When Jang Bong Hwan woke up in his own body at the peak of the critical moment, he couldn’t believe fate decided to joke with him in that way. First, when he slipped into the Joseon era against his will. And the second time, when he was yanked out of there, once again against his will.
Nothing regarding Joseon ever went his way and coming home felt like a real curse.
It was like reading an unfinished book series in which the author didn’t bother to sit and complete the story after a major cliffhanger. In Bong Hwan’s case, the author is history itself, not J.R.R. Martin, so he quickly ran into a bookshop and found out what happened with Cheoljong.
Bong Hwan never felt that relieved when he read that Cheoljong, who is now Cheoljo apparently, didn’t die that day, but soon it turned into slight disappointment when he saw the number of years the King lived: 32. It wasn’t fair — he shouldn’t die that young! However, in a few days, the historical books magically settled to a bigger number, showing that Cheoljo lived until very old age and died in his own home on Ganghwa Island after passing the throne to his oldest son. It was as if the changes he and the King made needed, ironically, more time to adjust.
After the shock of coming back settled, Bong Hwan started loving his comeback. He was busy gaining his muscles back and admiring his body shape in the gym’s mirror. He temporarily moved into his parents’ house, where for the first time in his life he actually enjoyed listening to his mom talking about history. He even went to her zumba sessions a few times until she forbade him to show up again because he was distracting the other ladies. But what could he do? He was born handsome and if his mom wanted to blame someone, she could blame herself. They were her genes after all.
However, as time passed, Bong Hwan started feeling abandoned. He loves his parents, but he missed the Joseon folks too.
Speaking of which…
Separation from Kim Soyong was another challenge he had to face. For a long time, he tried to find out everything about everyone he knew from Joseon except for her. Because in his mind, he was her. Why did he need to find out about Kim Soyong if he was Kim Soyong? Admitting he was never alone in that damn body of hers was somehow hard. Bong Hwan always thought his personality was too strong and he overshadowed her. However, once he reconsidered his time in Joseon, everything always went the way Soyong wanted. Damn, he couldn’t resist her lead, and the fact that the voice in her head was also Soyong’s didn’t help Bong Hwan to keep his identity at all. He just preferred to be blind while Soyong preferred not to admit her identity. They really were a good couple of cowards denying the obvious.
It was too confusing and he couldn’t even go to therapy regarding this! His parents didn’t believe him even when he showed them his own name engraved on the stone with the lake’s name. For a second he even got scared that maybe his mom, a history geek, actually named him after the past him! But she assured him it wasn’t the case. That would be even weirder. So of course no therapist could help him if he couldn’t be fully open about his experience.
That damn woman!
Sometimes he hated her, for involving him in fixing her own problems. Sometimes he admired her for how cunningly she wrapped him and his knowledge around her delicate finger, intentionally or not. Sometimes he pitied her for the dark and desperate situation she had found herself in. If his presence helped her to get agency over her life then he was glad to help.
“Am I still pregnant? Why do I feel so conflicted?”
In the end, he came to the conclusion that he misses her as well. That strange woman became like an annoying but still loved family member. A cousin maybe. Not a Byeong-in-like cousin but a totally normal one.
That way it became easier to read history books about that period. Both Cheoljo and Cheorin were praised for their political achievements. Like a good team, they set Joseon on the course for democracy and their kids successfully continued it.
But that wasn’t all. With a changed story, that period of time was romanticized by the entertainment industry. In dramas, movies, comics, novels, and even songs – people were mad for Cheoljo, Cheorin, and their kids, who also had very interesting lives.
To stop feeling lonely, Bong Hwan even printed a photograph of their family, taken many years after Bong Hwan left Joseon. There weren’t any photographs in the previous version of history because Joseon was a closed-off country, but since Cheoljo changed that, inventions had reached their land sooner.
The photo had Cheoljo and Cheorin sitting side by side in their best hanboks. Even though the photo was black and white, Bong Hwan could vividly imagine the King’s bright red Gonryongpo.
