AN: So...I've branched out! Just a little bit, because I felt like doing something new, but also because I wanted to give Rae a quirky piece of fun, because although she lives across the globe and in a different time zone, I'm forever blown away by how severely cool she is, not to mention generous and just the best kind of buddy anyone could hope to have. Happy SUPER DUPER BELATED BIRTHDAY, YA LOONY GAL.

Also, lilithkiss, considering how you got me into Laxana in the first place with your awesome artwork, consider this a shout-out of appreciation to you as well.

Disclaimer: I do not own Fairy Tail or its characters – Hiro Mashima does.

Cunning is an Art

by Miss Mungoe

1. Flattery, or how not to get punched in the face

"Would you look at those two."

Resting her elbow on the bartop, Cana threw her companion a sidelong glance as she indicated across the room. "Dancing around each other like that. You ever seen something that ridiculous?"

Laxus threw a look at the pair in question, quirking a blonde brow. "What's ridiculous about it?"

Cana waved a hand towards their sudden topic of conversation. "What's not ridiculous? Look at him, all awkward like he doesn't know his left from his bloody right! Like what she's doing doesn't scream that she's interested." She shook her head. "Idiots. The whole guild knows there's somethin' goin on except the two of them. Ya'd think a gal as smart as Levy would figure it out."

To her surprise, Laxus simply shrugged. "Sometimes the things that are right in front of you are the hardest to see." And, because she was giving him an incredulous look that seemed to ask where the hell he'd gone and left his nuts, Laxus let a smirk tug at his lips. "Although it doesn't surprise me that Redfox knows nothing about how to pick up a woman."

Cana guffawed at that. "Careful, Dreyar. Speakin' like that, you almost sound like you know what you're talkin' about." She lifted her mug to her lips, shaking her head, visibly amused.

Laxus merely smirked, but said nothing, leaving the answer hanging between them. And as expected, a second later he saw the tell-tale sign of intrigue kindling in her eyes, and knew what was on its way off her tongue before she'd even said it.

"So, Laxus Dreyar thinks he's got more game than Bolts-for-Brains. Well, well." She grinned, and it was distinctly mocking. "What, d'ya stare them into submission with your dark, broody gaze? D'ya tell em sad stories of your neglected childhood?" She smirked. "And here I thought daddy issues only worked for women."

He returned the smirk. "You'd be surprised."

The joke – a rarity even for him, had her throwing her head back, brown curls falling around her shoulders as she roared with laughter. He tore his eyes away from the smooth line of her exposed collarbone, fixing it instead on her vicious grin. She tipped her mug against his, a sign of camaraderie.

"Aw, man, do you crack me up! Holy hell, if I didn't know you, I might've been convinced. Though for all I know that whole 'tortured soul' shit you've got going on actually works on some girls." She shook her head, as though imagining that particular scenario. "Oh, Lord..."

Laxus raised a brow. "You don't believe me."

She snorted. "Astute observation, Mr. Thrift Shop. I see you were dropped in the deep end of the gene pool." She rolled her eyes. "Heck no, I don't believe you. I haven't seen you so much as make eyes at a woman in all the years I've known you, let alone actually try your luck. And that ain't for lack of attention." The last part was muttered under her breath, but he caught in nonetheless.

"Been watching me, have you?" he grumbled back. "It's not practice that does it, you know. You've either got it, or you don't." He shrugged. "Simple as that."

"Simple my ass, Broody McBroodster! Just because you haven't tried it doesn't mean you can flap your gums about how easy it is."

"Just because you haven't experienced being picked up by someone who knows what they're doing, doesn't mean you can flap your gums about it," he countered, not missing a beat, and her brows narrowed sharply at his insinuation.

"What're you hinting at, Dreyar?" she snapped.

He smirked, and shrugged. "Nothing at all. Just that you shouldn't talk so much about something you obviously don't know anything about, Alberona."

She barked another laugh. "Oh, really? And what the hell does that make you then, Master Charmer?" She did a mock bow to accompany the title, waving her arm in a grandiose gesture. "Please, elaborate."

Laxus sighed. "I haven't said I'm an expert, just that I know what I'm doing."

She nodded, "And to which I call bullshit. There ain't no way you can just know how to pick up a girl. It takes practice."

He snorted. "It takes basic knowledge of the person you're about to hit on. You don't need a tutorial to get it right, just some choice words and gestures."

