Author's Note: This one has been sitting on the back burner for ages. It was inspired by a throwaway line of willwrite4fics', mentioning a legendary incident where Beach Head had been required at a diplomatic Washington function. It was supposed to be a one-shot, but it spiraled out of control, and after much frustration I've decided to go ahead with it in chaptered form. This and Order Up will be updating in order; first one, then the other, and so on.
This fic is also a blatant sop to my love of Senator Barbara Larkin, a neglected character who did notdeserve to get murdered. Since this is light comedy, I feel okay with bending the canon just a bit on that score.
Quick note regarding Beach: after some deliberation, I decided not to give him a too-emphasized phonetic accent this time. I like writing it, but I'm afraid of becoming dependent on it, when in fact he speaks more straightforwardly in the comics canon.
Pairings: None, really. Some mentions and innuendo.
Disclaimer: G.I. Joe and all associated characters and concepts are property of Hasbro Inc, and I derive no profit from this. Please accept this in the spirit with which it is offered—as a work of respect and love, not an attempt to claim ownership or earn money from this intellectual property.
by Totenkinder Madchen
Chapter One: Cordially Invited
A certain amount of politics has always accompanied war. What is politics, after all, but a form of territory control that just racks up less of a body count?
During the days of the British Raj's rule in India, the British would often send envoys to the local maharajahs and maharanis, trying to cajole them into cooperation. There would be formal balls, elaborate gifts, and a great many conversations about What was Good for the People. In theory, if the politicians are good enough then there's no call for soldiers to sacrifice themselves, and everybody goes home happy. However, it's an unfortunate truth that trying to avoid soldiers' sacrifice doesn't mean it actually will be avoided.
Even an elite force like G.I. Joe, comprised of the best and brightest America had to offer, was often at the whim of politicians. They had racked up a lot of property damages over the years, and while they were good soldiers, their enemies had fielded an even more insidious weapon: a P.R. department. Their commanding officer, General Clayton "Hawk" Abernathy, routinely found himself called on the carpet to answer for his actions while the Cobra leaders slipped through the net.
It was in an effort to boost the team's public image that General Hawk had, with apparent reluctance, agreed to attend the social event of the season. The Diamond Gala was held every two years by Washington D.C.'s finest families, and the guest list boasted an impressive array of cabinet officials, venerable senior senators, political-dynasty scions, military officers, deep-pocketed society matrons and other influential types. Rumor in the Pit ran that Hawk was planning to use the Gala as cover to cut some deals with bigwigs in the Department of Intelligence, although officially, none of the Joes outside of command knew about it. Only a few Joes were even vaguely interested in the Gala itself, although some got a snicker out of the image of the Tomahawk surrounded by Washington bluebloods.
Wayne Sneeden, better known to G.I. Joe as Beach, Beach Head, "that thing, oh God, what the hell was it" and Sgt. Major, didn't pay much attention to the rumors about the event in question. He was one of the ranking men in the Pit, along with Duke, Flint, and Hawk himself, but Beach Head's areas of authority tended towards the hands-on; he (reluctantly) handled a minimum of paperwork, and spent the rest of his time running PT, being deployed for short missions in dangerous parts of the world, and serving as god-emperor of all greenshirts. (He prided himself on that last accomplishment; he had it on good authority that, even years later, certain Airborne Rangers still wet themselves when they heard an Alabama accent.)
Despite his carefully-cultivated image as an angry wall of meat and a thick accent that just dared you to use the word 'redneck,' Beach Head was actually a strikingly intelligent man. He had been decently educated and had a fine, inquisitive mind, as well as a keen knowledge of tactics and the ability to convince even other intelligent people that he was actually stupid—an invaluable advantage more than once. He was aware of the stereotypes about Southerners, and like fellow Joe Cross-Country, he used them to his benefit. Underestimating Sgt. Major Beach Head guaranteed you a swift ticket to intensive care.
Unfortunately, the one thing Beach Head was not was subtle. He spent a lot of time in life-or-death situations, risking everything against a ruthless enemy that had killed friends of his before, and an integral part of his job was to prepare other people for those same kinds of situations. He understood political maneuvering, but he had a severe distaste for it. Deliberately making yourself disliked? Beach Head understood the advantage of that, and used it every day. Making yourself liked? He wasn't so good at that. It seemed much more manipulative to him, and required a kind of bloodless sneakiness that he just didn't have.
