Actions

Work Header

my single line of stars in noon, reflection of the very moon

Work Text:

 

The first thing Saebyeok does is get coffee.

It's nothing special, just cheap convenience store coffee that tastes more like sewer water than anything else, but it was the first thing on her mind when she got out. It's hot, bitter, harsh on the tongue and hardly potable, yet it's the only thing Saebyeok feels like she can stomach right now.

Jiyeong is here too. For whatever reason.

They're the only two in the store right now, sans the scrawny cashier boy who’s nearly falling asleep at the counter since it is one in the morning after all, but they pay him no mind. Saebyeok fiddles with the rim of the paper cup next to the coffee machine and Jiyeong only stands in front of her, idling and toeing at the floor with her shoe.

"Why did you follow me?" Saebyeok asks, breaking the silence. It's the first thing either of them has said since they've gotten here.

Jiyeong only shrugs, nonchalant. It's rather hard to believe that not even an hour ago, she had the muzzle of a gun pressed into the side of her head, skirting on the very edge of death. "I don't have anywhere else to go."

"Just go home," Saebyeok breathes out. She glances up, watching Jiyeong through the tides of steam that waft from the cup. "We're not...” A beat. “We’re not in there anymore. Stop bothering me."

Because it's not just the two of them anymore, pitted together through vicious means, marbles in their palms. It's the two of them, and then there's the rest of the world.

Jiyeong only stares at her and Saebyeok averts her eyes. She can feel it. It's uncomfortable. In one motion, she swallows thickly, downs the rest of the crappy coffee, and tosses the empty cup in the trashcan next to them.

"Do you have one?" Jiyeong asks instead of leaving like what Saebyeok wants. "A home."

"No," and that's all Saebyeok says before she turns on her heels and leaves the convenience store, the bell of the door ringing behind her. Another one follows. She continues walking away anyway.

A home. She did, perhaps, once in North Korea. She did, here, a shoebox of a loft in the outskirts of Seoul that was also two months' worth of rent overdue. She's probably been evicted by now. Not that she really cares. There wasn’t much she had to her name anyway — a few sets of clothes, some books, her brother.

She's always running, maybe from something, sometimes from nothing — just running. What kind of home can she make from that?

"I don't," Jiyeong calls out from behind her. "I don't have a home either."

I don't care, Saebyeok wants to say, but she's tired and her body feels so worn and beaten and all she wants to do is lay down and be left alone. We aren't friends. I don't care. Stop talking to me

"But I have a house." A beat. "And an extra mattress."

Saebyeok keeps walking — toward somewhere, no idea where, anywhere but here.

"Saebyeok," Jiyeong calls, again, and it sounds like she's already walking in the opposite direction from her. It's the first time she's said her name since they've stood in front of an artificial wall, marbles at their feet. "Are you coming?"

Saebyeok sucks in a breath through her nose. God, she's so annoying.

Always talking to her. Always bothering her. Always sticking to her.

She turns around.

 

-

 

Jiyeong's house is in a part of Seoul she has never been to. It's up on an incline of a hill where the skies are clear and the stars burn bright — a quiet little neighborhood tucked away from the loud city with clean streets and a lot of cars and working street lights and neighbors with dogs. Like the poster kind of neighborhood Saebyeok only read in books when she was a kid.

They stop in front of a house painted beige with tacky blue shutters. The front gate is matching blue in color, rusting horribly at the edges, and it's creaky when Jiyeong pushes it open. There's not much of anything at all: dead and yellowed grass, old newspaper rolls still in their plastic casings scattered across the yard, and small pots of dead soil near the front door, the flowers once there long gone. Saebyeok, in passing, wonders what they were. Wonders what it would be like to live in a house like this.

Jiyeong lifts a corner of the doormat and plucks a key from underneath. Classic.

"That's a stupid place to hide a key. Someone could break in," Saebyeok notes, blunt, and eyes trained on the way Jiyeong slots the key into the lock and turns.

"You're right, they could," Jiyeong only says, "but they won't. Not after that."

Saebyeok doesn't have a reaction, but Jiyeong's words make her skin crawl just the slightest.

Right — that.

It's pitch black and when Jiyeong takes six steps inside, it drowns her.

There was acrid truth in her words — the kind that burns on the tongue and leaves a feeling that never really goes away.

This is a house. Not a home. Just a house.

That's right.

Jiyeong doesn't have a home. She hasn't had one since she was fourteen, middle school, with lanky limbs, skin and bones, and four baby teeth still root deep in her jaw. Since she lost both her mother and father in a fraction of the same second. Her mother, choked up on her own blood with her father towering above her, cracked upon the kitchen floor of the same exact house she is standing in. Her father, who prays to some higher deity for mercy when he leaves red, hot indents in her skin, yet falls heavy and broken against her when she twists the kitchen knife deeper into his abdomen, unafraid of the brutality.

That is no home. Far from.

Vulnerability terrifies her, however, because all of a sudden, it feels a little too much like she's been beat in the chest, ribs bruised, forced back years ago. When the only thing she knew how to do was acquiesce and just let it happen and force her teeth to dig into the linings of her mouth until the taste of rust comes and settles on her tongue.

The familiarity is invasive, she recognizes the same feeling of misery swirling in the pit of her stomach. Suddenly it’s back to square one and Jiyeong is insignificant again, blood rubbed into her skin until it stains.

There's a buzz in her ears she isn't familiar with, a sudden pressure underneath her skin she already knows she doesn't like. Even fear is a commodity she can't afford anymore.

She isn't sure why she's even here. She hasn't been, not in a year perhaps, so why exactly is she here?

I don't have anywhere else to go. I don't know where else to go.

Saebyeok had even asked her, hours ago, what she'd do if she was given the chance to go. The funny thing is that she couldn't even answer her. Couldn’t even lie and make up something storybook. The funnier thing is that the minute they got out — alive, beat up, but still breathing — her feet brought her right back to the one place she told herself she should never come back to. And she even brought Saebyeok with her.

Poor Saebyeok, who Jiyeong tries so desperately to tether to for some shaky semblance of humanity, just in case her demons come back to drown her when she's not looking. She feels guilty. They barely know each other too.

Saebyeok, who has her own battles to fight. Who still has a reason to be here. And her? Not a single thing left to her name besides the blood she's smeared across her own hands. She should've died a long time ago.

Oh,

Saebyeok.

As if on cue:

The other girl walks in after her, trying to make out what she can in the darkness, then crashes right into her.

"Hey, what are you—"

Saebyeok cuts herself off. Against her front, she can feel it. The rigid shoulders, the contraction of muscle, and by god, the shaking. Her first instinct is to jump away, but it feels like her joints are screwed into place so she doesn't. It's not hard to put two and two together after all. There's reason in the way Jiyeong chose to enter the games rather than go home first thing.

Instead, she swallows, stays in place, pressed right up against Jiyeong, and doesn't say a word. Wonders if this is normal, if this is okay, between two complete strangers that know nearly nothing of each other.

Jiyeong moves not even seconds later, trudging deeper and deeper within the corridor of her house. Saebyeok, despite the dark, doesn't miss the shake in her step.

