A/N: This is technically a sequel to Brainless, but I don’t suppose it’s necessary to have read Brainless. But there you go.
Blood could be a pain to clean. Sometimes it got under her nails and she would have to get out the little nail brush and scrub away at it for several minutes. It was such an unfortunately long time, but it had to be done. This time, however, it would have to wait.
Taking care to avoid the red-soaked areas, she rifled through the unconscious man’s pockets. A wallet, containing the appropriate identification and a hodgepodge collection of loyalty cards from cafés and fast food restaurants, two credit cards, and fifty dollars in cash. From the very back of the wallet, she tugged free a small dog-eared photograph. A little girl. She replaced it, and pocketed the wallet.
In another pocket she found the keys to the silver BMW parked outside. She returned it, not caring about her fingerprints all over this guy’s belongings. These people would not be calling the police when they realized what had been stolen. Taking his credit cards and identification would be just annoying enough to piss him off for a few days. A cursory search of all other pockets revealed nothing, and she rose to prepare for her departure.
The door leading to the office behind her clicked shut, and she saw Tiffany. Dangling from one hand were Taeyeon’s own car keys.
“You almost left these in there,” said Tiffany, coming closer. “They must have fallen out of your pocket when he tackled you. Luckily for you I kept searching the office while you finished off our party crasher out here. Are you done?”
“As done as I’ll ever be,” she replied, and took the keys. “Did you find what we came for?”
Tiffany reached into her back pocket and pulled out a small black rectangular object. Taeyeon squinted at it.
Taeyeon shook her head. “It’s almost laughable sometimes how much influence a little thing like that can really have over such blood-thirsty criminals. Alright, let’s get out of here.”
“So I was thinking,” Tiffany started as they got into Taeyeon’s car, “we sell this to the guy who hired us, and then we use that money to get a new TV.”
Taeyeon rolled her eyes and turned the key in the ignition. “That’s not really high on the list of priorities.”
“Not on your list, obviously. We can do it, though. We can afford it with this money. We’ve needed it for so long; I can’t watch that screen anymore with that big blue line going through it. It’s driving me crazy.”
“You’re already pretty crazy,” Taeyeon muttered. She kept her eyes on the traffic ahead of them.
“Hey.” Tiffany sounded stern. There was a soft whirr of a window being lowered and Taeyeon glanced, frowning, to see Tiffany dangling their prize out the window. She almost jammed her foot on the brakes before recovering and carefully pulling over to one side, turning off the car. Then she undid her seatbelt and turned.
“What the hell are you doing?”
Tiffany raised an eyebrow. “What do you think?”
“Is this really about some stupid television?”
Tiffany pouted. “Baby, come on, it’s just a TV. And it’s almost Christmas; we can get one on special.”
Taeyeon blinked. “You’re pouting and you called me ‘baby’. How desperate are you for this TV? Jesus, it’s just a TV.”
“Then why is it such an issue for you?”
“For me? You’re the one threatening to throw our business out the window of a moving car.”
“Because you’re making such a big deal about this!”
“I’m not doing anything! You’re really overreacting.”
“Exactly, you’re not doing anything. Do you even care?”
“About a TV? Honestly, no. I don’t even watch it.”
“Then you won’t mind if I get us a new one.”
“Look, if we were rolling in cash I wouldn’t blink twice. But we’re not. We have to budget wisely if we want to follow the plan.”
“Taeyeon, it’s been two years. Has anything in your plan worked?”
There was a brief silence. Tiffany sighed and closed her window. She put the small flash drive back into her pocket.
“I don’t mean to diminish your ambition,” Tiffany said. She cupped Taeyeon’s face in her hands. “Maybe you just need to change the plan a little. Be more flexible.”
Taeyeon slapped her hands away and started the car, focussing on the street to find a space to merge into the traffic. Tiffany sighed again, flopping back in her seat and tugging at her seatbelt. She knew when it was hopeless to try to talk to Taeyeon, and this was such a time. Speeding precariously through the city did little to concern Tiffany, because this happened often and she knew that even though Taeyeon was angry, she was still an excellent driver. She decided to watch the streets they passed through, the layers of frost on the surfaces, the cloudy breathing of passers-by, and the odd early Christmas decorations in shop windows.
They reached the docks soon enough, only having to sit through the tense silence for a short while, before Taeyeon settled into her usual cool exterior and held out her hand as she brought the car to a stop. Tiffany dropped the flash drive into her palm, keeping her eyes pinned on the trio of suit-wearing gentlemen standing in front of them, and the large black SUV at their backs.
At the click of Taeyeon’s seatbelt, Tiffany tore her gaze away from the men and looked at her. Taeyeon was clearly assessing them before getting out of the car and she made no attempt to hide it from them. For their part, the men simply stared back blankly.
Tiffany reached over and placed her hand on Taeyeon’s knee. The men outside would not have been able to see as she gave a small squeeze. Taeyeon showed no response at first, and then she inhaled deeply and let out a slow sigh before getting out of the car.
The exchange went smoothly. Though they had never done any work for or with those men before, Taeyeon had a reputation, and it was a very useful reputation to have. Though in her time of service to her previous employer she was known simply as a lackey, it was generally well-known that even a lackey can pick up a thing or two from the most ruthless man in the country. And so, even though none of the other criminals in this town had personal experience with Taeyeon and many had never even met her boss, they knew enough to consider keeping things civil rather than starting out on the open offence.
