If you have already read Opinion, I feel I should warn you: this may not be as enjoyable in some ways. I started it when I was very new to the series, so new in fact that Gazille and Jjuvia weren't even introduced yet, so they aren't in this story. It's also not as thematic or held-together as Opinion. What this fic does have going for it however, is a lovesick Gray, always fun, and greater length: at least two chapters, probably three. I'm also enjoying writing it, so I hope you have fun reading it too.

I don't think I'll ever be entirely sure of my characterizations with this verse. These types of characters are a bit difficult for me to write.

Oneiric: adj.; of or relating to dreams or dreaming.


There's something to be said for unconsciously stripping everywhere one goes, and that's desensitization. Gray doesn't quite understand the full implications of that at first, of course, just that after a while he can have a complete conversation with Lucy in just his boxers and neither of them notice for at least ten minutes.

The further reaches become blaringly obvious all of a sudden now, though, and something in his chest drops very low and heavy at the way she's blushing so brightly, Natsu nervously apologizing over and over again, something about how his shower is broken.

They aren't even in the bathroom and he's wearing a towel and in Gray's world that level of exposure is nothing at all unusual but now it's Natsu and Lucy is blushing and looking away, and – glancing back again briefly, not at his face, she always looks at Gray's face.

He'll deny it later, but he definitely starts the fight, just all of a sudden throws Natsu across the room and Lucy squeals because the towel is almost flopping free and that's just worse, Gray snarls and goes for the punch.

Later, he has to freeze the radio mid-explosion and then everything sort of blanks out of his memory because Lucy didn't have a weapon or even touch them but she was scarier than Erza there.

-xxx-

Gray can't forget it that night, can't shut his eyes without seeing her face so red, so shy and noticing. He clenches a fist and holds his breath and reminds himself it's his own fault, though really it's Ur's when you get down to it. But – not Lucy's, no, and not really Natsu's, though he wishes it were because then it would be so easy to deal with.

Gray has a dream, an odd one. He remembers when he was in Lucy's body and she in his, and she clamped her (his) arms around him (her), screaming he had better not take that shirt off. And in the dream he does, he can't help it, but he's back in his own body and suddenly they're all alone and she's still gripping his wrist after he's done, just staring at him, eyes wide.

A blush, so red, crawls up her cheeks and he freezes, breath catching, and her eyes are flitting along his body, trying to focus on his face, and she swallows and he thinks maybe? and she says in such a soft voice, "Gray-"

He wakes abruptly, shivering like he hasn't since early days.

He's panting lightly, breath crystallizing in the air. Her name is on the tip of his tongue and he makes half the shape with no sound, the Lu- then stops.

-xxx-

Gray doesn't notice when he strips, hasn't in years. The constant training and reality of being an ice mage means that for a long time, outside temperature hasn't made a huge amount of difference to him; certainly not the miniscule change that comes from removing thin cloth.

Lucy sits down next to him and hands him something. Gray blinks at her, then down at it, and startles to see his pants. Then he looks back up at her suddenly, standing and pulling them on slowly, taking too a little long with the buckle, and – she's not looking at him. Or rather, she is but only in short glances, back and forth from his face to the piece of paper she holds. It's got a lot of zeroes on it, and she's talking about them, and Gray breathes deep like he doesn't care.

Natsu's useful then, because Gray can punch him as hard as he wants and no one will see anything unusual. It works pretty well until Erza arrives on scene, but once the complete panic wears off Gray can't help it, sneaks glances at Lucy as they walk out the door ready for a new adventure.

She says, "Wait!" and runs back inside. They all stop, curious, and when she emerges she's holding her book and Gray's shirt. Erza reacts in horror that she didn't even notice and says something about "discipline" and "training" that should make him want to cower in a corner, but Gray's too busy.

Too busy putting on his shirt again, taking the brief moment it covers his face to let his eyes go wide, to feel his heart pound, to think maybe even if her cheeks weren't at all red. To let the shirt fall back to his shoulders and just stare for a second or two, because Lucy's grinning wide and his lungs don't want to work.

"Okay, we're all set now," she says cheerfully, and Gray closes his eyes for a second. His expression is carefully calm and he doesn't look at her again for a few blocks.

-xxx-

The job was mostly boring, but the fun part is when they get back and find out that they're on probation because they destroyed one too many things for even Fairy Tail to accept without question. This means they can't take new jobs for a little while, yes, but it also means that they all go over to Lucy's without consulting her and when she opens the door to find them all comfortable, she shrieks like it was the first time (why is she still surprised?).

