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Years In The Making
Summary: Well, just how *do* Smith & Decker know each other? This goes all
the way back to when they graduated from West Point. . .
Part 3: Operation Chromite, 1950
Decker unceremoniously flipped yet another card into the steel pot by his outstretched legs. With a sigh, he stated blandly, "I'm bored."
Smith stretched a little on his bunk and turned to face the other lieutenant. Opening one eye, he muttered by way of reply, "Can't you let a man sleep a little?" He got a playing card tossed maliciously at his face in return. Closing his eye, he turned to go back to sleep. "You missed."
With a harrumph, Decker got up and started pacing around the small, olive drab tent, frustrated. "I mean it, John. We're West Point grads. We should be doing something, something other than wasting time in this hell hole!"
Grumpily, John sat up and stared at his friend. "Do something? Like what? Look around, Rod, we *can't* do anything. We're in Pusan, there are like a couple hundred thousand enemy troops within spitting distance of us, we're outnumbered, outgunned, can't even go to the latrine for fear of getting sniped. What can we do?"
Dejected, Decker stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked at the ground. "Yeah. Guess you're right," he muttered regretfully. "Doesn't mean I have to like it, though." He flopped onto his bunk with an oomph and closed his eyes. "I'm gonna go crazy if we have to goof around for one more day."
"You wanna know what I heard?"
Decker smiled a little; far-fetched rumors often were the only thread to sanity in this otherwise bleak, gray place. "What?"
"I heard MacArthur's planning some sorta offensive." Smith voice held a muted excitement in it.
Decker just scoffed. "Right. And just what does he think he's gonna do?" He heard the other bed creak as Smith slumped back down.
With a small sigh, John answered, "I dunno. Something about Inchon."
"You mean that beach with the weird tides? That's crazy."
"Might work, though."
Rod mulled over this for a moment. "Maybe. Yeah."
"We could help, you know."
Decker peered at him, confused. "Huh?"
A broad grin grew on Smith's face, lighting it up like a jack-o-lantern. "You know, take out some of the enemy troops over here. Gather some intelligence, or something. We could help."
"You have got to be shitting me."
John sat up, excited all of a sudden. "I'm serious! Who's to stop us, anyway? It's not unprecedented, either. I mean, MacArthur himself almost got a Medal of Honor that one time when he went into Mexico back in the day."
"Yeah, but he almost got court-martialed, too," Decker said dryly.
"But he didn't, now did he?"
Decker was silent for a while. Smith *did* have a point, and anything would be better than just sitting around, doing nothing. But something was still eating him at the back of his mind.
Oh yeah. He didn't wanna die. That's right.
Somehow, Smith managed to read his mind. With a clap to Decker's shoulder, he stated reassuringly that they'd be alright, maybe get a medal out of this, and what could possibly go wrong?
So they left that night. It wasn't all that hard, since the guards were all enlisted, and didn't really pay any mind to the crazy-ass officers stomping loudly through the base camp, steel helmets ajar and M1 Garand rifles slung haphazardly over their shoulders. It was too late at night to care about two gung-ho idiots who were hell-bent on getting themselves killed.
And they made their way through the not-so-dense bush of the chilly Korean countryside, quite easily it seemed to them, coming upon no enemy resistance whatsoever.
"It's quiet," Decker whispered to Smith, though in the quiet night air it sounded strangely loud.
"Too quiet," Smith agreed. He looked toward the horizon, where the sun was inching up in orange glory. Suddenly, he pushed Decker behind a bush and jumped in next, landing on top of him.
"Didn't know ya cared," the other lieutenant muttered bemusedly.
"Shut up." He rolled to the side, and maneuvered into a prone position facing the horizon. "Look."
Dutifully, Rod looked through the brush. The look of amusement crumbled into shock in a split second. "Holy shit. . . that's--aw, hell. . ."
Up on the horizon was what looked like a company of North Korean troops. And they seemed to be armed to the teeth.
Decker pulled out a map of the area, and tried to smooth it out on the ground with fiercely shaking hands. He was about to pull out a pen when he felt Smith grab his arm.
"What're you doing?" he hissed fretfully.
Decker looked at him as if he'd just grown another head. "Figuring out where we are," he hissed back. "Colonel Brigham's gonna wanna know this."
"Good point," he hissed, equally fretful as before.
With a few glances at their surroundings and a few marks on the maps, Decker figured generally where they were. "Let's get back," he whispered, still fearful of the oncoming Communist forces.
It was just about at that point that Smith looked up. And it was also just about at that point that a North Korean soldier spotted them.
"Rod. . ."
"Run. . ."
And he saw the soldiers on the horizon. And they saw him. And Decker looked at Smith. And Smith looked at Decker. And they turned tail and hauled ass. And there was much panic and a-cursing.
And it was good.
Author's note: The next part is based on fact, just so ya know. . . Outpost Harry was an actual place near the northern part of South Korea, and the historical stuff is accurate. . . just thought I'd include that.
