Disclaimer: I do not own the Fairy Tail series or any of the characters.
Summary: After Metalicana, Gajeel never respected anyone. Until now.
Note: Word translations and author notes are at the bottom, as usual.
Gajeel wasn't exactly brimming with respect.
He'd respected Metalicana once, until the scrap heap bastard had disappeared without so much as a word. He hadn't found anyone worth respecting since.
When he'd joined Phantom Lord, it hadn't been out of admiration for the guild or its master. For all its power and affluence, the guild was largely made up of weaklings, as far as he was concerned. But he needed cash, which meant he needed work, and the guild met his requirements by not being fussy about morals. The shady jobs usually paid the most. Metal wasn't cheap, and he needed to eat.
Master Jose wasn't weak, but Gajeel would never respect the man. Jose was an evil bastard. Gajeel could deal with that — after all, he was no saint himself. But Gajeel didn't try to hide what he was. The thin veneer of politeness that barely concealed Jose's obsessive greed and sadistic madness left Gajeel with a slimy feeling whenever he had to deal with the guild's leader. The only reason he followed orders was because he hadn't yet learned enough about Master Jose's magic to be certain of how to defeat him. As soon as he could, he was taking over this dump.
Not that he really had much respect for himself either. But he was strong, and that was worth something. It was all he had, really.
Respect was overrated.
One day, it started raining, and didn't stop.
The mage's name was Juvia Loxar, and the master seemed to think she was a special find. It was only a few weeks before Jose announced that she was S-class. That's how it worked in Phantom Lord. The master decided when you were S-class, and that was final. It made the guild pretty competitive, as its members were constantly trying to upstage each other in a bid for attention. It also made for a lot of jealousy and occasional backstabbing. Until now, the only other S-class mages here aside from Gajeel were a weirdo called Sol and an idiot named Totomaru, both of whom Gajeel had already beaten up with ridiculous ease. There was also a big, blindfolded guy called Aria who was always crying all over the place. He had been more difficult to defeat. Gajeel avoided him, because the guy was fucking creepy.
Juvia was new, and quiet, and strange, and as far as anyone could tell her only power was her ability to make the weather shitty wherever she went. And now she had been given S-class ranking without any apparent effort. Even the lowest members of the guild immediately marked her as a target. It was just little things, at first — a casual comment about the constant rain, a whispered remark about what other services she must be offering to be accorded such favour by the master. It would only get worse.
She didn't do anything about it. She just looked at people, expressionless, and the lack of reaction made them hate her more. They didn't consider her any kind of threat. They certainly didn't respect her.
Gajeel really didn't take much notice of the rain girl in the beginning. He knew her name, which was more than he'd bothered to learn about most of the guild members. He didn't give a shit about her or how the guild treated her. So long as she stayed out of his way, he wouldn't bother beating her senseless just yet. Eventually he'd get around to testing out the reason why she'd been given S-class status, but he was in no rush.
But this constant rain left a rusty taste in his mouth. It wasn't a bad taste, but it was sort of like having a hint of wasabi on everything. It got annoying after a while, especially if he was trying to enjoy some copper, or a bit of gold as a treat. Like wasabi on ice cream.
Finally he left the guild house, determined to find somewhere dry to enjoy a meal. Maybe afterwards he would find a job that would take him out of town for a couple of weeks. Somewhere sunny.
He shoved some metal into a sack and took off for a drier part of Oak Town. A deserted courtyard where the sun was trying to peak through the clouds made a suitable place for lunch.
Until it started raining.
He threw down the iron railroad spike he'd been about to take a bite out of and stood up, glaring at the stupid girl who'd had the nerve to ruin his meal. Anyone in the guild with any sense knew not to annoy him when he was eating.
She didn't seem to notice him there at first, and he took a moment to size her up. She was a small woman — just a girl, really. She strolled along, umbrella in hand, with her blue dress and her weird hat and that stupid teru-teru-bozu doll at her throat. This was an S-class mage? The idea was offensive. She was timid and weak and he hated her.
