---- September 13, 1943
---- RAF Mildenhall Shared Flight Facilities
---- Main Gate: 11:50 hours
★ Welcome to RAF Mildenhall Open House ★
Support Our Troops ★ Never Forget
There were people bustling everywhere. A large stage was being erected in an open area off of the main compound and structures that looked very much like festival booths were under construction as well. Only the presence of television cameras and equipment, bearing the logos of various worldwide news organizations hinted that this was anything but a local community outreach event.
The seven members of the 501st 's "Propaganda Squad" were met at the front gate by a spunky blond-haired corporal clutching a clipboard to her chest and waving frantically. "Yoo-hoo, over here." The group watched as the girl trotted over to where the transport truck had dropped them. Panting a bit with exertion, she stopped in front of Charlotte and saluted.
"Captain Yeager? Welcome to Mildenhall Airfield. I'm Corporal Donnelly I've been assigned as your liaison during your stay here anything you people need, day or night, I'm your go-to person just leave it to me." She gasped for breath after that one long run-on sentence.
Although highly amused by the scene, Charlotte managed to maintain her composure and answered the young lady seriously. "Thank you Corporal. We'll be counting on you then."
The corporal beamed with pleasure. "If you would all follow me please."
Everyone picked up their bags and followed the corporal into the camp proper. As they moved deeper into the cacophony, it became evident that the structures were festival booths. Gaming booths, food stalls… it looked like a Liberion county fair or a Fuso religious festival.
"Boy, when you guys say 'Open House' you aren't kidding." Fiske noted with a bemused look. "They do know there's a war going on don't they?"
"Oh, yeah. 'Course they do." The corporal said with a grin. "That's just how we all are, you know? Steady on. Business as usual. Trains are on tic. Teatime at 2:30." she winked. "Never underestimate Britannish steadfast determination."
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Major Granby was Mildenhall's PR coordinator, leading Charlotte to wonder when military bases started having a Public Relations office in the first place. The meeting was mercifully short. Basically it involved when to be where, length of the mock engagement, whose hand to shake and appropriate poses for the paparazzi.
"Alright then? I think we have everything sorted, no? Everyone has their timetable?" The Major smiled in approval at the affirmative nods. "Wonderful. Any questions? No? Super." "Okay then kids. Nice work today. You're on your own until 08:30 tomorrow morning. Dismissed."
---- Abingdon Hall Guest Quarters: 12:30 hours
After yesterday's incident with Mr. Fiske and all that happened afterwards, Lynette's feelings for Yoshika had re-ignited even more strongly. She told herself she wasn't going to just give up. There was something there. She could feel it.
She knew what she wanted. What she needed to do was fight for it.
As it turned out, an opportunity presented itself almost immediately. Lynette had the idea as soon as she found out they were on liberty for the day. She decided to push through with it before she lost her nerve.
"Yoshika-chan? I know this area of London quite well. I attended school in West End." Yoshika looked at her curiously. "I know some really interesting places. I could show you around, if you would like me too."
Yoshika smiled at the idea of spending time alone with Lynette and answered enthusiastically. "Hai!"
Lynette was turning cartwheels in her mind. She had someplace special she wanted to share with Yoshika, but she had never thought it would be possible. She couldn't believe her good fortune.
There was a knock on the door. "Yes?" Yoshika called out. Charlotte stuck her head in. "Hey. We're all going out to wander around the city for a while. You two should come along."
Lynette's joy evaporated instantly. "NO!" she screamed in her head. "no no no no no no no no." She struggled to keep her emotions in check. "Um… well, w-we… I-I mean…" she stammered.
Yoshika noticed her friend's discomfort immediately and came to her rescue. "Actually Shirley-san, Lynne-chan wanted to show me her old school and neighborhood." She smiled brightly. "That's ok, right?"
