10; Glacial 
“Okay, I know it’s been a while since we spoke and things aren’t great between us right now, but I can totally explain.”
Taeyeon adjusted herself on the hospital bed, trying to ease the tension in her back muscles while maintaining the glare directed at Hyoyeon.
“Yes, it’s been a long time,” she said. “Too long. Almost any period of time is too long. You can start by telling me why we got blown up when we went to the location you suggested.”
“That was totally not my fault,” Hyoyeon said immediately, raising her hands. “I had no idea that was going to happen. I like that café; I go there often. I thought it would be nice to meet up there so I can get a slice of my favourite cheesecake while we talked. I didn’t know it would blow up in your face!”
“Yeah, well, your cheesecake must have clouded your mind, because that place was closed.”
Hyoyeon frowned. “Closed? But it doesn’t close until much later than the time we arranged to meet. That’s odd…”
Taeyeon sighed. She closed her eyes, relaxing her body, and said, “Give me all the possible information you have on that place. Who owns it, who goes there, anything that could lead to a connection. I don’t even care what the connection is, just bring me something. If they have a barista who’s the third-removed cousin of the Dalai Lama, tell me.”
“Since when did I become your slave?” asked Hyoyeon, crossing her arms.
“Since you nearly got me killed,” Taeyeon replied. She opened her eyes slightly. “Look, I’m trusting you. You could be lying to me. I’m going to make my decisions based on the chance that you’re really just a confused journalist who means well, despite your association with Daniel Lee and your tendency to send me in the direction of bombs. I’m choosing to believe that blowing people up isn’t really your style. You always seemed a little nicer, in my opinion. Just a little.”
Hyoyeon grimaced. “Okay, okay. I’ll put together the information on the café. Speaking of Lee, do you want to talk about what I originally called you there to talk about?”
“I’m going to guess it was something along the line of Daniel Lee’s big plan to take over the world, right?”
“That’s your guess?”
“It’s the only thing that makes sense right now. A lot of people seem eager to stop him. He must be planning to do something that would affect a wide range of people otherwise he wouldn’t have a whole crusade out for him.”
“A lot of people?” Hyoyeon echoed, intrigued. “Who else is trying to stop him? Care to drop a few names?”
“You’re too much of a journalist, Hyoyeon,” Taeyeon sighed. “Is that what you were going to tell me? Lee is trying to get rid of all of his competition by becoming the top criminal?”
“More or less,” Hyoyeon said vaguely. “You’re not in a great mood right now, and that’s understandable. We’ll talk more later, okay?”
“Sure. Just get me that information about the café.”
When Hyoyeon was gone, Taeyeon contemplated. She was becoming a little grumpy with the way this case was going, and risking carelessness. She took a deep breath, and made herself relax fully.
The thing that frustrated her most, other than Tiffany in general, was the pace at which she was able to get information. It was slow, excruciatingly so, like a giant mass of ice barely beginning to sweat. It wasn’t as if all of her cases had been quick and easy, but this one seemed especially adept at doing nothing much at all. Yet it seemed to hold a lot beneath the surface. It was easy to summarize it as ‘Lee’s plan to be the biggest villain, everyone wants to stop him for whatever reason’ but that really was only the surface. There was still all the meat inside, about how and why and when and how to stop him without one or more people getting killed. Too many times, they had gotten close to that line. The shooter and the explosion at the café; were they the same person? The writer of the messages in lipstick, was that the same person too and why did she feel so oddly that Yoona was somehow involved?
And now Taeyeon needed to help Jessica with that little case before they could get a step further in the direction of Lee’s operation. That didn’t leave her with much else to do outside of that. She didn’t like that she had to waste time on this when they were probably pressed for time, but it was the only way to get through that door and right into Lee’s system.
Taeyeon twisted around on the bed, trying to adjust herself again. This hospital was starting to annoy her. She wanted to go home and take off the stupid neck-brace so that she wasn’t such an invalid anymore. And even if she had to continue the investigation while lying in her bed, at least she would feel comfortable returning to her element; less face-to-face interaction.
Tiffany was about to be discharged, and Taeyeon was sure that she could convince the doctors to set her free too, even if she did have to keep the neck brace on.
Taeyeon reached for her new phone, and picked up her spare pair of glasses that Sooyoung brought her earlier. Once she was settled again, she put on her glasses and opened the e-mail app on her phone.
No new messages; she made a grim line with her lips before tapping to compose a new message. This one she sent to Sunny, the informant who was quickly becoming her strongest connection to the person who was most likely trying to kill her on Lee’s orders. She listed the information on the lipstick again and the trace to Yoona, and pondered for a moment. Mentioning that she felt inclined to investigate Yoona based on instinct and an abstract dream didn’t seem like it would do much good for her reputation, so she left it out and said instead some basic vague statement about the strong possibility of a link.
