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I Wanna Be Red

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It’s not the first time Kang Seulgi meets Bae Irene – not really, considering that one guest variety show appearance where they became acquainted – but it’s definitely the first time outside of work that they’ve found themselves in the same space at the same time. No one can blame them— they’re in different lanes of the entertainment industry, and musicians and actresses don’t typically cross paths at all, so Seulgi considers the fact that Irene even knows her name a miracle in itself.

But even Seulgi has to admit though, that there’s a strange degree of familiarity in the air tonight, when Irene sidles up to where she’s standing apart from the crowd, near her friends’ booth; strides towards Seulgi with intention and a shot glass of soju, looking ever much like she’d just stepped out of a magazine shoot. Clad in a shoulderless black velvet dress complete with fishnet tights, high heels, and red, red lipstick, Irene’s mouth quirks up into a knowing, borderline amused smile that Seulgi flashes back in kind.

“I didn’t know Kang Seulgi frequented nightclubs,” Irene jokes over the loud music, and she hums appreciatively as she raises her soju glass to clink against Seulgi’s, who had lifted hers in greeting.

Seulgi shrugs innocently, although the teasing glint in her eye gives her away. “I didn’t know Bae Irene did either.”

“She doesn’t usually, but rumor has it that it’s her cousin’s birthday and she can’t refuse Kim Yerim to save her life,” Irene winks, and the wonderfully playful smile that adorns her candid expression catches Seulgi’s eye for more than the first time that night.

“You’re here for Yeri’s celebration too, then. You two are related?” Seulgi asks, trying to pull her attention away from Irene’s overly charming countenance. She momentarily wracks through her brain, trying to remember if there had been any time when her young singer-songwriter friend had ever mentioned a relation with Irene, but she comes up empty.

“We really are cousins. Don’t worry, we keep it under wraps,” Irene assures her with the weight of clouds. “It’s not something many people know.”

“Oh, thank god.” Seulgi’s shoulders relax. “I was worried I’d been like, a shitty friend or something.”

“In all fairness, I don’t think you could fuck up a friendship with Yeri that easily,” the actress reasons, and somehow, the cuss leaving Irene’s lips makes this encounter feel all that more real. It brings a grin to Seulgi’s face that Irene ends up mirroring as she notices it. “She admires you too much.” She cocks her head, cheeky. “Also, you never answered my question, by the way.”

“Well, surprisingly enough, I did used to be a regular here.” Seulgi shrugs sheepishly at the way Irene tilts her head, surprised. It’s true, though. Seulgi’s no stranger to the Red Room by any means. “Before I signed any record deals, I used to come here a lot with my bandmates. The owner would DJ sometimes, and he became fond of us. He’d play our demos during his sets, and he’d let us hold mini-concerts in the downstairs stage area.”

“That’s sweet of him,” Irene says, and Seulgi makes a noise of agreement. “So you stopped coming when things for the band got hectic?”

“Something like that,” Seulgi replies, shifts to adjust her leather jacket. She tosses another usual smile Irene’s way. “So now that I’ve answered your question, can I ask why you’re standing over here with me instead of dancing with the others? Everyone else is pretty much lost in the crowd, but it’s not too late to join Wendy, Joy, and Yeri over there.”

Seulgi nods over in the direction where Wendy and Yeri were watching Joy down another shot of soju near the bar, cheering the girl on with loud whoops and claps.

Irene’s smile grows but she makes no motion to move.

“Why do you ask? Do I look like the type to enjoy dancing?”

“Perhaps,” Seulgi relents, matching Irene’s featherweight tone. “But I just figured that there are better things to be doing than be just standing around with little old me,” she points out, gesturing vaguely to, well, all of her— leather jacket, cropped white shirt, and dark jeans included.

“Maybe I just think you’re cool,” Irene says, and that crooked, playful smile of hers makes yet another appearance. She pushes a dark lock of hair out of her face, blows from her lips whatever stray strands land in its place. “Kang Seulgi, lead vocalist and guitarist of the chart-topping Korean band, the Velvet, prefers to stand on the sidelines instead of run the main attraction. What can I say? I’m a fan. You have to admit, that sounds intriguing to just about anyone.” 

Seulgi chuckles, shakes her head.

“I beg to differ.”

“Then beg,” Irene says coolly, drawing into Seulgi’s space, her smile wicked like midnight, and Seulgi freezes, eyebrows going up in surprise. There’s something undeniably there, behind those words; a provocation, a simpering bright flame, a devil in the skin of a goddess.

And Seulgi finds herself utterly captivated, drawn into that siren song like a sailor lost at sea. All she sees is Irene, right there, the only thing tangible, the only reality in this world of neon and dim lights, of heat and shadow bodies and music that she can’t even decipher anymore; just Irene, only Irene.

Four years ago, a twenty-one year old Seulgi would’ve steered Irene out of here with a possessive hand at the small of the actress’s back. She would’ve smirked and it would’ve worked like a charm because it always does, it’s never failed. And then she’d lead Irene back to her car, take Irene back to her place—

She doesn’t do that.

“Well, shit,” Seulgi breathes instead, and those two words alone are enough to send Irene taking a step back, laughing good-naturedly. The sound takes up the space between them, swirling around and lightening the air. Seulgi even finds herself grinning involuntarily.

“Too much?” Irene asks, knowing and giggling like she’d just learned the secret of the universe.

“Maybe this time,” Seulgi admits, smiling apologetically.

“That’s fine,” Irene waves if off, not even phased by the shift in atmosphere. She strides around Seulgi, hips swaying to the music, to take a seat in the otherwise unoccupied booth, winking. “That means there’s room for a next time. We’ll work on it.”

“Oh?” Seulgi easily slides into the seat across the table as the older girl motions for her to join. Her hand drifts towards her own alcohol, still resting where she’d left it ten minutes ago. “Did the Red Room just gain another regular?”

“Depends,” Irene smirks, finally taking a swig of the soju in her glass. “Did the Red Room just regain a former regular?”

Seulgi’s only response to that is to tip back her own shot, downing the rest of the liquid in one go. The alcohol burns her throat, searing a fiery path on its way down, but when she places her glass back on the table she hardly feels the pain. Irene is still there, the actress’s gaze never leaving Seulgi’s form like a cat stalking its prey.

Except Seulgi doesn’t feel in danger, not from this woman; not from Irene.

Rather than that, she can’t help but feel as though the earth has shifted on its axis. (It wouldn’t surprise her if Irene actually had the power to do so.)

“I’ll be here again next week, same time,” Seulgi says.

Irene beams and the mere sight makes Seulgi freeze in something along the lines of awe— so this is what it feels like to understand your own mortality in the presence of the divine.

--

It’s the early afternoon when Seulgi manages to lug herself to the practice rooms the next day, guitar case slung over her right shoulder and amp in one hand. From where they’re already seated, Eunae, Chungha, Moonbyul, and Mina all raise their heads from their instruments to call to their leader in greeting.

“Well this is a new sight! It’s rare to see you so close to death post-hangover, Seul,” Eunae, their bassist, says with a grin as Seulgi passes by. She stretches out her leg from where she sits to kick Seulgi’s ankle playfully, and Seulgi lets a low groan escape. “You were almost late today.”

“You don’t understand,” she grunts, looking very much unlike their typically put-together leader. “I drank way more than usual.”

“Now that’s a surprise,” Chungha chuckles. She sets aside her own guitar from where she'd been messing around with some draft sheet music. “But really, it’s not like you ever drank much when we’d do our old shows at the Red Room before, either.”

“And I am never drinking again, ever,” Seulgi declares, garnering various noises of teasing disbelief from the rest of her members.

“Just what happened last night?” Moonbyul rests her forearms on her keyboard as she leans forward in interest, smirking at the way Seulgi winces as a mangled cacophony of notes leave the pressed keys. "Seriously, I haven't seen you this tired-looking in a long time. Not since— you get my point.”

