Chapter 13: Together
Levy stood in the clearing between Dreer's chair and where Gajeel remained standing, shock still evident on his face. This couldn't be happening. Five years? When they had just begun a relationship? Dreer couldn't do this. It was unethical and she was sure he did not have the authority. She vaguely heard Pantherlily's voice beside her, rage evident in every word as he loosed his fury at the so-called judge.
"What court?! This is not a court! You're a thug with an agenda, masquerading as a judge out to do 'good'. But this is clearly just a personal vendetta!"
She couldn't tear her eyes off of Gajeel though. The pain and confusion on his face was unbearable to watch. He was humiliated and broken; even his shoulders were slumped under the invisible burden of his past. This was what he had been trying to tell her earlier. He had been trying to forget the past, and it had been thrown back up in his face. It broke her heart to see the look of regret in his eyes. He just stood there, head bowed, staring at his hands. She wanted to run to him and comfort him. She wanted to turn on Dreer and pummel him into the ground. She wanted to make all the people gathered around them disappear. She just wanted this nightmare to be over.
The booming voice startled her so badly she jumped. The sound was terrifying and the very air around them began to feel heavier. She wheeled around to find the source of the roar, and caught a glimpse of Pantherlily's face. He was...grinning. It was a look of utter triumph. What had she missed? Then the crowd parted and she suddenly understood. Her look of fear and confusion melted into a smile of her own. Saved. They were saved. Gajeel was saved.
"Master," she whispered, relief washing over her in waves.
Master Makarov walked toward them, his face a cold mask of barely controlled anger. Though he stood shorter than all, his presence made everyone in the area cower and take a few steps back. His fists were clenched at his side and his eyes were shadowed under bushy furrowed brows. He stalked into the clearing and stood beside Gajeel.
Gajeel repeated her quiet words in acknowledgment, "Master."
"Shut up, brat. I've gotta clean up your mess."
Levy almost laughed at his response, but her attention toward Dreer. She smiled a knowing smile at him. "You're gonna get it now, you snake."
She backed away and took her seat beside Pantherlily. Gajeel remained standing with Master at his side. He was still reeling from the effects of the trial, but she could see that his shoulders had squared some.
Dreer's confidence seemed to have shattered, but he remained indignant, "What is this?"
"This is the beginning of the end for you my boy," Makarov growled. "You have tried to smear the reputation of a member of my guild. You have committed crimes in order to pursue your revenge against him. On top of that you have attempted to punish him using authority that is not yours!" his voice grew steadily louder as he laid down the accusations. "You have attacked one of my children in the most under-handed way imaginable and you will know the consequences! Yajima!"
Levy saw another man approach the clearing. Somehow she hadn't noticed him when Master Makarov first appeared. She smiled in recognition as the small old man stepped up. She knew him well. He had once been a member of Fairy Tail when the Master was young. He was also a retired Council member. He stood beside Gajeel and patted his arm, whispering for him to take a seat. Gajeel hesitantly obeyed and returned to his seat beside her.
"Shaemus Dreer, you are hereby under arrest for the suspected murder of Timone Barker," the old man calmly stated. "Captain Lahar, if you would be so kind as to take this man into custody."
"Certainly sir, with pleasure," Lahar responded readily.
"Wait a second!" Dreer protested. "This is absurd. I am the circuit judge for the province appointed by the Magic Council, I have the papers here! I haven't killed anyone. And Yajima isn't even an active member of the Council anymore. By what authority can you have me placed under arrest?"
Dreer seemed to have regained some confidence and stepped forward to point a chubby finger at the old man.
"Sit down!" Makarov roared, and whether by magic or sheer presence, he seemed to grow larger.
Dreer scurried back to his seat and quickly planted his rear in it. Yajima produced a scroll from behind his back and stepped forward to where Dreer sat cowering.
"This is a letter from the Magic Council granting me the authority to bring you in. It seems with all this business with that Dark Mage Zeref, the Council is stretched thin enough to give an old man like me some leeway," he chucked good-naturedly; then turned serious. "That's how you pulled this whole thing off in the first place isn't it? You found out that a circuit judge had been notified of a small hearing involving Gajeel Redfox. That sort of information is easy to come by since you are in fact a judge working for the Council. You wanted the case for yourself, but it was out of your jurisdiction. So, you took advantage of the fact that the Council is too scattered to put guard escorts with their circuit judges anymore. You killed him with no witnesses, a feat I'm sure you're more than capable of with your prior history, and took his place. All to get to Redfox. Am I getting warm, sonny?"
"You can't prove any of that," Dreer said, but he didn't sound confident anymore.
"Lahar," Yajima repeated, before turning to address the crowd. "Let it be known that Shaemus Dreer is under arrest for suspected murder of a fellow judge. His actions and ruling here shall be disregarded by the Magic Council. Gajeel Redfox will be immediately acquitted of all the charges laid against him of murder and is free to return to his guild with his Master."
