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Firefly Waltz

Chapter Text

Music Hyperlink: I Will Be Your Warmth, by Babylon & Yeri.


 

By the time they arrived at their apartment complex, the sun had started to dip its toes into the horizon despite the numbers that blinked stark against Yena’s phone background. Autumn was weird, she decided, with a sky that switched its light off too early for the moon to rise. Yuri had returned to the comforts of her own apartment with the excuse that she had work to do before her classes started again tomorrow. For once, Yena didn’t argue, too sleepy to even keep her eyes open. She had merely waved goodbye (and goodnight) to Yuri at the elevator before stumbling into her own place.

 

Throwing her bags aside, Yena flopped into bed and dropped like a stone into the ocean of sleep.

 

Somewhere in the middle of the night, Yena found herself standing before Yuri’s grandmother’s house, by the gate like the first time. The house was bathed in blinding sunrise, the cloudless sky overhead a brilliant blue. The camphor tree was in full bloom, masses of delicate white flowers against lush green foliage. Sitting between the roots of the tree with a guitar in hand was a bespectacled man, barely into his early thirties, a pencil tucked by his ear. His round-rimmed glasses balanced precariously on his nose-bridge. Every few minutes or so, he would scribble something into the notebook beside him before strumming his guitar.

 

A while later, a young woman came out of the house, carefully carrying a one-year-old in her arms. She was breathtakingly beautiful, a wide smile on her face as she walked towards the man. Sitting down by the man under the tree, she mouthed words that Yena couldn’t hear to the man. He offered her his notebook, watching with expectant eyes as she glanced through the words and notes he had written down.

 

And when they sang together, harmonies against the gentle resonance of guitar strings, Yena felt something blossom within her, a light flickering to life in her heart. 

 

The heartwarming scene faded to sepia, then faded away. Yena found herself standing - or was she merely floating, she couldn’t tell, for the world was pitch-black like the night sky without a single star in sight. Nor was there sound or smell, nothing to touch when she stretched her hands out. There was no ground or ceiling to speak of, no walls that encroached on her space and boxed her in, but the darkness was suffocating.

 

Yena closed her eyes, willing the dream away. When she opened them again, she was back at the house, though this time it held lingering darkness from before. The large evergreen tree still carried its leaves, but instead of the luscious viridian that graced the scene from before the leaves were dyed a dull grey. It was as if the whole house, the whole of Busan had been messily painted with black and white, and where the black and white met grey propagated.

 

Gone was the bespectacled man, replaced by thick roots that burst through the ground. A rotting wooden table stood where the woman and her child once sat. The static crackling of leaves swallowed the sweet sound of the guitar.

 

Under the camphor tree, a young girl wept.

 

#

 

Yena woke up to a damp pillow, tear stains spreading blotches on the cotton casing. She was bound to get up sometime, but for now Yena lay there for a while longer, her hand clutching at her chest as she recalled the vivid scene in her dreams. What was that?, she wondered. A warm scene turned bleak, joyful homeliness fading into solitary sadness.

 

It hurt.

 

Yuri hurt.

 

And Yena hurt with her.

 

Crawling out of bed, Yena reached for her phone to text Yuri. “Are you free today?” By the time she showered, got dressed, put on some make-up so she didn’t completely look like she was crying in her sleep, her phone was ringing.

 

“I’m free this afternoon,” Yuri said upon Yena picking up the call, getting straight to the point.

 

Yena brightened. “Let’s go get some coffee and cake. There’s this really great place I know, I think it’s near your university.”

 

“Sure!” Yena heard a loud thunk of something being dropped on the floor. “Hold on, I’m trying to pack my things. I’m sort of running late, but I’ll call you when I’m done, okay? Text me the address or something.”

 

“What if I pick you up from class instead? Is that okay?”

 

“Um…” Yena heard heavy breathing on the other end of the line. “Sure, I guess. You can find our campus map online.”

 

No point in saying that she already knew the ins and outs of Yuri’s university; after all, Chaewon studied there, too, and Yena often snuck into her classes for fun. “See you later, then!”

 

Would this help Yuri hurt less?

 

#

 

Yena stood outside the campus gates, a mask securely fastened over her face, a baseball cap tilted down to hide her face. She was wearing a varsity jacket - not that of the university’s, but it gave her a more inconspicuous casual college student vibe. That, and her roughed-up sneakers and ripped jeans? Perfect. That was all she needed. No one would ever figure out who she was.

 

She strode confidently past the science faculty, turned the corner at accounting, and paused in front of the building where all the theatre kids would gather at. She remembered waiting for Juri here once. More than once, actually, because when they were dating Yena wasn’t nearly as popular as she was now, and on her free days she’d come over with a snack or a drink for Juri as she waited for the Japanese woman to finish her rehearsals for the day. Now it only served as a place for her to reminisce, a fond memory that she started to learn how to leave behind.

 

Yena shook the memory off and forged ahead.

