(Originally posted 30 Nov 2014 on tumblr)
Even though they had known that the Hongs would file a suit against the station, YBS was still in an uproar over it. Eun-sang had been put in charge of organizing not only her own research and notes for the legal team but also the research and notes of every writer who had temporarily been conscripted to work on uncovering the scandal. Those writers all had their own programs and projects they needed to get back to, so PD Yoon had assigned Eun-sang to do the grunt work of weeding out duplicate information and double- and triple-checking everything against her timeline. VJ Han was similarly occupied with compiling corroborating media, while Writer Nam and Writer Ji were out of the office to hunt down more leads and dig up more material for the upcoming Sunday broadcast.
It was difficult to devote herself to her job completely when she had personal matters eating at her subconscious and distracting her. She hadn’t seen or heard from Hyo-shin since Monday night, and even Chan-young hadn’t heard from him since Tuesday morning, when Hyo-shin’s essentials had been moved into the guest room. At least he would be done with filming tonight—though Eun-sang was worried about what would happen when he no longer had A Daughter’s Revenge to keep him busy. She would be relieved when Tan was back in town and could help share the burden of worry.
Young-do also weighed on her mind. She still didn’t know what decision he had made regarding Ha-sun and the marriage proposal. It wasn’t as if there was a right choice, at least not in her mind. Whenever she thought about it, she was grateful all over again that the fate of money and power and conglomerates didn’t hang on the balance of her personal life. All she could hope for was that Young-do would make a decision he could live with.
Eun-sang was grateful the only pressing decision she had today was whether she was going to skip lunch to take a nap instead. She was still behind on sleep because of all the extra hours she had worked over the weekend, but she could go down to the archives, find an empty room, and—
Her cell phone rang, and Choi Young-do popped up on the display. Eun-sang briefly contemplated declining the call, but yesterday Young-do had texted her to ask if they could meet so he could ask if he ought to marry Ha-sun. Compared to that, what was so urgent that he would call her instead of texting again?
PD Yoon wasn’t in the room; VJ Han had his headphones on. Eun-sang took a deep breath and picked up her phone on the sixth ring. “I’m not in a private place right now,” she said instead of a greeting. “Do I need to be for this conversation?”
“Only if you can’t meet me for lunch.”
Young-do’s voice set her on edge. It was too quiet, too subdued, to be anything but a sign that something was terribly wrong. What had happened to him that he would sound so—so defeated?
“I’ll pay this time. How do you feel about tteokbokki?
It took a little longer than Young-do expected to find Eun-sang in the park. She was sitting on a bench with a plastic bag beside her, and her deep red coat stood out against the gold and brown mix of fallen and falling leaves. Her hair had been pulled back into a high ponytail, and the chill in the air had added color to her ears, cheeks, and tip of her nose. She looked cold, and Young-do wished that they had the kind of friendship where he could offer her his scarf and she might actually accept.
“If you had let me pay, we could be somewhere warm right now,” he said when he was close enough that he didn’t have to raise his voice.
Eun-sang glanced over at him, and whatever she saw in him made her expression soften. “Friends take turns paying for things.”
He didn’t want her to look at him like that—pity wasn’t something he wanted, and compassion wasn’t something he deserved from her, of all people—so he dropped onto the other side of the bench and pretended he hadn’t seen it. “Friends ought to know how much their friends eat. You think this is enough food?”
“Friends also don’t complain about their food before they even see it,” she shot back, and Young-do was relieved that she was willing to play along, at least for now.
Eun-sang untied the plastic bag, and in a few moments she had everything spread out between them: tteokbokki, kimbap, and mungbean pancakes. She had even gotten a bottle of cola for each of them. Her hands were bare, and Young-do had to stop himself from nagging her about buying gloves. She hadn’t worn any the night she came to the hotel to rescue him, either. In a few weeks it would too cold for her to be able to keep her hands warm in just her coat pockets.
She didn’t try to strike up a casual conversation; she just ate her share of the food and waited for him to speak. Young-do wanted to pretend this was nothing but a casual meeting between two friends, but he needed answers. He waited until she polished off the last of her food before he asked, “Why did you refuse the settlement money?”
Eun-sang didn’t freeze, but her eyes went wide with surprise. “How did you find out?”
“Someone’s trying to blackmail me,” he said. He put down his cola and stopped pretending he was hungry. “I don’t think you’re doing it, but I wanted—” Young-do swallowed and forced himself to keep going. “I found out that my father’s legal team always tried to reach a settlement with my victims. You were one of the only ones who refused.”
Moon Joon-young had also refused. Young-do didn’t know what to do about him, and he had told Sang-joong to leave Joon-young alone until he had some time to think. He had promised, once, to never bother Joon-young again, and he had meant it. Just as much as he had meant to carry that guilt for the rest of his life. But if Joon-young—
“I didn’t accept the money, because I knew if I did, we could never be friends,” Eun-sang said, and her quiet words were like a blow to his chest. “I had forgiven you already, and it seemed wrong to then turn around and accept money for something I didn’t hold against you.”
“But I said we couldn’t be friends.” He remembered that conversation clearly. He had tormented himself with it more than once over the last six years.
Eun-sang smiled easily. “We’re friends now, aren’t we?”
