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Want and Resent

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They’re lying in bed together, facing but not touching each other. Jessica’s browsing through her phone and Taeyeon’s—Jessica’s not sure what she’s doing, exactly, but knowing Taeyeon she’s probably thinking.

Jessica glances away from her phone to see Taeyeon watching her. She had been looking in Jessica’s direction but not exactly looking at her earlier, but now her eyes are entirely focused on her.

Jessica smiles a little. “Hi.”

Taeyeon’s mouth quirks up at the corner. “Hi.”

Jessica gives her phone a little wave. “Yuri wants to throw Tiffany a surprise birthday party and she wants us to help.”

“What does she want us to do? Buy all the pink things in the party aisle?”

“No, but that’s a great idea, we should do that.” Jessica’s fingers fly over her phone screen as she types out a reply. “Yul’s freaking out because she wants everything to be perfect.”

“Hmm. That sounds like her.” Taeyeon leans over, resting her head on Jessica’s shoulder. “Are you sure you’re the best person to be giving out surprise birthday party throwing advice?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You planned one for me and I was literally the second person to find out about it.”

“That’s because I made the grave error of asking Tiffany for help with a surprise.”

Taeyeon grins. “And that’s why I didn’t ask her for help for your birthday.”

“You didn’t throw me a party.”

“Exactly. Why bother with parties when I can just surprise you alone?”

Jessica shivers as she remembers the surprise Taeyeon had gotten her. She definitely took her time to unwrap her present.

“Do you want to surprise me right now?” she asks playfully, putting her hand on Taeyeon’s thigh.

Taeyeon’s eyes trail slowly from her hand to her eyes. She takes Jessica’s hand and moves it away from her leg but keeps it in her own.

“Tae?” Jessica asks in confusion.

“Do you know that you talk in your sleep?” Taeyeon says conversationally.

Jessica blinks. “I do? I thought I slept like a log.”

“You do, but like.” Taeyeon shrugs. “A talking log.”

“A talking log,” Jessica repeats.

“You don’t move at all but you talk sometimes,” Taeyeon clarifies.

Nobody has ever told her that before. “What do I say?” she asks curiously.

“You speak in English a lot so I don’t understand all of it.”

“But you understand some of it.” Taeyeon’s English is better than she gives herself credit for. Taeyeon’s better than she gives herself credit for. “What did I say for those parts?”

Taeyeon’s looking at her with such intensity that it makes Jessica want to look away, but she doesn’t, she holds Taeyeon’s gaze and tries to read some of the volumes in her eyes.

“You speak in Korean too,” Taeyeon says offhandedly. “I understand those parts.”

“Well, I sure hope so, because otherwise I’d have to question what language you can speak.”

Taeyeon smiles widely enough for her dimple to pop out. Jessica definitely doesn’t stare. Nope.

“Also.” Jessica narrows her eyes. “Don’t change the subject.”

Taeyeon gives her an innocent look. “I thought the subject was the things you say when you’re sleeping.”

“And what are these things?”

“I don’t know, I’m nolingual.”

“Nolingual?”

“Well, you’re bilingual and Joohyun is like quadrilingual and I’m nolingual.”

Jessica laughs. “You’re talking to me right now. How can you do that if you’re nolingual?”

“I can speak Jessica,” Taeyeon says very seriously.

“Can you?”

Taeyeon nods, the motion making her fringe fall into her eyes. Jessica reaches forward and tucks it behind her ear, being careful to avoid the tender skin where her new tattoo is.

“Do I speak Jessica in my dreams?”

“You do,” Taeyeon says, “and I understand every word.”

Jessica’s smile takes over her face, and she can’t suppress it even when she kisses Taeyeon, but Taeyeon’s mouth curves against hers, fitting to hers, and she doesn’t have to. She feels like they’re sharing a smile, a breath, a language.

And she wonders if Taeyeon can hear the three words she’s branding against her lips. She thinks she does.

Chapter Text

Taeyeon still remembers the words of advice a sunbae told her when she was a trainee, still young and naive and unaware of how much she would one day give and give up.

“In this industry, in this life, love doesn’t come easily and it doesn’t stay easily, so if you find it, make sure you grab onto it and don’t let go.”

But how can you grab onto something that isn’t tangible? How can you hold a waking dream in your hand?

Taeyeon stares at the sleeping woman beside her, the blankets tangled around her bare form, what showed of her skin pale and practically glowing in the moonlight. Taeyeon had been so careful last night, so careful not to suck too hard, hold too tight, so careful not to leave any marks behind even though all she wanted was to leave some reminder, some imprint of herself on Jessica’s skin. All she wanted was to create something that can last.

She rolls over onto her side and away from Jessica, even though all she wants is to look at her and hold her and touch her. All she wants is to be with her, but even when they’re together they feel apart.

Jessica had fallen asleep clutching Taeyeon’s hand in a death grip, but sometime in her sleep she had loosened her hold, had let go. Taeyeon had flexed her fingers afterwards, feeling the blood return to them, resisting the urge to reach for Jessica’s hand again, to reach for her and make sure she doesn’t let go this time.

What’s the point in prolonging the goodbye? Jessica is never in her bed or her arms for long. Jessica is never hers for long. Come morning and she’ll return to Blanc & Eclare, and Taeyeon will return to SNSD, and they’ll go on living their divergent lives until the sun sinks and the moon rises and Jessica steals into Taeyeon’s bed like a recurring dream that leaves her with a caved in chest when she wakes up.

Taeyeon rolls back over and comes face to face with Jessica, who’s awake and looking at her like a person dying of thirst staring at a fountain in the desert, unsure whether they’re seeing salvation or a mirage.

“You’re awake.” Taeyeon’s throat feels like it’s lined with sandpaper.

“You let go of my hand,” Jessica says in a small voice, like it had woken her up when she can and has slept through everything from thunderstorms to Sooyoung’s snoring.

Taeyeon swallows, almost chokes on the lump in her throat. “I’m sorry,” she says, even though it was Jessica who had let go.

“You don’t have any blanket.” Jessica frowns. “You’re going to catch a cold.”

Taeyeon only just realizes that Jessica has taken all of the blanket and left her with next to nothing.

“It’s okay,” Taeyeon says. The blanket isn’t the only thing Jessica has done that with. It’s okay. Taeyeon’s okay.

Jessica’s frown deepens, a dent forming between her eyebrows. “It’s not okay,” she says. “Here, take some back.” She grabs some of the blanket and pulls it over Taeyeon, leaving one of her own shoulders uncovered, the skin smooth and inviting, begging for a mark.

Taeyeon stares openly and intently and unabashedly, feeling like she’s only allowed to look, not touch. She’s had Jessica skin against skin only hours ago, had her underneath her and on top of her and inside her, and Jessica’s right beside her now, only a fingertip away, but she suddenly feels very, very far away.

“Taeyeon,” Jessica whispers, like the feel of Taeyeon’s name in her mouth pains her. Taeyeon knows the feeling.

“Yeah?” Taeyeon whispers back.

Jessica takes her hands and just holds them in her own, and they look at each other, take in each other, memorize each other, both of them experts by now at taking fleeting moments and stretching them out until they almost seem enough.

Almost. It’s a word, a state Taeyeon is very familiar with now. She lives in almost’s, through almost’s, collects them and strings them together to try to make an enough out of them. She hasn’t succeeded yet, but she won’t give up so easily.

Jessica tugs Taeyeon along with her, fingers wrapped around her wrists like bracelets, like manacles, until she’s lying right against Jessica, pressed flush against her. Jessica lets go of one of her hands to slip the blanket over both of them, and then laces their fingers together.

“Don’t let go this time,” she cautions.

“I won’t,” Taeyeon promises, and resolves to hold on with everything she has.

Jessica kisses her, as fleeting as a dream, as haunting as a nightmare. She stares at Taeyeon for a long moment and Taeyeon sees a fragment of almost in her eyes that Taeyeon thinks must be mirrored in her own.

“Good night, Taeng.”

“Good night, Sica.”

Jessica falls asleep first, and Taeyeon follows her soon after. She wakes up alone with the other pillow and her heart still dented with the imprint of Jessica’s presence. It takes her a moment to shake off her blanket, wrapped tightly around her like a poor substitute for a lover’s embrace. Her waking dream, however, isn’t so easy to shake off.

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The first time Jessica meets Taeyeon, she falls for her. Literally. Or maybe it’s more correct to say that she falls onto her.

Jessica doesn’t know who invented heels, and she’s sure they’re long dead by now, but she’s still cursing them. Not only are heels uncomfortable and hindering, they’re downright dangerous. She’s already tripped three times and came close to spraining her ankle one of those times.

She’s thanking the heavens that she hasn’t actually fallen when she does – right down a staircase. Fortunately, it’s a short one with only a few steps, and fortunately (for her), someone breaks her fall as she tumbles right into them and knocks them down, the two of them ending up as a tangle of limbs on the landing.

Jessica would be spluttering apologies but she got a knee right in the ribs so she’s heaving for breath and incapable of forming words.

It’s her human cushion who speaks first. “Hey, are you okay?” she asks, staring at Jessica with wide eyes set in a pale face. A cute face, framed with blonde hair that has a single streak of pink.

“I—” Jessica rolls away from her and almost ends up falling down the next flight of stairs. Cute Human Cushion grabs her around the middle and hauls her back, which makes Jessica press right against her again. God, can Jessica be any lamer? She kind of wants to kill herself, preferably in a manner not involving stairs.

“Be careful there,” the other girl says. “The next flight is a lot longer and I don’t know if there’s someone at the bottom to soften your fall.”

“I’m really sorry I’m such a klutz are you okay did I hurt you I’m really sorry,” Jessica blurts out in one breath.

“I’m okay.” A quirk of lips that’s not quite a smile. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” Jessica feels sore from the knee in the ribs but otherwise surprisingly fine. She would have expected to be a lot worse off after falling down the stairs. Well, she’s sure she would have been had she not landed on Cute Human Cushion. “I’m okay,” she says, and follows it up for no reason with, “I’m Jessica.”

“I’m Taeyeon.”

“Taeyeon,” Jessica tries out the name and decides she likes the sound of it. “It’s nice to meet you.”

She’s never seen Taeyeon before – she’s sure she would have remembered a face like that – and she wishes that they could have met under nicer circumstances. Like through friends, or at a party, or pretty much anything other than falling down the stairs and onto her.

“I can’t say I ever met someone like this before,” Taeyeon says jokingly. Jessica flushes, mortified. Taeyeon adds, “I can cross it off my bucket list.”

“You have being landed on by a person who fell down the stairs on your bucket list?”

“Yeah. Doesn’t everyone?”

Jessica thinks that Taeyeon’s being serious at first, and then she sees the teasing sparkle in her eyes. She rolls her eyes but she can’t help the upward curve of her mouth.

“Hey,” Taeyeon says. “It’s cozy here with you and all, but do you think you can get off me? I think my legs are falling asleep.”

“Oh! Sorry.” Jessica didn’t realize how she basically had Taeyeon caged against the bottom step with her body. Or maybe she did and she didn’t mind it so she never thought to move. She rolls away from Taeyeon, more carefully this time, and stands up, offering a hand to her.

“Thanks,” Taeyeon says, like Jessica is the one who did her a favour. She’s so nice. Jessica thinks about telling her that but it’s too awkward, she’s too awkward, so she just apologizes again.

“I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“Really, I’m sorry.”

“Really, it’s okay. Those shoes of yours look really dangerous.” Taeyeon eyes Jessica’s heels. “Maybe you should practice walking in them on flat ground first.”

“That’s what I was practicing! It’s just… The flat ground led me to a staircase.”

“It…” Taeyeon trails off, blinking, like Jessica’s words have rendered her speechless. Jessica does that a lot to people. Her friends even made up a term for it: The Sica Effect. “Yeah, I guess they do that sometimes.”

“This is why I prefer flats,” Jessica grumbles.

“But heels are so exciting. They can help you bump into new people.”

“Trust me, with my coordination flats can do that too.”

Taeyeon grins, and a dimple pops out, not in her cheek but near her chin. Jessica’s never seen someone with a dimple there before, and that’s definitely the only reason she stares for a beat too long.

“Hey so, why are you in heels today?”

“The Halloween dance is coming up,” Jessica explains, “and I thought I’d practice wearing heels before going there in them. I mean, I thought it’d be safer in the hallway without many people around than in the gym with half the school.”

“Oh yeah, this has been very safe.”

Jessica blushes again, lowering her head to hide it. She hates how easily she colours, and she wishes that she could control it, but she’s never been good at controlling her emotional tells. She’s never been good at hiding how she feels.

“What are you going as?” Taeyeon asks.

Jessica raises her head a fraction and sees Taeyeon looking at her with a curious expression. “It’s a secret,” she says impulsively.

Taeyeon smiles, dimple making itself known again. “Well, there’s still two weeks before the dance, so you have time to practice.”

“What about you? Are you going to the dance?”

Taeyeon shrugs. “I haven’t decided yet.”

Do you want to go with me? The question forms in Jessica’s mind with no warning, resting at the tip of her tongue. She swallows it back hurriedly, almost choking on it.

“You okay?” Taeyeon asks. Jessica’s dilemma must be showing on her face. She really needs to work on not being so obvious.

“Yeah, I’m just… I zone out a lot. It’s a problem.”

“As long as you’re not crossing the street or walking down stairs or something.”

Jessica makes a face. “Can we never mention stairs ever again?”

Taeyeon laughs, and Jessica very determinedly keeps her eyes away from Taeyeon’s chin. “Sorry, I forgot it was a sore spot.” Her eyes flicker down to Jessica’s chest, and Jessica’s face threatens to turn full-on tomato. “Speaking of sore spots, do you have any? I know I hit you with my knee. Sorry about that.”

“Why are you apologizing? I should be the one apologizing.”

“You already did,” Taeyeon says, amused. “Multiple times.”

“Well, I landed right on you. It couldn’t have felt nice.”

“It wasn’t agonizing,” Taeyeon says. “You’re bony but at least you didn’t skewer me with one of those heels.”

Jessica shudders at the mental imagery. She’s watched too much 1000 Ways to Die. “Still, I’m sorry. And thank you for, you know, preventing me from falling to my death.”

Taeyeon looks like she’s holding back her laughter, and it may be working for her mouth but not her eyes. “I don’t think you would have died.”

“I didn’t thanks to you. You made a good cushion.”

“Thank you,” she says solemnly. “That’s my dream in life – to be a good cushion.”

“Well, you’ve achieved it.”

Taeyeon really does laugh this time, and another dimple pops out, in an even more unexpected place – below her eye and above her cheekbone. Jessica wonders if she has more dimples and where they are.

“Yes, I crossed an item off my bucket list and achieved my dream in life. It’s been a productive day for me.”

“And you saved my life.”

“I don’t think it was that dramatic,” Taeyeon says, “but hey, I’ve always wanted to save someone’s life so let’s go with that.”

“Let me…” Jessica wets her lips and works up her courage. “I mean, I think I should at least treat you to lunch for that.”

Taeyeon looks apologetic. “I don’t think I can make lunch.”

Jessica tries not to let her face fall, but she doesn’t think she succeeds. “Oh, okay. That’s fine.”

“How about dinner?”

Jessica tries not to let her face light up, but she doesn’t think she succeeds. “Sure! Dinner it is.”

Taeyeon smiles, dimple settling itself in her face and in Jessica’s heart. “I’ll pick a place that doesn’t take stairs to get to.”

Jessica doesn’t need another flight of stairs to fall for Taeyeon. She’s already fallen.

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i. You know how people say that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone? Well, I never had you in the first place, so I can’t really lose you, can I, but I still feel like I did. I still feel lost and at a loss. I still… I still see you: the way you look in the morning when you’re not awake enough to open your eyes all the way, and the way you look at night when you have toothpaste on your chin and the way you look all the hours in between. I still hear you: how you hum along when Yuri sings in the car and you don’t even realize you’re doing it, how you sing in the shower but you never finish a song because you get bored halfway through, how you squeal when Yoona holds a cucumber in your face even though we’ve all done that to you for years. I still feel you. I still miss you. I still lo—

Here the ink is smudged, splattered with drops of moisture like the writer had spilled their drink as they were writing, and the rest of the words can’t be made out.

 

ii. Did you know that ‘Gemini’ is my favourite song on the album? Did you know that it took the most tries for me to record because my voice kept breaking while singing it? Did you know that I wrote a different version of the lyrics that the company rejected because they said it sounded ‘too painful and too raw’? Did you know that it reminds me of you? Did you know

Sooyoung yells for her to stop lazing in bed and get a move on they’re going to be late this is not the time to channel her inner sloth. Taeyeon’s mouth curls up, turns down, trembles and settles into an in-between slant. Later, they ask her if she stayed up writing lyrics again and she says yes. She tells herself that she’s not really lying.

 

iii. I was listening to a playlist today and ‘Want and Resent’ came on. I almost spilled my coffee all over myself when my arm jerked up. I didn’t know whether I wanted to turn the volume higher or to turn it off entirely. Don’t you ever feel that way about life? Anyway, I’m getting off track. I do that a lot. Do you remember how you used to tease me about that and I said it must’ve been especially hard for you because you processed everything two seconds late and I had already switched to another topic by then? I guess we were never very compatible, were we?

