Gray was introducing Lucy to various guild members while Natsu ate. It was the girl's first day as an official member, but she was already fitting in perfectly. Well, except for lack of bizarre quirks, but Gray was sure she'd develope one sooner or later. All Fairy Tail mages did.
Suddenly, purple hair flashed by at waist level. Gray frowned. Romeo never came to the guild without Macao- he was too young. The ice mage whipped out a hand to grab the child. "Hey buddy, slow down. What's the matter?"
"Dad's still not back." Tears welled up in Romeo's eyes. He stubbornly held them back. "I've gotta ask the master to send out a search party! Dad was supposed to be back before you and Natsu!"
Makarov appeared out of nowhere, having apparently overheard them. "Romeo, I'm sorry, but it's still too early for that. Your father knew the risks of the mission when he took it- if I send out a search party and he doesn't need help, it looks like I don't have any faith in him."
"But dad's supposed to be back by now! He promised!" Romeo squirmed out of Gray's hold and ran for the entrance of the guild. He was blocked by Natsu. The dragon slayer's face was uncharacteristically dark.
"Your dad- he took the mission on Mount Hakobe, yeah?"
Romeo nodded. Natsu patted him on the head. "Don't worry, I'm sure he'll be fine. On an unrelated note," Here Natsu looked at Gray, "We've got a mission, so put your shirt on stripper."
Frowning, Gray retrieved his shirt from the rafter it had been flung to. "Already? We just got back from Hargeon yesterday."
"Yeah. It's important."
Lucy began jumping up and down and clapping. "Oh, can I come too?"
Natsu gave her a once over. "Fine, but you might wanna put something warmer on."
"Yay! My first job as part of Fairy Tail!"
Gray wasn't sure what he'd expected when Natsu told Lucy to wear something warm. Hiking up the side of Mount Hakobe in a blizzard wasn't it. And of course, the girl had ignored the dragon slayer's warning and was wearing her normal clothes. She shivered and complained behind them as Natsu led the way.
"How are you two not cold?" the blonde demanded. Her face was starting to turn blue as her teeth chattered. Gray looked at Natsu.
"I don't suppose you can make fire that doesn't hurt people yet?"
"Nope!" Natsu was altogether too cheerful for a frozen flame-brain. "Luna should've brought a coat."
"It's Lucy!" The girl seemed too cold to do more than shout halfheartedly. Well, that and glare. "Seriously though, you two are wearing way less clothes than I am. How are you not frozen solid?"
Gray was about to protest that he was wearing the most clothes of any of them. His white coat was certainly the warmest thing any of them had brought, unless you counted the fire in Natsu's belly. But before he could speak, the ice mage realized he was no longer wearing his coat. He grumbled and turned back with the intent of finding it.
"Don't bother," Natsu grinned, "I've got it. I'm used to picking up after you on missions by now." He waved the coat in the air like a flag.
With a good-natured grumble, Gray retrieved the garment and draped it around Lucy's shoulders. "Here. I don't really need it, and you're less likely to lose it than I am."
"You two are monsters."
"Not really. Natsu's got internal fire like a dragon, and I'd be a pretty sad ice mage if I couldn't take a little cold."
"Like I said, monsters."
"Hey guys, I found something!"
Gray turned to where Natsu was shouting. Sure enough, the dragon slayer had found the entrance to a cave. Faint tracks in the snow around it attested to a vulcan inhabitant. Macao's mission must've taken him there.
"Alright, let's check it out."
It very quickly became clear that the cave was inhabited- and that Macao had failed the vulcan elimination mission. A monstrous magical ape attacked soon after they entered the cave, flinging Natsu so hard he broke a hole in the wall. Lucy gasped and ran to the edge. The cliffs dropped away below, too steep and tall to see the bottom through the blizzard.
"Gray! Natsu just-!"
"He'll be fine." Of course he would, Happy was sleeping in his pack. Gray wasn't just telling himself Natsu would be fine, no matter what the nagging, fearful voices in his head said. "We've been through worse, believe me. Ice make: chains!"
