Yes. (8; Come Along)

8; Come Along

 

Taeyeon woke up in a moving ambulance, strapped to a stretcher, shapes spinning into near-focus; her glasses were nowhere to be seen. A medic was reaching for something in a bag by his side, and Tiffany sat next to him cradling her own head in her hands. There was an unwelcome amount of blood everywhere. She groaned in disappointment and then in pain when the force of her own injuries hit her.

“Now, I need you to stay calm,” the medic said, turning back to her, alerted to her consciousness by the noises she made. “It’s not as serious as it looks. My name is Minho, and you will be okay.”

Taeyeon doubted that. If she was going to be okay, why was she on a stretcher with a medic hovering over her while blood-smeared Tiffany had to sit upright? She tried to lift her head to look at her body but found her head was strapped down and her brain finally decoded the onslaught of pain signals and identified the injured areas. Her neck was definitely hurting quite a lot and was being supported by a brace.

She groaned again. “This is bad.”

“You’ll be fine,” said Minho again, going back to looking for something in his bag. “You won’t die or anything.”

“Thanks,” she said half-sincerely. She squinted at Tiffany. “How are you, Tiffany?”

Tiffany shrugged and lifted her head to look at Taeyeon. She seemed woozy and exhausted, her eyes rimmed with red. “I’ve been better. But apparently I won’t die either so I guess that’s okay.”

“You were unconscious for a little longer than we’re comfortable with,” Minho interrupted, talking to Taeyeon. “I need to check if you’re concussed. Hold still, please. Tell me your full name, date of birth, and the date today.”

Taeyeon rolled her eyes while Minho got out his little flash light and took hold of her face with one hand, and she dutifully recited the requested information. She lay still as he did his testing. Slowly her brain’s wheels began to turn and she caught up with everything she needed to deal with as soon as possible.

“So,” she said conversationally, “what the hell happened?”

The ambulance turned a corner and they all swooped along with it before settling again. Minho shrugged, turning back to his bag, “I don’t know the cause of the explosion, but the café you were sitting outside of blew up and your car got caught in the blast. It wasn’t very bad, just shrapnel from the building and the edge of the sonic wave. Maybe a little fire. Could have been worse – you’re lucky.”

“Yeah, really lucky,” she muttered, “someone probably just tried to kill us.”

“But they didn’t,” Tiffany pointed out. Minho turned to her and started cleaning a cut on her forehead. “Plus, why would they try to kill us by blowing up a café that we weren’t even in? Surely they knew it was closed.”

Taeyeon waved a hand in the air. “Where’s my phone? I need to call that jerk Hyoyeon and ask her what she had to do with this mess.”

Minho snorted. “You may not remember this yet, but before you lost consciousness you tried to get out of the car, dropped your phone, and stepped on it.”

Taeyeon closed her eyes. “Of course I did.”

She tried to remember what she could about the explosion, and didn’t come up with much. They were in her car, talking, she got a phone call from Yuri, she was trying to force herself to confront Tiffany, Tiffany tried to ease the tension by failing to make a joke, and then – explosion. Ambulance. She let out a deep breath. The only other person really involved in the situation was Hyoyeon, and she couldn’t contact her right now so she looked at Tiffany again.

“Why didn’t you tell me your mother was dead?”

Tiffany was shocked, and Minho faltered in his actions to shoot her an incredulous look before deciding not to get involved.

“What?”

“Yuri found out that your mother died long ago,” Taeyeon said, wincing as a particularly large bump in the road made her body shift uncomfortably. “Who exactly did you hire me to look for?”

“I…” Tiffany shook her head. “Look, can we talk about this later? We need medical attention right now.”

“I may not be capable later,” Taeyeon muttered. “I must be a little unhinged right now because it’s the only way I could do this. Just tell me, please, what the heck is going on?”

Tiffany bit her bottom lip, glancing at Minho uncertainly. “This isn’t really the best place -”

“Tiffany,” Taeyeon interrupted, and then felt the wave of dizziness that swept her up and tossed her around, “oh god I think I’m going to throw up, but listen you just have to tell me the truth now, okay? I need to know now before someone else tries to kill me and/or you and gets away with it this time.”

Minho took a moment to register her earlier comment and turned to check her eyes again with his little flash light. “As much as I’d like to stay out of whatever is going on between you two, I’m going to have to agree with your girlfriend that this is not the time and place.”

Taeyeon didn’t even feel embarrassed about his misunderstanding; rather, its irrationality annoyed her and she snapped, “Why would you even think she’s my girlfriend, you’ve literally witnessed nothing that could give you that impression. And her answer is kind of a question of life and death and sanity so please, shut up.”

Minho huffed and rolled his eyes, while Tiffany was speechless.

“Since you asked,” Minho said, clicking off the light, “I thought she was your girlfriend because before you lost consciousness you kept screaming at me to take care of her first because, and I quote, ‘she drives me crazy in a good way and kind of a bad way too, really’ and you wanted to get that sorted out as soon as possible. Sounds like love to me, honestly.”

There was an awkward silence.

“Well even so, you heard me say she hired me to find someone so that should have altered your interpretation,” said Taeyeon eventually, unsure if she was blushing or if her body was catching fire. It was hard to be certain. “Anyway, what do you really want, Tiffany?”

