Light Content Warning: Contains references to violence and abuse.
The dust had settled in the cold mud. The sun had closed its eye on the day to weep in private beyond the hills. The small town was covered in the chalk of stones broken by that day’s battle. The last battle. The evening scene ought to have been dark and silent, like the year’s worth of nights that preceded it. Yet light spilled from broken windows and crudely fitted doorways. Laughter, loud and rough, tore from the bellies of men and women as they danced. Children played in the square, yet never wandered far from their parents, cautious in their new freedoms.
A soldier’s song rang out accompanied by a piano, both in want of tuning, yet exuberant all the same. In the street, a soldier and a god danced beneath the stars. They twirled within these sounds, precious sparks of life to breach the silence of No Man’s Land.
On the edge of the light’s circle, a short man approached a tall woman. Her face was intent, watching the hero who had won their own piece of war within a day. In that moment, she both loved and hated her heroes. Yesterday, the tyranny had been total. Yet today she was free. There was a hollow surreality to it all. It had been so easy for them. If only they’d arrived sooner… The man coughed and she startled. “Oh, Albert! I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there.”
“It’s no problem, Camile,” Albert chuckled. “Sorry for alarming you. May I sit?”
“Please,” Camile smiled, turning back to watch the revelry from where she sat on a stone bench as Albert lowered himself beside her, placing his crutch on the ground.
He studied her face a while. Her skin was dusty, hiding the freckles Albert knew adorned her nose. Her hair was thin, and her lips set in grim appraisal. Yet dimples showed in her cheeks when she smiled. It had been so long that Albert had forgotten.
They sat together in silence, watching their friends and family, far fewer of them than there had once been. They were a people unaccustomed to free expression of joy. It came to them awkwardly, in great bursts of noise and movement, followed by contained alarm, before they remembered there was no reprisal to fear.
“Would you like to dance with me, Albert?”
“You know I can’t dance,” Albert said with a shy smile. The woman lifted a finger to his lips. “Lean on me.” Camile stood and helped Albert upright. He placed his hands on her shoulders as she pressed herself close to support him. She wrapped her left hand around his waist. Her right hand had been lost to gunfire eight months previous. Albert gently brushed his hand down her arm, before running a thumb over the scar tissue. Camile flinched from his touch, glancing away. Her eyes rested at the spot where his left foot should have been and she relaxed. She wasn’t the only one who bore scars. She allowed his hand to grip her wrist and raised her eyes to meet his own. They were full of warmth and shared sadness. Once there had been anger too, but that had extinguished along with their hope during that long year.
Camile held Albert close, touching her forehead to his as they swayed together. Albert buried his face in Camile’s neck, inhaling the earthy scent of her skin. They held each other until the music stopped and the lights burned out, and only the moon remained.
“May I walk you home, Camile?”
Camile choked a laugh, and a sob. “There is nothing left of it… I’d, I’d almost forgotten….”
Albert looked at her face, tears spilling down her cheeks as her chin trembled. “Come with me.” Tucking his crutch under his left arm, he looped his right arm through Camile’s, and together they walked beneath the moonlight, through the broken bones of their small town.
Albert’s flat was small and below street level, tucked behind a taller building that had borne the brunt of heavy fire. Camile would have missed the entrance had Albert not pointed it out. It was dark and cold inside. Yet, once lit, the hearth fire quickly warmed the main living space, which was filled on all sides with stacks of books. Heavy cloth covered the small window set into the front door, preventing the light from spilling outwards to invite unwanted attention.
Camile allowed Albert to help her out of her jacket, before she helped him out of his. They sat beside one another on the floor, watching the flames in silence; there was no insight that language could adequately impart. And so they sat, until Camile placed her hand on Albert’s lower back. She traced her hand over his shirt, feeling the curve of his spine through the rough linen. He leaned into her touch.
They moved closer together, carefully peeling away torn clothing to reveal hardened skin. Scarred skin. Some scars were faint and barely visible, others remained raw and red. Camile felt exposed within the light of the fire, even as it exposed Albert to her. The heat warmed the cold that lay at her centre, reaching places that had existed without light for too long.
Albert lay kisses on Camile’s bruises, as she ran her lips lightly over newly healed cuts. His skin was warm and smelled of wood dust. Each kiss, each tender touch, was a protest against the abuses they had suffered. A willful act of faith in their freedom.
Albert sat, one arm propped to support him while his other hand gripped Camile’s waist as she moved atop him. Her left hand clutched Albert’s shoulder, her right wrist draping behind his neck. She closed her eyes against the heat and light as she rocked her hips, drawing him inside her, feeling his warmth, his life and breath, as it matched her own.
Albert moaned as Camile moved faster, a prayer of surrender to carnal feeling. He traced his hand up her side to cup her breast, taking her nipple in his mouth. Unable to hold back, Albert released inside her. Camile smiled as he lay down, breathing heavily. She lay herself down on his chest, planting small kisses on his neck. As she rolled to lay by his side, he traced his fingers up her thigh and between her legs. Camile looked at him quizzically. “What are you doing?”
“Reciprocating,” Albert smiled. Camile’s eyes widened, and then closed once more as his fingers probed inside her, moving in and out, then up to circle her clitoris. “Has no man done this for you?” Albert whispered as he kissed her ear. She shook her head. “Sometimes women, but never a man. Certainly not those men…” she added bitterly. Albert mentally cursed the enemy and then himself for not realising, not guessing, the extent of her suffering. He made to remove his hand, but she stopped him. Carefully, Albert resumed, sliding his fingers inside her as she widened her legs. She moaned as he moved his hand faster. He leaned down to kiss her lips. She climaxed around his fingers, thrusting her hips forward to draw him in deeper. She opened her eyes, smiling up at Albert. She giggled as he playfully nibbled her nose. “Now I can see your freckles.”
After a time, Albert stood and began searching the room. Camile half rose, reaching out as if to help him as he moved around, clutching furniture to support himself, but Albert waved for her to lay back down. “I’m capable.” Camile blushed, and Albert smiled, withdrawing a glass bottle of amber liquid from behind a false shelf. He made his way to where she sat. “I’ve been saving this for when the war ended, but I guess this counts too.” He unstoppered the cork and offered the bottle to Camile. “To freedom.”
“To freedom,” she echoed with a hesitant smile; the words felt too fragile on her tongue. She took a sip of the burning liquid before handing it back to Albert.
He pulled deeply from the bottle. They stayed awake, sitting naked beside each other, talking, often laughing, sometimes weeping, until the fire dimmed and the dawn light crept through small gaps in the curtain.
The empty bottle was set down as they finally drifted to sleep, their hearts warm, their dreams peaceful. Together they slept for eternity. The sun shone through an orange sky as their nightmares were laid to final rest.
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