"So, will you be going to the Winter Formal, Natsu?"
Zeref may have been the most unpopular, "emo", romantically-crippled outcast in the entire Magnolia Academy, but even he could recognize a "please ask me to the dance" hint when he heard one.
He was sprawled across the couch of the small home he, his brother, and foster parents shared, reading a rather fascinating volume about the life cycle, when he heard Lucy Heartfilia hesitantly ask the question. After tutoring Natsu, she was ready to head home for dinner when she turned over the threshold and blurted it out. Zeref saw Natsu stiffen slightly, though tried to play it off by laughing nervously and leaning against the doorframe. "Eh, well, you know I suck and dancing and don't really have anyone to go with. Hell, I can't even tie a tie…"
Wincing, Zeref internally cursed. Again, even he knew that was the wrong line. But if Lucy liked Natsu enough, she'd hopefully try to continue-
"I'm sure you'd have fun if you asked a girl you like to hang out with."
Oh please, even you can't be oblivious enough to miss this, Zeref mentally pleaded with his brother, to no avail.
"I guess." Hopeless. "Who… who're you going with?" Ah, you may manage to salvage something after all…
"No one has asked me," she sighed. Zeref tilted his head back on the pillow and looked over the couch's arm to the door, pushing black hair from his eyes. Lucy was shifting her feet, books clutched to her (admittedly rather voluminous, as any teenage boy couldn't help but notice) chest. "Hoping for the right guy, though… all my friends already have dates so we can't go in a group."
"Th-that sucks," Natsu croaked, stuffing his hands in his pockets. He looked rather pale. "So, em, ah…"
"Yes?" Lucy said attentively, clearly encouraging him.
Zeref tried to communicate telepathically through brotherly connection, Do it, do it, do it, ask her to the dance, do it, do it, JUST DO IT…
"Would you like to, um, go with me…to…"
"To…?" Lucy prompted, face alight.
After a few, heavy moments of Natsu clenching and unclenching his jaw in attempt to continue, he let out a defeated breath, slumping his shoulders. "Would you go with me to the library on tomorrow? That test from Mr. Nate Thursday looks pretty scary and we could study if you're not busy…"
Nooooooo! Zeref cried inside, dropping his book on his face in second-hand shame. Through the ruffled pages, Zeref saw Lucy look over at him and share a long-suffering grimace as if to say, Me too, man.
"Sure," Lucy sighed, arms drooping and not meeting his eyes. "Yeah, I do need to study for that. See you tomorrow, Natsu."
About a minute later of staring at the closed door, Natsu moaned, "Ugghhh!" and kicked it. With that, he spun on his heel and took a running leap into the cushy, brown couch adjacent to Zeref's, laying down with an arm splayed over his eyes. "Crap, crap, crap…"
"Why didn't you run after her?" Zeref said, dark eyes not leaving his book. "She's a nice girl, Natsu; even nice to me. You've been pining after her since you guys became friends in freshman year. If you were looking for the opportune moment… that was it."
"Aw, shaddup," his brother groaned, stuffing a pillow into his face as if trying to suffocate himself. His pink hair splayed out in all directions, giving him even more of a frenzied appearance. "You haven't asked Mavis either!"
Feeling heat dust across his face, Zeref muttered back, "Th-that's different."
"Pretty, sweet, short, blonde girl that you want to ask to the dance but are too scared to. Yes. Very different."
"So you admit you're scared?" mused Zeref, taking the chance to turn the conversation away from himself.
Natsu seemed to catch his mistake. "N-no! I just…" He sighed. "Lucy deserves to be asked with, like, flowers or somethin'. It would be lame to do it outside of my house."
"C'mon, that's just plain hypocritical!"
"I can't ask out Mavis," Zeref told him, lowering his book onto his stomach and running a hand down his face. "She's got those three guys like bodyguards around her all the time that despise me, not to mention I-I… It would be embarrassing for her if people found out that I asked her."
