Author's Note: This story has been haunting me in my dreams every night just before I go to sleep, but because I had written another story for the recent contest, this one ended up nearly forgotten. However, I couldn't just let it die in the tomb of my completed stories within a folder. Please enjoy!

Disclaimer: I don't own Harvest Moon or its characters, so there's no real reason to sue me.

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Childlike

She often came here to clear her mind when everyday life seemed to become unbearable. Right then, her gentle, brown eyes were brimming with tears, but she refused to let them spill over as she stood alone at the edge of the dock. Her satin lips were pressed together tightly while she balled up the white fabric of her apron in her fists. The young woman was clearly fighting a losing battle to remain composed, yet she kept relatively at peace with herself. After all, she had seen the signs long before he was even aware of them, and although she tried to convince herself her thoughts were merely running away with her, she knew the truth all along. It was foolish for her to try and think otherwise...

All it took for her to fully realize it was one step inside the place she'd always called home.

They were just inside his office when she'd returned that evening, and they seemed to be as surprised as she was. She forced a weak smile to think back on the moment that occurred only the night before, for it was rather amusing in its own way. Their shocked expressions were nothing short of true comedy which she doubted she'd ever see again, especially given her colleague's stoic nature. He had practically flown across the room from the young woman who'd been in his arms when his assistant had stumbled across the intimate scene.

Wiping away a stray tear with the back of her delicate hand, she laughed half-heartedly at the memory that was burned into her consciousness. Despite her best effort to make light of the situation, her mirth soon became a broken sob as the wound on her heart was still fresh. She shook her head to try and clear her mind, but her short, chocolate locks clung to her damp cheeks. She couldn't keep herself from moaning in frustration at her inability to pull herself back together, either. "I don't like this one bit..." she mumbled to no one. Even though she hadn't expected to be overheard, it seemed that someone had been listening into her desperate attempts to console herself.

"A lovely thing like yourself shouldn't sully such a pretty face by crying, you know," a smooth voice admonished her gently. Although it was a soothing tone, her heart jumped all the same, and her clasped hands immediately were rammed against her chest. However, when she spun on her heel to face the one who'd spoken to her so abruptly, she immediately breathed a sigh of relief.

"Goodness Kai, you gave me quite the scare," the young woman giggled, trying to slow her rapidly beating heart. "Honestly... you're like a cat."

He merely laughed and rubbed the back of his neck bashfully with his free hand, and as her warm gaze followed his extended arm, she realized the young man was holding a parasol over her head to shield her fair skin from the sun's harsh rays. It was rather silly looking thing with all its lace and gaudy frills, so she assumed it wasn't his. Perhaps it had once belonged to his former girlfriend... "One that happens to have found a poor, lost kitten," he replied with a reassuring smile.

"Please don't be so vulgar," she scolded him, her cheeks burning terribly as a result of his comment. Kai could be so... difficult at times, yet she had to admit he could be a charmer if given the opportunity. She just couldn't understand him or the way he operated in fragile moments like this.

"It's only vulgar if you put it in a certain context," he countered effortlessly, and once again, her face warmed to realize his logic had gotten the better of her. "What kind of ideas do you have in that head of yours, anyway?" the traveler continued to tease. Her hands immediately rose to her childlike face to hide her embarrassment, but the damage was already done by his playful antics. "You're so cute when you're flustered, Elli."

"You know I don't appreciate it when you behave like this," the young woman protested with a frustrated sigh. "You're just as immature as Stu sometimes..."

"Ouch..." Kai winced, but he couldn't hide the smile from his face. These were the days when Elli wished he wouldn't feel chivalrous towards a woman in distress, particularly when it happened to be her. She had always considered herself to be a responsible individual which was directly at odds with her unwelcome companion's carefree lifestyle. Everyone knew that after summer had waned into autumn, the tanned traveler would take his leave as he did every year, and he would only return once the intensity of the sun found its way over the sleepy, little town. "Maybe the problem is that you forget what it's like to be a kid?"