“Did something bad happen?” Mina cuts in. There’s a discernable note of worry in her tone, the drummer furrowing her brow in concern. “You didn’t run into anyone unwanted at Yeri’s party, did you?”

Seulgi chooses not to comment on the collective wince that passes through her fellow members, although internally, she winces at the implication too.

“No, thank god for that,” Seulgi sighs before huffing a breathy laugh at the way Mina, Moonbyul, Eunae, and Chungha all seem to slump in relief. “Nothing bad happened. Besides, Yeri knows me too well. She knew who to not invite.”

“So what was up?” Eunae asks.

“You’re all not going to believe me. Especially Mina.”

“Kang Seulgi,” Moonbyul says threateningly. “I swear to god if you don’t spill right now—”

“Bae Irene was there. Turns out she’s cousins with Yeri. She flirted with me all night.”

“No fucking way.” Chungha gapes. “The Goddess Among Men, Bae Irene?”

“My girlfriend’s best friend who I’ve met, like, once?” Moonbyul adds.

“Hah!” Seulgi laughs, clapping her hands at the way Mina’s mouth opens and closes like a fish. “I told you! Anyway, there was no telling where my highly rational yet irrational mind would’ve wandered with her around, and no way I was handling that sober.”

“Oh, Seulgi was gone by the end of the night,” Wendy pipes up helpfully from where she sits in the corner, handling their upcoming schedules in her planner. “I was the designated driver, and I actually had to give her Aspirin for the trip home.”

“Always the dependable manager-nim,” Eunae quips, barking out a laugh at the cheeky wink and finger guns combo she receives from Wendy in return.

“I didn’t say anything stupid, did I?” Seulgi asks sharply, suddenly all too aware of how she is when truly, legitimately drunk.

“I mean, not when I was there,” Wendy shrugs. “But, like, on the ride home you kept blabbing about a new number in your phone. That must’ve meant you were doing something right, yeah?”

“You got her number?” Mina shrieks, and Seulgi’s eyes might as well have bulged out of their sockets— there’s the sudden revelation of wow, this is probably the loudest I’ve ever heard Mina outside of a concert, but there’s also holy shit, I have super mega actress Bae Irene’s phone number.

“What the fuck,” Seulgi whispers.

“What the fuck, indeed,” Wendy nods sagely. She scribbles down another note in her planner before checking her own phone. “Hey, speaking of the Red Room, how are you all feeling about a gig there this Friday night?”

“I’m guessing we were invited?” Seulgi asks. She and her members easily quiet down, shifting into business mode.

“Of course,” Wendy responds. “I ran into Mr. Cho last night and he wanted me to pass on his congratulations to you guys about the band hitting it big. I gave him our new company email and he shot us a message asking if we’d like to perform. It’d be good for their business too— could draw new patrons.”

“I think that sounds fun,” Seulgi says thoughtfully. She unzips her case, pulling out her signature red electric guitar and bending to plug it into the amp by her foot before directing the question over her shoulder to the rest of her friends. “What do you guys think?”

“I’d love to!” Mina claps eagerly. “We haven’t performed there in over two years, and Mr. Cho’s helped us out a ton.”

“It would be nice to help him out,” Moonbyul agrees. “That nightclub was our jumping off point. They’ve always been good to us.”

“We’re out of the basement too. The stage would be on the main floor,” Wendy adds, earning a gasp from Mina and other appreciative noises from the other girls. She crosses her arms with pride. “That’s right, we’re the main attraction, bitches.”

“Tell him that we’d be crazy to turn him down,” Seulgi jokes. “We’ll be there.”

“You should invite Irene,” Wendy says, her smug smile only spreading at the way Seulgi’s cheeks abruptly redden with heat. “We spoke briefly last night, and she said she was a fan.”

Mina adorably squeaks in surprise across the room, a drumstick accidentally dropping from her grasp. Eunae coos at her, and Chungha reaches over to pinch their youngest member’s cheek.

“Jokes on you, I already told her I’d be there next Friday,” Seulgi shrugs.

“A date already?” Wendy raises an eyebrow. “You sure work fast.”

“Not like that!” Seulgi rolls her eyes, unpocketing her phone nonetheless. She taps her security code, opens up her contacts, and there it is, smack dab in her recents: Bae Irene. Chewing her bottom lip in consideration, she hesitates when she opens up a new chat in Messenger. “Didn’t know I’d be doing a gig though. I’d been planning on just hanging out.”

“You should let her know about the change,” Wendy suggests, already having returned to paging through her planner.

Seulgi pauses once more. She types out a hey before deleting it. She pockets her phone again.

“I’ll do it later. Irene’s probably busy right now, anyway,” she says, sounding like she’s trying to convince herself more than anyone else. “Besides, we need to get started on practice already. We should try to decide on a setlist for Friday.”

“How does Baby for an opener sound?” Chungha immediately pitches in, already back to business. “We start off with our latest single since that’s what the public recognizes most easily.”

“I like the sound of that,” Moonbyul agrees.

Seulgi nods. She’s pulled out her notebook by now, pencil in hand and jotting down notes. “Any other ideas?”

“How about a throwback song like Sorry?” Eunae suggests. “Since that was the song that got us picked up by our company. We used to play it at the Red Room anyway, and it’s good for calming the atmosphere before getting everyone hyped up again.”

“We could do some covers too? Covers are always good attention grabbers and fanservice, right?” Mina adds, more timidly than the other three, but Seulgi smiles reassuringly her way nonetheless and scribbles down a cover songs suggestion section into her notes.

--

They continue like this for another hour or so until a full, rough setlist has managed to take form. After that, it’s another four hours of practice, playing through their songs, practicing covers they haven’t played since their busking days, and arranging new ones they’ve always wanted to try. Seulgi loves the anticipation of a new performance; music is something she’s good at, something she can throw herself wholeheartedly into without abandon with a group of people she loves. Simply, there’s nothing like it.

They work hard for the rest of the day, and it’s not until nightfall, when she’s leaving the company building with her bandmates to walk to a nearby restaurant, that Seulgi finally takes her phone out again, typing out a message to Irene.

< Hey there, it’s Seulgi

> seulgi! i was wondering when you would text

> this is irene, just to clarify

< Sorry it took a while, I had band practice earlier

> no worries :) i had company meetings all afternoon anyway

Seulgi mentally lets out a sigh of relief.

< Oof, on a Saturday?

< I guess you need all the time you can get to sift through all of those project proposals, huh lol

< Must be hard, being so famous and successful

She sends the message only to regret it immediately. What the fuck is she doing, talking so informally to someone like Bae Irene?

“Mina,” Seulgi says aloud to the drummer walking nearby, “Please slap some sense into me.”

Mina gapes, snapping her head up from where she’d been similarly on her phone. “Seul, what?”

“Slap me. Please.”

Ding.

Seulgi’s gaze shoots immediately back down.

> ahaha you’d have no idea what being famous is like, would you, seulgi?

> i can’t believe you only got 5 perfect all-kills on the charts like wtf that’s pathetic

> and no, having only 5 whole singles officially released is no excuse, i expected you to have at least 25 PAKs by now

Seulgi snorts in amusement.

“Okay, Mina, you don’t have to slap me anymore.” Seulgi tips her head back to look up at Seoul’s night sky, thanking whatever higher being Up There for granting Irene the amazing ability to gracefully give and receive sarcasm.

“I… wasn’t going to anyway?” Mina looks painfully confused. Seulgi waves her off with a mere please, don’t worry about it, and Mina only remains mildly concerned before busying herself with talking to Moonbyul.

< So btw

< If my mind can remember my hazy, drunken memories from last night correctly, I recall you saying you were a fan?

> seul, i’m not even bullshitting, only one of the biggest lol

< So there’s been a slight change of plans

< My bandmates and I were asked to perform at the Red Room next Friday instead. It’s supposed to be a surprise for patrons but whatever, I felt like asking you anyway

< Would you be up for attending our humble little gig?

