(and yeah this can sort of be a companion to weak but not giving in (yeah, remember that other cana-gildartz-thing that i wrote. you should go read it) but you don't have to have read that to read this.
spoilers for all the time-skippiness – this was started right after cana and gildarts had their moment and and has been written/edited to fit with mostly everything as of the last chapter i read, but if there are issues, then – eh. )
leave the bourbon on the shelf
They try to play chess on the ship back from Tenrou Island.
It's been 7 years, apparently, not that it matters. He only found out about her what feels like hours ago and sometimes she'll catch him staring at her like what have i done and it makes her skin prickle uncomfortably, but feel warm all at the same time – maybe a little bit like drinking, or maybe not.
She's white, and Gildarts – father, dad ,daddy – is black.
Cana thinks her favorite piece has to be the knight, because it looks like the horse she never wanted when she was a child and it can get through that damn barrier of pawns.
Lucy and Erza are sunbathing near them, and sometimes Erza will offer strategy tips. Cana has only played chess like once before, and she was drunk and it was with Gray, so she doesn't know if Erza is actually being helpful or trying to screw with her. Loki is moping next to Lucy, maybe about some big drama in his life right now or maybe just because Lucy isn't flirting back. It's debatable.
Speaking of, Levy and Gajeel are off flirting with each other over by the railing and then Evergreen, Freed, and Bixslow are all flirting with Laxus, with Elfman looking on jealously. (At Evergreen, with all her low-cut green dresses and everything. He's probably not jealous because Bixslow and Freed are flirting. Probably.)
Bisca and Alzack – and she missed their wedding and they have a child and she used to drink with Alzack, and he'd mope about Bisca and she'd laugh – are chatting with Mirajane, and Macao's son – how old must he be, she wonders, but maybe it doesn't matter – is smiling at nothing, and Wendy is next to him, the breeze making her hair go everywhere.
She captures one of his pawns, and feels a small moment of satisfaction.
The feeling is dashed when Gildarts captures her bishop.
Cana wishes for things like a drink and the knowledge of how to play chess – because her mother never knew and she'd learned how to gamble and count cards and cheat instead and the few rules she'd picked up watching Master teach Mirajane after Lisanna had died hadn't taught her much more than what color went first.
She moves another pawn.
"I hate chess." She says.
Her father smiles at her. "Me too."
She smiles back, because for some reason she's happier than anything. "Then why are we playing?"
"Fuck if I know." He says, and then they're laughing for almost no reason at all.
They decide to play checkers instead – but really they end up throwing the pieces at Natsu and pretending it was Gray.
The boys start fighting and Natsu almost knocks Lucy overboard - somehow managing to untie Lucy's bikini top, but really, that might just be how Lucy's clothes work - and then Erza gets involved, and it's all of a sudden a much more interesting boat ride.
The next time, she ends up sprawled out on the couch is his tiny, shitty apartment. It's almost devoid of furniture – as far as she can tell, he sleeps on this couch and eats on the floor and uses the same dishes for everything, but then, she can't remember when he's been home for more than six days anyway.
Gildarts is in the other room, stirring a pot on the stove. She thinks it's just plain ramen, but he keeps swearing that it's actually a secret recipe – she'll hit him when she finds the packet, but it's nice to pretend that they're the type of family with secret recipes and traditions, just for now.
Cana can hear him humming a song, but just snatches of it. She's not paying attention to that so much as she is staring at the lack of pictures on his walls.
She has this crumpled picture of him and her mother that would fit right there. That spot across from the window.
"Cana – do you want the orange bowl or the green bowl?" Gildarts asks.
She gets up and wanders into the kitchen instead of answering. He's stocked his shelves – glasses and cutlery and a cheese grater, even.
She gets the orange bowl and pours them both a glass of whiskey. He sweeps aside a pile of newspapers to reveal a hidden table. The ramen tastes just like the kind she gets at Lucy's, but when she hits Gildarts for some stupid joke, he laughs too hard and spills some on the rug.
It's not much, but he's been home for a week already and this is the start of – something. A tradition, maybe.
When Cana was younger, she always thought the Cherry Blossom festival was stupid. The kind of thing that really only happened in mangas, the kind of thing where girls who looked like Lucy or Erza (or, if you swung that way – guys that looked like Gray and Loki) got asked and girls like her sat quietly with the old man from the card shop or (when she got older) a drink in her hand and watched all the people who were happy.
Gildarts asks her if they want to go together – I used to see families doing it, together, eating all the sweets and taking pictures and holding each other's hands – and she sort of smiles and blushes and feels happy. She used to see families doing that too, with the little girls taking pictures on cheap disposable cameras and smiling up at their fathers through a background of stupid, pink petals.
So she says yes and she goes to Lucy's to get ready.
Lucy says she's going with Natsu and Gray and Erza, all together as friends.
"Just as friends, Cana. It'll be fun." She says, and Cana winces as Lucy pulls her yukata tighter. "Natsu and Gray will probably have an eating contest and Erza will beat them and Happy will try to grope me and it'll be fucking fantastic –"
"Uh, Lucy – not so tight, okay?"
The blonde girl blushes. "Sorry."