They don't talk about it, which is fine because that saves Saebyeok from having some embarrassing, tight-tongued explanation that is something along the lines of Uh, I'm here for you? without saying exactly that.

Jiyeong's hands fumble around a bit before she flicks the light switch on. Surprisingly, the room fills with light.

It's simple. There's a couch, TV, dining table, and a kitchen. Framed photographs line the walls. It's everything Saebyeok expects.

"I only have my uncle left, but he's in the States. He knew I was getting out soon anyway, so he probably went ahead and did all... this."

Saebyeok only nods, eyes trained on the other girl. Jiyeong moves about the house mechanically, fingers running over the walls, dusty edges, all over the places that Saebyeok wonders come solely from muscle memory or fondness. Everything's so big, yet Jiyeong looks so small. She looks like she doesn't fit in a house like this.

Jiyeong doesn't dwell long, however. "Come on," Jiyeong says, already moving toward the stairs. "I'll show you my room."

 

-

 

Jiyeong's room is small, white-walled, reminiscent of her shoebox loft, has one too many pink things for Saebyeok's liking (pink cloud pillows are a tasteless choice in decor, if she's being honest), and is entirely covered in men.

To clarify: all over Jiyeong's walls are multiple A2 posters of some stereotypical boy group that Saebyeok has never seen before. A little part of Saebyeok is starting to regret this.

"Have you ever had a sleepover?" Jiyeong asks, heading straight toward her closet. From there, she pulls out a mattress that looks like it's probably a head or two shorter than Saebyeok. Lays it right next to her bed. Tosses a pink cloud pillow on it and Saebyeok has to stop herself from sighing out loud.

"No," she says.

There's a funny look on Jiyeong's face. Saebyeok ignores it. "So I get the honor of hosting Kang Saebyeok's first sleepover, huh?"

She doesn't reply, telltale, and Jiyeong only gives her a lopsided smile. She moves around and about her room again, opening and closing drawers, pulling out clothes here and there.

"We can gossip about boys and do each other's nails. Isn't that fun?" Jiyeong keeps talking anyway. Saebyeok wonders if she's the type to talk to herself.

"Tough crowd." Jiyeong's back in front of Saebyeok now, smile faint on her face as she presses a set of clean clothes and a towel against Saebyeok's chest. "I think these will fit you. The bathroom's on the right."

A small part of Saebyeok tells her that this is the part where she says thank you, but it feels like her jaw is wired shut, so she merely nods.

"You said it yourself," Jiyeong adds as an afterthought. "We're not in there anymore. Loosen up a bit, will you? It's not like I'm going to kill you. If I was, I would've done it in the kitchen. That's tradition in this house, it seems."

It takes a minute. Saebyeok pales visibly in realization.

Jiyeong only laughs. Forgoes the punchline entirely.

 

-

 

A shower is the nicest thing she's had in a long while. The coffee is a close second.

(Though there's something morbid in the way the water teeters on the edge of burning her body raw yet it's nothing like the feeling of the way fresh blood sears upon skin. It's a feeling she will never forget.)

 

-

 

Jiyeong falls asleep, easily and quickly, in the middle of explaining who exactly is on her walls.

Saebyeok didn't ask, and she even forgot about it until Jiyeong brings it up when they're both laying there in silence, neither of them ready to sleep quite yet — "Do you like Infinite?"

"No," she had replied. "I don't know what that is."

And she regrets it, really, because Jiyeong has the audacity to let out a scandalized gasp, shoot up out of bed, and start her lecture on just who exactly Infinite was.

They're one of those overhyped and overplayed boy groups of a distant past, and Jiyeong's sole bane of existence when she was fourteen. She skipped cram school and used up a year's worth of allowance to go see them in person once. She owns almost all their albums. Her favorite is Woohyun. She gave him a high-five once. And a bunch of other stuff Saebyeok can't find in herself to remember right now.

She was going to tell Saebyeok her favorite song from them, and now Saebyeok may never know but it's not like she cares that much either.

The mattress under her is, in fact, two heads shorter than her, feet hanging off pathetically, but it is arguably nicer than what she's slept on for the past week already.

It doesn't take long for her to feel sleepy, really, given how exhausted she's been for so long now. It's easier, too, when she doesn't have to worry about whether she'll wake up tomorrow morning or not. Whether there'll be a pocket knife lodged in her throat or not. Unless Jiyeong had lured her here with less-than-desirable intentions and was going to kill her with one of her cloud shaped pillows, then that's on her. With the way Jiyeong's already snoring, however — less than likely.

She wonders what happens now. Where to go next. What to do tomorrow. What is she going to eat tomorrow.

Who was Jiyeong's favorite Infinite member?

Then, she's off.

 

-

 

Saebyeok dreams of four things:

Red, shapes, marbles, and a gun.

It's an unpleasant dream, the kind that feels like she dies and wakes her up in cold sweat and she's left breathing hard, eyelids peeled back and eyes trained on the ceiling and body refusing to move even though the only thing on her mind is: go, go, go.

A nightmare, she knows enough. She's been getting a lot of those recently.

Beside her, Jiyeong's foot hangs off the side of her bed and Saebyeok feels that first chord of faint anger deep in the pit of her stomach. It's the first moment she feels something ever since she's stepped foot back into a life where she wasn't gambling her life away with nearly four hundred others.

She thinks there might be something wrong with Jiyeong in the head because how on earth Jiyeong is doing this. How she's living, sleeping, and breathing as if everything was normal, as if nothing ever happened. As if hours ago she hadn't decided on a whim to give up her life for Saebyeok just on the basis of being unsure what to do with her life afterwards. As if there still wasn't a metaphorical gun still pressed up against her head, the ghost of a bullet embedded in her skull.

Frankly, everything still feels like a dream. She pinches herself for good measure, but it doesn't really mean anything to her — it should be painful, should jolt her back into some sort of reality, but she hasn't been feeling the right things in years.

She sits up, listens to Jiyeong’s heavy breathing, doesn't think she can go back to sleep so then she gets up. Maybe a glass of water will help.

On the wall along the staircase, there are family pictures still hung up. Untouched. A film of dust on nearly every single one of them. With it, three people: a man, a woman, and a girl. Two faces she's never seen before. Then, Jiyeong.

There's something about it — when Saebyeok stands face-to-face with three smiling faces. Jiyeong had only let her be privy to only a small fraction of her life, but it's enough for Saebyeok to understand. She's familiar with the concept — a broken family, torn apart at the seams, patchy, and unfixable. This time, a different feeling pools in the pit of her stomach. It's biting, vile, and seeing it makes her feel sick.

She turns the frame around. All of them.

In the living room, there are more.

Family photos taken for Christmas greeting cards, pictures of Jiyeong and her father and mother interchangeably. They're smiling in all of them.

She places all the frames face down.

And the kitchen. The kitchen—

There’s something eerie about the kitchen. The lights don't really work, probably a loose switch or a burnt wire, but Saebyeok has no problem finding a mug that might’ve been Jiyeong’s. Or someone's.

The floor under her feels all wrong, like she's not supposed to be here, and then there's a thought. One in passing, one that makes her stomach turn a little, she thinks — is this where? This exact spot? She imagines the red, the last two shudders of breath, how horrid it might've been— but the thought goes as fast as it comes. It's not her business.

