It started with a bang.
A literal bang on the balcony, accompanied by the sounds of breaking glass and breaking wood. Then, afterwards, total silence of the night.
In the far distance sirens, probably unrelated.
Nayeon shot up from her bed, disoriented for a moment. Her pink sleeping mask sat askew on her forehead. Her pink pajamas were crumpled.
There was another crash coming from the outside of her living room, smaller this time. Then again complete and absolute silence. The burglar’s alarm hadn’t gone off. Whoever had entered her apartment was either extremely skilled or hadn’t entered through the main entrance.
Which didn’t make any sense.
Nayeon’s apartment was located on the thirty sixth floor of the Seoul Needle. To break and enter through a window required a lot of scaling and more interesting apartments to loot from in the thirty five levels below hers.
She got out of the bed and threw on her long, lacey day robe with the fur-trimmed sleeves that screamed “My husband is dead and I have no idea how it happened”, and then grabbed the pink Barbie-themed baseball bat Momo had given her for her last birthday.
There were slight noises coming from outside and Nayeon prepared herself to bludger anyone who tried to rob her.
Slightly crouched over, she moved to the door and opened it. A gust of wind hit her.
It surprised her, because none of her windows or the balcony door were open. Stepping out into the living room, darkness and the outlines of her furniture greeted her. She narrowed her eyes. There was something weird where the balcony door used to be.
Used to be.
It was missing.
There was a large gaping hole and most of the glass of the panelled glass wall there was missing. In the distance something - someone - groaned.
Nayeon tightened her hold around the baseball bat, stared at the balcony across the living room and did wide-crouched side steps towards the nearest light switch.
She braced herself and flicked it on with her elbow.
Good news! Good news first, her mind screamed.
One: It wasn’t a robber. Two: The gaping hole leading to her balcony provided a truly spectacular view to the city, which was … nice? And three: the night air was very invigorating.
So. That was that.
Then she went for the bad news: There was a hole, the size of a SUV where the entrance to her balcony had once been located. Glass and wood lay splintered all across the hardwood with pieces of construction work dangling from the hole’s rim.
Was it a meteor? A small plane?
But small planes didn’t groan. Right?
She carefully rounded her 60s couch and her 70s coffee table - then she heard another groan. Something was still alive.
Legs came into view. They were packed up in red boots. Blue pants followed made from a strange, scaly material. No belt, but a top that emphasized on the person’s muscles. The outfit seamlessly extended into a red cape that ‘grew’ out at the person's shoulders. It fanned out on the dark hardwood like a massive pool of blood. A head of bright, blonde hair and a mask that only covered the face up to the philtrum.
Nayeon cursed. Once. Twice.
She knew who the girl was. The vigilante. Seoul’s very own superhero. The reasons why the crime rates in the city had been lowered dramatically. She was heavily debated and massively criticized, for various reasons.
Nayeon’s eyes flicked to the wall of framed newspaper articles by the living room table. The headlines were written in glaringly black letters. She had written every single one of them.
“Zero Hero.” “Not a hero, a criminal.” “What if she turns against us?”
The irony was not lost on her.
Nayeon touched the person with her foot. “Hey. Hey!”
She had to call the ambulance. There was a person - a superhero - dying on her hardwood!
“Cellphone,” she mumbled and let the baseball bat fall to the ground. “Ambulance. 911. Cellpho -”
Before she could turn around, there was a movement she couldn’t follow. Her upper body was moved to the side and suddenly there were hands on her shoulder and the superhero - superheroine, it was a girl - hovered in front of her. Her face was so close that Nayeon could feel her breath on her lips. Her eyes were dark and frantic and beautiful, as she said:
“But you are bleeding!”
“I’ll be alright.” She was not going to be alright. “I’ll be fine! But promise me, no ambulance!”
“Promise me! If you call the ambulance, I’m dead!”
“I -” Nayeon looked up at the girl, the side of her face bloody, half of her mask ripped, the remnants pinned to her face by small, tiny spikes that emitted a tiny, green glow.
“They will kill me!” the girl said. She shook Nayeon gently, her eyes wide with fear and worry. She had never seen anyone emit such a blatant amount of it and she had never expected it in someone who could jump a building with a single leap or level a skyscraper.
Nayeon had expected that girl to be fearless and heroic, not scared and terrorized, a kind of raw fear she only knew from pictures.
Nayeon swallowed. “I promise.”
The girl’s face lost some of its tightness, the muscles loosening. “Thank you,” she whispered. She closed her eyes for a moment and Nayeon immediately wanted to call her out on falling asleep in her arms, but then the girl just proceeded to fall forward.
Onto Nayeon, burying her under her lifeless body. They both went down with a thud sound on Nayeon’s living room carpet. That girl was going to bleed on her carpet.
And god, was she heavy.
It took Nayeon a minute to wriggle out from beneath her, discover that she was now as well, covered with blood, cursed at any kind of future dry cleaning bills and looked at the girl, laying next to her.
Another body fluid joined the first one: The girl was now also drooling on her carpet.
She was breathing heavily but was alive. And groaning. And she definitely needed an ambulance.
She had to patch her up, Nayeon realized. Otherwise a superhero was going to probably die on her carpet - and the chalk outline the police were going to draw on it would definitely be hard to explain to any prospective drycleaning service.
A part of Nayeon considered calling the ambulance AND the police once again, but then she filed that thought away for good. The girl had been very clear about that - and …
Nayeon eyed her wall of articles again. One showed the silhouette of a caped crusader with a big, red cross stamped across it.
Again, she remembered how the girl’s voice had trembled, how wide her eyes had been, how thoroughly afraid she had been. She had feared for her life. It surprised her. It was nothing she had expected at all. It seemed so … so human .
She couldn’t call the police, Nayeon realized. Because someone else could come instead. And no matter what she had written about that girl - she didn’t want her life or anyone's life on her conscience.
Nayeon kneeled down by the figure and then managed to barely move her onto her back to survey her wounds.
She was terribly young, Nayeon decided, around her own age. There was a large rip in her costume up her side on her shoulder, her throat and then up the side of her face right into her hairline. That was where the blood was coming from - not a whole lot but enough to seep through the fabric.
The entire rip was covered with those small, green crystals. They looked like miniature quills of a porcupine, except that they were green, transparent and glowed.
Where they penetrated the skin, the girl’s vein turned into an uncomfortable blue and pulsed angrily.
Nayeon cursed softly again. She was no nurse, but she knew that whatever those small spikes were, they didn’t do the girl any good.
She hurried into the bathroom and returned with her collection of eyebrow tweezers and a large pair of scissors she usually used to cut wrapping paper with. The girl on the floor hadn’t moved. If anything, she had turned more pale.
She knelt down again and removed the spikes, one after another, putting them into her old night cream container. They produced a small ping sound when they fell.
When Nayeon pulled out the first one, she noticed with quite some fascination as the puncture wound slowly closed. She counted one hundred and twenty two spikes. When they had all been removed, she screwed the night cream container close and noticed that the girl continued to grow paler still. Sweat had accumulated on her forehead.
Nayeon eyed her closed container and picked it up, holding it far away from the superhero. The girl took a happy breather. She pulled it closer once more - and instantly, the bleeding girl groaned, frowned and sweated.
“I see,” Nayeon said. “So you don’t like the green stuff.”
She took the container, thought for a moment, and then put it into her microwave and covered the front with aluminium foil. When she returned to her guest, the girl was still pale with small drops of sweat still glistening on her forehead and some of her wounds on her face hadn’t closed up, but at least she was snoring slightly.
She was asleep, but that left her with a whole lot more problems.
For starters, there was still a hole in her wall. And there was a lot of debris on the ground. And the superheroine lay admidst it. Injured. Potentially cold. Seoul nights could be cold.
She had to drag her somewhere where she was protected from the constant gust of wind.
So Nayeon picked up a broom she hadn’t used in ages and started to form a small mound of debris in the middle of her living room. It was a superficial cover of order in front of a gaping hole by the balcony, but it made her feel better. Then she picked up the superheroine’s arms and dragged her over the floor into her bedroom onto the carpet in front of her bed.
She didn’t like that carpet anyway and she could throw it away afterwards. But it would be better for the girl than to sleep on the floor. For a moment Nayeon considered pulling her up onto the couch by the end of her large queen sized bed, but given the girl’s weight of an elephant calf, she decided against it.
But still, the girl had to be more comfortable. She was a superhero, but currently she was also a patient.
Nayeon picked up blankets and her spare pillow from her walk-in wardrobe and placed it around and under the injured girl. Then she sat back and inspected her.
It still looked terribly uncomfortable. The half-ripped costume didn’t do anything to help. It had to be removed.
She threatened the girl with an index finger: “Don’t think I’m trying to get into your pants, but I’m going to remove your clothing.” A pause. “Or what’s left of it.”
She retrieved the pair of scissors from the living room and cut off the upper part of her top. Halfway through it, a blade of the scissors broke and she had to pick up a small knife (didn’t work), medium sized knife (didn’t work as well) and finally her expensive Japanese sushi knife from the kitchen to cut that thing off.
The mask was attached to the rest of the costume and Nayeon had to sever its connection by the neck, which was a feat in and of itself.
When it was done, Nayeon tried not to stare at the girl’s toned physique (abs!), her upper arm muscles and the sharp line of her jaw.
Nayeon found one of her old t-shirts and managed to put it on her with some wrestling.
Half of the girl’s face was still covered by the mask and for a moment Nayeon considered removing it.
Then shook her head and decided against it.
She still had Girls’ Generation merchandise band aids in her first aid pack - colorful, tiny things, bought as a package of one hundred. It took her almost an hour to put over eighty of them on every open wound that had refused to close up but Nayeon didn’t have anything else. And she used the rest of them, mostly Yoona and Seohyun, to attach the mask firmly onto the heroine’s face so it wouldn’t fall off.
Then she picked up a post-it - pink, scented - wrote something on it and attached it to the girl’s forehead.
Then she went to bed. It was all she could do.
Jeongyeon woke up to an entire array of problems:
A headache was the first thing that literally came to mind. It resembled an elephant with diarrhea: Large, anything but subtle and she really wanted it to go away.
Then the second thing was the fact that the upper part of her costume was missing. It had been replaced by a large, oversized t-shirt that said: Keep me away from heavy social media use.
Number three was the most glaring thing: Although someone had removed the Kryptonite, the left half of her body was aching, pulsing and felt like it would fall off any moment. Someone had glued her mask to her face. A band-aid fell off. Sunny from Girls’ Generation was on it, smiling happily at her.
But the most glaring thing was … the world.
It was dull and small and gray. Gone were the sounds of faraway cars, of planes in the sky, of people moving and bustling about, of talking and laughing. The world had gone quiet. Lonely. Was just limited to the room she found herself in.
Panic rose up within her.
Her powers were gone. Completely.
She went through the checklist: She couldn’t X-ray through the wall. She couldn’t run faster, she couldn’t even get up. She couldn’t fly and when she flicked her own forehead, it actually hurt.
Panic was quick to rise within her, because it was so silent.
There was nothing! Everything around her had just gone from life to absolute death. She was only a shell of a person, a zombie with all her life force sucked out of her. A dead, empty, deaf and blind shell.
Chaeyoung. Dahyun. She had to call them, she had to find them. They had to pick her up.
Phone. She needed a phone.
She looked around. She was in a foreign apartment. Someone had wrapped her in three blankets on a floor next to an unmade queen-sized bed. One blanket had Barbie on it.
Jeongyeon got to her feet - and something overcame her and she crumbled to the floor again. She felt every heartbeat in her chest, felt dizziness crashing over her like a wave, felt pain all over her body.
It took her eight minutes - she counted - just to stand up. And in those eight minutes she had a realization that was the worst she had ever had in her entire life. A realization about herself.
The realization of what had happened to her:
She was … human .
Another wave of panic. Quick frantic breathing. Pain. So much pain! But at the same time complete and utter blindness. Only one room to look at, to listen to, to smell. Nothing else.
She had to calm down. Calm down. Calm down.
Her gaze fell on the chaotic chaotic pillows and the blanket on the bed. To calm herself down, she made the bed and then decided to see what was outside of that bedroom she had found herself in by actually leaving it.
Two double doors lead outside. Next to them, one to the left and one to the right, stood two lions cut from stone. Past those lion statues, a living room. And beyond that living room, her … entrance point.
It was large and much like her headache, anything but subtle. Apparently the doors and the wall by the balcony had completely consisted of windows, but Jeongyeon had ripped them all down when she had crashed into the apartment. Someone had tried to broom up the debris.
She was thankful that it was warm and dry outside.
Even without her powers, Jeongyeon realized that this place was in dire need of a housekeeper: Some used socks lay by the couch in the living room. Nobody had bothered to put three days worth of glasses, plates and cutlery into the dishwasher.
Then her eyes fell on the framed newspaper articles on the wall and their headlines. Some showed her as a blur in the sky, her talking with the mayor, her carrying someone out of a burning building.
She immediately knew who had written them. Im Nayeon. Journalist for the Daily Planet.
This was Im Nayeon’s apartment. Had she seen her face? Had she called the police? Had she told anyone she was there?
She tried to tap into her powers, tried to fly, moved for the balcony, to jump and fly, but immediately knew she couldn’t: Like an anchor, she dragged herself lifelessly over the floor, one foot after the other, chained to the ground.
Jeongyeon panicked, anxiety rising quickly. She barely managed to calm down, about to faint. The world, as empty and dead as it seemed, threatened to swallow her whole.
Breathe, she told herself. Breathe.
Assess the situation. One step after the other. Breathe.
A human sized mirror hung by the entrance. She stepped over to see just how bad the damage was. It was what made her notice the post-it note on her forehead.
In a scrawly, barely readable font, someone had written:
Hello stranger. You are safe. Food in the fridge. I won’t tell anyone. Band aids in the box on the kitchen counter. I’ll come back with pain killers. There’s a cellphone next to the bandaid if you need to make a call. What are you planning to do about the hole in my wall? - Im Nayeon.
Jeongyeon turned quickly toward the open kitchen. There was a box with first aid supplies that was barely enough to cover her most basic needs. She almost knocked it over. And a cellphone - Constellation Aries V - three generations back.
Jeongyeon opened it and noticed a picture of its owner: Im Nayeon, grinning at the camera, front teeth apparent. It headlined a long list of contacts.
Jeongyeon typed in a number - and someone picked up the phone on the second try.
“Chaeng! How are you?” The smile in her voice was weak. She sank on one of the high bar stools by the kitchen counter.
“Could be better. Dahyun! Dahyun! Wait. I’ll put you on speaker.” Jeongyeon heard a click, then Dahyun’s voice.
“Jeongyeon eonnie! Are you alright? I mean, I know you are to some extent, but I don’t know to what extent!”
“You disappeared from the screen!” Chaeyoung said. “Where are you? Are you okay? God, we were worried sick about you!”
“To some extent,” Dahyun added.
“I’m fine,” Jeongyeon said.
“Liar,” Dahyun immediately interrupted.
Jeongyeon took a deep sigh. It had advantages and disadvantages when one of your best friends had prophetic super powers.
“They hit my left side,” Jeongyeon said. She looked down at her own body. Her costume was ruined. “Ripped away. The girl that found me removed most of the Kryptonite.”
“Some brains there,” Chaeyoung said.
“Chaeng,” Jeongyeon said. “Dahyunnie.” She swallowed. She couldn’t cry. She didn’t want to cry. “I have lost all my powers.”
Dahyun gave a deep sigh and didn’t say anything. It was what she did when she didn’t want to annoy people by saying: “I know.”
“I’m completely, totally -” Don’t cry, don’t cry. She clutched the cellphone to her ear. “Weak.”
“They are looking for you,” Chaeyoung said. “I directed their drones toward the opposite side of the city, but I strongly recommend you keep yourself covered and fix that hole in your host’s wall. I know you can.”
“I don’t have any tools or glass or -”
“I’ll send it,” Chaeyoung said.
“It’ll take some time for you to heal up,” Dahyun said. She hesitated. “I can’t see your immediate future - maybe because it concerns me as well, I don’t know, but just keep put. Do you think you can stay where you are or at least not fly around until we have fixed this?”
“I can’t fly around anyway. All my powers have become zilch.” Jeongyeon cast herself a glance in the mirror. Her mask on the left side looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. “I - think so.” She hesitated. “Do you know the owner of the apartment I crash landed into?”
Dahyun took a deep breath again.
“Yeah,” Jeongyeon said. She eyed the post-it. “Isn’t that the worst kind of luck?”
“But she didn’t take off your mask,” Dahyun said. “She knows you are the vigilante, but not your identity.”
“Im Nayeon,” Jeongyeon said. “Reporter for the Daily Planet.”
“We know,” both of them said.
“They describe her as difficult and moody, but extremely principled and good at her job. I don’t think you need to worry,” Dahyun said.
“I don’t want to stay here,” Jeongyeon said and wanted to add something else, but Dahyun interrupted her.
“How are your powers?” Dahyun asked, a bit pointedly.
Jeongyeon paused. She looked at the wall by the main entrance and concentrated. She could feel a whisper in her eyes - it was difficult to explain - but her X-ray abilities were just non-existent.
“I hate you,” Jeongyeon grumbled.
“No, you don’t. Stay where you are,” Chaeyoung said. “Don’t go anywhere with cameras, like the street right in front of the building you are in until I have figured out how to mess with them. We’ll send you some things - try to lay low. You are human now.”
“Being human sucks,” Jeongyeon said.
“You get used to it,” a new voice said. Behind her, there was the sound of someone dropping something. When Jeongyeon whirled around, she noticed Nayeon by the entrance, dropping down something that looked like big bags of groceries.
“Is that her?” Dahyun asked, playfully.
“I gotta go,” Jeongyeon said. “Bye.” She ended the call and erased the number, then looked up.
“You can keep that,” Nayeon said, nodding at the cellphone. “It’s my spare one.”
“Because it has an encrypted virus on it that sends all the data via a worldwide satellite network right to your supercomputer?” Jeongyeon asked darkly.
The girl, Im Nayeon, placed one banana after another onto the bronze fruit bowl on the kitchen counter. She narrowed her eyes at Jeongyeon. “Yes, because I can afford a world wide satellite network and a supercomputer on a reporter’s wage.”
“Well.” Jeongyeon gestured at the impressive apartment. “You live here. There are two stone lions in front of a double door that leads to your bedroom.”
Nayeon snorted and continued to remove fruits from her bag. “I inherited this place from my father. He helped to build it. Can you cook?”
Jeongyeon blinked. “What do you mean?”
“Cook. Can you - wait. Do you eat?” Nayeon asked, a box of Greek yoghurt in her hand. “Or do you live off space rays?”
“I eat! Of course I eat! Who doesn’t eat?”
Nayeon shrugged. “Well, I don’t know, an alien, maybe?”
Jeongyeon froze and immediately regretted it, because Nayeon picked up on it.
“Oh my God.” She set down the box of Greek yoghurt slowly. “Are you really an alien?” She rounded the kitchen counter and stepped closer.
Jeongyeon stepped back, craning her head backwards, as Nayeon clearly invaded her private space. “Do I look like an alien?”
“No, but you also don’t look like a superhero to me.”
“I’m wearing a mask.”
“A crappy mask.” At Jeongyeon’s second freeze, Nayeon rolled her eyes once more. “I didn’t see your face. I patched your mask to your face and that was that.” She shrugged and huffed. “I bet it’s ugly anyway.”
“At least I don’t have bunny teeth!”
Nayeon faked a gasp, her hand on her sternum. “Okay, low blow! No space rays for you tonight!” Then she marched into the kitchen.
“I already said that I don’t - argh !” Jeongyeon followed Nayeon and took a peek into the bag with the groceries. “Popcorn, six tubs of peanut butter and a salad.” Jeongyeon looked up then opened the fridge and surveyed what was inside. “Cucumber and marshmallow spread. Just - how do you survive? And don’t say space rays.”
Nayeon snatched one glass of peanut butter out of Jeongyeon’s hands, painfully reminding her that her super speed had gone away. “Don’t judge me. We have an excellent sandwich bar at work.”
Jeongyeon shook her head. “Let’s order pizza.”
“And you are already taking over the dinner commando? What’s wrong with peanut butter? That’s one of the good fats. Plus, how are you going to pay for that?” Nayeon cast her a glance, looking her up and down. “When I found you, you just wore your weird suit and some questionable underwear with no credit card hidden inside!”
Jeongyeon recoiled. “You saw me naked?”
“You had small, green glowy thingies everywhere on your left side, as if you were attacked by a space porcupine.” Her eyes widened. “Wait. Was it -?”
“No, it was not a space porcupine!”
“Ah. Too bad. And I had to cut off your top and put you into that shirt.” She eyed her. Jeongyeon squirmed under her look. She felt it was somewhat invasive. “What kind of superpowers do you even have?”
Jeongyeon narrowed her eyes at her. The tone between them shifted. “I know who you are. I know what kind of articles you are writing.”
“What kind of articles -,” Nayeon echoed and then her eyes narrowed as well. “What kind of articles am I writing?” There was a dangerous kind of tone to it.
Jeongyeon nodded at the wall by the living room table. “You think I’m little better than a criminal.”
“I think you think you are above the law,” Nayeon said.
“I never broke the law.”
“Yet. What happens if you decide you don’t like us humans anymore?” Nayeon asked. She stepped closer. “I’ve seen what you can do. It’s terrifying.”
“I won’t do anything to endanger people,” Jeongyeon said. “I won’t do - do you really think I’ll turn into a mass murderer just like that?” She snapped her fingers.
“I think you carry a whole lot of unchecked power as a single person,” Nayeon said. “And people always say one thing and then they do another.”
“I’m not one of those people.”
Nayeon eyed her, her jaw rolling. “We’ll see.” Then she stepped away. There was silence for a moment when Nayeon put away the groceries. Then she said: “So pizza?”
“Please,” Jeongyeon said.
Nayeon turned around, her voice sickenly sweet. “So what are your superpowers?”
Jeongyeon waved at the newspaper articles right by the dinner table. “What would you do with this kind of information? Rat me out?”
“I’m curious and I want to know if the girl that’s staying in my apartment can fry me with her eyes if she wants to,” Nayeon said, her voice suddenly a few degrees cooler.
She huffed. “I won’t fry you. No superpowers at the moment.”
Nayeon stared at her for a long moment. Then punched her shoulder.
“Ouch! Hey! What the hell!”
“Yeah, no invincibility. You whine too much.”
“You are unnerving, a know-it-all and extremely aggravating,” Jeongyeon shot back.
Nayeon blew her a kiss and winked at her. Jeongyeon wanted to puke at the sight.
“How long are you going to stay here?” Nayeon finally asked, her tone not quite but a bit of a peace offering.
Jeongyeon shrugged. “Don’t know. They are still out there. But -” She motioned toward the ruined balcony. “I’m going to fix that for you.”
“So. You are currently powerless, injured, broke and stuck with me.”
Jeongyeon tried not to sound miserable. “If you put it that way -”
Nayeon’s eyebrows rose. “Is there any other way to put it?”
Jeongyeon rubbed her face for a short moment, then took a deep breath. “Alright. Alright. I’m not super currently, I’m stuck here and I am also broke. Here’s my suggestion for the time being,” she started to count on her fingers. “You can’t eat that kind of junk. I’ll cook for as long as I’m here and,” she looked around and scrunched up her nose. “Do some housework.” She narrowed her eyes at something. “Are those socks under your couch?”
Nayeon stared at her, then: “Let’s get pizza for today.”
“You look like a pineapple pizza person,” Jeongyeon said.
“And that’s bad?”
“That’s basically one lab accident away from being a super villain,” Jeongyeon said.
“I’d make a great super villain,” Nayeon said, flipping her hair over her shoulder.
Jeongyeon groaned. “Let’s just get pizza.”
Nayeon opened up the pizza site on her phone and started to scroll. “What’s your name?”
Jeongyeon didn’t answer.
“You have to have one. What should I be calling you? And don’t give me your superhero name,” Nayeon said, still scrolling.
Jeongyeon still didn’t say a word.
Nayeon picked her pizza (pineapple), then offered the girl a hand and afterwards the phone to pick. “Im Nayeon. Journalist at the Daily Planet. I think you are a ticking time bomb.”
Jeongyeon took a deep sigh. “Jeongyeon,” Jeongyeon said finally. “I think you have no idea what you are talking about.”
And that was that.
When Nayeon returned the next day from work, her living room resembled a construction site.
“I’m home. Try to wear clothing!” she called into her apartment when she didn’t see Jeongyeon immediately.
“Haha. Very funny.”
Jeongyeon had covered the entire hole with a white, plastic pane to keep wind and rain out. It was semi-transparent and made sure enough light was still coming in. Behind it, there were several stacks of wood, glass panels, tools and other stuff required to fix a hole large enough for a small car to fit through.
She had covered the living room table, the carpets and Nayeon’s small shelf with plastic as well. A pair of golden, enormous, security glasses sat on Jeongyeon’s nose, as she cut a piece of wood into two pieces and carried it over to the construction site. Half of the girl’s face was still covered with Girls’ Generation bandaid.
The piece of wood was large - and Nayeon realized even though most of her powers were gone, she was still stronger than the average person.
When she noticed Nayeon coming through the door, she turned around and put the wood down.
She had taken some of Nayeon’s clothing: Her oldest stuff, her bleached, blue t-shirt and a pair of old shorts. Her feet were bare.
It was unfair, because even in her oldest clothes, she looked like a model, Nayeon found.
“I hope you are good at vacuum cleaning as well,” Nayeon said as she stepped out of her shoes and dropped her keys in a small bowl by the entrance.
“Don’t worry about that.” Jeongyeon removed her breathing mask, but the golden glasses stayed on. “It’ll be fixed in no time. How was work?”
“Tiring,” Nayeon said. She looked around. Something was different. Her apartment - except for the hole - looked so … so … - she grimaced - clean .
“I took the liberty to tidy some stuff up,” Jeongyeon said. Her golden security glasses gleamed. “If I’m staying here, it has to be up to par.”
Nayeon felt immediately alarmed. “Up to par? What exactly did you - what happened to my kitchen? Where’s all my stuff? ”
Jeongyeon snorted. “Inside your cupboards where it belongs. I reorganized everything and surprise, surprise, it fits if you do it well. Also I found a bag of chips from 2001.” She shook her head. “Nayeon-sshi. You have to get your shit together. Anything older than one decade is seriously questionable.”
“Tch.” Nayeon looked around. “How much - how much time did you need for all that?”
Jeongyeon shrugged. “Not that long. A bit of my superspeed returned.”
“Mhm.” Nayeon shrugged and inspected her apartment. Then she turned to meet Jeongyeon’s eyes. “Thank you. You still demolished my balcony.”
“I know. I know.”
