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For once, Jessica isn’t startled awake by an alarm. She returns to consciousness languidly, lazily, trying to blink away the last traces of sleep as they cling to her. She yawns, stretches, rolls over – and almost falls off the bed. Wait. Her bed isn’t this narrow. And her mattress isn’t this hard. She freezes when she realizes this isn’t her bed, isn’t her room. Her eyes scan over the room, taking in surroundings that are familiar and yet she cannot immediately place.

Her wandering eyes land on a toy of three smiling peas in a pod just as the door is opened and a figure steps inside. A very familiar figure that Jessica has not seen in person in months.

“Taeyeon?” Jessica could not have been more surprised.

“Did you forget my name already?” Taeyeon is smiling widely enough for the dimple in her chin to come out of hiding. Jessica hasn’t seen this dimple in so long, hasn’t seen this smile in so long. It makes something stir in her that she’s tried to banish the existence of. An echo of longing, a phantom ache.

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

“What do you mean?” Taeyeon laughs. “This is my room. Should I not be here?”

Right. This is Taeyeon’s room. No wonder it looks so familiar. Jessica hasn’t been here in so long but that’s no excuse for not recognizing it.

“What am I doing in your room?”

Taeyeon’s smile makes a comeback and so does the tug in Jessica’s stomach. It’s no longer the ghost of an emotion but the full, living brunt of it, stealing her breath with the vividness of the feelings she’s been trying to bury for years.

“You’re having a lot of memory problems today. Did I tire you out?”

Did she… What?

Taeyeon moves close, closer, and suddenly she’s on the bed with Jessica, crowding her against the wall. Jessica can do nothing but stare, eyes wide and heart pounding.

“Why do you look so nervous?” Taeyeon asks, amused. “I’m not going to eat you.” Jessica swallows. “Well, not again so soon. My tongue’s still tired.”

Jessica’s expression must really be something, because Taeyeon’s changes to one of genuine concern.

“Sica baby, is something wrong?”

Did Taeyeon just call her… What’s happening? Jessica must be losing her mind. It’s either that or this is some elaborate dream that her imagination worked up out of some insane desire to fulfill her fantasies. Either way, her head is going haywire and her heart isn’t doing any better.

“Jessica?” The sound of her name snaps her out of it. Taeyeon’s frowning at her, a dent between her eyebrows, worry in her eyes. Her expression is miles away from the playful smile she had minutes ago, and Jessica misses that smile, misses that Taeyeon.

“Taeyeon.” Her name spills from Jessica’s lips like a plea, a prayer.

“Is something wrong?” Taeyeon repeats, her voice almost achingly gentle.

Jessica just shakes her head. She couldn’t possibly tell this Taeyeon what’s really wrong, that this is what she’s dreamed of for so long – Taeyeon looking at her, speaking to her with such tenderness, such affection – but none of it is real.

“I’m just tired,” she says in a small voice. It’s not a lie.

“I know.” Taeyeon brushes Jessica’s hair away from her eyes in a gesture so casual and yet so intimate that it makes Jessica’s breath catch. “Practice has been intense lately.”

Jessica doesn’t know what she’s supposedly been practicing, but she can imagine its exhausting effects all too well. It’s been almost a year since she left Girls’ Generation, but seven years of idolhood and seven years of training – fourteen years, more than half her life – aren’t so easy to leave behind.

“You should have told me you were this tired,” Taeyeon says. “I would have taken it easy on you.”

Jessica has absolutely no idea how to respond to this. Taeyeon has made it more than obvious that they sleep together, and given what she just said about practice, Jessica assumes that somehow she’s still in the group. She’s still in the group and she’s dating (?) Taeyeon.

Okay, she can do this. She can play along with this twisted game her mind conjured up until she comes to her senses and wakes up from this bizarre dream. She spent half her life either learning how to pretend or pretending; she can do this too. She can play this Jessica.

“Sica?”

“Sorry,” she mumbles, ducking her head so Taeyeon can’t see her expression. “I didn’t mean to… I.”

“You couldn’t resist me? I understand. It’s hard to.”

When Jessica raises her head, she sees Taeyeon smiling at her with that smile again, looking at her in the way Jessica has only dreamed of, never dared to hope for, for so long.

“You…” Jessica dregs up some composure somehow, from somewhere, and wraps it around herself like a cloak. “You’re impossible.”

And she means it. This Taeyeon is impossible, unattainable, unreal. She may be in front of Jessica, close to Jessica, but Jessica knows that she isn’t really here and isn’t really hers. And yet…

“You love me,” Taeyeon says, unfazed.

“I do,” Jessica says, and her throat closes up on her.

 

Taeyeon leaves to take a shower, with a very suggestively worded invitation that almost turns Jessica crimson. Before she leaves the room, she presses her lips to Jessica’s forehead and murmurs, “Sorry I woke you from your nap. There’s time before dinner for another one,” and it’s a good thing she leaves right afterwards and misses the look on Jessica’s face.

Jessica knows she should be taking the alone time to collect herself, to find information and come up with a plan to deal with this—situation. However, she just ends up lying down, her legs tangled in Taeyeon’s blanket and her cheek rested against Taeyeon’s pillow for a long time.

 

Some time on her phone (which is mercifully right next to her – some things never change) tells her that it’s June 2015, the same time as it would be in her world yet so different; that she never left Girls’ Generation; that Blanc (not Blanc & Eclare, just Blanc) exists, albeit is much smaller than in her world; that the nine of them are preparing for their comeback and fifth full-length Korean album.

She’s not one for dipping into the murky waters of fandom, but she searches up “Taeyeon and Jessica” and the search results that come up have her eyes widening and her mouth falling open.

“Are you looking for fanfiction of us?” A pair of arms wraps around her and a soft body plasters against her back. Damp hair brushes against her cheek and she can’t help but inhale, drawing the scent of apples and Taeyeon into her lungs, keeping it in her chest.

“Taeyeon,” she mumbles, feeling like she’s dreaming. It wouldn’t be the first time she’s had this dream.

“Jessica.” Taeyeon says her name in a way that makes her spine feel liquid. “The fans have the craziest theories, don’t they?”

“Yeah. I mean – you being in love with me? That’s totally ridiculous.”

“Completely absurd,” Taeyeon agrees, nuzzling into the juncture between Jessica’s neck and shoulder. “So crazy it might be true.” She presses a slow, soft kiss to the base of Jessica’s throat, and Jessica’s pulse hammers with such force against her skin that Taeyeon must be able to feel it.

“Taeyeon…” It’s half a whine.

“I might have to take another shower after this.” Taeyeon clucks her tongue. “See, you should’ve just joined me in the shower in the first place. It would’ve saved time and water.”

Jessica couldn’t care less about saving water right now. She blindly seeks Taeyeon’s mouth and finds it on her second try, lips initially clumsy, disbelieving until Taeyeon’s tongue strokes past the seam of her lips and she opens her mouth without needing to think. She numbly registers in a corner of her mind that she’s kissing Taeyeon, she’s kissing Taeyeon, and maybe this losing her mind business isn’t so bad if this is the trade-off.

Taeyeon’s fingers ghost along the hem of Jessica’s shirt, and Jessica thinks she’s going to tug it off but then she pulls away.

“Is everything okay?”

Jessica stares at her. “What?” Her voice comes out raspy, half-wrecked.

“Is everything okay?” Taeyeon repeats, genuine concern in her voice even as she looks at Jessica like she wants to tear her apart and put her back together. Jessica already feels like that’s been happening to her.

No, everything is not okay. She’s probably losing her mind, for one. And she’s pretty sure she’ll definitely lose it if Taeyeon doesn’t get back here and continue kissing her.

“Got it,” Taeyeon says with a smile, and Jessica realizes she said the last part out loud; growled it, practically. “God, you’re hot when you’re bossy.”

Jessica was worried that she would be a bad actress, but she doesn’t need to fake how much she’s into kissing Taeyeon, how much she’s into Taeyeon. This part, at least, she doesn’t have to feign at all.

 

Afterwards – quite a while afterwards – Taeyeon returns to the bathroom to blow dry her hair. Jessica asks why she didn’t do it when she was still in there, and Taeyeon says, “You said you like the way my hair smells right after I shower, remember?”

Jessica doesn’t remember, of course, because it never happened to her, but she nods and plays with a lock of Taeyeon’s hair, winding it around her finger and watching it pop free.

“Don’t read any TaengSic fanfiction while I’m gone,” Taeyeon says with a grin as she heads for the door.

Something twists sharply in Jessica’s chest at how casually Taeyeon says their pairing name. “Should I save it for when you’re here?”

“Well, the last time we tried that it didn’t turn out so well, so.” Taeyeon shrugs. “I mean, if you want to find another one, be my guest.”

Jessica just kind of stares at her. Is she serious? Jessica wouldn’t touch fanfiction about them with a ten-foot pole. (Okay, maybe she had tried one – about her and Tiffany of all people – once when she was young and naïve, but she had backed out three sentences in and never gone back since.)

Taeyeon bursts out laughing. “The look on your face!” she wheezes, clutching her ribs. “I was the even more disturbed one last time. There’s no way I’m going to suggest reading another one.”

Jessica scowls. “Go dry your hair.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Taeyeon salutes her before heading off.

Jessica ends up lying down again, but this time with a smile.

 

She actually considers taking a nap, but her thirst drives her to the kitchen, even as she hesitates every other step, wondering what she’ll say if she bumps into any of the other girls. Taeyeon was an easy enough test to pass, but she’s…biased, obviously, and Jessica doesn’t know how she’ll fare against, say, Sooyoung’s sharp eyes or Juhyun’s quiet perceptiveness.

Mercifully, she doesn’t see anyone. It’s not until she has a glass of water raised to her lips that she realizes how well she still remembers the layout of the dorm, not having needed to think at all about where the light switch is or where the glasses are. There had been no battle to remember; she had simply stepped back into this life like she had never left it.

This isn’t even her life, she reminds herself. This life doesn’t belong to her and this Taeyeon doesn’t belong to her. For the first time, a thought strikes her. If this is some weird alternate universe instead of a dream, then – what happened to this Jessica? What if she woke up in Jessica’s life, the one without Girls’ Generation, without Taeyeon? Jessica doesn’t envy her, that’s for sure.

She’s so caught up in her thoughts that she doesn’t even register the sound of the door opening and feet walking across the floor until she hears her name.

“Earth to Jessica?”

Her head snaps up and she’s met with a pair of smiling eyes. “Sometimes I really think the phrase ‘the lights are on but nobody’s home’ was made for you.”

It takes her a second, but she manages to come up with an apt reply. She thanks the years of bantering with Tiffany for her relatively quick reaction. “How do you know it wasn’t?”

Tiffany just grins in reply. “Hey, I got some cupcakes from that place you like.” She shoves a plastic bag at Jessica, who almost staggers even though it’s pretty light. “Sorry, I ate all the red velvet ones.” Her sheepish smile is a sight that Jessica didn’t realize she’s missed until she sees it again.

“It’s okay,” Jessica says mechanically.

“Sorry Jessi, I know you like them a lot.” Tiffany’s really upped her puppy dog eye game. “I’ll buy you extra next time!”

“It’s okay,” Jessica repeats, a lump in her throat. The package in her arms feels like it weighs a ton. She keeps her eyes on the bakery logo rather than on Tiffany. It’s been so long since she’s had anything from this bakery; she loves their products but she couldn’t bear to eat any after what happened when every mouthful tasted like memories, crumbling dry and ashy in her mouth.

