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 The noise unsettles her more than anything else.

Mina wishes that the wall just swallows her whole, mapping out how exactly she’s going to make her exit out of the overly-crowded room, full of dancing men and women, a lot of tossing and twirling and it’s tiring just watching.

The happiness, too, unsettles her, though Mina doesn’t want to be a buzzkill. 

It’s a war, after all.

People take the chances of happiness that come their way and this gathering in a bar at Brétigny-sur-Orge in the middle of the night, was one of those chances.

The instruments drill into her eardrums unpleasantly and so easily. Mina blames it on the time she spends in the quiet, sterile wards save for the occasional groans from wounded soldiers, rustling sheets and the clanking of metal against metal. Her nose misses the sterile scent of ethyl alcohol, wishing it surrounded her in the stead of the stuffy air from cigarettes and the summer rain.

She’s agitated and bored though it’s not as if the girls she came in with had abandoned her to dance when she didn’t feel like it. They’d cajoled her into a night out and while Mina had said yes, she’d told them she wasn’t much for big crowds and dancing with soldiers, but they strung her along nevertheless.

Mina sips from her nearly empty champagne flute and watches the girls laugh loudly while dancing.

Nayeon, Jihyo, Sana and Dahyun needed this and Mina enjoyed every single bit of seeing their smiling faces, dancing the foxtrot with the other women in the bar while men watched on, clapping to the beat of the drum, the bass of the cello and the melody of the trumpet.

Soldiers came to entertain her, when they notice she’s alone with her back to the wall. French, English, American. They didn’t even bat an eye about her questionable nationality, only looking at her like she’s a meal about to be devoured which only goes to show that they think she’s one of those girls who’d say yes to soldiers faster than a blink of the eye.

(“They think we’re all toys,” her mother had said, combing her hair with a gentleness that Mina hoped and prayed she’d possess. “Just because we’re women.”)

Mina watches the men walk away from her, bored with her company and her only polite responses.

By the time the fifth French man asked her about what she thinks of men in their khaki uniforms, Mina decides that she’s had enough. She politely excuses herself, pushes herself off the poster-covered wooden wall and hopes to tell one of the girls she’s returning to the wards.

She cranes her neck with difficulty, trying to look over the shoulders of towering men a head or two taller than her and she sees—

He was small, compared to the other towering men considering he isn’t even caucasian.

A Korean? In the French forces uniform? That’s peculiar.

(Though Mina decides she isn’t one to judge peculiarity. She is a Japanese woman on Allied soil.)

He’s very handsome, a fresh breath of air among white men that look so much like each other, with a chiseled jaw, narrow shoulders amongst hulking ones and hair that is styled under his uniform hat, brown hair that’s only a tad bit longer than the standard soldier slick-back.

If Mina can see properly, his collar holds two silver bars.

Ah. A Korean Allied lieutenant.

The young lieutenant laughs at something one of the soldiers of lower ranks is saying, his hat wobbling a tad bit because it seems like it’s too big for his head.

Mina doesn’t realize she’s staring—damn it, it’s rude to stare, Mina—until the lieutenant turns his head to look at her and, well, damn. He is just as handsome as his side profile.

She feels captured at once though this time she feels no fear, unlike that air strike a few weeks ago, rubble falling on top of her head.

She feels no fear, no fear at all when the handsome young lieutenant smiles at her and it feels an awful lot like that Ingrid Bergman film that they screened as a unit, as ordered by Doctor Yongsun, recommending the soldiers to de-stress, for better performances in the battlefield.

She feels no fear at all, only lets herself watch him as he walks in her direction, taking another flute of champagne in his free hand.

His scent is stronger than the common soldier, Mina catches a whiff though it doesn’t make her nose twitch and her mouth frown with reflexive displeasure.

The lieutenant is even more handsome up close, with Mina stealing side glances. If her peripheral vision makes him look like a greek sculpture, how much more so if she looks at him dead in the face?

No one speaks for a moment, though Mina feels extremely distracted by the presence of the lieutenant, the once loud music now muted, and she feels like drowning. She only hears the young lieutenant rapping his knuckles gently on the mahogany wood that their backs rest against.

“So I assume it’s either you’re not much of a dancer or your back is permanently glued to this wall.” The lieutenant says in fluent French with a small smile. He reaches out to hand her the flute of champagne and Mina accepts it, trails her eyes from his hand with the glass, up his arm, to his face and, well, he’s more handsome than what her peripheral made him out to be.

Mina laughs, shaking her head. She already likes the company he’s offering far more than the other soldiers. “I dance. This just isn’t my style.”

The lieutenant nods, taking a sip from his glass. “So what’s your style then?”

“I’m more of the ballet type of gal.”

He chuckles, a small sound; he looks down at his feet when he does and it is far from the way the soldiers laugh. “Ah. It’s very difficult to dance ballet here,” the lieutenant tells her with shining eyes. “You can still do it, though. It’ll be a majestic performance, far more entrancing unlike the kind of dancing that’s happening now.”

“You’re patronizing me,” Mina shakes her head. “You haven’t seen me dance.”

“I’d ask you to dance just to see but I feel like you’ll decline.”

Mina pretends to think, though she nods. “You’re right. I’d decline.”

The lieutenant scratches the back of his head, brown hair ruffled through long, slender fingers. “I see it’s not easy to persuade you.”

“You can try, though,” she informs him with a small smile. “Put your persuasion skills to the test, Lieutenant.”

“No, it’s alright,” shaking his head, he takes a sip of the champagne and smiles at her bashfully. “It’s beyond me to make a lady do what she doesn’t want.”

He’s saying all the right things, and Mina is too wary to fall into his charms easily though she feels very comfortable in this young man’s presence, her gut feel telling she’s safe and there’s no need to be alarmed.

“Your Français, it’s very good,” says the lieutenant. “Like you’ve been here for a long time.”

“Only two years.” Mina replies, closing the distance between them because it’s really loud and she doesn’t feel like raising her voice, though the lieutenant doesn’t seem to have a struggle speaking. “It isn’t very difficult for me to catch on languages. It took me six months to get a hang of Korean, then another six for English.”

He tilts his head in confusion. “Korean is not your native language?”

Mina shakes her head. “No. I’m from Japan.”

