Chapter 24

The Ice Prince and the Lion King

Gray knocked on Lucy's door. He heard two voices inside, a man's and a woman's, bantering lively. Finally, the knob turned and Lucy peeked out. From inside, Gray smelled bacon and coffee.

"Yes? What is it, Gray?"

"Sorry to disturb your breakfast."

Edo-Natsu suddenly ran around the corner out of the kitchen. "Gray! Hey, buddy. Do you want some coffee? There's plenty left. I brewed a whole pot."

Gray smiled sadly at the Edolas boy who treated him like a best friend. "Another time. I need to ask Lucy a favor. Can you call out Loke?"

"Loke?" Confused, she reached to her belt and pulled off the Lion's Key. "Is there a problem?"

"I need to speak with him rather urgently."

"O-...-kay." She knew Gray and Loke were close friends, but he had never asked her to call the Celestial Spirit out just to talk. "Open the Gate of the Lion! Leo!"

There was a flash, a chime, and the orange-haired playboy stood before them in his refined suit. "Ah, my princess! You love me after all."

She rolled her eyes. "Say that to Gray. He's the one who wanted you."

The Lion looked a little disgruntled that it was Gray and not his princess that needed him. He lightly teased, "I know we're friends and we make a good team, but I'm sorry, Gray. I simply don't swing that way."

Gray grabbed Loke by the tie and dragged him away.

"Bondage and roughhousing isn't my thing, either," Loke chuckled. "I'll be right back, Princess. Save some coffee for me."

"Go get you own coffee!" she shouted, and slammed her door shut.

Gray left the little house and walked swiftly down Strawberry Street. When finally he got to a bridge with not much traffic, he stopped and faced the Celestial Spirit.

"We have a problem."

"The guild?"

"Lucy. She's fallen in love with the Natsu from Edolas."

"That lookalike?" he growled softly. "Gemini said something about that. How serious is it?"

Gray frowned. He had heard the rumor. Hell, everyone had heard by now. "Apparently, they're sleeping together."

Loke staggered back in shock and leaned against the bridge railing. "My sweet Lucy? And that guy? No way!"

"Now, personally, I like this Natsu better than that flame-brain, but if he has to leave Earthland, Lucy will be heartbroken. I don't want that. I'm sure you don't, either. None of us do. Breaking them up would be too cruel, but we can at least physically separate them. It might lessen the blow for Lucy if she spends less time with that guy."

Loke still looked miserable. "My pure little princess. She's no longer a...a..." His lips quivered and tears lined his eyes behind the blue shades. "But...I wanted to be her first!" he wailed.

"Loke, focus!" Gray snapped. "It's an order from Makarov to keep those two apart without angering Lucy too much. He understands that this is...unfortunate. We're to separate them as delicately as possible while still cheering her on. We decided the best thing would be to go on a mission. However, Erza is off on an S-class mission, Wendy is away on a mission with Romeo, so I need your help. It'll be the three of us: you, me, and Lucy."

Loke wiped his eyes. "We're not breaking them up though, right? I might not like this, but forcing them apart..."

"That's why we're using a mission as an excuse. If Lucy is away from Edo-Natsu, she might start thinking more rationally, at least enough to prepare herself for the possibility that he might not be able to stay here forever. Plus, with a little separation, parting might be easier if it comes to that. I really hope it doesn't. Edo-Natsu is a great guy, and Lucy is really happy. Still, we need to take her heart into consideration, even if it's a little cruel on the two of them."

"I see," Loke said solemnly. "I'll help out. I love her. I'm sure you do, too. We don't want to see her get hurt."

"I...I don't love her," Gray said, blushing slightly. "She's nakama, and she's a great girl, and while she's cute, she's also my teammate, so something like'd be too awkward."

"A lame excuse," Loke chuckled. "Still, that's one less suitor I have to compete with to win Lucy's heart."

"You never give up, do you?"

"Of course not! I'm Leo the Lion."

"Whatever. Let's go to the guild and find the right mission for this."

Working together with Mirajane's assistance, they picked what they hoped was the perfect mission to accomplish their goals. However, when they told Lucy and showed her the flier, she grinned excitedly.

"This is perfect! Fireball's been wanting to test out his new car in a mission."

Gray and Loke both shouted, "No!"

She pouted and folded her arms over her chest. "Why not? The client doesn't live near the train lines. Plus this says we have to fight some rich baron. I looked up his mansion on the map, and it's in a really remote area. We'd have to spend days walking there. Natsu can drive us and make it in no time."

The two young men sighed. The remoteness of the place was part of their plan. A mission like this would take two weeks at least. With any luck, Edo-Natsu would be gone by then. However, Lucy explained happily, using the map spread out on the table, that if they drove, they could be finished in three days. They argued that someone without magic could not fight this wicked baron and his small army bent on destroying the nearby villages. However, Lucy's plan was to have Edo-Natsu drop them off, then stay behind with the car until they were done with the fighting.

In the end, her logic won out. They could not think of any good reasons why they should not use the advantages of having a car to transport them.

"You have to ask if he wants to first," Loke told her. "He might not." That was lame. Of course he would want to stay with her rather than be separated for two weeks. However, it got Lucy to leave the guild and go back home to ask Fireball.

Loke and Gray huddled together to rethink their plan.

"If Edo-Natsu drives us there," Loke said, "there's no way he can be of help."

Gray nodded in agreement. "Seeing how helpless he is would remind Lucy that he's not meant for this world."

Loke flinched a little at that. In many ways, he understood how Edo-Natsu felt. He had also been a stranger in a world that he did not belong in. However, he also knew that sometimes, leaving that world was the best thing to do. "Do you really think this Edolas boy will leave?"

"From my understanding, it's not our call to make. It depends on if Edolas has the technology to send Natsu Dragneel back to us without needing to switch places with his double. If we can at all keep Dragion here, that'd be better all around. Well, except for anyone who might miss him in Edolas. It'd probably suck for his guild, but if Edolas can send Natsu back to us with no troubles, and if Edo-Natsu really wants to stay here, why not?" he concluded with a shrug. "Why do you ask?"

"Maybe I'm being greedy," Loke scowled, "but I really don't want him around Lucy anymore."

"That is greedy, since you're only saying that because you want Lucy for yourself. What if Edo-Natsu goes home and Lucy falls for that flame-brain?"

"I can kick Natsu's ass without feeling like a lion beating up a chihuahua."

By noon, they were packed and ready. Natsu Dragion had extra fuel for the trip, and the trunk was so spacious, they did not even need to rent a cart for their supplies. They drove off, Natsu and Lucy in the front, Loke and Gray both scowling in the back.

They just hoped this would work.

End of Chapter 24

A/N: I'm sorry it took a while to remember where I wanted to go with this story. I think I'm back on track.

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