Hello! I hope that your excitement for this chapter kept you hooked long enough to wait for this chapter. I really think that the story is coming together nicely, and with it we come toward the end. So sit back and enjoy!
Warning: This chapter contains a little bit of uncomfortable stuff…the squeamish need not read
Disclaimer: See all these characters? Yeah…not mine…
Chapter Eleven: Past Scars, Present Feelings
"Natsu destroyed your room?" Levy's shocked features only deepened when Lucy nodded, scrubbing the inside of the bar's fridge. The bar was pretty busy, but Mira and Kinana were taking care of the customers easily. It gave Lucy time to detail clean, something she had been desperate to do since the Fourth of July celebrations. Levy was keeping her company near the empty side of the bar, most of the older patrons being awed by Mira's beautiful smile. Swishing the bright green straw in her drink, Levy leaned her arms on the bar and tilted her head. "Do you know why?"
"No, but I know he was up to something! Natsu likes to sneak in my apartment, but this time was completely different. When I caught him, he acted like he was doing something wrong and made some lame excuse to leave. By the time I got into my room, and saw what he did, Natsu was gone. I tracked him down and demanded to know what he was looking for, but now he's pretending that he was never even in my apartment. Like I saw a hallucination or something!"
"That's weird, even for Natsu. Maybe this whole date thing is driving him crazy." After Natsu and Lucy had parted ways that night, Lucy was unable to stop her fingers from calling Levy. Her best friend was pleasantly shocked, giving congrats through the phone. Lucy swore the librarian to secrecy, which she knew Levy wouldn't break.
"That doesn't make any sense; he went on a date with Lisanna remember? He didn't feel the need to vandalize my room back then."
"Maybe he just likes you more," Levy teased, Lucy rolling her eyes while blushing.
"That's not funny."
"Come on, Lu-chan! Doesn't this date kind of prove there's something more than friendship between you two?" Lucy didn't want to admit Levy was right, especially when she wasn't sure herself. Natsu had asked her out, but not once did he express feelings for her. What if she read the whole situation wrong? Could she handle that let down? Lucy ignored her insecure thoughts to toss the dirtied rag into the trash. She pushed back up to her feet, a sigh of accomplishment passing through her lips when seeing the pristine fridge.
"Well, that's one task off the check-list! What should I clean next?" Lucy looked over to Levy, though her attention seemed to be quickly drawn to something behind the short girl. Lucy's smile was a mile wide as she stared across the bar, watching two people across the bar. Levy swiveled her stool around, continuing to sip on her Mai Tai. It was Saturday, meaning the librarian could drink without worrying about waking up early the next day. "So it finally happened."
"What happened?" Levy asked, trying to find Lucy's point of interest.
"Elfman and Evergreen." Hazel eyes narrowed in on the couple, frowning in confusion when nothing unusual stuck out. The two were in their normal fight, neither seeming to back down. Elfman had started his rant about 'being a man', while Evergreen tuned him out completely. The bar members around them laughed at the two, like they did every day. It was an ordinary scene.
"Not to say you're losing it, but I don't see what's different with them."
"They're holding hands." Lucy's explanation directed Levy's gaze to the pair's hands, surprised to find that Lucy was right. In the middle of the bar, without embarrassment, their fingers were tightly laced in a way that couldn't be accidental. It might have been hard for other bar members to see, but the angle the two girls had gave them a clear view. Levy glanced back to Lucy, who seemed almost relieved by the revelation. "Elfman and Evergreen were the first two I ever helped pair up. Evergreen came to a few matchmaking sessions, but got mad when I suggested that she already had a guy in mind and stormed out. I thought I might have pushed her away from Elfman, especially since I hadn't seen them together at the guild for a while. I guess the Scorpio in Evergreen just needed some time to accept her feelings for Elfman."
"You really think they're compatible? They seem to be just as violent as they were when they weren't together."
"But isn't that the best part about being in love? Being able to be yourself and not change for the one you're with?" When she realized Levy was waiting for a deeper explanation, Lucy glanced out the window at the darkened sky. "Evergreen has always been loud and bossy, and Elfman's not the most subtle guy around. If they had dated a non-confrontational partner, they would lose a part of their personalities to try and placate their lover. Being with each other allows them to pound their chests without fear of being left for their abrasiveness. "
"So long as they don't end up in a fist fight," Levy said, giggling at her own joke.
"You know, you and Gajeel aren't that far off. You two sure make it a habit to bicker with each other anytime you're together." At Lucy's observation, Levy sighed and sipped her drink.
"It's not like I mean to; he just gets me so mad. Like he enjoys seeing me all flustered or something. He always complains about bringing me home, but I never asked him to in the first place."
"Then there's got to be a reason why he keeps doing it, right?"
"What do you mean?" Levy asked, Lucy shrugging before cleaning under the beer taps.
"Gajeel's the type of guy who wouldn't do something if he didn't want to unless he deemed it necessary. So either he's lying about not wanting to bring you home, or he's got something he's not telling you about."
"But what is it then?"
"That's something you'd have to ask Gajeel yourself." The sentence stuck with Levy for the rest of the night. No matter how many conversations the girls had, Levy couldn't stop herself from wondering if what Lucy said was true. Was Gajeel hiding more than she originally thought? Or was she just thinking into the situation too much? Levy wasn't sure, and Lucy seemed to be no help. Anytime she tried to ask her friend, Lucy would be dragged away by one of her clients. The moon flung itself across the skyline, hours melting away without Levy noticing. The quiet girl soon found herself being lifted off the stool she was sitting in, Gajeel's voice shaking her from her dream-like state.
"You ready to go, or you planning on sleeping here tonight?"
"Huh? Oh, no! I was just waiting for Lucy—"
"Lucy just told us she's meeting Erza and Natsu here; the two ran an errand for Makarov earlier. They won't be back for another half hour or so, so she offered to lock up."
"Sh-she did?" Levy felt herself flush when he nodded, not realizing how dazed she had been. "I guess I didn't notice."
"No kidding, shrimp. Now let's go." He gave her a push toward the door, Gajeel shoving a set of keys into his pocket. It only took her a moment to realize they were a set to Fairy Tail's doors.