“I bought bandages, ointment and first aid stuff,” Nayeon said after a beat.
“The ointment won’t work for me,” Jeongyeon said.
Nayeon climbed one of the bar stools and patted the one in front of her. “It won’t hurt either, will it?”
“I can do it for myself,” Jeongyeon said, somewhat defensively, climbing the barstool. “I don’t need your help.”
She snatched the box with bandages from Nayeon. “Yes. Really.”
“It would be easier if someone helped you,” Nayeon said.
“I always did it by myself and I’ll be able to do it by myself now as well,” Jeongyeon said.
Nayeon crossed her arms over her chest and lifted an expectant eyebrow. “Go ahead then. I want to see.”
“It’s not going to be interesting or anything,” Jeongyeon said.
Nayeon snorted. “Oh, I’m quite sure it is. Go ahead. Show me. Especially how you remove those on your back.”
They had a short glaring contest, then Jeongyeon removed the first bandage from her jaw and flinched. “Ouch!”
Nayeon rolled her eyes. “Ouch? Really?”
“I’m not used to prolonged pain, okay? Unlike you - like you humans!” she snapped back and removed the second bandaid, flinching again. This time, she bit back any kind of outcry, but Nayeon noticed how the girl bit the inside of her cheek.
Jeongyeon twitched at each rip off. It was a painful process to remove the first batch of bandaids and when they were gone, Nayeon surveyed the damage that had been done. Only the side of Jeongyeon’s throat, her jaw and part of her cheek was visible, but the skin was inflamed, red and slightly swollen. The difference to Jeongyeon’s other side that was flawless and almost glowing could not be more glaring.
Jeongyeon insisted on dipping the gauze into the disinfectant by herself, pressed it against her skin and then used larger bandaids to tape in on properly. It was a lengthy process even if it was only for Jeongyeon’s chin and throat - and whenever Nayeon tried to help, the other girl swatted her hand angrily away.
“I thought you are supposed to be a superhero,” Nayeon said.
Jeongyeon looked even farther away if that was possible. “This is the first time I’m doing this.”
“I meant the pain.”
Jeongyeon pressed her lips to a thin line for a moment. “That’s different.”
“I saw you getting punched by a 12 meter sea monster last autumn,” Nayeon said and ripped off another band aid.
Jeongyeon twitched again. “I told you that’s different.”
“How’s that different?” Nayeon asked and removed another one.
“Because - that pain is like immediate and then gone quickly. This pain,” she vaguely nodded at her side. “Is there the whole time.”
“Well, you are kind of bleeding.”
“Well, usually I’m not kind of bleeding,” Jeongyeon snapped back suddenly. “Usually, I never bleed at all! Usually, I wouldn’t hurt all over! Usually, I could fix your apartment like this!” She snapped her fingers.
Nayeon flinched at the sound. “You are scaring me.”
Jeongyeon’s head whipped over to her so quickly, Nayeon could almost hear a cracking sound. “I -” She swallowed. “I didn’t mean to.”
“I know, but - you are still amazingly stronger than I am. And - not in the best place mentally.”
Jeongyeon smiled wryly. “When am I ever?”
“Makes it even more disconcerting to me,” Nayeon said.
Jeongyeon’s jaw rolled, then: “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. I’m just not used to it.”
Nayeon watched her remove more bandaids and wondered just how much faster this could go if she could just help. She was about to comment on that, then her cellphone rang. The display informed her that it was her assistant from work.
“I’ll go take that in my study,” she nodded at the door behind her. “And give you some privacy. Let me know when you are done.”
Jeongyeon nodded and shrugged, then continued wordlessly patching herself up. When Nayeon left her there on the barstool, she cast one last gaze over her shoulder, while her assistant already seemed to suffer from verbal diarrhea.
Jeongyeon shrugged off her shirt and her back became visible. She was strong, all tight muscle and even skin, but like vines crawling over her skin, red streaks and lines crept toward her spine where the explosion had hit her. Nayeon swallowed heavily, then hurried away into her study at home.
She couldn’t imagine what it was like, to be injured like this and being scared that everyone would tell on her; would inform the police or the government and some agency would show up and just kidnap her and take her away. Nayeon had always assumed it would be quite cool to have special powers and abilities - she realized it was not.
She returned half an hour later to her living room and found Jeongyeon lounging on the couch. From all her books she had found “The Goldfinch” and barely lowered it when Nayeon started speaking.
“Today my assistant brought me coffee that was too cold and a sandwich that was too warm. I swear that girl is sometimes so slow snails could chew off her shoelaces,” she grumbled as she plopped down on the couch. She looked at Jeongyeon who was visibly bored at the information. “But that girl is good at gathering information. There are huge, unmarked swarms of drones searching in the east of the city.”
Jeongyeon looked up and met her eyes. “So?”
“So? So you don’t happen to know anything about that? I know a bunch of supervillains who use that kind of method to search for an injured hero.”
Jeongyeon pursed her lips but didn’t say anything. Nayeon shook her head. “If they come here and start shooting at you, they might be shooting at me as well.”
It was enough to make Jeongyeon lower the book to her lap. She looked at Nayeon as if it was the first time she had to consider someone else.
Her face was impassive. Then, slowly, she said: “I’m not alone. Two girls are helping me. They are making sure this place is safer than Fort Knox.”
Nayeon crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m not quite convinced.”
Jeongyeon suddenly leaned forward, so quickly that Nayeon jumped. “You promise you are not going to write an article about this or tell on me?”
“I promise! Gosh. I would have already done so if -”
“Pinky promise?” Jeongyeon asked, extending her pinky.
“Are you kidding me?” Nayeon lifted an eyebrow, but Jeongyeon was determined about the pinky.
Nayeon huffed. “Okay, fine, pinky promise. God.” They shook pinkys and Jeongyeon actually seemed to calm down a bit at that.
“One of them can see the future - kind of - and the other one talks to computers, basically,” Jeongyeon explained. She paused, then admitted: “In a physical confrontation, they are next to useless, but they are the greatest sidekicks you could possibly get. You don’t need to worry.”
Nayeon still slowly shook Jeongyeon’s pinky, heavily frowning. “What do you mean, one can kind of see the future. What do you mean by kind of ?”
“Sometimes it’s a lot. She says her ability is partially hormonal and I didn’t want to ask.”
“Superpowers can be hormonal?”
Jeongyeon rolled her eyes. “Oh, you have no idea.”
“And the other one can talk to computers?”
“She keeps them as pets,” Jeongyeon nodded. “I don’t quite understand it, but they seem to like her.”
Nayeon looks at her for a very long moment, wondering if the girl in front of her was joking or telling the truth. “Are you sure -”
“It’s not like in the comic books where everyone has always the exact same amount of super powers all the time,” Jeongyeon said, her voice sort of tight. “Sportspeople also have good days and bad days.”
“And today is a good day?”
“I bumped my little toe against your coffee table today. Made me want to throw out the coffee table. It was the worst pain I had ever encountered.” Jeongyeon took a deep breath. “Just how can you bear it ?”
“Again, it’s called being human.”
“It’s the worst.”
“I’m trying not to be insulted here,” Nayeon said and threw herself on the couch.
Jeongyeon’s gaze followed her. She immediately realized from the way the other girl moved her weight from one leg to the other that something was up.
“What,” Nayeon asked.
“I need a favor.”
Nayeon narrowed her eyes, her thoughts still with the girl that talked with computers and the hormonal prophet. “What kind of favor?”
“At 9:31pm, the public security cameras in front of your building will mysteriously have a blackout.” Jeongyeon nodded at the kitchen. “Can we leave the building then and dump your microwave into the river Han?”
Nayeon stared at her. “You want to dump hazardous waste into our national river?”
“It’s not hazardous waste for humans ,” Jeongyeon emphasized. “Plus, I really don’t want any kind of supervillain lab or whatever to get hold of it.”
“You want me to carry the microwave up to Dongho bridge …”
“We can take the bus.”
“You want me to take the microwave into the bus, get out at Dongho bridge and dump it into the river,” Nayeon said slowly.
“... yes.” When Nayeon didn’t say anything, Jeongyeon started to fidget. “I’ll buy you ice cream afterwards. And I’ll make Chaeng build you a new microwave.”
“You are broke.”
Jeongyeon smirked. “We won’t be needing money,” Nayeon’s eyes narrowed further and Jeongyeon’s hands shot up in a pacifying motion, then slid off the couch to stand. “I promise. And you won’t regret it. It will be real, yummy ice cream.”
When Nayeon still didn’t say anything, Jeongyeon added: “I think I won’t get my powers back with the microwave around. I’ll get you a new one. That can talk to you, if you want.”
“I had a terrible day at work. My assistant is driving me nuts. And now I’m going to pick up a microwave, take the bus and throw it into Han River.”
“It’s not my fault you don’t have a car.”
A lesser hero would have dropped dead at Nayeon’s death glare.
Jeongyeon just carefully cleared her throat. “The faster I get my powers back, the quicker you can get rid of me.” She shrugged and rolled back and forth on the balls of her feet. “Just saying.”
Nayeon sighed. “Are you going to wear these ridiculous glasses outside as well?”
Jeongyeon reached up and touched her own face, contemplating the idea. “I’ll get one of your sunglasses.”
“You’ll still look like an idiot, wearing sunglasses at night. Just take off your mask. I won’t tell,” Nayeon said.
“No.” Jeongyeon waved with a pair of Nayeon’s old sunglasses she had kept on the table by the door. They were gigantic and she looked even more like a weirdo than with the golden goggles she used for her construction work. “Let’s go.”
Nayeon eyed her and bit back any comment. She was too stressed and it was too late in the day. With a sigh she got up, entered the kitchen and returned with the microwave. “Let’s go.”
Jeongyeon opened the main door for her and insisted to leave first, before following her in some distance. She let Nayeon take the elevator while she herself took the stairs. Outside, she was already waiting on the pavement a few steps away.
Nayeon felt like an idiot with her microwave. They made it to the bus station and inside the bus where Jeongyeon sat down on the other side of the aisle. She cast her the occasional glance and eyed the microwave as if it was a particularly dangerous animal.
Nayeon would have found her worry cute under different circumstances; but then she remembered how Jeongyeon had looked liked after she had first found her. She wondered what it must be like, to be this invincible and powerful - and then be rendered helpless by some green, glowing rock formations.
They arrived at the bridge; Nayeon got out first, Jeongyeon followed her, slightly hunched over, her hands buried deep in the pockets of Nayeon’s old college jacket.
“This is environmental pollution!” Nayeon screamed over, against the wind and the traffic.
“Just do it!” Jeongyeon hollered back.
Nayeon felt the wind tug at her hair, the microwave suddenly heavy as she managed to lift it over the rail.
“Is it clear down there?” she hollered.
Jeongyeon checked. “Yes!”
It was a strange thing that she did something that even a superhero couldn’t do. She gave the thing a push and it sailed over the rail and down, down, down, a small plop in the dark water.
Then suddenly Jeongyeon was next to her, closer. She looked down, watched how it disappeared and then looked at Nayeon, a crooked smile on her face.
Nayeon watched as Jeongyeon’s skin changed from dull to bright and alive and her dark circles faded away. She looked like some life had returned to her. The skin on her face beneath the glasses, down her cheek bone, chin and her throat still looked punctured and had the color of an angry red, but she looked better … better than yesterday.
She straightened herself and Nayeon was surprised that she was quite a bit taller than her.
“Thank you,” Jeongyeon said.
Nayeon smiled, still looking. “You are very welcome.”
“So. Ice-cream?” Jeongyeon asked.
They found an ice cream vendor two stations away from the microwave’s last resting place.
Nayeon prepared herself for paying, but when the ice cream vendor noticed Jeongyeon, even with her face obscured by the large sunglasses, the elderly man smiled. “Jeongyeon-ah!”
Jeongyeon smiled. “Hello, Mr. Kim.”
“I haven’t seen you in a while - what happened to your face?”
“I … had an accident,” Jeongyeon said, smiling. “Nothing bad.”
Behind her, Nayeon cleared her throat.
“Ah … this is Nayeon, a friend,” Jeongyeon gestured vaguely towards her. “I wanted to introduce your ice cream to her as well”
The man’s smile brightened. “Of course! Nice meeting you, Nayeon-sshi. Just give me a second.”
The man disappeared in his small stall that was squeezed in between two houses. While he was busy, Nayeon leaned in. “Did you save his life or something?”
“Or something,” Jeongyeon said.
The man returned and placed two small cups on the counter, each filled with one enormous scoop. When Nayeon eyed the ice cream somewhat suspiciously, Jeongyeon gave her an encouraging thumbs up. She picked up the cup, scooped up a bit and ate it, then swooned. “So good!”
Nayeon eyed her suspiciously, then scooped up a bit as well. It was creamy, almost a bit foamy, sweet, with a hint of vanilla and walnuts. And despite it being ice cream, it made her feel warm all over, the sweetness wrapping itself around her soul. Self-made ice cream, but just a little bit too good to be true.
She opened her eyes, hadn’t been aware that she had been closing them, then looked over at Jeongyeon and found her watching her. “Good, eh?”
“This - is … amazing.”
She looked back at the man behind the counter. He served a cone topped with green ice cream to a small boy.
“Some super powers are not about roasting people,” Jeongyeon said, shrugging.
“Are you telling me this man has special powers to make …”
“I’m just telling you that it’s very good ice cream, no?” Jeongyeon sat down on a nearby bench and Nayeon followed her.
They demolished their ice cream wordlessly. Jeongyeon seemed more relaxed now, only partially falling into that dark abyss that was the absence of her powers. Her legs were outstretched, one arm propped up on the backrest of the bench.
Nayeon watched her - it was obvious that she was fit, all lean and muscled. The red, swollen skin went down the side of her face, her throat and disappeared in the hoodie. She wondered if it still hurt.
Nayeon couldn’t quite understand what was going on in the other girl’s head. When Jeongyeon ate up dessert, she produced wet wipes from her pocket, cleaned her hands and offered one to Nayeon.
“Later,” Nayeon said and wondered where she had the wipes from.
Jeongyeon still stared at her, threw the used wipe in a bin and leaned back, still considering Nayeon.
Nayeon lifted her eyebrows. “What is it?”
Jeongyeon shrugged. “Nothing.”
She nudged her. “What’s up?”
After a moment, Jeongyeon lifted her hands to her wraparound sunglasses. She paused. Then removed them.
Nayeon had seen bits and pieces of that face before, but to see it without a mask, was like many different pieces of a puzzle coming together. She looked young, Nayeon thought, and terribly attractive with bright, smooth skin where it wasn’t red and lively eyes that had seen a lot. Her smile was somewhat crooked as her expression got shy.
“I - thank you. For … for doing this,” Jeongyeon said. She awkwardly rubbed her nose and Nayeon’s hands shot up to stop her.
“I - you still look like godzilla dragged you once across the city,” Nayeon said. “Don’t touch your face. Ointment this evening!”
Jeongyeon huffed, but Nayeon could see a smile hidden in there somewhere. “It doesn’t help.”
“Ointment,” Nayeon insisted. “God, you are terrible. Why do you think it doesn’t help?”
Jeongyeon eyed her, then leaned forward. “Because …” Her voice was low. “Because it’s made for humans .”
“What do you mean, it’s made for humans? Of course it’s made for humans, who else would it be made fo - oh. Ohhhh. ” Nayeon slid closer to her on the bench and stared at her. Her voice lowered as well. “You are not - not human.”
“That kinda goes along with the assumption?”
“So you are - you are an alien?”
“Do I look like an alien?”
“No, but you also don’t look like a superhero to me.” The situation seemed like a weird echo of one they already had had.
“I was wearing a mask!”
Nayeon snorted. “A crappy mask.”
“It’s not a crappy -” She took a deep breath. Afterwards she tried to hide the brain freeze. “I grew up here. My dad’s a cook. Adopted family and all.”
“Are you anatomically like a human?”
“ What? ”
Nayeon took a casual lick off her ice cream. “Are you. Anatomically. Like a human? Easy question?” She grinned when she saw Jeongyeon’s ears slowly heating up.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“I’m just curious! I mean - I met an alien -”
“Not so loud!”
“- and I mean this is like the most interesting question you could ask.”
“Really? Really. ” Jeongyeon leaned in further. “ This is - this is the most interesting question you could ask? If I’m anatomically like a human?”
Nayeon leaned in as well, took a long lick from her ice cream and tilted her head. She grinned at Jeongyeon’s developing pink ears when she held prolonged eye contact. “Yes.” Then she licked off the remnants of the Italian sweet off the plastic spoon and discarded everything in the trash bin next to the bench.
Jeongyeon opened and closed her mouth several times, then rose to her feet with a start, her ears bright red. “You’ll never find out.” Then she hurried away.
“We have to go toward that direction.”
Even redder, Jeongyeon turned on her feet and stalked with long, determined steps where Nayeon was pointing.
Nayeon laughed. It was fun teasing her and it was fun to see her when she wasn’t all quiet and grumpy and argumentative.
“Just - just shut up!”
Nayeon laughed and followed Jeongyeon down the street.
It was Friday. When Nayeon returned from work that day, Jeongyeon wasn’t alone in her apartment. She heard voices she didn’t know the moment she turned the key around.
“You are going to smash your index finger with that thing. And you will whine for three days about this and I really wish you wouldn’t,” a very young voice said.
Someone else grumbled: “This thing is a simple hammer. How hard can it be? I’m quite sure I can handle a - ouch !”
Nayeon immediately felt anger rise at someone’s incompetence, even though it wasn’t related to anything that even remotely concerned her. Just incompetence in itself.
She dropped her key in the bowl by the door and marched down the corridor leading towards the living room.
Three people were present: two girls she didn’t know and assumed were Jeongyeon’s friends, the Prophet (™) and the Girl Who Talks to Computers And Who Was Currently Also Nursing Her Thumb.
The computer talking girl wore a black hoodie (terrible fashion taste) and ripped jeans and enormous, black boots. Her bangs were blonde, while the rest of her hair was black. Her friend was wearing yellow and black checkered pants with plastic, pink crocs.
Her sense of fashion vomited into the garden of decent taste.
Jeongyeon, on a ladder, was busy fixing the frame that would later hold one of the many glass panels leading to the balcony. She was not wearing her mask anymore, but the side of her face was still a red color.
All sorts of tools, plastic wraps and paint buckets were scattered around - and when Nayeon entered the living room, the two girls turned and froze like deers in the headlights.
One nudged the other and the other nudged back.
Jeongyeon rolled her eyes. “Nayeon-sshi, this is Chaeyoung and Dahyun, my friends and sidekicks.”
“We are nobody’s sidekick -”
“We are the protagonists of this story -”
“What happened to your thumb?” Nayeon interrupted them, frowning.
Chaeyoung hid it behind her back. “Nothing?”
“Liar,” Dahyun coughed.
“God. Are all of you this clumsy?” Nayeon asked, annoyed. “First her,” she motioned toward Jeongyeon on the ladder, who rolled her eyes. “And now you two. Also what are you wearing ?”
“Clothing,” Chaeyoung said.
“By whose definition?”
“We are not clumsy, we are just sometimes overly enthusiastic,” Dahyun said.
Nayeon eyed her with a glance forged like an icicle.
Dahyun coughed and looked away, blushing slightly, feeling caught.
“I bought more ointment,” Nayeon said, taking the cream jar out of her bag.
“Ointment doesn’t work on her!” Chaeyoung said, but the words grew smaller and smaller under Nayeon’s gaze.
“And seems I have found a new victim,” Nayeon continued, her gaze still on Chaeyoung, who tried hard not to melt under it. Nayeon took a seat on a high barstool by the kitchen counter and patted on the one next to it. “Come, come.”
When Chaeyoung didn’t move, Dahyun gently pushed her into Nayeon’s direction.
“It’s a trap, man,” Chaeyoung whispered.
Dahyun smiled. “It’s not a trap. Just go.”
Chaeyoung trudged over and because of her size, took a long moment to take a seat.
“Thumb,” Nayeon demanded, holding out her hand.
Chaeyoung shook her head. “No.”
“Do it, Chaeng,” Jeongyeon urged her from somewhere up her ladder and Chaeyoung, scowling, showed Nayeon her thumb.
Nayeon opened the cream container and the silence between her and Chaeyoung was filled with Dahyun, picking up the barstool next to Chaeyoung and dragging it over the wooden floor noisily so she could be the third fixed point in their developing seating triangle.
Nayeon took a deep breath and forced herself not to snap at the younger girl, as she patched Chaeyoung up. “What are you guys even doing here?”
“We are helping Jeongyeon,” Dahyun said.
“Duh,” Chaeyoung added.
Nayeon took another deep breath. “With little success, I see.”
“It’s boring when she’s not around and we don’t have much to do anyway then,” Dahyun said.
“You could have tidied up the hotel room,” Jeongyeon said pointedly, as she lifted the first panel of glass into its place.
“There’s not much interesting stuff to do anyway,” Dahyun emphasized and leaned a bit closer when Nayeon started to wrap gauze around Chaeyoung’s thumb.
Nayeon locked eyes with her, bothered by the closeness. Dahyun just smiled innocently at the older girl, completely unaware that she had intruded way too much into Nayeon’s personal bubble, until Nayeon, slowly and way more gently than she wanted to, pressed an index finger against Dahyun’s forehead and pushed her back. “Why are you living in a hotel room?” Nayeon asked.
Jeongyeon hesitated and turned from her elevated position, exchanging glances with the younger girls.
There was a silent conversation going on and Nayeon wondered if all of them had telepathy as a superpower as well. Then again, if they had, Jeongyeon would probably be embarrassed much more often.
“It sorta burned down,” Dahyun finally said very carefully.
“ Sorta burned down?” Nayeon looked up. She dropped her hands from Chaeyoung’s thumb. “How can something sorta burn down?”
“Well.” Dahyun coughed and exchanged a small, worried glance with Jeongyeon. “It can happen when you are hunting a supervillain that summons, like living fire spirits thingies?”
“They are actually quite cute,” Chaeyoung tried to defuse the situation.
“Just unbearably hot - and our curtains were really old and really flammable, it turns out,” Dahyun added. “And since Jeongyeon had already lost her powers, we were sorta short on the firefighting front.”
“Also, the rest of the apartment got incinerated with one super villain turned into a living fire hose and that was that,” Chaeyoung said. She took a deep breath. “It’s sort of a crater now.”
Nayeon stared at them. “ It’s sort of a crater - and now you are staying at a hotel?”
“Yeah. I tried to rent something, but we think they hacked into the city database so if our name would pop up somewhere - yeah,” Chaeyoung said. “Haven’t fixed that yet.”
Nayeon finished the bandage; Chaeyoung’s thumb looked now like a miniature mummy. “There you go. Be careful with it, okay?” Then she looked at Dahyun. “Do you also have any kind of injuries?”
Dahyun quickly shook her head.
“Really?” Nayeon poked her further.
Dahyun nodded. “Really.”
Nayeon narrowed her eyes at her, then looked at Jeongyeon. “What about you?”
Jeongyeon was still busy putting in the first window panels. She sealed the sides with some liquid silicon. “My invincibility is growing back,” she said. “Don’t worry.”
“Hm.” She eyed them, not entirely convinced then put down the ointment. “It was a stressful day. I’m taking a shower. Try not to injure yourselves in the meantime. Think about what we could eat for dinner.” She eyed her guests then disappeared in the bathroom. When she left the small room around twenty minutes later, Dahyun and Chaeyoung were gone and Jeongyeon had pulled plastic sheets over the shrinking hole in the wall.
“They’ll come back with more stuff tomorrow or the day after,” Jeongyeon said, sitting by the kitchen counter. She leaned against it and bit a huge chunk out of an apple, eying her host. Nayeon noticed her eyes that went to her bare shoulder for a moment, before quickly moving away. She wondered if she should have worn such a loose t-shirt or not. “It was really nice of you to take care of Chaeng.”
“It wasn’t exactly selfless. Blood is difficult to remove from any kind of fabric,” Nayeon said.
Jeongyeon smirked. “Uh-huh.”
“Uh-huh what?” Nayeon snapped.
“You are secretly not such a bad person,” Jeongyeon said. She looked tremendously alive, in comparison to the pale skin that looked like milk gone bad when Nayeon had first found her. “You helped me, you took care of me, you dropped a microwave off a bridge -”
“Thank God we have context for this.”
“And you took care of Chaeng. I think she likes you.”
“Why? Because she didn’t bite me?” Nayeon huffed and dropped herself into the couch in front of the TV.
“Something like that.” Jeongyeon finished her apple and threw it through the room into the trash bin, her arm outstretched toward the ceiling, her hand bent by the wrist. “Score!”
“Meh. Do you play games?” Nayeon asked.
Jeongyeon smiled. “Only with my life.”
“Not particularly funny,” Nayeon answered. She picked up a controller. “I’ll challenge you until the pizza arrives.”
“When did you order pizza?”
“When I stepped out of the shower, because none of you seem to be able to decide on anything.” She offered Jeongyeon a controller. “Well?”
“I have super speed and super reflexed,” Jeongyeon said as she accepted the controller.
Nayeon shrugged. “I had a very lonely childhood.”
“Ouch.” Jeongyeon plopped down next to her and cast her a worried look. “Because you have such an intimidating character?”
“Do you think I have that?” Nayeon asked as she flipped through the characters of Mario Kart and picked Princess Peach.
Jeongyeon shrugged. “I’m rarely intimidated by anyone,” she said as she picked Mario. “And you are going to come to fear my Mario Kart powers.”
It turned out that, indeed, Jeongyeon had not only lost her super speed, ability to fly and superhuman reflexes, but also her ability to beat anyone - or Nayeon - at Mario Kart. When the doorbell rang, she threw her controller onto the coffee table in frustration.
“You are cheating.”
“How am I cheating?” Nayeon asked with a smirk, then got up and went to see the pizza boy. “You are just a slowpoke and I’m a meanie.”
She came back with a huge family box, half pineapple, half four cheese and sat it down.
They ate two slices in silence, before Nayeon said: “I’m usually really mean, especially at work. Bossy. Most of my colleagues are afraid of me.”
“Because they had to play against you in Mario Kart?” Jeongyeon asked.
“Hah. I’d slaughter them,” Nayeon said. She nudged Jeongyeon’s side gently. The other girl still flinched and Nayeon wondered if her invincibility really had grown back. “Like I slaughtered you.”
Jeongyeon shrugged. Paused. Shrugged again. Paused. Then: “I still had fun. And I don’t think you are scary. It’s not the word I’d use.”
A thin string of cheese dangled from the tip of her pizza and Nayeon held the piece over her head and turned her head upwards to catch it. “What word would you use?”
Jeongyeon shrugged non-commitically. “Annoying?”
Nayeon elbowed her again. This time, Jeongyeon leaned away in time.