The last note of ‘Want and Resent’ hangs in the air for a fraction of a second, or maybe a fraction of infinity, and the song goes back on loop. Taeyeon’s finger hovers over the mouse, hesitant, torn, and she eventually lifts her hand and sinks back in her seat; listening, remembering, wanting.

 

iv. When they told me that your debut was scheduled at the same time as mine, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Really, that’s not an unfamiliar feeling for me, when it comes to you. I think I did a pretty good job not showing that, but Tiffany looked at me with these sad eyes all day long and Joohyun kept offering me tea like she was afraid I would go for something stronger. You know how you guys always complain that I keep my feelings to myself all the time? Obviously, I don’t do a good job at that, do I? I’ve always been an ‘actions speak louder than words’ person, you know that (you know better than anyone). And yet, I’ve been writing all these letters to you. I’m a better writer than I thought. If only I could be a better person and send one.

Of course, it happens, the thing that Taeyeon wanted and feared the most. She bumps into Jessica backstage, literally, the “sorry” passing her lips right as she realizes who it is and freezes. Jessica turns motionless as well, the two of them staring at each other like statues forever meant to look, not touch. Taeyeon doesn’t say any of the things she had planned, and Jessica doesn’t question why Taeyeon is so close to Jessica’s dressing room rather than her own. There’s a moment when Taeyeon opens her mouth, when Jessica takes a breath, but then another idol group passes by, followed by a PD holding a camera, and they give each other a strained smile and continue on their paths. Parallel paths, Taeyeon thinks, for two lines that are not meant to meet. Maybe she’ll put that in her next letter.

 

v. (i.) Congratulations on the solo. I like the song. And the album. And. I hope you know that the continuation of your musical career has made a lot of people very happy. Wishing you the best, always. –TY

Jessica stares at the note left on her dresser, a corner pinned down by a bottle of nail polish that had dripped onto it, leaving glittery black spots as dark as they are bright, until her eyes start to burn. Her mascara claims to be waterproof, but when she brings a hand to her eyes, her fingers come away smudged with black like the note held carefully in her trembling fingers.

The rational, sensible part of her tells her to throw the note away, right now, to tear it up into tiny pieces that can never be put back together, or at least to tuck it somewhere far away, out of sight and out of mind, behind clothes she’ll never wear again and books she’ll never read again and thoughts she tried to never have again.

The other part of her, the part that she tries not to listen to most of the time, wants to read the note again and again, until the words are imprinted behind her eyelids, tattooed into her palms, wants to flatten the note against her chest and hold it there until she’s forced to let go. Really, she knows that it’s not the note she wants to hold onto, but like Taeyeon said, how can you miss what you never had?

Blinking hard and fighting a battle she knows is already lost, she finds a piece of paper and a pen.

Chapter Text

(nulla. Congratulations on the solo. I like the song. And the album. And. I hope you know that the continuation of your musical career has made a lot of people very happy. Wishing you the best, always. –TY

It’s a bad idea to keep this note, she knows. It’s a terrible idea to keep reading it, as though she hasn’t memorized it already, as though the words aren’t haunting her more with each reread, each breath, each heartbeat. It’s possibly the worst idea ever to reply to it. Jessica knows all this, but she can’t let go of the pen in her hand.)

 

i. Congratulations on the comeback. I love the song – not as much as I love ‘I,’ but that’s because ‘I’ was just so…you. I was so you. Haha, that sounds like a great pun and I didn’t even try. I almost wish it could be true. I mean, not that I could be you, or that you could be me, but that we could be us. I..

Jessica’s pen runs out of ink here, one dot short of an ellipsis, and maybe that’s for the best. She doesn’t really know what to say next anyway.

 

ii. Before I congratulate you on your comeback, I should congratulate you on your debut. I never did, did I? Not because I didn’t want to – believe me, I wanted to. I want to. You were amazing. You are amazing. I’ve always thought this and I always will. I’m not saying this because I lo know you, I’m saying this because I have ears and they work (a miracle, really, after ten years with Tiffany). I mean, I’m not going to wish you good luck because a) you don’t need it and b) I want to win, but – everything you’ve won, everything you’ve achieved, you deserve it. You deserve it all, and I hope that you’re happy. I always will.

She runs her hand over the glossy cover of Taeyeon’s new album. Rain. The cover of her I album is no longer sleek, after all the times that Jessica’s been through it. She’s listened to the songs many times, which she thinks is reasonable, but she’s looked at the photos of Taeyeon far too many times to maintain any semblance of reason. She thought that she knows what Taeyeon looks like as well as she knows her own reflection, but she’s long since realized that memories and photographs can only do so much. One look at the real Taeyeon, one furtive glance, one prolonged stare, and… All the pictures in the world could never compare.

 

iii. I miss a lot of things about you – your laugh that just takes over your whole body, your lame jokes and your lamer puns, your kimchi fried rice even though you always burn the rice at the bottom – but after watching you onstage, I especially miss your voice. We’ve both spent a lot of time in the industry, we’ve both listened to many, many amazing singers, and to me, you are the best. I know you’re not going to believe me, you’re going to say I’m biased (I am), I’m wrong (I’m not), I’ve spent too much time listening to you (I haven’t). You’re going to argue with me, because that’s what you do – you believe insults so much more readily than compliments. You’re so vulnerable against criticism and so guarded against praise. I wonder what it says about me that I find this flaw endearing.

Several people have brought up how “great” it would be if she sang a duet with Taeyeon. She even got asked outright in an interview whether she would want to, and she had somehow managed to laugh the question off even though it made something shake inside her. Does she want to sing a duet with Taeyeon? Another duet, after Want & Resent, after September 30th, after 8 years? It’s not a question of want. It never has been.

 

iv. Thanks for your congratulations. It means a lot to me that you like my music. And I don’t mean ‘you’ in a generic sense, I mean you. Taeyeon. You said that my singing has made a lot of people happy. Are you one of those people? To me, you’ve never been just one person in a crowd, just anyone. You are too special and too weird for that. You are… U R. I can only hope that I can make you happy in any capacity. Even in my dreams, I don’t make you happy. I don’t make you smile or laugh. And when I wake up from them, I’m not happy either. I suppose we were never very good at making each other happy, were we? We made each other feel… We made each other feel, period, and even if that feeling wasn’t happiness, at least it’s better than not feeling anything at all. Right?

It’s a question that she’s asked herself many times, that human beings have asked themselves many times. She’s read before that pain is better than numbness, that feeling hurt is better than feeling nothing. It comes back to the famous question of whether it is better to have loved and lost, or to never have loved at all. And for Jessica, it comes back to the question of whether you can miss what you never had.

 

v. (i.) Congratulations on the all-kill comeback and looking so tall on the couch in the MV. Both are very impressive achievements, but I only expected the first one. I love the song and the album, but especially ‘Rain.’ It suits you. There’s this one line especially that I keep replaying: “Stopping at the time that was clear, staying wet in the memories, I draw you who was beautiful in the rain.” It sounds a lot like us, doesn’t it? I wonder if we’ll ever be under the rain together again. –J

A part of Jessica wants to leave the note on a table and walk away, like what Taeyeon had done. Another part of her wants to not send the note at all, to leave herself a measure of protection, an avenue of escape.

Jessica ends up holding the note and trying not to crinkle it in her fidgeting fingers as she waits for Taeyeon. She feels vaguely like a villain in a movie, standing in the shadows as she waits for the heroine to return to a place she thought safe. It makes her wonder if there’s a good vs. bad person here, and if there is, which one she falls under.

“Hey, I think you have the wrong—” Taeyeon freezes when she gets a good look at her. “Jessica?”

“Yes, that’s my name, and no, I don’t think I have the wrong room. Unless you’re not Taeyeon. Are you?”

Taeyeon just keeps staring at her without blinking or moving, and Jessica starts to feel awkward. Well, even more awkward.

“I am,” Taeyeon finally says. “Just with a haircut.”

Jessica’s fingers itch with the desire to reach out and touch Taeyeon’s hair, to check whether it’s as soft as it looks. The haircut makes her look even younger, but Taeyeon doesn’t look very young right now, with the way she’s looking at Jessica. Well, she does look young but also timeworn, hopeful but also weary. She looks like the Taeyeon Jessica remembers but also not, and it has nothing to do with the haircut. Suddenly, Jessica wonders if it was a Very Bad Idea to come here.

Taeyeon turns, and for a second, Jessica thinks that she’s going to walk away, that she can’t even handle being in the same room as Jessica. But – no, she closes the door and comes back, standing one step closer to Jessica but still so far away.

“I like the haircut,” Jessica ventures.

A ghost of a smile crosses Taeyeon’s face. “No, you don’t.”

“No, I don’t,” Jessica agrees, and it gets a full smile from Taeyeon. “You know I like long hair.”

Taeyeon tilts her head. “It’s been a long time since you had short hair.”

“I don’t miss those times.”

“I do,” Taeyeon says, so frankly, so readily, that Jessica’s breath freezes in her lungs. Her chest aches with it, aches with Taeyeon.

“Even though we spent every other minute performing Gee?”

“Well.” Taeyeon shrugs. “Everything has a price.”

Jessica swallows. “That’s true.”

Taeyeon makes a sound, similar to a sigh but not quite. “You didn’t come here to talk to me about hair, did you?”

“Well, I could have. Hair is an interesting and important topic.”

The almost-smile makes a comeback. Jessica wants to see her full, real one. “I hope I haven’t disappointed you too much with the change to mine.”

“You couldn’t disappoint me if you tried,” Jessica says, and the near-smile is wiped clean from Taeyeon’s face. “Taeyeon.” Her voice comes out small, plaintive, and Taeyeon’s expression changes into something softer but still closed off.

“Jessica.”

“I got your…note, earlier.”

Taeyeon looks like she’s been caught committing a crime, like a child with their hand stuck in the cookie jar. “Did you?”

Jessica holds her gaze, not letting her look away. “Yeah.”

Taeyeon clears her throat. “Did you…”

“Like it? Yeah.”

So soft, a whisper that can barely be made out. “I’m glad.”

“I have a reply for you.” Jessica holds out her letter, the one that had taken too many tries and tears to write.

Taeyeon eyes it like it’s a ticking bomb, not making a move to take it.

“It’s a piece of paper,” Jessica says wryly. “It’s not dangerous.”

Taeyeon gives her a look that asks really, and Jessica considers taking the letter back, tucking it away. Well, it’s too late for that because Taeyeon reaches for it, takes it from Jessica’s suddenly limp hand. Their fingers graze ever so slightly, a fleeting moment of contact.

“Thank you,” Taeyeon says, at the same time Jessica blurts out, “Congratulations,” and then they both just stare at the other, less like they have nothing else to say but more like they’re saying it without words.

Jessica clears her throat. “Aren’t you going to read it?”

Taeyeon looks down at the note. “Not in front of you.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“I didn’t mean it like—” Taeyeon raises her head and meets Jessica’s eyes. “I don’t know what my reaction would be. I don’t want you to see me like, break down in tears or something.” Her tone is light, but her words hang heavily in the air.

“You missed me breaking down in tears when I read yours.”

Taeyeon gives her a hesitant look. “Are you joking?”

Jessica meets her gaze evenly. “Do you think I am?”

Taeyeon bites her lip. “I don’t know,” she admits. “I don’t know when you are anymore.” It sounds like I don’t know who you are anymore, and it hurts.

“Taeyeon,” Jessica whispers.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have written the note. Well, I shouldn’t have sent it. I thought that it would be safe but I should have just gotten rid of it like the other ones.”

Jessica’s brow furrows. “The other ones?”

“That wasn’t the first letter I wrote to you. I’ve written a lot. I just didn’t send them.”

Jessica had no idea that Taeyeon had done the same thing as her, but in retrospect, she should have expected it. That note means so much to her and says so little. She wonders if Taeyeon had written the things she left out in other notes, if she still has those notes. She wonders if she’ll ever get a chance to see them, or even better, to hear them from Taeyeon.

“What did they say?”

“They said a lot of things, but most of those things boiled down into one.”

Jessica wants to ask what that one thing is, even though she has a good guess, but instead of telling her, Taeyeon takes a step toward her, and then another, and then she’s right in front of Jessica, close enough to touch. Close enough to kiss.

“Tell me,” Taeyeon breathes as she leans in, the words a flutter of breath over Jessica’s lips, “if you don’t want this.”

Jessica could punch Taeyeon for asking such a stupid question, and she gets as far as lifting her arm, but said arm winds around Taeyeon’s neck and pulls her closer. There’s a second when their eyes meet before their lips, and Jessica sees something glimmering in Taeyeon’s, like starlight or raindrops, but then their mouths are pressed together, their bodies following suit, and she can’t focus on anything beyond that.

They tell each other three words afterwards, three words that didn’t make it to either of their letters, but maybe they’re just too good at going around in circles. Maybe they’re better writers than they are talkers, better singers than they are speakers, but really, some words are meant to be said.

Chapter Text

Taeyeon doesn’t know why she picks up another call, when just the sound of her ringtone brings on a round of goosebumps, like a twisted Pavlovian reaction. Maybe because she just wants it to stop. At this point, she doesn’t even know if ‘it’ is just the calls anymore.

“Please stop calling me,” she practically begs.

Silence greets her.

“I didn’t know it would lead to this. I wouldn’t have done it if I knew. It’s been every three minutes. I just want some rest. Please stop calling me.”

“I’m…sorry?” The voice is soft, delicate, at once familiar and unexpected. “I shouldn’t have called you at this time. I just… Sorry. I’ll hang up.”

“No!” Taeyeon blurts out. “Don’t.”

Don’t hang up. Don’t leave. Don’t leave me. Don’t don’t don’t.

“Taeyeon.” Jessica’s voice is pained. “Taeyeon, I’m not going to leave you.”

She realizes then that she’s been saying the words out loud: don’t leave me don’t leave me don’tleaveme, like a litany, a mantra. She bites down harshly on her lip like she can seal her mouth that way.

How can you leave me when you’re not even with me?

“Taeyeon.” Jessica is silent for a moment. “Do you want to hear a joke?”

That startles a laugh from Taeyeon. “A joke?”

“Yeah, see, I’m so funny I haven’t even said it and you’re already laughing.”

Taeyeon laughs again, the sound surprising herself.

“Actually, I read this pick-up line the other day and it reminded me of you.” She can picture the way Jessica’s scrunching up her nose, what she always does at Taeyeon’s jokes, like she’s utterly unamused, but the sparkle in her eyes would always betray her.

“Why are you reading pick-up lines?” Taeyeon asks. “You trying to pick someone up?”

“The last person I picked up was a five-year-old.”

“Wow, I didn’t know you liked them so young.”

“Yah, Kim Taeyeon—” That elicits Taeyeon’s third laugh of the call. She’s laughed more during this phone call than she has in days. “Just because you look like a twelve-year-old with that haircut doesn’t mean I’m a pedophile.”

“I don’t look like a twelve-year-old,” Taeyeon protests.

“Fine, you look thirteen. Better?”

“You do realize that still makes you a pedophile, right?”

“Yah, Kim Taeyeon!”

This time, Taeyeon’s laughter is not surprising to herself but feels natural and right, almost cleansing.

“I don’t even know why I was going to tell you a pick-up line,” Jessica mutters. “Half the things that leave your mouth are innuendos.”

“You like my mouth.”

“I do,” Jessica says after a pause. “I like it when you use it to talk, and sing, and laugh.”

That’s it? Taeyeon is about to ask, but she feels like Jessica hasn’t finished her sentence yet so she waits.

“Especially laugh. I haven’t heard you laugh in a long time.” Jessica’s voice is quiet, sad. “I like it when you laugh.”

Taeyeon’s throat is tight. “Jessica.”

“Oh, I didn’t get to tell you the pick-up line! Listen up, okay? It’s so embarrassing there’s no way I can say it twice.”

“I’m listening to you,” Taeyeon promises. She couldn’t have listened any harder if she had super hearing.

“Did you clean your pants—” And suddenly Jessica bursts out laughing, the kind of laughter that makes her practically fall over with the force of it. If Taeyeon were beside her, Jessica probably would have fallen onto her, and Taeyeon would have caught her, steadied her with an arm around her shoulders, held her. If Taeyeon were beside her… If only.

“Did I clean my pants?” Taeyeon repeats. “I’m not wearing pants right now.”

“You—” Jessica cuts off abruptly. “I’m the one trying to tell the pick-up line here, Taengoo.” Her voice gets whiny, adorably so, and the nickname makes something inside Taeyeon lift and then sink.

“I’m not trying to—I’m wearing shorts.”

“Well, the line works better with pants so just pretend you’re wearing pants.”

“I do that between us, right?”

“Yeah, keep dreaming,” Jessica says, and Taeyeon grins. “Okay, are you pretending you’re wearing pants?”

“Yes, I’m pretending that my shorts just grew all the way to my ankles.”

“Okay, so.” Jessica clears her throat, like she’s preparing for an important speech. “Did you clean your pants with Windex? I—” She breaks off for a second, and Taeyeon can imagine her trying to hold back her laughter. If Taeyeon were beside her… She cuts off on that track of thought quickly. “Icanpracticallyseemyselfinthem.”

