checkinyourbra: (taeyeon05)
[personal profile] checkinyourbra

Title: Skandl! (Chapter 24)

Pairing(s): TaengSic, side!YulTi

Rating/Genre: PG-13 + Language; AU Idol Romance

Warning(s): Opposite of yes.

Disclaimer: I don't own Soshi. I don't own anyone, in fact. All Fiction.

Author's Notes: A longish chapter again. Between Jessica and Soshi’s shoots, my eyes are thoroughly assaulted. That’s my excuse for any errors. #selfbeta



Twenty-four: Taeyeon



--


“My shining stars!”

Taeyeon flinched at Dong-gun’s jovial outburst. Sunny colored in time for him to string a long arm around her shoulders. Her eyes darted from Yuri to Taeyeon.

Sarcastic or creepy?

Truthfully, Dong-gun had been animated since Andy Lim’s big annual dinner at his estate. Flanked by bountiful opulence--relics from theatre history, an original Shakespeare copy--Taeyeon felt tiny. And even tinier when she sucked up the courage to pull Lim aside.

The CEO, white in hair and wide of shoulder, listened carefully to her plea against the image overhaul. They’d do better, she promised.

Lim was an understanding, tolerant, risk-taking man. However, as the surroundings illustrated, he loved money. When Lim Theatrics exploded in popularity, he swore against poaching reject trainees. Employees accumulated, stage sets were drowned in gold, and a batches of less problematic acts signed contracts in black ink. He’d lost sight of his vision, she’d argue. Never to his face, though.

At the end of her appeal, which he digested for five full minutes, Lim answered, “You’ve had an eventful year.”

Unplanned “Love Cut Open” changes. Bad interviews. Broken curfews. Minah and Sunny. Tardiness. Gay rumors. Yuri’s drug scare and hiatus. Picpockette drama. The Elite-squashed reveal of YulTi’s relationship. Replaced managers.

And they never beat out Lucky Six. ‘Eventful’ kissed the tip of the iceberg.

“My son’s uptight; I’ll admit it.” He chuckled before resorting to apologetics. “Dong-gun knows business and his rebranding miraculously overlapped Yuri’s...situation. He’s a godsend.”

A godsend. Yeah.

Maybe Taeyeon did destroy a peasant village in her past life. For this punishment.

Dong-gun switched to his phone, releasing Sunny. “Father and I had a conference this morning, discussing our endless back-and-forth with a few staple clients. Last-minute adjustments are in order.”

Sunny rubbed the scum from her skin. “How many?”

“Not a lot. One, as a matter of fact.”

“Being?”

He smirked down at her--a short, skin-chilling leer. Executive eyes cycled through the members. Fast at first, then slower, down to...Yuri. “You.”

The tallest woman sprung from the wall. “Huh?”

“You’re the adjustment. We’re nixing you for the performance.”

Obviously, he anticipated the onslaught of kneejerk protests. Flapping a hand for silence, he expounded. “It’s too soon after that lesbian dating rumor. Tiffany Hwang’s team doused it in hours; my father…” He slicked his rusty dyejob. “Isn’t responsible in this area. I’m inheriting Narsha’s damage control--except I’m going to get notable results. Miss Kwon?”

Yuri, who’d been floundering, bit onto a fleshy lip.

“We need our sponsors’ money. You will get a…” Dong-gun responded to a buzzing text mid-sentence, apparently loving the suspense. “...stomach ache. Headache. Menstrual cramps. Anything tenable. As long as it disables your ability to take the stage tonight. The audience has seen many shots of you dolled up backstage, so they’ll believe it.”

“How long have you been planning this?” Yuri gritted, ten times more hurt than earlier.

“Like I said--last minute decision. This event is an all-girls concert. Highly inappropriate for a rumored lesbian, don’t you think? Some may be uncomfortable.”

“You mean our asshole sponsors.”

“Now, you’re learning. It’s the best option for Skandl until the public is ready to see you perform again.”

“That’s bullshit!” Taeyeon spat. “How the holy fuck will two of three members dancing through your stupid routine improve our image?”

“Rumors respect Yuri avoiding the limelight. It’s not like you and Sunny will be hopeless.”

True. Standard protocol and Yuri’s on-and-off availability made LTE prepare two-person versions of their routines. Just in case. This ‘in case’ occurred sooner than imagined. “You’re a dick!”

“Name-calling is juvenile, Kim Taeyeon.” Dong-gun nodded to a curiously restrained Sunny. “And you, Lee?”

Taeyeon and Yuri stared, helpless shoulders slouching as the musician’s reticence passed the 10-second limit. Yuri exclaimed first. “Sunny! Gone mute?”

She uncrossed her arms. Flesh bumps seized her shiny skin; pure discomfort. “It’s one show, Yul.”

“Are you fuckin’ joking?”

“Miss Lee and I discussed this.” Dong-gun’s smile sealed victory. “If you fancy privileges, you’re going to heed my rules. Only then can you win the public’s favor and eventually return to your...strange musical behavior.”

Eventually. “You can’t believe this liar.”

“When have I lied?” Dong-gun voice struck her like a missile. “Be specific.”

“You say you care about Skandl! That’s a lie. Yul’s feelings--”

“Yuri isn’t Skandl. Three women comprise a Korean girl group named Skandl. And I’m a ‘big picture’ guy, concerned about the whole. Not its culpable, self-sabotaging part’s shortcomings.”

