And so Yona kept working, and kept fighting, right alongside Hak and the others, the same way she was sure Soo-won was working and fighting for Kouka. She kept busy, and that was fine. They all had so much to do.
But at night, Yona had nothing to keep her mind from wandering back to Hiryuu Castle. To the awkward and uncomfortable few weeks she'd spent there at Kye-sook's invitation. To Soo-won's explanation and apology, out in the city. To her time with her father. She regretted that she hadn't cared at all about politics when he was alive. If she'd paid attention, she might have noticed something. Maybe she'd have a better idea of what King Il and Yu-hon's relationship really was. At the very least, she'd have known something about the war they'd fought over.
But she'd never know now.
And she couldn't sleep. Some nights were better than others, but she spent too much of the quiet hours keeping herself up wondering about the past.
Like tonight, for instance. Yoon had fallen asleep quickly, but Yona couldn't get comfortable. If she lay on her left side, a tree root dug into her ribs. If she lay on her right, rocks seemed to be everywhere. And what if her father had stabbed Uncle Yu-hon on purpose? She just couldn't seem to get comfortable.
What if it had been an accident?
Yona sat up. Should she move her blankets again? But no stretch of ground inside the tent seemed welcoming to sleep. Except for where Yoon was. She suspected it was her own mind keeping her up, and not the ground at all.
She wanted to talk to Hak.
Should she, though? Things had been so weird lately, with Soo-won, and without Soo-won now that they knew, and they hadn't really had a chance to figure out where they stood with each other. Too much had happened all at once. It was just so awkward, because they couldn't go back to the way it had been before she told Hak she loved him, but she couldn't tell how much had changed or how.
No, she'd better talk to him. It would be bad if this turned into Soo-won all over again.
Yona made up her mind, and crawled out of the tent to go see if Hak was awake.
Outside, all was peaceful. She smiled to see the Dragons sleeping around the remains of the campfire – Zeno next to Shin-ah, Jae-ha in his hammock strung up between two trees, Kija with his bedroll carefully laid out a safe distance from anything in the hopes that bugs wouldn't creep in. Hak, leaning against a tree on the far side of the campsite.
He was supposed to be keeping watch, probably, but Yona couldn't tell if he was asleep or not.
Maybe she shouldn't bother him.
Or maybe she could sneak up on him.
One of those options sounded a great deal more appealing than the other, so Yona stepped carefully across the campsite. She kept a close eye on the ground for dry twigs that might break and give her away, but she found herself constantly glancing up and over at Hak, to make sure he wasn't stirring.
He wasn't, so Yona kept picking her way closer. At one point it looked like his head moved, so she spent an agonizing several minutes precariously on one foot while she waited for it to be safe to move again.
She was almost beside him when he spoke. "Nice try, Princess."
Yona lost her balance. "Hak!" she hissed indignantly as she caught herself. "You were awake?"
"Why didn't you say anything?"
He snickered, and Yona felt her face heat up horribly. Stupid Hak. "It was fun watching you try so hard to be stealthy," he told her.
She smacked him, and he only laughed more. He probably barely even felt it. Stupid Hak.
She dropped down next to him. Hak shifted, just slightly, in the other direction, but Yona couldn't quite get herself to look at him. Instead she stared at the dying embers of their campfire.
It had taken Yona such a long time to tell Hak how she felt after she figured it out. It had taken Soo-won even longer to tell the two of them about what had happened to his father, and why he had killed hers.
It was hard, talking about feelings. The good ones and the bad ones.
But they had to do it, didn't they? She'd had no idea what Soo-won had been thinking, all on his own – she still couldn't quite square his sight of her father stabbing Yu-hon through the chest during a bad argument with her own memories of her kind father.
It was like she had never known either of them at all. Once upon a time they'd been the closest people in the world to her, but the whole time they might as well have been strangers.
She stole a glance at Hak. He wasn't looking at her. The coals' dull red glow was reflected in his eyes. Yona wondered what he was thinking.
Stupid Hak had no problem sitting in silence, did he? It didn't make him squirm the way it did her.
