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The One Where Shane Isn't the Problem

Chapter Text

“Fuck!” You yelled as water from the broken irrigation system you were working on sprayed you right in the face, startling you and causing you to fall into the dirt.
Spilling the whole open pack of seeds everywhere.

Fuck indeed.

Angrily muttering to yourself and cursing this whole damned farming endeavor, you got up, not even bothering to dust off, and stomped off toward the house. Fuck this farm. Fuck this town. Fuck moving here from the fucking city to get some fucking peace or whatever.

Just…fuck.

When your grandfather had handed you the letter just days before he passed away, you didn’t think much of it. After all, his mind had been going for the last few years and you just figured this was another one of his slightly crazy ravings. Nonetheless, you had done as he requested and tucked the letter away, leaving “you’ll know when to open it” as his cryptic message. It didn’t take long before you forgot about the little envelope completely.

Then, just a year later it happened.

When you stumbled across the letter you weren’t sure if what you were reading was actually…well, true. Grandpa had left Sunny Ridge to you, his pride and joy, the farm he had worked so hard to build up, that he had poured his heart and soul and whole life into. It was yours.

First thing in the morning you had called his lawyer to ask if this inheritance was indeed correct. Turns out, Grandpa maybe wasn’t as crazy as you thought.

After a hasty but heartfelt goodbye to your parents, you threw the few possessions you had left into your rusty old Jeep and drove until the city was in your rearview. You’d arrived in Stardew Valley late that night, your headlights the only thing illuminating your way as you ambled up the drive to the old farmhouse that you remembered from childhood. Your dad had called the mayor to let him know you would be arriving that night, so he had left the key to the house in the mailbox. Hauling your one bag over your shoulder and using the flashlight from your phone to see, you found the key, climbed the creaking porch steps, and unlocked the door.

With a heavy sigh, you took in the defunct state of the house. Layers of dust, cobwebs everywhere, a few leaves blown across the floors. You supposed it was only normal since the house had sat empty for a few years now. Grandpa had died a year ago and before that he hadn’t lived in it for two or three years. Dad had said that the mayor and the local carpenter were looking after it but you guess that didn’t necessarily mean keeping it immaculately clean or anything. A sense of relief washed over you when the lights at least came on.

Too exhausted to do anything else, you found the old bed and flopped down, not even bothering to change clothes or get under the covers. At least you had a bed to sleep in and roof to keep the rain out.
It may not be ideal, but it would do.

***

Okay, maybe the rain thing wasn’t so accurate. A heavy storm had come through about a week into your living on the farm and woken you in the middle of the night. Not with loud thunder or wailing winds, no, but with a steadily drip dropping of water on your face. The roof leaked. Great.

Turns out, the old house needed a lot of repairs. You seemed to find more and more every day. Thankfully, the local carpenter had dropped by a few days after you arrived to introduce herself and offer to help with any repairs or work you needed done. That had been a big help already, but she just finished fixing up the porch steps, you couldn’t ask her to check out the roof now too. You’d make due for a few weeks. There were plenty of buckets and pots around to catch leaks and you just shoved the bed out from under the drip zone.

The mayor had come by as well, Lewis you remembered. He gave a whole spiel about being friends with your grandfather, being so happy to see you coming to the Valley to take care of the farm, talking about how wonderful and welcoming the townspeople were, how you’d love it there and fit right in, blah blah blah. Truthfully, his loud knocking had woken you up early the morning after you arrived. You were wrapped in a blanket, disheveled, and still half asleep when he had stopped by so only fragments of what he said stuck with you.

After finally declaring that he should get going and sticking out his hand for a parting shake, the mayor turned to go. Before he reached the bottom of the steps, however, he turned with a slightly awkward and sad expression, as if he wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to say what he did next.

“You know, I spoke to your father the night you left to come to Stardew Valley,” Lewis began, his words holding a heavy unspoken meaning. “While I’m of course thrilled you’re here, I am very sorry for the circumstances under which, er, you came to be.” The man’s eyes lingered on the dark bruise blossomed across your cheekbone, your split and swollen lip. Your eyes suddenly found something very interesting to focus on off in the distance. Anything to keep from making eye contact with the mayor. “Please, don’t ever hesitate to let me know if you need anything Ms. Y/N.” You nodded appreciatively and then he was off.

You’d wandered into town a few times to explore and find food, but always mindful to keep your head down as best as you could. You weren’t a pro with makeup or anything, but as long as you laid low then nobody would ever suspect a thing. You’d of course had some short introductions with some of the townspeople. Pierre the shopkeeper, Gus the owner of the saloon and his bubbly employee Emily, and the JoJa Mart manager Morris. Only the ones you really needed to interact with to start you off, the ones with food and supplies.

And alcohol.

You spent the next few days exploring and planning. You walked the boundaries of the farm, rummaged through the barns and sheds to see what equipment your grandfather had stored and what kind of condition it was in. You inspected the house and tried to determine what fixes were needed to really make it livable. You went over your finances, worked up a new budget, and took care of a few other personal matters. Deleted your social media and changed your phone number.

The next few weeks were occupied with researching everything you could about farming. From the soil in the Valley to what plants to grow to how to raise animals, you poured over material to learn as much as possible before finally going to Pierre’s to buy some seeds. Lewis had given you a packet of parsnip seeds when you arrived, but you wanted a variety. Well, more like needed. This was going to be your livelihood now.

You soon learned, however, that as much as you researched and studied, farming was fucking hard. You spent days clearing debris from one of the old fields, just a small area so you could start something before it was too late in the season for anything to grow. Then it took another day to till the soil, which was absolutely exhausting. The old rototiller was a pain in the ass to deal with. Then, just when you thought you were ready to plant, the damn irrigation went out. There was no way you would be able to water all these plants by hand every single day, the nearest well was half a mile away. You’d die of exhaustion before the plants died of thirst.

Looking at yourself in the mirror of the bathroom in the house, covered in dirt and soaked to the bone, face pink from anger or sunburn you didn’t know, hair an absolute mess, you decided right then and there that you just couldn’t be a farmer. Your grandfather had loved it, your father had loved growing up on the farm, hell, you even remembered your mother enjoying helping out when you visited as a kid, but somehow the farmer gene has passed you right over.

So yeah, fuck being a farmer.

Except, it was all you had now.

“Evolve or die,” you muttered to your reflection. “Suck it up and let’s go plant some damn parsnips.”

Chapter Text

Two months.

Two months since you moved to the Valley. You’d fixed the irrigation system, repaired most of the fences around the farm, and planted a whole variety of crops. Pierre had worked out a deal with you that if you exclusively bought your seed from his shop, he would buy whatever produce you brought him. It wasn’t much money to start out as you were still trouble shooting this whole farming gig, but it was enough to get by. Thankfully your parents sent what they could here and there and Lewis had dropped by to tell you about the Stardew agricultural fund, handing over a nice little cushion of cash to help you out in maintaining the farm.

The bruises and cuts had healed, meaning you didn’t have to avoid townspeople anymore. Still, you were wary, but everyone had been nice enough so far. Since you made regular trips to Pierre’s you had met his wife and daughter. Abigail was fun to talk to and all, but when she invited you to hang out with her and her two friends Sam and Sebastian you always politely declined. You may be getting more social but you weren’t quite a butterfly yet.

You’d finally asked Robin to inspect the roof after taking an afternoon off to make the trek to her home in the northern mountainous part of town. When you explained what had been happening, she quickly agreed to come by the next day, even offering a heavily discounted rate since you’d lived under a dripping roof for so long without complaint. You had climbed up there with her and learned a few things in case this ever happened with any of the farm buildings, and now you didn’t live in a perpetual state of avoiding buckets like landmines on your floor.

A woman named Marnie had come by one morning to introduce herself as “your neighbor to the south, resident animal expert and supplier!”. She was older, late forties to mid-fifties perhaps, but very sweet and warm. She told you how happy she was that someone was finally there to take care of your grandfather’s land and how sad she had been to hear about his passing as he was a dear friend. She offered her help and her home if you ever needed anything, which is why you ended up sitting at her kitchen table a few days later talking about chicken coops.

You’d gone in during her listed business hours with a list of questions about raising chickens and the old coop you’d found in one corner of the farm. Marnie was so delighted that she pulled you into her kitchen and fixed some tea for the both of you, eagerly listening to your queries and watching you scribble notes about her answers.

Once the last line on your list was crossed off, you had thanked Marnie for all the help and for the tea, and wished her a good rest of the day. The older woman, however, insisted that you join her at the Stardrop Saloon later that evening to chat, get to know each other better, introduce you to one of the community staples in Pelican Town. Not doing well with saying no, you had awkwardly agreed to meet back at her ranch that evening before you headed for home.

***

“Glad to see you joining in on the local hang out spot. What can I get you Ms. Y/N?” Emily asked with a bubbly smile.

“Beer. Whatever’s cheapest on tap, please,” you ordered, fingers drumming nervously on the bar top. Emily nodded and turned to grab a glass off the shelves behind her. Your eyes were locked on the liquor display behind the bar, an internal struggle waging inside you. “Emily?” you finally burst out. She turned back to you with a curious grin. “Could I-“ you leaned over the bar, trying your best to speak quietly but still be heard over the ruckus of the saloon. “Could I also have a shot? Tito’s. But…discreetly?” You cheeks burned at the request, but thankfully the barmaid understood.

“Of course. On me, okay?”

“Thanks.” Your eyes wandered around, taking in the sights of all the locals and their usual hangouts. You still didn't quite know everyone’s names, but you were at least familiar with their faces. Abigail and her two friends stayed primarily in the back room, playing a seemingly never-ending game of pool. 'Probably because Sebastian looks like he’s the only one of the trio old enough to drink', you thought. There was the blonde, loud woman at the end of the bar. Patty maybe? Leah the artist sat with a drink and sketch pad at a table by herself. You didn’t know her well, but she always seemed to be in a good mood. Next, a man in a military jacket. Your eyes focused in on him for several moments, heart pounding just a little faster in your chest as you stared at the symbol on his left sleeve. Emily’s voice brought you out of your daze.

“Here you go, Y/N,” she said, sliding the pint of beer over, the shot tucked neatly against the glass so as not to be obvious. “Enjoy.”

Turning your body away from most of the patrons, you raised the shot to your lips with a sigh, quickly tipping it up and feeling the liquid burn its way down your throat. You grunted as you placed the glass back on the bar, waiting a moment before chasing it with a swig from your beer.

“Woman after my own heart,” a deep voice said beside you, making you jump. A tall, dark haired man stood there, slight smirk upturning the corner of his mouth as he leaned on the bar and gestured to Emily for another can of whatever he was drinking. “I’m not much for clear alcohols myself, usually more of a whiskey guy if its liquor, but to each their own.”

“About the only whiskey I drink is Crown Apple,” you replied, taking another pull from your glass. “Otherwise, give me vodka and I’m a happy camper. Well, happy farmer more like.” You snorted at your own joke, earning a chuckle from the man next to you.

“Thanks Emily,” he said as the bartender handed him a new can, complete with koozie, and took his empty one with a smile. You studied him as subtly as you could, noting his dark eyes and the stubble that lined his jaw. 'Strong jaw', you thought, heart seeming to pick up a bit. “So, you’re the farmer that took over Mr. Y/L/N’s place?” You nodded. “That big old house has been empty for awhile. Probably needs a lot of work done to it.”

“Yeah, Robin has been helping with the major fixes and I’ve been tackling the smaller ones on my own. I’m sure it’ll need some new sealing around the windows before winter and I’ll have to get the fire place up and running again, but right now I’m just glad my roof doesn’t leak anymore,” you replied, earning a small grin. Your eyes met and for a moment you each took the time to study each other before the prolonged pause in conversation became awkward.

“Well I better get back to my friend over there,” you told him, feeling your cheeks heat up now. “Enjoy the rest of your night.” With a tight-lipped smile to him, you grabbed your drink and headed back over to Marnie’s table, a little surprised to see that Lewis had now joined her and the two appeared to be engrossed in deep conversation.

“Ah, Y/N! So happy to see you out and about enjoying our local establishment!” Lewis greeted. “Yes, the saloon is a fine place for the people of Pelican Town to gather and unwind. Although it can get pretty wild on the weekends!” The mayor and Marnie chuckled as if recalling some of those wild evenings.

“Oh, Y/N, there’s someone I want you to meet!” Marnie said, laying a hand on your arm as excitement lit up her eyes. “My nephew lives with me at the ranch and helps out with the chickens, he would be a great help if you ever wanted to start that coop we were talking about or have someone show you more around the Valley.”

“Sure, that’d be great.”

“Shane, come over here! I want to introduce you to someone!” Marnie called, waving at someone across the bar. You looked around to see who was walking over only for your eyes to land on the tall, dark-haired man from earlier, your stomach flipping as your awkwardness returned ten-fold. He made his way over, the slightest hint of a blush on his face once he spotted you. 'Or maybe he’s just a little flushed from drinking', you tried to assure yourself.

“Hi there, nice to meet you,” he said politely, sticking his hand out.

“Y/N, this is my nephew Shane. Shane, this is Y/N. She took over the farm to the north. It was her grandfather’s,” Marnie explained, smiling broadly as she introduced the two of you.

“Good to meet you Shane. I hear you’re my chicken guy?” you said, trying your best to appear polite and put together. Okay, his face was definitely red now as he glanced at Marnie, one hand running along the back of his neck.

“Well, Marnie knows a lot more than I do so I’d go to her first, but-“

“Oh, Shane’s just being modest. He doesn’t really like a lot of attention,” Marnie cut in, tossing you a wink as she pretended to whisper that last bit. “He’s practically a chicken whisperer! If you have any questions, you take them straight to him.” Your eyes found Shane’s, asking silently if that was actually okay with him or if his aunt was pushing a little too far.

“Yeah, any questions you got I’ll do my best,” he said with a sigh. After some mumbled excuse about the restroom, Shane left your table and disappeared back somewhere into the saloon. Marnie and the mayor engaged you in a bit more light conversation, but you could tell they really only wanted to talk to each other, so as politely as you could, you thanked them and said goodnight, excusing yourself and heading back up to the bar with your now empty mug.

“Refill Y/N?” Emily asked as she swung by you with another customer’s order.

“No, not on the beer, thanks,” you told her. Was it hot in here? You hadn’t had that much to drink, at least that’s what you thought. “Could I, uh, maybe do one more shot though? You don’t have to cover this one, I promise.” Emily smiled at you and grabbed the vodka off the shelf. “Actually, make it two. One Tito’s and one Apple Crown please.”

“Sure thing!” Emily prepared your order, sliding the two small glasses toward you and then rushing off to clear some tables. You pounded them back, one after the other, having to shake your head a bit after to get your bearings.

“Okay, time to head home,” you mumbled to yourself. After squaring your tab with Gus, you headed for the door. The cool evening air was a relief on your hot cheeks. Careful not to stumble down the steps in your buzzed state, you headed toward the road back to the farm. 'Should’ve brought a flashlight', you thought, pulling out your phone only to find it dead and unhelpful.

It was so quiet out here in the Valley. You still weren’t used to it after living in the city your whole life. It was so quiet and so damn dark.

Which is why it scared you so bad that you actually let out a small scream when a deep voice rumbled somewhere behind you.

“Fuck!” you cried, hand over heart as it attempted to hammer out of your chest. “Shane?”

“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you,” the man said, finally becoming visible in the darkness as he approached, hands stuffed into his hoodie pockets. “I was actually trying very hard not to, which is why I called out from back there.”

“Sorry, I’m just not used to how quiet and dark it is out here,” you explained, words slurring just the slightest bit.

“Takes awhile to adjust. Sometimes it still gets to me.” Another awkward pause. “Anyway, uh, do you maybe want me to walk you home?” Shane offered, that hand back to rubbing his neck.

“Oh, um, you really don’t have to, I’ll be fine,” you assured. “Thanks for the offer, though.”

“You sure? You don’t have a light and-“

“Yeah, I’ll be okay.” Wanting nothing more than to end this embarrassment and get to your bed, you started to take a few steps backward in the direction of the farm. “Gotta get used to it somehow, right? I’ll see you later. G’night.”

“Night Y/N,” he sighed, watching you head off into the dark as long as he could, hoping to Yoba that you got home alright.

Chapter Text

“Season’s going to be shifting soon,” Pierre said, handing you an envelope with your payment. “Would you like to take the seed catalogue home with you? You can plan what you’d like to plant for Fall and if there’s anything special you want me to order just circle it in there and bring it back by the end of the week.”

“That’d be great Pierre, thanks,” you said with a smile, tucking your payment into your bag and beginning to unload your produce crates for him. “I’ll pick up the empties when I drop the catalogue off.”

Saying your goodbyes and waving politely to a few townspeople, you headed out of the general store and started in the direction of Joja. You hated coming to this place, the monochromatic flooring and walls and shelving too bright and assaultive under the fluorescent lights. But, the beer was cheaper here.

Picking out your stock, you went up to the only open check out counter to pay, groaning internally when you found none other than the ever-enthusiastic Sam on the job.

“Hey, Y/N!” he greeted happily, his blue uniform hat making his hair stick out oddly from the sides of his face. “How’s farmer life going?”

“It’s good, about to order some new seeds soon,” you said with a polite grin, trying to make conversation as nicely as you could.

“That’s cool, I hear Fall is, like, the most important food growing season or something? How neat. Hey, there’s this cool thing happening down at the beach in a couple weeks, the Dance of Moonlight Jellies?” He paused to look for any kind of recognition that you knew what he was talking about. Finding none, he forged on. “It’s super cool, we all go down to the docks at night and on the last day of Summer these really awesome glowing jellyfish all swim up to the beach and stuff! Abby, Seb, and I are going, along with the rest of the town. You should totally join us.”

“Oh, uh,” Sam’s invite caught you off guard and you rapidly blinked at him a few times while trying to come up with something. “Thanks, I’ll think about it. I’ll probably be prepping to plant the next morning, but I might be able to make it down.”

“Awesome, I hope you do! Have a great day!”

“You too, Sam,” you said, grabbing your items with a smile and heading for the doors. On the walk back to your vehicle, parked behind Pierre’s, you did your best to keep your head down and feet moving quickly without looking weird. It’s not that you didn’t like the townspeople, you’d actually grown rather friendly with several of them, you just had had enough social interaction for one day.

Putting your things in your Jeep, you jumped in and drove south out of town, enjoying the late afternoon sun as ambled down the dirt road toward the southern entrance of Sunny Ridge. Parking, you grabbed your backpack and a few drinks and headed for your favorite spot in the forest. Tucking yourself under a large tree, you settled in and grabbed the catalogue Pierre had given you, cracking open a beer while they were still cold and began looking through the crop selection.

“Y/N!” a cheery voice called out a bit later. You looked up to find Leah’s smiling face as she waved and approached, her long braid falling over her shoulder and a sketch pad tucked neatly under her arm. “Enjoying the nice weather while it lasts?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’m just picking out some new seeds to plant when the weather changes in a couple weeks,” you told her. “Thought this would be a nicer place to do it than my kitchen table.”

“You’ve got that right,” Leah chuckled. “Could I join you?”

“Sure.” You patted the ground next to you and the friendly woman plopped down gracefully. Leah seemed to do everything gracefully. And with a positive attitude. You envied her for it. “Would you like a drink?” You offered her a can and she kindly accepted.

“To the end of summer days, and a change on the wind,” she toasted, clinking her can to yours. “So, what are you thinking of planting?”

For the next half hour, you showed Leah what you had selected in the catalogue. Some eggplants, yams, something called amaranth that looked quite pretty and you thought you had heard Marnie mention cows liking, of course a fair amount of corn, some sunflowers.

“Mayor Lewis asked if I’d provide the pumpkins for the Spirit’s Eve festivities this year so I’m going to get several varieties of those,” you explained. “I’m not sure why he has so much faith in me, I’ve never grown a pumpkin in my life. I hope he has a backup plan if it doesn’t go well. I’d hate to be responsible for the town being short on decorations.”

“I have faith that you’ll grow the biggest pumpkins the Valley has ever seen!” Leah assured you, earning a laugh.

“Thanks. Just for that I’ll give you the biggest one I grow free of charge.” The two of you continued to laugh and make conversation, taking swigs of your drinks here and there. Honestly, you had forgotten how good it felt to have a girlfriend around to bond with.

The sound of rustling and footsteps drew both of your attention toward the forest, waiting to see who else was out enjoying the nice Summer day. A man emerged from between the trees, carrying what seemed to be a load of firewood and an old axe.

It was Shane.

Sweaty. And in a t shirt. And carrying wood.

Fuck.

“Hi Shane!” Leah greeted, offering a small wave. His eyes turned to the two of you, same hard expression on his face as usual. He gave a polite nod in your direction.

“Ladies,” he said, dark eyes lingering on you just long enough to make your stomach flip. You had never seen Shane like this before and Yoba did you hope this wouldn’t be the last time you did.

His t shirt was loose but hugged just enough on his chest, which was dotted with sweat, as was his forehead. He carried a large load of firewood stacked on his shoulder, muscles that were usually hidden under his hoodies bulging enticingly under the weight. The axe was propped on his other should, giving him a fireman-esque look that practically made you drool.

“Need any help with that?” Leah asked.

“No, that’s okay. Just stocking up before the nights cool off. See you both later.” With another tip of his head, he was off. You barely managed to mumbled a goodbye, your eyes too trained on his retreating form as he headed toward the ranch.

“Wow,” Leah whistled, whipping her head back to you with a smirk. “I don’t see him chop wood often, but boy, when he does…” She flashed a wink, nudging her shoulder against yours and making you laugh, your cheeks practically burning.

“Yeah, I’ve never seen him…like that before.” In fact, you hadn’t really seen much of Shane at all since the awkward introduction by Marnie and his offer to walk you home from the saloon. You’d seen him a few times in the Stardrop since then, usually keeping to yourself or talking to Emily at the bar while Shane seemed to stand off in the corner alone most of the time. Occasionally you saw him sitting with his aunt, but that was rare. You had run into him once at Marnie’s on your way in to chat with her more about raising animals. He had been on his way out and gave a polite ‘hello’, but that was the extent of it.

Shortly after that encounter, Leah finished off her drink, thanked you for the time spent together, and headed off toward her cottage. You supposed you should do the same as it would be getting dark soon and you still had to drive up to the house from the farthest point on the farm. Gathering your things, you trekked back to your Jeep and did just that.

That night as you lay in bed, there was only one image you simply couldn’t get out of your head no matter how much you cursed yourself for it. Consequently, your dreams were riddled with firemen and a particular pair of dark eyes.

Chapter Text

It was one of those nights.

The kind where you had a shit day and needed to just fucking let go.

Half the cabbage crop had worms and was ruined. You had been so busy with other end of season things that the lettuce harvest had fallen to the bottom of the list lately and it had fucking bolted, meaning it grew to look like pretty cone flowery things but was also now apparently inedible. The Jeep started making some kind of horrible noise when you had gone to drive it into town that morning. And to top it all off, you hadn’t slept for the past two nights due to some horrible PTSD induced nightmares.

So yeah, it was one of those fucking nights.

“Give me another, Emily,” you sighed as she passed you by to collect your empty bottle. “Just keep em comin’.”

“Sure thing, Y/N,” she said, pulling another bottle out and popping the cap before sliding it over. “In that case, though, I’ll be taking your keys.”

“I walked. Jeep’s acting up.”

“In that case, then, I’ll be walking you home or tucking you in on my couch.” Her grin and elusive dash to help the next customer left no room for argument. ‘Everyone in this town is so fucking nice to each other’ you thought to yourself, taking a long pull of your beer. ‘Fucking weird’.

You’d been in the saloon for awhile by now, lost count of how many beers it had been but clearly not enough because you weren’t drunk yet. Definitely feeling it, but not drunk.

Not enough to forget, anyway.

As another few people found their way into the bar, you decided that your location was feeling a little too….public. Slipping down from the barstool, you grabbed your drink and made your way over to the back corner booth. Emily came by to refill you a couple more times and with each one you slipped simultaneously further and further into and out of your troubles.

Doubts about managing the farm. Pride about how far you’d come, though. Missing your parents, but happy to be away from the city.

