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ashes to gold

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MITSKI "Once More to See You"


TOVE LO "Crave"

 But with everybody watching us
Our every move
We do have reputations
We keep it secret
Won't let them have it


BAE JOOHYUN LEARNS the art of royalty at seventeen and she absolutely adores how much control her actions can have on the people around her.

   She's also learnt that kissing girls during Spin the Bottle still sends tremors of disbelief in a crowd despite there being somewhat of an equal chance of same-sex interaction in silly party games—she's not one for indulging herself in something as trite as Spin the Bottle but she does so for the sake of curiosity—and because there's a hunger in her eyes to be known and spoken about in terrified whispers. As the bottle halts to a stop in front of Kim Jungeun, like a compass calibrating itself to point to the north—a hush falls around them. Joohyun's lips quirk up in a practised smile because the stage has finally been set.

   Their lips meet and something unfurls against her ribs—a strange, disconcerting feeling that spreads outwards in a lazy drawl with the taste of lilac embedded on her tongue. It shouldn't have lasted more than a minute and as she pulls away, Joohyun completely basks in the scandalised looks of her classmates.



She's never been anything more than apathetic.

   To emote is to be weak and she's not about to give anyone that satisfaction. So she particularly hates that her chest crumbles every time Jungeun smiles at the new boy that's taken to follow her like a lovesick dog cowering for attention. Lilac isn't supposed to taste so bitter and forlorn.

   They share gym class every Thursday, and Joohyun, without any semblance of embarrassment asks her, "You don't mind me borrowing your spare kit again, do you?"

   "No, no, I don't mind!" And these are the moments that boy will never get to experience—something as intimate as sharing clothes and half-secrets confessed between gym lockers. Joohyun likes being the only one to own them.



"You could've had any boy you liked." Jungeun's tone drips with the sourness etched into her features. "I don't get why you never said yes to anyone. I'll never understand you."

   Joohyun is extremely stoic, eyes somewhat narrowed at the annoyance of Jungeun's words—just a lowly bitter pawn caught up in Joohyun's cruel game of chess. She's not ungrateful to be handed things others covet, but it just doesn't matter enough because everything—even people, go out of style—there will be a new boy to fawn over and another weak-willed student to manipulate. Joohyun though doesn't want to be forgotten.

   "You don't have to." She doesn't care to ever see Jungeun again, tired of her ordinary and unspectacular thoughts. They've crafted her into a mythic bitch and given her the power to ruin their lives. Let them hate her for their own follies. "I didn't ask, Jungeun. And I don't care."



The transition from student to trainee life under SM isn't much different and neither is her move from Daegu to Seoul but it brings with it a form of independence she's never had—now she's her own person without parental protection—not known by the association of her parents' name, but her own. She was given the opportunity to build an empire and she'd be damned if she didn't take it. She signs the contract, trying to swallow the offence that they so clearly mean—that she should change her accent like she's some village folk come to the city for the first time.

   For weeks she stays quiet, just making observations and cataloguing interactions, already placing a certain few in designated roles. She goes after the one most admired by others. Her name is Kang Seulgi and there's a nimble grace in her movements, so unfettered yet calculated it's as though she was born to dance her life away. And Joohyun has done her research—she never goes in without a plan.

   Seulgi is painfully shy and awkward after the music stops, a refreshing respite from Jungeun's dramatic intensity that she's dying to paint Seulgi in a different shade of purple.



She's thoroughly intoxicated in the power she has gained—a few coy smiles at the right people with certain actions built alliances meant to bestow her with the crown that's rightfully hers. They speak of her in various tones of awe and envy, transfixed by her veil of authority, dying to be her; the impassive beauty. But there's a vile sense of loneliness that slithers across her skin at night, despite the adoration she's horribly empty. School brought with it some loyalty in her corner with a semblance of friendship that isn't found in the blood of these trainee's.

   Seulgi is an exception—

   —too pliable, too childish, too sweet. Joohyun wants to dig her fingers right into the girls' very soul and mould her. Yet it seems Seulgi's not afraid to be lost in a statistic, instead too scared to be anything more than an acquaintance.



