Author's Note: This chapter was originally going to be longer but, as I was writing it, it ended up going in a direction I didn't really expect. I'm still trying to decide between shorter and longer chapters, but the decision was taken out of my hands as everything after this point made more sense as a separate chapter.
It was after only a few seconds of trying to force their way through the crowd to their waiting transport that Angela began to see the merits of Fareeha's plan to put her situation into a familiar context. This was hardly Angela's first experience in such situations but, this time, even she couldn't help finding the attention to be slightly unsettling. She could feel the familiar excitement with a faint note of desperation in the air that she had long since come to associate with the average person's coming within arm's reach of a celebrity, but it was clear that something had been added to the formula. There was an intensity behind it all that made it border on overwhelming in spite of her experience. It normally felt like a warm glow, like sunlight caressing her skin. Today, however, there was an uncomfortable and almost oppressive weight to it that instead made it drip from her and chill her to her core.
As they slowly marched toward the transport, often only taking two or three steps before having to wait for hotel employees to push back a particularly feverish fan that let their excitement get the better of them, Angela occasionally glanced up at Fareeha. Angela couldn't be certain whether she was more surprised, relieved or envious that Fareeha was handling it so well. Her jaw was firmly set and the look in her eyes could make someone's blood run cold, but she didn't look the least bit disturbed by the chaos surrounding her. Her eyes never stopped moving, constantly sweeping the crowd around them as if searching for something. Whatever she was searching for, it seemed to be occupying her attention to the point that she didn't have time to spare for anxiety. Whatever "doing combat" was, Angela quickly decided that it was worth trying.
"Let us hear your music!"
Angela's head snapped to her right as the words startled her out of her thoughts. She didn't recognize the man that seemed to have said them, and he didn't look as though he knew them, either. He had the same hopeful expression on his face, making it clear that he was in no way certain that he would get a response. The sound of his voice was so close, Angela expected him to have been addressing her. Instead, he was staring intently at Fareeha, looking as though he was hoping for the best. Fareeha didn't turn to address him, her eyes continuing to scan the crowd around them and suggesting that she hadn't even noticed him. Again feeling an unfamiliar weight behind the excitement, Angela decided that it was best to pretend to do the same and not encourage him.
Even as she pretended to ignore him, Angela couldn't help wondering what he meant. She was accustomed to all kinds of shouting from strangers in crowds, having heard everything from the endearing to the obscene. This, however, was an enigma that promised to haunt her until she could make sense of it. Looking past the hotel employees struggling with the crowd, she sighed as she realized she had plenty of time for it. They weren't even halfway to to the transport yet.
My Fareeha does not sing or play any instruments. There is no connection between her and music of any kind. I have heard many people shout nonsense before, but they only laugh. He was hoping for a response. Why? The only time I have heard her even mention music is when—
Angela quickly turned to face the man again in spite of herself. He was still staring at Fareeha as they slowly passed, now looking disappointed after she'd failed to reply. When Angela turned to face him, though, he jumped and began stammering as if he was trying to remember how to speak. The reaction was normal enough, but Angela had finally figured out what it was about what he'd said that had been nagging her.
"What did you just say?"
The man simply continued to stumble over his words, never managing to complete any of them. Angela wondered for a moment what her face looked like; while fans had any number of expressions when she directly addressed them, there was always joyful excitement behind them. In this case, the man in front of her had lost any sense of happiness and looked back at Angela as though he was about to run. As if on cue, he slowly started backing away, melting into the crowd as twenty others pushed ahead to fill the space he'd left behind.
Was zur Hölle?
Angela could only take his reaction as confirmation of her suspicion. After racing through her memories several times, she couldn't think of any connection other than when Fareeha played music for her. Again searching her memories, she couldn't think of any time that Fareeha had done so when they weren't in private. It wasn't at all unusual for the public to find a way to know things about a celebrity's life that they shouldn't, but this was uncomfortably strange. It was too private, and too soon. They had certainly been drawing attention since their relationship had been made public, but that didn't explain how such a small detail could've been known by a completely random person so quickly. Angela again looked at the crowd around them and continued to feel the weight of their excitement. Knowing that it was a slippery slope, she tried in vain to stop herself from wondering what else they knew or how they'd found it out.
