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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.

Chapter Text

Seulgi likes to think she’s a pretty experienced individual. She’s felt the struggle and hopelessness of the entertainment industry, and she’s tasted the sweet, sweet fruit of critical acclaim and success. She’s been in a failed relationship before. On the other hand, she’s also kissed Bae Irene, for fuck’s sake. She’s experienced a decent amount in life— both heights of the emotional roller coaster, she thinks.

And yet, there’s still nothing like starting a live show feeling like a complete and utter idiot.

Technically, Seulgi doesn’t know yet. She figures she’ll know in a few minutes though, after she’s finally done scouring every nook and cranny of this god-forsaken waiting room, looking for the guitar picks she knows full well she actually left at home.

“Why am I such a dumbass?” Her head feels like bricks, so Seulgi looks up at the ceiling and groans.

“You look like you’re in a panic,” an amused voice says from behind. Seulgi whirls around, eyes wide, only to find Irene leaning against the doorframe of the dressing room, clad in a casual white blouse and jeans, the corner of her mouth quirked in amusement.

“Hi,” Seulgi breathes, eyes raking down Irene’s figure.

“Hi yourself,” Irene smiles, taking Seulgi’s fish-eyed stare as an invitation to come in.

“How’d you get back here?”

“Wendy let me in through the side door since I’m watching from the wings today.” Irene easily side-steps around the guitarist, reaching up to fix the tie that had loosened during Seulgi’s frantic scouring of the room. Lines of concern etch their way onto the actress’s brow, and she touches Seulgi’s arm gently, coaxing the musician in a loose hug. “What’s got you so frazzled? I’ve never seen you like this before.”

“I’m missing my guitar picks,” Seulgi mutters. She buries her face against soft hair, the scent of lavender sending a wave of calm through her tense body. “I definitely left them at home by accident. Chungha offered to lend me one of hers and I’m grateful, but it’s not the same. I’m a dumbass.”

“Has this ever happened before?”

“...Only once, five years ago.”

“So you’re not a dumbass, then.”

“Maybe not a regular dumbass, but Irene, I was holding the picks in my hand right before I left. After the show, I’m gonna go home to find them sitting on my coffee table, I know it. That’s some top tier dumbassery.”

“So maybe you’re a teensy bit of a dumbass on a rare off day. So what? That’s normal.”

“So I’m an infrequent dumbass.” Seulgi hides her smile in Irene’s hair, presses her lips there, soft.

“Oh my god— alright, you infrequent dumbass,” Irene laughs, drumming her digits against Seulgi’s pulse point. “Good thing I’m here then.”

Something cold and plastic gets pressed against Seulgi’s cheek, and Seulgi yelps, fingers coming up to grab at the new object.

When Irene steps away, there’s a gold-colored guitar pick resting in the palm of Seulgi’s hand, the guitarist's eyebrows shooting up in surprise.

“Also lucky that you gave me two of these,” Irene winks, her right hand toying with the pick still fastened securely around her neck.

“I’ve only got one more left, so you better not throw the one I lent you into the crowd or something like that,” she chides, although her knowing grin begets any real threat.

“You’re an actual angel, Rene!” Seulgi’s eyes shine with appreciation. She pockets the pick securely. “I’ll need to make it up to you.”

Irene rolls her eyes playfully.

“You’ve got, like, five minutes tops until showtime, so just kiss me, you infrequent dumbass,” she says affectionately. Seulgi’s eyes turn into crescent moons as she beams, hopping forward to press her lips against another pair of soft ones, sinking into the kiss with a content sigh.

They’re not girlfriends, at least not yet, and that’s perfectly fine with both of them. If Irene’s taught Seulgi anything, it’s that it’s okay not to have clear cut lines for everything; not everything needs to be defined so perfectly, so efficiently.

The world will keep turning. They’ll get there when they get there, that’s all there is to it.

(They’ve started kissing a lot more though. Seulgi gets the feeling that she’ll never get tired of the tingling sensation, never ever, and that’s thrilling. )

“Make the crowd your bitch,” Irene requests when they pull away. “In exchange for the pick, of course.”

“Anything for you,” Seulgi promises, and they both know she means it.

--

“Were they on the coffee table?” Irene asks later, breaking into a yawn by the end of her sentence. She makes a show of shifting under her covers, pulling her duvet all the way up to her nose.

It’s 3 in the morning, having just got home from the concert, and they’re on FaceTime from their respective residences, neither quite sure how they’re still awake.

“No,” Seulgi grumbles. She makes a show of tossing one of the aforementioned guitar picks over her shoulder, the piece of plastic hardly making a sound as it bounces off her hardwood floor. “Kitchen island counter. I don’t know how this affects my dumbassery rating.”

“I don’t have the brain capacity to do the calculations right now,” Irene yawns again. “I’ll figure it out after I sleep.”

“Are you sure sleep will be any help?” Even past the brink of exhaustion, Seulgi can’t help herself; she smirks.

“Good night, asshole!” Irene says loudly, and she ends the call while smothering a smile into her pillow as Seulgi pointedly laughs way louder than anyone should— especially while alone in their apartment at 3AM.

--

It’s not always easy.

There are Irene-less days, and those days can sometimes add up to even a week because they're both busy and Irene's incredibly successful but also incredibly booked, and those days are the longest. On those days, Seulgi glances at her phone more; longing seeping through her skin whenever she sees no new messages, her calendar becoming a countdown to the next time she can see Irene again.

She feels clingy, and whenever that thought occurs, Seulgi buries her face in her hand and groans— she doesn’t want to be That girl. It’s just that Irene’s presence is so infectiously addicting, and once you've gotten a taste of her, it's hard to go without.

(There’s also this underlying level of anxiousness, despite every bone in Seulgi’s body knowing that Irene’s not the type. And yet, every so often, Seulgi finds herself worrying about if she’ll ever get a text from Irene, demanding to know why she hasn’t messaged or called or just somehow checked in, because the last time she’d been in a relationship, she’d—)

“Seulgi?”

Seulgi jolts, snapping out of her thoughts.

“Irene,” she exclaims, startled, and the girl kneeling in front of her hums knowingly.

Seulgi hadn’t even heard the front door open, hadn’t even registered Irene casually entering her apartment with the spare key she’d handed the actress herself, just a few days ago.

“I was shocked when I came in and you didn’t even move. You were like a statue— were you meditating? Did you decide to become a monk after the rockstar thing didn’t quite work out?” Irene teases playfully as she stands, and Seulgi feels some of the tension in her body leave the system, a smile naturally worming its way across her face.

“Just a bit lost in thought,” Seulgi admits, and she takes the outstretched hand offered to her, lets Irene pull her up from the couch.

“Busy day?” Irene asks sympathetically. She runs a hand down Seulgi’s back, rubbing comforting circles.

“Yeah, something like that,” Seulgi sighs, shaking her head. “Anyway, ready to head out? That new bakery you were interested in finally opened.”

Irene visibly perks up, nodding eagerly.

“Do you think they’ll have pineapple bread?”

“Since when did you like pineapple bread?” Seulgi laughs lightly. Absent-minded, she reaches her hand out for Irene’s.

“I mean, I haven’t exactly tried it, to be honest,” Irene shrugs. “But it’s your favorite, isn’t it? I always want to try the stuff you like.”

Seulgi freezes, blinking up owlishly at Irene in surprise.

She pulls her hand back.

“You do?”

“Of course I do.” Irene’s brow furrows, as if she doesn’t understand why Seulgi would ask such a thing. But she doesn’t ask questions and instead smiles at Seulgi reassuringly nonetheless, reaches out and takes Seulgi’s hand herself. She squeezes it, and Seulgi looks at their interwoven fingers reverently, a pang of something aching in her chest.

“Should we head out?” Irene asks.

“Yeah,” Seulgi says.

--

jenna @iloveirene_ · 10m
YO IRENE JUST ENTERED THE BAKERY I WORK AT WITH KANG SEULGI OMG

jenna @iloveirene_ · 4m
Replying to @iloveirene_
aw Irene bought her and Seulgi pineapple bread bc it’s Seulgi favorite that’s so sweet!

sam @baebaebun · 3m
Replying to @iloveirene_
OOMF WHERE DO I APPLY FOR A JOB???

kay @seulnaefighting · 3m
Replying to @fckyeahseulgi @baebunbun
YES I DO THE COOKING YES I DO THE BAKING

jenna @iloveirene_ · 2m
Replying to @iloveirene_
Lmaoooooooo yeah right, as if I’d tell you guys

jenna @iloveirene_ · 1m
Replying to @iloveirene_
I didn’t ask for a pic or anything tho bc Seulgi seemed really shy and quiet tonight :( I asked Irene if she was alright and she said Seulgi had a long day :(( I hope she feels better soon, Irene seems to really care about her

--

It’s stupid. Like, really, really stupid.

But there’s something about the way Irene makes a happy, squealing noise after she takes a bite of the bread Seulgi loves so much; about the way Irene laughs and curls herself around Seulgi’s arm so easily; about how Seulgi feels her head spin when Irene’s the one who closes the distance without a care in the world.

All throughout the night, Seulgi finds herself reaching out, only to hesitate the moment Irene would turn to her.

I can’t ruin this.

So she pulls her hand back every time and pretends to not see the slight upturn of Irene’s lips; the concern clouding Irene’s expression.

