Author's notes: Hi there. Long time no see, isn't it? Allow me to introduce you to the new chapter that took me 4 months to make and is actually the 6th or 7th version of the chapter... add a bit too much of Real Life into the count and voila! you have it. (seriously that was almost worse than going into labor T.T)

Of course, while I went missing, I didn't get the ownership of Fairy Tail. It still belongs to Hiro Mashima.

Please, enjoy!

Let's Play Pretend

# 17 Skipping over a minefield

How did it come to this?

This was the question Gazille had spent the last two days asking himself, over and over again. How could such a thing happen to him? Or, more precisely, how could he NOT anticipate it? He wasn't dumb and had always considered himself to be pretty sharp, yet, that hadn't prevented him to be caught off-guard; the foreign thing had hit him straight in the chest and left him without a breath or a word, while his world toppled over, sending him head first into unknown territory without a safety line to hang on to.

And when he had managed to stand back on his feet... he had realized that he had just fallen for the Munchkin. Literally.

He would be lying if he said the thought had never ever crossed his mind, in the past; after all, with Lily around, it would have been pretty hard not to. He had noticed, especially in the few hours after he made up with her, that leaving her out of his sight had become difficult and his own hands had been aching to touch her, time and time again. He had already suspected something was not right with him, when his body had started reacting to the tiniest touch, eye contact or smile and that was without mentioning the effect her scent had had on his mind... Despite all that, it wasn't until she thanked him for the repaired glasses that he realized exactly what he was dealing with.

Of course, hearing the words I just love you so much greatly helped, too.

Now, he wasn't dumb enough to believe she had meant to say those words. He knew that she had been referring to her glasses, that her words had been an innocent statement of gratitude, instead of a love declaration, but hearing it from her, especially with the ecstatic voice she had used, had triggered some serious self-questioning for him. For the next two days, he had been struggling with himself to understand what was happening to him, why her words had affected him that much and what it finally meant, if his heartbeat was speeding up like crazy, every time he thought of her, or his guts filled with freaking butterflies. The confusion had lasted until he finally accepted to talk about it with Lily, who had patiently listened to his endless rambling, sorted his messed up words into correct informations before helping him analyze their meaning and make him see the (obvious) facts.

"You love her," he had said, with a knowing smile, "it just took you that long to realize it, because you're the most pigheaded bastard this world has ever known."

He still recalled the shiver that had crossed his spine, at that moment. Hearing the word Love never failed to disturb him, as he had long stopped believing any good could come out of it. Metalicana's betrayal had clearly taught him that entrusting your heart to somebody else was like asking to be stabbed and left behind to rot; only idiots that didn't know better would seek it and he had always considered himself smarter than that. It was mostly why he had always kept to himself, in the past, why he never really sought company in a woman (beside the occasional encounter to release some tension, something he hadn't done in a while) and also why he had been so against the idea of being forced into a relationship by Mirajane. By leading a life without commitment, without deep attachment, he had believed he wouldn't have to fear of being deceived again and that would have been exactly what would have happened, if the Barmaid hadn't forced him in a corner and made him agree to date the Munchkin. He would have resumed living his life of daily fights and music, with his cat and his iron, totally ignorant of all the trouble that came with a relationship.

However, if he had done that, he would have never met the real Levy, the one who was much more brave and mischievous than he had imagined. He wouldn't have been blown away by her wits and cheerful personality, which had warmed him up enough to allow her in his (very small) circle of friends. He wouldn't have grown fond of her to the point he started to care for her health or her happiness; he wouldn't have started to grow greedy of her smiles, her laughter or her attention. He wouldn't have become addicted to the sound of her voice or her delicious scent... her exhilarating touches or even her kisses...

He wouldn't have, as Lily claimed, fallen in love with her.

Despite this revelation, his common sense was clearly against the idea of claiming her as HIS woman, for the very good reason that they had started dating with the clear intent to prove they wouldn't make good lovers. He was pretty sure Levy still believed it was the case; even though she seemingly enjoyed his company, what were the chances that she could be interested in having a genuine relationship with him? Him, who had done such cruel things to her, in the past. She might have forgiven him for his past actions, as she had claimed, but would her clemency go as far as to allow him in her heart? He seriously doubted it, which was why he didn't plan to act on his new-found feelings. He wasn't going to ruin that almost intimate thing between them with his desires, even if it was going to be a real torture.

