AN: Set during the days of the Daimatou Enbu, but focusing on the interludes in-between the fights and the budding relationship between a certain iron dragonslayer and his bookworm. It's going to get a little dark, so keep that in mind, because with their history, making a relationship work isn't going to be smooth sailing.
Warning: there are spoilers for the whole of 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: Fairy Tail and its characters belong to Hiro Mashima; I own absolutely nothing. The cover image is by the lovely Rae; if you want some wonderful fanart to feast your eyes on, check out her tumblr, where she goes by raedoodles.
by Miss Mungoe
He'd always considered himself blessed with unwavering confidence.
Before Metalicana he'd survived on the streets for years with little but his wit and a good dose of luck – 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 instead. Being later raised by a dragon with questionable teaching methods and a skewed notion of morality 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 old man had never given him reason to even consider the thought. And when his father had 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 thrived in 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'd expected them to lose, not go on a wild rampage and destroy his entire guild in the process. And their tiny-as-all-hell guildmaster had even made his own boss look like a complete fool to boot.
But he hadn't been afraid, not even during his fight 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 lucky he was, with guildmates who genuinely respected him for more than just his strength and magical prowess. 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 offer a smile and a place in his guild – the guild Gajeel 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 a home.
And damn it, sometimes he was just too curious for his own good. And even as the guildmaster had made it crystal clear that he was far from forgiven for his actions, and Gajeel had felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise and his skin prickle with the sheer intensity of the little mage's magical power, he hadn't been afraid. Damn curious, and maybe a little bit happy, but not afraid. He didn't know fear – couldn't remember a point in his life where he had; not at the hands of dangerous opponents, or on the streets as a child where every day had been a fight for survival. Not even in the lair of a dragon had he ever been afraid, and as far as he'd been 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, anyhow.
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 had been a surge at the bottom of his stomach as a blinding light had enveloped them, and all he could remember thinking had been 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, 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 known 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 found the feeling justified at the time, because damn it, he'd just found that cat, and there was no way in hell he was going to settle for another!
But he'd gotten his cat in the end, and a best friend and a partner, all wrapped up in a 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 friend, and in the weeks following the incident in Edolas the loneliness he hadn't realized had been present in his life before Lily hadn't seemed so all-consuming. And 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 with only Lily 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 a level of embarrassing Gajeel made an active point to ignore.
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 word-traps. She'd have to fight, and 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 watch her back and help make her an S-class mage. Her accessories hadn't been able to believe their ears at the time, but he'd ignored their protests. Her curiosity had been palpable, and her barely restrained intrigue had had him grinning like an idiot. She'd accepted, too. In a way, he'd been surprised, but in a way, he also hadn't. Lily had said nothing, but there'd been a seemingly permanent smirk on his face the entire week preceding the exams. Gajeel had cheerfully 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 in sight. He'd been disappointed as hell at first, but she'd been happy, and he remembered not being able to be quite as irritated as he'd felt he rightfully should have been. Then she'd run away from him, and for all his enhanced sense of smell it had been ridiculously hard tracking her down in the overgrown bush they'd been walking through.
And then her screams had pierced the air, and damn him if it hadn't been the worst sound he'd ever heard.
He couldn't remember which direction he'd taken off, could only remember the screams and then he was blocking the blade headed for her head, and he'd been so angry he could have turned the entire forest to dust. And he didn't even know who he'd been most angry with at the time – the shitheads who'd tried to kill her or the girl herself for running off on him. Probably a bit of both, and maybe a little bit 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 for 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 well-aimed 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 whole damn island if that was possible – because there was no way they could have fought off an entire dark guild with their limited numbers.
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 his marrow like a persistent frost; a vice around the heart he'd been told he didn't have. But he hadn't cared that he 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'd stumbled across it was too big for the two of them.
The unspoken message had been clear. Find cover. 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 get a move on.
But she'd made a run for it in the end, and 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, but the sound of her receding footsteps had driven the pain from his system, and settled his raging senses enough for him to think clearly.
"What are you doing? GO!"
He hadn't missed the plea for him to stay alive, and for a split second he'd felt all but 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 for him, 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 fight. The whys hadn't been important, so long as he could beat his opponents to bloody pulps.
He can't remember much after that.