"Easy in theory, dude. Not so easy in practice. Just look at Iron Man over there," she gestured towards Gajeel and Levy again. "Poor sod's probably never picked up a woman in his life. Or if he has, it won't have been someone like girly, all sweet and proper-like. The guy can't even look her in the eye!"

Laxus shrugged. "He likes her. Her opinion of him matters, and the thought of her rejecting him makes him nervous. It just means he doesn't want to screw up – that doesn't make him stupid. More the opposite, considering how he isn't going at her with cheesy pick-up lines." He smirked. "Or maybe that's it?" He asked, shooting her a significant look. "Jealous no one's ever come at you with somethin' decent? And here I thought the daddy issues would have men come running."

He saw her hands tighten around her mug, knuckles turning white with the pressure, and her eyes narrowed sharply. A moment passed, and she didn't say anything – and Laxus' smirk widened at how close to the mark he'd hit. "Bingo," he muttered, lifting his mug to his lips.

Cana seethed, "Ass," she snapped. "I ain't takin' this crap from you." She waved her now empty mug in his face. "I get my fair share of attention, I'll have you know."

He smirked. "Oh, I'm sure," he drawled, purposefully making himself sound unconvinced to rile her up. Of course, he was more than aware of the attention she drew. Hell, everyone in the whole damn guild was. A simple turn of her head drew eyes; anything else nearly had people falling out of their chairs. Even now, he could feel the leering looks, like a prickling sensation across his skin. She got her fair share, alright. Twice over. But that didn't make it any less amusing to see how angry she got at the merest insinuation of anything else. Behind the sass and the confident attitude, Laxus figured she also had more than her fair share of messed up shit. Hell, 'daddy issues' were probably just brushing the surface.

Takes one to know one, huh. He refrained from snorting at the unbidden thought. After all, there was an ocean of difference between her old man and his. But he wasn't about to demean her problems because Ivan was a psychopath; even if Gildarts had been around since she was a kid, it didn't make up for the fact that he hadn't known. At least in that regard, they were in the same boat. He was well-acquainted with the feeling of not measuring up.

Something flickered in her eyes, and he tensed, expecting her mug to come sailing at his face, but she merely tightened her grip around it, never taking her eyes off him. He had to hand it to the girl – for all her avoidance issues regarding her old man, she didn't back down from a challenge.

Which was part of what made riling her up so damn amusing.

He let another smirk grace his face, knowing full well that if the next words out of his mouth didn't get him a fist to the face, it was sure to warrant some pretty nasty remarks. "Maybe it's the attitude that scares them off," he said conversationally, tilting his head as he studied the throbbing vein in her slender throat. He shrugged. "Probably why guys go after girls like Mira or McGarden. A little decorum goes a long way, you know. And you swear like a man twice your size."

"Oye," Cana growled. "You watch your goddamn mouth."

He rolled his eyes. "Like I was saying..."

He watched her shoot to her feet, fingers slipping away from the mug before she drew her arm back, fist clenching with the clear intent to sock him. But before she'd pulled her arm back fully, though, he'd followed, rising to his feet smoothly with the speed of the element that thrummed along his veins like a pulse. It was a quick, fluid movement, and it caught her off guard. He saw surprise flicker in her dark eyes, before they narrowed, and then her fist came sailing towards his face.

He tilted his head, the action minuscule but effective – and, he guessed with an inward smirk, annoying as hell – and she tipped forward, cursing under her breath as she fell. He was quicker, grabbing hold of her wrist to keep her from falling, and when she tried to pull her hand back and out of his grip, the action sharp like she'd been burned, he followed the movement without pause, sliding his fingers up the soft underside of her arm in one smooth motion. He heard her breath hitch in her throat, heard her heart take a leap at the unexpected action, and felt a smirk tug at his lips as her temperature shot through the roof. His fingers traced the hollow of her elbow, rounded the curve of her shoulder in a breath, before sliding up to cup the back of her head, weaving through the dark mass of her hair.

The anger was gone from her eyes, no longer narrowed but almost comically wide in her face, and he grinned as he leaned forward, fanged smile brushing against the shell of her ear. "This," he rumbled, lowering his voice, and felt more than saw the goosebumps as they rose on her exposed skin, "is how I'd start, if I was going to pick you up." He couldn't see the look on her face, but felt the shiver that raced through her. His smirk widened.

