well, I hope it works."
"So do I."
Two days later, String carefully lifted Airwolf up the chimney of the Lair. "Gentlemen, how do we look?" he asked.
"Engineering normal," Saint John reported.
"Saint John, have you plotted a course to the target area?"
"Course plotted and uploaded. String, you should be receiving it now."
"Got it. Here we go."
In an hour, Airwolf was over the target area on the coast. With constant reference to the map and the search coordinates, String aligned Airwolf with the study vector.
"Mike, how do the readings look?"
"They're coming in. I don't have enough experience to interpret them yet. I'm glad the USGS will take a look at them this evening, to see if the results are useful."
The three were silent in concentration for a while. String stopped to hover. "Saint John, check our course, here. The computer is showing me two options."
"Take the eastern route, then turn north."
"You got it."
After another few minutes String hovered again over the beach. "That was the first circuit. Let's line up for the second survey."
The scrambler interrupted with its musical tone. "Airwolf, this is Jason."
Saint John took the call. "Go ahead, Jason."
"I hate to interrupt your work, but we've got a Mayday and the Los Angeles search and rescue squad has asked for our help."
"What's up, Jason?"
"A missing child in the San Gabriels. The search and rescue people have worked with String and Dom in the past and would like access to Airwolf's sensors again."
"Did they see Airwolf?"
"No. When we've worked with them we called it "Eye in the Sky. They've never seen Airwolf."
"Well, we'll do it, of course. Where do we go?"
"I'm uploading the contact information and area right now. Good luck. Keep me posted."
Mike read the information Jason sent. "Jimmy Alvarez. A thirteen-year-old boy. He was hiking with his scout troop and seems to have been bringing up the rear. They think he lagged behind, then took the wrong fork in the trail. That was yesterday afternoon on what was supposed to be a short, after-school hike. He's about five foot one, one hundred ten pounds, brown hair, brown eyes, wearing a Scout uniform."
"Okay. Mike, let's start at the point in the trail where he went missing. Saint John, give me a heading."
With turbos, Airwolf was over the area in twenty minutes. The area was forested with substantial undergrowth, making the use of sensors necessary. Midday sunlight hit the trail they were following, mottled through the trees. A brown blanket of pollution lay to the west over Los Angeles. Thermal sensors detected a number of hikers, although it was a weekday, and Mike observed them with the binoculars. None matched Jimmy's description. Large animals such as deer, some black bears, and a mountain lion confused the search. Higher in the mountains the number of hikers diminished and rocky areas emerged from the forest.
"We're at least three miles from where the scout troop lost contact with the boy," String reported. "We're going to have to go back and start sweeping the ravines near the trail. He might have fallen into one. The brush is pretty heavy."
Watching the sensors, Saint John interrupted, "Wait. I've got a sort of encampment. Let's go in for a closer look."
String halted Airwolf to hover. "Let's take this carefully. You know, there have been some pot growers in this area. Some are just hippies but some of them are pretty dangerous. If the boy has somehow gotten caught up with the wrong people, I don't want to spook them."
Mike spoke up. "Okay, let's make one pass around the edge of it and see if we see him."
"Saint John, let's set every sensor to maximum gain. Mike, get ready with those binoculars. Here we go."
String aimed Airwolf to pass to one side of the encampment, trying to make it look like a routine flight, not a search."
"Sensors showing five people in a clearing," Saint John reported. "And some disturbed, probably cultivated ground adjacent to the camp. If there's anyone else out there in the trees, the gear couldn't resolve it."
Mike said, "I see one tied to a tree, small, scout uniform. It's Jimmy."
"Saint John, call Jason on the scrambler, in case they're monitoring police radios. I think we'll have to go in."
Saint John activated the scrambler.
"What's up?" Jason's voice came through.
"We've seen the boy. He must have stumbled into a group of the wrong people. He's tied to a tree in their camp and it looks like they're growing marijuana. If there had been a ransom demand, we'd wait for a hostage negotiator, but without it, we think it's too urgent to wait for the police. Here are the coordinates. Send the police in, but Mike and I are going to go after him."
"I agree with you, it's urgent. But be careful. I'll have the county sheriff or local police, whatever the jurisdiction, up there as soon as they can get there. Keep me posted."
"Okay," Saint John agreed, and disconnected the call. "String, set us down about a quarter mile away, behind that rise, so they don't see you land. Mike and I will do a little bushwhacking. These flight suits aren't exactly good camouflage."
"No," String told him. "It's you and me, Sinj. Mike, take over the ship." He waited until Mike had the controls, then reached into the storage bin under the front control panel for his handgun.
"Wait a minute," Saint John objected. "I'm not going in with a man who isn't fit."
"Stuff it, Sinj. I ran five miles yesterday. I doubt you can top that."
