Old and thirsty, I longed for the flood to come back around.
Lucy was exhausted. Ever since her run in with Sting, she'd been going non-stop. It sucked on the surface, but, deep down, she had to admit she was thankful for the distraction. Because of her back-to-back jobs to raise money over the past week and a half, the extra training she'd started with Capricorn, and dealing with the perceptive Mirajane and Levy, she fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow at night. It even made being around Natsu so often on jobs much more bearable. She hardly felt any awkwardness around him anymore.
So. Yes. Lucy was exhausted and currently drudging back to her apartment. This last job had taken Natsu, Happy, Gray, and her five days to finish and they had been roughing it for most of those days. The simple luxuries of her apartment were sorely missed and she was looking forward to the moment she could sink into her hot bath.
But, when she reached her apartment door, there were two figures standing just outside the door. Upon getting closer, she recognized the figures to be her dear friends Erza and Levy. The determined expressions on their faces made her slow with concern. Had they come to give her the talk? It seems her act wasn't as convincing as she had thought.
"Hey, Lucy!" Levy called brightly. "We hoped you'd be back soon. Mirajane said you guys would be returning tonight."
"How long have you two been waiting out here?" Lucy asked. Honestly, she was surprised that they hadn't broken in. She understood it with Levy, but Erza had broken in on multiple occasions, despite her protests.
"Not too long," Erza said, her face still scarily determined.
Lucy repressed the urge to shiver and unlocked her door, "Well, come in. Do you want me to get you something to drink?"
"That'd be nice," Levy said. The two of them trailed her into the kitchen and sat at her table while she busied with getting them drinks. There was a pregnant silence as she waited for them to speak their minds and they gathered the words to say.
Erza was the first to break the heavy silence, "Lucy…we wanted to talk to you."
She knew it. They really were here for the talk. She supposed it was their duty as her friends and actually she was quite touched that they would stop by and voice their concerns. But, more than anything, she dreaded having to convince them she was fine. Lucy didn't like worrying people and, though she liked having attention, she didn't want to draw it at the cost of someone else's deserved attention and happiness.
Lucy placed the cups on the table and joined them with a carefully neutral expression, "Oh yeah? About what?"
"Well, we're concerned," Levy started. She reached out to grab Lucy's hand and squeezed it softly, "How are you holding up?"
"What do you mean?" she asked, playing ignorant. She knew exactly what they meant, but if she mentioned Natsu before they did, then it would be harder to play down her heartbreak.
Erza gave her a pinning look, telling her that the ex-equip mage suspected what she was doing, "We're talking about Natsu, Lucy. You've been going on a lot of jobs with him since he and Lisanna announced their relationship to the guild."
Lucy shook her hands in front of her, "Oh, I'm not trying to steal him away or anything! Does it look like that? I'm really glad he's with Lisanna. They are a cute couple! I'm just going on a lot of jobs because I owe someone money and I need to pay it back soon."
"Owe someone money…?" Erza asked.
But, fortunately, Levy said at the same time, "No! No, Lucy we're worried about how you are feeling. It must be hard to be so close to Natsu so much."
Lucy responded to Levy, hoping that they would let Erza's question go since she didn't really want to explain the situation with Sting. That would be counterproductive to what she was trying to do. "Why would it be hard for me? I've always been on a team with Natsu and he hasn't changed just because he got a girlfriend. He's my best friend."
Levy gave her a look, "Lucy…"
"I'm fine, Levy. Honestly. Like I said, Natsu is my best friend. Seeing him happy makes me happy," she said with the biggest smile she could manage. "Don't worry so much about me. Don't worry about me at all, actually. There's nothing to be concerned about."
"You don't have to put on a brave face," Erza said. Of all of her friends, Lucy knew that Erza was the one who probably understood her pain the most. With the empathetic face the redhead was making, Lucy nearly caved. She almost broke down and fessed up to the thorn lodged in her heart. But, she stopped at the last minute, biting her tongue against the confession trying to slip out.
"Natsu and I are just friends. We've never been anything more than that, and I never wanted to be anything more than that." Ouch. That was a painful lie. "I can't mourn something that never existed, can I? Something that I never thought about?"
Levy and Erza listened with sad expressions. They seemed to be on the edge of being convinced.
"Please, don't worry about me anymore. I don't like seeing you two look so sad, especially when there is nothing to be sad about. You should be happy," Lucy said. After all, they had been friends with Lisanna longer than with her, hadn't they?
Finally, they nodded and the conversation turned to other things. They talked about little Asuka and shopping and the last book that Levy and Lucy had read. When their drinks were finished, they stood up.
"We're sorry for making you feel bad," Levy said.
Lucy shrugged her shoulders and led them to the door, "No, I'm sorry for making you worry."
"Good night, Lucy," they said. The air outside felt heavy, like it might rain soon, serving only to add to the tension.
"Good night, Levy. Erza," she said, standing in the doorway and watching them until they were some distance down the road before shutting the door. She heaved a big sigh.