Lahar motioned and his guards stepped forward, seized Dreer by the arms and dragged him away. The Captain turned toward Yajima, "I'll have two of them take him back to town and place him in local custody until I can have more men come for him. I don't have enough manpower right now to spare them from this site, especially with a demon sealed here."
"I understand," the old man replied. "So, what are they going to have you do about the demon?"
"Blow up the ruins and bury her under the rubble again. It seems the safest course of action. The Council will give the archaeologists one more week to remove any artifacts they can find and make some more recordings."
"That was generous of them."
"Well, this place certainly does contain a lot of information about the Origin of Magic. It would be a shame to level it without learning as much as we can."
"Hmm, I'm glad they are not messing around with this though," Makarov muttered. "We have enough on our plates without having to worry about a demon threat, especially if she's as powerful as the legend says."
Levy chose that moment to approach the men, "Master, how do you know all of this?"
He smiled at her, "Is that obvious?" He glanced behind her and winked.
"I told him," Lily's voice came from beside her leg. "I left the other night and went into town to contact the guild. I gave the Master all the information we had at this point and told him the truth about what happened with Octavious. He told me he needed two days to get what he needed. You didn't arrive a moment too soon, Master."
"I contacted Yajima and we set out to find the circuit judge. When the man turned up dead, we followed the trail to Dreer. He must have gotten rusty with covering his tracks since leaving Phantom Lord, it was easy to find out that it was him. We decided to let him play out his charade in order to catch him in the act and discover his objectives – though we suspected that he was after Gajeel all along."
"You accomplished all that in two days? I'm impressed, Master," Levy praised him. "So what happens now?" She cast a worried glace at Gajeel, who remained uncharacteristically silent during all this.
Makarov gave the Dragon Slayer a sympathetic look and shook his head, "We will go home now. I trust that your mission has been fulfilled?"
Levy thought about that a moment, "Well, we got the "bandits" and all the translating that needed to be finished is done now. I guess we did complete the assignment."
"Good, the next train out of here leaves in two hours; can you be ready by then?"
"Yes Master," Lily answered. "I'll pack our things since I've already said my goodbyes. Is that alright with you?" he asked her.
"Sure Lily, thank you," Levy said, giving him an appreciative smile. She was going to have to sincerely thank him later for everything that he had done to make things right today.
Lily disappeared and Levy turned to Gajeel. He was standing very still, but he raised his head and looked at her when she approached.
"Are you okay?" she asked, reached up and touching his arm.
"I'll be fine. Let's get ready to get out of here."
His voice was rough with emotion, which he was trying hard to mask with his usual gruffness. It wasn't fooling Levy though. He was broken on the inside, she could tell from the look in his eyes. She had never seen him like this before. It almost reminded her of the expression on his face the first time he had saved her from Laxus, when he had walked away after absorbing a bolt of lightning meant for her. This was much worse though. His dark crimson eyes were lost in shadows; his brows drawn together in frustration and pain.
"C'mon, let's say goodbye," she suggested, gently pulling him over to where a group of their friends had gathered.
The twins and their parents were standing with Henry. Levy could tell that talking with them after they had seen all those images was the last thing Gajeel wanted to do. But he needed to at least say his goodbyes before they left. He stood next to her, not quite looking any of them in the eye. Levy broke the awkward silence first.
"I'm glad that's over with," she said, breathing a little sigh.
Leah responded first, "I agree. That was awful for us to go through; I can't imagine what it must have been like for you. That Dreer fellow was a real nasty sort – I can't believe that he did such a horrible thing just to get back at Gajeel."
Gajeel remained silent, only now he was blatantly staring at his feet. Levy struggled for an appropriate response. Kane saved her the trouble.
"Listen, Gajeel," he paused and waited for the man to look up at him. When he didn't, Kane continued, "Whatever that bastard pulled up from your past, you have to let it go. We've all made mistakes, some big, some small, but that's not what matters."
"What matters is what you do now," Nero finished for him. "You're not that guy anymore, so don't let him get to you."
"That's right," Henry added. "You cannot live your life in shame son, that's no way to live at all."
Gajeel finally looked up. Levy stared at his face, noting the small changes. He was still caught up in inner turmoil, but he managed to give them a small smile of gratitude. She thought she saw traces of wonderment there, as if he could not believe they had forgiven him.
"I thought you might not want to have anything to do with me after you had to see all that," he admitted. "Thanks for…for what you said."
"We have all grown fond of you Fairy Tail mages," Leah said, smiling at him. "Your reputation as a rough bunch may have some merit, but you have good hearts."
"We can't thank you enough for all you've done for us," said Henry. "I must thank you, for both the protection you offered Gajeel, and the aid you gave us in deciphering the runes, Levy. Thanks to you we have a new language to record."
Levy smiled up at him, "We were happy to do it. I have to admit, I really wish we didn't have to leave so soon. You have all become like family to me over this past week. I had so much fun working with you all and sharing in your efforts here. Thank you for being so kind to all of us."
