Byulyi hadn’t been looking to start something with Joohyun. It had honestly been by chance that anything had happened at all. Red Velvet and Mamamoo were promoting together again and Byulyi had just heard the news about Yongsun going on We Got Married.
Joohyun had caught her sitting in the waiting room, alone.
“Oh hey, Unnie.”
Joohyun’s mouth flicked upward a little as she glanced around the empty room.
“Where is everyone?”
“They went to go buy snacks. Are you looking for Yongsun-unnie?”
Joohyun paused, cocking her head to the side as she stared at Byulyi.
“You look a little… off today.”
Byulyi paused, trying to reign in her surprise. Her and Joohyun weren’t close by any means. Usually she’d take Seulgi out for drinks once a month and sometimes Joohyun and Sooyoung would tag along. But she could count those occasions on one hand. And yet the other woman seemed to just know.
“You’re a little blunt, Unnie.”
“If you don’t want to talk about it, we don’t have to.”
“It’s just,” Byulyi sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. She saw Joohyun’s shoes slowly come into her periphery until the other woman was practically an arm’s length away.
“You know the show We Got Married?”
Her response was a peal of laughter.
“Yes. That show has tried to get me on it since I debuted.”
“Okay, Unnie, we get it, you’re beautiful.” Byulyi tilted her head up and looked at Joohyun’s answering grin. Sarcastic barbs never seemed to phase the other girl at all. If anything Joohyun seemed to like that Byulyi had no qualms with teasing her.
“So what is it about this show?”
“Yongsun-unnie is going to be on it soon.”
Byulyi started to duck her head but suddenly Joohyun’s warm hand stopped her, holding her face still with a palm on her cheek.
“Byulyi… are you going to be alright?”
She smiled at the gentleness in the words and let her eyes flutter a little to stave off the hot tears so close to falling.
“I don’t know. None of it’s real, obviously, but it just feels different. Like this is a step towards something that I can’t be a part of.”
Joohyun leaned forward, bending at the waist so that her face was close to Byulyi’s. She smelled clean, like freshly washed laundry that had been air-dried in sunshine.
“You didn’t iron your clothes today.”
Byulyi glanced down as Joohyun reached forward and gently skimmed the collar of her button-up.
“I’m not very good at it, honestly.”
“Should I help you?”
Byulyi jerked up and her heart was hammering in her ears because Bae Joohyun was within kissing distance the collar of her shirt like it was the most normal thing in the world.
“Help me?” God, her voice cracked like a teenage boy’s.
Joohyun patiently met Byulyi’s gaze and smoothed down the collar once more before taking a step back.
“I can show you how to iron your shirts.”
“But how could I repay you?”
Joohyun’s lips curved upward and Byulyi’s heart pounded in her ears.
“I can think of a few ways.”
Byulyi felt Joohyun’s lips ghost along her neck, stirring her from sleep.
“Unnie?” she mumbled in confusion, trying to turn around to see Joohyun.
The other woman’s dark hair was like a curtain around them. Byulyi reached forward and carefully tucked a few thick strands behind Joohyun’s ear. There was something strange about seeing Bae Joohyun make-up less and a little messy in the morning.
Joohyun arched into the contact like a cat, rubbing her face into Byulyi’s palm.
“You stayed the night.”
“Mm, I did.”
“Won’t your members be worried? Also your manager? Doesn’t SM track your every move?”
Joohyun chuckled, continuing to nuzzle into Byulyi’s palm like the questions didn’t faze her.
“My members and my manager are fine. And as for SM, as long as I show up on time to the events and photo shoots they don’t really care. I make too much money for them anyway.”
Byulyi winced a little at the bitterness that bled into the rasp of Joohyun’s morning voice. She tugged the other woman down, bringing her to her chest as she continued to out the little tangles in her hair.
“You probably could help SM buy another building,” Byulyi teased as she carefully massaged Joohyun’s scalp.
“The rent for the place in Gangnam is enough. Have you ever visited? I could give you a personal tour.”
“I’m not sure if that would be a good idea, Unnie. Your company didn’t really like it when we tried to hang out last time.”