"People really don't think as badly of you as you think they do, Zeref," Natsu said quietly.
"I know your friends are kind to me, and I am grateful for that," he replied, picking up his book again, though unable to concentrate on it. "But not everyone thinks like your friends."
"Zeref, she obviously likes you. Mavis is really nice, which is why you like her in the first place, right?" pressed his brother. "It wouldn't embarrass her."
But Zeref only laughed. "You're really innocent, you know that?"
"I don't know why you're so determined to think like that," huffed Natsu. "It's less fun to be negative!"
Rolling his eyes, Zeref couldn't help but smile. "If you're so positive, then why didn't you ask Lucy out?"
"Y-you-! Ugh," Natsu sputtered. "Look, I will, okay? But only if…" A slow, scary grin began to spread across Natsu's face.
"What?" Zeref prodded uneasily. He sat up, putting his book down as Natsu rested his head on his hands and smiled smugly at the ceiling.
"I'll ask Lucy to the dance at lunch tomorrow only if you ask Mavis out at the same time."
"I told you that I can't," Zeref told him, each word emphasised.
"You won't," Natsu corrected. "There is a difference. And if you back out the deal, you have to be my slave for a week! And vise versa."
"I will agree to no such thing," scoffed Zeref, grumpily swiping up his volume again.
"Oh, you're just a scaaaaredy cat…"
"Awww, is Zewif all scawed of a giiiirl?"
"Immature insults won't change my mind-"
"Scaredy cat, scaredy cat, scaredy cat, scardy cat-"
"I told you, that's not going to-!"
"SCAREDY CAT! SCAREDY CAT! SCAREDY CAT! SCAREDY CAT! SCAREDY CAT! SCAREDY CAT! SCAREDY-!"
"Fine!" Zeref shouted over Natsu, clapping his hands over his ears. "Just shut up already!"
The smile Natsu gave after in triumph almost made him regret it.
By the time Zeref reached the cafeteria, his hands were slick with sweat despite the chilling air and his stomach felt rather like its contents had been shoved in a blender. There she was, chatting with her three guy friends outside while sitting on the hill that led down to the forest. Snow had not yet settled, but the hard ground was still plenty cold. Popular people waved at her as they passed, which only made him more nauseated.
But he'd made a deal with Natsu, and he wouldn't disappoint his little brother.
Quickly, he shot a glance over to Natsu, who was running a hand through his hair in that nervous habit of his and struck up a conversation with Lucy across the sidewalk. Swallowing thickly, Zeref mustered up every ounce of courage in his body, ignored the sneering from passersby, and marched up to Mavis and her big, green eyes.
Her three friends, Yury, Precht, and Warrod, crossed their arms in unison as he stopped before her. Their gazes were calculating; Zeref knew, despite his usual insecurities, that it was nothing personal. They were simply overly protective of Mavis, as such a small and gentle girl.
Now, she turned her eyes to him, pushing up to her feet and giving him the sweetest smile. "Zeref! Good morning."
"G-good… m-morning," he managed, feeling the stares of the three boys like blades of heat digging into his skin. Oh, he hated it when people would look at him. It just felt like this suffocating pressure on his chest that made it ever the more difficult to speak to her. This was so much easier when he was alone with her in class... "H-how are… you?"
"Oh, I'm fine. Glad we're doing our art project together," she informed him cheerfully, bouncing on her heels.
"M-me too," he admitted, trying to push air from his lungs. They were still staring. I can't do this, I can't do this, I can't do this… please, please, please look away...
People behind him had started muttering, even laughing, and his frenzied mind assumed that it was about him. Oh, if they could only go away-
"Whaddya want, grim reaper?" Yury drawled finally. "Don't tell me you just came for small talk."
Grim reaper. His nickname earned with his fascination with life and death, not to mention how he preferred black. He grimaced at it, and Mavis glared at Yury. "Don't call him that! And I'm glad he came over to talk!"
