Chapter 16.

What Doesn't Kill Me Makes Me Want You More

"Why are you doing this, again?" asked Rogue, feeling very awkward, standing next to Sting in the middle of the extensive Men's Fragrances isle of the largest perfume shop in Fiore.

"We" corrected Sting, grinning, looking through the labels, comparing it with the small piece of paper in his hand. "We're doing this."

"I've never agreed helping you" Rogue grumbled, folding his arms.

"Then why exactly are you here?" asked Sting, looking him in the eye. "Moral support?"

"To tell you for the hundredth time: this is a stupid idea" Rogue replied.

"No, it's not" Sting said, getting back to the search.

"I don't understand the logic behind it" murmured Rogue.

"Rufus said, that girls can be impressed if you wear a nice perfume" said Sting for the hundredth time. "And he said that this is one of the best he's ever smelled."

"First of all, how do you know you'll also like it?" asked Rogue. "Or that she'll like it?"

"Let's just find it first" Sting said after a few seconds of silence. "And we can think about that later."

"Secondly, I don't believe that's the way to impress a girl" said Rogue bluntly.

"I know. You already said that…" Sting sighed.

"Sting. Do you think girls are just gonna go around town smelling people and when they find one they like, they just go 'Well, you smell good, so I like you'?" asked Rogue, imitating a girly voice.

"That sounds like a massive exaggeration" Sting started, looking back at Rogue. "And she's not like any other girl."

"And that" Rogue said with emphasis, "is my third point."

"What do you mean?" Sting asked, furrowing his brows.

"Do you like it when girls wear perfume?" Rogue simply asked.

"No" Sting replied in an instant.

"Okay. And why not?" Rogue asked.

"Obviously for the same reason, you don't like it" Sting said, slightly irritated.

"That reason being?" Rogue asked again.

"Because it's annoying. Irritating. Our sense of smell is too good, and perfumes have too many…" and with that, Sting stopped talking.

Rogue could basically see the realisation hit Sting on the head, as his irritation left and was replaced by that knowing look that he rarely had.

"You're right. This was a stupid idea" Sting said with a slight disappointment in his voice.

Rogue really wanted to tell him with a smug smile that obviously he was right but seeing Sting so helpless and downhearted just made him feel so upset, that he couldn't bring himself to do that.

"I'm sure there's a better way to get her attention" Rogue sighed.

The only answer he got was a half-hearted grunt from Sting, as he started walking to the exit, leaving Rogue behind. Rogue didn't understand where Sting's idea came from. He got it that Sting really wanted to impress Zoe but he just didn't understand why Sting wanted to rely on other people's weird ideas.

"Sting..." Rogue sighed, following him.

As doing so, he passed by a young employee on a ladder, refilling the upper shelves with various bottles of perfumes. As she was trying to put one of the many bottles to the highest shelf from her hand, she lost her balance and fell forward, hitting many expensive fragrances off the shelf. Then stumbling backwards on the small ladder rung, she fell off the ladder. Fortunately, seeing the commotion, Rogue was attentive and fast enough to catch the girl, but doing so, the ladder was pushed right into the shelves. And with that, the whole isle just toppled over, like nice pieces of dominos, covering the boys and the unfortunate employee with the most exquisite smells of Fiore. All of them.

After scrubbing themselves for what seemed like hours, they went down to the guild hall to possibly tell about their first miserable attempt and unlucky accident. After walking down the stairs, with Rogue continuously mumbling about how he can still smell all the perfumes and how much he hates Rufus and Sting, they sat down at the first empty table, not wanting to talk to anyone. Sting rested his forehead on the table while Rogue put his elbows on it, holding his head, still mumbling.

Amelia, Rufus, Yukino and Zoe were sitting a few tables away from the boys, Rufus and Yukino exchanging a few questioning glances, trying not to draw too much attention to the boys. However, they could see that Zoe was looking right at Sting and Rogue, trying to supress a smile. With that, Zoe grabbed her bag, stood up and went straight to the boys, sitting down in front of them. Sitting silently for a few seconds, she waited for both of them to look at her, though Sting really didn't feel like doing so, he could feel her eyes on him and knew she wouldn't stop until he looked up at her.