> kang seulgi, i’ve only been waiting for this moment MY WHOLE LIFE.

--

For Irene, Friday couldn’t arrive soon enough.

There had been a skip in her step all week— everyone had noticed, including her personal stylists, the photographers of her photoshoots, and the hosts of those variety shows she’d been asked to guest on. When asked about her more upbeat behavior, Irene had merely shrugged, smiling coyly, making up some bullshit about the good book she’d been reading, or about how the weather had been nice lately.

(Naturally, there also had been, of course, the assumption that she’d fallen in love. Irene had playfully rolled her eyes and insisted it was nothing, all the while inwardly telling the intrusive hosts to kindly go fuck themselves.)

“Remind me again why I’m coming with you to this?” Nayeon, her manager, had asked from behind the steering wheel yet again on the ride to the nightclub. “Not that I don’t like live music, but why me and not, like, Solar? She's literally dating Moonbyul. Meanwhile, Moonbyul is the only member of The Velvet I can name besides Kang Seulgi.”

“Trust me,” Irene had scoffed, “If I could bring Solar, I would’ve. I miss hanging out with her, and Nayeon-ie, as much as I love you, I’m with you way too much. Too bad Solar’s out of the country filming a music video in LA though.”

“Aw, am I your only other friend?” Nayeon cooed, meeting Irene’s eyes in the rear-view mirror as they’d reached a stoplight.

“Lord knows how you’re my friend at all,” is all Irene had said, Nayeon erupting into snickers.

Irene hadn’t even been joking in her texts to Seulgi. As she stands on the balcony overlooking the stage area that the Red Room’s staff had set up, sheer excitement buzzes through her body like electricity. It’s a Friday night, and there seems to be no better way to end the “official” work week than by seeing The Velvet live, in person.

“The starlight in the night sky,” Seulgi’s voice sings, ringing out through the club, and Irene sucks in a breath as the spotlight hits her, illuminating her lithe frame against the dark background. There’s the iconic strum of the electric guitar, and then, “I wonder if they look the same to you?”

Behind her, Mina bobs her head as she keeps the beat on her drum kit, soft harmonies serving as the perfect back-up to Seulgi’s melody. Meanwhile, Moonbyul’s hands shift from chord to chord as Eunae and Chungha flank on the bass and rhythm guitar, respectively.

“I don’t wanna hold you back; your trembling eyes,” Chungha sings, catching Seulgi’s nod as Eunae kicks up the bass. “Don’t wait for me, tell it first, baby. I don’t wanna hold you back; your gaze became a lie. I’m looking at you, baby.”

There’s something undeniably charismatic, Irene decides, about the way The Velvet carry themselves through a performance. In a way, she figures that performing music isn’t all too different from acting— a song about heartbreak won’t be fooling anybody unless you can convince your audience that you’ve gone through such a heartbreak through facial expressions, emotions, rawness in vocals.

And so  it’s incredibly charming, how these girls have mastered the art of conveying a whole story in the span of a song that lasts no longer than 2 minutes and 53 seconds.

“Tell me now!” Seulgi sings, and Irene’s mouth parts slightly. Yes, she’s here for the music, she hadn’t been lying when she’d said she was a fan, but as an actress and someone in the entertainment industry, there’s a lot to take away; how hoarse and raw Seulgi’s voice is, emotion pouring through the cracks, for example. “I’m looking at you, baby!”

“You really know how to tug on the heartstrings, don’t you, Seul,” she murmurs appreciatively, under her breath. Watching the performance while standing beside her, also up on the balcony, Wendy tilts her head.

“Did you say something, Irene?”

Irene shakes her head, smiling.

“They’re just amazing,” she says, and Wendy somehow manages to perk up even more beside her, evidently swelling with pride. “I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve seen them live.”

“You should come to more shows,” Wendy replies enthusiastically. “Joy and Yeri attend all the time – Solar when she can, too – and I really shouldn’t be saying this, but—” Then she pauses, and Irene watches in amusement as a flurry of emotions seem to flutter across Wendy’s face before the manager ultimately shrugs in a ah, fuck it, type of manner and presses onward.

“Well, I’m sure Seulgi would love to see you more,” Wendy tacks on, clearly not caring about any consequences from Seulgi anymore, and Irene’s lips purse into an ‘O’ shape, mouth twitching into a barely concealed grin.

“You think?” She asks, singsong.

“Is there a reason why she wouldn’t be?” Wendy fires back.

Heh. Irene smirks. It’s rare to find people who can give it back.

“I guess you’ve got a point.” She turns to look over her shoulder, to where Nayeon had been standing, motionless. “What do you think, manager-nim? Will we be coming to see more of The Velvet?”

“Irene,” Nayeon says in place of an answer.

Irene furrows her brow in concern.

“Nayeon? Something wrong?”

A second later and Nayeon’s hands are on Irene’s shoulders, eyes wide and dazed with something akin to desperation lurking there too.

“Who’s the drummer?”

Irene gapes, words failing.

Wendy’s the one who answers, all mischievous and smug and so, so not subtle.

“That’s Mina,” the band’s manager chips in helpfully. “Also, she’s single.”

--

It’s just past midnight when the club finally clears following The Velvet’s final set piece— a cover of YB’s Flying Butterfly, the song that had inspired Seulgi to pick up the electric guitar in the first place, that had the entire nightclub on their feet, jumping up and down with loud cheers as voices rose to sing in chorus.

“I’ll spread my wings far and wide!” Seulgi had sang with all of her chest, smiling so bright that the corners of her mouth ached as she’d met the ecstatic gazes of her bandmates. No matter the setlist, no matter the stage, at the end of every performance, there was always that thrilling feeling of completion ringing through her body, resounding like the chords from her electric guitar. “I’ll fly free across the world! Singing and dancing, I’m a beautiful butterfly!”

Afterward, when Mina, Chungha, Eunae, and Moonbyul busily chatter with the friends who had come to watch, Seulgi is the only one who remains an extra few minutes on stage by herself, sitting leisurely on an amp— a sort of tradition that her members had caught on to early in their band's formation.

Irene joins her not long after.

“How’d you like your first live show?” Seulgi asks over her shoulder, not even having to look to know that Irene had arrived, with a boldness that surprises even herself.

“You were amazing!” Irene immediately praises, appearing by Seulgi’s side in an instant. Her eyes are brighter than any spotlight Seulgi’s ever been in— vivid and alive. “You all were! I was completely enamored, and I’m pretty sure you made a fan out of my manager tonight.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed yourself,” Seulgi says humbly.

“Thank you for gracing the world with your presence,” Irene replies seriously.

“Oh hey, by the way, do you want this?” Seulgi holds out the guitar pick she’d been using, its gold coloring glinting under stage lights. At the surprise that crosses Irene’s face, she answers the unasked question. “It’s your first time seeing us live and all, I figured you might want something to remember it by.”

And it’s adorable, seeing the way Irene chews on her bottom lip to bite back an uncharacteristically shy smile.

“Are you asking, or giving?”

Seulgi chuckles, reaching out to take Irene’s hand, skin against skin; lightning sparks and snaps.

“I want you to have this guitar pick as a gift,” the musician clarifies, spreading Irene’s fingers and placing the pick into her palm. “For you, Irene.”

Irene smiles, hand enclosing possessively around the pick.

“Thank you, Seulgi,” she says, uncomplicated and straightforward, and Seulgi inhales at the way the lights manage to hit Irene in such a way that just makes her look like she’s glowing. Here, on the stage, alone on the otherwise empty stage, Irene looks soft; an angel who’s descended, blessed the mortal world for a bit to see Seulgi sing.

“Anything for my biggest fan,” Seulgi says, voice completely serious. Not even a heartbeat goes by and there’s already a dangerous glimmer in Irene’s eye; the devilish side returns.

