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Like a Stone

Chapter Text

    The sun can do wonders for someone who spent her life in the dark.

    Back in Zuzu City, Ashtyn Spectre had earned a few nicknames with her unsettling gaze and apathetic, dry way of speaking. The scary one, that girl who’s probably a serial killer, the freaky bitch on the third floor, et cetera. Nothing creative, of course, just simpleton descriptors. Her coworkers at Joja Corp. called her everything under the sun… except her name. She didn’t blame them, per se, especially since the job she had before Joja taught her to keep all coworkers at arm’s length and then some. But responding mainly in curt grunts and noncommittal shrugs, taking too-frequent smoke breaks, and openly wearing her pentacle necklace in an office full of average joes certainly didn’t earn her any friends.

    But Pelican Town was different. Pretty much all of Stardew Valley was different, actually. The summers Ash spent at her grandpa’s farm were easily the best she’d ever had. He could have chosen anyone to take over the farm, she thought upon reading the letter he’d handed her upon his death. But her family was… Less than trustworthy, and he knew this. Ash was the one who, on both sides of her family, refused to continue in her bloodlines’ history of drugs, abuse, crippling alcoholism, narcissism, theft… The smoking (and occasional alcohol) stayed with her, though. Regardless of her past, Ash was the one in her family who hadn’t succumbed to a life of pathetic, miserable mediocrity, and she guessed that that was why her grandpa chose her, an out-of-shape, chronically ill city slicker, to take over his farm.

    So far the hardest thing she ever had to do was crack open rocks. She had to fight hard against her poor health in order to keep the farm in working order, but after almost a week, Ash was making decent progress. Nearly every small log was chopped, every rock split, and all of the seeds she could get her hands on were planted and watered. Looking out on the huge expanse of land before her, she wondered how the hell she did it all. At Joja she was denied countless promotions and raises that her peers had gotten simply because she needed extra help to understand processes. At her soulless retail job before that, she was singled out for the same reasons, and eventually quit when it hit her that she was essentially the packmule for all of her coworkers who didn’t want to do their own work. But on her grandfather’s farm, she felt complete. No one could tell her how to do her job, nor could anyone stop her from doing whatever the hell she wanted. That’s how she was meant to live all along. 

   Taking one last deep breath of the fresh, unpolluted air around her, Ash turned and headed back into her house. She figured it was a safe enough bet to head to the local saloon tonight and get to know more of the townsfolk, as per suggestion by Mayor Lewis. Was 3pm too early to start getting ready? Impressions are key, she figured, especially in a town of less than thirty. Sitting at her makeshift vanity, Ash grabbed a pot of eyebrow pomade and got to work.

Chapter Text

    The sun was torture for someone who wanted to be swallowed by his own fucking misery.

    Sebastian squinted up at the offending star, scowling as if intimidating the sun would cause it to stop burning in the sky. It didn’t. 

    He sighed dramatically, kicking a stray rock as he trudged down the all-too familiar path to the heart of Pelican Town. The music blaring through his headphones did next to nothing to calm the racing thoughts in his mind, telling him to stay home, telling him he didn’t belong, that his friends didn’t actually want to see him, that his life was a rut--

    “Hey, Seb!” Chirped a familiar voice. Sebastian looked up, tugging the right headphone from his ear.

    “Sam?” He blinked, not used to being startled out of his usual brooding. “Why the hell were you at work?”

    Sam ran a few paces to catch up with him, hair bobbing comedically in time with his steps. “I took on an extra day this week. Saving up for summer, y’know?” His smile was infuriating. Sebastian huffed in response. No, Sam, I don’t know. I can’t save money because I hardly make any fucking money . Putting his discarded headphone back into his ear, Sebastian turned his music up a few clicks, nodding along as Sam chattered about god knows what. It was beyond him, how Sam hadn’t noticed after all these years that he hardly ever listened when he talked. It wasn’t that Sebastian didn’t care, or that he didn’t like his best friend, it was just… painful to listen to someone being so goddamn happy sometimes. It was painful to know that someone with a life so similar to his own managed to be happy. Deep down he wished he could be like his blond counterpart, all smiles and sunshine, but the bigger part of him tacked that kind of peppiness on to either ignorance or inhibition of deeper, more negative feelings. 

    I said have you met the new farmer?” Sam chided, taking Sebastian by surprise. His eyes traveled down to the lone headphone that Sam now twirled idly in his hand.

    “I… How did you know I was…” Sebastian blinked stupidly, dumbfounded by his friend’s nonchalance.

    “I know you don’t listen to me sometimes, dude!” Sam chortled, “I just kinda talk to myself sometimes, when I notice you ignoring me. I figure you need a little space and I might as well not bug ya!” He smiled, not nearly as infuriatingly this time, bumping a shoulder against Sebastian’s. “So? Farmer girl? Kinda tall, red hair, really nice?”

    Sebastian gingerly took his headphone back, opting now to take them off completely. He thought for a moment, trying to remember what the new girl looked like. She was definitely taller than the other women in town, with frizzy red hair and a loud laugh. He had only paid her a passing glance when she came to ask his mom for advice on building a chest.

    “I haven’t really said anything to her, no. She was in my house. I think her and my mom are chill, or something.” He held the door to the saloon open for Sam, who trotted in with a thankful nod. “Mom said we’d make good friends, but she says that about everyone…”

    They approached the pool table, opting to play a practice round until Abigail showed up. Sam strode to the Joja Cola machine, hips bopping gently to the beat of the music drifting in from the old jukebox near the bar.

    “Oh yeah, hey! The new girl likes Joja Cola, too! I’m not the only one any more.” Sam said, setting the can on the wooden edge of the pool table. Sebastian mumbled noncommittally, too focused on lining up his shot to care about who likes what shitty garbage soda. As he moved to hit the cue ball, the door to the saloon opened, startling him and causing the white ball to spiral aimlessly around until it hit uselessly against the side of the table. Sebastian swore under his breath, standing up abruptly and tossing Sam the one single cue stick that the saloon had. 

    “If that was Abi coming in I’m gonna punch her shit.” Sebastian hissed, falling back into the nearby couch. “Fuckin’ up my perfect shot. Typical Abi.”

