A/N: I've been making these WAY-inspired Instagram Edits of our fave FT characters over at Tumblr, and one set has a bunch of the kids cuddling and being cozy with each other. As much as I love the ones I've already posted, I can't find the right pictures for some of my ideas.

So this one came into being.

Set before WAY Chapter 1 - a few weeks into Gajeel's and Juvia's transfer to FairyGaku.

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SIDE-STORIES

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"Contact"
(Set in the We Are Young AU)

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Juvia and Gajeel were used to distance. They weren't exactly buddies with their 'friends' from Phantom. Even with each other, touch and close physical proximity were only ever initiated when necessary - Juvia patching his wounds up, Gajeel's grip on her wrist when he tugged her away from harm, her arm latching to his sleeve only when she was scared of something, their backs against each other's when they had to fight.

So it kind of took them aback, this new... thing. There was the new school and the new friends, but what would take the most getting used to is how it seemed like no one in this weird friend group they found themselves in knew the meaning of personal space.

It wasn't that Gajeel felt like the others were being intrusive. It wasn't that Juvia didn't like to be touched.

It was just that these guys couldn't seem to keep their hands off each other.

There was always pats on the back or the head, lots of hair ruffling, playful wrestling, arms around sleeves or shoulders, surprise tackles and expected hugs, shoulders were always touching, legs were casually propped up on someone else's space- The list was endless.

And that went for… well, everyone, to be honest. Some more than the others, but still.

There was Lucy, perched on Levy's desk, her chin resting at the top of the shorter girl's head as they both hunched over a magazine.

There was Natsu, yawning, sitting backwards on his chair and playing with a stray thread on Lucy's usually pristine school sweater.

When Erza walked by, she didn't even think twice before ruffling Natsu's unruly hair.

"We're hangin' out on Saturday." Natsu said, unfazed. It was just that. He stated a fact, and clearly he did not have to say any more as Erza recognized that it was an invitation anyway.

Erza smiled, but shook her head. "Sorry, I've got plans with Master and Laxus that day."

"Aw. Next time, yeah?"

She met Gray on her way out. They didn't exchange a word, but when he raised a fist, she easily met it with her own. Then they high-fived. Then the backs of their hands. Another fistbump. Some kind of complicated gesture- Oh. What the hell. They have a secret handshake. It ended with a perfectly timed "boop!" as they poked each other's nose.

They did all that with straight faces. Then Erza was gone and Gray was heading to his seat.

Gray and Natsu would fight, Lucy and Levy would roll their eyes and the boys would end up in some sort of wrestling hold one tried (and usually failed) to get out of. As usual.

Sometimes Cana joined the brawl. (Hell, sometimes even Erza did. And Lucy. No one is old enough for roughhousing, apparently.) But more often, the brunette would ignore them and go straight to cuddling Lucy, or resting her head on Erza's lap, or draping an arm on Natsu or Gray's shoulders. Or any other combination with any one of her friends. Either way, her arms were always around someone's waist or neck or arm - Cana was a creature of physical contact and casual intimacy.

Sometimes Natsu would shout "Incoming!" and jump into some poor guy's back. He got dared to try it on Lucy once, just for kicks. Lucy budged a couple inches max, then simply shifted a bit and carried him all the way to the classroom. It was a lesson to all that a) you should never underestimate cheerleaders and b) there's a reason Lucy Heartfilia got along so well with Natsu Dragneel.

Even the other ones (the usually quieter ones) were no exception, it seemed.

Of course, there was Levy and her boys. She always leaned most comfortably against Droy, and had no problem whenever Jet played with her already messy hair. When they hung out, sometimes she would prop her feet in his lap.

Laki never flinched when Gray ran a hand through her hair after fixing the ribbon on the back of her head. They talked about Saturday Night Plans with Gray's arm casually slung over her shoulders that at first Gajeel thought it was Laki (and not Lucy or Cana) who Juvia should be worried about in her silly 'Love Rivals' talk, until he found out that their Saturday Night Plans usually involved being giant art nerds in the Olietta Workshop together.

Whenever Warren sidled up beside Max and nudged him with an elbow, Max only smirks back - an inside joke maybe, or there was something else that they noticed and were keeping to themselves. It would get even more disconcerting when Laki perches her head on one of their shoulders and joins in the knowing smirking. They were usually quiet, the three of them, but it was a quiet borne of preferring to sit back and watch the rest of their merry band of friends embarrass themselves. Sometimes with commentary.

