A/N: I finished it! This turned out to be so much longer than I imagined, but I figured the details of this plot bunny would be a pain to write out (and I was right, which is why I procrastinated on it for so long). So, as the description said, things are angsty, but mostly fluffy. Those who read the preview on tumblr just got a major dose of angst (sorry about that), so read on for all the fluffy feelings. ^_^
Juvia was feeling optimistic and determined as she made her way towards her guild that balmy summer's day. She had been deliberating for two weeks, ever since Master Makarov had announced that the guild would be holding a party to commemorate Fairy Tail's 105th anniversary, about whether to ask Gray to be her date to the event. In truth, she hoped that Gray would ask her to the party on his own, but as the party was to be held tomorrow night, and Gray still had not shown any signs that he had any intentions of doing so, she had finally marshaled up the courage to ask him instead.
So, it was with a fierce tenacity that she walked into the brightly lit guild that afternoon, and scanned the room for her beloved. She caught a glimpse of his profile between a merry group of slightly intoxicated guild members clearly getting into the spirit of the anniversary event a little early. Gray was sitting at a table nursing a bottle of beer. She winded her way between the mages, her face a mixture of nerves and eagerness. As she got closer, she noticed he was on his own at the large wooden table, an almost sinister aura emanating from him. Maybe it was because of this that everyone around him seemed to be giving him a wide berth. Juvia's resolve faltered a little at this ominous atmosphere, but she took a deep breath, clenched her fists, and gathering all her courage, approached Gray.
"Gray-sama?" she called out questioningly, as if testing the waters. Now that Juvia was closer, she saw that the nearly empty beer bottle in Gray's hand was just one of many. She counted at least a half dozen empty bottles scattered haphazardly on the table he occupied. Juvia was slightly concerned, since Gray wasn't usually a heavy drinker.
Gray side-eyed Juvia, but didn't say anything. She did seem to have his attention now, but his expression was not inviting.
Juvia, a little rattled at this mute reception, bravely pressed on again before she lost her nerve. "Juvia was wondering if, well… If Gray-sama would like -" she began shyly, stuttering a little as she tried to find the right words to convey her request.
But before she could get another word out, Gray turned to her, and held the hand not clenched around his beer bottle up at her. She closed her mouth at once at this simple action, and she could feel her body freeze. She wondered momentarily if Gray had used some magic, but she quickly realized she was just paralyzed by the severe look on Gray's face as he glared up at her.
"Just don't, Juvia," he said loudly and harshly, drawing the attention of many of the surrounding mages. Out of the corner of her eye Juvia could see the many heads swiveling in their direction, as if they had been waiting all day for some frightful event to occur in that very spot.
"But, Gray-sama -" Juvia went on, bravely mustering up a small smile and attempting to ignore the stares from the crowd.
However, Gray cut her off again. "No! Whatever it is, I don't want to hear it right now, alright?" Gray said, running his hand through his hair in frustration.
The guild hall had gone quite silent now. The cheerful chatter and laughter had died away, and she could feel many eyes on them. Juvia's heartbeat quickened unpleasantly, and her face grew hot, as she desperately tried to maintain her composure. She bit her lip unconsciously.
Gray seemed oblivious to her distress, however.
"I mean, can't you just give me some space for once?!" he asked her coldly.
Then, when she merely stood there mouthing wordlessly, clearly at a loss, he heaved a deeply irritated sigh. Shaking his head slightly, he rolled his eyes and turned his back on her while muttering, "you're annoying."
The comment was low, but still clearly audible to Juvia in the now quiet guild hall.
Juvia's eyes were wide and clouding quickly over with unspilled tears as she watched Gray, his back still to her, take another deep drink from his beer, finishing it off, and calling in agitation for another. Her heart was still racing, but the rest of her body felt very numb. The word, "sorry," left her mouth as if spoken under a trance, and before she knew it, she had turned on her heels, and was rushing towards the doorway. A few of the girls, including Erza, shouted after her, but she ignored them as she sped out of the guild without a backwards glance.
Her head was buzzing, and her face was uncomfortably sticky from the constant flow of tears that had dried on her cheeks courtesy of the breeze as she ran nonstop towards the peace and safety of her dorm. She wanted nothing but to roll up under her covers, and spend the rest of the day and night crying into her pillow until her brain was pounding so heavily that she could no longer recall the moment that had just passed.
As she entered her room, she flopped onto her bed and hugged her pillow tightly. She caught sight of one of her Gray plushies, and began bawling in earnest. The material she clung to quickly became damp, and she began to wonder what she had done to garner such a reaction from Gray. She'd never seen him like that before. Certainly there were times when she'd describe him as withdrawn, a little irritable, or even standoffish, but he'd never been so directly unkind with her before.
He had called her annoying. She heard it as if it someone had rung a bell her mind, and the insult was what reverberated horribly through her cranium. Why? she wondered, desperately combing her thoughts for an answer. She supposed he did seem bothered at times by her presence, but she could not recall a point where he had ever spoken to her so coldly, let alone looked at her with such contempt. Except for….
There had been the time after the Grand Magic games, she reflected sadly, where he had spoken those words of rejection. But, even then he hadn't seemed as upset as he had today. He was genuinely angry with her, and she could come up with no reason to have warranted it. Maybe it was simply as he had said. He wanted his space, and Juvia had not only failed to give him it today, but repeatedly since they'd known each other. Maybe this had been one time too many….
