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Put it Straight

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Chapter 1 – Why did you kiss me?

 

It started after the first kiss.

Not immediately after, but a few days later. When it’d started to feel like everything had gone back to normal. When they’d started getting the hang of ignoring the giant elephant in every room they were in together.

It started in a room that was empty. Until Soojin walked in.

She stopped in front of the kitchen sink, just staring at the pile of dirty dishes that had been there since last night. And she cursed under her breath.

“Seriously…”

She looked around the kitchen for a moment, as if the dishes would magically disappear by the time she looked back. They didn’t. And there was nothing particularly special about this moment for it to be the last straw for her, but it was.

She cursed again, spun around on her heels, and marched right back out of the kitchen.

She wasn’t even hungry anymore, she was just angry. She paused in the middle of the living room, trying to get her wayward emotions in check. She shouldn’t be this angry. She shouldn’t be on the verge of exploding, so why—

And it was then that she heard the muffled sound of gunfire coming from behind Shuhua’s bedroom door. A quick glance to the oven clock told her it was nearing midnight.

“Of course,” she scoffed.

Not a moment later and she was in front of the door, knocking sharply. The gaming sounds didn’t stop, but a loud “Come in, come in!” rang out instead.

Soojin opened the door and just stared at the sight that greeted her.

Shuhua was hunched over in her chair, dressed in the same green shirt she’d been wearing the last three days, hands busily tapping at her video game controller. The shooting sounds were almost deafening now, but the youngest didn’t seem to mind. Her eyes only left the screen for a second to confirm which of her two roommates had come in.

“Oh, Soojin-unnie! Give me a second, I’m almost finished with—yah! Who just shot me?! Do you need glasses? Shooting your own teammate, wow! Wow, that’s seriously on another level. You better come revive me, wow, they must really need glasses—”

“Shuhua.” Soojin’s voice was soft, but it had enough steel to cut through the youngest’s ramblings.

“Yeah,” she responded, but her focus was still on her screen.

“Yeh Shuhua.”

And it was never a good thing to be called by your full name, so Shuhua did the smart thing and fully turned her head to look back at Soojin. “Mhm, what’s up?”

“How loud do you think you’re being right now?”

“Oh, sorry, I can turn it down if—”

“It’s late,” Soojin cut her off. She found she had very little interest in hearing the younger girl’s excuses. Maybe she just didn’t want to hear her voice at all. “And we have a schedule tomorrow.”

“Yeah, sorry.” Shuhua actually went ahead and turned the speaker volume almost all the way down. “I’ll be done soon, don’t worry. Once this dummy revives me, then—don’t worry. Almost done, I promise.” She gave a hearty thumbs up with one of those smiles that was more cheeks than lips, then turned quickly back to her video game.

Shuhua was already back on her virtual feet by the time Soojin finally decided to leave the room. Why’d she come in here anyway? What had she accomplished? Absolutely fucking nothing.

“Really…” Soojin cursed under her breath as she left.

She felt restless.

She found herself walking from the kitchen to the living room and back again, in a continuous loop that only managed to work her up instead of calming her down. Maybe if she knew why she felt this way. Maybe she should just go back to sleep—

She stopped in front of her own room, staring at the bed and the covers she’d thrown to one side because she couldn’t sleep. That’s right, she couldn’t sleep. She’d decided to make something to eat. And then she’d found the mountain of dishes in the sink—

“Yeh Shuhua, seriously!” Soojin suddenly burst out, almost involuntarily. She subconsciously knew that no one could hear her: Miyeon was still out and Shuhua was completely wrapped up in her game. But it felt good to yell, if only a little. If only for herself. “Always! Every single time!” She stormed back to the kitchen, suddenly filled with a new purpose. “You never do the dishes, not once? Ah… this is ridiculous…” She grabbed the first thing she saw—a pot that she’d made yesterday’s seaweed soup in—and she flipped on the faucet to the highest setting. She watched the water fill the pot with a vengeance and felt strangely vindicated. “Every time…”

And that’s how Miyeon found her a half-hour later.

Elbow-deep in suds, angrily scrubbing at a stubborn stain on a frying pan.

“I thought it was Shuhua’s turn to do the dishes,” the eldest greeted innocently.

Soojin huffed, but bit her tongue to stop herself from responding. This would be the cleanest this pan had ever been.

“I brought back some street food if you want.” Miyeon carefully laid out the bags in her hand on the counter. She glanced towards the closed door with light leaking out from underneath. “Is Shuhua still up?”

“Does she ever sleep?”

“She was playing games when I left at 5 this morning,” Miyeon mused almost to herself. “Hmm, I hope she got some rest today. And we have a schedule tomorrow—”

“Done.” Soojin clapped her hands after placing the last spoon in the drying rack. She walked over to the counter and picked up the first snack she saw. “Manager-unnie let you buy these?” She bit into the fried pastry, hoping to appease the part of her emotions that hadn’t been sated by her vigorous dishwashing. It tasted good, at least.

“I walked back after she dropped me off,” Miyeon replied cheekily. She picked up her own snack and happily started eating. “That’s why I got back so late. I thought both of you would be sleeping.”

“So you bought these for yourself.”

“I would’ve left some for you guys,” she whined cutely.

“Right,” Soojin scoffed, shaking her head. “Thank you for the food.”

“I’ll go see if Shuhua wants some.” Miyeon grabbed a grease-spotted bag and skipped over to the youngest’s bedroom.

Soojin tried not to listen to the bits of their conversation that floated out to her ears and it was made all the easier by the fact that Shuhua’s responses were uncharacteristically quiet.

When Miyeon came back empty-handed and with a smile on her face, Soojin had no idea how to read into it.

“She lost her last game,” the eldest reported. “She’s really really bad, but she doesn’t believe me. Says it’s her teammates’ fault.”

Soojin snorted, but didn’t say anything else. How very familiar.

The two of them stayed in the kitchen for a few more minutes, quietly snacking and winding down from their days.

Miyeon threw in the towel first. “Bright and early tomorrow, right? 6 am?” She confirmed as she started walking towards her room.

“Mhm,” Soojin nodded.

“Don’t be late.”

“Look who’s talking.”

“Night,” Miyeon called as she disappeared down the hallway.

And then, Soojin was alone again. She glanced at the clock. 12:44 am. She really should get some sleep now. She’d washed the dishes, she’d gotten food, she’d even had a nice little conversation with her fellow group member. What more did she need? Surely she could fall asleep now, right?

But, like a siren call, Shuhua’s closed door drew her eyes towards it once again. The lights were still on. Why wasn’t she asleep?

“This girl…” Soojin felt like all she did these days was curse at Shuhua. That wasn’t a particularly healthy relationship to have with a fellow member, was it? And why, why, why was she still so… restless?

Soojin washed her hands, put away the rest of the snacks, turned off the kitchen lights, stared at the clock for a couple of minutes, then finally, finally—

For some reason she was in front of Shuhua’s door.

She knocked once, too soft to hear really, then just opened the door and stepped in.

And there, sitting in her chair, headphones on this time, was Shuhua. Still playing her game. Miyeon’s proffered snack bag sat precariously on the edge of her desk, opened wide to allow for easy handling between rounds. She didn’t notice Soojin’s entrance, which meant that the main dancer had ample time to come up with a reason for why she’d come in. But she couldn’t find one.

And the giant elephant in the room was too distracting anyway.

“Yeh Shuhua.”

And of course she couldn’t hear her, the headphones—the headphones had to go.

So Soojin stepped forward and whipped off the offending headset before Shuhua could realize what was going on. The look of surprise on her face was genuine and it only made Soojin more frustrated. More restless. More—

“Huh? Soojin-unnie, what—”

“You don’t listen to me. Why don’t you listen to me?”

“Um… I don’t—of course I listen to you. What is this about? Did you say something that I didn’t hear—” Her wide eyes and innocent face were mocking Soojin, they had to be.

“You can’t just do whatever you want all the time, Shuhua.”

“I don’t…”

The screen suddenly went dark as Shuhua’s character died. Through the headphones in her hands, Soojin could hear the colorful complaints from the other girl’s in-game teammates. She’d rather listen to her virtual fake team, than her real one, Soojin thought bitterly. And then she knew something was wrong. Why was she so angry at Shuhua? Over a few plates? Not even on her worst days PMSing would she overreact this badly. No, this… this was something else. And then it clicked like a puzzle piece that had been hiding under the couch.

It was that fucking kiss, wasn’t it?

“Why did you kiss me?”

Shuhua’s eyes went impossibly wider at the question. She stiffened in her seat, hands clamping on her armrests in a vice grip. Her mouth opened and closed several times, before she finally let out a pitiful, “I’m sorry.”

And that. Just. Wasn’t enough.

Not even close.

So Soojin kissed her. She had to, really. It felt like her body had been wanting to do that for a long time now.

She grabbed and tilted the other girl’s head up so she could press her lips firmly against the shocked pair. And then she really kissed her. Not like the quick peck Shuhua had stolen from her a few days ago. This time she moved her lips, this time she set the pace, this time she didn’t let go until their breaths were heavy and they’d started to make some very, very inappropriate noises.

When Soojin finally pulled away and opened her eyes, the elephant in the room was gone, but Shuhua was still there. Looking back at her like she was seeing her for the first time. Their eyes met and held for a long, indescribable moment.

Soojin playfully jostled the other girl’s head once before releasing her with a tight smile. “Go to sleep.”

Shuhua nodded, rendered mute for the first time in years. Not since she’d first come to Korea had she been this quiet.

“Nothing to say?” Soojin couldn’t help but tease her.

“Why… Why did you kiss me?”

“I asked you first,” she replied with a raised eyebrow. But when no answer came, Soojin decided it was time to go. That was enough excitement for the night. She placed the stolen headphones on the cluttered desk and made her way to the door. She felt remarkably lighter already. And maybe also a little light-headed and dizzy. Sleep. That’s what she needed now. Some good old-fashioned—

“Soojin-unnie?” A meek voice called before she could leave.

“Hmm?” She turned back, her heart beating unexpectedly fast in her chest.

“Ah… Nothing… Good night.”

Soojin swallowed, feeling slightly parched and vaguely dissatisfied. “Night, Shuhua.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 2 – Tomorrow could work

 

For Miyeon, she didn’t start picking up on anything until the morning after that second kiss.

But she hadn’t known there’d been any kisses at all. So really, all she knew was that her two roommates were being slightly weirder than usual. Mostly Shuhua.

Breakfast was light, a simple cup of coffee and the leftover street food from last night. They were all miraculously ready by the time the first car rolled around. Even Shuhua, who wasn’t due to leave until an hour later with the second car. Which was the first thing that got Miyeon’s attention. Why was Shuhua already up?

And why was she just sitting in her room with her door open?

Why was her door open at all? She wasn’t even playing any games—she was just on her phone, spinning idly in her chair. But she would throw glances toward the living room every now and then. Like she was waiting for something to happen.

It was very, very confusing.

So Miyeon decided to just ask her. Once she was fully dressed and done with breakfast, she walked freely into the youngest’s room. Her hands immediately went to the long hair that she loved to play with—it was just so, so long.

“Are you feeling okay?” Maybe the late-night snacking hadn’t been so kind to her.

“Mhm,” Shuhua nodded, eyes still ‘glued’ to her phone.

Behind them, the sounds of Soojin getting her second cup of coffee in the kitchen could be heard.

“You can get some more sleep, if you want,” Miyeon added. “I can tell Yuqi to come wake you up when they’re ready.”

“And have my sworn enemy come into my room? Never,” Shuhua vehemently shook her head.

Miyeon playfully pushed her away, laughing at her poker face. “You love Yuqi.”

“I only love Soo… Soojin-unnie.” Her voice started strong, but then stuttered and petered out at the end. Her eyes flicked away, focusing on some random point in her room.

And if that wasn’t the biggest red flag Miyeon had ever seen, she didn’t know what was.

The other girl was normally so confident in her everlasting love for Soojin. She’d never sounded so unsure before. Like something had shaken her belief, even just a little. Had something happened?

Miyeon opened her mouth to say something, but was cut off by Soojin’s voice calling from the living room, “The car’s here!”

“Okay,” she responded. Then she turned back to the fidgety girl sitting in front of her. She grabbed at her chin and raised her head, but Shuhua steadfastly refused to meet her eyes. What was going on? “You know I love you, right?” Miyeon wanted to remind her for some reason.

“Mhm,” Shuhua nodded diplomatically.

“Say it back,” Miyeon cutely insisted, pouting at the disinterested look in the other girl’s eyes. “Quickly, before I leave.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Shuhua,” she whined, squeezing the youngest’s cheeks till she got the smile that she wanted, albeit slightly annoyed.

“Alright, okay! I love you! Happy?” Shuhua shouted in her distinctively loud speaking voice.

“Yes,” Miyeon lips stretched into a devil’s smile that fit a bit too well on her angelic-looking face. She patted Shuhua’s cheeks one last time, then turned to leave.

She almost walked right into Soojin, though.

The other girl looked a bit out of it. She’d been standing just outside the bedroom door and probably hadn’t expected Miyeon to move so suddenly. Weird.

But with no time to dwell on the strange happenings, Miyeon grabbed Soojin’s arm and pulled her towards the front door without any resistance. It was only once they were in the elevator on the way down that she realized that Shuhua hadn’t voiced her usual protests about her touching Soojin like that. Hmm, maybe she was just tired… Yeah, that’s probably all it was.

 

--

 

“Grape or melon?” Minnie asked, standing over the two fruit options at their refreshment table.

“What kind of grapes?” Miyeon responded, sitting in her chair a few feet away. She was tired after doing most of her individual shots and was using the time to rest before she had to shoot again.

“The white ones.”

“White grapes?” Miyeon asked in confusion.

“No, I mean green. Green grapes, but like light green, almost white.”

“Hmm…”

“I’ll try it,” Minnie resolved. She picked up a grape and curiously bit into it. She nodded her head soon after, obviously enjoying the taste. “It’s good, you’ll like it Myeon-ah.”

“Really? Okay, if you say so.”

A moment later, Minnie was sitting beside her, a plate full of grapes in her hand. When she tried to offer it though, Miyeon just shook her head. Then she opened her mouth. Minnie rolled her eyes, but then went ahead and deposited a few grapes in the older girl’s waiting mouth.

Miyeon happily chewed away, reveling in the pampering she was receiving.

“I hope they poison you,” Minnie groused.

“You’d die first,” Miyeon cheerily reminded her.

“No way I’m dying for you. What a terrible idea.”

And just like that, they bickered on and off for the next few minutes as they finished up their brief snack. And then Minnie’s face lit up as if remembering something she’d been meaning to say.

“Shuhua seemed kinda quiet this morning. Is she okay?”

“Why didn’t you ask her yourself?”

“I was half asleep,”  Minnie admitted with a chuckle. “I could barely form a single sentence.”

“What about me? I left even earlier.”

“I know, but you notice those things more than I do, so I was just wondering.”

“Sounds like an excuse…”

“Yah! Just tell me if she’s fine or not.”

Miyeon smirked. “Oh? Looks like Kim Minnie’s worrying about someone besides herself?”

“Are you calling me selfish?” Minnie raised a challenging brow, turning in her seat to face her friend.

“Hmm… yeah.”

Minnie playfully shoved her away, but the smiles on their faces were big and bright. They were always fighting like this, the two of them. It’d be stranger to see them getting along too well for too long.

“I care about our members,” Minnie quietly whined, keeping her voice low enough so as not to be overheard by the staff around them.

“I know, I know.”

“Maybe she was just tired? I don’t know, she seemed kind of weird. I think Yuqi noticed, too.”

“She was playing that shooting game she likes last night, but she kept losing.”

“Ah…” Minnie nodded as if that explained everything. And maybe it did. Yeah, it was probably just their youngest being a sore loser. Nothing special to see there.

“Speaking of games,” Miyeon continued, “when are we having that hangout you keep talking about? Did you already forget about it?”

“Hey,” Minnie chided, “I didn’t forget. I wanted to wait till promotions were over.”

“They’re over now,” she pointed out.

“I know, but people are still kinda busy. Yuqi’s signed up for five hundred new classes and Soyeon’s always in her studio—”

“I’m not busy.”

“Well, you’re just…kinda…” Minnie fumbled with her words for a moment and Miyeon laughed at the increasingly frustrated look on her face. “We need everyone. All together.” She stressed the last part in English as if to make up for her short vocab blackout.

