Author's note - A cute, wintery and, of course, fluffy oneshot featuring one of my favourite pairings, Ann x Jack. Enjoy!
So it's finally Winter. Lovely, pretty, fun, cuddle up by the fire, Winter. Not.
Well, not for me, anyway. For everyone else it's all snowball fights and lazy afternoons lounging by the fireside, but as always here at Dad's Inn, it's the total opposite. Just work, work, work.
And Winter's definitely the busiest time of year. People never seem to have anything better to do than come here and bother me with order after stupid order.
But do I complain? No, because it's my Dad's life and I'm all he's got and...well, despite my moaning, I do quite like the busy atmosphere.
So I find myself serving bowls of steaming soup, hot meals and even herbal teas when someone (usually Manna) requests it, for Goddess sake! What exactly's wrong with going to the Beach on a Winter's evening, huh? It's not that cold. I'd go - if I could.
Anyway, today was just as hectic as ever, of course. I was weaving in and out of tables at a surely record time, while Dad yelled orders, Manna talked at me non-stop and Duke simply laughed at me, over his glass of wine. Luckily, though, I managed to stay as professional as possible. I kept up with what Dad was saying, nodded along with Manna's rambling's and just managed to stop myself from whacking Duke around the head when he 'jokingly' called me Annie. Which, if you couldn't already guess, is a nickname I despise.
"Ann! Can you take Gotz over his beer?" came Dad's voice cutting straight through Manna's monologue wonderfully. I spun to face him almost whipping her in face with my braid. Accidently, of course.
"Oh, do watch it, dear," she chuckled lightly. "You know, I think I remember - " And with that I waltzed to the counter without another a word. She probably didn't even notice I was gone, come to think of it.
Feeling a bit like procrastinating just to wind Dad up, I leant lazily against the counter and yawned. Dad stared back at me and I swear his moustache twitched. "Ann! Beer, now!" he barked.
"Sure, sure," I mumbled, once again yawning hugely.
It was at that point that I made my sharp exit to Gotz's table, beer in hand. He didn't seem to mind me taking so long, in fact he looked quite amused. After that order, I thought I might be able to relax as it had quitened down, but no such luck. Within seconds, Dad had me sweeping up at the front even though I'd already done it just this morning.
I turned it into to bit of game actually. A sweeping game, to be precise. Basically: you sweep right, left, forward and then spin. The whole point is to see just how fast you can go and still manage to get the cleaning done.
It was quite fun actually, even though I probably looked like a total idiot. Still, I've worked here for years now, so everyone's used to it. Used to me, more to the point, trying to make the best of working hours on end here.
As a spectacular finale, I gave one last energetic twirl, but was distracted by a sudden burst of laughter from...somewhere. I couldn't quite tell where it had come from, so foolishly attemped to look around while spinning. Not a good I idea, I soon realised, as my butt came crashing into painful contact with the hard, wooden floor. Owww!
Glancing up, my face beetroot, I found myself staring into a pair of conker brown eyes. Jack's. And to be fair the young farmer did look distinctly sheepish.
"Sorry," he mumbled, giving me an apologetic little smile and offering a gloved hand to help me up.
Awkwardly, I took it and got to my feet whilst shaking my head and tutting at him. "So you should be," I scolded playfully, as I wasn't that hurt. No, my main concern was my pride, or what little remained of it.
Soon, I'd managed to convince him I was fine and stopped him laughing at my dancing long enough for me to resume my usual waitress personna. I like Jack, I decided absently as I took his order. He's fun and although he hasn't been here too long he seems to have fitted in quite well. Although, to be honest, he didn't look like he was having much of laugh today. His hair - at least what I could see of it from underneath his cap - was sprinkled liberally with snow and he looked more tired than I'd ever seen him...
"Ann!" Dad shouted, making me leap up. "Jack's order, please."
I turned back to Jack, blushing again. His eyes met mine quizzically and it was clear that he'd been trying to get my attention for some time.
"Sorry," I apologised quickly, shaking my head and poising my pen.
"Just a glass of water and a salad, please," he grinned, also shaking his head. I could tell he was just having a laugh, but I was too preoccupied to respond.
