Hey so you guys wanna hear a funny story? I was planning to have this posted in JUNE
That's the college life for ya. Anyhow, now that it's finally ready, I'd like to dedicate this to my dear friend Amenah, whom I haven't heard from in a while, and is going through a tough spot. Please don't be dead, girl.
Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom known as Fiore, there lived a beautiful little princess named Lucy Heartfilia.
...okay, so maybe it wasn't a faraway kingdom. It was Fiore State, and the little girl was only a princess because she wore plastic tiaras around the house all day.
Fiore was known for its landscapes, for it was run through with rivers and small mountains. The Heartfilia manor – and yes, it was a manor, the Heartfilias were not a poor family – sat on Acalypha Mountain, which was more of a really big hill on the outskirts of the City of Magnolia. The mountain was covered with such houses, it seemed every person who lived there was entitled to some small fortune and the houses were so big, sometimes you had to drive five minutes just to get to the next address.
This was the life the Heartfilias lived, quiet and peaceful but loving. There was a swimming pool in their backyard, a crystal chandelier in the entrance hall, and every bedroom had its own adjoined bathroom. Layla Heartfilia had been pregnant when they bought it, and at the time both parents had a plan to fill the house with children.
"Five, at least," Layla said dreamily, clutching her husband's arm as they looked up at their newly purchased house in wonder.
Jude glanced down at his wife, love and amusement sparkling in his eyes. "The floor map gives room for at least seven, comfortably," he joked.
"Ten," Layla shot back, grinning. "If they share rooms."
That was the plan. Lucy was set up in the nursery, a beautiful room in gold and pink, like a sunset painted across her bedroom. They gave her thirteen months of life before talking about their next child.
Disaster struck the night Layla passed away in her sleep.
Jude never recovered. The house, once to be filled with screaming, playful children, was empty and cold. Little Lucy grew to be eight, and her father loved her and doted on her as much as he possibly could. He would have given her the world on a platter if she asked for it. But he couldn't cure his own broken heart, and he gave in to the sickness that had been clawing at him for eight years.
But Jude did leave something behind when he went. He was still a wealthy businessman, and above all he wanted his daughter to grow up happy and not alone. So he asked that Lucy be taken care of by his business partner, Gemma Orland.
Gemma was a single father; he had two daughters just Lucy's age, Minerva and Flare. The three moved into Heartfilia Manor the next day, bringing a great truckload of belongings with them. Gemma smiled for the lawyers and waved to the movers as they brought the last boxes in. But the second the door closed, things changed.
Minerva stomped up to Lucy's room, still pink and gold and beautiful. Flare followed in tow, walking in the odd way she had with her red hair in two short braids. Lucy thought she looked like Pippi Longstocking, but not as cute. The two girls stepped inside, looking around.
"Geez, what a tacky design," Minerva criticized, tapping her chin. "Who designed this?"
"My mom," Lucy replied. Minerva hmm-ed and raised an eyebrow.
"Well, it's the biggest room in the house," she said, "so I'll be taking it."
"What?" Lucy cried. "No, you can't! That's not fair, this is my room!"
She stumbled out, watching in horror as Minerva started pulling off her fairy and unicorn figurines, dumping them into a cardboard box. "Hm, don't need this, don't need this...ooh, this is cute!"
Lucy turned and tried to enter the room across the hall, but Flare jumped ahead of her and leaned in the doorway. "Sorry, this is my room, Blondie," she drawled. Lucy shook her head, and ran down the hall to the other bedroom. But Minerva had dashed through the conjoining bathroom, and appeared at the door right as Lucy opened it.
"Sorry," she shrugged. "This is my study."
Lucy stared at her, and Minerva met her gaze with cold eyes. She looked back at Flare, who was grinning, and in her eyes Lucy saw clear what exactly they meant to do.
She took off at a run, pounding down the halls. Minerva and Flare took off after her, pushing and slamming her into walls as they tried to get past. Each bedroom Lucy came to, one would jump in front and claim it for her game room, or her den, or her makeup room. This continued until every room in the house was gone, even the small one in the basement.
They rounded the last corner and Lucy slammed straight into Gemma. She stumbled back, staring up with watery eyes. Gemma frowned and crossed his arms.
"I don't know how your father ran things," he said coldly, "but in my house there will be no running."
Lucy sniffed. "They've taken all the rooms," she whimpered. "There's nowhere left for me to go!"
