Under One Sky

On a night, soon after affairs in the Water tribe’s territory are concluded, Hak, Yona, and Soo-won think about each other, what they’ve become to each other, and what may wait in their future. Drama, Character Study, Loyalty Porn, Light Angst, Sort-of Threesome, I-3

Character(s): Son Hak, Soo-won, Yona

Hak watched the campfire with unfocused eyes, hands moving over the blade of his spear with absent familiarity, cleaning and oiling, testing the edge. He listened to Yun ordering Yona’s dragons around, briskly assuring the last of the evening’s camp chores were all done, but he wasn’t paying attention to that, either.

He was listening to the whisper and snap of Yona’s bowstring, and the small, flat thud of each arrow flying home into tonight’s target tree.

Hak tried not to be grateful that Yona’s hands were as sure, now, on her bow and sword as they were, once, on her long sashes and bright over-robes. He tried hard not to be grateful for that.

It wasn’t because of the old king’s memory and his determination to keep his daughter and people free of blood, though Hak still respected that. It wasn’t because he was her guard, should be her sword, should never allow her to be in danger, though he still felt that. It was because of where the gratitude came from.

Hak knew himself reasonably well. He’d known for a long time that he loved Yona, for example. So he’d known for even longer that he loved the sharp edge of violence, of strife, of exercising his greatest gift. He loved how bright it made the people around him, bright with their own effort, their desire to live and triumph. People fighting burned as bright as the logs at his feet, lighting up the falling night. If that were all he saw, when he watched Yona shooting or practicing her sword form, then he’d feel no conflict, would love that fire in her with a whole heart, give himself to her burning without a flicker of doubt, as completely as any of her dragons.

He did give himself to her completely.

But when he watched her with weapons in her hands, something deep inside him relaxed, eased, not just because he rejoiced in her strength but because her fierce brightness, then, tugged his attention away from the memory of another’s brightness. Another’s brightness that some part of him still yearned toward, still needed to be distracted from, and that need infuriated him.

Hak knew himself reasonably well, so he knew he’d chosen his master years ago, and that master was not Yona. Not then. He’d loved her, of course, and he’d always protected her with everything in him, but her brightness was lighter, back then, softer. The one whose brightness was heavy and edged, then, wasn’t Yona.

It was Soo-won.

Watching Soo-won’s smile turn sharp, watching his eyes turn intent, watching him move pieces on a playing board or people to his will, feeling him block even Hak’s attacks and take the bruises from them and retreat until he found the perfect moment to strike… Sitting flat on his butt in the Royal Guards’ empty practice yard, staring up at the brilliance of Soo-won’s grin in his flushed, dripping face as he offered Hak a hand back up and wiped away a trickle of blood with his other wrist… In that moment, Hak had chosen his master. He’d felt the shape of his future, then, felt it like something snapping into place and settling. He would guard them both, be their sword and shield, Yona’s shelter and Soo-won’s right hand. He would serve them and be loved by them. His queen would be beauty and warmth enough for a whole kingdom, and his king, his master, would be greatness enough. And Hak? He would be strength enough. It had felt so right, in his heart, in his head, knowing that was how things would be.

A log collapsed in a brief cloud of sparks, and Hak blinked away the brightness of them, jaw set.

That rightness had shattered, all in one night of rain and blood and the incomprehensible flatness of Soo-won’s eyes as he’d admitted to killing Yona’s father in front of her. Hak would never forgive him for that, not for Yona’s pain and not for the loss of their world and future together. But the memory of that future still sang to him, and he was grateful, so very grateful, that Yona had grown bright enough, hot enough, fierce enough to hold his loyalty as well as his love, to command the attention of what lived at the base of his spine and under his ribs. To pull that attention away from Soo-won.

He hated the need to be grateful.

Yona took a slow breath, feeling the flow of steady strength from her firmly set feet, up through her lungs, down her arms. It was late; the moon had risen on her target practice, making the shafts of arrows she’s already shot stand out, pale against the shadowy trunk she was aiming for. She wasn’t weary yet, though, and she drew the bow again, taking a small moment’s pleasure in the resilience her body had gained. She didn’t precisely love her current life, but it satisfied something deep inside her, far deeper than was ever reached or woken by her life in the palace. She lived this life for her people, and was not broken by it. She released the arrow, and released her breath, and smiled as the shot bit firmly into the tree where she’d aimed it.

