Disclaimer: I don't own ittttt.
Summary: MFoMT. One year in the life of a city girl turned farmer. A quiet tale of love and loss over the changing seasons.
Pairings: Claire/Doctor, Claire/Kai, and the other canon stuff...
Ratings: T for drinking, language, and future sexytiems.
Notes: I. I don't even know.
More seriously, I wrote this on a whim and finished it pretty fast (for me) so it's pretty bad, and I haven't played Back to Nature or any other Harvest Moon games (I am aware that the storyline/characterization is slightly different and/or more developed in Back to Nature as I did a bit of research). This story just struck me as one I wanted to tell. Based on my limited understanding of both BtN versions, the characterization is more interesting there, but MFoMT has a different enough take on things that I kind of wanted to play with it. I'm not likely to ever write for this fandom again. Ah well, sometimes a girl just has to write out the crap in her head. (That said, I want to make it clear that this is not a self-insert fic.)
Also, in terms of world building -- not that there's too much of it here -- I took a lot of cues from Japanese culture. So 20 as the age of majority, office ladies, the Spring and Winter Thanksgivings as Valentine's Day/White Day, etc. (Years are not four months long btw, simply for ease of writing...)
Soundtrack for this fic is Heart's Dreamboat Annie album, the title track(s) in particular, but really the whole album, as well as their original version of "Alone". And yes, the rest of this fic is already mostly finished; I'm just going to stagger the posting of each chapter.
A new year, a new life, a new start. I'd been dreaming of it for weeks.
Well, I'd gotten my new start all right.
I slept through the rest of the day and some ways into the next morning. I was so tired -- tired from the move, tired from the realization that I'd been cheated, tired from the daunting prospect before me, from the sheer frustration of nothing ever going the way I wanted it to. My mother had always said that the activities you choose to partake in on the first day of the year set your course for the rest of the year (it was her way of nagging at me for sleeping in after partying too much on the last day of the year), but frankly, I didn't care. Not this year. I hadn't arrived until the evening, and there wasn't as if there was much else I could do just then -- the rest of the town was busy with New Year's celebrations, I was told (by that irritating little mayor, for whom I still had to repress a certain urge to beat up).
But as soon as I woke, I knew that the first thing I had to do -- even before beginning the grueling task of clearing the fields -- was to introduce myself to my new neighbors. I gritted my teeth, fed the little puppy who had come with the house as a housewarming gift, and set out to do the thing I hated most: socializing. I'd wanted a new start, after all. And that meant changes, not just in my surroundings, but my own attitudes.
To my surprise, the greetings went more smoothly than I'd expected. In fact, by the time I reached the winery at around noon, I was almost relaxed.
That changed as soon as I met Manna, who ran the place with her husband Duke.
"Oh, you must sit down and tell me why you decided to move here one of these days. I mean you look like such a pleasant young woman, and the last few people who came were all retired old grandpas -- and of course one can hardly expect someone who'd been looking forward to a nice and peaceful retirement to want to stay get that rundown old place running again. But oh did you know? You're not the only new face in town. Actually there's that nice young man who wandered in just this past winter, very quiet though, he mostly hangs around the church. And there's old Saibara's grandson come in from the city to apprentice as a blacksmith -- but you must have met them already, right? Isn't that boy so adorable? Such a grumpy thing! Really, we've got quite a few eligible young men in town. Like that nice Rick from the chicken farm, but you've met him too by now, I'm sure. And Doctor -- Doctor Trent? Tim? Something with a T, anyway we all just call him Doctor so I suppose it doesn't matter! Isn't that the funniest thing? Wonderful man, Doctor. It's so silly of Aja to insist that there's nothing worth staying for here -- Aja's our daughter, of course, but she left us a few years ago -- "
I had to tune her out then. (Did the woman ever stop to breathe?) It made me uncomfortable listening to the personal life stories of complete strangers, and her subtle but still all-too-apparent assumption that I had come here just to snag a man bothered me. That and the implication that a nice young woman such as myself must be harboring some juicy dark secret in my past; why else should I have left the big city?
Perhaps I was overthinking things; she meant well, I was sure. But I was not so impressed by good intentions as I might have been as a child.
