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dance of december

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Eric swears their choreographer is trying to kill him.

She means well, he knows she does, when she looks the two of them dead in the eyes and says, with quite possibly the straightest face he’s ever seen, that the next move is a dip. Still, he’s amazed that she can’t tell how terrible of an idea it is. They’re not built for this. Neither of them have ever been dancers - which he knew already, but has been firmly cemented in his mind throughout the course of this practice. Neither of them have ever been good at anything like this.

But Solar wants to do it. She wants it possibly more than he’s ever seen her want anything. “I want to do this,” she’d told him, at two in the morning a few weeks ago after they’d gotten the first call about the performance. “I need to do this.

And he’d accepted it, because that’s what he does.

He agreed to a dance break, however, not to the actual physical act of taking her in his arms and swinging her around and dipping her like their choreographer has just announced to the amusement of everyone in the room. That seems incredibly intimidating for more reasons than just his general lack of dancing skills, because they’re still - to put it perfectly - dancing around each other’s feelings, like they have been for a month now, and the last thing Eric’s already-clouded mind needs right now is close physical contact with Solar.

But, hey, that’s just the price of not being able to say no to her, right?

 

 

 

*.*.*

 

 

 

The house looks different, Solar decides after she unlocks the door, standing in the frame almost unable to move. Not bad different, just… different.

One month of being empty has made it colder somehow. The cameras are gone from the corners, and most of the pictures are as well. Every important, precious thing was packed up in their suitcases and taken away and only little traces remain of the people this house used to belong to.

The whole scene makes her clutch her keys a little tighter in her hands. It’s weird and unfair and she doesn’t like the way the world seems to pulling at all of her jagged edges right now.

This was supposed to be a goodbye visit. She was going to grab the rest of her things and say goodbye and go because this portion of her life is over now. She’s not married anymore. They’re not filming anymore. There’s no need for this house anymore. The thing is, though, she can’t do it.

Instead, she makes her way around the living room, surprised to find how clean it is. She’s pretty sure the left it a mess on the last day they filmed here. Her slippers aren’t on the floor, though, and the kitchen looks immaculate. The dishes are even done, sitting in the rack by the sink like they’d never even been touched at all.

He’s been here. She can practically feel him on every surface he touches. He’s there in the neatly-organized shelves and the clean dishes and even the shaved ice sitting in the freezer, still frozen because Solar got swept up in everything comeback and didn’t have time to fill out all the paperwork that would stop her money from going to this house.

It’s pink, still, and, sure, a few extra ice crystals have formed on the top, but it’s overall still good, like everything else in the house is. A little abandoned, sure, but not totally neglected.

His birthday cake sits next to it, in the same plastic container where Eric had put it after her little celebration for him. She’s tempted to take it out and eat a slice, but it feels wrong without him. Despite who pays the bills, everything in this house is theirs, not hers; there’s nothing here she wants to have alone.

I’m at the house. Her text to him is short and vague, and for a second she wonders if he’s going to think she means for him to meet her here. While the idea of that sends something warm through her blood, it’s not what she really means. Is it bad that I don’t want to let it go?

He responds almost immediately, despite the fact that she knows he literally just got off of his plane from Hong Kong. If it helps, I don’t want to either.

It’s convenient, she says, as if that’s the only reason she can’t seem to just leave and let go. I’ve used it as a rest stop too many times.

Me too.

Neither of them mentions that sometimes they would run into each other here, how sometimes she’d be napping upstairs and he’d come by and eat some food and she’d wake up to the smell of something wonderful cooking downstairs and it would almost feel like home.

Maybe that’s why she can’t let it go quite yet. It’s become sort of a second home for them - a sanctuary that no one knows about. She comes here, recharges, and then leaves with enough courage and energy to take on the rest of her day.

At least, she used to. She hasn’t been here since their last filming, though, and maybe that’s why she feels so exhausted just looking at everything. Or maybe the house has nothing to do with it; maybe it was Eric all along that made her feel like she was awake and alive and full of ability. Maybe that’s the real reason she doesn’t want to let it go, because then she’d be letting him go, and that’s the last thing she wants to happen.

It’s a nice house. I might keep it.

Can I keep the keys then? He’s joking, she knows that, but it sends a rush up her spine anyway. The whole idea of this - of having a house together despite not even really being together - feels oddly permanent. It’s probably against some sort of rules, and definitely the kind of material scandals are made out of, but it feels like it’s not a bad idea.

It doesn’t have to be a house. No one has to live here. It can just be a rest stop - no more of a scandal than a shared favorite restaurant or gas station. And that way she won’t have to go back to the bank and have someone else besides the two of them realize it took a full month for her to stop paying the bills on this place.

Go ahead. Solar can just imagine his face at her words. It makes her smile, the way he’s always shocked by her tentative forwardness. She likes surprising him - it makes it seem like maybe he’s not as far ahead of her as he always seems to be. You’re the one who can cook, anyways.

She goes upstairs, pulling out her slippers and just lying on the pink sheets of the bed, contemplating watching a drama or something. It feels right. Everything about the decision she’s just made feels right. And, a little nap can’t hurt much, can it?

