A/N: EVERYONE PLEASE READ BEFORE READING THIS STORY!
Before reading, know that this story is about cancer. If you're sensitive to that, please don't read this. Also, I'm no medical expert, and while I did research what I could, I'm not an expert on stomach cancer. I have had family members battle different types of cancer, but not stomach cancer. I tried my best and did a lot of research for this story. That being said, there are still probably areas that aren't one hundred percent accurate, so please forgive me. I tried to be respectful in all areas - I didn't want to make light of such a horrible disease, but again, I'm not an expert. Let's all just remember that this is only a fanfiction :)
That being said, please enjoy the story!
"Six months, tops."
Porlyusica flipped through the paperwork from his file. Gajeel's case had been bizarre, at best. It was uncommon for cancer to show in the late stages without any symptoms or warning, but he always had been a rebel. As far as Gajeel knew, it was a routine check up—he felt as healthy and strong as an ox. But that routine check up turned into a diagnosis that changed everything. Doctors were stumped by his diagnosis. While many people discovered their cancer when it had already progressed into the late stages, usually those people came in because they were experiencing symptoms or feeling sick for unexplained reasons. Gajeel had felt fine. No sickness, no symptoms.
She looked up at him, shifting her glasses on the bridge of her nose.
"You're a fool if you turn down chemotherapy." Scarlet eyes framed in wrinkles studied him, and she sighed when he didn't answer. "At least think it over. Perhaps you'll change your mind—I'd hate to see such talent like yours wasted."
Gajeel scoffed. "Right. We done here? I got a class to get to."
The elderly doctor sighed and took off her glasses. "Yes, we're done."
Gajeel grunted and stood, grabbing his leather jacket from the back of the chair and slinging it over his shoulder.
Given six months to live wasn't nearly as traumatic as it should have been. Instead, it was almost a relief. His whole life had been a series of misfortune and tragedy, and he was nothing but a monster. Who would even care if he was gone?
"Have a good day, Gajeel! We'll see you next week!"
Well, she probably would.
He gave a short nod to the nurse-in-training behind the receptionist desk. Wendy was a sweet kid, loved healing people and helping the clinic staff. At only thirteen, she was a prodigy in medicinal studies, and already attending college for nursing. Gajeel had come to know her pretty well over the last year, and she seemed to favor him for some odd reason. She made sure to greet him each and every time he came for a weekly appointment, and she sent him off with a warm smile. At Christmas, she brought all the patients homemade cookies and passed them out the entire week, even made ones with extra chocolate just for him. He had no clue what he did to get in her good graces, but he didn't mind. She was probably the only reason he actually went to his appointments at all—he just couldn't let the poor girl down.
Though it was well masked behind false cheerfulness, the look on her face said clearly that she knew about what Dr. Porlyusica told him. Her sparkling brown eyes revealed a hint of sadness when she looked up at him, and the familiar pull of guilt tugged at his heart. She knew he was given only six months. She knew he'd refused chemotherapy, yet again. She knew he would die, and though she was hiding it well, her smile was too strained and tight, her eyes too dull.
Gajeel hesitated, turning around and ruffling her hair. "Sorry, kid."
Her smile cracked and she swallowed, nodding.
"I'm a lost case, kid. Don't worry about me."
Watery eyes met his, and he gave her head one last gentle pat before pushing the front door open.
He paused to look over his shoulder.
Tears fell from her eyes and she flashed him a warm smile. "If you ever need anything— anything… You let me know, okay?"
He chuckled, nodded, and pushed past the door.
A solitary white flower petal fell from the blooming tree above him, landing in his unruly black hair, and Gajeel batted it away as he crossed the street and waited for the next bus to campus. He had an hour until his next class, and it was only a five minute ride from the clinic to his stop. That would give him time to swing by his apartment on campus to get his books—he'd still have plenty of time to walk to the engineering building, the tall brick building lined with oak trees near the astronomy building and adjacent to the park in the campus center.
Shit, forgot to feed Lily, he thought. He made a mental note to put food in his bowl while he was home. Pantherlily was his one and only companion. He'd been with Gajeel through thick and thin, and they were a team. A completely messed up team. Both once loners, they were the perfect pair. Gajeel didn't even know he wanted a cat until he found Lily, and now he couldn't imagine going home to a place without him. Besides, he was alone enough in life, even with Pantherlily.