The lieutenant’s eyebrows raise to his hairline almost comically. “A Japanese woman? On Allied soil? How unlikely.” There was naught a touch of hostility and distrust, only light teasing and Mina finds it, like many things about the young man, refreshing.

“You’re in no better shape when it comes to the alliance of your native country,” Mina laughs, bumps her shoulder with the lieutenant. “A Korean man, serving the Allied forces. How unlikely.”

“It’s a long story.” He shakes his head.

“Mine, too.”

“The night’s still young, though. Let’s tell each other how we ended up here.” He looks up at the ceiling, with a nice view of the stars. “We have time.”

Mina can’t say she agrees with him. Time had always been a ticking clock that waited for no one but the war is making it tick faster, as if it’s a bomb about to detonate in any given moment.

She gives him a sad smile, watching the bubbles of her champagne race to the surface. “Not in the war we do.”

A moment passes and Lieutenant Yoo watches her, with a furrowed brow. He looks passive, as if Mina’s words had held time for a short while. He beams, though, after some time and Mina feels her knees go weak at his dashing smile. “You’re right.”

Mina likes him. Mina likes that he is dashing and holds himself well, likes that he is gentle in all the right ways, likes that he speaks to her as if she is an equal, so she turns to him, drains the last of her champagne and says: “Which is why we have the entire night to talk. Walk with me?”

 

They check out their coats from the counter, the lieutenant walking at Mina’s side with his hands behind his back, maintaining a respectable amount of space between them.

The air that greets them the moment they exit is cool, with a peculiar scent of the sea mixed with gunpowder.

The lieutenant makes good conversation. He asks about Mina’s dancing politely, asks about her work at the station and Mina’s struck with the realization that the lieutenant knows the surface of her person but they don’t know each other’s names, so Mina jumps into the next opportunity that presents itself, a quiet lull with their shoes creaking on the wooden bridge. “I never caught your name, sir.”

He laughs, a hearty one, with his head tilted slightly. Halting in his steps, he falls into a soldier stance and salutes at Mina. “Lieutenant Yoo Jeongyeon of the 1re compagnie de chasseurs parachutistes at your disposal. Please, don’t call me sir. I’ve had enough goons calling me that on a daily basis,” he says, pulling away his hand from the salute.

Lieutenant Yoo Jeongyeon. A pretty name that makes Mina’s cheeks warm.

“At ease, soldier,” Mina plays along and returns the salute. “I am sous-commandant Myoui Mina of the armée infirmière corps.

“You are doing honorable work for this country, Miss Myoui,” Lieutenant Yoo says, resumes walking. He offers his hand to help Mina down the bridge stairs though Mina politely waves it off, holds on to the wooden hand rails instead.

“I’d say the same to you, Lieutenant.”

The lieutenant suggests a game, when, with an unspoken and unanimous decision, they decide they want to get to know each other better.

She lightly bats his medal-decorated shoulder. “How do you suggest we go about this? Talk like normal people or did you have something in mind?”

“That’s boring.” Lieutenant Yoo taps his chin thoughtfully. “Twenty questions? I ask you one thing and you respond as honestly as you can.”

Mina laughs. “Like an interrogation?”

“Miss Myoui, please,” the lieutenant holds up his hands. “I hope that’s not what you feel right now because that is far from what I intend this walk to be.”

“I’m kidding,” Mina laughs, reaching out to touch his arm lightly. “Shall I start?”

“Please.” The ground crunches under their shoes when she leaps over a puddle.

“How long have you been serving in the war?”

“As soon as it broke out in 1939,” says Lieutenant Yoo, his eyes never breaking from Mina’s intent stare. “I enlisted a few years before it started, too, as a soldier in America after my sisters and I moved.”

She raises her eyebrows. “You have sisters? How many?”

It’s a take-turns kind of game, she remembers and he tuts with a tiny smile. “It’s my turn. Because of that I get two extra questions.”

Her eyes roll on nearly on their own accord, though she should probably show more respect because Lieutenant Yoo is a lieutenant after all. “Alright.”

“Where have you been? Where were you before France?”

“Two questions in one.” Mina recalls the years and the places. “Korea, Japan, Philippines, America then I find myself here, in France.”

He whistles lowly, though Mina knows he’s impressed. “How’d you end up in Allied territory?”

Lieutenant Yoo must have seen the distress the memory causes her, punctuated by her brief silence, because he bows immediately when he notices the look on Mina’s face. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked. Please forgive me.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry about,” Mina waves it off because well, it’s true. It’s not his fault that sometimes the fate of a woman is set in such a linear direction that sometimes one cannot escape it. “My turn, yes? How many sisters do you have?”

“Three. Seungyeon is the eldest, Sunmi is second, I’m the third and the youngest is Chaeyoung.”

“The only boy in the family,” Mina nods. “Must be fun.”

“Sometimes,” Lieutenant Yoo looks away, though he’s smiling, somewhat with a tinge of nostalgia. “Not when your sisters dress you up, though I miss it when they do. My turn? Why didn’t you serve in the war?”

Mina laughs. What an idea. Her? Serving in the war? Ludicrous. “I’m a woman, Lieutenant,” she lets out between amused giggles, “I’m not made for war.”

There is a pregnant pause that borders on awkward and the lieutenant watches his boots creating tiny clouds of dust. He appears to be deep in thought, that Mina doesn’t interrupt, only clutches the lieutenant’s coat around herself.

“If I may disclose information with you, Miss Myoui,” he says to his shoes then to the night sky, looking everywhere but her. “I’m afraid I haven’t...I haven’t been completely honest with you.”

Honest? A small fit of anger rises in Mina’s chest because she had though this man to be honest that’s why she allowed herself his company. She keeps it in, though, and braces herself for the worst. The lieutenant may be a Nazi that breached Allied soil, and that he’s going to stab her and—

“My name is Lieutenant Yoo Jeongyeon and I am a woman.”

Mina halts in her steps.

“I pretended to be an adolescent boy when I enlisted for the war, had some strings pulled with fake documents but I made it; now I’m a lieutenant.”

She can’t say anything, can’t do anything but piece together the information about Lieutenant Yoo Jeongyeon that she’s managed to absorb in the past few hours. Please, don’t call me sir and Jeongyeon, what a pretty name and the utter respect she has for Mina’s private space—

“Make do with that as you will; it’s your choice to believe it or otherwise.” The lieutenant says, holding his—her?—hands behind her back. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. I had no idea this conversation would steer this way.”

