Spoilers: 1x01 only
Rating: R for violence
Story notes: 2,500 words. Pre-canon setting.
Betaed by Shoshanna, who did an amazing job and went above and beyond to hammer this thing into shape. Thank you very much!

Into the Jungle

by Sylvia


The first time John saw Mary, he hardly noticed her – not her as a person. He just saw a round-eyed woman in fatigues, the drab, shapeless green revealing only hints of curves when she moved.

Later, he was never sure it really had been Mary. He'd heard – they'd all heard – that there were sometimes women with the ash and trash teams who flew in once a week in Hueys, bringing new med supplies and taking away the sick and the wounded. This was just the first time he'd caught a glimpse of one. It could have been Mary, or it could have been someone else. He hadn't gotten a good look at her face, hadn't even seen the color of the hair braided beneath her cap.

It was just a quick glance. No time to stop and ogle in the middle of marching your platoon across the camp, and he wasn't the ogling type, anyway.

But this far out in the boonies there were no bars to meet whores in, and you never knew if the village women were Co Cong – better to just stay away altogether. And so he looked as he walked by, and so did everyone else.

When he thought back later, he imagined he'd seen the gunmetal flash of her eyes as she glanced sideways across the column of men, taking quick, careful note before dismissing them.

But then, it might not have been her at all.




The second time John saw Mary, he was the only one of his squad left alive.

He hadn't taken point. He never did, because the Cong didn't take out the point man, they just let him pass and then went straight for the main line. John knew that – he knew the fucking jungle as well as anyone who wasn't a fucking Cong ever could. He'd been so goddamned careful and he still couldn't think what he could have done different, but he was alone and covered in his men's blood and all he knew about why was that the ground had exploded into sudden fire and steel and then the fuckers had been everywhere. Not Charlie who was always everywhere anyway but the fucking North Vietnamese Army – and they weren't supposed to be here, weren't supposed to be anywhere *near* here.

But they were. Soldiers, and mines, and too many damned NVA planes overhead, and the jungle alive with the distant and not-so-distant popping sounds of Kalashnikovs and the thuds and cracks of exploding shells.  

It took him three days to make his way back into radio range. Three days, and he'd been out in the jungle for way longer than that before, but this... this was different. This time, he was coming back alone.

He'd never come back alone before, and that was the first thing. The second thing was – even now, when he was just two klicks or so out, he still couldn't reach the base camp by radio.

The stench was the first thing John noticed.

The company wasn't where he'd left it. Instead, there were blast craters and debris, burned trees and twisted lumps of wood, canvas and metal. And there were corpses – a lot of them. Unburied corpses in US uniforms.

He didn't dare go close enough to see if there were enough bodies to account for everyone. The bodies weren't buried and that meant no reinforcements had been sent yet. He was in enemy territory – always, always in enemy territory, but suddenly, horribly, even more so than before. And even if the NVA was gone, Charlie was always there, and he loved booby traps, and there was just no way.   

It didn't matter. It didn't matter because there were survivors. John believed that there were, believed it with all his heart, because he had to. All he had to do was find them.

He went south. When it grew dark, he curled up between the roots of a giant tree and stared sightlessly into the darkness, and at some point, he slept.

He didn't dream – he never dreamt anymore. He didn't cry, either. He wasn't sure he ever had, couldn't remember when he'd cried for the last time, or why, because there could not have been any reason to.

Several klicks further on, he reached Patterson on the radio. He'd known there were survivors and Patterson's thin voice was unmistakable, even broken up by static, but even so he couldn't truly let himself feel it until he reached the new camp at last.

Patterson was the one who came to meet him, silent as a ghost. Neither of them spoke a word as he led John through the defensive perimeter of trip flares and claymore mines into a camp that was no more than a small patch of jungle staked out by a couple dozen men at most, all that remained of a whole company plus support staff.

But John's relief that he wasn't alone, that he'd been right to believe it, drowned out the shock of just how much smaller this camp was than it should have been, and then he was back in the diminished circle of his comrades. All of them were as lean and nervous and hair-trigger-tense as John himself, hands always on their rifles, eyes wandering the jungle around them as they spoke in low murmurs.  

Astonishment because they'd given John up for dead days ago. Brief, but sincere smiles because he was still alive, because one more had survived. Grim faces when he asked what had happened.

Captain Saunders was dead. So were the XO and the first sergeant, and so were Alvarez and Vipont and all the other platoon leaders. "Took out all the officers except Warner," Patterson said, and there was something odd in the expressions of the men around them, something that was halfway between a leer and a dirty joke and something else.

"Who the fuck is Warner?" John said.

And they turned as one as she came around one of the trees. She was bedraggled and muddy and grey with exhaustion like everyone, her face dark with dirt and old blood.

Her eyes were dark steel blue, cold, and very steady.

"Sergeant Winchester," she said. Her voice was even, hoarse and hard with command. "Report."

And the men melted away from around him to leave him standing alone, and John gaped at her for only a second – or two at the most – before he snapped to and reported.

She was a first lieutenant, and the highest ranking officer still left alive. She was a medic, yeah, and worse than that a woman, and it had just been bad luck that she'd been there at all when the attack started. But she was in the chain of command. No one had expected her to step up and take the job, but she had.




They told him later that of course they hadn't taken her seriously at first, but no one had known who should be in command, and they'd squabbled over it until she'd told them to shut up and move before the NVA caught up with them. That had just been common sense. And then there'd been a handful of Cong, and she'd been in the lead and had shot their point man herself and had given all the right orders. In that moment it had just been deeply-drilled instinct and necessity, and later on there'd somehow never been a real chance to take it up again.

