Tunuyán was never a big city, but at least it used to be populated enough to be called that. Now, it's barely a town. The stories say the river used to be smaller, and there was more going on in the town (city, back then) than just the tiny diners by the side of the road. Sunyoung finds all the stories from before rather hard to believe -- Tunuyán has always seemed so gray and tiny, she can't imagine it being anything but the prison it is to her.
The diner is rather old, but not old enough to have been witness to Tunuyán's previous glories, just old enough to be rusty and in poor conditions. It's merely a job, but it's the only job Sunyoung's ever had and considering how everything in the town is decaying, she's pretty sure it's the only job she'll ever have. At least she's good at it -- she's good at smiling at customers even when she feels like she's wilting inside, she's good at balancing a billion trays. It's not what she's best at, but it's all she can manage given her condition so at least she's proud of herself for doing slightly better than just managing it.
They get quite a few customers because even though most vehicles pass them by too fast to even notice the neon signs, there's not that many towns left by the side of this particular highway. Saying they live in the middle of nowhere might sound exaggerated, but it's quite accurate, and it used to be a good thing. Having nothing around for miles and miles makes their city good for races, especially of the illegal sort, since no one really cares about their tiny corner of the world, but that's something Sunyoung tries not to think about anymore. The only reason anyone seems to stop here nowadays is because it’s one of the least polluted places near the mountains. There are no big cities with factories around, since Tunuyán was truly forgotten by humankind apparently, but it’s not such a bad thing. The sky isn’t entirely clear, because humans have ruined the atmosphere enough that Sunyoung doesn’t think there’s any place left on Earth that has a completely blue sky, green plants, fresh fruit. But it could be worse. At least there aren’t gigantic clouds of smoke, like in the big cities. Just the dust and everything that comes out of the vehicles as they quickly pass them by.
Modern cars might leave a lot of disgusting substances in the air behind them, but they barely make any noise, not even racers, so when Sunyoung hears a rumbling engine in the distance one Saturday at midnight, right when she's about to leave her shift, she's surprised, to say the least. It sounds like an engine in very poor conditions, like something old, and it makes her heart jump with something she can't quite identify. Excitement? Nostalgia? One of those, or a mix perhaps.
She could look outside, in the absolute darkness that reigns at this time of the night it would be impossible to miss car lights no matter how far away they might be. But she doesn't think about cars anymore.
Once upon a time, Sunyoung would have wondered and it would have been impossible for her to stay inside, but she's learned the hard way that being curious has a cost. It's safer to stay inside, it's safer to keep doing her job even if it's boring and it makes her feel like dying. Her dreams of seeing the world died a long time ago, and she can't waste all the effort it took to make her brain forget where it had buried them. The world is dangerous, and the creaking sound that accompanies her as she walks is a constant reminder of that.
The diner closes between midnight and six am because it's illegal to drive at night. Sunyoung locks the door, zips up her coat and starts to walk back home, doing her best to ignore the fact that even though it's half past midnight, the car sounds in the distance haven't stopped. The last thing she hears that night before falling asleep is an engine groaning, but she doesn't dream about cars, not anymore.
The mechanic shop is closed on Sundays, but Amber is always in there working on one thing or another, and Sunyoung likes it better when it's just the two of them in the tiny, dirty shop.
"I could hear you from behind the curtain, Sunyoung-ah, you shouldn't have let it get that bad," is the first thing Amber says to her, her hands on her hips as she shakes her head at Sunyoung's sheepish smile.
"I missed you too," Sunyoung replies, putting on her best smile so Amber will stop looking so disappointed.
"Come here, let me have a look," Amber says rolling her eyes fondly as she moves a bunch of stuff from a chair so Sunyoung can sit.
She's wearing a dress with high stockings because it's always easier to roll those down, which she does while Amber kneels in front of her, already looking for her oiling kit in her belt of tools.
"It wouldn't kill you to polish this baby like I taught you to once in a while, you know," Amber says, clicking her tongue as she sprays oil on Sunyoung's prosthetic leg and running a rag over it gently. "She's easy to upkeep, you wouldn't need me to do these things if you were nicer to her."
"I hate it when you treat it like a person, I swear you like my leg better than me," Sunyoung groans, leaning back on the chair.
"I made her with my own two hands, Sunyoung, she's my baby," Amber says, clutching her chest as if Sunyoung's wounded her mortally with her words.
Sunyoung huffs and lets Amber keep on working on her baby in peace, looking around the place. It keeps getting messier and messier as the years go by, and she's not sure how anyone in that place manages to ever find anything when they have body parts and car parts all mixed up. They're not all that different, but Sunyoung's pretty sure you can't use prosthetics on cars, no matter how advanced both things are by now.
In the corner, behind a big pile of junk, Sunyoung spots something that looks far older and rustier than the rest of the stuff surrounding it. It looks like an alternator, but a very old one, from back when they were still being made out of rectifiers. Sunyoung hasn't seen the kind of car that would use one of those in a very long time, and the one she saw was in a museum, so she's not sure why Amber would have something like that lying around. It may have something to do with the noises from the other night, but she's not gonna ask. She doesn't wanna know.
"See anything you like?" Amber asks, snapping her out of her thoughts. The way she's smiling at her, Sunyoung knows she caught her staring at the device.
She's not gonna ask. She doesn't wanna know.
"Was it you?" she ends up asking, because it's killing her and she needs to know at least this much.
"No," Amber grins even wider. "I just helped someone out a little, but I'm not the one being noisy at midnight, if that's what you're asking."
"What do they want? Are they -- are they running?" Sunyoung asks, the words burning her lips as she gets them out because god, she shouldn't ask.
"God no," Amber laughs, but cuts it short because she can see the way Sunyoung's looking at her, her lip trembling slightly. "Not like you're thinking, at least. But you don't actually wanna hear about this, do you?"
Yes. Everything about it, Sunyoung wants to know every detail, who's behind the noises, what kind of car they're working on, why. Where are they going. Will they see the world behind the gloomy mountains, or will they take the highway south, go to the end.
"No," she shakes her head, pursing her lips. Amber nods shortly and goes back to work.
By the time she leaves the shop, her leg isn't creaking anymore. It's kind of unnerving because it had been rusty for so long that Sunyoung had sort of got used to the noise keeping her company. She forgets about it when she's back at work, with customers being loud and the kitchen sounds even louder sometimes, but then it's closing time again and she's left alone with this profound silence she hates so much. It's harder not to think too much when it's this quiet, and Sunyoung has too many dark corners in her mind she'd rather not visit.
The engine is quieter, so she doesn't actually hear it until the car is close enough that she can see the lights approaching. It can't be coming to the diner, everyone knows it's closed by now, and yet Sunyoung's finger hovers over the light switch. It's ten past midnight, she can give whoever's behind the wheel another ten minutes, maybe.
The lights keep getting brighter until suddenly, the car is parking right outside the diner, and Sunyoung's breath catches in her throat. It's an antique car that looks like it's seen better days, but it's working thanks to some mysterious magical forces, and Sunyoung can barely believe her eyes. She's so focused on the car, she forgets to look at the driver until she's knocking on the diner door.
Her blonde hair's on a messy bun at the top of her head, and she's got a coat way too big for her. She looks tiny, and Sunyoung blinks at her a couple of times before she realizes it's really her standing there, and her knocking means she probably wants to be let in.
