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One King.

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"I have returned before you, Pyeha." The male spoke, respectfully lowering his head.

"Aish, this man." The ruler gently shook his head, grinning at his friend. "Rise. Come on. There is someone I must introduce you to." The King spoke, closing the distance between him and his Hwarang. He placed a hand on the other man's shoulder, smiling when he felt him relax. "Let him in." Jin Heung loudly instructed after a beat.

A maid followed by a man in an armor entered. "Pyeha," She lowered her head. "this is General Isabu." She announced, before leaving when dismissed with a shrug of the hand. 

"Just Isabu?" The King inquired.

"Dae, Pyeha." The man replied, keeping his head low. 

Jin Heung chuckled. "You can look at me, I no longer am the faceless King." He informed, getting a smile out of his friend and Hwarang. "I will be entrusting you with the life of my men, I need to be able to see your eyes. I need to be able to look into them and see the truth."

Sun Woo furrowed his brows. "What do you mean, entrust him with the life of your men?" He inquired, seemingly perplexed. 

The King sighed softly. "I need a leader for the armies." He spoke, offering his friend a faint smile. "I need a tactician, an experienced general aware of Silla's ways and past wars." Sun Woo swallowed at the words but lowered his head. "While I, will lead the Hwarang from now on, General Isabu will lead the army beside me." 

The General chuckled. "I am flattered that you chose me." He chuckled. "But I haven't yet chosen you." Isabu's lips curled up. "You are the Majesty people chose, aren't you?" Jin Heung nodded. "Then give me time to choose you too."

"Very well." The King replied, clasping his hands behind his back. "Return to the palace when you have made your decision."

"Jin Heung, pyeha." The general lowered his head respectfully saluting before leaving. 

"Your Hwarang. Your army. Your vision of Silla." Sun Woo smiled. "I am proud of your Highness for finding their own voice." He lowered his head, bowing further than he normally would.

"Why does your tone not match the happiness that should come with those words?" The King inquired.

"Because there was once a time, when I was a half bone Cheonin, a man approached me and asked if we could change things together. If I could imagine, a better future with him." Sun Woo smiled in remembrance of those memories. "That man said he'd rather my friend than being King."

"And you denied him. You held a blade to that man's throat. Don't romanticize the past, my friend. We are where we are now because we are who we are." Jin Heung replied, traits hardening. "We might both be of royal blood, but we are not the same. We will never be. I am, King."

Sun Woo furrowed his brows. "Do you believe that I am after your crown?" He inquired, disbelief coloring his words. 

Jin Heung sighed. "Ji Dwi is the best amongst the Hwarang. Sun Woo is the king amongst the Kings." He rose an eyebrow. "This country, this Silla, my, Silla, can have only one King. And so, you can no longer lead my Hwarang into battle."

"What if my name was Kim Shin, would you fear I was a god amongst men?" Sun Woo inquired, furrowing his brows. 

Jin Heung laughed. "If the people believed you were, it wouldn't matter. I would have your head before the rumor spreads. This country once had three rulers. I, need to be the only King. For the future I imagine."

"You? There is no more us, in your vision?" 

"The time for an 'us' has passed." The King replied. "I needed you, because the Hwarang followed you. Now that they publicly chose me too, I have the council eating in my palm because I have their children, their future, standing beside me."

Sun Woo laughed. "So you used me?"

"Didn't you do the very same?" Jin Heung asked, approaching the other male. "You keep claiming that you want us to pave a way. But you walked it first. You, started it, and I, must go further to prove myself." He replied, tears welling in his eyes.

"To whom?" Sun Woo asked.

"Everyone." Jin Heung replied.

"Not to me." The Hwarang replied. Carefully, he reached out , eyes anchoring themselves in his ruler's. Carefully, he wiped away a tear that had barely left the eye. "I would rather be your friend, than being King."

Swallowing thickly, Jin Heung wrapped a hand around the other male's wrist. "Gae Sae, do not forget just how different we are." He spoke, harshly removing it. 

