Here it is – I have finally finished this request fic for Eien ni Touko! It took me much longer than I expected but I'm rather pleased with how it turned out, overall.

Disclaimer: I do not own Fairy Tail.

Summary: In which Erza regularly takes Lucy on mysterious missions, and dangerous criminals with beautiful Fairy Tail girlfriends react poorly to other men ogling their beloveds.

Erza eyed the request board with severe gravity. She was a woman on a mission to pick the perfect mission in the general vicinity of Clover Town. But the request board was not cooperating with her today.

"Hmmrr," she made a disgruntled sound in the back of her throat as she perused the available job flyers. "Hmmrr." Picking one in the right locale up, the redhead scanned the details before returning it to the board. "Hmmrr."

This process was repeated several more times before Nab, hovering as he usually did around the board, found the courage to ask, "Erza? Are you having trouble choosing a job?"

The Titania whipped her head around to scowl ferociously at the Animal Possession mage. "No," she stated firmly before eyeing the board again like it was about to pounce at any second.

"Okaaay…" Nab muttered. "Well, have you looked at some of the partner jobs? A lot of them have pretty good pay right now."

Erza glanced at the section, and almost immediately espied the perfect flyer. Snatching it off the board, she read over the details. The request involved waitressing for a couple of days at Yajima's newest mage café location in Clover Town. It specifically asked for two female mages, though. Erza hadn't planned on bringing a partner along with her, but she could find a way to make this work. In fact, it was perfect for killing two birds with one stone (which she was mildly disappointed wasn't a job on the board – throwing boulders at Rocs was not only great for training, it was also a lot of fun and very stress relieving). Plus, from what she recalled, the café's waitressing outfits were cute.

Glancing up, she smiled at Nab – which shocked him to no end. "Thanks, Nab. I really appreciate it."

He stared, dumbfounded, as she quickly surveyed the guild. Spotting her prey – er, partner – Erza strode off in the direction of the bar. "Pick a job, yourself, Nab!" the Requip mage called over her shoulder.

Nab sighed. If only it were so simple.

As she approached her target, Erza was struck by a sudden bout of nervousness. "L-L-L-Lucy!" she stutter-shouted at her teammate.

Startled, Fairy Tail's blonde Celestial Mage accidentally inhaled some of her strawberry milkshake. Coughing seized her as the cool, viscous liquid infiltrated her lungs like pink sludge.

Alarmed that she had caused Lucy's choking fit and concerned that the blonde might actually perish, Erza thumped Lucy's back as hard as she could. "I'm sorry, Lucy! You may hit me as punishment for my careless actions!"

Lucy winced at the pounding her back was taking from Erza's gauntleted hand, and attempted to assess where her spine had been relocated to. "It's fine, Erza, really," she wheezed. She sat up straight on the barstool (a few of her vertebrae making very alarming popping sounds as she did so), and took another sip of her milkshake. "So." Clearing her throat, Lucy smiled at her friend. "What's up?"

"I have a job I require your assistance with," Erza declared, shoving the paper into Lucy's face.

Taking it, the blonde held it a little further from her face while she looked it over. "Sure!" she agreed. "Sounds like fun! It pays pretty well, and it doesn't look like there's a high chance of things being destroyed… and I could really use rent money." Lucy looked up from the flyer. "Why me, though?"

"It would seem suspicious if I brought one of the other girls. Besides, we get to hang out and possibly eat strawberry cake this way."

Suspicion of her own crept into Lucy's countenance as dread seeped into her soul. "Um… Erza? Is there something I'm missing, here?"

"N-n-no. Of c-c-course not. Why would you think t-t-that, Lucy?" Erza stuttered, crimson flooding her cheeks and cold sweat beading upon her brow. "N-n-now go home and pack your things. We need to get going."

Though her misgivings only increased with the appearance of Erza's horrible acting skills, the Celestial Mage merely nodded her head – unwilling to defy the will of her redheaded friend who possessed the unfortunate habit of stabbing things that annoyed her.

It had been an exhausting whirlwind of a job, but at last it was over. Lucy sat heavily down at one of the small outdoor tables, fanning herself with one of her hands. It was still early Spring, and therefore still rather chilly outside – especially in the mountains Clover was nestled between. But Lucy had been on her feet for almost three days straight, the popularity of the café she was working in forcing her to keep on her toes running orders, busing tables, and avoiding the grabby hands of perverts.

The cool mountain air felt fantastic on Lucy's superheated skin and she was immeasurably grateful for the overcast sky. Although it was still relatively early in the day, the manager/requester had declared Erza and Lucy's job fulfilled and had paid them their reward with gushing thanks. In gratitude for their hard work (and curb appeal that brought in a ton of male customers), the manager was even providing their midday meal on the house.

