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The Institution of Beer On Mondays

Chapter Text

Long, carrot-orange hair (that for some reason was constantly called red?), side swept bangs, and big grey eyes stared back at me from the mirror. One of my ex-boyfriends told me I could make great money as a prostitute or someone's sugar baby. No, I didn't dump him after that- he's the one that dumped me. After I punched him for saying that, I mean.

He wasn't the first to make a stupid comment ("You're too muscular." "You're not girly enough!" [they were also punched]), and he certainly wasn't the last. But he was the one that I thought about when I sat at my desk that day. My eyes burned from staring at the screen too long, my fingers cramped on the mouse. My only respite was observing myself in the mirror in my cubicle, noting the dark circles under my eyes, the blemishes cropping up on my skin from neglect and stress, my scar standing out vastly against my pale face. I looked like death.

Much of it was related to one of my worst phone calls ever--the one that got me demoted to "filing"--otherwise known as staring at a screen until your eyes bleed. I got angry at a woman who couldn't understand how to use the mouse she bought at one of our stores... she was holding it backwards and couldn't understand why there weren't any buttons. The "big boss" (or the closet whore, depending on who you asked) thought that filing was a much better match for me, since I couldn't "control myself" around customers. He made it sound like I had bladder issues.

When I became aware I'd been distracted for too long I turned back to the screen quickly, hoping to avoid an "Attendant" coming down to "remind me of my duties" for the fifth time today. I just had to accept fate and understand with all my being that I was about 5/6ths of the way from going permanently blind. I tried to summon renewed energy and put real thought into what I was doing, but just as I was about to give in to failure, I heard a throat clear.

I loved Tom. Everyone loved Tom. But I didn't love Tom when he was trying to get me in trouble again. I shot him a quick, scowling glance, then returned to my monitor, trying harder than ever to focus when I saw something dark move around my head, and then an annoying buzzing came way too close to my head. I swatted first, but then when the shape swooped to divebomb me, with speed that surprised even myself, my hand shot out and caught it. I didn't dare open my hand to let it fly again, but I could feel from the smooth shape that it was... a... beetle? What was a beetle doing in here? Surely the disinfectant-laden air would have killed it?

And yet when I did eventually release it, it flew, happy as could be. The girl behind me shrieked shortly after so I could only assume it went after her next, but I just returned to mindlessly copying and pasting the words I didn't care to read onto documents to be printed. I was the only girl there that didn't have a fit when there was a bug around--in fact, three days onto the job, I got bored and trained a bee to perch on my pinkie. Tom thought it was funny... big boss, not so much.

I had no doubt that Tom had caught the beetle outside and subsequently released it in here to get the attention of the brunette behind me--he had a thing for brunettes. He was infatuated with the poor woman... so infatuated, he saw fit to disturb her in any way possible just to see her reaction. I was disgusted by his displays, but without enough energy to care for myself, I couldn't protect everyone. I'd mention it to him in private again, so he could ignore me again and I could wonder why we were even friends in the first place.

When the buzzer blared, those who were new to the job could be heard quietly cheering. Acting as those of us that had been around a while and therefore were well trained, I kept my head down, closed up my work, grabbed my things, and made to leave as quickly as possible. On my way out I could have sworn I saw Tom chatting up the brunette and walking towards the cursed filing closet, but then the sea of workers descended and I was swept outside, wondering if I even wanted to know or not. Word had been going around that there was a bed in there... but I wasn't sure whether or not I believed it. Tom apparently did. I definitely did not want to know whether he himself had used the mythical bed of nightmares.

The smoggy air practically slapped me in the face, reminding me one of the good things about working at Joja- at least their air was clean, even if it reeked of disinfectant. I didn't want to know what they were disinfecting or else I probably would have asked, but I had learned quickly that my mind shouldn't crawl into those dark places.

The sea parted, allowing me to go adrift, and I was lucky enough to look down at the sidewalk at the last second and avoid a shoe-full of fresh gum. I probably couldn't count how many pieces were now on the bottom of people's shoes since, from the looks of it, a gang of teens had come through and littered the place. Couldn't say I blamed them. I slogged carefully past gum, bugs, gum, dirt, gum, trash, more gum, an abandoned shoe, and a fuckton more gum to get to my apartment, where I promptly grabbed a beer, my snake, and plopped down on the threadbare couch.

A little tongue flicked at my cheek once, twice, three times, and finally I opened my eyes and leaned forward, allowing the princess of the apartment to slither around my neck. The little corn snake was obviously pleased with my obedience, settling in comfortably while I relaxed into the lumpy couch. Keilani couldn't join me for a drink, but she was there in spirit, alternating between getting her heat-lamp on in the crook of my neck and slithering along my arms, headbutting me to make me lift them up so she could use me as her own personal jungle gym. I was content as long as I could keep the rim of the beer can nestled between my lips.

I was trying to drink my problems away... but it wasn't working. So I detached myself from the couch long enough to retrieve another beer, downed it as well, and produced the same results. This time instead of getting another beer I decided to distract myself. With something. Anything. Well, I still had to go through that old memory box under my bed, and get rid of what I didn't need.

Most of it I threw away outright. A lot I had kept was stuff my mom had pressured me to keep that I didn't even care about--report cards, failed science projects. Boring. I kept a few old documents and some things like the first prize I won at the fair, and the little box of ashes that held the old family cat, Dusty. His name had never been so apt. Keilani interrupted me occasionally to climb over things, but after a piece of paper bent under her weight and she took a little tumble, she relegated herself to arm-guard.

The last thing I found was an old, dusty, musty box. I had been smelling something funky for a while, and this had to be it. Oh, yep. What a way to burn your nostril hairs. I grimaced, trying to wade through the beer-laden soup in my brain to remember what it was. It better not be a dead bug or something that I decided to throw in to prank my future self. There was a hole in the side that definitely looked like it shouldn't be there, and smelled entirely of rot, so it took a lot of fight to push through the reluctance and open it.

I almost immediately crawled over to the trash can and threw up, trying not only to lose the contents of my stomach but the memory of my eyes falling upon a rotting, long-dead mouse. I heaved, and it ached. But an urge to laugh bubbled up within deep inside of me at the realization. When I was 13, my then-boyfriend had told me that 9 years from then I'd be getting drunk and throwing up on Monday nights, and he was right. It would be 10 years in just a few months.

I didn't laugh, if only to save myself the possibility of trying once more to reject the entire contents of my body, and instead kept one arm around the trash can and grabbed the box with the other, holding it out at arms length while I walked to the bathroom. I dumped the mouse into the toilet, content to flush it and be done with it, but when it fell out there was something attached to it. Which was now getting dangerously close to the toilet water.

Any other time I would have ignored it. But the seal on it... the seal was the one my grandpa always used to use for his letters. With a type of urgency I didn't know I had, I used trembling fingers to peel the letter off... and find skin dried to it. Technically I threw up again, but "tried" was the key word, seeing as there wasn't really anything left in my stomach. Just a little bit of stomach acid.

I donned gloves before I attempted to open the letter, and thankfully the remnants of the now-flushed mouse weren't wet like I thought they might be, so I managed through it unscathed and flushed the envelope too, unwilling to put up with the sight any longer, pipes be damned. The letter smelled foul as well, but not nearly as bad with the culprit missing, so in my warped state of mind, I decided perfume would freshen the air since I had no air freshener.

I was wrong. I should have left well enough alone. I spent most of the night with my head hanging in the toilet, heaving from the smells of rot and perfume combined, praying to any deity listening that the tiny windows of my apartment would suck the smell out faster. Thankfully I had ditched the snake since then, so I didn't have her to attend to, and that gave me ample time to read over the letter and try to ignore the suspicious dark spot in the middle of the letter.

It was a... deed. Well, not an actual deed, he said I could retrieve that with the town mayor. But he had given me the rights to his farm. I had spent a couple summers there. I didn't remember it aside from remembering that I had fallen in love with it. It had always been so homey there, it had always struck a chord deep inside me. And now... it was mine. I could leave Joja. I could start a new life there. I didn't have much money to my name but about 500 G would be enough to start, right? I could always build it up later. It didn't have to be perfect immediately.

If someone had told me that my life would change today, I would have laughed at them. If someone told me my life would change with my head hanging in the toilet bowl, I never would have believed them. Even now, I still couldn't quite believe it. But... I was ready. I wanted to do this. I had always wanted to get out of the city; what better way than this?

Chapter Text

I couldn't decide what creeped me out more. I didn't remember calling Mayor Lewis, and yet, he and Robin were just standing there, waiting for me. Or had I called him? While... drunk? I definitely didn't ask, because I didn't want to know. But then, not even five feet into my new property, Robin was already trying to sell me a house plan or.. or upgrade, or whatever. I wasn't entirely paying attention.

I mean, sure, the place needed work. The farmland was... beyond run down. I couldn't even tell if I remembered the place, because everything was too overgrown to see. But the house... yeah. It was weathered and battered, there was a stove and a shelf in the corner in lieu of a kitchen, and the small bathroom at the very back of the house had rotting walls, thanks to the wood boards on them. I did appreciate the heads up that I'd need to focus on that first, lest I lose my bathroom entirely, but... I didn't need the sales pitch. I had just gotten out of the business that used them for a living.

They were... odd. Mayor Lewis was nice enough, but he seemed like one of those gruff-old-man characters that I didn't get along with very well, and Robin was... way too cheerful and upbeat about it all. I didn't mind happy people per se, but when that happiness shines out of you like rainbows about an obviously rundown farm, I start to question your credibility. It made me wonder if Mayor Lewis didn't demand her performance in trying to convince me that this was the right place to be. Honestly, I think they were just excited about the economy boost.

Part of me wanted to slack off on my first day, maybe go and meet some of the people of the town and get it over with, but that didn't sit right with me. My grandfather had taught me better. And I didn't like people, anyways. So I picked myself up by my bootstraps--or, rather, my combat boot laces, and got to work. Clearing a small area for my new seeds was pretty easy. I didn't have a lot anyways, and the area had previously been populated by weeds, which I thoroughly enjoyed whacking away at with my new scythe. I... probably needed to restrain myself with that thing.

What the massive problem was is not knowing how to plant them. The back had instructions, but it was like it was a different language. I was used to following recipe instructions, not how-to-garden-for-dummies. It took me a while to make the right size holes, the right distance apart. If I'd had a ruler it would have made it easier, and technically I did somewhere, but I wasn't in the mood to go on a wild goose hunt.

I lost a few seeds to the ether, otherwise known as "I just put the packs down, why are they empty?" But they turned out, otherwise. Well, as much as mounds of dirt can turn out.

The trek to town was a long one, mostly because I took time to dawdle in the area I'd pulled up in to see if there were any cameras set up. I couldn't find anything, which made the whole thing even stranger. I definitely felt like I was being watched when I tried to pull a wild horseradish up, enough so that I even swiveled, fully expecting to find someone behind me. There was, of course, no one. I was just on my shit again. I was just dusting off the horseradish when I realized if there were cameras, someone had probably just caught me being really stupid. I took another furtive glance around, but when it produced no results, I wandered into town.

I wasn't the type to latch on to the first thing I saw, so I went on past what looked like a medical clinic and a little country corner store. That's when I found out that everyone here was a fucking creep. Or at least, this guy definitely was. He looked like he played the part of every stereotypical jock in movies ever, from the clothes to the jawline. He was smirking as I approached uncertainly, undecided on whether or not to just keep walking.

"...Hi?" My greeting turned up on the end, making it more of a question than anything else. He had to take a second to flip imaginary hair out of his eyes before replying, "Hey, are you the new farm girl?" FARM GIRL?! "Yes," I managed out through gritted teeth, "I'm the new girl." "Well, I'm Alex. If you keep wearing those pants I'm sure we'll get along great." I positively bristled at the mention, which I think he noticed, because one perfectly plucked eyebrow raised at me. I really, really wanted to shave it off. I wanted to punch him, too, if my curled up fist was any indication. It took everything in me to let out a noncommittal hum that sounded a little like a growl and pass him by, feeling his stare burning holes into my ass.

Once I was out of eyesight I looked down at my pants and frowned. If I was going to draw attention with these, I'd be changing into baggy grandma trousers very soon. The last thing I wanted was someone ogling me as I wandered around.

Another creep. A blonde girl with a camera in the meadow that said absolutely nothing to me- in fact, she acted as if I didn't even exist. I was getting really sick of the people in this town already, so I hoped I'd find someone worth while soon. I did while I was picking a daffodil.

Purple boots came into my vision just inches from my face and I paused, still pinching the stem, ready to pull the flower. "Is this yours?" "Is it yours?" a mysterious voice answered. I rolled my eyes, instantly dubbing the man a creep, and pulled the daffodil. As I was tucking it into my backpack I noticed his curious gaze.

"I'm Kara..." I told him when silence reigned. "I know," he replied shortly. I wondered if his beard itched when he dyed it purple. He must have thought I was looking at his amulet, because he raised it up and mused, "Beautiful, isn't it?" "...Sure. Um, do you need me for something, or did you just come to creep me out like the rest of this town?" A smirk raised the corners of his lips ever so slightly. "They certainly have interesting personalities, don't they?" "Uh... yeah." I couldn't help but be a little dumb-founded with this guy. It was almost like he had an aura.

"Do not worry, you have only met a struggling shop keeper, a happy go lucky mayor, and the town's two most vain occupants so far." "How did you know that?" "I saw you," he replied simply. After a pause I added, "Where are you in that mix?" If he was going to confuse me I could at least know his name, right?

"Rasmodius, my name is Rasmodius. I am a wizard." "Okay, bye bye now."

I turned to leave, deciding I didn't want to be friends with a pothead, when he caught my arm. "Drink this," he told me as he handed me a glass with a sickly green liquid in it. "Why?" "Because I believe you need it," he said simply. I walked away with the glass still in hand.

Sitting on my porch that afternoon, I stared at the liquid. I'd already sniffed it- it didn't smell great, but it didn't smell like poison, either. Assuming I knew what poison smelled like. After a lot of thought I took a little sip. It tasted a lot like pine, and something else really earthy. I wasn't sure I wanted to know what, but decided to down it anyways. Maybe I'd turn into super woman.

Unfortunately, I didn't turn into my favorite super hero--instead I definitely had a drug trip. Green still swam in my vision some hours later when I plodded down to the dock I'd seen outside the rancher's house. Alex told me a rancher, her nephew, and niece lived there. I'd talked to him when I passed by him at the dog pen later that day. I think he was nicer to me because I seemed like I was stoned, but he told me the "town drunk" lived there; the nephew.

I don't think the town drunk expected to find me sitting on the dock, staring out at the lake as I sipped a beer. "Hi," I said to the mysterious footsteps. "If I don't know you, I'm Kara. If I've already met you, go away." There was a snort, and then a male voice snarked, "What a way to make friends," as he walked to the end of the dock and sat down next to me.

"I don't want to make friends," I told him calmly, "I just want to make a decent living on the farm and have people mind their own business. Especially that Haley girl." "Ah, so you're the new farm girl." "What's that supposed to mean?" I asked warily, eyeing the purple haired man out of the corner of my eye.

What was it with these people and purple hair? Hell, there was even a tiny teenage girl with purple hair running around, so her mother said, I just hadn't met her yet.

"Oh, just that you've ruined my life," he informed me casually. "Mm, I see. Want a cold one?" "Sure." He took the beer from me and then informed me, "Marnie's talked about you non-stop all day." "Marnie is...." "The woman I live with." "Ohhh, the rancher. So you're the town drunk."

His narrowed eyes landed on me and I protested, "What? I've got to label you all something until I meet you, and that's all Alex gave me to work with!" "I'm not the town drunk... Pam is." "Hm. Older lady, curly blonde hair?" He gave a little nod. "I saw her. Don't suppose she and that bitch Haley are related?" A faint shake of the head. "Well, I think they leech personality off of each other." That made him laugh a little, something that surprised me.

"Glad to know a loud mouth moved in. Thanks for the beer." "Yep. Now go away." He snorted again, shaking his head at me. "Oh, sorry." I gave him my cutest smile. "Now go away." As he got up he staggered a little, making it clear this wasn't his first beer of the night.

"Woman after my own heart," he joked as he headed for the house. I don't know how long I sat there, trying to see the trees that had long since melted from my vision, and wondering if any of the other townspeople were as interesting as Shane. Someday that man would be my best friend; I was determined.

Chapter Text

"Haven't I been rude enough to you yet?" It was Summer, and Shane was still trying to pass off the fact that he had actually, kind of gotten along with me that day on the dock. I think it was because I started making friends with the other people in town, who I decided weren't all creeps. Alex and Haley were still impossible to talk to, though.

Evelyn suggested Alex might not be so difficult to talk to if I tried to get to know him, but I quickly discarded that idea. Even though the man was all about himself, he had his ego caked onto his face so thick you couldn't even get him to smile for fear it might crack.

"Apparently not," I mused, sipping at the pale ale I'd gotten from Gus as a birthday present. "Get off my dock," he grumbled and I couldn't help but laugh. "Who said it's your dock?" I tossed over my shoulder. I put my ale down to check my phone when it beeped, smiling and shaking my head when I saw the text Tom had sent me.

No sooner had I laid my phone down, a sharp force came at the back of me and sent me plunging into the water. Thankfully the water was warm, but what if I hadn't been able to swim? And that's when I got my idea. Kicking to send me deeper, I clung to one of the slimy pillars of the dock and peered up, smirking to myself.

I knew that somewhere deep inside, he cared about me, even if only a little. He was still human, even if he tried to act like he wasn't. And I was going to pay him back for tossing me into the lake on my birthday.

When I felt something tug on my shirt I wondered if this lake had aggressive fish in it, but let the thought pass when I heard a splash and watched as a shoeless figure appeared in the water. He went up for a breath of air and then dipped down, scanning the water wildly until his eyes landed on me, where I was dangerously close to losing my breath. The sight of his glare made me start laughing and I pushed off as hard as I could, surfacing before I choked to death.

His head popped up a few seconds later, still glaring at me as I laughed hysterically. "I thought you were actually hurt," he growled. "Awww," I managed between giggles, "You do care."

He tried to grab the dock but I pulled him down into the water, complaining, "Come on, swim with me!" "No." "Please?" "No!" "But it's my birthday." He paused, and a loud sigh was heard. When he turned back to me I grinned and gave another especially hard kick, and suddenly his eyes went wide. "Where's your shirt?" "What?!"

My hands flew to my stomach and sure enough, my top half was nude. I'd never needed to wear a bra because of how tiny my breasts were, so it wasn't like I even had coverage from that. When I ducked under water I found my favorite blue graphic t-shirt fluttering in the water, stuck to the dock post by what appeared to be a nail. I scowled at the nail as if it could see me and then came up to explain, "My shirt got caught on the dock and I didn't even notice."

"You didn't notice it ripping off your body?" He questioned skeptically. I rolled my eyes. "I was about to drown, dumbass. My only concern was getting to the surface before you actually had to save me."

"Do you want me to swim with you now?" he asked sarcastically, but without hesitation I replied, "Yes." His eyebrows rose up under his soaked fringe and I snorted, "What do I care if you see my top half naked?" "Nothing, apparently," he snarked. "But you have to strip too."

"I don't even want to be here, why are you making me take my shirt off to stay?" "Because it's my birthday!" "It's not your birthday." "Yes it is," I insisted, "The 16th of summer, ask your aunt." "You know what, I think I will." When he tried to climb out again I grabbed him by the head and dunked him. He came back up furious. "You're getting it now!"

I laughed as I ducked under the water, swimming away from him as he chased me. He was doing exactly what I wanted him to, the poor, gullible man. He chased me the entire way down the river and deep into the woods, where we finally surfaced for the final time. "Did Marnie pay you to get me to work out?" he puffed, making me giggle. "No, but I wouldn't do it even if she paid me."

His eyes narrowed. "Why?" "Because I think you're adorable the way you are, and you already hate me. I'm not going to make you even madder at me." "I don't hate you," he grumbled. "You sure act like it." "Fine, I'll prove I don't hate you, I'll get you a birthday present. What do you want?" "For you to take your shirt off." "You know, I don't know why you'd want a nightmare but I give up. Fine."

A hoodie hit the grass, followed shortly by a t-shirt, both soaking wet and ratty beyond belief. I grinned at him and he sighed, asking drily, "Is this better?" "Yes. Thank you. Now here, have a hot pepper." Before he could react I popped one in his mouth. While he chewed he asked, "Where did you get this?" "I grew it." His eyebrows raised a little... then they furrowed. "Where was this thing?" "In my left front pocket," I said with an eye roll.

"Did you really think I'd feed you panty-peppers?" "I never know what to think with you." The faintest hint of a smile showed up on his lips, making me grin at him. "Wanna head back to the dock and have a soaking wet beer with me?" "Sure. But don't think it's because I like you or anything." "Nah," I teased with a wink, then plunged back under the water and swam away.

About an hour later I had to swim back for his hoodie and t-shirt, which he refused to get out of the water without, and blamed me for leaving there. He didn't know it, but that was one of the best birthdays I'd ever had.

Chapter Text

It couldn't even be described as sweltering; it was far worse than that. I laid sprawled out under the apple tree I had growing, listening to the sound of my cat purring in the sunshine. Of course Tilly was enjoying it, she was a cat. She was probably the only one enjoying it. Last time I had checked on Keilani, she was curled up on the cool side of her tank, probably desperately praying I'd take her back to my temperature-regulated apartment.

"Uh... are you ok?" My eyes slowly cracked open to find Shane standing there holding a basket. "I'm baking," I informed him. He snorted at my pitiful tone. "Then why don't you go inside?" "Do you really think I have an air conditioner?" Silence reigned for a moment.

"Marnie asked me to bring you this," he finally blurted, shoving the basket at me. I sat up to peer inside. "Oh, bless her heart, Keilani is going to love this." "Who?" "Keilani," I repeated mindlessly, already heading for my house. I paused when I realized I couldn't hear pursuit.

"You coming?" Shane looked surprised for a moment before following me, nearly tripping over Tilly as she tried to rub against his ankles. "Why don't you have an air conditioner?" "Can't afford it." "Bullshit, I know you're making plenty of money on the farm." "Shane, all of it has to be spent in preparation for this coming winter. I don't have any spare money, especially since I occasionally like a pale ale or two for fun."

He averted his eyes and stayed quiet as we padded around logs, rocks, and the occasional tuft of wild weeds and grass. "You have this place cleaned up a lot better than I thought you would," he mumbled. "Thanks. I've been working pretty hard on it, especially since I don't like going out a lot."

When I bent down to pull an acorn up out of the dirt I heard him swallow thickly and clear his throat so looked back at him, still bent over. "You ok?" "Uh..." he looked away, "Your... your shorts." Right, my shorts. Since it had been so hot I'd ditched my dark graphic t-shirts and jeans in favor of a sleeveless yellow top and high waisted green shorts.

"Do they ride up?" I asked as I stood up and he scoffed. "Nice pink panties," he muttered, making my cheeks heat up a little. "Sorry. It's been ages since I wore these, I wasn't sure how they'd fit." "I think if you refrain from bending over they'll be fine." I noticed him eyeing me. "Do you like them?" I teased, and he went bright red. "No," he growled, "I'm just not used to anything but your dirty graphic t-shirts and shit. They're too bright."

He deserved to trip over the log for being rude. Once he got up from his face plant and saw me smirking, he rolled his eyes. "You should have been paying attention instead of staring at these shorts you hate so much," I chirped, then skipped up the porch steps and opened the door. When he came up to the door he seemed a little unsure.

"Should I... leave?" "No, I need your help. C'mere." So he plodded over, watching as I fished the cooling pack out of the basket and pulled the protection off the sticky part. "I need to cool Keilani down, so I want to stick this to the side of the tank. But it's not designed for terrariums so it's going to be a little too long. What I need you to do is lift the lid up and keep her from coming out while I place the pad and snip a little off the top." "What is Keilani?" "A corn snake." His eyebrows raised. "You have a corn shake?"

I lost it. I laughed so hard I fell to my knees, all the while he grumbled and averted his eyes. "It's not funny," he complained. He didn't realize why I was laughing so hard. "I say it too," I finally managed out. "What?" he sounded confused. "I keep saying corn shake, too! That's why it's so funny!" As he helped me up I saw another teeny, tiny smile tugging the corners of his lips up. "Well, as long as you aren't laughing at me."

He tried to sound tough but I could see his smile. I shot him a grin. "So will you help me?" "Yeah," he agreed, then added after a pause, "But get your breath back first. I don't want to wait for you." I giggled and shook my head at him, reaching around the tank to place it. He popped the latches on the lid and then lifted it up, noticing how Keilani raised her head. "Hi baby," I crooned, "We're going to cool you off, you poor thing."

When Keilani came up to investigate the new hands Shane stuttered awkwardly, "Um- ah- how do I... you know..." "Just put your hand out to block her," I told him, "That should keep her at bay. If it doesn't, you can always circle your fingers around her and gently lower her back into the tank, but if you do that just make sure she has a grip on something so she doesn't fall." "Ok," he murmured.

I noticed how his eyes seemed to soften as he watched her nuzzling him. "Is she just like, trying to get out, or...?" "No, she's actually pretty cuddly for a snake; I got lucky. She nuzzles you into her slave."

A little laugh escaped him as curiosity dawned so I explained, "She's the princess of the house. She gets almost whatever she wants... she's my baby." "Seems like you really care about her." "Yeah, she's my best friend. She loves movie nights." "What's her name again? Keilani?" "Yeah." "Where'd you get that name from?" "If I told you, you wouldn't believe me." "Try me."

I hesitated for a moment, smoothing out the bubbles under the cool pack, worrying. Would he think I was weird? I tried to mumble it and hope he would pretend to hear and leave me alone. But when he gave me a look and said, "You really need to speak up," I cracked.

"She's my favorite girl from a time management video game about cam girls." His mouth popped open and I could feel the blush spread all over my cheeks, my collarbone, even the tips of my ears.

I expected him to leave. I expected him to drop the screen of the tank and stroll right out, never to talk to me again. But instead he finally shut his mouth and shrugged, "We all have our interests." That made me smile softly. "Thanks for not, like, freaking out. You totally had every right to." "Not really, it's your life."

His eyes followed me as I walked over to the table to grab the scissors. "I do have a question though." "How'd I come across it?" He gave a little nod. "I used to watch Youtube Let's Players, and one of my favorite ones played it. I thought it looked fun." I gave a shrug as came back over and snipped the top. "You can lower it now," I told him. Once the lid was placed back on I closed the latches and sighed happily.

"Tell Marnie I said thanks; I really appreciate it." "I will." I could see him slowly backing towards the door, taking the hint, but before he could escape I flung my arms around him in a tight hug. "Thanks." "Get off," he grumbled, making me giggle. "Now now," I scolded as I put a hot pepper in his mouth and shooed him out the door, "Don't be rude." And then I shut the door behind him, grinning to myself.

Chapter Text

It was a really, really bad day. First it was sunny when the weather promised rain, and then it was far too cold for fall. Now, bundled up in the puffy parka my mom had gotten me years earlier--which was horrid pink color--I sulked through town. Everyone seemed to notice my unusually irritable mood... except for Haley, who had the nerve to tell me I was dirty.

I almost pulled some dirt off my boot and threw it at her, but I decided it was best not to get kicked out of town over something so trivial. She can thank her lucky stars that Mayor Lewis was watching.

Since it was Wednesday the local shop was closed, but I desperately needed some water to get through the night (since I hated well water and refused to drink it). So I reluctantly crossed the bridge and entered the Joja Mart, instantly feeling dizzy and nauseous from the smell and bright lights. I almost decided I'd rather dehydrate when Shane strolled up.

"Welcome to Joja Mart," he said in a flat tone, "My name is Shane, can I help you with- Kara?" He frowned, "What the hell are you doing here?" I noticed Morris' eyebrows skyrocket. "I'm just here to get some water," I sighed, then padded past him, towards the back where the water was. I was half hoping he'd follow me, half not. So I was still half annoyed when he did.

"Can I interest you in a Joja Blu?" "No thanks. You can stop with the sales pitch; I'm just here for water." But he continued. He listed about 10 different items, unaware of my mounting annoyance. I tried to ignore him, reason with myself that he was just doing his job-regardless of how terrible it was.

It only took another handful of offers before I finally shrieked, "I'LL JUST DEHYDRATE! I'M NOT DEALING WITH THIS BULLSHIT!" and stormed out.

Shane found me at the dock that night, sipping on a water bottle. "Did Marnie give that to you?" "No, Jas did. She's a sweet girl." "Yeah." He sat down next to me, both of us watching the water for a while. The only noises were Shane sipping his beer and me my water. "Buh... life." He shook his head, running his hand over his face as I peered over through my eyelashes.

"Do you ever feel like... no matter what you do, you're going to fail?" I don't think he noticed when I nodded. "Like you're stuck in some miserable abyss and you can't even see the light of day?" "Yeah." He turned his head to look over at me. "I just don't feel like I'm strong enough to climb out of that hole... you know?" I nodded again. "I feel that way too, sometimes... I used to feel like that a lot more often, when I was working at Joja, so I definitely know what you mean."

I could feel his eyes boring into me as I explained, "I'm always worried about money. Worried I'll go hungry, that I won't have enough for crops, that I won't have enough for my animals especially... but I try my best to hope for the good of things. And if that means it's not the farm, go figure. Just another mistake. But if you can just keep pushing forward you don't have to climb out; you'll find the end. I know it."

"Since when do you give motivational speeches?" "Since someone needed one. Now c'mon, let's go swimming." His eyes went wide as I stood up and pulled my shirt off, grinning down at him. "C'mon," I repeated, and then did my best rendition of a cannon ball into the water.

When I came up he was shaking his head. "Your cannon ball sucked." "Then teach me how." "No!" he protested, "I'm not swimming with you, it's col-AH!" Either he was skinnier than his clothes made him look, or I was stronger than I thought, because I pulled him into the water pretty damn easily. Unless maybe he actually wanted to come in.

Judging by his glare I was going to have to go with one of the former options. Shaking in the chill of the water he moved closer, probably to dunk me, but blanched when I wrapped my arms around his neck. It didn't take long for one of his hands to come around and press against my lower back to help keep me up. "You're crazy," he grumbled, but his words didn't have much bite. I smirked at him and whispered, "You like me," as I came closer.

Butterflies formed in my stomach when our noses brushed, but that quickly changed to irritation when he suddenly dunked me. I came back up with an indignant shriek only to find him laughing. "Payback's a bitch," he teased, ducking out of the way of my splashing before returning it.

We were both half-drowned when we finally stopped, both gasping for air and giggling. "I hate you," I said as I laughed, "I hate you so much." "I hate you too," he mumbled, then quickly came forward to kiss me. As soon as his warm, soft lips touched mine I sighed softly against him and wrapped my arms around his neck again, pulling myself closer as his hands moved to my waist. He was a much better kisser than I was expecting.

When he pulled me flush against him and my breasts pressed against his hoodie, we both moaned quietly. However he recovered much more quickly than I and took the opportunity of my open mouth to slide his tongue in. It swirled with mine in an almost playful way, making tingles blossom within me. I couldn't help the way I smiled against his lips when his hands slid down to cheekily grab my ass. However it didn't take long after I smiled for him to reluctantly pull away and leave both of us a little breathless.

"It's late," he managed out past trying to suck in more air and recover. "Is that your way of saying you're getting way too excited way too fast?" I taunted, feeling his glare behind closed eyelids. "No," he grumbled, but I knew he was lying.

My silent laughter vibrated between us. "You like me," I repeated my taunt from earlier, then let out a surprised squeak when he kissed me again, hard enough that my lips would probably bruise.

Shane pulled away for the final time after an all too short kiss, leaving me to watch as he climbed up onto the dock. And then, when he saw me still floating there, he rolled his eyes and reached down to help me up too. Green eyes flitted over my exposed torso as I stood up, still proudly baring myself to him. Finally he shook his head and smiled.

"You're something else, you know that?" I may have been shivering in the chilly air, but I grinned at him past chattering teeth. "I know," I told him as I snatched up my shirt. "Good night," I said over my shoulder as I strolled towards my farm, still nude from the waist up. I could hear him chuckling behind me. "Good night," he called back, and then the front door of the ranch closed.

It wasn't even five seconds later that somewhere within the woods I heard the Wizard call, "You might put some clothes on!" causing me to nearly face-plant in my attempt to get out of view. That would be the first and last time I streaked half nude to my house.

Chapter Text

"Hi Rudolph." When Shane looked up and saw me trying to hold in giggles, he glowered at me. "This is your fault." He looked like he had a major cold. "And why didn't you get sick?!" His voice raised an octave and broke a few times during the sentence, making it even harder to hide the smile and giggles. I wasn't trying very hard.

"I don't get sick," I told him matter of factly, "But it looks good on you." As he stormed off, grumbling under his breath, I grinned and slipped into Pierre's shop. "Hey Pierre, can I have some last minute Bok Choy seeds? I want to get as much out of the last harvest as possible." "Sure! How many?" "Ummm... you know what, you take my money, and give me as many as I can have. Because I have a cold and I really don't want to count."

"Oh, you do? I thought I heard you outside saying you didn't." "My colds just don't show up mu-" I was cut off by a sneeze that made him chuckle. "Maybe you should go see Harvey if you want to keep your cold private," he told me with a wink, then went about gathering seeds for me.

I was surprised how many I could actually afford. A daunting 37 packs of Bok Choy later, I was going home with my messenger bag stuffed to the brim with seed packets. I noticed Sam raise his eyebrows as I passed. "Lots of last minute seeds?" "Yep," I chirped, "I'm ending fall with a bang!" "Well, good luck!" he laughed, "Because I think after watering everything you'll be too tired to do anything else!"

He was right. I ate three times to get enough strength to be able to plant and water all of them. But after getting a pale ale at the saloon, I was feeling good enough to take up Alex's offer of an arm wrestling contest. It was the first time he'd been in the saloon since I arrived and he seemed pretty buzzed; he was probably a massive lightweight but didn't want to admit it.

Shane trailed in to see everyone crowding around the table Alex and I sat at. "...What are you two doing?" His stuffy nose made him sound like a little boy and it was insanely endearing.

"Arm wrestling," I informed him with a smirk. "Alex's going to buy me a new hat." "Or you're going to buy me a new jersey," he replied with his own smirk. Shane snorted and told him calmly, "Good luck." Then he stood in his corner and waited.

Some 10 minutes and 20 rematches later I came over to Shane who told me, "I got you a pale ale in celebration." That made me laugh. "How'd you know I'd win all 20 times?" "Because you're a farmer, and he's just some popular jock type."

I plopped down on the stool closest to Shane and accepted my pale ale graciously, leaning in so no one could hear me when I apologized, "I'm sorry for getting you sick. I didn't think the water was that cold until I jumped in." "So you admit it was cold?" He smirked at me but I glared at him, replying, "No. I just understand it was cold to you."

He rolled his eyes and muttered, "You don't have to act so strong all the time, you know." "I could say the same thing to you." There was a long, long pause before he sighed and replied, "Touche."

After a moment he asked, "So are you going to the Spirit's Eve festival?" "I mean, yeah... why?" Red formed in his cheeks and he shook his head, averting his eyes, "No reason. I just... stupid question." I smiled and rested my head on my propped hand, placing my ale down. "Were you asking for a specific reason?" I'd never seen him go so red, not even when he saw my torso in all its naked glory.