 

 

 

 

*.*.*

 

 

 

 

His first dream goes a little something like this:

He wakes up on an island, surrounded by an ocean full of blue and purple stars. His chest hurts, throbbing with this dull ache that’s almost not there until he remembers it. His vision fades in and out, and it takes him a few moments to shakily stand up from where he lies in the sand. The air is warm.

In front of him stands a girl, dressed in all white, dark hair flowing over her back in loose curls. She doesn’t need to turn - he’d recognize her anywhere - but she does, and he notices an ivory flower tucked behind her ear. Solar smiles at him with a calmness that he’s rarely seen.

He calls her name, and she begins to move towards him, with careful, barefoot steps. It feels like a procession of some sort. Not a wedding - there’s nothing celebratory in her movements - but something else. Like… a graduation. It feels like a graduation.

“Took you long enough,” she says, when she gets to him, as if she’d been waiting for him for a long time. As if he didn’t just wake up.

It takes too long for him to notice that he too is clad in all white. His shirt feels like cotton, maybe, and the sleeves are a little bit too long. He’s barefoot, too, and there’s something that makes him feel weirdly vulnerable about that. This beach is absent of shells and crabs and the normal things that would hurt his feet, but that just makes it seem all the more threatening.

He knows it’s a dream by the level of hazy perfection the whole island exists in. The sand is black and smoothed over, as if it’s never been touched. There are no boats on the ocean, no lighthouse to guide them home. Even the palm trees seem unnaturally pale.

And then there’s her.

She’s ethereal like this, all dressed in white on the edge of the sea of the universe.

Solar takes his hand and walks him along the edge of the damp sand, her feet halfway in the purple water. Her hands are cold, like she’s not really there, and, in a way he supposes she isn’t, because there’s no light behind her eyes, no laugh behind her smile.

She reminds him of the old-fashioned dolls he used to see when they’d go to the history museum for a field trip, all lace and beauty and porcelain skin, but with those haunting glassy eyes. She catches him looking at her, and, with a voice that sounds too-practiced to be real, explains their purpose for being here.

“This is the edge of everything. You’ve only just barely grazed the surface.”

Eric’s not sure what part of the whole scenario gives it away, but suddenly the stars and the water and how far away she seems all makes sense. It’s Jeju. He’s in the pool in Jeju island and he can be satisfied with what he sees in front of him, with the doll that’s been presented by the universe, or he can continue to be curious about the everything she’s said he’s on the edge of. He can kiss her - the safer, more solid option - or he can dive headfirst into completely new territory.

The girl who looks like Solar gives him a look, and all he sees are the hazel contacts. She turns to the water, then back at him, and she closes her eyes. Eric does the same.

He walks into the cosmic waves with eyes shut tight.

 

 

 

 

*.*.*

 

 

 

 

Running into each other at the house is different now that the cameras are gone.

That’s her first thought the first time it happens, when she’s laying on the couch checking the fancafe and he unlocks the front door, smiling with snowflakes in his dark hair.

They freeze when they see each other, despite the fact that they both knew this was going to happen eventually. It feels more real when he’s actually standing right in front of her, though.

Solar sits up when she gets over her shock, and he shrugs off his coat, like nothing happened. He greets her, and moves to sit down on the couch next to her, and when his shoulder bumps hers she gets a full flashback to the fountain in Dubai.

“So,” she says, after the hellos. “I guess we share a house now.”

Eric just grins at her. “Did we ever not?”

She supposes they didn’t. This isn’t as new as it seems, because this house has been theirs ever since they made that split-second decision to pay for it themselves. Most things were theirs before MBC officially let them go. But the buzz between them, the thing that she feels when their eyes meet, the thing that makes her bones absolutely ache, that’s her favorite of the things they took out from under the network.

She finds herself staring at him, tracing his jawline with her eyes, mind still halfway at the fountain, thinking about what it means to have a house with him that doesn’t involve any cameras whatsoever.

“What?” he asks, but he’s staring at her too, and that warm buzz makes the winter air feel hot.

Solar shifts, going back to looking at her phone. “You were the one staring.”

There’s something satisfying about teasing him like this.

 

 

 

 

*.*.*

 

 

 

 

Solar’s braver than him.

She’s the one who moves first, taking their choreographer’s instructions in stride, and stepping closer to him. She’s laughing, loudly, but at least she’s moving.

Wheein and Moonbyul are also laughing, from their corner of the studio, where they have sat and heckled and eaten two consecutive bags of Original and Ranch-Flavored Wavy Lay’s Potato Chips since about two minutes into the rehearsal, when Moonbyul announced that “this should be good,” and plopped down on the floor.

He’s glad they’re getting some level of amusement out of his pain.

They’re the real dancers in this room. They are also being absolutely no help. Especially now, when Eric finally finds the courage to step closer and wrap a hand around her waist. Moonbyul gives a low whistle. Wheein just flat out screams.

Solar mimics taking off her shoe and throwing it at them. That shuts them up for about a second.

“Sorry,” she mumbles, rolling her eyes at her members. “They’ll behave.”

