I'm glad you guys continued to like the style. I know it's not quite typical, but I love the positive responses I've received. Actually, the responses were more uniformly positive than I'm used to, so I've been worried about disappointing you all. In a way, I'm relieved this is the last chapter - just this one to be nervous about, then I'm done. Well, it was supposed to be the last chapter from the beginning anyway.
Thanks for reading and reviewing.
"I like you, Lucy," Gray whispers, heart beating like a snare drum in his chest and feeling so very warm. He can't move or breathe or think or live at all until she answers, and when she never does he remains frozen, frozen, and she doesn't move at all.
"You, Lucy," Gray whispers, heart pounding and she moves so fast he has no time to react, just yanks herself right out of his arms and he feels like she took hold of his heart and pulled it with her – he aches…
Her eyes are glittering and she looks somehow sad but mostly angry, her face pale and eyes hot and she snorts out this mocking half-laugh that rips at his insides: "Yeah, right."
"No, wait, I…" Gray says – he still can't raise his voice or move at all, he's helpless and she's spinning on her heel to walk quickly away from him. He wants to shout that she doesn't understand but he's not sure he does any better and besides, she's gone now and he can't move at all, can't do a thing still.
"Lucy," Gray whispers, heart out of control because she is standing at his door and he doesn't understand why she'd even speak to him at the Guild anymore, let alone track him down to his home, and oh god she's smiling.
"Did you really mean it?" she asks. He nods, dumbly, and his heart is going to thud itself out of his chest; she's stepping closer and still with that smile, what could this mean?
Lucy reaches out and catches him in her hands, draws him closer. He bends in, helpless before that smile and his utter bewilderment, and she kisses him.
"This – this is a dream," Gray yanks back to say, eyes wide and hating himself because he doesn't really care. "It's got to be – you can't have–"
"Shh," Lucy whispers into his ear, her voice soft and affectionate, breath tickling his skin and Gray falls silent with a full-body shiver. "I like you too."
"Lucy," Gray whispers, unable to stop himself, but he swallows thickly and turns back to his coffee before she looks his way. He should've known better than to linger in the Guild, especially by the bar – she spends time there every day talking to Mirajane. But it's been three days already, and though he's gotten to the point where he'd rather not sleep at all than deal with the dreams, some assistance is necessary to keep him awake.
And anyway, Mirajane hasn't teased him once yet. She saw him at the door and had a steaming mug ready for him by the time he slumped down into a stool, and somehow no one else has gotten on his case about Lucy yet. That's probably just because it's so early in the morning, but Gray has been too busy counting his blessings to care. Well, now he's facing the repercussions of that.
Gray keeps his face as low to the bar as he can, thinking that with any luck, Lucy will walk right past him. She's done it before after all, and that was when he wanted her to notice him, so if he just remains still enough, then he's got a good chance of remaining unseen.
He hasn't had a good string of luck lately, though, and Gray is so focused on keeping his head down that he forgets to keep track of his hands. His body reacts the way it always does to nervousness or boredom or anything really, and next thing Gray knows Lucy is standing over him with his pants in her hands. He's sitting on the floor, taking off his socks, and honestly has no idea how that happened.
But far more important than his near-nakedness is Lucy, standing over him and for a second everything in Gray stops because her cheeks are cherry-red.
He gazes dizzily up at her for a few seconds before he shakes that shock off. Of course she's going to be blushing, after what he did. It's not like it means anything special. Gray repeats this in his head about four and a half times before Lucy interrupts him.
"Um… your clothes," she prompts with an awkward little smile.
Gray stares blankly at the upturned corners of her mouth for a moment, before clearing his throat and trying to respond normally. He gets the words out all right, "Oh, when did that happen?" but he can't put the proper emotion into them. Avoiding Lucy's eyes, he takes the clothes and starts putting them back on.
She waits for him to finish, and when he stands back up she's got this sort of strange look on her face. "Gray," she says, "Can I talk to you?"
And it's not that he's a coward or anything, but Gray can tell already that he's made a mess of things, and he'd rather deal with that later than sooner. He's not so defeatist either, usually, but something about Lucy messes with his confidence; also, the guild knows too much about his love life already.
So Gray smiles at Lucy, a quick flash of a grin, and says, "Sorry, Lucy, no time. I've got a job to get to."