"You guys STINK" she said matter-of-factly. "With capital letters."

"You don't say so…" mumbled Rogue angrily.

"What exactly did you do to deserve this?" she asked, with a small sly smile, looking at both boys.

"That's what I've been asking since we got out of that damn perfume shop" sighed Rogue.

"Perfume… shop?" she asked in disbelief, looking at Rogue.

"Umm… yeah…" started Rogue, as Sting didn't look like he wanted to answer. "You know, they have, I mean had a very long isle for men" Rogue rambled, trying to figure out a cover-up story.

"What were two dragon slayers doing in a perfume shop?"

"Well… about that…" started Rogue with an embarrassed voice, looking at Sting from the corner of his eyes, who was just looking at Zoe with sad eyes.

"Kinda sounds like how a bad joke would start" she said, getting a small bottle out of her bag, putting it in front of the boys.

"What's this?" asked Sting, finally sitting up straight.

"Thank you for joining us, Puppy-Eye" she said, looking at Sting with a small teasing smile, making Sting shift uncomfortably in his seat. "Two sprays in the morning should be enough to keep this smell at bay until it decides to fade away."

"A perfume for our perfume problems?" asked Rogue cynically.

"That's an herbal mixture solution that helps to hide most natural and artificial scents. Even some pheromones" she replied. "And I think you need all the help you can get right now. Because whatever is on you… It smells sooo bad."

Grabbing the bottle, Rogue immediately sprayed Sting with the mixture.

"What the hell are you…" started Sting angrily but stopped in an instant as he felt the neutral scent of the herbs overtake that horrible perfume combo.

"Wow. It really works" Rogue mumbled in disbelief, earning and angry and surprised look from Zoe.

"Well, of course it does" Sting exclaimed happily. "Wouldn't expect anything less from Zoe. Thank you" he said with a huge grin before he started running to find Lector, who refused to get close to the guild master until he had a somewhat decent smell.

What the hell was that about? Zoe thought, as she felt her heartbeat getting faster.

Rogue just looked at Sting's figure moving away, also not knowing what to make of this situation. But at least their problem was resolved. Turning his head to also say thanks to Zoe, he looked at the astonished dragon slayer girl but decided not to say anything for now. She was still looking at the place Sting stood with wide eyes, seemingly not even blinking. And Rogue could swear he saw a slight blush on her cheeks and her neckline. Cute, he thought with a small smile, thinking how jealous Sting will get if he tells him what he just missed. With a sharp inhale, Zoe stood up, mumbling something with an embarrassed voice Rogue couldn't understand, and walked back to the other guild mates.

~v~

"Still don't know how you could be persuaded to do this" Rogue said in disbelief, standing in the doorway to the guild's kitchen with his arms folded.

"Come on, Rogue-kun" said Yukino, handing a wooden spoon to Sting. "I didn't need to be persuaded."

Rogue was looking at the two trying to prepare some seemingly hard-to-make cake. Yukino was great at baking, she often brought delicious cookies and cakes to share with the guild when she had the free time to bake something. And she seemed like a good teacher as well, patient and understanding. But they were being in this damn kitchen for hours, restarting the whole process for the third time… But something was always wrong, and Sting just wasn't the best kitchen trainee when it came to baking.

"I wasn't referring to you…" Rogue replied, earning an angry look from Yukino and a light chuckle from Sting.

"Be careful" Sting warned him. "There are many things she can throw at you to harm you" motioning to the various tools and raw materials on the table.

"Sting-kun, I'd never do anything like that" Yukino whined, pretending to be offended, making Sting smile.

Rogue watched as Sting concentrated hard on carefully mixing the beaten egg whites to the rest of the ingredients. He was really content to make a very good cake, even though he didn't actually know if Zoe would like it or not.

"Why are you doing this?" Rogue sighed loudly.