“You know, we haven’t gone out to eat some Western food in forever,” Tiffany says. “Taeyeon’s really rubbed off on you, huh?”

And because Jessica’s brain is apparently set on Taeyeon mode now, she totally takes that in a non-PG way. “W-what?”

“You and I used to go eat spaghetti or burgers or something like once a week, but we haven’t gone in ages,” Tiffany whines. “Do you have any idea how much I crave real Parmesan right now?”

Jessica snorts. “Oh please, you think the stuff they put on pasta here is real Parmesan?”

“Do you have any idea how much I crave fake Parmesan right now?”

A laugh bubbles in Jessica’s stomach and out her throat. “I’ve missed you, Tiff.”

“What do you mean?” Tiffany looks confused. “I haven’t gone anywhere.”

Oh shit. She can’t be losing it this early in the game.

“You mean, since I went to the bakery?” Tiffany laughs. “I didn’t know you were so attached to me, Jessi. Don’t let Taeyeon know.”

“Don’t let me know what?” Taeyeon comes up behind her and rests her head on Jessica’s shoulder, and Jessica has to tell herself not to tense up. “Ooh, cupcakes!”

“I told Jessi not to let you know I got her cupcakes.”

“Why didn’t you get me cupcakes?” Taeyeon’s sad face makes Jessica want to give her the whole box.

“I got you macarons last time. What am I, this dorm’s personal baked goods supplier?”

“Yes,” Jessica and Taeyeon chorus.

Tiffany scowls. “Taeyeon, you’re responsible for dinner tonight. Don’t forget.”

“Can I order—”

“No.”

“You ordered out last time when it was your turn to cook,” Taeyeon protests.

“Yeah, so we’ve had enough takeout already. Now you should treat us to some home cooking.” Tiffany turns to Jessica, who had been watching them bicker with something between a joy and an ache. “Doesn’t that sound fair, Jessi?”

Jessica glances at Taeyeon, who makes another Sad Face, and finds herself saying, “I’ll help you, Taeng.”

Tiffany looks wary. “The last time you helped Taeyeon cook, you nearly burned the place down.”

“I’ve improved a lot as a chef,” Jessica says with great dignity.

“Over the span of a week?” Tiffany asks dryly.

Jessica opens her mouth, closes it, swallows. “A lot can change over a week.”

The words sound much heavier than she intended them to, weighing down the air between them. Taeyeon, inexplicably, looks stricken.

Tiffany looks between the two of them for a long moment. “Well, good luck with dinner!” she says brightly. “I bet Prince has missed me.”

And with that, she’s gone with a cheerful smile, and Jessica’s left with a box of cupcakes and a somber Taeyeon.

“Taeng?” Jessica ventures after a minute of silence.

Taeyeon seems to snap out of a daze. “What?”

“Do you want help with dinner?” Jessica’s voice comes out small and tentative. “I promise not to set off any fires this time.”

Taeyeon stares at her, intensely, searchingly, her eyes almost burning through her. Jessica is starting to think that Taeyeon should count as a fire hazard. Then Taeyeon’s gaze softens and she smiles, dimpling. “I don’t blame you for the fire last time. You can’t help it that you’re hot.”

Jessica swings the plastic bag in her hands at Taeyeon, but the bag whips around and she ends up hitting herself with it, the sharp edge of the box ramming into her stomach. “Ow,” she mutters, while Taeyeon almost falls to the ground laughing.

Dinner preparations don’t start on the best note.

 

They settle on making stir-fry, deciding that neither of them can mess that up too badly.

“And if it does turn out badly, we can just order delivery,” Taeyeon says, which sounds like a great course of action to Jessica.

After five minutes of peeling and chopping vegetables, Jessica decides that she’s tired and needs a break. Taeyeon, who’s struggling to slice through a partially defrosted block of pork, puts down her knife and washes her hands.

“Cooking is such hard work,” Jessica sighs as she takes a seat at the kitchen table, propping her chin on an upturned palm.

Taeyeon looks like she’s holding back a laugh. “Hey, you volunteered to be my sous-chef.”

“Excuse you, I am obviously the executive chef here. You can be my line cook.”

“The last time I checked, the line cook is the one preparing vegetables, not the executive chef.”

Jessica turns a glare on Taeyeon, who closes her mouth. “Okay, I’ll be your line cook,” Taeyeon says, and Jessica smiles. “Does that mean I get to taste everything of yours?”

Why does Taeyeon have the ability to turn everything into an innuendo?

Taeyeon looks exceedingly innocent. “I mean, the executive chef still wants some input on how their dishes taste, right?”

Jessica flicks a piece of carrot peel that had clung to her wrist at Taeyeon.

Taeyeon dodges like she has a lot of experience evading projectiles. “We aren’t going to finish with dinner anytime soon, are we?”

“Good things take time,” Jessica says sagely.

“You haven’t eaten much all day,” Taeyeon notes. “Are you hungry?”

Her incessant innuendos have threatened to turn Jessica into a blushing mess, but this, her simple concern, does far more and renders Jessica utterly mute.

“Sica?”

“No,” Jessica says, and her stomach chooses this exact moment to let out a loud grumble.

Taeyeon rolls her eyes. “You’re such a bad liar.”

If only you knew.

“Do you want a cupcake?” Taeyeon nudges the box toward her. “You should eat something.”

“What about you?”

“I’m not on the menu,” Taeyeon says, amused.

Jessica is getting better at this not blushing business, because she just lets the statement roll off her back. “No, I mean. Are you hungry?” Taeyeon looks thin. Well, she’s always been thin, but she looks even skinnier than usual, collarbones and wrists sharp, and Jessica doesn’t like it. “For food,” she adds quickly, because who knows what kind of suggestive reply Taeyeon can come up with.

“I could go for a cupcake.” The Sad Face makes a comeback. “Fany never buys me cupcakes.”

Jessica means to say something like “she just bought you macarons, didn’t she?” or “maybe you haven’t asked nicely,” but what comes out instead is, “I’ll buy you cupcakes. I’ll buy you anything you want.”

Taeyeon grins. “Are you going to be my sugar mommy?”

She spends the next five minutes running away from a carrot-wielding Jessica.

 

Once Jessica opens the box, Taeyeon looks at the cupcakes like a kid on Christmas morning. “There are so many colours!” she exclaims, sounding more excited than Jessica has heard in a long, long time. Taeyeon stares at the cupcakes, and Jessica stares at her, forgetting to watch herself and just letting herself have this, have this moment and this Taeyeon, even though neither of them belongs to her.

“Which one do you want?” Taeyeon asks, eyes flickering to her, and Jessica tries to school her expression into something neutral. Judging by Taeyeon’s briefly narrowed eyes, she doesn’t succeed. “Fany didn’t get any red velvet ones.”

“She did. She just ate them herself.”

Taeyeon laughs, dimple popping out, and Jessica hoards the expression up greedily, trying to save as much as she can, remember as much as she can, because she knows she won’t have this for long and she wants to at least have the memory.

“That’s a shame though. I know they’re your favourite.” Taeyeon frowns at the box like she’s personally disappointed in it for not magically producing another red velvet cupcake.

Jessica’s throat threatens to close up on her. Damn it, why is her body being so weak? This is definitely not the time for it.

“Well, you like mint chocolate too, right?” Taeyeon holds out a cupcake with green frosting. “Right?” she asks uncertainly when Jessica doesn’t make a sound or move.

“Yes!” Jessica clears her throat. “Yeah, I like mint chocolate too.” She would have taken a cucumber cupcake from Taeyeon.

…Okay no, not a cucumber cupcake but maybe a dirt-flavoured one.

Taeyeon dips her finger in the frosting and, before Jessica can react, smears it on her nose.

“Hey,” Jessica protests half-heartedly.

Taeyeon grins, looking proud of her work. “You look like Rudolph now.”

“Rudolph has a red nose, you idiot.”

“Who says?”

“The song! It’s Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, not Rudolph the gre—” Taeyeon kisses her before she can finish the sentence, and she decides she really doesn’t care what colour Rudolph’s nose is.

When Taeyeon leans back, she has a dollop of icing on her nose too. Jessica smiles, the corners of her mouth trembling minutely. “We match.”

Taeyeon smiles back, leans in and licks Jessica’s cheek. “You had some here,” she points to her own face. “Now you just have it on your nose so we really match.”

It should make Jessica laugh, or at least grin, but she just – her face crumples and her breath hitches in a sound halfway to a sob.

“Sica?” Alarm writes itself all over Taeyeon’s face, laces itself through those two syllables. Jessica hates herself for doing this to Taeyeon, for ruining her smile, her cheerful mood. She hasn’t seen Taeyeon this happy and carefree for so long. Even before…well, before, Taeyeon rarely wanted anything to do with her so she supposes her measure of Taeyeon’s moods wasn’t very accurate. “What’s wro—”

Jessica doesn’t let Taeyeon finish that question. She doesn’t want to think about what’s wrong, when so much is right. “I remember when you did this on my birthday.” Her face softens at the memory; it isn’t a pretence. “That was…”

“Sticky?” Taeyeon’s voice is light, but the concern is still there in her eyes.

“Yeah.” Jessica licks her lips, as if there’s cake smudged there. “Sticky.”

“And sweet?”

Jessica swallows and almost tastes the memory. “The sweetest.”

 

They don’t burn dinner. They undercook it so severely that the pork is still pink in the middle and the vegetables are practically raw.

Tiffany comes in to check up on them, takes one look at their efforts and announces, “I’m really craving pasta.”

Taeyeon takes one of the many delivery menus they have on hand and calls an Italian place. She doesn’t even complain about the choice of Western food, a dent between her eyebrows all through the call even as her voice remains steady and pleasant.

Tiffany pulls Taeyeon aside afterwards, chattering about wanting to buy couple outfits for Prince and Ginger, and Sunkyu emerges from her room, sleepy-eyed and obviously only half-awake.

“You look great,” Jessica says.

Sunkyu yawns and covers her mouth. “What’s for dinner? I didn’t smell smoke so that exceeds my expectations already.”

“Well, unless you want pork sashimi and raw vegetables, we’re getting Italian.”

“Pork sashimi,” Sunkyu repeats.

“It’s my new signature dish.”

Sunkyu laughs. “You’re stepping up from charred rice, I see.”

“That’s me, always aiming up.” Jessica is surprised at how comfortable and light-hearted this exchange is, but maybe she shouldn’t be. Sunkyu has always been very easy to talk to, and especially, to confide in. Not that Jessica can confide in her for this. She can’t confide in anyone for this, and truth be told, she doesn’t want to. What would be the point of ruining this?

“Mmm.” Sunkyu sounds more awake now but still not completely. “It’s a good thing Sooyoung isn’t here tonight. She’d eat all the meatballs.”

“Sooyoung isn’t here?”

“Did you forget?” Sunkyu sounds amused but not surprised. “It’s just the four of us, tonight. Or more like you two lovebirds and Tiffany and I the third and fourth wheels.”

Jessica commends herself on her lack of external reaction to the revelation that apparently, the girls know about her and Taeyeon and are comfortable enough to tease them about it. She also can’t help but feel relieved and disappointed at once that she won’t be seeing anyone else tonight. She’s not sure if she can keep up her act, and yet there’s a part of her that craves the nine of them being together again.

“I’m just really tired,” Jessica says, putting on a pout. “Taeyeon was complaining about my memory too. I think I’m getting old.”

“You’re a month older than me,” Sunkyu says dryly.

“Taeyeon’s a month older than me and she acts like an ahjumma half the time.”

