By Neko Erza
Days went by.
Days turned into weeks.
And weeks turned into months.
It had been about a month and a half since they were taken prisoner.
Levi still beat herself up over the fact that she was here, getting food and warmth, while her friends were rotting in jail. In all that time she wasn't able to come up with a plan to escape and she was slowly losing hope that the rest of Fairy Tail would ever find them. How would they even begin to look for them? They must know something was up by now, but still they probably didn't know Phantom Lord had taken them. Even if they did, Phantom was one of the best hidden guilds of the country. Many guilds had tried taking them down, but all failed.
Next to that misery, Levi also had a rough time trying to push away the horrific memories of Gray's ripped flesh, Loke's tired eyes, the guard trying to rape her and not knowing what state Jet and Droy were in.
But somehow, the dragon slayer managed to take her mind off of those things at times. Whenever she was feeling really bad and was on the verge of crying, he'd start teasing her, even making her laugh genuinely at some times. His presence had become a soothing factor and he was starting to feel more and more like a friend. He was actually very fun to spend time with, although he could be crude and tactless at times.
He seemed to be one of the only people here with a shred of conscience.
Gajeel made her time here bearable, so when he told her he was leaving for a mission, she was actually a bit let down. She would no longer have a distraction to keep her mind off of things.
"How long will the mission last?" Levi asked, trying to sound casual while she was silently hoping it would only take a day or two.
"Dunno, a week? Two, maybe more." Gajeel grumbled as he shrugged his shoulders. "I haven't been on a mission since you were brought here."
Definitely not the answer she was hoping for. The dragon slayer noticed the frown that formed on the little bluenette's face and grinned. "What? Can't go that long without me, shrimp?"
"What? Of course I can!" She yelled angrily, a blush creeping up her face. She quickly made up a reason. "It's just, if you don't even know yourself how long it will take, what if it takes way longer and I run out of food?"
The raven cocked an eyebrow at the explanation, because he was quite sure that wasn't the true reason. The girl just stared back at him angrily, the blush still faintly on her cheeks.
"What?" She bit as she caught his gaze.
Gajeel grinned. "You're a bad liar, shrimp." He leaned towards her, levelling his face with hers. "If you can't get enough of me, you can just say so."
Heat rose to her cheeks again and she took a step back, away from the man, which made him snicker. She just crossed her arms stubbornly and replied, "I just don't like being alone, that's all. Even your company is better than nobody."
"Gee, I'm flattered." Gajeel mumbled sarcastically. "When Juvia's here she'll check up on you and if she isn't, her teammate will check up. Apparently we can trust him too."
Levi didn't really trust the word 'apparently' in that sentence. "Okay... Juvia has always been nice to me so I'm glad to see her again." The water mage had visited at least once a week and she was truly nice to her. She just couldn't believe a person as sweet and kind as her was in a guild that did such terrible things. Levi focused back on the dragon slayer. "What kind of mission is it you're going on anyway?"
Since Phantom Lord was a dark guild, its 'missions' never really had a legal character. So a mission that was given to someone like Gajeel, one of the elite of the guild, would be something pretty big.
"Don't break your pretty little head over that." Was all the slayer said. His lack of explanation could only mean it was anything but good, otherwise he would tell.
"Shrimp, don't start. It's none of your business."
"Fine." She said a little harsher than she meant to, so she quickly covered it up by asking, "When are you leaving?"
"Today, my things are already packed, just waiting for Juvia to drop by."
A few weeks earlier
"What do you mean, they haven't come back yet?" Cana asked surprised. She stared at the girl incredulously. "None of them? Neither Loke, Gray or team Shadow Gear?"
"No, why?" Mira asked surprised, a worried expression forming on her face. "Now that you mention it... Their missions are taking way longer than expected..."
"I ran into them about two weeks ago, they were ready to board a train to come back to Fairy Tail. They should have been back here for ages." Cana explained. She hadn't seen any of them in the few days since she got back, yet it hadn't really bothered her. "I just thought they had already left for another mission."
Lucy walked over to the two women, having picked up what they were talking about. "I already thought it was weird they weren't back yet. Loke told me his and Gray's mission wouldn't take this long, because he'd be too worn out from being in the human world for such an extended period of time. And..." She grabbed her key to the gate of the Lion. "I've been having a bad feeling for some time."
