Logan reaches the door of his suite and rests his forehead on the cold wood. The classes were exhausting and he just submitted his essay for professor Shim's class. His best bet was to write about funding of criminal practices in relation to children. He hoped this would show her how much he cared for her cause. That is if the papers are graded anonymously.
Because he did care for the cause. He set out to punish Sapiro, his parents and whoever else profited from the illegal adoption. But now he cares more about justice to the people left behind. The people who suffered from these crimes. Her.
A maid passes him in the corridor, eyeing him curiously, with a smirk. He takes it as his queue to go inside.
He wastes no time, just leaves his stuff on the floor, undoes the buttons of his shirt and flops on the leather couch. The shower has to wait.
How can he connect Sapiro and his family? What can he do to make Su Ryeon believe him and get her to join him in bringing them down? Tell her the whole truth, his unconscious prompts him. They've been spending time together, on and off class and she still doesn't know the depths of his involvement.
How can he be that close to her, smelling her perfume as he put his scarf around her wrist, mapping the reflection in her eyes, and not tell her?
As sleep comes dangerously close to claim him, something's moves. Right then, two hands come around his neck and squeeze violently, pinning him down. He's immobilised, but fights to escape his captor's hold, letting out a pained grunt.
"No! What do you want?" He squeezes when sharp nails dive towards the thin skin of his throat.
"Logan Lee", the voice that haunts his dreams has taken a sinister hue. "Wealthy successor", she reaches and takes a large metal pin out of her hair and brings its sharp edge to his throat "liar", she tilts his head until he sees her face better, contorted by anger, "criminal".
"What are you talking about? Professor, please" but before he has a chance to argue she pulls his hair hard, making him look towards his bedroom, where his laptop is open, along with document spread out kn his bed.
"You got Sol A's bone marrow! It's you who benefited from my daughter's death! And you came here to be a lawyer and ensure your family would never pay. You had the audacity to sit through my class, as if you're interested in serving justice".
The words form a puff of smoke in his mind, he's unable to process them. Min Sol A is...
"Anna was your daughter?" She pushes him towards the glass table, shattering the glass into a million pieces.
"Stop pretending! You knew. You knew everything, that's why you're trying to get me to partner up with you. You want to keep a close eye on the investigation. Make sure it doesn't lead to you".
From the weird angle she has him down, he can now see it's a long chinese style hairpin with sharp edges in lieu of a dagger on his throat.
The anger she has, it's a mother's rage. That explains it better.
"She's your daughter! But she told me she never knew her mother. She was pushed out from the orphanage and sent to us. I didn't know we wouldn't keep her. I swear, I didn't know".
"I. Don't. Believe. You". She says the words close to his side. He can't see her face, but almost feels her red painted lips on the shell of his ear.
"I haven't been completely honest with you", he attempts.
She barks a laugh. "Really?" Her tone is laced with irony. "What exactly do you want to add to your very plausible story? That you got your life because of my daughter and sent her back to the hellish place she grew up at? That your family paid the Sapiro gang to legitimise this "adoption"? God knows what you did for them in return. I'm guessing money laundering through one of your multiple corporations".
"I had no idea why we brought Anna. I only confronted my parents after they sent her back. She was a pure child. She sang. All day. We played piano together. My parents were yelling at her to stop. I didn't know she was your daughter!", He pushes her hands and she gets in front of him. He's still in her hold.
"Then why did you come to me? Why the partnership, why the interest in my work?"
"You were the only one who was actually doing something to punish them! Do you know how hard I tried with the authorities in the US? No one wants to get involved, no police or federal agency. It's an international incident and US-Korean relations are at stake. They told me if no one will open an investigation because it threatens the legal adoption of Korean children too. Not to mention that they didn't want to risk angering a crime syndicate. But you," he smiles amidst his exasperation, "you had the guts to target them and you have the means to make them pay." Her eyes soften for a moment. He feels her hold loosen. "I read about you. I was so disappointed I couldn't avenge her death. I thought the gang was too big to go against, but here you are, doing it. You're my only hope".
She looks at him, searching for signs of honesty. His stomach tightens at her perusal. It's like she's trying to see inside him.
He loosens his hands on her forearms but that alarms her. She pins him down on the sofa and bring her body above his. He's acutely aware his shirt is unbuttoned, his chest bare to her, making him feel vulnerable in every sense.
Her long hair falls on his chest like a caress. It's the only soft thing about her. Her legs are tight around his hips, holding him down and she bites her lower lip.
