It had been a long month since the fine dust of shock over Pearl Harbor had settled atop their girlish shoulders. A month since Kate left Betty bruised and heartbroken, a month since James enlisted and left Gladys to take care of herself… A month since Vera found the strength through camaraderie to return to VicMu. In the weeks passed, the tests endured brought to the surface a newly emerged layer of character within each woman in the factory. Some sank deeper into fear, while others became even stronger and more…capable?

They started out the night okay enough, tired and a little sore from a long day, but eager to giggle and gossip. They passed around a bottle of something with a torn-off label, and Gladys found it best not to ask. It was potent, but sweet, and it eased the nerves and slacked the jaw- precisely what Dr. Betty had ordered. At some point, amid the raucous laughter and poor impersonations, Vera excused herself for a smoke out on the balcony, and as she left the room, Gladys noticed that she'd left her cigarettes on the floor, shoved off to the corner.

Without arousing suspicion, she, too, excused herself and set off down the hallway. Reaching the door to the small balcony on the other end of the building, her heart slammed into wall of her chest and sank into the pit of her stomach.

"What are you doing, Vera?"

The blonde didn't move. "I can't do it anymore, Gladys," she said through gritted teeth, voice shaking.

Gladys tentatively reached a hand out and placed it on Vera's lower back. Very calmly, she said, "Vera, you can do anything. You are the strongest person I know. You are so beautiful in so many ways-"

"Except where beauty really matters," Vera hissed.

"I think you're lovely."

Vera didn't say anything, but lowered her head. Her grip on the rail began to falter slightly, and her arms began to shake. In one swift motion, Gladys carefully wrapped her arms around Vera's midsection and pulled her back from her perch and onto the floor. The blonde began to weep freely and she doubled over, folded into herself.

"Don't," Gladys muttered, gathering the broken woman into her arms.

Draped over her friend and shaking, Vera sniffled loudly and sucked in several heaving breaths. "You just don't understand. You- you have love. Even if J-James leaves you, you still h-have beauty." She made a faint choking noise and swallowed. "N-no one will ever l-love me. I look like F-Frankenstein," she mourned quietly.

Gladys peppered her forehead with kisses. "We all love you," she said between kisses, "And you will find your true love as sure as I know my name. You will find more than that. When the boys come home, they'll fight over you just as they always have."

She caressed the side of her face. "I think you're even more beautiful than the day I met you."

Vera used the hem of her dress to dab at her eyes. "You're sweet, Gladie, but you're full of shit." She sniffled again. "And you only thought I was beautiful because of… my hair." She raised her hand to her head and tugged helplessly at the wig.

Gladys leveled her gaze to meet Vera's. "I thought you were beautiful. Your hair was just an… accessory. And besides, your hair is already nearly as long as when I met you. Soon, you'll be able to put that wig in a box and never have to see it again until you're an old woman with grand kids who think their grandmere is the bravest person in the whole world. You'll be able to take it out and say, 'I overcame this. I was a soldier.'"

Vera shook her head. "No one will love me. No one will ever kiss me again," she muttered sadly, touching her fingers to her lips.

"I think you're wrong," Gladys said.

In a movement part drunken whim, part pity, she leaned forward and touched her lips gently to Vera's. The kiss caught her off-guard, and she gasped, pulling back in surprise.

"I-" she began, looking startled. Gladys cupped her chin softly and brought their lips together. Their mouths moved against each other tenderly, and one or twice, their tongues just barely brushed through ever-so-slightly parted lips. It was sweet and gentle, and lasted just as long as it took for both to lose thought long enough to enjoy the moment.

Gladys pulled away first. "See," she whispered, "You've already been kissed. Your theories are entirely incorrect."

Vera nodded. "Betty… liking Kate never really bothered me. But now, I definitely can't say a word," she said, the smile returning to her saddened eyes.

Gladys brushed the backs of her fingers over Vera's cheek. "You're lovely, Vera. And the strongest person I know. Please," she whispered, "Please don't ever leave us."

The blonde ducked her head to nuzzle into Gladys's hand. "I won't."

"C'mon," Gladys said, hand outstretched for Vera to take it. "Let's go drink and talk about people some more."

Vera smiled a little and slipped her hand into Gladys's.