--

When they return, Seulgi strides into the apartment and immediately goes to sit on her couch, trying to ignore the heavily fast way her heart seems to pound in her chest— not with the good kind of ache either, but the kind that relentlessly threatens to swallow her whole, merciless. Her leg bounces restlessly without her realizing.

From where she stands by the kitchen counter, Irene frowns, worried.

“Do you wanna watch something?” Seulgi asks off-handedly, trying to distract herself. Her hand is already on the remote.

Irene raises an eyebrow— not out of judgement, but of crystal clear concern.

“Do you?”

Seulgi sucks in a breath. She lets go of the remote.

“No,” she says quietly, suddenly finding her carpet incredibly interesting. Her leg keeps bouncing.

“Do you want to talk, Seul?” Irene suggests gently, a clear contrast from her teasing nature back when they’d been with their friends. She doesn’t join Seulgi on the couch cushions, instead opting to sit on the far side’s arm, letting the other girl have as much space as needed.

Seulgi nods.

“I don’t know where to begin,” she admits.

“Doesn’t matter where,” Irene says encouragingly.

“Should I start with context, or…?”

“Doesn’t matter where,” Irene only repeats, chuckling. “We can fill in the gaps as we go. The goal here is to help clear your mind. If you think me understanding will help you, then we’ll find a way, but there’s obviously a lot going through your head right now. How about you just blurt out the first thing on your mind, and we’ll go from there?”

“Can it be a question?” Seulgi asks, timid. As soon as the query leaves her lips, though, she ducks her head as the urge to crawl into a hole and never climb out only intensifies. Stupid, she tells herself. She’ll get fed up with all you— no! This is Irene. She cares for you.

And Irene doesn’t seem to find issue with Seulgi's inner turmoil in the slightest, only smiling reassuringly at her and nodding.

“I don’t see why not.”

Seulgi hesitates.

“Do you like holding my hand, Irene?”

“I love holding your hand,” Irene says immediately, warmth exuding from the affectionate note in her tone. “That’s why I keep taking it myself, Seulgi.”

“And if I took your hand…?”

“I’d squeeze it even tighter.”

Seulgi nods wordlessly, rapidly blinking back tears.

“Seulgi?” Irene calls softly. “Did you think I wouldn’t like it if you took my hand? Even though I’ve taken yours plenty of times before?”

“I wasn’t sure if you would,” Seulgi mumbles, shrugging helplessly. “I didn’t know if it was something I could do.”

“You can always take my hand, Seul,” Irene says. She chews on her bottom lip thoughtfully for a moment before speaking again. “Were you… were you doubting yourself, Seulgi?”

Seulgi flinches. Irene only smiles sadly.

“I’m sorry I ever made you feel that way,” she apologizes, lips upturning in a frown only directed only at herself. Seulgi automatically shakes her head at the sight.

“No, no, it’s not your fault!” She says hastily, wanting to clear that up quickly. “This… anxiety I have isn’t your fault, Irene, I promise.”

Irene stays quiet but nods, clearly doing her best to understand.

“I’ve tried to shove that insecure part of me down as much as possible,” Seulgi explains slowly, thinking through each word with care. Irene leans in, resting an elbow on her knee, listening intently. “That self-deprecative part of me that feels scared and hurts even when I shouldn’t be. I didn’t want to be that scared and hurt person— I don’t. But that song I wrote, the one for your movie? I think some of the lyrics hit closer to home than I ever want to admit. I was in a relationship before, but I felt alone.

Seulgi sighs.

Irene feels her heart start to ache.

“She said I never did enough to show affection,” Seulgi mutters. Her hands dig into the leather beneath her, nails digging into the palms of her hand, constrictive, tight enough to leave marks. She doesn't even need to mention a name for Irene to immediately know who she was referring to. “We hardly got to see each other because of my work schedule, and she’d complain about my behavior and how I wasn’t trying enough to reach out to her, and how I kept breaking promises I wouldn’t remember making. Then when we’d meet up, I just couldn’t bring myself to be as open as I was before. There was a night where I stopped trying to touch her because I just couldn’t, and then I drew farther and farther away.” And the worse her words became.

“It was stupid though,” she continues, and Irene nods encouragingly. “I wouldn’t mind when she’d cling to me, or press against me, or take my hand. Because if she was the one initiating the contact, then…” Seulgi trails off.

“Then you couldn’t be blamed for doing something wrong?” Irene concludes, and Seulgi nods.

“Something like that,” she chuckles dryly. “It made me feel like I was doing something right.”

Irene nods again, soft and gentle and way too patient; a reminder that despite her fun, beneath everything, Irene’s still a goddess amongst mortals, and there’s no way someone like Seulgi deserves this, and—

“And so,” Irene prods gently, “The reason why you’d been trying to bring yourself to take my hand all night…?”

“I trust you,” Seulgi replies, not even having to think about it. She shifts in place, still nervous but the churning ocean in her stomach is starting to find its way back to the calm. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, and I want to touch you so bad it’s killing me, and I know you’d never hurt me like that. I can’t even justify it, I just know. You’re somehow still here, with me—”

“You know you’re stuck with me.” The corner of Irene’s lips raise cheekily, and Seulgi chokes out a laugh that Irene joins with a light chuckle of her own. The noise echoes through Seulgi’s otherwise silent apartment, resounding through the living room, dancing down the hallways, floating off the open balcony and over the cityscape below.

Irene waits, her head tilted indulgently, patient like always; too good for this world yet the most deserving of it all the same.

“Shit,” Seulgi finally says, sighing. “I didn’t want you to think I’m a coward.”

There’s silence.

Then—

Irene giggles.

And there’s nothing belittling about it— it’s the most genuine, enchanting laughter Seulgi’s ever heard spill from Irene’s perfect lips. And then all she can see is Irene, smiling at her with such affection on her red, red lips—

“Oh, Seul,” Irene murmurs, pushing herself off the couch’s arm to stand in front of the idol. “I could never see you as a coward, never. We’ll go at a pace that fits, you don’t have to push yourself to make a first move if you’re not comfortable. So, until you’re ready…”

And Seulgi can’t do anything but stare in wide-eyed fascination, her mouth parted ever so slightly as this goddess of a woman takes Seulgi’s face in her hands, tracing Seulgi’s lips with her thumb, sending shivers down Seulgi’s spine, before leaning in so close that their foreheads touch.

If Irene hears the sharp way Seulgi inhales, she doesn’t say anything about it and Seulgi is overcome with the strong urge to thank her for her kindness and more; for bearing with her incapable self; for never not commenting on her moments of weakness. Irene is a goddess, in more ways than one.

“You’re so brave,” Irene whispers, and Seulgi instinctively shakes her head. “No, no, fuck, Seul, I really mean it.” The look in Irene’s eyes softens. Seulgi wishes she could wrap herself in that warmth, or maybe pocket it and keep it somewhere secure for safekeeping; in case she needs it for a later date. “I don’t even know what I’d do after that sort of shitty situation.”

“You probably would’ve broken up with her before it got as bad as it did,” Seulgi says, chuckling. There’s no humor in the sound.

Irene’s brow furrows in sympathy. She strokes the side of Seulgi’s face before crawling into the guitarist's lap, wrapping her arms around Seulgi’s neck and pressing her face in the space between. It’s pure instinct when Seulgi’s own arms encircle Irene’s waist, pulling the other girl ever closer, as if the thought of any space between them could shatter the world of solace they’d made for themselves, right here, right now.

“Maybe I would’ve,” Irene says, her lips moving against Seulgi’s neck, the contact comforting. “But then again, maybe I wouldn’t have. I can’t say for sure— I’ve never been in that kind of situation, let alone any kind of relationship that serious with anyone. No one before you, Seul.” Seulgi’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise at that. She doesn’t interrupt. “But she manipulated you emotionally, Seulgi. That would cloud anyone’s good judgement.”

“I knew I had to leave,” Seulgi mumbles. She decides to occupy herself by hiding her face in Irene’s hair, fingers playing with the ends of it, heaving a breath. Watermelon. She allows a small smile to grow. Of course, watermelon. It’s so perfect, so Irene. “But I was scared of what she would do. I was scared of being left alone.”

“But you made it out. You’re not alone now. And you’ve always had your friends.”

“I had to stay afloat somehow.”

Somewhere through it all, her leg had ceased in its bouncing. Seulgi hadn’t even noticed.

“You’re so brave, Seul.”

“You really think so?” 

Irene (much to Seulgi’s chagrin) pulls back to look Seulgi in the eye, fixing her with a serious look before leaning in and pressing a brief, chaste kiss to Seulgi’s lips.

“Yeah,” Irene says when they part, her breath ghosting over Seulgi’s cheeks. “I do.”

“I was afraid to have this conversation,” Seulgi admits ruefully. Her head is still spinning from that kiss – as per usual with Irene’s kisses – and she cradles the actress carefully in her arms.

“Was it as bad as you thought it would be?” Irene tilts her head, and Seulgi’s struck yet again by how effortlessly Irene manages to teeter between intimidatingly gorgeous and downright adorable.

And so Seulgi shakes her head, smiling.

“No. But I just think you make everything okay, Irene.”

--

“Hey, Rene?” Seulgi asks. They’re strewn across her couch, the credits of some Netflix original movie currently rolling down the screen. (It had been a ridiculous film about some girl actually complaining about being too tall. Irene had scoffed the entire time, making snide comments every 5 minutes that had Seulgi about to bust her gut from laughing too hard.)

