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an autumnal sorrow

Chapter Text


Close my eyes and let the credits roll
Didn't cry when you built a wall
I should've known that
You would try to prevent a fall
But I close my eyes and let the credits roll


 

Seulgi is grateful—insanely grateful that people believe in her.

   It's still astonishing to see a crowd full of fans outside, even odder to find hundreds of them come out to see Red Velvet—to see her. On typically morose days, it's the only thought that makes her go out to perform. Their screams and camera flashes intermingle to create a strange sort of sensory medley, she smiles and offers a tiny wave as a chorus of camera shutters rise in crescendo. Happiness teems inside her body.

   Going up the stairs of the radio station, Seulgi isn't paying any attention—still focused on posing for the fans when she stumbles forward out of utter inattention for her surroundings. But she's immediately pulled back by her upper arm, a tight grip steadies her lanky frame. White noise permeates the atmosphere as soon as she looks back to find Joohyun, the ends of her hair lit by the sun and the dust motes fall like gold glitter. For an agonising second, Seulgi is stunned by Joohyun's beauty—her yellow blanket now fallen till her elbows, but it doesn't seem like she particularly cares.

   "Are you all right?" Joohyun says as she leads Seulgi up the steps like she's some clumsy child she can't trust.

   Her grip doesn't waiver, it tightens instead once they're inside—and Seulgi feels her cheeks tingle but she isn't sure if it's out of embarrassment or Joohyun's hand on her arm—it's always frighteningly delicious whenever Joohyun endows her with a touch in public situations. Seulgi nods, fervently, tugging on Joohyun's yellow blanket, and says, rather shy, "Thank you."

   Joohyun looks caught in an emotion she hasn't experienced before—face slightly slack and cheeks ruddy under the rouge, a picture of childish innocence exemplified by the blanket. In another blink, it's gone and she just shrugs, a smile threatening to bloom at the ends of her lips.

 


 

Joohyun smiles like a child, so full of awe and wonderment—cheeks ruddy with the gleam of happiness. She smiles more now, but they're mostly hidden behind a hand as though she wants to temper the intensity of what she feels, as though she'd prefer it if her emotions were a well-kept secret.

   But Seulgi knows, she can feel them palpable in the air like malleable bubbles. She's felt Joohyun's happiness on her skin when they debuted, she's felt it every single time they won an award and she's felt it again recently when Joohyun got cast for a web drama. Seulgi feels it linger in Joohyun's room even after she's gone for an early morning shoot, just the way the scent of her favourite perfume stays behind as a reminder.

   (Some days she's lucky enough to catch Joohyun minutes before she leaves—arms wrapped around Joohyun's waist, face pressed into the crook of her neck as she got ready. "Why're you up?" Joohyun asked her one morning, the low rumble of her voice deliciously perceptible against Seulgi's lips.

   "Can't I come see you before you leave?")

   Lying in bed, Seulgi is full of a fondness she's reserved only for Joohyun—she came inside Seulgi's room earlier to say goodbye—just a chaste kiss and whispered affections given as ephemeral mementoes. She almost gave in to the visceral need to pull Joohyun into bed with her.

   As she waits for Seungwan to finish up her shower, Yerim happens to stumble inside—hair a complete and utter mess and still in her pyjamas—Seulgi yelps just as she falls onto the bed. Yerim throws her arms around Seulgi like she's boneless and particularly clumsy, wiggling closer for a cuddle. "C'mon, get up," she mumbles, ruffling Yerim's hair in retaliation, "go get ready before we're late for practice."

 


 

All Seulgi can hear is the tumbling rush of her own blood, clamorous, in the steeped silence of the dressing room—it roils and rolls on unheeded as it laps against the edge of her skin, cutting bones bare and threading them tight. Her sanity is stretched on the pillars of carnal spires, for Joohyun's crooked smile, made delectable by the veins of secrecy, is the harbinger of such ruin.

