Huge thanks to kristenanna for the kofi! (2/2)
There was no need to turn down Ian Kerner’s offer, no matter how absurd the proposition was.
It was better to have her hands loose than tied. Even if this was a trap, she had nothing to lose.
“I hate jokes.”
“Then I promise.”
The ship would arrive at Monte Island in three days.
She didn’t have much time.
She was afraid that he might retract his offer, so she quickly nodded and kicked the shackles that had fallen to the floor. Still, she made a face that was as neutral as possible, hiding the budding hope in her heart.
She had to keep tricking him. From now on, she was a woman who gave up on her life. If she showed any signs that she had hope, the quick-witted man would ruin everything.
‘Think about it, Rosen. What does a prisoner who has given up everything and has only three days to live want?’
It wasn’t long before she found the answer.
“Bring me a drink, please.”
Alcohol was strategically brought up, but the request for a cigarette was sincere. She didn’t smoke too often, so she thought he’d say no. Ian hesitated for a moment. Rosen hurriedly justified herself before he denied her request outright.
“You don’t allow inmates on death row to have their ‘Last Supper’?”
“It’s only three days. Can’t you do that?”
Without saying a word, Ian pulled a cigarette from his chest pocket and held it out. She shook her head and put the cigarette into her mouth. Sadly, he lit it for her, as she was not allowed to draw a match.
Familiar smoke rose. It was only then that she was able to breathe properly, like a person rescued from deep underwater. Ian stared at her for a moment and opened his mouth.
“…I’ll bring you a drink tomorrow morning.”
“Yes, it’s late.”
She inhaled the smoke again and again and smiled casually. The first cigarette burned out quickly. With a sad expression on her face, he held out another. She did not refuse.
‘He’ll make me sleep the moment I finish smoking, and I don’t want to go to bed yet…’
There was no particular reason.
They needed to talk about something. It was a waste to pass the time in silence. They had to build something similar to intimacy by asking and answering questions.
‘Why don’t I look at the sky to see the stars? If I keep my mouth shut, nothing will happen.’
The problem was that Ian Kerner arbitrarily ignored her questions. There were a lot of things she wanted to ask, but they were all things she didn’t think he’d be able to answer.
Like, ‘Where is the lifeboat key?’
She shook her head, searching for a question he could answer.
As she looked at the cigarette pack in his front pocket, she thought of something. A question that was trivial, not very intimidating, and had tickled her before.
“Sir Kerner. I have a question.”
“When did you start smoking? Pilots can’t smoke.”
“Since the war ended.”
He responded surprisingly succinctly. Looking at him in the dark cabin with minimal light, she could tell he had a very straight face, and was sitting in the armchair with his arms crossed. She tilted her head, staring at his face as if possessed.
“Why do you smoke?”
“Can I not smoke?”
It was the tone of a rebellious adolescent boy.
She might’ve been mistaken, but at least that’s what she heard.
She laughed a little.
“It’s not like that, but it doesn’t suit you. You’re a pilot.”
She said and looked at him.
She heard through Alex that Ian had decided to quit piloting. But it was a fact she didn’t want to believe until she heard confirmation from his own mouth.
Heaven was his place.
He shone the most there.
A red scarf, goggles, and army fatigues. In the fliers, he was always smiling confidently. Each time the Imperial Squadron flew over like a flock of migratory birds, Rosen ran up the hill and looked up at the sky.
–‘Ian Kerner is a commander, so he must be on the most advanced plane.’
Thinking like that, Rosen looked for him, her arms stretched out, grabbing at the fighter jets that looked like little toys.
Then, for a moment, her body seemed to float away. Away from reality that was holding her back. It was like she was really flying in the sky.
It was an immature idea, but looking back, she didn’t have much interest in winning or losing the war. She just liked him flying across the blue sky. She liked the sense of freedom he gave her.
‘…But wishing him to keep flying is just my greed. What does he want to do with his life?’
“…Because the war is over.”
Their conversation was quickly cut off. He turned his head and looked out the dark window.
The night sea spread out beyond the cabin window. Because of the yellow lighting installed on the deck, the water was more beautiful than in the daytime. It looked like they were part of the night sky, embroidered with stars.
This was not the time to be immersed in sentimentality, but the scenery was unrealistically beautiful. She felt strange for a while. Her lips moved on their own. Thoughts came out in words.
“Why aren’t you married?”
It was a confused tone. He didn’t seem to have expected her to ask such a pointless question. She nagged.
“The war is over, so why don’t you get married? Do you have a girlfriend?”
“…You are curious about everything.”
“It’s not just me. Your fans all over the Empire are curious.”
Was it because it was night?
Or did he feel sympathy for the soon-to-be-dead prisoner and become more sensitive?
Although these were negligible questions, he answered them without a hint of annoyance.
“Because you never know when a pilot who goes to war will die. After an accident, it is difficult for the ones left behind to recover. It doesn’t make sense to have a family.”
“So, what soldiers can marry? Did you go to war without a picture of your lover on inside of your military cap?”
As Rosen giggled, Ian’s lips moved slightly.
She didn’t know if he was really smiling or if it was just an optical illusion created by the shadows from the moonlight.
