(Originally posted 23 Nov 2014 on tumblr)
Rachel arrived a little before noon at the studio where the final scenes for A Daughter’s Revenge were being filmed. Min-ah trailed behind her, hauling a cartload filled with energy drinks, protein bars, and an assortment of whatever other snacks she had managed to purchase in the thirty minutes Rachel had given her to buy it all. The assistant hadn’t asked any questions about the sudden decision to drop everything at work and go to the studio; Rachel hoped she assumed this was yet another effort to court Moon Chae-won.
Even if Min-ah wasn’t the one reporting to her mother, someone else on her team was. One way or the other, Esther would find out that Rachel had abruptly left work. It would be easier to explain if Esther believed this was about the clothing line Rachel was supposed to pitch to the board and not about tracking down Lee Hyo-shin.
Rachel pasted on her polite smile and cheery attitude while she helped Min-ah set up their food in an out-of-the-way corner. Once that was finished, she scooped up some food, told Min-ah she was going to deliver the items personally to Moon, and then darted off in search of her real target before Min-ah could ask questions or object. The assistant could pass out food to the cast and crew on her own.
It didn’t take long to find Hyo-shin. He was hovering behind PD Kim, studying the camera feeds on the monitors in front of them. Rachel was too far away to hear what it was that they were murmuring to each other, but Hyo-shin eventually broke away and hurried over to adjust one of the lights fixtures. She couldn’t tell what difference it made on set, but the adjustment was to the PD’s satisfaction, and the filming resumed.
For a moment, Rachel was tempted to interrupt—it wasn’t as if that light were going to suddenly move if Hyo-shin wasn’t standing right next to it—but she kept tight control on her anger. It was a bright, hard knot just beneath her breastbone, and it took more effort than she cared to admit to keep her pleasant mask up.
How dare he think he could play with her feelings and then go after Young-do like a coward.
The instant the PD announced they were moving on to the next scene and the crew began transferring equipment to another set, Rachel shoved the food she had carried at Moon’s coordi, apologized for not being able to deliver it in person, and marched over to Hyo-shin.
The last two times she had seen him on set, he had looked worn down, but it was nothing compared to now. All of his edges were ragged—his scruff had crossed the boundary between intriguing and unkempt, there were dark circles under his bloodshot eyes, and random tufts of hair stuck out at unattractive angles. His dark red shirt was rumpled, and the sleeves had been pushed up to his elbows. He was entirely unprepared to see her standing in front of him when he looked up from the light fixture he had just broken down into moveable pieces.
“Rachel?” His half-formed smile betrayed only confusion, which just made her angrier. Did he really think he could fake his way through this? “What are you doing here?”
“I need to talk to you. Now.”
He ran a hand through his hair, which did nothing to smooth it out. “I’m busy right—”
“Take me somewhere we can talk privately, or I will cause a scene that will get you fired.”
The surprise in his face pricked at her conscience, but she crushed it immediately. Hyo-shin was the one who had started all this. If he thought she would simply go along with his plan, he needed to be disabused of that notion.
It was easy to recognize the moment Hyo-shin realized she was being serious: the confusion melted away, replaced by the blank, hard lines that she had last seen him put on when Young-do had surprised him at breakfast. “Give me a second,” he said.
She forced herself to be patient while Hyo-shin walked over to a middle-aged woman. They had a quiet, quick conversation where the woman looked annoyed and Hyo-shin ducked his head contritely. The woman finally waved him off, and Hyo-shin headed back to Rachel. He didn’t speak, just made a curt motion for her to follow, and then he walked off without bothering to see if she was behind him.
Rachel hurried after him, out of the studio and into the hallway. He was far ahead of her by then, opening doors and apologizing to whoever he had interrupted before moving further down the hall. He eventually found a room that he deemed private enough, and he held it open for her without a word.
The room was filled with an array of period clothing, from the royal clothes of Joseon kings down to bland peasant garb, all hung in a series of clothing racks that filled most of the room. Shelves filled with boxes of jewelry, shoes, and other accessories lined the walls. It was a crowded room, which made it a smart place to have a private conversation. All of the fabric would muffle their voices and make it difficult for someone to eavesdrop from outside.
Hyo-shin shut the door behind him, but he did not lock it. “I have twenty minutes. What’s so important you’d threaten my job on the last day of filming if I didn’t speak to you right now?”
“Blackmailing Young-do. What’s your motive this time?”
He stared at her. “I haven’t blackmailed him. I haven’t had time to blackmail him. I’ve been on set since Tuesday morning.”
“You think I’m just going to believe you?”
“It’s the truth.”
Rachel scoffed at that. “You have a history of blackmailing him. And after breakfast last week, I think you might—”
“Did he tell you what I blackmailed him for in high school?” His voice was quiet, but there was a sharpness to it that made Rachel pause.