“I thought about aggravating first, but I thought it was too strong.” Nayeon elbowed her again and huffed, but Jeongyeon continued nonetheless. “So I’d choose annoying.”
“Says the person who gets a breakdown at a singular wrinkle in the curtains,” Nayeon said.
“It was a big, bad wrinkle.”
“A big bad wrinkle?” Nayeon asked, her eyes twinkling.
Jeongyeon quickly looked away. “... yes.” And Nayeon chuckled.
They ate in silence, then: “Want to see a cool party trick?”
Nayeon cleaned her fingers with a napkin, then turned towards Jeongyeon fully. “Sure.”
Jeongyeon also cleaned her fingers. “Okay, watch.” She put the first digit of her thumb in her mouth and pretended to blow, her cheeks puffed up. Something strange happened: It seemed like her hair blew up for a moment, like being hit by a gust of wind or a really, really strong blow dryer, then it settled down again. Slightly tousled but unmoving.
It had changed color - from blonde to electric blue.
Nayeon stared, her eyes wide, her mouth gaping. She tentatively reached out and when Jeongyeon nodded, she started to sort her strands. “That … that is a neat party trick.”
It was a strange thing - Nayeon rarely touched people, ever, but she was touching Jeongyeon on a regular basis, when patching her up or now. And Jeongyeon, who didn’t seem big on skinship, by what she had observed in that short time she knew her, let her. She let her now as well.
“Yeah …” Jeongyeon watched her touch her hair, a faint tinge of pink on her cheeks. Nayeon pretended to not notice as her fingers combed through the newly colored hair.
“Can you do every color?”
“Some are more difficult than others and I can’t change it in quick succession. It makes me dizzy. But … yeah,” Jeongyeon said. A beat. “Various shades of blonde, black, brown, a pale kind of green and this kind of blue.”
Nayeon’s hand dropped to the side of Jeongyeon’s face and the girl flinched away in pain. Her skin was still red and inflexible, where it peaked. Nayeon let her hand sink to her side, eying it. Some wetness has seeped through the bandaid, not every wound fully closed.
“We have to change your bandaid,” Nayeon said and got up.
She retrieved the box of supplies from somewhere behind the kitchen counter, as Jeongyeon watched her move around and return.
“You don’t have to do this,” Jeongyeon said. “You know? I’m almost good and … I can do it myself.”
“We can think about removing some of the bandaid when it’s not stained anymore by that transparent, slightly pink fluid that I find everyday on your old bandages. And furthermore, I want to know what kind of superpower enables you to reach that particular spot on your back that you can’t reach with your hands,” Nayeon said and sat down.
Her index finger described a circular movement indicating for Jeongyeon to turn around.
The girl looked at her and for a moment Nayeon thought Jeongyeon was going to refuse her again. She was surprised when Jeongyeon slowly turned around and after one moment of hesitation shrugged off her - Nayeon’s - hoody.
Nayeon was used to the sight - of a back that was immaculate on one side and punctured and red on the other. Her skin looked ragged, as if it had been ripped apart - and was still swollen and had a violent shine to it.
Nayeon couldn’t help herself - her finger followed the border, careful not to touch the injured part. Jeongyeon tensed the moment the pad of her finger touched her skin - and muscles immediately tightened. She half turned toward Nayeon to say something, but instead just turned back to face whatever was in front of her.
“Just hurry,” she mumbled.
“It looks better.”
“It looks like crap,” Jeongyeon said and stiffened again when Nayeon carefully peeled off the medical tape. “I think something is still in there, in me, preventing me from healing up completely, but I can’t seem to find it.”
Nayeon carefully dabbed the skin with gauze drenched in some disinfectant. “Maybe just give it time?”
“Tch - time.” She shook her head. “Usually these things heal up in a matter of seconds.”
“Who does that for you?” Nayeon asked after a while. “Usually, I mean?”
“Nobody. This has never happened before,” Jeongyeon said. She rolled her shoulders and Nayeon could see the muscles roll under her skin. “But I guess Chaeng and Dahyun if they’d find a manual or a Youtube video.”
“I see.” Nayeon dabbed more disinfectant on the girl’s back and her ribcage, applied ointment and then started to wrap her up. “I can hear you fall off the couch every night.”
Jeongyeon paused. “So?”
“I won’t misunderstand, but my bed is enormous.”
“Like gigantic. And I think not having a good night’s sleep isn’t good for someone that’s as injured as you are. I wouldn’t mind sharing.” She put some yellow stripes on the girl’s bandages to hold them together.
“I don’t know - I’m intruding enough as it is.”
“And you’ll intrude even longer if you don’t get healthy soon,” Nayeon said and patted Jeongyeon’s shoulder as a sign that she was done.
Jeongyeon shrugged on her hoodie. “Thank you. I’ll think about it.” Then she went to do the dishes.
Nayeon watched her go and decided that she was a strong contender for her own throne of the most thick-headed person on the planet.
Somewhere around two in the night, Nayeon woke up from a dense sound coming from the living room. An assortment of muted curses followed and then another dense sound, as a knee collided with the coffee table.
There was silence after that, but Nayeon imagined that she could hear more whispered curses. She counted to ten. At nine and three thirds, there were faint padding sounds coming from outside. The door handle was pushed down and somebody slipped inside the room and closed the door again.
“I’m awake,” Nayeon said, louder than necessary, her voice drowsy. “Just so you know.”
Jeongyeon almost jumped at the voice. “Oh my God! I’m sorry! Sorry, sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you, I didn’t mean - I’m sorry -” She was about to turn around and leave again. Nayeon rolled her eyes.
“Just get in here, Jeong, and sleep. God, you are so loud and then you had to curse!” She shook her head again. “Just try not to fall out of my bed, okay?”
Jeongyeon had frozen to a statue by the door. “Are you serious?”
“Jeong! Half past three! In the night! Just get into the damn bed and sleep, for God’s sake! I have work tomorrow!”
“Okay, okay. Geez.” More steps, then the mattress dipped down on one side of the bed, covers got moved and there was some more rustling. “You don’t have to be so snappy!”
“You are snappy all the time,” Nayeon grumbled, then buried herself in her pillows. “If you snore, I’m going to kick you off the balcony.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jeongyeon mumbled.
Twenty minutes later, faint snores were coming from the other side of the bed.
Nayeon carefully sat up and looked over.
Jeongyeon was sleeping on the opposite of the bed, her body pressed as close to the edge in order to leave Nayeon as much space as possible. Jeongyeon, Nayeon thought, looked almost like a pet that wasn’t wanted.
She hesitated and scooted closer just a bit to enter the halo of body warmth that surrounded the other girl. It was like a living breathing heater laying next to her and for a moment, she wondered what it would be like to hug her.
She was a constant ice cube while Jeongyeon seemed to be the opposite. Taking a deep breath, she sunk back into the pillows and curled into herself.
The next day, she woke to an empty bed. She fought down an indescribably sad feeling that for a moment bloomed in her stomach until she managed to wrestle it down. She was going to be outside, for sure. In the living room. In the kitchen.
When she padded into the living room, nobody was there.
The large front of window panels greeted her first: around half of them were fixed. The doors were still missing, as was the right side, still all splintered and broken, but Jeongyeon did a great job at fixing it.
But she couldn’t find her - neither in the kitchen, nor the living room nor her study. She went to pick up her phone, then remembered Jeongyeon didn’t have one or really, she didn’t have her number.
A strange kind of duality opened up in her mind as she wondered if it was her right or if it was fair to suddenly miss a person she barely knew, while another part of her had already crossed that line a long time ago and imagined Jeongyeon being hurt, having left, never seeing her again. It was an unreasonable thing to think and yet she couldn’t help herself.
When she stood, clad in only her pink pajama shorts and a white shirt, in the middle of the living room, wondering what to do, there were keys ringing and the front door opened.
Jeongyeon entered, wearing the large sunglasses, which she set down next to the bowl where the keys belonged. Then she looked up, spotting Nayeon in the living room, staring at her.
“I bought breakfast,” she announced and lifted her bags just to show that indeed, she had bought breakfast.
Nayeon took a deep breath. “I thought something had happened.”
Nayeon shrugged, her smile a bit shaky but nonetheless there. “Killer drones?”
Jeongyeon shook her head. “Chaeyoung and Dahyun keep them busy. They opened a time window for me to go shopping.” She entered the kitchen and started to put the things from her bag into the fridge and onto the kitchen counter. “How do you like your eggs?” she asked.
“Scrambled,” Nayeon said and climbed onto the barstool by the kitchen counter. She eyed Jeongyeon as she moved about in the kitchen. “How did you sleep?” She could see the miniscule pause her question brought about, then Jeongyeon continued moving.
“I … slept well,” she admitted begrudgingly. “Really, really well, actually.” A pause. “Thank you.”
Nayeon waggled her eyebrows. “What can I say? I’m a good sleeping companion.”
Jeongyeon huffed as she broke the shells of two eggs and put them into a pan. The sound of fizzling filled the kitchen.
“What. You slept well. Didn’t you?”
“I did, but I’ll thank the bed and the blanket for that,” Jeongyeon said.
“Tch. I think my calming and relaxing presence was the dominating factor here,” Nayeon said. “And please, don’t make the eggs too slimy.”
“Two non-slimy eggs coming up,” Jeongyeon said and while she poked at them in her pan, Nayeon got up and joined her in the kitchen.
She turned on her large, Italian, silvery coffee machine and took two cups out of the cupboard, heating them up. “You are not used to sleeping with another person, right?”
Jeongyeon almost poked one egg to death. She stared at the pan, her expression blank. “What makes you say that?”
“I could see you clinging to the edge of the bed,” Nayeon said. “There was so much space. If you aren’t a thrasher, then you would have been alright occupying a bit more space. I really don’t mind.”
Jeongyeon still didn’t say anything.
When the silence became too awkward, Nayeon continued. “I’m not a thrasher either, I promise. I won’t kick you or anything.”
Jeongyeon transferred the eggs onto another plate, then broke another two, frying them. “You don’t seem to sleep with anyone else either.”
Nayeon’s eyebrows shot up and Jeongyeon looked over and shrugged.
“No pictures that look like a significant other, nobody called while I was here, you don’t go out except with a microwave. I mean.” She shrugged once more. “I was bound to notice.”
She put the cups under the coffee machine and pressed a button. “Tough job, terrible personality,” Nayeon said as she watched the cups fill up. “I’m not the easiest person to be in a relationship with. I have friends … but … yeah …”
“I’ve seen the pictures in your living room,” Jeongyeon said.
“The one from college is with Jihyo,” she said. “She’s also my publisher. And the others are Momo, Tzuyu and Mina. I met them through work when we were all rookies. But none of them - I mean. They are just friends.”
Jeongyeon still poked at her eggs. “Did you like either of them?”
“Not like that. I mean. Not - romantically or anything, but when somebody around you gets together, I’m happy for them but I always wonder … if I will ever meet someone. If I will ever be with someone like that. I scare people away easily. As you might have noticed.”
Jeongyeon paused on that again. Nayeon could see she was bracing herself for something and then she looked up and met Nayeon’s gaze, a tiny smile on her face. “You didn’t scare me away. For all that it’s worth.” She cleared her throat. “I mean. I’m used to super villains, so you have to try really hard to scare me. I mean.” She coughed again and then averted her glance. Her ears had turned red as she attended to the egg. “Just saying.”
Nayeon eyed her and for a moment decided to tease her about it, but then went into another direction. “Are you comparing me to a super villain?”
“No?” At Nayeon’s smile and her narrowing eyes, she shrugged, only with one shoulder though. “Maybe? I mean, you are so dramatic.”
Nayeon guffawed. “What? Where am I dramatic? Whenever have I been dramatic?”
“I read your articles when you were at work and I was waiting for the paint to dry. You know.” She snorted. “The ones that you have framed on the wall in your living room for all to see. Your articles and, interestingly enough, one very harshly worded Yelp review.”
“I’m proud of them.”
“And some of them,” Jeongyeon continued. “Were just a tad - just a tiny bit -” She indicated with her index and thumb. “Dramatic.”
“Show me or it didn’t happen.”
“And I quote: The potato mash was served up to resemble the jaws of hell, drenched in overly greasy sauce with what I can only assume was broccoli or some really strange looking cauliflower that had been dipped in spinach. I would have rather consumed nuclear waste that has the same color as the cauliflower-broccoli hybrid than their main dish.” She looked up at Nayeon. “Nuclear waste? Really?”
“You also compared one of the steaks resembling a miniature whale that would walk again if you’d attach some electricity,” Jeongyeon said. “Personally I do believe it’s an insult to the whale.”
“Are you some sort of whale aficionado?” Nayeon wanted to know.
“Whales are majestic and peaceful creatures,” Jeongyeon insisted. She balanced several plates with eggs, toast, jam and fruits over to the table. “Quite the opposite of your review that could be weaponized.”
Nayeon followed her with the two cups of coffee. “I’m not dramatic!”
“Whatever you say,” Jeongyeon said, and sat down the various plates, before taking a seat.
Nayeon placed the cups down. She had put a small floral shape into the cream crowning it and served it to Jeongyeon with a smug expression. “What about you? Is one of the girls your girlfriend?”
Jeongyeon was about to smear butter on her toast and cracked it into two pieces at Nayeon’s question. “You mean Dahyun or Chaeng? No. No. Definitely not. They are like my sisters. My parents sort of adopted them when their own parents couldn’t deal. Especially Chaeng, who was quite a handful when she was younger.”
“They still seem like quite a handful,” Nayeon said.
“A good kind of handful,” Jeongyeon pointed out.
Nayeon lifted her hands. “I wasn’t implying anything opposite.”
Jeongyeon made eye contact and with an enormous bite reduced one piece of toast to half.
Nayeon did the same with her croissant, and then smiled. The smile of the other girl was shy. They ate in silence, quiet, warm and comfortable. Nayeon couldn’t remember when she had shared breakfast with someone else like this. It was a kind of companionship she hadn’t known she missed.
After a while, Jeongyeon spoke up. “I - don’t sleep very well. Sleep paralysis. Nightmares and all that. I don’t want to wake you up in the middle of the night.” She paused. “Sometimes I scream.”
Nayeon tried to imagine it. “Do you think you’ll hurt me?”
“It doesn’t work like that,” Jeongyeon said. “The super strength.”
“How does it work then?”
“It’s a conscious effort. Like - do you speak another language?”
Nayeon nodded. “A bit of English.”
“Do you speak English by accident?”
“It’s like this,” Jeongyeon said. “It’s a conscious effort to be this strong. So I can’t hurt you, but - I mean. A screaming, crying person next to you might be scary as well.”
Nayeon pushed the salt shaker over when she saw Jeongyeon looking at it. “How often do you get that?”
Jeongyeon’s laugh was short and dry. “Often. Thrice a week. Sometimes even more.”
Nayeon pushed the pepper shaker towards her as well. “I haven’t heard you scream once since you’ve been here.”
“You’ve been here for three days,” Nayeon said.
“What does -”
“I don’t know,” Jeongyeon snapped, her voice suddenly sharp. She pushed her flat palms onto the table and took a deep breath, then met Nayeon’s eyes, her voice calmer. “I don’t know. I … I really don’t know. And I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
“I’m good at snapping back,” Nayeon said lightly. She still stared at Jeongyeon, studying her face. It hadn’t healed fully, the skin looking like a particularly strong sunburn. It looked very painful.
“The coffee is very good,” Jeongyeon said after taking a sip.
“Well, of course, I’m a certified barista.”
Jeongyeon rolled her eyes. “Of course you are. What’s on the schedule?”
“It’s Saturday,” Nayeon said. She looked at the clock. “I’d go grocery shopping and then maybe order in.”
“I can cook -”
“You know you don’t have to cook every day,” Nayeon said. “If I wanted a live-in cook, I’d get one.”
“But I’m already intrud -”
“For God’s sake, Jeongyeon. Just drink your damn coffee.”
Jeongyeon opened her mouth to argue, but Nayeon shot her a sharp glance and Jeongyeon shot her mouth with an audible click. A beat. “Can we get Chinese?”
“We can get Chinese,” Nayeon said.
“Let’s get Chinese,” Jeongyeon said. She hesitated. “There’s something else.”
“And what would that be? Another microwave to dump somewhere?”
“I - have to go home. Get some things. I talked to Chaeng, she’ll make the way safe. I’d appreciate it if you’d come along.”
“To carry the microwave back?”
“It’s nothing about a microwave. They are looking for one person, not a couple. You’d be the perfect cover,” Jeongyeon said.
Nayeon tried hard not to deflate too visibly. “Cover.”
Jeongyeon nodded. “It would be a big favor, I know, but - it’s really important.”
“How about we make a deal here,” Nayeon said. “You know, an exchange.”
Jeongyeon frowned. “Do you want to write about me?”
“I don’t want to write about you,” Nayeon said, rolling her eyes. “For the thousandth time.”
“Be my date.”
Jeongyeon’s fork full of scrambled egg paused on the way to her mouth and her eyebrows shot up. “Excuse me?”
“My date,” Nayeon said. “I have a thing next week. It’s a social thing. I’d need to bring a date, but I can’t ask the others, because my colleagues already know them and … anyway. Would you accompany me?”
“Me in a room full of reporters? I don’t know, Nayeon.”
“There won’t be any pictures, I promise. You just have to smile and have some drinks - non-alcoholic ones - while I’ll talk to some people from the board. That’s it. We’ll get you glasses and you can change your hair color if you are unsure. Nobody will notice.”
“They shouldn’t want you to bring a date if you don’t want to,” Jeongyeon said.
Nayeon shrugged. “There are a ton of things I shouldn’t be doing just because I’m single.”
Jeongyeon looked at her, her jaw rolling. Then she nodded, slowly. “I’ll accompany you. Don’t worry. It’ll be all good.”
“I can take care of myself, you know? I don’t need a hero.”
“I know you don’t, but maybe sometimes a bit of help is … I don’t know … nice?” She touched her shoulder where Nayeon had wrapped her up. There was a small twinkle in her eyes. “I’ve sort of learned that recently.”
Nayeon eyed her and then took the last bite of her croissant to shove it into her mouth. “You are such a dork, Jeongyeon.”
Jeongyeon munched, her cheeks blown up like small balloons and gave her a cheesy thumbs up.
“Alright.” Chaeyoung’s voice on the other side of the cellphone was slightly hollow from the bad connection. “You’ve got the time schedule, you need to follow it precisely. Especially try to take the right subway. I can only take out the cameras for so long. And Nayeon-sshi - please wear your in-ear headphones. Just in case.”
“For secret communication?” Nayeon asked, excited.
Chaeyoung snorted. “Sure.”
“Alright.” Jeongyeon was holding the phone but Nayeon was leaning against her, so the phone’s camera caught them both.
Nayeon had insisted they both wear “inconspicuous” clothing - caps, long jackets and sunglasses - but they just looked like ordinary Doosan Bear fans, Jeongyeon had pointed out. Nayeon had insisted they looked nothing like Doosan Bears fans and Jeongyeon had just rolled her eyes.
“And for God’s sake, Jeongyeon,” Dahyun added. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
“Stupid? Stupid? When have I ever done anything stupid?” Jeongyeon asked.
“You are a hero. You do stupid things all the time and Dahyun and me have to save you. All. The. Time. Just try to … I don’t know … curb your noble personality.”
“For all our sakes,” Dahyun added and rolled her eyes.
“Alright, alright,” Jeongyeon said. “The subway is coming. I’ll talk to you later.” She turned to Nayeon to see that she was coming along, then noticed what she was doing. “Stop that.”
“Crouching like this,” Jeongyeon said.
“But I don’t want to be seen,” Nayeon said.
“We are literally in the middle of Seoul, Nayeon. Everyone sees you and as the only ducking pedestrian among literally dozens of non-ducking pedestrians, this isn’t exactly inconspicuous,” she said. “Just relax. Be yourself.”
“I can’t be myself; if I’d started to do that, people will come up to me for autographs,” she said, her arms wrapped around Jeongyeon’s arm as she followed her into the subway. “What should we look out for?” She cast a glance at an elderly woman, who returned it, confused.
“The right stop to get out,” Jeongyeon said dryly. “What do you mean, what should we look out for?”
“I mean - villains. You know.” She added in a lowered tone: “Super villains.”
Jeongyeon frowned. “On the subway?”
“They could be anywhere,” Nayeon said.
The elderly woman stood and moved away, confused and slightly intimidated. Nayeon motioned towards the vacant seat. “You are still hurt,” was Nayeon’s explanation and Jeongyeon’s frown deepened.
“On my face, not my buttocks,” she said quickly when Nayeon shot her a warning glance.
“This is really exciting,” Nayeon said.
“We are riding the subway,” Jeongyeon said, then after a moment, hesitated: “When have you ever ridden the subway?”
“I think when I was fifteen and my nanny went with me because the driver was sick,” Nayeon said. “I remember that an elderly homeless person asked for something to buy food and I gave them my pocket money.”
Jeongyeon was scared to ask. “How much was your pocket money?”
Nayeon said a number and Jeongyeon lifted her eyebrows. “They must have been really happy.”
Nayeon frowned. “Not really. They went to buy something and returned the change. In small bills too. I was very confused.” She paused and frowned. “As was my nanny, I think. Overall a good experience though.”
The subway moved and Nayeon still looked around. “Four stations. I think you should move behind me.”
“To hide, of course,” Nayeon said. She pulled at Jeongyeon’s arm and moved her away from the sliding doors against the wall and positioned herself in front of her. “Any one of those people could be who knows what.”
“You just scared away an elderly lady who was, I’m pretty sure, just an elderly lady,” Jeongyeon said, trying to sound unimpressed but Nayeon could hear amusement.
She looked up at the taller girl, a stern expression on her face. “You might find it fun now, but only two days ago you were afraid of my microwave.”
“Now wait a second. I was afraid of the contents of your microwave,” Jeongyeon said. “And with good reason.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Nayeon turned and looked up at the younger girl. “I think you need someone to look after you, you know that? God, you are like a sandwich thrown into a cage full of hungry tigers.” Nayeon didn’t see Jeongyeon struggling for words as she held on to her with one arm around her midsection, as Nayeon half turned to cast the lady pushing a stroller a dark glance.
Maybe she was hiding a machine gun in that stroller? Nayeon wondered and leaned against Jeongyeon with some disappointment when the lady took her child out of the stroller.
Jeongyeon close to her felt really hot. The impression she had gotten from her when they had shared a bed proved to be correct: That girl was a living heater. And a heavy breather. She was probably still feeling sick.
Three stations later they left the subway.
Nayeon stayed close, her hand still on Jeongyeon’s arm. “That was stressful.”
Jeongyeon eyed her. “Nothing happened.”
“Yeah, no thanks to you.” She looked around. “So which direction?”
Jeongyeon pointed. “This way.” She tried to shake away Nayeon’s arm, once, twice, and they locked glances.
Nayeon eyed her, lifting her eyebrows.
Jeongyeon eyed her and then sighed. “Hold on properly if you do this,” she said and Nayeon rolled her eyes, her hold around the girl’s arm tightening nonetheless.
“It’s not exactly rocket science,” she said, as Jeongyeon dragged her towards the escalator of the station and the clear sky.
The sun had already passed it’s highest point as they made their way through some narrow streets, the power lines criss crossing over their heads. Small houses pressed against each other, with tiny shops and even tinier street food vendors. It was dark here and slightly dirty and Nayeon held on tighter to Jeongyeon’s arm as they made their way into a part of Seoul Nayeon had never been in.
They turned into another narrow street and Nayeon was about to ask if they were close, when she saw it. Between two small houses, extracted like a tooth between two other teeth with surgical precision was a crater, a black hole, where once, what Nayeon assumed, a small house had stood.
Nothing much remained - some tiny walls, burned down to waist height, all blackened, burned wood, parts of the house’s tiles lay in the crater. Jeongyeon’s steps stiffened the closer they got. Her jaw muscles tightened and Nayeon noticed the fist by her side.
Somebody had created a fire that limited itself perfectly to the small space between Golden Dragon Laundry and Hyun’s Noodle House. Nothing else had been damaged, just the narrow space where Jeongyeon’s house had been located had been diminished to ashes and rubble.
Jeongyeon stepped forward, as Nayeon let go of her arm - one step, two steps - into the blackness. For a moment Nayeon wondered if she should follow her but then decided to respectfully stay behind.
The gravel and fine pebbles crunched under Jeongyeon’s Vans as she made her way forward. “It used to be a Chinese Restaurant with those lions and over the top decorations and it always smelled like soup and meat, but - Chaeng and Dahyun liked it and so I liked it as well.”
Nayeon took a deep breath, about to say something but Jeongyeon continued.
“I don’t care so much about myself, but Dahyun and Chaeyoung …”
Nayeon opened her mouth to say something, but didn’t know what. To have an entire building destroyed, a home, just like that; she had no idea what it felt like. Jeongyeon seemed shaken.
Her shoes would get dirty. She would probably reek like burned wood and be all sticky afterwards. But Jeongyeon had gone forward and so she followed her. Lifting her feet like a stork she stepped over bits and pieces, remnants, trying to keep dust, smudges and smoke at bay.
In the darkness of the ground that was so black that it looked like she was walking atop of an endless abyss, she saw something. A small bit of indistinguishable colors and when she leaned down to pick it up, she realized it was a photograph.
It was blackened at the edges, but enough was left over to identify what was on it. A man, a bit round, with a happy smile and what Nayeon had come to identify as Jeongyeon’s crooked smile. A younger Jeongyeon with dark hair down to her shoulders and two kids - grinning over irregular rows of teeth, because they were that age where they just lost them. The man had wrapped his arm around Jeongyeon and Dahyun, Chaeyoung clinging to Jeongyeon’s arm.
Jeongyeon turned around. Both of her fists were by her side. Her face had two black smudges at the cheek. Nayeon wasn’t scared of her - but she was scared for her.
When Nayeon handed her the picture, she took it like it was a feather made from crystal: Delicate and immeasurably valuable. “That’s my dad. He is … he was a cook.”
Nayeon looked at her. Around her the remnants of a restaurant. Familiar smells. Dahyun and Chaeyoung and Jeongyeon - definitely Jeongyeon as well - loving it there. The scents of food, the sounds of someone cooking.
Nothing more than a blackened hole.
Jeongyeon looked up. Nayeon had assumed it was just a mere shadow darkening Jeongyeon’s face but when a tear left a bright path in its wake on Jeongyeon’s cheek, she knew it wasn’t. “I can’t do this anymore …”
“Jeong … none of this is your fault …”
“I already killed my mom … I can’t do this anymore,” Jeongyeon said, more tears washing over her face. She held the picture of her father and her sisters clutched in her hands.
