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A Burglar's Guide to Gotham

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For the many psychological ailments that have befallen her, Nayeon has luckily never had trouble sleeping.

This doesn’t mean it doesn’t take a little bit of work.

Her patented technique starts at 10pm. Back when she was a thief, this would have been ridiculous— nighttime is a perfect stage for robberies. But now she’s a back-alley environmental activist, so some things needed to change.

First, she has a little wine after dinner. Just enough to get hazy and heavy.

Then an hour of whatever documentary Sana has queued up, though they talk through most of it. She can’t sleep if she leaves anything unsaid, so it’s officially a vent session. Though, weirdly, there has been less to vent about lately.

Then lavender lotion.

Then a few more sips of wine, just to swallow down the melatonin.

But Nayeon’s rituals don’t exactly work their magic on Sana. She tosses and turns every time Gotham’s nightly lullaby starts— trains rattling over the unkempt bridges, a drunk throwing a beer bottle against the brick alley, stray cats screeching in the dumpsters.

Sana jolts in panic every time the air conditioner clicks on like it’s a smoke alarm.

Which has the effect of making Nayeon jolt in a panic as her angelic girlfriend jolts in a panic and they’ve both woken up screaming and it sucks.

So here they are tonight. The alarm clock beside the bed reads a ghastly 3:32 AM. Sana lets out a whine of frustration and falls back against the sheets.

In the dark, with only the laptop charger blinking out a weak blue pinlight at the corner of the bedroom, Nayeon’s hand flutters through the bedsheets until she finds Sana’s shaking wrist.

“It’s nothing,” she slurs.

Sana’s voice is clear when she says, “I think I’ll just get up.”

“We slept for, like, three hours.” Maybe they got a little carried away with the bedtime routine this time.

“You can sleep more,” Sana says, wiggling away. “I’ll be on the balcony.”

Ever since Dahyun moved into the greenhouse with Momo, they’ve been building up a healthy stock of houseplants out on the fire escape. Honeysuckle vines tangle up the rusted metal. A pitcher plant hangs off their windowsill. Old styrofoam slurpee cups are filled with jade plants and aloe vera.

Sometimes Sana will sit there for hours, the smog-weak sunbeams moving in long lines across her face.

Nayeon snatches the glass of water from beside the bed and swallows another melatonin.

 

 

“This is very public,” Nayeon frowns.

“It’s a coffeeshop,” Mina sighs, sipping at her mug. The steam rises and blurs her glasses.

“Right, but. I’m not going to talk about my feelings in a coffeeshop.”

“You aren’t my patient anymore so this is where we talk.”

Nayeon takes a bite of her croissant. It’s decent. “Can’t I just go over to your house?”

“That seems a little fast.”

“We aren’t dating.” She points her fork accusingly at her former therapist. “Stop being weird.”

“Friendships also have natural progressions. Whereas, romantically, there might be a first date, a first kiss, and then a first copulation—”

“Copulation,” Nayeon hisses into her mug.

“—for friendships, there are other benchmarks of closeness.”

“That’s very clinical. The way I see it, we know each other pretty well. We don’t need to meet in public places like I’m some crazed stalker or something.”

“You did stalk me, Nayeon.”

“Platonically,” Nayeon corrects. Maybe, before, this sort of back and forth would have bothered her to the point of uninhibited, blind rage. But there is something different now— maybe it’s that there isn’t a clock in the corner, or a pen pressed to a notebook listing all of her faults, or just Mina laughing even as she rolls her eyes. “So what’s the next benchmark? Let’s do it. Let’s get it over with.”

“It has to be natural.” Mina dabs at her lips with a napkin. “One day, I’ll be upset about something, and I’ll call you and you’ll ask me about it, and we’ll be closer. Or one day you’ll be upset and I’ll do the same for you.”

“I’m gonna fall asleep,” Nayeon groans, letting her head fall against the table.

And then something a little shocking happens:

Mina kicks her under the table, still smiling. “You’re a jerk.”