"If we run into any more trouble with translating ancient script, we know who to call on first," Nero said.
"That's for sure. We'll have to make sure it's in a dangerous location though, so Gajeel won't get bored – I'm sure he'll want to be coming with you on your missions from now on," Kane commented, winking at her.
Levy blushed, "It sounds great to me. Just let me know if you ever need any help with anything, translating or otherwise."
"We will certainly do that, my dear," Henry said. "I hate to cut this short, but there are some important matters I must discuss with Captain Lahar. I wish you both, and Lily, the best of luck. You have been a blessing to all of us and I hope that our paths will cross again soon."
"Us too," Levy answered, giving him a quick hug.
Henry shook Gajeel's hand and turned to leave, instigating the procession of goodbyes and hugs with all who remained. Gajeel shook Brock and Nero's hand and accepted a friendly man-hug from Kane. Levy almost laughed out loud as she watched him awkwardly lean in and clap the other man hard on the shoulder. Oh if only Lily was here to watch this. As far as she knew, Lily was the only male who Gajeel ever openly showed affection to, and the fact that he was a cat somehow made it seem completely acceptable. But here was Gajeel accepting a hug – if you could call it that – from another man his own age. How far he had come. She gave both of the twins hugs goodbye, giggling when Nero gave her a tight bear squeeze. Meanwhile Leah had captured Gajeel in her own motherly embrace, which he returned much less awkwardly than her son's. Sara and Elaina joined them to say their goodbyes as well.
Gajeel and Levy were about to head to their tents to give Lily a hand when James appeared suddenly. Levy greeted him politely, and kept half an eye on Gajeel as she did so. He behaved somewhat coolly to the other man, but was not hostile.
"I wanted to say goodbye before you left. I'm sorry about the big mess this all turned out to be, and I'm glad you're both alright."
"Thanks James, we appreciate that. I'm sorry that things turned out this way too. I hope that you will be able to discover much more about these ruins before they have to be demolished," Levy said.
"Yeah, me too. Well, goodbye Levy. It was good to work with you," he said, shaking her hand. "You too," he glanced at Gajeel, but didn't make a move to touch him, which was wise, because he probably wouldn't have accepted it.
As he turned to leave, Levy cast a long look up at Gajeel, holding the gaze until he looked back at her.
"Nothing. I'm just glad to be headed home."
"Yeah, me too. I would be happy to never come here again."
"You mean, to these people?" she asked.
"No, they're fine. It's just, a lot happened here this week – a lot of it that I don't care to remember."
Levy felt her eyes water a little and looked away, blinking back tears. How could he only focus on the bad things, when they had also…
"What's wrong?" his voice was concerned now.
"Levy," he persisted, putting his hands on her upper arms and bending down so he could look at her face. "Tell me."
"It's just…this place. This is where we shared our first experiences as a couple. You gave me our first kiss here. You saved me here. You held me in your arms all night after that. This is a very special place to me now. Yes, some bad things happened, but I think a lot more good came out of it. To me, the good far outweighs the bad."
Gajeel sighed, pulling her against him in a tight hug, "You're right. I'm sorry Levy, I didn't mean what I said. It's just, with all those…images…fresh in my head I guess I'm just thinking about the bad things and not the good ones. Thanks for reminding me though. I was…I was kind of worried," his voice trailed off.
"Worried about what?" she asked, although she thought she already knew.
"I thought that…you might not want to stay with me."
She sighed then, pressing her face into the familiar fabric covering his chest, and deeply inhaled the scents that were unique to him – leather, salt, earth, and something a little spicy, like pine or cedar. Her arms were wrapped around him as far as they would reach, and her hands were fisted in the material on his back. She could feel his heartbeat thundering loudly beneath her ear, proving how afraid he really was.
"Gajeel," she began, choosing her words carefully. "Part of what makes me love you so much, is the fact that before you came to us in Fairy Tail, you weren't a good person. I don't think you were evil either, but I know that you did things that were wrong because you were told to and you maybe even enjoyed them sometimes. But when you came to Fairy Tail, and you were slowly accepted into the guild, you completely changed. Looking at you every day proves to me that there is hope for everyone. People have the power to become something more than what they have been taught to be, they just need to be given the chance. Maybe, if Master had not saved you when he did, you might have fallen into total darkness. But you didn't. You came to us. You saved me. You've atoned for your past. And because of all of that, I've fallen in love with you. When I see you, my heart skips a beat – not in fear anymore, but in excitement and nervousness. Sometimes you drive me crazy and I just want to knock you upside the head…"
"Or the face…with your purse," he commented wryly.
She giggled, "That too. But most of the time, I just want to be near you. I know how broken you must feel right now, but even so, being here in your arms makes me feel safe and protected and sure of myself. I want you to feel the same way. I would be happy if I could give even a small part of that back to you."