Even so, her mention of the Doctor Without a Name intrigued me. I found the idea laughable, even sad. Was it even possible for someone to become so deeply defined by their occupation that people couldn't even remember their name? Teachers, professors at the university, random policemen on the streets -- though it was true we called them Teacher or Professor or Mr. Policeman or sometimes Miss, they were certainly not nameless.
Maybe it was a sign of great respect from the townspeople, that they thought so highly of him that he was nothing but "Doctor" to them. But at least the town gossip, if anyone, should have known his name.
Stripping him of his name seemed to me equivalent to an act of stripping him of his humanity altogether.
That such a thing could happen, even here, in this idyllic countryside, both fascinated and troubled me.
It was not until late afternoon that I reached the clinic. (I finally managed to extricate myself from Manna's enthusiastic welcome by mentioning that I had not yet had the chance to meet the other townspeople. She was quite understanding -- apparently it was time for her daily gathering at the plaza as well, and she wouldn't miss a good chat for anything!)
The clinic was located in a quaint little building right next to the general store. Very neat, very orderly. Not quite warm and welcoming, but there was none of the cold sterility I had come to expect from hospitals.
I was the only one there. The young nurse at the reception smiled sweetly and introduced herself with the usual platitudes of welcome I had been hearing all day before leading me to see the Doctor himself.
I'm not sure what I had been expecting. Manna had referred to him as an "eligible young man", but despite that my mind had conjured up the image of a stern older gentleman so consumed in his work he had no use for human interaction.
But the man sitting there could not be in more than his late twenties. I saw immediately why Manna thought so highly of him; he was very handsome indeed. Stern, too, perhaps -- but that illusion was dispelled as soon as he looked up and opened his mouth.
"Oh?" he said, looking utterly bewildered. "I don't believe I've seen you around before."
Elli, the nurse, giggled. "She's new to town, Doctor."
"Ah! The one who took over that old farm! I heard about you from my patients."
Somehow, I was not surprised. After meeting Manna, I could see how quickly news must travel in a small town like this.
I smiled and nodded. "I'm Claire. Nice to meet you."
"I'm Doctor. The doctor, as you can see." He laughed, and his eyes lit up, his face suddenly becoming strikingly animated. I was too surprised to fully process the two new revelations I had just received: one, he had an awful sense of humor. Two, he was really a very attractive man.
"You're from the city, aren't you?" Without even waiting for a reply, he continued. "Everyone in this town is pretty healthy. Very different from the big cities. Must be the influence of natural surroundings."
"Um, yeah. I suppose so," I mumbled. (It is rather difficult to be eloquent before such unbridled enthusiasm.)
"There's still so much I have to learn about the world of medicine. But it must be the same for you. Farming's a difficult business, especially for a single young woman like you, fresh from the city."
Despite his words, there was nothing condescending in his tone, no prying curiosity regarding my unusual circumstances, and I found myself relaxing. "Yeah, I'm going to have to do quite a bit of studying myself."
The doctor nodded, solemn again. "That's great to hear. But do take care. Don't overwork yourself. Elli and I will be here if you need anything. In fact, please do drop in for a checkup every day, so I can make sure you're adjusting well to your new life."
"Yes, Claire," said Elli. "Make sure to come visit us as soon as you suspect anything might be wrong, okay?"
"Thank you," I replied. "That's very kind of you."
I prepared to leave, but just then he appeared to remember something.
"Oh, by the way -- while you're here, there's this special tonic I got from another town. It's supposed to help with stamina and fatigue, but I've found it isn't quite as effective as the medicines we have in stock here. I experimented with it a little and made some adjustments, so it should work better now, though it's still bitter. Would you care to give it a try?"
I glanced at Elli, who only looked a little embarrassed and gave a half-apologetic shrug, but said nothing.
"Sure, I guess." What was the harm, after all?
He seemed very pleased at my answer. He had a beautiful smile; it was a pity he didn't seem to use it often.
All I can say is, that smile made it all worth it.
I tried not to gag as the slimy substance slid down my throat, but it must have showed on my face anyway.
"Oh, that bad, huh?" he said, watching me with a concerned look on his face. "But it does work, doesn't it?"
I swallowed and stood there for a few moments, trying to rid the taste from my mouth. But he was right. Some of the exhaustion that had been settling in after traipsing around town all day had miraculously vanished, as if a heavy burden had lifted from me all of a sudden.