“I don’t know,” Tiffany exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air and almost slapping Minho. “I don’t know anymore. Yes, my mother died – she got sick and she died and it broke me into tiny little pieces. This woman I want you to find… I don’t know her name, what she looks like, what her voice sounds like, but you have to find her!”

Taeyeon’s head jerked as she tried to lift her head before she stiffened again with a high-pitched yelp of pain, but she powered through it. “How am I supposed to find someone I know nothing about? Am I even looking in the right place? Do you even know what you’re doing?!”

“She has to be with Lee,” Tiffany said firmly, seemingly unaware that a line of blood was developing on her forehead again.

“She has to – Tiffany, do you – what – You knew about Lee already? Why didn’t you just tell me to go after him?”

Tiffany sighed. The ambulance went around another bend and Taeyeon gulped as a spear of pain shot down her spine. She tried to focus as Tiffany explained very fast.

“My mother dated Lee back in high school, and it was pretty serious, so I knew you would find that connection fast. This woman… they were all friends, the three of them, and when my mother broke up with Lee and moved to America with my father, they had a falling out. The woman found my mother again just before she died and tried to bring her back here because Lee was planning something big and she wanted her help to stop him.”

Taeyeon squinted.

Tiffany frowned, rubbing at her forehead, and finally noticed the blood. She didn’t seem worried, just tired. Minho waited a moment to sense the atmosphere before he moved in to patch her up. She started talking again.

“I only found out about it recently when I discovered my mother’s journals. I-I don’t know how much my father knew,” she swallowed before continuing, “But this woman was more than friends with my mother.”

Taeyeon felt her head spin again. “Eh?”

“They had some kind of love triangle thing going on,” Tiffany said almost dismissively. “Lee felt pretty betrayed when he found out they all had their lines crossed, so to speak. But my mother left for America so he didn’t push it after they broke up. He stayed friends with that woman, who later joined him in his criminal organisation. That’s how I know she must still be with him.”

Taeyeon blinked rapidly, trying to retain control of her consciousness. “But Tiffany, if all this happened just before your mother died, what makes you think the situation is still the same? What if Lee already did the thing your friend wanted to stop? She could even be dead.”

Tiffany looked pained, and turned her face away, covering her eyes with her hands. Taeyeon knew she was crying. She paused, thinking about what she said, and flinched when she realised – Tiffany was very deeply affected by her mother’s death. All those things she told Taeyeon about her when she was still pretending to look for her, the stuff about her voice and the way she loved her daughter and taught her important things about life; none of that warm reminiscence was fake.

“I just wanted to start somewhere,” Tiffany murmured, almost unheard. “I want to know. My mother… she cared a lot about this, and these people meant something to her. And she knew she had to stop Lee. I feel like if she hadn’t died…”

“You want to finish what she couldn’t?” Taeyeon asked quietly, her expression soft as she looked at Tiffany as best she could while strapped to a stretcher in a moving ambulance, wearing a neck brace.

Tiffany sniffed, hidden behind her hands, and half-shrugged half-nodded.

The ambulance screeched to a stop, and Minho jumped up. “Finally,” he muttered.

Taeyeon let the medical staff in the hospital fuss over her, pulling her around, dumping her on a bed, plugging a tube into her, setting up machines. She kept thinking about the turn of events for the case.

Now she wasn’t looking for someone’s mother who ran away from home to go back to her high-school boyfriend, she was looking for an unknown woman who was an accomplice to one of the biggest criminals in the country and also tried to stop him with the help of an old friend. Or more than a friend. And the daughter of that more-than-a-friend now wanted to finish what her mother started, using the investigative services of an awkward Taeyeon who also had a little tiny crush on her.

“Just knock me out,” she whispered in all seriousness to the nurse closest to her, “just make me be unconscious for as long as possible.”

“No,” the nurse whispered back, and turned away.

So much for that plan.

She noticed Tiffany out of the corner of her eye, being helped to lie down on the bed next to hers, and she carefully eyed the expression on Tiffany’s face. She still looked tired, a little too tired, so tired that Taeyeon couldn’t help but be concerned of some greater problems than a cut on the forehead.

“Hey, will she be okay?” Taeyeon asked the same nurse, half-indicating towards Tiffany.

The nurse turned to check in that direction and shrugged at Taeyeon. “Not my patient. I’ll see what I can find out, but first I need to take care of you. Now, we need to re-examine your neck, so just hold still, okay?”

Taeyeon closed her eyes and measured her breathing as the staff did their thing with her, letting her mind drift back into the case. She made a new list of what she needed, now that the case had changed. She still needed Sooyoung’s information on that lipstick, the police information on the shooting, and information on what Daniel Lee was up to at any given moment. None of that seemed to be happening.

And she needed to figure out how she felt about Tiffany right now – well, it would be better not to get into that right now but she had time and she needed to distract herself so she let herself think about Tiffany.

The knowledge of Tiffany’s true intentions just confused her more but still felt like a relief somehow. Tiffany wasn’t evil, she wasn’t doing this to commit a crime or hurt Taeyeon; she just wanted to complete a task her mother would have attempted before dying from a sickness, an event that clearly Tiffany was still recovering from. What this meant for Taeyeon was actually nothing. Tiffany was still her client, Tiffany still had issues to sort out, Tiffany still lied to her – and how did she feel about that lie? It was simple enough to admit that if Tiffany had told her from the start that she wanted to investigate and stop one of the biggest criminals in the country, Taeyeon would not have touched the case with a ten-foot Ethernet cable. But now here she was, knee-deep in whatever mess this was turning out to be. She couldn’t just leave it now – clearly Lee already knew she was interested in his activities, and he was probably still up to something big. That had to be what Hyoyeon wanted to talk to her about. As for Hyoyeon, Taeyeon compiled a few choice sentences to fire at her later.