"You do, Levy. You do," he whispered, pulling her even tighter against him in a fierce embrace.
There was no more need for words. She knew that he would still need more time to fully recover from what happened today, but he was well on his way. They would both be alright. As they drew apart from each other, Levy looked deep into his eyes and saw a fire there that she had never seen before. It was not the same as the flames that lit his crimson gaze when he was angry or about to do battle with a worthy opponent. It was a brighter, stronger light in them now. It was hope. And as he returned her gaze, she saw in that stare all the love in this man's heart was burning brightly for her. It made her want to look away. She didn't deserve so much. But she was only drawn deeper, and she found herself closing the small distance between them as she went up on her toes to reach him. She captured his lips in a chaste kiss, sweet and short, but it still communicated everything that she needed to tell him. He smiled at her when they broke away, a little tug in the corner of his mouth that eventually stretched into a full grin, sharp teeth gleaming in the afternoon sun. That grin, which some would consider unnerving when directed at them, only made Levy's stomach do little flipflops. Oh how she loved this man.
"C'mon," he said suddenly, still smiling at her, "Let's find Lily. He's probably elbow deep in your unmentionables by now."
Levy gasped, "Oh I didn't even think of that!"
"Eh, who cares – it's not like we haven't seen them before," he replied with a wink.
She swatted his arm before taking off to save the cat from his frilly fate.
After gathering their supplies and saying a few more goodbyes to the workers, Levy, Gajeel, Lily, and Master Makarov set off down the trail that would lead them to the town and the train station. Yajima had stayed behind at the ruins to oversee the developments there and learn more about what they had discovered. As they walked down the vaguely familiar path, Levy was amazed at how beautiful the road through the woods actually was in daylight, bordered with flowering trees and weeping willows. She had barely been able to see her hand in front of her face the night they had first arrived at the ruins. It had been barely a week and yet it seemed so long ago to her now. So much had happened.
They made good time to the town, which proved important because they almost missed the train, for it departed half an hour earlier than they had thought. Master Makarov had insisted that they buy tickets for a closed compartment car in which they could freely talk about all that had transpired without the risk of prying ears. He asked them to relate the whole story of what had happened over the last week to him. So for the next several hours, Levy told him everything, with Gajeel and Pantherlily filling in all the parts that only they had witnessed. Amidst many interruptions from Master and exclamations of unbelief, they finally finished the tale.
Master sat across from the three of them on a sticky red leather bench, stroking his mustache thoughtfully and frowning. Levy and Gajeel sat with Lily in between them. They elected not to tell Master right away of the relationship that had blossomed this week, feeling it was impertinent to the story.
Finally, Makarov broke the long silence, "This is a lot to take in. But there is very little information that we can actually act on. We know that the situation with Sidonia will be taken care of by the Magic Council – they have very little patience for threats of this magnitude and I have no doubt she will be sealed away effectively. We are still hunting for Zeref and Acnologia, but there has been no sign of them since Tenrou Island. What you have discovered about the history of magic is probably the most important find of all. There have been many theories about the origin and what you have described does seem to be aligned with the teachings of a little known school of thought that does believe that dragons were the start of it all. The inscriptions on the walls of the ruins, if believed, may bring the world of magic and the wielders of magic into a deeper understanding of each other."
"But do you think that what was written about the Dragon Slayers is true?" Levy asked.
"That is the most puzzling piece of all. If what was written is accurate, then we know that there are four Dragon Slayers…and three of them are members of Fairy Tail."
"That awfully coincidental, don't ya think?" Gajeel commented.
"I don't believe in coincidences," said Lily. "Something about our guild has drawn these individuals together, and if that is true, then the fourth may not be far away. Perhaps we should look for him."
"Perhaps," said Makarov thoughtfully. "Or maybe he will just come to us, like the three of you already have," he said, aiming his comment to Gajeel. "But there is something more. While you've been away this past week, I heard a rumor about an upcoming event that should interest all of you."
"What's that?" Levy asked.
"A Grand Magic Tournament, designed to allow all the registered guilds in Fiore to compete against each other in a fair test of their skills and strength."
Levy noticed Gajeel's eyes light up, "Sounds great."
"There's more. There is a local guild near us known as Sabertooth…have you heard of them?"
"I've never had dealings with them personally, but I have heard the name. They're not very strong." Gajeel said.
"True, but they have just recruited some new members, two of which should be of interest to you."
"Why is that?" Levy asked.
"Because they claim to be Dragon Slayers."
"What?!" Gajeel exclaimed.
"But how can there be two if the ruins said there is only one other Dragon Slayer?" Levy asked.
"Who knows? Perhaps they are imposters. Perhaps they use a dragon lacrima like the one that was implanted in Laxus. But we need to test the waters to see if these claims are accurate, and I can think of no better way than to compete against them in the Tournament."
"Is it confirmed then?" Levy asked.
