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In Our Next Life

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The night was calm with only the occasional breeze that cooled against Hwi-Young’s cheek. And that was a good thing, for his thoughts as of late have been far from similar to the clear starry sky or the soothing brush of the wind - it was more like a storm, with thunder booming and rain whipping across his every fears.

( The recurring fear that their next mission - their very last in Kyungsung - could be their very last.)

It was a fleeting thought, one he previously had never particular pondered on. He preferred logical reasoning and an unwavering belief in his comrades to fulfill their duties. As a principle, he didn’t dwell on his fears to avoid them crippling him in every way possible.

(But this one will be your last mission.)

Their plan was detailed to the smallest degree possible, and he had personally checked for any possible mishaps in their escape. However, as he stood against the pillar, listening to Shin-Yool make his speech atop the bright stage to the brave, hopeful faces, Hwi-Young can’t help but scan his eyes across the room from his position near the bar.

His heart pounded heavily in his chest.

It was because of their eager faces that placed a dreadful amount of trust into this great mission that they know with such uncertainty on their survival at the end of it.

His eyes reached the Sniper, who dressed in her usual slacks, button up, jacket and the horrendous thing she called a hat. “It hides her hair; it’s practical,” he told himself, but it didn’t make him any less melancholic in remembering the feel of her hair through his fingers, and how they bounced delicately on her shoulders.

(Especially how it just tickled his face as the wind blew past when he kissed her that night in the alleyway. The kiss: so unsure and initially soft that he could immediately tell it was her first. And at that point, he realised his heart had taken lead and his brain had taken the break in some land for all he cares.

For just a brief moment, he let his feelings engulf his actions. His arms reached to pull her closer. For that brief moment, he could pretend that they were each others’, and they, themselves, were the biggest thing to worry about.

Until it stopped. And his rational mind told him to pick up his glasses and discard the fleeting hope of being in love because this revolution was always bigger than the both of them.)

His hand clenched unconsciously. He wondered if her revolutionary tactic meant the same to her as it did to him - a hope that he hadn’t previously known, and not simply just a kiss. It was a desperate plea for love and life in a liberated Joseon, where their normalcy was carried out without the slightest care about upsetting a colonising nation.

Soo-Hyeon suddenly turned to him, and immediately to quell his heart, he turned back towards the stage.

She seemed just as confident as the others , he thought.

Stealing a glance once more, he could see the determination in her eyes. They were strong as they always have been since the first day she came into his life. Trust . It was the utmost trust in her comrades to liberate the country, to carry out their duties as a citizen of Joseon, ad it was the utmost trust in Hwi-Young and his strategy.

Suddenly, he found it hard to look anywhere but his shoes. They’re worn down, and had been unpolished for a long while now.

The feast afterwards was only similarly joyous as their patriotic cries, but neither the positively radiating atmosphere could calm the anxious thoughts in the back of Hwi-Young’s mind.

“What would you like to do after Joseon is liberated?”

Soo-Hyeon timidly looked at everyone with the same reserve that she had for any conversations involving her father. She was sincerely honest in her answer, “I haven’t thought much of it.”

In truth, he hadn’t either.

And it became more suffocating as the party went on, with everyone much too carefree with the alcohol for their own good. Hwi-Young decided it was a good a time as any to step outside.

His hands remained in his pocket where he could feel a cinnamon stick that surely has infested the fabric with its smell. For once he wished he hadn’t come from a family of medical professionals and knew too much about the components of a cigarette - he could use one in that moment. As he pushed the door open, he wondered if he should head back in and ask Shin-Yool for one. But his feet halted when he found the familiar petite figure on the front steps previously engrossed in her surrounding, but now turned to him.

“I just came outside to get some air,” Soo-Hyeon smiled nervously.

“You don’t have to make an excuse to avoid getting flustered in front of me,” his teased. His persona that he so often held around her remained, and he was regretting the distance it placed between them.

Perhaps it was the anxious energy building up in him since the previous mission’s near fatal mistake, but he couldn’t bring himself to distance her any further from him.

( This could be the last you’ll ever be the closest to the one you love. )

The neon lights from the signs of Carpe Diem gave her an angelic glow that he had not thought possible outside of the stage lights. His breath shallowed at such a mundane sight. Hwi-Young questioned whether it was even legal for a woman dressed this shabby to be allowed to hold so much of a man’s heart. And apparently, it was, as she was holding his heart that beated so delicately in her hands.

And it was this thought that told him to drive himself away from her this time, and not the other way around.

“Get some air and come back inside later,” he nodded curtly and spun on his heels, prepared to return to the crowded room he still wanted to avoid. He didn’t want to go back, but maybe he can ask for that cigarette now.

“Don’t worry, I won’t bother you anymore. I’ve completely given up my feelings for you,” Soo-Hyeon sighed so dejectedly that it grabbed at his heart, compelling him to turn back to her.

“But in our next life, if we’re born again… you should think of me as a woman, alright? Don’t hesitate or push me away. Don’t lie to me and suffer by yourself. Tell me everything, honestly. Promise me you’ll do everything you didn’t do for me in this lifetime.”

If his desperation was in the tight embrace he held her in, returning that was her plea here in the starlit night. He hadn’t particularly cared for religion, and living in the moment was more important for his missions than thinking of a next life. Musing on the idea now would surely break his resolve to back away from her.

“Why are we talking about the next life?” Thinking about another life implied too much of failure tomorrow, and he didn’t need more stress about living this life for his country.

