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at twilight, i almost had it

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Sometimes, Han Sooyoung wishes she knew why she liked cigarettes so much. She knows logically: nicotine is addictive, and smoking looks cool, and the world began ending years ago so nobody gives a damn about prolonging their natural lifespan anymore. Still, that doesn’t feel like enough of an explanation — a half-answer, a collection of facts instead of a real reason.

Han Sooyoung wonders: did the original think this was the easiest way to give up smoking? Create an avatar, dump all your bad memories and habits in it, and get confused when it decides to run. Or maybe it’s not the original’s fault at all — maybe Han Sooyoung 2.0, stunningly competent as she is, managed to develop an addiction all on her own. Maybe this was the first decision she made by herself.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe Han Sooyoung’s been getting too much time off recently, so now she has the energy to think about it. Maybe.

Abruptly, the cigarette is plucked out of her mouth. “Hey,” Han Sooyoung complains, “I wanted that.” Lee Seolhwa silently raises an eyebrow as if to say I know, idiot, and then she lifts it to her own face, fire burning a garish orange, illuminating the permanent red of her lips, her pronounced cupid’s bow.

“What, are you gonna smoke it now?” Han Sooyoung wrinkles her nose. “Gross.”

(Though it would be an indirect kiss, which, even though she’s better than dumb sentimental shit like that, is… a nice concept.)

Instead of answering, Lee Seolhwa stubs it against the balcony railing and drops it to the pavement. “Smoking is bad for you,” she says evenly, though her lips twitch upward: half a ghost of a smile. “You know that.”

“I barely used it.” Han Sooyoung leans over to stare down at the ground, a hundred feet below, before lifting her gaze to the cloudless sky. “Besides, littering’s bad for the environment. And if the environment dies, we all die. So.”

“If the environment dies,” Lee Seolhwa echoes, incredulous.

Han Sooyoung peers at her out of the corner of her eye, but all she sees is flowing white hair and a coat to match. “You never read about global warming, Doctor?”

Lee Seolhwa laughs — more like a soft puff of breath through the nose, but Han Sooyoung will take what she can get. “The United States sank. And Namwoon lit the complex on fire yesterday. I think we have bigger problems.”

Slowly, Han Sooyoung lets her eyelids flutter shut, exhaling and then inhaling again. “Still.”


Like most conversations she has with Lee Seolhwa, this has become an argument she can’t win. “Anyway,” she says instead, ignoring the way Lee Seolhwa’s lips tilt into a knowing, smug smile, “it’s been quiet for too long. A scenario’s coming up.” This much she knows for sure: the Apocalypse Dragon is on its way. Yoo Joonghyuk will die. The others… she can’t afford to think about it.

“We’re in Captain mode now, then?”

Han Sooyoung throws Lee Seolhwa a sharp glare and earns a grin in return. “We need to get better at defense. Jihye and Namwoon are good at killing, but they’re not good at — not destroying things.” The last time she brought this up, Lee Seolhwa had said I wonder who they take after , but this time she stays quiet. “That bastard Yoo Joonghyuk is gonna show up again sometime, too.” 

Lee Seolhwa sighs. “He hasn’t been too much trouble lately. I think he might be getting tired.” Maybe the original would have felt guilty about this. Han Sooyoung 2.0 doesn’t have time to. 

“Better for us, then,” she replies, a little late. “Maybe this time we’ll take him out.”

For a moment, Lee Seolhwa looks almost suspicious, but she just nods. Under the night sky, her hair’s tinted a light blue, so luminous it’s closer to silver. “Any other notes?” Han Sooyoung takes a few seconds just to stare: to admire the way Lee Seolhwa’s eyes shine, the way her lashes fall against her cheeks, elegant, the way her smile curves upward like she knows exactly what Han Sooyoung’s thinking.

“That’s it.” Han Sooyoung closes her eyes. “You owe me a cigarette.”

The first time Han Sooyoung had spoken to Lee Seolhwa, she had been planning to kill her.

In hindsight, it wasn’t even a particularly rational choice: she had saved her from being the Poisoner, which meant Lee Seolhwa’s only role now was as an admittedly excellent medic. The hard work was done. Still, Han Sooyoung couldn’t help but feel as if something was wrong: as if everything would eventually go so horribly backwards that she wouldn’t be able to reach the ending, and it would be Lee Seolhwa’s fault.