“Okay, but she acts like a five-year-old the other half of the time so.”

“That’s true,” Jessica concedes. “She was having fun with frosting earlier.”

Sunkyu makes a face. “I don’t need to know about your sex life, thanks.”

Jessica’s face goes full-fledged tomato. “We were eating cupcakes! We don’t – why would I—”

Sunkyu puts her hands over her ears. “I can’t hear you,” she says in a sing-song voice. “My ears are too pure for this.”

“Your ears are pure, Lee Sunkyu?” Taeyeon scoffs, returning to the table. “You downloaded so much porn you almost crashed your laptop.”

“Porn is one thing, you and Jessica’s sex life is another thing.”

Taeyeon goes still, and Tiffany bursts into laughter from behind her.

“I’m not against seeing a little girl on girl action at times, but I don’t want or need to see two of my best friends making out. In the living room. On the couch.”

Tiffany sounds like she might pass out from laughing too hard.

“The poor couch,” Sunkyu sighs. “None of us could bear to sit on it again.”

Jessica looks helplessly at Taeyeon. “I was just talking about cupcakes.”

“Is that an innuendo for something?” Tiffany gasps out, sounding like she’s still recovering from her hysterics.

“The cupcakes you got me!” Jessica’s voice rockets up half an octave. “I’m still mad at you for eating my favourite ones, by the way.”

“Okay, this just sounds too suggestive.” Tiffany puts her hands up. “I don’t want to talk about this with you anymore. Not after the time Taeyeon grilled me for half an hour because she thought I was flirting with you.”

“You probably were,” Sunkyu says. “You flirt with everyone.”

“I have a lot of love,” Tiffany says, unfazed.

“Is the food getting here anytime soon?” Taeyeon asks, which is apparently the cue for Tiffany to start laughing again, this time joined by Sunkyu. Even Taeyeon joins in eventually, with a resigned look on her face like if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

And Jessica watches them and finds the corners of her mouth pulling up even as she feels like something in her chest moves in the opposite direction. She can’t even tell if it’s her heart; she’s put it through so much at this point that she can no longer feel it. Maybe that’s for the best.

 

Dinner involves more laughing than eating, and Jessica is thankful that Tiffany is so talkative because it means there are less gaps of silence that she has to fill. At one point, she means to kick Tiffany but she accidentally gets Taeyeon instead, and then it somehow turns into a game of footsie where Taeyeon’s foot is inching higher and higher up her leg.

Jessica tries to blame how red her face is turning on the tiny bit of soju she drank. Sunkyu had tried to talk her into drinking more, but she had put her foot down. She doesn’t need alcohol to muddle up her system even further; she’s intoxicated enough already.

“Ah, this hits the spot,” Tiffany sighs, leaning back in her chair.

“You satisfied your fake Parmesan craving?”

Tiffany smiles. “Almost. Don’t forget about our spaghetti date!”

Taeyeon looks at Jessica questioningly.

“This American girl just can’t be stopped,” Jessica says with a shrug.

“This American girl was prepared to do the dishes tonight, since you two were kind enough to do the cooking. But hurray for takeout containers.”

“Don’t say stuff like that when Juhyun is here,” Sunkyu cautions. “Then we’ll be subjected to one of her environment lectures again.”

Jessica laughs. “She still gives those?”

“I’m pretty sure she isn’t going to stop anytime soon,” Taeyeon says. “I feel like we’ll be old ladies one day and she’ll still be eating sweet potatoes while talking about the importance of environmental protection.”

“Sweet potatoes would be a good food for old people,” Sunkyu says thoughtfully. “Very little chewing involved. We’ll be able to eat them even if we lose our teeth.”

“Maybe you’ll suddenly discover a love for cucumbers when you’re old, Jessi,” Tiffany says brightly. “And then you’ll be sad because you won’t be able to eat them with your lack of teeth and you’ll rue not liking them when you were young.”

Jessica just looks at her, not even bothering to dignify that with a reply.

“It’s okay, Sica,” Taeyeon says. “If you suddenly decide you like cucumbers when we’re old, I’ll blend them for you. I have a Magic Bullet.”

“Is that a euphemism for a vibrator?” Sunkyu asks, and that sets them all off. Jessica has tears in her eyes by the time she recovers from laughing so hard she thought her chest would burst.

“I can’t tell if you’re drunk or not,” Taeyeon says, eyeing the empty soju bottle beside Sunkyu.

“She doesn’t need to drink to be drunk,” Tiffany says, and Taeyeon and Jessica both nod in agreement. “TaeTae, Jessi, you’re going to be the cutest old lady couple ever. Drinking cucumber puree together”—Jessica almost throws up—”and singing duets in the kitchen while you either undercook or burn food. That’s adorable.”

“It’s nice to know you have such faith in our cooking abilities,” Taeyeon says wryly.

Jessica can’t speak. She feels like she’s holding her breath even though her air supply is perfectly normal. She shouldn’t be thinking about her and Taeyeon being together decades from now, when they’ve barely been together for hours. She shouldn’t be imagining that, wishing for that, but.

“You really shouldn’t be talking down on other people’s cooking, Fany,” Sunkyu says.

“I can cook,” Tiffany says, sounding injured. “I just don’t see the need to.”

Sunkyu snorts, and then the two of them are off quipping at each other.

Taeyeon’s foot finds Jessica’s under the table again, although this time she just twines their ankles together. “Don’t worry,” she says quietly to Jessica, like they’re alone even though they’re right beside two assholes. “I’m sure at least one of us will learn to cook by the time we’re old.”

Jessica just nods, still unable to speak.

“I mean, worst case scenario…” Taeyeon’s forehead furrows. “I’m pretty sure you can survive on frozen food and takeout. Or maybe Yuri and Hyoyeon will take pity on us and bring us food every week or something.”

“Don’t bet on it,” Tiffany says, and Taeyeon completely ignores her.

“We can take cooking classes together.” Taeyeon grins. “I heard that’s a big thing for couples now.”

Jessica hopes her smile isn’t as unsteady as she feels. “How romantic.”

“That’s me,” Taeyeon says, tapping Jessica’s foot with hers. “I’ll take you for a walk down Romantic Street.”

Jessica snorts and elbows her for the lame pun, but when Taeyeon smiles at her, turning her head and leaning in so that only she sees it, she feels like her chest might burst again, this time for a very different reason.

 

Tiffany pulls Sunkyu away after dinner, chattering about—Jessica doesn’t even know anymore. She forgot how hard it is to keep up with Tiffany when she’s on a roll.

“What are you thinking about?”

Jessica starts and turns to Taeyeon. “How fast Tiffany talks,” she replies without thinking. “I’m not used to it anymore.”

She curses herself immediately for giving herself away like that, but Taeyeon doesn’t seem to notice and just laughs.

“We’ve known each other for practically half our lives and I’m still not used to it sometimes.”

“That’s right,” Jessica says slowly. “We’ve known each other for half our lives, haven’t we?”

Taeyeon smiles. “Did you forget that?”

“How could I,” Jessica murmurs.

“Are you getting tired of us?” Taeyeon asks lightly.

Jessica’s laugh doesn’t sound remotely happy. “How could I,” she repeats, dropping her eyes.

“Jessica—”

“I’m tired, Taengoo.”

“You should get some rest.” Taeyeon’s voice is so soft. “Is the food coma hitting you?”

“Sure. Yes.” Jessica leans into Taeyeon, which is not so much an act as it is an instinct that she doesn’t have to push back anymore. “Bed sounds nice right now.”

“Bed always sounds nice to you.”

“It’s a good place, don’t you think?”

“Oh, definitely,” Taeyeon says. “Some of my favourite memories were made there.”

Jessica laughs, and this time it’s pure mirth. Well, mixed with some embarrassment. “Why are you always so—”

“So what?” Taeyeon asks with a smile.

“Taeyeon,” Jessica says seriously. “I could never get tired of you.”

Taeyeon looks at her in that way again, which makes her want to stare and avert her eyes at the same time. “Jessica.” Her voice is tender. Jessica waits for her to continue, but Taeyeon stops there, at her name, like that’s all she had to say. It’s enough. Jessica isn’t left wanting but rather wanted.

“Taeyeon,” Jessica says again, the sound of her name so right in her mouth.

“I like it when you say my name,” Taeyeon says, so candidly that even she looks surprised by it.

Jessica draws in a breath. “Do you?”

“You – you sound…” Taeyeon trails off for a moment. “You sound like you’re saying more than just my name. Like you’re telling me a secret message.”

Jessica can do nothing except stare at her, the breath she just took in trapped in her throat.

“I’m having a little trouble deciphering you though,” Taeyeon says with a small smile that fades when Jessica just keeps staring at her, eyes probably giving away messages she hopes Taeyeon can’t understand. “Sica?”

“Tae—” Jessica hurriedly swallows the rest of her name. She wants to add some kind of light-hearted or playful remark, but she freezes there, halfway through Taeyeon’s name.

“Jessica,” Taeyeon says, her voice heavy. Jessica knows that she’s going to follow it up with a comment like “what’s wrong.” Jessica knows she means well, knows she cares (and isn’t that ironic – Taeyeon cares about her, cares too much at that), but she can’t handle this right now.

“Taeyeon,” Jessica blurts out, beating her to it. “You know how I feel about you, right?”

Taeyeon blinks, looking utterly taken back. “Yes…?”

“Good. I know I don’t say it enough, but. I feel it.” Jessica moves and looks away from Taeyeon; she can’t bear to maintain any form of contact right now, not even eye contact.

“I think I’m the one who doesn’t say it enough,” Taeyeon says softly. Jessica doesn’t know how to react to her voice being so soft. Before, when she briefly entertained telling Taeyeon about her feelings, she had prepared herself for everything from Taeyeon except tenderness. “But. You know too, don’t you?”

“I do,” Jessica whispers, and the words come out half-choked.

Taeyeon smiles, and it’s so soft too, everything about her is so soft right now. It should be comforting, but it just feels too good to be true. Everything about this Taeyeon is too good to be true.

“I know you’ve been stressed about the comeback,” Taeyeon says. “We’ve had a long hiatus and all, but I know it’s going to go well.”

“Do you like the song?”

“You keep asking me this.” But Taeyeon doesn’t look annoyed. “You know it’s not really my type of song.”

Jessica absorbs that for a moment. “Then I bet it’ll do really well.”

Taeyeon sticks out her tongue. She’s so different from the Taeyeon Jessica watched videos of, crying and apologizing to the fans, Jessica not noticing the tears that spilled from her own eyes until they landed, hot and wet, on her skin. Just remembering that, remembering reality, makes her eyes burn.

“Well, I like you in a bikini when we shot the music video,” Taeyeon says. “That warmed me up to the song.”

Jessica snorts and elbows Taeyeon, even as she files it into her head: she was part of the Party comeback. That makes sense; she would have been, had she not left. She would have continued in this life, continued with them. But as to how she and Taeyeon fit into this picture, she has no idea.

Chapter Text

Taeyeon presses her lips to Jessica’s forehead, which feels very much real and unreal at the same time. Suddenly, she wrinkles her nose. “I have to brush my teeth. My breath reeks of garlic.”

Jessica can only think to say, “At least it’ll keep the vampires away.”

“Yeah, that’s always important.” Taeyeon laughs, self-consciously covering her mouth like she’s afraid she’ll disgust Jessica with her garlic-scented breath.

Jessica pulls Taeyeon’s hand away from her face and laces their fingers together. “It’s okay, it’s not like you ate cucumbers.”

