A/N: Well, this has been a long time coming, and it was a dooozy to write with my new job pinning me down as it is. Sorry for the pitifully short chapter; I needed to get the ball rolling as well as give a certain someone a shot at some one-on-one time with Naruto. And that someone is not Hinata or Mirajane...
"Don't you dare tell anyone about this!"
The Coming Storm
"Isn't there anything you can do?"
Naruto asked this to Makarov as the old man looked over the eerie tomoe tatto adjourning the back of his neck. This curse mark as he'd come to call it, had been a source of constant pain for him going on several days now and with his training complete and the tournament fast approaching, the son of Tobias wasn't willing to push his limits anymore than he already had. He wanted to be at his very best when the brawl began. Hence the reason he stood stock still here and now in basement of Fairy Tail, surrounded by occult pillars of glowing crystalline light.
"Hmm...gve me a moment.
Master Makarov, now slightly taller than him thanks in part to his Titan magic, peered at the seal intently. He mumbled a few words, fingers wreathed in golden glow. Naruto felt a sharp, stabbing pain in the back of his neck as the old man removed his hand and then...nothing. He blinked, touched a hand to his neck. Still nothing. All he felt was a throbbing sensation in the base of his spine and before long, he didn't even feel that. He turned round as the master stepped backward, receding to his former height.
"Well?" the blond inquired.
"Whomever did this to you, they obviously knew what they were doing." Makarov frowned. "That mark of yours, its designed to draw on your second origin, putting an exceptional strain on your body in the proccess. If you hadn't been as strong as you are, no, possibly because of that, he decided to mark you.
"He?" Naruto swallowed once, hoping-praying-the old man hadn't discovered the truth.
"Orochimaru targeted you specifically because you've already awakened your second origin."
Naruto didn't so much as bat an eyelash at the terminology. Of course he knew of second origin. Unlocking the second container of magical energy within him was one the very first things Tobias had done for him. Thus the reason he had so much magical power. More than a dragon slayer or any A-Class mage should. Few knew of its existence, this second origin, but those who did were said to be amongst the mightiest mages in all of history. Some of those mages were now part of the Ten Wizard Saints.
What alarmed him was this:
"You know Orochimaru?"
The master's face darkened.
"He was more an aquaintance than an actual friend."
Naruto waited, half-expecting a story behind the tale, but all he found was silence.
"No matter what, you must never confront him a second time." Makarov said suddenly.
"What makes you think I'd do that?"
"I've seen mages with this mark before, Naruto." His tone turned grave. "Those afflicted went mad within days, and those who didn't, were slowly altered. Their personalities warped, their views distorted, by the desire for one thing above all else. Power. Be it for vengeance or justice or a lack thereof, this man corrupted honest men and women, luring them to him so that they might become his pawns. And now he's marked you. You understand the significance of this, I trust?"
"You think I'll end up like them." It was not a question.
"You have plenty of power already, Naruto." Makarov cautioned. "Plenty of people to ground you. People who care about you. Mira, Cana, Hinata, to name a few. Whether that will prevent you from uprooting yourselves in pursuit of this man, remains to be seen." He watched the blond carefully, awaiting the eventual explosion that was sure to come. To his credit the young man defied his expectations yet again. Blue eyes snapped into red and his fists clenched, but that was all; as a muscle jumped in the boy's jaw. When he spoke his words were soft and smooth, betraying none of the inner turmoil raging within his chest.
"You're not going to let me compete in the tournament, are you?"
"Of course I am!" Makarov laughed heartily, utterly sundering the mood.
Naruto nearly fell over.
"But didn't you just say-
"You'll be fine!" The third master of Fairy Tail bellowed heartily, clapping him on the back. "Besides, if you rage out of control, I'll just send Mira after you."
This time, Naruto really did fall over.
"When did you...?"
"I know more than you might think." His eyes twinkled.
Mollified, he turned aside, gingerly fingering the mark upon his neck. It continued to throb beneath his fingers, but the dull ache was a mere shadow of its former self. Slowing, the dragon slayer realized he had nothing to do. Laxus and Hinata were gone, preparing for the tournament. Mirajane had vanished the day after she'd found him, without so much as a word of goodybe. If Elfman hadn't been the one to avail him of their secret takeover training, he'd never have known what she was planning. And thus, he found he had nothing to do. He'd at least three days left to him now, leaving him feeling oddly agitated.