Irene looks up from where she’s playing with one of Seulgi’s hands, “What’s up?”

“You said that you’d never been in any relationship as serious as us before.”

“Oh yeah.” The actress nods.

“Not even a friendship?”

“I can’t say I have,” Irene hums. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of friends I’d consider close. Solar’s one of my closest friends, and she says I’m one of hers, but in the end, she found Moonbyul before me. Hell, Nayeon’s basically my best friend, but she’s also my manager. These days she’s got Mina too, and for that I’m glad; they’re good for each other. But yeah, lots of close friends, not really one of anyone’s first picks. I never really minded either; I’m not someone who’s bothered by being alone. Why do you ask?”

“I just hadn’t realized,” Seulgi explains. “I know you’ve described yourself as stubborn and childish, but you’ve always been so mature with me, and so sure of yourself too. You knew just the right words to say earlier.”

“Did you think so?” Irene throws Seulgi a smile as she relaxes in her seat, leaning back with the TV remote in hand. “I’m glad. Years of learning what not to do from starring in romance films and dramas with questionable on-screen relationships has finally paid off.”

“I’m glad your award-winning dramas are finally finding some meaning beyond allowing you to find out how much dust your trophies can collect,” Seulgi teases, ducking at the cushion Irene playfully tosses her way. “But really!” She insists, still smiling despite Irene’s embarrassed assault. “I’m grateful, Irene. I was afraid that you wouldn’t want someone with so much… baggage.”

“Oh, please,” Irene scoffs, almost sounding offended that Seulgi would even entertain such a thought; Seulgi laughs at the face Irene pulls. “It’ll take a hell of a lot more for you to scare me off, Seulgi. Unfortunately, you’re stuck with this stubborn, childish girl for life— one way or another.”

--

She calls up Irene late one day, when it’s nearing midnight.

The phone rings twice before Irene answers.

“You and I are different, aren’t we, Irene?” It’s more of a statement.

“Yeah, we are,” Irene hums.

“Like, the way we think and live our lives is fundamentally different,” Seulgi says.

“Very different,” Irene agrees. “But also not, at the same time.”

“And that’s not bad.”

“Not at all.”

“I like that we’re different, Irene. And I like that we’re not, too.”

“I like it too, Seulgi.”

“What was that, Irene? I couldn’t hear you, our connection’s shitty. Can you say that again?”

“Goodnight, Seulgi!”

Seulgi goes to sleep that night with a grin on her face and light in her heart.

--

When Irene hears the final product for the first time, she’s in a meeting room with the rest of the cast and screw, reclining in dignified office chairs around a boardroom table— a sight that’s way too formal for the casual way they’re all sitting. Irene’s one of the main leads, so she sits to the right of her director, observing the way her castmates sway back and forth to the music with a proud smile on her face.

“She’s in the rain! You wanna hurt yourself? I’ll stay with you. You wanna make yourself go through the pain. It’s better to be held than holding on.”

The song hits its climax during the final chorus, her director makes an audible noise of appreciation, the older woman nodding her head like yes, this is good, and Irene feels the ball of pride and happiness that been building within her finally burst free, exploding in her chest and sending her heart hammering against her ribcage.

“We’re in the rain! In this falling rain, I fill the scattered you. So I could see how beautiful you are, we’re in the rain.”

She raises her gaze from her castmates, finally turning her gaze to look down the table and catching the eye of Seulgi herself, who’s been standing with Moonbyul, Eunae, Chungha, and Mina by the stereo system in the front, fiddling her fingers nervously while gauging her employer’s reaction.

As soon as she meets Irene’s gaze, however, a smile blossoms across Seulgi’s lips when Irene gives her one firm, eager nod.

Just like that, the nerves that had plagued Seulgi’s expression disappear, replaced by that steady, quiet confidence that Irene’s grown to love, and it reminds Irene of flowers blooming in the spring.

--

“I can’t believe it’s already summer,” Yeri comments as she hops into the surprisingly warm night air, nothing but a light jean jacket covering her shoulders. She walks backwards, addressing Irene, Joy, Wendy, and Solar as the five of them make their way to the Red Room, where they’d meet up with the rest of their friends to celebrate The Velvet’s successful OST. “It felt like spring just started yesterday.”

Irene tilts her head, considering. “Winter lasted a pretty long time this year, didn’t it? And so spring came late, I guess.”

“Spring’s such a weird season,” Joy says, hip bumping Wendy’s. She hoists her bag further up her shoulder, huffing. “Everything starts getting warmer, and flowers start to bloom, but at the same time, spring is when it rains the most. I, for one, am glad that this year’s spring was short.”

“No flooding,” Wendy pipes in.

“Didn’t stop the pollen, though,” Solar sighs. “Looks like pollen season’s gonna bleed into summer.”

“That’ll be annoying,” Irene frowns. “Summer’s really just around the corner, wow. I don’t even remember when spring began, now that I think about it. How do you differentiate between late winter and early spring?”

“Easy, just say spring started when you met Seulgi.” Yeri wiggles her eyebrows suggestively, and Irene rolls her eyes in some attempt to stop the redness from spreading across her cheeks.

--

“Spring is t-shirts and jeans season,” Seulgi tells Irene later, when they’re standing in their corner of the Red Room, and it reminds her of when they first met. Seulgi’s standing near their booth again, casually leaning against the wall, looking ever much like a rockstar with her leather jacket and hair up in a high ponytail. Meanwhile, Irene’s clad in another shoulderless dress, this one red in color, matching her lipstick.

“But you always wear t-shirts and jeans,” Irene complains, and she’s not wrong, especially if Seulgi’s current band tee and ripped jeans mean anything.

“I know,” Seulgi says cheekily, flashing Irene a smile that has the actress whining through her teeth, positively adorable.

“You’re no help,” the actress pouts, flushing prettily at the way Seulgi reaches for her hand, raising it to her lips.

“How about you go dance with Solar and the others?” Seulgi suggests, presses a kiss to Irene’s knuckles.

“You should join us,” Irene replies.

“Maybe later,” Seulgi says, honest. “I might get something to drink first.”

“Promise?”

“Of course.”

“Alright,” Irene smiles, squeezing Seulgi’s hand in hers once before, backing away. She waves at Seulgi once, waiting for Seulgi to return the gesture before she spins on her heel to find their friends in the crowd.

Seulgi doesn’t immediately head to the bar, though. Instead, she stays in place for a few minutes longer, eyes tracking Irene’s red-clad figure through the crowd, over to where Solar, Nayeon, Yeri, and Joy are dancing. It’s like a slow-motion scene from some cliché teen movie. She watches the way people seem to part like the Red Sea for Irene, like she’s some higher being.

A devil in the skin of a goddess.

The sudden thought from their first real encounter makes Seulgi let out a startled laugh.

It was in this very room that they had met— really, truly met. Under the red flashing lights, Irene’s smile reaches Seulgi even through the crowd. From where she’s dancing with Joy, effortless, Irene catches Seulgi’s gaze, their eyes meeting; electric.

But Irene is still smiling, the corner of her lips quirking into something coy, something only reserved for Seulgi and Seulgi alone (this, they both know), and Seulgi feels it, welling in her chest— a warmth that pulses and breathes and expands, threatening to overtake her very being, and it’s right here and now, as she stands at the edges of the Red Room, an ocean of people between her and Irene – but never separating, no, they can’t ever be separated – that Seulgi realizes that she wouldn’t mind being consumed by those flames.

There’s a knowing glimmer in Irene’s eye as she swings back around to listen to something Solar yells over the music, and Seulgi lets out a breathless laugh as she tips her head, stares up at the red lights.

You love her, a voice says in her head. You’ve loved her for a while.

And the voice is no longer as small and meek as it once had been. Instead, it resounds, and Seulgi revels in it, another laugh leaving her lips. Maybe she looks crazy in the moment, laughing to herself in a nightclub. She can’t bring herself to care, because it feels crazy too; how long it’s taken her to realize. But then again, she hardly noticed the fall— loving Irene has been as natural as breathing, even from the very start.

Except now she’s finally made the choice to acknowledge it, this love that now seems so integral, so crucial, and oh, yes, this is the air that fills your lungs, you are alive, now you see it, and now you embrace it.

A more low-key song starts playing over the sound system, and Seulgi watches the crowd relax into more lethargic head-bobbing.

Her feet move without her even willing them, slowly making her way through the ocean of bodies, eyes locked on Irene’s figure the whole time, and the moment Irene notices her approaching, the actress is already moving away from their other friends, drawing herself into Seulgi’s arms; magnetic.

Irene pushes her cheek against Seulgi’s shoulder, arms wrapping themselves around the taller girl’s torso in a loose but intimate embrace.

“Nice of you to finally join us,” Irene hums, content, and Seulgi can hear how pleased she is.

“I feel like I can’t be away from you for too long,” Seulgi admits, her revelation leading her to feel even more honest than usual. She pulls Irene closer as they sway to the music. “It’s more for my sake, if I’m being real.” Seulgi keeps track of the rhythm mentally, their steps coinciding with every other beat.

Her right hand runs itself up and down Irene's spine, eventually settling on the small of her back. Irene shudders, seeming to melt even further into Seulgi’s body, and she turns her head to plant a kiss to Seulgi’s collarbone.

