Brothers in Conflict

Disclaimer – As usual, don't own any of the characters, just taking them out for another little non-profit playdate.

A/N – This story serves as an antithesis to Brotherly Love – and will be told again from Saint John's POV. Hope you like it. – robertwnielsen

Summary – Saint John sees the potential chemistry between Caitlin and String, and decides to do something about it, no matter the cost.

I've gotta admit, I've seen an awful lot in my time, from String's and my time in the Army to the time after I got bailed out of the POW camp and volunteered for that Special Operations Group (SOG) duty...I saw things during that time that would curl your hair, let me tell you. But nothing compares to the shock I got the first time I saw String's friend, Caitlin O'Shannessy. I have to admit, I've always been partial to the magazine model type of woman, and that's something String and I have had in common, but Caitlin—I dunno—there's just something about her that has both me and String hooked.

At least, whatever it is, it's got me hooked. I mean, I don't know why I haven't asked her out already. Wait a second, never mind. I do know why I haven't asked her out already—because she's got eyes for String. And, she's got them bad. I mean, I haven't been around those two that long, but even in the short time I have known both String and Caitlin, I've seen the looks she's given him, especially when he and Dom are boarding a helicopter to go back to the cabin where he lives, alone. It's almost like she wants to go up there with him, but she's afraid to say anything to him about it.

I guess I understand why String has been pushing Caitlin away the way he has—at least, somewhat. Ever since String was twelve years old, when our parents died in a boating accident on the lake where we lived, String's had this crazy idea that anyone he loves, or might love, will die. And, unfortunately, events seem to have borne out this theory – first off, like I said, our parents were killed. Then, just before String and I shipped out to Vietnam, he and his girlfriend Kelly were in a terrible car accident, and Kelly didn't make it. Finally, String and I went down on the same mission in Vietnam—except I didn't get picked up, and I know that's the main reason String thinks the way he does.

But there are a few things String refuses to acknowledge about that time—mainly, the fact that I ordered him to evac the rest of the squad out of the area, because the VC were overrunning our position. We'd already lost five guys, including our squad leader, which left me in command of the squad, and I wasn't about to lose anymore, including String. So, I ordered him to lift off without me and the rest of the squad, and we were immediately taken prisoner by the NVA. They moved us around a lot after that, which is why nobody ever found me or any of the other guys, until one day near the end of the war, a raid came and blew the camp where we were being held to smithereens, and I was a free man, until agents from a cell of the CIA approached me and asked me if I wanted to participate in undercover missions in several "hotspots" around the world, including right there in 'Nam. I jumped at the chance, figuring that if I went home, I'd probably be out of the service for good, and that wasn't what I wanted to do. Besides, I figured String and Dom probably thought I was dead anyway, so I didn't see the harm in it. I've probably prevented WWIII several times myself.

But it's gonna take every ounce of skill I've got to prevent the war that's liable to break out between me and String if I go through with what I'm thinking about. I mean, like I said before, Caitlin is a beautiful woman, not to mention single, and by every indication, seriously in love with String. And if my kid brother can't appreciate that, and act on it, especially with me being home, I might just have to take matters into my own hands and give him a push. Assuming, of course, that he doesn't push right back, and try to beat the holy hell outta me, like he did when we were kids. He never has forgiven me for running away from him and Dom like I did, and I guess I can understand that. I mean, I didn't tell him where I was, or what I was doing for sixteen years, until those agents from another CIA division that calls itself "the FIRM" approached me and asked me to come home. I hesitated at first, but then I decided to go home and tell my kid brother that I hadn't died that day, that I'd been alive all this time. That had not gone well, and I worried about what I was planning to do regarding Caitlin—if this blew up in my face, String would probably never speak to me again. Plus, like I said before, he'd probably try to beat the holy hell out of me.

My plan was simple—I'd express interest in Caitlin myself—which wouldn't be that hard to do. The hard part, I figured, would be dealing with String. If my plan works, the fact that someone else is expressing interest in Caitlin might serve as the kick in the head (or the ass) that my brother needs to get him to recognize his feelings about Caitlin. I mean, not even he could be so dumb, or so blind, as to not see how much Caitlin loves him. Heck, Dom, Ev, and I can see it—and so can that 'Michael' guy that I've seen around the hangar a few times, who heads up the FIRM—at least—I think he heads up the FIRM. He sure acts like he does. I've just gotta get this through my kid brother's head before it's too late. Then I stopped myself—after all, this is my kid brother, Stringfellow Hawke, I'm talkin' about. He absolutely could be so dumb, or so blind—or both—as to not see how much Caitlin loves him. Well, looks like I'll just have to stick my nose where it doesn't belong, again, and pray that String doesn't decide to chop it off, along with the rest of my head, later.

Now that I think about it, even my son Le sees how much Caitlin loves String. He mentioned it to me one night after we were reunited.

"Dad? How come Uncle String can't tell how much Cait loves him?" Le had asked me.

"I—I don't know, Half-Pint," I said, shaking my head.

"He must be a lot dumber than I thought," Le said, which quite frankly shocked me.

"Le Van Hawke! That's not a nice thing to say about your uncle!" I said firmly.

"Even though it's true?" Le demanded, refusing to back down.

That made me stop and think—and I had to admit that Le had a point. Not to mention, I recognized both String's and my tendency to not let go of a belief in something, even if it was insulting. "Yeah, Half-Pint," I said. "It's true. And, you're right, pal—String not seein' how much Cait loves him does make him look pretty dumb. Sorry I yelled at you, Le, but remember—it's not nice to say bad things about your family members, even when they're the truth."

"Okay, Dad," Le said, then added, "Ya think there's anything you or I can do to get Uncle String to see sense?"

"Actually, Half-Pint, I'm already workin' on something. But, if I tell you about it, you gotta promise me you won't say a word. Promise?"

