Note: For the lovely, fabulous, amazingly talented Tenshimoon from DeviantArt (known around these parts as Charise), whose HM art is love. Check her out, guys. She offered to make me a Gray x Mary picture, and because she's just awesome like that, I'm giving her a fanfic that's Gray x Claire. Yes, your eyes don't deceive you. No, the genre is not angst. Enjoy.
Also please-and-thank yous for the equally lovely HmGirly, for making sure I don't botch this Gray x Claire oneshot. You rock for beta-ing for this hapless Grary angster. XD
Disclaimer: I own nothing, nothing, nothing at all. Which makes me a possession-less hobo, if I put it like that. Haha.
It's Monday morning, and I am sweating bullets. I wipe my forehead with the back of my gloved hand and gasp, my throat absolutely parched from thirst. Yet I keep pushing forward. The hoe in my hands has gotten heavier and heavier by the hour; suddenly this craggy field looks like an inviting pillow, and I'd kill to have the chance to collapse right here and now on the ground.
But I have to keep going. I have to.
"Claire?" A voice calls me from behind and I groan, interrupted. I'm losing daylight here, people, I want to shout. I have no time for this. Instead, I straighten up as best as my aching body can allow and flash a forced smile.
"Kinda busy here, Kai. Farming."
The traveler appraises the mass of weeds and stones thoughtfully, his amber eyes flickering from the rubble to my stony expression in amusement. "How long have you had this farm again?" Kai asks, and I fight the urge to punch him in his grinning little mouth.
"Three years," I snap.
"Wow." He looks at the field again. "Wow."
That one syllable probably best embodies how every villager sees my farm now. See, Kai's absolutely right; I've lived here for three years. Three stinkin' years. After all this time, I should be able to see the ground beneath my feet at least.
But no. What have I done these three years? Nothing. Nothing at all.
I wipe my blistered hands on my denim overalls and glower at him, the jerk still viewing the result of my procrastination in awe. Frowning, I grab my hoe again. "Take a picture. It'll last longer."
"It's lasted three years, as is."
I narrow my eyes. "Antagonizing a woman with a heavy metal object isn't the best idea, Kai."
He laughs at that, an exotic musical sound that once again fills me with curiosity about his origins. Is he Caribbean? Hawaiian? Maybe from some place in South America? Certainly not from here. He's not a white marshmallow like the rest of us.
"Why'd you come here, Kai?" I ask instead, itching to get back to my work. "This better be good. I've got seeds to sow."
He shrugs lightly and brings out a tiny box: an offering of sorts. There's a mischievous glint in his eyes, one that I know well enough to be a sign of trouble. After all, the last time I had seen that look, all of Rick's chickens had wound up on the roof, and we all know how well that went over. Egg didn't come out of Popuri's hair for a week.
Skeptical, I raise an eyebrow.
"And this is…?"
"A birthday present," Kai says simply, wrapping my bruised and bleeding fingers about it. Humoring him, I lift the lid, curious despite myself; gifts aren't to be taken lightly in a place like Mineral Town. But for all I know, this isn't a gift, but one of those snakes that hops out of a can, or maybe a kaleidoscope that gives you a black eye, or maybe—
Maybe, just maybe, I'm only a paranoid idiot who can't even remember her own birthday.
"Oh," I murmur, lifting the present from its box. "Oh, Kai." A small pendant dangles in my hand, the silver chain catching the sunlight. It's breathtaking, and the little charm at the end glitters in the shining of a summer's day. "You…you didn't have to do this."
"I found it in another town," Kai grins, tying it about my neck eagerly. "The lady called it a good luck charm, and I figured out that of all the people I know, you need luck the most. I mean, just look at this farm, Claire."
The moment spoiled, I shove him gently, trying not to be too flattered. "It's not that bad, Kai. Really. I've started fixing it up, haven't I?"