This time it’s Seulgi’s turn to shiver despite the heat coursing through her veins, and she tries to bite back a strangled noise that Irene definitely hears— she feels the way the actress’s smirk presses into her skin.

“I didn’t drink anything tonight,” Irene says, lips moving against Seulgi’s neck. She raises a hand, rests it against Seulgi’s pulse point, feels how her heartbeat races, aching.

“I didn’t either,” Seulgi states simply, ignoring the goosebumps that run down her own arms at Irene's touch.

“It’s strange though,” she continues, keeping her tone light and innocent, and Irene inhales, waiting with baited breath. “I didn’t drink anything, and I’m certainly not tired, but I already want to get out of here.”

Irene releases her breath, hands coming to fist the hem of Seulgi's band tee. She leans up, lips coming near Seulgi's ear.

“What a coincidence,” Irene murmurs, voice fleeting like the wind, and yet her words echo through every crevice of Seulgi's mind. “We seem to be on the same page.”

“My place?” Seulgi breathes.

The look in Irene’s eyes is dark and dangerous, wicked, an incantation for something more ; a demon with an angel’s halo, a devil in the skin of a goddess. Seulgi loves it.

“Do you even have to ask?”

--

She doesn’t know how Irene knows.

Nevertheless, Irene not only knows but wants.

“Yeah?” Irene asks, breathless in the moment the door to Seulgi’s apartment slams shut, and Seulgi’s got her pressed up against a nearby wall, face buried in the crook of the actress’s neck, layering kisses there as Irene’s fingers tangle themselves through dark locks.

“Yeah,” Seulgi replies lowly, having used up all her self control to briefly pull away from Irene’s skin. Tortuously slow, she burns kisses up the column of Irene’s neck, eventually making her way up to tug on Irene’s bottom lip between her teeth. Her hands snake their way up the other woman’s back, toying with the strap of Irene’s bra as her digits dance near her shoulder blades.

Seulgi leans down, biting on the bare skin there, and Irene’s head tosses back to groan.

“I love you!” Irene gasps, tugging Seulgi close. Her white-knuckled grip clutches desperately to the fabric of Seulgi's shirt. “Seul, I love you!”

Seulgi merely chases Irene’s lips with her own as a geyser of giddiness erupts in her chest, heat flooding through every rivet of her being. Irene’s lips are soft like usual, but their kiss is hard— more passionate than chaste, filled with more vigor. Seulgi kisses Irene and blinks back tears as Irene’s love sears itself against her mouth, hot and demanding and so willing to give.

“I love you too,” Seulgi tells her when they come apart to breathe. She steers them into her bedroom, cupping Irene’s cheek as the back of Irene’s knees hit the edge of the mattress before they come tumbling down. From above the other woman, Seulgi admires the whole view— Irene, hair disheveled, cheeks flushed, chest rising and falling with the weight of mountains, lipstick smeared, lips absolutely ravaged.

Irene has never been more beautiful.

“I love you so much,” Seulgi whispers, because she needs Irene to know, and Irene’s eyes shimmer with unshed tears before the other woman surges up and connects their mouths once more. Seulgi barely registers the feeling of her band tee getting tugged over her head, tossed aimlessly to the floor. Her hands find the zipper of Irene’s dress.

Irene’s eyes are hooded as she coaxes Seulgi impossibly closer, heat threatening to consume them both. She will never love another like she does Irene, this Seulgi knows. What they have is unique, it cannot be defined; one-of-a-kind, Seulgi would dare not try to replicate it with anyone else.

And as she lays Irene down onto her bed, Seulgi gets the feeling that she will never want anybody else, ever.

--

She’s awoken by light streaming in through the window.

Irene stirs in her arms. Seulgi makes a sound of content as she snuggles closer to that warmth.

She’s still Seulgi. Irene is still Irene. They’re still them.

Nothing is different in the light. Seulgi realizes that now.

The world’s still intact, miraculously.

“You’re thinking too loud.”

Irene mumbles onto Seulgi’s skin, head turning to blink blearily at her.

Seulgi smiles softly, pushing strands of hair from out of Irene’s face.

“If I recall correctly,” she says, pretending to think, “You said that exact same line to your lover in your hit movie, Body Talk, three years ago—”

“What kind of shitty pillow talk is this?” Irene complains, burying her face in Seulgi’s collarbone to smother a barely-suppressed smile, and Seulgi laughs loud into the morning air.

“The best kind,” Seulgi tells her as she presses a kiss against Irene’s temple, eliciting a squeak of surprise from the other girl as she squirms in Seulgi’s arms.

“I wanna wear that shirt you had on last night,” Irene declares right then, and suddenly she’s pulling herself out of bed to snag the band shirt where it had been tossed onto the floor in the whims of everything.

Seulgi watches in amusement as Irene pulls the single piece of clothing on with no resistance, and she smirks at the realization that the shirt reaches well down to Irene’s thighs as the actress hops back onto the bed to lean against the headboard, tugging the sheets up to her waist.

“You’re ridiculous,” Seulgi chuckles. She pulls her hair from its low, messy ponytail, shaking it out and propping herself up on an elbow, a lazy smile growing across her lips as her eyes rake down Irene’s form in appreciation.

In the early morning sunlight, with the sheets pooling at her waist, Irene looks nothing short of a goddess. Even with her hair a mess of dark tresses, with Seulgi’s oversized, thin band t-shirt slipping off a petite shoulder, just enough for Seulgi to notice the darkening marks at Irene’s collarbone; even with the remains of smudged red lipstick pulling at the corner of a coy smile of lips swollen from being nipped; despite looking everything like she’d just stepped out of a sinful dream, Irene manages to look heavenly nonetheless.

“What about it?” Irene asks whimsily, twirling a loose thread like she’d managed to twine her way so seamlessly into Seulgi’s life, and somehow the mundanity of the entire thing brings tears to Seulgi’s eyes. Irene doesn’t say anything about them, but one look is all it takes and it’s clear that she knows and Seulgi is grateful.

“I’m ridiculous, that’s right,” Irene says haughtily instead, and it’s finally Seulgi’s turn to laugh, swiping at the lone tears that escape with the back of her hand, overcome with the urge to kiss Irene over and over. “You love that about me.”

Nothing is different in the light.

“I do,” Seulgi says, grinning, in absolutely no position to argue.

“You’re a dork,” Irene counters.

“I am,” Seulgi says. Her smile softens. “You love that about me.”

“I do,” Irene says, not missing a beat.

Seulgi doesn’t miss the way Irene leans in, a challenge; the way Irene’s hand inches closer to hers between what little space remains between them. It’s easy for her fingers to find Irene’s and they’re like magnets, twine themselves in between, electric.

She pushes herself up, letting the sheet covering her chest fall to the bed, no longer caring, and she meets Irene’s challenge with new vigor, stealing Irene’s laughter with her own lips.

--

The admission happens one random Friday, when a group of them are over at Irene’s penthouse – Irene, Seulgi, Wendy, Joy, Yeri, Moonbyul, Solar, Nayeon, Chungha, Eunae, and Mina – seated around the giant living room area, glasses of wine in hand and loud laughter ringing through the air at every single incriminating story being shared around the space.

If someone had told Mina a few months ago that she’d end up here, in Bae Irene’s residence, having been personally invited by the actress herself, Mina would’ve laughed and waved them off without a second thought.

(Now, if someone had also mentioned that Mina would not only hit it off with Irene’s manager, let alone start dating said aforementioned manager, Mina would’ve gaped for a good minute-and-a-half before directing that person to the nearest mental facility.)

These days, it’s hard to imagine what her life would look like without Nayeon’s presence. Similarly, it’s hard to imagine a life without Irene’s effortless persona waltzing its way into their combined “The Velvet + Baes” groupchat with her strikingly witty remarks and invites to hangout. Now, it’s just funny to look back and reminisce.

“Remember how it took Mina two weeks to speak to Irene first?” Chungha asks with a snort, bumping her shoulder against Yeri’s, who’s sitting next to her. Mina just rolls her eyes good-naturally, long past the phase of wanting to melt into a puddle by now.

“She couldn’t even message me,” Irene giggles, taking another quick sip of her wine. “I thought she hated me!”

“No! Like I could ever hate you, unnie,” Mina immediately protests, shaking her head vehemently. “I like you best!”

“Careful, Minari,” Seulgi chimes in, a twinkle of mischief in her eye. It brings a smile to Mina’s face— Seulgi’s always had a sort of teasing streak, but her time with Irene has definitely increased it tenfold. “Nayeon might get jealous.”

“I’m not jealous, I actually have no idea what you’re talking about!” Nayeon retorts, but the arms encircling Mina’s waist tighten, and the drummer smirks to herself as she swiftly turns around to press a kiss to an off-guard Nayeon’s lips.

“Look at how bold she’s gotten!” Eunae coos, and Moonbyul and Wendy holler off to the side. “Our baby Mina’s grown so much!”

“You guys are just bad influences!” Mina shoots back playfully, resulting in a chorus of voices in protests rising in volume. “Every single one of you!”

“Even me, babe?” Nayeon bats her eyelashes.

“Especially you, baby,” Mina says sweetly, cupping Nayeon’s jaw.

Her girlfriend pouts, resting her cheek against Mina’s shoulder. “We’re talking about this when we get home.”