"Why?" Precht said, voice low and in its usual monotone.
"What do you mean 'why'?!" she huffed. "I enjoy his company; that's why."
Affection and a bit more confidence flared up in him, but the sneers remained, making him feel smaller than ever. Please go away, he thought again to the surrounding people.
As if his brotherly telepathic connection had suddenly fired up at his plea, he saw a flash of pink before Natsu came barreling in and promptly punched Yury in the face so that he toppled over. The other two protested, and Mavis' eyes grew wide.
"Yury!" Natsu shouted. "We have a score to settle from last week!"
"You mean the fight on the rink?" Yury snorted, exasperated. Yury was on the hockey team with Natsu's friends Gray and Gajeel, and had apparently gotten into a fistfight during a practice scrimmage the other day. Nothing new, and Zeref usually rolled his eyes at Natsu's 'scores to settle' with about half of the boys in the school; today, however, he couldn't be more grateful at his brother's fighting spirit. "You're still not over that?" Yury went on, gritting his teeth.
"Are you?" Natsu challenged.
After a moment of silence, Yury grinned. "Nope."
A brawl instantly ensued, Gray, shirt already being shedded with that weird habit of his, and Gajeel, pulling out brass knuckles while a feirce energy burned in his red eyes, running to back up Natsu. Precht and Warrod stood by Yury. Natsu was knocked off his feet by Yury, but lept back up and jumped back into the battle. Students were stopping and surrounding them now, chanting, "FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT…"
Some other guys on the team ran to their aid, only ending up making the warzone wider. Zeref and Mavis backed away from it all rather quickly, knowing it would sort out soon enough, as these always did.
But as Natsu passed him, ready to swing a fist at Precht, he clapped Zeref on the shoulder and winked before running off.
He blinked, suddenly realizing… Natsu had started the fight purely because he saw that Zeref was uncomfortable with everyone watching.
I have the best brother in the world, he thought with a smile, and turned back to Mavis.
She was just so easy to talk to that it was no longer as much of a difficulty. "Um, I know this isn't the best time to ask, but… would you be… interested… in going to the W-Winter For-Formal with… me?"
Her eyes instantly brightened, and his heart filled with relief. "Oh, I'd love to!" The pink spreading across her cheeks was almost too adorable, and he found his grin widening. "Y-yes! I-I was hoping you'd ask."
"Really?" he said hopefully.
"Really," she confirmed, eyes softening so that he had a sudden urge to embrace her and maybe even kiss her… but that wouldn't be right. So he only thanked her, told her he'd call her about it later, and apologized because he now had to go restrain his baby brother.
And so he did, sighing as he entered the ring of brawlers, upon where he grabbed Natsu and Gray from the back of their collars and tugged them away. In the middle of the fight, he'd never felt as shy, for some reason. "Break it up!"
The boys froze, all staring at him before lowering their fists and scuttling away. Ah. Maybe that was why. Many males in this school were well-trained fighters, though even Zeref admitted that he was probably the best. Maybe they'd learned that after he took out ten boys that had shoved a freshman Natsu into the lockers and made fun of him for his pink hair. In a minute. Where did they think Natsu's skill came from, anyway?
As they dispersed, Natsu and Gray wiggled free of him, Gray giving Natsu a last, rather hard punch in the shoulder before wandering off. Natsu brushed off his jeans, wiping the last of the blood from his nose and wincing as Zeref touched the side of his face. A black eye would surely form.
"You little twerp," Zeref said affectionately.
"Well?" Natsu demanded. "Did you do it?"
"Yes, I did," he laughed, feeling light at the thought of Mavis. "And you?"