Erza sat down in the chair across from her teammate placing three plates before her with large slices of different varieties of strawberry cake, and one in front of Lucy with a more human-sized reasonable portion. "The cook said it would be a while until our food is ready. I thought we might enjoy some cake and afternoon tea while we wait."

"Dessert first, huh?" Lucy giggled over her teammate's obsessive love of the strawberry confections at hand. "Thanks, Erza!" She almost asked where the tea was, but caught herself at the last second. The tea would be brought around once it had started to steep – a phrase she had learned by rote the past couple of days after repeating it to customers countless times.

"So, Erza!" Lucy began cheerfully, now that neither she nor Erza were either working or collapsing from exhaustion. "Why did you want to take this job with me all of a sudden?"

Erza froze, a piece of cake halfway to her mouth. "Oh… right…" she said faintly, lowering her fork to the plate.

The redhead looked more nervous than Lucy had ever seen her before, fiddling with the fork and no longer consuming her favorite dessert at an unholy pace.

"Is everything alright, Erza?" Lucy inquired.

Clapping her hands in front of her, Erza suddenly apologized, "I'm so sorry, Lucy!"

Lucy's chocolate orbs followed the piece of cake that had been formerly attached to the fork Erza still grasped, the sweet creation flying with the force of Erza's action. The object landed on the plate of a customer sitting at the table beside them. Incredulous, Lucy stared as the man speared, and then ate the cake without apparently having noticed anything amiss. One would think he would, as he was eating steak, but clearly that was not the case with this particularly oblivious individual.

With a start, Lucy snapped her attention back to her redheaded teammate, who was in the midst of a proclamation over how remiss she'd been in leaving this discussion for the last minute.

Sweatdropping, Lucy attempted to placate the woman before she drew the attention of everyone at the café. "Erza? Erza, it's okay. Why don't you just calmly explain what's going on?"


'Laughter' was a word inadequate to describe the intensity of the sound emanating from Lucy's throat. Guffaws more suited to her fiery partner than a lady of high breeding wracked Lucy's body, the force of them leading her to clutch weakly at the tablecloth as her only means of preventing her complete and utter collapse onto the floor where she would thereupon dissolve in a puddle of blonde, giggly goo. Tears streamed from her eyes in great gushing waterfalls, and red flooded her skin from the strain of her profuse and raucous amusement.

Erza was less than thrilled with this reaction.

Though she had no choice but to shift nervously in her seat as her friend's bout of insanity began to draw the attention of every single customer occupying the café's patio with them. Their waiter, caught quite unawares by this unseemly public display of mirth, was a safe distance away on standby with their meal until the disturbance was over.

A surreptitious cough from the redhead broke through to Lucy's brain, and the laughter started to die off in fits of wheezing broken by chortling. Slowly, her composure returned to her and allowed Lucy to sit up straight again. Smoothening the tablecloth where her grip had left wrinkles, Lucy wiped her eyes with her free hand.

Spectacle seemingly over for the time being, the curious stares of the lookie-loo's returned to wherever they had previously been set upon.

Lucy's ribs ached and her lungs burned from lack of oxygen, but she was still no less amused by her teammate's explanation for why they were there. Wisely, she refrained from commenting until the waiter, now deeming it safe to approach (though he did so with great caution), placed their orders before them and promptly beat a hasty retreat lest more alarming hilarity ensue.

"I think I traumatized Steven," Lucy smiled, enthusiastically spearing a chunk of chicken in her salad with her fork in a manner much like one would stab a person that they found particularly irritating.

Finally, Erza found it within her to forgive her friend. "Yes," she agreed. "Although to be fair, most of the other people here were a little concerned."

Red already suffused Lucy's cheeks, so it was impossible to determine whether or not the blonde was in fact embarrassed over the indecorous display she'd put on. "So, let me get this straight. You've been seeing Jel-"

"SHHH!" Erza hushed her teammate, in a voice louder by several decibels.

Raising an eyebrow, Lucy continued, "You've been seeing… your boyfriend-"

A squeak erupted from Erza's lips, her face rapidly taking on the exact hue of her locks. "He's not my boyfriend!" she fervently denied.

Lucy grit her teeth. "You've been seeing your… person, then, on a fairly regular basis behind the backs of everyone at the guild for a few months now. And this time, you found that there were no jobs that brought you to his current… general, very vague location that were worth your time so you chose a partner job and decided I would be the person you could trust with your secret. Thank you, for your trust, by the way. So does that about sum it up?"

Erza nodded mutely.

Grinning, Lucy giggled at the Titania's adorableness.