Mina doesn’t even register what was said before the living room seems to erupt into chaos. Suddenly, Moonbyul and Seulgi are standing up in shock, Eunae, Solar, and Chungha’s mouths are definitely making noises that Mina can’t even discern, and Wendy and Irene look like scandalized parents who’ve just walked in on their child doing the deed.

Meanwhile, Joy and Yeri have taken to cackling in their corner of the couch.

“Wow, Nayeon-unnie,” Yeri snickers. “You really move fast, huh?”

Nayeon’s mouth opens and closes dumbly like a fish.

“I—”

She’s cut off by Solar’s loud exclamation.

“You two live together?!”

“Y-yes?” Mina stammers, sharing a confused glance with Nayeon.

“Kids these days, moving so goddamn fast,” Wendy mutters under her breath. Joy barks out another cackle, rolling her eyes.

“They’re adults! And you say that as if we didn’t move in together after a year, Wan,” Joy reasons. “And weren’t you the one who told Nayeon that Mina was single?”

Oh? Mina raises a questioning brow at her girlfriend. At Nayeon’s resulting shrug, she stores that piece of information in her little mental filing cabinet for future reference.

“That was a year!” Wendy argues. “And we’d known each other personally for even longer than that! Nayeon and Mina literally met only a few months ago.”

“Same with Seulgi and Irene,” Joy points out.

“They don’t live together!”

Mina slowly lets her gaze wander to where Seulgi and Irene inconspicuously sit beside each other on the couch across the coffee table, Irene pressed against Seulgi’s side like usual. They have their pinkies hooked, which also isn’t out of the norm, but it’s only upon closer inspection that Mina notices the way Seulgi places a soft, barely-there kiss against the side of Irene’s head.

Seulgi made the first move.

Mina grins.

Well, that’s new.

“Have you ever thought about how little time Irene spends in her own penthouse these days? Like, I swear I saw a layer of dust on the counter earlier,” Joy comments, her tone light and innocent, and everyone freezes.

There’s a beat of silence. Then—

“Minari!” Irene calls innocuously, beaming as she rises from the couch. “Wanna help me prepare some fruit in the kitchen?”

“Sure, unnie!” Mina immediately pushes off Nayeon’s lap to follow the actress.

“Wha—” Seulgi stutters. “Rene, you’re just gonna leave me to fend for myself—”

“Love you, babe!” Irene singsongs.

“You traitor!” A laugh leaves Seulgi’s lungs. Mina can’t see her bandmate’s face as Irene leads her away to the kitchen, but she can already picture the faint smile of disbelief as the lead guitarist goes to defend herself from the rest of her friends. “Okay, you guys caught us! But my girlfriend should be able to visit my apartment whenever she wants!”

“Since when were you two officially girlfriends?” Wendy screeches.

“Uh, two weeks, give or take…?”

“Bitch, you didn’t think of telling us!?”

Mina had forgotten how loud Moonbyul could get.

“Well, they sure are rowdy,” Irene chuckles as she pulls out slices of watermelon from her refrigerator. She hands the container over to Mina, who pries off the lid and starts laying them on the platter Irene had placed on the counter.

“You and Seulgi are dating, unnie?” Mina finally comments. “You’re official now?”

“Yeah,” Irene smiles softly.

“I had been hoping you were.”

“Could you tell these past two weeks?”

“Yeah.” It’s Mina’s turn to smile.

“How?”

Mina lifts her shoulder in thought. “I guess I knew when Seulgi came to practice that Saturday after our last trip to the Red Room looking like she’d just been given her own slice of heaven.”

--

Love, Seulgi realizes, is an aura that announces its entrance even without a red carpet.

When had they come so far? She can’t even remember— nor does she particularly mind.

“Move in with me?” Seulgi asks on a late Thursday afternoon, no other context necessary. “Joy made a good point a few nights ago. You basically live here.”

“Oh?” Irene looks up from the book she’d been reading on Seulgi’s couch, fond and amused. “What got you suddenly thinking?”

“I mean,” Seulgi shrugs, smirks with some of that wickedness that Irene's managed to infect her with, “I guess it’s just that this afternoon was the billionth time I walked into my bedroom after a recording session to find your underwear somewhere on my floor, so I’m just saying—”

“You bitch!” Irene laughs, cutting her girlfriend off and Seulgi’s yelp transforms into a laugh of her own as she has to shield herself from Irene’s onslaught of slaps to her arm. “It’s not my fault we both have early schedules and no time to clean!”

“We’re gonna have to find time to do that,” Seulgi muses, completely ignoring the way Irene reaches over to grip at her wrist, shaking in silent snickers. “One of these theoretical days we’re going to get random visitors and the place is gonna be a literal dump.”

“Fuck those theoretical people for showing up unannounced!” Irene proclaims indignantly, and that gets both of them to look at each other, Seulgi’s smugly amused eyes meeting Irene’s faux innocent ones, and they burst into laughter.

“We really do need to clean though,” Seulgi eventually says between lighter laughs. “Or else your squeaky clean image to the public will be a big lie.”

“Hey, I love cleaning!” Irene says, defensive and pouting. “Again, not my fault our director wants me on set literally everyday, even for the scenes I’m not even in.” She rolls her eyes. “ ‘You need to observe and get a feel for your own scenes,’ my ass.”

“She might want you around all the time for your ass, yes,” Seulgi helpfully quips. “I can relate.”

“Seulgi!” Irene shrieks through a laugh, hitting Seulgi’s shoulder again. Seulgi can see it, though— the hint of red that stains Irene’s cheeks at the comment. It’s way too cute for its own good, and Seulgi takes pride in how she knows she’s the only one who gets to see this adorable side of the usually stoic actress. “And my director for this film is straight!”

“Irene! Do you think so little of the straights?” Seulgi gasps in faux offense; leans forward, taking Irene’s hands and staring her seriously in the eyes. “I know for a fact that many straight women can still appreciate and give credit where it’s due.”

“You’re impossible,” Irene shakes her head, grinning wide as she playfully shoves away Seulgi’s face with a palm against the other girl’s cheek.

“I know,” Seulgi replies boldly.

“Seul,” Irene says, serious. “We will clean the apartment this weekend, when we’re both free.”

“Yes, we will.”

“Actually wait, scratch that. First, we need to get the rest of my stuff.”

“Yes, we do.”

“And then we clean.”

“Yes, we shall.”

It’s such an easy conversation to have, such an easy decision to make, despite it being completely new to both of them. After it’s over, they’re back to staring at each other— in mild surprise on Irene’s part, and more of a what on earth just happened on Seulgi’s.

But then Irene’s crossing her eyes and scrunching her nose and pulling a funny face, and that has them falling onto each other in laughter yet again, limbs entangling on the couch as Irene manages to get back to her favorite position, perfectly tucked under Seulgi’s chin, laying on Seulgi with her arms around her girlfriend's waist.

This, Seulgi decides right in their corner of the universe, is love too— laughter, residing in the place of everything else, making their world just a little bit lighter.

--

They’re out eating dinner at a nearby restaurant with their friends one late, late Saturday summer night when the air suddenly goes cold, their usual lively atmosphere being silenced with the appearance of one key figure who Irene’s one hundred percent sure that Seulgi (and by extension, the rest of The Velvet) hoped to never encounter again.

In all complete fairness, Irene’s been warned about The Ex before. After all, Chanmi lives in Seoul, just like Seulgi, and Irene, and the rest of their friends, and while it’s not like Irene’s never been aware of Chanmi’s existence, she can’t help but be surprised when the blonde woman walks up to their table like she owns the damn place, all white teeth smiles and pink lipstick and greeting their friends like she’d never hurt Seulgi in the first place.

“What are you doing here, Chanmi?” Moonbyul interjects abruptly. It’s hardly a question; more like a demand. Across from her, Joy agrees with a sharp nod, muscles tense like she’s ready to spring as Yeri visibly appears to prepare to hold Joy back.

“What?” The newcomer asks innocently. Her gaze wanders aimlessly across the table before finally landing on Seulgi, who stiffens in her place beside Irene. “A girl can’t say hi to her old friends?”

In an uncharacteristic show of aggression, Wendy actually sneers but says nothing, Eunae and Chungha having to place warning hands on their manager’s shoulders. Mina similarly remains quiet, apprehension flashing through emotional brown orbs as Nayeon eyes Chanmi in suspicion, occasionally flashing Irene and Seulgi concerned looks.

Irene, in the meantime, keeps her expression strictly neutral. She’s an actress, and a fucking good one too. No one ever catches Irene off guard.

And for Seulgi… well, she’d do just about anything for Seulgi.

“You must be Bae Irene. What a pleasure to meet you,” Chanmi smiles, charming, like caramel. She extends her hand in friendly greeting, and Irene can see why Seulgi – or anyone else, for that matter – would’ve easily fallen in. There’s a dangerous glimmer in her eye though, that Irene catches when she cocks her head to get a better look at Chanmi in the light. There’s just something about the way Chanmi tilts her chin back, looking down at Irene from the bridge of her nose— like she’s being looked down upon not only physically, but metaphorically too.

Irene stifles a giggle. Unfortunately, she can’t be won over that quickly, not by someone like her.

Come at me.

“To say I’m honored would be an understatement of my own achievements,” Irene replies easily as she stands from her seat to take the outstretched hand, giving one firm shake with her smile a similar sugar sweet. They’re on equal ground now, Irene meeting Chanmi’s gaze levelly. “But nice to meet you nonetheless.”