"Promise," he replied, looking me straight in the eyes as we shook hands. When I finished telling him about my idea, Le shook his head and said, "Good luck, Dad—'cause I think you're gonna need it."

"Thanks, partner," I said, adding to myself, Nah. I KNOW I'm gonna need it.

Then I remembered something else Le had told me. "Dad? Do you think it'd be okay if I started callin' Cait 'Aunt Cait?' Even though she isn't my aunt?"

"I don't see why not—at least, as Cait doesn't have a problem with it," I said, smiling at him. "Maybe—maybe that'll help give String the kick in the rear end he needs to get things rolling with Cait. I—I think that's a good idea, pal." Besides, I remembered thinking to myself, if Le saying 'Aunt Cait' would help me give String a push to make her Le's aunt, by marryin' her, then it'd be worth it.

"Thanks, Dad," Le said, smiling at me.

That night, as we were closing down the hangar, just before Dom and String got into their chopper to go back to the cabin, I turned to Caitlin and said, "Hey, Cait. You want to grab a bite to eat?"

My question stopped Dom and String dead in their tracks. Just as I hoped, I thought, fighting to keep the smirk off my face. I could tell String was wondering what I was thinking...and I think he was even wondering whether Caitlin would accept the offer. Finally, she smiled at me, that smile that String calls her "million-dollar smile," and said, after glancing over her shoulder at String and Dom, "Sure, Sinj. I think I'd like that." Then, she turned to Dom and String and said, "See you guys in the morning!"

"Sure, Cait," Dom hollered as String climbed into the co-pilot's seat of the chopper, and I noticed the expression on our surrogate father's face. Tomorrow, Dom. I'll explain everything tomorrow, I thought as he climbed into the pilot's seat of the chopper and they headed towards the cabin.

"Well, Saint John, I have to say this is a surprise," Caitlin said to me a few minutes later as we sat down in a booth at a local restaurant I'd heard her talking about.

"Why, Cait?" I asked, smiling at her.

"Well," she said hesitantly, "you've never expressed any real interest in me before—and, please don't take this the wrong way—even though I've only known ya for a short time, I can already tell you're a great guy, not to mention you're good looking. But, I've gotta be honest with you, Sinj. No offense or anything, but I—I mean that is, I'm—"

I decided I'd let her in on my little secret. "Cait, I know," I said, shaking my head. "I know you're crazy about String." The immediate coloring of her cheeks told me I was dead right.

"Is it that obvious?" Caitlin asked shyly.

"Oh, only to me, Ev, Dom, Michael; just about everybody who looks at you when String's around," I said, laughing as I took a drink of my water. "Heck, even Le sees it—he was tellin' me just the other day how dumb he thinks String is. Oh, and by the way," I said, smiling at her, "no offense taken."

"Yeah," Caitlin said sadly, "everybody except String. And, thanks, Sinj."

"Don't mention it," I said, then continued, "Listen, Cait. I've got a plan that just might work to change that, if String doesn't kill me first."

"What's that?" Caitlin asked, confused.

"Well," I said, hesitating, "First, I need you to promise me that what I'm about to tell you will stay strictly between us—if String finds out what I'm doing, the game is up, and I'm probably gonna be in serious trouble. Of course, even if this works, I'll probably wind up in trouble, but that's beside the point," I said, laughing, as the waiter approached us and took our dinner orders.

"Sinj, whatever you're planning to do, if it works, you'll have my full support," Caitlin replied, "and I won't tell a soul. I promise." Her expression told me that she meant what she said.

"Thanks, Cait," I said, smiling back at her.

"So, now, are you gonna tell me what the deal is?" Caitlin demanded.

"I suppose," I said, then proceeded to tell her about my idea. By the time I was finished, I could see Caitlin was developing misgivings about my idea.

"So, you think that by expressing interest in me yourself, you might get through String's head?" Caitlin asked me.

"That's the plan," I replied, smiling as our dinners arrived. "I know you probably already know this, but String has always been a little hard-headed, Caitlin, and I think this little idea of mine might work—if String sees that he might lose you, then it could be the kick in the head—or the ass—that he needs," I said.

"What if it doesn't work, Sinj?" Caitlin asked worriedly. "You're taking an awful big chance here." I have to admit, I was surprised she seemed to care so much about my feelings, and I knew instantly why String loved her so much—besides the fact that she was gorgeous, that is.

"Well, I'll deal with that, and with my brother, if things don't work the way I want them to, later," I said to her. "Do you trust me, Cait?" I asked her. Caitlin's trust would be critical—if she didn't trust me, this whole thing could blow up in both of our faces, and I shuddered to think what would happen to my relationship with String, as well as his friendship with Caitlin, if it did.

Her hesitancy before she answered gave me cause for concern. Finally, she said, "Yeah, Sinj. I trust you. I just—hope this little plan of yours works," she said as we both dug into our meals. So do I. I knew the potential consequences if my plan didn't work. Then, Cait said, "So, Le sees how much I love String too, does he?"

I smiled and said, "Yeah, Cait, he does. He told me that String not seeing it must mean that he's a lot dumber than Le thought he was. I told Le that wasn't a very nice thing to say about String, even though it's the truth."

"Well, Le always seemed to be a bright kid," Cait said to me. "And him seein' that just proves it." She smiled at me again as if to tell me that everything was okay.

After dinner, I drove Caitlin back to the hangar to pick up her car, then drove home, worried sick about what would happen the next morning. I mean, I've just got a funny feeling that String's been stewing ever since we left the hangar about Caitlin and me going out together; and, even though that's exactly what I wanted him to do, I was still worried about it. Ever since I came back, our relationship's been on real thin ice—and my taking Caitlin out for a date was only going to make the problem worse.