“Okay, what about tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow…” Minnie brushed her streaked hair back behind her ear as she contemplated. “Tomorrow could work.”

“If I get Soojin and Shuhua, will you ask the others?”

“Okay. I can do that. That’s fine.”

Miyeon smiled wide even as Minnie’s face feigned disinterest. Still, the Thai girl pulled out her phone and quickly got to work messaging her own roommates. Her cool girl act was so funny to watch sometimes. “And if it’s just us, don’t you dare cancel, okay?”

Minnie’s fingers briefly paused before resuming their vigorous tapping. “Then it’s not a hangout. If it’s just the two of us.”

“What is it then?” Miyeon asked with bluster, fully prepared to hear the other girl’s teasing words in return. But today really was a strange day it seemed.

“More like a date, don’t you think?” Minnie’s eyes stayed glued on her phone the whole time. But the hair she’d brushed back gave Miyeon an obstructed view of her ear. It was reddening by the second. “Something like that.”

“Mhm,” Miyeon hummed in agreement, momentarily at a loss for what to say.

“But Soyeon said yes, so,” Minnie quickly cleared her throat, “one down.”

And just then a stylist stepped up behind Miyeon’s chair, popping their little bubble without a care in the world. She went to work fixing the strands of hair splayed around the singer’s face. “Miyeon-ssi, five minutes till we start again.”

“Okay,” Miyeon sat up, patting her cheeks to help get her back into the right frame of mind. “I feel like all that food will make me bloated, though.”

“What food? You barely ate,” Minnie snorted. But she also took the time to carefully look at Miyeon’s face. “You look fine.”

“She’s right,” the stylist readily agreed. “Like a goddess.”

“Ehh…” Miyeon waved off the compliment.

“Goddess Miyeon,” Minnie sounded out, almost to herself. Then, her smile turned a bit devious. “Looks like an angel, but she’s really a devil.”

“Just stop at the first part. Cut off the rest.”

“Looks like an angel…” Minnie repeated, trailing off in suspense.

“And that’s it.”

“… but she’s really…”

“Come on, be nice,” Miyeon pouted, slapping her friend none too gently on the arm.

“But she’s really… an angel.” Minnie finally gave in, playfully rolling her eyes. “So boring… Well, I’m still hungry so I’m going to grab some real food before it’s my turn.” And then she stood, walking back towards their dressing room where their manager stood guard.

“Get something for me too, please,” Miyeon called out to her retreating back.

Minnie raised a noncommittal hand in response. But, her act was fooling nobody but herself. Miyeon could see right through that tough girl shell. She was too funny.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 3 – And… she kissed you back?

 

For Yuqi, she didn’t notice anything at all. Not a single thing.

But still, she was the first one to know outside of the two members who were directly involved. Not because of her superior detective skills unfortunately, not this time.

It was because Shuhua just up and told her the whole thing.

“You did what?!” Yuqi’s voice cracked as she yelled out in shock.

“Yah! Why are you always so loud?” Shuhua complained. The younger girl furtively glanced around to make sure no one had overheard them in their secluded spot in the stairwell. Luckily, even if someone was in hearing distance, the chances of them also understanding Mandarin were slim to none. Well, maybe if it was Minnie, but still.

“You tell me you kissed Soojin, I mean really kissed her—how else am I supposed to react?”

“I don’t know! But just—let me finish first,” Shuhua pleaded.

“There’s more?!” Yuqi’s eyes nearly bugged out.

“Yuqi!”

“Alright, alright, alright. I’m listening. Tell me, I’m listening.”

“Okay,” Shuhua took a deep breath to steady herself. “So… We kissed or… I kissed her. In the practice room.”

“When?”

“About a week ago.”

“Okay. And… she kissed you back?” Yuqi hesitantly asked.

“Well.” A beat of silence and then, “No.”

“A-Ah…” Yuqi’s face filled with sympathy. She wondered what the best way to react would be. Should she give her friend a hug? Would that be insulting? She’d never been in a situation like this before. She had no idea what the protocol was. And the group—what would happen to their group dynamic now that two of their members had crossed a boundary that you could never come back from? Were things just going to be awkward forever?

“But then she kissed me yesterday too, so now I don’t know.”

“Wait, what?!” Yuqi’s thoughts once again short-circuited.

“Do your ears even work, Song Yuqi?” Shuhua complained.

“Of course they do, but you keep dropping these crazy surprises on me! Give me a few minutes to digest it, at least… Wow…” She paced in the tiny space they had on the landing, trying to wrap her head around what the younger girl was telling her. “Are you being serious right now?”

“I wouldn’t lie about this.”

“So you kissed twice? And the first time, in the practice room, where were the rest of us? Was it when I went to the bathroom because that was only for like three minutes, so I don’t know how—”

“No, no, no. It was after practice. Everyone had already left.”

“So you two decided to make out?”

“It wasn’t like that!” Shuhua stomped, getting more and more heated. If they’d been speaking Korean, no doubt the girl would’ve resorted to physical violence by now. It was a curious side effect to not being able to properly express her thoughts in full. So Yuqi was beyond grateful that they’d chosen to speak in their mother tongue, if only for her continued wellbeing. Shuhua was able to express herself and Yuqi was able to keep all of her limbs intact. A win-win. “We were just talking and then—I don’t really remember what Soojin said, but I just remember thinking that she was really pretty, you know. More than usual. Just… like she was smiling and it made me really happy to see her so happy, so I thought—I don’t know. There was a feeling… With how we were talking and looking at each other and just… It wasn’t just out of nowhere, I swear. There was a, a vibe kind of.”

“A vibe,” Yuqi repeated in disbelief.

Shuhua just waved her off. “You had to be there.”

“Oh, I don’t think I should be anywhere near you two if you’re giving off all these ‘vibes’ all the time.”

“I’m being serious,” the younger girl insisted. “It was different, really different. I felt like I had to… to take my chance and…” Shuhua gestured helplessly in place of finishing her sentence.

“You kissed her.” And no matter how many times they said it, a part of Yuqi’s brain refused to accept it. The words made sense individually, but put together with the added context that the ‘you’ was Shuhua and the ‘her’ was Soojin… Shuhua, who used to be so timid before she could string a sentence together. Soojin, who was easily both intimidating and intimidated back when they were trainees. The fact that the two of them had become friends was a miracle in itself. But now… “You like her.”

Shuhua ducked her head for a moment, then nodded in confirmation. “I’ve been saying that forever.”

“Does she know? I mean really—the stuff you just told me, have you told her?” The younger girl just shook her head. “Dummy,” Yuqi reprimanded with a smile. “And you wonder why she didn’t kiss you back? You’re watching all these dramas, but you still don’t know the way to a woman’s heart? You have to confess!”

“But I do that practically every day,” Shuhua pointed out indignantly. “Do you know how many times I’ve told JinJin that I love her?”

“On camera doesn’t count.”

“Off-camera too! Whenever I look at her and think, wow, she really is the prettiest girl in the world, I make sure to tell her. One day that happened at least five times, I swear.”

“You little…” Yuqi couldn’t help the grin that stretched across her face. Why was her friend so cute sometimes? It’s not that she was innocent, she was just so sincere. And genuine. It made her heart feel warm with pride. “Come here, you little romantic, you.” She grabbed Shuhua by the neck and pulled her into a hug that the girl struggled to get out of. But Yuqi held on tight. “What am I going to do with you, huh?”

“Tell me why Soojin kissed me yesterday. And also, let me go.”

“Let’s see,” Yuqi put a finger to her head in thought, still keeping Shuhua trapped with the other hand. “Soojin kissed you because… because… wow, I really can’t think of a single reason.”

“Yah!”

“I’m just saying. Based on what I know, you haven’t confessed yet, right?”

“Mhm.”

“So she has no idea how you feel.”

“How many times do I have to say I love—”

“Your real, real feelings, Shuhua.” Yuqi finally released her from the headlock. Mostly because she didn’t want to mess up their photoshoot outfits too badly before they actually used them. “Not some vibe either. Soojin will probably really appreciate if you just tell her straight out, no cameras, no jokes, just be 100% fully honest. Okay?”

Shuhua picked at the frills on her sleeve as she contemplated the advice. “You think she likes me back?”

“I have absolutely no idea. I’ve only known about you two for an hour and I’m still not convinced this isn’t some fever dream.”

“Oh, I didn’t know you had those kinds of dreams,” Shuhua suddenly teased, not the type to be down in the dumpities for too long. “About your members, too? Wow, Song Yuqi, isn’t that too much?”

Yuqi closed her eyes in a silent plea for deliverance from her insufferable friend. “Listen here, you punk,” she threateningly advanced on the other girl, but was saved from future crimes by a door opening up above them in the stairwell.

The two girls froze in their spots, even though they weren’t technically doing anything wrong.

They listened as heavy steps rang out in the cavernous space. Just when it seemed like the person above might be leaving, a voice called out, “Are you guys in here? Yuqi? Shuhua?”

“Kim Minnie!” Shuhua called back, once again filled with never-ending excitement. Really, how did she do it?

A head poked out from above them and Yuqi could make out the slightly worried features of their Thai groupmate. “You know how long I’ve been looking for you two?”

“What, why?” Yuqi questioned with more than a touch of her accent slipping out. Yes, she could speak multiple languages, but it wasn’t an instant switch. “Our shoot doesn’t start till 2.”

“I’m ordering food.” And then Minnie paused for a moment longer than usual. When she next spoke, it was in her beginner’s level Mandarin that she tried to use whenever the other two were speaking it. She’d definitely picked up on Yuqi’s accent slip. “Want anything?”

“Love,” Shuhua joked to herself in her native language. “One big helping of Soojin’s love with a side of… I don’t even know.”

“You want more than that? Careful, you might get too full,” Yuqi quipped.

Shuhua laughed, playfully pushing Yuqi away. But this only caused Minnie to yell down at the both of them. In Korean this time. “Yah! Stop whispering secrets and tell me what you want. I’m dying of hunger.”

Yuqi rolled her eyes, but was suddenly struck by the greatest idea she’d had all day. She turned to her partner in crime and lovesick friend, Yeh Shuhua. Who could only stare back at her in confusion. “What?”

“Say it now. Tell Minnie what you’re going to tell Soojin.” What a brilliant idea. She’d really outdone herself this time.

“Why in the world would I do that?”

“It’s practice! You always say you love her in Korean, so why not try it in Mandarin once? Maybe she’ll feel your sincerity.”

“You’re saying I’m not sincere?”

“No, I’m saying—”

“Stop ignoring me!” Minnie yelled down to them impatiently in Korean. “How would you feel if I just speak Thai all the time, huh? If you don’t answer me, I’ll just get you sushi.”

“No, no, wait a second,” Shuhua called out, raising her hand towards their older groupmate. She took a deep breath, then composed herself as best as she could. Yuqi was impressed, Shuhua looked nothing like her usual playful self. She was serious this time. “I really like you, Soojin. I’ve liked you for a really long time and I want to know… if you feel the same way.” Her voice carried all the way up the stairwell, confident and strong. When she finished, Shuhua looked like she was a million pounds lighter. A relieved smile stretched across her face.

“Just like that,” Yuqi nodded in approval, switching back to Korean now that they were done. “How do you feel?”

Shuhua blinked a few times to really take it in. “Wow. Really good—”

“WAIT, ARE YOU SERIOUS?!” Minnie screeched down at them, face lighting up like a firework. “Yeh Shuhua! You—hold on, my voice is starting to hurt.” Minnie’s face disappeared, then all they could hear were her rapid-fire footsteps hitting the ground as she ran down the stairs. When she finally got to their level, she impatiently shoved at Shuhua’s shoulders, even as the other girl shied away from her. “Yeh Shuhua!” Even up close, Minnnie still yelled. So much for saving her voice. “Say that again. Are you joking? Is this just a joke or are you serious—you have feelings for Soojin? That’s what I heard, right? Say it again.”

Shuhua huffed as she finally managed to put some distance between them. “How many times have I said this before? Really. Yes, I love Seo Soojin.”

“Our little maknae!” Minnie yelled again. “But why are you telling me? You got the wrong person, you dummy.”

Practice, practice,” Yuqi clarified in English, then quickly switched back to Korean. “Shuhua’s practicing her confession so we used you as the test target.”

“So you’re going to confess soon?” Minnie’s eyes curved up into half-moon crescents as her smile got impossibly wide. “When?”

“There’s no need to rush a young maiden’s heart,” Shuhua proclaimed in a lofty voice, trying to avoid the question.

“You want to kiss her again or what?” Yuqi snorted.

“A kiss?! There was a kiss? When did—”

“Okay, that’s all for today,” Shuhua quickly tried to wrap things up. She started walking back up the stairs—or more like fleeing the scene of her constant embarrassment. “Thanks for your hard work everyone, please be safe on your way home—”

“Shuhua!”

“You think you can run away, you little punk?”

Minnie and Yuqi quickly gave chase, but the youngest was too slippery to be caught. They laughed like a pack of young children leaving school, their voices bouncing loudly off the walls of the stairwell. Thank god none of the staff were around to hear them. Or, if they were, thank goodness that no one had told them off for their behavior yet.

“Ah, I’m so tired, so hungry,” Shuhua complained like she was reading off a list. “I need food, I’m starving. Manager-unnie!” She pushed open the door and sprinted out towards the safe zone of their waiting room.

Yuqi shook her head but allowed her friend to escape. For now.

The ball was rolling now and only one thing would be able to stop it. One person, actually. And that was Seo Soojin.

As much as Yuqi liked Shuhua, she knew that it took two to make a relationship. If the other side didn’t want it, there was no chance. But, judging from the info she’d gleaned, it seemed like there might be some hope. That second kiss…

It was time for Yuqi to brush off her genius detective skills. Finally.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 4 – There’s nothing romantic about it to me

 

For Soyeon, it was so fucking obvious that something was going down. You’d have to be a complete idiot not to pick up on it. Or you had to be Yuqi.

And Soyeon was neither of those things, for the record.

But she was a workaholic. That’s why she’d brought her laptop to the photoshoot—so she could write some lyrics in her down time for this new song idea she had. And so it was that she had a lot of spare time during the other members’ individual shoots. The others had thankfully chosen to hang out elsewhere too, so she had the waiting room all to herself. Well. Her and Soojin. But that was pretty much the same as being alone sometimes.

The other girl was quiet—not as a gimmick for the cameras, but that was how she actually behaved. Soojin was more of a listener than a talker and when she wasn’t listening, sometimes she just liked to be… there. Lost in thought and as unobtrusive as possible.

She was really the perfect companion in Soyeon’s eyes. The leader had probably written more songs around Soojin than she had any of the other members.

And when she found herself stuck during her process, she could turn to Soojin as a soundboard for her ideas. It was perfect. Just like today.

Soyeon had commandeered one of the couches, spreading out her legs and laptop on the cushions. Soojin was sitting on the other one, blanket covering her lap from her recent nap. But she was awake now and listening intently to the leader.

“Kind of like Senorita, I think.” Soyeon moved her hands as she talked through her current song idea. “It’s a romantic kind of vibe, but more one-sided.”

“Mhm,” Soojin nodded along.

“So this time it’s more about the chase. That moment when you see someone—or even later than that. You’ve known them for a while and you really like them, so you’re trying to tell them and you take a chance—that’s the feeling I want to show. That falling off the cliff kind of feeling. You don’t know if they’ll catch you, but you jump anyway.”

“Ahh…”

“It’s scary, isn’t it? But it’s romantic too. I think a song about that would be pretty interesting. I want to write it.”

“Mhm…”

“So… yeah.” Soyeon waited for a moment, but apparently that was the end of the other girl’s feedback. She felt slightly discouraged. Maybe the new song wasn’t as interesting as she’d thought. Usually Soojin would be jumping in to ask questions by now—about genre, melody and the like. But now… nothing. “I’m still working on it though, so we’ll see how it ends up,” she wrapped up with much less excitement. Then she turned back to her laptop, looking over her notes with a more discerning eye this time. Maybe Soojin was right, it was too simple, it needed something else—

“You think it’s romantic?” The question came suddenly and it took a moment for Soyeon to piece together the context. The concept. Soojin was asking about the concept.

“Isn’t it?”

“Why? Because we see it in dramas all the time?” Soojin’s arms were folded now, but her voice maintained a very detached inflection as she spoke. “That just makes it cliché.”

“Clichés can be romantic too,” Soyeon defended, slightly pouting at the sudden attack.

“Are you asking or are you telling me?”

“They are. That’s why they become clichés in the first place. It’s something that everybody can agree on.”

