A/N: Dedicated to Ultra Drama Queen! I was a bit stumped at first by your wish list, but you had some interesting pairings on there that I'd never even considered before… so now I'm a huge fan of Kai x Ann. Thanks for converting me. XD
Have a super duper merry sexy awesome Christmas. Though this note, the rating, and the title may be misleading, this is free of violence and swearing and bad contaminated things. So whoever you are, and especially UDQ, my Secret Santa-izzle, I hope you enjoy it.
Merry Christmas! :D
Disclaimer: Song lyrics are from 30 Days by NeverShoutNever!, not my head.
Ho, Ho, Where the Hell Are You?
Fate was a funny thing. It followed you down alleys and over continents, through thick and through thin, good times and the bad, beginning and end. It couldn't be avoided, couldn't be forgotten, couldn't be disposed of.
Ann wasn't a big fan of fate. She didn't like being tied down, having a second shadow that would inevitably determine her future. She was a free spirit, an unrestrained girl with her own boundaries and own limits…and wardrobe.
So she didn't understand why she felt like she was being rooted into the centre of the world that Christmas Eve; she couldn't explain why her independent little heart felt like it was throbbing emptily in her chest as she dismally washed the dishes in the Mineral Inn kitchen.
"Alright, well, it was great meeting you."
"You too. See you around?"
"Hopefully… because I like what I'm seeing."
"…Hah. Very funny. Shut up."
She'd never really been much of a stereotypical girl -- not girly and squeamish and oh-my-god-my-nail-like. She was down-to-earth, blunt, and…usually in control of her emotions.
"So, where are you from?"
"Everywhere, really. I move around so much that I can hardly trace my own roots anymore… But I presume you live in this incredible little town?"
"Yeah, ever since I was born. You travel?"
"Yeah. Usually I crash at three towns a year, at least -- sometimes if I like the place enough, I visit more than once. …Ann?"
"…Do you like it here?"
"I love it here."
She scrubbed tentatively at the glass plate with her soapy wet sponge; trying to brush away the face in mind, ignore the sluggish skip in her chest, and clean dishes all at once were difficult tasks to complete in unison. She jumped when she felt slimy water slosh onto her overalls and feet, and jumped again when the kitchen door opened behind her.
"Ann, what's the hold up? Table three still needs its order of salad!" her father, Doug, prompted her as he thumped into the room.
Ann moved closer to the sink to block the spill down the front of her clothes; she noticed, as she looked over at him, that he was exhausted. His eyelashes were fluttering above a squint, collar dishevelled, his hair in a messy disarray. He caught her gaze and the vague wrinkles around his eyes crinkled as he smiled lethargically.
"You alright, kid? You look as tired as…well, as tired as I do."
Ann laughed. "That must be pretty bad then," she joked lightly, grabbing a towel and discreetly wiping up the spill.
Doug didn't notice. He made his away across the kitchen to grab the broom leaning against the wall; it was worn and slightly bent. "Yeah, well, with Christmas being tomorrow and all, things have been pretty busy," he rambled. "May be a small town, but everyone's still all hyped up…festivals as important as this don't occur very often."
Ann half-listened as he spoke, making an "Mhmn" noise at every instantaneous pause.
"Oh, by the way, you don't happen to have any plans for tomorrow, do you?" Doug asked casually, sweeping the broom lightly across the floorboards. "Some folks are planning to have their Christmas dinner here."
Ann's weariness was sliced like a soft little cucumber as she looked over at him in unmasked shock and dismay. "People are coming here for dinner?" she interrupted his digressive blather in disbelief.
He looked cautious; exposed and vulnerable. It lessened Ann's annoyance, but only slightly. "…If you don't mind, of course." All means of authority had been liberated from her father's form.
"Well…" She couldn't just leave him working all by himself, she tried to reason. But it's Christmas! a voice in her head screamed. Why couldn't people just stay home and make their own food, anyway? Her shoulders sagged a bit visibly as she was forced into one conclusion: "Sure. Fine. Whatever."
"Thanks, hun. You're a real lifesaver, you know that?" He patted her shoulder, either pretending to be oblivious to her clear discomfort, or just that tired, as he sauntered out the kitchen door.