"Of course it is. You guys have fun. Just be back on base by 21:30 hours. We have a busy day ahead of us tomorrow." She gave the girls a wink. "Stay out of trouble." The door shut and the tension visibly flowed out of Lynne's body.
"Thank you Yoshika-chan." Lynne said gratefully.
"Sure." Yoshika answered warmly, continuing to put her clothes away. "I was looking forward to spending time with you, too."
---- Abingdon Hall Main Foyer: 12:50 hours
Fiske and Mallory were waiting for the others in the barracks entrance hall. Fiske stood up when he spotted Charlotte and Francesca approaching.
"So, are they joining us?" he asked, wondering why the two girls had arrived alone.
"They've already made their plans for the day." Charlotte told him. "How about Lieutenant Hughes? Is he going to tag along?"
"Nope. He had some documents to drop off with the base CO." Fiske answered. "Afterwards he said he plans to visit with his family."
"Ok. Well, just us then." Exclaimed the redhead cheerfully. "Let's go get up to something."
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London was simply overwhelming for Yoshika. Everywhere she turned, she saw something new and fascinating. Having been born and raised in a medium-sized coastal village the sheer volume of people was mind boggling in and of itself. West End, where Lynette had brought her, was an area dominated by bookstores, art galleries and performance spaces.
Lynette loved the curiosity, enthusiasm and delight Yoshika showed toward everything new. Her petite angel seemed to have an unquenchable thirst for learning. Although she hid it well underneath her bouncy and air-headed personality Yoshika was quite the little intellectual. Over the course of their time together Lynette was often astounded by breadth and depth of her knowledge of random and seemingly unrelated subjects.
Lynne took note that Yoshika's only large purchase wasn't for herself, but for her grandmother. A leather-bound first edition by chemist Bowden Grey, easily costing three months wages. She looked on with adoration as the tiny brunette paged through the book mumbling excitedly. "sugoi... cross-referenced formulary... liner notes... case studies… she'll absolutely love this." She practically danced up to the checkout counter clasping the book close to her chest. In Lynette's eyes Yoshika was shining like the sun.
As they continued shopping and chatting, seeing the sights and enjoying each other's company – the war and the problems of the world seemed to fade to insignificance.
Four hours had passed without either one noticing, until Yoshika's stomach growled in protest. A light pink flush colored her cheeks. Lynette found her embarrassment rather adorable.
"We should get some lunch Yoshika-chan. I'm getting a bit hungry too." She looked around to get her bearings. "Oh. I know just the place. Come on."
Taking the younger girl's hand, she led her down the sidewalk. Soon they were standing in front of a classic brick structure with large bay windows overlooking an outdoor garden and dining area. Even the outdoor tables were covered in fine linen and set with sparkling crystal glassware and sterling silver utensils. Above the door was an expertly crafted wooden sign reading 'Foxcroft & Ginger'.
Yoshika's eyes widened in panic and she ground to a halt. She didn't imagine she could even afford a slice of cake from a place like this, let alone lunch. Lynne was puzzled to see the normally unreserved Yoshika look intimidated, until she gave it some thought. Knowing the cute little Fuso girl was from humble origins, she decided to take the initiative for once and help her feel comfortable in this strange environment.
"Lunch is on me Yoshika-chan. Don't worry about a thing." Lynne said excitedly. "My family runs an account here and I've never even come close to the limit." Seeing the look on Lynne face was all it took to overcome any objections. She allowed herself to be led onto the terrace.
After a long and leisurely lunch, the two girls went back strolling the sidewalks. As they were walking past a creamery, Lynette was once more seized by inspiration. She had Yoshika wait for her on the sidewalk and quickly ran in. She returned with two chocolate milkshakes.
Yoshika accepted the offered treat, and her face lit up after her first sip. "Sugoi! Lynne-chan." she looked up wide-eyed. "This... this is awesome!" Lynne giggled in delight at her friends' reaction.