"If you don't shut up, you're going to be the one in need of a good luck charm, got it?" I growl. I so don't deserve this. The farm isn't in terrible condition, not really. Just some weeds here and there, some rocks, giant twigs, stuff left over from spontaneous hurricanes and typhoons…
But I'm not going to think about all that, or else I'll feel even more tired, and then I'll never get this work done. Plus, thinking about that would mean admitting Kai is right, which is so not worth considering.
"Go home, Kai," I sigh. Leaning down, I pick up the hoe in front of me and try to ignore the intense pain searing through my back at the effort. Inching myself upright, I add, "You've got your shop to run, right? Snow cones and stuff."
"And you've got your…" Kai pauses as glances about once more. "…natural disaster to handle over here. I get it, I'll go." With a cheeky smile, he gives me a quick peck on the cheek, then scampers off with a "later" on his lips.
My hand flies to my cheek. Personal bubble invasion, right here.
At any rate, thinking about Kai's over-friendliness with girls is distracting me, and I need to get this done. I need to finish something, for once in my life, before I go absolutely insane.
"She'll never fix up the farm," I've heard them snicker. "Just some city girl."
I jam the hoe into the earth and pull, gasping with effort. My hands, my hands…! Oh, how they burn, these stupid, stupid city girl palms. Why couldn't I have been born a lumberjack's daughter? Why'd I ever, ever think hands were only good for manicures and holding Starbucks coffee?
"Three years, and she hasn't even pulled a single weed! Lazy brat."
My arms are quivering, and I've never breathed this heavily in my life. Ha! And I'd thought exercise at the gym was a nightmare. What did I know, living in the lap of luxury and air conditioning? I was a spoiled child, through and through. But I'm not a child anymore; I'm an adult. I'm going to finish this farm if it kills me. I'll prove you wrong. All of you. Every single one.
"Drinking her life away, that one. The farm will fall apart soon enough."
"Busy." Blinking the sweat from my eyes, I briefly wonder why it is the one day I'm actually working, I've suddenly become some sort of social magnet. My new visitor, a very scruffy, very anxious Cliff, stands before me, smiling crookedly. "What do you want?"
Color flushes through his face as he clears his throat; apparently my tone isn't nice enough. "Just came to wish you a happy birthday," he manages. "Duke and Manna send their best regards."
"Uh-huh. Wonderful. Tell them I said right back at 'cha."
Funny how everyone remembers my birthday except me. I keep moving, and Cliff still stands there, his shadow cooling me for a single, brief moment of shade. It's kind of irritating, because I have no earthly clue why this boy isn't leaving, and yet I'm thrilled that something somehow is cooling me down in this God-forsaken desert of a field.
Still. No one really likes being stared at while sweating and struggling to work. It's sort of disconcerting.
"So…have you gotten any presents?" the boy asks pointedly. I stop and turn to glance at him. Subtle, Cliff. Subtle.
"Maybe a gift or two," I hedge. If he wants to give me something, fine, but that means that now I'm going to have to remember both his and Kai's birthdays. Which, with my memory, is Not Good.
His hands fly to his pockets, and he fumbles about, sweating. "W-well, you know, I found something that I felt you'd like, and—" More rummaging. "W-well, it's not so much found, you know, I just saw these flowers and—"
I lean against my hoe, interested enough to watch as he panics and tries to find the thing once more. "You don't have to give me anything, Cliff. It's the thought that counts and all," I assure him.
"But it was right here, Claire!" he whines. "I had a gift for you, right here, and—!"
Something slips out of his pocket, and I crouch down to pick it up. The first thing I notice are the pastel colors of the petals, and the way the stems have been woven about each other to form a child's trinket of a necklace. It is simple, but lovely, and I wonder why exactly Cliff would waste his time making something like this for me.
I swallow an uncomfortable lump in my throat. "This what you were looking for?"
Immediately his face relaxes in relief. "Oh, oh yes! I must've dropped it...well, do you like it?"
"It's...pretty," I say, swallowing again. I loop it about my neck, settling comfortably above Kai's pendant. "Very nice."
"You think?" Cliff beams.
I think this is suddenly getting unbearably uncomfortable, and the field hasn't gotten improved at all in the past hour and a half. Cliff is a sweetheart, but frankly, I haven't the time to keep a one-sided conversation going. Or the energy. Gah, when will this stupid field be done already?