Leaving the case now would also break Tiffany’s heart.

And so, Taeyeon concluded, she was still extremely lost and confused.

She felt more relaxed when she opened her eyes again, and realised she had fallen asleep for a while. She and Tiffany had been moved to a semi-private room, and it was newly dark outside.

Taeyeon’s neck was still in a brace, but she angled her head as much as she could in order to look at Tiffany. Fast asleep. Taeyeon glanced around for a nurse, but there wasn’t one in the room, so she satisfied herself with the fact that Tiffany would probably be okay since she wasn’t in Intensive Care.

She reached for the phone beside her bed with one hand, flapping around until she got a hold of it, and painstakingly pressed each button to call Sooyoung’s number.

“Hello?”

“Sooyoung, it’s me.”

“Where have you been?! I’ve been worried sick! I called and called, but your phone just goes straight to voicemail. Are you okay? Where are you?”

“Okay just calm down a little bit, shouting is bad. Tiffany and I are in hospital, the same one we went to last time. Basically that stupid café we went to was closed, and we were still in the car and it blew up. But that’s not even the biggest thing that’s happened, there’s more. So just come here as soon as you can.”

“I’m on my way.”

Taeyeon returned the phone to its place and let out a sigh as she relaxed her body again. Whatever glorious pain medication they were giving her, it was greatly appreciated. She closed her eyes again, and dozed off.

When she woke, Seohyun was hovering over her on one side and Sooyoung peered at her from the other side. She blinked a few times, and then frowned at them until they backed off a little.

“She seems alright enough,” Sooyoung allowed, almost smiling. “Hey, how’s it going?”

Taeyeon shrugged slightly. “All systems operating.”

Sooyoung rolled her eyes. “This is going to become a new thing, isn’t it.”

Taeyeon just smiled at her and turned her attention to Seohyun. “Hi. I was wondering if I would run into you again here, so to speak.”

“Well I’d say it’s nice to see you again but this isn’t really a good situation,” said Seohyun diplomatically. She glanced around before leaning closer again. “Does this have anything to do with that… mutual problem?”

Taeyeon grimaced. “Yeah, kind of. Listen, how is that friend of yours? Anything big happened with her lately?”

Seohyun eyed Sooyoung critically, unsure if she should answer. Taeyeon waved a hand dismissively and said, “She’s okay, you can talk in front of her.”

Seohyun nodded. “My friend got another threat – well, we consider it to be like a threat. A smiley face was drawn on her windshield this time, same lipstick, but it looked kind of… melted.”

“Ew,” contributed Sooyoung.

Taeyeon sighed. “Tell her she should get out of town for a bit, and I’ll be sending her an e-mail in the next couple of days for some more urgent information. We need to get this sorted before it all gets out of control. Sooyoung, did you find out anything about the lipstick?”

Sooyoung shook her head. “Nothing yet. Don’t worry, I’ll get back on it as soon as I’m sure you and Tiffany are okay.”

At the mention of Tiffany, Taeyeon’s eyes flicked towards the bed next to hers. Tiffany was still asleep and her body was now turned the other way. Taeyeon looked back at the people by her bedside.

“Have either of you talked to the doctors or someone? What’s our condition?”

“You’ll both be fine. Tiffany was a little concussed. Both of you need to stay here for a couple of days until the doctors decide it’s safe for you to be released, but excluding complications your injuries will heal. You’ll need to wear that neck brace for a while, though.”

Taeyeon tried to relax again, unaware that she had been so tense. “I need to get out of here as fast as possible. Sooyoung, you’ll need to be my gopher for a while. And find a way to get an eye on Lee, will you?”

Sooyoung saluted. “Yes, boss. Don’t overexert yourself though. Right, doc?”

Seohyun smiled a little. “Right. I should get going; I’ll pass on the message to my friend.” She hesitated, biting her lip. “She’ll be okay, right?”

Once again Taeyeon wasn’t sure how to answer the question, even more now that the facts had changed and the situation had become more dangerous, but she tried to look least uncomfortable and said, “Sure. She’ll be okay.”

Seohyun seemed to accept it and gave them both a shy wave before leaving them alone.

Immediately, Sooyoung leaned closer and whispered, “Now what’s the other stuff that happened? You said there was something bigger than the explosion.”

Taeyeon groaned and closed her eyes. “This case is a really big mess, Sooyoung. A big, big messy mess.”

She explained the new developments as simply as she could, trying to convey the clearness with which she had sorted out her thoughts earlier, but she was getting sleepy and groggy and it showed. Sooyoung kept up well enough, settling herself on the edge of the mattress and focusing on Taeyeon’s words. After a while, her frown of concentration cleared and she let out a deep breath, and then raised her eyebrows at Taeyeon.

“Well, at least Tiffany’s not evil,” she said, pushing brightness into the conversation.