“That doesn’t matter. What matters is that you—”
“I spent the better portion of my second year of high school being suicidal,” Hyo-shin said. There was a tremor in his voice that she tried to ignore. “The only person who noticed how my life was spiraling out of control was Lee Bo-na. She didn’t know how bad it was, but she cared enough about me to notice. My parents didn’t even know anything was wrong until they got a call from Tan about my suicide attempt.”
Rachel steeled herself against the sympathy that was threatening to creep in. “What does that have to do with blackmail?”
“The first time I blackmailed Young-do, it was with video of his father’s mistress. I didn’t want him to choose Yoon Chan-young as his next bullying target. Bo-na—it was for her. It was the only thing I could think of to repay her for caring about me. In exchange, he made me pick his next target for him. I picked Moon Joon-young.”
She didn’t remember much about Joon-young. She had a vague impression of glasses, but the only remarkable thing she could recall was how long he had lasted in school despite Young-do’s bullying. There had been one time when Young-do had flipped him onto the ground, but that might have been someone else.
What had it been like for Hyo-shin to watch that for almost a year and know he had picked Joon-young for it?
Rachel shoved that thought aside. “And the second time?”
“I didn’t have anything on him. I lied because I was desperate. I needed space to breathe, because every time I went to the school roof I thought about what my body would look like on the sidewalk after I jumped.” He smiled then, but it was the kind of smile that made her want to turn away. She didn’t want to see him like this, not even if she had arrived here determined to keep him from hurting Young-do. “I’m the one who started the outlines.”
Her throat had gone dry somewhere in the last few moments, and she felt that knot of anger in her chest slowly starting to undo itself. “I saw you drawing them a couple times.”
“I saw you, too,” he said. The words hung between them for a few seconds before he added, “I haven’t blackmailed Young-do since then. I don’t have the moral high ground for it.”
“You need moral high ground for blackmail?”
Hyo-shin ignored the question. “Are you done?”
“Why did you change your phone number?”
There it was again—that subtle change in expression and demeanor that said Hyo-shin had shut some part of himself down. His smile turned brittle around the edges when he pulled out a phone she didn’t recognize from his back jeans pocket. It looked cheap. “My parents have disowned me, Rachel. I didn’t know they had cut off my phone service over the weekend. I got this phone on Monday.”
Rachel didn’t want to believe him. The attorney general, Lee Chan-hyuk, was the eldest of the Lee brothers. Hyo-shin was his only son. Hyo-shin was supposed to be his heir. Hyo-shin was supposed to lead the family in the far-off day when Chan-hyuk finally died. For him to disown his own son—
“Don’t put that much faith in my value, Rachel. I could be a liability for you in the end.”
“Why didn’t you give me your new number?”
“Because the idea of telling all of my contacts that I had a new number and getting barraged with questions was enough to make me sick. I only gave the number to my friends, my therapist’s office, and my job.”
“I’m not a friend?” It sounded petulant. Rachel refused to take the question back, no matter what it had cost her in pride.
Hyo-shin’s smile faded. “My friends don’t tend to threaten to get me fired.”
That hurt more than she expected it to. She must not have controlled her expression well enough because Hyo-shin swore under his breath and dragged a hand over his face.
“Rachel, I can’t do this right now. I’m not in the best shape to handle—whatever we are. Whatever this is. Can we talk later?”
Suspicion whispered inside her, and Rachel wasn’t sure what she ought to do. If it were true, if Hyo-shin had been disowned by his parents over the weekend, then wouldn’t blackmailing Young-do be a quick and easy way for him to get money? It wouldn’t be a substitute for his family’s wealth, but it would make the short term far more stable for him.
“I wanted to warn Young-do that the man who used to beat him might be back in his life.”
“I’m available this weekend,” she said, “if you have the courage to text me with your new number.”
“We’ll both find out on Saturday, then.”
Rachel kept herself from saying anything scathing and headed for the door. She was just about to leave the room when Hyo-shin’s voice caught her.
“I don’t know who’s blackmailing Young-do or why, but whatever he does, tell him he needs to stay away from Joon-young.”
She glanced back at him, surprised at the demand. The tension in Hyo-shin’s shoulders kept her from reminding him that she wasn’t a messenger he could just give orders to. “Why?”
“Because I want to believe he has done at least one good thing in his life, or I might actually hate him for real.”
“Last week you said he had done two good things.”
“That was before I realized he was still in love with Eun-sang.”
Rachel’s fingers curled around the doorknob. “Don’t worry. I’ve already yelled at him about that.”
“Good.” The smile Hyo-shin gave her was too sharp for actual gratitude. “I’ll text you soon.”