Author's Note: Fairy Tail has honestly been shredding me to pieces recently. I have too many emotions and too many things I want to write, and then this story is getting to the good parts so I've been writing like a madwoman.
I get the feeling that I lost quite a few readers after that last chapter gap, but for those of you who are still here, I hope you're still enjoying this story (and this actually pretty quick update!). Thank you for your feedback, of course!
There is a teensy little reference to Rave Master in the chapter, so kudos if you catch it!
(I actually edited this, so it shouldn't be that bad this time. xD)
You Stole the Rain by HawkofNavarre
Chapter 9 – Love is Selfish
It was a week after the mission when Gray finally followed through on his word that he would take her out. It had been a week, certainly, but the important part was that he stuck to his word.
Juvia had never realized how it felt to be quite so elated. It was the result, in part, of being able to go on a real date with the man she loved, but it was mostly because, for once, she felt loved in return.
Truth be told, though, she wasn't even sure if her feelings were requited. Gray was particularly bad at expressing his emotions, so it was hard to tell whether he really loved her or not. But he cared for her more than just a friend would and she knew that to him, she was different from everyone else.
It was a nice thought after a particularly disturbing mission. She was still trying to get over the fact that she had been involuntarily stripped of the already skimpy clothing she'd been in and then chased around the room by a man that had more hair on his chest than on his head. The worst part was feeling so helpless—scared without her magic even though she was perfectly capable at destroying an enemy in hand-to-hand combat. However, she couldn't deny how she'd panicked when she felt resistance when she'd tried to use her magic, repeatedly trying to access her reserves. Her body was water and at the moment, a barrier hadn't allowed that. It had sent her into an irrational state of mind and in the end, she had forgotten how strong she was. She was profoundly grateful that Gray was there, and, for that matter, that he hadn't asked what went wrong. He was basically fuming the whole way home instead for some unspoken reason, though she suspected it was from lingering resentment of Waltz. He'd kicked the guy's body on the way out, something she had never expected from a man like Gray. Of course, a slave trader didn't really deserve much better.
Luckily, the last few days had been normal. She hadn't been traumatized enough to let an event like that control her life, and Gray seemed to be acting perfectly like himself, so much so that she nearly thought that what occurred on that mission had never happened. Despite this, Juvia never doubted what he had said. He was a man of his word and she would trust what he'd said as such.
The only thing that had really been different this week was that she'd had to physically restrain Gajeel from going to beat up Gray after she had told him about the mission. In the end, she had been able to get her friend to let it go, but only after some extensive reasoning that her partner hadn't been able to do anything else.
If she were being honest, Juvia didn't know what to do with herself. Ever since that day, her heart felt as though it were bursting. It wasn't even the elation of the event—it was just that she couldn't stop thinking about it. She was overtaken by the beauty of the incident, seeing how much Gray cared for her. The outcome was that her head was a mess. She couldn't go on missions because her focus was so far off that she would've been hopeless against an enemy, and she found herself wanting to be alone just to think about it longer. It wasn't as though she wanted to be an introvert, and she wasn't so freakishly obsessed with Gray that she didn't want any other human contact. It was just that right now, she was just so consumed by this feeling that she didn't know what else to do. She didn't say a thing to anyone because she doubted they would understand.
Compared to others, she knew she was strange. The water mage certainly didn't know of any other person who would fall completely victim in thinking about the beauty of just one thing—certainly not for days at a time. But she didn't know how to stop it and she didn't know how to change it.
She walked into the guild, but her mind was elsewhere entirely. All she wanted to do was calm down! She couldn't do anything in this state!
Juvia turned to see Gray waving at her casually, his shirt already off despite the fact that it was only ten in the morning. Even seeing the person who had caused this wouldn't allow her to fully concentrate on what was in front of her, her mind was so far away.
"Good morning, Gray-kun," she greeted him politely.
"Hey," he replied, nodding. "You free today?"