"To me, no man is different from another." Sun Woo replied. He knew the King had intended to remind him of his origins with the nickname, but he wasn't ashamed of his roots. While he had two orabeoni with prestigious names, his appa remained a Cheonin. And so was he. You may take a man out of the village, but you can't take the village out of a man.

"You think like a god." The King replied, narrowing his eyes. "To God, there is no difference between men, but to men, there are a multitude of differences." He sighed, taking a step back. Lifting up the hand that held his blade, the King held it towards the Hwarang, presenting it. "Sun Woo, Wang amongst men, Shin, amongst Kings. I will, remind you of your own mortality." Jin Heung heaved a long sigh. "The Prince of South Buyeo is vexed to have lost to an usurper. He wanted your head. I was intending to go to war. For you." He chuckled, feeling foolish. "You will go. Not with the Hwarang. With the army. Trained men for you to command. You want to be my general don't you? You think you deserve it? Then prove yourself and win. Or notify me of your death and I shall notify you of my sorrow." 

"Would you rather I died a coward's death or on the battlefield like you expect me to?" Sun Woo asked, eyes anchored in his friend's.

"I wish you didn't have to die. But I need to prove myself. And make my own path. For that, I would rather shed a little blood quickly than a lot of blood throughout time." Jin Heung replied, remembering the words of his late mother.

With tears in his eyes and a trembling hand, the Hwarang seized the sword offered to him. "Await for my report, your Majesty." He determinedly replied, holding the ruler's gaze. "I won't live like my father, I won't live like a ghost. But I won't die either. I will soil my blade on the blood of your enemies, so that every time your kingdom progresses further, you remember I started walking that path alone. And I will await for you to join me. Or I will die on the blade I can't miss."

"Are you insulting me? Your King?!"

"No." Sun Woo shook his head. "I am trying to reach out to my friend." He replied, tears rolling down his cheek as he walked past the man.

Jin Heung grabbed his arm. "Anyo." He spoke, dragging him back to him. "You forgot who I am. When you carry this blade, whatever land you win, you win for me. Whatever path you carve, you carve in my name. Whatever enemy you defeat, the King defeats through you."

Sun Woo chuckled. "If you know it, why do you still believe it's more my path than yours?" He inquired.

Tears welled in the King's eyes. "Because outside of these walls, we are but rivals." He swallowed. "I am your ruler, pay, your, respects." Sun Woo chuckled, freeing his arm. Anger fueled the male marched to the door. "I could have you beheaded for that." Jin Heung reminded Sun Woo, making him still in his steps.

"It'd probably hurt less than the hole you made in my heart. But will you do it yourself, or will you just let another life be taken in your name out of fear?" The King's lips parted in disbelief as a tear rolled down his cheek. But no word came out. "That's what I thought. Pyeha." The Hwarang gave a curt nod before walking out. 

"Pa Oh!" The King called for. His most trusted soldier slipping in the room within seconds.

"Pyeha." The soldier lowered his head.

"Prepare a bastion. Sun Woo is going to war with South Baekje." The King replied.

"Sun Woo?" The soldier asked, brows furrowing. "Just him?"

"If he looses, we must preserve the alliance with Baekje. We will say that he acted of his own, being too moved by the lost lives of our citizens. And flatly apologize. If he wins, he wins under my orders. Silla shall be protected either way." The King replied. 

"Do you expect him to win, Pyeha?" Pa Oh asked.

The young King's eyes met with his mentor. "I..." His eyes fell shut as he loudly exhaled, tears rolling down his cheeks. "I don't want him to die." 

"But?" The soldier inquired.

"But there can only be one King. And he cannot, become a god." Ji Heung replied. The older man offered a supportive smile, giving a curt nod. 

Chapter Text

"Pyeha." A messenger approached as the King was practicing as the shooting range.

"What news do you bring?" Jin Heung inquired, narrowing his eyes as he examined where the previous arrow had landed. Huffing softly, the King nocked another pinching the string as he drew back.

"It's about the war with South Buyeo." The messenger announced. Jin Heung sucked in a breath, prematurely releasing the arrow and grazing his cheek. 