“Sk-Skandl’s more than an idol group!”

“Off your soapbox, Kim. Look at yourself.”

Kitschy designs. Abundant midriff. Heart-studded sequins. They’d become...like any other quick-cash act. Transferable and generically entertaining. For the group. To maintain Skandl’s paltry life support.

Sunny wrangled Yuri into an hug. “Yul, one show. One damn show.”

“Is it?” Taeyeon asked, raising an eyebrow to Dong-gun.

He placed a hand where his heart resided. If he had one. “You have my word.”

That meant jack shit. Though, it sucked to watch her best friends struggle. “Yul. On the bright side, you won’t make an ass of yourself tonight.”

Yuri’s cracking spirit winded her. “Et tu, Brute?”

“Reel it in,” Taeyeon whispered, holding in tears that’d ruin her glitter. “I’m no betrayer.”

The Skandl-mate, hapless without her guitar, leather, signature smirk, dislodged herself from Sunny’s arms. “I’ll be waiting. I have...heartache.”

The black-and-white-haired woman dropped her hands. “Yul…”

“Make that a sore throat,” Dong-gun snapped, whistling a path to the stage. “Skandl on in ten minutes! Show the crowd you’re versatile!”

After a Ye-seul-less primping session, Sunny dragged Taeyeon behind her. Down the hall, past enviably unaware idols, up the stairs, into the darkness. When their journey ended, Taeyeon demanded answers.

“The hell was that, Sunny?”

“Yul has been unbearable.”

Taeyeon head spun, blindsided by such a response. “What?”

“The lateness, the scandal, the attitude. She’s given up on us.”


“She’s heartbroken.”

“I like Fany, too.” Sunny missed Taeyeon’s massive eye roll. “Doesn’t mean their breakup should smash Yul’s work ethic. We’re the ones busting our asses day in and day out.”

“But, but she--”

“Yul hasn’t been through the ringer like you and I have at Elite.” Sunny creased her colored brows. “She was recruited right into LTE, so she might not even appreciate the group sometimes.”

Taeyeon shook her head; Sunny allowed no room for rebuttal.

“There’s no persuading me, Tae. Yul’s heart’s not in Skandl. You’re either too dismissive or delusional to recognize it.”

“I’d rather hear her point of view ‘til I jump to conclusions.”

“Do this--” Sunny rounded Taeyeon’s face with light pads, smile melancholy. “For us.”

“Skandl?”

“No.” Hands dropped to her shoulders. “Us. Like the old days. Sunkyu and Taeyeon.”

Taeyeon’s stomach churned at the implications. Stirrings she’d been able to skirt until recently. “Cool. For us.”

“I almost gave up my dreams for you, Tae. Tell me I won’t regret it.”

“You can’t hold that over me forever, you know.”

“Don’t waste my loyalty.”

Taeyeon stepped distance between them, for once unaffected by Jinnie’s raspy voice rumbling wall-high speakers--a personal victory she’d set aside for later. Rushed breathing exercises wouldn’t settle her stomach of this moral conundrum.

Loyalty mattered. But, loyalty to whom?

Sunny? Yul? Narsha? Jessica? LTE?

She affirmed a choice as a starchy grin dictated her lips, matching a robotic gait to center stage. Amongst ardent cries, headset discomfort, glimmering scarlet light sticks streaming blurs, warmth of Sunny’s hand squeeze, and the cramp from her heels, Taeyeon loathed the emptiness--where Yuri would preside.

Taeyeon had to persevere.

Her limbs came to life in a cascade of pyrotechnics. Varicolored rays danced at her feet and slashed into the crowd like lightsabers. The track had the people jumping, though. Cheers, cheers everywhere. Exuberance.

She heard her own voice, but it wasn’t hers. If that made sense. Sunny’s writing had become a part of her and deviating from it rubbed her the wrong way. Nonetheless, she powered through. Because the fans, Korea, and Sunny deserved a stellar concert.

Catching a twinkle, her best friend’s eyes curved into black joy lines. She smirked back. The vibe, in spite of the devil’s sorry excuse of electropop, connected that moment. They were born for the stage, the synchronization, the glamour. There were worst offenses than satisfying supporters.

Dong-gun would be proud.

Paling at that fleeting thought, Taeyeon eyed the space to her left. Yuri should have been up there. How could Skandl prosper if all three of them weren’t wowing the damn stage?

Again, she glanced at Sunny. Trying to determine, while swaying her hips into the song’s bridge, whether the woman actually believed Dong-gun. Intelligent didn’t begin to describe Sunny; perhaps she had bigger plans in place.

Did those certain plans involve ditching Yuri? Yul hadn’t been giving a hundred percent. Not eighty percent, either.

The next two tracks trailed afterwards, virtually the same tune to Taeyeon’s critical ear.

This wasn’t the idol life she and her best friends anticipated as LTE newbies, giggling in their previously cramped dormitory. Taeyeon playing midnight bartender to sugar-heavy mixtures. Yul shining a lantern beneath her face and scaring no one. Sunny’s head on Taeyeon’s shoulder, reciting graphic poems about knuckle-deep encounters. Yuri noisily squealed into a pillow as if she were a virgin. Then, Sunny would substitute every girl’s name with ‘Tiffany’, Yul’s crush. And Taeyeon would pout out her disapproval while they cackled.

