King & Queen is a Kpop fan fiction drama that is released in an episodic format exclusively at Critical Kpop. Enjoy and keep tuning in for the continuing story! Catch up on previous episodes here!
Ten minutes. It takes him ten minutes to finally say, “Ailee, stop.”
Ailee blushes, but listens. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I just found something important in the Dungeon. I should have told you.”
I wish I could read your mind and your heart, he wants to tell her. But instead he asks, “What’d you find?”
“One of the print outs. Look.” She hands him a balled up paper. Let’s him uncrumple it, smooth it out, smiles while he does so. Does this mean she’s not mad at him anymore? After everything that’s happened is that really what’s important to him?
The paper reads:
Meet NOBODY at the Auditorium.
Nonsense. They are following nonsense. “This is a prank. A nothing.”
“Maybe,” Ailee admits. “But it could be the clue we need to find IU.”
“It doesn’t even say the time,” he tells her. He wants to join in on her enthusiasm, but can’t lie to her and certainly not to himself. No one has to even read his mind to know what he’s thinking. Just look at his face, ask him, hell, he’d be willing to tell you everything that he’s thinking with very little prompting. His mother told him that this would be the death of him. “Watch that tongue of yours,” she’d tell him. His father would nod and say, “Keep that trap shut.”
But that just isn’t how he rolls.
“Ailee,” he tells her. “This doesn’t say anything,” and he tells her even though he knows he could lose her forever for telling the truth. And that kills him.
To his surprise, she nods. “I know. It’s crazy. But if it’s something, I want to find out what it is. Don’t you?”
She’s got him there. “Fine,” he says. Why not? “I know a better way to get there,” and this time he takes her hand and she follows him down to the auditorium.
It could almost be a normal Saturday, Jr. wasting hours in Soohyun’s room, each second feeling like anything but a waste. Even the nagging, ever-presence of Chanhyuk is balanced out by Soohyun’s roommate, Lee Hi. If it weren’t for the black cloud of JYP’s shooting hanging over them, he could almost pretend they were on a double-date, assuming, of course, that Lee Hi would ever date the increasingly awkward little brother, which was obviously absurd.
“Who would do that?” Soohyun asked for the millionth time.
“Do you think JYP is okay?” Lee Hi sat next to her roommate, both clutching pillows, as if they were absent-mindedly wishing for softness, for anything but the hard facts of the last few hours. A shooting, at Kpop High, of one of the most high-profile instructors, followed by a lockdown and a return to their dorms without the slightest indication that the shooter had been apprehended.
“Are we even safe here?” Soohyun is asking, yet again. “Chanhyuk, did you lock the door?”
Jr. turns, but Chanhyuk is buried in his phone. He hasn’t heard a single word.
“You’re safe,” Jr. comforts her, but he knows his words are not enough. As long as the shooter is out there, none of them will truly feel safe. “I’ll stay with you,” he says, “until it’s all over.”
“That’s right,” Chanhyuk says, catching all the wrong cues, as usual. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Jr. forgets to disguise the rolling of his eyes, but no one notices, they are all too busy either worrying about JYP or, in the case of Chanhyuk, texting with God knows whom. Is it possible he has a girlfriend that they don’t know about? Is that who he’s texting? If that were the case, then why would he be sitting here right now and not with her?
Outside the door, they hear a clipped beeping, followed by the buzz of ancient electronics coming to life. The intercom system.
“Attention students. Attention. This is your Vice Principal, Tony An, speaking. All students must return to their dorm room immediately. For your safety, a security check on all rooms will be performed by the police. A mandatory curfew is in effect until nine tomorrow morning, at which time all students will report to the auditorium. Again, all students are to return to their dorm rooms. No exceptions.”
A click and a beep, and they are left in silence, straining to hear a distant hum that isn’t there.
“Let’s go,” Chanhyuk says, snapping Jr. on the arm.
Chanhyuk pockets his phone, standing, and Soohyun and Lee Hi complain in a single sound that is beneath words.
“You heard the announcement. Let’s go.”
Jr. doesn’t budge. He is not about to leave Soohyun because of some stupid announcement. He refuses. But it is Soohyun that convinces him to go. She stands, wraps her arms around him, and kisses him on the cheek.