"It is in the developmental stages, but I would be interested in seeing it get on its feet. Especially since there is talk of a large monetary award for whoever wins the Tournament," Master said, eyes gleaming.
Levy and Gajeel shared a look; leave it to Master to be in it for the money.
"Well, I suppose we better knuckle down on our training then," Lily said, always the practical one.
"I have no doubt that we will come out on top," Makarov stated. "We have been blessed with the strongest mages in all of Fiore, and I know our Fairy spirit will lead us to victory!"
"He means lead us to the cash prize," Levy thought to herself, smiling and shaking her head.
"Well maybe these other two "Dragon Slayers" can help us figure out what going on with our dragons," Gajeel stated quietly, a tiny bead of hope creeping into his voice.
Levy smiled at him. He would never admit it, but he did really miss Metalicana. She yawned, resisting the urge to lean on his shoulder. Train rides made her sleepy and it was still an hour before supper was served in the dining car. Sensing her mood, Lily stood up and crawled into her lap, leaning back against her chest as she wrapped her arms around him. She leaned her head against the divider that separated them from the rest of the train and slowly let sleep claim her. She felt Gajeel move next to her and cracked an eye open to see him pull his feet up on the bench, resting his back against the window, just as he had when they had ridden out here. She closed her eyes again, but she could feel him watching her even as she dozed off again.
She never heard Master and Gajeel speaking in hushed tones, and only woke when a train attendant knocked on the door to announce that supper was being served.
They made their way to the dining car and ordered from the menu, asking each other what they thought looked good. As they were waiting to be served their meals, Levy noticed something must have happened when she had been asleep. Master kept looking at her strangely and Gajeel was extremely interested in his glass of water, staring at it like it held all the answers to the universe. Lily was as oblivious to the answer as she was, but the odd behavior was certainly not lost to him. She broke the awkward silence by asking Gajeel if he wanted her to make some iron for him to eat. She had thought the question to be completely innocent, as Gajeel ate iron as much as he ate regular food, and had not consumed any for some time. Instead, Master Makarov had hid a chuckle into his pint of beer and Gajeel had just stared at her in confusion.
"What?!" she finally demanded, determined to solve this.
"Cooking for your man already, Levy?" Master asked by way of explanation.
She paled and then blushed fiercely as she put it together. Master knew they were a couple now, Gajeel must have told him while she had been sleeping.
Beside her, Pantherlily gave a quiet chuckle of his own, having arrived at the same conclusion she had, "Well you have to admit, making a meal of metal for him does take a lot of stress out of the meal planning."
"What meal planning?" she demanded. "We're a couple now; we're not married!"
Now it was Gajeel's turn to lose all his color, causing both Makarov and Lily to dissolve into snickers, and Levy to want to bury her head under the table.
Finally, Master composed himself and addressed them seriously, "I am happy for both of you, though of all the members of our guild, you two were the last as I figured as starting a relationship. Amazing how fate draws us all together."
Levy smiled shyly at Gajeel and then responded, "I couldn't agree more.
It was almost two in morning before the train pulled into Magnolia Station. Everyone was exhausted, even though most of them had slept on the train. Master returned to the guild and Gajeel and Lily walked Levy to her dorm. It seemed strange now, knowing that she was home and would be sleeping alone in her old bed again. She was too shy to invite Gajeel to stay the night with her and he had saved her from asking by mentioning that he wished to check on his apartment. They had kissed goodnight in front of her room and she promised to see them both at the guild in the morning.
Despite being so tired, Levy slept fitfully that night. She missed the warmth and comfort of knowing someone was there next to her, wrapped up in Gajeel's protective arms. She cuddled herself around her pillow and finally fell asleep just before dawn. It wasn't until eleven when she finally woke up. Cursing under her breath, she showered, dressed, and ate a dry breakfast from what was left in her cupboards. Some of the food she had bought at the market the day before they left had spoiled, but that didn't really bother her. Afraid that she was late to meet Gajeel, though they had not stipulated a time to go to the guild, she rushed out and headed for Fairy Tail.
When she arrived, she found that she had beaten him there after all. Instead of him and Lily greeting her, she was met by Lucy first. She embraced the other girl, thankful that it was her that she had met at the door. Lucy asked her about her trip and Levy told her it had been amazing, promising to give all the incredible details later. She spotted Jet and Drory walking toward her and excused herself, asking Lucy to wait a few minutes. The Celestial Spirit mage also saw the other members of Shadow Gear approaching, and remembering how things had been left before the trip, nodded her head and gave Levy an encouraging smile.
Levy squared her shoulders and walked up to Jet and Drory, giving them a tentative smile, "Hi guys."
Before she could get any further into the speech that she had worked out to repair their friendship, the other two boys dissolved into hysterical tears. Quite stunned by their behavior – though it really wasn't out of the ordinary – she tried to comfort them as their plaintive wails disturbed the rest of the guild and caused a scene. Finally, when they had brought themselves under control, Jet spoke clearly.
