Disclaimer - I do not own any rights to 'The Legend', I simply enjoyed watching it.
Once again, I'm back… for a minute. This time I come bearing a gift fic I wrote for my heartsib/best friend/beta for all the wonderful things she's done for me. And since she said I could share it, here it is. And if you haven't had the pleasure of watching this particular drama then I highly recommend it.
A light gust of wind, barely more than a soft exhalation of breath, eddied gently around Cheoro as he soundlessly made his way through the Forest of Heaven. His feet effortlessly followed the well-worn path through the heavily laden trees as he headed towards the very center of the sun-dappled woodland.
It had been almost two years since the day he and the rest of the guardians had been forced to leave the earth. Two years that, to him, were beginning to feel like an eternity.
A tiny rueful smile touched his lips and he sighed softly as he continued to silently make his way through God's forest. At first he, like the rest, had accepted his fate. Knowing that the wars and strife that had plagued their world would lessen without their presence. But as the days bled one into another he started to feel their passing more keenly, becoming restless instead of content like the rest of the guardians had.
Unlike the others he didn't feel at peace. All he felt was the loss. A loss that seemed so much more pronounced now that he had found a way to see the world he'd left behind. He sometimes wondered if his discovery here within this forest was a blessing or a curse.
The trees began to thin around him, the sunlight breaking through the leaves above rousing him from his thoughts and he smiled as he picked up his pace. Right now it didn't matter whether it was a blessing or a curse. The only thing that mattered was that soon he would be able to see her again.
A few moments later he finally broke out of the cover of trees and entered the small circular clearing that sat at the very center of Heaven itself, the impossibly green grass carpeting the floor of the glade whispering softly against his boots as he closed the last few yards to his true destination.
A wave of anticipation flooded through his veins as he neared the small, mirror-flat pool lying at the foot of the great oak tree that shaded the clearing. The tiny shafts of sunlight that found their way through the heavy canopy of leaves above made the still water glitter like diamonds.
Coming up beside the pool, Cheoro glanced into its placid depths, smiling softly when he was met with the sight of the one he'd come to see still resting after the hardships of the day before. With an inaudible sigh, he bent his knees and dropped fluidly to the ground to sit beside the pool as he took in Sujini's sleeping profile; her arm curled possessively around Dam Duk's now ten year old son who was cradled against her chest, protecting him even in her sleep.
His smile fell away as he reached out to try to smooth the worry lines from her brow. Their absence had thrust the fate of Baedel into Sujini's small hands and as each day passed he could see her crumbling under the pressure of keeping Ajik safe within the palace. A task that seemed to be increasingly difficult as more of the Yeon family sympathizers realized that Ajik was now alone except for Sujini.
Cheoro sighed resignedly and halted his hand mere inches from Sujini's unreachable visage.
They had left her with such a heavy burden to bear. One she didn't deserve to shoulder alone. But there was nothing he or anyone else could do about it now.
A soft rustling in front of him caught his attention and Cheoro pulled back his hand as he glanced up to watch the only other person who knew about this place settle down across from him on the opposite side of the pool.
"How is our Sujini this morning?" Dam Duk asked, with a grin once he'd made himself comfortable.
Cheoro exhaled quietly and glanced back to the undisturbed water. "Still sleeping." He replied softly, as Sujini shifted slightly in the predawn light filtering through the diaphanous curtains hanging in the young Prince's suite. She and Ajik would wake soon and she'd be faced with another long day rearing the next king.
"She was up late last night with the Guh Mool, putting into place the last of the new defenses surrounding Ajik's chambers." Dam Duk said into the silence that fell. Then he sighed and glanced to the shimmering water with a soft look. "Maybe now she will be more at ease and get a good night's rest."
Cheoro tried his best to ignore the sharp pain that pierced his chest at the obvious reminder of his king's love for Sujini. Instead he gave his attention back to the still sleeping woman encased in the pool's watery depths.
"Palace life does not suit her." He muttered, more to himself than the man sitting across him. If anything it had clipped her wings even more than simple motherhood had. The free spirited Sujini he knew and loved was fading beneath the constant worry and fear that now plagued her.