    Sam snorted, opening his mouth to say something equally sarcastic, but stopped. 

    “It wasn’t Abi, dude,” he snickered. “It was the farm girl.” 

    Sebastian groaned, following Sam’s gaze to a wide figure clad all in black in the saloon’s bar area. She was eagerly chatting with Shane, who looked ready to keel over. 

    “Jesus, kinda sailing close to the wind, isn’t she?” Sam chuckled, turning back to the pool table. “Pretty sure Shane isn’t an eager welcome wagon.”

    Sebastian shrugged, gaze still locked on the unfamiliar figure. She looked hurt suddenly, smile fading off of her round face. She looked around, hands grasping at something around her neck, and skittered towards them.

    “Hey! Uh, Sam, right? I’m just gonna, uh--”

    “Say no more!” Sam chirped, slapping a hand on the shaking girl’s back. “Shane is a nice guy deep down, but I get how he can be a little off-putting. You can hang with us!” 

    Sebastian’s eyebrows shot up. He curled a lip at the blond, earning an apologetic glance. He didn’t like new people. Or change. Or social situations. Or--

    “You met Sebastian, right?”

    OR THAT.

    “Uh, no! I mean, I know you’re Robin’s son, but… yeah. Hi! I’m Ash.” She smiled nervously, wiping at her cheeks. Was she crying? Jesus, she’s even worse than I am.  

    “... Sebastian.” He mumbled, stuffing his hands in his pockets. Crying made him really, really uncomfortable. “Of all places, you chose Pelican Town?” 

    She blinked up at him with big, watery blue eyes and oh god Sebastian what the fuck, you don’t say that to a girl who’s crying, jesus christ clearly she’s sensitive--

    “I’d rather be here than Zuzu. I actually like farming!” Ash said finally. “I don’t usually like doing manual labor-- SHOCKING, I know, but I really like being my own boss and whatnot!” She held her own arms, looking away shyly. Why the fuck did she have so much blush on? Or was it the light-

    “Sebastian is his own boss too!” Sam chimed in, earning a hard cringe from Seb. “He does, like, computer stuff! It’s cool!” 

    Sebastian swallowed the onslaught of snarky retorts that came to mind. It’s not computer stuff, Sam , it’s programming. It’s not cool, Sam , I’m mediocre at best and I can hardly be called a boss at all. 

    “I do… Programming. Like, myself. Freelancing.” 

    Ash’s eyes lit up, hands now in excited little fists in front of her chest. Sebastian raised an eyebrow.

    “I used to wanna do freelance work! Writing, actually!” She bounced on her heels. He bit back an amused snort. The redhead looked incredibly strange- childish in her mannerisms but with all-too dramatic makeup on. It was kinda cute--

    Sebastian blinked, scowling at the thought. Sam was talking to her now, but he’d stopped listening. He watched instead, trying to read the farmer’s personality. She carried herself with a confident, almost haughty air, but her wide eyes betrayed her. She seemed mouseish in her mannerisms. There was something about her, Sebastian thought. Conflict. Like she didn’t know whether to wear bright lipstick and colorful boots or dramatic eyeliner and fishnets, so she did both and looked like a paradox on legs. Long, pale legs--

    “Sorry I’m late!” Abigail’s voice startled Sebastian from his thoughts. He had to tilt his head up to watch her enter the room and, upon realizing this, prayed silently that he hadn’t actually just been staring at Ash’s fucking legs.

    “My dad was making me stock the shelves and it took FOREVER,” Abi whined, letting herself fall dramatically to the couch. “Probably because a certain farmer bought damn near half our supply of potato seeds.” She winked up at Ash, who was making her way to the couch herself. Had everyone in town met her before Sebastian had?

    He shook his head, turning back to Sam while the girls chattered amongst themselves. The blond was staring intently at the pool table. Sebastian snorted, envisioning the gears in Sam’s head slowly turning as he tried to think of a good shot. He found his thoughts racing again, as they always did when he had even a second to himself without distraction. He shifted his pose a few times, then stopped when he thought that probably looked strange as well. Finally he settled for looking at his surroundings. Sam was bent halfway over the pool table now, tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth as he poured all of his focus into lining up the cue stick. Abigail sat with her legs crossed, turned towards Ash, who looked all-too intrigued with Abigail’s rant about… clear quartz

    Sebastian raised a brow, opting now to focus on the conversation to his left. Abi was talking about the medicinal benefits of quartz and oh my god Abi no, that’s all so fucking fake and no one in Pelican Town believes in that shit except for you and Emily, but somehow Ash looked incredibly interested. Her blue eyes lit up like a child’s, she leaned forward and nodded eagerly, and-- oh.

    She has a thing for Abi.

    Sebastian found his chest aching a little. He blinked a few times, internally cursing himself for having feelings , before looking away just to catch a glimpse of Sam knocking the cue ball straight into his nearby can of Joja Cola.

Chapter Text

    Ash’s hips swayed in time with the music playing loudly from her phone as she lit a cream-colored candle. Her first week in Pelican Town was, in her eyes, a huge success, and it was time to treat herself. 

    She’d spent the morning scrubbing down the old clawfoot tub in her cabin’s bathroom, ridding it of its residual layers of mold, grime, and other unmentionable nastiness that had been left behind during her first haphazard cleaning session upon her arrival. The porcelain now shone a bright off-white, bearing only a few unsightly paint chips upon its otherwise flawless exterior. Satisfied with her work, Ash tossed her cleaning supplies into the bathroom closet and scampered to her bedroom to retrieve some clean pajamas. 

    She gave her cat a quick scratch under the chin as she passed by, earning a satisfied mprrrrt from the lanky tom. A woman by the name of Marnie had brought him by on Friday morning, and Ash, immediately flooded with guilt at the thought of the pets she’d been forced to leave behind before moving to Zuzu City, graciously accepted. She’d grown quite lonely in her days at the farm before the cat’s arrival. Despite immediately batting a perfectly good jar of pickles off her kitchen counter upon his arrival, the tabby cat had been a perfect gentleman. Plus, it gave Ash an excuse to name him Pickles, which arguably made the rowdy young cat even cuter than he already was. 

