It was a quite normal day for me when I came up with the idea of this pairing... I was thinking about goodness knows what, and BAM - this came into my head and wouldn't get out. I'm pretty certain that GrayxElli has never been done before - if it has, I swear I didn't intentionally copy anyone!!
All the blacksmith training in the world wouldn't make me as strong as that woman.
It was another typical Friday and I was working in my grandfather's shop, slaving away as I shaped that damn farmer's axe over a burning furnace. Sweat was dripping off my brow, soaking my shirt. On a hot summer day, this was certainly not where I'd choose to be, nor what I'd choose to be doing. Maybe relaxing at the beach, taking a dip in the cool, salty water. Or at the library, stealing forbidden glances at a married woman over a novel that I really didn't have all that much interest in. Anywhere but here, doing anything but -
"Boy!" My grandfather barked, frightening the life out of me. "Stop daydreaming! Do you intend to completely liquify that axe?" I glanced down hurriedly, noticing the metal drooping a little more than it should've been. "You worthless idiot," he snapped, noticing the ruined work.
"I'll fix it," I muttered resentfully.
"That isn't fixable!" he yelled, striding over and smacking me over the head. "You'll pay for that out of your wages!"
"Fine," I replied, my teeth gritted and hands clenched.
"I don't know why I bother," he said almost sadly, shaking his head and walking back to the front counter. "You're too stubborn to learn a thing."
I took a deep breath, then crossed my arms and stormed over in front of him. "What else is there to do?"
He picked up a sheet of paper off the desk and handed it to me roughly. "There," he growled. "You shouldn't be able to stuff this up too badly. Go and pick that up from Jack's farm."
"Fine." I glanced at the sheet and noted that he wanted a gold sickle picked up, and upgraded to a mystrile. My eyes nearly bugged out of my head when I saw the price he was paying for it. I'd never had that kind of money to spend in my life, and here he was flitting it away on a tool that I doubted he used very much, anyway. No wonder Mary married him - the rich son of a –
"Get a move on, you lazy good-for-nothing!" my loving grandfather yelled, picking up a long stick and poking my arm with it hard. "Go on!"
I mumbled something that I wouldn't have the audacity to repeat out loud and slammed out the door, only picking up momentum as I made my way to that place I hated going; the home of a sickeningly charming farmer and a beautiful librarian. My beautiful librarian, to be exact.
Only, she wasn't mine anymore. Stupid Jack.
I kicked open his front gate, perhaps a little more viciously than necessary, and grunted as it swung back to catch me hard in the shins. I let out a low groan, and stiffened as I heard my name called by... an angellic voice.
"Gray?" Mary called, peering at me from her position under a large, leafy tree. She had a notebook balanced on her knees and a pen in her hand, and was looking at me as if I was... something very peculiar that had just fallen out of said tree.
"Hey," I called gruffly, digging into the ground with a toe of a heavy workboot. "I'm here to pick up a sickle for Jack."
"O-oh," she said quietly, carefully getting to her feet. "Well, Jack isn't here right now... and I'm not sure where he would keep it... come inside and help me look, will you?"
"Sure," I replied, trying to sound casual. She shot me another funny look and I realised that my attempt at 'casual' had come out something like, "Su-uu-uo-ure..." she hurried on ahead into a frosty house – oh for Goddess's sake, did he have air-conditioning?! Living in the lap of luxury, with Mary as his life companion. If I could swap lives with anyone on this planet...
"Sorry if it's too cold for you," she was saying. "It's much too cold for me, especially when I could be out enjoying beautiful warm weather outside. That's why I was writing out there. But I don't want to hurt Jack's feelings and tell him – he spent so much money getting this installed, trying to make the house comfortable for me..."
"Poor bastard," I mumbled aggressively, quiet enough so that the librarian couldn't hear me. She was searching over near the kitchen for the tool (sickle, not Jack) and I decided not to point out the large toolbox in the corner just yet. Give it a few minutes.
"So, um, Mary," I began, walking over to the television cabinet and pretending to search around there, "It's – it's a Friday. Why isn't the library open?"
She stood up and stared at me for a few moments, something like... sympathy... in her eyes? "Gray," she said, crossing the room and taking a seat at their large dining table, gesturing for me to take the seat opposite. I did so, the loud beating in my chest signalling that she was going to tell me something, and I wasn't going to like it one bit.