He walks off quickly, snatching a random job off the board. He doesn't look at it until he's outside, and ends up groaning at the realization that he's just signed up for security detail on the local museum's new artifacts for the next week. That wouldn't be so bad, especially since it's the night shift and that gives Gray the excuse to stay awake, but it's unlikely anyone is actually going to attack a museum and Gray was hoping for something that allowed him to hurt people.
He gets his chance two days later. Gray has just arrived home, and he should be exhausted after eight hours of boring pacing but instead he's just jittery from the twelve cups of coffee he's drunk today. The caffeine in his blood is probably the only reason he's able to dodge the flaming fist aimed at him the moment he opens his apartment door, and Gray instantly leaps back into the hallway. Then, when Natsu rushes after, he retreats further to get outside, because he doesn't want the building burned down.
They clash in the courtyard. Natsu's face is red and his eyes are even squintier than usual. When Gray asks, mid-stab with an ice pike to the ribs, what the hell Natsu's problem is, Natsu splutters out a whole bunch of nonsense words and then finally manages, "…Lucy!"
Two seconds later, Gray's head meets the wall of the building with a loud crack! and he remembers why it's a bad idea to freeze up in a fight. Then he's too busy dodging Natsu's attacks to think, and time passes in a haze of fire, ice, and pain whenever Natsu lands a hit.
Eventually, when they've worn themselves out and are just laying on their backs in what's left of the grass, panting, Gray asks very slowly, staring up at the stars, "What… about Lucy?"
Natsu pants out what's not really an answer. "You're... a dumbass… Gray."
Rolling his eyes takes a lot of effort. They feel sort of dry in their sockets, so Gray blinks a few times. "No, seriously."
Natsu is silent for a moment or two, then levers himself up onto one arm and peers at Gray. "Seriously. You're freaking stupid, stupid."
Gray jolts up to face off against Natsu, more out of instinct than any real anger. "Oh yeah?"
But Natsu doesn't react as usual; instead, he just stares at Gray's face really closely. "Lucy!" he says sharply, and Gray winces.
"Damn it," Natsu mumbles, falling back to the grass. "You really do like her, huh?"
And maybe it's the burns and bruises all over him, or the fact that he hasn't slept in 32 hours, or maybe just because he knows his reaction to Lucy's name was more than proof enough, but Gray doesn't even bother to deny it.
"Shut up," he says, by way of confirmation. Then, "Who told you?"
Natsu grunts. "Heard some guys laughing about it. And Lucy cracks really easily when you threaten her diary."
Gray thinks he's probably supposed to react to this news with shock and noise, and be very upset that Natsu's got the full story (and somewhat curious about what that diary says about him), but instead he's mostly just defeatist (and somewhat curious about what that diary says about him). "So?"
"Well, Lucy got all red and then she started babbling about weird stuff and she kept squeezing Happy and crying, and then Erza made me bring them ice-cream and when it was all melty when I gave it to them, Lucy started crying again and Erza threw me into the canal and then I decided to come beat you up."
There's a long pause.
"Erza knows?" Gray asks.
"I'm dead," Gray mutters, though oddly he's more focused on the thought that Lucy cried because of him, and he doesn't know what that means.
Natsu claps him on the shoulder (mutual fear of Erza is the only thing that ever could prompt such a reaction) before leaving mostly amiably. Gray stays where he is, gazing up at the sky and not minding the cold night in the least.
It's very cold, in that soft, distant sort of way it gets when your core body temperature has plummeted too low and all your different organs and functions are shutting down one by one – a sleepy, gentle, lovely, fatal sensation and Gray basks in it.
He's lying down with his head on Lucy's lap, the rest of his body buried under the snow, and his eyelids quiver between open and closed, his breath just steady puffs of ice crystallizing in the air.
It's very cold, in that way it gets when you're dying piece by piece and you've been worn down to the point that you actually enjoy it. And Lucy strokes a hand through Gray's hair, and in the moments that his eyes are open he thinks he sees her smiling, and he's lovingit right up until the moment that the ice around them cracks and shatters and melts and disappears and Lucy rises, dropping him to the abruptly-hard ground.
