Hello everyone! Sorry for the long hiatus. I didn't abandon the fic, I just hit a very big roadblock in life…
Thank you for all the kind reviews that I received. Reading you guys' reviews is what keep me trying to get back to writing this story. My please check your inbox or the end of this chapter for my thank you note.
I spent and absurdly long time to write this chapter, because it was so hard to establish the right feel for both Gray and Claire, especially after such a weird wedding…. I still don't think I get it right ._.
Sorry for the inconsistency in writing, it's been awhile. I might come back and edit it some more later, but right now i really want to push the story on so i can get out of this writer's block and this long hiatus lol
I Hope you guys enjoy it. Please read & review.
The day at the wedding passed like a gentle dream. A different dream that had no sense of right nor wrong, sadness nor joyfulness, it just simply existed, then moved on. And the next day when Claire woke up from that kind of gentle dream, a jet-lagged feeling overwhelmed her, like she had just traveled into a different realm of reality. In this reality, Jack had no longer belonged to her world.
Things afterwards all happened in a blur, so painless that her body drifted into it effortlessly. She thought that letting go of Jack's hand to take the vow would be hard, but it was so easy it almost felt unreal.
Yet there was this melancholy feeling lurking in the back of her mind, resounding like a faraway melody that keep calling for her, but she couldn't make out its words.
Jack promptly left after the wedding day. Claire didn't talk to him much after the ceremony. There was this hesitation between them that she was just rather to let it go for the time being. Whatever reason made Jack avoided her gaze, she didn't want to face it at the moment.
Claire let out a sigh. Somehow, she felt drained as she took in the sight of her home without Jack.
Jack had only been in Claire's house for a short period, but when he left, the sorrow of his memories remained. His figure was such a big part to Claire, that once he disappeared, the ghost of his image lingered everywhere she looked. And unlike Claire who prefer things be neat and clean, Jack had a habit of leaving stuff around the house. He wasn't necessary messy or wasteful, but his larger than life way of living tent to imprinted over the place he had been, which only worsen the case. Anywhere her eyes landed, she could always spot a thing or two from Jack's— a vase he purchased from Won that he thought would look good inside Claire's house; a grandfather clock he whimsically picked up, ticking ever so faithfully; a t-shirt that he forgot behind; a paperback book that he had finished reading and left on the counter instead of putting it to his luggage; a vague feeling that he deposited in her heart.
But Jack was no longer here. He had uprooted himself and gone, just as sudden as when he arrived. Behind his track was this indiscernible melancholy that hovered in Claire's house, once it was clean of Jack's presence.
Claire shook her head as she forced herself out of this melancholic state she had been embracing, and slowly gathered up her strength to tidy up the place. After all, today was Gray's move in day.
Gray had always been a little bit of a mystery for Claire, especially since the wedding.
She knew the standoffish apprentice blacksmith was working for his grandpa, and he was often not in a good mood for a talk. The first encounter, they didn't get along well. Gray was a volatile person that seemed to snap easily, while Claire wasn't the type that react well with aggression. Because of that, every time they talked, there would always be something that turned wrong. Claire's interest in Gray remained superficial, and the indifference he had for her didn't exactly improve the situation between them.
But for a guy who was famous for his short fuse, Gray was surprisingly tame during the period leading to their wedding. The whole time she was afraid that he would broke, his temper would have exploded and the whole thing would turn into ruins. But he remained relatively stoic. His presence was, in fact, the reason that that kept Claire together. The stoic blacksmith hardly ever spoke, but his feet remained steadily on the ground while her mind was jumbling around. And because of that, she trusted him. She knew he wouldn't act recklessly when it came to important things.
But her intuition of Gray only extent that much. There was no telling what he might do, now that they were about to live together. Every time she looked at him, his deep blue eyes always seemed cold and distant. She couldn't read his expression, and couldn't understand what went through his mind. To be honest, she wasn't sure how their relationship would head to with this arrangement. All they ever discussed about, however briefly, was the purpose of the wedding. And once the wedding preparation started rolling, Claire got caught into the moment and totally negated to talk with him about the important part: what was going to happen after the wedding part.