"Because if you are not careful enough, the cake won't be as puffy and you know… spongy" Yukino replied, trying to find some proper words for the cake's consistency.

"Not… not the mixing" Rogue replied, irritated by the literal answer from Yukino. "This whole process. How did you think of this stupid idea?"

As Sting and Yukino finally finished pouring the mixture in the mould, Sting put it in the oven while Yukino started to gather the ingredients for the icing.

"Baking is not stupid" Yukino replied with an imitated stern face, trying to intimidate Rogue with bar of chocolate.

"You know that's not what I meant" Rogue rolled his eyes in return, seeing that none of them took him or his thoughts seriously.

"Because girls love a man who knows his way around the kitchen, right, Yukino?" Sting answered, looking at Yukino for confirmation.

"We sure do" she smiled shyly, measuring the appropriate amount of powdered sugar for the icing.

"Sting, there's nothing wrong with your kitchen skills" Rogue replied, looking at his partner with a serious expression.

Turning away to light the gas to melt some butter and other ingredients, Sting tried hard not to shout at Rogue for not supporting him, once again.

"Well, considering that I could finally put this damn thing in the oven after three tries… I wouldn't agree with you" Sting replied, resting his elbows on the counter, facing Rogue.

"Fine, you suck at baking" Rogue admitted.

"That's a bit too harsh, Rogue-kun" Yukino said, looking at Sting sympathetically. "He just needs some practice."

"Why would you suffer with practicing baking when you're a great cook?" Rogue asked Sting, who looked at the shadow dragon slayer with a deadpan expression.

"Sting?" started Yukino with a sigh. "Do you really… you know…"

"What? Not suck at cooking?" finished Rogue, looking at Yukino, then back at his partner. "Yeah. So why don't you try to impress her with something you're already good at instead of trying to be the best at something you've never done before?"

Silently walking out of the kitchen, Yukino admitted that this really was a bad idea, before disappearing in the hallway. Still looking at Rogue in the eyes, Sting tried to remember how on earth he could think trying baking to impress Zoe was the right way to go. Maybe preparing her a nice dinner, getting some flowers and decoration for a small table, lighting candles or something…

"I'm a moron" Sting said simply.

"Yes. You're a moron" replied Rogue with a small smile, making Sting let out a small embarrassed laugh.

"What am I doing wrong?" he asked his partner, still smiling.

"So far? Everything" Rogue told Sting with his usual honesty.

"Come on" Sting rolled his eyes, smiling.

"I'm serious, Sting" Rogue replied. "I don't understand why you go out of your way to do these. Where's that smug confident dude who could sweep all the girls off their feet with doing… basically nothing?"

"I don't know… It's all her fault" Sting blurted out, making Rogue raise his eyebrows in a questioning look. "I mean…"

"That sounded quite offensive… I think" Rogue replied, grinning, making Sting laugh nervously.

"I didn't mean it like that. It's just… every time I see her, I just don't know what to do" Sting tried explaining. "I think of something I want to tell her, sometimes for hours, and when I have the opportunity to talk to her, all my thoughts just become a garbled mess and I feel like an idiot."

After exchanging a few more words, Rogue left the guild master alone to clean the mess he (and Yukino) made. It was hot in the kitchen even with the windows open, and he was sweating like crazy while washing the dishes. Why the hell was it so damn hot? And why did it smell like something was burning? Remembering, that he put the cake in the oven but never took it out, he turned around to see smoke coming out of the oven.

"Shit" he said, quickly running to grab a kitchen towel, splashing water on the ground in the process.

Quickly taking the mould out, holding it with the towel not to burn himself, he put the mould with the towel on the stove, taking a step back to see the damage. As he did so, he realised he never turned the stove off either, as the kitchen towel caught on fire, spreading to a plastic tray left on the edge of the neighbouring counter.

"Oh… Fuck me" he sighed, running back to the sink to get some water to put the fire out and on his way back to the sink, he slipped on the water he just splashed out.