"Well, if I had had the opportunity to be one, then perhaps I would understand," she muttered with more bitterness than she intended, or even expected. It was a true statement, though, since she had to take on the role of a mother so early in her young life. "After all, it's hard to be a child when you're too busy raising one," she continued before he could offer a reply. "It must be simply wonderful to be able to pull up stakes whenever you happen to want a change of scenery, but I happen to have a family that needs me here... at home."

Kai nervously toyed with the purple bandanna tied securely over his shaggy, dark curls, yet he didn't say a word while she ranted about missed opportunities she'd faced. His warm eyes matched her own with their rich, chocolate hue, yet he noted that hers were dark chocolate, slightly more bitter... like his own. He only caught every other word that was freed from her perfect pout, but he began to have a better understanding of the poor girl before him. As Elli told him about her parents' deaths, his chest tightened to try and imagine what grief and confusion she must've experienced at the tender age of six, and when she described her grandmother's fragile, paraplegic state, his heart sank like a stone. However, what hurt him the most was hearing about her younger brother.

"Stu was only an infant when the accident happened..." she explained while hanging her head. "My grandmother did her best, but I knew she wouldn't be capable of bringing up a rambunctious, little boy. She couldn't exactly... keep up with him, you know?" As she murmured her last statement, the young nurse began to fall into heartbroken sobs, and her companion wrapped a reassuring arm around her narrow shoulders in an attempt to comfort her. He continued to hold the parasol over her head, rather clumsily, while he did so, but she couldn't care less about the heat of the day or the hot, summer breeze. She wasn't able to hear the gentle lapping of the waves on the sandy shore or the muffled cries of the seagulls above them.

Everything was silent in her mind as dark memories consumed her thoughts.

It was strange how only moments earlier she was in tears over a lost love, yet now it seemed so... trivial compared to what she had dealt with in her life. Not many could handle the difficulty of juggling the idea of death, the responsibility of motherhood, and the care of a disabled individual all at once, yet somehow... she'd done it. She had done so much in such a little amount of time, and although she rarely was given any credit or praise for her struggle, she had always felt a sense of accomplishment. Even her job as a nurse was a crowning feat, not easily achieved by anyone. Regardless, she found she was grateful for Kai's presence.

"Are you going to be alright, Elli?" he asked cautiously after he realize she was no longer crying. She blinked at first as she left her thoughts behind, but soon enough she forced a smile for him.

"Y-yes, um... thank you," she replied, gently pulling away. He didn't appear to be hurt while he drew away from her, but she could see the hint of disappointment in his warm gaze. Her cheeks warmed a little at the notion, but she held herself kept her composure. This was not the proper time and place for sharing a tender moment, especially with her face stained by her own, salty tears. "Oh, I must look like an absolute mess," she groaned.

"Not at all," Kai assured her. She opened her eyes that had been closed in shame, and when she did so, she realized he was offering her a handkerchief to dry her dampened face. It was just as frilly as the lace parasol being held over her head.

"Was all of this Popuri's?" Elli asked, accepting his token of chivalry. If they were, she had never seen them before, and she had to wonder whether she just hadn't been very observant. However, when a broad smile made its way across his charming features, she was even more uncertain. He certainly was hard to read at times...

"They were my mother's if you can believe it," he explained. "She was always into these kind of things, and I just happened to take them with me before I left home... for good." The nurse wasn't quite sure what to say to that, so she remained quiet, secretly hoping he'd continue. No one really knew much about the traveler's family although many were aware of his distaste for his relations, especially his father. Even so, he rarely discussed his mother at any length. He had only given a little tidbit such as how he had 'inherited' these peculiar objects which wasn't much for anyone to speculate on.

Given the gossip that ran rampant in the rural community, it might've been a strategic maneuver on his part to clear his name, though.

"Do you get along with her then?" the young woman pressed gently. At first Kai simply shrugged, but with a sudden change of heart, he decided he'd share a bit more than that with her. After all, she'd given him nearly everything that was precious to her. Why shouldn't he extend the same courtesy to her?

