“Jae-ha, why do you have … this?” Kija strode across the group’s campsite to where the green dragon sat with his back against a tree. He’d thought to be helpful, putting away the book that Jae-ha had left in the tent, but—
“Kija, you’ll have to be more specific. I can think of any number of things I own that would earn that reaction from you.”
Kija looked down, glaring at Jae-ha. He held a small glass jar in his hand—in his human hand, because he was sure that, with his dragon hand, he wouldn’t be able to keep himself from gripping hard enough to break it. The jar contained a small, white object in the shape of a dragon’s scale. “It’s not a joking matter, Jae-ha! This is a dangerous substance!” He looked down at the jar again. The scale was whole, completely untouched. “This—this isn’t even the same one!”
“Shh, Kija, don’t let Yoon hear you,” Jae-ha hissed. “If he realizes I have it, he’ll want to experiment.” Kija frowned. Jae-ha was right, but he wasn’t going to drop the subject, either. He grabbed Jae-ha by the arm, pulled him to his feet, and began walking into the woods. “Kija, what are you—?”
“You’re right,” Kija said. “No one else should know about this. It’s too dangerous. But I’m not finished questioning you about it!”
“It’s not a big deal, Kija. I just jumped back and bought it after everyone else left.”
Kija dropped Jae-ha’s arm, gaping at the green dragon. “You … paid money for it?” He could remember the strange way the love potion had made him feel, could remember the things it made him want to do to the princess. To pay money to either suffer like that, or to force it on someone else … “I’m keeping this,” he decided. “It came from my village, so I’ll take responsibility. I don’t want anyone else to have to feel that way. And really, Jae-ha,” he chided, “you went through it, too, even if it was only a little bit. I can’t believe you’d willingly inflict that on someone!”
Jae-ha didn’t attempt to take the scale back. Good; it seemed he could see reason. Kija reminded himself that their first encounter with the potion had been almost immediately after Jae-ha had joined them—perhaps he simply hadn’t quite gotten over his rebellious phase. The look on his face now, however, wasn’t a look of shame or remorse—what Kija would have hoped to see in a situation like this—but simply puzzlement. “Kija,” Jae-ha began. “That time you drank the potion … was that the only time you’ve felt that sort of attraction?”
“Of course!” What kind of a question was that? But Jae-ha was staring at him like he’d had a revelation. “Jae-ha, it wouldn’t be much of a drug if it made people feel things they already felt.”
“Well, it’s true that it was particularly intense … and the way it works on the first person you see, that’s definitely remarkable … but Kija, aside from those things, it’s not a particularly uncommon sort of feeling for one person to have about another.”
Kija glanced down at the jar in his hand, then back up at Jae-ha. “You’re … joking?” He must be. “No, you’re trying to trick me, so I’ll give this back, is that it?”
Jae-ha shook his head. “No, no … geez, you really haven’t felt it, have you?” He sighed. “I suppose that’s why you were never interested in any of the girls in your village, huh?”
“That was because I knew I would one day devote my life to my king!” But … it was the elders from his village who’d made the drug … specifically because he’d never wanted to marry … “It’s … really a common feeling? Not something unpleasant?”
“We-ell … it’s inconvenient, sometimes, but hardly what I’d call terrible.” But Jae-ha, though he was often quite forward, never actually behaved toward anyone the way he’d done when he’d eaten part of the scale.
“You learn to resist it?” Kija asked, curiously.
“I—I suppose that’s one way to put it,” said Jae-ha. “Really, though, the feeling the Hakuryuu scale creates is much stronger than normal.”
“Don’t call it that,” said Kija. “It has nothing to do with me.”
“Heh, I suppose it doesn’t, at that. Well, I don’t mind if you keep it. The opportunity passed, and now I have no use for it, so …”
Kija narrowed his eyes. “What opportunity? What were you planning?”
“Oh, I just wanted to give Hak and the princess a little push in the direction they were clearly headed … but like I said, the opportunity passed.”
“We still share all the same meals,” said Kija, confused. “You’d have been able to find an opportunity …” Not that he wanted to encourage such a thing, but Jae-ha wasn’t making sense.
“No,” said Jae-ha. “I mean, I doubt the potion would make much of a difference at this point.”
“But Yona doesn’t—wait. You think that’s what’s going on between Hak and the princess?”
Jae-ha rolled his eyes. “Really, Kija, sometimes I just …” He sighed.
Kija wasn’t oblivious. He could tell that Yona and Hak’s relationship had changed. Hak had always protected the princess, as if he himself were one of the four dragons, but ever since returning from Kai, they’d just seemed … happier together, somehow. Kija had thought it was relief at having made it through such a dangerous situation alive—but then why had Kija instinctively felt that he had no part in their new happiness? Now it made sense. “Well then,” he said. “If a feeling like that can make the princess this happy, then there must be some good to it, after all.”
“So … you’re not bothered by the princess feeling that way about someone else?”
“If it doesn’t trouble her, why would I be?”
“I mean, you don’t feel—?”
“Jae-ha,” Kija said. “When I felt something like that for her, I was under the influence of a very dangerous drug. I just finished telling you several times that that’s not me. If Yona is happy, then I’m happy for her.”
“I mean, yes, but …”
Why wasn’t Jae-ha letting this go? “Jae-ha … don’t tell me you are attracted to the princess?”
“I told you, it’s perfectly normal to be attracted to a lot of people!” He took a deep breath. “But you’re right. She’s happy with Hak. Like you said,” he added with a chuckle, “you learn to resist it.”
“Well then, who else?” Kija asked.
“You said you’ve been attracted to a lot of people.”
“Beautiful people, generally.”
“I mean specifically,” said Kija. It wasn’t a feeling he really understood—though this conversation was actually helping a lot—but if there was someone with whom Jae-ha could have that same sort of happiness that Hak and Yona had—
“Oh … several people in Awa … one of Tae-jun’s soldiers … that young woman with her hair all in braids in Senri Village … Hak … Miss Ayura … Soo-won, before I knew who he was …”
“None of these people are particularly available!” Kija protested, but Jae-ha went on, ignoring his interruption.
“And you,” he finished.
“… um.” Kija hesitated. “You mean, when you tasted the potion?”
“… right,” said Jae-ha, after too long of a pause.
“Well,” said Kija, unsure of how to respond to such a confession, “I suppose you know I don’t feel the same.” Jae-ha gave a slight nod, and Kija looked down at the jar he was still holding, the untouched Hakuryuu scale. If it was someone he knew felt the same way, someone he knew wanted the things it would make him feel … and furthermore, someone he liked and admired—even if he couldn’t understand him at times— “I … I could, though. For a little while. If you’d like that.”
Jae-ha’s eyes widened, and for a moment, Kija thought he was going to take him up on that offer. Then he grabbed the jar out of Kija’s hand, dropped it to the ground—and crushed it underfoot. “Like you said,” said Jae-ha. “That’s not you.”