More like happy to be away from that asshole…

“Hey.” Startled, you looked up from staring at the tabletop to the blue jacket next to you holding a can of their own. “Taken?” Shane pointed at the seat across from you. You gestured for him to sit and he slid in.

“How ya been?” you asked, trying your best to let the alcohol push everything else to the back of your brain.

“Fine. You?”

“Fucking shitty, but hey,” you raised your beer. “Feelin’ better lately.” Shane quirked an eyebrow as you offered a very tipsy smile.

“Having issues on the farm?” he asked, taking a swig of whatever was always in that damn koozie.

“Yeah. Crops suck. Car sucks. Sleep sucks. But beer does not suck.”

“I’ll toast to that,” Shane said, tipping his can toward you so you could clink your drink against his. Now he was grinning and now you were forgetting everything from before.

“I’m thinking of getting chickens soon,” you said, leaning on the table now and trying to look serious. “You still my chicken guy?”

“Sure. What do you need?”

“Well, my grandpa had this old coop but it’s in pretty rough shape. I need some help inspecting it to see what work it needs or if it’s even worth it to repair. Also, I don’t know much about chickens.”

“I can come by sometime and give it a look,” Shane said. “Just let me know when.”

“It might be awhile still, I have so much work to do before I can even think about adding animals on top of all of it. It’s hard enough to take care of myself most days let alone some feathery little birds, ya know?” Shane nodded in agreement, watching you take another drink. “Everyone’s really nice here.”

“Yeah, it’s a little weird. Definitely different from the city.” You blinked at him for several seconds before speaking again, this time with so much curiosity you sounded borderline ignorant to your own ears.

“You’re from the city?” you asked. Shane nodded. “I didn’t know that!”

“Yeah, grew up there. Played gridball for a bit with the Tunnelers.”

“What?!” you burst out, shock and awe written all over your face. Shane’s cheeks flushed but he smiled nonetheless.

“Yeah, long time ago, though. Some stuff happened and I decided it was time for a change of pace, so I moved here to Marnie’s. Took me some time to get adjusted. I missed the city a lot at first and thought about moving back, but…something just kept me here. Now I don’t think I could ever move back there.”

“Wow, I had no idea,” you said. “So, did you, like, have fans and groupies and stuff when you were with the Tunnelers?” Your question made Shane laugh and you decided that you liked that sound and wanted to hear it more often.

“Uh, no, not really. There were much more, uh, high profile players than me on the team.”

“C’mon, you didn’t have girls falling over you?” you pushed, nudging his arm playfully.

“No, not so much,” he mumbled, cheeks pink again but corners of his mouth still upturned. After several seconds of awkward silence, you realized that you hadn’t actually removed your hand from his arm, but instead your fingers were gently wrapped around his sleeve. Pulling your hand back to yourself, it was your turn to blush.

“You know what sounds good right now?” you finally said, slapping your hand against the tabletop as if you had just had the most brilliant idea in the world. Shane quirked a brow in question. “Some fresh air.” Finishing the rest of your drink, you slid out of the booth and pulled some cash out of your wallet, more than enough to cover your tab and give Emily a nice tip. Throwing it down, you looked at the man in front of you who was still sitting, surprise written on his face. “You coming?”

You didn’t wait for his answer before heading for the door, waving a goodbye to Emily and giving her an okay that you were getting home just fine. The night air felt amazing against your flushed skin. It was still Summer, but Fall was definitely on the way. There was just enough of a crisp on the breeze to make the gentle movement refreshing.

As you suspected, Shane was right behind you, stepping out into the cool evening as well.

“It’s such a nice night,” you commented, offering a smile. Shane went to stand on the side of the building, wanting to get away from the door and commotion and, as you had said, enjoy the pleasant evening. You followed, grinning when you saw none other than Sebastian already occupying that space and puffing smoke from the end of a cigarette. One of his feet was propped against the wall and his free hand laid across his abdomen, one of the common closed off poses he typically took.

“Sebastian!” you greeted with a large smile, clearly feeling the effects of all the drinks you’d had. “Enjoying the fresh air, too, huh?”

“I suppose you could put it like that,” he said softly, the ghost of a smirk on his face as he took another drag. “Shane.” He greeted the other man with a polite nod, earning one in return.

“Hey, could I bum a cigarette off of you?” you asked, grinning broadly when he pulled his pack from his pocket and offered you one. “Thanks.”

“No problem. You want one?” he offered to Shane, but before he could answer, the door of the Saloon opened and Sam’s head popped around the corner.

“Seb, come on! I wanna finish this game!” he urged his friend. “Oh, hey Y/N, hey Shane.” He gave a wave before turning back to his friend. “Abby’s trying to talk to me about that weird guy that lives out by the lake in the woods again and I need a distraction.”

“Alright,” Sebastian said, bidding you and Shane farewell and following his friend inside.

After he was gone, you took up his spot on the wall, placing the cigarette between your lips while you dug around in your pockets. Finally finding what you wanted, you pulled the small item out with a victorious declaration, flicking the Bic to light your smoke.

“I didn’t know you smoked,” Shane said, coming to stand next to you on the wall. You took a long drag and blew smoke curls out into the night before eyeing him with a smirk. Your confidence was higher than usual thanks to the alcohol coursing through your system.

“I didn’t know you looked so good under that hoodie,” you shot back, earning a surprised look from Shane. It was dark, but you just knew his cheeks were pink yet again. One of his hands came up to rub the back of his neck. “Why do you wear it all the time?”

“Comfortable, I guess.” You hummed in response, turning your attention back to the distance and drawing off the cigarette a few more times.

“You want a hit?” you offered. Shane contemplated for a moment, wondering if he would be able to taste what your lips were like if he did take a drag.

“Nah. Thanks.”

“I don’t smoke, to your earlier comment,” you admitted, turning to put the stick out on the brick wall and walking to toss it in the trash cans. “Just enjoy the little buzz occasionally. When the opportunity presents itself.” You tossed him a flirtatious grin over your shoulder, meandering toward the back of the building.

Shane followed like a puppy, drawn to you, to your elusiveness. He couldn’t remember the last time a woman had flirted with him like this. Well, actually, he took that back, he had gone into the city several months ago and there had been this one…but surely it didn’t make his stomach flutter like this did.

That is, if he was reading the signs right? Were you flirting, really? Or were you just drunk? He surely knew the signs for that, had spotted them the moment he met you in the saloon months ago like a flashing beacon on your forehead.

When he came to stand next to you, you were facing Pierre’s, a look of concentration and confusion on your face.

“You know there’s a calendar with all the townspeoples’ birthdays on it?” you asked quietly.

“Yeah.”

“Is yours on there?”

“Yeah.”

“When is it?”

“It’s passed. Was in the Spring.” You hummed in response again.

“You think mine will ever be on there? That I’ll ever…fit in here?”

“You already do,” he said simply. You turned to meet his eyes, searching them for…well, Shane didn’t know what and neither did you.

“I said everyone here is nice.” He nodded in agreement, not breaking eye contact. You stepped closer. “I meant you, too.” Shane took a long breath in.

“You think so?” It was your turn to nod, bottom lip drawing between your teeth and catching his attention.

“You’re gonna help me with my broken chicken coop. That’s nice.”

“Yeah.”

“You could help me with some other things, too.”

“Like what?” Yoba, he was sure his heart was gonna beat right out of his chest. You were so close to him and your eyes…they were going to be the death of him.

“You could chop me some firewood.”

Shane inhaled sharply. It was like time stopped and then you were up on your toes, pressing your lips to his, warm and soft and insistent, and then he was kissing you back.

Your chest pressed to him and he couldn’t help but grab your waist to hold you there, his other hand tangling in your hair. Your hands slid up his arms, one fisting in his hoodie to pull him even closer if that was possible and the other on his stubbled cheek. Sensation overwhelmed Shane, so heavily he could barely process all this, but he wanted more. His tongue traced on your bottom lip and you were all too eager to invite him in, happy to taste him as well.

Then it hit him.

You tasted like beer.

Fuck, you tasted like fucking beer and Shane broke the kiss, breathing heavily. He couldn’t stay away for long though, because your mouth was seeking his out between pants for breath and fuck if your lips weren’t so fucking soft…

“Y/N, wait-“ he tried, but you cut him off.

“I want this,” you said, your voice steady and firm. “Fuck, I want this. I want you.”

Your words broke him, heat raging through his body. His mouth crashed to yours again, inhibitions be damned. He spun you around and backed you against the wall of the saloon, earning the sexiest gasp he’d ever fucking heard, and you swore you heard him growl.

The rough brick scraped against your back, but you didn’t care. You pulled him closer, running your hands to the zipper on his hoodie and pulling it down, sliding it off his shoulders to expose those fucking arms you couldn’t get out of your head for the past week. Shane kissed you harder, pressed into you more insistently, one of his knees coming between your legs easily. You sighed and gasped into his mouth, tugging on his long hair as he moved against you.

The sound of a door stopped both of you instantly. Whistling. Footsteps. Getting closer.

Shane pressed a finger to his lips, signaling you to be quiet and pressing you both into the shadows, covering your body with his.

Tin rustling.

Gus was taking out the trash on the side, that was all. There was no reason for him to come to the back of the building. Shane sighed with relief when he heard the bar owner walk away and the door of the saloon open and close again.

“Fuck, Y/N…“ he pulled away from your body, your warmth, your temptation. He couldn’t do this. Not when you were in this state. He had to stop it and have some damn willpower-

“Shane,” you said to his back, but he shook his head.

“We can’t-“

“I’m gonna puke.” He turned in time to see you run around the side of the building, wresting open the trash can lid and retching inside.

With a heavy sigh, he pulled a hand down his face.

Taking a moment to compose himself, he nodded toward the sky, the universe, he didn’t know. It was sarcastic and jaded. Because of course this would be how his night ended.

Shane walked around the side of the building, holding your hair and rubbing your back and you purged all the beer you’d had that night, all the excitement, the arousal. When you were finished, he tucked an arm around your waist and headed for the farm.

“Let’s get you home.”

Chapter Text

An insistent pounding woke you the next morning, your eyes cracking open with a groan as you looked around for the offending noise. Sitting up in bed, you quickly realized that it was your head.

“Fuck,” you muttered, raising a hand to your forehead and squeezing your eyes shut as more of the hangover hit you. Nausea. Fatigue. And wow did you have to pee.

You were able to get up and shuffle for the bathroom, doing your business and figuring a shower would help get you motivated for the day. Hell, you didn’t even know what time it was, you could be running majorly behind for all you knew. But that could wait another half hour. Right now, you just needed a shower. And a toothbrush.

Turns out, it was already late morning and you were definitely behind on your daily tasks. You had dressed quickly, downed several glasses of water, and were in the middle of your second granola bar when you noticed the bottle of aspirin conveniently on your table that you did not remember leaving there.

Under the bottle was a note. Picking it up, you read the contents quickly, dread filling your already churning stomach.

‘Left this morning after making sure you were still alive. Sorry about last night.
PS – let me know about the coop’

The note was signed with Shane’s name and cell number so you could get ahold of him. You read the note a few more times, trying to remember the events of last night.

Shane brought you home? He was here, in your house…this morning?

Most importantly, why was he apologizing?

With another glance at the time, you cursed and decided you didn’t have time for this right now. You needed to get into the fields. Filing his number away in your phone, you popped a few of the painkillers he had left out for you, finished your very late breakfast, and headed out the door.

***

“Thank Yoba it’s a little cooler today,” you muttered to yourself, wiping the sweat out of your eyes as you loaded the last baskets of produce into the back of your vehicle. ‘Think I’d throw up in the compost if it was any hotter’, you thought.

“Shane…I’m gonna puke…” Running, the smell of greasy bar food twisting your gut even more, a warm hand on your back…

It was starting to come back, bits and pieces. You had been so drunk last night that you’d thrown up outside the saloon. Classy.

And, well fuck, Shane had seen the awful mess. He’d helped you as you got sick, helped you get home safely, stayed with you through the night apparently to make sure you were okay. Yoba, how out of it were you???

***

Finally, you were getting around to checking out the Jeep. It was still making the awful noise from yesterday, maybe even worse, and while you didn’t know a ton about cars, you knew enough to look around and make a good guess. Unlatching the hood, you sighed to yourself, hoping that you’d be able to figure this out before nightfall.

“Okay, sweetie, let’s get under there, huh?”

“I didn’t know you looked so good under that hoodie.” Smirking. Blushing cheeks. Cigarette smoke.

Fuck, did you seriously fucking hit on him shamelessly at the saloon last night? What the fuck had gotten into you?! You almost banged your head against the hood of the car as the memory jolted you.
At least now you knew why your mouth tasted like an ashtray this morning.

It took longer than you hoped to inspect your vehicle, but you thought you had pinpointed the problem. At least, you hoped so because if you were right then it would be an easy fix. Just a few more things to check before you could be sure.

A strong breeze had kicked up this evening, likely the preamble to a late season thunderstorm. It had gotten strong enough, though, that you shivered a bit, wishing you had a sweatshirt on…

Soft, worn material under your fingertips. A cool metal tab, pulling, unzipping, off…a gentle thud as fabric hit the ground at your feet. Then it was warm, muscled skin under your touch, running up, up, up, to wrap in soft hair, cup a stubbled cheek…

“HOLY fuck,” you shouted at the memory, this time actually smacking the back of your head against the hood and letting out a yelp at the sharp pain. Stumbling backward, you took in the puzzle pieces of your previous evening, everything starting to fall together now.

You fucking made out with Shane.

What. The. FUCK.

“Oh…oh- this is bad. This is so bad.” Panic rising within, you dropped the hood closed and left the car, rushing back toward the house as a million and one thoughts raced through your mind.
‘How could this happen? How did I even- what did I have to drink? Did he…he still brought me home. Oh holy fuck, we made out and then I yakked. That is beyond embarrassing.’

A myriad of feelings swept over you as you tried to process all this. Humiliation. Embarrassment. Fear. Shame. Anxiety. Dread. Self-loathing. Disgust. A flutter of excitement. Shame at the excitement. More embarrassment.

“So this is why he apologized in the note,” you mumbled, finally figuring it out. It hadn’t made sense to you before, but now…

Yoba, you were the one that needed to apologize! You had created this mess and now it was time to put on your big girl panties and fucking clean it up. Gathering all the resolve you could muster, you pulled out your phone and found his contact.

And then just stared at it like you had forgotten how to use a phone.

Should you send a text? Call? Send a text asking if you could call?

Throw your phone in the river, burn the note, act like nothing happened, never leave the farm again, and die a hermit?

Okay, the last one probably wasn’t an option.

Taking a few deep breaths, you decided it was probably best to just call. If he didn’t answer then you could send a text as a follow-up. Every ring made your stomach flip, leg bouncing anxiously as you waited to see if the next sound would be his voice-

“Hello?” There it was, deep and gravelly. You jumped from the chair, eyes going wide and mouth floundering for a response. Nothing. “Uh, hello?” he asked again.

“H-hey,” you finally managed, silently hitting yourself in the forehead. “It’s Y/N.”

“Oh, hey,” Shane replied, voice shifting in a way that you couldn’t identify. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m okay, thanks to you. Been a bit of a rough day, but…um about last night…”

Tense silence on the other end of the line. You cringed at yourself, trying to find the right words.

“I honestly can’t even thank you enough for bringing me home. I must have been, uh, really out of it. Did- did you stay last night?”

“Yeah, I- I crashed on your couch. You were getting really sick and I wanted to make sure that you were alright,” Shane explained. “Sorry if that was weird-“

“No, no!” you assured him, not wanting to give the wrong impression. “I really appreciate it, thank you so much. Honestly, I…” you sighed, running a hand down your face. “I don’t remember…everything…from last night. So, I don’t even know how drunk I was.”

More tense silence and then a strained reply.

“What, uh, do you remember?”

“I know that we…we- um-“

“Yeah.”

Damnit, even that rung a fucking bell for a memory that hadn’t quite resurfaced.

“Shane, I’m really sorry,” you blurted, not being able to take it anymore. “I never should have…tried anything and I just- I was in a pretty messed up mental space last night and I just want you to know….I mean, not that that’s the only reason why I would- would want to kiss you! I just- you should know that I wasn’t myself even before I got to the saloon and…”

“Y/N, it’s okay,” Shane finally said, cutting off your rambling. His voice was much less strained now, an air of comfort to his words. “Really. I should be apologizing, I’m the one that let it get that far. I knew you had been drinking and I shouldn’t have taken advantage-“

“Please don’t think that,” you interrupted, voice urgent. “You did not do anything…anything wrong, Shane. I would never think of last night as you taking advantage of me and you shouldn’t either. Seriously. It’s on me, okay? And I’m really sorry.”

Yoba, you hoped he understood. You waited for several seconds, desperately wanting him to take your message to heart.

“I’m just glad you’re alright,” he finally spoke. Your body sagged with relief.

“Me too. Listen, do you think we could put this behind us? It’s just…well, I really enjoy your company…” Once again, major cringe. “Okay, now I sound like an elderly cat lady.” That earned a chuckle at least. “What I mean is that I do like hanging out with you. Talking. Toasting to cheap beer. And I…I look forward to hopefully working with you on that chicken coop once I get the farm to that point. And I just- well, I wouldn’t want anything to jeopardize that.”

“I wouldn’t either,” he agreed, making you smile. “Don’t worry about it, okay?”

“Thanks, Shane, really.”

Bidding each other goodbye, you hung up the phone with a sigh of relief, so much of the pent-up anxiety leaving your system. Even without the hangover and long day of work that phone call would have exhausted you.

‘Time to make better choices from here on out,’ you ordered yourself, heading for the shower to rinse the grease from your hands.

Chapter Text

“You ungrateful little bitch!” The words were spit at you with such venom but honestly, they didn’t even hurt at this point. No, it was the throbbing of your newly formed black eye and the pounding in your head that hurt.

You tried to get to the door, so close, but you just couldn’t move fast enough. One large hand locked onto your upper arm, making you gasp in pain with the force of it, but that was quickly cut off as another hand cracked across your jaw.

Your body hit the ground, too dizzy with the impact and pain to stay upright. Coppery taste seeped onto your tongue. Blood.

“Just a stupid little whore,” he breathed, words slurring with anger. “I’ll show you how much of a worthless fucking whore you are.” Dropping to his knees next to you, his hands wrapped around your ankles and pulled your curled body apart.

The jolt was enough to get you your senses back, panic welling in your chest. You struggled and flailed, but it only served to make you more breathless than you already were. No, you needed to get out, to get to the door. It was so close, right there, your fingers could almost get there-

Unzipping. Rustling. More panic. Desperately reaching, reaching, trying…

Your leggings were ripped so hard that it left marks on your thighs.

Helplessness overwhelmed you, fresh tears pouring down your face as you tried so hard to scream, but no sound would come out, and then he was-

You woke with a start, the echo of a scream dying in your throat as you took in your surroundings. Your heart was beating rapidly, body covered in sweat, eyes darting around the room rapidly and brain working a million miles an hour.

You were in bed. Your bed. Alone. At the farm.

Feeling your body with shaking hands just to make sure, you didn’t find any cuts or bruises, no throbbing, no blood.

Safe. You were safe.

After letting your heart rate settle back to normal levels, you lifted yourself out of bed and checked the time on your phone. Only an hour before your alarm, might as well get up and start the day. The sun hadn’t risen yet, so you carefully made your way to the bathroom in the dark, flinching at the brightness of the overhead lights as you flipped the switch. A splash of cold water helped ground you from the nightmare.

Yoba, you felt like shit. The nightmare had stolen all restful sleep from you, your body robbed of a recharge. Looking in the mirror, you saw that you looked like it, too. Dark bags had formed under your eyes, which were also bloodshot, and the color hadn’t quite returned to your face.

“Well, I guess that’s what coffee’s for,” you sighed to yourself, shuffling off to the kitchen to put on a pot and get the day started.

Once you were out the door, you immediately headed for the fields. Most of the crops that were left needed to be harvested and you had to prep the beds for a new stock of seed. Getting started earlier would be better anyway so as to beat the heat.

***

It had taken the better part of the morning to harvest everything. After hauling it back to the house to get ready for Pierre’s, your growling stomach convinced you to stop for an early lunch. Checking the mail on your way past, you found a letter from Demetrius inviting you to come to the beach for the Dance of the Moonlight Jellies later that evening.

Fuck, you had totally forgotten that Sam had invited you to that a couple weeks ago. Hell, it seemed a lot longer ago with everything that had happened in between.

Since you’d gotten an earlier start than planned that day, you decided that you could take the time to go tonight, appease Sam and the townspeople and do your social duty. Somehow, you just knew that it would be what your grandpa wanted.
***
The last night of Summer was cool, at least enough for a long-sleeved shirt. That was better anyway because your arms were bruised up from the heavy produce crates you’d been carrying the last few weeks.

The evening was pleasant enough, so you decided to walk down to the beach, smiling at each firefly you saw on your way. Passing the ranch and seeing a light on, you vaguely wondered if Shane would be attending tonight. Knots twisted in your stomach at the thought of seeing him. Briefly, you thought about turning back and going home instead, not wanting to deal with the nerves. But instead, you pressed on.

‘Better choices, remember? Big girl panties on,’ you thought to yourself.

You hadn’t been to the beach very often since you had moved to Pelican Town, especially not at night, but now you were beginning to regret that. As the wooded path opened up and the dirt turned to sand, you paused a moment to take it all in.

The sun had just set not long ago, leaving the sky a layering of colors, slowly dotting with stars as they became visible. The smell and sound of the water made you feel alive, adventurous. Tiki torches were set up to light the beach, the breeze making the flames dance gently. With renewed excitement, you set off for the docks where most of the townspeople appeared to be congregated.

“Hi Marnie,” you greeted as you came up to the older woman standing at the base of the wooden pier. She turned to greet you with a nervous smile, making you raise your eyebrows. “Are you alright?”

“Oh, fine, fine,” she said. “I just don’t understand how so many people can think it’s a good idea to go stand out on that pier! It’s been here for as long as I can remember, which is a way back let me tell you, and not once have a I ever seen it worked on!”

“Isn’t that a good sign?” you asked with a chuckle, amused at the way she eyed the old wooden structure suspiciously.

“Oh, you would think so, but it also means that you can’t be sure how safe it really is,” she replied, shaking her head. “I’ll just stay back here. My view is perfectly fine.”

Marnie asked you how things were going at the farm and about your plans for the upcoming Fall season. You happily discussed your pumpkin growing endeavors with her and the stress of the end of season prep. Your conversation was interrupted, however, by a young girl running up to Marnie sniffling and hiccupping uncontrollably.

“Jas? Sweetie, what’s wrong?” Marnie asked her, holding the girl’s small frame as she clung to Marnie’s legs. She tossed a concerned glance over at you as if to apologize, but you shook your head gently.

“V- Vincent doesn’t wanna p- play with me,” she stuttered, words getting caught in her sobs.

“Well, maybe he’s just tired, honey,” Marnie suggested. “You’ve been playing since we got here. Besides, the jellies are going to be coming out soon.”

“He- he said it’s b- because he wants to- to spend time with his dad now,” the little girl told her, more tears spilling over. “I m- miss my dad.”

“Oh, Jas, sweetheart…” You could see the concern and the heartbreak on Marnie’s face as she rubbed the little girl’s back. Even your heart was breaking for the kid and you didn’t even know her. “It’s okay.” You began to feel awkward, feeling as though you were witnessing something you shouldn’t be, when the girl suddenly lifted her head from Marnie’s body where it had been resting and broke away from her arms.

You watched as she ran to someone walking down the beach and wrapped them in a hug much like the one she had just had Marnie in. The person lifted the girl up into their arms and began to carry her, heading for the dock. As they grew closer, light from the bright moon that was now overhead and the torches around the dock illuminated their face.
It was Shane.

Shane had a fucking kid?!

Shock coursed through you at the sight. This was honestly the last thing you had expected, but also you supposed you didn’t know him that well, so…yeah, it was entirely possible. Your brain tried to process this information but before he could reach you and Marnie, Sam came jogging over, waving and calling your name.