Somehow it turns into another sleepover, and Gray sneaks about in search of Lucy's novel; every time he comes over he tries to read some more of it. She catches him in the act this time, though, and shoves him into the bathroom with strict instructions to bathe and then sleep and nothing else.

Even when he dips his whole head under the water he can hear yelling and crashing and familiar laughter from outside, and Gray spitefully fills the bath with ice-cubes to annoy Natsu despite knowing it won't do any good.

They all go to sleep too late but together, wrapped in extra blankets on the floor of Lucy's bedroom, and it's comfortable in a way that has Gray rolling over to press his face into his pillow. He knows he's going to dream again, he's just got a feeling and he's right.

-xxx-

"Gray-" Lucy says, and he breathes a little too quickly.

"Yeah?" and he's a little too fast to ask. He swallows, twice, as she looks down briefly, cheeks red.

So red, and she reaches out and touches his shoulder. He can't move. She's blushing, looking up at him so firmly, her hand hesitant on his bare skin.

He sways closer.

Can feel her breath on his face when she speaks, that and her fingers on his shoulders, so aware of it all. "You really should wear clothes more often," she says, and looks down, lets go.

And it's all extremely stupid but Gray still jolts, actually reaches out for her, says, "Lucy-"

And the name is on his lips when he wakes, but all that comes out instead is a sharp "Hhhk-!" because Natsu's jumping up and down on his stomach. He's so grateful for that, he only freezes one leg instead of both.

-xxx-

Gray finds himself watching carefully lately, keeping a constant eye on Lucy and Natsu. Natsu who is always there first somehow, always sees her first and bounces over to her side, Happy circling in the air, and babbles on about something. Natsu who reaches out and grabs Lucy's arm to pull her over to the table where the rest of them are and Gray stares. Doesn't know how Natsu does it.

But Lucy takes it in stride, he notices, and something suddenly makes sense, because she's not blushing a bit. Just like, when they finally get to the table and sit down, Erza takes the moment to yell at Gray and he re-dresses and Lucy doesn't bat an eye.

Gray feels vaguely triumphant after that, because he thinks he might know how to know where he stands.

-xxx-

It's easy enough to make happen, not at all suspicious; so when they're sitting on the next train (their first mission in weeks and they all had to swear on pain of that punishment not to demolish more than three buildings apiece, but it's still a mission) he sits next to Lucy without a word.

No one comments because with four people and a flying cat there are only so many seating combos and none of them are new by now, and for the next hour Gray moves so slowly, so very slowly, until his leg is shifted right, lightly touching hers from the knee down. He doesn't look at her, just stares blankly out the window and waits, heart beating fast.

There isn't a sound. Gray's mood falls slowly, gives him just enough time to casually look over at Natsu's tortured face (green suits him, really) and glimpse her out of the corner of his eye.

She abruptly looks away, like she doesn't want to have been looking in the first place, and Gray's chest clenches. He turns his head a little farther, suddenly realizing how very still her leg is against his, God, and there it is: the tiniest hint of red on her cheeks.

Gray doesn't react, at least he thinks he doesn't, but he doesn't move either, holds his leg perfectly still, waiting. She twitches away first, eventually, slow like trying to be casual.

-xxx-

"Lucy-" he says and catches her in his hands. Everything stops and for a moment he can't believe himself. Her arms are round under his fingers.

She turns back to face him, and something quickens in the air, even as it suddenly turns still. They were in the Guild, surrounded by everyone and doing something typical, but now it's all gone and he doesn't even wonder at that.

She's blushing. And he's fully dressed; he glances down to check. His fingers move a little, upwards, and her mouth opens slightly and her skin is soft.

He's got to bend down a little, finds himself doing it without a thought, finds her looming closer and her head bends up a bit, her eyes closing. He's moving forward but it's so slow it seems like it's not going to happen at all, he knows something's going to shatter this but doesn't know what—

He doesn't remember it's a dream and dreams always stop here. If he had it would have been easier, but as it is their lips touch and he's dumbstruck.

She's everywhere, he can't move for the longest time. And when he does it's just back slightly, lifting his head a little and she opens her eyes and blushes so bright, says, "Gray– I–" and his fingers tighten on her shoulders.

He kisses her again, and feels reborn when her arm reaches up to curve around his neck. He kisses her again, and again, and feels like everything, like it's all perfect and he can't remember what breathing is.

He's still kissing her when he wakes up, and it's not so sudden as times before, slow enough that he's drowsy and confused and wonders where she has gone.

-xxx-

Gray can't look at her anymore.