“Would you kiss me if I did?”

Jessica gives her A Look.

Taeyeon smiles, sheepish. “That was a stupid question, wasn’t it?”

“Do you even know me at all?”

Taeyeon leans in, her nose skimming a line down Jessica’s jaw, pressing an open-mouthed kiss against her neck and then lightly nipping at the skin there. Okay, she’s taking this vampire thing a little too far. “I know you inside out,” she murmurs.

Jessica breaks into shivers, ones that are far from unpleasant. “Taeyeon…”

Taeyeon lifts her head. “Still feel like going to bed?” she asks, her tone innocent but the look in her eyes anything but.

“Yes,” Jessica says, although now she means it in a very different sense. “Let’s go.”

 

Later, when she has Taeyeon under her, hair darkened to flax with sweat and voice hoarse definitely not from singing, she forgets to watch herself and just stares at Taeyeon, trying to hoard this too. She knows that all memories fade, regardless of how tightly you try to hold onto them, and she will never again be able to have this moment as clear and vivid as she does now. She will never be able to have Taeyeon like this again.

“You’re such a tease,” Taeyeon rasps, eyes fluttering open, and Jessica realizes that she stopped at a rather inopportune moment.

Jessica gives a sweet smile. “I thought that’s why you like me.”

“I’d like you better if—”

“—I did this?” Jessica asks innocently, crooking her fingers a certain way.

The way Taeyeon gasps and arches her neck is enough of an answer. Jessica lowers her head and sucks a mark against the tender flesh of Taeyeon’s inner thigh. A love bite. It’s silly, but she wants to leave some evidence that she had touched Taeyeon, had kissed Taeyeon. She wonders if this mark will last longer than her, if Taeyeon will see it after she’s gone and think of her, remember her. In another world, the thought of marking Taeyeon, of claiming her, would have filled her up, but here, it just hollows her out.

“I swear,” Taeyeon says, “if you’re going to continue being such a goddamn tease…”

Sorry, Jessica almost blurts out. Instead, she quips, “Patience is a virtue.”

“Yes, and we’re being very virtuous right now.”

Jessica smiles at that, and then she shuts out her thoughts and surrenders herself to the heat simmering under her skin.

 

“Now I’m really ready for bed, as in actual bed,” Taeyeon says, sprawled out bonelessly, eyes half-shut like she doesn’t have the energy to hold them open. Jessica feels rather accomplished at leaving her in such a state.

“Well, it’s good that we’re in an actual bed right now.”

Taeyeon throws her a lazy smile. “It’s still pretty good if we’re on the couch, or in the shower, or—”

Jessica’s face fills with heat. “Do you know how not to speak in innuendos?”

“You’re so cute.” Taeyeon chuckles. “You didn’t even blush when we actually had sex, but you blush when we talk about it.”

“You’re always talking about it. I think you need to go to some kind of addict group. You clearly have an addiction problem.”

“An addict group?” Taeyeon repeats, sounding amused. “Like what, Nymphomaniac Anonymous? NA? Hey, do you think they have that?”

“If they do, I’m signing you up.”

“But I’m not addicted to sex,” Taeyeon says, completely straight-faced. “I’m just addicted to you. Doesn’t that mean I have to go to a Jessica addiction support group? I bet they have those, full of your obsessed fans.”

Jessica’s heart is beating so fast she can hear it thundering in her ears. “What does that make you, my number one fan?”

“Absolutely,” Taeyeon says solemnly. “Don’t you know that already?”

Jessica bites down on her inner cheek. “Of course I do, but it’s nice to be reminded.”

“Well, let me know if you ever need a reminder,” Taeyeon says, her voice light but her gaze heavy. Jessica can’t help but feel like she’s alluding to something deeper. “I can think of a few ways to remind you,” she adds suggestively.

…Or maybe not.

“What are you looking for?” Taeyeon asks curiously as Jessica reaches around the bed.

“My phone. I need to look up Nymphomaniacs Anonymous so I can sign you up.”

“Will you come with me to the meetings?”

“…I think that defeats the point of them.”

“Well, it’s not like we’re going to bang in front of them.”

“Taeyeon!”

“Unless you want to? I didn’t think you were an exhibitionist, Sica.”

“The only thing I’ll do in front of them is strangle you.”

“I didn’t think you were into erotic asphyxiation either.”

“Kim Taeyeon, I swear…”

She should have figured that pillow talk with Taeyeon would be like this. Then again, she can’t honestly say that she minds.

 

Jessica only realizes that she fell asleep when she wakes up in the middle of the night to a voice coming from right beside her.

“Yes, we are very excited about our comeback,” Taeyeon says, so clearly that Jessica thinks she’s talking on the phone for a second. Then she sees that Taeyeon’s eyes are closed and she’s clearly deep asleep. “Please continue to give us support and love. Right now it’s…”

And Jessica can’t help herself as she finishes, “…Girls’ Generation!”

It’s been so long since she’s said those words that she almost expects them to stick in her throat, to wither there perhaps, but they come out as naturally and easily as if she’s been saying them for her whole life. In many ways, it feels like she has been.

Taeyeon mumbles something about forever, and then, “Jessica,” her voice so achingly tender that Jessica’s heart throbs, feeling too heavy for her body.

“Taeyeon,” she whispers in reply. It’s a relief that Taeyeon’s asleep so she doesn’t have to hold back on anything, doesn’t have to worry she’s staring too intently, for too long, doesn’t have to panic she’s giving something away. “Tae, I’m scared,” she lets herself confess. “I don’t want to lose this.” I don’t want to lose you.

Taeyeon’s only reply is a quiet snore. Jessica looks at her for a moment longer, committing her sleeping face to memory. Of course, she’s seen Taeyeon asleep before, whether in the van or makeup chair or, long ago, on a futon out of nine laid together on the living room floor. However, this is different. Everything is different now.

It should be an unsettling thought, but when Taeyeon rolls over and tucks herself against Jessica’s side with a sound of contentment, Jessica can feel nothing except right, like this is where she belongs.

 

There’s a moment of jagged disorientation when she wakes up, like she drank too much the night before and isn’t sure where she ended up, before it all comes back to her. Waking up in Taeyeon’s bed, finding out she’s still part of the group, having dinner with Tiffany and Sunkyu and…Taeyeon.  Eating cupcakes with Taeyeon, cooking with Taeyeon, sleeping with Taeyeon. Seeing that dimple in her chin. The playful sparkle in her eyes. The spot behind her ear that makes her shiver. Taeyeon. Her day started and ended with Taeyeon. Her thoughts do too.

And speaking of Taeyeon…

“How would you like your eggs?”

Jessica stares blankly at Taeyeon. “Is this some kind of morning after joke?”

“No.” Taeyeon holds up a spatula. “I’m making eggs. How do you want them? Like usual?”

“Um, sunny side up, please.”

“So, like usual.” Jessica just nods dumbly. “Okay, coming up!”

Taeyeon walks away, apparently to cook Jessica breakfast, and Jessica wishes that every morning could be like this. Maybe they would actually be something to look forward to.

 

Tiffany is already sitting at the kitchen table by the time Jessica drags herself there, hoping that Taeyeon made coffee.

“Morning, Jessi!” she chirps, and Jessica grunts back. “Late night?” she asks with a twinkle in her eyes.

Jessica grunts again.

“You sound like my brother in the mornings.”

“I do not sound like a man, thank you very much.”

“Of course not,” Tiffany says, and Jessica decides to be the bigger person and forgive her for the comment. “You only walk like one.”

Never mind.

“Eggs are ready,” Taeyeon announces, setting two plates in front of Jessica and Tiffany: sunny side up for Jessica and scrambled for Tiffany. “Sica, you can kill her after you eat. You’ll have more strength.”

“That’s true.” Jessica beams at her. “You’re so thoughtful, Tae.”

Tiffany mimes gagging. “Hey, I’m trying to eat here.”

Jessica throws her a glare. “Enjoy your last meal.”

“Now, now, kids,” Taeyeon sighs, sounding remarkably like Juhyun. “Eat before your food gets cold, and don’t throw it at each other.”

Tiffany takes a big bite, makes an appreciative sound and gives Taeyeon a smile. “These taste great, TaeTae. Thank you!”

“No problem. It’s the least I could do after dinner.”

“You should have just made eggs,” Tiffany says, digging in.

“I’m sure that would have been a great dinner,” Taeyeon says dryly.

“You’re not having any?” Jessica asks, seeing no plate in front of Taeyeon.

“I already ate. I had a cupcake from yesterday.”

“That’s not enough,” Jessica says. “Here, have one of my eggs.”

“No, it’s fine. You eat them. I made them for you.”

“And I want to share them with you. Take one. Really.”

“Really, I’m okay. I don’t want—”

“Can you two stop already?” Tiffany groans. “You’re being too cute. I can’t eat in peace.”

“You can eat in your room in peace,” Taeyeon suggests.

“Where’s Sunkyu?” Jessica asks, just to change the subject.

“Still sleeping,” Tiffany replies. “I think she stayed up late gaming.”

“Of course,” Jessica snorts.

“Seems like I was the only one who didn’t sleep late,” Tiffany says casually.

“Seems like it,” Taeyeon says, expression not faltering at all while Jessica can’t make eye contact with either of them.

“Jessi, do you want some juice?” Tiffany asks brightly. “You should stay hydrated. You never know when you might, er, get some intensive exercise done.”

She can’t believe she forgot how much of a pain Tiffany is. It’s like Tiffany wants to remind her.

“I’d like some juice,” Taeyeon says.

Tiffany scowls. “I wasn’t asking you.”

“I cooked you breakfast! You won’t even pour me a glass of juice? Sica isn’t the only one who needs to stay hydrated. I exercise too, you know.”

“Fine,” Tiffany sighs in a longsuffering way. “I’ll get you both some juice. You’re no fun, TaeTae.”

“Hey, I have to stick up for my girlfriend.” The trail of butterflies in Jessica’s stomach flutter with extra force. “She can cut me off, you know.”

The butterflies are hit with a flash freeze and sink into instant hibernation.

Tiffany snorts. “You’re so romantic. Jessi must feel so loved.”

“I don’t know,” Taeyeon says. “Do you, Sica?”

“I do,” Jessica says quietly. “I mean, you’re my number one crazy obsessed fan, right?”

Taeyeon grins, dimpling, and the butterflies come back to life. “Of course.”

Tiffany sighs. “Ugh, you two are so sweet I feel like I can drink undiluted lemonade and it’d taste like Mountain Dew.”

“You’re welcome to try,” Jessica tells her. “I’d be happy to get you some lemons.”

Sunkyu comes into the kitchen at that moment. “Is that what’s for breakfast, lemons?” she asks, punctuating her question with a yawn. “I’m not sure I’m up for that. Are you guys trying to do that eat a whole lemon challenge?”

“Er, something like that,” Taeyeon says, hiding a smile behind her hand. “Do you want eggs? I made some for the American girls already.”

“Sure. Is this your way of making up for dinner?”

“Kind of, yeah. But I mean, we had a good dinner.” Taeyeon glances over at Jessica. “Didn’t we, Sica?”

“The best,” Jessica agrees, and means it wholeheartedly.

 

Sunkyu offers to do the dishes, and starts a conversation with Taeyeon by the sink.

“Jessi, can I talk to you for a minute?” Tiffany asks.

“Do you know how to talk for only one minute?”