Taeyeon is listening very, very hard like she had promised, like she would have even if Jessica hadn’t asked her to, but she still can’t make that out clearly. “You can what?”

“I told you to listen,” Jessica hisses.

“I did listen! You said it so quickly.” Even now, Taeyeon’s brain is still trying to untangle Jessica’s words. “And no, I didn’t clean my imaginary pants with Windex. You know I’m a Tide person.”

Jessica laughs. “Well, I… Give me a minute to come up with a pun for that.”

“Take your time.” The words come out soft, tender.

“Sorry, Taengoo,” Jessica suddenly says, in that cute voice that always accompanies the nickname.

“For what?”

“I wanted to make you laugh with a pick-up line, but I couldn’t even say the line.”

It’s her chest that feels tight this time. “Jessica…”

“I’ll work on it,” Jessica says with resolution. “Practice makes perfect and all that.”

“You don’t need pick-up lines to make me laugh,” Taeyeon says softly. “You – you made me laugh when you just talked about telling a joke, remember?”

“I like it when you laugh,” Jessica repeats. “I like that I can make you laugh.”

“I like—you—laughing too.” Taeyeon coughs. “I mean, I like that I can make you laugh too.”

Jessica chuckles. “Tae.”

“Yeah?”

“Did you clean your pants with Windex? I can practically see myself in them.”

The immediate sound that leaves Taeyeon is more of a snort than anything, and then she’s laughing in earnest, laughing so hard that she’s doubling over and clutching her sides. If Jessica were beside her…

“Sica.”

“Yeah?”

“Please…” Stay on the line. Stay. Stay with me. “I’m going to have to get a new number.”

Jessica makes an acquiescent sound. “You really should as soon as possible.”

“You’re – you’ll…”

“Taeyeon.” Her name leaves Jessica’s lips like half a laugh, half a sigh. “I’m going to call you again. Unless…you want to stay away from phone calls for a while.”

“I don’t want to stay away from you.”

They’re technically already away from each other, but in their own, odd way, they’re also together. Jessica isn’t beside her, but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t with her.

“I wouldn’t let you even if you wanted to.”

“You’re in my pants, right, so I guess we’re both wearing them.”

“Taeyeon.” Jessica’s voice is all laughter this time, and Taeyeon drinks it in, smiling. She had dreaded even thinking about her phone just minutes ago, but now when she thinks about it, she thinks about Jessica, Jessica promising not to leave her, Jessica saying “Taengoo” in the way nobody else ever does, Jessica trying so hard to tell a pick-up line, and her thoughts stay there, at Jessica.

Chapter Text

Jessica’s so used to getting birthday wishes phone calls that when she picks up another call, she just says “thank you” on reflex before the other person even speaks.

“Uh, you’re welcome?”

“Tae,” Jessica breathes. “It’s you.”

“Yeah, it’s me.” A pause. “Hi.”

“Hi.” She waits for Taeyeon to continue, but Taeyeon seems to be waiting for her to do the same. “Hello.” It sounds too awkward, so she adds, “From the other side.”

Taeyeon laughs, not the slightly strained one she gave at the beginning of their last phone call, like she had forgotten how to, but that genuine, familiar laughter of hers, full and deep and warm. It’s reassuring to hear it again, like finding an old sweater that she still fits into, like rediscovering a piece of home.

“Hello. How’s your side doing?”

“Which one?” Jessica rubs her waist. “I bumped against my bed yesterday and now I have a bruise on my right side.”

“Are you okay?”

“If I say I’m not, will you rub it better for me?”

“Are you trying to start phone sex or—”

“Yah, Kim Taeyeon!”

Taeyeon laughs again. “I swear, I should record that and make it a personal ringtone for your calls.”

Jessica smiles. “And what should I record to set as a ringtone for you?”

“What do you want me to say?”

Jessica narrows her eyes. “Not something dirty.”

“Oh, that reminds me of why I called.”

“Why,” Jessica says in a low voice. “Wait. Did you really call for phone sex?”

Taeyeon’s laughter rolls over Jessica like a warm tide. Maybe she should just record that as a ringtone. “No, I didn’t. But if you’re asking…”

“You wish.”

“Maybe I do,” Taeyeon says, unabashed. “Hey, you’re the birthday girl. You should be the one making wishes.”

“Should I?”

“Yeah, tell me your wish.”

Jessica snorts. “Are you my genie now?”

“Only if you rub my lamp.”

“Taeyeon.” Jessica can’t even get out another word, she’s laughing so hard. “You’re so… Taeyeon.”

“Sooyeon,” Taeyeon says, quietly, intimately. “Happy Birthday.”

“Taeyeon.” This time, Taeyeon’s name leaves her lips in a very different tone.

“Are you having a good one so far?”

It would be better if you were with me.

“I want to be,” Taeyeon says softly, and Jessica realizes that she had said the words out loud. “I’ll be—I have a surprise for you.”

Jessica looks down, even though she knows Taeyeon can’t see her. “A surprise?” The question comes out in a small voice. “What kind of surprise?”

There’s a knock on the door. Jessica stops breathing.

“Aren’t you going to let me in?”

“Taeyeon?” Her voice is even smaller now. “Are you really— Don’t play a joke on me now.”

“Sooyeon,” Taeyeon says. “I’m really.”

Jessica makes it to the door, somehow, and opens it. And Taeyeon is standing there, in front of her door, in front of her, with a big bag and a small smile that widens when she sees Jessica.

“Hi,” Taeyeon says.

“Hi,” Jessica says, rather dazedly.

“Hello from the same side.”

Jessica chokes out a laugh, and then she’s pulling Taeyeon through the door and into her arms. She remembers to close the door behind them, and it clicks shut like a sealed secret.

“Happy Birthday,” Taeyeon says again.

“Thank you,” Jessica replies automatically, her eyes drinking Taeyeon in. Her hair has grown a little since the last time Jessica saw her, and mercifully she’s gotten rid of those horrible bangs. She’s also put on a tiny amount of weight, barely noticeable but evident to Jessica’s eyes (and arms, for the brief moment she held Taeyeon). Taeyeon never takes care of herself, but she won’t let other people do it either, and. Jessica’s relieved to see that she’s no longer quite so waifish.

“I hope—” Taeyeon clears her throat. “You know, all your wishes come true.”

Jessica smiles. “One of them did already.”

Taeyeon smiles back, and there’s a moment when they just stand there smiling at each other, unspeaking but not silent.

“So,” Taeyeon says. “Aren’t you supposed to wear something special for the occasion?”

Jessica blinks. “Like, a party hat or something?”

Taeyeon doesn’t laugh, but her eyes do. “It’s your birthday, so shouldn’t you be in the suit for that?”

“There’s a special suit for birthdays?” Jessica asks, confused, and then it clicks for her. “Yah, Kim Taeyeon!”

Taeyeon laughs. “I really have to make that my ringtone.”

“You – you’re so…”

“So what?”

“So…Taeyeon.”

“Is that an adjective now?” Taeyeon asks, amused.

“Yeah,” Jessica says. “Nobody is as Taeyeon as you are. You’re very special.”

Taeyeon looks at her like—looks at her in that Taeyeon way that only she looks at Jessica with and that she only looks at Jessica with. “You’re the birthday girl,” she says lightly. “You’re the special one.”

“Well, of course I’m special,” Jessica says, and Taeyeon smiles.

“Very,” Taeyeon agrees, eyes not leaving Jessica’s.

Jessica’s lashes feel very heavy when she blinks and momentarily lowers her eyes. She redirects them onto Taeyeon and the pale blue ribbon in her hair, tied into a neat bow. Jessica touches it, lightly. “Nice accessory you have there.”

“It’s not an accessory. It’s for you.”

Jessica’s eyebrows draw together. “You want to give me a ribbon?”

Taeyeon laughs again. Jessica has long since memorized the sound, and she heard it over the phone only minutes ago, but it’s different in person. More defined, more real, more—just more. Taeyeon is more in person, but Jessica still can’t have enough of her.

“It’s for your present,” Taeyeon says. “You have to unwrap a present, right?”

Jessica’s mouth goes dry.

“Oh, I almost forgot.” Taeyeon gestures to the bag she brought, which Jessica had totally forgotten about. “I got you a cake. And I brought a handheld massager, for your side. And some massage oil, if you would rather have me rub it better.” She grins, dimple popping out, and Jessica just ends up staring instead of snorting and swatting her like she normally would.

“Taeyeon.” Jessica wants to say a lot of things here, but she’s never been the best with words. “Thank you.”

“You don’t have to thank me. It’s your birthday, and it’s—you. You don’t have to thank me.”

“Tae,” Jessica says, and in lieu of speech, kisses her.

I can’t believe you’re here.

“Believe it,” Taeyeon says, running her thumb over Jessica’s cheek. Jessica puts her hand over Taeyeon’s and just holds it.

“I have to stop this talking out loud while believing I’m thinking thing,” she says with a wry twist of her mouth.

“Why? I want to know what you’re thinking.”

“I want to know what you’re thinking.”

“I’m thinking that…you’re like a birthday candle.”

Jessica blinks, utterly bemused. “I am?”

“Yeah, you light up my life.” It should just be a cheesy pick-up line, but with the way that Taeyeon is looking at her, it’s not so cheesy anymore.

“Do you spend your spare time looking up pick-up lines or something?”

Taeyeon grins. “You inspired me with your Windex one.”

“That’s me, always an inspiration.”

“Indeed,” Taeyeon says solemnly. “You inspired me to write a song for my album.”

Jessica points to herself. “Me?” she asks in surprise.

“No, the plant behind you,” Taeyeon deadpans. “Yes, you.”

Taeyeon wrote a song for her. A song. For her. “Can I hear it?”

“It’s not done yet.” Jessica can see the excitement in Taeyeon’s eyes about her album. It makes her happy to see Taeyeon light up about something. Taeyeon has so much light around her, but it’s too often swallowed by the darkness that’s inside her. “I’ll sing it for you after it’s finished.”

“You’re really excited about this album, aren’t you?”

“I am,” Taeyeon says. “I think it has the potential to be something really special.”

Jessica would expect nothing less. Taeyeon deserves nothing less.

“Are you excited about your album?” Taeyeon asks.

“Definitely,” Jessica replies. “I haven’t sung in a long time. It’s…nice to sing again. I’ve missed it.”

Taeyeon looks at her with an intensity that’s a little hard to face head-on. “I’m sure your fans have missed your voice.”

“What about you?” Jessica can’t stop herself from asking.

“Don’t you know? I’m the president of your fan club.”

Jessica laughs. “I had no idea.”

“Well, you know now,” Taeyeon says. “I’ve missed your voice more than anyone.” She somehow says it very flippantly and very seriously at the same time.

Jessica bites and releases her lip. “You’ll get to hear it soon enough. I’ll sing something special just for you, president nim.”

Taeyeon grins, dimpling. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Jessica is too.

 

Bonus:

“So, I also have a pants line for you,” Taeyeon says, glancing at Jessica’s skirt. “You’re going to need to pretend you’re wearing pants too.”

Jessica snaps her fingers. “Done.”

Taeyeon smiles at her, eyes liquid and affection solid. “Do you have a mirror in your pocket?” Jessica almost checks, but then she remembers she doesn’t even have pockets, and she shakes her head. “Because I can see myself in your pants.”

Unlike Jessica, Taeyeon has no problem saying the punchline at all. Jessica means to give some sort of witty comeback, but she just ends up blushing, the heat spreading all the way to her ears. It’s not so much the pick-up line as it is the fact that she did think about Taeyeon being in her metaphorical pants when Taeyeon said that she could unwrap her present.

“I didn’t expect that to work so well,” Taeyeon remarks, looking smugly pleased.

Jessica clears her throat. “It doesn’t work well. It would probably get you slapped if you tried it on someone else.”

“Why would I try it on someone else? You’re the only one I ever tell pick-up lines to.”

Jessica can’t help the smile that breaks over her face at that.

“Hey,” Taeyeon says. “Actually, I wanted to send you something nice for your birthday, but the mailman made me get out of the mailbox.”

“You’re nice?” Jessica teases. “I’m pretty sure Santa put you on the naughty list.”

“For your information, I can be either.”

“Well, I’m happy you…made a personal delivery even though the mailman thwarted your plans.” Jessica’s voice drops in volume but not sincerity. “I’m so happy you’re here, Tae.”

“I am too,” Taeyeon says softly, and grins. “I’m your genie, right? I have to make at least one of your wishes come true.”

“Thank you, genie,” Jessica says with a smile, reaching to undo the bow in Taeyeon’s hair. “I think,” she breathes, “it’s time for me to unwrap my present.”

Chapter Text

“Careful, watch your finger,” Taeyeon says as Jessica digs into unwrapping her present like a child on Christmas morning.

Jessica pauses. “I thought you said this is a plant. Why do you sound like it’s going to bite me? Did you get me a Venus Flytrap or something?”

“A Venus…what?” Taeyeon stares at Jessica like she’s crazy.

“A Venus Flytrap. You know, one of those plants that—”

“I know what they are,” Taeyeon says. “No, I didn’t get you a Venus Flytrap. That…doesn’t really seem like your type of plant.”

“So this is my type of plant?” Jessica continues her unwrapping, albeit in a slower and more careful fashion.

“I hope so.” Taeyeon is looking at Jessica intently, her eyes bright with anticipation, like she’s the one opening a present. It makes Jessica stop for a moment and just look at her.

“What?” Taeyeon asks. “Did you hurt your finger?”

Jessica can’t help but smile. “No, I’m fine. I’m better than fine. I’m.”

She doesn’t even finish her sentence, but Taeyeon smiles like she had heard her anyway and looks at her like she’s saying me too.

“Come on,” Taeyeon says. “Open your present.”

Jessica does and peels away the rest of the wrapping paper to find—

“A cactus?” she asks in surprise. “You got me a cactus?”

“You don’t like it?” Taeyeon asks, her eyebrows drawing together.

“No, that’s not it,” Jessica says hurriedly. “It’s just… I didn’t expect you to get me a cactus.”

“It won’t kill bugs for you like a Venus Flytrap, but.” Taeyeon looks hesitantly at her. “You can tell me if you don’t like it. I can get you something el—”

“Taeyeon,” Jessica says firmly. “I like it just fine.” Taeyeon doesn’t look convinced. Jessica isn’t lying, exactly, she’s just…surprised. “So, you said that a Venus Flytrap doesn’t seem like my type of plant, but a cactus does?”

“Well…”

“Are you calling me prickly?”

Taeyeon smiles. “Only when I wake you from a nap.”

Jessica laughs, and runs a fingertip cautiously over the cactus. “This is a pretty cactus. I haven’t seen one like it before.”

“It’s a prickly pear cactus.”

“Prickly pear? Isn’t that the name of a sticker set on Facebook?”

Taeyeon doesn’t laugh, but her eyes do. They do a lot when she’s with Jessica. “Yeah, it is. They must have named it after this species.”

“What does it have to do with pears?”

“They produce a fruit which is known as a prickly pear. Because it’s…prickly. And looks kind of like a pear.”

“What a great name,” Jessica deadpans, and Taeyeon’s eyes dance with laughter again. “So is this thing going to give me fruits?”

“It’s not fully grown yet. If you take care of it properly, eventually it can.”

“And I can eat them?”

“You can, but you have to be careful to remove all the spines first. Otherwise it can hurt you.”

“You’ll do that for me, right?” Jessica asks. “You wouldn’t want me to be hurt.”

“No.”

“No?”

“I mean – yes, I’ll remove the spines for you, and no, I wouldn’t want you to be hurt.” Taeyeon looks at the cactus. “But it’ll probably be a while before this cactus can bear fruit.”

“I’ll take really good care of it,” Jessica says, even though she’s never been able to keep a plant alive. Or a goldfish, for that matter. She’s not really the best owner. Krystal had gotten her a pet rock last year because “I can trust you not to kill a rock, unnie. Right?”

“It’s not too much work to take care of a cactus,” Taeyeon says.

“Is that why you got me one? Because you know I’d kill any other kind of plant?”

“Well, I know you don’t exactly have a green thumb, but I wouldn’t say that either,” Taeyeon says. “Cacti are—resilient. They adapt to all kinds of environments. And they look tough, but they produce beautiful things: flowers or even fruit.”

Jessica blinks. “Are you saying I’m like a cactus?”

Taeyeon looks surprised. “No. I just think they’d be a nice plant to have.”

“Oh.”

“But you can interpret it in a really symbolic, meaningful way if you want.”

“Well, I can’t now,” Jessica says dryly, and Taeyeon gives her that hesitant look again. “I like it, Tae.”

“Really?”

“Really.” Jessica touches the cactus again, a little more firmly this time. It doesn’t sting as much as she thought it would. “I’ll take really good care of it, and then one day it’ll give us prickly pears and we can eat them together.”

Taeyeon looks at her, eyes lit up with—not laughter, exactly, but something bright and warm like it. “Sounds like a plan.”

“And you’ll get rid of all the spikes, right?”

This time, Taeyeon does laugh, and Jessica is lit up with it.

“Right.”

Chapter Text

Shadows (spin-off from this)

Jessica is settling down in a piece of shade under a gnarled oak, ready for a nap, when a figure materializes in front of her. She reels back, the sleepiness startled out of her, which takes a lot to do to a child of Hypnos.

