Note: Screw it, I'm going to make this a ficlet. It was supposed to be a oneshot, but noooo, the plot bunny just HAD to be massive, didn't it? Well, hopefully you like this collective effort of previous drafts. Enjoy.
Dedicated to Randomness fer Life, who asked for Kai x Claire fluff a few months ago, and I spent way, way, way too much time mulling over it. (and it's still not done! :O)
Disclaimer: I have yet to own anything. I'm still working on that.
Lying on a blanket of sand with the ocean licking my heels, I stare skyward as the clouds merge in a kaleidoscope of color: violet, then scarlet, finishing with an enveloping darkness. I close my eyes and open them again, watching as the sun dips into the western sky.
God, I've never hated waiting so much in my life.
Dawn. That's all I'm asking for. That all the hours of night would pass by in a painless breath of time—that I wouldn't have to lay here on the beach, my heart beating furiously in anticipation.
Because I can't wait. And damn it, I can only blame him for that.
Think back a few summers. Think back to when my field was nothing but an endless sea of weeds, rocks, and debris. Back to when everyone still called me "that farm girl" because they didn't want to admit that they couldn't remember my name.
"Claire. It's Claire."
I sighed, putting my hands on my hips and trying—somehow—to maintain a happy expression as I leaned against the Winery doorway. Obviously I was failing at it, because Manna gave me a little frown and said, "Well, no need to be snippy about it. All I'm saying is that you should go meet Kai."
"Kai?" I questioned, perplexed.
"Kai is the most obnoxious, two-timing, girl-snatching playboy you'll ever meet," Rick snarled, tossing chicken feed into the feed bin with a vengeance. "Just you wait—he'll capture you just like the rest of them. What with his good looks, his foreign accent, and his shameless flirting, you'll have no choice but to fall to his charms. Stupid Kai."
"Sounds like a creep," I commented.
"Oh, he's not as bad as Rick makes him out to be," Karen assured me as I purchased seeds in the Supermarket. "He's a real sweet guy—always smiling, loads of fun, and let me tell you, that boy can cook. If he were here for the cooking competitions, let's just say Ann wouldn't win so often."
And with all these different opinions, I couldn't help but wonder about Kai. Surely he would be good-looking; Rick wouldn't have been so vehement about him otherwise. And someone with Karen's description must have a bright smile—and laughing eyes—exotic features—
The image was burned into my mind before I could even see him firsthand, and suddenly as I stood by Popuri at the dock, my hands were shaking. Sweat hung upon my brow, and my knees buckled as the wind tossed about my blonde hair. Why I was so scared, even I couldn't say. Why meeting a total stranger both terrified and thrilled me so much, I'll probably never be able to explain.
But when he landed on that dock—that traveler clad in purple with a cocky grin spread across his face—I felt vindicated for my behavior. His whole body seemed to flow effortlessly with movement, graceful without even trying. He strutted forward, waving to a seething Rick and staring straight towards me with open arms. "I've missed you, baby."
I stiffened at his strange greeting, and finally managed to squeak, "I'm sorry—?"
"Kai!" The girl beside me tackled into the boy's arms, and before I could recover from my shock, she planted a kiss on his cheek. "Oh, Kai, I've missed you so, so, much!"
Stunned, I watched on as he held her tightly in response, and then after much hesitation, let go. "Missed you, too, Poppy," he replied, then his amber eyes flickered toward me. Nailed to the ground, I simply stared as he said, "You're new here, aren't you?"
God, he had a gorgeous voice. It was the accent that did it, I think—that melodic, exotic accent of his that whispered of far-away places and unseen wonders. I'd never heard anything like it.
"You a tourist?"
I blinked, then managed to say, "Um…yeah. I mean, no, I'm not. I'm—I have a field, and chickens, and uh—I grow stuff—and, um, I live that way—"
"Oh, you bought that old farm?" Kai realized—how he translated my stuttering nonsense I will never know. "Hey, I bet you'll do a great job with it. What kind of stuff are you growing?"
"Um…plants." Way to go, Miss I-Majored-In-Communications.
His grin broadened, and letting out a laugh, he replied, "Well, that's always good. Seeing as you can't really grow anything else in a field."
"Guess not." I laughed nervously.
He scratched his head and turned to Popuri. "I think you should go check on Rick, Poppy. He looks like he's about to explode."
