Almost There


Summary: Summer is almost here, and the world is beautiful. Kai x Muffy AU-ish fluff-fest. Edited so that Kai is no longer crying into Griffin's solder, because he risks serious burns that way. XD


Summer is almost here, and the world is beautiful.

For a youngish woman wandering the beach, unheeding of the light breezes toying with her hair and flimsy pretty red dress, this is little more than an observation.

Maybe she's reached the point, after a year, of calmly remembering the world before Graham became as changeable as any other man, before Celia's sweet pink blush shone through the mist of a bridal veil and Marlin glowered like death until that cute little nurse from Mineral Town gave him a reason to smile again.

But that doesn't mean she's any closer to the point of enjoying it. Even with the perspective of a year, and the dawning suspicion that Graham's habit of dismissing everything fun and frivolous and frowning when she laughed might have driven her mad, she hasn't reached the point of believing that the world holds anything beautiful for her.

At least there won't be any more nights of sleepless agony, wandering the valley until dawn because if she stands still the pain will catch up with her and she won't be able to bear it, because this time, Muffy Carlisle is really through with men.


Summer is almost here, and the world is beautiful.

He can't deny it; there's never been anything quite like the sun setting over the wide, calm expanse of ocean – unless it was the setting sun glinting off of rosepink hair, reflected in rosered eyes, sillhouetting and illuminating rosewhite skin, and Kai is really beginning to think that there are too damn many roses in the world.

He didn't get back in time to see it for himself, the petals strewn over the steps of the church, the massive bouquet standing out against filmy bridal white, but he still feels a glower forming every time he sees a rosebush.

Beter to hate them anyway – he met Jack for himself last summer, and he's a good guy. He doesn't deserve a lot of misplaced resentment, just because one pretty – beautiful, adorable, amazing, sweet, crazy – woman couldn't wait just one more year.

It's probably not fair to blame the roses either, bu it's not like they care, so Kai makes a mental note to buy a bouquet, three dozen, and stomp them into flower-sludge. Work out some agression.


And on this night, when the world is beautiful, but not for everyone, the girl who's through with men will kick her shoes into a pile and go dancing crazily across the sand before the startled eyes of the boy who hates roses. He'll finally call out to her, because as much as it's cheering him up to see the breezes and the increasing speed of her pirouettes pulling her skirt tight against her legs – hey, he's depressed, not dead – it kind of feels like spying.

"Good day at work?"

A startled shriek, a cloud of displaced sand, and a sheepish laugh from the ground.

"Fantastic. Griffin and I spent the evening experimenting with Manhattans. White vermouth, red vermouth, more bitters, less bitters...and once they were done, we couldn't just waste them."

A grin.

"Hence the dancing."


"Well, hence the tripping." A sigh, barely audible over the waves. "I've been kind of moping for a long time now, and when I finally made up my mind to stop it already and start living...well, it was like I woke up wanting to dance."

An understanding laugh, lighting golden-brown eyes.

"Hey, if you really want to dance, you should come to Mineral Town, like, any weekend this ssummer. Unless the whole place burns down, you'll probably hit a party or a wedding."

"Wow, Jack and Popuri really started a trend over there, didn't they?" A giggle dying away at the revelation that those dimples she admired last time he was in for a drink show up when he's laughing and when he's upset. "I'm sorry, Kai."

A snort.

"Why? You're not the one who waited for your boyfriend to leave town, then ran off and married the first guy you saw."

A stern look that might give him a sexy schoolteacher fantasy or two, once he stops hating roses and summer and Mineral Town.

"Kai, that's not fair."

A long breath, into the wind off the water.

"I know. She's happy, and I'm glad. And hey, now Rick's got a brother-in-law he actually likes!"

A good-naturedly scornful noise.

"Oh, Rick! He may be cute when he's falling asleep at the bar after six Red Witches, with his glasses sliding down his nose and his hair dipping into the puddles of beer Karen left next to him, and--"

"So, is this supposed to make me feel better?"

She blushes.

"Sorry." A sigh. "I really am sorry that this happened, Kai. But in all honesty, I don't think anyone knew you felt so strongly about her."

