The usual disclaimers apply: I don't own 'em, but would love to.
Just a gentle, quiet little piece set within hours after The Last Crusade's "ride into the sunset."
Enjoy; reviews welcomed, but flames probably ignored. LOL
The Night Watch
The old man listened to the soft, even breathing beside him, punctuated with the occasional gentle snore, and smiled to himself. So exhausted… the younger man had made sure everyone else's needs were met as best he could, establishing camp with next to nothing, managing to talk some Arabs out of a little food and a few blankets. Only afterwards did he finally give in to his own weariness and allow himself some rest. Even then, he sternly ordered his father to only let him sleep for a couple of hours, and to wake him if there was any disturbance. The father was not surprised to see his son fall asleep barely three minutes after slowing down long enough to close his eyes.
The older man was somewhat startled to realize that he had not watched his son in sleep in more than twenty-five years…
He'd helplessly stood out in the hallway and listened to the heartbroken, muffled sobs for nearly an hour, feeling like an empty shell except for his shame. It didn't matter that the youngster was nearly fourteen; the boy had just lost his mother. Tears should be acceptable! The child shouldn't have to feel that he needed to hide them from his father… However, the older man been incapable of dealing with the boy's open grief; he just couldn't be what his son needed, his own pain was far too great.
Late into the night, he'd sat beside the youngster whose face was mottled red and white with having cried himself to sleep, clutching the sheet and blanket fiercely in his strong young fist. The closed, sometimes sullen expression the youngster had worn for the last few months was wiped clear with the smooth eraser of sleep and grief, and the father could see how painfully young and sad his son was. Tentatively, as though afraid of being rebuffed even in sleep, the father reached out and very gently stroked back the lock of hair that had fallen in the boy's face, and tenderly stroked his cheek. "My poor boy, I know how much it hurts," he whispered brokenly. The boy sighed and frowned in his sleep and his father tenderly drew the blanket up around him, watching him relax with the warmth and the relief of having his mind quiet for a short time. As the youngster slept, his father leaned over and dusted his damp cheek with a tender kiss, something neither would have permitted had the boy been awake.
The older man wiped a shaky hand over his face, his own heart searing in pain at the realization that he would never again see her beautiful smile, hear her whisper his name, feel her fingers in his hair. A hand came to his mouth, forcing silence, forcing back the agony… and he sagged back in his chair unable to keep a small sob from escaping, a few hot tears from slipping from his tightly clenched eyes. How he wished he could embrace his son and they could grieve together! But that was just beyond him right now…
Sadly, the old man realized that had been a real turning point for them. So much of the boy reminded him of the beautiful wife he'd lost, her laughter, her smile… and without her as the gentle bridge between them, they rapidly grew further and further apart. The father had retreated into his life's search to escape the agony of losing his beloved… and in the process shut out his child. He'd never intended the boy to feel unloved, for he truly loved him, so dearly…he just had no idea how to show it. He'd not had any experience personally with a tender and gentle father. His own was a sour-tempered Scots Calvinist with hands as hard and cold as granite and seemingly a heart to match, who believed the sole purpose of fatherhood was to serve as a brutal and rigid disciplinarian; surely showing tenderness wasn't something a father did...
Henry had managed to avoid that trap, he thought, by providing his son with as much freedom of expression as he wanted. He now knew that his boy had perceived that as a lack of interest. He supposed, on some level, the boy was right. The father had never been too interested in anything outside the realm of his obsession, unless startled or frightened into it…
…The child was so hot! Anna had wearily wrung out cloth after cloth, trying to use cool water to bring down his fever. For the first few days of his illness, the child had been whiny and miserable, and to his shame, his father hadn't realized how truly ill he was… he'd just assumed his son was being difficult.
Already at eight, the youngster had begun to exhibit signs of being more independent than his father particularly appreciated. God knew the boy was bright enough, his teachers insisted, but he was restless and inquisitive to the point of distraction. Had the father stopped long enough to think about it, he'd have realized that whining was not his son's usual style at all; he was a gutsy youngster, filled with courage and daring that would alternately fill his father with pride and terror.
One of the few times the boy had found himself getting a prolonged view of the carpet in his father's study and on the receiving end of a good thrashing was after a fearless attempt to ride a horse much too large and spirited for his experience. His father had nearly lost ten years as he'd spied the then seven-year-old clutching the sixteen-hand-high gelding and determinedly hanging on despite the horse's spirited attempts to buck him off. At that height, the child could easily have broken his neck; his father nearly did it for him! Instead, he'd stopped short while chatting with his guest, the horse's owner, his heart in his throat, and then pelted across the yard on long legs and plucked the boy off the animal just as it reared high.