Eric laughs, trying to compensate for the fact that he has one hand on her waist and one cradling her head and he still hasn’t dipped her yet. “We both know they won’t.”

Their choreographer coughs, trying to regain control of a room that she lost a long time ago. Honestly, he feels bad for the poor woman. Well, he would, if it wasn’t for the fact that she is actively trying to kill him because his face is currently closer to Solar’s than it has been since like, Chuseok, when she kissed him for the first time. The main difference between now and then being that back then it was just for a second, and now he’s quite possibly been just staring at her for a full minute.

“Okay, good,” the older woman comes over and slides his hand a little further around her waist, so he’s cradling her back. “Now, Yongsun, lean into it.”

Solar leans, not too far because of her own back issues, but far enough that he is caught off guard by her weight in his hands. He holds her in spite of the surprise, though, and tries not to think too hard about the way she looks up at him from under hooded eyes when she does so. Her hair is soft in his fingers, and, he guides her as she swings her head around so she’s now on his left side.

“Now,” she says, and it’s directed at him this time. “You lean into it.”

He leans forward, using all the strength in his core to try and keep from tipping over. One of Solar’s hands comes up and pulls on the collar of his shirt and then they do tip over, because he is not a dancer and she is not either and this entire idea is an absolute mess.

They collapse on the light wood floor of the dance studio, and Eric manages to catch them enough so her head doesn’t hit the floor completely. He laughs into her shoulder, forehead touching the floor, and her own laugh fills room with a bright sound.

They’ve been dancing for two hours when he finally loses it.

Solar pushes her arms up, so her face is no longer an inch away from him but a foot, and her hair falls down around her face, curls barely tickling his nose. Then she speaks, in English, still smiling.

“Dance is hard, yo.”

 

 

 

 

*.*.*

 

 

 

 

The first new item she brings into the house is her guitar.

Her excuse is that she might as well get some writing done if she’s spending so much time alone there during her break. And it works for the first few days, with her jotting down chords and words in her notebook up in the room with the bed that she is trying not to think of as their bedroom so she can stay relatively sane.

She refuses to let him see the notebook, though, since it’s filled with things just a step away from being confessions, which means he ends up stealing her guitar from her hands and playing a few chords of his own new songs on it when he comes in. Any other guy looking for attention would’ve taken the notebook, but he didn’t - he knows how personal lyrics can be.

Solar likes watching him play, so she doesn’t try to take it back, just lays down on the bed next to where he’s sitting and closes her eyes, letting the chords wash over her as she wonders what kind of words he’s going to accompany them with.

Eric pokes her in the stomach when he’s done. “See,” he says. “You needed a break.”

“Hmm.” Solar keeps her eyes closed and he pokes her again. “This house is my break. Besides, writing is fun.”

He sighs, and she feels the weight next to her on the bed shift. Solar opens her eyes to find he’s now lying down next to her, also staring at the ceiling, her guitar back in it’s stand. “I know,” he tells her. “But not as fun as this…”

Before she even knows what’s happening his hands are on her stomach again and he’s tickling her. She can’t help but laugh, loudly, and it’s comforting to no longer have to worry about how weird she looks when she does so. Somewhere along the line, Eric stopped being a person she wanted to hide from. And, now, the cameras are all gone.

She’s still laughing as she retaliates, catching his hands in hers and pinning them to his chest. Everything gets really quiet then. She can hear her heart race.

Eric coughs, and then awkwardly sits up. “I’ll let you go back to your lyrics now.”

“That would be good.”

 

 

 

 

*.*.*

 

 

 

 

The second dream comes in a heatwave.

He’s walking through a hallway with flames where the walls should be. They’re cool to the touch, but they burn bright red, and they smell like incense. They escalate in height, too, until he reaches a door.

A familiar laugh echoes from behind it, filled with all the joy and aliveness that his previous dream was missing. He can’t see her, but he calls her name anyways, hoping to hear some sort of real response. The door flickers in and out for a second, and he can see her on the other side, dressed in black, this time.

He moves his hand to touch the handle and finds it hot to the touch. Not so much so that it burns him, but enough to surprise him.

“Yoonddongie,” she calls, from the other side, and she’s definitely teasing him now.

“The door is locked,” he tells her, because it is, and things in this dreamstate seem a little more solid if he announces their existence.

She laughs again. “Find another way.”

Suddenly all of the flames go out, leaving him alone in the dark and the heat. He steps forward, looking for the door, and his hands reach it, but there are no longer walls on either side of it. Eric feels the air where the walls used to be, and finds her hand instead.

He can’t see her, but he can sense her, as she moves closer, as she leans close to his ear and happily whispers something.

“Let’s run.”

Solar takes off, and he follows, trusting her to guide him through the darkness. Her breaths are heavy, and his are too, and the pads of his feet hit the ground again and again and again until they can no longer find it.

And then they’re falling. He holds her tightly in the emptiness, hot air blowing her hair all around.

“Well,” he sighs, not quite minding the chaos of it all. “We tried, didn’t we?”

The second dream ends like this: him clutching her in the dark as the wind threatens to tear them both to pieces.

