Chapter 37

It's time for The End. I appreciate all the support, encouragement and help from Karama9 and the whole darned Twitter gang. You guys rock and a lot of you did a bunch to help me keep this going. Thank you.

The wee hours of the morning meant the halls of Benning's Martin Hospital were quiet. Not silent, never silent. The night shift continued on with necessary work, nurses moved quietly up and down, orderlies moved heavy carts around the tiled floors. But mostly it was dimly lit corridors empty of almost all personnel.

That's what made Hawk's measured steps sound all the louder as he moved smoothly through the hospital, intent on his mission and so obviously an officer 'not to be trifled with' that everyone who laid eyes on him glanced aside and ignored him and his Ranger shadow pacing along a step behind him.

Stalker gestured slightly to the left and Hawk turned the corner and opened a small office door to step in. Stalker closed the door behind them and stood guard in a falsely relaxed looking pose.

The soldiers seated within jumped to their feet and he gestured for them to be seated. "At ease." He stood gazing around at the Rangers' new commander, the Fort Benning commanding officer and, looking a bit awed at the company he was keeping, or being kept in, Warrant officer Amore. Hawk's voice left no doubt that he was highly displeased and was just hoping that someone would make themselves into a target for blame.

"I am General Abernathy. I have the full report on both today's events and the happenings of the past years." His eyes stopped on the base and Ranger commanders. "I understand that today's events would leave quite a stain on the reputation of both Fort Benning, the Rangers and the Army as a whole. Therefor, today will not be explained except as an unfortunate accident." He held out a hand towards Stalker who handed over two files. Hawk handed those to the base commander. "You will see that Corporal Farner was killed and Sergeant major Sneeden was wounded in this terrible accidental shooting and we are all very saddened by this, after a full investigation revealing said accidental shooting." He paused a moment. "Sergeant Green is absolved of any involvement, but has requested to be put on medical leave, prior to being honorably discharged on medical disability. He will of course be given the ultimate in mental health care and will be treated as a retired combat veteran deserves." Everyone in the room nodded mutely.

Hawk turned a steely unamused gaze onto the warrant officer. "You will desist all attempts to investigate Sergeant major Sneeden. The Ranger was cleared of any wrongdoing in the case of the female recruit, other than ill thought out behavior in accepted her advances. He was justly punished for said behavior. Any further investigation by yourself into his past or present activities or actions will be... " Hawk's voice became cold. "… extremely frowned upon. Do I make myself clear?"

Amore swallowed twice before finding his voice. "Yes sir."

Hawk gave a slight nod. "Sergeant major Sneeden and Corporal Krieger will depart Fort Benning tomorrow evening. They will be briefed by Sergeant Wilkinson and no one else. They have full access to Sergeant Green should he wish to see them prior to departure. Furthermore, I was never here, and this meeting never happened." His gaze went around the room once. "Are there any questions?"

A short chorus of three "No sir!" and Hawk gave a sharp jerk of his chin. Stalker opened the door and followed the general out silently.

As the door clicked closed, the Ranger commander picked up the file to open it, still staring at the door. "Now... that... was a General."

Stalker tilted his head, watching the sleeping pair of Joes in the darkened room. A small desk light gave just enough light for nurses to easily come check the sleeping Ranger in the bed, bandaged and hooked up to various medical devices and machines. Courtney had obviously fallen asleep in her chair, one hand still resting up on the bed in Beachhead's loose grasp.

Hawk's impervious gaze took in the quiet scene. He turned and left the room without making a noise, Stalker following him to the hallway. "He'll recover?"

Stalker nodded, holding out a file. "Doctor says he was lucky. Bullet skipped off the side of his head, clipped the skull enough to knock him unconscious and into a brief coma. He was awake within an hour though. Just rattled his brain up, no internal bleeding or brain damage that they could find. They'll be certain tomorrow when they get new pictures of the inside of his head and see any bleeding or not." He cleared his throat softly. "CoverGirl has been right there the whole time." He gave a nod to the guards who had retreated down to the end of the hall on Stalker's terse orders when they'd arrived. "Guards can probably be dismissed."

Hawk looked down the hall and then at Stalker. "Leave the guards. The last thing we need is Cobra or the Dreadnoks hearing about Joes at Benning and trying a hit. Once he's going to leave, stick close to him." He started to walk away. "You'll all be back at the Pitt by day after tomorrow."

Stalker spoke up quickly. "How is the new recruit... umm.. doing at the Pitt?"

Hawk stopped and gave Stalker a very small hint of a smile. "Things are... interesting. By the time you arrive, most of the uproar will have ended... until our Sergeant major discovers the new addition, that is."

Stalker sighed heavily and nodded, motioning to the two guards to return to their stations outside the room. "Yes sir." He walked beside Hawk as they left just as silently and unseen as they'd arrived. "You do know how to get things settled, sir."

Hawk smiled a mirthless tight smile. "That's my job, Stalker. That's my job."

