A/N: Hi! Thank you so much for the response to this story, which I lovingly like to refer to as the angst fest. You guys are the best readers a girl could ask for, and I hope you enjoy being tormented by this installment!
Henry looked around at the tiny, bland apartment that he would be calling home for a while. No, he thought, staying in for a while. He wouldn't be calling it home. He couldn't. Home was where things were warm and welcoming. Home was where his kids were bickering over everything under the sun. Home was where he could sit and breathe and think, surrounded by his books and her books and books that their children had brought home. Home was a place filled with the scent of banana pancakes on Sunday morning and the familiar sounds of family. Home was a place where Henry felt safe and secure, a place where he could go at the end of the day and, no matter how much uncertainty was abounding, feel like things were going to be alright. Home, Henry had always thought, was wherever Elizabeth happened to be.
Elizabeth. Henry could barely think of her without feeling sick inside, and yet he could no sooner stop thinking about her than he could will his heart to stop beating inside his chest. The thoughts of Elizabeth and the beating of Henry's heart seemed to have meshed together to form some kind of antagonizing dance. With every steady beat came a wave of nausea at the idea that Elizabeth was across the world, grieving and alone. He had seen firsthand what that grief could do to her; she'd been drowning in it when they had met, and little by little, Henry had pulled her out of it and back to herself. He sighed and sat down in the small desk in the corner, leaning forward to rest his head in his hands. He couldn't even imagine what this was doing to her, and to the kids. Stevie had expressed her fear of losing him before; he could envision her worried face and the blue eyes she'd gotten from Elizabeth as clearly as if she were standing before him, and recalled with a painful twisting sensation in his chest how he had hugged her then and reassured her that he wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. He wondered briefly if she would ever be able to trust him again after this. Pushing that unpleasant thought aside as best he could, he thought of Alison, which he found was not any better. Alison had always been sensitive; he remembered how many times he had scooped her up in his arms and promised her that everything was going to be okay, in spite of how it felt just then. Even recently, there had been times when Alison needed him to hold her and tell her that everything was going to work itself out. She was the most tender-hearted of their children, and easily affected by the tragedy of others. Henry couldn't imagine how she must be handling the tragedy of her own family. And then there was Jason. Henry remembered how worried he'd been about having a son, and how in love he'd been from the moment he looked down at the newborn baby boy who looked like him. How he'd promised himself that summer day in the hospital that he was not going to become his own father. He'd looked down at little Jason and promised him that he was going to be different. And he'd spent the intervening years building that relationship, making sure that Jason always knew he was there for him, and that he loved him no matter what. He couldn't help but wonder what this would do to his relationship with his son, when he was able to return home. Would Jason forgive him for leaving? Would this shatter everything he'd spent Jason's entire life trying to build?
Thoughts swirled in Henry's head like some sort of ferocious storm that, when it made landfall, was sure to cause immense destruction. Mind wandering back to Elizabeth, Henry reached for a sheet of paper and a pen, both of which were already on top of the desk. The little apartment was bare-bones. It reminded him of the one he'd stayed in during his early days as a Marine. Elizabeth had come to visit that one, he recalled. She'd taken one look at it and made a face that had made Henry laugh. And by the time she left, somehow the place felt more like home. It was as if she'd left bits of her all around, and it had made Henry feel loved and secure, even long after she had vacated the apartment. That feeling had gotten Henry through his stint in that dreadful little apartment. But there would be no visit from Elizabeth to this place. Henry sighed at that and turned his attention from the dingy walls that may have been painted white at some point and back to the blank sheet of paper. He dated it and then began to write.
Every letter I've ever written to you over the three decades that I've loved you has been easy. I've always been able to find the words to give to you when I put pen to paper, but this time I don't even know where to begin. I don't know if there are any words that I can write that would be enough. I can't stop thinking about you, and what you must be going through right now. All I want is to be there with you so that I can make it stop. Losing your parents at such a young age and battling that grief was so much more hurt that I ever would have wished for you, and the idea that now, you have to do it all over again and still somehow be there for the kids- which I know you will- is almost more than I can stand. I want to hold you and tell you that everything is going to be okay. I want to be with you and the kids more than I even have the words to describe. It's physically painful, to be away from you in this tiny little apartment that I hate. I know that what I'm doing here is important, and that you would agree if you knew the whole story. My duty to my country, and the knowledge that you would make the same decision in my shoes, is the only thing keeping me from flying home to you right now. That, and the armed guards that are outside. I might be able to take them, though.
I'm not even sure why I'm writing this letter to you. I don't know that you'll ever read these words, so maybe it's more for me than for you. I feel like I'm missing something, some part of myself, and the only thing keeping me sane is the knowledge that I'm coming home to you. You and the kids don't have that, and words do not exist to express how I feel knowing that. Knowing that you and our children are across the world and mourning my death...the idea makes my head spin, and I feel sick thinking about it. I want to come home and hold all of you and make this okay again, but I know I can't. At least, not yet. It's nearly unbearable, and with every breath it hurts a little bit more.
I promise I'm going to come home to you, Elizabeth. I know I can't tell you that right now, but maybe if you do read this you'll understand why. I have to believe that you will. And I have to believe that you're going to be okay. That we're going to be okay. You are everything, and I just hope that you're still going to believe that when I come home.
It's going to be okay, I promise. I love you, more than all the stars, and I can't wait to come back home to you.
All of my love,
He folded the letter into thirds and set it aside, tossing the pen down atop the desk with a light clatter. Tears were streaming down his cheeks and he took a shuddering breath in a fruitless attempt to calm himself. He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes, his fingers reaching underneath the fabric of his shirt for his necklace. The two tiny charms hung there as always, and Henry held tight to them, comforted slightly by their familiar weight against his skin. Sometimes, he forgot that the necklace was even there, but not now. Now, he couldn't help but think of it as a link to Elizabeth. That's what the necklaces had serves as when Henry was deployed, and even after he was home, neither of them had been willing to stop wearing them. Elizabeth, these days, changed hers out sometimes, but at the end of her work week or when she could, she always seemed to revert back to these little pendants. Henry never took his off, preferring to hide it under his shirts so that the chain could remain around his neck as a reminder of his enduring promise to return to Elizabeth, to always show up for her, a promise he had made in the early days of their marriage. He'd said that to her before he'd left for basic training, their first time apart since they'd met and fallen in love. He could recall it vividly, the way her fingers had hesitated at the charms around his neck.
"Be safe, okay?" she had said. She knew it was just basic training; she wasn't sending him off to war, at least not yet. Even so, it hadn't felt right not to say it, and Henry had seemed to understand that.
"I will," he had assured her.
"And come back soon," she had added as their eyes met. This was harder for her than she was willing to admit, but Henry knew. They didn't have to talk about it.
"I will always show up for you," he had told her, hazel eyes serious and warm as they met her ocean blue gaze.
"I love you," she had said.
"I love you, too," he told her quietly as he pulled her in close. "More than all the stars."
They'd signed their letters that way when he had been away. More than all the stars. Henry wasn't even sure where it had come from, but it was comforting. At least, it had been, for a long time. Now, Henry was pretty sure that nothing but being home with her could provide comfort. For now, he thought as he released the necklace and the pendants collided again with his chest, he'd just have to wait.