“Sorry, I’m actually more of a Chungha girl. I don’t think about Kang Seulgi, like, at all,” Irene says flippantly, and Seulgi immediately snickers; it’s such a hilariously blatant lie and it’s funny how they both know it.

“Right, right,” Seulgi laughs. By now she’s slipped her guitar back into its case, hauling the bag over her shoulder with no effort. She then jerks a thumb over her shoulder, still amused. “Anyway, we’re gonna get left behind if we don’t move out now. Wanna get out of here?”

“Lead the way!” Irene enthuses, and she latches to Seulgi’s arm as they leave.

--

sam @baebaebun · 10m
OMFG @renebaebae WAS SPOTTED AT @thevelvet’s SURPRISE CONCERT TONIGHT

kay @seulnaefighting · 9m
Replying to @baebaebun @renebaebae @thevelvet
HOLYSHITHOLYSHITHOLYSHIT-

the velvet comeback soon juseyo @fckyeahseulgi · 9m
Replying to @seulnaefighting @baebaebun
it was a surprise concert, so does that mean someone told irene about it?

kay @seulnaefighting · 8m
Replying to @fckyeahseulgi @baebunbun
MAYBE ONE OF THE MEMBERS MET IRENE AND TOLD HER

jenna @iloveirene_ · 6m
Replying to @seulnaefighting @fckyeahseulgi @baebaebun
I’m only a casual fan of The Velvet, but didn’t Irene once guest on a variety show with Seulgi?

sam @baebaebun · 5m
Replying to @iloveirene_ @seulnaefighting @fckyeahseulgi
WE CONNECTED THE DOTS (we didn’t connect shit) WE CONNECTED THEM

--

“I can’t believe Nayeon just let you come back to my place with me,” Seulgi says thirty minutes later, when they’re back at Seulgi’s apartment, reclining at her kitchen island, some movie on Netflix playing on the TV screen.

(“Anything you wanna see in particular?” Seulgi had asked.

“Anything so long as I’m not in it,” the actress had replied, nearly begging.)

“She trusts me,” Irene slips into a chair at the counter, chuckling. “It’s a mutual thing. Plus, I trust you too. Should I be surprised that Wendy didn’t question anything when you told her I’d be staying the night?”

Seulgi breathes out a laugh. “No, Wendy’s my best friend. We’ve got mutual trust as well. Plus… She just knows about me, I guess. She knows who I am.”

There’s a beat of silence, where Irene watches Seulgi curiously, no judgement to be seen. Not for the first time, it feels to Seulgi like Irene has the power to just see through people— like Irene knows just about everything without Seulgi saying it out loud.

Still— I trust you too, Irene had said.

“I feel bad now,” Seulgi says quietly.

“Why?” Irene asks, gentle.

“I can’t help but feel like I’ve been lying to you.” Seulgi exhales shakily.

Irene giggles. “I don’t expect anything from you, Seul. Don’t worry about it.”

Another moment of silence.

“But I don’t really do the relationship thing anymore,” Seulgi finally admits. She stops herself, takes a deep breath and waits for the fallout.

It never comes.

“Cool, I never really did the relationship thing from the beginning anyway,” Irene says, never missing a beat and completely unphased, and Seulgi blinks in surprise, trying to scan the other woman’s face for any hint of a lie. “And I don’t mean I do the hookup thing either, so don’t worry about that.” The actress swivels the seat of the chair to look at Seulgi more clearly, as real and authentic as when she’d met Seulgi last week. “We can just be friends, then.”

“I—” For a heartbeat, Seulgi is speechless. “Are you sure? I mean, up until now you’ve kind of been pretty blatant.”

Irene shrugs, the corner of her mouth pulling up, “I flirted with you. So what?” Then she pauses, brings them both back to the ground. “Not that it didn’t mean anything to me, because it did. You really intrigue me, Seulgi, don’t get me wrong. But the urge to know you in some way outweighs any need for whatever we have to be romantic.”

“You’re really okay with just being my friend?” Seulgi asks, understandably a bit dubious.

“I don’t see why I wouldn’t be,” Irene reasons, looking as though she’s never been more sure of herself. Upon seeing the conflict on Seulgi’s face, she giggles again. “Oh, Seulgi, don’t worry about me, I know what I can handle. I’m an adult who’s dealt with way worse than an unrequited crush.”

Unrequited. Seulgi allows herself to dwell on that word for a moment, finding that it doesn’t quite sit right. She doesn’t say that out loud, though, and Irene’s got a point. They’re not blushing schoolgirls, they’re practically a lifetime away from it, and if there’s anything Irene isn’t, it’s immature. 

“Honestly, I’d already gotten the feeling when I finally took in the lyrics to Baby tonight— those lyrics are straight heartbreak, Seul . I will admit though,” Irene continues, smirking, “I did have a teensy bit of hope when I saw how you reacted to my beg line the other night.”

“Okay, that was just a pure fucking power move,” Seulgi says defensively. She stands up, moving to pour them some wine from the bottle sitting in the corner of the kitchen. “Who wouldn’t feel some sort of way after hearing that?”

“It’s a shame that I might never see that expression on your face again,” Irene says, deliberating, resting her chin on a propped elbow. “I’m just going to have to find other ways to fluster you.”

“Hold up,” Seulgi pauses, carefully pushing Irene her glass across the counter. “I didn’t mind the flirting. Like, at all. I was really flattered, actually,” she chuckles. “And very flustered. But yeah, I wasn’t phased, or uncomfortable, or whatever. I just didn’t want you to find out that you were wasting your energy when it was too late.”

She raises her glass to take a sip of her wine, a careful smile caressing the edge of the glass.

“Babe, you’re the farthest thing from a waste of energy,” Irene winks dramatically, and Seulgi breaks out into a coughing fit that melts into a round of laughter.

“Oh, good, how ever was I going to live without your pickup lines?” Seulgi jokes.

Irene clicks her tongue, a finger tracing her wine glass’s rim. “So you’re really okay if I toss the occasional line your way? I’m clingy. And stubborn, and childish sometimes too. You’ll tell me if I cross a line?”

“ ’Course. Although I’ve got to say, even though I haven’t known you for that long, I don’t think you’d be Irene without the whole package,” Seulgi says teasingly, and Irene flashes her a bright grin that shows off all of her teeth. “I’m a big girl,” she adds, taking on the same tone Irene had earlier, “I can handle some hand-holding and a few cringeworthy come-ons.”

“Cringeworthy?” Irene’s jaw drops, and Seulgi snorts at the preposterous note of offense that highlights her outburst. “Excuse you! My pickup lines are nothing but the highest quality!”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night,” Seulgi only says in a blasé manner, pretending to wave her off as she turns away to pull out some crackers from a cabinet. Somewhere behind her, Irene makes an indignant noise before downing her drink, and Seulgi snickers when she hears the distinct sound of Irene stomping over to the couch, flopping onto it in a very un-celebrity-like manner.

“Hey, Irene?” Seulgi calls over her shoulder.

“Yeah?”

“What are your thoughts on flying solo?”

“Flying solo sucks!” Irene declares immediately, now flat on her back, staring up at the ceiling. She cranes her head up, managing to fixate her gaze on Seulgi's amused figure still seated at the kitchen bar counter.

“You think?” Seulgi takes another sip of her wine.

“If you’re going to be alone,” Irene waves her hands exaggeratedly, elbow hitting the back of the couch before she gives up, huffs. Somehow though, she still manages to grin at Seulgi as though she’d just figured out an impossible riddle, “At least be alone here on the ground with the rest of us. Alone, but not lonely.”

Seulgi thinks over Irene’s words for a moment before bobbing her head from side-to-side in understanding.

“Alone, but not lonely, huh?” she considers, laughing lightly. “I think I can raise my glass to that.”

--

By the morning, Irene is gone before Seulgi’s even awake, having had to leave at the break of dawn for early schedules. Seulgi wakes up to a text of thanks from the actress, saying that it was fun and that they should do something like that again.