 

 

 

 

 

“We’re not very good at this,” Solar decides, later in the night. Everyone else has left, but they’re still there, practicing the waltz part in the quiet of the empty studio.

One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four.

Eric gives her a smile. “Isn’t that why we’re practicing?”

One, two, three, four. Spin, two, three, four.

“Well, yeah, but… I don’t know, I thought maybe it would just click. Things usually just click with us.”

He doesn’t mention the fact it’s usually not the things themselves that click, just the two of them. All the clicking in the world probably won’t save this dance, though, since this is the twelfth time he’s accidentally stepped on her feet. Their vocals will have to do that.

Solar makes the second spin, which is honestly kind of exhilarating after hours of practicing it. It’s so surprising to her, though, that she stops dancing to celebrate, and he joins her because they will have two more rehearsals of this and it’s late and he’s tired and they finally got something right.

She looks happy like this, with her mouth and eyes wide open in delight because she just got something right. Whatever worried smile he’d seen ghosting her lips every time they’d tried this before is gone now. That’s good. It’s good that she’s happy. It’s all he’s ever wanted for her.

Well, Eric thinks as he watches her turn back towards him, smiling like she’s just found wonderland, it’s not all he’s ever wanted.

She runs up to him, grabbing his hands in hers so quickly he can barely process it’s happening. “Let’s try the dip again,” Solar says, and Eric can hear his heartbeat speed up at the thought of it. “We can do it this time.”

“Okay,” he agrees. “But if I end up on the floor again it’s not my fault if I fall asleep.” He takes her in his arms without hesitancy this time, having gotten used to the sensation after hours of rehearsal, pulling her closer to him with an effortlessness that surprises him.

Her cheeks might be red, but he can’t tell in the dim light of the studio. She looks up at him, completely serious again, and her eyes are filled with a quiet kind of intensity.

Solar leans into his touch more easily this time, not just rolling her head around, but carefully arching her back as well. His hands move with her, from his left side to his right, until she reaches her destination and sits up a little, head coming up last. He leans in, and then they’re right where they should be - barely a whisper or a word apart, and her looking up at him with stars in her eyes.

“See,” Solar breathes, like she’s afraid to shatter the silence with her words. “I told you we could do it.”

Something warm spreads from his stomach through his bloodstream, all the way to his fingertips when she looks at him like this. Everything feels hot and still and hazy. He can hear the gentle thrum of the bass from the editing room next door, but it’s all almost completely drowned out by the sound of the two of them just trying to catch their breaths.

They shouldn’t be breathless, he knows that. The move isn’t that straining, even if they have been holding it a little while longer than intended. Still, it’s there, the breathlessness. His head is spinning and he’s smiling and she’s smiling and it’s all just right there, in front of them.

Eric doesn’t go for it.

 

 

 

 

*.*.*

 

 

 

 

The backyard is, unfortunately, off limits.

It’s really a shame, Solar thinks, because most of their drinks are still out there and they never got to have a pool party with all of their friends. Also because, whenever she looks out the window at the blue plastic blow-up pool she’s reminded that what they’re really doing here is hiding.

Dispatch doesn’t care about them right now, she knows that. Partially because there’s nothing for them really to hide. Mamamoo’s Solar Too Busy To Sell A House isn’t really a headline people would be interested in. Partially because people just aren’t interested in their relationship in general. It’s easier to form a scandal out of misconceived notions of her past than it is to form one out of her and Eric’s relationship.

It’s not that she wants to have something that would cause a scandal, per se; she just wants something tangible. Something she can take and hold in her hands and describe to her friends without getting lost in the fog of it all. Everything seems so clear when she’s feeling it, but as soon as the moment’s over it slips away and she’s left holding nothing again.

Still, they have alcohol out there. And it’s their first mutual night off in weeks. And she can’t help but think about how much more fun drinking with him would be compared to last time, when every word felt tainted by the news they’d just been given of ending. How much more special it would be knowing that it wouldn’t be the last time.

He comes up next to her, handing her a cup of tea. “What are you thinking about?” he asks, voice as soft as the winter night.

She takes a sip of the tea and revels in the way the warm liquid seeps its way down her throat. “We left all of those drinks out there.”

A light snow has covered the glass bottles and the bar, now. Solar supposes that means they’re being refrigerated. Some part of the whole scene reminds her of hibernating animals, who will hide away in their homes and just sleep for the whole winter. The bottles kind of look like that, like they’ve begun to bury themselves in a cozy cave of snow.

Maybe they’re not hiding, but hibernating. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stay inside during the winter, is there?

“Hmm,” he nods. “Do you want them? We can buy new ones?”

“I don’t know,” Solar tells him, and she takes another sip of tea. “Maybe I just want to drink with you again.”

Eric bumps her shoulder with his. “You don’t drink.”

“I sometimes drink,” she corrects. “I sometimes drink with you.”

He laughs, and when he looks at her she feels like he’s tickling her again, because she’s got electricity shooting through her veins. “After we perform,” Eric promises. “We can drink together then.”

 

 

 

 

 

*.*.*

 

 

 

 

In the last dream, she’s a mermaid.

