AN: So this is my entry to the Gajeel x Levy Week, under the prompt "Admiration." Because of course Gajeel does no such thing. For your pleasure I've also thrown in some sassy bro!Cana, as I totally support the headcanon that she and Gajeel are drinking buddies.
Disclaimer: I do not own Fairy Tail or its characters – Hiro Mashima does.
"(to) admire": verb. To regard with pleasure, wonder and approval.
"Come on, Redfox, admit it. You've admired her for ages."
Gajeel glared at the brunette from over the rim of his mug, before closing his eyes and downing his ale. When he placed the tankard down on the table, Cana was watching him with a leering grin. He snorted. "Ya look like a creeper with that smile."
"And you look like a walking fashion disaster. And we're both drunk, so who cares?"
"Yer drunk, Alberona. I'm still sober as a nun."
She barked a laugh. "Oh that's rich! You've had even more than I have, and there ain't no way yer drinking me under the table!"
Gajeel grinned as he refilled his tankard. "That a challenge?"
"I'll give ya a challenge, Redfox," she grumbled, waving a loose fist in front of his face. He only shook his head, swatting her hand away as he reached for his mug again. She was silent a little moment longer as she stared at him with furrowed brows, as though contemplating something.
Gajeel felt his eye twitch. "What?"
She grinned. "Nothing."
"Can't a girl stare if she wants? What are ya, off limits to look at, too? Girlie doesn't strike me as the jealous type – that would be you."
He snorted. "Stare all ya want, but stop lookin' like yer about ta say something annoying."
"You find any voice but yer own annoying."
He smirked. "Damn straight."
Cana's resulting grin was sly. "Well, that's not entirely true, though, is it? I bet ya don't think Levy's voice is annoying."
He gave her a look. "She's my woman – wouldn't be that if I found her annoying." He shook his head. "Losing yer touch already? Ya never used to be a lightweight."
She snorted. "Dream on, Mr. Nuts and Bolts. I ain't even started." She grinned, wiping her mouth before refilling her mug. "So you don't think she's annoying, huh?"
"What are ya, deaf? Didn't I just tell ya?"
"So what is she then?"
"Gosh, Redfox, you've got such a way with words. Don't make me swoon now with your articulate affection for your lady love."
He grumbled, "Shaddup."
Cana chuckled. "Ah, but you know I won't. That's why you drink with me – because you like my company."
"Yer not half bad–"
She slapped his shoulder. "Aw, man – now we're talkin'!"
"–when yer drunk. Sober yer about as tolerable as a small, yapping dog."
"DAMNIT IT, REDFOX!" He ducked just in time to avoid the tankard sailing for his face, and he grinned as it crashed against the wall behind him, splintering into pieces and sending droplets of ale raining over the heads of those seated at the neighbouring table. Shouts broke out, followed by a few insults thrown in Cana's direction, to which she responded with a crude gesture.
"Yer aim's off," Gajeel quipped, as he took a sip of his ale.
He grinned. "I'm pullin' yer leg, Alberona."
She glared, grumbling under her breath, "You better, ya damn needle cushion, or I'm telling yer girl all yer embarrassing secrets," she warned.
He nearly spluttered. "The hell? I ain't said anything embarrassing to you!"
She grinned. "Nah, but I can lie pretty good. I'll make it believable."
"Shorty's too clever to believe anything you pull out of yer ass."
"You sure about that?"
"How sure? What would you bet on it?"
"I ain't betting with you," he retorted, muttering into his ale. "Bound to be cheated."
She gave him a playful wink. "Heck yes you would. But that's not the point here; the point is that you don't think I could pull it off. You doubt, but I'll have ya know, I'd make it so believable it'd be true."
He blinked, his mug still at his mouth. "The heck does that even mean?"
She hiccuped, and wiped her mouth, eyes gleaming with mischief. "It means I know what ya feel, Redfox. And I know you. Give a gal some credit, huh? I've been drinking with ya since before the others even dared look at ya without pissing their pants. Heck, dollface was still fleeing the room when we had our first drink! I know ya, whether ya like it or not."
Gajeel crossed his arms over his chest as he leaned back in his seat. "Oh yeah? Ya think ya know me, is what you mean."
Cana rolled her eyes. "You think you're ten times more mysterious than you really are, Iron Man, but yer actually not so hard ta figure out. Hell, Lily should tell ya that often enough!"
"Lily is my cat."
She snorted. "What, does that give him special telepathic abilities or somethin'? Other people can figure ya out too. I bet Levy knows ya pretty well."
"She's my woman."
Cana grinned, raising her new mug. "And I'm yer bro. C'mon, want me ta prove I know ya?"
He snorted. "Go ahead."
She was kidding herself. So what if Lily knew him pretty well? Anyone in Fairy Tail knew that. And that Levy knew him wasn't such a surprise anymore, either. They spent most of their time in his company, after all. It was only natural they'd gotten to know him. But as for the rowdy brunette in front of him who was flapping her gums like she knew what she was talking about–
"I've been drinking with ya since before the others even dared look at ya without pissing their pants."