Taeyeon’s lips twitched. “Yeah, that’s exactly what I thought,” she murmured.

Sooyoung watched her for a while. Taeyeon’s eyelids were starting to close, no matter how much she tried to resist. Sooyoung smiled at her.

“You get some rest now. I’ll come see you again in the morning.”

“Thanks, Sooyoung,” Taeyeon managed, opening her eyes again briefly. “You’re a good friend.”

She dozed off again, the ghost of a smile on her face. Sooyoung said nothing, staring at her, and then she turned on her heel and left the dim hospital room.

The hospital settled into the night smoothly, lights dimming slightly all over the place and completely off in some private rooms, and the raucous buzzing settled into a comfortable hum. This was how Taeyeon found it when she woke up again a few hours later, in the middle of the night, inexplicably pulled from her sleep.

She inhaled deeply as her senses kicked into gear, and she looked around as much as she could with her neck brace and without her glasses. She wondered idly what had happened to those glasses of hers and if she would be seeing them again anytime soon.

Movement came from her side and she focused on Tiffany’s bed; Tiffany was awake, rustling around in her bed as she turned onto her back and stared at the ceiling.

They shared the quietness until Taeyeon broke it.

“Can’t sleep?” she asked softly.

Tiffany clearly had not been aware of her consciousness, because she jumped a little in surprise before staring at Taeyeon. After a moment she cleared her throat and looked away again.

“Yeah,” she replied, her voice a little hoarse. “Got a lot to think about.”

They both gazed at the ceiling again for a while.

“I’m sorry,” Tiffany murmured. “I feel horrible about lying to you like that.”

Taeyeon smiled. “Don’t feel bad. I’ve thought about it, and I wouldn’t have helped you if you’d told the truth.”

This didn’t seem to do much to qualm Tiffany’s feelings, and her silence conveyed as much. Taeyeon racked her brain to find words to make the right sentences before continuing.

“I understand,” she said. “I see where you’re coming from. Your mother means a lot to you – more than I could express with words, though I see it in your face and feel it from your voice when you talk about her. So I understand that you want to do this not just for sentimentality and social factors or the human complexes regarding heredity and death, but because you love your mother and this is one more link to her. You want to follow it, and find her in some small way. And I’ll help you with that.”

The sound of sniffing interrupted her and she panicked briefly. From what she could see in the corner of her eye, Tiffany was wiping away tears.

“Uh, sorry,” she hastened to add, but Tiffany shook her head.

“Don’t say sorry,” said Tiffany. She laughed a little, surprising Taeyeon. “Did you know you’re so good at making people cry?”

“Um, well I certainly never considered it a talent or a skill of mine, that’s for sure.”

Tiffany laughed again, and sniffed again, and wiped away the last of her tears. She took a deep breath and let it all out as she examined the ceiling. The hush of the room fell again, the sound of the hospital relegated to the world outside the door of their room. Taeyeon could barely even hear the soft beeping of their machines while she listened to the sound of Tiffany’s breathing as it slowed.

Just when she thought Tiffany had fallen asleep, she heard the low whisper of a “Thank you”, and she drifted off with a truly effortless smile on her face.

Yes. (7; Incrimination)

7; Incrimination

 

There wasn’t much Taeyeon could do about Daniel Lee. He was untouchable, and hard to keep an eye on. He was slippery and powerful. So it was unsurprising when she couldn’t find anyone else to monitor him on her behalf. No matter what she offered – free service, money, food, toys – no one was willing to take the risk of being caught spying on one of the biggest criminals in the country. Even Sooyoung had simply given her a look of disbelief. However, Taeyeon tried not to let this disappointment bring her spirits down. She was determined to establish two things about Lee; if he had a connection to Tiffany’s mother, and what he was up to.

And so she ended up hanging upside down by her legs from the bottom branch of a tree outside Lee’s hotel, squinting through a miniature set of binoculars, and holding her breath.

It wasn’t the most productive action, really, because she couldn’t even see into his room or anything, but it was the only option she could find after examining the area. All she got out of the position was a partially obscured view of the hallway, which had very mediocre lighting. In the five hour duration of her stay – during which time she had changed her position on the tree twenty times before recently realising this provided the best angle – she saw only two of Lee’s henchmen occasionally moving back and forth between their rooms and Lee’s, empty-handed and stone-faced. No sign of the man himself or any woman.

Taeyeon sighed. She half-heartedly pencilled another note onto the tiny pad of paper she kept tucked in her pocket. Ten minutes after the previous entry, she scribbled something vague about Man #2 returning to his room much the same as he was when he went to Lee’s room.

She checked the time on her watch again, eyeing the hands ticking away, and pondered. It would be better to set up some sort of camera in her exact location, but that was beyond difficult. She was in a tree. Trees were not known for offering accessibility to cameras of any size or shape.

She absently clicked her tongue. It was almost dinner time. She had been watching Lee since lunch time. She didn’t know what he had gotten up to during the few hours since she left with Tiffany this morning and the moment she arrived here again after it became clear there was no alternative but to return. Hyoyeon hadn’t shown up again, if she even left in the first place. Whatever Lee was doing in that room seemed pretty important. Or he was just playing games.

Taeyeon scoffed quietly to herself. This case had quickly become a big game. She didn’t know the rules but she knew she was being played.

