Hurt/Comfort/Angst

Plot Summary: When a Joe gets a call from his sister in the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the team tries to give a special kid his wish. And sometimes, when you help others, you are the one most helped.

A/N: I don't own the Make-A-Wish Foundation and am not affiliated with it. Futhermore, this is not intended to poke fun at the institution in any way. Helen Delgado is (as far as I know) my own creation. Angst and the like are generally darker than I prefer, but this idea just jumped out at me and formed into a story before I could stop it.

The Littlest Joe

Location: CLASSIFIED (Codename: The Pit)

Hector X. Delgado, known to his teammates as Shipwreck, peeked out his door, looked both ways down the corridor, and quickly closed and locked the door. He then sat on the chair in his living room and picked up the phone.

There was no way he wanted anyone here to know that he still regularly called his sister.

The connection was made, and he heard her.

"Hector, just the man I need to talk to."

Uh-oh.

"Helen, I haven't had leave home for three months. Whatever it is, I really did not do it!"

"Guilty conscience, little brother? No, this is actually a good thing."

"Ohhhhkay."

"Remember how I got that job for Make-A-Wish? It's related to that. One of the kids here is an action-adventure buff, and...well, you're the only military guy I know."

"What, he wants to meet Rambo?"

"Worse. He wants to spend a day with G.I.Joe."

That achieved a feat the other Joes would have thought impossible. It rendered Shipwreck speechless for a few minutes.

Helen continued, "His name is Ted Payne, but he goes by Teddy. He's twelve and has terminal cancer. Like I said, he's big into action-adventure. You know, comics, cartoons, movies...the works. If it was just Rambo, we'd get Stallone or some local guy to look and act the part. But he wants to meet a nonexistent grou-"

"I'll see what I can do. Gotta go - one of my occasional good ideas."

As Helen Delgado hung the receiver back up, she thought about the conversation. When her brother was modest, not bragging, he was hiding something. That was the pattern he'd developed as a kid. Well, maybe he'd changed, but every time she'd seen him. it hadn't appeared so.

"Ms. Delgado? Fax coming in for you." With that, she left thoughts of her Navy brother and returned to work.

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Shipwreck had hung up and immediately begun walking toward Hawk's office. He reached the door and nervously knocked.

"Enter."

He did so to find Hawk talking with Duke and Flint. He snapped to attention.

"Permission for a special guest, sir."

"What kind of guest are you talking about, Shipwreck?" Hawk knew that Shipwreck sticking to full military discipline was not only a day for the history books, but also his equivalent of begging.

"Permission to speak freely, sir."

"Granted."

"My sister Helen works for Make-A-Wish. She told me about this one kid, sir. His wish is to spend a day with G.I.Joe, sir." Shipwreck went on to explain the whole situation from what he'd been told. He then proceeded to explain the idea he'd had between his quarters and Hawk's office.

Hawk leaned back in his chair and looked curiously back at Shipwreck. "So let's see if I understand you properly. Your idea is to tell Make-A-Wish that your unit will pretend to be G.I.Joe for this Teddy kid."

"Yes, sir."

"In other words, we're going to pretend to be us."

"Pretty much, sir."

"...Duke? Flint? Ideas?"

Neither had any suggestions.

"Okay, Shipwreck, I'll approve your idea, but only some of the team will be involved in interacting with him. All others will keep discreetly too busy. This is a significant security risk."

"Yes, sir."

"Duke, since you and Flint already know about this, pick a few others to participate and find a way to prep the whole team as I've said."

The two nodded and left.

Hawk turned back to Shipwreck. "Hector, if I didn't know better, I'd say you had a soft side."

Shipwreck didn't say a word.

"Dismissed."

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Scarlett, Lady Jaye, Roadblock, Shipwreck, and Gung Ho were tapped for the assignment. Beach Head, Snake-Eyes, and Cover Girl were alerted that the kid would be given a tour through their areas and were told to be very busy at the time.

Everyone was cautioned to make any interactions with the kid seem somewhat act-like.

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Two weeks later, Shipwreck was waiting on a cargo plane for the Make-A-Wish crew. In the interest of security, and to enhance the "act", arrangements had been made to send a plane with a team member to the nearest airport, where Teddy Payne would board, be brought to the base, and spend two nights and the intervening day on-site with "G.I.Joe". Of course, Make-A-Wish didn't know that the unit actually was G.I.Joe, but that was neither here nor there.

Shipwreck was about to call Helen again to see what the tie-up was when the minivan pulled up to the fence.

Helen jumped out of the front passenger seat and immediately began to apologize. "Sorry, Hector, but there was some paperwork we needed to do to finish the arrangements."

Shipwreck simply waved it away as he saw a kid emerge from the back seat. The kid was about five feet in height and appeared to be fairly fit.

So this was Teddy Payne.