Losing his balance, he quickly grabbed the closest kitchen counter so he wouldn't fall to the ground, just to knock over the powdered sugar previously measured out by Yukino. Even though he didn't fall on the ground, he fell down with his back to a counter, spilling the sugar all over himself.

"Can't believe this" he murmured, shaking the powdered sugar off his head, before standing up.

What he didn't expect was to see Zoe standing on the other side of the counter, looking at him with emotionless face, before making her way to the stove still in flames.

"Crystal Dragon's Crystal Phase Transformation" she said, getting two glasses from the table.

As she did that, the glasses in her hands slowly started to break down and turn to yellowish sand particles. Pouring it to the small fire, she clapped her hands to get the fine powder off them, then turned around to see a very impressed and confused Sting. She really wanted to laugh at poor Sting's award-winning performance. And if she'd seen anyone else go through the same, she would've laughed. But she just felt so bad for him that she couldn't laugh at him.

"Sorry, I think I ruined your cake" she said, looking back at the messy counter and stove. "I mean, more than you did" she added with a teasing tone.

"Wha… I…" he tried talking, feeling a blush creeping up on his cheeks, which was fortunately covered with a messy combination of sweat and powdered sugar. "Well, it's okay. I already gave up on baking… I'm not very good at it" he said with a nervous smile.

"Right" she replied, eyeing the destroyed cake. "Still you shouldn't burn the whole kitchen down because of that."

"I wasn't trying to" he laughed. "It just kinda happened… Thanks for putting out the fire. You really helped me out there" he said with a kind smile, leaning on a counter.

Nodding in response, she just watched the flustered guild master, as he tried to dust the powdered sugar off of his clothes. And even though he looked adorable with it covering his face, she grabbed a somewhat clean looking kitchen towel and handed it over.

"Thanks…" he replied shyly, thinking about how stupid he must look with sugar over his face.

Wiping most of his face and around his eyes, he then watched Zoe putting her hair up in a messy bun, who turned to him with a questioning look.

"So, shall we clean this mess up?" she asked.

First, he wanted to tell her not to be bothered with it and that he will do all the cleaning. Then he mentally slapped himself for even thinking about it. He just had an opportunity to spend some time alone with her. Even if it included fun activities like washing the dishes and cleaning the counters and stove together.

"Let's do this" he replied, throwing his hands in the air enthusiastically.

~v~

"Are you sure this is gonna work?" Sting asked unsurely, awkwardly standing in front of the register of the tailor shop, waiting for the owner to show up.

"Don't worry. This guy is supposed to be the best in town" Orga replied, looking around the huge shelves of fabrics and samples to choose from.

"I don't even know what I want. For what occasion should I get clothes for?" Sting asked unsurely.

"All" Orga grinned. "When it comes to a girl, you should always dress to impress.

"Oookay…" Sting said, looking at Orga with a questioning look. "Is that something you often do?"

"I wouldn't say often…" started Orga, thinking. "But do you remember when Sakura joined the guild?"

Thinking for a bit, Sting realised who Orga was talking about. It was a few months ago, when a tall slim pink-haired girl joined the guild with her brother. They were the first new members since Sting became guild master and he remembered how excited he was to welcome some new people to the guild. Then, he also remembered Orga acting very weird for a few weeks, before finally things went back to normal.

"So that's why you acted like an idiot" Sting replied. "We thought you went crazy or something."

"Well, I guess I kinda did" Orga replied with a wide suggestive grin, making Sting very uncomfortable.

"Don't look at me like that" Sting mumbled, folding his arms.

"Sure thing, Master" Orga replied, mockingly. "But yeah. I tried my best to dress up properly for her, but I got tired of it soon."

Thinking back about the clothes Orga wore at that time, Sting already questioned if taking his advice was a good decision, but they were already here. Maybe this tailor guy would have better ideas about impressive clothes than Orga does. And that's when the tailor emerged from the back room. He was a tall slim guy with short black hair and a moustache. A very very long moustache. Looking over the boys from head to toe with his caramel eyes, he sighed before speaking in a thick southern accent.