The King’s oldest son, Hyun-ki, was standing by his father’s side. He looked like a boy on his way to becoming a man. He looked so much like the King at that age, as if someone copied and pasted the same person. The twins on the other hand resembled Soyong the most, both of them standing by her side. And then another kid was sitting on Cheoljo’s lap, a little boy who they had in their thirties.
Bong Hwan read that they actually had another child, a girl, when they left the palace, but there were no photos of her. Well, who could blame them? Living on Ganghwa was probably boring as hell.
Bong Hwan’s life changed drastically too. After exposing Secretary Han and clearing his own name, Bong Hwan decided to leave his job in the Blue House. After knowing Cheoljo, he couldn’t think of a better ruler. His mindset changed from cooking for the most powerful to cooking for the people. This is how he decided to open his own restaurant. His place became a hit and he is even considering opening a franchise. And after making a lot of money, he started to make monthly donations to help those in need. Now he understood that even a small contribution from one man can help make the world better.
“Jong-ie and Soyong-ie would be so proud of me.” Bong Hwan winks at the photo of the royal family.
Whenever he eats at home, he sees the printed picture hanging in a frame on the wall. Damn, it’s getting a bit unhealthy. But how can he move on so easily? He is in desperate need of closure.
His phone starts ringing suddenly, yanking Bong Hwan from his deep thoughts. It’s his mom, who probably wants to check on him. Lately, he has been too busy with his restaurant and she gets worried whether he eats regularly or not.
“Omma!” Bong Hwan cheerfully greets her. “You shouldn’t worry. I have a full breakfast today!”
“Then you have a lot of energy to come to the museum, right?” his mom suddenly asks.
Not long ago, some huge historical discovery happened, and his mom, as a great specialist in history, participated in studying it. The mystery around it consumed the whole nation, but the museum where the study was going on kept quiet for now. The big exhibition would be made soon, as Bong Hwan had heard.
“Omma, it’s Friday today and some chaebol paid to rent the whole place to celebrate a birthday. I’m very busy!” Bong Hwan exclaims.
“When omma says you need to come, as a good son, you do as I say.” His mom is really unbelievable in her demands. But what can he do — he loves her very much.
“Bong Hwan-ah, I promise you won’t regret it…” she suddenly adds in a quiet, soft voice. “Come quickly. You might not have another chance…”
Worried and intrigued, Bong Hwan skips his morning cup of coffee and rushes to the museum. What could happen? Could his mom end up in trouble? Whoever they are, they better not mess with her!
Bong Hwan runs up the stairs to where his mom is waiting, pacing from side to side in front of glass doors. Before he can even greet her, she takes his hand and leads him. Not explaining anything, they pass many corridors and go into the basement where all of the research happens. It’s pretty early in the morning and no one else is around, so maybe this is why it was so urgent.
“Omma, you’re scaring me. What’s happening? Did you unleash a mummy’s curse?” He tries to joke around to ease the mood.
They finally stop before a door and his mom offers him a pair of gloves.
“Be careful. You can only touch things in this room with gloves,” his mom instructs him.
“You were telling the truth. I can’t believe you traveled back to the Joseon era!” she suddenly adds, to Bong Hwan’s surprise.
“What did you find that convinced you?” He lowers his voice to a whisper. He tried so long to make her believe him, but she only brushed off his story as being too ridiculous.
“A month ago we discovered a hidden place full of historical gems.” His mom waves her hand at the things Bong Hwan can see in the room they’re in right now. Pots, paintings, books, and many other things were on the tables and awaited people to examine them. “Queen Cheorin did this.”
“What?” Bong Hwan gasps.
“It’s amazing. It’s as if she knew about Japan’s invasion and how our country would be robbed, and so she saved as much as possible…”
Bong Hwan’s mom doesn’t know what he does: the previous history. Japan’s invasion was much longer and left their country in a very vulnerable state. But after Bong Hwan’s adventure, history changed and the country was better prepared. The occupation, while still happening, ended much quicker.
“She knew. Of course, she knew…” Bong Hwan mumbles, remembering the time they pondered how history would change if they helped Cheoljong1I use Cheoljo almost everywhere because that’s how his name changed by I think here I can use the old name because it’s a memory. She’s smart, that strange Queen; she used every piece of information she had for the betterment of Joseon alongside her husband.
