Disclaimer: The Sentinel is the property of Pet Fly.

Author's Notes: I've never been to Washington, D.C., so certain descriptions were lifted from the Quantum Leap novel Prelude by Ashley McConnell.

The Wall



She spoke of mud, and death, and bloody hands, of empty victory and lives spent for nothing. He spoke of duty, and patriotism, and doing the right thing even when it was a hard choice. And there was nothing left to say. He spoke of true love, and separation, and agreed with her that there were real dangers, so gather ye rosebuds while ye may... and she, already mourning the loss of him, the coming separation and the terrible certainty that even if he survived nothing would ever be the same again, let him lay down with her on the blanket in the tall grass.

James Ellison hated these police conferences. He didn't see how a bunch of cops sitting around talking about crime management techniques helped to get the job done. And the cross country plane trip from Cascade Washington to Washington, D.C., had been a nightmare he wasn't looking forward to repeating. He'd been here a few times, briefly, in the service, attending pointless boring meetings back then, too.

His partner, Blair Sandburg, had been here as a child, blurred memories of tagging along on his mother's protest marches, of shouting and songs.

They had agreed to separate on this free afternoon, Blair was planning an assault on the city's museums that would allow him to cram as much sightseeing as physically possible in one day. And Captain James Ellison, US Army, retired had one last self-imposed duty to perform.

The air was warm and mild with the promise of spring, and the famous numerous cherry trees were fuzzed over with green, pink, and white. New leaves, budding blooms. He lifted his head to sniff the breeze, trying to smell something beyond the car exhaust and pollution.

He could have taken a cab, but it seemed right, in ways he couldn't explain, to walk here. He smiled slightly to himself. If Sandburg had accompanied him, the younger man could certainly explain it, at length. A meditation. A ritual act. The thought lightened his heart a bit, as he entered Constitution Gardens. There were a few other people around. Older. His age, with children in tow. Unto the second generation. Some tourists. Others on a pilgrimage.

In a way, Viet Nam was his war. It was the war of his childhood, the war that had awakened his interest in events in the world. Watching the news, repeating the strange-sounding words to himself, the names of faraway places where the older brothers of his friends were fighting and dying. The war that had brought prejudice home to him one day at the grocery store when he overheard some women they didn't know talking about Sally and her oriental eyes.

The movies showing brave men fighting with honor, for glory, that taught him what a soldier should be. When he had grown and joined the army, he had learned the reality was very different, though he had tried to live by his ideals.

It rose out of the earth, the surface smooth and glossy black, the shine marred by words. Names. He could see himself reflected in the polished surface like a dark mirror, behind the names. Hundreds and thousands of names, and the larger years. 1965, 1966, 1967...

He blinked as his vision telescoped down along the length of the wall, and he recognized one of the others come to see. He almost didn't recognize her, he'd never seen his partner's mother in such subdued clothing. She usually wore colorful flowing garments... the simple black dress and fringed cashmere shawl dulled the vibrancy of her fox-fur red hair, and gave her pale complexion a pearlescent glow.

His lips parted in surprise, this was the last place he expected to see her. If they had known she was going to be in the area, they would have arranged to meet, have dinner or something.

He took a step forward, intending to approach and greet her, then halted as the tears flowing silently down her cheeks registered. He found himself looking over her shoulder at the open locket she held. Naomi Sandburg, doe eyed and no older than seventeen, peered shyly at the camera from under a veil of hair held back by a pale blue headband. And in the other half of the locket... Jim's breath caught. Blair yet not Blair. He could see echoes of his friend in this boy's face, in dark curling hair and the shape of his chin and his smile.

Just as he saw pieces of his old man in the mirror every morning.

And Jim knew that he was looking at the face of Blair's father. Naomi in black, here, with that locket told him the rest of the story. Why she had never spoken of the father to the son.

Naomi closed the locket and fastened it back around her neck, then kissed her fingertips and touched a name carved in silver. Jacob Kaplan. Naomi touched a photograph wedged into a seam between the stones, and turned to go. Jim recognized the photo. He'd taken it himself, two months ago when Blair graduated from the police academy.

It was a pensive and thoughtful afternoon for Jim Ellison, on a much more personal level than he had anticipated.

Blair Sandburg wandered around the museum's gift shop, studying the reproduction themed products with almost the same respect he felt for the actual exhibits. Quality souvenirs. Junk with style. Nice stuff. All priced waaay out of his league. As he had in the two other museums he'd visited, he spent a few minutes flirting with the salesgirl then found out if they offered a gift catalog.

They did, and he signed up to have a copy mailed to him, signing his full name with a flourish, Blair Jacob Sandburg. Added the address of Jim's loft. He walked back to take another look at one of the statues, then left to meet Jim back at their hotel.

Jim came out of the bathroom as he entered the hotel room. "Hey. Have a good afternoon?"

"Oh yeah man!" He bounced happily on his toes. "Every college kid in America should get a chance to come here, the architecture, the art, the history, its an education just walking down the street. How was your day?"

Naomi mourns a boy with your eyes who died in '68. I think I found your father, Chief.

"Oh, I learned a thing or two."

~ End ~

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Page last updated 8/15/03.