A/N: Firstly, thank you all for the sweet reviews for the Natsu chapter. I am BLOWN by how much you guys liked it. I did not expect that. Some of them managed to brighten a particularly gloomy day I was having. So thank you all and I love you so much urrrghhh.
And here it is! The epilogue! The really really last update omg I cannot believe aaahhhh-
I was supposed to post this earlier but I was busy at work quitting work. Tell y'all 'bout it later.
I am very pleased to say that I did not go Mashima and pull a 7-year timeskip where nothing happened to our main cast. For this one, the 7 years is legit. My kids are around 25 to 30, while Romeo/Wendy should be around their final years of college.
I already said this in the previous chapter. Fun fact, this epilogue was supposed to be the start of the original one-shot I planned. It was originally supposed to be Lucy writing a letter to her mom in true Fairy Tail style, and then going off to a celebration with her friends. But for the almost-three years I've been writing WAY, I have to say that a lot definitely changed, and it turned into so much more, so I think it's fair that that's reflected in here.
It's very far from the original drafts, but it's really still the same – it's just a simple chapter of our kids getting together for a celebration at Mira's. I won't spoil why they're celebrating, but I can say that they're all well and happy.
So here you go. Seven years after the last chapter. I hope you enjoy this last one.
WE ARE YOUNG
Epilogue: We Are Young
...aka "Obligatory Timeskip"
"Tonight, we are young...
So let's set the world on fire!
We can burn brighter than the sun."
It was late afternoon in Magnolia. It was that time of day when the after school rush has just passed, and the people walking in the sidewalks were scarce.
Among these people was a young woman with midnight blue hair tied back in a high ponytail that reached down to her waist, wearing a light blue cardigan on top of her pristine white Nursing student uniform. She carried several books in her arms as she walked alone in the sidewalk in a silent, leisurely pace.
She stopped in her tracks when a dark red pick-up truck stopped beside her, windows rolled down, a familiar voice greeting, "Hey, kid."
Wendy whirled around in recognition. She quickly noted the logo printed on the side of the truck - it was a local electronics rental and repair shop in downtown Magnolia. She turned towards the driver and smiled pleasantly. "Gajeel-san! Good afternoon."
Gajeel nodded. "You headin' on home?"
The young woman shook her head. "Not yet. I have to drop something off for Romeo-kun first."
He raised an eyebrow, then said "Get in." as he opened the door to the passenger seat.
"A-ah, I shouldn't bother you while you're working-"
"Nah, it's nothin'. Look," then he jabbed a thumb towards the load on the back of the truck. Wendy couldn't tell what it was, all covered in some sort of canvas and tied up with ropes. It looked big, perhaps bigger than a washing machine… maybe a fridge? "That old junk's headed for Mira's. It'll be on my way. C'mon, it's gonna be dark soon."
Wendy smiled and then nodded. "Okay, then. Thank you, Gajeel-san."
"Anytime, squirt." he said as she climbed on the vehicle and as soon as she was settled in the passenger seat with the seatbelt secure, he continued driving down the road.
Wendy thought it was kinda weird, being on a delivery truck like this. She was comfortable in Gajeel's company. Over the past few years, while her brothers and most of their other friends were away on university and on their jobs out of town, she had grown quite close to the ones who stayed. Natsu was always a cheerful presence around and Cana was very approachable and was good with other people. Gajeel was always in town, first juggling jobs, sometimes getting steady ones, running some errands or assisting Makarov and sometimes even Yajima-san… He got a second-hand bike a few years back and several times he would give Wendy a ride when he chanced upon her coming home from school.
For this new job of course, he often had to drive some appliances and other electronics around town using his employer's truck.
They made small talk. Wendy still wasn't talkative, but she opened up easily to people she was close to. Gajeel was still tough as nails and may appear cold, but he was just a big softie anyway. Besides, Wendy was like everyone's little sister, even when she's already in college.
"So what've you got for Salamander's kid brother that's so important?"
"Ah, well… it's these handouts from one of his subjects he might have slipped into my book for safekeeping and forgot to take back before he left… He has an exam coming up for this tomorrow. I know because I was just quizzing him on our lunch a while ago."
"And you can't wait 'till you both get home? He lives right next to 'ya."
"Right, well - I'm bound to go home late tonight. I might miss him."
"Bunny-… Lucy must've invited you for the party thing tonight."
"Oh, she did! But I have my own exams tomorrow, so…" she chuckled. "Babysitting and books for me tonight."
"Huh." Gajeel raised his brows and then shrugged approvingly. "Good girl."
"Gajeel-san..." Wendy complained. It was enough that her older brothers doted on her when she was a kid. But moving to Magnolia, it was like she gained this bunch of 10 other older siblings who all thought she was adorable and all fussed over her even when more than half the time they weren't even in the same town.
And they don't even know why she's so embarrassed.
Case in point: "What?" Gajeel asked cluelessly. However, before Wendy could retort, he stopped the truck in front of a familiar establishment. "Here's your stop. 'Ya take care on yer way to that babysitting gig."
"Hai. Thanks a lot, Gajeel-san!" Wendy said, hopping off the vehicle and bowing politely.
Gajeel just nodded and then went on his way.
The young woman watched as the truck disappeared down the road before she turned and then made her way inside The Fire Dragon.
Freed woke up to a buzzing sound. It took him several groggy seconds to figure out that it was the sound of his phone vibrating on top of his bedside table.
'Wait.', he thought, suddenly alert. 'Bedside table?'
When did he go to bed?
He tried to get up, but realized that he was under comfy sheets, a strong arm draped over his torso and someone's leg on top of his as if to pin him down. Freed shifted and turned his head to see Laxus fast asleep beside him, snoring lightly.
No seriously when did he OR Laxus go to bed?
Freed reached out to grab his phone. As he did so, his companion stirred, then huffed sleepily and turned to his other side to continue sleeping.
Freed unlocked his phone, checking the time.
It was almost 6 PM.
He silently cursed himself for sleeping in. Quickly, he leaned over to peer at Laxus' sleeping face, placing a hand on the man's bare shoulder and shaking him lightly. "Laxus? Wake up, we have to leave now if we want to get to Magnolia before Mira closes up."
Laxus just groaned.
"We told Erza she can ride with us."
"Letherridewithherboyfriendhe'sgotacar." came the almost inaudible reply.
"We told Lucy we'll be there." Freed pushed.
The blonde sighed, flipped to his other side and slung an arm across the green-haired man's shoulders, pinning him down to lie back on the bed.
"Sleep." was all Laxus said, squishing his partner under his weight.
"It's just early evening and we have to go and everyone will be there and after that I still have work to do and-!" Freed shouted some more but he was already being smothered by a pillow and their fluffy blanket. He tried to struggle but it was useless, and Laxus couldn't help but snigger at his victory when the other man finally stopped squirming.
"This is unfair." Freed spoke, trapped helplessly in the blonde's arms under the covers.
Laxus snorted, not bothering to open his eyes as he said, "What, I come home early from work to find you and my sister passed out so I tuck you both to bed and all the thanks I get is you wakin' me up so rudely and tellin' me to go drive a three-hour trip?"
"You put me here?" Freed blinked.
"You and Erza were dead on the dining table with like five boxes of papers and your face was in your laptop."
"On the couch."
"You left her on the couch?!"
"She put 'erself there. She's comfy. Got a lotta pillows and a warm blanket."
Freed sighed, then leaned forward to snuggle closer against his companion. Laxus loosened his death grip on his hostage and relaxed against the touch. "We've been working on this case for three days straight. It's tiring."
Laxus nodded absently. He knew that, of course. Erza and Freed worked on the same law firm, and this was one of the cases that required both their expertise so they were assigned to work with each other. This meant that for the past few days, Erza was often in their apartment for take-home work and that Laxus had to watch them pour over the piles of documents and data until the ungodly hours of the morning.
"Take a break." Laxus mumbled.
"I know. That's why we should go home, and meet up with the others." Freed smiled softly. "We promised Ever we'd drop by to see her. And Bixlow will complain forever if we don't go."
Laxus groaned. Freed had a point. They'll never hear the end of it if they disappointed either Evergreen or Bixlow. "Fine, let's go. Back to Magnolia it is."
Freed got up first while Laxus went to find his shirt. When Freed got out the bedroom, he found Erza pacing by the dining table, reading a document, a mug in her hand.
"Hey." the red-head greeted, smiling sheepishly. Freed couldn't help but smile at the woman's still-messy hair and the reading glasses pushed up hastily to her head. "I made myself some coffee? I hope you don't mind."
"Of course. Told you, make yourself at home. Besides, you're family." Freed replied, yawning as he ran a hand through his own hair, which he only realized was in a messy, lopsided ponytail. He rolled his eyes at the realization that Laxus didn't even bother to undo the ponytail before he put Freed to bed. Typical. Freed looked at the papers and laptops in the table. "Let's call it a day?"
"We have to get to Magnolia."
Erza nodded sharply, as if then remembering something important. "Ah, yes… That! I… err, wanted to go um, give you two a heads up earlier since it was getting late and all, but…" Erza trailed off, hiding red cheeks behind her mug and avoiding all eye contact. "Um, you guys were in the bedroom so-"
Freed blushed red as well when he realized what the red-head was implying. "Oh my God, don't-… uh, we were, err… just sleeping! Really! As in really just sleeping because I'm tired, I guess your brother was, too and-"
"Erza, please, err, stop… blushing-"
"Yeah, uhhh, um, okay-"
That was when Laxus went out the bedroom carrying the car keys and a guitar case, his favorite fur coat slung hastily on one shoulder.
They both looked at him blankly.
"What, I thought we're all goin' home?" he asked, blinking at them curiously, because both his sister and his boyfriend had bright red cheeks and bed-hair, looking at him awkwardly. "...Seriously, what?"
Freed was the first to snap out of it. "Yeah, um, let me change into something more comfortable."
Erza nodded. "I'll go, uh, brush my hair and pack up."
"Fine, I'm gonna wait at the car." Laxus shrugged, leaving the other two with a dismissive wave. "Hurry up, avocados."
"That's the fruit!" Erza called out, but her brother was already gone.
Freed chuckled, shaking his head. "He knows that's the fruit."
"He's never correcting his bad Spanish, is he?"
"Sometimes he tries to be funny."
"Doesn't always work."
"Agreed." She put down her mug and the papers, then stretched. Erza looked back at her companion, then smiled. "Let's just get dressed and go home."
As soon as Wendy entered The Dragon, she was greeted by Igneel, who looked up from his clipboard as he stood by his usual station in the counter.
"Wendy-chan! What brings our young nurse to this humble restaurant?"
"Good afternoon, Igneel-san." Wendy greeted. She settled her books by the counter in front of the man and said, "I just came to bring something for Romeo-kun. May I disturb him for a minute? It won't be long, I promise."
Igneel accepted the answer easily and then called out to the direction of the kitchen. "Oi, Romeo! Wendy-chan's here for you!"
But instead of her best friend, someone else walked out the kitchen, sporting a bright cheerful grin before he announced, "Romeo's busy learnin' how to cut veggies properly, from his dad! He's not gettin' off that duty 'till he does good. You gotta get past me."
Wendy giggled as the man in the black and gold-colored uniform and apron stopped in front of her. "Hello, Natsu-san."
Natsu leaned by the counter. "'Sup, Wendy?"
"Excuse me for the disturbance." Wendy started, flipping through one of her books before she produced a thin stack of papers stapled and folded neatly. "This is for Romeo-kun. He forgot to take it from my book, so I just want to hand it over to him, since I won't be going home until late-"
"Ah, you're goin' to Mira's too?"
"Nope! I'm on babysitting duty." the young woman answered. "While I study."
Natsu nodded. "You're not goin'? Lucy wants you there."
"I already told her I have some tough exams tomorrow." Wendy scratched her head bashfully. "She said we'll just hang out some other time."
"Mm, that's nice." Natsu shrugged. "So this is all of it for Romeo?"
"Yep. Please tell him I wish him luck. I have to get going now." the student said, bowing politely again.
"No probs, all's noted." the man replied, grinning reassuredly.
"You take care on your way, Wendy-chan." Igneel added.
"Hai. Thanks, Natsu-san! Igneel-san!" and with that, the young woman was out the door.
She just got out the restaurant when Romeo came running out from the kitchen. The young man instantly complained. "What, she's gone?!"
"She's gotta babysit and study, she said. 'Till late." Natsu said, then handed Romeo the handouts that Wendy left. "She just dropped this here. Wishes you luck."