Mildly alarmed by the appearance of more mirth, Erza shot Lucy a sharp look that dared her to continue with her vocal amusement.

"Well," Lucy went on, twirling her fork in her fingers, "Does… your person know that I'm tagging along?"

"Sort of." The redhead took a sip of her tea. "I didn't specify who was coming, but I did manage to ask him to bring Meredy so you would have someone to talk to?"

Lucy brightened. "Oh, I'd love a chance to get to visit with her again. I'll give her an unbiased opinion as to how Gruvia is progressing."

Although not entirely certain what a Gruvia was (could it be a variety of cake?), Erza was pleased that her friend wasn't opposed to the situation. "Thank you again for agreeing to come with me, Lucy."

"No problem!" The blonde skewered a round tomato, its guts spilling onto the surrounding lettuce in a way that Erza took as a bad omen. "So… what exactly do you DO with your person on these little outings?"

That afternoon, Lucy and Erza checked out of their hotel. Proceeding into the mountains, Erza led Lucy to the spot she had agreed to meet up with Jellal at. Based upon their last encounter, prior to the GMG, Lucy anticipated that this location they were headed towards was going to be a very much out of the way one nearly impossible to reach through normal means.

She was correct.

After trekking through several identical blind canyons (eventually Lucy was forced to abandon her heels and borrow a pair of Erza's far more sensible footwear – Erza really should have warned her about what to pack before they took the job), across several rivers of varying depths and velocity (Lucy nearly losing her skirt thanks to a submerged log), through a cave or two (where a bat had taken an unhealthy liking to Lucy's side ponytail – forcing her to wear the creature around like a fuzzy, winged barrette for half a mile), and around some sheer drop-offs (apparently home to several small, impish crevice-dwelling creatures with grabby hands and a penchant for shiny things – LIKE KEYS), they finally arrived at their destination.

Practically right back where they started, in a small clearing just on the outskirts of Clover.

Groaning once she realized where they were, Lucy collapsed into the grass. "Why did we go through all that?" she whined, stretching her legs out before her. With several tugs, she attempted to free her blistered feet from the confines of the borrowed footwear and socks. "All we've done is go in a huge circle!"

Erza shook her head. "That was by no means a circle, Lucy."

Although it was true that their meandering path in no way resembled a round shape of any name, Lucy refused to relinquish the point. "Not literally, Erza… I mean, we just looped back around!"

"A loop is a type of circle, Lucy."

Resisting the urge to facepalm, Lucy finally released her tender feet from their torment. Placing them in the cool grass, she heaved a sigh of relief. "Erza, why did we go through all that just to return to Clover?"

"Technically, we haven't –"

Lucy threw up her arms and screamed in frustration. For good measure, she fell backward, arms still outstretched.

The second she did so, she found herself looking up at the bright blue sky… and a very curious criminal peering down at her prone form. One whom was neither Jellal, nor Meredy.

Several possible reactions filtered through Lucy's brain – a number of which included screaming, standing up, and then running around with her arms flailing. However, the one she went with was a more-or-less polite, "Hello, Cobra. How are you, today?" She blamed the mini-adventure she'd just endured for her lack of care or worry about a mass-murdering criminal standing above her. All her energy had gone into surviving Erza's dangerous game of follow-the-leader, and this was pretty much all she had left over. Acnologia would have been greeted in much the same manner at this point.

Said mass-murdering criminal blinked his single, indigo eye at her. "Fine," he responded to her greeting, shoving his hands into his trouser pockets.

A laugh, originating from somewhere behind Cobra and out of Lucy's immediate line of sight, accompanied the statement. "Lucy!" Jellal said, stepping into the blonde's view at last and looking down at her, "I didn't expect to see you here!"

"Honestly, neither did I," she quipped. "Erza tricked me."

The bluenette laughed lightly at her statement. "Sorry about that; I asked her to take a roundabout path here."

"Roundabout is –"

"Still a circle, I get it!" Lucy moaned.

"Circuitous?" Jellal supplied.

"Circle is the root word…" Lucy muttered before Erza had the chance to. "Hi, by the way. I don't think I've said that yet."

Jellal smiled at his friend's teammate. "Hello to you as well, Lucy." He then directed his attention away from the blonde, and towards his childhood friend. "Erza. I'm glad that you took the time to come." His smile had taken on a far softer tone, lighting up his eyes and sloughing years from his visage.

Erza returned the expression with one very similar. "Jellal, as I've stated before, it's no imposition."

"Debatable! That last canyon was totally not necessary!" Lucy called.

Was it just her, or was Cobra restraining a smirk?

Speaking of, why was he even here?

"Meredy wasn't available," Cobra answered her unspoken question.