"Yeah?" I asked, obtaining the same effect as I tried to pull off 'casual' once more. 'Ye-aa-ea-ah?' Goddess, I hate myself.
"Jack... and I... received some news," she began awkwardly, fiddling with the tablecloth. "And... Jack thinks it might be better if I don't work for several months." She paused, and I stared at her blankly, not following. "... nine months, to be exact."
I'd always wondered what having your heart ripped out of your chest and shoved down your throat would feel like. I didn't need to wonder anymore.
I couldn't see straight, and I was vaguely aware of perspiration starting to bead on my forehead again. The painful lump in my throat felt like I'd just swallowed a whole orange – or a watermelon.
"- and we're very excited," she was saying nervously, trying to get all her words out at once. "We've agreed on Isabel, for a girl, or Colin for a boy – after Jack's grandparents. I – Gray, are you all right?"
"I should probably get that sickle now," I croaked weakly, standing up and trembling my way over to the toolbox, where the sickle lay right on top, just waiting to be picked up. Dear, darling, wonderful Jack. So... damn... thoughtful.
"You don't look well at all," Mary was saying in concern. For some reason, her usually calming voice was causing a sharp irritation in my head. I lifted a hand at her lamely, as a sort of farewell, and said my congratulations in a garbled, unrecognizable voice. And were those... tears pricking at my eyes? No. I drew the line at tears – there was no way in hell that Mary was going to see me cry. I pushed the door open.
"Oy!" Jack yelled as I toppled into him, doing a funny kind of flip as my knees got caught between him and the doorframe. I hit the ground hard, half expecting to see little cartoon stars pop up in front of my eyes as I became distantly aware of a dull, throbbing pain running the length of my forearm. I glanced down through half-lids to see blood everywhere, then up to see a brown-haired farmer staring down at me in shock.
"What happened?" Mary's voice called, footsteps hurrying over to the door. Jack flinched.
"He, uh, crashed into me as he was coming out the door... then fell and hit his head – and Goddess, he's sliced his arm open pretty badly with that sickle."
Brilliant. How bloody fitting. First he's the cause of severe emotional pain, now he and his stupid farm tools are trying to maul me physically. But it was getting harder for me to be resentful, as I heard someone say something about 'clinic', and felt myself drift out of consciousness.
"Oh, you're coming back to us," a cheerful female voice said, a soft hand reaching out and lightly touching my face. I squinted one eye open, then closed it, seeing nothing but blurs. I counted to ten, then forced them open again, the light hurting for a few moments before everything came into focus and I recognized the brunette nurse.
"Elli," I groaned, trying to rub my head but realising that I couldn't move my right arm. I glanced down to see it bandaged up tightly.
"You gave me a bit of a fright," she told me, crossing over and opening the window for whatever reason girls do things like that. "Jack practically carried you in, and I've never seen so much blood."
Kill. Me. Now.
"Carried me?" I asked, burying my head in my hands. Elli nodded, crossed the room and sat on the end of my hospital bed. "C-can you go and get Mary?"
She paused, then glanced at her hands and stood up. "Sorry Gray – she's not here. She stayed a long time, about an hour – Jack too – but then she needed to go. She said she'll come see you tomorrow, if you're still here – which, by the looks of it, you will be."
"Dammit woman, you're dreaming," I said grumpily, going to cross my arms over my chest but once again, realising that I couldn't. "I'm not staying here. I'll go home now." I got to my feet, before I was overcome with a wave of dizziness and abruptly sat back down on the bed. Elli looked like she was trying not to smile, and I scowled at her angrily.
"You're not going anywhere," she said quietly. I suddenly had the feeling that I was being held hostage. Hostage in a hospital. Like that movie – what was it called? With the father who – NOW IS NOT THE TIME!
"So... how are you?" she asked suddenly.
That stupid girl.
Only a real moron would have the nerve – no – the complete idioticy, to try and 'small talk' me out of a foul mood like the one I was in. There she was, blinking down at me kindly – but with a hint of disapproval as I mouthed off to her.
She gently applied a cold compress to my aching head as I snarled at her to get the hell away from me and tried to fend her off with my good arm... just how dumb was she to keep on and on trying?
"Don't use that language with me," she said, still sounding as damn cheerful as ever. It might have been the concussion, but I honestly could not think of one more annoying person I'd ever met in my life.
