AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is Potter Slash. No, I'm not talking about cute kids in robes riding broomsticks and playing a game I can't spell to save my life. ^_~ I'm talking about Colonel Potter-- and I think I've finally lost it. Iolanthe, Katie, this is all YOUR fault! *grins*

Anyway, thank you so much for bothering to read this, despite the oddness above. As always, my hat is off to the MASH SLASH list in general and the slash angels in particular. This was inspired by a comment MK made to me about the lack of Potter slash-- I really do hope this is in character. It's first person from Potter's POV, and it's actually Potter to a threesome. I suppose that with this I ought to bid goodbye to the last vestiges of my slash virginity right now. X_X;;;; Takes place in the fourth or fifth season, sharing focus with another pairing. Betcha can't guess what it is. (No fair saying BJ/Hawkeye straight off! ^_~) Reference notes are at the end.

Feedback will cause me to love and adore you, and perhaps lay a golden egg.

Nope, wait, that's the goose. ^^;

-Meredith

who will stop babbling and let you get to the fic

DATE BEGUN: February 7th, 2003

DATE FINISHED: February 9th, 2003

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What You See From Where You're Standing 1/1

by Meredith Bronwen Mallory

mallorys-girl@cinci.rr.com

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I've been on God's green earth long enough that I gotta pretty good sense of it, I think. If there's just one thing I know, just one thing I'm as sure of as the nose on my face, it's this:

The world isn't all one thing or another-- a heck of a lot of what you see depends on where you're doing your lookin' from.

Oh, there's the world you get in the papers, and the world that the bigwigs in Washington are in charge of, but that's just a bit of it. They can rewrite that all they want-- it's just like the movies, all that glitter and jazz, or whatever has the people hopping at the moment. And then there's the world we, each and every one of us, has-- where we sit by ourselves and think, are so damn sure, that we're the only ones that feel such and such way, or that dare contemplate this or that sin. That world up there on the silver screen makes everythin' look so easy-- lemme tell you, it ain't, and I know. Ask anyone here, three miles from the front in a war they won't even _call_ a war, even though most are young enough to be my kids, they'll tell you I'm right. They've had to grow up in a hurry.

I guess that sounds funny, commin' from me; I remember being fifteen with all that glitz coming off on my hands from the war posters. I joined up underage, I was eager as a hairpin trigger and I wanted my piece of the glory, to see beyond the borders of my little Missouri town. Had big thighs as a kid, joined up with the cavalry and rode off into hell with a smile on my face. They say fighting has lost it's honor-- I can see where that might come from, but a lot of it has to do with all the new gadgetry in our lives, there's so much more you can see-- it's harder to paint polish over everything when something new and ugly's pop'n up. At the same time, it sometimes seems as if there's a sudden lack of privacy, but that's not really true.

Like I said, there's that world underneath the picket fence and the apple pies. Away from the masses, we cling to just a few people and lay there in the dark, lookin' up at the ceiling and asking God why he made us out so _wrong_. That's the truth right there, if you'll admit it-- we're all so sure there's somethin' wrong with us. I don't know what any head-shrinker would tell you-- heck, some times I think that's just a lotta horse-hockey-ology anyway-- but I know there ain't no such thing as 'normal'. There's just you and me, us; people.

I tell you, the younger generation; these kids seem to think they invented all those so-called perversions. They're sure we old folks just can't understand, that we're all as clean cut and starched as a Sunday morning church service. But even the man behind the pulpit has something he don't show the rest of the world. It's just his job to get up there an' yell at us for it, even if he's just as guilty. Hypo-cracy, you say? Well, damn, yeah-- ain't one blessed thing in this world that isn't slightly on that side.

Everyone is carry'n something; the point is to find someone, or more than one someone, to carry it with you. Even our own Priest here at the four-oh-double-natural, he's got something he's clutching as tight as those little rosary beads. I dunno what it is, it's none of my business neither, but I can see it sometimes, cause around here we all get so tired we just don't have as much energy to hide it anymore. War's like that.