Just a little static. A socks on the carpet kind of shock.

They settle into the comfortable chaos of the shop— the butter knives clattering against ceramic plates, the machines behind the counter stuttering on and off, the bell against the door ringing as each person comes in.

“This isn’t bad,” Nayeon says. She means the croissant. She means being here. She means Mina.

“Is there anything you want to talk about?”

“Don’t do that.”

Mina’s grin splits her face. “Do what?”

“Look so eager.”

“So there is something.”

No. It’s stupid.”

Mina narrows her eyes. “You’re rarely self-deprecating.”

“It just seems more like a therapist issue than a friend issue.”

“How about you tell me, and then I’ll tell you if I think I can handle it.”

“Fine. Sana has been having trouble sleeping.” Nayeon takes a long, suffering breath. “And, for me, if I’m having trouble sleeping, that usually means that I’m—“

“Don't project.”

“No psychology gibberish,” Nayeon says through a mouthful of a lemon tart. “You’ll ruin my appetite.”

“Sana is— and I say this affectionately— simpler than you are.”

“You mean less insane.”

“Yes. So she’s probably not having trouble sleeping for the same reasons you might.”

“This may horrify you,” Nayeon drawls, “but I think the world would make a lot more sense if everyone was as insane as I am.”

“You should put that on a t-shirt.”

“I was quoting your girlfriend’s podcast.”

Mina’s fist clenches around the mug. “She’ll be touched that you listen.”

“I do it to make fun of her,” Nayeon says flatly.

“I know.” Mina looks like she wants to say something else, but wisely takes another sip of coffee before shifting the conversation to a more comfortable topic. “Have you tried regimenting bedtimes and—“

“Yep. Everything. I even checked out some baby books.”

Mina raises her eyebrows skeptically.

“I have a library card.” Nayeon’s voice drops to a conspiratorial whisper,.“I even read her a bedtime story.”

“Maybe she’s having nightmares about being treated like a child by her girlfriend.” Mina fights a smile and loses gracelessly.

“I don’t want banter, I want a solution.”

“I’m going to make the assumption you haven’t talked to Sana about this.”

“Wrong, as usual.” Nayeon is a little proud. She’s been making a habit of talking to Sana first about everything. Not because Mina always suggests that, it’s just convenient. When it came to the sleeping issue, Sana seemed as distressed and confused as Nayeon.

“This might be a violation of ex-girlfriend confidentiality,” Mina says cautiously, “but Sana has always had bouts of insomnia.”

“So how do you fix it?”

“You can’t.”

Dread fizzes in Nayeon’s stomach. “You can’t?”

“There isn’t a cure for everything, Nayeon.”

“That’s stupid.”

 

 

Whenever Nayeon used to sneak into art museums after hours, sometimes she’d pause in front of the paintings.

Most of them were too big to risk snatching, too big to fit through the holes she carved into the glass with her claws, but she could still appreciate the time and skill that went into each one.

Though some of them made her uneasy. She never liked the simple ones— a scene of a woman laying alone in a rye field, a man staring out at the world below him on a mountaintop— though she’d drift the longest in front of them. What always bothered her was what these people were thinking about.

Mina would call it projection or some other meaningless jargon, but the fact is those paintings always made her feel a little guilty, a little inadequate. Like maybe she should be having these big, grand revelries on rooftops. Maybe under all the petty annoyances, all the criminal triumphs, there’s supposed to be this deep well of understanding and peace that she’s supposed to tap into and the painting is supposed to remind her of that, of herself, but they never could.

Which is maybe a thought she’s having only because she’s alone on the subway, and watching the weak reflection of her face flicker against the window as the sun sets on Gotham, and she’s thinking ‘what if this was a painting’ and she’s thinking of a museum wall and beside her painting is one of Sana alone on their fire escape, eyelids heavy but never heavy enough. And maybe if she had been gifted with a little more emotional intuition and a little less restlessness and just generally a perfect, deserving person she would be able to look at that painting and know Sana exactly, and the Nayeon in the painting would break through the canvas and heal the painting of Sana in her arms.