"You have your own keys now?" Levy asked, slightly surprised at the trust Makarov put into Gajeel. The tall man nodded while walking toward Levy's apartment.
"Ever since I got stuck walking you home, Mira suggested I have my own set of keys. Not sure how one affects the other, but the woman seems to have faith I won't abuse the power."
"Yeah, stuck…" Levy said, slowing her pace enough for Gajeel to notice.
"What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing!" Levy shook her head, picking her speed up enough to pass Gajeel. His eyebrow rose, his disbelief evident in his tone.
"It's just that…you never told me why you walked me home that first night," Levy said, walking backwards while she smiled up to Gajeel. He glanced over her shoulder, ensuring she wouldn't walk into someone during their conversation.
"You still thinking about that, shrimp?" She nodded her head quickly, ignoring his nickname for her. By now, she had accepted the insult as a pet name.
"It's been bugging me since Jet and Droy came back. Even though they offered to start taking me home again, you never really stopped waiting for me. I've always wanted to know why."
"First off, those two bozos couldn't bust a grape in a fruit fight." His blunt answer had Levy trying to scowl even as laughter started to fill her stomach. Though she knew Jet and Droy meant well, Gajeel wasn't too far off. They were lovers, not fighters. It made them great friends, but horrible body guards. At one point, Levy was sure she could even take them on. She would be lying if she said she felt safer with them over Gajeel.
"So that's why you still walk me home?" Gajeel pulled a perfect poker face, leaving Levy nothing to work with. Still, even the lack of response gave Levy a push in the right direction. "So that's not the only reason."
"You sure like to stick your nose in places it doesn't belong." Even with his gruff voice, Levy knew he wasn't annoyed by the side smirk he gave her. Without knowing how, Levy was starting to understand the quirks that Gajeel possessed. She looked forward to their walks home. The star gazing date continued to circle her brain. And the kiss…even now she could feel the pink of her cheeks rise. How could she ever forget a kiss like that? If Gajeel hadn't pulled away, Levy wasn't sure she would have. Though they hadn't gone on another "official" date, Levy and Gajeel had spent almost every day together. Whether it was a quiet lunch, or a walk home from Fairy Tail, their eccentric conversations were becoming regular occurrences.
"The same goes for you, Gajeel." She giggled when he arched his eyebrow, Levy turning back to face her street. "You've helped Lucy and Natsu in a lot of situations, even if you tried to be a jerk about it. And you treat Juvia like your little sister. Even if the situation doesn't involve you, you try to help your friends out when you can. You're a really nice guy."
"Whatever." The two stopped in front of Levy's apartment, dampening Levy's good mood. Both stared up at her apartment complex, a silence falling between them.
"Well, we're here."
"Not the first time," Gajeel said, shrugging his shoulders before shoving his hands in his pockets. "Well, get inside already."
"Yeah, I guess." Levy moved toward the stairs, but stopped when her fingers grasped the railing. Taking a slow breath, Levy glanced back at Gajeel timidly. "Gajeel?"
"Would you…like to come up?" She tightened her hand on the metal railing at her bold question, praying her cheeks wouldn't give away just how embarrassed she was. Gajeel didn't respond immediately, his scowl only seeming to grow. Feeling like an idiot at the intense stare he gave her, Levy swallowed down the urge to take back the offer. If she did, it would make her seem unsure of her feelings towards him. Gajeel, despite not being talkative, had made his feelings clear since their last date. When Levy had explained to Lucy about Gajeel's abrupt stop, the astrologist had claimed that his certainty in her feelings wasn't there. When a Taurus isn't sure about something, they won't make a serious move. They like stability, especially after shaking their homeostasis with something like a first kiss.
"You get what you're asking, little one?" Levy felt herself shiver when he walked toward her, but refused to back down despite her nerves. He stopped to the side of the stairs, the railing becoming a barrier between their bodies. Her spine straightened after his fingers brushed under her chin, tilting her head up. Unconsciously she swiped her tongue over her lips when her eyes met his. Keeping strong eye contact, Gajeel left nothing to imagination. "If I walk through that doorway, I'm not leaving until tomorrow morning."
"I-I know." She swallowed to moisten her dry throat, knowing her voice had cracked. Using the stairs as a height boost, Levy pushed up to her toes and wrapped her arms around his neck. "I was hoping you'd stay. I'll even make you pancakes."
"And what if you can't get out of bed in the morning?" His question was mumbled against her mouth, Levy's cheeks brightening. Even with the railing between their bodies, Levy could feel the heat radiating from his body. She let out a shaky breath against his mouth, her hand sliding along the back of his neck. Though the question was bold, Levy knew what he was seeking. All Gajeel was waiting for was a confirmation that Levy wanted him the same way he wanted her. Levy was more than willing to give him what he needed.
"I've never had pancakes for dinner." She felt a devilish grin spread against her lips, making her gasp quietly.
"Now that is a tempting offer." He nipped her lip, then ignored her squeak when he lifted her over the railing. Though his procedure was rough, Gajeel carried her body like a precious gift. His hand was steady behind her knees, while the other arm braced her shoulders. She stared up in him in adoration, knowing the butterflies in her stomach would never truly go away. He continued to surprise her with sides of him that she was sure nobody else had. Every day, she felt herself falling deeper for him. It was why she felt comfortable with the idea of moving so fast. It was a big jump, but in the secure grasp of Gajeel, Levy felt no fear.
"Gajeel Redfox." Gajeel's movement stopped on the last step, Gajeel glancing over at the man covered by the shadows. Slowly he placed Levy on her feet, leaving her in front of her door while walking back down the stairs. She hesitated to follow, but shook off her nerves and chased after him. His eyes narrowed on the camouflaged body, trying to put a name to the recognizable voice. Though he couldn't pinpoint the name, the flash of a familiar emblem on the man's jacket cut through his memory like a knife.
"Phantom Lord." At the mention of the gang, Levy's heart stopped. Levy took a step closer to Gajeel's back when more people came into view. The final count of five people left Levy more nervous than she wanted to admit. Even though she trusted Gajeel's strength, Levy's past came flashing through her mind. The small group of gang members looked exactly like the ones who used to follow Gajeel around. Gajeel lacked her fear, scoffing while glancing at each member. "Sorry, didn't know we were having a reunion. I would have brought a present."
