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These Words I Want to Tell You (And This Song I Want You to Hear)

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Typically, these things are supposed to start at the starting line. Meanwhile, Sooyoung thinks it all starts with the crossing of a line, because surely, there's no protocol for this.

She's sat through media training seminar after seminar, and there's really nothing there to prepare her for this kind of situation; no section in the Introduction to Surviving Idol Fame handbooks called "What to do When You Quite Literally Bump Into One of Your Fans at the Corner Store You Frequent on Late Nights When Your Ice Cream Cravings are Just Too Much to Bear," although in complete honesty, it's not like Sooyoung would've read it anyway— too niche. And yet here she is, kneeling on the tiled floor of the freezer aisle, her hands reaching out hesitantly. Sooyoung can’t see her facial features too well beneath the black baseball cap the young woman wears and the facial mask tucked under her chin, but she can recognize the other’s expression flickering from wincing to sheer shock.

"Yves?"

Sooyoung cringes at the sound of her stage name leaving the surprised girl's lips. Thankfully, she's ninety-five percent sure that they're the only ones in the store, minus the clerk who knows Sooyoung well enough by now to not say anything conspicuous. Nevertheless, Sooyoung's not supposed to be Yves at 10:30PM at night, and Yves is certainly not the type of celebrity who visits small corner stores to satiate ice cream cravings at this hour either.

"Yes…" Sooyoung hesitates, throwing a look over her shoulder down the otherwise empty aisle, entirely unsure how much of this classifies as too much. Still, she's far from heartless, and there's no way she's about to leave some innocent young woman cradling her head in her hands, much less her own fansite. "Um, I'm sorry about this, but would it be alright if you called me Sooyoung…?"

"Oh!" A pair of strikingly familiar eyes widen from beneath the black baseball cap the girl wears, and her lips part in what Sooyoung can only assume to be sudden understanding. Her voice lowers in volume. "Yes, of course! I'm sorry, Sooyoung."

"No, no," Sooyoung shakes her head insistently. “I’m the one who should be sorry, I—” The door to the corner store opens, and a crowd of rowdy young teenagers enter the store, no doubt stopping by after a session of cram school. Sooyoung winces, ducking her head before turning her attention back to the girl in front of her and sending her a smile Sooyoung hopes comes off as comforting.

“I’m really sorry about all of this,” Sooyoung apologizes again, rubbing the back of her head sheepishly. Her gaze flickers over to the glass of the frozen section. “Can I make it up to you with a tub of ice cream and some Advil?”

--

The baseball cap and facial mask come off the moment they step out of the corner store, and Sooyoung’s eyes widen the moment she sees who’s beneath it. She fumbles with the plastic bag in her hands, nearly dropping its contents before a lucky last minute save.

Sooyoung’s fans are numerous. As humble as she tries to be, even she has to admit that there are a decent amount of them, and it’s inevitable that she can’t remember every single face that appear at her fansigns, or that attended her prior live performances, with the utmost clarity.

That being said, Sooyoung could never forget a face like hers.

“You’re Chuu,” Sooyoung blurts out.

The other girl pauses from where she’d been combing her hair out from its previous high ponytail, her fingers still entangled in auburn-dyed locks.

Sooyoung immediately takes a seat in the curb.

(Sooyoung still remembers when Chuu’s hair had been black, so very long ago now).

“You remember me?” Chuu asks, a high note of surprise laced in her tone. She joins Sooyoung on the curb, crouching down to sit.

“I—” Sooyoung blinks in surprise. Her hands seem to move on their own as she pulls off the lid of the strawberry ice cream, handing Chuu a spoon without further ado. It had been Chuu who'd chosen the strawberry flavor. Sooyoung honestly hadn't expected any different. “Of course I do! I saw you just last week, at the fansign.”

“Well, yeah, but—” Chuu ducks her head shyly. She hides her mouth behind the lid of her cap, but under the yellow light from the overhead streetlight, Sooyoung can make out the admittedly adorable upturn of Chuu’s lips. “I’m just a fansite, and you usually only see my camera, so…”

“Just a fansite” is a funny way to put it; particularly because Chuu’s never been just a fansite, not to Yves's other fans, or even to Sooyoung herself.

How You Like Me had been one of Sooyoung’s – or rather, Yves’s – first fansites from the very beginning, her name taken straight from the lyrics of the only B-side of Yves’s debut EP. Behind its talented camera lens had been an ever-charming girl known only as “Chuu” who had been attending Yves’s fan events since her first live stage. Maybe she’s not Sooyoung’s most followed fansite on Twitter, but she’s definitely up there, and possibly the fansite that Sooyoung’s interacted with the most.

She’s never told anyone, but Sooyoung still has the letter that Chuu had presented to her during their first encounter three years ago, keeping it tucked securely away in a drawer along with all the other letters she’s received. Chuu’s first letter rests at the top— there’s something about it that urges Sooyoung to handle it with care.

The swan plushie Chuu had gifted her remains on the other side of her queen-sized bed, occupying the empty space there. It’s Sooyoung’s favorite, not that she’ll ever admit that out loud.

"It's Jiwoo, by the way."

Sooyoung shakes herself out of her momentary daze, grounding herself back to reality and taking a second to realize what the younger woman had just said.

"Jiwoo?" Sooyoung questions, enunciating each syllable carefully. Her brow furrows. "Your real name?"

Jiwoo nods. She scooches closer, leaning in to take a spoonful of the ice cream from the tub that now rests in Sooyoung's lap. Sooyoung tilts the tub so that Jiwoo has an easier time.

"You had me call you Sooyoung," Jiwoo explains, smiling as she slips her spoon into her mouth. "It only feels right. And it's not like Chuu is your typical run-of-the-mill name."

“You’re not wrong,” Sooyoung laughs lightly before humming. She takes a spoonful of ice cream. “It’s weird, I feel like I should’ve known your name was Jiwoo, all things considered. The first time I met you was three years ago.”

“Wow, it’s really been that long, huh?” Jiwoo tilts her head, wringing her hands out in front of her with a grin. “Time really flies! You really blew up in popularity since then.”

“You’ve been there with me the whole way,” Sooyoung says, and it’s not until she says it that she realizes how strange that is. Their first meeting was three years ago, but she didn’t know Jiwoo’s real name until today.

Jiwoo seems to be thinking the same thing, judging by the teasing lilt in her voice as she smiles Sooyoung's way.

Sooyoung doesn't know how long they sit there, on that curbside. It could've been a minute, it could've been an hour. Regardless, she listens to Jiwoo talk about Yves's latest fan event and how she'd helped some young fans win the backstage passes (Sooyoung remembers how the little girl had hugged her midriff so incredibly tightly, how the young one had cradled the signed album to her chest like it was something to be treasured, and her heart warms to know that it had been Jiwoo who'd given up her ticket). She nods at the right moments when the topic shifts to Jiwoo's camera type, mentions that she's always been fascinated with photography, and Jiwoo promises to let Sooyoung use her camera next time.

They continue to eat the strawberry ice cream.

“This is our first conversation that's lasted longer than 30 seconds," Jiwoo comments chirpily with a delighted clap of her hands, blissfully ignorant to the passage of time. "Strange, isn't it? There's a part of me that keeps thinking that one of your security guards is going to show up from somewhere and tell me my time is up."

“I think both of us know that I’d wave them away,” Sooyoung smirks. Internally however, she’s struck by her own boldness. Despite the confident image she has in front of the public, she’s not actually one for flirting with strangers; although on that thought, she supposes that Jiwoo isn’t much of a stranger, not anymore. Still, the last person she properly flirted with was—

Sooyoung shakes her head.

“I’d let you stay longer,” she says. She eats another spoonful, letting the strawberry flavor wash over her tongue. “I always enjoy talking to you.”

“You always buy me some extra time,” Jiwoo nods as her lips purse around the plastic spoon once more.

“Speaking of time,” Sooyoung’s brow furrows. “What time is it?”

“It’s… 12:15.” Jiwoo frowns at her phone, squinting down at it as though accusing it of lying to her. “I definitely missed the last train home.”

“Oh, shit,” Sooyoung’s eyes go wide, the swear tumbling from her lips a second before she remembers that she technically still has an image to maintain. Much to her surprise though, Jiwoo’s eyes glint with amusement at her slip up, so she shakes her head, desperate to change the topic. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to keep you here for so long—”

“Sooyoung, it’s really fine!” Jiwoo giggles, trying to wave her off. “There are plenty of hotels in this part of Seoul, I can just book a room for the night. It’s—” she blushes, “I’m not broke or anything, so it’s not like it’s much trouble.”

Not broke is definitely one way to put it; a generous way to put it. Sooyoung knows they’re both aware of it, judging by the red tint on Jiwoo’s cheeks, just barely visible under the faint lights. It’s a well-known fact that fansite masters are generously wealthy in their own right, and Sooyoung’s been on the receiving end of that generosity on many occasions. She’s been gifted expensive food, in-ear monitors, cameras, gaming consoles (she gives those to her little cousin, Hyejoo), and even phones— Jiwoo actually gifted her the phone she currently uses, with its custom-designed case of beautifully drawn swans and apples.

And yet regardless of how well-off Jiwoo is, Sooyoung still frowns.

"Or you could stay over my place," she offers.

Jiwoo's eyes widen, and suddenly Sooyoung's mind is whirling a mile a minute.

"Wha—"

"It's totally cool if you don't want to!" Sooyoung quickly follows up. "Like, completely fine. I don't want you to think I'm forcing into anything you don't wanna do." She speaks so fast, a tinge of her Busan accent shines through. Still though, she means it. Sooyoung's not oblivious— she's seen the news, seen all the awful, hidden faces, masked by popular caricatures that paint the industry she's carved a place for herself in. She doesn't want Jiwoo to get the wrong impression, especially when she's genuine in her offer and intentions. "You can always stay at a hotel, I don't doubt that you can afford it, but my apartment's just two blocks over, and it's super late, and…"

Sooyoung hesitates.

"I just thought I'd put the offer out there," she finishes lamely.

It's Jiwoo that laughs though, the noise twinkling like the stars that are oh so hard to see with Seoul's bright, bright lights. Sooyoung hopes they're really there, somewhere. She'd seen them in Busan, she momentarily wonders if Jiwoo's ever seen them in all her time here in Seoul.

"I trust you, Sooyoung," Jiwoo giggles. She takes Sooyoung's outstretched hand, letting the woman pull her to her feet. "I'd love to stay over. It's just, um," Jiwoo scuffs the ground with the toe of her sneaker. "Would it reflect badly on you? In your company's eyes or anything…? I don't want you getting into any trouble with Eden Entertainment because of me."

"Oh, don't worry about them," Sooyoung shrugs, shouldering her bag and starting to lead Jiwoo down the street, away from the corner store.

"Are you positive?" She hears Jiwoo ask from a pace behind her. The younger girl still sounds unsure. "I know Eden's pretty strict with your fan interactions…"

"Really, don't worry," Sooyoung chuckles, but the sound is strikingly devoid of humor. She spins on her heel, meeting Jiwoo's surprised expression. "I left Eden Entertainment for good just this morning."

Not for the first time tonight, Jiwoo's jaw drops in utter shock.

"Huh?!"

--

It hadn’t been a long conversation— her contract with Eden Entertainment had expired, and Sooyoung had merely chosen not to renew it. In hindsight, she knows that it probably looks like a strange decision, quitting an extremely reputable entertainment company who knew how to market her and market her well, but she really couldn’t care less.

Despite the fame they’d brought her, the stability she’d earned, Sooyoung had more than enough of that place.

It was weird, though.

The moment she stepped beyond Eden’s sliding glass doors, Sooyoung had expected to feel lighter, more relaxed, anything relieving. Instead, she’d made her way into the back parking garage, the gray concrete seeming to mock her as she felt like absolutely nothing had changed at all, the weight on her back and everything.

Three hours later, she was already sitting in yet another office, negotiating the new terms of contract with a company she’d been eyeing for a while already.

Vivi had greeted her at the company’s front door with a bright smile, taking the hand of her long-time friend and tugging her inside like she was inviting Sooyoung inside her home. The mere sight had been enough to crack Sooyoung’s silent facade she’d been wearing all day, allowing Vivi to escort her all the way up to her top-floor office, where Haseul waited for the both of them.

This conversation hadn’t been too long either.

“I don’t want to be an idol anymore,” Sooyoung had said. She fiddled with the ends of her cardigan,  “I… I hadn’t wanted to be an idol in the first place. I don’t like singing. I want to focus solely on modeling and acting.”

“That’s fine,” Vivi said, and Sooyoung had genuinely been taken aback for a moment, shocked that it had been that easy. Vivi’s resulting grin had been laid-back as she reclined in her seat. “You’d made your distaste of singing pretty clear back when you were a trainee.”

“I guess I never hid it from you,” Sooyoung shrugged. She’d briefly thought back to her trainee days, when she, Vivi, and Haseul had all been under Eden Entertainment. Despite only being a year older, Vivi had debuted in an idol group at a young age, quickly rising to fame. It had been a huge shock when their group had disbanded a mere three years after debut, citing creative differences and conflicting priorities.

Not entirely wrong, it turns out. Vivi says that the members just didn’t like each other, and having not been fluent in Korean at the time, Vivi had been left on the sidelines, never having gotten close to her former teammates.

Vivi had been closest to Sooyoung and Haseul, and she’d had to leave them behind when she debuted with a bunch of girls she didn’t even know.

“You used to spell it out for me,” Vivi had teased. “Go on lengthy explanations that taught me more Korean than any of Eden’s lessons ever did.” She’d shrugged. “That’s what I liked about you, Sooyoung. You and Haseul were always honest with me.”

The other girls in Vivi’s group sure hadn’t been. Sooyoung remembered the way they used to talk in the dorms, speaking about all their plans. Being in an idol group was supposed to only be a stepping stone to further their careers. Ironically enough, however, Vivi was definitely the one who’d gotten the biggest boost.

Vivi had already been “well-off” before she’d become an idol. In fact, she’d entered the Korean entertainment industry just for the fun of it, and the moment she was free from Eden Entertainment’s grasps, she’d went and started her own flourishing entertainment company— Blockberry Creative, or BBC.

“So you’re really okay with me not continuing to sing?” Sooyoung asked, dubious.

“One hundred percent.” Vivi asserted.

“You should at least sing your old songs at the occasional fan event,” Haseul had suggested, finally speaking up. She’d been watching her two friends fondly, nodding along and humming in agreement when necessary. “You don’t need to have new songs, but your old fans might miss your voice.”

Sooyoung had nodded slowly. “That should be fine.”

“Then we have a deal,” Vivi had sat forward with a grin. “Oh, and one last thing, actually.”

“What’s that?”

“Haseul’s gonna be your manager.”

“She’s what?”

“I’m what?”

It had all been so nostalgic, sitting in that room with Vivi and Haseul, laughing like they had when they were younger and their only concerns were whether the mean dance instructor would show up the next day. In a way, they’d all been unsatisfied back then— while she’d loved dancing, Sooyoung hadn’t enjoyed singing. Haseul had been the opposite, preferring her raw voice over the dramatics of dance. Vivi had wished to stay with the both of them, but she’d been taken away before they could share the stage.

Sitting in that office, Sooyoung had hoped they’d all found what they were looking for, perhaps in ways they weren’t expecting.

--

"Ah, I see," Jiwoo says as she follows Sooyoung into the elevator. "So you left Eden Entertainment because they were forcing you to focus on your idol career, when that wasn't what you wanted?"

Something like that, at least partially.

Sooyoung stares pointedly at the tiled elevator floor, so pristine and well-kept. She hopes that her shoes aren't too dirty from the outdoor elements— there had been a storm earlier, after all, and the sidewalks still had some lingering puddles.

“I just wanted to quit being an idol,” Sooyoung says quietly, and she’s not entirely sure why. "I hated singing."

She’d been so sure of her decision a few hours ago, sitting in that top-floor office with Vivi and Haseul, watching the emotions flickering across the other women’s faces. Ultimately, both of them had been fine with her decision, and Vivi had assured her that there would be no mention of her idol career in the contract she'd be signing.

She hasn’t been an idol for at least a month, she's been avoiding any singing-related events for weeks, but somehow, it's the first time she's admitted it aloud.

It feels more real now, and that's frightening, in a way.

There's also the fact that she immediately checks Jiwoo's reaction, almost apprehensive. That's also frightening, but in a completely different, perhaps more dangerous way.