They’re back in that ocean that looks like the cosmos, the one with purple and black and blue waves and crystalline stars, and they’re lying down halfway in the sand and halfway in the water.

It’s strange, he thinks, the way she looks with a tail. It’s not right, and yet it’s here, four feet long and silvery and sometimes when the waves come in and cover his legs they take a scale or two back with them. He wonders if the stars that fill the water are all from her scales, or something else.

She turns her head towards him, eyes faraway like she’s still trying to take in the intensity of everything around them. “I love this movie,” Solar says, and she traces one of her fingertips along a vein on the inside of his forearm, sending electricity through his body.

He smiles. “What movie?”

“Oh, you know…” Her hand switches directions, fingertips moving to graze his jawline instead. “That one, with the music, and the ocean, and the mermaid, and the kiss.”

His eyes flicker to her lips then, he can’t help it. “The kiss?”

Solar smiles wide, like she knows she has the entire world right there, in front of her. “Yeah,” she said. “It breaks the spell. And then they can be together.”

“Oh, really?”

He can’t really remember what movie she’s thinking of, in this moment, but the thought of it tickles at the back of his mind. The kiss breaks the spell. And then they can be together.

It’s not that simple, though, he knows that. Well, it might be that simple here in this world of night, but it’s not so simple when he’s awake. One kiss isn’t going to be enough to be sure of forever - if it was he would’ve kissed her a long time ago - it’s going to take more than that. It’s going to take work and time and effort and he doesn’t mind that, not really, but there’s that thought lingering in the back of his mind that it might not be enough.

And, if it’s not enough, it might not be worth whatever damage it could do to their careers, whatever damage it could do to their hearts.

The waves come in again, warm dark water soaking his legs. The silver of her tail flickers and for a split second he can see the girl that exists underneath there. He’s waking up, he can feel it, and then all of this is going to disappear.

“Yeah,” she sighs, leaning her head back down on the black sand.

Eric turns his eyes towards the stars in the sky above them. “This isn’t a movie, though.” His words are sad, because there are definitely times, times like now, when he wishes it was. In the movies everything seems to work itself out. This is why, even now, he can’t watch his run on We Got Married - it’s going to make him stop thinking rationally about everything.

Not that dreaming about islands and mermaids and disappearing fire is thinking rationally, but he can write it off as just dreams for now.

He spends the last few moments of the dream gazing into her eyes, seeing a thousand different hopeful futures in them. She’s beautiful, like she always is, even with those tears dotting the corners of her eyes.

 

 

 

 

He’s texting her when he gets the call from his manager.

They’re talking about something random, possibly her dog, although soccer is another possibility, but he doesn’t remember afterwards because as soon as he hears the news the entire thing flies out of his head.

They want us to do a duet stage, he says.

I know, she replies, ever the mystery. I found out this morning.

It’s weird because he’d thought that the powers that be would’ve vetoed something like this before he could even hear about it, but someone seems to have decided it was a good idea, so now it’s a thing that exists.

He doesn’t mention that the last duet stage they did and how that ended with her kissing him, because that was in the safety of a hotel conference room with only about twenty other people. This kind of stage would be massive and risky and a whole bunch of other things that he’s sure someone else has already weighed the pros and cons of. It’s a weird little miracle, though, so he takes it as such.

What song were you thinking?

Her choice seems inevitable, in the end, because it fits their voices and it’s playful and really she knows he’s never quite been able to say no to her. When Solar sends him sheet music for a swapped version of Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Eric doesn’t even have to blink twice to be able to see it - theme standing on a stage in red and white and black and proving to the world that there really is some level of magic that happens when they collaborate. That it wasn’t all just fabricated by the editors.

It’s no My Ear’s Candy, but it’s theirs, and that’s all that it needs to be.

 

 

 

 

*.*.*

 

 

 

 

The announcement of their shared stage goes over about as well as Solar expected it would.

There are objections from both of their fans, but nothing really has any solidity to it since the two of them are just so good at being good to each other. At least it’s not WGM, one comment reads, and Solar wonders if they’d be more upset if they knew the actualities of everything.

Or maybe they’d understand.

The most well-intentioned part of her hopes they’d understand. It’s easy to get upset over things when you’re only presented half of the facts. She chose this. He chose this. They chose this. No one’s forcing them to sing together or be together or do anything together. She knows they’re just worried about her, but she wishes she could let them know they don’t need to be.

Eric reaches over and takes her phone from her. “You should stop reading those,” he tells her. “They just make you upset.”

Solar sighs, because he’s right. He’s always right about things like this. “You were reading them earlier,” she points out.

“And I’m upset now,” he responds, proving his point.

They don’t talk a whole lot about the backlash their fans have about them being paired together for the show. They don’t need to - it’ll just ruin a good conversation - but it still lingers there, under the surface. It’s there when she looks at him and when she talks to him and when they’re dancing in the studio and she thinks about what it might be like to kiss him.

She didn’t realize he thought about it too.

Solar moves to grab her phone and instead ends up hugging him. She doesn’t know why she changes her mind halfway, but she does. She wraps her arms around his neck and breathes into his shoulder, trying to take every bad thought in his head into hers instead.

