Swallow All Your Pride
When he steps inside the guild, she isn't there.
And look, he isn't mad or anything. Juvia's a grown woman and she has the right to show up or to not show up to an event. He isn't saying that she is obliged to be here. But the thing is, it's his birthday and he sort of expected her to be the first one waiting by the door for him.
She isn't here.
He cranes his neck and sweeps his eyes over the entire guild, trying to catch her bright blue eyes and wide, happy smile. For a second, he thinks that it's her but his shoulders drop in disappointment when he realizes that it's just Levy.
Before he can say anything else, Erza grabs him by the shoulders and shoves a strawberry cake into his face, saying in an imperious voice that it's very delicious (and she would know because she's eaten it for like, a million times). Natsu whacks him from the back of his head and screams a happy birthday into his ear while Lucy wraps him into a hug. When Erza pulls him into a chair and tells him to start blowing the candles, his mind is only half there. He's trying to pay attention. Really. It's just that, he can't help but feel a bit worried that she isn't here. Her absence is weird and unnatural and he's surprised that no one has really taken notice of it but him.
He lightly taps Gajeel on the shoulder when no one's looking because as much as he hates to admit it, Gajeel's the only other person (aside from him) in the guild who always knows where Juvia is.
"What?" Gajeel gruffly says as he takes a swig from his bottle of beer.
"What? I don't get a happy birthday?" Gray responds in a half-joking voice.
Gajeel rolls his eyes and raises his bottle. "Happy birthday, Stripper."
Gray chuckles and shakes his head as he clinks his bottle against Gajeel's. Gajeel takes another swig before jerking a thumb in Gray's direction. "So...what did you want?"
"You were about to ask me something," Gajeel says.
Gray taps his fingers against the counter top and tries to sound as nonchalant as possible. "It's nothing...just wondering where Juvia is..."
Gajeel raises his brows at Gray and gives a slightly amused chuckle. He shakes his head a little before saying, "Sprinkler, eh? She's supposed to come back for a mission this morning—''
"And have you talked to her? Is she okay? How do you know for sure that she's back?" he asks and immediately, he cringes at the way he sounds so concerned.
"Relax, Stripper. I'm sure she's fine. She's probably just exhausted," Gajeel says as he turns to wave at Levy, who's slowly approaching the counter. He gives a confident smirk before continuing, "You don't have to worry. She'll definitely show."
She doesn't show and he swears that he only freaks out by a little bit.
He quietly sneaks out of his own party and quickly breaks into a sprint as he makes his way towards her dorm building. Gajeel had repeatedly told him not to worry and it's not that Gray doesn't trust his judgment. He's just a little concerned because it's already been thirty minutes and she still hasn't shown up to the guild. He can't really relax, not until he knows for sure that she's okay, so he decided to just leave and check up on her since he can't enjoy himself when she's not there.
(Shut up. He's just trying to be a good nakama.)
He's about to turn left into the corner that leads to her dorm building when he sees them through the glass window of a men's clothing shop.
Juvia's holding a shirt in her hand, a contemplative look on her face as she scratches her chin with her finger. Right in front of her is Lyon, and he's wearing this black shirt with the tag still on. He's raising his arms up and sort modeling for Juvia.
What the fuck?
(Seriously. What the fuck?)
And okay fine, maybe Juvia being in there with Lyon isn't what he thinks it is. She could've just been passing by and Lyon could've grabbed her by the arm and dragged her in there before she could protest (bastard has the nasty habit of forcing Juvia into situations she doesn't like). It's not as if she's there because she wants to be there. He tries to force himself to turn around and leave but then, Juvia shakes her head and Lyon says something to her before taking his shirt off.
Lyon's shirtless and Juvia's there, not really looking as bothered as he expected her to be. She has this critical, serious look on her face as she examines his (naked) torso. He doesn't know what the hell is going on but he doesn't like it and he desperately has the urge to punch something.
(It isn't because he's jealous. He's just worried that Lyon might be taking advantage of Juvia and that she's too naive or trusting to realize it. He's just being a good friend.
Juvia calls one of the salesmen and she tells him something. The man scurries off and Juvia and Lyon converse while they wait for him or something. He's a little taken aback by how comfortable the two of them seem because he's never seen them carry on a proper conversation with each other before. This whole thing definitely seems fishy and he suspects that Lyon has somehow managed to force-feed some weird, mind-control magic to Juvia.
