"Hey, it's alright, my life has never been a bed of roses."
"My solitude at times is overwhelming, but I fear the pain of loss is worse."
Natsu knew that he shouldn't have been snooping. He knew. There was only a handful of rules that Gajeel had set when he let Natsu crash at his home. The first beingthat he didn't make a crazy mess and the second that he "minded his own goddamn business."
Needless to say, he'd broken the first in a total of 10 minutes when he unpacked in the spare bedroom and broke the bed when he decided to jump all over it, leaving him to the couch. But, as not only his cousin but also his friend, Natsu decided that the privacy Gajeel requested was normal and he'd respect it. It was weird for him to get up and walk into his room, a place that Gajeel had specifically placed under the "Do not enter" section of the home. Another was the freezer when Natsu thought it would be interesting to put Pantherlily in it (which only lasted for 30 seconds since the black haired man promptly knocked him out and then rescued what Natsu dubbed: his little baby) and then the shower, after the pinkette clogged the drain with clumps of grass after a chasing of Happy.
But Gajeel's room…was different. While Natsu defied Gajeel's orders of staying away from the freezer and the bathtub a day after he decreed it, his bedroom was something that he didn't even WANT to go into. It felt like it was encased in a bubble, something that was entirely personal and completely out of reach. So, when Natsu opened the dark door, he couldn't hold back his shudder.
The entire place was dark, covered in a thin membrane of shadow that was likely trying to keep his prying eyes from picking anything out. The man usually didn't leave his room so dark unless he was away, but it felt as if light was just being sucked out. The eerie feeling quickly passed, however, when Natsu flicked on the light, careful not to make too much noise as Lucy was sleeping quietly in the living room: a simple 20 steps away.
He walked in, the squish of the carpet comforting and familiar. The bed was a mess, dark navy blue sheets haphazardly piled on the side, clumped against the corner of the plain gray wall and the black metal bedframe. There was nothing particularly interesting there, so Natsu turned his gaze around, sweeping over the room. There was a desk off on the far side, a small dresser against the wall, close to the bed and a laundry basket that was overflowing with plain black and red shirts and jeans. There were hair ties, random papers, bills and letters spilling over the chair at his desk and off in the corner was his guitar, a pack of strings hanging off of a peg.
It looked harmless and Natsu almost sighed. The fact that the room was practically empty save for the slight mess bothered him. He always thought that if someone had something to hide, it was never hidden under clutter, but under a bare nothingness.
And, frankly, it just felt too weird for the room to be so barren. His cousin disappears off of the face of the planet for YEARS and there's absolutely nothing in the place, no memoirs, nick-nacks, souvenirs, postcards? No, that didn't seem right.
The only thing left was the closed, dark gray laptop that lay closed and slim on the desk. Shrugging, and assuming the answers would be found there, Natsu carelessly swept off everything from the chair and opened it up, watching as the screen lit and came to life.
Fine then. If Gajeel's room refused to speak, his personal computer very well might.
To say the black haired man was having a fun time would be like saying that shooting yourself in the foot was a good idea.
And if you didn't get that, it means that it would be false. Undeniably so.
Here he is, serving out drink after drink to a sobbing man who's wife left him at the altar while Yukino, Mary Hughes and Kinana all bombarded him with orders so steadily that he was positive that he was simply NOT paid enough for what he did.
"She-she LEFT!" he cried out, for the SIXTH time and Gajeel rolled his eyes, huffing ridiculously while slamming down the empty glass in front of him.
"Look, man. Yeah, it's a real fucking sob fest…but I don't give a crap. You've hit your limit. I'm pretty damn sure you're gonna be screamin' in Spanish if you have another shot."
"I-I don-don't KNOW Spanish!"
"Yeah, my point."
"-Scotch on the rocks and a shot of vodka!" Kinana said, gently setting her tray down. She took one look at the man at the counter and grimaced in sympathy. "That bad, hm?"
"Shoot me. Just do it."
"Sorry, Gajeel." She said, her mouth twisting up in pity as he sighed and poured out the orders.
"Oh my god, someone SHOOT me!" Mary Hughes said, practically throwing her own tray at the wall as she walked over, hitting her forehead against it instead. "Sweet lord, have some kind of mercy. There's some lady diluting her drinks with her tears off at table 6."
She looked at Gajeel and his miserable glare and sighed.
"Why do I keep this damn job?" he asked, looking at both the girls and their own misery.
"Pays the bills?" Yukino said, swinging the counter door open with her hip and holding out the metal tray. "I need two beers, a brandy and a shot of rum."
"I need more than that. Like, hmmm, a fucking bullet in my skull-and will you shut the hell up? I'm not serving you anymore! You already paid, get out!" Gajeel screamed, rounding on the blubbering man, only making him cry harder.
"I'm with Gajeel." Hughes said, hitting her head against her tray again.