"Can I help you?" Sunyoung asks, immediately going into waitress mode.
"Why aren't you closed?" Soojung says. She's got such an intense stare, Sunyoung feels like she probably knows the answer to her question better than herself.
"I saw you coming, and I thought you might need something," Sunyoung answers tentatively. Soojung raises an eyebrow at her, unconvinced. "Do you?"
"It's past midnight," Soojung replies, like that answers Sunyoung's question.
"I know," Sunyoung says. "You shouldn't be driving," she adds as a second thought.
Soojung laughs, and it's all too cryptic for Sunyoung to handle but it feels like Soojung has something she wants to say to her, or something she wants to hear from her -- she's not sure, but it just doesn't feel right to cut the tension and simply ask what the fuck Soojung is doing with that old car in the middle of the night.
"You shouldn't have kept the place open," Soojung says, brushing a few hairs off her face and tucking them behind her ear. "I'm leaving," she finally says. Something inside Sunyoung kicks off, like a countdown has started inside her head, a timer starting to tick that she can only hear. "This town is dead, and I wanna -- I have to get out of here."
Sunyoung's brain knows what's coming and it counts down the seconds until Soojung opens up her mouth again.
"Amber said, uh," Soojung hesitates, looking less than fully secure for the first time since she got out of her car. "I mentioned something about it to her, and she said you might be interested."
"In what?" Sunyoung asks. She's buying herself some time, that's all, because she knows exactly what she's being asked and she's always known the answer, but now that the time has come, she feels unprepared but also like this is all she's been getting herself ready for.
"In catching a ride," Soojung smiles. It's so dark around them, and yet her grin seems like an actual ray of sunlight in the middle of the night. She knows Sunyoung's gonna say yes.
"I don't have anything with me," Sunyoung says, checking her pockets as if by chance she might have brought along all her earthly possessions with her to work.
"You don't need anything," Soojung shrugs her shoulders, putting her hands in her own pockets.
"I don't have any cash," Sunyoung says.
"I have enough," Soojung says, looking like she's resisting the urge to roll her eye at her once again. "Come on, we don't have much time. They start monitoring in fifteen minutes, we need to be far from here once they start or we'll have to wait a whole other day."
Sunyoung stares back at her, thinking hard. She used to dream about seeing the world, but she doesn't anymore. The world is scary. Being adventurous costed her a leg and something more valuable, irreplaceable even. She's heard enough about how lucky she is to be alive after everything, how she should be thankful for it and how she should really take care of herself, not waste away what the universe let her keep.
But staying in Tunuyán is the real waste, she's known it all along. She wasn't made to stay put, not when there's so much to see and do. Not when the road is so big and it calls for her. The thick smell of asphalt, an engine rumbling under her. Every time she was on the road, her bones lingered to go further, to keep going until it was too late to turn back around. She wasn't planning on leaving, but she can't stay. She tried, she failed, and now Soojung is looking at her like this was the plan all along, like it wouldn't make any sense for her not to come.
"Let me lock up," Sunyoung says at last. Soojung nods, walking out the door. Sunyoung turns off all the lights, locks up the diner, leaves the key under the mat and gets in the car.
It's been two years, five months and three days since the last time she was in a vehicle. She closes her eyes, waits for the flashbacks to come and go. Her fingers go to her knee out of instinct, and it takes a moment until she can open her eyes again. She needs to leave, and if her only choice is Soojung and this car that looks like it might break down at any second, then she's gonna have to buckle up, toughen up and catch this goddamn ride.
"There are no seatbelts," Sunyoung notices, a hint of panic in her voice, but Soojung's already started the car.
"Yeah, there are seatbelts," she answers calmly, glancing at her. "They're in the trunk."
Sunyoung's eyes widen, but then she catches a glimpse of the neon lights on the side mirror and suddenly seatbelts aren't so much of a concern. The lights get smaller, and smaller, and the car may be making some worrying noises, but eventually the lights disappear and Sunyoung realizes she never said goodbye to anyone.
Then she realizes she’s left Tunuyán behind, and she has to close her eyes again and breathe deeply. Soojung sends another glance her way, and speeds up a little as they cross the bridge that marks the end of the urban area. The river is now on their right, and then it disappears too, but the mountains stay. Sunyoung doesn't know where they're going, but she's glad the mountains are still there because they have always represented everything that was right there in front of her but also too far to reach.
Maybe they'll go to the mountains. Maybe they'll see new ones. Either way, Sunyoung is free at last and the whole world is within her reach now.
Sunyoung wakes up a couple hours later. She’s not sure when she fell asleep, but the sun is rising, so it must have been a while ago. Soojung’s looking at the road, and she’s tapping her fingers against the wheel to the beat of a song that’s playing very softly in the background. In the dim pink light of sunrise, she’s beautiful -- her pursed lips, the curve of her nose, Sunyoung stares at all of it, taking the chance now that she can without getting glared at. For as long as she can remember, Soojung’s worn an eyepatch over her right eye, but it’s not any eyepatch. It’s a crafted little thing, embroidered so neatly it’s obviously been made with a lot of love and patience. It’s gorgeous, like every other inch of her face.
“Sooyeon made it,” Soojung says out of nowhere, startling her. “Ages ago, when she still lived with us.”
Sooyeon’s been gone for years, and Sunyoung, like everyone else in town, thinks she’s very likely dead somewhere. It’s not a particularly happy thought to have right now, because what happened with Sooyeon was basically this exact same thing that they’re doing. She got fed up, left town to go find a better place, and no one heard from her ever again. There’s a chance she succeeded, but leaving her family behind and never trying to contact them? It just sounds a lot like the tales are true, and there’s nothing in the south.
“Is that where we’re going?” she asks, regretting it the second it’s out of her mouth. She doesn’t think she’s allowed to ask, for some reason, as if she wasn’t on the same car, blindly letting Soojung take her wherever.
“There’s a place in the south,” Soojung says with her eyes steady on the road, as if there is any chance they’ll come across anything. It’s deserted out there, just dust and silence. It’s oddly comforting. “Sooyeon sent me a message, it’ll take a while for us to get there, but it’s a better place.”
She talks slowly, like she’s tired, and Sunyoung suddenly realizes she just drove through the night.
“I can drive, if you wanna sleep,” she offers, straightening up and eyeing the wheel, fingers itching at the mere thought of it. But Soojung glances at her leg, and she knows this old car has pedals and it’s probably not a good idea. “Or we could pull over, there must be a place around here somewhere that we can crash and get some sleep.”
“There is,” Soojung nods, glancing at her. “I have a friend who lives a couple hours from here, we’ll rest there, don’t worry.”
It hits Sunyoung then, that Soojung’s actually planned this. She knows where they’re heading and how long it will take to get there, and her plan probably contemplated Sunyoung not coming along, or the possibility of it, at least, so there’s not gonna be a lot for her to do if she leaves it up to her.
They stop at a tiny diner so they can use the toilet and stretch so they’re not so numb, and then they drive for god knows how long -- it’s past noon by the time Sunyoung spots a city ahead of them. Apparently a couple hours from here was metaphorical, but she wasn’t gonna complain. It’s been a quiet ride, and Sunyoung wants to ask about Soojung’s friend but she’s been silent for so long she’s afraid her voice will sound all funny if she speaks. Instead, Soojung breaks the ice.