(This life is for your country. The revolution is bigger than both of us. You’re not allowed to dwell on love in this life. Your country is-)

“Then you must promise me something too. Promise me you’ll come back alive, no matter what. That’s an order.” Despite his best judgement, he needed this. He needed to know she’ll be alive by the end of tomorrow, and this was the closest he’ll get to a reassurance before his facade breaks.

He needed a walk, he needed to get away from everything - from everyone, from her. He needed his calm demeanor back - that’s how he will survive tomorrow. His legs moved on their own accord to walk pass her, and his eyes averted from her face because he wasn’t sure he could bear to look at any sort of reaction. He would hesitate too much to give up his life, then, and hesitate too much to put her on the front lines where she might never return from.

(She might never return.)

The one thought stopped him where he stood next to her, face finally turned, hands shaking with a desperate need to hold Soo-Hyeon - this brave, daring woman that took his heart so long ago that day on his bicycle.

(Hold her, cherish her, maybe for just one night. Just for one night, be Hwi-Young, the man in love with a girl and not Hwi-Young, the unknown leader of a rebel group.)

I love you, I want to be with you, I… his words were heavy on his tongue, burning rancidly in his mouth. He could hear her breath hitch slightly as his fingers twitch with the intentions to lace it through hers.

(Just for one night. Just for one night. Just for tonight. Just-)

He grabbed her right hand with his left as he turned her towards him. His eyes pinned itself onto her features, too delicate to be a man, but not so much demure. She had a fire in her eyes that burned endlessly into his memory. This , he thought , was the last thing he ever wanted to see when he died .

His other hand came up to stroke the edge of her cheek with his knuckles gently - so unlike their first kiss where his hands roamed so forcefully on her back, pulling her so close she might suffocate in his embrace.

His left hand instinctively held on her pulse, feeling the frantic thrum of her heartbeat match his erratic and confusing thoughts.

(Just for tonight.)

“I… can I kiss you?” he started, despaired and forlorn. Her previous words rang in his head: I’ve given up my feelings towards you.

( She’ll say no. Love has no place in-)

“Yes,” Soo-Hyeon whispered, eyes hooded and cheeks so obviously pin despite the yellow neon and street light casting on her skin.

It was the only confirmation Hwi-Young needed.

The first touch was soft, tender - he could almost believe that it was all a dream, and he wouldn’t be surprised if it was a dream. It felt too good to be true to feel her lips against his, and smell of alcohol on both their breaths mingling.

A hand came up to cup her face to angle it whilst the other wrapped around her middle, bringing them closer to a proximity he had missed since the alleyway. He could feel her responding to his touch as she brought her own arms to grasp around his neck and face. The desire within him burned brighter with their kiss growing deep and frantic, as if all of the previous frustrations could only be released through this fateful interaction with each other. Breaths became shorter, and every touch seared itself deeply into Hwi-Young’s mind.

( Just for tonight, he’ll let her presence comfort him, wrap around him like a cloak, just to dampen their anxiety. Just for tonight, he’ll let her in, and feed the love that he deprived himself of.)

It seemed too quickly that they broke apart to catch their breaths with their foreheads against each others’. The dreadful hat had been knocked off Soo-Hyeon’s head some time ago. He hadn’t even realised he had been crying until she swept her thumbs across his cheek to wipe it away.

Her hair flew freely in the night’s breeze, sweeping over his hands as he cradled her body against his. It felt like the fate of world was merely a thought farthest from them, and they’re not heading into what might be their deaths. In that moment, they were there alone with each other.

Hwi-Young breathed hoarsely, trying to calm himself - it was shaming to let her see him in such a state. Taking a sharp breath, he leaned back, away from her warm touch that had brought him relief from their reality, if only in those scarce minutes.

He took a step back, and he almost regretted it as her hands fell from his shoulders, reminding him of their place at the front steps of Carpe Diem: they’re not supposed to be lovers making out in front of a bar, but resistance fighters in front of their hideout. And the kiss was another one of their hopeless attempts to be normal and love. And in the end, they must part, and come tomorrow, their last vision of each other might be this very moment. But it was what they signed up for when they picked their weapons.

He took off his glasses and wiped his face on his sleeves. He was a mess, and he was the one teasing her for not being marriage-worthy. His left arm that previously held them so close now held Soo-Hyeon by just her hand, callused from the years practicing with guns.

She retracted her hand, then. And he was walking away once more, shoes tapping heavily - echoing and echoing on the concrete. Come tomorrow, and this final love confession would be all that remained of their grovel to be with one another.

As Hwi-Young walked away, he could still feel the warmth on his arms from the heat of her back seeping through her coat. His lips still tingled, and he still tasted the bitter wine that she had nursed a while ago.

(This is bigger than us. This will always be bigger than us.)

On that same pavement the next day, people passed, unaware and blind to the short lived happiness that trickled through the permeable concrete. Hwi-Young, dressed ever so immaculately, had dashed not an eye to the same spot he stood last night when he stepped onto a carriage headed for the fundraising party.

( “In our next life,” he breathed to her. “In our next life, I’ll be your lover for as long as you’ll have me.”

Soo-Hyeon closed her eyes, face downcasted. She echoed, “In our next life.”)

 


 

“I’m sorry I’ve been mean to you. And I’m sorry for ignoring your feelings towards me. I won’t do that in my next life, I promise. In my next life, I’ll be the first to recognise you. I will come back. No matter what, I will come back for you.”