Tiffany doesn’t reply to the jibe, grabbing Jessica’s wrist and pulling her with startling force into Tiffany’s room. Jessica takes a look around Tiffany’s room; she remembers it better than Taeyeon’s, having been here much more often, but her eyes still dart all around the walls and furniture, taking everything in.

“Jessica, I want to ask you something.”

The use of her full name makes her stiffen. Tiffany only calls her Jessica when she’s being Very Serious.

“Okay,” she says slowly, dread twisting her insides into knots. Did Tiffany see through her (not very convincing) act?

“What’s going on with you and Taeyeon?”

Jessica stares at Tiffany with wide eyes. “What do you mean?” she asks weakly.

“I thought playing dumb was my specialty,” Tiffany says, her tone completely opposite from her teasing words.

“Nothing’s going on between Taeyeon and me,” Jessica says, the words so true in her own universe that they don’t even sound like a lie on her lips.

Tiffany narrows her eyes. “You really expect me to believe that?”

“Since when were you our relationship counsellor?”

“Given that you two come to me all the time when you have issues, I think I have the right to ask after you.”

Jessica absorbs that for a moment. She isn’t surprised that she would go to Tiffany, given both her and Taeyeon’s closeness to her, but she isn’t sure how she feels at the thought of Taeyeon talking to Tiffany about her, about them.

“Jessi,” Tiffany says, voice softer now. “I just want to help you. You know that you can talk to me. About anything.”

“I know,” Jessica whispers.

“I’m just worried about you. Both of you. But especially you.”

“Me?” Jessica laughs, the sound airy and frail to her ears. “There’s nothing to be worried about.”

“Jessi,” Tiffany says, firmer now but still soft.

“Why do you think there’s something going on between me and Taeyeon?” Jessica hadn’t missed Taeyeon’s expression when she said ‘a lot can change over a week.’ What had happened during this week?

“Is there not?” Tiffany asks. “You’ve been acting…weird.”

“How?” Jessica asks, not playing dumb but truly curious this time, wanting to know how the other Jessica normally acts around Taeyeon. “I mean…you really think I’m acting differently?”

“Uh, yeah,” Tiffany says, like duh. “You’re not nearly as touchy as you used to be with Taeyeon. And you have these awkward pauses so much now when she says something. What’s going on?”

Of course she’s not as touchy as the other Jessica; this Taeyeon (any Taeyeon) isn’t hers to touch. And as for the awkward pauses… She really needs to work on those. There’s only so much she can blame on her delayed reaction time.

“I don’t know,” Jessica says honestly. “I’m as confused as you are, Tiff.”

Tiffany studies her for a long moment. “You should just talk to Taeyeon about it. Whatever it is.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“I mean, I know you two aren’t the biggest fan of talking but you have to work it out. You don’t want it to be like the last time. Taeyeon sulked for the whole two weeks you weren’t talking to each other, she drove everyone crazy.”

Tiffany rolls her eyes, while Jessica feels frozen. They didn’t talk for two weeks, and Taeyeon was…upset. How long has it been since they talked, really talked, in her own universe?

“—ssi. Jessica. JESSICA!”

She raises her head slowly, as if coming out of a daze. “Yeah?”

“Talk to Taeyeon, okay?”

“Why don’t you give her this talk?” Jessica says numbly, even though that’s definitely not what she wants. She may be able to handle this confrontation from Tiffany, but she definitely can’t from Taeyeon.

Tiffany makes a face. “I figured you’re easier to convince. TaeTae’s probably too scared to talk to you.”

Jessica gives a dry chuckle. “You think I’m not scared to talk to her?”

“No, you wear the pants in your relationship, why would you be scared?” Tiffany asks with a grin.

A strange sound escapes Jessica; with a start, she realizes that it’s a laugh.

“Well, maybe TaeTae wears the pants sometimes, but you definitely hold the whip.”

“Um,” Jessica says eloquently, her cheeks flaming.

“I mean that she’s whipped by you, not like the kind of thing Sunkyu would say.” Tiffany wrinkles her nose. “She would probably make some kind of joke here.”

“I…should go,” Jessica says, and makes her escape before either Tiffany thinks of a Sunkyu-level lewd comment or asks her any more questions that she really doesn’t have the answers for.

What’s going on with you and Taeyeon?

There’s no way that Jessica can answer that question, whether to Tiffany or herself.

 

Jessica means to return to her room, maybe search up more information on her phone, maybe just lie down for a bit while she still has that luxury. However, her legs move as if they have a mind of their own and they take her into another room instead. The one she woke up in yesterday.

(Has it really only been one day? She feels like she’s been here for days already, weeks, like this is the life she’s used to, this is the world she belongs in. It’s a dangerous illusion, but she finds herself unable – or is it just unwilling? – to escape it.)

Taeyeon’s bed is not as nice as her own, but it feels incredibly comfortable. Jessica stares at the ceiling as her mind drifts, not into any particular train of thought but simply wandering around the land at the edge of consciousness.

She’s suddenly jarred away from that land by the sound of the door closing. It’s not a loud sound, but in the back of her mind she has been waiting for it. She has been waiting for this. A conversation – a confrontation? – that she can’t put off any longer.

Taeyeon looks apologetic. “Sorry, did I wake you up?”

“No, I wasn’t sleeping. I was just…lying here.”

Taeyeon nods, like that makes perfect sense. “By all means, continue lying,” she says, and Jessica can’t help but hear the other meaning of lie. It’s like Taeyeon’s saying, continue lying, continue pretending, continue faking.

But I’m not doing any of these things, she wants to say. My actions aren’t fake. My feelings aren’t fake.

“No, it’s okay.” Jessica sits up, but keeps the blanket over her like she’s trying to cover herself even though she’s fully clothed. “I should be up anyway.”

Taeyeon’s eyebrows knit together. “You’re feeling okay, right? You’ve been napping a lot lately, even for you. Are the practices really getting to you?”

Practices. That’s something else she has to worry about, given that she has absolutely no knowledge of the song or choreography. She supposes she should be grateful that she landed here on an off day, but then again every day here is going to be an off day for her.

“Sica?”

“Well, you know.” Jessica shrugs. “Your stamina decreases as you age.”

“I don’t know, I think my stamina is still pretty great. Yours too. How long did we go just now?”

“Taeyeon!”

“I’m just saying,” Taeyeon says with an innocent expression that wouldn’t have fooled anyone, much less Jessica. “You make it sound like we’re fifty or something. We’re only halfway there. There’s still plenty of time.”

No, Jessica thinks, there isn’t. Not for them anyway.

“Right,” she says. “You’re right.”

“Of course I’m right, I’m always right,” Taeyeon says, and Jessica snorts. “So what did Tiffany want to talk about?”

“She…” Jessica’s mouth dries up. “She was trying to play counsellor.”

“Play counsellor?” Taeyeon repeats with a confused expression.

“She thinks she’s our relationship counsellor or something. Next thing you know, she’ll be starting her Dr. Tiff show.”

“Dr. Tiff?” Taeyeon sounds even more confused now.

“Never mind.” She’s starting to ramble, a nervous habit she’s never been able to shake off. “It’s just a lame joke.”

“I thought that was my specialty,” Taeyeon says with a smile, and what fragile resolve Jessica had built up starts to crumble. Taeyeon is so…so carefree, so relaxed, so happy. When was the last time Jessica saw her happy? When was the last time Jessica made her happy?

How could she ruin this happiness? She hasn’t even basked in it yet, hasn’t even fully taken in its warmth, and she’s not ready for it to be snatched aside and to be left shivering in its absence.

“Did you go to Fany for…relationship counselling?” Taeyeon asks tentatively. “I mean, shouldn’t I have come too? Since couples usually go to these things together and all.” She gives a chuckle that falls flat. With a start, Jessica realizes that she’s really asking, do you think our relationship needs work? Are you unhappy with it? Are you unhappy with me?

She hasn’t even ruined it yet, but she can already feel a chill creep in. She shivers and draws the blanket up over her shoulders, wrapping it around herself like a shawl.

“Are you cold?” Taeyeon looks concerned. “Is the air conditioning on too high?” Right after she asks, she makes a face. Jessica’s always the one wanting to turn it on higher; she doesn’t remember ever finding the AC too cold, only not cold enough.

“I’m fine,” Jessica says, “and I didn’t go to her. She came to me. She grabbed me and pulled me away at the kitchen, didn’t you see?”

“I was washing the dishes with Sunkyu.”

“Oh. Right.” Jessica would have happily taken dish duty over the forced counselling session. “Anyway, Tiffany was just…asking me some questions and stuff.”

“What kind of questions?” Taeyeon’s tone is casual but her gaze is anything but.

“Um, just questions. She thinks…” Jessica swallows. “She thinks I’ve been weird lately.”

“You have been,” Taeyeon says, and Jessica’s hands clench around the blankets in a white-knuckled grip. It was too much to hope for that Taeyeon would let her…strange behaviour go.

“It’s because of the fight, isn’t it?” Taeyeon asks wearily, like she already knows the answer.

Fight? What fight?

“I keep thinking—” Taeyeon draws in a sharp breath. “Are you going to break up with me?”

“What? No!”

“Then why have you been looking at me like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like I’m going to disappear at any second.” Taeyeon’s voice is quiet, pained. “Like you’re saying goodbye even before you’ve said hello.”

Jessica feels like she’s been struck in the chest. She didn’t think that Taeyeon would see through her so easily. She should have figured; she’s never been a good liar when it matters.

“You don’t understand,” she says in a small voice. A pitiful voice.

Taeyeon must be fed up with hearing that, but she just looks steadily at Jessica and says, “Then explain it to me.”

“I can’t. You wouldn’t believe me.” Jessica gives a short laugh. “I don’t even believe me. This whole thing is insane.”

“What’s ‘this whole thing’?”

“You and me. You being with me. You—just you, in general.”

Taeyeon’s always been pale, but now she practically looks like a ghost. “You think us being together is insane?”

Jessica suddenly realizes what that must’ve sounded like, to Taeyeon. “In this universe, no. In mine, yes.”

“What?” To say that Taeyeon looks confused would be an understatement. “What universe? What are you talking about?”

“I told you this was insane. You’re going to think I’m crazy if I tell you.”

“I already think you’re crazy,” Taeyeon says, so fondly that Jessica feels like taking it back, taking everything back so she can just be with Taeyeon, just be happy and here and hers. Why would she tell Taeyeon the truth anyway? Why would she ruin this? It means too much to her to lose; Taeyeon means too much to her to lose, especially when she never thought she could have her in the first place.

“Is it okay if we don’t talk about this right now?” Jessica asks; implores, really. “I’ll tell you one day if you really want to know. Just not today. Just let me have this a little longer.”

Taeyeon stares at her for a long moment, eyes dark and inscrutable. Jessica really thinks that she’s going to say no, I need to know, but then her face softens.

“It’s not something like – you’re not sick, are you?”

Only in the head, Jessica thinks. She forces a smile and says, “I’m in perfect health, I promise.”

“Okay.” Taeyeon doesn’t sound happy but she doesn’t sound angry either. “You’ll have to tell me someday, you know? You can’t hide this forever.”

“I’ll tell you someday,” Jessica says, a placation more than a promise.

“I have to tell you – I’m not easy to scare away. Even if you’re secretly a vampire or something, I’m not going to run away screaming.”

Jessica can’t help a smile, and at the glint in Taeyeon’s eyes, she can tell that was Taeyeon’s intention. “I’m not a vampire, sorry to disappoint your Twilight fantasies.”

“Hey, I’m not Tiffany.”

Jessica’s smile falters at the mention of Tiffany, being reminded of the conversation they had. Talk to Taeyeon. Yeah, like it’s that easy.