The teleporter girl is dressed in black from ponytailed head to Converse high tops toe, and her eyes are a black that look even darker than her clothes, like they’re made of shadows, like they could suck all the light out of her surroundings.

“Who the Hades are you?” Jessica blurts out.

The girl raises an eyebrow. “You just said, didn’t you?”

Jessica blinks. “I just said…what? I asked who you are. You are a ‘who,’ right? You’re not a monster in disguise?”

“Not the kind you’re thinking of,” the girl says wryly. Jessica squints at her, and her mouth quirks up. “Are you trying to see if I’m hiding behind Mist?”

“No, I’m just trying to get a closer look at your nose piercing.”

A smile. “You can come up to me if you want to do that. I promise I won’t bite.”

“That sounds like something a monster would say.”

“How would I have gotten past the barriers if I were one?”

“What are you then, if not one? How did you just…pop here?”

“I’ve gone from ‘who’ to ‘what.’ I’m losing ground.”

Jessica can’t help a smile. “Okay, who are you then, if not a monster?”

She looks at Jessica for a long moment. Her eyes look even darker, like the blackest part of a midnight sky, and Jessica almost shivers at the intensity of her gaze. She feels like those eyes are sucking the light out of her as well.

“My name is Taeyeon, and I’m a daughter of Hades.”

 

Why (inspired by this)

“You want to go on a road trip?” Jessica repeats.

Taeyeon nods.

“But…why?”

“Why not?” Taeyeon counters.

Jessica’s eyebrows are drawn together, her forehead furrowed. Once upon a time, Taeyeon would have kissed away those lines on her face, lines of confusion, of frustration, perhaps, but now maybe they’re lines of something else. Taeyeon doesn’t know; she’s no longer an expert on the geometry of Jessica.

Jessica’s lips part. “Why?”

“Haven’t you ever just…wanted to get away from everything?”

“Only all the time.”

“So what’s stopping you?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Jessica says slowly. “Maybe all of my responsibilities.” She says the last part pointedly, with a loaded look at Taeyeon, like she’s asking, and what about yours?

Taeyeon wants to say, I’m tired of being responsible. Wants to say, that’s how I lost you, how we lost each other, in the first place. Wants to say, please. What she does say is, “Can’t those take a vacation for a little while?”

Jessica looks at her for a long moment, scrutinizing and inscrutable, the face of CEO Jessica rather than Taeyeon’s Jessica. Taeyeon wonders if she’s still around. Something softens in Jessica’s eyes, and Taeyeon dares to think maybe, dares to hope.

“I suppose they can,” Jessica finally says, soft and ragged, like she’s been worn down.

“So you’ll come with me?” Taeyeon asks, voice pulling up with hope.

“Like I can trust you to drive for days by yourself,” Jessica snorts. “Knowing you, you’ll probably end up horribly lost and stranded in the desert.”

“Well, good thing I have you then, right?”

“Right,” Jessica says slowly. “Good thing you have me.”

 

Rain (start of a longfic)

They meet in the rain.

By the time that Taeyeon finds shelter from the storm, she’s completely soaked through, shivering and feeling the chill all the way in her bones. The bus stop is shabby and looks like it’s standing on its last legs, but she feels like it’s the best thing she’s seen all day.

The wind picks up and she feels like she’s smacked in the back by an invisible hand as she lurches into the bus stop and stumbles right into someone, almost knocking both of them over.

“Sorry,” she gasps, bursting into coughs as she does so.

The person backs up, pulling Taeyeon along into the very back of the shelter so they’re as far from the rain as possible.

“You okay there? You look like you just climbed out of the ocean or something.”

Taeyeon wipes her bangs from her eyes with the back of her hand so she can actually see, and she’s met with a half-concerned, half-amused expression. The girl she had bumped into is a lot drier than she is and a little taller, with light brown hair and delicate features.

“Yeah, I’m actually a scuba diver,” Taeyeon jokes, and the girl smiles.

“Did you find any pearls?”

“If I say I did, are you going to mug me and steal them?”

“And run out into that weather? No thanks.”

“It’s reassuring to know the rain is the only thing stopping you.”

“It’s a strong force. Look what it did to you.”

It’s then that Taeyeon realizes that she’s standing close enough to the girl to basically drip all over her. “Sorry!” she says, reeling back only to bump into the bench and almost trip. The girl has to grab her to keep her up.

“How did you ever make it as a scuba diver? I thought that profession would require some balance.”

“I…” Taeyeon swallows. “Sorry,” she repeats. “I got you all wet.”

A funny look comes over the girl’s face for a second, but then she breaks into a playful smile. “Is that what you do to all the girls you meet?”

Taeyeon feels like running back outside into the rain in the hopes that it’ll put out the fire in her cheeks.

“Sorry, was that overkill?” The girl takes one look at Taeyeon’s face and bursts out laughing.

Taeyeon clears her throat. “I think I liked it better when I thought you were going to mug me.”

“I can still do that,” she says. “Hey, what’s your name anyway?”

“You want to put a name to your mugging victim?”

“I want to put a name to the girl who got me all wet.”

Taeyeon almost chokes. The girl looks at her innocently as she holds out her soaked sleeve and wrings it, drops of water splashing onto the ground, their own little rainfall in an otherwise dry corner.

Taeyeon means to give some kind of witty reply, but what comes out is simply, “Taeyeon.”

“Taeyeon,” the girl repeats, as if testing Taeyeon’s name on her tongue. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to mug you.”

“Sure you aren’t,” Taeyeon mutters.

She smiles. “You don’t trust me?”

“I don’t even know your name.”

“That’s true.”

Taeyeon waits, but an answer doesn’t come. “Aren’t you going to tell me?”

“Tell you what?”

This girl is incredible.

“Your name.”

“Taeyeon,” she says, and at Taeyeon’s expression, laughs again. “Hang on, I wasn’t done talking. Taeyeon, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Jessica.”

“Jessica,” Taeyeon says, and suddenly notices that the rain has let up. “Nice to meet you.”

Chapter Text

“I’m the fucker who set off the fire alarm with my awful cooking”

Taeyeon narrows her eyes. “It’s you.”

Jessica gives a nervous laugh. “Yeah, um. Sorry about that earlier. I was trying to make French toast.”

“French toast?” It must take some real talent to set off the fire alarm while making that.

“Yeah. I really like French toast, so I thought I’d try to make it myself.” Jessica’s mouth pulls down. “It didn’t turn out so well, as you can see. Not only did I end up with an empty stomach and a ruined pan, I made the whole building hate me.”

“I don’t hate you,” Taeyeon blurts out.

Jessica looks at her with surprise and then ducks her head, smiling. Her face looks a lot softer when she’s smiling.

“I once set a fire in the oven trying to bake pizza,” Taeyeon offers.

Jessica’s mouth quirks up. “Did it give it a flame-charred flavour?”

“No,” Taeyeon laughs. “I wish.”

“What happened after that?”

“Well, I was going to call the fire department, but my roommate somehow knew that baking soda can put out a fire and threw an entire box’s worth of it into the oven.”

“And it worked?”

“Yeah,” Taeyeon says, “and that’s how I’m standing in front of you today.”

Jessica laughs. “Well, I’m glad you are and you didn’t get burned.”

“Yeah,” Taeyeon says. “I am too.”

 

“are you asleep on that bench because of midterms, you’re homeless, or you’re dead?”

At first Taeyeon thinks there’s an abandoned pile of clothes on the park bench, but then she realizes that it’s – seemingly – a human being. The long brown hair that peeks out from the lump suggests that it’s a girl. It’s not the first time that Taeyeon’s seen someone passed out (hopefully just that) on a bench, but it’s the first time that she speaks to them.

“Are you asleep on that bench because of midterms, you’re homeless, or you’re dead?” she asks, totally not expecting a reply.

“None of the above.”

Taeyeon jumps.

“If I were dead, would I be able to reply to you?”

“I don’t know. You could be a zombie or something.”

“Or something.” The girl sits up, brushing her hair away from her face. A face that looks slightly familiar. “Hey, you’re in my philosophy class, aren’t you?”

“Uh. Maybe. I’m not very good with faces.”

The girl gives her a scrutinizing look. “I am, and yes, you are. What’s your name again? Tae-something?”

“Taeyeon,” she replies automatically.

“Are you homeless, dead or a zombie?”

“Uh, no?” It comes out like a question, even though she’s definitely none of the above, although sometimes she feels dangerously close to the last two when it’s exam time and she’s surviving on coffee, energy drinks and sheer terror.

“Okay, nice to know.” A smile, and an extended hand. “I’m Jessica.”

 

heard a scream and thought you were getting killed but it was just a spider

The glass-shattering scream makes Taeyeon wonder if a) her eardrums just burst, and b) if someone is getting murdered. She knew she should have just stayed in her room instead of going to the dorm lodge to buy an iced tea from the vending machine. This is what she gets for disturbing what she calls intense studying and what Yoona calls a “self-imposed exile from the world.”

There’s only one other person in the lounge, a girl standing a few feet away from the couch, who thankfully looks alive and unharmed.

“Are you okay?” Taeyeon asks awkwardly. She hears her own voice so she assumes that her eardrums are still intact.

The girl’s head whips around and she turns to look at Taeyeon. Her face is rather pale, her eyes startled; she looks vaguely familiar. Taeyeon thinks they’ve seen each other around in the hallway or when taking out the garbage, but they’ve never spoken to each other.

“Yeah,” she says, her cheeks colouring. “Sorry, I screamed pretty loudly there, didn’t I?”

Taeyeon fights the urge to rub her ears. “It’s okay,” she says. “What happened?”

The girl points with a shaking finger at a corner of the couch. “I saw one of them.”

“One of what?” Taeyeon asks, bewildered.

“A spider,” she spits out, like the very word is vile.

Taeyeon can’t help herself; she bursts into laughter.

“It’s not funny!” the girl says, even though it’s pretty hilarious. “It was huge, and it crawled onto my arm.” She breaks into a full-body shudder. “God, I have to shower for hours to wash its—spiderness off.”

The word spiderness almost sets Taeyeon off again, but she manages to control herself. “Are you the reason we’re always out of hot water?”

The girl gives her a baleful look. “This isn’t funny.”

“You have to admit… Um, what’s your name?”

“Jessica.”

“You have to admit, Jessica, it’s pretty funny.”

“I’m not admitting anything.”

“Will you admit where the spider is? I want to see it for myself.”

“Can you kill it?” Jessica asks hopefully.

“I don’t believe in taking an innocent life,” Taeyeon says solemnly.

Jessica gives her an incredulous look. “It’s not innocent! It attacked my arm.”

“You attacked my eardrums.”

“I’m sorry,” Jessica says, looking genuinely apologetic. “I know I have a high scream. I can’t help it.”

“It’s okay,” Taeyeon says, like the trooper she is. “Okay, point me to this spider. I’ll take it outside for you.”

Jessica beams at her. “My hero,” she says, and even though the lounge is air-conditioned, Taeyeon feels warmth flood her cheeks.

Chapter Text

Text from Jessica:
hey i know ur feeling down so i hv smt for u

Jessica has sent a video attachment: cyuagn.mp4

Text from Taeyeon:
.........................
i honestly hate you

Text from Jessica:
aww cmon
u don’t like my singing?
i even tried rapping just for u

Text from Taeyeon:
leave the rapping to fabulous
fabolous* autocorrect

Text from Jessica:
lol i can’t even bother to correct that when i type it
ur so good to me tae <3

Text from Taeyeon:
and this is what i get in return

Text from Jessica:
“this”? u mean my beautiful singing and fabulous rapping?
pun intended

Text from Taeyeon:
uh huh
how’s your day going?

Text from Jessica:
long :(

Text from Taeyeon:
aww busy??

Text from Jessica:
it’s been a long day
without you, my friend
and i’ll tell you all about it when i see you again

Text from Taeyeon:
bye

Text from Jessica:
we’ve come a long way from where we began
oh i’ll tell you all about it when i see you again

Text from Jessica:
tae?

Text from Jessica:
taeyeon?

 

The thing is, it’s actually a really good cover. Of course it is; Jessica has an amazing voice. Taeyeon is, of course, only talking about the singing parts. Rapping clearly isn’t Jessica’s forte, but Taeyeon can’t exactly talk given she had failed miserably when given the rap for Stay.

Taeyeon finds herself humming the song without even realizing.

“I didn’t expect to hear you singing that song after the whole mess,” Sunkyu says.

“I’m not singing it.”

Sunkyu rolls her eyes. “Humming it, then. And how can your humming be so off-tune, Taeyeon? I’m disappointed in you.”

“Sorry, I’ll tell them to use autocorrect next time,” Taeyeon says. “Auto-tune,” she amends. “Oops. I was in texting mode.”

“You have been texting someone a lot lately.”

Taeyeon grins. “Jealous it’s not you?”

“I get enough of your lame puns in person, thanks, I don’t need to see them in text too.”

“My puns aren’t lame,” Taeyeon protests. And she hasn’t even been making many puns lately; it seems that Jessica’s taken over from her in that department.

“Sure, Taeyeon,” Sunkyu says indulgently. “You keep telling yourself that.”

And then Sunkyu goes on her phone and completely ignores Taeyeon. She has the greatest friends.

 

Text from Taeyeon:
are my puns lame?

Text from Jessica:
do u want the honest ans or the nice ans?

Text from Taeyeon:
i thought you didn’t do nice

Text from Jessica:
i usually don’t but i’ll make an exception for u

Text from Taeyeon:
wow i’m so touched

Text from Jessica:
as u shud be

Text from Taeyeon:
btw your cover was nice

Text from Jessica:
ty ty
(btw the 2nd ty is ur name)

Text from Taeyeon:
…yeah i got that
i’ve missed your voice

Text from Jessica:
same
i mean i missed ur voice, not that i missed mine too
i listened to rain at mama. it was
sorry about what happened. i know i joked about it but you deserve better

Text from Taeyeon:
wow proper spelling i’m really touched

Text from Jessica:
don’t get used to it

Text from Taeyeon:
anyway, thank you
i just wish the whole thing would blow over
it’s gone on too long already

Text from Jessica:
it will
u hv support from the ppl who matter
ignore the ones who don’t

Text from Taeyeon:
i have support from you

Text from Jessica:
u do
hey, why couldn’t the bicycle stand up on its own?

Text from Taeyeon:
umm i think i’m going to regret this but
why??

Text from Jessica:
it was two tired :D

Text from Taeyeon:
lol does that make you a bicycle

Text from Jessica:
do u wanna ride me? ;))

 

Jessica blushes after she sends the text, covering her face with her hands. Her cheeks are warm under her fingers, and she can’t even look at her phone. Taeyeon would probably have a good laugh if she saw Jessica’s reaction. This is all her fault anyway; it’s her influence that has Jessica making puns that are ranging from lame to rated.

“Unnie, what are you doing?”

She squawks and instinctively tries to cover her phone, even though it’s already gone to lock screen. Krystal gives her a weird look.

“What are you doing here?” Jessica blurts out.

“Um, you invited me over for dinner,” Krystal says in a tone that suggests Jessica is an idiot, aka how she usually talks to Jessica. “Or did you forget already?”

“No, no, I remember.” Jessica glances at the kitchen. “I even took out some chicken to defrost.”

“Oh, you’re cooking? I thought we were going to order delivery.”

“Yah, Jung Soojung, be grateful that your unnie is cooking for you.”

“I’ll be grateful when you make something edible.”

“I made fried rice last time and you said it was good!”

“I was trying to spare your feelings.” Krystal glances at Jessica’s phone. “What are you trying to hide anyway? Were you watching porn?”

“Yah, Jung Soojung!”

This is what she gets for being a caring and hospitable sister. Never again.

 

Text from Jessica:
a friend of mine tried to annoy me with bird puns, but i soon realized that toucan play at that game

Text from Jessica:
i’d tell you a chemistry joke but i know i wouldn't get a reaction

Text from Jessica:
what do you do when chemists die? barium

Text from Jessica:
lol idk why there r so many chemistry puns

Text from Taeyeon:
u and i have no chemistry
god i’m picking up ur texting habits
your*

Text from Jessica:
yesssss mission success

Text from Taeyeon:
your mission is to corrupt my texting habits?

Text from Jessica:
maybe it’s to corrupt u .
that’s a period btw
also ur corrupted enough byuntaeyeon

Text from Taeyeon:
says byunsic

Text from Jessica:
the perfect byun couple!

Text from Taeyeon:
<4
oops <3*

Text from Jessica:
why is there a star behind our heart?

Text from Taeyeon:
because i’m a golden star?

Text from Jessica:
aww tae. such a sweet talker

Text from Taeyeon:
do i get a kiss?

Text from Jessica:
xxxxxxxxx

Text from Taeyeon:
lol that looks so explicit

Text from Jessica:
KIM TAEYEON

Text from Taeyeon:
hey you wrote it
i watched your vid the other day it made me crave kalbi
we should go get bbq

Text from Jessica:
the usual place?

Text from Taeyeon:
sure. you free next week?

Text from Jessica:
i’m never free i’m expensive

Text from Taeyeon:
what do i have to pay for a date?

