Note: Fluff-overload! XD This is an entry in my forum's Writing Game for Kuruk's challenge: Kai x Mary. Dude, I'm psyched to be writing all this unhealthily sweet pairing goodness. Kai x Mary is now heavily competing with Gray x Mary in my book, and that is saying something. (I blame you, Jean Cooper. Glaaaare.)

Disclaimer: I don't own it, but I wish I did.

Out of the Blue

Part One: The Visitor

On the fifth day of Summer, at approximately three thirty-seven in the afternoon, Kai broke up with Popuri. It hadn't been an easy decision, of course—and certainly not a well-received one with regards to the spurned party—but Kai hadn't regretted it. "The way I feel about you has no bearing on this," he had explained. "I'll always care about you, Poppy. But it would be silly of us to pretend that I can whisk you away from your mother so soon, and you know I can't stay here in Mineral Town. You deserve someone willing to do that for you. We've just gotta move on, baby."

She'd cried for a bit, and Kai had held her close as she shouted at him, beat her little fists into his shoulders, and buried her head of cotton-candy hair into his chest. "I don't want you to go," she'd begged. "I don't want you to leave me."

And God, that sweet young voice of hers made him not want to either, and the tears staining his shirt certainly didn't do much to help matters. "Poppy, you know it's not gonna work out," he murmured, handing her his bandana to dab her eyes. "It was never going to." Slowly, her sobs quieted to hiccups, and she let him walk her home, silence lingering between them the whole way.

Of course, Rick had panicked when he saw his sister's state of arrival, and Kai had endured at least fifteen minutes of verbal torture occasionally punctuated by Popuri's sniffling. "What did you do to her?!" the poultry farmer had snapped. "What did you do to my sister?!"

"Freed her," Kai had said simply. "That's all."

Even Kai wasn't sure as to why he'd chosen to go where he did next. He could've argued it was because Manna was breathing down his neck for the juicy details of the split-up, or because he knew he couldn't handle working the shop in his current mental state, or because he wasn't ready to face his roommates at the Inn just yet.

But for whatever reason, on the fifth day of Summer, Kai found himself knocking on the library door.

Middles were quite a sticky business. When writing the beginning of a story, there's always the exhilarating rush of putting new ideas down on paper that lets the words fly from your pen, and when writing the end, there's always the tempting knowledge that you're close to finishing to spur you on faster. But middles, Mary thought with a sigh, were quite a sticky, sticky business.

Which is exactly why, as she was contemplating one such sticky chapter, she was relieved to hear a knock at the door.

"Oh, one moment!" the librarian called as she stood up, wiping the ink from her fingers onto her smock. "One moment, please—I have to get the key." Fumbling in her pocket, her fingers finally caught onto the metal object, and she jammed it into the lock and twisted it open. "Sorry," she apologized as she pulled the door open, blushing. "I didn't mean to take so long."

"No problem," her visitor smiled. "I should be the one apologizing for dropping in on you like this."

There are a few reasons as to why Mary didn't respond to that statement. First and foremost, the mere identity of her visitor was enough to shock her silent. Of course, she knew who Kai was; everyone knew everyone in a little place like Mineral Town. Yet this was the first time that one, he'd come to her humble library, and two, that he'd seen her alone. Normally Popuri was there, or Claire, or Gray…

"…So can I come in, then?"

Hastily, Mary bobbed her head yes and cleared a way for him, her heart pounding as she closed the door. Why on earth was Kai here, anyway? Was this one of those silly dares boys always did—like seeing if they could sneak a bottle of wine from Duke's cellar without being caught, or prank Jeff by calling that new store phone he'd bought? Oh, no, Mary simply could not abide someone stealing from her precious library or pranking her things—oh, no, she wouldn't like that at all.

"Is there anything I can help you with?" she asked instead, clearing her throat. The traveler had already seated himself in one of the reading chairs and was idly flipping through one of the books on the counter—20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, from the looks of it.

"Nah, I'm good," he replied, searching for the illustrations. "I just needed some quiet, you know?"

"Well, I suppose it doesn't get any quieter than a library," Mary agreed, scrutinizing him as he obliviously kept on reading. If he were here to prank, he certainly didn't look it; his expression was far too serious, too focused for such a childish pastime. Perplexed, Mary kept on staring, until finally Kai looked up and caught her gaze.

"Is there something on my face?" he questioned.

A frown, Mary wanted to say, but instead she replied, "I was just wondering how you like the book so far, that's all."

He glanced back at the pages, then with a sigh closed the book and said, "It's long. Really long. I'm really just skimming it, looking at pictures, you know."

Ah, so he was one of those people. Mary had met their type—the 'too long, don't read' sort who only knew classics by name and not by story. "Moby Dick's about the whale, right?" they'd say. "Like Shamu."

Yes, Mary knew the type. She had yet to understand them, but she recognized the symptoms well enough.

"Strange. I'd think you'd like that book," Mary commented, sitting beside him. She picked up the volume from the tabletop, and continued, "It's about sailors, you could say—people exploring the depths of the ocean. It's quite thrilling, if I may say so."

"Huh." Kai raised an eyebrow, and stared at the book once again. "Well, it's still long."

She sighed, and prepared to stand atop her soapbox. "Should length really matter? If you're worried about not having time to finish a book, the wonderful thing is that books, unlike television, can be put on hold for ages until you have time to finish them. You don't have to wait for chapters to come every Friday night like you do for TV shows, and you can take them with you anywhere. Besides," she added, stroking the binding reverently, "the longer a book is, the longer you get to savor it, the longer you get to experience that thrill of not knowing what will happen next. It's worth the time."