When he got the call to Hawk's office two days before the Gala, he didn't think much of it. He was called in for one reason or another every other day, either to discuss business or to answer for the actions of yet another demented group of greenshirts. When he entered the office, though, Hawk fixed him with a level stare that instantly set Beach Head's mental alarms ringing.
"At ease." Beach promptly relaxed about a tenth of an iota, and given what he could see, even that was pushing it. Hawk had several interesting pieces of paper on his desk, but none was more worrisome than a thick personnel file with "Sneeden, Wayne R." written on the tab. Beach Head mentally reviewed everything that had happened in the last week, scanning every memory for the possibility of severe reprimand, court-martial, or just One of Hawk's Looks. Nothing sprung to mind.
"Quite a list of decorations," Hawk noted, removing a list from the file and glancing at it. "Silver Star, Bronze Star, more Purple Heart recommendations than Snake-Eyes . . . I see that Col. Willmore even submitted your name for the Legion of Merit while you came back from your last overseas tour, though that was struck down before it could go through. Something about you meeting a member of the executive selection committee when you were both out of uniform?"
"Ran into each other at the PX, sir." Beach's voice was level, and his eyes were fixed on a spot about a foot above Hawk's head.
"And you didn't know he was a member of the committee?"
"Looked like any other pogue, sir. He was in civvies."
"An argument ensued, during which you told him . . ." Hawk turned over another piece of paper "that if he didn't 'keep his gawddamn mouth shut about what he didn't know' and get his ass back to the rear echelon, you personally would jam his head so far up said ass that he would have to get a proctologist to brush his teeth. Or words to that effect."
Beach Head didn't so much as twitch. "That I did, sir."
The general shook his head. "He disparaged the Rangers, eh?"
"No, sir. Talkin' shit about my recruits, sir." Beach Head was still unfazed; anybody looking in would have assumed that spot on the wall was the most interesting thing in the world. "Only I'm allowed to do that, sir."
"Probably for the best." Hawk closed the folder. "The Legion of Merit is a damn showy medal, and it clashes like hell with any uniform you put it on. You have the decorations you did earn with you, though? The ones that aren't locked up in a classified safe in the Pentagon."
Now Beach Head did blink. He hadn't been anticipating this line of questioning. "Yes, sir."
"Good." Hawk stood up, sliding Beach Head's file aside. "Now, I know for a fact that you haven't worn your dress greens since God knows when. You're going to have to get them out of storage, and probably re-tailored too." Beach's mask slipped into pure incomprehending confusion, which was pretty much what Hawk had been aiming for. The sergeant major was less likely to cause trouble if you kept him off balance.
" . . . sir?" Beach said finally. "What do my dress greens have to do with anything?"
"The Diamond Gala. I need two executive aides for the evening. Duke will be coming with to help with the intel side of the proceedings, but an extra set of hands is always useful—and call me overly cautious, but I don't feel any safer with lawyers than with Cobras."
Hawk was rather enjoying the opportunity to completely surprise Beach Head. Judging from his expression, the sergeant major couldn't have been more floored if he was a skating rink.
"Sir, Ah . . ." Beach Head was definitely at a loss for words, and in his confusion, his accent tried to make a break for it. "With all due respect, sir . . ." His natural deference for the chain of command was fighting with his utter loathing of social situations, and for a moment, they shut down his vocal chords while they duked it out.
"You can speak freely, sergeant major," Hawk said, settling back into his chair again. Beach Head gulped a little.
"With all due respect," Beach repeated, "wouldn't someone like Flint or Jaye be better? They know how to-" Lie to people, and use weasel word shit like 'undiplomatic' and 'regrettable.' "-act political."
Hawk fixed Beach Head with a level stare. "Sergeant major, have I ever given you an order that didn't have a good reason behind it?"
"Do you trust that I knew what I was doing when I elected to have you serve as one of my aides for the Gala?"
Beach Head caught the implied rebuke and stiffened. "Sir, yes, sir!"