Gemma looked down his nose at her. His strange eyes flitted over to Minerva, and Lucy turned to see that somehow she had managed to collect all of Lucy's clothes and belongings. The girl smirked, and handed Lucy the box. She took it with shaking arms, turning back to Gemma.
"The attic is free," he said.
Then the tears that Lucy had been holding back since her father's death spilled over, and with a shrieking sob, she ran away from the three new members of her family. She ran up to the top floor, just outside of where her old bedroom used to be, and pulled the cord for the attic stairs. Still sobbing, she climbed them and when she reached the top, pulled the ladder up after her and slid the trapdoor closed.
It was dark, and cold, and only a small half-moon window gave her any connection to the outside world. Up there, Lucy was effectively cut off from the entire world. Some of the dust had settled on her shoulders and that was where she was – dusty, crying, and alone.
It is in that attic where our story begins.
.::TEN YEARS LATER::.
beep beep beep
The sound of the alarm filtered right through the thin floors. From under the ragged covers, a fist shot out and slammed the alarm. It stopped its obnoxious beeping, but that didn't mean the inhabitant of the attic could go back to sleep.
With an almighty groan, she rolled over and slid out from under the blanket. As the bed was nothing more than a mattress on the floor, she rolled straight onto the wood, golden hair spilling around her like a halo and brown eyes blinking blearily in the early-morning grayness.
From beneath the thin floors, harpy-esque shrieks told Lucy Heartfilia that her stepsisters were up and demanding her presence. She brought a heel down on the floor, letting them know she'd be down in an instant. Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, she got to her feet and padded towards the open suitcase that served as her dresser.
Lucy rummaged through her sparse collection of clothes. If she had more to choose from, she could probably be more fashionable. As it was, her outfit consisted of ratty jeans with a hole in the knee, hair pulled back into a messy side ponytail, and the gray Hargeon varsity hoodie she hadn't taken off since July.
Sighing, Lucy slid a pair of socks on her feet and headed for the trapdoor. Her backpack sat already packed and waiting, and she slid it onto her shoulder as she pushed down the ladder and began to descend into the hallway.
Jumping the last few rungs, she landed nimbly on her feet just as the door in front of her was wrenched open. "Ugh, there you are, Blondie!" Flare growled. Her hair, much as it did every morning, looked like a rat's nest. "Go get my clothes from the laundry."
"Yes, Flare," Lucy replied. Minerva poked her head around the corner of her bedroom, still wearing her green face-mask.
"Mine, too, Lucy dear," she said sweetly. Lucy merely nodded, already making her way to the stairs.
"Anything you two want for breakfast?" She asked before she started heading down.
Minerva laughed. "Breakfast? Oh, darling, girls like me can't have breakfast. How do you think I maintain this figure?" Flare nodded, and Lucy shrugged. She still ate a good breakfast every morning and had a great figure, but if they insisted...
She headed down the stairs into the laundry room in the basement. It used to be a bedroom, but Minerva and Flare had turned it into their own personal room filled with industrial-power washing machines and dryers. Honestly, with the amount of clothes they owned, they kind of needed it. Lucy emptied the dryer into the white basket, filling it to the brim before carrying it upstairs. On the way, she stopped in the kitchen to pull a scone out of the cupboard and pop it in her mouth.
She passed Gemma on the third floor, where he was straightening his tie in a mirror. "Morning!" She chirped, as usual. "Off to a business meeting?"
Gemma grunted in response, barely acknowledging her presence. As usual.
Minerva and Flare were in their shared makeup room, sitting in front of the stage-lit mirrors. "I hope you didn't get any crumbs on my clean clothes," Minerva arched an eyebrow. She had done her usual cats-eye and heavy eyeshadow combo, and was currently smearing red across her lips. Flare was covering her face with a third layer of Covergirl.
"Nope, no crumbs," Lucy promised. She dropped the basket on the table. "Anything else you two need?"
"Mm." Minerva snapped her fingers. "Did you finish my paper?"
"Oh, yeah, and my PowerPoint!" Flare added. "My presentation is today, remember?"
Lucy rummaged in her backpack. Quickly she tossed Flare a flashdrive. "Finished it last night," she said, handing Minerva the small stack of paper. "Have you guys ever actually considered doing your own homework?"