T-today? Her mind was reeling. Wasn't she supposed to have some time to take this all in? Evidently, he didn't think so. Spontaneity hardly seemed to catch him off guard. And, well, she supposed her thoughts were in some other dimension, so even if he had told her in advance, she wouldn't have been able to prepare herself anyhow. Today seemed as good a day as any.
"Yes," she spoke almost shyly. Responding to him under their current situation was already hard enough! How was she supposed to do this when her brain wasn't even fully functioning?
He began to laugh at her and she wasn't quite sure why until she realized how flustered she was. Her face was burning and he had barely just approached her. However, this realization didn't help her at all, her visage only heating up further from embarrassment. She didn't know how to contain her emotions at all. At least he was finding it humourous.
As though he could sense her anxiety, he placed a hand on her head, snickering. "Calm down. It's not a date, okay? It's just...it's just two friends spending time together."
Despite his nonchalant attitude, he was blushing at the very notion of what he was implying. In truth, she didn't mind it either way. Calling it a "date" reminded her too much of the relationships she'd had in the past, and Juvia certainly didn't want to compare the one she had with Gray to any of those. For once, she was actually in a good place, whether it meant being someone's girlfriend or not. She just wanted to be by his side because she wanted to be there, and he wanted her to be there too. This was about having a good time with each other.
"Juvia doesn't like dates anyway," she replied earnestly. The last real one she'd gone on, her wonderful "boyfriend" at the time had left her sitting at their table all by herself as he went to go chat up another girl. The most decent one she had attended was with Lyon, and she never considered that a proper one since he had purchased it at an auction.
"Right then..." Gray answered, looking a little embarrassed. "I'll meet you back here in a hour. I need to go find my shirt."
She opened her mouth to tell him Mirajane probably picked it up during her usual morning cleaning routine, but he was off before she could get a word out.
Well, at least she wasn't the only nervous one.
She decided to spend the hour trying to distract herself by playing with her magic, wanting to avoid the stupid overwhelming feeling that was...honestly, it kind of felt like it was ruining her life. At least, today it was. She wished she could just talk about it, and then talk about it some more, and then maybe talk about it forever. It felt like this phase was never going to end. How everything had built up was simply too beautiful to ignore—she felt it in her very soul, when Gray looked at her on that boat back to shore.
Juvia sighed, hiding in the hallway towards the kitchen. If anyone started talking to her about Gray this morning, she was probably going to accidentally kill the poor person with her never-ending onslaught of words. How troublesome. She didn't want this to affect the time she was going to be spending with him today. There honestly weren't any expectations for today, but she still wanted all her focus to be on him. She understood how hard it had been for him to confess that she was different to him than any other girl, and she was not going to take that for granted. She was going to cherish every moment she spent with him.
With irritation, the water mage made peace with the fact that her excessive feelings were simply not going to disappear. She walked up to the guild mission board to see what she had missed in the last few days. Even if she was going absolutely crazy internally, she would do her best to give her full attention to Gray when they left today. Besides, she had no doubt that if anyone could take her mind off something, it would be him.
One of the bulletins caught her eye suddenly, Juvia snatching it off the board more from a premonition than anything. Just glancing at it, she knew it was disguised as a listing for a mage of a dark guild. It was requesting a sniper to "subdue" a target who resided in Magnolia, and the usage of a certain type of magic-nullifying bullet which ignored body-changing properties was written as a requirement. It shook her inside even though she felt she must simply be reading too deeply into it. That bullet was the kind that could penetrate corporeal magic, the kind that her body had no defence against, even in its water form.
Did this person...want someone like her dead?
Simply put, she found the flyer disconcerting. She told herself it was a coincidence, that she was being paranoid because of the last traumatizing mission, but there was a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach that persisted.
"What kind of mission is that?" Gray asked, peeking over her shoulder as he appeared behind her.
"A concerning one," she replied thoughtfully as she bit her lip.
"A dark guild request," he observed, frowning. "I guess we'll need to keep an eye out for the next couple of weeks."