"Oh. Great, I was lookin' for this. Knew I left it somewhere." Romeo mumbled, accepting the reviewers. "I'll just text her, I guess."
"You goin' to Mira's tonight?" Natsu asked.
Romeo shook his head. "Nah, got my exams tomorrow too. Did Wendy tell you what time she'll be home?"
"Nope. Why, 'ya gotta bug her still?"
"No, I was just thinkin', maybe I can pick her up so she doesn't go home late alone."
Igneel chuckled. "Worried 'bout your girlfriend that much, huh?"
Romeo rolled his eyes, then glared up at the man. "She's not my girlfriend!" - then he quickly added, "Boss."
They heard Macao calling for Romeo again, and the young man quickly excused himself.
"Aw, they're in denial just like you and Lucy-chan were, how cute." Igneel cooed, grinning at Natsu who was boredly watching the goings on in the restaurant.
"S'not denial." Natsu said absently, resting comfortably by the counter as he enjoyed his break. "Leave 'em alone, old man. They're happy that way."
"Like you and Lucy-chan were?" Igneel teased.
The son narrowed his eyes at his father and snorted. "Nah, they're different."
"Romeo had a crush on 'er on first sight." Igneel argued.
"Wendy was cute. She's still cute. Everyone, their cats, and their mortal enemies think that Wendy's cute." Natsu deadpanned.
The older man was not daunted. "They've been really reeeaaalllyyyyy close."
Natsu didn't let his old man beat him. "Best friends? Next-door-neighbors?"
"They're always each other's plus one?"
"I dunno, it's easy and comfy and familiar?"
"What's wrong with you?"
"Nothin'. S'just... Don't pressure 'em. They're both shy kids. Not as stubborn as me or Lucy." Natsu said simply, crossing his arms across his chest and absentmindedly observing the customers eating and the staff doing their rounds.
"Look at you, all grown up and being considerate… You used to be fun…" Igneel sighed, then began humming at he flipped through his clipboard again.
"Hey, I'm still fun! I'm a fun and cool aniki!" Natsu huffed indignantly. Then he said, "I just know stuff you don't."
The father paused in his humming. "Yeah? Like what?"
"Like Wendy's helpin' set 'im up with this girl in her class that he kinda likes."
The son pretended to look uninterested as he went on. "Mmmyeah, and I think Wendy's got this thing with another someone I won't name 'cause I'll let 'er break it to you people. 'Cause I'm FUN, but not rude."
Natsu grinned mischievously. "Oops."
"Waitaminute, how d'ya know all this?"
"They go all whisperin-to-each-other all the time and I got good ears."
"You eavesdrop on teenagers?!"
"They're 20, dad. And whatcha want me to do, cover my ears? I'm just lookin' out for my lil bro and sis."
"So… they're really… not…?"
"Nope. I don't think so."
"Dammit!" Igneel cursed, as if what his son said was unacceptable.
Natsu raised both eyebrows. "What?"
"Macao and I have this bet goin'."
Natsu rolled his eyes, groaned, and then slapped his forehead. "WHAT IS WITH YOU PEOPLE AND YOUR STUPID BETS?"
Just then, a group of men, looking grim donning formal suits, walked inside the restaurant. They stood by the entrance, perhaps waiting for someone to usher them to a table. Igneel did a quick survey of the floor and noted that all their waiters and waitresses were preoccupied. He looked at his son.
"You want me to deal with the mafia-lookin' guys?" Natsu asked, but he was already patting down his uniform and trying to bring some order into his messy hair.
Igneel just chuckled and then gave his son a pat on the back. "The floor's yours." - then he added, "Future boss."
"Shut up, dad." Natsu smirked, then grabbed a menu, a notepad, and went to work.
Gajeel looked up from his tinkering when someone settled a tall glass of lemonade on the unused chair beside him. He was on his knees on the floor, making last minute fixes on the karaoke machine that Mira and Cana had sent in for repairs the previous week and he was now bringing back to the bar.
Mira smiled her usual kind smile at him. "Thanks for bringing it in before the rush hour, Gajeel. It's earlier than we expected."
"Yeah, well, I finished early." Gajeel replied, taking a short break to drink the beverage that the barmaid offered him. "I get extra when I do."
Someone called out to Mira from the bar, and she raised a hand to indicate that she got the message. "Well then, take your time and let us know if you need any help. I'll just be at the bar like usual."
"Got it. Thanks for the drink." the man said. He put the half-empty glass down in the empty chair again, picked up his tools, and then resumed his job.
The chimes by the door were heard, and the sound was a familiar enough background noise that Gajeel typically ignored it, until a familiar voice followed.
"BEER QUEEN IS BACK, BITCHES!"
Gajeel rolled his eyes but couldn't help but grin a bit as he finished his work on the machine, switching it on as he stood up.
He heard Mira's softer voice greet back, "Welcome back, Cana!" which was followed by other similar greetings by some employees and the other patrons.
Gajeel quickly packed up, slung his bag of tools over his shoulders and picked his beverage before heading towards Mira. On his way, he was intercepted by Cana, who was wearing a warm coat and a fluffy scarf over her usual tank top and shorts combination and was pulling a wheeled luggage bag behind her. The brunette slung an arm around his shoulder. "'Sup, ironhead? You fixed our karaoke machine! Now we can go crazy!"
"I knew you had evil plans for that junk. Shouldn't have agreed to bring it back." Gajeel grunted, and Cana laughed at him. "Where'd you go anyway? Didn't even know you were gone."
They sat across where Mira was standing making a parfait for a customer. Gajeel drank the rest of his drink as he listened to Cana.
"Business trip, duh." Cana answered. "Went to close this deal with a new supplier for our stock in here. 'Cause the old one was causin' us all sorts of hassle. Delivery starts next week. Win!"
"Cana gets good deals." Mira smiled, explaining. Someone served Cana a full mug of beer and the brunette took it enthusiastically. "All sorts of discounts and freebies! She's like a lucky charm whenever we have to sit down with those nasty suppliers."
Gajeel looked at the woman, who had already taken off her coat and was enjoying her early evening booze. "Tell me it's not 'cause you sold them your bra or something."
"Nah." Cana answered, waving off the suggestion easily. "I do it like any good businesswoman would do."
"And how's that?"
"I challenge 'em to a drinkin' contest and they got too much pride in 'em to back down and I always ask 'if i win, will you give us a discount?' - and then it's all Beer Queen Power from there."
They toasted to that.
Mira smiled at them. "She's the best business partner you'll ever find." Cana gave the barmaid a thumbs up and Mira just giggled.
Gajeel chuckled at them, then raised his glass to his lips again to finish his drink. Cana, like Mira, had been a fixture on The Strauss' since he first stepped inside the place all those years ago. The proprietress-slash-head-barmaid and her regular all-around part-timer.
After Cana completed her college course, she had trouble finding a job. It was ironic - when she was a scruffy teenage girl she could get in anywhere. She could be a waitress, a barista, a bartender, a dishwasher, part of the cleaning staff, an errand girl, a delivery girl - she can mind the inventory, work the cash register - anything. Anything that wasn't permanent. However, when she got out of college and was looking for a regular job - something fitting for the degree she worked hard for, it was difficult. Magnolia was a small town and the small-scale businesses didn't have that many vacancies in the higher positions.
Gajeel and Natsu were there, drinking with the brunette on the bar (just drinking, no contest because they both knew better) when Cana, in a fit of frustration, declared: "MIRA, I WANNA WASH YOUR PLATES FOR YOU AGAIN!"
Gajeel had almost spit out his drink. Natsu had laughed and simply rubbed the brunette's back consolingly when she buried her face in her arms. "Yo, don't go cryin' on us. I'll take a pic and send it to Gray. Then he'll call askin' what's wrong with you. You don't want that."
"Yeah I don't." Cana sniffed, pouting as she accepted the tissues that Gajeel handed her.
Mira smiled considerately as she stood in front of them. "Oh, sweetie - all the dishwasher jobs are taken..."
Cana fake-sobbed, then pushed a folder towards the barmaid. "Here's my resume-... Man, how many versions of my resume d'you have already?"
Mira accepted the folder and just to humor the drunk brunette, she opened it and pretended to read. "Hmm, but we really have no vacancies and you don't have any formal experience after college..."
"Everybody else said that." Cana pouted. "Say something new."
Mira sighed. "Okay, then. You're hired."
They all looked at the barmaid and gaped. Mira thought it was adorable how these three totally different kids (they'll always be kids to her) had matching expressions.
"You're kidding." Cana said.
"Nope." Mira shook her head. "Honestly? I am having a hard time managing everything since mom and dad took Elfman to help with their expansion on the other branch. I need someone to help run the place and it's a bonus if that someone already knows my place inside-out. And fresh from college? I bet this person can bring something new to the table." she capped that off with a sweet smile.
Cana gaped at her friend-slash-mentor-confidante-regular-boss-and-big-sister. Gajeel and Natsu looked at her, anticipating her reply.
She loudly declared, "MIRA, WILL YOU MARRY ME?!"
Mira just laughed and told the brunette that maybe that was moving too fast.
As for Gajeel, after around three years of running around town in various errands and jobs, he was able to save up enough to take up a short two-year practical course. During his time testing the waters and trying to 'find his footing', there were some jobs where he learned that he had a knack for repairing things: tinkering with cables and wirings, some screws and gears and clockwork… The course taught him the basics of how to work on mechanical and electrical stuff… And when he finished, he got a job in the local appliance repair shop in town. He started out as an apprentice and part-timer until he decided to apply for a full-time job. Now it's been a steady job for two years, and he was grateful.
Cana and Mira were talking about the finer details of the brunette's business trip. Cana did help Mira liven up the old place, plus she was able to get some better deals with other partners over the years. It was no secret that Cana was saving up for capital to open her own bar. Mira didn't hold it against her partner. Everyone knew what Cana's long-time ambition was and they were all happy to support her with it.
Gajeel finally laid down his empty glass. Mira handed him an envelope with a smile and he counted the money quickly before tucking it in his coat's inside pocket.
As he slung his bags over his shoulder and stood up, Cana asked, "Hey, wait! You're not stayin' for the party?"
He waved dismissively. "Nah, I'm goin'. Juvia made me swear I'll be there. Dunno what that's about but whatever. I just hafta go back to the shop and finish the rest of my shift. Still got 3 hours to burn, y'see."
"Alright then. We'll see you later!"
He just nodded at the women and then made his way out. The drive back to the little shop he worked at was quick, and without incident.
When he got back, the owner of the place, an elderly woman named Belno, looked up from the papers and receipts she was leafing through.
"Here's the pay, boss." he said, handing the envelope of cash to the woman.
"Good job, kid." she replied, counting the money and then going back to her inventory.
Gajeel headed straight to the back room, a combination of a stock room and staff room. There were shelves and cabinets of spare parts, and in the center of the room were several tables pushed together, only separated by dividers. Like a school's staff room. The employees each had one desk to themselves.
Gajeel paused as he looked at his desk and noted the takeout coffee and a small paperbag containing two large donuts, set neatly beside the half-dismantled old-school cassette player which he was still working on.
He heard Belno's voice call out: "Your girlfriend left something for you, by the way."
"Yeah, I'm lookin' at it." he called back.
He just sighed as he grabbed a chair and sat on his desk, looking at the little scribble in the coffee cup: 'Gajeel: Don't overdo it! Save some for tonight's party! See 'ya!' - and in the bottom was a little flower doodle.
Then as an afterthought, he corrected his boss: "And for the last time, she's not my girlfriend!"
Because that was the truth. He doesn't have a girlfriend. Nope. None. Although there was someone who regularly brought him snacks at work, and someone he went on almost-regular movie outings and boring window shopping and various other trips with during his days off.
She's NOT his girlfriend. NOT. HIS GIRLFRIEND.
His boss certainly couldn't care less, judging from her lack of reply. Gajeel wished he could say the same for himself.
Max didn't always get nervous. On his years working in marketing and sales, his colleagues always told him that they admired how he was always so composed and confident.
However, this time he couldn't help but feel a bit apprehensive. After all, he just presented a proposal to a bunch of executives and now, only a few hours after, the company head wanted to see him.
He looked at his companion and asked, "Are you really sure you got no idea why your dad called?"
Lucy had a look of concentration on her face as she just stared forward and gripped a folder against her chest. "Don't worry, I… I don't think it's anything bad..."
"...Or I screwed up so bad it reached him."