Which brings me to tonight, and why I'm take'n myself a stroll before heading over to the Swamp for a little moonshine gin and word or two with my best cutters. Haven't seen Frank around-- with any luck, he'll have his sorry tail safely tucked between his legs and stay outta my way for this. I'll come up with something to tell him later, my bird and I, an' he'll just have to stomach it. He's a real looney tunes sometimes, I think, complete with ol' Porky stammering; it's sad just as much as it's annoying. He's a doctor, but he can't fix himself 'cause he just won't see, and there's not a body who can do it for him.

My hands are shaking just a little, kind of a phantom rattle, and it's not so much that I'm nervous as... Well, I been in the Army for most of my life, an' almost seems like a breech of the red-tape-worm protocol, bringing that little private world out just a little bit, for someone who isn't Mildred or Ryan, to see. It's gotta be done, but maybe I'm more of a prude than I'd thought. Old age does the damnedest things to you, I say.

So, I'll talk to Pierce and Hunnicut, but first I've got to put my hands on a horse, for just a minute, and settle the old bones down a mite.

And maybe, there's someplace I oughta start out. If I look from back there, from that grave that is just-- like for so many-- 'somewhere in France', well the world is a bit more young and clear.

Ryan Hathaway and I were two of the five, our brave little band of baby-faced soldiers. We went through hell and high water thrice over and then some; in France we did a lot of things we'da never done at home, but we had a lot in common. Horses, women, and each other.

Ryan was special, though, you understand. He shoulda been schooled but his parents didn't have much more than what for to put on his plate-- he was apprenticed to a typesetter when he joined up, and that was how he got his hands on those books he touched as reverently as if they were alive and real. And there I am, fresh off the farm were I'd been riding bareback before I could even wobble on my legs-- and here's this boy with his arm around my shoulder an a head taller than me, red hair and brown eyes and damned if we weren't the funniest pair you ever did see. With Ryan, it was hard to tell when he was doing the talking or when it was one of those books he had stored away in his brain. Hell, he could tell the most durn-fool story with a straight face and make it sound like the gospel straight from Jesus H. Christ 'imself, if he wanted to. His surefire way of getting the rest of us boys to sleep was to recite as much as he could remember from 'Idylls of the King'. Don't think we tested his memory all that much, 'cause he never did get too far before we were all of us snooz'n. His voice would kinda fade into my dreams-- sometimes, even now, I think I hear him saying right up next to me in my cot, 'tho we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; one equal temper in heroic hearts...'.

But I don't remember the rest, and it's not the same without Mildred to sing-song right along with him something about striving and finding and never letting go.

Yes sir, there was Ryan and I, but we weren't really complete, not really the full thing until we met up with Mildred. Then we had all the pieces to be a hellavuh lot more than any one of us coulda been by his or her self. Much more than we were even missing just one part.

Sophie's hair is a rough soft under in between my fingers; she looks at me with a single, depth of dark eye and I can see just a bit of the flood lamp making a sparkle in it. A wonderful animal, the horse-- nobler than most any other creature crawling in this dirt, and that might even go for you or me. She doesn't understand, but she doesn't need to; she lets me groom her and watches quiet like, sometimes nudging my hand with her nose. There's not an awful lot in the world where you can say that's enough. She's no purebred, Sophie is, but she's got that earthy animal grace that more 'n makes up for any careful matching; and to find any type ah grace or beauty in a place like this is a precious find indeed. There's a type of comfort an animal can give you that's like nothing else-- Radar knows that, too.

He's a good boy, my company clerk-- sometimes I see just a shade or two of myself in him. Hails from farm-country in Iowa, he's about as innocent as you can get or stay in a war zone. Just a boy behind them dirty glasses and the way he sometimes looks without lookin', listens without hearin' and then shouts for us that the choppers are coming. I gotta admit, it took some getting used to, what with his tendency to say the words before my noggin' even put them in my mouth. Sometimes he's a little clumsy, like he doesn't quite remember it's me he's working for-- that's okay, cause he doesn't mean it, and giving me Sophie was one of the sweetest votes of confidence anyone has ever put in the ballot box for me. It was strange to come into any M*A*S*H, especially this M*A*S*H, right in the middle of things; but if I gotta be on this side of the Pacific, I'd rather it be where you can get the best care around. It's the maddest unit in the outfit and we don't have much for spit or polish-- the spit goes at Frank and the polish is for my saddle-- but it's grade-A anyway.