As she wrestled with her thoughts, she was again startled out of them by two nearly simultaneous surprises. A sudden explosion of screaming and cheering erupted around them and, as Angela searched for the cause of a commotion even more raucous than a moment earlier, her eyes were drawn to the transport. Initially, the only thing that seemed unusual was the fact that the transport was significantly larger than usual, looking more like a limousine. As a hotel employee opened the rear door, Lena jumped out through it in a flash of blue light. She smiled widely and waved to the crowd, driving them near the point of frenzy. It only took Angela a moment to realize what she was doing. For a brief moment, the entire crowd's attention was on Lena rather than Fareeha or Angela, and people were distracted enough to not impede their progress. Every wave and response to something shouted at her extended the grace period a little longer.
Taking advantage of the diversion, Angela pulled Fareeha's arm as she rushed toward the transport's door. Much to her surprise, Fareeha pulled free of her grasp and seemed to be moving in the opposite direction. Both surprised and confused for the second time in a matter of seconds, the distraction caused Angela to lose her balance and stumble into the transport. Looking up, Angela was again perplexed as she saw Fareeha moving back toward the crowd just as the hotel staff seemed to be losing control and it began to collapse in on the path that had been cleared. Before she could shout and ask why, Fareeha took another step toward the crowd, reached out into it, turned on a heel and started a brisk walk back toward the transport in a single motion.
It wasn't until Fareeha was inside that Angela realized that she wasn't alone. Behind Fareeha was a petite woman with long brown hair that was entirely hidden from view until Fareeha took her seat and started pushing over to make room. Angela wondered whether or not the woman had any idea what was happening; it seemed that Fareeha had been dragging her by the wrist since the moment she'd turned back toward the transport. Even as Fareeha continued to pull her through the door, she looked back and forth between Fareeha and the crowd behind her. Her mind seemed to have been made up when the hotel employees' polite requests turned to shouting as the crowd began pushing them backward. Looking nervous and disoriented, she finally stepped through the door and took a seat on one of the transport's long side bench seats.
Angela could feel her confusion slowly being swallowed by irritation as more unanswered questions began welling up inside of her. She studied the woman carefully for several seconds, wondering what interest Fareeha could possibly have in her. Her hair had been tossed violently, though it looked more the result of a long night than having been pulled along by Fareeha. Angela's suspicion was further supported by the extremely dark circles under her eyes, making her look as though she hadn't slept in days. Her dark blue skirt and blazer were both covered in deep creases. Something about her seemed familiar but, as Angela's irritation began to resemble anger, she stopped wondering where they'd met nearly as soon as she started.
She turned to Fareeha, already reminding herself to remain calm before she started speaking. Before she could say anything, however, she was met with another mystery when she saw Fareeha staring off into the distance. Her composed demeanor and intimidating presence had vanished entirely, and she looked as if she was staring at death itself. Before she could follow Fareeha's gaze, Angela was distracted by a flash of blue light as Lena blinked into the transport's side seat opposite the strange woman in the blazer. Lena looked back and forth between the woman and Fareeha with a curious expression. She looked as though she was about to say something until her eyes fell on Angela. Jumping in her seat and suddenly looking nervous, she instead turned to her left.
"I—it's a good job you wanted the bigger transport, I guess."
Angela's frustration vanished in an instant as she looked at Lena in confusion, wondering who she was talking to. It wasn't until that moment that she realized that someone had been sitting quietly in the transport before she'd entered it. She sat in disbelief as Hana Song looked back at her, smiling nervously as she gave a small wave of greeting. Angela looked back at Fareeha, who was still staring at her as if she was being held at gunpoint. Searching for anything in the situation that made any measure of sense, she looked at the woman in the blazer again, who merely shrugged as though having already given up on attempting to do the same. Angela sighed deeply.
Well...this should certainly be interesting.