That got her about the same response as the breakfast question. "Forget I asked," Lucy grumbled, beginning to fold their clothes. She'd forgotten that the girls were rich enough to bribe their way into any school in the world.
Minerva's cell rang, and she flipped it open. "Hello?" she said in a purposefully sultry voice. "Hey Sting, baby."
Lucy rolled her eyes. God, how she hated Minerva's boyfriend. Sting Eucliffe, star of pretty much every sports team their school had to offer. He and his whole band of jock friends were insufferable, in Lucy's opinion. They were rude, loud, and joked off in class. In fact, they were almost as bad as Minerva's fashion-oriented, self-centered clique of rich girls. Almost.
"Is Yukino getting a ride with me again?" Minerva asked, examining her fingernails. "Yes, her car's still in the shop. God, I hate that bitch, but there's not much I can do. Hm. Yeah, my paper's all done." Lucy stifled a snort. "All right, I'll see you in class. Yeah. Be careful driving, baby, you know you get sick. And don't let Dragneel near the wheel. Love you. Bye."
She snapped the phone shut as Flare started applying red lipstick that was so bright, it was nearly orange. "Lucy, dear, you should really wear some makeup," Minerva called over as Lucy continued folding. "Your face always looks so...bland. Here, you can use some of mine."
Her simpering tone made Lucy want to punch the wall. Instead she said, "What do you want to wear today?"
Minerva finished putting on her face and sashayed over to the pile of folded clothes. "Flare," she asked, "are you coming with me after school to go shopping for Halloween?"
"Like, duh." Flare quickly finished up her makeup and followed, pulling a red minidress from the pile that was much too short and much too tight for her skinny frame. "What are we doing this year?"
"I'm thinking witches." Minerva studied a deep violet halter top. "Black minis, striped stockings, platform heels, and hats?"
"Sounds like a plan!" Flare agreed. "I'm totally gonna try and seduce Kurohebi at the dance."
"Oh, please." Minerva threw the halter down and picked up a blue sequined tube top. Grinning, she paired it with dark wash skinny jeans and a fur-lined leather jacket. "Didn't you just break up with Zancrow?"
"That was two days ago!" Flare protested. Unlike Minerva, who had been going out with Sting for almost two years straight, Flare was something of a serial girlfriend. She rotated through the benchwarmers, and had a new boyfriend every week. That being said, she had dated each of them at least twice.
"You slut," Minerva teased. "I adore you. All right, we'll find you something perfect for seduction." She and Flare shared a high five. Lucy tried very hard not to snort at them, but failed.
Minerva cleared her throat. "Are you coming to the Halloween dance, Lucy?"
No, she wasn't. It cost too much money to buy a ticket, and she'd never be able to find a costume in time. Even if she did desperately want to go, she refused to let her stepsister see and shook her head. "Nah," she feigned nonchalance. "Don't really feel like it."
Minerva saw right through it. Curling her lip, she blew a kiss Lucy's way. "Let me know when you get a boyfriend, hon. Thanks for doing my paper!" She and Flare linked arms, and left the room to find a decent pair of shoes. Lucy waited, taking a deep breath and fighting back tears. When they were no longer in danger of falling, she straightened her back and followed them to the garage.
It was a ridiculously huge garage, but then it was a ridiculously huge house. Gemma had at least three cars, all Bentleys or Mercedes-Benz in different shades of charcoal and silver. Minerva and Flare had their own cars each – Minerva's was a sleek orange Jaguar, and Flare's a black convertible with flames painted along the side. In the far back corner was a chunky old green Jeep with mud stains and scratches.
Guess which one was Lucy's car?
In truth, the only reason she'd gotten it was because neither Minerva nor Flare wanted to drive her to school, and the house was too far up the mountain to walk or take the bus. So it was a cheap, dinged up piece of junk that only worked 50% of the time. Lucy was pretty sure Jeeps were supposed to look cool, but hers just looked like a tractor.
Minerva and Flare slid into their respective cars. Lucy slid into her sneakers and creaked open the doors, waiting for the dust to clear before she started it up. The only thing she had inside the car was the pair of pink fuzzy dice that had been a car-warming gift from her friends. They owed it to her seeing as she drove them to school every day.
Then she was off, down Acalypha Mountain and into the bustling city streets. She made her way around the city until she came to the trailer park. A few people waved at her as she pulled up in front of an old, run-down trailer that reeked of pot and sat on top of a patch of dead grass. She honked the horn.