"What about it?" The ruler asked, retrieving another arrow. 

"We won, pyeha. It's a miracle!" The messenger announced. Jin Heung swallowed thickly as he released another arrow. "The people now have a new song for the two of you." He went on excitedly. "Glory to Jin Heung, glory to our King, and his heaven sent General Sun Woo." 

"Paeksang wie Wang. Wang wie Shin." Jin Heung chuckled, fists tightly clenching. "And so, I made him a god." Jin Heung turned to the messenger. "Tell the guards to prepare. No. Call the Hwarang to the palace. Sun Woo is not a heavenly warrior. He is, a traitor. Whomever objects shall share his fate." Nobody stands above the King. Not when it took him so long to get that high. 

"But..." The messenger fell silent upon seeing the vicious glare.

"Send orders! From now on, Sun Woo and his men are traitors!" The messenger lowered their head, bowing respectfully.

"Pyeha..." Pa Oh whispered, offering his ruler a silk tissue to wipe away the blood on his cheek. The King glanced down the ornated, expensive piece of tissue, his vision blurring due to the tears. "You can still change your mind." The soldier whispered gently.

"Anyo." Jin Heung replied. "I will do, what must be done."

"Very well." The soldier simply replied. "Let us go. You must change before Sun Woo appears." The King nodded, letting the older man lead him back to the castle.

 

~*~

 

Exhausted, the newly appointed general still sported a gentle smile upon seeing the people. Waving back at those who came to greet him back as he entered the capital. While the crowd seemed so cheerful, the male felt unbelievably cold and shallow. He'd seen enough loss for a lifetime, and was ready to hand back the blade offered. Ready to surrender and trust his friend would go beyond anywhere he ever would. Sun Woo might have leadership qualities, but he was too good of a man to be a good general. He simply felt like some sacrifices weren't his to make. Asking others to put their lives on the line for little more than a cause he wasn't certain to fully believe in? That would ultimately break his heart. He'd much rather pick his fights or fight under the orders of someone he believed in, as a Hwarang. Before the male could realize it, the palace came to sight. Smiling brightly at the mere thought of seeing his friend again, the male was eager to face his King, eager to report that he didn't die just to return. Sun Woo had wanted to return to say it in ways he couldn't write it, tell Jin Heung, Sam Maek Jong, Ji Dwi, whatever his name, tell his friend that he surrounded their future to him and trusted him fully with it. He was done, carrying the sword of a King. 

"Traitor Sun Woo!" The male heard upon approaching the doors. 

"It is general Kim Sun Woo!" One of the soldier yelled. "Show him respect or I'll—" Sun Woo gestured for the soldier to stop upon seeing who it was. 

"Ban Ryu..." Sun Woo whispered.

The Hwarang brought a trembling hand to his blade. "Please, hyung, remove your armor and enter alone. If you..." He swallowed. "If you don't, they will shoot all of you." He announced, gesturing at the archers that stood atop of the palace's rampart.

Sun Woo got off of his horse, clutching his ruler's blade still as he entirely took off his armor. "It's okay, no blood shall be spilled today. It's a misunderstanding." He said calmly. 

"I wish it was, hyung." Ban Ryu replied, gesturing for the doors to be open. 

"I'll explain it all and it will be fine. I do not resent you." Sun Woo reiterated, offering a gentle smile to his brother in arms. The other Hwarang nodded, hoping his friend was right. 

"Kneel before your King." A voice yelled. Sun Woo chuckled, ignoring it. He focused his gaze on Jin Heung, climbing a couple of steps towards him. But he was stopped by some Hwarang. 

"We said kneel!" The voice yelled again.

"Really?" Sun Woo asked, looking only at the ruler.

Jin Heung looked away. "Make him." He yelled, himself.

A Hwarang moved forward, seemingly hesitant for a second before he slashed at the newly appointed general's leg to force him to kneel. "Pardon me, hyung." Kim Ki Bo whispered. 

"It's fine." Sun Woo replied through gritted teeth. "I came to say this again: I would rather be your friend than being King!" He yelled to Jin Heung.