From the corner of her eye, Irene sees Seulgi choke back a snicker.

Their friends watch the exchange like they would of a nail-biting tennis match, and Irene bites back a smirk of her own. She’s never been known to lose, and she surely has no plans of starting now.

“I thought it might’ve been you when I spotted you all from that table over there, where I'm sitting with my date,” Chanmi says, smile wavering only to the sharpest eyes. Irene takes a moment to glance over Chanmi’s shoulder, to where a man watches their interactions from alone at a table where Chanmi once sat. “I’m so used to seeing your red carpet pictures on the news, but in your more casual clothes with no makeup, I couldn’t recognize you clearly.”

Nice try.

“That’s alright,” Irene hums, nonchalant as she twirls midnight hair around a finger. “I’m pretty good at avoiding attention from people I don’t particularly care for.”

The spoon Mina had been nervously fiddling with clatters to her plate, and several other mouths gape open in utter shock, Chanmi’s included. Joy and Yeri’s resulting cackles cut through the tense air, and Seulgi tips her head back in a full-blown laugh that has her ex-lover struggling to regain her composure.

“Are you now?” the blonde woman asks, trying to keep her lofty tone. “Because you’ve got my full, undivided attention right now. I’m simply a people person, Irene- ssi.”

“When the goal is to back me into a corner, I can’t exactly stay idle, now can I?” Irene fires back smoothly, her smile unfaltering as she slips into something comfortable; something coy, wicked. “How do you think I rose to the top of this cutthroat industry, Chanmi- ssi? You could say that I’m a people person too.”

“Our definitions of a ‘people person’ must be different, then.” Chanmi’s voice is steely, now fully on the defensive.

It makes Irene’s smile widen. “That’s right. Maybe you and I both understand people, but I also know the type of person I want to be. And I know that person isn’t a manipulator. You won’t be seeing any of that bullshit from me because I know when I need to cut to the point and be honest, just as I'm being right now, Chanmi- ssi. Our definitions are very different.”

Chanmi’s face contorts into one of sheer anger, and Irene allows her lips to curl back and relax into that smirk she just knows infuriates even the most stone-cold of industry higher-ups.

Checkmate.

--

The table remains speechless even a whole minute after Chanmi’s stormed off in a blind fury; even after Irene’s already plopped back unceremoniously in her seat, taking a swig of her wine like the most unbothered woman in the world.

“And don’t come back,” she’d snorted once the other woman was out of earshot, to the further shock of the table.

Even Seulgi’s still struck dumb, having been shooting obvious heart-eyes her girlfriend’s way throughout the entire exchange.

Then—

“Irene?” Joy says, breaking the silence.

“Yeah?” Irene swirls her wine around in its flute before sipping.

“You’re a whole ass legend.”

Joy receives a signature smirk and hair flip in return.

“I should hope so,” the actress says breezily, a finger once again twirling a dark lock, and Joy barks out a laugh.

A second later, Seulgi’s tugging Irene out of her seat, a come with me the only warning having been given, dragging her out the side door to an empty alleyway— a small, necessary haven of privacy as Seulgi leans in and kisses her silly against a red brick wall, away from prying eyes.

--

They leave the dinner thirty minutes later in high spirits, and Seulgi doesn’t think they make it back to her apartment soon enough.

Honestly, they barely make it through her door.

“Have I ever mentioned that you’re fucking amazing, Rene?” Seulgi asks, lips red, red against the span of Irene’s throat.

“You could stand to say it more,” Irene giggles. She threads her fingers through Seulgi’s hair, already pulling it out of its neat ponytail.

“I’m taking you on the couch.”

“We just cleaned the couch,” Irene says, breathless with laughter as Seulgi’s lips continue their relentless assault down her neck.

“Do I hear you complaining?”

“No, ma’am.”

--

Dispatch @Dispatch · 10m
The Velvet’s leader, Kang Seulgi and top actress, Bae Irene were seen at a dinner with friends yesterday, where the two were seen sharing a passionate kiss in the alley beside the restaurant.

[ @Koreaboo, @allkpop, @soompi, and 103k others retweeted this photo ]

sam @baebaebun · 10m
Replying to @Dispatch
UM, EXCUSE ME?? KINDLY FUCK OFF???

the velvet comeback soon juseyo @fckyeahseulgi · 9m
Replying to @Dispatch
we wanted seulrene endgame BUT NOT LIKE THIS, THEY CLEARLY DIDN’T WANT TO BE SEEN

Dispatch @Dispatch · 5m
Bae Irene seen to have gone back to Kang Seulgi’s apartment following a dinner with friends. The two were seen to be holding hands in the lobby area.

[ @Koreaboo, @allkpop, @soompi, and 73k others retweeted this photo ]

kay @seulrenefighting · 3m
Replying to @Dispatch
GET THE FUCK OUT OF THEIR PRIVATE LIFE FUCK YOU

low quality seulgi @seulgilqs · 2m
Replying to @Dispatch
Society has moved past the need for stalkers who follow celebrities to their homes for clout. I hope Irene fucking curbstomps you.

--

Seulgi wakes up the next morning to both her phone, and Irene’s, buzzing like as if their little electric lives depend on it.

Grumbling, Irene begrudgingly hauls herself out of Seulgi’s arms, snagging her phone from the opposite side-table, just as Seulgi sighs and picks up her own device.

As soon as she opens the lock screen, a string of messages from Wendy are the first thing she sees. The very moment she spots the infamous Koreaboo tweet, complete with candid pictures of her and Irene at the Red Room and roaming the streets together, Seulgi throws back her head to groan in unadulterated annoyance.

> [sent tweet]

> Okay, I know you’re probably still asleep, or doing… other things, but PLEASE respond ASAP, Seul!

> Dispatch saw you and Irene kissing beside the restaurant last night.

> They caught an image of you and Irene in your apartment’s lobby too.

> The fact that they followed you to your home gives us the grounds to sue on its own, but anyway, dealing with the more immediate problem

> We’ve got 2 real options here

> Either we deny

> And let’s be honest, that’s more like delaying the inevitable, considering how iirc you just told me she’s moving in with you

> And she’s basically the air you breathe at this point

> OR

> You guys can go all out.

Seulgi raises an eyebrow. She hadn’t been expecting that. She scrolls down to the last message.

> Your call, Seul. If you wanna try something else, just let me know and we’ll figure it out together. But also know that I and the rest of your bandmates will always vouch for your happiness :) - Wannie

Peeking over Seulgi’s shoulder, Irene quickly scans the younger woman’s screen before giggling.

“Hey, I got basically the same thing from Nayeon. Do you think our managers have been talking behind our backs?”

Seulgi bumps her forehead against Irene’s with a chuckle. It’s strange how calm she is in this situation. Scandals are nothing to scoff at, typically. Except this matter is that Irene’s here, in bed with her. They’re not some sketchy fling in the dark anymore. Chanmi hasn’t never been further from her. Seulgi can’t really bring herself to care about anything else besides the happy feeling in her chest.

“Oh, definitely.”

Irene scrunches her nose. She shakes her head, mumbling to herself. “Well, fuck, it’s 5AM. I should, like, send Nayeon a fruit basket for her efforts or something.”

Seulgi’s about to say a word in agreement when she’s distracted by the sudden buzz of her phone again— more messages, this time in The Velvet groupchat.

> Eunae: we’ll support you no matter what, seul !!

> Moonbyul: You get out there and chase your happiness! *flexed biceps emoji*

> Chungha: make us proud!

> Mina: unnie istg if you break up with her after all this

> Mina: I will NOT hesitate to break your arms

> Chungha: holy shit Mina it’s only 5am

> Eunae: whoa when did Mina get so violent

> Moonbyul: I need to have a nice, civilized convo with Nayeon

Seulgi chokes out a laugh at Mina’s uncharacteristic showcase of aggression, and Irene snorts, their heads clunking together again.

Their eyes meet, holding each other’s gaze for only but a moment— for all Seulgi knows, it could’ve lasted lifetimes.

Einstein’s theory of relativity, she muses to herself yet again. But think about how happy you could be, even happier than you are now. Maybe it goes the opposite way too— lifetimes of happiness with Irene by her side in the blink of an eye. How strangely romantic.

Something knowing is exchanged, then and there, and they grin.

“I’ll go all out if you go all out,” Seulgi shrugs, trying to look as laid-back as possible about the whole thing. In reality, excitement seems to spark through her entire being, coursing through her nervous system; a new type of giddy energy just flooding every inch of her body.

The world will keep on turning.

They’ll keep on working at it.

And Irene grins, wide and toothy, signature coy and wicked with that dark sparkle in her eye, and god, Seulgi’s never going to stop falling in love; she’ll never love another like she loves Irene.

“Oh, bet!”

--

Yeri’s in the middle of brushing her teeth when Joy kicks the bathroom door wide open and barges inside with a clamor. With a shriek for her dear life, Yeri desperately clutches her chest, toothbrush still hanging from the corner of her mouth as Joy frantically waves her phone in the younger girl’s face with incomprehensibly loud noises and the eyes of a crazy person.

Her sleepovers with her best friend have been chaotic in the past, yes, but not this chaotic.

“Park Sooyoung, what the fuck —”

“Read the fucking tweets, Kim Yerim.”

“Okay, okay! Christ, what’s gotten into you— holy shit.”

