Author's note- Yay, my second oneshot! This one's a lot different to other things I've wrote; it's sadder and I usually write fluff. Anyway, this is mainly Claire x Rick a favourite, but underappreciated, pairing of mine. I hope everyone enjoys it! And if you get the time please review, as feedback is very much appreciated.
Out of His League
Winter mornings were always particularly peaceful in Mineral Town. It was usually the guaranteed combination of thick ice and snow that did it, as no one really wanted to move an inch out of bed on days like that.
Poultry Farm in the South was mostly peaceful one morning mid-way through the season. Not entirely, though - because while Lillia and Popuri slept soundly, Rick was far more restless.
The lanky blond eventually decided that any attempt at sleep was futile, so intsead he trudged downstairs and out into the darkened yard.
It was snowing; light flurries that fell around him in enchanting swirls. Being more practical minded than romantic, Rick was pretty much unmoved by the scene. After all, the chickens were his top priority and there was no way they could be let out in this. To him snow seemed like more of an inconvenience than anything else.
He let himself into the coop to be met by the usual chorus of excited squawking. Newcomers would have recoiled at the harsh smell of soiled straw and bird droppings, but Rick was used to it. Likewise, the hens were used to his arrival and knew exactly what was coming next - food, and plenty of it.
As he bustled about, fetching fodder and collecting eggs, Rick was struggling to keep his mind on the job. He'd never been more distracted in his entire life and it was all down to just one girl.
His family had been so surprised by their sudden romance as they'd all asumed Rick would marry his childhood sweetheart, Karen. But no, things had taken a completely different route. A route no-one, not even Rick himself, could have predicted.
It all started early in the Spring, when young farmer Claire Tyler arrived in Mineral Town. Well. She wasn't really much of a farmer to begin with. In fact, when Rick first clapped eyes on her, he'd never seen anyone less suited to life on a farm.
She first entered Poultry Farm all bunched up in overalls far too big for her slender frame. Her hair was long and blonde, yet already beginning to straggle after only a week or so of farm life. She was sweet enough though and had a much stronger personality than you'd think to look at her. She wasn't about to crumble at the first sight of dirt as Rick had originally assumed.
At first, his interest in Claire wasn't at all romantic. He had Karen - well, sort of - and things were going okay between them. Admittedly, Karen was nowhere near as enthusiastic about the relationship as he was, but nevertheless they still had fun together.
Claire on the other hand was simply a friend. She bought her very first chicken on that visit to Poultry Farm and proudly named her Penny. For about a week after Claire's first appearance, Rick didn't see her again, let alone talk to her. To be honest, he barely even thought about her.
One afternoon though, she came running through the front door, in a state because Penny had fallen ill. At that point, Rick's only concern was the chicken, so he followed Claire all the way down to River View Farm to help her out.
The problem seemed to be easily solved: all he had to do was give the bird some animal medicine and it was perfectly fine again. Claire, however, had never seen such and thing and thought Rick was wonderful, that he was the only one who could do it. That was when the friendship really began.
Rick helped Claire with anything chicken related at River View and even things that weren't. For instance, he knew nothing about cows, but when she purchased one from Yodel Farm he got stuck in with helping. He taught her everything he could and yet it never felt like work at all. It always felt fun...right even.
Soon, Spring started to fade into a hot, dry Summer and before he knew it, Rick's time with Karen was starting to dwindle. With hindsight it may not have been the best decision, but at the time he never considered the consequenses. All he knew was that Claire had a genuine interest in him, whereas Karen had always taken him for granted - he'd just never realised it. Now though, it was like he'd taken a step back and seen everything for what it really was.
Before long, Karen made her feelings for Claire very clear. She and Rick were sitting outside the Supermarket, just like every other morning, when the blonde farmer happened to pass by on her way to the Clinic. She made a casual comment about how helpful Rick had been with the harvest yesterday and then went on her way. And that's how it all kicked off.
Even now, Rick was almost certain Claire hadn't intentionly been inflammatory - how was she to know he'd dodged meeting Karen to help her ? - but the effect was just as devastating. Karen was angry, very angry and, as she believed, rightly so. Looking back, Rick would have to agree with her, but at the time he was equally furious. He couldn't understand why she even felt the right be annoyed with him. She had never been that interested in him and here she was trying to stop him having fun with a girl who was. More to the point a girl who had no romantic interest in him. Or so he thought.
After that awkward morning, Rick's relationship with Karen pretty much crumbled. She'd stormed into the Supermarket before he saw the inevitable tears and he'd ran off pretending that he hadn't noticed. Of course, having known Karen his entire life he couldn't help but notice how upset she was and it was that more than anything else that made him feel truly guilty.