She spotted him sneering at her then, and froze like a scared rabbit. It made him angrier.
"You ruined my meal," he growled at her. "No one bothers me when I'm eating."
"Juvia is sorry, Gajeel-sama," she replied. Her expression was as blank as ever, but her shoulders hunched as if she wanted to hide. "Juvia will leave."
"You'll leave when I say you can leave," Gajeel snarled. "I wanna find out how someone like you got made S-class."
He lashed out, extending a transformed iron arm across the courtyard to bat her away like a cat playing with a mouse. But the blow never landed. It went through.
Her face wasn't quite blank anymore, but it was hard to tell what emotion was glittering in her eyes as she took in Gajeel's surprised expression. It could have been fear, or anger, or even humour. Maybe a little of each.
"Juvia is a rain woman," she said after a moment. "You can't hurt Juvia's body."
Gajeel never took it well when he was told there was something he couldn't do. He attacked again, and again. But she was telling the truth. All of his attacks were physical. Unless he took her by surprise, he couldn't touch her.
"Bitch," he spat. "Is that your power? You make shitty weather and you turn into water so you won't get hurt? Seems pretty pathetic to me. Fight back, unless you're scared!"
A blast of water struck him in the chest, flinging him backwards hard enough to crack the stone wall behind him. He didn't even have a chance to catch his breath before watery blades came arcing towards him, and he was forced to harden his skin to avoid being sliced to ribbons.
"You can't hurt me with that," he called, giving her a nasty grin. "If that's all you've got, you're even weaker than I thought. Is this what passes for an S-class mage in this stupid guild?"
Physically, they were at an impasse. But he thought he could guess at another way to hurt her. Words weren't his weapon of choice, but he knew all too well that they could be wielded like blades.
"You don't belong in Phantom Lord," he fired at her. "No one wants you there. Everyone's sick of it raining all the time. Stupid bitch. Can't you tell when you're not wanted? You're a hundred years too early to hope to match up, weakling. Go home, Ame-on'na!"
He wasn't sure which part of what he'd said had been most effective, but apparently at least one of his barbs had struck home. Boiling water surged towards him, an inescapable torrent that shoved him back into a corner of the courtyard and held him there.
Iron was tough. Heat it and it could melt, but boiling water wasn't nearly hot enough to do the job. It could break with a sharp enough force, but not easily. His bones were like wrought iron — strong, slightly flexible, and without the brittleness of cast iron. But where Juvia had the advantage was in the type of force she used. His iron body could shrug off the heat and withstand sharp blows, but this unrelenting pressure was taking its toll. Iron could bend.
His whole body was protesting the treatment. His head felt like it was caught in a vice. His chest was aching as ribs slowly caved inwards, forcing all the air out of his lungs. He couldn't have drawn a breath even if his head hadn't been under water. Dark spots were growing in his vision.
He half-thought he could hear the groan of metal under stress as his body approached the breaking point. Iron could bend, but bend it too far, and it would snap. It had no choice.
Suddenly, the water was gone, taking the pressure with it. He pitched forwards, catching himself on his hands and knees as he gasped for air.
"Juvia does not want to fight with Gajeel-san."
Gajeel-sama, she'd called him just a moment ago. The respect was gone from her tone now, and he was reduced to a business-like Gajeel-san.
He shook off the last spots from his vision and glared at her retreating form. Her guard was down. She thought he was beaten.
The metal spikes he fired after her proved otherwise. The first one caught her by surprise. She staggered as blood sprayed from her calf where her boot had been pierced. The rest of the spikes passed through her harmlessly. Those were some fast reflexes, or maybe it was an instinctive reaction to pain.
A few seconds passed before she turned to face him again, limping heavily. He was impressed that she hadn't fallen. Most people did. It looked as if the bleeding had already stopped. Gajeel guessed that maybe she could control that too. Blood was mostly water, after all.