"Are you serious? Why the hell did they think I came back every summer—"

"Well, you do run a seasonal business."

"—with jewellery?"

"Maybe she thought you were just sweet that way, and didn't mean anything by it."

"Yeah, right. Because all my friends have little heart pendants with 'Forever Yours' engraved on them."

A nervous giggle, followed by a long, uneasy silence. A dark eyebrow quirking suspiciously.



"Seriously, Muffy, what? Just tell me."

"Okay, but don't get mad, alright?"


"Well...did you ever talk with Popuri about where you two were going?"


"What I mean is, did she have any reason to think that you were interested in more than cuddling on the beach every summer?"

"Come on, I told her all the time how much she meant to me. I wrote her, like, fifty times a year. I even sent her letters in the summer because she loves getting mail."

Big blue eyes growing misty.

"Oh, that's so sweet!"

A faint blush.

"Thanks. But I guess it wasn't sweet enough."

"I don't think that's true, Kai. I think it's just that...well, the time you spent away from her spoke louder than all the sweet gestures in the world. It isn't fair, but it isn't her fault, any more than it's yours."

Thoughtfully, forehead wrinkling,

"Yeah, I guess." A wry, self-deprecating grin. "I just need to wallow in self-pity for a while, okay?"

Another giggle.

"Why don't you come for a drink? It just so happens, we have something on the menu, specifically for wallowing. Griffin invented it for me about a year ago..."


And they'll go, and that one drink on that almost-summer evening will lead to a second, on an early summer evening. And a third, on a different evening, and another, and another, until midsummer comes and goes, and it's almost autumn.

Between those evenings in the bar and those walks along the beach during his breaks and before her shifts (because he's there anyway and she's there anyway and it's a lot more fun to talk than politely ignore each other just because they're both supposed to be pining), it will occur to him that it's getting easier to think about Mineral Town without wanting to hit something (even though it'll be a long time before he wants to stay there again). Somewhere around the second week, he'll even stop ordering the Wallowing-in-Self-Pity Special (although he'll continue to tease Muffy about changing the name).

And somewhere between his adorable pout when she cuts him off from those Blue Sharks he drinks (because he's starting to sob on Griffin's shoulder that he really, really wanted Rick for a brother-in-law, and that's just creepy) and the Out For Lunch sign and complimentary Greek mini-pizza that always materialize when she wanders down to the beach to say hi, it'll hit her that she really is happy for Celia and Graham at last, after a year of trying. Somewhere around the middle of summer, she'll even hold out her arms, genuinely delighted, and let Celia settle a tiny, cooing little bundle of soft pink and big brown eyes into them. (Jilted love is one thing, but Sadie is just cute – not to mention Sadie's mommy, glowing with maternal pride and smiling beyond the reaches of a normal human face).

And by the time the Valley feels that indefinable change and you can almost smell autumn in the air, he'll know what it means. Maybe not love, but getting there, and close enough that he'll think she should probably know.

He'll agonize for those last few days of summer about how to tell her, considering and discarding every romantic gesture his other brother ever suggested as a surefire way to melt a girl's heart, and then he'll consider and discard every thoughtful gesture that's pretty much worked for him so far.

Finally, on the first day of autumn, when the chill in the air nips at his heels and reminds him that there are other places by other seashores waiting for him, he'll remember something.

The time you spend away from her speaks louder than all the sweet gestures in the world.

And so, when she heads down to the beach to say see you next summer, a little teary-eyed but smiling brightly, she finds him unpacking, and the tears come thicker and a shaky laugh bubbles up from nowhere until he silences it with a kiss, only the first of many.

Summer is almost here, and the world is beautiful.

And soon enough, it will be beautiful for them, too.


End Notes: Okay, Kai x Muffy is officially my favourite HM crossover pairing. It's one of the few that I like with a basis, actual evidence of attraction instead of just no particular evidence of hostility, so I'm milkin' it for all it's worth. XD

Marlin x Elli...not so much with the basis, but I do love it too. Hence the little wink in that direction. XD