"I am Ricardo De La Throatha, the number one dressmaker in Fiore, two-times nominated for and also two-times winner of the famous Best at Profession award at tailoring" he stated with so much arrogance in his voice, that Sting just wanted to turn around and get out of this place. "I am pleased to meet anyone who wishes to improve their sense of fashion and bring their closet to the next level. Who wishes to start their journey to the fabulous world of Ricardian style?" he asked looking at the boys in front of him.

"Well…" Orga started just to be instantly interrupted by an overfriendly Sting.

"My very good friend, here, wishes nothing but to start his journey" Sting said, stepping forward as he pointed at Orga. "He's just a little shy."

"I… what?" Orga said, confused.

"And what brought your friend here? What occasion requires me to prepare some exquisite clothes?" Ricardo asked, looking at Sting.

"Any and all. He's trying to win a lady's heart" Sting said, winking at the tailor.

"Magnificent" Ricardo said with enthusiasm. "Then please, follow me to my grand hall, as I call it. And let me see you in the natural light."

"Sting?" said Orga in a warning tone, as Ricardo tied the big curtains hiding the neighbouring room to the sides and led the boys into a huge room filled with even more fabrics.

"Please don't kill meg afterwards" Sting whispered, with a forced smile.

After about 15 minutes of continuous measuring, Orga standing there only in his boxers, Ricardo giving advices to the boys and looking for various fabrics, they heard the main door to the shop open, and a familiar voice calling out to the excited dressmaker.

"Uno momento, gentlemen" Ricardo said politely, before leaving them to greet Zoe.

"Is that…" started Orga with a confused face, looking out of the room.

"Yeah" replied Sting with an embarrassed voice.

They heard Ricardo and Zoe talking in a foreign language, possibly the mother tongue of the southern tailor, then saw them going to the register, Zoe putting a bag of silky purple and green fabrics on the counter. As the dressmaker started examining the goods, he sometimes murmured something to himself checking each material carefully. While he did so, the boys were standing still, frozen, as Zoe slowly turned her head towards them looking at them with the faintest of evil smile, before looking back at Ricardo.

"Ricardo, I had two train rides, took a ferry there and back, and rented a camel for almost a whole day. Bought the fabrics, got three vaccines for some exotic diseases, paid for accommodation, food, and a lot of sunscreen to keep my skin from burning off. I think 15% is a rather nice offer to consider" Zoe said, looking him dead in the eye.

Staring back at her for a few seconds, Ricardo took one of the purplish fabrics, examining it again, now in natural light. It was gorgeous. Better than he imagined, and he knew that his face already gave his satisfaction away. Biting the inner part of his cheek, he sighed. He knew 15% was a fair offer but wished he could get stuff like this cheaper.

"Deal" he finally said, sighing. "I'll write a cheque for you in a minute."

With that, he disappeared in the back room, looking for his cheque book in some drawers. Looking at the boys from the corner of her eyes, she motioned with her hand that if they wanted to leave, it might be the best chance for them to do so. Quickly understanding her intentions, Orga immediately grabbed his clothes and get out of the shop along with Sting.

"I'm so gonna kill you" Orga gritted his teeth as he put on his clothes in the alley next to the shop.

"At least that would end my misery" whined Sting, his face already red, just thinking about facing Zoe after this. "No matter what I do, I always end up looking like more of an idiot in front of her."

All of Orga's anger vanished looking at his poor guild master. He knew how Sting felt, he's just been over this recently… Though, he didn't have as many unlucky tries as Sting did, but he could understand his frustration. They heard the tailor shop's door open and close, and Zoe saying goodbye to Ricardo. After a few unsure steps, they heard her getting closer to the alley they were suffering.

"Ricardo? Really?" she asked, leaning against the wall, looking at the boys with a confused face.

"What? I've heard he's the best in town" replied Orga, not even letting Sting to open his mouth.

"He's not bad…" Zoe replied, turning her back to the boys. "But if you want the best, follow me. She doesn't live too far from here."