Glittering ropes of ice sprang from his hands to wrap around the vulcan. It roared and squirmed. Gray knew his ice wouldn't hold for long, so he immediately began more casting. "Ice make: blade!"
Just before he stabbed the vulcan's heart, the cave wall exploded. Gray leapt out of the way of the falling stone and ice, hearing a scream from Lucy as he did. She didn't appear to be harmed though. The falling rubble revealed a grinning Natsu, held up by Happy.
"Hey ice-pop, save some for me!"
"Idiot!" Gray snarled. "If you'd just waited ten seconds I'd have finished this, then we could look for Macao in peace!"
"But I want some fun too!"
Unable to take it anymore, Gray turned his ice blade on Natsu. The dragon slayer blocked with a gout of flame that melted the blade into a smooth, harmless lump, then kicked Gray in the face. In response, the ice mage grabbed his friend's hair and yanked. This, naturally, meant that he was too close to dodge when Natsu turned and bit him, which earned the dragon slayer a punch in the ribs.
"Um... Guys!" Lucy's terrified squeak fell into the background as Gray and Natsu continued to brawl. Claws raked across the ice mage's shoulders, so he countered by elbowing Natsu in the jaw. Somewhere in the background, he was aware of a minotaur appearing from nowhere to protect Lucy from the vulcan, but monsters took second place to the fact that Natsu's knee had just slammed into his kidney. Gray growled and smashed his partner's face into a pile of snow, only to be tripped into the same pile himself.
The ice mage was about to throw Natsu into a giant icicle when two large bodies crashed into them. The minotaur vanished on impact; the vulcan did not. Without missing a beat, both brawlers turned and punched the ape through a wall with identical yells.
Magic glowed around the vulcan as it was knocked unconscious. Gray blinked in confusion as the furry form melted away, revealing a very battered Macao. The ice mage froze.
"Damn... Almost forgot about that." He turned to Natsu. "Oi, flame-brain, thanks for stopping me killing our guild mate."
"Huh?" As usual, it took Natsu a minute to react to the end of the aggression. He looked over at Macao. "Oh, right, vulcans use a kind of takeover thingy."
It took the pair several minutes to notice Lucy staring at them in alarm. She seemed to stunned to move. With a sigh, Gray picked up the girl while Natsu carried Macao. Happy fluttered around their heads as they walked home.
Romeo was overjoyed to have his father back, and to listen to Macao's tale of what happened before he was possessed. Natsu immediately went to eat, while Lucy sat with Gray at the bar. It took her several minutes of eyeing him nervously to speak.
"Is that a common thing for you?"
"Huh?" Gray looked up from his mug in confusion, before checking to make sure he still had his boxers on. Because removing his underwear was a little further than normal, and would definitely be a cause for concern. Boxers still present, he returned to confused relief. Lucy explained further.
"The fight with Natsu. Do you two do that often?"
Gray shrugged. "Often enough. You should see what it's like when Jellal's around. You'll meet him later; he and the rest of the Tower Clan are on a long-term mission right now."
Natsu bounced over. "You talking about the flashlight?"
"Yeah. Lucy was asking about our fights, so..."
That earned a bark of laughter. Natsu beamed. "Aw Luigi, don't worry about us. Gray and I've been like that since we met. Doesn't mean we're not best friends. Which reminds me: Gray, have you heard from Leon recently?"
"Not for the past year, same as you. Why?"
"I'm just starting to worry is all." Natsu's face fell. "I mean, he knows where we are, so if he stopped writing, something must've happened, ne?"
Gray nodded, trying to ignore the tightness of worry in his belly. "Trust me, if I hear anything about him, you'll be the first to know. We can go get him together and have him join Fairy Tail."
Natsu cuddled into Gray's side, like he always did when he was scared. "Yeah. That'd be great."
Beside them, Lucy sighed. "I really don't get you two."
Mirajane nodded sagely from behind the bar. "Don't worry, most of us don't. But you'll get used to them."