Disclaimer: Other than being a devoted fan, I have nothing to do with Numb3rs.
Quick Author's Note: This was written before Janus List/the Season Finale was aired.
By Dragon's Daughter 1980
He didn't tell anyone why or where; he just said that he had something he needed to do that morning. They knew him well enough not to ask. He needed to do this, alone.
The early spring air was crisp, near icy. It reminded him of the mountains, of the base where they had landed that early summer morning, when the sun had yet to warm the freezing air that scraped the inside of his throat and lungs. They had grinned and joked around with each other, despite being tired and disoriented from the redeye flight from Germany. Dave had made some smart-aleck remark about being back in paradise. He replied that they hadn't gotten very far from the mountains. Dave popped his gum and rattled off the exact distance in miles they were from Winchester, Idaho. Their captain had glowered at them to shut up, but didn't actually order them to, so they just quieted down, a little. They had adapted to the sharp climate change with warmer clothes until they learned the rhythm of life on a military base in a war zone, then adrenaline and quick thinking kept them warm, and alive.
For a Sunday morning, it was quiet. He could almost believe that he was alone on the bridge, but he knew better. The murmur of traffic a few miles away in the forever-bustling capital and the few cars making their way home from an all-nighter at the Pentagon reminded him of the constant hum of activity, even at night, on the base. There was no true stillness, even in the darkness of the mountains. Silent radios still crackled every quarter-hour as the perimeter guards checked in with HQ. Teams suited up for night ops or debriefed from one. People came on and off shift, turning on lights and making small talk to disguise their fears and ignore the emotional fallout of war. The sharp rat-tat-tat of weapons pierced the night at all intervals, setting nerves on edge. The Navy warplanes, flying low to find their targets, roared overhead in the darkness. The whistling shriek of a mortar or a smart bomb from air support, followed by a hollow heart-stopping boom somewhere in the distance, usually came soon after. Or it was the ear-piercing screech of an RPG, making its deadly arc over the fence of the base to land in the empty compound, or worse yet, in an occupied space. He lost the first of his friends that way. Mikey had just finished writing home to his pregnant girlfriend and stepped outside for a breath of cold night air. The RPG exploded seconds later. He cried at the memorial service.
The pavement was solid underneath his feet, and he silently thanked the people who had replaced the cobblestones on the bridge. It would have reminded him of the rocks that he climbed for months, in daylight and darkness, by sight and by touch. He still remembered the way the sharp edges and little pebbles had dug into his skin that night when the firefight started and the British cries for air-support and aid had crackled over the radio. If he thought too hard about it, he could feel the dust blow back in his face with each recoil and hear the panicked cries of his injured comrades and the 'enemy' who turned out to be friends. He would never forget the silent tears he saw Dave cry when they learned the full price of their deadly mistake; he never commented on those tears, just as his friend never commented on his. Two British soldiers were dead, all because of damn shadows in the darkness. After the review board was finished, both of them had asked for a transfer out of the mountains and into the cities. They were done with fighting an elusive foe that appeared and disappeared from the rocks without a trace. They ended up in Kabul.
He tensed when he heard a car engine approach from behind him, turning toward the noise, his hand automatically resting on the butt of his service weapon, half-expecting to see a Humvee coming toward him, kicking up dust in its wake. It was just an ordinary sedan, driving across the bridge, but he had to force himself to relax and move his hand away from his gun. He had no need to defend himself here. In the dusty streets and broken storefronts, drive-bys and car bombs, they learned, was the cost of the cities. But at least they knew they wouldn't be firing on their own people anymore, and that offered some degree of comfort in the endless uncertainty.
It wasn't quite eight o'clock when he reached the front gates, but the guard took one look at him and silently unlocked the door. He murmured a soft thank you as he walked past. The other man nodded solemnly and then returned to his duties. He continued walking. He stopped at the bottom of the hill and tried to take a normal breath. So many…
He knew that it was a simple twist of fate that kept him from being numbered among the dead. He wondered how many were already buried here and how many more would find their eternal rest on this grassy hill. Out of their unit of almost a hundred, they had lost ten people. It wasn't as devastating as that day in Mosul when twenty Americans lost their lives in a single rocket attack two and a half years ago, but it hurt just the same. He started walking again, following the gray path between the green fields dotted with even, neat rows of white headstones that seemed to stretch on into the distance.