    Plucking a black bralette and some panties from a still-unpacked box of clothes, Ash made her way back to the bathroom to find Pickles now lounging on top of the toilet. He peered up at her through squinted eyes, black pupils like a little crack in the jasper of his eyes. 

    “I suppose you’ll be joining me, you smug little shit” Ash chuckled, stooping down to kiss the cat’s soft forehead. “My stinky bastard man!” 

    A purr rumbled deep within Pickles’ throat, sending another wave of guilt to wash over Ash. She sighed, standing up abruptly and retrieving a small bottle from her pocket. 

    Shocking that they even sell liquor in a town like this Ash thought, unscrewing the cap and taking a sip. She cringed as the liquor burned a path from her mouth to her stomach, setting everything in its way aflame with warm, cinnamony comfort. Ash shuddered, capping the bottle and taking a bath bomb from a little jar placed atop her medicine cabinet. 

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    “D’you think I’m gonna make it out here, Pickles?” Ash asked nonchalantly, waving her second, half-empty bottle of cinnamon whiskey in the tomcat’s general direction. He mmmrept ed in response, tail swishing softly in amusement. The redhead nodded as if she’d completely understood him. She sunk a little further down into the warm, lavender-colored water, allowing it to envelop her like a sandalwood scented swaddle. 

    “Dn’ lemme fall asleep in’ere, mmkay Pickles?” She said dutifully, once more pointing the bottle in his direction before taking another swig. “Else I’mna die an’ then you’ll have t’eat my gross, waterlogged corpse.”

    Pickles blinked. 

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      Ash sighed happily, breathing in the scent of the sage incense that burned on the edge of her side table. There was no one here to judge her for playing her music, no one here to catch her parading around in little more than her underwear, and no one who would make her feel unsafe while she meditated by her altar. 

    She took another deep breath, negative energy practically draining from her with each exhale. She gripped her clear quartz, running her fingers over its rough texture while her mind lost itself in the soothing sound of Celtic flute music. She set the quartz down, leaning forward to blow out her four altar candles. 

    “In my future I hope for… Success. On the farm, I mean.” She blew out the candle closest to her. 

    “And… Good health for me and Pickles!” She blew out the one on her right. 

    “Thirdly I hope for.. Um, a clearer mental state as I become closer with the earth.” Then the candle furthest from her. 

    “Finally I hope for…” Her thoughts immediately wandered back to her evening at the saloon on Friday, and how she had hoped to get to know the people she’d spoken to more.

    “I hope for friendship and love in my future.”

Chapter Text

Why the actual fuck was Maru already working?

    Sebastian’s eyes popped open at the sound of metal against metal, the distant, torturous clanking making him cringe. He pulled his blanket over his head with a loud, dramatic groan. Who the fuck has the energy to build a goddamn robot at ten in the morning?

    With a final anguished whine, Sebastian hauled himself out of the comfort of his bed and trudged out the basement door, snatching a pack of cigarettes from his table as he went.

    “Sebby!” Came his mother’s too-cheery voice. He cringed at her feigned shock, already knowing the next words that would come from her mouth. “You’re up early!” He mocked her under his breath as he fumbled with his lighter. 

    “Not by choice.” His fingers finally found the little black object within the depths of his pocket. He let the door shut a little harder than he had meant to, but it barely even crossed his mind. 

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Some say the end is near

Some say we’ll see Armageddon soon.

    Sebastian leaned against a tall pine tree, thick, dark smoke falling lazily past his lips. The lake moved slowly today, water barely even rippling underneath the wind’s soft graze. 

Certainly hope we will

    A squirrel darted out from a bush and up a nearby tree, sending a maple seed to spin delicately to the ground. He thought about the maple seed, and how it might someday grow into another towering tree for a curious squirrel to hop into. He contemplated this idea for just another moment, a calm sense of ease washing over him, until a loud thunk echoed through the nearby cave entrance. 

I sure could use a vacation from

    Ash hurriedly stumbled out of the cave’s gaping maw, rucksack heavy with god knows what and knees bloodied from whatever the fuck.

This bullshit three ring circus sideshow.

    Sebastian sighed, pressing a finger to his temple. That one single second of peace sure was nice. He watched the redhead bound to the cave’s neighboring little shack, quirking a brow when she was able to enter with ease. Sam and Abigail had tried to get into the building, but with no luck, as they weren’t good enough for the two old bags that ran the place, apparently. Something about slimes and swords. He took another languid drag from his cigarette, fingers tapping absently to the beat of the music blasting from his phone. Probably should get some more headphones before the speakers blow out, he thought, remembering how his last pair had shorted from being tangled in his pocket. He cursed himself for not being more careful and for not learning from the seven previous pairs of shitty Joja-brand headphones he’d bought in the last year.    

Sebastian looked up just in time to meet eyes with Ash, who was now scampering down the path towards his house. He grit his teeth, turning away quickly in hopes that she wouldn’t approach him. It wasn’t that he couldn’t stand her, it was just that she wasn’t familiar enough and he couldn’t trust her yet and he hated talking to people and it took him longer than it should to figure out how to react in social situations and--

    “Hey Sebastian!” FUCK.

    He turned just in time to see Ash toss her backpack with a hideous cacophony of various tools and stones all hitting the hard dirt ground at once. Sebastian inhaled sharply, internally begging himself not to snap on this poor, sensitive girl when she was clearly just trying to make friends. She sat cross-legged in front of him, digging eagerly through her overstuffed backpack and retrieving a lime green stone. 

“I found something I figured you might like in the caves just now!” She chirped, handing it to him with a smile. Sebastian inspected the oddly star-shaped gem closely, raising a curious brow at the sight. He looked up at her suspiciously, causing her smile to fade. “Uh, it’s called a jamborite! I thought… I dunno, I guess I figured you would like it?”

Sebastian blinked, obviously unsure of what to say. He didn’t want to seem ungrateful, but he had no real use for the little rock. He forced an obviously unconvincing smile and pocketed the item.