"You didn't. You were brilliant, Max. I was there."
"And you saw how those executive dudes had nothin' to say after I answered some o' their questions!"
Lucy shook her head firmly. "They're speechless 'cause it was so great."
"Max, try to brighten up a little, please? It's making me jumpy too." Lucy pleaded, and Max finally saw that she was nervous too. After all, they worked on the proposal together. She was effectively his partner for the new campaign… This was as important to her as it was for him-
Although he was sure that if Lucy screwed up, she wouldn't lose her job. She was the sole heiress of the Konzern, after all. He, however, was just a… well. He's just this no-name. He got in the company because of his top-notch grades and the strong recommendation of the university - but still a no-name. He was confident about his abilities most of the time but this was his biggest and most important task yet and now the CEO wants to see him - so dammit maybe he screwed up after all.
The elevator bell chimed and he and Lucy stepped out to the floor. They stood tentatively still at first, then they looked at each other, eyes both screaming 'WE'RE IN THIS TOGETHER NO MATTER WHAT' as they nodded and Lucy led the way to her father's office. Max has never been in the said office room - much less this FLOOR - before. The grand mahogany double doors looked more imposing than any other high-tech glass sliding doors in the building.
It was weird to hear Lucy knock first and say, "Dad? It's Lucy. I've got Mr. Alors with me. We're coming in."
There was no reply as the blonde turned the knob and entered, Max trailing after her. Max expected to find the big boss sitting on his office chair at the absolute center of the large desk, but instead Jude was half-sitting on the desk, drinking a hot beverage while reading through a pile of papers that Max recognized as his proposal. The man looked up at them. "Lucy.", he regarded first, putting his mug down. "Good evening."
"Evening, dad." Lucy said, stepping forward and giving her father a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek. Max could tell that Lucy was still nervous, but she was good at acting casual. "You called for me and Max?"
"Yes." Jude answered with a nod, then greeted Max next. "You must be Max Alors. I asked you to drop by on such short notice, and I appreciate that you went out of your way to do so."
"Ah, that's no problem, sir." Max said, smiling a polite smile.
"Please, take a seat."
Lucy and Max obediently sat on comfy office chairs and looked expectantly at the man.
"Now, I'd go straight to the point here as I believe you both know why I called you here." the man started, looking at the files in his hand. He lifted them up for emphasis as he looked at the two. "This proposal..."
They both looked about to burst.
"...is the best I've seen in a while." he finished, and upon seeing how the young employees gaped at his announcement, Jude let out a small grin. He let the files drop on the table and crossed his arms across his chest. "And it's not just me who thinks so. The execs were fighting over who gets to present it to me, and were trying to claim mentorship of you, Mr. Alors, and I'm sure we both know why. Of course, Lucy has always been directly under my wing so they can't take her."
"Wow." Lucy said, looking down before she grabbed her partner's arm. "Did you hear that?! You're a genius, Max!"
Max still seemed shaken. "I-… Err. Um-"
Jude just shrugged. "I just wanted to tell you personally that this proposal is approved and I am looking forward to your implementation. You entered the company the same time as Lucy did, and you're in the same level, am I correct?"
"So I also assume you're a candidate for promotion. I'll have you know that you're leading the race. Keep it up and you'll definitely get your due soon enough."
Max nodded fervently. The man didn't falter or stutter and said all those in one breath. Boy, he WAS straight to the point and managed to intimidate Max while also praising him. He idly wondered if, in time, Lucy would be able to do that too.
"And you're an asset here - always have been - and I'd hate it if we lose you because some petty senior officer claims credit for your work, so a bit of advice: if someone offers to take you under their wing - think very carefully."
The younger man nodded (he could do nothing but nod, really - it was starting to make his head hurt). "Y-Yes, sir!"
"Of course, it might just be luck, and you're still young. Don't let your head get too big just because you sent in the best program we've seen in years. The game gets tougher the higher you are in the ladder."
"Noted, Mr. Heartfilia."
"Good job." Jude finally said in conclusion. "Both of you."
"Thanks, dad." Lucy smiled brightly. Jude simply nodded in acknowledgement.
"That's all, really. I believe I've kept you both long enough. Meeting's adjourned. Again, thank you for coming." the man finished, all formalities. Then he looked at Max. "If I may have a moment with my daughter, please?"
"S-Sure, sir." Max said, standing up. He gave Lucy a smile and a soft pat on her shoulder. "I'll go ahead. See you at Mira's?"
Lucy nodded and smiled back. "Mira's." was all she said. Max bid father and daughter a good evening and left. When Lucy looked towards her father, she simply grinned proudly, "I told you he's good."
"I never argued against that." Jude shrugged. "I just know how attached you are to these friends of yours, so I take your words with a grain of salt. I simply waited for his output to do the talking."
"Okay." Lucy grinned, accepting the answer easily, knowing that it was the equivalent of her father saying 'Fine, you win.' She continued, "We got really nervous. We thought we screwed up."
"Good. That means you know you can fail." was Jude's simple reply. "Best practice, not getting too confident."
Lucy relaxed against the couch. "What is it you want to talk to me about?"
"You're going to Magnolia tonight?"
"Mm-hm." Lucy said. "It's a celebration with my friends. A kind of late birthday treat, I guess. Catch up a bit."
Her birthday was two days ago. Since Lucy formally took charge of the Heartfilia Foundation that her mother built, she had spent many birthdays and holidays not throwing out extravagant parties but visiting orphanages, health centers and other shelters. This year, she spent her special day on an orphanage. The day after, she had gone out to dinner with her father. Lucy thought that it was just right that she spare a bit of time for her friends at home as well.
"Very well." Jude nodded. "I just want to inform you that a young gentleman has asked my permission to take you out this weekend. In turn, I told him he may ask you."
Lucy rolled her eyes and whined. "Again?"
Jude shrugged. "He very politely told me it's just dinner on a restaurant he thinks you might enjoy. I do think you've been acquainted several times during our charity balls, his parents are stakeholders."
"Dad, I have a boyfriend." she pointed out.
He simply stared at her.
"A steady one for seven years now." she reminded her father. "And you've met him and we've had dinner with his family and I can't go on these stupid dates forever-"
"Lucy." Jude said sternly, cutting her off. "I already told him that he may ask you."
Lucy let out an annoyed breath and grumpily stood up. "I don't know what to think. You always tell me you don't have a problem with Natsu but you still keep setting me up with all these guys. I understand those other luncheons with some sensible investors and business partners because those are legit transactions, but dad, these… these guys who just want a stupid date-"
"I am not setting you up. They ask, I answer." was all Jude said, walking around the table to sit on his chair. His expression told her that his word was final.
Great. Her night was ruined.
"At least don't SELL me like I'm your top-selling merchandise." the blonde snapped, starting to walk out the room. "But FINE, it keeps everyone happy that I go on dates with eligible bachelors! Great." She needed to get to Magnolia at that very instant - needed her crazy friends to cheer her up because her dad was being a stubborn, iron-fisted-...
Lucy stopped short as she opened the door, blinking at a realization that hit her. She turned to look at her father, who was busy organizing files on his desk. "Um, wait. You… What did you tell this guy, exactly?"
"I said 'feel free to ask my daughter'." the man answered, a smug expression on his face.
"So… they go ask me and-"
Jude raised both eyebrows at her. "What do they tell you, exactly?"
Lucy tried to recall the typical invitations for the suitors. 'Your father has given me permission to ask you out...' or 'I've been told by your father that I may ask if you would like to go out...' or 'I do believe your father doesn't have anything against me asking you...'
"I am curious, as I don't know how they get you to say 'yes' everytime." the man continued.
Lucy blinked, jaw dropping. "Are you telling me I'm free to dump them?"
"I've been free to dump them?" Lucy corrected.
"It's very painful to see that it has taken my supposedly intelligent daughter year to figure out something so obvious." the man sighed. "I've been rephrasing my way of telling you, making it easier..."
"I've been allowed to say no all this time?"
Jude just looked at her with an unimpressed expression.
Lucy breathed heavily, trying to calm herself down, then she pouted at her father. "You're evil, dad."
The man made an expression that others would interpret as a cringe, but Lucy knew that he was trying hard not to smirk.
She whirled around and opened the door again, stepping outside the room. She wanted to go indignantly and stomp her way out, maybe slam the door on her father's face but she couldn't help but look back quickly and let out a small, bashful smile with a shy "Love you." before she closed the door behind her.
Loke had been waiting patiently in the parking lot, reading a magazine to pass the time. He looked up when his mistress arrived and sat in the backseat, an all-too cheerful grin on her face.
"Someone's happy." he remarked, abandoning his magazine to start up the car.
"My dad's a dork." Lucy declared. "And a smartass. But mostly a dork. I love him."
Loke simply chuckled and began to drive. "Whatever makes you smile like that, love."
"Yep. Magnolia." Lucy nodded as the car sped down the road. She settled her bags beside her and made herself comfortable in her seat before taking out her laptop from her bag. She quickly booted it up and then began typing.
Loke raised an eyebrow as he glanced at his mistress via the rearview mirror. "Writing while on the road, Lucy? You'll get a headache." he chided.
Lucy snorted. "Used to it. Besides, my lovely editor's waiting for this. I promised I'll finish revising these chapters today."
"I bet your lovely editor will tell you to give yourself a break." Loke said. "Besides, she's coming to the party tonight."
The blonde shrugged, focused on the words on the screen. "All the more reason to complete this so I can look Levy-chan in the eye when we get there."
Loke just shook his head at the woman's stubbornness, letting her be as he was all-too familiar to her being a stickler to schedules - not only for her job in the konzern, but also with her 'side gig' as a writer. Levy, who so happened to be her editor-slash-the-publisher's-representative, would very much like to lend her some slack, both for old times' sake and because Lucy has never once been late, but the blonde always insisted to stick to her deadlines anyway.
There were several struggles, balancing two jobs, but Lucy was dedicated, and it always paid off. Now she's almost done with her third novel.
Lucy sighed, and Loke turned his head to look at her, only to find her frowning at her laptop monitor. "I'm in dire need of a Strauss killer milkshake."
"Don't worry." the bodyguard said, chuckling. "I'll get you there."
The woman simply smiled at her companion. "You better!"
Some of the guests arrived early. When Max and Warren came in, they spotted two familiar figures already engaged in an animated conversation on the bar. Nobody noticed them enter, so they looked at each other, exchanged sly grins, and nodded before stealthily making their way towards the two women.
Once they've snuck behind their targets, Max covered Bisca's eyes with both hands, while Warren did the same for Laki. The women were startled for only a moment, before they both laughed, knowing that they finally have company.
Bisca was the first one to speak up. "Okay, who's this? Al, if this is you, you're being really silly."
Max hitched his voice up as he said, "B-B-But my love, it is none other than I, your loving husband and father of our adorable child!"
At that, Laki laughed out loud, recognizing the very familiar voice. "Oh my gosh, Max you sound terrible!"
"Max, really?" Bisca asked, chuckling, eyes still being covered. "She's right. That's so bad."
Laki snorted. "This one must be Warren, then."
"Aw, you got us!" Max complained, as he and Warren lifted their hands in surrender. He slung an arm around Bisca's shoulder and grinned. "You girls are early."
"My shift's done. Laki has the day off." Bisca smirked, leaning against the man to give him half-hug, then sending Warren a smile. She was still in her police uniform, only bothering to wear a jacket over it. Max held out his free arm to share a fistbump with Laki, who was in a casual dress, leggings and cardigan. "You boys are early, too. We thought we'd have to wait longer."
Warren shrugged, taking a seat in the bar. "We both got off early to avoid the rush-hour traffic."
"I'm sure the others will be here soon, too." Max said. "Lucy's probably almost here, I left just an hour or so ahead of her."
"Great! Can't wait to catch up." Laki smiled. "How are you guys?"
Before either of the men can answer, Cana had come back from the kitchen and instantly brightened when she saw two more of her friends. The brunette all but screamed their names as she ran towards them and pulled both men into her tight killer bear hugs. "Look at you both! Wearing a suit and tie! And slacks! Ahhh, I missed you!"
"M-M-Missed 'ya... too, C-Cana..." Warren was able to reply while being suffocated.
The two quickly got interrogated by the three girls who were all curious to know how they were getting along. The chatter went on for a good while before they all heard another loud voice.
It was very clear that whoever it was paid no heed to the other customers in the bar.
"Aaaanndddd the princess is flying through the air! FLYYYYIIINGGGG! Whoooosshhhhh!"