"No, it doesn't", Dam Duk agreed softly as he reclined back on his hands, his attention fixed on the shifting leaves above. "But whether it suits her or not, she's all we have left."
A small humorless smile crossed Cheoro's face and he stifled a sigh as he shifted around so that he was resting against the great oak's trunk facing the pool. His head tilted back to watch the same leaves flutter softly in the nearly non-existent wind.
He knew the king was right but that didn't make it any easier for him to accept. She deserved better than this.
"Maybe it isn't that she doesn't fit…" Dam Duk said suddenly breaking the quiet.
Cheoro dropped his chin to glance at the king and was surprised at the unwavering stare Dam Duk now had fixed on him. But before he could question the look, the king continued, "… Maybe what she really needs is someone to lean on when things get too tough. Someone who will take care of her while she's taking care of my son."
Caught completely off guard, Cheoro simply stared at his king in stunned silence, desperately trying to quell the sudden surge of jealousy that nearly knocked the breath out of him.
"But, there isn't anyone there anymore that she would accept." Dam Duk continued almost blithely, as if he hadn't just driven a sword into Cheoro's chest. "I don't think she'll let anyone she doesn't know get that close."
Before Cheoro could even gather breath to formulate a reply, the king sat forward again and leveled a calculating look on him.
"So, I guess that only leaves you."
Cheoro's eyes flew wide and for the second time in less than five minutes he found himself completely at a loss. Him!?… How!?... …What!?
But before he could voice the questions swirling in his head, Dam Duk asked, "If you could, would you go back to her?"
That gave him pause, the questions plaguing his mind vanishing in an instant as if they had never existed.
Glancing back to Sujini and Ajik, who were now beginning to stir in the steadily brightening room, Cheoro inhaled softly. Would he, if he could? A resounding yes suddenly echoed up from deep within his soul. Only to be quickly drowned out by the voice of reason that said that even if he did choose to go back, nothing would change. There was only one person who could sooth her tired soul and it wasn't him. No matter how much he wished otherwise, the truth was that she longed for the king and no one else.
Swallowing down the pain that thought caused, Cheoro exhaled slowly and shook his head. "I am not the one she wishes to see."
Dam Duk scoffed softly and gave him an empty smile. "She has no reason to wish to see me. I made a wreck of her life, then left her alone to care for my son. You were simply there when she needed you and that's what she requires now." With a tired sigh, the king glanced to the pool then back to Cheoro. "Trust me. She will be more than happy to have you beside her again. If you are willing to go."
For a long moment Cheoro simply stared at the king not completely convinced. But, if Dam Duk refused to go himself then what choice did he have? Here was the one chance he'd been secretly wishing for since he'd been forced to leave. One that not only would serve to fulfill his hopes, but would, perhaps serve to ease the weight Sujini now carried alone. A weight that he carried vicariously as he watched her days via the pool. Could he deny himself and turn away without even considering the possibility?
"How?" he finally asked, ignoring the part of him that still remained hesitant.
Dam Duk smirked, "I'm Lord Hwanwoong's descendent." He said simply.
And Cheoro understood. The thought had never occurred to him, and yet he wasn't surprised by the simple revelation. Because it was simple that was why he likely had never considered it, he realized. That even here the Joo Shin king had the ability to open the pathway between heaven and earth.
"If it helps, I've already sent Jumuchi back to Dalbi and his sons." Dam Duk added softly, his eyes watching the flicker of emotions playing across Cheoro's face. "It was unfair of me to take you all from the world like I did, but I had no choice."
Cheoro met the gaze fixed him and quietly asked, "Why?"
Dam Duk's eyebrows lifted slightly in surprise and he cocked his head to the side. "Why what? Why did I send Jumuchi back?"
Cheoro gave him a humorless half smile, "No. I'm asking why do you not go yourself? You would have the chance to be a father to your son?"
A heavy sigh, that spoke louder than any words could, sounded into the warm air and Dam Duk glanced to the image of Sujini and Ajik now rising to start a new day. "I can't. I've already had my chance to fulfill my destiny. Now it's my son's turn. My presence there would only disrupt the world he is tasked to create."