Her last kanzashi had never broken, either.

Yona’s smile faded. She wished, sometimes, that it would. If it broke, from the roughness of the life she lived now, then she could tell herself that it was a sign her old life (her old love) couldn’t fit into her new one.

But the bright, pretty hair ornament Soo-won gave her had never broken, no matter what falls or blows she’d taken while carrying it, and that… well, she had a hard time, sometimes, not viewing that as a sign too.

Her fury had never faded, not since the day she first woke from her daze, pulled awake by the specter of losing Hak and the sudden, hot need to close her hands on him and keep him. Her fury simmerd in her blood with every breath, drove her arms through the motions of pulling her bow or swinging down her sword, drove her feet down the path that would protect her realm. But none of that helped her, because that road only seemed to lead her back to Soo-won, or at least alongside him.

This would all be easier if she hated him. Sometimes she wished she did.

She was infuriated with him all the time; to call it anger was far too pale a word for the razored edges of rage and pain that clawed under her breastbone every time she remembered her father’s body on the floor at Soo-won’s feet. At the same time, though, every time she saw the changes he’d made, the faces of the people easing at news of new markets, new crops, safer borders, she saw the smile of the boy she grew up with, was struck still on the road, sometimes, with the memory of it. Every time they actually met, the whole ball of rage and sorrow and sweetness whirled up inside her, tangling her in the burning strands of it until she almost screamed.

She forced away those memories with another hard breath out and instead drew another arrow and set it, feeling for the proper pressure and slide of the bowstring under her calloused fingertips, pulling it back until she could almost hear the tension on the string, sighting down her arm in the ghostly reversed shadows of the moonlight.

Thinking about Soo-won was like seeing by moonlight. Shadows spread unfathomably black and in strange shapes, so that she couldn’t always tell what daylight shapes they might belong to. But the pale light spread out as well, softer-footed than daylight, showing her things the sun never did, if only she stepped outside the firelight and looked. And the further away she stepped, the more things she saw that were new and strange.

She released the arrow, knowing, now, just from the surge of the bow in her hand as the string recoiled, that this one was true. For a breath, she almost felt Hak’s arms around her again, his hands over hers, showing her how to draw, how to stand, how to aim. She shook her head fiercely, shook her arm out, pulled another arrow maybe a little more roughly than she should.

The moonlight made everything strange, everything new. She wished it didn’t. Because sometimes, now, when Hak’s hands over hers on the sword felt strange and new, made her stomach flutter for a moment, other strange thoughts snuck in. Sometimes, looking at the world with her new eyes and feeling the small, unbroken hardness of the kanzashi against her ribs, she wondered if it survived because there would come a day when she must wear it again.

A day when she must stand, with bow and sword and burning rage, at Soo-won’s side.

Soo-won laid down the sheaf of reports from his observers on the Xing border and rubbed tired eyes, closing them against the low lamp-light of his records room for a long breath. By the time he’d turned his attention south, he’d more than half expected Yona to be there before him. That didn’t make it easier to read the accounts of “bandits” with increasingly ridiculous names, led by a red-haired woman who carried a bow and defended their people with a ferocity that sent his hand reaching, again and again, for the old book of legends, stories of a dragon god who burned with such love for his mortal people that he called miracles down around him.

Part of him, the cynic who had known since the age of nine what evils even well-meaning humans could do, scoffed at the very idea. Another part, the child who had never stopped crying for the loss of his father’s love and strength, raged and demanded why, if Yona truly bore the blood of the sky dragon, if she could truly call down miracles, that blood had not wakened sooner, in time to spare them all what had followed from his father’s death. And the calculation that had once delighted in the complexity of the world around him, the part that had frozen cold over his father’s pyre and never truly melted again, considered what use he could make of this new legend growing in the land. For the sake of their people, he suspected she would let him.

