King and Queen, Episode 20


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!

***

Rap Monster wakes and wipes drool from the sterile white pillow balanced on his shoulder. He looks hopefully to the hospital bed beside him, but Ailee remains unconscious. And Rap Monster embraces the moment, briefly. In another setting, he imagines waking up and watching her sleep, happy in the soft rise and fall of her breath.

The moment doesn’t last. Until she wakes, he is dominated by worry. The beep of the heart monitor is the only strand that tethers him to this earth.

Rap Monster stands up slowly, reviewing the collection of wires and tubes. He tries to remind himself that they are there for Ailee’s benefit, that her presence in the hospital is a positive, that she is getting the help she needs.

His back aches from spending another night on a chair. He digs his hand into the taut muscles and winces in pain. It wasn’t easy convincing the nurses to let him stay that first night, but by now they are used to his presence. Before the morning rounds, Rap Monster practices the words he will say when Ailee first opens her eyes.

“You’re okay. Everything is okay. I’m here with you.”

Which is exactly what he says when she wakes, hours later. Only the reception is not what he expected.

“Where am I?” Ailee asks, groggy, ignoring everything else.

Why hadn’t he thought of that? Of course she would be confused, waking up in a completely foreign place.

“You’re in Seoul National University Hospital,” he says. Did she recognize him? How much did she remember? “This is Rap Monster,” he says. “It’s May 28. The weather is sunny outside. Yesterday it rained.” What else would she want to know? “Exam week just ended.” He kicks himself for bothering her with such stupid details.

“Did I pass?”

“What?” Rap Monster laughs in spite of everything. He laughs at the unexpectedness of Ailee’s humor. He laughs because for the first time in days he can feel himself relax. “Yeah,” he says, “You passed with flying colors.”

“Good,” Ailee croaks, and Rap Monster rushes to find her a cup of water. “I was hoping I slept through Tony An’s final.” She accepts the liquid gratefully, but only sips a small amount through the straw.

“How do you feel?” Rap Monster asks, suddenly beset by a new string of worries. “Should I call a nurse? Are you in any pain? Can I get you anything?”

“I’m fine,” she says. And, “Don’t leave.”

After her I love you, it’s the second most amazing thing he’s ever heard.

“Ailee. I never got to say, but--”

“I know,” she says.

But he can’t leave it at that. He has to hear it said in order to give the emotion power, to give it the gravity and weight it deserves. “I love you too.”

He isn’t sure how many hours they spend with their eyes locked in love, but eventually the nurses come to interrupt them, checking and rechecking Ailee’s vitals. He is kicked out while they examine her and run tests, but he can feel the worry subsiding, the fear leaving his heart.

In the hospital waiting room he remembers, for the first time in days, his phone, turned off to save battery. He powers it on, but cannot deal with the missed calls, texts, emails. He composes instead, brief messages to everyone he knows has been worried. Ailee is awake, he writes to Principal Hyori and Zico. I know that Ailee would very much like to see you, he types to HyunA and Amber. Though he wants nothing more than to spend every moment with Ailee, to forget the world and run away with her, he understands that their time together will have to wait. More importantly, he realizes that he alone cannot convince Ailee to stay at Kpop High.

***

Lee Hyori knocks lightly on the hospital room door before peeking her head in. She apologizes for interrupting, but Zico waves her in, promising that he has to leave anyways. In the transition, Hyori witnesses Ailee give him a heartfelt thank you, presumably in recognition for a part of that night she will never fully understand.

“I’m glad you are doing well,” Hyori says, while Zico exits the room. And she does look well. As promised by Rap Monster, Ailee is alert and ready to receive visitors. “I prayed for your recovery.”

Ailee smiles in reply, and it’s not the hospital gown or lack of makeup that makes Ailee look older. Hyori sees maturity where she once saw the troubles of a child.

Alone in the room now, Hyori bows deeply. She straightens, then apologizes from her heart. “I am sorry, Ailee, that I was not able to protect you and the rest of the students of Kpop High from this tragedy. My failures as a principal put you in great danger, and I take full responsibility.”

Ailee interrupts her before she can continue. “You haven’t been fired, have you?”

Hyori can see the pain and disbelief in Ailee’s voice. And she is grateful for that. But she also sees now the child that still lives inside of Ailee.

“I’ve decided to pursue another job. I’ll still be at Kpop High,” she adds, before Ailee can argue. “But there’s something else I have to do. Something even more important. I’ve taken a position as a mental health counselor at Kpop High.”

“Mental health?” Ailee asks, and Hyori wonders if the painkillers are slowing her down. “Like for stress and depression?”

“Yes, among other things. But enough about me, how are you feeling?”

“Fuzzy, but better,” she says, massaging her temples.

“That’s good to hear.”