Jiwoo cocks her head thoughtfully.

Sooyoung mentally braces herself for the berating, for the talking about how she's "wasting her potential" and how the loss of her idol career is a "blow to her fanbase."

It never comes.

The elevator dings, and the doors slide open.

Sooyoung steps out. Jiwoo follows her down the hall.

"That's a shame," Jiwoo hums, her smile easily transitioning to one of understanding.

Sooyoung pauses, her hand poised to slip the key into the lock.

"You have a beautiful voice, Sooyoung," Jiwoo continues. "It's awful that you hated singing, but I'm glad that you took charge and chose to follow the path you enjoyed. Is there going to be a formal announcement?"

"Thank you," Sooyoung says, genuine, and Jiwoo makes a noise of contentment. Sooyoung can practically hear her smile. "And about me quitting my idol career? No. The news should drop that I'm no longer with Eden Entertainment tomorrow night, though."

Jiwoo hums with an encouraging nod.

"I'll be sure to tweet out my support, then!"

"Thank you, Jiwoo," Sooyoung says again, a smile of her own growing across her lips.

The door clicks open, and Sooyoung moves to the side to let Jiwoo in.

--

The apartment is new, the building recently renovated. And two weeks before her contract had expired, Sooyoung had made the preparations to finally move out of her Eden-sanctioned apartment, going accommodation shopping for a space of her own.

A few of her friends had helped her move in, volunteering with eager faces and an energetic spring to their steps. Sooyoung had sent out the casual text message into their groupchat, and the response had been comically overwhelming— suddenly her friends are making a day out of it, dedicating an entire Saturday to helping Sooyoung move, and plans were formed to get takeout and “christen” her new apartment with a first meal together.

There had been nine of them in her apartment on that first day, counting Sooyoung herself: Heejin and Chaewon had arrived together— Sooyoung had befriended them after their idol group had debuted a year ago; Hyunjin had showed up not long after, still wearing her signature black suit from her job as a bodyguard; Hyejoo had let herself in right after with the key Sooyoung had dropped off at her place the other day; Johnny, Taeyong, and Mark, a trio of idols from a boy group Sooyoung had befriended during their trainee days, appeared at her door with fist bumps and wide grins; and finally, there had been Jinsoul, who’d arrived ten minutes late, rushing straight over after a recording session.

“Yo,” Jinsoul had greeted with a relaxed grin, crossing the threshold with both hands in the pockets of her blue letterman. Sooyoung had taken a step back, watching Jinsoul take in her new place with curious eyes. The apartment was empty at the time, her friends having ran down to the moving truck to unload more boxes. Jinsoul had passed them on her way up.

“Yo yourself,” Sooyoung chuckled. She’d led her friend further into the apartment, pointing out the coat closet in the hallway that Jinsoul had hung her letterman in. “How was the recording session?”

“Good!” Jinsoul chirped. “Jungeun’s always great in the booth— super intuitive, and she listens to my directions well. She’s still sorry that she couldn’t make it to help you out today, by the way,” she added. “She had to dash off as soon as our session was done.”

“It’s no problem,” Sooyoung had said reassuringly. She, perhaps even more than Jungeun, knew what it was like to be flooded with activity pre-comeback time, no thanks to her previous company who’d been so intent on working her to the brink of passing out from exhaustion. “I totally get it. Jungeun told me yesterday that she’d been booked for a university concert, and it’s not like those things are flexible.” She’d laughed lightly. “I had to tell her to stop apologizing.”

“That sounds like her,” Jinsoul smiled. She took another look around, peering down another hallway, examining the empty rooms.

“So what do you think?” Somehow, Jinsoul’s opinion still mattered.

“It’s super nice! You’ve got a lot of space to yourself, huh? You could make easily fit an entire recording booth.”

“I could,” Sooyoung agreed, “if I were interested in music.”

Between the two of them, it was Jinsoul who was the producer.

And so Jinsoul had only smiled, patting Sooyoung’s shoulder as she slipped past her, into the living room with the large, large glass window. Sooyoung had followed, spying a box Hyunjin had left on the ground earlier and picking it up.

“I suppose that’s true,” Jinsoul had said, looking out over the cityscape. “Don’t mind me, that was just my producer-self doing the talking.”

Sooyoung simply nodded, though she fully knew that Jinsoul couldn’t see her.

“Hey, this place allows its residents to have pets, right?” Jinsoul threw the question over her shoulder, still peering out the large window.

“Uh, yeah,” Sooyoung said, pursing her lips. She’d set the box she’d been carrying down on the newly placed carpet. She picked up a nearby pair of scissors, moving to the other side of the box to get a good look at the label she’d marked on it in scrawling Sharpie ink.

Personal, it said.

“Maybe you can finally get that fish you’d wanted,” Jinsoul suggested, backing away from the window and heading towards the entrance to move more of the boxes that Hyunjin and Hyejoo had brought up.

Sooyoung had swallowed. After a moment of inner debate, she’d shoved the box of personals to the corner to open up later, setting down the scissors down and forcing herself to stand up.

“Maybe,” she had said, taking a box marked cutlery from Jinsoul and heading to the kitchen. Placing the box on the counter, she’d opened the box and started arranging the steak knives into place.

“Do you know what color fish you want?” Jinsoul had asked from the living room.

The door to the apartment then opened yet again, and Hyunjin and Hyejoo entered boisterously, bickering over who had carried more boxes up the stairs. Heejin and Chaewon had followed, their arms full with blankets and sheets, scolding the other girls in the foyer. A moment later, all four girls had moved to the living room to make way for Johnny and Taeyong, who carried up the flat-screen TV, Mark scrambling behind them with the assembly kit for the wall mount.

Sooyoung had watched the whole scene from the kitchen.

“I’m not quite sure what color I want,” she’d finally replied to Jinsoul, as if she hadn’t been dreaming of getting a blue betta fish for the past three-and-a-half years.

--

“You have a balcony too!” Jiwoo exclaims excitedly, immediately crossing the kitchen to peer through the sliding door. Sooyoung follows her with a laugh, more than entertained to see Jiwoo bouncing around from foot-to-foot so energetically, even at this time at night (or more accurately, early morning). “Your place is so big, Sooyoung!”

“It’s decently sized,” Sooyoung says humbly.

“Sure,” Jiwoo teases. She spins on her heel, a hand pressed against the door to the balcony. “I have a balcony back at my apartment too. I have a bunch of plants that I keep out there during the spring and summer!”

Sooyoung tilts her head.

“Plants?” She hadn’t thought of getting plants.

“Mmhm,” Jiwoo nods eagerly. “They really brighten the place up a lot. Though,” she tosses a glance over her shoulder, beaming up at Sooyoung. “I suppose with the view you’ve got from up here, there’s not much more you need.”

“Perhaps,” Sooyoung says. She doesn’t tell Jiwoo of how she wants to fill up the new space nonetheless, doesn’t say anything about how she’s afraid that if she were to occupy it with something living, that she wouldn’t be able to care for it.

“Do you want to go outside?” She asks Jiwoo instead. “Just for a bit. We should sleep soon, but… Seoul’s night lights are pretty.”

A second later and Jiwoo’s leaning up on the railing, a sound of wonder escaping her lips as she gazes out over those bright, bright lights.

“They look like little stars, sparkling all over the ground!” Jiwoo marvels. She looks up at Sooyoung, those beautiful lights reflecting in her eyes, starlight shimmering there and Sooyoung feels the air leave her lungs. “I've always loved the city lights. It almost makes up for not being able to see the real stars, don’t you think?”

“Yeah,” Sooyoung breathes. “Yeah, maybe.”

Jiwoo hums, turning around to stare out at the lights again, and Sooyoung’s left staring at Jiwoo’s back.

It occurs to her then, how for such a petite girl, Jiwoo has such broad shoulders; like she could carry the weight of the world on them and not break a sweat, never falter in her smile. A gust of wind blows, and Jiwoo’s auburn hair flowing in the gentle breeze.

Somewhere in the distance, a car honks its horn, and Sooyoung blinks back to reality.

“Light, the beam inside my heart,” Jiwoo sings, and Sooyoung goes still as she watches Jiwoo reach out over her balcony railing, hand extended to the stars. It’s her song, Sooyoung’s song— Yves’s debut song. But somehow, when Jiwoo sings it, it doesn’t sound like Yves’s song, it sounds like Jiwoo’s. She’s never heard a voice as sweet as Jiwoo’s.

She decides then and there that she wants to hear Jiwoo sing again.

“When it shines on my dream, quietly.”

--

Jiwoo takes the guest bedroom.

Sooyoung bids her a good night, before lingering outside the younger girl’s door for a heartbeat too long.

Still, she goes to sleep with a smile on her lips.

--

“Do you have a schedule today?” Jiwoo asks, setting down her now-empty glass of milk. She picks up her plate from the table, now devoid of the omelet Sooyoung had made for breakfast, carrying it over to the sink.

“Nothing today,” Sooyoung hums, still giddy off the way Jiwoo’s eyes had sparkled earlier, when the younger girl had exited her room to find Sooyoung setting out two sets of tableware and asking what Jiwoo wanted in her omelet. “I’m on break ‘til the fansign next week. Oh, don’t bother washing the plates. You’re my guest, I’ll do it—”

“Nonsense,” Jiwoo waves her off, already flicking the sink on and smirking at Sooyoung in a way that invites no arguments. Sooyoung merely raises her hands in surrender.

“Powerless in my own apartment,” Sooyoung jokes, taking a sip of her tea. “Makes me wonder what you’re like in your own place.”

“Do you wanna see?”

Sooyoung pauses mid-sip.

“What?”

“My place,” Jiwoo clarifies. “Do you wanna come over? If you have no plans, that is.” She shifts from foot to foot. “I wanted to invite you, but I didn’t know if like, that crossed too many lines or anything.”

“You stayed over my house, Jiwoo,” Sooyoung chuckles, almost surprised at how easily a smile came to rest lazily on her face. “I’d argue that we’d skipped right to like, the midway checkpoint. And, well,” Sooyoung shrugs. “I’m human just like you. I could always use more friends, and it’s not like this is the first time we’ve ever met.”

Sooyoung pretends not to see the way Jiwoo swells with pride, pretends that her own chest isn’t glowing with happiness.

“Fair enough,” Jiwoo grins. “So can I take that as a yes?”

“Yes, yes you can,” Sooyoung smiles, because Jiwoo’s grin is infectious.

--

“Do you care about being seen in public with me?” Jiwoo asks, because she can never be too careful. “Not that we’ll necessarily be noticed, but, you know.”

“What’s wrong with being seen in public with you?” Sooyoung replies flippantly with her own question. She’d rather just hang out with Jiwoo. “Do you care?”

“Of course not!” Jiwoo says. “You’re my favorite person ever! I’m basically living in a dream!”

“Well this is pretty dreamlike for me too,” Sooyoung laughs.

“Huh,” Jiwoo cocks her head, considering. “I never thought of it that way.”

--

Jiwoo’s apartment is big, its size rivaling the size of Sooyoung’s own. And in retrospect, Sooyoung feels like this shouldn’t have been surprising.

It surprises her nonetheless.

“And you said my place was big!” Sooyoung exclaims, marveling at the sights. Much like her own apartment, Jiwoo’s is abundant with windows, and that, accompanied by the fact that Jiwoo’s apartment is literally on the top floor, creates a beautiful atmosphere, with light streaming in from every glass pane, filling the space with a warm natural light that seems to just glow.

“It’s decently sized,” Jiwoo says, echoing Sooyoung’s words from yesterday. The two young women share a look before bursting into weightless laughs.

Bags of takeout get placed on the marble-top island in Jiwoo’s kitchen, having picked them up on the commute over. The walk and train ride to Jiwoo’s apartment had been rather uneventful but pleasant nevertheless— Sooyoung had enjoyed the leisurely day off, despite the baseball cap she wore pulled low over her eyes.

Jiwoo had laughed and said she looked cool, and Sooyoung had shoved her hands into her pocket with a languid grin, counting it as a win.

They eat bowls of tteokbokki and samgyetang as they joke over who’s paying for the next meal, and at some point, Jiwoo jumps up and runs off to her studio room, grabbing her treasured camera and laptop as Sooyoung clears the tabletop for her.

“There are a lot of photos that don’t get released,” Jiwoo says, clicking through HD pictures of Sooyoung, of Yves. “Or haven’t been released, at least not yet.”

“Not yet?” Sooyoung can’t help but be curious. She loves all of her fansites dearly and has always been thankful for their support, but she’s not above admitting that she’s not entire sure how the entire deal works. It’s fascinating to see all of the photos catalogued, a sort of photographed timeline of her career all meticulously arranged into pristine folders of dates and events. It’s no wonder why How You Like Me is such a popular fansite.

“Season’s greetings,” Jiwoo says with a light laugh. “Despite everything, I’m still a student who likes making a little something off my efforts. Freelance photography is fun and all when I complete commissions and jobs, but I mean, might as well, right?”

“I’m glad you’re profiting off my face,” Sooyoung teases, nudging Jiwoo’s shoulder.

“I’m glad you’re in approval!” Jiwoo grins. She runs a thumb over shutter button of her camera. “But you know, some pictures just never end up getting released.”

“Yeah?”

Jiwoo nods, grin widening. “Yeah.”

And just like that, Jiwoo sticks her tongue out, crossing her eyes and making an expression so goofy that it has Sooyoung breaking out into a bubble of giggles, and for that pocket of time, Sooyoung feels weightless.

The shutter goes off, and Jiwoo is lowering her camera, beaming.

“That one won’t be released either,” she says.

Sooyoung chuckles.

“For the personal collection?”

“Absolutely,” Jiwoo nods, resolute. “I’m the biggest Sevyn out there! Therefore, I need to have some exclusives.”

“The biggest Sevyn, huh?” At the sound of her fandom’s name, Sooyoung grins. Sevyn had been Sooyoung’s favorite choice out of the many suggestions her management had thrown her way right after debut. Sevyn had her stage name in it, “Yves” spelled backwards. It also had a tie to the Seven Deadly Sins, and Sooyoung had thought it’d been a fitting name for the fans of a girl named Yves. So, she supposes that there had to be something good to come out of Eden Entertainment.

“Your number one,” Jiwoo affirms.

“Wanna take a picture together, Number One Sevyn?” Sooyoung asks, and Jiwoo, already shining as bright as can be, somehow actually brightens even more.

“Yes!”

A minute later and she and Jiwoo are posing in front of the other girl’s Polaroid camera, the flash going off and the camera whirring as it prints out the film. They take another picture, posing with wide grins and peace signs; one for Sooyoung, one for Jiwoo.

“I think this is the second time I’ve ever used a Polaroid,” Sooyoung comments as they wait for the picture to develop, the film lying flat on the marble tabletop. She thinks back to that box marked Personal, still lying in her room.

Somewhere in that box is a Polaroid with her grinning next to a blonde girl wearing that stupid, stupid Balenciaga cap.

That ridiculous dork.

“Maybe I should get a camera for myself,” Sooyoung thinks aloud, deciding not to get lost in the past.

“A Polaroid camera?”

“Yep.”

“Want some model recommendations?” Jiwoo asks.

“I’d love some,” Sooyoung smiles.

Ten minutes later, she has a sticky-note reminder plastered haphazardly onto her phone as Jiwoo flips open her Polaroid, shows her how to put in the film. Sooyoung leans over, and their shoulders brush as she peers at Jiwoo’s handywork in interest.

--

“This one’s name is Sebastian,” Jiwoo says eagerly, pointing to the succulent sitting innocently on the corner of her balcony. “I got him when I first moved in!”

“You name your plants?” Sooyoung says in amusement. It’s more of a statement than a question, and she kneels in front of the potted plant and reaching out to poke it with an experimental finger.

“Of course I do!” Jiwoo hops energetically from foot to foot before directing Sooyoung’s attention to the second, spiky cactus, located on the other side of a bed of flowers. “And this one’s Spike!”

She pronounces it like Seupaiku, and Sooyoung thinks it’s adorable.

“Because it’s spiky?” Sooyoung questions. She reaches a finger out, more hesitant to poke this one.

“No, silly! He’s named after Spike Spiegel.”

Sooyoung stares up at her blankly.

“Spike Spiegel?”

“Mmhm.” Jiwoo nods earnestly.

“As in, Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop?”