"Come on now, everyone! It's almost closing time. 30 more minutes and that's it." Kinana coaxed, looking forward to seeing her baby when she got off of her shift, even if he was just sleeping soundly.
Yukino took a look at the man and smiled cheerfully. "Hello sir! Maybe it would do you good to talk to the lady over there?" she asked, pointing to the sobbing woman that Hughes was serving.
The duo-haired woman instantly whipped her head to look at her fellow coworker. "….Yukino, WHY would you say that!? Sir-no!" She screamed when she saw that he had left and the two were blubbering together. "Oh, no…he left. Oh my GOD, Yukino, I HATE you."
"Yukino, you're a godsend!" Gajeel said, smirking at Hughes in delight since now she had two sobbing customers to deal with and he lost the last crying person at the bar. He quickly filled up their orders and set the glasses down, watching as they carried them off, Hughes looking very close to tears as she moseyed her way over.
He smirked at them, cracking his neck as he slid the glasses over to the more sane customers at the counter, shaking out his head and anticipating the close of the shop so he could finally go home and sleep.
The moment was a tad bit short lived as he remembered the small pixie curled up in Cana's chair. He was glad that the woman had such a vain sense of self that she needed the most overstuffed and comfortable seat in the country, since shrimpette really looked like she needed her sleep. He closed his eyes as he craned his neck back, taking in a deep inhale before he yawned.
He was tired as hell.
All the time he had been spending with the girl was finally taking its toll on him. Plus, Lily had been going bonkers with his meowing in the middle of the night-er, day, wanting to be let outside so he could get some sunshine and fresh air.
This, of course, resulted in one extremely grumpy Gajeel, who would wake up at noon, slamming his door open, hair flying all over the place as he glared at his kitten and practically threw him at a window. After the damn cat would jump on the windowsill, he'd stomp off, slamming his door shut and sleep for three more hours until he met up with Levy.
Now, it seemed like he was going to be spending a LOT more time with her. Somewhere deep in his gut, he realized that it wasn't an unpleasant idea, but he shoved that to the back of his mind and opened his eyes as he heard a tap on the counter.
He had to finish his job.
Natsu was getting exasperated. Huffing, he typed in Gajeel's name, yet again, onto yet another search engine. He scowled when he saw that nothing had come up.
At first, Natsu had rejoiced when he saw that Gajeel didn't keep a password in his laptop. Chalking it up to the fact that he assumed Natsu would respect his privacy and living alone previously, it wasn't that big of a shocker to him. Of course, the first think the pinkette had done was look through his files, and found absolutely nothing. It was as if everything had been wiped clean or never existed in the first place. He only seemed to have about 7 pictures on his entire computer, all featuring him with some blue haired girl with gloomy eyes.
Oddly enough, the woman would pass for Levy had she been shorter and less busty. The bluenette in the pictures looked more sad, though, and certainly more of Gajeel's type. For a few moments, he wondered if the woman was his ex-girlfriend or something, but threw the theory out when he saw a picture of Gajeel fake gagging at the sight of the blue woman holding hands with some white haired man who looked too much like Gray for Natsu to tolerate looking at him for even a second longer.
So, as logic would insist, he then turned to the glorious internet and checked his cousin's history.
That was a bust, too. Almost all of it was composed of artistic sites where image upon countless image of tattoos were located.
Again, not surprising.
But after browsing long enough, Natsu found that there was nothing he could dig up. Every site was plain, simple and led to no conclusions other than the fact that his cousin was a minimalist. There were no social networks to speak of, nothing that would require a deep understanding of him.
Hell, not even GOOGLE could dig up any dirt on the black haired man. Frustrated, the pinkette slid the damn thing shut and leaned back in the chair. His dad used to always tell him that his sense of intuition was second to none, and all his life, nothing had disproved it in the slightest. So having it fail him now was jus stupid.
And inconvenient, of course.
Yet, something was telling him to check maybe just one more time. So, with a certain heaviness or a man who was assuming a fruitless journey, Natsu jumped off the chair he was sitting on to inspect the room once more, scratching at the walls to see if there was something to be found under the dirty paint and digging around under the bed for clues.
And he came up with NOTHING-
-until he noticed the built in closet.
In his defense, the damn thing was painted the exact same gray as the rest of the room, and with the weird lighting, it was practically impossible to see it unless you really tried.
Natsu was careful as he approached it, as if a monster might pop out from the confines and slaughter him. But when he opened the door, there was really nothing to fear. There were a few clean button ups hanging along with black and tan slacks, but the curious thing was the cello. It sat propped up against the wall, looking clean but unused. There was no white residue on the strings, no sign of use and it instantly confused and interested him. Natsu carefully reached his hands in and pulled it out, taking note of the surprisingly light weight. He'd never held a cello, since music was strictly squared away in Gajeel's corner of genetic talent.