"We're so sorry, Levy. We shouldn't have said any of the things that we said to you."
"We were just jealous," Drory added candidly.
Levy smiled as she thought about the words Gajeel had said to her. "Jealousy can make a man do some pretty stupid things." "Guys it's okay – I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have run away and I then not told you where we were going. I don't want anything to ever happen to our friendship okay?"
"Us either," said Jet.
"We're sorry for calling Gajeel all those names too…he's been a lot better since he joined the guild. It's just, we had a hard time accepting him after what happened, and neither of us could understand why you could forgive him so easily, much less like him as a friend."
Levy smiled, "I understand how you felt," she let out a breath. "But there's something I need to tell you…"
Gajeel arrived at the guild at almost noon. He and Lily had slept in late that morning, and Gajeel had almost not slept at all. He missed the smell of strawberry cream shampoo and the feeling of soft smooth skin under his hands. He took a long hot shower, enjoying the feeling of being truly clean after a week of cold outdoor showers. He changed into clean clothes and attempted to tame his wild hair back a little with a bandana. Despite his lack of sleep, he did feel invigorated, though he was absolutely starving.
Lily seemed refreshed as well as the two of them made their way to the guild to see their friends and get some food. When they arrived, the guild was quiet, despite there being many people there. He spotted Gray, Lucy, Natsu, and Erza sitting at a table to his right. They were speaking in whispers and glancing toward another group of people standing to the left of the doors and further into the room. There was Levy talking to Jet and Drory.
He wasn't sure if his presence would make things better or worse, but he wanted to at least make peace with the two of them. He had decided that he needed to atone for what he had done to the people in this guild. He had obviously accomplished that with Levy, but he had made very little effort with Jet and Drory; and one other member he had hurt badly, he thought as his eyes slid to the table at the right of him again.
Lily spoke from beside him, "I think you should go to her. You can make your intentions known and still keep things civil with them."
"I don't know, remember what happened last time?"
"All you can do it try."
"'kay, but I'm blaming you if this goes wrong," he threatened jokingly.
That decided, he walked over to where Levy was talking to the other members of her team. As he approached, the look on Jet's face confirmed he already knew the truth. He was not hostile, but still a little unbelieving. Gajeel put the other man's questions to bed by resting his arm around Levy's shoulders as he came to stand beside her. She squeaked, but did not pull away. Gajeel fixed Jet and Drory with a level gaze.
"Oi. I know you two don't have much reason to like me. I've done some really bad things to you and I'm…sorry," he tasted the word as he said it. It was unfamiliar and he didn't much like the way it sounded on his tongue, but he went on anyway. "I'll never raise my hand to Fairy Tail again, you should know that by now. I don't know if you'll ever call me a friend and to be honest it wouldn't bother me if you didn't."
He paused when Levy elbowed him lightly in the ribs.
"But it wouldn't bother me if did either," he said with a little huff. "Also, I don't have any intention to break up your team. But Levy's with me now; and it's up to her if she wants to take any more missions with me." His voice lowered some more as he stared at the two men, obviously dumbfounded that he was saying so much to them, "And I better not ever see the two of you make her run off and cry again, you follow me?"
They nodded at him, still shocked, but not angry. They seemed to realize the depths of his feelings for Levy. They couldn't be happy about it, but they seemed to understand that her body and her heart were safe with him – he would protect both.
"I don't think anyone has to worry about that," Levy said, easing the tension with her sweet voice. She ducked out from under his arm, but caught it again when it fell to his side, "The bonds of true friendship can never be broken, only tested and strengthened by trial."
He looked down at her, "That was…"
"Really cheesy," Jet finished for him.
She scowled at both of them, "It was a quote from a book!"
"A really cheesy book," Jet teased, causing Dory and Gajeel to laugh in spite of himself.
Before Levy could launch into a tirade against them all, Gajeel extracted himself from her grasp reluctantly, "I have to go do something; I'll be right back."
Levy gave him a puzzled look but nodded. He turned and made his way over the tables where Natsu and the others were sitting. They each gave him curious glances as he pulled a chair up to their table and sat down next to Lucy.
"Oi what's up with you, Metalhead?" Natsu asked, in his normal aggravating abrupt way.
Biting down a retort, Gajeel turned to the object of his visit; Lucy.
"I need to tell you something," he began, feeling totally lame and fighting the embarrassment on his face.
Her eyes were large and blue as she looked back at him, but the fear that normally lurked there when she was near him was absent.
"What is it, Gajeel?" she asked hesitantly.
He scrubbed at the back of his hair, trying to find the right words, "So, since I came here and became a member of Fairy Tail…I haven't really ever apologized for what I did to you back in the guild war…"
You could have heard a pin drop at the table. Erza had a small smile on her face, but you could have knocked Natsu and Gray over with a feather. Lucy was obviously surprised, but her face was soft when she offered him a small smile of encouragement.