"Juvia!" and there was a loud knocking on her dorm room door. Erza's voice rang out again, higher this time.
Juvia didn't reply, and instead buried her face further into her pillow, and pulled the covers over her head as if to cocoon herself with her bedding.
Erza, assuming Juvia was indeed present, but ignoring her, went on anyway, "Juvia, if you're in there please just listen," she requested earnestly. "Gray was in a bad mood. He had, had an argument with Master earlier in the day after he discovered Master had assigned Natsu and Gajeel to a special mission. He was just feeling resentful because he'd been left out. He said something about Master not thinking he was up for the job, but that Natsu and Gajeel were," she explained quickly, her voice slightly muffled by the door between them. "You know how competitive those three are," she went on in a weary tone. "The point is, you didn't do anything wrong. It was just misplaced anger," she said consolingly. "So, please don't take his words to heart, ok?"
Juvia could feel the care in her friend's voice, and she appreciated it immensely, but she remained silent, her heart still heavy with hurt and guilt.
Seeing that she continued to receive no reply, Erza said kindly, "if you need to talk, I'll listen anytime, alright?" Juvia then heard Erza's footsteps slowly fade away and silence fell again. Erza seemed to have left.
Juvia didn't leave the shelter of her comforter however, but sniffed loudly, grabbing a tissue from her bedside and blowing her nose. She was still crying, but not as hard as she had been. It was nice to have gotten some context behind Gray's behavior, but Juvia didn't necessarily feel reassured. In fact, there was a part of her that felt even more remorseful. Having noticed Gray-sama's dour mood Juvia should have asked him what was wrong, she thought regretfully. Instead, she had tried to proceed with her selfish desire, and was met with Gray-sama's wrath. She deserved what she had got, she decided ruefully.
And even if it was as Erza said, and Gray simply took his anger out on her, it didn't change the words he had spoken. Even in anger they must have held some truth, Juvia was sure of it. And as such, she intended to do as he requested in an attempt to respect his wishes and make up for the day's events. And she would start this quest tomorrow at the party.
Gray-sama will have his space, because it's the least Juvia can do for him, she decided, a little sad but resolute.
As the next day eventually arrived, Juvia emerged from bed that morning sufficiently stuffy-headed and baggy-eyed from the tears shed the night before. However, she was adamant in her plans for later that night. Juvia spent the majority of her time before the party assuring her Fairy Tail dorm mates that she was indeed ok, and flashing them passably convincing smiles, until she headed back to her dorm room to get ready.
Her preparation wasn't anywhere near the joyful event she had thought it would be earlier that week when she had purchased the sparkly silver dress that she had hoped would be pleasing to Gray. The dress was a departure from her usually more demure look, as the long, slinky and low-cut evening dress clung to her figure. Juvia sighed as she examined herself in the mirror. The truth of the matter was, Juvia had rather not go to the party at all, as that would have been the best way to stay out of Gray's hair. And it would have been an understatement to say she was not in a partying mood. But, she didn't want to be rude to Master Makarov, nor disrespectful to her guild, and she definitely didn't want to worry Erza and the other girls. So, to keep herself motivated, she kept reminding herself of her plans, and how she was doing a good thing for Gray's sake. With this thought firmly in place, she left with Erza, Levy, Wendy and Evergreen and headed towards the guild for a night of likely thoroughly depressing isolation.
Gray grabbed another turkey leg from the buffet where he had stationed himself in hopes of getting to try of all the best available dishes before some animal like Natsu devoured everything worth tasting. It was weird to see the guild hall rearranged in this way, with all the wooden tables covered in crisp white cloths, and pushed to the sides of the hall to make way for dancing in the center of the room. The buffet where Gray was stationed was near the bar, which was staffed by Max for the night, who, like the rest of his guild mates, was appropriately attired for the occasion, as he had donned a blue suit. Gray also begrudgingly dressed up, although he was already subconsciously tugging at a few of his white-collared shirt's buttons, and he had lost track of the jacket of his black suit altogether. This didn't perturb him, though, as he finished off his turkey leg just in time to see Natsu, who was being followed by a slightly exasperated Lucy, making a beeline for the other end of the buffet. Grinning to himself as he imagined the look on his friend's face once he found out all the turkey legs were already gone, he wondered casually if Natsu and Lucy had come together. He watched Lucy trying to tug him away from the buffet while he persistently piled his plate high with delicious concoctions.
He looked away from his friends and scanned the room, an odd feeling that something was out of place beyond the obvious changes to the hall for the party. The guild was as noisy as ever, and yet Gray found that there was a stillness around him that didn't seem quite right. He looked around some more, his eyes passing groups of people, like Gajeel and Levy dancing awkwardly near one of the tables, while Droy and Jet looked on rather sullenly. Elfman and Evergreen were arguing about something as usual, as Bixlow laughed. Freed, Laxus, Mirajane and Lisanna were seated at a table nearby and chatting. Alzak and Bisca were in a close embrace and dancing elegantly while Asuka tried to mirror them with her partner Panther Lily doing his best to humor her.
As he took in the various couplings, that's when the thought passed through Gray's mind without his consent. Where was she?
