At The Wall
He'd always known the park would be cool. It was something expected, necessary even, for a place like Washington DC. The wind picked up, blowing leaves across the grass, tossing his hair around. He almost grinned – a defiance he hadn't been able to show often some years before, he wasn't about to bind it up as normally worn.
Heero shifted behind him and he glanced over his shoulder. It'd been nearly fifteen years, but when the man moved, Duo wanted to be ready. Heero hadn't said anything; most likely the stone wall too cold for his comfort, but too unwilling to move onward.
The Wall began a bare foot off the ground, gaining height rapidly as the years climbed. Rather like the escalation. Duo clenched his jaw tightly and tried to not read any more names. The black granite had the uncanny ability to throw his own face back at him. Its vee shape misleading, for it never peaked but continued in its plateau of name after name... after name. So many.
"Fifty-eight thousand, forty-two.*"
Duo started slightly. He hadn't realized he'd spoken aloud, or Heero was doing that Vulcan mind sync thing of his again. "Think they got 'em all?"
Not surprised with the answer, it'd been a subject they all debated at regular intervals. There were too many unknowns, too many who'd gone missing. Duo's thoughts flashed to Quatre and he turned his head sharply to peer down to the farther end of the memorial. His friend had wanted to be alone in his personal hunt, and they'd let him. Trowa's with him. He'll be all right.
"Thank you." Heero's voice was quiet behind him and he craned his neck around to look him in the face.
"Heero?" he asked softly, wondering if the ground had been too cold for the man.
A short shake of his head, Heero jerked his chin towards the Wall. "Thank you for not being listed up there."
Duo stared at Heero for several minutes before letting the smile curve. He gave a brief nod and turned to face the Wall once more. "Same to you," he muttered, his hand squeezing the nearest thigh. For weeks after his return home, the shared promise had been all he had. Letters were few and more curt than an official brief. "You almost were, you son-of-a-bitch," he added a little more softly.
"Yeah, well I'm not." Heero lifted a leg and held it out. "Had to pay my sacrifice, though."
"Fuck you." Duo slapped his thigh roughly. "You're fucking lucky you only lost a foot." His voice froze, and his throat convulsed. He refused to think about it, despite Heero's self-mocking humor in it all. The silence stretched between them, minutes ticked by.
"I didn't mean to fall in love with you, you know." Heero's arm snaked around his chest and Duo let himself lean back against him. Public displays were still limited, and in this place, at this time, the last thing he wanted was to distract from the reason they were there.
"I know," Duo croaked in response. Blinking rapidly against the sudden chill in the wind, Duo straighten and wiped at his eyes. "Think it's time to go find Quatre and get something to drink?" Heero nodded, and slipped off the bricked embankment he'd been sitting on.
Their progress was slow, the path in front of the memorial teemed with people, artifacts, flowers, flags and letters. At one point, Heero stopped, pulled on his arm slightly and leaned closer to the Wall. And they moved on.
"Spot someone you knew?" Duo kept his question casual. After the first pass, he'd stopped looking for names.
"Yeah." Heero waves his free arm long the length of the Wall. "There's a lot of names I knew."
A shared look and Duo turned away. "Three of the heaviest casualty years of the war," he murmured and felt Heero nod.
Quatre was crouched low, lost in his sea of names and memories; Trowa stood behind him, a hand on his shoulder. At Quatre's feet, his notebook fluttered and flipped through pages. Twenty-six names, memories and histories filled its pages.
"Think he'll be okay?" Heero asked softly.
Watching his friend's profile, Duo nodded. "Yeah." He shot a glance at Heero and back. "At least, I think he'll start healing now."
If anything the memorial was good for, the healing it did was worth is; for those it honored, a nation shamed, a country divided.
NOTE: The "Wall" originally contained 58,042 names in November 1982. Over the years, annex panels were added as changes in criteria were made, adding an additional 203 names.
Find more information about the Vietnam Vetrans Memorial at The Wall - USA.