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One step at a time

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Surprisingly, Joohyun is the first one she ends up spilling all of her secrets to first.

And it’s not surprising to her because she’s not close with the younger girl – because that’s not even close to the truth since she considers Joohyun a sister and a friend – it’s surprising to her because she thought she would be confessing to Tiffany first. Maybe Soonkyu. Someone, anyone, who is actually in her group and understand what she’s going through.

Instead, she finds herself in her hoobae’s dorm, waiting for the other girl who is tucking the members in bed because it’s late and they have packed schedules the next day and “Yerim-ah, you can talk to Taeyeon unnie in the morning, right now you need to sleep”. She laughs underneath her breath, listening in on the two girls in the other room bickering until the youngest one finally huffs, gives up, and agrees to go to bed. Taeyeon can’t help but think about how Irene reminds her so much of the past - of when she used to drag Tiffany and Yuri out of the practice room and back to the dorm in the middle of the night because they have always been perfectionists and they just want to please everyone, of when she would force Yoona and Sooyoung to at least eat some of the vegetables because they’re going to have health problems at a young age if they keep eating junk, of when –

“Sorry about that, they can be stubborn when they want to be. Which is every day.” Joohyun sighs, interrupting her train of thought.

Taeyeon laughs, waving her hand at the other girl, “Don’t worry about it, I know what it’s like.”

Joohyun gives her a soft smile that makes her years younger before slumping down right next to her on the couch and Taeyeon thinks that this Joohyun is a far cry from the shy trainee that greeted her as “Irene” awkwardly with such stiff politeness that rivals Seohyun’s.

“I was surprised when you said you wanted to talk. You usually don’t like to open up to people, according to Miyoung unnie at least.” Joohyun says, looking at her directly and it slightly unnerves Taeyeon because her eyes never waver at least once, “Actually, she said that I was exactly like you because I don’t open up.”

Taeyeon laughs, “She wasn’t happy with me back when we were younger. It took her months just to at least see me cry.”

“I think the other members thought I was a robot at first,” Joohyun confesses and Taeyeon laughs even more, “they thought I was pretty yet cold. I was terrible at expressing my emotions and I still am to this day.”

“Just like Sooyeon.” Taeyeon says before she thinks, and she closes her mouth shut, eyes turning wide when she realizes what she just said.

Joohyun gives her an unreadable look and it’s as if she’s reading her mind because – “Unnie it’s okay, you can talk about her.” The other girl pauses then says, “I mean, isn’t that why you wanted to talk in the first place?”

“H-How did you know?” Taeyeon stutters and she should really put down Joohyun as a possible mind reader.

“Didn’t I just tell you? Miyoung unnie said I’m exactly like you.” Joohyun answers and it takes a second for Taeyeon to finally realize what her words mean but before the older girl could interrogate her, Joohyun cuts her off with, “We can talk about that some other time. Right now, you’re more important.”

“Us leaders really can’t survive without our main vocalists, huh?” Taeyeon mutters underneath her breath.

Joohyun shrugs, “We can survive without them. You’re the living proof of that after all.” She gives her a look, “I think it’s more like would we want to survive without them?”

And even though it’s a statement rather than a question, Taeyeon still answers her.

“No, we wouldn’t.”

“No, we wouldn’t.” Joohyun echoes.

Taeyeon sighs, rubbing the back of her lids with the pad of her fingers to soothe away some of the headache, “I want to reach out to her, say something because the silence is just too loud but I don’t know what to do –“ her voice breaks in the middle of her sentence along with the band-aid that she has placed on her heart.

“What’s stopping you from taking the first step?” The other leader asks.

“I can’t do that.” Taeyeon says pathetically.

Joohyun gives her a look, “Why not?”

“Because it won’t work, Joohyun-ah.”

“But you haven’t given me an actual explanation as to why it won’t work.”

“I just can’t.”

Unfortunately, Joohyun doesn’t let go of the bone.

(Tiffany is right, she is too much like her.)

“What’s stopping you from getting her back?” She asks firmly and Taeyeon falls silent before she says,

“I can’t.” A beat of silence and then the dam finally breaks, “I can’t do that to her because she’s moved on, she has made a name for herself outside of the group and I can’t just show up in her life and ruin all of her hard work. I can’t just show up because this is Jessica we’re talking about and we didn’t exactly leave on good terms and she would probably kill me or break my heart if she ever sees me again.”