“It’s cool. Thanks. I think Abi likes shit like this too, doesn’t she?” He twitched a little at her crestfallen smile, resisting the urge to punch himself in the face for being a fucking idiot. Why can’t you just take a gift like a normal person?

“Yeah, I think she does. I’ll give her one too. Thanks, Seb. I’ll see you around.” Ash gathered herself from the forest floor and slung her backpack over her shoulder again. Judging by the fact that she took the path to her farm instead of the town square, Sebastian figured she probably didn’t have anything to give Abi. Or anyone else but him.

Yeah, time to bring it down again

Yeah, don't just call me pessimist

    For the first time in awhile, Sebastian lit a third cigarette after his second burnt out. He found himself too tense, too wound up and too down on himself to go back in the house and face ridicule for going straight to his room, or for wearing a hoodie on a warm spring day, or for whatever the fuck else Robin and Demetrius didn’t absolutely adore about him. Whatever he did that Maru wouldn’t do. 

Try and read between the lines

And I can't imagine why you wouldn't

Welcome any change, my friend

    The nicotine hit him a little too hard and when he stood up, he felt like vomiting and passing out and screaming all at once. 

I want to see it come down

    He kicked a rock as hard as he could into a bush, steadying himself on the side of his house. He knew damn good and well he was spiraling again but he just didn’t care. 

Bring it down

    The door opened a little too fast and he almost hit Maru square in the face but fuck he didn’t care , he just wanted to disappear or sleep forever or wake up tomorrow as someone who could feel things and speak normally and go five minutes without thinking about how much he hated himself. 

Suck it down

    Sebastian yanked his hoodie off as quickly as he could with the room spinning around him, tossing it and sending his phone and cigarettes falling to the ground with it, and landed face first on the bed. In that moment he wished he too could wake up early to work, to do a job that people recognized and that didn’t require explanation, or that he could be generous and tender and that he could actually smile. 

Flush it down

    He wanted to die. 

Chapter Text

    By the midpoint of spring, Scarlet Farm was really starting to come together. Ash had cleared about half of the trees (mostly the hideous pines) from the property, stowing the wood safely in a chest next to the fireplace. She’d managed to break all the small boulders littering the farmland, along with the fibrous weeds that sprouted in patches here and there. It dawned upon her, though, that she would need a silo to store hay once she’d cut the seemingly endless patches of grass. 

    She felt a pain in her chest for just a moment at the recollection of that previous Monday’s events. The scene replayed over and over in her head, how Sebastian had hated her gift, how he’d suggested she give all her other findings to someone else. It made her stomach churn and her heart ache to think about how she was already making an idiot of herself after barely two weeks in Pelican Town. She wished briefly that she could get away with never asking Robin for a favor again. 

    Ash let out a sigh, snatching a Redbull from the mini fridge near her bed (while silently cursing her grandpa for never building a goddamn kitchen) and popping her morning pills into her mouth. She peeked out the window to check on her crops, all of which were near ready for harvest. Snatching a watering can from its place next to the front door, Ash headed out, as she did every morning before that.  

    Every morning Ash had banana bread and a glass of milk for breakfast, then downed a blueberry Redbull while watering her crops and feeding Pickles. On days where the spirits were happy, she fished or mined. If the spirits were upset, she collected resources from her farm and neighboring land until it was time to head to the saloon for lunch. She’d then chat with the locals and run errands until it was time for dinner. After that she’d divide up what she’d gathered that day and either keep it or sell it. Then she slept until it was time to repeat the process over. Today, however, she needed a silo. This meant she would have to break her routine, which she did not like to do. With a backpack full of wood and a pocket full of cash, she began the trek to Robin’s shop. 

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    “Hey, Ash!” Robin’s cheery voice rang in time with the bell above the shop door. “Need something built?” 

    Ash grinned cheekily, tossing her backpack up onto the counter. Robin lit up at the sight. She had been gently prodding Ash for a building project since the day she moved in, and the younger woman was happy to finally be able to give her one.

    “I need a silo! There’s so much grass on my farm I can hardly walk around” Ash stated, sliding 100g across the counter. “I got your wood, your stone, and the money to cover the job… And I’ll make you lunch when you’re working, assuming you eat poor people food.” 

    Robin laughed, that genuine kind of laugh that makes your eyes squint from how hard you smile, and Ash felt a little bit of her self-doubt melt away. The ginger woman quickly counted the materials in front of her, clapping her hands together suddenly when she was done.

    “I’ll have it ready in a couple days! And I’ll eat just about anything except horseradish. Or carp. But I doubt you’d ever cook something like that!” She smiled again and Ash found herself smiling along with her, though she didn’t know why. A lot of people in Pelican Town had that effect on her. Infectious happiness, as if the light in their soul could, if only for a moment, reach out and turn her light on as well. Not all of them were happy, though, as to be expected. Shane scared her half to death upon their first meeting, and George reminded her all too much of her clientele from her retail days. Not to mention somebody who was too miserable to accept a fucking gift properly. 

    “Mom, do you need anything from the store?”

    Speak of the fucking devil.

    He stopped in his tracks at the sight of Ash, and fuck, was that panic in his eyes? She softened her expression as best as she could though, frankly, Sebastian was not the one she wanted to see right now. 

    “I think Maru needs some more D batteries, if you don’t mind. And greet our guest, will you?” Robin scolded, earning a stifled chuckle from Ash. “She just bought a silo!”

    Sebastian fiddled with the cigarette in his hand for a second, as if thinking of something not shitty to say.

    “...Congrats on the silo.” He said finally, never meeting Ash’s firey gaze. She opened her mouth to bite back, but he was already out the door. Her jaw clenched and her blood began to boil, a tension headache stirring near the back of her neck, until Robin’s dejected sigh snapped her out of it.

    “You’ll have to excuse my son, he’s… Not a happy kid.” Her dark eyes wandered a bit. “He doesn’t like change much. I’m sure you know already that my husband isn’t his father… I think our split really affected Sebby. He was such a happy child, too. ”

    Ash blinked stupidly at her, searching for something to say. She’d always considered Robin and her to be close, but more like “coffee and casual gossip” close, rather than this. She swallowed thickly, her stomach now in knots.

