He almost couldn't bear the sound of her voice, deeper, yet still as lovely as a melody. Her accent was clearer, after having spent so long in the city. It made him painfully aware of his own more common cadence, but he forced himself to swallow and reply.
"Welcome home, Mistress."
Her face fell slightly at this. He'd always just called her Miss Yona when they'd been kids, so much so that it had always felt like more of a nick-name. But now, after so long it felt too informal given her status.
Yet, she shook it off and continued, "You're so much taller now! I have to crane my head back just to look at your face when we're this close." She paused a moment, "I almost wouldn't have recognised you if it hadn't been for your eyes." she said, that soft something in her voice coming back slightly as she began studying his features again. He nearly blushed under her scrutiny, but by some miracle he managed not too.
"My eyes?" he asked.
"Yes, they're still as blue as the sky over the moors. Almost like there's a piece of the sky itself in them."
He scoffed lightly at her description, her flair for the dramatic as strong as ever.
"I'm afraid I don't think I could say the same about you," he began, shifting slightly from one foot to the other, "I don't think there is a man alive that could mistake the colour of your hair for any other."
"No?" she asked, giving him a cheeky grin and taking a step closer.
"Not a chance." he confirmed, a slight smile beginning to form along his own lips for a moment before he thought better of it. He cleared his throat, and attempted to school his features into as professional an expression as he could muster before asking, "What brings you all the way down here to the gardens then, Mistress?"
This time, she truly looked confused at his question, and despair began to creep into her violet eyes.
She took a step back and seemed to steady herself for a moment before replying.
"I came to see if there was a little boy here. He made me a promise years ago, and I wanted to see if he kept it," she said, her voice now earnest. "And looking around here I can see that he did. The first part at least. He did a wonderful job and looked after the roses we planted together on our last day here together that much is clear."
She nodded her head to herself as she looked around the garden to each planter, and each thicket and pillar draped heavily in the summer blooms.
"But", she continued, "I still need to know if he kept the second half of his promise." She turned back to face him, "Did he remember me while I was away?"
He let out a shuddering breath as he averted his gaze and gave her the reply he knew she was waiting for.
"Not a day went past that you were not the ghost of these roses. That I didn't miss and remember you, wishing you were here to help me look after this place just as you used to."
It was a confession that burned his throat with every word that came out. At the truth it held, and the fear of what that truth meant.
There was no place for him in her life anymore. Not truly. Things got so much more complicated as one grew up. Suddenly, status became more apparent and words so much harder to say. And to admit those words to her, about how badly he'd missed her, felt like he was toeing a dangerous line.
It was a line that, while he pushed and prodded at its edges, he still hadn't dared to cross it. But, surely there was no harm in this? In catching up with an old friend, just for now?
Especially as he saw the light in her eyes burn bright at his words. He watched as she stood up straighter and let out a small, hesitant laugh to herself before bursting into giggles. Before he knew what was happening, she was throwing herself into his arms with a jump.
In his hurry to catch her, he lost his balance and they both went sprawling backward, Hak getting the wind slightly knocked out of him as he hit the ground with a resounding thud.
Yona seemed slightly alarmed at first as she sat up from where she was sprawled across his chest. She clearly looked as though she felt bad for knocking him over, but as soon as he managed to get the air back into his lungs, and she saw he was fine she let out another, real laugh and fell back down on top of him with a massive hug.
"I missed you too, Idiot."
It took him a moment to register her words, but when he did he felt his own laugh begin to bubble out and his smile return as he hugged her back.
"Hak?" she wheezed slightly.
"I can't breathe."
"I know. This is my revenge for you basically kneeing me in the gut with that fall." He replied in a sly tone, but releasing her from his crushing grip all the same.
In the end it still earned him a pinch to his side, but it had been worth it. It was always worth it.
After catching her own breath, a task he imagined was surely made more difficult in a corset, she flopped down beside him and they lay there for a few moments.
A few more giggles escaped her as she noticed there were now bits of grass stuck in his hair and she leaned over to brush them off.
"Thanks," he said, a little embarrassed.
"No problem. Sorry for knocking you down in the first place" she replied, a blush now tinting her cheeks. "Not very lady-like, especially considering I just came back from finishing school."
"I expect nothing less. Besides, if I remember correctly it wouldn't be the first time, would it?"
She swatted him on the shoulder for that one and he just continued to smile, loving her even more if it were possible every moment she was back here again with him. Teasing each other. Smiling and laughing as if it had been only yesterday when they'd been sneaking off into the kitchens together to steal some snacks.
"You never answered my question though," he said after a moment, admiring how a butterfly now hovered around her head, thinking her hair was some sort of odd flower, "Why are you here? I heard you weren't supposed to be back until much later."
She gave him a look that said she obviously thought he had just said something stupid, "And I thought I already answered your question. To see you! I asked the coachman the night before if we could leave earlier that morning and he agreed. I wanted to see you before I was dragged away for whatever party my Father's thrown for my return." she raised an eyebrow at him with another scathing look, "especially because I knew you would never come find me yourself."