This time, I managed a grin. "It does indeed, Doctor. Thank you!"
"I knew you'd appreciate it! Would you like another?"
The face I made then must have been something to see.
"Just kidding," he said in response, in a voice so deadpan that I couldn't tell if he were telling the truth or if I had just deeply offended him. "Anyway, thank you, Claire. It's been a pleasure talking to you today, and I appreciate your courage." He promptly went back to scribbling notes on his pad without so much as a farewell.
Elli giggled nervously and took me aside. "Sorry about that. He's been wanting test subjects other than himself for a while, but you're the first one to accept his request. I would have, but I'm not nearly as brave as you two." She sighed. "Doctor is so committed, isn't he? I really should learn from his example."
"It's all right," I assured her, and hastily bid my farewell.
So I was a guinea pig, huh?
I decided not to think too hard about it. Now that my greetings were finally complete, I had fields to clear, and a new pair of chickens to pick up.
Adjusting to life on the farm was at once both easier and more difficult than I had anticipated. After that first evening clearing weeds and moving away other debris, I woke up the next morning feeling so sore I didn't even want to get up. But when I remembered my chickens, and the puppy, and my newfound responsibilities, I forced myself out of bed, grabbed a quick breakfast, and set about the daily chores I had set for myself.
It got easier after that. Once I worked out a schedule and settled into a rhythm, the problems that cropped up every day (no pun intended) gradually became interesting challenges instead of irritating hassles. The pattern of repetition here was different from the dull monotony of city life I had been so desperate to escape from: life as an office lady, pleasant little drone in a huge corporation, no future ahead of her but smiling and pouring tea and juggling ornery clients until she found a man to settle down with --
Perhaps the only reason I was enjoying my new life so much because it was all still so new to me, so fresh, and the physical activity left so little time for me to dwell on any anger or frustration. (Being forced back into shape was a nice bonus.) Certainly life in the office, too, had seemed different and new and promising, once. But I knew even then that the old anger and resentment had been there, lurking in the shadows of my heart, growing and growing like a weed until it began to chafe, to suffocate the very life from me.
Here, though, even my nights were filled with stimulating productivity. Sometimes I kicked back and watched a little bit of TV, but most of the time I found myself sitting at the table with the measly lamp I had brought with me, sketching out future expansions or planning out my projected budget for the next few years. Nothing was certain, and there was so much I still did not know or understand about the land, about the various crops, about the nuances of the marketplace. In school I had studied a little bit of economics, but that was nothing compared to the issues I now had to deal with on a daily basis. I was fascinated by how everything fit together, pleased to finally be putting my education to actual use, and determined more than ever to get the farm up and running again by the end of the year.
I guess I'd always been a bit of a dreamer. It's just that, unlike most dreamers, I actually made the plans to back them up. My impulsive decision to leave it all behind for the countryside had been the only major decision in my life that I'd ever made on a mere whim. And now, despite my bumpy start, it felt wonderful to finally have a clear goal to work towards again, a clear direction, after stagnating for so long.
As for Doctor (whose real name still remained unknown to me, as it never seemed quite appropriate to ask), I did as he had asked, and dropped in every day, sometimes in the mornings, sometimes in the afternoon. I felt guilty about being unable to pay him, so I got into a habit of bringing little gifts with me on every visit. An egg from one of my chickens, or herbs I gathered on Mother's Hill from time to time. He was always delightfully grateful for even the smallest gestures on my part. On Wednesdays the clinic was closed, but I would find him reading in the library instead, poring over medical publications and treatises on various herbal remedies, many of which were penned by our own local botanist Basil, father of the librarian Mary, a demure, withdrawing novelist-in-making with whom I soon bonded over our shared love of books and literature.
Since I too found occasion to visit the library frequently for my own studies on agriculture and livestock care and soil research, subjects I had never even been interested in until now, we found our paths crossing quite often.
The more I got to know him, the more puzzled I grew. He was a strange man, I thought, so different from the other young bachelors in town. Rick from the chicken farm was nice enough, but his childhood friend Karen, whose parents ran the general store, was the other girl around my age whom I had grown particularly close to -- close enough to realize there was something going on between the two of them, though I didn't pry. Gray the apprentice blacksmith was young and gruff and resentful, but also sweet once I got to know him better. (He was also swiftly developing a painfully obvious crush on Mary.) And then there was Cliff, the wanderer who spent all of his time moping in the church. A few years ago, I might have found the man attractive, but he was profoundly insecure and by now I was done with boys with Issues.