They had been coming back from a routine sweep of their section of the city, navigating the bustling streets filled with nervous people, trying to live their interrupted lives. He had been exhausted, having stayed up late the night before with the Agency liaison, trying to sort out the good intel from the bad. Dave had taken his seat in front, saying that having him navigate half-asleep was paramount to disaster. He had grinned cockily and made some remark about his friend's natural intelligence, but had settled gratefully in the back seat, not dozing, but not on hyper-alert. Dwayne drove, his eyes constantly scanning the streets for any hint of a threat; they all were. They made their way cautiously back to base, only two streets and a turn away from safety. He still remembers meeting the eyes of a little boy, playing on the sidewalk with his brothers. The bomb exploded directly under the front passenger seat.
Dave was the last person their unit lost before their tour was over. To his thinking, they lost one more afterwards. In a way, Dwayne had died too; he wasn't the same man who had risked his life to pull his buddies out a burning Humvee or radioed for help while trying to keep them all alive. He hadn't told David the whole story about being trapped; there was no need to explain the scars on his hip and shoulder where the metal had dug into skin. He never mentioned the hours he drifted in a haze of morphine, trying to come to grips with the fact his friends were dead and wasn't. He didn't tell his partner either about what had happened afterwards. He was the one who came home to Dave's pregnant wife and their twin daughters to say he was sorry. She had told him it wasn't his fault. There are still nights he thinks 'It should have been me.'
He stepped easily over the low iron-chains that roped off the grass from the visitors and made his way down the row. He couldn't help but look at the dates, newer and newer as he passed, and he tried to swallow his tears for a little longer.
David Jonas Turner
Dec 4 1976
Jan 11 2004
He took a deep breath and placed the dozen white roses he carried down on the dewy green grass. He didn't bother to wipe away the warm tears rapidly cooling on his face as he knelt down on one knee in front of the headstone.
"Hi Dave," he said, his voice shaking slightly. It felt odd, breaking the reverent silence, but he needed to talk. "It's Colby. I know it's been a while. Marielle and the kids are doing fine. Dave Jr. looks a lot like you, you know. He's growing up fast, and I hope you can see how strong Marielle's been. Patricia and Louisa are always trying to help, but they're just kids. She's trying her best, we all are, and maybe, we'll figure out how to make sure we raise the kids right."
He talked softly to his friend until he was out of words to say. So then he knelt there in silence, hoping to find some degree of peace. Time slowed to heartbeats before it ceased altogether. He closed his eyes, listening to the quiet around him. A gentle cool breeze blew, lightly ruffling his suit jacket. Birds chirped softly in the trees, the hum of a motor signaled the ever-present task of the groundskeepers to maintain the sanctity of this place, out of respect and out of pride. Footsteps from further away told him that other visitors — both mourners and tourists alike — were arriving to pay their last respects.
There was no ghostly whisper or laugh or even a chill as he knelt there, but he knew that Dave understood everything that had been said and everything that hadn't. The guilt of surviving, of moving on… He smiled sadly when he opened his eyes. Those feelings would always linger, but he knew that Dave wouldn't have wanted him to let those emotions consume him. Both of them had planned their lives beyond the war; Dave had talked about raising his family and following his father's footsteps as an elementary school teacher in their hometown. He hadn't been sure about what he wanted to do, besides maybe going back to school for an engineering degree, but his friend had told him to build a life away from the military, because it wasn't for them anymore. When he woke up in the burn unit of the hospital weeks later, he knew Dave was right, even before he knew his friend was gone. He choose a safer job, because he wouldn't squander the second chance he had been given.
He stepped forward to touch the white marble gently in farewell. It was cold and smooth against his flesh, but for a brief moment, he could have felt the rough cloth of an Army uniform under his fingertips. Dave's quirk of a smile flashed through his mind. He stepped back.
"Goodbye Dave," he said softly and then turned away to return to his life beyond the war, always carrying in his heart the memory of a good friend, lost all too soon.
Gone, but not forgotten.
Author's Note: I was fortunate enough to visit Washington D.C. for two days this past Spring Break. The last stop before I caught my flight back home was at Arlington National Cemetery. I will never forget watching a funeral procession go by in the distance, or the gun salute that followed as I left. This was one story that I had to write — an attempt to say 'thank you' for all the sacrifices that have been, and will be, made by our military men and women and their families in the past, present and future. May we never forget what Memorial Day means.