'Apopo

Tag Scene to 3.20

By Cokie

~~~H50~~~

This short story has been in my mind since last Monday evening. I wrote a bit on it last week but needed to watch the episode once more to get the right "feel" for it before I started writing. I let my brain and my fingers wander with thoughts and this is what transpired.

Thanks to Sockie1000 and Sym64 for their quick reads and betas. And I have neglected in the past to thank my "Art Design" editor for the images. The award for awesome art goes to Sym64! Thanks once again for capturing a perfect picture to attach to the story!

Oh! One more thing... the word 'Apopo means "tomorrow" in Hawaiian. I have it on good authority that in German it means "cute little butt". So... whatever language you choose, it fits. :)

~~~H50~~~

I knew.

Immediately.

Before Han Ji-Woon gave the order, I knew it was a death sentence. My death sentence. Which wasn't really a surprise. But he was also intent on killing Catherine.

And that was totally unacceptable.

It was my fault. Why had I agreed to let her come with me? I knew finding Freddie and bringing him home was a long-shot. But I owed it to his family to try. Freddie had been in North Korea for a long time and deserved to come home. And this was my only chance to get him.

I could have argued with her longer. No, I should have been adamant that she stay behind. Hell, I should have ordered her to stay. She would have given me her "hard-ass, this-isn't-over-because-I'm-really-pissed-at-you" look. But she would have stayed behind.

Until I was out of sight.

And then she would have followed.

I have no doubt about that fact.

When Ji-Woon met us, I tried bluffing but he knew we were alone, covertly, with no back up forthcoming. He also knew why I had returned; that I had discovered his deception and switch of Freddie's body. If word of the switch leaked out, it could conceivably cause him some grief with the North Korean government… unless the military was part of it all along. If that was the case, I wanted to wipe the smile off his face and the face of the officer who met me at the border with the other body.

If nothing else came from this mission, that unknown soldier, whoever he may be, has the opportunity to go home. I only hope his family can be notified and can give him a proper burial. He deserves no less and they deserve closure for themselves.

That's when I thought of Catherine's family. They will be left wondering, never knowing what happened to her. We had sneaked into North Korea on an unsanctioned mission. As if the US government wasn't going to be unhappy enough that we disappeared from base. I hope Joe's cover story about delaying the plane appeased them for a little while. When we don't return, they will make the assumption we are dead, but won't know why. I was pretty vague with both Joe and Frank about what I had planned.

I was also way too vague on the phone with my team. They will be left wondering what went wrong.

And Danny will feel guilty that he wasn't here to watch my back. He will also wish I was alive so that he could be the one to kill me for trying a stunt like this.

Thankfully, I don't have the guilt of his death on my shoulders as well.

After our march through the jungle to the camp, they untied us and presented us to Han Ji-Woon. We were not considered threats to them. They had our weapons and we were probably the highlight of their boring day.

After his witty chit-chat, Han gave the order and walked back into his hovel. He knew it would be obeyed.

We were jerked away and that's when Catherine looked at me. I think it had just then dawned on her that we wouldn't be alive for anyone to negotiate for our release. The look in her eyes was almost my downfall. I saw understanding, I saw regret and I saw her undying love. But I also saw her unwavering optimism… her faith in me… knowing that somehow I would get us out of this.

Only I didn't have an idea how that was going to happen.

When we entered the camp, I had done a quick head count. Two of us and too many of them. And not only did they have their weapons, they had ours, too. They might even shoot us with our own guns which is the ultimate humiliation.

The odds weren't even remotely in our favor. On a scale of 1 to 10, I think we were in the negative.

They dragged us out into the dirt road and the mercenary holding Cath tried to push her down in the dirt. She kicked him in the shin and tried to twist from his grip.

That's my girl.

"Hey! Stop it. Look, let her go. It's me you want, not her. Let her go."

They only laughed at me. He twisted his fist into her hair and shoved her to the ground.

And I lost it.