He was always so calm and cool. He never had an internal panic attack about how to behave. "Sooooo . . ." Yona said, and then realized she had no idea how to continue.
Hak glanced up at her, and Yona froze. What did she do, what should she say, why was her heart pounding so loud Hak wouldn't be able to hear her even if she was able to say something? "What do we do?" she managed in a whisper.
Hak raised an eyebrow. "About?"
"About . . . us. And Soo-won."
He let his head thunk back against the tree behind him. "Hell if i know."
Yona drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. "I don't want Soo-won to die. I'm glad you thought of another way for him to make up for killing Father."
Hak grunted. "I still can't forgive that. But he can't do anything about it if he's dead."
"Yeah." Yona hesitated. "I wish he'd said something. Before."
Hak snorted. It spoke volumes more than he could ever have expressed with words.
"I don't want anything like that to happen again. We have to be able to talk to each other, even if we don't know what to say."
"So what are you going to say?" Hak asked, and Yona shoved him. "I don't know!"
"So, what? You want to go back to the castle?"
"No!" Yona exclaimed. "Maybe? I don't know." She squeezed her legs tighter. "I just know that it's like Zeno said. Things got this bad because none of us talked to each other and just let it fester. I don't want anything else terrible to happen because of that."
Hak reached over and scruffed his hand through her hair. When she looked up at him, his gaze was far away. "I do want to be with him," she said carefully. "And you too. But i don't know how that's possible right now."
"So figure it out," Hak said. "Whatever you decide, i'll follow your lead."
Yona leaned into his hand. "Thank you." His hand twitched, and he pushed her head away. Yona had to throw out an arm to catch herself. "Hak!"
"So what do we do?" he asked. Yona, flustered, had to take a moment to find his train of thought. When she caught on, she flushed even darker than she had been already. It had taken everything she had to build up the nerve just to confess her feelings to Hak. Actually acting on them was too much for her to think about. And her mind kept returning to Soo-won.
"I don't know," she admitted, and it was terrifying that she had to keep saying that, almost as terrifying as it was that Hak seemed to expect her to have all the answers. "I – i love you. And i love Soo-won, even though i don't . . ." She groaned at her own fumbling of words. Right now, she was just trying to sort out her thoughts out loud. "It's the same for you, right?"
Hak gave a slow nod of assent.
"So . . . i think – maybe–" So much for her idea of talking things out. "I mean – we could–" Hak raised an eyebrow at her, and it made Yona completely lose thread of that she was trying to say. "Hak!"
"What?" he said, although his grin made it clear he knew exactly what.
"Let me think!" Yona demanded. Hak snickered at her, but he didn't push it.
"The three of us always used to be together," Yona said slowly, as she gathered her thoughts. "I miss that. But i don't want things to go back to the way we were, because we've all changed since then." She tipped her head back and looked at the stars in the sky. "I think . . . we should talk to Soo-won when we see him. About – whatever. Try to figure out where we all stand now. We always seem to keep running into him, you know?"
"I guess . . . we could try. Um. Being together. Until then. And when we know what to do about Soo-won, there should be a place for him as well. Does that make sense?"
"Yeah," Hak said. He reached out again and ruffled his fingers through her hair. Yona shivered at the sensation. "I'll follow your lead, Princess," he said again.
Of course it was. Yona just wished she had more of a solid idea what to do.
Then another possible meaning to Hak's words occurred to her, and, hardly daring to believe herself, Yona took the lead.
Time passed. Yona had a great deal to do out in the country, working among the ordinary people for the same goals Soo-won was striving after at the head of the nation.
She kept busy. She talked to people, she fought, she fixed what she could. Sometimes she and the Happy Hungry Bunch ran into Soo-won.
It was easier to talk to him, sometimes. At least they weren't trying to be enemies anymore, even though Yona still hadn't figured out how she should be around him, and he killed her father. Yes, they had talked, he had explained what he based his decisions on, and Yona thought she understood why he'd made the choices he had.
She wasn't sure.
It was easier to see him now, in some ways, but it was also so much harder, because Soo-won had come clean, and told her and Hak and Yoon and Jae-ha everything, and now she was supposed to have an answer.