What was going to happen once they started living together?
As far as she concerned, Gray was still the same volatile metal that was honed and catalyzed by Saibara the first time they met. There was no prediction of what he might do and what he might be. She didn't know how he felt about the marriage. Heck, she didn't even know how she really felt about the marriage. It still seemed foreign for her.
And now they were about to embark on the second part of the contract, without a slightest idea about what was about to happened.
"Your house look different from the last time I saw it."
Was his first thing to say when Gray shown up at her door. There was no social etiquette nor greeting exchanged, the same usual indifference coming from him.
"Jack had it innovated," Claire said, trying to act nonchalantly. "According to him, my sack is not appropriate for living."
"Hmm. How spoiled." his words just slipped without his control.
"Don't bad mouth him", she scolded.
"I mean you."
"What-How am I spoiled?"
Gray shrugged. "Innovating a house must cost like what, a couple thousand grands? People don't simply have gift like that handed to them. And you said it like it was not a big deal. Isn't it obvious you're a privileged kid that are used to this kind of treatment."
"So I'm a spoiled rich kid? And what privilege you have to be such a judgmental jerk then?"
"It's not judgmental when I'm just stating the fact."
Silence reigned as Gray and Claire studied each other's face, calibrating their moves. Because of the huddles leading up to the wedding, they somehow forget how much they really couldn't tolerate each other's wit. But by the direction this conversation was heading, it was established that there weren't going to be any cordial sentimental between them. Any hazy sentiments Claire had of Gray during the wedding was lifted away like a curtain of mist dissipated under the heat of the sun. Gone.
"Aren't we off to a good start? Can't tell you how excited I am about living with you." Claire was the first to broke the tension.
The blacksmith didn't even look bothered by her remark.
"Look, Claire. We had a deal and I stuck with it. But we are both here because we had no other choice…."
"Well you had the choice to be nice, but hey I'm not the judgmental one."
Gray ignored Claire's jab and continue on "… The past few weeks I've been put up with all the mess Jack and you made, wedding and all. But now that it's over, don't let it get over your head. I'm here because it's part of the agreement. I'm not here to humor you."
"You had an effect on my humor Gray. Like straight up killing it." Claire said in a mocking tone. "And I am as painfully aware as you are about the fact that we are stuck with it other. No need for the friendly warning."
Then she stepped aside from the door or her house to let Gray in.
After the renovation, Claire's house had transformed into a different place. The once shabby cabin consisted of only one big space like an extended stay suite, had now expanded properly into a tiny cottage, the type that looked fitting for a simple life of a farmer: small, but cozy. A small kitchen was built in the expanded living room, and the bed was moved to a separated room to provide proper privacy for its owner. Furniture was placed with good taste— sparse, simplistic, but efficient to sustain a living.
But among these humble setting, what caught Gray attention was this big extravagant couch sitting right in the middle of the living room, its sandy color of sand reminded Gray of the silky beachside. The couch completely stood out like a beauty in the crowd that could take one's breath away. Gray had seen and sat on his fair share of couches, but he knew right away that the cream creature in front of him was the epitome of comfortableness. It was that impressive.
"Yeah. Jack had a little thing for couch." Claire answered to Gray's unspoken question, "he often said the couch was the heart of the living room where guests are welcomed and gather and whatnot, so he made sure his couch was comfortable.". She shrugged as she ended the sentences. Thinking about the silly little quirk of Jack made Claire's heart ache a little.
"I cleaned the closet out so you could put your things in… Since I only have one bedroom, I suppose we are going to share it?"
"No need. I will just sleep here. This couch is good." Gray said, permitting himself to sit down on the marvelous creature.
Good was an understatement. The moment he sat down, he could feel his body sink right into the couch's fluffiness, like it was waiting to embrace him. The couch absorbed his weight like a dream, its linen cover gently rubbed against his body was soft as the surface of clouds.