“In this room,” his mother opens another door a little, “are items that have waited for you for a long time…”
Bong Hwan shifts his gaze to the door behind his mom’s back. Maybe on the other side is the closure he so desperately wanted? The fact that his mom now believes him and that he can actually share his experience with her is a huge step forward for him. But what message did Cheorin wish to share with him?
“Can I?” Bong Hwan’s voice suddenly cracks; he didn’t expect himself to become so emotional even before entering the room.
“This is why you’re here,” she softly says, caressing his cheek. “Just be quick. And you can’t take anything out.”
With his heart beating fast, Bong Hwan enters the room. Inside, he sees a table with a massive box on it and a scroll. He takes a deep breath and slowly approaches the table.
Even if his time is running out, he still wishes to savor it.
First, he opens the scroll and understands why his mother believed him at last. From the paper, his own portrait looks back at him. It is a skillful one, so his mom didn’t have any doubts, and even if she did, the signature revealed his name as well.
“She remembered me,” Bong Hwan whispers. Only Soyong knew what he really looked like. Maybe thanks to this portrait others knew too.
He puts the scroll back on the table and his gaze shifts to the box, which also has his name: “To our friend Jang Bong Hwan.”
With tears gathering in his eyes, he opens the box and lets out a whimper seeing it full of photos and other memorable things.
In the photos, he sees Soyong and Cheoljo, and sometimes their kids, even the youngest girl who grew up on Ganghwa Island. But that’s not all… In one photo he sees Hong Yeon among the flowers in the gardens with her wide and charming smile. She looks older than he remembers, but she only became prettier after maturing.
“Yeon-ah,” Bong Hwan sobs, caressing the picture, his fingers sliding along the curve of her smile.
The next one contains a photo of Court Lady Choi in a pretty hanbok instead of the usual court lady attire. She looks so unusual, but he can still hear her strict, nagging voice or her soft, loving one.
“I miss you all so much,” Bong Hwan whispers, wiping tears from his eyes with the collar of his jacket.
He finds more pictures and what he thinks are gifts for him, like norigae2Norigae – s a typical, traditional Korean accessory used in Hanbok, which can be hung on goreum (coat strings) of a woman’s jeogori or on her chima., golden figurines and embroidery, probably made by Soyong herself.
But the best gift is waiting for him at the bottom of the box: a letter. No one has opened this letter in more than a hundred years. If everything in this box is meant for him, then it’s a message that has waited for him. Mentally, he thanks his mom for letting him do this. He can’t keep any of these items, but at least he can see and read them before everyone else does.
“Jang Bong Hwan…”
He instantly recognizes the King’s neat handwriting. He lowers the letter and takes a deep breath before reading it fully. He feels nervous reading it because he has never before communicated with Cheoljo alone, not without sharing what he feels and thinks with another soul.
He lifts the letter and starts reading, line after line of a heartwarming letter from the 19th-century King to Chef Jang Bong Hwan. A message where Cheoljo acknowledges him and thanks him. And the more Bong Hwan reads, the more he realizes that he will never get his closure. Even this letter is not enough.
“I should’ve lived alongside all of you,” Bong Hwan whispers, going through the photographs again. In one of them, Cheoljo is posing in his combat attire, in all-black with a bright smile on his face, and Bong Hwan wonders how long the King had to stay like that to make this photo.
He wonders how many happy moments happened that weren’t documented in the history books. Was Queen Cheorin still a weirdo? What were Cheoljo’s dad jokes? Bong Hwan remembers what a lame and out-of-place sense of humor the King had; his poor kids were probably embarrassed to invite friends to the palace.
Did Hong Yeon marry someone? Bong Hwan read that many palace maids started families once the Queen changed the rules. He’s sure Court Lady Choi married Man-bok. She had to have had — the lovey eyes were everywhere when those two were around each other.
“Bong Hwan-ah,” his mother calls for him from the other side of the door. “Soon this place will be full of people…”
He knows what that means: his time is up. As it was back in Joseon, he can’t extend the time that has been given to him. And he must let this story go, even if it’ll be the hardest thing he has to do.