He shifted in his seat, brows furrowing as he grudgingly realized that she actually had a point. He hadn't really thought about it like that when it came to her. It had been a long time since he'd thought about how the guild had used to treat him, but now that she'd brought it up, he couldn't help but realize that other than Juvia, the half-naked drunkard in front of him had been one of the first people to accept him as a member of Fairy Tail.
Cana's grin widened. "Realized I might be onto something, huh?"
She shrugged as she tucked her legs beneath her, and he noticed with a grumble that she wasn't even swaying in her seat. And contrary to what she'd claimed earlier, she'd had at least three mugs more than he'd had. "So!" she exclaimed then, placing her mug down and clapping her hands together. "Let's review the evidence!"
Gajeel rubbed his forehead. "You should get together with Lil and make a club or something," he muttered. Cana barked a laugh, giving him a wink.
"For all you know, we've already got one. But don't distract me! Now, evidence." He glared at her, but she brushed it off with a wave of her hand. "First of all, you asked to be her S-class partner," she said, pointing a finger at him, and muttering in an attempted aside, 'though you've got a different definition of what ask means than normal people'. "Anyway, everyone else thinks ya did that 'cause ya wanted to repent or some crap, but I know ya better than that. I know why you really did it."
He gave her a dull look. "I did it so I could participate in the exams."
"IRRELEVANT! And also, a bold-faced lie. C'mon, man, I'm not thick, and I won't fall for yer crap denial."
"It ain't den–"
"Ah, but it is," Cana said, waving a finger in front of his face. "Now, as I was saying. Everyone's got these misconceptions as to why ya forced yer help on her, but I think it's cause ya admired her and wanted ta see her reach S-class."
"You're out of yer mind."
She grinned. "Am I? Or am I just hitting the mark?"
He snorted. "Yer so far off the mark, ya could be blind for all yer shitty aiming."
"Nah I ain't, and ya know it." She wagged her finger and tutted under her breath. "Stubborn dragon. I wonder how she puts up with yer crap." Then she grinned, and chuckled softly to herself. "She's quite the, heheh, admirable character, ain't she? Right? C'mon, bump that fist!"
"Yer a riot."
"Damn straight I am. But I don't get it, why won't ya just admit that you've admired her for so long? It ain't like it'll come as a shock."
He sighed. "I don't do that crap."
She snorted. "What, ya don't do respect?"
"So? Same meaning."
He gave her a look. "Are ya illiterate?"
She raised a challenging brow. "Are ya really pointing fingers, King of Contradictions? Really? Are ya?"
"Ain't the same."
"Still a difference!"
She threw her hands up. "Yer impossible – ya know that? Seriously. Ya respect her, ya admire her. It's easy!"
He grumbled to himself. "It's a sissy word."
She looked at him, before snorting a laugh. "It's a sissy word? The hell are ya, in kindergarten? Words won't give ya cooties, Redfox." He glared at her, and she pursed her lips smugly. "Ya admire her; admit it. Or do ya want to hear what other evidence I've got?"
"I don't wanna know."
"Well too bad, I'm still gonna tell ya!"
He sighed, closing his eyes as she clapped her hands. "Ya remember the time Laxus had his delayed teenage rebellion?"
Gajeel snorted. "That time he tried to eradicate the guild and the city cathedral in one go? Nah, I've forgotten."
She waved him off. "Yeah, yeah. Water under the bridge and all that. Now, ya remember what you were doing when we were all running around getting into fights?"
He felt his eye twitch. "I bet yer about to tell me."
Cana ginned. "Good wager, Metal Brows. Last I heard from the local rumour mill, you were in the guild, 'cause Fried had stuck ya under a rune spell. And d'ya know what else I heard? About a certain remark to a certain bookworm who helped ya get out?"
As a matter of fact, he knew exactly what she was going to say. Knew it, because Lily made a point to remind him of it ever so often since he'd first heard about it. And Levy, too, had taken to bringing it up sometimes when the memory caught her fancy.
Bloody traitors, the both of them.
"I think it went a little like this," Cana began, and laughed, before slapping her chest and deepening her voice, face warping into a grimace that was no doubt supposed to represent him. "'You're incredible, you know. I can't understand a word you're saying.'" And then she burst into more laughter, holding her stomach for support. "Now that's admiration fer ya! And ya weren't even close ta dating back then! Holy hell, she was still scared of ya, if I remember correctly." She wiped tears of mirth from her eyes. "Man, yer charm, Redfox. It's something else, lemme tell ya."
Gajeel's fingers twitched around his mug. "I ain't admitting anything."
She grinned. "Wanna bet?"
"Bring it, Rowdy."
She laughed, before slamming her hand down and onto the table. "Fine! If ya drink me under the table, I'll get off yer back. But if you break first, then yer gonna scream it form the guild roof, ya hear? From the roof. Out across the city."
He snorted, and though part of him knew what opponent he was taking on and the fact that she was even better off than him and was now five tankards ahead of him, his pride just wouldn't allow him to admit defeat. Hell, he'd probably admit to secretly admiring Levy McGarden before he did that.
So instead of doing the clever thing and refuse her terms, as well as get off his chair and go home to the warm bed and the freezing cold feet of the woman sleeping in it, Gajeel slammed his tankard down in front of her. "Deal."
