Note: This story is actually not sad (amazing, huh?). Enjoy the non-depressing stuff while it lasts, because it's all going back downhill from here :)
Natsu sat in the guild hall, an unusually thoughtful expression on his face as he frowned moodily at the table in front him. He had been in high spirits ever since Fairy Tail had returned from Edolas a few weeks before, right up until now anyway. What wasn't there to be happy about? He and his friends had saved the rest of Fairy Tail from being fully absorbed by a giant lacrima, they had gone on a great adventure, and Lisanna had magically appeared alive. Natsu had been in a celebratory mood, and he and the rest of the guild had been preoccupied with the aftermath of Edolas and Lisanna's return for the past few weeks.
Now that everything had calmed down and started to settle back into normalcy, Natsu wasn't distracted enough to ignore extraneous thoughts. This morning a seemingly random thought had hit him out of nowhere, and it had been bothering him all day. It was silly and stupid, but he couldn't make himself let it go quite yet.
It had occurred to him that the Gray and Natsu in Edolas seemed to be much closer friends than he and Gray were here in Earthland. It shouldn't bother Natsu—who cared about the stupid ice block anyway?—but it did. He started in surprise as he realized that he was actually jealous.
As annoying as Gray could be and as often as the two of them fought, Natsu actually liked Gray a lot. He knew that Gray must like him too since they were friends and all, but he still couldn't crush the silly jealousy that had wormed its way into his heart.
Natsu realized with some surprise that as he had been lost in thought his eyes had wandered over to rest on the object of his contemplation. He quickly looked away, hoping that Gray hadn't noticed. Not that he'd do anything even if he did, Natsu thought moodily. He remembered when the Gray in Edolas had thought he was the Edolas Natsu. He had wanted to actually comfort Natsu and talk about what was bothering him. And when Natsu had later seen him with the real Edolas Natsu, he had noticed that they really were very close.
It had been a little odd to watch, considering how different it was from the relationship he had with Gray. He and Gray didn't talk. He knew this wasn't entirely Gray's fault since he himself wasn't good with all that touchy-feely stuff either. And to be honest, Natsu wasn't sure that he would be willing to just talk to Gray about his feelings. That wasn't how they worked.
And yet…Natsu sighed. It would be nice to have a friendship like that, where the other person truly understood you and was always ready to lend a shoulder or an ear. Even if he didn't really want the exact kind of friendship their Edolas counterparts had, he wanted something like that—something equally close.
A hand suddenly slammed down on the table in front of him, and Natsu jumped in surprise, his startled gaze snapping upwards to see Gray standing there, smirking down at him.
"Aw, is Natsu thinking?" Gray purred, his smirk turning condescending. "That's quite a feat, considering how small your brain is."
Natsu growled and jumped to his feet, glowering at Gray. This was exactly what he was talking about. Just when he thought that he and Gray were getting along, the ice mage would have to come over and be a jerk for no apparent reason. This wasn't even their normal teasing, but a show of utter contempt that made Natsu see red.
"Shut the hell up!" he snarled, swinging his fist at the other mage.
Gray easily deflected the blow. "Make me," he taunted, dark eyes flashing.
Natsu snarled and threw himself at his adversary, sending a quick series of crushing blows his way. Oh, Natsu would make him all right. How dare Gray be such a jerk? Gray retreated slowly before the onslaught, dodging or deflecting most of the attacks and occasionally swinging a fist back in Natsu's direction. Natsu's lip curled upwards in a contemptuous sneer. He had Gray on the defensive already.
Perhaps it wasn't that surprising, considering how angry he was. In fact, Natsu realized that although a good deal of his anger came from Gray's comments and attitude, a part of it stemmed from an irritation with his friend that he hadn't fully realized even existed until that moment. Apparently his musings had stirred up some resentment towards Gray, and it felt damn good to take out his irritation and anger on the other mage. It was rather cathartic, actually.
Gray stepped back again and sidestepped one of Natsu's kicks. Seeing an opening, Natsu quickly feinted and threw another punch at the other mage. A feeling of grim satisfaction overtook him as he saw the startled look in Gray's eyes when his fist connected with the ice mage's stomach and sent him flying.
Natsu stood, panting, in the wreckage of the guild hall, staring at the spot where Gray had slammed into a table and smashed it to pieces. His rival didn't move. Ignoring the irritated shouting of the other mages in the hall, Natsu prepared to proclaim his victory. As he opened his mouth to crow triumphantly and taunt his fallen opponent, Gray finally stirred and carefully extracted himself from the remains of the table. Natsu paused and watched as he pulled himself to his feet and dusted himself off.
Gray looked over at Natsu and grinned crookedly, all of his previous condescension and disrespect gone. "Feel better now?" he asked casually.
Natsu just stared at him, his mind racing a million miles per minute. He took a step backwards and collapsed onto the bench behind him, still gaping at Gray.
He did, in fact, feel better now that he had let off some steam. He wasn't even angry or irritated with Gray anymore now that he had gotten the chance to fight him, and all of his earlier melancholy and moroseness had vanished.
"Yeah," he said slowly. "Yeah, I do."
Gray smiled again, before wincing and bending over slightly as he wrapped an arm around his stomach. "Damn," he muttered under his breath.
"I can help!" Wendy exclaimed, running past Natsu to attend to Gray. As she fussed over the ice mage, Natsu kept his eyes fixed on Gray, his mind still whirling.
A thought occurred to him that made his mind grind to a halt. Gray had seemed to be on the defensive from the very beginning. No matter how angry and aggressive Natsu was, he shouldn't have been able to get Gray on the ropes that quickly. Gray was an aggressive fighter as well, and was pretty evenly matched with Natsu.