Juvia looked up at the sky, the late night breeze pleasantly warm against her skin. She was outside the front of the guild, leaning against a railing, the night's silence broken every few seconds by the guild hall's bustling interior. She knew she should go inside and grab a bite to eat, her stomach suddenly giving an unpleasant lurch as if to voice it's discontent, but last she saw, Gray was hanging around the buffet area, and there was a chance she'd run into him there. She had made a fleeting appearance inside the guild earlier that night to take stock of Gray's location. He had yet to arrive at that point, so she did have time to chat a bit and try a few small appetizers before Gray entered. She had then quickly slipped outside before he got wind of her presence. She knew she was maybe taking things a bit too far, not even being in the same room as Gray. After all, they did share the same guild, so there's no way she could continue this distance forever. However, she felt like the first night, and especially at such a social event, she'd go above the call of duty to show Gray that she truly was trying to obey his wishes.
She hugged herself in a subconscious effort of some self comfort and tried to count the stars as a means to take her mind off her increasingly grumbling stomach.
"There you are."
Juvia nearly jumped out of her skin at the deeply familiar voice. "Gray-sama!" she said in surprise, turning around so quickly she nearly pulled a muscle in her neck. "G-Good evening!" she stuttered, her heart caught in her throat on account of his sudden appearance.
Gray didn't answer immediately, and instead gave her a quick, but scrutinizing scan with his eyes, which traveled from her translucent high heels all the way up to her face again. Juvia felt slightly unsteady under his gaze.
"What are you doing out here?" he asked after he finished surveying her.
"Um… Juvia was just looking at the night's sky," she said honestly.
"Oh," he replied shortly, also looking up.
Juvia's heart was still beating wildly as Gray came and stood next to her, leaning on the wooden railing, his arm resting only centimeters from her own. She was feeling incredibly anxious, wondering if he would bring up the events from the previous day, and his words to her. Or maybe she should broach the subject with him first? She still was worried about the situation Erza had mentioned, and how Gray was feeling now. She wanted to hopefully reassure him that the Master could never possibly be thinking less of him just because he had been left out of one mission. However, she didn't want to do it if it would upset him again. He was always so private about such things. But Gray didn't seem to have any of that on his mind.
"It's a really clear night," he said, his attention now fixed on the starry and inky-blue heavens above.
Juvia felt relieved as she looked from Gray's profile, which was so near to her she could feel the pleasant, and familiar sensation of tingling excitement welling within her. She smiled to herself and looked up once more at the sky, too. "Yes, thanks to Gray-sama."
"Huh?" he grunted in confusion, one eyebrow raised up at her.
"Well, Juvia had never seen a star-strewn sky like this one before she met Gray-sama," she explained wistfully. "There were just clouds as far as the eye could see. Juvia is happy to be able to look upon such a view now," she said, a thoughtful warmth in her voice which hadn't been present before.
There were several moments of silence that followed these words before Juvia realized what she was doing. Again she was invading Gray's space with her own feelings, undoubtedly making him uncomfortable. Sure enough, when she turned to look at Gray he seemed quite awkward, and wouldn't meet her eyes. This is no good, Juvia thought to herself in a panic. She wasn't sticking to her mission at all! Shame on her for getting carried away, when she had sworn to do as Gray wanted. She must remedy the situation immediately.
"Anyway," she said hurriedly, her eyes darting away from him, "Juvia really is quite hungry now, so she better go inside and find something to eat. Please excuse -"
Juvia, however, couldn't finish her sentence. Gray had turned to her, and looking slightly less awkward, cleared his throat, saying, " good idea. I want to grab another plate myself. I'll give you my recommendations. I tried most of everything, so I know what tastes best. Hopefully that flame-ass Natsu didn't inhale all the good pieces of meat yet. Come on," and he stood slightly in front of her, looking expectant.
Juvia hesitated, surprised at Gray's offer. She wracked her mind for some other excuse to break away from the ice make mage. But, as if on cue, her stomach grumbled it's displeasure once again. This embarrassingly timed pronouncement, plus Gray's stance left her with little choice. "A-Alright," she replied, and feeling like her mission was on the road to failure after all, she followed him inside.
As Gray led the way to the buffet, Juvia thought about ways she could collect her food and make a a hasty getaway, but before she knew it, Gray was handing her a plate while taking one for himself.
"You like potatoes, right?" he said, giving a heaping scoop to both himself and Juvia. "The pot roast was pretty good, too," and Juvia smiled politely as Gray continued to pile their plates full of succulent items.
Once Juvia's plate was full, and Gray's doubly so, Juvia said, "well, thank you for the suggestions, Gray-sama." She grinned nervously up at him. "Juvia thinks she'll just find a place to sit now…" As she trailed off, she made to leave Gray, and find a hidden corner somewhere, so she could get out of his hair. But, she immediately found her arm had been seized by Gray, and he was pulling her along.
"Here we go," he said, directing her onto a bench at one of the cloth-covered tables where some mages had just vacated the space with their empty plates. Juvia sat down and Gray took the seat right next to her, and she found herself stuck between the two black-haired men she was closest to.
"Juvia!" Levy said, noticing the water mage as she leaned past Gajeel. "I haven't seen you since we arrived," she said happily, taking note of Gray sitting beside her.
"Ah, y-yes, Juvia had wanted some fresh air, that's all," Juvia assured her, trying not to look too uncomfortable.
"You gonna eat all that?" Gajeel asked, as he eyed her heaping plate.
"Gray-sama personally chose these items, so Juvia will consume them all, " Juvia said stoutly to her old friend, a bit of her usual spunk breaking through on account of her current immersion in such a familiar atmosphere.
"He's just asking because he's probably too lazy to get up and get more, and is wondering if he could swipe anything from your plate," Gray said with a knowing smirk at the iron dragon slayer.