So Nayeon maybe needs to do something other than think.

 

 

For an officially diagnosed narcissist, Nayeon has weirdly always enjoyed the anonymity of being at clubs.

Yes, the drinks are watered-down and over-priced.

Yes, the music is at the mercy of a self-important DJ.

Yes, everyone is sweating and steeped in perfume.

But the people are dancing like they know the meaning of life, and Nayeon dances with them so she might learn it too.

When Sana gets there she’s leading a starry-eyed Momo by the hand, other arm tucking Dahyun and her pot in a hug against her chest.

“That’s a safety hazard,” Nayeon shouts into her girlfriend’s ear, indicating the cactus as the dancers’ elbows jab dangerously at the spines.

“I’ll take her out to the patio,” Sana shouts back brightly.

Which is a shame, because she has on lipstick and her dress is just right and Nayeon wants to dance with her, but she’s disappeared into the mass in a millisecond and Nayeon is left with Momo.

Momo, who is a decent dancer. She keeps stretching her arms up toward the disco ball like it’s the sun and she can grow toward it.

Nayeon slings an arm over her shoulders and rocks their bodies together with the beat.

Maybe it’s an hour before all the drops start to sound the same and the musk of the fog machine starts to rise and Nayeon starts to think of a painting of Sana in the smoking section with Dahyun on her lap.

So she goes out into the humid night air and Momo follows. Nicotine and tobacco and weed synthesize into a single cloud drifting along the patio.

Sana is at one of the picnic tables, chin propped up by her fist, nodding emphatically at the cactus in front of her.

When Nayeon clambers onto the bench beside her, Sana tucks her head against Nayeon’s shoulder.

“Tired,” Nayeon half-asks. “We can go home.”

Sana shrugs. “You have to dance with me first.”

It’s a good bargain.

On the dance floor, they get so close Nayeon can only smell the shampoo they share. They’re bouncing to a standard club banger, but look, sometimes the miracle of being a person who is squished against another person and loving them so much it’s like together they’re as magnetic as moons is enough to make Nayeon’s heart leap out of her chest. She doesn’t know if it’s sweat or a tear but it doesn’t matter because Sana is kissing her even as they tremble with the mass of dancers like grass on a hillside.

As they walk home on the sidewalks, swinging their linked hands together, they’re still singing a nonsense song.

“Let’s cut,” Sana interrupts her own wandering arpeggio, pointing at the spindling graveyard gates.

“I don’t know how much sentimentality I can handle,” Nayeon says when Sana perches herself on the tombstone where they met. The grass has regrown over the dirt Sana had hacked up a year ago.

Nayeon is a little superstitious, so she seats herself on the ground according to standard cemetery etiquette— not right over the coffins, and definitely not next to Sana on some ghost’s tombstone. “When you’re alone, what do you think about?”

“You.” Sana winks lazily.

“Right, but like. What else?”

“Momo and Dahyun and Mina.”

Nayeon strips a blade of grass between her fingers. “What else?”

“I don’t know what you want me to say,” Sana tries cautiously.

“Well. You’re alone a lot. On the balcony. And Mina says it’s projection, but when I’m alone I usually think about things I don’t know how to say. And then I figure out how to say it, and I feel better. So I thought. Yeah. But she also said you have insomnia, which I didn’t know, and she said it’s not curable so.”

Sana laughs half-heartedly. “It’s not like a disease, kitten.”

“But what am I supposed to do?”

“Nothing,” Sana says a little too quickly for Nayeon’s comfort. Like this is rehearsed, like it’s an argument they’ve had a million times, and Nayeon knows it isn’t.

“Okay,” Nayeon says in that tone that means it’s not okay at all. “I looked it up and apparently insomnia typically comes from some unaddressed psychological distress that can be—“

“I know, Nayeonie.”

“Right, but if you try—“

“I have tried.”

“Well, have you tried hard?”