Natsu trailed off as he looked over his shoulder, to where a good-looking brunette boy was speaking to Lucy with a winning smile. He was handing over a few roses, to which Lucy gasped and beamed up at him, nodding what he had said before the boy left. Lucy then turned to her friends, who giggles could clearly be heard. "Was that Jeremy? Did he really just ask you? Oh my gosh! Oh, he's so cute…"
Zeref saw Natsu swallow as if it were difficult, shoving his hands into his pockets and pushing his shoulders up against the wind. "Um… well," Natsu mumbled, not meeting his eyes. "Class is starting soon. It's cold out here. I'm going back in."
And he turned away into the wind to hike back up the the building.
"I thought you were meeting Lucy at the library?"
Zeref struggled to meet his brother's eyes, but Natsu didn't seem to want to look up. He still kept his eyes downcast as they turned the corner to their home street.
Natsu shrugged. "She cancelled." His voice was a monotone. "Somethin' about a date."
Hesitantly, Zeref tried, "So… why didn't you ask her to the dance sooner?"
His brother didn't respond.
"Because," Natsu sighed, words choppy as if they were forced from him. "I-I was about to, b-but I saw that you were having trouble and… well… I had to do something…"
A sick feeling began blossoming in Zeref's gut. "You gave up asking her... for me?"
"Don't worry about it," Natsu dismissed with a humorless laugh. "It was for the best. It's not like she would have said yes."
"Don't be stupid-"
"I'm not," Natsu cut him off. "She was talking to me later about the guy that asked her. She was really… really h-happy about it." Scuffing his sneaker against the sidewalk, he muttered, "My dumb unrequited crap would've ruined our friendship, and running off to help you saved that."
"No it wouldn't," insisted Zeref with fervor. "She really likes you; everyone knows that-"
"Yeah, well everyone has obviously been blind," snapped Natsu, eyes narrowing. "Well, I'm not. I was stupid for believing it, but I won't be stupid anymore."
And when Natsu stormed into the house, slamming the door behind him, Zeref felt as if it were his own heart breaking.
"Are you alright? You look a little out of it."
Zeref jolted out of his head, blinking at Mavis across from him and flushing. "S-sorry. Just thinking. I didn't mean to-"
"It's fine," she assured him, her smile softening him again. "I was just worried."
She looked absolutely angelic in her white dress, the skirt flowing around her knees and small shoes dainty on her feet. Her hair was let loose down her back, baring their usual, feathery wing hairpins among her blonde locks. Zeref was in the simple, black button-down shirt with white tie. He felt rather insignificant when compared to her goddess looks.
They were eating before going to the dance, Mavis having happily chosen the hangout for all Academy students: The Fairy Tail bar and grill. Several others were there, but Zeref paid them no mind; Mavis was with him and smiling, and that was all that mattered.
Well, and his worry about Natsu.
"I just…" he sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Oh, I shouldn't speak of problems on a date-"
"Go ahead," Mavis told him gently, leaning forward. "I'm good with problems."
After a small hesitation, Zeref burst, "I'm concerned for my brother."
"Natsu?" She frowned. "He's a sweet boy. What's wrong with him?"
"Well… he's sort of been in love with this girl for a while, but he gave up asking her out to help me with something, and now she's with someone else and he's kinda depressed and…" he let out a heavy breath. "I just feel bad, that's all."
Mavis opened her mouth to answer, but it was then that a group of several couples entered, laughing and being generally too loud for Zeref's taste. The teenagers took a seat at the large table with wraparound couch in the corner of the room.
Lucy was among them, her smile holding a strain to it as she nodded at something her date had said. She also looked amazing, gliding in with a dress that, Zeref couldn't help but notice, was a similar shade to Natsu's hair. She kept glancing to the kitchen, probably thinking the same thing Zeref was; Natsu worked here, though he mostly stuck to dishwashing and sometimes helping make food or clean. But since so many employees were gone, having taken off for the dance, Natsu might come out to help with serving.
Brotherly telepathic connection was evidently up again; Natsu emerged from the back, gripping a pad of paper and hastily tied a waiter's apron about his waist.
