It was day three of the Grand Magic Games. Erza had just masterfully won pandemonium, while Cana had broken the MPF on a perfect 9999 score. Gajeel grinned, believing truly in the unstoppable might of Fairy Tail.
The announcers began to call the contestants for the battle portion.
"First up, Sabretooth's Rufus Lohr!"
"That's the guy who beat Gray and Juvia," Laxus noted from beside him. "That's a strange form of magic he uses."
"Everyone goes 'squish' eventually," Gajeel replied gleefully. Juvia was lost in some inner world, muttering about Gray and Leon and…something? Wow, that's a messed up imagination, Gajeel thought.
"…and he is fighting against Fairy Tail B's Gajeel Redfox!"
Gajeel's expression changed to one of feral glee, his fists tightening. Yes! He had a chance to fight! Finally, after the chariot fiasco, he could redeem himself in his most enjoyable pastime; beating the crap outta people who pissed him off.
"Be careful," warned Mira to his right. "That Memory Make of his is powerful, and we don't really understand it yet."
"They all go 'squish'," he repeated happily as he made his way to the arena.
"Gajeel," said Levy happily to herself as she watched him enter the arena. He didn't wave or motion to the crowd in any way, but that was Gajeel; rough and straightforward. The only thing that mattered to him was the man in front of him.
"See something you like?" Jet teased from behind her. She instantly became like a tomato, round and red, as her cheeks flushed with what felt like her entire supply of blood.
"W…what do you mean?" She asked shakily. The entire guild laughed, including Mavis. Apparently Levy was more transparent than she believed. Or, she'd have to talk to Lu-chan about privacy and boundaries. Screw it, she thought and shouted at the top of her lungs.
"Go for it, Gajeel!"
Levy was wrong; Gajeel wasn't deaf to the entire crowd, just ninety nine percent of it. He smiled as he heard the tiny voice of the tiny girl ring out.
"You bet'cha, Shrimp!" He said under his breath, smiling. His expression fell into a scowl under the arrogant gaze of the Sabretooth mage. Cocky asshole. Don't put me in the same category as the stripper.
"Let the first match of the third day…"
The crowd tensed as all attention fell upon the two warriors. The cheering Fairy Tail, the confident Sabretooth, the interest of Lamia or Pegasus. All eyes went to the stadium's centre.
Rufus smirked, but instantly his eyes widened as Gajeel was in his face with insane speed and bloodlust. Fortunately for the Red Bard, the Iron Dragon's first swing was a testing shot and he was able to dodge, swinging under the following left, and backing into the centre of the field. He couldn't dodge, however, as Gajeel's leg extended behind him, driving an Iron Club into Rufus' gut and hurling him across the arena.
The crowd went wild.
"Strong!" Declared the announcer. "Is this the strength of the Iron Dragon?"
Gajeel looked at the prostrate opponent. "Come on, ya girly-clothed pansy. Get up, I ain't done yet."
"Neither am I, you brutish imbecile," replied Rufus, easily on his feet again. His hands went to his temples. "Memory Make: Karma of the Burning Land!" An enormous inferno of fire shot out at the bewildered Gajeel, engulfing him.
"Gajeel!" Shouted Lucy, from Fairy Tail A's spectator box. To her surprise, Natsu laughed.
"Have you already forgotten, Lucy?"
With a sweep of his arm, channelling a rush of magical power, Gajeel extinguished the blaze. His shirt was now tattered rags, but that simply helped reveal the iron scales that covered his body.
"Moron," he said gleefully, "fire don't hurt iron! Iron Dragon's Sword!" He ran across the arena swiftly, his right arm turning into a revving chainsaw. The Bard didn't seem fazed, maintaining a calm and easy pose. As Gajeel swung at him, he dodged backwards, constantly an inch or so away.
He memorizes movements. The longer this fight goes on, the better a read he'll have of ya.
Which won't help without the muscle to back it up!
Stepping in on his right leg, Gajeel pivoted with such speed that Rufus couldn't avoid it, and the blade…passed right through the memory image of him.
Gajeel cursed, swinging back around to see Rufus again separated from him, still in that easy posture, arrogant expression all over his face.
"Jeez. Gonna run all day, or we gonna fight?" Gajeel said dejectedly.
"Hmph. Clashing directly is for uneducated buffoons. I have a better idea." He raised his hands to his temples. "I've been sifting through your memories, looking for your weakness."
"Weakness?" Gajeel laughed. "I ain't got no weakness, and even if I did, I hammered it out over the last three months. Strength, speed, defence, I'm the whole package baby!" He laughed again.
"No, this one you haven't been able to smooth out." Gajeel was taken aback by the evil expression that flitted across Rufus' face. "Memory Make: The Mind Made Real!"
Between the combatants, in the very centre of the arena, for all to see, two figures emerged, dragged straight out of Gajeel's memory.
"No…please, no…," Gajeel stammered breathlessly.
Anything but that.