Stupid Tiffany Hwang. Stupid lies.

Stupid Taeyeon for perpetuating lies to Yuri.

But, she’d hit the grave full of deceit before she jeopardized Skandl again. They needed a leader.

Less than two minutes remained of their last set. Jessica’s advice sunk in--time zoomed by. Pretty soon, Taeyeon would grow used to this style and they’d earn their freedom again. She’d spin and wink and trace her curves for the population.

Like…

...like...

Lucky Six.

“Watch it,” Sunny fussed at Taeyeon’s first mistake of the performance.

Holy shit. Lucky Six already perfected this scene. Making Skandl….copycats? Wannabes? Imposters? Frauds?

Oh, god.

Taeyeon, verily woozy, scrutinized the crowd with fresh eyes. They were eating this mess up. Had they wanted Lucky Six: The Redux from the beginning? Had Skandl’s originality gotten in the way of the loudest fanchants, fattest checks, headlining space that Lucky Six, always, always, always secured?

“Get your head out of your ass, Tae.”

Taeyeon obeyed Sunny’s hissed demand, glimpsing to the side. To the darkened backstage. Where Dong-gun--the entitled, privileged, business mastermind-- towed their strings without breaking a sweat.

Her loyalty, when morally bargained, lay in Lim Theatrics. And through them, it fell upon Lim Dong-gun’s manicured hands. Hands that touched her skin.

She caught herself stumbling. Sunny flashed livid teeth.

He was converting them into a cheap Lucky Six.

So, Taeyeon thought fast.

In the final beat of the chorus, she pulled a stunt unique to Skandl, Korea’s most badly-behaved girl group. She slipped her fingers into Sunny’s hair, haughtily challenged the active camera, and sealed their lips for a rough, all-tongue kiss.



Taeyeon dodged Dong-gun’s reach, bolting from the deafening public’s noise. Her eyes ran rivulets. Her chest hurt--where Sunny punched her once the stage went black. People, stagehands, most likely, called after the star; she proceeded. To her destination: Elite’s dressing/waiting room. Pointed gazes from Lucky Six (along with a myriad of labelmates) shot Taeyeon like needles as she breezed inside.

She acknowledged Jessica’s stare before kidnapping a different girl.

“Why me?!” Tiffany screeched, snatching her wrist.

The singer tested the closet’s handle. Locked. “I don’t have much time.”

“To what?”

“To beseech you--don’t do anything rash.”

“Like you just now?”

Taeyeon hoisted a breath. Proximity to the enemy whorled her fingers into fists. “I’ll own up to it. I withhold secrets from Yul.”

“She’s not as clueless as you think.”

“Even so,” she continued, not trusting a word, “I’m Skandl’s leader and I have her best interest at heart. You going out there, singing ‘love:murder’, will make things worse.”

That set Tiffany off. Lashing out, she pushed Taeyeon in the shoulder. “You’re so high and mighty. It makes me sick!”

“I’m protecting her!”

“Me, too!”

Heavy knocks rattled the door’s hinges. Taeyeon sped up her speech. “We won’t ever get along again, okay? You made sure of that. But, if you give two damns about Yul, you won’t sing that fucking song. Those are Sunny’s lyrics and they shouldn’t be co-opted by some bubblegum fuckin’ pop star.”

“What, like you?”

Taeyeon pushed Tiffany back. The girl hardly moved, still as stone. “You are literally the worst thing that’s ever happened to Yul. She won’t concentrate, she skips practice, she hasn’t touched an instrument in weeks…”

“That’s not my fault! I’ve been convincing her to stick around eons before you had any idea. You’re a shitty leader.”

“At least I am one.”

The shoving match went on. Taeyeon couldn’t believe it; she and Tiffany were tussling, bumping mops, ramming shelves, in a closet habitually levied for idol quickies. They grunted, clawing hair, cursing at every solid slap. Tiffany was stronger than she looked. Similar to Yuri. Strong and stubborn. Door bangs punctuated the seconds, the minutes.

“Don’t sing Sunny’s goddamned song!”

Tiffany claimed a random scrap of metal and swiped the air between them, blowing long hair from her nose. “Enough! I’m gonna look like shit!”

“Do what I say!”

“You’re not my leader, bitch!”

“Then, do what Jessica says!”

“That’s rich,” Tiffany snorted, erupting into hysterical laughter. “You think you have it all figured out. Jess trusts me, which she should.”

“She’s being naïve.”

“Taeyeon. God.” She closed her eyes. The metal clicked to the floor. “We’re acting like savages. I’m going to tell you why you’re wrong. And you’re going to feel like an asshole.”

Hell knew how many people were huddled outside the door. “We’ll see.”

“Arrogant! You’re--” Tiffany smoothed the bends in her dress, fingertips pink. Pupils flit skyward, scanning bars of light. “I’m not innocent. You got me there. But, you have to get beyond your victim mentality. It’s going to drive everyone away, including Jessica.”

“She wouldn’t--”

“You kissed another girl. Sunny.”

A cold chill assaulted the hairs on Taeyeon’s neck; she shrugged it off. “It’s Skandl. We’re scandalous. We do shit like that.”