As his consciousness almost melt together with the couch, Gray wondered if Jack strategically purchased this wonderful creation and placed it here for a reason. After all, the brother of Claire did have that knack for manipulating people. He probably predicted Gray would have chosen to sleep on a couch should the option was available for him, so maybe the couch was his welcome invitation for Gray. At least he could thank Jack's generosity to buy a huge and comfortable couch though. The guy could have easily purchased a beaten-up on the curb chair and Gray would still choose to sleep on it anyway, despite his back's protest.
"Are you sure the couch is good enough?" Claire asked.
"Suits yourself then." She said, feeling the tension of her muscle lessen. Although they did have a one night stand, Claire wasn't sure she has readied herself enough to sleep in the same room with Gray again just yet. "There is a drawer here that you could put your stuff in, since you are not using the closet."
"Is that all of your stuff?"
Claire said, nodding at Gray's lack of belongings. All of Gray's time in Mineral town seemed to quintessentially condense neatly into a two basket of clothes, without an extra trivial item that could reflect a private aspect of its owner.
"And how long have you been in Mineral town?"
"A year with only that much stuff? what kind of life you've been living?"
"I avoid keeping unnecessary things with me."
Claire nodded, her curiosity triggered as she looked at her newly acquired husband. It was hard to tell Gray's attachment with the town, judging by the minimum personal possession he owned. He had always seemed so distant, like a passing visitor of this town, bidding his time for an unknown future. But for some reason he really insisted on staying in Mineral town, to the point that he even agreed to marry her. He knew her reason for wanting to stay at Mineral Town, but she never knew his. It had never came up in their rare conversation at all.
"On that same notes," Gray said, effectively breaking Claire off her train of thought. "I don't expect us to perform unnecessary things like ..." he cleared his throat, his ear slightly reddened as words were uttered out of his lips "…wife and husband stuff."
"Perform, gosh, couldn't you use something less misleading?" color filled Claire's cheek as well, resisting the urge to facepalm herself from the awful choice of words he picked, "But yes, we are not going to perform anything. We don't need to act like husband and wife, if that's what you mean."
"I just want to make sure we are on the same page," the blacksmith shrugged, trying to explain his embarrassing statement, "After all, we had a history, and people have expectations..."
"My only expectations for us is to not drive each other insane."
"So, what do we do about this situation then? We never really talk about what are we going to do from now on…" Gray asked incredulously.
"Just go on with our lives I guess. There shouldn't be any different from what we were before… except now is we live in the same house. We now officially Mineral town residents, you can do whatever you what with your future…"
"I guess I can start my farming life…"
"Don't say it." Claire stopped his thinking short.
"I didn't say anything."
"You don't need to say it, I can tell the doubt just by your tone. Yes, I'm a rich spoiled girl without a day of hard labor in life. But yes, I am going to do it. So no, I don't need to hear whatever you have to say."
"I really wasn't going to say anything about it. But I can't say you were wrong." Gray smirked.
"Can't say I am happy to be right either. You know Gray, the past few weeks you were pretty tolerable without all your random opinions and attitudes. Why revert back into your old self?"
"I prefer to be myself, it's less troublesome that way."
"by being yourself you prefer to the unfiltered judgmental jerk that you are?" Claire mocked.
"Isn't that better? We are just a formality Claire. It's best if we act like ourselves and not bother with each other."
And that was how they began their life together in Claire's house: an additional two baskets of clothes and a grumpy blacksmith that resided on a couch.
Life at Mineral was still business as usual, much to the disappointment of anticipating town folks.
For the most part, Gray and Claire kept their business to themselves. The Mineral Town residents expected some change to happen, but nothing seemed to go astray from the ordinary.
