AN: Mashima isn't giving them enough love in the manga, so I took the matter into my own hands. They're perfect for each other, but with their history, making a relationship work isn't going to be easy. Set during the days of the Daimatou Enbu.

Warning: there are spoilers for the Grand Magic Tournament-arc, and it's rated M for Gajeel's potty mouth and future violence. There will be no explicit sexual content; only suggestions.

Disclaimer: I do not own Fairy Tail or its characters – Hiro Mashima does. The cover image is made by the lovely Rae ('raesquared' on ffnet). If you want some squeal-worthy GaLe to feast your eyes on, check out her art blog (she's 'raedoodles' on tumblr)!


Adamantine

by Miss Mungoe

part I.

He'd always considered himself blessed with unwavering confidence.

Before Metalicana he had survived on the streets for years with little but his wit and a good dose of luck helping him out – being a coward in such a setting would only have gotten him killed faster, so he'd toughened up, dusted himself off and begun to make people fear him in stead. Being later raised by a dragon with questionable teaching methods hadn't left any room for being afraid either, so by the time he'd reached his first decade he'd discarded the feeling completely. What could possibly hurt him under the protection of an ancient magical beast the size of a small mountain, anyway? Other than the beast itself, of course, but his father had never given him reason to even consider the thought. And when his father left him a few years later, he'd been more than capable of taking care of himself, and it hadn't taken him long to find his way back into the life of a semi-normal human being. Sure, his manners had been somewhat rough and his appearance off-putting at best, but he'd always managed. He'd been strong for his age, and strength had always been sought after in the big cities. It hadn't been long before he'd found a guild to join.

He'd become even stronger after that, and his reputation had grown amongst the other guilds – dark and legitimate alike. He'd been ruthless, and his name had been whispered with fear and awe by the populace and by his fellow guildmates, and he'd thrivedin the glory of ultimate superiority. Nothing could have even hoped to touch him back then.

And then the war with Fairy Tail had happened, and his very existence had been flipped straight on its head. He'd been surprised – to say he'd expected the sheer power that thrived in what turned out to be a freakishly strong guild would be a load of bullshit. He had expectedthem to lose, not run on a wild rampage and destroy everything in their path. Their tiny-as-hell guildmaster had even made his own master look like a complete fool – the strength of the little man was unbelievable!

But he hadn't been afraid. Not even when fighting with Salamander. He'd been intrigued. Curious, and maybe just a tiny bit jealous, because the idiot fire dragon had obviously no idea how damn luckyhe was, with guildmates who genuinely respected him for more than just his strength and magical power. He'd laughed at that respect, though – undermined it. Tarnished it.

He hadn't been shocked when Makarov had hunted him down in the aftermath of the battle. He'd expected it, to some extent.

He had not expected the little man to grin at him and offer him a place in his guild. The guild he had all but destroyed. The family he had tried to tear apart and the children he had deliberately hurt, whose bonds of friendship and all that gushy crap he had viciously trampled on.

For the first time since Metalicana had found him, he'd been offered the chance of a home.

And damn it, sometimes he was just too damn curious for his own good. And even as the guidmaster had made it crystal clear that he was far from forgiven for his actions, and Gajeel felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise and his skin prickle with the sheer intensity of the little man's magical power, he hadn't been afraid. Damn curious, and maybe a little bit happy, but not afraid. He didn't know fear. Had never known fear. Not on the hands of dangerous opponents. Not on the merciless streets as a child where every day had been a battle. Not even in the lair of a dragon had he ever been afraid. And as far as he was concerned, joining a guild like Fairy Tail would make little difference. He knew by more than experience that there were mages there that could make scrap-metal of his ass, but the knowledge had only made him more excited to join.

But no, he hadn't known fear. Not yet, at least.

It hadn't come as a revelation, either, when it finally hit him. Hell, he hadn't even realized what it was when it happened. There hadn't been any crumbling mountains or roaring heavens to commemorate the event. All he'd felt was a surge in the bottom of his stomach as a blinding light enveloped them, and all he could remember thinking was why the hell is she not at the guild? The feeling hadn't left him until the dust had cleared around them in the crumbling cathedral, and he hadn't even reacted to the relief washing through him at the sight of her, uninjured despite the obvious attempt at blasting them all into oblivion.