 

The music faculty hadn’t changed at all, really. From the day Chaewon started university up till now, the red-brick building stood tall, its wide roof encapsulating the students that studied within it. Under little marquees and umbrella stands installed on the nearby lawn sat music students with various instruments in their hands, singing melodies that somehow harmonised despite being clearly different to another.

 

Yena arranged herself under one of the umbrella stands as she waited for Yuri to come out. Fiddling with her phone, she flicked through the tabloid articles that crowded the screen, mindlessly swiping past them. One or two caught her eye, and Yena thought she had seen a familiar name somewhere, but she couldn’t be bothered to go back and check what was probably going to end up as some baseless rumor. 

 

“Hey.”

 

There she was, the girl with a voice that could rival an angel’s, a voice as deep as the ocean. Yena looked up, wide grin hidden behind her mask. “How was class?”

 

“Wasn’t too bad, I guess.” Yuri pointed a questioning finger at Yena. “What’s with the mask? Did you fall sick when we went to Busan?”

 

“Nah, that’s not it. Come on, let’s go.” Yena jumped up and took Yuri’s bag from her. Slinging it over her shoulder, she skipped ahead, turning around and beckoning at Yuri. She quirked up an eyebrow at Yuri’s pout. God, how could Yuri be that cute even when pouting? “What?”

 

“I can carry my own bag, you know,” Yuri whined, jogging to catch up with Yena. She attempted to pull her bag off Yena, but the older girl had too firm a grip on it.

 

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you need to.”

 

“But-”

 

“Come on, if you’re going to keep arguing about this, we’ll never get to the cafe. Their carrot cakes sell out really fast, you know.”

 

The sound of carrot cake - popular carrot cake, in fact - had Yuri perking up. She stopped resisting Yena’s offer to carry her bag, and grabbed onto the older girl’s shirt. “Lead the way!”

 

#

 

Yena loved showing off her favourite things to her favourite people. Chaewon had first introduced her to this cafe that soon became their regular hangout place, and Yena had jumped at the chance to do the same to Juri when they were first dating. Juri found the place rather quaint, but often preferred the fancier places that were usually further away from university. Yena got it, somehow; if she was a student, she would want to be far away from uni as often as possible, too.

 

But Yuri - Yuri loved it. Yena took great delight in seeing Yuri’s eyes light up at the lines of cakes in the display shelf of the cafe, at the way she just visibly relaxed in the cafe’s welcoming embrace. Shrugging off Yuri’s bag and settling down in a chair, Yena let Yuri take the reins and order whatever she wanted. 

 

She supposed it reminded Yuri of her home in Busan, the warmth the cafe exuded, the pure friendliness of both patrons and staff alike. She rested her cheek on her hand, watching Yuri point items out from the menu, looking around to find Yena, beaming at her and giving a thumbs-up. Yena gave her one in return.

 

The tray Yuri plonked on their table was filled with cake, and nothing but cake. “Don’t you need to drink something to wash all this down?” Yena asked, amused.

 

“Technically, yes,” Yuri huffed, “but I may or may not have spent all my money on these cakes.”

 

#

 

 If Yena thought Yuri liked cakes, bubble tea was another thing altogether. While Yena had a tendency to browse through the menu and select whatever she was craving that day, Yuri unhesitatingly shot her order out like a machine gun: lemon-yogurt-tea-with-extra-pearls-and-50%-sugar-please-and-thank-you.

 

“That’s crazy,” Yena muttered as she forked over some cash for their drinks.

 

“What is?”

 

“Your order.” Yena moved aside to wait for their drinks. “You’ve got it down to a science.”

 

“Everyone has their own go-to order.” Yuri shrugged. “You’re the crazy one.”

 

She’s right, Yena thought. Even Juri had her own customised order, brown sugar milk tea with extra pearls and 75% sugar. Yena stopped. She still had Juri’s order memorised, down to the extra pearls and sugar level. Of all the things to remember, really.

 

“Something on your mind?”

 

“No, it’s just…” Yena scoffed at herself, finding it quite ridiculous. “There’s this girl I knew a long time ago. Can’t believe I still remember her go-to drink.”

 

“She must have mattered a lot to you,” Yuri murmured as her fingers fiddled with their drink receipt. Her dark eyes observed Yena for any sort of reaction, any expression that belied the truth. “Didn’t she?”

 

“I suppose she did.” It was true. But it was a truth set in past tense, a memory she neither needed nor wanted to remember. If Juri could leave her so easily, Yena should be able to forget her, too. She plucked the receipt from Yuri’s fingers, all wrinkled and crumpled from Yuri playing with it, and read through the orders one more time. “Yours is pretty easy to remember, I think.”

 

“You don’t have to remember mine.”

 

“Of course I do.” Picking up their drinks from the counter, Yena passed Yuri’s over, their fingers briefly brushing against each other’s. “You matter to me, too.”

