Summary:A short little piece to prove I'm still out here. <g>

Rating: G, angst

Category: vignette

Disclaimer: Put standard disclaimer here. Not betaed. Maybe when Susan gets back.


Posted: 08-31-01

He was going home. He was leaving the jungle. The jungle that had frightened him. The jungle that had succored him. The jungle that had protected him and the Chopec. The jungle where he had buried the seven members of his team. The jungle where he had carried on the mission--alone. Yet not alone. He was going home. He couldn't quite comprehend it.

Time had ceased to mean anything to him as day after day he and his team of Chopec warriors scouted and guarded the pass. One year or twenty, he had simply taken one day at a time, and slowly the jungle had stripped him down to the bare essentials of living. He had been told that it had been eighteen months. Eighteen months since the chopper went down and he had buried his comrades in arms. And now, he was leaving; the mission, and the jungle. He was going home. Home. The word was foreign to him.

He gazed down at the quickly receding tree tops, and past them to the people watching him leave. His people. His tribe. Incacha assured him that this was right, that it was time, but it felt like a betrayal. Then again, it didn't. He took one last look at the trees and the people he left behind, and resolutely turned his face forward. He was going home.

Two hours later he stepped down onto asphalt for the first time in eighteen months. After the solitude and relative quiet of the jungle, the bustle, clatter, and overall noise of the base was overwhelming. It was all he could do to hold his ground amidst the unfamiliar chaos. Numbly, he allowed his escort to lead him toward the medical barracks.

He didn't register the reporters or the cameras until one was practically shoved in his face. He stopped and stared at them, unable to resolve the shouting and clamoring into words. Fortunately, he didn't have to. His escort closed ranks around him, and MPs efficiently moved the press aside. In short order he was ushered into the medical facility and into an exam room to await the doctor. His re-acclimation to "home" had begun.

Six Months Later

He stood unconsciously at attention. His brass gleamed, and his black, spit and polished shoes shone to a mirrored gloss. The black beret sat precisely on his brow. He gazed at the seven grave markers in front of him. Sadness and guilt filled him.

"Hi, guys. It's been two years. Can you believe that? Two years since you lost your lives, but only six months since you had a proper burial. They wouldn't let me attend the service. I wanted to. I practically begged. I'd just begun debriefing, and they didn't want to interrupt it. I guess they were afraid I'd forget something, or say something I shouldn't to your families. I don't know." He paused, raising his head to look out over the rows and rows of white markers.

"I wish I knew why I was spared." He returned his gaze to the gravestones in front of him. "I carried on, like I--like we were all trained. The mission was important, but I don't know if it was worth your lives. I don't think you ever knew this, but I have my suspicions about Colonel Oliver. I have the feeling he's somehow behind what happened. Of course I can't prove it. I don't even have enough to accuse him. I just have my gut instinct." He fell silent, once again allowing his gaze to sweep the verdant lawns and white markers.

"The brass finally got tired of debriefing me, and the doctors finally got tired of poking and prodding me. They gave me a three-day pass and turned me loose. I came straight here. I had to see you guys, tell you I was sorry. Yeah, I know you'd harangue me for that, but I am. I'm sorry you died, sorry you were part of my team. Sorry for all of it." He paused, ordering his thoughts.

"Well, no more. I'm getting out. They've granted my discharge, and by this time next week, I'll be a civilian again. Not for long, though. I'm joining the police department in Cascade, Washington, my hometown. Can you believe that? I joined the Army to get away from home. I couldn't run far enough or fast enough to get out of there, and now what do I do when I'm out? I'm running back 'home'. Of all the cities and towns and places to go in this country, why am I headed back to the one place I never wanted to return to? It's certainly not because of family. I haven't talked to my father or brother in ten years. Don't plan to, either."

He frowned in disgust. "The police department is eager to have me. They said with my background and training, I'll be an asset to their department. They want to fast-track me to detective. I think they just want bragging rights over the hometown 'war hero'." He closed his eyes for a moment. "Some hero."

He straightened his shoulders. "Goodbye, my friends. Rest in peace." He snapped a salute to the silent gravestones, turned on his heel, and walked slowly away. For them and their sacrifice, he would carry on. At home.

The end (for now)

There, you see? I *can* do short little things if I put my mind to it. Hah! Feedback always appreciated,