"Trust us, we don't expect much from a traitor like you," The leader said, the group behind him snickering at a joke Gajeel didn't find funny. With a sneer, Gajeel crossed his arms.
"Ever since I left, your little gang's gone to crap. You'll let anyone in just to have bodies. Look at the group behind you; I'd be more scared of girl scouts during a bake sale."
"Easy for you to say, now that you're all cozy with that pathetic bar Fairy Tail." Levy glared at the guy who ran her home through the mud. The guy looked weaker than she was! How dare someone so wimpy try to attack her place of refuge? She clenched her fists at her side, but didn't have time speak.
"You talk big, but I know a seventeen year old girl who could kick your ass. Wanna know where I met her?" Gajeel slowly smirked as many of the gang members balked at his comment. Levy's heart warmed at hearing Gajeel stick up for a bar he had always complained about. He truly did care about the people in Fairy Tail. Gajeel started to walk toward the group, stretching out his arm while sizing up the group. "Alright, let's stop this small talk. Natsu's the only good fight I've had in a while and I've been itching to brawl. It's a pretty even fight, me against you five. I'll have a good time for sure."
"You're pretty confident, for being by yourself." The leader of the group didn't seem to be affected by Gajeel's words, calmly stepping forward. The man chuckled softly, his eyes glancing to Levy in amusement. "But then again, you aren't alone."
"Keep your eyes on me, before I make you regret it." The leader didn't answer, but one of his cocky underlings had no problem coming toward Gajeel.
"Ah, you worried the little shrimp can't—" A second later, the man who advanced on Gajeel was on the ground with a broken nose. Fire blazed in Gajeel's eyes as he stomped his foot into the gang member's ribcage, ignoring the loud whimper of pain.
"You call her that again I'll break every bone in your body." Another sharp kick to the ribs was all it took for the rest of the group to attack. The only one left out of the fray was the leader. Gajeel seemed to enjoy the odds, easily starting to take out the weaklings. Though they had more people, their lack of training made it easy for Gajeel to take each down. Even when one pulled out a knife, Gajeel didn't flinch. In seconds the man's knife was thrown to the side, the guy kneeling on the concrete in pain.
"St-Stay away!" A fearful scream hit Gajeel's ears, Gajeel slamming his fist into an opponent's face before turning back to Levy. Another Phantom Lord member was now behind Levy, locking her arms behind her back with one hand. The girl was desperately trying to get out of a large man's hold, enraging Gajeel. He started toward Levy, but swore when two more lackeys stood in his way. Levy gasped when a rough hand grasped her neck, making her limbs freeze. She tried to shake the hold off, her lungs unprepared for the cutoff of air. Her fingernails dug into her capturer's hand, desperate to get his hold to slacken. Her mouth opened in a silent scream, pain pulsing through her air-deprived lungs. Like needles stabbing her chest, Levy was starting to see the edges of her eyes lining with the darkness of unconsciousness.
"Enough." As soon as she heard the leader's voice, the hand around her neck released. She sucked in a sharp breath that bordered on painful. Frantic hazel eyes glanced to the man that had "saved" her. The leader kept his eyes on Gajeel, who had ceased fighting to focus on Levy. By now his enemies had circled him, each snickering with overconfidence. Even with the threat around him, Gajeel's sole focus was on Levy. "I don't think you remember me, Gajeel."
"Sorry, but your existence doesn't mean shit to me right now. Let go of her."
"I was one of the members who came with you the night we broke into Fairy Tail. The night you met this woman." The leader tilted his head toward Levy, who had yet to be released from her captor. "When you left to work for Fairy Tail, you said you hated that piece of shit bar. We were comrades, and so I thought you'd come back. You never did, and Phantom Lord easily fell apart. After a few years, I went looking for you. I saw you, still working at that pathetic bar. You were talking with their members, acting like they were your first choice. You got their emblem tattooed on you. Some of them seemed to think you were their comrade. And then you started hanging out with this bookworm."
"It had nothing to do with Levy. I didn't leave because my debt wasn't paid off. It still isn't." Levy stopped her struggling at Gajeel's strange response. Mira had told her that Gajeel's debt with Fairy Tail was done years ago. Makarov even seem pleasantly surprised with Gajeel's long stay. Levy couldn't understand what Gajeel was talking about. Still, it wasn't hard to catch the glimpse of guilt in Gajeel's stoic stare.
"To Fairy Tail? Or to this woman?" Levy's eyes widened at the accusation, Gajeel remaining silent. "You changed; the Gajeel we knew only laughed when we hurt her. You watched us attack her that night and did nothing to stop us. The only reason she's still breathing is because her little friends showed up. Now, you're walking her home and talking about pancakes? That's not you, Gajeel. Your soul is too stained to play the good guy. Do you forget all the people you've hurt? Those people in Fairy Tail certainly don't."
"Don't listen to him! Your family is at Fairy Tail; we all forgave you a long time ago!" Levy shouted, whimpering when her arm was twisted further into her back. Despite the pain, Levy refused to take her eyes off of her silent companion. She wasn't sure if her words got through to him, which pained her more than the pressure on her arm.
"You don't belong with Fairy Tail, and you know that. The master has offered to let you back in Phantom Lord, since you never went through the leaving ritual. However, if you refuse to come back, then we've been directed to continue with the ritual. Something that you will honor."
"The leaving ritual, huh?" Gajeel ran a hand through his hair, nodding once in understanding. Though it was hard to get into a gang, it was even harder to get out of one. In Phantom Lord, most members were a part of the gang until they were killed or put in jail. The latter didn't always end their membership either. For the ones who weren't willing to wait, the alternative was brutal. Placing the member leaving in the middle of a circle, the gang had free reign to hurt the member as much as possible. No weapons were allowed, but there was no time limit either. The beatings could last for hours. If the member survived the painful experience without taking back their resignation or dying, then all ties with the gang would be severed. The honor system of gangs was hard to understand from the outside looking in. But to those who came from the streets, it was like second nature. Even if he had ended his relationship with Phantom Lord, he knew they'd eventually come seeking his blood. "You want to do a "beat-out" ceremony."