She trembled, turning to place her hand on his arm. "Gray-kun, I... I think I might be a target."
The ice mage glanced at her for a long moment before turning back to the sheet of paper. He plucked it from her hands and crumpled it in his palm. She opened her mouth to speak, but her eyes met his and she knew he understood her fear.
"It's okay. I'm with you," Gray told her, tossing the paper in a nearby trashcan, glaring at it. Of all things, he took her hand in his, squeezing it tightly. "I just...damn..."
Juvia wasn't sure what words he was grappling with, but she was grateful that he wasn't writing her off as crazy. She had these premonitions from time to time, and she couldn't say why she was so convinced that this demand for murder was meant for her. But she was scared although she didn't know why, after all this time, someone would want to have a person with her type of magic dead.
"I didn't want today to be like this," her partner declared in distress.
She blinked in realization, just now remembering that they were supposed to go out today—together. No, she didn't want to push that away because of a fear that might not even be real. And she was strong, she kept reminding herself. There was nobody that could take her magic away from her this time, even if her enemy had something that could hurt her. She had power and she wasn't going to forget to use it.
I mustn't be afraid of getting hurt, she told herself. She turned to Gray, fear still pooling within her, but for a different reason entirely. I mustn't...
"I...still want to be with you, Gray-kun," she spoke softly, pausing for a moment before shyly adding, "today."
Her hand was still with his and he gripped her more firmly. "I don't want you to be afraid."
"Juvia will be alright with you," the water mage insisted as she shifted closer to his side. It was unintentional and it was making her blush, but he didn't seem to mind.
He nodded reluctantly, then looked at her directly. "...Alright. Just stay close to me."
He wasn't asking. Neither was she protesting. His presence was a comfort and having his fingers intertwined with her own calmed her. Even now, the effects of that mission were still haunting her. She knew she was worrying way too much over absolutely nothing. She was just grateful for Gray's endless patience, because with the amount her nerves had been frayed in the past week, she was honestly concerned she was going insane.
"Let's go get something to eat," he suggested, leading her toward the front door.
They went to a little ramen joint, sitting side by side at the bar. It certainly wasn't the first time she had eaten alone with him, but her stool had moved a little closer to his than usual. The premonition had done a stellar job at ruining her giddiness, so it was at least a bit of a relief that her mind was no longer behaving like an excited fan girl. She was relaxed beside Gray, trusting him enough to let go of her worries.
"Gray-kun, do you remember when we went on that mission to find that mushroom?" Juvia asked suddenly as she broke her chopsticks in two.
"How could I forget?" he muttered, looking about as happy as a rock at the memory. "Remind me to never strip in a forest again."
She laughed quietly while the chef placed their respective orders in front of them. "It was the same night I got to share a tent with Gray-kun. It was very nice."
He split his own eating utensil and she noticed the edges of his ears just a touch red, causing an edge of her lips to curve upwards. "...Yeah, it was."
"You told me things would be different, but I still don't understand what that means," the water mage admitted. "Gray-kun can be quite confusing."
"Oh man," he groaned as he threw a hand over his face. "I...I feel really stupid for saying that. I guess I just didn't get how you worked."
"What do you mean by that?" she pouted, poking him in the arm with her chopsticks to which he grunted a "hey!" at her.
Gray played with the noodles in his bowl for a minute as he grumbled. "I was thinking you didn't care about yourself enough," he admitted, scratching his head in embarrassment, "but like I said, I didn't really get how you worked. I get it now."
She swallowed a mouthful of noodles before turning back to him. "Oh, Gray-sama knows how I work now, does he?" she prodded him playfully.
"Oi, shut up."
Juvia laughed, but persisted. "So please, tell me what you've learned."
He shrugged in the midst of chewing before swallowing to answer. "I thought you were just a really selfless person, but you're just as selfish as any person."
She stared at him for a moment, then broke out into a giggle. If it were anyone else, she probably would have been indignant at the fact that she had been described with a word like "selfish". However, this was the man she loved and a close friend, and she simply found his directness a bit humourous. Instead of taking offense at the comment, she threw one of her own back at him. "You really don't know how to speak to a woman, Gray-kun."