This decision mainly explained why he hadn't left the safety of his apartment, yet; he didn't know if he was going to be able to keep himself in check, when he would face her. He had no idea if he was going to be strong enough to fight his instinct and keep his hands to himself. While chewing over those thoughts, he found himself procrastinating his meeting with her, hoping his courage would eventually appear and act as a shield for his longing. He knew he couldn't keep doing that, though: if he didn't show up soon, she might get the wrong idea and think he didn't want to see her anymore, which was the complete opposite of what he really wanted.

His stomach was buzzing with butterflies, when he put on a clean shirt and a coat to shield himself from the rain, outside. Despite his hesitation, he had to go to the guild to show he was still alive and kicking. Fortunately for him, the current weather was probably going to keep her busy with her nose buried in a book, which should give a break to his racing hormones... as long as she didn't kiss him like last time.

He slipped his boots on and placed his right hand on the handle of his front door before taking a long breathe to steady himself. He was going to go through this. He was going to succeed at the goal he had set for himself, which was to act as if nothing had changed and suppress his feelings until they disappeared; if he had managed to fool Ivan Dreyar and Raven Tail with his acting, he could do something as easy as this, right? Of course. It was no problem for Gazille Redfox.

With eyes of a conqueror and a chest puffed in determination, he turned the handle to step out of his apartment, well intended to win this fight, but his plans suddenly crashed down, as his eyes took on the petite form of a young woman standing on his porch, looking at him with hazel eyes filled with surprise, her wavy blue hair hidden under a bright yellow umbrella and a fist raised to knock at his door.

He almost jumped backwards, when their eyes met; the bluenette blinked, obviously taken aback by his sooner-than-expected appearance, before a wide smile bloomed on her lips, the surprise in her eyes replaced by her trademark cheerfulness.

"Hi, Gazille."

The sound of his name stirred up the freaking butterflies in his guts; he unconsciously put an hand on his stomach and opened his mouth to greet her back but, instead, he heard himself growl in annoyance.

"Whatcha doin' here?"

He had even furrowed his eyebrows, out of habits; per chance, she didn't seem to mind his rude reply.

"I came to see you," she answered, as if it was evident, "Lily told me you guys were done with your renovations."

"Ah, yeah," he said, removing his hand from his belly before nervously scratching the back of his neck. Some rain drops bounced off her umbrella and fell on him, making him realize that he was making her stand in the bad weather. He quickly gestured for her to come in.

"Hurry inside, will ya?" he said as he stepped aside. The small fairy obediently complied, closing her umbrella and shaking the excess of water from it. He was about to close the door behind her, when he realized something that made him frown.

"Did you come here by yourself?"

She shook her head.

"No, Lily escorted me," she explained as she placed her umbrella against the door frame, "but he went back to the guild; he said he had something to do, there." She paused, giving him an hesitant look. "Does it... bother you, that I came? If you were busy, I can leave you to do your things..."

Her smile had lost a bit of its shine, when she said that; the Dragon Slayer quickly denied.

"Nah, I was just... doing... stuff," he said, while avoiding her soul-sucking gaze, closing the door behind them. He thought his answer had sounded lame, but, yet again, she didn't seem to mind. Her smile widened again.

"That's good. Since I didn't see you at the guild for two days, I was starting to think you might be angry at me," she said jokingly, though her crooked smile seemed politely accusing. He didn't have time to ponder on its real meaning because her eyes fell on his renovated apartment, immediately shifting her attention away from his previous lack of signs.

"Wow," she exclaimed in awe, looking left and right to try to see everything at once, "it's barely recognizable!" She started making her way forward, noticing first the new cupboards and pantry in the kitchen. The pile of snacks beside the fridge was now placed in a huge metal wired crate and three bar stools had been built to stand behind a breakfast bar separating the cooking area from the dinning room area. The table hadn't changed much, beside the addition of two new chairs; a small coffee table was now standing in front of the couch, in the living room, and a set of walls, plus a sliding door, at its left hinted at the presence of a new room.

"Lily's room," Gazille explained, when Levy turned an inquiring look on him.