Confused as to why it would be any different for him, Cheoro tilted his head slightly and asked, "Then how can I go back? Would not my presence be disruptive too?"
Dam Duk smiled and shook his head. "No. You were only a guardian, not the Joo Shin king. "
Bemused, Cheoro was just about to ask why that would matter when Dam Duk added, "When your symbol was destroyed and you were sent here, you no longer held the title of guardian. You are free of the destiny that was laid upon you when the blue dragon symbol was thrust into your heart."
Immediately understanding, Cheoro whispered an inaudible 'ah'. The world no longer needed the Joo Shin king and no matter where he was Dam Duk was still and would always be the Joo Shin king.
A small sad smile whispered across his lips and Cheoro inclined his head. "Then I will go if that is what you wish."
Dam Duk scoffed and shook his head. "No, it's if you wish."
For a moment Cheoro simply contemplated his king and wondered how he could be strong enough to offer something like this to him when it was obvious he would go too if he could. And then Cheoro finally smiled and set aside all of his misgivings as he inclined his head and said, "I do wish."
A huge grin spread across Dam Duk's face and he pushed off the ground, dusting the non-existent dirt from his pants as he stepped away from the pool into the green meadow. "Then we should get you on your way, don't you think?"
Surprised by the suddenness, Cheoro quickly glanced into the pool that now showed Sujini and Ajik having breakfast on the sun drenched balcony just outside the young Prince's bedroom. Then rose from his resting spot and made his way around the pool to where Dam Duk stood waiting.
"Are you ready?" Dam Duk asked as he came up beside the king.
A sudden surge of anticipation flooded through Cheoro's entire body as it finally struck him just what he was about to do and he barely found the breath to whisper, "Yes."
Still smiling Dam Duk nodded and lifted a small pendant from around his neck that Cheoro had never seen before, the blue-tinted crystal sparkling brightly in the sun-filled glade. And then with one last glance to Cheoro, Dam Duk closed his eyes and held the pendant out before him. And in that moment the small crystal began to glow a brilliant blue, the light steadily growing brighter and brighter.
Cheoro finally had to close his eyes against the radiance when it became too much, waiting for either the light to fade from his closed eyelids or a word from the king. All of a sudden a light wind kicked up, steadily growing in force as the light shielded from his eyes intensified even more. And then just as suddenly as it had come the wind vanished, the light dimming rapidly in its wake.
Cheoro waited for another moment or two to make sure the light was indeed fading before hesitantly opening his eyes, unsure of what he might see. He inhaled sharply in disbelief when he saw the huge blue-lined portal in the tree-lined glade in front of him. Within he could see the world he had left so long ago.
"If I did this right, you should enter right above Gooknae Castle." Dam Duk said from where he stood to the right of the opening, grinning like a fool. "I can't hold this open for very long, so you better go while you have the chance."
Snapped out of his reverie by Dam Duk's warning, Cheoro jumped into action and closed the few feet separating him from the rip, unsure if he truly trusted what his eyes were telling him. But he wouldn't let that stop him. If he died in this attempt or vanished or whatever happen to one like him then it was never meant to be.
The corners of his mouth lifted at the fatalistic thought and he continued until he came up beside the king. Cheoro stopped, with a grateful smile he faced Dam Duk and bowed low, "Thank you."
Dam Duk shook his head and motioned him to rise, "No. Thank you. Now she will be happy."
Cheoro still didn't know if he believed that or not but he would try. And with one last smile he turned back towards the blue-tinged portal and took the step that would take him back to the world he had left what seemed like forever ago. But before he could go all the way through, Dam Duk grabbed his shoulder and said, "Jung-su."
Confused, Cheoro glanced back to his king with a questioning look and Dam Duk gave him a sad smile. "My son's name is Jung-su."
Immediately understanding, Cheoro inclined his head. "Jung-su."