He looked nervous, so Shipwreck introduced himself, using his codename. The "act" had begun.

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The flight seemed shorter than one would think.

Shipwreck had explained the reason for the flight in, and Teddy had simply nodded.

"So...Miss Delgado tells me you want to spend a day with G.I.Joe. Why us?"

"Actually, my real wish is to get to work with G.I.Joe. Obviously, that's out."

Shipwreck frowned. "Hey, kid, at least you'll get to work with us for a day. That's gotta count for something, right?"

"Oh, come on. I'm twelve, not five. I can tell that you're just some military group that's pretending so I get my wish."

Shipwreck was stunned. This kid was quick.

"Well, since we're all taking time out of our lives to do this for you, the least you can do is play along, enjoy it, and have some fun."

Teddy's face relaxed. "Yeah, you're right. Sorry about that. Some dreams just die really hard, ya know?"

"Yeah, kid. Trust me, I know."

That was about the time the gear squealed from contact with the tarmac.

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When they arrived, Teddy found it difficult to think it was an act. Whoever these guys were, they were good at being G.I.Joe.

Shipwreck introduced him to Roadblock and Gung Ho en route to his temporary quarters. He showed Teddy around the room, then they went back to the mess hall for dinner.

The assigned team was staged and ready for Teddy to sit with them. He didn't actually notice that the seat was conveniently left open by all the other soldiers. He and Shipwreck sat down, and he met the others assigned to him.

The evening stretched into early night before they all left for their respective quarters. Each would later say that they found it very easy to spend time with him and talk, joke, and generally enjoy life. His general attitude was very happy and optimistic.

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As Shipwreck escorted him back to his quarters, the agenda for the following day was explained.

"Okay, tomorrow after breakfast, we're going to meet General Hawk and sit in on a senior staff meeting. Then we'll go tour the base - the PT obstacle course," - Shipwreck almost succeeded in hiding the shudder he felt at going there - "the motor pool, and the monitor room."

The real meeting was scheduled before he'd get up. This meeting would be a mock-up based on data a month old and proven no longer valid. The PT would actually be some Joes on punishment detail, the motor pool would be loafing all morning while waiting for a signal that the kid was approaching to look busy, and Breaker, Dial Tone, and Mainframe were setting up a simulation based on the data to be used in the fake meeting.

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The day was going exactly as planned. They were touring the motor pool, and Cover Girl had apparently decided that this made a good excuse for the guys to completely gut, overhaul, and otherwise rebuild the vehicle engines and transmissions.

But Captain Murphy and his infamous Laws had to have their say.

They were about to leave for the monitor room when klaxons began blaring all over the base.

Shipwreck and several other Joes nearby groaned. "Not now..."

Teddy was confused. "What's going on, Shipwreck?"

Before Shipwreck could respond, Hawk's voice provided the answer over the PA.

"Cobra attack in Texas. Ready Teams Alpha through Delta, assemble in the hangar and prepare for rapid deployment."

Shipwreck was pulling his communicator out as soon as he heard RT Delta mentioned. The Joes were all assigned to one of four ready teams in case of situations like this one. If Hawk was sending all four, then there would be no one able to watch Teddy. The few Joes not in the field would be busy monitoring those who were and aiding them remotely.

"Hawk, what about the kid?"

Hawk swore and was about to order Shipwreck to stay, when he heard Teddy respond.

"Look, I'm supposed to be acting like I'm one of you today, right? That includes this! If I was a real Joe, like you guys are, I'd have to see and do all this anyway."

Hawk knew what had to be said and was so was not at all surprised when Shipwreck said it.

"This is no act, Teddy."

It took Teddy a few seconds to wrap his brain around the revelation that had just been made.

"Holy crap! You mean you guys really are G.I.Joe!"

Hawk answered that simply and concisely. "Yes."

He then made up his mind about the issue. "Bring him."

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By the time they got to the battle site, the other three teams were in the clean-up phase of hitting Cobra back.

But the small desert town was on fire, and bodies littered the two or three streets.

Shipwreck tried to stop Teddy from jumping out with the others, but the kid slipped out too quickly.

Shipwreck and Hawk caught up to him and saw him staring at Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow at the tail end of another sword duel.

Storm Shadow jumped into the shadows and started sneaking around behind Snake-Eyes. He was about to leap on his sword brother, when someone called out, "Snake-Eyes, behind you!" Snake-Eyes turned just as Storm Shadow leapt and blunted the attack. The duel was quickly ended in its usual manner with Storm Shadow catching hold of a rope ladder and being rapidly whisked away by Cobra.

Snake-Eyes turned back toward the source of the warning. The only person whose voice he wouldn't recognize in that direction was that cancer kid, Teddy. He'd have to find the kid later and thank him privately.

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Teddy looked around some more at the remains of the small oil town. If this was what the Joes had to deal with all the time, it amazed him that they were as upbeat as they were.