Funny thing, war. Oh, I know we ain't calling this one a war, but whatever it is it throws people together. I'da never met Mildred or Ryan if it hadn't been for my itch'n to go fight the 'good fight', and I guess I'll always treasure my ol' youthful foolishness just for that. War makes strange bedfellows.

Yeah, there's that too.

You know, I don' even remember what it was I went looking for in the supply tent. Radar was asleep with that ragged little bear in his arms and I just didn't have the heart to wake the kid. Probably best it was me that went to fetch whatever it was, considering-- poor boy doesn't need his that-a-way and this-a-way mixed up any more than the wars all ready done for him. Or maybe I'm just being indulgent-- my own grand kids are far away-- in thinking him as innocent as all that. Which ever way it is, it was me who ignored the hanger on the door, me who was tired an' ornery and thinking I wouldn't mind interrupting Pierce and whoever he was smooth-talking if it would get the work done and me to my own bunk faster.

Oh, but you know, he wasn't smooth talking no body, and there's something I never thought I'd say. Fast ones-- even boys that are really good kids, like Pierce-- all haveta fall sometime. I guess it just surprised me I hadn't heard the thunk.

I'll make the long to the short of it, no need to be crass or anything. It'll sue-fice to say that there on that spare cot were my two best surgeons, BJ Hunnicut and Hawkeye Pierce, buck in the nudies except the blanket tossed over 'em, sleeping off what looked to have been a mighty eventful evening. I could see Hunnicut's face clearly, relaxed and honest-like, but Pierce had his head turned away and his fingers around his friend's dogtags. That, I think, was what surprised me the most; that type of defenselessness. In this world, a man doesn't let down his guard down to often to anyone, but there was our maverick Hawkeye, like a babe. Oh, I know Pierce has a child knocking around in him somewhere-- occasionally, he gets out and we call in Sid Freedman to rope the tyke-- but then, I could just see that little boy clear as day. Having seen Pierce and Hunnicut's Siamese act the past eight months, it seemed like a awful natural thing-- I was just gonna turn around and close the door, seeing as what they do outside the O.R. really isn't my bee's wax, but I think I lingered just a minute to get a clear picture. Even if I was intruding on something that was obviously intensely private; like I said a pace back or two, these people are mostly young enough to be my children. No Pa wants to see his kids get hurt, even if they're hurting each other.

Well, you know what they say about curiosity and that darn cat-- I've never liked cats myself, really-- it was just that one minute that screwed me over fine. One minute, Hunnicut's face was as free of worry as I had ever seen it and then next his eyes were open and he was looking at me with a type of fear I hope I never, _ever_ see again. I'd take offense that he'd think so poorly of me, if I didn't know that razor's edge myself. There was really nothing else to do but look back at him and watch as he shook Hawkeye, nicely but with some of his anger in there.

"Hawk," he was whispering as if they hadn't quite been found out yet, "Hawk, wake up, we're in trouble."

Pierce said, "We're always in trouble" and waved the other man off-- damned if that boy can't make me laugh even when he's thrown me for a loop. Hunnicut leaned down lower, saying something I imagine along the lines of 'it's the Colonel!', and they were both sitting up in a flash, wide eyed like those two kids who know they're in for one hell of a whopping'. It was Pierce who spoke first, "I bet this looks kind of funny."

"Bet it doesn't," I said, but refrained from smiling-- that woulda probably scared 'em more. They started to move, but I held up my hand, "No need to get up, you'd look awful silly trying to salute in your birthday suits." There was really nothing for me to do, save bow out gracefully just as if it'd been a guy and gal I'd walked in on. I said, "evening, boys" and turned around-- not a S-oh-P for the Army, but then that's a part of the glitzy world I was telling you about before.

I guess the bit that surprised me most about the whole thing was-- well, it wasn't that I had or hadn't been expecting it, I just hadn't thought about it. Like I said, it was natural for them, I see everything double twenty looking back, and it's a little disconcertn' for a commanding officer to be with his drillies down by his men. Or, ah, vise-ah the versa.