“Is this about Fany?” Taeyeon asks, like she’s latching onto Jessica’s reaction.

“What?”

“Do you—” And suddenly Taeyeon’s expression is beyond vulnerable. “Do you have feelings for someone else?”

Jessica stares at Taeyeon like she’s the crazy one. “Do I…what? Are you insane, Kim Taeyeon?”

“What else am I supposed to think?”

“Taeyeon, you’re.” You’re the dream that I don’t want to wake up from. You’re the insanity that I would choose over reality. Jessica swallows. “You’re it for me.”

Taeyeon’s smile is so fragile that Jessica feels like she has to encase it in bubble wrap, keep it behind a glass case, and yet she wants to bask in it, wants to take it out like a sunbeam kept in a jar for those cold, lonely nights.

“You are too,” Taeyeon says softly, and Jessica fights back all her thoughts about what if and what could have been and focuses on now, on what is.

Chapter Text

“Hey,” Sunkyu greets Jessica when she enters the living room, not raising her head from where she’s playing some kind of game on her phone, sprawled stomach-down on the couch.

The TV is on but Sunkyu is obviously not paying it any attention. There’s an infomercial on about a coffeemaker, one that she saw last week. It’s—strange, to suddenly see a piece of her own world in such a mundane medium.

“You okay?” Sunkyu asks, actually looking up from her game. “I haven’t seen you zone out this much in a while.”

“I’m still waiting to zone back in,” Jessica says, not quite joking.

Sunkyu studies her for a moment. “Is everything okay?” she asks, in that gentle yet firm way of hers. “You’ve seemed really tired these past couple of days.”

“Have I?”

“Yeah. Tired but energized.” Jessica looks at her, startled, and Sunkyu shrugs. “I know that sounds weird, but that’s the vibe you’ve been giving off.”

It’s a pretty good way to describe how she feels. This whole—situation has her tired but energized, happy but sad, veering between extremes like she doesn’t know which emotional state to settle on.

“I guess I am tired,” she says, the biggest truth she can offer.

“Is Taeyeon tiring you out?”

Jessica is already narrowing her eyes at what has to be an innuendo, but then she realizes that Sunkyu’s being serious. “Taeyeon…” she starts, and has no idea how to finish so she just shrugs.

“Yeah, that sounds like her all right,” Sunkyu says, and Jessica laughs. “Is something else going on? I feel like there’s something big you’re not telling us.”

Jessica’s throat goes dry. She should have known that Sunkyu would be a) perceptive enough to figure it out and b) direct enough to call her out on it.

“I mean, not that you’re obligated to tell us everything, but it seems to be really bothering you, whatever it is.”

Sunkyu doesn’t sound like she’s prying, just concerned, and Jessica can’t help but remember the radio show when she had given that message about always being able to come back home. Jessica wonders where her home is. For this universe’s Jessica, the answer is quite obvious, but for her…

“Do you ever feel like…you’re really happy but it’s not going to last?” She doesn’t entirely mean to say this out loud, but the words escape her and maybe that’s for the best.

“Like someone will take it away from you?” Sunkyu asks conversationally.

“Not necessarily someone. Just…like what you have is too good to be true.” Even as she says the words, she knows that she’ll regret this later, that she’s giving away too much, but it feels so good to let this loose, to share this with someone else. She’s never been like Taeyeon, who keeps everything inside like a locked door without a key, and she’s always been able to talk to Sunkyu.

Sunkyu seems to be mulling over her words. “Then isn’t it even more important to hold onto it?”

“But the tighter you hold onto something, the more it’ll hurt when it’s ripped away from you.”

“What?” Sunkyu asks, and Jessica realizes that she had either only said the words in her head or too quietly to be heard. That’s probably for the best too, or maybe for the worst; she doesn’t know, she’s having trouble differentiating between the two lately.

“I don’t—I’m probably talking nonsense.” Judging by Sunkyu’s narrowed eyes, she doesn’t buy it. “You know what, don’t take me too seriously. Really, don’t.”

“Sica.”

“I was just wondering. You know how sometimes you wonder about these hypothetical scenarios.” Jessica is blabbing now and she knows it and she knows that it’s just going to make her sound guiltier but she can’t help it. “This is what I do when I’m tired but energized.”

“Jessica.”

She shuts her mouth and looks furtively at Sunkyu. “Yeah?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Sunkyu says gently. “I’m glad you talked to me. I feel like…we haven’t had a good talk in a long time, you know?”

“We really haven’t,” Jessica says quietly.

“I’m glad you talked to me.” Sunkyu smiles. “You can do that anytime, okay? I’ll always be here if you need someone to talk to.”

I hope you know that if you’re tired or alone, you can always come back home. It’s just something I wanted to say to a friend.

Jessica somehow manages to hold her tears back. She’s really getting good at this. “You’re going to regret this offer when I come seeking your advice twenty-four seven.”

Sunkyu grins. “Maybe I should start charging for my services then.”

“Wow, you’re going to make a lot of money off me as your sole customer.”

“Who said you’re my sole customer? For your information, Taeyeon seeks out my wisdom all the time.”

“Does she?” Jessica murmurs.

Sunkyu gives her a long look. It makes Jessica uneasy when she does that, like somehow Sunkyu will see right through her, see that she’s not this universe’s Jessica, not their Jessica. It’s a ridiculous fear, but then again, she’s been feeling a lot of ridiculous things lately.

“Yeah,” Sunkyu finally says, tone light. “I charge her extra because it takes so much prodding to find out what she’s thinking.”

“I guess I should be glad that I’m such an open book then.”

“I wouldn’t say that. I feel like there are a lot of pages to you that I’m not allowed to read.”

Jessica bites down on her inner cheek. “Remind me to buy you an advanced first edition.”

“Deal,” Sunkyu says with a grin, and Jessica can’t help but smile back.

 

They end up watching infomercials together, Sunkyu’s game forgotten (“What were you playing anyway?” “Something you would be bad at.” “Hey!”), as they talk about the products (“Do you ever want to buy one of these kitchen things?” “If I did, I wouldn’t let you use it.” “Yah, Lee Sunkyu!”) and Jessica refrains from attacking Sunkyu (“Hey, it’s a Magic Bullet.” “Is it getting you worked up?” “You really don’t value your life, do you?”).

Jessica’s missed this more than she realized. She’s missed everything more than she realized, even the things she never had.

Somehow, the confession slips past her lips.

“Taeyeon thinks that I want to break up with her.”

“Well, do you?” Sunkyu asks after a beat.

“Of course not!”

Sunkyu doesn’t look surprised or unsurprised, just looks at Jessica steadily and silently. Jessica feels that irrational fear come flooding back, and she hurries to build a dam.

“She thinks that I have feelings for someone else.”

“Well—”

“Don’t tell me you want to ask me that too.”

“I wasn’t going to,” Sunkyu says. “I know you don’t.”

“You do?” Jessica asks in surprise. Taeyeon doesn’t even know.

“You should see the way you look at her. I know there’s no way you could like someone else.”

Jessica doesn’t know what to say to that. It seems that she’s been nothing but blatantly obvious in every aspect. She doesn’t know how many pages of her book she’s kept hidden; very little, she’s sure.

“I don’t know how she doesn’t,” Sunkyu says slowly. “Then again, it’s Taeyeon. She’s always doubted herself even when there’s no room for doubt.”

Jessica sighs. “That’s a good way to put it.”

“I think Tiffany came up with that, actually.”

“Are you crediting my wisdom?” Tiffany asks, seeming to materialize from thin air. “Are we talking about what’s going on between Taeyeon and Jessica? Why wasn’t I invited?”

“You seem to have invited yourself,” Jessica says dryly.

“I know you love my company,” Tiffany says with a bright smile.

“Uh, definitely. Weren’t you just sharing your delightful company with Taeyeon? Maybe you should go back. I bet she misses you.”

“Are you jealous that you think I’m closer with TaeTae?” Tiffany asks. “Aww Jessi, you know you’re my best friend too. Are you feeling insecure? Do I need to reassure you?”

She approaches Jessica with her arms wide open, and it’s not that Jessica minds a hug from her or anything but she finds herself taking a step back, and then another when Tiffany shows no signs of halting. Tiffany is about as easy to stop as a freight train at full steam ahead.

Eventually, Jessica runs out of space to retreat into and her back hits the wall. Tiffany puts her arms on either side of Jessica’s head and basically cages her in with her arms.

“Um,” comes a dry voice. “Am I interrupting something?”

Jessica stares with wide eyes at Taeyeon. This is pretty much the most compromising position that they could’ve been caught in, and of course it had to be Taeyeon to ‘walk in’ on them.

“Jessi’s feeling neglected by me,” Tiffany says without even turning around. “I’m just showing her my love.”

“Don’t let me get in the way.” Still in that dry tone.

“I should post a picture of this online,” Sunkyu muses. “The fans would go crazy.”

“Don’t you dare, Lee Sunkyu,” Jessica hisses.

“Taeyeon, you should get in there too,” Sunkyu says. “The fans’ lives wouldn’t be complete without some TaengSicNy drama.”

“Why don’t we just keep the TaengSic part in that?” Taeyeon suggests.

“Ow, TaeTae.” Tiffany unleashes a wounded pout at her. “You want to cut me out just like that? I feel so unwanted.”

Taeyeon rolls her eyes. “I’m sure you’re far from unwanted. Someone out there must want you.”

“Maybe if we’re talking really out there.”

Jessica swallows as she hears yet another voice that she hasn’t heard in so long.

Tiffany pouts. “Yul, you’re so cruel to me.”

Yuri just grins back.

“I recorded it all,” Sooyoung says, holding up her phone and waving it. “This will make great blackmail material.”

“We weren’t doing anything,” Tiffany says, and Sooyoung just gives her a look that says yeah, right.

“Sica, do you want to press charges for assault against Fany?” Yuri asks jokingly.

“Excuse me, I did not ‘assault’ her,” Tiffany says indignantly.

“I don’t know, you looked pretty aggressive there,” Sooyoung says. “Jessica looked like a lost little lamb being attacked by the big bad wolf.”

“A lost little lamb?” Jessica splutters, all displacement at Yuri’s and Sooyoung’s sudden appearances forgotten. “Yah, do you want to die, Choi Sooyoung?”

“Not particularly. I haven’t even eaten yet. I always vowed not to die on an empty stomach if I can help it.”

“I’m hungry too,” Yuri says. “Are there any leftovers from dinner? I heard you guys ordered pasta.”

“Sorry Yul,” Tiffany says sheepishly. “We finished it all.”

“You mean you finished it all,” Sunkyu snorts. “No wonder Jessica and Yoona are always calling you a pig.”

“Hey!”

Jessica almost jumps when she feels a hand slide along her waist, only to find Taeyeon looking at her with an amused expression.

“A lost little lamb, huh?” she drawls, and there’s something rather wolfish about her smirk.

Jessica swallows and can only think to say, “The big bad wolf comes from the three little pigs. There aren’t even any lambs in the story.”

“Maybe I should be Mary then,” Taeyeon says, and it takes a second for that to connect with Jessica. When it does, she snorts and swats Taeyeon, who takes her hand and laces their fingers together.

“Okay, I can’t eat like this,” Sooyoung says loudly. “I’m going to lose all my appetite.”

“Great,” Taeyeon says. “We’ll have dinner without you. It can save us a lot of food.”

“Are you going to have lamb?” Sooyoung asks suggestively. “I can play my video as an appetizer.”