Joohyun gives her a small smile, as if she’s privy to a secret that Taeyeon doesn’t know, “But how do you know that’s what is going to happen?”

The question struck Taeyeon and for the first time in a long time, she’s speechless.

“I-I don’t know.”

Joohyun wraps her hands around her own, the warmth of the other girl reminds her of eight other pairs of hands that has covered her hands at one point in her life, “Relationships can never exist without both parties risking something. Whether it’s your heart or her heart, you have to take chances because if you’re not taking chances then you probably don’t care about them.” She sighs with a wistful look that makes her look wiser and older. A leader.

“You can’t possibly know what’s out there unless if you take a leap of faith.” Joohyun smiles.

And maybe this is why she talked to Joohyun first – it’s because it feels a little bit like talking to herself in the past. Back when her feet haven’t touched the water, when the industry hasn’t turned her into a bitter, pessimistic person that she is today, when she was still naïve enough to think that she can have a happy ending with the career that she wants and the girl that she loves. Taeyeon realizes that Joohyun and her are too much alike but she also thinks that Joohyun is more stubborn, braver, than her because even when the entire world is looking at them, Joohyun still believes that there’s a happy ending for her with Seungwan.

“Thank you, Joohyun.” Taeyeon whispers, blinking away the tears gathering in her eyes.

Joohyun smiles, “Don’t thank me, unnie, I just asked you the questions. You did all the hard work yourself.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taeyeon confesses to her members next.

She didn’t really plan on talking to all of them at once, it just sort of happens because this is a conversation that has been long overdue and they’ve only talked about it once – when they drowned themselves in alcohol because it was too painful for them to mention Sooyeon’s name when they were stone cold sober – and nothing came out of it except fights, fights, and even more fights between all of them because Yoona has always been fiercely protective, Sooyoung is great at hurting people with words, Tiffany is loyal to a fault, Soonkyu feels like she killed someone, Hyoyeon is brutally honest when she’s drunk, Yuri thinks that she has to pick a side, Seohyun can’t stop crying, and Taeyeon –

Taeyeon feels like Jessica just broke up with her even though they didn’t have anything in the first place.

But now all eight of them are sitting on the floor once again with a vacant, ninth spot in between Yoona and Tiffany because old habits die hard.

“You wanted to talk?” Hyoyeon asks, reaching in the middle to grab more snacks because even though they’re older and wiser and all that nonsense, their stomachs always come first.

Taeyeon doesn’t know what to say at first, fiddles with her chopsticks instead as she picks up a noodle, drops it back down again, opens her mouth then closes it, picks it up again, and then drops it back down then finally –

“I’m going to talk to Jessica.” She coughs, “I’m going to talk to Sooyeon.”

The others stop chewing with their mouth open and stare at her with wide eyes, look at each other, and then Sooyoung is the first to break the silence.

“Okay, do you want her number?”

And Taeyeon isn’t really surprised that she’s not the first to reach out. She knows that she wasn’t going to be the first one because Yoona was never angry with Jessica in the first place, Sooyoung can’t stay angry with her for a long time because they’ve been through a lot, Tiffany has always been her best friend and that wasn’t going to change, company be damned, Soonkyu loves her too much, Hyoyeon knows that it’s not just her fault, Yuri feels too guilty, and Seohyun doesn’t want to fight anymore.

They were just waiting for Taeyeon all along.

“That would be nice.” Taeyeon croaks.

“Just to let you know, she’s flying back in five days and she really likes this one restaurant right by her company building.” Taeyeon stares at Yoona and the younger girl gives her a smile, as if she knows a secret that Taeyeon doesn’t, “Make sure you bring your card, she’s an expensive date.”

Yuri snorts, “Don’t look into her eyes, she managed to con me into paying for desserts too.”

“At least you guys just had to pay for food, she managed to make me pay for her clothes when we went shopping.” Tiffany complains but there’s a smile on her face, one that Taeyeon hasn’t seen in nearly four years, and the atmosphere around them feels lighter, happier.

Seohyun grins, “I didn’t mind paying for unnie’s food but I made sure that we ate at a vegetarian friendly restaurant.