Just the prospect of spending more time with Irene somehow is exciting to Seulgi in itself— even amongst all of the professionals Seulgi’s met in the industry, there’s no doubt that Irene is one of the most unique individuals she’s ever met.

And there’s something inherently thrilling in the way she knows she’s one of the only people who’s similarly managed to catch Irene’s attention too; like she’s managed to stumble across something mythical, a fantasy brought to real life.

What started with a fateful meeting at the Red Room and a late talk in Seulgi’s living space continues with Irene calling Seulgi the following night, excitedly spilling to Seulgi about a new movie she’d just signed onto that afternoon, and Seulgi responds in kind, letting it slip that the Velvet has a new album in the works— all of their members have been working endlessly to produce fresh tracks that are both public friendly and unique at the same time.

They make it a point to meet up during the week.

“Most days I’m only really free past 10PM,” Irene explains. It’s nearly 11PM and they’re at a bar on a rare free Wednesday, still in the clothes they went to work with. “Besides meetings and shoots, I have to work out at night too, since it was the only time that fit with my schedule.”

“Nights are my creative time,” Seulgi says. “Recently my schedule’s been pretty full with preparation too. Night is when I relax and work on songs and chat with friends.”

“So at least our free time lines up,” Irene comments. She bats her eyelashes. “It’s destiny, Seul. We must be soulmates.”

“Oh, absolutely,” Seulgi says, the tone of her voice going flat to contrast Irene’s with gusto. “This is clearly the only reasonable conclusion we can come to.”

“I’m a professional bullshitter, you can trust me. From these two data points, we can successfully extrapolate,” Irene agrees. She and Seulgi both raise their glasses of beer, clinking them against each other with a mutual nod.

And just like that, the nights become theirs.

--

Sometimes they meet with friends, Irene always happy to hang out with the other members of The Velvet, Nayeon easily tagging along on the occasion, and even Solar joining in on the rare chance she’s free. Other times, it’s just them— just Seulgi and Irene.

Sometimes they meet at the Red Room. Other times, Seulgi finds herself standing on a street corner, somewhere between her apartment and Irene’s, a baseball cap pulled low over her eyes and her hands shoved into the pockets of a worn hoodie. Irene shows up a minute later donning a similar fashion but opting to add a mask, and together they wander Seoul’s quieter nighttime roads, pretending to be Normal People doing Normal People Things.

Turns out, it’s harder to do than they’d initially thought— especially when they stumble across a familiar-looking face peering through the glass of a jewelry store that had already closed for the night.

“Ew,” Seulgi scrunches her nose, her lips upturning to frown theatrically deep as she points at the Irene cardboard standee. “I’m so sick and tired of seeing this woman everywhere.”

“I know, right?” The real Irene standing next to her sighs dramatically, playing along. “It’s like everywhere you go, you just see her face. Truth be told, I heard she’s actually really ugly in real life.”

“I’ve heard rumors that she’s unbearable to work with,” Seulgi says with a tsk, shaking her head and pushing down the urge to snicker.

“Oh, yeah, she’s the worst!” Irene agrees. A moment later, her lips curl back into a wide smile when she sees Seulgi struggling. “A real demon in the workplace.”

“Rumor has it she’s a demon outside the workplace too,” Seulgi adds, though her voice cracks as her lips quirk into a smirk, easily dodging when Irene motions to smack her arm. She keeps her tone wistful. “Sometimes I wonder if mega actress superstar Bae Irene would ever try picking girls up in a club like the rest of us mortals.”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Irene shoots back, her smile looking wicked under the streetlights, and it sends a shiver down Seulgi’s spine— inspirational is what this woman keeps proving to be. Irene then loops her arm with Seulgi’s, the length of her body pressing against the guitarist’s, and they continue down the street.

--

“I heard Uncover at a restaurant today,” Irene tells her over FaceTime, when she’s off filming a CF on Jeju Island and Seulgi’s over in Busan for a concert, and there’s so much excitement on the actress’s face that Seulgi feels something tug in her chest. “During our lunch break the crew and I ate at this amazing local place, and they played your solo, Uncover , twice in an hour. The second time, I actually had to stop eating to get a hold of myself, Seul. I was that proud. Is that weird?”

“I don’t think it’s weird,” Seulgi says, kicking her legs idly behind her from where she lies on her hotel bed. “I think it’s cute, actually. You’re surprisingly cute, Irene.”

“Excuse me, surprisingly?” Irene gasps, and through the pixelated screen, Seulgi sees the way Irene’s mouth drops open in faux disbelief. “You mean to tell me you don’t think I’m the cutest creature in existence?”

“Quite frankly, no.”

“Asshole,” Irene laughs, because it’s hard to find someone who dares slip a snide comment her way in return, and hundreds of kilometers away, Seulgi joins in with a certain energy she’d thought she’d forgotten about long ago.

--

Variety shows are always hit or miss for Seulgi. Most of the time, she likes them well-enough, especially when she gets to attend with her members. Today though, she’s the sole representative from her group, and there’s some ounce of anticipation running through her body when she first steps onto the classroom-like set and is energetically greeted by the group of hosts.

At some point they ask her to sing her band’s latest single, so she does. They engage with her in friendly banter, so she responds in kind. The smiles on their faces are bright and genuine enough, so Seulgi keeps her spirits up and tries to keep pace with the two other more variety-experienced, idol guests who stand on set next to her.

“You’re looking especially happy today, Seulgi!” One MC comments.

“Someone told me recently my solo was played at a restaurant twice in one hour,” Seulgi says, eyes turning into perfect crescent moons as she beams, letting her signature perkier public image settle into place. “It made me really happy.”

By the time she’s asked to sing a cover of an idol song she likes, Seulgi’s been brought into a particularly good mood. She sings a little bit of Soyou and Junggigo’s “Some” with a cheerful smile on her lips, which garners understandable teasing from the hosts, but it’s not intrusive enough to be rude, so Seulgi blushes prettily and tries to get them to move on.

(Mentally, she wonders how Irene would’ve reacted had the MCs prodded a bit too much. The Irene well-known to the public would probably hide a scoff beneath a laugh and tell them to move on, not answering straight out but instead leaving the unspoken message to mind their own business. On the other hand, the Irene that Seulgi meets on late nights would probably tell them to “deadass, go fuck yourself.”)

She checks her phone when the shoot takes a break. There’s nothing too out of the ordinary until one email in particular has Seulgi’s mouth parting in surprise. After checking to make sure she still has enough time, Seulgi scrolls through her contacts and taps on the call button.

“Hello?” A voice answers on the other end.

“I’m going to guess you had a hand in the email I just received.”

“Not even a greeting, Seul?” Irene giggles mischievously from the other end of the line.

“Hi, Irene,” Seulgi says, repressing her amusement. “How are you? I’m fine, thanks. Actually, I might be a bit better than fine. Especially since I was just asked to compose an OST by this bigshot director that I’ve had no prior direct connection to.”

“I wonder who could’ve recommended your band?” Irene says, feigning stupidity, and it sounds like a cat purring after stealing their favorite dish from the kitchen table.

“I have a few guesses, actually,” Seulgi muses. “But all evidence seems to be pointing to this actress involved with the movie named Bae Joohyun.”

“This Joohyun character sounds like such a sweetheart,” Irene gushes. Seulgi can basically see her shifting her weight to rest on one leg cockily from over the phone. “I overheard from that very same director that Joohyun only sent The Velvet’s discography as a suggestion. Who knew she’d end up loving every song and asking for an original composition?”

“You seem to know a lot about this Joohyun,” Seulgi tells her. “Pass along my thanks to her, will you?”

“How about you tell her in person?” Irene suggests. “Joohyun’s got a birthday party coming up this Saturday. I’m sure she’d love it if her favorite band came to greet her face-to-face.”

“You think?” Seulgi asks.

“I know,” Irene says.