The man comes back a few minutes later with a button down shirt and Lyon starts putting it on. When Juvia takes a step forward and rests her fingers on one of the buttons before quickly moving them upwards as she helps him button his shirt up, he can feel blood roaring in his ears.
He comes up with one conclusion: She's helping Lyon with his shopping.
He can't even process how weird or how fucked-up that sounds. He's just trying to reel himself in from his disappointment.
He doesn't even know why he's so upset. She's her own woman and he doesn't get any say of what she decides to do during his birthday. It's just that she's his nakama and nakamas are supposed to go to each other's birthday parties, not shop clothes with smug, know-it-all, white-haired assholes. He's gone to all of her birthday parties and fuck, he's even exerted a ton of effort to pick out the perfect present for her. He's pretty sure that there's some sort of rule about this.
Fuck it, if he cares about who she chooses to spend her time with. If she wants to do it with lousy company, then it's her business. He's just sorry that he actually bothered to worry about her. She's clearly fine.
He turns around and storms off, back into the guild.
Erza, Natsu, Happy and Lucy drag him off into a restaurant for dinner because they think that he looks miserable and that he needs cheering up.
He isn't miserable because he saw Juvia and Lyon together. (He isn't.) He just feels kind of out of it because Juvia hasn't shown up to the guild at all. He waited for about an hour for her to come but she didn't and he couldn't help but feel that maybe she didn't want to go to his birthday at all. He thought that she would at least stop by to give him a present.
"Hey!" Lucy says interrupting his line of thought. "Isn't that..."
She trails off, her eyes wide and unblinking.
"What?" Gray irately says as he follows Lucy's line of vision.
He stiffens when he sees Juvia and Lyon, sitting in one of the corner tables. Juvia looks slightly disappointed and distracted and she looks as if she's only listening to about a third of Lyon's incessant chatting. She's nodding her head though and smiling and Gray can tell that she's just trying to keep up her polite demeanor.
"I think they're having a date," Happy pipes up.
"Nonsense. Two people eating dinner alone together does not automatically mean that they are on date," Erza says. She looks slightly amused, as if the expression on Gray's face is entertaining to her.
Lucy gives him a worried look and says, "Gray? Are you okay?"
Before he can respond, Natsu slams the menu against the table and starts wildly waving at the nearest waitress. "Oi! Waitress! We'd like to order some food!"
Gray is about to say something else but when he sees the plates of caramade franks on Lyon and Juvia's table, he can feel his blood icing over in anger.
That is the last, fucking straw.
Erza unfolds a napkin and places it over her lap as she says, "I think we can tell them that we have a birthday celebrant with us. I'm sure that we'll have free strawberry cake—Oi! Gray! Where are you going?"
Gray doesn't even know how he ends up in front of Juvia and Lyon's table.
"Gray-sama!" Juvia says, her lips curving into a huge smile. "Juvia has been looking for you everywhere! She didn't see you at the guild—''
"What are you two doing here?" Gray bluntly asks.
"What do you think, Gray? In case you haven't noticed, me and Juvia-chan are trying to enjoy some dinner," Lyon says before Juvia can answer.
"Er, actually, Gray-sama—''
Gray leans down and waspishly says, "What the fuck's your deal, Lyon? What did you do to Juvia?"
"What are you talking about?" Lyon asks as he gets up and takes a step towards Gray, his fingers balled into fists.
Juvia attempts to come in between them as she places a hand on both of their chests. "Gray-sama! Lyon-sama! Juvia thinks that—''
"Is he bothering you, Juvia? Did he force you into this?" he says as he turns to face her.
"For your information, Gray, Juvia was the one who invited me to this restaurant to have dinner," Lyon smugly interjects.
"W-What?" he sputters, thoroughly confused.
He turns to look at Juvia, who is trying to avoid his gaze. She is fiddling with the hem of her sleeve and kicking at the ground with her left foot. He meets her eyes and intently asks, "Is it true? Did you...did you really invite him over here?"
Juvia gives him a hesitant look before saying, "Er...yes."
His heart should not be falling right now.
"But it's not like that!" she hastily adds. "See, Juvia made a—''
"So, what? Are you two dating now?" he hisses.
Juvia stares at him, taken aback by his aggressive demeanor. "W-What? No. This is just a friendly dinner between Lyon-sama and Juvia—''
A harsh laugh escapes from his throat. "Yeah, right. It doesn't seem very friendly to me."
"Gray! Stop talking to her in that manner!" Lyon interrupts.
