TOMORROW COMES TODAY
"Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worse kind of suffering."
"Is he okay?" Lucy asked, looking at Natsu in the rearview mirror. He was sprawled in the back seat and moaning periodically, his face a concerning green color.
Gray glanced back at him briefly, evidently not too worried, "Eh, he'll be fine. He always gets sick from transportation."
"Doesn't he have medication or something?"
"Wendy gives him some, sometimes, but she doesn't want him to build up a resistance to it. Also, we try to ration it out," Gray said. "Medicine can be hard to come by at times."
"Oh, yeah, you guys are criminals," she muttered.
"Not criminals. Vigilantes," Gray said, seeming to have decided on this word for his group. He leaned back in the seat. His relaxation allowed the tension in her shoulders to ease. If he seemed to think the threat was gone, they were probably good.
"Same difference ," she said. She didn't press it, though. These guys had just saved her life and she didn't want to appear ungrateful. "Thank you, by the way."
"No problem," Gray said, closing his eyes. She thought he might be drifting off to sleep and done with conversation, but he asked, "How did you know that I was lying about my last name?"
"Well, there are only so many Gray Changs in the area, and you didn't look like any of them," she said, focusing on the road now. They had passed a few police officers, speeding in the direction of her house, but hadn't seen any since. She kept an eye out anyways. It wouldn't do to get caught driving off with two vigilantes.
"You searched me? How? With Google?" Gray asked, his eyes opening again now that he was interested.
"Pfft, no. Google is a weak search engine," she said with a laugh.
"What did you use, then?" he asked.
She pressed her lips together, not knowing how much she could tell them. Crux was a technology given to her by her friends Loke and Levy. It was still in testing and she knew it wasn't something she was supposed to tell people about.
But, Gray and Natsu had just saved her life and her prolonged silence was making Gray suspicious.
"What?" he pressed. "What is it?"
Even Natsu looked interested. He had lifted his head and was watching her, struggling valiantly against the sickness that churned his stomach.
"Oh, it's this program. A few of my friends are scientists and they let me test it out," Lucy answered, focusing on the road again to avoid their looks. "I'm not really supposed to talk about it. It's going to be used by the government once it passes tests and any bugs are ironed out."
"Ah," Gray said. He still seemed curious, but he didn't ask about it again. Instead, he said, "Any idea why Ultear and her goons were after you?"
"The woman who ambushed us back at your house. She's a part of the group that…causes us a lot of problems," Gray explained.
"Huh. No, I have no idea why she would be after me." She thought about it for a moment. "Well, it might be because…well, my dad has quite a bit of money. But, I'm cut off. I ran away and he canceled my credit cards, so I don't know what use I'd be to them as I am now."
"Maybe for a ransom," Gray guessed.
"I don't think my dad would pay anything," Lucy said darkly. Then, hating the bad mood thinking of her dad always put her in, she changed the subject, "Do you think they will hang around my house for long? I'm worried about my friends. They can see my searches and they might stop by to check on me."
"Nah, the police probably have chased them out by now," he said. "Though, they most likely will keep an eye on the place. You should give them a call now and warn them."
"Okay," Lucy said. She speed dialed Loke first, knowing that he would be the hardest to deal with and just wanting to get it out of the way.
"Lucy, what is going on?"
She sighed at how he answered, "Hey, Loke."
"What is up with your searches?! Why are you searching about gunshot wounds?! Who is Gray Chang?! And, your neighbor said that there were people shooting up your house!" Loke asked, frantic with protective concern.
In the seat next to her, Gray was smirking. She wrinkled her nose at him, before working on calming her friend down, "Loke, listen. I'm sorry I can't tell you much…I can't answer any of your questions really. Just that someone appears to be after me, but I am safe. I'm with people who can handle things and they're looking out for me for the time being."
"Where are you now?" he asked. His voice was a lot calmer and quieter, but still laced with worry.
"Driving. I don't know where we're going," she said. She didn't promise to tell him, either, getting the feeling that her companions wouldn't be too happy about that. "Loke. Promise me that you will stay away from my house. It is dangerous right now. Keep Levy away, too. Please."
He hesitated on the other line. She knew he wanted to know more.
"Please," she said again, her voice automatically dipping into the pleading tone that always got him to do what she wanted.
With a sigh he caved, "Fine. I will stay away from the house. But, you had better call me regularly and I want to see you sometime soon."
"Okay," she said quietly. "Thank you, Loke."
"And, I want to know more about what is going on," he said.