Sana looks down at her hands.

Nayeon knows that was maybe the wrong thing to say, but she can salvage this. “Because, like, for me, therapy was hard. And I get being afraid of it, and not really wanting to go there mentally, but if you can make your life easier why wouldn’t you want to?”

“Kitten. May I offer a small critique?”

“Always.”

“I don't like your apartment.”

What?” Nayeon doesn’t mean to raise her voice. She mentally apologizes to the graves.

“It’s loud and in one of the most heavily polluted sections of the city-proper,” Sana counts out on her fingers, “the electricity is inefficient and overpriced, and because of the water damage there’s a village of mold growing in the—“

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Well, I don’t want you to kill the mold, you brought it into this world but that doesn’t mean their life is yours to—“

“I mean about my apartment being the ninth ring of Hell.”

“See, you overreact,” Sana says fondly. “Plus, I’m your guest, so it’s uncouth to—“

“You’re my live-in almost biologically human girlfriend.” Nayeon’s voice gets smaller. “You can tell me anything. Even if it is technically slander.”

“I think I just need to adjust.”

“You’ve lived with me for almost a year.”

Sana leans down to slip off her heels. “Redwoods take nearly three decades to spread their root systems.”

“Redwoods live for over five-hundred years.” Yes, Nayeon has flipped through a couple National Geographics. “We’ll move.”

 

 

So maybe Sana had a point.

Moving is demonic.

If there is an eternal arena of punishment waiting and Nayeon ends up there, it’ll be this— packing up boxes while the air conditioning unit weakly spittles; assessing each object in her apartment and assessing if it’s worth the effort of tucking it up in bubblewrap; all the lost socks and underwear piled like an iceberg on her bed.

Sana is helping, of course, both physically and in the morale department. She calls for frequent breaks that turn into perilous naps on the fire escape.

And okay, maybe they’ve unearthed a few convenient treasures.

Case in point, the nun costume.

Nayeon had nabbed it from one of those seasonal Halloween pop-ups a few years ago after Jeongyeon made one too many comments about her catsuit being 'too much’. She finds it balled up in the corner of her closet.

Two hours later, Sana is in a— yes, sexy— nun costume and Nayeon is wiping her chin off with the back of her hand because it is a sexy nun costume and they have enough time for maybe a round four when—

The fucking doorbell.

Sana is in no state to answer, smiling all silly and fucked out and Nayeon would rather hover here in love, but rage pricks up her back and she flings the door open to see an image of apocalypse:

Myoui Mina in a cardigan, a bottle of Barefoot tucked under her arm, standing beside a grinning Joker on Nayeon’s assuredly ironic ‘welcome’ mat.

“If this is your idea of emotional shock therapy, I have to say the student loans were absolutely worth it.”

Mina raises an eyebrow. It's a warning shot.

“Lovely to see you,” Jihyo says, patting her on the shoulder and waltzing in. Nayeon can admit she looks nice. Without the make up, she looks like she belongs in just a run of the mill maximum security prison. Which begs the question—

Jihyo pulls her pinstripe pant leg up to reveal a blinking ankle monitor. “I’m on house arrest.”

“This isn’t your house," Nayeon hisses. She looks to Mina for help, for any sliver of sanity, but the therapist has made a beeline for the kitchen to find a bottle opener.

“Squatter’s rights.” Jihyo collapses on the couch and flicks the TV on.

“You could have called,” Sana says, flicking the edge of her veil over her shoulder.

“Your phone was busy.”

From the kitchen, a cork pops free. “Jihyo,” Mina scolds without any bite. “You said you asked and Nayeon said yes.”

“Does that sound like something I would ever say?”

 

 

Nayeon and Sana sit on the couch, hands intertwined. Mina pours another dip of wine into the mug she’s cradling in her shaking hands. Jihyo is catching her breath after an informative but excruciating step-by-step of how she broke out of Arkham.

“Can you be careful with the rug,” Nayeon sighs as the other woman paces over and over the same corner. "It's new.”