"And what are you? Her bodyguard!?"
Juvia desperately tries to edge herself back in to the conversation. "Gray-sama! Lyon-sama! Please—''
Lyon folds his arms. "Well, excuse me for just trying to defend a lady's honor—''
"You shouldn't have to!" Gray explodes. "You aren't her boyfriend!"
"Well, neither are you!" Lyon retorts.
Silence. Gray stiffens, suddenly painfully aware that everyone is staring at them.
The three of them turn to look at a waitress who's glaring at them with a disapproving look on her face. "The three of you are disrupting the other customers. If you can please just—''
"Don't worry. I was just leaving," Gray says as he turns around.
"Enjoy your dinner," he stiffly says before ignoring Erza, Lucy and Natsu's protests and storming out of the restaurant.
After several hours of drinking beer at a nearby bar, he comes across Lyon on his way home.
He tries to walk faster because he doesn't really want to deal with Lyon right now. He's kind of drunk and he's still trying to sort himself out. He feels angry and annoyed and disappointed all at once and he can't help but feel that today is the shittiest birthday he has ever experienced. He feels a little betrayed, honestly, because it's his birthday and instead of celebrating with him, she just blew him off like he didn't fucking exist. He's also fucking pissed because she was eating caramade franks with Lyon and that's their thing, always, since the beginning and now the whole thing feels tainted somehow. He'll never be able to eat caramade franks with her in the same way, ever again.
(He knows that he may be exaggerating, but whatever.)
He walks faster and tries to pretend as if he hasn't seen Lyon.
"Gray! Hey!" Lyon catches up to him and grabs him by the elbow.
"What?" Gray snaps.
Lyon thrusts a poorly-wrapped package into his hands and says, "Can't I give my adopted, little brother a present on his birthday?"
Gray reluctantly takes it and says, "Where's Juvia?"
He tries to ignore just how bitter he sounds.
"Looking for you," Lyon answers in a slightly disapproving voice. "She was very worried, you know. Looked all over the town for you."
He shakes his head and caustically says, "Why would she care? I'm not her boyfriend, right?"
"Well, neither am I," Lyon says, in a bitter, grudging tone. A smirk then creeps up on his lips. "Yet."
"Is that why you're here? To spite me?" Gray snaps. Gray shoves Lyon's present back into his hands. "You didn't come here to give me this fucking present, did you?"
Lyon's eyebrow twitches. "You're being overly paranoid. I really did mean to give you this present. In fact, if you hadn't been such a tool in the restaurant, I would have given this to you by then."
He grits his teeth and tries to maintain his calm. "What were you two doing in the restaurant?"
Lyon nonchalantly shrugs. "I already told you. We were there eating dinner."
"You forced her to go," Gray snaps.
Lyon shakes his head. "No. She invited me."
"Is it so hard to believe that Juvia would willingly want to spend time with me, Gray?" A slow, smug smile tugs at the corners of Lyon's mouth. "You can't seriously believe that she would wait for you, forever?"
Something in him snaps.
"It doesn't matter. Because even if she chooses you in the end, to her, you're always going to be second best," he spits the words out with as much acidity as he can muster.
When he sees the flash of hurt in Lyon's eyes, he starts feeling oddly satisfied.
A tense silence envelops them. Then, to his surprise, Lyon starts laughing.
"What?" Gray snaps, annoyed and confused at the amused expression on Lyon's face.
"I'm laughing because if you're what passes off for my competition, then I'm always going to have a chance." He shakes his head. "You're pathetic. You're so emotionally crippled that you can't even make sense of your feelings for her. And if you do, by some insane miracle, actually manage to sort out how you truly feel about her, you probably won't have the balls to swallow all your pride and tell her how you feel. Because you're a coward that's why. You're a fucking coward and you can't even admit it. "
He draws himself up and places a fist on his chest. The words come out of his mouth with such conviction, with an emotion that's so genuine that Gray can't help but feel jealous at Lyon's ability to mean exactly what he says. "At least, I'm sure. At least, she can always count on me to be there."
Warmth suddenly starts seeping at the base of his neck. He feels angry and afraid all at the same time. Fuck. How on earth did they get to talking about feelings and all that shit? How did their conversation become so heavy? The two of them stare at each other with intensity, their fists clenched, neither backing down. Honestly, he doesn't even know why he's making a big deal out of this because it's not as if he actually wants him and Juvia to be something more. He's comfortable with the way their relationship is, right now. He doesn't want to stir shit up and ruin something that's already perfect.