It's difficult for Joohyun to accept that trust isn't so easily gained when all her life it was a simple novelty given without her ever asking or even knowing. Seulgi is strange that way—a timid little girl not willing to share pieces of herself—strange because every other girl her age Joohyun has met always overshare, never thinking how damaging any information could be in the future. Her difference makes her a valuable asset.

   Joohyun wants Seulgi to see what it would be like on her side, to be Joohyun’s friend; in a world filled with delicacies and wonderment. They stand by a window looking down from the third floor—Gangnam seems small and unfamiliar, almost alien as people walk by each other in a rush to get somewhere. Seulgi looks forlorn and wistful, eyes searching for unseen patterns.

   "Seulgi-yah?" She doesn't respond.

   Joohyun places her hands on Seulgi's shoulders and feels her muscles seize under her fingers for a few seconds—Seulgi has an aversion to touch but Joohyun likes other people to know what's hers.

   "Uh... Yeah, unnie?" She blinks thrice, coming back from a stupor, shoulders still tense.

   Joohyun doesn't let go, instead adds more pressure—a deranged form of comfort. "You were out of it for a while."

   "Yeah, well..." There's an odd moment where Seulgi glances back outside the window. "Never mind—it's nothing." She offers Joohyun a smile that wavers at the edges. "Let's go get something to eat, I'm starving."




   Joohyun isn't sure what surprises her more; Seulgi initiating actual conversation or how her voice still sounds so very small—politeness laboured into every word—even after a year. "Hmm?"

   "You seem a little irritated," Seulgi says no more than a gentle murmur, tone caught dangerously between nervousness and nonchalance.

   "Is that right?"

   "I mean..." Her cheeks tint an adorable shade of pink that Joohyun has to physically stop herself from smiling, instead she regards Seulgi with a gentle fondness reserved only for children.

   "I am." Eyebrows raised, she decides she's more surprised at Seulgi's ability to catch onto a vague feeling and label it correctly. "It's just that I'm not..." She pauses abruptly, as if the mere sound of the word irks her, "talented enough to sing."

   "I could help you, I mean, only if you want. I know some techniques that made it easy for me."

   "Honey, it's easy for you because you're a natural. I'll adapt—there's nothing I haven't been able to overcome before."



It had rained earlier and left in its stead a calm zephyr to ease the thoughts—the asphalt painted with neon city lights in delicate strokes of water, doused footsteps hit the pavement create an untimely melody. Seulgi is absolutely lost in the sights, eyes alight with wonderment that for once she doesn't notice nor care about Joohyun's grip on her arm. There's an easiness about it all that's foreign to Joohyun, they move as though they're both made of each other.

   They stop in front of a local ice cream parlour that's ostentatiously bathed in a wrong shade of pink, there's nothing new about the place—just plain ordinary, a stark contrast to Seulgi's earlier words. An elderly man is sat behind the counter, veined with the tiring ethic of the metropolitan outlook.

   "My cousin and I used to come here all the time before I joined, ahjussi used to give us free scoops sometimes," she sounds almost sad despite the smile on her face, as though her memories are faded polaroid's from another time. "I'm not sure if he remembers me or not."

   "Does that matter?" Joohyun flinches for a second, unsure if Seulgi might take offence or shut her out entirely—mentally berating herself for not seeming to be more open.

   Seulgi purses her lips, "I guess not."

   Oh for God's sake—she pulls Seulgi closer so that their shoulders touch, lips forming a small pout, not willing to let go of her only ally, tone an overly embellished saccharine—"What I meant was that don't miss the past, you're here with me in the present—this moment is just ours."



Time screeches to a halt—a lone, loud pitch that teases the edge of her ears and diffuses into the background—some bare moments where Joohyun lies blissfully unaware and raw, whilst the veil lifts and her ribs rattle with a secret unseen. She can't stop herself, no—not as she's nestled in Seulgi's bed, drunk off of the easy comfort that follows Seulgi like a shadow and climbs up Joohyun's skin to bleed into her veins.