Bong Hwan puts everything back in the box and closes it. He slides his fingers across the top where his name is engraved on the wood before leaving the room. As soon as he closes the door behind him, his mother welcomes him in her warm embrace.
“Thank you,” Bong Hwan breathes out. “I needed that…”
His mother draws circles on his back like she did when he was little and would run to her with tears in his eyes.
“I know you’re upset, but Bong Hwan-ah, thank you for coming back home,” she whispers. “We are your family. I can’t imagine what would’ve happened if you never found your way back home…”
“I tried…so many times!” He moves away to look at her. “Omma, don’t doubt me. I wanted to be back to you and Dad… I just…needed more time to say goodbye to them.”
“They put so many memories in this box, Bong Hwan-ah. You’re not the only one who wished to say a proper goodbye,” his mom softly says, wiping the tears away from his cheeks.
“As always, you are the best, Omma,” Bong Hwan says, laughing. Only his mom could make him feel better on his hardest days. Even in Joseon, she was a support for him with all the history knowledge she gave him.
With mixed feelings, Bong Hwan leaves the museum, slowly stepping down the stairs. That box had given him the answer to his main question: did they remember or miss him? But at the same time, it made him wish to meet them all again even more.
For a long time, Bong Hwan just sits in his car with his head resting on the steering wheel, unmoving and deep in his thoughts. His phone rings and rings, but he couldn’t care less what anyone wishes to tell him now.
Finally, he starts the engine and drives to the palace. It is a place he can visit only as a simple visitor now, but he still feels more peaceful there.
The weather is getting rainy, and many tourists prefer to hide inside the palace buildings, listening to their guides. But hiding under an umbrella, Bong Hwan heads straight to the lake. The raindrops make the lake’s surface uneven and Bong Hwan’s reflection becomes unrecognizable.
For a moment he has a wild thought of diving into the lake and seeing if he can appear in Joseon just for a few days. But he dismisses this idea because he’s not sure he would be able to come back to the 21st century again. Even if he misses Joseon and everyone in the palace, he’s where he belongs now.
He has wanted to move on so badly, but the Joseon era keeps reminding him about his experience. His two-month adventure touched many lives and improved the history of the country, showing that one decision to bet on a losing side could make a huge change.
“Hello,” he says to the lake, as he used to do in the past when he thought that Soyong’s soul was somewhere in the lake. He had thought that she could come back if he called for her.
“I got your gifts.” Bong Hwan’s lips form a nostalgic smile. “Thank you for remembering me and thank you for telling the King about me. I’ll never forget that…”
He feels tears gathering in his eyes again and the big lump in his throat makes him stop for a moment. She didn’t have to, but still, she considered sharing those memories in photos with him.
“Jong-ie,” Bong Hwan continues. “I’m surprised you can write a normal letter without falling into poetry.” He laughs at his own joke. “Thank you for acknowledging me. You’re the best ruler I ever met…”
He walks around the palace grounds open for tourists and smiles at his own memories. Here he walked and sometimes ran, and other times was carried in a palanquin. In Daejojeon Hall3Daejojeon Hall – Queen of Joseon residence after the wedding., he slept and had his little revenge plans for the Han family. And when he misbehaved, Court Lady Choi would scold him until she gave up on the idea of making a perfect Queen out of him. And Hong Yeon would support almost anything he did and make him look pretty with cosmetics.
Ah, those were the times!
At Huijeongjeon Hall4Huijeongjeon Hall – King’s residence. he remembers the King lying injured after the bombing, covered in blood-soaked bandages. And at Seonjeongjeon Hall5Seonjeongjeon Hall – King’s study., the King would sit and read his countless documents and work hard for Joseon. Bong Hwan imagines the King started to work twice as hard and probably spent even more time in his study.
His nostalgia can’t let him go today, and he really doesn’t wish to come back to the real world mentally. But his phone vibrates from messages so much that he can’t continue ignoring it. And of course, his cooks from the restaurant write to him in a panic because he is supposed to be there preparing for that birthday dinner.