"Come on, Levy! We're gonna be late!"
The trailer door flew open, and out dashed a short girl with wild blue hair. She tucked it back into a bandana as she wrenched open the passenger door and threw her heavy cloth sack in. "Sorry!" Levy cried, hopping into the seat. "Just some morning issues, that's all."
Lucy gave her a sympathetic look as she reversed. "Dad still unemployed?"
"Yeah," Levy shrugged. Lucy knew the girl didn't like it when people felt sorry for her, so she changed the topic.
"What've you got in that bag?"
Levy hauled the heavy sack into her lap. "Books," she said, eyes sparking. "I have to stop by the library this morning and return them all, otherwise they'll start hounding me again."
"I thought good girls like you always returned books on time," Lucy teased.
"Not if said good girls want to keep the books!" Levy laughed.
Lucy turned back onto Main Street and chugged the Jeep along. "So, have you finished your Hargeon entrance essay yet?"
"No." Levy slouched lower in her seat. "I have no idea what to write!"
Lucy huffed. "Levy, you are so smart you don't even have to write an essay. The rest of us don't have straight A's like you do."
"You have straight A's," Levy pointed out.
"Yeah, but I don't have a 4.0 GPA!"
"You would if you didn't spend so much time doing your sisters' homework and focused on your own."
Lucy pulled up to the curb, parallel parking outside a flower shop. "Stepsisters. And all I have to do is kiss up to them for another few months and then I'll be out of here and won't have to deal with them again!"
"Yeah, I know," Levy grumbled, as Lucy put the Jeep in park and they both jumped out the side. "You'll escape to Port Hargeon, enjoy their University of the Arts, become a famous author-"
"And never see my stepfamily again," Lucy added confidently. "Come on! Erza's waiting!"
The shop sign read Mikazuchi Flower Arranging. Lucy knocked on the door, and it was swung open by a girl with orange hair in braids and wide eyes. "Hi, Beth!" Lucy greeted. "Can we come in?"
"Sure!" Beth opened the door wider, and the two girls stepped in. "Erza's not ready yet, but she will be soon!"
A girl about two years older than Lucy walked out of the back room, with bone-straight black hair and tanned skin. "Shop opens in fifteen minutes!" She hollered into the back room. "Get your asses in gear! Erza, your friends are here!"
"Morning, Kagura." Lucy liked Kagura Mikazuchi, the store owner. She ran it with her brother Simon, and their adopted sister Milliana. The three of them weren't related to Erza Scarlet at all, but had been letting her live with them since her elementary years.
"Good morning, Lucy," Kagura greeted. She was decked out in a store apron with pink, blue, and green swirls. Milliana came rushing out, wearing cat ears with her employee uniform and talking at her usual fast pace.
"Hi Lucy! Hi Levy! How are you? Aren't you so excited for Halloween? I'm so excited, I can't wait, I'm gonna be a cat this year, just like every other year! What are you guys gonna be? Are you going trick-or-treating? When's your school dance? Next week, right? Erza's totally excited, she say she's gonna be a fairy-"
She was cut off by Erza coming out of the back room and letting her hair out of her ponytail. "Good morning, Lucy, Levy," she smiled, shouldering her backpack. "Ready to go?"
As Erza slid into the backseat of the Jeep, her cell beeped and she pulled it out of her jeans pocket. Erza was still wearing the flower shop apron, but Lucy figured she either didn't know or didn't care. She decided not to mention it, and instead focused on how red Erza was turning from the text she'd just received.
"Anyone I know?" Lucy asked, peering at her in the rear view mirror.
Erza made a small 'eep' and slammed her phone shut. "What?"
Levy snickered. "Erza has a crush," she teased.
"But on who?" Lucy wondered aloud. "Must be someone she just met. We'd have known if she liked anyone before now."
"Ooh, did someone have a romantic encounter this weekend?" Levy and Lucy shared a fist bump from across the front seat as Erza groaned and buried her face into her hands, vaguely mumbling 'leave me alone.'
"Oh, but hey," Levy said suddenly. "Why am I teasing Erza? Lucy, have you gotten another email from Salamander yet?"
Now it was Lucy turn to flame up. "Maybe," she answered, eyes focused forward on the road in front of them.