"Actually, I hate her," he replied curtly. Elli felt her mouth drop open, but she quickly gathered it back up. He gazed out over the ocean with his discerning eyes, revealing nothing to her, as the pair stood in silence. She took a moment to examine his appearance more carefully while she waited for him to continue, and she had to admit she was more able to understand what made him so attractive to the other women in town. He certainly was the true sense of tall, dark, and handsome with his tanned skin and almost feminine features. However, the way in which his suede jacket clung to his well toned arms made it very clear that he was masculine in nature.

"W-well," she began at last, "I-"

"I have to be grateful for something, I guess," Kai interrupted her with a wave of his hand. "She taught me how to be a gentleman which is more than I can say for my old man." When his companion glanced up at him curiously, he decided to elaborate a little further. "My mom actually sent me to a grammar school as a last resort to rein me in."

"So is that how you became the womanizer you are now?" she teased with a light laugh. He blinked in surprise for a moment because of the shock from hearing her actually make crack a joke. Even though it was made at his expense, he still found it was an interesting development. He wasn't sure if she could manage it before now.

"Is that really fair?" he chuckled, shaking his head in defeat. "I mean... Why do you people always make me out to be a bad guy?" At first she smiled until she realized he was completely serious. His eyes were uncharacteristically downcast, and he glanced away from her for an instant. Then he returned to grinning just as broadly as he once had. "Oh well, I guess there's not much I can do when it comes to other people, huh?"

"How can you just let things... go like that?" Elli asked quietly, in a small, uncertain voice. Kai didn't even flinch before she went on. "You never seem to be upset or angry... If you don't mind me saying so, it's like you don't feel anything at all."

"Maybe some people might think that way, but I prefer to roll with the punches, I guess." Shoving his free hand into his pocket, he thought on what he'd said just a second ago, and then he began again, "There's no point in dwelling what someone else thinks of me if there's nothing I can do to change it. Like I could bend over backwards to try and make Rick happy, but in the end, he's still going to think I'm the scum of the earth." He started to chuckle with rose into a heartfelt laugh. "Knowing him, he'd probably think I was plotting something while trying to be his friend."

"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?" she offered. He raised an eyebrow at her statement, but he was soon nodding in agreement with her.

"That's exactly it," he agreed with another laugh. "Goddess only knows what I ever did to deserve it, though." Kai slouched a bit while trying to fill the silence that followed his remark. If there was anything he truly hated in the world, not including his parents whom he hadn't spoken to for years, it was the idea of peace and quiet, for it had simply never appealed to him. He was always trying to fill it, even resorting to nonsense. She, on the other hand, was more than content to remain silent with only her thoughts for company, and he felt a bit envious of her for that.

"Well, he's always been overprotective concerning Popuri..." Elli observed. He sighed at the mention of the girl, but he didn't say a word in reply. She wrung her hands nervously, not sure what to say to console him. At last, she apologized weakly, "I'm sorry... I-I shouldn't have mentioned it."

"Don't worry about it," Kai assured her, waving off her concern. "We just weren't right for each other," he explained casually. "It happens."

"You can't fool me so easily, Kai," the young woman challenged him. "I know a broken heart when I see one, and I won't tolerate being lied to, either." She rested her hands on her hips while standing her ground. Her lips were drawn into a pout, but it wasn't a childish one by any means. It was more likened to a disapproving mother, and he had to smile when he noticed this. Although it was a suitable really given her nurturing nature, there was something else that gave off that particular vibe. Certainly her starch white apron could suggest that very same characteristic. "What are you laughing at?" she demanded.

"I was just thinking about what a good mother you would be," he explained. He expected her to be disgusted, but she actually seemed to be quite pleased to hear it. "Let me guess," he continued with a slight chuckle, "you've always wanted to be a mother, right?"