BJ's a good guy, clean as your hands when Ma asks you to wash up for Sunday brunch-- kinda sanctimonious time and then, but he's a bright, nice kid and you can forgive him for it. Mail call is somethin' of a harrowing event for him; he's got a wife and little girl back in ol' San Fran, and that's where the glitter-part of his life says he ought to be. Not here, joined at the hip with some New England rascal who makes his own gin and runs the Head Nurse's underwear up the flag pole. I guess I can sorta sympathize with the man-- 'fore I knew it, Ryan and me were fused together like no body's business; by the time I'd even thought what the nature of that connection was, I was too stuck to ever dream of getting out. Wouldn't want it any other way.

Maybe you're thinking I ought to be a little harder on the boy, seeing as he's got a girl waiting for him back home. But the low-down of it is, though BJ's married, there are times I don't think he's even met his wife, or at least the person she's becoming into now. Not sure if that makes sense, and it's a damn shame-- 'cause if BJ didn't fit in his nice little colored-movie-poster life before, he sure as hell is gonna haveta scrunch in after the war, but... it is what it is. You gotta get your love and do your loving when you can, and that person who's so close to you that they could stomp on your heart like it's a pile o' horse do-o isn't always the person you'd 'spect them to be.

But.

That's the way it is.

So, no, I don' know when it started for BJ and Hawkeye-- but I sure as hell know when it started for me.

Sometimes I gotta shuffle around in my brain, looking for the pieces I need. Ryan used to talk alla time about memory and how it had the greatest power-- I guess that's truer the older you get. Oh.

There's what I've been looking for.

Mildred Morrow-- that soft face in the lantern light, leaning over me and saying, oh, soldier, you gonna be _alrigh_, you gonna be fine, don' you worry a blessed bit. She was a nurse, yes, a brave girl who came over to our battlefield so she could be closer to her beau, only to be summarily left high and dry for a French dame. Now, in Korea the M*A*S*H units are trying something new, patching up soldiers as close to the front as we dare, but back in those days the hospitals (mostly converted French chateaus, real fancy-like) were pretty well behind the lines, and the nurses would wait 'til dark to hunt through the dead lookin' for those of us that had made it, or were barely making it. So many of us didn't do neither. There she is, just a mighty pale moonshine face and the darkest eyes you ever did see-- I couldn't see what color her hair was under her nurses' habit, and the front of her uniform was splashed with blood. I've met a lot of women more beautiful than Ryan and my's Mildred, but none of 'em had that thing she had that made it so much more 'n just being pretty.

Now, we got back to the drafty old house turned hospital. Ryan, who'd been laying low about three or four meters from me during the end of the battle-- I'd been worried near outa my own pain because even with the enemy on the run I couldn't risk trying to ask him if he was still breathing or not. He was laying in the bed next to mine when they brought me in and rolled me off the stretcher, and the first thing he says to me is;

"Sherm, sword at my side," --well, it's a little embarrassing, but he was always waxin' poetic like that. Too much Tennyson-- "I would known if you'd died-- I just knew you were all right. There's this lady, oh, you've gotta see..."

Such a funny moment that, because I knew just who he was talking about. I kept waiting for myself to feel jealous, over her or over him who knows, but it didn't come. I was just excited, same as I'd been that day in OTC when a head poked down from the top of my bunk and said, "Good blessings to you! I'm Ryan Hathaway. How are you doing, my fine friend?"

I do say, Mildred had her hands full with the two of us-- not to mention the broken arm and shot shoulder-- but I can see her clear as day coming down the isle and saying, "How dyah do, boys" with that New Orleans accent. We used to tease her, Ryan and I, that she was a spoiled southern belle, but she just kissed our hands and told us she could right well be a gentleman, too. And when we convinced her to take off her veil so we could see what color her hair was-- well, the devilish looks on our faces would have even given Pierce a run for his money.

Mildred's hair was dark brown, just a little wavy-- it's all white now, of course, and Ryan would call that the 'crown of age and wisdom'.

I don' tell her that, seeing as it would make her cry.