"Anyways, I'm sorry for what happened and whatever you want me to do to make it up to you I'll do. Within reason," he added, when he thought of all the things she could make him do. The girl had a crazy streak in her that rivaled Natsu's sometimes.
She only shook her head and smiled a little wider at him. Leaning forward, she gave his shoulder a little pat, "There's nothing I want you to do. Hurting you wouldn't change what happened and it wouldn't make me feel better. You've changed a lot since you came here and that makes me happy," she paused. "Maybe there is one thing though…"
"What?" he asked, a little warily.
Lucy gestured behind him, to where Levy was laughing with Jet and Drory like nothing had happened, "That little blue haired girl is one of my best friends, take good care of her," she said with a wink.
Gajeel smirked, "That I can do."
"Um, I don't get it. What's this got to do with Levy?" Natsu asked suddenly.
Gray facepalmed, "You are such an idiot."
"I am not! Now someone tell me what the hell is going on!" Natsu shouted, threatening Gray with a raised fist.
Erza answered him, "I believe that Lucy is reminding Gajeel to take care of Levy because they are now a couple."
Natsu's face turned beat red as he stared at Gajeel, "You're DATING Levy?!"
Gajeel bared his teeth and hissed at him, "Keep your voice down Salamander, you don't have to tell the whole guild!"
"Because I asked her, you freaking moron!" Gajeel ground out; then smirked when a thought occurred to him, "You jealous, Flame Brain?"
"Why would I be jealous of you, Iron Breath?"
Gajeel leaned in close to him across the table, almost hitting their heads together and smiling wickedly the whole time, "Because I have a girlfriend and you don't."
"I could get a girlfriend any time any place if I wanted to," Natsu shot back.
He was clearly just thinking up retorts off the cuff and not considering what he was saying exactly.
Opportunity knocks. "Could you really? Alright then, prove it. Get a girlfriend right now."
Natsu, without the slightest hesitation, turned to Lucy, "Hey Lucy! Go out on a date with me tonight!"
Lucy's face went completely pink up to her ears, "Wha..what? You can't just go about asking girls to go on dates with you just because someone dared you to! You don't even like me…you're just asking me because you're jealous!" she was getting angrier as she continued.
"No I'm not, I like you Lucy. I sleep at your house all the time! Come on, go on a date with me!" Natsu was pleading now.
Gajeel raised an eyebrow ridge over the sleeping comment and wisely decided to make his retreat at that moment. He backed away from the terrifying roar of Lucy's full rage exploding.
"Don't go saying things like that without explaining! You don't sleep at my house because I invited you…I just wake up all the time with you and Happy under my covers!"
"That doesn't sound much better," Erza observed.
Juvia had materialized at the table sometime during the excitement and was commenting on how she wouldn't mind it if Gray-sama crawled into bed with her, which earned her a horrified rebuttal from Gray claiming he would never do that.
As Gajeel retreated further from them, Levy appeared at his elbow, "You didn't have anything to do with that, did you? I thought I heard you challenge Natsu to ask someone out."
He turned an impish grin on her, "Who me? I would never."
"Here," she said, offering him a plate with a delicious looking roast beef sandwich on it. "Lily ordered you one. He's eating with Wendy and Romeo. Apparently he's been sucked into another round of that Domination game with them."
"Nice. He won't surface for hours then. What did you get?"
"Oh nothing much, just a turkey wrap – Mirajane makes this special sauce that she puts on them, it's so good."
"Do you want to go outside and eat?"
"Sure," she replied, smiling at him. "We could go to that place by the aqueduct."
"Yeah, and look, I ordered strawberry lemonade with two straws this time."
He smiled at her, "Why? I would have preferred one."
She smirked at him and led him back to the spot where they had first held each other. Outside, the air was hot and humid, and the cicadas were whining in the trees that grew on patches of grass within the city. The streets were not crowded at this time of day; most people were seeking refuge indoors from the noonday heat. They arrived at their spot and sat next to each other on the little bridge, baring their feet and dipping them in the cool water. They ate their sandwiches and talked to each other. They talked about the mission they had just come back from for a little while, but then their conversation strayed to less heavy content. They agreed there was nothing they could do for now about the matter. The identity of the fourth dragon slayer would be revealed, and then there was the matter of the two new members of Sabertooth claiming the title themselves. They would just have to train hard and prepare for the coming Tournament. They talked about everything and nothing, letting their conversation drift lazily between different subjects. Gajeel had never been one for long conversations, but something about Levy made him open up. She was so easy to talk to, just as Lily was.
"Some of the food in my fridge spoiled", she commented. "I need to take care of that when I get home before it starts to stink up the rooms."
"Hmm," he replied, considering his next words carefully. "So I've been thinking…and if you don't like what I'm saying just tell me, it's fine…"
She looked at him curiously.
"My apartment is a lot bigger than your dorm room. And I have two rooms, even though Lily sleeps with me. I don't really have anything in the other one right now. I had been thinking of making it a weight room, but there's stuff like that at the guild I could use. If you lived with me, it could be your library."