She brings the hair pin's edge down to his chest, carving a deadly path on his skin, stoping above his heart.
"I found the recording software in my computer. Didn't you install it to spy on me? And then broke into the control room to erase the evidence? Why would you spy on your only hope?" She hisses. She holds him tight and locks her legs with his.
"I thought you were working with them!" He exclaims.
"Me? With the people I'm prosecuting?"
"Yes! It's the perfect partnership. You're the last person anyone would suspect. I found out your husband had a business deal traced to a member of the organisation."
"So you thought I was covering for him and getting him to be rich?"
"Yes! I'm sorry. It made sense. He's facilitating the movement of children, you keep the judges focused away. And feed him info. I didn't know you as I know you now. You're not like that." He holds his tongue, he doesn't want to risk saying how she is like.
He squeezes her hand holding the improvised weapon and pushes it away from him. As soon as she realises what he's doing, she resists and pushes him. The force has her falling of the sofa on her back. The plush carpet breaks her fall, but it still hurts.
"Stop it!" He says as he falls with her, landing on top of her. "We shouldn't fight. If we do they win". Her hair is spread around her head like a halo. She looks like an angel in black, if only for her eyes that are full of fire.
"Let's be partners. For real this time. I'll tell you everything I know. Even the shady deals my family has made. We'll be working together anyway, no one will suspect anything. And then we'll bring them all down". His chest moves up and down in tension. The edges of his open shirt touch where her blouse meets her skirt. Her cheeks flush and her chest moves in sync with his. For a moment, he relishes being close to her.
He gets off her, allowing her to rise to her feet and then offers her his hand.
She gives him her left hand and pulls him closer. He makes a move to squeeze it when she pushes the hairpin through his chest and stabs him above the heart.
The pain is piercing. He looks at her in disbelief.
"I will never hold hands with someone like you. You'll pay for what you did. And if you stand in my way, I'll destroy you". She pushes him hard and his back meets the bookshelves behind him, books falling off.
She parts with a pained glance and bloody palms.
Sol A, did you know? Were you leading me to your mother all along?
He can't focus on the material presented in class. He sits on the back and lets communication theory pass through his ears, while other students form groups and laugh with each other.
As soon as the class finishes, two girls approach him. They can't be over eighteen, a decade separating him from everyone else. They look chipper, the opposite of what he feels.
"Hello. You must be Gu Ho Dong. We're from the students committee. Are you coming to the student recital this weekend?"
"I don't think so".
"Think about it. The students from Elise highschool will perform their solos and then there's a cocktail party. It's a great opportunity to network, all our professors will be there".
That gets his attention. He takes the invitation and politely leaves, missing the girls' wide smiles.
Historically, he's had far better ideas than to go to Professor Shim's office to confront her again. But after last night's fight, the first time they saw clearly who the other was, he owes it to her to prove himself. He's made some progress alone in his investigation, but he needs her prosecutory brilliance.
A girl is sitting on the waiting area outside her office. She has her head on her hands, her long black hair covering her face. He can't see if she's crying or not.
"Hey. Are you alright?" He approaches and sits two seats next to her.
The girl turns to him with a pained expression.
"Hello. I'm okay", she utters. "I'm waiting for Ms Su Ryeon".
"Are you alone? Do you need something?"
"You can call me Logan. I'm one of Professor Shim's students" he reaches his hand across and she shyly takes it.
"I'm Bae Ro Na".
"Great to meet you. Is this a bad time for you? Why are you waiting here?"
"I'm waiting cause I can't go inside yet. Ms Su Ryeon is inside fighting with Ms Seo Jin." Indeed, Logan can hear faint soundbites of a dispute inside the office.
"Why did you come to Ms Shim?"
"My mom left me to her for the week because she is away with Dr Ha. He's Ms Seo Jin's husband so she is angry at my mom and Ms Su Ryeon, she thinks they're planning something against her. But I swear, my mom only wants to clear the past and be good at her new job. She doesn't want another woman's man".
Logan remains silent. He offers an encouragement smile.
She continues. "Cheon Seo Jin is the director of my school. Elise highschool. I think she won't let me participate in the recital. I can't not play, it's my only chance. And Ms Su Ryeon is sponsoring me, I don't wanna disappoint her".
"Su Ryeon Ssi will be proud of you anyway".
"You don't get it. She bought me my lessons, my music books, even a piano. She gives me notes on every performance. She always cheers me."
"Sounds to me she's gonna be there for you no matter what. She's shown that by supporting you. So, the question is, are you confident in your talent? Cause she is".