   She shifts in the chair in an effort to derail her thoughts, but they remain tangled and pulse fierce. She could go and form alliances with some of the other idols at Music Bank, and perhaps, retain those flimsy friendships strung together by the shared association of guilt. But she remains where she is, unable to call upon Yerim's insatiable curiosity for unanchored connections—Yerim, who is easy and exuberant, rather artless as she opens her thoughts, uncut and raw, for all to see. She chances a glance at Joohyun's reflection in the mirrored vanity but she's no longer there.

   Before Seulgi can even process the anomaly, her phone lights up with a message—it's Joohyun. Getting up, she leaves to amble through the hallway in search for a syrupy confidence which evades her, impish in its trickery. Her stomach teems rich, full of a gorged absence. She ducks into the room implied in the message.

   She's pushed against the door as soon as it closed behind her, the collar of her shirt gripped instantly in Joohyun's hands made of prophetic sin. "Hey," she intones, her smile full of wicked incandescence, sharp and needy.

   "Hi," Seulgi says, a quiver in her breath belies her indifference when Joohyun presses her knee against the door, positioned right between Seulgi's legs to resurrect drunken impatience—darkness settles onto her chest and peels away her ribs, dusts ravenous greed into the hollow. A hunger howls into the empty room, its intensity deeply palpable.

   Joohyun pulls an indecent whisper from Seulgi's mouth, it stutters quiet once their lips press together, and she vows to imprint adoration on her tongue, imbibed with holy lust. They find freedom fallen on the floor like discard pearls, yet uncorrupted by the vicious eyes of gossip—caged behind the darkened walls of insincerity.

 


 

There is no sunrise to herald the wizened morn, no birds yet awake to squawk away the last vestiges of sleep that dust one's eyelashes droopy—but signs of life emerge from Red Velvet's dorm, a spray of the shower on bathroom tile, a din of clutter from utensils on cutlery. Seulgi finds the sounds reminiscent of a vague chatter only associated with tired mornings, she stares up at the ceiling until she hears Sooyoung call her name.

   She rubs her eyes and shuffles into the kitchen, feeling extremely petulant. Sooyoung and Yerim pay her no attention, too focused on their sparse breakfast, movements too lethargic for them to focus their utter lack of energy into a greeting. Seulgi doesn't care, her mind addled by the lure of sleep. Rubbing a hand over her face in order to wake up, she startles sensing Joohyun behind her and like a southern breeze, she moves away in a gust of graceful limbs after placing a small peck on Seulgi's cheek.

   Yerim, as though finally realising she's not alone, feigns disgust—gagging, but it's Sooyoung who thrusts her bottom lip out like a child and says, "You never kiss me, unnie."

   "Why, do you want one?" Joohyun asks, leaning against the counter. Her cheeks glow milky white under the glare of the bulb and Seulgi is, perhaps, envious of her effortless elegance.

   A screech sounds harsh in the subtle stillness of the morning but Sooyoung is panicking much to everyone's delight as Joohyun manoeuvres herself into her space. "Er, no—I didn't mean that!"

   Joohyun's laughter is maniacal to the point that even Yerim snorts—it's quite comical, really, the way Sooyoung looks to Yerim for help, expression a caricature of a benign puppy. "Well, don't look at me. This is your own fault."

   Happiness is slurry in the air, it demands laughter and crinkled eyes, peach lips stretched in incalescence smiles. Their domesticity melts into the dust motes and the sun finally begins its ascent.

 


 

A vulture screams up in the tenuous sky, lying dormant on clawed branches—the azure is somewhat quiet today, only weighed by a late August heat. Seulgi slumps in the car seat, aware of the deep tremors of anger that slither in the air, and perhaps, the others noticed it as well, as evident in their clear avoidance. Usually, their car rides home are filled with raucous laughter borne out of easy familiarity and happiness pressed into the skin, like plucked flowers pressed into books so that they bloom into orchards made out of poetry. Joohyun's anger is bony, seared white as though, perhaps, to platform silence rather than words—her stoicism is her worst fault.