"If you aren't planning on coming back." The circle moved in closer to Gajeel, but Gajeel didn't move his stare from the leader. "None of them plan to go easy on you. I can't promise you'll make it out alive. It would be simpler for the both of us if you just came back to where you belong. You understand that, right?"
"Yeah, I understand." Gajeel reached to the front of his shirt, slowly unbuttoning it to reveal a gray undershirt. He tossed the dress shirt to Levy's steps, Gajeel taking a breath to steel himself. Sending the leader a confident smirk, Gajeel held his arms out to either side of him. "I'm not coming back to Phantom Lord, so let's get this over with."
"No!" Levy shouted, shaking her head wildly to show her disapproval of the plan. Her flailing was becoming hard to control, even for the large man behind her. Gajeel barely glanced to Levy before back to the leader, jerking his thumb toward his Fairy Tail companion.
"You let her go, and we'll start this showdown."
"The girl's our insurance that you'll keep to your word. You try to back out or fight back; we'll take her back to base and perform a sex initiation." The sickening smirk on the leader's face proved that the thought wasn't disturbing to him. A sex initiation was when a girl performed sexual acts to one or more of the credited members of the gang to prove her allegiance. It was a common ritual that was done with females wanting to be a part of Phantom Lord or other street gangs. The difference between Levy and those other women was that Levy wasn't consenting. It wouldn't be initiation; it would be sexual assault. Seeing pure fear flash over Levy's face caused Gajeel to grind his teeth and fist both hands to the point of drawing blood. Yet again, he had dragged her into a dangerous situation. Just like four years ago…
"Even after all these years, you guys are still scum." A second after Gajeel spoke, a fist slammed into the back of his head. Levy cried out at the first blow, but was unable to get to Gajeel's side. Gajeel didn't hit the ground for several minutes, suffering blows by all spots in the circle. Bruises and blood covered his body, but Gajeel still refused to fall. By now the tears were pouring down Levy's face, her helplessness fully hitting her. All she could was watch as Gajeel's "leaving ritual" dragged on. It felt like her heart was being dragged over hot coals. She couldn't imagine the pain that Gajeel was going through.
Finally, after what felt like hours to Levy, Gajeel's bloody body fell.
"Stop!" Levy screamed, fighting against the man holding her back. Gajeel struggled to his knees, spitting a mouthful of blood on the concrete. Despite the blood on his lips, Gajeel smirked while glancing at the leader of the crew.
"If they keep hitting me like that, I might have to laugh."
"You talk big for a man on his knees," the man behind Levy said, cackling at his own joke. Levy glared back at him, stomping on his foot to cut the laughter short. After his loud yell of pain, the lackey yanked Levy's hair enough to make her cry out. "Don't be a problem, you stupid bitch."
"Ga-Gajeel," Levy whimpered, eyes closing from pain. Gajeel's head shot up, eyes narrowing predatorily.
"Wrong move." An instant later, Gajeel was on his feet and slamming his battered fist into the Phantom Lord member's face. Immediately Levy was freed, Gajeel yanking the petite girl into his arms. He was quickly to face the group again, refusing to leave himself exposed with Levy so close to him. Gajeel glared over to the leader of the group, sending an equally deadly look to the members now cowering behind him. "Levy, run to Fairy Tail."
"What? No, I won't leave you here with them!" Grasping onto his tattered shirt, Levy shook her head and stared up at the bleeding man.
"What happened to our deal, Gajeel?" Levy shivered at the sickly tone the leader used. Pressing closer to Gajeel, she felt herself relax when Gajeel's strong arm tightened on her waist.
"Next time one of your morons touch her, I'm coming directly for you." Gajeel pushed Levy toward Fairy Tail, his voice showing no room to argue. "Get to Fairy Tail and find Erza; she'll protect you if these idiots come looking for you."
"O-Okay but…please, stay safe."
"Don't worry about me." Levy nodded, though knew she wouldn't listen to him. She turned to leave, then stopped when his voice entered her ears. "Shrimp?"
"Sorry…we'll do a rain check on the pancakes." Gajeel's soft mumbling stunned Levy, even as he lifted his head to stare at the angered gang. Fearing the worst, Levy didn't think as she yanked hard on his shirt. Ignoring the blood and dirt on his face, Levy leaned up to kiss him desperately. Levy didn't let go of his lips even when her airways constricted. His response was immediate, Gajeel easily deepening the kiss. His taste was tainted with the saltiness of blood, but Levy couldn't care. She moaned at the delicious pressure of his mouth on hers. Her lips were addicted. She was addicted. Addicted to a man she would never truly own. Levy didn't care. So long as she got to see his arrogant smirk, and feel the warmth of his worn hands, Levy would be content. In that one moment, Levy felt more emotion for the beaten man in her embrace than she had ever felt before.
The moment was shorter than either would like, Gajeel being the one to break the lip-lock. Gajeel pushed her again, turning away from her tear-ridden face.
"Go." His one word order had her sprinting down the cobblestone pathway. Hearing her scurry into the night, Gajeel cracked his knuckles. Sliding his thumb against his lower lip, Gajeel fisted his hand and sent a deadly glare to the advancing group. "Let's get this over with."
Levy ran. It burned to keep her speed steady, but Levy couldn't slow down. She winced when her bare feet met the rocky sidewalk, her heels left on a random street behind her. Her shaky gasps vibrated through the late night air, Levy nearly falling on her face after a misstep. Panting at the abrupt stop, Levy placed her hands onto her knees. Flashes of the past hour came to her mind. Why did Gajeel still have debt to repay? Did it really have to do with her? Was he only being nice to her to repay the attack all of those years ago? She shook her head, trying to erase the negative thoughts. Gajeel's kiss felt like more than an obligation; it felt real. He didn't have to take her out on his motorcycle or go star gazing with her to repay his debt. The walks home would have sufficed. No, this wasn't about paying her back. These feelings they had were real.