"I love singing. It's just," she hunches closer to him, "all the other kids bet on me failing. Seok Kyun laughed at me for participating. The teachers too."
"All the more reason to prove them wrong. I'm twice your age", the girl can't be over fifteen, "and here's what I learned: it doesn't matter if every person in the world is against you. You only need one person that loves you to succeed. One special person to believe in you. You have Su Ryeon Ssi. And now you have me too".
"Thank you ajhussi". He lifts a single eyebrow. "I mean, thank you Logan".
The girl plays with her pink scrunchie and her voice reminds him of another girl, close to his heart. A girl who sang her way into his life long ago. And left it skewed and empty.
He hears commotion inside the doors and says quickly "If I had Su Ryeon by my side as you do, I could face anyone. She believes in you, do the same".
As soon as he utters his last word, the door swings open, revealing a woman in a blue severe pantsuit with golden buttons, clicking her black heels as she strode out the office.
"We're not done, Su Ryeon", she glances at Rona and him, rolling her eyes imperceptibly. Su Ryeon reaches her at the door. "I'll see you again", she lifts the edges of her lips, forming an alien smile.
"I'll be here". Su Ryeon's answer sounds to him more like a threat. He doesn't know the full story, but the women's animosity must run further that Rona's situation.
Her eyes fall on him.
"I was telling Logan about my recital" Rona explains excitedly. "Please, Logan, can you come?"
"I'd love to hear you sing, kid. What's your song?"
"Il Dolce Suono".
"Sang by Maria Kallas. I learned that on the piano. Don't worry, you'll be amazing. Remember who's with you".
He nods and Su Ryeon approaches the girl, touching her shoulder in a motherly gesture.
"If you'll excuse us", Su Ryeon dismisses him.
"Actually, I was hoping to talk to you."
"No. I'll see you in class". She moves to return to the office, Rona by her side.
"I think I was clear about your assignment last time".
"Our last conversation didn't exactly cover everything. At least take this", he produces a flashdrive from his messenger bag. She eyes him but make no move to take it.
Rona, looking between them, takes a step forward and takes the usb drive, giving it to a reluctant Su Ryeon.
"I hope you give me a chance to work with you".
For a second, she looks at the spot where she pierced his skin. It should hurt, but today he touched his newly formed scar with a hopeful expression. Scars heal.
"Good luck Rona." He leaves them, this perfect image of mother and daughter. In another life, they could wave him goodbye when leaving for work. She'd rather stab you than spend time with you, his inner voice supplies unhelpfully. Nevertheless, he must persist.
He compiled all the evidence of criminal activity that tied his family to illegal adoption and put it in the flash drive. Now his fate was in her hands.
These beautiful hands that he tied his scarf around, then squeezing the breath out of his throat the other day. These hands that grabbed Sol A's and his photo and held it tight. She was still grieving her daughter, just like he was grieving the girl.
A mother's love is forever. Will her anger be too?
Her grief and his secrets brought her anger. If the way she moved above him when having him pinned down is any indication, he doesn't want to be her enemy any longer.
Riding his motorcycle in the busy streets, he can't control the images flashing through his mind. They project on the visor of his helmet like a movie. Su Ryeon pulling the pin and letting her luscious hair fall down, cascade down her tense shoulders. The warmth of her body when she landed on top of him, forcing him to look only at her. She stabbed him, above the heart and he wonders if it's the most pain he'll endure while he's near her.
But most of all, the memory of the hurt in her eyes when he told her about Sol A. He had to do something to wipe that agony off her face.
Su Ryeon enters the spacious concert hall, in time for the recital to start. She extricates her hand from Dan Tae's hold, as he's guiding her to their seats in the front. He doesn't notice.
The rest of the Hera club has graced the school with their presence, eager to watch their kids in this elegant but cutthroat competition. The absence of Yoon Hee and Yoon Chul can be felt in Seo Jin's glares and red pursed lips.
"Jenny chose a difficult song to perform tonight, I am so nervous for her", Kang Mari tells her. "Look, my skin is flushed". She covers her cheeks with her hands, a set gold bracelets clinking with the movement.
"She will do great, don't worry".
"Thank you unnie". Mari squeezes Su Ryeon's hand. It's stiff and she notices it but doesn't comment. "You're always so calm and peaceful".
You have no idea.
Su Ryeon's boiling on the inside for months now.
I'll show you how calm and collected I can be.