The ruler rose from his seat. "IT WAS NEVER A CHOICE YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO HAVE!" He yelled, angrily marching towards Sun Woo. Then stopping halfway. Time to test loyalties. "Kill him." He told Kim Soo Ho. The Hwarang's eyes widened. "Did you not hear? Raise your blade and kill him. It's your King's order."

"But I am a Hwarang, I must think for myself." The male argued. "Hyung," He daringly called the King that once shared his bedroom. "do not do something you will regret. Do not kill one of your most devoted and skilled soldier, Pyaeha." 

"So you're on his side? Disobeying your King's direct order?" Jin Heung asked, tears blurring his vision. His gaze turned to Sun Woo. "Do you not have something to say? Tell them! Tell them you're not a god!" 

"Why?" Sun Woo asked. "They know I am not. I bled enough beside them. But you think they believe I am. And I cannot change your mind, can I?" He inquired, a matching glaze in his own gaze. 

"You can't." The King agreed. "Kim Soo Ho, obey your king and kill that man, kill that traitor." 

The Hwarang shot a panicked looked to his kneeling friend but move forward still, unsheathing his blade. "It's okay." Sun Woo said, lowering his head to expose his neck. "It's okay that my life, who isn't yours to take, will end by your hands, my friend. It's okay that the King is once again a coward, too scared to do what must be done himself." He spoke loud enough to be heard by all.

"Wait." Jin Heung said, progressing towards the two. "I know you are provoking me not for your sake but for his." He chuckled. "However, you are right. It is time I, slay my own monsters. Rise." Sun Woo did as instructed, struggling on his feet. He clutched his King's blade tightly still. 

"I surrender it to you." The general said, handing the King back his blade. "Build your future for this country."

"I don't need your blessings to do so." Jin Heung replied, taking ahold of the sword. He unsheated it and sighed. "Why couldn't you die away from my eyes."

"Because I refuse to hide from you, when we know each other's hearts best." Sun Woo replied, closing his eyes as he braced himself.  

The King brought a hand to the General's cheek. "Let me see those eyes. One final time."

Sun Woo obeyed, reopening his eyes and realizing just how close he was from the ruler. He offered a tentative smile. "It's okay. I would have hated to die at the hands of anyone else."

"How can it be okay? I made you a traitor..." The King argued, tears rolling down his cheeks.

"Because I might be the one who dies, but you will be the one who remains heartbroken. I will not punish you further than what you are already doing to yourself." He replied. 

"You were always so merciful. So good. With everyone." The King's traits hardened at the words. "Shin Sun Woo, I shall turn you back into a mortal today. May the heavens be deserving of you." He spoke, before taking a long step back. 

The King let the tip of his blade graze the male's neck, considering decapitation before he realized that he wouldn't be able to bear the sight. Instead, the sword trailed down to the male's chest and Ji Heung burried it to the hilt in a prompt move. Holding the man close to him one last time. Tears started to freely roll down the King's cheek as he held the other male, feeling the tremors that moved his friend's body. "It's okay." Sun Woo choked out, coughing up blood against the royal garment as the King held him close. "We will meet again. I, I know it. Sa, sa, sarang, saranghaeyo, Wa,Wang. Jin. Hu,Heu,Heung." The King's eyes widened upon hearing the admission. His fingers dug into the fabric of the other male's shirt as he held him closer, a litany of 'no's pouring out of his mouth. 

Pa Oh slowly marched to him, putting a hand on his shoulder. A reminder that people were watching more than a sign of affection. Slowly, Wang Ji Heung let go of the body, before standing again. He met the gaze of General Isabu. 

The man slowly climbed up the few steps that still separated him from the King, a small smile on his features. "Baeksang wie Wang. Wang wie Shin." He quoted. "King above the people. God above the King." He chuckled. "A King who only spills blood when he must but is aware that spilling blood, often the most precious to him, is necessary." The General heaved a soft sigh of satisfaction. "I have chosen. My blade is yours, Pyeha." He spoke, before kneeling in front of the ruler.