Mirajane looked at the key in her hand. "What do you mean?"
"It's pretty hard to explain. Loke's key... it feels heavier than it usually does. I can feel it bite into my skin when I touch it."
"Have you tried opening his gate?" Cana asked.
"I've wanted to many times, but I didn't since if they were still on the mission, I would be taking Gray's partner away and I didn't want to risk leaving him in some battle alone. I told myself to wait a little longer, if they weren't back then, I'd call him and open his gate."
"Where the hell can they be?" Cana wondered out loud.
"I'm really worried now. Lucy, maybe you should call Loke now, Cana said they were done with their mission." Mira told the blonde.
Lucy nodded and grabbed a better hold of the golden key. She was happy she could finally call him out, so she could get rid of this worry. "Open gate of the Lion! Loke!"
The key glowed a bright golden light for a second but then it immediately died down. Lucy looked around confused, searching for her spirit. "Where is he?" She mumbled confused before raising the key again. "Open gate of the Lion! Loke!"
Again the key just glowed golden for a moment, then extinguished without anything else happening. Normally he would be flinging compliments to her head by now.
"Why isn't he here?" Mira asked worried.
"It means that he's still in the Human World." Lucy explained. "So I can't call him out of the Spirit Realm. Normally he should have felt me calling for him and returned back to his world, but he wasn't there the second time I called him either."
"I have a bad feeling about this." Cana mumbled as she pushed her beer away. Suddenly she didn't feel like drinking anymore.
Lucy nodded in agreement. "I'll force close his gate, then I'll be able to call him out." She raised the key once more. "Force Close Gate of the Lion!"
The celestial mage stood there for a few seconds with a disgruntled look on her face, then the key of the Lion slipped out of her hand and fell to the floor with a heavy thud.
"What's wrong?" Mira and Cana asked in unison.
Lucy looked up at them with eyes filled with worry. "I can't close his gate."
The three women were left startled. Something was definitely wrong.
"We need to inform the master."
Levi looked up when there sounded a knock on the door. Gajeel slouched over to it and unlocked the heavy locks.
"Juvia." Gajeel nodded as a greeting when the blue haired woman stepped into the room.
"Juvia is here to say goodbye to Gajeel and check up on how Levi-san is doing." The bluenette smiled. She waved at Levi, who returned the greeting with a warm smile. She was really happy to see another friendly face.
"Yeah, I know that already." Gajeel said rolling his eyes.
"Juvia was talking to Levi-san, Gajeel-kun." Juvia said as she walked over to the smaller bluenette.
"Gee, sorry." The slayer growled sarcastically.
"Juvia does have some bad news too. She also has to leave on a mission in a few days, so she won't be able to check on Levi-san then."
"You arranged something with your element four buddy, didn't you?" Gajeel asked.
"Yes, Totomaru-kun will check every few days, still Juvia would rather check on Levi herself."
"He better be thrustworthy, otherwise I'll smash his skull."
"Gajeel-kun doesn't have to be so violent all the time." The water mage reprimanded. "Totomaru-kun knows he has to keep it silent." She turned back to Levi. "Juvia does have some good news too; she can spend all day with Levi!"
"That's great, Juvia!" The little bluenette said with sincere enthusiasm. Although she got along pretty well with the dragon slayer, she was looking forward to spending some time with another girl. She just wanted to chat about all kind of things, which she couldn't do with the iron mage. He just wasn't the chatterbox-type.
"If you two are done blabbering, I'll take my leave now." Gajeel said as he grabbed the backpack he had packed earlier. Before he left, he turned around to the two women. "Shrimp; don't do anything stupid like trying to escape. There won't be anyone who'll come and save your ass again, understood?"
The girl nodded. "Yes, yes, I know. You told me a million times already."
"Because I want to make sure you get it in your stubborn little head. You Fairy Tail mages should try to listen sometime." The iron dragon slayer told her. This girl sure was feisty! He turned to the water mage. "Juvia, don't make it that she's even more spoiled than she already is by the time I come back."
"Juvia doesn't think Levi-san is spoiled." Was the only thing she answered as she waved the comment away.