Erza leaned over the seat. "Lucy, you must tell us all about this mystery email sender," she commanded. Lucy gaped.
"I've told you everything there is to know!" And she had. In July, when she and Levy had hitched a ride out to Port Hargeon for the university's information session, they'd been introduced to a chatroom full of students who wanted to apply. A few months later, Lucy had begun a conversation with a guy called xXSalamanderXx who apparently went to Magnolia High. She had no idea who he was, and Mag High was such a big school it was impossible to guess at his identity. She hadn't told anyone about their conversations, and the only reason Levy even knew was because she had stolen Lucy's phone and read through the emails.
Which she was currently doing again. Lucy yelped in indignation as Levy fished the old Nokia out of her backpack and flipped it open. "Hey!"
"One new message," Levy read alone, blatantly ignoring her. "From xXSalamanderXx to Celestial_Queen: when r u gonna tell me who u r?"
Lucy refused to meet their eyes as Levy glared. "You mean you still haven't told him?"
"Haven't you ever heard of stranger danger?" Lucy argued. "What if he's actually a serial killer? I'm not giving away my identity to some random guy I met online, that's so stupid."
"Yeah, but what if he's super hot?" Levy shot back. "What if he's your soul mate?"
"If he has grammar that bad, I highly doubt he's her soul mate," Erza drawled, reading the message over Levy's shoulder. Her face had gone back to normal now that the spotlight was no longer on her. "How do you stand reading it?"
"He might have bad grammar but he says cute things," Lucy said without thinking. When the others stared at her with wide eyes, she jerked the Jeep to the side and pulled into a parking spot so quickly the other two went slamming into the other side of the car.
"Lucy! You made me drop your phone!"
"It's a Nokia, I'm not worried," Lucy said indifferently as she picked it off the floor. They'd parked outside a towering apartment complex, and she honked her horn. The lobby doors opened and out ran a girl in blue clothes, with a blue toque pulled over blue hair and a blue beach bag holding her school supplies.
"You're late, Juvia," Lucy said in way of greeting to the fourth member of their party, and then they were off towards Mag High.
"Sorry," Juvia Loxar answered, putting away her phone. "Juvia was texting Lisanna. She wants to know if we are hanging out after school."
"I'm down," Levy said, and Erza agreed. Lucy shook her head.
"Sorry guys, I'm babysitting Asuka tonight."
"Ugh," Levy groaned. "You're always working! Can't you just come for a bit?"
After much cajoling and pleading from the others, Lucy finally caved. "Ok, I can hang for a bit. But I have to get my homework done! I won't be back tonight until midnight and then I have to do chores!"
"Cana's going to kick your ass when she hears how much you do for those stupid stepsisters," Levy sighed.
"Cana graduated last year and is still unemployed," Lucy pointed out.
They entered the school parking lot, circling around slowly on the lookout for a spot. It was nearly impossible. Lucy spotted Flare's convertible, and saw the orange Jaguar pulling up a few spots ahead. Minerva got out, and from the passenger door she saw a girl with snow-white hair and white sunglasses following suit.
"Minerva's carpooling?" Asked Levy, squinting. "I didn't know she had it in her heart."
"She doesn't," Lucy sighed. "She hates Yukino."
They cruised around a bit before finally finding an open spot. Grinning, Lucy made to park, but before she could turn in, a white blur pulled up and took the spot.
Lucy honked loudly. "God, what is it, Asshole Day?"
But the weak horn went unnoticed to the ears of the inhabitants of the bright white Chrysler. From the driver's seat came Sting Eucliffe, smirking lazily as he stood. Following suit were his posse of sports stars – Rogue Cheney in his black hoodie and skinny jeans, Jellal Fernandes in a button-up and slacks, Gray Fullbuster in a wife-beater and sweatpants, and Natsu Dragneel in his winter scarf and red jacket.
From all around the parking lot there came a collective female sigh. Lucy realized two of those sighs came from her own backseat, and turned to frown at Juvia and Erza. "You both realize that they stole our spot, right?"
Erza jumped, hackles raised and prepared to fight; but Juvia pouted and crossed her arms. "Juvia loves Gray-sama," she declared. "Even if he doesn't remember her."
Lucy growled and pulled the Jeep away, looking for another spot. If she had to hear Juvia ramble about her summer escapades one more time – I saved him from drowning at the beach, but he doesn't remember me! – she would drive into a wall. She loved Juvia and all, but Gray Fullbuster was not worth getting worked up over. None of those guys were.