When she's back in the room, Jiyeong is still sleeping soundly. She's drooling a bit, comforter half on, and shirt riding halfway up her tummy. It's silly, but Saebyeok doesn't fix it. They're strangers. She doesn't forget that part.

Instead, she spends a second longer watching Jiyeong. She counts the slow rise and fall of her chest just to make sure this wasn't a sick dream, that Jiyeong's breathing won't stutter to a horrifying halt if she tears her eyes away seconds too early, that she's here and alive and not a fragment of Saebyeok's subconscious.

"Thank you," she murmurs under her breath because it's a little embarrassing to say it when Jiyeong's awake and Saebyeok isn't the thank you type. She's not used to people being kind, people going out of their way to do things for her.

She wonders what Jiyeong's dreaming about, thinks it's probably nothing too bad, given the way she's drooling all over the place and sprawled out everywhere.

It must be a nice dream. Saebyeok wonders if she'll ever get one of those.

 

-

 

In the morning, Jiyeong wakes up to Saebyeok folding her blanket methodically, clothes in tow as well.

"Are you leaving?" She manages, sleepy and hoarse.

"Yes."

"Stay for breakfast at least?"

"I have to go."

"Where?"

"It doesn't matter where," Saebyeok says, hard. Jiyeong's prying — albeit half asleep, the girl is still somehow in her business. She doesn't like that. I don't know. Just somewhere.

Jiyeong makes a sleepy noise. Her eyes aren't even open. "There's waffles." A last resort.

Saebyeok thinks she should probably get this checked out — the way Jiyeong's words make her contemplate for the longest second, the way her shoulders fall, and how quickly she finds it in herself to give in. Plus, there's waffles.

"Okay."

 

-

 

Turns out, there is no breakfast. No waffles in sight either. There's not even food in the house. Jiyeong's smile is sheepish when they open the fridge, greeted entirely by empty shelves. She runs off with a windbreaker that isn't her own, and promises Saebyeok she'll be back in fifteen minutes flat.

There's not much to do — she's a stranger left in a house that isn't hers — so she sits. Waits. Falls asleep for a minute. Stares at the wall.

Saebyeok counts exactly thirteen minutes before Jiyeong bursts through the door, nearly out of breath and hair coming up in cowlicks in all sorts of directions. Saebyeok's windbreaker, too big for her tiny frame, is slipping off one of her shoulders, too.

"Waffles," she lifts the plastic grocery bags in her hands weakly, smile cheeky, "just like I said."

Saebyeok does try to leave again after breakfast — it's toaster waffles that still end up a little soggy after being toasted three times in a row and a tall glass of milk — but Jiyeong, somehow and as always, is two steps ahead of her.

"I put your clothes in the wash," she merely states, mouth full of waffle. The toaster dings, another batch done, and Jiyeong motions for Saebyeok to take more. "Your jacket smelled kind of funny."

Saebyeok doesn't expect that to come out of Jiyeong's mouth. She takes the slightest bit of offense. "It did not. "

Jiyeong only shrugs, something dancing in her eyes that makes Saebyeok look away. "Looks like you'll have to wait until they're done. So hurry, eat more before they get cold!"

 

-

 

Jiyeong forgets her clothes in the washer.

Keyword: forgets.

It's an accident, she claims, but Saebyeok knows better than that.

("It'll take a long time to dry," Jiyeong says as if Saebyeok has never used a dryer in her life before. She even smacks the top of the washing machine for good measure and the metal clang that comes afterwards sounds rather concerning. "I think you'll just have to stay."

Again, there's that feeling. Saebyeok resists, relents, then gives in, all too easily. She really should see a doctor for this.)

 

-

 

Breakfast turns into lunch. Lunch turns into dinner. Dinner turns into a two AM snack.

Then wash, rinse, and repeat.

A day turns into three. Three days turn into a week. Then, even more.

She'll never admit it, but Jiyeong is okay company — okay in the loosest sense of the word — and this, whatever this really is, is a lot better than finding quiet park corners get some sleep in for a few hours, or trying to weasel her way back into her tiny loft with a bed that felt too much like cardboard and pillow of rocks. She'd take the pink cloud pillow over all that any day. Even the Infinite posters, if she's being honest. The toaster waffles are just really good too.

Jiyeong doesn't say anything about it. Only asks her what she wants for breakfast every morning.

Saebyeok doesn't either. The answer is almost always something with milk.

 

-

 

("Is that how you're so tall?" Jiyeong eyes her from her seat beside her. Suspicious.

"What do you mean?" Saebyeok is a lot more responsive these days, which is a good thing. She's fun when she talks.

"Milk," she juts her chin at the nearly full glass that sits in front of Saebyeok. They've finished breakfast hours ago. "You drink so much of it. That has to be it, right?"

"I don't know," Saebyeok says. "Maybe? My parents are tall too."

Jiyeong doesn't look satisfied with her answer, so in turn, she swipes Saebyeok's glass of milk from her and drinks it all in one go.

"This better work," she says, huffing, slams the empty glass back onto the table with a thud.

Saebyeok wants to say something about growth plates and how they fully close at the end of puberty, but she saves Jiyeong the heartbreak. "We'll see," she says, getting up to pour herself another glass. Then refills Jiyeong's. "I wish you luck."

In the end:

Jiyeong gives up in four days, swears milk off for the rest of her life and blames her entire family tree for stunting her growth, and Saebyeok gets all the milk to herself again without Jiyeong stealing it all.

It's a win-win.)

 

-

 

It's not bad, Saebyeok thinks. Whatever this arrangement is.

 

-

 

The time they spend together is not much, is not long, but it's enough. Jiyeong, surprisingly very observant, picks up on all of Saebyeok's little habits and quirks as well as Saebyeok does for her.

It's not hard to learn about each other in such little time with such little proximity after all. Jiyeong finds out some interesting things.

 

1. Saebyeok always looks like she wants to strangle something — maybe her — but it turns out, she is very nice and considerate.

 

Jiyeong doesn't really notice until it's put into practice.

When it rains, Saebyeok doesn't fail to scold Jiyeong for never bringing her own umbrella, but takes care in making sure both Jiyeong's shoulders are dry.

When Saebyeok is the one on grocery duty for the week, she crosses off all of Jiyeong's unnecessary additions to the grocery list in front of her face (they really don't need more Pororo-themed juice), but comes back with one or two packets of Jiyeong's favorite snacks anyway. And the Pororo juice.

When they walk home together, Saebyeok always makes sure she's the one walking on the closest side to the street. Always says something along the lines of Jiyeong being so lost in her own world sometimes that she may literally walk out onto the street without knowing so. Saebyeok's just being a good person and preventing public disaster.

Always has to make sure her shoelaces are tied and tight. Always makes sure to open the door for her first, or walk two steps behind her at all times just in case something dangerous happens. A chronic worrier, really, and Saebyeok will deny and deny until the world ends that she is, that she even cares, but if it's anything to go by — Saebyeok even carries an extra hair tie for her nowadays, right on her wrist and she doesn't even tie her own hair up! Just because Jiyeong always forgets to bring her own and she misplaced the brand new pack they bought only the other day. So much for caring.

