Author's notes: Still don't own it. Enjoy.

Let's Play Pretend

#20: Suspicions

The more time passed, the more she was becoming aware of her surrounding. The chirping birds sounded joyful, outside, the air was warm around her, though she could feel that her mid-section was warmer. Something was draped over it, heavy enough to hold her firmly laying on her right side.

With her eyes still closed, she shifted her body, so she could move her arm from under her head, where it had been acting as a pillow; it felt stiff, as it had stayed in that position for too long. At the same time, she stretched her legs and they rubbed against an obstacle that she quickly recognized as another pair of legs, long and muscular. The weight on her waist moved slightly and she supposed that it was an arm, if the hand at its extremity, lazily racking its fingers against her back, was any indication.

A soft hum escaped her from behind a little smile. The events of her previous night were slowly coming back to her...

The first thing Gazille noticed, when he came in the guild hall, that morning, wasn't the air of excitement hovering in the building. It wasn't the many banners, paper lanterns and other decorations hanging from every tables and pillars around. It wasn't the big chair covered in red velvet sitting in the middle of the room, nor the humongous table buried under dozens of plates of treats, candies and drinks; it wasn't the many barrels of beers near the bar nor the delicious scent of a baking cake floating around, neither.

In fact, what he noticed was something that wasn't there... That something was barely five feet tall, with wavy, sky-blue hair usually held in a bandanna and the most gorgeous smile he had ever witnessed.

Every morning, around this time, he would walk in the guild hall and, every morning, Levy would be sitting at the bar or at one table close-by, with a cup of coffee and a book. Every morning, she would be waiting for him so they could eat breakfast together and, though she hadn't asked for it in a long while, he would, more often than not, fetch breakfast for her, which would always earn him a brilliant smile and a little Iron treat to complement his eggs and bacon.

But there was no traces of the script mage, this morning. He spotted her teammates nearby, who were moving chairs and benches around, and asked them about the bluenette's whereabouts.

"Levy-chan?" Droy answered his question first, "No, haven't seen her since yesterday."

"I thought she was already with you," added Jet with a raised eyebrow. "Did you guys fight again?"

Gazille frowned, brushing off the question with a shrug, before he started walking toward the bar, thinking that, perhaps, the barmaid had seen the small woman. However, it seemed impossible to get a hold of the white-haired woman and the only person who wasn't busy running everywhere, as if expecting the king of Fiore to pop in the place, was Cana, who was sitting on the bar with a beer barrel under one arm and a goofy smile on her lips. She was giving him a smug, knowing look, as she watched him make his way to her.

"Heeyy, if it ain't our fav'rite Loverboy," she greeted him, grinning like a shark. The Dragon Slayer ignored the nickname and went straight to the point.

"Have you seen Levy?"

"Hmm, did I?" drawled the woman with an exaggerated wondering expression, her lower lip pulled in a pout. It didn't take a genius to understand that she had already started drinking. "Nnyyeah, I did... Yest'rday."

"What about today?"

"Uhm, today..." she wondered aloud again. Gazille felt his mood turning sour: he could already tell that he wasn't going to have enough patience to deal with her drunk humor. Per chance, she seemed to get her mind together, when she shook her head. "Nope. Nope, din' see her. She' prob'bly still in her room."

The iron mage hummed absentmindedly, as he turned on his heels, intending to travel to the dormitory to find the bluenette; however, he was stopped in his tracks by Cana's next question.

"Ya really got it bad for her, don'cha?"

It was so unexpected that the man straightened in surprise, for half a second, before facing the brunette again. She had propped one elbow on the barrel, holding her head up with it and starring at him with what would be a superior look, if she wasn't swaying slightly. Gazille frowned.

"What the..."

"You can think dat you're foolin' us... but ya ain't foolin' me," she answered smugly, waving a theatrical finger at him, "I saw through your lil' plan, misterr. We all did."

"What plan you're talkin' about?" he hesitantly replied, not sure to understand the subject of their conversation, nor sure if he wanted to understand it.

"You made her yours, that's what!" the woman nothing less than shouted, before grinning like the Chessire cat. "You freaking branded her as your woman, you sneaky bastard..."

At this point, Gazille was completely lost. He could suppose that "her" was referring to Levy, but... branded her as his woman? Made her his? What was that supposed to mean?