I used my elbow and rammed the one behind me in the ribs, which gave me the opportunity to turn on him. I managed to get in an upper cut to his chin before the soldier standing over Cath used his weapon as a club, hitting me in the kidneys. The force of the blow propelled me forward, right into the other captor. I bent double, the air whooshing from my lungs when he plowed his fist into my stomach, pain radiating from my back to my abdomen.

They wasted no time in knocking me to the ground next to Catherine. I looked at her again, hoping she could read the apology in my eyes. And the regret for all the things I had left unsaid. Regret for all the dinners I should have bought her. And for never letting her know a long time ago that I wanted her as my girlfriend.

But when she looked back at me, all I saw was her love and acceptance.

And I realized that, no matter what, we would be together.

Then we heard an explosion. Someone must have been too close to a grenade. Can't imagine how that might have happened. I looked at Catherine again and we went into action.

Suddenly, two against many was all that we needed.

~~~H50~~~

I stared down at Han Ji-Woon's body. And would have gladly pumped more lead into it if Catherine hadn't gotten my attention, reminding me that there were still patrols out there and we needed to go. I went inside the makeshift headquarters, looking for something I could use.

I still needed to get Freddie home.

Out back, there was a long, wooden crate. Quite possibly an already used coffin, but I didn't dwell on that. It was as good as I was going to get, but nothing close to what Freddie deserved.

Catherine had kicked the weapons out of the way of the soldiers who were still alive and had found an old Jeep and managed to get it started. We hoped it had enough gas to get us at least close to the border.

All of that was a piece of cake. Now was the hard part. I had to retrieve Freddie.

Cath offered to help, but this was something I needed to do alone. Besides, I needed her for look out. And standing over that grave, picking up the broken pieces of my brother's body, I cried. Cried for all the tomorrows Freddie never had. Cried for the little girl he never knew. Cried for Kelly and his parents who had waited an eternity for him to come home.

And I cried for me. For the friend that I lost. But, as Freddie wanted, it wasn't for nothing.

Because Freddie's sacrifice gave me my tomorrows. Remembering him, I know he would approve of the course I have taken. Not that he wouldn't give me grief about it because he would have. Loudly.

And that's OK. I intend to use each and every one of those tomorrows. Beginning right now.

~~~H50~~~

I'm sitting on the plane, Catherine at my side, her hand in mine. We are a little worse for wear, but we're both alive.

And we're bringing Freddie home.

~~~H50~~~

He blames himself.

Of course he does. He always blames himself, even when things aren't remotely his fault. Steve wants to be in control, to be able to 'fix' everything.

Only this time, I don't think that's possible. We're going to die. There is no escape. But if I could do it over again, I would still be here with Steve and not waiting in South Korea.

I know he is mentally kicking himself for giving in and allowing me to come with him. I'm so glad he saw reason and said yes. Because if he had ordered me to stay behind, well, that's one order I would have disobeyed.

I'm sure he knows I would have followed him. Because I am here where I belong.

With Steve.

I look at him and can read the pain and regret in his eyes. He wants so desperately to find an out. To save me. But there are so many of them.

He pleads with our captors to let me go. Silly man. As if I would ever leave without him. He is ready to sacrifice himself, just on the off chance they would let me live.

Steve never sees his own value. He would gladly give his life for any of his friends, thinking that was his duty. I think that trait was ingrained in him from birth. The Navy only solidified it.

Well, this time we are in it together. For better or worse.

He fights, but they manage to wrestle him to the ground after hitting him in both his back and stomach. He gulps in air and turns to me and I can see how sorry he is, thinking that he had failed me.

I want him to know that I am willingly by his side.

Forever.

Goodbye, Commander. I love you.

~~~H50~~~

He is wearing his 'brooding' face. We are now safely in the air, having left South Korea behind. Freddie is with us now, with the U.S. flag proudly covering him. I feel honored that I was able to be a part of his return home. Back home to Kelly. It was pretty dicey, but my commander got us out of there.

He will have doubts and regrets for a long time to come. And, no doubt, a plethora of nightmares as well.

But he won't be alone.

I reach over and grasp his hand and he smiles.

And I look forward to tomorrow.

~~~H50~~~