It takes him a second, but his arms come up around her waist, like they’re back in the practice room and he’s about to dip her again, except it’s much less choreographed this time.

Eric laughs softly. “What’s this for?”

She doesn’t answer him, just hugs him tighter. Times like this, when he says things like this, she remembers that she’s not the only lonely one halfway-living in this house. He’s here too, suffering just as silently as her, enduring just as much.

“No reason,” Solar says, even though there is one, because she’s scared about how close I care about you is to I love you.

“Okay.”

By the time she pulls away she’s forgotten all about the backlash.

 

 

 

 

*.*.*

 

 

 

 

Eric meets her at the rehearsal stage just on time. She’s waiting there for him, sitting on the floor of it stretching her polka-dotted fingertips towards her toes, her hair pulled up into a ponytail.

Solar’s always looked good with her hair up. He’d only seen it up a few times before they started rehearsing together, but now that it’s come to three weeks since they started, he’s decided it might just be his favorite thing she does with her hair.

She smiles when she sees him, in that all-encompassing way she usually does. “You’re late,” she tells him in a sing-song voice, even though they both know he’s not really. “What took you so long?”

He holds up the cup in his hand. “Coffee.”

She makes a face at him, as against his caffeine intake as ever, and pats the ground next to her, indicating for him to sit.

“You’re not going to make me stretch again, are you?” he asks, already knowing her answer.

The smile Solar gives him is absolutely wicked.

They run through the number, a little more playful than they’ll be for the real thing later in the night. She taps his chin a few times while they’re doing the back and forth, and they even get the dance break right this time, although Eric guesses it’s probably always going to leave him some level of flustered.

It’s a strange dance, between the two of them. Not just the actual dance part, but the way they walk around the stage with each other, back and forth, pushing and pulling in a way they only ever seem to do when they’re performing together. The tension feels more real, somehow, when they’re on a real stage with microphones and lights shining down on them, than when they’re just practicing together in the studio.

She’s Solar, in this moment, when they’re holding the high note at the end together, and he’s Eric Nam. They’re not quite the people each other know, but they’re close enough. She’s more intimidating this way, head thrown back and microphone lifted up to her mouth like she’s pouring every bit of energy she has into that one note. Beautiful and intimidating.

And then, of course, the note finishes the way all high notes do - with a breath - and they go back to looking at each other and she gives him the sweetest smile and he knows her again. Kim Yongsun breaks away from Solar at the end of the rehearsal and fills the stage with a little bit of lightness.

It's temporary.

 

 

 

 

*.*.*

 

 

 

 

Solar takes a breath before the performance starts.

It’s something she always does. One big breath to open up the space in her mouth before she has to sing. It also always calms her down, leaving her ready to go out and just have fun with the crowd.

This stage will be… interesting, she knows that. She knows not everyone is happy about it. She knows it was a risk, but they both said yes to it, and they’ve had fun with it, and that’s really all that matters in the end. Also, to be honest, she likes playing the character that she gets to in this song.

Normally, the guy goes around trying the girl to get to stay, but they flipped it this time, so she gets to pull him by the hand and take off his hat and play. It’s flirting maybe. It feels like flirting, although it’s semi-scripted and, to be honest, she lost track of where the line between flirting and friendly teasing was about three months ago, so it could really be anything.

The important thing isn’t what the articles will write about it tomorrow, though. The important thing is getting the audience to have a reaction, letting them into the little world they’re creating through their song and their dance and their play, and getting them to believe that it’s all real for a moment.

Because, for a moment they’re not on a stage and it’s not the gayo and she really is asking him to stay just a little longer using the cold as an excuse because she can’t quite tell him the truth of why staying is so important. For a moment they get to exist in a world where the worst thing in the world that can happen if he stays the night is the neighbors talking. Solar really wouldn’t mind if it was that; she has quite nice neighbors.

He comes up behind her before she knows it, leaning over the couch she’s sitting on, resting his arms on the back of it. “What are you thinking about?” Eric asks, and there’s laughter in his voice.

She leans back to look up at him, appreciating the way he’s rolled the sleeves of his dress-shirt up to his elbows. “I love this.”

“Me too.”

She doesn’t need to specify what she’s talking about; she knows it’s written on her face. They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t love the rush that comes right before going onstage. There’s something magical about sitting in the dark on a prop-couch with her legs tucked under her, smoothing out her the red circle-skirt of her dress so everything will look just right when she begins to sing.

“We should do this again sometime,” he suggests, and that’s when he loses her, because this could be so many things with them.

“Sing together?” she asks, not daring to let her mind wander to the other things she’s wished he’d say things like that about.

“Yeah,” Eric nods. “Record a collab or something. I like singing with you.”

She can’t help but smile at that and her face warms at the statement. “I like singing with you too.”

The current group onstage takes their final pose and that’s when the two of them immediately get into position, ready to be lifted up into the stage. Despite that, his hand still finds hers in the darkness and he squeezes her fingertips gently before the platform they’re on begins to move and the lights begin to come on.