(The first time Han Sooyoung had looked at Lee Seolhwa, she almost stopped fighting because she was so distracted by her beauty. That didn’t matter.)

It was the dead of the night and Han Sooyoung had volunteered to keep a lookout, which meant Lee Seolhwa was fast asleep, her hair fanning out behind her in the shape of a perfect crescent, a sliver of the moon. Han Sooyoung’s dagger glinted white against the floor. Everything was so metallic the taste stung a little.

“Ah, Captain,” said Lee Seolhwa just as Han Sooyoung was poised to strike. “Did you want me to trade places with you?”

Han Sooyoung’s stare flickered from the knife to Lee Seolhwa, eyes still closed, and then back again. “I thought,” she replied, her voice lower and hoarser than she’d meant it to sound, “you were asleep.”

Lee Seolhwa sat up to look at her, either unsurprised or unfazed by the weapon in her hand. “Sometimes I like to lie down with my eyes shut,” she explained, like that was at all a normal thing to say. “It’s like sleeping without the effort.”

“It’s not.” Were Han Sooyoung a little easier to surprise, she would have fallen into a flabbergasted silence. “What — you don’t — you’re literally a doctor .”

“Hm,” said Lee Seolhwa, then, “while you’re here, can I ask a question?”

Quietly, Han Sooyoung prepared herself: Lee Seolhwa was going to ask why the hell she’d been about to stab her, and she would reply with something about pragmatism or maybe make up a lie about being briefly possessed, and then they’d move forward because this had to have been some kind of sign from the universe to let this woman live.

“Yeah,” she said out loud. “Go ahead.”

Lee Seolhwa’s gaze was sharp but still serene. “What’s your favorite food?”

This time, Han Sooyoung did fall into silence.


“I don’t…” She didn’t know why Lee Seolhwa would ask something like that. She didn’t know what her favorite food was. She didn’t know if the original even had one. “I’m not sure.”

“Hm,” said Lee Seolhwa again. “I always liked mushrooms.”

Han Sooyoung had absolutely no idea where this conversation was going. “I — I’ll see if we can get mushrooms soon. I guess.”

Lee Seolhwa smiled, and this, Han Sooyoung realised — the ache in her chest, the unpleasant fluttering of her heart — might have been the reason she wanted to kill her. This was something she’d consider later. “Thank you,” said Lee Seolhwa. “You can sleep if you want. I’ll head outside tonight.”

“No.” Han Sooyoung slipped the dagger back into her pocket and tucked both her hands in, too. “I can keep you company.”

Lately, it seems like Lee Seolhwa’s always on the balcony when Han Sooyoung goes for a smoke break. “You know,” Han Sooyoung grouses, “I can’t get alone time if you’re here too.”

Lee Seolhwa just laughs, picking the unused cigarette from Han Sooyoung’s fingertips and dropping it down to the concrete. “I’m helping curb a bad habit.”

“You want me to thank you or something?” Han Sooyoung bares her teeth, though she’s afraid it might come off as more of a roguish grin. “It’s so nice that you waste all my money every day. Means a lot.”

When she looks over, Lee Seolhwa’s still smiling, almost as if charmed. Or amused, like Han Sooyoung’s a hissy cat or something. This should make her angrier than it does. “I’m sure you have enough money to afford more. If not, we need to work on budgeting.”


“I think so too.” After a moment of comfortable silence (well, Lee Seolhwa seems comfortable. Han Sooyoung’s mourning her lost cigarette), Lee Seolhwa says, “We haven’t had much time to relax recently, have we?”

Han Sooyoung squints at her. “This is the most free time we’ve had in months.”

When Lee Seolhwa looks back, her gaze is filled with something Han Sooyoung hasn’t yet managed to decode. “And we’ve spent all of it planning,” she replies. “And smoking. Is that relaxing to you, Sooyoung-ssi?”

“We haven’t been doing a lot of smoking,” Han Sooyoung mutters, but then she sighs. “What, do you wanna go bowling or something? Have a movie night? I think the last theater we went to had a couple massacres.”

