Chapter 1: i.
And I see it coming, not so inviting
The blue coast is calling, I'm so scared of falling
Seasons are changing, we're rearranging
Our plans in the sand, I'm so tired, could we just
Skip down the road back home?
The sheets are soft under Joohyun's hands as she clenches them in order to anchor her thoughts—they're not the stiff material one usually finds in hotels and they're devoid of any smell, remaining neutral amidst the background of the paraphernalia scattered across the room. The room itself, though, is pungently clinical, as all hotel rooms are, it leans toward a certain aesthetic of minimalism interspersed with the vague shapes of what was congealing behind shadows and corners. She's in a state of lethargy in which sleep evades her like a frightened animal and her mind is foggy, unfiltered and open—pain being her only companion in the quicksand that are her thoughts. Joohyun feels terrible pangs of loneliness hit her in successions, even though Seulgi is a few short steps away, getting ready for bed.
The hot shower she took earlier did nothing to calm the ache in her shoulders which has been present since yesterday's concert. Joohyun is typically a fan of the hard adrenaline that shoots through her veins whenever she's on the stage, always relishing in the response of the people that come out to see Red Velvet but she's so tired, ready to collapse in a week-long hibernation—ready to fade away in the blissful nonexistence of sleep. And yet, her wakefulness is fitful, caught between falling inside an unfamiliar passageway of her psyche and acknowledging just how tired her body is. She's worse than just agitated; wanting to pull at her skin until she sees blood, to scream until her throat is filled with pins—the frustration settles, somewhat sedated in her stomach, curled up like a content cat as tears fall down her face. They're the tears brought upon by the sheer unnameable frustration taken to Joohyun like a cruel obsession, these tears don't redeem her soul instead they propagate misery. Her silent tears form a cacophony until—
—the veil lifts as Seulgi emerges from the bathroom. Soapy, fruity air filters inside, robbing Joohyun of the privacy she didn't need. "I didn't think you wanted to room with me," Seulgi says, all light and airy, completely unaware of the melancholy that's clung to the walls in her absence, she continues, as though clarifying, "I'm happy, though—reminds me of the old days."
Joohyun can't respond, her throat is filled with vile guilt that's been begging to escape and coat her tongue red until her secrets are laid bare through decayed words.
It isn't until the bed dips with Seulgi's weight that Joohyun wants to hide away the scattered pieces of herself until there's nothing left of her to see. One more touch and she might completely break under her fake composure, one more touch and... Seulgi's hands are warm against her skin, shooting electricity up her arm—it's so pleasurable that it stings, spine tingling in anticipation. Seulgi settles into the bed next to her, every movement measured and precise, tugging at Joohyun's wrist as though asking her to turn around.
She feels horribly petulant. "I'm—I'm fine, don't—"
But she's lost the war, head hung low in surrender as Seulgi wraps her arms around Joohyun's small frame. Sadness pours out in waves, drenching Seulgi's shirt like blotches of ink. It's been years since she's cried like this—with frustration and emotions all coming out in tears—voice thick with the possibility of redemption. Each sob purges her heart of the accumulated pain and exonerates her soul. Her wrist throbs with a need she pushes away, Seulgi's clean scent infuses in Joohyun's clothes that if she were somewhat rational, she might have gone mad.
"Are you alright?" Seulgi pauses and the air swirls and swirls as if perplexed. Joohyun sniffs, pushing herself up, unaware of how close they are until she glances up. Her cheeks suddenly feel hot, hotter than the tense air around them. She swipes away her tears in an attempt to not feel so ashamed, eyes not meeting Seulgi's curious gaze.
"I'm sorry I..." she trails off as Seulgi gets up, unable to process the loss of comfort.
"There's no need to apologise."
Joohyun feels hot shame like glitter on her cheeks, face still slightly damp acting as a reminder of her weakness. She wants to be alone, left to the vile vengeance and emptiness she deserves. If only the dark and cold emptiness of the starless void was something she could achieve and reach out to. Every part of her seems to be in mourning for every spec of dignity she lost—but inside she's calm and stationary. Seulgi stands uncertain near the bed, thrust into a situation where she can't see any possible outcome.
"Do you wanna talk about it?"
It's almost like Joohyun has nothing left to say—in a pointless state of shock—she just shakes her head.
"Come on, then." Seulgi pulls her up so they're stood face to face, enveloped in the faint rush of silence and darkness. A lamp shines dimly in a corner, protecting shadows from wandering eyes. Joohyun's heart practically rattles beneath her ribs, sending fire racing through every nerve until she feels alive.
"Whenever I'm sad I like to dance," Seulgi whispers somewhat sheepishly, hands on Joohyun's waist.
"I'm sorry," Joohyun says, chin on Seulgi's shoulder—breathing in Seulgi's scent at such close proximity makes her mind spin—hands gripping her shirt like a lifeline.
The seconds before she replies seem so long stretched taut over time and space, arms looped around Seulgi's neck, "I'm sorry that I'm jealous of your boyfriend."
"You know it's a publicity stunt, unnie—"
"—And I know it's unfair that—"
"—I'm jealous because he's got you."