She wanted to believe that Soo-won wasn't a bad person, and that he could be forgiven. But . . . he'd killed her father. Yona's father wasn't the best king Kouka could have had – she was realizing that more and more and more – but he was the best father she could ever have hoped for. Yona loved him, and she still missed him every day. He was so kind, so gentle. Even now, Yona couldn't even imagine him hurting anyone, let alone running Yu-hon through with a sword like Soo-won told her.
Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe Soo-won had had a bad dream, or maybe Yu-hon had been planning to do something terrible. Maybe it hadn't happened. Maybe it was justified.
Those were all just excuses, weren't they? Soo-won had seen Il kill Yu-hon. And Yona had seen Soo-won kill Il. If she were going to kill Soo-won, that would simply continue the same pattern.
If she wanted things to change, she'd have to . . . well, she'd have to change things. She had no way of knowing the circumstances regarding Yu-hon's death – even Soo-won had missed most of the fight – so she couldn't know what the right thing to have done back then was, either.
"That's right, isn't it?" she asked Hak anxiously one night. "We can't judge someone's past actions without knowing what actually happened?"
Hak gave it due consideration. " . . . Maybe," he said, leaning back and staring up at the sky. "You can't tell whether something was justified without knowing what led up to it, but . . . usually, when you're in command, you have to act based on what you know. Even if you don't have all the facts. That's a luxury you don't get on the battlefield."
"But this isn't a battlefield," Yona said quietly. "Maybe that's the problem."
Hak shrugged, but there was a distant look in his eyes. Yona was pretty sure she was right. She couldn't judge Soo-won's actions without knowing the full story, and she would never know any more of the story than what Soo-won had told her. So instead of dwelling on the past, she should think of the future.
The problem was, she didn't know what to do about that, either. She couldn't just go back to Hiryuu Castle as if nothing had ever happened. She'd tried that, and look how it turned out. Yona liked the way she had been living, traveling around with the Happy Hungry Bunch and helping people at the ground level. She had to figure out what she was actually going to do.
Plus, if they did go back to Soo-won, what would that mean for her and Hak and Soo-won, all together? He was the king now. If Yona married him, like she'd always used to want, she would become the queen, but where would that leave Hak? She'd heard of kings in the past having more than one wife – it was possible it still happened in the Kai Empire – but never a queen with more than one husband. And when kings had male lovers, it was all kept very quiet, and only referred to obliquely. Yona didn't want to keep Hak like a secret. And if she married Hak, that would lead to the same problem, only in reverse. She didn't want to put one of her men over the other, even if it was just in how their relationship looked from the outside.
So she would have to come up with something completely new, wouldn't she? Hak had already said he'd go with whatever she decided, and Soo-won had convinced himself he didn't deserve either of them, so it was all up to Yona.
Yona thought about it, and talked to Hak and Yoon and the Dragons, and to Lili when they saw each other. Lili kept Yona updated on how Soo-won was doing, and although Yona got the feeling Lili was baffled by what Yona was trying to do, she was as supportive a friend Yona could ever hope for. "You know, i'm not sure that guy even feels romantic attraction," Lili pointed out one time.
Yona grimaced "Yeah, Hak's said the same thing before." But he hadn't since the big battle, she realized.
That was something else they'd have to figure out when they saw Soo-won again, too, wasn't it?
Finally Yona thought she had it. "I'd like to go back to Hiryuu Castle," she announced one night while they were all eating around the campfire.
Hak's response was a slow blink.
"You want to talk to Soo-won again?" Yoon asked.
"Yes," Yona replied. "I think i have an idea for where to go from here. But Hak and i need to talk to him first."
"Wouldn't mind," Hak muttered.
"Are you sure you're okay, Princess?" Kija asked solicitously. "After . . . I mean . . ."
"Yes," Yona said. "I have to be able to face him. I can't hide what i feel." After all, she'd seen the results of that. She didn't want to see anyone else hurt by keeping their feelings to themself.