Well she wasn't wrong, he supposed. Never in a thousand years would he have been bold enough to interrupt her father's party, him, a mere garden hand for Christ's sake, just to catch up. He'd have been fired on the spot, and then he'd never see her at all, ever again.
She continued on unperturbed, entirely unaware of his tunnel vision leading him through worst case-scenarios. "Speaking of which, we should get going. I'll be expected at the house soon enough, and Father will be beside himself with worry if I'm even the slightest bit late."
"We?" he asked, giving her a confused, and if he were honest, a slightly panicked look.
She rolled her eyes at him, "Yes, we. Did you really expect I'd let you go that easily?" she asked, mischief written all over her face.
"Kinda," he admitted.
She simply scoffed at him daintily before getting to her feet and dusting off her skirts, offering him a hand to help him up as well.
He took it, though he was surprised when he went to let go and she held on firmly, even giving his hand a slight squeeze of reassurance.
"Shall we go then? Or will I have to drag you with me the whole way there?" she asked sweetly, swinging their hands between them like a child.
Like they might've years ago.
"As you wish, Princess." he said, giving her hand a squeeze in return, "I'll follow you anywhere, no matter what's waiting at the end of the road"
And so, after Yona had dragged him off to the party that had indeed been waiting for her upon their arrival, Hak did his best to blend in and make pleasantries where required.
Not once did she let him squirm away from her side, her arms looped through his elbow.
Not once did she let any of the people they chatted with get a word in edgewise, asking why he was there. If he should have even been there.
Nope, she had decided that his place was right beside her, and that no one should or even could question it and the thought left a warm feeling in his chest.
The rest of the day was spent traversing from one small group to another, exchanging hellos and asking after one another's families. It wasn't until near mid-day that her poor father was able to get a chance to welcome his little girl home.
Hak had merely stood awkwardly to the side, trying not to intrude on the sweetness of the moment, before it was Yona's own father that was yanking him into the hug to join them leaving him slightly stunned.
For the next hour or so the three of them caught up. Hak hadn't ever seen or even spoken with Yona's father more than once or twice since he'd begun working at the estate, and yet it seemed the man knew all about him from Yona's wild stories about their little adventures together- minus a few details here and there, obviously. Still, her father eagerly thanked him for letting Yona follow him around when they were children, and for looking after her. Some part of Hak was both stunned and completely relieved at the man's enthusiasm towards him.
By the end of the day, everyone was worn out and most of the guests had either started the long ride home or had retired to their rooms for the evening. Hak was stood, leaning lazily against the railing of the front steps by the doorway as Yona waved the last couple to leave her goodbyes. By now a few fireflies had started to come out and dotted the air over the grass and hedges.
"That the last of them then?" he asked, even as he already knew the answer.
"Yup," she replied wearily before walking back over to his side and slouching against the wall beside him, "It was lovely and all, but I think father invited half the country over."
"Maybe, though you haven't seen how crowded it can get at one of the village festivals," he replied, grinning at the thought of her trying to navigate her way through the dancing in the streets and weaving between the food stalls.
She sighed dreamily. "I would love to go to one someday, though."
He tried not to stare at the far-off look in her eyes. At the wistful longing. It was probably about time for him to take his leave.
"Maybe someday you'll get the chance to," he offered gently, "but for now, I think it's about time I went home for the evening. You're lucky I didn't have a shift down at the taproom tonight or I would have been gone ages ago."
"Is it that late already?" she asked, disappointment leaking into her voice, though she looked as though she were trying her best to hide it.
"'Afraid so, Princess. Gramps is probably wondering where the hell I've gone off to being out this late after work."
She looked slightly guilty at that, staring down at her shoes and hiding her hands in her skirts. So, without much thought, he leaned down and gently hooked his finger under her chin until she was looking up at him again.
"Chin up, Princess. I'll see you again tomorrow. Meet you by the entrance, just like old times?" he asked, letting down his guard just for a moment so she could see the hopeful look in his eyes. The joy at being able to say those words again.
Her own features quickly melted back into a warm smile. "Is that really a question?"
He let out a laugh, "Figured I should practice being polite if you're going to drag me to any more parties like this," he offered. "But, if you're so easily on board, I'll be happy to have a rake ready and waiting for you early in the morning just like I promised when you left."
She smacked his arm and he took that as his que to get going as he finally pushed himself off the wall and began to make his way down the steps.
Just as he reached the end of the driveway however, he heard her call his name, just once.
He turned, looking back at her, her hands cupped around her mouth in an attempt to be heard over the wind, he waited.
"I missed you!"
He smiled, truly and without restraint this time as he called back to her,
"I missed you too!"
Hey guys so this was the last chapter of this fic. I hope you all enjoyed it and I apologise it took so long for me to finally get back to it and finish it. You can thank my best friend and lovely editor for finally getting me back on track with my writing. Hope you all are safe and well during this time. Reviews of all kinds are always welcome and appreciated. Take care!