Jihyo spins a gun in her hand. It's probably one of the gag ones that has a little red ‘bang’ flag, but that doesn't mean Nayeon and Sana don’t tense up every time she waves it around.

“We actually came because Jihyo had a question,” Mina prompts.

“Oh, yes.” Jihyo cocks the gun and holds it to her temple. “Play a game with me.”

Jihyo.”

“Will you play a game with me?”

“Take the coercion out and try again,” Mina says in her copyrighted therapist-voice.

“Fine.” The gun slips out of her hand, clattering to the floor. “Will you play a game with me?”

“No,” Nayeon and Sana say in perfect sync.

So Jihyo is throwing a tantrum on the new rug. Sana, damn her compassion, is trying to explain the circumstances— they’re trying to pack— all while Mina is attempting to shout affirmations as her girlfriend blabbers about how she should have stuffed her pockets with dynamite.

Nayeon glances at the clock on the wall. “What game?”

The Joker's face peels into a grin.

 

 

Nayeon knows that she’s suffered more than the average person.

She’s been dirt poor and bullied and during middle school she was briefly unbeautiful. She’s been shot at. She’s been shot. Every girlfriend she’s ever had has broken up with her. She’s been arrested and kidnapped and subjected to over a year of frustratingly enlightening therapy.

But none of that holds a light to how excruciating, how pointless, how inhumane it is to play a game of Monopoly with Jihyo and Mina.

They’re sitting on the floor of her living room, a board spread out on the box Nayeon packed all her early Mesopotamian relics in. Jihyo has managed to establish an empire of yellow houses and hotels across the entire landscape.

Sana is still in her nun costume. God bless her.

Mina laughs helplessly at everything the Joker says.

Nayeon is in jail. Again.

Sana, with an adventurous smile, slides Nayeon a few of her own paper bills across the space between their legs.

“I don’t want to play,” Nayeon proclaims for the tenth time this since they started, even as she tucks the cash up into her stack.

Mina rolls the dice across the table. “Declare bankruptcy.”

“I don’t want to lose.”

Sana takes her turn, nudging Nayeon with the sharp of her elbow until she acquiesces and bends to blow gently across the dice.

It’s useless. Sana get’s a three and a four, but she applauds herself anyway, and a smile does itch itself across Nayeon’s lips.

Then Jihyo gets double sixes again.

“Okay,” Nayeon grits her teeth. “Explain how I get out of jail.”

“Pay $50.”

“No.”

Jihyo smiles venomously. “Play the game, kitty.”

It’s apocalyptic. It’s a human rights violation. Nayeon pays $50 and Sana pops a kiss to her cheek.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Mina announces once her own turn is finished.

“I’ll escort you.” Nayeon doesn’t care that it seems eager to pop straight up, even if Sana glances at her questioningly.

“I mean, it’s a small apart—“

Nayeon breezes past Mina into the hallway. Once they’re to the bathroom door, she subtly blocks it by leaning against the jamb.

“Don’t block the door.”

So not subtly.

“Why didn’t you tell me Jihyo was on house arrest,” Nayeon whispers.

Mina almost rolls her eyes. “It was on the news.”

“I’ve been busy getting laid.”

“Well. Next time I'll make sure to call you personally.” Mina might even mean it.

“And you just bring her here,” Nayeon hisses. “To play Monopoly. The other day you said that whole thing about how we need to have boundaries in our friendship. Are you really the type to overlook your principles for a girl?”

“First off, yes.” Mina crosses her arms over her chest. “Second, she was restless.”

“She’s been out for six hours.”

“She wanted to see you,” Mina brushes off.

“Why? We hate each other.”

“Before release, she had to list her support network. She was very touched by your plan to break her out of Arkham, so she listed you.”

That’s bat shit insane. It’s also sweet. A little sweet. Barely sweet.