"String, dammit, I am not going to let you get hurt again."
"Don't yell once we've landed, unless you want them to know we're coming. You didn't have anything to do with me getting hurt the last time. Sinj, we worked together on the ground a few times in 'Nam. We're a pretty good team. Let's go save that boy."
Mike broke in. "I will not get into the middle of an argument between you two overgrown teenagers. Shut up and do it, or don't do it, but decide whatever you're going to do now." He settled Airwolf behind a bouldery knoll covered in trees out of sight of the camp.
"Mike," String ordered, "Give us about ten minutes to get into place, then run a diversion. Fly right over the middle of the camp. Use chain guns if it will help." String was out of the cockpit as it landed. "You coming, brother?" He shoved his sleeves up and ran to the edge of a pile of gray granite boulders.
"Idiot," Saint John muttered, grabbed his own weapon, and hopped out of the ship, hurrying to catch up to him. "Okay, since you've taken over. How do you suggest we sneak in, in broad daylight, wearing light gray suits?"
"Carefully." String left the path as he started to circle to the left of the rocky outcrop between Airwolf and their target. As he emerged where they could see the camp, he crouched and waited for his brother behind a large, old pine. The underbrush was a fair cover for them.
"Poison oak. It's covering the whole mountain here."
"Oh, boy. If we get into it any deeper, Dom will kill us."
"Let's see that we live long enough for Dom to do it."
"Since you're leading here, what do you suggest?"
"The same we did that time when your chopper went down north of La Trang. You go that way." He pointed to his left. "And I'll go that way." He pointed to his right. "Circle around, and I'll walk into the clearing and cover the people on that side of the tent. Try to get to the boy. Mike should roar through right about then."
The two gray-clad figures separated and ran crouching from tree to tree. Ten minutes saw them on opposite sides of the camp. It was nearly noon and four men were in sight, two sitting on a log by the tent, apparently eating lunch, one smoking, leaning against a jeep. A fourth was bundling some freshly harvested plants with twine. A rake, shovel, and a spool of twine lay on the bare earth. Stretching to the north of the camp were marijuana plants in rows. Trees were scattered through the pot plantation. Poison oak draped the trees and encircled the marijuana plot, covering much of the open ground.
String, standing behind a large and full pine tree, took the safety off his handgun and stepped into the clearing. Saint John did the same from just beyond the jeep. "We've come for the boy," String said.
One of the men eating lunch reached for a handgun. "Don't try it," String told him, swinging his weapon to cover him.
Saint John yelled, "String, look out!"
String heard the rush of footsteps behind him. He stepped sideways but did not want to turn his back on the armed men by the tent. He felt a rush of air and ducked instinctively as a shovel whizzed by his head, narrowly missing his ear. He dropped, rolled, and came up swinging. His first swing caught his assailant on the chin, but someone jumped on him from behind. He heard Saint John shout but was busy grappling with two men at once. He fell backward, pulling the man in front of him up and over his head to fall on the other man. One of them went limp, but he was still struggling with the other. They were rolling on the ground and he realized he was in the brush, rubbing his face in the poison oak.
The sound of Airwolf roaring into the clearing startled his opponent into looking up. String took advantage of the distraction to clasp both hands and bring them down on the back of the man's neck. His gun had gotten dropped in the fight but the stainless steel was plainly visible in the dirt of the clearing. He grabbed it and turned it on the two men lying at the edge of the clearing. Saint John stood up, still holding his gun and covering the other two. The two that had been sitting when he had walked into the clearing had their hands up. With his other hand, Saint John dusted dirt and vegetation off his flight suit. Mike hopped out of Airwolf and ran to the boy.
In the distance they could hear more helicopters. String gestured to the two men he was guarding to get up and move into the center of the clearing. Saint John did the same. "Cavalry coming," he observed.
"About time." Saint John turned to Mike. "Time to get the Lady out of sight. Why don't you go back behind the peak and we'll join you after we've turned them and the boy over to the authorities."
"Will do. Are you two all right?"
"I am. String?"
"I'm fine. A little banged up. How are you, son?" he asked the boy.
The thin boy in a Boy Scout uniform stood up as Mike used his pocket knife to cut through his bonds. He had some bruises but looked intact, otherwise. "I'm okay. Can I look at your helicopter?"
"Sure. Mike, do the honors, will you? Quickly. We don't want Jason to get stuck with a lot of explanations."
"Right." He escorted the boy to Airwolf and showed him around the outside of the gunship.
"We're going to have to go an emergency room," Saint John said. "You and I are both about to have a pretty severe allergic reaction."
