His gait is slow as he walks up the front steps, the porch light gleaming off his polished badge. I greet him at the door and am wrapped in his warm arms. His embrace is almost too tight, but it loosens as his heartbeat stutters and then slows.
He brushes the raven curls from my face and I lean up to kiss him. “You’re the bravest man I know. Remember that.”
“Some days I wonder.” He runs his hand along the corded scar that snakes from my shoulder blade and down around my hip. Like a migratory path, he travels the bumpy road by instinct, the slight tremor of his hand the only indication the journey has led him too far back.
“Your job is critical. You fight the monsters the rest of the world fears.” His touch is soothing, and I relax into the current of his caress, floating on the simple joy of the feather-light contact of his fingers along my back.
“I can’t fight them all.” His shuddering breath tells me more than his words, and I know he’s remembering that night when my blood flowed like a river on our kitchen tiles.
I rub small circles on his lower back, trying to erase the memory and knowing I never can. “He’s dead. You made sure of it.”
“But he’s not.” His eyes collide with mine, and I see the regret and guilt flash in his liquid brown depths. “I wasn’t fast enough. I wasn’t there for you when you needed me most.”
And I hear my echoed screams, feel the sharp piercing metal slice through my skin, and I know he’s not dead, not really. His empty, black eyes chase me through my sleep and I relive that moment each day, huddled in a corner as I wrestle an intruder only I can see.
“You’ve always been there for me. You saved me.”
“I can’t fight this battle for you.” His grip tightens again and I feel his anxiety mounting as it reverberates along his limbs to seep into my skin.
“Everyday I am better than the one before. I will win.”
He resumes his gentle caress, tracing the pathway which almost led to my death. I’ve come to think of it as my own badge. Though not as gleaming as his, it is still a visible reminder that despite all odds, I was strong enough to live.
It tells me I have courage.
It gives me a reason to fight the battle no one else can fight.
He kisses my crown and leans into my embrace, burrowing his face into the hollow of my neck. I smooth his hair, and for the moment, share my strength with him.
“You are a brave woman.”
And right then, I am.