Bisca and Alzack always sat with no space between them, content, smiling, and sometimes whispering in each other's ears. Then again, Bisca was a bit like Cana in that regard. Whenever she would meet Erza to walk together, their arms would be linked one second in. After a good game in the arcade, she'll throw an arm over the shoulder of whoever her partner was. If it was a really good game, you also get a hug. If it was a record-breaking one, you get to twirl her around too.

Then there was Mirajane - who fixed everyone's collars and brushed soap suds from her part-timers' hair. She held your hand when you got upset. She kissed everyone's cheek in greeting. She reminded you that if you don't have a mom, she was always willing to play the part. (She didn't say that exactly, but she gave off that kind of vibe, so.)

The band was a more exclusive bunch, their closeness usually reserved to each other, but they never felt unwelcoming to their other friends. Bixlow was made up of high-fives and fist-bumps and mischievous elbowing. Freed was a hand on one's shoulder, calming. Laxus was a clap on your back, grounding. Even Evergreen who was rarely one to initiate, leaned in to warm, friendly touch when offered.

Neither Gajeel nor Juvia were accustomed to such open displays of affection.

It didn't matter that much at first, it was just another fact to know about their friends, but things changed when they realized that said affection was actually extended to the two of them.

Because they were friends now. Naturally.

The first time Gajeel realized this was on his first time at Gray-and-Cana's. He agreed to come to a 'party' for once because Juvia said she'll be less awkward with him around. Because they didn't know (yet) that 'come over by 6' meant 'we expect people to arrive by 6:30', the two of them arrived at 5:45.

Gray was turning the kitchen upside down looking for something while Cana took Juvia with her to buy some snacks.

It was kinda weird, seeing Juvia so close to another person. He watched the surprised expression on her face when Cana linked arms with her as if they've been doing so for years. He saw Juvia's awkward smile at the close proximity, how it blossomed into a shy giggle when Cana cracked a joke. He watched her tensed shoulders relax by the second, until she got swept up by the brunette's pace.

She was still a bit meek, Gajeel could see, but it was a start.

A few minutes after they had gone, Natsu and Lucy arrived. And despite the presence of the loveseat and the many comfy bean bags around, the pair settled themselves on the couch beside Gajeel. Because of course for these people, the closer the better.

(Gajeel had a thought then: if they hung out in a room full of several spacious couches, would they all try to squeeze together as many people in one couch before moving on to another?)

They filled the awkward silence with their banter: good-natured teasing at how early Gajeel arrived ("Are you that hungry? You know there's only gonna be junk food here, right?"), trying to get him to join them in bugging Gray ("Did you lose your underwear again? Get a grip, dude." - "I'm looking for more glasses, you idiot!") and finally asking Gajeel if he wanted to play a game or do something because they were bored ("You've been here for like 3 minutes." - "Yeah, and we're bored!" - "Christ, what are you, eight?").

Then Lucy perked up and did she really have to sparkle like that? "Hey, you play guitar, right?"

Gajeel looked away before grumbling, "Yeah- No- A bit. What 'bout it?"

Natsu didn't need prompting as he clambered over the back of the couch to poke his head in the tiny kitchen. "Gray, you still got your guitar?"

"You mean Cana's guitar. I think it's still in her room." they heard Gray answer.

"Ya think she'll mind if we borrow it?"

"Nah. Knock yourself out." was the nonchalant reply. Natsu headed towards Cana's open bedroom. "Hey, watch your step in there-"

"Chill, Ice Queen! I won't step on the five million plushies in here! Oh shit- TOGEPI!"

"How dare you step on Togepi!" Lucy called out accusingly.

"I'M SORRY, TOGEPI!"

After more banter in which apparently Natsu also managed to crush My Melody by accident, he came back with an old acoustic guitar. He made a show of blowing dust off it before handing it to Gajeel and settling back down on the couch. "C'mon, man, do your thing."

"Uh." Gajeel started, awkwardly adjusting the instrument in his arms. "I haven't played in a while."

"It's okay, just play anything!" Lucy said excitedly, shifting closer. She stopped when Gajeel leaned backwards. "Oops, sorry. D'you need more space?"

"Let 'im breathe." Gray chimed in, perching on the couch's armchair.

Again, Gajeel thought - they must have missed the presence of the loveseat and the bean bags.

