AN: Welcome to the dragon's den. And a big thank-you to Mad Zia Magdalena, who gave me the idea!
Disclaimer: I do not own Fairy Tail – Hiro Mashima does.
by Miss Mungoe
The soft exclamation was met with a heavy sigh. Rubbing his paw against his eyes, Pantherlily gestured in the general direction ahead of them. "I'd say 'make yourself comfortable', but..."
Levy only continued to gape as she tentatively wandered inside what she assumed was the living room of Gajeel's flat. 'Assumed' being the operative word, as there was little in the room that resembled anything that would normally go in a person's living room. 'Living', too, was a bit of a stretch, as the room reminded her more of a death-trap than anything else.
She shook her head in wonder. "Lucy said Natsu was bad, but this..."
Lily sighed again, padding in at her heels, eyes sweeping the room before them. "Welcome to the dragon's den. Or should I say scrapyard? Seems more fitting."
The script mage nodded softly as she stepped further into the room, moving with slow, measured steps to avoid the metal parts and objects littered across the floor and sticking out in odd angles and directions. Manoeuvring around one pile of metal, she came upon a rather large and sharp hazard that vaguely resembled one half of some kind of engine moulded together with what looked like the handle of an old sword, part of someone's fence and a slightly rusted metal door. It towered in her way, blocking most of the room from view and promising all sorts of nasty diseases if she were unlucky enough to cut herself.
Lily motioned towards the far end of the room. "His 'hobbies' are in that pile over there – if you can distinguish it from the other piles, that is."
She nodded absently, eyes now on the far end of the room and the piles upon piles of shiny and sharp objects. "How often does he...bring stuff back?"
Lily snorted. "There isn't a time when he's not bringing stuff back," he corrected.
A small smile tugged at her lips as she let her eyes sweep over some of the contraptions surrounding them – some taller than herself, and looking to be moulded together and sculpted into odd-looking shapes. "I wonder where he gets all this from."
"Conjures it himself if he can't find a particular piece he's looking for, but I think most of the fun is in finding things and storing them," Lily replied with the casual insight of someone clearly having gotten used to living with the man. Levy laughed.
"Somehow I can't really picture it," she said with a small grin and a shake of her head. He snorted.
"You should see him when he's found something he doesn't already have – then it's all the major holidays and his birthday all at once."
Her grin was brilliant. "He shows you, then?"
He sighed. "Like a cat brings dead mice to its owner. Which is kind of ironic," he said with a shake of his head. Levy burst out laughing, making the Exceed smile. There wasn't nearly enough of that in the little place he called home. Well, other than Gajeel's chuckles, but those were borderline evil and a far cry from the unrestrained giggles of the script mage standing beside him.
Levy wiped at her eyes. "Sorry," she apologized, a small giggle escaping despite herself. "Just...the image..."
He grinned. "It's quite alright. You have a very nice laugh."
She smiled. "And you always know what to say – bet you were pretty popular amongst the girls in Extalia, hey?"
Lily only smiled. Having been lacrima-fied during their time in Edolas, Levy knew only what the others had told her about their parallell world, which was probably more than those of them who had actually been present – treasuring knowledge above all else, she'd sucked up all the information she could get her hands on. His first meeting with the little bookworm had actually been when she'd tentatively come over to their table to ask him about Edolas, eagerness barely contained by the timidness she'd had around Gajeel at the time, and he'd been charmed by the pretty brown eyes and the winning smile.
And, of course, he'd noticed his partner's reaction to those particular features.
So he'd taken to inviting her over to talk, telling her everything he knew about his home world, at times even successfully pulling Gajeel into the conversation, and revelling in how the little mage became gradually more and more comfortable around the gruff man, who, Lily had taken to noticing, was spending more and more time in the guild hall than he had when the Exceed had first joined.
"Not many girls in the military," was all he said, however. Although he had no problems speaking of his home world in terms of geography and history, much like Gajeel was reluctant to speak of his time in Phantom Lord, Lily wasn't particularly fond of speaking of his life in Edolas – or more specifically, the choices he had made after his exile. He didn't think Levy would like him any less because of it, but he had a new life now – in a guild where the members saw him primarily as one of their own, regardless of his past or his race. He was just Lily, for once, no strings or nasty reputation attached. And it was liberating in a way he had never felt before joining Fairy Tail.
"This is your room, then?" Her voice broke him out of his musings, and he followed it towards his bedroom. Levy was in the doorway, a smile on her face. He raised a brow.
"Do you even have to ask?"
