The Lies We Told Ourselves

I’m hoping this can become a series. Different stories. I’m hoping for good, happy endings.

His lips were curved upwards as he looked back but she didn’t smile. She just sighed, exasperation and fondness evident. 
"Be careful," she called to him. 
"Always am," he called back, cocky as ever. 
She merely rolled her eyes. It did make her feel better; the normal banter. But if he expected it to quell her fear, then he was out of luck. Then again, there was no one who knew her better. 
And that’s how she let him walk into war. 
Two years later and he returned, but nothing was the same. 
She found him running his thumb over the edge of the medal of honour. 
"Hey," she murmured. 
At first, when he got back, he used to hide the subject of his contemplation. However, now he seemed to have given up. 
"Hi," he whispered back, turning the medal over as though it was a Rubik’s cube he had to solve. 
"How long have you been awake?"
"Thirty four hours," he replied, testament to his internal clock. 
She barely held back a sigh and he noticed anyway, eyes swivelling to look at her. 
"Sorry," he whispered, a little petulant. 
"Please try to sleep."
"Can’t," he said shortly. 
He got up and left the room. He wouldn’t go far. She knew that but she watched him go to the study room anyway. 
PTSD. She had read all about it. Even when he had been away, she had been invested in reading about it. Hoping, even when she knew. 
She didn’t want him to feel guilty, but she felt so helpless. It was harder being on the other side, she decided. When you were in it, you didn’t have to take care of someone else. But when you were in her position, you had to feel so helpless. 
Out of everything, the thing she missed the most was his cocky smile. Waving the thought away, she left to go to work. 
"You should go to a doctor," she said over dinner almost six months after he’d returned. 
He stilled momentarily, his fork hovering over the plate. But it was just a moment and he was back to shovelling the food into his mouth. 
"Please," she said, soft and coaxing. 
"Can’t," he replied around a mouthful of food. 
He had only recently started eating again and she didn’t want him to leave the table so she fell quiet. 
There wasn’t just once body tossing and turning in bed every night. 
Eight months and she didn’t know what was going on. What had happened back there. There was no one else to tell her and she feared asking. 
Nine months and a man returned. He was still in his uniform when he knocked the door. Dark skinned and a sweet smile, he politely asked for her husband. 
Three hours they talked in the study room, door shut tight. She waited on the first step of the staircase, breath stuck somewhere in the back of her throat. When they came out, her heart jolted. 
He was smiling slightly. Nowhere near to what it had been but it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. He started going to the meetings then. 
Twelve months and the first thing she saw when she woke up was a tray of steaming cups, the scent of coffee and the most beautiful cocky smile she had ever seen. 
Thirteen months and there was something glinting on the nightstand. She bit her lip, looking over her shoulder. He wouldn’t be back for another hour. 
She edged closer to the stand and touched the chain. She knew instantly that they were dog tags. He had lost someone and she had guessed as much. 
She finally picked them up, turning them over in her hands. Tears sprang to her eyes when she read the tags. 
In the end, pain would always be selfish. It was the loss of easy affection. The loss of a loving presence. The loss of loyalty. 
It didn’t matter what form it came in. 
Whether it was your human comrade. 
Or a dog.