He doesn't think anyone notices, but that's just what he's too busy doing, and he can't look. In the past his own frequent stripping has never led him to be nonchalant about others' bodies, just his own, but he hasn't been obvious either and now he can't look at her.

He can feel his heartbeat. He can feel her arms in his grip, too, feel her hand curled around his neck, half-into his hair. He can feel her mouth when he looks at her, dream or not, and he nervously sheds clothes without knowing it, looking away firmly.

He senses eyes on him and jerks his head up and it's Mirajane, smiling. He blinks back suspiciously, twitches his lips in greeting.

"So," Mirajane says, leaning casually over the counter. "Lucy, eh?"

Gray stiffens but does not show it, eats another bite of ice cream before answering very casually. "What about her?"

Mirajane shrugs, with that delicate smile and that devious look in her eyes and honestly, this is why all women are scary and you can't trust them and Gray would never say anything to Lucy anyway. "Oh, well," she says, and laughs quietly. The guild is shockingly devoid of members for the moment, so she can get away with things like quiet laughter and still be heard. "I'm just a little surprised you know. I always somehow expected… well, I expected Natsu to be the one."

Gray's up on his feet in a second, hands clenched in fists. "I'd never lose to that moron!" he snaps, and Mirajane's smile widens a notch.

"Oh-h? Even if it's Lucy?"

"Especially if it's Lucy," Gray answers in a growl before his eyes widen and he abruptly sits down again, shoveling more ice cream into his mouth.

Mirajane laughs again, evil woman. "Ah, Gray," and her voice is surprisingly fond. "Don't worry so much. They're just friends, you know?"

Gray buries his face further in the bowl, trying to ignore the heat crawling over his cheeks. "Not like I'd care," he mumbles, "and that's obvious anyway."

Mirajane just keeps smiling, like the devil she used to be. And then she leans in. "Of course," she says far too close for comfort, "there's always the potential for more. Better hurry up if I were you."

Gray's pretty sure he might have whiplash from that one, jerking his head up so fast his neck cracks, but she's already laughing and moving along to hand out some drinks to new arrivals. He scowls, pushes himself up and leaves without a word.

Halfway down the block, there's a horrified shriek from a tourist and he stops abruptly; scuttles back to where Mirajane is waiting patiently with a pile of clothing.

"Oh, shut up," he says to the floor, tying his shoelaces.

-xxx-

Her face is in his hands, all soft skin and curved cheeks, and he's leaning down, addicted, eager, whispering her name, and then she's gone.

He looks up in surprise, blinks and looks around and sees her not three feet away with Natsu, standing all wrapped together and their mouths are –

Gray is so furious that he wakes up. And goes to Natsu's house. And attacks him.

-xxx-

"Honestly," Lucy moans, head down on the table. "What is with you two lately?"

Gray stays quiet, perhaps a little too quiet, and watches her hands flat on the wood.

"Lucy," he thinks he could say, "I like you."

"Lucy," he says instead, after a moment, "let's get a job. I'm sick of Natsu."

Natsu, right next to him, punches him in the face at this and Gray flings off his shirt and leaps into the fight along with seven other people that are in the mood for one, but when it's all wound down (five hours later) Lucy looks at him contemplatively, purses her lips, and finally says alright.

"What?" she then defends herself to Natsu and Happy, who are both suddenly teary-eyed. "I've never gone on a job with just Gray! I've gone on plenty of ones with you guys!"

Gray looks down at the table and smiles, just a little.

-xxx-

The train ride's a bit weird at first, because they are both overly aware of the lack of vomiting and Gray's eyes keep going back to Lucy's suitcase for some reason. But they are friends, and they get over it pretty quickly and just have a good time, talking and then eventually complaining about how long this train ride is, and then, somehow, discussing books.

Lucy's eyes light up when Gray seems to know what he's talking about and he says, casually, "Well yeah, what'd you think I was reading your book for? I've got pretty good taste you know. Hey, can't you show me at least the next chapter? I want to know what happened with the wolves already."

Lucy's eyes get starry and she hugs him without warning.

Hugs.

Him.

"No, you can't Gray, I promised Levy!" she sighs, then draws back, still grinning from ear to ear. "But you can read it second, okay?"

"Gray?" she asks again, after a moment.

"Yeah," he says through a throat that is very dry. "Second's fine."

She beams.

He stares.

-xxx-

"'I can't believe they lied to us.'… she says."

Gray grunts.

"'I mean, a freaking swamp? Who would want to rob a swamp in the first place?'… she says."

Gray grunts.

"'Gray? Are you all right?'… she says."

He takes a deep breath. "The mud is up to my waist, Lucy."