“You didn’t kiss Sunny for Skandl. You’re being defiant and you don’t even know what you want anymore. Jess and Sunny couldn’t hit it off; am I lying?”

“No.”

“Jinnie’s scarred me, too. Sexually, emotionally…” Tiffany tapped a heel at the discarded metal, pink lips tensing. “I kissed Ace.”

Taeyeon’s jaw dropped. “Why?”

“It was staged. Chaste backup material in case someone exposes more pictures of me and Yul.”

“How’s the stubble?”

Tiffany subconsciously scratched her cheek. “Gross and itchy.”

“I never kissed Loco.”

“Unlike LTE, Elite doesn’t half-ass its bearding. I carry on with it to appease the company, to distract from my girls, and most importantly, to protect Yul. We vowed not to out each other, Tae.”

“Okay.”

“I’ve made my decision. Not the most honest, but it keeps my loved ones safe. You have two choices, Taeyeon. My route...or what you did out there. Acting for yourself to belabor some overarching point.”

“Why are you saying this?”

“Because I care about Jessica.” Tiffany’s cheeks colored. Looking gentler than she’d ever witnessed. “I don’t understand her taste. It’s inspiring, in a weird kind of way.”

The knocks stopped. Taeyeon swallowed a nervous lump, parroting Soojung’s main worry. “Jessica doesn’t deserve a liar.”

“Just don’t lie to her.”

“In general. I want to be the best for her.”

“Honorable. Dumb, yet honorable. I suppose you’ve made your choice.”

“What does…” The blonde trailed off, knowing what Tiffany meant.

With firm, expert swishes, the woman’s tousled mane tumbled into something presentable. “As for ‘love:murder’, don’t get your thong in a twist. My plans changed. Yul agreed to meet me this weekend, when I’ll sing it for her privately. I keep my private life private. Take lessons.”

“Do you really think she’ll forgive you?”

Tiffany unlatched the door lock, disdainful smirk in full bloom. “You should be asking that yourself.”



Enemy #2 (or #1, her list fluctuated) stood sentry as they parted ways. Dong-gun spoke a single word, gesturing to the exit.

“Out.”

Confusion shaded Taeyeon’s features, peering around the parking lot, unable to find Jinho’s familiar ride. Had they left already?

The manager confirmed her suspicions. “Your groupmates are at the dorm. You’ll be escorted by me.”

“Like hell I will,” she muttered, fishing in her purse. Maybe Narsha could--

“I intimidate you, Miss Kim?”

Taeyeon wouldn’t entertain his conceited question. “Should I file for harassment?”

“Oh, that,” he scoffed, flicking a hand. “A one-off. What can I say? I love women. You understand.”

She flared, lips airtight.

“I’ll keep my hands to myself. However, if you’re going to lead Skandl to success, our talk will have to happen. Covertly.”

Relaying a helpless shrug, the blonde followed Dong-gun to their transportation.

A limo. Of course the douche would expend valuable energy and money for venue transportation. She “hmm”ed at the assorted spread awaiting them. Several dishes exquisitely adorned with colorful fingerfood sat atop raised platforms in the vehicle’s interior.

Dong-gun smirked his wiry smirk. “I travel in style. Hungry?”

Barely. Although, she needed a clear head to get through this conversation. She plucked a grape from a platter, frowning while she chewed. He followed her lead, stuffing a steak tartare canapé into his dumb mouth.

Her eyes bore into his. She hated the cocky quirk of his thin lips and the shininess at the tip of his nose. The silent battle to see who’d speak first. Dong-gun lost, patting his jacket pocket.

“May I smoke?”

“Is this a date or a meeting?”

“I should be angry,” he mumbled through a dangling cigarette. He directed the driver to get moving and pressed a buttons to raise the partition.

More grapes crammed into her mouth.

“I’ll cut to the chase.” He batted smoke to the wind. “I’m a pacemaker away from taking over Lim Theatrics and that’s only if I reform the scarlet thorn in my father’s side. Skandl’s his favorite group, but covering for your blunders is expensive. Here I am to trim the fat--I’ll be a hero.”

“Not here for your daddy issues.”

Dong-gun took a long pull, white ashes dressing the breeze from a cracked window. “You are, technically. I take my job seriously. For example…” His smoke circles formed perfectly. “When I was in Canada and heard of my father’s third attack, I stayed to finalize deals before flying out. And he respected that. Business first. Not to say that I didn’t have extra eyes.”

“Eyes?” She sipped glass of champagne. Clear minds were overrated.

“Watching you. All three of you.”

Her worst memories were happening in cars. Why couldn’t she teleport? “Ah.”

“I’m your boss. We’re going to earn a ton of money together, aren’t we?”

“Mm.”

“Don’t you love money?”

“It’s okay.”

“Your hair, clothes, makeup, shoes, and jewlery say otherwise.” He paused, jutting a chin at her ears. “I recognize the designer of those pistol earrings. They’re worth a mint.”

She brushed Jessica’s present with burning sensitivity. “Didn’t...uh...didn’t know.”

“Twice you’ve changed things up without authorization under my watch. This isn’t baseball, my dear. I won’t give you another strike.”

Her head itched. “And?”

