Chloe tells herself it's ridiculous to be scared. That this was Oliver… Oliver! Nothing can happen to him. He is nearly untouchable. Like a superhero, except they don't live in that fantasy world of costumes and vigilantes. This is not a comic book but a real world tragedy. If he dies, it's final. She will get a letter in the mail, there will a burial where people shoot their rifles into the air as homage and she will be given a folded flag. A flag. And that's meant to put her back together; that's meant to be her last piece of him. It's not enough.
"I'm gonna be okay," he says and she smiles, she puts on a tough front, but she's crying on the inside.
But they're waiting for the bus and he's going to walk away and she'll count the days, every one. She'll read his letters, she'll write him back, and she'll pray they keep coming. Because when they won't, she'll worry. She'll expect the worst until one day there's a man knocking at her door and he's wearing his medals and his face is grim, apologetic, and she'll know. She'll hit the ground, her knees giving way along with the rest of her. Because her dreams will be lost, her everything will have faded away in some distant land, a bullet to mark his last breath and the ground damp with his blood. He'll have died and she won't know until it's too late.
These thoughts never fade, but linger, haunt her. Even as he's lying next to her in bed, his arm snug around her waist, she can't help but wonder when it will all end. She lays in green Egyptian cotton sheets, his favorite color a comfort, and his scent is everywhere. His body warm and hard and wrapped around her so tight she swears she can feel every muscle, every rib, every scar that riddles his body, especially the one that lines his chest from his stay in a POW camp. It doesn't bother him, he's used to the raised skin, but she looks at it and she sees how close he was. She traces it with her hands, with her soft fingers lingering, thinking of what her life might've been like if she'd lost him before she ever knew him. And now he's going back. He's going back to continue the fight, to finish it, he hopes.
She knows it's cowardly, but she wants him to run away. She wants to take his jet and leave for anywhere else, anywhere that won't demand he live up to his contract and set out for his second tour. But he wouldn't do it and she knows its contradictory, but she might love him even more for that. There's something inside of him that wants to be the man to fight, who wants to stand up when nobody else will. And she loves that man even when she knows it could mean losing him.
He tips his head, raises a brow, and takes her hand, dragging her over until her body is snugly pressed to his own. "What's going on in that head of yours, Professor?" He tucks her hair behind her ear, rubs the lobe between his forefinger and thumb, slow and delicate.
She shakes her head, wants to pretend she's not scared; wants to believe that it will all be fine. But he's got her chin in his hand and he's making her look at him and she can't lie. Not to those deep brown eyes that demand truth and honesty and always get it.
"I don't want to be teaching my kids and realize you're just another part of the history book…" She bites her lip to keep it from trembling, blinks her eyes to keep the tears at bay.
He sighs, squeezes her waist beneath his arms. Forehead to forehead, he stares down at her and he's so calm, so accepting. "I'm going so you'll still have a classroom to teach in… So I'll know that whatever happens, you're free…" His thumb strokes her cheek, catches a stray tear and rubs it away. "And I'm coming home so I can share it with you… So when you teach those kids all about this war, you can say that we won because regular people, good people, wouldn't let their world fall apart…"
She strokes her fingers through his hair, down his neck, over and over again; like her hands can't get enough of him, can't touch him enough to sate the desire inside her to prove to herself that he's still there, still real and solid beneath her touch. "Why you?" She shakes her head, knotting her hands behind his neck. "Just this once… Let somebody else do it."
He half-grins, that crooked smile of his that still makes butterflies flutter in her stomach, makes her heart trip over itself. "You know I can't."
But she wishes… She wishes he never signed up, never enrolled to be the hero. She should've known, should've seen it coming. But she was just a high school teacher, looking for that be all, end all in a man that made her laugh. And Oliver had already finished one tour when they met; her cousin Lois, an army brat to the extreme, having introduced them. At one of many barn dances on the Kent farm, Chloe found love with a billionaire who traded in the Armani for a pair of dog tags.
"How long are you back for?" she asked, smiling as he twirled her beneath his arm.
"How long will you have me?" he returned, a charming smirk drawing his lips up.
She laughed, scoffed a little at his easy arrogance. "Depends… You house-trained?"
His brows arch. "Take me home and find out."
Her face flushed, cheeks aflame, and she wanted to hide them, cover them with her hands. She hadn't felt this flustered since she was in high school. And now that she was teaching it, she shouldn't be affected like this. "What's my incentive?"
"I'll never lie, cheat or disappoint you…" He grinned, hands falling to squeeze her hips. "And I'll love you as much as you love me as long as you let me."
"One dance and you're hooked?" she teased. "You fall easy."
He shrugged. "You were hard to find… Now that I've got you, I figure laying the cards on the table makes more sense than letting you get away."
"And where am I going?"
"If I get this right…? Nowhere…" He shook his head slowly. "What do you say, Professor? You ready to fall in love?"