The door opened and Tiffany came in, looking fresh and more energetic than she had since they arrived at the hospital. The effect of the explosion and the stress of the case had taken their toll on her usual level of brightness, but a few nights of good sleep clearly provided good reparation.
“Hello,” Taeyeon greeted her, and smiled. “So, what’s the verdict?”
“I’m free to go,” Tiffany replied. She went to sit on the edge of the hospital bed that had been hers, and looked at Taeyeon intently. “I asked what they thought your chances were and they didn’t seem enthusiastic about releasing you. Maybe you could talk them into letting you leave.”
Taeyeon scoffed as her heart sank with disappointment. “If they said no to you, I doubt I’d have much more of a positive effect.”
Tiffany tilted her head to one side. “Oh? Why do you think that?”
“Because,” Taeyeon mumbled, barely conscious of what she was about to say, “You’re an amazingly gorgeous person. Just by flashing a smile, you have the kind of influence that could make world leaders cancel international assaults. So if they said no to you, I surely don’t stand a chance.”
She knew Tiffany was frowning and she tried her very hardest not to look up from the screen of her phone. She touched the screen repeatedly and shakily with no intent, causing her to add a postscript to the e-mail that went along the lines of ‘aosibfpihebgerslndf<MSf qiwuj’.
Finally she heard Tiffany move, but still jumped when she realised that Tiffany was standing next to her bed and staring at her.
“Do you really have such low self-esteem?” Tiffany asked. She didn’t say it cruelly or harshly, simply curiously, as if she really wanted to know. “Because I would have to disagree.”
Taeyeon blushed. She blinked at Tiffany – she wasn’t even aware that she had given in and diverted her gaze from her phone until then – and wondered what to say. Theoretically an answer to the question would suffice but Taeyeon found herself thoroughly incapable of organising her thoughts into any kind of usable manner.
In the end all she came up with was, “Oh?”
“If you base your opinion solely on looks,” Tiffany began, “then you should be aware that you are a beautiful woman, Taeyeon. Just because we don’t look the same doesn’t make me better-looking than you. Furthermore, regarding my influence, I don’t think you realize the effect you can have on someone. I know you think you’re just awkward – okay, you are pretty awkward – but you have an intelligence and capacity for comfort that makes me feel comfortable even though you might think you failed at a social interaction. And you’re funny, too.”
Taeyeon stared at her. Her brain was in total shutdown. There wasn’t even a mess of incoherent thoughts or the noise of panic, only emptiness. And Tiffany.
Where was all this coming from? Maybe this was finally the sign she had been looking for since Tiffany arrived. Some indication that Tiffany was at least interested her; although this was perhaps even more than that. Certainly the look on Tiffany’s face was one Taeyeon had not seen before. Her expression made Taeyeon sure that she was being sincere, which left her with an absent thought of all the other expressions having held some edge of falseness. Tiffany was hiding a lot, and sometimes Taeyeon wasn’t sure if that showed in her behaviour or if she just imagined it, but right now as she said these things to Taeyeon there was no doubt about their strength and solidity.
Tiffany smiled at Taeyeon’s silent reaction. “I still want us to be close, Taeyeon. No matter what happens in this case. Okay?”
That was a big ask. It was risky to say something like that now, when the case was taking so many turns and Tiffany was looking more and more suspicious. So Taeyeon cursed her initial instinct to just say yes and stay friends with Tiffany even when the truth was revealed about Lee and her involvement and what she was really after. Because the times when they were just two people developing a connection – not two people on potentially opposite sides of a dangerous mess – those times when they were getting to know each other made Taeyeon feel like the heart attack she got from socialising might not actually be the end of the world. And most of those times, she was able to pretend Tiffany was definitely not hiding some dark secrets and lying to her. Perhaps because it was becoming clearer at this moment that some things Tiffany hadn’t lied about, and those things were the times when they were becoming friends.
Taeyeon’s head was spinning as expected. She was getting far too used to it.
“Okay,” she said, completely uncertain of what else she could possibly say.
Tiffany smiled again. “Good.”
Good. That was yet to be seen. But it sure felt good to Taeyeon, which made her worried. She decided that at some point she was going to have to stop this back-and-forth thinking in her head because it was getting her nowhere, and she really wanted to go somewhere.
“Um,” she said, regaining control, “So, you can just call Sooyoung to take you back to your hotel, if you like. Even if I manage to convince the doctors to release me, it will probably be on the grounds that I stay one more night.”
“Okay,” Tiffany said. She still had a warm look in her eyes that made Taeyeon unable to cease blushing.
The sound of someone clearing their throat captured their attention. Sooyoung stood with her hand raised to knock on the open door, and grinned.