“Yes!” Jiwoo sounds absolutely delighted at the notion that her favorite idol knows Cowboy Bebop.

Sooyoung only smiles and shakes her head fondly.

“Of course he’s named after Spike Spiegel.”

--

Sooyoung takes a call as Jiwoo sets up her Nintendo Switch, swiping lazily at the green button once she sees Haseul’s caller ID lighting up the screen.

“Hey, Seul. What’s up?”

“Just calling to let you know we’ve got a company event this weekend,” Haseul informs through the mouthpiece. “Usually these aren’t too mandatory, but you’re pretty new so Vivi thinks it would be a good idea for you to be there and meet some of the people you’ll be working closely with. You’ll be there?”

“Sure thing,” Sooyoung says half-heartedly. “Looking forward to it.”

It’s a blatant lie and both of them know it – Sooyoung’s been anything but discreet to Haseul about her distaste for Eden Entertainment’s overly formal, plastic company events – but Haseul says nothing, doesn’t even try to change Sooyoung’s mind. Instead, Sooyoung hears a soft sigh from the other end of the line.

“That’s already more than I can ask,” Haseul says with a fond chuckle, and it manages to crack a smile out of Sooyoung before her manages bids her goodbye and she hangs up the phone with a sigh of her own. She’s not at Eden anymore, this is BBC. Who knows? Maybe she’ll have fun in a rare twist of fate.

“Sooyoung?”

Sooyoung looks up to see Jiwoo innocently holding two joycons.

“Do you want the red or blue one?”  Jiwoo asks, and when Sooyoung shrugs and asks if there’s a difference, Jiwoo laughs and merely hands over the blue controller to Sooyoung. “I’m more used to the red one.”

“So you want the home court advantage?” Sooyoung taunts. “Or do you need it?”

“I don’t need home court advantage to beat you in Mario Kart!” Jiwoo boldly declares, and then she’s swapping their joycons, huffing as she grips the blue controller and passing over her beloved red joycon.

Soon enough, they’re on the character selection screen, moving their cursors around the screen.

“Who’s the dog?”

“That’s Isabelle, she’s an Animal Crossing character.”

“I’m choosing her because dogs are cute.”’

“Dogs are cute!” Jiwoo claps her hands excitedly. “My friend has a really cute dog named Jangeun. He’s super adorable and likes waking her up when she’s sleeping.”

"I've always wanted a dog, ever since I was a kid," Sooyoung muses. Her kart zips around the racetrack, and she groans when Jiwoo manages to overtake her yet again.

"Yeah?" Jiwoo asks, not even breaking a sweat as she manages to focus on both the race and the conversation on hand. "I've always wanted one too."

"My old apartment didn't allow pets," Sooyoung says. She lets out a small squeak of surprise when a Piranha Plants extends its long neck, nearly gulping up her character. Luckily, she evades in the nick of time with a quick maneuver of her joystick. "I was afraid to even get a fish."

"Really?"

Sooyoung doesn't look over, but she knows that Jiwoo's frowning.

On the screen, the wheel spins, and her character is given a pretty star.

"I’d been thinking of getting a betta fish," Sooyoung admits. She hits a button on her controller, watches as Isabelle the Dog whirls off around the track, zooming to catch up with Jiwoo's Yoshi. “I ended up chickening out last minute. My previous apartment building was super strict, and I didn’t know how far I could push.”

She goes silent for a moment.

"...Not that I would've been able to care for a betta fish. My old manager convinced me that I wouldn't have the time." Sooyoung chuckles. "I don't know how much truth that held, but I do know that the fish would probably hate me for leaving it alone so often."

Jiwoo’s Yoshi speeds through the finish line, and the younger girl cheers as Sooyoung lets out a comically low groan.

“We can play again,” Jiwoo suggests, though Sooyoung’s already choosing the next cup.

“We’re playing again until I beat you,” is Sooyoung’s reply, and Jiwoo cheers and selects Yoshi once more.

--

She and Jiwoo exchange numbers, and it’s probably against Sooyoung’s better judgement but she can’t find it in herself to worry about any repercussions when the first thing Jiwoo sends her that night is a high definition picture of her hatted succulent, colorfully decorated with heart emojis and sparkles.

sebastian misses you :(  is the accompanying caption.

Sooyoung snorts as she opens the message. She pushes herself up from where she’d been lying on her couch, sitting up only to drape herself over the couch’s arm.

i miss sebastian too, she sends in reply. Before adding, and spike spiegel.

Right as she hits the send button, she receives a second picture of Jiwoo’s taller, leaner cactus. It’s a hilariously overdone image, and Sooyoung finds herself snickering under her breath as she takes in the dramatic focus on the cactus, the blur in the background comically somber. Jiwoo’s also taken the liberty to draw large, sobbing eyes that remind Sooyoung of the cartoons she used to watch as a child.

seupaiku will be happy to know you’re thinking of him :DDD

tell him i’ll be waking up early to watch cowboy bebop reruns tomorrow morning.

i think he’s fallen in love with you.

A loud laugh leaves Sooyoung’s lips before she can prevent it.

i’m honestly honored

“Sooyoung’s not even paying attention to the movie!” Hyunjin complains loudly from where she sits on the carpet, Heejin nestled into her side.

“Yeah!” Hyejoo chimes in. She’s been squished into sharing a reclining chair with Chaewon, who sits on Hyejoo’s lap, and she peers around the shorter girl’s shoulder to scowl at her older cousin. “I thought Haseul made us have this movie night to ‘get away from our personal electronics’. Why does Sooyoung get to use her phone?”

“Shhhh, just let her!” Haseul hushes, waving off the younger girls’ complaints with the wave of her hand. She flashes a grin Sooyoung’s way as if she knows a major secret, despite Sooyoung just being left plain confused.

“Uh, I can—” She’s about to say that she can put her phone away when Vivi interrupts.

“Sooyoung’s smiling wider than she has in a while.”

All of her friends let out a collective ohhhh, and Sooyoung’s cheeks color as she comes to her own realization.

Oh. She hadn’t even noticed.

“Did something good happen?” Heejin asks, teasing.

Sooyoung rolls her eyes, though even her own embarrassment can’t stop her smile from breaking out.

“Nothing like what you’re thinking.” She smothers down another laugh at the way Heejin pouts in disappointment. “I did make a friend, though.”

--

Yves has a fansign over the weekend for one of the cosmetic brands she’s endorsing, and Jiwoo attends— of course she does, when does she not? Jiwoo’s attended nearly every single one of her fansigns, but as Sooyoung peers over the crowd and makes eye contact with Jiwoo’s large grin just barely hidden behind her even larger camera, she can’t help but think that things are completely different now with their newfound friendship.

Over the next hour, Sooyoung continues to sign picture after picture, her pristine signature never faltering even as she get sucked into brief, pleasant conversations with her fans. If anyone were to ask Sooyoung when she is at her most genuine in her career, it’s during these fansigns— there’s no acting, no needing to fake any smiles, no worry on her shoulders as she indulges in this little slice of paradise.

She’s playing with the ears of the new Eevee plushie she’d received from the fan she’d just been speaking with when auburn hair comes into view and Sooyoung immediately looks up to meet Jiwoo’s sparkling eyes.

“Can I interest you in a lollipop, Yves-ssi?” Jiwoo’s lips curl over Sooyoung’s stage name with a smug grin as she offers the older girl the red-colored candy.

“Apple-flavored?” Sooyoung raises a pleased eyebrow as she takes the lollipop from Jiwoo. She gives the wrapper a good look-over, and sure enough, the word APPLE decorates the plastic, complete with little cartoon apples and everything. She smiles up at Jiwoo. “How did you know?”

“You told me you wished they had apple-flavored ice cream back at the corner store,” Jiwoo laughs, and Sooyoung mouths a silent ohhh. “I wasn’t able to bring any ice cream this time, so I went for the next best thing.”

“I forgot I ever mentioned that,” Sooyoung admits sheepishly. She tugs off the wrapper and takes the lollipop between her teeth, waving off the security guard who takes a warning step forward, about to tell Jiwoo to move on. Sooyoung’s eyes flash a silent message to Jiwoo. Don’t mind him. “We talked about a lot of things that night.”

“We did!” Jiwoo agrees happily. For fun, Sooyoung supposes, Jiwoo shoots the retreating security guard a big smile. “It’s funny to think that nobody here knows.”

“It is,” Sooyoung chuckles. She casts a side glance to Haseul, who had been watching their elongated exchange in clear curiosity from the side. “Hey, meet me out back after this?”

“I’d love to,” Jiwoo accepts easily, bobbing her head eagerly. The camera strung around her neck is jostled slightly with the movement. “Message me?”

“I’ll text you after this, just hang around a bit after the fansign,” Sooyoung promises. There’s a thumping in her chest that she can’t place, and during any other occasion the sensation would be frightening, except for the fact that Jiwoo’s smile is reassuring, and it’s easy to smile around Jiwoo. “Speaking of the fansign, anything you want me to sign before a guard insists on moving you along?”

“Yes, actually!” Jiwoo produces a photo from the bag she’d been carrying, and Sooyoung laughs to see that it’s one of the Polaroids they’d taken together. Meanwhile, Jiwoo’s smile is the perfect mix of playful and sugary sweet. “Sign this before I go, please?”

Thirty minutes later and Sooyoung finally ducks backstage, away from the cheering fans. Her arm is nearly sore from all her waving, and her cheeks hurt from smiling too hard but there’s something satisfying about the exhaustion that just sinks into her bones in the best way— Sooyoung can make all of these people happy, she has a purpose.

With these thoughts in mind, she pulls out her phone to text Jiwoo, and soon enough, Jiwoo’s poking her head into the otherwise empty hall, her face brightening up upon seeing Sooyoung standing in the middle, waiting for her.

“Lollipop?” Sooyoung asks with a smirk, producing a lollipop from her pocket and holding it out for the younger girl. Jiwoo’s eyebrows raise in surprise as she steps closer, takes the candy to inspect it.

“Strawberry!” She exclaims in glee, grinning up at Sooyoung. “You remembered.” It’s a statement. Sooyoung nods, and Jiwoo’s eyes crinkle up with her smile. “How’d you get this?”

“I just had Haseul run a quick errand,” Sooyoung lets a shrug roll off her shoulder, a laugh leaving her as Jiwoo bounces onto her tiptoes to give Sooyoung a quick hug. “I figured I should return the favor.”

“You didn’t need to,” Jiwoo says honestly, though her eyes shine with appreciation nonetheless as she plops the lollipop into her mouth.

“But you’re glad I did?” Sooyoung asks hopefully.

“I’m glad you did,” Jiwoo affirms with a giggle.

“I’m glad I did too,” Sooyoung smiles. She steps closer to the wall. “I was going to ask if I could see you this weekend, but then I remembered that I have a company event at BBC's building,” Sooyoung finally lets out a sigh. She leans her head back against the wall and beckons for Jiwoo to come closer. Jiwoo closes the distance with a light skip and a spring in her step. “Unfortunately, that’s something I have to attend at night, after my schedule.”

“Aw, I’m sure it’s not going to be all bad,” Jiwoo says sympathetically. She brings up a hand to squeeze Sooyoung’s shoulder comfortingly, lollipop hanging from the corner of her mouth. “Kim Lip’s going to be there since you’re both under BBC now, right? You two are friends?”

“Yeah, it’ll be nice to see her,” Sooyoung admits, allowing a small smile to grow. Kim Lip, or as she’s known to her closer circle, Kim Jungeun, had her old contract expire relatively recently too, just a few weeks before Sooyoung. It had been a mutual decision of theirs to join BBC, actually.

Truth be told, she’d forgotten all about Jungeun being present, having grown too used to Eden’s company parties, during which Sooyoung would sit in the farthest corner and hope that no one would try talking to her.

“I just missed seeing Jungeun last weekend because she had a variety show recording.”

“She’s still as busy as ever, I see,” Jiwoo says with a considerate shrug.

“Have you ever met Kim Lip, Jiwoo?”

The smile that graces Jiwoo’s lips is mysterious, and Sooyoung’s mouth parts slightly, taken aback by the uncharacteristic sight.

“You could say that,” Jiwoo giggles.

Sooyoung’s brow furrows at Jiwoo’s cryptic words, and she’s about to prod further when Haseul’s voice sounds from further down the hallway.

“Sooyoung, we’re leaving in fifteen minutes— oh!” Haseul strides up to the two girls, surprise coating her features as she takes in the sight of Jiwoo chatting amicably with Sooyoung. “Jiwoo’s here!”

“I’m here!” Jiwoo sings.

“I heard from Vivi that you accepted the offer. We’ll be seeing you this Saturday with your camera?”

“Of course!” Jiwoo chirps. “You’ll be getting only the highest of quality photos from me!”

Sooyoung feels her head start to spin in the light of all these recent developments.

“Wait, you two know each other?” She blurts out, followed by two pairs of eyes finally seeming to remember that she’s actually present. “And Jiwoo’s going to be at the event?”

“We decided to invite a few trustworthy fansites to the company event,” Haseul takes the liberty to explain. “It was Vivi’s idea, since she wants to cultivate a friendly, approachable image for the company in order to build more trust between the fans and BBC.” She places a hand on Jiwoo’s arm. “Jiwoo’s one of the fansites we contacted directly. It was… pretty easy, actually,” Haseul chuckles. “Jiwoo’s mother used to be my vocal teacher, so we’ve actually known each other for years.”

Jiwoo only makes a hum of agreement.

Meanwhile, Sooyoung feels like she’s experiencing whiplash.

“Wait,” she repeats, eliciting another giggle from Jiwoo, and Sooyoung rounds in on the smaller girl. “So I will be seeing you this Saturday?”

“It was supposed to be a surprise,” Jiwoo pouts, casting a glare at Haseul. Sooyoung’s manager only shrugs sheepishly, not looking apologetic in the slightest, and Jiwoo huffs before turning back to the actress. “So, um, surprise?”

Sooyoung gapes for another whole second before finally letting out a breathy laugh.

“Well, you can definitely consider me surprised.”

Jiwoo grins.

--

hold up, Sooyoung texts her as the clock nears midnight. your mom’s a vocal teacher?

i love how that just registered NOW, is what Jiwoo sends back in reply, complete with a SpongeBob meme and everything. yOuR mOm’S a VoCaL tEaChEr???

hey! im sorry i was trying to get to grips with the fact that you’ve been friends with haseul, my manager, for over a literal decade!

--

Saturday night arrives and Sooyoung’s taken to BBC’s rooftop, where the normally barren space has been decorated to the brim, tables having been brought up and clothed, a stage for karaoke having been set up in the far right corner where company seniors are joking around, the entire roof being lit up beautifully against the setting sun over the Seoul.

Sooyoung’s first thought as she ascends the stairs and takes in bustling sights is, huh, maybe this won’t be so bad.

There’s a cheese fondue towards one end of the food table, and of course that’s where Sooyoung runs into Jiwoo, the younger girl cheerfully dipping a piece of bread into the steaming pot and plopping it into her mouth.

“Don’t tell me you’re going to put that block of cheese into the cheese fondue,” Sooyoung says in faux astonishment.

“Don’t judge me!” Jiwoo shoots back defensively, but the wide, wide grin on her face betrays any strength behind her retort. “I’ve never had fondue before, it’s really good! And I absolutely love cheese.”

“I can tell,” Sooyoung chuckles. A thought occurs. “Y’know, they have chocolate ones. There’s the type that comes out like a fountain too.”

Jiwoo freezes, eyes going wide.

A chocolate fondue fountain? Oh my god—”

“Sooyoung!”

Jungeun’s voice rings through the spaces between, and Sooyoung instinctively turns to find her friend’s voice, a smile breaking out as she spots Jungeun through the crowd.

Sooyoung casts a look over to Jiwoo, who is already dipping another piece of cheese into the fondue, and the younger girl waves her off with an I want more of this, I’ll join you in a sec.

With that, Sooyoung starts moving through the groups of people to where Jungeun was waving from next to one of the set-up tables. As the bodies shift around them, Sooyoung’s brow furrows until the clear form of Jinsoul standing besides Jungeun, casually using her phone, finally becomes clear. She wills the crease in her brow to smoothen.

“You’re both here!” Sooyoung greets, genuinely happy, and she hugs each of the blondes in turn. She nods towards Jinsoul. Recalling the information Jinsoul had casually told her during the move-in, Sooyoung smiles. “Congrats for signing with BBC, by the way.”

