The sight of Hak strolling through the training grounds was like a punch to Soo-won’s gut. He was wearing the Sky Tribe uniform, effortlessly carrying multiple stacks of sacks on one shoulder and under one arm. He looked at ease in the middle of struggling Sky Tribe soldiers, even when he was the one carrying the most weight.
They were some distance away, but even without Gulfan happily flying just above his head and keeping pace with him, Soo-won would never mistake Hak’s tall stature and leisurely gait. Hak had always had a steady presence that made him distinguishable even from a distance, as if he was a stable rock that couldn’t be moved even with the harshest of winds.
Soo-won stared at him for a moment, gobsmacked, before he remembered where he was and who he was with.
“General Joo-doh,” he murmured, “what were you going to say about the thirteenth company…?”
“...the thunderbeast enlisted in it,” Joo-doh answered. “It was by his own wish. He said he was fine if he had to start as an infantryman, and told us to put him into the Sky Tribe army. It seems advisor Kye-sook gave his permission for it.”
Soo-won’s shock felt like a wave that flooded his body, shaking him to the core. He did not know what to make of that, did not know how to react. His mind was blank, numb, yet his emotions were a jumble.
Joo-doh went on, “Your Majesty, if you order it, we’ll send him back to his quarters.”
Soo-won didn’t respond. He stood there for a minute, still watching Hak, still reeling from the shock. They were in Hiryuu castle; here, Soo-won had all the advantage, but why was it him who was getting caught off guard?
He slowly dropped to the ground, bowing his head.
He ignored Joo-doh, putting a hand to his forehead. “What,” he murmurs, “are you doing…”
What are you doing, putting yourself in the middle of hostile territory?
But the words were for himself as much as they were for Hak, because Soo-won knew what exactly he was doing. Hak had always been Yona’s shield, always been the rock she could lean on when she needed. He had always been by her side, always been devoted to her, even when the odds were against them. He had always been looking at her, looking after her, and it was stupid to think that he would stay still while she was moving forward.
No, the words were for Soo-won himself, because for a second he let himself think that Hak was there for him. He had, for a second, foolishly entertained the thought that Hak would finally be at his side, just as he [Soo-won] had always wanted.
What are you doing?
Hak’s loyalty would never be dedicated to him, not when Soo-won’s betrayal lies like a gaping hole between them. It was a chasm of his [Soo-won’s] doing, and no bridge of regret or goodwill would ever be sturdy enough to let him cross that abyss. He knew that, but it didn’t make it any less painful.
How foolish he was sometimes, to try to catch the ties he had mercilessly cut. How hypocritical, to long for them when it was him who drove them away.
He rose to his feet abruptly, catching sight of Hak's back as the soldiers turned a corner.
“I give you leave to deal with it as you see fit, General Joo-doh.” He collected himself, putting on his usual smile, before he turned back to Joo-doh and Zeno. “Also, please see Mister Zeno to his quarters.”
The headache came without warning, as it always did. Soo-won had wandered inside the palace after he left the gardens, lost in thought. Now he didn’t know where he was, and the pain was making it hard to concentrate. Min-soo, he needed to find Min-soo. He stumbled, supported himself on a wall, and kept walking. The headache grew worse.
“Your Majesty.” His guard, always a constant shadow, approached him.
“I’m alright.” He managed to wave his hand dismissively, shifting his focus on putting one foot in front of the other.
Was he back in his palace? Ah, there was the room. Just a few more feet. Something clattered, but the pain was everywhere now, taking over his senses, and he didn’t know if the sound was him hitting the door or something else. He didn’t have enough wits about him to care. He stumbled into the room, his sight blacking out, his body doubling over.
It hurts. It hurts. Where was Min-soo? Soo-won couldn’t feel anything but the pain. It was in his head, and it was so intense he could practically feel it on his whole body. Was he being ground to dust? No, the pain was still there so he must still be whole.
Has Hak caught up to him to beat the living daylights out of him? It felt like he was. Hak had always been strong, even when he was young. And Soo-won would let him, just like he almost let him back at the pier in Sensui.
Easy, someone whispered. Easy.
The pain gave way to consciousness--was he conscious?--and Soo-won felt a pair of arms encircling him. His own hands were clinging tightly to--
But the body was too small to be his mother’s, the touch familiar but different. No. This is…
He was a child again, lying beside Yona, looking at her tear-stained face. He was holding her hand, telling her stories, chasing her fears away.
“Are you better now?” She asked in a low, soothing voice.
Is it a dream? It must be. She would never hold him like this, not after everything he did.
“Yona.” Is it okay, if it’s in a dream? “Listen. Today... Hak, you see, became a soldier of the Sky Tribe.” Is it okay if I talk with her just a little? To pretend that this was the past and they were still with me? “And on top of that, Gulfan, he seemed so happy...he was flying…”