She stared at him for a long moment as he got to his feet, and he waited to see if she had anything else up her sleeve now that he knew to avoid any more blasts of water from her direction. He might even enjoy this if she got really serious. He hoped she would.
There was no dodging this. The water surrounded him from every side, encasing him. He thrashed, extended iron limbs outwards, fired darts in all directions, but he couldn't break through the surface.
"There is no way out of Juvia's Water Lock."
He stared through the water to where the woman stood, close enough to touch if he could just break free. His air was running out more quickly this time.
Juvia locked eyes with him and watched him struggle. She seemed mildly interested, as if he was no more noteworthy than a goldfish in a bowl. Slowly, she tilted her head to one side, a vaguely calculating expression stealing across her face. She did nothing else. She only watched.
The dark was filling his vision again, and his burning lungs were too painful to ignore. He fought it as long as he could, until the stale air left his lungs in a rush of bubbles. He managed to resist for a second or two more, and then reflex took over and made him gasp for breath. Water rushed in, and his brain, in panic mode, told his lungs to cough, but that only filled his lungs faster. The darkness closed in.
Water... coughing... air...
Gasp it in! More air!
Coughing again, vomiting up water, sucking down as much air as possible...
He lay on his side, knees curling reflexively towards his chest, coughing so hard that his whole body spasmed with the effort. It felt as if his muscles were trying to tear themselves away from his bones.
It seemed as though it would never end, but finally he could breathe without coughing. From somewhere, he summoned enough strength to roll onto his back. Raindrops pattered against the skin of his face to join the rest of the water as he blinked up at the grey sky. He was drenched.
Juvia leaned over into his field of vision. Belatedly, he realized that her hand was resting on his chest.
"Juvia brought the water out of Gajeel-san's lungs. Gajeel-san will live, now. Juvia is going home."
He stared at her as she rose to her feet and dusted herself off. She made her way over to her pink umbrella, which lay abandoned on the ground where she had evidently dropped it. Picking it up, she settled it over her shoulder and limped away without a backwards glance.
Gajeel wanted to do something. Follow her, fight some more, shake her hand, something. But he didn't have the energy to move. He'd do it later, then, once he figured out what it was. He wasn't beaten. He wasn't.
He smelled something, then, that seemed out of place until he realized what it meant. He hadn't felt anything because he was drenched from head to toe, but that couldn't mask the smell, even diluted as it was, especially not from his sensitive nose.
He wasn't completely invulnerable; he'd been knocked unconscious many times. He'd suffered injuries so terrible that he hadn't thought he'd ever recover. But he had never suffered the humiliation of pissing his pants before.
It was then that he realized why it had happened.
And now he started shaking. Fear flooded through him, blanking his senses. Fear! When was the last time he'd felt it? He couldn't remember.
Dead. He'd been dead.
Until Juvia decided to bring him back.
Why did she do it? He didn't know.
Gajeel lay there until the rain stopped.
"Rain, rain, go away!"
Jeers and laughter filled the guild hall.
It was the third day since Gajeel's encounter with Juvia. He'd stayed away from the guild the first day while he waited for his lungs (and his pride) to stop aching, and there hadn't been any sign of her yesterday.
"Why are you limping, Gloom-ia? Did you slip in a puddle?"
Gajeel watched her from the corner of his eye as best he could without turning away from his meal. She was limping, he noted as he chewed on some bolts, but not as badly as she had after their fight. She went to the request board and examined the selection, apparently determined to ignore the taunts aimed at her.
That wouldn't do.
"Oi, Ame-on'na!" he called out.
The rest of the guild fell silent, waiting in anticipation to see how Gajeel was going to add to their fun.
Juvia had turned to face him, looking a bit surprised. Gajeel wasn't exactly sociable within the guild hall. If he bothered to address anyone, it was usually not a good thing.
"How's your leg?" he asked.
She hesitated for a second, as if weighing his intentions.
"Juvia is better today," she answered. "Juvia has some control over how fast she heals, since she is made of water."