Tiffany watched as Taeyeon endured the polite chat, or perhaps the leader of the trio was making an attempt at posturing. It was inevitable that the kind of people they worked with would try to imply their authority over Taeyeon, though it was clearly just a force of habit and so Taeyeon paid little mind to it as long as it didn’t delay her work too much. Soon enough the chat was over and she held out the flash drive. The leader took it and was promptly given a small tablet computer by one of his lackeys. He inserted the drive into the USB port and tapped at the screen a few times. Then he looked up at Taeyeon without expression, and turned off the device before handing it to his lackey with the flash drive still inserted. With one hand he reached into his jacket, and quickly pulled out an envelope. Taeyeon accepted it and they bowed briefly to one another, before they all turned on their heels and went their separate ways.
Taeyeon tossed the envelope onto Tiffany’s lap as she got in, and started the car. They pulled away from the docks first, and in the rear view mirror they saw the SUV start its engines. The deal was a success.
They drove on in silence again, surrounded once more by the softening weather, the air not quite as tense as before, and Tiffany gauged the distraction of business had cooled Taeyeon’s temper enough.
“Do you really want that TV so much?” asked Taeyeon quietly as they stopped at a light.
Tiffany reached out and gently massaged the back of Taeyeon’s neck. “No. I want you more.”
Taeyeon rested a hand on Tiffany’s knee, keeping her eyes forward. “We can go get one tomorrow.”
“You don’t have to do this just because we talked about it earlier.”
“It’s not the only thing we talked about, though, is it?”
The light changed and Taeyeon’s hand returned to the gear shift. Tiffany watched her, and then she leaned closer and kissed her on the cheek, sliding her hand to Taeyeon’s shoulder.
“You’ll achieve it,” she murmured. “Your plan will work. I’m here with you.”
“You’re right, though. I need to be more flexible.”
Tiffany kissed her cheek again. “Just relax.”
Taeyeon slowed to a stop at another red light. “I can’t relax if you keep kissing me while I’m driving, you know.”
Tiffany grinned, and turned Taeyeon’s head to face her. She kissed her on the lips, gently. “Are we almost home yet?”
Taeyeon just smiled. She gazed at Tiffany for a long moment, and then she held up her hand. The lights from the streets, in the diminishing greyness outside, flickered over her skin, and made patterns over the thick scar running length-wise down her middle finger.
“This scar used to mean my life,” she said softly. “Without it I was nothing. I was trash and I was treated like it. When my boss took me in, he gave me this, and he told me a little story.”
She glanced up to see the green light above and returned her hand to the steering wheel. As she drove, she talked. Tiffany didn’t look away.
“Many years ago, there was a young man who was angry. He wasn’t smart, and he wasn’t handsome. He had no money, no family, no friends, and no lover. All he had were these two big, fat fists. And he was angry. He was mad. He was furious at everything and everyone. He used those fists to destroy faces, bones, and lives. He started small, with the local boys and their gangs, the kids who used to laugh at him all his life. One punch at a time, he ploughed his way through the bodies that stood in his way, moving up ranks he barely understood the consequences of. Somehow, without any plan, he became the head of one of the largest criminal organisations in the world.”
She shifted gears and took a slow turn.
“Then one day he was going about his business; he was no longer a young man, and now another young man wanted to challenge him. See, the boss man had developed a bit of a thing about honour. Honour amongst thieves, honour in family, and the way to defend that honour was by putting yourself on the line. This challenger wanted to take something that he had no right to. So the boss man took off his soft leather gloves, his tailored suit jacket, rolled up the sleeves of his dark silk shirt, and he beat that young man. He beat him, and bashed him, and killed him. That was how an honourable man dealt with those who wanted to end him. He always said that. He always said it was the answer.”
They reached their apartment building and Taeyeon eased the car through the entrance to the underground car park.
“That was the home I knew, the place I grew up in. Until recently, it was the only home I knew and I was fine with that. I didn’t think I would ever be offered any better, nor did I have the inclination to go searching for it myself.”
The car park was dark, with only a flickering light over the elevator on the far side, and as the car was switched off and its lights flicked out, they were plunged into blackness.
Tiffany felt the warmth of Taeyeon’s palm as it squeezed her knee, and slid onto her thigh. It was too dark in the car to see the blood under Taeyeon’s nails, but Tiffany remembered it was there.
“You’re my home now, Tiffany. And you’re more than I ever thought I could deserve. More than I ever imagined. A better home than I ever dreamed I could have.”
Soft lips pressed together in a kiss.
“We’re home now.”
Tiffany wasn’t above the use of the word ‘swooning’, and she thought it almost suited her right now. Her knees went weak, the core of her body turned soft and liquid, and she instinctively rested her hand on Taeyeon’s to twine their fingers together, feeling the slight roughness of that tiny bit of dry blood and the callousness of the past.
Two years ago, hearing words like this from Taeyeon was impossible. Taeyeon despised such conversation, expressing romantic feelings in such a flowery way, saying things that sounded like helplessness and love. A lot had changed over the past two years, but this change was one that was special to Tiffany; not because she found it so incredibly charming, but because she knew Taeyeon only ever bared this side of her to Tiffany. There was never a question that she could be like this with someone else. Taeyeon still viewed this behaviour as insecurity, but the difference was that she opened all her weakness to Tiffany and she would only ever allow it with one person. Only Tiffany.