"I'll tell you when I know," she promised. She could promise that.
"Also, who are you with?"
"Gray and Natsu."
"Men? Tell them if they so much as lay a hand on you I will…"
"Loke, seriously. I don't think that is really an issue and I can take care of myself."
"I want to talk to one of them," he said, his voice taking that stubborn note that she knew she couldn't argue with.
She handed the phone to Gray, "He wants to talk to you."
Gray took the phone and because Loke was talking in a normal volume, she couldn't hear what he said.
"I'm Gray. Yeah, the one she was looking up. No, she hasn't told me anything about how she looked me up…though I am curious. Ah, okay, I understand. No, we wouldn't dream of it. Eh? We aren't like that. No, we aren't criminals. We are vigilantes. I don't really want to talk about that. You have a pretty active imagination…no. No, we wouldn't do that either. Ah, sure we will make sure she calls you. Yes…there are other women where we are going. Eh? Well, Lisanna is her age. No, she is our cook. Once again we aren't like that. Uhm. Okay. Ah, no, we can't tell you that. Yeah, sorry. Okay. Yeah. Okay, here she is."
Lucy took the phone back, "Are you satisfied now?"
"For now," Loke answered.
"Remember, stay away from the house. And, don't do anything stupid," Lucy warned.
"Yeah, yeah, I got it."
"Okay. Well, I'll talk to you later, then," she said. "Bye."
"Boyfriend?" Gray asked with a grin after she'd hung up.
"No, childhood friend," she said, determined not to react to his teasing.
Gray laughed and pointed across her, "Turn left here."
"How far away are we?" she asked. She was tired. She hadn't got much sleep the night before because he'd made her nervous and she really needed to wash. With a grimace, she remembered that she was still wearing the blood stained shirt.
"About half an hour away," he estimated, tapping his chin. "Don't you have anyone else to call?"
"Nah, I'll text them. I don't want to have to deal with everybody like I did with Loke. Besides, he'll keep them away, hopefully," she said.
"Ah," he said. "Well, did you…"
His words were interrupted by a gunshot. The bullet broke through the windshield, sending glass all over Lucy's shirt and face, and lodged into the headrest a scant few centimeters from her forehead.
The car swerved, but she managed to straighten it out on the road despite her panic. She eased up on the gas, but Gray pressed down on her knee and they sped up instead.
"Ugh, we just replaced that windshield!"
"I almost had a bullet in the brain and you're worried about the stupid WINDSHIELD!?" Lucy shrieked, trying to slump into the seat so that she could still see to drive but be out of range for bullets at the same time. Gray had rolled the window down and was now leaning out of it and shooting at the car in front of them.
"Almost. You almost had a bullet in the brain. However, the windshield is without a doubt in need of being replaced yet again," he said. "Don't stay straight in the lane. Weave so the bullets don't hit their targets straight on."
"You guys are criminals. There isn't anything else you could possibly be," Lucy moaned. Gray ducked back into the car momentarily, avoiding a shot that took off the side mirror. "And, I'm going to die. I'm going to die."
Natsu groaned loudly in the backseat. Lucy turned to see him trying to join the fray. "What're you doing? You can hardly move, you're going to get shot!"
He ignored her and tried to help out, bracing himself between the seats and stretching towards her window. Angry that he was ignoring her, she pried the gun from his fingers and elbowed him hard in the chest. He fell back onto the floor of the car where she hoped he'd stay.
"What are you doing?" Gray asked as she leaned half of the way out the window.
"I'm trying to help," she said. Though, driving and shooting at the same time was about a million times more difficult than she suspected. She accidentally blew half of a road sign off. Her next few flew off into nowhere. She couldn't even track where they went.
Gray shouted something at her, but she was concentrating too hard to pay attention to what he was saying. One of Gray's shots hit the tire and the car in front of them swerved dramatically to the side. The shooter in the back window was directly in front of them and had a clear shot.
Lucy wasn't stupid. She ducked down, knowing that she would lose in a direct face off. It turned out that ducking was the right thing to do, because the man had chosen to shoot at her, hitting the headrest again.
Unfortunately, that had left him vulnerable to Gray. She heard Gray curse and shoot and curse again. When her fear of crashing overcame her fear of getting shot she forced herself to sit up. The man was still leaning out of the back window, but his body was limp now and his head kept bouncing against the side of the car.
Horrified, Lucy said, "You killed him."