--

Irene @renebaebae · 15m
@hi_sseulgi hi babe aka the love of my life

Seulgi @hi_sseulgi · 13m
Replying to @renebaebae
Rene, I’m literally right next to you

Seulgi @hi_sseulgi · 13m
Replying to @renebaebae
Also, this isn’t what I thought you meant when you said “all out”

Irene @renebaebae · 11m
Replying to @hi_sseulgi
dear girlfriend of mine, you should know better than to think i’d halfass this

[ @fuckyeahseulgi, @seulrenefighting, @baebaebun, and 205k others retweeted this video ]

--

Yeri taps on the attached video, entranced, as the short 30 second clip starts to play.

Irene herself isn’t in the frame, but her distinct signature laughter can be heard as the camera pans around what Yeri easily identifies as Seulgi’s kitchen.

“Be real with me, Seul,” Irene says from behind the camera, fixating the view on Seulgi, who stands next to the sink with her phone in one hand and a takeout menu in the other, donning nothing but an oversized t-shirt and short shorts, hair an absolute mess but looking like she’d just stepped out of a teen romance movie’s day after scene anyway. “Like, let’s settle this once and for all: pineapple on pizza isn’t that great.”

From where she’d been reading off the menu, Seulgi gasps, the textbook definition of horror etched on her bare, makeup-less face.

“Take that back, Bae Joohyun! If you’re going to live under this roof, you have to like pineapple on pizza.”

“But it’s actually disgusting,” Irene snickers through her teeth.

“Okay, now you’re just fucking with me,” Seulgi accuses, waving the takeout menu animatedly and trying her best to look annoyed. Yeri sees past it with ease— there’s no way no one notices how the corners of Seulgi’s lips twitch upwards, smothering back laughter.

“No, Seul, that was earli

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence!”

The video cuts off there.

Yeri doesn’t even notice when her toothbrush leaves her mouth and drops to the bathroom floor.

(Joy makes a mental note to buy a new one for Yeri later, figuring that her friend definitely will blame her for its uncleanly demise in the next thirty minutes.)

“They’re insane,” Yeri says. Her eyes return to her friends’ tweets, crawling over each word obsessively, each new read lending itself to the smile of disbelief that creeps across her face.

“They’re literally crazy,” Joy affirms.

“You need to step up your game when you publicly admit to being involved with Wendy.”

“I know,” Joy bemoans.

--

And so the world keeps on turning.

As she sits still for the makeup artist on set, Irene lets her mind wander, wondering briefly if an entire planet can somehow stay on its orbital with a metaphorical spring in its step. She has a new scene to film, and then she’ll be back in this same chair for a touch-up in maybe an hour or so. Then back to filming. Rinse and repeat.

She’s in the Rain plays through the earphones she has on, Seulgi’s soothing voice filtering through her ears.

Not everything has to be clear cut, Irene knows. Still, it’s comforting to think about what she already knows; the things that will almost definitely happen.

Tomorrow, too, the world will keep on spinning. Irene will be back in this make-up chair. She will record a new scene. Maybe this time she’ll ask Nayeon to get her boba tea instead of the coffee she’d requested earlier— the choices are endless. Maybe tomorrow, Nayeon will actually use the credit card Irene hands her to use at the café instead of insisting on using her own.

And just like that, her thoughts drift to her best friend.

On a day off that Irene just knows Nayeon could’ve spent with Mina, her manager had fought her little heart out at the company building for Irene’s decision in the wake of her dating news— “Irene’s way more than an internationally acclaimed, well-established actress, and she’s dedicated over half of her life to this place, so I think this company at the very least can give her this happiness.”

“Why do you do these things for me?” Irene had asked honestly as they'd stepped beyond the company's glass doors and into the mid-summer sunlight.

Nayeon had shrugged. “Beyond the fact that you’re probably my best friend and I know you’d do the same for me? You're a good person, Irene. And Seulgi’s a good person. And good people deserve each other.”

Irene’s eyelashes flutter as the makeup artist dusts some blush over her cheeks. That conversation had played on heavy rotation through her brain since its occurrence. Irene’s been hitting pause, play, and rewind, mentally chewing on each word with purpose. Good people deserve each other.

And as her head gets tilted ever-so-slightly backwards so that crimson red lipstick can be applied to her lips, Irene makes a decision right then.

Tonight, she will go home and talk to Seulgi about relinquishing ownership over her penthouse— the one that’s been collecting dust since she all but moved into Seulgi’s place. Seulgi will ask Irene if she’s sure, because she’ll want Irene to have a safe place to go in case she ever needs her space. Irene will smile as she leans in and kisses her, thank her for being so considerate, and tell her girlfriend not to worry because yes, she’s actually thought that far ahead.

Tomorrow, she’ll wake up earlier and make three cups of coffee at Seulgi’s place: one for herself, one for Seulgi, and one for Nayeon. At 7AM, Nayeon will pick her up, and Irene will happily explain that they don’t need to stop by Starbucks this time. Instead she’ll hand over the coffee and ask Nayeon to take the long way to the film set, and Nayeon will look suspicious but agree anyway.

“So you told me you were planning on going apartment hunting for a better place soon,” Irene will say as they drive along the Han River. “And it just so happens that I was looking for someone to give my penthouse to.”

Nayeon will slam on the breaks, the car skidding to a halt, to look over in complete shock at Irene in the passenger seat, where she will be innocently sipping her coffee like nothing even remotely life-changing was just said.

“You really just want to give me your penthouse? Just like that? What?”

“You heard me,” Irene will reply in return, and at Nayeon’s scrunched up, unbelieving gaze, she’ll pout. “Why the look? You always said you liked the view from the balcony.”

“Of course you’re bringing this up on the drive to work like the grass is green, water is wet, Nayeon I’m giving you my whole-ass penthouse.”

“It’s a gift, so no tax,” Irene will continue, blatantly ignoring her manager. “Because, y’know, I actually bought that thing, including all the furniture and stuff. It’s mine. I own it. Well, not for long now— but you know what I mean.”

“You’re so weird,” Nayeon will say, shaking her head. “They say the industry makes you old and jaded, but after nearly four years of partnership, both of us have done nothing but turn out so, so weird.”

“We’ve always been at least a little weird,” Irene will shrug. “From the very start, back when you bought me a different flavor of boba tea than my usual because you told me I needed more variety in ‘my boring ass, grayscale life,’ you sure as hell were weird.”

“Can’t deny that,” Nayeon will admit begrudgingly, and they’ll chuckle because it’s true, and they’ll smile because they wouldn’t have it any other way.

The world will keep on spinning.

Irene imagines all of these things right as the director calls her name— time to get to work. It’s not like she’s getting paid to daydream. Carefully, she unhooks Seulgi’s golden guitar pick from around her neck, slipping it securely into her pocket— her good luck charm. Hopping out of the makeup chair, she dusts off her wardrobe daintily, like the professional actress she’s known to be, a faint smile on her lips of promises and contentment.

“I fill the scattered you so I could see how beautiful you are,” Seulgi’s voice sings, and Irene lets that familiar warm feeling encase her heart as she plucks out her earphones, leaving them in her trailer.

Reality will be so much better than her daydreams anyway.

--

“When do they move in?” Seulgi asks a few days later – it’s a Friday night, which means it’s especially theirs – and she raises her arm for Irene to easily slot against her as they step out of their apartment building and into Seoul’s bustling nightlife.

It’s another one of those nights of easy wandering. This time, however, they’ve decided to forgo the baseball caps and masks— everyone knows they’re together now anyway, so no point in hiding more than they need to, they figure. Maybe next time they’ll want more privacy, but tonight they’ve decided to bask.

“Next Saturday,” Irene chirps, an extra excited bounce to her walk. “Mina texted saying they’re going to need help moving boxes even though Nayeon doesn’t want to admit it.”

“I’ll tell Mina we’ll be at their old place bright and early,” Seulgi chuckles, and her hand reaches for Irene’s absently, fingers weaving together like a tapestry, and Seulgi’s thumb rubs circles onto the back of her palm.

Irene beams, leans up and presses a kiss to her cheek.

Somewhere in the night, they hear the click of a camera shutter.

Seulgi snorts, resting her forehead against the side of Irene’s temple. Irene seeks out the lens with a playful eyeroll, raising her middle finger without a care in the world.

Neither of them rather care, as a matter of fact, and it feels pretty good, Seulgi thinks.

--

kay @seulrenefighting · 5m
HELP SEULRENE ARE SO FUCKING CUTE, LOOK AT THEM WAVING AT DISPATCH AND FANS WHILE ON THEIR DATE I’M GONNA CRY

[@ baebaebun, @fckyeahseulgi, @iloveirene_, and 5k others retweeted your photo ]

the velvet comeback soon juseyo @fckyeahseulgi · 3m
Replying to @seulrenefighting
can y’all believe just less than a year ago seulrene didn’t even have a ship name???

sam @baebaebun · 10m
Replying to @fckyeahseulgi @seulrenefighting
Did seulrene even know each other last year LMAO

kay @seulrenefighting · 8m
Replying to @baebunbun @fckyeahseulgi
fam i was legit a seulnae shipper until a few months ago and now i’ve sold my whole soul to seulrene FDHSFKJDSHFKJLDSFJKSL

--

Seulgi doesn’t think she’ll ever get tired of waking up to the soft, pliant body of Bae Irene in her arms. There’s nothing like a peaceful morning, when they wake up before the rest of the world does, conversation trickling in and out like a quiet stream in a forest of thought.