The ice mage flushed. "I'm supposed to be the one talking here," he retorted, an embarrassed look upon his normally cool visage that made her smile. "You're always trying to make the people you love happy, and that's what makes you happy, so you don't expect anything back, but you're still doing it for yourself. So you're selfish, just like everyone else. You're just selfish in a better way."
"I think I have admitted as much," Juvia replied thoughtfully as she thought back to when she had taken care of Gray during the night of the Spring Festival. "Juvia is never going to stop telling you, because it makes her happy that you know."
He seemed to be trying to force his face back down to a colour that didn't rival Natsu's hair, but was failing miserably. "Do you make it a habit to go around repeatedly confessing to the guys you love?"
Juvia was thoroughly amused at how open he was being with her, even though he appeared horribly uncomfortable with the fact that he was, for once. If there was one thing she had to acknowledge Gray was terrible at, it was expressing his true emotions. He tended to tuck things away and deal with them on his own, leaving her to figure out what he was bottling up inside. She could read when there was something bothering him, but never exactly what. Now, he was being honest with her and putting the puzzle together for her.
He'd told her to wait for him. Even if there was never any question if she were going to or not, she had, and this was her reward.
"There has only been one man Juvia has ever loved," she told him timidly. It's you. It always has been. "I am a selfish woman, Gray-kun, so I'm glad you understand." Because he did. Finally. He understood that she had never been doing it all for him. She could freely admit that she was a selfish person. She wanted him to be happy so that she could be happy. She wanted him for herself. Love was her lifeline, and as long as it was in her life, she could keep breathing.
"You're happy because I think you're selfish?" Gray mused aloud, eyebrows raised.
"I'm happy that you understand," she repeated with more emphasis as she jabbed him again with her utensil. "Besides, everybody is a little bit selfish. There is nothing wrong with finding something to live for. I live for love, even if it does not always find me."
"You're too optimistic," the ice mage sighed, "but with the way I am, I guess that's a good thing."
"The world is beautiful when you look in the right places," Juvia insisted brightly. Gray really was a bit cynical outside the guild, but he was never one to abandon someone in need. She knew she couldn't just change that. She could, however, get him to look in a different direction and perhaps brighten his outlook a little more.
But he was looking at her, she realized, and Juvia wasn't sure what to think when he shook his head with a smirk, saying, "You're right."
It wasn't a date, but Gray certainly let her have her way for the rest of the time. She dragged him shopping to buy clothes for him, and while he may have let out a few complaints from embarrassment, he didn't protest at all. In the end, she bought him a simple black v-neck that she kept for herself, claiming that he would lose it (which even Gray admitted he probably would). She had told him she would bring it on missions in case he ever needed a shirt. He had replied semi-sarcastically that underwear was probably a bigger necessity, and she had cheerfully bought him three pairs of boxer-briefs in response, much to his chagrin.
In return, Gray had wanted to treat her for something of her choice, so she chose to get snow cones as a snack. He seemed reluctant to do so, though complied even has he grew more uncomfortable as they got closer to the stand. Juvia felt the thick tension in the air as soon as the woman working at the stand set her eyes upon Gray and the water mage stepped in front of him almost instinctively. Luckily, the worker had been civil to the both of them and they were able to leave with their treats without any drama.
"Do you know her, Gray-kun?" Juvia asked out of curiosity...and maybe a little bit out of possessiveness. There wasn't a snow cone girl in the world who was going to become Gray's "special someone".
"I used to go there a lot when I was fifteen," he explained somewhat sheepishly, a trait that didn't look quite right on him. "She liked me and I turned her down."
She breathed out a sigh of relief she hadn't realized she had been holding. She always figured that someone as wonderful as Gray would have to have some old romantic relationships, but it wasn't the same as him being single now and girls going after him. They weren't official, and she wasn't intent on pushing him in to anything, but she liked being the one at his side. She liked that she didn't have to share him with any other girls in the way she was hogging him now. He'd assured her that he'd stay beside her; that didn't mean her exclusively.