He still feels lightheaded, fifty feet down the hallway, the whole side of his face numb. He can feel his body being steered by Chanhyuk, through the double doors that separate the women’s dorms from the men’s, before they stop suddenly in the space between.
“Hey, is your phone working?” Chanhyuk asks.
Jr. tries focusing his eyes, but he can’t seem to get his phone to work. He’s all left thumbs. He apologizes, but Chanhyuk is edging away from him, tiptoeing to a side-door marked as an emergency staircase. He’s gone before Jr. can even ask why, ask where, or with whom. And Jr. has to collect himself to find his own way back to the dorms, wondering what just happened. On the worst day of his life, he receives his first kiss.
Amber locks the door behind her, collapsing on her twin bed. She kicks off her shoes, but is too tired to remove her clothes, uncomfortable as it is to wear a skirt. She just wants to sleep. Sleep and forget that any of this night ever happened. She closes her eyes, tells herself that when she opens them, the nightmare will be over. Everything will be good again.
But something is bothering her.
She forgot to turn out the lights, of course. Amber opens one eye, and the overhead light shines bright above her. But that’s not it at all.
She sits up, suddenly. The bed across from hers is empty. Where is Krystal?
Amber tries to slow the panic rising within her. She had just seen Krystal, hadn’t she? Not more than five minutes ago. She was probably on her way, or just in the bathroom. She would show up any minute.
Amber taps her leg nervously. She counts to fifteen, then counts again. She counts to twenty before reaching for her phone, tapping out a quick message that she was sure Krystal would make fun of her for later, laughing at her for worrying. Amber hits send, but nothing happens. Her phone sits there, idle machinery.
She hits the button again, but it isn’t registering. Relax, she tells herself. The app must have frozen. Amber patiently exits the messenger and reopens, but still nothing. It’s then that she notices she has no signal.
Panic begins again.
Amber jumps out of bed, and rushes to her computer. Forget her phone, she could reach Krystal via any number of apps. Krystal uses them all. Amber types out a quick message, hits send, and the same thing happens. Nothing. The internet is down.
She rushes to the door, flips the latch, and pokes her head outside. The hallway is empty. She hears the sound of a door closing. From the floor below, she hears the booming knock of what must be the police checking on every room. Still no Krystal.
She looks back and forth. There is no one to help her. No way to contact Krystal. But she can’t do nothing. There’s a shooter on the loose, and Krystal, for all she knows, is missing. Lost. In danger.
It’s a thought she cannot bear. Maybe, just maybe, Krystal left a note for her. A completely uncharacteristic, hand-written note. Hoping against hope, Amber reenters the room, but it is immediately evident there is no note. She checks her phone one more time, but the cell service is still down.
Running out of ideas, Amber checks over the mess on Krystal’s desk. Sheet music, CDs, scraps of lyrics, doodles of the next greatest fashion idea. Nothing out of the ordinary. And then, she isn’t sure why, but Amber checks the trash can beneath the desk. Any other day, it would have felt like an invasion of privacy, but not today. Not given the circumstances.
In the bin, Amber finds a single piece of paper, with a single line of printed text. “Where nobody sees you.”
It reads like a lyric, cut off and unfinished. But why print it? Amber folds the paper into a neat square and pockets it before heading out the door.
In the hallway, she moves away from the sounds of the police patrol and toward the common area. She passes door after closed door, wondering where Krystal could possible be. The line comes back to her, unbidden, and she speaks it out loud as she walks. “Where nobody sees you.”
“What was that?”
Amber nearly jumps out of her skin. HyunA is sitting in an armchair in the common room, alone, and seemingly unphased by the curfew in effect.
Amber tries to move on. She doesn’t know HyunA well, but she knows her as a flake, as unreliable, as selfish and absurd. She doesn’t have time for that. But HyunA stops her.
“Where are you going?”
Amber sighs, but she needs to share her fears. If there is even the remotest chance that HyunA has seen Krystal, it would make her feel that much better.
“I’m looking for my roommate, Krystal. Have you seen her?”
“She’s not in your room?” HyunA asks.
“No, obviously. And my phone isn’t getting any service. Is yours?”
“A mystery, then.”
Amber blinks a few times, making sure she heard what she heard.