“Jeongyeon … none of this is your fault … let’s go home and then … then we’ll think of something, okay?” Nayeon said, reaching out.
But Jeongyeon stepped back. She looked up and there was anger on her face and a yellow gleam in her eyes that Nayeon could only describe as supernatural.
In the distance there was a noise - like a really heavy fridge had fallen over and Jeongyeon’s head whipped toward that direction.
“Jeongyeon -” Nayeon managed, but then Jeongyeon moved and there was no doubt about what she was capable of. A kind of velocity that was definitely supernatural, because in one moment she stood in front of Nayeon and the next she was suddenly on the street and gone.
The picture of her father and the girls fell to the ground. It was literally all that was left of her. Nayeon picked it up and cursed.
“Chaeyoung,” she whispered harshly. “Chaeng, goddammit!”
A static noise in her ear that almost made her go deaf, then: “What’s up?” Chaeyoung sounded like her mouth held half a t-bone steak, that’s how loudly she was eating.
“Jeong. Locate her for me.”
A gulp removed a ton of food. “She’s not with you?”
“She got mad and heard something and … raced away. And I really mean race, because Chaeng …”
“Some of her powers have returned, but the good ones always come back last,” Chaeyoung said.
“The good ones?” Nayeon asked.
There was a rustle, then Dahyun’s voice said: “Invincibility to stop her getting hurt from running into something with super speed and super strength to not get folded in half should she attempt something stupid. She’s still hurt from the Kryptonite, right?”
“Not hurt … looks like a really bad sunburn,” Nayeon said. She looked down the narrow alley to her left. It didn’t betray Jeongyeon’s path in any way. “Guys. Where do I need to go?”
“Down the road to your, past the … tabby cat by the corner, then left. Take two steps,” Nayeon immediately saw what Dahyun was talking about, and she counted two steps and then Dahyun said: “Step to the left and duck.”
She did and the water from an old lady’s bucket flew right over her head. “Wow.”
“Down the street,” Dahyun continued. “And pick up the broken broom with the blue handle from the trash bin.”
Nayeon was about to ask “Which broom?” then it came into view and she picked it up. Another heavy sound thundered down the walls of the narrow houses making up the alleyway. Someone hollered. It was a male voice, Nayeon could tell.
“Someone has sprayed yellow letters on the street,” Dahyun said. “Get onto the dot of the i and aim for the guy’s lower left side. He has a …” There was a tiny moment of silence that Nayeon used to round the corner and take in the situation.
There was a crossing under the criss cross of electricity over their heads. Another laundromat, a second hand cellphone shop, a convenience store and a run down apartment building formed the corners of the makeshift arena.
Jeongyeon was there, slightly bent over, breathing heavily. Her lip was bleeding and she was wiping it, creating a stripe of red over her cheek down to her jaw. Three guys in front of her, dressed in dark, oily suits, wielding some sort of black, metallic staff.
It had indeed been a fridge filled with soda from the convenience store that had been flipped over. The window of the convenience store was cracked too and Nayeon noticed the owners hiding behind the smaller, waist-high ice cream fridge.
“The guy with the yellow pants has an old bullet wound on his lower left back. If you strike him there, he’ll be out but you have to stand on the i’s dot,” Dahyun’s voice in her ear said.
Nayeon noticed the large letters on the ground and the guy with the yellow pants. “He’s too far away!”
“Trust her!” Chaeyoung urged into the headset.
Nayeon took a deep sigh. “If I’m losing my head or my Nike shoes over this, I’ll sue you to hell and back.”
She stepped forward and took position exactly on the dot of the i - the large letters spelled out “idiot” and Nayeon just hoped that this wasn’t any kind of foreshadowing.
The guy was still way too far away.
But Jeongyeon noticed her. “Go away,” she snarled.
Nayeon huffed. “In your dreams.”
“Tell him,” Chaeyoung said, frantic typing in the back. “That you know exactly what’s in the package he received from his great-uncle on November 12th, 2008.”
“What?” Nayeon snapped. “Are you out of your mind?”
Nayeon did and the man’s gaze whipped so quickly over to her, shock and confusion on his face that he stumbled over a cola can right into Nayeon’s vicinity. She lifted the broom and let it crash down on his lower back - and the man flinched and fell to the ground, moaning and groaning in pain.
Nayeon lifted her eyebrows, surprised at Dahyun and Chaeng - and at herself.
Two were left. Jeongyeon eyed them, cracking her knuckles. Nayeon was able to read the signs. This was not going to end prettily. Someone was going to get hurt - and with Jeongyeon’s misdirected anger she was more worried for the guys than for her roommate.
“Stop it! All of you!” Nayeon thundered.
All three looked at her. The men had something similar to surprise written on their faces. “I have interviewed three sitting presidents, the pope and the Dalai Lama and I will handle you guys as well. This display of senseless violence is unbecoming of all three of you! You will cease this immediately!”
One of the men frowned. “Do you really think that we will not beat you up? We are beating her up. We are beating them up,” he nodded at the convenience store owners. “Unnecessary displays of violence is kind of our job.”
His friend nodded.
“You are a regular seat holder of the Doosan Bears, aren’t you?” Nayeon asked. She had noticed the corny fan ring on the man’s finger. Under her breath muttered: “NameChaengIneedhisnamenow!”
“Kim Seungsik,” Chaeyoung answered, confused.
“Kim Seungsik,” Nayeon said.
Kim Seungsik, not opposed to senseless violence, was definitely confused. He stepped forward, frowning. “How do you know my name?”
“I know everything!” Nayeon announced with all the bravado she could muster, which was a lot. Dahyun kept whispering in her ear. “And I know you have annual seats for every game and I strongly suggest if you want to keep them, along with your wife’s Netflix account -”
Kim Seungsik gasped.
“And your mistress’s Netflix account -”
Kim Seungsik gasped harder.
“And if you don’t want word to get out about your My Little Pony collection, I strongly suggest you and your pal leave now and take this loser with you, because Friendship is Magic, motherfucker.”
Kim Seungsik gaped at Nayeon. Nayeon met his gaze and lifted her eyebrow.
“You wouldn’t dare,” he tried clearly as a last attempt.
His friend snickered at him. “ My Little Pony , dude? Really?”
“You beat up my friend!” Nayeon said. “Cancelling someone’s Netflix account is the least I would do! Now come on! Leave!” She turned to Jeongyeon. “And you - wipe your face. You’ve already ruined enough carpets in my apartment. Let’s go.”
There was a long, long moment of silence. The man regarded Nayeon and then they regarded Jeongyeon, who again wiped her lip. She was looking worse from moment to moment.
Then the tension broke.
“Fine,” the man said. He hoisted up his unconcious company. “Just - just don’t tell my wife. Please?”
Nayeon narrowed her eyes at him. “If you never show up here again, I’ll think about it.”
Both parties trudged out of the arena like kicked dogs, and Nayeon dragged Jeongyeon along.
There was a silence between them and finally Jeongyeon said, as they made their way back through the labyrinth of alleyways to the station: “Usually this is not how my fights end.”
Nayeon swatted her. “Are you out of your mind?”
“Looking for trouble like this when you still look like - like … like someone remodelled your face!” She swatted her again. Jeongyeon flinched away.
“If I hadn’t been there, if Dahyun and Chaeyoung hadn’t been there -”
“I would have managed it,” Jeongyeon answered tersely.
Nayeon shook her arm. “But at what price?”
Jeongyeon didn’t reply.
“Dahyun and Chaeng coached me through the entire thing!” Nayeon asked and slightly swatted Jeongyeon again.
“Her superpowers don’t work on other superheroes,” Jeongyeon said slowly.
Nayeon stared at her and then, just because she could, swatted her again.
“Stop it!” Jeongyeon asked, rubbing her arm. “This really hurts!”
“It’s supposed to hurt! You scared the hell out of me! You went there, went all mad, left me, fought with these guys, got hurt - again - you could have died, Jeongyeon! You are still completely and thoroughly human except for your super speed stunt just earlier!”
Jeongyeon didn’t say anything. She stared at her feet as she dragged herself forward, letting Nayeon lead her.
“You have no idea what it’s like,” Jeongyeon grumbled.
“On the contrary, I have every idea what it’s like,” Nayeon shot back. “You are like me - vulnerable, insecure, scared.”
Jeongyeon stopped and Nayeon couldn’t help herself, but stopped as well. When she turned, Jeongyeon didn’t even look at her. Instead she had pushed her chin forward and paced.
“How can you be like me?” Jeongyeon shot back. “You hated me. You wrote some pretty terrible stuff about me. Don’t deny it, it’s all up on your wall.”
“And I still think this is some big ruse just to make an article out of me,” Jeongyeon added. She made a large gesture, like projecting something against a wall. “My week with a superhero. But I don’t have a choice, since I’m basically homeless -
“And hunted and --”
“ Jeongyeon ,” Nayeon said sharply. “I don’t - I don’t hate you, okay?
Jeongyeon huffed. “Yeah, right. You would have preferred my head mounted over your bedroom door only a week ago.”
Nayeon stepped closer. “I don’t, okay? I regret being overly critical, which I was, because I didn’t know you, hadn’t met you, hadn’t met Chaeyoung and Dahyun - I didn’t know what it was like. I don’t hate you. And I’m sorry for what I wrote. And again, I’m not going to write a story about you, for God’s sake! I’m not doing this for selfish reasons and if you think that, you are wrong.”
Jeongyeon just looked at her, still unconvinced.
“I’m insecure and needy and maybe a little bit dramatic and I have huge ego problems, but I’m not a complete jerk. Okay?”
Jeongyeon still stared.
“Oh, just forget it,” Nayeon said. “Let’s go home.” She was about to turn around and walk away, when an arm shot out to stop her.
Nayeon didn’t turn back, even at the gentle tug. “Let go.”
Jeongyeon pulled again. Nayeon could feel Jeongyeon’s hand shake on her arm.
“I said,” Nayeon said, slowly. “Let. Go.”
She did, eventually, but before Nayeon could move forward, she heard what Jeongyeon had to say:
“I think you are good the way you are.”
She froze - then looked around. Jeongyeon was still staring at the tips of her shoes, her hands deep buried in her pockets. She shrugged and scratched something into the ground with her foot.
“I mean … annoying, yes, and also sort of loud and all that, but … still good.”
Nayeon stared at her further, flabbergasted.
“Yeah ...” She eyed her then gave a swing with her chin towards Nayeon’s feet. “I’m sorry I ruined your shoes in the dirt of the crater of my burned-down house.”
Nayeon recognized the olive branch for what it was.
“I’m sorry I ruined your little superhero thing back there,” Nayeon said.
Somebody above them cleared their throat. It was an elderly ahjumma, her hair covered with hair curls, a cigarette in the corner of her mouth, her expression sour as vinegar. “It’s nice for you that you guys got all lovey dovey and stuff, but some people are trying to sleep and watch their favorite kdrama, so could you go away?”
“Tch,” Nayeon said.
“Tch right back at you!” the ahjumma snapped back.
Jeongyeon apologized and dragged Nayeon away.
Around twenty minutes later, they sat in the subway that moved towards the rizzy, luxurious quarter of Seoul where Nayeon was living. Sitting close against each other, the subway rumbled forward and each rumble went through their bodies. After a while, Jeongyeon offered Nayeon something on her outstretched hand. The hand shook slightly, but not as bad as it had earlier when it had been on Nayeon’s arm.
It was a singular bluetooth earphone. Nayeon looked up at her surprised, but Jeongyeon had leaned back, her eyes closed. After a moment, Nayeon picked it up and put it into her ear. A quiet jazz piece streamed through, stirring something gently between her ears.
The peace was ultimately broken by the vibrations of her own cellphone - and when she took it out, Jihyo’s grumpy face under the caller ID greeted her. With an apologetic smile, Nayeon handed back the earphone and then took the call.
“Im Nayeon,” Jihyo said on the other side. “Are you still among the living?”
“Hello to you too, Jihyo,” Nayeon grumbled.
Jihyo ignored her and continued on. “I mean, I see you every day at work, but it seems that you aren’t there - and today something interesting happened: I checked the picture of the Wednesday editorial, you know, the one about interior architecture in Bauhaus Renaissance and in one of those pictures I see the Seoul Needle - and your balcony.”
Nayeon groaned. “Yeah, so?”
“So? There’s a hole in your wall. I could clearly see it in the back of Mr. Kang’s dreadful French surrealist apartment style. I had it photoshopped out, just so you know, but - has there been an accident?”
Nayeon looked at Jeongyeon sitting next to her. She regarded her with some worry and at Nayeon’s glance lifted an eyebrow. “Something like that.”
“You haven’t called, you haven’t complained about anything at work and I haven’t had any crying interns this week - are you sure you are feeling well?” Jihyo asked.
“Who is that?” Jeongyeon asked next to her.
“Who is that?” Jihyo asked on the phone.
“I - have a houseguest,” Nayeon said slowly.
She could almost hear Jihyo’s eyebrows raise. “A houseguest? Someone I should know?”
“She’s a -” Jeongyeon’s eyebrows had risen as well at her description, but Nayeon ventured on bravely. “A friend.”
“A friend?” Jihyo’s disbelief grew with each word. “Really. Really. And it’s neither Momo, Mina, Tzuyu nor Sana?”
“It’s - no. It’s none of them,” Nayeon said. “It’s complicated.”
“I see. Hm. Since our monthly barbeque will take place Thursday anyway, I’m looking forward to meeting her,” Jihyo said. “Or him. I’m not judging.”
“It’s a her,” Nayeon said. “Look, Jihyo, maybe we can postpone the BBQ -"
“Why? What are you hiding, Nayeon?” Jihyo asked.
Nayeon cursed under her breath and eyed Jeongyeon. “Fine. I don’t know what you are expecting, Jihyo.”
“The first stranger in your apartment since you started working,” Jihyo said. “And someone who manages your combative personality.”
“What combative personality?” Nayeon snapped back.
“I rest my case,” Jihyo said. “See you Thursday.” There was a click and Jihyo was gone.
Nayeon stared at her blank phone for a moment, then pocketed it. She took a deep breath.
“Who was that?”
“Jihyo,” she said. “My best friend slash editor in chief at the newspaper.” She eyed Jeongyeon. “How do you feel about barbecue?”
“When I still had my laser eyes, I was able to cook a mean steak,” Jeongyeon said. “Why?”
“My friends will come over Thursday,” Nayeon said. “Officially to barbecue, unofficially to check if I’m alright. Jihyo saw a picture of the ruined balcony door. Don’t ask.”
“I’m not particularly good with people,” Jeongyeon said slowly.
“You don’t say,” Nayeon said. “Don’t worry. They are relatively easy to handle. They are friendly and polite and mind their own business if you tell them. Ask Dahyun and Chaeyoung to come, if you aren’t sure.”
“We cannot avoid this?”
“We cannot avoid this. If we do, Jihyo will be even more worried and it will seep into the others too and when they are really concerned for anyone, they are truly terrifying.”
“I see,” Jeongyeon said. She sunk into herself for a moment, then finally said: “Chaeyoung and Dahyun are pretty good with people.”
They sat silently next to each other on the subway. Jeongyeon’s hands still shook slightly. She first grasped her jeans, then the seam of he sweater and finally her hands wrestled with each other on their lap. Nayeon watched her from the corner of her eye, staring ahead and finally reached out and covered her hands with her own.
Jeongyeon went still, then just sandwiched her hand between hers and held on. Her lips were a thin line, she was slightly pale, but she didn’t say anything.
They had pizza that evening and Jeongyeon ate four. It was like some sort of rock had rolled off her shoulder.
Nayeon went to shower first, padded toward her bed past Jeongyeon sitting on the couch. The girl still glowered and didn’t say anything. She had a new, bright green bandaid on her lip.
Nayeon didn’t want to push her, so she kept quiet, but left the door to the bedroom slightly ajar, a silent invitation. There was rustling outside, coming from the second bathroom, then silence. A click and the light in the living room was turned off.
Nayeon turned to her side and waited, trying to breathe calmly. When nothing outside moved, she sighed and tried to quench a silent disappointment simmering in her heart. A disappointment that a part of her was surprised at and another annoyed with, because - Jeongyeon was a superhero. She led a crazy, dangerous life, admired by millions, being a big curmudgeon that did stupid things, like throwing herself into explosions.
She was definitely not - and Nayeon was definitely not … and they were not and she was not …
Nayeon pressed her eyes shut for a moment, cursing at herself. Nayeon. Get a grip. If you were American, you would have won the Pulitzer at least twice. You have a way with words. Try to form coherent sentences, even if they pertain to your crush!
Pertain to your crush? Was she crushing on Jeongyeon?
Jeongyeon, the most nobly foolish person on the planet?
She was not. And she was not disappointed that Jeongyeon didn’t choose to cuddle with her. And even if she would cuddle with her, she would do it for safety, because Jeongyeon was scared and stressed and injured and she was all by herself, because Dahyun and Chaeyoung had hidden away in a dingy hotel and she was worried for them as well.
So Nayeon - after all the mean things she had written - felt that this was about Jeongyeon and not about her and that she had no right to feel disappointment at Jeongyeon’s lack of cuddling and -
The door opened. Nayeon tried hard not to bolt immediately to her feet.
Instead she summoned all her acting prowess and stretched, making her voice heavy and unbothered. “Jeongyeon -”
“Can I sleep here?” Jeongyeon asked.
Nayeon could hear her shuffle her feet.
She moved, but only for show. There was enough space in her bed. “Sure.”
Jeongyeon padded around the bed in the darkness and then lifted the blanket, got in and covered herself. She didn’t press her body to the corner anymore, so Nayeon considered that sort of an advancement.
Advancement towards what?
“Thank you,” Jeongyeon said in the darkness.
There was a silence, then: “Jeong?”
“Are you still shaking?”
“...no.” But the answer came a millisecond too late and Nayeon almost snorted.
Because Jeongyeon was such a bad liar. Like most superheroes. A weird thought came to her for a moment and she wondered if she’d make a good supervillain - but probably not, because Jeongyeon would have been her mortal enemy.
And she knew how that would go.
Jeongyeon stilled. “No.”
“I’m not going to bite you,” Nayeon said. “Come here. You’ll sleep better, I promise.” She still had her back turned toward Jeongyeon and took a look over her shoulder, wriggling her shoulders as an invitation.
Jeongyeon snorted in the dark.
“Your loss.” Nayeon shrugged. She felt a pang of disappointment. “Good night then.”
“‘Night,” Jeongyeon mumbled. She turned away. After around twenty seconds, she turned again. Wriggling and searching for a position to sleep. She turned and twitched around, unable to find a comfortable position. The bed creaked under her movements and Nayeon was about to groan.
Just turn to your side and sleep! She wanted to snap and was about to turn around and hiss at her when Jeongyeon moved and suddenly Nayeon felt her warmth press against her back. There was a faint warmth and Nayeon realized:
It was Jeongyeon’s breath against the back of her neck.
Nayeon hesitated, gauging the situation and when there wasn’t any further movement, she reached around and found Jeongyeon’s arm. Following it down she reached for her arm and pulled it over her body, wrapping herself up in a Jeongyeon-shaped blanket. She moved her fingers around and in between Jeongyeon’s and Jeongyeon held onto her tightly.
Jeongyeon was still slightly shaking, her hold on Nayeon tight.
“It’s okay,” she told Jeongyeon. “It’s fine.”
Jeongyeon didn’t say anything, almost didn’t breathe, but her hand stayed where it was, on Nayeon’s stomach, its warmth seeping through the cotton t-shirt to her skin. Then Jeongyeon slowly started to go pliant behind her, sighing softly, nuzzling closer, as Nayeon felt her heartbeat, her tiny breath against her skin.
Nayeon felt her heart beat faster than when she had met IU for a 1-on-1 interview as she subtly wrapped Jeongyeon’s arms tighter around herself. Some of her own stress started to seep away in that cocoon of warmth, as Jeongyeon relaxed gradually, her breathing starting to get deeper. When Jeongyeon emitted a soft snore, Nayeon followed her, starting to doze off and finally fell asleep.
She slept through the night. It was the best sleep she had had since High School.
Jeongyeon sat on one of the bar stools in front of the kitchen island and sipped at her coffee, while watching Dahyun and Chaeyoung fix a window panel. The sight provided her with growing anxiety, as they checked various Youtube videos and discussed how to proceed.
Nayeon was on the phone. She had been up already when Jeongyeon had woken up - and talked animatedly with various people: colleagues, minions, Jihyo and two people via a conference call: Tzuyu and Sana to prepare for today’s get together.
They lived in the same building as Nayeon did - which was good, because it meant they were closeby, but it was also bad, because they lived closeby.
Jeongyeon couldn’t help but wonder why a mere barbecue required so much preparation, but given the kind of attention to detail Nayeon loved so much, it didn’t surprise Jeongyeon that this also touched the remaining aspects of her life.
Chaeyoung shakily transported one window pane from one side of the room to the other. Dahyun followed her. It caused Jeongyeon enough stress to see that pane of glass being balanced and carried by such a small person, that Nayeon, still mid-conversation, had peeled the cup from her hand and sat it down on the kitchen counter with a pointed look. Then she continued talking.
Tzuyu, Nayeon’s friend, was the first to come. Even if Nayeon had not informed her of her occupation, Jeongyeon knew immediately that Tzuyu was a model.
She just arrived from Milan or Paris or some other city that Jeongyeon knew only food-wise. Jeongyeon expected someone with a large, UFO-shaped hat and impressive glasses. Instead, Tzuyu wore a hesitant smile and a summer dress when Nayeon shooed her in, talking to her incessantly.
Tzuyu was pretty. Tzuyu was tall and looked like a statue an artist had summoned to life. She nodded at Nayeon and pushed a strand of hair over her ear.
Jeongyeon’s gaze flicked back to Chaeyoung who still hadn’t seen her and who was still carrying the glass pane. There was disaster in the making.
Dahyun had seen it as well and stepped around Chaeyoung in a strange kind of dance, her arms outstretched, trying to support the pane of glass, while Chaeyoung just looked around:
“Maybe this frame? Or over there?” She turned to the left - Dahyun leaned left, trying to catch the glass. Then to the right, while Chaeyoung held it up over her head. Dahyun reached for it in vain.
“How about you give me that?” Dahyun asked carefully, but Chaeyoung shook her head.
“No, I can do it, I just -” Her posture froze as she watched Tzuyu take off her sandals in the long corridor by the front door and look up. Their eyes met and Jeongyeon - still weak, but capable - surged forward with supernatural reflex as Chaeyoung dropped what she was holding.
The glass fell forward and Jeongyeon slid forward on the floor, extending her arms, reaching for it only to be swatted by it like a fly by a fly swatter. The cool, transparent surface pressed against her nose and cheek as she caught the window pane just before it hit the floor.
Chaeyoung just stared, while Nayeon led Tzuyu forward and cast Jeongyeon an unimpressed gaze on the floor. “Can I help you?”
Jeongyeon mumbled something unintelligent against the glass.
Nayeon smirked. “Thought so.” Then she looked up. “Tzuyu, this is Chaeyoung. Chaeyoung is a …” She hesitated and tried the word out, gauging Chaeyoung’s reaction. “A … computer scientist?”
Chaeyoung almost looked insulted. “A freelance creative computer specialist,” she emphasized.
“A homeless freelance creative computer specialist,” Nayeon emphasized, while Dahyun carefully helped Jeongyeon stand and take care of the window pane.
“I also draw,” Chaeyoung said, trying to sound chill. She didn’t. “And I’m really low maintenance.” She wasn’t, given that she kept several fridge-shaped servers in the small hotel room she and Dahyun were currently staying at. “And I’m super nice.” That was also questionable.
Tzuyu looked at her, unimpressed. “You are very tiny.”
Chaeyoung slowly turned beet red. “A-and you are really tall!”
Tzuyu stared some more. Chaeyoung turned tinier and tinier by the moment. “Do you have any kind of practical skills?”
Chaeyoung thought hard and shrugged. “I can do your taxes.”
“Can you do my taxes as well?” The door had swung open and another girl came in. Jeongyeon headlined her entire appearance under “blonde”. And attractive, if you liked the pink princess overflowing with attractiveness right into your face type.
The girl shrugged off her shoes messily, then waddled down the corridor to the living room. “I swear to God, some directors won their masters in filmmaking in a lottery.” Her smile was dimmed only for a moment, before she noticed the guests and then it brightened again. “Oh, hello! Hi, Tzuyu.”
“Sana eonnie,” Tzuyu nodded. “I saw your Chanel commercial. Congratulations on that.”
Sana smiled and hugged Tzuyu, who tried to fend her off. “Thank you,” she squealed. “You are so nice.” Then her gaze zoomed in on Nayeon, who stepped back. . “Nayeon! Beautiful and scary, as usual!”
“Oh, no. No, no,” Nayeon said, but Sana proved to be relentless and hugged her as well.
“Eonieee,” she squealed. “You look so good!”
Nayeon tried to shrug her off. It didn’t go particularly well. “Thank you. God. Sana. You smell like popcorn and cotton candy. How do you do it?”
“A God given gift,” Sana beamed against Nayeon’s cheek.
Jeongyeon felt her eyes narrow at that, despite herself. Then Sana’s bright, dark eyes met hers and her smile grew in size. “Hello, cutie.”
“I’m contagious,” Jeongyeon said immediately, panicking.
Sana laughed, bright as a bell, thoroughly amused. “That’s fine. I only hug people that I know a bit better.” She bowed. “You must be Jeongyeon. And … you have short-hair, so … Chaeyoung, right? Then you must be Dahyun.” There was an immediate change in her face when she saw Dahyun sitting on the couch. A short flicker, something indescribable. “Hi.”
Dahyun’s head looked like a red light bulb. She nodded, slowly, embarrassed, got up and bowed. “Kim Dahyun,” she said, somewhat stiffly.
Jeongyeon and Chaeyoung exchanged a short glance. Dahyun was never ever like that - she usually exuded a bright warmth, even towards strangers and especially towards strangers as friendly as Sana. Her shy and almost robotic behaviour was definitely new.
Sana eyed her, then a slow smile stretched her face, like the dawn of a new time.
Jeongyeon observed the situation for a moment, not sure what to make of it, then Nayeon clapped her hands and snapped her out of it. “Alright. So Momo and Mina will be here with the food in around ten minutes and Jihyo will be here whenever traffic allows her to be.”
“Do you really do taxes?” Sana asked Chaeyoung, but plopped down on the couch next to Dahyun.
Chaeyoung nodded slowly and waggled her eyebrows. “I made a program for it,” she said, then grew serious. “What kind of acting do you do?”
Sana paused and then said: “You know … movies … sometimes TV. That kind of stuff.”
Tzuyu tried to hide a smile behind her hand, but both Chaeyoung and Dahyun pushed on further.
