He was always amazed at how many people came here. Even in the middle of the day, there were always people walking the length of the black reflective stone, as if amazed by the sheer size and workmanship of the wall, or regretting the huge list of names cut into its shining surface. Or looking for one name in particular, usually with a piece of paper in their hands that would give them the correct panel number.
But he didn't need to look for the name he'd come to visit. It drew him as it always had since that first day when he was just a midshipman at the Academy - and every Christmas Eve since. Except for the time he had been training as an aviator or on sea duty; and except for last Christmas Eve, when he'd foregone the yearly pilgrimage to be with Mac at the hospital. He'd come here a few days later, after she'd been released and he'd known she was going to be all right after her accident.
But it hadn't been the same.
And now, less than six months later, here he was again, standing before his father's name, reaching out to run his long fingers over the indentions as he always did.
"Hi, Dad," he heard himself say in a quiet voice, not really caring that there were others nearby that might hear him. Yes, this was personal, but he was talking to a granite wall, not flesh and blood. And while he knew his father was long-buried in the Taiga, this was where he had always felt the closest to the man he'd strived to be like all his life - to make proud of him. "I know. It's not Christmas Eve. But I needed to come and tell you that I might not be able to get here on that day anymore." He could see his reflection in the highly polished material, could see the four bars on the epaulets of his summer whites. "As you can see, I made Captain. Not officially, but frocking was allowed. I'm going to London, Dad," he continued. "I've been named Force Judge Advocate for Naval Forces Europe," he said, unable to still the tiny thrill of pride that went through him at the words. It was still something that he couldn't quite grasp the reality of. He smiled gently. "I know. Takes some getting used to, doesn't it? 'Captain Rabb'. I keep expecting someone to report me for wearing the wrong insignia. Or for someone to tell me that I'm not really a Captain after all - that there was a mistake."
"But I won't be going to London alone, Dad. You remember Mattie? The girl that I introduced you to here Christmas Eve before last? She went back to her dad, but then she had an accident and was in a coma for a few weeks. She's going to be okay with some therapy, but her dad couldn't handle things and went off the wagon. He's agreed to let me take custody of Mattie again. So once she's ready to travel, I'll be bringing her over to London."
He sighed deeply as he reached the crux of the matter. "I don't know what I'm going to do about Mac. I know you remember her. You'd heard me talk about her enough - and she was there at the edge of the Taiga when I found out what had happened to you."
"I told her almost a year ago to let me know when she was ready to talk - but she hasn't come to me yet, and I don't think she's ready since she hasn't. So I don't want to force the issue, but I need to know. I just came from her place - she said she was taking things 'one day at a time', but didn't say anything about us or our future. If we *have* a future, that is. Time's running out and I don't know what to do about it. The idea of her going to San Diego - didn't I mention that? She's been offered a new post at the Marine base there, heading up a new multi-force JAG office. It's a big deal for her. One that I can't ask her to give up, even for me. And I don't want to give up my promotion and everything that goes with it. I wasn't even sure I'd ever get that fourth bar and eagles. Not after last year. Anyway, the idea of not having her around isn't something I'm ready for. Even when she was seeing someone else, she was still in my life. But with so many miles between us, I don't think we can sustain a friendship, much less a relationship. Ever since I heard the news, I've been dreading the thought of our being apart. I've been remembering things, times that she and I were so close to getting it right, and then something would happen to get between us. But I do know that if she ever does tell me that she's ready to talk, I'm going to tell her how I feel about her. I'm not going to hold back any longer. It's time to let go and embrace the future if I'm ever going to be happy."
"I need to get going. I have more packing to finish. There are a lot of things that I don't want to leave to the movers. Last time I trusted them, I lost quite a few things. I just wanted to stop in and let you know why I wouldn't be here like I usually am. But I'll have you with me in spirit, Dad. It's taken me awhile to figure that out, but I realize now that you're not here. This is just a black granite wall." He placed a hand on the name and the other on his heart. "You're here. You've always been here, and you will always be here."
"I love you, Dad." He stepped back from the stone and went to attention, snapping a salute to his long-lost father before turning smartly and walking away from the past into the future.