A tint of red stains Jinsoul’s cheeks, and she ducks her head. “Thanks, Soo.” She pauses, chuckling. “Again. You congratulated me before, too.”

“I know I did,” Sooyoung laughs. “Doesn’t hurt to congratulate you again, though! And you,” She points accusingly at Jungeun, though her playful tone gives her away. “I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever!”

“I know! I’m sorry I couldn’t help with the move-in to your new apartment because of the concert,” Jungeun apologizes, squeezing Sooyoung’s hand tight. Despite being two years younger, to Sooyoung, Jungeun has always felt beyond her years. She and Sooyoung had debuted in the same year, so they’d come to view each other as equals. “Jinsoul told me it went well though! I wish I had been there, it sounded like lots of fun.”

Sooyoung simply waves off her friends worries with a reassuring smile.

“I wish you’d been there too, the whole gang had taken over my apartment,” she chuckles, patting Jungeun’s shoulder. “Heejin nearly set the kitchen on fire, and Hyunjin was about to lose her mind.” She chances a look at Jinsoul. “This one here was in a sheer panic for a good thirty seconds.”

Jungeun rolls her eyes in fond amusement. “Of course Jinsoul did.”

Jinsoul frowns, looking up from her phone and poking Jungeun’s arm.

“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing!” Jungeun quips, though the moment Jinsoul returns her attention to her phone, Jungeun playfully rolls her eyes again, jabbing her thumb in Jinsoul’s direction and sticking her tongue out. The sight is enough to make Sooyoung grin, and the two of them share a laugh that has Jinsoul pouting.

“I don’t know what you did,” the older blonde states, “but I know it was at my expense.”

“We love you, Soul,” Jungeun chuckles, bumping her hip against Jinsoul’s. The older girl only pouts once more, grabbing Jungeun’s arm and pressing her fingers into her skin. The entire action feels strangely intimate, and Sooyoung doesn’t even realize she’s frowning until a hand grabs at her wrist, and suddenly there’s a camera flashing right into her stunned face.

“Gotcha!” Jiwoo singsongs, wrapping her free arm around Sooyoung’s and letting her camera dangle around her neck with a giggle. “I’ve got Yves exclusives now!”

The sight of Jiwoo materializing by her side has Sooyoung relaxing into the smaller girl’s natural touch. It’s strange, but Sooyoung’s found that she relaxes easily around Jiwoo, though she can’t seem to place why. She pushes the thought to the back of her mind for eventual later pondering.

“You better not be putting that on your fansite account.” Sooyoung only sounds mildly threatening.

Jiwoo doesn’t seem to pay any mind to her tone, only bobbing her head from left to right, humming.

“Yes, yes, don’t worry!” She winks. “These are for me.”

“I don’t even want to know,” Sooyoung shakes her head with a light laugh.

“As company seniors, I hereby declare that you have full permission to keep pictures of Sooyoung, and Sooyoung only,” Jungeun jokes, a hand on her hip. “So long as they’re for your personal archive.”

Jiwoo snorts.

“Like hell I’m letting anyone else see startled Sooyoung,” Jiwoo grins languidly at Jungeun, her tongue poking out the side of her mouth, and it’s just then that it strikes Sooyoung how casual the younger girl addresses Jungeun. “I’m a generous Sevyn, Jungie, but I’m not that generous.”

“Nice to know you’re keeping the pics out of selfish reasons,” Jungeun fires back, lightning fast, but she smirks at Jiwoo in clear entertainment.

“Of course I’m working to protect Sooyoungie’s image too,” Jiwoo huffs. She puffs a cheek, looking up at Sooyoung petulantly, big doe eyes even more expressive than usual. “You trust me, right, Sooyoungie?”

“Uh,” Sooyoung swears she has to rewire and jumpstart her brain on the spot. “Yeah…?”

Jiwoo takes what she can get and beams.

“Wait, do you two know each other?” Jinsoul interrupts, finally asking the question that had been burning the tip of Sooyoung’s tongue for the entirety of the previous exchange.

Jiwoo and Jungeun break away from their stare-off to look at Jinsoul, and the older girl flushes under the sudden attention.

“You guys just seem really close,” Jinsoul mumbles. She shifts uncomfortably and looks to Sooyoung for something, though Sooyoung can’t quite decipher what. When their eyes meet, the brunette resists the urge to reach out and rub the blonde’s arm. “And you’re the same age and all, so…”

“No, you’re not wrong, Soulie,” Jungeun replies at the same moment Jiwoo chirps out a we’ve known each other since middle school! and exchanges another grin with Jungeun. “We were in the same class, and we both went through the audition process together.”

“Ah,” Jinsoul nods, looking much more at ease as Jungeun nudges her with an elbow. “That makes sense.”

Jungeun and Jinsoul seem to fade into their own world as they continue to talk amongst themselves, and there’s a type of distance here that reminds Sooyoung of getting swept away from the shore to the sea. Jinsoul and Jungeun have appeared so far away lately, and the more she thinks about it, the less she wants to dwell. Instead, she allows herself to lock in on Jungeun’s words, get caught up with the girl currently clinging to her arm.

“Audition?”

“Hm?” Jiwoo tilts her head.

“Jungeun said you two used to audition together,” Sooyoung says lowly, gently steering them away from the two blonde girls and over to one of the railings. From BBC’s rooftop, you could see Seoul and it’s beautiful display of lights for miles without end. It takes all of Sooyoung’s willpower not to get trapped in that vision.

“Oh, that.” Jiwoo’s smile doesn’t visibly dim, but it doesn’t manage to reach her eyes, and if the way she clenches Sooyoung’s arm tighter says anything, she doesn’t want Sooyoung to comment on it. “That was nothing. Jungeun had wanted to audition so badly, but she was afraid of doing it alone. She had been my best friend, and it would be a shame to give up without trying, so I said I’d audition along with her.”

“That’s… really kind of you,” Sooyoung says quietly.

“You think?” Jiwoo looks up at Sooyoung, blinks. Her smile is gone.

“Yeah,” Sooyoung whispers. “You’re a really good person, Jiwoo.”

“Am I?” Jiwoo asks, and Sooyoung doesn’t know who Jiwoo is asking, but she answers anyway.

“I think so.” 

“Perhaps,” Jiwoo hums. Just like that, her smile returns, and her eyes crinkle into perfect crescent moons as she beams. “Or maybe I just wanted to sing for someone.”

“Who?” Sooyoung once had someone she’d wanted to sing for.

Jiwoo shrugs. “I auditioned with Jungeun, and I passed with Jungeun. I think I was looking for that person I wanted to sing for, that person who would make me want to sing for myself too. Then I realized that the audition hadn’t helped me, and I didn’t want to sing for the whole world when I couldn’t sing for myself. I ended up quitting after the first day. Meanwhile, Jungeun stayed and thrived. I had told her to stay.”

“You’re still a good person,” Sooyoung says.

“You really think so?”

“Yeah.”

Jiwoo smiles brightly. Sooyoung finds herself smiling with her.

Jiwoo brings her camera up. Sooyoung laughs along when she hears the telltale click.

--

“Have I ever told you that you’re super pretty?” Jiwoo asks over the phone, having emailed Sooyoung some of the pictures she’d taken at the company event. Sooyoung can’t even see Jiwoo’s expression, but judging from her tone alone, it’s like she can already see the cheeky smile.

“Perhaps a bit too much,” Sooyoung jokes, because that’s something she can do with Jiwoo, something that comes easy, and there’s this warm feeling that stirs in her stomach at the resulting peal of laughter. “Hey.”

“Yeah?”

“Have I ever told you that you’re super pretty?” Sooyoung asks. She thinks back to the Polaroid they’d taken back at Jiwoo’s apartment, how Sooyoung had it laminated before tucking it securely back into her wallet, with Jiwoo’s beaming face and pretty eyes and blinding smile.

There’s a heartbeat of silence, and Sooyoung all but goes into a blind panic worrying that she’d done something wrong before Jiwoo’s bright voice pipes up again.

“You could stand to say it more,” Jiwoo giggles. Sooyoung imagines her flipping her hair.

Sooyoung lets out a breathy laugh, more out of relief than she will ever want to admit.

“I guess I’ll just have to say it more often, then.”

--

Sooyoung’s not the best at accepting compliments. (She’s working on it, though.)

There was this one time a pretty girl complimented her, and Sooyoung had hardly noticed the first time because she herself had been distracted by blonde locks and charming smiles and that stupid Balenciaga baseball cap that has no right looking as good as it does and—

“Did you even hear me?” The voice had asked with a laugh.

Sooyoung had snapped out of her daze.

“Sorry,” she’d said. “What did you say?”

A blinding smile.

“I said that you’re beautiful, Sooyoung.”

“Oh.” Sooyoung’s eyes had gone wide, and it had felt like something was malfunctioning in her chest, like gravity had stopped working all of a sudden because wow she’d felt weightless right then, and then it had all hit her and her head had been ringing like a gong had been struck neck to her ear, and—

She’d stammered out a t-thank you! before pushing the door to leave the recording booth and excusing herself to the restroom.

--

hey, did you make it home from the university safe? Sooyoung texts Jiwoo on a Wednesday night after a long day of photoshoots. She’s gotten in the habit of doing so, in the midst of the ongoing conversation and memes they keep exchanging.

no, Jiwoo answers ten seconds later, i’m just leaving the campus now

Sooyoung raises an eyebrow in concern.

Another text from Jiwoo quickly follows.

my groupmates and i decided to stay late today to finish our project so that we have tomorrow off.

that sounds rough. congrats on finishing tho! Sooyoung smiles to herself. Jiwoo, always the hard worker.

thanks! hey, since i’m in the area and i’m in a really good mood, wanna meet me for ice cream?

That’s how Sooyoung finds herself strolling down the streets, a small-sized cup of strawberry ice cream (courtesy of Jiwoo’s taste yet again) in hand and Jiwoo at her side, telling Sooyoung all about her photography project due on Friday as they amble towards the train station.

“So after this project, you’re basically free?” Sooyoung questions.

“Just until my professor assigns us a new one,” Jiwoo shrugs. “At least I’ll have the weekend to relax.”

“That’s good,” Sooyoung nods. She scuffs the tip of her toe against the pavement beneath her, the words churning through her head as she peers down the road, her gaze lingering briefly on each of the bright streetlights lighting up their walk to the station. “By the way, are you free on Saturday?”

“I should be, why?”

“I’m having some friends over for a little party of my own. Nothing wild, just a dinner and some socializing. Wanna come?”

--

Jiwoo enters Sooyoung’s apartment on a Saturday evening to find that she’s the first one to arrive.

“I told you to come a little earlier than everyone else,” Sooyoung admits as she leads Jiwoo down the corridor towards the kitchen, leading her leisurely by the hand. “I wanted you to be the first to see this… And the first to try it out, I guess.”

Jiwoo laughs. “What is it, Sooyoung?”

“You’ll see! Look.”

“Oh my—” Jiwoo’s eyes widen as she turns into the kitchen and her eyes behold the contraption sitting on the middle of the table. “Sooyoung, you didn’t.”

There’s an entire chocolate fountain in all of its glory just sitting on Sooyoung’s kitchen table, waves of chocolate gushing from its top like a bubbling geyser, cascading down its structure, pooling in the bottom before making its way back to the top again. Next to the fountain is an assortment of crackers and fruit, including a pile of fresh strawberries that Sooyoung had been sure to pick up on the way home specifically for Jiwoo.

“By some weird coincidence, I’d actually been gifted a chocolate fountain last year,” Sooyoung explains. Glancing at Jiwoo’s incredulous look though, she’s quick to raise her hands in hasty defense. “I’m not even joking!” She protests. “It had been a gift from the director of my ‘Cygnet’ music video.”

Understanding dawns in Jiwoo’s eyes.

“Of course the director of your strangest music video gifts you a chocolate fountain for Christmas.”

“He was a weird man. I’d been at Cygnet’s post-activities celebration and there’d been a chocolate fountain that I’d liked. One mention and I think he thought I was infatuated with it. It had been a strange conversation.” Sooyoung shrugs. “I’d never really had a reason to use it up until now. I figured that I might as well, since you’ve never used one.”

Jiwoo looks at the chocolate fountain like a kid in a candy store, and Sooyoung laughs before motioning to a nearby platter of foods, all prime for dipping.

“Go for it! You’ll be the first to use it.”

As Jiwoo indulges in the chocolate with a happy hum, Sooyoung pulls out the Polaroid camera she’d received just a few days prior, snapping a quick picture before pulling out her phone to take more— she didn’t want to waste the film. Gradually, more and more people trickle into her apartment; from Haseul to Vivi, Heejin to Hyunjin, Chaewon to Hyejoo, and more.

For some reason, it comes to no surprise to Sooyoung that Jungeun appears in the doorway with Jinsoul by her side.

It’s Haseul who opens the door for them, but the moment they cross the threshold, an entire chorus of voices rise to welcome them, and Sooyoung laughs from her spot with Jiwoo on the couch before turning her attention to greet her two friends.

She can’t ignore the way Jinsoul bites the inside of her cheek before smiling at Sooyoung, an unreadable emotion there. It’s then that Sooyoung notices the way Jinsoul has a hand wrapped casually around Jungeun’s waist, and her eyes widen.

But all of a sudden, Sooyoung’s feeling the way Jiwoo has a hand placed on her arm, the sensation searing into her skin, and it’s warm and gentle and comforting and Jiwoo doesn’t even know, doesn’t even realize what effect she has on Sooyoung, doesn’t even fathom that Sooyoung can’t, won’t, pull away.

It’s then that she realizes— she doesn’t actually mind.

That’s probably the scariest realization she has all night.

And just like what she does with every scary thing she faces, Sooyoung pushes the thought to the back of her mind, turns back to Jiwoo and listens to her talk about the cute ducklings she’d spotted on the walk over from her university.

She’d rather just enjoy the rest of her night with her friends.

--

“Do you think Spike Spiegel loved Faye Valentine?” Jiwoo asks one night.

It’s a few days after their gathering of friends, and for some reason, after a long day of photoshoots and discussions for an upcoming drama, Sooyoung finds herself awake at 1AM, fully aware that she has a schedule in 8 hours.

i’m bored, she’d texted Jiwoo.

wanna call? had been the response she’d received.

So here she is now, talking Cowboy Bebop with Jiwoo at 1AM.

“I don’t know, Jiwoo,” Sooyoung says honestly. She’s been rewatching Cowboy Bebop recently, having forgotten how much she’d loved the space adventure anime back when she was younger. Now, as an adult with a better understanding of the mature themes and humor, Sooyoung finds herself enjoying it even more. “Didn’t Spike love Julia? She was his first love, after all, and he was always so gung-ho to save her.”

“Hm, perhaps,” Jiwoo considers. “I wonder if he loved Faye, though. She stayed with him through thick and thin, and she always was looking out for him.”

Sooyoung hums in acknowledgement.

“I think it would be nice,” Jiwoo says, and Sooyoung can’t see her but she can tell that Jiwoo’s shrugging. “Romantic love or not.”

“Yeah,” Sooyoung says quietly, finding herself in agreement.

Who wouldn’t want love, after all?

--

Or maybe Sooyoung’s just not cut out for love.

It takes her about 3 minutes to learn this.

Because she kisses Jiwoo.

They’d been lounging on Jiwoo’s couch, Jiwoo lazing onto her shoulder in the middle of the day – one of Sooyoung’s rare days off, and of course she’d chosen to spend it with Jiwoo – and Sooyoung hadn’t even been able to concentrate on whatever shitty reality show was playing, she’d just entered the apartment and seen Jiwoo’s lips coated in strawberry lip balm, and for some reason, that had been the only sight she’d been able to focus on this entire time.

And so she kisses Jiwoo.

This is her first mistake.

She kisses Jiwoo and she doesn’t know what she’d been expecting, but Sooyoung know that it had been that and more. Jiwoo’s lips are soft and warm like the sun and Sooyoung pulls her closer, wanting to soak that warmth up.

And Jiwoo’s making an adorable noise as she presses into Sooyoung, closing her eyes and humming in contentment, and then a hand comes up to cup Sooyoung’s cheek and—

Oh no.

Suddenly the warmth is gone, and it’s like Sooyoung’s been submerged in ice water. Her eyes shoot open in terror as the weight of reality sinks in.