“No need to call me,” she said, lowering her arm. “Although I am sorry to interrupt.”
“Oh, hi.” Tiffany was the first to respond, sounding surprised and looking awkward. “How long have you been there?”
Taeyeon stared at Tiffany. For one thing, they were clearly having the exact same thoughts, but also Tiffany was blushing and Taeyeon found that utterly awe-inspiring.
“Long enough,” Sooyoung answered smoothly. She stepped inside. “I’ll give you a ride whenever you’re ready. As for you,” she continued, turning to Taeyeon, “I have news. Yuri has arrived safe and sound, and I sent her out on the first part of her job. She said she’ll find time to visit you later, but she wanted to get into it right away.”
“That’s nice,” Taeyeon said. “Thanks.”
There was a beat of silence. Tiffany shuffled her feet, and started to gather her things.
“I’ll just get ready so we can go.”
She disappeared into the bathroom, and Taeyeon knew instantly what Sooyoung’s expression would be. She was right.
“Don’t even bother,” Taeyeon said immediately, trying her hardest to look suitably menacing while wearing a neck brace and lying on a hospital bed. “From now on, all comments about me and Tiffany are strictly off-limits.”
Sooyoung raised an eyebrow. “You and Tiffany, eh? Didn’t realise you were an item now.”
Taeyeon rolled her eyes. Sooyoung laughed.
“Okay, okay. Starting now, I’ll give you a break.”
“Thanks,” Taeyeon said, with true gratefulness. Teasing was the last thing she needed in the middle of this case. “So, you got my message about Jessica Jung’s request?”
Sooyoung nodded. “All set for your little quest. Do you want to start it while you’re still in hospital or try to get out first? I heard you say you think you’ll be here for another night either way, maybe you should rest now and wait until tomorrow.”
Taeyeon sighed. “I suppose it would be best to get the hospital out of the way. I’ll monitor everyone through e-mail.”
Reminded of e-mail, she lifted the phone in her hand again and erased the random gibberish, feeling embarrassed. Once it was done, she sent it to Sunny.
“Oh, how about that meeting with Yoona?”
Sooyoung shrugged. “Haven’t heard back from her yet. She’s hard to contact – she has a press manager now.”
They pondered quietly for a while, each turning over the facts of their situation in their heads, wondering how all the parts could possibly fit together. Eventually the bathroom door opened again and Tiffany stepped out.
“Ready to go?” asked Sooyoung, already heading towards the door.
“Yes,” Tiffany said. Then she seemed to hesitate for a moment.
She went over to Taeyeon, and gave her arm a squeeze. Taeyeon’s arm became very warm for a moment and her eyes widened even though she tried to stay calm.
“Hopefully I’ll see you out of hospital tomorrow,” said Tiffany softly, keeping her eyes locked on Taeyeon and holding a now familiar smile. She leaned closer slightly. “And I’m sorry for driving you crazy,” she whispered, “I’d like to get that sorted out too.”
Tiffany winked. Taeyeon felt as if she wasn’t even alive anymore and nothing around her was real. She could have been in space for all she knew. Tiffany stifled a laugh before letting go of Taeyeon’s arm and giving her a little wave.
Taeyeon didn’t even process Tiffany and Sooyoung’s departure until the room was dead silent again, and she let herself start breathing again.
She felt a strong urge to swear at herself loudly and repeatedly.
Before she had even fully recovered, her phone rang. She composed herself and stretched to reach it, once again feeling hatred towards her neck brace.
“Detective, it’s Jessica Jung. I understand you’re still in hospital but Tiffany has been discharged. What kind of indication can you give me on time frame for the task I’ve given you?”
Taeyeon raised her eyebrows. “You move quick. I’m hoping to be released tomorrow, and I’ve been advised to wait until then to begin the search.”
“Alright,” Jessica said, and there was a tone in her voice that sounded almost like solace.
They both stayed on the line without speaking, until Taeyeon decided to express her thoughts.
“You know, I read somewhere that no one ever hires a detective to solve their mystery. They already know the answer. They hire a detective to show that their mystery is unsolvable. Is that what you’ve done? You don’t want me to find her, because you don’t want to face her; you want me to prove that she can’t be found, so that you don’t ever have to face her.”
Jessica seemed to absorb this comment for a moment. “Do you even know what you’re talking about? How dare you assume my emotions regarding this task -”
“I’m not completely idiotic,” Taeyeon interrupted, surprised at her own daring. “You gave me all her personal details and I’ve done a sweep of more basic sources. She’s your sister, and you feel a lot of guilt about something, and a lot of pain.”
“Just find her,” Jessica said, her voice as sharp and cold as a shard of cut-throat ice. “Don’t analyse me and don’t overstep your boundaries. Just find her.”
The line went dead, and Taeyeon was relieved that she didn’t end up dead too.