    “I uh… I understand. Having a broken family is rough. I probably came off a little strong too, considering I didn’t really know he had issues as well.” She cringed immediately at her use of the words “as well”, thus opening up her mental stability as a topic of debate. Seeing no way for this conversation to end well, Ash put on her most convincing smile. “Well hey, I’m serious about lunch! When you’re on my farm, you’re family… Kinda like Olive Garden except I don’t have a fuckin’ kitchen.” 

    Just like that Robin was laughing again, sending a wave of relief over Ash. You can’t fuck things up here too, idiot! She thought, waving a quick goodbye to Robin before hurrying out the door. This farm is your last fucking hope.  

Chapter Text

    Whoever thought of the Flower Dance, honest to god, needed to drop dead.

    Sebastian fucked with his bowtie for what had to have been the hundredth time that morning, still unsatisfied with the way it scratched against his throat if he turned his head a certain way. Every year he tried to back out of the dance, feigning illness or a busy workload to convince his mom to let him stay home. Every year she bitched his ear off until he agreed, last-minute, to attend. 

    Scoping the area to get his mind off things, Sebastian noticed Haley “practicing” her dance moves again, which pretty much involved her wandering aimlessly around an open area of the field. Closer to the edge stood Leah, who looked like she’d rather take out a pole and start fishing than dance. Abigail and Sam had begun to argue about Journey of the Prairie King beside him, which would be a lot more interesting if they didn’t have this conversation every other week. Near the punch table stood Ash and Shane, who seemed to be getting on a lot better since their encounter in the saloon. Sebastian curled his lip at the sight. How the hell did she manage to tame Shane?

    “... And then she lays her egg right on the hay I’d laid out for her! Isn’t that the silliest thing you’ve ever heard?” Ash was saying, obviously indifferent to Shane’s stoic expression. How did she make friends with everyone so easily?  

    Sebastian realized he had never really seen Ash without a gift for someone in her hands. After their incident by the lake, she’d given Sam a Joja Cola because “the machine spat out two when she asked for one” (though he had seen her pay for both of them). On Shane’s birthday she had bought him a beer, which was probably why Shane could tolerate her now. She’d even given George a leek while passing by one day, as if it were a normal thing to do. 

    Looking back up at the redheaded farmer, Sebastian noticed that Ash’s expression had changed. She looked a little like Dusty after Alex scolded him for eating his shoes-- heartbroken but still smiling stupidly. Ash gave Shane a parting nod and smile, and shuffled to a corner of the forest near Mayor Lewis, who was hastily shepherding all of the participating women into a little changing booth. Sebastian quirked a brow when he shut the door, leaving Ash to awkwardly look at her phone. Had nobody asked to be her dance partner?

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    The Flower Dance was, although akin to eating glass, quite short. Sebastian stole glances at the farmer, who looked wistfully at the group of dancers like a bridesmaid during a wedding ceremony. She applauded much less enthusiastically than the others, but it was easy to tell she was trying her best. 

    In a moment of sudden confidence, Sebastian strode over to her once the applause had died down.

    “Hey, Seb!” Aaaaaand his confidence was gone.

    “So, uh, you didn’t wanna participate?” He said stupidly. “I mean, I don’t blame you, but at the same time you seem like the type to like weird traditions.”

    Ash forced a laugh, her sad eyes sending a pang of guilt straight through Sebastian’s heart. Clearly she did want to participate, Sebastian thought, trying not to cringe. Why the fuck would you open with that?

    “I mean,  I did, but I knew you and Abi were dancing together, and I guess Shane still hasn’t warmed up to me yet,” She took a sip of her drink. “I fuckin’ love that guy though! He’s literally me when I worked retail.” 

    Judging by the fact that her breath and cup smelled like booze, that probably wasn’t the only reason she favored Shane.

    “I think you’re the only one that feels that way about Shane,” Sebastian chuckled, stuffing his hands into his pockets. “But… Go off I guess.”

    Ash pouted, looking up at him past delicate false eyelashes.    

    “People just need to give him a chance! He’s a good guy, deep down. He just has lots and lots and lots of layers to bust through before you get there.”

    Sebastian simply huffed in response, trying to ignore the weird feeling in his stomach. It twisted into knots and felt full of bile and was he jealous?

    Desperate to shake the thought, Sebastian reached up suddenly and yanked his bowtie off, clearly startling the farmer. The corners of her red lips turned up in a smile.

    “You know, next year you should help me coordinate your outfit a little better.” Ash said, sipping at her (suspiciously vodka-scented) punch again.

    “Excuse me?”

    “You know, to make it less stuffy? I get Lewis wants everyone to wear the same thing, but you can still make it yours.” She took the bowtie from his hands, sending his heart straight into his throat as her fingers brushed his, and examined it. 

    “We can have you wear a black tie next year, maybe even some different shoes. Maybe stitch a band logo into the suit to really shake things up!” Ash’s eyes lit up and holy shit were they always that big and blue--

    “I uh. I don’t know if that will fly with Lewis.” Sebastian stammered, taking the bow back and pocketing it. “The uh, the stitch thing. The tie and shoes though, yeah, sure. Sounds good. I’m gonna, uh--” He took a couple steps back. “I’m gonna go work on… A program. For a customer-- FUCK.” 

    Ash rushed to his side as he tripped again, this time over Alex’s discarded dress shoes. He shot a glare at the brunet, who had apparently changed into sneakers right after the dance. 

    “You good, dude? You’re all red.” WHY WAS SHE HOLDING HIM?

    Sebastian stood, eyes wide as he realized she’d caught him mid-fall. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, searching for a comprehensive sentence in his mind like a blindfolded child trying to find a needle in a haystack, except his brain was a pile of needles and a fucking coherent thought was a single strand of hay--

    “Thanks.” He choked finally, turning around and walking as fast as he could without seeming like he was running. He ignored his family calling for him to come back, the festival isn’t over yet, you should at least say goodbye to everybody--

    There was no way in hell he was staying any longer. Not after embarrassing himself in front of Pelican Town’s sweetheart, not after talking to her about fucking Shane of all people, the only person in town who was more miserable than himself and yet the farmer had asked him to dance and not Sebastian--

    “Why the fuck does that matter?!” He hissed under his breath, kicking a trash can onto its side as he passed the saloon. And more importantly, why can’t a girl touch your hand without you losing your shit? 