“Principal Hyori?”

“Just Hyori,” she corrects Ailee.

“What will happen to Suzy? And The Nameless?”

“Don’t you worry about that right now. Just focus on resting up and getting your strength back.”

“But--”

“No, Ailee. You don’t need to worry about that.”

There’s a silence while Hyori looks determinedly out the window on the other side of the room. What happens to the other students is beyond either of their control.

“Principal Hyori?”

“Just Hyori.”

“Sorry. Hyori?”

“Yes, Ailee?”

“You were Queen all four years when you went to Kpop High, right? Did you ever worry you wouldn’t get it?”

“All the time.”

“Did you ever worry--” Ailee stops mid-sentence, clearly upset by something. “What I mean is, when I heard there was an envelope with my name on it, even though I was sure it was a fake, I still felt something, some insane desire well up inside me. I felt scared by the power of that feeling. Embarrassed even.”

Hyori stops herself from speaking too quickly, too forcefully. She will have to learn to control her emotions as a counselor. “What you felt was normal, Ailee. You felt a desire to prove yourself, to be recognized. Ambition is what drives us forward. Adversity is what defines us.”

Ailee nods, but Hyori can tell she has more questions. She waits patiently for the young woman to ask. But the question surprises her still.

“What if I don’t belong here?” Ailee asks.

Hyori counts to ten before speaking. She practices slowing down. “That’s something only you can decide,” she says, calmly, though her heart is burning. “But I’ll say this. You absolutely deserve to be at Kpop High. As for what it is that you want--that’s entirely up to you.”

She pats Ailee lightly on the leg, careful not to apply too much pressure. “Rest now, and we’ll talk later.” She bows again before turning to exit the room.

“Oh and Principal Hyori?”

“Yes?” she says, turning, not bothering to correct Ailee. Not this time.

“You have nothing to apologize for. I’m glad you were there that night.”

Hyori nods her head before quickly closing the door. She does not want Ailee to see her cry.

***

HyunA didn’t see a reason to visit, but Amber wouldn’t hear it.

“She was involved with this too. We owe her,” Amber told her, dragging her by the arm.

“You visit her then,” HyunA had told her, burying her heels into the ground. She didn’t want to leave her dorm room. She just wanted to curl in her bed and let the next few days, weeks, maybe even months roll by without her.

“It’s what IU would have wanted us to do,” Amber told her. A dagger, aimed for the heart. It misses, but just.

“You can’t keep using that,” HyunA warned her.

But here she is now, with Amber, and she’s even holding Ailee’s cup of water.

“I can take that now,” AIlee tells her, and she smiles as HyunA hands her the cup. She’s reclined in the hospitable bed, having just straightened her pillow and brushing her hair, “Because I have guests,” Ailee had said when they arrived. She looks in good spirits. Happy, even. She hadn’t seen her like this for months. So why now?

“I need your help,” Ailee says, smiling.

Amber looks taken aback. But that’s why they’re here, isn’t it? One more grand gesture for the dead. “Yes,” Amber says. “Anything.”

“Give me an update on what’s happening. No one wants to tell me anything.” When she sees Amber hesitate, Ailee says, “Please.”

So why not tell her? HyunA doesn’t have the same reservations. She has always been bereft of reservations.

“Suzy is in a loony bin,” HyunA starts with. “As soon as you knocked her down and almost got yourself killed, she kept screaming about becoming the one true queen.”

“I missed that part,” Ailee says, with a frown.

“Well, Detective Gary grabbed her and she’s still screaming, they say, about IU stealing what’s rightfully hers.”

“Did he arrest the Nameless?”

“Oh, that’s the best part,” HyunA begins.

Amber coughs, directing HyunA to stop, but HyunA’s already in a foul mood, so being told what to do makes it worse. “Suzy worked with the Nameless but not under their orders. She snuck a peek at the winner envelope with IU’s name on it, but ended up stealing the one that had your name on it after she shot JYP. And the Nameless?” HyunA gives a laugh that comes from the back to her throat. It even startles herself, and she stops. Who was she angry at here really? Not Ailee, who she had always liked. And not Amber, who could be her only real friend in the world.

“And the Nameless?” Ailee asks, ready to hear it all.

“A slap on the wrist,” Amber speaks up.

“You can’t be serious,” Ailee says.

“Jonghyun is getting a plea deal,” Amber says. “The rest of the Nameless too. Maybe some of them will testify against Suzy.”

“After everything they’ve done?” Ailee says, still not believing.

“Bad press can sink Kpop High,” HyunA says, feeling her own resignation sink in. “If it’s just one person, one bad seed working alone, that’s something JYP can work with. But a cabal? Rumor is Hyori wouldn’t stand for a cover-up. That’s why she got sacked.”