Three days with nothing to do.
"Guess I'll go back to th dorms or something." he mused, thrusting his hands into his pockets.
Three days of peace and quiet.
It was not to be.
He abruptly felt a tug on one of his gauntleted hands. Looking over, he found himself staring into a pair of warm brown eyes, a pair he recognized all too well. Cana Alberona stared back at him, a slight frown upon her lips, her usual smugness-and barrel of beer-nowhere to be seen. She clung tightly to him, both hands wrapped firmly around his wrist and hand, as if he were a liferaft in the storm-tossed sea and to release him meant certain death. Naruto found this strange. He'd never seen her this serious before. Add to that the fact that she was holding his hand with everyone watching, and he knew something was wrong.
"Something wrong?" Naruto asked Cana.
She fidgeted beneath his gaze, fretting under the weight of his stare. At length, certain he would not flee, she released his hand and brought her own to her chest. Cana wasn't flat even before he'd joined the guild, now and here, he could see that she really was beginning to blossom. Her brown curls had grown a good length longer now that he looked at her-really looked at her, and it was with some disbelief that he realized she'd had taken to wearing a revealing bikini top above her slacks, one she filled out quit nicely. The conversation he'd had with Tobias all those years ago suddenly pricked at him.
Has she always been this quite?
"There's something I need to tell you."
Before he could ask what that something was, card-mage grabbed him by the hand and yanked him outside.
"Come with me!"
"Oi! Cana!" Naruto yelped as she dragged him along. "Where are you taking me!" Though he could easily have broken her hold at any time, he allowed her to lead him on, until, remarkably enough, he found himself at the girl's dormitory. Cana hesistated only a moment before dragging him inside, guiding him through the halls leading to her dorm. Her cheeks blazed whenever they passed one of the other girls, and when inquired as to why she'd brought a boy into the dorms, her answer was to run even faster than before.
Finally, they arrived at her room.
Cana's first act was to lock and deadbolt the door. She collapsed against it, chest heaving, gasping for breath. Naruto, not even winded by the sudden run, though still very much annoyed by it, allowed the cadre mage to catch her breath and turn around before speaking.
"Well, I certainly didn't think I'd ever end up in your room like this." Naruto couldn't help himself. It was first thought that sprang to his mind. He stole a glance at the spartan furnishings of her room and sure enough, a barrel of ale occupied the right corner of her living space. "Planning to drink yourself to death again?"
Behind Cana's pale skin, the slow flushing of her face looked almost like a growing forest fire, and she seemed literally unable to catch her breath. Oh, yes. She remembered. She burned at the memory, of how soundly he'd embarassed her. She'd won of course, but the cost had been high. Much too high. Unthinking in her exasperation, she lashed out in anger. It was a mistake.
"I want your team to drop out of the tournament!" she spat out.
"No." Was Naruto's immediate response.
"But you have to!" She begged. "I need you to!"
Nartuo arched an eyebrow.
"And why would I do that?"
"Because I have no chance of defeating you." Her expression was sullen, petulant.
"Cana," Naruto shook his head, "You're not making any sense."
Cana sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose.
"Maybe I should just start from the beginning." she crossed the room, and drew out a pair of mugs. "Here. Wanna drink?" Naruto gladly accepted her offer as she flopped onto the bed beside him. He was locked in with her, after all. Booze and a beautiful girl beside him. What could possibly go wrong with that combination? He raised his glass as she filled it and promptly drained it. He had he succint feeling he was going to need every drop by the time she finished her story.
"I'd appreciate that."
Cana seemed to steel herself, took a deep breath, andbegan.
"How much d you know about Gildarts Clive?"
(One lengthy explanation later)
"Gildarts is your father!" Naruto guffawed, jaw striking the floor, along with much of his beer. "Cana, you have got to be kidding me!"
"Believe me, I wish I was." Mollified, Cana hung her head, having related to him her tragic story. "That's why I have to win this contest. If I win...Master might consider me for the upcoming S-Class exam. And If I'm S-Class, I'll finally be able to face my father and-
Naruto wasn't having any of it.
"Bullshit." his voice was cold, intense.
"Excuse me?" the brunette sputtered at his vehemence.