"Hey," Levy glanced back at the group. "You ever think that Salamander might be one of them?"
"Those goobers?" Lucy finally found a spot and pulled in hastily. "Yeah, right."
"You never know until you ask," Levy reminded, but Lucy was too distracted getting the Jeep to shut off properly. By the time the four girls left the car, the thought had vanished completely.
"So, okay, let me get this straight." Sting stared at Natsu's phone, slouching on the bench at their lunch table and frowning. "You went to look at colleges this summer."
"Yeah," Natsu said irritably. "Can I have my phone back, dick?"
Sting ignored him. "And you went out to Port Hargeon, where they sent you to an anonymous online chatroom where you could talk to other students who want to apply."
"Yes! Give it back!"
Sting held it out of reach. "And you started talking to this random-ass chick who goes by -"
Natsu finally snatched the phone away. "Yes!" He finished angrily. "What's the deal, dude?"
"The deal is that you're talking to a stranger," Gray drawled from where he was eating his Sno-Cone. "Moreover, you have a huge Jones for this stranger. Has it ever crossed your mind that she might be ugly? Or a man?"
"Has it ever crossed your mind that you're a-"
"Guys, cut it out," Jellal said tiredly. He was staring at his iPhone, had been for the last ten minutes. Natsu leaned over his shoulder, but Jellal shoved him away.
"No need to be so cold," Natsu grumbled. "And I don't care if she's ugly. She smart and fun and I like emailing her."
"Okay, she won't tell you who she is," Sting pointed out. "Doesn't that ring any danger bells to you?"
"Why can't I just enjoy this!?" Natsu yelled in annoyance. "Maybe I find that sexy!"
"Maybe I find you stupid." Gray snickered, and he and Sting exchanged a high-five.
Rogue watched them with his eyebrows raised. "I physically cannot comprehend how stupid the three of you are," he said bluntly. "Natsu, the reason she hasn't told you is because you haven't told her your identity."
"Well, I'm not gonna go telling that to a stranger!" Natsu argued. Rogue smacked his face in his hands. Natsu stuck out his tongue, and turned back to Jellal. "Okay, what are you brooding about?"
Jellal quickly shoved the iPhone out of sight.
"What's that?" Natsu asked.
Jellal cleared his throat. "Nothing. Just some message."
"Message from who?" Sting leaned over his shoulder, trying to get a glimpse of the hidden phone. His eyesight must have been good, because he asked, "Who's Erza Scarlet?"
"No one's business!" Jellal snapped, pulling an apple out of his bag and biting into it savagely. Sting and Natsu snickered, while Gray looked mildly entertained.
"Do you have a girlfriend?" he asked, making Jellal choke on his apple.
"You know what I'm confused about?" Sting said, drawing the conversation back to its earlier topic. "Why is Natsu even looking for colleges? Don't you have a free ride to the local one?"
The mention of Mag Tech made Natsu grimace. "I don't want to go there," he said. "It's all math and business. I'm not good at that."
"He's not good at anything!" Gray crowed, and was promptly punched in the face by Natsu.
"Anyway," he continued. "I found out Hargeon has a really great pyrotechnics program, so that's where I'm headed."
"You want to make fireworks-" Gray started, but was once again cut off.
Sting shrugged. "Well, whatever dude. It's your life. The rest of us are going to be headlining the Olympics, and you're gonna be working backstage."
"To be fair," Rogue interjected. "He doesn't have any sport he particularly excels in like the rest of us. I mean, Sting and I are both soccer stars. Gray's really good at ice hockey. Jellal's talented in football. Natsu just kind of falls in the cracks."
Natsu stared at him, miffed. "Thanks, dude."
"Natsu's shortcomings aside," Jellal interjected. "Maybe we should be congratulating him on the fact that he's actually trying to do something with his post-high school life, as opposed to Gray who lounged around at the beach all summer."
"Hey!" Gray sat up straight. "I had a job! I was a lifeguard!"
"Yeah, and you almost drowned!" Natsu shot. Gray smacked the back of his head, and Natsu tossed a piece of spicy salami at him. Another fight ensued, which Jellal pried apart.
"Can the two of you be civil for at least one lunch, please?" He demanded.