Jessica makes a mental note to steal Sooyoung’s phone and delete that video. It’s too bad Sooyoung isn’t scared of bugs like Tiffany, or Jessica would drop some rubber spiders into her bed while she’s at it.

Well, maybe she’ll do it anyway…

 

Somehow, Jessica finds herself alone with Yuri in the living room. Yuri stretches out her legs and tips her head back against the couch. Rather than feeling awkward or anxious about further questioning, Jessica feels a sense of comfort settle over her, just from being in a friend’s presence.

For whatever reason, she remembers when they had to cook together and how Yuri fought not to get exasperated with her complete lack of culinary ability. She’s always found it endearing how Yuri talks to herself when she’s upset; she wonders if Yuri still does that. It’s almost impossible to imagine that she’s changed that habit, but then again, Jessica’s life has been pushing the realms of possibility.

“What’s been up with you?” Yuri asks, nudging Jessica’s shoulder and startling her out of her thoughts. “Fany told me you and Taengoo are running into some issues.”

Jessica frowns. “What are we, a soap opera?”

“It’s not like that. We’re just…”

“Worried?”

Yuri gives that gentle smile of hers. “I know you don’t like it when we worry about you. I just can’t help it.”

“It’s okay,” Jessica says thickly. “You can’t help being a mother hen.”

“Does that make you one of my chicks?” Yuri tilts her head to the side. “Hey, you know what I was wondering—”

“What?” Jessica asks warily.

“You know how they say chicks before dicks? And bros before hoes? What am I supposed to say for you and Taeyeon?”

Jessica stares blankly at her.

“I mean, chicks before hoes doesn’t sound very good. You’re both my chicks and neither of you are hoes. You’re like my bro but—”

“Yul, this is what you spend your time thinking about?” Jessica laughs. “God, I can’t believe you’re still this ridiculous.”

“What, did you think that I turned into a different person while filming my drama? I’m just playing a different person, I didn’t become one.”

“I know that,” Jessica says. “I know how acting works.”

“Remember when we watched your kissing scene on Strong Heart? I thought lasers were going to shoot out of Taeyeon’s eyes.”

Jessica doesn’t even falter this time. “Don’t remind me of that drama.”

“Does it make your tears overflow?”

“Yah, Kwon Yuri—”

Taeyeon walks in when Jessica is trying to strangle Yuri, and her only reaction is to raise an eyebrow. “Sica, don’t kill her. We do need all nine members for the comeback.”

“Help, Taengoo!” Yuri cries out, even though Jessica’s grip slackens at the last part of Taeyeon’s sentence. “Save me.”

“I’m going to stay out of this,” Taeyeon says. “Feel free to get handsy though.”

“Are you enjoying this?” Jessica asks incredulously.

Taeyeon looks at her innocently. “Should I be angry instead? Do you want me to come grab you off Yuri?”

“Yuri would appreciate that,” Yuri says, massaging her throat. “Geez Sica, were you really trying to kill me? I think I’m going to have bruises.”

“I’m sorry,” Jessica says, reaching toward her. “I didn’t know my grip was that tight. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Yuri says. “Are you this rough when you’re with Taengoo?”

Jessica manages to not blush this time, while Taeyeon gives a crooked grin and drawls, “I wouldn’t mind.”

Jessica snorts and shoves her, but when Taeyeon topples over, she hurriedly steadies her.

“Are we starting now, Sica?” Taeyeon asks. “We have an audience. I thought you weren’t into exhibitionism.

“What’s this about an exhibition?” comes a voice. “Do I have to buy a ticket?”

“Do you want to buy tickets to the Taeyeon and Jessica show?” Yuri asks. “I’ll give you a discount.”

Jessica wants to suffocate herself with a cushion.

“The TaengSic show,” Taeyeon corrects.

Not before she kills Taeyeon.

“Oh, I’ve seen that show too many times,” Sooyoung says with a wave of her hand. “I swear one of these days I’ll record you two and sell the footage, and then I can live off that money for the rest of my life.”

And Sooyoung.

“Can I split the money with you?” Yuri asks.

Screw it, she’ll just take all of them with her.

“I think the rest of your life will be very short if you do that,” Taeyeon says. “Sica will probably strangle you.”

“She can’t even reach my neck,” Sooyoung says dismissively.

“I wouldn’t bet on that,” Yuri says, rubbing hers with a grimace. “She did a pretty good job at trying to strangle me just now.”

“Yeah, but you’re weak,” Sooyoung says, and Yuri starts firing up.

“Excuse me?!”

“You’re excused,” Sooyoung says airily. “Plus, Jessica can’t even open a can of tuna on her own. I’m not exactly crying in fear.”

“You should be,” Jessica says murderously. “And fine, I’ll never make you a tuna sandwich again.”

“I’m heartbroken,” Sooyoung deadpans. “I don’t know how I’ll ever survive without your cooking, especially after your culinary masterpiece last night—oh wait.”

Several of them burst into laughter, including Taeyeon. Jessica turns a glare on her. How could Taeyeon of all people betray her?

Taeyeon coughs. “Sorry, Sica. You have to admit dinner didn’t exactly turn out great.”

“You helped with dinner!”

“Hey, I was just the line cook. The executive chef should take responsibility.”

“Oh no, are they having a fight?” Sooyoung stage whispers. “They didn’t say this in the itinerary. I want a refund.”

“You should really stop riling Jessica up,” Sunkyu says. Her tone is light, casual, but at the same time there’s a thread of utter seriousness in her words. “She might snap and kill you in your sleep.”

Jessica throws Sunkyu a grateful but also wary look. Sunkyu just smiles reassuringly back. Taeyeon glances between the two of them like she’s missing something.

“Okay, okay,” Sooyoung sighs. “You’re giving me that lost lamb feeling again. It’s making my heart waver.”

“What heart,” Jessica mutters, and Sooyoung grins at her.

“That’s the spirit! Being a sad little lamb doesn’t suit you.”

Jessica is about to give a sharp retort, when a hand rests at the small of her back. Taeyeon’s hand.

“It really doesn’t,” Taeyeon says, and even though she sounds like she’s just going with the running gag of Jessica The Little Lamb, Jessica can see a remnant of that look in her eyes. The look of concern. Great. Sooyoung and Yuri have been back for less than half an hour, and she has them picking up on her…off-ness too. She’s supposed to be getting better at this, not worse.

“Come on,” Sooyoung says cheerfully. “If I’m going to die tonight, I want to eat a good dinner before I go.”

“Plus, we have a lot of practice tomorrow so we’ll need the energy,” Tiffany adds, always the consummate manager.

A lot of practice tomorrow. Wonderful. Whether it’s vocal or dance practice, Jessica is completely screwed.

“You okay?” Taeyeon asks quietly, eyes on Jessica’s face.

“Yeah.” Jessica forces a smile. “Just imagining dinner tonight.”

“It’s okay, I’ll cook this time,” Yuri says. “Hyo can help when she comes home. We’ll make something nice.”

“When is Hyo coming home?” Jessica asks, hoping she sounds like she just forgot and not that she has no idea. “And the maknaes.”

“Yoona has filming, remember?” Tiffany says, and Jessica has to nod like she does. “By the time she comes home, we’ll probably be asleep.”

Gruelling schedules are no stranger to Jessica, but she still has to fight back her disappointment she won’t be able to see Yoona until the next day. She’s still worried that she’ll give herself away in front of them, but more than that she wants to see them. Wants to be with them. She’s been apart from them for too long, and she wants to soak up every minute she can get with them.

“Hyoyeon will probably be back late too, but Juhyun should be home soon.” Tiffany looks at Sooyoung and Yuri. “I actually thought she was going to get a ride with you.”

“Her schedules ended up finishing late,” Yuri says. “And you know Juhyun, she never wants anyone to wait for her.”

Of course. Juhyun, despite being the youngest, has always been one of the most independent out of all of them. Jessica has always thought of her as a beloved little sister, someone she felt proud to watch grow up, but in many ways Juhyun felt too mature for her to take care of.

“There was no reason for you to wait for me, unnie,” Juhyun says, such a quiet walker that she had managed to return without any of them noticing. “We didn’t even know how long the delay was going to be.”

“It all worked out then?” Tiffany asks.

“Yeah, they had some technical malfunctions but got everything back and running pretty quickly.”

Taeyeon makes a face. “Technical malfunctions are the worst.”

Maybe it’s because of the three of them talking, maybe it’s because Jessica is just terrible at this, but she finds herself asking, “Didn’t you have a lot of those when you were shooting for TaeTiSeo?”

“TaeTiSeo?” Juhyun gives her a blank look. “What’s that?”

“Uh…” Jessica’s mind races for a way for her to climb out of this hole she dug herself. “I had a dream the other night that you, Tiffany and Taeyeon were in a sub-unit together. You know how sometimes I mix up dreams with reality,” she adds with an airy laugh.

Juhyun smiles. “That sounds interesting, unnie. But I don’t think S.M. would do that since you and Taeyeon unnie are already in such a successful sub-unit together.”

Jessica tries desperately not to freeze up at the news. She and Taeyeon in a sub-unit together, when they’ve never even had an official duet? This universe is really…wow.

“I think TaeTae would miss Jessi too much if she were promoting in—what were we called again, Jessi? TiTaeSeo?”

“I think she said TaeTiSeo,” Taeyeon says.

“Hey,” Tiffany says to Sunkyu. “The three of us”—she gestures to Juhyun—“should be in a sub-unit together. We could cure the diabetes that T&J cause.”

T&J. That must be the sub-unit that she and Taeyeon are in. S.M. have once again demonstrated their creativity and ingenuity with group names.

“Should we be named Insulin then?” Sunkyu asks.

“Insulin doesn’t really cure diabetes, unnie,” Juhyun says. “It’s used to treat it but it can’t eliminate it.”

They all kind of stare at her, but they’re used to it by now so they don’t do it for very long. Jessica, however, hasn’t heard one of Juhyun’s…sayings for a while and she can’t help the fond laughter that spills from her lips.

“Juhyunnie, you’re so great.”

“Um, thank you?” Juhyun says, confused but polite as always.

“You never call me great,” Sooyoung whines.

“You’re great,” Jessica deadpans. “Like a Great Dane.”

Sooyoung gives her a doleful look that she completely ignores.

“Did you know that Scooby Doo is a Great Dane?” Yuri says.

“I do now,” Jessica says dryly.

“If I’m Scooby Doo, who’s Shaggy?” Sooyoung asks. “Yul, do you want to be—”

“No,” Yuri says immediately, grinning at Sooyoung’s crestfallen face.

“Yoona can be Shaggy,” Sunkyu says. “The two of you can much on Scooby Snacks together.”

“Sounds like a dream team,” Sooyoung says. “I’ll tell her when she and Hyo get back.”

“I can’t wait,” Jessica says, feeling somewhere between excitement and…actually, mostly just excitement. Once the two of them get back, they’ll finally be all together, finally be nine again.

Taeyeon smiles. “Do you miss them?”

“Yes,” Jessica says, and then, helplessly, “I’ve missed all of you.”

“You sound like we haven’t seen each other in years or something,” Sooyoung laughs. “Haven’t the shorties been home all day with you?”

Usually Sunkyu and Tiffany would both bristle at being called short, especially Tiffany, but they’re both looking at Jessica with startlingly similar, thoughtful expressions. Jessica wants to bite her tongue off, and yet she can’t completely regret saying it. She never got to tell them that in her universe, so at least she’s saying it here.