The crowd of friends turned to see Bixlow running quickly, arms raised as he lifted a little silver-haired girl in the air. Elfman and Evergreen's three year-old daughter was laughing loudly with her arms flapping on her sides like that of a bird trying to fly.
"Unc' B, higher!" she said.
"Aw, Fleur-chan, I'm-… doing… my… best!" then in what seemed like a desperate push, the man was able to lift the girl higher indeed. "HAH!"
The kid squealed in delight and laughed some more.
"So adorable." Laki said, smiling. Her friends could only agree. She turned towards Cana. "And she looks so much like Lisanna." Cana just smiled back at the other woman and nodded quietly before turning to watch the two again.
That was when Mira appeared nearby wearing a very distressed expression. "Bixlow, please be more careful!"
The man was still waving the little girl around like a toy airplane. "Don' worry, Mira-chan! I got this!"
"Aunty Miraaaa! I'm flyin'!" little Fleur greeted cheerfully, waving at her aunt.
Mira waved back warily, then she finally noticed her guests and turned towards them. "Max and Warren! You're here!"
When he ran out of energy, Bixlow carefully put his goddaughter down on the floor. "Time out, princess. Uncle B's gotta breathe."
"Gotta breathe." the girl repeated, reaching up to pat the man's cheek when he bent down panting.
Bix smiled tiredly at the girl. He loved babysitting for Evergreen, but damn kids have an infinite amount of energy and even his constantly hyper constitution couldn't always keep up. "Yep. Breathe."
"Breathe!" Fleur said again, this time squeezing the man's cheeks in her little hands.
"Mm-hm, breathe." Bixlow panted some more and letting the child squeeze and tug at his cheeks this way and that before he straightened up and regained composure.
Fleur blinked up at him. "Unc' B?"
The man looked back down at the girl with a frown. "I am not Uncle B."
Fleur stepped back in alarm.
Then Bixlow made a fake scary face and loudly declared, "I am an evil overlord and I shall capture Princess Fleur-chan! Then I shall tickle Princess Fleur-chan! Mwahahaha!"
The girl giggled at the silly face that the man was making, then squealed and ran when he moved to grab her. Bixlow let her have a few steps of advantage before he started chasing after her, still laughing manically.
The others who were watching the exchange simply shook their heads in amusement.
A chime from the bells by the entrance was heard again, and they turned to see Alzack, still in his police uniform, enter the establishment. He smiled widely when he saw his wife and his friends already huddled together.
After the usual greetings were done, he settled by Bisca's side, just as she asked, "I thought you still had two hours to go?"
Alzack scratched his head. "I do, but Gildarts insisted that I go early. Told me to enjoy and that he'll cover for me." By the end of his statement he was already smirking at Cana.
The brunette rolled her eyes. "My father is a bad senior cop. But whatever. At least we get to have you here sooner!"
"True. Guess I'll just make up to him sometime." Alzack chuckled.
That was when Warren raised an eyebrow. "Wait, since you're both here… you left Asuka-chan to Bisca's mom?"
The couple looked at each other shortly before they smiled at their friend and shook their heads.
"We would have, but mom's out of town." Bisca answered.
Alzack continued, "No worries though, we have a very reliable babysitter."
The young woman looked up at the source of the small voice calling her. She was sitting on the couch, highlighter in hand, thick textbook in the other. On the coffee table, there were various papers with crayon drawings, along with the crayons scattered everywhere.
Her companion was two year-old Asuka, who was sitting on a pillow on the floor and enjoying her coloring activity.
"What is it, Asuka-chan?"
The girl shyly held up a piece of paper with chaotic crayon scribblings.
"Oh, that's so nice." Wendy smiled kindly, putting down her reading materials and reaching out to pat the girl on the head. From the green, black and brown colors, she could guess that the girl had drawn her parents. "Is it your Mommy and Daddy?"
The girl nodded sheepishly.
"We'll give this to them when they come back, okay? I'm sure they'll love it."
Asuka grinned widely as she watched Wendy set aside the drawing for safekeeping. Then, the girl grabbed another blank paper and started coloring again.
Wendy let out a light smile before she picked her book up again. It's gonna be a long night - but then Asuka-chan was a good girl, and Wendy is making good progress on her studying.
She knew staying over for a babysitting gig was a great decision.
Drinks and snacks were served as their crowd gathered around one of the bigger tables in The Strauss'.
Levy and Lucy sat on either side of Cana as the brunette animatedly talked about her short out-of-town trip and how she outdrunk their new business partner, all the while exchanging jokes with Max, who was in a celebratory mood after the whole successful proposal fiasco and is already on his third beer. Jet and Droy were on either side of Max, keeping him upright. Across them, Loke and Mira were sitting in, laughing with the others. Warren was quiet as always, busy taking a video of the banter between his friends. Bixlow sat between Laki and Bisca, with Fleur on his lap, being doted on by the two women.
There was a momentary silence and a collective greeting from the group when Natsu arrived, carrying a paperbag that he brandished proudly. "More snacks, courtesy of the Dragon! Birthday girl's favorite side dish!"
As expected, the crowd of friends cheered. Mira stood up, accepting the paperbag from the man and heading to the kitchen to transfer the food on a serving platter.
They all automatically shifted so Natsu can squeeze in beside Lucy. He threw an arm around her shoulders and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. "Belated happy birthday, weirdo."
Lucy just smiled at him and ruffled his pink hair. "Thanks, firebutt."
"What's happening now?" he asked, as Cana and Max resumed their banter and the others simply watched and laughed.
"Cana and Max are having a business debate thing, I don't know how but they are." Lucy explained, relaxing against Natsu's side. Natsu shifted so he can rest his chin on her head.
"Oi, stop cuddling, we don't want ants in here!" Jet teased.
Natsu just stuck his tongue out at the other man while Lucy looked at him imposingly and pouted. "It's my birthday two days ago, and my TREAT tonight so be nice to me!"
After a few minutes of animated conversation among their group, the bells chimed again, and in went Erza, followed by Freed and then Laxus.
Erza smiled cheerfully as she spotted her friends, walking straight towards them. She joined the crowd holding up a nicely wrapped box that everyone simply concluded contained cake inside. This time it was Droy who offered to take the box to Mira so the cake can be served properly as well.
The child in Bixlow's lap was just as quick. Fleur had instantly squealed - "Unc' Freed! Unc' Laxus!" Bixlow put her down and let her run towards the two men.
Freed was happy to catch the little girl and easily scoop her up in his arms. "Why hello, Fleur! Have you been a good girl today?"
"Uh-huh!" the girl said, already holding on to the man's shoulder. She then turned and smiled happily at Laxus.
The blonde smiled a little smile and ruffled the girl's long silver hair. "How're 'ya, kid?"
"I'm fine, thank you!" Fleur answered dutifully.
"Great." Laxus said, putting on an impressed impression. "Where's yer mum?"
The girl was quick to answer again. "Upstairs. Still on bed 'cause her tummy's real real big and Aunty Mira tells I'm gonna have little sister really really really soon!"
"Are you excited, Fleur?" Freed asked the child in his arms, who was playing with stray strands of his green hair.
Fleur nodded. "Uh-huh. I like babies!"
Freed and Laxus went to greet Lucy first, then they told the woman that they'll just drop by to check on Evergreen before joining them shortly. Bixlow also excused himself as he followed his bandmates and ward.
Evergreen was sitting up on her bed, reading a thick paperback romance novel in the quiet comfort of her sheets. She looked up when the door opened and her daughter launched herself on the bed.
"Mommy! Raishinchuu's here!" Fleur said happily.
"It's Raijinshuu, baby." Evergreen corrected gently, smiling as she put her book down and stroked her daughter's long silver hair.
The girl nodded. "Raishinjuu."
The woman sighed. "Rai-jin-shuu."
Evergreen just shook her head and decided that it was close enough. She faked a pout when Freed entered the room, followed shortly by Laxus. "You guys are late."
"We slept in. Sorry." Freed apologized as he sat by the foot of the bed.
Laxus snorted as he crossed his arms across his chest and stood nearby. "S'not your party, don't go complainin' about attendance."
The brunette just rolled her eyes as she absently shifted to accommodate Fleur curling up on her side, her other hand rubbing her pregnant belly. "So why're you guys here and not in the party then?"
"Of course we came to check up on you." Freed smiled, looking at the woman. "How's it going? You're really on bed rest now?"
Evergreen shrugged. "Yeah. It's a real strain walking around. The doc said it's gonna be anytime now."
Freed nodded, watching as Fleur pressed her ear against her mother's tummy, listening intently. It took some getting used to, Evergreen being a mother. The first time, when she was pregnant with Fleur, was hell for Elfman and the Raijinshuu. Evergreen had mood swings that even Laxus was terrified of, and cravings that had Elfman seeking Bixlow's and Freed's assistance running around town at the ungodly hours of the night. It was all worth it when they all saw little Fleur for the first time. She instantly became everyone's little princess.
This time though, the pregnancy was more delicate, but also… peaceful? Evergreen was mostly calm through it, even strangely extra cheerful. There were the cravings but it was mostly food that was easy to find. Maybe it was saying something about what kind of child Ever would give birth to.
Maybe this one will be calmer, unlike Fleur who was all energy?
"Fleur looks excited." Freed remarked.
"She really wants a baby sister." Evergreen said, patting her daughter on the head. "Even helped us pick a name."
"What're you gonna name her then?" Laxus asked.
Evergreen turned towards her daughter. "What's your sister's name, Fleur?"
The girl looked up and beamed brightly at the two men. "Marygold. S'aflower, really pretty."
"What do you think?" Evergreen asked their leader.
Laxus just shrugged. "It's a good name."
"He likes it." Freed stage-whispered.
"Shut up." the blonde grumbled.
"Aw, don't act all grumpy like that." Evergreen sniggered. "...or I'll make you her godfather."
"You'll regret it." Laxus shot back.
Freed just chuckled under his breath and told the woman, "He's totally on board."
Laxus glared and was about to retort, but the door opened again and in went Bixlow carrying a small plate of cake and a bowl of the snacks that Natsu had brought.
"Make way, I have food for the expectin' lady!" Bixlow said cheerfully, setting down the dishes on a nearby table.
He was followed by Elfman, who was carrying a pitcher of water and a tall glass with ice in it. He greeted their guests happily as he poured a glass of water for his wife.
Evergreen accepted the offer with a smile, before turning towards her bandmates. "You guys should go, it's Lucy's party, not mine. You'll get bored hanging with a pregnant woman who's very much into what she's currently reading..."
"Okay, then. If you say so." Freed just nodded as he stood up. "We'll see you later, though." He gave the woman a quick hug before he went to exit the room.
"Just shout loud enough when 'ya need us." Laxus said, following his partner. "Don't punch people this time."
Bixlow followed, but lingered by the doorway. "They've started singin' downstairs." he informed. "S'good you can't hear it from here. It's terrible."
Ever knew it was his way of telling her that it shouldn't be so bad staying behind. She appreciated the thought.
However, Fleur's head snapped up at a mention of the word 'sing', and she looked at her godfather. "Singin'? We go sing?"
"Errr… sure?" Bixlow blinked. Looks like his babysitting duty wasn't over yet.
Evergreen chuckled and gave her daugther a little nod. "Why don't you go with them, Fleur? Sing a song for me and your sister. Uncle Bix will take a video and show me."
Fleur excitedly hopped off the bed and took the drummer's hand as they also left.
Elfman sat on the bed, setting a hand gently on his wife's tummy. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm feeling fine, honestly. As long as I'm just hangin' round here and not moving much." Evergreen replied with an amused smile as she laid a hand over her husband's. "You should join them."
Elfman blinked. "But you-"
"-will just be here, reading the night away in peace." Evergreen rolled her eyes. "Seriously, it's my ideal night. Go and enjoy it too."
"You're sure you'll be okay?" the man asked, brows furrowed.
"You guys all worry too much." The brunette shook her head. "Just don't get too drunk, I hate it when you smell like beer."
Elfman chuckled, then leaned in to drop a kiss on his wife's forehead. "Don't worry, I'll prob'ly be there to break off the riots 'cause otherwise they'll destroy our bar."
When Elfman, along with the men of the Raijinshuu, tailed by one little Fleur Strauss clinging to Bixlow's shirt, returned to the bar proper, the crowd has gotten louder.
There were drinks and snacks from Mira's, but there were also finger foods from The Fire Dragon and a whole cake from Yajima-san's. As expected, Erza already had a slice for herself.