Levy looked up at the long set of stairs in front of her, knowing it was the only thing between her and Fairy Tail. Though Gajeel thought it would be Levy's place of safety, the bookworm had other plans. Giving a final push up the stairs, Levy ignored the groan of her muscles while sprinting as fast as she could. The stairs seemed to move under her feet, and Levy reached the top faster than ever before. Nearly slamming into the door with her lithe body, Levy yanked the door open to be greeted with a nearly empty bar. Her spirits soared when seeing the two people she had prayed would be there. Though Gajeel had only told her to seek Erza, she knew that she also needed Natsu for her edited plan. She had prayed that the two would be back by now. Tears welling in her eyes from relief, Levy collapsed in the doorway.
"Gajeel needs help!" The cry came so loud from her little lungs that it echoed in the spacious ceiling. The two in question looked up, Erza the first to rise from her seat.
"Levy, are you okay?" She moved to help the woman to her feet, Levy hobbling to find solace on a bar stool. Erza looked down to Levy's feet, her maternal mode quickly activating at the sight of blood. "Your feet are cut up pretty badly. Natsu, where's Lucy?"
"She went to go count her drawer."
"Go get her and—"
"Please don't," Levy begged, grasping Natsu's arm before he could leave. Looking between the two of them, Levy felt her emotions well up in her throat. "There's not enough time; we need to go find Gajeel."
"What's wrong with the metal head?" Natsu asked, an uneasy feeling starting in his stomach when spotting Levy's tears.
"His old gang jumped us in front of my apartment. There's a lot of them, and they've hurt him really badly."
"Phantom Lord? They're back?" Erza asked, Levy nodding her head several times.
"There's no way they could beat him up, Gajeel's too strong for that." The respect that Natsu had for Gajeel's fighting skill unconsciously showed, enforcing the deep camaraderie the two had with each other.
"They played dirty. They held me hostage so that Gajeel wouldn't fight back. It's some sort of leaving ritual, but I'm scared Gajeel won't make it out alive." The answer seemed to anger both Erza and Natsu, the latter slamming his fist hard against the bar.
"Natsu, calm down. Losing our heads won't help Gajeel." Even though Erza spoke calmly, Levy could see the anger in her eyes. Levy nodded in agreement before struggling to get back on her feet.
"I'll explain everything once we save Gajeel," Levy said, hissing when her feet hit the floor. With the adrenaline of her sprint disappearing, Levy could feel just how cut up her feet were. She tried to move forward, but the pain shooting up her legs made it hard.
"You should wait here," Erza said, Levy refusing to sit back down.
"I need to make sure Gajeel is okay." Levy was determined to go with them, no matter what. The pain she felt was nothing to the fear she was experiencing.
"If this was Jellal or Lucy, could you two stay behind?" Levy's sound reasoning struck the two fighters hard, Erza pausing in her earlier argument. Taking another painful step forward, Levy blinked back her tears and gritted her teeth. Her mind flashed a picture of Gajeel pushing back off the ground, slamming his fists against Levy's captor. Even with the pain he was in, he was unwilling to let anyone hurt her. "If Gajeel can fight for me, then I can deal with a few scrapes for him. I am a Fairy Tail member. I will protect the people I love, no matter what."
"Wait." Levy stopped when a flash of pink hair appeared before her. Natsu was bent in front of her, his hands ready to lift her onto his back. He glanced back at her, a rarely serious look edging his features. "It'll be faster if I carry you there. And we need to get there before that idiot gets himself killed."
"Thank you," Levy whispered, knowing that Natsu understood her feelings perfectly. Even if he wasn't the most intelligent member of Fairy Tail, his empathetic heart made up for it. He helped everyone out, even if it caused himself trouble. Knowing time was the enemy, Levy quickly moved onto Natsu's back.
"Luce would kill me if I didn't take care of her best girlfriend. And…I owe Gajeel, I guess. So hold on tight." He secured his grip under her legs, sprinting out of the bar. Erza was close behind him, the two skilled runners making easy work of the path Levy took. The coldness of the air whipping around her made Levy shiver, but she refused to complain. All she could think about was Gajeel. Natsu's speed along with Levy's heartbeat increased when they reached her street.
"Remember Natsu, our goal is to get Gajeel out of there. We can repay the Phantom Lord's attack another day." Erza's calm voice barely seemed to reach the fidgeting man.
"Sure, you focus on rescuing the damsel. I'm going to show the asshole how to really fight."
"Natsu!" He ignored Erza's sharp tone, racing down the quiet street. Levy, who normally agreed with Erza, liked Natsu's plan better. Those…monsters deserved no breaks.
"Right there!" Levy shouted, pointing toward the front of her apartment. Natsu smirked and slid to a stop, though lost the expression while Levy climbed off his back.
"You're kidding me," Natsu said, a look of aggravation apparent on his face. With motionless bodies surrounding him, Gajeel threw the unconscious gang leader into the pile of trashcans on the sidewalk. His large shoulders heaving from his labored breaths, Gajeel looked destroyed. Blood covered his body, though Levy wasn't sure from who it came from. Gouges and wounds were spread over his skin, while the undershirt he had worn was missing.
"For anyone that's still conscious, that's my answer. Tell your leader if he bothers Fairy Tail again, I'll make a personal visit to your base. And maybe next time I won't hold back." Even when looking as rough as he did, Gajeel didn't show weakness. He dragged himself out of the circle of bodies, soon after collapsing to his knees. Erza was quick to react, kneeling next to her injured companion. Levy soon followed suit, though Natsu trailed behind with crossed arms.
"Man, you couldn't even leave me one guy? I was pumped to get into a real fight," Natsu whined, earning a glare from Erza and a chuckle from Gajeel.
"Trust me, idiot. They weren't worth your time."
"Stop speaking, you're really hurt," Levy scolded, Gajeel glancing to her in irritation.
"What are you doing here? I said to stay at Fairy Tail; not bring them back to your apartment."
"How could I leave you alone with these guys? I was so scared; you had said you wouldn't fight back!" Levy closed her eyes while she shouted, her hands balling on her lap. Gajeel watched her silently, then sighed and tapped his knuckles against her forehead.