The crowd is a sea of faces, both ones she knows and ones she doesn’t. It should be dizzying, really, but it’s not. Each audience member, from the front row to the very back, is someone she has the opportunity to make happy. That’s a blessing all in it’s own.

Then Eric looks at her, from where he stands next to the couch, and lifts his microphone to his lips. “I really can’t stay,” he sings, and then it begins.

She meets his eyes, gives him a smirk of her red lips, and answers him. “But, baby, it’s cold outside.”

They trade off like that, going back and forth coyly, mixing the humor in their lyrics with practiced vocals. The audience laughs at all the right times throughout the first verse, and bravery begins to fill Solar’s chest with something warm.

“I simply must go.” Eric delivers the first line of the second verse with big eyes that have her back in the practice room, losing herself in the mere act of just singing with him.

So, when she marches over to where he is, maybe it’s with a little more bravado than they’d rehearsed. Maybe there’s something in her eyes there hasn’t been before. She wouldn’t know: she’s the one performing.

However, her fingers do slowly trace the line of his arm as she answers with “But, baby, it’s cold outside.” She’ll admit she’s guilty of that.

Okay, Eric’s eyes seem to say. So we’re doing it that way.

On his next line, he looks a little bit more reluctant to go than he’s supposed to, which is probably not helped along by the fact that Solar takes one more step closer on hers and walks her fingers up to his shoulder. It’s visible enough that the cameras catch it, and she feels a small amount of satisfaction from the screams that ensue.

By the time they get to the bridge before the dance break, everything’s been turned up to such a high level that, when he turns and waves a hand towards the spot in the audience where her members are sitting and sings “Your sisters will be suspicious,” she’s gotten lost in the tension.

“God, your lips look delicious,” she answers, and she did have to look up the translation of this lyric, but his face when she sings it and means it is absolutely worth it. Turning her head towards hers with her hand might have helped that, though.

The dance break comes and it’s exhilarating. It’s not even that much work after all the practice they’ve done, but her heart still gets racing by the time he dips her. There’s no contemplation of kissing this time - despite all the flirting she knows they’re both too smart to even consider it at a moment like this - so instead they just exchange smiles, reveling in the reactions they’re getting.

And then it’s the end.

Solar’s breath is heavy as she hits her last pose, but the ache in her lungs is a good kind of ache. It’s all-parts happiness and exhilaration and success. She looks over at Eric only to find that he seems just as happy with the outcome of this performance as she does.

It was fun. And that’s all that should matter in the end, no matter what kind of way the press will try to spin this tomorrow. No matter what any of their well-intentioned fans say. She knows what she feels in her gut right now. She knows the way her lungs are aching. She knows herself in this moment, more than she has in a while.

 

 

 

 

Solar’s dream goes like this:

She’s alone in a snowstorm, curled up in a ball as large white flakes swirl around her. Her hands feel like ice, and she rubs them together to no avail. After a few tries to warm them with her breath, she realizes the cold is emanating from them.

She wasn’t always like this, she knows that, because the memory of something warm still exists within her. Occasionally she hears singing coming from over the mountain, high and sweet. She calls back with her own song, but it doesn’t feel loud enough. Nothing feels loud enough in the noise of the storm.

Standing up, she makes her way through the deep drifts of snow. The only color other than white for miles around is the green that hides under the white, lurking in the tall trees. When she comes across a river, nearly completely frozen over, she hears the song again, calling her from the other side.

Every bit of rational sense in her body tells her she shouldn’t cross the ice, that it’ll cave in and leave her drowning in the cold water, but she needs to know where that song is coming from. She needs to know if there’s a way she doesn’t have to be alone in this storm anymore. Her instinct tells her to go, so she goes.

Somehow, the ice holds her. She goes step by step across the ice, feeling how thin it is but miraculously not cracking it. Her steps are careful, cautious, and small. It’s taking too long, she thinks, but she keeps going anyways, until, finally, on the last step, she slips and falls.

The frozen glassy water below her feet doesn’t move, but the fall knocks the wind out of her. When Solar finally finds her breath, she looks up to see that someone has extended a hand towards her.

Eric stands on the other side of the river, reaching towards her. It’s raining hard over there, and she swears she sees lightning strike, but no part of it scares her, because, right where they stand together the sun is shining.

She takes his hand, and he helps pull her up. “Come on,” he says, “we can survive together.”

And they do.

 

 

 

 

 

*.*.*

 

 

 

 

 

They have the drink he’d promised afterwards.

It’s not outside, or at a real bar, but in the room with the bed and the TV. They lay back against the headrest with take out in front of them and drink together as Solar puts on Goblin, because she’s decided it’s the one drama he needs to watch.

If he’s being honest, he’ll probably end up watching these episodes again later because he spends more of the time staring at her than the drama. She looks good like this, with the light from the television illuminating her face, her eyes big and focused as she watches.

The food is long-finished and their drinks are half-empty when the last episode ends.

“You know,” he chides, “I thought you wanted to drink with me because you wanted to talk to me.”

“I did,” she answers, looking over at her empty takeout containers. “But then I got scared.”