Jellal and Mystogan have joined in. Mystogan was enjoying a quieter time beside Warren and Laki, while his brother sat beside Erza, the couple whispering to each other.
And as many had feared, Mira had let them use the newly-repaired karaoke.
Max, holding a broom as if it was a mic stand, joined by Cana with her usual mug of beer in one hand and a microphone on the other, and Natsu using a bottle of hot sauce as his own makeshift microphone - had all stood up and were all singing loudly (and mostly out of tune) to a ridiculous pop song as their friends cheered.
"I thought that thing was broken..." Freed groaned.
"Gajeel fixed it. Blame 'im." Bixlow sniggered at him before letting Fleur pull him towards the crowd singing. She was a very active kid, and she knew the song - so of course she wanted to join in.
Laxus and Elfman merely grunted as they joined the group, but occupying a different table. Freed looked like he had a migraine, but managed to send a cheerful smile at their hostess when Mira brought them their drinks.
They watched as Bixlow lifted Fleur up to stand on a table. Cana handed the microphone to her. The toddler didn't think twice about accepting the mic. She could barely pronounce all the words but she sang with all her might anyway, while Bixlow joined Cana, Max and Natsu in singing loudly with the kid.
Freed stiffled his laughter as he took a video. Beside him, Laxus couldn't help but let out an amused grin.
Elfman raised his glass. "To Fleur, 'cause she's a rockstar just like her mother."
Laxus nodded and continued, "And to Marygold, let's hope she'll be tamer than this one."
The two shared a toast and then drank. They didn't know that Freed got that bit on tape as well.
When the song finished, the singers all huddled over the songbook, trying to pick their next song.
It was then that Gray and Juvia arrived. They were all greeted cheerfully by their friends as always, and everyone shifted to make space for the two to sit with them.
Gray handed Lucy a paperbag with a ribbon. "For you."
Juvia smiled cheerfully. "Belated Happy Birthday!"
"Oh, you two! You shouldn't have!" Lucy said as she accepted it.
"Juvia really wanted you to have it." Gray said, glancing at the woman clinging to his arm.
Lucy took out a small marble carving of a mermaid holding an urn from which a stream of water was pouring out. There was an impressed 'oooohhhhhh' from the others in the table. The blonde looked up at the couple, her eyes wide. "Oh my gosh, this is..."
Juvia poked her fingers together shyly. "Gray-sama made it. Juvia thought that Lucy would like it, since Lucy wrote about the mermaid lady and the scorpion man in her novel. Juvia really loved that one!"
"She made me read it like ten times." Gray rolled his eyes.
Juvia looked confused. "Gray-sama was the one who bought and recommended it-"
Gray was quick to cut her off by saying, "SO! This is your treat, huh?!"
"Yep!" Lucy said, placing the present back in the paperbag safely.
To her surprise, all Gray said was, "Let's split the bill, you and me."
All his friends blinked up at him.
Gray - known cheapstake whose wallet was always 'on a diet' - was offering to split the bill for his not-so-small group of friends.
There must be something up.
Natsu was the first to recover - "Yo, what happened? Didja win a lottery?"
"Oh, even better." Gray smirked, then he looked at Juvia.
The woman blushed bright red and looked down before she gingerly lifted up her hand for everyone to see.
They all gaped, and again Natsu was the first to recover - "Okay, so she's got a ring, so what-" he abruptly stopped when Lucy quickly whispered something to his ear. "-HOLY SHIT."
It was, in all senses, an effective icebreaker as then the whole group errupted into celebration. Erza choked on her cake, and Jellal frantically rubbed her back and offered her something to drink. Mystogan whined when Laki began shaking him back and forth trying to contain her squeals. The rest of the girls, save for Cana, all but charged towards Juvia to ask her about all the details. The guys either pat Gray on the back or teased him and asked him when the wedding will be.
"I agree with Natsu for once." Laxus mumbled behind his beer. "Holy shit."
Freed slapped the blonde's shoulder half-heartedly as he smiled at the scene.
Elfman was crying.
Then they heard Fleur's small voice over the speakers again. "He puts a ring onnit! Frosty and Water…-worm-… Water-… Waterworks!" They turned to see Cana and Bixlow sniggering as they told the girl what to say to the microphone. "Frosty an'… an' and Waterworks err gettin' hitched! Kish the bride! Honey-moon! Wittle frosties an' wonnerworse-..."
"Oi, don't teach the kid nonsense!" Gray snapped at the two.
"Will Aunty Juvia wear pretty dress like mommy in the pictures?" Fleur asked again, this time Bixlow and Cana held up their hands as if to say 'It's not me!'. "Like, like, like white dress and lotsa pretty flowers?"
Juvia had to hold on to Levy because she almost fainted.
"Yes, Aunty Juvia's gonna wear pretty dress and Uncle Gray's gonna wear, uh, a bowtie." Natsu answered the girl's question, with a sly grin.
"Probably just the bowtie and nothin' else." Cana continued.
Natsu faked concern. "Tsk. You can't do a church wedding, man. The priest's gonna throw 'ya out for indecency."
He and Cana high-fived, then quickly made a run for it when Gray charged towards them and started chasing them around.
"Such maturity." Freed said under his breath.
"Five year olds, all of them." Laxus deadpanned, watching his partner patting Elfman's back and offering tissues.
The big guy's always been a sucker for these things.
Nobody noticed it when Gajeel had come in. They only paused abruptly when he was standing right in front of their crowd.
"What's happenin'?" he asked, raising his brows at his friends' awkward expressions.
"Gajeel-kun!" Juvia greeted happily, bounding towards her best friend and grabbing at his leather jacket. "Gray-sama asked Juvia if Juvia wants to marry Gray-sama!"
Gajeel stared at her.
"Look, looooook! Gray-sama gave Juvia a ring!"
"What the fuck." was what Gajeel came up with. Then he grabbed the woman's shoulders and looked at her. "What the fucking fuck. Did you say yes?"
Juvia blinked. "Of course Juvia said yes-"
"Okay." he nodded, scarily calm, patting his best friend on the head.
Then Gajeel grabbed someone's mug of beer, drank it bottom's up, and when he saw where Gray was trying to catch Natsu and Cana, he screamed bloody murder, dashed towards the raven-head and joined in the chase.
"OI FROSTY YOU LITTLE SHIT WE ARE GOING TO TALK RIGHT FUCKING NOW!"
"He's happy for you, Juvia-chan." was all Levy said, smiling reassuringly. "He just needs to run his feelings."
Of course Juvia knew that already.
When the ruckus had died down, it was Lucy who proposed a toast. Their group stood around the table in a circle, each of them holding their mugs of beer.
Loke happily obliged when Lucy asked him to start. He looked around everyone in the group before he said, "Well, then. I'm sticking to the original occasion. To Lucy's 26th year." With that, he raised his glass.
Lucy returned his smile as she did the same. "To being 26 and finishing my third novel!"
She heard the congratulatory greetings from everyone, and then looked down when a lithe arm was linked with her free one.
Levy grinned at her and Lucy returned the gesture, pulling her friend closer. Levy nodded and raised her own glass as well. "...and to making sure it gets published!"
Beside them, Natsu came next. "Well, uh. To a great day at the Dragon! Someone messed up some orders, some customers got moody, there was a scary mafia-lookin' mob who ordered like everythin' on the menu - but t'was a great day!"
They all just laughed lightly at the guy's optimism. It would take a lot to get Natsu to say that his day sucked.
Max also smirked. "To my proposal gettin' approved by the scary boss." he exchanged a look with Lucy, who just rolled her eyes.
"To my latest patient getting better..." Warren added. He stammered through a quick explanation. "It's a kid who was depressed, see - and… and it meant a lot when he finally started opening up to me and his parents. He was in a really dark place."
There were some 'awww's among his friends and he was glad that they appreciated the work he does.
Laki adjusted her glasses sheepishly before she joined in. "To the family's woodcraft shop getting more commissions every day."
There was a "Hell yeah!" from someone in the group.
"To a relatively peaceful day in Magnolia." Bisca said, as if giving a report. "Low crime rate and all." she added as Alzack's arm came to rest on her shoulders to give her a small squeeze. Of course he knew - they worked the same job, only on different stations.
"And to going home to our beautiful daughter." Alzack said, exchanging smiles with his wife.
"Err, to things workin' out great in the flower shop, I guess." Droy added shyly. When Levy and Jet looked at him with a pout, he sighed - as if he was being forced to admit to a secret. "Actually, just got a call from one of the guys in the farm downtown sayin' they needed some people to work on the plans turnin' the empty grass fields to a crop farm. It's for a cause and it'll bring in more jobs to people in need… I think I'll be a bit busy with it 'cause I accepted."
Natsu whistled, and some of the others stated their congratulations and some impressed remarks.
It was then Jet's turn. "Nah, my IT job's boring. I'm planning to quit, actually. Maybe just teach." he rolled his eyes, but then grinned. "But as you know, the other job's coaching the FairyGaku track team and guess what - we're goin' to Nationals!"
As alumni of the said school, all of them errupted into excited cheers.
"All that said," Mira started as she raised her glass. "To everyone being here. And together! I missed you guys so much."
There were several 'aw, we missed you too!' from the group, which made the barmaid slightly teary-eyed.
She was clinging to Freed's arm, and the man spoke next. "To being assigned to a challenging case with one of the best young lawyers in town. It's stressful, but we're doing great."
He looked at Erza, who looked down and smiled bashfully, but appreciatively.
It was Laxus' turn. He shrugged, unsure of what to say. "Well, err, what the hell. To bein' here? Still alive and all. Gramps doin' well in retirement and bein' smug 'bout it. Sister doin' great. Freed. And err, band doin' good. Ever's baby on the way an' everything. Just. Uh. Good stuff, good stuff."
They all agreed with him. Good stuff.
Bixlow went straight to his point. "To Fleur-chan!" he exclaimed, raising his glass high.
The girl, who was standing on the chair beside him, with a tall glass of milk in her hands, looked up at her godfather. "Fleur? Me?"
"Yep. That's you." Elfman whispered to his daughter.
"Me!" the girl said, raising her glass to imitate the adults. "An' mommy! An' daddy! A' bay sister!"
"Baby sister." Bixlow corrected quickly.
Fleur nodded vigorously. "BABY sister!"
Everyone laughed, but humored the girl. Elfman laid a hand on top of his daughter's head and raised his own glass. "To my wife, and our second child on the way. We hope she's born strong and healthy."
The response from the group was more solemn, but he could tell that they were all as excited as him to meet the new member of their family.
Then they all turned towards Erza, who was, like Elfman, a big softie and was trying her best not to cry. She quickly wiped the incoming tears and put her game face on. "Um, to… err. Work! I got assigned with Freed, and it's a tough case, but we're doing great, and err. Um. To Master doing well. To… everyone in here, basically? To one of my longest friends getting engaged." she sent a happy, knowing look towards Gray, who pretended to wave her off grumpily. "Just, um, like Mira said. Everyone being here together. Including the usually very busy Professor Fernandez."
That earned her and her companion some fun, teasing, well-intended jabs and whistles, and she just rolled her eyes at her friends and tried hard not to blush as hard as she could.
Everyone knew that both Erza and Jellal were both really busy. Erza was a young lawyer (one of the best) and was very much in-demand in her firm, while Jellal was doubling his job as university professor and also taking up his master's degree. They got together around their fourth year of college in Fiore U. but they mostly prioritized other stuff like their families, studies and careers so they never really 'went out' as much as their other friends did. They still had a strong, mature relationship though.
Still, it was good seeing them coming to an event together again. Their schedules hardly ever left room for both of them to make appearances together.
"I am very happy to be here, thank you." Jellal replied smoothly, then turned towards the rest of their friends. "Um, first of all, yes - to being here. I'm very glad I took the time off to celebrate with all of you. I have classes tomorrow so wish me luck on those."
The others laughed and Erza pat his back comfortingly.
"Secondly," he continued, this time with a grin too smug it scared his twin brother beside him.
And Mystogan was right to be scared.
Because Jellal continued with, "To my twin brother finally finding himself a lovely young woman."
The others all either gaped or said, "OOOOHHHHHH~!" and then some of them asked for details, and Jellal raised his free hand in defeat while his brother gave him a tired, frustrated, 'HOW DARE YOU' glare.
"Payback." was all Jellal said, while beside him, Erza just slapped her forehead and shook her head muttering 'Twins. Boys. Twin boys.'