“Narsha swore she incorporated ‘tough love’. How wrong she was…”

And?

Dong-gun licked cream cheese from his hand, digging into a few more favors as Taeyeon’s breath grew shallow. In a voice all too casual, he asked, “Remember when you aspired to destroy Lucky Six? What happened to that?”

Years of relentless pursuit, the desire to cleave their success into ribbons. Seemed like lifetimes ago.

“Kim Taeyeon, in the pampered atmosphere of previous management, Skandl failed to hit its peak--Number One. I mean, that’s Father erected this company. He says art, I say money and prestige.”

She glimped out a window, pawing her scalp. “Whatever.”

“I hired someone to take those photos of Tiffany Hwang and Yuri. They were sent to the press under my direction.”

The blonde spit out champagne. It dotted her ugly skirt. “Y-you--”

“Elite’s a formidable opponent. Great fake boyfriend material at the last minute. Guess I’ll work harder.”

“What about--” Taeyeon’s issues geared to one person. “Yul?! You’re supposed to protect her!”

“She’s fine, isn’t she? Elite did the heavy lifting for us by confirming Miss Hwang as straight.”

“You could have ruined her!”

“Those pictures are small potatoes. Everyone suspects Yuri to be comfy with other women--” His grin curled her veins. “Though, it shines a light on the Lucky Six member. Questionable closeness with troublemaker Skandl’s guitarist and she steals one of Korea’s most eligible bachelors? The dirt’s flung to her publicly as we deal with Yuri behind the scenes. We win.”

“Fucking monster!” Taeyeon kicked a table, toppling untouched hors d'oeuvres to the carpet. Champagne flutes smashed upon impact. “You’re a monster!” Worse than Tiffany on her most devilish day.

“You’ll pay for that,” he replied cooly, cigarette fuming. “Whether it be you or your little girlfriend, or boyfriend. I couldn’t care less. Exposing their photos shows you who’s Skandl’s new daddy. It’s my way or there’s the door.”

The limo stopped with a jerk.

“There’s the door,” he repeated.

Their dorm building loomed, menacing against a harsh red backdrop. Taeyeon made a show of grappling the door open. Still, Dong-gun’s deep voice kept her rooted.

“Taeyeon, you’re fortunate.”

Trapped. She blinked, barricading moisture. “Why?”

“My incompetent team captured the grainiest shots of you and Jessica Jung under the bridge. Can’t distinguish you from hundreds of other idols.” He laughed as if he made a joke. “Your role in Skandl is irreplaceable and I’d prefer clear shots if I’m going to tame you once and for all.”



Uncomfortable inactivity greeted Taeyeon. No 80s rock quaking anyone’s room. Lifeless couches, floor, kitchen space. She took advantage of the empty bathroom, shedding clothes she’d rather burn and peeling faerie crust from her body.

Liberated of K-Pop layers, she didn’t look so hot. Unpushed boobs, no healthy lustre, smallish eyes, shoulder-length hair lacked extensions’ volume. Vanilla, commonplace.

Plain.

“Fuck you,” she growled. To no one. To herself.

She didn’t check her phone. Jessica was probably still on stage with her unbroken group, doing a better job at the ‘idoling’ than she ever could.

An argument echoed from the living room by the time Taeyeon cranked her shower off. She debated to herself: to flee or confront it head-on?

Taeyeon blow dried her hair slowly. Contemplating the last time Skandl had a huge disagreement, wondering what this could entail. Hi-def images of Dong-gun’s oily face, his “checkmate” grin, stifling recollections of Lucky Six’s double-dry method. How Hyoyeon imparted info about Jessica and supplied the ‘bitch’ shirt archived neatly in Taeyeon’s dresser.

Honesty hurt. That’s what stardom taught her. Society and its fidelity exalted truthfulness, but did most people really want to know? Wouldn’t Rumors sooner indulge in the fantasy of Skandl: a Lim Theatrics invention. She, Kim Taeyeon, accepted a persona, a character.

Real Taeyeon, tripping in their ‘Girls Only’ routine, lost hope in the fans feverishly pumping scarlet lightsticks. They didn’t love her. They didn’t even know her.

Taeyeon heard her name. Her ears heated.

Packing the trashy ball of clothes into a hamper, she sucked in a deep breath. Her mirrored self received another inspection.

Younger, less haggard. Kirby-er cheeks. Not as plain. That beacon of positivity made Taeyeon turn the doorknob and push her piece.



Yuri occupied the rug, dwarfed by a palette of cardboard. Taeyeon hiccuped at the realization: moving arrangements. In her ignorance, she didn’t connect househunting to actually bailing from the Skandl dorm.

The guitarist split the palette’s casing with a boxcutter, questioning the latecomer. “What took you so long?”

The blonde mounted a stool. “Dong-gun.”

Sunny, clean and pleasantly unpolished, pressed both elbows on the counter opposite of Taeyeon. “And stowing away with Fany?”

“Yes,” Yuri added, voice weak from yelling, “do tell.”

Taeyeon stalled, swinging her feet. What part of ‘I hate your fucking ex-girlfriend’ sold her point? “We had business to discuss.”

“Damn, Tae.” Yuri rose from the floor. She patted overalls (that made her look 12) and stared. Stared blankly, petrifying the shorter woman.

She knew something. But, what?