They didn't go straight to Hiryuu Castle. Jae-ha suggested it might be best to meet on neutral ground, so Yona and Hak contacted Ogi first, and had him act as a go-between for the three of them. He arranged for them to meet up in a teahouse he knew, where the king could drink with old friends without being recognized. Yona and her friends took rooms in a nearby inn. They could afford it; Yoon and the Dragons would be selling medicines again during Yona and Hak's meeting.
On the day they'd arranged, the two of them arrived at the teahouse first, and took a table in the corner. Yona found herself mildly panicking as she and Hak waited for Soo-won to arrive. She found herself fiddling with her hair for the first time in ages, twisting strands between her fingers or trying to pat it flat over her head.
Hak rolled his eyes at her.
"Shut up!" she hissed. Then, hesitantly, "How do i look?"
Hak reached out and tousled her hair, undoing everything she'd done in the past few minutes. "You look beautiful, Princess."
Great, now she was all nerves about Hak, too. "You look very handsome yourself," she muttered. There was something else she had to ask. Yona steeled herself. "Hak, are you sure you're okay with this? I know you said you'd go along with whatever i decided, but . . . Your feelings matter too. You were so angry at Soo-won. Sometimes it seemed like you were even more angry at him than i was. Do you think you could be happy, if we make peace with Soo-won?"
Hak leaned back and stared up at the rafters. "I don't know," he admitted. "Maybe. I miss him, but . . . I think it depends on what your plan is."
"I'm going to–" Yona started, but she caught sight of Soo-won in the doorway and cut herself off. "He's here," she hissed instead.
Hak sat up straight, and Yona tried to calm her breathing. It was fine. This was Soo-won. They'd already decided, last time they were all in Kuuto, that he wasn't an enemy. Before she could lose her nerve, she called out to him. "Soo-won!"
He spotted them. He was coming over.
"Yona, Hak," he greeted them. "Can i sit down?"
"Hn," Hak said. Yona kicked him under the table. "Of course you can," she told Soo-won.
He sat, and Yona noticed that he looked almost as nervous as she felt. That should be reassuring. She forced herself to take a deep breath. They were all trying their best.
"You wanted to see me," Soo-won said, and even though it didn't sound like a question, Yona could hear one being asked.
"Yes!" That was too loud, but Yona didn't let herself stop. "We wanted to talk to you. Because we miss you. Right, Hak?" Honestly, it was a mystery why Hak was honest when it was just the two of them, but he started acting like a jerk again as soon as Soo-won arrived.
Hak remained silent, but he did give a reluctant nod.
Soo-won tried to keep his face passive, but Yona caught the way his eyes widened slightly before he turned back to her. "Have you . . . had enough time to think, then?"
"I think so," Yona replied. "I've had enough time to think that holding a grudge only makes things worse. I think . . . i think it's more important to think about what you're going to do in the future than what you did in the past. And you're going to keep fighting to make Kouka a better place, right?"
"Of course," Soo-won responded instantly.
Yona smiled in relief. She hadn't expected him to say anything else, but it was good to hear it out loud. "We all want what's best for our country. I think we can agree on that."
Soo-won nodded firmly. "Yes."
"Yeah," Hak allowed.
"And we all miss each other, right?" Yona looked at Soo-won as she said this. They'd talked about their fathers' deaths, but not how Soo-won felt about her or Hak.
He swallowed. "I do miss you."
"Yes." Yona steeled herself. "I don't know if there's anything i can do about what you did to my father. Or what he did to your father. So i think the best thing to do is to let the past go . . . " Her throat seized up, and Yona had to take a moment to swallow and get her bearings again. "I don't want to hate you, Soo-won," she said, when she was able to continue. "And i think holding a grudge when i can't tell who was in the right about something that happened so many years ago will only hurt more. But i don't think . . . i don't think i can go back to the way things were before, either. Too much has changed since my father died."
Soo-won bowed his head. "I understand."
"So this is what i want to do." Yona took a shaky breath. "I – i love you. I always have. Ever since we were little." Soo-won's eyes widened, and he started to speak, but Yona shook her head. She needed to get this all out at once. "I want to be with you. I thought that would change, or had changed, after you killed my father, but it didn't. The way i saw you changed, but my feelings didn't. And . . ." She had to pause for breath, but she couldn't let herself stop. There was a part of her that couldn't believe she was saying this at all. "And i love Hak, too. The same way. And we've talked, and he's not saying it now because he's a jerk, but he feels the same way about both of us. And i really want to be together with both of you. And so i want to ask how you feel, 'cause it didn't come up last time." That was too many ands. Yona's diction lessons had gone right out the window. Her father would be so disappointed.