Doctor, however -- on one hand he was the spitting image of the ambitious, talented young doctor type my mother had always pushed me to date: so serious, so obsessed with work, so sure to be successful in life, whatever the hell that was supposed to mean. And yet here he was, with that unpredictable, offbeat sense of humor and charming enthusiasm that belied his usual solemn mask, running a little clinic in the countryside instead of climbing the ranks at a major hospital. I wondered often why he chose to stay here in Mineral Town, when surely he had plenty of prospects elsewhere. For a man so passionate about medicine and the newest developments in his field, there were many places that would have suited him better, places with far easier access to the information he seemed to devour so greedily.
I liked to talk to him, I realized. We talked about everything, from utterly silly philosophical inquiries about the nature of the spirits of the land, to serious discussions about our work and the various avenues of research we were each investigating. With him, I never felt pressured to speak up or to explain myself, or put up false barriers of courtesy. Our conversations simply ebbed and flowed naturally, alternating between silence and words, sometimes mine, sometimes his.
One fine, quiet Wednesday morning, I ascended Mother's Hill to gather herbs. As I entered the clearing by the lake, I was surprised to see a familiar figure gazing out upon the still surface of the water. Just as I was pondering whether to disturb his silent reverie or not, he noticed me.
"Ah, good morning, Claire."
"Good morning, Doctor," I replied. Then, unable to suppress my curiosity, I asked, "What brings you all the way out here?"
"Well, I like to do a little herb-gathering myself sometimes. I buy ingredients from Zack too, but it's not enough." He cracked one of his rare smiles, but it seemed forced. "That's why I appreciate you always bringing me the interesting specimens you find..."
"You don't look very busy with foliage at the moment, though," I pointed out gently.
"Ah." The smile dropped from his face. After some time, he said, "I suppose... I've been thinking about my parents."
My heart skipped a beat. Normally he spoke as little of himself as I did about my own life. "Your parents?"
"My family's always been in the medical field. My father was a doctor, while my mother was a nurse. Naturally, they were both very busy. Barely spent any time with me as a child... I was lonely, and I resented them for it. But now that I've become a doctor myself, I find I begin to understand them more and more."
I looked out towards the lake, its surface shimmering with the pale morning light. It had rained the previous day, but this morning, the sky was a lovely shade of blue, not a single cloud in sight. Trees lined the area with green, and behind us bloomed wildflowers, splashes of color against the pale grass.
"As a doctor, one holds great responsibility over human lives," he continued. "It is a most sacred duty that we are charged with... one that ought to take priority above all else. I -- I regret much of what I said to my parents back then. I was a damned little fool of a rebel."
I tried to imagine him, young and angry and rebellious, and found that I could not.
"Sorry," he said then, rather sheepishly. "I didn't mean to go on so much about myself..."
But I shook my head. "I envy you," I said softly. "To have so much passion and conviction in what you do. That's something pretty miraculous in itself, don't you think? I bet your parents must be proud of what you've become."
He said nothing for some time. "What about you? Do you not have passion for your work on the farm?"
"I... I suppose I do. But it's all so new to me, still."
"Yes, that is true, I suppose."
I hesitated. "My mother was always pushing her expectations on me. For the longest time, I could never be sure whether the things I chose were for her, or what I really wanted for myself."
We fell silent again.
"I think I'll stay here for a while longer," he said at last.
I nodded. "See you later today."
I left him to his memories, and tossed my own bitterness and regrets into the clear depths of the lake.
Spring Thanksgiving rolled around, and I was awakened early that morning by an insistent precise knocking at my door. I tottered out of bed to greet whoever had been brave or foolhardy enough to wake me from my precious slumber.
It was Doctor.
With a neatly wrapped package in his hands.
"Oh!" I said. (Godawful hours in the morning are not conducive to coherency either.)
"Just a little something," he explained. "As thanks for all the help you've been giving me these past few weeks."
"You -- you shouldn't have. I mean. You didn't have to come all the way to my place just to --"
Was that a blush I saw on his face? It was not light enough yet to tell for sure.