Oh god, oh no—

With a gasp, Sooyoung flinches away, eyes wide in utter horror. Subconsciously, she finds herself at the other end of the couch, staring at a sad-eyed Jiwoo.

The rest of Jiwoo’s expression, though – apart from Jiwoo’s expressive eyes – is terrifyingly blank.

“That— That—” Sooyoung’s lips move on their own volition. It’s like she’s out of her own body now, chained down and unable to do anything but watch. “I hadn’t been thinking clearly— That shouldn’t— You’re my fansite—”

“I knew it,” Jiwoo chuckles.

Sooyoung’s silence speaks volumes.

And Jiwoo's laugh is devoid of humor; it's dry, like the desert on a cold night, and Sooyoung feels her heart freeze in place the moment she hears it.

"You really weren't thinking when you jumped into whatever this is, were you?" Jiwoo says, smiling bitterly, and no, no this is all wrong. Sooyoung's mouth opens and closes but no sound comes out and it’s like she’s drowning underwater, getting pulled by some unknown source further and further from the surface.

“You didn’t think when you pulled me to jump after you,” Jiwoo continues. “But you knew I would follow you, no matter what.”

“No, no Jiwoo, this isn’t about you—”

That’s her second mistake.

“You just kissed me, Sooyoung.” Jiwoo laughs again, and Sooyoung feels that same chill run through her. “Maybe it wasn’t about me before, but you jumped in, and you pulled me in too, and now it is about me, whether you want it to be or not.”

“Jiwoo, I—”

Sooyoung’s never felt so helpless. And that’s saying something, because Sooyoung’s felt pretty damn helpless before, and she thought that had been rock-bottom. Oh, how terribly wrong she’d been.

“This never should’ve happened,” Jiwoo says quietly. “I know, okay? We can pretend it never happened. It’s just that we had been happy and… Oh, forget it. Hell, we can go back to being just acquaintances if you want. Just give me time. I’m… angry. I thought… I don’t know what I thought. But it wasn’t this.”

Sooyoung’s bottom lip trembles. She wants to reach out to Jiwoo. She’s still afraid of getting burned.

She doesn’t reach out to Jiwoo.

That’s her third mistake.

“You should go, Sooyoung.” Jiwoo smiles, and the world shatters. Sooyoung feels the knife in her soul cruelly twist. “I love you, Sooyoung, but you should go.”

--

Sooyoung's been in love before.

Sooyoung's been in love before, and at the time, it had felt like something akin to one of those Greek epics she'd once had to study in school, because surely, Sooyoung was the Icarus who had been too careless, who had flown too close to the sun.

An Icarus whose wings were on fire but the flame just wouldn't go out— instead of water, they'd tossed oil all over her, and she'd burned for the months that followed.

The sun, in all of its radiant glory, and the sun, with its larger-than-life presence, had remained ever ignorant. Sooyoung thinks that it was for the best— she'd definitely prefer to take these feelings to the grave, bury the wings and maybe her heart along with it.

It makes her wonder why she continues to keep up her friendship with Jinsoul, though.

She still remembers the first time she'd walked through the doors of the recording studio. She had been shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, anxiously glancing at the clock on the wall, wishing that she could skip the 2 hour-long session that had been scheduled in the blink of an eye.

Sooyoung hadn't wanted to sing. She’d gone most of her life hating the sound of her own singing voice, but it had been Eden’s decision to go the idol route to “jumpstart her career,” in the words of the CEO, and who was she to object? She just wanted to make a living.

“You just haven’t found the right song to sing,” Jinsoul had said on that first day they’d met, the young producer reclining casually in her rolling chair, grinning languidly at a Sooyoung who’d been sitting stiffly on the leather couch across the recording studio. “I can fix that.”

“Is that so?” Sooyoung had done nothing but raise a skeptical eyebrow. She’d never reveal how intrigued she’d been that day. She hadn’t even known she’d needed fixing.

“I’m right, and you know it,” the producer had declared with all the confidence in the world. With a smirk, Jinsoul had kicked her feet up to rest near the soundboard, and it had felt like an act of rebellion even back then.

Sooyoung hadn’t even known what to do with herself, struck dumb in front of this strange girl.

A week later and with a new song blaring through the studio, ringing through her soul, Sooyoung had met Jinsoul’s growing grin with an awestruck look of her own. Jinsoul had looked so proud that day; it’s a look that Sooyoung’s never forgotten.

She’d kept that look with her, tucked it beneath the fabric of her cardigan and kept it close to her heart, as she’d slipped into the recording booth and pulled on her pair of earphones, Jinsoul’s encouraging, enthusiastic voice ringing in her ear.

By the end of the day, Sooyoung had left the recording studio with the first iteration of her debut single and a new number making its home in her contact list— Jinsoul with a fish emoji tacked onto it.

To this day, Sooyoung’s not sure Jinsoul had been entirely correct— perhaps whether it had been the right song was debatable, but when it came down to it, Sooyoung had been positive that she’d found the right person she wanted to sing for.

But then—

“Sooyoung, she’s your producer,” Her manager had said. His tone had been patient, but the underlying message had been anything but, and the words had lashed out at Sooyoung like a whip. Her mouth had opened and closed, but she can’t even remember what had been said. “You better stop with this foolishness, get out of this phase. It’s unprofessional.”

It had been the beginning of the end.

(Sooyoung’s dramatic, she knows. But back then, it’d felt like everything was spiraling out of control.)

--

Honestly, she really should’ve just seen it coming.

Especially when Jungeun asks to see Sooyoung, sits her down in Jungeun’s own, very homey apartment, and it’s almost striking to Sooyoung, how different she remembers this place being.

In the past, Jungeun’s apartment had been barren, much like Sooyoung’s own. Now, there are pictures on the walls, the curtains are drawn back, letting light stream into the rooms and brighten the space, and there’s a distinct presence of the color blue mixed in with Jungeun’s signature red.

Yeah, Sooyoung really should’ve seen this news coming.

“Jungeun, she’s your producer,” Sooyoung says, but a heartbeat later she’s wincing. The same exact words her old manager had hissed three years ago, and they burn as they leave her tongue. She misses any conviction, and judging by the amused raise of an eyebrow she receives in response, Jungeun hears the lack of it too. Honestly, Sooyoung’s not sure who she’s trying to convince more now— herself or Jungeun, but her gut feeling is leaning more towards the former, and she hates how that seems to pose even more questions.

Or perhaps hate is too strong of a word.

All her life, Sooyoung’s learned to be analytical, to see behind the masks of those around her, to peer through the cracks and find what’s hidden beneath. It’s a helpful skill, especially in the entertainment industry, where literally everyone is an actor and it’s sometimes hard to see the true intentions of those who approach you, hard to understand the hidden meaning behind a critique or even a compliment.

So maybe hate is a bit much, but it's incredibly frustrating to suddenly be the clueless one in the room.

Your brain is working too hard, Jinsoul had told her once. Back then, Sooyoung, having been wide-eyed and infatuated, hadn't thought much beyond the blonde producer's teasing tone. Now, Sooyoung wishes that she'd taken the warning in stride.

It's Jungeun's voice that pulls her out of her thoughts once more, Jungeun’s steady voice and Jungeun’s nonchalant shrug of her shoulder and Jungeun’s eyes that are understanding, far too understanding of Sooyoung’s reaction, because wow, Sooyoung’s such a shitty friend, she should be more supportive and—

"Sooyoung," Jungeun says levelly. "I don't care."

Somehow, three small words are more like a wake-up slap to the face than anything Sooyoung’s ever had to endure at her old entertainment company.

It must show on her expression, because Jungeun only manages to keep a straight face for so long before a smile is cracking through her serious countenance and a light laugh bubbles from her lips. The sound is so weightless, so carefree, and Sooyoung is just stunned, because is this really the same Jungeun who had locked herself in a recording booth with nothing but a bottle of wine and her sorrows? The same Jungeun whose smash-hit debut album was nothing but break-up songs and longing for things that never came to pass?

“I’m sorry,” Jungeun laughs. She tips her head back and grins. “Maybe that came across as a bit harsh.”

"No," Sooyoung shakes her head. "I guess I'm not entirely following."

Jungeun shrugs. "There's honestly not much to get. Jinsoul makes me happier than I could've ever imagined. When I found out that she felt the same, my first thought was wow, I've never been so light.” A laugh resounds from deep within Jungeun’s chest. “I didn’t care about anything but us in that moment— just Jinsoul and I.”

“What’s that like?” Sooyoung asks.

“What’s what like?”

“Not caring.”

Jungeun snorts. “Don’t pretend you don’t know what that’s like.”

Sooyoung furrows her brow.

What?

“Sooyoung,” Jungeun says in exasperation, although there’s a hint of fondness below her reprimanding tone. At the sheer confusion that colors Sooyoung’s brow, Jungeun only sighs in amusement.

“You didn’t care when you invited Jiwoo to stay over your apartment that first time,” She reminds her. Sooyoung’s lips part slightly at the realization. “She could’ve easily stayed at a hotel, but instead you invited her over. That could’ve gone really bad, especially the day after. But at the time? You didn’t care.”

“I wanted to talk with her more,” Sooyoung says quietly. She twiddles her thumbs, looks down at her lap.  “I liked talking with Jiwoo. I was acting out of selfishness when I invited her over.”

“There’s nothing wrong with reaching for something good,” Jungeun shoots back. “There’s nothing wrong with trying to surround yourself with good people, with trying to make yourself happy. Adam and Eve were selfish and look how that turned out! Now we’ve got the human race.” Jungeun crosses her arms. “Sooyoung, I know exactly what your problem is.”

Sooyoung chances a glance at the soloist.

“What’s that?”

“You think too much.”

“I— What?” Sooyoung is floored. All her life, everything she’d been taught, “Is that really a bad thing?”

“You think too much,” Jungeun repeats, reclining in her chair and crossing her right leg over her left, eyeing Sooyoung’s mute, slouched figure. “And that can be a bad thing for a person like you. Because Sooyoung, all of your calculated and successful career choices have blinded you from the fact that some of the best decisions you’ve ever made came to fruition because of your heart, and not your brain.”

Sooyoung doesn’t even know what to say to that.

Jungeun regards her kindly, a knowing smile being painted across her red, red lips.

--

The box labeled Personal remained unopened in the corner of her bedroom; she couldn’t bring herself to open it, even well after her first night in the apartment.

Now, she walks over to the box with newfound purpose, a pair of scissors in her hand that she uses to cut straight through the packing tape. It tears apart easily as the blade cuts through, and slowly, Sooyoung parts the box’s flaps reaching inside to its contents.

One-by-one, she pulls out its items— the cookbook Hyejoo had presented her when she’d first moved out on her own; a series of photobooth pictures of her with Jungeun; a dreamcatcher Heejin and Hyunjin had gotten her from somewhere on their travels; the friendship bracelets she’d made with Haseul, sitting on the floor of their old dorm as trainees; a Polaroid of just Sooyoung and Jinsoul in that stupid, stupid Balenciaga cap.

There’s her diary too.

She picks it up with clammy hands, kneeling on the ground as she flips open to a random page with shaky fingers.

“—I’m going to lose my fucking mind—”

Sooyoung slams the book shut. She heaves deep breaths before forcing herself to open it again, flipping to an earlier page.

“Today was another day in the studio. I think I’m looking forward to these days the most. Sometimes I run into Jungeun and that’s always fun. Jinsoul’s always her amazing self too. It’s crazy to think that I’ve known her for over a year now. She’s nice and fun and pretty and everything good, I think, and I want to be around her more.

I realized that I stare at her a lot these days. She caught me once and winked and I think I might’ve flatlined.

The best part was that I caught her staring too.”

She skips a few pages.

“My manager caught me texting Jinsoul earlier. He’s been glaring at me a lot, recently. I overheard him talk to one of the stylists about taking away my phone. He said it was because I was getting too distracted. I don’t really know what to think. I’ve been getting lots of offers lately, but he just keeps reminding me that everything I am is because of him and the company. I don’t know anymore.”

She turns more pages. Her writing’s gotten shorter.

“He told me I was being foolish. I told him I was making every decision very thoroughly. He told me I was going through a phase. I told him that I loved her. He told me I was being unprofessional. I couldn’t argue against that one.”

The pages become crinkled and stained the more she flips. Sooyoung absently traces her thumb over the rigid paper.

“I got called up to the CEO’s office today. I’m going to lose my career if word gets out that I feel anything towards girls. He said I’d be left all alone, that all my friends would leave me. They wouldn’t, right? Or would they be disgusted? I can’t afford to think this way. Then again, it makes sense that they wouldn’t want to be associated with an idol who plateaued far too soon. Jinsoul wouldn’t leave Jinsoul would stay with Hell, I don’t even know if Jinsoul likes me back. I can’t lose her I can’t lose what little I have. I think I’m going to lose my fucking mind. I think I’m going to

The rest of the page is torn.

Oh, that’s right. She’d been trying so hard to forget.

There are only two sentences on the page that follows.

“I got yelled at by the CEO again today. I told him I was leaving Eden Entertainment when my contract terminates next week.”

That had been the last entry. Sooyoung had packed the diary away into a box in preparation for her move to her new apartment, and she hadn’t written anything since. It wasn’t that she would’ve had any time to journal, anyway; everything had happened so fast. She’d been sitting on the CEO’s sofa, and she’d gotten tired of the yelling, and she’d spoken about quitting without thinking.

She doesn’t regret that part, not a bit. Her life’s gotten so much brighter thanks to that impulse decision.

And then it hits her, as Jungeun’s words from earlier ring through her head.

“Some of the best decisions you’ve ever made came to fruition because of your heart, and not your brain,” her friend had said.

Oh.

Oh.

This is what Jungeun means.

There are song lyrics scribbled onto the back of the last page. Sooyoung can read them clear as day—

“How many blue skies have there been?
I’ll shake off the cold wind and go meet you by the ocean—”

“I’m just the epitome of subtlety, aren’t I?” Sooyoung chuckles drily, under her breath.

Staring down at the page, she tentatively reaches out for a pencil at the corner of her desk, twirling it absently as she contemplates whether to write. She’s gotten a fair way down the page, just a few more verses and the song could be finished.

Jiwoo… Jiwoo deserves better than this.

Sooyoung heaves a deep breath. Jiwoo’s not some rebound; she’s not some replacement for Jinsoul, she never was. Jiwoo doesn’t deserve something that’s not wholly dedicated to her. Jiwoo doesn’t deserve anything less than Sooyoung’s whole heart.

And with that thought in mind, Sooyoung grasps the corner of the page, ripping it from its binding and tearing it away from its fellow pages before slamming the notebook shut. She balls it up with both hands, crumpling from the force of her fist.

So what are you going to do about it? The little voice in her head nags incessantly.

She stands from her desk, walks down the hall and throws the balled-up paper into the kitchen trashcan.

“Sorry, Jinsoul,” Sooyoung sighs, and it feels like she’s been freed from something. She shoves her hands into the pockets of her burgundy hoodie. “That wasn’t quite the right song for you either.” Maybe… Maybe some other time, with vastly different words, a renewed meaning.

She turns on her heel, heading back down the hallway, to where the notebook remains on her desk.

Sitting herself back down, Sooyoung chews on her bottom lip, flipping open to a fresh, new page.

She doodles a penguin in the upper right-hand corner before tapping her pencil against the desktop, letting her thoughts overtake her once more. This time, though, they manage to make it onto the paper.

Her heart does the talking for the first time in a long time.

--

She wakes up to her phone buzzing with a new text at 4AM in the morning. She’s hunched over her desk, her diary pages flattened under her left arm. Groggily, she checks the text.

come over, it reads, and Sooyoung gulps, hopes that Jiwoo's mind is in the right place.

now? she ends up sending after a minute of deliberation.

Not even thirty seconds pass before she receives a yes, followed shortly after with a please.

i'll be there in thirty.

Without any other thought, Sooyoung swings her legs off her bed and goes to her closet to search for something to wear.

--

She gets there in twenty.

And then Jiwoo’s there, pulling open the door, nursing her bottom lip between her teeth and looking more nervous than Sooyoung’s ever seen.

“Hey,” Sooyoung says lamely, a bit caught off guard by how cute Jiwoo looks, all cozy looking in a fluffy light pink hoodie and leggings.

“Hey,” Jiwoo smiles shyly, ducking her head. “I… Thanks for coming, Sooyoung.”