After being marched to his father study for a severe scolding -- the father's natural Scots brogue laced with nervous tremors -- and a sound spanking, the youngster was still spirited, a little defiant – "But, Dad! I didn't fall off! I can ride 'im!" – and then finally penitent. There were a few tears, but they were manfully overcome as the boy accepted his punishment. Certainly not querulous or crabby as he'd become since he'd falling ill.
The parents finally realized this was more than a simple cold, and sent for the doctor, who had come and had gravely uttered the frightening words, "Scarlet fever."
Terrified, the parents sat together at the child's side. For the father, his books were forgotten, his notes forgotten, his life's quest forgotten. He willed his boy to fight the fever and illness; and finally, in the dark and very early hours of the morning of the sixth day, the fever broke. After examining the child, the doctor wearily straightened up with a tired smile and proclaimed him past the crisis, and that it appeared he would live. Anna had leaned over the bed, burying her face in her hands, sobbing silently her relief. Shaking, the father had found his own eyes wet and, unseen by the gratefully weeping mother, he tenderly kissed his boy's forehead, cooler now, and he brushed back a fringe of golden brown hair, while praying his thanks to the Almighty for sparing his son …
The old man was abashed to realize that his memories grew fewer and further between after that. He'd found so many clues to the Grail from that point forward; he realized that Anna had done her best to insulate him from the daily disturbances a growing boy can present, thinking she was aiding his quest. Without realizing it, and through love of them both, she'd forged a pattern of avoidance that was hard for either father or son to break.
The father looked at the tall, sturdy frame of his son beside him, listening to the even, quiet breathing, and suddenly smiled gently. His memory cast back nearly forty years to the first time he could remember standing over him and anxiously listening to him breathe…
So tiny, so fragile!
"But… I don't think this is a good idea, Anna," he'd protested uneasily.
She'd smiled and patted the bed next to her. Their son had been born near midnight, so the glow of the golden lamplight lit Anna's tired but serene face and golden hair. Helplessly, he'd settled gingerly beside her, not wanting to hurt her, still unsure of this whole parenthood thing.
"He's so small… what if I hurt him?" he'd asked nervously when his wife smiled and insisted that he take his tiny son, only an hour or so old, in his arms.
"He'll be fine," she'd assured him tenderly, "And so will you." She gently laid the baby in her husband's arms. Her heart had melted at the wonder on her husband's face as he studied his tiny son. "Hard to believe, isn't it?" she'd said softly. "So helpless…so trusting…."
Henry had swallowed hard then, a lump in his throat and his eyes stinging a little with hot tears. He'd been terrified that when he held his son he'd not feel anything. He was afraid he'd be like his own father, unable to show any kind of emotion. But, oh! to the contrary! He felt his heart swelling with pride, and an incredible desire to protect the little form in his arms…and deep, deep love.. His baby… his little son… So gently, so tenderly, he kissed the scrunched up little face, and chuckled at the tiny fist that flailed in response.
"Welcome to the world, Henry Jones, Junior," he whispered, smiling delightedly.
The old man was startled back from his memories by the uneasy stirring of his son beside him. The father gazed tenderly once again at the "boy," all grown up now. He smiled slightly to himself as he saw his son frown a little in his sleep, stirring again, frowning and muttering uneasily. He was obviously dreaming, and not something pleasant. The old man hesitated, not wanting to risk waking him when the boy needed sleep so desperately. When the younger man muttered aloud for his father, somewhat distressed, the old man gently and very lightly stroked his hair. "I'm right here, boy," he softly reassured. "Everything's all right."
As his son seemed to curl up tighter against the frigid night air of the desert, the older man frowned, realizing his boy was cold. He sat up, removed the large, warm blanket from his own body and spread it gently over his boy, tenderly tucking it around the long legs, the strong body, the broad shoulders clad in leather. When was the last time I tucked him in? God forgive me, I can't remember...
The old man realized sleep for himself was done for the night, and he leaned back against the nearby boulder with a sigh, brushing dust off the disgracefully battered hat his son affected. At first, he made a grumpy face, in his mind offering a diatribe against his son's need for theatrics and drama, even down to the clothing he affected. Then his expression softened and he sighed gently, glancing down at his son's sleeping form. He's a grown man, he thought humbly. Not your little boy any more. He's not only capable of making his own decisions but has the right to make his own decisions. Even over disreputable choices in clothing. Even over… yes, even over what he chooses to be called. Let him be who he is.
He gently set the fedora beside his son, and, after hesitating a moment, glancing at the other two sleeping forms, his lips lightly touched his son's forehead. "It's all right, Junior. Dad's here. Go on back to sleep," he whispered. He watched his son's frown loosen, and the tense forehead smooth into relaxed, comfortable sleep.
Henry Jones, Senior resolutely made up his mind to take the night watch once more, and let his son continue to rest while he fed the fire, waiting for the sun to rise on a new day.