"Of course!" she agreed, her voice rising a few octaves in her excitement. "I've always dreamed of having a family of my own, you know." She hummed with happiness while rocking on her heels. His smile faded some as he thought on how similar her joy seemed to be compared to another young woman that used to stand at his side. However, while the other had hopes of leaving her family behind in favor of traveling abroad, she wanted nothing more than to have one for herself.

"I think you'd be a great mother, Elli," Kai assured her. Her light laughter immediately stopped, and her wide, brown eyes met his own as if she was searching for a possible lie. However, his gaze never wavered, and she had to look away when her heart skipped a beat to realize he was sincere.

"Really?" she urged, not quite sure of herself just yet. After all, he could just be teasing her like he'd done before. Even so, she felt her cheeks warm just the same, and she couldn't help feeling a bit giddy in response to his compliment.

"There's no doubt in my mind," he insisted with a brilliant, charming smile. She recognized it almost immediately, but she shut it down just as quickly while taking a moment to shake her head in disbelief.

"How about you, Kai?" the young woman asked. At first, he seemed to be a bit startled, yet he returned to his cool and collected self soon enough. He seemed to be thinking the notion over before offering a reply. She had to wonder if he had given the idea any attention in the past, and she admitted to herself that it wasn't very likely that he ever had.

"Not really," he confessed with a shrug. "I just don't think I'd be the kind of guy that make a good father, you know?"

"I don't think that at all," Elli mumbled quietly. She bowed her head sheepishly, and he raised an eyebrow from the start. However, he felt his own heart soften to hear it which was unexpected. Even though he hadn't considered it until then, nor did he think he ever would again, it was still comforting to know that there would be one person who might believe in him. Lifting her head, she added, "In fact, I think you'd be a wonderful father. After all, you're very good at comforting others, and I can't imagine there'd be anything a child would need more."

"But doesn't a father have to be strict?" he asked suddenly. Glancing up at him, she realized there was a sense of burning in his usually reassuring gaze, and there was no means of drowning the fire that grew in him. "There's no way in hell I could ever be like that..."

"Was your father strict with you?" she murmured. An uncomfortable silence fell between them while his shoulders hunched over in bitterness. A warm breeze caused her dress to dance around her feet, but it did little to lighten the heavy atmosphere that fell upon the pair. However, with a heavy sigh, he broke the pregnant pause around them.

"He was what you'd call a disciplinarian, I guess..." Kai explained, his voice tinged with resentment. "My grandfather and him were in the military, so they both tried to manage their families in the same way. I wasn't going to have any of it, though." The last statement was rather smug, but she didn't seem to notice.

"You hate him for it... don't you?" the nurse pressed as gently as she could manage. She was cautious, trying not to anger or hurt him in any way. Because of the painful gaze in his chocolate orbs, she knew it wasn't due to her curiosity. The damage that was done to him had been there for far longer than she had even known the young man.

"Probably," he agreed with a casual air. "I don't think about it much anymore." Although he seemed to be ready to leave it at that, she continued to pull at the protective layers he hid himself under.

"Kai... do you want to know something?" she began, her doe-eyes studying him carefully. He nodded for her to go on, and she breathed in deeply before offering her opinion. "If you ever become a parent... I want you to remember something very important." She fell silent for a time until she started again with more determination fueling her resolve. "Think back to how you felt as a child, and I'm sure you'll know exactly what to do and say. The time you got that toy you always wanted, the day you got caught stealing a pack of gum, or-"

"You stole a pack of gum?" he asked with his mouth partially agape before it became a cheeky grin. "Not such a saint, after all, hmm?"

"Oh shush," she chided him, her cheeks becoming flushed with embarrassment. "Besides, I was four years old!" she protested while folding her arms over her chest in a defensive manner. He merely chuckled in reply, and he admonished her gently with a sharp tap on the head just as she did with Stu when he was being too insistent of his own innocence.

"Don't worry," he assured her. "I'll be sure to keep this between us, you little swindler."

