He thinks I have no idea what he does, that I don't notice. He thinks I have no idea that he's always looking after me and keeping us all in bullets and beer. He thinks I can't tell where he's been when he comes home with the scent of his deeds all over him and goes straight to the shower, or doesn't come home until after he's showered at TC's gym – at three o'clock in the morning.
But I know.
I know he risks his life on a semi-daily basis just to keep me safe. Because for some reason, he believes in me as the leader of this self-made nation. Because he believes in me and because they believe in him – look to him for their cues and safety – they believe in me, too. Because he does.
I notice when one of his eyebrows is a millimeter more swollen than the other. I notice when he speaks out of one side of his mouth more than the other because it's sensitive from a fight. I notice when he gets stabbed in the leg and forgets to change his bandage before he comes home (or maybe if we had the supplies, he would have changed it).
I notice when our apartment starts smelling like fresh Cubans that he's been acquiring cigars and smoking with Mole, or when the wake that follows him smells like strawberries, rosemary, passion fruit, and aloe, that he has procured palates of shampoo and soap, even though he's dirty as the Seattle sky is gray.
I notice when he's mad at me, too. His clenched jaw and averted gaze tell me how distasteful he finds my presence. His barely-able-to-contain anger threatens to burst at the seams of his tense form, his knuckles white with pressure.
I notice when he only wants to be a soldier. He'll come home and lock himself in the bathroom until he can wash away the night, the grime, the cigars, shampoo, soap and blood. He'll stay in there for hours and eventually come back out, fresh faced but with less of a zesty twinkle in his eyes.
More than once, he has come home with a gunshot wound, and more than once, I've taken him to the bathroom, stripped his wound of clothing, and as gently as I could manage, dipped a towel in warm bathwater and dabbed at the hole in his body – until it was clean – before suturing the mouth of it closed.
Though my hands make quick work of his wounds, he's still antsy, wanting me to finish so he can leave or shower, so he can wash my trace from his body and leave again.
I notice after the wound is closed that he won't look at me, and after he leaves, I sit in the dark and wonder if there'll ever be a time when he's not ashamed of me, if he'll ever be able to rest now that I've screwed it all up for all of us.
Tonight, I got myself in trouble and got winged in some crossfire. He was home already when I came in. Besides the closing door, I noiselessly make my way to the bathroom, cradling my wounded shoulder, and peel off my jacket, then my shirt. It's one of the most painful things I've ever felt, but I force myself to stay quiet so I don't disrupt his sleep.
It doesn't matter, though, because in less than a minute, he's standing behind me, eyes red with sleep and irritation, inspecting my shoulder.
Wordlessly, he pulls our GSW-specific first aid kit from under the sink and starts to pull out the bullet. I breathe hard to keep myself from crying out, and he gently blows on the stinging skin, wet with hydrogen peroxide.
He is just as efficient as me, his fingertips falling on my skin with a tenderness I've never known, and suddenly, I'm having trouble looking at him, as if afraid of what I might see, of what I might notice, of what I might not notice.
He touches me like he knows my body, my skin, my mind. He touches my body like that, and I think if I look at him, I'll betray the things I'm not ready for him to know I feel. He touches me like that without noticing.
I start to cry because I know he's got my back, and because I trust him with my life, and because I think what we could have could be beautiful. I disguise my tears as ones cried from the pain.
And as soon as he's done, I waste no time changing my shirt and heading to the Needle, where I'm sure I can mourn alone. Up there, the scents from our lives don't change me. Up there, I am above it, and I don't have to think about what the biting chill makes me feel – I can just feel it.
I get home a few hours later, and he's still asleep, and my shirt is bloody again, so I take it off and float an ice blue sheet over myself, careful to avoid my bloody shoulder. I can't reach my bandage to change it, so I lie on my side on the couch and stare blankly at my reflection in the TV.
At three a.m., I see his reflection moving toward mine. He's coming for me and I don't have the strength to leave. He looks at my form and calls me Maxie and carries me to the bed. He tells me he'll take the couch. He starts to move away, but I reach out using the hand on the same arm as my busted shoulder and he gives me a soft smile in the dark.