On a lonely Valentine's Day, a Joe travels to Arlington Cemetery to find some old memories. This second piece tells about the day from another Joe's point of view.
Author: "Wolfman Six"
Oh, the usual stuff. What's mine is mine, what's Marvel's, Hasbro's and Devil's Due's is theirs.
The mentioned character of "Desert Fox" comes from Danielle (firstname.lastname@example.org) - Read her fic, "The Electra Cycle", it's really good!
Note: This piece is based on the Valentine's Day fiction, "Reflections of a Shadow", but told from another Joe's point of view.
Saturday, 14 February, 2004
The alarm buzzer next to Takedown's bed buzzed promptly at 7:00 in the morning. She rolled over to silence it, at first not thinking much about the lack of a warm body that should've been lying next to her. First one eye opened, and then the other. The morning sun shone brightly through the window of her bedroom, unhindered by the clouds that were predicted by the weathermen the night before.
Her gaze drifted to the mound of empty sheets that had been tossed aside by her lover much earlier, while she blissfully slept. A large, heart-shaped box of candy was lying on the pillow, with a card attached. As sweet as the surprise was, Takedown didn't understand why he wasn't in bed in place of the candy.
Where was he?
Where did Crypto go?
Sliding out of her bed and finding a pair of slip-ons for her feet, Takedown fumbled around for a few moments, tracking down a bathrobe and towel. She took a quick glance around the government-issued efficiency apartment that she called home, on the grounds of Fort Hamilton, G. I. Joe's New York base of operations. After not finding Crypto sitting on her couch watching television, or whipping up some breakfast for himself in the mini-kitchen, an idea tugged at Takedown's mind that something might be wrong.
As she took a hasty shower, Takedown thought about Valentine's Day for a while. There had been some passing mention of a trip that Crypto wanted to take. Takedown remembered that the officer was in Duke's office during the previous week, dropping off a leave request chit for sometime in February, but there had been no big discussion about it between them.
Because of the ongoing events in Iraq and around the world, a lot of the Joe team hadn't seen the States for more than a year and a half. For Crypto and Takedown, it was closer to two years or more.
It didn't help that the secrecy of the G. I. Joe unit precluded following a "normal" military leave schedule. No one wanted family members to know the Joes were traveling in and out of the combat zone, nor did they want anyone outside the team figuring out their movements.
A quick search around the underground facility yielded nothing in Crypto's usual haunts. The intelligence shop's resident staff hadn't seen him, and Desert Fox, who was in charge of the weekend detail, swore up and down that he wasn't locked in his private office inside the SCIF message center.
The gymnasium and mess hall were also a bust. None of the handful of regular Joes that were up and around had seen Crypto. There was only one other place to look. Takedown fished in a pocket to dig out the spare key to Crypto's quarters.
Crypto's rooms, in the heart of Officer Country, were dark when Takedown pushed the door open with a creak. As she reached for the wall switch to turn on the lights, her foot bumped into a mass of objects that rolled and clattered. Startled only a little, she found the light switch and flicked it on.
Crypto's place was a bit of a mess. Some of his combat equipment had been hastily deposited on the floor, and a number of empty rifle magazines in their bandoleer had made the offending clatter. Otherwise, the place looked like a man lived there... a man with the benefit of a woman's touch.
Although he was generally tidy and never asked her to, Takedown would surprise him by taking a moment every week to check his quarters for neatness, often straightening things up without taking any credit for it. She knew that he appreciated her efforts, when he did his own sweet things for her.
Takedown ambled into the apartment, gathering up the things that were scattered across the floor, and putting the equipment in a pile on the small couch that sat against one wall. Her eyes caught sight of some papers that had been left out on a coffee table, and she decided to see if any of them could provide a clue to Crypto's whereabouts.
An old, heavy envelope was at the bottom of the pile of papers, beige with red striping printed on it. Fading red ink indicated that the envelope's contents were classified, but the secure packaging had been torn open and its contents removed. Resting on top of the envelope were a large, leather-bound book and a few loose papers.
The first sheet of paper had been printed by the Fort Hamilton pay and allowances office, where civilian travel was also booked for the base residents. Dated around the time she remembered Crypto having had his talk with Duke, the travel voucher outlined a reservation on Amtrak for Crypto to take the early Washington DC Metroliner, with a same-day return. He had also written a short reminder to himself about a plot number at Arlington National Cemetery.
Takedown filed the Amtrak information and reference to Arlington in the back of her head and scanned the other papers quickly, taking a quick glance at the clock hanging from Crypto's wall. Judging by the time, he was probably already arriving at DC's Union Station, if he caught the train listed on his itinerary.
As Takedown was about to put everything back into place and leave Crypto's quarters, she noticed that the cover of the leather-bound book read "Mission Log 1993-17" and wore a faded red ink "Classified - Top Secret" stamp. She was accustomed to seeing Crypto leave all manner of classified stuff around his quarters, the haphazard materials belonging to one assignment or another, and usually didn't pry. However, for some reason, a supposedly secure mission log from his first assignment to Baghdad in 1993 got her wondering.
She opened the book, flipping through the first few pages and computer printouts that chronicled the intelligence gathering mission Crypto and his partner Seagull had been dispatched to complete. They were collecting evidence that Cobra was getting involved in Iraqi affairs, and re-arming the oil-wealthy nation even after their defeat during Operation Desert Storm.
Eventually, the dates closed in on April 16th, and notes about a SEAL platoon being inserted into Baghdad to support a special raid had been included in the daily logs. Then, on the 16th, the log stopped. Two pages later, Takedown found a hand-scrawled note.