“All right,” says Lee Seolhwa, gently bumping Han Sooyoung’s arm with her own, hand twitching towards hers before it falls to the balcony railing. “I’ll come up with a list for you to choose from. Is that easy enough for you?”

“It’s not about it being easy — ” Han Sooyoung begins, because hell if anyone thinks she’s gonna delegate to anyone for ease of all things, but Lee Seolhwa’s pursing her lips together like she does whenever she’s making fun of her. “Yeah. Fine. A list would — fine.” She sighs. “Are you gonna survey the kids?”

Lee Seolhwa bunches her hair up in her hands like she’s about to tie it before letting it drape across her shoulders again, long and elegant and more artfully tousled than anything. “I thought it could be more of a… just us thing.”

“Like a — like a date?”

“Yes, Sooyoung-ssi,” says Lee Seolhwa, though her eyes are now fixed firmly on the smattering of stars above. “That’s what people in a relationship do, isn’t it? Go on dates?”

Han Sooyoung’s next words come out in more of a squeak than anything. “We’re in a relationship?”

“Well,” says Lee Seolhwa, and now her gaze is aimed at Han Sooyoung, clear and a little scared. “We could be. If you said yes to the date.” She trails off, for once looking off-kilter.

“I mean — we — I could’ve, like, understood that if you’d just asked me like a normal person,” says Han Sooyoung, reaching for reassurances she’s never known how to give, “but I don’t mind. The date, I mean. And the — the other stuff.”

Slowly, Lee Seolhwa’s mouth curves up into a smile. “You don’t mind?”

“Don’t make me say it,” Han Sooyoung grumbles, though she’s not sure what she could say that wouldn’t come off annoyingly honest, somewhere too close to vulnerable.

This time, Lee Seolhwa sets her hand over Han Sooyoung’s, cold where she burns warm, and doesn’t say anything in reply. It’s enough of an answer on its own.

Yoo Joonghyuk was supposed to die.

They’d had it all planned out — so meticulously Han Sooyoung was almost convinced nothing could go wrong. His sponsor just needed to be separated from him, and then she’d take the plunge into his fully human heart, finally free from the guarantee of another regression, and they’d both fulfill their stupid goddamn promises.

He didn’t die. He’d wanted to, so badly, but whoever the hell this constellation was wouldn’t let go.

“I’m sorry,” said Han Sooyoung.

Yoo Joonghyuk stared at her, scornful — or at least a pale imitation of what she was sure would be scornful in a kinder worldline. “Don’t lie.”

Han Sooyoung didn’t feel shame. It was a useless emotion, one she assumed the original had foolishly kept with her, because in this worldline, she’d done so many things she should be ashamed of and none of the guilt ever landed. Still, looking at Yoo Joonghyuk, she thought for the first time that she might understand it after all.

“I’m not.” Han Sooyoung ached for a cigarette. “I’ll… we can regroup and figure it out after the next scenario ends. I have another idea.”

This, she thought as she walked back to the camp, pressing her hand to her temple, wasn’t part of the plan. She wasn’t supposed to go this far — wasn’t supposed to sacrifice everyone for this fucking Outer World Covenant, wasn’t supposed to care enough about her company that it would hurt.

“Captain,” called a familiar voice as she entered her office. “You look pale.”

Han Sooyoung smiled, or almost did. “It’s winter.”

“Funny.” Lee Seolhwa closed the door behind her, crossing the room in neat, long strides. “Are you okay? The last scenario wasn’t too bad, was it? But then you disappeared after that…”

There were two things Han Sooyoung could focus on: Lee Seolhwa’s suspicion of her or Lee Seolhwa’s gaze. Apparently, her survival instincts decided to shut down then, because all she could think about was Lee Seolhwa’s eyes fixed expectantly on her, molten silver.

“Hey,” she said.

Lee Seolhwa frowned. “Yes?”

“Do you — ” She remembered Yoo Joonghyuk’s dumb, idiot dialogue in that stupid novel. “Do you consider me a companion?”

For once, Lee Seolhwa looked nonplussed.

“Like,” Han Sooyoung pressed on, “someone you… I don’t know, someone you trust. Or want to, you know.” She wrinkled her nose. “Continue on this journey with, or whatever.”