“Y/N, you made it! Awesome!” he said, a huge smile splitting his face. “Seb and Abigail are over on the other dock, they have a great spot to see the jellies. It’ll be perfect for your first time! Wanna come?” The combination of not knowing how to tell others no and wanting to put some distance between yourself and the whole situation with Jas and her father had you saying goodbye to Marnie and following Sam with a shrugged ‘sure’.

“They’re all like a blue purpley color and they glow, which is super cool. But there’s one that’s really big and it’s green. They say that seeing the green one is good luck, so let’s hope it comes out tonight.” Sam shot you a wink that you answered with an uncomfortable grin.

“Oh, hey farmer Y/N,” Abigail greeted, smiling widely as you joined their small group. “First time seeing the moonlight jellies?”

“Yeah,” you answered. “I’ve heard great things, though.”

“You’ll love it.” Stuffing your hands in your pockets, you looked out over the ocean, glancing around the docks and shoreline, maybe subtly trying to get another glimpse of Shane and his daughter…

“Want one?” You turned around to see Sebastian offering you a smoke as he puffed on the freshly lit one between his own lips.

“Oh, that’s okay. Thanks, though.” So that was where you had gotten that cigarette a few weeks ago…

Shaking the thoughts of that night and the chaos and embarrassment that had followed, you listened instead to Sam and Abigail talking about the upcoming fair and Spirit’s Eve within the next few months. While it had been daunting at first, you were starting to enjoy all the community events that Pelican Town put on throughout the year.

Then there was a shout from somewhere on the other pier, a murmur breaking out across the beach, and then you saw it. Still far off in the distance, coming just past the horizon now, was a small glow bobbing in the water.

“Here they come!” Abigail said, bouncing with excitement. “See em, Y/N?”

“Yeah,” you breathed, already amazed. “Oh, wow, they’re beautiful…” The jellies slowly floated toward the shore line, their glow ethereal in the gentle waters. You were hypnotized, crouching down to get a closer look at them.

Nothing else mattered right then. Not the stress of ending one season and starting another, not the situation with Shane, not his surprise child, not your past, nothing. Nothing but these beautiful, magnificent creatures of the sea, swimming on their way, Stardew Valley just a stop on their path.

After awhile, the jellies were gone and the townspeople began to disperse, bidding goodnights to each other and heading for home. You weren’t ready to leave just yet, though, instead remaining sitting on the dock and looking out into the water. Something in the waves just had a hold on you, emotion bubbling in your chest.

“We’re heading out, Y/N, you coming?” Abigail asked as she and her friends turned to go.

“No, that’s okay. Hey, thanks for letting me join you guys tonight,” you told her with a gentle smile, waving back at Sam and Sebastian.

And just like that, you were alone. You knew it was late and you had an early day tomorrow, but you didn’t care. It was just you and the water, bathed in moonlight, the wonderment of the jellies still overwhelming you with something you couldn’t quite explain.

“Kind of…bewitching your first time, huh?” You spun around to see none other than Shane, hands stuffed into his jacket pockets, looking out at the sea with a faint smile. “The jellies were here a year ago and they’ll be back a year from now. Nature is amazing.”

“Yeah,” you agreed, focusing your attention back on the horizon. You felt Shane sit down next to you on the old dock, grunting with the effort to do so and making you snort. “Your knees okay there, old man?” you joked.

“Hey now, I’m not that old, despite feeling it,” he countered with a chuckle. One of the pauses that seemed to frequent your conversations with him interjected itself.

“How old are you, Shane?” you asked softly, realizing that you honestly didn’t know. He took longer than you expected to answer.

“29.” You hummed in response, picking your next words carefully.

“How old is Jas?”

“She’s 7 now.” Throwing caution to the wind, you took a leap.

“So you…had her young then.” Your heart was beating hard in your chest, not sure if you would be overstepping and making him uncomfortable. Shane inhaled and leaned back on his hands.

“Jas isn’t my daughter,” he confessed, making your head snap around to look at him.

“What? But earlier, with Marnie, she said-“

“I’m her godfather,” Shane explained. “And her legal guardian. Her parents died when she was a baby.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. That must have been awful.” Shane nodded, sitting back up and fidgeting with his hands now.

“It was- is. She’s had a hell of a life already and she’s barely even lived one.”

“Can I…can I ask what happened?” you asked softly. Shane seemed to contemplate for a few moments before deciding that he trusted you enough to open up, even if it was just a fraction.

“Car accident. Drunk driver. I was babysitting her that night so they could have a date night for the first time in months. Her dad was my best friend, we played for the Tunnelers together for a couple years. He was a lot better than I was, though.” You listened intently, watching the emotions roll over Shane’s features. The happiness of memories with old friends, the sadness of losing them. “I was there when he found out he was gonna be a dad, there for Jas’ birth. I was like, the third or fourth person to hold her when she was born. You never forget it, you know. The minute she opened those big green eyes and looked up at me…I was done. Even now all she has to do is blink those big ole emeralds up at me and man, that’s it.” Shane chuckled. “They loved her so much. Tried to give her everything they could in the world. Sometimes I still wonder why they thought I could do the same if something ever happened to them.”

“They obviously saw how much you loved their little girl,” you told him softly, reaching out to rest a hand on his leg.

“Yeah, well, after it all happened, I was a fucking mess. For a long time. I knew that they had named me godfather- hell, I nearly cried when they told me- but I never expected to have to…to have that role actually be necessary someday, you know?. Needless to say, I was not prepared to raise a kid, let alone a baby. My shitty apartment in the city wasn’t suitable for her and playing for the Tunnelers was not a conducive career to raising a baby. Child services was involved. The only way I could keep Jas from going into the system, to make sure that she got the life that her parents wanted from her, was to bring her here, to the Valley. CPS came and checked out Marnie, her ranch, the school system, the community. Evidently it was good enough because here we are, all these years later.”

Without any words to offer, you simply smiled at him, squeezing his thigh gently before removing your hand. Shane turned his eyes to you, gaze focused and intense.

“And here you are, too,” he murmured.

“Here I am,” you replied softly, not breaking eye contact with him. The air between you grew tense, despite the cool ocean breeze sweeping through. Shane finally broke the silence, clearing his throat and plastering a goofy grin on his face.

“Alright, farmer girl, you asked me some questions, do I get a turn?”

“Go ahead.”

“We’ll start off easy. How old are you?” he asked. How was it that despite the events that conspired between the two of you, neither of you knew some of the most basic information about one another?

“Guess.”

“Hey, that’s not fair-“

“Guess.”

“Fine. Um, 23?”

“Close, but no cigar. 24,” you told him. “Soon to be 25, though.”

“Ah, an autumn birthday. Exciting.”

“Give me another question, c’mon,” you told him, lightly nudging his shoulder with your own.

“Okay. What did you do in the city, before you moved here?”

“Ah, you’ll love this. I was a ‘customer satisfaction consultant’ for Joja Corp,” you confessed, glancing at him with an amused grin. “I sat in a boring, colorless, office cubicle in the basement of Joja headquarters. Stared at a computer all day, occasionally answered the phone. Just a mindless cog in the ever-turning wheels of Joja.”

“Shit,” Shane mumbled. “Sounds horrible.”

“It was. I’ll never miss that job.”

“Is that why you left? Came to the Valley?” he asked. It was a completely harmless question, the next logical one in this progressive game. Nonetheless, it made you bristle.

“I…I guess you could say that,” you lied. “I needed a change.” 'Yeah, for the sake of your fucking life', you thought bitterly. Shane noted the change in your body language, the subtle shift in tone. He knew it wasn’t the truth, but if you didn’t want to tell him, that was your business. The silence stretched between you until Shane finally stood up, reaching a hand out to you.

“C’mon, it’s late. I’ll walk you home,” he offered. You supposed it was probably time to head back. Taking his hand, you rose to your feet and, for the first time, didn’t protest his offer of escort.

When you reached Marnie’s ranch, however, you insisted that you could make it home by yourself, there was no reason for him to have to double back and lose out on more sleep. Shane finally conceded when you agreed to send him a text letting him know you were home. Bidding each other goodnight, he watched as you headed off for the southern entrance of the farm, disappearing into the darkness, arms wrapped protectively around yourself.

Quietly as he could, he slipped into the house and locked the door behind him. After checking on Jas to see she was asleep, Shane headed for his room, nearly having a heart attack when he was met by a dark figure in the kitchen sitting at the table.

“Shit, Marnie,” he breathed, hand on his chest and eyes wide. “You scared me. What are you still doing up?”

“Oh, couldn’t sleep just yet,” his aunt replied. “Figured I would wait up for you. Wasn’t sure you’d come back tonight, though.” Shane could hear the slight smirk in her voice, the suggestion apparent.

“It’s not like that,” he grumbled, trying to dismiss her as he moved to the cupboard, finding a glass and filling it with cold water.

“Shane, I may be old but I’m not blind,” Marnie scoffed.

“Maybe you should get your eyes checked then.” Shane resented the fact that it was too dark for Marnie to see him glaring at her.

“I’m just saying, you seem to like each other. Why not go for it? Shane, you’ve done so well for yourself; stepping up for Jas, taking over the chickens here, getting your life…well, together. I’m proud of you.” Okay, now he was grateful for the darkness to hide his reddening cheeks. His aunt stood up, coming over to pat his arm. “You deserve to be happy.”

“I am happy. I have Jas, and you, and the chickens-“

“It’s not the same thing,” Marnie interjected. “Trust me.” With that, she turned and headed for her room. Just before she was out of the kitchen, though, Shane’s phone pinged. He pulled it from his pocket to find a text from you. Yet again, he could practically feel Marnie’s smirk in the darkness.

“Not a word,” he warned, watching as she walked off with a chuckle before turning back to his phone.

F - Made it home in one piece

S - Glad to hear it
Hey, sorry if our conversation was a little too…deep tonight

F – no, I really enjoyed it. Thanks for telling me about Jas’ parents
For the record, I think it’s great what you’re doing for her

Shane couldn’t help but grin the tiniest bit at the message.

S – well she’s a great kid, so

F – she seems like it
Alright, I’ve got a whole new crop to plant in the morning so I’m gonna hit the hay
Goodnight

S – Night

Still wearing that stupid grin, Shane headed off to bed himself.

Chapter Text

Autumn swooped in full force, the air quickly turning crisper and the leaves on the trees beginning to shift in color. You made the trip to Pierre’s the morning after the beach, grateful for the couple extra hours to sleep in since you couldn’t do much until you picked up your seeds and the shop didn’t open until 9 am.

“That should be everything you circled in the catalogue, farmer Y/N,” Pierre told you brightly, handing over the large tote bag. The shopkeeper’s daughter turned from straightening the produce on the shelves behind you.

“I can’t wait to see the pumpkins once they’re grown!” Abigail called, a large excited smile on her face.

“Yeah, hopefully they turn out alright,” you replied with a sheepish grin. “Thanks, Pierre,” you said, handing over a large stack of money. “Here’s what I owe you. Have a good one.”

“You too.”

And with that, you headed back out toward the farm to get started on the long day that laid ahead of you.

***

When people talked about autumn being the busiest season for farmers, Yoba, they weren’t kidding. This was exhaustion like you had never felt before. If you hadn’t already prepped the fields before buying seeds, you didn’t know if there would be time enough for anything to grow before winter came.

It took several long days to get everything in the ground. You had expanded this season, so that also meant expanding the irrigation system. To top it off, crows had been lingering around the farm recently, perching on fence posts and cawing menacingly as they eyed the fresh seeds you laid down. To keep the birds at bay, you constructed several scarecrows and man, were they a frightening sight. Crafts had never been your strong suit and your scarecrows looked deformed and lumpy. You had tried to put a pleasant smiling face on one, but it instead it turned out to look like a horrifying evil grin.

“At least it’ll keep the damned crows away from my crops,” you mumbled, setting the last one up and wiping the sweat from your brow.

You were ready to move on to your next big task: getting the coop ready. Ideally you would have liked to get it inspected and repaired before winter, maybe even get some chicks in there, but at this rate you thought the birds might have to wait until next spring.

It took you another several days to clear enough of the debris around the old structure to make it accessible. You hadn’t used a pickaxe much, but it was the only thing you had to break up and move the large rocks embedded in the dirt. Your back had never hurt so much in your life.

Of course, all this hard work took up the majority of your daylight, which meant that by the time you wandered down to the saloon, it was already dark. It wasn’t much of a social experience this season, no, you were too tired for that. Instead, you would walk in, order your drink, sit alone at the bar, get refill after refill, and once Gus announced last call, throw your money on the bar and trek home.

The alcohol helped you fall into a deep sleep once you got home, mostly unbothered by nightmares. The hangovers the following morning distracted you from the other physical aches and pains of your hard work.

***

Finally, after so much hard work, you were ready to have Shane come over and look at your coop. You sent him a text, setting up a time for him to come over in the next few days. When he strolled up the farm path from the direction of the ranch, you waved at him from the fields where you were checking the crops.

“Hey!” you greeted happily, a wide smile on your lips as he walked up.

“Hey,” he returned. “How’re the crops?”

“Oh, they’re growing just fine. I should have my first harvest off some of them soon. The pumpkins are definitely starting to pop out, which is exciting. I have a feeling that I’m gonna be even more busy than I have been once that starts up. Plus, I have to start getting ready for the Stardew Fair.”

“Sounds like a lot on your plate,” Shane said, looking out over the fields. “So, where’s this old coop I’ve heard so much about?”

“Right this way!” Shane followed you to your old Jeep and you drove down as close as you could get. It was still a hike to the coop, situated out in the far corner of the farm, but it was better than walking the entire way. “Here she is,” you announced, walking up to the paint-chipped door.

“Damn,” Shane mumbled under his breath as you stepped inside. The interior was covered in cobwebs and a layer of grime, several of the nesting boxes were broken, and the grain dispenser wasn’t functional. “When you said it was in rough shape, you weren’t kidding.”

“Yeah,” you sighed, pursing your lips as you looked around. Shane walked up to a few of the major problems, inspecting them more closely. “Do you think it can be salvaged? Or am I looking at a total rebuild?”

“It’s not great, but I think with some hard work, Robin’s carpentry skills, and some major cleaning, you should be able to fix it up. I could draw up some suggestions if you like?” he offered.

“Really? That would be great!” you told him, relief washing over you. “I was thinking about installing a solar activated door control. If I put the panel on this wall, the hens will be able to get out as soon as the sun comes up without having to wait on me.” You walked across the coop to show him where you were thinking.

That’s when it happened.

A loud creak, immediately followed by a CRACK, and then a scream of surprise and a loud thud.

Your foot had landed on a weak spot in the boards, the floor giving way beneath you.

“Y/N!” Shane cried, coughing in the cloud of dust that had kicked up. “Shit, are you alright?!”

“Fuck me,” you hissed in pain, your leg firmly wedged into the newly opened hole in the floor and body ringing with the impact of hitting the floor.

“Can you pull your leg out?” Shane asked, an edge of panic in his voice as he knelt next to you.

“No, not at this angle,” you panted, trying with all your might to free yourself from this damned hole. “Fuck, my ankle. I don’t think it’s supposed to twist that way.” A low growl of frustration and pain rumbled in your throat. Shane looked over at your other leg that wasn’t sitting halfway through the floorboards, cursing at the awkward twist your ankle was sitting at.

“Okay, we’re gonna straighten out your free leg first. It’s probably gonna hurt.” You took a deep breath and nodded at him, watching and flinching as he carefully lifted your leg, one hand supporting your injured ankle, and set it in a much more comfortable position. “Better?” he asked, looking up at you.

“Putting the whole leg-in-a-hole situation aside, yeah. That feels better.”

“Can you pull it out now?” Try as you might, you just couldn’t get the right leverage. You smacked your hand against the floor of the coop in anger, starting to feel claustrophobic at not being able to move much.

“FUCK!” you shouted angrily, breathing picking up as you fought the rising panic.

“Hey, we’re gonna get you out Y/N, it’s okay,” Shane assured. He adjusted his position, taking another look at just how you were trapped in there. “Okay, I think I’ve got it. I’m gonna…put…” Shane’s cheeks turned pink as he reached for your leg before pulling back and sighing. “I’m going to grab your- your thigh here. If that’s okay?”

“Grab anything you want, please let’s just get me out of here,” you panted. There was a tense pause and now your cheeks were pink, too.

“Alright, I need you to lift or pull, whatever you can do, while I do the same. Got it?” you nodded, more than ready to be out of this damn floor. “Okay, one, two, three…” A few hisses of pain and several grunts later, your leg was free of the hole and you lay stretched out against the floor of the coop breathing heavily but happy to be able to move both of your legs.

“Fuck, thank Yoba you were with me or I would’ve been stuck in there for who knows how long,” you said, smiling up at Shane gratefully. The man returned a tense grin and you noticed his hand shaking just the slightest bit as he ran his fingers through his hair.

“We need to get you to Harvey,” he said, standing up and offering you a hand to do the same. “Is there any way your Jeep can get down here?”

“I don’t need to go see the doctor,” you insisted, scoffing at the thought and trying to wave him off.

“Y/N your ankle is twisted at best, your jeans are ripped, and-“ Shane bent down to inspect the tears in your pants, “-you’re fucking bleeding. We’re going to see Harvey.” You supposed it wouldn’t do any good to keep arguing with him, so with a sigh you agreed.

“Fine. But the Jeep can’t get down here, I haven’t finished clearing the paths. We’ll have to walk,” you said, carefully making it onto your feet with Shane’s help.

It took longer than usual with your bum ankle to make it back to the car, longer than it probably would’ve taken if you’d just given in and let Shane carry you like he kept offering instead of having him support half of your limping body. Nonetheless, you made it. Wordlessly, Shane helped you in and hopped in the driver’s seat, heading off for Harvey’s clinic. Thankfully the drive wasn’t too terribly long because you were sure you’d die if the silence between you had to draw out for much longer.

Shane helped you into the clinic, passing you off to Harvey as he came around from behind the counter to take you back into one of the examination rooms.

“Y/N,” he called after you, the slightest bit of a worried expression on his face. “I’ll- I’ll wait out here for you. When you’re done.” You offered a small smile and nodded before disappearing behind the swinging clinic doors.

Shane didn’t have to too wait long, but it felt like an eternity as he sat and sat, restlessly flipping through the magazines Harvey had laying out in the waiting room, scrolling through apps on his phone, constantly checking the clock. Yoba, what was wrong with him? You were obviously fine. Fine enough to fight him on coming to the doctor in the first place, fine enough to argue all the way to the car as you limped along, fine enough to smile at him as you went back. Nevertheless, he was impatient.

Finally, Harvey emerged from the back of the building, Shane jumping out of his chair as soon as he heard the doors. The doctor approached with a small smile, relief washing over Shane.
“Y/N’s going to be just fine Shane,” Harvey informed him. “Her ankle isn’t even sprained, just hyperextended when she fell. I her looked over and cleaned the cuts on her other leg. Everything looks fine. She should be ready to go in a few minutes.”

“Thanks, Doc. ‘Preciate you takin’ a look at her.”

“Thank YOU for making her come in,” Harvey said. “Some of those cuts were pretty dirty. Speaking of, I need to discuss one thing with you.” The clinician’s tone had suddenly changed, becoming a bit more serious and much more concerned. Shane was right back to being on edge. “To make sure nothing entered in through the cut that could cause some more serious issues- it was a chicken coop floor after all- I ran a simple blood test. Everything came back normal, no cause for worry of an infection or anything. But…her blood alcohol level was, well, slightly elevated.”

Shane’s stomach dropped. Then the anger set in.

“Did you…” Harvey’s voice was much gentler now. “Did you see her drinking anything today?”

“No,” Shane replied, his voice gruff. “I was just there to look at the chicken coop. Hadn’t even been around for an hour before she fell.” Harvey nodded in understanding.

“If you’d like to go back and see her…” He didn’t even finish before Shane was through the double doors, storming into your examination room.

“Hey! Did you hear? I’m all good-“ you started with a smile, but were instantly cut off.

“How could you not tell me you had been fucking drinking, Y/N?” Shane asked, tone hard and angry. “What the fuck were you thinking, wandering around an old coop when you weren’t in the right mind? Hell, you shouldn’t be doing ANY farm work with alcohol in your system!”

“Not in my right- excuse me?!” you shot back. You’d never seen Shane like this before and it was honestly a little shocking, but his words had you on the defensive. “I’m not fucking drunk, Shane! I had a couple of beers with lunch, that’s it. I felt fine then, I feel fine now, I am fine.”

“It is not fucking fine, Y/N,” Shane growled. “You could have gotten seriously hurt! You DID get hurt!”

The argument ensued for several minutes, poor Harvey nervously waiting at the clinic counter trying his best not to listen to the fight. It was hard, though, when your voices carried so clearly out into the reception area.

The two of you finally emerged from the back, faces still red from shouting but both much quieter now. Harvey offered a sheepish smile and tried not to let on that he had heard most of your argument. After running a quick check on his computer, he cleared you to go and out the door you went.

You didn’t even try to argue that you could drive with your wrapped ankle, it wasn’t like it was in a boot or anything, instead just letting Shane take you back to the farm. Harvey had given you some crutches to help you just for a couple of days to keep weight off of your ankle and you didn’t know how you were going to do farm work with these things, but you’d figure that out later. The task at hand was simply getting up the porch steps.

“Here, let me-“ Shane began to offer, reaching out for your arm, but you waved him off.

“I’ve got it,” was your curt reply. Shane pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration, trying his best not to snap angrily at you.

“Y/N, if you’d just let me help this would go a lot faster.”

“I said, I’ve got it.” You had never had to use crutches before and weren’t quite sure exactly how to tackle the stairs. You weren’t even sure they were adjusted to your height properly, but that didn’t stop you from trying.

And trying.

For a solid five minutes.

“You know, you could’ve been inside with your foot propped up by now if you’d just let me help,” Shane said, looking at you plainly.

“Ugh fine.” He showed you how to use the crutches on the stairs and then, instead of letting you try and waiting around for another five minutes, he scooped you up and carried you onto the porch, placing you carefully in front of the door before opening it for you and watching you hobble inside.

‘Don’t blush, you’re annoyed dammit,’ you ordered yourself.

Shane headed to your freezer as you adjusted some chairs at your kitchen table, pulling out a bag of frozen broccoli sporting the Joja logo.

“Really?” he asked, eyebrows raised. “Aren’t you a farmer?”

“Don’t judge me, I’m still new to this whole ‘grow your own food’ thing.” His joke seemed to lighten the mood enough for you to offer a small grin.

Wrapping the frozen bag in a towel as you disappeared for a few moments, he grabbed a pillow from your couch and placed it on the chair for you. You returned shortly with a basket hanging off of your arm, a smile on your face.

“Just thought I’d grab a few things so I don’t have to get up for awhile,” you said, pulling out a few puzzle books, your phone charger, and your laptop.

“Well, it looks like you’re set.” Shane started toward the door. “You need anything else? Want me to put in a frozen pizza or something for you to eat?”

“Thanks, but I think I’m good. I’ll just warm up my ankle broccoli once it thaws. I appreciate all your help today, really.” You offered him a warm smile, reaching out for his hand and giving it a gentle squeeze. That earned you another blush.

“Call me if you need anything.” With that, he was out the door and you were alone. Sighing heavily, you sat for a moment to let all the tension and anger and fear from the day flow out of you.

Reaching down for your basket, you grabbed what was skillfully placed under the blanket you’d grabbed, a glass and a bottle of Apple Crown. Pouring a nice portion, you gratefully took a long sip, eyes fluttering shut and a groan leaving you as the alcohol burned its way down your throat.

“Hey, here’s- are you fucking serious right now?” Shane was suddenly in your doorway, surprise and then anger dancing across his features.

“What are you- doing here?” you demanded, trying to mask your shock. “You can’t just burst into peoples’ houses like that!” It was a weak argument seeing as he was just in your house not ten minutes ago, but it was all you had in the moment.

“It took me a few minutes but I realized I forgot to leave your car keys, so I was just bringing them back.” His dark eyes landed on the bottle on your table and darted to the basket at your feet. “Did you hide that fucking bottle in there so I wouldn’t see it?”

“Shane, this is MY house, why would I be hiding anything from you when I’m in my own fucking house?” Your voice had risen along with the annoyance inside of you. The man scoffed.

