Yoo Jungyeon doesn't love Im Nayeon. At least, that's what she thinks when she finds herself constantly drowning in thoughts of the older girl.
When they stand on stage as a group, she makes it a point not to stand beside Nayeon. She makes sure to be extra clingy to Mina (the fans eat it up) or Momo and tries not to look at Nayeon, because she's pretty sure she would do something that she would later regret. There were a few slip ups given her weak willpower, which resulted in her almost losing her sanity when Nayeon all but called them 'soulmates', smiling at her with her stupid bunny teeth like she was everything in the universe that mattered.
Being the best friend, Jihyo was the first to notice the change in their dynamics and cornered her in the bathroom one day after a late schedule.
"Spit it out, Yoo Jungyeon. Do you like her that much?"
Jungyeon looks up, eyes wide open, stunned at the sudden intrusion.
"I'm not homophobic, if that's what you're worried about," Jihyo rolls her eyes at the short haired girl's naivety. "I just wanted to hear it from you. You're not big on subtlety, you know."
Jungyeon looks away, hands gripping the sink tighter as if holding on for dear life, holding onto the facade that was falling apart with Jihyo's constant prodding. Her instincts screamed at her to run.
"I...don't know," Jungyeon breaks the temporary silence hanging over the two girls with finality, grabs her clothes and promptly leaves the bathroom, feet shuffling away from Jihyo and her piercing stare, before whatever emotional mess that she was would show its ugly self to her best friend.
After that, she avoids Jihyo. She feels the leader's stare on her every time they were in close proximity. Knowing Jihyo for almost a decade meant that she could see right through you - the girl was known for her people-reading skills, even managing to read her to a terrifyingly accurate degree when they were just getting to know each other. Confiding in Jihyo meant ripping her heart out and displaying it for the world to see, and she wasn't ready for that kind of vulnerability, or any vulnerability at all. She would be content with just locking up whatever demon residing in her that was making her feel things she shouldn't be feeling, and hoping it all disappears because she's pretty sure none of what her fancy imagination conceives would actually happen.
While waiting to film for a broadcast, Jungyeon tries to catch up with the severe lack of sleep that comes with being a currently promoting idol group. She finds an unoccupied corner in their allocated waiting room away from all the pre-performance chaos and drowns herself in whatever playlist Spotify had to offer while the other members either slept or self-entertained.
Most of the time, her thoughts would drift back to Nayeon.
She wonders if the older girl knows what she meant to other people, that she was an essential anchor for their group to function. She isn't sure about the other girls, but she's pretty certain that without Nayeon there would be no one to hold her hand when she gets lost in the sea of her ambitions and self-pity, and bring her back to shore. Jungyeon wonders if Nayeon knows how lovable she is, and how easy it is for anyone to fall in love with her. Because she is the sun, bright and soothing, capable of warming even the coldest hearts, bringing life to the people around her and pulling them into her own orbit, making them fall willingly into her gravity.
Her mother used to tell her stories of Prince Charming, stories of sacrificial love, stories of destiny. Always listen to your heart, she was told. But what if her heart wasn't being rational? Listening to the heart never ended well, because it made you impulsive and stupid. What exactly was love? Was it love?
"Jungyeon-ah," a voice calls softly, a voice that sings to her in her dreams.
It's Nayeon, with a hand outstretched and a soft smile on her face. "Come with me?" She asks softly, mindful of the other members who were resting.
Jungyeon takes her hand without hesitation, guard down in her sleep-deprived state, body and mind naturally gravitating towards the older girl as she whispers something to Manager-oppa before leading her by their joined hands out of their waiting room.
"Where are we going?" Jungyeon asks, yanking out her earphones, mind trying to catch up with her body as she almost trips over her own feet while hurrying out.
Nayeon only smiles, holding a finger up to her lips and continues walking.
They end up at the rooftop garden of the broadcast station. Jungyeon doesn't ask how the older girl manages to get through security; what Nayeon wants, she gets.
The gentle breeze ruffling her short cropped hair shocks her back into reality and makes her realise that she's still holding onto Nayeon's hand. She drops it immediately, albeit apologetic. What was she doing? Facing the object of her late night thoughts alone wasn't what she had in mind. She mentally chided herself for letting her irrational mind take over, taking a step away from the close proximity (She doesn't notice how the older girl's smile drops slightly).
"Why did you bring me here?" Jungyeon stares off into the scenery, suddenly afraid to look at the other girl. She couldn't afford to let herself drown in the stars Nayeon's eyes had to offer, and lose grip on reality again.
For a long time Nayeon didn't answer, choosing to examine her nails instead. Jungyeon chances a glance at her, about to repeat her question when -
"Are you avoiding me?" Nayeon questions, looking Jungyeon directly in the eye. There was no underlying malice in her voice, Jungyeon could tell. It was more of hurt, she realises, as she noticed the telltale signs of her being nervous - the twiddling of her thumbs, the biting of her lips.
