9; Glacial 
“So that’s it, then?” asked Sooyoung, glancing in the direction of the bathroom door to make sure it was still closed. “She’s after Lee?”
“Sort of,” Taeyeon said. “She’s after Lee and this woman.”
“So there is definitely still a woman to look for,” Sooyoung said, crossing her arms over her chest. “Are you sure about this, Taeyeon? I mean, I was hoping that she wasn’t evil just as much as you, but this is not exactly ideal.”
Taeyeon sighed. “You don’t have to tell me how un-ideal it is, believe me, I’m aware. But it’s how it is and we’ll have to go with it. About the lipstick -”
“Oh let me save you the time,” interrupted Sooyoung, grimacing. “That was the most difficult task I have ever tackled, but I did it. It took me such a long time, inspecting every word in that magazine and hunting down every interview Yoona has ever given and anything ever written about her anywhere, but finally I found it. And then I couldn’t quite remember what you said I should be looking out for, but luckily you scribbled it down in your notes, so after deciphering your handwriting I -”
“Please, Sooyoung, you said you were saving me time.”
“Right, sorry. Yes, Yoona has recently started using Dior Addict Extreme shade 756 Fireworks. A few stylists commented it was rather a daring choice for someone with her skin tone and in her profession, but it does bring an interesting effect along with her new-found fame.”
“She was first spotted wearing it approximately three months ago.”
Taeyeon looked thoughtful for a moment. “That was around the time Tiffany hired me. Maybe a little earlier, or later. Have you heard from Yuri?”
“She’s on her way back, don’t worry. Her flight will land here tonight.”
Taeyeon was hopeful that Yuri’s return could help speed up the progress of the investigation. She needed the police files and as much information as Yuri could get for her, and now that she knew the main focus was back on Daniel Lee she would need the police files for the gas station robbery he was responsible for, too. If he was planning something big, then that event could have been a large part of his tactical manoeuvres.
Despite her injuries, she really wanted to get up and go to that gas station to inspect it personally. She wanted to talk to staff, owners, regular customers – anyone and everyone. And she wanted to look at every part of the establishment even though the crime happened too long ago for there to be any spectacular evidence just lying around.
Unfortunately for her, the doctors at the hospital were not particularly hospitable towards her requests, and made an effort to emphasize exactly how necessary it was that she stayed in bed for a few weeks. She rolled her eyes as much as she dared but in the end she knew they were right; if she didn’t rest and let her injuries heal properly, she could be in an even bigger mess. But if she didn’t get this case solved as soon as possible, she would be in an even bigger mess anyway, so she allowed a small part of her brain to quietly begin formulating plans.
And so, she used Sooyoung as her avatar in the outside world.
“Are you really sure about trusting Tiffany?” asked Sooyoung, frowning. “She lied to you. And doesn’t her real reason seem a little…?”
“I know, I know. It’s true, I’m not sure what to believe any more, but considering the state this case is in right now, it’s not really surprising. I mean, this thing is so much bigger than just the woman who is with Lee. I can’t really trust anyone, but I’ll have to. I need to work with what I have. And yes, it does seem kind of odd that she would behave the way she did just to get where we are – not the hospital I mean, obviously.”
Sooyoung raised an eyebrow. “You don’t sound like you’re sure of what you’re doing.”
“I’m not. But I’m just going to do it anyway, okay?”
“It’s not like I’m going to get any answers by just lying here and letting things happen around me, that’s for sure,” she said decisively. “Tiffany stays and the case goes on.”
“Alright,” Sooyoung accepted. “Hey, is it true that you declared your undying love for Tiffany after the explosion?”
Taeyeon’s eyes widened. “Excuse me?”
“Well, I was chatting with that medic who brought you here,” Sooyoung continued in a conversational tone of voice, “and apparently you had some very interesting things to scream at the scene of the incident. Care to comment about that?”
Taeyeon groaned. “Oh no. Don’t even remind me. Just do not ever speak of that again. Never. Ever. Don’t even think of it. Nothing happened, okay?”
Sooyoung grinned. “Has Tiffany mentioned it yet?”
The possibility of having that discussion with Tiffany was purely mortifying – the casual or perhaps even sombre mention of the words, the spluttering brain-failure as she tried to explain it; it set off a range of thoughts that ignited off each other with sparks of phantom pain when she imagined how a conversation like that would go. So Taeyeon was very pleased that Tiffany had not mentioned it at all.
But she didn’t have time to say all of that to Sooyoung and she knew it would be better if she didn’t, because even though Sooyoung had cut down her teasing about Tiffany, she was clearly not completely past it.