Unfortunately, the person standing on Mysto's other side is Cana, who was quick to grab him and shake the truth out of him.
"Okay okay I'll talk I'LL TALK please stop please- I'LL TALK please do not tickle me!" the poor man pleaded, when he saw that Gajeel was about to pounce as well. He had seen the guy in action years ago and he dreaded to be subjected to the torture. When he saw that the others were staring at him intently, he sighed. "Um, we'll never finish this toast?"
"No, it's okay. We're game." came from Jet as he waved dismissively, prodding the other man to continue. "Go on." The others nodded, all curiosity and eagerness.
You don't often get dirt on Mystogan, after all.
"It's stupid. It really is."
"Why would it be stupid?" Levy asked, confused.
"Um, well, we've only been seeing each other a little over a week. She's, uh a soldier. Of sorts. On her break."
"Oooh, a tough lady!" Max remarked, impressed.
Jellal pretended to have a coughing fit. "(cough)She'sintheARMY(cough)FirstLieutenant(cough)"
Even Erza had to stifle her laugh when the others gasped and looked at Mystogan in amazement.
"HOWDIDYOUMEET!" Cana screamed, and Gray had to get her off her blue-haired victim before she committed murder or broke someone's eardrums.
"It was in the convenience store, I thought she was someone I knew, so I called her name, and she turned-… and um-… guys, please it's stupid and you won't believe me."
"No no no it's too good, keep talking." Lucy encouraged. Even Natsu nodded in anticipation.
"Well, I thought no one else had hair that red, right?" Mystogan said, helpless.
Erza and Jellal were trying not to laugh now. The others looked at the couple and then back at Mystogan.
"So she had red hair, like Erza?" Laki asked.
"And she responded to Erza's name because...?"
Mystogan sighed, feeling smaller by the minute. "Because her name is also Erza."
They all just looked at him, trying to process what he just said.
"Um, her last name is different, however. They really don't look too much like each other. Um, yes, there's the red hair, but hers is cut short, and she's got a, um, different facial features, and I think she's taller? She's taller. Um, they look really different if you look close enough, I swear-"
"No, shit." - that came from Laxus, who looked at his sister disbelievingly. "There are two of you? I don't believe in God but he's crazy, making two of you."
"Laxus, please." - and that came not only from Erza, but from majority of his companions.
"WHAT?" the blonde asked, innocent.
Natsu spoke up. "He's got a point. I mean Erza with a bamboo sword is scary enough, so what about Erza with a gun license, yeah?"
Mystogan just hid his face behind his hand as the others murmured their agreement.
To her credit, Cana was also the one to break off the ruckus. "Alright, alright - we'll leave the poor guy alone now. He promises to send us a picture of their next family dinner with two Jellals and two Erzas and one very confused Wendy-chan."
"Heeeeeey." the twins whined. Wendy wouldn't be confused! The two Erzas have different hairstyles!
"So? What're you toasting to?" Cana finally asked the man.
Mystogan just sighed and raised his glass. "To the woman I'm dating not being creeped out when I told her I thought she was my brother's girlfriend."
They all laughed, and even Mystogan found it in himself to chuckle in amusement. It WAS funny, that his Erza had just raised an eyebrow and said "Huh. Weird." when he told her.
"Good one." Cana continued easily. "Okay, my turn. TO MY BEST FREAKIN' FRIEND IN THE WORLD GETTIN' HITCHED! WOOHOO!"
"Really?" Gray was unimpressed, even when the brunette ruffled his hair affectionately.
"REALLY!" Cana said cheerfully. "Oh, and to me and my dad finally gettin' to buy this empty hellhole downtown! WE'RE GONNA OPEN A BAR, Y'ALL!"
The others rejoiced and there was another bout of congratulations.
"'Course Mira's sponsoring." Cana chimed in, and Mira just winked at her.
It was high time to do some broadening of horizons. It would be fun and challenging and they couldn't wait to get to it.
"Don't abandon this ol' place, though." Jet said with a small smirk.
"Never!" both Mira and Cana cheered.
"Alright, then to my best freakin' friend in the world gettin' down to business. Her own business." Gray said for his turn, ignoring Cana's friendly jab on his side. "And of course, to Juvia saying 'yes' to the most important question I've asked her so far."
Juvia gave him her usual warm smile, and he just returned with his own little smile as he raised his glass.
It was then Juvia's turn. Everyone looked at her expectantly and she breathed in. "Um, this one is for Juvia and Gray-sama getting engaged! And for Gajeel-kun not killing Gray-sama for it!"
"I'm better than that." Gajeel snorted. When he received raised eyebrows, he continued. "I'm gonna make it look like an accident."
There were well-meaning laughter and giggles among their group, and Gajeel met Juvia's pout with his most stubborn narrowed eyes.
"Oi, Gajeel - finish this thing." Natsu said, getting impatient. "Or we'll be here all night!"
"Fine, fine." Gajeel said, shrugging. "I, uh… I don't have anything."
His companions groaned out their complaints. Several 'oh come on!'s and 'just do it!' were heard.
The raven-head grunted and scratched his head. "Uh, err. To havin' a job? A roof 'bove my head and a job that pays enough. That's it. And uh, all of y'all are happy and healthy and well and stuff. And I'm healthy too so what the hell, it's a nice life. Whatever."
He didn't know what part of his lame mini-speech was touching, but they all just looked knowingly at each other with… what, affectionate (?) smiles and grins that made Gajeel want to slap them all.
But like he said: Whatever.
"That's it, then." Lucy finally declared. "To a nice life!"
The others just laughed and they all toasted to that.
They agreed with their friend: life is good, and the night was just starting.
They helped clean up, because their celebration had gone past the usual closing time, and most of the staff had gone home.
But when half of the group is either passed out or drunk, they can only do so much. So when most of the mess had been taken care off, Mira sent most of the guests home.
She waved from the entrance as Natsu and Lucy followed Loke to Lucy's car, as Jet and Gajeel dragged a drunk Droy with them while Levy trailed after, as Juvia and Gray did the same for Cana, as Bisca and Alzack went on home (thankfully both only slightly tipsy because otherwise Mira would be really worried about little Asuka), and as Warren offered to drive Max, Laki and Mystogan home safely.
When she turned towards the ones who stayed, she couldn't help but laugh a little.
Freed was already lying asleep on the couch, Fleur also sleeping on top of him. Laxus was sitting on the other couch, nursing a headache that was probably being caused by a drunk Bixlow talking nonstop from his comfy slump in the loveseat. Jellal stood nearby, talking to Laxus.
On another table, Erza had passed out - whether it was from the alcohol, or simply from exhaustion, Mira didn't know.
Then, Jellal gave a polite bow to Laxus, and finally walked towards Erza and shook the red-head gently. She looked up tiredly and then listened as her boyfriend talked. Erza nodded, then let Jellal pull her up to stand and they both walked out.
Mira told the two to take care before she joined the Raijinshuu and her sleeping niece. Elfman had gone upstairs to check up on Ever. He wanted to bring his daughter with him, but the girl had a death grip on Freed's shirt.
"What was that about?" Mira asked Laxus as she sat beside him.
"Ah, asked tattoo-face if he could bring Erza home." Laxus shrugged. "Well, threatened him if he brought her anywhere other than home, really. Told him my dad was a gangster."
"That's not a lie." Bixlow sniggered.
"Duh." the blonde shrugged, then looked at Freed sleeping soundly. "They've been workin' real hard and then partied harder. No wonder they're both passed out."
Mira just smiled and sighed tiredly, making herself comfortable in the couch. Her body wanted her to go to bed, but she was still enjoying the quiet company of her friends.
"Really though, if that guy takes my sister anywhere I didn't know 'bout, he's dead." Laxus muttered darkly.
"Don't worry. Jellal-kun's too noble to do anything untoward like that." Mira smiled.
Erza managed to walk the first few blocks from the bar only holding on to Jella's arm, until she yawned really loudly and the man turned to looked at her. "Do you need me to carry you?" he asked, laying a hand on top of hers.
The red-head frowned, shaking her head stubbornly. "No, it'll trouble you."
"Erza, come on. Your house is not that far. Also, I think it's high time you actually trouble me, just for a change."
Erza chuckled, then sighed. "We so seldom get together, we can hardly bother each other. I don't know if that's a good thing or not."
"Both, I think." Jellal said absently. "It's good that we don't fight about things… on the other hand, I won't complain if we saw each other more."
"Same here." Erza said, smiling lightly and leaning her head against her companion's shoulder.
They kept walking in comfortable silence until Erza drawled sleepily. "Um, Jellal?"
"Yes?" he asked quietly, enjoying the quiet sound of a peaceful night in Magnolia.
"Um, when I finish this case with Freed." she started, taking a deep breath before she went on. "I plan to take a week off. I was wondering if… if you can take some time off, too. Maybe we can spend at least one of those days together?"
"I'd like that." Jellal answered. "Very much. Just tell me when."
"Thanks. I will." she said softly. Jellal smiled to himself when he saw her hide her face behind her red hair again. They would be dating for years and Erza will still shy from some things.
There was silence for a few minutes, which the woman broke yet again.
"Um, I think I'll accept your offer to trouble you with carrying me... I'm so sorry. I'll make it up to you!"
Jellal laughed, then just nodded as Erza let go of his arm and stopped walking. He kneeled on one knee and extended his arms behind him. Erza reluctantly stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his neck, then leaned her weight into him. Jellal secured her legs to his side before he stood up straight again.
Then he kept walking, carrying her on piggyback.
Erza buried her head on his shoulder. "This is really embarrassing. I'm really so sorry."
"Don't say that. I haven't done this for anyone since Meredy and Wendy back in high school." Jellal replied.
"I haven't needed this since middle school, and Laxus complained so much..." Erza mumbled.
"Well, I'm not going to complain." Jellal shrugged. "It's a nice change; you letting me do something special for you."
"You already do special stuff for me! Like bring me cakes at work..."
Erza wanted to argue some more, but came up with nothing. "I-I-It's okay, you know..."
"I know." the man replied easily. "That's why I think these things are special. You're so strong, and you don't need me. But I still want to help you in any additional way I can-"
"Hey." Erza cut him off sharply. "Look at me."
It was hard, but Erza loosened her arms on his shoulders and was content to lay her hands on them instead.
When Jellal turned his head, Erza was quick to lean forward and lock her lips with his. Jellal was surprised at first, then after a beat, he just closed his eyes and returned the gesture.
When they broke apart, Erza pressed their foreheads together and smiled softly at him. Jellal returned the smile.
"I don't always need help, but I appreciate the cakes, and your take-care messages everyday, and your almost random sending me pictures of the great view outside your classroom or from the university rooftop, and you tucking me to bed and leaving ready-to-heat meals when I fall asleep alone in my flat working. And I'll appreciate the other future rides on your back and whatever other things you do for me."
"I appreciate that you appreciate all those. I'll keep doing them, then."
Erza just nodded, then rested her head comfortably on her companion's shoulder.
They were silent the rest of the way home.
"I love you. Both. Of you. Like, I love you so much, you two. So much, you don't understand how much."
Juvia giggled, while Gray just groaned as they looked at the drunk woman trying to walk properly between them. The only reason she was still staying upright was because they held both of her arms on their shoulders.
"I helped Frosty here pick yer ring, d'ya know that, Juvia?" Cana drawled.
"Mm-hm, Juvia didn't know..." Juvia said.
"Yeaaah, poor sod didn't know what to get, but he really liked that one 'cause of the dolphin. 'Sup with dolphins?" Cana continued, and she couldn't care less if she was revealing more than she should. "Whatever. Just. Dolphins. Who the hell gives a girl an engagement ring with the dolphins carved on 'em, right? But yeah whatever floats your boat, man."
Juvia looked at Gray, who kept silent and pretended to look ahead at the road. The woman just smiled to herself and continued walking too.
"Oh my gosh, you're gettin' married and stuff right, then next comes babies! What'll you name 'em? Ur? Or um, Gray's mom. Mika? Or somethin' new? Ahhh, I'm gonna have little nephews and nieces! You should make forty!"
Gray choked. Juvia blushed and stammered. "F-F-Forty?!"
"Yeah yeah, just to beat Natsu and Lucy, c'mon! FORTY BABIES! Hell yeah!"
Gray said, "You're drunk, Cana."
"I AM!" Cana replied, laughing. "But no, really. I'm happy for 'ya. Urgh. I never even thought Gray would 'ave a girlfriend. Now it's wedding bells oh my god. 'Cause he's, like, so emotionally-challenged way way back right? Juvia gurl you work miracles, mm-hm, miracles yep yep."