“Something we might know?” Dahyun asked. Her voice sounded somewhat hoarse and way more high pitched than usual under Tzuyu’s occasional glance.
“Well, one was a movie where I had one of these things that look like a flashlight, but like, a glowing stick grows out of it and it’s used to slice people into half and I sliced some guy into half. Also there were starships.”
Chaeyoung stared at her, then exploded into questions.
Jeongyeon took a seat by the kitchen island and after a moment, Nayeon joined her.
“What’s wrong with Dahyunr? Is she sick?” Nayeon asked.
Jeongyeon shook her head. “No. She likes your friend.”
“Well, she and half the planet,” Nayeon snorted.
Jeongyeon shook her head again. “No … it’s something else. Dahyun doesn’t like or open up easily to people. And she can pretty easily gauge her chances, somewhat, because of her abilities.” She turned to look at the girl next to her. “I think you did something good.”
“I always do something good.” Nayeon pushed some hair over her shoulder. “I’m kind of brilliant like that.”
“And you are completely full of yourself,” Jeongyeon said.
“It’s called having healthy confidence,” Nayeon shot back.
“Bordering on egomaniac,” Jeongyeon said.
“I helped you. I was totally selfless there,” Nayeon said.
“You felt bad because you were mean to me before.” Jeongyeon huffed.
“Means I still have some humanity left,” Nayeon said. “That has to count for something.”
They eyed each other for a long moment, a silent struggle going on. Jeongyeon was about to say something, when the other girl smiled at her, puckered her lips in a kiss and winked. She quickly looked away and looked at Chaeyoung who was busy comparing height with Tzuyu.
“You are so powerful,” Nayeon said next to her. “Flying, running, and all the other things. But you are not invincible.”
“Neither are you,” Jeongyeon said.
“I’m like teflon,” Nayeon said. “I can take everything people hurl at my head. But you, you are a marshmallow inside. Pink, fluffy, soft.”
Jeongyeon rolled her jaw. “I’m not,” she pressed out.
“Are too. Look at Dahyun and Chaeyoung and tell me you don’t go all soft on them whenever you see them like this,” Nayeon said.
Jeongyeon turned her head to watch them and felt the familiar mixture of pain and affection for the two of them. She wanted them to only have happy days, but …
“When it turned out to be … I mean, when I turned out to be like this, I struggled for a long time if I should do something about it. And … I felt like a coward if I could do all these things and not use them to help someone,” Jeongyeon said. Her eyes were still on Chaeyoung and Dahyun. “And I did, but I fear the cost was very high.”
“It doesn’t seem to me like you are forcing them, you know?” Nayeon said, next to her.
Jeongyeon hesitated, then, suddenly, quickly, shook her head. “No,” she said, the word watery and weak and Nayeon’s hand quickly shot over, holding Jeongyeon’s, holding on to it as tightly as possible, and Jeongyeon squeezed right back. “I’m fine, I’m fine.”
Nayeon still looked at her. “I know you are.”
“Then look elsewhere!” Jeongyeon’s voice was hoarse when she said that. Her eyes were wet, but she still held on.
“You know what I think?”
“I think you need someone who saves you as well,” Nayeon said.
Jeongyeon’s eyes flicked up to meet Nayeon’s. Their gazes interlocked, but Nayeon didn’t say more, just held on. Jeongyeon huffed and looked away and huffed some more.
She didn’t let go of Nayeon’s hand until Nayeon had to get up and live up to her reputation as a host, serving snacks and drinks and then opening the door when Mina, Momo and Jihyo arrived, her friends and neighbours.
Jihyo had brought the meat and a practical table grill. Several people immediately rushed in to help her with all the bags she was carrying, but Jihyo didn’t seem to be bothered by her weight. She surveyed the room, gave out the occasional hug and then her glance zeroed in on Jeongyeon, who immediately took a step back.
Jihyo’s eyes narrowed. “You,” she said and Jeongyeon didn’t know what to make of it.
She bowed. “Hello.”
“Hello,” Jihyo said and shoved the grill into Sana’s waiting arms who stumbled away under the sudden weight. The small woman stalked towards Jeongyeon and Jeongyeon stepped backwards, until her back hit the kitchen counter.
“Hi,” Jeongyeon managed. Jihyo moved towards her like a shark through shallow water and Jeongyeon, despite being faster, taller and probably stronger than Jihyo suddenly felt insecure.
“Let her live,” Nayeon said, but Jihyo was intent on cornering Jeongyeon.
“So you are Jeongyeon,” Jihyo said. “Nayeon’s new roommate.”
“Temporary roommate,” Jeongyeon said.
“Uh-huh.” Jihyo eyed her up and down. “What are your intentions towards my best friend?”
“My - my intentions?” She exchanged a confused and embarrassed glance with Nayeon who was no help at all.
“Yes, Jeongyeon. What are your intentions?” Nayeon had a mischievous smirk on her face. Chaeyoung and Dahyun were no help whatsoever, being occupied with their own conversations.
“I - am making sure she doesn’t do anything stupid?” Jeongyeon suggested and with a side glance to Nayeon added: “Like trying to take on guys twice her size.”
“That was one time and I won,” Nayeon pointed out.
“It was three of them!”
“One was already unconscious!”
“Yeah, well no thanks to you!”
Jihyo’s eyes flicked between them, like in a tennis match.
“Just what were you guys doing the past few days?” she asked.
“We went to see a restaurant,” Nayeon said. “And got into trouble.”
“Yeah - was a bad restaurant,” Jeongyeon answered, stuttering over the excuse. “Too much salt.”
Jihyo and Nayeon both stared at her, Jihyo confused and Nayeon ready to facepalm.
“Too much salt?” Jihyo asked.
Nayeon gestured wildly behind her best friend’s back, her expression and hands clearly broadcasting what she thought of Jeongyeon’s IQ that moment.
“Yeah, it was a restaurant in my old district, but I think - they changed - the cook,” Jeongyeon finished lamely.
Jihyo’s stare grew harder and she was about to ask something, when Sana materialized out of nowhere, asking her to help with the grill. She cast Jeongyeon a last glance over her shoulder, then left her behind.
“ Too much salt? ” Nayeon hissed when Jihyo was out of earshot.
“I need preparation when I’m supposed to lie! I can’t just say something untrue like this,” she snapped her fingers, leaning in. “Plus your friend is very inquisitive!”
Nayeon groaned and shook her head. “When she tries to talk to you again, just try and change the topic!”
“I was thinking about hiding behind Chaeyoung,” Jeongyeon said.
“Where are the sauces?” Momo called over from the kitchen and Nayeon went to help her.
“Change. The. Topic.”
Jeongyeon rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah.”
The rest of the evening went relatively smoothly. Jeongyeon watched Nayeon hurry around, talking to people, making small talk, making sure they felt at home. She and Chaeyoung seemed to get along particularly well and finally, all her guests had settled down on couches in the living room.
Jeongyeon was the only one that was missing.
Nayeon caught her eye in between Mina and Momo who were sitting in front of her and patted the spot next to her on the couch.
Jeongyeon smiled and shook her head.
Nayeon patted once more.
Jeongyeon sighed and waddled over and plopped down next to the girl that had offered her her home and her time and her attention. Nayeon smiled brightly and leaned gently against her. It caught Mina’s attention.
“So. Jeongyeon, right? What is it you do?”
Jeongyeon stiffened, but felt Nayeon’s hand immediately on her arm. “I studied history and political science,” she said. “But I actually wanted to become a baker.”
“A baker?” Mina smiled. “Do you bake?”
“As a hobby,” Jeongyeon said.
“Her brownies are to die for.” Chaeyoung made an “o” with her index finger and thumb and blew a kiss into the air.
Mina chuckled. “And how did you and Nayeon meet?”
There was a very gentle, almost non-existent assumption there - or maybe a prediction or maybe a knowledge of something that Nayeon hadn’t faced yet. She couldn’t bring herself to say anything about it because it meant to look it in the eye and she knew that this was something neither Jeongyeon nor she was ready for. It also made her heartbeat accelerate and her chest tighten nervously and she couldn’t have that in front of guests.
“We … bumped into each other,” Jeongyeon said slowly. “She basically picked me up like a stray cat.”
“I see,” Mina said and it did nothing to quench her curiosity. But she didn’t ask any further, because she knew there was something more to it, wrapped in a veil of privacy that was not hers to pierce.
Sana however was much more blunt. “Someone fixed your shelf. And I don’t see books scattered around everywhere. And is she helping you with the renovations as well?”
Nayeon narrowed her eyes. “Is that code for something, Sana-ya?”
Sana shrugged. “Just pointing out the good stuff, because there’s nothing bad to point out.” She eyed Jeongyeon and smiled brightly. “I like you. You are polite, friendly, kind, nice and seem to have a supernatural,” Jeongyeon flinched at the word. “Ability to stand her for a prolonged period of time. Are you some sort of superhero?”
Jeongyeon tried not to panic - Sana’s question was harmless enough, but she could feel Jihyo’s gaze burning into her like a supervillain’s laser beam. She managed to swallow not that obviously and said: “A superhero in housekeeping, maybe.”
And Nayeon deflated. As did Dahyun and Chaeyoung to an extent, but Nayeon knew Sana. Knew Mina. Knew Jihyo. They had questions and just didn’t ask them out of politeness. But they were old enough friends to worry about Nayeon and finally ask - and Nayeon knew she couldn’t tell them the entire story, because some of it was not hers to tell.
“I see you have the Century Edition of Monopoly,” Chaeyoung said and Nayeon was thankful that she changed the topic.
They started to discuss Monopoly and then the conversation quickly ventured to more complex games both classical and modern. Chaeyoung was both delighted and enthusiastic and Nayeon knew that this conversation would take some time and would probably not return to the superhero topic.
Jeongyeon sat next to her and there was a gently bubbling mixture of happiness and nervousness on her face. Nayeon leaned over. “You okay?”
She paused and then, almost as if despite herself, said: “Your friends are very nice and very … insightful.”
“I know.” Nayeon hesitated, then said: “I’ll shut it down. I’m sorry.”
Jeongyeon’s eyes flickered over to Dahyun. The girl smiled a small smile, like a fool, and looked anywhere but Sana, her hands folded in her lap, her ears pink, her cheeks red. Sana had leaned gently in and talked to her. Her smile was similar, but much more gentle.
“I’m not sure you can.” Jeongyeon looked at Nayeon and eyed her. She narrowed her eyes, her expression almost strict, evaluating. Not judging, but Nayeon was nervous nonetheless. Then it disappeared and Nayeon wasn’t any smarter afterwards.
Jeongyeon continued to sit next to Nayeon for the remainder of the evening; they didn’t talk much with each other, but instead talked with Nayeon’s guests, but Nayeon could feel Jeongyeon press gently against her. She once leaned over her when Jihyo brought new soda bottles from the kitchen and Jeongyeon’s breath hit her ear and her throat. When she looked up at the taller girl who reached for the bottles and handed her one, Jeongyeon pointedly looked elsewhere and swallowed, before leaning back, handing her a bottle as a defense.
“Thank you,” Nayeon said.
Jeongyeon shrugged and mumbled something similar to “You are welcome.”
The evening went on pleasantly - Momo was the first one to fall asleep, shamelessly so: She clinged to Mina, drooled over her and refused to let go. It required quite some logistics to put a blanket on her and for Mina to ease her onto the couch and join her finally.
Dahyun had refused Sana’s attempts to cuddle with her steadfastly and with a tomato-colored head, so Sana had left the couch to her, and instead stretched out on Nayeon’s extendable armchair. She had moved it closer to Dahyun’s couch and rolled to the side, her head close, hovering close to Dahyun’, when she sank down on the pillows.
Chaeyoung had fallen asleep against Tzuyu and the taller girl didn’t seem to mind much. Jihyo had distributed blankets for all of them and bid her farewells.
“I’ll come in the morning with breakfast,” she had told Nayeon, while hugging her, Jeongyeon looming in the background as she watched the friends’ goodbye ritual.
Jihyo’s sharp eyes finally landed on her and Jeongyeon bore them with some difficulty.
“Are you a hugger?” Jihyo asked.
Jeongyeon shook her head. “No.”
The girl stepped forward. “Well, that’s too bad.” And she hugged her tightly, squeezing her so hard that Jeongyeon’s shoulders lifted. “Thank you.”
Jihyo’s answer was a wink and a wave, then she was gone.
“Your friends are annoying, but nice,” Jeongyeon said into the silence of Jihyo’s departure.
“I am well aware,” Nayeon said.
“They are like you,” Jeongyeon said with half a smile.
Nayeon swatted her. “Hey.”
Jeongyeon smiled and retreated to the kitchen to take care of the last bit of cutlery, until everything was perfect and pristine. Nayeon watched her, admired how she moved around in the kitchen, already knowing where everything was - and pushed away the warm, pulsing feeling in her chest, and wondered if Jeongyeon felt the same.
It was such a strange thing to like someone so suddenly, like a sudden strike of thunder and afterwards the world was different. She had imagined what it must be like to be a superhero. Admired by so many, all-powerful, brilliant in the sky, like a God amongst men.
To meet someone so ultimately human, so desperately human with so much love to give, with so much affection for others and with such a human heart was not what Nayeon had expected. Not at all.
It made Jeongyeon look greater in her eyes and also closer, more immediate. The fact that Jeongyeon’s superpowers were like a part of her job and almost never bled into her interactions with Nayeon made her understand just how human she was. And as a consequence, how vulnerable.
It made her want to protect Jeongyeon - and Nayeon was aware of the irony of wanting to protect someone who was - when not affected by Kryptonite - invincible.
Jeongyeon dried her hands by the sink and then turned to face her. Her expression was somewhat wistful.
“Wanna see something cool?” Jeongyeon asked.
“I already saw something cool - you tidied up my kitchen,” Nayeon said.
Jeongyeon rolled her eyes and stepped closer. “No - something really, really cool.” Her shirt was rolled up and Nayeon noticed her lower arms - and suddenly wanted to touch them. She didn’t even know why.
“Sure?” Nayeon said. “Sure.”
“Come on.” Jeongyeon went over to the window front she had destroyed and half rebuilt, lifted the plastic wrapping and stepped through the windowless door leading to the balcony. Nayeon followed her, hesitantly.
Wrapping her arms around herself to keep herself from freezing, she looked around. “What’s that cool thing you want to show me.” And then blinked when Jeongyeon started to grow.
Only that she didn’t, wasn’t growing, Nayeon realized when her gaze dropped. She was floating. Around two hands’ width above the floor. Then slowly moved in a circle around Nayeon. “It’s not entirely back - I’m not very fast. But it’s back, at least.”
Nayeon watched her and tried to fight the amazement. She had, of course, seen her zip across the city before. Most citizens had, but up there, a vague scheme, she was nothing more than a plane. Something far away, theoretically a wonder, but too removed from her life and her perception to be truly regarded as such. But now, up close and personal, it was different. The wonder was floating right in front of her.
And it had a really pretty smile.
“That’s …” She reached down and waved between Jeongyeon’s feet and the floor, just once, just to see. “Just checking. I mean - congratulations. It means you are getting better, right?”
“I am.” She zipped from one side to the other. “I was afraid that I had lost it completely, but - as you can see, I was lucky. Thanks to you and your microwave.”
Nayeon smiled, but it was somewhat a weak smile. It meant Jeongyeon would be able to do her job once more. It meant that she would probably leave soon.
“Wanna do a tour?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“A tour. With me. Just, like, once around the block. I’m going slowly and … I mean. It might be fun. For me, it’s incredibly fun.” She grinned and floated a bit higher. “What do you say?”
“You won’t drop me?”
“I won’t drop you.”
“Promise,” Jeongyeon said.
“Have you done this before? I mean, flying with someone?” Nayeon asked.
“I carried Dahyun and Chaeng often like this,” Jeongyeon said. “They like the view.”
“Of course they do.” Nayeon peeked over the handrail of her balcony, somewhat sceptical. Down there were cars and the streets and in front of her, the skyline of Seoul.
Nayeon took a deep breath and stepped closer. “Okay. Okay. So … how … I mean.” She swallowed and when Jeongyeon landed in front of her, she shook her head. “How?”
“Hold on to me,” Jeongyeon said.
Nayeon’s arms shot forward and held on to her lower arms.
Jeongyeon laughed. “Not like this.” She moved Nayeon’s arms around her neck. “Like this.” Nayeon suddenly felt arms around her midsection, like they were doing a slow dance. And then suddenly, the air around her grew warmer, like a bubble of heat had been extended around both of them. Something pulled her entire body upwards, like the drift she felt when underwater, and when she looked down, the balcony was already two floors away.
With a start, she moved toward Jeongyeon, clinging to her, trying to climb her, a shriek escaping her.
Jeongyeon’s laughter was warm against the side of her neck. “It’s okay. It’s fine. Try to relax.”
“Don’tletmefalldon’tletmefall, ” Nayeon whispered against Jeongyeon’s clavicle. Nayeon could feel Jeongyeon’s cheeks lift against her skin as she smiled.
“I won’t. I won’t, I promise. Just look around you,” Jeongyeon said. She nodded with her chin toward the city beneath them. “Gangnam. Han River. Gwanghwamun Square and Seoul Tower. Isn’t the view spectacular?”
“Uh-huh,” Nayeon said. “Spectacular. The absence of a floor is spectacular.”
Jeongyeon met her eyes with a gauging gaze of her own. “Hm. Maybe we can fix that. Come on.”
Nayeon felt the air tugging at her, as they gained more and more height, the city underneath their feet gradually changing to nothing more than toys beneath them - and then to mere lights in the distance. Long pearls of light followed like glowing pinheads strings that were really just streets. The spectacle became more and more surreal, as Nayeon found herself in a view of the world that she had previously only known from pictures, posters and postcards.
Jeongyeon’s arm held on to her tightly, as she looked up to see where they were going, her chin lifted, her eyes on the firmament over them. She could see strings of muscle in Jeongyeon’s throat as she looked up and it made her want to touch them.
“Careful, it will get foggy for a moment,” Jeongyeon said - and for a moment, everything was a milk-like, white soup as they pierced a cloud.
And then, with a start, it was bright again with stars and the endless universe above their heads.
A white, enormous cumulus cloud stretched out beneath their feet like the world’s fluffiest carpet and Jeongyeon set down.
Nayeon clung to her, alarmed. “What are you doing?”
“Hold on to my hand and try to put your feet down,” Jeongyeon encouraged her.
“I’ll fall through!”
“Are you out of your mind?” Nayeon asked, almost panicking, still halfway wrapped around Jeongyeon. “It’s a cloud! I can’t walk on that!”
“You can - just let go, nothing bad will happen.” Nayeon eyed her, her eyes flicking between Jeongyeon’s, which was nothing more than amused, gentle encouragement. Jeongyeon lowered her voice. “Trust me.”
“If I die, my ghost will haunt you for all eternity,” Nayeon hissed.
Jeongyeon laughed. “God, you are dramatic.”
Then, with a moment of hesitation, she let go of Jeongyeon and carefully slid down. Her feet touched the cloud and it felt - it felt like landing on really, really soft marshmallow-like fluff. Or a group of sheep that had parked really close to each other.
She did a step to the side, both hands still holding on tightly to Jeongyeon’s collar. The cloud felt - sturdy. Soft but not yielding. Stomping against the ground, there were some dents, but the clouds easily supported her weight.
She kicked over a small upward swirl of the cloud. It dissipated in a thousand flying smaller clouds.
“How - how …?”
Jeongyeon shrugged. “We don’t know exactly. Chaeyoung believes it’s a radius thing. We tested the boundaries and did some experiments. Once I’ve flown with someone, some of my powers seem to seep into that person if they stay close.”
Nayeon looked up a bit and leaned closer. “How close?”
Jeongyeon tried to avoid her, leaning back, resulting in a not particularly flattering double chin. “Around fifteen metres?”
“So if I let go - “
“Nothing will happen,” Jeongyeon said.
Nayeon let go, her hands forming jazz hands for a quick moment before holding on to Jeongyeon’s collar again. Nothing happened. No immediate fall, nothing. Just clouds beneath their feet.
It was absolutely amazing.
Jeongyeon wrestled a hand from her collar and held on to it tightly. “Let’s go for a walk.” Jeongyeon stepped forward and after a moment, Nayeon followed her. Her steps were uneasy and cautious at first, but when the clouds turned out to be reliable, she fell into step with the taller woman.
There was only the white of the clouds under them and the stars over them.
“What happens when there’s a plane?” Nayeon asked.
Jeongyeon shrugged. “Nothing much. I usually dip into the clouds before it’s in view and wait until it flies by.” She grimaced. “They are very loud. I usually bring ear plugs.”
Nayeon kicked at cloud pebbles, enjoying seeing bits and pieces fly away. “I’m not going to lie: This is the craziest thing I’ve ever experienced.”
Jeongyeon shrugged. “I’m aware it’s very unique.”
“Did you ever bring Dahyun and Chaeyoung up here?” Nayeon asked. She let go of Jeongyeon’s hand and scooped up big handfuls of clouds. Then, she threw one at Jeongyeon. It just exploded all around her like snow.
“Yeah … sometimes. When we were younger. When they were feeling sad,” she said.
“Because of your parents?” Nayeon asked.
Jeongyeon nodded. “Yeah … to share something that can literally not be shared with anyone else sometimes helps to … to strengthen things, you know?”
Nayeon was still kneeling down, playing with the clouds. Then she threw another bit at Jeongyeon who got hit right in the face and didn’t even flinch. “You are such a softie.”
Jeongyeon frowned. “I never can be sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing when you say it like this.”
“It's a good thing,” Nayeon said, as she stood. She walked backwards in front of Jeongyeon, her hands behind her back, slightly bent forward to catch Jeongyeon’s gaze. “Because I’m not and you are good for me.”
“I - I don’t think you are a bad person. I think you just - worked with what you had … and … you were … critical, as journalists should be.”
Nayeon huffed. She was so nice - how could a single person be this nice? “I was mean to you despite not given any reason to,” she said. “I assumed you were a villain in the making despite saving so many people. And now that I truly know you, I’m so, so, so sorry.”
Jeongyeon shrugged. “You are forgiven.”
“Am I?” Suddenly Nayeon stopped walking and Jeongyeon walked right into her. Jeongyeon reddened immediately at the sudden closeness and Nayeon deliberately let her lips drop to Jeongyeon’s and up again. Then lifted an eyebrow. “Am I?”
Jeongyeon didn’t follow the invitation, but she took Nayeon’s hand again - and Nayeon couldn’t be sure if she felt a tiny shaking of her hand there. “Come on, let’s check what’s around the next cloud.”
And Nayeon was disappointed for a moment, because she realized that she really, really wanted to know what it was like to kiss Jeongyeon. How it felt being above the world and feeling closer to heaven than any mortal being should be allowed to. How it felt to kiss a girl who could fly and move mountains and who got shy and red and flustered when Nayeon came closer.
Nayeon wondered again if Jeongyeon liked her back.
And once her brain had caught on to that thought, she suddenly realized where she was standing. Where she was standing figuratively and literally. She looked at Jeongyeon, walking next to her, holding her hand, rounding a swirly, cluttered cream like mountain of cloud to see what was on the other side.
Jeongyeon’s grin was lopsided, her blonde hair falling into her eyes and she wanted to fix it. She was kind and friendly and didn’t buy her bullshit, and oh so pretty. And Nayeon had once sat in the living room and Jeongyeon’s reflection had been visible in her tablet when she had hurried out of the shower into the bedroom to dress up and - dear lord in heaven.
She found herself later, way after midnight, laying in the clouds, looking at the stars, Jeongyeon’s face next to hers.
“That’s Leo Minor. And Ursa Major,” Nayeon pointed. “And Draco.”
“How do you know?”
Nayeon shrugged. “Interest. In case I get lost in the woods. Or on a deserted island.”
“Why would you get lost on a deserted island?”
“You never know,” Nayeon said. “Plane wreck, island with cannibals or whatever and you have to defend yourself. You know what it’s like to be human now. Try to empathize.”
Jeongyeon eyed her, her glance wandering over her face. “I’ve seen Dahyun’s scratched knees and Chaeyoung’s bloody lips.”
“Isn’t it still different, now that these scratched knees and bloody lips are yours?” Nayeon asked immediately.
That was the major difference between them: Nayeon was immediate and impatient, wanting things now, even if it meant that initially, they would hurt, while Jeongyeon’s steps were slower, more deliberate.
So Nayeon almost immediately grew impatient when she didn’t get a reply instantly - and the impatience melted away the moment Jeongyeon answered. It was surprising and at the same time disconcerting, because what if Jeongyeon didn’t feel the same.
“I guess,” Jeongyeon said slowly.
Her face was so close and gleamed in the light of the moon and the stars.
Nayeon was easily able to project an air of unattainability towards anyone. She was able to be cute and sexy and an ice princess in quick succession. Often it served her well to get what she wanted. But that very moment, she couldn’t summon any of that to get what she wanted.
She couldn’t be naughty with Jeongyeon - Are you going to kiss me or what? - or sweet - I used peach lipstick today, wanna have a taste? - or sexy - Wanna guess what underwear I’m wearing? .
She tried, opening her mouth several times, meeting Jeongyeon’s gaze, then looking at her lips and then at her eyes again. Jeongyeon blushed and smiled at the same time - and then lifted an eyebrow. “See something you like?”
It was meant to sound cocky, Nayeon knew, but what came out was something tinged with shyness with restraint sprinkled on top.
“I - do.” Off her words Jeongyeon’s gaze became unbearably intense and Nayeon managed a hoarse and almost wet laugh, as she looked away.
But much to her surprise she felt the pad of an index finger under her chin, applying the faintest kind of pressure. She looked back at Jeongyeon - who had moved closer, inexplicably - and then there was a faint, shy softness on her lips.
She felt herself tense up immediately, because Jeongyeon - superhero Jeongyeon - was kissing her. She could feel Jeongyeon’s breath against her philtrum, Jeongyeon’s scent creeping up her nose and right into her chest and making it bloom. Jeongyeon’s finger shaking slightly and then her moving away and Nayeon’s whines of protest, as she craned to chase her and almost kissed the clouds below.
Nayeon was able to read the first signs of a full-fledged panic as Jeongyeon tried to get up. “Oh God, I’m sorry - I think I totally misread the entire thing -”
Nayeon was good at barging in when a door opened for her just slightly. And Jeongyeon had definitely opened a door for her, one she had lately been dying to barge through. So while Jeongyeon babbled on - and god, she was even attractive doing that - Nayeon lifted her hands to cup Jeongyeon’s chin, cut from diamond on one side and held on to her ear on the other and pulled her in. Gently so as not to hurt her, but decisively enough to communicate:
Yes, this is what we are doing next. Don’t you dare disagree.