First of all, she was being played by Tiffany. The charming, beautiful woman who held a grip on Taeyeon’s heart muscle before they even met face to face and whose every smile was a squeeze. She was hiding something big. She basically admitted that the whole case was a lie, didn’t she? Her reason for hiring Taeyeon, her objective for the investigation, who knew what else. And yet why wasn’t that already enough to make Taeyeon give up the case? As much as it seemed she was willing to go along with it because she perhaps had a tiny little crush on Tiffany, there was definitely something else about it. She felt as if, no matter the reason, finding this woman was important, and finding out what Daniel Lee was doing was also important.

A headache sprouted at the base of Taeyeon’s skull. She blinked a few times and shook her head, but perhaps it was just time to stop hanging upside down and go home.

Her phone vibrated insistently in her pocket before she had a chance to continue her train of thought. She carefully got it out and held it in front of her face. Her eyebrows rose at the sight of the caller ID, and she answered it.

“Hello?”

“Hey detective, how’s it hangin’?”

Taeyeon nearly displaced herself from her position in the tree as she threw her head side to side to look around. “Hanging? What? Nothing’s hanging, I’m not hanging.”

On the other end of the call, Hyoyeon laughed. “You are so weird. It’s just an expression.”

Taeyeon didn’t calm down completely, still on alert as she kept her eyes wide open. “You’re pretty weird yourself. Why were you hanging around Daniel Lee this morning?”

“You are a persistent little investigator. That’s a good thing, by the way. Now listen, I could be on to something big. Do you want in on it?”

Taeyeon hesitated. A cool breeze built up, toying with the back of her jacket which hung down behind her head. The hallway in front of her, behind another branch, seemed deserted and silent.

“Well, you would have to be more specific before I agree to anything,” she said eventually.

“Let’s meet in person,” Hyoyeon said. “Where are you now? I’ll pick you up and we’ll go for coffee.”

Taeyeon didn’t say anything at first, very mindful of her current location. Then she cleared her throat and said, “Maybe not right at this very second, if you insist on meeting in person. I’m kind of busy at the moment. Tell me where and we can meet in an hour.”

“I’ll e-mail you some directions to a nice little café I’ve come to know well recently. Oh, and bring Tiffany.”

Taeyeon frowned. “Why would I bring Tiffany?”

“Just do it. It’s important, I promise.”

The effects of hanging upside down for an extended period of time were starting to get to Taeyeon’s head, or it was just the constant stress of the messy situation she was in. Either way, she just wanted to end the call and get down from the tree, and then she would have to go get Tiffany and meet Hyoyeon at that café.

“Okay, fine, send me the details and we’ll see you in an hour.”

“Excellent! You won’t regret this, detective.”

Taeyeon hung up quickly and began to untangle herself from the branches of the tree without falling and breaking her neck.

It wasn’t until she was standing upright with her shoes touching the grass, trying to catch her breath, that she realised something rather significant.

Hyoyeon knew Tiffany’s name.

Sooyoung didn’t find it as pressing as Taeyeon did, shrugging her shoulders casually as they talked about it in Taeyeon’s apartment soon afterwards. Taeyeon was trying to change her clothes as fast as she could but got too close to dislocating a few limbs in her hurry, so she slowed down and explained when she left her bedroom.

“Thinking back to how Hyoyeon was when she saw Tiffany in the car, maybe there is a chance that she recognised her,” said Taeyeon, jamming her wrist in the sleeve of a new jacket. “But I don’t think it was mutual. It was more like Hyoyeon knew who Tiffany was and knew what she looked like, but it was the first time actually seeing her in person. And I don’t know about you, but that worries me more than just a little.”

“Well I’m not saying it isn’t weird, but she is a journalist,” Sooyoung replied, unhooking Taeyeon from her clothing. “Just see what she has to say when you go see her, maybe she’ll explain everything.”

Keys jingled somewhere in the pockets of Taeyeon’s other, discarded jacket as she hunted them down, shaking the clothing. She wasn’t happy about Hyoyeon’s little gameplay. She was starting to become more certain that she was the only person in this case who didn’t know what was going on, and it was getting on her nerves. She needed to know something, anything.

“Heard back from Yuri?” she asked Sooyoung shortly, and adjusted her glasses.

Sooyoung shook her head. “I’m starting to wonder if I should get worried or not, but it’s too soon.”

Taeyeon sighed. “I really need her to get that information for me and then come back and get the information here, too.”

“You’ll be okay,” Sooyoung said with a pat on Taeyeon’s shoulder and a smile. “You’re still alert and focused however frustrated you are. And you’re not letting your nerves get in the way. I’m sure you’ll get something soon. And if it turns out Tiffany’s not evil, then maybe you could ask her out on a date.”

Taeyeon gave her a pointed look. “There are so many things wrong with that suggestion; I’ll have to write you a list.”

Sooyoung shrugged again. “Okay, okay, just trying to provide you with something positive. Want me to come with you to meet Hyoyeon or will you be fine with Tiffany?”

But Taeyeon’s attention was diverted because right there on the table in front of her was a picture that jarred her. Specifically it was the cover photo of a magazine, bearing insignificant and airy article titles that blurred into nothingness. Taeyeon’s gaze latched on to the woman who posed with a wide smile; pretty, young, thin.

She pointed. “Who is that woman?”

Sooyoung blinked at the magazine. “That appears to be Yoona, the new face of the police force.”