"I don't need you telling me what to do," I snarled – though I was a little taken-aback by her frank comment. True, I'd hardly spoken to her, but she always seemed so... meek. A real doormat.
"Obviously you need someone telling you what to do," she replied, her voice with a sing-song quality to it. "You proved today that you're not so great at looking after yourself."
"It was a rough day, all right?" I snapped. She shrugged.
"We all have rough days. Not many of us end up in a hospital bed after them, though. I guess your day must have been rougher than most."
"Yeah, it was," I told her ungratefully. I didn't feel like talking. After the few words that I had confided, I'd recalled Mary's news. That was a major kick in the teeth. Pregnant... Mary... it was unbelievable, yet a huge part of me knew it was true.
"It must be hard on you," Elli pressed gently. My eyes snapped up to meet her brown ones, and I could tell that she knew exactly what my thoughts were focussed on. "They only found out a few days ago, themselves."
"You don't know anything about it." There was a pause for a few moments.
"Really?" she replied, her voice sounding unnaturally harsh. "Of course, I don't know a thing. Let me just tell you, Gray – you weren't the one that had to give them the diagnosis. Okay?" she picked herself up and swept out, long skirts swishing behind her. It was a few minutes after she'd gone that it clicked, and I smacked myself in the head for being so dumb. At least I would have, were my arm not bandaged.
Elli and Jack. Jack and Elli. It had been last year, which was why I hadn't remembered – well, that – and I guess I hadn't really cared who he dated, until he started seeing Mary. Good job Gray, snap at the only person who might have the tiniest inkling of understanding for your situation. My mind travelled back to the split second of hurt in her eyes, and I groaned, resting my head back on the pillow. Maybe tomorrow, I'd kill a few of Popuri's favorite chickens in front of her, then bite the head off of little May's dog.
She came into my room the next day, waking me up with her gentle whistling and general tidying. I watched her sleepily, before she turned to me with a bright smile.
"Good morning," she said, walking over and helping me sit up. I frowned, feeling like an invalid. She obviously bore no hard feelings about our... super-miniature spat the day before, and I felt a twinge of respect for her. Some girls I'd known over the years would take months to let something like that go. But I still felt guilty, and I sighed, knowing what I had to do.
"... Sorry," I mumbled, ducking my head. My hat sat on a table, out of my reach, and more than anything I wanted it just to cover my red cheeks.
"For what?" she asked, confused. My jaw dropped. She couldn't possibly be that over it. And here I was, exhausted after worrying about her half the night.
"For... yesterday. For getting impatient with you. I, uh, know that you... must be taking it hard, too."
"Oh Gray," she smiled, shaking her head. "I'm sorry if you were worried about that. Honestly, I can tell it's a lot harder on you than it is on me."
"It's not that hard on me," I mumbled, trying to save some of my manly pride. After freaking out, almost crying when I heard Mary's news, hurting myself badly with a tool I work all day with, and being... carried to the clinic by the man responsible for all of it, I wasn't feeling at my absolute most masculine. And the last thing I needed was having a sob-session over my lost love with a pretty nurse.
"What?" Elli asked brightly, making my heart sink. I didn't say that out loud, did I? I didn't. I didn't. Oh Goddess, I did. I sat there, dying of mortification for a few moments, before I realised that she hadn't been talking to me and breathed a sigh of relief. She did catch that one, sending me a puzzled glance. "I have to go sort out something for the doctor," she told me, bustling out of the room. "Call me if you need anything."
Yeah. I needed to go home and do something 'manly' like shaping metal and gaining various injuries without needing to go to the clinic for them. I needed to go back and be snapped at relentlessly by my grandfather. I needed to go back and watch Mary and Jack prepare for their baby. I -
Maybe I could stay here just a couple more hours.
... a couple of hours spread into another day, by which time I think I was practically a woman, emotionally. When I hauled myself to the front desk to sign out, Elli beamed at me, with the tiniest trace of sadness – like a mother letting her baby go off to college.
"I'm going to miss your scowling face in the morning," she joked. I opened my mouth to reply sarcastically, but I couldn't make myself form any words. I just grunted at her. She seemed unaffected, and I came to the realiation that she wasn't scared of me at all. Mary had always been a little intimidated, Popuri would make this... peculiar squeaking sound whenever I said a word to her, and even though they would never admit it, I think even Karen and Ann were a little frightened. Not this girl.
That realisation was a turning point for me.