“But I don’t,” Soojin shook her head. “There’s nothing romantic about it to me.”

Now, Soyeon’s initial reaction was disappointment and more than a tiny bit of hurt. It felt like the other girl was criticizing her song, even though she hadn’t even written it yet. But no. She just had to step back and look at the bigger picture for a second—being a sensitive creator wouldn’t help her grow. She could talk about a figurative concept without hinging her entire life’s worth on its acceptance. She could do that.

But then Soojin boldly continued, “Behaving like that… it makes me think that the person must be a coward instead.”

Okay.

Soyeon had to bite her lip to stop her knee-jerk response this time. She could do this, she could do this. Soojin was just giving her constructive criticism. She could do this.

“O-oh really?”

“Mhm,” the other girl nodded. She had a far-off look in her eyes like she was recalling a particular event. And that’s when it started to click into place for Soyeon. She’d been writing from a fictional point of view, but it looked like Soojin might be coming at this with a little real-world experience under her belt. Of course something could sound romantic in theory, but end up being a disaster in practice. Okay, now it was starting to make sense. And it became even clearer when Soojin went on to explain, “Imagine walking up to a cliff, getting ready—all of that. But you don’t tell the person that’s supposed to catch you that you’re going to jump. Whose fault is it if you don’t get caught? Isn’t that just irresponsible, giving them no time at all to prepare like you did?”

And who could argue with that, really.

“Ah… that does make sense,” Soyeon had to concede.

“It’s selfish,” Soojin finished a bit sharply. Her mouth was twisted down into a slight scowl, like the memory left a bitter taste in her mouth.

“But isn’t love kind of selfish too?”

“Who says?”

And maybe debating a suspiciously fiery Soojin wasn’t the best plan that Soyeon had ever had, but she was going for it. Best case scenario, she got a few new ideas for her song. Worst case scenario, her body would wash up in the Han river in a few days and she’d never have to write again. Well, she was doing it.

“I’m not talking about dramas or anything,” Soyeon began. “But like—if I say I love you, I’m not expecting anything back, I’m just expressing my own emotions.”

“That’s not real love then.”

“It isn’t?” Soyeon challenged. “What about unrequited love or even like a parent’s love for their child? There doesn’t have to be anything in return.”

“But then you get sad if your crush doesn’t like you back. And if the child never acknowledges the parent’s love—”

“They don’t have to.”

“But if they don’t, then just think how much their heart would hurt.”

“So it’s not real love then? Because it hurts?”

“No,” Soojin shook her head. Then she seemed to think twice and adjusted her stance. “Maybe I shouldn’t say it like that. It’s real, but it’s not the best love. It’s definitely not the kind you’d look up to and want to have for yourself. It doesn’t fit the title of romantic at all—”

“Ah!” Soyeon snapped her fingers, feeling like she was having a sudden lightbulb moment. “You’re right! That’s what makes it romantic, because it’s something you want to have too—ah, you’re right.” She smiled, clapping in awe. Then she tilted her head to the side as she considered this new point of view. “It sounds like love, but it’s not very appealing when you look at it that way.”

“Exactly,” Soojin nodded.

“Wow…” The shorter girl was beyond impressed. She scoffed self-deprecatingly. “I feel pretty naïve now describing it that way earlier.”

“No, you aren’t,” Soojin reassured her. “Some people think like that, there’s nothing wrong with it.”

“But you’re right. If I want to write better songs, I can’t just write clichés. And if I want it to be romantic… you have to want it too…” She definitely had a lot of work to do. It was times like this where the difference in their life experiences became glaringly obvious. They were born in the same year, but it felt like they were worlds apart. And now Soyeon couldn’t help but be curious. There wasn’t an elegant way to phrase it, so she just smiled to show her next words were only teasing. “Is this the advantage of someone who’s been in a relationship? Where do I get these kind of thoughts about love?”

Soojin rolled her eyes and playfully glared at her, but Soyeon could still see the flush rising on her cheeks. “Not all relationships have to do with love, by the way.”

“Just the romantic ones?” Soyeon asked, smirking at her groupmate. “I’m sorry, I haven’t had that kind of real love relationship yet so I wouldn’t know—”

“Me neither.”

“O-oh? Really?” That was not what she was expecting at all.

“Seriously. As for these thoughts…” Soojin shrugged, once again injecting her usual brand of indifference into her actions. The effect was slightly marred by the blush she was still wearing. “I think I’m just thinking too much these days. Now that promotions are over, you know.”

And that was just a load of bull.

This was far from their first discussion about her song-making so Soyeon had something to compare this interaction to, at least. This was the first time the other girl had ever gotten so up-in-arms about a topic. She’d unknowingly struck a chord somewhere and no amount of playing it off would make Soyeon forget it. Something had happened to cause this, whether recently or not—she had no idea. All she knew was that there was something Soojin wasn’t saying.

Which wouldn’t be the first time their main dancer was especially mum, but still.

“Well, now that promotions are over,” Soyeon broached carefully, “now that you’re thinking… is there anyone you’re looking at?”

“Me? Looking at, you mean…”

“In that way. You know, romantically.”

“Ah…” There was a pause that felt longer than their entire conversation up to that point. Soyeon wasn’t stupid, she knew what that meant. No matter what Soojin might say afterwards. Her actual response was only further confirmation of the fact, “There might be someone… that I’m thinking about.”

She knew it.

The leader double-checked their surroundings to make sure they were still alone in the waiting room. She knew their manager was just outside, but part of being a manager was keeping quiet about anything that might poorly reflect on your artists. So, if their manager heard anything, she’d probably take it to her grave anyway.

In any case, Soyeon made sure to keep her voice low when she asked, “Anyone I know?”

Soojin bit her lip, looking off to the side for a moment. She stared at the rack of rejected outfits their stylist had left behind, carefully forming her thoughts.

Then she nodded.

Soyeon’s curiosity was eating her alive. She wanted to keep pushing, but she also knew that she was starting to tread on very dangerous ground here. Did she really want to know? She had responsibilities now as a leader that she didn’t have before. Would knowing mean having to do something she didn’t want to do for the sake of her group?

“Stop worrying, Soyeon-ah,” Soojin chuckled. “Nothing’s going to happen.”

And she knew that that was supposed to reassure her, but Soyeon felt like she should clarify, “I wasn’t worried about anything bad. I was just thinking.”

“I know,” the other girl nodded. “You think too much.”

Oh, look at the pot calling the kettle black. They really were an overthinking pair, the two of them.

“Thank you for telling me.” Soyeon wanted to say that, at least.

“It’s nothing serious, so it’s no problem.” Soojin drew her blanket up around her shoulders, forming a shield of sorts. “If anything changes, I’ll let you know. But I don’t think it will.”

“Why not?”

“Because… as it is now, it’s not real love. I don’t want it.”

They really… really were very different people, the two of them.

Soyeon watched as Soojin lay down on the couch, turning her head towards the cushions to settle in for another nap.

Well. There was really nothing much else to do but go back to working on her lyrics, so that’s what Soyeon did. But she couldn’t shake the conversation from her head.

And she was curious now more than ever. Who was this mystery person that had gotten Soojin so twisted up on love?

 

--

 

Their photoshoot lasted all day. And with it, Minnie managed to ask both of her roommates about their availability for the day after. Both Soyeon and Yuqi reported back that yes, they were free.

Miyeon had an entirely different experience. When asked, Soojin stated that she had some friends she’d promised to meet. And it was too late to cancel, so maybe some other time.

Shuhua had initially said yes, but then later that night she came into Miyeon’s room and changed her answer. Suddenly she couldn’t come. And she didn’t give a reason why.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5 – This is your cue

 

Soojin stepped out of her room about ten minutes after Miyeon had left for the other dorm.

She was dressed up to go out, just needing a few more accessories and she’d be ready. As she walked towards the kitchen, she glanced at the living room and the drama currently playing on the TV. She stopped when she saw Shuhua lying on the couch.

Instead of watching the TV, Shuhua was watching her.

“You look nice,” the younger girl said first.

“Thanks.” Soojin took a moment to finish putting on her earrings. She couldn’t help but notice the other girl’s gaze never once left her. Like she didn’t care at all for whatever show was playing on the screen. “You didn’t go with Miyeon?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I didn’t want to.”

There was something Shuhua wasn’t saying, but Soojin was tired of fishing for the hidden meaning in the other girl’s words. If she had something she wanted to say, she should just say it. If she didn’t, then it obviously wasn’t important enough.

“Okay,” Soojin nodded, ending the conversation. She walked into the kitchen and grabbed some water. As she drank, she heard the sound of the TV being turned off in the background. An almost eerie silence filled their apartment and it put her on edge. But she wasn’t going to ask. Not this time. Not again.

She dropped her cup into the sink and walked back out to the living room. Shuhua wasn’t on the couch anymore. Soojin just assumed she’d gone back to her room. Probably to play her games again. Typical.

With that thought in mind, Soojin quickly grabbed the rest of her stuff and headed for the door. But she froze as soon as her hand touched the doorknob. Right there on the door, taped at eye level, was a note with the kind of messy handwriting that could only belong to Shuhua.

The note said: ‘Don’t leave yet, please

And… what was she supposed to do when faced with that?

“Shuhua,” she called out, voice filled with confusion. “Shuhua, what’s this?”

As Soojin turned away from the note, she saw the younger girl walking out of her bedroom. She was dressed up as well, which only served to further confuse Soojin. She must have been wearing that before because there was no way she could’ve changed that quickly. Was she going somewhere?

“You always move so fast,” Shuhua admitted, chuckling a bit. “I had to check on Haku and Mata so I put that to stop—to make you wait.”

“Wait for what?”

“Um…” Shuhua’s eyes widened briefly and her hands moved just enough to draw Soojin’s eyes to what they were holding. It looked like a stack of cards? What on Earth was going on? “I want to tell you something.”

“Right now?”

“Yes. If that’s… yes.”

Soojin didn’t know what to make out of any of what was happening. But there was one thing she was sure of. “I’m meeting up with some friends soon. Can it wait?”

Shuhua took a few steps forward. “That’s why I dressed up. I can walk with you for a bit. And tell you while… so you don’t have to be late.” She bent down and grabbed her shoes, quickly putting them on. When she stood back up again, it was with a smile that Soojin knew she couldn’t say no to.

“And you can’t tell me now?” Soojin tried one last time.

“No, there’s a process.” Shuhua raised the still unidentified cards in her hands. “How long is your walk, unnie?”

“About ten minutes.”

“Okay. That’s long enough.”

“Seriously?” The corner of Soojin’s mouth lifted almost against her will into a small smile. “What do you have to say that’s going to take ten minutes?”

“If you want to find out, then we should start walking,” Shuhua smartly insisted. “Quickly, I don’t want you to be late.”

Soojin had to laugh. Why was this girl so weird sometimes?

“Yeh Shuhua—”

“Do you have your keys, JinJin?”

“Yes, but—”

“And phone and wallet?”

“I should be asking you that,” Soojin protested, jerking her chin towards the younger girl. “You’re always forgetting something.”

“Today I have everything. Alright, time to go.” Shuhua practically shoved the both of them out the door, turning off the lights as they went. The younger girl moved with an efficiency that was usually absent from her actions. That, coupled with the fact that she was still gripping the cards in her hands—either way the dancer looked at this moment, it was weird.

So Soojin snatched the cards right out of Shuhua’s hands the second they stepped away from the door.

“Wait—”

“What are these supposed to be?” Soojin turned the stack over in her hands to reveal some handwritten words. But before she could read them, Shuhua’s hands slapped over the cards, blocking them from view.

“Wait a second, unnie. Please.” The younger girl looked beyond flustered, but she was quickly recovering. “You can read them, but not yet. There’s a cue.”

“A cue?”

“Yes,” she moved her head along with her words as she tried to explain. “I’ll say something first, then you read one. Then I go again, then you read. Until I finish telling you everything. I’ll give you the cue, don’t worry.”

And somehow telling her not to worry had the complete opposite effect on Soojin. Her mind was racing at a hundred miles an hour trying to figure out what was going on. What was Shuhua going to say? What had she gone to such great lengths to prepare like this? Why the sudden ambush? There were so, so many questions but not enough time to voice them all. So, Soojin went with the one that stood out the most among the rest.

“Is this why you didn’t go to hang out with the others?”

“Yes,” Shuhua nodded, full of confidence. “This is more important. More important than anything else.”

Soojin ducked her head when she found she could no longer hold her gaze. Not in the face of such unabashed openness. Shuhua’s words were choppy and her accent still overpowered parts of her speech at times, but the meaning in them was clear.

Which made Soojin all the more terrified of what the other girl was planning.

“Okay, I’ll follow your cues,” she conceded.

“Good.” And then they started walking towards the elevator together, the sound of their footsteps filling the otherwise empty hallway. “I’ll tell you the first part soon.”

“Okay.”

“Jin-ah, you’re favorite thing is going on walks, right? Still?”

“Mhm,” Soojin nodded, pressing the down button for the elevator.

“And you said you wanted me to give you a letter. On your birthday. I’m sorry I haven’t given you one yet.”

“That’s alright.” Soojin could hear the blood rushing through her ears because, as much as she tried not to, her thoughts were starting to draw some serious conclusions. She was trying very, very hard to separate her hopes from the facts. But they were starting to look like one and the same.

“And I’m sorry I didn’t explain it before. When you asked… why I kissed you.”

Just then, the elevator dinged and the doors opened.

Soojin couldn’t move a single inch. She tried to swallow past the sudden dryness in her throat, but that was impossible too.

“Shuhua,” her voice sounded brittle even to her own ears. “What are you doing?” Out of the corner of her eye, Soojin could see the younger girl fidgeting where she stood beside her.

“I should probably start the first part now. Do it properly and—oh, the elevator’s closing.”

“It’s fine, forget it.” Soojin turned fully to face the other girl as, sure enough, the automatic elevator doors closed before they could get on. “This is your cue.”

“O-okay,” Shuhua nodded. Then she visibly pulled herself together as Soojin watched. Her eyes grew more determined and her face set into a serious expression. Finally, she cleared her throat. “I’ll say it first. Honestly. And then you read. Okay?”

Soojin just nodded because she couldn’t get her words out fast enough.

And then Shuhua began, “Seo Soojin… You are… the most important person in my life.

And then the reason for the cards became clear. The younger girl was speaking in Mandarin. Compared to when she spoke Korean, she sounded far more confident, more self-assured and it had a curious effect on Soojin. Because before she could even read the first word, she felt like she already knew what the other girl was saying. Like the soft words had some kind of direct line to her heart that bypassed all need for translation. Maybe it had something to do with how deeply Shuhua was gazing into her eyes right now. Unflinching, unafraid. So very much like her. If Soojin were a weaker girl, she’d feel like a spell had been cast on her in that moment. As it was, she did feel a bit dizzy, so maybe she was weaker than she thought.

Shuhua then nodded, gesturing to the cards in her hand. “You can read now.” Even if her words were still in a language she couldn’t speak, Soojin knew that was her cue.

So she read the first card.

You are the most important person in my life.

Fuck. This was real.

This was really happening.

Her palms started to sweat around the cards she was holding.

Fuck.

Shuhua was confessing.

The younger girl let out a nervous chuckle as she took in Soojin’s reaction, but what she saw was apparently enough encouragement for her to continue. So she kept talking.

From the first time I met you, I knew I wanted you in my life.

Another nod, another card and Soojin was starting to feel very light on her feet. She moved until she had the wall against her back, some kind of physical support during this situation that felt more like a dream than reality. Shuhua’s face shifted into concern, but Soojin just waved her off.

“I’m fine. Keep going.” Whether this was real or not, she wanted to hear it all.

Shuhua stared at her from across the hallway, then moved back so that she too was leaning against a wall. Maybe some distance would help them both get through this. So now they were standing across from each other in some kind of confession standoff.

Shuhua boldly continued, “I’ve never been the best at explaining how much you mean to me. When we were trainees, it was too little. And now that we’re in the same group, it’s so much that it doesn’t sound real.

Soojin was getting more and more attuned to the rhythm of the younger girl’s speech. Having nothing else to do but to wait, to watch, to listen—it felt like she’d stumbled into a special world made just for her. If someone walked by them now, would she even notice? She was so keyed in, she knew almost the exact moment it was time for her to read again. Even before the nod came. But she waited all the same—she’d promised to wait.

Shuhua nodded and Soojin read the words that were prepared just for her.

… it doesn’t sound real.