With a grateful smile Dam Duk released his shoulder and Cheoro found himself instantly engulfed in a brilliant blue light, heaven and Dam Duk vanishing in the luminescent glow. And then, before he could so much as close his eyes, he found himself standing on a small grassy knoll. The gentle breeze stirring his blue-highlighted, black hair. The scent of sun-warmed earth and growing trees was carried to him. A fragrance he hadn't smelled in what seemed like forever.
Inhaling deeply, Cheoro took a minute to relish simply being alive again, reveling in not only scent but what was almost a sensory overload that enveloped him. Shaking himself he then jumped from the hill onto the small path leading across the mountain he was standing on, heading for the ledge he could see directly across from him several yards away.
He smiled wide when, as he came to the very edge of the cliff, he saw Gooknae Castle and its surrounding town sprawling out beneath his feet in all its glory. Dam Duk had done it. He was back.
Without so much as another thought, Cheoro spun on his heel and headed down the path that would lead him to Gooknae's east gate. To the place that he knew, by the time he reached the valley floor, Sujini would be while Ajik was attending his morning lessons with the Guh Mool.
x x x
Sujini stifled a sigh as she silently weaved her way through the busy streets of Gooknae town towards the eastern gate and the archery range that seemed to be her only escape these days. As she passed a few of the town's occupants stopped what they were doing and bowed their head to her as if she was one of the royals herself. She did her best not to scowl as she returned the gesture and continued on. She hated this. Ever since she'd returned from Abullansa with Ajik they had treated her like this. What they didn't seem to understand was that she wasn't anyone special. The only reason she was there in the palace was make sure Ajik was where he was suppose to be and safe from those who would still try to do him harm. She was only his aunt, not the royal mother. She didn't deserve this deference and if truth be told she didn't want it.
A weary sigh escaped from her lips as she returned yet another townsman's bow as she came to the gate. With a quick glance to the guards on either side, she easily slipped past the farmers bringing their wares to town to sell. Hooking a left to walk along the tall stone wall she glanced up briefly at the mountain on this side looming up before her several hundred yards away. Rounding the bend that led the wall towards the natural barrier, she smiled wide when the empty archery range came into view.
Finally, a little peace and quiet.
Not wasting another minute, she quickly made her way to the end target near the mountain and dropped her full quiver of arrows at her feet. Selecting one, she notched it against the string and on an inhale pulled back, nearly tucking the end of the fletching to the corner of her mouth. Sighting down the shaft she aimed swiftly and let it fly. She smiled wide when it sunk into the target five inches from the center. Not bad for the first shot.
Still smiling, Sujini grabbed another arrow and immediately fell into the welcome rhythm of inhale, pull, sight and release. Completely oblivious to her silent audience sitting just behind her on a partially hidden boulder in the corner of the wall where it met the mountain.
A short while later, Sujini let fly her last arrow and grinned in satisfaction as it embedded itself into the very center of the bullseye with a loud 'thunk'; right between the imagined eyes of the irritating advisor who'd been continuously badgering her about turning herself into a 'proper lady' worthy of the palace.
"Aaaah, now that feels better!" She exclaimed loudly as she set her bow down and stretched her arms wide, feeling completely refreshed.
Funny thing is, she couldn't even remember the adviser's name but thanks to his unrelenting presence in her face at least once a day, every day, she'd managed to unconsciously ingrain his face into her memory. But she couldn't complain too much, after all his pinched face had helped numerous times over the last few weeks when she'd been practicing. It was so much easier to hit the center of the target when she envisioned his beady little eyes. She wondered how he would take it if she told him that? It was almost worth doing just to see if it would be threat enough to leave her be.
Smirking evilly at the thought, Sujini leaned down and snagged her bow and empty quiver and was just about to sling them over her shoulder when, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed something out of place behind her. Or more accurately… someone.
Immediately put on guard, she quickly slung the gear onto her shoulder then spun around hoping to catch her would be attackers off guard.
And promptly froze when her eyes settled on the achingly familiar face of the serene looking, black haired man sitting comfortably on the boulder partially hidden under the trees where the wall met the mountain. The blue highlights in his long hair shining brightly in the midday sun.