"Shane," I prodded, "Ask me." "I just... I wanted to know if you wanted to hang out at the stupid festival, ok? There. Are you happy?" "Yes I am, and yes I will." The tentative little smile, the softening of his features made me light up like a Christmas tree. "Now go away," he added, the smile threatening to widen as he used my own words against me.

"Man after my own heart," I tossed back as I got up, downed the rest of my ale, and headed out.

"Hey, Tom," I answered my phone, glancing at the clock above the pathetic stove in the corner. 9:40. "How have you been?" "Ugh, awful. Joja Co got even worse when you left. You were like, the glue that stuck us together." That made me smirk. "I doubt that."

"Actually I've been great, I started dating that brunette since she moved up to your desk once you left... I just wanted you to feel wanted." "Fuck you," I laughed, walking out onto the porch to sit in the moonlight with Tilly. "So how have you been? You disappeared off the face of the earth for almost 3/4 of a year. I had no one to talk about my love life with!"

I smirked to myself as I stroked the orange tabby laying next to me. "Sorry, babe. I've been busy; I've been farming and playing with this guy called Shane-" I paused when I heard a rustle on the farm, but when nothing presented itself and Tilly didn't react, I continued. "He's really, really sweet, even though he doesn't act like it. And... I don't know, I kinda feel like we're perfect for each other."

"Huh, never heard you talk about a guy like that. You gettin' soft on me, babe?" "Never," I laughed, "Just... enjoying it. Hey, why don't I call you tomorrow? The connection is horrible inside and I don't think I want to find out what's lurking out in the darkness."

Chapter Text

Really, I should have seen it coming. I knew there weren't any wild animals out here, and the junimos would never be bothered enough to spy on me. I should have known it was Shane... I also should have known he would have heard all the wrong stuff and none of the right stuff. But I didn't figure that out until I was standing in town square and watched Shane storm by me without a word. I tried my hardest to stop him, to talk to him, but it was no use. It was as if he'd simply shut down.

Two hours later I sat across from Emily, frowning. "I think he heard my phone call with Tom last night." "Who's Tom?" "One of my old friends. We hadn't talked in ages. And... I know it must have sounded bad, because I said "I've been playing with this guy..." or something like that. I just meant like, hanging around, paling around, you know?"

She nodded in understanding and poured me my cup of tea. "But now he won't even talk to me." "Well, he always goes to the Stardrop Saloon. Just go and explain it to him there," she suggested. "But he suspects I'll do that so he won't go- and I don't want to discuss it in front of everyone." "I'm sure you're strong enough to drag him into a quieter room to talk," she said with a grin, "And besides, he can't run from you forever. Just... wait around, you know?"

"I don't think I know." That made her giggle. "Just try," she urged me, "And everything will be ok. I know him- he really, really likes you, and I know you. And you really, really like him. I'm sure it'll all work out."

"Get off my dock." "Could you not shove me into the water again? I just took a shower." I didn't turn to face him as he came closer. "GET OFF MY DOCK!" Shane screamed. I noticed the kitchen light go off in the ranch when I turned to look over my shoulder... no doubt so Marnie could peek out the window at us.

"So you did hear my phone conversation," I guessed, earning a seething glare in reply. "Yes I heard your conversation." "Shane, I didn't mean playing you as in lying to you, or toying with your feelings. I meant hanging around." "Bullshit," he spat, "You're just trying to spare my feelings now." "I am not," I said seriously, "I have no reason to. Only people who pity other people spare their feelings. I'm just trying to explain this. If you want to break up with me, fine, but don't let it be over some stupid misunderstanding!"

My sneeze echoed through the tense air. "I thought you said you don't get sick." "I thought you understood I try to act tough when I'm not," I muttered miserably, resting my head on my knees. "I don't want to hurt you, Shane, and I never have. But if you don't believe me, fine. Just tell me; don't drag this out longer than absolutely necessary. I get it. My choice of words has managed to fuck things up again. Tell me, Shane!"

He stared at me for a long moment. I expected him to leave. Instead, he took one of my beers, sat down on the dock, and asked, "Who was it?" "Henry Polish." I looked down at my hands. "What'd you say?" "That I couldn't wait to get away from him." "Oh?"

"My best friend was flying me to Hawaii... I hadn't seen her in two years because she moved. And when I told her that over the phone, I meant so I could pick out his awesome birthday present without him being able to spy on me, and I just wanted to visit her. Yeah, I used the wrong words. But of course he didn't believe either one of us, and dumped me before I even left. So I spent the trip miserable. I cried constantly, I didn't go outside... I wasted it. I destroyed her and I's friendship, too. I was super touchy about everything and she complained that I wasn't being a good friend, so I blew up on her the day before I flew home. She didn't even take me to the airport."

I was crying now. Why was I crying? Stop crying! "You were gonna marry him, weren't you?" I nodded. "I was 19 but I was convinced I had met the man of my dreams. And after that... I just kind of gave up."

After a long while I asked him, "Why were you at my farm?" "You forgot this." He put my comb next to me and I scoffed. "I wondered where I had left that." More silence. We stared out at the water, listening to the occasional lone cricket chirp. "You called him 'babe,'" Shane mused quietly. "I call all my friends that. Male, female, hate them or love them, that's what I call them. It's just an endearment."

I slowly looked back at him and found him staring at me. "Were you really so worried about me breaking up with you that you talked to Emily?" His question surprised me. "Of course I was worried... babe. I really care about you. I wouldn't be so close to you if I didn't." I took a moment to scrub my sleeves over my cheeks and get rid of the salty tear tracks.

"Say it again." "Say what again?" "That you care about me." A small smile tugged on the corners of my lips. When I crawled into his lap and cupped his cheeks he didn't protest, though he did give me a mild look of confusion. "I care about you," I whispered into the space between us, stroking his cheeks with my thumbs. "But... you really, actually care about me? For who I am?"

"Well who do you think I care about, the Shane in my dreams, or something?" "You dream about me?" "Mmhmm." He frowned, "And I'm different there?" "No, Shane. I was saying that rhetorically." I grinned and tilted his head up to be level with mine, pressing a few light pecks to his lips as he wrapped his arms around my waist.

Suddenly he pulled away and said, "They didn't deserve you, and neither do I." "Y-you mean-" "Yeah, that Hawaiian friend and that jack ass you used to date. If they couldn't take the time to listen to you and understand, they didn't deserve you; you're better off without them as friends." "Thanks, but... that still doesn't take away the sting." "I know, just like you giving me that motivational speech." My giggle seemed to make his eyes soften.

I ran my fingers through his hair as he leaned forward, laying me on my back on the dock. He bracketed an arm on either side of my head and leaned down for a kiss, but found himself being flipped under me. As I straddled him with a victorious grin he smiled too, hands cupping my hips. "You know, Marnie's probably watching."

"Yeah," I whispered, "Probably. Maybe Marnie should mind her own business." I lowered myself down onto my forearms like he had done before, grinning when I saw the heat rise in his cheeks. I favored him with a slow, longing kiss that he responded to just as passionately...for a moment. However it was as if a switch was suddenly flipped because he then pulled away, shaking his head. I'm sure my frown was just as confused as it was hurt and he was quick to explain.

"Not like this." "What?" "I'm not going to go beyond a peck on the lips or a hug after all that mushy break through stuff. C'mon." I gasped as he lifted me up, surprised by his show of strength... though it wasn't without difficulty. He grunted at my weight and quickly placed me on my feet, murmuring, "I'll walk you home."

He ended up being my pillow that night, arm wrapped around me as I fell asleep easily.

Chapter Text

When I woke up sprawled over Shane, my first thought was that I was back in Zuzu city and had fallen asleep with Tom on the couch again. But as I sat up and gazed down at the purple haired man, a smile grew instead of a scowl. I climbed out of bed and used the bathroom, freshening up and changing before heading out to gaze at the powdery blanket that had fallen overnight.

Shane must have woken up with my giggling because he came outside to find me laying in the snow, waving my arms and legs. "Really? A snow angel?" As his smirk formed so did my indignant glare. "I am making a snow saint, thank you very much!" "A saint that has wings?"

My eyes narrowed even further and he put his hands up in mock surrender, trying to hide his smile. "For that you can come join me." "Me, make a snow ang- saint? No way." I decided to pull a move Jas probably had a thousand times, and stuck my lower lip out in a pleading pout. "Ohh no. You're not pulling that shit with me, I get enough of it from Jas."

"Please?" I begged quietly, using my last card. I could almost see the steam coming out of his ears as he stomped over and plopped down.

The purple haired man turned his head and opened his mouth to say something, but when he saw my cheeky smile his eyebrows furrowed. "I hate you." "I know," I giggled, "Now make a snow saint!" "Why a saint?" he asked after a few moments of frantic flailing and I shrugged. "Angels are too overrated, over done. I dunno." "Something tells me you just wanted to be a special... snowflake."

He looked over at me hopefully and found me glaring at him. "Get out." That made him laugh, probably the purest laugh I've ever heard. "What, don't like punny jokes?" I put my hands over my ears and yelled, "La la la la la!" like a little kid until he dragged my hands away and pressed a firm kiss to my lips. "I've got to get to work before I get fired," he told me, "But... thanks for the snow saint."

I smiled up at him and questioned, "Come back over tonight? I'll make dinner." "You don't have a kitchen." "Hey, don't knock my kitchen! I love my kitchen!" "Your kitchen is a stove sitting in the corner." "And it's gotten me through some hard times!" "Only one burner works."

"I'll...order dinner." I gave him a sheepish smile and he just laughed, shaking his head at me as he headed off. "Is that a yes?!" I never did get a response.

I spent part of the day making snowmen with Jas and Vincent, and the other part fishing. I was still fishing when Willy came out of his shop and I mentally cursed. I'd meant to head off before he found me. "Ah, Kara! Doing a bit of fishing?" "Yep," I replied awkwardly, keeping my eyes on the water. "Well, great! Hey, I've got a favor to ask of you. Would you catch a squid for me? You can only catch them in the evenings during Winter, and I think it would be a great show of skill for you."

"Okay," I agreed, "I'll try my best." "That's the spirit! Well, I'm off. If you find one tonight, feel free to drop by the saloon and hand it off to me before it spoils." "Okay. See you around."

Once he had disappeared I slumped with a sigh, trying to stop the racing of my heart. I didn't particularly dislike anyone in town except for Haley, but I hated being around people- they made me nervous. "Oh, one more thing!" I jumped so high I toppled off the dock and fell into the water.

Half an hour later I finally got home, shivering violently, to find Shane sitting on my porch steps. His eyes went wide. "Why are you wet?" "I fell into the water," I managed past chattering teeth, shuffling inside. My jeans had slowly frozen to the point that I was almost unable to move, making it insanely difficult to get through town. "Shower," I managed out, "Then dinner." "Ok," he agreed quickly, eyeing how much I was shaking. "S-start... fire." "Yeah. I will."

I came out of the near-scalding shower feeling a lot better. I dressed in a thick jumper and my favorite sweatpants, then padded out to find Shane at the door. "Thanks again, Marnie." "No problem! If Kara gets sick and she needs anything make sure to tell me, ok? Tell her I'd be happy to help her." "I will."

When my boyfriend shut the door on Marnie's retreating figure and turned, I realized he was holding a pizza box from the saloon. "I was supposed to be treating you," I complained, and he gave a little shrug. "It's no big deal; we'll just have dinner again tomorrow and you can treat me then. I thought you were going to die or something, so I'll gladly pay for pizza." "Die?" I questioned, but he just shook his head.

"You looked awful." "Gee, thanks." He blushed a little and muttered, "You know what I mean," as we walked over to sit at the table. "No plates?" He shrugged, "Why? We have hands and a box, just hold it." "No wonder all your clothes are so stained." He shot me a glare, but I hid it by flipping the pizza box lid up in front of his face with a snicker.

"So," I hedged, "I wanted your opinion on something." "My opinion? Why?" I gave him a look. "What would you think about me with bright red hair- like, the actual color red, not just my orange hair, and have white on the tips?" He considered for a moment. "Well, it's up to you, but it sounds... young." "I am young," I reminded him, "I'm 23."

"Right. I... forget our age difference, sometimes." I took a bite of my pizza when he did. "I think it would look good on you," he finally said, "Just don't over-dye your hair." "Did you do that once?" "Yeah." "It all fell out didn't it?" "How'd you know?" "Kathy did once... you could literally break her hair off and almost hear a snapping sound. She went to prom that year with a head scarf."

He winced at the thought and muttered, "I bet she got bullied." "Hell yeah. I found her in the toilets at one point in tears... I got kicked out of prom after that." "Why?" "I beat up the kids that kept picking on her." That made him laugh. "You're a tough ass, aren't you?" "A little." I gave him a smirk.

After dinner we watched a movie on the floor and then he opted to head home. "I have to go in early tomorrow," he grouched, "Because Morris wants me to stock a new display before anyone gets there." "How fun," I muttered with an eye roll and then added, "Good luck. I'll probably be with Emily for a while tomorrow... I paid Robin today to add a kitchen to my house and since she's going to be working I figured I'd go hang out... and dye my hair." I smirked at him, "So you won't wake up to a new person, but you'll walk up to a new person."

That made him snort. "Hardly. Your hair is already practically neon." When I stuck my tongue out at him he rolled his eyes and muttered, "Don't be a kid," then dragged me into a one-armed embrace and kissed me. I quickly wrapped my arms around his neck to trap him and deepen the kiss, enjoying how warmth fluttered up inside me.

"Ohhhh no. Not when I have to get up early, not a chance," he said as he pulled away, smirking at my pout. "I'll see you tomorrow," he added as his features softened. I stood up with him and walked him to the door, getting one last good night kiss before he plodded off through my farm, leaving steam clouds from his breath.

"Good night," I whispered to his back as I leaned on the door frame, smiling to myself.

Chapter Text

So yeah...I warned you guys.

I'm so sorry! I never intended to abandon my story for this long. Without getting into any details, life has been... *people scream, explosions in the background* well, it's been a big !@#$%^&*. And technically it's not any better right now, but I'm trying really hard to channel my negativity into positive, productive energy and then use it.

Since I've been away from my story so long, I've been able to pick out quite a few plot bunnies, and I'm going to fix those up to get back into the swing of things. So if you ever read something and went "wtf, how does this make sense in this story..." don't worry. I'm on the case! And if I miss your "wtf" moment feel free to let me know in the comments and I'll either fix it, or explain it.

Big thanks to cat_weiner! If you're still here, I love ya lots! You poked me with your wonderful comment and reminded me that I did in fact still have a WIP story posted online (this is my first one in like 6 years so I'm super rusty with remembering that yeah, I actually have something I need to keep updating regularly) and that I really needed to get back to it.

TL;DR: I'm sorry for abandoning ship, but I'm back now and updates should continue shortly!

Chapter Text

"KARA! THAT THE--ACK!" My head jerked up from my book, and after the brief second of confusion I shooed Tilly off my lap and jumped up, running to the door. Freezing cold wind slapped me in the face as I pulled my door open, only to find Shane laying on the ground, covered by a...dog?

A very happy looking one at that. "Shane?!" I jogged down the porch steps and towards him, trying to hide my giggles as the Border Collie on top of my boyfriend licked his face mercilessly. "Call--mmmph! Dog!"

When I whistled sharply the dog's head whipped around to look at me, so I patted my thigh to call it over. It was as if the darned thing had known me its whole life. It instantly jumped off of Shane, trotting over to sit next to me. It gazed up at me, tongue lolling out of its mouth as it panted, I couldn't help grinning.

This pup was absolutely adorable. "What the hell, Kara? Why didn't you tell me you got a dog?" Shane groaned as he sat up, wincing and stretching.

"I didn't know I had," I replied honestly. "I thought I saw Tilly acting weird this morning but when I went out to take care of the chickens I didn't see anything. I figured she was being a typical cat." "Yeah, being a typical cat and freaking out about a dog." As Shane hauled himself to his feet with a grunt I asked, "So...how did you end up in the snow?" His grimace turned into a scowl.

"I was just walking towards your door when all of the sudden I see this black and white blur racing towards me." He scrubbed harshly at the drying dog saliva with his coat sleeve. "Barely had time to blink before that thing was on me." "Hey," I protested, "He's not a thing!" I knelt and pet the Collie, smiling when I realized his wagging tail was clearing snow off of the ground behind him in an arc.

"Poor little thing." I felt under him, running my fingers over his ribs. "You haven't eaten very well lately, have you? No." He licked my face as soon as I got close enough, forcing a giggle from me. "I know, I know," I cooed, scratching the side of his neck.

"Don't tell me you're stuffing another animal into that little shack of yours." "It won't be a shack for long!" Robin called from the side of my house. Shane damn near had a heart attack. His hand clapped over his chest, and I was laughing when the Collie's whine reminded me that we were still out in the cold, and he was no doubt very hungry.

"Okay baby," I relented, "C'mon, let's get you inside and find you a little something to eat until I can get'cha some doggy chow. Come on boy!" This Collie clearly had an owner before, because he responded immediately to cues.

As Shane followed the Collie and I inside he asked, "So what are you going to name him?" I didn't get a chance to respond. With the loud yowl of a terrified cat and the happy bark of a playful dog, suddenly all hell was breaking loose in my house and it was up to me to stop it. Shane couldn't stop laughing long enough to be of any help as I chased my animals around the house, desperately trying to stop them. When the chase finally came to a stand still it was with Tilly perched on top of Keilani's tank, safely out of range of the bouncing Border Collie.

"That's enough!" I scolded my dog gently, shooed him away, and then pulled Tilly off Keilani's tank before the poor snake realized and had a heart attack. I peered in to make sure she was still sleeping in her log, and then I walked over and sat down next to the dog with Tilly in my lap.

I held Tilly and kept her calm while a big black nose sniffed her enthusiastically. However when he began to invade her personal space I warned, "Ah-ah," and he immediately backed off. "How do you do stuff like this?" Shane asked from the doorway. "I thought you'd be living in World War III for the rest of your life if you kept both of them around." "Sometimes you just need to intervene and keep both parties from getting too excited. I shouldn't have just let him bound inside; that was my fault." Tilly was now much more relaxed, so I let her climb off my lap and in front of the Collie.

"Loki." "Huh?" I looked back at Shane with a grin. "His name is Loki." "You mean that mythological god of mischief?" "Well, yeah, kinda. But I just like the name; I think it suits him." "Hm. Yeah, it does."

"You know what I just realized?" "...What?" "I should have bathed him before I brought him in here. He could have fleas." I face-palmed as Shane chuckled behind me, and groaned good-naturedly when Tilly snuggled up into Loki and laid down with him. "I hate myself." "You do love making more work for yourself, don't you?" "It's what I do best!" I chirped as I stood, sighing and stretching.

When my eyes landed on Shane again I smiled, coming over to hug him. "Hi." "Hey." I buried my face in his neck and sighed quietly, enjoying a brief peaceful moment. "So, are you hungry?" "Starving." "Good, because I got some dinner from the saloon just a little while ago."

He gave me a curious look. "...Where is it?" "I ate it," I replied sarcastically, then rolled my eyes at him playfully. "Sit down and I'll get it for us." When I opened the oven he snorted. "Is that how you keep stuff hot?" "Are you hungry or not?" My smirk made him smirk. "You're the one who will be out money," he reminded me. I shrugged.

"I could always feed it to Loki." Once the fear of hunger was put into my boyfriend I sat the plates down and told him, "I'll be right back, I'm going to go hunt something down for Mr. Loki over there."

I grabbed my coat and went outside, heading over to my food supply chest to gather some ingredients. I nabbed a potato, some green beans, a corn cob, and a tomato that I had dried. After a moment to think I went into the chicken coop and low and behold, a lone egg sat there. "Thanks ladies!" I gave both the chickens a pat and then picked up the egg. "Loki will be very thankful for this."

When I went back inside Shane started laughing. "Did you run to Pierre's and demand he open up?" I shook my head. "I just gathered up some stuff I had laying around the farm." He looked pretty impressed. "You've got a lot stored back, don't you?" I nodded proudly. "I've been busy."

"Are you going to eat first?" "Yeah, but only because I feed Tilly after I eat, and I want him to get used to the schedule. I feel bad though." Shane made a face. "He's asleep; I don't think he's bothered much right now." I followed the green eyed gaze over to where Loki was indeed asleep...curled up with Tilly. Suddenly I really wished I had a camera. "That's adorable!" I crowed as I put my ingredients on the stove and then went over to sit down. "They're so cute together!"

The spaghetti was delicious, and so was the beer we had with it. Sure, spaghetti is usually better with red wine, but the amber ale we had was pretty damn good too. After we ate Shane finally noticed the bowl sitting high atop a shelf. "What's that?" I hesitated, unsure whether to lie or tell the truth.

"Ummm...Keilani's dinner." His eyes went wide. "I buy her freeze dried mice, but then I have to thaw them in warm water. And I knew you were coming, so I put it up there so it wouldn't freak you out." "...Good to know?" I shrugged. "Day in the life of a snake owner."

Shane relaxed back in the chair and watched as I went over to the stove and started preparing the food. I felt bad that Tilly would only be getting dry cat food where as Loki would be getting a home cooked meal, but I really didn't have any other option. It only took a few minutes to cook the food, and the entire time I could hear Loki pacing behind me restlessly. It's as if he knew it was for him.

"Now," I exclaimed as I poured it into a bowl, "You're only going to get this once, and then you're moving onto dry dog food, okay?" If Loki understood me he didn't protest. I took a long time to blow on the food and cool it down, meanwhile Shane was helping me with Tilly's food and gagging excessively. "If you think that's bad you should smell wet cat food. That's quite a treat," I snickered. He grumbled out an "I'm good, thanks," and then put the bowl down in front of the excited kitty. I finally gave Loki his food too.

I sat on the floor that night with Shane, listening to him worry about Jas. "She's doing well with Penny, and she's best friends with Vincent, but I still feel like there's something really wrong there. She's just so...quiet and withdrawn, especially lately." "Maybe you should spend more time with her instead of me."

A sharp gaze flitted over and I was quick to amend, "I didn't mean that I don't want you coming over. But...I bet she's probably feeling pretty left out. You've been spending a lot of time with me." For a moment the purple haired man was silent, but then a ragged sigh gusted out of him. "You're probably right." After a moment I told him, "Go home and hang out with Jas. I've got plenty to take care of here, and she needs her godfather right about now."

"...Are you sure?" "If I wasn't sure, I wouldn't have said anything. Now go." I gave him a little shove, smirking when he scowled. "You're so pushy." "I know!" I chirped, "Now get a move on, mister!"

Chapter Text

"Kara, good morning! What can I do for you?" I smiled politely as I strolled up to Pierre, trying not to fidget awkwardly. "I'd like a bouquet. Please."

So much for not being awkward. My clipped words and clenched fists did little to hide how embarrassed I was, and it only got worse when his eyebrows went into orbit. "I see," he mused with a knowing smile that made my skin crawl. "Who's the lucky lady or gentleman?" Suddenly his eyes went wide. "Ooooooh, is it Shane?"

I could feel my shoulders rising up around my ears defensively, and I cleared my throat. "Can I just get the bouquet please? I'm in a hurry." "Of course." He still had that grin on his face as he turned to face a refrigerated display. I really hoped he couldn't see my glare in the reflection.

"So, does he like roses or carnations?" I frowned; I hadn't thought of that. I had to consider for a moment.

Roses were the most universal display of love as far as flowers went, and probably the kind that most men would tolerate. But Shane wasn't like most men. And while I couldn't see him loving any type of flower, carnations lived for a long time when cut. Despite his tough exterior I knew Shane was rather romantic, and liked meaningful things.

Sure, roses "meant" love. But they were also horribly cliche and cheesy, while carnations would be more of a subtle explanation of my long-lasting affection...provided he accepted the bouquet, of course. The anxiety and embarrassment was back.

"Carnations," I finally decided. "But can I have them in a less girly color than pink?" Pierre chuckled then, no doubt pleased that he was right with his guess. "I have a bouquet that has green, white, orange, and yellow. Would that suit?" "That's great. And..." I hesitated, concerned this might be a step too far, but I decided to go high-risk, high-reward. "Do you have any fake flowers? Preferably a carnation in one of those colors?"

Pierre gave me this horribly cheesy look, a sappy smile and wide, puppy dog eyes, and I ducked my head awkwardly. "Of course I do," he replied. "Where would you like it?" I swallowed my pride and told him, "Hide it in the stems of the bouquet. I don't want it to be visible until all the other flowers have died."

"Kara, this is the cutest thing I've ever seen." You didn't need to tell me that. "You two are so adorable together." Really. Stop. "You're the talk of the town, you know!" You've got to be kidding me. "Everyone is so excited that you two are helping each other grow!" We're not growing. Really. I'm as anti-social and he's as grumpy as ever. You can stop now.

"Pure white," he exclaimed as he produced a fake flower. "As pure as your love for each other." It took everything in me not to gag.

When I went home with the bouquet, I was insanely nervous. I paced for a good half an hour...until a lovely distraction came around. Destiny 2. As soon as I saw the trailer for the game I preordered it. One of the things I'd taken with me during my move was my Ps4, my only video game console. Suddenly I was insanely thankful that I'd bought the Ps4 instead of saving $100 and getting the Ps3. And now the game was in my hands. I could finally play it. That I did, for the four remaining hours until Shane swung by.

I was sitting on a dining chair in front of the tv, completely lost in the campaign story...and then Loki started barking. My character plummeted off a cliff edge and died. I closed my eyes and rolled my head back, taking a moment to get over the stupidity of the moment before hauling myself to my feet to go see what Loki was barking at.

Shane and I both jumped a mile when I opened the front door. "Shit, do you have security cameras now or something?!" I went bright red and looked down awkwardly. "Sorry. Loki started barking, and I was so caught up in what I was doing that I forgot you were visiting tonight." Shane rolled his eyes. "Gee, thanks," he teased.

When my usual spark and feistiness didn't rise up to challenge his playful banter he raised a brow, obviously confused. "Hey...everything okay?" "Yeah--yeah! I'm fine. I'm just a little tired...and my brain is fried from focusing so hard." He seemed to accept my lie and snorted, walking inside with me. "Talk about focusing hard; Morris had me train Sam for restocking today, and the kid got on my nerves." "Why was he in? It's Friday." Shane shrugged. "Must have dragged him in just for this. No wonder he was such a spiteful little shit."

My snicker made him scowl. "You laughin' at me, red?" "I'm laughin' at ya, purple." Shane's arms wound around my waist and dragged me into him, nose bumping mine as he grumbled, "I'm not purple." "Shane, your hair is purple. And so is your--" "If you say what I think you're going to say, I'm leaving," he promised.

As I burst into little giggles I teased, "Awww, what's wrong baby? Is it truuuue? Do you have a wittle prooooblem?" "Kara." His growl and his glower were not enough to dissuade me. "Want some help?" I murmured playfully, tracing my fingertips down his torso. I had just reached his belt when his hands turned into shackles around my wrists and he pushed me into the wall, pinning my hands above my head.

Warm lips crushed against mine with a force I'd thought was strictly saved for foes. Two could play at that game. I nipped a mildly chapped lower lip demandingly, earning another growl in response. When my wrists were shifted to one of his hands I could have tried to break free, but I was too curious as to what he was going to do.

I didn't have to wait long to find out. A large hand grabbed my ass and squeezed harshly, forcing a squeak from my throat. I could feel his lips twist into a smirk against mine, but decided I'd let him play his game long enough.

In one swift movement I pulled my wrists free and wrapped my arms around him, pulling him forward so his entire body was pressed up against mine. Vaguely I heard Loki and Tilly disappear from the living room, but none of that mattered when his tongue teased my lower lip. As soon as I opened my mouth I felt the warm, wet brush of a tongue against my own, and I didn't bother hiding the moan that it produced. Shane seemed keen on earning another one of those noises because his touch became even more heated, his hand coming back from exile on my hip to palm my ass again.

How on earth could he do things like this to me so easily?

My boyfriend swallowed my whimper but instead of taking it in stride and continuing, he pulled back. I couldn't help the whine of complaint I let out. "Shane!" I complained, "What the hell was that?" He gave me a long-suffering look and promised, "I want to. Really. But we haven't even gone on a date yet." "Who cares?"

Suddenly his expression turned a little pleading. "Let me do this right? Please?" "You weren't worried about doing things right when we swam naked," I reminded him. However when he scowled at me I put my hands up in surrender with a reassuring smile. I didn't know why he was so insistent on waiting until he "did things right," but something told me it was from a bad experience previously. "It's probably best we stop anyways," I murmured, "Because you may either love me or hate me after I give you something."

When dark green eyes turned guarded and wary I giggled. "Try not to look like I'm about to kill you?" I joked, "It doesn't exactly put a lot of confidence in me." "Your worry doesn't put confidence in me," he replied drily. I rolled my eyes. "I think anyone would be nervous about this." "...You're not going to propose, are you?" I choked on air.

I coughed, hand over my chest, trying desperately to recover as he startled and reached out to put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. "No!" I finally choked out, "No I'm not going to propose, you idiot! What do you take me for?!" "Hey, what's that supposed to mean?" We both sounded insulted...but we could also see the humor between the lines.

"I mean I don't support bums!" I continued just as seriously, trying to hide my smile as he retorted, "Well I don't date--let alone marry-- country bumpkins!"

That was my undoing. I burst into hysterical, coughing laughter, my nervousness completely eased. Shane shook his head at me and chuckled, teasing, "You're one crazy woman, red." "Well you're one crazy man," I replied playfully. I wrapped my arms around his neck again and added sweetly, "After all, what other kind of person would put up with me?"

Shane rolled his eyes. "I could say the same thing. Now go. Go get the gift or whatever." "Stay here." "Can I at least sit down if I'm going to be so shocked?" "No, I want you to fall over and hit your head if you don't like it. That way you don't remember."

My impish giggle made him roll his eyes again. "I hate you." "I love you." Both of our eyes went wide. Shane was shocked, and I was absolutely mortified. "I--I'm--" I couldn't even force an apology out past the lump in my throat. His eyes darted over my face for a second and then he reached out, dragging me into a firm hug. "Don't ever apologize for feeling something," he growled at me.

Did it hurt that he didn't say it back? Maybe a little. But I also understood where he was coming from. He'd been distrustful for a long time; and I knew that despite our connection, I couldn't just erase that problem. We stood there locked in an embrace for a little while, him rubbing soothing circles into my back, me playing with the hair at the nape of his neck.

"I should go get your gift now," I whispered in his ear, and he nodded. "Yeah. I'll say hi to Keilani while you do." We reluctantly untangled ourselves from each other and went in opposite directions, him towards the corner of the living room that Keilani called her own, me into the bedroom. I snagged the bouquet from my new queen size bed and unwrapped the wet paper towel from the bottom of the stems, tucking the bouquet behind my back carefully before I made my way out into the living room.

"Lani is cuddly today," Shane mused. "Yeah. She always gets a little needy after not being held while she's digesting. Sooo...are you ready for your gift?" "I would be if your corn shake would get off me!" "Well, you're on your own pal, my hands are full. You need to be careful but she's not made of glass. Just be more insistent."

When Shane finally got her back in the tank he scrambled to close the screen lid before she could make a reappearance, grumbling under his breath good-naturedly. "Finally!" Then he turned to face me. He eyed my hands behind my back and joked, "What, were you too caught up in your game to wrap it?" I rolled my eyes. "Not everything can be wrapped." That got his attention. He stepped closer, soft smile playing at his lips as he teased, "Well are you going to give it to me?"

I took a deep breath. As I slowly breathed out I asked hopefully, "Want to make it official?" and then pulled the bouquet out from behind my back, putting it between us. For a moment he just stared at it, eyebrows furrowed. Then he looked up at me.

"You're kidding me," he accused. I blinked innocently, a sad frown starting to form. Was this his rejection? He must have understood how I took it because he rolled his eyes and knocked my hand aside, coming closer to cup my cheek. "You're such an idiot," he grumbled, "I was already your boyfriend, you didn't have to spend money on one of Pierre's stupid bouquets."

"Yeah, well I wanted to make it official," I replied proudly. "I like people knowing that you're my boyfriend. And...I wanted you to know that I was serious." "I think the 'I love you' did that," he joked. But when I scowled at him, he smiled and took the bouquet from me.

"I do like green," he mused. "And you managed not to choke me with girly colors." After a pause he added playfully, "So I guess I'll take it." I tried glaring at him, but it was too hard to hide my bright smile. Before long we were grinning at each other like a bunch of dorks.

"Are you hungry?" When I nodded he suggested, "Why don't I stop by Marnie's and put these in some water, and then go get us something from the saloon?" "Okay." When Shane moved to the door a thought struck. "Wait!" He jolted a little and looked back, no doubt startled by my outburst. I struggled to formulate an intelligent response before the appropriate time window escaped me.

"Pierre suggested you keep the flowers bound with the rubber band," I explained, then added to make the lie more believable, "It's probably because he doesn't want anyone to see how cheap they are." Shane's snort told me he bought it. "Probably right. Jojamart sucks, but with Pierre not having any business he's not doing any better." I nodded slowly.

"I'm hoping next year my sales will start to help him out. I'm going to use fertilizer for once so everything is better quality." "I'm sure you'll rise the profits higher than he's ever had them," he snorted, then added at my hopeful look, "You'll do great. I know you will." I was still beaming by the time he got back with our dinner.

Chapter Text

"KUDOS!" People were definitely going to die. They were 100% going to die, because this was not funny at all. I slowly sat up in bed, staring groggily at Mayor Lewis and Robin.

"You made it through your first year; that's incredible!" Lewis crowed. I was seconds from remarking that he had survived my wrath for a year, only to fail in the end when Robin added, "And without one of my house upgrades for most of the time, too! I thought for sure you would have crashed and burned just a season in from only having that tiny stove!"

Did I really want to risk getting a restraining order? Did I want to get kicked out of town, making it impossible to see Shane anymore? Still, how good would it feel to-- "So, we'd best be on our way. You have a big day ahead of you, what with spring finally here!" Robin exclaimed.

"Just don't forget about Shane! I know you two spent a lot of time together during the Winter time but just because it's spring doesn't mean you should just drop him; he'd be heartbroken!" What was that supposed to mean? Did everyone think I was dating him out of sympathy?!

The door closed on them before I could ask. I didn't know if they'd gotten the memo on what a rude awakening they'd given me, but Tilly and Loki must have had a good idea, because they scattered as soon as I so much as glanced at them. After freshening up and grabbing some dried apple slices that I'd saved from last Fall, I went out, gave all my animals their breakfast, hoed some soil, and then headed for town with some metal bars in the bottom of my bag and my hoe in tow.

I'm sure I was quite a sight when I walked into the blacksmith's, dragging my backpack unceremoniously through the door with trellises sticking out of it. Clint's eyebrows raised considerably. "Good morning," he mused awkwardly, eyeing me as I shrieked and struggled with my bag. "Need a place to sit?" "Nope, just a hoe upgraded. Because this is the last time I prepare for a new season with this pathetic old thing."

The older man laughed at that. "Kudos to you for making it through a whole year on it; didn't expect that." "I would have upgraded it before, if I had the cash." I finally wrangled the copper bars from the bottom of my bag and dumped them on the floor along with my hoe, panting from the exertion.

"You can just leave them there," he snorted, "You've got enough on your plate today." "Thanks. Um, here's the $2000. It'll be done in about two days, right?" "Yep. Just in time for your parsnips to come in so you can get to work on more seeds." I gave him two thumbs up and then hauled my backpack over my shoulder, heading out into the fresh air once again.

