Hannibal folded the letter carefully before placing it back in his jacket pocket. Sighing, he pulled a cigar and lit it with a smoldering stick from the campfire. It was almost dawn; they would be moving out soon, heading for some little hamlet full of Cong. Supposedly. Never knew for sure. Not till they got where they were going. But that's why he and his team were there. To find out.
He looked over at the rest of the recon team. Face, double-checking everything, as usual. BA, double-checking Face. Ray, watching them both, grinning. The rest getting their gear together, talking softly. His men, all professionals, all damn good at what they did. He respected them; they respected him.
That's the way it should be.
He stood and felt the letter crinkle in his pocket. Sighed.
She should be sitting at home, waiting for him. Not waiting for him to come back from yet another war, yet another country, but to come home from a day at work. Waiting there with supper ready, three or four kids running around the house, a couple dogs...That's where she should be.
That's what she'd wanted.
"You okay, Colonel?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah, Face. Just a little wool-gathering." He looked toward the east. Not quite daylight yet. "You guys about ready?"
"Yeah, gear's all set. Just finish chow and clear up the camp, then we're good to go."
"Take your time. Intel was pretty iffy on this one."
Face nodded and moved back toward the others. He was a good kid. Full of shit, but when the job needed doing, he was solid. Hannibal knew he had to watch himself with that one, though. Can't have favorites. Didn't work. Not out here. Not anywhere, really.
He turned to check his own gear and felt the letter again.
She hadn't played favorites. She'd been honest, all the way. Maybe that's why he'd half-expected it. She wasn't cut out to be an Army wife. No woman wanted to see her man go off to Korea, of course. But she wanted that to be the end of it. Do his tour, get a nice stateside assignment, then get a job when his time was up.
That's what she'd wanted.
"Last cup, Hannibal." BA held the coffee pot and Hannibal picked up his cup, watching the last of the steaming liquid fill it up.
"Gonna be hot today." BA tossed the dregs on the ground and shook the pot as he walked away. "Least it ain't rainin yet..."
There was another one Hannibal counted on. No nonsense there. BA was all business. BA needed to prove his worth to Hannibal, and much as he wished BA would loosen up, he appreciated the man's total loyalty.
He sighed again and crouched down. His hand moved up to the pocket, back down again. The letter...
She'd written him at least twice a week while he was in Korea. And he'd written as often as he could. He always ended his letters the same way, knowing that her response would be the same as well. She wouldn't make any decisions while he was over there. They would talk when he came home. She wanted that decision to be made face-to-face. And he'd always agreed.
That's the way she wanted it.
The men had finished their breakfasts and were now cleaning up the camp. Hannibal stepped over to the campfire, started pushing dirt over the embers with his foot.
He'd come home on leave just after the cease fire. And they'd had their face-to-face talk. He'd warned her, and he knew how she'd react. He knew it, but he couldn't pass up the opportunity the Army was offering him. Three years at one of the most prestigious military colleges in France, working with the American attache...With the loud whispers about Vietnam, he couldn't say no.
But she could.
She wanted a normal family. A husband who came home from a normal job every night. And a normal home, not moving every time the Army wanted to send him somewhere new. She didn't care if he retired as a general or not.
That's not what she wanted.
So she married someone else. His rival. And Hannibal knew he'd pretty much turned her over to him on a silver platter. But she was happy, and he was glad she was. And as he'd worked to learn French and tackle the courses, he'd eventually realized that she'd made the right decision for both of them. Eventually accepted it...
"Ready, Ray. Let's move it."
He watched as his team moved out into the jungle. And just before he followed, he dropped the letter on the still hot ashes of the campfire, watching for just a moment as the paper caught the last heat and curled into black ash.
The letter from her widowed husband...