Oh, and Saebyeok even fixes her shirt and puts the comforter over her now. Character development, right?

 

2. Saebyeok doesn't have a lot of firsts.

 

It's not really surprising, given Saebyeok's upbringing. Even Jiyeong had a hunch North Koreans didn't go out for karaoke on the weekends, very much unlike their southern counterparts.

Jeju was one thing, but even an arcade? A pet store? Jiyeong has no choice but to change Saebyeok's life, she guesses.

Turns out, Saebyeok has no sense of eye-body coordination whatsoever. She sucks at Dance Dance Revolution. She's really bad at UFO catchers too, opting for shaking the machine out of frustration instead, but hey — it's the first time Jiyeong has seen Saebyeok even look like she's having any sort of fun, so it's a win in her book anyway.

Karaoke is fun until Saebyeok refuses to sing more than one song because it's just embarrassing (as if her picking Spring Day to start out the night wasn't embarrassing enough), so Jiyeong has to speed sing through nearly all of Infinite's discography to use up the rest of their allotted time. She swears she almost busts a lung too. Saebyeok looks strangely happy and content with her little plastic tambourine the entire time, so Jiyeong lets it slide.

Saebyeok is a little scared of puppies that aren't even a quarter of her size, frozen in place when they nip at her shoes and try to climb all over her in the little play pen, but by the end of their pet store visit, she concludes that little puppies aren't so bad after all and almost pockets one to take home and dutifully name Mochi. Maybe she can get a dog later, Jiyeong reassures her, and makes sure Saebyeok didn't actually put one of them in her pocket.

In the end, Saebyeok still has a lot of things to do for the very first time — like going to Jeju or going on three in the morning burger hunts or going bowling or going to Lotte World or something silly like that.

(Jiyeong just hopes she can be there for all of them.)

 

3. Saebyeok is always full of fun little surprises.

 

"What are those?"

Saebyeok walks in with two flower pots in her arms, sourced from Jiyeong's front porch, and all cleaned up, with fresh soil and small buds peeking out from the tops.

"Marigolds."

Jiyeong looks surprised. "You garden?"

"No," Saebyeok says quickly, and looks almost bashful as she hugs her flower pots a little closer to her. "I mean, I'm trying it out. It's just something to do."

Now, who would've thought awkward and lanky-limbed Kang Saebyeok would be into gardening out of all things? If Jiyeong had to guess, she would've thought Saebyeok's favorite hobbies would be staring at walls (and sometimes at her) and reading obscure books no one really knows about. Color her impressed.

"The backyard has more sunlight," Saebyeok says, tongue feeling thick, and Jiyeong nods along. "So. Yeah. Yeah, I'll just— okay. Yeah, I'll go."

Saebyeok runs off before she can say anything else. The sight shakes Jiyeong's heart in the funniest way.

She imagines Saebyeok in oversized overalls, sweat sopped bangs, with chlorophyll and dirt smudged on her skin tending to a tiny flower plot of the cutest little flowers. Elephant-shaped gardening can and everything. Green-faced Saebyeok? Cute.

(And of course Jiyeong has no choice but to indulge in Saebyeok's very new and very cute hobby —  Saebyeok won't let her touch her marigolds, so instead, by the end of the night, they're both now proud parents of a tiny tomato plant dutifully named Tomato. Saebyeok even lets her make a cute name card to stick onto the pot.)

Or:

Jiyeong, somehow, always wrestles and convinces her into watching her corny romance movies with her. They're hardly good entertainment — all tacky for sure, and the premise feels like something Saebyeok has already sat through with Jiyeong twenty times already: newlyweds and memory loss. Saebyeok can already feel the cringe.

"It's based on a real story!" Jiyeong exclaims when it starts playing on the TV. She's basically vibrating out of excitement.

Saebyeok can only nod along to Jiyeong's excited blabbering. Two people in a world of seven billion. Big whoop. She can't wait to fall asleep already.

 

-

 

“Are you crying?”

“No.”

(“No,” Saebyeok repeats for good measure, eyes red. She's even rubbed her nose the same color. Jiyeong only laughs, digs herself deeper into her side, and calls her the biggest baby she’s ever had the misfortu— pleasure of knowing anyway.) 

 

-

 

Jiyeong takes a little more time. Saebyeok doesn't realize she commits every little thing about her to memory until a lot later.

 

1. Jiyeong is kind of an open book. Saebyeok finds out things quickly, slowly, sometimes even all at once.

 

Jiyeong doesn't eat her rice with chopsticks because it takes too long and there isn't a point when spoons exist. Jiyeong likes sappy romance dramas, and she's a sucker for handsome main leads, no matter how weird or assholish they look. Jiyeong's favorite food is gummy bears, but it doesn't really make any sense because gummy bears aren't sustainable and hardly a food at all. (If it's actual food, however, then it's the cheap pasta place down the block). Jiyeong is also a terrible sleeper — either she's snoring, snorting, breathing way too hard in her sleep, or doing all at once.

She forgets her keys almost every day, which is frankly enough for Saebyeok to move to more dire solutions — including attaching a carabiner to some clippable part of Jiyeong's body to writing "KEY" in permanent marker on Jiyeong's palm before she wakes up. She hates carrots, which is fine because Saebyeok is kind (as established) and lets Jiyeong pick out all the carrots onto her plate before they eat. May be a psychopath that pours her milk before her cereal. The only one who watches TV religiously and then proceeds to lose the remote and blame Saebyeok for it.

She's a crybaby —  a really big one —  and ends up crying for almost everything they watch, be it a cartoon movie or a documentary on raccoons. Saebyeok is her designated tissue-holder, and sometimes her shirt ends up being her designated tissue, too.

She steals her windbreaker every time, even when Saebyeok makes sure to hide it somewhere discreet, but Jiyeong always finds her way back to it. It's too big for her, hanging all over her bony angles all funny-looking, but she doubts Jiyeong cares. At this point, it's hers now. Saebyeok doesn't mind it as much as she thought she would've —  it looks okay on Jiyeong.

 

2. Jiyeong is a little reminiscent of the sun.

 

That's it. Saebyeok doesn't know how else to explain it. Words are hard.

She's bright in all the ways Saebyeok isn't, and she's awfully warm for someone in such a tiny little body. Gentle and generous. Soft at the edges. Kinda like the sun, right?

So when Jiyeong smiles —  lopsided, all teeth, eyes and nose crinkled —  the only thing she can think of is sun, sun, sun.

The feeling in her chest that unfolds in tandem —  hot and bright and brilliant, just like the sun —  doesn't help much either.

 

3. Jiyeong, despite how carefree she is, has her own fair share of demons.

 

The first and last time it happens — it's in the kitchen.

Saebyeok hears her before she sees her.

The clatter of silverware against linoleum, a glass plate shattering into pieces. Jiyeong's pressed up against the drawers underneath the sink, knees drawn up against her chest.

"That didn't sound good," Saebyeok says as she rounds the corner. Takes one look at the floor, at Jiyeong. "What happened?"