"That was a close one."
She left the cups, deciding she would deal with them in the morning, and trudged to her bedroom. She decided to leave bathing until the morning, too. She just wanted to sleep now.
Lucy was in bed for about five minutes when there was a tapping on her window. What was Natsu doing here? He didn't normally knock…she couldn't remember him ever knocking on the window. Forcing herself to climb out of the comfort of the bed, she went to the window.
"Oh, it's you," she said, opening the window for her visitor. "Do all dragon slayers come through the window?"
"Were you crying, Abyssinian?"
She stepped back, touching her cheek just below the eye, "What? No? And, Abyssinian, really?"
He hopped down into the room and made himself at home on her bed, "What's with that face, then?"
"What do you mean? It's just my face," Lucy's eyebrows bunched together. Was she that obviously upset that even Sting noticed?
"Whatever, I don't really care," he said. "I thought those two were never going to leave. I've been waiting for forever. You had better be ready to pay me back."
"Oh, yeah," Lucy said. It had taken her longer than it should have, with Natsu and the rest of her team's destructive tendencies and having to pay for rent and food, but she had managed to save enough to mostly pay him back. She rummaged through her drawers for the envelope holding the jewels, but froze when she suddenly felt his chest against her back. When had he gotten up? What was he doing?
His arms came up around her and he braced them against the dresser top, leaning into her from behind. She felt dizzily lightheaded like when she had drank with him, "W-what are you d-doing?"
"I told you, I'm here for what you owe. I told you I would buy you a drink if you gave me a kiss. But, I paid for a lot more than that, didn't I?" he asked. His breath and lips against her ear made her shiver. She didn't know what to do. She had never been close to a guy like this before and she was scared out of her mind.
"I-I…I saved up jewels…to pay you back…I didn't…we didn't agree on something…like this," she said. It was hard to think. She knew that she should push him away, but her arms didn't want to work. His fingers touched the point where her neck and head connected and ghosted down. Her face was so hot with embarrassment and something else, she thought she was going to die. "S-Sting…"
"Don't worry," he whispered in her ear. "You're a Fairy. I don't want you."
Then, he stepped back, leaving her feeling conflicted. She was relieved that he didn't do anything to her, but pissed that he'd insulted her. Didn't want her? As if she wanted him to want her! Wheeling around, she shoved the envelope package at him, "Don't do that, you creep! You keep saying you don't like Fairies, but you kissed me! And, what was that just about!?"
The infuriating dragon slayer doubled over with laughter, "Man, your face is so red! It's so easy to rile you up."
Lucy turned her face towards the wall, her feelings in a tumult. She couldn't remember ever being so embarrassed in her life, "You're a jerk."
She heard him laugh some more and then open the envelope. She remained quiet and facing the wall, struggling to regain her composure.
"Uhm," he said. She turned to him when his voice moved closer, afraid that he would try another stunt like a moment ago, "This isn't the amount that we agreed on."
She held her hands up in between them, "I know, I know! I tried to save up as much as I could as quickly as I could…but, I saved up most of it!"
He sighed, "Fine. I suppose I'll have to forgive the rest of the amount."
"For…forgive?" Lucy repeated, wondering if she'd heard him right. Since when did Sabertooth members forgive people?
"Yeah," he said, heading back to her bed and plopping down again. "I'll forgive the rest since it's not that much, but you have to let me crash here for tonight."
"Crash here? Why don't you just get a hotel?" Lucy asked. She would rather still owe him money than let him sleep in her home. "And, get off of my bed! What kind of creep are you?"
"What kind of creep are you? I can smell the Salamander on this bed. Is that why you're crying so much about him?" Sting asked, not moving from the bed.
Lucy was speechless. Well, that answered her question of whether he had heard her that night. She couldn't believe that he would insinuate that sort of thing about her. Or, that he was using her heartbreak to insult her.
She stood up slowly after several moments and tried to keep her voice steady when she asked, "Would you like something to drink?"
He sat up and stared after her, "Yeah."
"Okay, I'll get you something," she ducked her head and avoided looking at him as she made her way to the kitchen. For some embarrassing reason, she felt like crying. Biting her lip, she opened her fridge and looked for something to get him. What did he even like?
"You have any milk?"
His voice made her jump. She nodded and grabbed the jug. Of course he followed her into the kitchen. She should know that he would do whatever was the most annoying. What she didn't want him to do.
"You didn't clean up after your friends left?" he surprised her by grabbing the glasses off the table and putting them in the sink for her. She pointed at the cupboard behind his head and he turned and grabbed out two glasses.
It seemed he felt bad. Lucy carefully poured milk into the glasses and returned the milk to the fridge, keeping quiet the whole time. She didn't know what to say. Could it be possible that he actually was sorry for saying something so hurtful?
There was a heavy silence as they both sat there. Sting glared at his cup and then glared up at her. Startling her with his sudden anger, he slapped his palm against the table and shouted, "Stop it!"