The next morning, I arrived at the hangar just before Dom and String got there, and found Caitlin already there, and the hangar open for business. When I heard Dom's chopper coming in, I said to Caitlin, "Remember what we talked about last night?"

She winked at me, smiled, and said, "Don't worry about it."

A few minutes later, String and Dom walked into the hangar.

"Y'know, Sinj, I had a real nice time last night," Caitlin said to me as they walked up.

"So did I, Cait," I replied, smiling at her, even as I noticed the expression on String's face. Perfect, I thought. String looked like he wanted to deck me right then and there, which was exactly what I wanted. Well, not for him to deck me—yet—but at least be upset enough about what I was doing to want to deck me, if that makes any sense. "So," I said, turning back to her, "we still on for the movies tonight?"

"Sure,"Caitlin said, ignoring the expressions on both Dom and String's faces. "I'll be ready when we close down the hangar." She turned and walked off, towards the office, and Dom came up to me as String went after Caitlin.

"Sinj, what the hell are you doing?" Dom demanded, steering me away from the hangar. "Don't you know how Cait feels about..."

"Relax, Dom," I said, smiling. "I know how Caitlin feels about String. Even if I hadn't seen it before, she told me about it last night over dinner. Trust me, Dom—this is all part of my plan."

"Plan?" Dom demanded, and I could tell he was getting angry. "What plan? And why the hell don't I know anything about it?"

"My plan to give String the kick in the ass he needs," I said to our surrogate father. "I figure that by expressing interest in Caitlin myself, it'll make String realize what he would lose if he doesn't take a chance. Simple psychology, Dom," I said, then added, "And as to why you don't know about it, I'm sorry, Dom. Maybe I should've said something to you, but..." I was worried about how Dom would feel that I hadn't trusted him with my idea, and I hoped he wouldn't be too upset with me.

"Well, Sinj, I gotta admit it sounds like a good plan. I sure hope it works—and, don't worry about not tellin' me about it. I probably couldn't have kept a plan like that a secret for long, anyway, and then we'd both be in trouble!" Dom replied, and I had to agree with him. I know what String's like when he gets angry, and if this makes him as angry as I think it's going to make him, I could be in serious trouble. But, if it does what I hope it will, then it'll all be worth it, including whatever String might do to me. Which, to be honest, is why I didn't tell Dom about it right away—I figured I should be the only one to take the brunt of String's anger, since it was my idea—of course, if it worked, that would also mean I'd get all the credit—but I figured I'd worry about that part later.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I continued my plan, asking Caitlin out almost every night, and observing String's reactions before he and Dom left the hangar. And every night, String seemed to get angrier and angrier at me when Caitlin and I left together. I remember one night as Caitlin and I were leaving to go out, I caught the expression on String's face and thought to myself—if looks could kill, Caitlin, Dom, and I would all three be dead right now. But I couldn't help thinking that my plan was working. By showing interest in Caitlin myself, I had shown String what he stood to lose by not acting on the feelings that I knew he had for her. And I knew, sooner or later, that things would come to a head between String and me, and I'd planned for it. Finally, after about three and a half weeks, the confrontation happened.

"Saint John," String said as I came out of the office, and I knew he was upset when he used my full name, rather than calling me "Sinj," like he had for so long. "Let's talk," String said, and I heard the anger in his voice.

"What about, little brother?" I asked, innocently, even though I knew perfectly well what he wanted to talk about.

"I'll give you three guesses, Saint John, but I think you're only gonna need one," String said, and I could hear the anger in his voice growing. Good, String. Good.

"Hold it, String. You never said I couldn't ask Caitlin out," I said, knowing it was the truth. "It's not like there's anything going on between you two, right?" I felt my body preparing itself for a fight, which I hoped wouldn't happen, but if it did, I'd be ready.

"Well, no," String said, and I felt my tension increasing at the tone of his voice. "There's nothing between Cait and me. It just kinda caught me by surprise, that's all." he said, and I thought I noticed something in his eyes, as he'd taken off his aviator shades. He's hurt. When I saw the hurt expression in String's eyes, I knew I'd done the right thing. I knew it. He does have feelings for Caitlin—even if he's too stubborn to admit them.

"Listen, little brother," I said, smiling to try to lighten the mood, "Don't worry. You know I wouldn't do anything untoward, or anything like that—if that's what's worrying you."

String didn't say anything for a minute, but when he did, it was obvious that he'd been thinking about what had been going on the past few weeks. "What are you doin', anyway, Saint John?"

"String," I said, trying to keep my voice level, "I don't know what you're..."

"You know damned well what I'm talking about, Saint John! Why have you suddenly developed an interest in Cait?" Okay, now I'm worried. I'd gotten him angry, which was what I wanted, but I was beginning to think that maybe I'd pushed too hard, too fast. I don't believe it, but unless I'm readin' you totally wrong, you're jealous, little brother.

"Oh, come on, little brother," I said, and smiled at him, "you can't tell me you haven't had the same thoughts—or similar ones, at least—about Cait. The only difference is, I decided to act on my thoughts."

"Why, Saint John?" String demanded. "And especially, why with Caitlin? Don't you know how..." He caught himself before he finished his sentence, and I stifled a grin of satisfaction, knowing that my plan was working. Aha! It's working! Now, I just have to get him to admit how he feels about Cait.

"'Don't I know how'—what, little brother?" I shot back, practically daring him to finish his sentence.

"N-nothing, Saint John," String replied. Oh, please. Give me some credit here, little brother. Even though I haven't been around for sixteen years, I still know you like the back of my hand, you stubborn mule. I suddenly felt glad that Dom and Caitlin were away from the office, and we could have this out in private. Your tone of voice tells me different, little brother. Now, I just have to get it outta you.