Mary placed the book back onto the table, and to her acute embarrassment, Kai was staring at her with his face scrunched up in confusion. "D-did I say something strange?" she stammered, no longer feeling quite so bold.

"Do you know," the traveler spoke finally, "that was the most I've ever heard you say in my life?"

Mary fidgeted in her seat, not as eager to pursue this topic as the last, and muttered, "I'm just a…listener, I suppose."

"Wish I could say that," Kai grinned. "Sometimes I think the more I talk, the more trouble my tongue gets me in. It's like I have no idea how much I say without thinking, and then once I do think about it, I start realizing how much I regret it." A pause. "Mary…you're a listener, right?"

She blinked owlishly. "W-well, I suppose…"

"So can I talk to you about something? Like, just kinda vent for a sec, and not have to worry about you talking about it to other people?"

No, this wasn't a prank—was it a dream? Some sort of alternate universe? Since when did Kai waltz into her library, asking her to play psychiatrist for his problems? Mary half-expected his confident grin to come back as he screamed, "Psyche! Gotcha!"

But he remained silent as he stared at her, waiting for an answer. Mary took in a deep breath and met his steady gaze. "Sure, I'll listen."

Everything spilled out from Kai's lips effortlessly—in fact, it shocked him just how ready he was to complain about everything that had happened. How he'd dated Popuri simply because he thought she was cute and sweet, then as their relationship got more serious he realized just how insensitive he'd been to her family situation. How he felt like crap for telling her everything too late, crushing her just when she'd fallen in love with him.

"I guess you could say I didn't really think about just how much I was asking from her until I realized she loved me," Kai sighed. "God, she deserves so much better than me—she should have a guy willing to stay here, to protect her, provide for her, stand by her. I love Poppy, but I'm not willing to do that." He looked away. "I'm a little scared that she's too young to realize what she might be giving up for me."

Mary bit her lip and nodded, hands folded in her lap. "So that's why you broke up with her…"

"Exactly," Kai answered. "But I still hurt her, you know? I just wish I'd thought this through—you'd think Rick would be deliriously happy now that I've broken up with his sister, but now he hates me even more. Hey, I guess I just proved his point. I'm a selfish, no-good, heart-stealing creep." He attempted a smile, but it was a weak one.

"I wouldn't say that," the librarian spoke quietly. "Maybe…maybe you shouldn't have let things get so serious so soon, but…you're not selfish. You're doing this because you want to do what's best for Popuri, right?" He nodded slowly, and Mary smiled. "So what's selfish about that?"

"Kai, I don't know how to explain it. Sometimes Mary just—just says things, the things you most need to hear, in that soft voice of hers, and everything gets a little easier to handle. It's like…her aura or something."

Kai hadn't believed Gray at the time. In fact, the traveler had just labeled the blacksmith as a love-struck fool and shrugged the comment off. Yet as he stared at the petite girl, blinking at him from behind large round glasses and smiling at him so sincerely, it got so much more difficult to feel stressed, angry, and frustrated. There was something serene about her—forgiving, even.

"…Gray is a very lucky man," he finally said, "to have someone like you by his side. I can see why he comes by here so often."

Immediately her peaceful expression turned frantic, and Mary stuttered, "Wh-what? Gray? And me?! Oh no…it's not like that at all." She averted her eyes and stammered out, "We're just friends, you see. It would never work out between us—he likes someone else, you know, and I'd never—"

"Well, that's his loss." Kai grinned a little mischievously, and leaning closely, he whispered into her ear, "If I'd been him, I wouldn't have let a girl like you out of my sight."

The statement had been impulsive—and Kai could probably recall countless other impulsive statements like this one that had gotten him into a world of trouble—but he'd meant every syllable. Popuri would have giggled at it, but the poor librarian's cheeks had turned a flaming red, and for some reason her mouth refused to work. "Th-that is, I, um, well, th-thank you," she whispered politely, looking down. "But I'm not sure that…I mean…"

A stern knock on the door interrupted her string of protests, and to Mary's relief, another voice drowned out her own:

"Mary? Mary, darling, are you still in here? It's a lovely summer day, and as your mother, I think it's a shame for you to be wasting it in here by yourself--"

The door opened, and a flustered Anna stood in the doorway, her sentence faltering as she stared at the couple seated at the table. Kai waved, and smiling, said, "Oh, don't worry, ma'am. I'm keeping your daughter company." He glanced Mary's way, then added, "That's alright with you, isn't it, Mary?"

Her nod answered him, and her cheeks burned once more in embarrassment. "I'd like that. Um, a lot." She turned towards Anna and assured her, "You can go now, mother. I'll be fine."

"I suppose," Anna murmured, smiling a little too brightly. "But of course, your father is going to want Kai to come for dinner with us—it's not everyday a boy comes here for you, you know."

"Mother!" Mary shrieked, horrified.

"That sounds fun," Kai agreed, beaming as well. "When should I come over?"

And Mary could only listen as the plans were made, her opinion having no bearing on the matter whatsoever. Though maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing. No, she thought as Kai winked back at her, maybe that wouldn't be so bad after all.

End Note: Well, this will be a fiveshot, I believe. And yes, I AM slapping myself for starting another ficlet right when I finally finished one that had been hanging over my head. Now I'll be busy again. Phooey.

Reviews are loved, but not required. :)