As I wandered up to the counter, I thought about his order. Water and salad...? Not that there was anything wrong with it, but after a hard day's work it's not very substantial, is it? And come to think of it, Jack used to eat here most nights and this must be the first time I've seen him in ages. Hmm, I wondered, perhaps the Winter hasn't been too enjoyable for Jack, either.
"Ann!" It was Dad again. Honestly, he may as well just tape record himself saying that and play it over and over again, whenever he feels like it. Admittedly, though, he merely sounded exasperated, not angry, this time.
"What?" I sighed, propping my elbows on the bar and preparing for yet another lecture; Dad's become rather fond of them lately.
But today his tone was more amused than anything else. "Now I know it's difficult, sometimes, not to get distracted," he droned, as I nodded along, barely listening. "Especially when it's your boyfriend - "
Yeah yeah, I thought, if you say so...Wait - What!? The nodding stopped abruptly. I stared - then took a deep breath. "BOYFRIEND!?" came the explosion that effectively silenced the entire room. I couldn't believe he'd even suggested it. Wrenching Jack's order off the counter, I gave my father a final furious glare before marching off.
"Here you go," I smiled briefly, placing the food in front of Jack. I hoped I'd managed to act composed, but somehow doubted it. Besides, he'd heard the whole 'boyfriend' incident (who didn't?) so, well, he was bound to have associated himself with it. After all, who else could we have been talking about? I gave a quick scan of the room and grimaced. Gotz? Duke? No, didn't think so.
Luckily, though, he didn't mention it, even if he did suspect something. And as the Bar had emptied considerably, Dad finally stopped nagging me and I was allowed a break at last. I decided to sit at Jack's table.
And so we talked. Or at least I did. About work, about Dad nagging me all the time, about annoying customers (Manna), about...everything really. I'm not sure how long we were there, but by the time I reached my annoyance over Winter, it was closing time and he was getting to his feet.
"Yeah, I'm...not so keen on this time of year either," he answered, distractedly. I nibbled my bottom lip, whilst wondering whether or not to ask why, but as soon as I opened my mouth I realised it was too late. He was at the door.
Groaning, I allowed my head to crash down onto the table in front of me. I can be such an insensitive prat sometimes. Urgh...there was me going on and on about my problems, when Jack's clearly had a rough time of it himself this season. Nothing grows in the Winter as far as I know, so he's probably feeling really poor and then he's got to go back to his lonely farm night after night, all by himself.
Not like me, I realised, clarity suddenly hitting. I've got everything here: people around all day, friends, family, and in comparison Jack's got nothing. Just an empty farmhouse and a pile of work that brings no reward.
All of sudden, for a reason not even I could quite understand, I was getting up. And running. To the door. On an icy, bitterly cold Winter's night. Mad, completely mad, I know, but I kept going, as though I had a purpose. Maybe I did, but maybe my thoughts just couldn't keep in time with my body.
Delicate flakes of snow hit me in a whirl, as I rushed into the street, skidding on ice in the process. I straightened up and after a quick glance down the road, I yelled out before I could convince myself otherwise.
"Jack!" The voice sounded strange, almost detatched, as though it hadn't come from me. I suddenly wished it truly hadn't. But, of course, it was me, and at the end of the road a tall figure turned.
He started to wander back, no doubt curious, but all I could concentrate on was my heart thudding away in my chest. It was so, so loud. Surely he'd hear...
As Jack drew up in front of me, I could only stare back at him. I felt like I was in a crazy dream and none of this was actually happening. No, his dark, questioning eyes weren't real. Neither were his freckles or eyelashes that I could definitely count from this close proximity.
Then, I registered his frown and realised. I'd called him here and then just stood about wordlessly. He had no idea what I wanted...and neither did I, really.
"Ann?" he said quietly, a small smile curving his lips.
"I - er - just wanted - " I managed to stammer, shocked to find myself speechless.
"This?" he whispered in return. I wouldn't have been able to hear him, actually, if it weren't for how incredibly close we were standing now. And that, naturally, was the only reason for the closeness and -
Oh! Except now our lips were touching. And suddenly I rather liked it.
And suddenly...suddenly Winter just wasn't all that bleak anymore.