"Ah," she responded. "Do I even want to know why?"

Since it seemed that Jellal was too busy staring soulfully at the woman of his dreams to put forth an explanation of his own, Cobra continued, "Angel went to go stalk her sister, so Meredy decided to stalk her and make sure the Twin Dragons don't die."

"Good plan, Meredy. Good plan," Lucy praised the absent pinkette. "Too bad – I was really looking forward to discussing Juvia and Gray with her."

Cobra gave her a strange look. "Sorry," he sarcastically muttered, "she's too busy stalking a stalker to discuss the other stalker."

Instead of rising to the bait, Lucy merely sighed. "A full-time job, I imagine."

An odd glint entered the former dark mage's eye. "Yes, it is. Also, the Titania neglected to mention that she was bringing someone along. All she told Jellal was to bring Meredy. He dragged me along because I wasn't doing anything important."

"Oh?" Lucy raised an eyebrow. "And what were the others doing, then?"

"Richard was looking up leads on his brother's whereabouts."

Lucy nodded. "Sounds like a worthwhile use of his time."

"Racer is trying to beat his old speed records."

"I guess that could be considered training?" Lucy ventured. "So what was Midnight up to?"

"…He was taking a nap."

Choking on a laugh, Lucy responded, "The most important thing of all – beauty sleep. I can't imagine he's particularly pleasant first thing after awakening."

"You have no idea," Cobra agreed. "I take it you're familiar with the phrase, 'Awakening a slumbering beast'? Coined just for him."

Chuckling lightly, Lucy glanced over at Jellal and Erza. Although the pair had been talking quietly to each other just a few minutes earlier, they were now utterly silent and openly gaping at the other two mages. Lucy sweatdropped. "What's wrong with them?"

Cobra gave her a half-hearted shrug. "Jellal is curious about why I haven't yet insulted you, your guild, your spirits, your mother, and the rest of your family going back seven generations." Snorting, he added, "And the redhead is trying to figure out why you haven't kicked me across the mountains yet for staring down your shirt this entire time."

Lucy contemplated it for a moment. Kicking him was an attractive possibility, to be sure. "My feet hurt too much," she concluded instead. Lucy was just too physically exhausted, emotionally wrung-out, and her feet were positively killing her to bother with it right now. Besides, as far as his being able to see down her blouse went… it was kind of inevitable, given the cut of her shirt and the fact that she was lying on the ground with him looking down at her. Actually, she appreciated that – even though he'd admitted to looking just now, he'd done it in a non-lecherous, somewhat respectful way and he hadn't been obviously leering at her either.

"So," she went on to say, ignoring his bewildered stare and not moving from her current position, "you've heard MY reasons. Why haven't YOU done all that insulting of my family tree?"

The Poison Dragon Slayer tilted his head to the side a little, searching her expression with his piercing orb. "Even I'm not such an asshole as to insult someone about their deceased parents."

Feeling a stab to her heart, Lucy swallowed dryly. "Thanks," she whispered.

He grunted, but otherwise did not respond.

"Lucy!" Erza called, the blonde's attention accordingly being directed at her. "Jellal and I are going for a walk, do you want to join us or…?"

The Celestial Mage smiled. "No! No more walking!" she joked. "I'll stay right here, thank you!"

Jellal shot Cobra a stern look. "Cobra. Behave." Mentally, he added, 'If I come back to pieces of blonde strewn about this clearing, or so much as a hint of a teardrop from Lucy, so help me, I will sic Erza on you.'

"Yeah, yeah," Cobra agreed flippantly, not in the least offended by the casual threat. "Just get going already."

Once they had departed, Lucy groaned, throwing her arm over her eyes. Her feet really were killing her slowly.

Cobra moved past her, and sat down near her legs. "Hand them over."

Removing her limb from her face, Lucy sat up and faced the maroon-haired man. "What?"

He gestured at her feet. "Let me see them. You said they hurt. I'm bored and in a good mood. So hand them over."

Lucy blinked at him. There was something very ironic about the verbiage of that request, but she obediently lifted one leg and placed her foot in Cobra's care. If he was going to do something heinous to her, she reasoned, he would have done it by now.

Cobra snorted. "Damn straight," he muttered. With far more care and gentleness than Lucy had expected, he inspected the limb.

"So," Lucy said, with a wry twist of her mouth. "What's the prognosis?"

With a deadpan stare, and in the gravest tone of voice she'd ever heard, Cobra replied, "Blisters. I'm sorry, there's nothing to be done for you; it's terminal."

The Celestial Mage burst out into laughter at the solemn diagnosis.

"Strange," he muttered. "Most people don't have that reaction when I tell them they're going to die."