It’s not that Mina doesn’t believe the lieutenant. She has feminine features that make more sense now after what the lieutenant had told her had sunk in.

She’s absorbing the information, thinks of all what Lieutenant Yoo had to go through, thinks of another question, thinks of a possible answer though what Mina says is:

“I left home.”

The lieutenant turns to her, attentive, though Mina’s voice must have been quieter than usual, because she asks: “Come again?”

“I left home. Japan. Korea clearly wasn’t an option,” the laugh that escapes her throat sounds bitter. “I heard about America taking the Philippines so my family bought me tickets to Manila, then I met my friends at the ward there. We were together when we were transferred to America, and after America, here, in France.”

She doesn’t know Lieutenant Yoo Jeongyeon, but Mina trusts her. Mina doesn’t know why she’s telling Lieutenant Yoo Jeongyeon this, but she reckons it’s only right after what the lieutenant had let out in the open.

“My family was scared of me being taken away,” Mina mutters, her hands wringing inside the pockets of her cream-colored coat. “Even if our family was well-off, it still didn’t stop soldiers from barging into households, taking away the daughters and the wives.”

Lieutenant Yoo’s brows furrow with concern. “Your mother didn’t come with you?”

She shakes her head, feels tears prick at the thought of her mother. “No. No, she couldn’t. My father, he was very sick.”

He—she, damn it, Mina—looks down at her leather shoes. “I’m sorry, Miss Myoui.”

“You’ve managed to apologize thrice in a span of one conversation,” laughs Mina, though it feels wrong. “You don’t need to say sorry for all the unfortunate things that happen in my life, Lieutenant.”

“It doesn’t mean that it will stop me from apologizing." He—she— notices they're at the door step, and the Lieutenant gives her a low bow. “You’re very pleasant company, Miss Myoui. I’d enjoyed tonight. Please take care.”

 

That night, Mina curls around her stiff pillow and thinks of a woman brave enough to infiltrate a man’s world until the sun rises.

 

-

 

“Come on, pretty lady, just one kiss!” The American insists. His arms try to take her in his grasp every time she comes near and it’s taking every ounce of Mina’s self control not to whack this man with the metal bowl of bandages she’s holding to treat the man’s leg.

It’s a regular occurrence in the ward. Some soldiers get handsy amidst the haze of morphine but most are sober than God himself, which is worse if you asked Mina. Groping, touching, sweet talk. It nauseates Mina that men are like this though she tolerates it, only reports it to the head nurse to forward it to the leader of their squadron.

“I said no, soldier,” Mina firmly in English. She moves away from his grasp, with his disgusting hands moving around her back and Mina feels bile rise up her throat. “I thought ‘no’ meant only one thing in your language.”

She ignores him throughout his persistence, only struggles to move away and it’s getting even more difficult, and Jesus, she’s probably the only one in the ward because three of the armies were deployed earlier along with Nayeon and Jihyo, Sana and Dahyun were assigned to another. “Just one,” the soldier says with more force, tightening her grip on her wrist and Mina holds in her scream when he hauls her closer to the hospital bed.

Her wrist feels like it’s on fire but it’s forgotten when panic stabs her chest when the soldier reaches out around her neck, and Christ, her mother was right, and—

“What are you doing, soldier?!” A voice comes booming inside the quiet ward. Quick, heavy footsteps make their way to them and grip around her neck loosens immediately that it sends her backpedaling to the rolling tray of medical supplies. Mina’s still gripped by sheer panic and fear, her breathing ragged, eyes flicking to every corner of the room that she doesn’t immediately recognize the voice of her savior.

She takes a deep breaths to sooth her thundering heart, with a hand to her chest, when she looks up Mina sees Lieutenant Yoo twisting the arm of the American soldier. “Let me ask you again,”  and it almost terrifies Mina how he—she—sounded so angry. “What were you doing to Miss Myoui over there?”

The soldier’s groans increase in volume when lieutenant twists it even further. “If I ask for the third time, the bones of your arm are going to break.” Lieutenant Yoo threatens with a clenched jaw.

“S-she was attacking me, sir!” The soldier yells, his voice muffled by the pillow. “S-she wanted to kiss me and—ah!”

“Really?” Lieutenant Yoo grits her teeth. “It seems the opposite to me.”

“No, sir, it wasn’t what it looked like—” the soldier pleads.

“I know Miss Myoui here, she isn’t the type to forcefully do whatever it is you claim her to have done,” Lieutenant Yoo says. “I will ask you again,” she tightens her grip on the soldier. “What happened here?”

The soldier refuses to speak, and this angers the lieutenant, Mina can see it in the way she pushes the arm of the soldier away in disgust.

“Get up.” The lieutenant orders, back ramrod straight with arms behind it.

“Sir, I have a sprained ankle.”

“And so?”

“Sir—”

“Do you want your squadron leader to know that you are being insubordinate?”

“Sir—"

“I said get up.”

The soldier stands, miserably so, with a sprained ankle and what Mina predicts is a pulled tricep. “Sir, yes, sir!” His stance looks pathetic, soggy and Mina can only watch the exchange.

“You better not injure yourself in the field, soldier, because if ever I see you again near this ward or any of the medical staff most especially Miss Myoui, I will personally make your life difficult, understood?” Jeongyeon tells the soldier.

“U-understood.” 

“Who is your squadron leader?”

“Captain Wang Jackson, sir.”

Jeongyeon laughs. “Ah, he will not take this well. Report yourself for harassment of staff members. By the end of the day, when I check your file, the report must be signed by Captain Wang and the Colonel.”

“But, sir—”

“You are dismissed.”

The American soldier appears to be distressed, like he is on the verge of crying, though he salutes (one of which the Lieutenant does not return) turns on his heel and pathetically waddles out of the ward.

The lieutenant turns to her, the facade of an angry military leader crumbles and she looks so worried about Mina that she rushes to her side and helps her up. Mina is still pretty shaken from the events, her legs forgetting how to function, that Lieutenant Yoo lifts her bridal style onto the bed where the soldier previously lay. “I’m so sorry, Miss Myoui. Are you alright? Did he do something to you?”