What he can remember is the feeling of victory. He remembered his name being called and the scent of her, and the sensation of being dragged along the ground. The next thing he knew he'd been covered in bandages with Lily beside him, and despite sporting a few bruises and bandages herself, Levy was otherwise unharmed. And he hadn't cared that the biggest battle was still ahead of them, because the others had been there alongside 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 Gajeel had only been able to grin like a complete fool in return, because damn it, there was a reason he'd wanted to be her partner in the first place. Lily had found it ten kinds of amusing, 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 delight, 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. But the feeling hadn't lasted long.
Because they were Fairy Tail, and cowardice wasn't a notion they were familiar with.
And so a split second later he wasn't running away; 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 bloody murder at the top of their lungs. If this was the end, they were going down fighting, kicking and screaming with all the raw defiance of true Fairy Tail mages. And he remembered having found it thrilling, because it'd been so fucking typical of the reckless faeries, but he'd roared his approval as he'd charged ahead along with them. And for all his reclusive behaviour even he couldn't have denied at that moment that he was just as mad as the rest of them.
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 were 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 comprehension or desire to understand – he'd been left with a shitload of questions to which there were no answers. He'd been thrown for a complete, nauseating loop, and no amount of alcohol or bar brawls had been able to settle his mind and skittering nerves.
And he'd 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 – 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 while 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 push its way past his ribs.
Being a light sleeper, Lily always woke with him, but the Exceed never said anything. And 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, the sound 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 half-hearted, because in his dreams she wasn't held up by metal cuffs; in his dreams metal spikes were driven through her small hands, and the mark on her stomach wasn't painted, it was 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 to it to save his life. He wasn't afraid, damn it all to the deepest pits of hell. Raven Tail didn't frighten him, and Ivan Dreyar least of all.
But the fact of the matter was that 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. Lily was hella strong, and almost always within Gajeel's line of sight. Levy on the other hand, was not, and Gajeel would bet his life on the fact that Ivan was more than aware of this.
And the thought scared the ever-living 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 – he didn't make an active point of barging into people's private rooms without permission like a creep.
Although to be fair, sitting on the ledge outside, perched like a gargoyle and looking very much like a stalker probably didn't paint a better picture.
Pantherlily raised a brow. "Going to tell me what's eating you soon?"
Gajeel grumbled something partly incoherent, and Lily snorted. The man was so obtuse sometimes, it bordered on the 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 pointedly 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 water mage 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 was notorious for his dislike of being compared to just about anything. "Well you are lurking outside her window, brooding. And you've been staring at her all week. People are starting to take 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 should know. You've probably convinced yourself staying away will keep her safe or some other romantic notion you wouldn't admit to save your life."
"Rom- the fuck, Lily?"
"I'm right, though, aren't I?"
"Shaddup!" Gajeel muttered, turning his gaze away 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?" Still getting no reply, the Exceed settled down on the sill next to the dragonslayer, concern now clear on his face. "Gajeel?" he pressed.
"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 watched him closely, the silence between them broken only by the drunken laughter of the other guild-members in the streets below. "You're worried," he said at length.
"I ain't no such thing."
"You are, and horrible at hiding it, I might 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?"
"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 hard-as-steel 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."
"Idiot. 'Course she ain't stupid – she's fucking brilliant."
Lily grinned. "Oh, you've got it bad, don't you?"
Lily jumped out of the reach of the angry dragon, still chuckling. "Alright, alright – I'll drop it." The dragonslayer grumbled something, before recrossing his arms and hunkering back into a posture that reminded Lily of a cat having had its fur ruffled. 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, Lily doubted it made any difference. He crossed his arms, his expression losing some of its good humour. "I like Levy, you know – she's amazing just for putting up with your crap, which she 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'd 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," he muttered.
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 partner when movement from inside caught his attention, and he stiffened as the window suddenly and without warning flew open, revealing a pyjama-clad script-mage armed with a tome half her size and looking very much like the impudent girl who'd whacked him with her handbag on Tenrou.
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 tome, the expression on her face hovering somewhere between confusion and relief.
Gajeel cleared his throat. "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 grin at the sight of her, flustered as she was.
"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 it hard to hide his smile, and so he did. 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, overcome by some foreign shyness that hadn't been present during the exams, and the fact only made his grin widen. And, of course, he couldn't resist teasing her.
That the nickname made her cheeks colour even further wasn't lost on him, nor was the way her eyes averted themselves to a point somewhere in the distance. He'd bet his best set of bolts 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 was quick to amend, 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. Instead 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 the suggestion, but instead she did something that completely threw him off. "Yeah. I have, actually."
