Hats Off to You

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters appearing or mentioned, and the creators of the same have not given me permission to use them in this story as they have not, as far as I know, gone simultaneously insane.
Summary: In which Gray faces a nerve-wracking ordeal and inadvertantly starts a trend. A slightly skewed and substantially silly take on Gray's blue heart event. Gray x OC fluff.
Funny how the closer he got, the worse this idea seemed.

Back in town, cloistered in the safety of his room in the Inn, or in the Library listening to all Mary's very calm, perfectly logical reasons that it was high time he took this step, it was a simple matter: march up to the tiny house situated at the edge of a modest stretch of farmland, knock on the door, and present a constantly beaming blonde girl with the fruits of the last three week's labour.

Now, inching hesitantly under the brightly painted sign announcing to the world Claire's tendency toward fanciful naming schemes (Starbright? What did stars have to do with a farm?), and recalling with painful clarity every single flaw in the little puppy-shaped silver brooch tucked securely into his pocket, it seemed substantially less so.

It was, of course, no longer spring, but the love that tended to linger in the immediate atmosphere throughout that hallowed season had yet to face into the common sense more generally found among the young adult population of Mineral Town.

Thus had a trend of gift-giving sprung up: first, Popuri had been overheard gushing excitedly to her mother about the good-luck charm Kai had given her – to keep her safe in the event that she inherit her mother's delicate health, as her big brother constantly fretted.

Soon after, Kai had an interesting story to tell about the joyous summer afternoon that he and his good lady had spent playing house with Stu and May, and when Popuri had bunched together some balls of mud for supper, he had carried them back to the Seaside Snack Shack and put them in a place of prominence, labeling them the Daily Special, much to the pretty young woman's amused delight.

Then, Karen had been spotted gazing admiringly at her wrist, on which rested the distinctly not-working watch that Jeff had recognized first as having once belonged to Rick and Popuri's long-absent father. When he had asked timidly why she was wearing Rod's watch, Karen had grown pink in the cheeks, her smile only growing, and mumbled something about Rick asked me to look after it for him.

That same young lady, not to be outdone, had responded by giving Rick a bottle of the special wine that Jeff had requested Duke bottle in honour of his special little girl's birth nearly twenty-five years ago. Rick, eyes misty, had launched into the beginnings of a declaration that he would cherish the bottle forever, pass it down to his children, and make it a family heirloom, but Karen had cut him off with an order that he go get them some wine glasses so they could "sample this baby".

This was also around this time that Elli had begun declaring the Doctor an absolute genius, because she felt healthier and more energetic since he'd given her that Negative Ion thingy than she had in years. Karen, Ann, and Popuri had all taken their turns suggesting, not even bothering to hide their grins, that maybe it was the accompanying shy little peck on the cheek more than the silly wellness gimmick, but once they'd found that Elli was on a personal mission now to help everyone discover the joy of the Negative Ion, it quickly tapered off. They hated to miss an opportunity to make Elli blush, but they hated even more to fall prey to a sales pitch. There had been no such deterrent, however, to save the Doctor from gentle teasing at the hands of Carter when he had begun keeping a pretty, fragrant little dried floral arrangement near his desk, and smiling dopily whenever the scent happened to waft especially strong in his direction.

The most shocking bit of gossip by far had been the hushed, bewildered whispers going around town that Ann had begun wearing jewelry – specifically, a strange concoction of a long leather cord woven with a profusion of wildflowers. When the rumour had come back around to a certain Mr. Cliff, he had simply turned bright red and mumbled a bit, thus confirming what had already been suspected from the time that Ann's old music box had materialized in the shared quarters of Cliff and Gray.

Even Harris, the town's entire law enforcement, had found that the more time he spent in the Library a few doors down, the less time he spent longing wistfully for the courage to write to Miss Aja. Thus had Gray eventually been treated to an impromptu reading by a flushed, sparkling-eyed Mary, from a pretty hardcover scribbler filled with surprisingly good poetry composed by the one-man police force in her honour.

If this last had occurred even a season ago, Gray might have found himself more crushingly depressed, or possibly homicidally angry, than gut-twistingly nervous. After all, Mary was sweet, soft-spoken, ladylike, with a razor-sharp wit and graceful maturity that no other girl in town could match.

But from the first time that brightly beaming whirlwind of energy and smiles had blown into Gramps's shop, all tangled blonde hair, ripped overalls, and ugly flannel, and introduced itself as the new farmer, Claire, he had regarded Mary more and more as a dear friend, and found himself less and less on the verge of passing out of nervousness when he spoke to her.

Thus, when Mary had found out about the brooch that had consumed the better parts of Gray's free time for the last couple of weeks, she had taken it as her own personal mission to bolster his confidence to the point that he would march, unhesitatingly, down to Starbright Farm and present Claire with her gift.

He had initially flatly refused. But that, he thought with a heavy sigh and more than one nervous fidget as he found himself on the doorstep, hadn't lasted long.

Who knew that Mary could be so stubborn?

He raised one fist to knock and stood, immobile, staring at the farmhouse door.

Three minutes later that door drew all of a sudden rapidly closer, and he gave an exclamation of pain as it connected solidly with his nose.

"Gray! Oh, no, I'm so sorry!" Claire yelped, horrified, one arm already snaking around his waist to lift him back to his feet, heedless of his heavily bleeding nose. "Come on; let's get you inside."