“Then I’ll be there,” Seulgi promises, and means it. She’s had enough of unkept promises for more than a lifetime. “The band and I, I mean. We’ll all be there.”

“I’m glad.” Then the actress coughs, and a laugh escapes Seulgi’s lips. “Joohyun is too.”

“Then I’ll save my thanks for when I see her in-person next,” Seulgi chuckles. From back on set, someone calls Seulgi’s name, and the guitarist clicks her tongue reluctantly. “Okay, they’re calling for me now, so I’ve gotta go. I’ll text you after filming’s done?”

“I’ll be waiting for it,” Irene says, clearly pleased, and when Seulgi hangs up, she finds that she doesn’t even need to plaster a smile to her face, the corners of her mouth are already goofily raised on their own volition— Irene tends to have that effect on her.

Seulgi knows she’s going to be teased on set for this. She also can’t find it in her to care in the slightest.

--

“So what do you want on your birthday?” Seulgi asks later that night, because apparently I’ll text you later somehow became yet another FaceTime session.

“You and your lovely, smiling face on my doorstep,” Irene immediately replies, winking, and Seulgi chokes out a laugh.

“You never rest, do you?”

“No rest for the wicked.”

“But really, what kind of present do you want?”

“Surprise me. I want a surprise.”

“You’re the worst,” Seulgi groans.

“I know,” Irene beams.

--

Contrary to popular belief, Irene actually has a lot of friends.

Nayeon would know this the best.

For as long as she’s been Irene’s manager, she’d always been the one in charge of texting everyone about Irene’s birthday get-togethers. It’s not that Irene doesn't want to, but more like she doesn’t have the time. Every year Irene insists that she’ll do it herself, only for her to sigh and let Nayeon handle it all instead.

This year, Irene had saved herself the effort and simply gave Nayeon a list of people with an apologetic, wistful smile tossed into the mix as well. Nayeon had to force herself not to frown at the expression— perhaps they’d only met because of their occupations, but she’s still Irene’s friend first and foremost. To Nayeon, seeing Irene not even try this year almost feels like a submission; a giving up.

“One day,” Nayeon had told her, determined, “You’ll be able to send them yourself, personalized messages and everything. I promise.”

Irene’s resulting chuckle had no humor, but she’d gazed at her manager fondly.

“Give me your phone,” she’d said, and Nayeon had handed it over without question. A minute later, she’d received the device back, unlocking it to the sight of a new contact staring at her fat in the face.

“Irene,” Nayeon had inhaled, running a thumb of Myoui Mina’s number now sitting innocently in her phone. “What’s this?”

“Mina and I exchanged numbers a while ago,” Irene merely said. “Make sure you text her as yourself when you invite her. Also—” she’d hesitated. “Don’t bother with Seulgi’s. I want to ask her. I can at least do this for myself, right?”

And that had been that. Nayeon had sat around on set as filming for Irene’s new feature film had started production, shooting off emails and invites, exchanging friendly pleasantries with the friends and acquaintances she’d met through Irene, all with the nagging feeling that she wished Irene was the one on the receiving end this entire time.

It’s not a new feeling— the guilt had been there last year too, and the year before that. It had just grown with time, like a spore, creeping like ivy.

Eventually she’d texted Mina like Irene had asked her to. It was the only time the guilt managed to constrain itself to the edges. And when Irene had later eagerly bombarded her with questions about how their conversation had gone, Nayeon had allowed herself to relax and indulge, as though she had Irene were school girls with crushes and not two adult women trying to navigate the tricky entertainment industry together.

There’s a reason why Irene is the most sought-after actress in the industry these days— there is no one who can control her emotions, change her entire personality on the drop of the hat, affect the entire atmosphere of a room with just the quirk of a lip, like Irene can. Nayeon’s been Irene’s manager for nearly four years now, and she still doesn’t think she’s seen every side of her close friend.

The side Nayeon sees at Irene’s birthday party this year, for example, is one such previously undiscovered territory.

There are about thirty-something people in Irene’s top-floor penthouse, all some of Irene’s closest friends— Wendy, Joy, Yeri, Solar, Moonbyul, Chorong, Jennie, Jisoo, Dahyun, Momo, and more. Nayeon knows them all by now; they’re her friends too, after all.

But then there’s Seulgi.

Sure, Nayeon’s gotten pretty close to Mina recently. The Velvet’s drummer giggles at Nayeon’s corny jokes and easily keeps to Nayeon’s side the whole night. Mina’s absolutely adorable, and Nayeon wants nothing more than to wrap her arms around Mina’s midsection like one would a teddy bear and just hug her forever.

And yet, Nayeon can tell that right now, their affection can’t even hold a candle to Seulgi and Irene.

“Seulgi says they’re not dating,” Mina whispers conspiratorially, playing with Nayeon’s fingers.

“That’s bullshit,” Nayeon whispers back, because there’s absolutely no way Seulgi and Irene aren’t, at the very least, anything short of in love.

They’re jolted out of their brief conversation by the sound of Irene’s loud laughter coming from the expansive coffee table in the living room, where a few of their friends had cracked open a fresh deck of cards and started playing poker. In the center, the pile of cash appears to grow larger and larger by the minute.

The couch is cramped. Joy, Yeri, and Wendy take up the couch cushions. Moonbyul and Solar crouch on one side of the coffee table, while Jennie, Jisoo, and Chungha all kneel on the other. Meanwhile, Eunae and Seulgi have pulled over some kitchen chairs.

Irene just sits on Seulgi’s lap, some mischievous, daring smile on her lips and looking like she’s never belonged anywhere else. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Irene’s actually been connected to Seulgi all night— fingers always brushing, pinkies sometimes latched, head finding its way to rest on Seulgi’s shoulder, pressed to Seulgi’s side like they’ve been threaded together by some red strand of fate.

If anyone finds the sight even the slightest bit strange because, quite frankly, neither Irene nor Seulgi are exactly known to enjoy skinship, no one comments.

Then again, Nayeon considers, Irene manages to make it look like Seulgi’s lap is the most comfortable place in the world.

From across the room, Irene meets Nayeon’s eyes, bold smile painting even bolder strokes, and Nayeon sucks in a breath, because that strange, mysterious side of Irene – the one that seems to appear almost at random, the one that’s never been surer of herself – has always managed to render Nayeon dumb.

“How does she do it?” Mina suddenly asks.

Nayeon blinks. “Do what?”

Mina shrugs, leaning over to rest her head on Nayeon’s shoulder.

“How does she look so effortless?”

Nayeon laughs.

“I wish I knew, Minari.” It might have something to do with your lead guitarist.

And then they’re once again interrupted, this time by the gang around the coffee table suddenly erupting in outrage. Someone bangs on the table, someone else’s shot glass probably spills, and cards definitely do fly through the air. From beside her, Mina makes a mumbling comment about hoping that nothing was broken.

Nayeon raises an eyebrow as she cranes her neck to see what cards had just been placed on the table.

A second later, she’s nearly keeling over in laughter at the sight of an inoffensive-looking Seulgi sitting in front of a royal flush.

“Is that, like, good or something?” Seulgi asks innocently, taps her cards in a nervous manner. Still on her lap, Irene squirms around to hide her snickers in the crook of Seulgi’s neck, hands curling into the fabric of Seulgi’s blazer. The gesture brings an involuntary smile to Nayeon’s lips.

“You’re fucking kidding me!” Solar shrieks.

“I am,” Seulgi smirks coolly, eyes dark and dangerous, black-hearted through and through, and in that moment in time, Nayeon knows everyone else at the table has the same thought: that look in Seulgi’s eyes? Distinctly Irene. “I don’t know much about acting, but I’m definitely not stupid.”

“Bullshit!” Joy shouts.

“That’s the wrong card game, Sooyoung-ah,” Seulgi snickers, and as she reaches out to the pile of cash at the center, she ducks to avoid the couch pillow thrown at her head.