If Nayeon is being honest— and she’d rather not make a habit of that— she been feeling bad for Jihyo lately. It isn’t like in the maternity ward there was one baby with a face full of disastrous clown make-up. Something made her the way she was, some sick part of Gotham took Jihyo into its mouth and chewed her up and spit out this little menace.

Also, she’s made some points on her podcast.

“That’s bat shit insane.”

“You know,” Mina says, and she’s wiggling a little, so she must have actually had to go to the bathroom, “there’s this psychological principle that says if you do a favor for someone, your brain convinces itself that you did the favor because you like the person.”

“I already like you,” Nayeon seethes.

 

 

To no one’s surprise, Jihyo wins. Nayeon is almost violent in her fervor to pack up the board and send the two on their way. When she finally shuts the door, halfway through Mina’s whispered ‘thank you’, Sana yawns.

Because they’ve already deconstructed their bed frame and propped the mattress up against the wall, tonight they roll out two sleeping bags over the shag carpet. Which was one of Sana’s most brilliant ideas, as Nayeon points out at every given opportunity.

The bluish light from the muted TV splashes over their faces.

“You know, Jihyo said something interesting earlier,” Nayeon says. Her voice is rough— too much shouting during Monopoly— but she doesn’t want to fade into sleep yet. She wants to be alone with Sana a little longer.

“The thing about chemtrails?”

“No, about squatter’s rights.”

Sana squeezes her hand. “I’m listening.”

“Well, we could move into a boring, overpriced brownstone like,” Nayeon coughs, “Mina. Or we could do something incredible.”

“Tell me more.”

“Jeongyeon has that mansion.”

“The bathtub was nice.”

“Exactly. And it comes with one whole Tzuyu.”

“And it’s in a quiet part of town. And it has a rose garden.” Sana’s voice rises in pitch whenever she gets excited. It’s one of three-hundred and two quirks that Nayeon adores. “I think we’ve found our next barely legal hijinx.”

Nayeon slips into a perfect, dreamless sleep.

 

 

In the morning, Sana looks a little worse for wear. There are hazy, purplish circles under her eyes, and she’s barely able to stifle enough yawns to drink her coffee.

Which just reconfirms the moral righteousness of Nayeon’s new crusade.

In a matter of hours, the U-Haul is all packed up and they muscle their way out of the city’s traffic into the hopelessly posh neighborhood where the Yoo mansion rises from the hills.

For old time’s sake, Nayeon decides to be polite and knock first on the door of her new house.

Just as her hand fits itself around the golden handle, the door whips open.

“We’re moving in,” Nayeon announces. “And we’re not paying rent.”

“I’m aware,” Tzuyu sighs, standing aside.

“Mhmm, found your bug when we were packing.” Nayeon tosses the little black box she discovered duct-taped underneath the coffee table into the butler’s hands.

Tzuyu, bless her, has already cleared a room. She even helps with hoisting the mattress through the too-long halls of the mansion. They take their dinner in the dining room, though Jeongyeon and Chaeyoung are absent.

“Some big mission,” Sana inquires politely.

Tzuyu folds her napkin nervously.

Nayeon smirks. “Karaoke again?”

“No,” the butler lies.

“Why didn’t they invite me?”

Which is a stupid question. Nayeon has been life-time banned from most of the gloomy bars that use karaoke as a pathetic publicity opportunity only to cut the mic after a humble contestant, such as herself, sings six consecutive Christmas songs during the off-season. She asked for that statement to be inscribed in the white space of the polaroid that hangs behind the hostess pedestal as a warning to the employees.

 

 

After dinner, Nayeon takes Sana on a tour through all the hidden passages in the Yoo mansion. She points out which rooms will be the office, and where Momo and Dahyun’s guest room will be, and how maybe she’ll be able to have Mina over for coffee in the library so she won’t have to make Tzuyu drive her back into town whenever she wants to have a conversation.

Sana says she wants to see the bat cave, so Nayeon leads her through the courtyards and out to the totally suspicious keypad inlaid against the dark rocks.

