Chapter 1: Changes
Levy sat at the table in the quietest corner of Fairy Tail's indoor commons. She adjusted her reading glasses, focusing on the ancient runes written before her. Frowning, she glanced at the sheet of paper beside her, which held equally ancient scripts that helped her translate the glyphs in the book she held. She didn't like looking at that paper – it was like a cheat sheet. She wanted to be able to read her book smoothly and quickly without consulting any other material. The more fluent she was in ancient texts, the more complicated spells she could cast. Lately, she was beginning to feel more like a hindrance than an asset, particularly in combat situations. It was true that she was stronger than her two partners in Shadow Gear. Jet and Drory didn't necessarily have weak powers, they just didn't always execute them well.
Her own weaknesses had been brought into sharp perspective during the incident during the S-Class exam. When faced with two powerful mages from an enemy guild, she was utterly helpless. Luckily, Gajeel had been there to save her…again. She tore her eyes away from the pages of her book to steal a glance at the pierced Dragon Slayer, who was sitting quietly at the bar with his back to her, talking with Pantherlily. So much had happened since their first violent encounter that she almost couldn't believe that it was him who had hurt her. He had worked hard to atone for that day in his own way. He had let Jet and Drory beat him up, and when Laxus had carelessly attacked, he took the shot that was meant for her. He had shielded her in the church when Laxus again went on a rampage and nearly died protecting her during the S-Class exam. She stared at his still bandaged arm, a fresh wave of guilt washing over her. Useless. She had been useless! She grit her teeth, attacking her book with renewed vigor. Never again would she allow herself to be so dependant on someone else. After everything that had happened with Grimoire Heart and the dark mage Zeref, no one really protested when Master advanced Cana, and called an end to the S-Class exam. Levy still wanted to train though, not just to get a head start on next year's exam, but because their battle with the dark guilds was far from over, and she needed to get stronger. Gajeel had readily agreed to continue training with her. He had wanted to jump back into it right away – but she had insisted that he take the time he needed to heal. He had fought her on it, but she wouldn't give in.
Sounds of a scuffle broke into her thoughts as Gray and Natsu got into another one of their regular fights. She studiously ignored them, deciphering a complicated passage with ease. She grinned at the page, pleased with herself for getting through it without looking at her help sheet.
"I can do this." She thought, her brain barely registering the sound of wood smashing into splinters. "Now if I can just-"
Her thoughts were interrupted by a blur of motion beside her followed by a thunderous crash. She jerked towards the sound. Most of her field of vision was blocked by a broad back, in front of which fell two pieces of an entire table. Stunned, she could only stare at Gajeel's thick mane of hair as he cussed Gray and Natsu up one side and down the other for their riotous behavior. He didn't even turn around to ask if she was okay. He didn't have to – because he had been watching out for her again. If he was there, there was no need to even think for herself, since he would always save her – even from her own guildmates! A vein in her forehead poked through the skin as her frustration grew. Why did he always have to be there? Why him? She abruptly stood up, slamming her hands on the table. Gajeel ceased his tirade to turn towards her, suddenly aware of the hostile aura behind him.
"You know something Redfox?" she ground out between clenched teeth. "I don't need you to save me every damn day!" she screamed.
Grabbing her book and sheet, she shouldered past him and stormed out of the room. Tears stung her eyes when she thought of the confused look on his face, but she was too angry with herself to turn back. She ran all the way home, slammed her door and threw herself on the bed. She sobbed into her pillow for a good hour before falling asleep in misery.
Meanwhile, Gajeel stood frozen in the same position after Levy retreated from sight. The whole room was deathly quiet; even Natsu and Gray had turned surprised and sympathetic gazes on him. Too stunned to even be angry about her outburst, he uprooted himself and returned to the bar in silence. Beside him, Pantherlily's tail twitched at the tension in the air. Gradually, voices began to fill the room again as everyone took their queue and went back to their conversations. Natsu and Gray did not resume their fight, but sat down with Lucy and Wendy, quietly discussing what just happened.
"What did I do wrong?" he asked Pantherlily.