"Cliff, I've got a lot of work ahead of me," I begin, clearing my throat. "So, um, this would be a good time for you to leave."
He stands there, waiting for something more.
"Like, as in now."
"Oh, now?" A blush of embarrassment clouds his features, and I once again regret being so stupidly blunt about everything. It's not the boy's fault I've put this off for three years; he doesn't deserve my grumpiness. Heck, I should be hugging him for even bothering to remember my birthday—not kicking him off the property. "W-well, I'm glad you like your present, anyway." Cliff grins and turns to leave with a shy wave. "Have a happy birthday, Claire!"
Yeah, yeah. I wave good-bye and keep my eyes on the work before me, all those weeds and stones smirking at me. Oh, they are going down today. I whip out my sickle with a tiny self-indulgent grin as I imagine the lovely sight of my field without all this crap littering it. It'll be the most frickin' gorgeous mound of dirt the world has ever seen.
Forget the stupid villagers—what do they know? I swipe the sickle and laugh; oh, I can see their faces now, all contorted with surprise and disbelief as they see my efforts rewarded: all the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into this field of mine—
"Good Goddess, Claire! Are you trying to kill me?!"
And with that scream, I leave my little fantasy world and bump into reality—which is a very tall, very annoyed man with an expression more annoyed than scared. His eyebrows knit together as he holds his hands up defensively, my blade just inches from his nose. I close my mouth—apparently, I've started shrieking like an idiot—and put the sickle behind my back. "Wh-what the heck are you doing here?" I gasp. "Don't scare me like that, you jerk!"
"Excuse me? I'm not the one swinging around scythes of death, here."
He crosses his arms and I put my hands on my hip in answer. "For your information, I'm farming, okay?" I retort. "And if you're going to start trespassing for no reason, I'm going to put a big, fat sign over the entrance saying KEEP OUT, TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT in big, bold, awesome lettering."
He rolls his baby blue eyes. "You don't even have a gun."
"And only a stalker would know that. Which is why I'm putting up the sign."
Seriously, what exactly did I do to earn myself three unwanted visitors in one day? First Kai, then Cliff, and now…him. That stupid, arrogant, you-seriously-fail-at-life-Claire blacksmith, Gray.
Urgh. Suddenly I'm wishing I hadn't held my sickle back.
"So what exactly are you…doing?" Gray inquires. He raises an eyebrow as he—like everyone else—stares at my farm and wonders how it is any idiot can put off this kind of crap for years. "Because you say it's farming, but it looks like doing a lot of nothing, to be honest."
"I don't need this from you, you know that?" I hack my way through the tumble of weeds and continue, "I've already gotten this kind of talk from everyone else, and I think you know that better than anyone, don't you? You're probably here because Kai and Cliff said something to you—told you that the city girl was actually getting her hands dirty."
He scowls. "Ah. Kai and Cliff. Your drinking buddies."
"Your roommates," I counter.
The blacksmith shrugs at that as I flail away with my very heavy tool. "That doesn't mean I think you should be hanging out with them. I mean—look at this farm. Just look, Claire. If you hadn't been spending all your days just having a good time and laughing it up—"
"Then what? Then what?" I snap. The sickle slips from my fingers as I spin about to see him, eyes narrowed. "Then everything would be up to your standards? Then I wouldn't be doing this right now? Don't flatter yourself, hotshot. I'm doing this for me, and no one else."
"You're an idiot, Claire," the voice had said. "A lazy, spoiled, indulgent idiot. And if you weren't, maybe people would actually say decent things about this crappy farm of yours."
My hands shake and I keep staring ahead of me, at the long row of green weeds waiting for me and the soil waiting to be tilled. God, my back hurts, but I don't want him to know that; I'd sooner admit that I'm twenty-five years old and still keep a diary and have a nightlight, or that I'm deathly afraid of snakes and spiders and clowns and expired food.