Morbid though it was, it only made her laugh all the harder. After a few minutes, she wiped the tears of mirth from her eyes. Only to dissolve into a greater fit of giggles when he gave her a wink.

Or at least… she thought it was a wink.

Hard to tell when the person in question only had one eye to begin with.

Cobra, to her unending surprise, then stole her pack and drew out her first aid kit. "Oh come off it," he growled lightly, withdrawing some supplies from within. "I'm the only one with even the most basic medical knowledge in the guild – and Meredy can get into scrapes like no one else on Earthland." To drive his point home, he prodded one of her blisters.

As she yelped and her leg jerked in response, he smirked.

It was only then that Lucy realized that, from this angle, she'd probably given him a fantastic view of her panties.

Curse her love of short skirts.

But Cobra bandaged her feet with a professional air, not even once glancing away from what he was doing to sneak a peek.

"You're remarkably naïve," he suddenly stated, returning the kit to Lucy's pack, "for someone who constantly tries to use her non-existent sex appeal to get what she wants." Then he smirked again. "Excuse me, tries and fails miserably."

Lucy would have kicked him for that comment, but her feet felt fantastic. So she decided to let Cobra live for now.

"Much appreciated."

Bored, Lucy picked up a nearby stick and idly drew in the dirt. Which somehow, through means inexplicable, turned into calculations for her monthly budget. This was a complicated math set that involved multiple levels and required Lucy to determine Natsu's rate of destruction in correlation to job pay so she could determine how many jobs she was going to need to take to make rent this month.

Although she wasn't certain why she was bothering. The answer always had her coming up short.

Oh, right. Boredom.

Cobra had moved beside her, and had started to stare at the figures in the dirt.

So long as he wasn't trying to be distracting, like Natsu would have, Lucy didn't consider his regard to be an issue.

"You transposed those numbers," he suddenly announced, indicated the area of the error had occurred in.

Lucy glanced at it. "So I did." Correcting it, she spared Cobra a glance. "Thanks."

"No problem. Why this formula here?" he pointed to another section. "Wouldn't this simplified version be more appropriate?"

The Celestial Mage looked it over. "You're right. Thanks again." Once she had finished, she sighed. Short. Of course.

"Now what?" Cobra asked her, also bored.

Lucy considered for a moment, before turning to him. "Want to help me figure out how old I am?"

When Erza and Jellal returned from their walk a couple of hours later, they were shocked to discover their friends deep into a very loud argument about the application of advanced mathematical theorems to magic.

The pair were very, very confused by this development.

That night, since Cobra had forbidden Lucy to walk far on her blistered feet, the group camped in the clearing.

Erza had supervised Virgo's setup of the tents with a drill sergeant's eye. Only after their sleeping quarters were in place, did Erza turn her attention to sleeping arrangements.

"Jellal and I shall share one tent, and Lucy and Cobra the other," she announced.

"What?" Cobra muttered. "Hell no. Are you insane?" he inquired of the redhead.

"Of course not," Erza replied. "Jellal and I always share a tent – it reminds us of when we were kids and we all used to sleep next to each other at the Tower. Also, it's more economical to only use one tent."

"But now there's two," Lucy pointed out.

"I'm sticking with Jellal." Erza's tone deeply discouraged further argument. It was amazing the sheer threat level she could manage to cram into a single innocuous statement.

Lucy glanced at Cobra, giving up. "How bad of a sleeper are you?"

"Nothing like your teammates," he replied. "You're not upset by this?"

She shrugged. "Not particularly. Besides, you've already seen my panties and down my shirt today so what the hell, right?"

On their way back to where the rest of their group was camped, Jellal gave the oddly cheerful Poison Dragon Slayer a sharp look. "So," he began, "you and Lucy seemed to be getting along great yesterday."

Cobra grunted in affirmation. "I like her brain. It's interesting."

Given that this was the first time Jellal had ever heard Cobra say anything remotely like this before, it warranted further investigation. "Like how so?"

"It's… It's like… her brain is like looking a multiple choice questionnaire where the answer is never actually included in the options available." Cobra was deeply perplexed by this phenomenon, and curious to explore it at greater length.

Jellal laughed. "I think you just described the female brain in general."

Cobra shook his head. "Lucy takes it to a whole new level, trust me."

"Want me to have Erza invite her along again?"

The poisonous mage glanced at his Guild Master. "I'll be tagging along, then." He paused, before adding, "Not a word of this to the pink-haired shipper trash. I only just got her to drop the matchmaking schemes for Kinana and I."


Erza stared at Cobra and Lucy during her third trip with the blonde as accompaniment.