Yes, she was a horribly greedy person. She couldn't understand how Gray had been unable to see that until now.
"She has been selling shaved ice for five years?" the random thought came from her lips just as it hit her.
"It's a family business," Gray replied. He was eating the snow cone with delighted fervour. "Man, I haven't had one of these since she confessed to me. I'm actually glad you wanted one."
"You...you haven't gone back?"
He looked at her like she was crazy. "Did you not just see how awkward that was?" Snickering, he shook his head and knocked back the rest of the dessert. "Anyway, besides that, I didn't wanna give her the wrong idea. If I kept coming back, she might've thought I was actually interested in her...or maybe she wouldn't have treated me like a normal customer. It wasn't worth it." Gray ended up glaring at the empty cup, cursing its lack of sweets. "Damn it, why do these things have to be so good?"
Juvia watched him dispose of their cups as her mind swirled. He was making her feel warm without knowing it. He always came back to her (well...it was more the other way around, but he didn't object to her presence). He hadn't rejected her either; in fact, it was the opposite. He seemed to accept her. He asked her to wait for him, and she had never thought of doing any different.
"I just...need you more than I say."
Gray had been absolutely drunk out of his mind when he had said that to her, so she had done her best not to take it seriously. Right now, though, it felt like the words were true. Maybe...the words were true. The things he said to her, his actions...they showed it more. She believed his love for her was there.
A few months ago, she probably would've looked at the girl at the snow cone stand with murderous intent. Things were different now. If not anything else, she knew she was his constant; he would always come back to her, no matter what. She had never believed that as much as she had now.
It was out of pure luck that she saw the innocuous magical beam pointed at his back. There was no time for a warning as she sent out her magic to be her eyes and ears. Gray's magic could shield them both if he could summon it in time, but that wasn't realistic at all. There was no other option to keep him safe. She had been foolish, thinking she was the target. No, those bullets were for the both of them. Someone was looking for revenge. Juvia didn't know who; it could be anyone since they were always on missions together, but she knew she couldn't let anyone hurt Gray.
As he returned from the trashcan, Juvia abruptly flew into his arms, pulling him into a tight embrace that caused Gray to stumble back where they had some cover from trees. She vaguely heard the bag of clothing tumble to the ground next to them. As long as she had stalled the assassin for another few seconds, everything would be fine. Juvia was going to make sure that their hunter didn't get both of them.
She felt Gray freeze in her hold for a moment before he slowly placed a hand behind her head, the other cradling her back. The water mage was blushing from her own boldness, but she couldn't help but want to hug him, for both love and his safety. In her mind, there was no choice. In his arms, she was calm.
"Hey, what's going on?" Gray prodded her softly and she found it immensely difficult to keep her emotions at bay. It was his fault. Entirely his fault. Had had transformed her day into something so wonderful without even trying and now he was making her heart explode. This whole situation was such a strange mixture of happiness and horror that she wanted to burst into tears, although from what, she wasn't sure.
"I...just want to thank you," she spoke against his neck. And as she held him, she was glad nothing was holding her back, because she knew what was going to happen next.
"I love you, Gray-sama," Juvia told him, a sad smile on her lips as she held him closer. The suffix slipped out of her on instinct, because she had always looked up to him, always admired him, and always respected him above everyone. Now was the time. The vapour floating in the air from her body burst and she knew it was time.
The rest of his words were swallowed by her body as she let her magic flow. He fell through her just before she felt pain rip through her chest. It spread first into her arms and down into her fingers, then slowly into her stomach. A second later, she was cold on the ground, but she heard Gray yell out a spell and she was relieved. She had taken the target on his back and he was going to be alright.
There was nothing wrong with the cold. It reminded her of Gray and she found solace in the feeling of him. So as her consciousness faded away, she was okay.
She was happy.