 

#

 

They walked home in blissful quiet, sipping on their drinks, occasionally talking about everything and nothing. Yena would describe the colourful murals to Yuri (red that burned like fire, blue like the coolness of a pool, gold like love), trying to convince the younger girl to pose against the beautifully painted walls so she could just take a photo of the two of them, pretty please. Yena tripped on a stray pebble; Yuri kicked it away, giving the unresponding rock a scolding, much to Yena’s amusement. The bakery around the corner was Yuri’s favourite, too. Yuri said the new petite employee was named Nako, apparently, and that she and her girlfriend were both from the same university as Yuri.

 

“Campus couples, huh?” Yena mused. “Must be nice. How about you?”

 

“What about me?”

 

“Not dating anyone? Boys must be lining up for you.”

 

“Not at all,” Yuri replied, voice clipped. “Even if they did, I’m not exactly inclined that way.” She gave Yena a meaningful look before sipping her drink again.

 

“Ah.” Flustered, Yena glanced away. What was that look supposed to imply? And more importantly, did that mean Yena possibly stood a chance with… Flushing, Yena shook her head. It wasn’t good to jump to conclusions, she told herself.

 

Take it slow, take it slow. 

 

“Do you want to hang out with me at my workplace this Friday?” Yena instantly cringed the second the words left her mouth. She sounded like a loser, as if she couldn’t think of anything else better to do, as if her entire life was either work or sleep (which it was, most of the time, if she was really being honest). She sounded like a parent who wanted to bring their kids to work or something. Either way, it was a stupid question - why would a university student want to go to any workplace, of all things?

 

“Sure.”

 

“R-really?” An unexpected answer to an unexpected question. 

 

“Yeah. I’ve been wondering what kind of work you do, anyway, since you basically don’t do anything in the morning and then get home really late at night.”

 

Oh, that’s right. Yena had never really told Yuri what line of work she was in, never really explained why she had a tendency to wear masks or hoodies that hid a good portion of her face when they were outside. 

 

“You’ll see.”

 

#

 

Yena nibbled on her fingernails as Yuri stared out of the car they were in, attempting to gauge Yuri’s reaction. For the first time since they met each other, Yena was in full make-up, her hair properly styled. She grinned, recalling Yuri’s initial shock upon meeting her outside their apartment building. Yuri had gaped at her, wordlessly pointing at her hair before being in greater shock at the size of the car waiting for them. It was Yena’s first time sitting in the car provided by her company with someone else, and if she was to be very honest, it was very reassuring having company, especially when said company was someone like Yuri.

 

“So.” Yuri broke the silence. “You’re famous.”

 

“Well, I wouldn’t say famous exactly…”

 

“We’re sitting in a celebrity car, Yena, your celebrity car. You can’t say you’re not famous.”

 

She had a point. “Okay, so maybe I’m a bit famous,” Yena reluctantly admitted.

 

Yuri peeled herself away from the window to stare at Yena, bemusement in her eyes. “And you didn’t mention it because…?”

 

Yena shrunk under her questioning stare. “Honestly? At first, I wasn’t sure whether your opinion of me would change if you knew I was a celebrity or whatever. It’s like, a lot of people I used to know wanted to be friends with me just because I was someone who appeared on TV, and, well, it’s just not a nice thing to find out. You know?”

 

Yuri’s gaze softened and she nodded. “I guess that makes sense.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t be,” Yuri assured her. “Thank you for trusting me.”

 

Overwhelming. Yena was overwhelmed with emotion at the pure patience and understanding in Yuri’s calm voice. Something so simple, simple words filled with kindness, shouldn’t affect her this much, but in her line of work it was all too rare. Feeling her eyes start to water, she quickly glanced out of the window, blinking her tears away. She took a quick glance at their surroundings, immediately recognising the familiar scenery. “Ah, we’re here.”

 

The car door slid open soundlessly, and Yena’s vision turned white. Cameras were trained on her, buttons clicking madly. They must all be idols’ fansites, she supposed, as expected of the show she was a special emcee of. She stepped out of the car, waving and greeting them one by one. She spied a couple of her own fans and sent them winks. The crowd went ballistic. 

 

“Oh wow,” Yuri eked out, hesitating by the door. “Isn’t this that really popular music show place?”

 

“Yep!” Already halfway down the walkway, Yena chuckled and jogged back to Yuri. “Don’t worry about the cameras, they’re just here for their idols. Come on.” Yena beckoned her closer as she shifted her body to block as many cameras as she could from Yuri. 

 

Yuri took a shaky step out into the world of dizzy lights and chaotic shouts. She slowly approached Yena, her hands clenched into fists, wincing as people started to murmur. “I don’t think I belong here.”

 

“You do,” Yena said firmly. “You belong with me.”

 

Unfurling her fingers, Yuri nervously reached out and grabbed Yena’s hand as she was about to turn away. Amidst a haze of flashing fluorescence and cacophonic cries, Yuri found solace in the warmth of a delicate hand.

 

You belong with me.