"Don't lie to me, little brother!" I shouted, angry. "Not about something like this! You were gonna say, 'Don't you know how I feel about Caitlin,' weren't you?" The expression in my kid brother's eyes told me that I'd hit pretty close to the mark, but he hesitated again. "Come on," I goaded him, "tell me that wasn't what you were thinkin', little brother." And if you even try it, with all due respect, String, I'll call you a liar. I wasn't angry that String was getting closer to expressing his feelings about Cait—that was exactly what I wanted him to do—but, I was angry that he'd been denying them for so long—not to mention the fact that he was lying through his ass to me about them.

The silence that followed my question made me worry that String was either gonna take a swing at me, or try to convince me that I was wrong. Finally, String sighed, shook his head, and said, "Yeah, Saint John. That's exactly what I was thinking, and exactly what I was going to say. I mean, I never thought I'd say this again, but..." He hung his head, almost as if he was ashamed at the thoughts running through his mind. Or maybe, just maybe, he's finally acknowledging the 800-pound gorilla in the room—how he really feels about Caitlin.

"You love Caitlin, don't you?" I prodded him, knowing the potential repercussions if I was wrong.

String raised his head, looked me in the eyes, and said, "Yeah. Yeah, I do, Saint John. I love her. More than I've loved anybody since..."

"Gabrielle, right?" I asked, drawing a surprised reaction from String.

"How did you know?" String demanded.

"Dom told me," I said, remembering the conversation he and I had about Gabrielle, and how String had lost her. "And, he told me everything, String. About the helicopter, and Moffet—all of it."

"Dammit." String grumbled. "Sorry, Saint John."

I smiled at String. "Don't worry about it, little brother. It's not like I've never sworn in my life. As to why Dom told me—well, I asked him about it a couple of weeks ago. He didn't want to tell me at first, especially about the helicopter, but I kept after him. That's something you and I have in common, y'know—our stubborn streaks."

"Well, I think Caitlin's got us both beat in that department, Sinj," String said, and I noticed his relapse to his old childhood nickname for me.

"Hey, if she's hung around this long waiting for you, she's gotta be stubborn as a Georgia mule," I said, remembering how Dom had told me he'd been watching Caitlin trying to get String's attention for the past year and a half, ever since she'd come to California looking for him. "So?" I asked him.

"So, what?" String shot back.

"So, why don't you ask her out; and tell her how you feel about her, for cryin' out loud?" I demanded.

"Well, first of all, there's..." Oh, no you don't, String! The anger I felt at the start of this argument returned full force, because I knew exactly what String was about to bring up.

"Oh, for God's sake, String!" I hollered at the top of my lungs. "Don't give me that bullshit about a curse you think you have! Goddammit, Dom was right! This 'curse' of yours—it's a goddamned obsession with you!" I was angry, and I was gonna let String know it.

"Oh, really?" String demanded, and I could tell he was ready for an argument. "Look at the facts, Sinj—Mom and Dad, dead. Kelly, dead. Gabrielle, dead. I think that speaks for itself, don't you?" Something in String's expression when he mentioned 'Gabrielle' told me he hadn't planned to include her in his list. But I already know the story. I recalled the conversation Dom and I had about that whole incident a couple of weeks back. And I just told String that Dom told me all about Gabrielle, and everything else connected with her, including why, and how, she died. That wasn't String's fault any more than Kelly was, or our parents. Now I just have to get him to realize it and maybe finally acknowledge the obvious.

I had expected that String would use this line of argument, and I was ready for it. "Okay, wise guy. Then look at these facts—Dom, alive. Le Van, alive. Caitlin, alive. And, most important of all—me—ALIVE. And Dom's told me about some of the missions you guys have flown with that helicopter of yours that coulda killed you, Dom, and Caitlin! If that's not evidence enough..." I cut myself off when I noticed the expression on String's face as it changed to that deer-in-the-headlights look he gets when he's thinking about something. Good, I thought. Aloud, I said, "Look, little brother—I know that the fact that I was gone so long is a big reason you thought you had some kinda curse on you, but, I'm home now. So don't you think it's time you let go of those fears of yours? Besides," I continued, knowing the huge risk I was about to take, "even though I didn't know Gabrielle, I do remember Kelly—and, I think both of them would want you to be happy, little brother." And, I know our parents would want you to be happy, little brother, I thought. And if they could see how much Cait loves you and the way you're ignoring her love, the way I do, I swear to God, they'd be turning over in their graves! Either that or they'd figure a way to come back here and give you a piece of their minds! And, I dunno why, but suddenly I half expected to see String's right hand balled up into a fist and headed straight for my jaw, but instead, String sighed, shook his head, and looked up at me with a frustrated, but not angry, expression. The exact same expression he used to get when we were kids, and I'd just won an argument with him, and he knew I was right, and hated it.

"You tryin' some of that psychology stuff on me, Sinj?" String demanded.

"Why?" I asked, smiling. "Is it working?" The look on String's face said it might be, but I wanted to hear it from him.

"Yeah, Sinj," String said, his tone indicating he'd at least given some thought to what I'd told him. "It's working. And, you're probably right about Kelly, and about Gabrielle. But, why are you doin' this, anyway? If you want Caitlin for yourself, then don't let me stop you..."

"Hold it, String," I said. "I gotta be honest, little brother. Yeah, Caitlin's a beautiful woman and all that, but, whether you want to acknowledge it or not, String—Caitlin, likes, you. Actually, she loves you, and don't tell me you haven't figured that out."

"Actually, I hadn't, Sinj," String told me.