At seven years old, the only father Gajeel Redfox had ever known abandoned him. Up and left one morning without a word. Foster care was a nightmare—the crazy old man that took him in ended up in prison for numerous crimes. He could still see the headlines…
"Jose Porla arrested on multiple counts of drug dealing and possession, kidnapping, and capital murder. Life sentence, on track to execution."
Finally, Gajeel managed to get away from that piece of shit and start piecing his life back together, and when he actually decided to make something of himself, he found out he has cancer.
Funny how when you finally decide to turn your life around and make something of yourself, the universe decides you're not worth it. Gajeel was fighting an aggressive form of cancer; a tumor in his stomach they discovered turned out to be cancerous, and though it was relatively small and completely hidden as it wasn't protruding the skin, it was vicious. Now the cancer had spread, forming several tiny cancerous clusters around the tumor site. Doctors tried to convince him to take a break from college courses, and Porlyusica, his personal oncologist assigned to him after his diagnosis a year prior, was persistent in convincing him to undergo chemotherapy. Gajeel's reasoning in declining was simple enough.
He wanted to die.
Simple as that. No complicated reasons, just plain and simple, easy to understand. He wanted to die. Suicide was for cowards—a quick end. The way he saw it, he was nothing but scum. A scarred man with a scarred past who deserved the end he would get. He'd never been a help to anyone, turned down by every foster family since he was seven, when his dad abandoned him, until he got landed with Jose. Then his life really started going downhill, if that were even possible.
All Gajeel's existence caused was misery, and all the trouble he got into when he was younger solidified the fact that he was truly nothing but trash. If the universe decided to take him out, he would embrace the chance. Shitty luck though. He had just started to clean his life up and get his act together. Studying to be a mechanical engineer was his way to prove how he'd changed, how the past was behind him. He'd get on the right track and finally make something of himself. Chemotherapy would only get in the way and ruin what little time he had left. He would spend the rest of his time here in Magnolia, attending university in some feeble attempt to correct his sins—but it would never erase the scars. Death would be inevitable, and when it came, he would accept it peacefully.
Regardless, if he were being truthful, it sucked. He didn't care if he died, but dying alone just pissed him off—and in some deeper part of his soul that he kept locked away, it scared him. No one would remember him, no one would miss him.
Finding out you have cancer is one hell of a ride, but finding out alone is a nightmare. Gajeel could remember the day clearly. The doctor had said it so nonchalantly, and he could remember just trying to breathe right as his tiny, delicately mended world came crashing down around him.
"Well?" Gajeel grunted. "What is it?"
The doctor sighed and looked over the paperwork a final time before looking up at Gajeel. "I'm sorry, son. The cells are, in fact, cancerous."
Gajeel could feel the breath leaving his body, the numbness settling in. Typical—just when he was starting to atone, just when he was starting to clean up. He snorted and leaned back in the chair, much to the doctor's shock.
"It's actually one of the strangest cases we've ever seen," the man said cautiously, rubbing the brown stubble on his chin. "In most cases we've worked with, cancer is spotted early on, and if it's discovered late, they're in later stages just because it wasn't checked early enough. From what we can tell, your illness seemed to have skipped the early stages altogether. Like it just happened overnight. It's quite a severe case. If you look here," her held out a picture of the x-ray scan, "there's a small tumor here."
He watched for some response from Gajeel and got none.
"I have to tell you," the man said, softer, "it doesn't look good. Treatment will be rough, and you'll have some surgeries in your future."
Gajeel rolled his eyes. "Look, give me whatever medications you want, and I'll take it, but chemo is out of the question. I ain't about to be some poor sap who lays in a hospital bed all day. I'll die before that happens."
The doctor fumbled, stunned. "Mr. Redfox, if you don't get treatment—" He looked down and sighed. "If you don't get treatment, you'll die. This is serious, one of the most intense cases I've seen in a very long time."
Gajeel slammed his fist into the arm of the chair as he stood. "Listen, bastard, I didn't ask for a damn lecture. What the hell does it matter if I die, huh?"
He ended up getting some of the minor surgeries done, and he still visited his oncologist for a weekly appointment. She gave him a lot of medication needed to ease the pain and more medicine to fight off the side effects of that medicine, and it did slow down his death, if only a little. But he was getting sicker and sicker, his symptoms stronger. Stomach pain was nearly constant. He'd lost a bit of weight, he was constantly fighting a losing battle with fatigue, and he was almost always sleepy. It would only be a matter of time now. Gajeel wasn't even sure he would make it the six months he'd been given.