   This is their private sanctuary, huddled under the warm sheets, as they listen to obscure songs from the 90's—brought close together by the pair of earphones they share—Joohyun really looks at her and up close, Seulgi seems tired and weary as though 3 years of training finally snuck up on her—but Joohyun is honestly distracted by her eyes that hold a hint of some faraway galaxy.

   Seulgi's eyes are a lazy brown and Joohyun can't stop staring—hoping to just catch a glimpse of the clusters of stars that make up her soul.



Joohyun finds she's not good at any sort of consolation; more adept at being found callous and condescending, ready to tear apart egos. She's not made for comforting bratty little girls that start crying once they realise nobody cares—the sooner they absorb that reality and develop a sense of composure the better. Kim Yerim is undoubtedly made of lalique—small and fragile, her sobs cause a harsh cacophony inside the empty room—tears carrying away her happiness only to let it fade away in the stale air.

   She holds Yerim's hand in her own—not ready to forgo any situation she can so easily manipulate, "How old are you sweetheart?"

   Yerim curls into herself, "Twelve."

   Joohyun frowns in distaste at the industry's ethic of using children as a form of capitalistic currency, churning out more idols every year to satiate consumers. She settles in front of Yerim, acutely aware that the girl is afraid of her.

   "Hey, why're you crying?" Joohyun asks, dropping her voice to an almost whisper. "Did someone hurt you?"

   "Some—some girls they—they made… they made fun of me."

   She stops the urge to roll her eyes. "Oh, sweetheart. That's…" a stupid reason for you to be crying about—she controls herself at the right time, letting the sentence hang empty for a while, "…unfair. You can't let them treat you that way. Lemme tell you a secret." Yerim wipes at her cheeks, eyes glistening with curiosity. "If they ever bother you again, just punch 'em and… say Joohyun unnie said so."



She lies on the floor completely exhausted, gasping for air with a greed only present after a tense and exhaustive choreography—muscles practically burning with strain. She's always loved challenges, doing anything to be named victor and success in this industry feels like a game she's got to win. A few other trainee's mill about after hours in different rooms, willing to gain an advantage others have forfeited just to sleep.

   Seulgi finishes a sequence of steps in her corner, just slightly out of breath. Damn her stamina. Joohyun pushes herself up just in time to watch Seulgi open a water bottle and—apparently, she can't bring herself to look away.



   "Are you thirsty?"

   Joohyun huffs, annoyed at Seulgi's innocence—a thing neither of them have any control over. "No, I’m not," she turns away almost mechanically, "I'll see you tomorrow."



Yerim is young and practically bursting with an enthusiasm many of the other trainees have so inexplicably lost in their race to be robotic commodities submerged in the deranged art of voyeurism. Armed with the confidence bestowed upon her by Joohyun, she holds potential despite her age. For Joohyun she is an asset to conform until Yerim is but a rook made to protect her queen—it'll be a lot easier for Joohyun to instil such a conviction early on—much easier to slither behind Yerim's defences camouflaged in trust, to monopolise her tender mind.

   Lunch isn't the ordinary, silent affair anymore once Yerim is introduced into the equation, she brings with her a certain liveliness that hurts Joohyun's nerves like an untreated sore, but she doesn't interrupt nor let her displeasure radiate—firm in her belief that these fifteen minutes she so valiantly sacrifices will result in undying servitude. She holds Seulgi's left hand under the table, food left forgotten under the haze of feigned interest.

   "Unnie, unnie!" Yerim starts, gesturing wildly with the abandon of a three-year-old throwing a tantrum for attention. "You won't believe what—"

   Seulgi lets out a long sigh that's punctuated by irritation, solely interested in anything other than Yerim's baseless tirade. Joohyun quirks an eyebrow at Seulgi's obvious irritation and jealousy of having to share her, when for two years Seulgi was the only one in her court and has grown quite attached to their loneliness—but Joohyun has a plan, Joohyun always has a plan and a petty emotion like jealousy can't stop her from following it. So she rubs her thumb over the back of Seulgi's hand softly to send a message—you'll always be my number one—a means to an end.



Boys are an annoyance.