Gray snorts. "Sure. So this last-minute clean-up isn't just a quick fix-up because someone bruised your pride or because relatives are coming in. Because you were doing so well for yourself these past years, Claire."
For a guy everyone harps on about being anti-social, he has a nasty habit of reeeeally getting on my nerves. Jerk.
"Don't you have anything better to do than annoy me to death? Like, blacksmithing or whatever?"
"Delivery, actually." Gray digs deep into his pockets and, unlike Cliff, pulls out what he's looking for: some kind of stick with…polka dots and…stuff. I've never seen anything like it. It kind of looks like one of those miniature massage machines that people use, but it's been so long since I've goofed around with those at the mall that I just don't know. "For you."
I blink, trying to read his amused expression as I take the strange little device into my hands. It's light, and kind of fuzzy. "Um…thank you?"
"It's from the doctor," Gray explains immediately. "Don't thank me; he kept insisting he wanted to give you your birthday present, but that he didn't have time to go. It's my day off, so I offered to give him a hand."
Well, that changes things. I kind of expect the doctor to come up with weird odds and ends; I practically choked to death on the last experimental medicine of his I tried. If it weren't for Elli, I might have gagged to my doom. But hey, everyone has a way of paying medical bills. Me, I work as a guinea pig.
"What does it do?" I ask.
"Relaxes you or something." He shrugs. "I don't know. Take it up with the doc if you have a question or complaint."
I bounce from my left foot to my right and frown. "No, it's all good. It's just…unusual. And stuff." I squint up at him. "So you're going to leave now, right?"
"Why? Are you getting rid of me?"
Maybe. "Of course not."
He sits himself down on the nearest boulder (yes, boulder) and watches me with a little content smirk. "Good. Because I'm deathly interested in seeing how you go about farming. I didn't think you had it in you."
I kick the dirt and groan, leaning once more on my sickle. In front of me are rows and rows of green leafage, and when I shut my eyes, I can still see them: this sea of procrastination mocking me. Behind me isn't much better; I can feel his eyes boring into my back, and I can't concentrate. And I want to, believe me.
I lift the object in my hands and grunt, swinging forward until a rough, "Stop!" arrests my attention.
"What?" I snap.
"You're doing it wrong." Strong arms wrap themselves about my own, and I shudder, his touch warm and unexpected. "See, you're putting too much force into it—you'll run out of stamina too quickly that way."
Question time: how exactly does Gray know how to farm, why is he bothering to help me, and—possibly most importantly—why the heck am I letting him hold me like this? My body is seriously not obeying me today. Nope.
"You're squeezing me," I retort flatly.
"Point taken." Gray pulls away, and his hand freezes as it catches on the chains of Kai's and Cliff's gifts. "What," Gray asks finally, "are these?"
I shrug, suddenly uncomfortable. "None of your beeswax."
"You accessorize when you work in your field?"
"No. I mean, well, today is an exception." I roll my eyes and force myself to get this random segue over with: "Kai and Cliff gave me birthday presents, and both happened to be necklaces. Add in the doctor's fuzzy thing or whatever, and I've got a weird assortment of farming apparel. See? I don't care as much about fashion as you think I do, Gray."
Silently, thoughtfully, the blacksmith draws his hands away, and—oh crap, I think I've lost whatever balance I had with his hands round me, and I'm almost positive I'm going to land on my face. But I will myself not to, and somehow, my shaking legs hold me upward.
"Huh. So every guy except Rick and I have decided to spoil you on your birthday, huh?" he remarks dryly. "You really haven't learned how to live in the real world, have you?"
"If the real world is a place for anti-social jerks, then no, I have no earthly clue how to live in it." I cock my head at him and smirk. "But you, Gray…you'd make it just fine, wouldn't you?"
"I don't need to celebrate my birthday," the blacksmith scoffs.
Is it just me, or did I strike a nerve? I eye him skeptically, viewing the antisocial nature of his stare and his leave-me-alone habit of crossing his arms. "You've never celebrated your birthday?" I state; it's a fact, not a question.
"Like I said. It's not important. Besides, you don't see me making a big deal out of your birthday. Neither did Rick. Not everyone demands attention."