Morning at Martin Army Hospital:

Courtney steadied Beach as he staggered sideways again. "Easy... don't fall down. I think you should ride in a wheelchair."

He shook his head which made him stagger the opposite direction. "Naw, I'm fine.. just..." He thumped into the wall and she got a shoulder underneath his arm to wedge him upright again. "Sorry... gimme a minute and I'll be fine."

She held his arm and groaned when his weight leaned onto her again. "Beach, you're going to fall and crack your big empty head open." He straightened up again and the orderly tried to take his opposite arm.

Beach snatched away from him and nearly overbalanced onto Courtney. "Get away from me! I don't need any help."

Stalker spoke up from the doorway. "Beach, dammit... do you ALWAYS have to cause trouble?" He came in and took an arm to steer him to the bed and sat him down by main force, nearly sending Courtney sprawling as well. "Sorry. Didn't mean to knock you down too."

She puffed out a breath and pushed her disheveled hair back out of her face. "He's just being stubborn. He got himself dressed so he thinks he can jump up and run around without pitching headfirst down the first flight of stairs he can find. Apparently all the injuries he's suffered so far just weren't enough for him."

Stalker nodded. "Sounds right. He always chooses the hard way to do anything."

Beach's voice rose to a yell. "Stop talkin' about me! Ah'm right here!" He began to lever himself back up and the orderly caught him on his way to his knees, lifting him back onto the edge of the bed. "GET OFFA ME!"

Putting her hands on her hips, Courtney stepped to the side. "Okay that's enough. Next time, just let him fall on his face." Beach glared at her and she glared right back. "You've said it ten times, you don't need any help at all. So do it yourself."

Beach clenched his jaw and stood up, tilted to the side, righted himself and steadied. Glaring daggers at both of his fellow Joes, he strode off across the room, staggered sideways halfway to the door and crashed rather spectacularly into the extra chair and the medical sensor stand. His voice came from under the tangle sounding extremely aggrieved. "Ah'm FINE!"

Exchanging a resigned glance with Covergirl, Stalker bent to help the orderly extract the Ranger from the furniture and machinery. Surprisingly, once they got him to his feet, he managed to walk a straight line with very little staggering. He gloated about it when they reached the check out deck. "Told ya'll I was fine." He took the pen the nurse handed over with a visible effort then tried to sign the desk twice before he hit the clipboard of papers. "Okaaay... which way to the motel? Let's pack up and get the hell outa here."

Courtney took his arm again, helping to guide him outside. "We already have all the bags, Stalker packed up your rifle. We're going to get into Ted and I'll drive us to the airport."

He sighed at her. "Yer gonna go slow right? I don't wanna puke inna car and my head still hurts." She patted him and he sighed.

Stalker made certain he was settled in before he climbed into the back seat. "Beach, man, I'm sorry I wasn't there. I still feel that if I had..."

Beach twisted to look, winced and put a hand on the side of his head with it's bandaging, and spoke without facing his friend. "Don't be an idiot. There's nothin' you woulda been able to do. Worst would have been if'n you got in the way and got shot yerself. What good would that have done? You ain't gotta hard skull like me."

Covergirl started off at a sedate speed, carefully braking early so she didn't slam the car to her usual skidding stops. Beach grumbled at her over it. "You ain't gotta drive like a grandma Barbiedoll. I ain't a complete invalid."

She looked over and raised an eyebrow before stepping on the gas hard. He slung back slightly, yelped and held his head in both hands as she slowed back down and smirked. "Sorry Wayne, just trying to make you happy."

He groaned. "Yer such a complete bitch some times."

She smiled again. "I'm only trying to keep up with your level of bitchy, your Sergeant major-ness. You just set a high standard." Stalker laughed from the back seat and she set her eyes on the highway as she merged smoothly into the slow lane, sighing at the need to stay at a sedate speed.

Beach took in the sight of the edge of Fort Benning receding in the distance. "Damn... sometimes I miss it." Courtney glanced at him and he rushed to add. "Not that I'd want to come back and just up and leave GI Joe. But... I wasn't hated by everyone on Benning. Not like Joe."

Stalker put a hand on Beach's shoulder. "Everyone doesn't hate you. Sure, most of us hate the drill instructor screaming in our ears first thing in the mornings. But that doesn't mean we hate Beachhead. You know what I mean?"

"No, cause that don't make a lick of sense! I am the drill so you guys hate me." Beach sounded a little sullen. "Ain't like I care no how. Go ahead and hate me."

Courtney tried herself. "Beach... we don't hate the person, we hate the position. When you're screaming at us, making us run twice the normal distance or carry ninety-pound field packs, we all hate the drill instructor that's making us do all that before we've even had breakfast. But afterwards, we all kind of appreciate Beachhead that works so hard to make us stay in the best shape ever."