   They don't understand that Joohyun doesn't care about their romantic declarations—she's torn apart childish poems addressed to her in middle school, seen their masculinity shred and fall to the ground in jagged pieces—yet despite it all, she kisses a boy in a lonely and dimly lit corridor after practice. It's all wrong, she wasn't supposed to feel disgust—he tastes faintly of cheap mouthwash and inexperience, all clumsy and ashen—she's spun the narrative but her heart screams against her ribs in retaliation. Her mind a cataclysmic battlefield.

   Joohyun is entwined by the thread of indifference and she feels herself unravel at the edges. She misses Seulgi with a claustrophobic intensity that claws at the base of her throat in the shape of a scream. She can't remember his face when she pushes him away, a forgotten entity twining in the shadows as though her mind conjured him to twist her heart until it pooled with violent regret. She sprints, phone already in her hand—craving for Seulgi's touch to thaw the guilt that’s seeped into the marrow of her bones.



Joohyun spends the weekend before her 21st birthday at home.

   She meets some of her casual acquaintances from high school despite there being no real need, just a ploy to keep up appearances. She does well to be the centre of people's universe's, loves to watch them go round and round in disheartened orbits vying for any sort of attention she bestows upon them—they soak up the sustenance she provides to feed their dreary days like she's some sort of holy figure made to be worshipped.

   Her days feel empty with an awful lack that she wants to run until she falls into the safety of Seulgi's willowy arms—but Joohyun is rational even if Seulgi makes her feel senseless at times—she'll wait until she's back in Seoul to do so.



Joohyun isn't the type of person to admit she made a mistake.

   Usually, it's the fault of some incapable subordinate, so to acknowledge her own error is… unacceptable to say the least. Four years have given her ample time to delve into the secrets of the entertainment industry and she's not too fond to realise individual artist creativity is severely restricted—among other highly unpleasant things. She's not blind to the sexualised choreographies or the clothes to be worn that are just the 'right amount' of revealing—unable to understand she's not in control—unable to see herself be shattered and remade for the pleasure of other people.

   God, she's not used to be subservient, to be treated like a circus animal trained to entertain. But going back to Daegu means no more Seulgi and apparently, she's the right amount of selfless to stay.



For a terrifying second, Joohyun is still with shock and memory as they fuse in the pit of her stomach and bubble up her lungs in the shape of a growl.

   It's him and he's not the same diminutive creature she met over a year ago, fumbling with his hands on her shirt with a giddy boyishness and uncertainty present in the close proximity of a girl—he's taller, sly and greasy—no longer left unnoticed during unimportant conversations. He charms Seulgi as though he knows what she means to Joohyun and she absolutely hates the way Seulgi looks at him with immediate awe like he just lassoed the sun.

   So she kisses him again, it's hurried and vengeful, ripping away every ounce of Seulgi he has so unfairly tucked away in seclusion—an illegal remedy for redemption.



She's never been anything more than apathetic.

   But there's a certain ache that destroys every semblance of indifference she's coveted over the years whenever Seulgi cries in her arms—cradled against her chest as if Joohyun could protect for once rather than destroy. Seulgi is twenty but she cries like a child—all inhibited emotion spilling out like ink blots on tissue—and Joohyun has an urge to contain and repress. She hates every sob because it twangs her heart in the most painful way, the sound reverberating against the hollow abyss of her ribs, a twisted serenade to awake long forgotten secrets.

   Seulgi can't even say Joohyun’s name, throat hoarse and irritated but she tries anyway; the syllables so warped and thorny that Joohyun wants to soothe them away with gentle kisses. She misses every curve of Seulgi's smile, each and every kind of smile that spreads ripples of pleasure down her spine like beads of dew.

   Joohyun's never wanted anything she couldn't have and this slight miscalculation on behalf of her wayward heart is more than just an annoyance anymore. It's always right there, goading her, seducing her with images of what could be because Seulgi is always beside her—a constant reminder of what isn't hers.



The day itself is as bland and humid as Joohyun's mind.