"For one, you're using that term incorrectly," Elli informed him before adding, "and for another, I think you're the last person who should be scolding me for something so insignificant." Although her warm eyes were indignant to be under someone else's thumb, he could help chuckling at her childish folly.

"I haven't stolen a single thing," he countered with a smile. She opened her mouth to protest, but he placed a finger onto her lips to silence her. "Not even a pack of gum."

When he drew his hand away from her, she scowled at him. "Aren't we high and mighty," she scoffed before sighing in defeat. "Anyway, what I was trying to say is that all you have to do is try and meet your child halfway, and I'm sure you'll make a fine parent." Her words spent, she fell silent once more which made him uncomfortable almost immediately. However, he wasn't exactly sure what he could possibly say to fill the quiet space between them.

Glancing up at her, Kai took her appearance in for the first time. Unlike his causal apparel, her light-blue dress was reminiscent of what he'd seen the covers of his mother's Little House on the Prairie novels. He'd never read them, of course, since they quite frankly didn't interest him in the least, but he had briefly perused them from time to time. Although her silky, chocolate brown hair was kept in a sweet bob instead of a long braid, she certainly had the appearance of a housewife living out on the endless fields of the American mid-west. Even in her apron with its frilled trim and the broach clasped upon her breast, she was the very description he'd remembered for so long in the back of his mind.

She was everything the ideal woman had ever been since the beginning of time: sweet, generous, kind, loving, gentle, and confident. While she was all of these things, he knew there was something else as well. The contradictions were present in her as they were in every person the world over, for she could certainly be bitter, selfish, cruel, spiteful, brash, and needy.

Maybe that's what Kai found the most interesting about her, she was full of unexpected surprises.

"I guess I'd better be getting back to the Snack Shack then," he said at last, swiveling on his heel to take his leave. However, before he left her to her thoughts once more, he turned to face her to offer a final parting gift. He took her delicate hand in his own, and after he had laid her palm bare, he slipped something in her grasp. "Good luck with that dreams of yours, Elli," he encouraged her while rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. "I just want you to know I'll be rooting for you," he assured her with a smile.

Handing off the lacy parasol to her, the traveler made his way back to the small, white building tucked beside the mainland where he spent his days in relative isolation, and she watched him part ways with her as she tried in vain to remain indifferent towards his rather sudden absence. There was nothing she could do to shake the lonely feeling that had begun to worm its way into her heart once more, yet she found the curiosity growing within her to discover what Kai had had given her.

Carefully, she unfolded her hand, and laying within it was a humble looking, ivory shell. Although she wasn't sure what possessed her to do so, she decided to flip it over to see what lay beneath its simple, scalloped ridges. What she saw stole her very breath away.

Gorgeous ribbons of color met her gaze, and her mind was overwhelmed trying to name them all. Blues, greens, purples, pinks, and pearls danced across the luminescent, interior surface of the shell. They spun about one another as they wove in and amongst themselves, but she couldn't describe the messages that may have laid within the intricate designs of the countless patterns and hues. She'd never seen such beauty before, and she doubted she ever would again save for every day when she looked upon her treasure. There was no conceivable way that she'd be able to keep herself from gazing at it so reverently each time.

With one last, longing glance in the direction in which the young man had gone, Elli tore off after him with her dress billowing behind her. Work could wait for another hour... or even an entire day for all she cared, and surely the doctor wouldn't mind a bit more alone time without his nurse popping in at the wrong moment. Right now, all she wanted was to be a child.

Just a little while longer.

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Author's Final Note: Yes, another Kai story... but I can't help but love him. Also, like I said, this story was begging me to write it although all I had planned was the beginning and the ending. If you can't tell, he gave Elli the luck charm that he usually gives Claire in his Blue Heart Event.

As for why Kai and Popuri broke up or what Dr. Trent was up to and with whom, I'll leave that for the readers to decide. It could be something relatively innocent or something absolutely vulgar. I just wanted to focus on the differences (and potential compatibility) between my favorite bachelor and bachelorette from Mineral Town.