"Well, no reason to provide more material for the rumor mill," he mumbled, and walked off briskly before I could say another word.
Now, how the hell was I supposed to interpret that?
But nothing seemed to change in the next few weeks. Not that I was expecting it to, I suppose. But I guess I felt a little awkward about it all. He shared a juice recipe with me one day, and later I saw him unexpectedly at the Cooking Festival ("Oh, that Doctor never participates in any of the festivities," Manna had said), apparently to keep an eye on Lillia, Rick's ill mother and a fabulous cook by all accounts. But other than that it seemed we both had become too busy to exchange much more than a few words every day.
I didn't mind. It gave me time to think and reconsider the direction our friendship seemed to be leading. If it were indeed heading in that direction, and of that I could not be certain. (Wasn't it too fast? Wasn't I reading too much into one silly little box of cookies?) I treasured our friendship in a way I rarely do, and I hated to think that I might destroy it over my foolish assumptions and misinterpretations. But at the same time, I am generally honest with myself -- or at least I try to be -- and I knew I was attracted to him on some level.
But Doctor, I wasn't sure he was a man even capable of feeling attraction. I mean, I knew he liked me, but it was probably just because I was one of the only people around who was willing or capable of putting up with his eccentricities, and who enjoyed talking to him on more than just a doctor-patient basis. And I still didn't know his name. (I was beginning to wonder if his parents had not named him Doctor after all, as some kind of sick joke.)
As well, I was still relatively new in town, and it troubled me that I seemed to be falling into the expectations and assumptions Manna as well as quite a few other townspeople had made about me upon my arrival. I hated that, more than anything else.
And then there was the matter of Elli. I have to admit, I had realized at some point that I didn't particularly like the other woman, but I couldn't tell if it were just because of misplaced jealousy or some unspoken rivalry between the two of us regarding Doctor. I suppose it was fairly obvious that she had feelings for him, though the good doctor was so dense I doubt he would have noticed even if she shouted out her love for him in his face.
Elli never failed to treat me with a certain sweet politeness and overt friendliness that struck me as somewhat false. I had dealt with office politics before, and hated the reminder of those days present in all my interactions with her. It's just that particular kind of passive-aggressive attitude that plain rubs me the wrong way; if she'd at least been openly catty, I think I'd have more respect for her, or find my feelings toward her more easy to deal with.
Or maybe not. Sometimes she really did seem sincere. I just couldn't tell -- couldn't tell if my judgment was already getting terribly muddled thanks to my unfortunate attraction, if I was just imagining that subtle tension between us or if it was a real concern.
I hated silly infatuations like this.
The next surprise came on my birthday, just a few days after the Cooking Festival. When I checked my mailbox that morning, I found cards from Mary and Karen, who had dug the information out of me some weeks back... and Doctor.
"Happy birthday," said Doctor without looking up from his work, when I dropped in that day with a bottle of milk from my newly purchased cow.
"Oh, is it your birthday?" exclaimed Elli. "I had no idea! Wow, happy birthday! That makes us both spring babies, doesn't it?"
Hers had been soon after Spring Thanksgiving; I had only found out the day after.
I laughed a bit. "Yes, it does. Thank you both. I got your card this morning too, Doctor. But however did you manage to find out?"
"From your patient records, of course," he replied in a matter-of-fact tone.
I don't know if I was disappointed by the answer or not. Of course, from the records. It made perfect sense. So much sense. What had I been expecting, anyway?
I think I was more hurt by the fact that he did not look at me even once while I was there. It was hardly the first time he'd done something of the sort -- when he got especially absorbed in his work, he was not easily distracted. And I had never minded it either... until now.
That night I went out drinking with Mary and Karen at the inn, run by Doug and his daughter Ann. Mary was technically underage, but boy could she hold her drink -- she was even more of a heavyweight than Karen, whom I'd already seen drink Duke of all people under the table once.
"You two're positively terrifying," I declared in drunken seriousness.
Mary giggled and blushed while Karen laughed. "Damn right, girl. 's why we're drinkin' buddies!"
"So, Claire," said Mary (it was really unfair how sober she was compared to the two of us), "how are you enjoying your first birthday in Mineral Town?"
"Smashin'," I said. "Totally brilliant."