   Once the car stops, Sooyoung and Yerim climb out quick in hopes to run to the safety of their room. They escape and so does Seungwan. Seulgi follows and notices Seungwan stood at the door, but before she can even move, she's pulled back by her upper arm. Joohyun's fingers are marble and veined with apathy—her nails dig into the skin, harsh like sunburn. "For the sake of your career and mine, I'd rather you not do that again."

   "I'm not an idiot, unnie. I've never done anything to jeopardise our careers," Seulgi says, a slight flinch to her voice—brows furrowed in confusion. She doesn't remember the start of Joohyun's ire, only remembers its slow rise. She hasn't done anything. She isn't a trainee anymore, each reprimand is aimed at her sense of self—it is no martyr on the cross, hung for her dreams.

   Joohyun exhales through her nose and a hush falls, but a vulture still screams for blood stained surrender. "I didn't say you're an idiot," she murmurs, an arrows strike, and continuous, tip sharpened for attack, "you've seemed to have forgotten that we're public figures now, whatever we do is going to be dissected by the fans. Once they notice, so will the company."

   "But why are you mad at me! You stare at my lips every chance you get—on camera."

   "That is for the cameras, Seulgi," she says, rather pointed, "learn the difference."

   Joohyun retracts her hand and in its absence, Seulgi's blood aches, pulse harsh inside her head like drums struck in a frenzied ritual. "I'm—" Seulgi starts, but the sentence lies caught in her throat like a leftover hiccup.

   "I don't care, just don't do that again." Just as Joohyun pushes past her, Seulgi looks up expecting to see vultures—instead, she finds an empty sky, unconcerned about the triviality of it all. Sunlight doesn't cure the calloused agony, but it's soft and tender—a touch of god, perhaps, made to cleanse souls.

   She stays there until Seungwan calls for her and they go inside together. "D'you know why she's a little... off today?" Seungwan asks, tentative, when they enter their room.

   Seulgi falls onto her bed and mumbles into the pillow. "I don't know. PMS, maybe." She knows, of course, she does—but admittance itself is an abundance of spurned issues, doused in blood from her tongue, laden with secrets. She'd never be able to repent.

 


 

Comebacks always bring with them the soft chastity of nervous capability—it calls for idols on an altar, their talents laid on pyres like offerings for vile and gluttonous gods. Their minds stray elsewhere, scampering about for the vague assurance that all will be okay, that they will survive.

   Seungwan follows Sooyoung outside, perhaps, to eternalise her cheeky smiles in photographs, trapping a part of this moment behind glassy screens. Yerim taps away at her phone, incessant and brows furrowed, lost in another reality. Seulgi scoops up some worry from its sinewy puddle, as it grows bulbous and rough in order to reach out for Joohyun—Joohyun, who had slipped into a bathroom to attend a call half an hour ago, shoulders hunched in wary anticipation.

   She knocks thrice, "Joohyunie?"

   "Yeah, I'm—" Joohyun clears her throat, the sound comes out muffled as it reverberates across the tiles in search for an escape, "yeah."

   "I'm coming in. Hope you're decent," Seulgi says, words warm and dripping light to ward off the worry, hands now dry and supple. She goes inside and Joohyun is hunched over the the basin, a litany of tremors shroud her skin, as though her wrists bleed the rivers of sorrow. Seulgi immediately stands beside her, and palms her shoulder, only to have her flinch like a particularly skittish rabbit caught in some bloodstained maw. "Are you all right?"

   Joohyun's reflection is ghastly under the fluorescents, pretty eyes glossy and dimmed, mouth pressed closed to retain the manic gloom which threatens to spill and pool at her feet. She shakes her head almost ritualistically, the dull light creates crooked crescents on her cheeks. Seulgi's throat is dry, because when she speaks, she feels her voice caught on brambles, "Joohyun-ah."

   "I'm okay," Joohyun manages, words watery and diluted—pulled from the weathered pipes around them. Heart dimmed under weighed avoidance, foundation flecked ashen. Silence can no longer goad sentences from her lips, it drips instead, greyed condensation over the bathroom mirror. "You should go."