"Dunno where you get your ideas, Boozechick," he carefully told her, while taking a step back to make his exit, "but it sounds like you're already due for coffee."

She chuckled.

"It's 'cause of Freed, ain't it?"

It had been a question, but it had sounded like a statement and it successfully stopped Gazille in his tracks. Hearing that green-haired bastard's name had piqued his curiosity.

"What of him?" he asked her, a guarded expression on his face. It hadn't even been a week, since his last interaction with the rune mage and, though he hadn't seen him lurking around the Munchkin, since then...

"You pierced her belly 'cause you're scared of him," smirked Cana, her words striking the man right in the ego; he didn't lose a second to angrily retort.

"I ain't scared of that asshole."

"Ya're scared that he might like Levy," the brunette insisted, taking obvious pleasure in the effects her words were having on the iron mage, "you got jealous as shit when he spoke to her and that's why you decided to mark your territory. Man, you're freaking intense, you know that? Lucky for your girlfriend that you're not into tattoos."

The horrible accuracy yet absolute absurdity of her statement silenced him for a whole second, before the pieces of the puzzle started assembling themselves in his head. He now understood why Levy hadn't showed up this morning and the reason was angering him. He threw a cold glare at the drunk mage, dropping his voice to a venomous whisper.

"You bitches better not have fucked with her, or you'll regret it."

Cana immediately lost her teasing smirk, his threat making her sober up faster than an ice-cold shower.

"Oi, oi, relax," she retorted, sitting up straighter on the bar to counter his intimidating glare, "it was just a joke, okay? We were just kidding and she knew it; don't need to get pissed..."

But Gazille was pissed, now, and worried. If Levy had believed a single word of what those idiots had said, it was highly possible that she had made some deductions, which wouldn't be surprising, considering how observant and smart she was. There hadn't been any hidden meaning, behind the piercing, back then, but only suspecting he could have had one could be enough to make her start doubting him. And how he had reacted, when he had caught Freed Justine sitting at her side, would do nothing to erase her suspicions. She hadn't said anything about it, since then, but perhaps she was now seeing that scene differently. Perhaps she had figured out the truth and perhaps it was why she hadn't shown up at the guild. Because she obviously didn't feel the same way about him and was embarrassed to face him, knowing that.

He was hopefully wrong about this. Never had he ever wished so strongly to be wrong about something.

Because he had no idea what he would do, if he happened to be right.

His feet led him up the slope of the dormitory, his heart aching in reticence, but also burning with unexpected bravery. A part of him wanted to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible, because the wait and speculations would drive him crazy, but the other part was screaming at him to just turn the fuck around, as only deception could possibly await him.

The building stood tall and bright in front of him, the blue sky and warm weather making the scene look like a picture. Most windows were open to let the fresh air in, but no sounds came from the inside, which wasn't very surprising, considering the time of the day. Stopping halfway between the arch spelling Fairy Hills and the porch, Gazille observed the closed doors and started thinking about what to do, next.

Looks like you wasted your time coming here, said a nagging voice in his head, you can't even get inside.

The iron mage grimaced; he was, indeed, stuck there, for now. The idea of going around the dormitory to find the window of her room crossed his mind, but he quickly rejected it. What good would it give him? He wasn't going to scream at her from under her window: it would be embarrassing, the other residents could hear him and he wasn't sure to have the right to go this close to the dormitory, anyway... and he was obviously not in the mood to be kicked out, like last time, neither. He supposed he could simply stand there and wait for her to come out, however, if what he dreaded was true, she could refuse to leave the dormitory, as long as he would be there, because she was the type to avoid confrontation, if she could help it.

Ignoring the mocking voice in his head, Gazille pushed a frustrated sigh and resigned himself to give up on seeing her, for now. He was about to take the first step back, when the sound of the opening doors caught his attention. A small, blue-haired fairy came out, her light steps bouncing on the stone porch. She quickly noticed him, her eyes illuminating themselves, before she made her way to him.

"Ah, good morning, Gazille-san," Wendy greeted him with her usual cheerfulness. Behind her, Charle was closing the dormitory door.

"Hi," the man flatly replied, half-relieved, half-disappointed to see her: he had obviously hoped for the other small bluenette.

"You're here to see Levy," the white exceed stated more than asked, as she joined them, one curious eyebrow raised.