Part 4: Outpost Harry, 1953
Smith stepped off the plane and onto the pot-holed, crappy excuse for a runway. In his hand was a large manila folder, the one that held his orders to report to Outpost Harry. With a sigh, he took a cautious step forward, trying in vain to avoid the omnipresent craters, trying to get from point A to point B without falling flat on his ass and making a fool of himself on the first day at his new unit.
He wasn't happy. For the past three years, he had been alone. He hadn't seen Rod since that incident at Pusan; the occasional letter, here or there, but not much else. It's not like they'd grown terribly apart; it was just the war. There was so much going on now that they'd gotten caught up in the whole Communist aggression thing, and they weren't sure of each other's whereabouts anymore. Ever since that whole brouhaha at Pusan, the army had tried to separate them, keep the two troublemakers apart. And it had worked perfectly, too. They hadn't seen each other in almost three, four years.
OP Harry was, in essence, a shit-hole. Four hundred yards from the Main Line of Resistance, constantly under observation, hard to get supplies up the damn hillside. But damn if it wasn't important; if the Communist Chinese Forces took it, they'd have control of the entire area, not to mention a clear view of hundreds of yards of UN held land.
That didn't make it any less of a shit-hole.
It didn't take Smith long to realize what he was here for. King Company needed one more dead captain to lead one more dead infantry squad. And Smith was that one more dead captain.
It didn't take him long to get into the action, either. Actually, correction: it wasn't long before the action came to him. It was mere months before the scheduled ceasefire, and the Chinese wanted to take as much as possible beforehand. Since OP Harry was close, and easily viewed, well, reason states that they would try for it. So, on that warm June night, the UN forces fought. And Smith led his men exceptionally well, or so his commander told him before the guy was
hit during a barrage of Chinese fire.
The next day of the fight, most of King Company was replaced completely. Smith and the remnants of his squad marched, tired, back to the rear of the fighting, back to rest. On the way, Smith was looking around, kind of dazed, kind of tired, kind of dead. The dazed look was almost completely gone when he saw a sight for sore eyes.
"Rod," he whispered, almost in awe. "Rod!" he repeated, louder, hoping the other man would hear him over the screaming bombs and thunderous explosions in the distance.
And hear him Decker did. They stood there, a couple dozen yards away from each other, completely stunned for a moment. It didn't take too long before they started walking towards each other, leaving their respective squads behind.
The hearty handshake they had started quickly changed into an embrace without either man knowing who'd initiated it. Looking at Decker, Smith saw how different he looked. Older, of course, but just a little harder in the eyes. Smith guessed he looked the same; different, in the smallest way.
"My god, man. . . three years. . . " Smith let his hands slide off Decker's shoulders and wiped the moisture out of his eyes as Decker did the same.
"Yeah. . . where've you been?"
"Around." John's blue eyes sparkled in the greasy sunlight. "It's. . . wow. How are ya?"
With a laugh, he answered, "Hellish. You know, sometimes I wish we were back in Pusan."
Smith chuckled dryly. "You remember Colonel Brigham?"
"Who wouldn't?" came Rod's reply. "The old man was so angry. . . didn't know if he was gonna give us a medal or kill us," he added, referring to when they'd come back from their midnight "patrol" three years ago. "It's a damn good thing that general was with him, or we'd be rotting in our graves."
"Yeah." All traces of cheerfulness left John's face for the moment. "You goin' up to the front today?"
"Yeah," Rod answered soberly. "What--I mean, is it as bad as they say?"
John nodded, eyes downcast. "I don't think it's going too well. You better be careful up there, you know."
"I will, man. I'll catch you after the battle, at the officer's club?" He grinned and walked off to meet back up with his squad.
Just then, a young corporal came running up to Smith. "Captain Smith?" he asked, his voice telling the young captain that this corporal probably lied about his age to enlist. "Here are your
Smith looked at him perplexed. He had his orders in his shirt pocket; they were going back to the rear. Snatching the papers out of the boy's hands, he peered suspiciously at the typewritten words. He and his squad were to go back to the front, as soon as possible.
With a groan, he headed back to his decimated squad. Tired, uniforms rotting off their backs, boots barely being held together by the thinnest of threads-those men weren't ready for combat.
But, orders were orders, and he took his men to the west flank of the battle, hoping to get some sort of reprieve by some divine intervention.
It didn't happen, and he woke up three days later in a field hospital, apparently suffering from shrapnel wounds. His men were fine, the doctors said; most would be going home without those pesky purple hearts, thanks to some ingenious maneuver Smith had thought up but couldn't remember. But he was being called Hannibal for it now, after the general, for that maneuver. A risk-taker, the best kind, they said.
Well, that best kind of risk-taker asked the good doctors at that field hospital if they'd had a Captain Decker come through their little outpost. No, they'd said, but they'd be more than happy to check the MIA/KIA lists for Smith.
"Oh, he wouldn't be on those lists," John said matter-of-factly. "He said he'd meet me at the officer's club. After the battle, I mean."