She giggled and sped off, blushing madly. Which, I realized belatedly, I was doing as well. Kai didn't seem to notice, though; he kept on talking as if I wasn't doing anything obvious or stupid. "You know, I'll be working at the restaurant over there all summer. Why don't you stop by sometime? First snow cone's on me."
I nodded dumbly. "Uh, sure."
"Alright," he winked. Staring as he walked away from me, I immediately berated myself. Plants? I grow plants? What kind of a reply was that? Letting out a groan, I rubbed my temples and shook my head. Why on earth was I feeling so light-headed, anyway? He had a girlfriend. A girlfriend. A cute, pink-haired, bubbly girlfriend who he was perfectly happy with.
All I had was a field, chickens, and very poor social skills.
Despite this reality check, I found myself stopping by the Snack Shack that afternoon. And the next. And the next. I didn't say much. I simply sat at the counter, nodding from behind the rim of my snow cone at whatever Kai was saying. Whatever social skills I lacked, the traveler made up for ten-fold; every day, there was a new story to told, a new adventure to boast of, a new memory to dust off and share. He had such a lovely, melodic voice: he could talk about anything and it would enthrall me. Every syllable he spoke echoed like music in my ears, and it fascinated me, though I couldn't say why. But as always, the sun set, the days passed, and the first summer waned. I waved good-bye on the dock, watching until the ship disappeared into the horizon.
And as the seasons did their dance, the leaves fell, the snow blanketed the ground, and the spring blossoms unfurled their petals.
And the second summer came.
When the ship arrived, it took all my willpower to refrain from going immediately to see him—I had to remind myself that I was a nobody, a constant customer at his restaurant, that he probably didn't even remember my name. Besides, I had to be remembering him wrong; there had to be something I'd overlooked about him, to blindly long to see him as I did. I barely knew him. I had no reason to see him.
So the first day passed in silence.
By the next morning, curiosity was threatening to drive me insane, and I found myself starting to the beach despite myself. Silly. Silly, to want to see him so badly. Silly, to want to see if he was really as perfect as I remembered. Silly, to hope he'd want to see me, too.
But my hand froze upon the door as shouts echoed from within the Snack Shack's walls.
"You're so selfish!"
"It's not my fault if you don't—"
"I don't what? I don't do what, Kai?!"
Before I had the good sense to back away, the door opened, and I found myself face-to-face with wet ruby eyes. Popuri sniffled, and, appalled that someone could see her in this vulnerable and unattractive state, hid away her tear-streaked face and stomped off, wiping her eyes.
"Popuri!" His beautiful voice rang out as he thundered forward, so close to pursuing the retreating silhouette dabbing her eyes. Instead, Kai remained rooted where he was, his hands clenched into desperate fists. His eyes flickered toward mine, and as they widened, he exclaimed, "What are you doing here?"
"We're closed. Come back tomorrow." There was no laughter in his voice today. Something new lingered there, something uncertain and afraid.
And not recognizing this strange new voice, I left.
You could say I was disappointed. That wouldn't be a lie. I had hoped for some sort of intelligent first impression this season: something to make him notice me, take an interest. The last thing I had wanted was to appear when I was least wanted, to watch as the person he cared for most left him in tears.
The next day, I couldn't even face him. Instead, I let my feet take me to the dock, sitting down at the edge and letting the breeze play with my long blonde ponytail. The ocean, at the very least, was sympathetic to my cause; for the first time in my life, I saw dolphins splashing playfully in the waves. Leaning forward, I watched them dance in the sea, sunlight reflecting off their sleek bodies in a majestic display.
But as my curiosity grew, I found myself leaning more and more towards the ocean, and suddenly the dock slid from under me. A scream ripped from my throat as my hands defensively placed themselves before me, slamming into the water as its surface slapped my unprepared body. With a deafening crash, I careened into the waves, ocean water filling my lungs as I made the mistake of breathing. I coughed as I flailed, attempting to break through the roof of ocean above only to be shoved down by another wave.
Squinting, I tried to see if I could make sense of the murky world surrounding me, but the salt stung my eyes, and I snapped them shut in pain. I felt my limbs get tossed from one direction to anther in a commanding pull, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't force myself to get back to shore.
Panic leaped into my throat, and as air locked itself in my constricting lungs, I cursed myself for not taking those damn swimming lessons. I could see the obituary now; city girl goes to the country only to fall off a dock and suffocate—good job, Claire. Way to die.