“Okay, here’s what I need you to do,” Taeyeon said, her expression serious, and the change of subject made Sooyoung laugh very briefly. “Get me a meeting with Yoona. When Yuri gets here, tell her to get started on getting those police files for me – the gas station robbery and that time someone took a shot at me and Tiffany. After that, just anything else about Lee she can find. And find out where Hyoyeon has disappeared to, would you? She needs to explain why the hell I’m lying in hospital right now.”
The bathroom door opened just as Sooyoung nodded.
They both turned to look at Tiffany, who blinked back at them, pausing on her way back to her bed.
Tiffany came away from the explosion with less serious injuries, but as she still sustained a blow to the head she would be staying in hospital with Taeyeon for a few days to make sure there were no complications. The cut on her forehead was still pronounced, though she managed to avoid getting stitches.
Her face showed her exhaustion, and she seemed more wary than she had been since arriving in the country. Perhaps it was the multiple possible attempts on her life, or perhaps she was feeling cagey after revealing her true intentions to Taeyeon. Some of it still didn’t quite make sense – at least, it didn’t match the sense of character Taeyeon had formed from her perception of Tiffany up to this point; but she could have simply been incorrect. Now she would get to know Tiffany better, and find out exactly what was going on in her head.
“Am I interrupting something?” Tiffany asked, staring at them as they stared at her.
“I was just leaving,” Sooyoung said, giving her a pleasant smile. “The boss gave me my orders,” she gestured at Taeyeon, who rolled her eyes, “so I’ll leave you two to rest.” She took a few steps before turning back to them, and she winked. “Don’t do anything I would do.”
By the time Sooyoung disappeared through the doorway, Taeyeon had settled into her familiar cloud of embarrassment, and was even more embarrassed when she noticed that the pinkness dusting her cheeks was mirrored on the face of Tiffany.
They avoided making eye contact as Tiffany got back to her own bed.
It was hard to move around in a neck brace, Taeyeon was learning, but there were certain ways that she could angle herself just right to get in a good enough position to function. After much practice while Tiffany was asleep earlier, Taeyeon got the hang of how to be able to look in the direction of Tiffany’s bed. She would, of course, never admit that she was watching Tiffany sleep, because she was pretty sure that such behaviour was still frowned upon. And she had tried not to make it seem like she was watching her, which resulted in her movements being more like twitches and glances rather than constant observation.
Now she manoeuvred herself to look at Tiffany and was surprised to find her looking back. They both blushed again and Taeyeon’s blush deepened even more when she noticed that they were both blushing. It was possible that they were even both now blushing because they were blushing, and then her head started to spin. Telling herself that her head was spinning because of the angle she was forcing herself in to, she turned to face the front again.
She wasn’t sure if Tiffany was still looking at her or if the sense she got was just because of her anxiety.
She cleared her throat. “So, how are you feeling today?”
“Better,” Tiffany replied, and there was some rustling as she got comfy on her bed. “I should contact my hotel to let them know I’ll be in hospital for a while.”
“Yes,” Taeyeon said.
And that was where the conversation seemed to end but it didn’t seem right to Taeyeon. Conversations were not meant to just end like that, were they? And the atmosphere was definitely more awkward than usual, she was sure.
Awkwardness, blushing, running out of things to say – Tiffany was surely thinking about… it. The incident Taeyeon most feared would become an issue. Her not-so-little comment about how Tiffany drove her crazy in a good way and a bad way.
And how was she supposed to explain it? It was the truth. She never meant for Tiffany to know of it, and now she did, and it wasn’t something that Taeyeon could really elaborate on. It was what it was. Tiffany was driving her crazy, and it was because of something that could be bad, but in a way it felt good. Or it was because of something that was good but it made her feel like exploding. She was going crazy because either Tiffany was deceitful and plotting something malevolent; or she was going crazy because Tiffany had her own beauty, inside and out, a human being who she was falling in love with.
Love. Now that opened a whole new can of worms. Wriggling alien worms with three bodies each. Perhaps she should call it something else, because it certainly wasn’t right to call it love. She was falling in deep-interest with Tiffany. Or, because she didn’t know if it was mutual: she was falling in deep-interest of Tiffany.
And now that Taeyeon had successfully made a mess of her attempt to structure a response in case Tiffany brought up the topic, she decided to start an entirely new conversation, because running away was not an option.
She was still trying to think of something to say when there was a brief knock on the door followed by the bang as it was blown open.
It wasn’t really an explosion, though; through the doorway strode a young woman with long blonde-ish hair and an effortless air of cool indifference. She wore sunglasses despite being inside, and she was impeccably dressed in the smooth and simple fashion of someone with a taste for style and a mind for money.
