She presses herself against the cold grain of the wood, ear tight to the door. She feels him close as he stands on the other side, weathering the storm. Her heart beats wildly, echoing around the empty house, the only accompanying sound the hailstones outside. Splaying her hand against the dark wood, her face is tinged with rose as the sun sets.
He knocks. The vibration against her hand sends her heart into even more rapid pulses, she struggles to breathe. Half of her doesn’t dare to believe that he has finally come, that it is truly him who stands inches away from her. She doesn’t know if she can face opening the door, she isn’t brave enough to risk it. The possibility of disappointment is raw and harsh, it restricts her movements as she fumbles with the key. It scrapes against the lock, her hand trembling with anticipation. She is sure she can hear his breathing, but she doesn’t let that trick her; often she hears his voice in her dreams, when her mind wanders to a place where she can be happy. He is always there, but in reality she doubts whether he will keep his promise. Too many times she has let her heart swell with trepidation, with hope, only to deflate faster than she can blink. She closes her eyes to stop the tears from falling, finally fitting the key into the lock. She turns it.
There’s a moment, a tiny hesitation, where everything lies still. In that moment, she manages to control her panic, almost forget it. It’s almost like those long forgotten times where everything made sense, when she was safe and happy. It’s a time before Ted, before Gideon, before she ran away from home. She was innocent then, she was a child. But no longer is she ignorant to the woes of life and as she reaches for the doorknob, she knows what is at stake. If she is wrong, if he is not standing on the doorstep, she may have to give up all her hope. It has taken so long to rebuild it up until this moment, her fragility tainting her every move. Each day is harder than the next; now she dearly wishes that today things will change. She feels it in her heart.
The door opens, the moment ending, and the tears escape her as she spots him, silhouetted against the weak sun. His face is blurred, she can barely see, but before she can wipe the tears away she takes his face in her hands and kisses his lips, his cheek and his lips again. She has never felt so alive and dead at the same time; she never dares to imagine that these moments will come to pass again, she is certain each time is the last. But as he tucks her under his umbrella and wraps his free arm around her waist, she feels as though no time has passed, as though this moment has no beginning and will never end. She is sure that it will last forever, because what is she without Gideon, where does she start and end? Without him, there is nothing but an empty void, a shell of herself.
She finishes kissing him, after the eternity is over once again, and wipes her eyes, the smile curving her lips. Taking his hand, they slip indoors and she lights the lamps, taking the opportunity to scrutinise his face. He is the same, he is her Gideon and her smile widens when she realises that this moment is timeless. She momentarily struggles to place herself, she doesn’t know the time or date and she has forgotten her age. Where they are in the fabric of time no longer seems important; in the here and now they have each other. It is enough.
Her eyes roam his face, from the dark of his eyebrows and damp hair, his eyes like coal dust, the curve of his nose to the small scar on the side of his chin. She traces it, the small stain proving it is really him. She still struggles to believe it, she can’t bear to enjoy the moment when the risk of heartbreak lies beneath the surface. His smile brings tears to her eyes; it’s him and he is home, he has returned to her.
“Why are you crying?” he asks, a bruised hand tucking a strand of hair out of her face. “Aren’t you pleased to see me?”
She bites her lip, a failed attempt at stemming the tears. Instead, they cascade down her cheeks as her eyes remain fixed to his. Neither can believe they are with the other; she wants to drink him in until she and him are one, not just for now but for always. The desperation nestles in her stomach. How can she explain her feelings to him, words are not enough to describe the pain she feels, the hurt he has caused her. She has waited and waited and now he is here in front of her as if nothing has changed.
“Is it really you?” Andromeda mumbles, her lips coated in her own tears.
“Of course it is,” he says weakly. “Who else would I be?”
The tears that fall now are happy ones, the disbelief pooling under her lashes as she kisses him once again. It has been too long since they parted, since he broke her heart again. Perhaps she is starting to miss the devastation in the wake of his departure. Perhaps she knows nothing else.
“I didn’t think you were coming back,” she whispers, caressing his cheek. “I’d nearly given up.”
He laughs and shrugs of his coat, placing it across the chair under the windowsill. “You should know me by now; I always come back.”
She trembles, the words hollow to her ears. “But you never write, you never give me any sign that you’re coming back. I’ve been waiting for you for nearly a year, Gideon. Do you have any idea what that’s like?”
He takes her in his arms and cradles her, her head resting against his chest until she can here the steady rhythm of his heart. “You know I can’t contact anyone. If I could, I’d never leave home, but it isn’t possible. I’m sorry, I wish I never had to leave you.”
She sighs; she has heard all these words before. Perhaps this time will be the last time she has to hear them. Today she will convince him to stay, to never leave her again. They stand in the hallway, so close they are almost one but in her deepest, darkest thoughts she knows they are not. There is not enough of her left to give away and she suspects he is broken too. She sees the damage in his eyes, the odd flicker of pain before he focuses again. She wants to kiss his sorrows away, to heal herself through him. But it’s never enough, each time leaving her wanting even more.
