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Conservation

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“Joohyun. Sorry, Irene?” Seulgi asks, seated at the kitchen table. Her eyes skimming the comics section of the newspaper.

Irene turns around to face her wife. It’s weird. Her wife has been back after five years of war, but the time is long enough to make them shy around each other once again. It’s nauseatingly sweet to see the couple act as if they had just begun dating. As if they haven’t known each other for almost fourteen years. Irene smiles at Seulgi, pressing her to go on.

Seulgi pauses before blinking. Her wife is always a sight for sore eyes and it boggles her mind that she is safe at home with her family. Not in the prisoner camp she’s spent the last few years in, before being surrendered over to her home country. She’s not there. Being screamed at to work harder. Watching her brothers in arms, shot point-blank in front of her. Their malnourished bodies not being able to handle the harsh work the enemy put them to. Their pleading looks at her, their leader who failed them. How they screamed for help while being lash-.

“Seulgi,” Irene whispers, her soft hands cradling her wife’s face, wiping tears away from her bear’s face. “you’re safe now, you’re here at home. What did you want to tell me?”

Seulgi laughs before sniffling and placing her hand over Irene’s.

“It’s nothing. Well, not nothing. I just wanted to say I love you.” she says, leaning her cheek into their joined hands. “Actually, there is something. Can I talk to you about it?”, Seulgi asks, her voice dropping to just above a whisper. Irene nods, taking a seat next to Seulgi. Their hands still joined.

“Rene, I’ve seen some pretty awful things. The absolute worst of humanity. There are things I saw over there that have been etched into my brain and seeing these things have changed me. I just ask that you be patient with me. It’s a harsh transition to be starved and beaten to safe and sound.” she finishes with a gentle squeeze of Irene’s hand.

Irene flinches at the mention of her wife’s treatment. Seulgi was fighting to survive hell and come back home. Meanwhile, Irene thought she was dead the entire time. She feels awful and guilty about it, that she didn’t feel her wife’s presence somehow. Irene accidentally voiced her thought be heard. They were her first words to Seulgi when she came back. I thought you were dead.

It’s now Seulgi’s turn to wipe a tear away from Irene’s face.

“I’ll always be by your side and you’ll always be by mine.” Irene says with a sad smile.

Seulgi notices and shifts their conversation towards their daughter. Yerim is still quiet but talks to both of them quite comfortably. She talks to Seulgi a bit more than Irene, yet still speaks to Irene often about most things. Irene tells her wife that their daughter is sweet on a girl one year ahead and who is quite the troublemaker. The bear sighs at this and says of course she is.

-

Kang Seulgi is at her first day of work. It’s a well-paying gig at the art museum downtown, where she works as a conservator. Restoring and bringing life back to old artwork. She got the job through an old friend, Kim Kibum, who also served in the war. The work is calming and solitary, which is good for Seulgi and her nerves. Finishing a piece, she is quick to grab the next one. It depicts a winged woman surrounded by two angels. Her curiosity piqued, she checks the tag attached to it. “Eirene, goddess of peace.” The name brings a smile to her face and she begins her work.

-

Irene is preparing dinner with her wife, Yerim twiddling her thumbs at the kitchen table. The family is startled by the doorbell. Something Irene had installed after Seulgi returned. Neither Irene nor Yeri are too keen to the sound of a door knocking. The oldest Kang wipes her hands before going to answer the door. On her doorstep is a tall girl, holding a bouquet of gardenias. She narrows her eyes before they widen in recognition.

“Sooyoung?” Irene questions, taking in the girl’s appearance. Clean-cut and quite cute, she doesn’t look like a troublemaker. But, Irene knows that looks can be deceiving. She steps aside to let the girl inside.

Dinner goes smoothly with gentle prodding about Sooyoung and her background. She makes the older Kangs laugh, and they approve of their daughter’s choice. The intimidation and parent talk are mild and the night is ended with smiles all around.

-

A few months go by but nightmares still plague the former soldier. Flashes of her family at the camp in place of her fellow troops. Yeri not speaking to her. Her wife not acknowledging her presence no matter how loud Seulgi screams. Screams that transfer into the real world, as her wife has woken her up on many occasions with a pained expression.

Therapy is suggested and the bear goes without hesitation. The therapist is a woman named Seungwan (“Seungwan or Wendy is fine! Whichever you prefer!”) and she listens well to Seulgi’s horrific stories and thoughts. Seungwan seems unfazed by Seulgi’s words which makes the bear curious about if she’s the only combat veteran the therapist sees.

Seulgi slowly, but surely starts to get better. She has the love of both her wife and her daughter. That’s all she needs.

-

Irene visits Seulgi at work every so often, surprising Seulgi and Kibum with homemade lunch. She watches her wife bring old paintings to life. Kibum appreciates these visits the most as Seulgi seems happiest while working in the presence of her wife. Also, Irene’s cooking is a great perk as well.

-

Yerim sits her mother down one day for an overdue apology about her mute behavior as a child. Rambling that her mother didn’t deserve that and how alone she must’ve felt. Irene hushes and accepts her daughter’s apology, clarifying that they all deal with stress in different ways. She’s happy that Yerim at least vented through her poetry. Yerim blushes at the mention of her amateur poetry, whispering to her mom to not tell Sooyoung about her emo phase. Irene says she won’t but Yerim does in face owe her a few ‘Happy Birthday’ songs. Yerim’s eyes glisten and she hugs her mother before laughing and beginning to sings. Irene pulls back and starts clapping to her daughter’s singing.

Seulgi comes home to find Sooyoung parking her bike outside. They greet each other and open the house, only to witness the odd scene between mother and daughter. They sigh in unison and join their significant others sing and out of place ‘Happy Birthday’.

-

The nightmares become more sparse, before ceasing almost entirely.

The poems are never brought up to Sooyoung but are used as a threat every so often.

The visits to the museum end up as an opportunity to work there alongside Kibum and Seulgi as an assistant.

Moments together are never taken for granted amongst the Kangs.

There is always a calm aura in the house. Seulgi thanks her lucky stars every day that she is home with her family. She is thankful to hear her daughter’s voice and wife’s patience. She thinks about Irene’s name change before coming to the conclusion that it’s extremely fitting.

Irene is the goddess of peace after all.