   Samcheongdong is the only neighbourhood she's fond of in Seoul, as it's caught dangerously between overbearing tradition and a heaping slice of modernity that seems odd to some but to Joohyun it's the homey familiarity of Daegu that triggers her memories—of long tired walks through hanok lined streets, in no hurry to delve into the busybody life of the city. Today though, she's anything but reminiscent.

   There's a labyrinthine gap amidst Joohyun and Seulgi as they walk like strangers sharing each other's presence to still their own lonely hearts. Seulgi hid her hands in the pockets of her shorts the moment they stepped outside, a gesture meant to hurt because only Joohyun operates on a certain level of physical intimacy all the time. She stews in silence, a silent message only meant to be deciphered by Seulgi. Seulgi's shoulders are stooped, eyes downcast cataloguing the rough asphalt of the street and Joohyun's mind spirals with maybes—maybe she should've said yes, maybe she should've told the truth, maybe… But she's not in love, she's never been in love, never been a slave to someone else's words.

   Seulgi is supposed to be hers but she's never felt so far away before.



Red Velvet sounds overmodest, horribly girlish and tacky—almost palpable in its sweet stickiness—a four-member girl group, the concept already decided and dissected numerous times before this brief. They're just machines programmed to behave the way SM wants and in a sense, it’s more liberating than one realises. But Joohyun has always craved for more and despite being satisfied, the experience feels tainted with blotchy fingerprints.

   She's the same inexperienced girl that first came into SM, a mere child in front of corporate officials that sit imposingly as though she were on trial—except now she's stripped of her necessary sense of power, clinging to the last remaining threads offered as charity in the form of leadership. She's not a charity case, she's Bae Joohyun and she's...

   Disappointment crashes into her like a torrential wave, drenching her shoulders with grief—Seulgi will no longer be just hers, pulled apart yet again by societal values and group dynamics—yet she still smiles when she's required to, her heart heavy lodged in her throat.



It's incredibly limiting to have your days monitored by strangers—camera flashes inhibiting minute and ordinary facial expressions, microphones taking note in the subtle variations of dishonesty, photographs and videos ready to be dissected by the media—but such is the life of an idol; an individual so sought out and admired yet so unfairly criticised that having any shred of humanity serves as a detriment to their career. For Joohyun it's easy to be courteous and all polite smiles towards MC's, fellow idols, fans and the SM employees that balance the structure of Red Velvet because to them she is just a simple girl and in turn, they never wonder about her capacity for intelligence. She sticks to the script of being the perfect girl buried under vague patriarchal supremacy.

   Once she returns to their dorms—finally given the privilege to be annoyed at human interactions—it's more than just a relief. Her façade of niceties is too plain boring to be of any interest to herself, inherently despising the goody-goody act. The freedom to scowl and be bitchy has never felt so goddamn righteous.

   She settles next to Seulgi on the couch, her presence a balm able to soothe Joohyun's volatile moods. They've built an unspoken routine, no longer needing words to communicate the desire to be near each other; time having solidifying their friendship. Joohyun's never admitted to being spoiled but she is, hands clutching at Seulgi's forearm—never quite ready to let go, to share.



Joohyun is pissed drunk when she kisses Seulgi.

   It's long overdue, every touch and lingering glance had an air of unsubtle want wrapped inside and now it's exploded—her ribs crack as the untamed emotion spills out and taints their heated kiss. They're both riding on the high of Red Velvet's first win and all the alcohol that destroys their inhibitions—she tastes it when their tongues meet in a dance of passion—and in the way her hands trace across Seulgi's waist like she's impatient to learn.

   Seulgi's shirt is the first to go as Joohyun pushes her on the bed, pupils dilated in unrestrained desire. She kisses with a bruising intensity, with a pulsing need rushing in her veins—hands exploring Seulgi's body as though she craves every dip and rise and slope and imperfection, ready to claim what was hers since the very first day. Her mind is addled by the way Seulgi whines underneath her—her voice hoarse and laced with every syllable of Joohyun's name as she pushes a hand inside Seulgi's shorts.

   She revels in the way Seulgi responds to every stroke, both of them in tune to each other despite the alcohol that hangs menacingly over their decisions—like a smug arsehole that knows the regret that will follow them in the morning. But godammit—Joohyun had never known the extent of Seulgi and the effect her feverish whispers until now.