Hopefully he wouldn't be too disappointed with her choices.
Soo-won looked a little dazed. Stunned, even. Yona had probably dumped way too much on him at once. "I don't know . . ." he said slowly. "I don't really know what romantic attraction is, or how you know if you feel that way."
"We've noticed," Hak said drily.
"But i do know that i want to be with both of you. I thought i had to give up on my happiness for the sake of the country, because it meant betraying you both. But if you wanted to be with me, it would make me . . ." Yona noticed with wide eyes that he was starting to cry again, without even noticing, like before. "I would be happy."
Yona got up and went around the table to hug him tight. She didn't know what to say – anything that came to mind just didn't seem right – so she hugged him and hoped that said enough. She could feel her eyes burning with tears, which was stupid. This was what she wanted. There was no reason to cry.
Soo-won reached up to lay a hand on her arm, and then his free arm went around her waist. Yona gave him an extra squeeze, and looked over at Hak. Soo-won followed her gaze.
Hak hadn't moved. He wore his usual glower, but Yona was used to him and could see the way he was fighting to keep it there. She hoped Soo-won could see it too. Hak wasn't mad, he just hated to give in.
"I'm sorry, Hak," Soo-won said. "I wish i hadn't hurt you both. Can you forgive me?"
Hak stared over the table. Yona could hear his foot tapping underneath. He was going to drag this out! Just to be a jerk! It was one thing if he bullied her for the fun of it, but Soo-won too?
"Honestly!" she exclaimed. "Why are you being so stubborn? You both admitted that you miss each other more than you hate each other, so why don't you kiss and make up already?"
Soo-won and Hak looked at her, and then at each other. Hak shrugged. "If you say so, Yona," Soo-won replied. His eyes were dancing. He got up and went around the table to Hak, who seized the front of his robes and pulled him into a fierce kiss.
Yona took the few steps to them and pulled first Soo-won, then Hak, down into a kiss for herself. "We can't be the same as we were before," she said. "That's gone now. But we can make something new. I want to make something new together with both of you."
"That sounds wonderful," Soo-won said. "But what do you have in mind?"
"Yeah, Princess," Hak agreed. "You've been awfully close-mouthed about your plan."
Yona flushed. "I know. I was – i wanted to think it over carefully before i talked about it." She returned to her seat, but pulled it closer to Soo-won. Hak mirrored her on the other side. "It was hard being in Hiryuu Castle as your guest, Soo-won. And Hak wasn't allowed in at all."
"I can change that," Soo-won said instantly. "That time, Kye-sook was acting without consulting me. I've already told him not to do as he likes where you two are concerned. And your friends, of course."
"Thank you," Yona said, while Hak snorted his opinion of the whole debacle. "But that's not the only thing. I like going out as a, a regular person, and helping people that way. I think there's a lot of good we can do that way, separately from what a king or a queen can do from the top. I don't want to give that up. I thought . . . maybe we could create a new office. A, a secret royal inspector, or something like it. And then, if we hear about something bad going on, we can go out and look into it without anyone realizing the king is involved. And then if we need it, we will be acting on your authority."
"A secret royal inspector," Soo-won repeated thoughtfully. "I like it."
"So, basically, your plan is to do the same thing we've been doing, but with Soo-won's backing?" Hak asked.
Yona laughed, a little self-conscious. "Yes, it seemed like the best way to make peace with Soo-won while still helping people outside."
"Not bad." Hak grinned. "Might be fun throwing around the government's authority in front of these corrupt officials."
"Remember you'll be secret royal inspectors, Hak," Soo-won chided. "You're only meant to reveal i sent you when you have to, right, Yona?"
"Yes," Yona said. "Of course there will be a time to show we have your authority, but it won't be anything like when you were a general, Hak."