It's such a relief when the expected bandits finally attack the shrine.

-xxx-

They end up staying the night, to wash off the mud and because the bandits are really annoying to lug around, heavy when frozen. Even when Lucy summons Taurus to do the carrying there are too many and she has to help too, getting muddy herself.

She honestly complains less than expected (anything to make the rent, Gray guesses bemusedly) but there's this adorable pouty furious expression on her face the entire time they're checking in. Of course, that might just be a result of the clerk, who is slightly less than professional and very fond of smirking.

Yes, they explain, they are mages on a job. No, the job was not mud-wrestling. Yes, they are sure. Look, does the place have bathing facilities or not? Yes? All right then. What – yes they need to take the four-foot pile of frosted-over bodies inside with them. They're prisoners, of course, Gray needs to lock them in an ice prison for the night to be sure they don't get away.

No, Lucy is not going to be personally bathing them, in fact they won't need the bath at all, in fact Gray is rather fond of making ice spears, really there's a room open?

But only the one.

Lucy arrives back from the baths shiny clean and dripping, dressed in a pair of silky pyjamas with keys all over them. She smiles at him and Gray abruptly decides to make a wall between their side of the room and the prisoners' side. It's ice anyway; he can break through it in the morning.

When his bath is over and he gets back, the room is dark and Lucy is quiet, just a steadily breathing lump in one of two beds. Gray walks over and stands next to her, watches her for a little bit.

The moonlight from the window reflects off the ice and sparkles over her relaxed features, and for a second Gray's thumb touches her cheek as he bends a little closer. Then he realizes what he's doing, the hopelessness, the cliché of it, the real idiocy, and he goes back to his own bed, quietly.

-xxx-

"Gray," she says slowly, moonlight reflecting off ice and onto her skin, her eyes bright. "I love you."

She is standing in front of him, her arms awkwardly folding under her chest, her hips cocked to one side a little, her hair behind one shoulder, her cheeks lightly dusted with red, just a bit. Her eyes meeting his, bright and certain, her face determined and a little nervous.

He takes a breath.

He can't speak.

The moment stretches on, far too long and he should have said something a while ago, it's endless and awkward and he doesn't know if he has any thought left.

He does, it turns out, because otherwise what else would disappear when she steps forward, determined and hesitant and decided and says, "I mean it," and her fingers touch his cheek one on side, his shoulder on the other, she leans up and presses her mouth to his.

Her lips are just a little moist.

She's stretching up a little bit, on her toes, because he's not bending his head down at all. He's not moving.

She pulls away. "Oh," she says. "Well, just… think about it." And leaves.

Gray takes a breath; the air is cold and harsh in his throat.

He still can't move.

-xxx-

Her eyes are large and smiling and hovering just above his and Gray freezes, his dream suddenly the only thing in his buzzing brain.

"Wake up, already," Lucy grins cheerfully. "Those idiots have been yelling through the ice for the past half-hour."

Gray blinks, listens. Ah, so they are. And he sits up slowly as Lucy shifts back, and her fingers leave his arm – they were touching him, shaking him awake. And Gray's head is still echoing, he's still dizzy from sleep and those dreamt words and not knowing what to do, doing nothing and just botching it all, so he abruptly does something very incredibly stupid.

He catches her hand with his other arm, wrapping fingers around a slender wrist that really is so smooth, and pulls forward, angles to the side, reaches up with the other hand, leans forward, closes his eyes –

Gray would like to say that this is familiar from the dreams but it's not, it's all-new and she's frozen, he's pressed up close, so close, all around her and breathing slowly in through his nose and her mouth is soft and warm and he shudders. His eyes are still closed and time has stopped because he is kissing Lucy and she's not saying no at all, just sitting there, frozen…

Gray yanks his head back so hard that it hits the wall behind him.

Her eyes are wide and horrified and her mouth is open just the tiniest bit so he can see white and pink and her lips were just smooth from chapstick and so very soft.

And he is red, he knows, horrified and his mouth open, panting, and he can feel his heart thumping and death impending and –

There is a war cry from the other side of the ice as a bandit attempts to ram his way out of the ice wall that is thin from melting all night, and Gray leaps up to take care of the convenient distraction. He can feel her staring, itching gaze on his back for a long time, and he shivers. Then she eventually makes this soft noise – this, "eep"-type thing – and rushes out of there, slams out to the hallway, and Gray breathes out through his nose and punches the last prisoner unconscious again.

They were so soft and he can feel them lingering; he licks his lips and tastes her cherry chapstick, and turns bright red and thinks oh god and wants so very much more.