"She didn't come out of her room, yet," said the sky Dragon Slayer, her hands clasped behind her back. "She told us she would join us later..." Gazille frowned at that: it didn't bode well for him. The small fairy eyed him strangely, her smile growing. "Levy-san showed us the gift you made for her," she commented, after a short pause, "it was quite nice."

"Unexpected," Charle added with a small huff, "but interesting, I must admit."

"All the others were pretty excited about it," giggled Wendy.

"Yeah," the iron mage scowled," I heard about the... territorial theories they made up for it..."

The small fairy snorted and waved a dismissing hand.

"Cana-san and Mirajane-san were trying to convince Levy-san that it was a Dragon Slayer thing," she chuckled, obviously finding it funny and ridiculous. "She said she didn't believe them, but she was blushing a lot and went to bed early, after that."

"Surely to escape their silliness," the white cat shrugged. "I swear they don't have limits, when it comes to gossiping, especially that Mirajane."

"You don't say..." muttered the man under his breath, though he made the mental note to rank Girlie's cat higher on his list of people he didn't hate. He glanced at the dormitory, thinking about the only female on his list of those he loved and how he could possibly see her. Right as he thought of that, Wendy spoke up, as if she had heard his plea.

"Would you like to go see her?"

Gazille eyed the girl with mild surprise, mainly because the idea of asking her for help hadn't crossed his mind at all. "I can give you a pass," she added, already searching in her little bag for the item.

"Wendy," Charle scolded her, crossing her paws over her chest, "you're not supposed to invite men in the dormitory, if they're not your guests."

"But it's Gazille-san," the sky mage insisted with a smile thrown at her iron counterpart, "and I'm sure Levy-san will be very happy to see him. Here, lend me your arm." Gazille obeyed without a word, watching the little fairy stick a bright yellow, three-inch long piece of paper, with the word PASS written on it, on his right forearm, then take a step back and gesture toward the building.

"Here you go. Second floor, third door to the right. It's a one-entrance only pass: if you leave, you won't be able to come back in." The man already knew all that, but he didn't mention it to the little fairy, giving her one of his rare smile, instead.

"Thanks, kiddo."

He got a kind smile in return, that somehow gave him hope about what was to come.

He made his way to her door in no time. He stood there in silence for a moment, straining his ears to pick up sounds coming from inside her room, but he got nothing. Before his paranoid side started imagining the worst, he recalled having heard Levy say that she had a Soundproof script she could put up, when she wanted privacy. He supposed that it could be what was preventing him to hear her. He could feel his stomach churn in anticipation and dread, while he stared at the door separating him from her. Once again, the voice in his head screamed at him to leave, before it was too late, but he ignored it; he didn't want to turn back, after making it this far, because he knew he could possibly not have the guts to try again.

Taking one big breath by the nose to summon up his courage, he raised an hand to knock at her door, but he stopped it only a millimeter away; he cursed himself for being a coward, then hit the surface three time with his knuckle, before he could change his mind again. To his surprise, her voice responded almost immediately from the other side.

"Go to the guild without me, guys. I'll show up later, for the party."

The iron mage felt the corner of his lips raise slightly; even muffled, her voice was as beautiful as ever. He announced himself without further delay.

"It's me."

He heard a soft thud in the room.


The question was followed by a little pause; Gazille could clearly hear her mentally asking what the heck are you doing here?!, as he shouldn't have been able to come in the dormitory, in the first place. He racked his brain to find something to explain his presence, without sounding accusing or creepy.

"Your breakfast has gone cold, now," he said, hoping it would prompt her to answer something.

"Oh... uhm, yeah, that..." he heard her babble and mumble something else he didn't catch, "I'm... I'm sorry. I woke up with an awful headache and I don't feel very good, now..."

"I see," the man simply replied, not sure if he bought her story or not. It sounded plausible enough, but, considering what he had learned so far... "I saw Girlie on my way there; want me to go get her?"

"Oh, no, no, don't bother," she quickly refused, "I already took some pills for that. I'll just take it easy, today, rest up a bit and I'll be back on my feet in no time. Really, don't mind me..."

Her answer made the snarky voice in his head snicker; he did his best to ignore it.