Mina shakes her head because she can’t speak and she had thought the fear had subsided but—

The tears fall before she knows it, and the lieutenant’s brows furrow in worry when Mina cries, taking her into a hug even before moving away. “I’m here, please don’t cry,” she coos, her hands smoothing down Mina’s hair. “You’re safe, you’re alright. I’m here.”

It takes a few minutes for Mina to calm down again, the shaking had stopped and not once did Lieutenant Jeongyeon loosen her hold on Mina and, well, this is the second time she’s been in the young lieutenant’s presence but, very much like the first time, she feels this kind of safety that she never feels when she’s alone.

“I’m so sorry,” Lieutenant Yoo says softly, like the silence between them were glass. “I should have given him more punishment for that.”

Mina laughs. “I think making him walk before I could finish treating his sprained ankle was good enough punishment. Thank you so much. I don’t know what would have happened if you weren’t there.”

The funny thing was that Mina knows exactly what would have happened if the lieutenant hadn’t arrived. It seems as if the other woman knows, too, from the way she had burst out angrily at the American soldier.

“I’m just doing my job. But you’re welcome, nonetheless.” The lieutenant grins. “Maybe a swollen ankle will teach him to not touch women inappropriately.”A lull passes them, Lieutenant Yoo moving away. The bed creaks when she stands, dusting off her uniform. “I best be going.”

It doesn’t take much to convince Lieutenant Yoo to stay when Mina says that she was there for a reason, and it must have been important. “I wanted to change my bandages but it’s...a challenge.”

“A gunshot wound, Lieutenant?”

“Please don’t call me Lieutenant when I’m off duty. Just Jeongyeon.” She laughs and nods, taking a seat while Mina prepares the medical supplies necessary. “It’s not that new but Doctor Yongsun said I should keep it wrapped up to fight infection when I’m back on the field.”

 “Jeongyeon,” Mina tests her name on her tongue and she likes it immediately, like the way it rolls around her tongue and the way Jeongyeon smiles when she says it. “Alright, where is it?”

Jeongyeon strips off her coat, then takes off her shirt without a pause to let Mina turn around and Mina prays, prays that her face isn’t as red as she feels like it is right now. She can always blame it on the broken fans above them. Yes. The broken fans.

She sees Jeongyeon without her shirt and the first thing that catches Mina’s eyes is the bandage wrapped around her chest, compressing her breasts and making it flattern than what humans perceived earth to be before the age of exploration. There’s a square patch of gauze on her side, brown with iodine, and Mina tilts her head in curiousity.

“Oh.”

 Jeongyeon looks up from inspecting the gauze. She laughs when she sees Mina eyeing her bandaged chest. “I was telling the truth, you know.”

Mina looks away. It hadn’t been her intent to appear distrusting. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Jeongyeon waves it off. “It’s not as if you meet a woman pretending to be a man to serve in the army everyday. I’d probably have the same reaction.”

Mina tears the packet of gauze, cutting it, before bringing the cotton nearer with the iodine. Jeongyeon pulls off the edges of the gauze that’s taped to her skin, revealing nearly puckered skin from a .45 caliber gun, Mina recognizes. She whistles lowly, setting down the items on the small desk by the bed. “Where is this from?”

“A close call with the Germans in Normandy,” Jeongyeon explains, touching around the damaged skin, laughing when Mina swats it away gently. “There was an ambush—I’m glad it’s just me and a few of my troop members.”

Mina recalls the night troop members from Normandy had arrived, bloodied and battered, some had died in a shop explosion and some had made it alive but not with a complete set of body parts.

“Did you see the shop explosion?” Mina asks, tipping the bottle of iodine into the gauze.

The lieutenant nods. “It was a different troop but we were close. My troop was within a fifty metre radius when it had happened.”

Mina smiles, albeit she cannot make it a full one—it’s sad, those soldiers have families, those soldiers have beaus to go home to and then they’re gone, just like that. However: “I’m glad you’re okay,” she says genuinely, because if it had been Jeongyeon in that explosion, she wouldn’t be here, sitting in front of her. “Your wound is still a little fresh, this is gonna sting a little bit.”

“I kno—damn it!

 

It takes every fibre of her self control not to laugh when Lieutenant Jeongyeon, all brave and brash, crying long before the sting the medicine subside and what makes it slightly funnier is that Jeongyeon doesn’t even know tears are rolling down her cheeks, not until Mina points it out.

Jeongyeon happens to be very adorable when she’s flustered, wiping away her tears with the back of her hand and mumbling apologies to Mina and offering to walk her to her wards.

It’s nighttime, Jeongyeon reasons and Mina only smiles, nods, packs her things and leaves with Jeongyeon.

The conversation is always pleasant, as if Jeongyeon doesn’t expect anything from Mina and it feels an awful lot like when Jeongyeon had first walked her, when she had been Lieutenant Yoo Jeongyeon—a man she would have given a chance to be her suitor.

She likes this, though. Their knuckles brush over each other, the warmth spreading through her skin; a tiny warmth that Mina is damn sure it will grow into a fire that consumes her completely.

 

-

 

Jeongyeon visits, Jeongyeon feigns pain (Mina can see right through her), Jeongyeon walks her to her ward, every night.

Mina has always been a person that enjoys falling into pattern—some call it boring but she calls it safe. Patterns are safe.

Though the woman lieutenant walks her home every night, they never run out of things to speak about. Threads upon threads of conversation just come out and Mina has never felt this comfortable with anyone, ever.

Jeongyeon isn’t afraid to joke around with her, too. They’re women, after all, even if Jeongyeon isn’t supposed to be one right now. She knows that being around men must require lots of endurance to withstand relentless teasing and insults thrown her way; Mina supposes it rubs off on Jeongyeon, too—so Mina only laughs at Jeongyeon’s subtle teases thrown her way. Lighthearted, as Jeongyeon can never be anything but not gentle with Mina, she’s sure.

She had opted out of romance when the war started but here she stands, playing subtle push and pull with the dashing Yoo Jeongyeon, tall and brave and Mina likes these nightly walks. Mina likes Lieutenant Yoo Jeongyeon very much.

There are signs that this was pointing in the direction Mina wants it to go; she sees it in the way the lieutenant’s eyes fall to her lips when she speaks of everything under the night sky, from her earliest conscious memory to the way that she thinks that maybe time doesn’t exist at all.