"Oi, Ice prick, why don't you mind your own business," Gajeel said hotly, but was swiftly placated by Levy's remonstrations.
"You just made your way through five helpings, Gajeel!"
"It was just an innocent question. I'm a growing guy, though, you know," he said matter-of-factly.
"I'd say you've grown enough," Levy quipped.
"You haven't, though, shorty," Gajeel lightly snapped back, patting her on the head.
Levy didn't seem to find this very funny, though. Pouting at him, she made to get up to leave.
"I'm just kidding, calm down," and he pulled her back onto her seat on the bench. "You're fine just the way you are. Smaller things are more convenient anyway," he said gruffly.
Levy, recognizing Gajeel's attempt at a compliment, let the earlier remark slide, while rolling her eyes, but smiling contentedly to herself all the same.
Juvia looked at Gray, who said under his breath, "like an old married couple, or something. How embarrassing," and he grinned cheekily as Juvia giggled and nodded.
Forgetting her troubles for a moment, Juvia then cheerfully dug into her plate. She spent the rest of the meal chatting amicably with her little group, and finally satiating the previous ache in her tummy.
As the lights dimmed, and the music started up again, Gajeel and Levy hurried away to dispose of their empty plates and head for the dance floor once again. The clear space from beside her made her realize how close to Gray she had been sitting, her right leg touching his left and their hips pressed against each other, as she had previously been wedged between Gajeel and him without an option to move over a bit. Now, however, as the dance floor became crowded, and colored lights took the place of the usual warm, illuminating glow, she realized that she had let herself be carried away by the atmosphere. There was no excuse now to stay by Gray's side. She could feel his eyes on her, and she realized she needed to extricate herself from her position, and head away on her own as soon as possible before she overstayed her welcome. She looked through the dancers on the floor. Just passed Natsu and a blushing Lucy, who were clumsily trying to assume a slow dance position, she saw a lone seat in the corner of the room positioned near a small side table. Maybe she could station herself there for the rest of the night. As she got up to excuse herself, and then sneak away to the corner, she found Gray standing up alongside her, an odd expression on his face.
"I know what you're thinking, and what you were going to say just by looking at you," he announced without meeting her eyes. Perhaps it was the trick of the multi-colored dance lights, which were now making a spectacle across the room, but Juvia thought Gray's face seemed a little pink.
"G-Gray-sama does?" she stammered in surprise. Juvia didn't even know what she was going to say yet, so how did Gray-sama know? Maybe Gray was assuming she needed to use the restroom after all the food she had eaten? In any case, she was relieved that Gray was going to present her with an excuse himself.
"I wouldn't usually do this, you know? But, I don't want you to be sulking for days because of it. That would be troublesome, so…." he trailed off awkwardly, holding his hand out to her, but still not looking her in the face.
Juvia looked in astonishment from Gray's face, which looked surly, but also slightly embarrassed, to his outstretched hand, and back again, trying to discern meaning from them. Then, almost against her will, a wonderful thought exploded into her mind as dawning comprehension rushed over her. Gray-sama is not possibly asking what Juvia thinks he is?!, she told herself, trying desperately to reign in her own imagination. But then Gray went on, confirming her desire.
"Just one dance, alright?" he said curtly.
All thoughts of leaving Gray's side flew straight from her mind, as she nodded enthusiastically, and before she realized what she was doing, she had already taken Gray's arm as he led her onto the dance floor.
Juvia felt so light at the situation she had found herself in, that she was glad Gray was there to hold onto, otherwise she just might float away into the rafters. The music was slow and she could see the couples around them swaying in motion to the low and steady beat. Gray stopped near the center of the crowded dance floor, and Juvia positioned herself in front of him. Juvia wasn't sure at first where she should place her hands. What she'd honestly love to do would be to wrap herself fully around Gray and never let go, but she knew that would be taking things too far. Just a traditional hand on the shoulder, while he held onto her other hand? That seemed the likely course. But, Gray then made the first move, and looking a bit tentative himself, he placed both his hands on her waist. Thrilled by this arrangement, and her insides exploding like a fireworks display at Gray's firm but tender grip, Juvia reached up and placed her hands around the back of his neck. She wanted to tangle her hands into his hair, but she restrained herself. She didn't want to push her luck.
They then started moving slowly to the flow of the music. Juvia nervously looked up into Gray's face, but his eyes seemed to be focused on a point over her head, and he was stubbornly refusing to meet her gaze. Juvia didn't mind, however, as this was more than enough happiness to last her a lifetime. Smiling widely, she shut all thoughts and worries out, and let herself be carried away in this moment she was sharing with Gray. All too soon, however, the song had come to an end, and other pairs around them had stopped dancing. Some of the mages went to go sit down, or get a drink. Juvia and Gray had still not detached themselves from each other. Juvia knew she must do so, but she just couldn't bring herself to let go first. Before she could make this tough decision, a fast song had started up, and a pink-haired young man bumped into her side.
"Oi, watch it!" Gray yelled out as Natsu and Lucy exuberantly spun on the spot.
"Sorry, Juvia, Natsu's not the most graceful dancer," Lucy said to her friend, who graciously waved off the incident with a shake of the head and a smile.
"Yo, Gray, what's wrong, tired already? Going to go sit down?" Natsu teased the stationary couple, grinning broadly. "Don't worry about it, go get some rest, we all know your stamina isn't anywhere near mine. I could dance all night if I had to," he bragged with gusto.