Joohyun steps back at the intensity of her own words—Seulgi is wide eyed, her expression a mixture of fear and contemplation, hands hovering in the air frozen, where Joohyun was moments ago. The words create a fiendish atmosphere that goads the shadows, stripping away the sanctuary until Joohyun has the odd sensation that she's naked.
"I'm not—I'm—" She stumbles over words like she's just learnt how to talk—the weight of what she just said knocks the air out of her lungs. "I... I..."
But Seulgi steps in closer, holding Joohyun's hands—offering her stability, an anchor to cling to lest she fall into the vicious circle of regret. Silence seems to create a conversation on their behalf, the only form of communication being the way Seulgi looks at her—as though Joohyun is a peculiar brand of strangeness. Seulgi squeezes her hand in lieu of a question and before Joohyun can even think of an answer her thoughts fade away in delicate curls of mist when their lips meet. There's nothing soft about the action—it's all brazen energy that crashes at the edge of her consciousness in tsunami waves—Joohyun practically falls limp into her arms, every beat of her heart in synchronous connection to Seulgi's as though they were in each other all along. And as soon as it started, Seulgi pulls away to press their foreheads together.
Joohyun sucks in a breath, "You can't... do that to me. I don't—I can't be a part of some—some stupid phase."
"Do you think you could ever be a phase in my life?" Seulgi's hand is on her jaw, it's an invitation this time for Joohyun to do anything first—but her mind is on the brink of collapse, a pulse of irritation passes through her.
"Don't say that—"
"Then what do you want me to say?" Seulgi is ever patient, voice slow and rounded with a certain softness Joohyun has come to associate with her—but there's an expression in her eyes that's completely foreign to her words, "That I'm not attracted to you?"
"You're not attracted to girls, Seulgi-yah—I've known you since years. You don't—you—you don't..."
"But I'm attracted to you. Doesn't that matter?"
A hollow silence fills in the spaces between them, falling into every crevice with a tainted truth Joohyun is ready to forget. Whatever calmness her and Seulgi had together evaporates—leaving in its stead a sick sort of shame that travels across her arms like an army of ants. Shadows flicker lazily in her peripheral vision, tempting her to lose.
"I'm tired, Seul," Joohyun says, a disconnect present in her eyes, "I'm gonna head to bed."
Blind infatuation, I can't get away
Even if I could I'd be whipped back by your chains
Hooked up like an IV, floating through my bloodstream
Twisted sick addiction, you're my lucid dream
Joohyun sees magnificent shadows at night—behind the trees they follow her like demented assassins, ready to consume her with the ever-present carnage that hangs in the air around her head—so utterly desolate and deadly.
She doesn't remember herself ever saying yes to Seulgi at her suggestion of a late night stroll, her mind had frozen when Seulgi jumped on her bed—those goddamn pouty lips pulled up in a smile. The shadows writhe in the dark the way her heart had squeezed and exhaled to the beat of her name—Seulgi, Seulgi, Seulgi—her touch felt like a hurricane, so wild and uninhibited and her lips, oh god they tasted of the finest of sorrows and—no. Joohyun shakes her head as if doing so would purge her of the very thought.
The cold winter air feels terribly bitter in her lungs and like knives tipped with poison it cuts into her skin to spread gloom. It's almost odd and surrealistic to see the city reflected in the river, to see the waves lap against the image and distort its very essence. Seulgi slips her hand into Joohyun's, their fingers entwine lovingly—this gesture of pure affection is too much for her, she just wants to disappear—to be forgotten and unloved. They're alone on the walkway yet the prospect of that seems so unreal that Joohyun expects to hear that mechanical click of the shutter at any time. Perhaps they would see their simple walk catalogued in the tabloids tomorrow, twisted into something else entirely.
"Your hands are cold," Seulgi says—her breath congeals in soft puffs of white only to fade away into the air the next second. "D'you wanna go somewhere warm?"
There's nothing more freeing to be outside, alone, without the eyes of strangers following her every step—to look at the sky without the thought of what would they say?—to be lost inside Seulgi's spell.
They say no more and the silence feels like a trap against Joohyun's chest, as though it wants to pry out words from her throat—it's so bizarre to be beside Seulgi and feel the need for words to fill in the gaps of silence like they're no more than acquaintances. Nothing feels right, every topic is fake and unnecessary, can't find anything worthwhile to say. She's not socially inept but she's never needed sentences to convey what she feels to Seulgi.
"I uh... I actually had something to talk to you about," Seulgi pauses as though waiting for Joohyun to respond, to say anything to dispose of the monotony that's fallen but she doesn't. Seulgi wets her lips, a nervous habit and then clears her throat. "Do you remember what you told me... that—that night? At the hotel?"
Her heart stalls for a moment, squeezed by the wicked hand of fate. She can't breathe—the memory tortures her soul. The shape of Seulgi's lips against her own is like a melody at the back of her mind, ever present—it lingers in the air and tattoos itself to her heart. During training she learnt ways to avoid unnecessary questions posed by journalists—stay impassive and deflect—"I don't."