Contrary to popular culture and how her subordinates fear the lieutenant in her, Jeongyeon is shy. Mina thinks—no, Mina knows—that Jeongyeon has wanted to kiss her for some time despite her obvious hesitance to make the first move.

Talks about regret is a norm in the times of war, Mina had noticed in the past. Talks about regrets when death looms above everyone’s heads is natural, as if it is right as rain when in truth, it is not. It should not. Though they speak about what they don’t ever want to regret, on the porch of the nurses’ wards.

“I want to fix things with my mom,” Jeongyeon tells her quietly, somberly, solemnly. “I want to make sure that I don’t die without me apologizing for the bad things I’ve said before my sisters and I left.”

She holds Jeongyeon’s hand for the sole reason that it feels right in this moment; the backs of Jeongyeon’s hands are soft, unmarred; though when Mina touches her palms, it’s rough, used and Mina knows that she’s fought long and hard that can only result to hands like these.

Jeongyeon says it’s her turn, asks about what Mina doesn’t ever want to regret.

She turns, only watching Jeongyeon’s face, with her chiseled jaw and otherwise androgynous facial features save for her soft-looking lips that Mina can kiss for days. “What?” Jeongyeon tilts her head (a very, very endearing gesture), though her eyes are trained on Mina’s lips and, well, Mina is far from lying when she mutters, “this,” before leaning in.

It’s chaste but Mina feels warm all over, feels herself wanting to collapse into Jeongyeon’s arms and never leave. She feels the kind of peacefulness tyrants don’t feel. She feels the kind of goodness that she had though humanity has forgone completely.

Mina is swooning so very hard, especially when Jeongyeon brushes a thumb over her lower lip when they pull away, so tenderly and so softly that it feels like maybe she’s loved Jeongyeon all her life and slim chances of fate that Mina is skeptical about had brought them together.

“You know what else I’d regret?”

Speaking is difficult, Mina reckons, so she hums in question.

She’s swooning, swoons even more when Jeongyeon giggles, so uncharacteristically so, especially with her coat and tie and shoulder plates with her insignia and the seal of the French army. “I’d also regret it if I don’t pick you up at ten thirty, next week, on the first day of my month leave.”

Mina would be an idiot to say no. She nods, kisses Jeongyeon good night, and sleeps with a large grin on her face.

 

-

 

“You’re late.” Mina says, tapping her foot. “It’s our first date. It doesn’t really make a good impression, Lieutenant.” 

Jeongyeon twists the key to turn off the engine of her motorcycle—a 1936 EL, Mina recognizes—and mounts off her bike, making her way to where Mina stands, underneath the canopy of the nurses’ ward. She scratches her head as she walks up the short flight of stairs, having the audacity to make Mina wait ten minutes on their first date.

She looks good in her loose white tee, folded at the sleeves, held down by suspenders attached to her pants. It’s the first time she’s seen Jeongyeon without wearing anything from the army and Mina’s dressed in her best clothes, a white skirt with a pink blouse and a silk scarf ribboned around her neck and Mina likes this; it almost feels normal, just two people on a date on a regular day and no one would bat an eye.

“The Colonel wanted to speak with me before I left. I’m sorry.”

Mina tilts her head, uncrosses her arms. “The Colonel?”

She looks away. “Yeah,” Jeongyeon opens her mouth to speak, though voices from the window interject into their conversation and Mina knows those voices too well.

“Hi, Mina and Lieutenant Jeongyeon!” Nayeon says through the screen. It’s followed by giggles that Mina recognizes as Sana’s. “Enjoy your date. Don’t do anything we wouldn’t do!” Quick footsteps on the wooden floor of the ward tells her they’ve run away before she can give them a piece of her mind, and well, if her face is extremely red now she can just say it’s from the heat.

Jeongyeon only shakes her head and laughs though her cheeks are pink too. She holds out a hand for Mina to take. “I take that’s our cue to leave. Shall we?”

She takes Jeongyeon’s hand; rough, slightly damp, Mina likes it. She doesn’t let go until they near Jeongyeon’s bike, her fingers caressing the leather seat.

Jeongyeon laughs. “Like my ride? It’s a—”

“Harley Davidson Knucklehead. Two cylinder, pushrod, OHV at forty-five degrees. Flathead. Very impressive.” Mina says in one breath. She touches the gas tank, still jet-black and shiny, probably a new paint job. “A nice finish too. I didn’t know you had taste, Lieutenant.”

Jeongyeon’s jaw is hanging mid-air when Mina turns to her, staring at her with wonder and Mina feels heat crawl up her cheeks once more. “Wow,” Jeongyeon breathes, never taking her eyes off Mina. “I didn’t peg you as a motorcycle enthusiast. I just. Wow.”

“My father’s a mechanic,” Mina smiles at Jeongyeon, who’s still reeling from Mina spewing out engine specs. “He taught my brother and I everything we know about engines.” She takes the helmet hanging from either side of the hand clutches, placing it over Jeongyeon’s head and taking the clips to snap it under Jeongyeon’s chin.

They stand with little distance between them, Mina notices. Jeongyeon’s eyes alternate between Mina’s own and her lips, and Mina nearly misses snapping it closed when she’s dizzy with Jeongyeon’s presence and the way Jeongyeon watches her like she’s the only one that exists in this mortal plane.

She finally snaps it in place, moving away but regretting it immediately when she misses the way Jeongyeon’s body feels warm against hers and she knows she’s not alone in this when Jeongyeon exhales a shaky breath before slipping into her motorcycle jacket and hopping on.

The bike’s not designed for two, though Jeongyeon situates another seat on top of gas tank where Mina can sit. “Are you fine sitting sidesaddle?”

“It’s alright.”

Jeongyeon offers to lift her up, though Mina hops up perfectly onto the bike, like all the times she’s done before. She sits sidesaddle, watching Jeongyeon as she laughs once more. “You want to drive? It’s fine with me if you do.”

“I’m not exactly in biking wear,” Mina informs her, giving herself a once over. Her white boat shoes might break if she does. “I’ll take you up on that offer some other time, though.”

Then Jeongyeon twists the knob for the gas, steps on the pedal. They zoom across fields, France’s warm air moving past her cheeks.