"Hey, farm girl!" My glare met Alex's smirk as he congratulated, "Kudos." I just rolled my eyes and kept walking. I had a lot of work to do; I couldn't deal with people being weird.

"There you are, Kara! Kudos on your first year! And thanks so much for being a loyal customer," Caroline exclaimed. "You're welcome?" I couldn't help that it came out in a question. What on earth was it with all these "kudos?" Why couldn't it be "congratulations" or "congrats..." and why did they feel the need to bombard me with all of this?! "Oh yeah, right. You made it through your first year. Kudos," Abigail added on as she passed by her mother and towards the bridge. Truly, these people were going to drive me insane.

The seeds were planted and watered, and it was at least 7 PM. I was exhausted. I wanted to ignore the world and go to bed...but I had made a promise. A promise I needed to keep. I sprawled myself out next to Loki's doghouse, shooing away the slobbery tongue that tried to lick my hair into a mohawk, and dialed Tom's number. It didn't even ring twice before he answered.

"Hey, babe! How's it hanging?" "It's hanging." "You sound tired." "Gee, you don't say." He chuckled and then added, "That's right, it's spring now. You get a lot done today?" "Mmhmm. Lots and lots of seeds."

"Good. So...what's it like there? Is life being good to you?" "Apart from the beginning of seasons...yeah. Life's pretty great. I mean, I can't stand some of the people here...but there are others I'm warming up to." He snickered at that. "You, warming up to people? Never."

I rolled my eyes. "Contrary to popular belief, you're not the only person I can make friends with." "You've wounded me." As my smile formed he continued, "That really hurt, you know that? There is now a gaping hole in my chest. Oh, it hurts!" I started giggling. "Shut up, you idiot." "Make me."

After a brief moment of silly giggling he mused, "So how are you and Shane?" "Great. I...I told him I love him." Silence met me. "Tom?" "HOLY SHIT!" I jumped a mile, nearly flinging my phone in the farm's water bowl. To say his shout startled me would be a vast understatement.

"Babe, why didn't you tell me about this?!" "About...about what?" "That you were in love!" "I didn't know!" I sat up, patting Loki absently as I muttered, "It just...spilled out of me. One minute we were joking around, and the next minute I'd said it and yoba, you shoulda seen the look on his face." "Don't tell me he just up and left you." "What, no? Why would I say we were great if he left me? No, he just...he looked so shocked. And you know, it was really sad. I know he doesn't hear it a lot, but his reaction really drove that home." "Well, you'll have to tell him that more often to combat the people who don't," Tom exclaimed seriously.

Tom could be really smart when he wanted to be. "Yeah...I should. But first I have to find the time to talk to him, let alone tell him romantic poetry from the heart." I snickered to myself as I continued, "This place is still a mess. I was so focused on getting enough money to survive during the first year that I had like, no time to clean up anything. There are still trees, stones, logs, and various weeds everywhere...and honestly? I'm not too sure there aren't some undiscovered species lingering in some of the corners I haven't ever touched." "You could call a hazmat company out," Tom suggested. I couldn't help snorting as I muttered, "Probably not a bad idea."

I talked with my friend for a little while, but when he started gushing about his girlfriend, that same brunette, I knew it was time to go. He was eating up my minutes and the only thing on his mind was long brown hair.

However instead of rudely cutting him off with no way to justify my sudden need to go, my savior in shining...ratty jacket appeared from behind a tree. Green eyes twinkled mischievously, and a purple fringe flopped heavily over his shiny forehead, signalling the lengths he'd gone through to sneak up on me.

"Babe?" "Hm?" "I gotta go." "Oh?" "I'm sorry...but there's a certain intruder on my land, and I need to teach him a lesson." "Oooooh, kinky. Well, have fun! And remember, untie your hostages before you drop into post coital sleep!" I rolled my eyes again. "Goodbye Tom." "Goodnight Ms. Dominatrix!" I hung up.

"What are you doing?" I asked Shane as he helped me up. "Ah, just thought I'd stop by and annoy you." "I swear to fuck if you tell me the 'k' word, I'm going to punch you." "...K word?" "Yes." "Knob?" "No. Kudos. Everyone I've passed today has told me 'kudos,' and I am so sick of that word I'm ready to kill the next person that says it."

"But technically you just said it twice, so..." To play into Shane's joke I flung my hands up and wrapped them around my neck, squeezing until he came forward and yanked them away, growling, "Don't be stupid." I grinned at him. "Aww, you do care." "Of course I care," he rolled his eyes, "I don't want to get charged with murder as well as 'town drunk.'"

"I thought you said Pam was the town drunk." "And I thought you were killing yourself." I shoved Shane as we headed for the door, replying over my shoulder, "Alex wouldn't talk to me like that." "No, he'd just ask you how to spell 'suck me off.'" "Shane!" My squeal echoed through my house along with the chuckle it produced.

Shane closed the door behind him, holding the chain lock aside as if he'd been doing it for months...and then it occurred to me. Shane had been coming to my house for months. And I still had yet to cook for him, regardless of before when all I had was a broken stove. "Are you hungry?" "Always. Why, you want me to run to the saloon and pick us up something?" "No, I want to cook for you." He eyed me. "Will it be edible?" "HEY!"

After a pause he told me, "I'd love to eat your cooking. But you've had a long day. Why don't you just wait here and I'll go get something?" "No, I want to cook for you. Please?" Something about what I said made his features soften. "Alright," he agreed with a small smile. "Just don't put yourself out, alright? I'm a man, I'll eat anything." He paused, as if waiting for my inevitable giggle. And when he got it, he grinned and moved to sit at the table with Tilly.

Thankfully I already had the fixings for my chicken corn soup. It didn't take me long to dice up the pre-cooked chicken, and I still had plenty of time left waiting for the water to boil. While I waited I casually cast my eyes to the side and watched as Shane petted Tilly.

The little ginger cat was perched on the end of the table stretched out towards him, sniffing his breath as he stroked her. It was an adorable sight; I wished I had a camera. I was dying for one when Tilly climbed into his lap, laid her paws on his chest and snuggled up under his chin. Shane must have heard my coo, because dark green eyes lazily rolled up to me as a smile formed. "Jas would kill to meet Tilly," he mused.

"You should bring her up sometime. I've been meaning to talk to Marnie about some more animals; you could have Jas help you bring them up, and she could meet Tilly and Loki." "I should," he agreed quietly. "You should also spend some more time with her now that I'm going to be super busy again." He nodded slowly. "Sometimes I'm just too depressed to pretend everything's okay, though," he protested quietly.

"I don't need to drag the kid down, but that doesn't mean I can always put on that public face." "You do with me." "...No," he said after a moment. "I don't. I'm not saying you're my magical cure all because fuck me if this world is a shit-ton harder than that, but...I'm just happy around you, regardless if there's any reason for me to be. I could be having the worst day but then I'll think about you and suddenly everything will get better."

My cheeks flushed, and my eyes lowered to the floor. Thankfully Tilly had jumped off Shane's lap when we started into deeper conversation because otherwise she would have kept me from climbing into Shane's lap like I did. "I love you," I whispered as I buried my face in his neck.

I felt his smile against my temple, and the way his arms pulled me closer. I just wanted to stay wrapped up in him forever... but before forever could occur, a terrifying creak and snap sent us tumbling to the floor.

Shane landed hard on his back, producing a loud thud and a pained groan that only continued when I landed on top of him. For a moment we were a shocked pile of awkwardly angled limbs...and then we were reduced to little more than hysterical laughter. "So, are we gonna try that again on the other chair, or are we going to eat on the floor?" Shane joked as he removed some of my hair from his face. I hauled myself up onto my elbows and told him, "Babe, you can break my chairs any day." He grinned at me. "But we should probably eat on the floor."

Chapter Text

"You have not visited me recently," the Wizard hummed. "Is it because I saw your bare torso?" "Just take the amethyst you asked for," I pleaded, desperate to get out of the creepy-ass tower before he locked me in and experimented on me.

He accepted the gem from me, and I'm proud to say I didn't flinch when our fingertips touched. I did however notice a lingering numb sensation. "You know, you do not need to be shy. I have grown beyond seeing the naked body as a pleasurable thing, and now see it as a work of art. And, Kara, your body is a masterpiece."

For the first time ever, I didn't swing at someone who said something creepy. I think I was too frozen in shock to do anything, because it took several moments for me to regain my wits and reply, "Then you haven't seen much art in your lifetime."

I never expected a roar of laughter to come from the neon-purple haired man, or for him to throw his head back in the throes of his belly laughter and lose his hat. However the catalyst for me was when his hat hit the floor and disappeared. With a shriek I whirled around and bolted from the tower, promising myself I would never fulfill another one of his requests. EVER.

"So," Emily mused as she touched up my roots, "Do you like your dye-job?" "Yeah." I grinned at her, "It looks fantastic. And it always seems to catch Shane's eye. I'll just be wandering around the house with my hair down and I'll find his eyes following me."

"I don't think it's your hair that he's looking at," she joked as she stepped back to eye her tinfoil masterpiece. I couldn't help but snort at her. "You know, you're at least the 20th person to say something like that, the third of anyone in town--and I still don't believe any of you."

Surprise appeared on the young woman's face. She moved to wash her hands, but never took her eyes off me as she admitted, "That really surprises me. You're always so confident with everything else, I thought you'd be able to see how attractive you are."

When I didn't answer she seemed to take it the wrong way and added, "I mean, I don't see you as lesser for not being confident in your body. But it just doesn't strike me as a you quality." I shook my head, which rustled the tinfoil on my head and made both of us laugh. "Maybe don't do that."

Once the laughter died down I explained to her, "See, I know I'm not ugly. There are some things I like about myself, like the shape of my lips, the color of my eyes, my hair...when it doesn't look like a modern art project gone wrong." Emily grinned, but stayed quiet as I continued, "I've just never seen myself as anything more than average. I don't see myself as model material, or someone who could land an ugly rich guy just because they're pretty, you know? I'm just...normal. I'm me." "But your 'me' is so beautiful," she replied quietly.

"I'll agree that you aren't model material, but that's because your beauty isn't all sharp edges like they have. You have a soft, natural beauty to you. Instead of being emancipated, you have gorgeous curves and strong muscle from all the hard work you've done." She paused briefly as she took her gloves off and carefully laid them to the side.

"Instead of having a pointy nose you have a button nose that accentuates how big your eyes are, and brings a person's gaze down the gentle curve of your jaw. Your natural hair color and the way it is now frames your face, and almost makes it glow against the olive tone of your skin. So no, maybe you couldn't 'land' an ugly rich guy who's only in it for massive breasts and fake white teeth. But you've got something a lot better than that. Don't be so hard on yourself."

For once in my lifetime...I actually believed. Ignoring my current tree-like state and thinking about what I looked like in the mirror this morning, I realized she was right. I didn't have "model" looks. But I didn't want to. I liked my soft features, regardless of how little they spoke of my snarky, sarcastic nature. And then it dawned on me why some people looked so shocked when I would curse or punch someone, and a laugh spilled from my lips.

"I finally understand it." "Understand what?" "Why people get freaked out when I act like myself for the first time. When I punch someone, or snark them, or whatever. They always look so freaked out, like 'who is this person and why are they so scary' and it finally makes sense." Emily's grin seemed to light up the whole room. "Well, at least you've solved one mystery today. But I really want you to think about what I said, okay? Because I'm serious."

When the tiny woman hopped off the stool she had seated herself on and came up to check on my hair, that's when Haley happened to stroll into the kitchen. So my face was nearly buried in her sister's chest, and...well...I was a silver tree. This couldn't get much worse. However, the look of abject horror on her face was enough to send me into a series of coughing laughs.

"Hi!" Emily chirped at her as if this was perfectly normal, "Sleep well?" "I don't even want to know." Haley turned to leave and as she did I called behind her, "Hey! Don't kink shame!" Emily's laughter was infectious.

Once my hair was dyed, Emily seemed keen on making me believe her words from earlier because she quickly dragged me into her room to start rummaging in her closet. "What are we doing?" "Playing dress up." "I need to go beach combi--" "You will do no such thing to my masterpiece! Now sit down and prepare to look gorgeous."

Emily turned around with armfuls of clothes and found me striking a pose, making her nearly drop her load of cloth from giggling so hard. "What are you doing?" "Preparing to look gorgeous." I tried to move my lips as little as possible, never once moving from the awkward position I was in. I didn't know whether Haley was still home but I sincerely hoped she wasn't, lest she hear our hysterical laughter and get the wrong idea.

An hour and multiple scrapped outfits later, Emily had me in a navy blue sleeveless dress, a jean vest with pockets, a red crystal choker necklace, and a set of leather and beaded bracelets that featured a butterfly charm. The shoes were the straw that broke the camel's back.

"I like the rest of it, but I'm not wearing those boots! Get them away from me!" "But they'll match your necklace and look adorable with it, come on!" "No! I don't wear heels, and the only boots I wear are the ones I work in!" "Just put them on!" "NO!"

Emily launched herself at me, tackling me to the floor. I let out a scream before promptly bursting into peals of laughter, fighting the tiny blue haired girl as she wrestled herself down to my feet and started trying to jam the lace up boots onto them. "No! EMILY, DON'T YOU DARE!"

"I dare!" she replied gleefully, giggling as I used my arm strength to try and claw myself away from her. It almost worked...until she sat on me. "EMILY!" She had one boot halfway on my kicking feet when the door burst open and Haley shrieked, "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU TWO?!"

The blonde stopped short, hand on the door, staring at the sight before her. I'm sure we looked absolutely crazy. I was on my stomach on the floor, mid-claw at the wood boards, meanwhile Emily was sitting on my ass and hugging my left leg to her chest while she tried to get the boot on me.

We just stared at her silently, watching the gears turn in her head while she processed. Finally she rolled her eyes. "You're so weird," she muttered at her sister as she closed her door on the way out. Emily and I were silent for a long, long time. We listened to Haley's bedroom door shut.

We simultaneously turned to look at each other...and started laughing all over again. "You're the weird one." "No, you're the weird one! You're the one wrestling a person just because they don't want to wear a pair of boots!"

After that, I really didn't mind the boots. In fact, I liked them when I stood up and admired the outfit...even if I wouldn't normally wear something so fancy. "The outfit is perfect for you," Emily announced. I couldn't help but agree. "Now," she added, "This is totally up to you, but...I bet if we asked, Haley would give you some really pretty natural makeup. Don't get me wrong, I think you're beautiful as is. But I think with some subtle makeup you'd turn just about every head on the planet."

At first Haley looked miffed that we'd bother her again. But when Emily told her about my dress up and I asked if she could use her makeup skills to give me a natural look, her eyes lit up. "Totally! Go and sit down on the stool in front of the vanity; I'll get my makeup kit out."

Emily went off to make lunch while Haley joined me at the vanity. "You getting dressed up to go on a date with Shane?" I was rather surprised how conversational Haley was being, even if the topic was one I hated most--gossip. "No, Emily called it 'finding myself.'" "The clothes look good on you," she offered. "But I don't look good in them?" "No, you wear the clothes. The clothes don't wear you." The logic was...frightfully sound. And very flattering.

In the end, Haley touched up my skin just a little, removing some old dark marks that I'd gotten from my teenage years. She used some lighter, more leather-colored browns for eyeshadow, making sure to darken the outer corner to "draw the eyes in" as she put it.

She also used some brown eyeliner to darken my lashes a little. She said it made a big difference, but I didn't see much of one. We both skipped blush, deciding it would be too much, and went for a mostly-nude dark peach matte lipstick. She claimed that anything that wasn't matte wouldn't look natural. I didn't know much about makeup so I just smiled, nodded, and held still while she applied it.

I felt powerful as I looked in the mirror. Of course, I liked myself in my graphic t-shirts, jeans, and boots. But standing there in my hand-picked outfit and expert makeup, I truly felt attractive. I felt like the image I thought Shane saw when he'd give me those soft, adoring looks. The melted eyes, the small smile, the faint blush.

Shane hadn't told me he was coming over today...but he needed to. I wanted him to see me like this; I wanted his reaction. I wanted a lot of things. But first and foremost, I needed to thank Emily and Haley for my transformation. I hugged Emily automatically. I certainly didn't expect Haley to hug me too...but then again, this was a day of surprises and transformations.

When I walked out of Emily and Haley's house Sam was outside his, practicing on his skateboard. He fell off it when he saw me. "H--hey, Kara! Looking good!" Instead of balking at the attention I held my head higher.

I strolled down the pathway and to the saloon, which was just about to open. "Kara!" Gus greeted when I slipped in, "I'm just about to open. Can I get you anything while you wait?" "Well, I'll take a pale ale to go if I can. But that's not why I'm here. When Shane comes in, could you redirect him to my house? He wasn't supposed to come over tonight but I'd like him to, and I refuse to go to that...place." I waved my hand dismissively in the direction of the Joja Mart, earning a chuckle.

"I'll send him along. And, Kara? You look fantastic. Did you and Emily play dress up?" "We did," I admitted with pink cheeks. "Well, I'll give her my thanks for such a beautiful view." He winked at me and then turned to make my pale ale, humming a little tune as he did.

When I strolled into Pierre's sipping on my pale ale his eyes lit up. "Wow, look at you! Date night?" "Something like that," I agreed with a smile. Since Shane was coming over it would kind of be a date night. "I came to look at the wallpaper and paint you have in today," I explained to him. "And maybe even some flooring. I don't know...the bright woods just really aren't doing it for me, and I've got a little extra change."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. But I'm sure I'll be able to help you out! Today I have these." He pointed to the display, which showed off a sample of wallpaper and flooring. "I number all my wallpaper and flooring options. The wallpapers I have in today are 3, 26, and 102. And the floorings I have are 8, 15, and 37. Do any of them suit you?" "Actually, wallpaper 102 and flooring 8 looks perfect for my living room. That way, too, I would have the perfect excuse to buy a nice rug."

"Is that a purchase, then?" "...Yeah." I pulled my wallet out of my pocket. "When can I have it installed?" "Robin could swing by tomorrow and get it done while you're working," he promised. "One day only." "Awesome; thanks so much." "No, thank you."

My oven had just dinged when I heard a tentative knock on the door. "If it's Shane, it's open! If it's not, I'm busy!" Familiar snickering could be heard as the door opened. "Jeez, Kara. You could be a little more subtle than that." "Oh, like you are," I retorted, still hidden by the kitchen table. When I stood up and Shane gasped my cheeks went red. But the casserole dish was of much more concern to me, so I put that on the hot pad before I shucked the oven mitts off and turned to face him.

Shane's eyes couldn't stay still. They wandered over my body, drinking up every little detail, and I suddenly felt a lot less clothed than I was. "So... Emily and I played dress up. Do you like it?" "She told me that you did," he mumbled. The man didn't pause on his way to me, tossing his keys haphazardly onto the table. "I just didn't think you would look like... this." "Is that a 'yes?'" "Fuck yes."

I had been silly to think my cheeks couldn't have gotten any redder. He hooked his hands around my hips and drew me closer, grinning. "I love your graphic t-shirts," he told me. "But you clean up really, really nice. I'm not a huge fan of the heels, though." "Yeah...I think I'd like the boots altogether a lot better if they didn't have heels. You can thank Emily for that little addition...she wrestled them onto me." "Wrestled?" Shane sounded more than amused.

"You mean that little blue-haired thing managed to take you down? Kara the almighty, Kara the farmer? The same Kara that's spent countless hours mining ore, chopping down trees, and slaying vicious monsters? I don't believe it." I rolled my eyes at his teasing. "That 'little blue-haired thing' is more vicious than any slime I've ever met. When I told her I didn't want to wear them she attacked me." Shane's eyes danced.

"I'll keep that in mind in case she ever wants to play dress up with me." The little shot of jealousy that panged painfully within me was foreign, unwelcome, and admittedly very silly. But no matter how much I reminded myself that Shane was very singularly interested in me and Emily would never do such a thing, I couldn't stop the way I frowned at the thought of them playing dress up.

"I think you'd find playing dress up a little hard since you'd constantly have to be ducking into the bathroom." His eyebrows raised, meanwhile my eyes narrowed. "What, do you have a problem with me playing dress up with Emily?"

I planted my hands on his chest and gave him a firm shove, knocking his hands off my hips and getting some distance between us. I also knew it was silly to be angry at him for such foolish thoughts, but he was mocking me when I was truly upset and it stung.

I found myself putting even more distance between us, arms crossing protectively over my chest. "No, I don't have a problem with it," I snapped back. "So why don't you go play dress up with her? In fact, you can even spend the night with her. Surely there would be nothing wrong with that; you're just two friends after all!"

The silence in the room was tense. I could almost feel him analyzing my near-palpable distress, and it made my skin crawl. Boiling within me I could feel the white-hot temper that had gotten me into trouble so many times before, and begged it to spare me, just this once. Relationships were about communication; how was I supposed to communicate if all I could see and hear was red?

My skin prickled near my back, and I felt the faintest ghost of air movement next to my hips before it redirected to my shoulders. Large, warm hands cupped them and fingertips slid over them with a firm pressure, massaging the muscles there. I forced my body to give in to the feeling, to focus on what it meant. He wasn't storming out angrily, he wasn't going to take up my offer to play "dress up" with Emily. He was here, with me, trying to calm me down.

"I'm sorry," his gravelly voice came in a murmur next to my right ear. "I shouldn't have teased you like that. I just...I can't for the life of me understand why even the notion of me being attracted to anyone else wouldn't be dismissed immediately. I can't claim I've literally never been attracted to anyone else. I'm pretty damn old, and I've held my fair share of relationships in life. But here, in this town, in this moment, there is no one else but you. Not Emily, not Penny, not Abigail--and certainly not Haley. For the love of Yoba, not Haley." Even my anger couldn't keep a small smile at bay. He was right; I definitely couldn't see Haley and himself together.

His hands turned a little more insistent on my shoulders when he felt my muscles loosen and witnessed my posture become more open. "You, Kara," he reminded. "No one else." "Not even Alex?" My joke almost instantly sapped the tension from the room. "Well, I don't know. What with his gridball skills..." I looked over my shoulder to smile at him and when it was returned, spun and pecked his lips. "C'mon, let's eat dinner and then watch a movie or something."

Shane loved my cheesy stuffed pepper casserole, to say the least. I was starting to think he loved it more than me, seeing how he moaned when he ate it. Once we were both finished I gathered the plates and strolled over to start them soaking in the sink, then turned and asked, "Wanna watch a movie?" "I don't know whether I can sit on this hard floor much longer," he admitted reluctantly.

"Then we can sit on the bed. I'll bring the tv in." His wide eyes flitted from the massive tv to my girly frame. "Babe, I know you do farm work for a living but I don't think that's enough to warrant being able to lift a massive tv like that." "So help me," I suggested in a playful tone. "Because I wanna watch a movie with you, and I wanna do it now."

"Alright." Shane's acquiesce sounded more like he was trying to prevent WWIV than actually wanting to help me, but when my eyes lit up his gruff features noticably softened. And then they twisted into a smirk. "Hate to burst your bubble, but I can't see you lifting a tv in that." "...Oh." I looked down at my outfit. "Well, I'll go change." I wasn't giving up, that much I knew. I flitted into the bedroom, grabbed some different clothes, and went into the bathroom.

After a brief debate I decided to wash off the makeup. I still liked it, but it was impractical when trying to lay down and get comfy, so off it came. And besides, if I broke a sweat carrying the tv I didn't want it to run anywhere and make me look like a streaky mess. While I reluctantly slipped out of my hand-picked outfit I could hear Shane wandering around in the bedroom, no doubt looking for plugs that the tv could go into. I hurried to pull on my comfy grey sweat pants and white shirt, and then jogged out to help him.

"There should be a plug right next to the dresser that if we moved it, we could put the tv in the dresser's place. I don't really know of any other ones that would be a good idea." "Well that will put it on the left, though. How are we going to watch it like that?" I couldn't hide the smile forming. "I have an idea." Shane's wary gaze wandered over to me, but I wasn't expecting him to make a choking noise. "What?"

"You're trying to kill me, aren't you?" My eyebrows raised. "Wh--oh." I hadn't really noticed in my hste that the shirt I had picked out was my comfy one shoulder white...crop top. I mean, with how far up the hem of my sweat pants were, not much skin was showing. But apparently for Shane it was plenty enough.

"Well you're just having a ball keeping yourself in line today aren't you?" I taunted him, bumping my hip against his when I came close enough. He rolled his eyes at my antics and looked like he wanted to retaliate, but then I started pushing the dresser across the floor and he came to my aid.

Carrying the tv in was a lot easier than I thought it would be, and a lot harder than Shane did. He was puffing and wheezing by the time he collapsed onto the bed, meanwhile I was perched on the floor, happily whistling away as I scrolled Netflix. "I'm so out of shape," he groaned. "Surprise surprise," I retorted with a grin. For a moment he was quiet, but then he started chuckling breathlessly. "Yeah, guess you're right."

"Shane?" "Hm?" "Prove me wrong one of these days, won't you?" "I promise I will." Even though I thought he couldn't see it, I smiled a small smile to myself. "So what are you looking through?" "Animations. Comedies. Dunno, just not really in the mood for anything that has more than a small sprinkling of drama." "What, you don't like horror?" My eyes narrowed. "No." Shane's laugh echoed through the room as well as my body, making butterflies form in my stomach and my skin tingle. I was still surprised he could do that to me so easily.

"What about that new Disney movie? What's it called...Moana, or whatever? Or wait, that has drama in it--" "Well, it's not like really bad drama I don't think. I'm talking about like tons of people dying, worlds falling into war, lovers abandoning another, that sort of thing. I could go for Moana."

Once I selected the movie in question I strolled up to the bed, grinning. "Why are you looking at me like that?" "Lay back and spread your legs." My boyfriend looked beyond bewildered--but obeyed without hesitation, settling back onto the pillow. I crawled onto the bed between his legs and shifted around, finally laying up against him. My torso sprawled over his hips and his stomach while my legs were tucked between his, and it was insanely comfy, even when his stomach started bouncing.

"You've gotta be kidding," he laughed, "You're too heavy!" "If I'm so heavy then why can you still breathe without problem?" He didn't have an answer for that one so we laid in silence, watching the movie. For a while at least. Just as Moana was leaving the island for good, he started massaging my scalp.

I don't know whether he had seen me do it to myself before, or if he just knew it felt good, but I didn't mind either way. All I cared about were the insanely relaxing touches he was giving me--relaxing that bordered on arousing, that is. They were making me sleepy faster than they were turning me on, but after a few minutes the massage did provoke a quiet sigh.

It couldn't have been longer than 20 minutes before suddenly Shane tensed up. His hand stuttered in my hair before awkwardly stopping, leaving me feeling rather cold without his touch. I shifted to raise up and look at him--and there it was. His expression crumbled, a groan escaped his parted lips. But that wasn't what caught my attention. He was hard. As in, extremely hard. If-I-didn't-know-any-better-I'd-say-he-stuffed-a-rock-in-his-pants hard.

My reaction was entirely unintentional. Eyes wide, they flitted down to his jeans, which is the exact opposite of something you should do if someone is embarrassed by an arousal. "I'm sorry," he muttered into the tense air between us. I could hear the self-loathing dripping from every sylable. "I'll just go ho--" Shane was sitting up, preparing to do exactly that, when I put a gentle hand on his shoulder and stopped him. "Shane, why are you acting like you just kicked Tilly or Loki? There's nothing wrong with getting erections. It's--" "Natural, yeah, I know. I just didn't want to, oh, I don't know, get one while my new girlfriend is laying on me!" He buried his face in his hands.

"I'm such a fucking jackass," he growled. "Well...for the record, I'm really selfish," I hedged. My mind was screaming at me not to, warning me this might fuck it up...but my heart ignored every opportunity to turn around. "Why are you selfish?" he mumbled into his hands. "...Because all I can think about right now is asking you to see it."

Silence reigned. I bit my lip, waiting for his answer with baited breath. Finally his fingers cracked and he peered through them at me. "...Huh?" My face flushed. "You--you can't be serious." He pulled his head up, no doubt ignoring his embarrassment in favor for the utter confusion written across his face. "Kara, I'm one of the ugliest men on the planet. What makes you think down there is going to look any better?" "For the record I happen to think you're pretty damn attractive. Sure, you'd probably look better if you took better care of yourself," I added the last part teasingly, "But I like you the way you are." "For who I am, though?" "Down to the last pore on your body and the last thought in your mind."

Green eyes darted down to the floor, and limp purple hair fell over his face and partially hid it. After a few moments I reached out and gently brushed it back. "I happen to be extremely attracted to you--including anything down there. Honestly at this point you could be a neuter and I'd still find you attractive down there." He rolled his eyes at my admission. "You don't mean that." "I do. But just like I have a hard time believing people who call me pretty or beautiful, you just refuse to accept it because of all the self doubt that's been pounded into your head."

By that point, it only took a quick glance to confirm that his erection was gone and the moment was dead. I resigned myself to another lonely night, maybe even with the help of my hands if I couldn't get to sleep, when he nodded once. "Let me get this straight. You really, really want to see my dick." He said it so seriously, so disbelievingly, that it was hard to keep a straight face. But I managed to find stability in my voice. "Yes, Shane. I really want to see your dick." Our eyes met, and suddenly a cheeky grin formed. "Well if you wanna see it you better kiss me or something, because right now there's not much to look at."

I laughed as I fell into him, pushing him down on the bed so I could straddle his hips. "Oh, I'll kiss you alright," I promised to the wide eyed man underneath me. "How do you feel about breathing?" Before he could formulate a reply I leaned down and kissed him, trying my best to convey all the love, adoration, and attraction I held for him. It must have worked. Shane groaned underneath me, hands rising up to cup my left hip and the back of my neck, keeping me to him. As soon as he touched me my skin electrified and I let out a small whimper, which only seemed to spur him on.

His warm lips turned needy and demanding on mine, pulling, wanting. I was only too happy to oblige...but first I needed a better angle. I broke the kiss briefly and turned my head, accidentally bumping my nose against his as I did. Our giggles were smothered by us sinking into the kiss again with breathy moans.

Though Shane seemed content to let me have my way with him, he did sit up and slide us back so he could sit up against the headboard, and seemed to get a little boost of confidence when he did. I got the feeling he liked being completely equal with me. As I spread my legs a little farther to sit fully in his lap he licked over my lower lip, growling lowly when I playfully denied access. I never expected his hips to thrust up into mine sharply.

My sweat pants rode up with the movement and pressed the seam right into my clit, the pressure and the implication making me moan against him. That was enough for him to slip his tongue in, enough to try and dominate my mouth. Our lips came together again and again as we tilted our heads from side to side, noses bumping, heavy breathing billowing in the air around us. His hands had slipped under my shirt and were exploring the plains of my back and my sides, inching dangerously close to the swell of my uncovered breasts. Just the notion of him touching me so intimately sent a cascade of delightful shivers down my spine.

"Did I ever tell you how much I love that you don't wear bras?" he mumbled against my lips, his warm breath making my head spin. I managed a shy shake of my head. His chuckle was felt more than heard in the vibrations his body made against mine before his hands slid up and cupped my breasts. "If you ever want me to stop just say the words," he whispered. Protesting how amazing his hands felt on me was the last thing on my mind. I moaned into the space between us, tilting my head up towards the ceiling as he circled my nipples teasingly.

Nipples eagerly hardening under his tactile touches must not have been enough for him. Before I could register the fact that he was flicking his thumbs over them, he leaned forward and pressed an open mouthed kiss on my neck. Until then my hands had been resting on his shoulders for balance. But now as I gasped at the ceiling and arched into him, my hands snaked around to clutch the back of his neck and his hoodie, keeping him pressed into me.

Shane must have liked the idea of me keeping him close, or maybe he was just a boob man, because he groaned in response and nuzzled deeper into my neck, lips finding the sensitive skin behind my ear. When he sucked on the patch of skin an embarrassingly loud whimper came from within me, but that was nothing compared to when he nipped the area and twisted my nipples at the same time. I was panting when I turned my head into his temple, stroking the beck of his neck. "Please," I whined. I didn't know what I was asking for anymore but I didn't really care. Shane must have knew.

I had felt his erection forming before he rocked his hips up into me again, but as soon as movement was added, it pressed right up into me. My cry echoed through the bedroom and was quickly followed by his growl. "You're so fucking hot," he muttered, kissing his way along my neck to explore my collarbone. However he didn't get long to have his fun before I gasped, "Kiss me," and he obliged as if he'd been the one waiting all along. He tipped his head up and crushed his lips back to mine, hungry and wanting as I pushed my hips into his.

The pressure was enough to have both of us panting into the kiss, but it only placated us for so long. So with one hand still on his neck, I slid the other one slowly down his torso until I reached his shorts. A quick squeeze is all I needed to give him to have him moaning against the press of my lips. "Can I see it now?" "You can do a lot more than just see it," he mumbled, dragging me impossibly closer.

His hands had glided down to my hips to start a rhythm between us, but now he was digging his fingernails into me as I finally managed to get his button and zip undone and reach into his boxers to fish him out. "Shit," he panted, eyes squeezed shut. He didn't see the way my eyes widened in unflinching arousal when I finally saw his length. He stood at about 5, maybe 6 inches, but it was the thickness that had my panties absolutely soaked. My hand barely closed around him.

My boyfriend groaned, head rolling back, hips bucking up into my hand. "Fuck, Kara," he managed out between pants. "Has anyone ever told you that you really know how to hold a man?" I grinned and slid my hand up and down his cock, hips subtly rocking along to the pace, still seeking friction.

I did my best to place my own needs on the backburner and chirp, "No, but thank you. I don't think I've been told that because I've never seen a man as large as you--I have to have my grip pretty tight to close my hand around you." The look he gave me was complete disbelief, but it faded back into desperately furrowed eyebrows and a bitten lip when I stroked up and slid my thumb over the head. I don't think he had any idea how sexy he looked.

"I've been told I have a killer mouth," I informed him with a wry smile, unable to hide my aroused delight when his eyes popped open with a groan. "You're going to kill me." "I hope so," I agreed. I surged forward for one last kiss, then climbed off his lap and told him, "Edge of the bed." "You don't need to get on your knees for me." "Edge of the bed," I repeated, already sliding down to kneel on the floor. He must have been won over by the sight of me because he didn't protest again.

As soon as he got within range I reached out, pulling his jeans down a little, as well as his boxers, letting them bunch on his thighs just past his lap. I got the impression there was some sort of unspoken rule that he didn't want to take his clothes off and that was just fine with me. I closed my hand around him and pumped him once, twice, watching how his eyes fluttered closed. I took him into my mouth in one swift movement. "FUCK!"

My giggle around his cock made him moan, except pleasure definitely could have been mistaken for agony by the sound of it. Maybe it was a little bit of both. Shane tipped his head down and forced his eyes open to watch the first bob of my head, see my lipstick-stained lips stretched over his length as I worked more of it into my mouth. I definitely couldn't get all of him, but I could get enough that my hand could handle the rest. No matter how much I loved the man above me I wasn't triggering my gag reflex for him. Which reminded me...

"Keep your hips on the bed unless you want me to bite you." "Got it," he panted, warning accepted without hesitation. I went back down on him and swirled my tongue around his head, listening to how his breath hitched. I could feel his thighs trembling under my free hand, which I was keeping safely out of range of between my legs. If it was hanging down there I'd probably have two fingers sunk into myself by now.