"All night? But my feet already hurt. It doesn't help that you keep stepping on them, Natsu!' Lucy complained, although she didn't really look that put out at the prospect in Juvia's opinion.
"Who's tired?" Gray asked challengingly, that familiar spark of competition alight in his eyes. "I could easily outlast you in anything, fire farts, let alone something easy like dancing."
"Oh yeah, prove it!" Natsu grinned even more widely at him.
Gray's face also broke out into a grin. "Watch me!, " he challenged. "Come on, Juvia. We'll show him."
"W-We will?" Juvia asked bemused as Gray put his arm more firmly around her waist again, and pulled her closer.
Juvia could feel her face ablaze at their proximity, her heart rising into her throat.
"Let's go, Lucy!" Natsu said, also burning with enthusiasm at the prospect of beating his rival at something.
"Oh no…" Lucy said wearily. "How did I get dragged into this? Juvia, say something! Talk some sense into these two!" she implored to the bluenette.
But Juvia's face was consumed with sheer bliss, and seemed not to hear Lucy at first. Then, however, a fierce determination coursed through her as she looked up into Gray's excited and encouraging face. She turned towards her blond guild mate, and replied with an imposing force, "Juvia and Gray-sama will win! Natsu-san and Lucy, prepare to taste defeat!"
"That's the spirit!" Gray said with a pleased laugh.
Lucy looked at a loss, clearly wondering why she had to be surrounded by such nut cases, and in terrified resignation allowed Natsu to spin her around like a top as the music became faster.
"Here we go!" Natsu said as Lucy screamed.
They danced nonstop for over an hour. They insisted that the band keep playing fast songs. Lucy was insisting by the end of it that her feet might just fall off. Juvia was also exhausted, but in a pleasingly satisfied way, as she got to spend so much time in such close contact with Gray. In the end they couldn't decide who had won, and the boys argued a bit back and forth, until Lucy convinced them to call it a draw. They grudgingly and thankfully did so.
It was nearing midnight now, and the party was drawing to a close. There were still a good amount of Fairy Tail members loitering around, clearly in no rush to get home. Juvia, on the other hand, felt like she needed to head back to her dorm as soon as possible. Now that the dance battle was over, and Gray and Juvia had separated, she was able to think clearly again without being besieged with giddiness. That's when her earlier purpose came rushing back to her in full force. This was her chance in hours to actually do as she had planned, and distance herself from Gray. He was just a few feet away from her, looking for his pants, which he had stripped off during their dancing frenzy. She just needed to say a quick goodbye to him, and then she would be on her way.
"Here they are!" he said, looking up to spot them hanging from one of the magical color-change lights. He tugged them down and began to pull them on.
"Um, Gray-sama?" Juvia started, unable to help the touch of sadness that flavored her voice at the thought that she was voluntarily choosing to end this wonderful evening spent with Gray. But, she bravely went on for his sake, "Juvia is going to be heading back home now, so she just wanted - "
"Yeah, I'm out of here, too. I still can't find my jacket, but I've got all the important bits now, and I'm sure it'll turn up tomorrow," he cut through her smoothly, his attention focused on zipping up his fly. "Anyway, I'll walk with you."
"Huh?" Juvia said faintly, her eyes were open so wide she felt like they just might slip out of her head.
How had things turned out this way? Juvia thought to herself in astonishment as she walked side by side with Gray down the familiar grass-lined path which led to the dorms. Gray was chattering away comfortably about a time Erza had snuck Natsu and himself into the dorms to show them her armor collection, and how the old matron had caught them, and Gray had made an ice slide in order to escape her wrath via the second story window. As Gray chuckled to himself at the memory, Juvia was overcome with happiness. A night in which she was supposed to have proven herself to Gray, by minding his words, and respecting his space, ended in a night spent almost entirely in his company. She knew she should be utterly ashamed at what she had done, but as she walked with him, she couldn't help but let her glee ultimately override her disgrace. After all, refusing his company now that he had volunteered to walk her home would just come across as incredibly rude, she told herself in an effort to calm her guilt.
Gray's pleasant reminiscences, and Juvia's genuine interest led them all the way to the Fairy Hills dormitory before they knew it. Juvia was a little sad to see they had reached the dorm so quickly, but she knew this dream was coming to a close, and she needed to see it through to it's conclusion now.
Juvia turned towards Gray. "Thank you very much for accompanying Juvia home, Gray-sama," she said as she gazed at him with rapturous affection.
"No problem," he replied rather hoarsely, his eyes flitting away from hers in order to stare into the trees on the side of the road, as he unconsciously undid the bottom buttons of his shirt.
Juvia smiled to herself, sure that he'd be topless at the very least by the time he reached his own dorm. Slightly crestfallen that she wouldn't be there to see that sight. she wished him goodnight, before painstakingly tearing herself away, and ending the most wonderful night she could ever recall having. She looked back at Gray just once, and found him watching after her. She almost felt like he hadn't expected her to look back, since he seemed a bit uncomfortable to have caught her eyes again, but she gave him a small, grateful wave of farewell before heading inside, her heart still swollen with happiness from the night's events.
However, her joyful mood started to dampen quickly once Juvia entered the solitude of her bedroom. She was hit once again with the ache of uncertainty, as a terrifying thought occurred to her. What if tonight had all been a test, and she had just failed horribly? Gray was trying to see if she would maintain her distance, and she had let herself impose her presence on him at every opportunity he presented. Maybe his discomfort at her departure outside the dorm was Gray's disappointment in her? Her heart plummeted at this likely prospect.