The two figures were Levy and himself, on that fateful night, eight years ago, though it'd only been a year to them. She was crying, screaming, trying to get away. From him. He watched himself, the man he'd been relive his one unpardonable sin. He was grinning, laughing and enjoying himself as he drove his fists again and again into that tiny, helpless body.
The crowd was suddenly silent, some in horror, some in confusion.
Gajeel sank to his knees, shaking violently. He remembered that scene, again and again in his nightmares, but he'd never been able to see himself. His own demonic visage as it cackled. How alive his eyes were. She tried to get away again, but he merely grabbed her leg and dragged her back, striking her head to stun her. Not knock unconscious, because he wasn't done enjoying himself yet. Still, blood flowed from her temple and her head band fell away, her hair spilling out.
And everyone could see him do it.
A pain, a horror and a thing he could not forgive of himself. But at the very least it was private.
"No!" He roared, pounding his fists into the sand that covered the arena floor with such force that he could feel the stonework beneath crack. "Noooo!"
"Memory Make: Ice Hammer!" Gajeel was helpless as Rufus struck him with the magic he'd memorized from Gray. He liked it; the powerful blows brought physical pain, which drove away the mental anguish. Maybe he'd just lie here and take it, because after all, he deserved it.
The hammer rose again.
Levy was trembling, her hands clutching the arena railing so tightly that her knuckles had gone white. Fairy Tail had gone silent, and she was sure that all the eyes present were looking at the back of her head. For her too, it was seeing her privacy exposed; the moment of weakness where she was helpless. Perversely, she blamed herself. If she were stronger, had been able to defend herself, Gajeel would not have this sin that he could not forgive himself for.
Jet and Droy shifted behind her. Of all the people present, they had a unique view of the situation, having been present at the time too.
"You forgave him before, nothing has changed," said Jet quietly.
"Its water under the bridge now," said Droy between mouthfuls.
For obvious reasons, they'd hated Gajeel with a passion, but losing their comrades for seven years changed their perspectives. They'd have killed to get their friends back – any of them. Even they could see the different man the slayer had become.
Resolve hardening, Levy clambered up onto the very edge of the arena wall as her guild mates panicked that she'd fall. Cupping her hands to her mouth, she screamed with all of her might, helped by the mostly quiet audience.
"Gajeel! I love you!"
Rufus was grinning like the devil as the hammer came down once more on Gajeel's bloodied form. He started in surprise as Gajeel caught it on an open palm. Rising on one knee, the slayer's face rose to meet Rufus'. He had expected bloody murder, but instead the Iron Dragon was smiling happily.
"Ya hear that?"
"What? What are you on about?" The Red Bard asked distractedly, trying to overcome his strength.
"Oh? Well it was something that I'll commit to memory forever, even if you won't." He hurled the hammer away with a slight fraction of his physical strength, standing to tower over Rufus. He cracked his knuckles, and wrung his shoulders.
Despite being a metre away, Rufus didn't have even a second to react as Gajeel's fist lashed out from a relaxed pose, taking him right in the face and hurling him backwards. He grimaced in fear and pain as he got to his feet. The slayer was idly walking towards him.
"Jeez, I must be going soft in the head. I thought it was only iron that gave me extra strength."
"What are you going on about?" Rufus screamed in frustration.
"Love." He laughed. "What a word for a violent brute like me to use! But hey, looks like words are gonna be a bigger part of my life from now on, if ya know what I mean!"
"I have no idea wha-," Rufus' angry words were cut off midsentence as another fist hurled him into the air. As he span head over heels, he tried to get his bearings. Where was he? What, above?
High above him, Gajeel was inhaling. "Ya see, she's a wordy little runt, but me, I say all I need with four words; Roar of the Iron Dragon!" The hurricane of metal blades shot downwards, impacting a helpless Rufus and sending him to the floor in a spray of blood. Gajeel landed easily, standing with an impressive posture of utter domination.
"D…d…down! The winner of the match is Fairy Tail B's Gajeel Redfox!" The announcer called, recovering from the shock.
The crowd erupted into cheers.
"Shit, that was five."
Jet laughed and laughed as Fairy Tail cheered. "The way he shows his affection is to beat the ever loving crap out of someone! That suits him perfectly!"
Levy smiled happily. "That's Gajeel!"
She flailed as there was an impact in front of her, Gajeel now perching on the ledge, having easily jumped the height.
"Thought I heard ya say something, Shrimp?"
"Um…no…I…err," she summed up succinctly, blushing and twirling her fingers.
"I thought ya were good with words," he said, grinning ear to ear.
"Y…you don't always have to be so direct, you know…"
In response, Gajeel lifted her up into his embrace, and she thrilled as he held her high over the side.
"Ah, but I have to be direct, to tell ya that I love ya too."
Fairy Tail and the crowd around them cheered as the victor kissed the beautiful girl of his dreams. The simple man with the strong body, and the small girl with the strong heart. Together, they were whole.