The ceremony started, with Seo Jin introducting the students who sang and those who played the piano. Each pair was performing a song by am artist they admired. Seok Hoon and Jenny chose The Magic Flute, while Seok Kyung flew towards german renaissance. Her daughter was impeccable on stage. Still, she knew how impatient and anxious she got before she went on, and she hoped the pressure wouldn't bring out her bad side.
Each piece is more complex and challenging than the previous. Voices ascend to almost touch the gods. The gowns give the night a regal atmosphere.
Finally, it's Rona's turn. She heads towards the microphone in the center of the dtsgi, all the lights on her. She gets in position, closes her eyes and waits.
"Our next performance is by Bae Ro Na singing Il Dulce Suono. She is accompanied by Ho Bul Ne on the piano."
Silence fell in the audience. Some murmurs spread in the wide amphitheatre. You could hear the ruffling of clothes. The scratching of nails on the armrests.
Rona opened her eyes and her worst fear came true.
She was alone on stage.
She looks around frantically for her accompanist but the lights blind her. He's not coming.
Su Ryeon rises up from her seat. That's not a coincidence that he didn't show up. And she suspects who's behind this sabotage.
Seo Jin smiles sardonically. "It looks like the pianist is absent. This results in disqualification of the pair".
"No", Rona opposes. "Please".
Su Ryeon looks between them. She can't do anything. She sponsored her, was with her every step of the way, but she couldn't control her own daughter's actions. Now Rona will pay for it.
"Last chance for Mr Ho to take his place behind the piano." A beat. "I'm afraid that means you're dis-"
"I'll play with her". A voice reaps through the air. A man leaps on to the stage and passes Seo Jin, whose widened eyes follow him until he reaches the piano.
Su Ryeon watches frozen as Logan glimpses at the sheet music and places his hand on the keys. He nods at a bewildered Rona, who gets it together in a second. The first notes fill the space and silence falls. It's only Rona's beautiful voice, the cadence dancing through the melody as if the story of the opera was unfolding before them.
Logan, whose black shirt and styled hair make him fit the music world to a tee, is lost in the pattern of the keys. He's playing as if he's done it his whole life.
As if he played for someone he loved.
Images of him and her daughter playing piano and singing overflow her mind. She would be happy with him, her Sol A. Logan's the only one who has had happy moments with her. When she came to the penthouse, she was burdened with abuse from everyone. As his fingers fly on top of he kids, she thinks Logan made her daughter happy, helping her do the thing she loved the most. If he brought even one smile on her daughter's face, she could give him a chance. Sol A was showing her the way so far and she trusted her spirit to guide her to the end.
The song ends earning a standing ovation. Rona lets her gaze travel across the space and the warm reception of the crowd wash over her.
Logan directs all the attention to her, motioning to her as she takes a bow. His eyes scan the crowd.
"A prince has saved the day", Mari whispers excitedly. "And not just Rona's".
Su Ryeon doesn't respond, as the observation is painfully accurate. She was behind Rona's part.
Did he also do it for her?
She reaches the backstage room where all the parents are gathered to congratulate their children. She's carrying flowers for Rona ans the twins. As soon as she enters, an angry voice stops her in her tracks.
"What are you trying to pull Shim Su Ryeon?" Seo Jin approaches her menacingly as the rest of the parents pretend to be busy with their kids. "This is my school. I won't let you change the performances on a whim. This is unacceptable behaviour. I wonder what kind of punishment must Rona receive in light of that".
"She's right, honey". Ju Dan Tae supplies with his usual slimey grin. "You're too close to Rona, getting mixed up in her life like that".
"Only the guilty should be punished. But I didn't expect you to know that, Cheon Seo Jin." She defies coolly, not sparing her husband a glance. All this pretending they're happy together, now she finally knows where his loyalties lie.
She makes a move to leave.
"She's not your dead daughter. However much you coddle Rona, your daughter's not coming back".
Su Ryeon's body goes numb. Empty. Then, white hot rage engulfs her and laces her every word.
"If I were you", she whispers close to Seo Jin, "I'd be more afraid when the killer is revealed. They can be amongst us. The proof is in the ring".
The soprano's face contorts. She's fuming. "You'll never succeed Shim Su Ryeon. I'll take everything away from you".
When she leaves, Dan Tae stays by Seo Jin's side. His cowardice is predictable and makes her decision easier.
She doesn't have to break in this time. She knocks curtly. She stands tall, determined.
Logan opens the door. The hair towel almost falls from his hand.
"Let's destroy them together".