But HyunA is already on her feet, walking away before turning back. “What are you waiting for? You want to find her, don’t you?” Amber nods in agreement, still unsure if HyunA is here to help or hinder. “Well, let’s go, then.”
HyunA sets off, and Amber follows ten paces behind her. She feels safer, relieved even, now that there are two of them. But Amber can’t stop thinking about Krystal. Where was she? What kind of danger was she in?
You can drop a pin in here. Ailee almost wants to pound on the railing just to hear something besides her own breathing. They’ve been here for an hour now. Waiting for nobody. They’re sitting at the second floor balcony. Below is most of the seating and the elevated stage. She performed here, a few times, before her incident. Talent shows, mostly. Once, a Christmas concert. She even sang “Jingle Bell Rock” and “All I Want for Christmas” and she still remembers that applause. How her knees shook at the ovation. How she told herself, then, how this was the life she wanted.
How stupid that desire felt now.
They were ducked down, hidden by the balcony and the railing. But Rap Monster isn’t saying anything. Is he sleeping?
“Wake up,” she whispers.
“I’m awake,” he says. She can barely see him in the dark. They only got to the second floor by following the light from their phones. She’d light up his face right now if her phone hadn’t just died. She wants to see his expression. Is he mad at her? Annoyed? She dragged him here and nothing is happening. Another dead end.
“I’m sorry,” she tells him. “We can leave if you want.”
“We can wait,” he tells her. “I don’t care about curfew.”
Ailee smiles. She can’t help herself. She remembers that she was mad at him but can’t see how. Even when he didn’t believe they’d find anything here, he came with her, expecting nothing. Is it his loyalty she admires or his resilience? She wants to tell him that she admires that within him that she could never possess, but that abstraction keeps her silent, and she simply places her hand on his shoulder, in the dark, just to make sure he’s still there.
“This is where I first saw you,” he says in the dark.
“At the talent show. You sang that Beyonce song. ‘Run the World.’”
“That song almost killed me,” Ailee says. She remembers that well. After the show, she couldn’t even slip out of her dress. She slept for ten hours, deeply, like the dead.
“You couldn’t tell,” Rap Monster says. “You owned that song. Everyone’s mouths were wide open. That’s when I knew.” He stops himself.
Dare she ask? “Knew what?”
“It’s hard to explain. Don’t worry about it.”
“No, I want to know. It’s late. It’s been the craziest day of our lives. One of our instructors has been shot. We’re hiding in the auditorium in the middle of the night waiting for literally Nobody. Nothing you could say would be stupid right now.”
Rap Monster laughs quietly. “I see your point,” he says. “It just sounds stupid aloud. Well. I think that within all of us...there’s a fire, you know? Just that thing you’re put on this earth to do. And I don’t see people with that fire. Not often, anyway. I had just gotten into Kpop High. Following my dreams, and all that jazz. And all I was seeing were pretenders and fakers and liars. Kids that wanted to be idols, not artists. But when I saw you on stage, I saw that fire. And I knew then that I belonged here.”
“You saw that fire? Within me?”
“I’ve always seen it. I always see it. Hell, I see it now.”
“You can’t see anything in here.”
“I see you.”
A flame. Ailee sees a tiny flame appear between her and Rap Monster and for the first time she’s sees him and he’s smiling at her. He has seen her the whole time and that whole time he’s been smiling. Like he can’t help it.
But there’s someone else with them that lit that match and she’s not smiling at all. It’s IU and she’s annoyed. “This is not the time to fall in love,” IU whispers. She looks tired. Her left eye is twitching. “They’re coming,” she says. She smothers the light in her hands and the flame dies.
Ailee has about two million questions for IU and she’s about to have a million more. The stage lights up with tiny flames. Ailee feels terror well up within her. Could that terror drown out her fire? Will Rap Monster not be able to see her now? She reaches into the darkness and he’s there and he holds her hand and he says, “Shhhh.”
On the stage. A hooded figure. Then two. Then six. Then twelve. They all hold candles, their faces obscured. Their black hoods cover their whole bodies. They glisten beautifully within the terrible dark.
“Nobody is here?” one of them asks.
“Where Nobody sees you,” the others answer in unison.
To Be Continued...