   Every action is drenched in pent-up energy and Joohyun silences Seulgi with a harsh kiss as she reaches her climax—fuck fuck fuck. Seulgi is even attractive with sweat pooled on her forehead and her ragged breath as she comes undone due to Joohyun's hand—and there's a certain toxic power in that gesture that she gets more drunk on this mere fact. God, she's exhausted. She pulls away and her hair creates a curtain between them and the outside world that she feels safe as her heart beats like a wild beast beneath her ribs—ready to spool at the mercy of a lowly human.

   She's not sober and that's her miracle—otherwise she would never have crossed the threshold and would've let her feelings fester until they consumed her with a certain madness.



There's a certain thrill that comes from the secrecy that adorns their relationship, each kiss becomes more valid and excited, touches more hurried and insatiable—time spent alone in empty rooms and rooftops becomes eternal as though nothing exists outside of their rose coloured bubble. Sharp wind stings at her cheeks, her nose almost numb and tinged red from the cold that Joohyun tries to hide in the hollow of Seulgi's shoulder. A haze of yellow light rises from the horizon and diffuses in the dark starless void above them.

   "I used to sneak out at night back in Daegu and just look at the stars, you can't even find one here anymore let alone a constellation," Joohyun pouts, cosying up to Seulgi like a content cat in front of a fireplace.

   "So, you know any constellations?"

   Joohyun offers a single sarcastic laugh, "Only Orion."

   "Everyone knows about Orion," Seulgi says impishly, cold hands trailing under Joohyun's shirt.

   Joohyun pulls at a lock of Seulgi's hair in mock retaliation, laughter bubbling up in her lungs—happy and at ease and thoroughly intoxicated because of Seulgi's awkwardly refreshing presence in her life—Seulgi's hands are on her waist and she pulls Joohyun impossibly closer until they're lost inside a kiss as fated as the birth of the sun.



Seulgi is autumn—chaste kisses that remind you of contented warmth under your childhood blanket, her taste sugary sweet like caramel on your tongue, skin fragrant of change—she coddles you like a cup of rich mocha, her lips painted with a burgundy smile. She is autumn, all mellow beauty and harvested love.

   Joohyun is winter—cold eyes that remind you of icy days in the mountains, her touch like the frigid wind that dusts your cheeks red, hair heady of peppermint winter—she's the harsh end of an unforgiving cycle. She is winter, isolated and undecipherable.

   Seulgi thaws Joohyun's winter and in turn Joohyun congeals Seulgi's autumn; a different kind of affection amidst their chaotic unlikeness.



Sooyoung turns the lights off and the room is bathed in soft darkness caressed by the soft fire of the candles, she smiles all saccharine and nods at Yerim. "Everyone ready?"

   "No, no, no," Seungwan admonishes, "no one is getting drunk. Especially not you two—right, unnie?"

   But Joohyun can't bring herself to speak, too distracted by Seulgi's hand on her thigh weighed with promises of something more—little teasing touches that linger a second too long but not enough for anyone else to notice.

  "It’s just rosé, unnie," Yerim rolls her eyes in mock irritation, lips quirked in a half smile.

   Seulgi nudges her in the ribs playfully and Joohyun turns to glance at her and—god, this is what a punch to the gut must feel like and it leaves her utterly perplexed and breathless—Seulgi smiles in a way only she can, nose scrunched in feigned disgust at the sight of the bottle. Nothing matters except Seulgi and the way the candlelight flickers shadows ever so gently against her cheeks and lips.

   "You look..." Joohyun whispers, they're sat close enough that it catches Seulgi's attention. She could say—extraordinary, exquisite, gorgeous—but they don't mean anything against the bliss that spreads over her skin in a glittery sheen.



Her muscles are achingly tense and her heart beats dangerously in her throat—as she watches Seulgi on the dance floor, eyes focused on the material of her jeans and the way it stretches with every movement—her hands itching to pull them off of her. They're at a party filled with familiar faces that would leap at the opportunity of a crack in the lie that she's just a leader for Seulgi. So, Joohyun downs a shot, unable to satiate the monster that growls every time she catches anyone come at Seulgi with less than pure intentions.