"You'll be okay for the party?" he asked her, staring the door knob that he knew wouldn't be enough to keep him out, if he really wanted to go in. A long pause followed his question and the silence was tempting him to just barge in and force her to meet his gaze, but he was aware that it would be a mistake; he couldn't bend her to his will, as if she was one of his metal trinkets. She was a person and he had to respect her desires, even if she apparently desired to not see him.

"...Yes," she finally replied, to his relief. "I will."

"Okay." He smiled, glad for this small achievement. "I'll come pick you up at five, then."

Another silence followed, but it only lasted a few seconds.


His heavy footsteps faded in the hallway. From behind the third door, Levy was still under the shock, her legs shaking and her head spinning; her heart had literally stopped, when she had heard the voice of the iron Dragon Slayer coming from the other side, surprising her so much that she had almost thrown herself against one of her bookshelves. What, in Mavis's name, had he been doing here?! How did he even come inside the dormitory by himself?! He normally shouldn't have been able to cross the man-proof enchantment; it was simply impossible for men to come inside without a pass and he wasn't an exception to the rules, if the events of his last visit proved anything.

Though, he had mentioned having seen Wendy on the way, so maybe she was the one who had let him in. It would make sense, as Levy couldn't picture anyone else than Wendy or Juvia who would grant him access. But, still... It shouldn't have happened at all. She should have been able to leisurely enjoy a whole day of procrastination without being interrupted. Especially by him!

After another minute spent listening to suspicious sounds in the hallway, the bluenette let out a long sigh, racking one hand in her messy hair. She really couldn't get a break, lately, couldn't she? In less than twenty-four hours, she had realized her feelings for the man she had been pretending to be in love with (yay, irony), wasted her whole night tossing and turning in her bed, because she had suddenly recalled every single moments she had had with him, which had all showed hints of her growing attraction for him, though it hadn't been the worst part: her mind had also purposely twisted the scenes and gave them alternate endings that, more often than not, had led to thoughts and images worthy of Erza's favorite novels. Like that certain scene, in that certain cave, at that certain beach... or, the day she had got her belly pierced; she was sure she would never be able to see Gazille's kitchen table as a simple piece of furniture, anymore.

She had done her best to control her wild imagination and concentrate on harmless train of thoughts, like food she hadn't eaten in a while, or that new thriller novel she hadn't read, yet. It had given relatively good results and she would have continued doing that, for the rest of the day... if she hadn't heard his voice, from the other side of her door.

A good thing he didn't insist to come inside, because she wouldn't have known what to do.

Actually, she would have probably screamed. Or fainted. Or, maybe, that part of her that was craving for his touches and kisses would have taken over and assaulted him.

As if she didn't already have enough trouble like that! Thanks to her stupidity, it was now certain that he was going to pop back here, in a few hours, and she wasn't going to be able to avoid him; she was going to have to come out of her room, face him without melting into a puddle of goo, escort him to the guild, hand in hand, spend the evening at his side and even perhaps KISS him! But she wasn't prepared for that! She knew she wasn't going to have enough time to calm her nerves, to brace herself to face him again, in flesh and bones; just hearing his voice from the other side of her door had sent her heart in a frenzy and woke up the butterflies in her belly. She couldn't possibly spend a whole evening at his side, while being in such state: she would indubitably betray her secret! She had absolutely no poker face, everybody knew that!

Why didn't she say no, back then? If she had simply said she wouldn't be okay to go to the party, she wouldn't be in this damn situation! She wouldn't have ended up cornering herself! But, she had been sure it had been one of the girls knocking at her door, again; she had been so sure to be hidden at the most Gazille-proof place there ever existed, that the idea that he could find a way to her door had never crossed her mind. And, since she had carelessly said to whoever she had believed to be standing in the hallway that she would show up at the party, she couldn't have said she didn't want to go anymore. It would have been too suspicious... She supposed she could always tell him that she still had an headache, when he would show up again, but that option made her wince in guilt: lying would be mean and cheap, especially since, deep down, she was thrilled at the idea of spending the evening at his side.

She didn't have a choice: she had to go to the party with him, tonight. She had no idea if her heart was going to stand it, but it would have to; it HAD to. It was too late to turn back, anyway...

End notes: Thank you all for your great reviews, the're my much needed inspirational boot up my rear :) One or two more chapters to wrap this up.