“A few weeks ago, when she was helping me in my kitchen, Mina asked me what my secret was,” Irene says, her head finding its way to the crook of Seulgi’s neck. Her hand trails over Seulgi’s bare body, her palm eventually coming to rest over Seulgi’s beating heart.

“The secret to being Bae Irene?” Seulgi presumes.

“Something like that,” Irene muses. “She seemed to struggle to explain what she meant.”

“I can completely understand,” Seulgi says, garnering a furrowed brow from Irene. The musician smirks, leans forward to press her lips against Irene’s forehead. “There’s no sum of words that could ever perfectly package just who you are, Rene. You’re like a conundrum wrapped in a riddle— you’ve got so many facets, and I’m still learning new things about you every day. I could never grow tired of it.”

“You’re bound to find parts of me you don’t like,” Irene frowns.

“You don’t know that.” Seulgi says playfully, and Irene’s lips part as a conflicted expression crosses her features.

“Statistically, though,” Irene argues quietly. “I don’t know if that’s even possible.”

“Well, I’ve got the supposed ‘impossible’ in my arms right now,” Seulgi replies, a laugh leaving her lungs, and Irene flushes and buries her face into Seulgi’s chest. The younger woman chuckles. “Clearly, nothing’s actually impossible. You taught me that.”

“How so?”

“I never thought someone like you was possible.” Seulgi tips her head slightly, thinking. Irene continues to run her thumb over Seulgi’s chest, slowly rising and falling with the intake of breath. “You’re stubborn and persistent, but also open-minded. You know what you want, even without all the facts. Maybe you could call that childish logic, but you’re so mature with how you seem so sure of yourself. You know what you can handle. You know yourself in a way that the rest of us are still trying to figure out, and that sets you apart. But at the same time, I’ve never connected to anyone like I’ve connected to you.

“Plus,” Seulgi’s hold tightens. “You… You’re okay with being alone, but you don’t push anyone away. You know how to stay afloat.”

“I can’t let myself drown.”

“As if I’d let you,” Seulgi smiles.

“I’m fine with being alone,” Irene says. “I’m fine with it, I really am. I guess I just try to remember that I’m alone on the ground like everyone else. I discovered a mentality that works for me. Besides, I won’t always be… like this.” She shrugs her shoulders, momentarily lifting her hand to push some hair out of her face. “Fame doesn’t last forever. I’ll make the most of it, and once it’s over, I’ll make the most of that time too.”

Alone, but not lonely. The words resonate through the space despite remaining unspoken. Seulgi remembers them as clear as day, Irene and her proclamation on that first visit to her apartment, her words resounding like the sound of crystal bells.

“You sometimes wish you were normal?” Seulgi reckons. Casually, she traces the red marks that remain on Irene’s neck, mentally apologizing to whichever stylist would have to cover those up later. “Like, you wish you weren’t in the spotlight all the time?”

“I’m not in the spotlight right now, here with you,” Irene giggles, but then she shrugs again. “But sometimes, yeah. Try as we might, we’re not entirely immune to toxicity of the industry. And sure, maybe I sometimes go entire weeks without seeing the rest of our friends thanks to work, but at the same time, that makes all of our gatherings that much more precious. And I’ve experienced so much that the rest of the world doesn’t ever get to see. Sometimes it sucks. Like, really sucks. But I might’ve not met you, or our friends, otherwise. You guys help keep me sane. Especially you, Seul.”

For a heartbeat, Seulgi allows herself to imagine what life would’ve been like, had she been pursuing her dream alone. What could her life have looked like, had she not found Moonbyul, Chungha, Eunae, and Mina?

Terribly lonely, is the singular answer she finds, and it doesn’t even take that long to search for, either. Fame is lonely. The top is lonely. She doesn’t really want to think about it too much, because Seulgi isn’t Irene, and she doesn’t think she’d be okay with being alone, but that’s still okay.

“Good thing I’m here to keep you grounded,” she says in lieu of anything else.

“Somehow, you’ve kept my feet on the ground and taken me to the highest of heights,” Irene says fondly.

“We’re climbing mountains together,” Seulgi simply says.

“And now my feet hurt!” Irene pouts. She taps Seulgi’s arm insistently. “They’re sore, and I’m hungry. Carry me to the kitchen?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Seulgi chuckles, detangling herself begrudgingly and tossing a band t-shirt Irene’s way before lifting her girlfriend up in her arms.

--

“I want you to listen to something,” Seulgi says that later that night. Irene’s in the kitchen, pouring them glasses of wine as Seulgi sits in the living room, Netflix cued up and that new Alice Wu directed-film already loaded and ready to be watched.

“Is this for the new album you were talking about?” Irene asks curiously.

“Yeah, my members voted for it to be the title track.”

“Oh, wow!” Irene marvels. “Am I really allowed to listen to it?”

“I don’t see why not,” Seulgi laughs. “I’m not even kidding, Moonbyul told me to have you listen to it first. I’m the one singing basically all of this one… the girls were pretty insistent.”

“That’s really cute! I’m excited to hear it.”

“You ready?”

“Never more, Seul.” Irene settles onto the couch next to her girlfriend as the musician hits play, and Seulgi’s voice drifts in through their surround-sound speakers.

“Stay, little star lights, the fireflies that pull me in. Take, take me with you, inside of your breathtaking gaze.”

“Oh,” Irene whispers, awestruck. Oh. Her grip tightens around Seulgi’s hand subconsciously, pure reflex, no reaction more natural. “It’s you.”

“I wanna be red! Just like the burning fire in front of me! I wanna be red! Just like the sky painted crimson, I don’t care! I wanna be!”

Sometimes Irene looks at Seulgi and wonders if her nerves have been rearranged, because every time Seulgi touches her, it’s familiar and new all at once; like after all this time, there are still new things to discover. She has stared at the ocean of Seulgi and squinted at the horizon, has wondered where it could possibly end, only to find that there is no limit, no boundary, just as how there is no place where the sky ends. This, she realizes, is one ocean she would not mind exploring for an eternity.

“You sound so happy,” Irene says, and her lower lip trembles.

“Do I?” Seulgi smiles.

“You sound like you.” Irene buries her face in her hands, because it’s overwhelming, how amazingly happy Seulgi sounds through the speakers— how wonderfully, beautifully weightless Seulgi sounds; as though she’s been freed. Seulgi always sounds beautiful, but this is something else entirely. Irene wishes she could drown in this, that sort of light and happiness and freedom.

“I want to shine in this darkness, so throw your sticks and stones! So what if we’re different from others? I don’t care at all! I wanna be red! I don’t care what anyone says!”

Irene presses her ear right below Seulgi’s collarbone, tucking herself under the taller girl’s chin; feels the way Seulgi’s heart beats along with the percussion. It’s amazing to her, still, how this astounding girl manages to live and breathe music. If Irene could place a bet, she’d wager that Seulgi had staves running through her veins, music notes doting her bloodstream and composing its magnum opus: Kang Seulgi herself.

Seulgi squeezes her hand, and Irene’s heart clenches in pride right along with it.

“I don’t wanna be dead, I wanna spread high above like fire! Fireworks! I wanna be!”

Irene feels her love swell in her chest— her love that she hadn’t been able to recognize at first – she's never been in love before, after all – but at some point she’d realized that she’d been peering at it for so long, gazing in awe at the sheer vastness, at the way that kind of boundless emotion had the ability to knock the breath from her lungs but fill the scope of her being with life nonetheless, drenching her soul with a light so bright she hadn’t even known it existed.

“Can I listen to it again?” Irene whispers after it’s all over. Excitement tingles through her body as she peers eagerly up at Seulgi. “And another time after that?”

“You can listen to it as many times as you want, Rene,” Seulgi tells her, leaning down to kiss her forehead. “It’s thanks to you that the song exists, after all.”

“I really can?”

“Of course,” Seulgi murmurs, lips moving against Irene’s skin. “Might get tired of it though.”

“As if I could ever get tired of listening to you,” Irene says immediately.

“I beg to differ,” Seulgi laughs. Then her mouth drops open as she realizes what she'd just said. “Wait—”

Irene's eyes glimmer as her gaze snaps up, and they both know what comes next.

“Then beg.”

“You know what?” Seulgi shakes her head, grinning. “That doesn’t sound too bad anymore.”

“Kang Seulgi, you’re crazy,” Irene snickers.

“Crazy for you, babe,” Seulgi shoots back before defensively raising both of her hands, her girlfriend raising an eyebrow. “Hey, listen, this was all your influence! You’re the one who turned me into whatever this is.”

Irene tilts her head. “They say lovers start to resemble each other the longer they’re together.”

“Wow. I don’t even know if that’s a good or bad thing. Like, imagine two Irene’s, or even two Seulgi’s.”

“That does sound a bit chaotic, doesn’t it?”

“We’re gonna wreck hell, aren’t we?” Seulgi grins.

“Seul,” Irene smirks, “Every day we’re together, the line between heaven and hell blurs just a bit more.”

“Is that our goal now? To make our own world?”

“Oh, definitely. Stretch goal is a whole new universe. It’s a process.”

“We’ll work on it?” Seulgi asks, raising her wine glass.

“We’ll work on it.” Irene smiles, clinking hers against Seulgi’s.

And it’s a promise, so they do.

 

End.