Jiyeong is unresponsive. This is the first time Saebyeok has seen her like this. It's a few more moments of staring, but it's enough time to pass for Saebyeok to sit next to her, albeit awkward with her lanky arms and legs and glass everywhere. She'll worry about that later.

She doesn't say anything. Neither does Jiyeong. They just sit, shoulders pressed up against each other's.

Then, it's Jiyeong that breaks the silence:

"I know it was you who turned the pictures around," she whispers after a long while, raw and shaky. "That's the only reason why I could even be here still. In this house."

Saebyeok notes fury, ebbed away with sorrow and distress. Frustration, fear. She wonders how long Jiyeong has let this sit under her skin until she couldn't anymore.

"It was better," she continues, "not seeing them." Jiyeong swallows. "But then I started feeling them. In everything I do, everywhere I go, and it's like I'm suffocating. Like they want to take me with them."

"It drives me insane," Jiyeong laughs even though nothing is funny. "How I wanted him gone so bad, but he's somehow still here."

Saebyeok only shifts a little in her spot. Listens.

"But then there's you," she keeps going on, "and it's so, so selfish of me to force you to stay here with me but if you weren't here, then I— I don't know. Maybe I'd end up dead in this exact spot, too."

Jiyeong wrings her fingers. Saebyeok watches.

"You're not forcing me," Saebyeok says, quiet. It's the only thing she feels like she can say.

"Really?" Jiyeong doesn't sound like she believes her. "Because staying doesn't seem like it fits you."

Saebyeok shrugs, thinks of what to say for the longest second. She's not good at this.

Then:

"Someone has to eat your carrots."

A pause. Jiyeong even waits. Oh. She's being serious.

The juxtaposition of Saebyeok's words and her face is enough to have Jiyeong doubling over in laughter, suddenly. The silence isn't so bad anymore, though Saebyeok only looks confused. It's the truth though?

"You're right," Jiyeong says when she's done, stomach hurting and tears in her eyes.

Saebyeok says no more, only nudges Jiyeong's shoulder to help out as she's already starting to pick up some of the broken plate pieces.

"Thank you," Jiyeong says. She feels a bit lighter now. Saebyeok looks back up at her, eyes trained right onto hers, and for once, Jiyeong notices how warm they are. A far cry from when they first met.

"For eating my carrots."

 

-

 

A few days later, Jiyeong says:

"I can't be here anymore."

Saebyeok only nods, doesn't question anything. "We can find somewhere else."

She says it before she realizes it, and when she does, her ears burn. We. We? Since when were they a we? Saebyeok and Jiyeong? For as long as Saebyeok can remember, there has only been her. It's only ever been her, so even the thought of someone else with her feels strange. The thought of Jiyeong should be no different, but it is. It's not strange with Jiyeong. That's the thing.

Jiyeong doesn't say anything about it. Instead, she smiles, small, and reaches over to tuck Saebyeok's hand into hers. It's soft, uncharacteristic compared to Saebyeok's stony personality, and warm. Saebyeok doesn't see any reason to move her hand away so she doesn't.

"I'd like that."

 

-

 

Gihun and Sangwoo help them. In the smallest of ways, it warms Saebyeok's heart.

Sangwoo, Ssangmun-dong's greatest pride and joy with his fancy degree from SNU, as Gihun constantly stresses in nearly every conversation they have, helps them with everything real estate-related. Helps them put the house up for sale. Helps them find a decent place big and cheap enough to fit the two of them for now. Even asks all the questions both of them would've never been able to think of — what's the pet policy? Guest policy? How secure is the property? What would happen if the sink suddenly collapses due to poor construction while Jiyeong is brushing her teeth? Is there 24/7 maintenance? Saebyeok and Jiyeong can only nod along like little ducklings.

Gihun is particularly handy in finding loose pipes and nondescript mold corners in nearly half the apartments they visit. He also promises to help them move in and build all their IKEA furniture and buy them fried chicken as a housewarming present. Other than that, he's really only here for the hell of it.

Jiyeong calls Sangwoo the dad she's never really had, and says the same about Gihun for Saebyeok. Personally, she doesn't see it.

("Gihun can have two daughters," Jiyeong says. "One is the super cute and super smart youngest daughter and the other one is the never-left-the-teenage-angst-stage oldest daughter.")

"It's a good thing you two have become such good friends," Gihun says, grinning wide. "I was scared Saebyeok was going to be all about the lone wolf life forever."

"I already told you before," Saebyeok says, "I don't trust—"

"—you don't trust anyone, yeah, yeah, I know all about that." Gihun gives her a look. "Well, do you trust Jiyeong?"

Saebyeok doesn't say anything, really, gaze skirting over to Jiyeong who only stares right back at her.

It shouldn't be a hard question to answer. They've been stuck together for so long already and neither of them are well, dead, so that's a good thing, right? Trust has always been a finicky thing with Saebyeok anyway. Trusting people is hard. Trusting Jiyeong should be no different, but it is.

She thinks of toaster waffles and milk. She doesn't eat those with just anyone, let alone someone she doesn't trust. She thinks of carrots, of the way she knows Jiyeong's favorite Infinite member is Woohyun, of marigolds and Tomato, of her windbreaker. Things she'd know about someone she trusts, right?

Then, there's a hand on her knee. Jiyeong only grins at her. All teeth. The sun.

Saebyeok thinks of the hand on her knee, of toaster waffles, of Jiyeong. It's not too hard to answer anymore. "Yeah."

 

-

 

The house, still with its tacky blue shutters and beige, sees them off with a big "FOR SALE" sign and a clean front yard. The grass looks a lot better and definitely greener and the creaky gate door was even replaced.

Saebyeok doesn't turn around when they go, Tomato nestled in her arms. Jiyeong does once.

Bids the first half of her life goodbye with both middle fingers.

 

-

 

Living together is the same. There's really no difference.

It's just smaller, a little bit more cramped with big window panes and a clunky air conditioning unit, but still with Jiyeong.

(That's the best part.)

 

-

 

It's not even Saebyeok's week to do groceries, but Jiyeong forced her out of the house anyway, says something along the lines of Saebyeok needing extra exercise in comparison because she's like four heads taller than her and her legs could use the workout anyway. Not that Saebyeok really cares either way. She even manages to take her windbreaker back for the day and close the door on Jiyeong's very resound hey! when she notices, and then she's off.

Not even twenty minutes later, Jiyeong sends her a text.

 

when r u coming back....... i think im dying.............

 

of boredom...........

 

Saebyeok, entirely in her fashion, doesn't reply. First, she wants her out of the house, and now she wants her back? Saebyeok will never understand.

A few minutes later, when Saebyeok's in the middle of deciding whether she wants the red or yellow box of instant curry, Jiyeong sends another text.

 

can u also get some snacks.... i ate them all.... <3

 

Saebyeok gets both boxes in the end, a couple more bottles of green tea, a few bags of gummy bears for Jiyeong's insatiable sweet tooth, and even the beyond salty cuttlefish flavored chips Jiyeong likes the most. Pocky, too — strawberry, because they're Jiyeong's favorite (though anything edible is her favorite at this point) and Saebyeok likes strawberry flavored things too, a far cry from her usual uniform tastes.

Before Jiyeong thinks something might've happened on her ten minute walk to and from the corner store, she sends a text back.