Every moan, every pant, every hitch of his breath or gasp of my name made me that much hotter for him. I could feel how wet my panties were and it was infuriating. I wanted to feel something a lot different. Preferably fingers, tongue, or Shane's cock, but at this point I'd even take the harsh scrape of my panties being pulled against me. Anything to dull the throbbing in my clit.

When Shane's back arched my lips threatened to pull into a smile. Thankfully he'd heeded my warning. His hips did shift a little, but they stayed relatively level with the bed so I allowed it, pressing my fingertips into his thigh in reminder. When I came up for a quick breath I bit my lip, seeing how aroused he looked.

It took a great amount of effort not to climb into his lap and beg him to take me, but I knew neither of us were ready for that step. So instead I teased him with little kitten licks on his tip, earning a truly agonized groan. "You have no idea," he panted, "How good your mouth feels around me." "I'm sure I can take a wild guess," I replied playfully, and then slid my lips back down over him.

It didn't take long for his quiet moans to increase in frequency and volume, or his thighs to start really, truly shaking. "I'm not going to last," he managed out through gritted teeth. I chose that moment to look up at him, and found dark green eyes lighting all over my face. As soon as our eyes met his eyes squeezed shut and he tossed his head. "Kara..." I could hear the unspoken want in his tone. The pleading for release, the desperation, the praise...the adoration.

When his hand cupped my cheek I knew it was my final warning. I could have pulled away and given him a show. It wouldn't have been the first time. But I didn't really want to have to go and grab a rag, and this was as much for me as it was for him. I was enjoying this immensely...and I wasn't going to stop until he was completely drained. I got my wish.

His choked groan echoed through my bedroom, followed by the sensation of warm ropes of come hitting the roof of my mouth. I eased back a bit and stroked him with my hand, focusing on not letting it go down my throat before I was ready. You only make that mistake a handful of times before you wisen up.

Shane flopped back as he came down off his climax, breathing still extremely heavy. Without losing a single drop of his release I carefully pulled away, letting his shrinking length lay on his thigh as I climbed up his body. I rested my weight on my forearms and caged him in, waiting until he opened his eyes before swallowing. His groan made me giggle. "Always the show off, aren't you?" "Mmmhmmm. But it's your turn to show off now." A smirk lit his face, wide...and rather cheeky. "Is that so?" His hand wandered down to brush high on the inside of my thigh, and my entire body jerked.

It felt like he poured lava into my veins when he rubbed the side of his hand up against me through my sweat pants. I gasped, hands fisting the comforter, and let my head fall forward so our foreheads rested together. "I can feel you through your sweatpants," he mumbled. I may have blushed in response but I was by no means embarrassed by it; not when he informed me in such a fervent tone. "Yeah? Well what are you going to do about it?"

Shane quickly rose to the challenge--literally. He sat up, forcing me back into his lap...for about .2 seconds. And then he was shooing me off his lap and onto the bed. "I'm going to make a fool of myself, that's what I'm going to do. But honestly, I don't give a shit, because you're so weird you'll probably enjoy it anyways." I couldn't help laughing. "Well, I appreciate the honesty. What are you--mmmph!" My back hit the bed and made the bedsprings creak.

My body instinctively tried to sit up again, only to find him hovering over me. He was tucking himself back into his shorts, but as soon as he had it accomplished he set to pushing my crop top higher and higher, fingertips dragging so lightly over my skin that it made goosebumps form. It would have tickled if he hadn't been staring at me so heatedly.

Speaking of heat, my clit reminded me of how little I'd been touched by twinging rather painfully. When I winced Shane paused, concern coloring his frown. "You okay?" "You get blue balls, I get blue clit," I mumbled playfully, nipping at the closest fingertip to me. "Just keep going." "Don't worry," he shot me a grin, "You're not leaving this bed until you've come at least twice." If my wide eyes were any indication of my surprise he didn't seem to notice.

Shaky hands pulled my shirt off me and dragged teasingly down the valley of my cleavage and to the bottom of my shorts, but didn't curcuit back up like I thought. I got the idea he was rather impatient, which was surprising. The men I'd met couldn't have cared less about whether I'd gotten mine, let alone how quick or if teasing wasn't funny anymore...but then again, Shane was never like most men.

"If you've got any reservations about my face between your legs you might want to tell me now," he warned as he slid down onto the floor, already starting to pull my sweatpants down. "If I had any reservations you wouldn't be on the floor right now," I responded breathlessly. He seemed to delight in the tone of my voice, glancing up at me with dancing, almost mischievous eyes.

Before I could kick away my sweatpants, his groan filled the air around us and made me flush. "You're gonna kill me." He'd finally gotten a good look at my underwear but...which pair had I been wearing that day? Oh. The red lace. I bit my lip, trying to hide my glee at how turned on he looked. He ran his hands over my thighs and my hips, his hands leaving flames in their wake.

I hummed and arched my hips up at little, eyes threatening to close when he ran his thumbs along the inside of my thighs, dangerously close to my center. "I love these," he informed me casually, giving a soft tug to the lace. "I think you'd like them better off of me," I suggested not-so-subtly. He grinned. "Is that so?"

His hands slowed to a crawl, turning so light that the touch was teasing. "Or maybe I should keep them on you, just pull them to the side and eat you out like that?" I didn't know where he had learned how to talk dirty but it was insanely arousing. I pushed my head back into the mattress with a quiet moan, bucking my hips towards him.

Maybe he sensed my growing frustration, or maybe he was worried I'd kick him out and finish the job myself if he waited too long, but for one reason or another he decided to have mercy on me and slid one of his hands down so he could rub me through my panties.

"Shane!" I gasped towards the ceiling, biting my lip to try and keep any other involuntary sounds at bay. "Can I make you come like this?" he wondered almost idly, circling his thumb against the aching nub. "Easily," I panted out. "But if you do I'm going to kill you. These underwear were expensive, dammit, and I don't want to ruin them."

His chuckle made my walls clench and a shudder run down my spine. He took my distraction to pull my underwear down and give them an exaggerated toss over his shoulder...so they could land an unimpressive 5 inches away from his shoe. I smirked at him. "You need practice my friend." "Oh, I'm a friend am I? Do friends touch you like this?" "Mmhmm, all the time," I joked back breathily, gasping when his finger teased my enterance.

As he slowly thrust his middle finger into my channel my lips parted to let out a long, low, unbidden moan. "Fuck," he muttered to himself. Before I could even formulate a response he continued, "You're so tight." I forced myself not to rock up into his finger and tried to gasp in some air. Even with only one finger inside me the pleasure was dizzying, and I struggled to stabilize myself.

The man between my legs must have known me better than I thought, because I'd just gotten some semblance of breath back when he added another finger and twisted them around inside me, earning a squeal. His free hand came to hold my hips in place while he worked me, making sure I didn't move around too much. "Didn't expect you to be so vocal," he admitted with a wry smile. "It's sexy."

Shane quickened the pace of his fingers when I whined, the hand on my hip slipping down so he could teasingly circle my clit with his thumb. I felt like I was going to explode. Occasionally he would pass over the sensitive little nub and send near-painful shards of pleasure searing through me, which worked me to a fever pitch embarrassingly quickly.

"Shane.... Shane..." I pushed my shoulders into the bed, letting out a desperate half-moan, half-groan when he swiped over my clit again. I didn't know what alerted him first--the increasing frequency of my moans, the way my toes curled, or how my thighs started trembling. But it didn't take him long before he murmured, "You gonna come for me?"

I whined, head pressing back into the mattress. "Yeah?" The coil in my stomach was wound impossibly tight, and my walls had clenched down around his two fingers in anticipation. There was no way I could respond to his questions, not right now. When one of my hands unclenched from the bedspread and slid down my stomach to splay on my pubic bone, I never expected him to remove his thumb from my clit, grab my hand and kiss it tenderly. "So close," I gasped.

"I know." He pressed a firm kiss to the inside of my thigh, "I know baby. I've got you, you're safe. Come for me." Well fuck if that didn't go straight to my core. However in the end, what made me fall over the edge was him leaning forward to leave an open-mouthed kiss on my clit.

I cried out loudly, legs clamping together as I fell into bliss. My back arched, my hands clenched on his hand and the bedspread. I'd never had such a great orgasm and if what he spoke was the truth, this was only my first one of the night. My head was still spinning as he worked me down off my high and brought me back to Earth.

"Maybe try not to do that when my head is between your legs?" Shane mused jokingly, and it was then that I realized I'd trapped his hand. If it had been his head I would have smothered him. As it was, there seemed to be a tinge of pain in his features.

"Sorry," I breathed, relaxing my legs so they hung off the bed again. As soon as he extracted his fingers I jerked and moaned, earning a grin from the purple haired man. I was about to scowl at him and remind him that teasing wasn't funny when he stuck his fingers in his mouth. He closed his eyes and groaned, and I went from mildly sleepy to halfway to another orgasm in about half a second.

"Yoba, you taste good," he murmured fervently, stroking up and down my thighs once he pulled his fingers out of his mouth. His eyes opened to stare up at me. "Let me eat you out?" "I'm pretty sure I already agreed to this about a million times," I huffed, then spread my legs out. "How's that for permission?" Shane smirked at me. "On my shoulders," he instructed.

I was quick to obey--not because I was submissive or eager to please, but because I was already in desperate need of another orgasm. "Last chance to kick me to the curb." "Put your face between my legs." When the vibration of his laughter filtered through his lips and against my clit, it made me cry out. That alone was enough to pull a groan from the man on his knees, who quickly set about alleviating my desperation.

The first time his tongue glided up my slit it felt like fire. He burned me in the best way possible, and he was just getting started. That hot tongue traded slow, full licks all the way up me for lapping at my enterance, obviously teasing. However I was so on edge and sensitive from my last orgasm that the action had me moaning and writhing, grinding my hips up towards his mouth.

Large hands pinned my hips down to the bed before darting his tongue into my channel and out quickly, earning a shriek every time he did. I could feel his lips twist into a smile against me before he buried his face even deeper and started fucking his tongue in and out of me relentlessly.

It took mere seconds to have me a moaning mess, and even less time for him to introduce one of my hands to his hair. However it did take me a few long moments to realize how he was able to tongue fuck me so fast now. He had let me take control, and now I was rutting up into his face so fast that he barely had time to do anything else but just stick his tongue out and pray for air sometime soon. I was no doubt smothering him.

When I lowered my hips back to the bed, gasping and writhing, he reclaimed control over the situation and flicked his tongue over my clit a few times, moaning when my frenzied cries echoed in the air. "Fuck Shane, please!" I gasped as soon as I found my voice again.

I still didn't know what I was pleading for but it didn't matter, because suddenly he was back to dipping his tongue in and out of my channel with a hungry intensity that had me breathless. And if that wasn't enough, he released my left hip so his thumb could reclaim my throbbing nub and rub it in tandem with his thrusts, sending me spiraling deliciously out of control.

My hands found the edge of the mattress and clung to it like a lifeline, keeping me tethered to the bed as I cried out and desperately thrust my hips, forcing his tongue deeper within me. "Oh Yoba, Shaa-aaaaahhh, oh fuck!" I squealed particularly high pitch on his next thrust, and dark green eyes flitted up to me briefly before once again closing in concentration.

There it was. His tongue just barely brushed against a spot within me that had me seeing stars. "There?" he mumbled in question against me, and then repeated the action. When I keened I felt him smile against me in confirmation. From then on out, every time he thrust his tongue into me he purposefully flicked it against that spot along my walls, drawing lust-filled cries from me.

I could feel my climax rapidly approaching with the special attention to the sensitive area I could only assume was my g-spot, and honestly, I didn't know whether to be upset or relieved. I wanted to stay here under his ministrations all day...but at the same time, my legs were cramping, I was starting to get a little raw, and the arousal was borderline painful at this point. Something Shane was probably able to tell from the hand locked in his hair.

"Shaaaaane!" My drawn-out cry of his name made the man between my legs shudder. "You taste so good; I can't even imagine what it's like when you come." That's all I needed. My orgasm blind-sided me; there was no warning. One second I was gasping broken pieces of his name and the next, all I could hear was the blood rushing in my ears, the pounding of my heart, and a distant ringing.

My eyes squeezed shut, my back arched. I could feel my hand fisting his hair...and I could feel him lapping frantically at me, trying to keep up with me. My entire body felt like it had been electrified and set into slow motion as my orgasm thundered through me. When everything began returning to normal I realized he'd been forced to pin my hips down with both hands just to keep me still enough to work me off my second--and final--high. I was absolutely exhausted.

"I'm such a lucky bastard," Shane murmured as he kissed the insides of my thighs. "I'm the lucky one," I panted. His head jerked up, wide eyes locked on me before a pink blush spread. "I--I didn't mean to say that out loud." "Well I did, and I meant it. Come here." Shane placed my legs back down on the bed gently and crawled up me, face shining with my juices. I couldn't help but giggle. I had meant to coax him up for cuddles, but not if he was going to make me dirtier than I already was. "You are not cuddling me like that, don't even think about it."

A smirk formed. "Why, have a problem with something?" I squealed when he buried his face in my neck, instantly able to feel a slickness on my skin. "Dammit, now I'm filthy! Shane!" "That's okay, I'll clean you up." My breathless laughter coerced some chuckling from him as well as he settled down beside me. "Does your throat hurt?" What an odd question to ask. "...A little, why?" "I didn't know you were a screamer." I frowned at him in confusion, trying to wade through the everlasting soup in my brain. I was still a little foggy from my powerful orgasm.

"What?" "You screamed when you came." He grinned at me. "I think you might have squirted, too. Either that or you pissed on me--but either way, it tasted good." His casual tone was the catalyst to the end of my sanity. I buried my face in my hands and laughed long, loud and clear, for much longer than I should have, finally swatting at him when I regained my breath enough to do so. "I hate you." "I hate you too. Now, are you going to get up and go with me to the bathroom, or are you going to make me do all the work to clean you up?"

When I reclined comfortably onto the mattress with a grin he scowled, but the facial expression didn't stay long when I stuck my lower lip out pleadingly. "Now I really hate you." I couldn't help the victorious giggles that bubbled out of me as he climbed off the bed and headed for the bathroom.

I felt like I was floating on cloud nine and giddy beyond belief, and it was all thanks to the man in the bathroom. But I did have a question about what had just happened. Even as sleep threatened I bit back a yawn and propped myself up on my elbows, stretching out to help him in his efforts to clean me up.

"Shane?" "Hm?" "Why'd you change your mind tonight?" He smiled to himself. "Because for the past few weeks I've been taking a shit-ton of showers and Marnie keeps giving me these knowing grins. And...I figured if we didn't go past this base, I could still have my 'doing things right' but without all the tension." I smirked. "Awww, so that's why you would leave early sometimes." "Shut up."

When he ran the rag over my slit I hissed, and not in the good way. The green eyed man winced as he met my gaze. "Just a little raw," I murmured reassuringly, "I think your beard gave me beard burn without me even realizing." "I'll make sure to keep it shaved shorter," he promised.

I knew he wouldn't be able to keep that promise often, but that was okay. I knew what depression could do to a person; how it could make them break even the simple promises of personal hygiene. It didn't bother me. "Okay," I agreed with a smile, then made grabby hands at him. "What, I can't get cleaned up too? Gimme a minute," he grumbled, scowling at me when I pouted.

"I wanna cuddle!" "Well I want to not be sticky while we do! Take the opportunity to put some clothes on!" "What, do you have a problem with my being naked?" "Yes; it's going to make me get hard again way too fast." I smirked victoriously to myself as I hauled my body off the bed and pulled my shirt on, opting to get a new pair of panties since the other ones were still wet. I didn't bother with pants.

When Shane came in from the bathroom he plopped down on the bed and dragged me into his arms so he spooned me, my back against his chest, his face in my hair. "Go to sleep," he instructed. "Yes sir," I replied playfully, grinning when he snorted. "Good night ma'am" he replied sarcastically, then gave the back of my neck a tender kiss.

I wanted to tell him that I loved him, and I was so thankful that he was staying the night, but sleep crept up on me too quickly. I only managed to mumble a "G'night" before I drifted off in his arms. As we slept, Moana's credits rolled quietly.

Chapter Text

"You know, usually when I have potential customers, they don't wait until first thing Monday morning to get me to start," Robin teased as I led her down the path to my house. "I'm sorry. I just realized that one of Marnie's cows is going to give birth soon so she can afford to lose another, and I still don't have a barn. Trust me, I know how horrible Mondays can be. I wouldn't have done this to you if it wasn't an emergency."

"I know, I'm just messin' with ya." She patted me on the back and then asked, "So...you still talking to Shane?" I felt myself bristle. "Of course I'm still talking to Shane; we're in a relationship!" "I know, I know," she blurted out quickly. "I just thought that...maybe you'd been a little...bored over Winter--" "No," I growled lowly. "I was not bored." "I see."

Robin wisely kept her eyes averted the rest of the way to the farm, only looking up when I gestured to an area I'd cleared. "If it could be built here, that would be perfect." "Okay, great. Lots of open space for the building, and for a small grassy area. When you gonna get me to upgrade your coop, anyways? You would do good with the extra income wouldn't you?"

"I'll get you to upgrade it as soon as I have the materials," I reminded tersely. "I already have everything you need set up, so unless you need me, I'm off to help Evelyn." "Oh, are you going to help her with the planters?" "Nah, she's got those, and I've got my own farming. She needs some stuff from her attic." "Ah. Well, best of luck! I'll come get you if I need you." In response I gave her a thumb's up, turning on my heel to walk away. I was absolutely fuming.

The redheaded woman had just proven my concern; that everyone in town thought I was dating Shane out of pity. The notion made my fists clench so much that I had to force them apart to pick a leek for George on the way, and a daffodil near the water fountain. Thankfully Haley didn't even acknowledge me when I passed--the only good part of the day so far.

"Hellooo?" I called as I poked my head in the front door, ignoring Alex staring at me. "Evelyn?" "Oh, Kara! Come on in honey!" "Pipe down!" George snapped irritably from the living room. As I closed the door behind me Evelyn smiled warmly at me. "Don't mind him; his favorite show is on." "Hey, I get that way when I'm playing Destiny 2; I can relate." She chuckled and patted me on the shoulder, asking, "Are you sure you can do this? I'm sure if I pressed the issue I could convince Alex to help me..." "No."

I shook my head at her. "I have all my daily duties done and Robin's building a barn for me, so you're doing me a favor by helping me escape all the noise. Besides, I won't make you beg for your grandson's help." I know she could hear the distaste in my voice because she smiled soothingly and rubbed my shoulder as she led me to the attic's trap door and explained, "Alex is just a little...self-centered, is all. He's a good boy. Sometimes he just needs a little bit of a push to realize it's time for him to step up and take on some responsibility."

Somehow I didn't find that hard to believe. "So if you pull that cord up there, it'll bring the door down. But be careful! The stairs can be a little loose--one year, George got a black eye trying to get up there!" She chuckled, obviously lost in the memory. "Loose stairs; got it. So, what am I bringing down again?" "Here, I made you a list." I took a minute to scan over it. Crocheting, memory box, extra china and silverware. What I needed to help her dispose of was...of considerable length.

"Is that too much?" she worried. "Perhaps I could try and help you--" "Not a chance," I told her with a smile. "It'll be fine, just might take me a little longer than I'd thought! But I'm all yours today. So you go and relax with your husband--oh, and take him this for me, would you?" I handed off the leek, then added, "And this is yours." I presented her with the daffodil. "Oh, it's wonderful, thank you! George will be so excited, too. You know, he likes you." "Does he?" "Oh my yes. He likes your spunk." She winked at me, "But you didn't hear it from me!"

I loved that little old lady. So much so, that when I went up in the attic and realized there was a lot more storage than I thought, I didn't run away screaming. Instead I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and got to work. It went by a lot easier with some music; thankfully I'd brought my phone with me. I just hoped I wasn't annoying Evelyn or George as I be-bopped my way around the attic to uncover all the things I needed to work on.

Evelyn gave me free reign to poke around in their kitchen, so I put the china away myself after some lifting to give myself a little respite. Since I was still listening to my music I was happy to sway and twirl around as I went from cabinet to cabinet, humming quietly to myself. It was only when I turned and saw Alex leaning against the doorway that I realized I had an audience. "Nice dancing."

He must have been able to distinguish an angry blush from a shy or embarrassed one, because as soon as my face went red he pushed off the doorway and sauntered down the hallway, just barely managing to shut his door before I could wring his neck for creeping on me. I had half a mind to tell Evelyn or George to remind him that girls weren't sexual objects that he could do with what he liked; but I knew even if they did mention something to him, he was an adult. He knew he didn't have to listen to them.

I decided it was time to get back to work before I changed my mind (again) about murdering him. I turned up Halsey a little to drown out the negative thoughts and started shoving things towards the stairs, preparing them for the trips out to the garbage pile we would amass in Lewis' front yard so he could dispose of the boxes.

A couple of hours and a pair of burning legs later, I was seriously questioning if mining was as much exercise as I'd thought. I was more than ready to collapse onto my bed, but I had one last box to deposit. On my way out the door Alex walked up to me, matching my stride. "Hey farm girl, so you and Shane are an item, right?" I rolled my eyes. "Yes." My answer was clipped, my patience for him already thin without such irritating words spoken. "Why?" He snorted, "What does that drunkard have to offer? Oh wait, lemme guess, he has the 'biggest dick you've ever seen' and that's why you're with him, right? Well baby, I can do a lot better than someone who faints into pools of their own vomit and pisses the bed because they fell asleep after too many beers."

Ignoring him would make him go way. Ignoring him would make him go away. Of course, it wouldn't make the familiar tingle in my fist go away, or how my knuckles were preparing for impact with high cheekbones or a "perfect," unblemished jawline. I couldn't deny how deliciously good it would feel to spiral out of control as I watched the area swell and bruise, but I knew this was a risk I shouldn't take. Not out here, not when I could get booted from town for assaulting someone.

When I finally got to my stack of boxes I dropped the one in question, arching my back in a luxurious stretch. So much time kneeling in small spaces wasn't the best on anyone, even at 23. "Are you really such a masochist you'd stay with that dead beat? Babe, in five years, where are you gonna be? You're gonna be at the top of your game, that's where... if that bum isn't dragging you down with him."

As my body pivoted to face him my eyes briefly flashed over Shane, steps from the corner of the saloon and staring. And then my fist connected with the hard angle of Alex's jaw. The man before me yelped and fell onto his ass and, in a delirious sort of madness, I wanted to do it again. I was going to do it again.

Judging by wide green eyes, Alex had realized that too. But before he could be too afraid hands grabbed the tops of my arms. My mind didn't register the soft, sad green eyes locked on mine or the purple fringe--at first. All I could feel was the intense rage that had built up for far too long, and all I could think about was that I was being blocked from decking the jackhole again.

I only realized my hands had clamped down on Shane's arms--probably painfully tight--when he demanded, "You going to hit me too? Go ahead. But I'm not going to let you get into even more trouble than you're already in. He isn't worth it." Alex popped to his feet and took off, taking the opportunity of my distraction for his escape.

As my hands loosened on Shane's arms I opened my mouth to say something--anything--but no words came out. "Don't," he murmured. "Just come here." I shuffled numbly into his side, finding refuge in the crook of his arm as Lewis stormed up. "Young lady, you had better have an extremely good reason for this...this violence! Just because I respect your grandfather doesn't mean I'll allow you to go around beating on people just because of a simple misunderstanding!"

"Now wait a minute," Shane snapped angrily, "This wasn't just some simple misunderstanding! He's been--" Shane paused when I put my hand on his chest, looking down at me. "Why don't you go wait in the bar? I--I'll talk to Lewis. This is my fault, not yours. What did you say? I won't let you get into more trouble than you are already?" His hard features softened faintly. "I'll save us a table in the corner." My response was to squeeze his arm as he walked off.

Lewis sighed, eyeing me. "Why don't we go inside? This doesn't need to be a public affair." "Pretty sure it already is," I joked weakly as I followed him inside. He seemed to have calmed down in the mere seconds I'd used to send Shane off, because when he turned he didn't seem nearly as angry as he did exhausted. "Come on, Kara. I know you're a little irritable but punching Alex? Did the situation really call for that?"

"Yes, it did," I replied seriously. "I'm sick of him treating me and the people I love like we're some unbreakable objects that he can play with. All day today he has harassed me, degraded me and sexualized me to the point where I was ready to just go home. The only reason I stayed is because I wanted to keep my word to Evelyn."

I was pacing now, taking out the last of my aggressions on the muscles screaming in my legs. "If all of that wasn't enough, he started picking on the one thing no one should." My eyes slanted to his. "To start this off, I don't know what you people think about Shane and I's relationship but let me make this crystal clear--I am not dating him because I was bored through winter, or out of pity." The man at least had the shame to look sheepish.

"And another thing. You guys have no idea what he goes through. You've never worked a single day in Joja Co, and I bet my entire life savings and my farm that not even half of you have ever had depression! To do both at the same time is horrifying--and incredibly inspiring. Yes, Shane does have problems. We all do. But mocking someone, even regardless of their situation, is absolutely pathetic. It is the lowest of the low especially to pick on someone who's worked harder than you ever have, all because you're jealous of their luck with women!"

The emotion built up inside me, the words kept tumbling out. "Shane is not the town drunk. But even if he was, no one has the right to call him that behind his back, nor do they have the right to call him a dead beat! Shane has done more than that stupid jock has in years but it's my fault for protecting him?! No one else will! You're all too disgusted by him despite the fact that he drinks less than Pam does on a daily basis, and he's too depressed and self-conscious to do anything but believe all those horrible words!"

Lewis' stunned silence spoke volumes. But what did more is when he slowly nodded. "You're right." "...What?" "You're right," he repeated. "We don't know what he's been through, and he shouldn't be judged--no one should. I'll talk to Alex about his behavior regarding all the points you outlined. But... in the future, try to keep things less physical? I'm going to start to look really bad as mayor if I begin pardoning a growing number of bruises and complaints about assault." "Then maybe you ought to have a town meeting and remind everyone about respect for their fellow man. I won't punch anyone who doesn't deserve it."

Lewis smiled then. "Maybe I'll hand my power down to you, Kara. With a little bit of anger management and that solid head on your shoulders, you could be a fine mayor." Well I didn't expect that, especially after I'd just decked somebody right in front of him. I was still coming down from the roller coaster I'd just rode, and now Mayor Lewis was talking about me being mayor? The idea was terrifying...and oddly intriguing.

"I'll talk to the people in town. And would you do me a favor, and let Shane know that if he ever needs anything, he can reach out to me? My doors are open until 9, and I won't let anything slip." "I'll do that." On my walk to the saloon I spotted Haley rushing into Alex's house--but unlike what I expected, she didn't glare when she saw me. At most she looked a little miffed.

As soon Shane spotted me he smiled, and everything inside me melted. I just wanted to drag him to my house, curl up on the bed and fall asleep in his arms, but instead I padded over and took my seat across from him. "So how'd it go? He wasn't hard on you or anything, was he?" "No. He was...surprisingly understanding." I heard the door behind Shane but I didn't bother glancing up.

"So how was your day?" "Horrible," he told me, "But don't think you can change the topic on me. I want to know what he said to finally break you. You looked like you were doing so well." I thought for a moment. "I want to propose an idea to you before we get back into the heavy." "Alright." "I propose the institution of beer on Mondays. Each Monday we should meet each other here at the saloon, rant about how horrible our days were without worrying about being too moody for the other, and knock back a few beers until we can't remember what we were complaining about in the first place. Not knock-out drunk, just...enough to take the edge off."

A smile formed on my lover's face. "The institution of beers on Mondays, huh? I like it. You've got yourself a deal. We're starting this Monday, I assume?" "Hell yeah." "Then I'll go let Emily know." Shane got up to go place our order, and I finally got a look at who had walked in; Lewis. I could only assume he would talk to Alex in the morning, once things had settled down. Smart move.

When Shane returned to the table he captured one of my hands and held it up to his lips, pressing a gentle kiss to my index knuckle, over the small bruise that resided there. "Is your hand okay?" "Yeah. It stung a little when I hit him but it's not bad now; the beer will help." "What did he say, anyways?" "Called you the town drunk and a dead beat, among other things." Green eyes bored into mine.

"He can sexualize me all he wants; I know at the end of the day that he'll never have me. But... dragging you down, insinuating such horrible things and calling you such horrible names? That I can't accept. He doesn't know what you've been through, nor how strong and special you really are. And I know you don't believe me now, but I hope that one day you can look back on this day and start grinning because you finally understand and believe what I see in you."

It was my turn to capture his hand, but I didn't kiss his knuckles. Instead I lowered my head so my nose and forehead rested against it, and closed my eyes, holding his hand there even when it trembled. It was only when I looked up that he whispered in a voice tight with unshed tears, "You don't need to protect me." "But I do; you won't protect yourself. And if you won't... who else is there but me?"

Shane blinked hard a few times and averted his eyes to the wall. After a moment he turned back and opened his mouth like he was going to say something, but the arrival of our mugs of beer broke the spell. "Here you go!" Emily chirped, "Beers for two. When you're ready for your next round just put your drinks at the end of the table and I'll come get them. Whose tab do you want this on, or do you want it spli--" "Mine," Shane interjected before I could say the same thing. "No, put it on mine," I protested.

"Don't be difficult," he ordered, "I'm paying whether you like it or not, red. Consider it payback for that stupid bouquet." "Awww, you got him a bouquet?!" Emily gasped, "So it's official?!" "Yeah," I smiled shyly, "Got it for him a couple of days ago." "How sweet!" "But that doesn't mean he gets jurisdiction over the bill. Put it on--"

"Kara I swear, a bruise on the jaw is going to be the least of your worries if you keep arguing with me. You said it yourself, running a farm costs a lot of money--" "Oooo, kinky." When Shane face-palmed Emily started giggling. "I'll split it," she mouthed at me with a wink, then flitted off while Shane got over what I'd just said. "I hate you." "Awwww but I lurrrrrv you," I replied playfully, reaching out to poke his exposed cheek.

My focus was on Shane, but when I heard laughter I turned just in time to see Lewis turn away, and I realized he'd been listening to us banter. That was more than enough to put a healthy pink flush high atop my cheeks. "What?" Shane must have caught sight of my blush before it faded because now he was looking around, trying to find the source of my embarrassment.

"I think Mayor Lewis finds us amusing." "...Ah." "Yeah. So... I have Robin building that barn I've been meaning to get. That means that Jas should be able to come visit soon, maybe sometime in the afternoon during the weekend? I could have all my farming done for the day so I could give her a little tour and let her meet Tilly and Loki." "Yeah, that would be cool."

Shane took a swig of his beer before continuing. "I mentioned it to her yesterday and she went wild; she's been badgering me ever since. I suppose telling her it'll be this weekend might shut her up... for about five minutes." I couldn't help grinning. "Well, I'm glad she's excited about it. Maybe I should offer to let her bring Vincent over sometime, too? I bet he'd get a kick out of the animals and stuff, and I could show him the mushroom plots in the cave."

"You'd make her day, and his." "Well, good! I'll talk to her about it when she comes over. Just give me a ring or talk to me in advance though, yeah? I don't want her stumbling in on an unexpected mess; I want things to look nice...which means I need to get fence up before she can come. Shit. Well, it's a good thing it's this weekend instead of tomorrow, huh?" He snorted. "I'll say. I don't think Morris would be too keen on me taking the day off to play in the dirt with my girlfriend and my god-daughter."

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about him. If he'd ever fire you I'd hire you as a farm hand," I snickered, "And then you'd hate me just as much as him. I'd whip your ass into shape." "I could never hate you, let alone as much as I hate that asshole." "Mmhmm, you say that now. Just wait until I'd have you chopping down trees." His wide eyes said it all. I burst into giggles around the rim of my beer, only pausing in my laughter to take a chug out of the mug.

"But I don't know how to chop down trees," he pointed out. "Neither did I, when I moved here. After your third time of diving to the side to avoid it falling on you, you start learning." I patted the hand resting on the table. "Don't you worry, I'd be right at your side... flicking the whip." "Slave driver," he grumbled playfully. "And proud!" I joked back, then grinned at him. "I would hire you, though." "Why? Alex said it; I'm wor--" he took one look at my face and quieted with a submissive, "Yes ma'am." "From now on whenever you say something like that I'm withholding kisses," I teased. His eyes went wide. "Not kisses!"

Maybe the beer had kicked in a little earlier than usual, or maybe he was serious, but either way his voice was loud enough to be heard by the entire establishment. If he wasn't red after his outburst he was when he realized everyone was staring at him. "Fuck me," he groaned as he put his head in his hands. "Gladly." The choking noise he produced made me giggle.

Three beers later, we walked hand in hand to his house in companionable silence. We didn't need words to tell each other how much fun we had that night; our interlocked fingers and smiles were enough. However finally I did break the silence by musing, "Today started out iffy at best and got much, much worse; but thanks to you it doesn't really matter about earlier. So...thanks for being my lifeline."

After a moment I added, "And thank you for... stopping me. Lewis softened up the more I talked, but I know it would have been a lot worse if I had kept going." "I knew you were going to, too. You had this really weird, blazing look in your eyes. I honestly wouldn't have been surprised if he would have spontaneously combusted." "Neither would I have, given whatever was in that stuff the Wizard gave me."

He snorted. "Kara, when are you going to drop that silly story you told me?" I rolled my eyes. "If you'd actually follow me into the woods someday I'd show you it's true." "No thanks. I don't need to be attacked by a bear--I still don't understand how you haven't, yet." "Oh, I had a close call, but the Junimos helped me." "...Did Emily spike your drink, or are you just a lightweight?" He asked seriously. "Like, do you need help home?" "No I don't need help home. What I'm saying is the truth!"

"Riiight. Little, multi-color aliens helped you. Are you sure anger management is the only mental health help you need? Maybe I should admit you for sanity." "Do it and die a painful death," I promised. "I have nothing against people in mental hospitals but that doesn't mean I'm going to be one of them; I'm not sick up there like they are." "...Uh huh." He eyed me.

"Let's agree to disagree," he joked. When we got to his house he wrapped his arm around my waist, cupped my cheek and dragged me into a passionate kiss. I didn't know whether it was the multiple beers or our previous intimate encounter, but Shane was more unhinged kissing me that night and it was glorious.

We kissed until we were both panting and gripping at each other before he pulled away and rested his forehead against mine. "See you soon?" "Yeah," I whispered. "See you soon." "Tomorrow." "Yeah. Movie? Dinner?" "Sounds good. By the way, do you have plans for your birthday?" "No?" "Don't make any." My cheeks went pink. "Okay."

"G'night." "Night, Shane. I--I love you." The words still felt foreign on my tongue, so rarely spoken, but that didn't relieve the weight behind them. He smiled warmly, kissed my cheek, then turned and went inside. I waited until he'd locked the door before I went home myself and found Loki and Tilly waiting eagerly for my return. "Hello hello! Are you guys hungry? I'm sorry. From now on before I go meet Shane I'll feed you guys, okay? Let's get you both some dinner."

Chapter Text

"Come on, it says here that no one's even been caught using this," Shane complained, gesturing to the forum page topic. "It's not bad." "Shane, the reason no one is in the comments complaining about being caught is because their Bungie accounts were frozen and they were IP banned. They couldn't warn people if they wanted to. Now, I'm not hacking Destiny 2!"