            He really, really needed a cigarette right now, but his stupid suit didn’t have big enough pockets so he left them at home instead of tucking one behind his ear like a smart, refined nicotine addict would have. There’s only four left in the pack at home anyway, he reasoned with himself, I might as well just get some and smoke on the way home.

    With a defeated sigh, Sebastian turned the corner to JojaMart.

Chapter Text

    Ash woke up on the first day of summer to a broken fan and a bedsheet full of sweat.

    “I’d say I hope my grandpa is burning in hell for not installing an AC unit in this place,” Ash grumbled to Pickles, who had made a comfortable spot for himself on top of the mini fridge. “But the old fucker would probably find that pleasurable.” 

    Opting to (begrudgingly) abandon her morning routine to make the long trek to Robin’s once again, Ash threw on her most sweat-proof makeup (which consisted of little more than mascara and strategically placed highlighter) and her most heat-friendly-while-still-being-fully-clothed outfit (which consisted of little more than a camisole and Nike shorts).  

    “Hold down the fortress while I’m gone.” She muttered in Pickles’ general direction, toting an already-sweating can of Redbull and a clutch purse. The logical side of her knew that she may not be able to make the trip on taurine and fury alone, but her feral instincts assured her that the tasty awakeness juice was, in fact, better for her current situation than water.  

    She tripped on a pine tree branch on the way and wondered if her feral instincts were actually to be trusted. 

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    “Hey! Need an upgra--” Robin’s usual shtick fell flat at the sight of a rather mangled Ash, who merely grunted in response.

    “AC unit. Don’t care how much or where you put it, just need it now. ” Ash hissed, slumping against the counter. Robin gave her a pat on the head, but reeled back in disgust when her hand came back soaked in sweat and red hair dye.

    “Jesus-- okay, sure! I can have that ready by the morning after next--”

    Ash made a noise akin to a dying baby bear. “ Sooner? ” She pressed, slapping a 100g bill on the counter as if it would entice Robin to work faster.

    “I’m afraid that’s as soon as I can manage, sweet pea.” Robin soothed, opting to instead pat Ash’s sweat-slicked tank top. “I’m sure Sebby won’t mind if you hang around in his room until you can walk back home, though. He always has his unit on full blast.” 

    Ash looked up at her, wiping some of the melted mascara from beneath her eyes. She didn’t particularly love the idea of chilling with Sebastian after their encounter at the Flower Dance, but unfortunately for the both of them she was out of Redbull and fucks to give. 

    “... Thanks for everything. You’re cool. I’m gonna die in your basement now.” 

    She stood on wobbly, aching legs, sliding her bank card in Robin’s general direction and mumbling something along the lines of “take what you need”, before stumbling down the basement stairs and practically tumbling into Sebastian’s room.

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    “FUCKIN’ SHIT-- oh.” Sebastian quirked an eyebrow at the sentient pile of garbage that had barreled through his door, watching as she attempted to fluff up her dark red hair.

    “Robin said your room was cold. Please take me in so I don’t die.” Ash said flatly, taking a seat on the black couch near his door. Sebastian let out an amused huff, turning his attention back to the screen in front of him.

    “Gimme a sec. Just stay there.” 

    The redhead let her body sink into the soft couch, eyes fluttering shut as she listened to the idle tapping of keys coming from Sebastian’s corner of the room.

    “Okay.. There. Sorry about that.” He said finally. “I just needed to finish what I was working on.”

    “Which was?”

    “Something for a customer. Biggest project I’ve had in awhile, but I’m having fun.”

    Ash was about to inquire further when a high-pitched noise came from the computer.

    “...That was Sam. He wants to hang out.” Sebastian cast his glance to the side, a sudden nervousness in his eyes.  “I wasn’t planning on going out today.”

    Ash smiled sympathetically. It was clear that Sebastian had some issues with social situations, which she could easily relate to, but she felt like the last thing he wanted was pity from her. The door opened again, shaking them both from their thoughts.

    “Sebby, I was heading out for some supplies for Ash’s AC unit and I ran into Abigail. She was looking for you. I told her you were working, but she said she’d come around anyway.” 

    The ginger woman handed Ash her bank card back. They smiled casually at each other, and Robin exited, leaving Ash with a very flustered looking Sebastian.

    “No one takes my job seriously.” He began, drawing a cigarette from its pack. “Nobody bugs Maru when she works. What’s she doing that’s more important than what I do?”

    Ash cringed as he lit the cigarette, opting not to say anything seeing as she had intruded on him. She stared at her feet awkwardly for a moment, trying to ignore her fast-beating heart as she scrambled for a way to break the tension.

    “So… Um… What do you wanna do with the whole programming thing?” She said finally, voice tinged with nervousness. Sebastian looked back up at her, his gaze softening at her clear uneasiness.

    “I’m saving up so I can move. Probably to the city or something.” He leaned back in his chair, taking a long drag from his cigarette. Ash continued to stare down at her feet. Sebastian watched her for a moment. 

    “Y’know, had I gone to college like you, I’d probably be making six figures right now.”

    Ash huffed, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

    “Yeah, like I’m anything to compare yourself to. I went from losing brain cells in an office all day to breaking my back on a farm I inherited. College doesn’t define success, you just need to be lucky and find opportunities.”

    Sebastian leaned forward on his elbows, resting his chin in his hands. Ash smiled sheepishly.

    “Maybe I feel more comfortable losing brain cells behind my computer than I do getting those opportunities face-to-face.”

    Ash’s heartbeat quickened again. She was becoming painfully aware of the fact that she looked a mess, her hair flat and her makeup runny with sweat. Not exactly the look she’d have gone for if she had known today would be the first time Sebastian really, really looked at her. 

    Looking back up at him finally, Ash let out a simple, stupid little chuckle in response. Had his eyes always been that deep of a brown?

    “I better get back to work.” Sebastian said, shaking Ash from her thoughts. “Gotta get this finished by tomorrow.”