Even that makes his thoughts wander back to Joseon. Poor Kim Soyong didn’t have a single birthday without feeling sad over her mom. How hard it was each year to be reminded that her mother passed as she was born. He remembers how the memories of the memorial day of Soyong’s mother made their shared heart feel heavy with grief.
Still loaded with a lot of thoughts and memories, Bong Hwan arrives at his restaurant. The second he enters the kitchen he’s bombarded with voices from his cooks and sous chef. Apparently, they had to prepare meals without his supervision, and the sous chef had to take the leading role today.
Despite the kitchen being in chaos right now, he really loves this place. Even in Joseon, he found the royal kitchen to be his comfort zone because he is a cook first and foremost. And as Soyong wished to be Queen from a little age, he always dreamed of making marvelous food for people. Both of them ended up in the place where they are supposed to be, and it’s probably one of the few things he’s really happy about since he came back. His family and the work he loves to do are the reasons why he didn’t fall into the darkness of depression.
In a teasing and cheerful manner, he scolds his cooks for being too outspoken with their head chef, but he still shows his gratitude for them handling all the preparations on their own. To be fair, he hadn’t been that worried for them, considering his plans to open another restaurant and give it to his current sous chef to lead. So, it was sort of a test that his sous chef passed with excellence.
“Did the guests arrive?” Bong Hwan curiously asks, sneaking a look at the main room from the kitchen’s round glass window at the door. The room is dimly lit, and he can’t see the chaebols’ faces. He can only make out their figures as they wait for the main event.
“I heard the birthday girl is about to arrive, so they asked to turn down the lighting,” the sous chef answers, making the final decorations on the cake.
“Then,” Bong Hwan turns back to the table with a smile, “I’ll take the cake out.” He can’t miss the opportunity to see filthy rich Koreans who can afford to book the whole restaurant on a Friday for a birthday. It’s the first time since Bong Hwan opened his own restaurant that he has heard about something so K-drama-esque.
He picks up the cake with lit candles and enters the room as the guests sing “Happy Birthday.” And only then does he realize he doesn’t know the name he must sing. Quickly he tries to read the name on the cake upside down but fails to do so in the middle of the song. He lifts his eyes to maybe get a hint from the guests and sees her…
“Kim Soyong…” Bong Hwan gasps, dropping the song completely.
It’s really her face and eyes — he saw them too many times in the mirror to be mistaken. But instead of her hair being braided tightly, her shiny black hair is loose and falls on her shoulders in soft waves.
“Ah, so pretty…” Soyong covers her mouth with her hands as she observes the cake. The voice sounds a bit different, but Bong Hwan guesses it’s because he’s hearing it with his own ears instead of hers.
This is insane! How can she be here?
Kim Soyong closes her eyes to make a wish, completely unaware of his shock. She blows on the candles and everyone around her starts applauding. Finally, the light comes back, and Bong Hwan blinks confusedly before realizing Soyong is not the only familiar face there.
By her side stands a man Bong Hwan also knows very well: Lee Won Beom, a.k.a. Cheoljo. The man smiles at Soyong and kisses her cheek, making the whole room noisy with excitement.
“Jong-ie,” Bong Hwan exclaims probably too loudly and now everyone finally notices him.
“Excuse me, are you alright?” Cheoljo asks. “You look very pale, mister,” he adds with slight worry.
“Maybe you should sit, ahjussi6Ahjussi means like ‘Uncle’ in Korean and it’s usually used to address an older middle-aged man.?” Now it’s Soyong who voices her concerns. Someone by his side takes the cake away from Bong Hwan. When he sees who it is, he lets out a groan: even Yeongpyeong is here!
Bong Hwan is led to sit at one of the tables, with modern-day Court Lady Choi giving him a glass of water and Hong Yeon making an improvised fan out of a napkin. Just like old times, Bong Hwan thinks, holding back tears. He shifts his eyes from one guest to another, and he knows or is familiar with most of them.
“Mister Jang.” Cheoljo draws Bong Hwan’s attention back to him. “Do we need to call the hospital?”
“No!” Bong Hwan exclaims so loudly that Yeon jumps in surprise by his side. “I mean, no need,” Bong Hwan calms his voice, “I’m just overwhelmed to see you all here.”