Ann turned the tap off, the dishes half done. She knew she was being immature, that Christmas was just a day and nothing more. But when she was little, and her mom was still around, they used to have their own little traditions… They used to put a big, festive Christmas tree in the main floor of the inn, and then a private, more personalized one in the kitchen. They never put their presents under it because one time Doug accidentally swept one up and mistaken it for garbage -- so in the morning, they would all get together and exchange gifts by hand. Then they would have their own family dinner in the kitchen, playing a music box of Christmas carols over and over again as they enjoyed each other's company.
Ann looked begrudgingly at the music box on the corner of the counter that hadn't moved for years; she wondered if it still even worked anymore.
"Hey, Kai…I hope you don't mind me asking, but you've never told me about your family before. I mean, I'm just curious, and you don't have to tell me if you don't want to, but…"
"Naw…it's not a touchy subject. I live in a normal family. Mother and father, only child, some cousins and aunts and stuff. A bit too simple for my liking, but there's worse."
"It's the same with me. I don't have many other relatives, though -- my dad is really my only…actual family."
"And your mom?"
"…Oh, I'm sorry, did she -- I didn't mean -- Ann, ignore…"
"She died when I was little."
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have mentioned -- I wasn't thinking and -- you know what, I'm going to shut up now."
"It's okay. It used to be so hard to talk about it, but now, well, with you, it feels like I can…share my… With other people it isn't… u-um, never mind. So you never told me about that one time you…"
She dried her hands methodically on a towel and proceeded to make a panoply of vegetables over the cutting board. Starting with the lettuce, she began to slice at them with a long silver knife, her eyes indistinctly staring straight ahead.
Step by step: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers. Sometimes in life you just had to let things come as they went, let them leave when they should.
She displayed the salad neatly on a plate -- sometimes it was best to just stop thinking.
"You say you travel a lot…then how do you celebrate holidays? Like Christmas?"
"Well, you don't need to be in a cold, wintry place to celebrate, you know. I can't count the times I've celebrated Christmas on a beach!"
"But you do celebrate it, right?"
"Yeah… Ann, what's up?"
"You'll visit me on Christmas, right? You weren't kidding when you said you would…right?"
"Why are you laughing!?"
"Is that what you were looking so bummed for all day? Of course I'll visit you, Ann. Christmas doesn't mean anything if I don't have someone to smile about."
"…So you'll be able to take the cold, huh?"
"If you can take the heat, you can take the cold, babe."
"Salad for table three." Instead of waltzing back into the kitchen, Ann made her way over to the counter and leaned against it. She didn't care how many people were about to randomly burst in: she was having a freaking break.
The telephone to her immediate side was sending telepathic messages to her. I'm going to ring soon, it seemed to say. And guess who I'm gonna beee…
"Shut up," she muttered to it, and jumped when a high-pitched ring cut through the room. Her eyes widened. Woah.
Ring, ring. Ring, ring. "Ann? Could you get that?" her father asked her feebly from one of the tables, where he was dealing with a foreign couple that didn't appear like they felt like ringing in the Christmas spirit with eternal kindness and amenability.
She nodded, and looked back at the phone as it rang twice more. Could it actually be…
"Right, sorry!" Her hand grabbed the phone, in such a jelly-like manner she thought it would slip out. Numbly, she held it to her ear. "H-hello?"
"Ann?" A male's voice, through static.
Her heart was pounding in her chest, like someone had just gotten a hammer and…really wanted bread and was stuck in a room with a…bunch of dough or something. Screw metaphors. Her brain seemed to be malfunctioning. "Y-yeah…?"
"Uh, one second…" BZZZT.
"Um, uh, alright. OK."
She wanted to hit her head against the counter. She didn't falter; she never faltered. She was outgoing, outspoken, confident… But at this rate she was making Mary look like a motivational speaker/lifeguard/evil villain/Master of Ceremonies/barmaid/stripper…
"Hello?" the voice was clearer now, more pronounced.
It made Ann's chest pinch embarrassingly. "Oh, hey," she drew out, her head light. What do I say? How are you? What's up? Did you miss me? What if he says that to me? CRAP, CRAP, CRAP…
"Is your dad there?"