    She blinked, now painfully aware of the fact that she’d probably missed her chance to say something enticing or smart to leave him with. 

    “Well… Have fun!” JESUS FUCKING CHRIST.

    “Wait.” 

    Ash stopped mid-stand, staring wide-eyed at a now somber Sebastian. He paused for a few moments, clearly trying to work out what exactly he was trying to say. He inhaled deeply, hands pressed together in front of his face.

    “Areyouandabidating”

    What?

    Are you and Abi dating? ” 

    Ash blinked, eyes damn near close to bugging out of her head. Where the actual fuck had he gotten that idea?! 

    “No!” Shit, did that sound too desperate?

    “... Oh.” Was that all he was gonna say?! “I dunno, I guess I mistook you guys’ interactions for flirting. My bad.” What the fuck did that mean? Was he asking for Abigail or for himself?!

    “... I’ll leave you to your work.” NOW HE’S GONNA THINK YOU’RE MAD AT HIM YOU STUPID FUCK--

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    Fan. ” 

    “Excuse me?”
    FAN. ” 

    Pierre blinked at his mascara-streaked customer, unable to peel his eyes away from her tear-stained trainwreck of a face.

    “...Aisle three.” He said finally. Ash muttered a quick thanks, sulking to the little section of the home goods aisle that had… Nothing but one measly desk fan left. 

    Luckily Pierre, after having a wife and a daughter, was smart enough to not inquire as to why Ash was crying as she purchased her little white desk fan. Living in a small town, though, he was not smart enough to keep his mouth shut about it after Ash left the store with her fan and hastily-bought six-pack of hard lemonade.

Chapter Text

    Sebastian had decided that the Luau was, in fact, the most tedious and boring of all of Pelican Town’s festivities.

    Sure the Flower Dance was anxiety inducing and useless, but at least it was short. The Luau seemed to drag on, the only ”exciting” part being when the governor tasted the communal soup and, ultimately, decided it was awful. Usually due to Sebastian or Sam.

    He cast his gaze out to the rest of the festival-goers, some who looked about as miserable as he did. Shane was not-so casually pouring something from up his sleeve into his cup, a step up from Pam, who unabashedly sipped from a bottle of hard cider. Abigail looked pretty down as well. Something about not wanting to socialize. 

    “How much for me to chuck a few cigarette butts into the pot?” Sebastian said in a poor attempt to lift her mood, jerking a thumb at the large cauldron. Abigail wrinkled her nose. 

    “Don’t you dare! What if Vincent or Jas eat it?”

    Sam rolled his eyes, bumping his shoulder against Abigail’s.

    “I don’t know if we’ll have to add anything. The farmer just put in, like, twenty hot peppers!”

    The group turned to see Ash striding casually over to them, a large, round pair of sunglasses obstructing the better part of her face. She carried a now empty basket on her hip.

    “The fuck are you all lookin’ at?” She called from across the dock, smiling her cheek-to-cheek, toothy smile.

    “Normally we’re the ones who fuck up the soup pot. Kudos!” Abigail bumped her fist against Ash’s shoulder, earning an amused huff from the redhead.

    “I didn’t fuck it up! Shane was telling me earlier that the soup is always hella bland, so I thought I’d make it tolerable,” she moved her sunglasses to rest atop her head, squinting a bit as the sun penetrated her light eyes. “Unless all you pasty bitches can’t handle a little spice.”

    This earned a few chuckles of approval from the group, and Sebastian saw a hint of giddiness in her eyes. He wondered if she had any friends outside of the valley, seeing as she was eager (perhaps “desperate” was a better term) to befriend anyone who would let her. Something about the dark circles under her eyes and the way her voice shook if someone didn’t absolutely adore her told him she probably didn’t.

    He also wondered why she dressed up so nicely for all of these stupid festivals.

    She wore a casual black dress with a plunging neckline, the kind that had criss-crossed straps across the chest. Alongside her usual pentacle necklace (which he only knew the significance of from Abi) she wore a simple choker, and some wedge sandals that probably made her walk to the beach a hundred times harder. Overall not flashy, per se, but she definitely stood out considering nobody else ever bothered to dress up. He decided it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, because the dress showed off her curves nicely and—

    “Looking for something?”

    Sebastian’s eyes shot up, staring wide-eyed at her coy smile and half-lidded eyes. His heart made its home in his throat, making it hard to swallow.

    “I--” He choked, blinking stupidly. “... I wanted to know if you had a horse. Kinda sucks if you walked here in sandals.”

    She raised a brow at him, playful smile fading into a look of what could only be described as a hellish mix of disappointment, pity, and disgust.

    “No. I can walk in these just fine.” Ash cast her unimpressed gaze to the side for a moment, leaving Sebastian to flounder by himself before clearing her throat. “What exactly is this tradition for? I don’t know if I trust that soup. No offense.” When the fuck had she become so goddamn haughty?

    Before anyone else could explain, Sam began to prattle on about the Luau and his own antics that had landed him a season full of community service hours after work. Ash listened intently, still holding herself with a seemingly newfound confidence. A stark contrast from her usual shyness. Peeling his eyes away from her, Sebastian made the mistake of catching Abigail’s gaze. 

    What? ” He mouthed, curling his lip at her smug expression. Abigail giggled, flashing him a knowing grin and a quick look in Ash’s general direction. Sebastian bit back a dramatic groan, instead opting to rub his temples, feeling a headache coming on at the sound of his phone buzzing in his pocket.

You like herrr ;3

It isn’t like that.

I call bs lol I think she likes u too tho!! 

    Sebastian blinked at the screen, his thoughts suddenly turning to static. He was interrupted by another text.

Tell her she looks nice or I’m gonna tell her abt the time I caught u tryin to suck ur own dick LMAO

    He shot Abi another wide-eyed stare, knowing damn good and well she was serious. Abigail was, if anything, a woman of her word, even if this meant mortifying her best friends. He exhaled dramatically, leaving Abi to put her phone away triumphantly. Damn her for knowing him so well.