Gray's face was grim, but he didn't respond. He managed to hit the other tire and this time the car spun out. Lucy's arms tensed up as she maneuvered around the spinning car. She didn't look to see what became of the car, instead pressing the pedal all the way to the floor and lurching out of there.
She sped until Gray put his hand on her arm and told her she could slow down. She removed her foot from the gas pedal and stared ahead of her as the car gradually lost momentum.
"Are you okay?" Gray asked. He looked at her closer, "You didn't get hurt, did you?"
"You killed someone. I saw his dead body," she said.
"He was trying to kill you. He shot at your head twice," Gray reminded her, though he winced at the suppressed tears in her voice. "Hey, don't cry."
"I'm not crying. I won't," she said, sniffling and letting go of the steering wheel now that the car had come to a stop. She sniffled again, a few tears escaping despite her efforts, and amended, "Okay, maybe I will."
She was overwhelmed. The exhaustion of all the events that had happened since she'd found the injured man set in and mixed with the embarrassment of making Gray so uncomfortable with her tears. He patted her shoulder awkwardly and shot a look asking for help to Natsu in the backseat as she dissolved into sobs.
The man was sick, so the sound of his voice, steady again, made her jump, "Come back here, Luigi. Gray can drive the rest of the way."
She nodded and scrambled over the center console. The pink haired man wiped at her face and glass dust floated to the floor. She was covered in glass, she realized, from the windshield.
"You're bleeding, Luigi," he said. It wasn't until he'd called her by the wrong name twice that she noticed.
"Luigi?" she asked, puzzled on why he would ever think her name was Luigi. "Luigi?! My name is Lucy, Numbskull. Luigi is a masculine name."
He waved his hand as if it didn't matter and said, "Come here."
Once again, Natsu went against her expectations. This was supposed to be the part where he comforted her and tended to her wounds like she had done for him. However, as soon as the car moved, he was green faced and lying in her lap.
She puffed her cheeks at the turn of events, but let the air huff out when he shifted to get more comfortable and wrapped an arm around her lower thighs. Unbidden, the look on his face that had prompted her to help and trust him last night popped up in her mind, and she felt her annoyance with him fading away.
Lucy wondered what had happened to cause that expression of hurt and immense sadness. Frowning, she ran her fingers soothingly through his hair and watched the landscape zoom past. They were pretty close to their home, because only ten minutes later Gray was pulling into a garage.
The building was deceptively small looking on the outside, squat and gray and surrounded by a fence. Once they were inside, she could see that it extended longer than it appeared to. A woman with a cute pixie cut met them at the car.
She immediately set about helping Natsu out of the car, but when she noticed Lucy she paused and smiled at her, "Oh, hello. I'm Lisanna."
"Hi," Lucy said, the white haired girl's friendliness putting her at ease, "I'm Lucy."
"Are you okay?" she asked, leaning in to get a better look in the same fashion Gray had earlier. Now that Natsu was out of the moving vehicle, he was able to move around on his own again. He exited the room quickly, no doubt going to find the pain pills. Lisanna stayed with her, putting a gentle hand on her shoulder, "Your forehead's bleeding."
"We should probably take her to Mirajane. Wendy will be busy with Natsu, and Lucy's injuries don't seem to be serious," Gray said, prodding her a little in the direction of the door she assumed led to this Mirajane character.
"I got her, Gray," Lisanna said.
Lisanna beckoned for her to follow her. She did, putting a hand to her forehead and seeing that she was, in fact, bleeding. The door they took led into a vegetable garden that was pretty extensive.
Noticing her admiring the garden, Lisanna explained, "We try to be as self-sustaining as possible. The less we rely on others for supplies the better. This way, we know that our things haven't been tampered with and items we need can't be held for ransom."
Lucy nodded. Criminals.
As they walked, Lisanna pointed out some of the plants that were tricky to keep growing healthy like a proud mother. There was also a greenhouse tucked behind the other side of the garage, Lucy could see just a corner of the roof when Lisanna gestured to it. How many people lived here?
The house wasn't that grand. It was an aged wooden structure that seemed to have once been an inn or something of that sort. There was a main room with high ceilings that served as a living and dining room. A staircase was nestled against the far back wall and led to what was probably the bedrooms. Next to it was a fireplace with a cheery little fire and a large cork board with papers pinned sporadically on it.
But, the décor of the room wasn't as interesting as the people. There was a thick mob of them, lounging at tables and conversing loudly. The smell of food made her stomach growl and reminded her that she hadn't eaten since supper last night, and that had been a small meal she'd packed.