 

OK coming

 

It doesn't take long, even as Saebyeok takes an extra five minutes to pet a small stray kitten on the way back. Her phone is buzzing again for whatever reason, most likely Jiyeong asking for even more snacks like she doesn't inhale all of them in a single night, so whatever she needs now will just have to wait until tomorrow.

When she opens the door, she's greeted by Jiyeong at the dining table. The lights are off and the sun is setting behind her, spilling through the cracks in the blinds and filling everything orange and yellow.

It's not normally a sight that has her stopping in her tracks, but this is:

Jiyeong's in sunglasses and a sun hat that looks two sizes too big for her head, with cheap fairy lights strewn up next to her and blurry printouts of rolling green hills and beach stock photos taped to the wall. There's bottles of alcohol on the table amongst other little kitschy things as well.

Above the photos, there's a banner clearly used for birthdays with "JEJU" written across in big, blocky handwritten letters, then written again in Korean in smaller font right underneath.

"Hi," Jiyeong grins wide, teethy. "Welcome to Jeju!"

"Hi," Saebyeok can only say, trying to bite back a smile at how ridiculous this all is. "... What are you doing?"

"Fares to Jeju are expensive this time of the year," Jiyeong starts, waving around a pack of sparklers. "So thought bringing Jeju to you would be the next best thing."

There's a strange feeling that grows and bursts and spreads in all the crevices of her ribcage. It's warm, it's a funny feeling, and it's frankly everything that Saebyeok has been feeling these days. It's nice, yeah, it's nice.

"Is that so," she says. It's the only thing she feels like she can manage to say right now. She kicks off her sneakers, sets the grocery bags down on the kitchen counter, and slips in the chair in front of Jiyeong. Immediately, she's handed the pack of sparklers.

Jiyeong's shoulders deflate just a tiny bit. Saebyeok sees it.

"I know it's not really anything and you don't have to pretend that you enjoy it," Jiyeong says, tongue thick, like she's embarrassed, "but I already bought stuff to make mojitos and sparklers and I found a ten-hour video of ocean wave sounds that I can play to get this whole thing going. Let's just get this over with."

It's not like Jiyeong doesn't know the kind of person Saebyeok is either. Either she has nothing to say, or something to say, never much however.

Saebyeok shakes her head. No one has ever done something of the same caliber for her, so what exactly she's feeling is hard to put into words when she doesn't even know it herself. Feelings are hard. "No, I like it. I like it a lot." A pause, and Saebyeok almost looks shy when she looks at her. "Thank you."

Something in Jiyeong's chest shifts. She wonders in this exact moment if Saebyeok can feel something like that too.

(Saebyeok isn't the thank you type).

 

-

 

Lighting sparklers indoors is definitely some kind of fire hazard outlined in their lease in bold font and their fire alarm is probably mere seconds away from going off and causing an entire building evacuation, but that's the least of Saebyeok's worries right now.

It's them, just the two of them, and it feels just like that, too. Like they're in their own tiny makeshift world in their even tinier apartment. Just the two of them, in this moment, and not a single reminder of the sick pieces of history that brought them together anyway.

Jiyeong is drawing shapes in the air with her sparkler — stars, hearts, smiley faces, a mismatch of all of them at times — and Saebyeok holds hers in place, uniform. Holds onto the very end with her fingertips not because she's scared (though Jiyeong definitely thinks she is), but just in case the sparks hit her. Moves it back and forth here and there.

"You can play with sparklers pretty much anywhere," Jiyeong says, wagging her sparkler around a little bit too close to Saebyeok's face. "But it's the best in Jeju."

"Are you having fun?" Saebyeok asks.

"Yeah," and Jiyeong smiles, eyes curving. It's kind of cute. "Are you?"

And Saebyeok can't help but smile back, albeit small, though the action feels strange, foreign. She probably looks insane. "Yeah."

They go through the pack fairly quickly. Saebyeok saves the last two sparklers for Jiyeong. Then, watches.

Jiyeong's face is painted over in all sorts of orangey yellows and reds, extra bright with the sparkler in front of her. It's a pretty color. Her hair burns golden against the sunset behind her, bangs askew and messy. Her knees are tucked up against her chest as they both crowd around a small bowl of water and extinguished sparklers. She looks impossibly smaller than she usually is, and Saebyeok wonders exactly when she started noticing all of this.

This, how the sparkler burns bright and hot in Jiyeong's hands and how it all feels akin, like something growing wild and reckless deep in her chest. This, how her eyes trace the curve of Jiyeong's face, and how she's starting to pick apart this moment in her head for later.

This, how Jiyeong meets her eyes, how quickly it feels like her heart speeds up, and how quickly she looks away, face warm and heart flush.

This, how it's all starting to make a little bit more sense. The burn in her chest, the red in her ears, the turn in her stomach.

This, how it feels like she's falling even though the floor is solid under her feet. Falling, falling, falling. It's a great feeling.

 

-

 

Mojitos aren't really that good, Saebyeok learns. That, or Jiyeong just poured too much alcohol in hers.

They've somehow migrated all the way to the couch after making a mess on the dining table, some kdrama episode rerun that Jiyeong watched weeks ago on the TV put on as background noise. Jiyeong's laying her head in Saebyeok's lap, while the rest of her body is sprawled out everywhere else.

Jiyeong looks like she can definitely not handle a third round, so that's enough to call it a day. Saebyeok has the honor of finishing the rest of both their drinks and by the end of it, her head hurts and her skin tingles and she feels like she might hurl onto Jiyeong if she doesn't get out of her lap right this instant.

"You don't really know how to make mojitos, do you?" Saebyeok asks, red in the face.

"Not really, do you?" Jiyeong asks her back. She lifts a hand to paw at Saebyeok's face, clearly not in her right mind.

"Why are you asking me?" Saebyeok doesn't make an effort to bat her hand away. "You told me you knew how to."

"I know how to make a Google search, not a mojito."

"Well," Saebyeok doesn't press any further. This conversation is going straight over her head. "That's fair."

Jiyeong gets up all of a sudden, her head nearly uppercutting Saebyeok in the jaw. "Should we try again? I made sure to buy extra."

"No," Saebyeok shakes her head. "Let's just go to sleep."

Jiyeong, without much of a fight, agrees. There's already one too many mojitos in her stomach anyway. Forces Saebyeok to take her back to her room.

It's a struggle to even get there — Jiyeong refuses to get up from the couch, so Saebyeok tries dragging her at first, but her head ends up banging into one of the coffee table legs on accident and makes her cry for at least ten minutes. Saebyeok, kind and considerate and great-tissue-passer Saebyeok, finishes up the rest of the way with a piggyback ride.

Somehow, Saebyeok ends up in Jiyeong's bed with her. It's warm. Jiyeong is even warmer.

"Just stay here," Jiyeong whispers, still very much out of her mind. She's on her side, facing Saebyeok directly.

"Okay," Saebyeok murmurs. She wasn't planning on moving anyway, but the alcohol makes her talk anyway.

"You have freckles," Jiyeong says, suddenly, fingertips already ghosting over her skin. "They're cute."