"Does he still sleep in a drawer?" she asked with a little smile. The iron mage let out an amused hmph, sliding the door open to show her the room in question. Their eyes fell on a sparkling clean and tidy space with the bare necessities: a desk, a rack for the Musica sword and the very same chest of drawers that used to be beside Gazille's bed.

"I wanted to make him a regular bed," said the Dragon Slayer, "but he said he sleeps better in here."

Levy giggled behind her hand before turning toward the rest of the flat; at the right side, right after the kitchen, huge piles of metal parts were aligned near the wall, along a bunch of weapons and some chests filled with other things of some value. There wasn't much left, compared to the amount of stuff that used to take up the space, which, of course, didn't exactly guarantee that the rest of the house was clutter-free; there were some gizmos and random trinkets here and there, but most of Gazille's things were in that new designed corner. Finally, at the other end of the apartment, a long wall was hiding the two remaining features of the place. Two sliding doors were visible, one beside the other, which led to Gazille's bedroom and the bathroom. The bluenette gladly skipped to the latter, poking her head inside, where she saw a big wooden vanity, a toilet and a shower in the corner with the same white curtain than before.

"Ooh... that looks nice. It's at least twice the size of my own bathroom." She turned back toward her host. "Personally, I would have included a bathtub, but it's a perfect setting for you two. You must be happy with all those changes."

The Dragon Slayer distracted himself from her alluring smile by scoffing and crossing his arms over his chest.

"Tch, it was fine before all that," he said. "I just wanted to build walls for the bathroom, but Lily started making more plans and, before I knew it, the whole flat had changed."

It was more or less the truth: his cat had shamelessly insinuated that the script mage would be much more comfortable, if the place looked more like a regular home, making him go a bit overboard to renovate the whole thing.

"Well, I think you did a very good job," she replied, "but you guys mustn't have slept much, right?"

That would be an understatement. The man had stayed awake for almost forty-eight hours, doing the bouncer job he had picked up and, then, renovating the apartment. He had only been able to get some shut-eye around four o'clock, this very morning, and had awaken around noon, less than two hours ago.

"I slept more than enough," he answered, to which Levy rolled the eyes, unsurprisingly knowing it was his ego talking. Seeing her react normally to his words had a soothing effect on him; sure, his insides were still agitated and his muscles were twitching with adrenaline, but it was far from being as terrible as he had feared. If things stayed at this level, he was confident he could keep himself in check.

After a short pause, the small fairy gave him an amused look.

"Have you eaten, yet?" she asked him, her head tilted in a cute manner. He frowned in confusion.

"Uh? No, why?"

Her eyes darted to his belly, making him do the same to see, just as she did, that his hand was back on his stomach; she giggled softly.

"How about we go grab a bite?" she asked him, as he quickly dropped his hand and scowled at his unplanned gesture. "That's where you were going, before I arrived, right?" she pursued. He cleared his throat.

"Ugh, no, not really... Anyway, I can't: I'm short on cash."

"Oh, it's okay, I'm treating you," she immediately replied but Gazille's answer came faster than a blink.


Her smile fell, as she was taken aback by his blunt refusal.

"W-Why not?" she asked with obvious disappointment, her stuck out lower lip looking awfully appealing to him. He chose to turn on his heel to escape temptation.

"Because I said no," he answered as he made his way toward his kitchen. "I won't make you pay for me."

The sound of her booted footsteps told him she had started following him.

"When we went to Ray's Palace, you paid for my food. How is that different?"

"It just ain't the same thing," he replied stubbornly, going around his snack crate to stand near his pantry, while Levy approached the breakfast bar and leaned her forearms on it, eyeing him with a pensive pout.

"Oh, I see: it's a guy thing, isn't it?" she asked after a short while, a teasing smirk on her lips and her arms crossed on the counter top. He glanced at her over his shoulder, before closing the door of the almost empty pantry and opening his fridge's door. She rolled her eyes again at his stubbornness, though he only saw it from the corner of the eye. All this talk about eating was making him really hungry, but there weren't many options, as they were apparently due for grocery shopping. He wasn't going to accept the Munchkin's offer, though; it would be a serious blow to his pride and Lily would probably gut him open.