He spent the rest of that day storming around Mother's Hill trying to clear his head and basically - even though he knew it was pathetic - wallowing in self pity. When he did at last get home later that evening, he decided to cut through Claire's farm.
Rick wasn't expecting anything out of the ordinary to happen that day, but in the oddest of circumstances, something did. Just as he was passing by the old apple tree, drinking in the remaining warmth of a dying Summer's day, he heard a door slam behind him, followed by someone calling out his name.
"Rick! Oh Rick, thank Goddess!"
He turned almost instinctively and saw Claire stood just outside the coop, holding a small blanket covered bundle in her trembling hands. Rick rushed over and noticed as he did so that her usually bright blue eyes were sparkling a little too brightly and were also rimmed with red.
The strangest thing, though, was that even though she was stood there looking more beautiful inspite of everything, it just didn't click. Even now his feelings for were unaffected; he was that oblivious.
Claire told him in a broken, defeated tone about how she'd gone into the coop only to find Penny, her very first chicken, dead.
Then, Rick - and Holy Goddess he wished he hadn't - started babbling on without really thinking. About how these things just happen. About how no one could have known. About how there was a section for animal graves in the church yard...To be honest, he had no idea what he was going on about, but then neither could he stop himself.
He suspected it had something to do with the queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. The feeling which had been roused by Claire's determined expression as she listened and got steadily worse as her eyes blazed and she insisted that her very first chicken should be buried, not in some forgotten corner of a church yard, but under the old apple tree.
So that's just what they did. And thinking back to that night, Rick was very grateful for the silence as they set about digging the grave. He could see how disappointed Claire was with herself, as he stole glances at her while they worked. Part of him wanted to console her and yet what could he have said? There was no point in sugarcoating everything, when this was just what farm life was like at times. Put simply, it was harsh and, even though he would have liked nothing better than to hug her instead, Rick knew Claire had to get used to it.
By the time they were finished, darkness had completely enveloped River View. Despite the sunshine earlier, clouds had appeared obscurring any chance of natural light. The nearest street lamp was well beyond the narrow path into town, leaving Claire and Rick unable to see even a foot in front of their faces.
For long time the silence carried on, with Rick wishing more and more that it would end. He felt awkward enough as it was, just standing there in the dark not knowing what to do. He never knew quite what to do in situations like this.
Just as he was about to speak though, Claire starting talking very fast. He didn't actually remember what she said, just that the word 'sorry' came up many times. He supposed she was trying to apologise for keeping him there so late. For a minute, he suddenly realised how long he'd been away from home and was about to leave, but she grabbed him around the wrist as he moved.
They both just stared at her hand clasped there; Rick's heart hammering away inexplicably and Claire looking so shocked by what she'd done. Like him she clearly had no idea why she'd done it, and he could now almost hear the buzz of her thoughts.
That was when it happened, the moment Rick doubted he'd ever forget - his first kiss with Claire Tyler. He couldn't remember the exact events leading up to it, only that one minute he was standing there feeling foolish and the next her lips were on his.
It didn't last long and was honestly a little clumsy; their teeth bumped together and Rick's glasses got pushed right up until they dug into his skin...But still. She was Claire, she was gorgeous and she was kissing him. Him! A plain, boring, bespectacled chicken-boy who just then felt as though he didn't deserve even an ounce of her attention.
But she gave it, and not just then either. There were many more moments to follow throughout that Summer. They would meet up most days when neither of them were too busy...on top of Mother's Hill, by the woods, by the lake...to Rick it didn't really matter.
The only problem was that Summer seemed to fade away much earlier that year. The trees started to change from a lush green before the Fireworks festival had been held, and that was only the 24th. Rick didn't so much mind the unusual iciness of the beach that night as it meant Claire huddling against him for warmth, but it was spending evenings or lunchtimes at the Inn that really got to him.
It was the looks he got from the other guys in Mineral Town. Gray, Cliff and Kai. They weren't angry or unpleasant or even jealous. Just...confused. Confused as to why someone like Claire would be wasting her time with someone like him. It made Rick almost nervous.
Perhaps he was just being paranoid, but he definitely remembered watching her as they munched chocolate or sipped grape juice or whatever it was they were eating that day. She always looked so amazing and seemed so strong, and he could never help but wonder what she saw in him.
Rick knew, without a doubt, that he wasn't the best looking guy around. In fact, some days he looked downright dorky! So what was it? The fact that he cared deeply for his family? That he was a hard worker? That he loved chickens even?!
Honestly, he had no idea. What he did know, however, was that she did like him and that the only thing to do was to make the most of it, to live in the moment. And he did try, he really did, but the voice in the back of his head continued to pursue him, telling him over and over again that she was out of his league...out of his league...
