The young man trudged toward his flat, the crisp breeze lifting strands of his dark hair away from his forehead. He could have gone home in any manner of ways that were faster than the long walk from his office, but he needed the time and space. After dealing with filth like that all day and into the night, he hoped the fresh air would clear the sludge that had settled into psyche. It made him nauseated. Plus, his wife certainly didn't deserve for him to bring it home with him.
With a sigh, he opened the door of the building and climbed the five flights of stairs to his flat on the top floor. It was smallish, but in a cozy way, not cramped. He paused on the doormat, one hand on the doorknob. In the six years since the war ended, incidents like today were fairly sporadic. Not rare. Yet. He supposed they never would be. Some things never changed. It would take a long time for some people's attitudes to change. Tonight, he doubted they ever would.
He twisted the doorknob and silently slipped into the flat, grateful for the years of training that allowed him to do so. A glance into the kitchen revealed a plate of food she had kept warm for him. He poked at it cautiously, not sure if his stomach would tolerate solid food right now. His stomach gave an unholy rumble, and with a ghost of a smile, he picked up a chicken leg, and all but inhaled it. He picked up the plate, and ate the rest of his dinner, standing over the sink. He quietly washed and dried the plate and fork, placing the plate in the cabinet, and the fork in the drawer next to the stove.
He went into the bathroom, and quickly showered, turned the water off, and gave himself a cursory drying. He hung the damp towel on the bar, knowing his wife would have something to say about it if he left it in a heap on the floor. He picked up his glasses, turned out the bathroom light and strode down the hall to the bedroom he had shared with his wife for nearly four years. She had left a small light burning on the wardrobe. He headed straight for the wide bed, not bothering to put anything on, and placed his glasses on the bedside table with a soft click. He stood over his wife, and watched her sleep for several long moments. She lay curled on her side, facing away from him. She had loosely braided her long hair, as she did each night. It trailed away from her, like the tail of a comet.
He slid under the warm quilt, and shifted so he faced her back. He picked up the end of the braid and pulled off the elastic, gently undoing the braid, just as he did every night after she had fallen asleep. He spread her fiery strands across her pillow and pulled her against him. She slept on, peacefully.
Peace. His madly spinning brain refused to let him settle to sleep. He thought about peace. It wasn't something he took for granted. Not now. Not before. He closed his eyes, resting his forehead against the back of his wife's neck, inhaling the scent of her hair. He could feel her warm body settle against his and as she did so, he felt the tension in his begin to drain. Not for the first time, he mulled the meaning of the phrase, 'with my body, I thee worship,'. He'd said it on their wedding day nearly three years ago, with quite another meaning in mind. He still meant it that way, but each day gave him a new meaning. Sometimes, on days like today, it seemed as if the only peace of any kind he could find was in the worship of her with his body.
His arm tightened around her waist. He never could understand why, in the aftermath of a day like this one, how much he wanted to lose himself in her. He instinctively pressed against her, not wanting to wake her, just to fulfill his selfish desires, but unable to help himself. An involuntary groan escaped his lips. She stirred slightly, but didn't wake. He kissed her bare shoulder, and his hand slid over her hip and down her thigh. Traitor, he thought at his hand, but it ignored him, and stroked her stomach through the thin cotton of the nightgown.
She turned over, her eyes fluttering open. She smiled sleepily, hand brushing her hair out of her eyes. He kissed her, softly, almost pleadingly. His hands were still working on their own accord, had slipped to the hem of the nightgown, and slowly worked it up the curves of her body and over her head.
He rolled over, so she lay beneath him, and he was cradled in her arms and legs. Neither of them spoke. They didn't need to. They came together with a soft gasp. He wound his fingers around hers, clinging to his lifeline. Here, he was only her husband. She didn't need him to be anything other than that.
Some time later, he settled his wife against him into the familiar contours of sleep. This was what he wanted. What he had always wanted. What he needed more than all the gold in the world. This was his definition of peace.