The slayer rolled his eyes and turned to leave, while mumbling. "Damn women, always sticking together."
After a last 'see you when I get back' the door slammed closed and the two women were alone.
Juvia turned to Levi with a sad smile. She didn't like bringing this up, yet she felt it was important to let the little bluenette know she was here to help. "How is Levi-san doing? Juvia is so sorry and she understands it must be... hard to forget."
"I... I'm fine." The script mage said not really convincing. Of course the Blue haired woman knew about what happened with the guard in the dungeon. She had tended to her and been a great support. It was good to have someone to talk about it to, yet it still didn't make it easy. She wanted to close this subject as soon as possible. "Gajeel saved me in time, nothing really happened."
"Too much happened." Juvia laid her hand on Levi's. "If you need someone to talk to, Juvia will always be here to listen." The water mage smiled encouragingly.
"Thank you, Juvia. I really appreciate it." She really was grateful that the woman wanted to help her this much. So she felt like she was taking advantage of what she was about to ask, yet she had to know. She had wanted to ask many times already, but she never did until now. "Actually… I want to ask you something... since Gajeel won't answer it."
"Oh, then Juvia doesn't know if she should answer either." The tall bluenette said uncertain.
"I really need to know." Levi pleaded.
Juvia considered whether or not she should, then let out a sigh. "Okay, you can ask."
"How are my friends doing? Gajeel won't tell me because he says it will only upset me more, so it can't be good, but I want to know how they are. It's been over a month since I've seen them, that day in the dungeon… Back then when I saw them, they were already in a really horrible condition... I want to know how they are now."
Juvia looked at the bluenette and pitied her and her friends. Even though they weren't from the same guild, they definitely didn't deserve this. They were good people. "Juvia thinks Gajeel-kun is right in not telling."
"Please Juvia, you said you'd answer." Levi said, tears forming in her eyes.
"Your friends... two of them are in pretty good condition, since the guild is letting them work. They are exhausted most of the time, but in pretty good shape. The two you found in the dungeon... Juvia heard they got punished pretty bad after Levi-san's attempted escape..."
"N-no..." Tears now really poured down the girl's face. "Why them? I was the one to escape, not them!"
"That guard that tried to..." Juvia stopped, not getting the words over her lips. "He wanted to get revenge for what Gajeel did to him because of you... Since he knew he couldn't get to you, he took it out on your friends."
"They were already so beaten up... Loke, he..." Levi burst into sobs.
"Please don't cry, Levi-san. Juvia doesn't know why, but the master told the guards to keep them alive. They know better than to ignore his commands." She patted the girl's shoulder awkwardly, not knowing what else to do.
"I saw them, that can barely be called 'keeping them alive'. They are torturing them and they are starving." Levi cried.
"Juvia is so sorry..."
The small bluenette gave a weak smile. "It's not your fault. I'm just so worried about them... But... I'm happy at least Jet and Droy are safe. Although it's a lesser of two evils. Loke and Gray are still treated like vermin."
"If it is any consolation... Juvia has been bringing them food... when the guards aren't around. Juvia knows their routine. Between shifts it takes a couple of minutes before the cells are guarded again."
"You did?" Levi asked surprised. Unexpectedly, she threw her arms around the water mage. "Thank you so much, Juvia."
"Juvia doesn't like to see people treated like that. The extra food has given them more strength so they can keep on going. They are fighters."
Levi looked at the water mage for a while, then asked, "Why are you in this guild?"
The woman blinked in confusion at the sudden question. "What does Levi mean?"
"You're just so different than the other Phantom members. You're gentle and friendly. You have a good heart and yet... you're in a guild that does such awful things."
Juvia gave her a small smile. "Juvia has been here most of her life." Her expression turned sad. "Nobody wanted to be near Juvia when she was a kid, but then one day Phantom took her in. Suddenly Juvia had a place where people didn't run away from her, but respected her. Where her magic is appreciated and not despised."
"But are you really happy here?"
"Happy?" The woman asked as if the word startled her. Then she nodded hesitantly. "Juvia is... respected. That makes her... happy."
"That doesn't sound like the kind of happy a guild should give you. A guild should be a place you can call home, where you are surrounded by friends and loved ones. Not only a place where they just respect you. A bond needs more than that."