Oh, no. The realization had sunk in later, much later, when he was covered from head to toe in bandages and limping around with a goddamn crutch for support.

He'd drunk that night. A lot. More than he should have, surely, in his condition, but the messed up...feeling had been bloody fucking imprinted in his mind, and he hadn't know if it was that or the booze that had finally made him throw up all over his bathroom floor.

Probably both. Maybe.

The next time it happened he'd ended up in a twisted excuse of their world with a king that was more than one mage short of a guild, and the cat he'd just found had also just been shot down from the sky by a version of Titania that was even scarier than the one he'd come to know, but he'd justified the feeling at the time, because damn it, he'd just found that cat, and there was no way in hell he was going to have another!

But he'd gotten his cat in the end, and a best friend and a partner, all wrapped up in an awesome bundle of fur that could sit on his shoulders and who could give Salamander's cat a run for his money in a good race. Lily was the first being Gajeel was comfortable calling 'nakama', and in the weeks following the Edolas-incident, the loneliness he hadn't realized was present in his life before Lily wasn't quite as all-consuming. For the first time since Metalicana, he'd felt...at home. With his cat. And with his guild, although that acceptance had been reluctant at best, and that after a few pints, and Lily was the only one present to hear. The only one allowed to hear, because damn it, admitting to feeling shit was as good as publicly declaring himself a pansy. Or pissing himself. Or both. Either way, it was goddamn embarrassing!

The S-class exams presented him with an opportunity he hadn't known he'd been waiting for, but after her name had been called there wasn't much else on his mind for the rest of the day.

She was smart as hell. Probably the smartest person Gajeel had ever met, but if rumours were anything to go by, the tests she would have to go through wouldn't be rune puzzles and simple traps. She'd have to fight.

The thought had...unsettled him.

It would take him a good long time to recognize the feeling for what it was.

He'd promised to make her big. To protect her and make her an S-class mage. Her accessories hadn't been able to believe their ears at the time, the idiots, but he'd ignored their pitiful cries. He remembered her curiosity as though it'd come off her in palpable waves, and the fact had made him grin like a maniac at the time.

She'd accepted, too. In a way, he'd been surprised. In a way, he hadn't. His cat had said nothing, but there'd been a seemingly permanent smirk on his face the entire week preceding the exams.

Gajeel had ignored him.

Everything had gone surprisingly smooth, though, all things considered. From the moment they'd stepped onto the island, it'd been like a walk in the park. In fact, it'd been quite literally like A. Walk. In. A. Park. A big-ass park without a single noteworthy opponent. He'd been disappointed as hell at first, but she'd been happy, and he remembered not being able to be as irritated as he'd felt he rightfully should have been. Then she'd run away from him, and despite his nose it'd been ridiculously hard to track her in overgrown bush they'd been walking in.

And then her screams had pierced the air, and it had been the fucking worst feeling he could ever remember experiencing, because he'd had no goddamn idea where she was and he'd felt as though all the veins in his body had turned to ice.

He can't remember in which direction he'd taken off. Can only remember the screams, and then he was blocking the blade headed for her head, and he was so fucking angry he could have turned the entire forest to dust, and he didn't even know who he'd been most angry with – the fucking shitheads who'd tried to kill her, or the girl herself for bloody leaving him, the idiot. Probably a bit of both, though. And maybe a bit angry at himself for letting her out of his sight in the first place.

The feeling had stuck with him as they'd battled the intruders. Anger and nausea had warred for control, and for the first time in his life he hadn't been able to focus properly on his opponents, because she'd been struggling to keep up, and he'd known a misstep could've gotten her killed, and damn it, he hadn't even been able to use his breath attack in fear of having her caught up in it as well.

Fear.

The words had seeped into his mind slowly, and the realization had hit him like a sharp kick to the gut. He remembered not being able to breathe, because had he just-?