“Irene taught you your poker face, didn’t she?” Jennie accuses, pouting as Jisoo comfortingly pats her back.

“We’re here to win, Jen,” Irene simply says, perfect grin showing off perfect white teeth. She runs a hand through Seulgi's dark hair, looking like a hunter through and through, with Seulgi her loyal accomplice. Together, appearing the way they do, they’re a scary duo, no doubt there.

“Don’t underestimate me,” Seulgi adds lazily, tongue sticking out the corner of her mouth as she rests her chin on Irene’s shoulder, and the table collectively groans as Solar begrudgingly starts shuffling the cards again for another round.

“Happy birthday, Irene,” Nayeon chuckles under her breath, eyeing the large pile of bills Seulgi’s accumulated (undoubtedly thanks to Irene’s tutelage). “I hope this year’s a great one for you.”

“Even if she is a closeted hustler,” Mina adds, and she and Nayeon share a round of giggles.

--

A birthday song is sung, candles are blown out, cheers resound through the penthouse, and cake is cut and distributed. Seulgi thinks it’s endearing, how everyone immediately lines up to give Irene a hug and well-wishes, because Irene is special, Irene takes care of others; because Irene is so much more than what the media wants the public to believe. If anything, Seulgi is glad that there are at least thirty people in this unforgiving world that know that; that have seen Irene’s warmth.

Eventually, after Irene’s been given a hug and congratulations from every single friend of hers, the conversations trickle back in, and everyone goes back to socializing like before— as well as pretending not to notice when Irene gently steers Seulgi away from everyone else, leading her towards the balcony.

And then it’s just the two of them. Just Seulgi and Irene, once again. It feels special, makes Seulgi feel special.

“Aren’t you gonna ask me what I wished for?” Irene prods, bumping her hip against Seulgi’s.

“Doesn’t saying your wish out loud mean that it won’t come true?” Seulgi inquires.

“That’s complete bullshit,” the actress huffs, rolling her eyes. She takes Seulgi’s arm, throws it around her shoulders. Seulgi hums and rubs her bare skin, thumb running back and forth. “It’s my birthday. I get to make my own damn rules.”

“Well, in that case,” Seulgi chuckles. “What did you wish for?”

“I wished for whatever it is that’s hurting you to heal.”

Seulgi’s hand stops in its motion. Irene doesn’t say any more.

Then—

“You really wished for something like that?” Seulgi asks.

“Yeah,” Irene says. “Because I don’t know how else to help.”

“How did you know I needed healing?”

It’s not a denial. Seulgi’s never been one to delude herself, not entirely.

Irene tilts her head, considering. She seems to look Seulgi up and down, and once again, it almost feels like the actress is looking through her— Irene’s always had that bewitching effect on her, Seulgi realizes, even right from the very start.

Finally, Irene shrugs.

“I just felt it,” she says, and Seulgi’s brow creases in confusion. Automatically, Irene reaches forward to smoothen it out with a thumb, smiling affectionately. “Sometimes, you don’t need all the facts. You just know.”

“You just know?” The guitarist echoes.

“Sometimes you won’t get an answer until you seek it out yourself,” Irene simply says. She pats Seulgi’s cheek, leans in, and presses a feather-light kiss there— just a brush of lips against skin, and warmth blooms throughout Seulgi’s body. “But you can’t always wait for everything to be spelled out for you, or you might miss a chance.”

“Do you think I missed my chance?” Seulgi asks, desperate as the words leave her lips before she even has the chance to ponder about them. She doesn’t even know what she’s referring to. The actress before her doesn’t seem to mind.

“See, that’s the thing.” Irene merely hums, backing away only slightly; far enough to put some space, close enough to hold Seulgi’s hand. “I’m also a firm believer in making our own chances. I can’t let myself drown.”

“Gravity can go fuck itself,” Seulgi says automatically.

Irene laughs, and right then and there, standing on Irene’s balcony, holding Irene’s hand, Seulgi feels like she can move mountains.

“That’s the spirit,” Irene beams, the stars in her eyes glimmering brighter than the ones in the sky.

For a moment they just stare at each other, Seulgi momentarily wondering if it were possible to lose yourself in someone’s expression, and Irene merely gazing at Seulgi in some emotion resembling complete fascination. Seulgi doesn’t know how long they stand there, but for all she knows, it could’ve easily been a century in the blink of an eye.

“Einstein’s theory of relativity,” she mutters under her breath.

Irene makes a noise of surprise, startled out of her daze.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Seulgi quickly says. She shakes her head. “Hey, hold out your hand for a second?”

“What’s up?” Irene does as asked.

“I know it’s not what you wished for,” Seulgi finally says quietly, her voice almost drowned out by the noises of Seoul’s nightlife, but she produces a small box from her pocket and gingerly passes it into Irene’s outstretched hands, “But you said you wanted a surprise, and I did get you something. I know you’ve technically already got one, but this one’s easier to… bring with you.”

--

happy bae day @baebaebun · 15m
@renebaebae had a birthday party this weekend and @hi_sseulgi was in the group pic. now irene’s out wearing a new guitar pick necklace on the street. coincidence??? I THINK FUCKING NOT

kay @seulnaefighting · 13m
Replying to @baebaebun @hi_sseulgi @renebaebae
NO WAY,,,, DO YOU REALLY THINK SEULGI GAVE IT TO HER??????

incorrect velvets @velvetincorrectquotes · 13m
Replying to @seulnaefighting @baebaebun
why’d u tag them u dipshits now we’ll never get seulrene interactions

the velvet comeback soon juseyo @fckyeahseulgi · 11m
Replying to @baebaebun
wait but all of the velvet was there and seulgi’s not the only guitarist

kay @seulnaefighting · 11m
Replying to @fckyeahseulgi @baebaebun
SOMEON ELOOK UP WHTA SEULGI’S PICKS LOOK LIKE

happy bae day @baebaebun · 8m
Replying to @seulnaefighting @fckyeahseulgi
WHAT THE FUKC THAT’S SEULGI’S DUCKIN GGOLD PICK

[ @fckyeahseulgi, @ seulnaefighting, @baejoo_hyun, and 25 others retweeted your photo ]

happy bae day @baebaebun · 8m
Replying to @seulnaefighting @fckyeahseulgi @renebaebae @hi_sseulgi
HANGING AROUND IRENE’S NECK

low quality seulgi @seulgilqs · 2m
Replying to @baebaebun @seulnaefighting @fckyeahseulgi
WHY’D U TAG THEM YOU FUCKING FUCKERS SEULRENE ARE NEVER GOING TO INTERACT AGAIN

--

“Let me guess,” Wendy says in amusement, hands on her hips and studying Seulgi like she’s under a microscope. It’s a Friday afternoon and they’re away from Seoul, about to hold a joint concert with other K-bands in Incheon. Wendy’s not blind— while Seulgi’s been excited to perform all day, she can tell from the way the guitarist’s been itching to occupy herself that she’s trying to get her mind off of something. 

“You’re missing your girlfriend,” she presumes. “You guys sure were close at her birthday party last week.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Seulgi replies, quick and defensive. Wendy hears the edge immediately, frowning as she watches her best friend struggle to come up with an accurate description of just what she and Irene are. In the end, Seulgi settles with, “I’m not doing the girlfriend or relationship thing. Not really. Not now.”

“Does Irene know that?” Wendy just has to ask.

“She does,” Seulgi says, and that is what catches Wendy off guard.

“Don’t tell me you’re stringing her along.”

“I’m not!” Seulgi shakes her head, sighing. “It’s complicated. Not in a bad way, though. And I don’t mean to say that in a half-assed way like they do in cliché dramas or whatever. I’m trying to explain, I swear. It’s complicated but it’s not, all at once.”

“What do you mean?” Now Wendy’s just intrigued.