“Yul…”

“Fany warned me about this...your selfishness.”

Oh, shit. “Don’t let her pit us into war, we--”

“Have you always kept secrets from me, or is this a new development?”

“What secrets?” Sunny asked, immediately shut up by Yuri’s glare.

“Sunny, do me a favor and stop acting concerned.”

She groaned, thoroughly irked. “You can’t hold one evening against our friendship.”

“You don’t even want me in the group.”

You don’t even want to be in the group,” she countered, in the nick of time for Taeyeon to reroute their argument.

“Yul, I’m sorry, alright?” Taeyeon suppressed an emotion explosion. Not yet. “Tiffany threatened everything I love and I was afraid it’d distract you. I know how much you cared about her.”

“Cared!?” The brunette spat, “I love her, Tae. Present tense. I thought you loved me, too. You shouldn’t use our goddamned career as a scapegoat for your fear.”

Sunny was baffled. “What the fuck is goin’ on? Is Taeyeon why you two broke up?”

“No affairs,” Taeyeon deadpanned, paling at the disdain scarring her friend’s lips. “Tiffany can’t be trusted. She’s crazy, conniving, and fake. Why would--”

“There you go again!” Yul made a show of hands to the ceiling. “Is Fany Jinnie’s apprentice? Will you devote the next four years vilifying her to god-tier villain status? For fuck’s sake.”

“Whoa there, lover girl.” Sunny interjected. “Taeyeon has every right to piss on Jinnie.”

“Tae’s mania is suffocating!”

“You have some gall, Yul. Taking the Sixers’ side against your own.”

“I hated Jinnie,” Yuri snarled a full lip, twisting into her ponytail. Fingers grasping, clawing, like they belonged around Sunny’s neck. “She was lower than dirt and I experienced a taste of victory when she couldn’t perform tonight. Since we all know that’s what she wants. Stardom again.”

Sunny shrugged a bare shoulder. “I dunno. You’ve been riding Lucky Six’s ass for as long as I’ve known you.”

“And you’ve been riding Tae’s.”

Damn. Brought back into the cut. Taeyeon gulped, observing the half-moon-haired musician burn in pure anger.

“Don’t even,” Sunny hissed.

“Kim!” Yuri’s silver fingernail raked the tip of the blonde’s nose in a dramatic point. “Are you in love with Sunny?”

More blood drained from Taeyeon’s cheeks. “Shit, Yul…”

“Don’t draw it out.”

Lee Sunkyu--slender-framed, clad in a cut-off tee and boy briefs--resembled her trainee self. The ever-confident smart ass, occasionally sensitive teenager buying eyelid tape until her parents afforded creases. The unsung hard worker. A best friend who halted Taeyeon’s bouncing knee by second nature.

She, like Jessica, needed the truth. “I’m not.”

“Then, quit fucking with me, Tae!” Sunny shouted. Tone cracking awkwardly; quite a rare find for someone who cryogenically stored her feelings. “If you ever kiss me again, I swear I’ll saw your lips off myself!”

Yuri slid the boxcutter across the counter. “Be my guest.”

“Bitch!” Taeyeon snatched it, scared shitless by the jest. She faced Sunny. “We flirted and used each other for fun. Nothing deeper registered.”

“Fucking duh,” the woman scoffed. “Tae, you wouldn’t have given me a fair shot if I filled your bedroom with bloody red roses. You didn’t only have your eye on Group A for rivalry, you were obsessed with Group A-class women. Jinnie, Jessica--”

“Oh, please. You’re fucking Im Yoona.”

“We haven’t had sex.”

“What’s holding your vag hostage?” Taeyeon’s eyebrows hit her hairline. “Not me, right?”

“Get over yourself.” Sunny replaced her ire with a quiet smirk. “How could I not fall for the vulgarity generator Yoong calls her mouth? I just…feel like a sellout, dating a Lucky Sixer. I don’t wanna follow you and Yul’s footsteps.”

Yuri’s scratchy voice broke through her reverie. “Dating Yoona doesn’t make you a sellout. Approving Dong-gun’s lies does the trick.”

“I work within the system. It’s how I negotiate.”

“He’s trouble.”

“He’s a suit! Suits control everything else we do; the difference for him is that he’s covert. It’s an advantage.”

Dear fuck. Taeyeon clicked on her sternest tone. “Dong-gun can’t be trusted, Sunny. He…” She glanced at Yuri, nodding to a stool. “You may want to sit.”

Yuri decline. “What’d the bastard do?”

“He deployed a team to expose you and Fany. Not Elite, WINtertainment, or random paps….Dong-gun.”

“W-why the hell would he do that?!”

“To control us!” Taeyeon desperately regarded her groupmates. “We’re not dealing with any suited exec. He considers himself our ‘daddy’, like he’s our pimp or something.”

“Damnit!” Yuri cried, distress lines ten times more pronounced. “We are his hos. I told Fany--”

“Fuck Fany.”

“You’re a coward who’d let me stay with a ‘conniving bitch’ under the guise of a pragmatic leader.”

“She threatened everything, Yul.”

“Then, treat me like a proper teammate and warn us. Both of us! We could have settled shit. Instead, you assumed me as some blundering lovesick fool.”

Taeyeon ruefully snickered. “If the shoe fits…”

“Those are your true feelings, huh?”