His suspicions had been confirmed when the shitheads revealed their plan, and suddenly all he could remember thinking of were ways to get Levy the hell away from the battlefield – or off the fucking island if that was possible – because there was no way they could have fought off an entire dark guild of their strength.

And he'd been afraid.

For the first time in his life, he'd accepted the feeling for what it was. Fear. Cold, hard fear seeping into his bones and turning his blood to ice. A vice around the heart he's been told he doesn't have. But he didn't care that he'd acted like a damn pussy. He'd needed her to get the hell away.

He'd told her this with all the tact and gentlemanliness he could manage. Meaning he'd all but roared at her to make a run for it, to get the word out to the others, because whatever shit they had stumbled across, it was too big for the two of them.

The unspoken message had been clear. Find protection. Hide.

Be fucking safe.

She'd hesitated. The vice had tightened, and he remembered being about to go on a bloody rampage and physically throw her across the island if she didn't-

But she'd made a run for it. For a split second, he'd been able to breathe again. He'd blocked the attack headed her way with all the strength he could gather. It'd hurt like hell.

"Gajeel!"

"What are you doing? GO!"

He hadn't missed the plea for him to stay alive, and for a split second he'd felt freakin' invincible for reasons he couldn't even hope to name. It had been like a challenge, and as he'd eaten the iron she'd left in her wake, the power surging through his system had been quite unlike anything he could remember feeling, but there'd been something strangely familiar about it. For some reason, he'd thought of Salamander during the battle with Phantom, but he'd discarded the idea as he'd thrown himself back into the battle. It wasn't important why, so long as he could beat his opponents to bloody pulps. The sound of her frantic footsteps running away from the battlefield had settled his raging senses enough for him to think clearly.

...

He can't remember much after that.

What he can remember is the feeling of victory. He remembered his name being called, but the memory is blurred and hazy. He remembered the scent of her, and the sensation of being dragged along the ground. The next thing he knew he'd been covered in bandages and Lily was suddenly beside him and despite sporting a few bruises and bandages herself, Levy was otherwise unharmed. And he hadn't even cared that the biggest battle was still ahead of them, because the others were there with them, and even though it had rankled his pride to admit it, he'd known he couldn't hope to win this war alone.

She'd smiled at him then, and it'd been the same confident smile she'd had during the battle against Laxus when she'd promised to break the rune barrier surrounding the guild and the dragonslayers. And Gajeel had only been able to grin like a maniac in return, because damn it, there was a reason he'd wanted to be her partner in the first place. Lily had shaken his head from beside them, and had been promptly ignored, because despite his injuries Gajeel had felt like he could easily take on whatever the shitty guild decided to throw at them.

That the worst by far was yet to come was a thought that had never even crossed his mind. It hadn't crossed any of their minds.

But it had come, and the fear had been colder, and harder and genuine and fucking understandable this time, because the dragon engulfing the sky above them had been everything that his father was not, and even as Salamander had screamed up at the sky with the delight of an idiot presented with a precious clue to finding his family, Gajeel had only been able to stare in slowly dawning horror. And even as the master had roared at them to make a run for it, to get away and off the island, Gajeel had known.

It was the end for them.

The sheer destruction that had followed had been unbelievable, and the dragon hadn't even been taking them seriously. He'd tried to locate a head of blue hair in the chaos around him, but before he'd managed to find her she'd been beside him, Lily having grabbed onto the back of her dress when the first attack had shaken the earth. The confidence had gone from her face, replaced by panic and so much fear Gajeel had had trouble looking away. He'd felt sick to his stomach. Sick because he'd been running like a fucking coward, sick because there was no way he could possibly get Lily and Levy off the island before the dragon destroyed it completely. But the feeling hadn't lasted long.

Because they're Fairy Tail, after all. 'Cowardice' isn't in their dictionary.