And perhaps, the person whom the lack of difference irked her the most was Claire. Nothing had changed in the last two weeks. Exactly. Nothing. She had been working on her farm for weeks, but she might as well say she had never been working on it and people wouldn't even notice. Claire knew the work would be hard, but she didn't imagine it would be that hard. Her farm remained the same grass stricken land, despite her best effort.
Gray on the other hand, was still working like his Gramps, getting frustrated everyday by the senior blacksmith. Like a clockwork, he would leave the house that 8:00am, and back by 5:00pm. Every day, his coming home reminded Claire that another day had ruthlessly pass, yet her efforts remained indifferent toward her farm. She hated to admit that, just like Gray implied, she really was a pampered city girly that overestimated herself and underestimate the effort and stamina required to build a farm.
"Look at how much progress you have made Claire. Your land is practically brand new… just like when you first brought it."
Claire swung her axe lightly towards Gray, and he scooped down immediately to avoid the blade.
"Opps, excuse me, my hand must had slipped. Did it hit you?" She said without even looking at him.
"It's a damn axe Claire, if it hit me, I wouldn't be answering your question."
"hmm, too bad then," she muttered herself.
Then she turned to Gray. "Maybe you shouldn't offend a girl with an axe on her hand." Claire steadied the beaten-up tool on her hand, waving as if she was ready for another strike. "Now clear out before I switch my target from this tree to you."
"Please excuse me, I didn't know the truth offends you."
Ignoring his annoying presence, Claire went back to her task. Claire swung the axe high over her head, and slammed it down to hack her way through the stump, but her attempts didn't even leave mark on it. On her last attempt, the axe hit the stump squarely in the middle and remained stuck there. Seemingly used to that, Claire just grunted and started jerking the axe out. She kept pulling and pulling, yet the tool refused to move an inch.
"Damn" She cursed, then sat right down on the ground to take a breath.
"If this stump you are trying to torture is any indication, I would say my life is pretty safe in your hand."
Gray said mockingly as he casually approached the trunk. He reached for the handle, his muscle tensed up as he tightened his grip around it, and with ease he pulled the axe up like he was just picking a flower off the ground.
Claire's eyes follow his movement. As much as it annoyed her to admitted it, it was hard for her to ignore Gray's presence.
Gray held the axe closer, his callous finger trace the shape the blade, "Didn't we just sharpen this a while ago?" He said, his blue eyes squinting to examine the texture of the bevel, recalling sitting in the furnace for hours, painstakingly tapped the blade to archive correct thickness to Saibara's standard. And here they were again, a week later, the tool was already beaten up, probably from repeated but clumsy uses of its owner. Judging from the state of the axe, he could tell the Claire had been working on it nonstop, albeit ineffectively.
"You're using the tool too hard." He muttered softly, his voice was not of criticism.
Without announcement, he swung the axe down in one decisive motion. The stump that Claire was trying to tackle in vain earlier broke apart under the impact.
"There, this is how it should be used."
"Show off." Claire snatched the axe back from Gray, adjusting it in her hand, "so what if you're a little bit strong than me. With enough practice, I'll get there eventually." It really did annoy her that Gray could do with ease what she struggled so hard to do.
She started hacking the trunk that was lying near her, couldn't wait until her bicep actually forms. Maybe one day she could challenge Gray into an arm wrestling match.
"It's not about strength. It's about technique. You're doing it wrong."
Suddenly Claire felt a pair of defined arms wrap themselves around her own, and Claire shuddered at the coolness of his skin.
"You're putting too much force on your arms. You'll run out of stamina before you can even belt out a thing," One of his hand held on to her waist, while the other pushed along the length of her arm to guide its direction, ignorant of the fact that he was basically hugging Claire. "Turn the blade like this. And use your whole torso when you swing. It will produce stronger force. Like…"
"I'm not comfortable in this position" Claire squeaked weakly, feeling his husky voice practically on her ear as his body lean closer.
Gray jolted away immediately. Color began to invade his ear as he realized what he just did, and as a reflex he pulled his hat down to hid his eyes. "I just wanted to demonstrate you how to use the axe properly." He blurted. " Try and see the difference."