I guess we were so foolish, the three of us, that we never really thought about the danger... not the way Pierce and Hunnicut must think of it, nowadays. I guess I musta really scared 'em, not giving them the dressing down they seemed to think they deserved, because no sooner had they fled back to the Swamp then I had Frank beating at the door of my office. Yeah, they had to have been rattled, must not have been as careful as usual-- old ferret face was screaming like a pregnant alley cat that I had a pair of homosexuals in my unit and wasn't I doing to do something about that sort of unpatriotic perverted filth?

Homosexuals-- I guess that's what it's called these days. I'll be a monkey's uncle but we never used to even _have_ words for these sort of things, you know?

I waited until Frank outlined the whole thing-- he managed to be vague and lewd at the same time-- before I started in on him about assumptions and about how well disciplined soldiers don't go around throwing out serious accusations like that.

And I told 'im I'd have a talk with Pierce and Hunnicut. Funny, he started to say 'Pierce and Mc--', well someone else, at one point. The sweet Lord only know what goes on in that Major's head. Frank's so full of hot air that we could all ride home in a balloon, if we wanted to.

I said that I would get to the bottom of things, and now my hands are patting Sofie one last time as I relatch her stall and head Swamp-a-way.

For Mildred, Ryan and me it happened on Christmas Eve, and we'd been working up to it, I guess. Natural, like I said, same as breathing or riding a horse; in-evy-table, with a capital 'I'. Now, back in those days it wasn't unheard of for wounded to get mixed up trying to find their troops-- hospital locations were more secret than the name of General McArthur's pipe-stuffer, and halfa the time radioing wasn't much help. Ryan and I had been healed up for a month or so, mixed up as to where our unit was, and the Christmas truce was on. The hospital moved us out of the infirmary and into one of the empty rooms in the drafty east wing. The Lady of the house, damned if I can pronounce or even remember her name, tried to spruce things up some. We had a kinda lopsided tree, home made gifts and some right-dandy French wine from the cellar, with a good meal. There's Ryan and I, taking turns holding Mildred and swaying to the scratchy record-player; she was giggling in that sort of halfway she does when she's a bit drunk, and Ryan was slurring his soliloquies together. Me, I was stumbling for the steps I didn't even really know to begin with and hanging between Ryan and Mildred when I got a little too aquainted with the punch. Some how or another-- oh, we must a been a sight, slinking down the hallway to the empty room where Ryan and I were billeting-- we fell into the bed and laid there for a while, making some pretty durn-fool comments on the nature of dust motes and the colored spots before our eyes. Eventually, I fell asleep and had a dream right out of one of Ryan's precious poems; just a misty river and me in a boat with the two people I cared about most, us all dressed medieval-like. Kind of like Arthur, Lance and Gwen, but not so much two people with the third out as three people with nobody out.

When I woke up, I was looking straight at Ryan, with Mildred sitting on the end of the bed between the two of us, smiling a... aw, hell. He and I sat up, each kinda moving in to kiss her on the cheek, and just as we came close she fell back, giggling and smiling like she had a secret. So Ryan and I touched instead-- he was only the second person I ever kissed. Well... huh, pretty soon, Ryan and I were at it, with Mildred pressing her nose between ours and trying to make a kiss work three ways. The rest is... yes, well. A man has those things he guards from everyone else.

It lasted about a week and a half, total, with us curling up together at night-- any one of us could end up in the middle, we just tried to hold on hard to each other, if you see my drift.

Oh, we went back to the front, Ryan and I, and we'd sit there in the foxholes missing that other bit of us; waiting for it to be her leaning over us in the ambulance. We did all get to Paris once, for leave-- that's the night that's as bright and fresh to me now as it was those decades ago, dinner and dancing and us all under the Eiffel tower with big sunny grins. Almost like there wasn't a war going on, almost like we had 'til kingdom come.

I've got my hand on the rickety thing passing for the Swamp's door, and I'm thinking about how Pierce and Hunnicut were today; squirming like they thought they were the dirty things you sometimes find under rocks, afraid to look or get near each other and just waiting, just waiting for the rain of fire and hail, because they were thinking surely this was the end.