Then strong arms wrapped themselves around my limp ones, and suddenly the water surrounding me gave way to sea breezes and sky. Gasping, I shook my hair from my face as my mouth and nose savored each breath of air they were now privileged to take. Then my eyes began burning, and as I let out a moan, I tilted my head just enough to see the back of my rescuer's head. My tired eyes made out one color: purple.
Once sand found itself under my feet, my hero put his arm about me, supporting me as he led me to a small white building nearby. He said something, but being too exhausted to comprehend it, I just nodded as he opened the door and brought me inside.
I think I practically collapsed on the ground in relief, and a low sound that sounded like a laugh echoed through the place as he left for a moment and returned with a heavy blanket and some sort of shirt draped over his arm.
"You're lucky there's no charge for sleeping on the floor."
Groggily, I stared up at this man through half-lidded eyes—God, I couldn't care who he was at this point, I was ready to kiss the ground he walked upon—and mumbled, "Blanket?"
His laugh—strangely familiar—resounded throughout the room again, and he obliged to my simple request, covering me in a large fuzzy—towel, was it? I was too weary to care.
"You shouldn't go around scaring people like that," he grinned, sitting himself beside me. "If I had to rescue pretty girls like you every day, I think I'd be plumb worn out."
"Mmph," I mumbled, half-asleep. "It's nice…"
"The blanket. It smells nice."
I held the fabric up to my face and let its soft surface caress my moist skin. My head rested itself uncomfortably on the hard wooden floor, but I couldn't care less. I'm pretty sure my hero gave me a strange look right then and there, but he replied, "I'm glad it's comfortable. Listen, you might want a change of clothes or something—it's bad to wear wet clothes too long. Riptides are bad enough; you don't want to get yeast infection, do you?"
"Uh-uh," I groaned. "I guess not."
A soft cotton object was tossed at my face, and as I pulled it off my head, I saw it was a large, white shirt.
"Wear that for now. I'd give you…well…something nicer, but I don't usually carry girl's clothing on a regular basis," he admitted. "I hope that, uh, helps."
"You want me to change into this?" I asked, furrowing my brow as I held the shirt before me.
"Well, not while I'm here," he added quickly, laughing again. "But if you feel like moving anywhere just yet—"
"Not yet," I whined, burying my head under the blanket. "Everything hurts. I don't want to move."
I'm not sure, but I think he smiled. "Well, I'll just hang out back in the kitchen, and let you take your nap and change. That sound good?"
I nodded. Nestled in the coziness of the blanket, I waited until he left to pull off my soaked, sandy overalls and drenched T-shirt. For the sake of modesty, the damp underclothes had to stay—as exhausted as I was, I wasn't stupid enough to go commando with some random guy wandering about.
Though, I was stupid enough to almost drown in the ocean and then take a nap inside a total stranger's home.
The fabric of the shirt was soft—softer than I had realized when I first fingered it in my grasp. It stuck to my moist skin, and I could smell the fresh scent of cleaning detergent and remnants of cologne that clung to his shirt. A rather pleasing smell. In fact, I was beginning to feel a little drowsy…
Okay, more than a little. Very drowsy.
Hazy reality gave way to dreamless slumber, filled with a comforting darkness so much different than that of the ocean's. This darkness was warm, comforting even—it was safe. I didn't know how to explain it. But as a beautiful voice echoed in the darkness, I realized two things:
One, the voice was that of my hero.
And two, that voice belonged to Kai.
"So sleeping beauty got herself up, I see," he commented, smiling as I entered the doorway. I'd wrapped the towel about my waist; not only was that shirt not quite long enough for me, but I'd scraped up my knees pretty badly tripping in the waves, and as memorable as the last impression had been, I wanted my second one with him to be at least a little better.
"Um…thank you," I murmured, seating myself down at his table.
"Saving me. I, uh, appreciate it." I stared at the ground, and cleared my throat. He was incredibly intimidating, with his perfectly chiseled features and honest eyes. Averting his gaze didn't help matters either; when I stared at his muscled arms, I couldn't help but suppress a pang of horror as I realized they were all that had stood between me and death. Desperately trying to ignore these thoughts, I continued, "I didn't really mean to start drowning like that, you know—not that anyone ever means to—but I am sorry you had to go through so much trouble."
The traveler raised an eyebrow. "You're apologizing for almost dying on me?"