She closes her eyes, embraces Jeongyeon tighter.

It feels an awful lot like running away and Mina likes it.

 

Jeongyeon takes her to an empty grain field, untouched by war, far away from the base and it’s beautiful. The wind blows over the stalks and they move in such a tranquil manner that Mina almost feels bad that they’re here, breaching this sacred place.

Almost, being the key word, however.

She doesn’t regret how Jeongyeon sets a checkered picnic mat in the middle, held down by a basket of bread and wine and some standard ceramic mugs probably smuggled from the kitchens.

“Can I kiss you?” Mina blurts out suddenly that she doesn’t even know what’s taken over except that she likes Jeongyeon. That there’s a war, that there is no time for regret, and that she just wants to kiss Jeongyeon until maybe the Nazis surrender, or the Nazis prevail.

Mina doesn’t believe in God anymore, not when she’s seen the evil that prevails within humanity. What kind of God allows that kind of suffering?

Mina doesn’t believe in God anymore, but when Jeongyeon kisses her so softly and so gently and so, so lovingly, she thinks that maybe there is a higher being that brought them together in this flurry of a war and missed circumstances.

Mina doesn’t believe in God anymore, but Jeongyeon makes her believe that maybe the world isn’t so bad, with her soft lips and her soft hair and the way Jeongyeon smooths her fingers on her face; Mina feels safer than she has ever felt her entire life.

 

-

 

The chapel offers peace in the midst of the panic that settles over the base when Captain Tuan platoon returns from Normandy with half legs, half arms—half dead. The nurses league manage to salvage many though some weren’t as lucky.

Mina can’t help but blame herself for those deaths.

She weeps silently, seated on one of the pews and feels no comfort from God at all. She weeps and weeps and weeps, because those men were fathers, sons, brothers, lovers, and they’re gone—gone—

“Hi,” a familiar voice says and the panic partially subsides when she finds out whose it was. Jeongyeon wraps a strong arm around her; Mina is wracked with sobs when she leans her body closer, her head on Jeongyeon’s shoulder as she mourns for the dead, as she condemns this war, as she is faced with the fact that Jeongyeon may be one of those she could not have salvaged and—

“You did your best,” Jeongyeon whispers encouragingly, though it’s tinged with sadness. “It was their time. You couldn’t have done anything else but your best.”

She feels a soft kiss pressed to her hair and while she will never forgive herself for this (her nails are caked with blood, a pressing reminder), this is just the war for all of them. Evil, deadly, pointing fingers at one another, inclusive of yourself.

 

-

 

She doesn’t surprise herself when she realizes she falls for Jeongyeon ridiculously fast.

Jeongyeon is charming, endearing, absolutely loveable that Mina would have to be heartless to not fall for her: when she lets Mina drive her motorbike, when she kisses Mina better than the Casablanca kiss.

(Mina watches Casablanca with Jeongyeon as they kiss in the cinema, the light from the film casting a shadow on Jeongyeon’s face and she feels herself fall in love even more.)

Jeongyeon is charming, endearing, absolutely loveable and also very, very late.

Her finger taps the wooden rails of the porch of the nurse’s ward when heavy shuffling of feet make themselves known and it’s heavy, so heavy, Mina feels a sense of panic grip her throat until she sees it’s Jeongyeon limping, her shirt ripped in half and there’s a bloody slash across her stomach. Jeongyeon’s face marred with reddish purple splotches, marks of early bruises.

“What happened,” Mina hisses with panic, scrambling to help Jeongyeon when she stumbles over a piece of land and Mina catches her just in time—she reeks of sweat and blood but Mina’s used to it, so she drags Jeongyeon back into her ward, sets her onto the bed with difficulty before taking some medical supplies she stashes in the washroom.

There is no anaesthesia to numb Jeongyeon’s pain, so Mina offers Jeongyeon a pillow to scream into as she sews the gash on her stomach close—it’s not that deep, thank God. She manages to stay still even if her knuckles are white and her face is red, though Mina does it as quickly as possible before Jeongyeon loses any more blood.

It’s a gash, still, no matter the depth, so Mina takes Nayeon’s (wherever the fuck she is) bottle of vodka from the drawer, tells Jeongyeon through her pained yelling and breathing that this will sting, so she offers Jeongyeon a pillow to bite and a hand to crush when she tips the bottle to drench Jeongyeons’s shallow (knife) cut.

It pains her to see Jeongyeon turning red, screaming with grit teeth until she passes out, probably from the pain and lack of anaesthesia and her once loud cabin quiets all of a sudden.

The bleeding stops, thankfully, when she cleans the hard plane of Jeongyeon’s stomach. Mina wrings the bloodied cloth, twisting the water mixed with Jeongyeon’s blood out of it until she’s clean. She takes a new cloth, wipes Jeongyeon’s arms to check if she has other scratches, only to find none, before she tears Jeongyeon’s shirt open to strip it off her without jostling her stitches.

She cleans Jeongyeon’s body, cuts off the bandages around Jeongyeon’s chest before tending to Jeongyeon’s sleeping face, contorted in pain even in slumber and Mina’s heart constricts painfully at the sight of Jeongyeon in distress.

Mina wipes off the dried blood from Jeongyeon’s cheek, one that came from her mouth.

She doesn’t sleep, only watches the rise and fall of Jeongyeon’s chest through the blanket.

 

When Jeongyeon stirs in the morning, Mina had managed to snag a few pain killers, slipping it into Jeongyeon’s mouth with her hand trying to keep Jeongyeon’s head upright.

It doesn’t stop her from groaning in pain, asking for water that Mina provides at once and Jeongyeon drinks, and drinks and drinks while Mina watches her, stroking Jeongyeon’s short hair away from her face comfortingly. 

“What happened?” Mina asks quietly, hands never halting the motion of moving through Jeongyeon’s brown hair.

“Old lady, held up by bandits,” Jeongyeon struggles to speak, her eyes droop, almost comically so though nothing about this makes Mina laugh, not even Jeongyeon’s large heart—too good for this world. “Had to help or they’d… kill her…”

Mina doesn’t tell Jeongyeon that she shouldn’t have helped the old woman Jeongyeon speaks of, though she knows that Jeongyeon’s heart that has always been too big for herself and others will get them both in trouble.