“No problem,” Sooyoung says immediately, because it really is no problem; she’d probably do next to anything for Jiwoo at this point. She follows Jiwoo into her apartment, her eyes roaming over the walls like the first time she’d visited. Somehow, in the earliest of the morning, the sun not even in the sky yet, Jiwoo’s apartment feels quieter, calmer, like a resolution.

Jiwoo picks up a box of Pocky laying on the kitchen island before beckoning for Sooyoung to accompany her to the balcony, where they sit on opposite sides of the swing seat and look out over the cityscape in silence, still dark at the early hour.

Jiwoo quietly chews on a stick of Pocky as Sooyoung shifts in place. When they speak, their words clash.

“Sooyoung—”

“You were right.”

“I— what?” Jiwoo blinks, surprised.

"You were right," Sooyoung repeats, slower this time, and Jiwoo stares at her with her wide, doe eyes, caught off-guard. "I wasn't thinking."

She heaves a deep breath, and Jiwoo remains silent.

"I wasn't thinking when I asked you to stay over that first time. Or, I had been thinking, but I hadn't thought ahead, I hadn't considered the consequences." Sooyoung squeezes her eyes shut, hopes that the stammering of her heart doesn't bring her to cardiac arrest before she manages to get this all out, because it's throbbing. Throbbing and aching and longing and she can't open her eyes yet because she'll break; she'll fall apart the moment she sees Jiwoo and Jiwoo's emotional, honest eyes, because Sooyoung had never believed anyone when she'd been told the eyes are the windows to the soul until she'd met Jiwoo.

Jiwoo, who had bashfully walked up to her table at the fansign three years ago. Jiwoo, who had smiled shyly and presented her with a swan plushie and a handwritten letter that Sooyoung had read over and over and over again, late into the night, wondering why her heart hadn't ceased in its pounding.

"I wasn't thinking," Sooyoung says again, shakily. "I couldn't— I can't think logically around you, but the scary thing was how okay I was with that, how okay I still am." She heaves in another breath, finally opening her eyes and meeting Jiwoo's concerned gaze. Of course Jiwoo's concerned; of course Jiwoo's the one worried about her. That's just who Jiwoo is, putting her whole heart into her actions and into her care.

"I don't know much," Sooyoung whispers. Jiwoo nods. "I don't know much, and I'm not good with words, not like Jungeun or Jinsoul. But… But what I do know is that I started searching for you in every crowd. I know that I started waving off security guards to talk to you longer at fansigns. I know that the swan plush you gave me that first time still sits on the opposite side of my bed, that the letter you hand-wrote me is still tucked under my pillow. I— I know that I still read it every time I feel scared."

Jiwoo slowly reaches forward, touches Sooyoung's hand and gently embraces it within her own. Her fingers gingerly curl around Sooyoung's, Jiwoo's thumb gently tracing circles into the back of her palm.

"You know a lot," Jiwoo says softly. Sooyoung only looks doubtful, and Jiwoo giggles. "What's your favorite fruit?"

"Apples."

"And what's mine?"

"Strawberries."

"Your favorite fruit is apples, and mine is strawberries," Jiwoo smiles, and it feels kind of like the sun rising, far in the east, peeking its head out beyond the horizon and bringing warmth across the dark city. Sooyoung feels like she's stepped into the sunlight for the first time. "What was the first thing I said to you?”

“Hello.”

Jiwoo rolls her eyes, amusement alight in them, and Sooyoung feels her heart swell to twice the size.

“After that, silly,” Jiwoo giggles.

“You should’ve specified,” Sooyoung finds herself weakly teasing, noticing the way Jiwoo’s smile widens ever-so-slightly, perhaps at Sooyoung slowly coming back to her old self; the one that Jiwoo must have gotten more used to. “You told me that I reminded you of a swan.”

“You still do,” Jiwoo comments.

Sooyoung can only smile wryly at that.

Some swan she is. How Jiwoo manages to see that, Sooyoung has no idea, especially with how she’s been flailing around in an open ocean for so long. It’s still astonishing to her, how Jiwoo somehow sees the good in everyone— it makes Sooyoung wonder who the hell she saved in a previous life that allowed her to meet Jiwoo in this one.

“Even after everything I’ve put you through?”

“You were still figuring things out,” Jiwoo shrugs. “And I mean, I was too. I went home that day and did a lot of thinking.” She tilts her head in consideration, shifting her gaze from Sooyoung to staring out, off the balcony, looking over Seoul’s skyline. “I realized that I’d been wrong.”

“...What?”

“Even though I thought I’d already had myself all sorted out, I realized that I hadn’t been looking at things from your perspective. I’m no celebrity, and no matter how many followers my Twitter page has, most of them have never even seen my face before. I never even thought that you— well," Jiwoo's smile softens into something tender. “You’re so busy all the time because of your job and lifestyle, and you were brought into the industry at such a young age. I had all the time in the world to come to my own conclusions about what I want in life and what I'm willing to do, but I’d never even considered that you’d never had the time to do the same. I wasn’t considerate of your feelings at the time, and I’m so sorry, Sooyoung.”

Sooyoung inhales, something pricking at the corners of her eyes.

“And so I realized something,” Jiwoo giggles. “I realized that I wanted to be that someone who you didn’t have to think around. You don’t have to censor yourself with me, Sooyoung. I wanted to be that someone who you could be candid with; that real person who you could trust to be with you through thick and thin, to ease your worries, no matter what. I thought about all of that, and how wonderful it would all be, how happy we could be!”

The smile that crosses Jiwoo’s lips is so gentle, so tender, that Sooyoung wishes she could take a picture of this moment, place it close to her heart and keep it there, treasure it for however long she has.

“I just want to be with you, Sooyoung. All of you.”

And then Jiwoo is looking up at Sooyoung like she's something precious, something she needs to protect, and it nearly makes Sooyoung cry because there's no one that she wants to protect more than Jiwoo, who deserves nothing but good things and certainly better than Sooyoung. The world they live in is a scary one, and the realm of the entertainment industry, complete with its flashing lights that are ten times harsher than Jiwoo's camera, is even scarier.

“It’s okay to cry,” Jiwoo says, and there’s something about the way she says it, those four simple words that carry more weight than Sooyoung will ever realize.

It’s only then, when Jiwoo leans forward to wipe away a stray tear Sooyoung hadn't even noticed, that she breaks down, sobs wracking through her frame.

Jiwoo’s arms are around her in an instant, and Sooyoung clings to her like she would a lifeline after drifting too far out to sea.

--

She can't remember the last time she cried with much clarity. After all, Sooyoung's mom once told her stories of how her sister would make her cry easily when she was younger, and Sooyoung had vowed there on the spot to never cry again.

She'd held true to that promise for a good few years as well, until it had all her walls came crashing down on that one night she can barely recall.

She remembers curling up into a ball on her bed, muffling her cries into a pillow as she had pressed herself into the corner of a room that didn't feel like her room. It wasn't her first time away from home, but it surely felt like it had been— her own room back in Busan, right next to her sister's and across from her parents', had never felt so far away that night.

Call her pessimistic, but while it had always been Sooyoung's dream to be in the entertainment industry, there'd been a small, miniscule part of her that never thought it would happen; a small part of her that never believed that it could, a tiny part that had almost hoped it would never come to fruition.

She'd studied hard in school, and she'd worked hard to get where she was in life – employed and training under an esteemed company – yes, but oh, how she would've loved for those days to have continued without fail. There had been nothing else to think about back then besides training and the occasional weight check, and she nearly misses the simplicity despite how hard the work had been at the time.

Somewhere down the line, Sooyoung had stopped wishing for things to pass and had instead started willing for things never to happen— she had wished time could stop, that she'd never have to face the future, as inevitable as it was.

It had all come to a screeching halt the first night after she had moved into her new Eden Entertainment-sanctioned apartment, only one night's worth of sleep away from her impending debut as a soloist as Yves, another step closer to becoming the actress she used to dream of.

Until that day, she'd been rooming with Haseul, back before her friend had quit her training to become a manager.

"I'll miss you," Haseul had murmured, low into Sooyoung's ear as they'd hugged goodbye. Sooyoung can still recall the way Haseul had stood up on the tips of her toes, arms looped around Sooyoung's neck. "You'll be amazing, don't ever doubt that."

Suddenly on her own, Sooyoung had broken down in that lonely corner, and looking back, she wonders if she'd reverted back to that childlike self that had gotten lost so many years back.

She'd fallen asleep against a wet, tear-stained pillow at some point during the night.

The next morning, she'd woken up to the alarm her former manager had set and freshly built walls, and she had gone to work without a second thought.

--

She settles down after a while, both girls moving back to their respective sides of the swing seat. The distance between then feels much less this time.

"I guess I always had other things to worry about," Sooyoung says uncertainly, genuinely contemplating as she chews on Jiwoo's words. Once again, Jiwoo had been right. As cutthroat as the entertainment industry is, it's also morbidly simple— the golden rule is to not do anything that goes against the general public's perception, with the second rule being or just don't get caught.

She’d never been brave enough to attempt the latter, not that she'd ever had enough time to consider it in the first place. She hadn’t had much time to think about relationships in general, especially beyond her prior infatuation with Jinsoul.

From the other side of the swing, Jiwoo finally opens the box of Pocky again, pulling out a stick and taking a bite with a distinct crunch. Sooyoung smiles slightly at the sight, Jiwoo looking adorable as always.

"Everything was about the image that Eden wanted me to give off," she admits. "I constantly worried about staying in their good graces. They," she lowers her voice, shameful. "They didn't want someone who identified as… as…"

"Not straight?" Jiwoo supplies helpfully, Pocky stick hanging out of the corner of her mouth, and Sooyoung blinks, surprised at how easily the umbrella term settles down somewhere deep. Jiwoo shoots her an understanding smile, eyes crinkling up into crescent moons. "Don't worry about labels, okay?"

"Okay." Sooyoung's smile is grateful, and she's sure that Jiwoo can plainly sense the relief in the way her shoulders relax. "But yeah, Eden definitely weren't keen on having any of their artists be… not straight. My image was the ideal girlfriend, after all—"

"You still are," Jiwoo interjects cheekily, and Sooyoung doesn't even try to hide the way her face heats up. Meanwhile, Jiwoo pokes her shoulder. “Did you know? There was a survey where LGBT women were asked who their ideal celebrity girlfriends were, and you made it to the top 5.”

“That… That actually makes me really happy.” Sooyoung allows for a small smile. Then she pauses, licking her dry lips. “Out of sheer curiosity, who got first place?”

“It was a tie between Jung Krystal and Bae Irene.”

Jiwoo offers her a Pocky stick.

“Okay,” Sooyoung takes it gingerly, chewing on it considerably. Another moment of thought. “Yeah, they’d probably be my number one picks too.”

“Hard to choose between them, yeah?”

“Super difficult."

She must be floating or something. Having this conversation with Jiwoo is nothing short of surreal, it's like she's ascended to some higher plane. And yet, at the same time, sitting here on Jiwoo's balcony, sharing Pocky at 5AM in the morning, feels just as natural as breathing.

Sooyoung lets out a breath she didn't realize she'd been holding.

"There's an easy solution to choosing, did you know?" Jiwoo pipes up.

"Oh yeah? And what's that?"

"To pick neither, and just vote Ha Sooyoung."

Immediately, Sooyoung doubles over coughing, and Jiwoo's laugh rings clear through the air, rising up with the morning sun and swirling around them, lingering.

"You can't just say things like that!" Sooyoung grunts once she's recovered, hoping that Jiwoo can still see the petulant pout gracing her lips despite the younger girl wiping away tears of laughter.

“I’m serious!” Jiwoo says insistently, and she virtually bounces in place, a whole ball of energy at 5AM in the morning— not that Sooyoung’s sure how. “You’re not with Eden anymore, you’re with BBC! And fuck your old CEO! He’s a piece of shit!”

Sooyoung never knew she needed to hear Kim Jiwoo cussing out her old contacts, but now she does and she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to hear it enough.

"I think it's my fault, though," she finds herself saying in a musing manner, thoughts circling back to her talk with Jungeun. Upon the way Jiwoo's nose scrunches in clear disagreement, Sooyoung scrambles to clarify, "At least partially, I mean. Yeah, Eden and its CEO had said some horrible things to me but… in the end, I'm the one in control of myself. I'd never had any negative feelings about liking girls until then, and I shouldn't have let their words cloud my judgement into the self-destructive mess I became."

Jiwoo hums thoughtfully, plucking up another Pocky stick and taking a swift bite.

"I guess that's fair," Jiwoo concedes after a moment of consideration. "I do agree that people should be held accountable for their own actions, good or bad." She tilts her head, gazing up at Sooyoung with knowing eyes. "But still, what you're doing right now, sitting here with me and talking with me, means that you're holding yourself accountable and atoning too, right?"

"I—" Sooyoung's mouth opens and closes, not expecting that.

"We can move on from this. You've already taken the first steps, Sooyoung." Jiwoo smiles.

“I know we’re from different worlds,” she says, taking Sooyoung’s hand within her own, and immediately, Sooyoung’s thumb comes up to trace patterns into the back of Jiwoo’s palm. She wants to treasure this girl. “I know, trust me. But if you’re willing, I want to try.”

“I’d really like that,” Sooyoung says immediately, not even having to think for a heartbeat. She’d nearly lost Jiwoo once, and that one time had been more than enough. If Sooyoung could have it her way, Jiwoo would never leave her side again.

“I don’t care if we’re from different worlds,” she says, feeling the weight of years at Eden begin to lift off her shoulders. “I don’t care at all! If you don’t belong in my world, then I’ll carve out a place for you myself with my own two hands.”

Jiwoo grins.

“I’d like that. I’d like that a lot.”

“Yeah?”

There’s one last stick of Pocky left in the box. Jiwoo offers it to her.

“Want it?”

“Can we share?’

Jiwoo takes one end of the Pocky in her teeth, leaning in.

The butterflies in Sooyoung’s stomach flutter around like a hurricane, and yet, Sooyoung gets the notion that it only took a single flap of their wings. Nevertheless, she wouldn’t trade this feeling for the world, especially as she leans in, takes a bite from the other end.

(Sooyoung swears she’s never had a sweeter kiss.)

(It’s not just the chocolate.)

--

Sooyoung thanks whatever higher being (Vivi; Sooyoung sends her thanks to Vivi) for giving her the afternoon because as much as she loves watching the sunrise with Jiwoo, by midday she’s running off an hour-ish of uncomfortable sleep when she’d been sleeping at a desk.

Realizing this, Jiwoo rolls her eyes playfully and sends her off home to rest and recuperate before her nighttime schedule.

The moment Sooyoung’s back in her bedroom, she dives into bed and tackles the swan plushie, innocently sitting on the opposite side of her bed, into a tight hug.

She goes to sleep with a wide smile on her lips, cradling the soft swan to her chest, napping well into the afternoon.

--

She’s supposed to meet with Jinsoul and Jungeun in BBC’s recording booth at 8PM. When Sooyoung arrives ten minutes early – she’s nervous, okay? – she finds herself entrapped within a dome of awkward silence that seems to permeate throughout the room and linger in the spaces between both Jinsoul and herself.

After exchanging greetings, Jinsoul’s smile is off-kilter and not-the-usual and Sooyoung thinks it doesn’t suit her; thinks that Jinsoul looking at Sooyoung like she’s afraid to hurt her doesn’t suit her at all. Where had their easygoing, confident friendship go? When did it start going south?

It happened when you left BBC and you let yourself get buried in your own inability to move on, a small voice says in the back of Sooyoung’s head, and she inwardly winces to herself. Yeah, she still needs to set that right.

Somehow, the both of them end up jumping when their phones buzz at the same time. It’s a text from Jungeun, saying that she’s running late.

Sooyoung chews on her bottom lip, looking up to see Jinsoul smiling at her sheepishly.

“Looks like it’ll just be us for a few more minutes,” the blonde young woman says with a shrug. She motions to the bottle of red wine she’d brought for herself, Sooyoung, and Jungeun. “Wanna indulge in advance?”

Sooyoung nods, and before she knows it, she’s staring at her vague reflection in the pooling red liquid, just about a million different thoughts swirling through her head. From the corner of her eye, she can make out the sight of Jinsoul pretending to fiddle with the soundboard in front of her. It almost makes Sooyoung want to laugh— Jinsoul’s never known how to deal with these kinds of situations before, and it’s honestly rather endearing.