Juvia should have resisted the temptations he offered. Juvia should have tried harder, she thought to herself angrily. Was there hope to rectify this situation? Surely Gray was a forgiving person. He would give her another chance. She clenched her fists, her remorse now mingled with a burning sense of purpose. She would redouble her efforts tomorrow. She would show Gray she could give him the space he desired this time, and no matter what.
The next afternoon at the guild everything was back to how it usually looked. Someone had repositioned all the wooden tables, and cleaned up the messes from the night before's drunken shenanigans. Gray was sitting at a bench overcrowded with mages merrily discussing the party's events. He wished they wouldn't talk so loudly. He had a slight headache, and his legs were sore from the dumb dance contest, which he had totally won (with Juvia's help), by the way.
Gray had slept in thanks to having had a late night. This seemed to be the case for most of the guild members who had only just begun arriving. Gray generally liked hanging out at the guild earlier in the day, when it was a bit emptier, but it couldn't be helped. He was hungry, after all. He sat wedged between a large mage who was laughing raucously at a story his friend next to him was telling, and an older mage who was trying to chat up one of the Fairy Tail waitresses. Usually the guild wasn't this crowded at any point during the day, as at least a quarter of the guild's mages were out working at any given time, but because so many had stayed in town for the anniversary event yesterday, the guild was still packed full.
Gray was just finishing off a piece of apple pie, when a voice that barely rose above the ruckus around him caused him to turn around slightly.
"Good afternoon, Gray-sama!" Juvia said pleasantly, smiling at him.
"Oh hey, Juvia," he said automatically, sparing her a look before returning to his pie.
As he finished off his dessert, and wiped at his mouth with a napkin, it took him a good few minutes before he realized something was amiss. Looking right and left, he searched for where Juvia had gone off to. Usually after she had greeted him she would have taken a seat right by his side, because she always sat near him if she could help it. True, there wasn't necessarily any place for her to sit at the moment, as he was crammed onto an overstuffed table, but a small thing like that would never have hindered her before. If there wasn't room, she would have made room, and sometimes much to the chagrin of others. Thinking that this was a bit strange, he finally managed to spot her a few tables away chatting with Lisanna. He stared at her for a while, a vague feeling of agitation floating in his subconscious, but he shrugged it off, and tried to flag another waitress down for another piece of pie.
The next day Gray arrived at the guild a bit earlier. He looked around, and the guild was still decently crowded, but thankfully much less so than yesterday. Most likely many of the mages had taken on work again, and had already set off. He grabbed a seat at an empty table, and as the morning slowly became afternoon, the table at which Gray was sitting slowly started to fill up around him. He was sitting slightly lopsided, his left leg, whether consciously or not, was taking up more space than usual, as he sat with one foot up on the bench, his elbow resting on his knee as he read the Weekly Sorcerer, which had a feature on Ice Make Magic which Lyon from Lamia Scale had contributed. Rolling his eyes at his old fellow pupil's blustering descriptions, he once again heard the familiar sing-song voice of Fairy Tail's resident water mage.
"Good afternoon, Gray-sama!" she said cheerfully.
"Hi, Juvia," he said, giving her a quick smile before putting his leg down and immersing himself in his magazine once again. He scooted over a bit while she made her way to the back of the guild, filling up the extra space on his left which had previously been occupied by his leg, to leave room on his right in case anyone wanted to sit down. His attention only halfway on the magazine in his hands, he looked at Juvia out of the corner of his eye. She was talking to Mirajane at the bar. As she got her drink, and she turned to look back towards the tables, Gray quickly focused his eyes on his reading material and waited. After a couple of minutes passed, curiosity got the better of him, and he looked up again to see Juvia sitting with Cana at the bar, her back towards him. Frowning a little, he looked at the space he had left open. Maybe she hadn't noticed it after he had moved over? Just as he was thinking of what, if anything he could do, and why this was bothering him, the free space was taken by a burly mage with a heavy pack, which he flung onto the table beside Gray. Gray sighed heavily, but said nothing. All he could do was look at the back of Juvia's dress coat, feeling faintly disgruntled.
The next day, he had come into the guild with a dubious purpose floating at the back of his mind. Juvia once not taking the chance to even forcibly sit next to him was strange in itself, but two days in a row? And not only that, but to seemingly keep her distance from him the entire day, when she usually trailed after him where ever he went? No, something was wrong. Not that he particularly cared if she sat next to him or not, of course, but he could not deny that he was enjoying his time in the guild less and less because of how perplexed he was by this issue. And because he had become oddly fixated on the situation, he knew he wouldn't rest until things were back to normal. He couldn't help it, after all, if he was a creature of habit. Therefore, he spent most of the morning glancing intermittently at the front door, and telling anyone who tried to approach him that the seats next to him were being saved. So, when Juvia Lockser walked into the guild early in the afternoon, Gray was already aware of her presence. He sat playing with his fork on his nearly empty plate, while he waited for her to walk up to him as she usually did. Sure enough, Juvia's voice rang out merrily within seconds of her arrival.
"Good afternoon, Gray-sama!" she greeted as if on cue.
"Hello, Juvia," he said looking fixedly at her, the two seats on either side of him invitingly empty.
