Hero of War (Part 26)

A/N: Next part is the last one guys! 😀

The key turns easily in the lock and I let myself into Sophie’s house. Inside hangs the same silence that announced her departure a year ago. It serves the same purpose now– only this time her departure is permanent.

Bypassing the living room, I head up the stairs and to her room. As my damp prosthetic thumps on the oak landing, the door to her parent’s bedroom on my left opens and her dad pokes his head out cautiously. His puffy red eyes blink at me a few times.

“Adam?” he asks in a monotone voice.

I stop in my tracks, searching for an explanation. I open my mouth to give him one but he cuts me off with a hug. “Thank you.” he whispers in my ear. His entire body shakes and his voice is thick and hard to understand but he continues anyways. “Sophie wrote to us about everything you did for her.” A loud sob punctuates the end of his sentence. “Thank you for protecting her when we couldn’t.”

A lump pushes down on my throat like guilt’s invisible hands trying to suffocate me. “B-But” I stammer. I want to say that I hadn’t protected her when it mattered– that I had let her die– but the words to express my sorrow won’t come. I want to confess that I don’t deserve the life I still have but my throat is too tight to utter a single sound.

He pulls away from me. “You’re always welcome here,” he says, looking me straight in the eyes for a few seconds. “You’re as much a son to us as Sophie was a daughter.”

And with that, he retreats into the bedroom. As the door closes, I catch a glimpse of Sophie’s mother. Her lips smile encouragingly at me but her eyes remain sad.

I continue down the hallway, limping awkwardly with the cane my grandfather had once used. It makes little sound on the thick grey carpet.

Her door looms in front of me, as imposing as it is inviting. I take a deep breath before entering and turning on the light. My heart beats in my throat but I swallow it down.

The room looks the same as it had the last time I’d seen it. Her three bookshelves are still lined with countless colorful volumes and a few more stray across the floor. Her bed is eternally unmade, as though she’d just gotten up and left it a moment ago. Various Playstation and XBox games are scattered across her dresser and drawers along with the corresponding controllers. Her game consoles lie collecting dust beside her TV.

The box of antiques I’d left still sits in a corner, unopened. She’ll never open it now.

I cross the room to her desk, nearly tripping over the mess. My fingers reach under it, clumsily feeling around for the key she mentioned in her letter.

The moment my fingers touch the cool surface I pull back, hastily taking the precious object with me. The rusted metal feels heavy to my weak hands.

With shaking fingers I place the key in the hole of the top-most drawer and turn it, listening carefully for the tell-tale click. I hesitate before opening it. The dusty air feels thick in my lungs. Half of my body seems to go numb.

With a shaky, choked breath, I grip the handle, slowly pulling it towards me until I can see the drawer’s contents. It is almost completely empty except for a few papers.

I pick them up delicately, as though they may disintegrate between my fingers.

These may be the most important papers I’ve ever held in my life.

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