“It’s gonna be cold outside,” she says, tapping the wheel absent-mindedly as she stares at the city, buildings getting bigger as they approach it. The mountains seem smaller here, but it’s an optical illusion, Sunyoung is pretty sure. Up north, the mountains are covered in dirt -- here, they used to be covered in ice, but it melted off a long time ago, and the excessive mining ruined the soil, stripping it of what little vegetation they had. They seem so much darker now, covered in dirt for the most part, the smoke from the big city covering chunks of them.
It used to be colder, but it’s still chilly when they step outside the car, Sunyoung putting an arm around herself instinctively. San Martín is way bigger than Tunuyán ever was, and there are people everywhere. It makes her uneasy, being so used to the solitude, but then she looks over at Soojung and knows she’s not the one who is worse with crowds between the two of them. The building she’s staring at is huge, and it’s got a lot of lights unnecessarily turned on, clearly a sign of power.
Soojung stares back at her for a second, her left eye blinking belatedly as if she’d been frozen momentarily, taken aback by the scenario. Then she moves, and Sunyoung follows her, starting to get used to the unspoken commands.
They enter the building, and Sunyoung has a sudden urge to reach out and grab Soojung’s hand, watching her shift on her feet as she eyes the desk, crowded by tall girls with long legs in short skirts, squeeze it a little, give her some reassurance. Instead, she tightens the arm she’s got around her own waist, nails digging above her elbow. Just when it looks like Soojung’s gathered the courage to go and face the intimidating secretaries, a voice rings over the endless chattering around them, and Sunyoung’s jaw nearly drops to the floor.
“Finally, Qian was getting worried,” Amber grins at them, coming out from behind a door Sunyoung hadn’t even noticed before. It’s absolutely ridiculous, and she has no idea how she could possibly be here, but Soojung’s face softens, and when Amber reaches them and throws an arm around her shoulders, Sunyoung watches her expression relax for the first time since they left. She still doesn’t know what Amber is doing here, but she’s not going to question it. “Long drive, kid? You look knackered.”
Soojung rolls her eye, but the pout she’s putting on seems to be hiding a grin.
“Can we see Qian now, please? I need lunch and a bed,” she says, finally cracking a smile.
A long time ago, Sunyoung used to see a lot more of Soojung’s smile -- she used to see a lot more of Soojung, in general. It makes her heart do something funny against her ribcage, seeing her look like a kid again, the usual stoic mask fading for a moment.
They used to be close, Soojung and her. Once, years ago, Sunyoung had thought they would get closer, because sometimes she would catch Soojung staring at her and it felt like there was something in the air. It was hard to tell because Soojung would never talk much about anything, especially not about herself, and there was so much she’d always wanted to ask her but had never dared. She’d been the new kid in town, showing up with a fallen from grace father, a rebellious sister, and a mother no one ever saw, making rumors fly around the tiny town in which nothing ever happened. After her mom had died though, Soojung had become even more closed off -- and then Sooyeon had left, and Soojung might as well have disappeared with her, even if she had technically stayed in Tunuyán.
Sunyoung didn’t know how her mom had died, why they’d left the big city, or why Soojung wore her eye patch. But she knew Soojung loved watching her race, and wouldn’t let anyone else hug her as tight as Sunyoung, and at the time, it had felt like that was enough.
Now she follows after her as Amber leads them towards an elevator that goes higher than Sunyoung’s ever been before, and she thinks it’s history repeating itself -- again, she’s not asking questions, because whatever Soojung is willing to share with her will be enough.
“Qian’s an old friend in the capital,” Soojung whispers while they ride the elevator, Amber standing there with her hands behind her back like this is all completely normal, ignoring Sunyoung’s pointed looks. “Her dad’s a big name, one of the few that doesn’t hope mine would just die already,” she adds after a pause, and there’s nothing in her tone that tells Sunyoung if she’s kidding or not, so she just nods along.
There’s a handsome man sitting at a desk that greets them as soon as they walk out of the elevator, putting down the phone he was rapidly spewing what sounded like ancient Mandarin into a few seconds ago.
“Soojung-ah, it’s been so long,” he smiles, and it’s all so familiar Sunyoung can’t help but feel slightly out of place. “Qian’s been waiting, go ahead.”
“Thanks,” Soojung nods with a grin, walking confidently towards the door behind him like she’s been here a billion times before.
Song Qian is tall and so strikingly beautiful Sunyoung doesn’t know how to stop staring at her. She hugs Soojung like she’s her prodigal child, but then she does the same with Sunyoung, and it’s the most comforting hug she’s received in a long time.
“Amber’s told me a lot about you, Sunyoung,” Qian says with a smile that makes her eyes crinkle. “And Soojung too, but I bet she doesn’t want me to say that.”
Soojung doesn’t reply, apparently too focused on examining the office, but Sunyoung can see her cheeks getting redder and she takes a mental note, just in case she needs to remember this later on.
“It’s, uh. It’s very nice to meet you,” Sunyoung says. Maybe she should act like she’s heard about her too, so it’s less awkward, but she’s not so sure lying is the best course of action ever, especially when she’s so bad at it.
There’s an awkward pause, because Qian is staring very intensely at her and Sunyoung’s never interacted with someone outside of her neighbors so this is a bit unsettling and she doesn’t know what to say about it.
“So lunch?” Soojung asks, breaking the silence at last, Sunyoung’s stomach making a noise of agreement.
“And a nap after, yeah, I got your list of demands,” Qian laughs, finally taking her eyes off Sunyoung, the sudden tension dissipating. Still, when they leave the office, Sunyoung can feel her glancing back, like she’s trying to read something that’s buried in the back of her neck. Soojung presses up next to her as they get back on the elevator, though, and that’s enough to put her mind at ease. If she trusts Qian, then so will Sunyoung.
Lunch is incredible, because Tunuyán had a lot of diners and they all served the same terrible food, but San Martín has real restaurants where everyone’s dressed up and though Sunyoung feels like everyone’s staring, the sight of food alone is worth all of it.
They talk around her as they eat, and she’s too busy realizing she’s starving and fixing it to pay attention. It’s not like she’d understand anyway, because it sounds like they’re catching up, Qian telling Soojung all about old friends Sunyoung’s never heard mentioned before, and it sounds like good news, in most cases. There’s a mention of another girl disappearing, and Qian doesn’t add like Sooyeon but Sunyoung can still hear it, and she knows Soojung can too, from the way her knuckles go white as she grips her fork.
Even though she’s barely listening to them, Sunyoung hears enough to know Qian doesn’t know they’re going south. At least, she doesn’t seem to know they’re going as far down south as Soojung implied. It’s probably a matter of safety, though Sunyoung isn’t sure whose safety is at risk here. Once they’ve gone through a meal bigger than any Sunyoung has ever faced before, Qian asking for everything they didn’t eat to be wrapped up so they can take it with them when they get back on the road, the guy who was outside her office shows up, whispering something in Qian’s ear before he leaves again.