The wooden planks creaked under her feet some as Lisanna quickly directed her down the hallway on the right, interrupting her observations. She pushed Lucy's head down and all but dragged her down the first expanse of the hallway and around the first corner.
Lucy stumbled into the wall, bewildered by the sudden change in treatment. The white haired girl smiled apologetically, "I'm sorry. I didn't want the others to notice you. They're wonderful people, really. But, way too nosey. I thought you'd want to shower and rest some before you were pestered by them."
"Ah," Lucy said. She was still in the bloodstained shirt and her hair must be an atrocious mess. She suddenly felt filthy and all thoughts of food were forced from her mind by the desire for warm water and clean clothes. "Where are we going?"
"To the kitchens," Lisanna chirped. Lucy didn't pay too much attention to her surroundings, watching her companion as they walked instead. She dressed like a tomboy, but at the same time exuded vulnerability. There was no way she could be a criminal. She couldn't imagine her holding a gun, let alone firing it at someone. "That's where my sister Mirajane is. She's the head cook."
"Head cook?" she echoed, the smell of something amazing hitting her and easily switching food to be a higher priority than showering once again. Lisanna laughed when Lucy's stomach grumbled and ushered her into the kitchens.
The kitchens were bigger than she expected, though all the workers were finished and out eating aside from a strikingly beautiful girl attending a stew of some sort at the stove. She looked up when Lisanna called her name and the familial resemblance was so obvious that Lucy knew this had to be Mirajane.
When the woman caught sight of Lucy, her eyes widened almost comically and the cooking food was quickly forgotten, "Oh dear, look at you! Come this way, we'll tend to you straight away."
Lucy didn't get a chance to inform her that most of the blood on her was Natsu's before she was dragged into another room and hit with a barrage of questions from Mirajane.
Natsu leaned back into the over-stuffed cushion of the couch in the care room with a sigh of relief. Wendy had been merciful and gave him more pain medicine than she normally with the ration rules and he was feeling numb and wonderful.
However, good things don't always last. Natsu had been prepared to close his eyes and nap some to speed up the healing process, when Gray walked in and ruined it with a, "Spill."
Natsu groaned and asked, "Spill what? A lot of things have happened."
He dropped into the couch opposite of him as if he were completely exhausted, "You're damn right a lot of things happened. We just fixed that damned windshield, too."
"Yeah, well, shit happens. Especially if you're us," Natsu said. "What did you want me to tell you about? Erza? Or, Lucy?"
"Both. Erza first, though," Gray said.
"Well, the Erza situation confuses me. She left a trail that was almost too easy to follow, but when I caught up with her, she made it obvious that she wanted nothing to do with me," he said, putting a hand absently to his bullet wound. "While I was tracking her, it seemed like she had been purposefully leaving hints for me and that she wanted us to find her. I found her on the bank beneath the bridge and she refused to come back and…well…shot me."
Gray was sitting with his hands clasped under his chin and his elbows resting on his knees, taking in this information with a serious and calculating expression. He didn't ask any questions, so Natsu continued.
"About fifteen minutes or so after she shot me, Lucy came over the bridge and saw me. She was going to call the police, but for some reason listened to me when I told her not to. Though, she keeps accusing me of being a criminal. She's a weirdo."
"She is pretty interesting," Gray said, cracking a small smile. He leaned back into his couch as well, his pose mimicking Natsu's, and said, "I don't think it's a coincidence that Erza was there. She must have been sent to get Lucy before Ultear and her goons."
"But, why did she leave after she shot me? Don't you think she would have waited for Lucy?"
"I don't know. Maybe she was leading you to Lucy…like, she wanted to ensure that you messed up her plans. Man, I wish I knew what was going on in that head of hers," Gray said.
Natsu fell into a thoughtful silence. What did this mean? Erza would never join up with their enemies without a very, very good reason. Was she being blackmailed? Admittedly, Natsu didn't know much about her past. She'd shown up at the Hideout one day and had said she needed to speak with the master. After that, she had settled easily within their ranks, even if she was absolutely terrifying and prone to violence. Maybe that's why she fit in so well.
Gray stood up when the silence had stretched on for several minutes and said, "I'm going to go look at the car. Don't run off before you're healed up."
"I won't," Natsu grumbled, hating whenever Gray bossed him around. If he were feeling better and wasn't so sleepy from the drugs, he would've pounced on him already. But, as it was, he closed his eyes and drifted off.