And gone was the nervous shifting of her expressive eyes, although they were still focused firmly on his feet, and there was an almost sombre smile on her face that, if possible, made him feel like an even bigger dick than he already did.
And then she blushed, shaking her head and raising her eyes. "You've been busy, yeah?" 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 darkening the sky above their heads, and she wasn't screaming as she was forcibly nailed to–
Blinking, he withdrew from his mind, shifting his gaze to meet her curious one. She looked concerned. "Are you alright?"
He almost wanted to laugh. She was concerned for him. Irony had a way of rearing its ugly-assed head at the most inappropriate moments. But despite the fact that he wasn't, in fact, alright, he only shook his head, a sardonic smile on his lips. "Yeah." Fucking peachy.
She frowned then, her brows pulling together into the same look she usually wore while 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 personal 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 cut off and 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 those thoughts away, he reached out, placing a large hand on the crown of her head and letting his fingers tangle in her hair before ruffling it. The familiarity and foreign gentleness of the action caught him off guard. Anyone else would have called it affectionate, but the word itself made him want to cringe.
"Don't get your panties in a twist, shortstack. 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, yer too innocent fer your own good, anyways." He grinned.
Levy blushed and averted her gaze to her feet again, clutching the monstrous book against her chest. If he hadn't known better he'd have thought she looked...dejected, or something of the like.
The silence stretched on without either of them saying anything, and he felt himself growing restless. "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 expectant, and he inhaled sharply. He was getting in way over his head, no doubt about that. "So?" she prompted. And there was that shiver of expectation again. Gajeel almost bristled at the naked hope in her voice, scouring his mind for a witty comeback–
"So you're good?"
–and almost bashed his head against the wall. The actual fuck was that supposed to be?
She blinked, before a small smile curved along her mouth, making her eyes crinkle slightly at the corners. He wondered idly if he'd said something wrong. "Yeah, I'm good."
He nodded, still 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 resisted the urge to scratch the back of his neck in the process. What in the seven circles of hell was the matter with him? "Well, uh. I'll be off. Go to sleep, shrimp."
Inclining his head, he watched as she shuffled her feet, brows drawn together again as though she was contemplating something. Then she placed down her book, climbed out onto the ledge in one smooth motion and took three strides forward to stand on her tiptoes and place a solid kiss on his cheek.
Or she would have, if she'd leaped upwards, perhaps. Even on the tips of her toes, with his full height she only managed to land a kiss to the underside of his jaw.
But misplaced or not, 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, laughter in her voice and humour in her eyes. Gajeel 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 half-hearted it sounded. 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 possessed about the same level of intimidation as an angry lemming.
He leaned in closer to her face then, his grin stretching wide and wicked at the sight of the heat spreading across the skin of her cheeks. Her eyes were wide as she stared up at him, and could hear her heart as it hammered a steady rhythm against her ribcage–
"Get a better weapon next time."
Then he pulled back, grinning all the way, before turning around to leap down from the ledge.
Halting in his tracks, he looked back over his shoulder. She'd straightened up, and despite her flushed cheeks, had that confident look on her face again – as though having just resolved to do something. His curiosity piqued against his better judgement.
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.
She nodded, inhaling sharply. "Good."
He smirked. "Go to sleep, Levy."
She smiled, not a mere quirk of her lips but a wide grin he'd never seen her direct at anything but the Magnolia public library, and he stored the sight away in his mind, hoarded it for another night when the caw of ravens was a persistent sound in his ears. "Goodnight, Gajeel."
Jumping down from the ledge, the iron dragonslayer cut a path down the cobbled street, ignoring the boisterous sounds from the taverns at each side. Lily was probably off enjoying the merriment, and on any other night he might have welcomed a good pint and a brawl, as it'd keep him from going to bed.
But not tonight – tonight he was going to sleep, and if he dreamt, he would remember the smile she'd given him of all people – a smile he found himself feeling strangely possessive of. She trusted him. Hell if he knew why, but she did.
He shook his head, muttering under his breath as Lily's words nagged at the back of his mind. "Oh, you've got it bad, don't you?"
He sighed, "You have no idea how bad, cat."
"No fucking idea."
AN: I'm a shameless fan of character development and especially this particular guy's, hence the rather long exploratory prologue that I hope hasn't turned you off completely. The rest of the story will delve some more into his mind, although not in such a drawn-out manner. If you've got the time, please drop a word or two – I really appreciate feedback and words of encouragement!