Title: shadows of the past
A/N: For the Yona Tarot zine. I really need to write a Hak/Yona/Su-won piece.
Summary: Son Mundok didn't like going to the capital these days. The paths were full of memories of a smiling Yona, a mischievous Hak, and a cheerful Su-Won. If only nothing had changed.
Son Mundok didn't like going to the capital these days. No, that implied he liked visiting at some point, that he'd once found it anything but an annoyance. That was a blatantly untrue fact. The capital was filled with headache-inducing bureaucracy, obvious brown-nosing, and miles of red tape. He hadn't liked it as a young man and he certainly didn't like it now that his hair was grey.
Grimacing, he stared up at the castle gates. Despite the changes in emperors throughout the years, this view had remained the same. Imposing steel gates stared down at him, slowly opening only once he'd announced himself. Mundok had once hoped he would never see these gates again, barring a wedding celebration or two.
Life, it seemed, had a way of making plans go awry.
As he strolled onto the castle grounds, a woman called out his name. "Chief Mundok!" He looked up in time to catch a young, energetic woman running down the stone path toward him, eagerly waving her hand in the air. Her yellow robes flowed behind her like a bird's feathers. Panting as she came to an abrupt stop in front of him, she gasped, "T-thank…you for…coming."
Mundok chuckled. Clearly, she was new to this. "Take your time."
Her expression turned sheepish and she took a deep breath. Straightening her posture, she clasped her hands and bowed her head slightly. "Chief Mundok, thank you for coming. I know it was a long journey."
Ah, there was a title he'd hoped was gone forever. At this age, he was supposed to be comfortably retired and spoiling his grandchildren, not watching them war with one another. Scratching his jaw, he replied flatly, "I'm not a chief anymore."
"R-right! You handed over the title last month." Flustered, the woman turned red. She tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear apprehensively. Gathering her wits, she tried again. "Ex-chief Mundok, the emperor has been expecting you."
"Of course he is." Mundok snorted and raised a brow. "He's the one who called me."
"T-that's true." The woman clasped her hands in front of her and nervously scuffed the ground as she considered it. Troubled, she shook her head. "Well, um, it's good you got here safely."
Good for who? Eyeing her, Mundok sighed. That was unfair. She was probably Yona's age and the whole affair felt like bullying a child. "What's your name?"
"Me?" she squeaked, surprised. When he only gave her a dry look in response, she fiddled with her fingers. "Min-Ah." She bowed deeply. "My name is Min-Ah, ex-Chief Mundok."
It was all very polite and he never thought he'd long for Hak's missing manners, as crude as his greetings were. "Min-Ah, when did you start working here?"
"Just a few months ago." Min-Ah straightened her back and puffed her chest with pride. "Just after the Emperor's coronation."
"Is that so." He glanced around the courtyard. The guards were a mix of familiar and new faces. How many were involved in the coup? He had drunk with some of them, trained others, had treated them like they were part of his clan. Which ones had pointed their spear at Hak? At Yona?
Which ones had stood up for them and quietly disappeared in the upheaval?
Mundok was no stranger to war, no stranger to its consequences. That didn't make this betrayal hurt any less. He really was getting too old for all this nonsense. A sense of fatigue washed over him. "Where's the emperor? Might as well get it over with."
"Oh!" Min-Ah rubbed her neck, her brow furrowing. He could almost see the candle lightning up when she got an answer. "He's in the garden."
Mundok brushed past her as she turned to lead him. "I know the way."
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"Yeah." He looked down the path he'd threaded hundreds of times, flanked on both sides by a grumpy Hak and a chatty Su-Won. In the summer, flowers lined the route, filling the air with a sweet fragrance. Mundok had never considered this place home but it had felt as comfortable as one. "I'm fine."
He had never considered this place home, and now it felt as alien as a stranger. His shoes clacked against the granite slabs, a solitary sound. Now that it was fall, wilted plants were all that remained and his fingers brushed against a yellowing rose, the petals crinkling before falling to the ground. As he strolled past buildings, his mind assigned them meanings that no longer existed.
Here was where Hak lazed about, faking idleness while keeping guard. Here was where Yona fell asleep in his arms. Here was where Su-Won had whispered in his ear, Thank you, gramps.
Here was where the three played, fell sick, loved one another.
Part of him expected to see a flash of red in the corner of his eye, hear a chorus of childish voices call his name, to feel a small hand slip into his. However, he hadn't seen red once while he'd been in the capital and perhaps it wasn't only him who was having problems adjusting to the new status quo.
As Mundok turned the corner to the garden, he spotted a familiar mop of light brown hair. A young boy dressed in blue turned and smiled bashfully, hoping for praise. Yet the boy was a man now, dressed in the royal yellows of royalty, and the smile was a sad one. "Chief Mundok," Su-Won greeted him.
"I'm not the Chief anymore," he corrected, looking away. The Zen garden was as idyllic as it used to be. Oddly shaped rocks jutted out of sand pits and calm pond, promising a peace of mind. The only thing missing was a kind, middle-aged man.
"My apologies." Su-Won lowered his gaze, his lips a thin line. His hand curled into a tight fist before releasing. "You picked a successor."
"For the second time." Su-Won flinched at his words but there was no malice behind them, just a simple truth. "I am not picking a third."
Su-Won shook his head. "I'm sure you won't have to." He gave him a wry smile. "Tae-Woo is quite capable."
"So was Hak." Mundok grunted in response. He didn't miss how Su-Won's jaw tightened in his response, the shadow of grief that crossed his face. "What did you call me for?"
"I needed your assistance on some matters, particularly those pertaining to our borders." A gentle breeze stirred, playing with his tresses, and Su-Won pushed the stray hairs out of his face. "Tae-Woo will not have your knowledge on these issues yet."
He couldn't deny that. Surviving three different emperors left him more intimately acquainted with the country's politics than he liked. "Fine. Let's get on with it."
"We'll discuss in the planning room." Su-Won smiled. It held none of the radiance of his youth. "The aides have set up several charts for us to go over."
Without another word, Mundok turned around. The sooner they got there, the sooner he could leave. If he was lucky, it would be a simple in and out operation. Unlike Fuuga, the air here felt stifling and suffocating.
The tone halted him in his tracks. Glancing over his shoulder, he found Su-Won looking up at the sky, his arms crossed. Softly, Su-Won asked, "Do you hate me?"
There was a faked nonchalance in his posture, a sense of detachment in his words. As though his fingers weren't trembling, as though his jaw wasn't clenched. As though a sense of sorrow didn't pervade his every word.
Hate. Mundok closed his eye. If only it were so simple. If only he could divorce the young man in front of him from the cheerful boy he'd watch grow up. There were some emotions that love and hate couldn't cover, some feelings that went beyond description.
"Does it matter?" he asked instead, studying Su-Won.
Su-Won looked at him now. For a brief, unguarded moment, his expression turned troubled, before smoothening back into his usual calm expression. Shaking his head slowly, he gave a depreciative laugh. "No, I suppose not."
Part of him wanted to believe in that sadness. The other part of him knew better.
Son Mundok didn't like going to the capital these days. It was filled with too much heartache.