“Always have to be the hero, don't you?” Mina teases lightly, though her voice breaks and suddenly she’s crying when she kisses Jeongyeon’s damp forehead.

Mina doesn’t leave Jeongyeon’s side at all—not until Jeongyeon can walk properly without wanting to faint from the pain from the gash.

 

-

 

“I love you.” Mina blurts out, when they’re at the docks, with Jeongyeon’s pants folded to her mid calf, trying her very best to set up her fishing rod.

She looks like a little girl, trying to figure out her crochet set, though the ministrations of her hand halt when Mina speaks suddenly.

No one says anything for a while, not even when Jeongyeon looks up to meet Mina’s eyes, her newspaper boy hat lopsided just enough to make it look endearing and God, Mina loves Jeongyeon so much.

“I love you too,” Jeongyeon says, her lips spreading into a smile that can light up a Christmas tree, brighter than a layer of snow in the winter.

Kiss me, Ingrid Bergman had said, kiss me as if it were the last time.

When she kisses Jeongyeon, it tastes far from the last time—as if they had all the time in the world in this small bubble of Mina and Jeongyeon’s world, away from war and away from sterile hospitals with groaning patients.

It doesn’t ever feel like the last time, and that’s what makes Mina afraid.

 

-

 

Jeongyeon’s leave has been extended because of the bandit incident though when Dr. Yongsun had cleared her to return to the field, Jeongyeon is to be transported to a different base in France—the more openly known ones by the Germans and that can only mean one thing.

Jeongyeon is going to have to fight in the trenches.

Three months. Three months of being with Jeongyeon and falling in love with her only to be taken away and to be thrown into the battlefield when Mina has spent every moment with her—Christ, that’s a scary world to live in.

The Colonel expects Jeongyeon the following week, for conditioning and additional checkups but Mina knows, knows, that regardless of the outcome of all those, Jeongyeon will still be parachuting off planes and into German territory and damn it all if that doesn’t terrify Mina.

 

-

 

“How long are you going to be there?”

“I don’t know, Mina. I wish I knew.”

 

-

 

Mina adjusts her tie, the navy blue cloth a stark contrast to the skin of her trembling hands. She hates this, she hates that she feels so helpless like all the women bidding their beaus farewell, she hates that she didn’t expect that she’d be doing this herself.

Don’t say it, Mina scolds herself, feeling the tears prick at her eyes like tiny needles, don’t say it—

“I’ll come back,” Jeongyeon says, her hand stilling Mina’s careful ministrations. “Don’t worry. I’ll come back.”

It breaks, like a dam, Mina feeling everything collapse with how Jeongyeon is also trembling. “How are you sure you will?” Mina sobs, her chest aching at the thought of a yellow Western Union letter. “How are you sure you’re going to come out alive?”

“I don’t,” Jeongyeon grins, boyish and childlike and it feels an awful lot like the first time they meet, making Mina cry even more. “But I will write to let you know that I am.”

Mina surges forward to embrace Jeongyeon as tight as she can—maybe if she held on tight enough and long enough everything will change, but she doesn’t. She only wants to be close to Jeongyeon because she loves Jeongyeon—Jeongyeon with her beautiful face and her rough hands and her heart that is purer than the German snows. “Take care, my love,” Mina whispers. “Please. Come back to me.”

Jeongyeon chuckles, sniffs. She places Mina’s white uniform hat on her head. “You take care, too, alright? Of yourself and other people. Always.”

 

-

 

January 10, 1945

Dearest Darling Mina,

            How are you? I miss you dearly. I hope you’re eating well and I hope the soldiers have been treating you well.

            The Colonel promoted me to be the Captain of my platoon. I’m one step closer to be free from Jackson’s relentless teasing. He writes often, wishes me well while he’s in the Philippines. Bataan was taken by the Japanese, but he regained it with the American soldiers. What a man. Even if you don’t love that man, you love him. There is no escape.

            Many of the men under me ask if I have a girl back home and I say yes, because that’s who you really are to me. They whoop and cheer every time they catch me writing these letters to you, and I let them tease me even if I can make them run 50 miles in just their shorts, under the pouring rain.

            I miss you. I realized I’ve said that already, but it will never be enough to tell you how I wish you were beside me every night, keeping me warm against the harsh winters of Normandy.

            We’ll be together soon. I promise.

Your loving darling,

Jeongyeon

 

-

 

February 6, 1945 

Darling Jeongyeon,                                                                            

            I’ve been well. The nurse’s station is busy, these days. I’ve managed to put back a few limbs with my bare hands. My job never ends. The soldiers have been kind. You’ve instilled enough fear in them. They transferred me to this small base within Swiss boundaries for a short while and, goodness, Jeongyeon.    

            It’s times like these I long for you the most. I wish to hold your hand whenever I feel like I’m not safe because a moment with you makes me feel as if I’m the most protected person in this world.

            I love you. Be safe, always.

Always yours,

Mina

-

 

There is loud crying in the infirmary when Mina enters, fixing her white cap.

She moves closer to the women gathered in the middle and sees it’s Suzy, bent over, weeping helplessly.

In her hand she clutches a yellow, Western Union letter that can only mean one thing. Her love—her beau, her sweetheart is dead.

Not for the first time, Mina faced with Jeongyeon’s mortality on the field, and the very possibility that she might be getting a yellow letter herself. She finds the nearest washroom and cries, her chest hurting inexplicably so at the thought of receiving a letter, not from Jeongyeon—sweet, loving Jeongyeon whose large heart has gotten her in trouble tons of times before—but from the Colonel, with the words I’m sorry, Miss Myoui, but Lieutenant Yoo Jeongyeon was a good man

It has been happening quite often, these fits of tears at the thought of Jeongyeon shot to death by a faceless soldier that wears the uniform of the Axis powers.

 

-

 

March 1, 1945

My love,                                                                                                                     

            By the time you receive this, it must be past your birthday. Thus: happiest birthday! You’re 23 now? How old.

            I’m kidding. We’ve lucky we made it this long and we have a long way to go, yes? Honestly, sometimes I feel like I’m old, until I realize I’m only 24. It must be the war. Damn this fucking war.

            What do you wish for? We can go to that small Italian restaurant off the base when all of this is over.