“You willingly dated a psychopath of whom you refuse to condemn. Love. Sick.”

“How many months would it have taken you to bring up Dong-gun’s snitching?” Yuri asked, visibly seething. “For someone so butthurt over betrayal, you sure do keep your best friends in the dark about critical fucking information. Why would you lug this around on your own?”

“I wasn’t on my own…”

“I quit.”

The arguing party switched to Sunny. She’d poured a sizeable glass of orange juice and vodka. Long bangs shaded her eyeline.

Yuri spoke first. “Whuh?”

Sunny drank a third. “What do we have going for us? Crappy management--we got Narsha the boot. You two knuckleheads are so far up your girls’ vaginas that your brains won’t work...we’re fucked.”

“Don’t divide our group.”

“No!” Her disappointment shone severely, bitterly. “Yul, you’re moving out. You’re buying a house while we’re at our lowest. Escaping physically to match your inside. Your heart isn’t in it anymore, is it?”

“Yes, it--” Yuri caught her lip, fumbling. With a small glance into Taeyeon’s eyes, she cracked. “It was fun at first. Being crazy, releasing music that meant something...currently, we’re unrecognizable. What I held onto religiously…” She pressed fists to her sides. “Was that Skandl forged our friendship, so it should exist forever. But, now it’s doing the opposite. Our concepts, fanservice, false scandals, gimmicks: they’re fiction. We deceive everyone, especially ourselves--thinking we’re better than other celebs. We’re not.”

“Our music's real.” Taeyeon sniffed.

“Not anymore. And what happens when we lose the music?”

Sunny glugged more alcohol into her screwdriver. “I’ll phone my lawyer in the morning.”

“This...this…” Yuri started pacing, frantic. Complete contrast to Taeyeon still, paralyzed. “Is this it? Are we over?”

“We hit rock bottom,” Sunny muttered, tilting her drink to the oldest member. “Half a year ago, Tae would hold me at gunpoint for voicing such blasphemy. Instead…”

Sunny told the truth. The comeback night discussion with Narsha on this same topic had rattled Taeyeon for days, pervaded her dreams. Old Kim Taeyeon owed her life to Skandl. However, Skandl wasn’t Skandl any longer. “Our friendships will outlast a contract.”

“You’re not bothered?”

“Of course I’m fuckin’ bothered.”

“This year’s harships,” Yuri whimpered. “My accident, your secrets, Sunny’s recklessness--Skandl’s irreparable. We’ve outgrown the group.”

“Beautiful!” Sunny snarked in an outburst. “Well, thank fuckin’ god I pulled the plug first! You--” She circled Taeyeon, then Yuri. “and you gave up on our group. I’ll be known as Sunny the double-quitter.”

“Sun--”

“Besides Dong-gun’s total annihilation of our souls, you bitches torched the kindle to Skandl’s demise. Did you even read the lyrics to ‘love:murder’?! Idol love yields career murder. Your squishy, insipid emotions and girlfriends and hickies and--shit!--you killed Skandl! So, I’m jumping ship before it sinks. G’night.”



Eventually, Yuri wandered out, sporting glazed eyes and tape tube bracelets. Leaving Taeyeon on her wooden stool, utterly stunned.

Stunned.

Alone.

Furious.

“Shit!” She slammed a hand flat on the counter. Welting, not caring. Recoils vibrated up her arm, shocking her elbow. Secondary pain to glass tears scratching her cheekbones.

Her group finally snapped. And she uselessly watched it happen.

Rocketing from the seat, a heavy clatter stole her attention. She swiftly retrieved Yuri’s boxcutter, the unclosed bottle of vodka, and left pride in her wake. Partying, lectures, Narsha, money, drugs, alcohol--none of them would remedy this agony.

“But, I’ll try,” she laughed grimly, chugging clear fire down her throat. She sputtered from its metallic aftertaste. Nearly choking. Momentarily wishing that she did.

Fuck. Maybe Sunny was blowing off steam. They’d been pissed before.

Head heavy already, Taeyeon ripped through her dresser until she found sources of temporary calm. She rolled the paper expertly, stuffing it to the brim with a plastic bag’s contents. Sunny normally supplied and for some reason, not having that in the future panicked her more. Would she and Yuri be stranded on Dong-gun island without their wily songwriter? Or would Skandl dissolve completely?

Yul wouldn’t follow the creep’s orders. Not after what he did to her relationship….or what he would’ve flagged in Taeyeon’s face to blackmail her into submission.

Taeyeon was an idiot. Habitually two steps behind. Worrying over Jinnie while Tiffany schemed. Feuding with Tiffany as Dong-gun lurked their shadows. Succumbing to shallow idol stress as her very own teammates felt undervalued, tired.

She steamed smoke through her nostrils. Battling a faceless demon. Called ‘the unknown’. A erratic, risky, fickle unknown.

Jessica hadn’t texted her. Taeyeon refreshed her message box, Chatty Bang Bang, Picpockette feed. No sign of communication. Was she seriously upset about the Sunny stage kiss, ignoring prior knowledge of the group’s history? Could she be that fucking petty?

Incensed, she took another quaff of vodka.

Her thumb hovered upon her ex-manager’s name. Narsha. Narsha would--no.