“Of course I trust you,” Lee Seolhwa answered, her expression now neatly smoothed out into easy composure. “You could’ve killed me any time you wanted.”

Han Sooyoung didn’t mention the time she tried. She didn’t mention she’d be trying again.

“I think,” Lee Seolhwa continued, taking one more step forward, “we could try getting closer. If you really want to be companions.”


Lee Seolhwa leaned in — when the hell did she get this close? — and stared at Han Sooyoung for a long moment that was either unnerving or hot or both. “Sooyoung-ssi,” she said finally, angling Han Sooyoung’s face up toward her, “you might be a little slow about some things.”

Han Sooyoung’s voice was embarrassingly breathy. “What do you mean?”

In answer, Lee Seolhwa finally kissed her.

It was so soft it bruised, gentle and coaxing and reassuring enough that Han Sooyoung, for some reason, felt like crying. Lee Seolhwa pulled back, eyes bright, face flushed a pretty, pale orchid. “Is that companion enough for you?”

Ah, Han Sooyoung thought, she definitely understood guilt.

“I don’t know,” she said aloud, “maybe we’ll have to give it a couple more tries.”

“Please,” Han Sooyoung says, “don’t take my goddamn cigarette.”

“Relax.” Lee Seolhwa’s smile is something that could very well be categorised as innocent by anyone who didn’t know her. “I just wanted to light it.”

Han Sooyoung narrows her eyes. “You’re not gonna, like, set my hair on fire as a health lesson?”

Lee Seolhwa just keeps smiling, which is deeply unsettling. Still, Han Sooyoung has no self-preservation instincts, so she hands her the lighter. “I had an idea,” says Lee Seolhwa, easily flicking it on and waiting for Han Sooyoung to lower her cigarette to it. “For our date, I mean.”

Cigarettes, Han Sooyoung thinks, must be a gift from above, because if she didn’t have one in her mouth right now she would have made the most humiliating noise possible. Instead, she lifts her eyes to meet Lee Seolhwa’s own, peering up at her through her lashes.

“There’s a garden nearby. I thought it might be nice to go when Namwoon can’t blow everything up.” Lee Seolhwa flicks the lighter off, eyes following Han Sooyoung’s face as she stands straight again. “It’s a miracle that it’s lasted this long, with everything.”

Han Sooyoung removes the cigarette from her lips, watches the smoke curl into the air in loose, thin tendrils. “Does the garden have flowers?”

“Mostly herbs.” Lee Seolhwa shrugs. “Some might be interesting medicinally. Especially if they’re still alive.”

“So for our first date,” says Han Sooyoung after taking another long, dramatic drag, “you want to go looking for medicine.”

“I thought you’d like it.” Lee Seolhwa turns to face her, letting Han Sooyoung view her smile full force. “It’s very practical.”

“Ha ha,” Han Sooyoung replies. After a moment, she grudgingly admits, “It’s an efficient idea.”

Somehow, Lee Seolhwa brightens even more. Han Sooyoung’s starting to suspect she’s somehow stealing the sunlight. “You’re predictable.”

“Shut up.”

Lee Seolhwa laughs, tilting back toward the balcony, toward the sun, slowly rising above them. “It’s not an insult.”

Soon, Han Sooyoung remembers, the Apocalypse Dragon will awaken. Soon, Yoo Joonghyuk will be gone for good, finally put to an eternal sleep, and all the members of her company will be the same. It’ll be her fault. It’ll be selfish beyond belief.

Please , she lets herself think fiercely, if there’s any other way…

Lee Seolhwa picks the cigarette out of her mouth. “Hey,” she complains, but Lee Seolhwa just stubs it against the railing and lets it fall to the floor once more.

“You looked like you were thinking too hard. Smoking won’t be a long-term solution for that.”

“Then we’d better find something stronger in those herbs,” Han Sooyoung mumbles, and Lee Seolhwa laughs again, so honest it startles the wind out of her. Surely, she thinks, a little incredulous, the original didn’t mean to give her the capability to love like this. Maybe she developed a good habit all on her own, too.

Maybe it’ll be enough to push away her guilt, just for now.