“I was in love with you,” Sooyoung finds herself blurting out. She turns to look at her friend only to find her already looking back. She meets Jinsoul’s steady gaze head-on, furrowing her brow. “But… But I’m not anymore, I don’t think.”

There’s a pregnant pause.

“Sorry.” Sooyoung mutters, and somehow, it’s that that garners a giggle out of her friend. “I’m trying to work on the whole communication thing, and I think I’ve been flaking on you until now.”

Making a noise of disapproval, Jinsoul shakes her head, and the red liquid in her glass sloshes around as she sets it down on the table. It’s only then that Sooyoung realizes that Jinsoul had never taken a sip.

“You don’t have anything to apologize for,” Jinsoul says softly. She leans forward, resting her forearms on her legs and staring at the recording equipment across the room. “I didn’t really make things any easier. The songs I wrote were for you.”

“I’d hope so,” Sooyoung frowns, not quite understanding. “You were told to write me songs, after all.”

Perhaps it’s the confusion so plainly scrawled across her face coupled with the obscurity of it all, but something about the entire situation sends Jinsoul into a fit of laughter, the producer leaning so far back in her seat as she shakes with laughter that Sooyoung’s genuinely concerned she’ll tip over her rolling chair.

“Sooyoung,” Jinsoul says when her boisterous laughter dies down to giggles. “Sooyoung, when I said that the songs had been written for you, I meant that they were written specifically with you in mind. My contract said I wasn't to get into any relationships with any of the artists I produced for, but I created those melodies and I wrote those lyrics for you. They were like… messages, in a way. From me to you.”

Silence echoes throughout the small room, but Sooyoung’s sure that if you listened hard enough, you could hear the sound of something clicking into place.

“Oh.” Sooyoung says dumbly. A lightbulb lights up. Oh.

“Yeah,” Jinsoul chuckles. “Oh.”

“I— But you—”

“I think I was in love with you too,” Jinsoul says.

“Oh.” Sooyoung can’t help but say again, rendered speechless. Jinsoul giggles. “But— But now…?”

“Not anymore,” Jinsoul clarifies, some apologetic note intertwining with the honesty there. The blonde girl drums her fingers against the armrest of her chair.

“Not anymore,” Sooyoung repeats, and it’s said with a sigh of relief that they both can hear.

Sooyoung’s shoulders relax at the same moment Jinsoul’s does, and the silence that wafts around them and twines between is strangely comfortable.

“I thought that would hurt more than it did,” Sooyoung admits after a moment. She sets down her own wine, still untouched much like Jinsoul’s. She doesn’t need it anymore, not really. She’d been walking around with a thorn in her side until now, not having realized that she could’ve had it pulled out this whole time. It hurts, but it's the good kind of hurt— the promising kind of hurt.

“I did too,” Jinsoul agrees quietly, but then her voice breaks and she’s wiping at her eyes with balled fists and it takes Sooyoung a moment to realize that Jinsoul’s crying.

Immediately, Sooyoung stands from her seat, stepping away from the couch in stride and pulling Jinsoul into a hug.

The words tumble from her lips before she can stop them.

“It’s okay to cry,” she says softly, echoing Jiwoo’s words— those four words that had set Sooyoung free from nearly all the baggage that had been wearing her down throughout this long journey. Rubbing her hands up and down Jinsoul's back, maybe, just maybe, she could ease Jinsoul’s aching as well.

“I wish you were crying too." Jinsoul's chuckle is wet, her voice muffled against the fabric of Sooyoung’s woolen sweater. “That way I don’t think I’d feel nearly as pathetic.”

“Sorry, no can do,” Sooyoung says in quiet amusement. “I already had my good cry with Jiwoo a few hours ago, and I think I’m all out of tears for now. I'm working on it.” She pauses. “And it’s… it’s not pathetic.”

“Jungeun will be here soon,” Jinsoul mumbles, sniffling. “What will she think if she sees me like this?”

“Everyone loves a woman with sensibility.”

Jinsoul barks out a laugh at that, looking up at Sooyoung fondly.

“Jiwoo’s really done a number on you,” she says, drawing back from the hug. Sooyoung reaches for her purse on the couch, pulling out a pack of tissues. She presents one to Jinsoul, who takes it gratefully and quickly wipes away any remaining tears.

“She has,” Sooyoung finds herself agreeing, and it’s right then that she suddenly finds herself overcome with the urge to play Jinsoul, and Jungeun as well, in a game of Mario Kart. If she teams up with Jiwoo, they’ll surely be able to win.

She’s about to voice the idea when Jinsoul opens her mouth first.

“I’m glad,” is all Jinsoul says, but the genuine smile on her lips speaks volumes, maybe entire epics more.

And Sooyoung knows that everything is going to be okay.

But until then—

“So Jungeun, huh?” She smirks, and Jinsoul lets out a tired groan.

--

The moment Jungeun enters the room, locks onto Jinsoul's still-red eyes, and immediately whirls around to forcibly berate Sooyoung with a Ha Sooyoung, I swear if you fucking made Jinsoul cry, Sooyoung knows that Jungeun's a perfect fit for her friend.

To her immense credit, Jungeun takes their long-winded explanation in stride, her the corners of her lips curling up into a wry smile of amusement as Jinsoul, having joined her on the couch, curls around her and nuzzles into Jungeun's hair.

Jinsoul's words start to get muffled, so Sooyoung chuckles to herself and picks up where Jinsoul left off, explaining her mistreatment at Eden Entertainment and elaborating on her conversation with Jungeun from a few days prior.

"The other day, I thought you'd been talking about conclusions you'd come to own your own, Sooyoung." Jungeun frowns, chancing a look over her shoulder at Jinsoul, who whines and bumps her nose into Jungeun's cheek. "I had no idea they'd instilled that fear in you like that, and I had no clue that Jinsoul had been contractually bound. That's so much worse…"

Sooyoung sighs, a shrug rolling off her shoulder as she smiles wistfully.

“I’d say something along the lines of ‘I should’ve tried harder’ but I don’t think I really want to now.” She chuckles at the sight of her two cuddling friends. “I know this entire thing was messy, but Jinsoul and I have both moved on, and I’m really happy for you two, honestly. We were just awkward.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Jungeun says with a comforting smile. “I believe you, and I definitely believe in a heart that can move on. I mean, I’d be hypocritical if I didn’t.”

“Oh?” Sooyoung raises an eyebrow at that.

“You heard nothing.”

“You can’t just drop something like that and not elaborate, babe,” Jinsoul prods with a giggle. She pokes her girlfriend’s stomach, eliciting a squeak from Jungeun. “Who was it?”

“Okay, okay!” Jungeun chuckles. “But trust me, you’re going to laugh at how sad this is.”

Jinsoul and Sooyoung only share a look before fixating on Jungeun with bated breath.

“So I might’ve had the biggest crush on Jiwoo back when I was in high school.”

“Oh my god,” Jinsoul says, jaw dropping open.

“It’s obviously gone now!” Jungeun says defensively, crossing her arms, and Jinsoul places an understanding hand on Jungeun’s bicep, squeezing it. “I haven’t liked her in that way for years!”

There’s a heartbeat of silence.

“Wow,” Sooyoung marvels, the single syllable breaking out into the most genuine laughter she’s had in a while. “We’re all such a fucking mess.”

With that, the three girls burst into loud, boisterous laughter, and Sooyoung once thought that she’d left her family back in Busan, but now, looking at two of her closest friends, their grinning faces both mirroring her own, Sooyoung figures that yeah, what I have is pretty damn great.

--

That weekend, Sooyoung holds open the door to her apartment as Jinsoul crosses the threshold, a fish tank in her arms, Jungeun following close behind her girlfriend with a bag of fish supplies.

If either of her friends are surprised to see Jiwoo already sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for them as she hums to herself and uses Sooyoung’s laptop like no big deal, neither comment on it.

Sooyoung’s certainly not surprised; it’s easy for her to see the spare key to her apartment hanging neatly on Jiwoo’s lanyard, sprawled on the table besides the photographer. She laughs as Jiwoo gives the three of them a noncommittal greeting before immediately going back to whatever she’d been doing on Sooyoung’s laptop.

“What are you looking at that’s more interesting than me?” Sooyoung jokes. She leans over Jiwoo’s shoulder, trying to get a good look at the screen, only to pout when Jiwoo immediately hits ctrl + n and opens a new tab.

Jinsoul merely snorts at the exchange, heading to the living room to deposit the fish tank, taking the bag of fish supplies from Jungeun with a light kiss to her cheek.

“For your information, I was looking at pictures of betta fish, silly! But you’re right,” Jiwoo replies with a giggle as Sooyoung presses an open-mouthed, feather-light kiss to the back of her head. “There’s nothing more interesting than my girlfriend.”

Somewhere behind them, Jungeun makes a gagging noise and Jinsoul bursts into laughter.

Meanwhile, Sooyoung has to stop herself from swooning.

Damn, she loves this girl.

Two hours later, Sooyoung, Jiwoo, Jungeun, and Jinsoul leave the pet store with two betta fish, the color of their scales a beautiful mix of red and blue, occasionally mingling into purple.

Sooyoung thinks they’re beautiful.

--

“Are you humming?”

Sooyoung pauses in her act of cutting up a bundle of leafy vegetables.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I knew it!” Jiwoo exclaims, pointing a declaratory finger. “You don’t hate singing!”

Sooyoung opens her mouth, the usual rejection of the idea already on the tip of her tongue, but then she thinks better of it and settles for merely shaking her head instead. There's a small smile on her lips.

"I quit being an idol," she merely says. She sets down the knife to pick up a cucumber, flicking on the sink and running it beneath the stream of cool water.

"I know," Jiwoo replies, not sounding deterred in the slightest. She beams, rocking her head from side to side, continuing the tune that Sooyoung had so abruptly stopped humming earlier. Her lips part, and Jiwoo sings under her breath. "Listen, listen! Only you can hear it, my heart!"

"It got stuck in my head," Sooyoung admits solely because she loves the sound of Jiwoo's voice. Once upon a time, she'd never understood why Jiwoo hadn't pursued a singing career of her own, but through careful reflection on the industry and her own personal experiences, Sooyoung decides that she's rather fine that Jiwoo didn't.

“I never thought I’d get to hear Jinsoul sing in an official song,” Jiwoo comments, and Sooyoung nods. She’d heard Jinsoul sing before, yes, but those were in hastily recorded demos in the midst of inspirational adrenaline, or the occasional karaoke live in the off-chance Sooyoung would get to witness Jinsoul drunk. “I think it’s really sweet and romantic that the first time the public gets to hear her singing voice is in a duet with Kim Lip.”

“And yet for some reason, it’s a break-up song,” Sooyoung chuckles. She places the cucumber on the cutting board, her knife poised to start cutting. “It’s a beautiful and catchy song, don’t get me wrong. I just find it amusing that their first duet is a song about heartbreak, when they literally could not be more in love.”

“You’re—” Jiwoo scrunches her nose. “You’re not wrong. But at least it’s not like they’re actually breaking up. As much as Kim Lip is Jungeun, I think Jungeun’s far too whipped to let Jinsoul go so easily.”

“Kim Lip and Jungeun…”

“Sooyoung?” Jiwoo frowns, stepping closer. “Is something wrong?”

“No, it’s nothing, it’s just—” Sooyoung heaves a deep breath. Okay, time to work on this communication thing again. “Kim Lip and Jungeun aren’t the same, right?”

Jiwoo furrows her brow.

“I’d say that even though they act different, Kim Lip and Jungeun are both personas of Kim Jungeun, yes.”

“But they’re still a part of Kim Jungeun?”

“Of course,” Jiwoo says. “Kim Lip and Jungeun are two sides of the same coin. Kim Jungeun isn’t Kim Jungeun without both of them. I think… I think it’s great how they mix together to create the Kim Jungeun that we both know and love.”

“I see… So Yves and Sooyoung,” Sooyoung mumbles. She places the knife back down onto the cutting board. “They’re both a part of me, right? I… I’m not someone entirely different?”

Jiwoo’s eyes go wide, and then she’s nodding her head so vigorously that Sooyoung’s genuinely worried the younger girl might nod her head off. It’s an endearing sight nonetheless, and Sooyoung almost feels bad for even voicing it.

“Of course they’re both you!” Jiwoo says fiercely. Sooyoung blinks, surprised by the emotional conviction. Jiwoo just shakes her head, gripping Sooyoung’s arms and staring into her eyes. “You’re Ha Sooyoung. You’re the Yves who acts in dramas as the cold city girl, who graces the front covers of all the magazines ever, but you’re also the same Sooyoung who cheered after she finally beat me in Mario Kart, who set up an entire chocolate fondue because I’d mentioned in passing that I wanted to try one; the same Sooyoung who sat on my porch and watched the sunrise with me as we shared Pocky at 5AM in the morning.”

Jiwoo’s gaze softens.

“You’re still you, Sooyoung. Yves isn’t someone different, she blends into the Sooyoung you show to those closest to you to create the most wonderful human being I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. I think that’s what I found so amazing about you— what I still find so amazing about you even now.”

The smile that blooms across Sooyoung’s face is genuine, Jiwoo’s words wrapping around her like that warm blanket they’d shared when the sun had started rising on that fateful day.

“Thank you, Jiwoo,” Sooyoung says, hoping that her words can convey even a fraction of how grateful she is for this amazing, amazing young woman. “For reminding me. Really.”

“Of course! I’ll always be here to remind you, if you want that, that is,” Jiwoo ducks her head bashfully, squirming in place for a moment before looking back up at Sooyoung earnestly.

“I love both of them, after all,” she says softly. “I love all of you, Ha Sooyoung.”

“Jiwoo…" Sooyoung's bottom lip trembles, and she blinks back tears, desperately trying to keep them at bay. "I don't… oh god, I don't deserve you at all.”

Jiwoo frowns.

“Why do you say that?” She asks worriedly.

Sooyoung's heart nearly bursts on the spot.

“I hurt you on that night,” she whispers, and Jiwoo must hear the disappointment in her tone – the disappointment in herself – because then Jiwoo's hand is gently encircling her wrist, and Jiwoo's eyes are softening into something understanding, and Jiwoo's inching closer despite how Sooyoung continues. "I'd been hurting you during every moment up until then, and I hadn't even realized because I'd been too caught up in how I'd been hurting myself to see it. And you still somehow picked up my pieces, even though I didn't deserve it; even though I hurt you."

"But I'm not hurting anymore," Jiwoo says steadily. She leads Sooyoung away from the kitchen counter, steps forward to rest her forehead on Sooyoung's shoulder. "Are you?"

Sooyoung takes a moment to ponder, trying not to focus too hard on the way Jiwoo presses comforting patterns into her wrist with the pad of her thumb, fully knowing that she'd lose all train of thought to Jiwoo’s touch. Her gaze wanders out over the counter and into her living room, lingering on the two Betta fish that swim circles in their respective halves of the fish tank, to the penguin plushie that's now joined her swan plushie on top of the TV, to the bowl of fruit salad on the coffee table.

"No, I'm not," she finally says, and it feels good to say it aloud. Jiwoo turns her head, pressing her smile into Sooyoung's shoulder, and Sooyoung absently lets her hand trail through Jiwoo's hair. "Not anymore. I think I'm just disappointed that it had to happen in order to get here."

Jiwoo makes a considerate noise, cocking her head. Her gentle smile never leaves her lips.

"Hey, y'know what I think?"

"What?" Sooyoung asks.

"You might think that I picked up your pieces, but I think that's not entirely right." Jiwoo's hand loosens from around Sooyoung's wrist, slipping down to intertwine their fingers together with a fond look in her eyes. "I used to think that was what I was here for, but that's not the case anymore. I think… I think I came into your life not to put you back together, but to break apart with you. That way, we could put each other back together with pieces of one another. In that sense, we’re both a part of each other, yeah?"

Sooyoung swallows.

"You think?" she asks quietly

"I know," Jiwoo corrects, sure of herself.

Sooyoung nods slowly, a small smile growing on her own lips.

"Okay."

"Okay?" Jiwoo questions.

"Okay," Sooyoung affirms and Jiwoo grins.

"Let's finishing making dinner before Haseul and Vivi get here," Jiwoo suggests.

"You mean I'll finish making dinner," Sooyoung jokes. She turns back to where she'd been chopping vegetables for a salad.

"Hey, I'm good with a knife!" Jiwoo protests. "You just don't trust me!"