    “Hey, Ash..” he trailed off, freezing up as soon as her icy (but somehow also sultry?) gaze met his. The summer breeze swept her deep red hair away from her face, revealing a large cut that started on the side of her forehead and disappeared beneath the sea of crimson. He stared at it for a split second too long, eliciting an annoyed huff from Ash.

“So, uh, what’s with the gash on your face?”

Abigail made no attempt to hide the sound of her palm smacking against her forehead.

“I got it in the mines. I was switching my axe out for my sword a little too fast and… Well.” Ash gestured lazily to the wound, which still stood out against her ivory flesh despite the makeup she’d put over it. Abigail’s eyes shot from Sebastian to Ash, her look of disgust swapped for that of an eager child.

“You go in the mines?! With a sword? ” Abigail clutched Ash’s arm, bouncing on her toes. “You have to take me some time! I have a sword too! Do you ever find any amethyst?”

An enamored smile crossed Ash’s strawberry-red lips, and Sebastian swore he could feel the tension in the air. It made him want to wretch. He ignored the mayor’s call to attention, deciding instead to focus on the sick feeling in his gut.

“I’d love to-- just make sure to bring the sword, okay?” Ash put a hand over

Abigail’s where it rested against her arm. His heart was in his stomach now, taking shelter amongst the twisted nausea, a step down from its former home in his throat. “I can’t have you getting hurt!”

Sebastian swallowed thickly, opting to light a cigarette rather than listen to the two girls’ chittering any more. Maybe Abigail was mistaking Ash’s feelings, maybe she thought they were directed at him rather than at her. Maybe Ash didn’t particularly prefer either of them and was testing the waters. Hell, she was probably doing the same with Shane. Why the fuck did I think anyone would care about me anyway?

The first drag did nothing to calm his thoughts so he took another, but the smoke took the old place of his heart in his throat and suddenly he was as close to sickness as the governor was.

“I guess maybe a dozen peppers was too much for the old guy.” Ash said flatly. Sebastian peered up at her from his position with his hands sat on his knees, coughing up a fit, and wondered if somebody as composed as her ever spiraled like he did. 

Chapter Text

   Seb and Ash by ParanormalImag1 on twitter

    Despite the sun beating relentlessly on Pelican Town, Ash had made plans with Abigail to spelunk in the mines. It was hard to resist her friend’s eager face, so shortly after the Luau, Ash had caved and told Abi that they could go mining the next day. Toting her sword, pickaxe, and obligatory Redbull, she set off to the shortcut connecting her farm to the mountains.

    As she approached the mountains, Ash found herself wondering if she would run into Sebastian. A familiar feeling tugged at her heart, but she quickly swallowed it. This town is too small for you to be fucking up again.

    A loud, metallic clatter sounded from Robin’s house, making Ash jump. Perhaps Maru was outside working on something? A wave of guilt washed over her as she remembered how she’d been too late upon noticing Maru’s birthday on the local calendar. 

    Better late than never.

    Ash scampered down the dirt path to Robin’s house, turning into the open garage and seeing--

    Sebastian.

    And a motorcycle.

    She nearly wretched right there on the dirt, tasting bile and artificial syrup in her throat as Sebastian slid out from beneath the bike. A thousand unwanted thoughts hit her at once, sending her spiraling back into the childhood she never truly had.

    “Oh, hey Ash.” He said casually, bringing her back to the present. She blinked at him for a moment, waiting for her mouth to start working again.

    “... My dad used to ride.” She choked, trying to keep her voice level. Sebastian nodded, tossing a small, oil-stained cloth to the side. 

    “I forgot I haven’t shown it to you yet.” He ducked underneath the vehicle once again and Ash almost took off running, but after a moment he continued.

“Sometimes, after sundown, I make the long ride out of Stardew Valley.”

She fidgeted awkwardly, hoping that Abigail would show up soon.

“Where do you go?”

“Zuzu, mostly. Sometimes neighboring towns, just for a change.” There was the sound of metal hitting the ground. “Once I’ve saved enough, I’m gonna head out on my own. Just me and my bike.”

Ash felt dizzy all of the sudden. She sat on her knees in the dirt, staring into the distance and focusing on not throwing up, and not letting the smell of oil take her back to countless days spent in her basement with her dad listening to him talk about how he was gonna take her on his bike and never look back, and not--

Sebastian rolled out again, quirking a brow when he looked up at her.

“Jesus, you look like you’ve seen a ghost. You good?”

And not letting this cute guy know she was having flashbacks.

“I’m fine. Just haven’t been feeling too good lately. It’s the heat.”

He nodded, sitting with one knee propped up, arm hanging lazily over it. 

“You could probably use some time away, then. How about one of these days I take you for a ride?”

Ash stiffened, and suddenly the world was spinning and the blood was rushing in her ears and she was not in control, and all she could hear was a voice that sounded a lot like her saying--

“Yeah, sounds fun!” 

She came crashing back down to earth like a plane nose-diving into a field, her heart racing and her skin hot as Sebastian gave her a smile that looked almost relieved. She stood abruptly, swaying a bit and making her vision blur, and turned toward the mines.

“I’m meeting Abi in the caves, but hey, call me when you wanna take that ride! You, uh, have fun! With the… Bike. Yeah.” And without a passing glance she was gone, as fast as her clumsy feet would take her, far, far away from the smell of oil and the sound of her father’s voice. She collapsed in a heap near the mine elevator, slapping a hand over her mouth to muffle an anguished, strangled sob.

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    “Ash? Hey, look at me!” 

    The world faded in slowly, starting with Abigail’s blue eyes and ending with Ash being able to move her hands.

    “Are you okay? You look awful!” Abi looped an arm around Ash’s torso, easing her to her feet. The redhead wiped the residual tears from her face.

    “Fine, yeah. Just got the shit kicked out of me by a couple slimes deeper in.” She jerked a thumb to the elevator. “That’s why you and I are starting at level one.” 

    Not allowing Abigail any time to ask questions, Ash made her way to the rickety ladder leading down to the first level of the mines.

    “After you.” She mumbled, turning her head away from her friend. She felt worried eyes on her for just a moment before the ladder began to creak, indicating Abigail’s descent, and she wondered just how far into her own descent she could go before someone here noticed her true self.