“Because I know how this works, Y/N!”

“How what works?” Your eyes narrowed, waiting to see if he would go there.

He didn’t.

Instead, he took a deep breath before speaking again.

“Y/N, just give me the bottle and I’ll put it away and-“

“No,” now you were the one scoffing. “I’m a big girl, Shane, if I want to have a drink after a stressful day then I am allowed!”

“It’s not-“ he began shouting but stopped himself. “It is not just one drink. You had alcohol in your system while you were working today. You have to understand-“

“What I understand,” you yelled over him. “Is that I am a fucking adult and I can have a goddamn drink if I want one!” A silence fell over the room, nothing but icy glares and heavy breaths to fill it. You finally sighed, staring hard at the wall opposite of where Shane was standing. “I think you should go.”

“Yeah.” The slam of the door made you jump a little. Tired and exasperated, you ran your fingers through your hair and fought the tears back that threatened to fall. You decided you wanted to take a bath, soak away the stresses of your fight with Shane. So that’s exactly where you headed, hobbling off to start the hot water, bottle of whiskey in your hand and glass long forgotten.

***

Despite waking up earlier than usual, you were still late getting out the door to start on chores. Everything was harder with your injured ankle, so getting ready for the day took longer than normal.

The pounding hangover in your head didn’t help either.

You fumbled your way down the porch steps with the crutches and headed for the fields, but something wasn’t right…the eggplants that you swore were on the plant yesterday were now gone; the yams had been dug up as well.

“What the hell…” you muttered to yourself, brow furrowing as you searching for any logical explanation. Hobbling further out into the rows of crops, you carefully inspected each plant, looking for something else out of place. Completed befuddled, you spun to scan the expanse of the farm, shaking your head at the mystery before you.

Then you got your answer.

Walking toward you from the direction of the barn, large scythe balanced carefully over a strong shoulder, was Shane.

Your jaw nearly dropped.

The last thing you expected was to see him anytime soon. Not after what happened yesterday.

“W- what are you doing?” you stammered as he neared, voice full of confusion. Shane’s face was set into a hard expression; not unfriendly, but not necessarily inviting, either.

“Figured you would need some help around here while your ankle heals,” he said simply, shrugging as if your question had been obviously stupid. Fair’s coming up. You have to get ready.”

The only response your addled brain could come up with was to blink at him. Several times.

Shane prepared for you to argue with him. He prepared for you to bring up his actions and words from yesterday and throw him off your property. But instead, you simply nodded, said ‘okay then’, and started directing him on how to use the scythe to harvest the first batch of amaranth.

Chapter Text

It took just under a week for your ankle to heal. With Shane’s help on the farm and some simple stretches and physical therapy from Harvey, you were back fully on your feet just in time and ready for the Stardew Fair. Lewis had sent you a few letters leading up to the event to explain the grange display contest and remind you of the date.

On the morning of the fair, you loaded up the Jeep and headed into town. It was still early so not many people had shown up just yet, Gus was still prepping the food and a few of the booths and games were in the process of setting up.

“Y/N!” you heard the mayor call as you climbed out of your vehicle after parking behind the general store. As he headed your way, you offered a polite smile. “How’s the ankle?”

“Good as new!” you told him brightly.

“Glad to hear it! Are you all ready for the grange display contest?” he asked, thumbs tucking under his suspender straps and tugging gently, a strange but endearing habit you had watched him do many times.

“I think so, I brought some of my best produce and a few other surprise items.” You threw the mayor a wink, earning an intrigued hum.

“Well, follow me and I’ll show you where to set everything up!” Lewis explained the judging and scoring process as you walked, but honestly, you were only half listening. You didn’t really care that much about winning the contest, you were more excited than anything to premier some of the new products you had been trying out on the farm. Maybe it would even be something that Pierre would be interested in buying off you along with your produce and selling in his store. You hoped, at least.

As Lewis showed you your display box, you greeted Pierre, Marnie, and Willy, all of whom were already set to work setting up their own displays. Your brows raised when you glanced Pierre’s; it was gorgeous. Clearly, he had been preparing for awhile.

“Alright, I think you are good to go!” the mayor said. “Need any help unloading your items?”

“No, no, that’s okay,” you said, shaking your head. “Thanks for the offer, though.” With that, the older man nodded and headed off to go check on the progress of everything else being set up. Heading back toward your Jeep, you began to unload the crates you had used to haul everything you thought you might want to use for the display. Your vision wasn’t quite nailed down yet, so you had packed extra items to give yourself plenty of options to play around with.

It took longer than you had expected to get your display just right. Most of the town was milling about, beginning to enjoy the games and booths, and several tourists were filtering into the Valley for the special occasion by the time you finished. Standing back, you admired the finished product. All the hard work you had put into the farm that last several months, the sweat and tears and doubts, the new skills you had learned and the leaps you had taken with your new products – it was all encompassed here in this little box. Feeling yourself start to get emotional, you wiped at your eyes and let out a little laugh.

“Hey, farmer,” Shane’s voice said from behind you. You spun around the find him and Jas, the small girl plastered to his leg, smiling up at you. “Your display looks great- hey, I didn’t know you were working on processed food products!”

“Yeah,” you replied, smiling widely and grabbing one of the jars of jelly you’d crafted from the front of the display. “I found some equipment in the old shed so I cleaned it up and have been experimenting with some new stuff. I’ve got jellies, jams, pickled and canned products, some juice, and I’m working on brewing and aging some beers and wines.”

“That’s great, Y/N, they look delicious,” Shane said, offering a kind smile.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t have been able to experiment and play around with it nearly as much if you hadn’t been helping me this last week. I spent a lot of my time perfecting this stuff since it was something I could do sitting.”

“Oh, so that’s where you would disappear off to,” Shane finally realized. You nodded in response before turning your attention to the little girl next to him.

“Hi, I don’t think we’ve been introduced just yet,” you greeted her sweetly. “My name is Y/N.”
“I’m Jas,” she said quietly. “I saw you at the beach. You were talking to Aunt Marnie.”

“Yeah, she’s a friend of mine. She’s been really nice and helping me out with getting my farm going.”

“Uncle Shane’s been helping on the farm!” the little girl pronounced, making you chuckle nod. “He said you hurt your ankle and you needed someone to check on your crops for you.”

“That’s right, and he was a big help,” you said. “I wouldn’t have been ready today if he hadn’t helped me!”

“Alright, alright,” Shane mumbled, cheeks tinted pink. “Are you ready to go play some games?” he asked Jas, practically making her jump with excitement as she squealed. He looked back up at you, nodding a silent ‘see ya later’. As they headed for the fishing booth, you turned to start taking the crates back to your vehicle with the extra items you didn’t use.

“Oh, wait!” you called out, Shane and Jas turning around. “This is for good luck. Thought you might like it.” With a wink, you handed Jas the beautiful light purple bloom, a fairy rose flower. “I also got to spend a little extra time in the flower gardens since your uncle was taking care of my crops.”

“Oh wow!” she breathed, eyes the size of saucers. She took the flower with as much delight, glee, and delicacy that a seven-year-old could manage. “Thank you, miss Y/N! These are my favorite!”

“No problem, kiddo.” Shane couldn’t help but let a genuine smile take over his face. Seeing Jas happy was what he cared about most and seeing you make her that excited stirred something in his gut. Meeting his eyes with a grin of your own, you once again turned to haul your crates back to the Jeep.

***

You had to admit, the Stardew Fair was fun. You’d gone exploring after getting your display put up, glancing over every once in awhile to see if people were admiring what you’d put out. A group of tourists had seemed to take an interest in your homemade jellies, pride swelling inside your chest. Lewis had called all the display presenters over to announce the results of the judging, calling Pierre’s name to take home the prize. You clapped like a gracious loser and congratulated him with a firm handshake.

“Thank you, Y/N,” he said, face beaming with delight. “Your display still looked wonderful. I’d be interested in talking to you about those homemade food products you have there…”

And so, you had excitedly set up a time to come into the shop with some samples and talk logistics of selling your items in Pierre’s general store. Even without the contest win, you were walking away with a victory of your own. Riding on that high, you went to find Gus’ barbeque and some punch.

***

Shane could have sworn that Jas had played every game at the fair at least three times now. He had let her get her fortune read, despite not believe in all that obvious mumbo jumbo scam bullshit, and even won her a stuffed dwarf from the strength hammer. She had also had enough candy and sweets to keep her bouncing off the walls for a month.

‘We’ll brush our teeth extra long tonight,’ he noted to himself.

The pair met up with Marnie over by the animal pens, Jas telling her tales of everything they had done so far. Shane took the opportunity to zone out, looking around to see if he could catch a glimpse of you. Despite not winning the grange display prize, he had seen you walking away with a spring in your step.

“Why don’t you and Jas go grab some food,” he told Marnie. “I’ll stay here with the animals. Make sure the petting zoo stays friendly.”

“There’s a funnel cake stand over by the clowns!” Jas said, eyes practically begging Marnie.

“I meant real food,” Shane clarified. “You’re already hopped up on sugar as it is.” The girl groaned and Marnie patted her hand.

“Come on, let’s go get some burgers from Gus. Those are always delicious. Do you want us to bring you some?” She asked her nephew, but he shook his head and waved them off.

“I’m fine. Go ahead.” He took up Marnie’s post as they walked off, checking the animals and making sure that the kids and tourists were following the rules for touching and feeding them. It was boring, but he was tired from shepherding Jas around so he was grateful for the change of pace.

“I think someone spike the punch,” a bubbly voice said beside him. He turned to find Emily, blue hair blowing in the breeze and a colorful butterfly painted on her cheek. “I’d avoid it if I were you.” He quirked a brow.

“Really?”

“Yeah, here. Smell.” She held her cup of red juice under his nose and sure enough, there it was. The scent of whiskey.

“Yikes,” he mumbled, blinking at the strong sensation. “And none of the parents have noticed? Or Lewis?”

“Are you kidding? The parents are loving the chance to take the edge off after chasing their sugared-out kids around all day,” she snorted, the ever-present smile on her face stretching the butterfly’s wings.

“Nice art,” Shane told her, nodding to her cheek. Emily beamed, thanking him and offering to paint something on his face. With a chuckle, he politely declined.

The two hung out for awhile, Emily’s company helping to pass the time until everyone began to filter out and the fair started to pack up. Conversation had always flowed easily between them. Shane was comfortable with her; she’d been tending bar at the saloon for years and he’d spent countless nights in her company because of that. He’d always thought the woman had a sort of ethereal beauty to her, always bubbly and smiling, her movements graceful and sprite-like. Hell, he had even gone out with her a few times, years back, before they had decided they were better off as friends.

***

Heading toward the animal pens to tell Shane all about your meeting with Pierre and thank him again for all his help, cheeks warm and inhibitions lowered due to the spiked punch coursing through you, you were stopped in your tracks by what your eyes landed on.
There was Shane, Emily next to him, both smiling and laughing. Her hand was on his arm and she was practically doubled over at something he had said.

‘Huh,’ you thought to yourself, lips pursing. ‘Cool.’

Even your thoughts were curt. Annoyance budded inside of you- at him, at her, at their obvious flirting, at yourself for caring about the obvious flirting.

Because it was obvious.

With a sharp nod, you immediately turned direction and headed instead to get more punch.

***

Soon enough, evening rolled in and the fair began to pack up and thin out. Most of the tourists had left already and the stragglers were making their way to vehicles by now. The booths were being packed up, tables and chairs taken down, trash gathered. Feeling queasy from all the punch you drank, and a little tipsy if you were honest, you began to take down your grange display. The others were either already done or mostly finished. Marnie waved a goodbye and Pierre gave one last reminder about your meeting next week. Willy tipped his cap and threw a wink your way, along with a polite “g’night, miss farmer”. You were trying to be careful with your items, some of them breakable or delicate, but a voice behind you caused you to jump in shock, nearly dropping a jar of pickles.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you,” Shane apologized, running a hand over the back of his head. “I just came over to help.”

“I don’t need help, thanks,” you told him, turning back to your task at hand. You didn’t really care that a note of annoyance had slipped into your tone.

“It’s fine, really. I can least carry one of the crates to your car-“

“Shane, you’ve helped enough lately. I’ve got it,” you told him sternly, holding a hand up to stop him as you looked him in the eye now. You saw the surprise on his face and a hint of confusion. Part of you felt bad, but then the picture of him and Emily came back to your mind and you didn’t feel so bad anymore.

“Okay. Got it,” he mumbled, shoving his hands in his hoodie pockets and turning to go. “Good job today, by the way.”

You simply picked up your crates and walked to the Jeep.

Chapter Text

After the fair, you were avoiding the saloon. The last thing you wanted when you were trying to unwind was see Shane and Emily flirting, possibly more, and getting worked up about it. And, since he was a regular and she worked there, it would be inevitable. Instead, you opted to stay on the farm and drink your evenings away, usually with some mindless television or a Netflix show on for background noise.

You had also thrown yourself even more into the farm work. Spirit’s Eve was coming up soon and you were constantly checking on the pumpkins. You were also exploring more the preserving and brewing side of your burgeoning business, having found the plans to build more kegs and aging casks, as well as jam makers and preservers. Plus, there was the chicken coop. It needed a lot of cleanup and you wanted to gather materials for Robin before she came out to start working on it, so you threw yourself into that.

Despite the funk you found yourself in mentally, you had to admit that the harsh physical work was doing wonders for your body. Of course, in the time since you had taken over the farm you had noticed that you were stronger, had more stamina and energy throughout the day, and your muscles had become more toned. Now, however, you were actually admiring your form more than you ever recalled.

It truly was a wonder how in shape you looked with how much you were drinking. That bad habit combined with any kind of sedentary lifestyle and you would’ve had to go shopping for a whole new wardrobe.

Despite all of the distraction, there was one thing that was bothering you to no end: how you treated Shane at the fair. You knew logically that he didn’t deserve the cold shoulder you had given him or the harsh words. Especially not after all the help he had provided, free of charge and complaint. Besides, what did you care if he started seeing someone? He was a single man, free to do whatever or date or sleep with whomever he pleased.

It was none of your business.

Your guilt was eventually enough to drive you to the saloon one Saturday night, heart pounding with nerves, a jar of pickled hot pepper jelly and an envelope stuffed into your fall coat. You blanched at the loud noise that drifted out from the door as you walked inside, music from the jukebox playing and loud, raucous conversation permeating the room.

Your eyes drifted to Marnie’s usual table, but it was just her and Lewis lost in conversation tonight. Looking around, you finally found Shane perched at the end of the bar, can in front of him as he mindlessly scrolled through his phone. Taking a deep breath to steel yourself, marched up to him and prepared to swallow your pride.

“Hey,” you greeted, offering a sheepish smile. His familiar dark eyes found yours, and while he offered a polite grin, there was a shield up there.

“Hey.”

“I just uh…I wanted to say sorry for the fair. I was rude and you didn’t deserve that.” Your cheeks tinged pink with the apology. Shane studied you for a moment.

“It’s okay, don’t worry about it,” he finally told you, making you sigh with relief. “No hard feelings. If you don’t mind me asking, though, what did I do that twisted you so much?” Okay, you were full on blushing now, not expecting him to want an explanation.

“Um- it really doesn’t matter…it was me, not you,” you tried to play it off, shaking your head dismissively and hoping to Yoba that he wouldn’t push. Thankfully, he didn’t. That was something you had come to like a lot about Shane. “Anyway, I brought this for you.”

“What’s all this?” he asked, brows raising as he studied the items you offered to him.

“Well, you know I’ve been playing around with canning and stuff, so I made a hot pepper jelly back at the end of summer,” you explained, scuffing your boot across the ground. “And in the envelope is your cut of the profits from the week you helped me out with my ankle.”

“Y/N, you don’t have to-“ he started, but you raised a hand to cut him off.

“Please, you deserve it, Shane. I didn’t ask you to help, you took the initiative. And I would have been totally screwed without you.” The man in front of you began to blush, taking the items with a quiet ‘thanks’.

“I…I didn’t do it for the money, you know,” he said softly, eyes darting away from yours. You laid a hand on his arm and smiled gently.

“I know.”

Your mission accomplished, you left the saloon for the night, grateful for the quiet outside of the building. Instead of going back to the farm, though, you decided to sit on the bench just outside, enjoying the fall night.

It was crisp and cold, but you didn’t mind. The sky was decorated lavishly with stars above and you were happy to relax and simply watch the night sky. As the evening wore on, you heard patrons leaving the saloon and heading for home, but stayed relatively hidden behind the bushes surrounding your bench and the dark night around you. Finally, it was closing time. You heard the door open and Gus call goodnight to Emily, the bubbly bartender returning the sentiment.

That was your cue.

As best you could without scaring her, you left your spot on the bench, legs stiff from the cold air and toes tingling in your boots.

“Hey, Emily!” you called quietly, not wanting to wake anyone in the houses nearby. The woman turned around curiously, offering a large smile when she spotted you.

“Y/N!” she greeted. “I haven't seen you in awhile. Enjoying the night?”

“Matter of fact, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.” You fell into step beside her as she headed in the direction of home. “The stars are beautiful tonight.”

“Yeah, they are,” she replied with a dreamy look up at the sky. “I’m sure it isn’t even close to what you can see out on that farm of yours, though.” You chuckled with a nod.

“Hey, listen,” you began, heart rate picking up. Yoba, you hated this part. “I just uh…I just wanted to tell you that I’m happy for you and Shane. You seem really good for each other.”

“What are you talking about?” Emily asked, pulling her brows together. “Shane and I aren’t together.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, have you not made it official yet? Or it’s still really new or something?” The last thing you wanted to do was offend or upset her.

“No, I mean we aren’t dating. At all,” Emily chuckled. “We went out a few times, like, two years ago. But that was it. Why did you think something was going on between us?” Her tone wasn’t hostile, just genuinely curious and now you felt like an even bigger fucking idiot and prick than before.

“It- it’s just…at the fair, you- you guys were very…” you stammered, running your fingers through your hair. You were sure that your face was beet red right now. Thankfully, you were just about to Emily’s house and this conversation would be over soon. “I’m so sorry, Emily,” you finally sighed. “I saw you two together and I just assumed. And, just like the saying, I’ve made a complete ass out of myself.”

“No, Y/N, it’s okay!” she assured you with a small laugh. “It would be easy to think that, but I promise, nothing is going on between Shane and I.” She squeezed your arm with a soft reassurance.
“Could we…maybe keep this between us?” you asked sheepishly. “I just don’t want to start any rumors or anything-“

“Of course, Y/N,” Emily said. “No worries.”

“Thanks, Emily. Sorry about this, again. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Y/N,” she returned, waving and dancing for the door. As you turned to go, the exhaustion creeping up on you rapidly, she suddenly poked her head out before closing it all the way. “You know, since I’m not with him, Shane is a totally free man. And a handsome one at that,” she practically sang, throwing you a wink before disappearing into her house and leaving you wide eyed and gaping at the front of her house.

Chapter Text

This. Was. Impossible.

You took a deep breath to try and quell the anger and frustration building within you. It wouldn’t help the situation any to get mad, especially at an inanimate object. Adjusting a few settings and checking some wires, you tried once again to get the door on the chicken coop to rise automatically. It clicked and whirred as if it was about to work, excitement running through you, and then….nothing.

“Fuck!” You yelled, finally breaking. You had been out there all afternoon and evening working on the damn contraption and it still wasn’t functioning properly. This was the last thing that you needed to figure out before the coop was ready to house your first chicks, but at this rate you weren’t sure it was going to happen at all. “Can’t even get one thing on this fucking coop to work. Yoba, you’re so fucking useless.”

Grumbling and fuming, you tried one more time, but it still wouldn’t move. With an aggravated growl, you sloppily gathered your tools, threw them in the coop in a corner where at least they wouldn’t be exposed to the elements, and stormed off toward the house.

“You can’t do anything right, fucking worthless. He was right. He fucking told you and you didn’t listen.”

You didn’t care that you were a sweaty, dirty mess. After all these months on the farm you had gotten used to a sort of perpetual state of dirtiness. No, all you cared about was cold beer and why that fucking coop door wouldn’t work.

Ripping open the fridge, you grabbed a can off the shelf, cracking it open and immediately downing the contents. You crushed the can as if it was therapeutic for your anger, and grabbed another. You drank this one while pacing around the kitchen, unable to stop your mind from going a million miles an hour trying to think of a solution.

“Ugh fuck this,” you declared to yourself, needing to escape for a bit. Grabbing a bottle of liquor from the fridge instead, you marched out of the house, letting the door slam shut behind you. Your steps were fast, feet pounding the dirt as you ventured out into the now dark night, taking a swig from the bottle.

The dock in Cindersnap Forest was your final destination. It was close enough that getting home later wouldn’t be particularly difficult, but far enough away that you could put some distance between yourself and the farm. Plopping down on the end of the old wooden structure, you let a sigh drift off into the air.

Winter would be taking over the Valley soon, coating Pelican Town in snow and ice. Your first year on the farm was quickly approaching an end and you weren’t quite sure how to feel.

A year of hard work and learning. Taking yourself out of your comfort zone to become a farmer, of all things.

A year of frustration like you’d never know, of pushing yourself.

But it had also been a year of solitude. Barely communicating with your family, let alone seeing them. Leaving your old life behind.

A year of running.

Despite having settled here, it felt like the running never stopped. And Yoba, were you tired.

Your feet mindlessly swayed off the dock as you lost yourself in the surface of the water. It looked so calm, so peaceful. You scooted a fraction of an inch closer to the edge.

The lake was quiet. Oh, what you would give to finally have some real peace and quiet, to not have to listen to the dark thoughts that crept into your mind or relive the memories that played behind your eyelids when you tried to sleep.

The water would be cold this time of year. Cold, but dark and quiet. If you really were just the useless, worthless, stupid bitch that he made you out to be – that you felt like you were- then why not just….

“Hey.” The voice snapped you out of your thoughts, your head whipping around to find none other than Shane. Of course. “It’s late, what’re you doing out here?”

“I could ask you the same thing,” you slurred slightly, catching yourself off guard. How much had you drunk since you’d been here? You patted the spot on the dock next to you, motioning for the man to sit down.

“Out for a jog,” he replied, sitting next to you with a sigh. Your eyes studied him, finally noting that he wasn’t in fact wearing his usual get-up, but some sporty sneakers and sweatpants paired with a grey hoodie tonight.

“Since when do you jog?” you scoffed, earning a small chuckle.

“Uh, not very long. I made it a New Year’s resolution and it’s been one of the only ones that I’ve actually stuck with.”

“Not very long? That’s almost a year! Impressive,” you exclaimed. If it wasn’t so dark, you were sure that you would’ve seen Shane blush.

“Anyway,” he started, wanting to change the subject. “What did you venture into the cold for?” Shane eyed the nearly empty bottle in your hands. “Rough day?”

“I guess you could say that,” you mumbled, fingers playing with the label as you turned your attention back to the water. “Ugh, life.”

“You wanna talk about it?” Shane asked, tone cautious and gentle. You were quiet for a few moments, contemplating on what to say, if you should say anything at all.

“Do you ever…” You pulled your brows together, trying to find the right words and speaking slowly. “You ever feel like…no matter what you do, you’re gonna fail? Like you’re…you’re drowning and no matter how hard you try to swim to the surface, you can’t get there? I just feel like…no matter how hard I try, no matter how hard I swim…I’m not strong enough to break out of the water. And some days I feel like maybe I should…maybe I should stop trying to.”

Shane was quiet for a minute, letting your words sink in. Yoba, you were breaking his heart. He knew exactly how it felt; he had been there not too long ago himself. Reaching over, he gently took one of your hands in his own.

“I get it,” he admitted quietly, meeting your eyes when your head rose to look at him. He could see the beginnings of tears pooling just above your waterline and he squeezed your hand. “I know that feeling. And I know how tempting it is to just give in to it and stop fighting. But you can’t do that. You have to keep going.” Shane desperately hoped that his message would sink in. He wasn’t great with words and feelings, he wasn’t sure how exactly to comfort you, but dammit he would try his best. “And the hardest part sometimes is admitting that you need help.”

You sniffled and nodded, looking back out over the lake but still holding his hand.