   She's not happy to be outside—she would rather have stayed in their dorm with Seulgi wrapped up in her arms, away from prying eyes—but Red Velvet never gets chances to go out that she crumbled under the pleading eyes of her fellow members. Especially Seulgi's. There's regret bubbling up her throat at giving in because she's earned Seulgi, she kisses away her worries and unsettling thoughts, she's the one who knows how to please her in bed—but all of that isn't public and it's their little secret and she just wants to scream.

   "Hey, Irene." She almost flinches away at the proximity until she realises it's only Seulgi and her shoulders sag in relief. "Let's go dance? You don't look like you're having too much fun."

   Seulgi's cheeks are adorably flushed and Joohyun curbs the intense need to kiss her. "I'm not having fun, Seul. I want to go." She sounds almost petulant and she blames it on the shots she had earlier.

   "Go where?" Her hand is at Joohyun's wrist, soft but the press is needy, completely different than how she looks. In the years she's known Seulgi, she's grown more after the debut than any other idol she knows—like a flower that prevails even in the dead of winter—she's become more like the wicked person Joohyun sees herself as.

   Joohyun sneaks a hand across Seulgi's waist, giving it a flirtatious squeeze whilst saying, "Anywhere." And something in Seulgi's eyes changes, she pulls Joohyun up with her and guides her through the crowd, upstairs, and pushes her in an empty bathroom, locking it behind her.

   Seulgi is rarely ever dominant, Joohyun doesn't let her be, anyway, but it feels so goddamn sexy to be pushed up against the wall after what feels like months. She pushes her legs apart with a hand, slowly trailing up her dress to her stomach and down her thighs in soft, teasing touches that Joohyun thinks she'll finally go mad.

   "Please," she whimpers, stopping Seulgi's hand and guiding it between her legs. She realises a moment too soon how much she hates it roll off her tongue, that she just begged—she sees it in Seulgi's smirk like she finally checked off a task on her to-do list. God, that smirk is so infuriating that she forgets where they are and moans when Seulgi presses a thumb against her underwear.

   But she doesn't move, her hand still as though waiting for a command. Joohyun arches her hips forward and Seulgi just pulls her hand away, obviously enjoying the way Joohyun whimpers at loss of contact. "What do you want me to do?"


   Seulgi can't seem to stop smiling, hands placed on Joohyun's thighs, the warmth seemingly more teasing than anything she's ever done. "I want you to say it," she says, mouth against Joohyun's neck.

   "Fuck, Seul—" Her voice cracks as Seulgi starts kissing her neck. "Fuck, fuck... Fuck, I need you. Please."

   "You need me to...?" But she's already brushed off Joohyun's underwear, thumb rubbing in slow, deliberate circles that she whines without meaning to, fingers fisting the material of Seulgi's shirt.

   She can't seem to form coherent sentences, words trip into others but she sighs Seulgi's name every time her fingers go somewhere new. It's almost dizzying how much Seulgi knows where to touch to send her over the edge, that she feels naked despite the dress she's wearing. Her heartbeat causes a din in the atmosphere and she's gone, laid bare in Seulgi's hands—not being able to hear any sound other than her heart as it swells, beating the rhythm of Seulgi's name—that she frighteningly realises as she comes down from her high that she's in love with Kang Seulgi.



"Isn't this such a beautiful night?" Seulgi murmurs, voice changing in inflection slightly. She reaches out for Joohyun's hand in the dark, an anchor to steady her uncertain steps.

   Sentences fall and form at the tip of Joohyun's tongue—some fade away in her mind, others feel so inexplicably heavy and taste like rough cotton. There's no moon in the sky yet the stars cast beautiful shadows against Seulgi's skin, her smile brighter than a thousand suns. "You're right."