Frank Burns is a damnable coward-- he's afraid of what he doesn't understand, and you could fit was he does el comprehendo into a thimble. I've already made my decision about these two boys, my best cutters, the jokers everyone blames when they come across a rigged shower or a shoe nailed to the floor.

There's another part of the story I can see from where I'm standing way back in my mind, but I don't let it out. I can't, I just sum it up, skip it forward like pulling a movie reel because I have to keep myself sane. Kinda the same way Mildred sets an extra place for Ryan at the table sometimes, so we can both admit being lonely. I can't go back to that time, I can't see what happened, because a feller can only take so much. So the next memory I really let myself have is where it's a day or so after Armistice, and I'm at the little cafe where we all promised to meet and I see Mildred walking smooth and pretty like glass beads. Yeah, I see her coming and I see her see me-and-the-emptiness. She knows, and it's just the two of us, runnin' to each other and crying right there in the middle of the street.

"Evenin', boys," I say, glad to see Frank's bed is empty. Pierce and Hunnicut are on their respective bunks-- Hawkeye is on his end closest to BJ, and BJ's sitting as far away as he can. I've seen him lookin' between Pierce and me all day, and I seen him move once so Pierce couldn't even clap him on the back. I'm starting to wonder why he'd take that risk if isn't able to own up to it, but I can sorta see too how they're hurtn' each other without meaning to. Funny, funny thing, how the person who can run you through like carvin' a turkey, who can make you feel a pain you never even imagined, is that same person or persons you love.

"Colonel," Hunnicut says at last, watching me carefully.

"Well," I say, spreading my hands and taking a seat next to Pierce, "you gonna hand this old bird a drink or what?" Hastily, I'm handed some gin-- Hunnicut again, Pierce is just looking at me and looking at him, with that little kid's anger he has and something else.

"I--" that's all of us, sure we have just the thing to say. I close my eyes, shake my head and make a motion for silence.

"Look," I make eye contact with each of them, "I've had just one day of you treat'n me like the devil ready to poke you with my pitchfork, and I'm already tried of it. You two can just stop shaking in your boots all ready-- don't you think that if I'd wanted your hides I'da had them up the yardarm already? I'd like 'ta think we've known each other long enough to think better'n that of each other."

"I'm sorry," I don't think BJ is really saying it all that much to me, "it just.... well, all right, it _scared_ me. Even though I knew it was wrong, and that we could get caught, I hadn't really..."

"Wrong, son?" my eyes are on Hawkeye, who isn't looking at much of anything, "Wrong, he says. My boy, there are a thousand million things that count as a crime, and this ain't one of them."

"You're awfully understanding, Colonel," Pierce speaks at last, "Frank was sure you'd have us drawn and quartered-- I think he was planning to sell tickets."

"He's in for a financial loss, then," I shrug, "all I'm asking is that you boys be a tad more careful, see? None of us wants to stir up our resident rat if we can help it-- just do a better job of keeping this under your hats, and I'll pry him off your rear-sides."

"Maybe we shouldn't-- continue, I mean," this from Pierce, surprising and yet somethin' I expected. As self righteous as the boy can sometimes be, as preachy as he sometimes gets, it seems to me he's got something of an itch to crucify himself. He'll let Hunnicut go, in order to punish the both of them, if he thinks that's what BJ wants.

"That," I try to be diplomatic-like, "is up to you."

I have something burning a hole in my pocket, smells sweet like when my mom used to make candles, and so I take the picture outa my jacket and hand it over to Pierce.

"Look, you're sitting in here thinking you're filthy, but all the dirt on you is in your head," I say. "The only person who can judge you is the Almighty, not the people, not America and, certain as hellfire and brimstone, not me." Pierce passes the photo to Hunnicut, and I watch that suburban boy's eyes widen just a little and look at me like he's had some scales fall away from his noggin. I know what's on that little white rectangle I paid a pretty penny for in 1917; Ryan Mildred and I, under the Eiffel tower, arms around each other and me in the middle, with the wind in our faces and our smiles like that victory was sweet on our lips. Yeah, suddenly it's not so much of a chore to tell a little bit of this, because I can see in Pierce that he understands, and I can see in Hunnicut that it's suddenly occurred to him there are different kinds of love. I take the picture back gently.