My lover rolled his eyes and put his phone down, turning to face me. "You're being a big baby. If they close your account, just get a new one! And if they IP ban you just change your IP." It was my turn to roll my eyes.

"Shane if they close my account then I lose the game. I can't afford to put out another $100 for a video game! And besides, I'm not going through all the hassle of changing my IP address--if my internet company would even do it for me!" I put my controller down. "I will get through this part, okay? It's not a big deal that I can't right now. What would be a big deal is hacking my game, losing it, and then never being able to play it again. I've made far too much progress."

"Fine, fine," he gave in, putting his hands up defensively. "I just wanted to help you." "Not like that," I shook my head. "Cheating isn't fair to anyone." When Shane turned his head away I sighed softly, going back to the main menu of my Ps4. I put it into sleep mode, waited for the screen to go dark, then turned and snuggled up to his side.

"That's not what I meant, and you know it. I don't care whether you cheat in games; it's not a big deal to me. I just don't want to do things like that. If I have to I'll go on the forums and ask for help, no big deal. But I'm not getting myself in trouble just for some stupid quest mission."

A arm raised and wrapped around my shoulders, pulling me into a tight hug. I happily snuggled into his warmth... until I saw how distant and upset he still looked. "Shane?" "Hm?" He finally looked down at me. "Are we good?" "Yeah, yeah. We're good." He shook his head, "I was just thinking." I tried to smile and not let it worry me...it didn't work.

With that out of the way I got up and grabbed the spaghetti he'd brought over from the saloon, dishing it out at the table for us. It was as if he didn't notice. I could feel my heart pounding as I asked him if he was going to come eat. He did... but he didn't look at me once.

Shane robotically ate his food as quickly as possible, meanwhile I could barely get mine down past the dread bubbling in the pit of my stomach. Once he was done he stared at his empty plate, frowning every time my fork hit the plate. Once I was done I took a sip of water, trying to cool how hot my body was getting and asked quietly, "Are you going to stay tonight?"

Empty eyes met mine. "I didn't plan on it." Well hell if that didn't go straight through me. "I-I guess I just thought since you usually--"

"THAT'S THE FUCKING PROBLEM!" I'd never jumped so hard in my life. "WHAT IS IT WITH YOU?! All you women ever do is just assume! I'm not your puppet! I'm not some controllable object that will do whatever you want!"

"I never said you were," I replied quietly, but I knew he didn't hear me. "All you ever do is just blindly, stupidly assume and then I'm the bad guy if I don't feel like it! Maybe I don't want to stay in your stupid, cramped cottage all the time! Maybe I want to go and live my life instead of being your punching bag! NO, I don't want to stay tonight! But I have no choice, because it's always what you want!"

Is that... really how he felt? "I didn't mean to make it all about me," I managed out past the lump in my throat. I tucked my trembling hands under the table to hide them, falling back into the role so well. "If you don't want to stay, you don't have to feel obligated to. You don't have to come around all the time either. I just thought you wanted--"

"You assumed fucking wrong," he growled, shoving himself away from the dining table. He hauled himself to his feet, wobbling a little from the four beers he had consumed that night. "And I'm not coming over anymore," he spat at me. "I'm done being your puppet. I'm done with you."

The front door slammed, but I didn't hear it. Loki barked, but I didn't hear it. I slowly, numbly rose from the dining chair and moved robotically, cleaning the dishes away. I got Tilly and Loki their food and then I just stood there, staring at the wall. When the wallpaper warped and twisted in my vision I looked away quickly.

My entire body was shaking like a leaf, but despite all that movement, my lungs barely could. As my breaths became shallower and more strained I shuffled towards the bedroom, towards what little safety I had left. My knees gave out about three feet from the bed. I collapsed onto the floor, my choked gasps finally giving way to a flood of tears.

"Pathetic little cunt, aren't you?"

I shook my head quickly, trying to dispel the voice. It only made me dizzier. My arms crumpled under me and dumped me onto the rug in front of my bed, the soft fuzz feeling scratchy under my cheek as I flipped onto my side and curled into myself.

"If you can't even make me a fucking meal without crying, how are you ever going to get anywhere in life?! Get up off the damn floor and cook my meal, or you're going to get whipped!"

"Stop, stop," I gasped, "Please!" When my pleas fell on the deaf walls around me I clamped my hands over my ears, desperate to try and block it out. But you can't block out something that's inside your head.

"Awww, look at the poor little baby cry. You see boys? This is why you never have a daughter. You have a son so they actually have a fucking backbone! These worthless little pieces of shit can't ever do anything right! Get up off the floor you lazy bitch, go get the poker chips."

The ceiling fan above me spun in crazy circles, multiplying even further the longer I went without any real oxygen. I tried to focus on breathing, but all I could feel was my right hip stinging, old wounds being reopened.

"You want something to cry about? I'll give you something to cry about! You want me to go get my fucking belt? Then stop crying you fucking cunt."

Even though the bruises, cuts, and burns had long since healed, many of the scars even faded into non-existence, they reappeared. I could feel the whip marks on my back and my hips from the sharp cut of his belt buckle. I could still feel the sensation of my fingers beginning to melt onto the burner, and the feeling of his boot pressing down on my ribs. It didn't matter that I'd had therapy, it didn't matter that I was supposed to be better, it didn't matter that all of those things happened years ago. I could feel them again, cutting into me, breaking through my carefully maintained walls.

My tormented scream echoed through the house, broken and off-pitch. I didn't sound like myself... I didn't even sound human. I didn't even notice.

"GET UP! WHAT KIND OF FOOL DO YOU TAKE ME FOR, I KNOW YOU'RE NOT SLEEPING! Get your ugly ass downstairs and clean up my fucking bowl or so help me, I'LL KILL EVERYONE YOU LOVE! EVEN SHANE!"

Shane. He couldn't hurt Shane, he couldn't. Regardless of anything Shane might have done or said to me tonight, I wouldn't let that asshole hurt him. Not my Shane... not him. Not my Shane. Wait a minute... how could he hurt Shane? I didn't even know he existed back then!

My eyes opened, and found the picture frame on the wall. It was Shane and I at the Spirit's Eve festival, me grinning, him rolling his eyes. In front of us sat my prize-winning pumpkin carving and his participation award pumpkin. My eyes locked on his, still so full of personality for a picture, and I focused on evening out my breaths.

Eventually my breath came back, but the aching in my ribs didn't. I thought it had just been the memory of my tormentor but now every time I took a deep breath I could feel them smarting inside me. It was 9 pm, so Harvey was probably upstairs winding down for the night. But the longer I waited the more I hurt.

With no small amount of reluctance I forced my body off the floor, carefully shuffling into the bathroom to wipe my face off. My eyes were still bloodshot, my cheeks still puffy. If Harvey mentioned it I'd probably nail him with how I was feeling right now... but I knew he wouldn't. I yanked on my hoodie and pulled the hood up over my head to make my way to the clinic, noticing as I left my house that there was a mysterious dark puddle next to the stairs. I didn't want to know.

Harvey opened the door in striped pajamas, blinking rapidly and squinting at the light. His eyes went wide at the sight of me. "Kara?" "I--I think I hurt my ribs. Really badly." "I can tell; your breathing is strained. Come in, come in." That wasn't the only reason my breathing was strained and we both knew that, but he didn't mention anything while he did his doctor magic.

"Your ribs are fractured," he confirmed. "Do you have any idea what might have caused it?" I looked down. "Lack of air. Screaming. Crying."

I didn't bother with trying to skirt my way around the subject. The man frowned, ducking his head to meet my gaze. "Did something happen?" "I had an anxiety attack." "I didn't realize you had--" "I usually don't. It's been a long time since the last one."

He nodded slowly. "Do you know what might have caused it?" My heart began to ache again. The one man who had somehow managed to help me snap out of my flashbacks and my panic was the one who had unintentionally caused it in the first place. "Um... severe emotional trauma."

"Kara," Harvey chided gently, "You don't need to worry about telling me. I'm your doctor; I'm not going to go around gossiping or spreading rumors." "I-I think Shane had a mental breakdown," I finally hedged, fingers anxiously picking at my jeans. "He just suddenly went flying off the handle after acting really weird, and... and it reminded me of my past, and..." I was crying again. I was crying again, and it was in front of Harvey, and I was embarrassed beyond belief.

The man was silent but he did put his hand on my shoulder in comfort, waiting. "I think we broke up," I finally finished. "Easy, easy," he warned when I hiccuped and then winced. "Try to be careful with your ribs; they're going to need a lot of rest." Suddenly the panic was back and I was lurching towards the edge of the bed, towards escape. "But I have a farm to take care of! I can't--!" "Kara!"

I flinched, and Harvey lowered his voice, but he didn't take his hands off my shoulders. He was no doubt worried I'd try to get up again. "We're a community. We'll help you while you're recovering, okay? I'm sure Marnie would be happy to help you, and Evelyn and Robin might even pitch in." "But Evelyn is elderly, and Robin and Marnie have their own responsibilities--"

"None of that. We protect our own, and you're part of this community. Now lie back." "But--" "That's an order." Harvey gave me a small smile, and I returned it... even though I was terrified.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 2 days later ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


"Just don't go too far, alright?" Marnie worried. "If you're gone too long I'll come looking for you." "Okay. I just have to get out of here... even the air of my farm isn't fresh enough," I muttered, rubbing my hands over my arms.

"I'm not good at being cooped up, even with video games." She opened her mouth, and I knew what was coming. Suddenly she snapped it shut. "Just be careful," she replied gently. I knew she was going to mention Shane, and chose not to. I didn't know whether I appreciated or resented it.

Everyone was walking around like they were on eggshells and part of me liked not having to hear his name, but the other part of me was annoyed for thinking I was so weak that the thought of him would send me into another anxiety attack. It wasn't like that. I even explained it to them and they still didn't understand; they just kept treating me like a toddler and it was kind of infuriating.

As I plodded slowly through Cindersap Forest that day, my mind was on other things. Like if Shane was off restocking boxes, not giving one shit about me. If maybe him not saying "I love you" back was a red flag.

"Go to him." It was a good thing my desperation to get better faster overtook instincts, or I might have ended up in the river. Instead of flailing around, jumping or screaming, I flinched into myself. Thankfully the strong painkillers kept me from feeling too much, so I was able to look up at the Wizard without wincing. "What?" "Go to him," he repeated, "Quickly." "I-I don't understand what you're trying to tell me." The purple haired man raised his hand to point off into the distance, right when I heard a quiet, rather haunting noise. "What... was that?" "Go to him."

When the door to the tower shut my mind was racing. Did he mean to tell me whatever made that noise was... Shane? Why did it sound like a ghost, and why did it make me so nervous?

A part of me just wanted to whirl around, march back to Marnie, and tell her I heard something out in the woods that someone needed to investigate--someone who didn't have broken ribs. But that nervousness turned into panic when I heard it louder this time. That wasn't a ghost or any other ethereal creature moaning, it was sobbing.

I wrapped my arms around myself and speed-walked like a woman possessed, not even faltering like I normally did when I came to the thin little wood plank that led to the island amidst the fork in the water. The closer I got the louder the hysterical crying was.

I slowed my walk, placed my feet more carefully. I avoided the near-comically placed twig and crept up by the pine tree, peeking out. Shane paced dangerously close to the cliff, a pile of empty beer cans close by with another in his hand. He ran his hand through his limp fringe and shook his head. "I'm even too coward to fucking jump off a cliff and end all the suffering," he growled. I could hear the self-loathing in his words and it was enough to make even me flinch.

"Worthless," he muttered in a shaky voice. "Fucking WORTHLESS!" I jerked myself behind the tree, clenching my fists so they wouldn't tremble, hoping he hadn't seen me when he turned. It didn't take long before I peered out again, terrified I wouldn't see the signs of him about to jump and not be able to stop him. "Jas hates you, Kara hates you, hell even fucking Marnie hates you," he muttered to himself. "When will you ever learn that all you do is ruin everything you touch?!"

There was this hysterical little laughter that bubbled up inside him and made me really, really worry. "In fact, the only thing I haven't ruined is Joja Mart. But they'll ruin someone else AFTER THEY FIRE ME FOR MISSING WORK!" Large fists pulled on the greasy, unkempt strands of hair atop his head and he let out a noise of pain through gritted teeth that told of both mental and physical agony.

"Can't do it," he mumbled, shaking his head, "I can't do it anymore!" I edged around the tree, unsure whether to call out to him or to sneak up on him. Some people got scared when they saw someone coming and jumped prematurely. But if there was even a chance of talking him down, maybe it would help for him to know that I didn't hate him? Even if I didn't matter to him that much, having anyone hate you is the worst feeling in the world.

"Fucking lost one of the best things that's ever happened to me AND IT'S ALL MY FAULT!" he yelled at the cliff.

That... confused me. He didn't lose Jas; Jas loved him. Sure, kids get upset sometimes but they don't actually hate you and write you off. But of course when you're depressed, everything seems ten times as bad. Especially a child telling you they hate you, if that's what happened.

"Shane?"

I couldn't keep quiet anymore. I couldn't keep sneaking up, terrified that as soon as he'd see me he'd leap off the edge of the cliff he stood so precariously close to. A head swiveled, and familiar dark green eyes drank up my entire figure as I slowly, timidly approached. "Kara--" His voice was hoarse from screaming and limp from pain.

"Kara, you deserve so much better. Please, just go. No one's going to miss me." "I'll miss you," I whispered. "Marnie will miss you, Jas will miss you... they--we all love you, Shane. Anything said in the heat of the moment is just that; the heat of the moment. A child doesn't really hate you when they say that, and--if Marnie said she hates you, then you have to realize that woman has too big a heart to hate anyone. She was just upset."

"What about you?" "I never said I hated you, ever. Unless it was as a joke. I could never hate you Shane." "I was horrible to you. I can never forgive myself for that." "Yes you can, just like I have. I'm sorry I made you so upset... I didn't realize. But please... please come back from the edge of the cliff." "You don't get it," he shook his head. "But I do get it. I know what it's like to feel hopeless and lost, and think that a cliff, or a bath of water could fix everything. But it does get better."

"When?" As soon as his face crumbled I knew it was over. I took that final step and pulled him into my arms, carefully keeping my squeak of pain hidden when he collapsed into me. I eased us down onto the ground and tucked him into me, rocking him slowly, running my fingers through his hair as he sobbed into the hoodie I'd been wearing to protect (and remind me of) my ribs.

"I can't tell you when, and how things will get better. I'm not a higher power that has any control or insight to those things. I know it took me about four years... they were the worst four years of my life. But I promise it will get better. Please... at least let Marnie and Jas see that. Let them see you heal and come back to life." "I don't care if Marnie sees me heal," he muttered. "I want you to see me heal."

"So that I know you don't need anyone?" I asked carefully. "NO!" I startled a little bit, unable to hide my reaction. Suddenly I had almost a lapful of a purple haired man who mumbled in between sloppy kisses on any bare skin he could find, "I need you, I need you, I need you. Please don't leave me." He wasn't only fisting the cloth of my hoodie, he had a fair amount of skin too but I wasn't about to pull away from him.

"Please, I can't do this on my own, I can't!" It was hard to fight back tears, to appear calm, cool, and collected for him. "E-even if you never forgive me, please, just don't leave me. I-I won't make you date me, I just need you in my life."

How did other people dealing with these kinds of situations not show how the person was breaking their heart with just a few well-placed words? I felt like I was falling apart and I wasn't even the depressed, suicidal one. "I do forgive you," I whispered soothingly, "And I'm not going to leave you." At least Shane had the decency to turn his head away from my neck before he threw up violently.

If he noticed the way a disgusted shiver ran down my spine at the sound, he didn't act like it when he finally stopped murdering the grass around us as well as my jeans and boots. "I'm sorry," he hiccuped, "I'm so sorry..." "Shhhh." I kept stroking his hair, even as my stomach rolled. I really, really needed to get this stuff off of me.

"Can you stand up with me?" I suggested as lightly as I could. "I-I don't know." "Then if I promise to come right back, will you stay here? I just want to clean up a little and then I'm going to help you, okay?" When he finally nodded miserably I aided him in removing himself from me and sliding him over so he wasn't in the way of the vomit. I toed around it and went over to the nearest part of the river, cleaning it off me before I added to the problem. I didn't know whether or not the Wizard saw me leaning over the water, trying to control my gag reflex, but I didn't care.

As soon as I had a wet patch from water instead of stomach acid I came back and found Shane passed out cold, very obviously in need of medical attention. I didn't dare go back to the farm or into town for help... if he woke and I wasn't there, I worried he would still be in his vulnerable state and be terrified.

I didn't really want much of anyone else knowing about this, and... I was afraid of how long it might take to round people up. Even more so terrified of who it could be... like a certain, weight-lifting jock I knew. So I decided there was only one option left. I knew Harvey would wring my neck for it, but I was more prepared for that than the death of a person under my watch, so I knelt down, circled my arms around Shane's upper body, and began pulling.

Almost instantly pain lanced through me. White danced in my vision, and I heard my own cry echo through the trees. I doubled over and rested my head on Shane's, trying my best to recover from it. My breaths were little more than broken, shallow gasps from how much it hurt to breathe, and the strain of the larger man's weight didn't help my cause.

By the time I reached the cusp of Marnie's ranch I was dizzy and nauseous. I was beginning to think we were both going to die out here when a little voice stuttered, "K-Kara?" My head jerked up to look at Jas. The innocent girl looked absolutely terrified. I had hoped she would never see this... but now I needed her help. "Jas," I wheezed, "I need you to--" I paused to grimace. "Run to the farm, and tell who--whoever you find first to come here and help Shane and I. And then--"

I almost fell but the girl was surprisingly quick, shoving a small hay bale under my rear end just in time. The impact still sent pain radiating up through me. "And then what?" she urged when I didn't speak past the nausea. "Doctor Harvey." That was enough. Little purple shoes to match an adorable purple dress went sprinting off into the farm, shouting as she went, "HELP! HELP!" Jas was smart; shouting like that would get help faster.

Time seemed like it slowed down as I slowly laid back, unable to stay upright anymore. I kept Shane slumped up against the hay bale and between my legs, but that was it. It felt like every single one of my ribs had broken even though in all likelihood it wasn't very many at all... but then again, Harvey had warned me what would happen if I strained them too far when they were already vulnerable.

At some point I heard Marnie screaming and Robin's quick, firm tones, as well as feeling a soft, gentle hand on my cheek. "It's alright," Granny whispered in my ear, "You're going to be alright. We're here now." I'm sure we were quite the show when Marnie, Robin, Demetrius, Sebastian, and Harvey paraded us through town and into the clinic on makeshift stretchers--otherwise known as some scrap wood from Marnie's ranch. However I wasn't conscious enough to remember any of it.

Once I woke up and got sufficiently lectured by Harvey, I was sent home. But not before he applauded my strength to fight through seven broken ribs... or before I asked if Shane was going to be okay. "He'll be fine. I pumped his stomach and right now he's resting. Before he leaves I'm going to give him some information about therapists in Zuzu City that he could go see... if he takes that step."

"Can't you make him? Harvey, he was about to kill himself. Wouldn't that warrant some type of doctor's order?" "I don't have the power necessary. However I suppose if you were really that worried I could call a mental health institute and see what they might be able to do..." "No. No, don't. I don't want to be the cause of him going to a mental health facility like that. I guess we'll all just... hope." He nodded slowly.

"That's all we can do. Now, bed rest for you. Marnie is out in the waiting room to take you home."

Chapter Text

I stared out at the field, smiling to myself as I watched Robin and Evelyn chatter and work. I hated to put the ladies out, but there was something extremely exciting about seeing people working on my creation. Evelyn was pulling potatoes out of my crop patch, and Robin was collecting eggs from my coop.

The entire farm was comprised entirely of my work. I wasn't watching someone working lifeless machines that had been created by machines that would end up creating more machines, instead I was watching them tend my blood, sweat, and tears... ugh. What a disgusting phrase. Well, they were tending my hard work, to put it in a way that didn't make my stomach roll just thinking about it.

"OW!" Both women turned when I yelped, and started laughing when I picked up the culprit of my pain--an apricot. I canted my eyes up to scowl at the branches overhead, and barely dodged the second one. "Help! Injured woman under attack!" I cried.

The laughter made my ribs smart faintly, but it felt so good to laugh along with my farmers in training. I needed it after all the recent trauma. "Lemme help you with that," chimed a familiar voice. My grey eyes met Emily's happy dark blue ones. "Em! What are you doing here?" "Ah, just helping the cripple," she teased playfully, taking the apricots from me.

"I resent that." She giggled and swatted at me as she walked past me, getting up on her tiptoes to start pulling apricots off the tree I was under. "I told Gus about how you got hurt, and he said I could juggle my shifts a little for a while so I can spend some time helping you out," Emily explained, "That way we can all kind of alternate 'shifts' so to speak." "I still feel bad making any of you do this kind of work. It's not what you'd call fun."

"But it's rewarding," Emily protested, "And it builds character! Besides, I've always wanted to come help you on the farm." The blue haired girl eyed me as she picked apricots.

I could almost see her picturing the next time we'd dye my hair... and how we'd do it with my broken ribs. "Maybe I could lay you out on the counter..." she murmured. I don't think she saw the look of horror that followed.

"Sorry we're late!" Marnie called out from behind me, "We brought some extra supplies!" We?

A quiet "moo" made me raise to my feet and turn. My heart stopped at what I found. Jas rode on the back of my new cow, giggling and clutching her neck. Marnie had the lead and a basket of what appeared to be a variety of food and equipment.

Off to the side of Jas and the cow plodded Shane, carrying my new chicken. He looked a fair amount better than the day on the cliffs. His clothes appeared to be freshly washed, as well as his body, but I could see the dark circles around his eyes and the way his cheeks went blood red as soon as he saw me.

He looked sad and guilty... but he still looked handsome. As soon as I walked up I caught a whiff of his aftershave and it made my heart skip a beat. I looked down at Jas with a smile.

"Well hello there," I greeted with a grin. "Are you helping Marnie bring my animals?" she gave me an eager nod. "This one is named Lyla," she told me, "I named her myself!" "Well Lyla, welcome to your new home. Usually it's just me around here."

Jas giggled as I chatted up the cow, who seemed to stare at me almost as if she understood. "And Shaney's carrying Jemima!" "Jemima, huh?" I looked to my new chicken. "Well hello to you too, Jemima. I hope you enjoy my coop and get along with the other chickens. I'm sure they'll like a pretty gal like you."

"Kaaaaraaaa," Jas giggled, "Chickens can't be pretty!" "Why not? There's chicken beauty contests," I shrugged. "And Jemima would win them all." "So would you." The barely audible whisper from a distinctly male voice made my heart clench, despite the fact he'd basically just told me I'd win chicken beauty contests.

My eyes flitted up to meet Shane's for a moment, then looked down at Jas while Robin took the basket from Marnie. "Why don't you help Aunt Marnie make sure Lyla is nice and comfy in her new barn?" "Okay!"

Robin turned to me and began to ask, "Where do you want--" when Emily appeared out of nowhere. "Here, let me help you put these away!"

Dammit. My shy gaze flitted to Shane, who was staring at me like he had on the cliffs. Broken and longing. "Um... you--you can bring Jemima over to the coop... I like to keep them in for a day to acclimate them."

I glanced over at Emily as we walked away and scowled at her, to which I earned a wink. I got the feeling I was being played... maybe it was wrong to make friends with the woman who was also friends with the man I'm--or, I was dating. With the coop door closed behind us he sat Jemima down on the ground, then turned to face me. "So... Marnie said things got bad. That we broke up, and then after that you still risked your life to save me. What are the parts missing?"

"I think she hit the nail on the head." Shane made a face. "What did I say or do?" he demanded. "Even if you never forgive me for it, I still want to know what I did to make us break up."

Anxiety fluttered in my chest and I found myself smirking at him and joking, "Oh, you just said you hated me, that's all." I thought the evasion would work. Instead he caught my arm and turned me back to look at him.

"Kara," he pressed, "Please." Fuck.

My body turned away from him, unable to look into his eyes. I busied my hands with getting some hay out of the hopper while I spoke, fighting to keep my voice light and unbothered. "Ah, you ragged on my house, said it was shitty--said I was shitty, too. Made some metaphor about me being the puppet master and you the puppet, always having to do what I wanted because you felt obligated, because you knew I wanted you to."

I was still putting the hay out on the feeding shelf when I added, "You told me you were done with my house--big, big thing with you that night--and with me, and then left." "...I broke up with you?"

"Marnie didn't tell you?" "No, she just said we broke up. Did she even know? I mean--fuck. I don't remember saying any of that bullshit to you, let alone anything to her." "Maybe she didn't know." "Kara."

I finally met green eyes to find them watery and sad. He was trying to blink back the tears but I could tell he was having trouble. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean any of that, especially the breaking up with you part. I never--" he shook his head, pressing his lips together as he looked down.

"I don't want to lose you," he whispered to the floorboards. "Aw, that's cute, you loving my coop like that. But you know, I think I'd appreciate it more if you said something like that to me." His glare made my serious expression finally crack and I smiled at him, coming closer.

As soon as I got within range I left a tender kiss on his lips, aware of a heavy breath that left both of us at the contact, then backed away to smirk at him. "So are you gonna come crawling back to me?" "I fucking hate you," he growled, grabbing hold of my hips, and pulled me into him.

I winced when our torsos collided, but he must not have seen because he was too focused on making me lose my mind. He kissed me like we were in bed together, hands gripping me like I'd disappear if he didn't. The thing he didn't understand is that I wasn't going anywhere--I never was. I fisted his hoodie just like he was holding me, fighting his tongue for dominance as soon as it slipped coyly into my mouth.

His hand ran down to squeeze my ass, and a breathy moan forced past my lips. I nipped his lower lip in retaliation, smiling against his lips when he growled. One of my hands snaked up to tug lightly at his hair, the other one slipped down to his unbuttoned polo shirt so I could trace my fingertips against the bared skin there.

My failure was in my distraction. I was so wrapped up in Shane and how much I'd missed his lips on mine that I didn't realize we were moving until my back hit the wall hard. Harder than he'd ever shoved me up against something in all the time we'd been together.

The feeling of breaking the skin of his lower lip between my teeth is one I'll never forget. As he jerked back my hands aided in the process, shoving him away as my body recoiled and promptly curled in on itself. I heard my breathless squeak, but I didn't remember falling. All I knew is one minute I was doubled over and the next minute I was half laying on my side, rearing up to push Shane's hands away as he wrestled with my hoodie. "Get off!" my voice was barely audible; it was as if my voice box had simply shut off.

I was breathless and voiceless; that was the only way he was able to grab both my wrists in one hand and pin them to the floor. At least, that's the only way I'd accept it. His free hand jerked the zip of my hoodie down, flicking it away, and shoved my shirt up to expose the bruising on my ribcage.

His eyes went wide. "WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME?!" he yelled. It was just about then that he realized I still couldn't get enough air in. Right as the serious panic began to set in the door burst open. "SHANE! What are you--?!" "Can't breathe."

Thankfully Marnie ignored his part of the situation when she realized my fingers were turning a horrifying blue shade. "I--I didn't know she had broken ribs!" "ROBIN! EMILY! Shane, stay with Jas." "What? No! No, I'm going with you to the hospital!" "You need to take care of Jas, she's seen enough of this recently! Go!"

Three hours later Harvey poked his head around the curtain. "Shane is here to see you." When I made a weak grabby motion he smiled warmly, then ducked back out. "You can come back. But Shane, she's on extremely strong painkillers, and still recovering from surgery, she may not be fully cogniti--" "Yeah yeah."

Shane came over and sat down on the stool next to the bed, taking my hand. "Hi..." "Hai." I wiggled my hand free to poke his nose, watching as it multiplied, and giggled.

"Are you poking my nose? How dare you," he exclaimed. I tried to laugh again, but it made pain twinge within me. When I pouted he frowned. "What's wrong?" "This oxygen machine won't let me laugh." "Well baby, I don't think it's the oxygen machine--" "Did you hear what it said about you?" "No, what did it say?" he leaned closer, faint smile tugging on his lips.

"It said you have ice cream hair!" I whispered conspiratorially, nodding seriously as I laid back on my pillow. "Is that so? Is that why you like playing with it? Are you plotting to eat it?" I nodded eagerly. "Imma nom it all up."

"You can nom it all up," he promised, "But you have to do something for me in return." "What, do you wanna eat my boots? They're made of ice cream too." "As tempting as it is, no." He lifted my hand and pressed a kiss to the back. "I want you to stop scaring the shit out of me, for fuck's sake. I'm an old man, I can't take much more."

"Ewww, old man cooties!" I shoved on his arm, giggling, and wiped his kiss off. Then, wanting one on my lips, I tugged on him. "C'mere." "What?" "Come HERE!" Shane came up real close to my face so I wouldn't yell again, so I kissed him-- or at least, tried to. I failed miserably, miscalculating, and my lips landed on the side of his nose.

Shane chuckled and tipped my head back, kissing me before murmuring, "Lay back, or you're going to hurt yourself." "Yeeeah, I'm fucked," I giggled, poking my cannula as I flopped back against the pillows. "Everything is way too funny... fucking hell, this is worse than the time I got tricked into trying weed."

My laughter was interrupted with a yawn that I tried to hide--but of course he noticed, he was Shane, and I was off my rocker... literally.

"Go to sleep," he encouraged. "I'll be here when you wake up." "Promise?" "I promise." "C'mere." I know he was expecting another kiss, not for me to tug on him and try and coax him into the bed. "Wha-- babe, Harvey would kill m--" "Don't care," I growled at him, then frowned.

Did he really not want to cuddle with me? My eyes were rapidly filling up with moisture and I had no idea how to stop it. "You don't wanna lay with me?" I whispered past the lump in my throat.

Shane looked a mix of horrified and amused. "No no baby, nothing like that. Of course I want to lay next to you--I love having you in my arms." "Then why won't you get in the bed?" He stared at me for a long moment, then shrugged and kicked his shoes off. I eagerly wiggled to the side, letting him climb in, then curled up against him.

"Love you Shane... I love you..." "I expect you to tell me all about your weed story when you wake up, you crazy ass woman." I giggled sleepily, tucking my head further into his neck, and then drifted off.

Chapter Text

The next "chapter" is out! Except it's not a chapter. It's a one-shot! I got the idea a few months ago to go back and fill in some plot bunnies from the beginning of the story, and I've done exactly that.

I'm going to link you guys to the one-shot here, but first I wanna say a few things.

First of all thank you so much for being patient with me for the last month or so, especially @JosieWtF and @cat_weiner. My life is in a super, super weird state of flux right now. I told @cat_weiner what I thought I knew about it, but honestly I don't even know if what I said stands true anymore. I've got a lot of things stressing me out and adding to my already near-crippling depression and anxiety, and I went through a stage of lack-of-inspiration, which made it really hard to write.

Each day I'd force myself to come here and write a few sentences to see if I could get the creative juices flowing and continue it, but nothing was cutting it. Not even hot chocolate--and that's saying something!

For right now, I'm putting this story on kind-of-hiatus. This isn't a complete hiatus, and I may continue updating even during the hiatus, but I'm doing it so you guys don't expect an update and then get disappointed. I'm just not at a point in my life right now that I can promise regular updates, especially since when I do feel like writing, I'm usually so upset that everything comes out wrong. I don't want to taint the story because of my mood.

However I am not abandoning this story! I don't expect this hiatus to take much longer than a month or two, and like I said, I'll probably update occasionally during it! Just not the every 3-5 days that you're used to.

Anyways, on with the good stuff! I don't know whether you guys have seen (I sincerely hope you have) but @JosieWtF made a baby from this story! ...No, not like that! I mean (what is wrong with you people? Get your head out of the gutter!) that apparently I "inspired" them with this story to create their own! ...Not exactly sure how I inspired them, because I'll be the first person to tell you that I suck, but you know, to each their own. I remember back in the day (basically 8 years ago) I was inspired by people who wrote their stories like you write play scripts, sooo... XD

It's a Stardew fic in Shane's P.O.V, and it's so good. You can check it out here. Make sure to give them lots of love, okay? They totally deserve it! I meant to make the announcement about their fic so, so long ago, but then I wanted to announce it along with this labor of love of mine, and then I got busy and depressed, and... yeah. So @JosieWtF, I'm sorry! Plez Forgives.

Yes, I'm making you wait even longer for the link to the one shot. *shrug* Sue me.

I don't know how many people are actually interested in this, but I said I was going to do it, so here it is: the outfit inspiration for the whole story! Now obviously Kara doesn't wear the exact same thing each day like some people we know... *cough* everyone in Stardew Valley... *cough*

>.>

But this is the general inspiration of her outfits and lemme say, I love the autumn one. That t-shirt is so her, and relates so much to Stardew. You guys are gonna love it. But anyways, you can look at them here:

Spring
Summer
Autumn
Winter

And just in case you guys couldn't get a clear image of that pink parka poor Kara had to wear, you can find it here. It'll show up later in the fic, so it's a good idea to take a quick look and familiarize yourself with that monstrosity!

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for. My labor of love! The pain in my arse! The one-shot turned monster! The "one-shot" that's double the size of my normal chapters! My tormentor and abuser! ...Okay, you get the point. Enjoy!


@JosieWtF, thank you so much for the kind words. I'm not doing fantastic, but I'm still around, so there's that. I'm sorry that this isn't technically the next chapter but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.

@cat_weiner, welcome back to my fic! I hope you enjoyed the chapters that built up before your arrival, and I hope you enjoy this one-shot as well as the following chapters.

@everyone, if you guys have ever wanted to see something in this fic or have ideas, please do let me know! I can pull inspiration from just about anything (within reason, obviously nothing illegal/gross), and I enjoy writing things that other people will like and appreciate. I hope you all enjoy this one shot, and happy holidays! For those who celebrate Christmas, you got a present a little early. <3

Chapter Text

"Doctor, she's awake! Hey now, don't touch that." My eyes popped open and met Maru's smile. "Wh--?" As my eyes flitted all around the room she backed away from me, but didn't let go of my hand, which was grasping at my cannula.

"It's alright. Confusion and disorientation after surgery is normal. But you're in Doc Harvey's hospital, and you're safe. Or at least, you will be if you get your hand away from your cannula!"

Maru laughed a little at my bewildered expression, and I scowled at her. If there was one thing I didn't like it was being laughed at, especially when I had every right to be confused. I didn't even remember what made me come to the hospital, let alone arriving here or going into surgery! No... wait... I did remember.

Shane pushed me up against the wall... and then I couldn't breathe. "Did I tell Shane his hair was made of ice cream and I was going to eat it?"

I didn't realize I'd spoken out loud until my nurse gave a little giggle. The glower I sent her had her rushing out, but she didn't make it out the door before she burst into laughter. I doubt Harvey appreciated her having soured my mood, because he seemed exhausted when he strode in through the gap in my curtains.

"Good afternoon, Kara. How are you feeling?" "Um... surprisingly well." "Good. It seems you're responding well to the surgery." "What surgery do you guys keep referencing?"

His eyes softened, a gentle smile appeared. I was half tempted to yank my cannula out just to wipe that look off his face.

"You were going into severe respiratory failure, so I was forced to operate on you. I plated your ribs so not only will they heal quicker, but you won't be in nearly as much pain, and you won't get another punctured lung." "But I thought punctured lungs took a little while to heal... why am I on a cannula?" Harvey shot me an approving look.