But Juvia merely smiled kindly, and walked off without giving him a second glance. Gray watched the entire time as she ordered something from the bar. While Juvia was occupied, Gray aggressively scared another person off as they tried to take one of the empty seats beside him. Juvia then looked around, but not at him, and went to sit next to Gajeel, who was sharing a plate of food with Levy. And what was worse, Juvia stayed there nearly the entire day, until she got up to leave, stopping only to bid Gray a good night, before exiting the guild.
What was going on? Is it just my imagination, or is she purposely avoiding me? And if so, why?
Gray shook his head in an irritated fashion. Perhaps he was just over thinking things, and nothing was wrong at all,. Was he simply overreacting? She did greet him each and every day with her usual bright smile, and took the time to say goodbye every time she left. But, why didn't she want to be near him? Hadn't they had a good time at the party? Come to think of it, even there Juvia seemed kind of odd and withdrawn at times. Gray sighed in frustration. Hoping it really was all in his head, he resolved to wait one more day and see if the situation improved before broaching the subject with her.
The next morning Gray arrived at the guild much earlier than usual, to the point that he was there even before Mirajane arrived with the key to open up the place. She looked at him in surprise, and asked him if anything was wrong, since he seemed kind of anxious. Gray assured her everything was fine, and he made some excuse about not having slept well, and just wanting to get some coffee and hang out to kill some time. The first part was perfectly true, as he had indeed slept badly all night as he thought about Juvia, and the exasperating situation he seemed to have found himself in.
As he headed inside, he grabbed the first table right at the front of the guild, so that it would be the first thing Juvia would see when she entered. He then proceeded to stake his claim on the table for the rest of the day, rebuffing others who tried to take a seat anywhere on it, and making sure the entire table was saved, so there would be no excuses for Juvia to not sit down. However, this strategy caused quite a few issues and arguments as more people started to arrive and the guild was getting more full. Gray didn't care, though. He would set up an ice barrier if he had to. No one was taking these seats if he could help it.
By the time Juvia did arrive in the late afternoon, she found a whole crowd of angry people, some holding full plates or foaming mugs in their hands, grouped around Gray's table, with Mira trying to reason with him.
"No!" Gray shouted through the grumbling group. "I'm saving this," he insisted angrily.
Mira sighed. "You can't save a whole table, Gray. It's unfair," she explained, as if she was a mother trying to talk sense to a child having a tantrum.
"I don't care! I got here early for this. Now you idiots move out of the way, or I won't be able to see-"
Juvia poked her head timidly through the crowd to find Gray's hands splayed across the wooden table top, holding on to the opposite sides, half his torso laying absurdly flat against it, his legs in an extreme split position on his bench, and the opposite bench taken up with a large block of ice.
Gray's eyes went wide at Juvia's appearance. The block of ice suddenly exploded from being, and Gray sat hurriedly down in a normal position, his fingers interlocked on the tabletop, as if Juvia was a teacher who had just walked into class, and Gray was the student showing her his best behavior. The rest of the crowd looked on in bewilderment.
"Good afternoon, Juvia," he said with unnatural politeness, his eyes still focused on her in painful expectation.
"Uh, good afternoon," she said back, a little wary.
Gray said nothing, and neither did anyone else. He seemed to be waiting for something to happen.
Juvia, still perplexed by the situation, but clearly choosing not to interfere, started to walk away again.
Gray's heart seemed to sink, and his expression followed suit as Juvia left him behind. This was the final straw for Gray it seemed. He stood up and yelled across the hall towards her with a ringing force, "what the hell is going on?! What are you doing?!"
Not just Juvia, but everyone who hadn't already been staring at Gray for his odd behavior that day, had now all turned to look at him.
"Juvia?" Juvia asked taken aback, as if she was unsure he was really talking to her.
"Yes you! Why don't you want to sit next to me?! Why are you avoiding me?!" he said, and he couldn't quite keep the accusatory note from his voice.
"Avoiding Gray-sama?" Juvia repeated, alarmed.
"That's right. Don't think I didn't notice," he said angrily. And then a different, more hurt tone invaded his next question. "Are you… are you mad at me, or something?" he asked her, his eyes boring into hers with an earnest pain, as if he had been severely wounded by a trusted person.
Juvia's eyes suddenly filled with tears at his expression. "Of course not!" Juvia assured him passionately.
"Then why?" his voice was low this time, as he looked away from her, clearly at a loss.
As she looked at Gray's wounded expression, Juvia seemed like some great emotion was building inside her, about to erupt at any second.
"Because Gray-sama told Juvia to!" she bawled, and it was like all the pain she had tried to keep at bay since the day of the party, finally broke forth.
This surprised Gray more than anyone else. "Huh?" he said, completely bemused. But other mages who had been present the day that Gray had lashed out, adopted looks of understanding, as they watched the scene with rapt attention.
"Gray-sama told Juvia the day before the party that he wanted his space!" she yelled at him, tears streaming down her face. "He told Juvia she was annoying!" she explained, each recollection clearly cutting through her with a savage ferocity all over again.
Gray's mouth gaped open, and Juvia's words triggered a cloudy memory of the day of which she spoke. He had been very angry at that point, because Natsu and Gajeel had gotten back from some special mission that the old man had sent them on, but Gray hadn't been included. He remembered he was furious and hurt. He tried to drown his resentment with seven beers too many. By the time Juvia came along he was beyond wasted, and more enraged than ever. He did remember speaking to her briefly, but had he really said such cruel things? And had she really been trying to abide by those callous orders all this time? His body felt oddly empty, and a dull ache began to fester in his chest as his heart quickened uncomfortably.