I might have proceeded to rant a little bit about insensitive idiot men who send out all kinds of mixed messages without even realizing that they're doing it. Just a bit. But hell, it was my birthday, and I planned on enjoying it instead of mooning over boy problems all night. So at some point my rant (helped along by Karen's own complaints about a certain anonymous someone -- and next to her problems my own troubles seemed pretty silly) took a detour and we started talking about pink elephants and giant dancing robots. Something like that. We even managed to drag Ann into the conversation. (I'm surprised her father didn't kick us out.)
Naturally, I woke up with the hangover from hell the next day.
When I stumbled into the clinic, wondering if Doctor had any hangover remedies in stock, he came out to greet me with far, far too much excitement. (In hindsight, that probably should have warned me.)
"Claire! Great timing! A new shipment of medicine just came in."
"Really?" I hoped it worked on hangovers. If it tasted as bad as last time's, it probably would.
"I knew you'd be interested! It should be like last time's, only twice as effective."
"Wait right here, I'll go get it."
When he handed it to me, I downed it in one shot, uncomfortably aware that he was watching me again with that peculiar mix of concern and eager anticipation.
"How is it?"
How was it? Well, I was pretty sure I was beginning to see things, and the room was whirling and swirling as if it were last night again.
I hoped I didn't puke right on him. Gods above, that would be embarrassing.
As it turned out, I didn't have to worry much.
The last thing I heard before I blacked out completely was Doctor frantically shouting for Elli.
Nice to know he cared.
"I'm so sorry," he repeated for what must have been the thousandth time. "So sorry."
"It's okay. I'm the one who chose to try it."
"It must have been too strong for you. When I tried it earlier I was fine..."
I was too embarrassed to admit that I'd been nursing a massive hangover and that it really hadn't been my brightest moment, choosing to down some strange potion in that condition.
"My apologies. I shouldn't have pushed it on you."
He seemed so genuinely contrite at that moment that my chest tightened. It was probably just a doctor's instinctive concern for his patient, but it was the first time I had seen him so -- so worked up over someone other than himself.
And that someone was me.
Elli conveniently chose that exact same moment to speak up.
"That's right, Doctor," she scolded. "You shouldn't force her try your medicines anymore."
She turned to me. "I'm so glad you're okay, Claire! If Doctor tries to make you do anything like this again, make sure to let me know!"
"It's all right, really," I protested as Doctor mumbled another apology.
By the time I left the clinic and returned to my fields (in the end I suppose that new medicine really did do wonders for my hangover), I felt thoroughly confused and unsettled by these latest developments. But there was work to be done, and I soon set the incident out of my mind.
Better that, than to overthink things.
There was a bit of a commotion on the streets right outside my gates on the last day of spring. I spied little May from Yodel Ranch running around excitedly, while Rick's chirpy younger sister Popuri stood chatting with an unfamiliar man with a dark tan and a bright bandanna tied about his head. When they saw me, they waved me over.
"Guess what, big sister? Kai's back!" said May.
"Bringin' summer back with him," added Popuri with a giggle. She so rarely acted her age that I was taken aback for a moment when I realized that she had been flirting with the man before I happened upon the scene.
"Heya," said the stranger, flashing a dazzling grin at me. "You weren't around last year, were you?"
"No, I just moved in this spring," I said.
"Thought so! The name's Kai, as you might have guessed. Nice to meet you, uh --?"
His smile was infectious. I grinned back. "Claire."
"Claire it is then. Y'know that little cottage down at the beach? I run a restaurant there during the summer. Drop by for a visit sometime, all right? I serve up some great dishes, you know!"
I readily agreed.
Later at the clinic, I asked Doctor about my new acquaintance.
"Oh, Kai?" he said, rather noncommittally as he flipped through the files on his desk. "So he's here already this year?"
"I take it he only shows up every summer?"
"That's right." He hesitated before adding, "Bit of a strange man. He's quite popular with the women, but most of the men here aren't very fond of him."
I could guess why.
"And you? What do you think of him?" I asked in a teasing tone.
He looked up from his work then, puzzled. "I confess, I do not know him very well myself. Is there a reason you ask?"
I laughed. I couldn't help it. "No, just curious!"
For the first time in years, I found myself looking forward to summer.