Minerva chose that exact moment to saunter up to their table. Sting looked up, spreading his arms in enjoyment. "Minerva! Babe! You came to see me!"
She smiled at him, though something about it didn't quite reach her eyes. "Sorry, baby," she replied. "I'm still busy. I just need to borrow Rogue for a minute, mkay?"
Rogue glanced up in surprise as Sting pouted. "What do you need to see him for?" He whined. Minerva placed a finger to her lips.
"Secret," she whispered seductively. "Come on, Rogue."
Rogue followed Minerva outside the cafeteria and down the hall, behind a wall of dingy lockers. "What do you want?" He asked irritably. "I know you aren't part of a study group, Minerva. On that note, why don't you sit with us at lunch?"
She ignored his question. "I need a favour from you."
"Well, you're asking the wrong guy." Rogue crossed his arms. "I'm not doing anything you ask."
Minerva tutted. "Why so mean, dear?"
Rogue narrowed his eyes. "You may have Sting fooled," he said, "but not me. I see you for what you are."
"Oh? And what is that?"
Minerva chuckled. "Rogue, darling, there is hardly a need for such dramatics. Now, what I need you to do-"
"I told you, I'm not doing anything."
At this, her brow arched and she crossed her arms to match his stance. "Really, now?" Her lips curled up. "I wonder what your poor cat would have to say about that?"
Rogue's entire body tensed. "What do you want with Frosch?"
"Nothing yet," Minerva assured. "All you have to do is one favour, Rogue, and my friend at the local humane society doesn't give your house a call."
Rogue didn't want to believe a word Minerva was saying. There was no way a single person could be so evil. Creatures like this only existed in fairy tales. But then, sometimes he wondered if Minerva was really human.
"What do you want?" he said finally, bowing his head. Minerva clapped her hands in delight.
"So glad you see it my way," she chirped. "Well, here's the deal. I hate Yukino Aguria."
"I thought you two were best friends," Rogue asked in suspicion.
"A beautiful woman has no best friends, only rivals," Minerva countered.
"Fine, then." Rogue looked out the grimy window. "What do you want me to do?"
Minerva sighed. "I don't want her hanging around us anymore," she said. "I'm tired of her. She's annoying, and distracting. And since she likes you best, I want you to be the one to tell her not to hang out with us anymore."
There was a sick feeling in Rogue's stomach. "By us, you mean..."
"All of us. Flare and I, you and Sting, the group. Tell her we want nothing more to do with her." She leaned in, baring her teeth and hissing at him. "Break her heart."
Rogue turned his back. "You're despicable."
"No, I'm the daughter of a businessman." Minerva walked around him, patting him on the shoulder. "Today, Rogue. And no word of this to Sting, or I make that phone call."
Rogue stayed where he was until she disappeared from view. He let himself lean against the lockers, breathing slowly and rubbing his face in his hands. He couldn't believe she was making him do this...but then, he saw her face. She was serious. If he didn't, she would hurt Frosch.
How was he going to do this?
Yukino stepped out of the library, debating putting her sunglasses back on. It was already dark outside, so there wasn't much of a need for them. But she liked the feeling of having her face shielded.
Staying late after school to work on her admission essay was a choice she now regretted, because Minerva had left early and Yukino no longer had a ride up the mountain. She sighed, leaving her glasses on her head for the time being.
As Yukino left the school grounds and began walking towards downtown Magnolia, she began running through the list of people she could call in her mind. Not her parents, they were on a business trip. She had no siblings. Her only real close friend had left her. Who else had a car? The idea that she could call Sting left a flicker of nervous excitement in her, but she squashed that down fairly quickly. He was Minerva's boyfriend, which meant off-limits.
That left her with the only option of taking the bus. It wasn't an option she gladly accepted – the bus only came every hour, and then it took another hour to get to her house – but it was the only option she had. So, Yukino set to plodding down the sidewalk to the bus stop.
To her surprise, it was not empty. She recognized the slightly slouched figure of Rogue, tugging on the strings of his hoodie. She smiled hesitantly as she approached. "Hey."
He glanced up, and paled. "Hey." For a moment, neither of them spoke, and Yukino began nervously pulling at the hem of her blouse.
"Um, so what's up?" She finally managed. Rogue looked around, seemingly wanting to be anywhere but here right now.
"You..." he started, taking a deep breath. "Look, you can't hang out with us anymore."