"That was before they hurt you, shrimp. All bets are off when I'm protecting someone so small." Levy was left wide eyed and speechless, making her counterpart smirk. Gajeel tried to get back to his feet, but his damaged body couldn't sustain his weight. Erza raised his arm over her shoulder, receiving a raised eyebrow from Gajeel. "What are you doing?"
"Natsu," Erza said, ignoring Gajeel's question. "Take the other side and help me lift Gajeel."
"I came here to fight, not clean up Gajeel's mess," Natsu grumbled, moving to Gajeel's other side with a sigh. Levy watched as her fellow Fairy Tail members helped Gajeel off his knees, the tired man seeming to struggle to accept the help.
"Why did you come to help me?" Levy winced at Gajeel's question, knowing the words from the gang's leader still circled in his head. Erza, unaware of the conversation, scowled at Gajeel's question while shifting his arm.
"Because Levy told us you were in trouble, and we didn't hesitate. We will always come to the aid of a fellow Fairy Tail member. We all come from different broken pasts, some more painful than others. But no matter what road you took to get to Fairy Tail, you're here now. We're all a family, and any enemy of yours is an enemy of Fairy Tail," Erza said, Gajeel huffing while looking away from the red head.
"And it's a good thing she did bring us. You look like shit," Natsu's poetic words earned him a roll of the eyes from Gajeel.
"I would've been fine." Gajeel's claim was quickly proven false when the angered woman smacked him on the back, causing a loud howl from Gajeel. Erza didn't tolerate macho behavior, even from the injured.
"Stop acting like a tough guy." Not bothering to keep his snickering to himself, Natsu quickly shut up when Erza sent him a warning glare. "And you; stop laughing and help me get Gajeel back to Fairy Tail. Levy, get in your apartment and call the police to pick up these hooligans. Don't give any more information than you have to. The master would probably get angry if police showed up at the bar…again."
"Don't worry about the big guy; Lucy's great with patching people up now. We'll have him back to his scowling self by tomorrow morning!" Natsu grinned in Levy's direction, trying to ease her obvious nerves. She nodded slowly, starting to hobble her way toward her front door. Levy glanced back to her friends, her focus mainly on Gajeel. The questions from before came back, but she knew now wasn't the time. He was in pain, and intimate conversation in front of their friends wouldn't go over well. Instead, she voiced her concerns.
"Please be careful on your way home. I'm not sure what I'd do if one of you disappeared from my life." With a quiet smile, Levy finally entered her apartment alone.
"Alright, let's get Gajeel out of here before the police come." At Erza's command, Natsu glanced across to her and smirked.
"You sure we can't just leave him here for the cops to find?" After two hard hits to the head, Natsu fumed silently for the rest of the walk home.
Despite all the chaos in her life, Lucy still had a job to do. It was hard to focus on her client's situations, and nearly impossible whenever she caught sight of pink hair in the bar. Though the date wasn't for two more days, Lucy was nervous. This was nothing like what she felt for her ex, or any other guy who had asked her on a date. This was Natsu. Her best friend, her other half. What if this messed up everything? She couldn't stand to lose him in her life. At the same time, Lucy couldn't pass up the chance to see where her feelings for Natsu would lead her.
"Something's got our favorite astrologist in the dumps," Cana teased, taking a slow chug from her beer. She had been sitting at the bar for over an hour, keeping conversation light enough to distract Lucy from most of her troubling thoughts. Still, even half in the bag, Cana could tell her friend was off her game. "What's wrong, Lucy?"
"Oh, it's probably nothing." When Lucy got a raised eyebrow from Cana, she let out a slow sigh and glanced around the bar. There were some guys toward the end, but not close enough to hear the women's conversation. Placing her elbows on the countertop and leaning closer to Cana, Lucy let her secret slip. "I kind of have a date Wednesday."
"Lucy's got a date?!" Cana's loud shout made Lucy panic, waving her hands in front of her.
"Don't yell about it or he's going to hear you!"
"Oh, so he's from Fairy Tail? Did that sneaky Lion finally get you to give him a shot? He is quite handsome," At Cana's wink, Lucy flushed and looked away.
"N-No, it's not Loke. I already said we're just friends, remember?"
"So you turned him down? How did that go? Was he crushed?" Lucy didn't want to expose Loke's confession to Cana, especially since she knew how sincere he had been. Loke had been more than courageous, and Lucy wasn't going to exploit that courage by sharing it with others at Fairy Tail. Taking a slow breath, Lucy decided to give Cana a bigger bone to chew on.
"Natsu was the one who asked me." Nervously biting her lip, Lucy waited for Cana's teasing to come. The girl was infamous for enjoying embarrassing others when drunk. Instead, Cana took another drink from her beer before sending her bartender a cheeky smile.
"So the run around couple finally bumped into each other. I was wondering if I'd have to liquor you two up to get the wheels moving." Surprised by how easy Cana took the news, Lucy slowly let herself relax before she smiled.
"I guess it was just time for me and Natsu to take the next step."
"It was time two years ago," Cana said, casually glancing to the man in question. Though he had spent much of the night hanging around the bar, Natsu was now swapping stories with Gajeel and Gray. Gajeel was still recovering from the attack from Phantom Lord, something that had truly angered every member of Fairy Tail. When hearing of Gajeel's sacrifice for Levy's safety, even those who were wary of Gajeel admitted he wasn't so bad. Jet and Droy continued to thank Gajeel for protecting "their Levy", seeming more like a backhanded show of gratitude. Though it was obvious the statement bugged Gajeel, he didn't complain. When Lucy asked about his lack of aggression, he simply said it "wasn't necessary". Drawing her own conclusions, Lucy knew what he was implying. Gajeel realized that neither Jet nor Droy were potential threats. The passionate connection between Gajeel and Levy wasn't about to break any time soon.
At the request of Levy, Natsu had been keeping a close eye on Gajeel. He was useless with medical care, but Natsu knew how to balance Levy's fear of Gajeel reinjuring himself with Gajeel's irritation of being babied. While he continued to bicker and argue with his tall companion, Natsu kept the hitting to a minimum. It was the first time that Lucy had seen Natsu hold himself back. Levy was thankful for the lack of violence, knowing Gajeel would push himself further than he should. As soon as Lucy had heard about his injuries, she knew Gajeel would try to get back on his feet weeks before he was ready. The Taurus stubbornness refused to allow them to admit they were injured. Being sick or hurt was a sign of physical weakness, something the bull did not admit lightly. Having Natsu around gave him a place to let out steam without using his sore body. Natsu created a win-win for the situation.