Joohyun stirred at the comment, turning to look at Byulyi who paused in her absentminded caresses. Irene would avoid eye contact in interviews, being demure save for a few humorous breaks with her members. But Joohyun was ravenous and Byulyi felt like her gaze could swallow her whole.
“I don’t care what my company thinks. If you want to come to Coex to see TVXQ card board cutouts at the museum, I can do that for you. Yunho has his own picture, you know.”
Byulyi grinned at the comment and ran a hand through Joohyun’s hair again.
“You’re really trying to lay it on thick, Unnie. It’s like you don’t think me just being with you would be enough.”
Joohyun dropped her cheek onto Byulyi’s sternum, a hand curling tentatively on her waist.
“I like that you make me feel like you wouldn’t just drop everything for me. Everyone always makes me feel like I’m some sort of goddess that deserves everything. Men, money, clothes.”
“It’s because I’m not in love with you.”
“I know. And that’s what I like most about you.”
Byulyi’s jaw clenched at the way Joohyun’s shoulders relaxed at the words.
“Don’t fall in love with me, Moon Byulyi. I don’t know what I would do.”
“Of course, Unnie. I couldn’t even if I wanted to.”
When Byulyi closed her eyes she could pretend that she was tasting her.
Joohyun took a step back and ducked her head, adjusting her baseball hat to cover her face.
“Embarrassed?” Byulyi teased with the beginning of a smirk. She reach forward and tugged the other woman by the give of the oversized hoodie she was wearing, one of Byulyi's.
“Are you going to let me inside of your apartment or not?”
Byulyi smirked as she leaned against the doorway as Bae Joohyun glared, despite how very un-intimidating she looked with her baggy clothes that were so long and loose that her hands barely peeked out from her sleeves.
“What if I say no, Unnie?”
“You really do love your jokes, Moon Byulyi.”
Byulyi's mouth twisted as she leaned a little closer and she could feel Joohyun sag a bit against her, the careful facade of Irene melting at the edges.
They both jerked away from each other like they'd been burned and turned sharply toward the voice.
It was Yongsun. Of course it was Yongsun. Her hair was still curled from the shooting she must have just finished for We Got Married. She even still had on her tv ready make-up, cakey around her nose and mouth.
“O-oh, hi, Unnie. Did you want to come over?”
Joohyun took a careful step away, awkwardly shifting on her feet as Yongsun stared at her even as she answers Byulyi's question.
“Yeah. I texted you. But you didn’t respond so I just decided to come over. You do it enough to me, anyway.”
“Well, the reason why I didn’t respond right away was because I was inviting Joohyun-unnie over.”
Joohyun and Yongsun’s eyes met and Byulyi swallowed a bit at the way Yongsun took in the sloven way Joohyun appeared in stark contrast to her put together appearance. The way her eyes narrowed made Byulyi think of the same level of scrutiny she gave when monitoring a performance, honing in on any minute imperfection. But honestly Yongsun could show up at her front door in pajamas and she would still find her the most beautiful woman in the world.
“Am I interrupting something? I thought you wanted to see me since I’ve been busy with filming.”
“I…” Byulyi took a step forward and let her apartment door shut behind her, the door dinging as the automated lock clicked into place. It was surreal seeing Joohyun and Yongsun standing in front of her, two very obvious choices. A platonic evening with Yongsun where they teased each other with funny stories and snuggle together with the tv softly in the background. Byulyi would think too long about touches that went on for too long and fixate on the other woman’s mouth in a way that was decidedly unfriendly but Yongsun would brush it off as her being weird as usual.
Or Byulyi could take Joohyun against the refrigerator like she'd promised in the texts she'd been sending earlier.
Joohyun was a replacement for Yongsun but Byulyi sometimes wondered who she was replacing.
“It’s pretty right?”
Byulyi was sitting in a deserted coffee shop with Joohyun, watching the other woman unwrap her birthday gift. They tried not to be too sentimental about their relationship with each other but it had been 100 days since they had started whatever this was. Byulyi and Joohyun both enjoyed the sentimentality of tradition at least.