"Me treating you for lunch isn't much different than summoning Iron to feed you, when you think about it," she added to convince him to agree, when he let out a growl at the serious lack of anything substantial in the fridge, however, the man held his position and, instead, grabbed a jar of peanut butter and a round loaf of bread in the pantry. He tossed these items on the breakfast bar without much ceremony, right in front of the script mage, who raised an eyebrow, obviously amused by his obstinate attitude. She surely understood how pointless it was to insist, at that point, as she simply giggled and accepted his gestured offer to share a meal with him.

Gazille morphed his hand into a knife and cut the loaf into generous slices. While he was busy spreading the peanut butter on the bread, Levy propped her head in her right hand, watching him work. She had taken place on a bar stool, put her bag on the counter and removed her raincoat, revealing the loose white top, gray brown shorts and usual brown boots she was wearing underneath. He handed her the first slice of bread, that she gratefully accepted. While she took her first bite, he allowed himself a subtle glance in her direction. As expected, being this close to her was nerve-wracking; his heartbeat had sped up like crazy, ever since she had stepped in the apartment, and he couldn't hold her gaze without feeling his guts frantically knot themselves (that was without mentioning her scent and its intoxicating effect on him). He had been extra careful to not touch her, despite his fingers aching for it, and was currently glad that Lily had left them alone. While they were by themselves, the Munchkin didn't have to pretend to want to touch him or, Mavis forbid, to kiss him and, in his current situation, the iron mage couldn't be thankful enough for this small favor.

Even under such circumstances, he knew he couldn't afford to drop his guard. For example, very normal things she was doing, like smiling or moving a strand of hair out of her face, were painfully appealing to him. Hell, even watching her eat that damn slice of bread was a real torture for his mind, who had absolutely no shame imagining things he wasn't supposed to be thinking about. Her tongue slipped out of her mouth, then, to lick some peanut butter off her lips, and it was like a blow in the guts. Gazille dropped his head and let out a tiny groan that he had hoped to be quiet enough to not being noticed by her, but he found out he wasn't that lucky.

"Are you alright?" the small fairy asked with concern, tilting her head to meet his eyes, which were slightly hidden by his lowered head. He only hummed in agreement, afraid he would stutter, or worse, if he tried to use words. He was taking a long breath by the nose to ease himself, when he suddenly picked up a strange scent lingering around them, that reminded him of those cleaning products that couldn't be found in his house, since their scents were too harsh for Lily's and his noses. Raising the head, he sniffed the air again and brought his gaze on the potential source, sitting on the counter top, barely a feet away at his right.

"There's a weird smell coming from your bag," he stated with a frown. Levy let out a confused Uh? before bringing her own gaze down on the item; a fraction of a second later, her face illuminated itself in understanding.

"Ah, yes," she said as she took out a small plastic package from her bag, "it's probably the navel piercing kit I've brought; it's all pre-sterilized."

She showed him the bag in question, which contained a clamp, a needle in a tiny sealed bag, pliers probably used to hold the needle, gloves, an alcohol swab, a tiny bottle of cleaning solution, a body marker and a stainless steel barbell also in a sealed package. The man made a small nod, agreeing that it was the source of the foreign smell, until the information reached a part of his brain that analyzed it as what it implied to be shown a navel piercing kit by the small fairy...

It implied fulfilling his promise about piercing said woman's belly button, which, in turn, implied he would have to bear the sight of her lying on her back, partly denuded and displayed as an offering to him, with the soft skin of her best physical asset waiting for his touches... while being obviously forbidden to surrender to the temptation of running his hands, mouth and tongue all over it...

Useless to say that just thinking about it was making his blood rush downwards.

This... couldn't be good. It spelled trouble in so many ways, it would almost be less hazardous to go skipping over a minefield. The worst in this situation was that he couldn't say to have changed his mind about the piercing, since he had been the one insisting to give her one, thinking it would make her look more spunky, that it could break that perfect little angel image she was stuck with... That had been BEFORE he realized he was crazy about her, of course.

Fucking dumbass. Why didn't he give her a damn book, just like anyone else? It would have been fine, she would have been happy and he wouldn't be in this mess. But noooo, he had wanted to give her something original and unexpected, all this for the pleasure of witnessing her becoming all flustered over it.