He was so sick of being told that.
The Fall did arrive eventually and when it did Rick was all too grateful. The weather was so crisp and clear, that despite the chilly air and biting wind he and Claire just had to go out in it. After that, many wonderful days were spent ploughing wildly through huge piles of leaves, giggling like children and clutching numb, gloved hands as they did so. Most days they raced all the way up to the lake on Mother's Hill, just to watch the steely, grey water lap against the frozen bank. Just looking at it always made them shiver and provided the perfect excuse to run all the way back to Poultry Farm, jam themselves into the armchair by the fire and - best of all - struggle to kiss and drink hot chocolate at the same time.
Thinking back to what had to be one of the best periods of his life, Rick could barely believe that it had all happened less than a season ago. Just a few short weeks in fact! All through that one magical Fall he'd never even considered the idea that the relationship wouldn't last. He was so sure he'd fallen in love with Claire that he was already fantasising about their wedding, their children, their future...He knew it was crazy, of course he did, but still he couldn't stop dreaming. In all his time with Karen, he'd never felt quite as excited as this. Being with Claire just gave him a brilliant sense of hope. He now knew that dorky, chicken-boys weren't always destined for a life of disappointment.
Problem was, this particular chicken-boy was about to be crushed. He just didn't quite know it yet.
Soon, that beautiful Fall was dying away and so, unfortunately, was Rick and Claire's relationship. However, having convinced himself that they were on the road to marriage, Rick remained completely oblivious. He was so caught up in the wonder of his sudden romance that he barely noticed Claire's sad, regretful little looks when they met up. Or the way he would always have to instigate the kisses that slowly became fewer and fewer. Most of all he never noticed - or perhaps chose to block out - the amount tools she kept needing fixed at the Blacksmith's...
And now here he was, stood alone in the chicken coop on an icy Winter's morning, facing up to a Starry Night Festival without Claire. As far as he was concerned their relationship had officially ended yesterday afternoon, even though it had started to crumble long before that. He hadn't seen Claire in a few days, but nevertheless he gave a half-hearted attempt at asking her to his for tea on the 24th. And to be honest, the reply he was given was just the reply he expected.
She sounded sorry though, she truly did, but told him that sadly she'd already accepted an invitation - maybe...maybe next time though? At that, Rick tried his best and even managed to give a polite nod, despite the fact he knew the next time would never come. All he could do was listen as she explained how sorry she was and how she wished she'd never mistaken her friendship for him with something entirely different. Then, she touched his arm in a sympathetic manner and gave him a sad little smile before carrying on along the snow covered path.
It was the sympathy that Rick found the worst. That 'look' she gave him just screamed of pity and he hated that more than anything else. The one thing he just couldn't hate however was Claire herself. The thought of anyone - even him - hating Claire seemed so odd that he just couldn't do it. He knew it wasn't exactly a healthy way to move on, but, if anything, he still loved her...
Without warning, his mother's soft, but frail voice drifted into the coop, calling him in for breakfast, and Rick snapped back to life. He rushed into the yard ready to hurry his ill mother back into the warmth of the house, and once he'd returned to his family everything seemed normal again.
There was plenty to do that day, so Rick threw himself into his work. He hoped it would take his mind off Claire, but truthfully nothing really did. To his mother and sister he might have seemed fine, but in reality he felt as though he was just going through the motions, living someone else's life.
Once the night had fallen, Rick slipped out of Poutry Farm and then just started walking. He had no idea where he was heading exactly, only that he needed some space to clear his head and think things through. As he wound his way around the frozen streets, the fact that it was the Starry Night Festival came crashing back to him. He wondered sadly if Claire was having a good time with her mystery date tonight. Actually, he was pretty much certain of who it was, but didn't want to think about it.
Instead he carried on walking, this time towards Rose Square. As he did so, his thoughts turned unexpectedly to Karen. She wasn't in town at the moment, as apparently she'd gone to a family event in the city with her parents. Rick didn't know when she'd be back, but then again it didn't really matter; they hardly ever saw each other now. And even though he could scarcely contemplate a relationship with her now, Rick still hoped that one day their friendship could be renewed. Deep down, he knew he didn't deserve it, but that still didn't keep him from hoping.
Stopping dead in the centre of the Square, Rick decided to head onto the beach which he thought would certainly be deserted.
But it wasn't. Another figure was stood by the shore, illuminated in the silvery moonlight. Slowly, they turned and Rick felt a stab of pain shoot through his heart. Another pair of glasses flashed back at him through the darkness and beneath that a pair of eyes told of a sadness he could imagine all too well. They may have been grey, not blue, but the heartache was still identical.