"Tim wants you to come back every day for a little while," she was saying softly, "Just in case, you know? We want to make sure you're completely healthy, and there's no infection or anything."
I shrugged. "Whatever."
Her gaze turned to one of disappointment, and she leaned over the counter to survey me closely. "It's for your own good," she told me. "I don't want to see you get sick from something that could have been easily prevented."
"I'll come back," I exhaled, growing exasperated.
And I did. Every single day. At first it was just a very brief, quick check-up from Tim, then after the third day, he left the job up to Elli. I had to admit, I liked her better. She was amusing and chatty, but she could always tell when I'd had a hard day, and when to be quiet.
She was a friend. And that was the thing that I needed most.
After a week or two, we didn't even bother with my arm anymore. The clinic became my sanctuary – straight after work, I'd rush there and sit with her, just talking and sometimes just... being there. It was everything the library had been to me; maybe even more... and though I didn't want to admit it, Elli soon became to me everything that Mary had been. Maybe even more.
We talked a lot. I soon told her everything there was to know; my problems with work, my problems with my grandfather. How I'd felt at Jack and Mary's wedding and how I felt about Mary being pregnant. Elli had a kind of power – she could drag anything out of me, while hardly even trying. She was surprisingly secretive about her own life, though.
Piece by piece, I started to gather information about her. Her parents had died when she was a teenager, and Stu was very small. Sometimes at night she couldn't sleep, worrying about her brother and grandmother. But there was one subject that she would never elaborate on; the one subject that I was interested in hearing about. Love.
It was the next year, the 23rd of Summer – just over a year after my stay in the clinic. Mary and Jack's baby had been born, an adorable little girl named Isabel. I'd spent every afternoon but Wednesday and festival days at the clinic, the entire year, and I was painfully aware that the Fireworks Festival was to be held the next day. For the past three years, the only reason the Fireworks had bothered me was that I had nobody to ask. This year, I did have someone to ask – well, someone that I wanted to ask. I planned to do it when I reached the clinic after work that day, but as it would be, fate had other plans.
"Gray!" a female voice called as I left the blacksmiths. I turned around and smiled as I recognized Claire, a pretty blonde who had been staying at the inn for a couple of seasons. I waved at her, and she jogged over. "How are you?" she asked brightly.
"Yeah, really good. Where are you going?"
"Oh? What's wrong?"
I hesitated. This was always a tricky thing to explain; when I tried, it always seemed like I only went there to see Elli. In all honestly, that was the only reason, but... "I need to talk to Elli... and Tim about something." I always took the easy way out.
"Oh, okay." She was fiddling with the strap of her overalls, something she did when she was nervous. I raised an eyebrow at her.
"Hey, do you, uh..." she was going a bright shade of red. "Do you have plans for t-the Fireworks Festival?"
Heart - Stopped.
Brain - Dead.
Voice - Apparently disabled.
"I – ta – meh?" I asked in gibberish, blinking at her incredulously. She giggled and shook her head, her blush subsiding somewhat.
"Would you like to watch them with me?"
I frowned, staring straight ahead. Claire was a nice girl, no doubt about it. She wasn't hard on the eyes at all, and she was very well-liked in town. I'd be an idiot to say no...
"Sorry, Claire... I – I think I'm going with someone already."
Her face dropped in shock, and I felt like I'd kicked her. But she didn't cry, or throw a tantrum – she just nodded, gave me a half-smile and walked away. I felt awful. So low down that even ants would tower over me. I felt drained, but needed to pick up my energy for long enough to walk to the clinic – I really had to ask Elli now, or else I'd look like a horrible person and an idiot.
"Hey," she smiled as I walked in the door.
"Hi," I replied gruffly. I hated that. It was an automatic reaction when I was scared or nervous; I'd straight away turn into a growling jerk. The nurse never seemed to mind – far from it, she seemed to understand.
"Today was tough," she was saying while I listened distantly. "I filled in all these forms for hours and hours, applying for this new medicine that the doctor wants to try out – and then Jack came in, for some more of that medicine for the baby? Anyway, I went to get that from the cupboard, and –"
"What happened between you and Jack?" I asked suddenly. I needed, really needed just an inkling of information. I don't know why. She looked surprised, taken aback – but she cleared her throat and sat down facing me.
"W-well," she began slowly, "I guess I thought there was something there... that there just wasn't. He was very nice to me, and brought me flowers... and we talked, sometimes... but it was nothing serious. He moved on, and I – well, I was upset for a little while. It didn't take too long for me to get over it. Honestly? We had no relationship."