Joohyun carefully pulled the paper away from the beige box, her fingers assured as they neatly folded the wrapping paper into a precise pile next to her porcelain coffee cup. Byulyi liked that about Joohyun. She was neat to nearly the point of being neurotic, constantly dabbing things with her on the go Tide pen or meticulously rearranging books haphazardly flung into bookshelves.
Yongsun would just fling her head back at a mess, grinning with a careless laugh at her own clumsiness.
“It’s a blouse,” Joohyun observed calmly, primly placing the top of the box to one side. She reached out a hand and slid two fingers down the buttons of the front of the light purple button-down.
“Yes. I thought it would look nice on you. And you said that purple was your favorite color.”
Joohyun’s face pinched at the comment and she put the cover back on the present. With a gentle push, she slid it back to Byulyi.
“I don’t want this.”
Byulyi’s eyes widened. This behavior wasn't exactly the kindest but she and Joohyun weren't quite friends or lovers. They were much more practical than that.
She took the box without question, stuffing it into her bag.
“What should I get you instead, then? It’s your birthday after all, Unnie.”
Joohyun pulled her gaze from the table, looking at Byulyi like she was trying to focus but she just couldn't.
“Unnie. Did I do something wrong?”
Joohyun smothered her feelings with a soft pillow, never quite giving away her thoughts despite Byulyi’s whiniest needling. Her anger simmered and never boiled. She faced her inner demons with her back and eyes resolutely staring in the opposite direction.
It would be maddening if Byulyi were in love with her. Although she did appreciate not having to duck a cereal box thrown her way.
“Purple is my favorite color. But it’s also her color.”
Byulyi tilted her head in confusion and the glassy look in Joohyun’s eyes disappeared to clarity. It was the sharpness that she never showed the cameras, that revealed the beautiful doll thrown into cf after cf had a brain and bite to match.
“Get me the same shirt in blue. I think that sort of gift from you would suit me better.”
Byulyi chuckled at the shameless command, sitting back in her chair with a smirk.
“You really enjoy bossing me around.”
“You enjoy taking it.”
They both smiled for a bit before taking sips of their drinks, their silence becoming contemplative.
She was not supposed to fall in love with Joohyun.
Byulyi reminded herself of this as the other girl pointed eagerly at the set of dilapidated basketball machines in the corner of the arcade they’d decided to explore on a whim. Usually they’d do some sort of activity before they dropped by the motel they frequented.
“I don’t think you can beat me in this.”
“Oh, is that a challenge, Unnie?”
“No it’s a statement of fact,” Joohyun said bluntly, tossing her hair over her shoulder. Even through the face mask she was wearing, Byulyi could see the other woman’s smile in the way her eyes crinkled and her cheeks rose.
“Well, looks like I’ll have to take on the challenge then.”
Slipping in a few coins into the machine’s slot, the rickety thing whirred to life sans a few unblinking lights. Byulyi crouched a little, hands raised in anticipation of the onslaught of basketballs. She chanced a glance at Joohyun and blanched at how the other girl was already staring shamelessly at her.
“You’re going to lose and then I’ll have to punish you.”
Byulyi choked and then the game was starting and she fumbled her first few balls as Joohyun’s voice seemed to stop any functionality of her hands.
Sweat beaded along her forehead underneath her baseball cap as she desperately threw ball after ball. She had fifteen seconds to try to keep up her competitive edge when suddenly small hands smacked the ball out of her hands.
“H-hey that’s cheating! You can’t do that!”
Joohyun said nothing as she continued to try to smack another ball out of her hand before throwing one last basket as their games expired. The other woman turned to her with a grin, giggling.
“I’m competitive. When I play, I play to win.”
Byulyi just rolled her eyes and pouted at the minuscule point difference between the two of them. Only two baskets!
“Oh, Moon Byulyi, I know when to quit when I’m ahead.”
Byulyi whined a little but Joohyun was resolute, grabbing her arm and steering her outside.
“I think we can get going now.” Joohyun smirked a little as she leaned on Byulyi’s shoulder to whisper in her ear. “You warmed me up.”
They walked out of the arcade arm in arm, paying no one mind.
It was only briefly when Byulyi was kissing along Joohyun’s sculpted collar bones in the privacy of their motel room that she realized she hadn’t thought of Yongsun once at all.