He really hates Lyon because he's messing up his and Juvia's dynamic. And the man probably won't ever stop until he gets what he wants.
The way he sees it, he's got two options here.
One, is to change nothing and keep on going as he did before. But then he runs the risk of watching Lyon move in on Juvia.
Two, is to have a talk with Juvia about feelings and stuff and discuss the...whatever...that's going on between them.
Both options don't really appeal to him. He can always try to get rid of Lyon so that things will be back to normal but even he's not fucked-up enough to try and kill his adopted brother.
(Fucking ethics and familial feelings and shit.)
"Seriously. What the fuck are you doing here, Lyon? Are you just here to rag on me on my fucking birthday?" Gray demands.
Lyon rolls his eyes and sighs. "I already told you. I came here to give you my birthday present."
After a moment's pause, he says, "And to...tell you something about Juvia."
Lyon folds his arms and says, "I came to tell you that you're right. Sort of. What you saw in the restaurant...isn't what you think you saw."
"So you did force her to go with you?" Gray says, suddenly feeling better.
"What? Of course not! I wasn't lying about that part! She really did invite me," Lyon says.
"Then why did—''
"She invited me to dinner as a thank you for helping her pick out your present, you idiot!" Lyon exasperatedly says.
Gray blinks at him in surprise. "What?"
"She told me that she always gives you something homemade for your birthday, but you never wear them, so she figured that she must be doing something wrong—''
Like hell he's going to tell Lyon the real reason why he never wears her gifts.
"I love her gifts!" he defensively protests. "It's just that...I mean some of the stuff she gives me...are embarrassing. For fuck's sake, she once gave me a butterfly t-shirt—''
"Anyways, she came to me because she wanted my opinion. We went to one of my favorite clothing stores and I tried out a bunch of outfits," Lyon explains. "She was not able to make your party because she finished her mission a lot later than she expected. She tried looking for you in the guild afterwards, but you were already gone. That's why, at my suggestion, we went to dinner first. But then, you were there and..."
"Why...why are you telling me this?" Gray sputters.
Lyon claps a hand on Gray's shoulder and hands him back the present. He shrugs and simply says, "Because it's your birthday. Consider me telling you...as my second birthday present."
Gray stares at him, unsure of how to respond.
"But just because I'm giving you a pass this one time...don't think that I'm giving up on her and letting you win," he says.
"She's never going to pick you over me," Gray retorts.
"Doesn't matter. She turned me down again today (for like the hundredth time) but she said that she would love to be friends with me. Friendship is a step forward and unlike you, I'm not stupid enough to let it amount to nothing," Lyon says as a triumphant grin plays on his lips. "I'm not afraid of my feelings and I'm not afraid of change."
"Well, neither am I," he responds. It feels as if he's responding to a challenge and even though he's kind of nervous and he has absolutely no idea what kind of contest Lyon is challenging him to, he's prepared to do whatever he can to win.
"Just because you're like a brother to me, don't think that I'll go easy on you," Lyon evenly responds, completely undeterred.
"Bring it on."
The two of them stare down at each other in complete silence. Then, Lyon's lips crack into a smile and Gray does so as well. The tension that has been enveloping the two of them start disappearing and Lyon sort of punches him on the shoulder.
"You're an ass," Gray tells him.
"So are you."
Lyon pulls him into a man-hug and gives his back a strong pat. "Happy birthday."
Lyon walks off with a little salute and even though they're cool right now, Gray can't help but think that today marks the beginning of something between him, Juvia and Lyon.
A war, maybe.
He doesn't exactly know what (or who) the prize is.
(Fuck it. Of course he knows.)
He spends nearly half the night looking for her. When he comes up empty-handed, he decides that maybe she has gone home. He figures that he'll talk to her about this whole thing tomorrow morning. No sense in worrying about it more than he already has.
He makes his way back to his apartment and stops in his tracks when he sees her waiting at the front steps, a neatly wrapped package in her hand.
Before he can call out her name, she hurtles towards him and tackles him into a hug. "Gray-sama!"
She doesn't give him the chance to speak.
"Juvia is so sorry! She didn't mean to upset you—''
"Oi! Juvia! Get off me—''
"Juvia's sorry to have missed your party too! It's just that she arrived so late from her mission—''
"I know! I know! Lyon—''
"And Lyon-sama! Juvia didn't mean to make you jealous—''
He flushes. "I wasn't jealous!"
