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And I'll Forget The Rest of Me

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They're barely eighteen, her plain dress stuck to the spokes of her bicycle by the wind, the small town she grew up in behind them - so close yet so far from the capital - as they walked the dusty path in silence.


The pin on his school uniform shows the faces of two men they knew nothing about but had grown up to fear, his smile playful and her mother's voice in her ear - He's from Pyongyang, Sun-Hwa. They're nothing but trouble from there.


Small town, big town - it seems all the same; a sense of rebellion begins to bubble up in her chest like the excitement she only felt as she ran through the muddy fields in bare feet, her heart burning and her stomach in knots as the sun sets behind her like she's the last girl on earth.


He carries her books as she pushes her bike and she lets her self think of marriage before kissing him under the eaves of the market.


The army comes for him the next day; for her, the day after that.


She forgets his face around the same time the muddy-feet excitement is replaced by honour and a fear she cannot describe.




Six months, four days, ten hours, seventeen minutes


It's biting, chewing, scratching - that whole them against the world mentality, and she doesn't feel it as he slams her against the wall.


Ten fifty-two at night


So long, pacing around and playing pretend, and he's finally kissing her with teeth and tongue and she feels like she's anyone but herself.


Five foot ten, seventy-five kilos


There's that moment of thrill when he puts his hands against her stomach and kisses her neck, that moment of exhilaration as she catches sight of their reflection in the window across from them. The snow's falling, and she's distracted by the beauty of them together, like they're at the late night screening of some classless movie she'd never have seen back home. It's dirty, and decadent, and she scratches her fingers down his back because she likes the way it looks.


Brown hair, brown eyes


Everything is humming - her skin, her fingers, her hair, her mouth - and his hands cup her breasts when he pushes in to her. The smells of home, the mud against her toes and the wind against her dress - they all seem to attack her senses as they begin to move together, and she wonders who else they could have been.


South Korean native, date of birth unknown


They could have been anyone, but instead they were left with this. Two soldiers in an unwinnable war, fighting
through the haze of yesterday's lovers and tomorrow's obligations.


Ghosts, both of them, solidifying only for this moment together.


A beautiful mistake.


The only one she's ever made.




"You were supposed to protect me," she hisses, at her teacher - the man she held responsible - who stands in front of her like she's not even talking. "You were supposed to keep me free."


There's that silence. That damn silence, the one that always hung between them like a pane of unbreakable glass, like the web of lies he'd become so deft at spinning that she can't tell the truth from the things she sees in front of her own face.


"I can't protect you from everything," and she slaps him across the face.


There's no shock. Just resignation, and she grabs him and kisses him like it was always the only consolation for them both.


It's bitter, and angry - she's punishing him because she knows he loves her and she wants to see him hurt; wants to see him bleed for the orders he gave that ruined her life despite knowing he was only acting as the puppet in a big, elaborate show.


And when she pulls away from him, his face twisted in regret and lust - she tells him she's leaving and she can't help but feel avenged, slightly, as he sinks to the floor heavy with the burden they both know he didn't deserve.


She can't look back, and she walks out before he can say anything that would appeal to her sense of honour - or to the little sense of self she has left.


Never look back, and it's Hyun-Jun's voice she hears as the plane takes off and the tears finally begin to fall.




"I pronounce you husband and wife." The priest, his New Zealand accent catching on the English she still has trouble understanding, waves his hands and smiles at them both. "You may now kiss your bride."


The small group cheers, a group of people she hardly knew, and this man she knew as well as the English language looks at her like she's the only one he sees.


It's beautiful, she assumes, when they kiss - but she feels nothing except the child growing inside her and the emptiness of being on the run nipping at her heels.


But. Slowly, and surely, things begin to change. She blames this on motherhood, on Sae-mi's impossible existence and the way she begins to believe the lie she tells her husband when she says the child looks exactly like him. The sun sets everyday, her hair grows and she buys high-heeled shoes; she takes what Yuki taught her in a snow-covered Akita and a lot of Google-ing to create a home filled with warmth, promise and safety.


Acceptance fills her from top to toe. But her heart never seems to bury its self under completely, so she keeps her knives where she can get to them quickly and the doorways free of clutter, as she hangs a picture of her manufactured family above the television and talks on the phone to her husband in a fractured mess of Korean and English.


Things are better this way, she thinks, and the clock seems to click loudly in her ears until she turns on the TV and drowns it out with brightly-coloured distractions.


Things were meant to be this way.


It's only when she sees Ki-Soo's face across a parking lot and when her husband and child are murdered in front of her in a home she wasn't ever sure was her own, that she feels the fear fill her heart again - along with the nasty taste of revenge that she welcomes like a lost friend.




He's not the boy from Pyongyang. He's not the man she'd trusted her entire life to, only to have it ripped from her like it was nothing. He's not the man she'd married to play pretend, the man who'd thought he'd known everything but in the end, knew nothing.




He's not a broken down agent from the South, a man whose eyes told her of a future they couldn't possibly have while they both lived one inch from the end of a blade. That story was made up of white lies and ripped out chapters and shared with a woman who lived worlds away but felt the same pain she did. In a different way, a purer way, and Sun-Hwa put him asleep in her heart forever, side by side with Sae-Mi and the girl in the plain dress she used to be.


Ki-Soo's eyes smile, but they're tired. Worn.


He's not that boy from Pyongyang, but the one straight after - a jovial friend who'd walked the same path as her, held her hair as she'd thrown up from training too hard and challenged her to drink rice wine at midnight at the exact time she'd begun to ignore everything but the cause, only to have him force her to find something good in the world again.


Ki-Soo and Sun-Hwa, they'd joked. Dear Leader's power team - only to be separated before they could become anything more, and she mutters against his lips the question she has to ask.


"We couldn't have been anything else," he responds, pulling away from her. It's not the answer she thought she wanted, but it's the only one she needed to hear, and all at once, she feels her past and present in front of her in this impossible man.


She thinks of the small presents that would turn up, where ever she was - stupid things, like rice cakes and, once, an iPod filled with American music - signs he'd moved out into the big, wide world but still hadn't left her behind.


And on her wedding day, in a faceless hotel in Auckland, delivered by FedEx - a hanbok made by the hands of the women she'd left behind in her small, close town. She'd cried, as she put it in a box high in her walk-in closet. She'd cried and held it to her chest, like it was the only part of herself left in an empty house filled with unnecessary pain - before packing it in her suitcase and heading back towards home under the veil of vengeance.


She never knew how he always seemed to find her, and she never asked. Because it seemed to perfect, so him - pretending to be the other version of himself because he didn't know how else to get by as a North Korean solider. Because was always there for her, even when she'd been standing on the Chinese border between their homeland and he'd just appeared, in a dusty leather jacket and scruffy hair - that wonky smile on his lips as he'd taken her hand.


It's you and me, kid, he'd muttered, before they walked together towards inevitability.


Because he was always the one. Because they were always going to end up in a fourth-floor walk-up in Brooklyn, running into each other in the middle of the most anonymous city in the world after being separated again at the end of a war neither one of them asked for.


"I was always going to find you," he whispers, stroking her face with rough hands and wearing an expression she can't read as resignation or melancholy. Both, she supposed, were the same in the end - but now, his face promises nothing but happiness and renewal, and finally, she smiles.


They lean into each other and kiss - Sun-Hwa almost laughs at the innocence of it, the sounds of city a million miles away from the world they'd come from ringing in their ears - as the sun begins to rise over the city.


It's like coming home, and she wonders what took them so long.