Fuck. She bit her lips, blinking back against a sudden rush of emotions. They didn’t bring tears, but they brought memories flooding in. But she couldn’t lose herself to her thoughts right now, she had to listen.

“Shuhua.” As she looked back up, she saw the apprehension on the younger girl’s face. Truthfully, Soojin didn’t have something she wanted to say. She’d just wanted to say her name. To remind herself that this was real. She fingered the stack of cards in her hand and realized that there was only one left. So she held up the unread card. “This is the last one?”

Shuhua nodded. And she switched back to Korean for the first time since she’d started. “But you have to let me say it first—”

“I know.” Soojin licked her suddenly dry lips. “Can I just say though…” She shook her head at herself. She really was a hypocrite. She finally got to hear the confession she’d wanted—the considerate words of warning before jumping off the cliff—and she couldn’t even wait. Just jump, her heart was shouting. I know it all already, so just jump. “If this isn’t a confession, I’m going to be so mad at you.”

Shuhua laughed, holding up her hands to indicate that she should wait. But Soojin didn’t want to wait. She didn’t want to wait at all.

“Just one more, Jin-ah. Please.”

“Quickly, Yeh Shuhua,” she drawled, jokingly reprimanding the girl who was bravely baring her heart.

“Okay,” Shuhua nodded, then carefully slipping back into her previous frame of mind. The switch back to Mandarin sounded seamless to Soojin’s ears because the words weren’t new at all. She already knew. “I want to say it seriously to you, so you finally know the truth. I like you, Seo Soojin. And if you could return even a fraction of the feelings I have for you, I’d be happy.

When the final nod came, Soojin read the words on the final card.

Her lips betrayed her feelings first, pulling up into an unbidden smile. She shook her head, reveling in the happiness flooding their little world in that moment. She knew Shuhua was waiting for a response, but she couldn’t help but tease her.

“Mhm, is that so?” She carefully asked. But it was obvious how she felt. It had to be with how Shuhua was smiling back at her.

“The end,” the younger girl nodded, making the final switch back to Korean. “And now the response.” She pointed a bit impatiently back at Soojin.

“Oh, that wasn’t on the card though?”

“Jin-ah!” Shuhua whined, body shaking with nervous anticipation.

“So… just to make sure I understand this,” Soojin looked back down at the cards in her hands. “You kissed me because you have feelings for me?”

“Yes.” A nod and then a slightly timid, “Is that okay?”

“It is… Because that’s why I kissed you too.” Soojin shrugged and glanced up at the other girl’s hopeful eyes. She decided that she could be brave too. “I think it’s safe to say… I return some of those feelings. A lot of them.”

The smile on Shuhua’s face was brighter than anything she’d ever seen. “Really?”

Soojin nodded again, but then suddenly she realized she had a problem.

A very, very pressing issue had just presented itself.

And she had to fix it.

“Ah, I just remembered I left something in my room,” Soojin lied. She pushed herself off the wall and started walking back to their apartment door.

“O-oh?” She imagined that Shuhua probably looked like a deer in headlights right now. Probably caught off guard by the sudden turn their conversation had taken.

“Yeah, come help me look.”

Soojin had her key out and the door open by the time Shuhua recovered and caught up with her. The younger girl was right, she liked to move fast. But that was the point. She was tired of waiting. They stepped inside and the door swung slowly closed behind them.

“What did you leave, unnie? I already made you late for your thing, so let’s find it fast.”

“You dummy,” was the only warning that Soojin gave her.

She grabbed Shuhua by the neck and took exactly what she wanted from the younger girl. The kiss was far more intense than the ones they’d shared before. Lips moving fast, meeting and separating again and again in a crashing wave. No matter how much she pressed, Soojin wanted more. She dropped the confession cards on the nearby counter to free her hands so she could hold the other girl even tighter. She eventually had to break to give Shuhua a chance to breathe though. And in that tiny moment, she whispered hotly, “Next time you confess, make sure you do it in a place where you can kiss after. That’s the whole point, you dummy.”

“No, I—”

But Soojin didn’t want to hear it. Her lips had already covered the other girl’s. Smothering whatever she’d try to say. Sucking briefly on the upper lip, then biting hard enough to elicit a tiny whimper. “You what? Tell me that’s not part of why you did it.”

Shuhua shook her head, needing several tries to get her words out. “I wanted to explain—inside my heart, I wanted to show it to you.”

“And you wanted to kiss me again. Don’t lie.” Soojin lips hovered just out of reach of where they wanted to be. This close, she could see the makeup Shuhua had put on for her planned outing. Simple, but it suited her. “Or maybe that’s just me.” Soojin’s eyes flickered up to meet Shuhua’s. “I wanted to kiss you again. Did you know that?”

“No.”

“I know.” Soojin pressed their lips back together again just because she could. She could do that now. And she wanted to keep doing that. But for some reason, it felt like she couldn’t stop talking. “I didn’t tell you because…”

“Because I didn’t confess.”

“No. I could’ve confessed too,” Soojin admitted it out loud for the first time to herself. “I just didn’t want this to be real.” She could tell that Shuhua didn’t fully grasp what she meant by that, but that didn’t matter now. “But it is.” She’d explain it later. She’d tell her everything. But not right now. “I really like you, Yeh Shuhua.”

“I like you t—”

But Soojin was already kissing her again. Her hands fisted in that endlessly long hair, tilting her head up to meet her lips. But they had to pull apart a few seconds later because Shuhua was… laughing?

Soojin narrowed her eyes and poked at her ribs in warning. “What’s so funny?”

“You’re so impatient, Jin-ah.”

And she really couldn’t refute it, because it was so true. “Do you hate it?” She asked instead.

“I could never hate anything you do,” Shuhua sweetly responded.

“Oh, so corny,” Soojin rolled her eyes. “Is this what I have to look forward to all the time now?”

“Of course.” Shuhua wound her arms around her waist, gently rocking them from side to side. It was sweet. And it was exactly the kind of thing Shuhua would have done before this too. Really, how could Soojin have doubted how she felt?

“I’ll have to cancel on my friends tonight,” Soojin pulled out of the embrace, backing up towards her bedroom. “You better make it up to me.”

“Of course.” And Shuhua didn’t need an invitation to follow her, not wanting to let Soojin out of her sight for a second. “Just let me handle it.”

“Let you handle it?” Soojin repeated in disbelief. “Okay, let’s see what you do.”

“You don’t believe in me, JinJin?”

Soojin yanked the younger girl the last remaining distance into her room. Then she reached for the door. No need to give Miyeon a free show should she come home earlier than expected.

“Make me.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 6 – What do you even know Cho Miyeon…

 

For Minnie, it’s not like she’d figured it out on her own. No, she’d just managed to be in the right place at the right time all day.

She’d seen Shuhua acting weird on the way to the photoshoot that morning, then had overheard a very heated discussion between Soojin and Soyeon when she’d been speaking to their manager about lunch, then that whole thing with Shuhua in the stairwell.

It was all right there.

So it wasn’t a matter of putting the pieces together, so much as she’d basically been handed an already solved puzzle.

But even like that, there were some things that were far more pressing than whatever her two groupmates were getting up to. Such as the fact that the senior she’d asked to get them alcohol wasn’t picking up his phone.

“Why won’t you answer your phone, you loser?” She whined as the call once again went through to voicemail. She dragged a hand through her hair in frustration. She was currently in her studio, getting ready to head back to the dorms for their hangout that night. She’d been working all day, but she’d made sure to have everything done by the time she had to leave. Everything except their supply of booze, it seemed.

“Ah, seriously,” she cursed, kicking away from her desk and letting the wheels of the chair she was sitting in carry her across the room. “I never ask you for anything and you do this? I need to leave,” she complained.

Just then, a text came in to her phone and she nearly jumped for joy—

Until she saw it was only from Miyeon:

 

Where are you?

 

Minnie cursed again. She should’ve been on her way home by now, but here she was. Still at the company, waiting for her unreliable friend (he was very quickly losing his friendship status) to stop by with the alcohol she’d asked him to get for her. Feeling betrayed and more than a bit sulky, she tapped out a short response:

 

Studio

I knew it ^^

 

“What do you even know Cho Miyeon…” Minnie muttered to herself in her empty studio. Before she could devolve into an endless cycle of cursing, she decided to call her friend again. This time he’d better pick up, or else—

Suddenly she heard the sound of her door code being entered. Minnie jumped to her feet as the door opened.

“Yah! Oppa, you better have—”

“What kind of oppa were you waiting for?” Miyeon interrupted as she walked in, eyebrows raised.

It took Minnie a solid few seconds to recover from the other girl’s sudden appearance. When she did, she rushed to defend herself, “No, it’s nothing like that.”

“Nothing like what?” Miyeon asked, eyes narrowed in disbelief.

“It’s Jihoon, Jihoon.”

“Ah,” the older girl understood immediately. “Booze-oppa.”

“Yeah, he promised me some beer for tonight but it’s like he’s disappeared all of a sudden.”

“Isn’t he usually like that though?” Miyeon shucked off her jacket, fluffing out her hair instinctively. She looked around for a place to hang it up. “I always hear the trainees complaining about him.”

“He’s reliable sometimes. And he doesn’t ask questions.”

“That just sounds like a criminal though?”

“Hey, you never had to sneak around much when you got here, so you don’t know. You can’t be too choosy.” Minnie walked over and took the jacket out of her hands.

“Thanks,” Miyeon smiled. She sat down on the couch that took up a large portion of the small studio, once again brushing her hand through her hair without even realizing it. It must be instinctual for her to always look so perfect.

Minnie sighed when it became apparent that Miyeon wasn’t just stopping by. Then she started walking around, turning on her lamp light, throwing the jacket over the back of her chair, moving her notes from off the floor.

“Why are you cleaning up?”

“Because I want to,” Minnie replied without even sparing a glance at the other girl.

“Do it tomorrow. I didn’t come all the way here to watch you clean up.”

“Why’d you come then?”

“Because I knew you’d still be here,” Miyeon grinned knowingly. “Ask me how I knew.”

“Because you’re stalking me.”

“Wrong,” Miyeon declared.

“Because you’re annoying.”

“Wrong.”

“Because you’re… you’re stupid.”

“… Wrong.”

If Minnie had taken the time to look at the older girl, she would’ve noticed the smile gradually slipping off her face. She didn’t look, but even then. Even then she still knew that Miyeon didn’t like these kind of jokes. They’d already had that conversation a few times in the past. And Minnie had changed her humor in response, but now? She found herself carelessly slipping back into old habits. Why? Because she was in a bad mood? How immature.

“Because you’re—”

“You’re not even funny,” Miyeon harshly cut in. “Soyeon told me you were working, so I came. That’s why.”

Minnie snorted, trying not to show how embarrassed she was that she’d taken it too far. Again. “That’s all? I thought it was something more interesting.”

“That’s right. I’m not as interesting as your Jihoon-oppa. Do you want me to leave?”

The question was asked testily and Minnie knew better than to respond without thinking first. So she sat back down in her chair and carefully rolled up till she was sitting in front of the frowning girl.

She smiled apologetically. “Because I’m an idiot. That’s the real answer.”

“Give me my jacket.”

“I’m sorry.” Minnie finally bit the bullet.

“Okay.” But the frown on Miyeon’s face was still present. And the mood had barely shifted back to how it was before Minnie had stuck her foot in her mouth. She really needed to stop doing that.

“You’re still mad.”

Miyeon gave her a sharp look that said it all.

So Minnie tried again. “Thank you for coming to meet me. You didn’t have to and it’s really sweet of you to do that.”

“Sweet? And that’s how you treat me?”

But the ice was starting to melt. The barest hint of a smile had appeared on the older girl’s lips and Minnie felt a rush of relief when she saw it.

“I’ll work harder to treat you better in the future.”

And that finally did it. Miyeon burst out laughing. “Why do you sound like you’re promoting an album?”

Minnie smirked in return. “A pretty album. The concept would be—”

“Angels.”

She bit back a teasing retort. Instead, she simply agreed, “Okay. Or goddesses.”

“That doesn’t sound too bad?” The older girl jokingly mused, brushing her hair again. She really didn’t need to since she still looked as perfect as when she’d first stepped in. Then Miyeon gave a sudden prompt, “Cho Miyeon tracklist, go.”

“What? Like a poem?”

“Mhm, but each one is a different track on your new album.”

“Okay,” Minnie readily accepted the new challenge. She wheeled her chair as close to the couch as possible, kicking her feet up to rest on the cushion beside the other girl. “Give me the first one.”

“Cho.”

“Hmm… wait, no. First is the intro track. We have to set the mood.”

“Fine. What’s it called?”

“Intro.”

Minnie chuckled deviously, pleased with her own wit. But Miyeon just rolled her eyes hard. “Okay, next track,” she tried to hurry it along. “Cho,” she repeated.

“Second track is… I got Cho on my mind.”

The load groan that filled the room was nearly overshadowed by the cackling laughter that followed it.

“Now I really want to leave,” Miyeon playfully complained.

“No, no, give me the next one. You’ll like it.”

“Mi.”

A beat of silence, then a sly voice confidently sang out, “Mama Mi-a.”

“You’re not funny!” Miyeon suddenly exploded. But try as she might, there was no hiding the smile on her face. Minnie had found the right humor this time, something that both of them could enjoy without crossing any lines. So, even though her complaints were loud, Miyeon still continued her prompts. “Yeon, yeon.”

Minnie took a moment to think, but she quickly found a good one. “Yeon the one that I want.”

The older girl shook her head from her seat on the couch. But she looked happy, so that was a huge win in Minnie’s book. “No outro?”

“Of course, it’s a mini album. Last track is—”

Just then, a quick series of knocks sounded on the studio door.

Minnie looked up and saw the shadow of a large person standing in front of the glass paneling. Definitely bigger than any of the other members would be. She stood up and opened the door to see a tall man waiting on the other side. He had a slightly embarrassed smile on his face and a large paper bag in his hands.

“I got caught up a bit,” he tried.

“Do you have everything?” Minnie asked right away, ignoring his excuses.

“It’s all here, don’t worry.”

“Let me get my money,” she said, walking back to her desk. She had to look around for a bit before she could find her wallet—her earlier cleaning had done more harm than good really.

In that space of time, she heard Jihoon’s deep voice say, “Oh Miyeon-ah, I didn’t realize you were here.”

“Yeah…” The girl timidly responded.

“You know, I watched you guys’ performance the other day. You were really good.”

“Thanks, oppa.”

“It looked pretty cold though—”

Finally, finally, finally Minnie found her wallet. “Same price as before?” She asked a bit louder than necessary as she turned back to face Jihoon.

He looked slightly flustered, but he nodded all the same. And within a minute, their transaction was complete and the door was closed, leaving the two groupmates as alone as they’d been before the brief interruption. Well, now they also had a six-pack of beer and six bottles of soju, so there was a little added company.

Minnie felt awkward in the silence that followed though, so she grabbed one of the soju bottles and joined the other girl on the couch. She held up the bottle for inspection, prompting Miyeon to lean in to try and see what she was looking at.

“What?” The older girl finally asked.

“Nothing. I just remembered I put in the order before Soojin and Shuhua canceled.”

“So?”

“So, we have extra.” And then Minnie held out the bottle for the other girl to take. “A present.”

“The whole thing?”

“Of course.”

“Why are you giving me now? Just wait till we get home.”

“I don’t want Yuqi and Soyeon to steal it. So here.” She pushed it firmly into Miyeon’s hands, then picked up another bottle for herself. “Let’s toast.”

“Are you crazy?” But Miyeon couldn’t help but laugh. She didn’t protest when Minnie leaned over and opened her bottle, then opened her own. The neck of the two bottles were forced together in a pseudo-toast, Minnie nodding along in faux seriousness. “You’re really crazy,” Miyeon answered her own question.

“Toast to… our album’s success,” Minnie announced.

“Our fake album.”

“A toast!”

Miyeon shook her head, but finally gave in and echoed, “A toast!”

And for the record, Minnie definitely remembered that first sip that they took—glancing at each other and bursting into giggles.

She didn’t remember much else after that though.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 7 – I’ve never seen her so mad

 

When Shuhua woke up the morning after the third kiss (which also happened to be the morning after the fourth through fifteenth kisses, at least), the first thing she felt was a tongue on her face.

Licking her face like their life depended on it.

And while she’d imagined a host of new possibilities, the reality was way less exciting.