Jellal stood beside her, also watching the duo before them exchange barbed insults throughout some sort of exchange he and Erza couldn't even begin to follow. "You still don't trust him, do you?" he asked. Before she could respond, he said, "No, it's not necessarily a bad thing, and I'm sure he understands. That's the thing about Cobra. It may not seem like it, but in our group he is the person who understands. No matter what you are thinking, he can hear it and feel it in kind. It's a part of what makes him such a formidable mage. And I think that's why he's so fascinated with Lucy. Lucy has the ability to emphasize without being able to hear people's souls; not to mention the fact that hers is constantly throwing him for a loop. Cobra is the type to… appreciate a challenge."

Sighing, Erza's shoulders dropped. "I guess. It's just strange to see her getting along with him."

"It is," Jellal agreed. "Still… I think they're good for each other."

"Me, too – so long as he doesn't break her heart. Then I might have to break him."

Natsu was a force of crazy to be reckoned with. Or backed away from. Slowly.

Which is what Lucy decided to do when he asked her why she was having fun with Snakebreath.

"Luce! It's not fair!" he shouted, now outright chasing her through the guild hall. "I want to fight him, too! Don't hog him all to yourself!"

Lucy's pink-haired partner was by no means the only Dragon Slayer to interrogate her about why she smelled like the Poison Dragon Slayer.

Even Sting and Rogue expressed their concern.

This was getting ridiculous.

The blonde managed to stave them off for a while by declaring that he was only a friend. Although it seemed to satisfy them for now, who knew how long that would last when she was dealing with so much crazy on a regular basis.

Cobra, when she informed him about the other nosy Dragon Slayers, seemed to find her plight amusing. Right up until the moment she mentioned the "just a friend," bit.

When she looked back on it later, she pinpointed that phrase as the one to set something off within Cobra's dark gaze.

He didn't show at the next meet up.

After the fourth no-show from Cobra, Lucy was about ready to throw a fit.

Erza, curse her, seemed to find the blonde's irritation endearing.

Unfortunately, Jellal seemed to have no idea what Cobra was up to, either. All he'd been told by the Dragon Slayer was that he had something important he needed to do, and to apologize to Lucy on his behalf.

It didn't make waiting any easier.

That was when Lucy came to the painful realization that she didn't want to be just friends with Cobra, or to see him only once a week when she took a mission with Erza.

Somewhere along the way, he'd become an important friend, it was true. He was fun to talk to. There was kindness in him, though he would deny it if it were pointed out to him. Cobra was honestly rather respectful of her, and his teasing was good-natured. Lucy and Cobra even had a great deal in common. Both had a love of knowledge, and challenges. They invented several games that they often played together that exercised their mental acuity, but also where his Soul Listening Magic wasn't an advantage - word and trivia games, mostly, but there were some very odd ones that involved trying to say the alphabet backwards while hanging upside from a tree. Neither of them were particularly good at that one.

Lucy did not even want to imagine her life without him now.

But now he wasn't even there to say it to.

Lucy went with Erza again, though she wasn't holding out much hope for seeing Cobra.

When he appeared alongside Jellal, her mind went blank for a moment.

Then all her anger at his avoidance of her came back with a swirl of emotion so powerful, it picked up her legs and sent her flying in his direction. She stalked towards Cobra, seething and fully intent on lecturing, hitting, kicking, slapping, headbutting, and for good measure lecturing him again. So he would get it through his thick skull just how pissed off she was and he would then learn to never, ever leave or avoid her again.

Seeing the storm that was approaching at rapid speed, Cobra stopped where he was. Digging in his heels, he prepared himself for whatever the Celestial Mage would dish out in retaliation for his admittedly deplorable behavior.

Jellal, wise man that he was, edged out the blonde's warpath.

Instead of lecturing, hitting, kicking, slapping, headbutting, and lecturing him again, Lucy – in true Lucy fashion – then did none of the above. To Cobra's great shock, Lucy, at the last second, changed her mind and pounced on him. Tackling the former criminal to the ground, she clung to him tightly. Soft sobs shook her body as she clutched him. Still lying on his back upon the ground, Cobra lifted his arms and wrapped them around Lucy's shivering form.

"I'm sorry I didn't come sooner," he apologized, his contriteness genuine. "I'm sorry I made you worry." Cobra didn't offer up an explanation for his long absence, because anything he said would sound a pitiful excuse even to his ears. So he just held Lucy, gently stroking her hair while she cried herself out.

Once the main deluge of her tears had subsided, Lucy burrowed her face more firmly into Cobra's chest. His shirt, for he had discarded the overjacket due to the steadily increasing temperature of the season, smelled wonderful to her. She couldn't get enough of the scent, and the warmth he radiated. It wasn't anywhere near the scalding heat of her partner, or Gray's lower than average temperature. To her, it was just right and she wanted to stay there forever.