Taeyeon frowned, peering closely at the woman. “You mean she’s a cop?”

“A detective in the drugs unit. She’s been getting quite a bit of media attention lately because of some big case she solved recently – she got a lot of compliments while the reporters interviewed her on the steps of the courthouse. The police are using this as a publicity opportunity, and it seems to be working.”

Taeyeon’s thoughts began to drift. It didn’t make any sense, and yet it struck her so solidly it had to be significant. But how?

“Are you okay?” Sooyoung asked, poking her on the arm.

“Her lipstick,” Taeyeon said. “Do you think there’s somewhere in the magazine that says what lipstick she is wearing in that photo?”

“Maybe, especially if she did a photo shoot. That magazine pays attention to fashion and stuff. I was just about to start reading it when you got here.”

Taeyeon turned to her, expression serious. “I need you to find out what lipstick she’s wearing, and if it’s the lipstick she usually wears day-to-day. If it’s Dior Addict Extreme shade 756 Fireworks and it’s the lipstick she always uses or if she’s started wearing it often recently, call me. I’m going to go get Tiffany and see what Hyoyeon has to say. And please do what you can to get hold of Yuri.”

She left her apartment in a rush, nearly tripping over her own feet on the way out the door. She checked her watch; half an hour until the meeting with Hyoyeon. She got out her phone as she left the building and dialled the number to Tiffany’s hotel room.

“Hello?”

“Oh sorry, were you taking a nap? You sound a bit groggy.”

“Yeah, I dozed off for a bit, but don’t worry about it. What’s up, Taeyeon?”

Taeyeon was momentarily irrationally pleased at hearing Tiffany say her name while sounding sleepy and then she shook her head as she unlocked her car.

“Can you be ready in about ten minutes for me to pick you up? Hyoyeon would like to meet with us.”

“Oh? Okay, yeah, I’ll be ready. See you soon.”

Reason number one why Taeyeon could never ask Tiffany on a date: she may not be interested in women – and reason number one point five, she may not be interested in Taeyeon.

The rest of the drive to Tiffany’s hotel was spent mentally compiling the list of reasons why Taeyeon could never ask Tiffany out on a date. She was a client, she was out of Taeyeon’s league, Taeyeon had a tendency to be socially oblivious, Taeyeon may actually die of a heart attack no matter the response to her offer, and the result of the investigation could change everything. And even if they somehow magically ended up dating, it could end up as a disappointment, stressful, heart-breaking, or – actually she didn’t even know, it just didn’t seem possible to happen.

She made a mental note to write those reasons down and tape them to the wall by her bed, and she parked outside Tiffany’s hotel.

When Tiffany walked out, the list just disappeared.

She wasn’t wearing anything spectacular, it was clear she had been asleep ten minutes ago, and she wasn’t even smiling yet, but she still took Taeyeon’s breath away. Taeyeon closed her eyes and groaned briefly at herself.

Tiffany spotted the car and got in the passenger seat, looking happy.

“So what’s this meeting with Hyoyeon about?” she asked after they greeted each other and Taeyeon merged with the traffic.

“Something big, apparently, but she won’t say what,” Taeyeon replied, keeping her eyes on the road as she hesitated before continuing, “And she asked for you by name.”

“Oh? That’s odd,” Tiffany commented.

Completely casual tone of voice, no nervousness, no hesitation, body language relaxed – Taeyeon was inclined to believe her.

“You can’t think of a reason why she would know you?” Taeyeon questioned, sounding uncertain. “Or would this be another thing that you can’t tell me the truth about yet?”

Tiffany sighed. “Look, Taeyeon, I like to think we’re getting to know each other quite well, don’t you?”

Taeyeon blinked. “Ah, well, I don’t know, maybe a little?”

“We’re getting along well,” Tiffany decided. “So I hope you understand how badly I feel about what’s going on. Not about getting to know you, I don’t feel bad about that, I mean I feel bad about how secretive I’m being – I don’t want you to feel like I’m playing games. When there’s something I can’t tell you yet, I won’t lie.”

Taeyeon stared at Tiffany for almost too long before redirecting her gaze to the road ahead. She gulped silently and panicked. What was she supposed to say in response to that? She felt herself slowly warming up. She became a little more confident that whatever Tiffany was hiding about the case, she was still a good person, and this was great and bad. Right at that moment, mostly bad.

“And like I said, you’ll probably find out the truth yourself soon.”

“Why can’t you just tell me, then?”

Taeyeon almost bit her tongue when the words slipped out, but she really wanted to know. Tiffany sighed again, sounding like she was struggling to find words.

“I can’t really explain it. Just give me time, okay? I really am grateful for everything you’re doing for me,” she said softly, and rested her hand on Taeyeon’s arm.

The car nearly swerved with the shock that went through Taeyeon’s body.

“I hope we can be good friends.”

A high pitched noise briefly keened from Taeyeon’s throat. Then she coughed and turned the steering wheel as smoothly as she could, causing Tiffany’s hand to leave her arm.

“That would be great. Okay, here we are.”

She slowed the car to a stop outside the café that Hyoyeon had directed her to, and they both frowned at it through the window.

“It seems to be closed,” Tiffany observed. “Are you sure this is the right place?”

Taeyeon already had her phone out, tapping into her e-mails. “I think so. Maybe she forgot it would be closed by now?”