Not wanting to make the situation more awkward, Gajeel shook his head. "Nah, it's-... fine. I guess. Err."

His instincts told him that he needed an escape route because he was surrounded, then he crushed it because he knew those days were over. Here, being huddled like this was... a good thing. Maybe.

"Lucy, you sing!" Natsu suggested.

Lucy only blinked and peered at Gajeel. "Do you want me to sing?"

"Uhhh, sure."

"Okay! What song?"

That was how Cana and Juvia found them, both visibly lighting up at the scene of Lucy singing an easy mellow pop song that could be played with three chords, with Gajeel as her meek accompaniment. When the song finished, he returned Natsu's high-five and tried not to let his surprise show when Lucy excitedly squeezed his shoulder and shook him telling him it was great and does he know other songs?

He got a hair-ruffling from Cana and a pleased smile from Juvia as they walked by to bring their purchases to the kitchen.

The others started arriving after that, and if Gajeel thought they were touchy at school - well, they were obviously cozier at home.

There was Natsu, settled on the floor between Lucy's legs. Erza's head was on Bisca's shoulder as she leaned on Alzack's side. There was Levy already sandwiched between Jet and Droy. Cana had her head on Laki's lap, letting the other girl run her fingers through brown curls. Max had his feet propped up on Warren's legs. Even Juvia found herself sitting beside Gray, shoulder-to-shoulder. She was blushing furiously, of course. Gray didn't seem to notice as he was busy switching channels in the TV to catch a movie everyone would agree to watch.

As for him, Gajeel settled on a bean bag by Juvia's feet. They weren't quite touching, but this was still closer than their usual. Through the night, he had gotten several shoulder pats, fist-bumps, playful shoves and side nudges.

It was a new thing. He wasn't used to it. He thought it wasn't bad. He decided he didn't mind.

He quietly observed Lucy leaning over Gray to say something to Juvia. Whatever it was made Juvia laugh, and Gray look over to them with a raised eyebrow. Lucy teased him, Juvia giggled, and Gray scolded them, playfully tugging at Lucy's side-ponytail before pinching Juvia's cheek. Lucy laughed, while Juvia squeaked, stammered and blushed until Gray withdrew, growing slightly concerned.

"Oh, shit. Sorry. Did that hurt?"

"N-No, Gray-sama can pinch Juvia all he wants!"

"You're weird." - then he pinched her nose this time and Juvia only whined ("Gray-samaaaa!"), embarrassed.

They stopped when 21 Jump Street came up on the TV and everyone told Max, who had taken over to switching channels, to "STOP! STOP, WE'RE WATCHING THIS!"

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When Gajeel and Juvia finally made their way home, they walked side-by-side, closer to each other than usual.

"So that was a straight up riot." Gajeel said, for lack of anything else to say to get Juvia to talk. About how she felt after their first weekend night party with that bunch of people they call their new friends.

"Didn't Gajeel-kun have fun?" Juvia asked, brows furrowed.

He shrugged. "I guess. They were loud, though."

"But it was fun." Juvia quipped, this time smiling lightly. "Everyone was so friendly and… Juvia feels… warm."

"You coming down with a fever?"

She groaned and did something she had never done before.

She poked his arm.

"Gajeel-kun, don't be crude."

It was subtle, casual, over and done with in a second - but it was something he was sure she learned from the others.

And again - he didn't mind. Instead, to let her know she wasn't the only one learning new things around here, he stepped closer just enough so he can nudge her playfully with his elbow.

"Whatever. You just wanna hang with 'em so you can sit beside your crush."

"E-Eh? No, that's not-... Well-... A bit, but-"

"You know he's a stripper, right?"

"Gajeel-kun!"

"And a player, too. He looked real cozy with those girls-"

"Gray-sama wasn't-... Gray-sama noticed Juvia too, right?"

"No, he didn't-"

"He did!"

"Nah, probably thought you were weird-"

"He said that, but Gray-sama is a good person-"

"Yeah, he's a real lady-killer."

"N-No, that's not- That's not true!"

He only sniggered and kept on teasing until they arrived home.

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A/N: I'm a cuddle monster. So I'm fond of the headcanon that the FT kids are very comfortable with each other too. Gajeel and Juvia both being loners before joining the group made me think that they never really experienced being close enough to someone else to let their guard down enough and allow physical affection.

I hope you enjoyed this one!