Looking at each other for a second, they followed her without hesitation. After a few minutes of walking in silence, the arrived at a small shop, Zoe entering first. The ground and first floor had a shared open area with a few steps of stairs, while the actual shop had a small kitchen, a sewing room with a changing part sectioned off with a curtain, and a back room. It wasn't as grandiose and elegant as the previous one, but this place felt much comfortable and cosy.

"Mia" she called out softly.

In an instant, a head emerged from a room upstairs, looking down at the boys and Zoe.

"Welcome back, Zo" the girl greeted happily.

She was a bit taller than Zoe, a bit heavy-set, with light brown hair and stunning green eyes. Getting down the stairs, she gave a small half-hug to Zoe, who just awkwardly patted the other girl's back.

"Oh, did you bring me some customers as well?" Mia asked playfully.

"Friends" Zoe replied simply. "They're Orga and Sting. From the guild" she said pointing at each boys when saying their names.

"Is he the one?" Mia asked, her face radiating with excitement, looking at Sting.

"The one?" asked Orga, confused.

Looking at Mia with wide eyes, Zoe thought about murdering her friend first and then herself because of her reckless comment. Mia smiled at Zoe before realising that she said something she wasn't supposed to in front of the boys, then her smile slowly disappeared.

"The guild master. Right" Zoe said, apparently successfully convincing them, that Mia was referring to that. "The one and only… umm… guild master of Sabertooth."

"I'm so excited" Mia exclaimed turning to Sting, trying to cover up the previous weird behaviour. "What can I do for you, guys?"

~v~

"Have you not learned anything from the last couple of days?" Rogue asked, visibly irritated. "Any of you?"

Minerva, Yukino, Rufus, Orga and Sting were sitting in Sting's office, coming up with the plan of the year for the guild master to astonish the guild's dragon slayer lady.

"Shut up, Rogue" Minerva snapped. "This is a great plan."

Rogue didn't really listen to what they wanted to do but considering that it involved them blowing up a part of the guild with a lacrima bomb Minerva got from who-knows where, saying that it was a faulty pipe, Rogue was sure that this is a dumb idea.

"No, it's not" Rogue argued.

"Of course, it is" Minerva replied. "What's better than a heroic guild master saving one of his helpless guild members during an accident."

"Well… I'm not that helpless…" mumbled Yukino, pouting.

"That…" started Minerva, pinching her nose. "That's not the point. You will act helpless."

"You guys are insane" commented Rogue in disbelief.

"I have no memory of you coming up with anything better" added Rufus with a small smile.

"Because I'm trying to convince this blockhead that he doesn't need an elaborate plan to get her attention" Rogue said, pointing to Sting. "And none of you are helping."

"Look, sometimes girls need a little push" Minerva said, sighing. "You know, to realise how they feel."

"Why? How does she feel?" Rogue asked seriously. As nobody answered him, he continued his speech. "None of you know. And none of you even tried to find it out. Especially you, Sting."

"Well, that just sounds like the greatest idea so far" Sting said, leaning back in his chair, playing with the small bomb in his hands. "It's a wonder if I can say a coherent sentence to her and not make a complete fool out of myself. Sure, let's just make me ask her if she likes me."

"Alright" said Rogue, heading to the door. "Then I'll talk to her."

"No, you won't" said Sting, hopping up from his chair.

"Oh, you think so?" asked Rogue with a daring voice, looking Sting in the eye, while opening the door.

"Rogue" Sting said with a firm voice.

"Come on, Rogue" Orga laughed. "You wouldn't do that."

Looking at him with raising his eyebrows, Rogue turned around and exited the room, as everyone looked at the door in horror. In an instant, Sting ran after his partner, almost breaking his office door.

"I swear to god, Rogue" Sting said as he caught up to the other dragon slayer.

"What?" Rogue asked in return. "If you don't have the balls to properly talk to her, then I will."

"Rogue, please don't do this to me" Sting said, looking at Rogue with wide eyes.

"Then you should finally take things into your own hands, dumbass" Rogue growled, grabbing Sting by the collar.