"Don't do that to me again," Lucy whispered, her eyes squeezed shut. "I was so worried."

"I know," Cobra said, still stroking her hair in a comforting manner. "I know." Feeling bold, suddenly, one of his hands left her hair to travel along her face. With a slight press of his fingertips, he directed her gaze upwards at him. He cupped her cheek, and a stray tear slid down it to join his palm. "I spoke with Doranbolt," he finally explained, though it still felt inadequate. "He's given us immunity from our past crimes; everyone in Crime Sorciere is free, at last." It had been hellish trying to convince the Council Mage to grant them amnesty, but the man had eventually relented with the promise of Crime Sorciere doing its utmost to stem the burgeoning numbers of the dark guilds.

Lucy blinked at him, leaning into the touch of Cobra's hand. "You're free?" she asked.

"I'm finally free," he confirmed. "I can go anywhere, now. Do anything I want," Cobra started to lean closer to her, a smile appearing upon his face as he heard her heart rate shoot up. "I'm now able to tell you something I've wanted to for a while."

"And what's that?" she asked, breathless.

"I love you." With that, he closed the distance between them and captured her lips with his own.

Her eyes slid shut as she returned his kiss with as much tenderness and affection as he displayed towards her.

When they parted for air, she whispered, "I love you, too."

Off a ways from the newly forming couple, Erza stood beside Jellal. "So that's what he was up to?"

The bluenette shrugged. "I was surprised when I found out, too. I honestly had no clue that's what he was doing. He told me that he didn't want to get our hopes up if it didn't pan out."

Nodding, Erza softly spoke, "I can understand that. What I'm having difficulty imagining is why he did it in the first place. I mean, if he just wanted to be in a relationship with her, all he had to do was ask her out. There was no need to go through all this if he just wanted to impress her."

At Jellal's chuckle, Erza shot him an indignant stare. "What is it?" she demanded. "What is so funny?"

"You," he replied lightly. "You're adorable." Her answering flush was deep, but she waited for him to explain further. "He did it because he doesn't want to place that burden upon her – Cobra lives by a complex personal code of honour that is almost impossible for a mere mortal such as I to decipher. This was probably a part of it. It's not as if he did it just for himself, or Lucy, either. Angel will now be able to approach her sister whenever she wants to, Meredy can visit Juvia and Gray, Richard can openly search for his brother, Midnight and Racer will finally have the ability to pursue their dreams as well."

"And yourself?" Erza whispered. "What will you do, Jellal?"

He hesitated. "I'm not sure," he admitted after a few long moments of thought. "Freedom… isn't something I've considered an option for a long time. I was once a slave to the Tower as were you and the others, but even after my takeover I wasn't really in control of myself. I know that sounds like a pitiful excuse – it was just a compulsion spell. I could have shaken it off. I, to some extent, knew it was there the whole time. I just didn't care. And afterwards… I became a slave to my own guilt. I don't…" Jellal trailed off, swallowing hard around a lump in his throat and fighting past frustrated tears. "I don't know how to be free," he confided to his oldest friend.

Erza sighed. "Moron," she gently scolded him. Reaching out, she took Jellal's hand into her own, placing it against her cheek. With a warm smile, she continued, "You take it one step at a time. And you don't do it alone. It took me some time as well to get used to the idea of freedom as well, but I had the help of everyone in Fairy Tail. They got me through the best and the worst of it. You're not alone in this, Jellal. Never forget that. We're all here to help you. Just ask."

A slow, answering smile spread across Jellal's face. "Thank you, Erza." He allowed his hand to leave Erza's face, though the limb lingered for several seconds longer than he'd willed it to. Instead, he grasped her hand.

Turning as scarlet as her namesake, Erza glanced away from Jellal, her brown orbs resting upon the other duo still lying in the grass. "Umm…" She pointed with her un-preoccupied hand towards Cobra and Lucy. "Are they asleep?"

Jellal burst out into rare laughter at the sight of the Poison Dragon Slayer and the Celestial Mage curled around each other as if nothing else mattered in the world. Indeed, they were out cold. Oblivious to the rest of Earthland, they were both smiling in their slumber. "I guess they wore themselves out!"

Erza's eyes narrowed dangerously.

Abruptly, Jellal's mirth cut off. He recognized that look – it meant he was going to have to protect his guild mate from the Titania's wrath.

"Lucy and I are sharing the tent tonight," she hissed with a baleful stare at Cobra.

Jellal did not bother to argue. Erza was completely unreasonable when it came to preserving Lucy's honor.