"Well, if it were anybody else, I'd call you a liar, String...but, since it's you, I'll leave it alone. Let me tell you something, little brother—Gabrielle isn't dead because she was involved with you. From what Dom tells me about this Moffet guy, he was out of his mind, and he would have killed anybody who got in his way. Hell, he tried to kill you and Dom after you took the helicopter, didn't he? I suppose you think that would've been your fault too, huh?" That really got String thinking. I smiled when I noticed my little brother's expression. Good. Finally, I said, "Look, little brother—if anything that we've argued about here today has gotten through to you, then it's all worth it, don't you think?"

"Yeah, Sinj," String replied, smiling at me. "It's worth it, and I hate to admit it, but what you've said does make sense. But, come on, Sinj. Why are you..."

"Because, String," I said, "I'm your big brother, and I'm your friend. And I don't like watching you suffer the way you have been—and don't try to deny it, little brother, because I know you too well. You haven't been happy at all since I've been home. Oh, sure, you acted like it when I first came home, but ever since then, and especially lately, you've been moping around like you just lost your last friend. Which you haven't—especially with me, Dom, and most importantly, Cait still around."

"Besides," I said before String could interrupt me, "I know what it feels like to be alone. Remember, I was alone for four years in that POW camp...then the twelve years I spent on that SOG duty, and take my word for it, little brother—being alone sucks. There's no sense in both of us going through it, right?"

Once again, I could see the wheels turning in my little brother's head. At least he's thinking about what I've said to him. That's all I can ask, I suppose. Finally, he shook his head, and said, "Well, Sinj, what if-what if Cait's already falling in love with you?"

At first I thought it was just another one of String's excuses for not getting together with Cait, but then I thought about what he'd said for a minute. And I had to admit that I hadn't considered that possibility. I mean, I've had a good time when Caitlin and I have gone out, and I like to think the feeling is mutual, but she's told me more than once when we've been out together how she feels about String. I decided I'd try to soothe String's worries. "Well, little brother," I said, trying to choose my words carefully, "somehow, I don't think that's gonna be a problem." I hope, I thought. Just then, I heard one of our Jeeps pull in, and saw Dom and Caitlin getting out.

"Hey, guys!" Caitlin said, grinning as she walked towards String and me. "Uh-oh, wait a sec here. What's with the super-serious faces?"

"Oh, Sinj and I've been talking," String said, and winked at me. I winked back at him, to let him know there were no hard feelings.

"Talking?" Caitlin asked. "Well, Sinj, I suppose you can tell me about it tonight, right?" She smiled at me, and I saw an opening practically handed to me on the proverbial silver platter. Well, I suppose now's as good a time as any.

"Actually, Cait," I said, "I've got something I've gotta do tonight, so I won't be able to take you out." I saw her face fall for a moment. Uh-oh—maybe—maybe String's right. Then I looked at my brother. Okay, String. I've opened the door for ya, so don't let it hit you in the ass, little brother. And, don't say I never did anything for ya. I motioned towards Caitlin as I walked away, staying close enough so that I could hear the conversation.

"Um, Cait," String said, hesitantly, "would you be interested in settling for..." I have to admit—I stifled a chuckle at String's nervousness—I saw him anxiously rub the back of his neck as he tried to ask her out—but, I guessed I could understand why he was nervous. He's worried Cait might say no. I found myself fighting a surge of anxiety as String's earlier comment—the one about Caitlin being in love with me—crossed my mind again.

"Settling for—you, String?" she asked, interrupting him. "Stringfellow Hawke, are you trying to ask me out for a date?" Her tone of voice indicated that she was shocked to hear the words, but I definitely heard the anticipation in her voice. Come on, little brother. I silently tried to urge him on, Don't wimp out on her now.

"Yeah, Cait, I am," String said, and I smiled inwardly. "So, would you like to go out with me, tonight?"

"String," she began, and I heard her voice catch in her throat for a second, but she recovered quickly. "I—I'd love to."

YES! I turned and smiled at Dom, and noticed the expression on his face. We watched String and Caitlin get into one of the Jeeps and leave the hangar, and Dom turned to me with tears in his eyes.

"Sinj," he began, "do you really think..."

I turned my head towards the direction String's Jeep had gone. "Yeah, Dom. I do. I think my little brother finally decided to listen to me." At least, I hope he did. I watched them leave as Dom and I finished closing down the hangar. Well, I thought as I headed back to my apartment, spending the evening alone is a bummer, especially after all the fun nights Cait and I've had. But, I saw the look on Caitlin's face when she and String left, so it's worth it. Although, if either String or Caitlin figures out I lied about having something to do tonight, then I could be in serious trouble. As I headed home, I figured I'd deal with that trouble when, or if, the time came.

That night, I decided to go see a movie with Le. It wouldn't be as much fun as it would have been if Caitlin had been with me, but I figured I needed to do something to keep my mind from wondering about what happened with String and Cait. Later, at home, I tried to stay up as long as I could, since it was a Friday and the hangar was closed until Monday, to see if Dom would call and tell me anything about what had happened that night. Finally, about midnight, I heard the phone ring.

"Dom?" I asked.

"You got it," I heard Dom's voice on the phone, and he sounded ecstatic.

"So?" I prodded him. I figured String would tell Dom about his evening with Caitlin, and I wasn't disappointed.

"Oh, Sinj! It worked. It worked!" Dom shouted into the phone. "String couldn't stop smiling all the way to the cabin tonight—I swear that grin needs to be surgically removed. And, all he talked about was what happened with Caitlin—how they went out to dinner, and a movie, and then he finally told me that—that he told her he loves her, Sinj. And she told him she loved him, too."

YES! I quietly exulted, feeling an enormous sense of relief. "So, what happens now?"

"Well, I guess we'll just have to wait and see," Dom said, and I knew what he was talking about. Once Dom left String up at the cabin, String was basically alone, and given what I'd just heard, I imagined it was going to be a long weekend for all of us.

About that time, Le came out of his bedroom. "What's goin' on, Dad?" he asked, and I realized the phone ringing had woken him up.