There's a scowl on her face. "I didn't sign up for this crap," she says matter-of-factly, and Gray kind of wakes up exactly then at four-fifteen AM with a sharp rock digging into his back and thinks well, of course like an idiot only now realizing his idiocy.
Gray paces and makes ice sculptures of Natsu to destroy for the next three hours until he estimates some of the relatively less insane people in the world might be awake, and then he heads down to the Guild. Head low and glances around himself decidedly furtive, Gray slinks up to Mirajane at the bar and mutters, in a low voice, "Can I talk to Elfman. …please."
She smiles at him brilliantly and hands him a finished ice-cream sundae that she could only have had time to make if she knew beforehand that Gray was coming right this second. Then she ushers him into a back room where Elfman joins Gray just minutes later. For perhaps the first time in all the years Gray has known him, the buff, wildly scarred man is terrifying: he's grinning and shirtless and toting a bulging duffel bag with what looks like very battered flower petals peeking out through the zipping.
"Mirajane told me you came to ask me to teach you the fine art of manly wooing!" Elfman booms, utterly ecstatic, and drops the duffel to the floor. The walls maybe shake or else Gray's going into convulsions; he's not sure which.
He clears his throat once. Then about half a dozen more times until he's capable of actual speech, and quietly says the words that will seal his fate. "Please teach me to… woo… like a real man, Elfman…-sensei."
The descent into hell commences and Gray's ice-cream melts quietly on the table, forgotten.
And really, now he should be prepared to face his demons –er, love interest. He's got a full arsenal: respectful, charming, yet manly things to say; knows now the mystical powers of flowers and chocolate; realizes that being honest and clear and thinking about what she wants is important; he's even had a tutorial on the best date venues in Magnolia. Actually, the amount of stuff Elfman has told him is rather frightening – for instance, Gray couldn't picture the rough-looking man riding with a date in a paddleboat shaped like a swan if his life depended on it.
But the problem is, despite all this general date knowledge, Elfman hasn't prepared Gray at all for how to 'woo' Lucy, which is utterly terrifying in so many different ways. If he's gained anything of real value from the lesson at all, it's that nothing is going to happen unless he mans up and makes it happen, which Gray already knew. Well… actually, something would probably happen anyway if he just allowed Lucy to finally confront him, but Gray is fairly certain that road will not end anyplace he wants to be.
So rather than do what he knows he has to, Gray puts it off a little longer, drinks too much coffee and paces in front of the leftover plates and whatever of ancient civilizations and goes home and flops on his bed to stare at the ceiling and try not to think, try not to fall asleep…
He opens his eyes and knows she's there – just lying next to him. He doesn't even have to look but he knows she's there, though not why. They aren't touching at all, but he can feel her skin humming at him, only three inches away, is acutely aware of the heat radiating out from her, and his breath catches in his lungs.
He wants to turn his head and look at her. He desperately wants to roll over and just stare at her and absorb the fact that she really is here, must have forgiven him to be here, must want him back, must be here, must…
And then it hits him, sickeningly, in the gut: what if she's not really here at all? What if this is just a dream, some sort of spectre? He can feel her presence so strongly but what if it's just all in his head? Gray can't bear the thought. He wants to prove his fears unfounded, but he's not brave enough. That's the problem, isn't it? He knows things might go wrong –which isn't all that special, everything in life can go wrong, it's not unique – but this is so important, and he can't bear the thought of it breaking apart, can't stand it disappearing.
Gray starts to hear this odd sound, this sort of quiet cracking, and he realizes it's Lucy and he reaches out desperately all of a sudden, aware that she's breaking into pieces. And then his hand finds hers, and it's warm and smooth and small in his, and Gray's whole body is tense, juddering.
He grips tight to her, so utterly certain that if he looks, she's going to disappear. He knows she will, the fear grips at his heart and paralyzes him, clenches him tight and won't let go, but-
But her hand is slowly slipping out of his anyway, and Gray can't seem to hold on with clumsy, fear-frozen fingers. So he turns, stiffly and hating himself and so certain she's going to be gone forever or, worse, never have been here in the first place, turns despite that because he's starting to realize that if he doesn't move he's going to lose her regardless, turns and.