The former-criminal-turned-independent-Guild-Master was beginning to think his initial decision to bring Cobra along all those months ago to his meeting with Erza was the best idea he'd ever had.

Not only was he no longer being pursued by Rune Knights, he was also now able to visit his girlfriend whenever he felt like it.

And that was another thing for Jellal to be thankful for. Girlfriend. He'd finally asked Erza for permission to date her. She had accepted, and then slapped him for taking so long to work up the nerve. Didn't matter. She'd said yes. Jellal was the happiest man alive.

Next to Cobra, that is. If there was one downside to all of this, it was that Cobra now seemed to think he could do no wrong. The Dragon Slayer had won not only his freedom, but that of his comrades. As far as he was concerned, they all owed him. Big time.

Angel was generally quick to dispel that illusion by knocking him literally down a few pegs, but it always seemed to return with a vengeance. The man's smugness knew no bounds.

It was a wonder Lucy put up with him.

That thought earned Jellal a one-eyed glare from the surly Poison Dragon Slayer. "Don't even fucking joke about that," he hissed at the bluenette.

The implied threat was weak, and they both knew it. Nothing could put a damper on this day for them.

It was the day of their first open visit to Fairy Tail. The other members of the guild had chosen to opt out this time, but not without a great deal of teasing directed towards their departing comrades. Meredy, especially, had been incorrigible over the pair going to visit their girlfriends. Angel had done nothing but encourage the pink-haired shipper's daydreams to mildly disastrous effect when the pinkette attempted to force her male friends into expensive suits for the occasion.

Neither of them particularly wanted to know how she'd found out their sizes.

Upon arrival at the Fairy Tail guild hall, however, Jellal and Cobra discovered something very important.

The guild was full of perverts.

Although both had already been very much aware of this fact, it was something else altogether to witness (and hear) it in action. Especially when it was directed towards their girlfriends.

Cobra was the first to notice, of course. Apparently it was pool day, as both Erza and Lucy, along with the vast majority of the rest of the Fairy Tail females, were lounging around the guild wearing only tiny scraps of cloth that covered almost nothing.

Normally, this would not be cause for complaint from the two males. But it was fairly easy for both to see, and hear, that their beloveds in particular were the source of much male appreciation.

However, before the pair could do anything about it, or even greet the loves of their lives, both were pulled away.

Cobra was abducted by not one, but by all other six of the Dragon Slayers for a stern lecture on the proper way to treat Lucy. This was somewhat of a laughable situation, given the violent history half of them shared with the blonde, but they didn't take too kindly to Cobra's outright derision and, indeed, laughter over their concern.

Wendy was, by far, the most terrifying of the lot, however. Especially when she started crying. Cobra did not handle tears well – and the others cataloged the information for use in the future.

Jellal was waylaid by the very, very drunk pair of Gildarts and Makarov. Unable to refuse the Guild Master and powerful mage, Jellal was stuck entertaining them for quite some time.

Meanwhile, miffed a bit that their boyfriends had been absconded with, Lucy and Erza decided to follow most of the other ladies to the pool. It would be some time, anyway, before Jellal and Cobra would be set free to see them. Once they did, Lucy and Erza had planned to announce their new relationships to the rest of the guild.

However, as soon as the girls were out of sight and Wendy had left to join them, the men all turned to Jellal and Cobra with shit-eating grins on their faces.

This did not bode well.

Soon, the pair of former criminals found themselves in an odd space located beneath the pool. With the Fairy Tail perverts proudly showing off…

A periscope.

That looked directly into the pool – with the women.

Clearly the Fairy Tail men, plus Sting and Rogue (okay, maybe not Rogue but definitely Sting) were expecting the former criminals to rejoice, or ogle, or appreciate the peeping opportunity laid out before them.

They, contrary to expectations, did not react well.

In any sense of the word.

After all, it was all well and good to sneak glances of their own girlfriends.

But Cobra and Jellal did not care for the fact that the other men were ogling them as well.

The combination of Sema and a Poison Dragon's Roar turned out to very effective when it came to destroying small enclosed spaces. Also at incurring the wrath of Makarov, for the damage they'd inflicted upon the pool as well.

Worth it, though – even if they did get lectured by Lucy and Erza in the end.

At least now everyone knew not to mess with the beautiful girlfriends of the dangerous criminals.

Angel, when the story was recounted to her upon their return, laughed. Hard. At least, until she heard that Yukino had been amongst the women being peeped upon.

Sting (and probably Rogue by association) was going to require a rescue.

Too bad neither Cobra not Jellal felt inclined to provide one.

I had a lot of fun writing this.

I'm trying to finish Antivenin, I promise!