17 April 1993, 02:30 hours
The SEAL platoon was extracted after the raid got botched up during infiltration of the Iraqi Ministry of Information. Several men were wounded, but the platoon medic had them stable by the time we met up with the MH-53 Pave Low.
Fuck it. The whole mission was a royal cluster fuck. Whichever bonehead in Intelligence that advised us it would be a soft target was so fucking wrong that I'm going to kill the bastard when I get home... if I get home.
Cobra killed Seagull during the raid. She died in my arms. Even if our presence here is plausibly deniable, I will never forget her. Her body was on the dustoff bird with the SEALS. And I'm going back to that viper's nest. I have a mission to complete.
I'm sending one copy of the mission log - this one - back to my friend Steve Watkins in New York City for safe keeping, and so that someone knows what happened to Yeoman 1st Class Penelope Scott and myself when the government says no one was here in Baghdad. All of the other stuff is going back to the NSA via Kuwait and our embassy's Diplomatic Bag. The cabbie from the local CIA spy cell knows to take it after I leave the safe house.
To be honest, I think this log will be the only thing that survives Penny and me. I don't expect to come back alive. But I promise that the fucking Cobras will pay.
Kurt Williams, Lieutenant (junior grade), USN
G. I. Joe Operative "Crypto"
Takedown could only speculate about what had happened to Crypto during that mission. What the officer had confided in her was essentially that most of the details were classified, and that he had a rough time. He did slip once and reveal that he had been a Cobra prisoner for some time, and had to escape through the desert before he made it home.
Before she closed the mission logbook, a small photo fell out of another page, landing on the floor. It was a photo of Crypto, with a beautiful blonde sitting next to him. Both were wearing Navy uniforms, and the photo was taken in front of an American flag, but the background didn't ring a bell. On the back, someone had written, "Crypto and me. G. I. Joe Team Graduation Day - NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. February 13, 1993".
Takedown rubbed a tear from her eye, thinking for a moment about how loyal Crypto was to his promises. When he promised to come back alive during Operation Iraqi Freedom, he came through for her. Despite his quirks and sometimes sullen refusal to talk about himself, he was a very dynamic individual. In that moment, she realized that she had to spend her Valentine's Day with Crypto, regardless of the distance that separated them already.
A knock sounded at the Intel Shop's door, just as Desert Fox was about to close up and send her duty analyst to the main command center. When the senior intelligence sergeant opened the door, she found Takedown waiting outside.
"You knew he was going, didn't you?" Takedown said.
"Sort of," Desert Fox replied. "I knew he was going off post when he gave me the orders of the day."
"I need to get to Arlington Cemetery and find him. Can you help me?"
Desert Fox led the way to the base motor pool. "I can give you a lift to Penn Station. I had planned on heading into Manhattan for a spell, to find something special for when Deep Six gets in tonight."
"I'd appreciate it," Takedown said. "I don't want to spend Valentine's Day without Crypto."
"He's really special to you, isn't he?" Desert Fox asked.
"Yes," Takedown replied. "And he's a hero to many. But I want him to know that he's not going to be forgotten."
"I don't follow," Desert Fox said, ushering Takedown into one of the utility Hummers parked in the underground garage. "But I guess I don't have to, right?"
Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia
A few hours later
"I wish you hadn't taken off so quickly this morning," Takedown said softly to Crypto. "I know that coming down here a couple times a year to visit helps you heal, but I'd have liked to take the train ride with you."
"I'm sorry, Claudia," Crypto apologized. "There are some things that I still have to tackle on my own."
"Well, now you owe the living a part of your Valentine's Day," Claudia said. "How about we get out of this cold and have a nice lunch in DC before catching the train back to New York?"
Crypto nodded, reaching into his pocket for the car keys. "Didn't you drive here?" he asked, when he noticed that there was no other car in sight but his rental.
"No," Claudia replied. "I got in on the eleven o'clock Metroliner and took a taxi right over here. I figured that you would probably rent a car. I can drive back to the station, if you like."
Crypto shook his head. He slipped an arm around her waist and said, "It's okay, I can drive."
After a pause to look back at the marker one last time, Crypto continued. "Let's go. I know a nice little place on Pennsylvania Avenue. Come to think of it, if you had the chance to meet Penny, I think the two of you would really like each other, despite having me in common. She was a great woman, and a loyal American."
Claudia leaned close to Crypto, wrapping her arms around him and sharing a warm kiss before he opened the rented car's passenger door for her. "I would've liked her too. She had good taste in men."
Crypto helped Claudia into the passenger's side of his Ford, slipped behind the wheel and started the engine. Both Joes spent one final moment looking at the grave markers of the Americans who paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom before Crypto shifted the car into gear and drove off into the snowy, overcast day.
Takedown rested a warm palm on Crypto's thigh and squeezed it gently, looking at the sadness on his face. "Are you sure you're okay?" she asked. "I didn't step over the line by coming down here after you, did I?"
Crypto shook his head while he scanned the roads for approaching traffic. He turned to face Takedown and gave her a warm smile. "No, you didn't. I guess you discovered the stuff I left out on the table in my quarters."
"Yes," Claudia replied. "I found them. Did you intend for me to?"
"No, not really," Crypto said. "I was just being my usual messy self. But I'm happy that you did. It feels good to know you haven't been forgotten."
"I'll never forget you, no matter what happens to you," Claudia said. "That's a promise, and you know I make good on my promises too."
"I know," Crypto said. "And speaking of promises, do you think you can keep quiet if I tell you about some classified stuff? Like what really happened to Seagull and me in Baghdad?"
"My lips are sealed, sweetheart," Takedown said. "You don't need to keep the mission a secret anymore. Not with me."