"Then it's settled. Go get your dress greens and medals out of storage, and report to the motor pool in full formal kit at 1700 hours tomorrow."
Naturally, word got out almost immediately. Hawk's longtime executive secretary, a clever paper-pusher with the code name of Inkblot, had learned of the chosen aides before even Duke and Beach Head did—and though he would never own up to it, the fact remained that only ten minutes after the shellshocked Beach had left the general's office, everybody on the administrative level knew why the sergeant major was looking so out of sorts. From that point on, the gossip network went into full swing.
If Administration had a juicy piece of nonclassified gossip, it was only a matter of minutes—an hour at most—before Custodial got hold of it while cleaning the offices. Once Custodial had it, they carried it straight to the kitchens . . . and when the kitchen knew it, the Joes knew it.
"Going to the ball, huh, Beach? Where's your glass slippers?"
"Ten bucks says he PTs half the State Department brass."
"Isn't there a rule about weapons of mass destruction on government property?"
Beach Head ignored them, as he usually did. He wasn't in the business of making himself liked, and anyway, if Hawk had chosen him then it was indeed for a specific reason. Maybe Hawk was planning on causing a distraction, or anticipated a Cobra raid on the party, or something. He immediately went and got his dress uniform out of storage, made sure his medals and ribbons were in perfect condition, polished his shoes, and went over everything with a fine-tooth comb. He didn't like the idea of attending a Washington shindig, but he wasn't going to turn up looking like some damn Air Force jerkoff. And, because he was an Army Ranger and a member of G.I. Joe, he double-checked to make sure the uniform would still conceal two sidearms, three knives, an emergency tourniquet and a small packet of flares. Y'know. Just in case.
And meanwhile, Hawk sat back in his office and thought. He checked his watch, knowing that the word would be all over the base by now: Inkblot wasn't nearly as sneaky as he thought he was, and Hawk made a habit of keeping an ear on the gossip network in situations like these. How the sergeant major behaved in the next twenty-four hours would tell him a lot about whether Hawk's plan was solid; if he couldn't handle the hazing and princess jokes from his fellow Joes, he certainly wouldn't be able to handle what he would likely face at the Gala. However, Hawk had every confidence in Beach Head: the man might be unpolished (and thank God for that. Like the saying went, no combat-ready unit ever passed inspection, and no inspection-ready unit ever passed combat) but he was adaptable. Even better, he had the perfect temperament for what Hawk had in mind.
He checked his watch again and picked up the phone, dialing a number known only to him and one other person in the world. Breaker and Mainframe had installed all kinds of blocks and scramblers on the general's private line, and he was certain it was secure. Good thing, too. He would rather not be overheard in this particular instance.
"Afternoon, senator," he said, leaning back in his chair. "I hope I'm not disturbing you?"
"Of course not," the senator responded. She sounded a little breathless; from what Hawk knew of her schedule, she would be in between two arduous meetings at the moment.
"Excellent. I wanted to tell you that everything's going as planned."
He couldn't see her face, but from her tone, it was obvious that a smile had appeared on her face. "That's wonderful news, general. Which one did you end up choosing? The loud one, or the happy one?"
"The loud one. The happy one's currently posted someplace that, as far as anyone is concerned, doesn't actually exist." The senator let out a little laugh at that, and Hawk smiled just a bit. "I take it you're going to be attending the event?"
"I wouldn't miss this for the world, Clayton."
"Excellent." Hawk closed Beach Head's file and permitted himself a whole half-smile now. "Operation Dundee is now in effect."
"Oh, no, you didn't use the name I suggested? You do know I was joking, right?"
"Of course," Hawk replied, straight-faced. "But as a member of the armed forces, I consider it my duty to take the suggestions of our legislative branch under advisement."
"I know that tone, Clayton," the senator said with another laugh. "Is someone going to get thrown out a window?"
"If the legislative branch is equally amenable to suggestions from the armed forces, I'd advise leaving your best jewelry at home."