"Sorry the phone woke you up," I said, then smiled at him. "But that was Grandpa Dom on the phone—looks like your Uncle String isn't so dumb anymore."

"You mean...?" Le asked, not quite sure what I was saying.

"Yeah, Half-Pint. It looks like your Uncle String finally told Cait that he loves her, and she told him she loves him, too." I said, seeing the smile on my son's face as I "high-fived" him.

"Well, it's about time," Le said, grinning as he went back to bed.

Yeah. It is about time. And just like my old psych prof used to tell us, "the end justifies the means." Now that String had finally decided it would be okay if he quit running from his feelings about Cait, I felt like what I'd done had been justified.

By the time Monday came around, I was anxious to see how String and Caitlin would be towards each other, having not seen each other for almost three days.

"You've missed him, haven't you?" I asked Caitlin when she walked up to me a few minutes later.

"Yeah," Caitlin sighed, and I thought I saw tears in her blue-green eyes. "I've missed him. I always miss him when Friday rolls around, but this last weekend was worse than usual, after what happened Friday night. By the way, Sinj," she said before she gave me a friendly peck on the cheek, then wiped her lipstick mark off my cheek with her thumb, "thanks. If you hadn't butted in like that, String would probably still be dancing around his feelings like some kinda hyperactive junebug, or something."

"Caitlin," I said as I heard the chopper coming in, "It was my pleasure."

"So, you're not disappointed we won't be seein' each other anymore?" Caitlin asked me with a smile.

"Nah," I said, smiling back at her. And I meant it. Like I said before, I had a good time with Caitlin, but I knew her heart was set on my kid brother. And now, it looks like she's got him, I thought, just before the doors of the helicopter opened. And besides, I'll still be seein' Cait here at the hangar, with String. And, that's all that matters.

"By the way, Sinj," Cait said, "there's somethin' I've been meaning to ask you about—Every time Le's been around String and me lately—even before String told me he loves me—Le's been callin' me 'Aunt Cait.' I've tried to explain to him that I'm not really his aunt. That I'm just a good friend of his uncle String's, but, he..."

Uh-oh. I'd been wondering when Cait would ask me about it. "I know, Cait. See, Le asked me about it a few weeks ago—I hope you don't mind, but he asked if it would be okay that he call you 'Aunt Cait,' and I told him it would be—I figured maybe that'd help get the point through String's thick head. I know I should've probably talked to you about it first, but it seemed like a good idea, so I ran with it. Don't be too mad at him, okay?" Or at me..

"Mad at Le?" Caitlin replied, smiling. "Nah, I could never be mad at him. I just wondered about it, that's all. Actually, I kinda like the sound of it," she said, grinning. "And, by the way, Sinj," she said, "I'm not mad at you, either." She winked at me just before she walked away. I sighed with relief, knowing Cait wasn't upset at Le—or at me, for that matter. Of course, I knew why Cait had said she liked hearing Le call her "Aunt Cait"—because that would mean she was married to Le's Uncle String. Which, I have the strangest feeling, is exactly what Cait wants. Wait a second. As she walked away, the last part of Cait's sentence rang in my head. 'By the way, Sinj, I'm not mad at you either.' But how the heck did she know I was worryin' that she was mad at me, too? String had told me a little about how good Cait was at reading people—I just hadn't believed it. Until now.

When we heard the doors of the chopper open, I walked out to meet Dom as Caitlin jogged over to String.

"M mm, I've missed you, String!" Caitlin said when she let him up for air after she kissed him.

"Yeah. I kinda noticed that, Cait," String said, smiling, as Dom and I exchanged a knowing glance. So did we. That grin does look like it needs to be surgically removed, I thought as String answered her. "And I missed you too, Caitlin," String added. Now I was interested. Just how much had they missed each other, I wondered as we started our day. One thing became obvious to me as I watched String throughout the day—his face has got to be killing him, from all that smiling. But damn, it's good to see him smiling like that again.

That night, after String took Caitlin out again, Dom and I sat and talked for a few minutes before I went home.

"I don't know about you, Dom; but I never thought I'd see String smile like that again," I said as we finished closing down the hangar.

"You and me both, Saint John," Dom said with a smile of his own. "I think he's smiled more today than he has in the past year and a half! But damn, it looks good, doesn't it?" He grinned at me, knowing what I thought.

"You're damned right it does, Dom," I said, smiling at our surrogate father. "So, Dom...Do you think String might..."

"Might—what, Sinj?" Dom asked me.

"Might—take things with Cait to the next level sooner, rather than later?" I asked him.

"That's—actually a very good question, Sinj," Dom replied, and the tone of his voice indicated to me that he'd had the same thought. "We'll just have to wait and see."

"You're right, Dom," I said as I got ready to head for home.

A couple of weeks later, again on a Friday afternoon, I noticed String was loading a couple of suitcases into the storage compartment of the Jet Ranger. "What's with the bags, String?" I asked innocently. "You're not goin' on a weekend shoot, are you? Especially without Caitlin?"

"No, Sinj," String said, smiling. "Those bags are Cait's. I—um—I invited her up to the cabin for the weekend, and..."

Damn, we were right! I knew I was fighting a losing battle, trying to keep the grin off my face. It's about time, too! "Well, you two have a good time, String," I said, and the grin I was trying to suppress finally broke through. "Just, don't do anything I wouldn't do, okay?"

"Boy, that leaves a lot open, Sinj," String laughed as he slapped me on the shoulder, then smiled as he saw Caitlin walking towards us. "Aw, c'mon, you know I'm just teasing." Yeah, I know. I found myself marveling again at how String seemed to be getting his sense of humor back. "Listen, Sinj. Thanks for—for everything."

