I'm pretty sure I died.
It was an honorable death. I took a hit for a comrade and didn't regret it. Noah's a good guy. Had a handful of nice conversations with him. His magic tricks are pretty cool, though his habit of passing out free candy made me feel like a little kid. Ha, I'll miss his scary insane focus that borders on fanatic, as creepy as it was. It's a little sad that I won't see this flashy, carefree magician again.
Yeah, a real good guy. I hope he lives.
So I died. The type of death that North praises in their soldiers. Went out in a blaze of glory. A good death, all things considered. But if I'm dead, why the hell am I here, my left side screaming in pain and in a gloomy forest with a hot guy?
Said hot guy says, "You're an odd one."
"Uh, okay, don't care." I look around. Rocky terrain, with the occasional patch of black grass. Fog everywhere. I experimentally poke my side and nearly bite my tongue. That hurt. But no blood. No sign of what should be a deep, life-threatening cut. "Where am I?"
"The place where people go when they brush by Death."
I blink. "I'm not dead?"
"Not yet," he answers, voice flat and clinical. "All humans die eventually. But for you, not yet."
"Huh. Thanks," I offer. I should thank him for being so forthcoming, right? He's blunt and weird, but seems to be alright. Wait. "How do you know that? And who are you, exactly?"
"I know because I'm an assistant for Death. I was assigned to deal with you."
I take in his sleek uniform, tidy hair and serious face. He doesn't look like he's lying, and it's not like he has any reason to.
Eh, best to roll with the punches. This is probably just a really vivid dream. A weird dream, but whatever. No point in trying to apply logic here. "Makes sense, I guess."
His lips twitch. "Hm. Indeed, you're an odd one." If it weren't for his completely neutral facial expression, I'd say he was amused.
I smile. "Yeah, sure, whatever you say. What's your name?"
The look on his face is almost startled. Kinda cute. "You don't need to know. You'll forget once you return."
"Then there's no harm in telling me," I reply light-heartedly. "C'mon, don't hold out on me."
He hesitates. "Lunar."
Oh, maybe he's insecure about his name sounding feminine? He shouldn't be. "Your namesake can't compare to a man as beautiful as you," I blurt out haphazardly, immediately regretting it. Crap, what if I made him uncomfortable?
But because this is a dream, Lunar just looks confused and flustered. Really cute. Really, really cute. He seems to not know what to say. Finally, he settles on, "Thank you."
I smile. Nothing like a cute guy to make pain feel more bearable. Even if he is just a figment of my imagination.
"Dammit, why isn't he waking up?!" someone shouts. It takes me a moment to place the voice.
Noah. He's alive, I think, relieved. It's good that we made it.
"The nurse said he'll recover just fine, you imbecile. And quit shaking Kane, do you want to aggravate her injuries?" A distinctly feminine voice tsks with annoyance. Ozeca through and through. "Don't bother, you're aggravating enough with that personality of yours."
He growls, "You—"
"That's enough, everyone." Kane cuts in. Always the practical one when it came to ending petty squabbling. "Can't you see that Louie is awake?"
"Hey guys," I croak.
Noah spins around. "Lou," he says slowly, dangerously.
Nearby nurses are quick to veer away and busy themselves with work and tending to other patients. I wish I had that choice.
"You're finally up. Took your damn. Sweet. Time." He pins me with a razor-sharp glare. "Care to explain why you PUSHED ME OUT OF THE WAY?! I'm older than you and I'm the one who's supposed to be doing the protecting! I swear by the artic sky that I will personally saw you in half for that dumb move. How dare you, I purposely left an opening so I could take that opportunistic scumbag out, but noooo. You just HAD to jump in like some stupid hero! I can't believe you, you self-sacrificing IDIOT!"
"Takes one to know one. Age is a weak excuse for your recklessness," I say mulishly. For some reason, a nurse squeaks. She is violently shushed by her colleague. They're definitely eavesdropping, aren't they?
"Hmph." He crosses his arms. "Just... don't do that again, Lou. I'll have a hard time finding an audience as easily duped as you."
In the background, that one nurse starts openly weeping for some reason. "Hey, that was one time. And I can't guarantee that, but I'll try?"
He sighs loudly. "Close enough, I guess."
Ozeca rolls her eyes. "You two done with the nauseating display yet? There's a war going on, in case you've forgotten. Pigeon can't be taken lightly, so get your act together."
"You, calling us nauseating?" Noah asks incredulously. "You, who carelessly let Doris and her chaos-mongering dogs run wild? You, who abuses your position of authority to order around Orange and Peachy, even though Dr. Gray Raven is the Head of Medic Corps? You, who shamelessly makes out with your girlfriend in the barracks where everyone and their ancestors can see?"