"Oh, he works here?" Mavis said with interest. "He does look a bit down. It's Lucy, isn't it? I do like her, and he clearly cares for her…"
"You're very perceptive," laughed Zeref, who looked back between his brother and the girl that held his brother's heart. "He doesn't usually show anything."
Distracted by arranging his apron, Natsu made his way over to the booth which held the customers that had just arrived. Zeref watched him walk up and freeze when he noticed Lucy. He recognized the look on Natsu's face since he'd felt it on his own earlier; awe at the sheer amount that beauty that sat before him in only one person.
"Natsu!" they could hear Lucy say in surprise. "I, ah, didn't know you were working tonight."
"Lucy," he croaked. "W-wow…y-you look-"
"Hey." The kid named Jeremy said with a smirk Zeref didn't like, "Maybe for a second you can remember that she's here with me and not you and we can get our food?"
Zeref could see from across the room the blazing blush that flared across Natsu's face while the others snickered. Lucy said uncomfortably, "Jeremy, don't..."
"Wh-what would you like, then?" Natsu said, jaw clearly tight.
"I don't like how that boy talked to him," Mavis said firmly, eyes turning to slits. "Tell me… what did he help you with that stopped him from asking her out?"
Not meeting her eyes out of embarrassment, Zeref admitted, "I-I was nervous about asking you in front of all those people… he saw that and made a distraction. That's what the fight the other day was really about."
"Oh," Mavis said softly in understanding. "Well… then I guess I owe him a debt as well."
"What do you mean?"
The small smile she gave sent his world for a spin. "Well, Natsu insured that you'd ask me, right?" And before he could respond, Mavis had stood and dragged Zeref with her. "Natsu's idea seemed to work last time. You think you could make it work again?"
"Y-you want me to start a fight?" he choked back in disbelief. Weren't girls supposed to stop guys from doing that?
"I want you to help me help your brother," she corrected with a determined expression.
"I don't even have anything to fight them about," Zeref pointed out.
She rolled her eyes. "He's currently making fun of your brother, who can't fight back because he'll get fired. Brawls happen in this place all the time, and I can tell Lucy would rather go with Natsu but she was probably under the impression that he wouldn't ask her. If we can make her angry enough at Jeremy, because he's a jerk anyway, then she'll ditch him."
Zeref blinked. "I asked out an evil mastermind."
Mavis only laughed and they made it to the table behind Natsu, who was scribbling down the orders and obviously shaking under severe self-restraint not to hit something. Jeremy prattled on, "So, didn't have the guts to ask a girl, Dragneel? Or every one rejected you? They say it's sad when a girl doesn't get to go, but when a guy is too wussy to ask, that's pretty depressing."
His friends laughed, and Lucy protested with wide eyes, "Jeremy, stop-"
"Shoulda figured all those threats to fight people were all talk-"
"Hey!" Zeref broke through the sneer, now angry enough where the anxiety of all eyes on him faded away. "That's my brother you're talkin' to, douchewad."
Natsu stiffened, not looking around. He muttered, "Zeref, drop it-"
"Ohoho, big brother coming to protect you now? Aha! Even the grim reaper got a date," drawled Jeremy, leaning back lazily and throwing an arm over the back of the booth. Lucy scooted away, looking trapped.
"I'm more surprised about you," Zeref told him. "Lucy must've really lowered her standards to accommodate for your lacking IQ level."
Ah, bless the quick tempers that seemed to run strong in the Magnolia Academy; that one comment was all it took.
Zeref didn't exactly see what happened next, but he was rushed by one and then by four, girls sighing or shouting out in protest of the violence as Zeref ducked all of their blows. Natsu was blinking off to the sided not joining for once, staring at his brother as if Zeref had announced that he was going to join the football team.
Mavis actually began to happily trip and kick down all of the oncoming boys that materialized from the rest of the restaurant. Yep, he was definitely in love with her. Zeref lifted his fists, grinning as he was approached by the boy that laughed at his brother.