She smiled slowly, reached down and took his hand. Backing up slowly, she arched a brow and started for her car, drawing him along with her. "I'll let you know in the morning…"
A year ago, she saw a man rather than a soldier. She saw brown eyes and messy blonde hair, a crooked smirk that spoke volumes of humor and intelligence. When she wasn't with her kids, teaching history and computers, she was with him, letting herself explore the world at his side and the depths of her own heart. He was the guy who could afford wine that cost a down payment on a house but drank cheap beer. The guy that brought her tulips rather than roses. Who rubbed her feet after a long day and sang Christina Aguilera in the shower. He was comfortable with himself, happy and easy-going and content to live each day to the fullest. He brought her out of her shell and showed her a world worth saving. A world he wanted to save so he could be in it with her.
"Eighteen months," he murmured and her eyes met his, tears drying. "Eighteen months and when I set foot on American soil, I'm taking you back to where it all started and proposing to you…" He grinned. "And then we're getting married and we'll get a house. Smallville, Metropolis, Star City, wherever you want… And I'll don the suit, the cuff links and silk tie. I'll work the CEO job until we're old and grey… No more camo, no more dog tags, no more guns or ammo or sir, yes sir's… Just you and me…" He stared thoughtfully into her eyes. "Promise me we can have that and I'll do everything I can to get back to you."
She nodded quickly, hope and love bubbling in her chest, overflowing on a half-sob that broke into laughter. "Star City," she told him. "White house, green door… And I don't care where you work as long as you come home every night."
"Okay…" He nods firmly. "Then it's set… That's what we'll do… Just have a little faith that I can do this."
"I've never believed in anyone more," she tells him and she means it. She's never loved anyone the way she loves him and she never will again. He is her brightest star, her knight in green camo, her hero… And she's scared, she's worried, but if he says he'll do it, if he says he'll come home, she has to believe that he will. He's kept his word from that night, never to lie, cheat or disappoint. And this is just another of those moments. A promise that has to comfort her over the next year and a half of letters and the rare video call.
The bus arrives then, air-breaks giving a squeal that sets every other military wife and husband on edge, a pit growing in their stomachs. A call rings out that it's time to go, time to get in those last goodbyes.
He leans in then, mouth slanting across hers and her eyes close, her brow furrows tight as her eyes swell with tears once more. This isn't goodbye; it's hold on… So she puts her all into it, she fans her fingers through his hair and she meets every press of warm, consuming lips. She feels his fingers digging into her back, his arms flexing tight around her body, and she knows that as much as he tells her he can do this, he's going to miss her every day.
The morning light is warm on her face, urging her to wake up. She groaned, wanting to roll over and fall back asleep. But she could feel his eyes on her; early was not a word she appreciated in her vocabulary but he lived on it. Six am was sleeping in to him; the only reason he lingered now was because he liked being there next to her when she finally roused. Sometimes, when he became impatient, she'd wake alone and find him doing yoga in the living room, meditating away, and when he realized he'd stayed away too long, he'd frown, roll back to his feet and take her right back to bed to exhaust her until she was a boneless heap of euphoric pleasure.
Sundays were her favorite. Slow, lingering sex until noon and blueberry waffles for brunch.
She peeked an eye open and found him staring at her, half-grinning as if he knew her struggle to go back to sleep and found it amusing.
He laughed lowly, a rumble from his chest that makes her skin tingle. "It's almost eight."
"Ugh…" she rolled over onto her stomach and buried her face in her pillow, long hair tangling all around her.
He reached over, picked up some of her hair and lifted it high enough to catch her eyes.
She smiled, the look on his face waking her up even more. "It's Sunday."
A faint smirk appeared as he laid his head down on the adjacent pillow to look at her. Quietly, solemnly, he admitted, "I wish I met you before I jumped headfirst into the army…"
Her eyes softened. Reaching over, she cupped his cheek, smoothing her thumb across his skin. "I'm convincing, but not even I could keep you away from doing what you thought was right…"
"Maybe not… But I could've found a different way…" His jaw ticked with the idea. "One that didn't involve being away from you for so long."
Sliding across the bed, she slipped her leg across his waist, straddled him and sat up, hands braced against his chest. "You're a fighter, Oliver…" she told him strongly and she believed it, knew it in her heart. "And I wouldn't want you any other way."
He drew her down, buried his fingers in her hair and caught her mouth with his. Back to tradition and she wasn't complaining.
As they broke apart, panting, he closes his eyes, touching her forehead with his once more. "It'll be over sooner than we think."
She nods, but won't say anything because the only thing she wants to say is Stay. So she stays quiet and she shares the same air as him until the final call comes again and she has to let go, has to watch him pick up his duffel bag and walk away, backwards so he can keep his eyes on her as long as he can.
She knots her fingers into fists and holds back her tears, nodding only once when he pauses on the stairs, looking back at her as if he needs her to say it's okay. And then he's sitting amongst the others, one of many soldiers, and when the bus is gone, there's just dust and emptiness. She stares off into the distance a long moment, half-hoping he'll turn around and come back, but she knows different.
For eighteen months, he's gone. But he's coming back.
He's coming back!