She felt her heart go smack into an invisible brick wall. Her eyebrows descended so deeply it hurt her eyes. "What?" she practically snarled.
"Uh…" the person on the other line sounded positively startled. "This is Rick. Karen and I booked dinner at the inn for tomorrow night…um…but we want to change from seven-thirty to seven. Is your dad there…? This is Ann, right…?"
Ann's cheeks turned redder for every Valentine's Day that had ever passed. "O-oh. Oh. OH. Um…he's…" She looked blankly over at the table where her father was in a great dilemma. She caught his gaze and held the phone out stiffly.
He gave her a look that said "not now" just as the woman of the couple began to yell at him in a different language. He reverted his attention and appeared to be trying to calm her down by bribing her.
Ann's throat was dry. "He's busy. Can you call back later?"
"Uh, sure. Thanks."
"No problem…bye." She hung up. And stared at the phone. Damn it.
"Hey, Ann. What's your most favourite thing in the world?"
"…What? You sound like a little kid, Kai."
"Maybe I am one. C'mon, just answer me."
"Uh…I dunno, world peace, laughter, having fun…"
"I meant, like, material-wise."
"I don't know. I don't care about materials much. The most important object I've ever had was this music box my mom gave me a couple years ago…ever since it broke, I kind of stopped caring about all that tangible crap."
"…I see. Well, do you know what my favourite thing in the world is?"
"…You're such a sap, Kai."
"Dad?" A couple hours later, Ann was slouching in the kitchen threshold, her head lolling exaggeratedly against the doorframe.
Doug looked at her. "What's up, Ann? You look beat…don't worry, we're closing soon."
"Well…Dad…I'm like, dead, as you can see. And I'd hate to do this to you, but could you handle the last thirty minutes by yourself?" Ann gave him her best helpless-innocent-girl-that-needs-her-beauty-rest-suck up eyes. "I think I'll explode if Duke tells me to give him one more glass. Or pour it on his head."
Doug laughed tiredly. "No worries, Ann. You go get some sleep for tomorrow…I was planning on closing early, anyway."
"Thanks, Dad." She shuffled through the kitchen and down the short hall into her bedroom. She shut the door, dropped onto her bed and stuck the earphones of her MP3 player into her ear.
Her MP3, really, had been the greatest material gift she'd ever gotten. Ever since her mom's passing, her dad had gone overboard and bought her expensive presents imported from the city every year -- first it had been a TV, which she never watched anyway; a ceramic straightener, though she found it easier to just stick to her trusty ponytail; an expensive watch -- "Dad, you didn't have to, we have like fifty clocks in the inn…" and last year, an MP3 player. She wondered how he could afford all these gifts and felt guilty every year. All those nights her dad had worked overtime were to make up for buying all this fancy city crap for her. And what did she give him in return?
"Nothing," she mimicked in a husky, throaty voice. "The best gift you could give me is being my daughter. Blah." So it'd only made sense that she simply commanded he didn't get her anything this year. She'd stomped her foot and yelled until he'd looked stricken.
"Are you sure you don't want anything?"
"But it's Christmas…"
"Dad, if you get me anything this year, I swear I'll refund it. Or give it to Stu or something."
So that had been that. She hit shuffle and got comfortable in the blankets.
She hadn't really been focusing on the lyrics until the song was nearly half over. …all I do is think of you… and it's wearing me out, it's wearing me down. This holiday is nothing but frowns for me. But I've got a gift, you see: I'm making a list -- hell, I'll check it twice -- of all things you've done in my life. Then I'll send it your way so you see why I love you… sang the festive, whimsical voice of Never Shout Never.
She scrambled for her MP3 player, which seemed to be buried beneath the mass of warm blankets and toasty pillows. …I know that it sounds crazy, baby, but all I do is think of you.
"Shut up, shut up, shut up," she began to growl to the device. It continued to sing merrily through either of her ears. …a home-cooked meal and a nice warm bed, somebody to love and a place to lay my head… "I'm not listening!" she yelled at it immaturely, and it was only when she heard the last verse that she realized she could've simply pulled out her earphones. …you know I can't call it Christmas without someone to smile about…
She finally found the MP3 player, which had been right beside her head on the pillow. She yanked out her earphones and set the device on her nightstand, flicked off the light, and pulled the blanket over her head.