Wow, he must've been stewing over this for a while. Nearly everyone in the room does a collective wince, including me. Ouch. Ozeca is going to tear him apart.
"The last one was my idea." Kane blushes almost as red as her girlfriend's hair. "Sorry."
"Kane, don't apologize for me. This mouthy imbecile doesn't deserve anything from you." She turns to Noah. "Doris is an exceedingly valuable soldier. Her dogs are trained for rescue, tracking, surveillance. When they 'run wild,' they raise our morale. Orange and Peachy are capable women who can make their own decisions. They were kind enough to teach me basic first aid for combat medics when I sought to fix my weaknesses. And finally, stealing kisses from my genius engineer girlfriend makes me happy, makes me feel like we can survive this war." She narrows her eyes, violet and piercing. "Understood, soldier?"
He swallows, but returns the gaze steadily. "Yes, Colonel."
"Good." She walks away briskly.
Kane smiles softly at Noah. "Ozeca might be harsh towards you, but don't take it personally. She's so focused on the war that sometimes things slip by her radar. She didn't hear the others' crude comments or see the way you defended us. I did. Thank you."
His cheeks turn a blotchy red. "You, you saw that?"
"Of course. Your threats were quite creative." She giggles. "I loved it when you positioned a sewing needle mere millimeters from the ringleader's eye and said pleasantly, 'Speechless, are we? It's tragic that you used up your entire vocabulary for one pitiful sentence, but at least I'm spared from hearing the shit that spews from your mouth.' The execution was lovelier than I could ever reenact."
I discreetly shudder. Ozeca is intimidating, but Kane is downright terrifying when inspired. A match made in hell. Why am I surrounded by scary people? I bemoan. Thank the icy tundra that we're all on the same side.
Noah's hands flutter frantically. "You're not supposed to know that! I made sure there were no witnesses!"
"Nonsense, sewing is an universally admirable occupation and hobby in all of Miraland. Whatever possessed you to be embarrassed by such a talent?" Warm brown eyes twinkle with mirth.
He sputters, "You know that's not what I meant!"
"You're absolutely right, Noah, I should go check that our technology is in proper working order. I must go, I'm so terribly behind schedule. Take care, you two!" Kane leaves, laughing all the way.
"What the hell, she's an engineer, not a stealth specialist. How'd she do it? I was so careful too," Noah mutters. "I'm gonna have to ask her..." I tune him out. He's dead to the world when he gets like this.
Orange claps her hands twice. "Ozeca and Kane are finally gone, so everyone can calm down," she says. A few people sag with palpable relief. Public service announcement accomplished, she strides over to us. "Hello, Noah, visiting hours are over. I need to check on Louie's injuries."
He nods distractedly, still muttering to himself. "Right. See you, Lou. Don't be an idiot again." He wanders off, a completely different person from before. That's Noah for you.
Peachy makes on a thinking pose and scrunches up her nose. "This is a military clinic, do we even have official policies on visiting hours? Hmm..." She purses her lips, taking on a cutesy air. "Hey, sweet Orange, can you tell me? I'll give you a kiss~"
"You're being noisy, Peachy," she says. "Louie, tell me how you feel."
I sweat a little. Her bedside manner could be better. "Like, in general or about my wound?" I joke.
She levels me with a bland look. "The latter."
"Well, uh, pretty good, overall. Just some pain, but it's been bandaged by a professional hand, so I'm not concerned," I say. "Can I leave?"
"You had to get a blood transfusion, so please report if you develop a temperature, chills, a rash, breathing difficulties, or anything unusual~" Peachy says. "Or else sweet Orange will get mad! So be a good little boy, okay?" She ruffles my hair and skips away.
I frown slightly. "Hey, isn't she like 18? Why's she calling me a little boy?"
"Who knows how old she is. After all, she's the personal assistant of Dr. Gray Raven," Orange says cryptically. She inspects my wound again. "Hmm, looks alright. Here's your antibiotics, instructions are on the bottle. Make sure to apply fresh ointment and change your bandages every 24 hours. Now shoo, we need this space for others."
Her bedside manner really could be better. "Thanks, Orange. I'll be going then."
"Bye." She waves and goes back to work.
I exit the clinic and head for the barracks. Somehow, I feel like I'm forgetting something... I furrow my brow in concentration but come up with nothing. Nah, just my imagination.
The moon hangs full and bright in the cloudless night sky.
Somewhere far, far away, a blue phoenix returns home.