Sooyoung points at all of them with the end of her chopsticks, “You guys are suckers, she paid for my food when I went out with her.” She chews her food, swallows, and then – “But that might just be because I said I accidentally forgot my wallet.”

All of them laugh and Taeyeon can’t help but feel one step closer to home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She talks to Soojung next. The best is the last after all.

Joohyun reassures her that Soojung doesn’t hate her, never hated her, and that unnie, she was just sad that you guys kind of cut her off from your lives and avoided her just because she’s Sooyeon unnie’s little sister. She was never angry at you. And Taeyeon feels awful because it’s true – she did avoid her and even went a step further into making sure her schedule clash as little as possible with the younger one because she’s too much like Sooyeon and she doesn’t exactly know how to handle her.

“She really likes going for a walk by the Han river even though the paparazzi always hound her.” She repeats the words that Joohyun tells her over the phone in her head as she stares at the river, “Dress up warmly and make sure to disguise yourself pretty well, there’s always someone lurking around. Also, it might be wise to bring an extra mask – Soojung forgets the small things sometimes.”

Taeyeon remembers asking the younger girl when did she became close with Soojung and Joohyun laughs and simply says, “We’re too much alike and she reminds me of my younger sister.” And leaves it at that.

Which is why she’s standing outside nearly an hour before midnight, wearing a hat and a mask to cover up herself, and leaning against the railing as she looks at the skyline at night. Soojung is suppose to meet her in a few minutes and the thought of seeing the younger girl makes her feel on edge because she’s not one to pull back when it comes to telling the truth and Taeyeon doesn’t really want to fight.

“You look like you’re deciding if you should take off or not.”

The older girl jumps and turns to the side, seeing the taller girl with a small, practiced smile on her lips that she has seen numerous times on television. Taeyeon clears her throat, shoves her hands in one of her pockets, and fishes out a mask and handing it to the younger girl who accepts it quietly.

“I wasn’t going to leave.” Taeyeon mumbles and then sighs, “I’m too tired to run away.”

Soojung nods and there’s warmth in her eyes that looks familiar.

“What is she up to these days?” She asks even though she already knows the answer.

The younger girl shrugs as they walk up and down the sidewalk, “Preparing more designs for her company, traveling all over the place to see her fans, and recording for her next mini album.” Soojung sighs and rubs her eyelids, looking more like the older sibling between them, “She’s overworking herself to exhaustion and she’s too stubborn to listen to anyone who tells her to take care of herself.”

“So, the usual?” Taeyeon asks and it surprises her even more when the words don’t hurt as much as it used to.

Soojung smiles at that. “The usual.”

“I was thinking about messaging her.” Taeyeon confesses after a minute of silence, concentrating more on putting one foot after the other, and looking anywhere but at the younger girl.

“You should, she would love that.”

Taeyeon shakes her head, “What if she just ignores me?” She pauses and then says, “That’s what I would do if I was her.

“Unnie,” Soojung sighs quietly, stopping in the middle of the road to turn and look at her in the eye, “Sooyeonnie isn’t you and she’s not mad. Well, she’s not mad at any of you guys now at least, especially you. I think she just misses you.”

Taeyeon scoffs self-deprecatingly, “Why would she miss me? I’ve been nothing but terrible towards her.”

“I agree, you’ve been kind of awful.” The younger girl says and she sounds so much like Sooyeon that Taeyeon lets out a laugh, which makes Soojung smile, “But Sooyeon has always been easy to forgive the people she loves, even to the people who don’t deserve her forgiveness.”

She sighs and looks down at the water, searching for the words to say, “So what? I just send her a message and ask to meet up somewhere?”

“It’s that easy.” Soojung tells her with a smile.

Taeyeon nods and together, they walk in silence.

 

*

 

Later that night, Taeyeon will send the first message with a simple, “I heard you’re back in town, would you like to come over?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taeyeon finds herself pacing back and forth in her own apartment.

The bell rings and she stop her pacing, staring at the door as if Temptation is right behind it. Taeyeon shakes her head, sighs, then takes ten steps forward and swings the door open; revealing a disheveled Sooyeon who’s having a hard time with the heavy snowfall. Sooyeon looks painfully beautiful that Taeyeon has to – must – tear her eyes away before she does something stupid like kiss her or tell her she loves her right on the spot.

(Her eyes never leave her face.)

