It's funny how smells invoke memories. Like the smell of rain on hot pavings brings back that mystery of childhood. Or the smell of boot polish and camphor was him. Until he went away. And came back smelling of gunpowder and sweat, and wasn't him anymore.
He'd been everything, her hero, for a short while. And then he was something else. He'd changed. The smell of gunpowder never really left his skin. He sat in the dark drinking, and smelt of that too.
"Sulphur and sandstone".
He muttered those words often.
The scars weren't that bad. As far as scars go. The skin puckered and tight, but mostly hidden under his clothing. Not that he ventured out into the light if he could help it. He was broken. And she didn't know how to put him back together again.
He was fifteen when he left, just old enough. And she was left waiting, hoping, almost on the verge of praying for his return. But it wasn't him who came back. He didn't smell right.
Twenty six when he returned. He'd left a kid and come back a broken man. So many of them did. They say war is hell, she thought the afterwards was maybe worse.
She still loved him. Of Course.
She didn't really know what to do. He wouldn't talk about the time he was gone, would hardly talk at all. Except in his sleep. His nightmares. The muttering and screams drew her near. He'd found someone while he'd been away, and then lost them, that much she'd gleaned. That and he'd seen horrors, unimaginable horrors. Things that made her not want to return to her bed, sitting in the dark trying to unhear the insanity.
Magic wasn't supposed to be used that way.
Not to unmake people.
War was hell, but the things people did in the name of war was worse… unbelievably worse.
She had thought of following him, had she known how. Now she was glad she hadn't. He was broken. She would have been destroyed. Besides, it was losing the one he had found that finally truly broke him. He called for her in the dark.
The war was still going. There was always a war. It didn't matter who they were fighting, the mechanism kept grinding boys into broken men and sending their husks back home.
She would have hated it, if she'd had any emotion left to spare.
She kept him alive, if you could call it living. It was all she could do.
She was outside, harvesting the wheat with the scythe their father was too frail to swing anymore. A job he should have been doing. If he'd been able to leave the darkness and the oblivion of the bottle. The skyline had been clear when she first bent to the job. And then it wasn't. A lone figure, loping through the nodding golden forest of stalks.
She stood, watching, as everything changed around her. It was another kind of magic. The figure had hardly glanced her way as it swept past. Heading straight for him. Unerringly finding him in the darkness of his room, and his soul.
What he'd lost had found him. Mended him. Patched together his smile. He smelt better now, like a fresh morning after a night of rain. And the one he'd lost smelt like salvation.