The lengthening shadows signaled afternoon was well under way. Lynette, who had been uncharacteristically outgoing all day suddenly seemed to revert to her normal self. She stopped walking and when Yoshika turned towards her questioningly, the honey-brown haired girl gave her a shy glance. This moment had been her goal the entire day. She simply couldn't back down now.
"A-actually Yoshika-chan... there is a place I wanted to take you. A really special place to me. It's where I used to go whenever I needed to be alone." she managed to look Yoshika bashfully in the eyes. "I've never taken anyone there before. But I-I'd really like to share it with you."
Yoshika couldn't believe what she was hearing. This entire day had been like some wonderful dream. Spending time alone with the girl she loved. Learning more about her and about the city she had grown up in. And now... the ease with which Lynne was opening up to her. Was it possible? Could she still, maybe, have a chance with her after all?
"I'd be happy to go wherever you want to take me Lynne-chan." She answered softly.
September 13, 1943
---- Regent's Park, London - Britannia
---- The Home of Ellen Darnell: 17:05 hours
The residential neighborhoods were quiet and peaceful, quite a contrast from the rest of the city surrounding them. They approached an elegant row home, a stately granite affair with wrought-iron accents.
"This is my Aunt's home. I lived here while I attended Gladwyyn." she opened the gate for Yoshika and gestured for her to enter. "She should be out of the country right now, but the staff will be on duty." She rang the doorbell and soon a serious-looking older man wearing a black formal suit opened the door.
The man's serious look disappeared as soon as he saw who was standing at the door. He smiled happily and his eyes crinkled in unconcealed joy. "Miss Lynette! How wonderful to see you. Please come right in." He opened the door fully and bowed as they entered.
"Hello Klaus. I've missed you so much." she said warmly. "How is everyone? How is Marci?"
"Everyone is quite well, Miss." Klaus answered, taking the girls' coats. "But look at you. You're all grown up now, and so quickly." he turned to hang up their coats. "Your brothers and your aunt have kept us informed of your career. May I say Miss, we are all quite proud of you."
The effusive praise caused Lynette to squirm a bit self-consciously. "Thank you, Klaus." she turned. "Klaus, this is Sargent Miyafuji Yoshika. She's my squad-mate and a very good friend."
Klaus faced Yoshika and bowed deeply. "It is a pleasure to meet you Miss Miyafuji. I thank you for your service. You are very welcome in our home." Yoshika returned the bow. "Thank you, sir."
The servant led the two into the house proper. "Well, what brings you by this fine evening? Would you like us to prepare a dinner for you and your friend?"
"Oh, no, thank you. We had a late lunch. We're on liberty and I just thought I'd show Yoshika around the city a bit." Lynne explained. "We actually came by so I could show Yoshika-chan the arboretum if that's all right."
"Of course it is Miss. You don't even need to ask. This will always be your home as well after all." Klaus assured her. "Are you sure I can't get you anything? Tea perhaps?"
"If you could send up some tea, that would be wonderful."
The four wandering pilots had sampled almost every type of food they could find from the various street vendors, watched pavement artists, struggled through two acts of an open-air performance of Shakespeare's 'As You Like It' and threw money in Trafalgar Square Fountain.
As evening was coming on, they found themselves in an older section of the city. Wandering semi-aimlessly, slowly making their way back to the airbase, Charlotte and Fiske were trailing behind the two youngsters.
"Arrgh." Francesca griped. "Bored now. There has to be something else to do." She looked sideways at Mallory. The Liberion boy gave her an 'I give up' gesture. "Don' look at me. I got nothin'."
"What do you guys normally do for fun when you're off duty?" Fiske asked.
Before he could receive an answer they all heard a metallic crash from down the alleyway they had just walked past. A woman's voice called out for help. They all glanced at each other briefly and ran back to the mouth of the alley.
At the far end, two rather rough-looking thugs were tormenting their prey, a well-dressed older couple who looked completely out of their element. The tall one was holding the two at knife-point while the fat one rifled through the woman's purse.