“I- I do need help,” you finally admitted, voice shaking and small. Shane’s heart pounded with relief in his chest. “Could you- could you come over sometime and look at my chicken coop door? I can’t get it to work.”

“I-“ he blinked at you, startled. That wasn’t exactly what he had meant, but telling you as much wouldn’t help anything. “Yeah, I can do that.” You offered him a grateful smile before taking another swig from your bottle to finish it off.

“Thanks,” you said. “And thanks for…for listening.”

“Anytime.” Dull vibrations started from his pocket and Shane pulled out his phone, excusing himself to answer.

You turned your attention yet again to the lake, still quiet and peaceful as ever. A slight breeze sent ripples across the surface and you followed each one with your eyes. You had just opened up to this man, poured your heart out and shown your wounds. Well, some of them anyway. And he…understood? And was…nice about it? What a difference-

“I’ve gotta head back to the ranch,” Shane sighed, interrupting your thoughts and beginning to stand.

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, that was Marnie. Jas woke up and isn’t feeling good. Apparently, she’s insisting that Uncle Shane be the one to give her medicine and tuck her back in,” he explained. Shane couldn’t help but feel both love and pride swell in his chest at the thought of Jas asking specifically for his comfort.

“Oh, I hope she feels better soon,” you offered. “I should be heading back to the farm, anyway. It’s getting late.” Shane extended a hand to help you stand and you gratefully took it as your legs were feeling wobbly after all that liquor.

“You can get back alright?” Shane asked, one skeptical eyebrow raised. You waved him off, insisting that you were fine. “Okay. I’ll see you soon, farmer.”

You puffed out a breath into the cold air, taking a few steps in the same direction as Shane’s retreating form, but suddenly stopped.

“Oh, can’t just leave that laying around!” You turned around and bent down to grab your empty bottle that was still sitting on the edge of the dock, not wanting to be rude and leave litter in the forest. Bending down, however, proved to be a bad idea for someone drunk and wobbly because before you could even shout, you lost your balance and fell right into the freezing cold lake.

Chapter Text

You were right, the water was cold.

And dark. And quiet.

It was like a shock, nearly painful, when you hit. The cold had consumed you immediately, practically paralyzing your limbs. They felt heavy and sluggish, like lead. Your mouth had opened in a gasp, drawing water in and making you begin to panic. You watched through straining eyes as the surface got further and further away, your body sinking down, the chill seeping into your bones.

For someone who didn’t know how to swim, though, you weren’t trying very hard not to drown.

It was like everything you had told Shane in your metaphors was becoming reality, like some kind of grim prophecy that you hadn’t meant to make.

But maybe, just maybe, this was your chance.

Letting the small amount of fight you had left in you go, you succumbed to the darkness, the quiet.

Peace. Finally.

***

Shane heard a splash and whipped around, eyes scanning the dark dock for your form and not finding you anywhere.

“Y/N?” he called out experimentally, hoping to Yoba that it wasn’t what he thought. He was already moving back toward the water, though, panic and fear beginning to overwhelm him. Shane saw the rippled surface, your dark form growing smaller and smaller by the second as you sank into the lake. Could you not swim? Or worse, did you not want to try? “Y/N!” he yelled, dropping to his knees.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Shane kept repeating, trying to figure out what to do first. He immediately began screaming for help, hoping against hope that someone somewhere would hear him and come looking. Quick as he could, Shane started to strip down out of his running clothes, knowing the fabric would become weighed down. Down to his boxers, t shirt, and socks, Shane shouted once more before diving headfirst into the frigid waters.

He mentally cursed as the cold engulfed his body, the impact sending shocks through him. As his eyes adjusted to the dark underwater world, he swam downward, hoping more than anything that he would be able to find you in the lake before it was too late. Shane’s lungs screamed at him, his ears popping as he went down, down…

And then finally, finally, you came into focus.

Hair suspended in the water, eyes closed, and blue-tinged lips parted the tiniest bit, you looked…peaceful. More peaceful than Shane had ever seen you look before, even when you were feeling good from the alcohol pumping through your system.

And then he was wrapping his arms around your torso and swimming for the surface as fast as he could. Yoba, he needed air and it was so close, your weight held tight against him, almost there…

Breaking the surface of the lake, Shane gasped and greedily gulped in oxygen. With his free arm, he awkwardly swam toward the dock, your limp body dragging beside him.

“Oh my- Shane!” His eyes darted toward the sound to find Leah perched on the edge of the dock, hands covering her mouth in shock and fear. Thank Yoba, she must have heard him from her cabin nearby. “What the hell happened? Are you guys okay?” Leah helped him pull you out of the water and onto the wood, brushing your wet hair away from your face.

“She- she must have fallen in,” he panted, scrambling onto the dock beside the two of you. He pressed his ear to your chest, trying to find a heartbeat, listen for your breath.

Nothing.

“Fuck, I- I went in as fast as I could,” he was panicking, hands shaking and heart pounding against his ribcage as he frantically scanned over your seemingly lifeless body. “Her lips are b- blue.”

He wasn’t sure if he was stuttering from the fear or the cold.

“Leah, I-“ Shane looked up at the woman, eyes desperate, but she was already setting to work. Leah pressed her fingers to different parts of your body – inner wrist, under the jaw, under your nose and above your lips – searching for a pulse, a breath, something. And then her hands were on your chest, pushing and pumping in rhythmic sets. Every few counts she paused to blow into your mouth. Shane ran his trembling fingers through his hair, watching helplessly as you just laid there unresponsive.

“Call someone,” Leah huffed between counts, not missing a beat. Shane scrambled through his discarded clothes to find his phone, fumbling with the screen before finally managing to hit dial next to Marnie’s name.

“Marnie, don’t ask questions, it’s an emergency,” he rushed out, voice shaking. “Put Jas to bed and bring the truck to the dock in Cindersnap. Now.” Not giving his aunt a chance to pry and prolong her action, Shane hung up and threw his phone to the side, turning his full attention back to you.

“It’s not working,” he cried out. “Fuck, it’s not-“

He was interrupted by coughing and spitting, your body convulsing on the dock and expelling cold water from your lungs.

“There, that’s it,” Leah cooed, turning you gently to your side as you began to regain consciousness. Shane watched as she smacked your back several times, air fighting to occupy the space of the water in your body. Relief like nothing he’d ever felt flooded through Shane as you finally started breathing again, albeit raggedly. “We need to get her out of these clothes,” Leah said, already beginning to strip off her own coat. “And get you into some. You’re soaked to the bone, too, and the wind is picking up.”

It was the first time that Shane even noticed how cold and numb his body was. The adrenaline had kept him preoccupied, but she was right. Here he was, totally soaked in just his underclothes on a freezing cold night. As Leah started to undress you, your mind barely awake yet and body still not quite working, Shane grabbed his clothes and swapped his wet t shirt out for his dry hoodie. Leah finally wrestled your own sweatshirt and shirt off, leaving you in just your black sports bra on the dock as she began to stuff your limps into her heavier coat. Shane did his best not to look. Then Leah asked him to remove your thin leggings and that plan went to hell.

Shane put you into his own sweatpants. Thankfully they were long enough to cover your now bare feet. It would do until Marnie got there with the truck, which wasn’t much longer.

“Shane!” Marnie called, voice frantic as she leapt out of the beat-up vehicle and practically ran onto the dock. “What in heaven’s name happened here?! Are you alright? Oh- Y/N!”

“I’ll explain later. I’m fine, Aunt Marnie,” he tried to reassure her. “We need to get Y/N to the hospital-“

“To the ranch,” Leah corrected. “We’ll call Harvey on the way and he can meet us there, but the most important thing is getting her warm. Unless you have a roaring fireplace in that truck, that’s her best bet for now.” Shane simply nodded and helped Leah carry you to the vehicle. He let her sit in the cab with your body draped across hers as he jumped into the bed and tapped the side to signal to his aunt to drive. Pulling out his phone, he made the call to Harvey.

***

“You did exactly what you should’ve done, Shane,” Leah told him quietly as they stood in the doorway to the living area of Marnie’s ranch house. “Going in after her like that. It was just luck that my cabin was so close and I was able to hear you shouting.”

Shane sighed deeply, face etched with concern as he watched Harvey finish up his examination. You were bundled up in just about all the blankets they could find, wearing a fresh and warm set of clothes, perched in front of the fireplace. Still, you were hardly awake. Your words were slow and slurred and if your eyes stayed open at all, you had to blink them rapidly.

Marnie tinkered in the kitchen behind them, preparing hot tea for everyone and trying to hide her fretting. She had checked on Jas once they arrived at the ranch, making sure the girl was asleep and stayed in her room during all the commotion. After all, there was no reason to get her all worked up as well.

“I’m just glad you were there when I got her out,” Shane told Leah, eyes never leaving your form. “I was lost and panicking. And I don’t know CPR. It could’ve been…a lot worse.” He couldn’t bring himself to even think of that possibility. The redhead reached over and gently squeezed Shane’s arm, offering him a comforting smile.

“But it wasn’t. And that’s what matters.” He nodded his agreement, standing up straighter when Harvey finally rose and walked toward them. “How is she?”

“Is she going to be okay? Should we-“

“Y/N is going to be just fine,” Harvey assured them, raising a hand to stifle any further bombardment of questions. “Thanks to you folks. You did the right thing bringing her here and getting her dry right away. Her body temperature is regulating well, but she’s quite exhausted. Try to get her to drink some tea and then she would be fine to go to sleep.”

“Thank you so much, Harvey,” Leah told him, a smile spreading on her face as she looked past him into the living room.

“Just doing my job,” he chuckled. “You all would do well to get some rest, too. Y/N isn’t the only one who’s had a rough night tonight.”

“Would you like to stay for some tea, Doctor?” Marnie asked, popping around the corner from the kitchen. He politely declined, but thanked her for the generosity.

“I’ll do a follow up tomorrow. Shane, you need to get in front of that fire, too. You were also in the water.” He started to protest, but a light pinch from Marnie had Shane shutting his mouth and nodding instead. They bid the doctor goodbye and Marnie let out a sigh of relief.

“Thank Yoba you’re all okay,” she said.

“I’m going to call it a night, too,” Leah told them, smiling gently before walking up to you to say goodbye. Shane watched the interaction with interest, taking in the way Leah combed her fingers through the top of your hair to get it out of your face and the sweet smile she offered before wrapping you in a hug. “G’night,” she waved at Shane and Marnie, quietly making her way out the door and back toward her cabin.

“Here,” Marnie passed Shane two cups of steaming tea, gently nudging him in your direction. “You heard the doctor, get in front of that fire and drink your tea.” Shane did as his aunt said, carefully moving over to your spot on the floor and lowering beside you.

“Harvey says to drink this,” he instructed quietly, offering you the mug. You simply hummed in response, wrapping your shaking fingers around it and letting the warmth seep into your hands. Shane did the same, staring into the flames and sipping absently at his drink. Marnie slipped by into Jas’ room to check on her once more, nodding to Shane that the little girl was out cold. “How’re you feeling?”

“Tired,” you replied, voice raspy and dry. “But warm now.” Shane watched you tentatively drink your tea, eyes glassy and lidded. “I can’t even say thank you-“ You began to cough once again, the sound painful as it triggered the image of you laying helplessly on the dock in Shane’s mind, your voice too weak still to handle conversation.

“Hey, hey,” Shane rubbed a hand over your back, though he was sure you couldn’t feel it through the layers of blankets and clothes. “No need. Just rest.” No argument left in your exhausted body, you simply nodded and worked on finishing your tea.

Once you were done, your eyes could hardly stay open any longer. Letting out a sigh, you shifted your position to laying in front of the fire, head landing in Shane’s lap. He wasn’t sure if you were totally aware of what you were doing when you laid down, but he didn’t care.

You were safe and warm and comfortable, and nothing else mattered.

One of Shane’s hands, warm from holding the mug, rested gently on your head as he began to rub your hair the way Leah had earlier. You seemed comforted by it then. You let out a content sigh, the feeling of someone playing with your hair sending you right to sleep.

The two of you stayed like that for Shane wasn’t sure how long, but eventually his back and legs began to ache and his own exhaustion was setting in. Shane worked carefully to untangle you from all the blankets and pick you up, carrying to his room. He pulled the comforter back on his bed and laid you in, grabbing a few extra blankets to lay over top of you just in case.

As lightly as he could, Shane cupped your cheek in his hand, studying your sleeping face and not able to think about anything but thanking Yoba that you were alright. Leaning down, he placed a lingering kiss to your hairline before walking out and quietly closing the door, heading to crash on the couch.

Chapter Text

“Uncle Shane. Uncle Shaaaaane.” Shane slowly began to stir, his shoulder shaking lightly and a tiny voice ringing in his ears. His eyes cracked open and he blinked against the sunlight streaming in from the large windows. Shane let out a low groan as he shifted, the old couch springs digging into his back, and turned his head to meet Jas’ large green eyes staring at him intently.

“Mornin’, kid,” he rasped out, stretching his arms over his head.

“You were snoring,” Jas said, an edge of annoyance in her voice. Shane scrunched up his face at her and shook his head, letting out a loud yawn.

“I don’t snore,” he scoffed.

“Yes huh!” his goddaughter insisted. “It was loud.” Shane sat up with a chuckle, reaching over to ruffle Jas’ hair. The little girl whined and drew back, throwing him daggers. She hated when he did that.

“What? You already have bedhead, wasn’t like I messed it up any worse,” he joked, earning a huff from her. “You already eat breakfast?”

“Aunt Marnie made me and Miss Y/N oatmeal,” Jas told him with a definitive nod. Shane perked up at your name, glad to hear that you had eaten something this morning.

“Miss Y/N and me,” he corrected gently, standing up and feeling his joints pop as he stretched some more. Jas repeated the phrase as if to commit it to memory before returning her attention back to her weekend cartoons now that they weren’t being interrupted by his snores. Shane shuffled toward the kitchen, finding you and Marnie sitting at the table and chatting quietly over some coffee.

“Morning,” he greeted, heading for the coffee pot himself. You offered him a sheepish smile in return before looking down into your mug intently.

“How’re you feeling today?” Marnie asked him, concern etched on her face. Shane shrugged as he poured the caffeine into a mug and took a sip gratefully.

“Fine. A little sore from the couch, but that’s it.” He turned his attention on you as he leaned against the counter, noting how red your cheeks were now. “I’m more concerned about how you’re doing Y/N.”

“Oh,” you began, pulling yourself out of your coffee daze. “I’m alright. Throat’s a little dry and sore but that’s all.”

“We’re just glad you’re okay,” Marnie said, patting your arm gently. “If Shane and Leah hadn’t been there…” She trailed off and the two of you stayed silent, not wanting to discuss how much worse last night could have been.

“Well, I should be heading back to the farm,” you finally declared, standing up from the table to place your mug in the sink. “Marnie, thank you so much for breakfast and the coffee, it was great. Oh, and I’ll wash your clothes and get them back to you ASAP. And thank you both for being so generous and opening your house to me last night, I really can’t express how much I appreciate it.”

“Oh, now stop that,” Marnie said, waving you off and shaking her head. “You are always welcome here and we are just happy that we were able to help.”

When you turned, Shane caught your eyes. His face was expressionless, always perpetually bluffing, but he read the silent question in your eyes. There was an edge of desperation in them, the need to explain yourself. Luckily, he wanted an explanation.

“Give me a couple of minutes to clean up and I’ll walk you back,” he offered, though really it was a statement and not a question. He left no room for argument, so you simply nodded and mumbled out a ‘thanks’. Shane placed his coffee mug, only half drunk, in the sink and headed off for the bathroom. Going through a shortened version of his morning routine, he brushed his teeth and smoothed down his hair, making sure to put on deodorant and a fresh shirt. Once finished, he met you outside in front of the ranch house.

The two of you headed off in silence, an awkward tension looming overhead. Shane was going to wait for you to say whatever you wanted to say, your fidgeting and lip biting revealing that clearly something was on your mind. After a few minutes, you finally sighed and broke the silence.

“So,” you started, ringing your hands together nervously. “Last night.” Shane stayed quiet, eyes focused ahead and ears ready to listen. “It was a freak accident. Me falling in. You know that, right?” He could feel your eyes on him, nervously waiting for a response. Shane contemplated for a few moments, really hoping that you were telling the truth.

“Now I do,” he finally sighed. “Honestly, I wasn’t so sure after-“

“I know,” you interrupted. “Trust me, I know how it probably looked. But I swear, I just fell. I was wobblier than I thought and when I bent down to get my bottle…it just happened.” Shane nodded, taking in your words. Then he was pinning you with an intense stare.

“Can you swim?” You looked down at your feet, cheeks going red again.

“No,” you mumbled. “Never learned.”

“Do you want to?” Your head snapped up at that, totally caught off guard.

“I-“ you trailed off, mouth floundering for words. “What?”

“I’m teaching Jas this summer. I can teach you, too. I think…I think it would be good for you to at least have some basics. If you want, of course.”

“Y- yeah, that would probably be smart,” you finally answered. Shane nodded before focusing his eyes back ahead, silence falling over the two of you yet again.

“Shane, I…I want you to know that I’m really okay.” Your voice was quiet, timid even, when you spoke again. “I know I talked about all that- that stuff last night. I’m just uh…dealing with a lot. Working through some things. Still adjusting to life in the Valley and being away from my parents and learning to be a farmer through trial by fire. It’s just…been a hard year. But I’m- I’m okay.”

“I’m sure it is a lot,” Shane agreed. “And it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. But…asking for help is okay, too. If you ever want to take a trip back to the city for a few days, Marnie and I - hell I’m sure even Lewis or Robin – we’d be happy to watch the farm for you. And if you ever can’t figure something out, just give me a call. Or…if you ever just need to talk. Maybe away from a freezing cold body of water, since you can’t, you know, swim.” That last bit earned him a chuckle and he looked over to find you smiling, your eyes the slightest bit watery.

“Thanks,” you told him quietly. The two of you had finally reached the farm house, climbing the porch steps and stopping in front of the door. Shane ran his hand over the back of his neck in that gesture you were becoming quite familiar with, holding your gaze once again.

“Look, the point is…you don’t have to be alone. You have people that- that care about you here, too.” The next thing he knew, you were wrapping him in a tight hug, arms around his neck and body pressed to his. The force of it knocked him back a step, but he quickly got his balance and then he was returning the gesture, much less aggressively, but it was still snug and intimate. Shane let his eyes fall closed and let out the breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding.

“Thank you. For everything.” He could barely hear your words because they were muffled by your hair and how your face was half-buried in his shoulder, but he understood it enough to nod. Finally, unfortunately, after several more moments you let him go, heading inside with a final smile and wave, and Shane was heading back to the ranch, trying to memorize the way your hair smelled.

***

F – GUESS WHAT
GUESS WHAT GUESS WHAT GUESS WHAAAAT

S – what?

F – THE PUMPKINS ARE READYYYYYY
I’m so excited!

S – clearly lol
But really that’s great

Shane kept checking his phone as he cared for the chickens in Marnie’s coop, but no reply had come after half an hour. With a disappointed shrug, he carried on his tasks, collecting eggs and checking the feed levels. That is, until Jas’ loud squealing emanated all the way from inside the house out to the coop. Confused, Shane went back inside to see what all the fuss was about.

There, at the front door with a giant smile, you stood, holding a big orange pumpkin in your arms.

Of course.

“Hey!” you greeted excitedly once you saw him heading toward the three of you.

“Uncle Shane, look! Miss Y/N brought pumpkins and she says we can have the first pick of which ones we want!” Jas told him, bouncing excitedly as she pointed at the Jeep behind you, tailgate open and loaded with a whole variety of pumpkins.

“Well, that’s very nice of her,” Shane said, giving you a smirk. “So excited you had to drop by, huh?”

“Of course!” you exclaimed, the happiness radiating off of you just as much as it was Jas. Marnie chuckled, walking out the door with Jas to go pick out some pumpkins. “The only one that’s already spoken for is the one in the front seat,” you called back to them before turning to throw a wink at Shane. “I promised Leah she could have the biggest one.”

Intrigued, Shane followed his family out to your vehicle, waiting patiently as Jas took her time selecting her perfect carving pumpkin. Shane mosied to peek in the front window, eyes going wide at the huge pumpkin that sat nestled behind a seatbelt.

“Pretty great, huh?” Your voice suddenly behind him made Shane startle a bit, but he grinned nonetheless. “It’s at least three times bigger than all the rest this season.”

After Jas and Marnie picked out their pumpkins, Shane grabbed one for himself and watched Jas bounce back into the house excitedly, already asking his aunt if they could start carving now. You jumped back in your Jeep and waved as you drove off into the Cindersnap Forest, presumably toward Leah’s cabin to drop off her giant pumpkin.

***

S – how’s that door working out?

F – It’s great so far! I checked it this morning and it was up already. I’ll check it again tonight to make sure it’s closed
Thanks so much for the help with it!

S – no problem, no need for thanks
Are you going to the Spirit’s Eve festival tonight?

F – Of course! :p it’s only my favorite holiday, I’d never miss
I’m heading into town now with the pumpkins to help Lewis and Emily set up

S – so no costume then?

F – OF COURSE I’ll have a costume! I’m gonna come home and change after we get everything done and then I’ll go back when it starts tonight all dressed up

S – what are you going as?

F – pff I’m not gonna tell you. You’ll just have to wait and seeeeee

S – not even a hint??

F – nope. Not one.

***

Shane checked to make sure that Jas was warm enough before they headed out, insisting that they take her coat just in case she wanted it later. She was adamant that the long sleeve shirt and pants under her princess dress was enough, but Shane grabbed the coat anyway, promising not to make her wear it unless the wind picked up later. Clutching her wand firmly, Jas skipped ahead of him and Marnie on the path into town, excitement coursing through her.

“You’ll probably be carrying her home later. She’ll be exhausted,” Marnie chuckled, watching the little girl fondly.

“Yeah, after she crashes from all the candy and excitement,” he added. “She does it every year.”

It didn’t take long for the group to reach town square, marveling at all the decorations Lewis and the others had put up. Shane smiled when he saw a batch of your pumpkins stacked on some hay bales and covered with creepy cobwebs and fake spiders. Jas quickly found Vincent and they rushed off to watch the skeletons.

“Don’t stick your hands in the cage!” Shane called after them, rolling his eyes when he didn’t receive a response.

“I’m heading that way anyways, I’ll keep an eye on them,” his aunt assured him, patting his arm with a chuckle and meandering through the tables and chairs. Shane let out a sigh and headed for the buffet table, getting himself some punch and a small plate of Spirit’s Eve inspired snacks. Scanning the tables for an open place to sit, preferably away from the large groups of others, he brought the cup to his lips and began to take a long drink.

And then nearly choked.

“Boo!” you playfully shouted, your form materializing from the corner of Shane’s eye.

Sputtering and coughing, Shane tried to recover as his wide eyes took you in. It wasn’t the ‘boo’ that made him choke, no, it was that damn costume you were wearing.

He couldn’t place the exact character you were going for, but he carefully noted the red and black corset bodice that hugged your curves, pushing your breasts up practically on display over the white frills that adorned the top of the corset. Silk laces led down to a short, puffed out skirt, red with black and gold accents along the rim. Beneath that, fishnet stockings ran down the length of your legs, stopping at the top of tall black combat boots. To top it all off, a long red cape was wrapped around your shoulders, two braids peaking out of the hood sitting loosely atop your head.

“Happy Spirit’s Eve!” you told him, a huge smile splitting your face.

“H- Happy- yeah, you….you too,” Shane stuttered, trying his damndest not to look at your chest, but to keep his eyes on yours. “Great costume,” he complimented, voice hoarse.

“Thank you.” You gave him a little curtsey and he had to fight down the arousal climbing toward a boiling point within him. “I’m Little Red Riding Hood!”

“Yeah, I totally got that,” he lied, nodding toward your red cape. Duh.

“So you’re….a knight, I’m guessing?” Having the focus shifted to him made Shane snap back to himself for the moment.

“Oh, yeah,” he explained. “Technically a knight in shining armor. It’s to go with Jas’ costume. She’s a princess. Again.”

“I saw her dress, it was so cute! Very sparkly. That’s such a cute costume idea for the two of you, awe!” Shane’s cheeks turned pink at your adoration. If his hands weren’t full of snacks, he’d be running one over the back of his neck right now.