Skandl burdened her enough. Essentially, Taeyeon, Yuri, and Sunny printed her resignation papers, kicking their role model to the curb. They outscandaled themselves.

She scrolled to her parents’ number. Wasting no hesitation, she pinkied [Call].

Ring.

Ring.

Ring.


Taeyeon chewed her lip ‘til it ached. Both afraid and needy of her mother’s wispy voice or her father’s high-set timbre. Frowning at a fifth ring, she called again.

And again. Again.

“Fuckin’ A!” Taeyeon flailed her arms in a mini tantrum. The vodka bottle was stricken in the line of fire, soaking her Egyptian cotton in an annoyingly appropriate mess. She wouldn’t sleep tonight anyways.

This would have marked the perfect opportunity. Redemption for her family. To prove they didn’t royally suck. But, they did.

Kim Taeyeon, Skandl’s leader no more, lacked a biological mother’s shoulder for crying. A soothing hum of fatherly comfort. Guidance past adolescence. For years, she subconsciously blamed Jinnie for severing her family. In truth, she never had them.

Fuckin’ Bae Soojin. No crash and burn yet, but no solo. That counted for some sort of karmic results.

As one hand gently deleted her parents’ contact, the other unlocked the boxcutter’s safety. She thumbed the latch upwards, revealing a gleaming blade to lamp light. The joint held its place tightly between her lips, hazing past the razor’s reflection. It was sharp. Beautiful.

Taking this into account, she gathered her items, flicked on her large closet’s overhead lightbulb, and shut herself inside.

Back in the closet. Where her parents, LTE, and Jessica bid her to stay. Safer, comfier, surrounded by clothes bearing unmarred price tags. Pushing Dong-gun’s greed projection aside, she snuggled between a couple boxes.

One of them held her ukulele. She couldn’t fathom when she’d packed it away. Probably some time between when the living room jam sessions stopped and Skandl’s downfall began. She plucked a string. It made her smile, so she plucked it again.

The instrument used to convey heartbreak. Now, it simply beckoned memories of Jessica in Taeyeon’s clothes, singing old tunes in her sweet, tender voice.

Taeyeon licked tears from her upper lip as she rummaged into other boxes and crevices, grazing knickknacks. The old album sagged into her lap.

She’d been right all along. Lucky Six kinda ruined her career. With their pretty eyes and naughty bits. Single Taeyeon would’ve fought tooth and nail to preserve Andy Lim’s badass-turned-bubblegum-pop manifestation of all things wrong in the industry.

That Taeyeon died. Skandl died.

Her parents were dead to her, too. She’d rather transfer that love to Soojung and Jessica’s parents, grandparents, cousins, any kin. Her first surrogate family (Yuri, Sunny, Narsha) would come around, hopefully. As for the fame--

She clutched her chest. Her fame, this access. Her beloved Skandl.

Taeyeon sent a text.

M00dy bear: Coma, I love you. K?

The razor winked in her shaky hand. Its orange handle burned. Her skin beaded sweat.

“Old Taeyeon is dead,” she declared, lowering the blade.

Her eyes pinched shut. She flinched, sobbed.

Slitting left.

Slitting right.

Into the cover of the photo album. Taeyeon shredded memories. Pictures of forgotten trainees, both Group A and B. LTE shots. Peace signs, embarrassing gangsta poses. Narsha’s pink hair, Jinnie. Sliced and diced into a paper oblivion. Her arm muscles balked once she caught her lungs, assessing her carnage. The blonde slapped the mess from her bare legs. As if a poisoned past would nick into her flesh. Take residence, fester.

Her freed a breath. Less shaken than earlier.

Taeyeon swiped her phone on instinct. Eyes watered at:

C♡ma: Lolll. Love you, Moody jerk.

More smiles crept through. Despite the fuckedupness of the last hour, days. Weeks, in fact.

Sunny quit. Yuri’s heart quit. In a matter of solidarity, she quit, too. On her own terms--not by word of a scar-lipped business lady, interviewers, or doll-pollers. Her debts as a trainee had been paid off. Nothing but legal documents bound her to Lim Theatrics Entertainment. Or Elite’s machine that pardoned boy band assholes as long as they brought in the dough. Or Dong-gun.

Taeyeon dusted her ukulele. Propped her phone upon a box. Logged into Picpockette. Recited lyrics she’d never forget.

Kim Taeyeon recorded her first video.

“H-hi,” she stuttered, eyeing her pale visage framed in the screen. “This may be the last you’ll hear of me for a while.” She pressed fingers and thumbs onto thick strings. “This is for my Rumors. For girls shamed for being themselves, and for...my girlfriend. Partner, lady half, whatever’s PC nowadays. My true love. I’m sorry for lying, everyone.”

And she sang a minute-and-a-half-long, almost jaunty version of “love:murder”. On her ukulele. In her closet. At night. For the internet.

A wretched human named Soojin once said, “Love takes sacrifice.”

She was right.

So, Taeyeon posted the bombshell.

One last scandal.




--

I’ve been stressed as a beezy lately. I’m going FULL GRIND to post Chapter 25 on schedule. But, if not, y’all know I don’t take long to come back. ♥♥

Drop feedback if you can! Every comment adds a dollar to ‘Spoiler Etiquette’ lessons for our dear Tiffany Hwang.

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