They also told him that in the first night, Miller had snuck up on her.

John had hauled Miller off a struggling hoochgirl a couple of times, but Miller hadn't been in John's squad, and the man's own sergeant hadn't cared – had just shrugged and told John that Miller was a damn good soldier, and that was what mattered. This was war, and the rules were different, and John needed to mind his own fucking business.

Warner shot Miller in the stomach, they told him, and he took the rest of the night to die. She gave him a tracheotomy so he couldn't scream and she tied him up so he couldn't make any other noise to give away their position, and then she left him for the others to find in the morning.  

It sounded like a tall tale, the kind of horror story men invented in the jungle. But they kept their distance from Warner. There were filthy jokes and lewd stares and obscene gestures behind her back, sure. But when she gave an order, the men obeyed. And no one tried to rape her, and in its own way that was proof enough.

Brutal, but effective... and necessary.

This wasn't the world the preacher in John's home town had talked of on Sundays, using words like forgiveness and compassion and justice for the righteous. That world was gone, and John couldn't imagine ever finding it again. Wasn't sure he even wanted to, because it seemed like a joke, like nothing more than a lie. 

This was war – the rules were different. You did what you had to do. And John sure wouldn't be losing any sleep over Miller.




"Sergeant Winchester, take three of the men and have a look around the bridge," she said some days later. "If Charlie's lying in wait there, we'll have to detour."

She didn't say that they couldn't afford to detour, not with the jungle crawling with enemies. They needed to rejoin the US forces as soon as possible – it was a miracle they'd made it even this far.

If there were Cong at the bridge or they'd mined the area, it was a suicide mission. But if John and the others failed to come back, Warner would know what was up.

It was good sense. John would have given the same command.

"Yessir," John said, and gave her a sharp salute before he went to pick out his team.

She didn't smile. He hadn't expected her to.

The next time she gave him an order was when Michaels collapsed beside him, chest blooming red, and John didn't think before he obeyed.




Some days after that they stumbled across a small stream that was muddy and recently used, and that was warning enough. Warner had put John on point and this time he saw Charlie before Charlie saw them, and they withdrew without being spotted.

It was a small group, lightly armed, not a lot of equipment. Would have been sitting ducks, except that with no chance of backup or extraction of course it wasn't that fucking easy. The Cong looked like a short-range recon squad. Could be a tunnel nearby, could be a whole company of Cong they'd bring down on their heads if they started shooting.

"Water's already muddy," John murmured, voice so low that only Warner would catch it where she stood a foot away. "We go up the stream a hundred meters, into the jungle on the other side, we're gone."

It was risky as hell because they'd need a diversion or they'd be spotted immediately, but it was possible. John could come up with something that would work.

Warner tilted her head to the left as she considered, and faint frown lines creased the cork ash they'd blackened their faces with. When she looked up, her eyes found John immediately.

"We take them out without noise."

He met her steady gaze for a long moment. "I can do it," he said then. "I need Gershowitz and Patterson."

Her eyes never left his as she nodded. "Do it. I'm trusting you."




When John saw Mary again after the war, he was at a party, some ridiculous Fourth of July thing that – for some reason – the Army thought he should be invited to. There was a marching band, and there were speeches, a bunch of old men decked out with too many medals spouting off about a war they hadn't even fought. Not the way he had. That, and a whole lot of other nonsense that would have gotten him angry if he'd let himself think about it.

He concentrated on the hot dogs and potato salad instead.

He'd just gone back for thirds and loaded up his plate with grilled chicken when a tall woman in a white sundress walked up next to him, frilly fabric fluttering in the breeze. Her long blond hair was gathered in a clasp at the back of her neck, small pearls adorned her ears, and a golden necklace circled her throat. Some officer's wife, no doubt, and John allowed himself no more than a quick appreciative glance before stepping aside so she could get to the buffet.

"Sergeant Winchester," she said. Her gaze was dark steel and her voice was steady and sure, but not hoarse anymore. Her head was tilted slightly to the left, and that was familiar, but he had never before seen the amusement dancing in her eyes.

A medal was pinned to one strap of her dress. He blinked at it stupidly. A Combat Medical Badge? Christ on a pogo stick, she should have gotten a straight-up Medal of Honor.

"Lieutenant Warner?" He hadn't meant to make it a question, but...

"No," she said. When she smiled, he noticed for the first time that she had dimples, and a sprinkling of tiny freckles on the bridge of her nose. "Mary."

An hour later, she asked him out – because he would not have dared, even now, when she wore a floaty sundress and the sun was sparkling in her golden hair – and he said yes so quickly he was embarrassed for himself, and she did not shoot him a week later when he kissed her for the first time, or any time after.




The last time he saw Mary, her stomach had been sliced open as though she'd been caught by a backhand blow with a machete. Her eyes and mouth were open, and she was trying to talk, to tell him something.

"Mary," he said, and he didn't know what to do, because they were supposed to be *safe*, they'd put the jungle behind them and they had laughter and apple pie and baseball and Dean and Sammy and –

She couldn't speak, she was dying, but her gaze was steady, dark steel blue and hard as gunmetal on his, and he knew that look, knew it too well.

*Do it. I'm trusting you.*

The jungle had caught up with them, after all these years. They should have known, they should have known never to let their guard down, that this couldn't last, that it was only an illusion – they should have known, and now something had gotten Mary, had taken her unawares. Something had lain in ambush and surprised her, and she hated to be surprised, she hated it, she hated losing and she wasn't good at it because she had never had to do it before.

"I'll get those bastards, Mary," he swore to her in that last moment before their life went up in flames. "I'll get them for you."  



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