"Rogue, Sting" they heard Yukino's warning but caring voice calling out to them, as she was jogging to them. "Stop it already."

Looking deep into Rogue's eyes, he understood why his partner was so upset with him. He was also very angry at himself. Beating around the bush like a scared kid, not even trying to stand his ground and do things on his own. Rogue could be pretty bold and pushy at times, and Sting was very thankful for that. Collecting his remaining self-esteem, he finally decided to listen to what Rogue was trying to tell him the whole time.

"Okay-okay" he said, pushing Rogue away. "I'll do it."

"Stop fighting" Yukino said, arriving to where the boys stood. "I've had enough of both of you always trying…"

She abruptly stopped talking, her wide eyes looking down at Sting's hand, still holding the lacrima bomb that had a strange sound. A sound it didn't have when they were in the office.

"Did I just…" started Sting, also staring at his hand.

"No way" Rogue sighed loudly.

~v~

Zoe really didn't feel like coming to the guild today, but Sting was just acting so weird lately and she would've felt guilty for not checking on him before she went out on the mission she picked. Amelia was still at Mia's place and she already packed her stuff, so she still had some time to spare. As she was walking to the guild door, she heard an explosion coming from the right side of the building. Running to the side of the building to see what happened, she saw a smoke of cloud emerging from the third floor, debris falling down (that was probably the wall of the guild just seconds ago), and a figure also falling. A small, feminine figure… She heard Sting and Rogue calling her name, as she seemed to still process what was happening to her.

"What is going on at this guild lately" she mumbled to herself as she dashed toward her falling guild mate, catching her just in time before she fell to the ground.

She should've jumped up a bit to catch her sooner, that way she could've avoided straining her shoulders and knees as much as she did this way. But Yukino was just fine in her arms, and that's the only thing she cared about at that moment.

"Z-Zoe" Yukino said with a surprised voice, looking up at Zoe.

"Sup?" she asked, slightly panting, looking up seeing Sting and Rogue looking down at them from the hole in the wall. "Had a fallout?" she asked with a smirk, motioning up to the boys with her head.

"What?" Yukino asked laughing, as Zoe put her down. "No, it's just… Ah… It's a very long and stupid story" Yukino breathed out, dusting off her clothes.

"Maybe you could tell me about it next time" Zoe replied, making her way into the guild. "I love long and stupid stories."

Walking up to the site of destruction, Zoe saw Sting sitting on the edge of the destroyed floor, alone, looking at the setting sun.

"The last couple of days were really entertaining" she started, sitting down next to Sting.

"I can imagine that" he replied with a disappointed voice.

"Well, I mean… To me? Definitely" she said with a small laugh, making him finally smile.

She was sure he was trying to impress someone, in some weird ways, but it seemed like all his attempts failed. Examining his tired and dispirited features, she felt her stomach tighten and her heart ache in a way she'd never felt before. Damn, this guy's gonna be the death of her.

"You okay, Puppy-Eye?" she asked teasingly, trying not to seem too out of character.

After not getting any response beside a quiet humming, she continued.

"I'll be away on a mission for some time" she said. "Maybe two weeks. At most."

"Okay" Sting replied, internally facepalming himself for wasting so much time with all these stupid ideas. "Something interesting?"

"Not really" Zoe admitted, standing up. "But the location is close to the Scevella house. I'll go and check how things are going."

"I see" Sting said with a small sad sigh, looking at the ground.

"Right" she said, putting her hands on her nape, stretching awkwardly, before slowly starting to walk away, then turning back. "Just… Stay safe, okay?"

Hearing her comment, Sting turned around and looked up at her with a surprised face, seeing her cheeks slightly redden, as she tried hard not to look at the guild master.

"I won't be around to look out for your butt, you know" she said, with a faint mischievous voice, before walking away.

Thinking about everything that happened during the last couple of days, he realised that no matter what happened, Zoe was always close by to help him out. Maybe all those plans were not so stupid and useless after all, he thought, smiling.