In a split second he wasn't running away any more. No one was. A split second, and suddenly Salamander was forcibly clawing his way up the dragon's massive form, and the rest of the guild was charging towards their master, screaming at the top of their lungs. If this was the end, they were going down fighting. And kicking and screaming with all the defiance of true Fairy Tail mages. And he'd grinned then, because it was so fuckingtypical of the damn faeries, but he'd roared his approval as he'd charged ahead along with them.

He was one of them, after all.

The fear had been gone completely in a few moments, replaced with the unwavering resolve Fairy Tail was so famous for, and as his much larger hand had engulfed Levy's small one, he remembered feeling a twinge of hope as they'd prepared their defences against what would be the dragon's final attack. It'd been ridiculous, really, because there'd been no way in hell they could possibly survive.

But they're Fairy Tail. And so they did.

When the dust had finally settled – and seven years had seemingly passed them by unnoticed, for some fucked up reason beyond his level of intellect – he'd been left with a shitload of questions to which he couldn't even begin to find the answers. He'd felt mindfucked and confused as hell, and no amount of alcohol or bar brawls had been enough to settle his mind.

And he had nightmares.

Lily was the only one who knew. Lily was the only one allowed to know. Because Gajeel Redfox does not have nightmares.

But he did.

He would wake in the night. He wouldn't scream. He wouldn't jolt out of bed in a frenzy. In fact, he wouldn't move at all. Because every time it happened it took time for him to wake. It was something like wading through knee-deep mud whilst simultaneously moving towards the wind, and when he would finally manage to open his eyes he always felt as though he'd run a fucking marathon. The only sign of a disturbed sleep pattern was his heart, which would be trying to forcibly break out of his chest.

Lily woke with him, being a light sleeper, but never said anything. Gajeel was glad, because he wouldn't know how to explain it, anyways.

He dreamt of crucifixions. Of one specific crucifixion, in fact, but it wasn't the one from his memories. This was worse. In his memories, she didn't scream – she was defiant to the very last. In the dreams it was all he could hear. Piercing the air and curdling his blood, and ringing in his ears long after waking. The sight almost made his past actions look ridiculous and fucking halfhearted, because in his dreams she's not held up by metal cuffs. In his dreams metal spikes are driven through her small hands, and the mark on her stomach is not painted. It's carved into her flesh.

And ravens. There were always ravens.

It would take him longer than what he'd consider comfortable to wake from these dreams. The act itself was exhausting, but he wouldn't admit this. He isn't afraid, damn it all! Raven Tail doesn't frighten him. Ivan himself doesn't frighten him.

But he was afraid. Because Ivan was a sick, manipulative bastard who knew things about Gajeel that could and probably would be his undoing. He didn't know whether the man was yet aware of his true allegiance to Fairy Tail and to the father he hated with such a passion. Seven years was a long time to disappear, and like with Master Makarov he hadn't the faintest idea what truly went on in the dark mage's head. The tournament was a welcome distraction despite their crushing defeats so far. It served to take his mind off all the shit that had somehow accumulated there as of late. But there came an end to every day, and when they'd returned to their rooms, he could hardly think of anything else.

His cat could take care of himself pretty well. He was hella strong, and almost always within Gajeel's line of sight. Levy was not. And Gajeel would bet his life on the fact that Ivan was more than perfectly aware of this.

And the thought scared the shit out of him.


He didn't know how he'd ended up outside her window, but there he was, and he honestly had no idea what to do with himself. He wasn't Salamander, damn it. He didn't just barge into people's private rooms without permission like some kind of creeper.

...although sitting on the ledge outside, perched like a gargoyle and looking very much like a stalker probably wasn't any better.

Growling softly to himself, the iron dragonslayer crossed his arms over his chest.

"Sulking?"

"Shaddup."

Pantherlily raised a brow at his partner's tone. "Going to tell me what's eating you soon?"

Gajeel grumbled something partly incoherent. Lily snorted, rolling his eyes. The man was so obtuse sometimes, it was ridiculous. "Why don't you just talk to her?" he pressed. "You've been avoiding her since the exams. I mean I get why you didn't take her along to train, but you were friendlier than this even before Tenrou." When the dragonslayer refused to look at him, Lily sighed.