"So you do know something about medical." "Not much. One of my... parents... used to be a doctor." I averted my eyes, frowning at the wall. I really didn't need or want to think about him right now. Thankfully Harvey didn't continue in that vein of thought.

"While punctured lungs do take time to heal, yours was somewhat mild despite your reaction." I was still trying to decide whether or not he was calling me a drama queen when he continued, "You have been in and out of consciousness for several days, so your body has had time to improve drastically without your noticing. Of course you'll need to stay here for a little while longer, and you definitely need to take it easy when you get out."

He smiled warmly at me. "But you're on the road to recovery." Harvey started to leave, but almost as an afterthought he turned and questioned, "Can I get you anything? A book, a magazine... your significant other?"

"The latter in particular. I need to kick his ass. I specifically remember him telling me he would be here when I woke up." Despite blushing at my crude language the doctor was quick to recover--and to come to Shane's aid. "He was; many times. And he will be by shortly; he should be getting off work within a few hours." "Then I guess I'll take the book." "Of course. What can I get for you?" "A sci-fi romance might appease me for a little while."

Ly-6 and her lover were just about to reunite above the rings of saturn when fingers suddenly plucked my book away. I spluttered, ready to kill Maru if this was another interruption for tests, and then lips were on mine.

It didn't take a mastermind to figure out who was kissing me, but it still took a second before I relaxed into it, one hand coming up to cup a stubbly cheek. I was going to kill him for interrupting my book... after I showed him how much I missed him. As much as I could in a public setting and while on oxygen, that is.

Shane had obviously come in for a short and sweet kiss but I had a much better idea, sliding my hand into his hair to keep him there as I tilted my head and deepened it. His rumble of approval was all the encouragement I needed.

I didn't want to pull away ever, but the rational part of me won out and broke the kiss just before my core got a little too hot.

"I'm going to kill you." Shane's laughter rang out. He sounded absolutely exhausted... but lighter than I'd heard him in a long time. "Yeah," he mused, "You're going to be alright, Red."

"Well you're not going to be. Harvey may have saved your life once today but you got yourself back into the same damn predicament by stealing my book." My boyfriend gave the the most curious look, and I realized he probably hadn't been sucked into a story in a long time... maybe not ever. He just wasn't the "type."

"You interrupted me right in the middle of the main character and her girlfriend reuniting," I informed him drily, "And I've been waiting for it since shortly after I started the damn thing." "It's just a book. You can read it later." "Shane, are you telling me you've never gotten sucked into a story? Transported to a different world where you could see those characters, and feel everything they felt.. almost like a movie in your head?" "No... but apparently you have been?"

"All the time. Whenever I read, in fact, unless it's horribly written and or the story doesn't interest me." I took my book back but I didn't open it and start again to spite him like I wanted to; I just re-found my page and stuck my bookmark into it.

I really wanted to rip into him some more for interrupting the one thing I had going for my entertainment... but at the same time I was so damn happy that he was finally here that I just sat up and hugged him.

His hands didn't seem to know where to rest, so finally I guided them to my hips and then re-wrapped my arms around him. "I missed you." "I missed you too; for a lot longer than you, apparently. Doc Harvey told me you don't remember the times you were in and out." "Hmm-mm." "So what's this business of Harvey 'saving my life' anyways?"

"I don't remember much from the past few days but I do remember you specifically telling me you were going to be here when I woke up, and then I woke up alone. I was miffed to say the least, but that was before he told me I'd been out for a few days. And...I think I said you had ice cream hair and I was going to eat it."

As a smirk grew on Shane's face my smile fell. Oh no.

"So you don't remember telling me about how you once had a questionable run-in with weed?" Fuck me sideways. I groaned, running my hand through my hair, and scowled when he kept that same damn smirk on his face. I was going to show him exactly where he could put that smirk in a minute.

"I don't talk about it." "Oh I don't know Red, I'm pretty interested in hearing this little story of how you were 'tricked' into trying weed." "Yeah, and I'm pretty interested in seeing you cross dress someday," I replied sarcastically, "We don't all get what we're interested in." The look on my lover's face was a mix of horror and concern. "You... really want to see me cross dress?" "What, you don't think you'd look cute in lacy pink panties?"

It was my turn to smirk, seeing how wary Shane looked. "No." "What about purple?" "Kara. I really don't want to discuss kinks in Doc Harvey's office." "Why, does it embarrass you?" "Yes!" "Well so does my weed story." His lower lip stuck out in the faintest hint of a pout but he did mutter, "Fine."

"I'll tell you someday. Just not today." I reached out and squeezed his hand, smiling. "So... wanna catch me up on what I've missed?"

The man next to me snorted. "What do you want to hear about first, the day the fence broke and all the chickens escaped, or when Jas uprooted some parsnip sprouts thinking they were weeds?"

I'm sure the horror was obvious on my face. I'm also sure that he could hear the heart monitor next to me starting to beep more frantically, because the blood drained from his face. "I mean--" He was scrambling, trying to make up for his mistake. "I mean, those were really the only bad things that happened, but the chickens are fine and we planted new parsnips and they were barely started growing anyways so it's not like there was a lot of lost time and--"

I cut off his rambling. "Shane?" "Yeah?" "Please don't tell me about bad stuff like that again." "Okay. I'm...I'm sorry. I shouldn't have." "No, you shouldn't have, because all I want to do is get back to my farm and do things my way, and it makes it even worse when I hear that things haven't been going well."

"I know." He sighed, rubbing his hand over his face. "I really am sorry." "I know. Now, distract me." "Wh-huh?" "Tell me about some good stuff that has happened? What have I brought in, what's been spent on new seeds..." "Oh. Right." Yeah.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 1 week later ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


"Are you alright?" "Easy, Kara." "Guys." I waved at my various walking companions, "I'm fine. That surgery Harvey did on me was incredible; I feel great. I'm not going to blow over at the slightest gust." "Maybe not, but you still need to be careful," Robin warned. "Ribs plated or not they're still broken, and it'll take time for them to heal."

Shane must have seen the way my jaw clenched because he squeezed my shoulder gently, tearing my attention away from the red headed woman. "Stop staring at her like you're going to bite her head off," he whispered.

"I'm going to if she doesn't stop trying to baby me," I hissed back. "All I want is to get things back to normal!" "And they will. But she wants to make sure you know that type of change won't happen immediately." "Since when are you the voice of reason?" "Since you needed it."

I grumbled, but my lover knew I was appreciative. Sometimes it was hard with my temper to step back and see the big picture. With his help it was a lot easier.

"MOOOOO!" "Come on girl, back in the pen! Come on!" Shane winced, glancing over at me. I tried not to look as terrified as I felt.

My tools along with others' laid scattered all over the farm. Some of my chests appeared to be overflowing, and I could see the greens of a parsnip sticking out of one of them that was supposed to be for farming items like seeds and fertilizer.

Emily had a handful of hay and was trying to coax Lyla back through the gate into her haphazardly repaired pen, but of course the calf didn't want to follow her, she was enjoying the only fresh grass around. Because the grass in the pen had been cut. Around my growing peach and orange trees there were all kinds of weeds and debris that were no doubt slowing down the growing process. The farm looked like it had been hit by a tornado.

As my stomach hit the ground between my feet my mouth had to have too, because Robin grimaced. "We um... we don't really know how you do things around here... and since Marnie hasn't been here much... and we're not really farmers..."

I wanted to scream at her that neither had I been until I researched how to, but I tried to remind myself that they were doing me a massive favor. Tried being the key word.

"Um... the debris around the fruit trees needs to be cleared," I told Robin, fingers itching for my tools to do it myself. "And... the fence for the barn pen will need to be extended since there's no fresh grass for Lyla inside the pen. I'll... I'll sort the chests when I can, and I'll explain to you how I do it then. For now..." I sighed. "I need to lay down."

As much as I hated to admit it I really did. I could feel a headache forming just from the sight of all the work I had when I was able to, I was still mildly breathless, and I was tired. Healing takes a lot out of a person.

"I'll take her inside," Shane announced when the entire party started following me to the door. "Just be gentle," Harvey warned, and his eyes narrowed. "I'm not going to try and coerce her to sleep with me while she has broken ribs," he snapped defensively. The doctor glanced away, trying to hide his guilty expression.

We barely got through the door before I pouted and asked Shane, "You won't?" All he answered with was a snort and then pointed to the bedroom. "Bed. Now." "Yes sir."

A red flush crept onto his cheeks, he cleared his throat. "Just go in and lay down," he repeated in a gentler tone, "Before it turns out that I lied to Harvey." His eyes narrowed when I started snickering but it didn't bother me a bit. I even paused in the doorway to bend down and pet Tilly, basically just to put my ass in the air.

I thought once I got into bed that everything would be fine. Of course it wasn't. As soon as I laid down I could hear Emily outside still trying to call Lyla, and groaned outwardly.

"What's wrong?" Yoba, it was annoying already. The egg shells. The gentleness. The coming running as soon as I made a noise louder than normal breathing.

"Could you go out and tell Emily that she should pull a handful of fresh grass and use that to get Lyla back in her pen?" I pleaded, "I just laid down and already I don't think I can take any more of her coaxing and calling." "Yeah. Stay there." I couldn't help rolling my eyes. What else was I supposed to do?

I quickly realized what was wrong with laying down in my bed alone. I had absolutely nothing to do. In the time it took Shane to go out and explain to Emily I was already ready to flee the house. At least in my hospital room I had books on demand.

"Shaaaaannneee!" "What do you want, Red?" He leaned against the doorframe and gazed at me warmly. "C'mere. M'lonely and bored." As soon as my lover crawled into bed next to me I curled up against him, sighing softly into his shoulder. "I love you," I murmured. When my eyes darted up I noticed his mouth was open like he was going to speak, but as soon as I looked at him he closed it. I decided not to think about it, let alone question it.

"I was thinking..." Shane mused, "That maybe I should stay here for a little while? Just until you get up on your feet properly?" "If you wanted to move in you could have just asked."

I smirked at him as he rolled his eyes. "You know, you make it really hard to be nice to you." "I know!" I chirped. After a moment of silence I added, quieter, "That sounds great. Thank you." "You don't need to thank me." "Yes, I do. You don't have to do any of this. You're not my parents, or my married significant other, or my doctor... technically I can get up out of bed for short periods, and technically I could manage most stuff on my own--enough to survive--but I really appreciate you wanting to take care of me."

"I'd do anything for you," he replied in far too sincere a voice for me to ever think about teasing him. My heart swelled up, and I had to squeeze my eyes shut to force back tears. If that wasn't a declaration of love I didn't know what was. I knew he wasn't ready to say that he loved me... but I knew he did.

"You okay?" "Yeah," I whispered. "I'm just... really, really fucking happy that I met you." Instead of teasing me, or making a self-deprecating joke like I thought he would, he smiled down at me. "Me too," he murmured, and kissed the top of my head.

"Kara. Kaaaraaa... wake up honey." I jolted a little, then twisted my head around to peer into the dark and see... Robin?

"I just wanted to let you know that we're going home for the day, and ask if there's anything else I could do for you. I nibbled on my lower lip as I thought, and then I asked, "Is there any way you could move the tv in the living room in here? I'm sure Shane could help you since it's too big for one person." "Well, Marnie's actually outside, so I'll get her to help, okay?" "Okay."

Did my voice sound as awkward to her as it did to me? I didn't want Marnie coming in and seeing me sprawled out over her nephew, regardless of the fact that it was well known we were dating! Well, there was nothing I could do now. Shane's arms around me had dug our grave.

I just pretended I was dozing when they came in. I heard some grunts and some shuffling, and I felt Loki jump up onto the bed to lay at our feet. It went silent for a moment. And then I heard Marnie's tell tale "Awwww!" and grimaced inwardly. "They're so cute!" Marnie whispered. "Yes they are," Robin agreed, "They're good for each other."

You can get out now. Really. After a long moment I could hear footsteps exiting my house and couldn't hold back my sigh of relief. "Are they gone?" Shane hissed a few seconds after the door closed, and I started giggling.

"I'm sorry. Did they wake you?" "No, Robin calling your name a million times woke me." "And you pretended to sleep through the part where I offered your help, you brat." "Yes I did. I've got enough on my plate, and I knew Robin could find someone else to help her." He smirked at me. "So, tv in the bedroom huh?"

And he called me a tease. "For while I'm doomed to bed rest," I scowled at him. "And you think I'm dirty." He chuckled and squeezed my hip. "Who would I be if I didn't tease you?" "Nice." "Oh, that's low." "You're low."

I turned my head and kissed the exposed part of his neck. "How dare you sexually frustrate a woman who can do nothing about it? At least when I teased you, you could have made your way into the bathroom for some private time. Where do I have to go? What can I do?" "Just wait until your lungs heal," he murmured. "And I'll help you with that... problem." "You'd better."

When I tried to shift up to reach his lips he moved quickly, easing me back down, then scooted around until he could kiss me. We laid there for a little while, lips carving heated paths into the other's, but eventually we forced ourselves to stop.

"I'm going to go to the saloon to get us something to eat, if that's alright with you." "Just don't spend too much money, okay? If you're a little low, please, at least take part of it out of my money." "I will," he promised--something that surprised me greatly. "I'll take about half out. I'm going to be running shy until... well..." he shook his head. "Until?" He sighed, turned his head to look at me. "Until I get another job."

When no answer was forthcoming he started to turn back to leave. "Where are you going?!" I all but shrieked, very obviously startling him by the way he jumped. "Relax, Kara. Marnie said she'll work with me until I find something else. I just... needed to get out of there."

The thought hadn't struck me when he said he'd stick around to help take care of me; I'd just accepted it.

"I-I mean, I'm really, really glad you're out of Joja. I've been hoping for this for a long time. But... why now?" "Because you needed me, and because I was finally ready to do it. Look, why don't I go get the food, and then I'll come back and we can talk about it. I don't want to do it while I'm hungry."

Not even my favorite tv show could distract me from the thoughts swirling around in my head while I waited for my lover's return. What had made him decide so suddenly? Where else would he find a job in town? It's not like they were many. Would he have to drive out of town? Could he even drive? Where would he find a vehicle?

"I could hear your brain working from the saloon," Shane joked wryly as he entered. Had Loki barked? Had I missed it? "I'm just... in shock," I replied quietly. "Yeah. Kinda figured you would be." "So--so what made you decide this change?"

"Eating first." "Shaaane!" "Can I at least get a few bites in?!" "Fine. What did you bring?" "Pizza. Now stuff some in your pie hole, because I don't want to hear a peep out of you while I eat." When I chanced a glance over at him as he approached the bed he smiled, but it didn't quite meet his eyes. He didn't look like he was looking forward to our conversation; he just looked tired. I mean... could I really blame him?

Only once we had each eaten a slice of pizza did I dare turn to look at him questioningly, and he finally gave in. "I was talking to Jas one night," he admitted. "That's how this all started?" "Kind of."

He paused to take a sip out of his beer can before continuing, "She said she hoped she wouldn't grow up to be as sad as me. And when I told her I wasn't sad, she gave some really smart reply of 'well, you try not to look like it, but I know you are.' And... it got to me. I hate that I've put the burden of my depression on her."

He took a bite of his pizza, and I could have sworn that he was chewing extra slow just to annoy me. "So... I started thinking about how I could fix that. And one of the times that I visited you I finally brought it up to Harvey."

If he could see the hopeful sunshine beaming out of my eyes onto his face he didn't act like it. "I told him I was done being depressed, and I wanted to get better, so he reminded me about therapy. And... I agreed to go for an appointment. But this guy... he's super busy. He's only got weekday hours that would have been during my shift at Joja."

He finally met my eyes for the first time since starting. "So I told Harvey to book me an appointment... and I would think about it. Well, I thought about it a lot. Wondered if somehow I could convince Morris that this was a life threatening thing that I had to attend, but I finally realized I couldn't. And I didn't want to. Even if I managed to do it this time, I wouldn't be able to do it all the next, and that guy wants to see me once a week if things work out. Right now I'm just taking it one appointment at a time."

He paused for another drink, and I practically bounced while I waited. He definitely noticed that time because he gave me a lingering side eye that hinted at annoyance and made me grin.

"And I realized, too... that if I didn't get out of that place, my depression wasn't ever going to get any better. I wouldn't have the energy to do that kind of healing. The last time I went to therapy was when Jas' parents died and fuck, I thought that was hard. But this? This is a million times worse. I didn't want to do it and go to Joja."

"So what did Marnie say?" I finally hedged. "She was pretty mad at first. But when I told her about going to try therapy, and what I said to you about the depression and shit, she agreed. She told me she'd support me until I could find another job, and that included money each week for a bus ticket."

He sighed. "I know it's going to be tough, but... I want to get better. For me, for Jas... for you." "For me? Shane, you don't need to get better for me." "Yes, I do. I don't want to be dragging you down any more. What'd you say earlier? 'You're not my parent?'"

I smiled up at him. "I'm proud of you," I finally stated, dropping my barely nibbled second slice of pizza back into the box so I could scoot over and cuddle into him.

"Yeah?" "Yeah. And I know where you could get another job." "Where?" "Here." He gave me the wildest look. "You could help me with the animals, and with watering crops... stuff like that. Keeping the chests organized for me. Things are starting to get pretty busy around here; I could use the help. And I'm finally making enough that I could afford to pay you a wage. Wouldn't be fantastic, but it would be around about where Joja's was."

"Kara, you don't need to pay me. I'd help you for free." "I know, but this way Marnie wouldn't have to support you," I explained. "And besides, what other job would you find where not only can you take as much time off as you need... but you get to see your girlfriend every day?"

He started to smile, but it faltered. "You would have to show me how to do stuff around here." "I know." "I probably wouldn't be much help at first, until I got used to it." "I know."

I pecked his chin. "I want you here, if you want to be here. I could use the help and I certainly wouldn't mind seeing you every day. And, hey, if you don't want to talk all the time that's fine. Just let me know. I'll give you plenty of space."

"What did I do to deserve you?" "I could ask the same question." "But you're a great person, Kara. You're a hard ass, but you stick up for the little guys, and help people whenever you can. I don't do anything like that." "That's because you're out of practice, and you're busy with yourself. That's not a bad thing. You can't help someone else if you can't even help yourself. Once you start improving you'll turn back into the great guy I know you are."

"How would you know something like that?" "Because I wouldn't waste my time on someone who wasn't. I've got enough shit to do around here without hanging around assholes." "But I'm an asshole right now." "Okay, permanent assholes." I grinned up at him. "The ones who will never change."

"Well, I'm never going to get better if I don't get to eat more pizza." My smile fell, my glare returned. It was his turn to snicker.

"Uh-huh. Keep laughing now. You're not going to be so smug when I put you to work on my farm." "Oh, please. What are you going to make me do?" "Vacuum the trees." He damn near choked on his bite of pizza, meanwhile I smirked and took up my own slice to get another bite.

After dinner it didn't take long for exhaustion to settle in, so scrolling for a movie to watch turned into us passed out on each other. At us, until I heard a familiar ethereal whimper.

I bolted upright in bed, and my eyes landed on a green Junimo at the end of my bed. I couldn't stop the half scream, half shriek that clawed its way out of my throat. As soon as I screamed it vanished into thin air, and then Shane sat up beside me. "What?! What's wrong?!" "Th--! Ju--!" I gestured helplessly to the spot where the Junimo had been, fully aware of his confused gaze.

In the glow of the tv everything at the end of the bed could be seen. I knew he couldn't see anything of importance. "What, Kara? What was it?" "A Junimo!" I finally squeaked. "It was there, at the end of the bed!"

Shane's panicked gaze quickly turned into an infuriating mix of confusion and concern. "Kara, did you drink anything weird today?" "No!" I growled, "I swear, they exist! I'm going to prove it one day!" "Okay, babe. Just... calm down, for right now. You can prove it another time, without screaming. Your ribs should be hurting, anyways... do you want me to grab your painkillers for you while I'm up?"

"...I guess." I shrugged. "They really don't hurt that bad. I don't think they hurt at all until I screamed." "Maybe they're lingering in your bloodstream longer because of the food or something," he suggested as he moved to get my pills. "Maybe. Or... maybe it was the Junimo."

When he didn't meet my gaze I asserted, "I'm not crazy." "I know you're not. Just take your pills and go back to bed; maybe it was a dream."

I had to give him the benefit of the doubt, even if I didn't want to admit. This time it really could have been a dream, what with the powerful pills I was on. I took the handful he gave me with the glass of water at the side of my bed, then settled back into the covers as he searched for the remote to turn the tv off.

Once he was back in bed he curled up so he was spooning me. "Is this okay?" "Yeah," I mumbled. "Not gonna wake me up with Junimo-induced screams again?" "I will beat you deaf." My lover chuckled quietly at the threat and kissed the back of my neck. "Good night, Red Hot." A smile grew at the first taste of a new nickname. "Good night Purple Penis." "Kara." It took me a while to stop laughing and go back to sleep after that.

Chapter Text

"Kara." "Hmm?" I didn't bother opening my eyes. "Are you hungry?" "Hmm-mm." Just let me sleep, dammit. "I am." "Then eat something," I mumbled irritably, making it very clear with my tone that there was a silent 'and stop bugging me' tacked on. "Okay."

My sleep addled brain was just starting to question why he would wake me up like that when I felt fingernails lightly scrape my hips, and my underwear started disappearing from me. "Shane?" I tried to sound startled, but my entire body was a dead weight. I could barely move my lips. "Go back to sleep," he reassured me, "I just wanted permission." "For what?" Why was none of this making sense?! "For breakfast."

If I was any less sleepy that would have woken me up. As it was, all I did for invitation was part my legs a little. A low chuckle sounded above me. "Good girl."

The praise shot straight to my core, and along with how desperately hot this situation was, it provided a nice view for him when he parted my legs further. "Hmmm." He ran a fingertip up my slippery slit. "Someone's ready for morning." "Never." "No? But only people who are awake get eaten for breakfast." I thought he told me to go back to sleep?

When I didn't respond, just hoping he'd get on with it he let out a sigh and mused, "Well, I guess I better go get the eggs..." "I'm awake!" I mumbled. "What's that?" "I'm awake." I struggled to open my eyes, but the sunlight streaming in from the window was too bright.

"Are you sure? You don't look very awake." "I am," I whined, hand twitching futilely against my side in a pathetic attempt at grabbing at him. "Pleeasee..."

"Then you must be awake enough to help me with breakfast." Before I could respond a damp fingertip tapped against my lips, coaxing me to open my mouth. His lone finger still held the tang of my juices, but I was too tired to decide anything about the taste. I put all my energy into sucking on his finger and swirling my tongue around it. "Good girl."

How did he keep doing that to me?! My reaction must have been visible because he chuckled shortly after. "Do you like that?" I just moaned around his finger.

Once he extracted the digit from my mouth he used it to circle my clit teasingly and, when I wiggled, tap the sensitive nub three times. The sensation was enough to make my legs jerk.

My lover clearly delighted in making me squirm because he continued the infuriatingly arousing teasing, getting to the point where it was borderline torture. "Shaaane," I whined, "Please!" "I'm not going to eat you out until your open those big grey eyes for me." My weighted eyelids opened, and then his mouth closed over my mound.

When my eyes closed again it was for a much different reason. "Fuck!" "Are you awake now?" "Yes!" I cried, and for once I meant it.

His snicker was muffled by his face being between my legs, which wasn't a bad thing. If it was any louder I probably would have kicked him, and, well... the vibrations were a nice touch.

"You know, we're not alone. Marnie, Robin, and Emily are outside," he informed me dryly. "Don't care." In all truth I really didn't care then... I would later, but not at that exact moment. I was too busy trying not to smother him between my legs.

"We need to go on a date soon," he muttered as he teased my entrance with a lone fingertip. "I'd love to know what you feel like around my cock."

I might have given him a smart-ass reply of how we wouldn't have to wait if he would stop being so stubborn, but any coherent thoughts were tossed out the window along with my dignity when he pressed two fingers inside me and sucked on my clit. And it would have been perfect if I hadn't have made a noise that sounded more like pain than pleasure. He drew back.

"You okay?" "Yeah, but you won't be if you don't keep doing that." He snorted against me, the weird sensation making me squirm a little. "Since when was this mandatory?" "Since you decided to wake me up for it." "Fair enough."

He promptly dove back between my legs as if he hadn't just paused for conversation. How casually he stopped and started this entire thing was infuriating; it was his game, and I was the victim. But at the same time I couldn't find it in me to protest because it felt so damn good.

Shane already knew exactly how to work me and while part of me wanted to question why, the rest of me just wanted to enjoy it. And I was definitely going to if he kept curling his fingers like that.

When the string of moans left my lips along with my legs instinctively hitching up I chanced a peek at him and found his eyes closed, looking entirely too blissed out for my sanity. "I'm beginning to think," I gasped, "That you like eating me out more than I like receiving an eating out."

"Do you always talk this much during sex?" My glare didn't go unnoticed, but he didn't reply more than the smirk I felt twitching at his lips.

"Just lay back and enjoy; don't you worry your pretty little head about who's getting the most enjoyment out of what." "If I had any strength in my arms I'd nail you for a comment like that," I panted harshly, my words followed closely by a needy whine. How was I supposed to sound intimidating when I could barely breathe? "Then I guess I should be glad you go boneless during sex," he snickered. "First time I think I'll ever say that."

I may not have had any strength in my arms but I did in my legs, and I thunked the side of his head with my heel, forcing a laugh from him. "I swear, Shane, if you leave me like this for much longer I'm telling everyone you have a pencil dick."

My threat worked. One second I was panting, the next second I was squealing and squirming, and he had to hold my legs down so he could continue doing whatever in the hell he was doing with his tongue.

That fucking tongue. I didn't know how he did it but he did it well and I certainly wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. "Fuck, fuck, fuck!" My shrieks echoed in the bedroom, along with the obscene wet noises coming from between my legs.

"You gonna come for me?" I nodded urgently, fingers locking up around the sheets. "If you don't tell me you don't get to come." "YES!" If he stopped now I'd...I'd... well, I'd be very mad.

My orgasm came upon me suddenly... just like the knocking at the front door did. One minute I was arched up off the mattress, gasping. The next, a knock was coming at the door, and I couldn't hold back the cry of my lover's name as I came.

Shane didn't seem at all bothered by being very obviously discovered. He continued thrusting his fingers in and out of my quivering slit and sweeping his tongue over my slick little button until I collapsed back on the bed, trembling all over and more tired than I had been when I went to bed. He only stopped when I groaned. "Get some more sleep," he told me. "I'll go kill whoever heard and hide their body."

I was rubbing off on him; his humor was starting to sound like mine. It...it was humor, right?

When I woke up later it was to the sound of screaming and chickens squawking, and I sighed, staring up at the ceiling. "I love my life," I murmured to myself as another scream echoed. "I really do." "BA-GAWK!"

I took a long, luxurious shower, something I didn't get to do often, and came out to find Emily in the kitchen. "Good afternoon sleepy head!" Emily giggled. "I made you some lunch! How does a cheese sandwich with tomato soup sound?" "It sounds fantastic." "Well, good! You dig on in. I'm going to go help Robin with the chickens." "Was that her screaming?" As if on cue she screamed again and Emily winced. "Yep. Enjoy!"

Once I was alone I went and retrieved the mouse I'd been thawing and fed Keilani, and checked on Tilly and Loki's water bowls before I grabbed my food and went outside to sit on the porch and eat lunch. I might as well enjoy the show; Shane certainly was.

With a beer in one hand and a brush in the other, he was brushing down Lyla... but mostly watching the chickens attacking Robin. "I just wanted your eggs!" she cried.

I would have enjoyed the show more if it wasn't for Marnie taking one look at me and going bright red. She went back to watering crops and while part of me wondered if she was the one that knocked, most of me was just confused as to why Robin and Emily weren't tending crops and Marnie and Shane the animals. I got my answer when I finally wandered over to help.

With a spoon of tomato soup still stuck in my mouth I slipped past Emily and right up to Robin, where I grabbed her and pulled her down so I could reach Poppy and pull her off Robin's head.

The chicken settled into my arms immediately, and the wide eyed woman stared at her like she wanted to make a meal out of her.

"I just wanted her egg," she panted. "You have to let it sit for a few minutes so she can baby it," I told her around the spoon. I sat Poppy down with a little pat, then asked, "Why were you taking care of the chickens anyways?" "I just wanted to try something else. I'm going to go pick fruit from the trees! Have fun with your feathered demons!"

Emily waited until she was out of earshot before giggling, "Thanks for coming to help, Kara." Then she shot a look at Shane. "Because it's not like he would."

He barely glanced at us before replying, "I'm brushing the cow." I snorted. "You just think you can get off the hook on work because of breakfast this morning." His eyes went wide and the tips of his ears went red, which made Emily start laughing. "Ooooh! And what was breakfast?" "Well--" "Kara!" "What?"

My lover gave me a look that spoke of long internal suffering. "You can't just tell her about that stuff!" "Why not?" I snickered, "Afraid of a little ammunition?" He didn't look very amused.

"She's my friend too," I reminded him, "And I have problem none with gossiping with my friends." While Shane looked like he was torn between keeling over and strangling me, Emily just stood there patiently, bouncing on her heels, waiting for the latest in the Shane and Kara drama affair that was basically our entire relationship. "You're trying to kill me," he finally decided. "You really are."

"We both are," Emily corrected with a grin. As his head whipped around to scowl at her I smirked at him and then asked Emily, "Want to help me organize the chests? We can talk there since Mr. Stick-In-The-Mud here doesn't want to hear it." "I'd be delighted."

As a look of horror grew on Shane's face I linked arms with Emily and walked off, making a mental note to mention to him later that I'd never say anything bad about him or talk about how he looked. Judging by the look on his face, it sounded like he needed reminded of my loyalty to him.

Emily sighed, kicking her feet from her perch on my "summer" chest. "What I wouldn't give for something like that." When my eyes flitted up to her she grinned. "It's pretty lonely around here," she explained. "And as much as I want a lifetime partner, I also really, really just want a hook up that doesn't involve going to Zuzu City. It's smelly there, people are rude, and unless I bring back cloth, everyone could take a good guess as to what I was doing. It would make it easier if there wasn't all of that."

"I'll have to mention it to Shane," I joked, making the blue haired girl laugh. "Yeah... There was a time or two I thought about it... but then I'd remember why I didn't when he got blackout drunk."

I nodded slowly, staring down at the packet of seeds in my hand. "I think he's getting better with that," I murmured. "I-I know I'm not a 'fix-all', but... I'd like to think I've helped him in that aspect of his life. Helped him pare down to more healthy drinking habits." "You have," she replied seriously. "Kara, we've all seen it. He used to get blackout drunk a lot. I was one of the designated people to take him home, in fact. But now.." she shrugged, "I don't worry about it happening anymore because it doesn't."

Before I could ask her just how often he used to drink to that point, a throat was cleared awkwardly behind me and forced our collective attention to Marnie. "Hi, girls... Kara, I wanted to give you this." The older woman handed me a torn, crinkled, stained envelope. "I think you should... know."

She scurried off then, as if she didn't want to be seen around me. Emily raised her eyebrows. "What is it?" "I don't know, but judging by the beer stains I'd say it probably has something to do with Shane." "Are you going to read it?" I frowned down at it. "I don't really feel comfortable reading something of his that he obviously hasn't wanted to share with me yet. I... I'm not going to. I'll ask him about it later though."

I pocketed the envelope and then rose to my feet, tossing the seeds into the chest with a sigh. I stretched, taking special care with my torso, then examined my hair. "I think I need to be redyed," I mused. "I was looking in the mirror today and my roots are starting to show."

"I'm putting in another dye order soon; I'll add yours on. Anything else you want added in?" "Yeah, a new brush," I laughed. "My old one just isn't cutting it, and I saw a detangling brush recently that looked awesome." "Why don't we swing by my house quickly? You can point out which one it was and I'll add it to my cart, and then you can grab dinner for you and Shane." "Okay, yeah. Let's do it."

When I got back with pizza, Shane was sitting on the porch with Tilly in his lap, sipping on a beer while Loki roamed the fields. "I was starting to worry about you. You were gone a long time."

"Sorry." I sat down beside him, hyper aware of the crinkle of the envelope in my back pocket as I did. "I got caught up in ogling hair care products with Emily. I ended up ordering way more than I need, but..." I shrugged, "It's nice to treat myself occasionally. Although treating myself does not include getting fat, so if you continue staying for dinner prepare for the menu to change a little. We can't have junk food all the time."

His pout was tempting, but I wasn't budging. "But Kara... I can't eat anything but junk food." I couldn't help laughing at that. "Healthy food is gross." "Ohh, don't you worry. I know how to make it not gross. You just leave it all to me."

I handed him a slice of pizza and laughed when Tilly tried to bat it out of his hand. "No," I scolded, trying to hide my smile. "No pizza for kitties."

Shane and I sat in silence, staring out at the farm that stood before us. "I had no idea how hard you worked until I tried doing a third of it each day," he mused. "And to think, you used to do it all alone, and still have time and energy to fish, and mine, and..." he shook his head. "It's insane. You're insane."

"Tell me something I don't know." I winked at him when he glanced at me, then tacked on more thoughtfully, "It is a lot of work. But... I wouldn't trade my life right now for the world." "Okay, now you're really insane."

"Why am I insane?" I leaned into him, pausing to eat a bite of pizza before continuing, "I'm surrounded by people I care about and who care about me, I get to work with animals and plants every day..." I shook my head. "I get to follow a life some people can only dream about. Sure, it's not all sunshine and roses, but... I mean let's get real here, when you have crops a rainy day is preferred over a sunny day."

His sigh made me grin. "And here I thought we were having a serious moment," he huffed. "Oh, we were. But then it got too serious." I peeked up at him through my lashes.

"This is what I want to grow old to."

My smile faltered and took a turn to more of a surprised awe. "What?" I managed out, and his face turned blood red. "Did I say that out loud?" "...Yeah, you did." He sighed, but he didn't look upset. In fact he looked pretty damn happy. So happy he didn't even notice Tilly stealing the slice of pizza from his hand, and I was too enthralled with him to care.

"This is what I want to grow old to. You and I, sitting on this porch, nibbling on pizza after a day's work. The last rays of sunshine making your hair look like literal fire." He gazed down at me with a soft intensity that you could choke on.

"The cat in someone's lap, the dog roaming the fields... hell, maybe even a little Kara toddling around." He paused to brush a strand of hair out of my face and tuck it behind my ear. "I love you, Kara," he whispered into the space between us. "Have loved you, for a while. I just... tried to deny it. I didn't want to admit that there were people that cared about me and that I could rely on. That it didn't make me weak if I did. But... despite the fact that these words are the some of the most terrifying I've ever said in my life, I'm done living in fear and denial. I don't just want to survive, I want to thrive, and I want to do it with you."

He paused and then sighed. "Wouldja quit crying?" I hadn't even realized I was. I let out this emotion-filled, breathless little laugh and put down the slice of pizza--something I should have done long ago--so I could cuddle into his side. "I would have been content with just those three words," I choked out.

"But... this is better?" He asked hopefully. "A lot better. Yoba, I love you Shane. So much." When I dragged him down for a kiss there was no hesitation in the way he wrapped his arms around me, hands splayed out over me like he had to touch every inch of me to make sure I was still there.

"You taste like tears and pizza," he murmured against my lips, making me giggle. "Well I wonder who was the cause of the first part?"