Before she could get to the right e-mail, her phone alerted her to a call and she almost dropped it in surprise.

“Hello?”

“Hey, it’s me. I have really important info for you.”

“That’s great, but are you okay? We haven’t heard from you in a while, we were getting worried.”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I decided to look into your request before I got back to you or Sooyoung and let me tell you, it has been a wild ride. But listen, this information is huge. Where are you now?”

Taeyeon glanced at Tiffany, who was politely looking around outside. “I was about to meet with Hyoyeon about something. What’s up?”

“Tiffany hired you to find her mother, right?”

“Yes…”

“Well, it was hard to get the documents – her family must be quite powerful – but here’s the thing; Tiffany’s mother died several years ago.”

Taeyeon froze. “Excuse me? What?”

“Tiffany’s biological mother died when she was still a kid, and her father has never remarried. There’s no one else who could be considered her mother, and her real mother is dead. I don’t know who she wants you to look for over there but it can’t be her mother.”

“And you’re absolutely certain of this information?” Taeyeon asked carefully, watching the quiet Tiffany out of the corner of her eye and trying not to hold her breath.

“One hundred percent.”

Taeyeon exhaled slowly. “This…. is problematic. Thanks Yuri, I gotta go. And please come home.”

She hung up before Yuri could answer and put her phone away, no longer caring about Hyoyeon’s e-mail. She placed her hands on the steering wheel and gritted her teeth for a moment, staring straight ahead.

She hated confrontation.

Tiffany knew something was up, but she also knew Taeyeon would either tell her eventually or avoid answering her if she asked about it, so she sat in silence and stared at the sign on the café door.

The car was quiet as they both sat, and Taeyeon tried to think of a way to formulate the sentences she needed to speak. How does one ask someone what the hell they think they are doing?

And then Tiffany spoke.

“Hey, is your fridge on?”

Taeyeon blinked, and blinked again, and turned her head to look at her. “Um, yes. Yes, I think it is.”

“Well then you better go catch it!”

Taeyeon stared. Tiffany stared back, before babbling profusely, “Ah, I meant to say is your fridge running, I said it wrong, I’m so sorry, I just wanted to ease the tension, you seemed so stressed, but I got all nervous because I -”

And then the café exploded.

Brainless. 0

“Here.”

A small bottle of water tumbled onto the wooden table in front of her, bouncing and shuddering and rolling to a stop. She listened to the sound of her own breathing, heavy and harsh and desperate, and blinked away the trail of blood already smeared over her temple and trickling into her eye.

“Drink up. You must be thirsty.”

She raised her eyes, brow crinkling.

A kind face smiled back at her. The woman was tall, young, with long black hair stylishly tied back. She wore a simple, elegant suit, perfectly fitted to her form. Tiffany’s eyes traced the woman’s face and body; she worked out regularly, there were a few sugar grains clinging to her shirt, she had a slight tan, her muscles showed the definition of someone who grew up swimming; and her expression held laugh lines but had the form for a serious set.

The woman gazed at her.

“You’re shaking,” she remarked. “It’s okay now, Tiffany. The worst is over. Go on, drink some water.”

Tiffany looked back at the plastic bottle. It had a few dents. The plastic was soft, and cheap. The label was bland, simple, with the name of a popular cheap brand. She reached out – her hand shook as she touched the bottle, but her breathing slowed as she twisted off the plastic cap and raised the water to her lips.

The woman sat down on the other rickety chair across from her. She laid a beige file on the surface between them, and gave Tiffany another smile.

“My name is Yuri,” she said. “You’re actually a bit older than me, but we’re all friends here, right? So pardon my casual nature.”

Tiffany didn’t say anything. She swallowed the last of the water and lowered the bottle, settling it gently on the table. She stared.

“Now, you’ve had quite a shock, Tiffany,” Yuri said. She opened the file, flipping through the papers. “But it’s all okay now. We’re here to help.”

“Who?”

Yuri looked up at the word. Tiffany’s voice was hoarse, afraid. She smiled again.

“There are two answers to that question,” replied Yuri. “Let’s not choose one just yet.”

Tiffany was silent again. Her stare bore into Yuri’s eyes, but the woman seemed unfazed. She still had that small, quiet, kind smile on her lips. Tiffany gulped, feeling her body stop shaking and her heart rate slow down.

“What happened to your family,” Yuri murmured, “is terrible. Absolutely terrible. You have my deepest condolences, Tiffany.”

Tiffany blinked. She reached up and wiped away the blood that was persistently running down the side of her face, and she looked at the thick redness on her fingers. There was a shuffling sound as Yuri closed the file again and sat up straighter.

“There’s a way to fix this,” she said quietly, smile gone. “You’re here with us now, Tiffany. There’s a lot going on in this place. And I can tell already that you belong here. The way you checked me out like that, sussing out so much about me in one look. I bet you know a lot more than you make it seem. And that’s a damn useful talent around here, Tiffany.”

“I just want to go home,” Tiffany whispered, her voice uneven. She couldn’t meet Yuri’s gaze.

“That’s not your home anymore, Tiffany. That place where you lived, where you grew up with your family, that’s not home. They’re all dead now. But here, we can provide you with a new home. We can be your family now. Wouldn’t you like to have a family again, Tiffany?”