The water mage let those words sink in. She knew she was respected by everyone in the guild because of her power; but except for Gajeel and Totomaru, nobody considered her a friend.
She didn't want to see it but… She was still the rain woman; to be respected, but not approached. She knew that in her heart, yet it was hard to face it.
She looked up at Levi. "Is your guild really like that? Is Fairy Tail a place you can call home?"
Levi smiled and nodded. "It's been my home for many years now, from the moment I first stepped inside I felt people cared for me. Not because I was strong or something like that, because I'm really not, but they care for me because of... me. Everyone in Fairy Tail is nakama, we fight for each other and protect each other and we will never give up."
"That... sounds wonderful." Juvia whispered as a single tear rolled over her face. When she felt the tiny droplet she quickly wiped it away. "J-juvia is raining from her eyes."
Levi had to smile at that. "That's what I think a guild should be. I wish you would have ended up at Fairy Tail when you were a kid, you'd fit in perfectly."
"Fairy Tail sure sounds nice." She smiled at Levi. "And its members sure are something. Juvia never saw people who are so dedicated to each other. Like your friend in the dungeon... He was willing to take on the other's punishment, just to spare him. That was very courageous." A small blush formed on her cheeks.
"Yeah, Gray has taken it upon himself to keep Loke alive in this world..."
"His- his name is Gray-sama?" Juvia said, the blush on her cheeks intensifying. "He never wanted to tell me his name, the times I brought them food."
"Sama?" Levi said confused, then she saw the red on the woman's cheek and a big smile spread over her face as it dawned on her. "You fancy him! You like Gray!"
"W-what? Of course not!" Juvia denied quickly, but the crimson on her face said otherwise. Then she silently added, "But Juvia would like him to stop distrusting her."
"He doesn't know you, that's all." Levi smiled, then added, "And to be honest he can be quite grumpy at times. Sometimes I think his frown is gonna become permanent. Especially when Natsu's around. They are constantly fighting."
"Natsu? Isn't that Fairy Tail's dragon slayer?" The water mage recalled.
"You just said he and Gray-sama fight all the time, but earlier you said everybody in your guild are nakama."
To her surprise, the script mage laughed. "We are, but fighting in Fairy Tail is just one of our ways to show we care. Gray and Natsu... those two might claim to hate the other, but actually they'd do anything for each other. I actually think those two have one of the strongest bonds within the guild."
"Fairy Tail really sounds nice, but also somewhat strange." Juvia chuckled.
"You might be right there."
Juvia smiled. "So... how has Gajeel-kun been treating you? To be honest... I didn't expect him to have you stick around for this long. He really seems to have taken an interest in you." A playful smile appeared around the woman's lips. "But then again Levi-san is completely the type Gajeel-kun likes; he's always had a thing for small woman."
Now it was Levi's turn to blush. "W-what do you mean with 'interest'?"
"Oh no, no. Levi-san doesn't need to worry about Gajeel-kun doing something you don't want. He might have done some... bad things, but he'd never mistreat a woman like that."
Levi smiled, "Yes, I know, otherwise he'd probably have done it already... He really is different than the stories tell."
"He might be quite savage, deep down he can really be a great guy. There are just very few people who get to see it."
The next few days Juvia dropped by occasionally to keep Levi company and keep her updated about the other Fairy Tail prisoners. She was still busy trying to bring them more food every time she got the chance.
The water mage really made Levi's time here at least a little bit better. It was nice to talk about random stuff and forget the misery she was in for a moment. And it was funny to hear Juvia trying to casually ask about Gray. Her face would go crimson red and she'd start stuttering, and it somehow reminded Levi a bit of Lucy when someone said something embarrassing to her in the guild.
Although those times with Juvia were really fun, after she left it always made Levi miss Fairy Tail even more. After spending the day with the rain woman, the silence of her prison cell only pushed down heavier. She missed discussing Lucy's novel and she missed Mirajane's sweet laugh. She even missed Cana's drunk blabbering.
Then when Juvia had to leave for her mission too, she didn't seem to get used to the silence. She wandered around the house, looking for something to keep her busy, but after rearranging the cupboards for the tenth time, she was really lost.