"Um, Juvia will take that as a compliment." Juvia said, uncertain.
"JUVIA SHOULD! JUVIA IS GREAT. CANA-SAN APPROVES, A+ WOULD RECOMMEND." the brunette said, raising a hand to pat the other woman on the head. "Cana-san can't walk properly anymore, s'great. There're babies and weddings and Cana-san's gonna open a new bar downtown, I tell you that yet?"
"You're really drunk." Gray said, stopping his walk. "Right, that's our stop." he pointed out, looking ahead at the Clive-Alberona household just a block away. He scooped his best friend smoothly up to carry her in his arms, then looked at Juvia. "Juvia, you go and knock."
"Hai." the woman said, walking ahead of the two until they reached the house.
Thankfully, the lights were still on. They've been told that Gildarts will be on duty until late. It was a good thing the man hasn't gone straight to bed.
Because both Juvia and Gray had given up their respective apartments in Magnolia, they slept over at their friends' places when they had to stay the night. Tonight, their hosts would be Gildarts (and Cana, who was unusually quiet when they got to the house).
The door opened and Gildarts blinked sleepily when he saw Juvia first, then his daughter being carried by Gray.
"Ah, Gray, Juvia-chan! Come in, I've just brought out the spare sheets… What did Cana-chan do now?" the man asked, a tired but amused smile on his face.
Before Gray could say anything, Cana was quick to declare, "I got drunk because THESE TWO ARE GETTING MARRIED! CELEBRATE!"
Gildarts looked at the other two with his mouth open, but was quick to recover from the announcement and laugh. "Alright, I think Cana-chan's had enough celebrating. Let's tuck you to bed. Come in, all of 'ya."
The two were quick to get inside the house, and Gray headed straight upstairs, carrying his best friend to her room.
Juvia giggled as she stood beside Gildarts, watching the two argue half-heartedly on their way. When they were gone, Gildarts finally addressed his companion.
"Congratulations, Juvia-chan." Gildarts said softly, looking down at the woman, who smiled sheepishly at him. "May I?"
Juvia nodded and wordlessly held out her hand, which the man took. She watched as his expression turned soft and sentimental, a little smile on his lips as he looked at her engagement ring.
"You'll make a beautiful bride, Juvia-chan. Gray is very lucky." the man said, patting her hand and then letting go.
"Thank you, Gildarts-san. It means a lot to Juvia."
"Now you look tired, and you have to rest. Go upstairs, there's an extra mattress on Cana-chan's room. Make yourself at home."
Juvia repeated her gratitude before she went upstairs as well.
Gildarts was sitting down alone in their dining table and drinking coffee when Gray returned downstairs.
"They're asleep." the raven-head reported, noting the sheets and pillows on the couch he knew were set aside for him. "Uh, thanks for lettin' us stay tonight."
"No problem. You kids are my kids." Gildarts said. "Juvia-chan looks very happy. You've done good."
Gray shrugged, smiling lightly as he scratched his head. "Nah, just thought… t'was about damn time, yeah?"
Gildarts nodded, watching as the younger man got himself a mug, sat on the chair across his and started making his own cup of coffee.
As Gray idly stirred his beverage, he said, "So… err. I haven't talked to the principal 'bout it. And he's the closest thing I have to a father now. I thought… it's normal to wanna… talk to other people 'bout it, so-"
Gildarts knew where his companion was going. He said, "You know my track record on marriage, don't you, Gray?" - Gildarts let out a small sigh before he continued. "I won't give the best advice."
Gray shrugged, neither agreeing or disagreeing with the man.
"But if you really wanna talk 'bout it, I'm right here and I'll try my best. Hell, I won't let you kids screw up like I did."
The raven-head looked up and nodded, smiling appreciatively. "Thanks, old man."
"Anytime, kid. You know that."
"Alright, m'gonna take it from here."
Gajeel looked at Jet as they all stopped walking. There were two paths to take, and Jet and Droy's way home was on one while Levy's was on the other. Jet has just offered to take Droy home by himself while Gajeel walked Levy home.
"Y'sure? He's a big guy." Gajeel asked. No matter how you look at it, he should be the one walking their drunk friend home. Jet was too… lanky. Can he handle Droy alone?
Meanwhile, Levy was having the same thoughts. She was a feeling a bit tipsy from the drinks, but she still insisted, "I'll be alright by myself, Jet! Gajeel can help you."
"Don't worry, I'm stronger than I look." Jet smirked. "S'not the first time I had to drag this guy home. Just make sure Levy gets home safe."
"Alright, uh..." Gajeel scratched his head as he let Jet handle Droy's dead weight alone. "Call us if you need backup, then."
"Sure thing, man." Jet waved him off, then eased Droy's weight beside him and continued his way home.
Gajeel and Levy watched the other two walk off, listening to Jet's complaints.
"Dude, you'd think you know better than challenge Cana!"
"She told me I'm fat!"
"You ARE fat! And she was drunk!"
"I know but I was feelin' competitive!"
"You don't just FEEL competitive when it's CANA and BEER! Sober people should still have common sense!"
Gajeel just rolled his eyes while Levy giggled, looking at her best friends fondly. "Right. Let's go, squirt." he said as he started to walk again.
Levy quickly fell into step beside him.
After a few minutes of silence, Gajeel said, "So… thanks for the… err, coffee and donuts today."
Levy shook her head absently. "That's nothing. I dropped by the bookstore and thought I'd bring you something too and… err… that."
"You don't have to come bring me food everytime you happened to pass by, y'know. I just got off the 'charity case' list, been crossed out since two years ago. I eat properly."
"I know that!" the woman said. "It's not that I don't think you're not eating well-"
"Really? 'Cause I feel like you're stuffing my face with food every chance you get."
"You… don't like them?" Levy asked, frowning a bit.
"N-No, I-… I mean, I like food. S'alright…"
"I, err..." Levy scratched her head, looking down. "I just wanted to… um, you see, I can't always drop by to… hang out. That's it. Hang out! I can't always hang out so I just leave food instead, y'know sending my… err… regards-"
For such an intelligent person, she was stammering pretty badly, Gajeel thought. But then she also kinda drunk a lot so maybe it ws the alcohol.
He snorted. "Why wouldja hang out with me, I'm not even fun to be around-"
"Don't put yourself down too much." the woman scolded lightly. "You're fun, like… um, like when we go watch movies and stuff!"
"Yeah, that too." Gajeel furrowed his brows. "I don't even like movies that much. You still invite me to go with you. And then we go eat out after and just… talk there when I'm not even good at talkin' and we go to a lot of what, concerts and museums and shows and whatever and I'm not even FUN-"
He stopped when Levy sighed. Heavily. A sigh of resignation. While holding her head in her hands as if nursing a migraine.
"Gajeeeeellll..." she started to whine. "You don't get it, you really don't..."
Gajeel was suddenly afraid that she'll start crying. "No no I get it, you're just being nice and it doesn't matter if I'm a shit person 'cause you're NICE and KIND and all that but. Just sayin', man. You… you can hang out with someone a lot more… err, happy. Like Bunnygirl or your boys or hell, Salamander-"
Levy suddenly stared at him, eyes wide. "Y-Y-You're not happy with me?"
"NO, I am VERY happy with you!" Gajeel answered quickly. "What I was sayin' was, um, someone. Happy. Like, a happier person or I dunno, just someone who's… uh, more normal and… c'mon, 'ya know what I mean, shorty. I know 'ya just wanna hang out and cheer me up or whatever 'cause I'm always alone and I probably look really terrible. But this is my normal face, and I'm okay, I swear so-"
"Okay, we can't keep doing this." Levy groaned.
"You think I'm being all nice and sweet and stuff to cheer you up 'cause you're always alone when really I'm just trying to get an actual date with you."
"Yeah, no- what?"
He stared at her, and she looked back at him, pouting.
He thought that she looked really cute but he was also sure he was a bit drunk, and he wanted to think that the latter was more applicable. Yep. He's just a bit drunk.
Wait, what did she say again? Actual date, what-?
When he just kept staring, Levy continued. "I like you. I've liked you for years now, and right now I am pretty sure I am 50% drunk, thank god for that because otherwise I'll just run away – and I want to run away – but… but whatever, Gajeel, we go out like every weekend and I bring lunch and snacks and you walk me home everytime and WE. HOLD. HANDS. And-"
"To be fair, you hold hands with everyone." he defended.
"Gajeel, I really like you. Maybe more than like." Levy sighed. "I've been trying to tell you, because you're being really sweet when we're together so I was thinking maybe you like me back but you never say anything so maybe you don't-"
"No, I like you too." he said casually, as if correcting a spelling mistake.
"THERE! Is that so hard? Oh my god, I'm really drunk and-… W-wait, you said you like me too?"
"I'm just sayin', I dunno if I'll be able to deal with ANYTHING right now, 'cause… y'know. Wait, do you?"
"What are we talking about, again?"
"My job doesn't pay much and stuff and I got no family and uh, you're great, but I'm, uh, I'm not great, I'm just 'okay' so-"
"I just-… I. Err. Um. I dunno how to deal with this. You. Like…" he made an awkward gesture that seemed to encompass the whole person before him, and he just ended up with a lame, "You. Shit, you like me back, that's a whole fucking miracle right there considerin' everything that happened so I'm fucking sorry if it's takin' me years to BELIEVE that you could be-… Yeah. Shit, I said all that so calmly."
Levy just looked at him.
Then Gajeel looked to the heavens and breathed out. "Okay, maybe I'm kinda drunk too. We're both drunk, great. Maybe we should sober up first-"
He looked down when he felt a sharp tug on his collar, then was stunned when lithe arms wrapped around his neck and pulled him to lean down for a kiss.
It was short and abrupt and sloppy, probably because he was too shocked to respond, and she has to stand on his feet to actually reach him even with him leaning down… but when she let go, he found himself drowning in the scariest glare she had given him yet.
'WHAT WAS THAT' - his mind screamed. 'WHY ARE WE NOT SCREAMING EXTERNALLY YET SCREAM GAJEEL BECAUSE WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT WHAT THE-'
There was no room for screaming however because Levy had already asked, "You like me?"
Weirdly enough, Gajeel found himself stupidly admitting to something worse: "Pretty sure it's the other L word at work in my head right now."
Levy had to stifle a gasp as she looked back at him. "Oh, um, are we talking about what I think we're talkin-"
"Ohh, so, um- Okay. You mean-?"
"Oh! Um, well, I feel the same, I probably do and um, to start with, I think we should date."
"Great, right, let's do that."
"Each other. To be specific?"
"I mean that too."
"Hm. Alright. Okay, um. Yeah."
She stepped back awkwardly, then resumed walking, sheepish.
Gajeel walked beside her as well, eyes on the ground.
A few more blocks after, Gajeel said, "We should talk 'bout it again when we're really sober."
"Agreed." Levy nodded, still trying not to look at her companion. Although she doubted she could stay as calm as this if she was sober.
So after years of slow developments and gradual changes and measured steady dancing around each other – there's this one abrupt moment and that was it. That was… it.
God, she's a weird drunk.
He's a weird drunk too.
It was probably for the best.
"Tomorrow, yeah. Fine with me."
They didn't know who reached for the other's hand first, but they didn't let go until they got to their destination.
They'd freak out about this the next day.
When Alzack and Bisca arrived home, they saw Wendy asleep on their couch, while Romeo was frowning down on his textbook.
The young man quickly looked up at them and said, "Ah! Hi. Um. Welcome home. Asuka-chan already went to bed."
Wendy also sat up, rubbing sleep from her eyes. "Bisca-san, Alzack-san! I'm so sorry, I'm not too used to staying up this late, and Romeo-kun went to fetch me but you weren't here yet so I let him in-"
The married couple exchanged a look and then both smiled at their babysitter. Bisca shook her head. "It's okay, Wendy-chan. We did stay up later than we thought we would. We're sorry for that. You two can go home now."
"Right." both Romeo and Wendy nodded, and they quickly started packing up. Bisca handed Wendy her pay for the babysitting job and thanked her for all her help.
"Take care, both of you." Alzack said, watching as Romeo started the engine of the scooter he was riding on. The vehicle was borrowed from Natsu, a decommissioned old thing that used to be utilized for deliveries for the Dragon. Now Natsu used it regularly to get to work.
Wendy got in behind Romeo, holding on to his shoulders. She bid the adults a good night as they left.