“It’s true that there are a lot of them, but not everyone does such silly things.”
“Why do you think it’s silly?!”
“Because I can’t stand the silly faces of men looking at their lover’s picture. I’m right, it’s a silly thing to do. Even if it’s a family photo.”
“Is your personality that dry?”
He raised his eyebrow. However, given that he did not deny it, he seemed to think so himself.
“…It’s a little different from your broadcast.”
“Originally, I didn’t have that aptitude. It was difficult.”
Indeed it was. In fact, the person she met wasn’t the type to be sarcastic enough to say such unfamiliar words. He must have reluctantly read the scripts someone had written for him. Oddly enough, she wasn’t disappointed after she found out the truth.
Wouldn’t it be the same as believing Ian Kerner when he said he would protect everyone, even though that’s impossible? We needed him and his lies. Just like how we love rainbows after rain, even though we know we can’t catch them.
“Then why did you do it? Did you get pushed to?”
“Because I thought it was necessary.”
“I think it’s a sin to be born handsome. It’s better than not being able to do it even if you want to because you’re ugly, isn’t it?”
He definitely laughed this time. It was small, but it was definitely a smile. After all, he didn’t say he was not, so he seemed to know that he was handsome.
It was a fact that she knew even without a mirror.
“…I don’t think marriage is that necessary.”
“I really don’t understand. If I were you, I would have had three wives. I didn’t know it when I was young, but when I got older, I realized that it’s much better to have a third of a good man than all the bad men. It’s fun to play with a good man.”
“I think it’s the wisdom of married women. Like… firstly, the existence of a man is not necessary in life. Oh, that doesn’t mean I killed Hindley.”
Rosen quickly added, just in case. After smoking for a long time, the tension between them subsided. He was speechless and looked at her with a puzzled look, then smirked.
“What nonsense are you talking about? The Empire became monogamous a long time ago.”
“Why? Guys better than you have a lot of wives. I was Hindley’s second wife.”
“You didn’t know? Didn’t the reporters write that in an article? Oh right, you didn’t know. Because I didn’t talk about it.”
The cigarette that was spewing smoke eventually turned into a butt. Unfortunately, the bait she threw didn’t seem to interest Ian very much. Without delay, he gestured to the bed.
“Do you want to hear more? I’ll tell you a more interesting story than what was printed.”
He got up from his seat, laid her down on the bed, and pulled the blanket up to her shoulders. At the bedside was a dimly lit gas lamp. He pulled the chair close to the bed, and sat motionless as a statue, his eyes beating down on her.
Rosen asked, pointing to the chain.
“Aren’t you going to tie me up again?”
“I just need to tie you up when I sleep.”
“Aren’t you going to sleep?”
“I don’t sleep that long.”
His constitution could be like that, but he always looked tired.
“Do you not want to sleep? Or can you not sleep?”
He gave a vague answer, and dimmed the gas lamp by the bedside further. Then he held out a wad of cotton.
She was wondering what it was. It was a cute teddy bear.
She stared at him, bewildered.
“I’m not a child…”
“It’s a gift from Layla.”
At those words, he tried to put the bear away, but she grabbed it from him before he could.
“Go to sleep.”
“I can’t sleep. I’ll arrive at the island in three days, how can I fall asleep? I mean, you can’t sleep a lot if you know you are going to die.”
As she was almost pushed to bed, she protested loudly.
“But you can’t stay up for three days. Close your eyes and try to fall asleep. Hold the doll and count sheep.”
“Don’t you want to know the truth?”
“I already know the truth.”
He ignored her words.
‘Listen or don’t, do whatever you want.’
‘As long as he has ears, he’ll hear my words anyway. If he doesn’t like it, he can just cover them.’
“I’ll talk until I fall asleep. Whether you listen or not, I will speak.”
Rosen was stubborn. She pulled the blanket around her and faced where he was sitting. She looked into his eyes and opened her mouth again.
“I didn’t write the articles or the judgment.”
“Stories usually depend on the person telling it, and at least one person in this vast Empire should listen to me. Believe it or not, do whatever you want. You’ll have to wait until I fall asleep anyway.”
“You’re not going to believe it anyway. Why? You’re not confident? You’re afraid you’ll fall for it? It’s okay. It’s over. There’s nothing compelling about what I say now.”
He didn’t even respond to the provocative words. She hugged the doll he had thrown her and curled up like a fetus. The engine still burning within her, she played up her despair as best she could.
“So listen. Even prisoners have the right to say their last words.”
She impulsively grabbed his hand as he sat on the bed. It wasn’t a gesture of seduction, but a clinging out of desperation. Like the outstretched hand of a man hanging from a cliff, or the fragile grip of a child holding their parents’ hand. Whether it was communicated to Ian or not, he didn’t shake it off.
He just left it as it was…
He didn’t force it or hit it away.
“I’ll start the story when I was fifteen. My life before that was really boring.”
The sound of the waves hit her ears.
Rosen moistened her dry lips.
His body temperature moved through her fingertips up to her arms, making her heart race.
Without obtaining his consent, she started talking on her own terms.
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