After the bus arrived, he trudged in and took the short ride to the university, getting off at the first stop within the campus. His apartment building stood proud amidst the trees, across from rows of dorms. He entered in his key code, stepping into the lobby. The elevator played annoying music as it climbed to the twelfth floor. His fingers thrummed against the rail as he waited, his irritation growing with each ding, signaling the doors opening to let in another student. Being centrally located on the campus, this apartment complex was ideal for busy students, and Gajeel preferred living alone rather than being paired with some annoying roommate. The guys he shared his floor with were more than he bargained for as it is. They were nice enough, but they still annoyed him.
The pyro annoyed him the most. Gajeel shared a wall with the pink-haired freak, and though he was a good guy, he was a freaking idiot. And his girlfriend was a complete airhead, despite being considerably smarter than her fire-obsessed counterpart. She was sweet, though. But Natsu was just odd…
Gajeel would come home after a long day of classes and a shift at the repair shop, fully prepared to spend an hour on homework and then enjoy a soda before he passed out—cancer made certain to wipe all his energy. Dragneel had other plans though, sometimes blasting loud music or god knows what. The occasional loud, but entirely unexplained, explosion sometimes shook the adjoining wall. Gajeel was used to it.
Dragneel's best friend, Gray Fullbuster, lived further on down the hall, and he was considerably easier to get along with. If they ever crossed paths, they would nod, maybe exchange a quick greeting, but that was it. Nothing complicated. No explosions, which was a massive bonus. The only person on his floor he really had a problem with was the athlete at the end of the hall who looked like he'd doped up on steroids for ten years. Elfman Strauss, Magnolia's star linebacker. Great football player but dumber than a bag of soap. The guy was huge, and way too obsessed with proving his masculinity—Gajeel had a theory about that.
Dreyer and Fernandes were by far the easiest to get along with, and both pretty much kept to themselves. Gajeel really appreciated that, especially considering the pyro freak he dealt with next door. Plus, Dreyer's girlfriend was great. Mira kept to herself for the most part, and she'd bring Gajeel any extra food she made for Laxus—her chocolate chip cookies were to die for. Jellal's fiancé, Erza, wasn't bad either. A little scary sometimes, but they shared a calculus class on Fridays and she'd give him notes if he ever missed a day.
Gajeel stepped out of the elevator, digging the key out of his pocket.
"Hey, Gajeel!" Lucy, Natsu's airhead girlfriend, waved at him as she exited Natsu's apartment. Her blonde ponytail swayed behind her as she bounced over to him. "How are you?"
He nodded. "Fine. You?"
"I'm great! I'll see you around—"
The blonde girl halted mid-sentence when she noticed Juvia walking down the hall. The blue-haired woman smiled at Gajeel, waving at him.
Lucy beamed. "Oh, Juvia! You ready to go?"
"Juvia is always ready to go shopping!" She linked arms with Lucy. "Gray-sama gave Juvia some money to spend—"
Gajeel was already inside his apartment by the time they finally left. Not that girl talk didn't sound like an absolute peach—really, it was just so damn thrilling—but he really had to get to class. A squeaky meow broke the silence in his small apartment, and he looked down when a large, shiny black cat rubbed against his leg. Gajeel gave a small smile.
"What do you want?" He bent over to pick the cat up, scratching behind his ear. "Lil, when are you gonna learn to meow like a man?"
A small squeak was his reply, and he laughed.
He stepped into the living room, chucking his bag of medications on the kitchen counter, and flopped onto the couch, Pantherlily hopping up onto the windowsill behind him. Gajeel had over-exerted himself that morning at the gym. Too much exercise… Probably a bad idea when you were on cancer medications. Actually, exercising like that at all was probably a really bad idea when you had cancer. He'd be in bed all afternoon once he finished class. He tied his hair into a low ponytail before taking some of the medication he'd been given to ease the pain in his stomach, then some horse-sized pills to combat the nausea those pills would cause.
For a moment he considered skipping class he was so drained, but that wouldn't do him any good. He wished he could just collapse on his couch with his cat and sleep the day away.
Gajeel felt most at peace in his apartment. There was a combined space with a kitchen and living room right off the entryway, then a small hall connecting to a bathroom and a decently spacious bedroom. It was small, but it had good windows, a wood burning fireplace, and the fridge was pretty big. What else did he need? Sure, lots of people would prefer something larger with more space, but for him and Lily? This was perfect. The hardwood floors creaked just right when he stepped in certain places, and the ceiling fan in the bedroom was a bit janky, but it only made it feel more lived in. Gajeel never once had a life of luxury, so this was what he was used to. What he preferred. Material possessions weren't important, so why start pretending to care now?