Text from Jessica:
ur soul

Text from Taeyeon:
sorry i lost it ages ago

Text from Jessica:
fine ur heart

Text from Taeyeon:
i gave that to you a long time ago

Text from Jessica:
aww tae
ilu too

Text from Taeyeon:
<3*

 

Taeyeon is eyeing the on but empty grill and nursing a bottle of soju when Jessica slips into the booth across from her.

“Sorry I’m late. I had to shake off some particularly insistent fans.” Jessica eyes the bottle in Taeyeon’s hand. “How much have you had?”

“None. I’m just keeping my hands busy.”

Jessica grins. “I can give you something to occupy your hands with.”

Taeyeon rolls her eyes. “Why did I know you were going to say that?”

“Because you know me so well, obviously.”

“I do,” Taeyeon says with the dimpled smile Jessica loves. “I bet I can guess what you’re thinking about right now.”

“What?” Jessica asks, half-expecting a lame pun because this is Taeyeon after all.

“Meat.”

Jessica laughs. “Okay, you got one out of two.” She tilts her head to the side. “Unless you’re calling yourself meat, which I guess could also work.”

Taeyeon snorts. “I think the industry does enough of that for us.”

“Tae,” Jessica says softly, reaching over to cover Taeyeon’s hand with her own. “I’m sorry this happened.”

Taeyeon blows out a breath. “So am I.”

“Are you okay?”

“I am,” she says with a sliver of a smile. “Or at least, I’m getting there.”

“I’m glad,” Jessica says, squeezing her hand. “I don’t like seeing you upset.”

“That’s not the feeling I got when you sent me that video file,” Taeyeon says wryly, but there’s a twinkle in her eyes.

“Hey, you’re the one who said you missed my voice, okay? You should be flattered I did a song cover just for you.”

“I am so incredibly flattered,” Taeyeon deadpans. “You’re my idol, Jessica nim. Can I get your autograph?”

“Where do you want me to sign?”

Taeyeon leans in and whispers something in Jessica’s ear that makes her face feel warmer than the grill in front of them. Great, at this rate she won’t last through dinner.

“Sica?” Taeyeon asks innocently, putting some meat on the grill. “I ordered a lot of kalbi. I hope you still want to eat them.”

“You are the worst, Kim Taeyeon.”

“You mean the best.”

“I know what I said.”

Taeyeon puts a piece of cucumber kimchi on Jessica’s plate and then cringes exaggeratedly when Jessica raises the bottle of soju threateningly at her.

“The worst,” Jessica mutters, but when Taeyeon flashes that dimpled smile at her, she can’t help the way her mouth curves up in reply.

Chapter Text

August 5, 2017. The numbers stare up at Jessica from her screen almost mockingly, and she keeps seeing them even though she’s put her phone away. Krystal had asked her if she wanted to grab dinner, but Jessica had declined. She doesn’t want to be by herself, but she also doesn’t want to be with anyone else. Anyone but them. It’s supposed to be their day, right?

Ten years. A decade. Jessica has to admit that she never thought they would last this long, but then again, she supposes that she didn’t. This is Girls’ Generation’s tenth year anniversary, but it’s not hers.

When her phone rings, she thinks that it’s Krystal checking in on her, or maybe Minyoung confirming dinner next week, but it’s neither of them. The voice is one that is at once completely unexpected and hauntingly familiar.

“I wish you were here.”

Jessica starts and almost drops her phone. “W-what?”

“I wish you were here.” Taeyeon’s voice isn’t any clearer the second time around. If anything, her words sound more slurred, like they’re scrambling around each other.

Jessica can only think to say, “Are you drunk?”

“Yes,” Taeyeon laughs. “It’s great. I feel great.”

Jessica’s fingers tighten on her phone. How much have you had to drink? she wants to ask. Are the girls with you? Why did they let you drink this much?

“No, that’s a lie.” Taeyeon hiccups. “I don’t feel very good. My head hurts and my stomach hurts but my chest hurts the most. I miss you. I wish you were here.”

She had said it three times already, but Jessica still can’t quite take the words in. She tells herself that Taeyeon is only saying these things because she’s inebriated, but a drunk Taeyeon has always been an honest Taeyeon. More honest than she ever is sober.

“Happy Tenth Anniversary,” Taeyeon says, and Jessica can’t tell if the words are supposed to be congratulatory or accusatory. “Can you believe it’s been ten years? We were so young back then, weren’t we?”

“Yes.” Jessica swallows. “We were.”

There’s a gulping sound that must be Taeyeon drinking some more, and Jessica wishes she could reach through the phone and take the bottle from her. And then she would…

“Are you alone?”

“No,” Taeyeon says slowly, like she doesn’t understand why Jessica is asking that. “We’re celebrating.”

“We,” Jessica repeats, the word searing her throat like a shot.

“It’s our tenth anniversary, remember? Oh wait, I think I said that already…” Taeyeon laughs. “Sorry, I’m drunk.”

And despite everything, that elicits a smile from Jessica. “I know you are.” Would you call me if you weren’t? “If you’re with the girls, why did you drink so much? Did they not childproof the soju?”

Taeyeon laughs again, and Jessica drinks the sound down. “They’re still in the living room. Well, Hyo fell asleep. I think she drank too much.”

Jessica snorts. Somehow, she’s not surprised.

“And she got maknae to drink too much too.”

“Which is what, one beer?”

“One and a half, I think? And Sooyoung lied down on top of Hyoyeon because…she just wanted to, but then now I think she’s actually asleep. And Yuri went around and kissed us all and told us how much she loves us.”

“That sounds like Yul,” Jessica says with a faint smile.

“And Yoona keeps insisting that she’s not drunk but I think she drank the most out of all of us. Oh, except Sunkyu. She and Yoona are playing some game now. And Fany is… I don’t know what she’s doing.”

The most random of memories pops into Jessica’s mind: Tiffany doing a head count at the airport in that Manager Hwang way of hers, counting from one to eight only to pause there and call for her: Jung Jessica! She supposes that Tiffany can simply stop at eight now.

“And you’re…” Taeyeon breaks off. “Where are you?”

“I’m…home.”

“You’re not.” Taeyeon sounds like a confused child. “You’re not here. I’ve been waiting for you to come back all night. Where are you?”

Jessica blinks hard, fighting back the burn in her eyes. “Tae,” she chokes out, unable to get out more than that.

“Are you coming?” Taeyeon asks, with such naked hope in her voice that Jessica can’t tell her no. She can’t. “We have a cake and everything. With candles. I made a wish. I mean, I know it’s not my birthday but it’s like our birthday.”

Jessica gives a strangled laugh. “What did you wish for?”

Taeyeon starts to answer, but there’s a muffled sound in the background and Jessica hears Tiffany yelling “are you trying to get alcohol poisoning?!” and Sunkyu saying something she can’t make out, and then Taeyeon’s back on the line.

“You…” she starts, but doesn’t finish as the call breaks off and Jessica is left with the ring tone as the end of Taeyeon’s sentence.

It’s not 11:11, but Jessica closes her eyes and makes a wish. And then she decides that Taeyeon had the right idea and getting drunk sounds absolutely fantastic.

Chapter Text

“Did Taengoo die?” Sooyoung asks when Sunkyu returns to the living room, still lying on top of a sleeping Hyoyeon.

“No,” Sunkyu says, but the grim set of her face doesn’t ease. She looks more like she’s at a funeral than an anniversary celebration.

“Then why do you look like someone did?”

“She was on the phone,” Sunkyu says tersely, “and now she’s crying.”

Sooyoung sits up so sharply that it makes Hyoyeon stir, although she doesn’t wake up. “She’s crying? Taeyeon?”

Sunkyu takes a seat beside her. “Yeah.”

“Why was she—” Sooyoung’s mouth snaps shut in realization. “She was talking to Jessica?”

“Who else,” Sunkyu says wryly. “It seems that her phone ran out of battery and cut off the call but I doubt Jessica knows that. Now Taeyeon’s crying and asking for her. ‘Sica, where’s Sica. I want Sica.’ That’s all she’ll say. Fany’s trying to calm her down.”

Sooyoung swallows. “Where is she, I wonder,” she says, very quietly, like it’s an escaped thought rather than an actual sentence.

“She’s at the front door, apparently,” Yuri says, having returned from the bathroom without either of them noticing. She looks 50% less drunk and 150% more sombre. “She says she took a cab here and now she can’t get in because she doesn’t know the code.”

They all stare blankly at each other for a moment, like they have no idea what to do with that information.

“Well,” Sunkyu finally says. “I guess someone should go get her.”

 

Jessica doesn’t know whether she’s surprised or unsurprised when she sees the tall figures of the two maknaes coming through the front door.

“Unnie,” Juhyun greets, sounding remarkably sober. Yoona just hiccups, swaying slightly on her feet. Juhyun puts an arm around her to steady her.

Jessica manages a smile. “Hi,” she ventures.

“I’m not drunk,” Yoona suddenly proclaims.

“I’m sure you’re not,” Jessica says, amused.

Yoona squints at her. “Sica unnie,” she says slowly, like she’s testing the weight of those foreign words on her tongue. “Are you here to stay?”

Jessica’s throat closes up on her. She wonders for the umpteenth time whether she shouldn’t have come here.

“Let’s get unnie inside,” Juhyun says. “We shouldn’t be having a conversation like this in the lobby.”

“Are you sure you drank?” Jessica has to check. “You sound stone cold sober to me.”

“I have better alcohol tolerance now,” Juhyun says. “It’s been a while since we had a drink together.”

Jessica can’t tell if that’s an accusation or not. “It has been,” she says evenly.

“Well, we can have plenty of drinks tonight,” Yoona says with that broad grin of hers. “Unnie, did you bring food?”

This, at least, is familiar, and Jessica gives a fond, genuine smile. “I’m afraid I didn’t, Yoong.”

Yoona groans and almost falls over, and Juhyun and Jessica each take one of her arms as they make the short yet endless trek back to the place she once called home.

 

“Is she here yet?” Taeyeon asks for either the tenth or eleventh time. Tiffany has lost count, but she can’t hold it against Taeyeon. Oh, how she wishes she could tell her yes.

“I don’t think she’s coming,” Tiffany says carefully.

“But she should be here,” Taeyeon insists. “It’s our tenth anniversary. I made a wish.”

“I know,” Tiffany says softly. “I want her to be here too.”

It’s either the sixth or seventh time she’s said this, but she doesn’t mean it any less. She had drunk the least out of the eight of them and she regrets it now. She wonders if there’s any tequila left. Sooyoung had taken the bottle hostage, but when Tiffany last saw her she was dead to the world so Tiffany can probably get it away from her now…

“Sorry?” she asks, when she realizes Taeyeon had mumbled something, probably another “is she here yet,” or “where is she,” or “I miss her.”

“I’m going to take a nap,” Taeyeon announces. “Wake me up when Sica comes home.”

Tiffany bites her inner cheek. “Sure,” she says, after a beat. “Sleep well, TaeTae.”

It’s not like she can say I don’t think she’s coming home. Taeyeon rolls over and falls asleep almost instantly, the insomnia that has plagued her lately having vanished like her many defences. Tiffany can’t remember the last time Taeyeon even mentioned Jessica, but whether it’s the date or the alcohol or a combination of the two, something in Taeyeon has finally cracked and given way.

Tiffany just hopes it isn’t her heart.

 

“Should we wake Hyo up?” Sooyoung asks conversationally.

They all glance at Hyoyeon, who has a tuft of hair over her eye and is snoring with her mouth wide open.

“Nah,” they say simultaneously.

“Should we really have let Yoona go get Jessica?” Yuri asks. “She could barely walk in a straight line.”

Sunkyu raises her eyebrow. “Do you really want to stop Yoona when she has her mind set on something?”

Well, Yuri values her life so that’s a definite no.

“What if she passes out or like, throws up?”

“She already did both of those so I’m sure she’s fine,” Sooyoung says with a wave of her hand. To Yuri’s intoxicated brain, that makes perfect sense. “Is there any cake left?”

“You want more?” Sunkyu asks, vaguely horrified. “You’re going to go into a diabetic coma.”

“Not for me,” Sooyoung says, like she thinks Sunkyu’s stupid. “For Jessica. It’s her anniversary too.”

That throws them into a heavy silence that’s only broken by the front door opening and three figures stepping in, one of them they haven’t seen in—well, far too long.

“I brought Sica unnie back,” Yoona says brightly, like she dragged her here from the gates of hell. Juhyun just gives a wry smile and doesn’t dispute her, even though Yoona looks like she would have fallen over without Juhyun’s support. Jessica is standing behind them, almost hidden, looking smaller than ever with the way she’s slightly hunched in on herself.

Sunkyu holds out a can of beer in one hand and a bottle of soju in the other. “Do you want a drink?” she asks, casual and conversational, like it’s any other day and not their tenth anniversary, a they that doesn’t include Jessica.

“I’ll cut you a slice of cake,” Yuri says, leaping up and almost running toward the kitchen.

Hyoyeon keeps snoring, completely undisturbed by everything that’s happening.

Yoona’s face scrunches up. “I think I’m going to throw up,” she says to everyone and no one.

Juhyun looks resigned. “I’ll help you to the bathroom.”

“Hold her hair back,” Sooyoung advises.

“I’m happy to see you back, unnie,” Juhyun says to Jessica with a small but genuine smile. “Let’s catch up when nobody is in danger of throwing up.”

Jessica returns the smile. “Let’s.”

“My arms are getting sore,” Sunkyu complains. “Do you want the beer or the soju?”

“We finished the vodka,” Sooyoung says. “There’s tequila here though.” She pats the bottle tucked under her legs.

“I’m good, thanks,” Jessica says. “I had a lot to drink already.”

“Is that why you’re here?” Sunkyu asks bluntly.

Jessica bites her lip. “I want to be here,” she says in a small voice.

“We want you to be here too,” Yuri says, returning with a plate with a misshapen slice of cake on it. “Sorry about how ugly this is, Sooyoung started just digging into the cake before we even sliced it.”

“It was a good cake,” Sooyoung sniffs.

“Thank you,” Jessica says thickly, accepting the plate. Yuri gives her a soft, tired smile. “It’s – it’s not ugly at all.”

Yuri chuckles. “I’ve missed you, Sica,” she says, warm and candid in that Yuri way of hers.

Jessica swallows. “I’ve missed you too. All of you.” She trains her eyes on the plate in her lap rather than them.

“I’m happy you’re here, Jessica,” Sunkyu says, slow and sincere. “That’s not why I… It’s just that, you and Taeyeon are so similar, you know? I’m sure she’s wanted to call you for ages, but she could only do it drunk.”

A teardrop lands on Jessica’s cake. “She’s, uh, she’s not really going to get alcohol poisoning, is she?”

“I don’t think so.” Sunkyu chuckles. “Her liver is stronger than she thinks.”

“You’re the one who’s probably going to have liver failure,” Sooyoung tells her. “Hey Jessica, do you want to share that slice of cake?”

“You already ate like, half of it on your own,” Yuri says incredulously.

“And your point is?” Sooyoung looks at Jessica with big, hopeful eyes, and Jessica hands over her plate with a sigh and smile. She forgets about the fork, which slips and lands on Hyoyeon, right on her nose.

“Ugh, get that bee away from me,” Hyoyeon groans, running a hand over her face and blinking blearily. “Did a truck run over me or is that the tequila?”

“Pretty sure it’s the tequila,” Sooyoung says helpfully. “But it could also be the vodka. Or the soju.”

“Is there any sangria left?” Hyoyeon finally sees Jessica and fixes her with a blank stare. “Damn, did I really drink so much I’m hallucinating now?”

“No, you’re not hallucinating,” Yuri says with a smothered laugh.

“Hi,” Jessica says with a cough. “Um, Happy Tenth Anniversary?” The words are strangely painless to say, although she didn’t expect to say them first to a smashed Hyoyeon.

Hyoyeon grabs the bottle of tequila from an unresisting Sooyoung. “I’m not drunk enough for this,” she grunts, lifting it to her lips.

They all burst into laughter. Sooyoung almost slips off the couch; Sunkyu laughs so hard she chokes; Yuri falls against Jessica, who thinks it’s good to be home.

 

“You should go see Taeyeon,” Sunkyu says. “She’s been asking for you all night, and she cried when she couldn’t find you.”

“She cried?” Jessica whispers.

“She misses you a lot. I mean, we do too of course, but—”

“But we’re not in love with you,” Sooyoung says. “No offence but you’re not my type.”

“Well, you do already have a Jung in your life,” Yuri says, while Jessica is frozen at the first part of Sooyoung’s sentence.

Between them, Hyoyeon lets out another snore.

“You okay?” Sunkyu asks quietly.

“Just fine,” Jessica says, feeling entirely too sober for this. Maybe she should have taken the soju after all.

“Taeyeon will be happy to see you, you know,” Sunkyu says, like she’s reading Jessica’s mind. She’s always been uncannily perceptive, but Jessica hasn’t had that perception turned on her in a while. It should make her squirm, but it’s almost—nice. Comforting. To be known when she feels like she doesn’t know herself.

“I’m surprised you’re not like, running for her room,” Sooyoung adds.

“Are you nervous, Sica?” Yuri teases with a broad grin.

Why did she come back here again? She forgot how her members – ex-members, a corner of her mind corrects – could be absolute asses. (She, of course, ignores the number of times she teased them about their boyfriends.)