You know I can't call it Christmas without someone to smile about…
The door slammed against the wall, announcing Ann's awakening as she stormed down the hall and into the kitchen.
Doug was frying eggs over the stove, a tacky, festive Santa hat adorning his head. He looked five years younger and ten times happier than he had last night. "Good morning, Ann!" he greeted her, a big smile on his face. "Merry Christmas!"
Ann ignored the kind wishes and stalked furiously to his side, wiping the joyful grin off his face. "What?" he said, blinking.
She glared mercilessly at her father's innocent façade. "Don't you 'what' me!" she snapped, holding up a rectangular package wrapped in festive red paper, topped with a pretty green bow. "I told you not to get me anything, so you go out and get me something! With the works!" she fumed. "Dad!"
Doug put down his greasy spatula and turned to face her. "Woah, woah. Simmer down. I didn't get you anything."
Ann's livid expression turned confused. "What? But…"
"Ann, I swear on the entire inn and my favourite tie you got me two years ago that I did not get you anything for Christmas this year." He held up his spatula symbolically.
Ann seated herself awkwardly at the table. "Then…what…who did?" she stammered, lost.
Doug turned back to his eggs, the conversation having lost meaning to him. "I dunno. Are there any tags?"
She flipped the box this way and that. "No. Nothing," she insisted. "Are you sure you didn't accidentally order something? It couldn't have fallen out of the sky."
Her father slid the eggs onto a plate and set it down on the table, pulling out a carton of orange juice while he was it. "Maybe not," he said mysteriously. "Maybe it was swept in from the ocean…"
"Dad, it is fully dry," Ann deadpanned.
Doug laughed heartily. "Well, go on, don't sit there like a holiday-wrecker! Open it!" Before she could respond, he sauntered out the room, the pompom of his ridiculous Santa hat bobbing up and down after him.
The room was silent besides the faint crackling of the cooling pan. Ann scooped up a piece of egg and stuffed it into her mouth, eyeing the present carefully like a dragon might pop out. She chewed slowly and let her fingers trace every edge of the delicate wrapping, before slicing open one end with her finger.
…Screw this. She tore the wrapping in half until a simple, brown cardboard box was exposed. Carefully this time, she brought her fingers through the slits and opened the lid of the box.
"No way." Her eyes widened.
"I'll miss you, Ann. You have no idea how much."
"Well, I do, because that's how much I'll miss you."
"…That's the sappiest thing you've ever said to me."
"Shut up! You're ruining the moment…"
"Sorry, sorry. But…really, Ann. A whole two seasons without you…without anyone screaming 'pervert' into my ear or taking crazy long walks with me…without watching the sun go down or having cooking competitions, or being told repeatedly to shut up…"
"Oh, how will you survive?"
"Hahaha. You're amazing, Ann. I'll never forget you."
"You're saying that like we'll never see each other again…"
"But we will. Christmas."
"Didn't we have this discussion before?"
"Okay, okay. I promise, Ann. Pinkie-promise."
"But that's rude…"
"Just messing with you… alright. Christmas. I promise."
It had to be Kai. There was no doubt about it. She set the box back down on the table, grabbed her jacket from the rack, and raced out of the kitchen.
"Ann?" Her dad watched as she sped through the main room in confusion. "Where are you going?"
"Out-just-couple-minutes-right-back-worry-bye," he heard in a flurry, and then the door swung shut behind her.
Zack wrenched open the door, having been woken up by the relentless knocking from Ann on the other side.
She verbally attacked him before he could question her. "Zack! Is Kai here?" she demanded.
Zack blinked. "…Kai?" he repeated sleepily. "What? …What are you doing here so early, Ann? Not many carollers tend to go solo…"
"Zack." Ann tried as hard as she could to resist from grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him like a blender. "Answer. Me. Kai. Where. Is. He."
He blinked again, like he was in some blinding daze. "Ann, I have no idea where Kai is. Why in the world did you run all the way here just to ask me that?"
It was her turn to be perplexed. "You mean he isn't here?" she said, her voice breaking.
"He isn't… hey, why you lookin' all down for?"