"Have you considered the fact that talking to her might make things better? What you're doing now is no better than what that gloomy girl does all the time," he added, hoping the comment would hit its intended mark.

"...did you just compare me to Juvia, cat?" Which it did, not unexpectedly. Gajeel did not like to be compared to others, after all.

"Well you are sitting here, brooding. And you've been staring at her all week. People are starting to notice."

"Tch. Let them talk. I've my reasons."

Lily snorted. "And a whole lot of misconceptions too, if I know you, and I do, you know. You've probably convinced yourself staying away will keep her safe or some romantic shit like that."

"Rom- the fuck, Lily?"

"I'm right, though, aren't I?"

"Shaddup!" Gajeel growled, turning his gaze away from the small cat and hunching his shoulders.

Lily rubbed his paw against his brow. "You're an idiot, you know that?" Gajeel didn't answer. Lily's brows furrowed as a thought occurred to him. "Is she in danger, Gajeel?" Getting no reply, Pantherlily settled down on the sill next to the dragonslayer, concern now clear on his face.

"Gajeel?"

"I don't know! I...damn it," he exhaled sharply. "I don't fucking know."

Pantherlily frowned. As unapproachable as his friend usually was, there was something in his tone that unsettled him. "What happened to Wendy...you think maybe...?"

Gajeel's brows furrowed sharply at the reminder, but he said nothing. Lily regarded him for a long moment, the silence between them broken only by the drunken laughter of the other guildmates from the downstairs tavern.

"You're worried."

"I ain't no such thing."

Snort. "You are, and horrible at hiding it, might I add. Although subtlety never really was your strong suit."

Gajeel glared at his partner. "You picking a fight, Lily?"

The Exceed rolled his eyes. "Trying to avoid the subject?"

"..."

"Good comeback."

"Damn it, cat!"

Crossing his arms over his tiny chest, Lily shot his companion a serious look. "I still think you should talk to her. She might not understand the complexity that you've got going on in that thick-as-bricks skull of yours and the reasoning you've created for yourself, but she's not stupid, Gajeel, she can tell that you're avoiding her."

"Baka. 'Course she isn't stupid; she's fucking brilliant."

"...you've got it bad, don't you?"

"Shaddup!"

Lily jumped out of the reach of the angry dragon, chuckling. "Alright, alright! I'll leave you alone." The dragonslayer grumbled something, before recrossing his arms and hunkering back into what Lily liked to call the 'ruffled-cat/petulant child position'. Jumping down from the ledge, the Exceed flexed his wings before circling around to hover before his partner.

"If you want my advice-"

"I don't. "

"...if you want my advice, which you do, I. Think. You. Should. Talk. To. Her." Each word was punctuated, as though it would make the message clearer, although considering who he was talking to, the Exceed doubted it made any difference. He crossed his arms, his look turning serious. "I like Levy, you know – she's amazing just for putting up with your crap, which she also does willingly, unless you've forgotten. And I don't know what's going on in your head at the moment, and you don't have to tell me anything, but if she's in danger you'd have a much easier time keeping an eye on her if you'd actually let her near you."

Gajeel didn't answer, but shifted his gaze from his partner to the window to their right. It was dark inside – she had gone to sleep some time ago, he knew. Letting out a sigh, the dragonslayer's expression slackened from it's patent glare to a strangely resigned look.

"Damn it."

Lily smirked. "I'll go back downstairs – don't brood yourself into a stupor."

"I don't fucking brood!" But Lily was already gone. Gajeel glared at the building opposite, before shifting his gaze to the window and the darkened room within. He was about to rise and follow his cat when movement from inside caught his attention, and he stiffened as the window suddenly and without warning flew open, revealing a pyjama-clad bluenette armed with a tome half her size and looking very much like the impudent girl who had whacked him with her handbag on Tenrou Island.

...and it looked like he was about to receive the same treatment with the book in her hands if he didn't explain himself.

She stopped when she realized who it was standing outside her window, however, and lowered the book slightly, the expression on her face hovering somewhere between confusion and relief. Her mouth fell open in abject surprise.