            I love you, and only you, and wish to be yours forever. I wish to ask you a question once I return and I await this day with a full heart. I promise it will come.

 

Loving you for the rest of eternity,

Jeongyeon

 

P.S. – attached is a necklace a little girl from  Berlin gave me, instructing me to give it to you. She said she made it on her own, with pressed marigolds inside crystal. It’s beautiful.

 

-

 

Mina finds that she can’t make love with another man, when Jeongyeon’s face is on her mind and all she can think of is Jeongyeon’s hands on her, Jeongyeon’s lips on her neck—ever so gentle, with her hands, rough and weathered by war making her feel so safe and so loved that she could never love anyone else except Jeongyeon. 

In the middle of the night and in the safety of her small room she touches herself, thinking of Jeongyeon, wanting Jeongyeon and only Jeongyeon and cries when her heart physically aches for the presence of her that it’s all Mina can pray for.

She whispers Jeongyeon’s name to the empty night air, like a prayer and the only thing she wishes for.

 

-

 

They announce it.

The fateful V-day. May 28, 1945.

Mina is in New York for that time when the base decides that the American forces need her for treating the victims sent home.

Times Square is filled with a myriad of joy, of relief, of victory and of love as soldiers, sailors, nurses and anyone who is anyone at all joins in to celebrate the defeat of the Axis powers and the triumph of the Allied forces.

Random soldiers dip random women and Mina watches from the sidelines, wishes Jeongyeon stood there with her, bathing in sunlight and confetti as she dips Mina in a kiss that tastes like forever.

 

-

 

Mina returns to France to collect her things and find work there, preferably at a mechanic shop in the south of the country.

It’s almost empty, the girls having packed earlier after returning from Bataan, Philippines. She sifts through her letters, looking for the significant purple envelope Mina always receives from her lover but finds none and then—

Is that—

Oh God.

No.

That’s not a yellow letter.

No.

That’s not a yellow letter from Western Union, addressed to her—

No!

She tears it open, feels her heart racing that her chest is about to pop any moment now and it’s difficult to read when her breathing is erratic, dizzy, tears clouding her eyes, reading: Dear Miss Myoui Mina, salutations. My name is Colonel… She skips the rest in her haste, letters jumbling until she reads portions that tell her enough – we are sorry – Captain Yoo Jeongyeon – exceptional soldier – a loving son, brother, beau – missing – declared killed in action.

Mina doesn’t need to read the rest of the formalities. She crumples onto the floor and cries for hours, clutching the little Berlin girl’s necklace, attached to Jeongyeon’s last letter until it creates a mark on Mina’s skin that will last for weeks.

Jeongyeon ended all her letters with an I promise among those was the unspoken I promise to stay alive for you.

Mina doesn’t sleep that night. She only aches, with a large Jeongyeon-shaped crater in her entire being and mourns what they had, what they could have been and what they should have been.

She weeps into her pillow, curses Jeongyeon for not staying alive, curses at herself for thinking that loving a goddamn soldier would get her anywhere good and she curses at God for taking away the only kind of goodness she believed to exist in this world.

 

-

 

She’s inconsolable for the next two weeks, unable to leave her bed. 

Mina doesn’t cry anymore albeit it always feels like she’s about to.

The girls from the nurses’ ward try to reach out but she locks the door, doesn’t let any of them in and Mina drowns herself in sorrow until she may or may not literally drown to end the misery and—

Incessant knocking wake her up before she knows it. Knocking and knocking and knocking that it forces Mina to get out of bed and tell this fucker to shut the fuck up, a cup of water in her hand and when she opens the door–

The cup falls at her feet, spilling water everywhere.

She must not have eaten for some time because right before her stands Jeongyeon with a black eye, bruised skin, wearing feminine clothes and her short hair growing long enough to frame her face.

If this was a dream, it sure as hell would be a cruel one, because Jeongyeon smiles at Mina like she had always done before and everything is so real, so very real that she must be going insane until—

“I can explain,” Jeongyeon begins, wincing when the wound on her face twitches against her own will. “I can explain but I’m here and I’m alive and you are not crazy at all.”

Mina isn’t sure if it’s real, but when she kisses Jeongyeon, it feels real and if it isn’t, she’ll live in this reality forever even at the cost of her own sanity.

 

“I faked my death because I don’t want to live my life as a man forever,” Jeongyeon says, Mina sighs against her shoulder. “I would’ve told you the plan but the head of Post in Berlin read outgoing letters. I’m sorry.”

Mina kisses her and it feels real, not a hazy fever dream where she’ll wake up crying and heaving. “It’s fine; I understand,” she tells Jeongyeon and touches her beautiful and tired face, marred by war and stress.

“We can’t get married, though,” Jeongyeon laughs bitterly, tears forming in her eyes. “I wanted to—I wanted to marry you and adopt kids as Lieutenant Yoo Jeongyeon, the war hero but I can’t live the rest of my life like that.”

“At the cost of you living a lie?” Mina asks. “No, Jeongyeon. This is fine. You’re here, alive. Nothing else matters to me anymore.”

She caresses Jeongyeon’s face, marred with scratches. Jeongyeon clasps her hand over Mina’s. “I promised you we’d be together.”

And Mina never doubted it despite doubting every single existing thing in her life that is capable of hurting her. Mina never doubted it, because Jeongyeon sits on her bed, battered and bruised and alive.

Mina nudges their heads together; it feels as if nothing exists outside of her ward, only Jeongyeon—Jeongyeon who kisses her softly and it feels like the first but so much better. Jeongyeon who pulls a velvet box from her pocket, popping it open. “We can’t get married but I wanted to give you this,” says the lieutenant—no, captain—almost shyly, though she’s laughing and her heart beats against Mina’s hand. “Because I love you. Because we made it through the war alive. Because you’re Myoui Mina and I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

She would have said yes, if Jeongyeon proposed on one knee. She would have said yes if Jeongyeon would have asked her, damn the law and all—though she nods, accepts the ring because she loves Jeongyeon, because they made it through the war alive, because she’s Yoo Jeongyeon and Mina loves her and Mina wants to spend the rest of her life with her, too.

Mina loves Jeongyeon. Mina kisses Jeongyeon and it never feels like the last time.

“Welcome home,” Mina tells her, because they’re together and anywhere Jeongyeon is, she’s home.