There’s a certain tension between them, something about the way he puts his hand on her shoulder and squeezes imperceptibly, or how Qian shivers as he puts his lips a little too close to her ear -- Sunyoung’s never been one to judge, but it seems fairly obvious that Qian’s at the very least fucking her pretty secretary. She wonders how her dad feels about that, but it’d be unwise to ask. So much is forbidden in high society, it’s hard to keep up, but she’s sure this kind of mingling with lower classes is frowned upon, at the very least.
Apparently what he’d come to tell her was there’s a room ready for them to rest in, and though Sunyoung’s been biting her tongue to keep herself from asking any of the billion questions she’s got, the second they park outside a house, she can see Soojung’s eyebrows raise like she may have a few herself right now.
“Is this Qian’s place?” she asks in a whisper, and Soojung shakes her head, a playful smile on her face as Qian unlocks the door.
“It’s Yixing’s,” Qian answers, very evidently avoiding their eyes.
The secretary. It’s a feeling Sunyoung has, but then they’re being led through a hallway and there’s pictures on the walls which confirm it. It’s all rather sweet, in a weird way, and she feels bad about having been a little harsh on her judgement earlier.
It isn’t until much later, when they’re lying in bed, that Sunyoung feels it’s safe enough to ask. Truth is, even though they’re so far from home, in a place she’s never been to, surrounded by strangers -- being inches away from Soojung’s half asleep form, watching her breathe evenly in the dim sunlight that filters through the blinds, it’s the safest Sunyoung’s ever felt. Warmest. Happiest.
“How did you know Qian?” she asks softly, quiet enough that she won’t wake her up if Soojung has fallen asleep already. She shifts, eyes fluttering open, and Sunyoung holds her breath for a second when she meets her gaze.
“She was Sooyeon’s friend, back in the capital,” Soojung starts saying, speaking slowly, the tiredness dripping into her speech, slurring it a little. “Back when we lived there, they used to be together all the time. Qian actually enjoyed working with her dad, she loved being in charge and running around the office bossing people around,” she says, the curve of her mouth turning up slightly, merely a hint of a smile. “When Sooyeon was being all rebellious and talking about running away, Qian would tease her and pretend she wasn’t a little scared of all that, but I think she was because she was actually happy with how things were, you know?”
Sunyoung doesn’t know, she has no idea, because from where she’s standing, there’s nothing about the corporate reality their world has fallen into that can be considered anything but terrible. Industries taking over, automatons replacing humans in every possible job inside a factory until there was no more work for anyone who wasn’t filthy rich and in charge of buying and selling, it had all happened so far away all Sunyoung had seen were the collateral effects. The jobless people, poverty, the desperation. Cities that weren’t in good locations to have factories in them being slowly abandoned, until there was nothing but empty territory, highways, and big cities isolated from the rest of the world. Industrialized countries had become uninhabitable, causing migration, but eventually even those places that only ever subsisted on producing raw materials had ended up being turned into massive factories, until there were no safe places left.
But that has never touched the people in the tall buildings, the ones who run things, they don’t see any of that. The only thing they can see was the smoke, because pollution doesn’t know the difference between rich and poor. It gets into everyone’s lungs.
“Falling in love with her secretary was a stupid move, but I guess that’s what sucks about feelings, you can’t avoid them,” Soojung says, looking back up at the ceiling, the words hanging in the air between them as if they hold real weight, like the sound waves have frozen halfway and are waiting to be untangled, some hidden meaning wanting to be revealed. “Her dad knew better than to try and get between them, but he couldn’t just let her do that and ruin their image so -- he found a place far enough that people wouldn’t pay much attention, and he just lets her do whatever here.”
“Why didn’t Sooyeon come here?” Sunyoung asks, though it isn’t the question that’s burning at the tip of her tongue, not even close. But Soojung is still looking away, and she can understand why. “Instead of trying to get further, couldn’t she have found whatever she was looking for here?”
“Didn’t you see the buildings when we were entering the city?” Soojung asks, closing her eyes. “It’s full of factories. The air is even worse here than up north, if we want to get away from it we’re gonna have to drive for at least another couple of days.”
Another couple of days of driving means reaching the end of the land. The end of the world, as they call it. Where Sooyeon is supposed to be. Where no one’s ever returned from. Sunyoung rolls over, lying on her back. Sharing a bed sounded scary when Qian pointed at the single mattress in the room, but now she feels miles away from Soojung even if their elbows are nearly touching.
“Can I ask something now?” Soojung says after a silence so long Sunyoung was sure she’d fallen asleep. She hums in agreement, closing her eyes as she waits for the question. “Does it hurt? Your leg, I mean.”
She knew that would be the question. It happened shortly after Sooyeon left. If it had been a couple of months earlier, Soojung would have been by the track, she would have seen it happen, and Sunyoung is a little grateful she wasn’t because she’s heard it was awful. It felt like it, for sure.
“It could be worse,” is all she can make herself say, and Soojung scoots up closer, until she can bump her nose against her shoulder.
Racers go too fast. Sunyoung’s grandma was insistent about it. They’re not like cars used to be, rich people are reckless and they forgot there were safety concerns involved when cars had first been invented. They just wanted to go faster, and then even faster still, and racers go as fast as technology allows them to.
There’s no real racers in Tunuyán, obviously, because no one’s rich enough, but there’s accidents on the highway all the time, and some people collect pieces. Like Sunyoung. Like Amber. Illegal races used to be a rich people hobby, until the little towns by the highway started building their own vehicles, and hitting the road in barely put together racers that went even faster than the original ones and had even less precautions.
Sunyoung’s house was by the road, right after a closed curve. Sometimes, at night, she wakes up startled, the crash ringing in her ears.
“It was an accident, you know,” Soojung whispers, and Sunyoung just wants to be asleep already so she can stop thinking about it, stop remembering every detail. Sunyoung lost a leg, and the only family she’d ever had, and Soojung tried to be there even though her own world was falling apart, but she got pushed away. It wasn’t the right time. “It wasn’t your fault,” Soojung says, like she’d said a million times back then. But it’s different now. Sunyoung’s mourned, she’s let it all sink in. She’s learned to walk with a prosthetic leg, she’s stayed away from cars -- and now, she’s letting herself back in one.
Now, Soojung tentatively puts a hand on her arm, and Sunyoung rolls over, curling into her, and she lets herself be comforted.
The air feels different when they get back on the road. Something’s shifted between them, pulling them closer, smoothing down some rough edges, and Sunyoung feels lighter somehow. The further down south they go, the more foreign the landscape gets. It’s like someone forgot there was anything after San Martín, and for the first time, Sunyoung sees green -- and not just green, she sees yellow, brown, she sees wild flowers. There’s not a lot of vegetation, but just seeing any vegetation at all is rare these days.
Soojung talks more, keeping the radio low in the background though it’s mostly static now that they’re far from the city, and she tells her stories about how it used to be down here, talking with such fascination that it sounds as if she’d actually been there when the ice used to cover the mountains and rivers ran by the side of the road. Sunyoung knows she wasn’t, but she knows her passion for these stories is deeply related to how badly she wants to find Sooyeon, so she doesn’t question it.
It helps that Soojung’s eyes light up with a spark Sunyoung never wants to stop looking at when she speaks.
The plan includes one more stop along the way, which is a relief because Sunyoung wouldn’t put it past Soojung to want to just drive thirty hours straight. Apparently Qian’s not the only person who was gently asked to make herself invisible by her rich family, and Soojung’s got one more friend to visit.