"It would have to be poison oak," String grumbled. "We'll get Mike to drop us at the Firm clinic, and Dom can pick us up. Jason can pick Mike up at the Lair. We'll need our clean clothes out of the back because the flight suits have a date with a washing machine."
One of the men he was watching started edging toward the shovel. "Don't," String advised. He stopped.
The boy crossed the clearing to Saint John. "Thank you. I think they were going to kill me." His voice cracked in the middle of the sentence, caught between a childish alto and a new tenor.
Saint John grinned sympathetically. "We're glad to help out," he assured him.
Mike said, "See you guys in a few minutes," waved, and climbed back into Airwolf. He lifted off and disappeared around the rocky outcrop, as the authorities showed up in force, two helicopters, with five uniformed officers jumping out in bullet-proof vests and helmets.
String and Saint John showed the officers their identification. "We're the crew of Eye in the Sky," Saint John assured the lieutenant in charge. The boy was escorted to one helicopter and the six-member drug gang to the other.
The officer in charge walked back to them. "You sure you have a ride?"
"Our helicopter is parked behind that outcrop," Saint John explained. "And our partner is doing the flying. If you don't mind, my brother and I are both pretty allergic to poison oak and we just rolled in it. We need to go directly to the clinic where our doctor works."
The officer winced sympathetically. "Well, then, see that you do. We have your contact info, if we have any questions. Good luck."
"Thanks. I hope the boy is okay. He just looked a bit shaken up to us, but they've had him nearly twenty-four hours and at the least, he needs some food. His parents must be going crazy."
The officer grinned. "That pretty well sums it up. We'll take care of him."
"Good. He's a brave kid."
The police helicopters lifted off. String and Saint John waved to them, then walked back to where Airwolf waited. As he climbed into the engineer's station, Saint John remarked, "We'll have to draw straws to see who gets to wash every surface we've touched in Airwolf."
"Oh, joy," Mike said. "I suggest that the drawing be between the two of you."
"Hey," String objected. "We're about to be sick for a week. You haven't seen us with a full-blown case of poison oak."
"I hope you're kidding."
"I wish I were."
Mike lifted off carefully.
"We're not sick, yet, Mike. You can fly faster. But I feel my face starting to puff up," Saint John said, graphically.
"Fine. Saint John, file a flight plan change and plot me a course to the clinic at Knightsbridge. I want to get you two hypochondriacs into the hands of people who are used to dealing with you."
"Hypochondriacs!" String objected, as Airwolf soared into the sky and headed toward Knightsbridge.
It was beautiful the following morning when Dom landed the Jet Ranger on the dock at Eagle Lake and climbed out. The sun shimmered on the water, birds were singing, and dew still hung on the leaves. Saint John followed Dom up the path, a little cautiously, because his face on the right side was so swollen that his vision was slightly impaired.
String met them on the porch. Calamine lotion covered much of his face and neck and some of his hair. Blue eyes, slitted against the sun and embedded in swollen flesh, were incongruous against the pink lotion. He was wearing a t-shirt, leaving the calamine lotion-covered lesions on his arms exposed.
"Hi, Dom," he said cheerfully.
Dom stared at him. "Good lord," he said. "You still looked human when I brought you home yesterday."
String was scratching the welts on his chin. Cait joined him on the porch, a hand shading her eyes against the sun's glare. "Hi Dom. Hi Sinj," she greeted them. "Stop scratching," she told String. Dutifully, he dropped his hand, then went back to scratching his arms.
"Come on in for a bit," she suggested to Dom. "There's a fresh pot of coffee. Le Van's still eating breakfast. Sinj, can I pour you a cup?"
"I'd love one. Mind if I have it out here? This place is so beautiful in the morning."
"I'll bring it out. String, want a refill?"
"I'd love one," he echoed his brother. "I'll sit out here with Saint John."
Dom shook his head. "You boys know how allergic you are to poison oak," he admonished.
"Next time we rescue a child from pot growers, we'll pick our ground more carefully," String said with some exasperation.
"Smart-mouthed kid," Dom grumbled and followed Cait into the cabin.
The brothers faced each other. "You look awful," Saint John said.
"You mean I look like you."
"No, worse. My arms are okay."
"Yeah, it was a warm day. I pushed the sleeves up on my flight suit. Turns out that was a mistake."
"Well, it's pretty bad."
"Pretty bad," he agreed.
"You're lucky Cait didn't call Dom last night and beg him to rescue her."
"What, did Ellie do that?"
"She threatened to take Joshua and spend the night with her in-laws. Then she fed me chicken soup."
"Cait fed me spaghetti and ice cream. And she and Le Van laughed at me all evening."
"Yeah. Ellie and Joshua laughed at me. I didn't get any sympathy."
"You're right. We aren't getting any sympathy."