"Don't try to deny it, Gray-sama! Juvia knows that you were jealous at Juvia for stealing Lyon-sama away from you!" she sputters as she clutches at his collar.
He stiffens when the words sink in. "Oi! Me and Lyon...it's not like that!"
"Eh? So you aren't mad at Juvia for stealing Lyon-sama away from you? Because she's really worried that she may have interrupted your boy's love—''
"Juvia!" he protests, completely embarrassed. "I don't swing that way!"
"Oh," she says, her face flushed.
He nervously rubs the back of his head as she carefully places the package in his hands. "Erm...Juvia wants to explain why she was eating dinner with Lyon-sama—''
"You don't have to," he interrupts. He looks at the grounds and shifts in his place. "Lyon...um...Lyon told me about how you were just thanking him for helping you pick out my gift. If anyone should be apologizing...it's going to be me... I'm sorry."
"It's okay Gray-sama. Juvia understands why you acted the way you did," she says as he gvies him a gentle smile. Fuck, this girl is so understanding that it's crazy. "Juvia has been waiting by your front steps the whole evening! She wanted to make sure that this present got to you."
"You really didn't have to give it to me today," he tells her.
She giggles. "Don't be ridiculous Gray-sama. It's your birthday! You have to get your present by today!"
She looks at him expectantly, motioning for him to open the gift. He stares at the package before turning it in his hands and examining it carefully. He then slowly peels the gift's wrapper off and starts scratching the tape that's sealing the box. When he finally manages to open the gift, he thickly swallows.
It's a dark blue sweater that's made out of the softest material.
He's got to hand it Lyon.
The man can pick out a good present.
"Gray-sama?" Juvia timidly says. "Do you...do you like it? Lyon-sama and Juvia spent a long time picking it out..."
"It's great," he says as he gives her a huge smile. He runs his hand along the front of the shirt.
"Juvia...Juvia just wanted to make sure that she got you something that you would definitely like. See, all of the presents she made for you before—''
"I love them," he stupidly blurts out. He nervously shifts in his place. "I love all your presents. It's just that...um..."
She leans forward, eagerly waiting for his response.
He sighs and says, "Never mind. Just don't go asking Lyon for advice next time, okay?"
And look, he doesn't wear her presents because he's ashamed of them or whatever. He can deal with wearing a butterfly shirt. The real reason why he never wears the shit she makes for him is because he doesn't want to lose them. He has the nasty habit of leaving his clothes everywhere so he wants to make sure that all of her gifts are safely tucked away in his closet. But it's not as if he's telling her that. The last thing that he wants to do right now is to give her the wrong ideas.
(Shut up. He just doesn't want to lose the clothes she had made for him because they're of good quality. It's not as if they're extra-special to him.
They're just clothes.)
"Okay, Gray-sama," she says. After a second's pause she gestures at him and shyly asks, "Do you want to wear it right now?"
"Your clothes," she says as she flushes and points at his chest.
"Ack!" he says when he sees his naked torso. He fumbles for the sweater as he hastily puts it on.
Juvia giggles. "It fits you perfectly."
"Mm-hm." She bites at her bottom lip and looks away. "Well...Juvia supposes that she should get going now..."
She starts backing away but before she can leave, he nervously clears his throat. He looks at the sky and tries to sound as less awkward as possible when he says, "Um...you know, it is pretty late right now. Maybe...maybe I should walk you home. Just to make sure that you get there safely..."
He gives a pained grunt as she squeals and launches herself at him.
It takes him about several seconds before he manages to disentangle her from himself.
As they start walking back towards her dorm (with him checking up on the stupid sweater, just to make sure that he hasn't lost it or unconsciously stripped it away), he thinks about his conversation with Lyon. He looks at Juvia and watches the way her hair hits the sides of her face and the way her lips twitch at the corners when she smiles and he thinks that he'll stab himself in the gut before he does anything that will let Lyon have the last laugh.
Lyon started this war.
And Gray sure as hell, isn't going to give up or hold back.
Author's Note: A companion piece to The Necklace and my first Gruvion fic. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed when Lyon backed off. I enjoyed the Gray/Juvia/Lyon dynamic and I liked the fact that Lyon was a catalyst that helped Gruvia progress.
Thank you to those who added me in their favorite authors list, read my other fics, reviewed them and added them to their favorites.
Please tell me what you think of this fic if you have the time. Feedback is always welcome. I hope you guys had a good read :)