"Don't mention it, little brother," I said, smiling at him. "Besides," I said, grinning, "what are big brothers for? You woulda done the same for me, if the roles were reversed. Just..."

"You already said that, Sinj," String said, grinning at me. "Don't worry. I wouldn't do anything untoward, or anything like that." I had to stifle a chuckle at String telling me the very same thing that I told him, the night I started my plan.

"I know, String," I said, and smiled at him just as Caitlin walked up to stand next to him.

"What are you two guys talkin' about?" She demanded with a smile as she linked her arm through String's.

"Oh, brother stuff," I said, and grinned at her. "You have a good time this weekend, Caitlin," I said.

"Oh, I think I will," she said to me, and something in her expression—just the particular way she looked up at String—told me that she had her own set of expectations about things that would happen this weekend. And unless I'm reading that expression completely wrong, Cait wants her relationship with String to go to another level.

I've gotta admit, I spent most of the weekend worried sick about what was going on up at the cabin. When Dom and I hadn't heard anything by Sunday evening, though, I began to wonder exactly what had been going on up there. I mean, I hate to say it, but when String and Caitlin left on Friday, I fully expected Dom to call me later that night, saying that Caitlin had flown back angry as all get out because of some fight she and String had, or that she'd called Dom to come get her. Of course, if she had called Dom, I have the funniest feeling that Dom would've told her to either stay at the cabin and try to work things out with String, or fly herself home if she thought things were damaged beyond repair. 'Cause I know Dom wouldn't have wanted to fly up there unless it was absolutely necessary, and to be perfectly honest, neither would I.

But the longer Dom and I went without hearing anything, the more convinced I became that things were progressing to another level in Caitlin and String's relationship, and to be honest, I couldn't have been happier for them.

By the time I got to the hangar Monday morning, I don't know who was the bigger nervous wreck—Dom, or me. I mean, even though we hadn't heard anything from the cabin, there was still a chance that Caitlin would come back, alone and in tears after some huge fight that she and String had. And that possibility, quite frankly, made me furious. And I could tell from Dom's expression that he was just as concerned about what had happened over the weekend.

When Dom and I finally heard the chopper coming in a few hours later, both of us were practically basket cases, we were so nervous. When String set the chopper down, we both began watching out the window of the office for some sign—any sign—of what had gone on over the weekend. But, I thought, at least they're both in there, which means they spent the whole weekend together up at the cabin. I noticed String seemed to be taking his time shutting the chopper down, and that made me even more nervous. Come on, you two! I thought, with a mixture of curiosity, anxiety, and excitement welling up in my head. Hurry up, willya? Dom and I aren't getting any younger in here! But, I guess that's why Mom always said I'd never be a doctor—'cause I've got no patients…er...patience, I mean.

Finally, the doors to the chopper opened and String and Caitlin climbed out. And when we saw her arm go around String's waist, and his arm slide around her shoulders and pull her close to him, Dom and I both let out huge sighs of relief, especially when we noticed the grins on both their faces. Those grins both look like they need to be surgically removed, but I wouldn't dream of suggesting it, and I don't think Dom would, either!

"What?" String asked when they got close to the hangar door, and saw Dom and me staring at them, worriedly. "You guys worried about something?" His grin just then told me all I needed to know.

"Yeah," I said, smiling. "We were. But, I see we had nothing to worry about."

"No, Sinj," Caitlin replied, and I suddenly wondered what she meant by "No." But she allayed my fears magnificently. "You and Dom had nothing to worry about. String and I—we had a wonderful weekend," she said with a smile, and I wondered just how wonderful their weekend had been. Later, String confirmed to me what Dom and I suspected—that they'd slept together.

"By the way, Sinj," String asked me later, "what the heck were you and Dom so worried about when we came in this morning?"

"Well, it seems kinda silly now," I said, "but Dom and I both spent the whole weekend worryin' that you two would've had some kinda huge fight while you were up at the cabin, String. That's all."

String nodded at me. "I understand, Sinj, but like Cait said, you didn't have a thing to worry about."

"We noticed." And boy, were we happy to notice it. I smiled as String and I got back to work.

About a week after they spent that weekend together, I was shocked when Dom told me String had asked Caitlin to move into the cabin with him—not shocked that he'd asked her, mind you; just that it took him that long to do it. But I guess I shouldn't have been—after all, String always was the stubborn one. I just wondered, now that they were living together, how long it would be before he got around to asking Caitlin to marry him, and making her Le's 'Aunt Cait', for real.

And, three months later, I got my answer to that question, as I helped String with his tie before he got married to Caitlin.

"Well, little brother," I said as I straightened String's tie, "I never thought I'd see this day, but here we are. If you don't mind my saying so, I think Cait's good for you." In more ways than one. I couldn't help thinking about the change in my brother's attitude since he finally pulled his head out of his rear end about her. With a little help from me. He's—he's almost like himself again. Like he was before Kelly died, and before I disappeared.

"Thanks, Sinj," String said as he pulled me into a brotherly embrace. "And—thanks again for pulling my head outta my ass like you did. That took some guts." I smiled and nodded. "You're welcome, little brother," I said, then added, "Like I told you before, String," I said as we went downstairs to meet Dom, "you woulda done the same for me, if the roles were reversed."

"Yeah," String said as he nodded his head at me. "So that whole thing—you askin' Cait out—that was just to get me to admit that I had feelings for her?" String demanded.

I sighed, knowing this conversation was coming, and hoped like hell it wouldn't ruin what was about to happen. "Yeah, String. It was. Straight out of one of my psych classes—I figured that if I showed interest in Cait myself, and showed you what you stood to lose, that it might be the proverbial kick in the rear end you needed. And, I hope you're not real angry with me. Or, with Cait," I said hesitantly. "I-I told her what I was doing that first night we went out. I hope you're not too upset, little brother." I hesitated, watching to see what reaction my admission would produce in String.