Again. Fucking. Dumb. Ass.

Of course, Levy had absolutely no idea of Gazille's inner turmoil, that was giving him ideas along the lines of stabbing his own leg with his knife-shifted hand to calm down; the poker face he was displaying was perfectly hiding the nature of his real thoughts.

"A piercing kit, huh?" the man said as he picked up and held the bag at eye level, raising an eyebrow and faking nonchalance, "and here I thought you would have gotten cold feet, in the past two days."

Levy let out a small amused hmph.

"On the contrary, I've been ready for a while, now; while you were working here, I've read every single publication about piercing I found at the bookstore and, yesterday, I even went as far as to find a real piercing shop, where I got answers to all of my questions and finally ended up buying this kit."

It was Gazille's turn to snort.

"For someone who didn't want it, at first, you're sure excited," he said, placing the bag on the counter between them. "Why didn't you get it done, yesterday, while being at the shop?"

Levy made a small shrug, a faint blush on her cheeks.

"Well... if I had done it, then, it wouldn't have counted as a birthday gift from you, right? It just wouldn't have been the same."

The Dragon Slayer blinked, taken slightly aback by her answer; the greedy side of him was purring in happiness knowing that she wished to be touched by HIM, but he was perfectly aware that it wasn't good to have such thoughts. Wolfing down his bread, he turned around and walked to the kitchen sink to wash his hands.

"Alright," he said as he turned back to face her, wiping his hands with a towel, "let's just get this done with. Too late to change your mind, now."

"Yay!" the small fairy cheered, jumping down from the bar stool with her kit in hands, obviously excited about what was to come, "so, where should we do this?" she asked out loud, with a finger to her chin. "On the couch? Or maybe on your bed?" She turned in the direction of the bedroom, making him see for the first time that her loose white shirt had an open back that allowed him to see her bare skin down to her lower waist. That unexpectedly sexy sight, combined with her shorts that were outlining her butt and the way she suggested to use his bed, almost had him loose his mind, right on the spot. He even started nosebleeding, but he was currently standing behind her and he, luckily, got time to clean his nose and put his poker face back on, before she peeked over her shoulder to hear his answer.

"The couch's sagging, it won't be comfortable," Gazille managed to say with a straight face, to his own surprise.

"Ah, we should use your bed, then?" she asked again, blinking innocent eyes at him, while unknowingly playing with the strings of his self-restrain. He felt like groaning. Seriously, fighting his own desires was much harder than he had thought; he honestly didn't know how long he could hold on before he would snap. Per chance, he was saved from answering her question by a thought that popped into her mind. "Oh, but if we do it on your bed, we could possibly stain it; that's not good... Oh, I know!" she exclaimed, skipping to the kitchen table, "here, it's good, right?"

"Yeah, I guess," Gazille muttered, letting out a subtle relieved sigh. That had been close; if they had gone into his bedroom, in his current state, he honestly couldn't have answered for anything. The bluenette didn't waste a single second before hoisting herself on the table. The iron mage took on the sight in silence, for a second, telling himself that, finally, the table wasn't a much better idea than the bed: when she lied down, her position couldn't be called anything else than sexy, which did nothing to help pull his mind out of the gutters. Feeling another rush of blood about to come out of his nose, the man gave the pretext to want to fetch a pillow to escape to his bedroom, where he allowed himself a few seconds of reprieve, taking deep breaths by the nose and thinking very very hard about an image that turned him off, like Master Makarov wearing a g-string...

He eventually came back at his guest's side and placed the pillow under her in a way that inclined her upper body slightly, which would allow her to see him without having to crank her neck. When he concluded that she was comfortable and he couldn't find any more reasons to delay, he came to stand at her side and picked up the piercing kit, doing his best to concentrate on the things he would have to manipulate for the first time instead than on the warm and inviting body within arms reach. He opened the bag and took out the tools one by one, not quite sure in what order he was supposed to use them. Seeing his hesitation, the bluenette spoke up.

"I bought this kit, because I had no idea how you would proceed or what exactly you needed, but don't feel obligated to use it, if you don't want to."

He scoffed lightly, keeping his gaze on the kit.