The current Pit was several hundred miles from Washington D.C., but that kind of thing never bothered a team with access to the quickest and most advanced planes the Pentagon could deny the existence of. By 1655 hours, three men had assembled in the hangar in front of a sophisticated tilt-rotor aircraft that was guaranteed to get them to the capitol as quickly and quietly as possible. Cobra was still out there, after all, and even the Diamond Gala couldn't stop them trying to blow up G.I. Joe's leader if they had the chance. It clearly amused Hawk that he would probably be arriving in a safer vehicle than the President—although, to be fair, the President had never been specifically targeted by an insane clone made up of twelve different legendary warriors and one confused ninja. The general appeared calm, confident and relaxed in his dress uniform, although everyone present knew for a fact that his stars had been sharpened on the sly just in case.
Duke and Beach Head arrived at the same time. Duke appeared almost as calm as Hawk, but he was also wary: either he'd put on a little weight recently or his dress greens were incorrectly hiding low-profile body armor, which was never quite as low-profile as the techies billed it. Beach Head made a mental note to run the First Shirt extra-hard for the next couple of weeks, in case it really was weight gain.
Beach, on the other hand, had managed to conceal his armaments and equipment with a minimum of trouble. Physically, he wasn't much larger than Duke, but between his attitude and his sheer volume he had always conveyed the impression of being bigger than he actually was. People looked at him expecting him to be gigantic, meaning the extra room necessary to hide some of the weapons never stood out to them; the additional bulk just confirmed what they had already assumed. (Duke, on the other hand, radiated Clean-Cut All-American Good Guy, where any perceived physical imperfection was sure to elicit comment.) But concealed weapons didn't necessarily make for a calm Ranger, and Beach was using a great deal of his training not to fidget as he waited by Duke and Hawk.
It wasn't that he was scared. Beach Head didn't do "scared," not even when facing down a psychotic terrorist or eight. But, as shown by the number of weapons he was currently carrying, Beach Head also didn't do "unprepared": he knew that battles were often won or lost depending on who did the most prep work. But frankly, he had no idea how to prep for something like the Diamond Gala.
When he was kid, his family hadn't quite been the sort to . . . the type to travel in the more refined . . . yeah, okay, they'd been poor. Really poor. The Sneedens had been hanging on by the skin of their teeth, and more than one teacher had initially written off the bedraggled and underfed young Wayne as hopeless white trash. Beach Head had fought and clawed for everything he had now, educating himself in the public library when the underfunded school couldn't do it and making it all the way to the Rangers with nothing but grit and an evil gleam in his eye. His experience with politicians mainly consisted of guarding them at public functions and resisting the urge to groan when one of them handed down a jackshit-stupid decision. Spending a whole evening surrounded by pols and diplomats, especially at an event straightfacedly billing itself as a "gala," was very much out of his experience zone.
But Hawk had tapped him for the duty, and Beach Head knew that Hawk always had a plan. He straightened his shoulders another millimeter and tried to stay cool.
Curious Joes had begun to assemble around the edges of the hangar while Wild Bill performed the final checks on the tilt-rotor craft. There was a lot of whispering and sly nudging going on, and Beach took mental notes of everyone who mentioned his name: if they thought seeing him in his dress greens (not to mention maskless) was so damn funny, then they clearly needed to be educated further about the role of formal gear in a soldier's life. Three times through a mudpit course while dressed in suits and ties would probably learn them some knowledge.
When the checks were completed, Hawk issued his final instructions to Wild Bill and then swung easily up into the passenger compartment of the craft. Duke and Beach Head followed, silent and watchful.
"Remember, sir, they have to be home by midnight!" someone shouted to Hawk. Beach Head swiveled on his heel and fixed the assembled Joes with an evil stare.
"Not if the fairy godmother wants to keep her government contract," Hawk said mildly, causing a ripple of laughter from the rubberneckers. Beach was still glaring down the Joes, while Duke tried to get him to move. "Sergeant and sergeant major, if you wouldn't mind?"
The two men saluted and scurried towards the craft, getting another laugh from the crowd. Beach Head, his red ears the only outward sign of his embarrassment at having the general yank his leash, privately vowed that when this was all over he would make it five times through the mudpit course. And not just in suits or dress greens, either. Could he find enough ruffled polyester tuxedos for twenty soon-to-be-penitent Joes? Why, yes. Yes he could.