“We are,” he said, and that confirmation unlocked something inside him. It had been one thing to call them friends, and it was another to actually believe they were. He had been angry at himself to be so happy when she had shaken his hand on trying to be his friend; now, despite his feelings for her, he actually felt they had the start of something that would last longer than his infatuation.
He actually had hope that they could be important in each other’s lives.
Eun-sang wiped her hands off on a napkin and stuck them back inside her coat pockets. “So tell me about this blackmail.”
He sketched the broad details for her. Every now and then, Eun-sang asked questions, but she mostly listened. He watched her carefully when he described the videos, but she didn’t flinch or shrink away from him. She already knew what he had done, and there was a profound sense of relief, knowing that she had actually forgiven him.
“It sounds like you’re going to have to wait for another thumb drive,” Eun-sang said, “unless you can figure it out with what little information you have. Are there any suspects besides me and Joon-young?”
“You’re not a suspect.”
“But he is.”
“He could be,” Young-do admitted. “Anyone could. All they would need is the footage—whether they originally took the footage themselves or got it from someone else.”
Eun-sang bit her lower lip. “What about Ha-sun?”
“I need her more than she needs me. And I doubt she would risk it, not when I know something about her that could cause her a scandal.”
When he didn’t elaborate, Eun-sang let it go. She didn’t even scold him for the implied threat, either, which was a surprise. All she asked was, “So what are you going to do?”
“Try to figure out how I can win. And if I can’t win, how much I can salvage.”
Filming wrapped up an hour before broadcast, and Hyo-shin stayed behind with the cast and most of the production crew of A Daughter’s Revenge in order to watch the final episode’s broadcast. The video editors and PDs would make the final adjustments to the episode, but everyone else was free to relax. Many people curled up in out-of-the-way places to catch some sleep before the episode started, but Hyo-shin was at the point where he was too exhausted to do the same. It didn’t help that his thoughts were too keyed up to allow him to relax.
“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?”
Hyo-shin threw himself into helping pack up as much of the equipment as possible instead. Wearing out his body sometimes helped settle his mind, but he had been replaying his disastrous conversation with Rachel ever since it happened. Part of him understood why she could jump to the conclusion that he would blackmail Young-do; the rest of him was upset she thought he would do it.
It was a ridiculous thing to be worried about right now, especially since Assistant PD Go had reamed him out for Rachel’s appearance on set. He hadn’t tried to excuse it; he had only apologized repeatedly for allowing his personal problems to interfere with their production schedule. He tried to pretend he didn’t know that she made most of the hiring decisions for PD Kim when it came to the crew.
By the time everything was packed up into the production vans, the final episode was halfway over. Someone’s fanclub had sent celebratory food, so Hyo-shin snagged some of it, a beer, and a seat in the back of the room. He already knew what was going to happen, but it was always a fascinating experience to watch how everything came together on the screen, even when it was a barebones editing job. Seeing something he had helped create come to life on the television was one of the few times he had ever felt true satisfaction, like everything was right in the world. Like this was his world.
But not this time. Every scene that went by in A Daughter’s Revenge was accompanied by dread, which whispered that this could be the last time he ever got to work on set. His father had attempted to kick him out on the streets, sever his relationship with his therapist, and interfere with his friendships. What else could the attorney general do to punish his wayward son?
What little food Hyo-shin ate sat like cement in his stomach. Against his better judgment, he got a second beer when he was finished with his first and nursed it the last ten minutes of the broadcast. It helped him relax a little, enough that when the final credits rolled, he could shout and cheer with the rest of the team and smile while everyone shook hands and hugged each other over a job well done.
It took another hour for everyone to finally leave. Hyo-shin decided to leave his car at the studio again and catch a taxi—between his lack of sleep and the beer, it would be foolish to get behind the wheel. He gave the driver his address, positioned his backpack between his head and the window, and shut his eyes. Sleep didn’t come, but he was able to rest for a while, and that brought a small measure of relief. He didn’t have anything to do until the Mega Entertainment event the next night. Maybe a day in bed would make him feel a little more human.
“Sir? We’re here.”
Hyo-shin straightened up and rubbed at his eyes. “We are? Sorry.” He dug around in his wallet for the cash to pay the driver and then stumbled out of the taxi.
It wasn’t until the taxi pulled away from the curb that Hyo-shin realized he had given the driver the wrong address. He was standing in front of his old apartment building, the one that had been cleared of everything he owned.
This wasn’t his home anymore; it wasn’t his haven against his parents’ expectations. He was in almost the complete opposite direction of Yoon Chan-young’s home in relation to the studio.
Something dark and twisted welled up inside of him, threatening to split him apart at the seams. For a moment, Hyo-shin thought he might get sick, but—to his own surprise—he started laughing instead. He had spent three days in a barely controlled panic over losing his apartment and moving in with Chan-young, but he still went and gave the wrong address anyway. What kind of idiot would make that mistake?
Lee Hyo-shin, apparently.
He clapped his hand over his mouth to muffle his ragged laughter, but the people who passed him on the sidewalk still gave him a wide berth. By the time he flagged down another taxi, he was in tenuous control of himself.
The taxi driver gave him a concerned look in the rearview mirror once Hyo-shin was in the back seat. “Are you all right?”
Hyo-shin wiped at his eyes on reflex, but there weren’t any tears left to clear away. “I’ll be fine,” he said, but he was almost certain the driver didn’t believe him. It was just as well—Hyo-shin wasn’t sure he believed it, either.