"Actually," I reply with a smug grin, "I got a card from our little poultry farmer. So, you're all alone, buddy. Nobody loves you."
I mean for the words to be humorous, but suddenly they strike me as so cold, so heartless. You're all alone. He is alone, though, isn't he? Every time I see him, why is it there's no one by his side, no name that comes to mind but Saibara and, possibly, Mary? Nobody loves you. My hand flies to my mouth, and I whisper, "Oh, Goddess, that came out all wrong. I'm so sorry, Gray. I didn't mean that."
He doesn't say anything, just staring at the sickle in my hands until I wonder if he's seeing anything at all. I hesitate, wondering if I should add something more, or do something. Yet it's a small voice I hear that stops me: "You're right." Gray nods curtly. "You're right, Claire. I am alone. And, well, it's something I just have to come to terms with."
I blink, and to my surprise, he pries the sickle from my hands. "Listen, I wasn't—"
"—doing anything but telling the truth. Right?" He runs his hands over the rough handle of wood. "I mean, Claire, you should know better than anyone that I deserve that. Damn, I'm surprised you apologized in the first place."
Maybe I should be surprised, too, but to be brutally honest, I never thought to fight back his criticism with my own.
"Who the hell would call that girl a farmer?"
It had been days ago, hadn't it? The day that voice had first spoken—the day at the bar that everything had changed.
The laughter of the crowd was deafening, the drunken din of the speaker overwhelmingly loud. I barely knew the man, barely understood what he was saying until his fingers pointed to me, sitting at the counter sipping a glass of water beside Kai. My blue eyes widened at the outburst, and suddenly my ears became alert as well, catching onto phrases I never expected to hear.
"She'll never fix up the farm," he continued, smirking."Just some city girl. If the old man could see the building now, he'd roll over in his grave."
"Hear hear!" the bar-goers called.
Kai rolled his eyes, putting his arm about me protectively. "They're just a bunch of idiots who can't handle their liquor," the traveler reminded me, smiling apologetically. "They need something to shout about, that's all."
"Three years, and she hasn't even pulled a single weed! Lazy brat."
Tensing, I sat up in my chair, ready to fly at this stranger who dared to presume so much about my life. "Did you hear him?" I snarled, Kai sighing. "Did you hear what he just said about me?!"
"Drinking her life away, that one. The farm will fall apart soon enough." The man shrugged, and I glowered at him, ready to pulverize this arrogant creep with a stupid UMA hat. I could've cared less that he was gorgeous, easily racking up a perfect ten on the cuteness scale; I couldn't have been any less sympathetic about his family situation; all I wanted was to smash his face in.
Isn't it strange, then, that I found myself crying?
I didn't realize I was doing it, at first. I was ready to challenge this idiot, ready to fight, when all of a sudden I couldn't speak as large tears obscured my vision and sadness clenched my throat tight. I flew out of the bar, and before I knew it, I was home, crying into my pillow. Gray, I remembered belatedly. His name had been Gray Smith.
And I knew, immediately, what I had to do. I had to prove him wrong…or else be forced to admit he was right.
Yet here I am now, staring at this man just mere days later, and I wonder why he's bothered to show up at all; Goddess knows he could have left by now. He twists the sickle in his grip uneasily, sweat dripping down his brow as he contemplates his next move.
My lips form thoughts: "Why are you here, Gray?"
"Listen, I…I was wrong, okay?" Each word is strained; each syllable taxes him even moreso than tilling the field has taxed me. "I didn't give you enough credit. I tend to say things without thinking, and that day at the bar—it was a rough day, and I needed to get drunk in a bad way. You weren't supposed to hear that…I mean…no one was." He pulls down his hat over his eyes: a nervous habit. "It was true, but it wasn't fair."
I think back to the morning after that night, to how I'd approached Gray in an effort to defend my tears. "You're an idiot, Claire," he had said. "A lazy, spoiled, indulgent idiot. And if you weren't, maybe people would actually say decent things about this crappy farm of yours." What has changed between then and now, if anything? Who is this man, and who was the one I'd sworn to hate forevermore in my heart?