"Juvia was just trying to do as Gray-sama asked!" she sniffed, looking at him in remorse., her hands clenched together as she held them to her chest. "Juvia tried to accomplish this at the party, but when Juvia was outside trying to keep out of Gray-sama's way, he came and found her!" she explained with grief.
A few eyebrows raised at this revelation. To join his increased heart beat Gray's face was now beginning to feel unpleasantly warm. He did not like where this was going, because Juvia had started to ramble in earnest now.
"And then when Juvia tried to get away by going inside instead, Gray-sama insisted on picking her food for her. And then Juvia tried to find somewhere to sit on her own, but Gray-sama led her to a table and then sat beside her, trapping her there!" she continued on in distress, listing off her failures.
But, the more upset Juvia was getting, the more amused the crowd became, and the more embarrassed Gray himself was feeling. He wanted to shout at her to stop talking immediately, but somehow his lips would not form the words in his mortification. He could feel the knowing grins from around the room, and his face was continuing to grow warmer with irritating rapidity.
"And then Juvia thought she'd sneak away to a lone table, but Gray-sama wanted to dance, and Juvia selfishly agreed. Juvia and Gray-sama danced all night, and it was wonderful," she admitted guiltily as she stared down at her feet. "But Juvia did attempt to make up for that moment of weakness by trying to go home earlier on her own!" she said emphatically, looking up at a stunned Gray once more. "However, Gray-sama insisted on walking home with her! Juvia is so sorry, Gray-sama!" she finished in anguish, tears falling thick and fast from her eyes as she stared imploringly at him.
Juvia seemed to become confused, though, and started looking around her as a parade of laughter and stifled giggling made it's way through the crowd.
Finally she looked back at Gray, who's face was a delicate shade of maroon at this point, because the more Juvia had talked about the party, the more it became intensely obvious to all but Juvia, that Gray had been the one seeking her out and craving her company.
Juvia looked down again, apparently thoroughly ashamed. "And now Juvia hurt Gray-sama once more, because she made him think she was angry with him, just because she wouldn't sit beside - "
"Stop!" he shouted at her, finally managing to get the word out, in an effort to get her to refrain from exposing him any more throughly than she had already. Judging by his guild mate's expressions, however, the damage had been done. And worst of all, Gray's outburst left Juvia seemingly even more crestfallen than before.
His face burning intensely now, and with the eyes of his friends upon him, he said, "Listen, about the stuff at the party, don't worry about it. You did nothing wrong," he said in an attempt at a steady voice, biting at his lip, and trying his best to regain some of his composure.
Juvia sniffed again, wiping at her eyes with her fur-trimmed sleeve.
"As for what I asked of you that day, I'm sorry. I had been drinking, and I was in a bad mood," he went on. "Forget what I said. I didn't mean it."
"Didn't mean?" she questioned uncertainly, still clearly confused, although she looked a bit more hopeful as well.
"Yeah," he assured her, still quite mortified and furious at himself for this whole situation, both because of how stupid he ended up looking, but especially because of the turmoil he had clearly put Juvia herself through. Inwardly vowing never to drink again, he continued, "so don't worry. You don't need to stay away from me. In fact, you can be as close to me as you want, alright?" he said, wishing very badly for this all to be over, and for everything to go back to normal with as minimal amount of fuss as possible.
Juvia looked searchingly at Gray, but his eyes darted away from her. She watched as he scratched at his head in embarrassment, a slightly stubborn look gracing his red-tinged face.
"As close… as Juvia wants?" she asked tentatively, pondering Gray's words, her eyes shining with something other than unshed tears now.
Gray nodded stiffly, realizing a little too late the excitement growing behind Juvia's final query. Before he could rectify the mistaken implication in any way, however, the water mage had flung herself upon him, her arms wrapped tightly around his neck, and her body pressed firmly up against his as she nuzzled into him.
"Oh Gray-sama!" she said happily into his ear, her cheek rubbing against his own.
His eyes wide and his heart about to beat out of his chest in reaction to their multiple points of contact, Gray yelled in a highly distressed voice, "that's too close!"
The room echoed with laughter and Juvia's warm breath was felt on his skin when she, too, let out a giggle.
And all was as it should be once more.
A/N: I originally intended to get this written before Christmas but real life got in the way, so I hope everyone reading this will accept it as a belated Christmas gift from me. ^_^
I wanted the ending with Gray to mirror Juvia's emotions at the beginning, as if they've come full circle but their positions have been reversed and things ended a lot happier than they had started out. ^^ BTW, this was another one-shot idea I've had churning in my brain for quite a few months. It was born from my desire to see what would happen if the ever-present Juvia was no longer beside Gray, because I think he has gotten used to, expects, and even enjoys Juvia's attention at this point. So, I believe if he was lacking it, just like in this fic, he would then seek HER out, whether conscious of what he was doing or not. ^_~
Also, I kind of wanted Juvia (in her innocent, and matter-of-factly Juvia way) to make the point that Gray could have just asked her to sit down if he really wanted her beside him that badly, but I couldn't find an opportune moment at the end to slip in that bit of delicious teasing haha. So I'm putting it here. ^-^
If you enjoyed it, please review, because now that I've emptied out my store of Gruvia fluff, I need some motivation for a recharge lol! Thanks for reading!
P.S. I think this is the first time that my default manga cap cover image on here actually fits the story slightly haha!