“Where’s Tiffany?” Jessica asks, partly as a distraction, mostly because she actually kind of wants to see that obnoxious loudmouth.

“She’s with Taeyeon,” Sunkyu replies.

Jessica isn’t surprised. She’s glad that Taeyeon isn’t alone, which she had feared when Taeyeon called her. Taeyeon has always liked being alone, has always turned to herself all the times that they wanted her to turn to them. Jessica has had a lot of practice being alone lately, and in a way she enjoys it and in another she misses them so much she aches with it.

“Sica?”

She opens her eyes, which she hadn’t realized she closed. “I want to see Taeyeon.”

“Well,” Sunkyu says. “You don’t need our permission.”

 

Taeyeon is asleep. Well, it’s either that or passed out, but her curled up position suggests sleep. Tiffany is asleep too, on the other end of the bed, sprawled so that she’s almost hanging off it.

“They look pretty cute,” Sooyoung says. “Let’s take a picture and post it on Instagram.”

Yuri rolls her eyes. “What’s with you and Instagram?”

“At least I have more on it than pictures of my dogs—”

“What’s wrong with posting pictures of my dogs?”

“Has it really been ten years,” Sunkyu interrupts. “You two still bicker like teenagers.”

“She started it,” they say at the same time.

Sunkyu makes a grand show of rolling her eyes and then reaches forward and pokes Tiffany in the stomach. Does it again, harder, until Tiffany groans and cracks open an eye. “Taeyeon, I swear, if you’re feeling me up—”

“Sorry to disappoint your fantasies,” Sunkyu says dryly. “Is this what you dream about? Maybe Taeyeon should lock her door at night.”

“Maybe you should lock your do—Jessica?” Tiffany’s eyes widen when she catches sight of her. “Am I dreaming?”

“You dream about Taeyeon feeling you up and then Jessica showing up?” Sooyoung whistles. “Fany, do you have something you want to tell us?”

“Jessi?” Tiffany says, hesitantly, like she’s unsure if she’s allowed to use the nickname. Jessica feels the ache return. “Is that really you?”

“It’s really me,” Jessica says quietly. “Happy Tenth Anniversary.” This time, the words do hurt to say, a little, and she remembers the airport again.

Tiffany’s face is almost swallowed in her smile. “Happy Tenth Anniversary!” Ah, and there’s the volume.

And then Jessica’s being pulled into a bone-crushing hug, and her ribs are screaming at her to pull away but she couldn’t have.

“Thank god you’re here,” Tiffany says. “Taeyeon has been asking for you all night. She told me not to wake her up until you came h—until you got here.”

“Well,” Jessica says weakly. “Here I am.”

Tiffany stares at her for a moment, before grabbing Sooyoung’s and Yuri’s wrists and pulling them toward the door. “Okay, everyone out. Jessica and Taeyeon need to…talk.” Sunkyu follows her, the corners of her mouth quirked up.

“Good luck, Jessi!” Tiffany chirps as she closes the door behind her. “Remember the walls are thin!”

Why did Jessica even miss her?

“Tae,” she says quietly, eyes flickering from the walls to the furniture to the floor, anywhere but Taeyeon. “I’m here. I came h-home. Like you asked. I don’t know if you wished for it, but I did. I wished to see you all again. Happy Tenth Anniversary.”

“Happy Tenth Anniversary,” comes Taeyeon’s voice, and Jessica almost jumps. When her eyes jerk to Taeyeon, she finds mussed hair and a dimpled smile. “You didn’t think I would sleep through all that, did you? I’m not Hyoyeon.”

“You…were awake? The whole time?”

“Well, not the whole time. Probably since—does it matter?” Taeyeon is staring at her the way Sooyoung was eyeing her cake earlier, along with an edge of wondrous disbelief like she isn’t really sure Jessica is here.

No. “Yes. You heard everything?”

Taeyeon sits up and slides off the bed. “Was there something you didn’t want me to hear?”

“I—” Was there? What did she say again?

“To be honest, I don’t even remember what I told you over the phone.” Taeyeon scratches the back of her head. “I don’t know if I want to remember.”

“You confessed your undying love for me,” Jessica says with a straight face.

“Did I?” Taeyeon doesn’t look surprised. “I can see that happening.”

“Well, no you didn’t. You—” Jessica closes her eyes as the memory presses against her temples with that familiar ache. “You said…things.”

“Things,” Taeyeon repeats.

“You asked where I was, and you asked me to come h-here.”

“To come home,” Taeyeon says softly. “I remember that part. And I remember asking Tiffany where you were. She never had an answer for me.”

“I’m here,” Jessica says quietly. “I’m right here.”

“Like I wished for,” Taeyeon says, voice so low that Jessica almost misses it. “Are you…” She swallows. “Are you going to be here in the morning?”

Jessica tries for a smile. “Are you asking me to spend the night?”

“Yes,” Taeyeon says, so bluntly that Jessica wonders how much alcohol is still in her system.

“If…if you want me here, I’ll stay.” Jessica isn’t just talking about the night, and she hopes Taeyeon knows that.

“Of course I want you here.” Taeyeon looks at her like she’s crazy. “Do you think I used up my tenth anniversary wish for nothing? After all that stuff about wishes in our music, my wish had better come true.”

“Taeyeon,” Jessica laughs. “Are you sure you’re not still drunk?”

“No.” Taeyeon cups her cheek, touch gentle but firm, anchoring her there. Her lips taste of vodka and her kiss burns like it. Jessica only presses herself closer, presses herself against Taeyeon and wishes she could erase the space between them.

“Tae,” Jessica gasps as they fall onto the bed, mouths and bodies crashing together like waves meeting the shore. “Remember the walls are thin.”

 

The next morning, Jessica pointedly ignores the smirks and knowing looks from her girls – and this time there is no argument from any corner of her mind, because they may not be her members anymore but they’ll always be her girls – when she leaves Taeyeon’s room in a borrowed shirt with a collar too low to hide the marks along her neck.

Juhyun has left her a cup of her special hangover tea because she’s the best.

“You know you’re the best, right Juhyunnie?”

“Thanks, unnie.” Juhyun isn’t drinking any because she didn’t drink enough to get hungover. She’s always been smarter than them.

Jessica takes a gulp of tea and almost chokes.

“It tastes awful, doesn’t it?” Hyoyeon says sympathetically, a gigantic mug of it in front of her.

“Did you get attacked by a vampire or something?” Sooyoung asks.

Jessica shoots her a glare. “You know you’re the worst, right?”

Sooyoung just blows her a kiss back.

“Does anyone want eggs?” Yuri asks, her head in the fridge.

“Me!” Jessica, Sooyoung and Hyoyeon say in unison.

“Do you want help, Yul?” Tiffany asks.

“No!” all of them, except Juhyun, yell, remembering the numerous inedible dishes that Tiffany had put in front of them.

“I’m good, Fany, thanks,” Yuri says, tactfully ignoring Tiffany’s pout.

“Where are Yoona and Sunkyu?” Jessica asks, wincing as she takes another sip of tea.

“Sleeping,” Sooyoung says. “Well, Yoona is. I’m not sure about the midget.”

“The midget can hear you,” comes Sunkyu’s voice.

Sooyoung gives her a wide smile. “It’s good to know the midget’s ears can reach this high.”

“It’s good to know the giant has functioning vocal chords.”

“Did you have a good night’s sleep, Jessi?” Tiffany asks. “I’m surprised you’re up this early.”

“It’s not that early.” They all stare at her like she just grew another head. “I slept really well. Alcohol knocks you out.”

“I’m sure it does,” Hyoyeon says. “I’m sure it was the alcohol that knocked you out.”

Jessica glares at her, and then slowly turns so she can subject all of them to the glare.

“What’s for breakfast?” Yoona asks cheerfully. “Sica unnie, you’re up?”

“That’s what I said,” Tiffany says. “Isn’t it a miracle she’s here?”

“Quite the miracle,” comes a low voice, and then a hand is at the small of Jessica’s back. “Good morning,” Taeyeon says, with a small smile.

“Morning,” Jessica replies, sliding her chair over so there’s room for her.

Yuri starts whisking the eggs. “I can’t remember the last time the nine of us ate together.”

Strangely, it doesn’t weigh down the air between them. Or if it does, it doesn’t last long.

“You’d better not wait until our twentieth anniversary to come over again,” Sooyoung says threateningly. Or well, she tries, but the piece of fruit clinging to the corner of her mouth rather ruins the effect.

“Don’t worry,” Jessica says. “I’m going to be here a lot.”

“Good,” Taeyeon says, squeezing her hand under the table.

Yes, Jessica thinks, it is good. Good to be home.

Chapter Text

“So, I heard you were disappointed,” Taeyeon says with a quirk of her mouth.

Jessica pouts. “I was. I even set an alarm for the exact release time.”

“I’ve shown you pics and clips—”

“Pics are pics. Clips are clips. They aren’t the real thing.”

But this isn’t the real thing either, Taeyeon can’t help but think as she looks at Jessica, or rather Jessica’s image in the Skype window. Text messages and phone calls and Skype conversations aren’t the real thing, are merely stepping stones on the scale of reality. Maybe the next step can finally lead her to Jessica for real.

“Tae?”

“So not only have I got love, I got you too?” Taeyeon asks with a lopsided smile.

Jessica rolls her eyes so hard it looks painful, but she’s smiling. “You have the lamest sense of humour out of anyone on the planet.”

Taeyeon grins. “Are you saying I’m out of this world?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Jessica mutters.

“Maybe I’m from Wonderland,” Taeyeon says brightly, and Jessica looks like she’s torn between laughing and strangling Taeyeon. Not that she could reach her to do the latter.

“Yeah,” Jessica says. “Maybe you had some of that Drink Me potion. That would explain why you’re so short.”

Taeyeon is the one to pout now, and Jessica smiles in a rather Cheshire Cat like manner.

“I’d rather be the cake,” Taeyeon says. “Then you could eat me.”

“Yah, Kim Taeyeon!”

“What.” Taeyeon blinks innocently. “Isn’t that what the cake is called? Eat Me?”

“You’re going to get kicked out of Wonderland if you keep making stupid puns,” Jessica says through gritted teeth.

“You think my puns are stupid?” Taeyeon puts on a Sad Face that she knows Jessica can see through in a millisecond but falls for every time anyway. Just like she predicted, Jessica’s face softens. “Are you sure you don’t mean stupendous? Or stupundous?”

Whatever softness was there in Jessica’s face dissipates instantly, replaced by the expression that had won her the nickname of “ice princess.” It’s strange, but Taeyeon finds herself missing that expression these days, or maybe just the times when she saw it regularly. The times when she was called “kid leader,” even though she felt far from a kid, even though idolhood stripped her of whatever childhood she had left.

“Taeyeon, if you’re going to keep spacing out on me I’m really going to think your mind is in another universe.”

Maybe in another universe they wouldn’t be separated by a computer, with the screen like a sheet of prison glass between them. Maybe in another universe they wouldn’t be reduced to subtle references on Instagram, being the closest to a public message they’re allowed. Maybe in another universe… Maybe.

“Taeyeon?”

“I’m here,” Taeyeon says. “Still in this universe, don’t worry.”

Jessica purses her lips. “You’re hard not to worry about.”

“I’ve heard,” Taeyeon says. “Speaking of worry, those saesangs you had—”

“Ugh, don’t even mention them.” Jessica’s eyebrows draw together, her forehead furrows; lines of tension that Taeyeon would quite like to kiss away. “And to think I spoke to them last time and asked them nicely not to do it again. I should have known that would just encourage them.”

“You never know what would encourage or discourage them.” Taeyeon shrugs. “They claim to love us but they don’t understand what love really entails.”

“What love really entails,” Jessica repeats, her eyes on Taeyeon like both a question and an answer.

Taeyeon clears her throat and averts her eyes, suddenly finding it too hard to meet Jessica’s gaze. “So I’ll, um, let you know right away when they release the music video.”

“Okay,” Jessica says evenly. “I look forward to it.”

“I hope it doesn’t disappoint you.”

I hope I don’t disappoint you.

“I’m sure it won’t,” Jessica says, nothing but certainty in her voice. “And if it does”—Taeyeon’s mouth goes dry—“you’re really going to be kicked out of Wonderland.”

Taeyeon laughs, and when she sees Jessica smile in answer, that soft smile that has never really changed throughout the years, she thinks that this universe has its merits as well.

Chapter Text

“While recording ‘Fine,’ I went to get an IV. Rather than being sick, I felt I needed to recharge.

“I think it was a reflection of the pressure [we were] feeling. I forced my driver and songwriter to take an hour break, and I resumed recording after recharging.”

 

Text from Jessica:
how are you feeling?
and if you say “fine” i’ll kill you with my bare hands

Text from Taeyeon:
wow such violence

Text from Jessica:
kim taeyeon
answer the question

Text from Taeyeon:
i’m ok
wait am i allowed to say that or are all song titles off limits

Text from Jessica:
…only you would ask that i swear

Text from Taeyeon:
but really i am
making this album was a lot of work but it was worth it
i’m really happy with it

Text from Jessica:
you should be
it’s an amazing album tae
i love your voice

Text from Taeyeon:
my voice or My Voice??

Text from Jessica:
............
i seriously can’t with you sometimes

Text from Taeyeon:
and other times?
it means a lot to me that you like it
really, a lot

Text from Jessica:
ofc, my opinion is paramount
other times, you’re not terrible i guess

Text from Taeyeon:
don’t cover up your heart, sica~

Text from Jessica:
i’m cancelling you

Text from Taeyeon:
:(
guess i’ll have a lonely night

Text from Jessica:
you’ll have many more if you don’t stop asap

Text from Taeyeon:
well it’s not like i get to spend nights with you anyway

Text from Jessica:
taeyeon

Text from Taeyeon:
nvm forget i said that

Text from Jessica:
taeyeon

Text from Taeyeon:
jessica

Text from Jessica:
i miss you too
i don’t like that it has to be this way but it has to be
you know that

Text from Taeyeon:
i do
but it doesn’t make it any easier

Text from Jessica:
i know

Text from Taeyeon:
but i don’t regret it

Text from Jessica:
neither do i
no matter what regrets i have, you would never be one of them

Text from Taeyeon:
jessica
i have to go - rehearsal

Text from Jessica:
okay. good luck for music bank!
i know you’ll be
(that wasn’t a pun)

Text from Taeyeon:
i’ll take it as one ;)

Text from Jessica:
#cancelled

Text from Taeyeon:
i love you too

Text from Jessica:

 

Taeyeon returns to the dressing room, taking the clip out of her hair and running a hand through it. Her hair had been pinned so tightly that she can still feel the pressure against her skull. Or maybe that’s just her headache.

Years of surviving on little to no sleep and she still feels tired. Weak. Lonely. It’s the last one that cuts through her the most.

This is far from her first time promoting on her own so she doesn’t know why she’s still so surprised by it. By how big the stage is when she’s on there by herself instead of with eig—seven others. By how empty the dressing room is even when it’s filled with makeup artists and hairstylists. By how hollow she feels even after being laden with records, congratulations and flowers.

She wishes they were here. Her members, her girls, her biggest fans and staunchest supporters. She’s amazed when she remembers how she wanted to be a soloist once upon a time; she can barely last one promotion cycle on her own.

However, she’s not alone when she returns backstage, because there’s a slim, brunette figure that makes her rub her eyes in disbelief. However, the sight of her doesn’t change, only that her face splits into a smile when she sees Taeyeon.

“Taeyeon.”

It’s so different to hear her say it, as opposed to merely seeing her name on a screen. It’s not that Taeyeon’s forgotten the sound of her voice – how could she – but even her clearest, mostly closely guarded memories can’t compare to this. To reality.

“Jessica?”

As an answer, Jessica strides toward her – she doesn’t run, that’s not Jessica – and pulls her into her arms. Taeyeon releases the breath she didn’t realize she was holding, tucks her face against Jessica’s shoulder and keeps it there. She’s wearing heels and Jessica flats, so they’re the same height; evenly matched for once. Jessica smells like crisp winter air and the perfume Taeyeon got her for Christmas. Taeyeon breathes her in, heady and greedy.

“You’ve lost weight,” Jessica says critically, pulling back slightly.

Taeyeon shrugs. “I always do during a comeback.”

It’s not even on purpose, either. Not even a promotion requirement the way it used to be, part of the routine: dye hair, lose weight, forego sleep. Smile. Wave. And maybe, if you’re lucky, after all of that – sing.

“Not an excuse,” Jessica tells her, encircling her fingers around Taeyeon’s wrist. They easily wrap all the way around. “We’re going out for dinner tonight.”

It’s not a request. Taeyeon grins. “You’re going to pay, right?”

Jessica looks ready to fire off a retort, but then her expression softens. She reaches forward and plucks a piece of confetti from Taeyeon’s hair. “Well, I guess you deserve a treat after your all-kill.”

“What kind of treat?” Taeyeon asks, and Jessica rolls her eyes and flicks her on the forehead.

“Don’t make me change my mind about cancelling you.”

Taeyeon rubs her forehead with a pout. “What happened to loving my voice?”

“I still do,” Jessica says, somehow playful and sincere all at once. “I’ll always love your voice. And the opposite for your puns.”