Cheoljo and Soyong share confused glances with each other.
“Why are you overwhelmed meeting strangers?” Cheoljo asks with a familiar dumbfounded facial expression and Bong Hwan can’t help but chuckle.
“I’m good.” Bong Hwan smiles widely, ignoring Cheoljo’s question. “Now everything is… perfect…”
That evening, Bong Hwan makes new old friends. Cheoljo is still Won Beom and Soyong is Soyong. But Soyong’s dad is now her uncle and Court Lady Choi is his younger sister and Soyong’s mother. Hong Yeon is Soyong’s little sister and they spend the whole party giggling and sharing their latest gossip. Later, Jo Hwa Jin joins them; apparently, she’s Soyong’s school friend.
Won Beom turns out to be rich, but he is not a chaebol as Bong Hwan first thought. The man is so whipped for his wife that he decided to throw an expensive party for her thirtieth birthday and doesn’t regret it. Destiny really exists, Bong Hwan thinks, seeing how every time Won Beom and Soyong look at each other bright smiles appear on their faces.
“Have you ever thought about a political career?” Bong Hwan asks the King from the past.
Won Beom frowns: “How did you guess?”
“Just a hunch.” Bong Hwan laughs. “I would vote for you.”
Thank you, Jong-ie, for making that wish… Bong Hwan thinks.
“Jang Bong Hwan,
We weren’t properly introduced while you were around and I wish I believed you the first time you said who you were. My gratitude for you has no limits as you were one of the people who believed in me and my dream for Joseon. Thanks to your knowledge and support, I had a chance to become the King I always wished to be. But I’m most grateful for what you did for my Queen. She was in a dark place, and I’m partially to blame for that with my blindness and revenge plans, but with you around she overcame everything.
Everything my Queen told me about you makes me wish I knew you better as a person. Now I can only regret a missed opportunity when I could ask about your place in the future and what you do.
I remember that time when the night skies looked like they were falling, but instead of disaster, we made a wish. You and the Queen made me change my wish back then as I never wanted to be reborn again and go through hardships for the second time around. I made a wish to meet with my Queen as simply Wonbeom and Soyong. But now I want to change my wish again:
Let us meet, chef Jang Bong Hwan.
Let us meet so you can become a good friend of mine and Soyong’s.
Let us meet again…”
Hello dear reader, thank you for reaching this far and reading this season 2 like story. This story is really precious to me as I started writing it shortly after MrQueen ended and it took me more than 2 years to finish it! Back in the day when I started writing it, I was a bit sulky that some viewers didn’t like the ending and, in a way, Soyong’s insecurity here came from me, someone who was disappointed with negative reactions and who wanted to show that no matter what, our royal couple is happy together.
However, that little rebellion in me calmed down. To each its own. I think Soyong and Wonbeom had a beautiful love story and I love them to bits even though almost 3 years passed.
I feel sorry to let go of this story but remember it also has side little stories so I probably will come back with one-shots with this version. And after I write other stories, I might write a sequel to the times when they get 4th baby with new little adventure.
As promised, I need to finish Phonex’s song and start posting Rebel AU (“The Rising Moon”). But before that, I wish to test if I can post unbeted fics without my writing degrading to the bottom of the sea lol So maybe I will soon start posting a smaller story: “Falling slowly” which is AU where Soyong spent months in the future as chef Jang and just come back home. Here she must face new challenges as her family is exposed and punished for their sins and Jo clan now rises in power. Less politics, more romance with King doing actual courting.
- 1I use Cheoljo almost everywhere because that’s how his name changed by I think here I can use the old name because it’s a memory
- 2Norigae – s a typical, traditional Korean accessory used in Hanbok, which can be hung on goreum (coat strings) of a woman’s jeogori or on her chima.
- 3Daejojeon Hall – Queen of Joseon residence after the wedding.
- 4Huijeongjeon Hall – King’s residence.
- 5Seonjeongjeon Hall – King’s study.
- 6Ahjussi means like ‘Uncle’ in Korean and it’s usually used to address an older middle-aged man.