He ran a hand through his hair with a sigh and stood to blow out the lamps by the window, fluttering and smoking now as the night breeze strengthened. He didn’t want to think such thoughts about Yona. Even when he’d thought he must kill her, lest she be used by one of his enemies, she had seemed the purest, truest creature in Kouka to him. He had never wanted to sully that, had planned for her death rather than her exile or imprisonment exactly so that no one of his enemies would ever lay hands on her and twist her to their ends. He had rejected, violently, Kye-Sook’s suggestion he might marry her, supposing he’d been able to keep his assassination of the king secret from her as well as the populace.

His hands tightened into fists, in the concealment of his sleeves, as the last threads of lantern smoke rose to curl around his head before blowing away. He would use anything he had to, to save his people, but at least, he promised himself once more, he would not try to twist her to an end she did not choose. He would not promise what he could not give–not safety, not mercy, not justice. Not yet.

Soo-won did not lie to his people.

He knew that Geun-tae and Joo-doh would probably both disagree, if they heard him say it, Geun-tae loudly and Joo-doh fiercely. They were very alike (though they’d probably disagree with that also) and had little patience for subtleties or shades of meaning. And it was true that he kept his own counsel, did not tell even his advisor or the General of his own tribe most of his plans, at least not in detail, smiled softly even at opponents sometimes. But this shade of meaning was one Soo-won was painfully sensitive to.

He’d never lied to Yona or Hak.

His care for them, his happiness whenever he was with them, his delight in Yona’s sweetness and Hak’s strength, her honesty and his protectiveness, all of those things were true. True as death. True as blood. He felt those things still, and the pain of knowing he’d never have any of them again twisted something deep inside him until he thought it would be a relief when he’d finally wrestled his country back to safety and could let Yona take his life, as was her right by any just measure. He had never been able tell them everything—Yona would not, then, have understood any of it and Hak had still been the old king’s man, and Soo-won had known from the day of his father’s death that they could not be his once he set his feet on the path that led to Kouka’s throne. But every word he had said to them, every smile, every clasp of hands had been his heart’s truth.

Knowing, every instant, the full measure of the misdirection he practiced with nearly every word and breath, that was the line he chose, with which to measure his own honor. He held to that same line, now. He might keep his silence, he might conceal his talons in soft feathers for a time, but he would never lie to his own people. Any with eyes to see would have the chance and the right to note his true colors, to mark the feathers of a falcon rather than a sparrow. Though Joo-doh would scoff at such metaphors as pointless fancy, he was still one of the few to see and understand, years ago, the things that so many others missed, and he was one of Soo-won’s closest retainers now because he still saw—at least when his temper wasn’t getting in the way. It was that very thing that had troubled Soo-won for some time, now.

He still didn’t know whether he’d told Joo-doh the truth or not, when he said he would kill Hak when next they met. When he’d thought, after, on why he didn’t even attempt to defend himself, when Hak had advanced on him with bloodlust weighing down the very air around him, Soo-won had finally had to conclude that he hadn’t believed Hak would really do it. Or rather, he’d known the man facing him truly meant to kill him. But somehow he hadn’t, in that moment, connected that man with Hak. At the same time, he’d also known, down in the core of his bones, that Hak was present, and every reflex of nearly twenty years had insisted that Hak would never allow him to be harmed. Soo-won sighed at his own foolishness, scrubbing his hands briskly over his face. He didn’t have the luxury of those old certainties, not any more. He just didn’t know whether he’d truly be able to conquer them, when his path crossed with Yona’s again.

He reached out and rested his hands on the ornate frame of the window, leaning out into the cool, dark night beyond, drawing a deep, slow breath of that clean air. He wondered if Hak and Yona were watching the same moon as he was, standing high and clear tonight.

And then he turned away, once again, from that old yearning, and picked up his brush to write the next set of orders that might shore up the crumbling foundations of his realm. The same sky might cover them all, but he was the one, the only one, who had undertaken to be the sun for his poor, worn-away people and country. He could not afford to let personal wishes bank his fire in any way.

Not yet.