“Thanks,” he muttered. “The decorations look amazing by the way. Very spooky.”

“Yeah, can you believe Lewis had all this stuff just packed away?” you replied. “He said he doesn’t usually get all of it out each year and Emily and I thought that was just crazy, so we took over. I’d say it turned out pretty great! Plus, with all the snacks that Gus made, you couldn’t ask for a better Spirit’s Eve festival.”

“Y/N, over here!” you turned at the sound of your name, finding Emily waving you down by Pierre’s little shop stand. Waving to Shane, you bounded off in her direction. Shane watched as your red hood came down, braids bouncing with your movement. The whipping of your cape gave Shane the smallest glances of the back of your legs. Groaning quietly, he tried to tamper down the thought of seeing those legs spread apart beneath him, his fingers wrapping around those braids and pulling-

Shaking his head, Shane quickly turned away and found a spot to sit. The black jeans he was wearing as part of his costume did not do well to hide his growing bulge. After finishing his snacks and getting his thoughts under control, Shane went to find his goddaughter. The rest of the night passed in a sort of blur, Shane’s mind focused mostly on trying to get more glimpses of you in that costume before the evening was over.

Finally, finally, it was time to make their way home. Jas was utterly spent, her eyes barely keeping open as she said goodnight to Vincent. Marnie had already headed back to the ranch, Lewis walking her home and assuring Shane that he’d make sure she got back safely, much to the younger man’s suspicion. Shane scooped her up in his arms, just like every year, and held her securely as they walked out of town square. And, just like every year, Jas was asleep almost immediately.

“Hey, can I walk with you?” you appeared beside Shane, easily falling in stride, and flashing him another grin.

“Sure,” he agreed softly. “Have a good night?”

“It was great,” you told him. “Not like the big parties they have in the city, but honestly, I think I like this celebration better.”

“Yeah, those other ones can get pretty wild.”

“So, have any costume ideas for next year?”

“Oh, Jas usually wants to be a princess so I’m sure I’ll be dressing as something that goes along with that again,” Shane chuckled. “The girl loves her sparkles.”

“Well, maybe in a few years she’d be willing to change it up and she can borrow this costume. You could go as the big bad wolf.” Shane snorted at your suggestion.

“Uh no. Hell no,” he said.

“It’s princess-adjacent!” you defended. “It’s still a fairy tale.”

“That’s not why she won’t be wearing that.

“What, you don’t like it?” Shane saw your face fall the slightest bit out of the corner of his eye.

“No, I do like it. A lot. That’s the problem.” He turned his head to glance over you one more time before meeting your gaze. He saw the dusting of a blush on your cheeks, but also the tiniest smirk on your lips. “And I’m sure there would be plenty of boys that would like it, too, if Jas wore it in the future. And that is not happening.”

“Mmm.” The small bit of the walk that was left to the ranch was spent in silence, only punctuated by Jas’ soft breaths and the crunching of gravel, dirt, and leaves under your shoes. Once your group reached the door, you helped Shane unlock it quietly before bidding him a goodnight, tossing a wink over your shoulder before disappearing back under that red hood.

After getting Jas tucked into bed, princess costume and all, Shane headed for his own bedroom. He gladly took the knight costume off and changed into pajamas, pulling out his phone as he crawled under the covers. As he unlocked the screen, he found a message waiting there for him that him grin.

F – Glad you liked the costume 😉 xx

Chapter Text

Winter swept into the Valley with no reservations, bringing freezing temperatures, harsh winds, and, of course, snow. You let out a heavy sigh as you watched the white flakes fall outside your window, clutching the cup of hot coffee in your hands like a lifeline. You pulled the heavy blanket tighter around your shoulders and took a sip. The fireplace may have been working, but the old farmhouse was still drafty as fuck.

Now that winter was here, you had to make plans for how to spend the time productively. You hadn’t even come close to touching the old greenhouse in the time you’d been there. Hell, the chicken coop had taken months alone. You still had a barn to fix up, fences to repair, and so much more on your list. So, since winter crop production was out of the question and you couldn’t get chicks from Marnie and Shane until the spring, you had to find other things to keep your business going.

You decided to focus your time on the food product and brewing endeavors you had started in the early fall. You had plenty of produce still in storage and your deal with Pierre was still in effect, so as long as you continued to brew beer and wine and make jellies and jams, you figured getting through the winter wouldn’t be so bad.

Except that it was an isolating season.

The cold made you want to stay inside. It was also getting darker earlier now, making the nights seem to drag on and on. And nights were the worst for you. If it wasn’t staying up lost in your thoughts and feelings, it was nightmares and panic attacks. The only thing that helped was the alcohol.

The best place to get alcohol, of course, was the Stardrop Saloon. This is exactly where you found yourself one early winter Saturday evening, cheeks still rosy from the cold, but the beer coursing through you slowly warming your body. It was as lively as ever, all the residents of the small town never wanting to miss a weekend of socializing, even if they had to trek through the snow.

While most of the townspeople seemed to be enjoying themselves, you, however, were feeling something much different. Alone in a corner booth tucked at the back of the bar, staring and picking at the label on your bottle, your stomach churned with dread as the memories played of their own volition.

***

That stupid, condescending laugh fell off of his lips. Lazily walking over, he opened the fridge and pulled out another beer, despite already being drunk. Anger burned like fire in your veins and you finally couldn’t stand it anymore.

“I’m leaving,” you announced, throwing your hands up and moving to go toward the bedroom. His large frame stepped in front of you instead, blocking the hallway.

“You aren’t going anywhere,” he countered, eyes rolling as if you were just being dramatic. Eyebrows raised, you met his gaze, watching carefully as he brought that stupid bottle back up to his lips and took another swig.

“Fuck you,” you scoffed, pushing past him and storming down the hall to the bedroom. Grabbing your suitcase out of the closet, you began to throw clothes, shoes, personal items, whatever you could grab in your fury into the compartments.

“Where the fuck do you think you’re gonna go?” he yelled, following closely behind you. “Jenna’s? Your parents’?”

“It doesn’t matter, but anywhere is better than here with you. I’ll spend the night in my car if I have to.” You moved quickly, hot tears starting to blur your vision. This and your haste were likely why you didn’t see him moving until his hand was already wrapping around your upper arm. A gasp was the only thing you could get out as you felt his iron grip and then his full weight slamming your body into the wall. Face right in yours, breath stinking of beer, his practically flaming eyes found yours.

“I’ll fucking find you,” he seethed, fingers digging in harder and making you whimper. “Wherever you go, I’ll find you. And I’ll drag you back here. You can’t run from me, you little bitch.” You watched closely as he took another swig, finishing the drink and then tossing the bottle to the floor. “You got that?” You didn’t give him an answer, fear stealing your voice instead. His now free hand came up to crack across your cheek and you cried out with the sting, feeling the metal of his ring open some skin. “I SAID, do you got that?!” Not able to squeak out any words, you simply nodded. Grumbling something about another beer, he finally let you go and stalked out of the room.

Shaking and silently sobbing, one hand cradling your throbbing face, you sunk down to the floor. Your mind was simultaneously blank and working overtime. How could this be your life? It didn’t seem real.

But the cut on your face and the bruises on your arm sure as hell were real.

Calming down, you felt a steely reserve come over you. You wouldn’t be taking anymore of this shit. Eyes landing on the discarded beer bottle, you picked it up, holding it firmly, feeling the glass, tracing the label.

You knew what you had to do.

***

“Y/N?” Emily’s sweet voice shook you from your thoughts, bringing your attention back to the present. “Can I get you a refill?” she asked sweetly, nodding to your empty bottle.

“Oh uh- no, that’s alright. Could I have a vodka on the rocks instead please? And make it a double?”

“Sure thing,” the woman said, flashing one of her dazzling smiles and gliding away with your empty bottle. She returned shortly with your drink before flitting to the next patron.

Several drinks down, you were feeling good. Well, you weren’t really feeling much of anything thanks to the vodka, but the conversation on your phone was enough to keep you grinning at least.

F – I swear! Clint totally has a thing for Emily!

S – Clint is too awkward! He can barely form words around her

F – EXACTLY

S – honestly, I’ve hardly ever seen the man emote anything. Does he even have feelings?

F – speaking of feelings
I feel
Warm

S – enjoying our night at the saloon, are we?

F – hey why aren’t you here?????

S – Jas has a cold. I stayed in with her tonight

F – awe poor baby ☹
But what a shame
Sure could use an escort home and you are famous for offering me those

S – do you have a way to get home?

F – walk?

S – I’m serious

F – so am i

S – I’m coming to get you

F – you do not need to do that, I will be just finn
*find
*FINE jeez

S – yeah that was convincing
I’m getting Marnie’s truck

F – Shane I don’t need a ride. Stay with Jas

S – she’s asleep and I’m already in the truck. See you in five

Rolling your eyes, you meandered over to the bar to square your tab. Walking was harder than you had anticipated, but thankfully it was close enough that you could stumble your way over just fine. You leaned on your elbows on the bar top, hips jutting out and swaying to the song playing on the jukebox.

Soon enough, the door to the saloon was opening and in walked Shane, cheeks tinted from the cold and eyes scanning the room. When they landed on you, a lump formed in his throat. There you were, lost in thought and ass on display. He allowed himself just one second to admire your curves as they swayed to the beat then shook that out of his head and walked up to where you stood. A huge, toothy smile formed on your lips when you spotted him.

“Shane! You’re here!” you said excitedly, standing up straight finally.

“You ready to go?” he asked, one eyebrow quirked.

“Yes! So you can get back to your sick goddaughter! Oh, poor girl, I feel so bad. This winter is already starting out not good.” Shane nodded, looking around for your coat. Yoba, you were wasted.
“Oh, I must have left it in the booth,” you said as you looked around yourself. Trying your best not to stumble, you went back over and sure enough, there it was. Shane averted his eyes as you bent over the seat to grab it, not needing a whole other problem on his hands at the moment.

After retrieving the coat, you followed him out of the saloon, calling a goodnight to Emily and Gus. The cold air hit you hard, making you gasp and nearly lose your breath. Shane watched out of the corner of his eye as you made your way to the truck, clumsily pulling open the door and climbing inside.

“Thanks for the ride,” you told him, offering a grin. “I sure do ‘preciate it.”

“You’re starting to sound less like a city slicker and more like country folk the longer you stay here,” he joked, listening to you giggle in response. He could feel your eyes on him in the dark as he pulled out of the saloon parking lot and headed toward your farm. “What?” he finally asked, glancing over to find you intently staring at him.

“You have stubble,” you stated simply.

“And? I didn’t get a chance to shave this morning.”

“It’s hot.” Well, that wasn’t what he expected. Cheeks heating up, he let out a nervous chuckle.

“Uh- thanks,” he said, earning a hum in response and then you were quiet for a few moments.

“Have you slept with anyone in Pelican Town?” you asked unabashedly, large eyes blinking up at him. Shane’s mouth fell open, totally caught off guard by your question.

“What? Why?”

“Just curious,” you shrugged, words slurring as you maneuvered your body to lean against the passenger door, feet pulling up to rest on the seat in between the two of you. “It’s a small town. Doesn’t everybody sleep with everybody? I mean, in the city you could sleep with people and never worry about running into them again, but here that’s just not possible.” Now he was curious about how many people you had slept with in the city and if you were thinking about sleeping with someone from Pelican Town.

“Um it can be awkward I suppose,” Shane told you, not sure how to answer your question. “You’ll definitely see them around and if that’s something you’re worried about-“

“No, no,” you interrupted. “You think I wanna sleep with someone?” Shane was quiet. “Pfft no, nobody here would want that anyway. It seems like everybody already has their eyes on somebody and none of those are on me.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” he mumbled, glancing over at you before realizing what had slipped out and quickly trying to recover. Clearing his throat, Shane returned to your original question, hoping that would divert the conversation away from where it seemed to be heading. “But uh, yeah I’ve slept with someone in town. Awhile ago, though.”

“Was it Emily?”

“Yeah, it was.”

“When you guys went out?” How did you even know about that?

“Uh actually no,” he admitted. “It was after. We only went out a few times and then decided we were better off as friends. One night we were at the saloon late. Everyone else was gone and she was closing up. I walked her home and it just sort of…happened. But that was it.”

“Does anybody else know?”

“Pretty much the whole town knows,” Shane said. “Like you said, it’s a small town. Word gets around.”

“Have you slept with anyone else since?” you asked, tone still as casual as Friday. Shane was ready for this conversation to be over.

“Not in Pelican Town.”

“Someone from the city?”

“I- yes, I’ve been with a couple other people since. From the city.”

“So how many people have you slept with like…total?” There was a smile on your face now and for the life of him Shane could not figure out why. He shook his head, shoulders raising in a shrug.

“I don’t know!”

“C’moooon, everybody has a number!” Yoba, you were insistent tonight. Shane ran a hand down his face.

“What’s yours then?” he shot back, chancing a glance over at you with raised brows. To his shock, you actually started counting on your fucking fingers.

“Four- no! Five. Pretty sure it’s five,” you answered with a goofy grin. “Your turn.”

“Fine um….maybe seven?” You reached out a foot to playfully nudge his thigh, sending waves of heat through him as his cheeks burned.

“Ooohhhh look at you! Mister ladies’ man,” you teased, making Shane just want to melt right into the truck seat. He was most definitely not a ladies’ man and he never had been.

“Not so much, but thanks for that.” The headlights of the truck finally illuminated your mailbox, making Shane sigh with relief as he pulled up to the farmhouse. This conversation could finally end and he thanked the universe for that. “Alright, c’mon.” Shane made his way around the truck to help you out so you didn’t fall. He followed up the porch steps, making sure you could get in okay. His brows drew together with concern as you stumbled along, deciding he would help you into bed and make sure you were settled before returning to the ranch.

As the two of you made your way into the farmhouse, Shane noticed that there wasn’t much of a temperature change between the frigid outside and in there. Well, shit.

“It’s freezing in here, Y/N.”

“Yeah,” you sighed, stripping off your coat and boots at the door anyway. He watched in shock and confusion, finally making his way over to the fireplace and throwing the rest of the logs you had sitting there into the embers. With some kindling and coaxing, Shane got a small fire going.

“You’ll need a lot more wood,” he said. “Where’s it at?”

“Uhhhh….” You refused to meet his eyes, trailing off and looking at the floor instead.

“Y/N, where’s the rest of your wood?” Shane’s voice was more serious now, dread building in his stomach.

“That might be…the last of it,” you admitted in a small voice, making Shane’s eyes go wide before he pinched the bridge of his nose and bit back his annoyed words.

“You didn’t chop more when you got low?”

“I meant to, I swear!” you pleaded with him, so not wanting Shane to be mad at you. “I just never got around to it and I didn’t realize I was that low!”

“Okay, well, you need more firewood or you will freeze to death. You’re sure there isn’t anymore in the port around the side?”

“There might be some but not much…”

“I’ll go check,” he grumbled, heading back out into the cold. Thankfully, Shane was able to find a few logs laying around. It was barely enough to make it through the night, but it was better than nothing. He told you that first thing in the morning he would go out and help you chop more wood as he took off his shoes. “Get all the blankets you have. And pillows.”

“What for?”

“We’re sleeping in front of fire tonight. Also, you should put a sweatshirt or something else on to help stay warm. And extra socks.”

“Shane, you don’t have to-“

“I’m not leaving you here alone to freeze. Although I think there’s enough vodka coursing through your system that it would be impossible anyway, but it’s not safe. So I’m staying. Now come on, show me where all the pillows and blankets are.”

The two of you gathered up all you had and made a makeshift palette in front of the fire. Shane gave you some aspirin and water after you’d changed into your pajamas. You crawled under the covers and he turned out the lights, stoking the fire a bit more before settling next to you for the night. Once he was sure you were asleep, your soft snores confirming his suspicions, he scooted closer and put an arm around your small frame, freezing as you curled into his chest in your sleep. With one last sigh and a secret kiss to the top of your hair, Shane let himself finally fall asleep, too.

Chapter Text

Shane woke early the next morning, rising with the sun. Untangling his limbs from yours as gently as he could without waking you, Shane quietly got up and stretched, groaning at the stiffness in his body.

“I’m too old to sleep on the floor,” he grumbled softly to himself, heading to use the restroom before putting his boots and heavy coat back on. Shane walked into the cold winter morning, blinking against the harsh sunlight reflecting off the snow. Searching the equipment shed, he soon found your axe and went off to chop some wood.

An awful wave of nausea roused you from sleep, your face turning to whine into your pillow. As another wave came, you got up and ran to the bathroom, ignoring the blistering cold in the house and instead focusing on not throwing up until you got to the toilet. As you finished getting sick, you heard a door open and close, heavy footsteps moving through the house.

Pulling yourself up, you found the will to brush your teeth and at least splash some water on your face. Slowly shuffling back out to the living room, you found Shane in front of a now-roaring fire. He glanced up when he heard you coming before throwing another log on.

“Morning sunshine,” he greeted. You met it with a groan, grabbing a blanket from the floor and wrapping it around your shoulders before plopping on the fireplace ledge. “How are you feeling?”

“Like I got hit by a bus.” Shane snorted and gave a knowing nod.

“Been there. You should drink some water.” You hummed in acknowledgement of his advice, instead choosing to lean against the warm bricks and close your eyes, hoping for some kind of relief.

“Did you already cut wood?”

“Went out while you were still asleep and got at least enough to get you through a couple days. Marnie has a big stash at her place, I can bring you some to help supplement while you build up a supply. We can go out later this week and I’ll help you start that if you want.”

“That’d be great, thanks,” you agreed, voice hoarse. The will to politely insist he didn’t have to do that had left you this morning, instead just resigning yourself to the help he offered. “Thanks for getting me home last night, too.”

“No problem,” Shane said, waving you off. “I’d much rather you call me than find yourself in an unsafe situation.”

“How’s Jas doing?”

“I talked to Marnie this morning, Jas is still asleep. I think her cold meds knocked her out. Hopefully she’ll be feeling better when she gets up.” Silence fell between the two of you, interrupted only by the crackling of the fire.

“I’m gonna go jump in the shower and hopefully wash this hangover off,” you finally said, standing up with a groan. “Help yourself to anything in the kitchen.”

“Actually, I think I’m gonna head back to the ranch,” Shane told you, standing up as well and heading for the door. “I’ll let you know when I’m gonna bring that wood by.”

Thanking him one last time, you waved as he left and headed for the bathroom. Thank Yoba for the new hot water tank Robin had installed in the spring. The warmth breathed life back into your body and after throwing up a few more times and two cups of coffee, you were ready to start the day.

***

Shane dug his hands into his pockets, watching his breath frost in the cold air as he leaned against the old truck parked outside of the library and waited for Jas. When the weather was nice, he allowed her to walk back to the ranch with Penny, but in winter he would come and pick her up. She was quickly approaching the age when she would have to start at a real school, one in a neighboring town, but Shane figured they’d cross that bridge when they got there.

“Uncle Shane!” His goddaughter’s voice brought a smile to his face as the door to the library opened and she came running out.

“Hey kiddo, how was school?” he asked, looking excited as she started telling him all about her day. Jas had been feeling much better when she woke up the day before, no longer coughing or running a fever, and she was happy to be able to go to school on Monday.

As Jas spoke, he helped her into the truck and noticed Penny lingering by the door of the library, seemingly waiting for him to see her. When he caught her eye, she smiled sheepishly and walked up.

“Hi Shane,” she said in her soft, silky voice. “Do you have a minute?”

“Yeah, sure.” The man turned to Jas, telling her he would only be a couple of minutes and then they would go home and she could tell Aunt Marnie all about what she learned today, too. Closing the truck door, Shane nodded and Penny followed him around to the bed of the vehicle so that Jas wouldn’t be able to hear their conversation. “Is everything okay with Jas?”

“Oh, of course! I see she’s feeling much better today,” Penny chuckled. “Still a little sniffly, but aren’t we all when the weather changes? Um why I wanted to talk to you, it’s actually not about Jas.”

“Oh, okay,” Shane said, puzzled. “What’s up?” He watched as Penny’s cheeks turned a deeper shade of pink, teeth digging into her bottom lip.

“I was just wondering if maybe…um…maybe you’d like to- to get dinner together sometime?” she finally stuttered out, catching Shane completely off guard. He floundered, blindsided by her request.

“Oh! Uh,” he was at a loss for words, his usual nervous tick of running his hand over the back of his neck kicking into overdrive. Of all people, he had never expected Penny, the girl who despised alcohol and debauchery, to take any interest in him outside of Jas’ schooling. Getting past that was hard enough, but then there was also the matter of…well, you.

Shane knew that you and he weren’t ‘a thing’ by any means but there was definitely something between the two of you, right? Hell, he had spent the night at your house just this weekend to make sure you were okay. You flirted here and there and Shane would be lying if he said he wasn’t attracted to you in some way. He thought you felt the same. After all, you had called him hot the other night. And you had made out once, but that was when you were drunk. Although, you were drunk when you called him hot, too.

Yoba, maybe he was overthinking everything. Shane realized he had been quiet for several moments and Penny was likely growing more anxious and possibly embarrassed by every second of silence he left her hanging in.

“I…sure,” he finally answered. “That’d be great.” Penny smiled brightly, saying she was free Saturday. With a date set, she told him goodbye and he got back in the truck to drive Jas home.

The next several hours were a blur for Shane. His mind was too focused on trying to figure out the situation with Penny and with you that he barely listened to Jas on the way home and went straight to check on the chickens when they got there. During dinner, he was totally tuned out to Jas and Marnie. His aunt had called him out on it afterward and he had made up some bumbling excuse that he knew she hadn’t bought for a second.

Not able to take it anymore, he threw on his coat and headed out the door toward your farm.

***

A series of knocks on the front door interrupted your post-dinner dishwashing. Drying your hands, you walked over to peek out the curtain, finding Shane on your front porch.

“Hey,” you said, opening the door. He looked…antsy. Glancing behind him, you didn’t see the truck. “Did you walk here?”

“Penny asked me out,” he blurted, shifting his weight from foot to foot. You blanched, blinking rapidly at the man in front of you and trying to absorb the information he had just thrown out there. “On a- on a date.”

“Oh,” you stammered, not sure how to respond or why your stomach was twisting in painful knots. “That’s- that’s great, Shane.”

“Is it?”

“Uh what do you mean?” you asked, totally bewildered. Shane’s face scrunched into a grimace as he looked out over the snow, trying to reign in his thoughts.

“I…are you- is it…” He couldn’t seem to put words together. Saving him from the effort of running in circles, you stepped out onto the porch and put a hand on his arm, cutting off his rambling. Desperate eyes met yours in the darkness and you tried your best to give a sincere smile.

“I’m happy for you, Shane,” you told him softly. “I’m sure you’ll have a great time.” Shane searched your expression for anything, anything he could grab onto that protested this, but found nothing concrete.

“Thanks,” he finally mumbled, his nerves crumbling. The two of you stood there awkwardly in silence before you cleared your throat.

“So, did you just come to my house in the middle of the night to tell me that Penny asked you out? Seems like that could’ve been a text,” you gently teased, gut flipping at the thought that he come all the way here just for that.

“Oh, uh,” he started, thinking on his feet. “Actually, Marnie wanted me to ask if you had any maple syrup and apricot jam. She wants to make a big breakfast tomorrow morning.”

“Uh I’ll go check. Come on in.” Shane followed you inside, waiting by the door as you disappeared into another part of the house and rustled around. He was incredibly uncomfortable and more than ready to leave so the embarrassment could swallow him up.

He was crazy to think that you would care so much about him being asked out by another woman that you’d admit your feelings there on the spot and this weird dynamic between the two of you would finally be solved.

“Here you go,” you said, handing him a sack to carry the syrup and jam. “I can give you a ride home, it’s freezing out.”

“It’s actually not so bad, thanks though. Have a good night, Y/N.” Before you could protest, he disappeared out the door into the wintery night, head tucked low and shoulders hunched against the wind.

Now that he was gone, you let out a frustrated sigh, cursing yourself for feeling this way. Shane was allowed to go on dates with whomever he pleased. He was not yours and you couldn’t expect him to be.