About a week after the dragon slayer left and two days after Juvia, she was reading one of the books she found when she heard the locks open. She jumped off the couch anxiously. It could neither be Gajeel nor Juvia, they wouldn't be back this soon.
The door opened and a young man with black and white hair stepped in.
"I'm Totomaru." He gave Levi a look, then threw a bag on the table.
He was definitely different than Juvia's company. He gave her an uncomfortable feeling.
"You've been causing quite a storm in the guild, Fairy girl." He said looking at her. "The men still can't shut up about your little show on the first day. They really hate the fact that Kurogane is your 'master' now."
"I..." Levi really didn't want to think about what had happened that first day. And what was up with this guy anyway?
"If only they knew he was letting it all go to waste." The young man sighed as he looked around the apartment.
Now Levi was getting irritated. She didn't like his attitude one bit. "'Go to waste?' What, for not raping me?"
To her surprise though, the man smiled. "I heard you were quite temperamental. Gajeel must have seen something in you after all." He eyed her from head to toe. "Personally, I don't really get all the fuss. I mean, both Juvia and Gajeel risking their position over you? Juvia is even feeding your little friends in the dungeon."
Levi didn't know how to respond to that. Juvia and Gajeel were indeed risking a lot and for what actually? They didn't have to. They didn't even know her when they took her in.
Totomaru looked at the girl for a few more moments. Was this girl really worth all the fuss and potential danger? He had rather stayed out of this whole mess, but he couldn't just ignore Juvia's plea for help. She was his teammate after all. Actually she was the only teammate he cared for. The other Element Four were just two idiots.
He sighed and nodded to the bag he had thrown on the table; "Food."
"Thank you." Levi whispered.
The Phantom Mage turned to leave again, but before he left Levi asked, "You're... You're not going to tell anyone, are you? About Juvia bringing food to my friends and Gajeel not... treating me as everyone expects him to."
"If I were, I wouldn't be here. As soon as Juvia told me and I didn't immediately go to the master, I became just as guilty." The young man explained. "Next to that, I promised Juvia and I'm not going to betray her trust." He looked at her one last time and slightly shook his head, then turned around and pulled the door open. "I'm not here to chat. Just behave yourself, Fairy. Please don't make me regret this."
The locks clicked close again, locking Levi back in her golden cage.
The days went by slowly. Totomaru was the only one Levi saw during this time, but being around him always left her with a guilty feeling. He barely said anything and he never stayed very long. He did the necessary, bring food, and was gone again.
A week passed since Gajeel left, and then a second, but the man still hadn't returned.
Maybe something went wrong.
Every once in a while that thought came to mind and somehow that gave her a very bad feeling and it made her realize something. She didn't like to admit it, but she was really starting to miss the dragon slayer. She convinced herself she just felt like that because she was lonely and missed all of her friends. Even the slayer's gruff personality was way better than being alone like this. And if she had to be completely honest, she had grown quite fond of him.
He wasn't like the stories at all. He was nice to her, although he called her 'shrimp' and joked about her all the time, but it was in a friendly way, not a degrading one. He also managed to take her thoughts off all the bad things that happened in this guild.
The house did feel very empty without him. Though it hadn't been that long, during the time she lived with him, she really got used to his nicknames and teasing.
It had been two and a half weeks since he left, over two months since they had been locked up here. Their friends had to be searching for them. But how did they even know where to start?
Levi still lay brooding on the couch when she heard stumbling in the hallway. She sat up straight when she heard it coming towards Gajeel's house.
The doors clicked open and someone entered the house.
"Gajeel!" Levi yelled when she saw the dragon slayer enter. He was hunched over and his hand was clamped over a heavily bleeding wound on his upper arm.
"Shrimp." He kicked the door shut. "Get some bandages, will ya?"
"What the hell happened?" She asked as she let the man to the kitchen.
"You're gonna be thrilled." The man grumbled as he took a quick look at the big wound. His whole arm was red from the seeping blood. "I ran into one of your little friends."
"What do you mean? Who?" The girl asked confused, while she grabbed a cloth and pressed it against a bleeding wound.
The red eyes locked with hers. "Salamander."
End of chapter 9