Jeongyeon's last words - something about reading emotions and not being good at it and Dahyun telling her time and again - got muffled.
Nayeon kissed her, a clumsy yet enthusiastic press against the other girl’s lips, who froze, seemingly couldn’t believe it and then carefully, as if to make sure and still being suspicious about the entire thing, moved her lips back.
Nayeon could feel herself, her heart wrap around the other girl, and then bursting into a thousand butterflies at the thought that maybe, maybe, she liked her back, and wanted her too. It was the most exhilarating feeling and it grew tenfold when she felt Jeongyeon’s hand gently cradling her face, her fingers caressing her cheek, slipping from her jaw to her chin, back and forth.
The other girl tasted like some sweet soda she had drunk that evening. She tasted like her scent: something sweet if you managed to get close enough.
The kiss grew sweeter, more intimate, as Nayeon rolled entirely to her side to hug the girl closer, her kisses catching fire, while Jeongyeon smirked, despite trying to catch up.
The taller girl felt good - they felt good.
Nayeon was about to say something, when the loudest noise she had ever heard thundered over their heads. Nayeon shrieked while Jeongyeon’s arms flew around her, pressed her tight into a hug and sunk into the milk soup that was the cloud below them.
It was a large plane passing them - and God, that thing was loud and fast.
When the sound had ceased and the relative silence of the sky had returned, Nayeon felt Jeongyeon whisper against her cheek: “You okay?”
Way to ruin the mood. “I’m fine, I’m fine.”
Involuntarily, Nayeon let out a shiver and one arm moved around Jeongyeon’s midsection, as she moved back. “You are cold.”
“A bit,” Nayeon admitted.
“We should go back then,” Jeongyeon said and Nayeon felt how she was starting to sink. Her arms flew around the other girl, holding on to her like an enormous pillow.
They slowly sank through the clouds towards the city below them.
It was the strangest thing - she felt herself go heavy again, but Jeongyeon moved and suddenly she lay atop of her. Jeongyeon’s face was so close and the mist and magic was gone.
Not gone, just suddenly incredibly close up and when Jeongyeon’s face was this close, she smirked and waggled her eyebrows at Nayeon.
“I hate you,” Nayeon said and Jeongyeon’s smirk grew.
She couldn’t push Jeongyeon away, that much she knew, but she could half sit up, pushing against Jeongyeon’s shoulders to look around.
Seoul was beneath them. A plane rose in the distance and aimed for the sky Nayeon was just leaving. She moved around and felt Jeongyeon accommodate to her so she wouldn’t fall. The younger girl laid splayed out midair as if she was dozing under a tree on a field, her arms crossed underneath her head, one leg angled.
Nayeon realized quickly why that leg was angled - when she moved to sit (“Just let your legs dangle, you won’t fall.”) Jeongyeon offered her that angled leg as something to hold on to, as she sat on Jeongyeon’s stomach, drifting down slowly, Jeongyeon’s body her personal flying carpet.
“I wish I could write about this,” Nayeon said, looking toward the horizon. She felt Jeongyeon’s knee tense in her grasp and she met the girl’s worried eyes. “Which I won’t! Don’t worry!” She took a deep breath. “It’s just so - so amazing.”
“It is,” Jeongyeon said and when Nayeon met her eyes, she quickly looked away, caught.
“You are blushing,” Nayeon said and Jeongyeon blushed harder.
She managed to answer after the second try. “So? I’m allowed to. I usually don’t go around kissing people like this.” She jutted out her lip, suddenly insecure.
Nayeon’s heart went out to her, realizing that it had been her who had made her insecure. She leaned in and very carefully kissed Jeongyeon’s nose. “You did a good job. I hope we can do this again soon.”
And this time, Jeongyeon blushed even harder: beet red, strong enough that she almost glowed in the dark. Nayeon chuckled and kissed her again, despite Jeongyeon’s protests.
“You are doing this on purpose!”
“Should I not be doing this on purpose?” Nayeon asked, lifting her eyebrows.
“No! I mean, yes, but -” Her continued protests were lost in some unintelligible muttering, caused by her embarrassment.
Something more noteworthy occurred this night though; not the thing that Nayeon had secretly been hoping for, but didn’t really expect to happen. They had time for that.
They landed on the balcony of Nayeon’s apartment and Nayeon stepped back, albeit reluctantly. They got ready for bed, brushed their teeth and changed into their sleeping attire.
Nayeon stepped out of the bathroom and found Jeongyeon in the living room, draping blankets over the guests. Nayeon leaned against the frame of her bedroom, her arms crossed, as she watched Jeongyeon straightening Chaeyoungs hair and dragging Dahyun’s blanket properly into place.
When their eyes met in the semi-darkness of the living room, Jeongyeon mouthed:
And Nayeon, smiling all over her bunny teeth, shrugged and shook her head. “Nothing,” she mouthed back, as Jeongyeon approached her and Nayeon took her hand and pulled her into the bedroom.
The door closed with a clicking sound and when it did, the bedroom was filled with darkness. Nayeon wanted to say something, but instead she felt Jeongyeon stepping closer.
Were they …? Were they …? Nahh. But what if …? But Jeongyeon wasn’t the type to … or was she? I mean, Nayeon would, but would Jeongyeon?
It was a careful movement, as she felt Jeongyeon’s arms move around Nayeon’s midsection to pull her closer. She could feel her bury her nose in Nayeon’s hair, her hold tight and snug and perfect. Nayeon allowed herself a faint smile as she was being held and waited.
“I - I was so hurt - and you … but you … and now Dahyun and Chaeng … and …” The hold tightened. “And your friends -” Her voice grew watery and soft and unstable. “And it was just so nice - and I never had … and you … I don’t know how ...”
Nayeon applied the faintest bit of pressure, moving them to the edge of the bed, until Jeongyeon bumped against it and had no choice but to sit down. She was still rambling as Nayeon climbed on her lap in the darkness, listening to Jeongyeon’s voice getting even wetter than before.
“It’s so much trouble, Nayeon - and you just - did that,” Jeongyeon said, her arms around Nayeon’s hips, still holding on to her. “I didn’t think - everything was just so nice, so good and I don’t know how …”
Nayeon took a hold of Jeongyeon’s face, her thumbs stroking the skin under her ears. She couldn’t make out Jeongyeon’s eyes in the darkness, but she was sure Jeongyeon could see her.
“Hey. It’s okay, okay? I like having you around. Out of my own volition and I’m doing all these things voluntarily, because I like. To have you. Around. You don’t owe me anything, understood? And if - if you are uncomfortable here, we can figure something out, but you are always welcome here. You hear me?” Nayeon paused. “Even if you are a huge neat freak.”
Jeongyeon didn’t answer, but chuckled wetly, then just nodded in the darkness. And held on to Nayeon, sitting on her lap like this, breathing against her clavicle, and later on in bed until the early hours of the morning and beyond that when noises from attempts at breakfast-making summoned her to the kitchen.
“What are we dealing with here, Dahyun eonnie?”
“I don’t know, Chaeyoungie. What are we dealing with here, Jeongyeon eonnie?”
“Shut up. Both of you.” Jeongyeon wrestled with the bow of the suit she had bought for the occasion. It was her fifth try at a bow and each attempt was worse than the other. With a frustrated sigh she ripped the thing from her throat and tried to suppress the urge to shred it into small bits.
Dahyun and Chaeyoung watched her, both sitting on a large couch in the living room. Both were holding to-go cups from Starbucks. Both watched Jeongyeon with mischievous amusement. Jeongyeon regarded them both with unnerved derision.
“You two are lucky I love you guys,” she said, then finally, beaten by a bowtie, plopped down on the couch right opposite of Dahyun and Chaeyoung, pinching the bridge of her nose.
Then her eyes moved over to the window panels. It was almost done. Some paint had to dry and she had to fill the gaps between wood and glass with silicone. She did a good job and it was almost done.
It looked better than it did before. Nayeon however didn’t seem to be particularly happy about that. Jeongyeon wondered if she had picked a color Nayeon didn’t like or the wood didn’t serve her taste. Nayeon hadn’t complained though and if there was one thing Nayeon was good at, it was complaining and whining.
But she didn’t complain or whine.
Which made the entire thing even more mysterious.
“How’s the drone thing going?” Jeongyeon asked. “When will I be able to move freely again?”
Chaeyoung stretched. “As a normal pedestrian? Now, I’d say. Whenever you want. As a superhero?” She paused. “I think you have to face them head on. But this time we are better prepared.”
Jeongyeon nodded. “I see. I’m not in the mood to pick another pound of Kryptonite out of my body.”
“It wasn’t a pound, come on,” Dahyun said.
“It was a bowl that barely fit into the microwave,” Jeongyeon emphasized.
Dahyun eyed her, her face blank. “I am so thankful I have context here, because otherwise I’d be super confused by why an extraterrestrial bowl of poisonous crystal would be put in a microwave.”
“And dumped into the Han River,” Jeongyeon added.
“And dumped into the Han River,” Dahyun nodded.
“Speaking of. How’s the Sana thing going?” Jeongyeon asked. She suddenly leaned forward and waggled her eyebrows. “I thought the two of you got along really well.”
“First of all, why exactly are poisonous crystals in a microwave reminding you of me and Sana?” Dahyun asked, narrowing her eyes.
“Well.” Jeongyeon shrugged. “Kryptonite is my weakness. Sana seems to be yours. So - what’s the deal?”
“The deal is that she won’t stop being fifty percent of the Dubchaeng bros, no matter how well she and Sana get along,” Chaeyoung cut in, somewhat defensively.
Jeongyeon snorted. “I’m going to grill you about Tzuyu as well, don’t you worry.”
Dahyun shrugged. “About Sana - I don’t know. You know that I can’t see anything that involves my own future?”
Jeongyeon and Chaeyoung nodded. “Yes.”
Jeongyeon watched with some fascination as Dahyun started to redden slowly. She drew some nonsense pictures into the carpet with the tip of her foot.
“I can see Sana eonnie’s future … up to a point that is happening very soon where she gets up from the couch in her living because someone rings at the door to move into her apartment. She goes and smiles happily and opens the door and …” Dahyun tried to bite back her smile so much, her lip turned white.
“And?” Jeongyeon asked.
Chaeyoung nudged her. “Tell her.”
“She sees me.” Dahyun had blushed full on ketchup by now. She looked up and smiled, happy and overwhelmed. “After that … I can only see her future sometimes: Grocery shopping by herself. At work by herself. But except for that, nothing. Because …”
“You are always there,” Jeongyeon said, the truth suddenly dawning on her.
Dahyun nodded, shy, and looked at the drawings in the carpet again. They looked suspiciously like a lot of hearts. “Yeah … I don’t believe in destiny, because sometimes there are so, so, so many possibilities, eonnie, but sometimes … I don’t know. Sometimes there are not. Sometimes I think destiny doesn’t want to be believed in, because - it would stop people from trying. But sometimes I feel destiny is a bit sloppy with its plans and it’s like I can see its shadow winking at me before it disappears around a metaphorical corner.” Dahyun looked up. “And I can’t be sure if it was there to begin with.”
Jeongyeon wondered how it was like to see the world like Dahyun did. To see all the crossroads except her own. To literally see it. She had once described her ability like a loom with a million threads and she could see all of them or pick one.
Dahyun looked at Jeongyeon and then at the former construction site in Nayeon’s living room and then again at Jeongyeon. Taking her hand, she shrugged. “I think I should say thank you for crashing into Nayeon eonnie’s apartment.” She nudged Chaeyoung. “You should say thank you as well.”
Chaeyoung, who had been watching Dahyun’s happy, dreamy expression with happiness as to the other’s happiness and sadness over the possibility that she might lose her best friend to her future lover, snapped out of it. “Why would I be thankful for Jeongyeon eonnie rearranging architecture once again ?”
“Tzuyu is a one-metre-seventy-two tall gorgeous supermodel that was neither confused nor scared by or of your quirkiness -”
“ What quirkiness? ” Chaeyoung spluttered, almost offended.
“- and your tendency to talk to your bluetooth toaster yesterday,” Dahyun said. She took Chaeyoung’s hands, who was more confused than anything by the gesture, looked deeply into Chaeyoung’s eyes with a serious and strict expression on her face and said, sternly: “Be thankful. You’ll never get a girlfriend that awesome again!”
“ She’s not my girlfriend! ” Chaeyoung protested.
Her cellphone chose this very moment to spring to life. Tzuyu’s face appeared on the screen. The name under which Chaeyoung had saved her showed up as well.
Chou Tzuyu - Warrior Princess (string of heart emojis).
Chaeyoung paused - both her brain and her life - for a long moment, then met Jeongyeon’s and Dahyun’s eyes, both so smug she wanted to put both of their email addresses on every porn newsletter she could find.
“I hate both of you,” she said solemnly, then picked up her phone and marched towards some privacy in a bathroom.
Later on, after two Youtube Tutorials and Dahyun endlessly telling her to “stay still”, Jeongyeon was sporting a perfect bow and a worried face. She paced in front of Nayeon’s bedroom in front of the two lion statues, while Chaeyoung and Dahyun occupied the couch.
They both wore loose sweaters and pants, and Chaeyoung was barefoot, while Dahyun’s feet were covered by huge, fluffy socks. Each held on to a bag of potato chips and they were allowed to use Nayeon’s large 4k TV for the evening to watch a movie.
Currently, Jeongyeon’s display of nervousness was more interesting to them, however, than X-Men Apocalypse.
“What’s worse, going with Nayeon on a date or fighting a rock monster in Busan?” Chaeyoung asked, stuffing her face with green wasabi chips. She had crumbs all over her lips.
“Nayeon, because the rock monster is beatable,” Jeongyeon managed, still pacing. She stopped and presented herself to the couch: “Nobody will recognize me like this, right?” She tugged at her bow and Dahyun threw some chips at her to make her stop.
Dahyun shook her head. “No.”
“Just give yourself a less shiny hair color, if you are worried,” Chaeyoung added. “Like orange.”
“Or hot pink,” Dahyun said.
Jeongyeon eyed them. Her hair puffed up for a moment, like a clown’s, before relaxing again, falling onto her shoulders. It had changed to a warm, dark brown. It matched her suit.
“Not exactly orange,” Chaeyoung said, as she started to attach her Switch to Nayeon’s enormous TV screen and continued off Dahyun’s nudge of her elbow: “But it looks good.”
“Gee, Chae, thanks for the vote of confidence,” Jeongyeon grumbled, then proceeded to pace. “Just where is she?”
There were some rummaging sounds coming from Nayeon’s bedroom. Her declared orders had been: don’t enter the bedroom, no matter what sounds you hear coming from inside.
And they hadn’t, but Nayeon had been in there for over three hours and Jeongyeon started to wonder just how long a single person could take?
She was about to complain about it, loudly, to her audience of two that was largely engrossed in Super Mario Kart, when the handle of the door shook. It was pushed down hesitantly and then the doors swung open. Nayeon stepped through, her hand going up to fix the large, golden hoop earring.
Chaeyoung did what Jeongyeon didn’t dare to: she let out a wolf whistle.
Nayeon wore a glittery dress reaching just the spot over her knees: a golden thing that sparkled, changing it’s color to a bright sky-blue at her hip. She looked like a golden dawn over a perfect ocean. It was probably what the designer had in mind when he had made that heart attack, disguised as a piece of clothing. Her shoes had heels that placed her at Jeongyeon’s eyeline, which made for an interesting change because suddenly she was as tall as Jeongyeon.
When Nayeon stepped into the room, all business like, she noticed Jeongyeon’s stare and a smirk appeared immediately. Of course.
“I had this old thing just laying around,” Nayeon drawled. “Nothing special.”
It was a blatant lie, everyone knew, and Dahyun snickered and rolled her eyes good-naturedly, before turning around to her bro in crime, whose grin was so smirky, Jeongyeon wanted to scrub it off.
“You look amazing, eonnie,” Chaeyoung said. “Don’t you think so too, Jeongyeon eonnie?”
“Yes, Jeongyeon eonnie. Doesn’t she look amazing?” Dahyun asked.
And Jeongyeon wondered if that amused, teasing drawl Dahyun managed to produce didn’t violate any church girl laws, because Dahyun was supposed to be the nice one.
Jeongyeon looked from those two to Nayeon, who had lifted one eyebrow.
And Jeongyeon’s brain tried half-heartedly to provide her with something helpful she could say.
Yeah, you look nice, I guess. I mean, if the Goddess-emerged-from-ocean type is something I’d go for, then sure, and also your perfume impales my heart like a spear forged from the butterflies in my stomach when I see you and it is coated with the honey from your smile, sweet and perfect and warm, and from the color of what composers might have seen when they tried to form a symphony made from love, so I’d say you look 6 out of 10, but who are we kidding, I think the loop earrings could be used as a weapon so slightly lower in the B grade.
Jeongyeon felt miserable. Miserable as to the fact that her remaining two brain cells fought for survival and for something to say and how suddenly all her nerves were made from some gleaming material that thrummed in rhythm with every step Nayeon took towards her to make full use of her sudden increase in height and when she smiled, a single string in her heart started to hum in a high and perfect frequency.
Jeongyeon cleared her throat. “You look … nice.”
“Such a poet, our Jeongyeon eonnie!” Chaeyoung commented immediately. “You should write books!”
Jeongyeon picked up a pillow from the couch and threw it at her. Her head looked like a red balloon ready to burst.
Jeongyeon tried to fix it. That was a mistake. “I like your earrings. You can throw them for self-defense.”
She could hear the sound of Dahyun head-desking against Nayeon’s costs-more-than-your-house 70s coffee table.
Nayeon rolled her eyes and took a deep breath. “Alright, casanova. I look nice and can defend myself. Exactly what I was going for.” She snorted. “Aren’t we all happy that you decided not to go for a job where you need to be descriptive?”
“I -” Jeongyeon didn’t know what to say and Nayeon already hurried around the apartment.
“Where’s my Alexander Wang purse?”
“The ugly red one?” Chaeyoung asked.
“The pretty red one,” Nayeon said pointedly.
Dahyun narrowed her eyes for a moment, eying something nobody else could see. Her eyes flickered in a myriad of colors, like a radio going through dozens of different channels. “Under the green pair of trainers in your … study … on the couch there.”
“Thank you, Dubu.” Nayeon hurried to retrieve it and left Jeongyeon standing uselessly in the middle of the room.
“She looks nice ?” Chaeyoung hissed. “That’s all you can come up with?”
“I don’t … I don’t compliment people easily! I insult them!” Jeongyeon shot back.
“Well, you can’t insult your date like this!” Dahyun said.
“And her ear loops are like weapons? Come on, eonnie!” Chaeyoung said. “Her eyes! Her hair! Her smile! Anything! Just pick something, for God’s sake!”
“To be fair, the chances that Jeongyeon eonnie would have said anything remotely helpful in this situation are over six billion to one,” Dahyun said. “It’s around the same for you using your flirting techniques around Tzuyu.”
“She likes me back!” Chaeyoung defended herself immediately.
“But not because of anything you did!” Dahyun shot back.
They glowered at each other for a long moment.
“I’ll wreck you in Mario Kart, just so you know,” Chaeyoung said.
“Go ahead and try!”
Jeongyeon left them to their bickering when Nayeon returned with her red purse. “Let’s go?”
Jeongyeon nodded slowly, staring at her. She offered her arm for Nayeon to hook under it.
They had kissed. The flight the other day had been pretty romantic, Jeongyeon had thought, and Nayeon seemed to have liked it, despite her shyness. She hadn’t kicked her out. She had smiled a lot. She had touched her twice in the kitchen, by her sides, moving her gently to the side when she wanted to reach for the coffee pot. She had snuggled up to her in bed. She had gravitated around her when they had gone for an evening walk the other day. Those were positive things, right?
They meant Nayeon could like her. Could mean she could like her, could mean that … there was something between them. Could mean … Jeongyeon hesitated.
Did she want that? Did she like Nayeon back?
Nayeon was on her phone as they were on the way to her car. She stalked towards it, each step a shot from a gun. “It’s a goddamn charity auction! If nobody is going to save the,” she inserted a pretty strong expletive here. “Puppies in that,” another bon mot. It started with an ‘f’. “Animal shelter that trains dogs from the streets to be emotional support animals, guidance dogs and so far, two bomb detection dogs, I will have their,” another f-bomb. “Heads! We have saved six hundred and twenty two lives through that charity and all those people present usually don’t have anything more going on in their lives than uploading pictures on Instagram and deciding which kind of mussles to have for lunch! I am planning to double the amount of saved lives this year and nobody is going to stop me! ”
Jeongyeon snapped out of staring at her, when Nayeon sent her a questioning smile, lifting her brows.
Jeongyeon listened to her ranting, while gently wrestling the key from her hands, unlocking the car, maneuvering her onto the passenger side, while she herself took the seat behind the wheel.
Nayeon was nothing like Jeongyeon. Nayeon was tough where Jeongyeon wasn’t. Was soft where Jeongyeon was made from steel. Was witty and loud where Jeongyeon stuttered and was soft. Was open where Jeongyeon was closed off. Jeongyeon realized … she liked that. Liked her.
Nayeon cursed at her phone.
Liked her a lot.
Jeongyeon drove the car out of the garage and into the chaos that was the traffic system of Seoul. The navigation system of the car took over and led the way. They had almost reached their destination when Nayeon finally pushed her cellphone back into her purse. Her expression spoke of solid determination.
“I will have their money!” she declared and rolled her jaw.
“I didn’t realize this was an auction,” Jeongyeon said. “What’s being auctioned off?”
“People,” Nayeon said and smirked. “You can bid for lunch or tennis lessons or in some cases, a kiss, or a tour by someone specific through a particular building. The money goes into several charities supporting the underprivileged.”
“And into an animal shelter,” Jeongyeon said.
Nayeon nodded. “Yes. If they pick up a dog or a cat that’s particularly promising, they can be trained to be support animals of any kind. A lot of people can’t afford a classically trained, so to say, guidance dog so we try and provide this.” She shrugged. “Cute animals always work with people.”
“And you like them.” Off Nayeon’s glance, Jeongyeon smiled. “You have pictures of a dog in your collection.”
“His name is Kookeu and he’s the best dog on the entire planet,” Nayeon said, as if there was no doubt about that.
“Because you have compared them to every dog there is?”
“No. I don’t need to. Plus I asked Dahyun.” Nayeon narrowed her eyes. “And she’s such a Church Girl, she would never lie.”
“Never,” Jeongyeon said, an amused twinkle in her eyes, humoring her.
Nayeon smiled as well and winked.
The string in Jeongyeon’s heart sang.
“What’s my job?”
“You are going to be my arm candy,” Nayeon said, somewhat absentmindedly. Then she looked up and smiled, but Jeongyeon could tell that half of her mind was already at the party.
It was important to Nayeon, so she didn’t want to mess it up for her, but there was an entire solar system of worries orbiting her sad, little planet: that someone could recognize her, even though she knew Chaeyoung had her back; that she made a fool out of herself; that Nayeon didn’t like her anymore after this, for some stupid reason. Smaller worries came to her as well: That she would step on someone’s foot, that she wouldn’t use the right fork for the salad and that she would laugh at things that weren’t really funny. And small talk, of course.
She wished for a friend that was beautiful so they could function as a distraction and was extroverted so she could just hide behind them. Dahyun was sometimes like that, but ultimately both her and Chaeyoung were too small for anyone to hide behind them.
So it was just her and Nayeon facing the world this evening.
The Seoul Daily Planet, Nayeon’s newspaper, was a large, needle-like structure poking at the sky. It was difficult to miss, and already a line of cars was waiting. Spotlights combed the sky, like fingers made from light.
Their car stopped in front of the large skyscraper that bore the name of Nayeon’s newspaper. Two large decorative spotlights were set up in front of the entrance and they had rolled out a red carpet. A man in a red and golden uniform opened the door for them and Jeongyeon slid out first and rounded the car to help Nayeon out as well.
She reached for Nayeon to hold her hand and the moment she stepped out - a torrent of flashlights went off when Nayeon set foot onto the red fabric under her probably crazy expensive shoes.
Jeongyeon stared at her, almost shocked, when photographers started to shout for her. Nayeon met her eyes in the flashlights and winked, then stood and gracefully took hold of Jeongyeon’s arm.
Jeongyeon swallowed and tried to look less miserable, as Nayeon led her toward the entrance while gracefully dodging questions like quicksilver, her smile brilliant.
“Miss Im, Miss Im, are you planning on investigating the Park Affair?” someone called.
“Miss Im, is it true that your apartment has been broken into?”
“Miss Im, both Lee Minho and Park Hyungsik are suspected to be dating you - is there any truth to it, especially since you’ve obviously arrived with someone else?”
“Miss Im, whose shoes are you wearing?”
“Why, my own, of course,” she answered the last question.
Some of the paparazzi groaned.
One lowered his camera and shot Nayeon a sweet-sour smile. “Aren’t you going to answer any of our questions? After all, we are colleagues. You know what it’s like.”
Jeongyeon eyed the man. On the smaller side with escaping hair, desperately clutching to the wide planes above his ears, small, beady eyes and teeth like the stars: yellow and far apart. Jeongyeon knew better than to judge people by the way they looked, but via her shaky x-ray powers she could spot a tiny spying device, an assortment of GPS trackers and several skeleton keys in the many pockets of his oversized trench coat.
She respected most legal professions - didn’t agree with all of them, but respected them. People had to make a living and in her experience as a superhero, if their profession was taken from them, they tended to become criminals and quickly became her problem - and the problem of other people that were complete innocents in the matter. Paparazzi was one of the professions she hated with a passion, but respected them - but with what the gentleman was keeping in his pockets made her realize he had almost stepped over the thin line that led towards becoming one of Jeongyeon’s clients.
They tried to out superheroes - either their identities or parts or their private lives, preferably their dating lives. It usually ended a career.
Nayeon gave him a dazzling smile. “Mr. Lee, if there’s anything to answer, you’ll find it in my columns and my reports.” She blew him a kiss which he caught with his camera.
Then Jeongyeon gently led her inside up the stairs to the lobby, looking around nervously.
People reeked of money and self-importance, Jeongyeon felt, and it made her even more uneasy when she realized how many were staring at them. Then, she felt a pang and realized: They were staring at Nayeon.
For a moment, she felt helpless, then she remembered who she was and pulled Nayeon closer. The currently-not-smaller-girl looked at her immediately, a careful but bright smile on her lips. “What’s up?”
“That guy over there undressed you with his eyes,” Jeongyeon nodded in a certain direction. “And that one almost leered.”
“I know.” She took full advantage of their equal height as she leaned in to talk in a soft voice. “We will save a lot of animals and people tonight, you’ll see. Let’s mingle the hell out of them and their purses.”
Her eyes. Her scent. The barely visible freckles. So close. Too close.