"W-what? I - " Jungyeon stutters, caught off-guard. Why would Nayeon be hurt? There was no reason for her to hurt, and she was the one that should be hurting instead. But she tries not to wallow in self-pity whenever she reminds herself that whatever she feels for the older girl would never be reciprocated.
"You are, aren't you," Nayeon murmurs, staring at the ground. "Did I do something, Jungyeon-ah?"
Jungyeon swears she hears Nayeon's voice crack slightly despite the strong front, and she panics - her mind blanking. She grabs Nayeon's hands instinctively, getting the attention of the older girl.
"No, I'm not, okay, I've just been doing some thinking and - oh my god, why are you crying," Jungyeon rambles, letting go of Nayeon's hands to wipe the tears off her face before her makeup gets ruined - they still have a performance to get to, and she didn't want to get Nayeon into trouble with the makeup team.
Nayeon sniffles, her face contorting into one of absolute heartbreak, sending Jungyeon's mind into overdrive. She hates it when the older girl cries - her sobs resonate with every single sad love story ever told, radiating bone-deep sadness that aches and makes Jungyeon want to do everything humanely possible to stop her from crying when Nayeon looks at her with red-rimmed eyes.
"Oh my god, please stop crying, I wasn't avoiding you, I promise," Jungyeon continues, in hopes of stopping the waterworks. She runs her hand down Nayeon's back and strokes her hair, doing whatever that came to mind that might help soothe the older girl.
"B-but you don't t-talk to me anymore," Nayeon chokes out between sobs, hands fisting Jungyeon's blouse, the only thing anchoring her to the conversation. Jungyeon mentally facepalms - she momentarily forgot about the child-like tendencies the older girl possesses. A part of her melts at Nayeon's innocent side, reminding her of the child that they all used to be before discovering the outside world for what it is.
It's now or never, Jungyeon thinks, throwing caution to the wind. Either they'd still continue being best friends, or they'd never speak to each other again (she'd rather the latter, to be honest).
"So I've been doing some thinking, and uh, I realise - I think I, uh, like you?" Jungyeon says. She doesn't know where her courage is coming from, but Nayeon's tear-stricken face urges her to tell the truth, and so she does. "I uh, was avoiding you a little?" She smiles sheepishly. "Because I think that you definitely won't feel the same way, so I uh, wanted to get over this stupid crush. Or whatever it is, you know."
Nayeon's eyes widen, as she hiccups, rubbing her nose. "You...like me?"
"Yes," Jungyeon rolls her eyes. "And so do our fans, and I think I understand why."
Nayeon stares in disbelief, loosening her grip on Jungyeon as the onslaught of emotions stopped. She blinks owlishly, as Jungyeon watches the gears in her head turn, knowing that Nayeon is probably thinking of ways to soften the incoming rejection that was bound to happen.
They say that people are supposed to learn from their mistakes, but it seems that Jungyeon never does. Jihyo always says that she gives her heart away too easily, and more often than not it comes back in pieces, and she'd spend a considerably long time trying to piece it all together, before getting it stolen again. The worst part of it all was that her heart was stolen by the same person again and again. It'd be shredded, torn beyond recognition, and returned when she drowns in her own reality check, and she'd attempt to piece it back together by closing herself off.
She braces herself, but -
Nayeon smiles. She smiles, with her stupid bunny teeth and tear tracks on her face. She smiles, a smile different from the one for cameras, a smile softer at the edges, a smile that Jungyeon realises was for her, and only her. She smiles, radiant as she is.
"I like you, silly," she says, hands coming up to craddle Jungyeon's face as her eyes disappear into the half-moons that always made Jungyeon's insides turn to liquid.
It's Jungyeon's turn to be shocked into silence. All the late night thoughts, all the useless pining, never had she dared to hope -
She sees the older girl lean in slowly and she closes her eyes. The kiss is chaste, and Jungyeon gets it together just in time to kiss Nayeon back, as sloppy and un-coordinated a first timer would be. She feels the older girl smile into the kiss before she pulls back, eyes fluttering open softly under the evening sun.
Her face heats up as she looks down, embarrassed and shy at her lack of experience, as the older girl laughs. With her lip tint slightly smeared, smiling so softly at her, Jungyeon thinks that this might be love, as she feels her blood thrumming with adrenaline.
The moment is interrupted by Nayeon's shrill ringtone.
"It's Manager-oppa, we have to go," she says after hanging up, pouting. Jungyeon tries to calm her heart that's beating out of control as the older girl takes her hand once again before smiling at her, intertwining their fingers.
Jungyeon smiles in return, because she too is a child, the pain and hurt from stitching open wounds forgotten together with the demon threatening to break free, as they begin their walk back, because her heart feels like bursting from all the happiness she feels. There would be time for questions later, she knows for sure.
(Later, she would find out that she had been too caught up in her own mind to notice the older girl's feelings.
Later, Jihyo would pat her on the back and say "I told you so," and they would hug.
Later, she would find out that Momo and Nayeon swapped beds for a night, and she would fall asleep listening to Nayeon's soft singing.)