Somewhere along the way one discovers that what one has to tell is not nearly so important as the telling itself. ~ Henry Miller


COPYRIGHT: March 2006



The man straightened up, carefully adjusted his glasses, and looked over at the elderly gentleman seated on the other side of the bed.

"I'm afraid it won't be long now. The others are coming?"

The second man nodded softly. "They should be here within the hour." He looked up, questioning.

"They'll be in time, then." Again, he adjusted his glasses. "I'm sorry. I wish I could do more."

"Don't worry about it, Doc. We all knew it could happen any time." He looked down at the man in the bed, who seemed to be sleeping. "I just never thought he would go first."

Nodding sadly, his companion quietly left the room, closing the door softly. Hannibal stood then, adjusting the light blanket on the bed before turning to look out at the rain running down the window glass. A soft rain, just hard enough so one could hear it gently tapping at the glass as it fell. The view from the window looked down at the park-like grounds of the hospital, where few people walked on this dreary day.

No, Hannibal thought. Not a dreary day. A quiet day. A peaceful day.

His attention was drawn to the far side of the grounds, where a man and small child ran through the raindrops. The man stopped, scooped up the boy, and they hurried on. Hannibal could see the boy laughing, face turned up to the raindrops.

As if in response, there was a low mumble from the bed, and Hannibal turned to see a small smile glittering at him. He smiled back, knowing all the while that the smile was not meant for him, that Face had no idea he was even there. Hannibal sat back down by the bed, reaching for the book he'd been reading before the doctor had come in. He sat with it in his hands, not really interested in reading any more. Funny. Maybe it was the boy, the rain, the book. A combination of the three. Or maybe it was just a time for memories.

Years and years ago, they'd all been sitting in their barracks, listening to a rain just like this one. It seemed, sometimes, that it was always raining there. But it was a kick-back day, no missions planned, nothing to think about, nothing to do. Murdock had come over, and the five of them drank a few beers, forgetting the war for a time.

As happened so often, the talk was of home, family. Somehow or another, they started talking about their childhoods, about the bedtime stories their parents had read to them as kids. Hansel and Gretel, The Gingerbread Man, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Hannibal's particular favorite was the Bremen Town Musicians. The talk had grown from the fairy tales to the books and authors. Smiles and chuckles as they discovered how many they had in common.

Face had sprawled on his bunk, engrossed in their memories. Murdock had looked over at him, quizzical.

"What about you, LT? Did you get bedtime stories?"

Face had chuckled. "Yeah, can you picture having thirty-some eight-year-old's who don't really want to go to bed, settling down for Goldilocks or The Gingerbread Man? No, Captain, my fairy tales came later, and believe me, Goldilocks wasn't dealing with three bears!"

The memories had dissolved into a series of bawdy stories as each man tried to outdo the others.

It had been a moment that Hannibal probably would never have remembered, if he hadn't had to go into Face's locker a week or so later. He normally respected his men's personal space, but Face was out on recon and Hannibal had to have his XO's notes on a meeting. He fully intended to look only for the notes and ignore anything else in the locker.

But the books had been right there, under the notebook.

"Wind in the Willows". "Treasure Island". "Grimm's Fairy Tales". Several others, all mentioned on that rainy afternoon. So much for his lieutenant's nonchalance.

A brief flash of lightning brought him back to the present, as well as a twinge from the arthritis in his back. He looked quickly over at the bed, assuring himself that Face was still there. He sighed. Too many years on the run, too many beatings, too many adrenalin rushes. And though the years following their pardons had been slightly more peaceful, his friend's heart was now tired, too tired to keep going.

Face shouldn't be the first to go, but God had other plans, it seemed.

He looked again at his book. A chronicle of the various Chinese dynasties. Dry. Dull. He wondered why the hell he'd even started it. Thought about that day, back in the jungle.

The expression he'd seen before Murdock had turned the attention to Face and it had immediately disappeared.

Like he couldn't imagine what it would be like to be read to.

His back told him this was silly. Ridiculous. But he did it anyway. Climbed onto the bed beside Face, holding him the way his father had held him, nestled next to him, with Face's head on Hannibal's chest. Hannibal had always liked that, because his cheek would vibrate along with his father's deep, rumbly voice. He looked down at his friend, and smiled.

"Once upon a time..."



FINI