And yet, he had seemed to lose the fight before it even began. Natsu stared at him in amazement. Had that even been a real fight at all? Gray had come over and mocked Natsu in order to provoke a fight, and then he had mostly just taken what Natsu threw at him. He had barely even fought back at all, and Natsu got the feeling that most of the punches he had thrown were just for show.
Gray hadn't actually felt contempt or anger towards Natsu at all, even though his earlier words had suggested it. He hadn't even really wanted to fight Natsu. If he had actually wanted to fight, the two of them would still be brawling, each giving as well as they gave. No, Gray hadn't been trying to hurt or anger Natsu. He had picked a fight because he had noticed Natsu's melancholy mood and wanted to snap him out of it.
Natsu immediately began searching his memory for other similar occasions, and quickly found them. Off the top of his head he could easily recall several fights that had followed a similar pattern, where Gray had picked a fight and then stayed on the defensive the whole time, only throwing a few punches every now and then. And all of those times, Natsu had been feeling down for one reason or another. He had been grieving because he thought Lisanna had died, or he was feeling lonely because it was the anniversary of the day Igneel had disappeared, or he was feeling irritated or embarrassed because he had lost a fight.
Gray had never asked Natsu what was wrong because neither of them were any good at the whole talking thing, but he had noticed that something was bothering him. He had noticed, and he had helped in the best way he could. Thinking back, Natsu realized that every time Gray had provoked a fight when he was feeling down, he had felt better afterwards. Natsu had always had trouble dealing with his emotions and he couldn't just express them through words, so Gray had given him the opportunity to convert the troublesome emotions to anger and express them through his fists.
And now that he thought about it, Natsu realized that he had done the same thing for Gray on occasion. He sometimes noticed when Gray was out of sorts and picked a fight with him with the intention of helping him vent his emotions. Mind you, Natsu was still just as aggressive in those fights as in any other fight, but the thought was there.
He let out his breath slowly. He and Gray had never talked with words the same way their Edolas counterparts did, but they communicated through teasing insults and fists. Natsu got the feeling that their communication was just as effective. But really, their closeness didn't end there. Now that Natsu was really thinking about it, he could come up with dozens of examples of how close their friendship was.
When Gray had told Natsu not to die when they split up to search for Erigor and Lullaby. He had played it off like it never happened, but Natsu had heard.
When Gray had been willing to sacrifice himself for Natsu and the others on Galuna Island. Natsu could still remember the fear and anguish in his friend's voice as he yelled at the dragon slayer to get out of the way. Natsu hadn't fully realized it at the time, but he had later recognized that Gray had been terrified that he was about to die when Deliora's fist was coming down on him. Natsu had heard him then, and he thought that Gray had heard him too, when he had told the self-sacrificing fool that he didn't want him to die.
When Gray had saved Natsu from Fukuro in the Tower of Heaven. Natsu still didn't like to think about that incident—getting eaten had been more than a little embarrassing. He had been expecting Gray to taunt him about it for weeks, but he had never even brought it up. Natsu had heard all the words he didn't say.
When Gray had used up a ton of his magic throwing up an ice wall to hold off Racer of the Oración Seis in order to give Natsu time to escape and bring Wendy to Erza. Natsu had been afraid that the idiot was going to get himself killed after using up all his magic, but Gray had just told him to get out of there and save Erza. Natsu had heard him then as well. He had heard his friend's determination to give Natsu and Erza a fighting chance, regardless of the possible costs to himself.
When Gray had hunted Natsu down in Edolas after being freed from the lacrima, and revived him after he and Wendy had had their magic drained. Gray hadn't said much, but Natsu had seen the thinly veiled worry in his eyes. Natsu pretended that he hadn't seen it, had even pretended that he hadn't noticed Gray there at all in the beginning, but he had heard.
Natsu leaned back and drummed his fingers against his leg absentmindedly as he studied Gray through narrowed eyes. That list of examples was impressive enough, and he could come up with dozens more that weren't as dramatic or flashy but still illustrated Gray's compassion and caring for Natsu.
Natsu laughed softly. He really had been an idiot. There wasn't any point in being jealous of how close the Gray and Natsu in Edolas were, because he and Gray were just as close. Maybe even closer, considering that they could hear and understand each other without the words their counterparts used.
Having a relationship like the Edolas Gray and Natsu would never work for the Gray and Natsu of Earthland. In fact, Natsu didn't even really want that kind of relationship. It didn't suit them. Creating a friendship where he and Gray talked about their problems and thoughts would require that they both completely revamp their personalities. They weren't talkers and never had been, but they could still communicate with each other in other ways
After all, when he really considered it, Natsu could practically hear the thoughts that had been behind each of Gray's punches.
'Why are you so moody, flame brain?'
'What's bothering you?'
'You aren't usually so melancholy.'
'Why were you looking at me like that? Did I do something wrong?'
'Let it all out and hit me with everything you've got.'
'Feel better now?'
Their friendship was an odd one, but Natsu wouldn't have it any other way. He felt a smile slowly creep over his face as he continued to watch Gray get patched up. Wendy seemed to be finally satisfied with her work and moved away to return to where she had been conversing with Charle and Lucy before the fight had broken out. Gray thanked her and turned back around.
Natsu could tell the exact moment Gray noticed him, because he instantly recoiled, a startled and almost horrified expression spreading across his face as he stared back with wide eyes.
"Why are you grinning at me like that?" Gray demanded, clearly disconcerted by the stupid grin plastered across the dragon slayer's face. In fact, he looked downright disturbed.
Natsu's smile widened even further as he studied his best friend. "Oh, no reason," he replied. "I was just thinking that our friendship is already perfect the way it is."