Jeongyeon wrestled with herself for a long moment - and impatience got the better of Nayeon when Jeongyeon didn’t reply immediately. She was about to drag Jeongyeon forward, but Jeongyeon pulled her gently, very gently back, because humans were so fragile and Jeongyeon would treat Nayeon as the most fragile of them all.
She leaned in. “You look beautiful,” she managed. Her ears reddened. “The dress is really, really nice.” Her cheeks reddened. “And I’m glad I got to accompany you. You can do it.”
Nayeon was taken by surprise by her words, Jeongyeon could tell. She stared at Jeongyeon, her jaw slack in surprise, her eyes flicking between Jeongyeon’s, searching for something.
For a moment, Jeongyeon thought she had said too much, but she started to smile, then leaned in and pecked a whisper of a kiss on Jeongyeon’s cheek. “Thank you.”
Jeongyeon tried to recoil at the sudden skinship, like she always did. But couldn’t. Didn’t want to, she realized. And Jeongyeon watched her, with some amazement, how she went to war - for rich people’s purses.
Mr. Lee was still hollering at some newly-arrived celebrity asking for their relationship.
“I hate his kind,” Nayeon said, her bright smile falling from her face to be replaced by a dark frown. “He’s too good at his job which makes me happy that my building has a guard.”
“He carries enough equipment around to make the CIA jealous,” Jeongyeon said as she led Nayeon up the large staircase leading to the lobby. “I wonder …”
“You wonder what?”
“If he knows anything,” Jeongyeon said and off Nayeon’s confused glance, she shrugged. “There are not many external insiders in the superhero community but sometimes something leaks.”
“What do you mean, community? Do you have a Kakao talk group chat or something?”
Jeongyeon snorted. “Of course not.” A beat. “It’s more like an encrypted Discord Server.” And off Nayeon’s incredulous gaze, she added: “Chaeng is one of the admins.”
Nayeon narrowed her eyes. “How difficult is it to get in there?”
“You need to be someone’s sidekick or you demonstrate powers to at least three certified members and save at least ten lives in a year,” Jeongyeon said. She paused.
Nayeon sensed there was more. “Yes?”
“Or - or are a spouse,” Jeongyeon said. “And I’m mentioning this only for completion’s sake.”
Nayeon swatted her.
“Yah! What was that for?” Jeongyeon asked.
“For completion’s sake,” the other woman said, somewhat terse, then pulled her toward the elevators at the other end of the lobby, leading toward the skydeck.
The small box raced upwards through the building and Jeongyeon for the first time realized that when it was not her doing the flying, it was easy to feel sick in her stomach about it. Nayeon didn’t seem to notice.
The doors parted finally and Jeongyeon felt slightly sick. For the first time she lamented about not drinking much alcohol, because she thought it might have calmed her stomach and her nerves. She glanced over at the other girl who had already turned on her predatory journalistic mode, as she surveyed their surroundings.
The skydeck included a bar at the far end and dozens of tables. A band was playing softly on a slightly elevated stage and couples in evening attire were moving in front of it in a slow dance. An open buffet offered an entire selection of food and above them the sky and the searching spotlights.
Jeongyeon thought that there were too many people around that tried to potentially make small talk, but there was food and she enjoyed the slow 40s and 50s music the big band produced.
Somewhere next to them Jihyo materialized. She was tiny, beautiful and her investigating reporter mode fired all cannons on board:
“He’s here,” she hissed. Then she noticed Jeongyeon. “Looking good, Miss Yoo.”
Jeongyeon bowed slightly. “Likewise,” she said and while Nayeon and Jihyo had a short conversation about who was here and who Nayeon would corner and make feel bad about having way too much money.
While they had a small conversation, a waiter passed them and Jeongyeon fished two high-necked glasses filled with a violet liquid and a yellow lemon slice from him and offered one to Nayeon.
She took the glass gratefully and squeezed Jeongyeon’s arm. “I’m going to mingle,” she said. She eyed some people in the crowd. They instantly backed away. “Why don’t you accommodate yourself a little and we meet again when the mayor gives his speech?”
“Try not to scare too many people,” Jeongyeon said.
Nayeon winked. “I’m sure you are speaking from experience.” Then she lifted her glass and her and Jihyo disappeared in the crowd.
Jeongyeon watched them, then took a deep sigh.
Behind her, someone cleared her throat. She knew who it was even before the woman started to speak. “Miss Yoo. I was not expecting you up here,” the voice said.
Jeongyeon braced herself, took a deep breath and emptied her cocktail in one go. She turned around and was about to return a bitey remark, when someone threw herself at her and hugged her tightly. A sweet perfume crept up her nose.
The girl’s voice was dripping with positivity and happiness. “Jeongyeon eonnie,” she squealed. “You look so handsome today! And you are among people! I’m so proud of you!” The girl stepped back to the side of the woman she had accompanied and cast her a happy glance. “I’m proud of both of you. You are such hermits, usually and look at you!” She looked around. “I’ll see if I can find Seulgi.”
“That’s completely fine, Yeri,” Jeongyeon tried to stop her, but knew she would ultimately not be able to.
The girl, tiny, cheerful and cute, smiled. She wore a yellow and blue ensemble and looked like a flame, while her big sister, who was even smaller than her, was a vision in black.
Bae Joohyun, one of the world’s richest tech billionaires, dark, broody and serious, had a family that was the absolute opposite of her.
Jeongyeon liked both Yerim and Seulgi - Chaeyoung and Dahyun adored both of them and Jeongyeon knew the four of them often spent time with each other, both offline and online - but Bae Joohyun, dark, grumpy, mysterious was a riddle for Jeongyeon.
The tech billionaire spent her time being aloof, arrogant and belittling towards her peers. She and Jeongyeon had a begrudging respect for one another and Jeongyeon could not deny Joohyun any success in her ventures, but their relationship had never reached the warmer temperatures of a friendship.
Today was no different.
Seulgi, dressed in a suit with an already loosened tie, suddenly appeared from the crowd, smiling brightly at Jeongyeon and patted her shoulder as a greeting. “Jeong! Long time no see! How are you?”
Jeongyeon smiled at the bear-like woman. “I’m good, thank you, Seul.”
“I almost didn’t recognize you,” Joohyun drawled. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you outside of a hoodie.”
Jeongyeon sighed. “What are you doing here? Donating money for a good cause?”
“I’m a bored billionaire.” Joohyun shrugged.
Both Jeongyeon and Seulgi snorted. Joohyun cast her girlfriend an almost hurt glance of betrayal, but nothing else but a bright smile came back.Joohyun melted on the spot - it was almost ridiculous to see her being so desperately in love with the taller girl.
Jeongyeon had met her before Joohyun had met Seulgi - they mostly had encountered each other on rooftops where Joohyun had watched broodily over the city. She had an eye for the good brooding spots - often Jeongyeon would pick one and Joohyun would have already been there, brooding for hours.
After meeting Seulgi, the dark crusaderess had changed. Jeongyeon had heard rumors of a ragtag band of orphans moving into Bae Manor - and after that, Jeongyeon had had to give up her suspicions of Joohyun being a robot, because she had observed something akin to a smile on Bae Joohyun’s face. Twice.
“And what are you doing here, specifically?” Jeongyeon asked.
Joohyun used her dark, ominous voice to answer. “My job, like you.”
“You are a tech billionaire! What are you trying to do, sell people your cellphones?” Jeongyeon asked.
“You know exactly which job I’m doing,” Joohyun said, a slight warning in her voice, as she stepped closer to Jeongyeon. She was way smaller than Jeongyeon and also weaker, slower and more fragile.
Jeongyeon snorted again, this time louder. “You aren’t even a real superhero!”
“I am a real superhero!” Jooyhun snapped back, scandalized.
Yeri, biting back a smile, patted the other girl’s shoulder. “Think of your blood pressure.”
“Oh please. All your super power is stored in your belt,” Jeongyeon said, somewhat offhandedly. “That and declaring of having a plan for everything.”
“You are just jealous that you lost all of your powers,” Joohyun said. “While I can swing from roof to roof easily.”
“Every tech hero can swing from roof to roof easily,” Jeongyeon said. “The goddamn mayor if we strap him in accordingly can swing from roof to roof easily!”
“At least I don’t need a civilian,” she spat out that word like it was an insult. “To dump some radioactive pebbles inside a microwave in Han River to regain my powers! Just wait until I tell that to the superhero community!”
“Just for your information, the pebbles are called Kryptonite,” Jeongyeon said.
“Sure, all the magical pebbles have fun names these days,” Joohyun drawled.
“And if you are telling the superhero community about my Kryptonite, I will tell them that you are wearing yellow underwear!”
Joohyun gasped, now truly scandalized. “Keep your x-ray powers away from my hosiery!”
“With black lace and the Hufflepuff logo all over it!” Jeongyeon added, way too smuggly.
Joohyun stared at her, helpless rage dancing in her eyes. Seulgi, next to her, hid a gentle smile; she quickly hid at Joohyun’s glance, while Yeri patted Joohyun’s shoulder. “There’s no shame in yellow underwear,” she said. “Now be nice to each other, so we all can still attend our monthly poker game. Also Seungwan and Joy are trying to tip over the ice fountain, so I think we should do something about it.”
“I will wipe the floor with you next Poker round!” Joohyun threatened her, while Seulgi dragged her away.
Jeongyeon waved. “Yeah, yeah.”
“With you and your underwear!” Joohyun added, but before Jeongyeon could answer, she had already disappeared in the crowd.
Jeongyeon looked around and buried her hands in her pockets. She noticed Jihyo and Nayeon cornering some councilman and watched, over the heads of many people, how the mermaid ice figure by the buffet was dangerously swaying.
She went over to the bar and got herself a Virgin Cuba libre and surveyed the crowd from a bar stool. Chaeyoung sent her a text (“Try to look less bored.”) and Jeongyeon sent one back (“Stop hacking the security cameras.”).
After her third drink, Nayeon emerged from the crowd, looking exhausted but happy and plopped down on the stool beside her. “One mojito, please,” she ordered, then turned on her stool with the bar counter in her back, just like Jeongyeon. “Try not to enjoy yourself too much, it might kill you.”
Jeongyeon shrugged. “It was fun so far.”
“I saw you talking to Bae Joohyun. She’s one of the biggest sponsors. I didn’t know you mingle with tech billionaires,” Nayeon said, with careful interest.
“Joohyun and me, we’ve known each other for years.” She watched the dark liquid covering her ice cubes. “You could say we are kinda friends.”
“You are friends with the richest woman on the planet?” Nayeon asked, lifting her eyebrows in some surprise.
Jeongyeon considered the question. The two of them were mostly bickering whenever they met, without tooth or claw. “I - think I am? But it’s not that kind of friendship.”
Nayeon’s eyebrows lifted further as thoughts raced through Nayeon’s head as to Jeongyeon’s strange description. “Is it a friendship with benefits?” She leaned in. “Oh my god. Are you sleeping with Bae Joohyun?”
“What? No! No! Why would you even think that! We argue all the time!”
“We argue all the time as well!”
“But - no! She’s and we are not - and I’m not the slightest bit interested in her! Plus she’s with Seulgi and, boy, God knows that this is the best thing that has ever happened to any of us - me, Seulgi, the community, everyone!”
Nayeon still looked at her, somewhat sceptical, her arms crossed.
Jeongyeon shook her head. “I assure you I am not interested, in any way, in Bae Joohyun. She once came to visit me in my Fortress of Solitude -”
“You have a Fortress of Solitude?” Nayeon asked, slightly confused.
“Yeah, it’s like a big ice building in the South Pole. My alien mom built it for me,” Jeongyeon said. “But anyway, she came to visit me and she just criticized the interior decor and all. I mean, it’s basically a big block of ice constructed by an alien civilization with ice chaise longues and ice coffee tables and such - what kind of interior decor is she expecting there?”
“Whatever you say, Elsa,” Nayeon said and took a pointed sip from her drink.
“Don’t you have a broom to hop on and hunt some rich people down?” Jeongyeon asked.
“Don’t you have to glower at the sexiness that is Bae Joohyun?” Nayeon shot back.
“For the last time, I don’t think that Bae Joohyun -” Jeongyeon hesitated. “Wait. Do you think that she’s … attractive?”
“Of course I do! Look at her!” She pointed over to the dancefloor where she and Seulgi shuffled on a spot, looking puke-inducingly happy. “She looks like a goddess!”
“No, she does not,” Jeongyeon muttered.
“She has abs, for god’s sake and a smile cut from steel,” Nayeon said.
Jeongyeon eyed her eying the richest couple on the planet, then eyed her coke, downing it in one go. Then eyed Nayeon again. Came to a decision.“Come on.”
“Come on what?”
Jeongyeon reached out with one hand. “You know. Come on over there.”
“Over there?” Nayeon eyed her, confused, then realization dawned on her. Her jaw rolled once as she looked at the other woman, expectantly. “Ask properly.”
“Your loss.” Nayeon shrugged and turned back toward the bar counter, waving at the barkeep for another round.
Jeongyeon eyed her, then her coke bottle (empty), then Nayeon (waving), then her coke bottle once again (still empty). The words escaped her lips like prisoners would the Alcatraz: “Would you like to dance with me?”
Nayeon didn’t turn around, but she managed to look at Jeongyeon. “Because you need to prove something?”
“No! No. I just - will you just dance with me, please? I really can’t ask that often, because I literally am physically almost unable to ask people to dance, because they might say no or because they don’t like me and if I ask you now and you don’t answer or just answer with anotherquestionIwillloseallmybraveryandcan’taskyouagaininthecomingdecade.” The last few words were mashed together, quickly escaping, because they didn’t know when there would be another opportunity to say them.
Nayeon stared at her, her lips slightly parted, taking her in. There was no way of reading what was going on in her mind and in that moment Jeongyeon wished for a mind reader ability instead of flying or super strength or super speed.
Then Nayeon turned and stood and clapped her hand in a way to clean them. “Alright. Lead the way, Miss Yoo.”
Jeongyeon had felt nervous before, but now she felt even more nervous. She knew that Chaeyoung and possibly Dahyun were watching her from home via CCTV and that Joohyun, ever observing of her surroundings, was watching as well.
Bravery, she thought and then offered Nayeon a hand, her head somewhat ducked, peeking at her from beyond her lashes.
Nayeon chuckled and reached out to take her hand. “You look like you are going to puke. Try to evade my shoes.”
“I’m trying to evade a lot of things,” Jeongyeon murmured under her breath. She drew the other girl closer once they had arrived on the dance floor, their bodies colliding and moved her arms around her midsection. Nayeon, surprised at the motion, moved her own arms around Jeongyeon’s shoulders and then finally, after a moment of deliberation, around her neck.
Jeongyeon felt herself drowning in the other girl - someone she had regarded as the biggest nuisance in her life after crash landing in her living room. And now she wondered how to get a second kiss, after that first one high up in the clouds.
It was the first time Jeongyeon was this close in the open with another person since - well, since High School. Since she had stopped spending time with people. The feeling was exhilarating and a bit worrisome and Nayeon seemed to notice; she moved a hand to her face and smoothed out the crease between her brows. Jeongyeon’s eyes flickered to Nayeon’s lips before she could stop it - and Nayeon noticed and smiled.
“See anything you like?”
Jeongyeon eyed her, her expression still critical. “You are annoying and loud,” she informed the other girl.
Nayeon’s smile brightened. “Anything else?”
“And obnoxious and demanding,” Jeongyeon said weakly. It sounded like an accusation. It wasn’t, judging by Nayeon’s smile. Jeongyeon was about to continue, when the sharp noise of a microphone loop made her flinch.
The couples on the dancefloor ceased to move and Jeongyeon, all bravery for naught, cursed inwardly as her hands fell to her sides. Nayeon looked up at her, obvious disappointment on her face. It took her a moment to step back into the socially accepted, non-romantic distance.
The mayor had stepped on the stage, tapping the microphone. “Is this working?”
People laughed politely, but Jeongyeon cursed at him for ruining her moment. She touched Nayeon’s arm and when the girl looked over, leaned in.
“I’m going to go and freshen up,” she said close to her ear. “I’m back in a moment.”
Nayeon looked doubtful, but nodded. “You are not going to run out on me, are you?”
Jeongyeon’s smile was lopsided and encouraging. She nudged Nayeon’s arm. “Of course not. Be right back.”
She straightened her posture and made her way to the bathroom.
So close. So close. They had almost been kissing, almost been dancing, almost been having that small something that could bloom into something amazing, something great. And every time something or somebody had interrupted.
For a gloomy moment, Jeongyeon wondered if they simply weren’t meant to be. Then she shook off the thought under the bright light of the last week and quickly hurried to the bathroom to splash some water onto her face. It was going to be an exhausting evening and it wasn’t over yet.
The bathroom was empty.
Everybody was outside, listening to the speech so Jeongyeon had free choice of both bathroom stall and sink.
She splashed some water into her face and cast herself a glance. Her cheeks were a bit rounder, her face a bit rosier. She looked - less haunted. Almost healthy. Almost happy.
It was a sight she hadn’t spotted in years. Decades even.
She loosened her tie and put her hands onto the sink’s rim, taking a deep breath. It was still exhausting and there were a huge amount of humans around, but for some reason, it wasn’t as bad.
She felt as if she could do that. Her senses were still dimmed, still not what they used to be before her accident, but it didn’t bother her as much. She didn’t feel constantly assaulted. She even felt comfortable in Nayeon’s presence. Her perfume was just the right amount. Her laughter was not grating anymore - as a matter of fact, she wanted to hear it now. Wanted to see its brightness. Wanted to see the crinkles around her eyes.
She returned from these thoughts and caught her own glance in the mirror. And the corresponding smile.
She rubbed her face and shook all thoughts away. She had to be here, in the here and now. Getting better, accompanying Nayeon, as she had promised, and hoping that everything would be alright.
Then she aimed for the exit - and her cellphone rang. It was Chaeyoung.
“You have one costume deposit two levels below you,” she said, her voice tense. She could hear her typing away in the back. “If you are able to reach the janitor closet with the pool supplies, there’s a ventilation shaft leading downwards.”
Jeongyeon’s hand froze on the door handle. “Why - why are you telling me this?”
“I told you this is too early,” Dahyun said in the back. Then there was a moment of rustling and suddenly Dahyun’s voice was louder, closer. “Crouch down to below eighty centimeters and don’t open the door more than a hand’s width. You should be able to move once the mayor starts protesting.”
Jeongyeon cursed, but did what she was told and crouched down, opening the door.
People were still outside, but they were all sitting on the ground in their evening attire. The mayor stood on the stage, but his arms were raised, crossed behind his head. A man in a costume stood behind him.
He was threatening him with something that looked like Chaeyoung’s hair dryer: some sort of vaguely gun-shaped device that looked like a laser gun. Objects hovered over the heads of the guests, each the size of a human head with a singular, red eye on them.
“He starts talking in seven seconds. Are you able to see the ice sculpture by the buffet? Run for that when he starts talking, okay?”
“Okay,” Jeongyeon said. “Okay.”
“Four … three … two … one!” Dahyun counted and Jeongyeon started to sprint, her upper body leaned forward, making herself as small as possible, until the buffet table covered her. She peeked over at a small building by the pool, obscured by topiary and plants that climbed its sides. It contained “Pool supplies”, the sign at its side said and it was only a few metres away.
Jeongyeon glanced over to the guests and the man on the stage. The abductor.
He didn’t look like a super villain to her - he certainly didn’t have any kind of superpowers, but he wielded the same kind of drones that had ruined Jeongyeon thoroughly the last time she had encountered them. She wasn’t sure if she would survive another encounter with them.
She wasn’t sure if she would have survived another encounter with them at the peak of her powers, had Nayeon not saved her at that point, removed all the shrapnels from her body and put them into the microwave.
This thing - this situation - could potentially kill her and the thought was still new to her. That something external could end her life. That this could be the end. She bit her lower lip and peeked over again.
“Eonnie,” Dahyun urged her. “You have to go. You have to leave now.”
Jeongyeon moved around the table.
“Eonnie,” Dahyun said. “Don’t do that. Please. It will significantly reduce your chances -”
She peeked around the corner of the table and managed to spot honey-colored, dark hair. Pale shoulders. And suddenly the gaze of warm eyes on hers.
Nayeon was scared. She sat close to Bae Joohyun and Kang Seulgi, her eyes shaking as she caught Jeongyeon’s glance. Several feelings flickered over the other girl’s face: relief, uneasiness and fear, in all shades. Jeongyeon could see her breathing go more erratically once she spotted Jeongyeon. Her shoulders shook and she moved.
In the corner of her eye, Jeongyeon could see several drones flinch at the sudden movement.
So she made a calming movement with her hand. Stay. Don’t move.
I know. Stay. I’ll be back in a moment.
Nayeon shook her head. Please don’t go.
Jeongyeon pointed at her non-existent wristwatch and showed Nayeon five fingers. Five minutes. I’ll be back in five minutes.
Nayeon shook her head. She was about to panic.
Jeongyeon extended her pinky in a promise. Stay calm. I’ll be back. I promise.
“Eonnie!” Dahyun hissed into Jeongyeon’s ear.
One of the drones reeled to the side and was about to spot Jeongyeon -
“No!” Nayeon jumped to her feet.
Half a dozen drones immediately extended spotting lasers, rounding Nayeon, each of the drones pointing their deadly weaponry at Nayeon.
“Jeongyeon! You have to move!”
Jeongyeon hesitated and watched as the abductor directed his entire attention at Nayeon as she stood among all the guests who sat around her. The red laser strings roamed her body.
“Miss Im,” the man on the stage said. “I strongly advise you not to play hero today.”
Nayeon gulped heavily, wrestling down her fear. “What do you want?”
“You are collecting money for the animals,” the man said. “And you are ignoring the humans. Where were you when my wife needed you?”
Nayeon kept her hands behind her back. “If you know who I am - talk to me about it. I can get you the kind of attention you need.”
Jeongyeon could see her hands. She produced a “go” gesture, meant for her.
“Eonnie,” Dahyun urged her in her ear.
“Come on then,” the man on the stage said and waved with his laser gun. “Let’s talk.”
The drones accompanied Nayeon to the stage, but she was able to cast Jeongyeon a last glance over her shoulder.
Jeongyeon knew she would never live a happy day if this was the last time she were to see the other woman. Then she hurried to the janitor’s closet, inside and into the ventilation shaft.
Nayeon was nervous. She was afraid for her life and she was afraid for the lives of her fellow hostages. The man who held them was an angry, sad and well-equipped man and Jeongyeon had not only gone away, but she was still weak.
Nayeon feared that with whatever those drones were equipped with, they could injure Jeongyeon badly. Could kill her even.
And those drones were fast and good observers - they had circled Bae Joohyun once when she had attempted to move away.
Nayeon wondered if the police had been informed. If someone knew what had happened up here. If Dahyun and Chaeyoung were watching.
If Jeongyeon was really coming back or if she would stay away and would leave her like anyone else would.
The man with the laser-powered super soaker gun prattled on with his demands. About his wife who he had lost to cancer, about the money he hadn’t been able to spend, about her doctor who had killed her. It was a large conundrum of complaints, a messy knot of sadness, desire and helplessness that was difficult to unravel, to make sense of.
“Killing all those people won’t bring her back to life,” Nayeon said carefully.
The man veered around, his drones zoning in on her with their deadly weaponry, red, like a dying star. “Even if it won’t bring her back, it will grant me something similarly delicious: Satisfaction. Satisfaction that no money on the entire planet will be able to save you.” He stepped closer to Nayeon, his wrath and anger suddenly right in her face. “When so many people will lose someone, maybe you’ll know what it’s like.”
“It’ll just bring desperation,” Nayeon argued. “And - and sadness.”
“And empathy that everyone was lacking when I needed it most,” the man seethed.
Nayeon felt his breath in her face and tried not to gag. Sickness quelled in her stomach and tried to force out the sashimi that she had been eating early.
And Jeongyeon was still gone.
“We can talk about it,” Nayeon said. She held her hands up in a peaceful gesture and eyed him, trying to project the quiet he seemed to lack. “Explain what went wrong. What happened that time. Nobody has to die. Everyone is listening.” She half turned to Mayor Lee. “Aren’t we?”
Mayor Lee, surrounded by hovering drones, nodded frantically.
The man was about to say something and Nayeon could see that he was about to cry. She reached out with a shaking hand to pat his arm, his shoulder, but was immediately ripped away at a voice that was quiet and friendly and full of compassion.
“Not going to let you hurt anyone. And I’d rather you not get hurt either.”
Whispers went through the people sitting on the ground when from the other side of the skydeck a person stepped from beyond the darkness of the small sunroof.
Shadows followed her, men dressed in black gear, that stayed behind, their guns pointed at the man and the drones. Special forces.
Nayeon had never seen her from closeby. Not like this. Not in her blue and red costume, the golden symbol on her chest, the cape that she had always considered it impractical. Not with her jaw tense, with her eyes focused, glowing in a faint blue.
If Tzuyu was cut from marble, Jeongyeon, like this, was cut from steel. She had changed her hair color from a dark one to a bright blonde, as a disguise, but for Nayeon it was obvious who it was. And she looked like a hero, every inch of her:
Strong, serious, god among men. She waded through the people sitting around her like the sea, her gaze on the man who had an arm around Nayeon’s shoulders and a laser gun against her temple.
The drones were fluttering angrily, like wasps ready to push away an intruder, ready to brandish their red laser eyes.
Jeongyeon’s eyes went to meet Nayeon’s. There was a quiet, miniscule nod and Nayeon knew:
She was not going to leave. She was not going to leave Nayeon all by herself.
The man’s hand shook with his gun. “Stay back!”
Jeongyeon shook her head, as she approached them. “You know I can’t do that.”
Nayeon’s eyes fell down to Jeongyeon’s jaw. There was a tiny discolouring on her throat. And Nayeon felt an ice cold current of fear running through her veins. If that guy decided to shoot her - Jeongyeon - she would die. She would be riddled with smoking bullet holes.
Jeongyeon was bluffing. She would die. She was still fragile, completely human.
“What are you doing?” Nayeon mouthed silently, but Jeongyeon ignored her.
“You know what happens when people shoot me, don’t you?” Jeongyeon asked.
Yes! Nayeon thought frantically. Yes! You’ll die! You are bluffing! You are still not invincible! Don’t make me watch you die!
The man veered the gun around, from Nayeon’s temple to where it was pointing at Jeongyeon’s chest. “Stay back!”
Jeongyeon didn’t care. She stepped forward until the tip of the laser gun almost impaled her chest. “They waste bullets.”
The man started to panic. Nayeon could hear it in his voice, feel his erratic heartbeat and breathing.
“I said stay back! I will shoot! I will shoot you, her and everyone in this room!”