"That's good," Gajeel commented casually, aware of the other guild members gawking at him in shock. "So it shouldn't hold you back any when you show these assholes why you're an S-class and they're not?"
Another long pause, and then her blankness cracked as she smiled at him. It was a smile with an edge to it.
"It won't hold Juvia back," she answered. She turned to stare down the rest of the guild as her arms became watery whips.
It was starting to dawn on the other guild members that something Very Bad was coming.
Before she let loose, Juvia looked at Gajeel again.
"Would Gajeel-kun like to watch?"
"Gi-hi-hi-hi! Fuck yeah!"
"Juvia, how did you become such good friends with Gajeel? You've always been so informal with him. You even call him Gajeel-kun..."
Gajeel had just entered the Fairy Tail guild hall and happened to be passing behind Bunny-Girl when he heard her ask Juvia that question. Juvia spotted him, and gave him a smile, but said nothing.
As far as he knew, she'd never told anyone. And he knew she never would.
But he was different now. His pride didn't hinge so much on being undefeated when everyone here had already seen him beaten and didn't think any less of him for it.
Besides, the answer had such great shock potential.
"It's not a long story," he spoke up, causing Bunny-Girl to jump as she and the rest of Team Natsu spun to face him.
"One day, Juvia killed me. We've been nakama ever since."
"You killed Gajeel?" Stripper-Boy asked Juvia, stunned.
"He got better," she murmured, blushing.
Their faces were priceless.
For a moment, anyway.
"Awesome! Juvia, fight me!"
"Natsu, stop it! Leave Juvia alone!"
"Love rival! Juvia doesn't need your help!"
"Ow! Natsu, you bastard! Ice-make..."
"Gray! Put some pants on."
"Ah! When did that happen?"
"I'm all fired up!"
"Uwaaah! Gray-sama, save Juvia!"
"She l-l-l-l-likes you!"
"Stop rolling your tongue like that!"
"M...my strawberry cake... REQUIP!"
And just like that, his awesome, shock-inducing statement was forgotten. Gajeel scowled as he ducked a flying table. He had come back from the dead, and no one cared about how badass that was! He just couldn't get any respect around here.
Maybe he'd write a song about it.
wasabi - spicy Japanese horseradish paste
teru-teru-bozu - literally "shine shine monk", doll used as a charm to ward off rain
-sama - honorific denoting deep respect or admiration, addressing a superior
ame-on'na - literally "rain-woman", one of Juvia's monikers
-san - honorific used as standard among equals, acquaintances, strangers, polite but not deferential
-kun - honorific generally used to refer to young males, casual, not deferential, sometimes affectionate, can also be used to address one of junior rank. Juvia refers to Gajeel this way in the manga/anime, indicating attachment and even friendship. Her first usage of it in this story would be shocking to the other Phantom Lord guild members, considering the context.
nakama - close friends, comrades, friends who are like family, friends for whom you have platonic love
oi - exclamation to get attention, like "Hey you!"
I had this idea a while back. It started when I wondered how a battle between Gajeel and Juvia might turn out if they had ever faced off in the past. On the one hand, Gajeel's dragon slayer magic appears to share some similarities with ice-make techniques in that it seems to be limited only by the user's imagination. On the other hand, Gajeel's attacks are completely physical, unless he ever pulls a Natsu and uses the power of loud roaring to hurt an opponent's ears (which was awesome, by the way!). Meanwhile, Juvia is immune to physical attacks. So far we've only really seen her affected by ice, electricity, mental attacks, and Erza (who is a force of a different kind and therefore gets her own category).
I can't picture Gajeel letting anyone address him casually before he joined Fairy Tail unless he had real respect for them, and I can't imagine him respecting anyone back then unless it was someone who could take him in a fight. I had a good time thumping some humility into him, and I also enjoyed letting Juvia get away with murder. The final scene wrote itself. And yes, Juvia's "He got better" is a reference to Monty Python.