“If Sooyeon were to stop anywhere, she would have gone to Jinri’s,” Soojung says with so much certainty, Sunyoung wishes she could be that convinced of their success.
Since she woke up this morning, she’s been unable to stop thinking about what she’s left behind -- how she just took off, left no note or anything, and it’s not like anyone will miss her, but she’s probably burnt a few bridges by doing that. She doesn’t think she can return and ask for her job back, if this trip fails, because taking off in the middle of the night doesn’t exactly spell out trustworthy employee. She wouldn’t want to, anyway, but having no safety net whatsoever has her feeling something close to vertigo.
It takes them almost half a day to get to Lago Blanco. It’s tiny -- tinier than Tunuyán, even, but there’s a cozy feeling to it. Maybe it’s the grass, or how the sun is shining when they get out of the car, making it all seem shiny and warm. Something about it is just inviting, and Sunyoung stares at some sheep that are wandering about with fascination. Live animals out in the street like this is definitely something she’s never seen before.
“Come on, Jinri probably has a billion cute animals you can pet and everything,” Soojung laughs as they get out of the car, and it’s so fond, Sunyoung feels it vibrate all the way to her heart.
A long time ago, Soojung had made her heart feel all sorts of things, and she’d buried them as deep as she could, knowing how out of her league she was. More importantly, she’d known Soojung was a child from the capital, and things were different there. She wouldn’t see her like that, ever.
But Soojung reaches out and holds her hand, and Sunyoung’s heart has always been a little silly, too ready to fall all over again for things she knows she can’t have.
They walk away from what Sunyoung assumes is the town center, since there’s a couple of shops, but it’s literally just two streets and then there are houses for another couple of blocks. After that, the houses are further apart, and they all seem to have big backyards, until eventually it’s mostly grass and animals, tiny houses in the middle of it.
Jinri is hard to miss, both because she’s very tall and because she’s wearing some sort of mechanical device that looks like wings attached to her back. They were probably not designed to fly though, since they’re built in such a way that they go over her head, working more as sunshade than anything. Her boots are covered in dirt, and she’s got a dress on that has seen better days. Overall, she looks like they’ve interrupted her mid working, but she’s grinning so widely Sunyoung doesn’t think she’s too mad about it.
“At last!” she says, throwing her arms up in the air, her strange contraption twisting weirdly. Sunyoung stays back while Soojung goes hug her, shifting her weight on her feet as she watches them stay embraced for what feels like an extremely long amount of time. “Okay, distance please, I have a wife now,” Jinri laughs, pulling away, and the way Soojung’s cheeks heat up is interesting, to say the least.
Jinri’s home is small, but it’s so cozy Sunyoung feels a tiny bit jealous. There’s pictures of her on every wall, which she does find slightly tacky, but as they walk into the living room she understands why, a gigantic movie poster with Jinri’s face smiling beatifically at her makes it all fall into place.
Sunyoung knows Jinri, she just hadn’t realized until now because she looks so different without all the make-up and the lights on her face, and because she used to go by Sulli, from what she can remember. She’s never met her before, but she’s seen her movies, probably not all of them because there were just so many and Tunuyán only got one every couple of months.
She remembers the rumors too, because those have special abilities when it comes to spreading themselves. Now she knows why Soojung got all weird when Sulli and her supposed affair with some other pretty girl with a nice voice, and it’s such a relief to know Sunyoung was wrong thinking she knew her reasons. Very wrong, apparently.
They sit at the living room and while Jinri goes make them tea, Soojung keeps looking around, clearly anxious. Maybe she’s looking for signs of Sooyeon’s presence, something that will tell her she was really here, but she doesn’t seem to find anything.
The door that leads to the backyard is suddenly opened up, and three cats come in running, playing with each other like they haven’t noticed the presence of strangers in their home. Behind them comes in a girl carrying a basket, and Sunyoung’s only seen people this ethereal in magazines, but she seems fairly real.
“Oh, hi,” she smiles at them, like this is all perfectly natural. She looks like some sort of fairy, the contrast between her and Jinri’s muddied clothes making Soojung smiles when she connects the dots.
“You must be the wife,” Soojung says, somewhere between embarrassed and something else Sunyoung can’t quite place, but it comes out cute in the end -- or maybe she’s just too whipped not to find her everything sweet. “I’m Soojung, I’m a friend of Jinri’s.”
“I am the wife, yes,” she laughs, eyes crinkling. “I’m sorry you find me in such a messy state, but Jinri only said you might be arriving sometime this week so I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare! I’m Jieun, is Jinri making you guys some tea?”
It’s almost impossible for Sunyoung to figure out if Soojung is taken aback as she is by how ridiculously gorgeous Jieun is, or if there’s something more to it, something that has to do with Jinri’s joke earlier. They both sound like wishful thinking, really, like Sunyoung is just desperate even in the middle of their adventure that might end up in death to find out if the girls she likes is also into girls.
Jinri comes in right on cue, shakily carrying a tray that’s holding a lot more than it should. The way her eyes go soft at the sight of Jieun is so obvious, Sunyoung wouldn’t have missed it if she wasn’t so focused on staring at Soojung instead, trying to read her expression.
Any sort of food tastes amazing, but there’s something about every bite of cake and every slice of fruit Jinri has put on plates for them that’s undeniably better than what Sunyoung remembers their own food having ever tasted. It’s even better than Qian’s food, which is saying a lot, and it takes quite the effort for them not to dive into it like starved animals. Jinri finds it all amusing though, which is relaxing, and Jieun watches them with something closer to concern, but she doesn’t say anything. Soojung eats and jokes about their trip, telling Jinri stories about Qian’s hot boyfriend that make Sunyoung uneasy. Once there’s no more food left on the table and Jieun’s gone to make some more tea, Soojung goes serious, and even from a distance Sunyoung can almost feel her tensing up. It’s time to ask the real question.
“We wanna go to the south,” she starts saying, glancing at Sunyoung like she needs support, so she nods because she can’t think of anything better to do. She’d hold her hand, but they’re too far apart, and besides she’s felt Jinri staring at her a little too intensely, like maybe she’s not the only who gets heart eyes when looking at someone. “Where Sooyeon is.”
“What makes you think Sooyeon is there?” Jinri asks, no hesitance. She knows something, Sunyoung is sure of it, but she’s not going to tell them just like that.
It’s alright though, because Soojung said her sister had sent her a message, so she’s got proof.
“Amber found a car part in her shop -- not a racer part, an actual car part, like the kind that would work with the one we’re using in our trip,” Soojung says, and she says it with so much certainty that Sunyoung’s heartbreak is even worse.
There’s a lot of junk in Amber’s shop that’s been stored there for years, and she’s always finding weird stuff. A car part isn’t even that rare, even if it did fit into the old car at the museum that no one could even start up, and the chances of Sooyeon having somehow delivered that all the way to Tunuyán are very slim. Impossibly slim. Sunyoung redirects her sad gaze from Soojung to Jinri, hoping to find her expression mirrored, but Jinri is smiling like that somehow makes sense.
“She said she’d find a way to let you know when it was safe to go,” she nods, making Soojung burst into a grin that’s so warm and bright Sunyoung is almost blinded by it.