“Ugh, Mata…” She groaned out as she opened her eyes and saw her puppy before her. “It’s too early.” A quick check to her phone showed she was absolutely right. It was barely 7 am. She rubbed her eyes to help wake herself up, but Mata obviously thought she was too slow. She licked at her cheek, her fingers, her nose, everywhere. “Ugh…” She lazily rolled away from one puppy only to end up face to face with the other one.

She stared at Haku for a moment, waiting to see if he’d join in on the licking campaign. But he just tilted his head at her in curiosity. ‘Why was she acting like this?’, he was probably wondering. Why indeed.

“Haku, Mata,” Shuhua spoke as if she was making some kind of grand announcement. And really, she was. “Your mommy’s a woman now, okay?” She declared, sitting up in her bed. She opened her arms wide to gather her eager puppies. They pawed at her impatiently, no doubt hungry for her to tell them more. So she did. “It’s nothing scandalous, don’t worry. It’s just life. And love. This is what happens when you love someone, okay? When you two grow up, you’ll know.” She scratched behind their ears, smiling at how eagerly they wagged their tails. Her children were the best, really. “But we haven’t told the other members yet, so—” She put a finger to her lips in warning. “Keep this quiet for now. Alright? Haku~ Mata~” She kissed their sweet little heads, then finally decided to give in to their baser needs. “Okay, okay, I’ll take you guys out. Maybe Soojin-unnie’s awake. Let’s go check.”

She quickly got herself somewhat presentable, donning sweatpants and a long-sleeve for the chilly weather. Then she ventured out into the living room with the dogs right on her heels. The apartment was still dark, but she knew it well enough to pick her way around the furniture till she got to Soojin’s room.

She knocked softly and called out a sweet, “Jagiya~” that made even her own toes curl up in embarrassment. But she couldn’t be shy, not now that she’d successfully confessed—if anything, she needed to be even bolder. Nothing good ever came from hiding your feelings. That’s what she’d always believed.

A few moments passed, but no response came from Soojin’s room. So she knocked again, this time calling for the other girl by name. But still nothing. She frowned, completely sympathizing with Haku and Mata who were whining at her feet.

As a last resort, she turned to her phone and sent out a quick text:

 

Are you awake my honey~

Want to take a walk with Haku Mata and me :)

 

Shuhua turned around and flopped down on the couch as she waited for the response. She decided she’d give it two minutes and then she’d just go by herself. No need to make the puppies have an accident all over the carpet.

But the reply came in less than a minute.

 

Can’t this morning, sorry

 

Short, but not exactly sweet. But sweet wasn’t what she’d expected anyway, so that was fine. Soojin’s style was like a refreshing day in late February—cold with the passing winter, but showing hints of sun from the approaching spring. But what wasn’t Soojin’s style was turning down walks. It was practically unheard of. And since she hadn’t been given a reason, Shuhua couldn’t help but supply one of her own imagining. Was she okay? Was she sick? Had she fallen into deep despair in the scant few hours since they’d last seen each other? Unlikely. But, not wanting to leave things just like that, Shuhua tapped out:

 

Do you need anything? Tell me and I’ll get it for u

And for free, here’s some more of my love

*heart**heart**heart*

 

Within seconds, Soojin’s response came:

 

Haha you’re too cute

 

Only for you~

 

But I’m fine, seriously

I’ll tell you more later, don’t worry

… *heart*

 

Shuhua’s smile was almost bigger than her face, but she couldn’t help it. Her JinJin was just too cute! How had she been born this lucky to meet this girl and not only become her friend, but also—how was this real?

“Seo Soojin!” She whisper-yelled to herself in the living room. This was one of those times where she felt like she just might explode if she didn’t release her feelings in some way. “You are! The cutest girl! In the world!”

Haku and Mata barked in agreement. Or maybe they just really, really needed to go. And like a switch, her motherly instincts quickly kicked back in. She had to go take care of her little babies. Then later when she came back home, she could take care of her other baby.

 

--

 

Not even two minutes into the walk, her phone rang with an incoming call.

So, while Haku did his business behind a tree—he could be so shy sometimes—Shuhua answered the call.

“Good morning, Yeh Shuhua speaking, how may I help you?”

“Shuhua,” Yuqi’s voice deadpanned in her ear. “How many times do I have to text—”

“Sorry, Shuhua is unavailable at the moment,” She cut in, her secretary-voice the definition of prim and proper. “Please call back, um, never.”

“Yah! Don’t you dare hang up on me.”

“Do you want to make a reservation?”

“What are you talking about, ‘reservation’? You mean ‘appointment’—the word you’re thinking of is ‘appointment’.”

“That’s right,” Shuhua responded easily. “You don’t have an appointment, so… bye bye.”

She hung up without another word, focus already shifting back to her puppies. Mata was pacing restlessly, but Haku was still in the throes of pottydom. So Shuhua did what any responsible mother would do, she cheered on her struggling child.

“That’s it, Haku, let it all out. Don’t be afraid. You’re a big boy now.”

And while she coached, her phone rang again.

Shuhua sighed as she answered, “You love me so much, Song Yuqi?”

“You little—if you—fine.” An exasperated huff and then, “Where are you?”

“Hmm?”

“You heard me you little punk, don’t even pretend—”

“Wow, such language.” Shuhua covered her speaker and glanced down at Mata, and a much happier and lighter Haku. “I hope you don’t pick up any of the bad words your Aunt Yuqi uses.”

“Yah! Talk to me and not—wait. Are you with the dogs right now? Where? Outside?”

“That’s right~”

“Alright, I’m on my way.” Then she heard the sound of rustling and heavy movement through the phone. “How far are you?”

“Close to the dorms. Why?”

“Stay there, I’m coming. Don’t you dare move, Yeh Shuhua.”

“Yeah~”

And then she hung up on Yuqi for the second time in less than five minutes. She may have gotten an early start, but her morning was already starting to look up.

And because she wasn’t completely heartless, Shuhua decided to check her phone for the texts the other girl had been talking about. She found them easily. Sent in two batches—the first coming in last night and the rest shortly before she’d woken up this morning.

Batch one was a mix of group and direct messages. And they read like they were sent in by a lonely housewife.

 

[To: Shuhua]

Why aren’t you hanging out with us?

I know you don’t have any friends

Sorry, are you sick?

 

[To: The Kidz]

… why am I the only one here???

Seriously, no one showed up? Not even Miyeon? Fine. I’m going back to bed

 

Shuhua couldn’t help but chuckle at her friend, she could be so dramatic sometimes. And then she moved on to the second batch from this morning. These were sent to Shuhua alone.

 

Oh my god…..

Soyeon’s blowing up at Minnie right now, it’s crazy!

I need to get out of here, call my phone

 

And that finally was enough to make Shuhua think that maybe something was going on here. Sure, they were still a new group, so of course they fought. But she couldn’t think of a single reason why Soyeon and Minnie would be fighting today. Usually, there were signs leading up to a big blowout. And honestly, more often than not, it was between Minnie and Miyeon instead.

Which brought up the question: what did Yuqi mean Miyeon hadn’t showed up last night? That didn’t make any sense.

Shuhua had seen when the older girl had left to go to the other dorm. Right before the most important moments of Shuhua’s young life so far, but that was beside the point.

Miyeon.

Maybe she’d gone to the company? Or maybe she’d forgotten something and come back early only to see Shuhua and Soojin tongue-wrestling in the middle of the living room… Unlikely. They would’ve heard the door open. But still, it was horrifying to think of.

Speaking of horrifying,

“Good, you listened to me for once,” Yuqi greeted as she caught up to Shuhua and the puppies.

“Mhm, it’s because I’m such a good friend.”

Shuhua saw the other girl visibly bite back her immediate response. Yuqi was getting better at controlling her temper these days. Instead, she bent down to pet the dogs, coddling them for a good moment while Shuhua waited for her to speak.

It wasn’t until they had actually walked a bit, going as far as the dog park nearby, that Yuqi finally shared, “It’s World War 3 in the dorm right now.”

And considering the sensitive nature of their conversation, it was no wonder she’d chosen to speak in Mandarin instead. So Shuhua followed suit, “Why are Soyeon and Minnie fighting?”

“Oh, so you do read my texts?”

“Don’t be childish.”

“Me?” Yuqi asked with incredulity. “I’m not the one who was yelling down the house like we don’t have any neighbors or anything. I felt like they were actually going to fight, like fists and everything.”

Shuhua’s eyes widened. “Seriously? And you left them alone?”

“They’re fine now... I think.”

“What happened?”

“Okay, so,” Yuqi picked up the ball Mata was nudging and threw it a good distance away for the dog to go fetch. “First off, no one came to the party last night.”

“And that’s why Soyeon’s mad?”

“No, because she didn’t come either. Even though her room is right there.” Yuqi shook her head in exasperation. “She said she had some genius idea for her genius song or something. But that’s fine. She’s always working, so that’s fine. It would’ve been really shocking if she was actually free for the first time in forever. But, that’s fine,” she stressed. She didn’t sound bitter at all. “But I was in the living room and nobody came so I sent out those texts.”

“Mhm, I saw them,” Shuhua nodded.

“And no one replied, but Soyeon must have seen them, because this morning—Minnie came home.”

Shuhua’s eyebrows raised so high, they almost joined her hairline. “This morning? From where?”

“I don’t know,” Yuqi threw her hands up in the air. Haku mistook that as some kind of signal, so he started jumping around at the girl’s feet. Shuhua gently pulled him away and redirected his efforts towards the many toys she’d brought with her. And Mata quickly joined in, choosing to fight for the exact same toy Haku had chosen instead of getting her own. “I thought she must’ve been at the company, but I don’t know,” Yuqi continued. “She didn’t want to answer. Like she was hiding something—it wasn’t even subtle, she just straight-up wouldn’t answer no matter how many times Soyeon asked.”

“Wow…”

And then Yuqi spilled it all, moving animatedly as she spoke. “Yeah, so Soyeon got really pissed. She kept saying how we couldn’t behave like that anymore now that we’ve debuted and how she had to know what we were doing as the leader and—wow, Minnie just lost it. I’ve never seen her so mad. All, ‘It’s a mistake, why are you talking like I do this all the time?’ and ‘Just because you’re the leader you think we have to tell you everything?’—it was insane! And of course Soyeon blew up after that. Then they just kept screaming at each other, saying some really hurtful things and it got really bad—seriously nasty. So I went to try and calm them down, but it’s like they didn’t even see me. I’ve never seen them that mad before, either of them… Minnie left for her studio and that’s the only thing that stopped them from actually fighting, I think. Then I called you because no way was I staying at home after that.”

And Shuhua could only gape in shock. “That’s crazy…”

Yuqi nodded, catching her breath after her little rant. “I don’t know who to talk to first. What do I even say to them?”

Shuhua’s brow furrowed in thought. “Maybe they’ll cool down on their own.”

“I don’t think so,” Yuqi sighed. “I mean, I get where Soyeon’s coming from because she has all these new responsibilities as our leader, but… If Minnie’s seeing someone then—”

“Aren’t you assuming too much?” Shuhua asked, a sinking feeling filling her gut. “She probably just fell asleep in her studio.”

“You didn’t see how she was behaving. If she just fell asleep, then why couldn’t she say that? It was definitely something else.”

“Is that bad?”

Yuqi quickly glanced at her. “No. But it could be… if the company finds out.”

Shuhua watched Haku lie down on the ground some distance away, having run out of energy unlike the nearly unstoppable Mata. Yuqi picked up a nearby toy and played with the frayed edges of the fabric.

“I think that’s what Soyeon’s thinking. She’s just worried… She could’ve probably expressed it in a better way, but…” Yuqi shook her head. “And in Minnie’s case… I don’t know. I have no idea what she’s thinking.”

“Maybe Miyeon can talk to her,” Shuhua suggested, at a loss for any other ideas.

“Maybe... Did she say why she didn’t come last night?”

“Actually…” How should she put this? Or maybe she shouldn’t say anything, not until she spoke to Miyeon first anyway. Shuhua was sure Miyeon had a good reason for not going and—who knew? Maybe it was the same thing that Minnie had been doing. If anyone knew what Minnie had been up to, it would be Miyeon. But it wouldn’t do to say anything that could probably get her into trouble too. Not that whatever she did was bad, it’s just that they didn’t know yet. And not knowing had already caused one fight today, no need to lay the groundwork for another one. Thinking of all this, Shuhua tried to find the right words to say, but nothing came out. She wasn’t even speaking Korean to be able to blame it on a different language this time. “Actually…”

“It made me think of you, though.” Yuqi suddenly said, saving Shuhua from her internal distress. “This whole Minnie thing.”

But that didn’t sound like a good thing either.

“Me? Why?”

“You and, you know,” Yuqi briefly looked around to make sure they were still well away from the other early-morning parkgoers. “Soojin,” she whispered so low that the dogs probably didn’t hear it either.

But Shuhua heard it loud and clear. She could feel her ears getting redder by the second. She wasn’t embarrassed, she was just surprised. She had hoped she’d get to keep her thing with Soojin to herself for a little bit longer than this. It had barely been ten hours.

“O-oh? We didn’t do anything though.”

“I know, I’m just thinking about how you were planning on confessing and I don’t know if you’d still want to do it now, you know. Not because of Soojin, but because of how the rest might react. Like Soyeon and… the managers and… and—what’s that look on your face?” Yuqi’s eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“Nothing,” Shuhua tried to wave her off, but the other girl wasn’t so easily deterred.

“You, Yeh Shuhua. What did you do?”

“I—Nothing.” But the glare she received finally tipped her hand. Well, might as well tell her. This, at least, was something Shuhua knew enough about to speak on. “I don’t think you should worry about me and Soojin.”

“… And why is that?”

“Because…” Shuhua’s voice went up a few pitches, but there was nothing she could do to fix that right now. Summoning some of the lingering strength from her confession last night, she finally said, “I already confessed.”

It went eerily quiet after that.

Yuqi’s mouth opened and closed in a never-ending loop as she tried to process the new information. Like a million and one thoughts were competing for the spotlight in her head.

Shuhua didn’t know how to interpret the other girl’s reaction. Just the other day she was giving her tips on how to confess, but now…

“You really didn’t wait that long, did you?” Yuqi shook her head, a small smile breaking through her shocked expression.

“Sorry…”

“No, no,” Yuqi waved her off. And now she looked a bit more like her usual self, smiling jovially at one of her oldest friends. “It’s nothing to worry about. Young love is great and if you and Soojin—wait, did she accept it? What did she say?”

Shuhua’s blushing smile was answer enough, but she still said, “She—we talked. Shared our feelings and… yeah…” She moved her hands in some semblance of a positive motion. “It went well.”

Yuqi’s face split into a shit-eating grin as she teased, “From that look on your face, it went more than well.” Then she sighed theatrically. “Ah, you’re seriously so fast. I was planning on being your wingwoman, you know. Help you out. But look at you, you went and did it all by yourself.”

“I used your idea, though.”

“Well, I mean, it was a great idea so I completely understand.”

Shuhua narrowed her eyes at her. “Shut up.”

But the other girl just ignored her. “Wow… every time I turn around you grow up some more,” Yuqi marveled. She raised a hand to playfully pet Shuhua’s hair. “Sooner or later we’re going to have to have that ‘talk’ though. You know, birds and bees—”

Shuhua moved out of her reach. “There’s no need for that!”

“Wait. Don’t tell me you guys already—just how fast are you guys going?”
“We didn’t!” Shuhua felt like her face was on fire, but she hid it by turning away and walking towards where Haku and Mata were resting. At least her children didn’t ask such embarrassing questions all the time. “Just mind your own business, Song Yuqi.”

“Alright, alright,” the other girl conceded. Then she softly added, “Come talk to me about anything though, I don’t mind. I’ll always listen. And when you guys tell the others… if you tell them, I’ll help you. Okay?”

Shuhua blinked hard a few times to stop her suddenly wet eyes from tearing up. She nodded once in gratitude, then got to work packing up the doggy bag she’d carried with her. Even though she had her own responsibilities, it was nice to have someone else looking out for her too.

But then Yuqi couldn’t just leave it like that. Of course she couldn’t.

“Wow, I’m such a good senior. Seriously,” Yuqi praised herself in Korean.

“You’re seriously irritating...”

But with that language switch, their overly-sober conversation quietly came to an end. They were back to normal now. And whatever problems they still had to tackle could wait.

It was too early to worry too much anyway.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 8 – You spent money on that?

 

Soojin opened Shuhua’s bedroom door and walked in to see a very familiar sight.