Taeyeon juts out her bottom lip some more, and Jessica gives a soft, indulgent smile, one that few people are on the receiving end of.

“I love your voice too,” Taeyeon says. “Speaking of that, you never autographed my Wonderland album. I’m such a big Golden Star too. Your rejection really hurt me.”

“My sincerest apologies,” Jessica deadpans. “How on earth can I ever make it up to you?”

“Well, we can start off with dinner…” Taeyeon says, “and then maybe something special for dessert.”

“I’m not convinced you deserve dessert,” Jessica says, and when Taeyeon pouts again she laughs and presses her smile against Taeyeon’s mouth, so she can taste it too, the sweetest of appetizers.

Chapter Text

“Do you ever regret it?” Taeyeon asks.

“Regret what?”

“The way things turned out.”

“Would it kill you to be a little less vague, Taeyeon? I feel like you’re being held at gunpoint by a kidnapper and have to talk in riddles to get the person on the line to realize your situation.”

“…why would your brain even go there?”

“Don’t question how my brain works.”

“I won’t, I think I’d get a headache.”

“Here, take mine. Free of charge.”

Taeyeon laughs, then abruptly sobers. “So, do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Would it kill you to be a little less forgetful?”

“You ask too much of me, Tae.”

“I just want an answer, that’s all,” Taeyeon says quietly, and suddenly the mood between them feels different, tension crackling amidst what had been a playful, teasing ambiance. “You know what I’m talking about. Don’t pretend you don’t.”

“I’m not pretending. ‘The way things turned out’ could be referring to a number of things. What do you mean, exactly? What happened in 2014? What happened before that? What happened to us, the two of us or the nine of us? What do you want to know?”

“Everything,” Taeyeon says. “I want to know everything.”

Jessica exhales. “The phone isn’t the best place for that conversation, is it.”

“Is there a best place for it, really?”

“Are you drunk,” Jessica says suddenly.

“Why would you ask that?” Taeyeon says, and Jessica wonders if she hears a slur in her words because it’s really there or because she’s looking for it.

“Because you’re only ever this candid when you’re drunk. You could be high, I guess, but I don’t think that’s you.”

“I don’t really know what’s me these days,” Taeyeon says, so quietly it almost sounds like she’s talking to herself.

“Tae,” Jessica says softly. “Come over.”

There’s a pause, not long enough to make Jessica think she hung up but not short enough to make her think it’s an easy decision. And then, finally, “Okay.”

 

“I’m not drunk,” is Taeyeon’s way of announcing she’s here, and judging by her steady gait and clear gaze, Jessica knows she’s telling the truth.

“You’d still be welcome if you were,” Jessica says, opening the door. “But I’d have to give you a ticket.”

Taeyeon snorts. “What are you, the alcohol police?” she says, switching her slippers for the indoor pair Jessica lays out just for her.

Jessica closes the door behind them. “I saw your new tattoo. It’s nice, but please don’t tell me you’re planning to do finger guns with it. That’d be too lame even for you.”

“Even for me? Do you have different lameness standards just for me?”

“You know it, Tae,” Jessica says with a saccharine smile. “You’re special.”

Taeyeon smiles a little. “Especially lame?”

“Among other things, yes.” Jessica tilts her head to the side. “You didn’t come here so we can discuss your lameness, although I’d be happy to do that. Come on, didn’t you have a barrage of questions for me?”

“Barrage. That’s a good word.”

“Are you sure you’re not drunk?”

“No, but I’m starting to wish I were. It would make this easier.”

That sounds more like the Taeyeon she knows, the one who is so reluctant to divulge her feelings, to share her weakness, who treats the two as if they’re one and the same.

“Would it really?” Jessica murmurs. Taeyeon doesn’t really seem to have an answer for her. That’s what Taeyeon came here for, after all. To get answers.

“I just.” Taeyeon lowers her eyes. “I’m tired of feeling like I’m moving around without direction.”

“Taeyeon, I can’t give you a direction. You know I can’t.” Jessica’s voice is gentle but firm. She doesn’t want to hurt Taeyeon, but she doesn’t want to mislead her either. She doesn’t want to promise her things she can’t deliver. Honesty has always been something she insists on, even if it sometimes feels cruel. A temporary cruelness, however, can be kinder than a temporary mercy followed by long-term pain. At least, that’s what she tells herself.

Unexpectedly, Taeyeon smiles. “I know. I’m not asking you to. I made that mistake the first time around, didn’t I? I expected too much, gave too little, and—here we are.”

“Here we are,” Jessica repeats. “It’s not the worst place to be, is it?”

Taeyeon takes a long, sweeping look around Jessica’s apartment, like a potential buyer. “No, it’s a very nice apartment.” At Jessica’s eye roll and pointed look, she amends, “No, it’s not.”

“You look tired, baby,” Jessica says, stroking a hand down her cheek, gentle, maybe the slightest bit proprietary. (Maybe more than a bit.) “You’re still having trouble sleeping?”

“Mm, some. It’s better than before, though.”

“Sometimes that’s all we can ask for at the moment. And hope that it’ll keep getting better, one day at a time.”

“Does it?” Taeyeon asks, her voice hopeful, almost childish.

“I don’t know,” Jessica says honestly. “I don’t have all the answers, Taeyeon. I don’t even know if I have one. You said you wanted to know everything. I wish I could give that to you.” She isn’t just talking about answers, and she hopes Taeyeon knows that. Has a feeling she does.

“That’s okay,” Taeyeon says. “I’m not sure if I should hear it, anyway. I think—rather than focus so much on what happened in the past, it’s better to look forward.”

“That doesn’t sound like the Taeyeon I know,” Jessica says, gently teasing.

“I got a system upgrade. I’m Taeyeon 2.0 now. Or well, probably more like 8.0 or 9.0 but—whatever.”

Jessica laughs. “Taengoo,” she says softly, fondly. “Short for Taeyeon 9.0. Is that an okay name?”

“It’s perfect,” Taeyeon tells her, and pulls her into a kiss.

 

Jessica speaks up later, when they’re tangled, warm and sated, in her sheets. “I can’t give you a direction. I can’t be—the path you blindly follow. But I’ll be your compass, if you want.”

“Be my North Star.”

“Okay, my astrology is terrible, what is that again?”

Taeyeon chuckles. “Astrology is the study of horoscopes. Astronomy is the study of planets and stars and stuff like that, that’s what you’re thinking about.”

“You know, you sounded really smart until the ‘stuff like that’ part.”

Taeyeon sighs melodramatically. “I almost had you.”

“I’m pretty sure you just had me quite a few times,” Jessica says, lowering her lashes, and delights in the way that, even after all this time, Taeyeon blushes.

“Oh, I remember now,” Jessica says brightly. “The North Star. That’s the one that leads you home, right?”

“Yeah,” Taeyeon says softly. “That’s the one.”

Jessica shifts slightly so they’re making total eye contact. “Okay,” she says. “I will.”

 

(Taeyeon’s tattoos are well-known, from the Pisces one behind her ear to the serenity one above her elbow to the multitude on her fingers, this gun one now joining the list. Jessica had considered getting a tattoo, before, always only fleetingly, and then dismissed the notion for one reason or another. She surprises herself when she walks away from the tattoo parlour with a bandage taped over an area of sensitized skin, the sting she had felt worthwhile for the design underneath. She can’t wait until she can show Taeyeon.

Polaris. The North Star.)

Chapter Text

“I’m surprised you agreed to this,” Jessica says, tapping her fingernails against the table.

Taeyeon shrugs. “I’m on a hiatus and have nothing better to do.”

“I’m flattered,” Jessica says dryly. “You always knew how to make a girl feel special.”

“Did I?” Taeyeon looks at her through her lashes in a way that still makes her breathing hitch all these years later. “Well, you were always a special case anyway.”

Her tone is somehow both dry and flippant. There’s no way of telling whether it’s a compliment or insult. Taeyeon had always been like that. Has. Jessica isn’t sure if she knows Taeyeon well enough to use the present tense.

Jessica clears her throat and flips open the notebook she had brought. “So, Taeyeon ssi,” she says, aiming for briskly professional but landing somewhere closer to mocking.

“Jessica ssi,” Taeyeon returns in the same tone.

“What would you say are some challenges that you had to face as an idol?” Jessica tries to spin her pen around her fingers, but she just ends up dropping it. That’s always been Taeyeon’s skill, not hers.

Instead of answering, Taeyeon says, “Are you really going to take notes by hand? Is this the 20th century?”

“Well, I’d rather record you but you wouldn’t give me permission so.”

“I’d rather there not be tangible evidence if I say something I regret,” Taeyeon says blithely.

“Oh, you’re already preparing for regrets?” Jessica says archly.

“Better to be prepared than not, don’t you think, Jessica ssi? You never know when something unexpected will happen.”

Jessica tries not to flinch. “What would you say are some challenges you had to face?” she repeats, uncapping her pen and poising it over her notepad, prepared to write. The truth is, she didn’t really think Taeyeon would agree to meet her, would show up at all, and she had forgotten to charge her laptop the previous night and didn’t bother to lug a dead weight around. She has her phone and her iPad and could be taking notes electronically, but.

The physical weight of the pen and paper give her a sense of security. She can’t explain it, but she likes having the slim body of the pen in her clammy hand, the cap to flick against her restless fingers, the paper to smooth under her uneasy palms. She likes having something to hold, to fiddle with. Maybe she just wants something to hide behind.

She wonders how it is that she’s the one who arranged this meeting and she’s the one who’s asking Taeyeon questions, but she feels like the one being interrogated, stripped open, laid siege to.

Taeyeon has always had that effect on her. All that these years have done is to sharpen it, rather than dull it.

It almost shocks her when Taeyeon opens her mouth and speaks in a thoughtful, heavy voice. An honest voice.

“The industry is a place for fame, for success, but it’s not a place for happiness. For love.” Taeyeon meets her eyes evenly. “To get one thing, one has to give something else up, and then another, and then another. Eventually, you feel like you just give yourself up.”

Jessica feels like she can’t pull in her next breath. She hasn’t written down a single word, but she can’t bring herself to move her pen, can’t even bring herself to move her eyes away from Taeyeon’s. “And is it worth it, in the end?”

“Ah, why are we jumping to the heavy questions so quickly?” Taeyeon says in a forcibly light tone that Jessica is all too well-acquainted with. “What fun will this be if I give you everything you’re asking?”

When have you ever done that? Jessica wants to ask. They wouldn’t be sitting here if Taeyeon had given her even half of the things she had asked for, had dreamed of.

Jessica offers a tight smile. “You’re right. Maybe we’re moving too quickly. So, Taeyeon ssi, are the Inkigayo sandwiches really as good as you say?”

Taeyeon stares at her for a moment with something akin to disbelief, and then she bursts into laughter, still as full-bodied as ever. Some things never change, it seems.

“I’ll get you one next time if you want, and you can see for yourself.”

“Next time?” Jessica repeats, raising an eyebrow. “You’re saying you’d do this again?”

“Well.” Taeyeon shrugs. “It’s either this or stay at home frustrated over not being able to write my new song, so. There are worse things to do.”

“Why, I can’t see why songwriting may be a struggle for you, given your incredible way with words.”

Taeyeon grins, and Jessica knows it’s real because her chin dimple makes a rare appearance. “Do you think they’d give me some ice if I ordered it?”

“What, why do you want ice?” Jessica asks, confused. Taeyeon had ordered a hot drink. Does she want to cool it down quickly?

“I think I need something for that burn I just got.”

Jessica snorts, and has to bite back the startled burst of laughter that almost escaped her throat. “Maybe you can get some milk, you big baby.”

“I actually wouldn’t mind some, this latte is really bitter.” Taeyeon takes her spoon and stirs it around her cup, messing up the foam art, and Jessica takes her moment of distraction to stare at her, intensely, unreservedly, the way she had forbidden herself from doing this whole time. Taeyeon and the dark roots growing in amidst her blonde hair and the dimple that had gone back into hiding and the sadness that perpetually lurks in the depths of her eyes and the corners of her mouth. Taeyeon, who Jessica had been unable to forget or let go of in all these years.

Who do you think you’re fooling? Tiffany had asked her. There’s no way this could be merely an interview.

Who is she trying to fool, she wonders. Taeyeon? Herself? Whoever it is, she doesn’t think it’s working.

Tiffany had followed up with, And why don’t you interview me? I’m a famous idol too!

Jessica had told her that her head was too big and she should deflate it before she has a chance for an interview.

“So?” Taeyeon asks expectantly, and Jessica blinks. “What other questions do you have for me?”

“I—” Jessica flips through her notebook, and she does, in fact, have some notes written, some generic questions she had prepared for potential interview targets, hypothetical people, not the woman sitting in front of her who makes her feel eighteen years old all over again. “Other questions. Right. Hang on a minute.”

“Take your time,” Taeyeon says. “I’ll be…here.”

There’s a part of Jessica that’s still in disbelief that she is. Here. Right in front of Jessica. Of course, just because the physical distance between them has narrowed doesn’t mean anything, doesn’t mean that Taeyeon is close to her, but she’s closer than she has been in years. She’s not just the idol smiling or smouldering at Jessica from a screen or poster or billboard, she’s—Taeyeon and she’s looking at Jessica in a way that can almost be called warm.

Jessica fumbles for her pen and summons her best smile. It’s now or never.

Chapter Text

The night is suffocatingly dark except for the sporadic streaks of lightning forking across the sky, accompanied by the pounding of the rain onto the pavement and the cacophony of thunderclaps that almost drown out the sound of Taeyeon’s knuckles rapping across the door.

It’s not long before the door is pulled open, revealing a pale, wan face on the other side.

“Taeyeon?” It’s Tiffany, looking both concerned and weary, but not surprised.

“Fany,” Taeyeon says, craning her neck to see if there’s anyone with her. “Sorry to bother you at this hour.”

“It’s fine.” Tiffany’s face is cast into shadow for a moment. “Why are you here?”

Taeyeon cuts to the chase. “Is Jessica with you?”

Tiffany turns on the porch light, illuminating her face and the odd look that comes over it. “You’re looking for her?” she asks in a tone as hard to read as her expression, some tightly coiled emotions tangled up in it. Taeyeon is too tired and worried to try to untangle them.

“Yes,” Taeyeon says. “Is she with you?”

“No,” Tiffany says, and Taeyeon doesn’t understand why she looks so sad. “She’s not.”

“Really?” Taeyeon presses.

“Do you think I’d lie to you?” Tiffany doesn’t look away from her, but there’s something unsteady about her gaze.

“No, I just think that if Jessica asked you to cover up for her – I mean, not that she’s in the wrong, I was, I think I really made her mad, at least I hope it’s mad rather than sad – I just want to apologize—” Taeyeon wets her lips. “Sorry, I’m rambling.”

Tiffany gives a tired smile. “I know you do that. I’m used to it.”

“So… Jessica’s not here?” Taeyeon asks, almost tentatively, like a child waiting to be rebuked.

“Taeyeon, I swear she’s not with me.”

And Taeyeon believes her, but she still can’t help but feel like Tiffany is hiding something from her. “Do you know where she is?”

Tiffany opens her mouth, closes it, and opens it again. “I—”

The sound of approaching footsteps interrupts them, and then a bleary-eyed figure wrapped in an ill-fitting pink bathrobe is there, touching the small of Tiffany’s back for a moment before directing her attention to Taeyeon.

Yuri’s voice is thick with sleep when she asks, “Taeyeon?”

“Yul,” Taeyeon says. “Sorry, did I wake you?”

Yuri rubs her hand across her eyes for a moment, before bringing it away and looking at Taeyeon with an expression similar to Tiffany’s earlier. “Couldn’t sleep?”

“She’s here to look for Jessica,” Tiffany says, the corners of her eyes tightening.

“Of course,” Yuri murmurs. “She’s not here, Taeyeon.”

“So Fany told me.” Taeyeon scuffs her shoe across the ground, feeling sheepish now. She had reacted too hastily. Jessica is probably home now, waiting for her to grovel and apologize, or maybe she’s staying with Krystal, who’d no doubt be much ruder to Taeyeon if she called, not to mention showed up on her doorstep in the middle of the night.

“Do you want to stay the night?” Tiffany asks. “It’s raining so hard. You don’t have to drive all the way back.”

“No, no, it’s fine,” Taeyeon says hurriedly. “That’d be too much trouble.”

“It’s no trouble,” Yuri says, her hand on the small of Tiffany’s back again, and Taeyeon knows she isn’t doing it to flaunt their relationship, probably isn’t doing it consciously at all, but it stings, to watch her friends’ PDA when she’s on bad terms with her own other half. “You’re our friend. And I don’t think you should be alone right now.”

“I’m not alone. I’m just looking for Jessica.”

“Yeah…” Tiffany says, drawing out the word in a trailing way. “She’s probably with-with Krystal, or maybe Minyoung. You should stay here for the night. I’m sure she’ll be back before you know it.”

“Didn’t Minyoung move to America? How could Jessica be with her?”

Tiffany’s expression freezes. “Oh, right. Right, she did.” She turns nervously to Yuri. “Did she move to America, Yul? My memory is so bad these days.”

“Shouldn’t you remember news about your homeland, Fany,” Taeyeon jokes.

Yuri disregards all that. “Did you try calling Krystal?” she asks with a strange intensity.