(Watching her giggle excitedly at the good news, Sunyoung realizes what she’d always known -- she would have followed Soojung anywhere she wanted to, proof or no proof, because she’s been in love for years and it’s the kind of love where she just wants to be around her, watch her grow and glow and be there when it gets dark to hold her hand, if she needs her to.)
“I knew she would stop here, it was the only logical choice,” Soojung says, eyes sparkling as she looks back at Sunyoung, staring intensely at her like she needs to make sure she understands how amazing this news is.
Jieun chooses that moment to make her way back into the living room, leaving the tea on the table as she cuddles up against Jinri’s side, a questioning look on her face like she’s trying to figure out what’s going on in the conversation.
“Ah, Sooyeon? She stayed for a couple of days, it was lovely, your sister is such a darling,” she says, the moment it clicks so obviously reflecting in the change in her expression. “I heard she made it all the way to Ushuaia, are you going there too? It’s a dangerous road,” she adds, leaning in to grab a cup of tea as if she didn’t just make that statement with the certainty of someone who’s traveled down there too.
It’s the first time Sunyoung’s heard anyone refer to the end of the world with its ancient name, from back when it was still considered a habitable city, other than reading it in history books. It’s odd, to say the least, and Soojung seems to agree, because she raises her eyebrows, waiting for Jieun to say more.
“Jieun -- she knows the road,” Jinri says, shifting under the weight of Soojung’s stare. “When things got, uh, rough at the capital, we were supposed to find each other here but her ride got lost and it took us some time to meet up again.”
“Did you go there, then? To the end?” Sunyoung dares ask, and Jieun shakes her head like that’s a crazy idea, which isn’t very encouraging.
“The only reason I didn’t end up there is because the road suddenly turns into a bridge that should go over the sea, but it was destroyed a long time ago. At least it made it obvious that we’d gone too far and should go back up north, but by the time we got there we were tired and barely had any resources left to get back on the road, so we stayed by the sea for a while,” Jieun says as she slowly stirs her tea, though Sunyoung is pretty sure she never saw her putting any sugar in it. “There’s a lighthouse, if you do decide to keep going south, you’ll see it from a distance and then you’ll know you’re near the edge. There were rumors about the bridge being repaired, but the last inhabited region before the lighthouse is pretty far from it, and none of the people who live there go to the sea anymore. They say when the tide destroyed the bridge, it was terrifying to watch, enough that they stay as far from the water as they can. But I keep in touch with people there, and they did see Sooyeon, but they said she barely stopped for an afternoon and then kept going and just never came back -- so they figure the rumors might be true, you know?”
Jieun is giving them a tiny smile, like she’s trying to make her story hopeful, and Sunyoung’s heart isn’t sure what to feel. So far, it isn’t sounding like there’s a lot to look forward to if they keep going south, and they could just stay here and farm or whatever it is Jieun and Jinri do, but Soojung is just as excited as she was the first time Jinri confirmed she’d seen Sooyeon, so she guesses it’s not really an option.
She didn’t get much of a chance to interact with Sooyeon back when she was still in Tunuyán, mostly because she was usually too busy falling for her sister and all that, but Sunyoung wishes she’d talked to her more so maybe she could have the same blind faith Soojung has in her. She fears it may not have anything to do with Sooyeon at all though, that this infinite trust may come from a place of profound love, and though she can relate it does scare her slightly more.
“So do you have any tips for us? Because I was just planning on following the road and seeing where it took me,” Soojung says, resting her elbows on her knees as she leans forward.
“Well, take into consideration that you won’t be able to keep driving by the mountains, because the road goes east until it reaches the sea now,” Jieun says, finally taking a sip from her tea. “Probably because the mountains used to be so cold and covered in snow it was dangerous to drive close to them, but now the sea is wilder and it would be wiser to avoid it but it’s still best to just follow the road. Just... keep an eye on the tide.”
“Sounds easy enough,” Soojung claps her hands together, straightening up.
“You should rest for a little, you still have over fifteen hours of driving ahead,” Jinri warns them. “We have a guest room, you’re welcome to use it.”
It takes some convincing, because Soojung wants to jump back on the road now, but eventually she agrees. It’s easier to share a bed now, because Sunyoung knew it was coming, and they’re only here for a tiny nap anyway so it’s not necessarily the setup for a deep, meaningful conversation like last time. She falls asleep quicker than she expected, and by the time she wakes up it’s fully dark outside, and the bed is empty. There’s a low mumbling noise coming from outside, and though she knows she shouldn’t, Sunyoung keeps still, doing her best to eavesdrop. She knows it’s Soojung, and it sounds like she’s talking to Jinri, but in the end she has to get up as quietly as she can and go up to the door to actually listen to any of what they’re saying.
“You should tell her, maybe,” Jinri is saying, and she sounds more amused than anything which is intriguing to say the least. “If she jumped on a car and came all this way with you, I’m sure she wouldn’t be entirely against the idea.”
The fact that they’re probably thinking about her makes Sunyoung blush furiously, for some reason.
“Shut up,” Soojung is most likely rolling her eyes, if Sunyoung knows her at all. “She just wanted to leave town, that’s all. Who wouldn’t, that place was like a prison.”
They’re definitely talking about her, and Sunyoung isn’t sure she wants to hear whatever Soojung should tell her like this, so she moves away, the floor creaking under her feet. Soojung is back in the room shortly after that, and there’s a few tense moments at first in which she’s rather obviously eyeing her as if she could see in Sunyoung’s face whether she’s heard any of her conversation or not, but Sunyoung plays it as cool as she can and soon enough they’re back to normal.
It’s hard to say goodbye to the warmth and coziness of Lago Blanco, but they get back on the road at last, leaving Jieun and Jinri behind. Sunyoung feels she’s carrying a lot more extra weight though, all in the form of questions, and the silence of the road feels like the right moment to ask them all.
They drive for a while in silence, and it’s so comfortable that Sunyoung doesn’t wanna ruin it just yet. There’s no more radio, not this far from civilization, and Soojung is humming under her breath like she’s tuned into a wavelength that Sunyoung can’t quite catch, melodies filling up the air that she doesn’t think she’s ever heard before. She’s happy, the kind of happy Sunyoung hasn’t seen her be in such a long time, and it’s making it hard for her to say words out loud that might burst the bubble.
Soojung lets out a yawn, and rubs at her eye, the light in her eyepatch flickering like the circuits are sleepy too, and Sunyoung wants to know more. They’re either gonna drive for fifteen hours so Soojung can run in slow motion into the arms of her sister, or they’re gonna drive for a little less only to find out the sea’s destroyed everything in the south and who knows what Soojung will do then. Her having another chance to ask questions doesn’t seem to be very likely.
“What happened to your eye?” she asks at last, and after having put so much thought into it, she should have come up with a subtler way of going around it, but she’s too nervous and that’s all she could manage to say. Soojung shifts in her seat, but she doesn’t seem too upset.
“Pollution,” Soojung shrugs, and it sends a shiver down Sunyoung’s spine, the word alone intimidating enough to have her shrinking in her seat. “My dad wanted to live close to the factories so he could keep an eye on his workers. I think he probably thought being filthy rich meant we were already filthy enough that the pollution would leave us alone.”