By the time they're all dressed and ready and perfect looking, Natsu is napping on the couch in his regular clothes and Erza is eating Lucy's food and Gray is already gone because he promised he'd meet Juvia and, okay, maybe Cana maybe rolls her eyes a bit at that, but whatever.
Loki appears at Lucy's door three seconds before they leave, insisting that he's here to escort Lucy.
Cana laughs, and lets them walk a little bit ahead of her on the way to the guild – Loki bumps his hand into Lucy's occasionally, and after five tries she lets him hold it. It's almost cute.
Natsu rolls his eyes and bumps into Gildarts in his hurry to get to the festival. Gildarts, who is smiling at her, Gildarts who is her father, and she just can't get over that she greets him with hey dad when she sees him.
He grins clumsily back at her, but before the night is over he's managed to spill beer on her twice and he leers at six different women and he gets into a fight with one of the vendors over the price of a pastry and she's not embarrassed – because Lucy's dad is dead and she's always wanted this – but she might be fuming when she excuses herself and he doesn't even notice because there's a tiny blonde at the bar that he's chatting up.
Natsu is sitting between Lisanna and Lucy and Romeo has sugar all over his face and Happy and Charle are standing oh-so-close and she remembers this one time with Gray, in his apartment, trying to get drunk and promising to stay conscious together – and it's just a stupid, insignificant moment in her life.
She takes a sip from her glass and it's been twenty minutes but Gildarts finds her standing in the shadows.
They're quiet, for a little bit.
"When I was little, I thought these only existed in books and movies – I didn't think people actually went to them."
She stares at Gajeel and Levy, curled up on a blanket, and Bisca and Alzack and their little girl, and at Loki staring at Lucy with the kind of stare that she's only ever seen in fairy tales and Laxus laughing with his grandfather and Juvia and Gray and Erza all eating and talking over some sticky sweet and –
"I'm sorry." He says.
"It's okay." She replies and Gildarts wraps an arm around her shoulder and fireworks go off and cherry blossoms fall and it really is.
Here's the thing – Cana is good at cards. And maybe she's not good at anything else, like relationships and being happy and cooking, but when Gildartz says he and Macao and Natsu and Erza are playing poker, she smiles and asks to be dealer and feels good.
She sits down at the table, between Gildarts and Natsu. Gray, whose not playing – and Natsu says something about it being because he has the worst poker face ever – is perched on the edge of Natsu's chair. Macao is across from her, and sometimes she'll catch herself looking, because he's gotten so old, there are wrinkles and scars that she's never seen before and they used to be something and it makes her feel too old and too young all at the same time.
"Cana. Deal." Gray says, poking her in the shoulder.
She rolls her eyes and bridged the deck again. "Five-card draw?"
"Always." Gildarts says.
Macao purses his lips when he picks up his hand. She remembers he used to do that, sometimes, when they were lying in bed and not talking – her with her hands folded across her stomach and him just staring at her.
She's not surprised when he folds first chance.
Natsu stays in. Natsu, actually, doesn't really seem to accept that folding is an actual part of poker.
Erza has, of course, the best poker face Cana's ever seen. If Gray didn't occasionally look at her cards and snicker, Cana would probably be out of money by the third round. Of course – he's Gray, so he does, and she's Erza, so she punches him and Lucy is Lucy, so she just steps over him when she comes to yell at Natsu for wasting her rent money.
"Shit." Macao says, after the seventh round – Natsu is out Lucy's rent money for the next two months because he kept betting on aces high, Gray is still on the floor, and a crowd has gathered to watch.
Cana rakes the pile of coins to her side of the table – Erza glowers, but doesn't, you know, stab her or anything, so that's a plus. Gildarts offers her a high five, even though she just laid down a four of a kind to beat his full house.
Cana is good at cards, and if it's because she always keeps a few extra aces in her sleeve, than no one needs to know that.
She's still not an S Mage, and Gildarts is still the best person in the entire world, so she's still surprised that he invites her to go on a mission with him.
(He'd asked her the stupidest way too, him standing at the front of the guild with a bag over his shoulder and her bracing herself for the inevitable goodbye and then – "Cana," he's said, and she'd almost started to cry, "why aren't you packed?"
And then she had started to cry and they'd had to postpone the job a whole day.)
But she needs the money so she can pretend she actually wants to pay off her bar tab and also she sort of wants him to smile at her the way he does Natsu, sometimes, that wow you have a future kind of way. And maybe that's selfish, because he looks at her sort of like you are the light of my life and no one looks at Natsu like that, but maybe she's a selfish person.
"It's a small dragon, sweetheart, nothing to worry about. Nothing like that black dragon," and he stiffens here, tracing scars and remembering. "Yeah. It'll be fine."
She shuffles her cards and packs a flask and flushes with pride because he asked her and not Natsu or Gajeel and they're dragon fighters and she's not even anything.
"Don't die." Gray says, before she leaves – he's on his way to do some job with Natsu and Lucy and Erza that will end in disaster or an epic adventure or probably both and everyone will talk about over drinks, but right now she punches him on the shoulder because Lucy is next to him and they've all been avoiding mentioning death and father because of the way her face pinches.
Gildarts – father, dad, daddy – puts an arm around her shoulder and she thinks about that first time she saw him, when she was tiny and he was huge and she was lost and so was he.
They go off to fight dragons together.
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