   "Aw, you should've let me finish singing." Seulgi pouts adorably, letting go of Joohyun's hand to pull her closer—the length of her body pressed up against Seulgi's—their stomachs touch and the sensation sends electricity up her spine. Joohyun breathes in the fruity sweet scent of Seulgi's new perfume, wanting to pull her in for a blinding kiss.

   "That was a song?" Joohyun says, a teasing smirk evidently present in her voice.

   Seulgi just hums in agreement, lips dangerously close and caressing Joohyun's neck. For an entire minute, Joohyun's mind feels empty, her arms around Seulgi, fingers fisted in the material of her shirt—she pulls away in an abrupt motion. "Seul—"

   But her words are lost inside a kiss, chapped lips against her own that everything else in the world seems so goddamn insignificant—it's so languid and passionate that when Seulgi pulls away, Joohyun almost whines at the loss of contact. "You’re wonderful, Hyun-ah."

   All these years Joohyun has pushed Seulgi on the path where the only end is being able to fade away in a crushing vacuum, alone and lost in a never-ending spiral of existentialism—but Seulgi is utterly irreplaceable, and the more she pushes her there'll be nothing left to adore. And Joohyun is so desolate, a traitor to her empire seconds away from the noose; they say when the villains fall, the kingdoms never weep.



Joohyun knows she isn't a good person.

   She's never been inherently good, always hidden behind a faux mask that people so readily believed her blatant lies coaxed out of red stained lips. Every decision she's ever made she's always put herself first—a most basic survival instinct so lost in the fools which trust her. In the years that pass by her life becomes less of her own, constantly put on guard with every interaction lest she slip and...

   The dorms are uncharacteristically silent, Sooyoung and Yerim gone gallivanting outside under Seungwan's watch. Joohyun prefers this cacophonous silence, lost in some second-hand freedom with Seulgi by her side. She isn't a good person, never had any need to be honestly selfless. Seulgi is already toying with the hem of Joohyun's shirt. "Seul."

   Seulgi flinches and immediately retracts her hand at the tone of Joohyun's voice, her smile tinged with guilt. Detachment usually comes easy to Joohyun—just a shift of the perspective and she can view everything with a clinical outlook—but there's a horrifying stall in which she can feel the repercussions prick at her eyes.

   Joohyun shifts to lean against her elbows, expression schooled in certain lethargy like she's already bored of the conversation. Something unfurls beneath her ribs—all jagged edges and animalistic in its nature—it hurts. "We should stop."

   "What—?" Seulgi fumbles slightly, eyes wide like she knows the implication behind those words.

   "You know we can’t let this go on."

   Joohyun knows she's not the messiah Seulgi made her as, always on the ready to let go of the expectations people have built of her—ready to watch their fantasies break in one electric crack. She can offer no salvation when she's the one to betray.

   "But I don't understand?"


   There is no indifference—she can't laugh, can't relish in the way heartbreak slumps Seulgi's shoulders—Seulgi is no stranger, she's a part of Joohyun and doing this feels like bullet wounds to her soul.

   "No," Seulgi's voice wavers, thick and watery but there's no malice in her words—just questions, and it tugs at Joohyun's heart until it rips—she stands near the foot of the bed, her pallor almost sickish, "no, no, why are you—?"

   "Don't act like a child honey, it's beneath you."

   "Would you please stop interrupting me and just listen for once?" Seulgi finally explodes in confusion, grief dripping in every syllable. "Why does it feel like I didn't even matter to you? Like—like all this time we weren't together."

   "Don't delude yourself, Seulgi, we were never anything." Joohyun focuses on the dreary clouds that spread gloom outside the dorms and the wind that howls in pathetic fallacy. "If you're going to be a child about it then you're allowed to leave."

   Seulgi steps back as though burnt, her cheeks stained with righteous red hurt, unsteady hands already twisting the doorknob—the loud thud swallows the sob that tumbles from Joohyun's throat unaided, laced with regret. She isn't a good person, she knows she isn't a good person, she's always been anything but what Seulgi thought of her—she is vile and vacuous tainted with carnage. It's all too clear now that life was never meant to be more than what she saw. Her heart is heavy and hollow, so she cries for her mistakes, for what she's lost, for Seulgi but mostly, for herself.