The younger girl was sitting at her desk, headphones on, fully immersed in her video game. Just like she always was. Some things really never changed. But, this time, the second she realized that Soojin had walked in, she rushed to end it.

“Sorry, sorry, I have to go now. Yeah, sorry, it’s important, bye, don’t die!” Shuhua rushed out to her teammates, ignoring the impassioned protests that met her ears. “Goodbye!” She mercilessly switched off her device, then finally turned to see a grinning Soojin. “Hello, my love~”

“You didn’t have to quit your game, you know,” Soojin commented as she moved behind her to sit down on the bed. “I wanted to watch you for a bit.”

Shuhua swiveled in her chair to follow her, waving away the suggestion with a shake of her head. “My team was really bad. I nearly cried. You shouldn’t watch something like that.”

“Really?” Soojin cocked an eyebrow at her. “That’s why you waited until your mic was off before you greeted me? You weren’t embarrassed?”

“Me, embarrassed? Never.”

“Is that so? Turn it back on, then.” Soojin reclined on the mess of pillows near the head of the bed, staring indifferently back at the other girl.

“But why? You don’t want to…” Shuhua gestured vaguely, her cheeks going slightly pink.

“No,” the simply reply came. “I’m tired.”

“Ah… that’s fine... Okay,” Shuhua turned her chair back to her monitor, booting back up her game a bit dejectedly. She reached for her headphones, but Soojin stopped her.

“No, I want to hear it too.”

“Okay…”

A few seconds passed and then the opening cinematic sounded throughout the room. Shuhua perfunctorily clicked through the next steps, quickly getting to the waiting screen that displayed her chosen character. That’s when the first comment came.

“Oh, what are you wearing?” Soojin asked, incredulous.

“This is a top-class outfit, unnie. Do you know how much it cost?”

“You spent money on that? Actual money?”

“No, no,” Shuhua hurriedly shook her head. “I did missions. It took me three—ah no, about two and a half weeks to get it?”

“Seriously?”

“I wouldn’t joke about this Jin-ah. It was so hard.”

Soojin could barely stifle her laughter then, but she tried her hardest. Shuhua pouted at the less-than-understanding reception she was receiving. “I don’t want to play if you’re going to laugh.”

“Wait, no, I’m sorry,” Soojin did her best to sober up quickly. “I’ve just never seen this side of you before. It’s so interesting.” She sat up, leaning in a bit closer to better see the screen. “What’s that star at the top mean?”

“This?” Shuhua pointed out a particularly shiny pin on her profile.

“Mhm,” Soojin nodded, taking her time to fully appraise what she could see so far. “You have a lot of stuff.”

“Of course, JinJin. You’re dating a hard worker, you know. This one means that I’m in the top—top one hundred? And this one means that I have over ten thousand kills.”

“Wow…”

“This one tells how many wins, uh… winning missions—successful missions, yes. That’s the number, but don’t look at that.”

“Why not?”

“Because my teammates always suck.”

Soojin chuckled at her blunt response and sweetly said, “Oh, really?”

“Maybe I’ll get luck. Since the love of my life is here today.” Shuhua smiled cheekily, like she’d managed to pull off the greatest magic trick in history. And maybe she had. Soojin reached over and playfully pinched her cheek in response, but nothing could get rid of her good mood.

“Hurry up and start.”

“Okay~”

After a few more clicks, they were finally connected to a room and Shuhua’s character was unceremoniously slotted into a waiting team with three other players. And then the chat started.

“Oh shushu’s here again, shushu came back,” a young voice on the wrong end of puberty called out first.

“Thought you were gone for good today,” a feminine voice said next.

Soojin’s eyes moved quickly over the screen to try and match the usernames to the voices. Before the mic cut off, she was able to see that user kda_over9000 was the last female voice she’d heard.

And when puberty voice came on again, she picked up that it belonged to user sh00+TOk1ll. A very… appropriately childish name giving the age that Soojin assumed he was. “Did your mom have to change your diapers, is that why you left?” He cackled out. Yeah… there was no way he was more than twelve. Ten, if she had to bet on it.

“Yah! If you didn’t keep shooting at the decoys, I wouldn’t have had to—I bet you didn’t even make it to the river!” Shuhua angrily shot back. Her username popped up below her character and Soojin didn’t know what she’d expected. Or why she hadn’t noticed it earlier given how much space it took up. The username shuuuuuuuushuuuuuuuu glared defiantly back at her from the screen. It grabbed enough of her attention that it took her a while to realize that Shuhua was arguing with a child. Of course she was.

“Can confirm, we got sniped pretty much right after you left.” The last teammate, a voice that sounded like it spent all day in an office, had the most sensible name as user mewtwothree4. He sounded tired—whether that was due to his bickering teammates or life in general, Soojin could only guess.

“So, are we going to try the mission again? Or maybe do some tiering?” Female voice kda_over9000 asked.

“Tier, tier!” Office guy mewtwothree4 pitched in. “I’m not trying to waste any more time tonight.”

“We could try the maze this time. If we use the new Hero’s Compass shushu got, then we should be able to rack up some gold pretty fast.” Soojin liked kda_over9000, she seemed very calm and put together. A natural-born leader.

“Good plan until shushu craps out on us again,” Puberty voice sh00+TOk1ll complained.

“Sorry, it was very important. Very, very important,“ Shuhua swiftly defended herself. She glanced back at Soojin, but quickly looked away when their eyes met. Why was she so cute? “I have time now.”

“Okay shushu, lead us into battle then,” kda_over9000 said before any further protests could come out. “I’m locking us in.”

“See you on the other side,” mewtwothree4 drawled. And then the mics cut out and the screen changed to show a loading platform with only Shuhua’s character.

Soojin took her chance. “Your teammates sound… interesting.”

The younger girl leaned back in her chair and sighed. “We’ll probably still die even though we have the compass and the Millennial Shield. That’s how bad we are.”

“Right.”

“Seriously unnie, we can do something else. I won’t be mad. Really.”

“Your teammates will be.”

“Fine,” Shuhua sighed. And then the screen changed again and her character was thrown into some strange vortex, crash-landing right in the middle of a spooky, overgrown maze. The game had begun. Almost immediately, the sound of loud gunfire rang through the speakers, mixed in with Shuhua’s teammates checking in on their comms. Gone were the complaints and the fighting, instead they sounded like a well-oiled machine as they worked their way through the maze.

And Soojin was kind of impressed.

But she was also a woman on a mission and she felt like she’d waited long enough to put her masterplan into action. So, in between the sounds of Shuhua’s frenetic tapping and the sporadic gaming audio, she stealthily moved till she was sitting cross-legged, almost directly behind the younger girl’s chair. Then she grabbed hold of the chair and slowly pulled it back till it was touching the tops of her knees. Shuhua was understandably confused once she realized she was suddenly far away from her screen.

“Can you still see?” Soojin carefully said into her ear.

“Mm,” the younger girl tentatively nodded, trying not to slow her gaming. She whispered, “Do you need something?”

“No,” Soojin answered offhandedly. “I’m watching you.” She traced her finger lightly around the girl’s ear, chuckling when Shuhua shivered in response. “Apparently I’m dating a hard worker. Who knew?”

“Well—I mean—” Shuhua stuttered out only to be cut off by her in-game teammates.

“Shushu what’s the next move? I’m at Cutter Rock,” mewtwothree4 frantically asked.

“You should help them,” Soojin insisted, finger already moving down the younger girl’s neck. She wanted to see just how much of a hard worker she was. Soojin’s wayward hand brushed against her shirt collar and Shuhua jumped so hard, she almost threw away her controller. “Focus, Shuhua.”

“Shushu! I’m getting swarmed by decoys over here, you better not be MIA again!”

“I’m here, I’m—UNNIE!” Shuhua yelped out in surprise when Soojin suddenly bit down on her ear. The younger girl slapped a hand over her mouth and Soojin fell back onto the bed, convulsing with silent laughter. “Sorry, I just—I’m checking—uh, the Compass s-says you can, uh—” Shuhua was blushing up a storm as she tried to respond to her teammates like she hadn’t just screamed bloody murder. But no one was buying it.

“Unnie? Did you just call me unnie?! Who stole your braincells shushu?” sh00+TOk1ll abrasively blurted out.

“No, bug bite. It was a really, really big bug… bite.”

Soojin was nearly in tears at this point. She grabbed for the other girl in her hysterics, but Shuhua deftly dodged her roaming hands. She was probably terrified Soojin would try something else, but the belly-aching laughter would have to stop first. And that wasn’t happening any time soon.

“Go left and then you should see a big, uh, box—with gold and—”

“You got an unnie over there with you, shushu?” mewtwothree4 asked with a more than a hint of jealousy. “Is she distracting you? Got you pretty worked up.”

“No, I’m not distracted. She’s just… don’t worry about her.”

“Ah! I just died,” he bemoaned, then almost immediately forgot about it. “So this unnie… how old is she?”

“Save your flirting for later mewtwo,” kda_over9000 cut in. “Two decoys coming your way shushu. I’m trying to lose mine then I’ll come help out.”

“Shit! They got me! I’m down!” sh00+TOk1ll grumpily reported.

And then the sound of heavy gunfire came over the speakers, followed by a disappointed, “I’m out too,” from the last remaining teammate.

And then it was Shuhua alone.

“I can lose them. Just let me find—I’m coming to revive you guys!” The girl promised as she navigated her character through an enemy horde. “Don’t worry! I’ll save you!”

“Okay, but about this unnie…”

“I’m saving everyone except mewtwo,” Shuhua amended.

“Whatever.”

Soojin sat up on the bed, still smiling at her successful prank. She wondered if she could up the ante, but she also didn’t want to go too far. What was a nice middle ground…? And then the answer came to her in a rush of mischief.

She got on her knees and quickly wrapped her arms around Shuhua’s shoulders before she could escape. The younger girl bit her lip to stop from crying out, then sent a warning glare her way before returning to her game. Soojin obviously ignored the warning.

“Hello, this is shushu’s unnie speaking,” she called out in a voice pitched slightly higher than her own. She was being playful, not stupid. She felt Shuhua stiffen in her arms, and then heard several gasps over the speakers. “Shushu’s working really hard right now, so I came to cheer her on.” Soojin grinned, looking at the side of the younger girl’s face. Shuhua looked seconds away from a heat stroke, that’s how red her face was. Soojin poked her cheek because how could she not? “Sorry I keep distracting her though.”

“I’m not… distracted…” Shuhua grumbled, but her deteriorating gameplay said otherwise.

“A-ah, I didn’t think you were real,” sh00+TOk1ll squeaked out.

“Nice to meet you,” kda_over9000 politely greeted.

“You sound pretty hot. Are you hot?” And Soojin had had her bets on mewtwothree4 being a pretty normal guy, but apparently he was a closet weirdo. Who knew?

“Yah! Don’t take about her like that!” Shuhua immediately defended her.

“I’m just saying—”

“I’m not saving you, I swear! Even your gold—I’m taking your gold!”

“Wait, what?”

And Shuhua did just that. She rounded a corner in the maze, bringing her right to mewtwothree4’s downed character. But instead of ‘saving’ him, she clicked the ‘loot’ menu option. Then she ran away, leaving his body to the mercy of the enemy horde that had still been following her.

“Yah! What gives, shushu?!”

“See, that’s what you get for talking about my girlfriend like that! Next time you won’t be so lucky,” Shuhua smirked, pleased with the revenge she’d wrought.

“You know what, fuck this, I’m out!” And that was the last they heard from mewtwothree4. His comms went dark and his username turned red to show that he had logged out. Wow… Things could get pretty serious pretty fast in an online game.

Soojin felt like she should apologize. She hadn’t known things would go this far.

But Shuhua, as if sensing her unease, reached up to rub the arm that was still hanging around her neck. “Don’t worry, unnie. Jerks like that are everywhere. But we don’t play with them.”

“Yeah, sorry shushu’s unnie,” kda_over9000 tried her best to reassure her. “At least now we know he’s a creep.”

“Are you really shushu’s girlfriend?” sh00+TOk1ll suddenly blurted out, and then rushed to better explain himself. “I’m asking because, um, I have a question I wanna ask. It’s not creepy though, I swear.”

Soojin glanced at Shuhua’s face to see what she thought, but the younger girl only shrugged in response. Apparently she didn’t know either.

So Soojin answered him honestly, “It’s probably too early to say we’re girlfriends, but we’re definitely heading there.” And then she gave the seated girl a loving squeeze—an expression of affection and a small apology all wrapped in one. “We still have a few more things to sort out, but… soon? Really soon, I think.”

“That sounds sweet,” kda_over9000 softly cooed.

“You are,” Soojin whispered for Shuhua’s ears only. And then she pecked the younger girl on the cheek, watching how her face lit up with a shy smile.

“Okay, so my question is for shushu,” sh00+TOk1ll nervously went on. “How did you manage to get a girl if all you do is play games all day?”

“Yah!” Shuhua shouted, but she couldn’t help but laugh along when everyone else burst into laughter. Including Soojin. “I’ll have you know I can be very charming. She couldn’t resist me. I was—”

“Maybe I should ask shushu’s unnie instead.”

“Yah!”

 

--

 

Sometime later—after giving relationship advice to a preteen and cheering their team on until they finally made it out of the maze—Soojin found herself lying in Shuhua’s bed while the other girl turned off the lights.

And then when Shuhua joined her, they spent a good moment just staring at each other. Smiling like a bunch of weirdos.

“That was fun,” Soojin commented.

“Really? You liked it?”

“For the most part.” Soojin reached her hand out to brush a few strands of hair behind the younger girl’s ear. “Sorry I was teasing you so much.”

“It’s okay,” Shuhua shook her head.

“Tell me if I go too far, okay? That’s… that’s part of being in a relationship, too. We have to respect each other. And try to understand…”

“I’ll try my best.”

“Me too,” Soojin promised with a smile.

Then they sealed it with a kiss.

And then another one. And another one. And another—

Soojin forced herself to pull away and chuckled. “We should also tell the girls… before it gets too serious.”

Shuhua scrunched her face up into a displeased pout. But still, she nodded. Even if she didn’t like it, she knew it was the right thing to do. “We can probably tell Miyeon-unnie first.”

“Um… maybe not tonight,” Soojin hedged. When she saw the confused look in the other girl’s eyes, she carefully elaborated. “I can’t tell you much, but she had a rough night last night.”

“Is she okay?” Shuhua asked, full of concern.

“She’ll be fine. She’s just… processing it all right now.”

Shuhua pursed her lips in thought, then asked a question that hit remarkably close to the truth. “Is this like what happened with Minnie yesterday? Yuqi told me nobody went to the party last night.”

Soojin let out a heavy sigh. “Yeah… It’s pretty similar.”

“Okay,” Shuhua nodded once and then pulled herself closer until she was snuggled into Soojin’s chest. Trying to give physical comfort to replace the comfort she couldn’t give with her words. She really was the sweetest person—no, girlfriend… ever. “It’ll be fine. Everything will be fine,” the younger girl promised.

“I hope so.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 9 – Maybe later

 

Practice started at 3 pm.

And it really did start at exactly 3 pm which was the biggest red flag of all.

Usually, the girls would all trickle in ten to fifteen minutes after they were due to start, and then wouldn’t actually get around to practicing until half past the hour. But this day was different.

Even their dance instructor was surprised. She playfully pointed out their punctuality, but was only met with quiet acceptance instead of the usual boisterous overreaction.

For Shuhua, she was focused on her dancing. But more than that, she was trying to keep her face as neutral as possible. She felt like it was written clear as day on her face that she was no longer single. And the fact that it was Soojin whom she was dating? It took all of her willpower not to constantly burst out in song or shout in joy. So, during practice, she was the quietest she’d ever been.

For Yuqi, she was dividing her time between being worried about Soyeon finding out about Soojin and Shuhua’s relationship, and being worried that Minnie and Soyeon would suddenly start brawling in the middle of the practice room. As a result, her face was fixed in a permanent expression of discomfort. She looked like she had to go. Badly. And when their instructor asked her if she needed to use the bathroom, she embarrassingly agreed so she didn’t have to explain what was actually wrong with her face.

For Soyeon, she felt frustrated. She knew her groupmates were hiding things from her and it left her feeling very uneasy. She didn’t want to be branded as an overbearing leader, but she needed to know what her members were getting up to, didn’t she? It was her responsibility. She trusted them fully, but she wasn’t stupid enough to think that her members couldn’t do stupid shit too.