"But – I'd heard rumours about the two of you," I stuttered. "There must have been some sort of... understanding..."
"The rumours in this town are just vicious lies for the most part," she said, shaking her head sadly. "Don't believe a word you hear." She paused, and laughed. "Manna, Anna and Sasha have basically planned May's wedding to my brother. It's all nonsense."
She must have noticed my disappointment at the way she'd waved my question off, because she started to speak again, more serious this time. "If you want the truth, maybe I was a little too eager when it came to Jack. I'd just been hurt, and I..."
"Who hurt you?" I asked quickly. I followed her silent gaze to the curtained cubicle that was the doctor's office, and frowned, puzzled. "Tim?" I mouthed. She edged a little closer and stared at her hands as she spoke.
"He's a lovely man," she told me, "But he's not interested in romance. I was young, and I'd listened to gossip and speculation surrounding the two of us. You know, living together, working together..." she trailed off, before starting again. "It all seemed tremendously romantic. You know, I thought I'd be able to bring him out of his closed-up shell. I fell in love with this fantasy of him." She closed her eyes briefly. "I told him how I felt one night, and he very kindly – very gently – told me that he wasn't interested. It just broke my heart."
"Elli..." I murmured, feeling terrible for bringing it up. She lifted a hand and shook her head.
"All of this happened a long time ago. I very rarely think about it any more. And you know, I'm still a romantic at heart." She grinned. "You never stop hoping. Two down," she glanced at me, "Third time's a charm."
"Have... is there a third?" I asked in horror. There couldn't be someone else, could there? That would be just perfect. Mary all over again. But... just the idea of losing Elli made my heart clench, and breathing become hard. I couldn't lose her.
She examined her nails, a tiny smile on her face. "There might be."
Goddess, I had to get out of there before I started yelling, or something equally embarrassing. What I felt at that moment was... indescribable. I wanted to know who it was, so I could hunt him down and kill him. I'd never felt this fury towards Jack.
That was when it hit me.
I loved Elli.
And I needed to leave.
"I have to go," I said hoarsely, barely getting the words out. She glanced at me, puzzled, and a little hurt.
"I – I – just... bye." I left without looking back, and slammed the door behind me.
What were the chances? Why, why did I have to fall in love with her? Elli was... incredible. She was kind, sweet, funny and gentle – everything that I wasn't – of course she's going to fall for someone just like her. Hell, I didn't deserve her, I knew that much.
'Third time's a charm.' She must've seen that I liked her, at least. So why would she say that? Not to hurt me, that wasn't something she would do. Maybe to let me down easy? To warn me? That look on her face had meant something, but what?
Realisation hit like a semi-trailer.
I turned and sprinted back to the clinic, faster than I'd ever run anywhere in my entire life. I shoved the door open impatiently – stupid things like that were always getting in my way – and set my eyes on the nurse behind the desk. The crying nurse behind the desk.
She glanced up immediately and covered one hand with her mouth when she saw me, panting, in the doorway. She hurriedly wiped the tears from her reddened eyes and got to her feet, apologizing profusely.
"I didn't mean to scare you, Gray. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I don't want anything to change."
"Go to the fireworks with me?" I asked breathlessly, getting the words out before something else could pop up and prevent their being said. She gave a tiny gasp, and hesitated before shaking her head.
"I don't want you to do that out of sympathy," she sniffed. "I'm an adult. I'll cope."
"I want you to say yes," I told her impatiently. I was always losing my patience. Add that to the list of Gray's flaws.
"I – Goddess, of course," she whimpered. She was so beautiful, even with her eyes puffy and nose red from crying.
"Uh... okay, cool," I answered slowly. I never was any good with knowing what to say in these emotional scenes. And obviously, she knew that, just like she knew everything else about me – because she just held out her arms and didn't say another word.
It was as I held her, that I had yet another revelation; an entirely new one, as a matter of fact. I needed Elli, really needed her, and that was no surprise. But right now, after seeing my Elli, my pillar of strength in a slight moment of weakness and vulnerability... it was the first time it occurred to me that maybe – well.
Maybe she needed me, too.
So... I don't know about this, I can't really tell how good the writing is because I'm busy being overwhelmed with the cuteness of insecure Gray and insecure Elli together. Let me know what you think :)