"I said bullshit!" The blond thrust a finger into her face imposingly. "You? Not strong enough? Well, we'll just fucking see about that!" Now it was Naruto's turn to do the dragging, as he seized his friend by the hand and promptly dragged the budding brunette from the room, down the stairs, out the hall, and into town. He paused; searching for something. For someone. Failing to find them, ignoring Cana's yelp of surprise, ignoring her cries of protest, the dragon slayer dragged her into the crowded streets of Multiflora.
Wading through the crush of people he took stock of them,
"Naruto!" She yelped, flinching, and not from the blonde's iron clad grip. "Where are you taking me!"
"Weak my ass." He growled to himself tugging her along beside him. "You're one of the strongest people I know!" He barely noticed when the card mage went from holding his hand to holding his hand, her fingers tight and welded against his fist, locking her fingers within his own. He barely even considered the rammifications of his actions, as they stormed into the guild, hand in hand. Sure enough the one he sought was here as was most of the guild. But more importantly! He was here!
"Oi!" Naruto bellowed, spying said mage out of the corner of his eye. "Gildarts!" When the mage paused, the blond was quick to wave him over. "Over here!" The mightiest man in Faiy Tail slowly turned from the bar as he heard his name called. Before long, he was headed in their direction, every step bringing him closer to them. Closer to the truth. Realizing Naruto's intention, benign though it might be, Cana's eyes bulged. He would not dare. He wouldn't! Actually, he would. This was Naruto they were talking about...
"You idiot, don't!" she hissed, tugging at his arm. "You can't tell him! I'm begging you! Don't!"
"Don't what?" Naruto's grin was fierce as he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "He deserves to know he has a daughter!"
"And I deserve the chance to tell him!"
"Then tell him!" The blond snapped back.
"It's not the right time!"
"The hell it is-
"Sleep!" Cana hissed, drawing her Sleep card and flashing before his eyes. The blond had only an instant to blink before he slumped over, unconcsious. She had to think fast. The spell wouldn't last long, certainly not on a mage of Naruto's calibre. Muttering softly to herself she puhed the blond upright at Gildart's approach, slinging an arm over her shoulder, grunting under his weight. Oof! Bloody hell but he was heavy. Cana found the thought driven from her mind, however, at her father's approach. Her heart ached. How she wanted to tell him! She'd been waiting for so long now! So very long...
"Yo, Cana." Gildart's grinned, blissfully unaware of the inner turmoil raging within his daughter's heart. "Did you want something?"
"I thought I heard Naruto's voice...
"He just wanted to wish you luck during the tournamnet!" She cast an embarassed glance at her partner. "But he fell asleep before he could tell you...guess he's been training too hard." The lie came so easily it hurt. It had always been that way for Cana Alberona. She was a good liar. She was great at lying to her father, even better when it came to lying to herself about her own feelings.
"Is that so?" The man's grin grew. "Tell him when he wakes up: I'm looking forward to our match."
"S-S-So is he!"
She waited until Gildarts had returned to the bar before dragging the blond outside. And not a moment too soon. Azure eyes flutered open, regarding her blearily. But only for an instant. A growl left the dragon slayer's lips as he realized what she'd done, and he pushed himself upright. He started walking, and, not knowing what else to do, she followed. They could've walked for hours, it might've been minutes in her mind. Finally the dragon slayer slowed, pausing at the edge of Multiflora, at the edge of the forest pitted and scarred by last week's battle.
He stopped at the edgeof a battered oak and pinnioned her with a gaze, eyes like winter skies rooting her to the ground. Cana couldn't help herself. Couldn't fight the tears.
"Don't!" She begged, teary-eyed. "I already know what you're going to say! So don't! say it...
Fat salty tears began to pour down her face as her eyes reddened. She began to sniffle through the teardrops.
"I'm really pathetic, aren't I?" she whispered. "Gildarts...I don't even have the guts to confess to my own father. Oh god...I'm so stupid...What am I going to do now? What am I...
All coherent conversation broke down as the young woman was wracked by sobs
Before he knew it she was clinging to him, her hands fisting against the lappels of his jacket, her head buried in his chest. She was crying, he realized. Not for Gildarts; not for the continued denial of the closest thing she'd ever had to a father, but for herself. She was still alone. Cast adrift in this cold, uncaring world, all because of him. A week earlier, he might've said something dumb; stupid, perhaps. Tried to cheer her up. Too his own dismay, he would have failed in his over eagerness. Anything to make those tears go away, to drive the pain out of her eyes, even if only for a moment.
Now, Naruto knew better.
