(2010) No infringement upon the rightful owners of “Combat!” and the characters thereof, is intended. This piece of fan fiction is for enjoyment only, and in no way will the author gain monetary profit from its existence.
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"Once in a Lullaby"
by White Queen
He didn't usually have this much trouble falling asleep. Doc checked his watch for the fourteenth time. Two-twelve. Maybe he should give up. Go outside, walk around. A little activity might help, might make his brain slow down a bit.
Doc sat up and rubbed his eyes. He looked around the abandoned stable by the light of the fire Littlejohn had started in an empty oil drum so they could heat their rations. Lima beans and S.O.S didn't taste much better warm than cold, but it was better than nothing. At least their coffee had been hot.
The fire stood in the center of the wide dirt aisle. It cast eerie shadows into the three stalls on either side, but left those beyond in darkness. Doc stood up and walked to the fire. Looked like everyone else was asleep. They'd each claimed a stall, the luxury of semi-privacy tempered by the knowledge that everyone was nearby if danger intruded. By this point of the war, any soldier that claimed he liked being alone was either a liar or crazy.
Billy lay curled up in a corner, his feet twitching like a hound dreaming of chasing jackrabbits. In the next stall, Littlejohn was flat on his back, hands folded across his stomach, snoring softly. Kirby sprawled on his side in a stall across the aisle, next to where Doc had been trying to sleep. Kirby'd been so tired, he hadn't even bothered to remove his pack before sacking out.
Saunders and Caje flanked the stable door. The sergeant appeared to be deeply asleep, but Doc knew that one out-of-place sound would bring him fully awake and ready for anything. Caje looked peaceful enough, except for his left hand curled around his bayonet. He'd taken to sleeping with the weapon in his fist days ago, and it worried Doc a little. Caje was too quiet lately -- Doc wished he could ease some of whatever was troubling the scout.
Doc realized he wasn't the only person awake -- Hanley's stall was empty too. They were behind their own lines, with no need for a sentry, so he figured the lieutenant must have just wanted some fresh air, same as Doc.
The air outside was cool and sweet, like maple syrup on his mama's pancakes when he was a boy. Doc took a few deep breaths and looked around. He spotted the glowing tip of a cigarette near what he thought was an overturned wagon of some sort. Doc walked slowly toward it. "Lieutenant?" he said softly.
"What's wrong, Doc?" Hanley asked. "Can't sleep?"
"Yeah." Doc settled next to Hanley on the upturned wagon. He kicked the tire of a bicycle someone had leaned against it, realizing idly that Littlejohn had been too tired to notice it when they arrived.
Neither man spoke for a bit. Finally, Hanley said, "It's a shame to waste such a nice bivouac with insomnia."
Doc laughed a little. "That stable sure makes most of the places we bunk look like some kind of ancient ruins, don't it?"
Hanley took a long drag on his cigarette, then changed the subject. He gestured up at the clear night sky. "Ever wonder what would happen if we could reach those?"
"Yeah. Would we start wars there too? Or would we finally have enough room people didn't have to sacrifice their lives for a little chunk of dirt to live on?"
Doc couldn't think of a good reply. Finally, just to be saying something, he quietly said, "Second star to the right, and straight on 'til morning."
Hanley looked at him curiously.
"It's from a play," Doc said a bit apologetically.
"'Peter Pan.' I know."
"I took a girl to see it at the high school a few years back. Always remembered that part. Be kind of nice to follow those directions, wouldn't it?"
"I guess we all could use some time somewhere over the rainbow." Hanley blew a stream of smoke toward the stars.
"Yeah." Doc shifted a little. "You know Caje sleeps with his bayonet in his hand now?"
Hanley shook his head. "I hadn't noticed. Does it worry you?"
"A little. I talked to Saunders about it, but he didn't seem to think it meant anything."
"None of us are saints, Doc. The nuns won't be teaching good little boys and girls our names."
"I know that, Lieutenant. Just seems to me, maybe Caje is getting a little too attached to being a soldier."
Hanley finished his cigarette and dropped it on the ground. He stood up and rubbed the butt into the dirt with his boot toe. "I'll talk to Saunders about it," he said. "Try to get some sleep -- we're moving out at first light."
Doc nodded. "Yes, sir." He watched Hanley walk away. The man looked older by the day. Doc uncapped his canteen and took a swig of water. He hummed a few bars of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and smiled. He'd taken that same girl to see The Wizard of Oz. He hopped off the wagon and headed back toward the stable. If he was lucky, maybe he'd dream about her tonight instead of the usual parade of destruction. If he was lucky....