   "But—"

   "Seulgi," she says, "go and check if the others are ready. I'll join you in a few."

   Seulgi relearns despair as it splices the rotted plum of sadness into her tender arteries, threaded together by a steely hurt. No, it doesn't burst—it draws closed like an ache upon sandy water. Her hands aren't made of the shadowy comfort found under willowy branches. Joohyun deserves the ripe beauty of peace, cradled in arms wrought out of a dewy love. Seulgi is yet a sapling unsung, so she heeds her advice, and leaves.

 


 

Time unfurls slowly as though dipped in molasses, feathers now darkened and glazed, heavy, unable to reach quick the hands of the next hour. Free days lie rare and dispersed across a year, like infinitesimal weeds in the daily grunt of life, pesky and burgeoning. Seulgi doesn't quite understand them, or rather, doesn't understand what to do with them—when her days are littered full, each moment carefully construed as to not be wasted. One minute she'd be practicing until her muscles tumble like jelly, and in another minute, she'd be on stage, performing under a persona so clearly made for consumption.

   So, she indulges in the doldrums that inch across the walls in Joohyun's room, and pleads with the muses which reside inside tempestuous shadows, as they grace mortals with scornful passivity. She hopes to trace the curve of sunlight, watches it dampen Joohyun silhouette with malleable glitter. But—the muses are particularly antsy today, their ire at being tossed aside for baser pleasures spills like rainwater on paper. Seulgi looks up at Joohyun for a flash of inspiration, but finds her already looking back.

  "What?" Seulgi says, and chews on the end of the pencil left so carelessly useless by the lack of supple divinity—she tilts her head at Joohyun's dismissive gesture, "You don't stare unless there's a reason."

   "I'm sure I don't know what you mean."

   She rolls her eyes and thumbs through the empty pages of her sketchbook, as they lie stretched, willowy and ample with an irate wistfulness, for anything to materialise in short bursts of some creative pursuit. Joohyun moves from her indolent sprawl on the bed just as Seulgi mutters, "Liar."

   A quick quirk of the lips dissolves into a quiet simper, and she's close now, enough to make Seulgi's blood sing sordid—enough for even saints to turn their eyes away. Her voice is taut and controlled, "Am I a liar, Seul?"

   Before there was light, there was the simple embrace of love-stained misery and Seulgi can feel the weight of Joohyun's mouth as an indecent testament for that forgotten fable. Her touch leaves behind a drunken sort of hope that one day, perhaps, their freedom won't hang on guillotined haloes.

 


 

Their trainers cause deafening squeaks against the floor, as they prepare their formations for Rookie promotions. Still sore from yesterday's practice which lasted until 3 am, Seulgi's calves burn from exertion—but the sting is a quiet reprieve from the dull roar of her mind. She prefers the delicious strain of muscle to the thoughts that sneer at her with a hiss of distaste.

   Joohyun calls for a break and the girls disperse, ravenous for a quick respite. Seulgi breathes out with slight tremors as they claw out from her throat. Hands a little fidgety. Her stomach is a wild storm, churning in nervous anticipation—it's almost akin to the anxiety she felt when she'd sneak out with Joohyun and lose herself under the gooey quiet of the stars. A simpler time, perhaps, unaided by public scrutiny. She averts her eyes once Joohyun wipes sweat from her neck with the end of her oversized sweatshirt, but not before catching a glimpse of her black sports bra.

   Oh, lord forgive her—she harbours a fondness for Joohyun's tummy, loves to trace her fingertips across it like a worshipper in admiration just to hear her breath stutter. Even gods fall prey to the pleasurable intricacies of lust.

   "Unnie," Seulgi says, over the din of Sooyoung and Yerim's banter—she can see Seungwan in the mirror, rather amused, lips stretched in a smile borne out of subtle infatuation.

   Joohyun is ever attentive, eyebrows raised in question. A perfect leader, always intuitive to the needs of her team, and—Seulgi is probably biased but damn anyone who says otherwise.