"hmm" Claire held on to her axe, feeling a little hard to remember what he just guided her.
But before Claire could have done anything, a chiming voice stole their attentions.
Claire felt a cluster of pink embraced her body decisively, the force pushed against her almost made her drop the axe midair. The light fragrance of red camellia immediately revealed to Claire its distinguish owner, Popuri.
"So glad I caught you both here! I've came to say goodbye." The girl pulled away from the stunned farmer, her face a radiant smile of a thousand white flower glittering in the sun.
Now that Claire had the chance to turn around to look at Popuri, she could see that Popuri had on a different dress up that her usual one— white sweater with a high collar that warped around her neck, a brown jacket that went up to her knees, and a pair of jean. They were clothes that designated for traveling, it emitted a prominent feeling of goodbye.
"You are… going?" Gray said.
"Yes. The ferry leave at 7pm tonight." Popuri said like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "I've said goodbye to everyone, except you two. I was worried about you two."
What an ironic thing to say, consider she was the one leaving the town. Claire thought.
"I'm glad I was able to attend your wedding before I go. It was a lot of fun," Popuri said cheerily to Claire.
With her hands holding Claire's, she continued on "I've only gotten you know for a short period of time, but I care about you a whole lot. So do your best with your life in Mineral town okay!"
"Thank you…" Claire muttered quietly, not knowing what else to say.
Suddenly, Popuri lean closer to Claire, her head a few inches away from the blonde's as she whispered, "Thank you for helping Gray remain in Mineral Town. Please take care of him."
Without letting Claire had the chance to respond to her cryptic message, Popuri quickly broke out of Claire, letting go of her hand and turned to the other person of the conversation. She stepped closer to him, her voice lowered, "Gray…"
The blacksmith hadn't moved an inched since the girl had been here. His handsome feature carried a distant expression on him, a carefully measured face that seal away any the emotions.
"…I'm going." Popuri just said simply, while looking at his beautiful blue eyes. "But I'm glad you've found your reason to stay."
Gray just nodded at the words from Popuri. "I hope you will find what you seek." His words were short but his eyes lingered.
"I hope you'll do the same."
The conversation they just had went over the head of Claire. It was like the secret talk that only the insiders who shared the story can understand. The short and cryptic message, the difference in Popuri mannerism, and the martyr blacksmith. Somehow, she felt like she was violating a private moment between the two, and that she was just an onlooker of an untold story. Claire had never seen Popuri like this before- the way Popuri carried herself, she was not the usual seemingly innocent self. This Popuri in front of Claire right now was mature and knew what she was doing.
Or maybe this was the version of Popuri that only appears in front of Gray? the version that made the cold demeanor blacksmith felt in love? Claire thought to herself.
Or maybe because Popuri was about to leave. It was the same with Jack the day he left. People had a distinctive aura around them when they were about to depart, like they were enveloped by a different dimension and no longer belong to the same side with the people who stayed. They breathed in a different air, took in a different perspective and their words carried a different impact.
And along with Claire, Gray was the one who stayed behind, watching people getting away from their lives.
"See you guys again in summer." With that, Popuri was gone, her presence a sudden wind that swept through the deserted farm and quickly disappear to a faraway land.
Claire glanced at the blacksmith. He had now planted himself on the nearest boulder, his shoulder humped down. Behind the hat, Claire could tell his eyes was looking towards the direction of Popuri where she left. The fluttering hair in the wind enhanced Gray's motionless body, painting a picture of sorrow. All his desolated posture gave Claire a flash of reminiscence – the last night she stayed with Jack before the wedding. It was a forlorn experience, the impending feeling that this was the end for an unrequited love.
Claire took a deep breath. Departure tended to provoke uncalled feeling from the depth of the sea.
"Back to Earth, Gray," Claire said quietly, trying not to startle the guy from his trance. "You have been sitting here for a good ten minutes."