She grinned. The room wasn't particularly big, but then, neither was he, and it was sparse in ways of furniture. A small bed, a chest where he kept his things, a rug on the floor. And, of course, military-spotless.
"What's down this way?" she asked suddenly, eyes landing on a door at the end of the small, cramped corridor. Lily only smiled, urging her on. It was one of the reasons he'd wanted to bring her to their home, after all. Visibly curious at his silence, the small mage didn't need to be asked before making her way towards the door. Nudging it open carefully, she made her way inside. Lily was about to follow when the front door slammed open in the other room, announcing the arrival of his partner and flatmate. The sound was soon followed by the heavy footfalls of the iron dragonslayer as he sauntered into the main area of the apartment.
"Oi, Lily! You home?"
The Exceed only smiled as Gajeel came into the corridor squeezed between their respective bedrooms and the living room/storage area/scrapyard, chewing lazily on a piece of metal. That he hadn't noticed the new scent yet was a surprise to Lily, but then again, the smell of iron was overpowering everything else, so perhaps it wasn't quite so surprising.
Perhaps Levy needed to come visit more often.
"What are you grinning about?"
Looking up at his partner, who was now regarding him with a decidedly suspicious expression, Lily only smiled. Any time now.
An elated squeal from the room at the end of the corridor interrupted whatever Gajeel had been about to say, and the dragonslayer's head whipped in the direction of his bedroom, eyes wide and mouth slightly agape as his mind processed the sound.
And then she was in the doorway, brown eyes bright with excitement and a smile on her face that seemed to light up the entire apartment.
"Lil-Oh! Gajeel, you're home!" she greeted the dragonslayer, and Lily doubted she'd be quite so comfortable if she hadn't been quite so excited. Gajeel only continued to gape, but replying didn't seem to be necessary, as Levy was seemingly too delighted to listen.
"I didn't know you collected books!"
If Lily didn't know any better, he'd swear his partner was blushing, but Gajeel didn't blush...although the tips of his ears were looking rather red. It took the man a second to collect himself, before bursting out, in all his trademark, wonderfully subtle manner–
"I don't collect books – do I look like a bloody nerd to you? And the hell are you doin' in my bedroom, short stack?"
Levy was about to reply when Lily beat her to it. "I invited her, and she likes books, so I thought maybe she'd like to have a look at your collection."
"It's not a collection, goddamnit, it's...a random pile of bound paper I was gonna use for firewood," he retorted, crossing his arms over his chest resolutely.
Levy blinked, before a small knowing smile tugged at her lips – not believing a word, Lily knew, or else she'd have reacted with violence to the sacrilege just having come out of Gajeel's mouth. "You organize your firewood alphabetically?"
Gajeel stuffed a piece of metal in his mouth, chewing heavily as he turned his gaze away from the smirking bookworm. Lily shook his head. Idiot. "Did you find anything interesting, Levy?" he asked. Her eyes lit up immediately.
"Oh, yes! There's so many ancient ones, and some in languages I haven't even heard of before, and there's a whole set about ancient weapons and armour, and even more about dragons than there is in the city library!" she gushed, clapping her hands together delightedly. "Gajeel, can I please have a closer look at some of them? Please?" She shuffled closer, and her eyes were so bright and shiny, Lily wondered if Gajeel's hoarding instinct would ever let her go home after this.
The dragon in question looked...something Lily couldn't quite put his paw on. Thoughtful, almost, but there was a rare sort of expression on his face that reminded the Exceed of Mira at her most calculating. After a few moments of silence, he finally grumbled something under his breath, eyes turned pointedly away from the ones staring up at him so imploringly. Levy blinked.
"What was that?"
"I said," Gajeel enunciated clearly, "only if you read them here. Like you said, some of 'em are pretty old – and pretty damn rare, too, so there's no way any of 'em are leaving this flat."
She beamed at him. "But I can come over and read them?"
Lily had to concentrate not to grin too much at the man's poor attempt at concealing his satisfaction. The dragonslayer nodded sharply, still not looking at the girl before him. "Sure."
Clapping her hands together and eliciting another squeal of delight, Levy bounced up to the gruff man, the momentum getting her up high enough to place a kiss on his cheek, catching him clearly off guard with the surprising move and making him splutter in a way that had Lily hiding a laugh with a well-timed cough.
And then she was skipping away, sky-kissed hair bouncing around her head, back into his bedroom with an eagerness that would have any hot blooded man's mind crashing straight to the gutter, if it hadn't been for the quite obvious fact that she was looking for dusty old tomes. Neither of the two partners spoke, and a moment of silence passed in the cramped corridor before Lily commented casually,
The Exceed grinned. "Quite clever, though. With the state of the place, I wasn't sure how I was going to make her want to come over more often, but you solved that pretty easily."