Ann couldn't count the number of times Kai had asked her that, with those exact words, during the last week of summer. "I…" She closed her mouth. "Never mind. I should go now."
"Uh…alright." Zack rubbed his eyes with his muscular hands. "Uh, merry Christmas…!"
"Merry Christmas…" The door shut.
The whole way back, Ann was telling herself not to cry. She'd honestly done a ton of embarrassing things in her lifetime, more than she could count, but crying in the middle of the street on the biggest holiday of the year, over a guy, was not even in the question.
Then she realized she'd taken the wrong turn in the town she'd lived in all her life, and the tears started to fall. She threw herself onto a bench outside the supermarket and wiped furiously at her dripping eyes with her frozen coat. "Stupid, stupid," she muttered to herself. "He was never going to come back. Stupid liar. Stupid promise-breaker…"
The faint sound of a door closing was heard behind her. The bench she sat on creaked and went down a little as a figure seated itself beside her.
"Ann?" Karen's voice came through to her, a fragile arm wrapping around her shoulders. "What's the matter, hun?"
"Karen…" Ann sniffled. "Ugh."
Her friend smirked. "That's not explaining much, Ann. Look at you…sitting on a bench in the cold, crying, on Christmas! Come on, come inside…" She tried to pull her up but Ann refused.
"No…I really…I just…" The words couldn't come out. "I just wanna be alone. I'm sorry."
"Well, it's not going to do you any good being alone out here, is it?" Karen sighed. "Always the stubborn one, Ann. I guess that's why we love you." There was a small silence. "I'm going to walk you back to the inn, alright?"
Ann begrudgingly obliged. She was silent for the whole walk, listening tentatively as Karen rambled.
"…Rick used to cook eggs all the time for breakfast, but this morning he finally let me cook bacon…and pancakes…it smelled awesome…well actually, he cooked it once I burned the first strip… same thing, though…I haven't eaten this well in so long…"
Each step back to the inn was like walking into the brick wall of her own heartbreak. This is what happens when you let someone get too close to you; you give them the ability to break you.
The instant they arrived at the foot of the inn, Karen still prattling on about something, Ann pulled open the door. "Thanks for walking me back, Karen. I'll see you tonight. Merry Christmas."
Karen frowned at the upfront farewell. "Merry Christmas, Ann, I…" She shook her head uselessly. "I'm sorry. See you tonight."
Her father didn't say anything as Ann walked straight to her room, eyes down, hand on her forehead.
She could've stayed there all night, said she had an awful fever or flu or something along those lines. She'd considered it, as well -- but in the end, the same conclusion came up: Ann couldn't do that to her dad. So that evening, she dragged herself out of her bedroom and into the bathroom, trying to make herself look less dishevelled and more I-love-life-and-Christmas-yay-ish. People would be coming in wearing dresses and suits and crap -- her father had told her specifically not to wear overalls or put her hair up; that was just sad.
Purposely keeping her mind empty and blank, and distracting herself with thoughts on the weather -- it's rather cold this year, colder than the last. And whiter; there seems to be more snow both falling and on the ground -- she straightened her hair, strand by strand.
As for her outfit, well. A dress would be maximum overkill and she simply refused. Instead, she changed into black pants and a black top, the first things she could find that didn't scream "whatever."
She stepped out of the kitchen, immersed by sounds of chatter and laughter and glasses clinking together. A couple of people had actually volunteered to help Doug with managing the inn at this busy peak of the year; when she looked at him, he looked so grateful and happy and not-stressed that it actually made her a bit…well…happy.
Surveying the room, she could see Mary and Gray by the corner of the room, the sight before them nearly making her stop in her tracks. The great Christmas tree Ann and her mother and father used to put up was standing tall, and even if it was in the corner of the room, it shone as if it were centre-stage. It was decorated simply but elegantly, the lights complementing the colours beautifully. Gray's face was red as Mary hoisted Stu onto his shoulders to put the star on the very top. Ann could see little May race across the room to grab a chair before Gray collapsed.
Seated already were some couples, Basil and Anna, Doctor and Elli among them. Cliff was here as well with Duke and Manna; he'd had a crush on her a while back, but in the end they'd amicably agreed that they were better off friends. She waved at him, and he waved back; besides, rumour had it, he and Popuri were seeing each other.