"Colonel," I'm not sure which one of them it is, sometimes they can blur together. That they're doing it now is a good sign.

"Look," I point out, "so much of the world is dedicated to telling you what you're allowed to do, who you can be and be with. It's a damn shame we're all so dedicated to makin' ourselves unhappy." Briefly, I twist the heavy band on my left hand, "Even marriage-- it's only allowed between two people and limited more'n that." I smile at the boy in my memories, "Ryan called us the rule of three-- you see the Missus in this picture? Well, I guess you could say he's the Mister." My smile must be as bitter as it tastes, "Don't know what we woulda done had he lived; silly to think of us all trying to walk down the aisle together."

"I don't know what to say," Hunnicut admits, slumping his shoulders and moving to get a new drink. He touches Pierce's shoulder-- that was what he was really reaching more.

"Don't say anything," I said, "alla this is unsaid. Off the record, don't ask, don't tell." The picture is safe in my pocket again and I'm standing, looking at Hunnicut wondering if I should say what my old tongue wants to. Pierce is a good kid-- he'd love for you to think otherwise, but that's just him-- both these boys are like the sons I didn't get to have. Doesn't my old age give me the right to meddle some? Ha, be meddlesome. So, I look right at BJ and I say, "Got a piece of advice for you son-- free o' charge. Here's something-- I was happy, really happy, for a lot shorter time than I've spent wishing those days back."

Almost defensively, but also with some guilt, Hunnicut says, "And?"

"And?" I ask, stuffing my hands in my pockets, "And I shouldn't have to tell you the rest. Why else did we do all that book-learning, if not to each figure it out for ourselves?"

I wait just a minute as the door closes behind me-- me and that stupid feline again, but I can hear the tone of the whispers, if not the words. It's all right, I think at someone-- not sure who-- it's gonna all right. Then I pass through the compound and check in briefly on my company clerk, sleeping with his bear in one had and reaching out for something with his other. From where I'm standing now, I think I ain't seen nothing yet. This place has got everything under the sun. Poor kid, lucky kid, just like those surgeons back in the Swamp.

In the safe four walls of my own tent, I sit for a spell with my eyes on that snapshot, trying the retake those things I've lost in the years between. It's no use, and I know that, but it doesn't stop me from trying. Gingerly, I take out my strongbox and put the picture back were it belongs. In the pages of a phamplet-style book, right where it starts to say, 'stabbed through heart's affections to the heart, seet'-- and then it cut off, where all the pages are interrupted and stained a little red, where the bullet went through.

Idylls of the King.

It's the damnedest, the all hell-fired damnedest way to end a story, but sometimes it's what I wake up with on my tongue in the middle of this cold-as-a-witch Korean nights.

I just wish Mildred and I'd bought a hardcover copy for Ryan, 'cause he kept that book right over his heart.

======================================================

NOTES:

+in "Old Soldiers", Potter talks about a group of five men he was close to during WWI-- Ryan was the first name mentioned, apparently falling in that same war. I'm not sure what made me pick on him... *shrugs* There just was something in the way Potter said his name. All other information about Ryan is purely a figment of my deranged mind.

+in an earlier episode, Potter tells Radar he joined up underage, passing because he had "big thighs as a kid". Fifteen is the age I think he said, but I don't remember exactly.

+the first poem Potter quotes Ryan quoting actually isn't from "Idylls of the King". It's from Ulysses, which is still by Tennyson-- I'm not sure Potter would notice the difference. ^_~

+most of my knowledge about WWI hospitals comes from Jane Peart's "Hero Bride." ^^;; I apologize for any historical discrepancies. There are several of them-- including timing, which Sparky pointed out to me. Thanks for the pointers, doll!

+the second poem Potter quotes IS from "Idylls of the King"-- the section about Merlin and Viviane to be precise.

+ *puppy eyes* Feedback, please? -- subtle hint

+ Please...? -- not so subtle hint

+PRETTY PLEASE? -- blatant annoyance ^_~