"Well, we'll comfort each other. No one else could possibly understand." He sat down on the bench, looked String up and down, and burst into laughter."
String looked back at him pointedly, then collapsed laughing onto the bench next to him. Cait pushed through the screen door, two coffee mugs in her left hand. "What's so funny?"
"Look at him. Ugliest thing I've ever seen," String declared."
"Pot calling the kettle black," Saint John managed to get out.
"Pink. Calling the kettle pink," String retorted.
They ended up leaning against each other, laughing helplessly. Cait shook her head and set the mugs down beside each of them on the bench. "I didn't know hysteria was a side effect of poison oak," she observed and went back inside.
"We've driven her back into the cabin," Saint John declared with satisfaction. "If she stays out here, she'll keep us from scatching."
"And we gotta scratch."
"Gotta scratch," Saint John agreed, and leaned back against String's shoulder.
String raised his mug. "I'll drink to that."
"To scratching." Both sipped their hot coffee. "Maybe something a little stronger than coffee. Are we allowed to drink when we take steroids?"
"I don't care. But we'll wait until after Cait and Dom are gone. And more aspirin."
"You realize that Jason, no Michael, said we're two of the most dangerous men on the planet."
"When did he say that?"
"In a meeting. Of course, it was just with Michael, me and Mike and Jason."
"Dangerous to who?" String asked.
Saint John roared with laughter. They both had to set their mugs down to avoid splashing coffee across the porch.
Cait, Le Van, and Dom emerged from the cabin. ""What's so funny?" Cait asked.
"Sinj says we're two of the most dangerous men on the planet," String gasped.
"To yourselves, maybe. That's why we don't want to let you down the mountain without a keeper," Cait agreed. "Now you two be good, y'hear," Cait admonished them. "Don't forget to take your medicine. Try not to scratch or you'll make it worse. And radio if you need us." She went to kiss String goodbye and stopped, trying to figure out where to kiss someone covered in calamine lotion. She finally kissed the top of his head. "Take care," she said softly.
Both Hawkes stood up. "Bye Cait, bye Dom, bye Le," Saint John said cheerfully and waved.
"Bye!" String added. They seemed to find that very funny and collapsed back on the bench, laughing.
Dom, Cait, and Le Van climbed into the Jet Ranger and waved at the two men sitting on the porch. Dom was shaking his head as he lifted off. "I was afraid I'd have to stay here to keep them from knocking each other's head off. That doesn't appear to be a problem. Can we trust them not to act like idiots?"
Cait said, "Too late for that. But Dom, wait."
"I forgot something."
Dom set the helicopter back on the dock. "I'll be just a minute," she told him. She ran into the cabin and emerged a moment later with a camera and shot the remaining roll of film on Saint John and String. She brought the camera with her.
"What are you going to do with the pictures?" Dom asked, as he took off again.
She grinned. "Blackmail. I'll see that you and Ellie get copies."
"Me too," Le Van broke in, from the back of the cockpit.
"No, kids don't get to blackmail their parents. Don't worry, Le. We'll make good use of it." Cait did a creditable soprano version of an evil laugh and rubbed her hands. She settled back in her seat. "I've never seen String like this," Cait said.
"They used to laugh like that when they were little kids. One would get an attack of the giggles and pretty soon they were both rolling around on the floor like puppies."
"Well, this morning they're a couple of naughty boys."
"You know, I don't remember either of them behaving like this since their parents died. Saint John was sixteen and was a young man already, not too far from college, then the war, but String was only twelve. He was very serious after that. Then his high school sweetheart died and he went to war and Saint John went missing. He got downright grim. You wouldn't believe it, but when he was little, String was the funny one." Dom's voice got thick. "Cait, take the controls a minute, will you? I gotta sneeze."
"Sure, Dom." She put her hands and feet on the controls and glanced over at him. He surreptitiously wiped away some moisture from his eyes. "I hope they don't dare each other to do something else stupid."
"You mean worse than confronting an armed, organized drug gang and fighting them in a patch of poison oak?"
"I suppose it couldn't get much worse." She couldn't help laughing. "Did you see how bad Saint John looks?"
"Almost bad as your fiancé. I hope they have enough calamine lotion."
"I bought six of the biggest bottles in the drugstore."
"I'll take over again, " Dom chuckled as he took control and piloted the chopper carefully down the mountain. "You did it, Cait."
"Got Saint John past that blue funk he was in. Although this isn't exactly how I would have done it."
"I didn't do it. I just suggested it to String. They just needed the space to work it out. Now they're so busy itching I doubt Saint John'll remember he's mad at anybody." She looked back at Le Van. "Right about now, you're probably thinking that grown-ups are all crazy," she guessed.
Tactfully, Le paid attention to his math textbook. Dom was still chuckling when they reached the airfield.