We stayed like that for a while, foreheads resting together, both grinning like dorks. Until finally I asked, "What made you decide to tell me now?" And his smile softened. "That stupid plastic flower you hid in the bouquet."

So he had finally found it. "As soon as I saw the damn thing I knew that was just another way of you proving your love to me, and... I realized I wanted to make you feel as happy as you make me when you tell me you love me. I mean, that's not the only reason--this is coming out wrong--" "Shane?" "Hm?" "I love you, and I understand what you're trying to say, and that's all that matters right now." "Okay." "Well... that and that Tilly stole your pizza."

His head jerked up, an indignant look on his face, and gaped at the orange tabby chewing on the crust. "Hey!" I couldn't help snickering. "She stole your pizza, she stole your pizza," I sing-songed, then added, "She did it while you were getting all mushy, too."

"You saw it happening and you didn't say anything?!" "You really think I was going to interrupt you during a moment like that?" I replied dryly, making him shrug. "Fair. Alright then, give me another slice before it gets cold."

I turned to retrieve my slice of pizza off the top of the box so I could open it and get one out for him... and found Loki sitting behind me, licking his lips. "HEY!"

It was Shane's turn to laugh. I pouted over the loss of my pizza, but not for long since a big pink tongue started licking my cheek sweetly. I could never stay mad at Loki... and it was mildly infuriating. I really, really wanted to be mad over the loss of my pizza. "You know how I said I wanted to grow old with those two around?" "Yeah?" "Maybe we should ditch them and get out while we can," he joked. "I think that's the only way we're ever going to eat a whole slice of pizza again."

Loki tried to get in the box when I opened the lid but a snap of my fingers and pointing to the end of the porch put him in his place... and saved our pizza. I got Shane and I another slice. "Now, are there any more interruptions we want to get out of the way, or can I eat my pizza?" Shane asked to the area around us.

The envelope felt like it was burning a hole in my ass but there was no way I was going to bring up something potentially upsetting, not tonight, after the emotional ride we'd had together.

"This isn't interruptive, but I did want to mention it," I hedged after a pause, remembering my mental note from earlier. "Okay." He took a bite, "Shoot."

"When I went off to girl-talk with Emily you looked... scared. Do you think I would say bad things about you, or... talk about things about you like how you look, or how you do things in bed?" "No," he sighed. "At first I was scared of that. And it took me some time, but I finally managed to convince myself that you wouldn't do something like that."

"And I won't," I promised. "I won't ever bring up something like that with anyone--that's between us and us only. But if you're uncomfortable with the whole thing entirely I'll stop." "I mean, as long as you aren't giving her a play-by-play I don't really care."

He tried not to look bothered, but I could tell something was still bugging him. "What?" I urged, nudging him. "You... wouldn't tell her about noises I make in bed, would you?" "...Only the sexy ones." He grunted and made a face at me, and I started laughing. "Aw, c'mon!" "Kara, no noises I make are 'sexy.'" "Yes they are! And Emily agrees."

His wide green eyes met mine as I tried to rein in my giggles. "I didn't mention anything specific. I just mentioned some vague specifications about noises you made and said I liked them. Nothing super invasive, nothing taken in any context other than gossip."

"Alright," he grumbled. "Just... keep it at stuff like that. She's my friend too." "How long have you been waiting to throw that back at me?" "Ever since you said it." "Asshole."

My boyfriend chuckled and slung his arm around me, squeezing my shoulders as I punched his chest lightly. "I hate you." "I love you too." Despite the spring air still being a bit chilly, I'd never felt more warm than I did then, cuddled into his side, those three words ringing in my head to the tune of his voice.

Chapter Text

I never considered myself a patient person until I walked around with Shane's envelope in my pocket for a handful of days. I wanted to bring it up but every time I tried, the moment felt so wrong and I would chicken out. And then Monday rolled around. After a pep-talk from Emily I had decided Monday would be the day that I would bring it up, no if's and's or but's about it.

"So, I know Mondays are supposed to be our go-to-the-saloon-and-get-everything-off-our-chest-with-beer nights but since you're still on painkillers I was thinking maybe I could take you on that date instead." Well fuck me.

"Sure," I agreed past the anxiety eating it's way into my heart. "Does that mean we get to fuck?" As Shane facepalmed, groaning past the smile he tried so hard to hide, I heard a quiet "Oh..." and glanced back to see Marnie turning around. Double fuck me.

"Did we ever find out who discovered us during breakfast?" I asked him quietly, trying to ignore the envelope weighing down the right side of my shorts. "I think it was Marnie... she's been acting really strange ever since then and never wants to bring up our relationship." Triple fuck me. Quadruple fuck if it wasn't related to her catching us engaging in sexual activities so much as her fretting over our response to the envelope she'd handed me.

"Great," I finally muttered, then added, "So, this date. Do I get to know anything about it?" "Only that I need to leave early to get things set up." "Awwww--" "Don't even start."

He dragged me close and pressed a firm kiss to my lips. "No teasing. Be nice." "But Purple Penis--" "KARA."

Shane's eyes flitted up, scanned over the people staring at us, then hissed, "We're not using that nickname." "Oh, we aren't?" I smirked, pressing up against him. "But it's so apt." "Do you enjoy humiliating me? Is that a kink of yours or something?" I couldn't tamper down the giggles that rose up within me.

"You're so easy," I muttered as I drew away, flashing him a smile. "And you're difficult as hell, but I love you anyways. Now go and do something and forget I mentioned anything about our date."

Despite his orders to forget our date I did no such thing. Instead I vibrated around the entire day, torn between excitement and anxiety because I had to bring up the envelope... didn't I? And of course the one time I needed Emily's help the most, she couldn't decide whether or not she would show it to him if it was her decision. Meaning that night I was an absolute ball of nerves while she finished putting my hair into a pretty ponytail.

"You're going to get burned if you keep bouncing around like that." "I'm sorry," I groaned, "I just don't know what to do and I'm stressed as fuck and I really want a drink to take the edge off but I can't have one."

"You can't go through life drowning your troubles in alcohol, Kara. That's a good way to become an alcoholic." "Then Shane and I will get along great," I huffed irritably.

Emily gave me a soft smile as she put the hair straightener down. "You're really worked up about this, aren't you?" "Yes. Wouldn't you be? I mean, I'm pissed at Marnie for giving me something of Shane's without his permission. But I'm also pissed that she knows I don't know this thing and felt the only way I'd ever know is for her to intervene. And I'm mad that whatever this is, it's been kept from me for so long and now I'm supposed to go on my date with him and... what, pretend it doesn't exist? Like I'm not dying to know what's inside? I really wish that damn woman would have just left well enough alone."

Small arms came around me in a comforting hug, and short blue hair tickled my shoulders. "I'm sorry. I know this must be hard for you. Just... remember that Shane over analyzes everything. He's still afraid people will abandon him if they know deep things. So it's not something personal that's keeping him from sharing, it's just... poor mental health."

I forced her words through my brain a million times throughout the five minutes it took to finish my hair. "Done!" She put my straightener down for the final time. "You look perfect." "I do? But I didn't change out of my clothes from today--" "No, and he doesn't want you to."

My little blue-haired date helper appeared over my shoulder. "He wants you Kara, as you are." "But normally people get dressed up for dates--" "...Since when are you and Shane normal?" she snorted uncharacteristically. I really was rubbing off on the people around me. "You guys aren't normal," she reiterated, "And you both know and love that. That's all that matters."

"But... why do my hair, then?" Now she just looked exasperated. "Honestly, sometimes..." she shook her head, then shook my shoulders.

"You told me to get you date-ready, and I did." "This is my date ready? A graphic t-shirt, jeans, and farm boots?" "With your hair pulled up," she pointed out. "It shows that you want to look nice and go from daytime work to nighttime fun, but it isn't you trying to dress in some fancy dress and be someone you aren't."

She paused, blinking a few times before urging, "Now does it make sense?" "Doing my hair shows I care about the date, but not like I'm trying to impress him or something. Yeah, I guess so." "Good. Now go have fun? For me?"

I couldn't help grinning. "Should I bring up the idea of a threesome on our date tonight?" My friend swatted at my shoulder and giggled. "You wish. You wouldn't know what to do with all this." "Oh, I have some ideas."

Did that seriously come out of my mouth? My eyes flitted up to her's in the mirror again, and after a pause we both broke into peals of laughter.

"You guys are having way too much fun in the bathroom!" The fact that Shane had caught us goofing off only served to make us laugh harder. We were both red-faced and breathless by the time we stumbled out the door, so at first I didn't even notice that Shane had cleaned up.

My eyes swept over him, taking in the smooth indicator of him having shaved, and the fact that he had changed into a normal blue hoodie instead of his ratty Jojamart one.

"I like the hoodie," Emily approved, "Very smart. And an apt change, since you don't work for them anymore." "Thanks." Shane couldn't seem to tear his gaze away from me though, staring at me like I'd hung the stars as I approached. "You look beautiful." I really wanted to point out that only my hair had changed from when he last saw me, but I checked myself and smiled at him instead. "And you look pretty handsome yourself."

I went in for a peck, fully aware of Emily still in the room, but Shane didn't seem to care too much. His lips coaxed me forward and kept me there for far too long a time in public. It probably would have been even longer if I hadn't felt a small hand on my ass.

"Yoba!" I jumped a mile, partly into Shane, turning to give Emily an incredulous look. "Try and warn a girl before you grope her!" The little witch had the nerve to smirk at me. "Like you didn't enjoy it," she teased, then added, "I'm just making sure you're covered on all accounts. You two have fun."

Shane turned to say goodbye as she left, and I snuck a hand back to figure out what she'd put in my pocket. The envelope and a condom. Smooth.

"Did she seriously grab your ass?" He asked once we couldn't hear her footsteps on the porch anymore. I couldn't help smiling. Suddenly I wasn't the jealous one. "No," I laughed, "She just 'covered' me so to speak." He gave me an odd look. "What?" "If it comes to it you'll find out." On both accounts. "...Okay, whatever." He shook his head a little, as if tossing the thought from his mind. "You ready to go?" "Yeah."

I wasn't surprised to find Shane leading me to Cindersap Forest. After all, we'd spent a lot of time together there. "You know," I mused, "When I was younger I'd daydream about finding the perfect person for me, and going on a date with them. I never imagined that we'd have said 'I love you' before the first date."

I expected him to make some offhand, self-deprecating joke over it. But I should have known by then not to expect anything out of Shane. Instead he picked up on one small part of what I'd said and asked, "You think I'm perfect for you?"

"Yeah." I didn't so much as hesitate. "Of course I do. If I didn't... well, we wouldn't be on our way to this lovely date you have planned out." And I wouldn't be so worried about what was in the fucking envelope that kept poking into my consciousness every time I forgot about it for too long.

"What, a person has to be perfect for you if they want to take you out on a date?" I made a face at him and swatted his arm lightly. "No, you damn spork."

"Well that's what it sounded like." I shook my head. "I was thinking of something else." "Something that happened, or just you going on one of your usual thought tangents?" I tried scowling at him but I was too deep in my thoughts for there to be much care put into it.

"Do you want the truth, or the fluffy lie?" I finally asked, trying to decipher how his mental state was. Though as soon as I said it I regretted it, because I didn't have a 'fluffy lie' to fall back on.

"Of course I want the truth." Thank Yoba.

"Well..." I leaned into him a little further. "I was thinking about some things that have happened in our relationship. And how... if I didn't think you were perfect for me, or weren't so madly in love with you, that... it probably would have been a breaking point for me." I cringed internally, waiting for him to take it far too personally. I was surprised to see that he didn't. Instead he nodded slowly. "Yeah... I know I'm not the easiest person to get along with."

"And neither am I," I reminded him. When he gave me a look I raised my eyebrows. "What, do I need to spell it out for you?" "No, I just... really don't think you're that 'bad' compared to me." "We'll have to agree to disagree on that."

I sighed, squeezing his hand a little. "I just don't want you to internalize it." "It's... difficult not to," he admitted. "But it's easier knowing that you still haven't run away yet." "And won't," I tacked on in a whisper. He smiled a small smile at me before continuing. "I still don't remember that day on the cliffs. But... what I've heard of it is enough to make me wonder why you're even still around. In that scenario, if it wasn't you... I know I wouldn't have stayed. It would have been too much for me. But that's also with me knowing how I feel about you. I can't claim that I know how you feel about me."

"I could show you," I offered suggestively, and he rolled his eyes. "You're back." "I never left." I snickered at how annoyed he looked at me ruining the moment, but I did try and collect myself and my lack of filter before I actually made him mad.

"You know what I mean." "Yes, I do. And while I can't claim to know exactly how you feel either, I can say that our feelings are at least extremely similar. Because you're right... if it wasn't you, I wouldn't have stayed. Even with having somewhat more control over my mental health than you I still found that hard to stomach. Okay where the fuck are we going?"

Shane looked like he didn't know whether he wanted to choke me or hug me, but that eventually dissolved into him giving a little chuckle as he shook his head. "Did I do it again?" "Yes, you did," he sighed, then smiled at me. "But it wouldn't be us if you didn't. It's just past here. You'll be able to see it soon."

I looked down at the water rushing below the boards under our feet, and smiled. "I still can't believe I got you to swim with me that day." "Me either," he snorted. "I was in absolute shock that some chick I didn't know was trying to convince me to swim in the lake with her--after she'd tricked me to get me into the water with her in the first place."

"You would have known me if you would have given me a chance, ya jerk," I responded playfully. "I'd been trying for how long at that point, trying to even get you to be civil with me?"

My lover smirked at me. "Well I couldn't have you thinking I was nice." "Of course not. And you were only nice afterwards because you'd seen my boobs."

Shane grinned, looking down at his sneakers. "The amount of times I got off to that after the fact..." he shook his head. I couldn't help the little laugh that escaped me--I knew we were close, but I'd never expected him to share something like that!

"Well I'm glad to know I gave you something nice to think about," I joked, poking his side. His smile turned a touch predatory, and a little shiver went down my spine. "Yeah. Something... 'nice.'" "Yoba," I laughed, just a touch breathless from the tension between us, "How kinky are you?" "Kinky enough that I'm glad it's you. I don't think I could ever be in a relationship with someone sweet and innocent." "Hey!"

He was grinning at his sneakers until I looked forward and gasped. Then his eyes were locked on me.

Strings of fairy lights and hanging lanterns lit up the space between a circle of trees, illuminating the picnic blanket and basket that waited for us. It was a page out of every cheesy, cliche movie and story that has ever existed... and it was perfect. "Is it too cheesy?" "It's gouda."

At another time I definitely would have gotten glared at. But instead he spun me around and pressed a tender kiss to my lips, murmuring, "I love you." "I love you more."

"I believe that's impossible," he muttered as he grabbed my waist and dragged me into him. "Because if I loved you any less, I wouldn't have gone through all the suffering I did to make this happen." I laughed against his lips, light and giddy as I wound my fingers into his hair. "What?" he demanded when no response was forthcoming. "No smart ass reply? No dig? No suggestive anecdote?" "If I loved you any less I'd have one," I murmured, "But right now I'm all out."

His lips met mine with an intensity that could have burned. It was very clear what was on both of our minds as we stood just before the little paradise Shane had created for us.

One of his hands anchored himself to me on my hip, meanwhile the other hand slid up to cup my cheek, keeping me from going anywhere. As if I would if he wasn't holding me. Anticipation made my skin tingle and my hands restless, wandering over his cheeks, the back of his neck, his shoulders, his arms. He tilted his head for better access, my fingernails dug into the soft material of the hoodie he wore.

The need to taste and touch was teetering on the edge of overwhelming when he suddenly pulled away, letting out a heavy breath. The softest scrape of a groan that followed is all I needed to know that he was in just as bad a shape as I was.

"We should really eat soon, before it gets cold." He didn't bother hiding the reluctance in his tone, nor in how he still clung to me like any second he might snap and drag me down onto the grass with him. And as much as I wanted him to do that... I knew we shouldn't. It would be wrong to ruin all his hard work... even if it did mean finally experiencing mutual satisfaction. And that thought alone is what forced out the "Okay" from me. The singular word that burned with reluctance and even disappointment. Something he of course didn't fail to notice, and smiled at.

"It'll be worth it." "All I'm saying is that this food better be orgasmic, because that's what I'm in dire need of," I retorted playfully. His smile turned shy. "I mean, I'm no cook, but... it smelled good."

I drew back to stare at him. "You made dinner?" "Yeah. I mean--I had Marnie's help, because all I know how to do really is use the microwave, but... she said it turned out great, and the recipe sounded good, so..." His hands flopped by his sides in an aborted gesture. "I tried."

"That's all that matters." I pecked his lips once more. "Thank you."

Shane led me over and sat me down on the blanket, then started fumbling with the dishes. I tried to ignore the crinkle of the envelope in my pocket as I fidgeted there. "Do you want some he--" "No," he interrupted. "You've been working way too hard all day, and this is my treat to you. So just sit back and relax and get hungry." I tried and failed to hide my little giggle. "Okay. What is it, anyways?"

"Well, I was thinking about what you said, about how you want us to start eating healthier. And... you're right. I thought about just going to the Saloon and getting something easy but you don't deserve that. You're worth the effort, and... I feel like that would have been a slap in the face. 'Oh, you like to eat healthy? Well here, on our first date, let's eat greasy pizza!'"

I had to put my hand over my mouth to keep my laughter from interrupting his snarky recount of what he thought would be a "slap in the face." These moments were worth more than their weight in iridium.

"So," he continued, completely oblivious to my struggle, "I wanted us to meet in the middle. I went down to the library, looked online, and found a recipe for something called sweet and spicy antipasto salad. It sounded amazing, and it had the word 'salad' in it, which I figured you'd like, so... that's what we're having."

He turned around and handed me my plate, full of a pepper, cheese, and meat mixture and served with two pieces of insanely delicious looking--and familiar--toasted bread.

"...Isn't this the loaf of bread I gave Marnie last we--" "Don't even start," he ordered. "The meal itself took forever to make, I wasn't about to bake bread too." I finally let loose a few little giggles, feeling if I didn't that I would explode.

The defensive furrow of his brows softened into a look much more adoring and he added, "I hope you like it." "I'm sure I will. I always did when I was a little girl. The last time I had this was... boy. A long, long time ago. My grandma used to make it for me." I didn't add that it was always after I'd had a bad day.

Shane just kind of hovered there, staring at me, and it finally dawned on me that he was waiting to see my reaction. So I gathered a forkful, giving him one last glance, then took a bite of the bread and the salad.

I was too lost in culinary bliss to do anything but give him a thumbs up, which he snickered at. "You're such a foodie." "Hey, I like good food," I finally defended once I finally found my voice past the blaze of the hot peppers on my tongue. "There's nothing wrong with that."

Once we both took a few bites I mused, "These ingredients are fresh. And I know Pierre doesn't sell anything even remotely exotic, or I would have latched onto it by now. So.... how did you get this stuff?" "Well... this has been a plan in motion for a little while," he admitted. "I got with Pierre and told him what I needed, and it took a while, but he finally managed to get a shipment in." "Oh, Shane. That must have been so expensive."

He smiled across the blanket at me. "You're worth it." "Don't make me cry into my antipasto salad." The mention of the meal seemed to remind him that he had yet to produce any drinks, because he suddenly lurched forward, blushing, and reached into the picnic basket.

I caught a glance at the label as he pulled out the bottle. "Sparkling apple cider?" He shrugged. "Why not?" "Hey, I'm not complaining." I just... expected you to drink something harder.

As if he could read my mind he admitted, "I thought about just bringing myself a beer or something. But I want to get better, and the only way to get better is to start trying. Besides; it doesn't feel as romantic if each person drinks something different, and I would have felt bad not including you. I know you like your drinks almost as much as I do."

I didn't realize I was smiling until my cheeks began to ache. "I'm glad you're trying," I finally murmured. "Call me selfish, but... I'm hoping to have you around for a little while longer." "I'm planning on it."

We ate a few more bites, and stared at each other like love drunk fools while we did. But eventually I couldn't take it anymore; there had been a question on the tip of my tongue since we'd sat down, and if I didn't ask him soon I really was going to explode.

"Shane?" "Yeah?" "How are you lighting all of this up?" He paused, lips resting on the rim of his glass of cider. "Well Vincent isn't riding a bike down by the sewer, if that's what you mean." He finally got the drink he'd been searching for before he continued. "I just hooked it all up with an extension cord... why?" "It's just... very well put together. I looks like these lights could be here naturally, and... the level of commitment is really nice."

He shrugged. "It's not that big of a deal." "No, it is. Because I've seen set ups--on Instagram, of all places--that have wires and cords sticking out everywhere, and those are people who are uploading the pictures online to receive praise." "Well, I had a better reason to make sure it looked nice." Touche.

Once we were done eating, Shane packed everything back into the picnic basket and then scooted over so he was closer to me. "Is this what clean eating feels like?"

I gave him an odd look as I nestled myself into his outstretched arm and followed him into a reclined position above him as he laid down. "What do you mean?" "I mean, don't get me wrong, I still love my pizza. But... it doesn't feel like someone put a lead weight in my stomach." I couldn't help smiling. Maybe now he understood why I liked eating healthy.

"That's exactly what clean eating feels like. Our bodies aren't designed to take in so much grease and heavy food; that's why you always feel terrible after eating greasy take-away." "I have to admit, that was pretty good. If eating healthier tastes that good you might just be able to convert me. A little."

"Good. I'd like to see you start feeling better," I murmured. "I know a bunch of those aches you complain about would go away if you took care of yourself more." "I know," he sighed. "It's just... for a while I didn't think there was a point. I didn't want there to be a point. I basically just... wanted to kill myself. But now that I don't have a constant desire for death, it's difficult to know where to start."

"Well, the farm work will help. And eating healthier with me. This..." I shook my head, leaning over him a little further.

"Getting yourself back on track isn't something you can decide to do and complete in a day. It'll take time. Start slow. The farm work will start building up muscle again, and the healthy eating will give you the fuel to do it. And then, when you think you're ready, maybe start adding some light exercising to it. Nothing heavy. A couple jumping jacks and push ups. A walk. Sex."

Wide green eyes met mine and I grinned, but didn't stop. "Once you do that, your body's going to be craving more healthy food. I know when I first started putting hard work in on the farm, I craved peanut butter non-stop. I'd get spoonfuls to eat on their own. It's because my body needed protein to keep building muscle. And... once that happens, maybe you'll cut back more on saloon runs. I could even try my hand at making some homemade pizza for days you feel like you can't keep your hand out of the box. And slowly, it'll all become more natural. You won't want greasy take-away as often. Exercising will start to feel good."

I leaned down and touched my nose to his, smiling at the flush that spread over his cheeks when I did. "It'll be a long process. But I'm here for you. And I know you can do it, especially if you keep a good mind set about it and don't punish yourself for the little things."

Our lips met, slow and sweet, but with a familiar longing pang that quickly started rising up between us. "I'd love to try your homemade pizza," Shane mumbled against my lips. "If your cooking thus far is any indication." I hummed, smiling. "You're not too bad yourself. I'd like to see what you could do in the upgraded kitchen I've been talking to Robin about."

We kissed again, a little more passionately. But we weren't done talking yet. "I might burn it down." "I seriously doubt that." He reached up, hand sliding to cup the back of my head and pull me down into another kiss.

"So," he murmured, "Do you think I have enough clean fuel in me for some exercise?" I might have rolled my eyes if I wasn't so eager. As it was, I just responded by lowering my lips back to his.

A warm hand slowly made its way down my back where it slipped under the hem of my shirt, only pausing for a second before wandering up to stroke over my bare skin. It wasn't the chill of the air that followed that gave me goosebumps and made my nipples harden.

"Is this okay?" he murmured against my lips, still languidly making circuits up and down my back. "Should I start saying 'don't stop' now?" A dorky grin appeared on his face. "I just want to make sure." "I'll let you know if there's something I don't like," I whispered back. "I promise."

That was all the invitation he needed to keep going. He tilted his head, deepening the kiss a touch, meanwhile the hand not on my skin wandered up and started giving me encouraging little nudges until finally I was in the position he needed me to be so he could shift without breaking our kiss. He rolled onto his side so he was facing me, instead of me being propped up overtop him, and guided me down onto my side too.

As a sense of urgency slowly started to bleed into our connection he delved his other hand into the side of my ponytail, fingers weaving through hair until he was cupping the side of my head. That's when we started losing control.

The hand on my back pulled me closer. My own hands found his hair and his jawline. Our breathing was starting to become more elaborate. Our kisses more heated, more desperate. More. There was more. I needed more.

When my teeth snagged Shane's lower lip he groaned, the hand on my back tensing up and splaying out against me. And then our tongues met. It was just a cautious, exploratory sweep at first... but as soon as the taste of him exploded on my tongue I was done for. A breathy little moan escaped me when his tongue infiltrated my mouth, exploring, playing and dancing with mine, and he was more than eager to encourage more of those sounds. The hand on my back slid low, until his pinkie was brushing the hem of my jeans, and the other tightened in my hair before releasing it to explore.

At first he only smoothed along my shoulder, his fingertips branching off to sweep over my collarbone with a teasing feather-light touch, but soon that wasn't enough for either of us. A shiver went down my spine as his hand warmed a path down my side, feeling over my every curve before stopping just before my ass.

When he circuited back up this time, however, he wasn't looking to play safe. As soon as I felt his fingertips brush my stomach I knew what was coming, and anticipation swarmed inside me and made me squirm a little.

A gentle touch crept over my bare skin, inching closer and closer to where my nipples were hard and aching. He really, really needed to hurry up. We'd waited too long for this to go so slowly. But my lover was content to tease, and didn't speed up in the slightest. If anything he slowed down as he reached my breasts, and then took a detour to trace the outline of the cups.

I nipped at his lower lip demandingly, hand tightening in his hair, the other sliding down to lay on his upper back and pull us impossibly closer. "Shane," I all but growled when he didn't respond to non-verbal warnings. He smiled against my lips.

"Sounds like someone's a little impatient." He captured my mouth with his once more, muting any response I might have given, and finally, finally pushed the cup of my bra aside to get at my left breast.

"Since when do you wear bras?" he muttered between us, but I was a little too busy to answer him with trying not to moan too eagerly and embarrass myself. Shane must have opened his eyes and seen me biting my lip, because he hummed and nudged his nose against mine. "Don't hide from me." I wasn't hiding. I was just preventing an obscenely loud noise from spilling out of me just because he was rolling my nipple between his fingers. Yoba, it's like this man was designed for sex.

He teased my nipple until finally I let out a gasp, and I felt his lips pull into a grin against my mouth. "Does that feel good?" When all that answered was a whimper he added, "Yeah?" And fuck, was he crooning?

"You look so sexy like this," he whispered. When I finally opened my eyes he was staring at me with that intense adoration and love that I'd never seen him direct at anyone else. "So beautiful." As soon as I lurched forward he was there, meeting my desperate kiss, but what made the moan slip from my lips was how the movement made my legs rub together. I was getting very, very wet, and it slicked the movement enough that I was able to get a brief pass of achingly delicious friction across my clit.

"I've got to hear more of that," Shane muttered in between heated kisses, and I found a smirk turning the corners of my lips up. "Keep it up and you will." "Like this?"

He plucked my nipple on just the right side of pain and pleasure, but instead of a moan it forced out a squeak. I could feel his chuckle vibrating through his body as I attacked his lips then, determined to draw a noise out of him.

His hand departed from my breasts and smoothed down my side again as I pressed up against him and sucked on his tongue, encouraging a groan out of him, but then his hand was grabbing my thigh to hitch my leg up over his and suddenly I couldn't concentrate on kissing him nearly as much.

As soon as he shifted his weight a little his erection pressed up against my core, hot and heavy, and we both moaned against each other. "Yoba, Kara," he ground out, hand tightening on my thigh as he rocked his hips forward. "You know," he panted, "As hot as this all is, I'd hate to have my new hoodie ruined before I even get to wear it." What...?

I was fisting the shoulder of his hoodie. And digging my absolutely lethal nails into it. "Shit," I laughed, releasing my death grip on it. "Maybe you should take it off so we don't have to worry about it." "Yeah?" "Mmhmm."

He kissed me again, teeth catching my lower lip, and tugged on it as if he was dragging the sigh out of me that the action produced.

"You good?" "Yeah," I murmured, wrapping myself even further around him. "How good?" I drew back to see his eyes sparkling mischievously. "Can I... check?" Before the words could even fully register his hand slid up to grab my ass, and the resulting crinkle made his eyebrows raise. "...What do you have in your pocket?"

Blood pounded in my ears as I sat up. I felt light-headed and more than a little nauseous. I had almost had sex with him without knowing what was in the envelope. What a fantastic way to get yourself hurt. Really; top notch. You're such a naive little bitch.

"Stop," I muttered, hands pressing to my forehead. Not like this. Not here. Not with him. "--ra?" A large hand closed around my shoulder, and my breath seized.

"I didn't--!" The words were flying out of my mouth before I could stop them, but as soon as my head whipped around to face the man who held me and I didn't see ice cold blue eyes or a vicious glare, the tension went out of my body. "Hey," Shane whispered, hand traveling up to cup my cheek. "Are you okay? What happened?"

He'd never seen me have an anxiety attack before. Did he even know I had anxiety? I couldn't remember. My heart was still pounding too hard and loud, and my head was only just beginning to ease me out of the hell hole that it had tossed me in.

"C'mon Red, you're starting to freak me out. Are you alright?" Oh. Right. I still needed to answer him. "I'm fine," I finally managed out. "I-I just--I can't do this."

He gave me the most curious look, and for the first time ever I felt like I could read his mind. He was trying to figure out why suddenly I, Kara, didn't want to have sex, and if it had anything to do with him. I was quick to alleviate one worry. "It's not you," I choked out, voice still tight and off key. "It's..." I pursed my lips, frowning down at my crossed legs. "It's from an asshole a long time ago, and Marnie." "Marnie. You're kidding." I couldn't blame him for sounding so deadpan.

"She did something really stupid, Shane. Something I'm so mad at her for. I at least felt wrong invading your privacy, but I can't ignore the fact that she felt she had to do this or else I'd never find out about it, and..." I sat up a little to reach into my pocket, pulling out the envelope. As I did the condom fell out, something he noticed and arched a brow at me for. "Emily." "Ah."

I held up the thing that had been the sole bane of my existence for almost a week. "I can't have sex with you until this isn't looming over my head like some angry storm cloud." At first he looked a little confused. But then a look of horror quickly overtook his features, followed closely by a very unhealthy amount of anger.

"Marnie just gave that to you?" "Yes. I think that's why she's been so nervous around us." "THAT WASN'T HER'S TO DO WITH WHAT SHE WANTED!"

I had never seen him so angry. And I thought I'd seen him angry before. His eyebrows were drawn so far down they almost created a perfect "v," his face was flushed a hot, deep shade of red, and both his hands were curled into fists and trembling. He looked like he really, really wanted to punch something. I just desperately hoped he had a better handle on his temper than me and didn't go after Marnie. Or me, but... especially Marnie. Even if I was mad at her too.

"So that's it?" he finally muttered, and my confused gaze flitted up to his. "This is the end?" he reiterated with no small amount of irritation and self-loathing. "...Shane..." I was absolutely terrified of the fact that he thought I'd read it and didn't want to be with him anymore. What on earth was in this thing?

"I didn't open it." "Why?" "Because I love you, and I trust you," I replied firmly. Somehow my voice didn't shake. "This wasn't mine to do with what I wanted, either. I didn't want to invade your privacy, so I didn't. And if you want to take it back and not say a word about it..." My words felt like lead weights. "Then that's your choice."

When he plucked it from my fingers it felt like I'd been sucker-punched. And then he opened it. "I don't have anything to hide from you," he sighed. "And if this breaks us up... fine. Whatever. But you've been stressed out for the past week, and I finally know why, and... I'm not going to just leave you hanging. You deserve to know."

He fished two papers out. "This..." He took a deep breath. "This is a letter from my ex-wife. And the medical document detailing her abortion."

Shane's eyes flitted up, searching my face, very obviously giving me the chance to react. When all I could do is sit there in stunned silence he continued. "This came in about... three, four years ago. I.." he let out a bitter laugh, "I used to keep it so I could beat myself down with it while I drank. And then I just forgot about it."

His eyebrows furrowed. "I never told Marnie about it, so I'm not sure how she found it. But uh.. in the letter, my ex-wife details why she left me, how happy she is that she did, and reminds me that I should be thankful that she had an abortion so I wouldn't have to pay her child support."

When he held it out to me I didn't move to take it; I just stared at him. "There's not exactly anything left to hide. Read it, if you want."

Once he deemed me incapable of any type of reaction he tossed the letter towards me and continued, staring down at the medical document as he did. "I thought we were in love. I won't call myself young and naive, but up until then I'd had a pretty cushy, sheltered life. And I was kind of in love with the idea of love. I wasn't in love with her. But eventually she convinced me to propose to her, and I thought things would get better after that. That maybe I just had cold feet."

He glanced up at me once to make sure I was listening. "Well, once we were married, all she wanted to do was talk kids and becoming a stay at home mother. I didn't want kids with her. At all. Especially because I was fast figuring out that she didn't want to actually take care of them, she just wanted to sit home all day eating bon bons while I slaved over a heavy job, and then come home and take care of the kids for her. She wanted to be one of those people."

I could tell he was starting to get worried about me. I hadn't moved an inch. It would be hard to tell I was alive if it wasn't for the occasional blink and the rise and fall of my chest as I breathed.

"One night--well, our last night together--she poked a hole in the condom. I kept 'em in the bedside drawer, it's not like they were hidden. I think she might have poked holes in all of them but I didn't bother checking, I just threw the box out. I figured it out almost immediately after. I mean for fuck's sake, you can't just hide that stuff, it gets everywhere." He grimaces, almost like he's picturing something, before shaking his head to clear it.

"Anyways. I start freaking out. Because I'm not ready to have kids, especially not with her, and right when I'm about to jump up, pull on pants and get her a plan B pill, she latches onto me like some sort of cutesy little leech and says 'I did it.' And of course I knew, how could I fucking not--so... I kicked her out. In nothing but her robe. The police came and tried to force me to let her back in, but I hadn't signed her onto the lease yet, so they couldn't. She gathered up her stuff, got dressed, and left. I got hit with divorce papers.... sometime... sometime about a month later. Things get kind of fuzzy after that night since I started drinking. And then I got that letter and this about two months later." He gestured animatedly to the medical document in his hand.

"So... that's what's in the big scary envelope. I meant to get rid of it a long time ago, I just... forgot. And I wanted to tell you, too. But I was so happy, for the first time in a long time. I didn't want to lose you. Now I just made things worse. I should have told you in the very beginning. I know that now. And... if you can't forgive me, I don't blame you. I don't know whether I'd forgive me either."

"Okay." The word, so tiny yet so significant in it's meaning, blew out of me with the weight of the elephant that had been lifted off my chest. "...Okay?" he echoed warily, eyes flitting all over me. He just looked relieved that I was even responding. "Okay," I repeated, rubbing my hand over my forehead.

"For the love of Yoba, Kara. Of all times to go monosyllable this isn't it." "Okay isn't monosyllable." He let out a groan that was half frustration, half pleading, and I favored him with a small smile. "We're okay."

I sat up a little straighter and took a deep breath, trying to wade through the soup in my brain. "I just... need a minute." "Okay."