"And even if you know it already, I'd tell you that you're gorgeous," he slid his fingers down the back of her head, to her neck, "distracting," he splayed his fingers against the skin between her shoulder-blades, left bare by her shirt. "And," he continued, "that you should wear your hair up more often, because you've got a damn fine neck." He heard her breath catch in her throat, and pulled back slightly, enough to meet her gaze squarely with his own. "Then..." He angled his head, just the barest fraction of a movement, but his intention was more than clear.

He watched her eyes flutter, uncertainly at first, suspicion clinging to her lashes like droplets of water, before her eyes drifted closed, and he had to suppress a grin at the act of submission so completely contrary to her rambunctious personality. She tilted her head a little in turn, and there was nothing about her behaviour now that told him he was about to be greeted with a closed fist to the face. The tension in her shoulders had melted somewhat, and her fingers had loosened their fierce grip. Her breath escaped her in a sigh, and he felt more than saw her relax.


"...then I'd back away, because your old man would skin me alive if I so much as looked at you wrong."

Her eyes flew open, only to find him smirking, and then he released her, hand falling away from her neck, fingers gliding out of her dark hair, and now she did tip forward, but caught herself on the countertop. His ears caught the surprised murmurs from around the room, the volume rising suddenly as though the air had been let back into the room – as though the people gathered had held their collective breaths.

Then he was walking away, trying not to grin too much. He wasn't looking at her as he threw a hand up in a parting salute, sauntering calmly past a gaggle of gaping guildmembers. The din had risen past it's normal level, and he let it wash over him, unduly pleased with himself.

He'd just walked out the front doors when he heard her voice, devoid of anything so much as resembling submission, cutting through the din like a knife as she hollered after him,


Laxus shoved his hands into his pockets, and felt a grin stretch across his face.

He'd give her five minutes.

"–told you she wouldn't see it coming if it did. Look at how surprised she was! I bet you she had no idea he was interested in the first place!" Levy whispered as Cana disappeared to the back of the guild in a storm of choice expletives, of which 'castrate' and 'blonde prick' were particularly emphasised. From their seats they'd had a good view of the spectacle that had just taken place – a show which had, blessedly, taken the attention of the room off themselves. It was difficult to be at ease around each other when everyone was watching them all the time, not to mention how awkward Gajeel got whenever he picked up on it. He couldn't even look her in the eye if he thought someone was looking at them.

At complete ease now that he was out of the spotlight, Gajeel snorted. "Figures. That's what you get for being so damn aloof all the bloody time. Should've shown he was interested before."

She raised a brow. "Oh, you mean like you did?"

"Oye, I built ya a bloody bookcase, what more d'ya want for a sign?"

She thought about it for a moment, then shrugged. "Good point. It's the best attempt at a pick-up I've ever gotten."

He glared at her. "Out of how many?"

Her grin was decidedly innocent, and she leaned forward to kiss his cheek despite his injured grumble. "No other bookcases, I can tell you that much," she chirped.

He merely settled for glaring at her, and she laughed, glad he was at least relaxed enough to let her within arm's reach. Tilting her head, her eyes wandered to the front doors through which the blonde dragonslayer had just walked out, and noted that hers was not the only gaze surveying the guild hall. "You think she'll follow him?" she asked after a moment.

Gajeel shrugged. "Hard ta tell with someone like her. Can't push 'er too far; she'll back off out of spite."

"What do you think he said to make her so flustered?"

Gajeel snorted. "Somethin' ridiculous, no doubt. The guy hardly ever opens his goddamn mouth. My guess is he botched it."

"You sure? It looked to me like she was pretty enraptur–"

She was cut off by Cana storming past their table, and clamped her mouth shut. But not soon enough, apparently, as the brunette ground to a halt beside them, dark eyes furrowed in a fierce glare. Pointing a finger at the two of them, seemingly ignoring their close proximity that would otherwise have earned them a cat-call, she snapped, "You mind your own business!" before stalking off towards the exit.

"Where ya goin', Alberona?" Gajeel called after her, a feral grin tugging at his mouth. Levy rolled her eyes, but couldn't stifle her own smile as they watched the card-mage storm off.

Cana didn't look back at him as she hollered, "To skin myself a dragon, that's what!"

Gajeel snorted, turning his gaze back to Levy, who was looking after the brunette with a quizzical look on her face. He frowned. "What?"

"...did she go back there to put her hair up?"

AN: PURE AND UNABASHED FUNSIES, PEEPS. This is a light-hearted piece that will probably get more chapters, in the style of my Gajeel/Levy collection Semantically Correct, if you're familiar with it. Unless, of course, my handling of Laxana was so atrocious you've gone blind. Leave me a note with what you think?