"A lot of death, isn't it?"Hawk walked up beside him. He somberly nodded.

"Sorry you had to se-"

"General, as I said, if I was actually part of the team, I'd have to see all this anyway. Death is a part of life. It's not like I'm going to get depressed about my own mortality. I've pondered that enough. The only depressing part now for me is that we weren't fast enough to save these people."

"Son, that's the most depressing part of my whole job. And it doesn't always stop with the people we're trying to help. It includes the men and women under my command."

"And so, you appreciate each one who survives each mission, right?"

Hawk paused at that for a moment. He thought, then responded, "Probably not as much as I should."

"But they're the ones who you can help. They're the ones who can enjoy what the others don't have. They're-"

"Teddy. Come on. Let's get back to base."

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During the flight back and after returning to the base, Teddy seemed to make an extra effort to talk to everyone and make sure they were cheered up.

Finally, after dinner, he returned to his quarters to find an unexpected guest.

Snake-Eyes stood up from the chair he'd been waiting in and held out a legal pad with writing on it.

I came by to thank you for your warning earlier today.

At Teddy's confused look, he wrote some more.

I lost my ability to speak well in a helicopter crash, saving a friend. That's why I wear this mask.

Teddy understood now. "Well, I couldn't let him get you from the back, could I? Teammates look out for each other."

At least the mission was a partial success.

"Is that all you care about? The mission? What about your friends being alive? What about you being alive?"

I don't really care about whether I live or not as long as the mission is successful.

"Why not!"

Look, my whole family was killed in a car wreck the day I came home from a war. My sensei was killed by an assassin trying to kill me. My best friend now works for Cobra. My voice and face are destroyed. What do I have left?

"How about being alive?"

Snake-Eyes sat back down, looking for all the world like he'd had an epiphany.

"Look, Snake-Eyes, every doctor who's ever looked at me says I'll be the luckiest kid ever if I make it one more year. Am I pouting? No! I don't have enough time to mope. I've got so much I wanna do, if I stop to mope, I'll never get to do most of it. Life, even for someone who isn't terminal, is too short to waste on pity parties. In fact, look at it this way - all those poor folks Cobra wasted...they're dead. Gone. You aren't. They would hate you for not enjoying what they can't have anymore. You are alive, but you aren't living. So stop hiding in your quarters behind your mask. Go live."

Snake-Eyes just sat a minute, the pad and pen lying still on his lap.

"Will you think about what I said, Snakes?"

Yes.

A knock came at the door. Teddy glanced back at it. then at the clock, and lastly back to Snake-Eyes.

"I gotta go. Remember what I said. Bye."

Goodbye.

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The next morning, at breakfast, the assigned team members clustered around Teddy. Hawk had discreetly talked to each team member and had devised a special send-off for Teddy. Now he walked up to the table.

"Teddy, we have decided to give you something to remind you of your visit here. However, you are not to open it until you are on the flight home." He handed the kid a manila envelope.

"Thank you, sir."

"Your flight is ready whenever you are."

"Thank you, sir. When I get back, I'll make arrangements so when, ya know...anyway, you'll get a call. Also, before I go, there was one more thing I always wanted to do."

Teddy smiled, stood, and gave a rather accurate salute. Hawk returned the smile and the salute. "Dismissed, soldier."

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As he sat in the plane on his way home, he thought about the great answer to his wish. That reminded him of the envelope. He pulled it out and emptied the contents in front of him. The only thing in it was a thin folder. He opened it to find on one side some pictures of his time at the Pit and on the other an official-looking paper. Curiously he read:

Name: Payne, Theodore J.

Codename: Teddy Bear

Primary MOS: Morale Operations

He read on to find a short military bio of himself as though he was a member of G.I.Joe. He smiled, immensely happy at the granting of his wish.

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Two months later, the call came. Hawk passed the information on to the Joes. After a moment of silence throughout the base, he then announced a special meeting for those who wished to attend in the mess hall at 2000 hrs.

Location: Mess Hall

Time: 2000 hrs

Hawk placed the beer pitcher down on the mess table and turned back to the group. These were the ones who'd been directly involved with Teddy's visit. Well, most of them, anyway.

"We've gathered here this evening to salute someone who became part of our number, and who has recently gone before to his reward. Even though Teddy Payne was only twelve, his life can be an example for us all. He only came to visit, but the legacy of his life will touch ours for all time. And so, to-"

"Wait!" An extremely raspy voice croaked out from the entrance to the mess hall.

They all turned in surprise as Snake-Eyes walked over, wearing his uniform, but, for the first time, not his mask. He held up his own glass, and Duke took the hint to fill it. Snake-Eyes then gestured for Hawk to continue.

Hawk smiled at him and nodded. Then he lifted his glass, and as the other followed suit, he said, " To Teddy Bear. The Littlest Joe."