Lucy grins at him, twisting her hand to grip his tighter, and Gray feels his body gravitating closer to hers entirely on its own. "You took too long," she whispers, and then they start to touch: lips pressing on lips, hands gripping together, legs overlapping, heartbeats matching at a furious speed, warm and soft and kissing, together so simply.
Gray knocks with his elbow, as he has no free hands. Erza opens the door.
He freezes in instinctive panic, frantically trying to figure out if he has the wrong house. No, he can't, he knows the way too well, this is where Lucy lives! But there she is – Erza, glowering down at him and oh god he's going to die, it all ends here, someone please!
Erza leans in close, looking entirely unsurprised to see Gray. "If you do something stupid I'm going to kill you," she snarls.
She nods, and walks away, clapping one heavy, gauntleted, threatening-everything-terrible-there-is-in-the-world hand onto his shoulder in passing. Gray wisely takes a moment to hyperventilate away the mortal terror before stepping into Lucy's apartment and gently shutting the door behind him.
She's at the desk, writing. Without looking up, she asks, "Who was it?"
Lucy seems lit up in a way that has nothing to do with the sunlight streaming through the window behind her. She's glorious, gorgeous, entirely out of reach; Gray almost turns around and walks right out. Perhaps he would have, if he didn't know such an action probably qualified as 'stupid' and would no doubt land him in a shallow grave.
As it is, Gray stares too much and speaks too little; Lucy finally pauses in her work. "Erza," she says, starting to turn. "I said who- oh."
Gray kind of –waves at Lucy. Then, abruptly, he remembers what he's supposed to do, and fumbles across the room to shove the flowers at her. The bouquet is too big and crowds her face, so he reaches out and instantly takes it back. A thorn catches on his finger, startles him, and Gray drops the ice-cream on his foot.
"Ow!" he mumbles, then has to juggle the flowers before they, too, end up on the floor. Finally getting a good grip without anything poking him, he breathes a sigh of relief.
There's a noise. Gray identifies it as giggles. Coming from Lucy. He feels very distant, like he's floating out of his body. Except, at the same time he knows he's beet-red, can practically feel the heat floating off of his face.
"Uh –" Gray manages, not really looking at Lucy's face so much as her feet, which are bare. Her toenails have been painted with little stars. They're adorable. "Yeah, uh, thisisforyou."
He thrusts the bouquet out in her general direction once more. "Sorry, it's too big, I shouldn't have gotten…"
Lucy's feet move away, briefly tiptoe in front of a cabinet (so cute) and then return. She takes the flowers from Gray, gently settling them into a huge vase that makes Gray's armful of flowers suddenly seem woefully inadequate.
"Oh," he says. Fumbling for something else to do, eyes still aimed towards the floor, he remembers the ice-cream and dives for it, holding it up triumphantly. "Chocolate! Elfman said choco… I mean, Natsu said you wanted some ice-cream, so… I kept it cold on the way here. Actually, you might need to let it thaw for a bit before you try to eat it…"
Lucy laughs out loud this time, sending Gray's heart into his head and twining his intestines around his stomach. But then she takes the ice-cream away and sets it down on the desk and turns to him and says, still sounding a little entertained but suddenly all too serious, "What are you doing, Gray?"
He glances up at her and then gets stuck on her face, unable to look away. "Uh – I'm, I'm wooing you!" he snaps, humiliated. "What does it look like?"
Lucy snorts. She actually snorts at him, and Gray burns with offended pride. "Wooing me? Where did you get that kind of nonsense from?"
He starts to reply haughtily, miffed at her complete dismissal of all his effort, but all of a sudden she cuts him off with a laugh. It's sort of like that one time on the train, this laugh; not really amused but sort of tired and maybe a little sad.
"Seriously… what are you doing… I was getting so angry at you, but then you come in here acting like this huge goof." Lucy sighs and Gray's irritation melts away.
"Look, I'm sorry. I haven't been – I mean, um, I didn't mean to be such a jerk. But I didn't want you to, you know," he pauses, but she doesn't actually seem to know, so Gray grimaces and forces himself to spit it out, "reject me."
Lucy blinks. "Wait, so you actually…"
"I really, really like you!" Gray blurts, then flushes vermilion. "I have for a long time, but I – I couldn't tell you, but then everyone found out and Elfman was telling me to be a man and the Master was – was – uh, you heard that – and you kept talking about Natsu and I just…"
He finds that he doesn't really have the words to continue. He'd planned them, planned something and even memorized it in front of his mirror and everything, but Gray can't remember it anymore. Lucy is still looking at him so steadily, too, it's making him off-balance and muddled, all out of order.
