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.
“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.”
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.
“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.