The doctor he'd been talking to smiled with a sadness in his eyes, and left to get the list of MIAs.
Smith looked in the 'D' section, just glancing through, confident he wouldn't find Decker's name on it, since Decker'd promised to meet him in the officer's club, so he couldn't be missing, no, not at all, not possible in the least--
--until Smith saw Decker's name on the list.
Part 5: Silent Homecoming, 1954
The harsh halogen lights coaxed Roderick Decker back to reality slowly and fuzzily. He gradually became aware of the noises around him and the sounds eventually merged and shifted into recognizable speech patterns. After a few confusing moments, he realized he was on a bed, covered and warm. Comfortable.
The sensation of comfort was foreign to him. He hadn't slept in anything resembling a bed in--what? A year? Hard, cold ground, that was normal. Perpetual darkness inside icy walls, that was normal. Stench of death and decay, not ammonia and hot food, that was normal. Wherever he was now wasn't normal.
He opened his eyes slowly, squinting to avoid being blinded by the light in whatever room he was in. Blinking a few times, he made out a wooden cross on the far wall. Definitely not a POW camp. Looking around a little more, he saw the dozen other occupied beds around him. A hospital, that's where he was.
One of the many nurses finally noticed he was awake and called over a doctor. The doctor, a lanky fellow with watery blue eyes and salt-and-pepper hair, adjusted Decker's sheets and smiled at him. "Welcome back to the land of the living," he quipped with a slight New England accent.
Decker tried to find his voice but couldn't. The doctor looked at him, understanding.
"Don't try to talk," he warned. "I know you've got a lot of questions, so I'll just have to put my psychic abilities to use and try to figure out what they are, huh?"
Decker looked at him expectantly.
"Well, first, you're in Japan. Your next stop is San Francisco, then wherever you call home."
"Benning," he managed to rasp out.
The doctor looked at him, mockingly cross. "Didn't I tell you not to talk?" he chided jokingly. Seeing the faintest glimmer of a smile on his patient's face, he went on. "You had a fever for about three days. It broke last night, and we were just waiting for you to wake up. We just needed you conscious for when you board that bird home."
If the doctor was waiting for a reaction, he didn't get one. It wasn't until the plane actually touched down in California that Major Decker--he'd been promoted unknowingly when he was in the camp--finally realized the meaning of the situation.
He was home.
The steps down from the plane seemed infinitely long and far from the ground. He walked down slowly, gazing at the happy reunions taking place on the tarmac below him. He wondered where his parents were. He didn't see them in the crowd and hoped they hadn't gotten lost on the way. //Dad never was any Magellan// he thought with wryly.
His gaze finally settled on the one familiar face in the crowd. John Smith was standing at attention in full dress uniform. Rod wondered briefly how he looked in his own uniform; probably rail-thin and sickly. He only hoped he wasn't an embarrassment to his friend, who seemed to have earned a green beret during his time at the camp.
From the tarmac, Major John Smith watched with unshed tears as Decker walked towards him. His every step looked almost painful, and Smith could barley stand the almost lost look in the man's steel gray eyes. Will power alone was all that kept him from losing his military bearing out there on the airfield.
Both their eyes were drawn suddenly to the young private running from the main building towards Decker. Smith watched, curious, as Decker walked off, equally curious, with the private. Curiosity got the better of him, and he set off after the two of them.
They'd entered the main building, and were walking down a lonely corridor for a few minutes. Smith figured neither Decker nor the private knew they were being tailed, since neither of them turned around or glanced back or anything. All the better; he would've been thrown out, most likely, if he'd been caught.
They turned a corner, and from around the bend, Smith could hear a door open and shut. He walked to the door and waited patiently, trying to look inconspicuous and nonchalant as the moments ticked by. He wasn't doing a very good job, though; anxiousness and worry and curiosity all blended together to make a nasty little knot in his stomach, causing him to rock back and forth on his heels while looking around nervously.
He snapped around to face the door when he heard it creak open. Decker stepped out, shoulders slumped, looking even more lost than before. He raised his head and saw Smith. There was just something in those steel eyes that was unsettling.
"Hey, Rod. . .?"
Decker didn't want to say anything. He didn't trust his voice. He wanted to be strong, because he knew Smith was strong. And he didn't trust his voice to be strong. So he didn't say anything. Not verbally, at least.
His eyes held a different story, though. He couldn't force them to be strong, not when they were watering up the way they were. He couldn't force his legs to be strong either, not when he looked down at the piece of paper he held in his hands. And so he collapsed, fell into Smith's arms, those arms that miraculously supported him and did not allow him to fall to the ground.
He only vaguely felt Smith lowering him to sit on the ground, only vaguely felt the paper being taken from his tremulous hands. He barely recognized the pause as Smith read the telegram telling of the car crash that the elder Deckers had died in, just yesterday as a matter of fact, on their way to see their son who'd just returned from Korea almost a full year after everyone else had.
No, he didn't realize very much of anything at that point. Not much at all.
Except that his voice hadn't shown weakness. It was strong in its silence.
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