"Hey, Ann!" Her head snapped up when she heard her name called, and saw Karen and Rick enter the building.
Ann approached them, an unstoppable shelter of a grin on her lips, hugging them both. "Hey, Karen. Hey, Rick. What's up?"
"We just walked all the way here…I thought I was going to ruin my dress; the snow was so deep!" Karen exclaimed, gesturing at her gorgeous wine-coloured, strapless dress. Ann used to be jealous of her friend's amazing looks, but not tonight. No, not tonight.
She shouldn't be so upset, she realized. It was Christmas, and even if it sucked that Kai wasn't here and she'd definitely be crying her heart out about it tomorrow, not tonight.
"I'll get you guys a table," Ann found herself saying, a full, genuine smile forcing its way to her lips. "Do you want anything to drink?"
"Well…" Karen paused as Rick sighed. She smirked. "I'll have some grape juice," she said, and Rick looked up in shock.
"U-uh, I'll have water," he stammered, and Karen burst out laughing and kissed him on the cheek.
Even if she was trying to get over it just for tonight, Ann really couldn't watch this lovey-dovey exchange right now. She made her way into the kitchen and came out with the grape juice, watching in amazement as everyone conversed like they were best friends, or close family. Even total opposites, like Gray and Anna, and Saibara and Popuri were talking animatedly and laughing.
When she was halfway to their table, she realized she'd only remembered to get Karen's grape juice, and groaned. She pivoted swiftly on her heel and the next thing she knew, the glass was empty and a light brown wall had appeared out of nowhere.
"…Well, there goes my best shirt," came a sarcastic, playful voice.
Ann looked up slowly and felt her heart stop in her chest. "No way," she muttered lowly. "No…freakin'…way."
"Yes way." Kai grinned back at her. "Miss me?"
Ann couldn't speak. The words were all smushed together and hiding away. "You--you said you would come…you said…Christmas…" she stammered.
"Yup. And here I am! In all my white-and-purple-stained glory," Kai joked, wrapping an arm around her and pulling her into a friendly side-hug.
Ann was frozen, her heart fluttering in ecstasy by the contact. Denial strummed a high note, though; she'd felt disappointment in every form and she didn't want to experience it again. "Zack said you weren't coming though…" This was just an illusion. A dream.
"Zack is a dirty rotten liar…who knows how to play along when I tell him to," Kai happily proved her wrong, smirking.
Ann immediately pulled away and shoved him in the shoulder. "I hate you!" she shouted, drawing attention from the people around her.
Kai burst into laughter. "Oh, I definitely missed that," he sighed. "I see you're still in denial?"
"I see you still make fun of me over everything," she grumbled, folding her arms.
Kai chuckled and pulled her into another snug embrace. "Just because I missed you so much," he assured her.
Looking into his warm brown eyes, being in his arms, feeling his breath on hers on Christmas day…this was too much. "Kai…I…" she began, her eyes welling up without command.
He touched her cheek. "Hey. If I'm not allowed to get sappy, neither are you. Did you get the music box, by the way?"
"…Yeah." Ann gulped. I knew it. "Thanks so much for that…I'm guessing Dad was in on it, too?"
"You're a good guesser."
"And you're a dirty, rotten liar."
Kai chuckled again, the sound making her heart swell and knees weak. "Hey, Ann," he said softly, in a voice so low no one else would be able to hear it.
"Yeah?" She missed hearing her name in his voice.
He pointed up. "Mistletoe."
Ann's face turned red as she looked up wildly, eyes darting around. She frowned. "I don't see any--"
"Made you look." Warm lips pressed against hers in an instant, and she felt her eyes close. Her brain shut down and her arms locked around his tan, unseasonably cold neck.
"Sorry about that grape juice thing, by the way," she pulled away to murmur breathlessly.
He laughed. "Don't worry about it," he replied, bringing his lips back to hers.
Fate was a funny thing. It gave you music boxes, knocked on your house on ungodly hours of the morning, brought you around in ships, and kissed you senseless.
Ann wasn't a big fan of fate, but she definitely loved it right now.