Francesca gave Charlotte a pleading look "Shirley… can I?"
"Knock yourself out kiddo." The older girl grinned. "You need to work off some of that nervous energy anyway."
With a loud whoop the twin-tailed terror invoked her spirit animal and launched herself down the dark alley at top speed. Startled by the loud noise, 'Knife Guy' (as Francesca had dubbed him in her mind), turned to the source of the sound. All that registered in the split-second before impact was a four-foot-nothing blur of sneakers and pigtails.
She jumped, throwing her right leg out and rigid, allowing momentum to do most of the work. There was a loud crack as the man's jaw was dislocated. He reeled for an instant and then dropped like a log.
The momentum carried her past her target, hurtling towards a dumpster. She tucked her body and spun to land on the dumpster's edge, immediately shoving off to leap on 'Fat Guy' who was still holding the purse. She had actually planned all this out ahead of time. Shirley was going to be so proud of her.
She nailed 'Fat Guy' square in the gut, knocking the wind out of him and dumping him, unceremoniously, on his ass. He already looked scared out of his wits but, just to juice him a bit more, Francesca gave him a guttural snarl showing her fang menacingly.
'Fat Guy' scrambled to his feet and ran screaming in terror. 'Knife Guy' was out cold and wouldn't be waking up any time soon. It was done so quickly the victims were unsure as to what had just happened. Francesca stooped to retrieve the woman's purse.
"Here you are ma'am. Are you hurt at all?" The older woman stared at the little Romagnian dumbfounded. "Umm... no... no... I'm fine. T-thank you so much, Miss...?"
"Ensign Francesca Lucchini, at your service." she answered, throwing a snappy salute in the process. Charlotte's loud whistle pierced the air. "Oops, gotta go. You guys be careful out there. Ciao." She scampered back to the group.
Mallory was applauding and pumping his fist in the air. "That was so awesome Lucchini." He enthused. "Whadda ya call that first move? That was, like, devastating."
"Hmmm..." Francesca thought for a moment. "I'll call it 'Super Lucchini Kick'." she announced, striking a pose and giving a thumbs up. Sharing a laugh, the group continued on down the street.
"Ah," Fiske observed. "so this is what you guys do for fun."
Charlotte gave him a lopsided grin. "Eh, it beats Canasta."
Yoshika followed Lynne up the carpeted stairs. She noticed the solemn air surrounding the girl. Whatever it was Lynne wanted to show her, she instinctively knew it was something meaningful and deeply personal. Rather than try to create a light-hearted atmosphere as she normally would, Yoshika decided to follow her friends' lead. She felt hyper-aware of the subtle cues Lynette's body language was giving off.
They reached the third floor. She continued to follow as Lynne walked confidently over to a set of oak double doors. These opened into an antechamber with a lush carpet and a number of overstuffed easy chairs. Built-in bookcases comprised the two far walls and beyond that a single step down took you into the main part of the room.
There were flowers and plants everywhere. The scent that filled the room… not only of plant life, but of soil and moisture, was indescribable. The darker room décor and the bright foliage contrasted in a pleasant, almost organic, fashion. A feeling of utter peace suffused the room.
"This is my special place Yoshika-chan." Lynne stated simply.
Yoshika was at a loss for words. All she could manage at the moment was an acknowledgment. "It's wonderful Lynne-chan."
They both stepped down into the arboretum. "Some of these are medicinal herbs." Yoshika noted with interest.
"Really?" Lynette asked curiously.
"Hai. This is Crocosmia Aurea. It's used for treating dysentery. And this is Actaea Racemosa. It can be used to treat muscle inflammation and arthritis." Yoshika explained.
Lynette gave her a crooked smile. "I thought they were just pretty flowers."
Yoshika smiled back. "They are also that."
A light knock at the door and a maid entered carrying a silver tray. Porcelain teacups, a carafe of fresh cream, sugar cubes and a tray of biscuits. The maid bowed and left silently.