For Soojin, it was just like any other practice. She wasn’t normally chatty and this day was no exception. But she was a bit lost in thought at times. She knew there were a few conversations she had to have soon. Not the fun kind either—the ones that could easily break friendships. She just had to be careful enough with her words so they didn’t end too badly.

For Minnie, she had too many thoughts swirling in her head. The fight with Soyeon, Miyeon, Shuhua and Soojin, Miyeon,  Soojin and Shuhua, how Soyeon hadn’t said a word to her since last week and how Yuqi was walking on eggshells around them. And Miyeon. Miyeon, Miyeon, Miyeon. Damn… why did she have to drink that much that night?

For Miyeon, she was a blank slate. She’d cried and raged and laid her heart out to Soojin ever since that fateful night. And now, she was just… not in the mood to think about it anymore. All she was focused on was practice and nothing else. Absolutely nothing else.

 

--

 

“Hey, hold on a second,” Minnie’s voice came suddenly right as Miyeon walked out of the bathroom. Had she been waiting for her?

“What’s up?”

That was mostly a rhetorical question. There could really only be one thing on both of their minds right now. The large, pink elephant in the room.

“Can we talk?” Minnie quietly asked, eyes occasionally checking their surroundings for anyone that could overhear them. “We can go up to my studio for a bit.”

And Miyeon couldn’t hide the disbelief in her voice. “Your studio?” Surely the other girl couldn’t be that thoughtless.

Minnie closed her eyes in instant regret. “Sorry. I didn’t mean—somewhere else is fine too, I just—”

“We could’ve talked yesterday or the day before that.”

“I know, but—”

“We should get back to practice,” Miyeon cut her off, not in the mood to listen anymore. She tried to sidestep the younger girl, but Minnie caught her arm before she could walk off. “Minnie—”

“I’m sorry, but we really need to talk.”

“Not now,” Miyeon flatly rejected. But as much as she hated to admit it, Minnie was right. They couldn’t go on like this. “After practice,” she promised instead.

“Okay,” Minnie nodded and finally released her.

Miyeon walked briskly back to their practice room and, the second she stepped in, she caught Soojin’s curious eyes. The girl probably knew what it meant that both her and Minnie had been outside for so long. That they’d probably been talking. And she was right. Soojin raised an eyebrow in question, but Miyeon subtly shook her head. The older girl just wanted to get through this practice first—she could focus on all that other stuff later.

Soojin took the rejection well enough, walking over to the wall that Shuhua was resting against and striking up a conversation with the younger girl.

But… those two… weren’t they acting a bit weirder than usual?

Miyeon had noticed it since the morning after that fateful night. She’d gotten home early, just a bit after 6 am. She’d tried to be as quiet as possible as she snuck in, but her eyes had been blurry from tears and she’d stumbled over one of her heels. That had woken up one of the pups—she hadn’t known which one, just that she’d tried in vain to shush the incessant yipping from the puppy beds in the living room.

Any other day and she would’ve been over there in a second, petting the dogs back to sleep. Not today.

She was tired, exhausted, and still reeling from one of the worst nights she’d ever had. She just wanted to get to her room and shut out the rest of the world. So, she tried to do just that. She scooped up her heels and made a beeline for her bedroom door. And she was almost home-free when she heard Soojin’s door creak open.

“Mata,” the younger girl whined, voice laced with sleep. “Stop barking already, what’s wrong with—Miyeon…?”

Miyeon froze in front of her own door like a thief in the night, caught red-handed before she could make her escape.

“Ah, did you just get back?” Soojin asked with a small chuckle. She was probably imagining that Miyeon had actually gone to that little party in the other dorm. That she’d been her usual drunk self and been too out of it to get back home last night. That she’d stayed over in the comforting safety of one of their members’ rooms or maybe even passed out in the bathroom like Soojin herself had done that one time. Well, no. She’d be dead wrong. Sure, Miyeon had gotten stupid wasted last night, but that’s where the similarities ended. “How was the party? Or hangout—whatever you were calling it,” Soojin asked, raking a hand through her unruly bedhead.

Miyeon didn’t even consider lying, not for a second. “I didn’t go.”

“… Oh?”

She could sense the moment the other girl’s demeanor changed. Shifting from playful teasing to careful concern. Miyeon clutched her heels to her chest and shakily nodded. The tears hadn’t fully left her yet and they were already coming back out in full force. “I was with Minnie... in her studio…” She sniffed as the tears fell and that’s all it took for Soojin to rush to her side. “We got drunk…” She could barely continue.

“Here, let me take those,” Soojin murmured as she pulled the dirty heels from Miyeon’s tight grasp. “Sit down first, okay.”

Miyeon could only imagine how unsteady she looked on her feet because Soojin held her firmly by the arms and ushered her quickly into the room she’d been steps in front of. Miyeon sat on her bed and just stared down at her lap as the other girl closed the door. And then her field of vision was filled up by Soojin as she squatted down in front of her.

“Okay, when you can… tell me what happened.”

Miyeon nodded, wiping at her face to try and clean herself up a bit. To no avail, of course.

“We got drunk—” she started, only to have her voice hitch halfway through. This was going to be far from easy, it seemed.

Soojin pressed firmly on her thighs, trying to ground her and remind her that she was there. It worked. “Take your time,” the younger girl softly reminded her.

“We got drunk,” Miyeon forced out after a long moment, determined to get through it all this time. “And I don’t remember everything that happened, but I know we kissed and—and… we definitely kissed…” She glanced up at Soojin’s face to catch her reaction, but the other girl was as stoic as ever. Miyeon took what little courage she had left and kept going. But her voice wobbled and pitched as she spoke, “I woke up this morning… and our clothes were gone. Most of our clothes… We weren’t naked, but it was obvious we did… something… I woke up first and we were on her couch and, I don’t know… I was so embarrassed because I didn’t remember anything and then she woke up and…” Miyeon shrugged helplessly as her lower lip trembled. She felt Soojin’s hand rubbing softly along her leg in comfort. “She woke up and she just—it was like nothing happened, she didn’t even…” And just the memory of that morning made her eyes well up again.

“Maybe she was just as surprised as you were,” Soojin hopefully suggested, but Miyeon just shook her head in response.

There was surprise, and then there was whatever the hell Minnie had done. “She said we must’ve been really hot so that’s why we took our clothes off.” She shook her head in disappointment, brows furrowing in hurt. “And there was lipstick all over her face, all over her mouth—she saw it in the mirror, I know she did… But she just kept pretending… While I was trying to find my shirt, she was playing games on her phone—like how thoughtless can you be?” Miyeon looked at Soojin’s face in hopes that she might have an answer, but there were none.

The younger girl pursed her lips and dropped her eyes. There was nothing she could come up with to excuse Minnie’s behavior.

“What if we did have—” Miyeon cut herself off, then continued in a strained whisper, “if we had sex… then it was my first time…” She gripped Soojin’s hand in her own, needing the support now more than ever. “And I don’t remember anything…”

“Everything’s going to be okay, don’t worry,” Soojin calmly stated.

“I just…”

“You two need to talk. Maybe she was embarrassed or scared or maybe she just needed some time—take some time. Both of you.” Soojin peered up into her eyes as she spoke, thumbs brushing over the backs of Miyeon’s hands. “Take some time,” she repeated. “And then try to talk to her again.”

Miyeon let out a deep sigh. “Okay.”

“Minnie’s not mean, she’s just stupid sometimes.”

Miyeon chuckled as she wiped away the tears on her face. “She’s really stupid,” she agreed with a snort. “That’s my type, I guess—stupid... Hot, but stupid.”

“It could be worse,” Soojin reasoned, slowly getting to her feet. She started stretching out her cramping legs, but then jolted in surprise when her phone buzzed in her pants. She took out the device and a small smile stretched across her face. “The dogs woke Shuhua up,” she informed Miyeon, settling down on the bed beside her. “She’s going to take them out for a walk.”

“You can go if you want,” Miyeon offered, knowing how much Soojin enjoyed those morning walks.

“No, she can deal with them on her own. She’s a hard worker, you know.” The sly smile on Soojin’s face as she texted back made it clear that it was some kind of inside joke. Which was nothing new—those two always seemed to have at least a dozen inside jokes going on at any one time.

Sometimes it made Miyeon a bit jealous. Especially on a day like today.

But Soojin quickly pocketed her phone and stretched back out onto Miyeon’s bed, giving the older girl her full attention. Sure, it was a bit weird that Soojin would turn Shuhua down, but Miyeon appreciated the gesture. “So tell me more about your type,” Soojin teased. “It’s a bit more… female than I imagined.”

Miyeon sighed. “It’s really not, it’s just Minnie.”

“Really?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“No one else?”

Miyeon pulled her legs up to her chest so she could rest her chin on her knees. She pouted as she thought, then carefully answered, “Not for a while, no.”

“Interesting, I had no idea… And if I didn’t know, I’m betting that Minnie didn’t either,” Soojin guessed.

Miyeon closed her eyes and gritted her teeth in clear frustration. “She’s so… stupid.”

Soojin burst out laughing at that, causing the older girl to eventually do the same. And just like that, Miyeon could feel her heart starting to heal bit by bit.

And she did end up following Soojin’s advice after that.

She took her time, gave herself the space to come to terms with what may have happened, and she waited. She waited for Minnie to say something. To text or call or drop by their dorm in the next few days, but nothing.

Minnie was radio silent and Miyeon could only spill her heart to Soojin so many times before she grew tired of waiting.

And that’s where she was right now. At practice—their first group activity since that night—and she was tired of waiting.

 

--

 

“Can you guys stay back for a bit? I want to talk about something,” Soyeon called out as soon as practice ended, mere seconds after their dance instructor had left.

Miyeon was still doing her cooldown stretches, so she had no problem staying. But she could see Minnie’s expression darken from where the other girl stood over her packed bag, pulling her hoodie down over her head.

“Sure, no problem,” Yuqi chirped, a bit too hyper given that they’d just been dancing for 3 hours. “What’s up?” She asked as she flopped down to sit across from where Miyeon was stretching.

Soojin and Shuhua silently joined them on the ground too, forming a sort of makeshift half-circle.

Before responding, Soyeon walked over to her bag and pulled out some crumpled sheets of paper and her phone. She hastily arranged them as she walked back. “It’s a song that I’ve been writing lately,” she explained. “I wanted to run it by you guys.” And then she joined their little pod on the ground, leaving a gap big enough to fit the last remaining member.

But Minnie still hadn’t moved.

And the others were starting to notice. All except Soyeon, who kept her head down and focused on her music sheets.

Yuqi nervously glanced back at Minnie, but looked like she might puke if she said something. And Shuhua was sitting ramrod straight—which was especially unusual given that she was beside Soojin who’d she’d normally try to cuddle at every opportunity. It was unclear if the youngest noticed the rising tension, but Soojin definitely did.

The stoic girl raised a challenging eyebrow at Minnie. “Do you have another schedule?”

But instead of answering, Minnie just glanced at Miyeon.

Was she… waiting on her? Was this because of Miyeon’s promise that they’d talk after practice? What did Minnie have to say that was so, so important that she couldn’t wait a few minutes for Soyeon to run a song by them? Well. Miyeon wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of an answer when she’d been forced to wait days for the other girl to even speak to her.

In the end, Soyeon was the one who finally spoke up. “If you’re leaving, just let me know when you’re free so I can get your opinion too,” she said, cutting through the tense atmosphere. She still hadn’t looked up, so she didn’t get to see Minnie roll her eyes at her.

But Minnie had probably realized she was outnumbered, so she said, “I can stay.” And she joined their little circle, though she made sure to put some distance between her and Soyeon.

This was going to be… interesting.

“Okay, thanks everyone.” Soyeon nodded, looking around at each member, then she focused on Soojin. “Actually, Soojin was the one who gave me the main idea for this song,” she admitted.

“I did?”

“Yeah, I was thinking of something completely different. A love song, kinda, but my thoughts were pretty superficial,” she chuckled at herself. “And then I was speaking with Soojin one day, and she mentioned how love… how you have to want it, you know. For a love that’s romantic, that’s special, it has to be something that you’d want to have yourself… And so I decided to write about boring love instead.”

Miyeon furrowed her brows as she tried to understand. “Boring love?”

“Yeah. It’s not romantic, it’s not good at all, really. It’s not…” Soyeon pursed her lips as she tried to come up with a good word to describe it. “It’s not pretty,” she finally decided on. “It’s not  perfect or warm. You’d never pick it out of a lineup and say, I want that one—that’s the kind of love I want to have one day. But if suddenly you fall in love with someone and this is what it looks like, you can’t change that. So you have to decide if you want to keep it or… keep looking for something you might never find again.”

Soyeon shyly ducked her head as she finished explaining. “So, yeah. That’s the song… And I have a little demo I wanted you guys to hear.”

“Play it for us,” Soojin said with an encouraging nod.

“Okay.” Soyeon took out her phone and fiddled with it for a moment. She pulled up a song on her music player, then pressed play. She put the phone in the middle of their little circle so they all could hear it.

And Miyeon immediately knew that she wouldn’t be able to give her honest opinion. This song… the lyrics were hitting far too close to home for her. And even in the sections where Soyeon had just hummed or freestyled over the beat—even there, it felt too real.

A love that no one wanted, a sense of disappointment that this was the love they’d found, a feeling of wanting it to be better but not knowing if that was being too greedy. Should she just be grateful that she’d had whatever dalliance she’d had with Minnie that night? Was that to be the extent of what they were together? Was she greedy for wanting Minnie to want more like she did? Was it worth putting their relationship as a group at risk for something that had no promise of lasting? A ‘boring’, unpretty love, an unromantic love, a… really, it wasn’t even love, was it? Right now it was nothing more than a drunken mistake.

“So, what do you think?” Soyeon asked, pulling Miyeon out of her thoughts. The song had ended and everyone was taking a moment to fully digest it. But now they had to give their feedback. Was this a song they could see themselves bringing to life as a group? Did they have faith that they could perform with the emotions it demanded?

For Miyeon, the answer was a resounding yes. And for that very same reason, she never wanted to sing this song. Ever.

“It’s good,” Miyeon said instead. “But isn’t it a bit slow…? And it sounds pretty sad.” That was a roundabout way of trying to turn down the song without actually saying it. Their brand of music was intense, powerful and high-octane. Yes, they could probably pull off a song like this, but was it worth the effort?

“I like it,” Yuqi said next. “I don’t know how we’re going to do it—title track, b-side, Japanese release, Chinese release, whatever. But I definitely want to do it.”

How very supportive of Yuqi. Miyeon bit her lip, not wanting to be too negative too early on.

“It’s super emotional,” Shuhua chimed in. The girl finally seemed to relax her posture for the first time all practice. “It makes me want to cry,” she admitted.

“But you didn’t cry,” Soojin teased.

“No, but I was pretty close. Look, see,” she pointed at her eyes.

Soojin unexpectedly played into Shuhua’s little act, leaning in closer to seemingly inspect the younger girl’s face. But, at the last moment, she smirked.

And then she planted a surprise kiss on Shuhua’s cheek.

Nearly everybody’s eyes widened in shock, except Soojin’s. The girl just leaned back and admired her handiwork. Shuhua, on the other hand, looked like she’d seen a ghost. Or she looked like Soojin had just kissed her out of nowhere. Actually, that’s exactly what she looked like because that’s exactly what had happened.

She squeaked out some kind of combination of words, half Korean and half Mandarin. And then she flopped back down onto the ground, her hands coming up to cover her burning face.

Miyeon blinked. She looked between the two girls, trying to place Soojin’s actions in the realm of her known behavior. But something just didn’t fit. The two of them had kissed before, sure. On camera and in the practice rooms too, but somehow this felt… different? Was it the way Shuhua still hadn’t said anything remotely intelligible? Just weird sounds and gestures as she rolled on the ground. Wouldn’t she usually be playing it off by now? Showing off her cheek like a badge of honor? And Soojin wouldn’t usually be smiling like that, would she? So… lovingly.

“What do you think?” Soyeon suddenly asked.

Miyeon whipped her head around, but she realized the leader wasn’t talking to her. She was talking to Minnie. And it seemed like she was already over Soojin and Shuhua’s little moment, because she was turned almost fully towards Minnie. Or maybe she’d just put it aside so she could deal with something she deemed more important.

Minnie still hadn’t said anything about the song yet.