Think. Think. What did you come here for. Think.
"I don't like paddleboats!"
Gray covers his face in his hands and groans. "Shit."
Lucy sort of gasps and laughs at the same time, and Gray kind of hates her guts. "Shut up," he moans, "Just let me… I didn't mean to say that. Damn it. Shit."
Her hand touches his. It's cool, and his is hot with embarrassment, quite the turnaround from normal. "You must really like me," she says, sounding a little amazed. "You're usually so cool and sure of yourself…"
Gray lowers his hands and straightens up. She's right. This is all about not being a cowardly idiot, right? Be a man. Come on.
He takes a deep breath. "Please go out on a date with me, Lucy," he says in a firm, deep, self-assured voice.
Then he meets her eyes and all pretence of casualness melts away. "Please," Gray repeats softly, and it's clear he's pretty much begging.
She stops laughing all of a sudden, and starts to blush. She's blushing. Red.
If this were a cartoon, Gray's head would be puffing steam right about now.
"I – wow. Um. S-sure," she stutters. Then, starting to sound surer of herself, she nods. "Okay. Alright, I – yes, I will."
There's a long pause, during which Lucy blushes and Gray's organs turn into fireworks and everything in him reels in shock and indescribable bliss.
Then Lucy grins, sort of wickedly. "There don't have to be paddleboats," she offers.
"Ah-! I – hey! That wasn't me; that was just… Elfman said girls liked them and it was… manly to paddle really fast… so I – but if you want to, we can, I mean, I won't mind. Whatever you want to do is fine, really, I – why are you looking at me like that?"
Lucy is grinning widely. "You asked Elfman for advice? So that's where the flowers and – oh, wooing, oh!" She seems positively delighted. "You're such an idiot."
And before Gray has time to get offended once more, she leans forward, laughing, and.
He tastes cherry.
And she's so soft, warm, so smooth and utterly in charge, leaning forward and Gray's heart is shuddering, he's shivering closer and melting open to kiss her back helplessly, mindlessly, everything's perfect. They kiss and kiss and Gray puts everything he has into it, all of himself on and on endlessly until they run out of air and he's lightheaded and dizzy and has to sit down heavily on the couch.
"Wow," he says through lips that tingle and buzz.
"Y-you know, normally I don't do this," Lucy blusters, hand to her lips and breathing heavily. "I mean, that was great and all but it's gonna be at least a date or two before you get another one of those. B-because I respect myself and you should respect me too, and, and – Gray? Are you all right?"
He's staring at the ceiling, brightly colored dots floating around in his vision. He's still feeling dizzy, and utterly exultant, and laughs as he says, "I haven't really slept for a week."
"...You really are an idiot," Lucy tells him. But she sounds extremely moved, and she goes to the kitchen and returns with a spoon to snatch the chocolate ice-cream and sit down on the couch next to him, propping her feet on the coffee table. The stars on her toes shine in the light.
"Come on, Gray," Lucy says, popping the ice-cream container open and taking a bite, putting a pillow on her lap and patting it. "Take a nap, you need it."
And he slips sideways as delicately as he can, resting his head on the pillow and savoring in their closeness and the kiss and the date and just everything, and Lucy mutters "dumbass," under her breath but it sounds more fond than anything else, and after a bit he drifts off to the feel of her fingers carding through his hair.
For the first time in a long time, Gray doesn't dream. There's no need to, anymore.
One final note - about the dreams. It's certainly not a big deal, but most of the dreams were written with a plot purpose in mind and I'm wondering if that came across well. The sort of 'theme' in this fic was that Gray had issues going after Lucy, had issues actually doing something about liking her for fear of it going wrong, but eventually realized that he'd never get her if he didn't make a move. Furthermore, by being afraid to do anything, he was messing everything up because he'd be unable to control himself, do something, and then not follow through and explain. I tried to show this throughout the dreams, and I was wondering if you guys noticed it or not.
I plan to add more to this lovely fandom at some point, and can only hope to get such a good readership the next time around if I do.