“You can miss people even if they’re right beside you,” Taeyeon says, with a long look at Jessica.

Sooyoung claps her hands together. “Well, I’ve missed you all, and I’m sure you’ve missed me and each other. Now, it’s time to eat.”

It’s typical Sooyoung and Jessica can’t help but laugh again, but at least she’s not the only one. It’s almost impossible not to laugh when Sooyoung gets going.

“Come on, you’re the only one I trust to cook here,” Sooyoung says, grabbing Yuri by the wrist and tugging her toward the kitchen.

Tiffany turns to Sunkyu. “Can I talk to you for a sec?”

“I actually wanted to talk to you too,” Sunkyu says.

“Great.” Tiffany smiles. “We read each other’s minds.”

“Great minds think alike,” Sunkyu says, and Jessica looks between the two of them with an unsettled feeling.

Sunkyu and Tiffany walk off together, not talking but somehow seemingly deep in conversation already, and Jessica stares after them. She can’t help but remember last night, when they had laughed over innuendos together, mouths stained with sauce and cheese. What happened to that? Did Jessica screw up that badly already?

“Is something wrong, unnie?” Juhyun asks her, and Jessica has to swallow back hysterical laughter. There’s a lot more than one thing wrong.

“Oh, you know Tiffany and Sunkyu,” Taeyeon says lightly. “They’re probably discussing their debut as Insulin or something.”

Juhyun doesn’t look convinced.

Jessica clears her throat. “I hope they come up with a better name than that.”

“That’ll be very hard, Insulin is such a great name,” Taeyeon says solemnly.

“Yeah, I can’t imagine what can beat it,” Jessica says.

“T&J is pretty great too, right?” Taeyeon grins, nudging Jessica’s shoulder conspiratorially. “What do you think, Juhyun?”

“I think you’re an excellent sub-unit,” Juhyun says diplomatically, “although the name leaves something to be desired.”

Jessica giggles. “You manage to say such harsh things so nicely, Juhyunnie. You really have a gift.”

“Thank you?”

“You’re scaring maknae with your compliments, Sica.”

“Should I give you some too, Tae?” Jessica asks sweetly. She feels that way again – tired but energized – and she just wants to… She doesn’t even know. She wants to stop feeling this way, but she also wants this feeling to stay forever. “Are you feeling neglected?”

“Are you going to do a Tiffany if I do?” Taeyeon asks wryly.

It takes Jessica a moment to realize she means when Tiffany had backed her against the wall, and she giggles again. “Do you want me to? We should really post some pictures together online. The fans probably haven’t seen any in decades.”

“I really don’t think it’s been that long,” Taeyeon says. “I mean, maybe not selfies because I haven’t been on Instagram that frequently lately. But you’re in my Snapchat story all the time and vice versa so. I think our fans should be okay.”

Juhyun clears her throat. “Ah, you reminded me that I need to charge my phone.”

Jessica is pretty sure that she’s just using an excuse to leave (them alone). “Don’t let your phone die, Juhyunnie. I’ll never forgive you.”

“Okay unnie, I’ll keep that in mind next time I see my battery saver,” Juhyun says, before walking away.

Jessica sniffs. “Our baby has grown up.”

“She has,” Taeyeon says. “I haven’t seen you baby her in a while.”

“I’ve missed her.” She says it too candidly, but she can’t help it.

“Hmm, you said that. Is there a reason you’ve been missing everyone?”

“What do you mean?” Jessica asks, rather too sharply. “Can’t I miss my members?”

“Of course you can,” Taeyeon says, looking taken aback. “It’s just that…nobody has really gone anywhere.”

“You said it yourself, didn’t you? You can miss someone even if they’re right next to you.”

“Do you miss me?” Taeyeon asks with a smile.

“All the time,” Jessica says brazenly.

“Even now?”

Jessica remembers herself enough to say, “Not if you’re going to be making stupid puns like being Mary.”

Taeyeon blinks innocently. “But I thought you were my little lamb. Or should I be a lion instead? ‘And so the lion fell in love with the lamb,’” she quotes in a dramatic voice, and Jessica almost sprains something trying to cover her ears and Taeyeon’s mouth at the same time.

“Okay, I take it that you don’t like the lion,” Taeyeon says, muffled against Jessica’s palm.

“I don’t like you,” Jessica grumbles.

“And so the lamb rejected the lion.”

Jessica can’t help laughing at that. Taeyeon is so ridiculous but so—Taeyeon.

 

It feels good to splash some cold water on her face. Her fingers clench around the cold edge of the counter as she stares into the mirror. Her reflection looks as it always did, so she doesn’t know why she feels like she’s staring into the face of a stranger.

Then again, outside appearances only tell you so much. After all, they’ve managed to convince so many people all these years that they’re happy, that they love what they’re doing, that this is everything they’ve ever wanted. And of course, it’s not like it was all lies, it’s not like everything was fake. That’s what their lives are about, piecing together truth and illusion, treading on that line between fantasy and reality.

She almost smacks Sooyoung in the face with the door when she leaves the washroom.

“Whoa Sica, were you trying to kill me? I know you didn’t like the lamb joke but this is a bit much for payback.”

Jessica rolls her eyes. “Don’t stand so close to the door if you don’t want to get hit.” She’s about to walk around Sooyoung, but Sooyoung holds out an arm to stop her. “What? I’m not mad about the lamb joke. Trust me, I can handle your jokes after all these years.”

“Is everything okay?” Sooyoung asks seriously. If Jessica hears that question one more time, she might just explode. Or more like crumble. “I don’t think you were upset about the joke, but you seemed upset about something.”

“I was,” Jessica says, almost surprising herself.

Sooyoung’s eyebrows knit together. “What is it?”

“It’s—it’s Taeyeon,” Jessica says, and it’s nothing but the truth even as it isn’t entirely truthful.

“Ah.” Sooyoung doesn’t look surprised. “Is it still about the fight? I thought you guys were over that.”

“We didn’t fight over cooking, so you can scratch that out of the itinerary.”

“Not about cooking, dummy. About—you know, what happened last week. I thought you made up and got over it.”

“It’s because of the fight, isn’t it?”

Jessica can’t very well ask Sooyoung, “What fight? What did we fight about?” She just lowers her head, fiddling with the cuff of her sleeve.

“Taeyeon’s crazy about you, you know,” Sooyoung says. “Don’t be too hard on her.”

Taeyeon’s crazy about you, you know. As unbelievable as it is, she does know and she wonders, rather incredulously, if this Jessica somehow doubts it. How could she, given how obvious it is? Jessica can’t imagine waking up to Taeyeon every day, seeing that look in her eyes, that dimple, hear her lame jokes and innuendos and the affection threaded through them, and not know.

“So you’re on her side?” Jessica asks, pretending to sound insulted.

Sooyoung raises her hands. “I’m not on anyone’s side. Or I should say, I’m on both your sides. You’re both my friends. I don’t want either of you to get hurt.”

“Don’t worry,” Jessica says. “I would never hurt Taeyeon if I could help it. And I know it’s the same for her.”

“Good,” Sooyoung says, patting her on the shoulder. “Now, I really do need to use the washroom, so if you could just…”

“Watch the door when you open it,” Jessica says as she moves aside.

“Don’t worry, I’m not oblivious to my surroundings like you,” Sooyoung says, and before Jessica can reply, slams the door in her face.

 

There has to be some way that she can bring up the fight without actually bringing up the fight. She needs to know what it’s about, but she can’t let it show that she doesn’t know what it’s about. In a bizarre way, she’s almost grateful for it because Taeyeon clearly attributed a lot of her strange behaviour to its aftermath. However, that excuse isn’t likely to last long.

“What are you thinking about?” Taeyeon asks, not glancing up from her phone but somehow giving the impression that she can see the look on Jessica’s face.

Jessica thankfully manages to avoid blurting out, “Our fight.” Instead she says, rather playfully, “Guess.”

“Are you plotting ways to kill Sooyoung?”

“No, but that’s a good idea. I almost brained her with the bathroom door just now.”

Taeyeon laughs. “You’ve had some violent tendencies lately. Should I be concerned?”

“I thought you liked my violent tendencies.”

Taeyeon waggles her eyebrows and smiles, looking more goofy than suggestive. Jessica has to bite her lip to hold back a laugh. “I never said I didn’t.”

“Tae.” There’s a laugh just beneath the word and affection all around it. “You’re so ridiculous.”

“In a bad way?”

“In a Taeyeon way,” Jessica tells her, and Taeyeon looks happy with that answer.

 

Taeyeon has her head pillowed on Jessica’s stomach and her eyes half-closed. There are a few strands of her hair tickling the gap of skin between the hem of Jessica’s shirt and the waistband of her shorts, but Jessica makes no effort to move away. She could almost drift off, warm and content with Taeyeon by her side, but she makes sure to keep her eyes open. No dream could be better than this anyway.

“So that sub-unit you dreamed,” Taeyeon says, just as Jessica wondered if she’s fallen asleep. “What was it like?”

“TaeTiSeo? It was…with you, Tiffany and Juhyun.”

“Yeah, you already mentioned that part.”

Jessica’s mind whirls. What if she says that they had a song called Twinkle and, somehow in this universe, that was a T&J song? She doubts it, but better safe than sorry.

“Sica?”

“Well, you had a song where you had some challenging high notes and you were very impressive.”

Taeyeon grins. “I’m always impressive.”

“You sure are, Tae. You constantly impress me.” Jessica waits a beat before she adds, “With your lameness.”

Taeyeon looks unfazed. “You love my lameness.”

“Keep telling yourself that.”

“I don’t need to tell myself, I already know.”

Taeyeon’s crazy about you, you know.

“I hope you do,” Jessica murmurs under her breath.

“Hmm?”

“Nothing,” Jessica says, pulling down her shirt. “Sorry, were you saying something?”

“I was just going to ask – what else happened with TaeTiSeo?”

“Why are you so curious?”

“I don’t know.” Taeyeon shrugs. “It’s just interesting, that’s all. I’ve only ever been in a sub-unit with you, I can’t really imagine being in one with anyone else.”

Jessica’s mouth dries.

“Tiffany, Sunkyu and Juhyun should be in one together,” Taeyeon continues. “Although hopefully not one named Insulin.”

Jessica smiles at that. “They would make a great one.”

“Maybe you’ll dream about that tonight,” Taeyeon muses. “Have you been dreaming a lot lately? You usually don’t unless you’re stressed.”

“Well, maybe not a lot but I have been dreaming,” Jessica says. “In fact, I might be dreaming right now. I don’t know if you’re real.”

Taeyeon pinches her own arm. “I feel pretty real to me.” She pinches Jessica as well, who gives an undignified squawk. “You feel real too. You definitely sound very real.” She rubs her ear. “I’m having traumatic flashbacks.”

“Traumatic?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure losing my hearing counts as trauma.”

“I’ll show you what counts as trauma,” Jessica mutters.

“You know what, I think you’re right,” Taeyeon says. “A lamb doesn’t fit you. You’re way too vicious for that.”

Jessica laughs. “What should I be then?”

Taeyeon grins toothily. “You can be my lioness.”

“Your…lioness?”

Taeyeon pouts. “You don’t want to be?”

Jessica shakes her head, not because she’s saying no but because she just can’t help that reaction. Taeyeon is just so—Taeyeon.

“I would love to be,” she says, more softly than she intended.

Taeyeon’s dimple makes itself known again. “Oh, caaaaaan you feel the looooove tonight?”

Jessica buries her face in her hands and wonders if it’s too late to take it back.