A bitterness settled into your throat. You decided to wash it down with alcohol.

***

The week seemed to fly by and suddenly it was late Saturday afternoon and Shane had to start getting ready if he was going to look presentable for his date. He showered, taking extra time under the warm water. When he was finished, Shane stared at himself in the mirror, noting all the changes he had gone through in the last two years or so.

There were no longer ever-present dark circles under his eyes. His hair was well-trimmed, still long but no longer greasy and unkempt on a regular basis. Shane managed his facial hair much better as well, shaving over his now more-defined jawline on a regular basis. His upper body was also in better shape than it had been in years. Not as good as when he played gridball and had a defined six-pack, but at least fit. The jogging and healthier eating, plus all the wood chopping and steady outdoor work had really done wonders for the muscles in his arms and stomach. The gut he had despised so much was gone, replaced instead by a soft yet solid, flatter abdomen. With his upper arms and shoulders more defined as well, Shane had to switch to a larger shirt size.

He went through his usual routine, adding a few extra steps of putting a bit of cologne on and trying to style his hair. When he finally emerged from his room fresh and well-dressed, Marnie’s eyebrows nearly shot to the roof and she let out a whistle.

“Where are you off to tonight looking like that?” she asked teasingly, making Shane blush. This was a conversation he had dreaded having with his aunt all week.

“I have a date,” he admitted quietly, gathering his wallet, phone, and the truck keys to avoid making eye contact with her.

“Oh, Shane! How exciting! Where are you taking her? Don’t tell me you’re going to the saloon, she spends enough time there as it is. You know, there’s a little seafood restaurant on the shore over in Mooresville, Y/N would just love that-” Marnie’s tone was hopeful and excited, but Shane cut her off at the mention of your name.

“I’m not going out with the farmer,” he informed her, glancing over to see her expression first fall and then become confused.

“Well then who?” Marnie’s hands perched on her hips as she studied him with narrowed eyes.

“Penny.”

“Penny?” she repeated, surprise in her voice. “Penny Johnson, Pam’s daughter? Jas’ teacher?”

“That’s the one.”

“Well, that’s…unexpected. But I hope you have a good night.”

“Thanks,” Shane sighed, finally turning to fully face the older woman. “Let me know if Jas needs anything. I’ll text you when I’m heading home.”

“Shane, I appreciate that, but you aren’t a teenager,” Marnie said. “Besides, that kind of attitude makes it sound like the date is over before it’s even started! Go and have fun, enjoy yourself.” She began corralling him toward the doorway, the usual tiny grin back on her face. Shane grabbed his coat and started for the truck, groaning inwardly when his aunt called after him to ‘be a gentleman!’.

***

It was Saturday night and all you could do was stare at the clock. You knew that Shane and Penny were on their date right now and it was driving you mad. When Shane had met you in the Cindersnap Forest earlier that week to help chop wood, you had done your best to pry for details under the guise of being excited for him.

So, you knew that he had picked her up at 6 in Marnie’s truck and they had driven out of Pelican Town to avoid the prying eyes and whispered suspicions. You knew that he had probably opened the truck door for her when they arrived, even pulled out her chair for her once they were escorted to their table. You knew that right about now, they would likely be finishing up their meals at the small fancy restaurant he had taken her to. You knew that Shane would be totally polite all evening, driving her home and walking her to the door in the dark, telling her he had a great time and that they should do it again soon before bidding her goodnight and driving back to the ranch.

You stared intensely at your phone on the bar top in front of you, sitting silent and dark, as you twirled the vodka in your glass. Yoba, you wanted to text him. Or really, you wished he would text you. Either way, you were dying to know how it was going.

‘Hopefully poorly,’ you thought to yourself, scoffing out loud and earning a glance from Pam sitting down at the end of the bar. Ignoring her, you finished what was in your glass and ordered another. When Emily brought it, she had a soft, pitiful smile.

“Last one for awhile, Y/N,” she told you quietly, sliding a water glass your way along with your refill.

“What?” you slurred, annoyed that Emily would try to cut you off so early. “Is barely 9!”

“Just drink some water, okay? For me.” The woman was doing her best to placate you without making a scene. Rolling your eyes, you grumbled a ‘fine’ and downed the water before setting in on your drink. Emily refilled your water glass with a pointed look before heading to tend to other customers.

You stayed at the saloon nearly until last call, drinking mostly water but not wanting to go home and sit in the silence of your farmhouse. You walked through the cold night quickly, tucking your head against the howling wind. A sigh of relief left your lips as you finally closed the door behind you, heat from the fireplace warming your bones. Stripping down and changing into pajamas, you grabbed a few blankets and curled up on the couch, falling asleep to the sound of some mindless late night TV and the crackling fire.

Your phone sat silent on the coffee table, just as it had all night.

Chapter Text

Most of your days were now spent chopping and hauling wood to build up your supply. You were going through it faster than you had anticipated, but this was never something you had to worry about before. Living in the city, your heat was simply a utility you paid to the electric company.

In the time between cuttings, you would check on your kegs and jam makers, waiting patiently for the products to be ready. And when you weren’t doing either of those things, you were sleeping or drinking. Some days you went to bed in the late afternoon, not having the energy or the will to stay awake any longer. Sometimes you couldn’t sleep at all and stayed up all night curled up with a bottle of liquor.

You frequented the saloon less and less as winter went on, not wanting to risk seeing Shane or hearing the town gossip about him and Penny. From the little you did know, it seemed as though they were thriving in their relationship. They spent quite a bit of time together, going out nearly every weekend from what you overheard. They had finally started going on some dates in town now that people knew.

Tonight, though, you were out of alcohol, having drunk your supplies dry. So, you sat hunched in your usual corner booth, drinking alone and trying your best to ignore everyone and everything else. Voices in the other room, however, said something that caught your attention.

“I’m just saying, Shane and Penny are an odd pair!” a young male voice said. Maybe Sam? There was a mumbled reply that you couldn’t quite make out. Sliding out of the booth, you casually made your way into the room toward the old Joja Cola machine in the back, using it as your cover to eavesdrop just a bit more.

“Hey Y/N,” Abigail greeted from where she sat on the couch next to the machine. You offered a kind smile and wave, turning your attention to the machine in front of you and trying to look as if you were contemplating a difficult decision of which product to get.

“Look, all I’m saying is that it’s weird,” Sam said to Sebastian, raising his hands in defense. “The daughter of the negligent alcoholic suddenly asks out and starts dating the ex-town drunk? If that doesn’t scream ‘mommy issues’, I don’t know what does.”

“Sam!” Abby reprimanded, mouth agape. Your eyebrows shot up in surprise at his words, finally making a selection on the machine and getting the cola you didn’t even really want. You heard Sebastian trying to change the subject back to their pool game as you shuffled back to your booth, your muffled mind racing.

Town drunk? You knew Shane had said he was in a bad place for awhile after everything with Jas’ parents, but you didn’t know it was that bad. And then there were the comments about Pam. Even after being in the Valley for nearly a year, you still apparently had a lot to learn about the town and the people that inhabited it.

Unable to get your mind off of that conversation, you became antsy in that small booth and called it a night earlier than you typically would have. After squaring your tab and saying goodbye to Emily, you tucked your head against the cold and started trudging through the snow.

You hadn’t even bothered to drive the Jeep, despite the four-wheel drive. Emily or Gus would have just taken your keys anyway, so now you walked to and from the saloon no matter the weather. In the summer, evenings in the Valley provided the perfect opportunity for a nighttime stroll. In the winter, though, not so much.

As you marched on toward the farm, you couldn’t help but let the old thoughts creep into your head. Now that Shane was seeing someone, maybe you should start looking. Or rather, maybe you could call someone you already suspected was looking for you.

If you had been sober, an idea like that would never even cross your mind. Drunk you, however, tiptoed up to the edge and tried for the balancing act. ‘Stop it,’ you reprimanded yourself with a sigh, letting it get carried away on the wind. ‘Don’t go there.’

You tried to remind yourself of all the reasons not to, all the bad memories and the stuff of nightmares and Lifetime horror movies. The drinking, the yelling, the isolation, the manipulation, the pushing and grabbing and bruising and slapping-

Your feet stumbled and you reached out to the fence for support as you tried to catch your breath. The bitter winter air burned your throat as you began to hyperventilate, all the feelings associated with those memories flooding back as well.

Hands shaking, legs weak, eyes wide and unfocused.

You tried to ground yourself, to remind yourself that you were safe and far away and that everything was fine. This, this moment, was your reality. A cold winter night. An old wooden fence post. Too many stars overhead to count. Snow drifts sparkling under the moonlight. Safety.

You were safe.

***

“Hey sweetheart!” Your father’s cheery voice on the other end of the line made you smile.

“Hi dad,” you said, finishing up pouring your morning coffee. “How’re you and Mom?”

“Oh, we’re just fine,” he assured. “Your mother just finished up her holiday shopping. She’s been wrapping presents for over an hour now and has locked me out of the spare bedroom.” You chuckled as you pictured the situation, same as every year for as long as you could remember.

“That sounds just like her. So, are you guys still planning on coming out to the Valley for the Feast of the Winter Star? You’ll love to see the farm.”

“Of course we are, sweetie! Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” your dad assured you. “Speaking of, how do you like winter out in the country?”

“It’s definitely different,” you told him, recounting the story of the firewood problem and all the other learning curves you’d been thrown so far. “But it’s also really beautiful looking out at the fields all covered in snow.”

“I know what you mean,” your dad said, a far-off tone taking over his voice. “I have plenty of memories of exactly that.” The conversation flowed on, the two of you catching each other up on your lives. You enjoyed times like this; they took your mind off of other things.

That is, until he brought it up.

“So, honey, your mom and I were just curious…” he began, immediately putting you off. “Have you filed yet?” A heavy sigh left your lips as you pinched the bridge of your nose.

“Dad, we’ve been over this,” you argued, tone tired.

“Y/N, you can’t keep putting something like this off-“

“I don’t have a choice! I can’t file forms with my current address and even without it, I can’t send it from a lawyer’s office anywhere in Stardew Valley. I just…things are fine right now. I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.”

“I know, sweetheart,” your dad said, the worry and anxiety clear in his voice. “We just want you to be safe.”

“I am safe. And I would like to keep it that way.” The conversation died off after that and you weren’t really in the mood to revive it, so you made up an excuse about farm chores and offered a curt goodbye before hanging up.

Now that your mood was officially ruined, you figured you may as well have a drink to get you through the rest of the day.

***

The Feast of the Winter Star was fast approaching as the year barreled toward an end. Winter had ramped up and the news was issuing warnings of a massive winter storm forming over the Valley. It was supposed to hit Pelican Town hard, dumping a foot or more of snow over the next few days, right in the middle of prime holiday travel time.

In preparation for the blizzard, you had taken the Jeep into town and parked behind Pierre’s, hoping to stock up on food and supplies. It seemed everybody else in town had that idea, too. Walking in, the air was filled with the sound of chatter and squeaking carts and baskets. Taking a deep breath, you grabbed a basket of your own and walked into the chaos.

Pierre was doing his best to restock the shelves, but it was so busy even with Caroline and Abigail helping that he had started just running back to the supply room to grab requested items while he still had them to offer. You picked out the items you thought it would be best to have, including some bottled water in case your pipes froze, some extra candles and matches for if the power went out, and of course some more alcohol before jumping in line to check out.

“Hey Pierre,” you greeted politely when you finally reached the counter. “Busy day, huh?”

“This blizzard has got everybody frazzled,” he sighed, quickly scanning your items. “As if the Valley hasn’t seen this much snow before, pfft.” The man rolled his eyes and you chuckled. Clearly, he was exhausted, his typically good mood replaced with a grumpier one.

“Well, I hope you guys stay safe and enjoy your holiday if I don’t see you before.”

“Aren’t you coming to the town celebration?” he asked, pausing in his bagging efforts to look at you quizzically. You simply blinked back at him.

“I figured with the weather it would be cancelled. It’s still on?”

“Oh yeah! We’ve never had to cancel the town feast and gift exchange. Weather always clears up enough for us to have, our own small miracle from the Winter Star.” The shopkeeper winked at you and finally cracked a smile. You simply nodded, mumbling that you’d be there if it happened. In your head, you laughed at the delusion that the event wouldn’t get cancelled. The storm they were calling for was intense.

After leaving the store, you drove out to the forest to cut down a few more trees for the fireplace. You had learned your lesson that it was better to be prepared just in case. By the time you finished it was getting late and the first few flurries of snow had started. Driving back to the farm, you passed by Marnie’s ranch. The thought of stopping, just for a few minutes to say hello, crossed your mind. You brushed that off quickly and kept driving.

***

In the morning, you woke to nothing but white outside. The ground, the trees, every building and hillside were all covered in what you could only imagine were several inches of snow. The air was nothing but a white sheen as well, more and more snow falling steadily. You shuffled over to throw more wood in the fireplace and got the coffee started before heading off to the bathroom to get ready for the day.

Just as you began pouring your first cup, a knock on your door drew your attention. Curious as to who would be crazy enough to make their way out to the farm, you walked over to open it. Standing before you were none other than Marnie, Lewis, Shane, and even little Jas.

“Good morning, Miss Y/N!” Jas greeted, the little tufts of hair sticking out from under her hat bouncing with her excitement.

“Well, good morning,” you returned, smiling brightly at her. “I don’t mean to sound rude or anything, but uh what are you all doing here?”

“We’re here to help you dig out!” Lewis announced. “Brought a few shovels and some bags of salt. Just tell us where to start.”

“Dig…what?” you asked, confusion all over your face. “Oh, also, come on in. Get out of the cold.” You stepped aside, ushering the group into the small farmhouse for a reprieve from the weather. You tried to fight the blush from forming on your cheeks as Shane passed by you on his way in.

“Dig out,” Marnie explained. “Make some paths to the barns and anywhere else you might need. We know you have equipment in there and doing this will help with easier access. It won’t last forever with how much the snow is falling, but it’ll be better than trudging through a foot of snow.”

You honestly didn’t know what to say. Not because you were confused, but because the hospitality and kindness of your neighbors and friends was too much for words. Trying to swallow down the choking emotion in your throat, you simply nodded and smiled.

“Let’s get to work then.”

***

Your little group was able to work efficiently and effectively, even with the snow still falling. You and Marnie worked on clearing the porch and area around the front of the farmhouse while Shane and Lewis dug a path to the barn with all your kegs and barrels and jam makers. Jas pulled a bag of salt in a wagon behind her, scooping it out and spreading it on the newly cleared areas. The driveway was also cleared and salted to make getting in and out if need be easier. By the time that was all finished, it was afternoon.

You invited everybody inside to dry out their clothes by the fire and warm up. Putting on a fresh pot of coffee, you pulled out some food to make sandwiches. It was the least you could do after all of their help. Your house felt lively for the first time in you weren’t sure how long. There was no fighting the smile on your face as you watched Lewis and Marnie arrange clothing and chat in front of the fire, Jas reading a book curled up on the couch, and Shane…where was he?

“Need a hand?” His voice behind you made you jump. Looking up at him, he gestured to the sandwich ingredients laid out on the counter.

“Oh, that’d be great. Thanks,” you said, giving him a small smile that he returned. The two of you worked together to make what everyone had requested and a few extras just in case.

“I saw your port is practically full of firewood,” Shane commented, glancing over at you. “You must’ve been pretty busy to get all of that.”

“Yeah,” you chuckled. “Chopping has taken up most of my time. Figured I should take your advice and be better prepared so I didn’t freeze to death in this blizzard.”

“Well, we can’t have that. Your secret gift recipient would be left out at the Feast of the Winter Star if you weren’t around,” he joked, earning a snort.

“Speaking of, you really think that’s still going to happen? This weather is pretty bad. I mean, I know it’s still a few days away but I don’t think the storm is going anywhere.”

“We’ve had this happen before. The weather always clears up in time for the town gathering. I’ll admit I can’t explain it, but I’ve seen it happen a handful of times now and it never fails.”

“Huh, Pierre said the same thing.”

“I’m telling you-“ Shane was cut off by the sound of your phone buzzing on the kitchen table. Turning around to grab it, you excused yourself to answer, leaving him with the sandwiches.

“Hey Dad, what’s up?” you answered, walking to the other side of the table. Shane would never admit that he may have been eavesdropping just a bit, but who could blame him? After all, it wasn’t as if he was pressed against a closed door listening in to your conversation, you were in the same room. “But…are you sure? I mean, you could always wait an extra day and come later.” He assumed the pause was because your dad was talking. “Yeah, no, I totally understand. Uh huh. Yeah, we’ll plan something. Love you, too. Bye.” Hanging up, you let out a sigh and stuffed your phone in your pocket before returning to the sandwich station.

“Everything okay?” Shane asked cautiously.

“Yeah, it’s fine,” you told him, but your voice betrayed your disappointment at whatever news you’d gotten. “My parents were supposed to come to the Valley for the Feast of the Winter Star and see the farm, but with the weather they just can’t get all the way out here.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Y/N.”

“Ah, it’s fine,” you assured him. “Just means I don’t have to worry about hosting my parents so, less pressure I suppose.” He simply nodded and you two finished up, placing plates loaded with food onto the table and calling the others in to eat. Shane dropped the subject but he kept thinking about it all through lunch and into the evening after they had returned to the ranch.

Chapter Text

Your knees popped and creaked as you stood up fully from where you were squatted in front of one of the kegs to inspect it and make sure there was no leak and that the liquid inside was fermenting properly. With a sigh, you walked out of the barn and made sure the door closed and latched behind you. The sky was overcast and gray, a cold wind whipping dry air into your face, but it wasn’t snowing.

Yet.

As you made your way toward the house from the barn, you saw someone walking up your porch steps. You’d recognize that mess of dark hair and blue coat anywhere, feeling a flutter in your stomach as you realized it was Shane. You weren’t sure if the flutter was dread or excitement that he was here. ‘Thankfully’, you thought to yourself. ‘I’m sober.’

“Hey,” you called out, watching as he knocked on the door and waited for an answer that wouldn’t come. Your voice caught his attention and the man turned toward you, returning the wave you sent him. Shane made his way down the steps and toward you, meeting you just before you reached the edge of the porch.

“Hey,” he greeted, squinting against the wind.

“Whatcha doin’ here?” you asked, hoping that didn’t sound rude.

“Actually, I was coming to invite you to the ranch for the Feast of the Winter Star,” Shane said, momentarily rising up on his toes as he shoved his hands in his pockets. “I know you said your family couldn’t make it and you shouldn’t be alone on the holiday. We have plenty of room-“

“Shane,” you cut him off. “I appreciate the offer, it’s really nice, but I think I’ll pass. I don’t want to be a burden and it’s a time for family-“

“Exactly,” he insisted. “You’re our neighbor, Y/N. And we’d really love to have you. Marnie’s already planned your spot at the dinner table for the night before and there may or may not already be a package under the tree with your name on it.”

You could barely take in the words he was saying. Everyone here was overwhelmingly kind and you still weren’t used to it, even after nearly a year. You took your time contemplating his invitation, studying Shane’s face to make sure he was genuine. With a final sigh and a smile you couldn’t stop, you agreed.

“Marnie will be thrilled when I tell her,” he said, returning your grin. “And, of course, Jas. Come on over anytime tomorrow. Dinner is at 6. Bring some pajamas and a change of clothes. And there’s just one thing…” Shane paused, face screwing up against the wind as a hand came up to scratch at the back of his neck. He glanced behind you before finding your gaze and holding it intensely. “No alcohol. It’s just…Jas, with everything she went through with me…”

“I totally get it,” you assured him softly. “None. I promise.” Shane held your gaze for a few more moments before smiling and nodding.

“Alright, well…I’ll see you tomorrow.” With that, he turned to go, but before he could get very far, you reached out and caught his hand. He looked back at you curiously, fingers instinctively curling around your gloved ones.

“Shane…thanks. The invite…it means a lot,” you admitted, squeezing his hand appreciatively.

“Of course, Y/N. You’re always welcome with us.”

With that, Shane walked back in the direction of the ranch and you headed home to start getting things together.

***

Standing in front of the large wooden door to Marnie’s house, you felt…awkward. And nervous. It was a door you had knocked on and walked through countless times now. A door you had been carried through when unconscious after nearly drowning. A door you had excitedly waited to open for you. But now…

Well, now you were nervous.

“They invited you here, they want you here,” you muttered to yourself, trying to assuage the knots in your stomach. With a deep breath, you finally raised your fist and knocked. The seconds after dragged on like years, but then the door was opening and Marnie’s face was smiling brightly at you.

“Y/N!” she said excitedly, pulling the heavy door open and stepping aside. “Come in, come in.” Once you were over the threshold, the older woman pulled you into an unexpected hug, her hands warm as they rubbed up and down your back. “I’m so happy you came.”

“Thank you so much for having me,” you told her, pulling back from the hug to give her a kind smile. “So, I brought gifts! Where should I put them?”

“Oh, you didn’t have to do that!” Marnie scolded lightly, turning to usher you into the living room where a large tree sat decorated colorfully.

“I’ll confess that I got them long before your invitation so you would be receiving it either way.” You placed the gifts under the tree along with the other brightly wrapped packages there. As you stood up, a door on the other side of the room opened and Jas came bounding out, squealing that you were here.

“Miss Y/N!” she said excitedly, hugging your legs and making you laugh. “Happy Feast of the Winter Star!”

“You too,” you returned, grinning down at her. If you were honest, you weren’t sure why the little girl seemed to like you so much. You hadn’t spent much time together, but when you did, she had instantly taken a liking to you. Whatever it was, you were just happy she didn’t dislike you.

“Uncle Shane is in the shower, he was stinky after working in the chicken coop all day,” Jas informed you, earning a nod.

“Well, thank Yoba he’s showering then or dinner wouldn’t be nearly as fun,” you joked, earning a giggle. “Speaking of, Marnie, can I help you with anything?”

“You’re a guest, dear, of course not! Besides, everything is either cooling or nearly finished cooking,” she said, but you wouldn’t take no for an answer. Marnie finally agreed to let you help Jas with setting the table and the little girl pulled you behind her toward the combined kitchen and dining room to do just that.

You let Jas “teach” you how the place settings were to be done, watching carefully and following along to her instructions. Just as you the two of you were finishing up with the silverware, you heard a door open from somewhere else in the house and footsteps moving down a hallway.

“Marnie, do you know where my blade refills-“ Shane’s voice preceded his entrance into the kitchen as he called out for his aunt, catching your attention so that when he emerged in the doorway, your eyes were already trained on the spot.

And Yoba, was it a sight to see.

Shane was fresh out of the shower, his hair still wet and dripping, but obviously having just had a towel scrubbed over it as it stood out on all sides. His chest was bare, water droplets still resting there as well, and the only clothing he had on was a towel wrapped loosely around his waist.

Your eyes went wide at the site of him, traveling across the planes of his abdomen, taking in the trail of dark hair nestled between two faint lines that disappeared under the towel. ‘So, that’s what’s been under those clothes all along…’ you thought to yourself. ‘Fuck.’

Shane had frozen at the sight of you there, obviously caught off guard at your presence. He cleared his throat, trying to find his words again.

“I didn’t…know you were here yet,” he rasped, swallowing thickly. “Glad you came.”

“Me too,” you said, eyes scanning his body once more. Realizing what you just did, your face instantly went hot and you turned your attention back to setting the table, doing anything you could to avoid eye contact with him.

“Aunt Marnie is in her room on the phone,” Jas informed her godfather casually, not even pausing in her task. Shane nodded before glancing at you once more.

“Thanks, kiddo,” he told her, turning to walk back the he had come. You heard another door close and let out a breath you hadn’t realized you were holding. You eyes flitted to the little girl in the room with you, praying to Yoba that she wouldn’t comment on what had just happened.

Thankfully, she didn’t.

***

Lewis had joined the family for dinner as well. You were grateful not to be the only guest and his presence helped facilitate conversation. You and Shane were doing your best not to make too much eye contact with one another, both still embarrassed about what had occurred earlier, but thankfully nobody seemed to notice.