“I wanted to, but I can’t find her number, for some reason. Maybe Jessica deleted it off my phone because she doesn’t want me to reach Krystal. I think we had a fight about that a while back, maybe…” Tiffany’s memory isn’t the only one that’s failing these days. Taeyeon tries to remember what happened with Krystal’s contact information – she’s sure there’s something behind it – but the memory slips away from her like water through cupped fingers.

“Headache?” Yuri asks in concern when she sees Taeyeon clutching her temple with a wince.

Taeyeon musters a weak smile. “I think it’s just from being out in the rain. And it’s late.”

“Did you take your medicine?” Tiffany asks, and Taeyeon gives her a confused look. “Your migraine medicine. You always forget to take it.”

“Oh.” She didn’t even remember she’d been prescribed migraine medicine, but now that Tiffany mentioned it, she vaguely remembered the orange bottles sitting untouched on the kitchen counter. “Right. I forgot.”

“You always forget to take it,” Tiffany repeats, and now her voice is trembling, her chin following suit.

“I’m sorry,” Taeyeon says, bewildered at how upset she’s getting. “I’ll take it from now on.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay the night, Taeng?” Yuri asks. “We have the guest room all set up. You can take a warm shower, change into some dry clothes…”

“You make me sound like a child,” Taeyeon jokes. “Are you going to tuck me in and sing me a lullaby too?”

“If you want us to,” Tiffany says with a faint smile, and they sound like parents or something, the two of them, so supportive and domestic together, and Taeyeon just want to leave.

“It’s fine,” she says, already making her retreat. “Thank you. Sorry for bothering you. I just got panicked, but Sica probably went home already and I’ll just go home and apologize. Or if she’s with Krystal she’ll probably come back in the morning and she might worry if I’m not there. Anyway, I’ll get going.”

“Taeyeon—” Tiffany and Yuri say at once, but Taeyeon is already pushing her way through the door back into the rainy night.

 

“Should we go after her?” Yuri asks worriedly.

“What’s the point,” Tiffany says tiredly. “It’s not going to help her ‘migraine.’”

“It’s raining so hard, though, the roads must be slippery as hell. It’s not safe for her to drive like that. She could get into a car accident.”

Tiffany flinches like she’s been struck, and Yuri’s face pales. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

“Do you remember that night?”

“How could I forget?” Yuri closes her eyes, like she can banish the memory that way. “The smallest things remind me, even just driving.”

“Isn’t it ironic? We can’t forget, and Taeyeon can’t remember. Or maybe she just doesn’t want to.” Tiffany peers out into the darkness. “Do you think we should have listened to Krystal,” she says abruptly.

“And what? Had her committed? How could we do that to her?”

“Is this any better, really? Letting her live in this delusion? Not just letting her but participating in it, deleting everyone’s contact information from her and hoping she doesn’t bump into anyone who knows.” Tiffany takes a ragged breath. “Are we playing god?”

Yuri puts her hands on Tiffany’s shoulders and looks at her very seriously. “Tiffany. We love her, and we love”—her voice cracks—“loved Jessica. I’m sure Jessica wouldn’t want her to live out her days in some ward either.”

“Would she want Taeyeon to be like this? Showing up on our doorstep every week asking after her dead girlfriend?” Yuri is the one to flinch this time, and Tiffany’s shoulders slump and she buries her face against Yuri’s shoulder. “Sometimes I catch myself thinking that they’re just having a fight and Jessica is going to show up and pull Taeyeon away and whine to us about how annoying she is but in that really fond way, you know what I mean—”

“I know,” Yuri says quietly. “It sounds like she’s complaining but the love is practically spilling from her eyes.”

Tiffany sucks in a breath. “I still remember that. And I can still hear her aegyo voice, and I can see her pout, and I can also see her glare, but then the next second all I can see is a coffin, that closed casket because there wasn’t enough left of her to—”

And then her voice dissolves into huge, gulping sobs and she’s weeping against Yuri’s shoulder, and Yuri slips her arms around her and holds her tightly, wordlessly, as they’re lost in a storm of their own.

 

Taeyeon returns home to a dark, empty apartment. So Jessica hadn’t forgiven her that quickly, after all. It’s okay, Taeyeon knows she’ll come back. No matter how much or exaggeratedly she gripes, Jessica never stays mad at Taeyeon for long.

Tiffany had told Taeyeon to do something. Take her…migraine medicine? But Taeyeon doesn’t get migraines. Maybe the occasional headache if she hasn’t had enough sleep, but she sleeps fine as long as Jessica is there with her.

Taeyeon gets out her favourite mug, noticing how Jessica’s isn’t there in its usual spot beside it. Jessica’s always had a habit of taking it with her and forgetting to wash it and put it back later. Taeyeon would have to remind her about that again, but not in an overly pushy way or Jessica would get mad and they’d end up a fight again.

What was this fight about? Something trivial, no doubt. They’ve been fighting more and more lately, and Jessica has been storming out, leaving Taeyeon to chase after her. They should have a good, long talk after this, so they don’t keep having these silly fights. But it’s okay even if they do, because no matter how angrily Jessica leaves, she always comes back. She and Taeyeon had weathered so many things, and this will just be another one of them.

Taeyeon knows that Jessica would be back in no time at all.

Chapter Text

“Sica! I finally found you!”

Jessica turns around, slowly, and Taeyeon flinches back at the sight of her. The side of her head is caved in, hair plastered to her skull, bits of which Taeyeon can actually see poking through her lacerated skin, her eye barely visible through the damage.

“Tae,” Jessica says, and her voice sounds wrong, the words thick and slurpy, like her mouth is full of liquid. Judging from the red that seeps from her lips, it’s rather evident what it is.

Taeyeon freezes. “S-Sica?” Her voice comes out thin and reedy.

“Ah. Sorry.” Jessica squeezes her eyes shut, or rather the one eye she seems to be able to move, and her face seems to blur for a second before the blood and gore vanish and her features knit themselves back together. “I forgot about that.”

“W-what happened to you?”

Jessica looks at her with sad eyes, the exact same expression Tiffany and Yuri had. “Don’t you remember?”

As if the words are a key to some locked off part of her mind, suddenly the lock clicks open and she’s flooded with a wave of memories that almost make her stagger back.

“No.” Taeyeon isn’t answering Jessica’s question; she’s merely saying the only word she’s capable of at the moment.

Jessica looks even sadder. “I see you do now.”

No. You can’t be—”

“Dead?” Jessica finishes, with a wry twist of her mouth. “I have been for a while, Taeyeon. And it’s about time you accepted it. Not just in moments of lucidity before you return to the façade that Tiffany and Yuri have been helping you maintain, but actually processed it and tried to move on.”

“I don’t want to move on. I mean, I don’t want to forget you.”

“Remembering what happened doesn’t equate to forgetting me. And, Tae?” Jessica’s voice gentles. “Holding on to this fantasy doesn’t equate to remembering me either.”

“Fantasy.” Taeyeon gives a dry laugh. “You mean delusion.”

“You’ve always been a bit offbeat,” Jessica says in that playful tone of hers, “but this may be taking it too far.”

“Sica.” It comes out like a sob. “I miss you so much.”

Jessica’s eyes glisten. “I miss you too, but I can’t see you continue like this. My life may be over, but you can’t let that end yours too.”

“But – I love you.” Taeyeon swallows. “I didn’t get to tell you that, you know. That’s what haunts me. That you left the house that night with the last thing I said to you being angry words. They say that you’re supposed to tell your loved ones goodbye like you’ll never see them again, but who can know that? Who can know that when their loved one walks out the door that it really is the last time they’ll see them?”

Jessica’s eyes fill with tears, and Taeyeon dimly thinks that she didn’t expect that, somehow, she didn’t think you could cry when you were dead. The afterlife should be a rosy, tear-free place, right?

Just as Taeyeon opens her mouth to say something along the lines of “don’t cry,” something concerned and helpless, Jessica gives a soft smile and looks at her with eyes shining from more than tears.

“I know you love me. Just because you didn’t say it doesn’t mean I don’t know. We never said it to each other much, did we? But we both knew anyway. I know how much you regret how things happened that day, how bitter and angry our last words were to each other. But I didn’t leave this world with bitter and angry feelings about you, or think that you had them about me.” Jessica looks at her in the way that always told Taeyeon how she felt without words. “I love you, Taeyeon. And because I love you, I can’t stand seeing you like this anymore. Please, promise me you won’t go on like this.”

And Taeyeon can do nothing but blink back tears in reply.

“Promise me,” Jessica presses.

“I promise.”

Jessica smiles again, soft but brilliant, and even before the expression fades she’s starting to do so, her whole body shining with a misty light that looks like it’s pulling her away. Taeyeon’s throat goes tight, and for a second she wants to cry out, to beg Jessica not to leave her again, to stay with her, but she knows she’s been holding Jessica back for too long already and, for both of their sakes, she has to move on.

And even though tears are pooling in her eyes, she manages to return Jessica’s smile as, with one last tender look, Jessica disappears.

 

Taeyeon wakes up to a blurry world and takes a moment to breathe before wiping the tears away from her eyes. Everything clears in front of her, her mind unclouded for the first time in – she doesn’t even know how long.

She glances over at the orange bottle on her bedtime table – her ‘migraine’ medicine – and absurdly, she huffs out a laugh. It turns into a bout of something nearly hysterical, which briefly teeters on the brink of tears before toppling over, and she succumbs to it because she knows that trying too hard to repress everything last time only hurt her.

With every sob, she feels like she’s healing.

 

“Soojung,” Taeyeon says hesitantly, hand tightening around her phone. A part of her almost hoped that her call wouldn’t be picked up, or that it would be the wrong number, but against all odds Krystal’s on the other line. “It’s me.”

“I can tell,” Krystal says, her voice guarded. “If you’re calling about unnie—”

“I know she’s gone.” Taeyeon closes her eyes. “Dead,” she amends, because what’s the point of sugar-coating the truth when she had almost ruined her life in an attempt to evade it? “I know she’s dead,” she repeats, and wonders if it’ll sting less the more she says it.

There’s a pause over the line, and if it weren’t for the lack of dial tone Taeyeon would think Krystal had hung up on her.

“You remember,” Krystal says. It comes out almost like a question.

“I do,” Taeyeon says, and then, “This isn’t the first time I’ve called you, is it?”

“Far from it,” Krystal says, but she doesn’t sound annoyed, just tired. “It’s gotten to the point where it doesn’t even anger me anymore. I’m just worried about you now.”

“I’m sorry, for worrying you, and for reminding you over and over again what you lost.”

“You suffered the same loss I did, Taeyeon unnie. It’s not something I’d hold against you.” She hears Krystal swallow over the line. “Do you really remember? Or is it just…”

“A moment of lucidity?” Taeyeon supplies, borrowing Jessica’s words. “Well, I hope not. I think… I’ve been hiding from the truth, running from it, for too long. It’s time to-to move on.”

She can hear Krystal swallow before she says in a quiet but sincere voice, “I’m sure Jessica unnie would be happy to see you realize that.”

“Yeah,” Taeyeon murmurs. “I think she would too.”

 

It feels a little too familiar, but this time it isn’t raining, and this time Taeyeon’s knocks are more measured and purposeful rather than wild and desperate.

“Taeyeon?” Tiffany says, with the same tired but unsurprised expression, but it dissolves into shock as Taeyeon throws her arms around her. She feels Tiffany stiffen; Taeyeon had never been one for physical displays of affection, and she can’t remember the last time she took the initiative to hug Tiffany.

Wait, she does, it was at Jessica’s funeral. It’s funny how many memories feel like they’re coming back to her when they’ve been there all along, just waiting for a key to be slipped into the lock.

“I’m sorry,” Taeyeon says quietly.

“I-it’s okay.” She can hear the surprise in Tiffany’s voice. “What, um, are you doing here?”

Taeyeon ignores the question for now, knowing that Tiffany expects her to ask for Jessica, as she always does. She can’t imagine how Tiffany must have felt having to answer that question countless times. “Is Yuri here?”

“No, she’s at work. She had to cover a shift for a sick co-worker.”

“That’s nice of her.” Taeyeon takes a deep breath and steels her nerves. “So. I took my migraine medicine.”

Tiffany’s eyes widen. “You what?”

“My ‘migraine’ medicine.” Taeyeon knows Tiffany can hear the air quotes in her voice. “I’ve been feeling pretty lucid but I was worried I could relapse. Don’t worry, I did go see the doctor and he adjusted the dosage for me and everything. I wanted to make sure I was healthier before I came to see you.”

“Am I dreaming?” Tiffany says weakly.

“No, I think that would be me, or how I want to think about these past few months. Like a prolonged nightmare.” Taeyeon’s mouth twists into something between a smile and a grimace. “I’ve finally woken up.”

Tiffany stares at her for a long moment, expression still something akin to disbelief, before it smooths out into something tentative, wary.

“You really know?” she asks in a careful voice.

“I know that Jessica’s dead.” Taeyeon still winces a little as she says it. “And that I couldn’t accept it, I convinced myself otherwise, and you and Yuri went along with it to protect me. And I’m so sorry about that. I’m so sorry for putting you through that, especially when you were trying to recover yourselves.”

“You don’t have to be sorry,” Tiffany says, her eyes bright with moisture not yet brimming over. “We’re your friends. That’s what friends are for.”

Taeyeon manages a weak smile. “All the times you called me crazy, this is probably not what you had in mind.”

“You’re not crazy, Taeyeon.” At Taeyeon’s incredulous expression, Tiffany gives a wry smile. “Well, you are, but I wouldn’t have you any other way. Mostly.”

“Aww thanks, Fany. Right back at you. Well, maybe with the volume dialled down—”

“Hey!” Tiffany complains, and Taeyeon laughs.

 

“What…changed?” Tiffany asks haltingly.

Taeyeon is hardly going to tell her that she had a visit from ghost Jessica, or a vision of her, it would probably sound like she’s taking a step backward rather than forward. She can’t even be sure what she really saw, whether it was really Jessica or some manifestation of her own subconscious, but she knows it was a wake-up call.

“I can’t really say,” she says, and she’s the one who sounds careful this time. “Whatever it was, I just hope it stays. Maybe in a way I was happier, not knowing – ignorance is bliss and all – but I know I couldn’t have continued on like that.”

Tiffany is quiet for a moment before she says, “I owe you an apology.”

“What?” Taeyeon asks confusedly. “For what?”

“I thought I knew what was best for you, I withheld information from you and actively lied to you and tampered with your things. I did it with your best interest in mind, or so I told myself, but I had no right to do that. I was playing god, and it wasn’t right. For that, I’m sorry, Taeyeon.”

Tiffany’s eyes are filled with guilt and contrition, and Taeyeon thinks back to the memories that are gradually returning to her: the countless times she showed up on Tiffany and Yuri’s doorstep, often in the middle of the night; the appointments they accompanied her to, paying closer attention than she did; the instances they told her the truth and held her when she cried and soothed her when she lashed out, calling them liars.

She’s surprised Tiffany isn’t treating her coldly, not to mention forgiving her with open arms and even apologizing, without a hint of resentment or reproach. No, she’s not surprised, because that’s the kind of person Tiffany is; she’s always been a better friend than Taeyeon deserved.

“Taeyeon?” Tiffany asks hesitantly. “I understand if you can’t forgive me immediately, I’m not asking you to, I just—”

She stumbles back when Taeyeon puts her arms around her and practically slams into her with the force of the hug.

“I don’t need to forgive you. I know you did it for me. I could never hold it against you.”

She hears Tiffany sniffle, before Tiffany returns the hug with equal fierceness.

“If Jessi were watching over us right now, I think she’d be happy,” Tiffany whispers.

Taeyeon closes her eyes. “I think so too.”

 

“I am happy, Tae,” Jessica says from where she’s looking at them, even though she knows Taeyeon can’t hear her. “And I’m proud of you. I knew you could fight through this.”

“Sooyeon?” her grandmother calls, and she sighs. She could never get her grandmother to call her ‘Jessica,’ as the older woman always conveniently goes deaf when Jessica tries to correct her. Maybe this is where she got her teasing nature from.

“Yes, halmeoni?”

“Is that your girlfriend down there?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Which one? Or are they both your girlfriend?”

“Halmeoni!” she splutters. “What do you take me for?”

Her grandmother just cackles. Okay, Jessica definitely got it from her.

“Her name is Taeyeon. The short one. She was my girlfriend,” Jessica corrects, with some sadness but no bitterness. “Tenses are a bitch when you’re dead, huh?” With a nervous glance at her grandmother, she quickly adds, “Excuse my language.”

“You love her very much, don’t you? And she loves you. We don’t need to use the past tense because feelings don’t just die when the person does.”

“I’ll always love her,” Jessica says. “Maybe one day she’ll join us here – hopefully not for a long, long time – and you’ll get to meet her. She’s…incredible, halmeoni.”

Her grandmother smiles. “Of course she has to be, to get my Sooyeon to fall for her.”

“For the last time, halmeoni, it’s Jes—”

“Oh look, another one!” her grandmother says as Yuri approaches Taeyeon and Tiffany. “She’s pretty too. Are you sure she wasn’t your girlfriend too?”

Jessica groans and wonders if this is her punishment. Maybe she shouldn’t have teased everyone so much when she was alive…