"Judging from her reaction, I don't believe it is you whom she is frustrated with," the small feline replied.
"What do you mean?"
"She's feeling insecure about her own strength – maybe she thinks you don't respect her because she is always relying on you – whether by her choice or otherwise."
Gajeel thought about what he had said to her during the S-Class exam. He had told her that unless she was stronger, he wouldn't pay attention to her. He had meant it from the perspective of her challenging him, but perhaps she did not see it that way. Maybe his words had more effect on her than he thought.
"Maybe you're right…but she didn't have to scold me like a child," he grumbled.
The cat shrugged, "Like I said, I doubt she's truly mad at you; give her time to cool off, she will come around."
"Yeah, I guess," he muttered, taking another sip of his forgotten drink.
Levy awoke slowly, the breeze from her open window chilling her damp cheeks. She lifted her head, staring blankly at her tear-stained pillow.
"That's right," she said to herself, "I yelled at Gajeel for no reason and came here and cried myself to sleep. I'm such an idiot."
She didn't need to tell herself that it was mostly around him that she behaved so irrationally, she knew it was so. She had done the same thing on the S-Class exam. He had made her mad, and she ran off in a rage and then he had saved her. She only ever lost her temper with him. For some reason, he knew just how to make her boiling mad, even though he wasn't trying to. Still, she knew she needed to apologize before the night was out – she needed to clear the air and make sure things weren't awkward for training. She went to her wardrobe and changed into something warmer, as the night had grown quite chilly. She ran a brush through her hair and applied a little concealer to her now puffy eyes. She briefly wondered if he was still at the guild or if he had returned home; if the latter, she would have to wait until morning, because she did not know where exactly he lived. She supposed she could ask someone at the guild for his address, but that seemed kind of awkward. The second she opened the door, she realized she needn't have worried, for there stood Gajeel Redfox. He was standing with one hand raised, poised to knock, the other hand propped up on the doorframe in an imposing manner. She shrunk back a little from him, taking a couple steps back into the room. He recovered from his surprise more quickly than she did, stepping forward to follow her in and closing the door behind him. She might have been a little miffed at his forward behavior, had he not immediately leaned back against the door with a defeated sigh, hanging his head slightly. Confused, she bit back the remark about his rudeness and remained silent, unsure of what to say to him. The quiet stretched out between them for a long moment before he raised his head to look at her, taking in her expression.
"I wish I knew why you were mad at me," he said finally. His voice was gruff and deep as always, but held a note of hurt in it.
Levy felt like crying all over again, and bit her lip to keep it from quivering. "I'm so sorry Gajeel. I…I'm not mad at you at all. It's just...I was frustrated and I took it out on you. It was so wrong of me, and I'm really, really sorry."
She hesitantly moved toward him, not really sure how else to consol him. He pushed off the wall and stood up to his full height, standing so close that she had to crane her neck to look up at him.
"I understand," he said quietly. "I'm sorry too…for some things I said before…during the exam," he apologized awkwardly.
She gave him a puzzled look, "You didn't say anything wrong to me. I was just being stupid back then. Seems to be a habit with me."
"I should not have told you that I wouldn't pay attention to you unless you were strong. I meant that you wouldn't be a rival unless you were tough enough, but I guess that's not how it came out."
"I knew what you meant Gajeel. I was just – I don't know…" her voice trailed off and she rubbed her arm in embarrassment. "I didn't want you to see me as being weak - but even more than that, I didn't want you to stop paying attention to me because of it," she paused, suddenly aware of what she had just said.
He considered her thoughtfully, "Why do you care what I think of you? Especially after I…what I did before."
"That wasn't you," she insisted, with more force than she intended. "I mean, that was a long time ago, it doesn't matter anymore."
"It does matter! I wish every day that I could take back what I did to you," he said, anger seeping into his voice.
"But, you protect me all the time. You've saved me so many times - twice with Laxus; then during the exam from the monsters, and then Grimoire Heart. You are always there for me and I never do anything for you!" she cried, wanting him to understand her frustration with herself.