The way that last bit was intonated makes Sunyoung think Soojung meant to make a joke, but the words hang heavy in the air between them. It’s hard to find anything funny about the smoke, at least now that it’s gotten so bad Sunyoung’s heard it can kill people in a few days once it gets to their lungs.
“I don’t understand,” Sunyoung says weakly, not missing the way Soojung’s pursing her lips like this isn’t how she expected this conversation to go. Like she somehow didn’t think it would take a dark turn, when they are discussing something that could have killed her if she hadn’t got away when she did. “I thought it got in your lungs, why -- why your eye?”
“It’s not just the smoke,” Soojung patiently explains, biting on her lip for a moment. Her eye is steady on the road, but the piercing light on her patch keeps shifting towards Sunyoung like she’s glancing her way. It’s unnerving, in this context. “In the big cities, everything’s polluted. The smoke wasn’t so bad, we had filters, but the water was highly polluted too and then there was something in the power lines -- nothing was safe, but no one wanted to admit that, so they wouldn’t tell when they found yet another thing that could deteriorate human bodies. It’s silly, really, but I used to wear so much eyeliner and I had to remove it carefully every night before bed -- get it? I would wash it off so carefully so I wouldn’t damage the skin under my eyes, and the water was slowly eating away at my eyes.”
She’s smirking, and Sunyoung wishes she could laugh along, but she can hear the bitter edge in her words and she can’t bring herself to play along.
“Eventually I lost sight in one eye, and my dad finally agreed to take me to a doctor. He was worried they’d send us away, make us go live in the countryside to keep us healthy. Luckily for him, it was too advanced, and they just -- well, they took care of my eye, replaced it with this shiny thing,” Soojung knocks on her eyepatch, making the light flicker alarmingly. “A couple months later, Sooyeon had to get a whole implant on her back, because it had started to gnaw at her skin in a way the doctor said he’d never seen before. Dad just kept paying for metal to be inserted into us without batting an eyelash, and honestly, I think if he hadn’t been caught laundering money he would have made us stay in the city even after mom -- after it got into her lungs.”
Sunyoung always suspected that was what had happened to her mother, but she’d never been brave enough to ask. Slowly, she reaches out, brushing Soojung’s knuckles, which are currently so tight around the wheel they’ve turned white. After hesitating for a millisecond, she puts her hand over hers, squeezing.
“I’m sorry,” she says quietly. She wanted to know. Soojung told her. It makes sense that both her and Sooyeon wanted to run away, never thinking of their father even once, never looking back. He’d put them in mortal danger and hadn’t seem to care too much about it. Sunyoung had seen enough of the man to know the thing he regretted the most was having been caught doing something illegal, not doing it, and he’d definitely never seemed to worry too much about his family.
“That’s okay,” Soojung shrugs a shoulder, tone suspiciously light. “I was glad to leave the city, and Tunuyán was an alright place at first, so I didn’t understand why Sooyeon was so desperate to leave. After mom died though, I started to see it. She didn’t want to escape the town.”
“She wanted to get away from your dad,” Sunyoung states, fingers still over Soojung’s, holding onto her like she wishes she had been all those years ago.
“He got the worst of it, you know,” Soojung says after a moment of silence, turning to look at her with such gravity Sunyoung swallows hard, finding it hard to maintain eye contact. “I lost an eye, mom lost her lungs, Sooyeon lost some tissue -- but him? his heart was what rotted in the city. He’ll outlive us all, and he’ll do it with real poison running through his veins, the kind that has no cure.”
It’s spat out with such certainty and such despise, Sunyoung lets go of her hand, taken aback. Soojung’s eye widens, and she cracks a smile that’s a little lopsided.
“See, that’s why we had to get away. Tunuyán may not have had much pollution in the air, but our house was full of venom, we couldn’t let it get to our hearts. I barely made it -- I hope I made it,” her voice cracks towards the end, glancing back to the road ahead.
“You’re nothing like your dad,” Sunyoung whispers, scooting up closer as much as he can considering they’re in the car. For once, she’s glad there are no seatbelts. “You’re kind, and you have so much love inside you, I don’t think a thousand years with him could have turned you anything like him.”
Soojung doesn’t say anything, and Sunyoung stares for another long instant, worried she’s said something wrong, until she looks away and realizes Soojung’s pulling up on the side of the road, bringing the car to a stop.
“When we first got to Tunuyán, everyone kept asking me about my eye, about mom, about everything,” Soojung says, voice still quivering. Slowly, she lets go of the steering wheel, turning her hands so she can hold Sunyoung’s. “You didn’t, you never asked me anything about the city.”
“You looked so uncomfortable talking about it,” Sunyoung interrupts, and when Soojung looks at her, she realizes she knew. Her eyes are soft, and there’s a hidden smile in them that Sunyoung wishes would spread all over her face, turn into laughter, grow big enough that there’s no room for that tiny hint of hurt that’s still hiding behind everything Soojung does. “I’m sorry I asked now,” she adds for good measure, in case it was a mistake, in case that’s why Soojung’s telling her all of this.
“I would’ve told you regardless, maybe I would’ve even told you back then if things hadn’t got worse so fast,” Soojung shakes her head, squeezing her hand, fiddling with her fingers like she’s trying to figure out how it’s possible for them to fit between hers so perfectly. Sunyoung’s always wondered, too. “I’m glad you asked me now. I’m glad you told me about your accident, too, I’m just -- I’m glad you said yes when I asked if you wanted to come with me, even though it was probably pretty dumb since you had no idea where I was going or if I’d absolutely lost my mind and was gonna drive us straight into the ocean. I’m glad you trusted me, and if we get to the lighthouse and there’s nothing but water and Sooyeon never sent me a message, then I’ll still be glad to be there with you.”
It’s a lot to take in, even if Soojung speaks with patience, it sinks in in slow motion. Kind of like the realization of how in love she is did, it permeates through her skin, invades her heart, demanding she lets the information sit for a second before she moves.
“I’m glad I’m here with you too,” Sunyoung says, staring down at their laced fingers. “I wouldn’t have minded if you’d driven us into the ocean, to be honest, I was feeling a bit hopeless at the time. Right now, I’m mostly hoping we can end up having our own farm next to your sister’s, and a thousand pets like Jinri has.”
She laughs and it’s brief but it fills Sunyoung’s entire heart. When she looks up, Soojung’s looking back at her, grinning.
“As long as I don’t have to get my hands in the dirt,” she laughs again, and it would take a stronger woman to witness such a sight after hearing what she thinks Soojung’s been telling her between the lines and not kiss her.
Scratch that, it would take a dumber woman, or at least one a little less in love, and Sunyoung’s neither of those, so she closes the distance before she loses courage.
When she was a teenager and she pictured herself being brave enough to kiss the girl of her dreams, she didn’t imagine it happening in a car in the middle of nowhere, the furthest she’s ever been from the town she used to call home. But god, she always did imagine it being Soojung, catching her mid-laughter, getting to run her fingers through her hair while she pulled her close.
It’s even better than she could have expected, Soojung melting against her as she kisses her back, and when they pull apart she leans in again, kissing her harder.
“We have to get back on the road,” Soojung whispers when she finally pulls away. “But we’ll get back to this as soon as we’ve figured out if we’re gonna be settling down with a couple of cows or learning how to work a lighthouse.”