Marnie had prepared an amazing dinner, everything hot and delicious and way too many options for you to leave any room for seconds. You weren’t even sure how you were going to eat dessert, but nobody could pass up Marnie’s famous pumpkin pie and spiced whipped cream. Once the meal was finished and everyone’s eyes were becoming heavy, you volunteered to clean up the kitchen. Marnie tried to protest, but you insisted, standing up and beginning to clear the table. Shane also insisted on helping, flashing you a tight grin as he started gathering plates and dirty utensils.

Marnie sent Jas off to get ready for bed and she and Lewis moved to the living room for coffee, leaving just you and Shane in the kitchen. For awhile, you worked in silence. He stored any leftovers, you washed and dried, and he put away. You were an efficient team, but the sound of clinking dishes was beginning to drive you mad, so you finally broke the tension.

“Dinner was amazing,” you said, voice scratching a bit from disuse. “Thank you so much again for inviting me.”

“Marnie is a great cook,” Shane agreed with a nod. He glanced over, finding your eyes and holding them for the first time in hours. “I’m glad you’re here.” You felt another blush color your cheeks so you turned your attention back to the dishes, smiling sheepishly at the soapy water.

“So am I.”

With the kitchen clean, Shane putting Jas to bed, and Lewis bidding everyone a goodnight, you grabbed your bag and asked where the bathroom was so you could change into your pajamas. Marnie pointed you down the hall and you thanked her as she bid you a goodnight, saying she couldn’t keep her eyes open anymore.

After going through your nighttime routine, you emerged from the bathroom and headed for the couch in the living room, trying your best to stay quiet in the creaky house. Digging in your bag, you found the book you had brought and nestled up to read, enjoying the warmth and light of the fire while the snow fell out the window behind you. You were several chapters in a couple of hours later when footsteps caught your attention.

“Oh hey,” you said softly as Shane walked into the room. Closing your book, you offered a smile.

“Still up I see,” he greeted, returning your grin. “Can I join you?” You patted the empty cushion next to you and Shane sat as you curled up your legs to make space for him.

“Yeah, this book is really good, I can’t put it down. Oh, I ate one of the cookies Jas left out for Santa, I hope that’s okay?”

“That’s actually what I came out here to do,” Shane whispered conspiratorially, pointing to the plate on the end table next to you. You gladly handed it over, snatching another one off of it as you did. Silence stretched on as the two of you ate your cookies and then Shane brought up exactly what you had hoped he wouldn’t. “About earlier…” he started, avoiding eye contact. “I’m really sorry about that. That was…embarrassing.”

“Trust me, you have nothing to be embarrassed about,” you mumbled around your cookie, eyes going wide and one hand flying to cover your mouth as you realized what you’d just said. Again. Shane’s eyes snapped to yours, one brow raised a smirk lifting one corner of his mouth. “I- um…” There was no saving it, so you just started laughing, Shane joining you with a deep chuckle.

The two of you sat up talking, trying to stay quiet so as not to disturb the rest of the hosue and losing all track of time. You told Shane about your book, he told you about the plans he had for the chicken business this spring. You talked about the types of birds you could get for your farm and all your future plans for expanding into dairy cows and maybe even goats one day. Before you knew it, the clock read well past 2 am and your cheeks ached from laughing and smiling so much.

“Hey, can I…can I ask you something?” Shane’s tone was cautious, but your walls were already down. There was something about the late-night atmosphere, snow falling outside, just the fire and a small lamp lighting the living room of the ranch house, peaceful quiet settled over everything that begged for deep conversation.

“Go for it,” you told him, propping your head up against your hand as your elbow perched on the back of the couch and giving him a lopsided grin.

“Back at the start of winter a couple months ago, I came to the saloon to pick you up one night,” he started, eyes averting to the blanket that lay over both of your laps. “And when I drove you home, you said something that I’ve wondered about since. You…you said that it seemed like everybody already had their eyes on someone special. And that none of those eyes were on you. Why do you think that?”

You blinked at Shane a few times, vaguely recalling the conversation he was referring to and trying to pull your answer together.

“Oh, uh well, first of all, every woman in this town is insanely beautiful, must be something in the mountain water, but besides that…” you started, taking a deep breath and collecting your thoughts. “I just…don’t live up to any of them.”

“How do you figure that?” Shane asked, voice quiet and strained as his chest ached hearing your words.

“Well, Haley is beyond gorgeous. I mean, she could be a model. And she’s so…feminine and delicate, you know? Dainty even, but in a classy way. Plus, her photography is beautiful. Maru is wicked smart and has such a passion for helping others, which is amazing. She’s going to go on and do great things one day, maybe make some sort of scientific discovery or something. Leah has this beautiful artistic soul that just radiates out of her. I mean, the stuff she makes is just…she’s incredibly talented. And Abigail is so bold and driven. She has an adventurer’s spirit and it’s like nothing scares her. Emily is so crafty and talented, too, and she’s just such a beautiful, bubbly, free spirit. She never has a bad thing to say about anyone or anything and she doesn’t care what other people think. And then Penny…” You paused, sighing a deep breath before continuing. “Well, Penny is beautiful and sweet and helpful. She’s great with the kids and she may be a little shy, but she’s always so warm.”

“And you?” Shane asked, brows raised. You met his eyes with a puzzled look.

“What do you mean?”

“What do you think about yourself?”

“I…I’m not sure,” you lied, frowning out the window. “I know I’m not any of those things.” Shane studied you closely for a moment before cupping your cheek gently and turning your face back to his.

“Y/N…” His thumb traced gently over your cheekbone, sending a shiver through your body. Shane’s eyes flitted across your features, taking them all in and making you blush before they returned to yours. “You’re all of those things and more. You’re beautiful and talented and driven and kind and so smart. You came to the Valley with nothing, no knowledge of farming, no family or friends, and you figured it out. You turned around your grandpa’s farm, you took the time to get to know everyone in town, you always offer help to anyone who may need it. You’re…you’re amazing.”

Tears built up in your eyes, one finally rolling down only for him to wipe it away. That was the sweetest, most genuine thing somebody had ever said to you and your heart was beating so hard that you thought it would fly right out of your chest. The space between the two of you had disappeared sometime during your conversation and now he was right there, lips just inches away, the warmth from his hand radiating through you. There was a pause where both of you held your breath and then eyes were fluttering shut and his nose was brushing against yours and-

You turned your head at the last second, Shane’s palm falling from your cheek as you fought to restrain yourself.

“Shane,” you whispered, feeling his breathing pick back up as his forehead rested against your temple. “You’re seeing somebody else.” The words broke your voice with the strain of having to say them.

“Right,” he sighed, his own deep voice hoarse and scratchy with barely controlled restraint as he pulled back slowly. “I’m sorry-“

“No, don’t be,” you insisted, head snapping up to shake gently at him, eyes pleading. “Please.” He held your gaze for a few more moments before finally breaking the tension with a strained smile.

“I should get to bed. Jas will be up in a few hours.”

“Yeah, me too.” Shane stood and stretched, trying his best to appear casual and unbothered.

“Hey why don’t you let me take the couch and you can have my bed,” he offered.

“No, no, I’m perfectly fine here. And I know how much this old couch hurts your back. Old man.” You threw a playful wink at him and Shane rolled his eyes.

“Alright, alright,” he said, turning to go. “I’ll see ya in the morning.”

“Night.” After you heard his bedroom door click closed, you collapsed into the couch, pulling a pillow over your face and groaning into it. Instead of falling asleep, you spent most of the next few hours staring at the ceiling trying to process what the hell had just happened. Or rather, almost happened.

And trying to process how much you wished it had.

***

The next morning seemed to come much too quickly for your liking because 1) you had barely slept and were now feeling the results of that and 2) you had to face Shane. You tried to push both of those to the back of your mind, instead focusing on the excitement of the holiday.

Jas sure was excited, bouncing around the house and asking if it was time to open presents yet. Marnie made coffee and Shane tried to reel in Jas as much as he could, but it was a fruitless effort. You gratefully took the mug that was offered to you, scooting to make room on the couch while the little girl began to distribute the presents under the tree and Shane and Marnie sat down as well. You were surprised to have two wrapped gifts placed in front of you.

The three of you watched Jas open all her presents, squealing in joy with each new thing she revealed and practically chanting ‘thank you’s. Once she was finished, Marnie insisted that Shane open his gifts next and she followed. The two of them practically gushed over what you had gotten them, insisting it wasn’t necessary but thankful nonetheless. For Marnie, you had found a handmade, intricately designed, iron recipe book holder. For Shane, a signed, first edition copy of his favorite book. He was speechless when he opened it, glancing up at you with wonder in his face. You had simply smiled brightly in return.

When it was your turn to open, you felt a nervous twinge in your gut. Picking up the lighter package first, you dripped apart the paper to find a beautiful sundress with bright, colorful flowers adorning the fabric. Jas excitedly said that she had picked it out special for you and she hoped that you would wear it to the Flower Dance later in the spring, which you hadn’t been able to attend this year. You told her that it was gorgeous and you loved it, making the little girl giddy. The next package was much heavier, confusing you more than you already were. Once you got the paper off, you found a box that you then had to open, and packed within that box was a sturdy wooden sign. On the sign was the name of your grandfather’s farm, Sunny Ridge, with the logo he had always used, a sun rising over rolling hills and forest.

Tears burned in your eyes and your mouth hung open at the sight of the sign and all its beautiful glory. You truly didn’t know what to say, instead running your fingers gently over the words burnt into the wood.

“How did you…this is….I don’t even know what to say,” you managed, words breaking as a smile spread across your lips. Marnie’s hand reached out and squeezed your knee.

“We thought you could use a new sign to hang up at the entrance to the farm,” she said, voice sweet and soft. “After all, it’s your legacy now, your brand.” You sniffled and looked at her with watery eyes before smiling over at Shane as well, noting the soft happiness on his features.

“Thank you,” you told them both. “So much. This is…amazing.”

***

Pierre had been right, the weather broke and it was a beautiful afternoon for the town celebration. After your emotional morning, everyone at the ranch got ready for the day, gathering their gifts for the town secret exchange and donning coats to head off toward the square. You marveled at the decorations set up, the huge tree decorated and surrounded by gifts in the middle of town. Rows of tables sat out and Gus had all the food set up outside the saloon with large warmers under everything to keep it hot.

Jas ran off to play with Vincent and Marnie went to wish everyone a happy holiday. You weren’t exactly sure what to do now that you were here, but Shane awkwardly bid you a goodbye grin and went to meet Penny, who was already walking toward him. Face burning, you quickly turned and went to find the first thing you could to distract yourself. Thankfully, Robin and her family weren’t far off so you sidled over to them and began to wish a happy holiday.

You glanced occasionally over to where Shane and Penny sat at a table on the other side of the square. She pulled out a small box and handed it over to him, smiling in delight as he handed her a gift as well. A strange feeling of guilt and dread welled up inside you at the sight of them together knowing what had almost happened between the two of you the night before.

‘But nothing did happen’, you told yourself sternly. ‘So, stop thinking about it.’

Lewis finally announced the gift exchange and people began to shuffle toward the tree, finding the presents for their secret Santas. The square was filled with the sounds of ripping paper, polite ‘thank you’s, and chatter. You picked up your gift and went to find Sebastian, the name Lewis had assigned to you. Once you located him, you handed over the small box with a smile. He opened it up to reveal an engraved lighter, something both useful and personal, and gave you a smile, probably the largest you’d ever seen Sebastian have, but still barely lifting the corners of his mouth.

“This is awesome, Y/N, thanks,” he said, turning it in his hand to check it out.

“I’m glad you like it,” you replied, satisfied with your gift choice. Someone tapped you on the shoulder and you turned to find Sam grinning widely at you.

“Happy Feast of the Winter Star!” he told you brightly. “I’m your secret gift-giver!” He thrust a package in your hands and you smiled politely at him.

“Hey, thanks, Sam.” You opened the present to find a phone case decorated with dolphins on it inside. Oh. Doing your best to give a good reaction, you pulled it out and tried to look excited. “Wow, this is great! Thanks!”

“I knew you’d like it,” Sam said confidently, bumping your arm with his fist before jogging off to go find his own secret Santa. Letting your face drop, you looked closer at the case in your hand. It wasn’t even for the right kind of phone.

What you didn’t notice were the dark green eyes darting to look over at you, catching your disappointment at the less-than-ideal gift.

Shortly after the gift exchange, families began to pack up and head home as it would be getting dark, and much colder, soon. You were more than ready to go home and have a drink, but you offered your help with cleaning up anyway. Lewis shooed you off, saying you had done more than your fair share during Spirit’s Eve and you didn’t have the will to fight him.

After picking your things up from Marnie’s, you trudged back to the farm, immediately getting a fire started to warm the place up. Throwing your shitty phone case to the side and carefully propping your sign up on the mantle, you grabbed a drink and curled up on the couch. You sat, admiring your sign, until you were ready for bed. As you got up to move that way, you checked your phone to find a message from an unknown number.

Unknown - Happy Feast of the Winter Star. Hope you had a good holiday

You stared hard at the words on the screen, heart pounding as you studied the number. You were sure that you’d never seen it before. With shaking fingers, you finally typed out a reply.

F – I think you have the wrong number, but happy holidays to you too!

That was polite enough, right? Because that’s what it had to be, a harmless wrong number. That was all. You waited and waited for a reply, finally moving yourself to go get ready for bed. Your eyes constantly glanced at your phone as you washed your face, brushed your teeth, changed into pajamas, got into bed…still, no reply.

You barely slept for the second night in a row.

Chapter Text

With the Feast of the Winter Star passed, the new year had quickly approached. Unsurprisingly, New Year’s Eve was a public affair, with the whole of Pelican Town gathering at the saloon for a night of relaxation, celebration, and, of course, drinking. It was a send-off to the year that’d come and gone and a hearty welcome for the one about to begin.

The letter had arrived from Lewis just a few days before detailing everything and ending with a confident “See you there, farmer!” as if it hadn’t crossed his mind that you may contest the invite. But, as usual, here you were sitting in the saloon on the special occasion, a drink in your hand and two already coursing through your veins.

Loud music blared through the jukebox and people were dancing their cares away while others preferred their usual seats and conversation. Tonight, you were perched on a bar stool instead of holed up in a booth isolating and pitying yourself. It was a night that gave you an excuse to get shit-faced, using the mask of celebration instead of trying to come up with a believable reason as to why you felt the need to drown yourself in alcohol on a regular Tuesday evening.

Members of the town you didn’t usually see in the Stardrop were even here tonight, like Caroline, who was currently giggling at something her husband was whispering in her ear as he held her close for a dance. Jas and Vincent were set up at a table with some activities to do, Jodi keeping a watchful eye on the kids as Kent sat with his arm draped over the back of her chair. He was drinking a beer and she had a simple soda.

You were friendly and talkative tonight, keeping a small smile plastered on your face to seem inviting. Marnie had come over to hug you and chat, wishing you a happy new year and asking about all the things you had planned for the farm. Lewis, of course, had done the same once he saw that you had, in fact, taken him up on the invite to the saloon. Even Pam had said a few words to you, raising her glass in a ‘cheers’ across the bar. Leah was currently engaging you in conversation, gushing about the upcoming spring and all the inspiration it would bring for her art.

“Do you ever think about displaying your pieces? Or selling them?” you asked, taking another swig from your bottle. “They’re beautiful creations, Leah, I’m sure a lot of people would pay well for them.” The woman’s cheeks tinted red at your suggestion, her eyes averting to the bar top.

“I have thought about it, actually,” she admitted. “It’s just…I’m too nervous to actually put on an art show or something. My art…it’s a part of me. Putting it on display is like- like baring your soul to strangers.”

“That makes complete sense,” you told her with a gentle smile. “But you’re incredibly talented and the things you create are beautiful and unique, just like you. If you ever were interested in doing an art show, I’d be more than happy to help you with it. But only when you’re ready.”

“Really Y/N?” Leah asked, eyes wide with wonder as a large grin split her face.

“Absolutely!” Before you could finish getting the word out, Leah was surging forward in her seat and wrapping her arms around your neck. It caught you off guard at first, but you quickly returned the hug.

“That means so much to me, you’re such an amazing friend. Thank you.” Her words were mumbled into your hair, but you understood them just fine and couldn’t help but smile to yourself. Sometimes you forgot how good it could feel to actually interact with people instead of just shutting yourself away.

Leah soon changed the subject to the farm and your upcoming plans, something everybody it seemed was interested in. You rattled off about adding chickens once it was warm enough now that the coop was fixed and expanding the fields and the irrigation. Of course, the usual work always remained, too: fixing fences and building new ones, constructing scarecrows, general farm maintenance. Your biggest goal, though, was to have the dairy barn fixed up and ready for some cows by fall.

As you spoke, the door to the saloon opened, drawing your attention. Honestly, you weren’t sure who wasn’t already here. Your breath hitched in your chest when you saw who was walking in, though: Shane, and on his arm, Penny. Leah’s eyebrows raised at your sudden change in behavior and mood, her gaze following yours to the couple now walking to find a place to sit, his hand resting gently on her lower back. The redhead’s face turned back to yours with a nervous- no, pitiful expression. Leah had a natural talent for picking up on things.

“Y/N-“ she started, reaching for your knee, but you quickly stood up from your stool and cleared your throat.

“I’m going to go use the ladies’ room,” you told her, stalking off before she could say anything. Emily had also happened to catch the exchange as she hastily tended bar, her eyes finding Leah’s in the chaos. The two shared a knowing look, but really, what could they do?

You took your time in the restroom trying to compose yourself and figure how you should best handle the situation. You didn’t want to leave the saloon, but you also didn’t want to stare at Shane and Penny all night and slowly stew over it, either. Giving yourself a stern pep talk in the mirror, you finally emerged with your head held high, sidling up to the bar to order another drink and a shot of vodka.

The usual trio of Abigail, Sam, and Sebastian were set up in the back room. Tonight, however, they were joined by Maru, Hailey, and Alex. Since that was where Shane and his girlfriend were not, that’s where you decided to be. After throwing back your shot, you grabbed your beer, bid goodbye to Leah, and headed for the back. You were greeted happily by the group, immediately pulled into conversation with Abby.

Because it was a special occasion, Gus had allowed the group to turn the pool table into a beer pong table instead, so long as nobody else wanted to play billiards. They had a serious tournament going on and you quickly opted to join, much to the delight of Sam and Alex who wanted another competitor to beat so they could show off their skills.

What they didn’t know, however, was how fucking awesome you were at beer pong.

Whether it was singles or doubles, it didn’t matter: you were dominating everyone. And getting more and more drunk by the minute. The only person you hadn’t yet faced was Sebastian. He seemed to be the most sober of everyone, besides maybe Maru, and you were soaring on that high point between peak drunk and stumbling drunk.

“Bring it on,” you told him with no fear, earning cheers from the others who were eager to watch this showdown. Sebastian simply smirked and took his place at the other end of the table, signaling for you to go first.

It was an intense match, with each of you sinking ball after ball and steadily dwindling down the number of cups on the table. You had decided to make it more interesting, adding shots to the mix with every sunk shot. Words slurred together when you spoke and your feet became less and less steady, but dammit, you were having fun. Sebastian must have been feeling it, too, because he had missed his last shot and you were down to one cup to win it all. Lining up your toss, the onlookers chattered nervously, anticipation swelling and building until you finally pulled back and let the ball roll off your fingertips, arcing through the air….and right into the last cup.

Cheering erupted around you and you jumped with excitement as Seb picked up the last cup to down its contents. Alex and Sam lifted you on their shoulders in celebration and others in the bar started peeking in to see what all the fuss was about. Once your fanbase had calmed down, you walked around the table and extended your hand to your opponent with a large smile.

“Good game,” you told him, throwing a wink. He clapped his palm into yours and gave one steady shake.

“You too,” he returned. “You’re one hell of a pong player.”

“Had a lot of practice back in college,” you said with a shrug.

“I’m gonna step out for a smoke. Wanna join me?” Seb asked and you decided to take him up on his offer, figuring the cool air outside would do you some good. You hadn’t expected how wobbly you’d be as you followed him to the door, stepping carefully down the few stairs and making your way to the side of the building.

Sebastian handed you a cigarette. Placing it between your lips, you leaned over for him to light it for you, noting happily that he was using the engraved zippo you’d gotten him for the holidays.

“This thing is awesome,” he told you, studying it once more. “Really, this was a great gift. Thanks.”

“I’m just glad you like it so much,” you said, taking a long drag. “And that it’s actually useful.” There was something in your tone that caught Seb’s attention.

“What’d you get again? Sam was your gift giver, right?”

“Yeah,” you sighed. “Sweet kid. But he got me a phone case covered in dolphins, of all things. And,” you added with a laugh. “It isn’t for the right kind of phone.” Sebastian couldn’t help but chuckle at that.
“Oh, Sam,” he breathed. “I’m sorry you got such a shit gift. You deserved better than that.” You could feel Sebastian’s eyes on you in the dark as he puffed away at the stick between his lips. Trying not to focus on that, you shrugged.

“It’s whatever. It’s just a silly gift exchange anyway.”

“You put a lot of effort into it. He could’ve done the same.” You finally turned to meet Seb’s eyes, holding his gaze for awhile as you took your last drag and smiled at him around it. Putting the cigarette out on the brick wall, you stood up straight to stretch.

“Alright, I’m freezing. Let’s get back in there.” The man followed you back into the saloon, watching to make sure you didn’t fall on the way. You thanked him again for the smoke, smiling broadly back at him and not having any idea that someone was watching your exchange with interest.

Instead of joining the group in the back room again, you opted instead for the seat at the end of bar next to wall. It was isolated enough, but not totally disconnected from all the other patrons. You were sure that it was beginning to get late into the night by now and the countdown to the new year would likely be starting shortly. Ordering yet another drink, you took a few moments to sit with your thoughts. That is, until someone interrupted them.

“Hey,” Shane said, sliding into the chair next to you. You glanced up at him briefly and returned the greeting. “Happy New Year,” he told you, offering a smile.

“Same to you.” Yoba, you were trying not to be awkward but the only things playing through your mind at that moment was the near-kiss you’d almost shared barely a week ago and the moment he walked into the bar with Penny tonight. Shane felt the awkward tension, too, taking a couple sips from his can and sitting with you in silence before finally clearing his throat.

“I got something for you,” he said, sliding a small package your way. Brows knitting together, you were confused.

“Uh, what’s this for?”

“To make up for the shitty gift Sam got you at the Feast of the Winter Star,” Shane explained simply. You blinked at him both in shock that he knew and also trying to play it off like you didn’t know what he was referring to. “I saw you unwrap it, Y/N. It won’t even fit your phone. Plus, it’s covered in dolphins for Yoba’s sake,” Shane told you, throwing a playful smirk your way.

“You didn’t have to do this, you know,” you said softly, not able to fight the small grin that curved up your mouth.

“Just open it.” You did as you were told, finding something inside that made you gasp. Your fingers gingerly reached in, pulling out a small silver necklace adorned with a plough charm.

“Shane…” you started, losing the words. “I can’t…this is…this really isn’t necessary-“

“I know,” he said, cutting you off and holding your bewildered gaze with an intensity that had you practically melting into the floor.

“Thank you,” you finally managed to whisper. Just then, Gus announced that the countdown to the new year was starting, tuning the jukebox to a radio station instead that was airing it. It began at 30 seconds and everyone began milling about to find their partners to kiss at the end, but you and Shane stayed exactly as you were, holding each other’s eyes. Shane’s gaze darted briefly down to your lips and it felt like the heart in your chest stopped beating.

And then there she was, pulling his attention back to her and breaking the trance. Quick as you could, you dropped the necklace back into the box and shoved it into your lap. Penny gave a quiet ‘hello’ and a sheepish smile to you before turning back to Shane. With a final glance back at you, he stood up and walked off with her, likely knowing that having them stand so close to you and kiss would quite literally rip you apart inside.

15 seconds left.

You gathered your coat, figuring you’d come back in the morning to square your tab with Gus.

10 seconds.

Shaky legs carried you toward the door. Just before reaching it, you turned to find him one last time. His hands were on her waist, hers around his neck as they looked at each and counted down with the rest of the bar.

5, 4, 3, 2…

Just as the countdown ended and everyone shouted ‘Happy New Year!’, the door was swinging closed behind you.