Tiffany closed her eyes. She clenched her jaw. “I just want to go home,” she repeated.

There was no sound for a moment. Then the chair scraped as it was pushed back and Yuri came to stand right beside Tiffany, resting her hand on her shoulder and leaning down. “Listen, Tiffany,” she said softly. “You have nothing else. You might as well accept it. This is your home now, and this is your world. But just remember something for me, Tiffany: not everything is as it seems.”

Tiffany’s eyes snapped open and she turned to face Yuri. She didn’t say anything, but the fear and confusion showed.

Yuri smiled. “Everyone is lying to someone else. In this world, there are two families. Two corners of a boxing ring. Two sides you can choose. Sometimes, there’s a bit of a cross. The lines blur. There are grey areas, and that’s where someone can lose their head, very easily.  You look confused right now but you’re wary, still attentive. You’re not someone who can easily get lost in mind games, are you?”

Tiffany’s face was blank. Her breathing slowed until she was only taking shallow breaths. The light above them flickered slightly, and something tapped against the grimy window.

Yuri held up one hand. “The good side.” She held up the other. “The bad side.”

She brought them together and pointed at Tiffany with both index fingers.

“And then there is you.”

The corner of her mouth quirked up in a sly little smirk.

“And me.”

Tiffany’s wide eyes locked onto Yuri’s for a long time, not blinking or moving.

“It’s okay,” Yuri said. She stood up, on her way back to the other side of the table. “You can speak your mind. We’re safe right now.”

“You’re an undercover cop?” Tiffany asked in a thick voice.

Yuri froze, and she spun on her heel to face Tiffany.

She winked.

Tiffany let out a long breath, feeling her shoulders relax. She gulped again, giving Yuri a different look.

“What do you want from me?”

“You’ve just lost your family,” Yuri said. “Sorry to be so harsh. You have nothing left. You’re smart. We think we can develop your talents into a very, very useful tool. You could save a lot of people by helping us.”

Tiffany hung her head. The constant reminder of the fact that her whole family was now dead and she was all alone was not particularly pleasant. She closed her eyes, and was immediately swarmed with flashes of memories. The screaming of her family members, the smashing of doors and windows, the shouts, the blood – she took a deep shuddering breath – the snap of bone, the shots.

“The people who killed your family will be interested in you,” Yuri continued after a pause. “Very interested.”

Tiffany laughed briefly. “You think they’ll recruit me?”

“We know they will.”

Tiffany raised her head slowly, meeting Yuri’s eyes. “Was that why they killed them? To get me?”

Yuri looked away. She half-heartedly shrugged one shoulder. Another tap came at the dark window, a succession of four rapid knocks.

“It’s time,” Yuri said simply.

She turned back to Tiffany. Her eyes were cold and sharp.

“Welcome to your new world, Tiffany.”

The yo-yo almost smacked against the cement before it spun upwards. Taeyeon clenched her hand around it tightly, trapping it in place a good distance from the ground it had just been face-to-face with. Her palm was sweaty. The blue plastic rubbed against her skin. The muscles of her fingers trembled. She let it drop.

“Taeyeon.”

It cracked when it hit the ground. She looked up, eyes blank.

“Let’s go.”

She ripped the string from her finger and let it fall, before stepping forward and following Yuri through the glass doors and into the polished, sleek office building reception. She gave a polite nod to the secretary at the front who returned it stiffly, and then they were in the elevator.

Taeyeon tucked her hands into the pockets of her jeans and stared at her reflection in the metal. Yuri glanced at her, and cleared her throat.

“It’s been two years now,” she commented. “Two years of good service. I think the boss likes you.”

Taeyeon didn’t say anything. After a moment she shifted to read the numbers flashing above the doors.

It was time.

Untitled

Tiffany was a busy woman. She started the moment she woke up and her head kept buzzing until it hit the pillow in the earliest hours of morning and she closed her eyes. She loved it, she lived for it. Or rather, she almost died for it, because one thing about the constant conscious buzz was that it wore her body down. She needed rest even though her mind kept going and pushing and leaping.

Taeyeon knew a lot about Tiffany, but the one thing she had yet to learn was the ever present fire that lit Tiffany’s bones and kept her moving. She knew it was there,  she saw it often, but she couldn’t figure out how to handle it. And she definitely wanted to handle it. She wanted to take the phone from Tiffany’s hand when it was eleven o’clock at night and not a good time to reply to work emails. She wanted to pick Tiffany up from work at five or maybe six, even the odd seven, and see absolute relaxation and relief rather than the expectant tension of ongoing work.

But as much as she wanted to take care of Tiffany and take care of their relationship, it wasn’t something she could do alone, do to Tiffany. They argued about it, they ignored each other when it sprung up between them, and Taeyeon wasn’t even sure Tiffany didn’t want that fire more than anything Taeyeon could offer her.

Taeyeon was determined. She feared her own inability and inadequacy, and it made her so scared she wanted to just do it and grab Tiffany.

Slowly Tiffany noticed. In the stupor of her busying buzzing fire, Taeyeon leaked in through the edges and snuck past the flames a few times. They negotiated, they invested, they tried, they worked – things Tiffany could understand, did well once she opened herself to it. The fire was different but it was there, a new shade, a new burn, and it had Taeyeon all through it.

Tiffany could be busy with Taeyeon, too.