Cana rubbed her hands together. "Sweet!" And turning around, she hollered at the top of her lungs and with enough force to make every head in the guild hall turn their way.
"DRINK-OFF, PEEPS! REDFOX IS ABOUT TA LOSE HIS DIGNITY, SO GET YER ASSES OVER HERE AND PLACE SOME BETS!"
"...this is what happens when you challenge Cana to drinking contests, you know."
Gajeel groaned, but didn't raise his head from where it was pressed flat against the kitchen table. "Noise. Loud. Shaddup."
He heard her sigh, but even that was too damn loud, and he turned his head away from the glaring light of the ceiling lamp. He felt like crap. Scratch that – crap had to feel bloody relaxing compared to the hell his head was going through. It was like being beaten repeatedly over the head with a sledgehammer.
And for someone made of fucking iron, that was saying something.
A soft palm pressed against his cheek then, before moving to his forehead. "Gajeel?"
He grumbled under his breath, but leaned his face into the cool touch, and the fingers brushed some of his hair away from his face, pulling some of it out from where it had gotten stuck in his mouth. "Lily, could you put on some coffee, please? As black as you can make it."
Gajeel tried to ignore the fact that she seemed to know exactly what to do, as well as how he preferred his coffee, but the fact stuck to the forefront of his mind like a blaring signpost. And he couldn't have stopped the rumbling, purr-like sound that escaped him when she rubbed her fingertips against his scalp, but since it was only her and Lily in the room – at least he thought so; he couldn't exactly see from his vantage point – he let himself go.
He felt her shift until she was sitting on the table beside his head, and the soft puttering of the coffee maker on the counter behind him became a comforting lull to soothe the hellish pounding behind his brow. Levy's fingers didn't leave his head, and the brief thought struck him that she as acting strangely...supportive, considering how he must have come in the night before. All he could remember was missing the bed and falling flat on his face on the floor beside it, pulling all the blankets with him as well as the lamp on the nightstand and the girl herself, who'd been wrapped up in the sheets. He also might have gotten a little frisky, as he was apt to do when he was drunk out of his mind. But so far as he could remember, she hadn't seemed to mind...or were those memories of another night? He really had no idea.
Something nagged at the back of his mind, though, about her behaviour. Hell, even Lily was acting weird; he'd never been this cautious when Gajeel had gotten drunk and woken him up in the past. Usually, he'd be intentionally loud and slam the cupboards for good measure, what with him being cat and then a naturally vindictive creature.
Suspicion leaped within him as the facts dawned on him one by one, and he lifted his head – which seemed to weigh more than it should – and cracked open an eye to regard the script mage seated on his kitchen table. She tilted her head, smiling down at him. "Hey."
He glared, and flinched as it sent his head into another brutal beating. "What–" he coughed, then swallowed, his mouth dry as dust.
"What?" Her fingers brushed his hair out of his face, and he turned away from the touch.
"Why're ya being so nice?"
She didn't hide the smile fast enough, and he caught it just before she bit down on her bottom lip. "Aren't I always nice?"
"Don't push it, bookworm," he growled. She shared a look with Lily, and that told him enough. "Alright, what are ya hiding?" he shot the Exceed a look, and then immediately regretted it when his eyes crossed.
"The question is," Lily said, as he placed a mug of steaming, pitch black coffee on the table under Gajeel's nose. He crossed his arms in front of his chest, and there was a strange smile on his face. "Do you really want to know?"
Gajeel frowned as he reached for the mug. "The hell d'ya mean, 'do I want to know'? Course I want ta know! What are you hiding?"
They shared another look, and Levy shrugged her shoulders. Lily coughed. "Well, what do you remember from last night? After you'd challenged Cana to a drink-off, that is."
Gajeel blinked, then pressed his palm against his brow. "I...we drank."
Lily whistled. "Sharp memory you've got there."
"Shaddup, cat," he grumbled. "Did I win?"
Lily shook his head. "Not even close."
Well...it wasn't that much of a shocker, Cana being who she was. But then why were they grinning at him like that?
"The guild's been in a riot all morning," Lily continued, his grin widening as he no doubt saw the realization dawn on his partner. "We've been hearing all sorts of interesting things about your ardent admiration. Although as the rumour goes, all of Magnolia knows."
And there it was – the part of the night before that he'd forgotten. Or purged, which was the more likely alternative. He wondered idly if he would ever live it down, but going by the nature of the guild, that was about as likely as actually beating Cana in a drinking contest.
Levy laughed softly, before leaning forward to brush her mouth against his forehead, at the centre between his brows where the pain was worst. He bristled as he felt her smile against his skin. "And here you'd told me you didn't do shouting from rooftops," she murmured, tone teasing, before pulling away and meeting his gaze. "I'm learning new things about you every day, aren't I?"
Gajeel let his head fall back against the table as both his cat and his woman dissolved into laughter beside him.
Damn you, Alberona...!
AN: Just try to tell me they're not bros of epic proportions. I know Cana's pretty much a bro with everyone, but Gajeel sure as heck isn't, so I like to think she's one of the few people whose presence he actually tolerates.