"Well then, maybe i'll go join the Sky Tribe army and work my way up from the bottom to become general again," Hak said. His voice was so bland she couldn't tell if he was joking. Just in case, Yona reached a foot across Soo-won's ankles to kick him lightly.
"Don't take Joo-doh's job, Hak," Soo-won said, his voice fondly exasperated.
"He won't mind. He'll just be glad not to babysit you anymore."
Yona laughed. Soo-won shoved Hak's shoulder, but he looked delighted. "And you'll come back to the castle between investigations?" he asked.
"Absolutely," Yona affirmed. "We have to rebuild our relationship with each other too. I want to be with you."
"Yeah," Hak said, somehow making that one word the most positive thing he'd said all day.
Soo-won leaned from side to side, resting his head momentarily on Yona's shoulder and then Hak's. "But what does that mean?" he asked. "People will want to know. I . . . i have no idea what to do."
"I don't know yet," Yona admitted. "I have no idea what a relationship with three people will look like. But . . . i won't marry you. Either of you. I don't want to get married unless all three of us can do it together, and . . ."
"People aren't going to like that," Soo-won agreed.
Hak leaned forward and rested an elbow on the table so he could look at both of them. "You're the king, aren't you?" he pointed out. "Unless Yona becomes queen. They have to listen to you."
Yona laughed. Right now, becoming queen was the last thing on her mind. Maybe someday. Soo-won, on the other hand, seemed to be considering it. "I was always planning to step down once i had stabilized Kouka, and let Yona rule after that. I could still do that."
"No, but you've been doing a good job," Yona said thoughtfully. "Maybe we could set up some kind of joint-rule system. Another thing we need to figure out in the future, i suppose. I do want all three of us to be equal."
"Maybe we just need to build up enough goodwill that people will love us no matter what kind of strange things we do," Soo-won suggested.
Yona laughed as she reached up to pinch at his cheek. "You make it sound terrible. Helping people just so they'll think well of us."
"Whatever works, right?" Hak's eyes were dancing. Yona didn't think she'd seen him this happy in years.
"Not you too!" Yona kicked him under the table. She wasn't really mad. She couldn't stop smiling at her two men. "We've got all the time in the world. We can work it out."
"What d'you wanna do first?" Hak asked. "Like, now."
"Oh! Now . . ." Yona looked at Soo-won, but he looked as blank as she felt. "To start with, we should go talk to the others. The three of us have straightened ourselves out, but we should see how they feel about moving back into Hiryuu Castle. Now that we don't have to worry about being manipulated." It would probably be all right, she thought. The Dragons' only complaint from the time they spent there was to do with their forced separation from Yona, Hak, and Yoon, and Yoon himself had been talking about the library he hadn't been able to visit. But it was important to ask them, all the same.
Hak nodded in approval.
"Yes, please do," Soo-won added. "I'd like to get to know your friends."
Yona beamed at him. "I'm sure they'll love you, once they get to know you properly. It's just that it's been really hard to talk about you with them, because . . . Well. You know."
"I do." Soo-won looked down, and for a moment Yona didn't know if they could do this at all. The subject was still sore. Then Hak kicked Soo-won's seat. "You gotta earn their goodwill too."
"That's right!" They did have a plan for Soo-won to make up for what he'd done. And the rest just took time. She reached out and took both their hands, squeezing tightly. Soo-won kicked Hak back.
"Then i'll go back to the castle and make sure everything's ready for you." Soo-won stood up, and gave Yona's hand a return squeeze before letting go.
"We'll meet you there," she promised. Hak had relaxed over the course of their conversation, enough that he was almost smiling now. And for the first time since Yona saw her father murdered, it felt like things were going right.
A/N: Dear Lugh, i never want to start posting a multichaptered story before i've finished it again. Thank You. And thank you to everyone who's had the patience to stick with it.
The Secret Royal Inspector, or Am-haeng-osa, was a real position in Korean government, though from a later time period than Kouka seems to be based on. Young officials would be sent out undercover from the capital to investigate reports of corruption among provincial officials. A Secret Royal Inspector had a rank equivalent to governor and could dismiss corrupt officials in the name of the king.