It definitely has to be the alcohol, but it's hot where Jiyeong's fingers land — down the curve of her cheek, the line of her jaw. It feels strangely intimate and so, so warm all of a sudden. Saebyeok is not drunk, she knows enough, but there's something about this moment that locks her joints tight and has her staying. Saebyeok feels crazy, yet not a single muscle in her body moves.

"You have..." She starts, words at the tip of her tongue. Fish eyes? Okay-shaped head? A pretty face? "A small nose."

"You're bad at this," and Jiyeong's laughing. The sound is worth saving. Then, there's that burn in her chest again. "Do I have freckles too?”

"No," and it feels like Saebyeok isn't herself, because there are fingers that come up to trace the thin line of Jiyeong's nose in return. Her cheeks. Her skin is soft, characteristic. "You have a pretty face."

"Better," Jiyeong says, and the smile on her face next only has Saebyeok trying to pocket away this moment and sight for later as well. The fire beneath her ribcage only burns brighter. They stare at each other for a moment longer — though it's really only Saebyeok staring because she kind of always is — before Jiyeong decides to turn around, back right toward Saebyeok's face now.

"Good night, Saebyeok."

Saebyeok swallows, skin flushed and thrumming along to something that feels like it might be her heart. Her fingertips tingle. "Good night."

What the hell just happened?

Saebyeok, if she was completely sober, would go back and pick apart this moment to figure out exactly what the hell is going on, but then she thinks of Jiyeong's fingertips against her skin and how warm she is and comfy everything else is right now and then she gives up. Falls asleep four minutes later.

 

-

 

Saebyeok dreams of four things again:

Ocean waves, sparklers, mojitos, and Jiyeong.

It's a nice dream. Finally.

 

-

 

Saebyeok is gone when she wakes up. There's a dip in the bed where she was, however, but it's cold. Jiyeong promptly rolls right into it in the midst of her waking routine, catches that faint whiff of mint that is their shared shampoo, and then decides to go find Saebyeok.

Jiyeong, despite being half out of it, still remembers last night very clearly. Freckles and warm skin. Saebyeok close enough that she could smell the mojito on her breath. It's a hard thing to forget, really, and it feels like even a generous helping of alcohol wouldn't be able to wash away everything she felt deep in the pit of her stomach anyway. Something along the lines of the jitters, maybe a little bit of heart skipping there, too.

She is at the dining table, in a clean shirt and shorts and everything. She's doing something geeky, probably Sudoku or maybe a crossword, and when she gets closer, it is Sudoku. Everything that conspired last night is cleaned up, save for the printouts and the Jeju banner, and there's a small cup of yogurt in front of her. A plate of something that looks like scrambled eggs across from her.

"Hi," Jiyeong says, yawn big. "You're up early."

"It's twelve," Saebyeok says, doesn't even look up at her. "There's eggs."

The eggs have no taste whatsoever and they may be overcooked, but Jiyeong's hungry and she really doesn't care so she eats it all anyway. Saebyeok only pushes her yogurt cup toward her after.

There's something in the air, but Jiyeong can't really put her finger on it.

It's strawberry yogurt, half eaten already.

It's not awkward. Just quiet, but that's how Saebyeok always is.

Saebyeok's favorite.

It's just... weird. Like something's changed.

It's all frankly too much on her head so early in the day, considering all the alcohol she went and consumed last night, so instead, she decides to focus on Saebyeok. On her freckles, on the way she's never really noticed them even though they've been there the whole time, on how much prettier they are in the sun compared to the dingy dark of Jiyeong's room. How pretty she is.

She finishes the yogurt. Saebyeok writes in that last number two for a perfect Sudoku grid.

Most things go unsaid between them anyway. That's just how they are. Last night is no different.

 

-

 

(Saebyeok wakes up when the sun filters through the blinds and lands right on her face, hot and unforgiving already at nine in the morning.

She knows first thing this isn't her room because this isn't her bed and there are pink cloud pillows and there is Jiyeong.

Jiyeong, who's on her back, shirt riding up like always when she sleeps, mouth open, and dead to the world. Comforter kicked off to only god knows where.

Something in Saebyeok's veins tells her to shoot out of bed and get out there, but she doesn't because. Well. That could wake Jiyeong up.

So she does this:

She gets up, slowly, fixes Jiyeong's shirt in the process, fishes Jiyeong's comforter from the floor and puts it back over her. She even fixes Jiyeong's bangs, fingers gentle, and the action is small yet big enough to have her heart beat a little faster.

There it is again. That feeling in her chest. Unfurling completely and burning everything underneath her ribs.

She stares at Jiyeong's pretty face for a few moments longer, mouth agape and everything. Rubs at her cheeks and hopes to feel what Jiyeong felt last night.

The feeling burns a little brighter and she feels warm. It's unexplainable, really, so Saebyeok doesn't bother with it. Must be the leftover alcohol.

Only goes, footsteps soft, and scrambled eggs in mind.

Oh, and Jiyeong.)

 

-

 

Saebyeok doesn't really know how to explain this. Whatever this is, really.

It's feelings, she knows enough. Icky things she thought she shouldn't be feeling anymore. What feelings, however, she's not sure.

It feels like something in her chest always wants to run off, and sometimes it even does. It feels like falling, really, but in the strangest and best kind of way. It feels like something's biting in her stomach, and a quick google search tacks that off as butterflies instead, and yeah, it feels exactly like that. Butterflies!

Saebyeok feels crazy. The cuckoo kind, probably. Maybe she's about to go mad. It feels like a premonition of some sort.

Then, she thinks.

She thinks of Jiyeong. She thinks of how when she thinks of her, and only her, it feels like her heart wants to fly. How when she sees her, it feels like the floor drops from underneath her and her stomach turns in that exact, unmistakable way. How the butterflies feel like they'll end up choking her if she doesn't stop thinking of Jiyeong.

She thinks of the way she closes her eyes, sees all red, then sees all Jiyeong. She thinks of the way she fits Jiyeong in every little pocket of her life now, how she sticks her there and she stays and belongs.

She thinks of Jiyeong, and how her heart puffs up extra big and beats extra hard in her chest, then at how everything in the world is brighter and bigger and better and somewhat just a little more than okay than what she's always had.

She thinks of Jiyeong, and then that's it —

It's all very telltale: the jump in her heart, the flip in her stomach, the tingle in her skin, the rush of blood in her head.

It can only mean one thing.

Kang Saebyeok — gangly, awkward, rough at the edges — has a heart after all.

 

-

 

It's a Tuesday, nothing special. Six in the afternoon. The sun is starting to set earlier and earlier each passing day, dousing their little apartment in all types of colors before the sun says goodbye for the day. It's purple today, with the most brilliant oranges and pinks and blues.

Saebyeok finds Jiyeong on the ground of their balcony, right next to Tomato. Her back is pressed up against the glass behind her, with the sprawling, downtown high rises looking small and crowded together in front of them.

Saebyeok doesn't even hesitate to join her, their knees knocking when she settles in a spot right next to Jiyeong. The ground is cold, seeps right through her shorts.

"What are you doing?"

"Staring at stuff."

"Cool," is all Saebyeok can really say. Staring at stuff is fun. She does it all the time.