After saying a quick goodbye to his cat and adding more food to his bowl, he grabbed the bag by the door that held his books and notes, but before he could leave his eyes landed on the medical forms he'd received from his appointment the week before. He had half a mind to give it to Natsu to set on fire, but he wouldn't. Finally he sighed, stuffing the papers into his back pocket as he charged out the door.
Gajeel grunted as the earbud he wore slipped out, again. Four times, too many. He ripped the other out of his ear and shoved his phone back into his pocket. On his way out of his apartment building, his better set of headphones broke, leaving him with the shitty pair of earbuds shoved in the bottom of his bag. They worked most of the time, but after popping out of his ears too many times he'd had enough and given up entirely.
There were only three more buildings to pass before he reached his class hall. Only a few more minutes of walking, by his estimation. After crossing the street, and angrily dodging a bicyclist who clearly didn't care he was there, Gajeel slowly trudged up the sidewalk, the crisp spring air cool against his skin. He was sure he was running a fever, but that was no surprise. This new medicine he was on didn't agree with him all that well, but it helped for the most part.
He pulled the forms from the oncologist's office out of his back pocket to look over them for what seemed like the thousandth time. Damn doctors were persistent. They kept telling him how severe his case was, how he could die if he didn't get treatment immediately, and it pissed him off more and more. Like he didn't already know all that. Their constant reminders were just annoying.
A sudden gust of wind forced his hair forward, white flower petals from fresh spring blooms fell around him like snow and mingled with the wind that seemed to push him forward, and the forms slipped out of his hand. The last thing he needed was someone seeing his medical paperwork and finding out he has cancer.
He lunged forward, attempting to grab the paper, but the wind carried it steadily to the nearest building, and when a student opened the door and walked out, the paper and several flower petals were blown inside. Gajeel sighed and moved toward the door. The building was smaller, made entirely of brick, with large windows on the front side. He'd passed it several times, and from what he could tell, it was some sort of dance studio. He knew Magnolia University had a pretty extensive dance program—a lot of people came from all over Fiore to dance there. Why Magnolia, he would never know, but apparently dancing with Magnolia's program could take you places. But this? This must have been just a practice building… There's no way this was it.
Gajeel stepped up to the door, hand on the doorknob and ready to turn. An angry glance was shot in the direction of the window, and he was left breathless when a cloud passed over the sun, allowing him to see through the glass. Time stopped. His pulse quickened. The wind seemed to slow down and the earth, surely, stopped spinning. The only thing he could see was her.
Tiny and beautiful, moving gracefully to music he could faintly hear from where he watched outside. Her cerulean hair sprung out wildly from a white headband, her perfect face framed by soft waves. Eyes of pure gold were shaded under lashes that could create wind all on their own. Her lips curved into a smile as she danced to the music, moving in time with the riff of the piano. Gajeel's brain had melted. She was, in a word, perfect.
The petite woman arched beautifully, her short legs seemingly long as she moved gracefully on the tips of her toes across the floor, twirling elegantly into a pirouette and extending her arms and one leg behind her. Damn. Gajeel couldn't see anything but her. The black long-sleeved leotard she wore hugged her body like a second skin, and the thigh-high gray leg warmers looked strangely sexy. His gaze landed on her feet, where scuffed satin pointe shoes covered her bandaged feet. The marks along the once-pristine shoes painted a picture of her working hard, practicing constantly, and her skill level in the way she turned and moved proved that image to be true.
The curve of her spine, her graceful neck… Those beautiful, womanly hips and full lips. Gajeel could almost guarantee the way she moved would be just as enticing if he put his—
No. He cleared his throat. Pull your shit together, dick head.
With probably too much force, he swung the door open. The metal handle clanged against the brick wall, leaving a small dent on the knob, and he brushed past the door and into the studio.
Gajeel tried desperately to ignore the dancing woman not twenty feet away, who somehow didn't even notice his entry. Blood red eyes scanned the floor in a desperate search for his papers. Finally he spared a glance across the studio where the angel— woman was dancing to the soft instrumental music echoing through the room, and his eyes landed on the paper. Too late he saw her moving toward it, and when she delicately pressed the tip of her foot onto the paper, it slid out from under her and she yelped as she tumbled to the ground.
"Shit," Gajeel grumbled. He ran to her, kneeling down to help lift her up. "You alright?"
She nodded, looking up to him with wide eyes.
"You didn't twist your ankle, did ya?"