"Gajeel?"

"Yo."

The silence of the night only helped punctuate the already awkward moment. Gajeel didn't avert his eyes, however, and – apparently just now becoming aware of what she was wearing (or not wearing, his mind added uselessly) – Levy's cheeks flared with colour as she tried to cover herself with the book in her hands. Gajeel almost failed to hide his chuckle at the sight.

"W-what are you doing here?" The remark couldn't have sounded less casual, in his opinion, and the sight of her blustering shyness made him smile. Well, grin, more like it. And in his usual, razor-sharp teeth gleaming in the moonlight, manic fashion.

Which, in retrospect, probably wasn't the best idea, as she looked like she wanted nothing more than slam the window in his face and make a run for her covers. It wasn't the fear she'd had for him when he'd first joined the guild, however. He'd recognize that smell in a heartbeat – it had bothered him more than he'd ever admit. No, she was just fidgety and strangely shy compared to what'd she'd been during the exams, and the fact only made his grin widen. And, of course, he couldn't resist teasing her.

"Nervous, Shortstuff?"

That the nickname made her cheeks colour even further wasn't lost on him, nor was the way her eyes averted themselves to the floor. He would bet she was itching to wring her hands together in that nervous habit of hers – which, if she hadn't been lugging around that ridiculously enormous book (how was she even able to lift the damn thing?)– she probably would have done.

"N-no!" she retorted, straightening to her full, unimpressive height. "Just curious. You don't usually come around...at night...or, well, ever." She shrugged, and suddenly wouldn't meet his eyes. Gajeel prided himself in his nonchalance just then – anyone else would have given something away. He did in fact come around quite often. And mostly at night, actually. She just hadn't become aware of it until now.

Of course, he didn't say this. In stead he said something more like himself and not some crazy stalker.

"Aww. D'ya miss me, bookworm?"

He'd expected her to splutter something incoherent and blush even more furiously at his hint, but in stead she did something that completely threw him off.

"Yeah. I have, actually."

Gone was the nervous shifting of her expressive eyes, although they were still focused firmly on his feet, and there was an almost...sad smile on her face that, if possible, made him feel even more of a dick than he already was.

And then she blushed, shaking her head and raising her eyes. "You've been busy, ne?" she asked, tilting her head to regard him innocently with the eyes that had haunted his dreams for the past few months, except they weren't filled with tears and pain and fear this time, and there were no ravens cawing around them, and she wasn't screaming as she was forcibly nailed to-

"Gajeel?"

Blinking, he snapped out of his train of thought, shifting his gaze to meet her curious one. She looked concerned. "Are you alright?"

He almost wanted to laugh. She was concerned. For him. It seemed irony had finally decided to rear its ugly-ass head.

He shook his head, a sardonic smile on his lips. "Aa."

She frowned then, her brows pulling together into the same look she had on her face when working on a particularly puzzling rune or translation. He almost grinned at the comparison. Hell, if anyone could figure him out, it would be her. She certainly had the stubbornness for it.

The question was whether or not he'd allow her to try.

"I would ask if you want to talk about it, but you'd just laugh at me for even suggesting it, so I won't," she announced then, a small smile on her lips that made him wonder if she had some kind of inside joke on the matter. He was about to open his mouth when she beat him to it. "But...if you don't want to talk about it...I mean...I'm here if you want me. No! I mean-" she blushed again, stuttering slightly at her own mistake. Gajeel resisted the urge to snicker. It wasn't helping matters that his mind was somewhere in the gutter at this point, either. Pushing the thoughts away, he reached out, placing a large hand on her head and letting his fingers tangle in the soft and messy blue hair before ruffling it. The familiarity and gentleness of the action caught him off guard. It was almost...affectionate. Damn, he really was becoming a pansy, wasn't he?

"Don't get your panties in a twist, Shrimp. I ain't a damn lecher." She was about to open her mouth – probably to ask just what he had been doing outside her room in the first place, when he cut her off.