"Jeremy, stop it!" Lucy commanded forcefully as she cut in, turning Jeremy by the shoulder before he could take another hit at Zeref.
Her voice seemed to echo across the room, and they watched while Jeremy gritted his teeth and grabbed her by the wrist. He yanked her forward, fingers tight so that she gasped in pain.
That one action seemed to be enough of an excuse for Natsu; he finally snapped out of his daze, walked up, ripped the boy's hand off of Lucy, and backhanded Jeremy across the room so that he flew three feet. The sound of him slamming into a booth was one of the most beautiful that Zeref had heard all day.
Other than Mavis' voice.
"Touch her again," Natsu said in a low tone that even made Zeref shudder, "and I will burn off your filthy hands and shove the ashes down your throat."
Jeremy seemed to shiver for a moment, but then pushed himself up from the floor. His cheek was a shocking red, and his gaze kept to the floor like a wolf that had submitted dominance to the alpha. "C'mon, guys."
As the others in his group quickly fled the restaurant, Lucy didn't follow, nor did Jeremy wait for her.
Mavis cheerfully skipped up with her hair and dress flouncing while the stragglers of the brawl seeped away. "You did it!"
"We did it," Zeref corrected, giving her his softest smile.
She laced her small, smooth fingers through his, and they watched Natsu cautiously step up to Lucy. "You okay?" Natsu asked her quietly, absently pushing some stray hair behind her ear.
"I'm fine," Lucy sighed, looking only mildly annoyed and brushing off her silky dress. "Lost my date, but he was a jerk anyway. Wouldn't wanna hang out with a guy that talks shit about my best friend."
Natsu's smile that Zeref had missed so much slowly crept up his face. "So… sounds like you're free tonight."
Lucy raised an eyebrow challengingly. "Who's asking?"
"Um, look, Lucy," Natsu started out. "I had… I'd meant to… to ask you to the dance. Because I think you're amazing and stuff. B-but something came up before I could and then Jeremy came in and then-"
Zeref nearly toppled back into the table in surprise when Lucy grabbed Natsu's scarf and interrupted him with a kiss. A short one, but Natsu looked rather like he'd just gotten slammed in the back of the head with a bowling ball once she backed away.
"You're gonna finish your shift," Lucy told him firmly. "Then you're driving me to my house so that we can watch Netflix all night long."
It seemed like Natsu couldn't manage speech for a few moments, and when he could, he croaked with the most crooked smile he'd ever worn, "B-but what about the dance?"
"Dance or movie night with Natsu…" Lucy pretended to contemplate for a second before laughing. "Movie night!"
Once they'd wandered off (Natsu to finish his shift and Lucy sitting patiently at the bar) Mavis giggled and put her hands on her cheeks. "That was just the cutest! Your brother is really adorable… must run in the family."
Heat flooded Zeref's cheeks at the compliment. Yes, perhaps a family thing. Maybe also the attraction to smart, bold, blonde girls, their tendency to get themselves into ridiculous situations, or maybe how they both felt such a need to protect one another.
"Yeah," Zeref said. "It's a Dragneel thing."
Well hey there!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY HALI! This one is for (tumblr) proudtobeaginger's birthday. She is like my dear internet child so I HOPE YOU HAD A FANTASTIC BIRTHDAY AND I HOPE YOU LIKE THIS PRESENT I ONLY WISH I COULD DO MORE!
Hali likes Dragneel brothers, Zervis, and Nalu, so I thought I'd combine the three for a present. :) Hope you enjoyed; it's been a while since I posted anything! Sorry, I'm way into school and stage crew, and I've been told that I need to be more social for my mental health so I'm trying XD Cuts down on writing time, though. Hopefully I'll have some other presents finished and then be able to get back to Double Dad Dilemma, The Way We Smile, and Make A Wish.
Much love, and hope to write more soon!