Her silence continues, the words never managing to become more than idle thoughts. She can’t find the words to say, sentence remained half-formed. What is there left unsaid between them? She loves him, he loves her and they both know it. But now words are not enough, his embrace is not enough. She wants him, in his entirety, and she can’t help but think he has become lost along the way.
“Where’s Ted?” They pull apart and she struggles to look up into his face. That one word has changed everything between them, has intensified their passion as well as his jealousy. He can never understand why she stays with her husband, she is sure of it. But life for her is never simple. Gideon used to love their complexities.
“He’s out,” she shrugs, her eyes focussing on his loose shoelace. When did he become so untidy?
“And the child?”
Her eyes meet his briefly before she turns away. “With Ted.”
She is not unused to the tension her husband’s name incurs. It’s easier for both her and Gideon if they mention his name as little as possible, if they pretend like there’s nothing that stands between them. But whilst she loves Ted they can never be completely together, there will always be that one piece missing. Perhaps Gideon hopes that when she leaves her husband he will give her the lost piece, will hand her the tools they need to survive. She has stopped believing they exist.
She walks away with the intention of putting the kettle on, hiding the tears that spill over. Things are not the same and war has changed him. She hears the note of bitterness in his voice, hears the indignant flicker in his questions. He won’t understand why she stays. He has never understood. She doubts he ever will.
She makes the tea, tears merging with the golden liquid. With each drop, another piece of hope leaves her. As the surface of his drink ripples, her courage does also, the surface of perfection distorted and each layer of insecurity is revealed with every dimple. Her hands shake, the mugs trembling as she pushes them across the wooden table. Her eyes follow the pattern of the grain, the familiar lines placing a vague order in her mind. She feels his stare on her as she tries to grasp any notion of normality she has left. When she closes her eyes, she wants the room to be dark also, for there to be nothing except the solitude and security of her own body. His presence shakes every wall she has built up, the barriers down. Like the rippling of tea, her peace is disturbed.
Her eyes still closed, she feels his rough hand trace the tears under her eyes. Andromeda grips the edge of the table, knuckles white; it has been so long since she has felt like this, each touch of his hand is almost new and unknown to her. But she knows him, he knows her and neither can deny the electricity that sparks the hair around them, that charges the tips of his fingers. Half of her still believes this is a dream, the other half praying that it isn’t.
“Please stop crying,” he whispers, wiping away a fresh tear. “I’ll do anything.”
His voice is soft, as always, but it doesn’t calm her today. It sends shivers along every hair on her body as she tries to decipher her feelings. She can’t decide if she wants him to stay forever or leave forever. Both end in the same pain, neither will drown the pain. She doesn’t know what to do.
“I’ve missed you.” She hardly raises her voice; she trusts he can hear her because she cannot tell whether it is her heart or her mouth which makes the noise. Her blood pulses harder, her tears fall faster. “I’ve missed you so much, but I’m not sure who you are anymore.”
She has admitted it; she is scared that he is not the same Gideon as the one who left her all those months ago. The truth hangs between them, delicate and fragile, sure to shatter if either of them looks at it. But she looks, she raises her head and she meets his eyes. Their tears reflect each other, falling as pieces of the ugly truth pierce every barrier they have built up. She hates to see him cry; horrified, terrified, she wraps her arms around her waist as the moment stretches uncomfortable.
“I’m me,” he says softly, his arm twitching as though he is making to reach out to her. He reconsiders and his arm stays as rigid as his resolve. “I’m still Gideon.”
A year is a long time and she tells him so. “Remind me,” she murmurs.
She wishes it weren’t so, but she is scared of him. The man who stands before her shares the same body as the man she kissed goodbye last year. But the wildness in his eyes frightens her because she can no longer see herself in them. He has lost her and she has lost him and now they stand metres apart; in reality, the threads that join them are miles apart. She doesn’t know if she will ever be close to him again.
“I’m still the same,” he reminds her, taking each of her hands and unwrapping her arms from around her middle. He takes her hand and holds it to his heart so that she can feel it beating. “We’re still the same, you and I.”
She sighs, the fear diminishing with each beat of his heart. He has enchanted her again with his soft words and she lets him because she feels wanted, she feels needed and he has returned to her. They’re still the same, neither have changed. The surface calms.
“I love you,” she reminds him, kissing him again so that he remembers. She never wants to forget him, her lips memorising every curve of his face. “I’ll always love you.”
“I know,” he says gruffly, taking her in his arms and reminding her why they are so good together. He allows her to forget the pain and the hurt, the waiting and the tears. The bad times are insignificant compared to the flying feeling he gives her. She presses into him, allowing him to fill every void she has so that she never has to feel the pain again. He eclipses it.
She rests her head on his shoulder, giddy with disbelief. Andromeda wraps her arms tightly around him, as close as she can possibly get. These moments are few and far between and she cherishes it before it wilts.
“Don’t go back,” she whispers in his ear, her breath tickling his cheek. She despises the desperation in her voice but she can be herself with him The fear beings to subside. “I nearly died last time you left me.”
She doesn’t believe in her words, she knows they are useless. But she tries as she does every time with the small hope that one day all the pain will be over.
A/N: Once again, a massive thank you to Rachel for reading through this for me, she’s a star!