"Tch, you took the trouble to buy it, I'll use it," he said in his usual gruff way. He had already decided that he wouldn't use the same method with her than he had used for his own piercings, anyway, which was shaping a nail out of his finger and sticking it straight into his skin, without a care about the pain. Not only it would be cruel to do so, but there was also a possibility that she might contract infections or bacteria, if he used his own iron instead of the sterile needle included in the pack.

"Want me to guide you?" she asked him, after a few seconds of silence of his part. He raised his gaze to meet hers, keeping his focus to avoid another rush of desires; normally, he would have refused her help, for the sake of his male pride, but he supposed that things would go faster, if he let her lead.

"Guess you're the expert, this time."

His comment made her smile. She moved her hips slightly upwards to lift the hem of her shirt until her belly was completely exposed to him, before snuggling against the pillow and undertaking the task to lead him through the whole process.

"First, you have to take the barbell and place it over my belly button to find the right angle," she explained as she pointed at the sealed bag containing the jewel, "then, you use the marker to mark the entry and exit points."

As expected, the sight of her in this position was very very distracting, but the iron mage put all his focus on following her instructions and keeping his face neutral.

"You wanna put this one on?" he asked her, showing her the tiny package. He had been under the impression that she had wanted him to make the jewel she would wear.

"I might as well," she replied, "at first, it's best to use a small barbell to not put any strain on the skin. The design I want you to make for me will be a bit heavy, so I'll save it for when it'll be healed."

He couldn't argue with her on that.

"You've done your homework," he praised her as he put on the gloves, took the sterile jewel out of its bag and placed it an inch over her navel.

"I always do," she replied with pride, keeping an attentive eye on his work. She indicated him the exact spot she wanted to be pierced, at the upper part of her navel, and he marked the points with the body ink marker, though he honestly believed he could have done without. He picked up the alcohol swab and cleaned her skin, as it was common sense that it was the next step, then he used the clamp the Munchkin pointed at and used them to hold the tissue in place. He knew that he had to take out the sterile needle out of its package, next, and use it to puncture her skin. Fingering the small item, his eyes darted to meet hers, in need to confirm that she wanted to go further; the resolve he saw in her eyes and the small nod she did encouraged him to continue.

Gazille couldn't help thinking that the small fairy was far braver than he had ever given her credits for. He couldn't detect any tension in her body as he worked; she was lying there in a seemingly relaxed state, as if she was doing such things on a regular basis. The only time he suspected the real level of stress she was enduring was when he secured the needle with the pliers and placed the pointy tip at the marked entry point; though she didn't utter a sound, she nervously bit her lower lip as the needle impaled her skin in a swift motion, which was followed by the insertion of the barbell into the path. The Dragon Slayer completed the job by securing the upper part of the jewel on the pin and removing the clamp, allowing him to see the final result of the Munchkin's belly shining with silver.

Gazille released a breath he hadn't noticed to have been holding, until then. It was done, at last! It felt like a huge weight was lifting off his shoulders, as a warm rush of endorphins flooded in his veins. He had done a lot of thrilling things, in the past, yet, he couldn't remember feeling this much stress when performing a task so simple; compared to this, acting as a spy had almost been a walk in the park. His greatest relieve was that he had successfully restrained his urges to jump on the table and surrender to temptation, which could have easily happened more than once.

He didn't realize he was daydreaming until he felt something warm cover his right hand; lowering his gaze, he saw that Levy's fingers were resting over his. Following her arm up to her face, the man met a pair of hazel eyes that were giving him a knowing look, making him realize with slight dread that she had caught him staring at her shamelessly. The huge smile blooming on her lips didn't help him fight the rush of heat rising to his face, nor did it calm down the butterflies in his guts.

"See?" she asked him with her head tilted in a cute manner, "that wasn't so bad, was it?"

End notes: So? Was it good? I hope so and, as usual, thank you so much for all your Faves and Reviews, I love them all. Btw, did you guys know that this story was nominated for the Best FT story of 2012? Apparently, it is possible to go vote on OoComputerFreakoO 's page on the story named The Best FT Fanfic of 2012.

Wow, I'm speechless to have one of my stories in a competition ^^ thank you again for your support and I promise you another chapter before 2014 :P