My eyes flitted over to him, and a sheepish smile hinted at his features. "Sorry." We sat in silence for a while. During that time I took the chance to pick up the letter and read it. It turned my stomach how this "Lindsay" spoke--er--wrote to him.

When I finally finished the letter, I had to force my hand open and let it fall to the ground so I wouldn't rip it into a million pieces instead. This woman was an absolute card. The reason she got an abortion, as she so eloquently put it, was because her new fiance wouldn't raise another man's child. So not only did she destroy a decent chunk of Shane's life... she aborted a fetus only because her new partner said she couldn't have it. I was loathe to know if she had kids with her new man... and how they were treated.

A hand on my knee made my head jerk up. "You look like you're about to vibrate off the cliff." My knee must have been bouncing.

"I wish I would. It would be easier than dealing with all the shit in my head right now." "So don't deal with it alone. Tell me," he pleaded. Shane, begging? That was... new. I didn't like it. It left a really bad taste in my mouth.

"Well, I want to punch this Lindsay chick and can't." A little laugh erupted from Shane before he cleared his throat and muttered, "Sorry. I'm just... all over the place right now." I didn't respond, I just continued. "I'm mad at you for keeping it from me, I'm angry at Marnie for doing it for you. I feel sick to my stomach knowing why you didn't, and there's a small part of me that irrationally believes I was the cause of you not telling me. I'm terrified for whatever children this chick may have had, and..." I shook my head. "I just really, really wish it hadn't interrupted our date, and our special moment."

"I know," he sighed. "But... at the same time, I feel better now that it's all out in the open and you don't hate me because of it." "And I feel better now that I don't have that fucking thing stuck in my back pocket. No wonder sometimes it felt like it was burning me."

"You do know I'm going to kill Marnie, right?" "Mm. Should I maybe bring Jas and Vincent to the farm tomorrow, so that she doesn't hear?" "I don't know. Having her around might keep me from doing something stupid." My eyes flitted over to him. "I should take her," I suggested gently. "Just in case. Besides, I want to get to know her better." "You're probably right."

We didn't speak for a while, but the silence wasn't entirely comfortable, not with the unresolved tension between himself and Marnie swirling around combined with the vile thoughts the letter provoked in both of us.

"...I'm going to go sit by the water," I decided abruptly. "I need... space." "Okay."

And I did exactly that, for a while. I sat just beyond the glowing paradise Shane had created for us and let my hand rest in the water, feeling the current rush through my fingers while I stared up at the moon. It was an absolutely gorgeous night. The moon was a perfect crescent and the sky was devoid of clouds, meaning every single sparkling pinprick of light could be seen. The stars almost seemed to glow brighter the longer I stared and a small, silly part of me wondered if the Junimos were up to something.

That train of thought ended when a new one came into motion. The longer my hand was in the water, the better it felt, and I realized I was uncomfortably warm after having such a heavy conversation. I knew exactly what would make it better, too.

I couldn't help but smile at the thought of how exasperated Emily would be if she found out I'd ruined her hard work on my hair while swimming. I stood up and toed out of my shoes. My little blue-haired friend was just going to have to live with it.

My socks came next, stuffed neatly into my shoes. While the cool grass tickled the sides of my feet I stripped my graphic t-shirt off and let it fall off my fingertips. And then my bra came off. By the time I was pushing my panties down I thought I could hear rustling behind me, but wasn't paying much attention until I stood up and arms slid around my waist.

Shane's hoodie was gone. And he was being very, very cautious. "Is this okay?" he whispered against the underside of my ear. "Yeah," I sighed softly, "This is fine."

It was more than fine, but he didn't need to know that yet. His skin was a lot cooler than mine, something that was blatantly obvious as he splayed one hand on my stomach, and moved the other to hold my hip. "You're hot," he murmured, "Are you sure you're feeling okay?" "I'm alright. Just a little overheated... I was going to take a swim." I swiveled my head to peer back at him. "Care to join me?"

I didn't wait for an answer. I just drew away from his hold and knelt down, sitting on the edge. The grass felt weird under my exposed, sensitive skin. I must have made a face because I heard a chuckle above me. "What, don't like sitting naked on grass?" "Err.... no." Way to lose the sexy atmosphere.

With the atmosphere ruined and my dignity in shreds, I rolled my eyes at myself and braced my hands on the ground, pulling myself up so I wouldn't slide over the grass, and then sunk into the water. When I paused to look down at the moon's reflection in the water I realized I could see Shane's reflection... he was staring at me.

"You're so beautiful," he sighed. "How'd I ever get so lucky?" "I could ask the same thing."

I spun around so I was facing him, and he let his eyes roam over me for a moment before reaching out to gently pull my hair out of it's ponytail. He then adjusted it into my normal part, and draped my long locks over my shoulders. I could feel some of it pooling in the water behind me.

"There's my girl," he whispered. "No updo, no make up, no fancy clothes. Just you." "I mean, I don't have any clothes on, but..." I smiled up at him.

Shane sighed, leaning back on his heels to smile to himself and shake his head. "Yep. You're my girl alright." "Your girl wants a kiss." "My girl can have anything she wants." He shifted forward again, putting his weight on one hand so the other could cup my cheek and tilt my head up. As soon as our lips met I was lost. I pushed up on my toes, one dripping hand coming up to cup his jaw, the other sliding into his hair as our lips meshed together. Our tongues flirted together, playful and wanting, the desire between us becoming almost palpable the longer we stayed locked together.

My lover didn't care that I was getting his hair and his face wet, and I didn't remember that I was wet. It was just us, alone in our own little world together, exploring each other.

I was only brought back to the present by the breeze picking up a little and skating across my exposed nipples. They were already hardening from arousal, but now they were impossibly tiny and rock hard. "Come into the water," I whispered between kisses.

I drew back for a second to peer into his eyes and make sure he understood. He looked... nervous. "Can you... can you turn around?" I must have looked concerned because he added quickly, "I want this. And... I trust you. I just need to have a little time to get used to all of this. I can't..." he laughed a little. "I can't do what you can. I'm not as brave as you."

"You are brave, just in a different way." I brought his hand up to my mouth and kissed it. "I'll turn around. I'll even close my eyes so I can't see you in the reflection of the water." The look on his face made it clear that he hadn't thought of that... and that he was appreciative that I wouldn't use it as an exploit.

Turning around and closing my eyes was one of the hardest things I ever did. When all I wanted to do was look, touch, and taste, not being able to do any of it was extremely hard. But the reminder that this was probably harder for him than it was for me made it a tinch easier to bear.

There was a splash, and the water around me rippled. "Alright," he sighed after a few agonizing seconds. "You can look."

When I turned around, the first thing I spotted was his cringe. I couldn't see his hands but I had no doubt that he was digging his fingernails into his palms. I'm sure my silence was painful to him but I couldn't formulate words in response to how absolutely gorgeous he looked with the moonlight reflecting on his features and tiny droplets of water all over the peaks of his shoulders.

Finally my eyes met his, and my heart melted. He looked so shy standing there staring at me... but a lot less scared. "Well.. I would have scared you off by now if you thought my body was an abomination to mankind," he joked quietly.

"I mean technically I can barely see anything," I joked back as I waded closer, reaching up to cup the 5 o'clock shadow coming in. I pressed our foreheads together, smiling when the tips of our noses brushed. "I love you, Shane. For you. Nothing is going to change my mind about that. Not some stupid ex-wife, or your imagined flaws..." my smile widened into a grin. "I happen to think you're adorable."

"...Didn't you say that to me before?" "Mmhmm." "And weren't we swimming?" "Mmmmhmmmm." "Did I have my shirt off?" "I don't remember whether it was before or after, but yes." I giggled between us as he muttered, "I still can't believe you liked me even back then." "I must be a masochist," I agreed playfully.

For a second I wanted to slap myself. But then he started chuckling quietly and sighed, "I deserved that." We were silent for a few long moments, aware of the electric charge between us. Finally I couldn't take it anymore and whispered, "I want you." "I want you too."

I searched his eyes, but instead of finding whatever imagined thing I was searching for, all I could see was my adoration and love for him reflected in his eyes.

Warmth languidly seeped into my every pore, making me feel positively giddy. I didn't bother hiding my wide smile. "What?" A gentle smile played on his features, no doubt put there by how silly I was acting. "I just.." I shook my head. "I can't believe you're real, and that you're here with me. I don't have the words to describe how much I love you."

"Ditto." Shane kissed me, but there was no way to stop the eruption of laughter from deep within me. I finally had to break away from him, laughing far too hard to be able to continue moving my lips with his.

We were both smiling like dorks when we kissed again, and again. I started giggling on the third kiss. "What?" "I just--" I paused to gulp in some air and try and calm down. "I just can't stop thinking about how much of an ass you just were, and then I yell at myself in my head because I liked it, and that just makes it funnier." "You're such a dork." "I know."

Shane sighed dramatically, dragging me closer to his body. "Will we ever get to make love at this rate?" "Yeah. We'll do it while laughing hysterically if we have to because it's us, and we're weird like that." Shane just smirked at me before reconnecting our lips.

One kiss turned into two. Two turned into three. We started sinking into each other, breathing becoming more elaborate as hands came into play. In the beginning we were too giggly and shy to touch each other. But as I melted into my lover's body and tilted my head to deepen our kiss, there was no room for shyness.

Large hands stroked along my arms, over my shoulders, down my back. Our kisses became more heated, more passionate, and on a whim I caught his lower lip with a gentle nip.

He was done for. One minute he's stroking lovingly over my body and kissing me like I'm his world, the next he's kissing me like he's going to consume me. The breathy moan I let out was absorbed by our lips as they clashed, and the whine I produced when he grabbed my ass was barely in existence before his lips left mine.

I was going to protest. I wanted to. But any protest I would have made got stuck in my throat as soon as he started kissing down my neck. It felt like his touch was setting me ablaze in all the right ways.

"Can I touch you?" "I might punch you if you don't." He laughed against my skin, giving my ass another firm squeeze. And then his hands were grappling with me, holding me to him as he strode over to the river bank to push me up against it. "Ew" I whined when I felt sticky dirt imprint on my back. "What?" "It's all muddy." He rolled his eyes. "Do you want to come or not?"

I just giggled, hooking one leg around him playfully. I knew I was in trouble when he smirked. "I was hoping you'd do that." He ducked his head and latched onto one of my nipples, flicking his tongue against it teasingly as his fingertips traced down my trembling stomach and towards my center.

As soon as a single fingertip traced over my slit I gasped, hips instinctively jerking towards the touch that had immediately vanished. "Shane..." "Shhhhh. I've got you."

With my leg around him it left me wide open, but he only needed his thumb to slowly, gently stroke and rub my clit. He drew back from his position on my chest and tilted his head, eyes flitting over every inch of my face as my lips parted to reveal gasps and soft cries. His gaze felt like molten lava on my skin. I could feel it sweeping down my face to linger on my lips, then down lower, to where my breasts were poking out of the water, all the way to the tip of my hardened nipples. Then back up to my eyes to start the process anew.

All I wanted was for him to slide his fingers in me. But I knew that the water would make it feel unpleasant to say the least. So instead I gripped the steep bank of the river and pushed against the contact point between us, moaning openly when the pressure changed as a result.

The small, awed smile forming on Shane's face had a pink blush fluttering to life underneath my skin. He'd seen me like this multiple times and I knew he had looked awe-stricken before, but this was different. More powerful. All-consuming. He gazed at me like I was the point holding him to this world, like if I disappeared, he would too. It made me ache, made me needy. I needed him. Now.

"Shaaaane." I'd meant to try and grab his attention, but it sounded a lot more like a moan. I gripped at his shoulder to reaffirm my plea and his eyes sharpened on mine imploringly. "I need you." "You already have me." When I growled at him his eyes widened, and I heard a breath escape him. "I need you."

I crushed my lips onto his, dragging myself into his body as I raked my fingers through his hair. Shane's hands landed on my hips, fingernails digging into my skin and in a tantalizingly hot display, ground his hips up into mine.

The instant the head of his cock rubbed up against me I moaned into his mouth and wound my arms around him, pressing tight to his body. My hips rocked in time with his, rubbing up against him as soon as he pressed against me, and it didn't take long before we were both panting into each other's mouths.

"You know," I huffed out against his lips, "I'm really starting to regret getting into the water." "I'm not." "Why? We can't make love in here." "No." He smirked. "Which means I have to slick you back up."

A shudder ran down my spine at the thought of his skilled tongue on me, but that didn't stop me from laughing at how eager he sounded.

I didn't have time to tease him though, because with a sudden, and very impressive feat of strength, he lifted me out of the water and plopped me down onto the bank. He nudged me onto my back, littering kisses down my stomach and around my belly button, over my hip bones, all the way to my bikini line.

There he paused, nibbling across the sensitive skin located there as he peered up at me. On a whim I propped myself up on one elbow and reached down to run my hand over his jaw. A smile formed on his lips, and then he dipped his head and slid his tongue over my clit.

Dark green eyes never left my desperately furrowed brows and bitten lower lip as he slowly slid his tongue inside me and swirled it around. The sight alone was enough to make me breathless, but the feeling had me moaning and pushing into his hands where he held my hips. "Shane, please..." "Patience, Kara. I have my dessert and I'm going to enjoy it."

And enjoy it he did. He teased me with his tongue until I was panting and fisting his hair, and then right as I was starting to get close, he leaned back to grin up at me. "Do you think you're wet enough?" When I just whimpered his grin turned into a smirk. "Well, I guess I better make sure."

As soon as he slid two fingers in me my head dropped back and I let out a desperate moan, hand clenching on my thigh. "Yoba, you're tight," he muttered. "You had me close!" I whined in response. "Can I make you come like this?" He started thrusting his fingers out in and out slowly, but faster when I groaned out, "Yes!"

After so many failed attempts to get started and then being worked so skillfully both in and out of the water, it felt like my body was burning, like I wouldn't survive if I didn't get to come this time.

"I need it, I need it," I started rambling, moving my hips in time with his hand. "I know," he murmured. "You've been so patient for me."

He knew I was dangerously close to toppling over that edge when I moaned his name and my entire body tensed up. My panting was punctuated by broken gasps and whimpers, fingers fisting my hair and clawing at my own skin until he caught the hand on my hip with his own. "You gonna come for me?" The husky tone in his voice rolled through me, threatening to make me go absolutely insane. "Please, please, please, please," I chanted, so desperately close, clenching my fingers around his. And then his thumb pressed against my clit.

My back arched up off the ground as I came, inner walls clenching around his fingers and making him groan. "Yoba, you're so sexy, Kara." I slowly came back down, tingling all over and gasping for air, and released his hand. My heels slipped and my feet plopped back into the water with little splashes.

"Feel better?" "Mmmm." It took me a few seconds, but finally I was able to form coherent thoughts again and propped myself up on my elbow once more to peer down at him. He was staring at me, eyes wide and nervous.

I sat up, trying to ignore the way the wet grass squished under me, and leaned forward to kiss him. "I love you," I whispered against his lips, "All of you. And I want you."

When the man in front of me only blushed and averted his eyes I faltered at first, but then a small smile appeared on my lips and I nuzzled into his neck. "What are you--" Shane was going to ask me a question, but I cut him off by nibbling gently on his earlobe. With his interest peaked I nudged his head aside and started kissing along his neck, unable to hold back my breathy sigh when I inhaled the faint remnants of his cologne.

I swiped my tongue out to catch a water droplet rolling down his skin, and as he groaned I then sucked gently on the area, scraping my teeth across it.

One of Shane's hands gripped my thigh while the other slid up to cup the back of my head, holding me in my semi-awkward position as I lavished attention all over his neck. It didn't matter if my body was doubled over somewhat painfully, not when such sinful sounds were coming from my lover's lips.

When my hand skimmed down over his body I felt his entire figure flinch and recoil a little, but he relaxed as soon as I brushed my fingertips over his shaft. And when I closed my hand around it he planted his forehead on my shoulder with a groan.

In the water I couldn't do as much as I wanted to, not with how squeaky it made our skin, but I could still thumb over his tip and force desperate little noises out of his lips.

"Shane?" "Hmm?" I paused in kissing over his neck so I could run my lips up the shell of his ear and make him shiver. "Get out of the water?"

I ended it in a question, giving him the option to refuse, but he was so relaxed and turned on at that point that he didn't seem to care much about what he looked like anymore. I shuffled back until I had enough space and then stood up, holding my hand out to help him up. I pointedly didn't look at his body as he rose out of the water, though little droplets clinging to his chest hair did catch my eye once or twice.

Once he stood in front of me he turned a little shy, but I distracted him with a few passionate kisses before taking both his hands to lead him back, towards the picnic blanket. My lover had the goofiest, most adorable smile on his face as I walked backwards to lead him.

"What?" I finally asked, when I couldn't take it anymore. "I just can't get over you," he replied simply.

Impulse and need made me tug him forward, bury my hands in his hair and mesh our lips together. I could feel the damp strands between my fingers, a reminder of how handsy I'd been in the water, and fought a smile down.

There was no inhibition anymore. Our hands wandered everywhere. He grabbed my ass, I found one of his nipples and teased it. When he returned the favor I moaned into his mouth and knocked his hand away, pressing up against him so my nipples were flat against him. The noise he let out sounded almost like a growl.

Our kiss turned more desperate, more heady. I grappled for a hand hold and he rolled his hips forward, rubbing up against me. It was when his cock slipped between us and rubbed over my slit that I broke our kiss with a gasp.

At first a look of mild panic formed on his face, like he thought he had done something wrong. But it melted away when I tugged him the rest of the way to the blanket and instructed him to sit down. He quickly complied, either eager to continue or scared to find out what would happen if he didn't. Maybe both.

I started to kneel in between his legs only for him to stop me. "Don't, don't," he uttered quickly, "I'm already on a short fuse." I couldn't stop the little giggle that spilled out. But he didn't frown at me or look offended, he just shot me another goofy smile. It didn't take long for me to realize I had the same look on my face as I came to straddle his thighs.

"You don't want me on top of you?" he questioned, one hand resting on the small of my back. I just shook my head, smiling, and gave him a tender kiss.

The action distracted him from my hand sneaking behind me, so he wasn't expecting it when I caught him in a firm grip. The groan he let out made me giggle. "Are you ready?" I whispered between us. "Yeah. Are you?" "Yeah."

Our smiles turned shy and giddy, but dissolved into raw pleasure when I ran the head of his cock up and down the entire length of my slit. "Fuck, you're so wet," he groaned. His eyes flitted down to where we were connected but quickly retrained on my face, watching as my eyelids drooped and my mouth fell open.

"Kara," he moaned desperately when I didn't do anything but tease. I may have been caught up in pleasure but that didn't keep me from grinning. "Something you want?" "Ye--ahhh FUCK!"

I dropped down and took him all in one fluid movement. He cursed, and I cried out. Far too loudly for a forest. His hands gripped my hips so hard it bordered on painful, meanwhile I shuddered, pressing my forehead against his as we both panted. "A--a--re--" He could barely speak for several moments, only managing out snippets of letters. "Are you okay?" he finally puffed out.

"Yeah," I breathed, trying and failing to hold back a moan. I slid my hands over his cheeks, down his neck and across his shoulders, eyelids fluttering. My attempt to keep eye contact wasn't working, not with how amazingly he filled me up.

"You're so tight," he groaned. He sounded almost like he was in agony, but only the best kind. "Is that a warning that you're not going to last long?" I teased breathlessly. He even managed a little chuckle. "Yeah." "Then I guess I better start moving, huh?" "Mmm, not yet."

Warm hands finally released my hips, followed quickly by his hiss. "Shit, I didn't know I was holding you that hard." I had little crescent moons dug into my skin. "It's okay," I murmured, "It doesn't hurt." I nudged my nose against his. "Kiss me." He didn't hesitate to oblige. With him inside me as soon as our tongues met it felt like we were one. There was no way I could get any closer to him at this point, and it was incredible. I craved more.

The first rise and fall of my hips was a little shaky from lack of practice, but it didn't fail to make both of us moan. The second was more confident, more fluid, and much wetter. By the third my hands were already trembling.

I cupped his cheeks, my hooded grey eyes locked on his green ones as we moved as one. I could see every emotion flit through them. The pleasure, the adoration, the lust, the love, the tender sparkle when I whimpered his name. He thrust up suddenly, seating me completely, and I noticed a smug glint cross his gaze when I cried out.

An urge to taste and touch him bubbled up inside me, each little movement between us making it soar in intensity until it was overwhelming. I found myself with my face buried in his neck, kissing and nibbling on the skin there. It was a slightly awkward position but the breathy moans he let out were worth it.

However I didn't get to let out my frustrations on his skin for long. As soon as a string of moans was muffled against him he pulled me back, panting, "I want to hear you." Well fuck if that didn't go straight through me.

The rhythm between us was the perfect mix of satisfying and romantic, and it made it so hard to keep my eyes open. Especially when he ran his hands up and started teasing my nipples. I gasped when he tweaked my nipple, my hips momentarily losing their rhythm, and he groaned in response. "I love how fucking responsive you are," he muttered. "Well I love you," I replied as playfully as I could between panting.

I wanted to touch him and tease him like he was me. I wanted to make him feel as good as he was making me. Those thoughts inspired an idea, and the next time I was fully seated against him, I clenched my walls around his cock on the slide up.

"Fuck!" Shane tossed his head back, teeth gritted, and I smiled to myself. I teased him, repeating the action again and again until finally he growled, "I'm going to come way too soon if you keep that up." "Maybe I want you to," I panted, circling my hips against him. The grunt he let out made me grin.

"You're going to be the death of me." "But what a way to go." I caught his lips in a kiss, moaning into his mouth when he pinched my nipples and thrust up at the same time.

When my lover suddenly fell back, dragging me down with him, I couldn't help but laugh against his lips. "Getting tired old man?" I breathed, wiggling my hips against him. I could see him fighting a smile as he gazed up at me silently.

Once I had my hands planted on his shoulders I slowed down the pace a little and started rolling my hips more elaborately, smiling when his breath hitched and his cheeks, ears, collarbone, and chest flushed. "You're so beautiful," he mumbled, eyes squeezing shut with a loud groan when I clenched down around him and circled my hips. "How can you tell?" I teased, "You can't even keep your eyes open." "Watch it, Red," he grumbled as he grabbed my hips, meeting the rock of my hips. "I'll make you regret it if you keep it up."

"What would you do?" I purred, trying to focus on talking instead of how close I was. I was almost aching with how close I was and how badly I needed another orgasm.

"Flip you over," he panted out, "Pound into you until you screamed. Make you come all over my cock." I couldn't stop myself from whining in reply, "I want it..." He must have been able to tell how needy I was because he ground out, "You want me? You want me to make you scream?" "Yeah..."

"Yoba, you're so damn tight baby. Are you close? Are you going to come for me?" When he met my thrust I yelped, throwing my head back, fingernails digging into his shoulders.

I was quickly losing the rhythm of our hips. All I was focused on now was chasing my orgasm which was so close, but kept slipping out of my reach. The desperate little whimpers escaping me must have clued him in because suddenly his thumb was rubbing circles on my clit. My entire body jerked, a shriek leaving my lips, and he let out a strained chuckle under me.

My eyes met his when I felt myself nearing my end and the look on his face almost did me in. His eyes were dark with arousal and locked on my face, flitting all over my features like he could read my mind and every thought that passed through it.

For a moment I just wanted to stay frozen in time, locked together like we were. With our hearts and souls bared to one another, and our bodies free of any social confines. And then he said the three words that effortlessly tossed me over the edge and into the abyss.

"I love you."

My arms buckled, sending me careening down to lay over top of Shane. My entire body shook, blood rushed in my ears. I was vaguely aware of my lover moaning my name in my ear but I was so lost in euphoric bliss that I couldn't enjoy it like I wanted to.

We stayed wrapped up in each other as we came down off our highs. Shane rolled us so we both laid on our sides and tucked me into his chest, panting against my neck as our souls slowly unraveled and returned to our own bodies. I left lazy little kisses on his chest as I caught my breath, occasionally murmuring nonsensically about how much I loved him.

I had no idea how long we stayed like that. It felt like hours. But it could have been mere seconds. All I know is eventually our breathing evened out, we were almost dry by that point, and I could feel him shrinking inside of me. I could also feel something else that I hadn't banked on.

"Shane?" "Hm?" "You didn't put the condom on, did you?" For a moment he was dead still. Then he hissed out a low "Fuck."

"No," he sighed, "I didn't. And you didn't put it on me either." "Hmm-mm." I expected myself to feel worried. Scared. Panicked. But... I didn't. I still felt completely at peace. I tilted my head back to peer up at him, only to find him smiling softly. "You know," he mused quietly, "I wouldn't mind a little Shara running around."

At first I was just thrilled he wasn't freaking out. But then what he said sunk in. "Did you... just give us a ship name?" His smile widened a touch. "Maybe."

Raw, unhinged laughter bubbled up inside me and had me pressing kiss after kiss to his lips, giddy beyond belief. "Yoba, I love you," I giggled against his lips. "I love you so much, you damn spork." "As long as I'm your spork that's all that matters," he murmured.

Eventually he slowly, gently pulled out of me, pulling hisses from both of us. But what really made me squirm was the tickle of his come trickling out onto my thigh. I wouldn't say it scared me how little actually came out, but it did plant a small seed of worry in my mind that yeah, most of his sperm was probably deep inside me by now. That worry vanished as soon as he chuckled though.

"What?" He held up the condom wrapper that laid just a few inches from us. "Never thought I'd see the day that I wasn't terrified seeing one of these untouched after sex," he snorted. Something in his eyes made a gentle smile form on my lips. "You are a little worried though."

When he nodded I didn't feel so bad for being worried myself. "I'm not afraid of having kids with you. I just mean... shit. I'm still a mess. I have my first therapy appointment coming up soon, I still need to repair my relationship with Jas... I just don't want to bring a kid into this world that isn't going to get the attention it deserves." "If you really want me to... I could get the plan B pill from Harvey," I whispered reluctantly, eyes flitting between his.

The weirdest look crossed Shane's face. "...What?" "Kara, it's your body. I'm not going to tell you to get a plan B pill if you don't want it." I couldn't hide my smile. "Yes, it is my body, and I technically have final jurisdiction. But we're also partners, and I want to know that if I get pregnant that you are okay with it too. If it's not the time... it's not the time."

I tried to hide my nerves with a shrug and act like I didn't care, but I didn't fool him one bit. "If we're meant to have a baby together now, we will. If we're not, we won't. Besides... a lot can change in 9 months. I could be dad of the year by then."

Laughter broke out between us at the goofy grin on his face. "I never expected you to be the optimistic one." He looked like he wanted to say something deep and meaningful but he just smiled and replied, "I won't lie to you and say I entirely believe it. But... I do think there's hope, now."

"Good." I came forward and gave him a slow, languid kiss, only breaking away when the tickle between my legs became unbearable. "Now let's clean up before your come gives me cooties."

I rolled away from Shane and up onto my feet, laughing as he laid back and rolled his eyes up towards the stars. "She's back," he called to the area around us. "And better than ever!" I added gleefully as I crouched down next to the river.

When my lover joined me he acted a little shy, not quite facing me, and clearly hurrying up getting clean. I couldn't help giggling. "I just rode you until I collapsed, and you're still worried I'm going to think you're ugly?" I teased. "You can also change your mind on a dime," he snorted. "I never know what to expect out of you, Red."

"Awww, c'mon," I giggled, "Have a little faith. Besides, how you view someone's appearance isn't something you change suddenly, and I'm not actually a masochist. If I didn't like you the first time I saw you, you would have known."

"You just want to see how small it is when I'm not hard." Spluttering turned into laughter broken up by outright snorting. "Yoba, Shane." He smiled over at me, and even went so far as to shoot me a wink right when I started calming down. I laughed so hard I fell into the water.

When I surfaced I found him standing there wide eyed, staring at me, but he broke into surprisingly light laughter as soon as he saw me still laughing even as I coughed and choked on the water. I had never seen him so light, carefree, and playful, and it made me feel like I was flying. I absolutely adored seeing him so happy.

Once I finally managed to calm down I hauled my soaking wet ass out of the river and padded back up to the blanket, now shivering terribly. As soon as Shane saw me his expression melted. He pushed everything off the picnic blanket and yanked it up, wrapping it around me even as I protested.

"It's going to get ruined--" "It's water Kara, not bleach. And even if it was bleach I wouldn't care, just so long as you didn't get a cold." "You'll be a fantastic dad," I murmured. "You're already going into protector mode."

He paused almost like he wanted to refute my statement, and then he smiled shyly. "Sorry." "I like it." I shuffled over and snuggled into him, kissing his jawline. "It's adorable."

"Damn it Kara," he muttered, "I'm not adorable." "You are," I insisted. "Now help me dry off. I have trouble reaching all my hair." Shane was heartwarmingly gentle as he helped me dry off, carefully squeezing water out of my hair and into the blanket, which was getting rapidly soaked. I felt like he was paying extra careful attention to me because of the sex, or the possibility of contraception, or maybe both, but I didn't care either way. I just enjoyed it. He was the only person I wouldn't mind taking care of me a little.

After a few minutes I deemed myself dry enough for clothes, and started pulling them on, happy to be out of the chill of the weather. But then I remembered something about this date. "Shane?" "Hm?" "What about the lights?" He glanced around at them with a tired sigh.

"I'll get them tomorrow." "What if it rains tonight?" "Then it rains," he replied firmly. "Because the first thing on my agenda is crawling in a warm bed with you, not wrestling with lights for another hour."

We walked to my house with me leaning into the crook of his arm. Everything was picture perfect and serene... until we opened the front door.

Tilly came streaking out, crying and weaving around our legs, almost tripping us. "Whoa, whoa!" I laughed, "What's your problem?!" I tried to usher her inside by stepping in and calling to her, but she absolutely refused, starting to run all around the porch. I was convinced at that point that she had gone crazy. "Shane--" "Yeah yeah, I got her."

While my lover wrestled with the orange tabby I greeted the bouncing Border Collie and then made my way to the bathroom, starting the painstaking process of drying my hair. I was almost finished by the time Shane staggered in.

"Are you okay?" "Your cat has gone fucking insane. I chased her around almost the entire farm before I managed to catch her. And even now she's pacing by the door." "Is she still crying?" "No," he huffed. "I think she figured out that if she kept it up I was going to make cat stew." I frowned, peeking out the door to find Tilly laying on the mat, eyes wide open, staring at me.

"I wonder what her problem is." "I don't know. But next time, you're catching her. I'm too old for that shit." I giggled softly, nudging my hip against his. "You'd do it for your little toddler." He snorted. "The toddler is never leaving the house. I'll duct tape them to the wall if I have to."

I smirked at him. "You're just afraid a toddler could outrun you." "I know they could outrun me. That's why I'm not going to let it happen." "Would you want a boy or a girl?"

He shrugged in the midst of brushing his hair. "Dunno. Having a boy could be kinda cool, we could watch gridball games together. But I also want a girl who looks just like you." "You're so cheesy." "Pepper popper cheesy?" He asked curiously, and I snorted. "Even cheesier than that." "Good. I want to be one of those cheesy old papas." "Ugh. Nevermind, I don't love you anymore. Get out." He snickered at the disapproving look on my face.

"What, you don't want me to be the cool dad? The one with the dad jokes?" "Dads who use dad jokes aren't cool," I groaned as I put toothpaste on my toothbrush. "Sure they are. Especially the ones that eat their grains." My eyes narrowed as they flitted up to look at him in the mirror. "They're corny."

I happened to occasionally like dad jokes. But that was the most pathetic one I'd ever heard. "If you make another crack you're sleeping outside," I muttered around my toothbrush. Shane grinned at me. "Make me." When I raised a brow his grin fell quickly. "I have a bad back."

My eyes wandered back down to the sink as I brushed my teeth. Until he added quietly, "Because Jas stepped on a crack." "GET OUT." His snickering turned into full on laughter when I started pushing on him. "C'mon, Kara, it's funny!" "It doesn't even make sense! The saying is if you step on a crack you'll break your mother's back, and Jas isn't even your biological kid!" "But that's the point! Since she's my goddaughter it breaks my back."

I rolled my eyes at him as I spit out my toothpaste. "Please don't make me hate you." My only response was him pressing a tender kiss to my cheek, signalling the end of his reign of terror. Hallelujah.

By the time we were done getting ready for bed Tilly was still laying by the door. I tried to convince her to come in and sleep with us, even going so far as to pick her up and put her on the bed myself, but every time she just jumped back down and ran over to paw at the door. Finally I couldn't play the game anymore and just gave up.

"I'm worried about her," I murmured to Shane in the darkness. "I've never seen her so anxious to get outside." "She's probably just a little stir crazy since she didn't get as much outside time today. Don't worry so much." "No, this is... different. She acts like it's serious. If I wasn't so tired..." as if to accentuate my point my sentence was broken in half with a yawn, "I'd indulge her."

Shane wrapped his arm around me and drew me close. "You worry too much, Kara. Get some sleep. You should be exhausted." "My ribs feel fine though," I muttered. "I'm thinking about stopping taking my painkillers. I feel great."

There was a pause, and then he leaned back to peer down at me. I could just barely see the glint of his eyes locked on me in the moonlight. "Without asking Doc Harvey?" I shrugged. "If I don't need them, why take them?" "...I guess."

I snuggled into his arms. "Now you're the one worrying too much." He grumbled above me, making me giggle softly. "Good night Red." "Night. I love you." I could barely hear the responding whisper against my hair, but the words were spoken so tenderly there was no denying what he said. I fell asleep with a smile lingering on my lips.

Chapter Text

Hey guys! It's been a while, hasn't it? Back in October of this year I started getting back into another story that at one time I had almost completely abandoned, and that's going well so far. The story is called Traders Of The Heart, it's a Sebastian/Farmer fic, and you can check it out on my Dashboard if you're interested. Progress is slow but fairly steady.

But beyond that, I wanted to get back into my love child; this story. It's always been my favorite, and has always been such a pleasure to write. I just... didn't quite know how. How does one just jump back into a story that's already so far along? Especially when re-reading can only go so far. There's technically a new chapter in progress, but I don't have a lot of interest in it, so it's kind of taken the back burner. I'm playing with the idea of another one-shot, but I'm thinking it might just turn into another chapter. So, back to the drawing board for creativity, right? Well... not quite.

In Traders Of The Heart, as some of you may know, I'm revamping the entire story. I'm re-writing almost every inch of it, and it's coming out a lot better off seeing as my writing skills have improved since I first started... and they've improved a lot since I've started this story, too. I can't even stand going back and re-reading my first chapters here; they suck. I know they suck. So, taking a page out of my own book, I decided to give the beginning of the story a face lift, too. Now, since the plot line is so long at this point and I like where we're at, I'm not going to be doing any drastic changes. But I am already more than halfway through re-doing the first chapter, and it already looks so much better. So for all those of you who are old-time readers, and even those of you that are new, I invite you to come back and re-read the chapters to see them in a new light, with a lot better prose!

I'll be keeping a little list here of all of those that I've already done or ones I plan to do. Right now I'm not sure how many I'll be revamping, but you can be sure that once I decide it, it'll be right down here. So to start off....

Chapter One - 100% Done

Chapter Two - 35% Done

Anyways, I wanna thank all of you for being so supportive, for those that are old and new readers. Y'all are the best, and hopefully I can get back into continuing new chapters soon!