They're rendered into all too familiar silence once again. It's not awkward, it's not anything. Just Jiyeong and Saebyeok. Tomato, too, but Saebyeok forgets she's there a lot.

"I'm thinking," Jiyeong muses after a long while, "of some things."

"Like what?"

"You," she says, and it's so sudden and a matter-of-fact that it has Saebyeok blinking, then turning to stare at Jiyeong.

Jiyeong is pale, has always been pale a little bit in a way like a ghost, but the purpling of the sunset breathes a little bit of color into her skin. She's pretty, pink flush against milk skin, with eyes the color of butterscotch. Saebyeok fears that might be a little bit of her breath catching in her throat, and it is.

"What about me?"

"I don't know," Jiyeong admits, laughing a little. "I just think of you sometimes. I think about you when I wake up, sometimes when I go to sleep. It's not like... I'm trying to think about you either," she's toying with her fingers, "it just happens."

Saebyeok purses her lips. Pushes a little more. "What do you think about?"

Jiyeong doesn't shake, which is surprising. Doesn't even waver. "You're too tall, but it's like the good kind of too tall. You can reach for the cookies on the top shelf. You don't look like the gardening type, but when you take care of Tomato and your marigolds, you're the silliest looking gardener ever." She hums. "But it's cute. I dig it. Get it?"

And Jiyeong keeps going on before Saebyeok can even think of formulating a reply. "You used to not even talk to me, but look at you now."

"You're so emotionless sometimes that it scares me, but then when you look at me," Jiyeong turns to stare at her in return now, "and it's just— it's like everything else stops and I can see you."

Something in Saebyeok's chest feels like it tears and bursts and everything's so, so overwhelming all of a sudden. There are words that get caught at the base of her throat, jumbled on her tongue because Saebyeok never talks a lot and words are hard. I think about you too. About how you're here, always sticking to me, always bothering me, always making me feel this way.

In the end, all she says is: "I think about you too."

Jiyeong's smile is lopsided as she regards her. "In a good or bad way?"

Saebyeok swallows. Everything feels so, so hard right now. "Good, I think."

"You think?"

"I think of you. A lot." She rubs the back of her neck and it's hot.

"And I think—"

Saebyeok's words die off on her tongue as she holds Jiyeong's gaze a little longer. The same feeling in her chest is bleeding through her ribcage now, spreading dangerously fast across the surface of her skin, and then there's a tug, somewhere past all the fibers of her heart, that feels like it tethers her right to Jiyeong. It pulls harder.

She leans right into it. Jiyeong meets her halfway.

Saebyeok kisses her, lips sliding over hers in a way that makes her ears burn. It's quick, barely five seconds, and awkward because it's clear that Saebyeok has never kissed anyone in her entire life, and when she pulls away, she looks around like she's just been caught for doing something bad.

"... I think— I think I like you," she says, all too fast and terribly shy.

Jiyeong's not really listening, a bit too focused on the Saebyeok tastes like plain chapstick and her face is flushed all the way through and her lips are soft in a way Jiyeong doesn't really remember anymore so she—

"Saebyeok," she says, surging closer and knocking her forehead against the other girl's. "If you're going to kiss me, at least do it properly."

Saebyeok blinks, looks like she might cry out of embarrassment, but she nods quickly, abides anyway. Hands curl into the collar of Jiyeong's shirt, then she pulls her in one more time.

It's longer, clumsier, mismatched, and Saebyeok's chapstick doesn't really taste that good the second time around, but it doesn't matter because she's kissing Saebyeok, awkward and rough and silly Kang Saebyeok, and her heart is so light and happy and it feels like for once in her life that this is what she truly wants — Saebyeok, and only Saebyeok, really.

When they pull apart the second time, it's Jiyeong who says something first.

"I think I like you too." Jiyeong presses their foreheads together again, noses bumping in a way that makes her laugh.

"Okay," Saebyeok breathes out, and she sounds relieved and embarrassed at the same time. "That's... good. Yeah. Good."

"Good," Jiyeong repeats after her. She's smiling, in that bright sun kind of way even though the actual sun is nearly gone now, and now Saebyeok really can't help the way her heart somersaults in her chest.

 

-

 

This is probably what love feels like, Saebyeok thinks. Her heart feels so full, and it's so, so good.

 

-

 

Later that night, they find themselves back in Jiyeong's bed. This time with a lot less space between them, Saebyeok red in the face once again, and Jiyeong toying with the ends of her hair that she so dutifully messed up. They've kissed a few more times after that — Saebyeok is not the best kisser in the world (yet), but she's a fast learner and the way she kisses her is good, and her heart flies off all the same anyway.

"I want to thank you," Jiyeong says, suddenly, and Saebyeok shifts a little.

"For what?"

"You stayed," Jiyeong murmurs, so quiet that Saebyeok almost doesn't hear her. "No one has before."

"I used to think that I wasn't made for it," Jiyeong's eyes are teary now. Cry baby. "That I was just the type of person that people didn't want to stay for. That it was easy for everyone to come, then go."

"But then you stayed," Jiyeong presses a weak fist against her chest, "and then I thought that maybe, just maybe it wasn't me."

"That's because I found you," Saebyeok says, quick and airy, before Jiyeong can say any more. Her breath hot against her face. Her hands, clammy and shaky, clutches at the hem of Jiyeong's shirt so tight that her knuckles turn white. Her eyes are red-rimmed and teary. She may be the bigger cry baby. "I got so used to going, going, and going but once I found you, I wanted to stay."

"You're the ugliest crier," Jiyeong laughs at her, but it's not like she's not doing any better either.

"I'm not even the one crying," Saebyeok sniffs extra hard, wipes away any remainder of tears. Then, runs a thumb underneath Jiyeong's eyes, getting rid of hers too.

"Remember on the very first day we got out, you told me to go home,” Jiyeong continues anyway, even if her face is all wet and Saebyeok is trying her very best and very hardest to wipe everything away for her. “and I told you I didn't have one."

Saebyeok sucks in a breath through her nose. Nods.

“I've been looking for a long time. Even before we were in there. Even when I was in that little cell by myself. Wondering, searching, thinking of places where my home could be. What my home could be."

"I thought it’d be something like you know, a house, like everyone else. A house is a home. For a lot of people. But my house wasn't. It hasn't been since I was fourteen, since I came back that one day after school, and saw my mom dead on the floor."

Saebyeok watches her carefully. Jiyeong swallows thickly, runs her hands down to grasp onto Saebyeok's. She's shaking.

"I was looking, failing, then looking again. It was like a never-ending cycle, but I was too focused on the idea of it being something I could physically have that I didn't know it was right in front of me."

“I found my home," Jiyeong breathes out, voice barely a whisper, fingertips then coming up to ghost right above Saebyeok's heart, "in you."

"So thank you, Saebyeok," Jiyeong says, soft. She leans in close enough to press the smallest kiss to the tip of her nose. Then, she's grinning, all teeth and teary-eyed and everything still. "For staying with me, for loving me, and for giving me a home."

Saebyeok's heart soars.

 

-

 

So in the end, this is what a home feels like — warm, bright, brilliant, and housed carefully in the hearts of two.

It's a good feeling.