Sunyoung lets out a high pitched giggle, startling herself. She’s a little high on kissing, dazed by everything that’s happening, but she nods, leaning back on her seat so Soojung can drive again. She hugs her knee to her chest, running a hand down the cold metal of her prosthetic leg. It makes a creaking noise, and Soojung scrunches up her nose.
“You have to take better care of it, Sooyeon will show you how,” she tells her, her faith still seemingly unshaken for the most part, and Sunyoung doesn’t know how to feel about that.
It takes them a long time to get to the lighthouse. They spot it in the distance when they’re still over two hours away, the last town far behind them. They hadn’t even discussed stopping there, too anxious to see what was awaiting them. It’s growing dark, which isn’t great, and it would have been wise to stop for fuel, but Soojung keeps on driving like her willpower alone will be enough to keep the car going.
They’re getting closer when Sunyoung notices it, but she doesn’t dare say it out loud. She’s not sure what it means, if it’s good news or bad ones, and she’s fairly certain Soojung’s trying to figure out the same thing, squinting her eyes as she stares at it. As the sun goes down, it becomes clearer that the lighthouse is dark. They keep going, until they can’t see anything outside of what the car lights can reach.
“Maybe someone forgot to turn it on,” Sunyoung muses, not realizing she’s spoken out loud until she meets Soojung’s eyes and sees her raising an eyebrow at her. “I’m just saying, it must have a switch or something, maybe they forgot. Or they ran out of power.”
Either way, the road is dark and lonely, and though they’re not that far, they both agree it seems dangerous to keep going, especially since they don’t know how much further they can go on this amount of fuel. It doesn’t feel like they’re gonna run into anyone, so they stop by the side of the road, pushing the seats back. They fall asleep holding hands, Sunyoung telling quiet stories about life back in Tunuyán when she was barely a child, before Soojung, before life really began.
Sunrise wakes them up, and Sunyoung feels she’s been asleep for a total of fifteen minutes, or maybe less, but that turns out to be extremely irrelevant once she opens up her eyes and sits up. As the sun rises, the sky turns pink, red, orange, all sorts of colors -- and then, it’s blue.
Shaking Soojung awake, Sunyoung can’t stop staring out the window. There’s a bridge alright, only a few kilometers ahead. It’s new and shiny, standing over the sea like it belongs there. The lighthouse, on the other hand, seems abandoned, like it’s been collecting dust for years now.
Soojung drives them over the bridge in absolute silence. They can’t see the end of it, and in the absolute quiet, Sunyoung can almost hear Soojung’s heart rattling against her ribs, trying to burst out of her body, hope lighting it up like a thousand fireworks. The bridge exists, it’s new, someone put it there for some reason. They’re gonna find something on the other side, and it’s either gonna be aliens building pyramids, or -- something else. Sunyoung doesn’t even dare hope right now, barely breathing in fear of somehow jinxing this, ruining it.
It takes them less than an hour. It’s been days since they left home, she barely remembers how many, and yet the forty minutes driving over the bridge felt like an eternity. But when they see the other end, it all fades away, and Sunyoung feels like it was just a moment ago that she was catching an unexpected ride to the unknown, every moment of hesitation dissipating.
Lago Blanco had vegetation, but this in front of them is the greenest Sunyoung’s ever seen. There’s trees like she’d only ever seen before in history books, tall trees with branches that look like they’re trying to touch the sky, and there’s flowers, and there’s so much grass everywhere she wants to jump out of the car and roll around in it. More importantly though, there are houses.
There’s only a few, and they’re separated, but as they get off the bridge, Soojung slows down, eyes wide as coins. It becomes obvious to Sunyoung, suddenly, that even though she’d been so desperate to believe it, a part of her had been just as skeptical as the rest of the world. She’d just been holding on tightly to the bigger part of her, the one that felt Sooyeon wouldn’t ever just leave her by herself on this planet, but now the tiny unbeliever in her is fading away and she seems to be just as shocked as Sunyoung.
There are people outside the houses, working on the little farms they all seem to have, taking care of animals and plants, but they all stop and stare when they see the car driving by. A child runs off when he sees them, and Sunyoung wonders if maybe he’s scared, since it doesn’t look like they see much traffic around here. Soojung’s too focused on watching every single face they come across to pay attention to the car, which is why she doesn’t see the red light until it’s too late, and the car comes to a sudden spot.
“No more fuel,” Soojung mumbles, glancing at Sunyoung like she’s not sure if she’s awake right now.
Sunyoung looks back at her, then stares out the window, trying to snap out of the shock. The child is back, and he’s running towards them. He’s got someone by his side. It takes a couple of seconds for Sunyoung to react, and by the time her brain finally catches on, Soojung’s spotted them already, and she’s climbing over Sunyoung, nearly falling off the car when she opens the door, clearly having forgotten there’s a perfectly functional door on her side of the car too, and she could have just walked around the car.
But it’s Sooyeon, it’s Jung Sooyeon and she’s coming towards them with a grin so bright it rivals the morning sun that’s shining over them, and Sunyoung doesn’t know when she started crying, but she’s burst into tears and can’t make herself stop, not even when she gets out of the car herself.
The child comes to stand next to her for a while, clearly intrigued, and they watch the sisters hug for what feels like forever, but it’s alright. Sunyoung has all the time in the world. She looks up, stares at the white clouds, and she takes a deep breath, tears subsiding as the fresh air enters her lungs.
She’s keeping her distance, but she can still hear Sooyeon saying “I knew you’d come,” though it’s muffled since she’s got her head buried in Soojung’s neck, her arms so tight around her she’s worried about her breathing. Eventually, they pull apart, and Sunyoung wouldn’t judge Soojung if she were to momentarily forget about her in light of the circumstances, but the first thing she does is turn towards her, reaching for her hand, and her heart feels like a billion stars setting off in fantastic supernova explosions.
“This is Sunyoung,” Soojung introduces, pulling her close enough she can wrap an arm around her waist.
“I remember her,” Sooyeon nods, still grinning. “Amber said I should yell at you for not taking care of your leg, but we can do that later, you have to come and meet Yuri and we have so much to talk about,” she says, waving her hands in the air excitedly. Once again, Sunyoung is left wondering how Amber is involved in all this, but it’s a question for another moment.
Soojung squeezes her hold on Sunyoung, turning slightly so she can press a kiss to her shoulder when Sooyeon’s started walking towards one of the houses.
“We made it,” she whispers, letting go of her waist but grabbing her hand and pressing her knuckles to her lips. “Thank you.”
“I always knew we’d make it,” Sunyoung says, causing Soojung to giggle at her. “Please, you think I would have just jumped into your car and let you drive me who knows where, just because I’m a little in love with you? You underestimate me.”
This time, Soojung laughs louder, and Sooyeon shoots them an amused glance from a few steps ahead.
“I’m a lot in love with you,” she says casually, like it’s something they say every day. “I always dreamed of starting out fresh somewhere with you. Now we can -- we can do anything we want.”
“All I want to do right now is breathe in this fresh air, and kiss you some more,” Sunyoung whispers as they approach the door of a pretty little house, where Sooyeon is waiting.
“Lucky you, that’s exactly what I was hoping I’d do with the rest of my days too,” Soojung smiles, scrunching up her nose slightly, and Sunyoung leans in to press a soft kiss to the tip of her nose before they follow Sooyeon inside.