“I mean that I’m struggling to explain what Irene and I have right now, but when I’m with her—” Seulgi shrugs, picking absently at the strings of her electric guitar before laying her fingers down and strumming. A poignant C major chord rings through the air through the speakers; basic in its construction but fundamental and beautiful sounding all the same, and it’s a call to something, Wendy can feel it.

“When I’m with Irene,” Seulgi says, “It’s like it’s the easiest thing in the world. I hardly even have to think. Irene’s mature and so sure of herself, and I’m not, but somehow she makes me feel like it’s okay to not have everything figured out. And that’s scary, Wendy, but do you know what’s scarier?”

“What?”

“I’m pretty sure I want to fall in love with her. That’s terrifying all on its own, but—” Seulgi chuckles, transitioning from a dominant major chord to its tonic— a perfect authentic cadence. She shifts to scribble down into her notebook. “Well, I dunno. A good part of me doesn’t care. Irene is warm. I like that.”

“You’ve been glowing recently.” Wendy can see it, even now.

From above, there’s someone adjusting the spotlights; they light up the stage, hitting Seulgi at odd angles, her shadow spreading, sprawled across the wooden floor and stretching from one end to the other. The lights paint a jagged picture, and yet, there’s a softness there that Wendy notices; one that hadn’t been there before. She thinks it fits Seulgi quite nicely.

“I’ve been doing some thinking lately,” is all Seulgi says in response, her smile small but present and it’s honestly so much more than Wendy ever could’ve asked for. “I figured that maybe it’s time I let myself have some good things. Irene made me realize that. So we’re working on it.”

--

The next time she meets with Irene, it’s on a pleasantly warm spring night, the first taste of summer heat already starting to amble its way into Seoul. They go on a walk through the park near Seulgi’s apartment, elbows occasionally brushing, Seulgi taking pleasure in the way Irene likes to try to jump between the streetlamps that line the pathways. It’s cute, in the same way a rabbit is cute, and she tells Irene so.

Irene’s only response is to scrunch up her nose in a very unintentionally rabbit-like manner; some attempt to hide her blossoming smile and reddening cheeks.

There’s a bench on a hill that overlooks the cityscape. Irene’s the one who spots it first, tugging Seulgi over to sit. Meanwhile, Seulgi’s too caught up in the way the night lights reflect off of Irene’s dark eyes.

“The movie’s going to have a park scene at night too,” Irene is saying. She looks around her, at the empty, lit up park, whistles appreciatively. “I hope the place they chose to film is as pretty as this one. I loved the way the flowers along the path looked under the streetlights.”

“I’m sure your director has as good a taste in locations as she does in musicians,” Seulgi says, a snicker escaping as Irene lets out a loud laugh.

“For both of our sakes, I hope she does too,” the actress replies in kind.

“Oh, speaking of the movie, wanna hear what I’ve got for the song so far?” Seulgi pulls out her phone from the pocket of her hoodie along with a neatly tied up pair of earphones. “I have a mp3 file ready since earlier at the studio, I was asking Eunae for her opinion on the bassline.”

“Can I?”

“Yeah, of course.” Seulgi hands her the left earphone, and once they’ve settled comfortably against each other, she hits the play button. The sound of an acoustic guitar drifts in.

“Do you hear me? It’s a gloomy day covered in gray fog; I’m afraid I’m blind now.”

“Wait, you’ve got lyrics already?” Irene gasps, completely surprised as Seulgi’s voice filters through the earphones before transitioning to Chungha’s equally soft vocals in the second verse.

Seulgi raises her left shoulder, trying to smother down a smile.

“Let’s say that I had a stroke of inspiration, that’s all. Once I get an idea, I have to write it down so there’s no way I can forget it later. I jotted down all the lyrics I could think of, handed my notebook around to the others, they gave some feedback, and now we’ve got a good amount of the lyrics written— it’s not completely done, of course, but I’m getting there.”

“I’m dying inside. I want to think that it’s a lie; why, why? Even if I shout, there’s no answer. A flood of loneliness, in the rain…”

“Oh, shit, Seul,” Irene says under her breath, just loud enough for Seulgi to hear her over the music. She turns to look at Seulgi with wide eyes. “The director’s going to flip when she hears this— it’s literally perfect for the scene.”

“You think?” Seulgi shifts eagerly on the bench seat, not even caring how strangely energetic she is in contrast with the somber music. “I tried to make the lyrics relate as much as I could with the bit of the script I was sent.”

Irene shakes her head, her mind still suspended in a place of disbelief from how Seulgi had managed to compose a song this suitable in only a week. She closes her eyes, listening to the music. “I’m going to have to step up my game. We had our table read the other day, and I’m going to need to have a talk with my co-star for how we tackle this scene— up the ante with the emotion, or something.”

“She’s in the rain! When I look at how beautiful you are, time stops. It’s hard to even open my eyes now…”

And then the vocals are tapering off into instrumental and some of the random guide lyrics Seulgi had thrown in there, and Irene opens her eyes again, peering up at Seulgi curiously.

“The last portion is still a work in progress,” Seulgi smiles sheepishly, answering Irene’s silent question that went unasked. “I’m still trying to figure out how to end it. I’ve still got to write the bridge and last chorus.”

“You’re not going to just reuse the same chorus as the first two times?” Irene asks.

Seulgi shakes her head. “No. I was asked for a different final chorus because they're thinking of using the song twice in the film— once during your character’s lowest point, and then again towards the end as a symbol of growth. I’m thinking of adding in a key change too, so I’ll be making more changes to the instrumental.”

Irene furrows her brow. “I guess that makes sense.” She crosses her arms. “Seems like a decent amount more of work for you, though.”

“I don’t mind it,” Seulgi smiles, crooked – yet another way Irene’s managed to rub off on her – and cocking her head. She pushes back a strand of hair from where a gust of wind had set it out of place. “I get my band’s song in a high-profile movie, and I get to indirectly work with South Korea’s sweetheart. It's promo either way, so sounds like a win-win situation to me.”

“So that’s why you're sticking around me! I’m just here to be used!” Irene accuses with an overdramatic pout, and at that, Seulgi throws back her head to laugh.

And then Irene can’t help it— can’t stop herself from beaming, can’t stop the way her heart clenches at seeing Seulgi so happy, so proud of herself, can’t stop herself from drawing closer, eyes catching Seulgi’s, filled with starlight.

So when Irene leans in, beseechingly, albeit uncharacteristically indecisive, searching for something she isn’t even sure she’ll find, Seulgi doesn’t stop herself either.

She closes her eyes, meets Irene halfway, smiles as Irene’s lips mold themselves against her own.

It’s a taste of heaven, and Seulgi can’t deny that she wants more.

--

“Sorry,” Irene whispers when they pull apart.

“Don’t be,” Seulgi whispers back. 

“Hey, I feel like I might’ve fucked something up,” Irene says, low. “I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t. Don’t be,” Seulgi says again. She takes Irene’s hand, squeezes it. “I’m not. I should’ve known that I could never be just friends with you, anyway.”

“Are you sure?” Irene asks.

“I’ve never been more sure in my entire life,” Seulgi asserts. “But can you give me some time to figure some other stuff out?”

“Of course. I can give you some space too, if you want.”

“No, I like it when you’re near. Everything’s easier.” Seulgi doesn’t even have to consider it.

“I have a recording for a variety show early tomorrow,” Irene says regretfully, brow furrowing. “So we might not have much of a say in the matter.”

“That’s okay,” Seulgi reassures her. “I can wait.”

“Things don’t have to change if you don’t want them to, Seul,” Irene says. She raises a hand to cup Seulgi’s cheek, running her thumb along the musician’s jawline. Seulgi lets a breathy laugh escape, a wisp into the air between them, a promise; of course this woman would be more worried for Seulgi’s sake. It reminds her of their conversation from the first time Irene stayed over.

“Maybe,” Seulgi considers. “But what if I want change?”

Irene sucks in a breath, biting down on her bottom lip to stop her smile from spreading too wide.

“Then we’ll work on it.”

 

To be continued.