For a moment she stared at him, entranced—the cage of butterflies in the pit of her stomach exploding, releasing small flutters in her gut. He was so unique, and dangerously handsome. And tall! His body was solid muscle covered by tanned skin. From his black unruly long hair to his piercings, he was beautiful. And that scowl that seemingly painted its way onto his face was, in an odd sort of way, adorable. Though, he looked a bit exhausted, and the angle of his cheekbones jutted out just a bit in an almost unhealthy way…
The leather of his jacket crinkled as he extended a large hand toward her, which seemed to snap her out of it.
"Oh." She took his hand and squeaked when he lifted her off the ground with ease. She cautiously pressed her foot to the floor, carefully rolling her ankle, and sighed in relief. "No injury, thank goodness! I would have been devastated…"
Gajeel could feel the color burning in his cheeks. Her smile was like a ray of sunshine battling away the shadows of his soul. At a closer glance, she was nearly flat-chested—something he'd never found appealing before—but with her he couldn't seem to care less. Besides, the generous curve of her hips and rear more than made up for it.
"Thank you for helping me!"
He nodded. "Sure."
"I don't mean to sound rude, but what are you doing here?" The tiny woman leaned to the side, stretching her obliques gracefully. She smiled sweetly. "You don't strike me as the ballet type."
Gajeel snorted. "Far from it. Wind blew my papers inside." He shrugged. "Came in to get them."
He bent forward to pick them up quickly, before the angel—woman, damn it, woman—could help him and see what was on the papers. Last thing he needed was for her to see that… People tended to get all guarded when they found out you have cancer. Or they get that face. The "oh, you poor dear" face. Nothing pissed him off more, made him feel lower, than that look. But something about this woman made him want to hide his illness more than usual. For some reason, the thought of her looking at him like that nearly broke his heart.
She looked down and, with a tiny 'oh', stepped aside when she realized she was standing on the last one. "That's what I slipped on! I was wondering…"
"Yeah…" Gajeel scratched the back of his neck and quickly picked up the remaining paper. "Sorry 'bout that."
She laughed again, and Gajeel watched in awe as she pulled her right leg up, extending it straight over her head as she stretched, leaning to the opposite side. When she straightened, her delicate hands pulled her short cerulean hair into a bun. Curls sprung out around her face and the base of her neck, and she huffed grumpily—Gajeel couldn't help but laugh.
"What's so funny?"
Gajeel smirked. "You're—" Freaking adorable, his brain supplied. He blushed and cleared his throat. "Nothin'." He looked down at his watch and sighed. Of all the times to have to be somewhere, it had to be now. "I got a class to get to. Sorry I interrupted."
She smiled and shook her head. "Not at all. It gave me a nice break to stretch and meet someone new and exciting."
Gajeel nodded, internally puffed up that she found him exciting, and turned to the door, pausing briefly to regard her over his shoulder. "Ya dance really well. Glad I got to see it." And then he left, completely missing her face light up in pink as he waved over his shoulder.
Once the door was shut, he grimaced. What the hell? 'Glad I got to see it?' Moron.
His admittance shocked even himself. The wind blew through the trees, pushing his ruffled long hair over his shoulder, and he heard the music start back up. Without considering the consequences, he peeked through the window to see her stretching again, one leg propped on the wall high over her head. As soon as he could wrap his head around the position she was in, she was down, elegantly moving to the center of the room as she extended her arms, twirling on one foot. She moved into an arabesque that steadily transitioned into a pirouette, her straightened foot steady as she twirled with one leg extended straight behind her. The arch of her back was deliciously beautiful when she bent to extend her leg.
Gajeel swallowed back his pounding heartbeat and forced himself to walk away. He didn't have the time to stand there like an idiot all day and watch her dance—though he wished he did.
With one last longing glance, he willed his legs to carry him the last stretch to the engineering building. His pace was growing slower and slower, and his body felt heavy. New medicine's a bitch… At this rate he'd have to call Rogue and let him know he couldn't make it to work; hopefully he could take his shift. Unfortunately, Gajeel would have to throw in the towel today.
He continued down the sidewalk, slowly passing each building, until he reached his destination. A large flyer for the ballet program was posted on the bulletin board in the lobby, and he studied it briefly, his mind wandering back to the girl in the studio.
Yeah, definitely glad I got to see it.
A/N: I will be posting a new chapter every Monday, so if you enjoyed, be watching out for that! :) Thank you so much for reading! Please leave a review, and I'll see you next week!