   "I thought..." Seulgi trails off, casting a glance back at the others but Yerim's got an open bottle in her hand and no one is particularly interested in their conversation. The lights reflected in Joohyun's eyes create an eerie familiarity in her chest, lungs squeezed mid-breath just as Joohyun digs her teeth into her bottom lip. "I thought we could go out tonight?" She manages, despite the uneasy clutter in her airways. "Just the two of us."

   Joohyun rolls her lips into her mouth—if only Seulgi could be privy to the thoughts that taste like alabaster on her tongue. "I'm busy."

   "Oh, that's—all right." Seulgi doesn't pout, she's neither bratty nor petulant—had resigned herself to forgo trading any sort of affections ordinary people fail to appreciate as soon as she signed the contract. Instead, she found solace in the little time offered before and after promotions. She doesn't let hurt settle over her heart like supple dust—but it does, anyway, as it seeps through the barriers. "I'll just ask Seungwan."

   Joohyun says, rather quiet and toneless, "On a date?"

   "Why, are you jealous?"

   Tendrils of happiness grow on her cheeks and she can't really stop the rush of satisfaction of the abrupt change in Joohyun's mood. She rolls her eyes to feign disinterest but Seulgi is already aware of the insidious jealousy planted by her words.

   "I'm—" But Joohyun's voice is drowned by Sooyoung's screech, they turn, immediately, and find Yerim rapt in silent, wicked laughter, and Sooyoung, particularly drenched. "Kim Yerim!"

 


 

Her chest rises, full of song and exhales memories tinged lavender—head on her lap, her breath is a muted lullaby as she guides her fingers through Seulgi's hair, planting dreams of honeysuckle as she goes. Their schedule thankfully empty provides them with these instances of shared solitude and peace laced with guilt. The strange hum of silence carries with it sleep, goading Seulgi into a slumber until the fog is dispersed with the precision of a bullet just as Joohyun's phone rings.

   Joohyun sighs a terrible sound, "Oh, god."

   Seulgi gets up on her elbows like a boneless marionette controlled by the pull of her will, or to lodge Joohyun's sorrows into her own veins. She blinks away the comfort. "What's the matter?"

   "I forgot I made plans today."

   "Oh," escapes the ruptured hallways of her chest, for her words split Seulgi's wishes for the day—splits them open like a tear in the dewy flesh of an orange. She fancies her dreams of a day spent in Joohyun's arms will forever be suspended in unreality. Her heart sinks into a plume of regret.

   "I'm sorry," she says, and untangles herself from Seulgi, teeth dug into her bottom lip, the blue light from her phone casts a shadow of worry on her face that belies her age. She seems a child, plucked from the safety of her mothers' embrace.

   "Do you want to go?"

   She looks up and the whites of her eyes glisten of periwinkle wounds. "No, but I can't cancel now."

   Seulgi entwines their fingers together and places her head in the crook of Joohyun's neck—her collarbone juts out sharp like a petal doused in armory, her breath, soft, fans out in a low exhale.

   "I'll miss you," Seulgi says, lips pressed against her exposed skin as though to paint the words of angels.

   Her laugh is strangled in her lungs but she pulls back, fingers once again swept into Seulgi's hair. "Aw, don't pout, Seul—it's not like you'll never see me again. I'll be gone only for a few hours."

 


 

MAMA awards are a haphazard rush—a maelstrom of events that pass by too quick, too laden with an energy Seulgi is unable to parse—thick with the fumes of envy and vary congratulations, the air is vaguely green and misty. She collects a feigned kind of happiness present in every other idol, in their manufactured smiles, and practised words of encouragement and care. Each interaction will only serve to drain her until she's but an empty shell—a body devoid of a soul, puppeteered by sheer resolve.