"You're my friend," he said after a pause, his voice softer than she had ever heard it before. "I'm accepted in this guild by almost everyone, but you and Pantherlily are the only ones I would really call friends."
Levy tried to contain her shock. She had never thought that Gajeel even really cared about things like that. He was so tough all the time, she forgot that even he would want someone to care for him. Maybe even someone to care for. Her cheeks tinted pink when she thought about what that might mean. She had found herself liking him more and more since the incident with Laxus. She knew there was far more to him than he let on, especially seeing him interact with Pantherlily after their return from Edo. If she was honest with herself, she also knew why it bothered her so much during the exams when he had been more focused on fighting monsters than her needs. It was because she wanted him to pay attention to her. She wanted him to like her as much as she liked him. The question really was, how much did she like him? And in what way?
"You will always have my friendship," she promised him. "I'm sorry that you haven't felt close to anyone else here though."
"I didn't expect anyone to accept me anyway," he said, shrugging. "I really don't need their friendship anyways," he paused. "But it's not the same with you – I owe you something."
"You've more than made up for it to me. But what about Jet and Drory, you don't seem to feel the same way about them," she said carefully, not wanting to upset him again.
His lips pulled off his teeth in a sneer, "If they had done their job in the first place, I could have never hurt you to begin with."
"That's not really fair, Gajeel. All three of use together couldn't have beaten you even if you hadn't surprised us, and you know it."
"Maybe, but I already let them have at me. I'm done making things up to them," his tone said the subject of Jet and Drory was closed.
"But not me?" she asked, putting them out of her mind and trying not to sound too hopeful.
He paused, measuring her with a long look, "It's different," he repeated. "You see me. You don't see a guy who used to belong to a dark guild - who defected and joined you and could turn again at any time. That's what they see. You see me," he said again. "And I see you," he added.
She nodded slowly, knowing that he was right. He did see her, more than she realized. She had thought during the exam that he really didn't care about her, but she knew now that that was not true. He cared about her, or he wouldn't be here. She smiled slowly, the realization warming her from the inside out.
"Do you want to 'see me' tomorrow morning for training, say around 10?" she asked, her smile adjusting into a playful smirk.
He grinned back at her, his fangs gleaming a little ominously, "You sure you're ready?"
"Are you sure you're ready? I'm not going to take it easy on you just because you still have a bandaged arm," she teased.
"Yes you will – but you won't need to," he argued. "Okay shrimp, are we good now?"
"We're good," she assured. "I'm sorry again about before."
"Eh, stop worrying about it," he said, patting her head the way he always liked to, mussing up her hair. "You just worry about being ready for the training I've got in store for you…I've had all week to plan it," he said, winking mischievously.
"I can't wait," she said, sounding more confident than she felt.
"Okay, 'night shortie," he said, turning and opening the door to let himself out.
"You know, I do have a name," she complained, standing in the doorway with her arms crossed over her tiny frame, trying to look intimidating.
Gajeel stopped and turned around, leaning down until his mouth was next to her ear, "Goodnight Levy," he rumbled, her name rolling off his tongue in a gravelly wave. "Sweet dreams."
He stood up and walked away, leaving her standing in the doorway, a little shiver still clinging to her spin. She didn't know what, but something had just changed between them. Tomorrow was going to be interesting. She watched until his broad frame disappeared, and she was left alone to ponder her day. It had turned out all right after all – maybe even better than all right. She needed time to sort through her feelings before tomorrow, so she decided to lay her books aside for the night and make herself a nice mug of hot cocoa. It was time to ask herself the big question…how did she really feel about Gajeel? She didn't have to think about it very long, she knew how she felt about him. She had known the moment she was forced to leave him during the exam to fight alone because it was the hardest thing she had ever done. The more important question was, did he feel the same – and was she brave enough to find out? Only time would answer those questions.
K.K: Okay peoples, you know the drill - gimme some feedback. I stretched Gajeel a little, I know. I'm trying to keep him in character while revealing a little more of personality. Lemme know what you think! :)