"No offense, babe," the term of endearment rolls off Sooyoung's tongue, more natural than breathing, "but I hardly feel safe giving you a butter knife."

Jiwoo merely beams at the affection before skipping off to take the plates and glasses out from the top of Sooyoung's cabinets.

--

She has a phone call that night, after Haseul and Vivi had left a cheery, feel-good dinner and Jiwoo's taken up her spot in the guest bedroom, far too tired to make it back to her own place.

“Sooyoung?” Jungeun’s sleepy voice answers on the other end. “Is something wrong?”

“Oh, shit,” Sooyoung frowns, pulling her phone back from her ear to check the time. “It’s already 11PM. I’m sorry Jungeun, I forgot about how you sleep so early. I should’ve just texted.”

“No, no, no worries!” Jungeun says nonchalantly, already sounding much more coherent. “I’m used to it. Jinsoul used to call me at midnight all the time and— well, I mean, she doesn’t really have to call anymore so… Anyway.” Sooyoung hears the shifting of bed covers from the other end, hears light snoring in the background and she can’t help but chuckle under her breath.

“So what’s up?”

“Oh, right,” Sooyoung bites her lip. “It’s about the… you know. I’ve sorta changed my mind.”

“Oh!” Suddenly Jungeun sounds that much more awake. “Yeah, of course! Want me to wake Jinsoul up for this?”

“No, it’s fine, I’ll just tell her tomorrow,” Sooyoung smirks. “She’s caught on to your sleep habits, I see.”

“Hey, it’s the healthy way. Anywho, tell me about this idea of yours.”

--

“This one!” Jiwoo proclaims the next day, grabbing the ceramic pot and holding up the plant for Sooyoung to see. “This one’s perfect for you!”

Sooyoung grins, gingerly taking the succulent from Jiwoo and raising it to eye level. Jiwoo was right, this particular cactus just fit the part, as nonsensical of an explanation as that was.

“I just need to water it at least once a week, right?” Sooyoung clarifies. Jiwoo’s the resident cacti and succulent expert, and she’s been taking care of her succulents despite her busy schedule for years now, so Sooyoung knows she can count on her.

“Sounds about right,” Jiwoo beams, eagerly bouncing from one foot to the other. “We have to think of a name for her!”

“I’ve actually thought of one already.” Sooyoung laughs at the sight of Jiwoo’s eyes bugging out in surprise. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Nothing!” Jiwoo says quickly, easily going back to being excitable. “What did you come up with?”

“How does ‘Faye Valentine’ sound for a name?” Sooyoung asks casually, only to bite down a smile of her own at the fond look she finds crossing over Jiwoo’s expression. Oh god, I love her.

“It’s perfect,” Jiwoo whispers like she’s confessing a secret, before she and Sooyoung burst into quiet giggles as they try to regain their grounding in the middle of the flower shop’s cacti aisle.

--

The first time they hear it on the radio, it’s a month later and they’re stuck in traffic on the way to the airport.

“Wait.” Jiwoo whips her head around from where it had been looking out the car window to openly gape at Sooyoung, sitting innocently in the driver’s seat next to her as a new song drifts in from the radio. “Wait.”

“I’m waiting.” Sooyoung chuckles, chancing a glance over in Jiwoo’s direction before checking her blindspot and deftly merging lanes.

“That’s your voice.”

“It is.” Sooyoung nods in amusement.

“I—” Jiwoo shakes her head in disbelief. “I’ve never heard this song before.”

“Oh, good,” Sooyoung says playfully. Her eyes flicker to the rearview mirror before smirking at Jiwoo. “That means it didn’t get leaked.”

“That means it’s a new song!”

“That it is.”

“You have a new song,” Jiwoo repeats, as though trying to convince herself that this is real. “You, Ha Sooyoung, have a new song.”

“I do.” Sooyoung nods again. She eases her foot on the gas pedal, letting the car roll as the traffic comes to yet another standstill.

“You said you quit singing.”

“I quit being an idol,” Sooyoung clarifies, incredibly entertained by the entire exchange. “And you were right, by the way.”

“I was? About what?” Jiwoo’s brow furrows adorably, and Sooyoung takes advantage of the unmoving traffic to reach over the center console and smoothen out the crease of Jiwoo’s forehead with the pad of her thumb.

“I don’t hate singing,” Sooyoung says simply, her smile small but happy.

“Oh!” Jiwoo immediately perks up, but she falls quiet, listening to the lyrics pour through the speakers.

“This clear white light reminds me of your voice,” Yves’s voice sings as the instrumental comes down from its first high to something softer, gentler. “I felt it tumble into the palm of my hand, my finger moving along with the beat.”

“Your voice is beautiful,” Jiwoo breathes.

"You keep saying that," Sooyoung laughs lightly.

"Because it's true!" Jiwoo shoots back.

"We'll agree to disagree," Sooyoung tries to amend, and Jiwoo pouts but returns to listening.

“I love your voice,” Jiwoo says after the song has finished and an advertisement for Yakult starts playing during the break. Jiwoo looks up at her through her lashes, a small smile on her lips. “I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of listening to you sing.”

“I found someone to sing for,” Sooyoung says. The traffic light turns green, and she turns into the airport parking lot.

“Y’know what?” Jiwoo beams. “I think I did too.”

--

There are twelve of them total on this private jet, the entire friend group and more— Sooyoung, Jiwoo, Jinsoul, Jungeun, Vivi, Haseul, Heejin, Hyunjin, Chaewon, Hyejoo, and even Haseul’s little sister Yeojin and Yeojin’s best friend, Yerim.

It’s loud, chaotic, and hysterical in all the best ways possible, and Sooyoung finds herself with the largest grin on her face on the entire flight to Hawaii. It’s constant laughter surrounded by the family she’s found, and as she watches Jiwoo play hand games with Yeojin a few seats over, Sooyoung realizes how large her family’s gotten.

Jinsoul sits in the seat directly behind her, and when Sooyoung feels a hand come and clamp down on her head she barks out a laugh and snaps her teeth, pretending to bite the blonde girl. From where she sits beside Jinsoul, Jungeun snorts and bumps her shoulder against her girlfriend’s.

“Jiwoo, your significant other’s a wolf,” Jinsoul whines, playfulness sparkling in her eyes. Sooyoung only wrinkles her nose and swats at Jinsoul’s hand.

“She’s not a wolf,” Hyejoo interjects suddenly, swept out of her previous conversation with Hyunjin and Heejin. “That’s my animal!”

“Wow, furry much?” Yeojin smirks.

“I will shove your jaw into your eyes,” Hyejoo deadpans, and Chaewon grips Hyejoo’s arm tight, her shoulders shaking in silent laughter at the way Yeojin’s mouth drops open in disbelief at the threat.

“Sooyoung is a swan,” Jiwoo simply says, returning from where she’d been playing with Yeojin to sit with Sooyoung. She pulls Sooyoung’s arm over her shoulder with a wide smile. “My swan.”

“Is that why she tried to bite me?” Jinsoul jokes.

“Wow, furry much?” Yeojin pipes up again.

Haseul has to pull her sister back to avoid Sooyoung’s lunge as the rest of the girls keen over in laughter.

--

Their first day in Hawaii is eventful in a relaxing sort of way. It all starts when Sooyoung wakes up in a queen-sized hotel bed, Jiwoo’s head tucked perfectly into the crook of her neck, and the smile that spreads across her lips doesn’t leave her face for the rest of the day.

The twelve of them split into groups of six and go roam around Honolulu with a spring in their steps.

Sooyoung sticks with Jiwoo, Jinsoul, Jungeun, Heejin, and Hyunjin, who decide to go shopping over playing at the beach— despite her name, Sooyoung’s quite been one for water. Instead, she wanders around the shops, happily greeting the shopkeepers and waving to the people who pass them by who recognize them.

She takes a few pictures with fans and when she returns to Jiwoo’s side, she knows that the picture taking doesn’t cease— they both fully expect low-quality pictures of them together to be circulating the internet in a few hours, although Jiwoo meets Sooyoung’s eye and giggles, not caring in the slightest.

Occasionally, Jiwoo picks up her camera from where it hangs around her neck to snap a picture of Sooyoung mid-laugh.

“Beautiful,” Jiwoo breathes, and Sooyoung blushes.

“For your personal collection?” she asks.

“For our personal collection,” Jiwoo corrects, smiling. “I’ve started an album. You and me, us and our friends… But mostly you and me, y’know?”

“I like the way that sounds,” Sooyoung hums. She gets a glint in her eye, and Sooyoung smirks. “Almost as much as I like the sound of—”

Don’t,” Jiwoo interrupts, raising an index finger warningly as Sooyoung’s grin grows ever wider. “Don’t you dare finish that sentence.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Sooyoung raises her hands in defense, chuckling.

Jiwoo merely huffs before intertwining their fingers and tugging her along to catch up to where Heejin and Hyunjin are looking at leis, the beautiful flowers blowing gently on a warm breeze.

Later that night, they have dinner on the beach. A long table to seat twelve has been set out, and Sooyoung sits towards the center, Jiwoo on one side, Vivi on the other.

She’s in the middle of a talk with Vivi about how idol survival shows are literally the worst thing in the world (and by extension, how Vivi refuses to send BBC’s trainees to Produce 101 or Produce 101’s newest rip-off), when Jiwoo’s chiming laughter catches Sooyoung’s attention.

 “My Twitter notifications are going crazy! Sooyoung, look!” Jiwoo laughs. She leans over the arm of her chair, reaching over to show Sooyoung her phone, resting her chin on the taller girl’s shoulder along the way. Sooyoung easily takes her phone, scrolling through the feed with a lazy finger.

Yves is on vacation???? And she’s with a GIRL???

omfg girlie with Sooyoung is cute af

hold up, why does she look so familiar…?

ARE YOUF UKCING KIDDDING ME IS THAT CHUU????

Sooyoung barks out a laugh that’s loud enough to garner the attention of their friends who’d been chatting further down the table. When she looks up to give a snarky comment to Jiwoo, she finds several pairs of eyes already on her, accompanied by many grinning faces.

“Something wrong…?” She asks slowly.

Haseul shakes her head, smiling widely.

“No,” she says, but then her tone takes on something teasing, and the short haired woman smirks. “But is there something you want to share with the class?”

Sooyoung rolls her eyes despite the heat growing on her cheeks.

“You can log on to Twitter yourself,” she retorts, fully knowing the hypocrisy behind that statement as she continues scrolling down Jiwoo’s notifications. She sticks her tongue out for emphasis, nevertheless.

casual Yves fan here, who’s Chuu?

ooooo a normie! jkjk anyway Chuu’s the fansite master of How You Like Me aka HYLM, one of Yves’s biggest fansites. she’s like, probably Yves’s most dedicated one too.

oh wow, that’s awesome! so Chuu and Yves are close?

Apparently???? They’re on vacation together *crying-while-laughing-emoji*

Kim Lip, producer Jinsoul, Heejin, and Vivi are there too, so company outing?

Chuu’s under BBC? Wait, is HEEJIN even under BBC? And who are the other ppl with them?

Uhhh…???

Sooyoung snorts, burying her face into Jiwoo’s shoulder, the younger girl laughing at the tickling sensation in the crook of her neck. Jinsoul, finally letting her curiosity get the best of her, finally takes out her phone and swipes at the screen, only to do a double take at the number of notifications hovering above the little bell icon.

“Whoa, thank god I had notifications turned off,” Jinsoul mutters. “My phone would definitely be lagging by now.”

Jungeun furrows her brow, narrowing her eyes at a particular Tweet.

“Guys, what the fuck is a ‘Lipsoul’?”

Her words only spur Sooyoung into another round of laughter, she and Jiwoo leaning their heads together as they try to get to grips with the ridiculous influx of spasming Tweets.

It’s easy for Sooyoung to pick out her favorite one, though.

Might just fuck around and ship Chuuves, fam.

--

And as typical, all things end as they begin— or something like that, Sooyoung supposes, because this crossing of a line isn’t really an ending, but more of the beginning of a new arc in her life. She really wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I think Spike Spiegel loved Faye Valentine,” Sooyoung says as they laze around their hotel bed, Jiwoo tucked into Sooyoung’s side, Sooyoung’s laptop balanced on her stomach as they watch the finale of Cowboy Bebop in the early morning light.

“Oh!” Jiwoo looks up at Sooyoung, cuddles closer. “You do?”

“Mmhm,” Sooyoung nods. She traces circles into Jiwoo’s back. “In the end, Spike didn’t go with Julia, even when she asked him to run away with her. Even though she was his first love, he chose to stay with Bebop, with Faye and the new family he found. Maybe…” Sooyoung shrugs. “Well, I don’t know they actually loved each other romantically, but Spike’s story was never really about the romance. It was about learning to move on after he’d been living his life stuck half in the past.”

“Very good points,” Jiwoo appraises with a grin. She then sighs, content, as Sooyoung runs a hand through Jiwoo’s hair, tangling her fingers in soft, auburn locks. “You’re cool, Sooyoung-ie. As cool as Spike Spiegel!”

“Oh?” Sooyoung eyes her in amusement. “Well, I definitely love you in a romantic sense though, Jiwoo.”

“Look at you, getting so good with words!” Jiwoo giggles. Her own fingers intertwine with Sooyoung’s free hand. Sooyoung admires the way Jiwoo’s hand, despite being smaller, manages to fit so well into her own. “You’re the person Spike strives to be.”

“So you’re okay with not being my Faye Valentine?” Sooyoung asks.

“More than okay if I get to be your Kim Jiwoo,” Jiwoo grins.

“The Kim Jiwoo who literally fell in love with me?” Sooyoung jokes, and they chuckle lightly to themselves as Sooyoung thinks back to Jiwoo’s words from their fight. They’ve gotten past that now, they can stand to joke about it even a little.

“Well, yes,” Jiwoo giggles, but there’s something solemn and utterly genuine in its raw form that glints in Jiwoo’s eyes, keys Sooyoung into the honesty in the words that leave Jiwoo’s lips. “But also the Kim Jiwoo who lied on that night when I spoke before thinking.”

Sooyoung feels her mouth go dry. She licks her lips, suddenly nervous.

“What?”

“I didn’t fall in love with you, not really,” Jiwoo says, shrugs sheepishly before a smile spreads across her face, and not for the first time, Sooyoung feels like she’s watching the sun rising. “Literally running into you? Yeah, maybe that was an accident, but me growing to love you? That was purposeful.”

“Oh…” Sooyoung whispers, in awe. Suddenly, she’s all the more aware of the way Jiwoo’s body is curled up against hers, heat against heat, warmth against warmth.

“I walked into my love for you,” Jiwoo whispers. She looks down at their intertwined hands. “I walked towards you with my eyes open. I chose to take every step, and even when I thought about turning around, I chose to keep walking forward. So,” She inhales, “So there’s no strings attached. I love you with no strings attached.”

“I love you on purpose,” Sooyoung blurts out before she can stop herself, and Jiwoo’s gaze snaps up to meet hers, and there’s a spark in their air between them. “I jumped and here I am. That was the choice. I messed up along the way but I had made the choice without even realizing, without thinking, but it wasn’t an accident either. I love you on purpose, Jiwoo.”

“I’m your Kim Jiwoo,” Jiwoo says softly.

“And I’m your Ha Sooyoung,” Sooyoung replies gently.

There’s no protocol for this. Sooyoung’s not entirely sure what it means to belong to somebody else, not quite sure what giving your entire being up for equal exchange entails. It sounds so complicated, like there should be some sort of manual or something.

Sooyoung really can’t find it in herself to care— not that she would’ve read it anyway… too niche. But then again, Sooyoung and Jiwoo are pretty niche themselves, and there’s no need to define what they have with bold lines, put them in a box and limit what they have; they’re beyond boundaries, a Sooyoung and Jiwoo and that’s all there really needs to be. Lines were always meant to be crossed, right?

“I like the sound of this,” Jiwoo chirps. She snuggles against Sooyoung’s collarbone. “It’s like we’ve reached some sort of checkpoint.”

And Sooyoung smiles.

“I mean, we’ve always been crossing lines, haven’t we?”

 

End.

 

Bonus:

“So how do you feel about getting ice cream tonight?”

“We’ll check to see if they’ve got an apple flavor here.”

“I dunno, I kinda wanna share a tub of strawberry with you.”

“I think I like the sound of that… Minus the Advil?”

A laugh.

“Minus the Advil.”