The Big Sleep

(A response to the prompt: use the title of a classic film. Post-war story.)

B.J. stopped short when he stepped into the bedroom and saw Hawkeye standing at the mirror tying his necktie, putting the finishing touches on his dark-gray suit.

"Uh, I found a good box, Hawk. It's just the right size."

"Good." Hawkeye glanced over, raised his eyebrows. "You're going to change into a suit, aren't you, Beej?"

"Sure, sure," B.J. was quick to say, even though he hadn't been planning to do any such thing.

Hawkeye must've sensed his lack of enthusiasm because he said, "We promised we'd take this seriously, Beej. For our daughter."

And B.J. nodded. "You're right, Hawk," he said, moving toward the closet to pick out his best dark suit. "I'll change."

Hawkeye, now done tying his tie, took one last look in the mirror and was apparently pleased with his appearance. He stepped out of B.J.'s way. "Join us out back just as soon as you're ready," he said over his shoulder as he left the room.

B.J. pulled a suit out of the closet and kicked off his sneakers, strangely touched by how much thought and effort Hawkeye was putting into this. B.J. never would've considered changing clothes for the occasion, but it was sure to make an impression on Erin, to see her fathers dressed up and somber.

After all, Humphrey Bogart was dead.

Not the actor, that is; as far as B.J. knew, Bogie the actor was still alive and well and probably filming his next picture down in Hollywood. The Bogie who was dead was Erin's cat, who had come to them as a stray only a year ago, walking up to the house during a nasty rainstorm and acting like he belonged there. Kind-hearted Erin had insisted they let him inside to get warm and dry, and after that… he'd just stayed. B.J. and Hawkeye didn't have the heart to ask Erin to give him up, even though she already had a dog and one other cat. She was good with her pets, and took care of them as best she could at the tender age of 6, and her dads didn't see any reason to force her to give any of them up.

But along with pet ownership came—unfortunately—pet loss, and poor Bogie had succumbed to kidney failure earlier in the day. Apparently overnight he'd gone into hiding, as cats do when they know they are seriously ill, and by the time Erin realized she had a sick kitty on her hands, it was too late. She was taking the loss hard, but when Hawkeye suggested a funeral and burial out in the back yard, she threw herself into the idea, eager to memorialize Bogie's short life in that way.

B.J. had just found a box to bury the little guy in, and now he was, incredibly, changing into a dark suit to attend the cat's funeral. In this household, it seemed par for the course.

After he was properly dressed, down to his Sunday-best shoes, he joined Hawkeye and Erin in the back yard, where Bogie the cat had already been placed into the wooden box at Erin's feet. She was putting a flower inside the box with him when B.J. arrived, standing next to Hawkeye and placing a hand on the small of his back.

Hawkeye turned, said softly as he pointed, "I've dug a hole over there. Think it's deep enough?"

B.J. took a look and nodded. "Sure, Hawk. Thanks."

Erin put the lid on the wooden box and stood up, her little face so innocent as she looked at her dads. B.J. could see her eyes were red from crying, but this whole funeral idea was clearly helping her adjust.

Hawkeye took the lead, opening up B.J.'s Bible and reading a passage from Ecclesiastes 3 before adding the personal message, "Bogie was a good cat, and I'll miss him. Erin, would you like to say anything?"

Her voice was small and a little shaky as she said, "He was soft and cute, and he seemed happy because he purred a lot. I loved him."

B.J. couldn't think of much to add, but managed to come up with, "We were happy to have Bogie as a member of our family, even if it was just for a short time. May he rest in peace."

Hawkeye placed the box in the ground, and he and B.J. covered it with dirt while Erin watched on solemnly. Sure, Bogie was only a cat, and B.J. had felt a little silly going to all this trouble, but now the whole thing felt weighty and important. He and Hawkeye were supporting their little girl in her sorrow and helping her through it. It gave him such a strong feeling of family and togetherness.

The grave covered, he and Hawkeye took a few steps back and let Erin stand there beside it, coming to terms with her loss. B.J. put an arm around Hawkeye and pulled him close. "Thanks for all this, Hawk," he whispered. "It was exactly the right thing to do."

Hawkeye looked into B.J.'s eyes, and there was still something about those beautiful blue orbs that made B.J. weak in the knees, even after all this time. "This family helps each other through everything, no matter how big or small," Hawk declared, as if voicing some kind of Pierce-Hunnicutt manifesto.

"Yeah," B.J. agreed with a small smile. "That's us." He leaned over and gave Hawkeye a kiss on the mouth, followed quickly by another.

Erin turned around and caught them kissing, but her mind was elsewhere. "When can I get a new cat?" she asked.