Her eyes had gone round as he rushed to continue, "And it could still be your bedroom – I'm not asking you take any steps you don't want to take and I would never ask you to do anything – "
He stopped short when she leaned over and kissed him fully on the mouth, snaking her arms around his neck and almost knocking him off balance. She held him there for a few breathless moments, as he pulled her close to him, smiling against her mouth.
"I want to live with you and Lily," she said, breaking free. "I know it seems like we're rushing things, having just started together and all but…this week changed a lot for us. I could hardly sleep last night without you next to me."
She smiled shyly, "We don't have to go too far too fast, especially with Lily there. But I want to be with you Gajeel – I can't imagine not having you with me now."
He pulled her into his lap so that she faced him. It may have been wildly inappropriate, but he really didn't care at the moment. There was no one around to see them anyway. Taking her face in his hands, he cupped the back of her neck with his fingers, drawing her gently toward him. He kissed her forehead, and her nose, and her cheeks and her eyelids, and finally her lips, drawing her into a steadily deeper kiss. Her scent filled his nose as nibbled on her lower lip, earning him a tiny moan that almost drove him mad. This woman had completely taken over his heart. She was everything to him, and he knew in that moment that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. He had to fight the urge to ask her right then and there, but that was crazy, wasn't it?
He'd wait. He didn't know how long, but he would wait for the right moment. If they kept this up, he might have to ask her sooner than he planned. He loved her so much and wanted to honor her, but she was going to drive him crazy long before the normal amount of time had progressed before asking such a thing. They were so young, it seemed insane to imagine them being m- he couldn't even bring himself to think the word.
He broke the kiss and buried his face in her neck, nuzzling her skin and rubbing it with his teeth the way she liked so much. Her forehead rested on his shoulder as he continued his ministrations, her breath coming in ragged gasps. The heat and the closeness was making them both sweat and the air itself seemed laden with water, the humidity was so great.
"You know what would be nice right now?" Levy asked.
A dozen things popped into Gajeel's head, none of which he would share with her, "What?"
"A swim at the beach."
"Are you intent on recreating the day before we left?"
She smiled, "I hadn't thought of that, but maybe I am. What do you think?"
"I think we should take these plates back to Mirajane and grab some swimsuits."
She lifted herself off him reluctantly and pulled him to his feet, "Let's go then."
They went back to the guild and returned their dishes, telling Lily where they were headed. Wendy's eyes lit up when they mentioned the beach, commenting that it was the perfect day for it. Gajeel set aside his previous thoughts about some of their beach activities and decided to invite her to come with them. She accepted and then Romeo asked if he could come. When he was allowed, he promptly went to go ask Natsu if he wanted to go. That led to Natsu's team all rushing to grab their suits with Juvia on their heels, saying something about Gray in the swimsuit. Gajeel wondered what the big deal was since the boy was already in his underwear. Mirajane closed the bar so that she may attend and with Cana's supply of beer severed, she elected to go as well. Laxus, who had been reinstated to Fairy Tail following his actions on Tenrou Island, suddenly seemed interested in the venture. This of course led to Thunder God Tribe all declaring their intentions to follow. Elfman said that going to the beach was manly, and made for the doors immediately, dragging Lisanna after him who was trying to tell him that they needed to stop to get swimsuits first. Jet and Drory wanted to come as did Alzack and Bisca. Soon half the guild had elected to go to the beach for the day.
The whole afternoon had descended into chaos, but Gajeel surprisingly didn't mind. Levy seemed pleased that everyone wanted to go with them, and that satisfied him. They would have plenty of time to be alone together later, just because there was other people there didn't mean he couldn't still love on her, though not quite the same way he had been thinking of earlier. But when Levy came up to him and captured his hand in her little fingers, dragging him off to get ready for an afternoon of fun in the waves, he couldn't have imagined a better way to spend his day. And judging from the huge smile she was giving him, neither could she.
K.K.: Good Lord, it's done. I can't believe that this has taken me so long to finish. You know, this fic was supposed to be a lot shorter than this when I first started writing. I had no idea I was going to spend so much time and effort into it. And now that I've come to the end, I don't want it to be done. I barely knew how to finish it, it had grown so large. When I began writing it, the Tenrou Arc was not finished, so I wrote my own ideas. I tried to bring it back full circle, minus the 7 year time gap of course. I might write an epilogue, but I'm going to mark it as complete finally. I want to thank everyone for their time and reviews and support and suggestions. I can't believe how many people have followed this story and commented on in. I just found out that my story has inspired artwork on Deviant Art, which everyone should go see and favorite. It's by poki-grzyb deviantArt. Go look, it's amazing! Again, thank you all for your support, I probably would have never finished this if not for you all! Maybe the next thing anyone reads from me will be a real book! ^_^ Love to all, and keep the reviews coming!