“Hi.” Sooyeon says, the ends of her lips twitch upwards and Taeyeon fails to not stare at it.

“Hello.”

The other girl holds both of her hands up to show the bags of takeout, “I brought food.” She pauses and then, “We should probably talk.”

“Probably.” Taeyeon echoes and steps aside to let her in.

Sooyeon steps inside hesitantly and wipes the bottom of her shoes daintily against the mat before leaving them somewhere by the corner. She watches the other girl look around the apartment and Taeyeon remembers that this is the first time Sooyeon has been to her place. Taeyeon smiles a bit, wraps a hand around one of the bags, tries to ignore the warmth of the other girl’s hand, and takes the item from Sooyeon.

“Come on, I’ll show you around.”

 

*

 

Their reunion is – not as exciting as everyone would like to think it is.

There’s no crying, no yelling, and definitely no petty catfights that the media would like to see.

It’s Taeyeon and Sooyeon sitting at her small, round table, clumsily unpacking the food that they possibly can’t finish. It’s Taeyeon and Sooyeon sitting next to each other with smiles on their faces because even though the older girl has a million questions to ask and Sooyeon has a million answers to say, they both miss each other terribly so. It’s Taeyeon and Sooyeon sitting in silence because Taeyeon doesn’t know how to speak up first, even though she’s been their leader for the longest time, and Sooyeon doesn’t know what to say first.

Which is why it’s not much of a surprise when they both say something at the same time.

“I’m sorry.” They both say at the same time, then their eyes widen and they both end up laughing together, leaning into each other like two magnets attracting one another.

“You go first.” Taeyeon says after they calm down once more.

Sooyeon nods before picking at her food with her chopsticks, “I’m sorry for leaving this way but not for leaving.” She stares firmly at Taeyeon, who swallows the lump in her throat, “I’m sad but at the same time, I’m happy.” Sooyeon shrugs.

Taeyeon nods, looking away, “I think I know what you’re trying to say.”

The other girl shakes her head, turning towards her direction, “I know that you know but I need you to understand Taeyeon, not just know. I – “ And then she rubs her hands over her face in frustration, laughs quietly, and Taeyeon just stares and falls in love a little more, “I’ve been saying the word ‘know’ so much that I don’t even know if I’m making sense.”

Taeyeon laughs and takes her hands, Sooyeon’s warmth spreading throughout her body, “I know what you’re trying to say.” She sighs and looks down on their hands twined together like vines, “While I can’t say that I was never angry at you for leaving, I understood that we had to grow up at some point and that it was never your intention to cause a war.”

“That’s what all of those political leaders always say after a war is done.” The other girl mutters underneath her breath.

“Sooyeon,” Taeyeon says with conviction, “it’s not just your fault. We – I was not a saint in this situation either.”

“You weren’t.” She agrees and Taeyeon laughs then sees the frown turning upwards on the other girl’s face.

“I’m sorry.” Taeyeon grows quiet, “For not understanding where you’re coming from. For not meeting you halfway. For not treating you as an actual living person with personal needs and wants and always putting the group before anyone else.”

Sooyeon shakes her head, clinging to her hand tightly but Taeyeon continues, “I was so consumed into being Girls’ Generation Leader Kim Taeyeon that I completely forgot I was also Jessica Jung’s Best Friend Kim Taeyeon. It blinded me.” She confesses, staring at their hands rather than the pair of brown eyes looking at her.

“Leaders.” Sooyeon says with so much affection that Taeyeon looks up and sees a smile that she hasn’t seen in a while.

 

*

 

The clock strikes midnight.

They’re sitting on the couch and it feels like Taeyeon finally breaks out of a long, deep spell because all of a sudden, she finds the courage to lean in – closing the distance between her lips and Sooyeon’s. However, the other girl is the first to touch her lips because this is how Taeyeon and Sooyeon works.

Taeyeon offers and Sooyeon takes.

And when Sooyeon kisses her again and again, taking away all of the air in her lungs, Taeyeon realizes that she doesn’t mind at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They’re back at their dorm, all nine of them, for the first time in a really long time.

They’re in a circle on the floor again – because it’s a tradition, a bit of old habits, and the couch has always been useless when it comes to seating nine different girls – and the spot that used to be vacant is now occupied with the girl that they all love – and to Taeyeon, it feels like she’s finally home.