So Miyeon decided to ignore the way Soojin pulled apologetically at Shuhua, trying to get her off the ground. She ignored how Shuhua practically buried her face in Soojin’s neck, whispering things in her ear that no one else could hear. She ignored how Yuqi looked like she’d swallowed a chicken whole, her face the picture of shock and constipation as she tried not to meet anybody’s eyes.

Miyeon purposefully ignored all of that. And instead she focused on Minnie’s words as she finally spoke.

“Do you want me to be honest?” She asked, lips pursing into a thin line.

“Of course,” Soyeon replied.

“I think… you’re a really good writer… and composer… the song’s really, really good,” Minnie admitted.

“Thanks,” Soyeon said with a slight blush on her cheeks. “Is there a ‘but’ in there?”

“But—” Minnie took a deep breath. And then she finally cracked a little smile. “But I kinda wished I’d written it instead. I’m supposed to be the emo writer, not you.”

It felt like the entire room let out a breath of relief. It certainly felt that way to Miyeon—she could see smiles that had been tentative before blossoming into genuine expressions of joy. This was more like it.

“Hey, I can be sensitive too,” Soyeon played along.

“Yeah, but you had to ask Soojin for advice,” Minnie jokingly responded. “Seo Soojin? Miss I have no emotions Seo Soojin?” She shot the dancer a glance to see how her words had landed and laughed when she saw the murder in Soojin’s eyes.

“Come over here and say that to my face.”

“No, I’m good. I’m good.”

“Yeah, she was just joking,” Yuqi said a little too loudly with a smile that seemed a little too forced. “Don’t mind her, Minnie’s just a little jokester, isn’t she? She’s just so funny sometimes, she can’t help it.” And then she laughed like she was trapped in a hostage situation, trying to make everyone believe everything was fine.

Minnie rolled her eyes and punched the girl square in the arm. “Stop overreacting.”

“I’m not! I’m just—I’m just making sure we all know it was just a joke—”

“I’m not going to freak out and start fighting again, don’t worry,” Minnie said. And then she hesitantly glanced over at Soyeon, before saying, “And I’m… I’m sorry for what I said the other day.” She shyly scratched at her ear. “I shouldn’t have blown up like that.”

Miyeon knew what she was talking about. She’d heard it from Soojin who’d heard it from Shuhua who’d heard it from Yuqi who’d seen the fight in all of its messy glory. Minnie and Soyeon had fought because Minnie hadn’t wanted to explain their drunken mistake. So at least Miyeon could be comforted with the fact that she wasn’t the only one who’d been brushed off by the tight-lipped girl. Not much of a comfort, but still.

And Soyeon accepted the apology with a smile.

“I tell you guys everything. Maybe not immediately, but when it’s ready. Like this song,” she explained, gesturing to the music sheets around her. “But I realize I’ve been wearing my leader hat too often these days. Yes, I’m your leader, but I hope I’m your friend first.” She looked up and met eyes with each one of them, saving Minnie for last. “So I want to say this to you as your friend.” She nodded resolutely. “I trust you guys. And I hope… when you’re ready… you can trust me too.”

Minnie’s lips trembled in the way they usually did when she was trying not to cry. Soyeon had addressed all of them, but it was clear that the words were meant for Minnie first and foremost. The girl nodded in response, probably not trusting her voice at the moment.

Miyeon felt touched as she watched them apologize to each other.

But more than anything, this just showed her how young and fragile their group bond still was. Still vulnerable to any argument or fight that cropped up, still a work in progress. They’d done well this time to resolve it, but it had been so, so messy. And it still wasn’t completely over—she still had to talk with Minnie after this. But now she knew what she’d say. What she had to say—anything else would just be irresponsible at this stage in their career.

Miyeon would be beyond stupid to try and do something that could potentially harm their group bond.

“Speaking of which, Shuhua and I are dating.”

What?

You can’t just say something like that out of nowhere. Who would just say something like that out of nowhere? Apparently Soojin would. And she just did.

Miyeon looked over at the two girls in question, mouth and eyes open in shock.

“You—what?”

“We wanted to let you know because we’re serious about it,” Soojin continued, unfazed. “We want to give this a real shot and we can’t do that if we keep it a secret, so…” She looked over at Shuhua who gave her a reassuring nod. The youngest smiled and laced their hands together, wanting to show a united front. Soojin smiled in response. “Yeah… Shuhua’s my girlfriend now.”

Their smiles were almost blinding.

“And I’m announcing that my girlfriend is the prettiest, most beautiful girl in the world,” Shuhua cooed right back, kissing the back of Soojin’s hand with not a hint of embarrassment on her face this time.

“W-wow, that’s amazing! I can’t believe it—just wow!” Yuqi said with the worst acting Miyeon had ever heard. “I really had no idea—”

“Stop overreacting,” Soojin said, rolling her eyes. She was too far away to do it, so she nudged Shuhua who punched Yuqi in the arm for her instead.

“Yah!”

“I know Shuhua told you about us already. You’re acting’s terrible.”

“I was just trying to give a good reaction—wow, the things I do for you girls. So ungrateful,” Yuqi sniffed.

Shuhua rubbed her arm in mock apology, but Yuqi just glared back at her.

“I’m actually surprised that Miyeon didn’t figure it out,” Soojin continued, switching her focus to said girl. “Shu left the cards she used to confess on the kitchen counter. I didn’t realize until this morning.”

Miyeon narrowed her eyes at her friend. Soojin knew well and good why Miyeon wouldn’t have noticed something like that. In between all the nights spent deconstructing every possible way her drunken night could’ve gone, she’d barely had the bandwidth for anything other than food and sleep. If Soojin hadn’t noticed the cards, then no way in hell Miyeon would’ve either.

But Soojin knew that. She was calling her out for a different reason.

Did she want Miyeon to come clean about what had happened between her and Minnie? Was that what this was?

“I guess I just didn’t realize,” Miyeon simply said with a smile. “But I’m happy for you guys.”

Minnie rushed to agree. “Me too, by the way. I mean, I’m like genuinely surprised, but I think it’s cute.” She shifted her eyes to her shoes when Miyeon glanced her way. “You make a nice couple.”

“Thanks.”

And then it was only Soyeon remaining.

The leader had a pensive look on her face, taking the time to gather her thoughts. Finally, she looked up at a nervous Shuhua and a slightly tense Soojin. “I think… it doesn’t matter what I think.”

Soojin blinked.

Soyeon continued, “Thank you for telling me, I know what that means for you. And I’m happy that you’re happy. Both of you.”

Soojin raised an eyebrow. “Are you saying that as a leader or our friend?”

“Both.”

“Are you going to tell the company?” Shuhua quietly asked next.

Soyeon paused for a long moment.

“Well…” Then her lips curled up into a mischievous smirk. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pretty good at keeping secrets.”

“Ah! Seriously, don’t scare me like that!” Yuqi shouted out, clutching at her chest like she’d almost had a heart attack.

This caused the rest of them to burst out in laughter, Yuqi soon joining them. It was a nice release after all the serious stuff they’d been talking about. It felt like they’d entered a new phase as a group. One that had them more united than ever.

So of course Minnie chose that moment to speak up.

“Actually, there’s something I have to say too.”

And Miyeon knew, she just knew, what the girl was going to talk about. From the guilty look that had been on her face ever since her apology, Minnie had obviously decided that she wanted to come clean about their drunk night together.

“That night when we were supposed to have that party… and I didn’t come home…”

Except Miyeon couldn’t let her do that. Not when they’d just fixed everything. And especially not before they had a chance to talk it through together first.

“I was actually in my studio—”

She didn’t know what version of the truth Minnie was going to say, but Miyeon couldn’t let her say any of it.

“We were working on a song together,” Miyeon quickly cut in, ignoring the look of surprise on Minnie’s face. “Actually, it was Minnie’s song, but she wanted me to listen to it. And then one song turned into like ten, it was probably a whole album’s worth. We lost track of time and eventually fell asleep.” She plastered on an apologetic look on her face as she spun her tale. “We also may have had some of the alcohol we were supposed to bring to the party… Sorry…”

She knew as she finished up that her little improv had worked. Shuhua and Yuqi nodded along, fully believing what she’d said. Soojin looked… well, not happy, that’s for sure. But she kept quiet which was the most Miyeon could hope for right now. Minnie was staring at her with her brows furrowed, confused. But they could sort that out later—as long as she kept quiet too.

And that left Soyeon. The leader looked a bit hurt, though she tried not to show it.

“You were working on songs? You could’ve just told me that, you know.”

Minnie bit her lip and looked away from Miyeon’s gaze. When she spoke next, it was to Soyeon, and she sounded a bit strained. “I guess… I just wasn’t ready yet.”

“That’s fine, I can understand that.” And then Soyeon let a smile come back to her face. “Whenever you’re ready, we’ll be here for you.”

Words of encouragement came from the other members too, but Miyeon didn’t join in. She knew what words Minnie really wanted to hear from her, but she couldn’t say them now. They’d have to wait.

 

--

 

Miyeon pulled her mask up firmly around her nose as she stepped into the convenience store. Minnie walked in behind her, following her all the way to the freezer section.

It was only the two of them now, the others having decided to go straight home after practice.

Miyeon had suggested they get some snacks first before they had their Big Talk. Minnie had agreed and so here they were, not talking and just looking at food that was too cold to eat with the current weather.

Neither of them said anything as they roamed the aisles. If they never left the store, then they’d never have to talk, right? Except, the store owner would probably kick them out for acting too suspicious long before then.

So, Miyeon picked up a random bag of chips and walked up to the cashier. There were two other customers ahead of them, so they had to wait a bit. In complete and utter silence, because god forbid they engage in any dangerous small talk about the weather or anything.

As Miyeon finally got to the front of the line and started ringing up, Minnie plucked a bottle of what looked like gum from a side shelf. She didn’t say anything, but once Miyeon stepped away with her purchase, she paid for the gum, then joined the other girl by the door.

They stepped out of the store together and started walking aimlessly down the sidewalk. And that’s when Minnie finally showed her what she’d bought.

“Do you remember this?” She asked, her voice low and muffled by her mask.

Miyeon looked at the pack, but didn’t recognize it. “It looks like gum.”

“It is. Remember that pack I gave you for Christmas last year?”

“How could I forget?” She smiled as she recalled the memory.

“This is a new flavor. Grape berry splash… I think you’ll like it.”

“Have you tried it yet?”

“No,” Minnie answered, breaking open the seal. She shook the bottle as she looked at the contents. “Looks good though. Hold on.” And then she popped one of them into her mouth under the mask, chewing it thoughtfully. “It’s good, you’ll like it.”

Miyeon nodded, remembering a thousand moments just like this one. Minnie always did look out for her in these little ways. Which is part of what had made her so angry about the way the girl had acted the morning after they got drunk. The Minnie she was used to wouldn’t hurt her like that.

“Maybe later,” Miyeon said, pulling her jacket closer around her body.

They walked, the two of them alone and silent, until they got to the bridge. Traffic was sparse these days, so it felt very calming to just walk and watch the water.

“I owe you an apology,” Minnie said first.

They were leaning against the railing now, backs to the road, letting their voices fall to the river below them.

“That morning… I shouldn’t have brushed you off like that, I just…”

“You didn’t want to talk about it,” Miyeon supplied.

“No. I was scared.”

Miyeon had her arms folded on top of the railing, her hands gripping her jacket for comfort. “And what? You’re not scared now?”

“No… I’m still scared.” Minnie blew out a rough breath behind her mask. Her hoodie hung loosely around her shoulders and didn’t seem nearly as warm as it should’ve been. But the girl didn’t complain. Instead, she fiddled with the bottle of gum in her hand, letting it hang over the railing. “Do you… do you still want to talk about it?”

Miyeon hesitantly nodded.

“Okay, um…” Minnie cleared her throat. “I think we… I think we may have… done something together. Like, um… I had lipstick—all over my mouth, I remember that.” She moved her hand to gesture towards her face, as if Miyeon could ever forget. “So I think… I think we kissed?” She glanced at Miyeon for a split second, but looked away before she could even see her reaction. “I don’t remember much, but I think that part’s kind of… obvious,” she finished.

Miyeon nodded to show she was on the same page. “I think so too.”

“Okay…” It was clear Minnie didn’t really know how to move on from there. So Miyeon decided to help her out.

“What do you think about that? The fact that we kissed.” She didn’t know what kind of answer she wanted, to be honest.

“Um…” Minnie let out a shaky breath, chuckling briefly to try and shake off her nerves. “I think…”

“Also, I’m not going to stop being your friend.” Miyeon felt like she had to make that clear first. It was scary talking about their feelings like this, but maybe it would be easier if they made some ground rules. If they knew that this wasn’t the end of the world or anything. And maybe… maybe she wanted Minnie to make that promise too. That no matter what happened, they’d get through this.

“Well, that’s good to know,” the other girl laughed in obvious relief. “You’re my first friend, you know that? I know I say it all the time, but it’s true.” She tightened her hold on the bottle of gum. “I don’t want to lose that.”

“You won’t.”

“Good…” Minnie nodded. And then she finally admitted, “I wish that we weren’t drunk. I would’ve wanted to remember us doing… something like that.”

Miyeon was pretty sure her ears were on fire right now. She was happy she was wearing a mask to hide the vicious blush that must’ve been on her face. “Something like that?” She echoed.

“Kissing.” She glanced at Miyeon again, but held her gaze for longer this time.

Miyeon was the one who had to look away first.

She hugged herself tighter, feeling her shoulders come up to almost hide her ears. “And… what if we did something more than that?”

“Then I’m sorry,” Minnie said slowly. “That… I’m sorry that we were drunk.”

The implication was clear as day.

Minnie regretted the fact that they were drunk, but not the things that they could’ve done while being drunk. She wanted to remember it. She wanted… to remember it. Miyeon felt like her heart was going to explode. Which made this so, so hard for her.

“Um, what do you think?” Minnie asked back after a long moment.

Miyeon hadn’t thought it would’ve been this hard, but she could barely get the words out. Not with how much blood was rushing by her ears. Not with how many butterflies were flying around in her stomach. Not with how she felt like she could finally catch a glimpse of that romantic love that Soyeon had been talking about. It was so, so hard—but she had to say it.

“I think we should try and forget about what happened,” Miyeon forced out. She made it a point to not look at Minnie as she said it. “It was a mistake getting that drunk and… whatever we did, we can’t take it back. But we can get over it. We should.” She nodded once, biting her lip. “Don’t you think so?”

Minnie didn’t immediately respond and Miyeon couldn’t hide her curiosity any longer. She looked over at the other girl and was surprised to find that she was staring right back at her. Minnie’s brows were furrowed. But not in confusion, more like… more like concentration. Like she was trying to fit a puzzle together, but just needed a bit more time to solve it.

She didn’t say anything and Miyeon felt like she had to keep talking instead. She had to convince her that this was the right thing to do. A drunken mistake didn’t have to affect them like this. They could just agree to leave it all in the past. Their future as a group depended on it.

“We don’t have to do anything,” Miyeon insisted. “Let’s just forget about it—”

Her eyes widened and her words cut off in her throat.

Minnie was kissing her.

Through the fabric of both their masks, she could feel their lips pressing against each other. Firmly, with a sense of purpose. With the intent to convince her that this wasn’t a mistake. Minnie hadn’t closed her eyes either, as if she was saying she didn’t want to miss a single moment of this.

And when she finally pulled away, she stayed close by. So they could hear each other’s breaths coming hard, so they could see the effect they’d had clear as day.

“For the record, I’m not drunk right now,” Minnie whispered. Her eyes stayed focused on Miyeon’s, not hiding away this time. “Are you?”

“… No.”

“Okay.” Minnie nodded. And then she belatedly glanced around them to check if anybody had seen them. And she stepped back to put some distance between them, but they were still so close. But Miyeon had no complaints this time. “Okay, we can forget about what we did when we were drunk,” Minnie agreed with a hint of a smile in her voice. “But I think we just kissed, right?”

“Right,” Miyeon answered, still a bit shell-shocked. She looked back out at the river below them and was powerless to stop the smile that came to her lips. She knew not even the mask she was wearing could hide it from the other girl. “We just kissed.”

“Do you want to talk about it now or later?”

Miyeon could barely breathe right now, so talking was way out of the picture. “… Maybe later?”

“Okay. Later.”

They stayed out on that bridge for a long time after that. And they diligently finished the chips Miyeon had bought at the store, complaining with every bite about how bad it tasted.

And Miyeon tried the gum Minnie had picked out for her.

She ended up almost single-handedly finishing the entire pack.

Minnie was right, she did like it.