"Shaddup," Gajeel grumbled, hunching his shoulders. Lily was quiet for a moment.
Gajeel didn't answer, opting instead for determinedly feigning ignorance. Lily's grin only widened. "It's almost as though..."
Gajeel looked at him sharply, not doubt having caught the tone in his voice. "What?"
Lily shrugged. "Nothing, nothing. Don't mind me." He turned to go into the living room when a hand grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, and then he was lifted to meet a pair of narrowed, red eyes. Allowed himself to be lifted, mind. He wasn't a common housecat, and Gajeel knew that.
"Talk," the irate dragon growled. Lily shrugged, a smile on his furry face.
"It's just odd that the things you actually put effort into organizing just happens to be what she cherishes above all else. It's almost like you're...how do I put this?"
Metal-studded brows narrowed further. "Almost like I'm what?" And if he really didn't know any better, he'd swear Gajeel himself sounded curious now. Perhaps he wasn't aware...? No, it was too obvious. Lily's grin widened.
"I think I might have read somewhere that dragons are in the habit of preparing nests for future mates. I might be wrong – why don't you correct me, Gajeel?"
Gajeel visibly blanched, spluttering slightly despite himself. Opening his mouth to say something, he stopped, as though not finding the words. Finally, after a few attempts, he settled on something more like himself,
Lily could only laugh as he was roughly put back on his feet, while the dragonslayer retreated to the living room/storage area/scrapyard/death-trap, no doubt looking for some unsuspecting piece of metal to chew to pieces. He shook his head.
In the time following Levy's first and surprisingly successful visit to their home, Lily pretended not to notice the steady swell in the amount of books Gajeel brought home from missions – not only books about dragons and weapons, but anything, really. Ancient stuff, and in languages the man himself couldn't decipher if his life depended on it. He made a new bookcase, too – a steady one in pure metal to hold some of the ridiculously heavy tomes that were bigger than Lily himself. Those were her favourite, Lily knew. And Gajeel knew, obviously, but Lily also pretended not to know that.
Because several days a week, there's a pretty girl in their home, and the living room/storage area/scrapyard isn't the death-trap it used to be – although it was still pretty cluttered – and Lily is happy, because his partner is happy, even though he'd never admit such a thing, and Lily wasn't about to ruin it by teasing the man, near overpowering desire notwithstanding. And so he kept his comments to himself, opting in stead to watch from the sidelines his partner's obvious wooing of the bookworm.
Because that was what he was doing, and no amount of glares or threats was going to make Lily call it anything else. Dragon or human, there weren't that many differences when it came to courting a romantic interest, although Lily had to agree that he'd never thought Gajeel's penchant for hoarding things would eventually get him a girl. And a girl like Levy, to boot – the thought had been absurd in every meaning of the word.
But she was there. Several times a week, if she was able, sometimes without them, sometimes alone, although Lily knew Gajeel made a not-so-subtle point of being there if he could, "to make sure the half-pint doesn't try to sneak anything out", but he really wasn't fooling anyone with that bullshit.
And some days she'd spend with them in stead of the books, chatting casually, helping Lily in his futile-but-persistent attempts at organizing the living room/storage area/scrapyard, moving around the flat with an ease of someone comfortable enough to call it their own. By the first two weeks she knew where everything was located, what each pile contained, and could tell when something had been added or removed by taking one sweep of the room. She moved things around – with Lily's help, of course, as some of the things were much too big for her to move on her own – and Gajeel let her, only voicing his irritation once in a while out of obligation more than anything else.
For everyone else in the guild it had become a source of immense entertainment, and there were bets going around on almost everything regarding the two unknowing participants – who would make the first move, what Gajeel would come up with next, and when and even if Levy would ever realize she was being wooed, the latter of which Lily himself had been quite curious, until one Wednesday afternoon during one of Levy's visits.
"Am I being hoarded?"
The Exceed turned his gaze to the script mage seated on the floor to his right, a book in her lap and a curious look on her face – as though the thought had just occurred to her. He smirked. "I do believe you are."
She didn't reply, but didn't seem surprised at the revelation. Humming softly to herself, she went back to her book, and a comfortable silence settled between them. After a few minutes, she spoke again, nonchalantly, eyes still intently focused on the open pages before her.
"He'll have to add another bookcase. There's no way I can fit all of mine in the one that's already there."
Lily could only smile.
AN: You've all seen Natsu's house, can you imagine what Gajeel's place looks like? It's bound to be a health hazard.