"You said you had feelings for me."
Joohyun flinches at that and turns her attention towards the river and imagines what it might feel like to let the water fill her lungs—to feel that all-encompassing darkness seep into her veins until she can no longer breathe nor think. An ironic death at the hand of the very thing she's afraid of—almost fitting for someone as immoral as her. "I didn't say that. I didn't say anything like that."
"But you kissed me." Seulgi's voice gets soft, with a little lilt she uses with fans to seem approachable but it distances her from Joohyun.
"You kissed me," Joohyun says, wrenching her hand away from Seulgi's, "don't put it all on me."
In a fit of irrational fear, she looks around her but there's no one present for miles—only the shadows as they listen in secret. The hood of her sweatshirt falls in the process and Seulgi turns to face her, lips pursed in slight annoyance as though unwilling to say something more. She pulls the hood back up for Joohyun.
"Unnie..." she exhales and closes her eyes in lieu of a mantra, "can't we just talk about it?"
"What do you want me to say?"
Joohyun can see the way anger slowly burns under Seulgi's skin—from the whites of her knuckles to the slight shake of her hands, cheeks flushed by an unfamiliar rage—she wants to push and push and push until whatever respect that holds her back breaks.
"I said I'm attracted to you," Seulgi says—her voice so small like a dejected child's, "but you pushed me away like I was some sort of pariah."
"It's not—it’s not right, we can't." She can't look at Seulgi, can't see the disappointment in her eyes, can't see that hint of betrayal—instead she focuses on the pattern of Seulgi's scarf—it’s one Joohyun bought for herself before debut. Seeing Seulgi in her stuff is almost intoxicating.
"You mean to say my feelings aren't right?"
At the sound of her voice, Joohyun catches her gaze out of habit and she's reminded of their trainee days where Seulgi used to hunch her shoulders as though she didn't belong to walk the very steps of the people she admired. She'd promised herself she'd never let Seulgi feel so terribly small and out of place, she'd promised, god, she'd promised.
"No! No, no I'd never—I’d never say that about you." Uncomfortable, she looks away, her throat chokes on every other word. "It's me, god I'm not right. I think about you and—and that's so wrong."
Seulgi steps in closer and Joohyun can almost feel the scent of strawberries from her hair create a sudden rush like static in her head—she wants to run her fingers through Seulgi's hair and whisper sentences upon sentences about adoration against her neck—it’s too much. Joohyun tenses and stills, watching Seulgi unwind the scarf from her neck with a certain apprehension, a question forms on her tongue but fades away the moment Seulgi places it on Joohyun's head and her own—a makeshift barrier from the world around them. She takes hold of Joohyun's wrists softly. "What do you think about me?"
A vague sort of panic rises up her throat, her proximity to Seulgi negates any sense of composure she had, "It's—it’s their fault—they talk—they—they say those things and I can't stop myself. I'm sorry—I’m so sorry." She pulls her wrists away from Seulgi's grasp, her voice thick and muffled from unshed tears. "They say… they say that I look at you like I want to kiss you."
"And what's so bad about that, Joohyunie?" Seulgi is ever persistent, searching for ways to keep physical contact—to keep Joohyun grounded lest she fall into the dark abyss of guilt, to offer help and redemption in a world in which her every action is prosecuted.
"We can't, we're both girls."
"But we've already kissed." At that Joohyun flinches as though she were slapped yet Seulgi continues, "And that can't change the fact that I'm attracted to you."
"Stop. Stop it—stop saying things like that."
A dry sob tears out of her throat and it makes every word sound defeated and flat, "Please Seulgi-yah, just stop. I'm—I'm sick—it's a disease."
Seulgi wraps her arms around Joohyun in a hug so tight she can feel Seulgi's bones poke at her skin—it feels frighteningly delicious. "Don't say that! You're not sick, Joohyun-ah. Don't limit your feelings, you're only human." She drops her voice to a soft whisper, "Do you like me? Romantically?"
Violent sobs threaten to silence her voice—Joohyun nods fervently in reply.
"Well, I like you, too. And that's not a crime."
"I'm not..." Joohyun manages to say, voice thick and nasally as though she's only ever cried in her life, "it's just you."
Seulgi rubs her back softly to offer her any form of support. "I know."
"I'm not gay," Joohyun says the word like it's something vile on her tongue, "it's only—it’s only ever been you."
"I know," Seulgi repeats and lets the silence settle in the air around them, all soft edges and merciless in its communication—it doesn't offer any solace to either of them, just lingers in the air like the scent of some cheap perfume. "We'll figure it out together, alright?"
For once Joohyun feels so utterly full, wrapped in the arms of a person so precious to her that it feels as if every inch of Seulgi is every inch of herself. For once she lets herself believe that it's okay to be lost inside a sudden spell of adoration—it's okay, it's okay, it's okay. Underneath the safety of the scarf, anything feels quite possible—the shadows roll away like dissipating fog.
Um, yeah. Couldn't stop that rush of inspiration, soz—do let me know what y'all think.