It’s not that she frightens easily, but the opposite; she frightens slowly, retreating further and further, so slowly that he’ll barely even notice before something happens. Solar’s fears are known to him now, though. They’re the same fears he has, another thing so parallel about them that he almost wants to call it fate.

“Are you still scared?”

She doesn’t answer for a moment, but her eyes come up to look at him, and he feels that same tension he’s been feeling all month. His insides feel like putty, like she’s taken his feelings and spread them out and folded them up again so many times that they’re all warmed up now for whatever it is she wants to do.

She lays down, then, leaning on her arm like it’s a pillow, light hair all fanned out on the pink sheets. “I don’t think so,” she tells him, earnestly, “not anymore.”

Eric takes a breath. “So,” he starts. “What was it you wanted to talk about?”

Her mouth is open, but she doesn’t speak, so he just ends up staring at her lips, waiting for an answer, which is not the best thing to be doing when he’s just told her that they should talk.

“Us,” she answers simply, and Eric chokes.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to have this conversation - he does, he wants it more than he wants possibly anything else - he just wasn’t expecting to have it now. They’re both exhausted from performing, but still riding on the high that comes from it as well. He feels tired and dizzy and kind of out of it, but she’s looking up at him like the moment couldn’t be more right.

“What do you mean?” he asks, just to clarify, despite the fact that her face is making everything more than clear.

When she answers, her eyes look a million miles away. “I fell asleep in the car on the way here,” she begins, voice barely above a whisper. It was snowing and I was alone and I was so scared. And then, you were there. And the sun came out.”

He can’t help but think back to his own dreams, spread out over the whole month. His dreams of water and stars and falling. They’re not the same dream, he knows that, but something about the way she’s describing it feels familiar.

Eric gazes into her eyes, looking for any sign of what it is she’s thinking. “So, what does that mean?” he asks.

“I’m getting there,” Solar tells him, pointing a finger at him. “I remember I woke up and was sorry it was over. It feels like everything is ending too quickly these days.”

“Yeah.” He knows how that feels. It’s like sand, constantly slipping through his fingers every time he tries to get a good grip. He’s scared if he tries too hard, though, he’ll run out of chances.

“You like me,” she states, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. He supposes it might be; he stopped trying to hide his feelings a long time ago. “And I like you.”

He knows that much, too. She’s never been specific about it, not with those exact words, but he’s found it in other things. The songs she sends to him to listen to. Her letter from their last filming day. The little notes she wrote all over the sneaker he keeps in his house. Still, it’s good to hear it out loud. It makes it feel more real.

“And now we’re doing this…” she waves her hands around, indicating the house that they kind-of, sort-of share. “So, doesn’t it seem like-”

She stops, suddenly at the look on his face, and he tries as hard as he can to not let her see how conflicted he’s feeling about what she’s suggesting. He wants it, he does. He wants all of it, but not just because she feels like it’s the next step. He wants it with her wanting it, too. He doesn’t want her to risk her career and her heart and everything on something just because it’s what comes next in the pattern. Waiting would be better.

“You don’t have to do this,” he tells her, despite the way his heart is aching in his throat, because he’s not sure how much more of the waiting he can bear.

She frowns. “I wish everyone would stop saying that. I know what I want. I want to do this, no-” Solar’s hand comes up and she runs her fingers through his hair. “I need to do this. I need something solid. I need everything to mean something.”

Eric lets out the breath he’s been holding since this whole dance started. He’d been so scared that she wasn’t ready for what he wanted, that she wouldn’t understand the way his heart has been saying things like forever since a long time ago, he never even took the time to think that would be just another thing they share.

“Oh thank God,” he manages, and she lights up like a Christmas tree.

Solar pushes his arm. “What you want matters too, you know,” she says. “Don’t just leave things up to me. Then we’ll never go anywhere.”

Despite the fact that she’s chiding him, he likes the sound of we. He hasn’t heard it much since they stopped filming, though. It’s nice to hear it again, especially coming from her mouth.

“Okay,” he says. “Yongsun-ah, I want to do this, with you. I want everything to mean something too.”

Despite her words from earlier, she’s still the first one to move, pulling his head down toward hers until she’s just a breath away, pink lips turned up into a smile.

“You go first,” she breathes.

He happily obliges, tilting his head and kissing her like he should’ve that night at the fountain, and at their rehearsal, and every day afterwards.

Eric fills his lungs with her sighs, letting her kiss completely consume him. She tastes like takeout, like tteokbokki and the little bit of alcohol she’d had, and when her tongue sweeps around the roof of his mouth he caves in, falling with her into this new solidity. Her sweater is soft under his hands, and he likes the way her fingers tighten their grip on his neck every time he moves.

Kissing her is a bit like dipping her, he decides, except it’s better because he gets to learn all these new things about her. He gets to learn what makes her sigh and what makes her smile against his lips and what makes her kiss him back even fiercer, because she’s still just as competitive as ever when she’s kissing him.

He pulls away smiling.

“This is a nice house,” Solar declares, smiling back at him. “I think I might keep it.”

“You do that,” Eric replies, leaning back against the headrest of the bad. “I like it too.”