Sana politely gasps in awe as the doors open into the drafty cave. The bats flutter over their heads, out into the night. Nayeon shows off the computers and weapon cases, as well as the extra suits Jeongyeon keeps around in case she’s in the mood for something a little more flashy.

“What's that?”

Nayeon follows the line of Sana’s gaze up to the painting hanging over the mini-fridge. It’s an Edward Hopper, one of those bleary paintings of a person seen through the windows of their apartment, lounging on a white bed, staring out the window. Whenever Jeongyeon used to come to the museums to intercept Nayeon’s heist, the Batwoman would give it a couple stray glances.

“A birthday present,” Nayeon says, taking interest in her thumbnail. “From a couple years ago.”

“You took it?”

“No, it's a forgery.”

“You know how to paint?”

Nayeon chuffs a laugh. “I paid Chaeyoung. I actually thought I’d swap the one in the museum with this,” Nayeon taps the frame, “but I didn't want to look at it any longer.”

And now she's looking at Sana looking up at the painting.

Another nauseous wave of self-reflection threatens her stomach. She feels top-heavy, like she's against the railing of a rooftop high above of the city, not in a subterranean hide-out just an arms-reach from Sana.

She takes in a slow, filling breath and Sana turns because she's always been too attuned to the slightest shifts in her, as if Nayeon fills the atmosphere of any room they're in and Sana is a faithful barometer.

Which is not always a wonderful feeling.

“Do you think I’m a good person?” It's a lonely, silly thing to say even in a cave.

Nayeon expects a hurried but nonetheless genuine ‘of course’, or the sweetly scold of ‘kitten’, but Sana is herself and Sana is surprising.

"I think every good song is about you.”

Nayeon tenses. “Not every good song is happy.”

“You’re right.” Sana closes the distance between them, looping her arms over Nayeon’s shoulders.

“I had one of my subway thoughts,” Nayeon sighs, slumping to hide her face against Sana’s neck. It would not make a beautiful painting. “One of those pathetic, useless thoughts about being alone, and who I’m supposed to be now that I’ve sort of side-lined my whole life mission of creating financial chaos for museums. Like I know I’ve changed,” Nayeon lets a hint of self-mockery serrate the word, “but how am I supposed to know if that’s really made me any better for you or anyone?”

“You decided to move the second I said I couldn't sleep well in your apartment. You played Monopoly.”

“First, I’m infesting in my ex-girlfriend’s mansion. And Jihyo held us at gunpoint.”

“Tzuyu cleared a room for you and that gun was plastic.”

“Let me steep in my misery,” Nayeon whines.

She can feel Sana's smile against her cheek. "Isn't that getting a little boring?” And then, softer, "being better doesn't mean being good or happy all the time.”

“I want to be,” Nayeon whispers. “I want to be perfect.”

Sana's hands run down the length of Nayeon’s arms, down to her wrists. “I just want you to be real.”

 

 

If Nayeon is taking a ride on her philosophical high-horse, she would be thinking ‘you shouldn't need other people to teach you how to be kind to yourself.’ Ideally, that code would be branded into your DNA and no one would ever hopelessly suffer over thoughts spurned by lonely paintings or lonely commutes. No one would ever have to pay a prim little therapist to repeat their own words back with slightly gentler synonyms. No one would have to ask for affirmations every week like a subscription to feeling okay.

But tonight, as Sana so dutifully explains during the wolf documentary they're watching in the den with a coerced Tzuyu, humans are pack animals.

"Cats aren’t,” Nayeon says proudly. Her head is resting on Sana’s lap, the safest place on Earth.

“That’s a misconception.” Sana smoothes her thumb over Nayeon's lips to hush her. “They just take some time to warm.”

When they’ve taken their wine— straight from Jeongyeon’s cellar— and their melatonin and rubbed the lavender lotion up their arms and then settled into their old bed in a new room, Sana nestles against Nayeon’s chest. Idly, with two fingers, Sana taps out something like morse code against Nayeon’s waist.

Their heartbeats sync them into sleep.