Gray turned to the source of her voice, a blank expression on his face, like an abandoned animal that got hurt deeply.
"You should get back to the house… You're in my way of working."
"Work, what work" Gray said, shaking himself from the frozen thought. "Oh, farming. Right."
Claire cast a wary look at the blacksmith. He was obviously desperately in love with Popuri, so why did he just let her go like that? What's holding him back?
Before she realized, the thought slipped out of her mind and materialized into words. "It's not my place to say, but why don't you say something to her? From the look of your face, there is nothing you desperately want more than to be at her side." She blurted.
Gray stared at Claire, his eyes had come back to focus. He was looking at Claire with the intensity of a flaming anger that could burn, yet his voice was sharp and ice-cold. "You're right. It's not your place to say anything."
"But…I don't get it. I don't see any harm in letting her know how you feel…"
"You know Claire, I don't care what with you and Jack, and what business a rich girl like you have living in Mineral town. I didn't stick my noise in your business, so you should stay out of mine."
"I just wanted to help."
"Help? Who are you kidding. Look at your pathetic farm Claire. You're the one that needs help around here."
"I am seriously about farming Gray." Claire said, feeling herself snapped. Maybe he was hurt, but didn't mean he could go and verbally slaughter her like that. "Though I can't not say the same about you. Judging from your expression you had with Popuri, you might as well leave and chase after her you know."
The Blacksmith stood up abruptly, and turned his feet to head out of the farm. He needed to get out, it took all his strength not to physically harm the blonde farmer.
The entranced loudly reek as he forcefully slammed it on the way out, its sound vibrated through the air like a piercing cry of sadness.
It took Claire a moment to digest what just happened. She didn't mean to triggered Gray, or say anything hurtful. Yet, somehow they always lost it in the heat of the moment and turned things sour.
Not wanting to let her mind run loose, Claire decided to go back to her task again. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and recalled what Gray said before Popuri's visit and adjusted herself accordingly.
Thanks to Gray's advice on her posture, the work became easier to handle and not as tiring. But with each piece of trunk broke down, there was something else that formed inside her chest and made breathing a little bit harder for her.
Claire's rhythmic motion of her axe hitting the trunk became the lone sound amidst the vast desolated field. The image of a sorrowful blacksmith slowly reel into her mind, like a solemn film that only consist of one image repeating over and over. Far out in the sky, the sun made its way down on the horizon, its ray bleed the blue sky with a bloody color.
Sadness was something that is contagious.
Jack is *abruptly* out of the picture for now, because I think its high time to focus on Gray x Claire.
Have you ever wondered why city boy like Gray decided to move to Mineral Town and become Saibara's apprentice? When playing the game, it was one of my biggest question for Gray. So yes, I decided to address that question by writing about it hehe
Again, please read and review! Any word from you, not matter long or short, is fuel to my inspiration!
**after this point, is my thank you note for my guess reviewer whom I can't send a PM to**
Opanda: thank you for taking interest in my story! I am glad you like it. And thank you for your generous compliment with my writing haha I am sure I made a lot of grammar mistake thought. But thank you for the boost of confidence! Please stay tune for more Gray x Claire, I still have a lot in store for them. And I hope you like this chapter as well.
Liane : How could I not noticed you ! I am a huge huge lurker of fanfiction as well for a very long time, and I can't tell you how happy I am seeing you reviewing my story haha. I am glad you find the wedding preparation funny, I am also pretty happy about that part.
Msms: thank you for the review :") Funny stuff is not my strong point so thank you very much for finding it funny haha.
Rona: Hello Rona! Don't feel bad about Jack. This story really is about Graire, so Jack was doomed to be a side character anyways haha. But like you I get tired of him eventually, and really, I just want Gray and Claire to start rolling (to bed), so be expecting for more stuff to happen.
Vanessa: Thank you for your review on both of my stories! Don't worry, I didn't abandon them. It just takes me a long time to pull out what I wanted to convey ;_; But eventually I'll get there and get on with the story.