Yeah, Gray thought hazily as he was hauled bodily inside. This is going well.


"Okay, I think it's pretty much stopped," the pretty little farmer announced approximately twenty minutes and one very dizzy blacksmith apprentice later. She climbed to her feet and hurried over to the little kitchenette, returning seconds later with a mug of hot water, a teabag bobbing merrily away in it. "You probably shouldn't try to get up yet, though. Just relax for a while and have some tea."

"Cool; thanks," Gray snuffled, Kleenex still held tightly to his nose. Better to be safe. The last thing he needed right now was to end up spattered with blood, just in case a trace of confidence and courage somehow survived being roughed up by his intended beloved.

Claire sighed, eyes wobbly, as she dragged the other chair around the table, close to his.

"Really, Gray, I'm so sorry about this. I didn't see you there."

"It's not your fault," he assured her hastily, patting her hand comfortingly almost before he realized that he'd moved. As she blushed slightly at the light contact, he pulled his hand quickly away and shrugged apologetically. "I shouldn't have been lurking on your doorstep."

She blinked.

"What were you doing, anyway?"

He wouldn't have thought that he'd have enough blood left for it, but he turned bright red. Instinctively, he pulled off his hat and began twisting the well-worn fabric, infused with the scent of solder and metal and smoke, nervously.

"Uh, I…well, I wanted to give you something."

Her big blue eyes grew bigger, and starry, her face awash with incredulous joy.

"Gray…you're giving me your hat?"

He blinked.


"You love that hat!"

"Yeah, but—"

"Oh, Gray, you have no idea how much this means to me! I love it!"

His hand, which had closed a second before around the brooch in his pocket, loosened as her expression of delight sent a spark of tingling warmth through his chest, along with the comfortable certainty that if he could, he'd kind of like to spend the rest of his life making her smile like this.

In one decisive motion, he leaned forward and settled his hat carefully over her unusually neatly combed mass of pale gold.

"It looks good," he noted with a tiny, shy smile, even as it slid, a little too big for her head, down over her eyes, thus leaving him face to face with what appeared to be a widely grinning hat.

Any remaining reluctance and wistfulness at the thought that he would be evermore without his hat quickly evaporated as Claire half-climbed, half-leapt impulsively into his lap and kissed him soundly. His eyes approached the size of dessert saucers, and the Kleenex fluttered uselessly to the ground.

Perhaps his nose had stopped bleeding; perhaps it hadn't.

It was fairly safe to say that neither the newly behatted farmer nor the newly bareheaded young blacksmith cared terribly much.


"Hey, Mary," he greeted dreamily the next afternoon as he half-walked, half-floated into the Library, a tiny package in hand with a brightly coloured thank-you card taped carefully to one corner. "Want a brooch?"

Then, as it occurred to him that the top of her head was abnormally…blue today, he stopped short and stared.

"Hi, Gray," Mary beamed. "Claire was here this morning. Where on earth did you get the idea to give her your hat?"

"Uh, well—"

"It's such a sweet, personal gesture! She was absolutely glowing."

"I'm—I'm glad she liked it," Gray coughed, the last trace of doubt that a ratty old hat was kind of a lame gift, and she might have pretended to like it and then gone off to seethe secretly, banished completely from his mind.

"Hi, Gray!" another voice chirped happily.

He stared in bewilderment as Popuri came skipping down the stairs, her hair tucked carefully under a very familiar purple bandana, only a few fetching little tendrils of soft pink emerging to frame her face. She giggled.

"Claire came to see us this morning, too, and Kai was so inspired that he gave me this!"

"She came by the Supermarket this morning while Rick and I were visiting outside on the bench," Karen added on her way down the stairs. "Rick was impressed, but he didn't catch onto my hinting. Eventually, I just took this—" She gestured to the narrow black head band that held her hair back. "—by force." Then she brightened. "But at least he let me give him a decent haircut when his hair kept getting in his eyes without it."

"The Doctor was impressed, too," Elli added cheerfully, emerging from behind Karen, sporting a gleaming silver disc at her forehead. "I feel a little silly, but it was so sweet of him to give me his favourite that I couldn't just not wear it."

"Hey, at least you got a head lamp," a curious apparition looking remarkably like Ann topped with a large bird pointed out with a self-deprecating grin. "When he saw everyone else doing it, he felt left out, but he doesn't wear a hat, so…well, I guess he did what he could. He looked sweet and earnest that I didn't have the heart to tell him that Cain's claws are really sharp."

Cain gave a squawk of agreement from atop the girl's head. She attempted to glare up at him, but sadly, lacked the proper eye dexterity to glare at the top of her own cranium.

"If you even think about using my head as a restroom, I swear I'll wring your feathered neck and turn you into an entrée."

Gray nodded hesitantly, then turned back to the dark-haired girl seated at the desk. He gestured to her headwear.

"Is that Harris's?"

Flushing sweetly pink, Mary nodded mutely. He grinned.


"Anyway," Mary continued hastily, glaring at Karen as the latter gave a suggestive catcall, "we all wanted to say thank-you for setting such an example of pure romantic sweetness for the other men in Mineral Town."

"Wow," Gray noted curiously as the girls gathered around him chorused their enthusiastic gratitude. "This is the first time I've ever been called romantic. It kind of feels like an episode of the Twilight Zone."

End Notes: Aaaaaaaaaaaand, that's that. As usual, no plot, substance, or redeeming value. Whoo-hoo!