Just as he knew no words could possibly sway her; just as nothing could ebb the tide her grief save those tears. Calmly, the battered blond slowly leaned forward in his chair and took Cana into a tight hug. Cana buried her tear-stained face and tangled hair into Naruto's shoulder, sobbing loudly.
"It'll be alright," he assured her, voice soft. "It'll all be alright. It's not your fault. It's mind. If you want to be angry at someone, then I'm right here."
The girl brought up her head to speak, only to find coherent speech beyond her grief-addled ability.
Naruto continued. "It hurts, I know it does. But it won't help you by feeling guilty over this. It's nothing you did or intended, it's just what happened." He paused, briefly wondering where these words were coming from. Had he always been so apt when it came to comforting forlorn women? Had he? Finding no answer, he gave the mental equivalent of a shrug and pressed onward. "I never knew my parents, and Tobias well, he was the closest thing I had to a father, so I can't really claim to know what it feels like-
Cana was looking at him, expectant, hanging on his every word. Whatever he said next, her fate as a mage hinged on it; he would either cement her belief in him, or solidify her own self-loathing.
"Damnit." The blond sighed and pushed a hand through his hair. "You're not leaving me much choice here, ya know?" He stole a glance at the cloudy sky, at the rays of sunlight defiantly thrusthing their way through all the gloom to brighten the world once more. The sight gave him a idea. It gave him hope. "Ah, hell. We've only got three days, and I might not be a match for Gildarts yet, but even so...
"But?" Cana snifled.
Naruto gave her a terrifying grin as the sun broke through, shatterig the clouds like so much mist.
"I've got an idea."
"I'll train you." he said as easily as one would draw breath. "You might not be able to learn much from me in three days, but still...
Cana briefly found herself wishing she'd told her father after all. But only briefly. Because her fear and trepidation were soon swept up in a tide of relief and exuberance. He'd be with her. Helping her. Training her. Even if it was only for the span of three days...even if she had to face him in the tournament. Honestly, this guy was so...so...incredible. No wonder Mirajane loved him. But even so, even though she respected her friend that much, she couldn't let her gain the advantage.
"Hmm?" the blond blinked at the sudden use of the affectionate suffix. That wasn't like Cana at all. What could she possibly be-
His eyes flew wide open as Cana pushed him back against the tree, momentarily stunning him. The bark creaked, protesting against the sudden strain, but it held, resisting the added weight as the young mage flung an arm around the blonde's neck, cleaved herself against him, and pressed her lips to his. The kiss was soft, shy, tentative, but it was most certainly a kiss. It bespoke of innocence lost and courage gained. Of hope and an overwhelming determination to become strong. To prove herself to those who dared doubt her; who thought she was weak. To prove herself to the boy she'd just kissed.
To the mage she'd fallen terribly, utterly, hopelessly in love with.
"Thank you." Cana whispered as she pulled away, cheeks flaming. "For everything."
Narut blinked, his mind reeling.
Belatedly, it occurred to the dragon slayer that he'd just made one hell of a promise. He'd willingly professed his willingness to train someone he'd be fighting not three days from now. That someone had just kissed him on the lips. And though he'd never admit it aloud, he'd rather liked that kiss. So much so that he found himelf leaning in for another, capturing the lips of the startled card mage for a second and when she pulled away a third time. There was nothing shy about these kisses. Cana practically melted into his arms with each one, her hands snaking around his neck body cleaving against him eyes sliding shut as she pushed herself up on her tip-toes in an effort to better reach his lips; seeking the hands stroking her hair and the back of her waist.
Despite this, despite the fireworks in his head, despite his heart pounding in his chest and the blood roaring in his veins, Naruto had only one thought.
Mira's gonna kill me...
A/N: Aaaaaaand there you have it. Naruto might have to deal with 'The Beast' incident a few chapters down the road, as I hinted at in regard to the takeover siblings training. As for Mira's dragon slayer training, that is soon to come, and it'll be one helluva thing to write. Meanwhile, Cana's having daddy issues and naturally, she turns to Naruto for training and help. Will he just make things worse? Or maybe, just maybe, might he be able to help her? And now Cana's stolen his first kiss! And his second. And his third... Mirajane isn't going to like this one bit...
Remember, this is a MULTI pairing! That doesn't mean everyone will be getting along though...or will they?
Find out next time on...
...DAWN OF THUNDER!
Don't forget to review!