"You're not sorry," I state. "You weren't then, and you aren't now. So quit the act, got it? You don't know anything about me. You can't judge me."
I lunge forward to pull the sickle away, but Gray's iron-grip is unbreakable. Grunting, I pull and pull until my hands blister, until all the energy in my arms gives out, until I have no choice but to let go.
"I know a hell of a lot more than you think I do," the blacksmith snaps back. "I know enough to hate you, Claire, because you've got that one damn gift I've never had."
"And what's that?" I shouted. "Because last time I checked, I was just an idiot with a crappy farm!"
"But you're more than that!"
Looks can't kill, but they can stun—I know that now. His eyes are angry, desperate, and the way his hands are wrapped about the sickle speaks of something too frightened for him to let go. "Claire…don't you ever wonder why Kai and Cliff—hell, even the doctor and Rick—give a crap about you?" Gray persists.
I pause. "Um. Free gifts?"
"No, you idiot. It's because you've got this, like, magnetic part of you; you can make friends with just about anyone." He gestures wildly about to illustrate his point. "I mean, there is nothing great about you, Claire! This farm looks like it died, and yet everyone absolutely throws themselves at you, gets along with you, and wraps you presents just because they feel like it. Me, I've been here all my life, Claire, and no one does that for me." He laughs bitterly. "Not even my grandpa."
Gray shakes his head, and I can feel my eyes widening in disbelief. "You're…jealous of me?" I state in disbelief. Then it all comes crashing down on me at once: "Oh my Goddess, you're jealous of me!"
"I wouldn't put it like that," he snaps. "But that's close enough, I guess. It just—it didn't seem fair that you got so much attention, when you didn't even work. You were useless. I didn't understand what it was about you that was so magnetizing…what you had that I didn't."
"And did you," I swallow, suddenly nervous, "figure it out?"
His blue eyes flicker towards mine and he smirks. "Well, for starters, you continue to surprise me. Just look at you: I never thought I'd see that much dirt on you in a year's time. You suck at farming—really, truly suck—but you're trying anyway."
I raise an eyebrow. "Thank you?"
"I meant it as a compliment," Gray assures me with a laugh.
"Then, I mean it, too: thank you."
He holds out his hand, and I stare at it for a moment, studying the calluses and burns that have left their mark on his skin. They're so different than my own: soft and pink. "Can we start over, then?" Gray asks.
Maybe something has just happened in that moment—maybe something has traveled between us in that single, brief second of understanding—that makes me do what I do next. Ignoring his outstretched hand, I lean into him for a firm, close embrace, his shoulders immediately stiffening at my touch. "This," I smile, "is how you apologize to a friend. And I'm willing to be your friend, if that's how you want to begin again."
I don't expect his face to burn up in embarrassment and astonishment as he averts his eyes, making unintelligible sounds. "I, um, I…aw, crap, if we're friends, I forgot to get you a present, then." Gray pulls down his hat, then thoughtfully looks at the tool in his hands and smiles, composed once more. "I can't say I made you any jewelry, or a card, or some weird massaging thing," he says slowly, "but if you want an extra pair of hands, I'd be willing to try this sickle on for size."
Protests bubble over from my lips, but he silences them with a wave of his hand. "It's no problem," Gray insists. "Besides…it's what friends do for each other, right?"
And maybe the necklace Kai gave me just might be the cutest accessory I've worn in years. And maybe I find Cliff's handmade daisy-chain adorable, and the doctor's gift amusing, and Rick's card touching. But as Gray works with me, side-by-side, in what must be the crappiest, ugliest, most messed-up farm in the world, I think maybe this could be the greatest gift of all.
Even if you can't wrap a friend in a bow.
End Note: So now you can't tell me I absolutely abhor Gray x Claire just because I prefer me some Gray x Mary. Haha. But I can't promise I'll write too much more of this pairing...seriously, this took me a month and a half to write. O.o But I hope you enjoyed this silly little oneshot and found it worth your time to read. :)