"Stop what!? What's your problem?" she asked, half standing and bewildered.
"Acting this way! It's pissing me off!" he continued to shout.
She sat back down in the seat and took a deep breath, "You mean to say…that you act like a big jerk and then get mad at me for not acting the way you want me to act?"
"Yeah. I didn't ask you to follow me or borrow money from me. It's enough that I had to wait for you to pay me back, I don't have to deal with your annoying behavior," he crossed his arms, his volume returning to normal.
"Fine. I'm sorry. I'm not mad or offended or anything," she said, taking a big drink of her milk.
"You're not very convincing," he crossed his arms.
She rolled her eyes at his immaturity. He was the one who spoke without tact, but she was the bad guy for making him feel guilty. She peeked at him from the corners of her eyes, wanting to study him without him noticing. It had started raining outside and he tilted his head up towards the ceiling when the sound of rain hitting the roof echoed in the room, the muscles in his throat stretching. He was a jerk, but apparently he was susceptible to guilt. Sting seemed more human every time they met.
Shaking her head, Lucy stood and went to close the window in the bedroom, reminded that it was open from the smell of rain and wet earth wafting into the kitchen. She stood in front of the window for several minutes, inhaling the fresh scent and feeling the refreshing feeling of the rain on her arms. Suddenly, she had the childish urge to run out into the rain.
She shut the window and, too full of playful energy to be embarrassed, she rushed back into the kitchen to cajole Sting into joining her outside. One of the best things about Natsu is that he would have readily accepted the invitation, his eyes excited at the idea of playing with his best friend in such a carefree way. But, Sting dragged his feet, muttering questions about her age as she pulled him along behind her.
"Is this convincing?" she asked, laughing as she stepped out from under the eave over the apartment door and into the rain. Even though it was night and the temperature had cooled considerably, it was summer and there was still enough warmth for the coolness of the rain to be enjoyable. She jumped in the puddles and laughed again.
Kicking water from a puddle at Sting, she said, "Come on! I feel like an idiot with you just standing there."
Dodging away from the water, he replied, "You are an idiot."
But, Lucy didn't care. She whirled around in the water and was reminded of being young and getting reprimanded for playing in the rain. Maybe it was because it was something she wasn't supposed to do, but she felt very alive and defiant at the moment. She spent too much of her life doing what she was supposed to or expected to do.
"And, you're a killjoy," she said. Flicking her wet fingers at his face, she leaned in towards him and said, "This is what it means to be a Fairy. Enjoying life and not caring what people think of you. Master always tells us to do what we feel is right. I guess you wouldn't understand that as a Sabertooth."
He scowled and stepped out in the rain as well, kicking a puddle back at her in revenge, "I don't see how this is fun."
"You wouldn't," she called, realizing that this type of superior teasing provoked him. He scowled again and sent another splash her way. She laughed and danced away.
He continued to chase her, determined to get her and they got closer and closer to the canal running in front of her apartment. Smirking in an arrogant way, he roared into the water of the canal, sending up a huge splash that washed over her and soaked her to the bone. She glared at him, tempted to call out Aquarius, but lost her anger when she saw that he had gotten hit by his attack too and was dripping wet.
There was a streak of lightning and then thunder boomed around them so suddenly and loudly that Lucy startled violently and lost her balance. Slipping into the canal, she found that the water rushing over the cement stones was colder and darker than the rain.
She felt awake and, swimming up to resurface, she had an epiphany. It was almost like a religious experience and she felt an invigorated jolt at the realization. Happiness wasn't something you got from someone. It was something you made for yourself. She considered how happy she had felt when she joined Fairy Tail. That hadn't been Natsu giving her happiness, but her taking happiness from life.
Lucy had always viewed it as Natsu saving her, but hadn't she saved herself? Hadn't she left the depressed rut of a life she'd been living and sought out happiness for herself? She broke the surface with an elated shout.
Why should she be upset that Natsu was in a relationship with Lisanna? They were pursuing their happiness while she was wallowing in her unhappiness by not moving on. She loved him and that was enough. It didn't matter that Natsu didn't love her in the same way. She just had to keep making her own happiness in life. It wasn't like she was the first person to suffer from unrequited love.
Climbing shakily out of the water, some of the energy left her. She felt tired and frozen, but the determination from her epiphany hadn't faded. She would stop seeking happiness in others. She looked towards Sting and found him staring at her with an indecipherable expression.
"You're the strangest person I've ever met," he said when their eyes met.
"You have to admit it though," they started making their way back into her apartment now that the lightning had made it dangerous to be out in the rain, "it's great to be alive."
He didn't answer, scratching at his skin. Once the fun of playing in the rain had worn off, all was left was the uncomfortableness of clinging wet clothes and the itchiness of rain irritated skin.
"Just being alive is beautiful," she continued. "It makes all the pain and suffering worth it."
Sting scoffed, "Damn, Fairies are preachy."
(Running in the rain is fun isn't it?)