Three Little Words

by The Wind in May

Back when Yona slept in a bed every night, instead of on hard ground, back when she had a pillow, instead of a balled-up cloak, Yona had a favorite nighttime ritual. She would close her eyes and imagine Soo-Won, or rather, situations in which she and Soo-Won played key roles. A common imagining was herself seated on a horse with Soo-Won behind her, his chest against her back; his laugh in her ear; his strange, sweet scent in the air around her. Yes, on horseback sometimes, but sometimes other scenarios. For instance, Yona tripping — perhaps over a dropped fan — and toppling over a railing or balcony, letting out a high-pitched but womanly scream, and finding herself in the arms of Soo-Won, who would smile down at her and her unruffled and perfectly manageable hair.

These were the more complicated scenarios. Sometimes these nighttime thoughts were as simple as her hand entwined with Soo-Won's, or, better yet, just three short and all important words, spoken as a vow between them.

As Yona imagined these things each night, she would flush beneath the covers and her stomach would ache. Who knew that there could be pleasant stomach aches?

Though Soo-Won was a comfort and constant at night, he was an enigma come daylight. His visits, if frequent, were brief, and considering that he obviously did not return Yona's feelings, her imaginings about Soo-Won mostly stayed just that — imaginings. After all, no one left fans lying around, and tripping on purpose was difficult and stupid (Yona learned this the hard way). It was all doubly frustrating, as Hak would occasionally rub Soo-Won's blatant disinterest directly in her face. And yet at night, Soo-Won's affection seemed so real, so achievable.

And just before absolutely everything went wrong, some of Yona's imaginings became reality. Yona rode a horse with Soo-Won behind her, and relished it (though of course Hak ruined it by glaring at her the whole time — it was her fault for lying about Hak proposing marriage but still). Yona had even told Soo-Won something near equivalent to those three little words. And though he had not returned her feelings, Soo-Won certainly had not dismissed them.

Of course, then he killed Yona's father.

That first night, both of them panting and battered, Hak had leant Yona up against a tree trunk and told her to sleep. She had closed her eyes and the old reflex had kicked in. Behind fluttering eyelids, she saw herself once more on a horse before Soo-Won. Beautiful Soo-Won. Soo-Won who, just hours before, had pierced her father through with a sword. Soo-Won who, with a wave of his hand, had given permission for his soldiers to do the same to Yona. How could she still think it, this old fantasy? In the darkness of her mind the horse was galloping and bucking, wind screaming past them, and there was no longer a sweet smell, but the metallic twang of blood in the air.

If the whole night of her 16th birthday had been splintering Yona's heart, that moment just before sleep was what finally broke it.

Now, lying on hard ground with a balled-up cloak for a pillow, Yona can't help but feel shame at the silliness of those fantasies. How many hours did she waste over Soo-Won? She had been so naive then. She should have just enjoyed sleeping in a soft bed, instead of staying up late with ridiculous ideas. Yona can just barely remember the feeling of silk covers in summer. She could kill for them now, when it is just cold enough that sleeping without a blanket is uncomfortable.

She rolls over and listens to the snores of her friends. Zeno is the loudest, but Shin-ah often proves some competition. Jae-ha sometimes groans in his sleep. Kija sighs occasionally, and tends to toss and turn. Yoon talks in his sleep. And Hak... Hak never snores. Yona wishes he would; his silence is unsettling. There he sits, back up against a tree not five feet away from where she is lying, but were it not for the light of the fire illuminating his face, she would never know that he was there.

Yona closes her eyes, relaxes her shoulders, and waits for sleep. It isn't coming. Instead her mind focuses on pinpricks of sensation: the sharp crackle of the fire, the insistent chirps of the crickets tucked somewhere in the forest around her, the warmth of her hands near her chest.

And then, without meaning to, she's on a horse. No! she thinks, Not this! She tries to pull her mind back, but stops suddenly. It isn't Soo-Won behind her. The chest against her back is large and muscular, frighteningly so. The air smells of sweat and dirt and travel. No, Yona thinks. Hak? It can't possibly be Hak. But it's Hak.

Yona opens her eyes and then narrows them at the man himself. What is he doing in her imaginings? It makes no sense. In fact, it's fairly ridiculous. And somewhat disturbing. Yona rolls over again, away from Hak, and finally finds sleep.

But it keeps happening. Every night, without fail, she finds herself producing imaginary moments, moments that will put her in close contact with Hak. And it's wonderful. It's the stomach ache all over again. Yona can't stop herself from creating the images. Hak's hand on her waist, perhaps. His hand running through her hair, or her hand running through his hair. His smile.

She breaks it down. Obviously I want to touch Hak, and I want him to touch me. But we've been together since childhood, and we've touched one another every day for years. Why do I care now? What does this mean? After all, Hak isn't Soo-Won…

Yona is highly confused. And her confusion is exacerbated by the fact that many of her nighttime scenarios are continually occurring in real life. In the palace it is hard to trip on things, but in the forest it is hard not to trip on things. Yona is forever falling over protruding roots, animals darting through brush, inconveniently placed rocks, and her own feet. And inevitably she is caught by Hak, who generally walks beside her. Before Yona thought about Hak at night, she never paid any mind to Hak keeping her from tripping, but now each time his arms come up around her shoulders and he settles her back on her feet she goes tomato red from chin to hairline. Hak, never one for chivalry, cracks a joke about how he can't tell her face from her hair, but she just stares up at him. Why do I want this to happen? she wonders.

They share a horse, out of necessity, of course. The closeness of him is just as wonderful as Yona had imagined. She is baffled.

And they are touching — constantly. If Yona looks down, Hak will take her hand and squeeze it. When she wants to tell him something she will touch his arm, and leave her fingers there as she speaks to him. She sees herself and Hak doing these things as though she is a stranger watching from afar.

One night, when Hak has made his bed on the other side of the camp and she is certain that everyone is asleep, she stares up at the stars and considers. The little pricks of light twinkle at her encouragingly, and she lays out the facts at their feet. Hak is my childhood friend. Soo-Won, too, is my childhood friend. I was once in love with Soo-Won. I am no longer in love with him. I want to touch Hak and to be close to him. I once felt this way about Soo-Won. I saw myself and Soo-Won together, our hands intertwined, three little words.

She sits bolt upright. Across the flickering flames of the fire, she can see Hak, his body, for once relaxed and sprawled out beneath a thin blanket, his glaive nearby.

Three little words. Is it possible? It can't be.

Hak's head shifts slightly in his sleep, lolling gently to the side.

Yes, Yona thinks. It's just possible.

Hello friends! This is my first time writing for Akatsuki no Yona! I hope that you enjoy! Please leave a comment :D