The blood suddenly drained from what felt like her entire body and Sujini involuntarily shivered as she stared wide-eyed at him, trying to figure out if she had finally lost her mind. She must have because there was no way this person could be here. None. He was dead, just like the rest of the guardians. For god's sake she'd seen it happen with her own eyes! The king had destroyed their symbols… and them along with it!
Sujini felt herself start to shake as a nearly crushing ache gripped a hold of her chest at the memory. Closing her eyes against the obvious figment of her imagination, she ground her palms into them vigorously in effort to wipe the image of him from her mind. It had taken every last bit of willpower she had to overcome their loss. Why was her mind doing this to her now? Why?! Had she finally gone mad?
Clenching her teeth tight to keep from screaming in frustration, she rubbed her eyes one last time and slid them back open hoping beyond hope that Cheoro would be gone and she could somehow reclaim her earlier calm. But it wasn't to be as her abused eyes slowly came into focus and she found Cheoro now standing barely three feet away from her, the hesitant look in his eyes hitting her like a fist.
Shocked and now just a little bit scared, Sujini stumbled back and would have lost her balance had Cheoro not caught her wrist to keep her from falling. She froze at his touch, the sudden warmth now heating her icy cold skin proving without a doubt that he wasn't the apparition she'd first thought him to be.
Stunned, all she could do was stare into his rich brown eyes that seemed to be pleading for her acceptance and try to force her mind to accept what her body was already telling her. He was here. He was really here! But… how?! Why?!
And then another, more chilling thought hit her. If Cheoro was back then… had the king returned as well?
Her breath hitched painfully in her throat at the thought as a sudden wave of anxiety weakened her knees. What would she do if Dam Duk really was here? A hysterical laugh bubbled up from deep within her chest but she choked it back and desperately tried to calm herself down. Oh heavens, she'd never thought she'd have to face this. They were supposed to be gone! She could deal with Cheoro, but… not the king! Not now! Too much had happened for them to go back. And she didn't want to, not really. Not anymore.
Doing her best to get a handle on the irrational fear threatening to crush her, she weakly muttered, "Is the king… back too?"
The shadow that passed over Cheoro's face confused her and she almost flinched when he dropped her wrist and stepped back.
"No, he could not return." He replied with a shake of his head. And then before she could so much as breathe a sigh of relief, he spun on his heel and started walking away from her.
Startled by his reaction, Sujini instinctively reached out and grabbed his arm before he could get too far, "Where are you going! You just got here!"
His sigh that seemed to hit her right in the chest whispered into the quiet afternoon and Cheoro glanced over his shoulder. The empty look in his eyes making her fall back a step in bewilderment. What had she said to cause this reaction?
"Am I really not enough?"
For a long moment she simply stared at him completely confused. Not enough? What did he…?
And then she gasped softly as she realized what he meant. Smiling wide, she tugged his arm until he turned back around and then she threw herself into his arms, hugging him for all she was worth. "Of course you are! More than enough!"
Tightening her hold even more, she ignored the tell tale burning in her eyes. One tear did manage to slip down her cheek against her will as his arms slipped around her and she mumbled against his chest, "I missed you so much…"
Cheoro remained quiet but she felt his unspoken reciprocation when he held her even closer. For several moments she was content to simply stand there within the warm cocoon of his arms. He had no idea just how much she had missed him. More than she herself had ever thought possible.
But then, much to her dismay, reality finally set back in and with a sigh she reluctantly extracted herself from his embrace and glanced up at him with a smile. "I have to go rescue Ajik from his tutors. Will you come with me?"
A gorgeous smile lit up Cheoro's face as he inclined his head and Sujini ducked her head to keep him from seeing the blush she could feel warming her cheeks. Had he always been that good looking? She scoffed at herself under her breath and shook her head as she claimed his hand; leading him towards the east gate.
Yes, he must have been. But for the longest time the only one she'd been able to see was Dam Duk. But not anymore, now she knew what she'd missed out on before and this time she wasn't going to let him go without a fight. She finally had one of her best friends back and she wasn't about to lose him again.
And it was probably a good thing because Cheoro had no intention of letting her go either.
Not this time.