Her shoes clicked on the floor and stopped when she halted at the foot of their beds, an equal distance between them, and faced them with an expression of disgust.
“Which one of you is Tiffany?”
Taeyeon raised her eyebrows in surprise. If anyone was going to stride in here emitting an aura of pure power, she would have bet money that they were after her. Having spent so much time alienating people with her awkwardness or frustrating them with her investigations, it was almost a given that someone who was most likely rich and successful by slightly illegal or immoral means would be looking for her with an attitude like that.
She glanced at Tiffany, who mirrored her expression, and they both looked back at the unknown woman.
“I’m Tiffany,” said Tiffany
Instead of acknowledging her, the woman sent a small smile at Taeyeon.
“Good,” she said. Her voice was smooth, her tone clipped. “I gave you a chance to lie and you didn’t. We’ve gotten off to a good start.”
“Um –” Taeyeon began, and was immediately cut off.
“If you’re about to ask who I am, please don’t. It would only serve as a disappointment,” said the stranger, looking away dismissively. She turned to Tiffany and removed her sunglasses in a single sweeping motion. “Tiffany. My name is Jessica Jung.”
Tiffany blinked, and then realization dawned on her face, followed swiftly by disbelief. “Really? You’re –”
“Yes,” interrupted Jessica. “Let’s not waste time. I am really the Jessica Jung, the one and only, the one you’ve been looking for.” She paused. “Or rather, one of the ones you’ve been looking for, as I hear you’re chasing someone else. But we’ll discuss that in greater detail later. You want in? I can get you in. I want to get rid of Daniel Lee, and from where I’m standing, you and your detective here can help me reach that goal.”
Taeyeon bit back a question before it slipped out, remembering how she had been stopped earlier. This earned her an eventual smile from Jessica.
“You learn fast,” she said. “I like you. I’m the head of a certain organization which would benefit immensely from the cessation of Daniel Lee’s existence in this country’s underground. Tiffany knows this, and she tried to find me several months ago to offer me what I’m offering you, before she gave up and turned to you. Now I’m well and truly fed up with Lee, and I want to end him. You’re in a position to help me with that, and I’m in a position to help you achieve it.”
Taeyeon felt like her brain was going to burst. She was already juggling everything the case had thrown at her so far, and now there was this Jessica who wanted to insert herself into the mix. She didn’t know how much more she could take, and she started to dread everything else she was going to find.
Despite never having heard of Jessica by name, she was aware of some mysterious woman who ran a large up-and-coming organisation that wanted to take over the country in legal and illegal ways. She was known as determined, ruthless, cold, and very pro-active. If there was someone in her way, she would get rid of them two steps before they blocked her path. So being here, offering them an opportunity to get at Lee from another angle, was the next move in her game.
And it meant that whatever Jessica was planning would therefore be even bigger than what Lee was planning.
Taeyeon closed her eyes for a moment and gave herself a chance to calm her nerves. She had more than enough experience in her years of gaming to know that when a powerful character waltzed in and offered to solve a problem with a snap, then there was undoubtedly a catch, and usually it was unavoidable.
Jessica didn’t seem to care much whether Taeyeon was going to accept or deny her offer. Her eyes were focused on Tiffany again, with an expression she couldn’t decipher.
Tiffany glanced at Taeyeon, frowning, before matching Jessica’s gaze and masking her own expression.
“What’s the catch?”
Jessica just smiled.
Taeyeon and Tiffany waited, and waited, as unwilling to back down as Jessica was. Finally, Jessica sighed, her smile dropping, and she very briefly looked vulnerable before her face was blank. This time she met Taeyeon’s eyes.
“I need you to find someone,” she said quietly. “Just track her down and tell me where she is, and in return I will get you a contact in Lee’s organization who will help you with whatever you need, no problems. I know you’re one of the best private investigators in the country. Will you make a deal with me?”
They stared at each other for a long time. Taeyeon thought about the offer; for one thing, she didn’t yet know how hard it would be to find this person, how much time and effort it would take, but one of the first things that bothered her were Jessica’s intentions. She was reputed to be a heartless criminal, well-organized but as cold as any killer, and if Taeyeon were to tell her this person’s location, what would she do to them?
She decided to make her choice with all factors regarded in their extremes. Was she willing to track down a person Jessica wanted to murder, in exchange for access to the way of shutting down the biggest criminal in the country and solving the mystery brought to her by Tiffany? If Lee went unstopped, was there a chance that he would destroy too many innocent lives?
She took a deep breath.