Jeongyeon’s face remained neutral, devoid of any judgement. “You haven’t hurt anyone yet, you can still surrender. You can serve your time, because you are going to have to do time, but you can do it with integrity.”
The man shook his head frantically. “They’d put me away for years.”
Jeongyeon shrugged. “For what you’ve done, a few. But less if you give up now without pulling that trigger. You’ll still have your life ahead of you.” She hesitated and her eyes met Nayeon’s with a smile, before eying the man again. “You can still do good.”
He eyed her and the hand holding the gun started to shake. “I hurt you .”
Another shrug. And this time, her famous lop-sided grin. “I don’t mind. In my case, it’s part of the job.” She paused, then slowly extended her hand for the gun. “Make the right choice. Please.”
The drones whirred chaotically, their laser beams dancing over both Jeongyeon and Nayeon. Nayeon held her breath. She could tell everyone in the room was doing the same.
The man paused. Grappled with himself.
“You can trust her,” Nayeon whispered. “You know who she is. What’s your wife’s name?”
The man hesitated and she felt his grasp loosen up. “Jiyeon.” A beat. A sob. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Jeongyeon carefully took the gun from him and let it drop to her side. “What’s your name?”
He sobbed again, his arms falling to his sides, letting Nayeon go. “Wooshik.”
Nayeon moved, slowly, trying not to run, behind Jeongyeon, her hand grasping the red cape. Jeongyeon reached behind with one arm, the movement hidden by the cape and the masses of fabric, but Nayeon immediately took a hold of it.
“It’s okay, Wooshik.” Jeongyeon extended her other hand and a gentle smile.
Wooshik eyed it, almost in shock, then took it and shook it. He pressed a button on a small device on his collar - and the drones fell to the ground, lifeless.
When he let go of Jeongyeon’s hand, special forces rushed forward and took him away.
The tension immediately dissipated, as people jumped to their feet and celebrated, hugging complete strangers, as first responders flooded the area: doctors, nurses, emergency forces, as people checked if everyone was alright, if nobody had been hurt.
Jeongyeon turned and the moment she faced Nayeon, she threw her arms around her neck and felt Jeongyeon’s arms go around her midsection.
“Are you well?”
“I’m good,” Nayeon whispered against Jeongyeon’s neck. “I’m good, I’m good. I’m good.” She shivered and her grasp around Jeongyeon tightened. Jeongyeon felt warm, unbendable and unmoveable in her hug and Nayeon wondered if she was going to be able to let go. “You came back.”
“I promised I would,” Jeongyeon whispered against Nayeon’s hair. There was a peck there and Nayeon felt like she had to cry, right there and then.
She leaned back to look at Jeongyeon’s face, realizing that she did cry and that she was an ugly cryer at that, but for once she didn’t care. “He could have shot you. He could have killed you.”
Jeongyeon shrugged. “I knew what I was doing. I’m a superhero after all.”
“You are human, currently,” Nayeon whispered, taking Jeongyeon’s face in her hands and leaned closer.
“As are you,” Jeongyeon said and leaned in as well.
Jeongyeon smelled like freshly cut grass, light and airily, like the wind. And she felt like a sun, like hugging the sun and she was so damn pretty, Nayeon thought, and she was smirking and Nayeon was going to kiss that smirk off of Yoo Jeongyeon’s face.
Now, Nayeon thought. Now we are going to kiss or I swear to god, I am going to kill somebody. Because I had to almost die for a goddamn second kiss!
“It’s interesting. I don’t think that guy was aware that it was really the engine of his drones was the stuff that hurt you,” Bae Joohyun said, unaware that suddenly, she was going to be the victim of Nayeon’s planned murder. She held a singular drone in her hands and had removed a tiny bit from the casing.
Soft green light was coming from the inside. Jeongyeon tensed at the sight and stepped back.
Nayeon was trying hard not to snarl at Joohyun.
The tech billionaires closed the casing quickly, then eyed Jeongyeon, impressed with her despite herself. “That was pretty amazing and pretty stupid.”
“I know,” Jeongyeon said proudly.
“I know,” Nayeon said, ready to smack the back of Jeongyeon’s head. She looked up at the blonde woman, felt her arm around her, felt solid muscle next to her, felt how Jeongyeon held her close to her side. The epiphany that she was not going to leave still glowed inside her.
While Bae Joohyun and Jeongyeon bickered, she reached up to tug some hair behind Jeongyeon’s ear. The motion made Jeongyeon stumble over her words and smile brightly at Nayeon, while she continued to talk to Joohyun.
Nayeon smiled and gently tugged at her ear, a gentle gesture of affection - and then something came loose and fell to the ground with a soft ringing sound, like the silvery chant of the tiniest bell.
Jeongyeon turned to her, surprised, and met her eyes - and Nayeon could only stare:
Jeongyeon’s pupils suddenly widened, blown, before returning to their original size and the soft brown of her eyes glowed golden for a moment, like honey. Her skin gained a bright rosiness and the remaining discolourations of her scars and wounds melted into the surrounding tissue and just disappeared.
Nayeon lowered her glance to the ground and picked up the smallest bit of green Kryptonite, shaped like an icosahedron, a twenty-sided crystal.
Joohyun opened the casing of the drone and Nayeon quickly let the piece drop inside.
“How did it feel to be human for a week?” Nayeon asked.
Jeongyeon smiled, happily, and looked at her hands, then at Nayeon. “Not as different as I thought, in the end.”
The mayor approached them for pictures and questions and the remaining press appeared and asked for interviews. There was a moment of complete and utter chaos, then Nayeon announced that she had to go to the hospital first and Jeongyeon offered to take her - and minutes later, they found themselves midair on the way to Nayeon’s apartment.
The city was quiet up there, the carpet of light and cars moving and when they landed on Nayeon’s balcony, the quiet was all-encompassing.
Much to Nayeon’s surprise and to her disappointment, her balcony and the windows had been fixed.
“Dahyun and Chaeyoung did the rest,” Jeongyeon said, her cape gently flapping in the wind.
Nayeon felt an uncharacteristic shyness suddenly, at the sight of that girl that had snored and drooled on her couch while napping, that had looked like a homeless person in her oldest pajamas, that had complained about her type of potato chips and had thrown popcorn at her.
“I see. Means … no reason for you to stay here anymore,” Nayeon said. The idea made her heart drop to a deep and lonely spot in the ocean.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Jeongyeon said, then added quickly: “If you want to see me again. I mean.”
The glow of unattainability melted away, as Jeongyeon rubbed the back of her head. She suddenly didn’t seem like a superhero, but like Yoo Jeongyeon, who had just played dress up.
“I’d love to see you again.”
Nayeon smiled. “Mhm.” She eyed her and suddenly the knot of anticipation and affection in her chest burst and she just surged forward - because if not now, then when? - threw her arms around Jeongyeon’s shoulder and kissed her.
A confused sound escaped the other girl, her eyes wide for a moment, before closing them. She tensed and Nayeon would have almost pulled away, if not for Jeongyeon finally becoming pliant in her arms. Nayeon felt herself shiver, felt a stream of warmth fill her body and small fireworks went off, when Jeongyeon lifted a hand to cup her jaw, the other pulling her closer by the waist.
Nayeon felt herself melting against Jeongyeon’s body, especially when the taller girl pressed forward, wet and demanding and insistent. Nayeon couldn’t do anything but give a soft, breathy moan, which in turn made Jeongyeon press further forward, her tongue outlining the seam of her lips.
She parted her lips for the other girl and it was the first time that she was actually able to taste Jeongyeon; it was something she had eaten before, at the party, along with something indescribable, that was just purely Jeongyeon. Nayeon felt it bloom in her mouth and decided that she liked it - liked it a lot.
There was also a softness to Jeongyeon’s touch, her kisses willing and attentive, but gentle as well, as she tilted her head to the other side and Nayeon followed immediately, exchanging pass after pass. Her breathing however turned quickly labored, if Jeongyeon’s heaving chest against hers was any indication and strangely enough it made Nayeon even more needy. Her hand tangled in Jeongyeon’s hair, pulling her towards her, their kisses still slow and unhurried, but decidedly heated.
“Nayeon -” Jeongyeon breathed. “Nayeon - we - are you sure -”
And Nayeon, right then, found it so endearing that Jeongyeon could easily push her away, her strength surpassing Nayeon’s tenfold or more, let her just push her back toward the apartment.
Nayeon looked up at her, aware of herself probably being disheveled, her lips red kissed, her own cheeks flushed. “Do you want to ?”
And Jeongyeon turned beet red under her stare and gulped hard. “I - don’t have much experience.”
Nayeon tried hard not to let her smile turn into a smirk. “That wasn’t what I was asking.”
Jeongyeon swallowed again. “I know - but I don’t want to disappoi -”
Nayeon leaned in, softly, to shut her up, then leaned back a fraction. “That wasn’t what I was asking,” she said again.
Jeongyeon took a deep breath and then nodded, slowly. “I - I really want to,” and it was enough for Nayeon to lean in and kiss her again. She reluctantly moved back - and Jeongyeon almost helplessly followed her, kissing only air. When her eyes met Nayeon’s, she was confused.
It was ironic that they almost broke the glass door that Jeongyeon had spent one week of re-installing on their way to the bedroom. Two chairs fell over and if Jeongyeon had not insisted on pulling Nayeon further towards her bedroom, Nayeon wouldn’t have minded desecrating the coffee table.
Fun fact Nayeon found out on the long way to her bed: Even though Jeongyeon was probably invincible now, she was able to create red marks in Jeongyeon’s collarbone and could feel her lift her up by her hips in response to hurry the process of getting to the bed.
Nayeon didn’t mind, wrapping her legs around Jeongyeon’s midsection, managing to kick the door shut before collapsing on Nayeon’s huge bed. She found herself being straddled by a superhero, the rough material of the suit chafing against her legs.
Jeongyeon was actually embarrassed at the situation they found themselves in - it seemed true that she didn’t have much experience and Nayeon couldn’t help but find it cute.
“Do you need help with your suit?” she asked from beneath Jeongyeon and Jeongyeon nodded so quickly, Nayeon almost laughed.
She sat up, pushing Jeongyeon back slightly to sit on her bottom, her legs outstretched and Nayeon kneeling between them.
She reached out and found the hidden zipper on Jeongyeon’s side, pulling it down. The costume fell off its occupant like a dry shell; just crumbled to the bed to reveal skin, so much skin, a bra, panties and Jeongyeon with flaming red cheeks.
Nayeon knew what to do - how to take her attention off things: she knelt, but lifted herself up on her knees, towering over Jeongyeon, holding her glance. The girl looked up, her hands nervously wrestling with themselves, as she watched Nayeon reach around to pull down her own zipper.
Nayeon had to lean forward slightly, her hair falling forward, as she loosened her dress. It mirrored Jeongyeon’s suit as it came off, falling to Nayeon’s hips, revealing underwear that left little to imagination: red, lacy and decidedly chosen for the occasion.
Nayeon took some pride watching Jeongyeon’s lips slowly part at the sight. She was so endearingly shy and at the same time willing, it made something inside Nayeon’s soul clench tightly.
Kicking away her dress, she crawled forward, her hands on Jeongyeon’s shins, as she moved, then on her thighs and finally on her shoulders, bracketing her thighs. Jeongyeon’s arms went around her, raking down Nayeon’s back experimentally, making the girl straddling her curve into her touch.
Jeongyeon leaned forward, setting small kisses against her throat, her clavicle and bit her lightly. It was enough for Nayeon to take initiative and push Jeongyeon down against the mattress. She looked down at the girl, reaching around herself and discarded the bra, before diving down, claiming another kiss from the girl below her.
With some satisfaction Nayeon learned that despite Jeongyeon being shy, she was quite handsy, her hands travelling up Nayeon’s stomach and higher, almost carefully palming her. She tried to find out what Nayeon liked and what she didn’t like and when Nayeon moaned against her lips, Jeongyeon intensified her attempts.
She pecked Nayeon, but before the older girl could complain, mouthed her way down her throat, her clavicle to latch on to her breast, while looking up, a question in her eyes.
“Good,” Nayeon managed, her hands threading through Jeongyeon’s hair, holding on to her.
There were some advantages to having someone so strong, Nayeon realized, because Jeongyeon was easily able to hold her up and in position. A new wave of pleasure exploded in her lower stomach when Jeongyeon’s hand was suddenly on Nayeon’s stomach. It scratched her gently and then Jeongyeon’s lips let go of her to look up.
Nayeon cupped her face with both hands. “What is it?”
Jeongyeon moved her hand down, just a miniscule bit. “Is this okay?”
Nayeon melted - consent was important to her, but still to have the other girl asking for it, her expression earnest and open made Nayeon be grateful not to be standing upright, because her legs would have wobbled underneath her. Something wide and beautiful ached in her chest and it made Nayeon hold on tighter. “It’s okay,” she whispered and Jeongyeon’s hand started to move.
Nayeon’s forehead fell forward against Jeongyeon’s, who regarded her, the words becoming a prayer. “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s - oh !”
Jeongyeon kissed her in that slow, honest manner of hers, but Nayeon couldn’t reciprocate. The feeling started to overwhelm her, as Jeongyeon’s hand reached her destination. “Just - there,” Nayeon managed, feeling Jeongyeon nose her way to Nayeon’s ear to lightly bite the lobe. “Just - god - just there -”
Nayeon clawed a hand into the blanket below and was surprised when Jeongyeon carefully peeled it away and led her hands to her head, wanting her to hold on. “I can feel you better this way,” she said, as Nayeon dropped one hand to cradle Jeongyeon’s jaw.
“Feel what better?” Nayeon asked, and then Jeongyeon’s hand reached its destination. Nayeon buckled over, folded in half, before arching her back toward the pleasure. Jeongyeon’s hand moved - and oh god - her hips snapped towards the movement sharply, and a second time and a third.
A very tiny part of Nayeon wondered when Jeongyeon had managed to take control of the situation, but the thought - any thought really - was quickly wiped away by a singular curving of Jeongyeon’s finger. A moan escaped Nayeon and Jeongyeon held on to her, carefully, as if she was soft and fragile, when she was definitely not.
A strangled sound escaped her, as Jeongyeon started to move, evenly, her lips against hers, whispering the things that Nayeon would usually whisper: “You are pretty, eonnie”, “It’s alright, eonnie,” “I got you, eonnie.”
Nayeon felt herself stretch around Jeongyeon’s ministrations, who regarded her reactions reverently, almost with wonder. Soon, she realized, so soon, and Jeongyeon realized as well.
The throbbing pulsing started to ache deliciously and she pushed her lips against Jeongyeon’s hand, who held her in place, easily so. It quickly started to get too much - the kisses, the whispered promises, the scratches against Nayeon’s lower back as Jeongyeon pressed her against her hand.
It was just too much - and then Nayeon snapped. Her self-control came loose, one string first, then the second and the third and all the rest followed in quick succession. She screamed when Jeongyeon relentlessly pleased her, not letting her move away from her hand - and the pleasure gave way to her, crashing down like a roof that had lost all footing.
She arched against Jeongyeon’s hand, clamping up around her, and even though Nayeon was the more experienced between the two of them, it had never been like this in the past. She burst into a thousand pieces and Jeongyeon just held on, her movements consistent and quick.
Then the movements started to go slower, and Jeongyeon peppered soft, gentle loving kisses onto Nayeon’s face, waiting for her to come back.
Nayeon felt her heartbeat thunder heavily against her ribcage and her breath going unevenly, but after a moment enough control returned for her to return Jeongyeon’s kisses weakly.
“Was it good?” Jeongyeon asked and Nayeon ignored the small smirk in the other girl’s voice as she nodded slowly.
“Yes,” she managed, exhausted and weak. She cradled Jeongyeon close, hiding her face in the curve between her throat and shoulder. “Yes, it was good.” Then she smacked her.
Jeongyeon grunted in protest, surprised. “Yah. What was that for?”
“I was supposed to do that!” She tried to disentangle herself enough to properly look at Jeongyeon, but was too weak to hold her body upright, so Jeongyeon even had to take care of that. “I was supposed to awe you with my amazing lovemaking skills!”
The lopsided grin returned. “You were? Tell me more.”
Nayeon smacked her again, the movement pathetic in its execution, due to the lack of both strength and conviction. “Yes! I even wore my good underwear!”
“Well. It was very good underwear, no doubt. I loved it.”
“I know,” Nayeon said, petulant.
Jeongyeon moved them to lay on the bed, kicking away her suit, managing to make sure that Nayeon remained cuddled up in her arms. She was taller than Nayeon but moved so they were face to face. Her hair was unruly, falling into her forehead, looking anything but that perfect superhero that early swept in and saved the day.
Nayeon reached out to fix her fringe - and Jeongyeon mirrored the gesture, fixing Nayeon’s.
Jeongyeon shrugged, sheepishly and a bit shy. “Just so you know,” she started. “You still can show me your amazing lovemaking skills.”
Nayeon stared at her.
“Just saying,” Jeongyeon added and then quickly cuddled her close to avoid another attempt of Nayeon smacking her.
They had breakfast the next day - which involved more kissing and this time, the coffee table did get desecrated.
The first logistics of their relationship had to be figured out. Jeongyeon had to tie up some loose ends both with Bae Joohyun who helped her take care of all the remaining drones, as well as with Dahyun and Chaeyoung, who needed a place to stay and help with moving in.
It took Jeongyeon one week.
That week that made Nayeon’s irritation grow and that made her consider throwing her stapler at Lia when she was paying Yeji more attention at this year’s numbers at the editor’s meeting on the first Monday without Jeongyeon.
Nayeon went back to her desk, ill-tempered, and considered drinking the fourth cappuccino latte this morning when she noticed a pair of legs sticking out from beneath her desk.
Someone from the IT department was rummaging beyond her desk, as if it was a car - and moments later, the person emerged.
“Eonnie,” Son Chaeyoung said, sitting up. She smiled all over her single dimple. “You really have to work on your cable management.”
Nayeon stared at her and knew immediately: Jeongyeon. She was close.
Nayeon whipped around to survey the surroundings and bumped into Dahyun who looked up at her, a gleaming smile on her face. “Hi, eonnie.”
“Kim Dahyun, photographer and knower of things extraordinaire.” She offered a cup of chamomile tea. “You should drink this. Coffee is not good for you.”
Nayeon leaned in. “She’s here, isn’t she? I know it.” She hugged Dahyun, mostly out of wild desperation, then eyed her, shaking her gently by the shoulders. “She’s here, isn’t she?”
Dahyun smiled enigmatically. “Take the tea, go to Jihyo eonnie’s office, get screamed at for a bit, because you,” her expression became absent for a moment. “Is this the probability where you forgot about the editorial photographs or the second review on the SM Entertainment merger?”
Nayeon felt herself pale. “Both,” she said, somewhat breathlessly. Jihyo was going to kill her.
“Ohhhhhh,” Dahyun went, happily. “Then we - you - are in a good one.” She shoved the cup into Nayeon’s hands. “Just go!”
Nayeon nodded and eyed Dahyun - way too happy for her taste - and Chaeyoung - still sitting under her desk. She threatened the sitting girl with her index finger. “Just don’t install some of your magical mumbo jumbo on my laptop.”
Chaeyoung snorted. “I’m a tech psychionic. The only magical candidate here is Dahyun eonnie and we don’t know for sure, and furthermore even if I’d do that, you’d be the last person to notice.”
Nayeon threw a bunched-up post-it at Chaeyoung. Chaeyoung threw it back, then Nayeon made her way to Jihyo, who predictably almost evaporated in anger at the absence of both the interview and the pictures. It turned out that both were still stuck on the desk of some interns and Jihyo went to get them.
“They were supposed to get the new photographer up here, but you have to do that now,” Jihyo said, preparing to slaughter those employees. “She’s waiting down in the lobby.” Jihyo poked Nayeon with her priced Mont Blanc pen. “No intimidating her! Three have quit last year alone, no thanks to your friendly and accommodating personality.”
“I am always accommodating,” Nayeon said. “When have I ever been not accommodating?”
“You made two of them cry whenever they see the coffee machine!”
“It’s not my fault they were incompetent,” Nayeon argued, but Jihyo already pushed her out of her office.
Nayeon went to the elevator and took it down to the lobby. The building was a nice, art-deco styled place with incredibly high walls that ended in bright windows just under the ceiling. They let in light that fell into the marble-plated entrance hall in large, seemingly solid, golden beams.
People hurried through the building on their way to their respective offices, their key cards beeping past entry gates and the ladies and gentlemen behind the main desk were greeting guests and visitors. Nayeon pushed past several guests and nodded at the lady behind the counter, then her gaze went out to the large space in front of the entrance that everyone could visit.
Time froze. The universe collapsed in itself until only two people were left.
Nayeon spotted her immediately: She stood right in one of the beams of light, sporting dark hair, cut to her shoulders and golden, large, thin-rimmed glasses on her nose. A guest keycard was dangling on a Seoul Daily Planet lanyard around her neck.
Black slacks and a loose, white blouse with a thin, black tie, her jacket on her arm, the hand holding a black suitcase. She used the other hand to inspect her keycard, then looked up where the long tubes with the elevators inside disappeared in the ceiling.
It was the sight that Nayeon caught her with when she pushed her way through the people and threw herself around her neck. Jeongyeon caught her with an “oof”.
“You are always so clingy,” Jeongyeon whispered against Nayeon’s hair, but there was a smile in her voice.
Nayeon smacked her, her stomach and lungs filled with butterflies, convinced she would be able to fly even without superpowers. She smacked Jeongyeon again when she felt tears prick at her eyes, because she didn’t want to ruin her makeup and she didn’t want to cry in front of all these people, but -
“You’ve been gone for one week!” She held her at arm’s length. “One week! I thought you wouldn’t come back!”
“I promised I’d come back!” Jeongyeon said. “Plus I sent you all kinds of messages!”
“To your email!”
“I never check my email!” Nayeon almost hollered, holding on to Jeongyeon.
“And whose fault is that?” Jeongyeon half-hollered back. She huffed. “I specifically rearranged some stuff at the Fortress of Solitude so you can come visit without much complaints and can even spend the night and you didn’t even check the pictures.”
Nayeon blinked at her. “What kind of stuff was there before you,” she lifted her fingers to air quote. “rearranged stuff there?”
“IKEA,” Jeongyeon deadpanned.
“More IKEA.” And off Nayeon’s lifted eyebrow: “It’s just so easy to assemble! Plus you have IKEA at your place!”
“You take that back!” Nayeon glowered at her, but refused to let go, even as she led Jeongyeon towards the elevators. “Are you going to commute to the office from the Fortress of Solitude every day?”
Jeongyeon shook her head. “No. I rented an apartment close by. It’s located over a Chinese restaurant, pretty convenient. I think Dahyun will permanently move in with Sana - and Tzuyu wants Chaeyoung to move in, but Chaeyoung wants to live close to Dahyun. Those two are like twins.”
Nayeon pulled her into the elevator. “Do you really plan on keeping that apartment or do you plan on moving in with me? After all, you already partially renovated the place.” There was a smirk involved there and also a bit of hope.
Jeongyeon’s ears turned pink slowly. “Depends on the owner.”
Nayeon waited conveniently until the elevator doors closed, before tugging Jeongyeon into a hug she happily stumbled into. “Let’s assume the owner wants that to happen. When is that going to happen?”
“You are awfully impatient,” Jeongyeon huffed, faux annoyed, the smile fighting its way to the forefront.
“You made me wait for one week.” Nayeon angled her way upwards for a kiss that hadn’t happened yet.
Jeongyeon looked at her and huffed again. “Again, I can only reiterate that you are awfully impatient.” She looked down at the girl, leaning back so much that it created a double chin.
“You don’t seem to mind,” Nayeon said and her hand moved to Jeongyeon’s ear, following its shell. She could feel her shiver under her touch.
The ears of the world’s greatest superhero turned even redder. “I - don’t,” she admitted and when Nayeon tugged just a bit, she finally, willingly leaned forward to kiss her.
The Fortress of Solitude wasn’t like anything Nayeon had expected it to be. It was spacious beyond compare and seemed to be made from glass completely, as whatever had created it, raised to surrounding ice in enormous crystals to create the structure.
Jeongyeon had explained that it had been devoid of any kind of furniture, so she, Dahyun and Chaeyoung had started to fill it with all sorts of chairs, tables and wardrobes, and for the more human among them, with smaller crystals that created warmth.
It was cosy in the way some rooms still had the size of a small tanker with a carpet in its middle, a couch, armchairs and a TV that almost looked lost in the enormous room.
“Wifi was difficult and satellite TV,” Chaeyoung explained. “So I sorta put a satellite up there, disguised as space junk that provides us with a really nice -”
“And illegal,” Dahyun pointed out.
“And illegal flatrate,” Chaeyoung said as she pointed at the widescreen TV.
Jeongyeon came flying down from one of the higher echelons of the fortress - it would have looked impressive, if not for her baggy Adidas pants and the oversized, ancient gray shirt and the fact that she was carrying six pizza boxes from the next continent.
She landed next to Nayeon, while Chaeyoung and Dahyun helped her with the pizza boxes.
“Hi,” she said, eying Nayeon with the kind of happy sparkle that she had come to show whenever she regarded Nayeon.
Nayeon smiled. “Hello. You are late. You look terrible.”
Jeongyeon smirked her lopsided grin and leaned in to kiss her, well-aware to be provoking gagging noises from their audience. “And yet you like me,” she shrugged. “I must be doing something right, no?”
Later, much later, Nayeon lay splayed across Jeongyeon like a warm breathing blanket in the large bed upstairs. Jeongyeon lazily combed her fingers through her hair as Nayeon breathed against her throat.
“Happy?” Nayeon asked.
Jeongyeon poked her forehead gently. “Kind of?” she suggested and laughed when Nayeon elbowed her. “Very happy. Really happy.” Her voice grew a bit softer as she peeked down at the girl in her arms to take her in completely. “You make me really happy.” A beat. “But you are also really, really annoying.”
Nayeon elbowed her again, but this time Jeongyeon caught her fake annoyance with a kiss - and could feel her melt immediately. It grew into a warmer kiss, then into a heated one and finally into one where Nayeon had moved to sit on Jeongyeon’s thighs, her hair falling down onto Jeongyeon’s face, her kisses sharp and demanding, almost pointed, as she stole the breath from Jeongyeon’s lungs with deliberation.
Jeongyeon’s intention to play hard to get was quickly thrown out of the window as she felt Nayeon’s hands tug at her hair to pull her closer, her own settling on her sides. They moved around her tighter, as she craned upwards, deepening the kiss, turning it slick, warm and wet.
“I love you.”
“Love you more,” Jeongyeon whispered back and the smile on Nayeon’s face made her turn her over, kiss her for all she was worth, and marvelled in the fact that she had never expected to be this crazily happy.