Beach mulled that over and Stalker nodded. "Yeah, Beachhead might be a hardass, but he's doing it for our own good. Doesn't make us any happier to be rousted out of bed at ungodly hours to run an obstacle course in the rain in full battle gear. But we do understand that it's to make us better. And most of us, the smart ones anyway, appreciate it." Pausing a moment, the dark-skinned Ranger continued with a grin. "Well, we appreciate it when we're not applying liniment to all the bruises and sore muscles."

Courtney's voice went quiet. "I'd understand if you did want to transfer back to Benning though." She looked over at him. "You know, I'd request a transfer to come with you." Her gaze held his for only a few seconds before it went back to the road but it felt like a eternity to Beach.

He took a deep breath. "Hell no. If'n you came to Benning what would you do? Sit at a desk and type up reports? You'd be miserable." He gingerly shook his head. "Naw, I gotta stay with Joe. Besides, Hawk asked me to join up and I ain't about to go tellin' Hawk that I decided he's wrong and I don't wanna be part of his outfit no more."

Stalker shivered. "Yeah, I don't think I'd want to go and do that either. You'd better just stick with Joe."

About to get on board their plane, the trio stood with carry-on bags slung, waiting patiently for the boarding call. The yell made them all turn.

"DITCH!" Sarge came puffing up to them, nodding politely to the other two and homing in on Beachhead. "I... I came to tell you goodbye. I wasn't going to face you.. but I couldn't stand not at least saying goodbye. I'm so sorry."

Beach took his hand and tugged him forward into a bear hug. "Hell Sarge, you couldn't have known." His voice was rough and strained. "Benny was a good man. Dunno when he went wrong, but he was a damn loyal man."

Sarge covered his eyes briefly then looked at his old teammate. "Yeah well, apparently a bit too loyal. Maybe one day it'll make more sense to me, but right now, I just can't wrap my head around it all. I wanted to tell you that if you did want to transfer back to Benning, I can arrange it. I won't even be here. They're discharging me.. and well.. I think it's a good idea right now. I just don't have any heart to stick with the Army anymore. I'd just always be thinking about.. you know... am I inciting another Benny."

Beach sighed at him. "Sarge, you didn't make Benny go crazy. Sometimes it just happens. Wasn't your fault."

Sarge looked away. "Well, whatever. Anyway, I wanted to put the offer out there. I can pull the strings, one last request before I retire and opt out. No way would they refuse it if I made the request part of the deal. The Benning Rangers could really use a good instructor and another combat Ranger."

Beachhead blinked and thought it over, remembering the comradeship between the training cadre, the thrill of pushing new eager recruits through the Ranger courses, and the brothers in arms when he served in Ranger combat units. Then he turned and gazed thoughtfully at his two Joe teammates who were studying the walls of the terminal intently, giving him full opportunity to make his choices in private without their influences.

He looked at his old squad leader and smiled, holding out a hand for him to shake. "Sarge, I gotta say, it's a temptin' offer... but I got a place I'm needed right now." He hesitated and then added, "And a place I'm wanted too." He turned loose of Sarge's hand. "You take care. Contact me if you ever need anything at all, okay?" Picked up his bag to sling onto his shoulder, he turned aside to rejoin his two friends. "I gotta plane to catch back home."

The End

Yes, the end of the whole fic. I hope it's been a entertaining read. This was my first attempt at a mystery and a new style of setting up a plotline prior to writing the actual story, and I am rather pleased with the effects. Thank you to everyone who posted a review, and remember that authors love to hear when you liked a story! Don't be afraid to post on the fics you read on ! Even if it's a "I liked it" comment, that helps the author know what his/her readers think!

Thank you to everyone who answered quiz trivia correctly(or incorrectly!) and I hope that I got all the names into the fic. If I missed one of yours, it's because my laptop failed partway through and I lost most of the infomation, resulting in endless rewriting and hunting down information. I assure you it was not deliberate! I think I got most of them used, but if I missed yours, please don't hesitate to PM me to say so and I'll try to use it in a later fic!

Until I think of something new to write, I bid you adieu.

Rangers are tougher and stronger,

Than any mere mortal should be,

They climb over hills and large mountains,

And keep all America free!

** short chorus written by river! Thanks River for listening to all my rambling about the fic!

Just because I think it's relevant to anyone who likes Army Rangers, here is the official Army Ranger creed, copied from the U.S. Army Ranger manual(all rights reserved).

The Ranger Creed was written by Command Sergeant Major Gentry, HHC 75th Rangers, in 1974. Today it is recited by Rangers during upon graduation from Ranger school, change of command ceremonies, and physical training.

I. Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger, fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession. I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor and high "esprit de corps" of my Ranger Regiment.

II. Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea, or air. I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move further, faster and fight harder than any other soldier.

III. Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be. One hundred percent and then some

IV. Gallantly will I show the world that I am a specially selected and well trained soldier. My courtesy to superior officers, neatness of dress and care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow.

V. Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country- I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.

VI. Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission, though I be the lone survivor