For a second, the world stopped making noise. Yukino was left with an odd buzzing in her ears. "W-what?"
"We don't want to see you," Rogue ground out. "None of us. We aren't interested in being your friends anymore."
"Not the girls, or Sting and I, or Natsu, or-"
"Rogue, look at me."
"Did Minerva put you up to this?" She asked softly.
He choked, and hung his head. "Yes." Raising it, he looked at her imploringly. "But you can't tell her, she threatened my cat."
Oddly enough, Yukino didn't feel that angry anymore. In fact, she felt a bit like laughing. "What a horrible person," she said, "letting her jealousy get to her like that."
"You know the only reason she doesn't like me?" Her voice was rising steadily. "Because she sees me as competition. She thinks I'm prettier than her."
Rogue frowned. "You are."
She shook her head. "It doesn't matter. Look, I'm not – that is, I don't want to-" Her voice broke. Rogue moved forward, but she held out a hand. "No, I'm fine. Listen, I promise I won't tell her. I'll pretend you've gone and broken my heart."
"I'm sorry," Rogue murmured. His face looked anguished. Tears threatened to spill over Yukino's face. So she sniffed and squared her shoulders.
"No worries. I know she's blackmailing you." Firmly, she walked around him, passing the bus stop. She didn't feel like going home anymore. "See you around sometime."
Rogue stood watching her go. She felt bad, but she really didn't blame him. All along, she'd suspected Minerva was not all she appeared to be. And she knew how much Rogue loved his cat. And she also knew how Minerva flattened anyone she saw as a threat. She should have guessed this was coming, really.
Thunder rumbled overhead. With one last deep breath, Yukino broke out into a run.
She ran until one of her heels broke, by which point she was halfway through town. The heavens had opened up and she was thoroughly soaked with rain. Cursing loudly, she wiped her bangs back and slipped the shoe off her foot. Honestly, why did she even care? It wasn't like Minerva or Flare were the best friends she had ever known. Truthfully, she barely even liked them.
Except now she was back to the beginning. Yukino had only just moved to Magnolia this year. She didn't know anybody else. She was all alone, again.
The cold pavement stung her bare feet. Yukino had reached the town square, where all sorts of local bars, cafes and coffee shops were the regular hangouts of high school and college students. Her eyes found The Palace, a high end cafe she and the girls had often gone. Through the windows, she could see Minerva and Flare drinking lattes and going over notes. There was a pang in her gut as she remembered the three had made plans to design Halloween costumes tonight.
Turning away from the window, Yukino stumbled through the parking lot until she could no longer walk. Her feet hurt far too much. She leaned against a battered old Jeep, wondering what the hell she was going to do.
Loud laughter from the right caught her attention. Pushing off the Jeep, Yukino realized that she was outside of a small little coffee shop that had never caught her attention before. It was small and tucked out of the way, with one boarded up window and a barely glowing neon sign that read "Mirajane's Cottage."
Lightning flashed across the sky, followed closely by a loud roll of thunder. Deciding not to spend a moment outside any longer, Yukino ducked into the little shop.
Inside it was well-lit, and a lot cosier than it looked from the lot. Although the booths were a little threadbare and the tables scratched, it still seemed to emanate a friendly atmosphere that Yukino wanted to sink into.
There was no one behind the counter, but two women with white hair and aprons were sitting around a table. In fact, that was the only table occupied in the shop. Apart from the two women, there was an older brunette drinking beer from a glass and four girls Yukino vaguely recognized from her school.
"So you can stay late tonight?" One of the girls was asking, poking the blonde beside her. Said blonde laughed and put away her phone.
"Yeah, Bisca just said the weather was too nasty to go out, so they're staying in."
"Well, that's good news!"
"No, it isn't! What about my money?"
Yukino stepped forward, wet clothes squelching. One of the workers glanced up, blue eyes widening in alarm as she took in Yukino's appearance.
"Good Lord!" She gasped. "You're soaking!"
"Yukino?" The blonde asked in surprise. With a sudden jolt, Yukino realized why she looked so familiar – that was Minerva and Flare's stepsister. "What are you doing here?"
"I..." Yukino gulped. "I...um..."
But she didn't need to say anything else, because the blonde titled her head to the side and said, "Minerva's a piece of work, isn't she? What'd she do? I'm Lucy, by the way. Come on, sit down and tell us all about it."