"Well," String said, "we're here, aren't we? Cait and I are getting married, aren't we?" His expression told me all I needed to know. Finally, I felt like I was able to relax.

"I just remembered something," I said. "I forgot to tell you somethin' about that first night Cait and I went out, little brother."

"Really?" String replied. "What would that have been?"

"Oh, nothing really," I said nonchalantly, "just that Cait told me she was surprised that I'd asked her out that night, and the fact that she was in love with you. She just wondered, like we all did, why you couldn't see it. And, that's when I told her what I was up to. That's all," I said.

"Well, I guess I finally saw it," String said, laughing. And it's about time, too.

"Remember when you asked if Cait was falling in love with me? Well, I kinda knew that wasn't an issue, based on what she told me that first night," I said. "So that's why I wasn't real worried about it when you mentioned it when we had that big argument."

"I figured as much. Don't worry about it, Sinj. It's all good." String said as he directed a smile at me. Boy, am I glad everything worked out so well. And if I didn't know what a good influence Cait is on String before now, what just happened confirmed it. "Besides, remember what Dom always said worryin' like that gets you."

"A lifetime fulla bills!" I knew what String was talking about, because I'd heard Dom say that to both of us many times while we were growing up.

Dom and Le came up just then, and the four of us smiled as we went outside, knowing that the chopper with Caitlin, Erin, and their mother was due to arrive any moment.

While we stood outside and waited for the ceremony to begin, Le said, "Hey, Uncle String, I forgot to tell you—congratulations on marryin' Cait."

String smiled and said, "Thanks, Half-Pint. You know that makes her your Aunt Cait officially now, don't you?"

"Oh, yeah," Le said. "I forgot about that. But that makes me happy that she's gonna be my aunt."

"Me too, Half-Pint," String said. "Me, too."

"Officially?" I asked. Then I remembered how Le had asked me if I thought him referring to Cait as his 'Aunt Cait' was a good idea. Duh, Sinj. I chastised myself for the momentary memory lapse. "Well, Le," I said, "looks like your Uncle String finally got the message. Wonder if you callin' Cait your aunt all this time had anything to do with that?" Of course, we can always pretend it did. Whatever it was, I'm sure glad it worked.

"Yeah, me too, Dad," Le said, then added, "I'm just glad everything worked out, and Cait's gonna be my aunt for real." He smiled at String, then at me.

"Not as glad as we are, Half-Pint," String said, and I got the impression that he was finally at peace with himself, and with the way his life was unfolding. And Cait's a big reason for that.

I said, "String. Remember when we argued about that curse you thought you have? Well, I just thought of something." I remembered how Caitlin had told me the story about her plane getting hijacked, and how String and Dom had found the plane. "Didn't it ever dawn on you that if you hadn't gone after your helicopter the minute you heard that the plane had gone down, Caitlin would be dead right now?" String's expression changed to that deer-in-the-headlights look that he always got when we were kids, and I'd confronted him about something. "And, that plane wasn't hijacked and forced into the ocean because Caitlin knew you, little brother. That was just lousy luck," I said, knowing it was the truth.

"That's—actually a very good point, Sinj," String said as he smiled at me—something he's been doing a lot more of lately. "I guess I never thought of it that way." I embraced my little brother and said, "C'mon, String. Let's get you married!" He laughed as we walked back to the cabin and String went to stand with the judge on the dock, while I went to line up with Erin for the processional.

The ceremony was small—just Dom, Michael and Marella, me as String's best man, Caitlin's sister Erin as maid of honor, my son Le, and Caitlin and Erin's mother. Once String and Caitlin were married, I pulled her aside for a moment while String talked to Maggie, Caitlin and Erin's mom.

"Well, Caitlin, you made it," I said, noticing the tears of joy in her eyes. "Now, you and String are together, forever." Finally.

"Yeah, Sinj," Caitlin replied, "thanks to you. If you hadn't done what you did, I dunno how long it woulda taken String to get his head out of his ass. If he ever would have. I—I owe you big time, Sinj," she said, smiling at me.

"Don't worry about it, Cait," I said with a smile directed at my sister-in-law. "Just keep String smiling for Dom and me, and promise us that you'll take care of him, and we're even, okay?"

"Sinj," Caitlin said as String walked back to us, "That's a promise." She smiled at me and gave my arm a friendly squeeze as String came back and put his arm around his wife's shoulders.

"What are you conspiring with my wife about, Sinj?" String asked me as Caitlin slid her arm around his waist.

"Nothing, String," Caitlin replied. "I just promised Sinj that I'll help he and Dom take care of you from now on. Okay?"

"Okay, Cait," String replied, and smiled at her. "And I promised your mother and Erin that I'll take care of you from now on, too." She looked up at my brother and smiled, just before he kissed her. As I watched String with Cait, I thought about some of the women I knew String had dated—and the ones that Dom had told me about, but I knew one thing—you done good, little brother. You made the right choice this time. In the short time I've known Cait, and seen her with String, I've realized that those two had the same kind of love our parents had—and I knew that finally, String had found the one woman he'd spend the rest of his life with.

That night when I went home, I thought about everything that I'd done, and the chances I'd taken to bring String and Caitlin together. It's worth it. I pictured the smile on my little brother's face—a smile that I hadn't seen there in a long time, and I knew I'd done the right thing. The argument, the nasty words we exchanged—seeing them together like that makes it all worth it. Like I said before, the ends justified the means. Heck, even String thinks so. I felt more than a small air of satisfaction with myself for what I did. And, if I had to, I'd do it all again in a heartbeat. I fell asleep wondering what sort of stories I'd hear from String and Caitlin in a couple of weeks when they came back from their honeymoon, and knowing that my little brother was finally, truly, happy.