"Y-yes, you could say that." I could feel the heat of his stare, and I shut my eyes, hoping it would alleviate my embarrassment. It surged through me all the same, and I could feel my stomach tie itself in knots of self-conscious mortification. "And because…um…I'm bothering you." After yesterday, I was the last thing he needed: another disturbance.
"No, you're not bothering me at all," he disagreed, crossing his arms. "In fact, if you had gone and died out there, I'd be pretty put out. Seriously, then I couldn't have seen how well you pull off the grungy T-shirt look."
I blushed, too shy to laugh at his gentle teasing, and a little too scared to take his cheerful disposition with open arms. Kai studied me for a few moments more, and I found myself avoiding his eyes again as they scrutinized me. "Wait a sec," he whispered. "You were here yesterday, right?"
My quiet nod betrayed me. He let out an audible sigh, then shook his head.
"Sorry you had to see that. Things were kind of…ugly. You weren't supposed to hear any of that." A pause. "No one was."
I wasn't sure if it was my place to reply, but thankfully he made the decision for me and continued, "Poppy and I have been dating forever, but…well…she expects more out of it than I do." He smiled wryly. "Expected, I should say. Since it's all over."
"More out of it?" I repeated, furrowing my brow.
"A proposal," he shrugged, as if it were some small insignificant detail in a small insignificant argument, when in fact it had ended a relationship that had lasted years. "She wanted me to marry her. I wasn't ready. So she gave up."
His angelic voice said it all so calmly, so indifferently, that I felt as if I were talking to a different man than the distraught one I had seen yesterday. I dared to stare into his eyes; I fought to see if some of that man still lingered in those laughing orbs.
But I could only stare for so long.
"Well." Kai stood up, stretching his arms and waiting for me to get up as well. "I bet you'd like to get home, huh? I'll walk you there."
I shook my head fervently, terrified. All the same, he took my arm in his and led me out the door, assuring me, "It's a short walk. I want to make sure you get home safe; it's no big deal."
But if it were no big deal, then my cheeks wouldn't be burning red, would they?
"…We scared you yesterday, huh?"
I shut my eyes as he stated his accusation, and shrugged. We'd been walking in silence, something that Kai apparently wasn't used to. Though I supposed it made sense that after being with someone like Popuri for so long; you forgot how hard it was for others quieter than you to strike up conversation.
"I swear I'm not going to have a breakdown on you, Claire. You won't get to see any waterworks, or fits of jealous rage, or what have you. It happened. Things happen." His eyes flickered towards mine and he grinned. "Like falling off a dock. It happens."
I finally stared at him, a little stunned by his reference, and his grin fell. Apparently I was supposed to laugh. "How do you do it?" I accused at length.
"Act so calm, when it's only been a day." I bit my lip. "She left you. It had to hurt, didn't it?"
It was Kai's turn to shrug. "Well, getting caught in that riptide hurt, didn't it?"
"Of course, but—"
"But now you're fine." The traveler patted me on the back, and I flinched at his unexpected touch. "Don't worry about me. I'm no stranger to a broken heart."
We'd stopped in front of my house, and Kai flashed me his grin once more. "Well, I've done three good deeds today, haven't I? I saved a girl's life, gave her a place to rest, and brought her safely home. I deserve some sort of award, don't I?"
"Th-thank you," I mumbled, forcing myself to gaze into his eyes. "I mean it. Thank you."
Something clouded his gaze, and Kai drew his lips into a frown as he held up his hand. I watched, somewhat tense, as he brought it towards me—and patted my head of blonde hair. "Don't worry yourself, alright? You're always so quiet—it bothers me. I can't tell if something's wrong." His fingers stroked a lock of my hair, sliding away slowly. "You don't owe me anything. Not even pity. Okay?"
I forced myself to nod.
"Good." He jerked his head towards my front door, and as he walked away he added, "Get some rest. It's been a crazy day."
I paused, turning against my better judgment and to watch his receding form. I watched the sunlight cast shadows upon him, I watched how his arms swung by his sides, how he had such a determined walk. I watched, and as a strange tug pulled at my heart, I couldn't help but think: how many times after today would I watch him walk away from me?
The silhouette clothed in purple froze in his descent, and soon a pair of topaz eyes were locked on my own watery blue orbs. Kai held my stare, and then a smile spread across his face as he winked and continued forward.
And once the contact ended, I found that I could breathe.
End Note: Whew! Lotta words, and we're still not done. I estimate this shall be a threeshot. Anyway, I hope you like it so far, and drop a review.