Still, the instrument was cool. He stared at it, holding it up, one hand fisting the neck and his palm open and holding the back, balancing the entire thing. The light reddish brown tint of the wood came alive under the plain lights of the room, and the bottom peg had been extended to a playable position. Natsu sat down on Gajeel's bed, placing the cello between his knees as he saw Gajeel do when he was smaller. He took note that it was at the right height after he estimated the inches his cousin had over his head.
It was covered in scratches but when Natsu plucked the strings, they were all intact: perfectly in tune with one another as if he still played it.
He frowned, standing again and picking up the instrument, looking at all the scratches.
They looked like they were made from nails dragging down the wood, disturbing the varnish. As if the very thing was a cause for agony. He shuddered again, standing up instantly and moving to place it back. On the side "Oak Middle School" was engraved so deep in that it would be hard to scratch it out. That made sense. Gajeel DID stop playing when he went to high school. He must have stolen it since he didn't have any money at the time, probably during graduation.
And then he heard the rattle. A weird, shuffled kind of, muted sound from inside the very instrument. Natsu's eyebrows came together and his mouth turned downward.
"What the..?" he mumbled, plopping back down on the bed. When he peered inside the thing, he could see square pieces of paper, immaculately folded. So, he shook it, and slowly, he watched the papers fall out of the F-holes, about 5 of them, none dated in the slightest so, of course, he'd read them out of order.
He wondered why his hands shook as he opened them.
Phantom Lord was burned down just a week ago…It is hard to believe that you have been gone for a month. A few kids with grudges decided to set the place on fire. Juvia did not cry, so there will be no need to tease her in your next letter! And Juvia has held onto your cello since you were locked up, so it is okay. Juvia promises to you that she will get you out…but Juvia is still angry that you testified guilty and she will not forgive you easily!
Juvia is doing well at Mermaid Heel Academy, and she will graduate from here, no more transfers…She still can't believe that you were tried as an adult at only 16, but Juvia promises that in 3 years, when Juvia is 18, she will get you out.
Waiting for your next letter,
Before you wring Juvia's neck, she is informing you that your bail will be paid in three days, as soon as Juvia turns 18. Juvia knows how much you despise it, but ever since you helped Juvia in Phantom, she has been looking for ways to pay you back.
Juvia will not pretend to understand why you said you did it. Everyone at the school knew it was Jose who forced you, and some had said you were just scapegoat. Comments like that make Juvia furious. They did not know what you had done for them! For Phantom! For Juvia, in fact.
Juvia wishes she could send more than just money, but it is all she has. She has graduated, just two weeks ago, but getting to you is impossible at the moment. Lyon and Juvia are having hard times, and Juvia is so scared something will happen.
Always your closest friend,
Juvia understands you will never send a letter. It is alright, since she is accustomed to one sided conversations.
Lyon has broken up with Juvia. Resist breaking out of jail to murder him, Juvia may have money now, but not enough to cover that one up. She is coming to see you.
Wear the new pants Juvia sent.
"Damnit, Gajeel. Juvia is still angry at you. Send a letter when you can, for fuck's sake! You send Juvia nothing and Juvia is worried sick! The medicine hurts already, and you know it! Juvia cannot risk vomiting because she is so worried about you.
Stop being selfish."
Juvia doesn't want this visit to be like last one. Bail has been paid and Juvia can provide you a place to stay so you can find work somewhere. Juvia understands it's been a long time, but Juvia will always find room for you.
Juvia will be waiting in the lobby on -, please do not keep her waiting."
There was only a special kind of silence in the room, the sound of bile in the pinkette's stomach swirling about. The words "Jail", "Bail", "Scapegoat", "Phantom Lord" swirled around like lye in lukewarm water.
But he came for answers, and he felt like he just found his only hint.
Opening the laptop once more, Natsu should have felt excited, but he only felt sick when he typed Phantom Lord High into the search bar.
So...I'm about 17623752378728% sure that this chapter was NOT worth waiting...oh, y'know, over TWO YEARS FOR. I'm equally as sure anyone who enjoyed this story has promptly abandoned it, and god, I do NOT blame ya'll in the slightest.
So, what are my excuses? To be blunt, I don't really have any...I started college, yes. My father has gotten progressively worse since his Cardiac Arrest, yes. I've come to despise FT, yes. But for the most part, nothing should have put me off from updating when SO many people were reading. I feel somewhat ashamed, but mostly sorry. If any of you are still reading, I'm also sorry that this took so DAMN LONG and it wasn't even worth it. I do want to, DESPERATELY, finish this damn thing, but I wonder if that's even feasible. Still, I'll try my damndest. To anyone who is still reading this: You deserve a MILLION thumbs up, woah.
To anyone who happens to like SnK, AoT, Shingeki no Kyojin/Attack on Titan or w/e the kool kids call it now-a-days and enjoy the PetraxLevy pairing, I'm one of the pioneers of that, and my account for that is DollyPop12, I wrote the fic "Ache", which is my most popular one shot by a thousand years. Beyond that, I write Jinx+Kid Flash from Teen Titans on there, but yeah.