Lynne poured the tea and they drank in a comfortable silence. Eventually Lynne got up and walked around a bit, unconsciously making physical contact with many of the objects in the room. A globe. A chair. The curtains. She seemed almost nostalgic.
"When I started attending classes at Gladwyyn I was so nervous. I was the new kid." She gave a self-depreciating laugh. "Three years later, when I graduated, I was still the 'new kid'." Although not facing Yoshika she was still speaking to her.
"Mother died when I was 10. My brothers were either just graduating or already enlisted in the military. So, it was only F-father and myself. When I was accepted into Gladwyyn, my aunt offered to let me live here." She turned to face Yoshika. "I discovered this room a few days after I got here. Soon it became my favorite place. To study or just be alone with my thoughts." She turned back to the bookcase once more.
"When I'm here it's like the world doesn't exist. Nothing can disturb me here. Nothing can reach me here." Her fingers absently stroked the spines of the books. "He can't touch me here."
Yoshika realized immediately that last statement had slipped out so subconsciously that Lynette herself was unaware she had said it. Suddenly everything fell into place in her mind and solidified her deepest suspicions. Lynne's reticent personality, her discomfort with strangers, her difficulty dealing with men, her awkwardness in social settings, her stutter...
Having lived and fought beside Lynne she had seen the girl face fears and overcome them. She knew Lynette was a strong person. But this fear… it was too dark, too horrible to be borne alone. In a world without a mother, without anyone to trust, without anyone to talk to, the pressure to preserve her family's social status - Lynette had no choice but to turn inward to protect whatever part of herself she still had.
The sudden revelation was almost too much for Yoshika. She wanted to burst into tears. That Lynne had to live with this pain and fear for all this time and all alone. She wanted nothing more that to gather the girl in her arms and protect her with all that she had. What little psychological knowledge she possessed told her that now was not the time for that.
Lynne was opening to her now more and more, however, when one is the most open is also when they are the most vulnerable. But being comfortable enough around Yoshika that she could let some things slip out, even if only subconsciously, aided in relieving the pressure on her mind.
Yoshika knew she could do nothing directly. She didn't have proper training. She could easily do more harm than good. What she could do was be there for her, help to support her emotionally and do her best to guide Lynne into seeking out someone who could help her.
She kept her voice carefully neutral. "I can see why this place is so special to you Lynne-chan. Thank you for showing it to me."
"You're my dearest friend Yoshika-chan. I've never had someone in my life that I could trust so completely." Lynne stated sincerely. "You've helped me so much, just by being my friend, I can't begin to tell you what that *yawwwn* means to me."
Yoshika patted the sofa next to her indicating that Lynne should sit down. "You look a little tired Lynne-chan. We still have three and a half hours before we have to report in. We should catch a quick nap."
Lynne nodded and sat down. She didn't object when Yoshika slipped an arm around her shoulder and pulled her down to rest her head in Yoshika's lap. They sat awhile longer in the peaceful silence.
Lynette gave a contented sigh. "Thank you."
"For today." She continued. "For this. For being my friend."
"The same goes for me Lynne-chan." Yoshika answered sincerely.
"After I met you I realized something." Lynette murmured sleepily. "Something important."
"What did you realize?" Yoshika asked quietly, gently stroking Lynette's loose tresses.
"You can't really appreciate how beautiful something is unless you share it with someone." She whispered. Soon her breathing became soft and even. She was fast asleep, safe under Yoshika's tender gaze.
Honey-gold light poured into the small arboretum, cast by the slowly setting sun, giving everything it touched an almost ethereal glow. The cityscape below had already fallen to the cool oranges and purples of dusk. Streetlights began to flare on here and there like stars twinkling in the night sky.
"You're right Lynne-chan. It is beautiful." Yoshika thought, her emotions catching in her throat. "And I'm so very happy that you chose me to share it with."
~ …to be continued ~