Alzack and Bisca watched as the students disappeared down the road.
"They're good kids." Alzack sighed.
Bisca only nodded as she leaned against him. "They are."
During the ride home, Romeo heard Wendy mumble against his shoulder. "Thanks for picking me up, Romeo-kun."
"Nah, s'nothing." Romeo shrugged, glanced at his companion shortly and then back to the road. "Remember when 'ya first got here?"
"Hm? What is it?"
"Everyone told me to take care of you."
Wendy laughed lightly as she remembered that first dinner with the Conbolts and Dragneels. "They did."
"Just bein' a man of my word here." Romeo smirked, and he was content when Wendy gave his shoulders an appreciative squeeze.
Mira rested her head on Laxus' shoulder sleepily as they watched Bixlow take pictures of Freed and Fleur huddled together sleeping.
The barmaid couldn't help but laugh when Bixlow even took a selfie with the two sleeping on the background.
"He'll kill you for that." was all Laxus said, resigned to his fate as Mira's pillow for the time being.
"It'll be worth it. Look at them, so cute." Bixlow sniggered, swiping through the pictures on his phone, and most probably already uploading them and tagging their friends.
"So how are you?" Mira asked Laxus while Bixlow was busy on his phone. "You two doing okay in your flat in Crocus?"
Laxus answered easily. "Yeah. Good. Same old. His job's tough but he's tough too. My job's boring but s'alright. Gramps startin' to ask me to take some time off, looks like he wants to hand over some stuff for the school."
Mira chuckled. "You ready to be the new principal?"
"No shit." Laxus snorted. "Erza's better for that. S'just the old man wants me to handle some expenses and board stuff I don't really understand. We're still gonna talk 'bout it."
The barmaid nodded considerately. "You two are not planning to move back home anytime soon, are you?"
"Freed likes his job." the blonde shrugged. "But he says if he gets a good offer from here, he'll take it. He gets homesick too."
"That's nice." Mira said softly. "I miss you guys around."
"We miss you too." Bixlow said happily, wiping fake tears.
"You don't get to talk, shut-in." Laxus glared.
"Hey! I've got a real job! With real pay! Bloggin' video games is serious business! And I freelance programming jobs and and and just 'cause I'm always free to babysit Fleur my precious cinnamon bun doesn't mean I ain't busy too and-"
"Whatever, okay, I didn't say anything." the blonde said quickly. "Forget all that, you have a good job and you miss everyone. Okay."
Bixlow quickly calmed down and went back to his phone. After a few moments of Mira just humming happily and almost nodding off to sleep, Bixlow stood up and asked if he could charge his phone somewhere. Mira sent him upstairs and told him where to find a charger.
Shortly afterwards, Freed was stirred awake, and was surprised to find Fleur dozing off on top of him. He frowned when he saw Mira and Laxus smirking at him. They didn't move however, probably because they were already too comfortable.
"Ugh, I'm so tired." Freed said, yawning as he sat up, carefully cradling Fleur in his arms so the girl doesn't wake up. "What time is it?"
"Around 2 AM." Mira answered. "Could you bring Fleur-chan upstairs?"
"Of course." Freed nodded, adjusting the child and then standing up. The girl groaned in complaint, but Freed soothed her quickly by whispering something to her ear and humming as he made his way upstairs.
"He really wanted to see her, y'know." Laxus said absently, when he was finally left alone with the barmaid lounging beside him.
"Everyone loves Fleur-chan. It's amazing." Mira chuckled. "She reminds me of Lisanna like that. Everyone's little princess."
"Yeah." the blonde mumbled. "Freed talks about 'er all the time. Y'know, 'cause Ever and Bix keep sending us pics. Then he's all excited when he and Ever shopped for some baby stuff. Wouldn't stop talkin' 'bout it, really. Almost drove me crazy."
Mira laughed. "Kids really aren't your thing, huh?"
"Nah, m'fine with 'em." Laxus shrugged. "S'just, Freed's really good with 'em and… y'know, I can tell he… he'd make a good parent."
Mira looked up to stare at her companion. "You think you're not like that?"
The man didn't answer.
"I'm just thinkin'." Laxus said this time, cutting her off. "Just thinking 'bout how to tell him that I wouldn't mind if he wanted to… look at options."
Mira gaped. "Oh my gosh. You want to...?"
Laxus nodded. "We're stable, I think… if he wants it, and I don't think I want it as much, but I also think it wouldn't be so bad, and that's as good as it gets for me so… why not, yeah? 'Bout time, gramps is gettin' kinda pushy 'bout it anyway, the old geezer."
"Laxus, this is great. You should totally tell him." Mira encouraged.
"I dunno how to break it to 'im without sounding like Bixlow on sugar." he groaned. "What, you want me to say 'Hey Freed, I think you want a kid. D'you wanna get a kid? Let's go get ourselves a kid!' like it sounds like I'm asking him what kinda puppy he wants!"
"I think he'll understand. You want to start a family, that's good! He'll be so happy." Mira said dreamily.
Laxus just sighed tiredly and looked up at the ceiling. "Yeah, he will."
Maybe they'll talk about it over breakfast the next day.
Laxus wished himself luck.
"We should go home now." he commented. "After he's done tucking Fleur to bed."
Mira was about to agree with her companion when they heard frantic footsteps from behind them.
"Mira! Laxus!" It was Freed who came first, panting as he ran downstairs. "Laxus, start the car, quick!"
The two stood up. "What's wrong?" Mira asked urgently, while Laxus fumbled for the car keys in his pocket.
"IT'S TIIIIIMMMEEEE!" Bixlow came in screaming. "BABY'S COMIN'!"
Next came Elfman, who was carrying his pregnant and complaining wife in his arms. "Nee-chan! I-.. Ever- We-"
"Oh, fuck." was all Laxus muttered, then he just rushed out the bar to get to the car.
The other ran hurriedly behind him, save for Bixlow who promised to watch over the bar and Fleur, call the grandparents and tell the others.
'So much for going home.' - Laxus thought.
Whatever. There's no way he'll miss this anyway.
Lucy convinced Loke to stay at the mansion as she and Natsu drove somewhere else. Loke made them promise to keep in touch and go home soon, either to the Heartfilia mansion or the Dragneel residence, and they rolled their eyes and promised anyway. They knew the bodyguard was just doing his job, making sure his mistress was safe, whatever it was she chose to do.
Now, an hour or so after the party, the couple sat on the roof of Lucy's car, which was parked in a grass field just beside a long, empty country road.
They just quietly stared up at the stars as they caught up with each other. Natsu told Lucy about the past few days at the Dragon, the weird customers, the wacky regulars, the fun and mishaps among the staff. Lucy told Natsu about working with Max on their proposal, said proposal getting approved and praised, spending her birthday in an orphanage with little children, then having a peaceful dinner with her father, and her finally learning that her dad didn't mind if she turned down all those suitors he redirects to her.
That last part made Natsu laugh out loud. "Jude's such a smartass! Hahaha!"
Lucy just sighed and hit him half-heartedly on the shoulder, but also couldn't help but shake her head in amusement.
Natsu was right. Her dad outsmarted her on that one.
"Really, though." Natsu said, lying on his back and staring up at the sky. "That'll be nice if you go turn all those guys down."
Lucy looked down at him and smirked. "Are you finally getting jealous?"
"Nah." he said. "Just gets annoyin' when all these people go askin' me, 'why do you let Lucy go on dates when you're already together'? S'like high school all over again, man."
"What do you tell them?" Lucy asked.
"I just tell 'em I'm not worried 'bout those fancy dudes stealin' you from me. You won't let yerself get stolen, anyway. I trust you."
Lucy laughed, then leaned down to drop a kiss on the tip of his nose. "That's sweet. You're right, I won't let myself get stolen. And for the record? Loke flirts better than all of those guys combined."
Natsu's brows furrowed. "Is that good or bad?"
The woman shrugged, then gasped lightly when she caught sight of something in the night sky. "Look, look! That's Aquarius. The water-bearer, like the one Juvia and Gray gave me. I never seem to catch it in the sky, tonight must be my lucky night."
Natsu looked at where his companion was pointing. He was weak when it came to stars and constellations, which Lucy seemed to be an expert of, but he tried. This time though, he was distracted by the mention of his friends and he said, "They're so married."
"About to get married." Lucy corrected, then smiled. "But yes, so married anyway." She sighed, pulling her knees to her chest. "Ahh, I'd pay to watch how Gray did it. Juvia's expression must've been priceless."
Natsu looked at her. He couldn't see her face from his position, but he could see the gleam of the moonlight in her hair and the silver bangles on her wrist. He raised a hand and played with the stray strands of blonde hair he could reach, and Lucy just glanced at him for a second before she returned to her stargazing.
"D'you wanna get married?"
She blinked, and surprisingly she didn't whirl around to look at him.
Natsu knew it was because she was probably blushing.
When her 'um' lasted for a full ten seconds, Natsu saw it fit to continue.
"'Cause I don't want to. Not yet, I think. But… y'know, just in case you wanna, just tell me. I won't freak out or run away. 'Cause. That's normal, right?"
Lucy nodded tentatively. "Y-Yeah… okay."
"Well, uh, I'm not sayin' I don't wanna marry you. Just wanted to tell you that I haven't really thought 'bout it yet. At all."
Lucy nodded again.
"But if you ask me who I see myself with for, like, the future and stuff… it's you. So. Uh. Is that okay for now?"
There was a pause before Lucy replied, again with a nod. "It's okay for now."
Natsu frowned slightly when she still didn't face him, even though her tone sounded fine. "Oi, Lucy. Yer scarin' me. Are 'ya sure you're okay? Or d'you wanna punch me or what?"
Lucy then looked at him, cheeks red and an amused smile on her face. "You said if I wanted to get married, I should just tell you. Does that mean you won't mind if I proposed?"
Natsu blinked. He breathed heavily before answering her. "I won't exactly mind but, uh, keep the ring simple, no fancy stones? 'Cause it'll be a hassle when I cook?"
With that, Lucy broke into a laugh and Natsu just stared at her, mouth open.
"What? WHAT?" he asked, and when she laughed even harder, he sat up. "Oi, you asked! Whatcha want me to say? And-… and s'not like I'll say 'no', I mean who says 'no' to that specially when the one askin' is so pretty-like with the unfair moonlight thingy shinin' down, seriously - an' why're you still laughin'? HEY!"
"Sorry, it's just..." Lucy tried to speak properly, stiffling her laughter. "...I didn't expect that at all."
"Y'didn't expect that I'll wanna marry you? What the heck..."
"No, I didn't expect you to consider the ring! I didn't even consider the ring!"
"Okay, that was weird, I get it, but you don't have to laugh so hard."
"I know. Sorry." Lucy chuckled one last time before she wrapped her arms around the man's arm and snuggled against him. "It's just… it's so amazing you can say stuff like that so easily."
"S'cause it's you I'm talking to, duh." Natsu teased, stealing a kiss on the blonde's cheek. "Yer just as weird as I am."
"I know." Lucy snorted, closing her eyes as she relaxed against her companion. "We're total weirdos."
They stayed like that for a good long while.
When one of them finally yawned, the other decided it was time to go home.
"So if by the time the bar closes,
and you feel like falling down...
I'll carry you home tonight."
A/N: So the book closes. That's it. That's it, really. Everyone's doing fine. I wish them luck.
Thank you. Again. If you read through this thing – from the first chapter to this epilogue. It means a lot. It's been a fun, bumpy, crazy ride and I'm glad to have shared it with y'all. Really – it's one of the greatest.
I quit my job. Figured it's finally time to look for something that suits me better. Finally decided to take my own advice from the Makarov chapter to wait up, think about my plans carefully before really going for it. Why am I saying this? Well - We Are Young was my baby during my 3 years working. It's kinda funny that I finished this just as I left my job. It's like a whole chunk of my life right there. That's how special this thing is for me.
So there – I'm signing off. I'm taking a break and working on my original novel for now. For anyone interested, I think I'll start posting the original stuff in my Wattpad account – I shared the link in my updated profile. Of course, I'll post updates in my Tumblr too. A lot of you are from Tumblr, I believe!
But I've got another AU cooking up. I'm really looking forward to working on it soon. The kids, too. I loved writing them, so I may just make more. Well that's about all of it, I guess. Thanks for the ones who reviewed, and thanks in advance if you're going to review. Love 'ya so much (screams).
You guys brighten my day, really. I hope We Are Young made you smile at least.
See you soon! Toodles!