   One of their managers guides them to their seats, Joohyun is all polite smiles and shoulders pushed back in emulation of confidence. Despite her core strength, Seulgi wobbles on her heels due to the shoddy carpeting, hopes for Joohyun to reach out and steady her—but it's Yerim's hand on her waist as they sit down together in front of EXO. She inclines her head as a courteous bow in greeting and it's Junmyeon's exuberant wave she remembers. His smile is compact, and perhaps, genuine, more so than anyone she's met today—and his charm refreshes one's palate.

   There's a whirl of noise around them, a little suffocating in its intensity, but she manages to hear their manager say, "Smile for everyone—don't forget the cameras are always on."

   Seulgi leans forward and glances around the venue as an excuse before settling on Joohyun and god—she's utterly divine, with an air of apathy, it drips from her posture like beads of dew that glisten under the light. Eyes hooded and lips pursed in subtle boredom. She's almost glad she isn't sat right next to her, for her skin aches to be graced by Joohyun's lips—like a prophecy lying in wait to unfurl its iridescent feathers.

 


 

Sadness is quite peculiar—a comfort, a lull, a roar. At times it is even forgiven by happiness in return for some scraps of respite, it doesn't care for false gaieties—in the face of people who commodify human emotions.

   Seulgi, though, isn't so forgiving. Or maybe it's her job that requires the death of uncomfortable emotions—emotions that laugh in gold-tipped agony, aware of their eternity. She goes to Joohyun, in hopes for her to weave the sadness into a palatable sort of gloom, captured inside the safety of her arms, back pressed against Joohyun's chest, as she drifts into a sleep wreathed with constellations.

   Joohyun's tying her hair, face now more angular after a six days diet—jaw sharp and cheeks sunken, an impoverished aim in the race for a fit body. "Unnie?" She calls, ravenous for the tender clasp of emptiness. Emptiness she can mould, emptiness she is familiar with.

   Her smile, thoroughly practised, falls into discontent the moment she turns. Lips parted for a few hollow words, but—

   "Let's go, unnie!" Yerim bounds into the room, patron of wondrous innocence, dressed in sweats and a smile made of pressed petals. She grabs hold of Joohyun's arm and Seulgi remains a spectator, stood outside the sandy boundaries.

   "Yerim and I are going for a bit of practice," Joohyun says, quiet and impersonal, voice damp with guilty implication, "you're welcome to join us."

   Yerim agrees, perhaps—but Seulgi doesn't listen, a sparrow thuds somewhere; everywhere, in her body, like a prayer unheard. She shakes her head and the sparrow tumbles, wings unfurled, "No, you er—you go ahead."

   She sits on the bed, in a room devoid of Joohyun. Sunlight catches onto her skin and she sees her fingers break it into stray shafts as it falls on the bedsheet. She resents its immutable ability to represent the fine glimmer of joy set in the sky.

 


 

"Er, unnie," Seulgi says, over biscuits traded under the sheen of moonlight, "why don't we... go on a break?"

   Silence coaxes a thrum from the stifled summer air as it drapes itself over the tangled bushes of darkness. Moonlight drips like a shade of ashen molasses and stains their hands guilty. Joohyun takes the last biscuit and lets confusion ooze onto her features, like the delicate stalks of larkspur as they wind around her shoulder, boundless in their unfurled uncertainty. Seulgi swallows the saturated hurt which bubbles up her throat.

   "They're not going to let us go on a break so soon," Joohyun lifts one shoulder in a shrug as she bites into the biscuit, lips painted with a grimace, face turned towards the window—there are no stars focused sharp in the night sky, "besides, Level Up Project was a kind of vacation."

   Seulgi sighs and the air doesn't even stutter, some sweat settles on the nape of her neck like the breathless curls of regret. "I was talking about us."

   Joohyun looks back at her, expression schooled into a marbled grace—it inspires a ravenous anger to writhe inside the marrow of her bones.

   "I don't understand."

   "I said we should—" she falters upon seeing Joohyun's eyes pinched narrow and sharp, the air melts under their molten intensity, "we should go on a break."

   An indecent silence pulses heavy in the air and her ribs shudder in anticipation for the syrupy venom of Joohyun's words. "Oh," she says, "all right. Whatever you want.