"Just try not to give it up to him too easily, if you know what I mean." Lucy coughed at Cana's warning, her face turning scarlet red.
"Though I guess I can't blame you; Natsu looks like he'd be good in the sack." The bluntness of the bar regular wasn't uncommon. Cana had a tendency to say whatever was on her mind. Wearing her heart on her sleeve normally didn't bother Lucy, since she and Cana were good friends. Still, hearing Cana talk about Natsu sexually made Lucy blush. Catching Lucy's change of color, Cana couldn't resist the temptation to tease. "What do you think, Lucy?"
"Don't tell me you've never thought of doing the dirty with your best friend?" Without permission, Lucy's mind reminded her of the steamy interaction with Natsu on the floor. His tongue's hot trail still buzzed against Lucy's calf. Refusing to let Cana into her thoughts, Lucy desperately tried to think of something to distract the snooping brunette.
"Lucy, it's time for last round." Saved by the bell!
"Aw, Mira! You just ruined our fun." Cana whined, Mira simply waving her finger at the bar patron.
"Last call is last call. Even the bartenders need to go home at some point. Now, why don't you help Macao get home safely? Romeo took Wendy to the movies tonight, so Macao may need a friend to walk home with." At the mention of her youngest client, Lucy smiled. She had heard from Romeo that the carnival date was a success. Romeo had asked Wendy to be his girlfriend just as he had planned, the blue-haired girl eagerly agreeing. Since then, the two had been inseparable. Romeo still struggled to express his feelings for Wendy, but the optimistic teen brought out Romeo's smile much easier than anyone else in Fairy Tail. Even Natsu had noticed Romeo's increased happiness.
"Fine, fine, I know when I'm not wanted. You escaped this time, Lucy. Next time, you may not be so lucky." Lucy simply waved her friend goodbye, happy to have found a loophole. She turned toward Mira, who was starting to put away the clean glasses.
"Thank you, Mira." The white-haired girl gave a wink, and the two resumed their work. Mira moved around the bar, flicking the lights to signal last call. Even with the groan of the bar, Mira simply smiled while watching her patrons chug their drinks. Soon after the groups of customers started to leave, Fairy Tail slowly emptying itself. Natsu was one of the last to leave, promising to wait outside for Lucy. Though they had done this same ritual for weeks, Lucy felt herself blush at his handsome smile. Soon after he left, Mira dimmed the lights while Lucy finished sweeping the floors. Scanning the bar for any other chores, Mira let her shoulders relax and leaned on the table closest to Lucy.
"So…" Mira let her sentence trail off, Lucy lifting her head at the elongated word.
"Will I get a reward for saving you earlier? Because I'm sure I heard you discussing a date with Natsu." Understanding Mira's sneaky smile, Lucy let out a huff of air and nodded.
"If you want to know if I'm really going on a date with Natsu, the answer is yes. No, I don't know where he's taking me. It's on Wednesday, and I'm trying not to get nervous and back out. I don't know what I'm wearing, and how it came about is too long of a story to explain tonight. It did, however, make me appreciate frosting a lot more than before. Did I miss anything?"
"I'm pretty sure you covered every base." Mira giggled, and then finished with an approving smile. "But truly, I'm glad you managed to work things out with Natsu."
"Nothing's set in stone yet," Lucy defended. Still, the amusement didn't waver on Mira's face. Staring at the bartender, Lucy realized the normally happy woman's smile was bittersweet.
"My brother is quite happy with Evergreen, and Romeo is on his third date with Wendy. Erza and Jellal are reconnecting while Juvia and Gray continue to break through their own terrible pasts. Even Levy and Gajeel made progress. With Natsu finally realizing the chemistry between the two of you, everything is how it should be. Everyone in Fairy Tail is happy."
"Except you, Mira."
"Are we having this conversation again?" Not pleased with the answer Mira gave, Lucy frowned and followed her friend around the empty bar.
"I've talked to Laxus about his potential matches." This paused Mira, Lucy seizing the moment to continue. "I listened to him talk, and created a compatible match for what he wants as well as what he needs. A partner who will support him when he's right, and guide him when he's off track. It's taken me a while to find him the most compatible people while keeping my bias out of my choices. As his astrologist, I have a duty to tell him my findings."
"Of course, we wouldn't want him to be the only one to not benefit from your skills." Mira was keeping her façade up, even though Lucy knew she wasn't happy.
"Even taking my personal preference out of the selection, you were one of the three women I chose."
"I was?" Mira glanced to the floor, a serene smile on her face. It was the glimmer of hope that Lucy had been looking for. Moving forward, Lucy grasped Mira's shoulders and faced the elephant in the room head on.
"That's a good thing, especially since I know you're crazy about him." Lucy kept her stare on Mira, trying to show her compassion through her eyes. "And Mira, he thinks of you in the highest regard. Whenever I bring you up, he says nothing but positive things. You're the only one that Laxus smiles about, even if it's just for a second. I think he's sincerely interested in you."
"I could tell Laxus about his other choices easily, if I didn't know about the smoldering connection you two have. Everyone keeps saying that I have chemistry with Natsu, but yours is just under the surface as well. The talks, the intimate touches and the looks are small but so important. Leos don't play with people that they don't have deep feelings for."
"Lucy, that's enough." Mira's voice wavered, lowering her head to cover her eyes. Under her fingertips, Lucy could feel Mira trembling. Still, Lucy couldn't heed Mira's request.
"Laxus needs you. Laxus needs a woman who will love him as much as you do! This isn't a passing interest. You've had feelings for Laxus for a while, haven't you?"
"My years of feelings mean nothing in this situation," Mira whispered, continuing even as Lucy shook her head in disagreement. "There's too much at stake to express my feelings for him. It would risk everything I've worked for in this bar. The respect I get from Laxus could be ruined. That's something I don't want to happen."
