The boarding platform of One Year Station is abuzz with life and excitement. There are soldiers milling everywhere, laughing together, kissing their wives and husbands goodbye, hugging their children, checking their bags. And he feels lost in the waves of them all. Kara's in her uniform, her rucksack slung haphazard over her shoulder, smiling at him expectantly. She's beautiful, with sunlight shining in her dark hair as the breeze catches it, before she tucks it behind her ear. Her back is to the train and his gaze slides over her shoulder to look at the large, hulking, metal personification of every fear that's shivered down his spine since she came to him with lovely, prideful eyes, holding aloft her conscription.
He hadn't been able to look directly at her then either.
He knows most consider him weak. He was never a particularly healthy child and suffered from sickness that had left him thin and breakable - something his body never grew out of, no matter how hard he tried. Not that he had tried overly hard. He had seen both his father and older brother hop a train one day and never come back. He had sworn never to be like that. Not because of cowardice. It was because he had seen first-hand the pain left in their wake - and for what? They weren't one step closer to resolution of the fighting and all his mother had left to show for the child she had borne and the man she had loved was two boxes of shell-casings, ID tags, and a stitched handkerchief full of her own tears.
His brother had just been a guileless boy, but his father had been a believer just like Kara was. They had both worked hard to be chosen. It was one of the few things he had ever disagreed with her on.
And maybe they were right and he was wrong and his brother's death had meant something. But he was sure his brother's life would have meant more. A life with the chance to find a wife and have beautiful children to came home to every night.
He can barely remember life before the war, but the memories are there if he digs deep enough. He and his family had been happy, whole. They had a warm home and a dog named Kip and his brother used to play basketball with him almost every night. Then the Earth had shook and it had all ended.
For a minute he feels like the Earth is shaking again, before he's being suddenly wrapped in a set of small, but strong arms and he realizes the only thing shaking is him.
She peppers kisses across his cheek and he breathes in her smell because he knows he's going to miss it. He tells her she's the most lovely sight he's ever seen in his life and she laughs like it's some kind of joke even though it isn't.
With an almost painful abruptness he wishes he could could go with her. That he could be strong enough to care for her and make sure she comes home.
The moment feels like it's spinning down a string of eternity - too slow and too fast and he's on his own looking down the track a long time after hearing the last whistle blowing and even longer that she's been out of his sight when he realizes he had said she was pretty but not that he loved her. But it's already too late.
He dreams of Kara constantly.
He dreams of her as a magic fairy or a ballerina, dressed in folds of the kinds of rich fabrics that hardly exist anymore. They suit her. For just a little while he's unbelievably, breathtakingly happy. Then the ivy covered forest glade becomes startlingly industrial - a jungle of iron and smoke. He smells grease and hears chugging wheels. She dances and floats before jumping aboard a passenger car and going down the line, tossing a kiss and a wink over her shoulder, out the window.
Other times he dreams of the images he sees on the news - only her face is there on the list of losses that runs once a month after they're posted, like a macabre roll-call of death. The eyes of the newscasters mock him with pity.
No matter what, his chest hurts whenever he wakes up. He doesn't bother telling anyone. The only person who could help isn't with him.
The women standing about the train's disembarking platform are as fixated as he is. They stand stock still with ashen faces or else pace with silent tears of worry pouring down their cheeks. All of them were silent. Including him. And although some send him - one of the few males amongst them - quizzical glances, they ask him nothing. Not a single syllable brakes the deafening noiselessness.
Like the calm before the storm.
Or perhaps it was more accurate to say that they stood within the eye of the storm. Because the world had already been ripped apart by thunder and heavy, deadly clouds full of hail. The War was still raging and still would be for an unforeseeable amount of time. But this was their reprieve.
One year was over and every person waiting here was the listed partner of a returning veteran or perhaps soon to be one of their widows.
Survivors will step off the train to be reunited, everyone left will get a box of personal effects and condolences from a commanding officer.
The enforced non-communication rule is cruel but efficient. No correspondence of any kind, because it keeps the soldiers safe. No calls, no letters. Only prayers. Silent prayers. It seems that the people gathered here clutch at that rule because it's all they know now.
And although it's as quiet as empty space on this side of the tracks, on the other side it's a bustling hub-bub of excitement. He tries to wrap his mind around the fact that a mere 365 days ago he had been holding her in his arms over there and looking at her dazzling smile. It doesn't make any sense. She had been giddy and free and perfect. Why?
He swallows at the lump in his throat, but his mouth is dry. His eyes sting, but he hasn't cried since she left and he wont cry now. Not unless...
He hears the echo of the oncoming whistle and time begins spooling in and out again, just like before.
People begin all but flinging themselves off the train and into the arms of their loved ones. The relief in those people's hearts is palpable in the air. However so is the tension from those yet to be drawn back together. It's like a spike settled heavy, down in his own stomach.
He waits. He waits and waits and waits. He waits until the train is gone.
There's a man in a fitted uniform covered in medals standing next to him with a box. Neither of them look at one another. Neither of them says anything.
His neck starts to hurt from staring at the same spot for so long. He tilts his head back to look up at the sky. There's wispy clouds up high and he's surprised to notice that it's much later than he thought it was - baby blues have begun to fade to downy pinks and oranges.
He mildly wonders if it's not raining why his face is so wet.
A year. He hasn't seen her in a year.
He'll never see her again.
"You'll see her again." Comes a gruff voice from his left.
It startles him, as he turns to look cautiously at the other man. But the officer is still paying him no mind, now with his own face towards the stratosphere. "You'll be seeing her again, some day." The man reiterates, before finally looking at him out of the corners of soft eyes. "When you get to heaven one day. You'll see her then. She'll be waiting for you. You just have to wait a little longer."
He can't stop the sob that comes ripping out of his chest, as he's nearly bowled over by his pain.
He feels something being laid in his arms and when he realizes it's her box, he cradles it to himself with gentle reverence.
He knows the officer has gone now that his duty is over. He can't hear him anymore, but that's okay because his reply isn't really for the other man anyway.
His voice comes out raspy and choked, but he forces the words out because he has to. "I can do that. I will wait for her. I can do that." The vow settles around him, before he turns to stumble away from One Year Station.