"'Sides, you're too innocent fer your own good anyways." He grinned. Levy blushed and averted her gaze to the floor again, clutching the monstrous book against her chest. If he hadn't known better he'd thought she looked...dejected? Disappointed, almost.

...

"So..." he began lamely, just to break the awkward silence, or stop himself from...he didn't even know what at this point. Something. She looked up at him, eyes large and brown and expectant. He inhaled sharply, deeply. He was getting in way over his head, no doubt about that.

"So?" she asked. And there was that...that expectation again. Gajeel almost bristled at the hope in her voice, searching his mind for a witty comeback.

"So you're good?"

...and almost bashed his head against the wall at the lame question."So you're good?" The fuck?

She blinked, before a small smile bloomed at her lips, making her eyes crinkle slightly. He wondered idly if he'd said something wrong. Or right? "Yeah, I'm good."

He nodded, feeling awkward. "Good."

...

Noticing he still had his hand on her head, he quickly snatched it back – a bit too quickly, perhaps, as he doubted the action looked anything but casual and cool – and resisted the urge to scratch the back of his neck in the process. What in the seven circles of hell was up with him tonight? Shaking his head, he turned to leave. "Well, I'll be off. Go to sleep, Midget."

"Um..."

Inclining his head, he watched as she shuffled her feet, brows drawn together again as though she was contemplating something. Then, catching him by surprise, she placed down her book, climbed out onto the ledge in one swift move and took three strides forwards to stand on her tiptoes and place a kiss on his cheek.

Well, she would have, if she'd leaped upwards, perhaps. Even on the tips of her toes, with his full height she only managed to kiss the underside of his jaw.

Nevertheless, it didn't fail to render him into a spluttering idiot, and he barely caught himself from yelling out in embarrassed surprise. She grinned up at him, hands now behind her back as she tilted her head to the side.

"I'm glad it was you and not a lecher," she said then, a giggle in her tone. He could only shake his head in wonder.

"I'd like to think I'd be the worse choice, but I'll let it slide this time," he warned, ignoring how damn halfhearted it sounded. Soft. Damn it! Reaching out as though to ruffle her hair again, he smirked as he caught her by surprise with a sharp poke to her forehead. She yelped, hands flying up to the source of the unexpected pain.

"Gajeel!" She glared up at him, and he laughed at the sight. She had about as much intimidation as an angry lemming.

He leaned in closer to her face then, grinning almost maniacally at the heat instantly spreading across her cheeks. Her eyes were wide open at staring up at him, and could hear her heart as it thundered erratically in her chest.

"Get a better weapon next time."

Then he pulled back, grinning all the way, before turning around to leap down from the ledge.

"Wait!"

Stopping in his tracks, he looked back over his shoulder. She had straightened up, and despite the furious blush on her cheeks, had that confident look on her face again – as though having just resolved to do something. His curiosity piqued against his better judgement.

"What?"

She took a deep breath. "Does...does this mean you're not ignoring me anymore?" And for the first time since finding him at her window, she looked him straight in the eyes. He blinked.

Then he grinned.

"Aa."

She nodded. "Good."

He smirked. "Go to sleep, bookworm."

She smiled, and it was a smile he hadn't quite seen before. All potent sunshine and no traces of fear. "Goodnight, Gajeel."

Jumping down from the ledge, the iron dragonslayer walked past the tavern at the bottom of the inn, ignoring the boisterous sounds of what had turned into a typical Fairy Tail party. Lily was probably in there, and on any other night he might have welcomed a good pint and a brawl, as it'd keep him from going to bed. Keep him from dreaming. But not tonight. Tonight, he was going to sleep, and if he dreamt, he would make himself remember her smile. Sunshine and trust and not a trace of fear or pain. A smile directed at him, of all people, and a smile he found himself feeling strangely possessive of.

She trusted him. Hell if he knew why, but she did.

He shook his head, snorting softly as he made the trek back to his quarters, Lily's words echoing in his head. "You've got it bad, don't you?"

"You have no idea, cat," he sighed.

"No. Fucking. Idea."


AN: Gajeel is hella cute. In his own, sadistic maniac way, that is.