"Your feelings mean everything in this situation. Right now in this moment, they are the most important thing in my matchmaking. They could change everything for Laxus. He has the right to know."
"The right to know what?" Both girls jumped at the low voice, Lucy hesitantly looking up to the newcomer. Though she could only think of one man who was tall, mobile, and had keys to Fairy Tail, Lucy still prayed it wasn't Laxus. When seeing a scowl only Laxus could make, the astrologist winced.
"Laxus, what are you doing here so late?" Mira removed herself from Lucy's grasp, her smile masking any emotional unbalance from earlier. Using Mira's distraction as a getaway, Lucy barely mumbled a farewell before scooting out the exit behind Laxus. If he minded, he didn't show it. Instead, he shrugged off the black suit jacket, tossing it over a chair carelessly.
"I just got back from a business trip. It looks like someone's got an interest in Fairy Tail, and wants to buy the lot. Gramps turned them down, of course, but they're being quite persistent. Offered us twice the amount of money this place is worth. The meeting went well over the scheduled time, hence why I'm home so late."
"I'm sorry about that; I know those types of meeting bother you." Mira placed a comforting hand on Laxus's shoulder, tilting her head toward the bar. "I could get you a drink, if you'd like."
"A beer sounds tempting, if you have the time." From the way Laxus relaxed his shoulders, it was obvious the meeting had stressed him.
"I'll always have time for Fairy Tail," Mira replied, smiling before moving back behind the bar. The dimmed lighting didn't impair Mira's eyesight, grabbing the brown bottle Laxus always asked for. She slid the beverage down the bar, Laxus easily catching it.
"Do you memorize everyone's preference of drink?" Using his bare hands, Laxus popped open the cap before tossing the bottle cap into the trash.
"Sometimes, if they come here often enough," Mira answered, blinking when Laxus patted the seat next to him.
"You're off the clock; come sit. If I need another beer, I'll ask." She hesitated, which made Laxus scowl. "What? You can serve me but not sit with me?"
"Don't be silly, Laxus. I've always enjoyed your company." Laughing, Mira moved around the bar to sit on the stool next to him. She glanced at the new view, rarely finding herself on the opposite side the wooden bar top. In the dim light, the different bottles created a stained-glass look to the back wall. She softly smiled, leaning against the back of the stool.
"Was blondie bugging you tonight?" Mira shook her head, watching Laxus chug half the beer. Though she had seen him drink before, it was only on rare occasions. From the way he drained the beverage, Mira knew the interest in the bar had bothered him.
"Just giving me some friendly advice, nothing to worry yourself over."
"Advice involving me?" He swirled the remaining liquid in his bottle while looking over to his quiet bartender. "I heard my name when I was unlocking the door, so I'm assuming I was the topic."
"Lucy was just telling me about some of your matches. She really wants you to find you a happy ending too."
"I'm only doing this because of the bet. I don't need assistance in finding the right person." She nodded at his grumbled statement, Laxus blowing out a puff of frustrated air. He pushed the bottle back to his lips, mumbling against the rim, "Got to give her credit though; she isn't horrible at her job."
"Lucy's the best, which is why I hired her. Everyone seems to be enjoying her services in Fairy Tail."
"You praise her so much, Mirajane, yet you're not one of her clients. There a reason for that?" Trying to hide her disappointed look, Mira glanced down at the bar top and started to trace her fingers along the wood lines.
"I've been really busy with the summer preparations. You know it gets extremely hectic around this time. Add Kinana's training and the influx of customers, I don't think it's appropriate to be looking for someone."
"You keep letting gramps run you down, and you'll never have time to find an appropriate man for yourself. You're allowed to have a life outside of this bar."
"But if everyone I love is in Fairy Tail, it's not really a hassle," She replied, giggling at the strange look he gave her.
"You plan to find a good man from all the drunks in Fairy Tail?"
"You should be kinder; there are nice men who linger here." He rolled his eyes, finishing the beer in one final chug. He dropped the beer to the bar top, running his hand over his face and groaning.
"Name one that you'd willingly date." She paused at his question, pressing her finger to her lower lip in thought. When she grabbed the empty bottle and moved off her seat, Laxus smirked. She remained quiet while she washed out the bottle and slid it into the recyclable receptacle. Assuming he wasn't going to receive an answer, Laxus shrugged his suit jacket back on and prepared to make his exit. "Exactly. Thanks for the beer, Mirajane. I'll lock the door on the way out."
"There is one that comes to mind." Mira's voice echoed through the empty bar, Laxus keeping his hand on the handle of the door. She hadn't left her spot behind the bar, but he could see her hands fisted on the countertop. Her normal beautiful smile was gone, an almost somber look catching Laxus's interest. Intrigued, Laxus let go the handle and fully turned to face her.
"There's only one person you'd date in Fairy Tail?"
"Anyone would be lucky to date him. But yes, he's the only one who's ever caught my interest in Fairy Tail." There was a long silence between them, neither looking away from the other. Mira felt herself blush, but kept her serious expression. She waited for Laxus to ask who she was talking about. Lucy's words still swam in her heart, forcing her side of reason to fold under her desire to be with Laxus. Was it so wrong for her to have feelings for Laxus? All these years that she held back, Mira had never seen him with another woman. Was he waiting for her, too? Though she was still worried about his rejection, Mira held her breath in anticipation.
"Then make sure to let him know he's a fortunate man to have such a graceful woman's attention." Her hopes were shattered as Laxus turned away from her, opening the exit without hesitation. "Goodnight, Mirajane."
"Goodnight, Laxus." She smiled as the door finally closed, leaving her alone in the darkness. Mira closed her eyes slowly, her smile faltering when the silence overwhelmed her. Pressing her hand to her mouth, Mira crumpled to the floor behind the bar. With nobody to hear her, Mira openly sobbed over the man she had silently fallen in love with.
…Such a sad spot to end it. But it was needed. Don't be yelling at me about this! I promise I'll somehow make it up to you in the next chapter. But only if you review! So, what will happen with Mira and Laxus? Can Lucy tie all of the loose ends together? What will happen with Levy and Gajeel? And who else thinks the police must hate Fairy Tail in this town?
Chapter Twelve: Dance with Me