“Those are just rumors,” Amber reiterates.

Ailee shakes her head. “Thanks for telling me.” Amber stands, and HyunA follows. They’re about to say goodbye, but then Ailee motions for them to sit.

“Amber. HyunA. I just. Thank you. For being there for IU. For helping her. Thank you.”

And what good did that do? IU still died in her arms. HyunA goes to the door, ready to leave.

“The students know the truth,” Ailee says. “That means something.”

HyunA feels something touch her, a part of her that went black the moment IU died. That something almost hits her heart, missing it. But just.

“It’s not enough,” HyunA tells her.

***

It’s not enough. Those words stay with Ailee while she tries to drift to sleep. Of course it wasn’t enough. But that isn’t her problem anymore. As soon as she is discharged from the hospital, she’d be taking a one-way ticket back to the states. Where she belongs.

She tells herself that she’ll get over Rap Monster. That what they had experienced together was the heat of the moment. She tells herself that Kpop High’s problems run deeper than anyone is willing to address. She tells herself that she’s leaving for all the right reasons.

She drifts into dreams but is woken so abruptly that it takes a moment to regain her reality. Especially since it’s JYP in a hospital gown that has woken her with a, “Hey, Ailee.”

She shakes her head, finding her composure. “Visiting hours are over,” she tells him. “How’d you even get in?”

“Well,” he says with a laugh, “because I’m JYP.” He takes a seat next to her, without invitation. His legendary arrogance is well earned.

“I don’t want to talk with you right now,” Ailee says as politely as she can. She wants to punch him in the face, but her body is still stiff and the painkillers have left her drowsy.

He smiles. “I admire you, Ailee. I really do.”

“Is that why you put my name on a winner’s envelope?”

“Precisely! Sure, Jessica and Taeyang got the class vote. IU was the smart choice. But they were all missing what you have. Your fire, Ailee. I can see it now. You could ignite this room right now, I can see that.”

“But my scandal.”

“For some of us, scandals are nothing.”

“What about the scandal that’s going to hit Kpop High? That’s going to hit you?”

“Me? I was shot, Ailee! I’m the victim here!”

He is impenetrable. Infuriating. His smile never fades.

“All the things you’ve done. They’ll come out, JYP.”

“I’m beyond scandals, Ailee. Just like you.”

“I’m nothing like you,” Ailee says. If only she could believe it. Didn’t she feel a thrill through her spine, just for a moment, when she first found out her name was on one of the winning envelopes? That thrill is one of the reasons she has to leave, get out of there, escape that side of her that thirsts for fame beyond anything else in the whole world. No, she wasn’t like JYP. But she could be. More easily than she’d ever admit.

“You’re the hero of Kpop High, Ailee. You’ll be remembered for ages. You know that, right?”

“IU was the real hero.”

“Her too, sure,” he says, waving his hands absentmindedly. “But we’ll build statues of you. You’ll be mythologized.”

“I don’t want that.”

“Why does it matter? You won’t be here anyway.” JYP sits back, more concerned with other things.

He’s got her there. She doesn’t want to engage him further, so she doesn’t say anything in response.

JYP taps on the side of her bed, as if he were composing a new song in his head. He stops. “What if I told you I was sorry, Ailee? Mistakes were made. I admit that. Would that make you happy?”

“And the Nameless? What about King and Queen?”

“I’ll take care of the Nameless. I underestimated some of the students. I realize that now. And what about King and Queen?”

“Will you still be having King and Queen?”

“Of course, Ailee. King and Queen is an institution. I can’t change that.”

Ailee think about the Dungeon. The future idols trapped in obscurity. She thinks about people like Rap Monster, who don’t fit the idol mold. Who hold a fire within themselves just as strong as hers. Who would never rise to make King or Queen in JYP’s arbitrary system. She thinks about Rap Monster. And then she can’t stop thinking about him.

Could she really leave Rap Monster to face all of this alone?

No, of course not. No. She smiles thinking about him. She smiles, hoping to be an agent of change. JYP sees this and thinks he’s got her. He pulls a cigar out of the breast pocket of his gown, somehow he has a cigar in a hospital, and pats her on the back.

“Your apology?” Ailee says, laughing. “It’s not enough.” JYP’s smile fades. He must realize. Ailee isn’t going anywhere.

***

The End.

There's plenty more drama and intrigue in store for Kpop High. Watch out for Season 2, coming soon!


-C

2 comments:

  1. It is 2am. I have absolutely no idea how I found this story and how I've been reading every single chapter for the past hour and a half. What I do know is that I absolutely loved this! The writing is amazing and the storyline, just wow! I need that Season 2 soon! Amazing work! Who needs sleep when there's an amazing story like this to read!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! We certainly had a blast producing it!

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