Oh, hey, I'm alive! Now, isn't that nice? 8D
This chapter was supposed to wrap up everything on Lucy's end in "Chaos Theory", but it got too long, so I had to divide it. So much for finishing this in 3 chapters. Pfft.
Anyway, the scene below will most likely be the last of GrayLu for this story. Such a bummer, right? Well, I made sure to prolong their moment as much as possible, so you better enjoy it still, mm'kay? *cracks knuckles*
Standard disclaimers apply.
Rated T for... Well. Just because.
This is not a love story, but it is a story nonetheless.
Amidst the jumbled thoughts and mixed emotions swirling dizzily in her mind, Lucy is able to recall that today is actually a Wednesday — the official worst day of the week. She can't really explain why, but to her, Wednesdays are never, ever good.
As proof of this claim, she has woken up this morning by falling off her bed, realized with a loud groan that all her regular undies have yet to be washed and that the only article left happened to be an old pair of dorky, faded yellow granny panties with a cartoon print of a kitten on the front and a short cat's tail stitched at the back (which, by the way, used to be her favorite when she was still in her preteens), got bullied by Mirajane, Lisanna and Levy into believing that a certain black-haired ice mage likes her, almost fell off the river — only to be saved by the same young man her friends are setting her up with, leading to more awkward, mind-boggling, and painfully mortifying situations that further solidify her hate for Wednesdays.
Like repeatedly losing her composure in front of said pseudo-Casanova. Or almost falling off the river once again... twice. Or unwittingly making a complete fool out of herself in the middle of an unsuspecting crowd.
Heck, she won't be surprised if she finds Natsu and Happy messing around in her apartment. Granted that they do it all the time — sometimes, even with Erza and Gray himself —, it will only serve as an icing to the cake she calls her 'disastrous day'.
God, how she hates Wednesdays! And right now, she doesn't care if she sounds like a broken record for mentally saying it, but she really, really, really does.
—especially when she's being manhandled by one Gray Fullbuster, her stripper nakama, who is also the cause of her recent distress and earlier embarrassments.
Just who does he think he is!, she inwardly fumes.
Summoning whatever confidence she has left, Lucy opens her mouth to protest, when Gray suddenly halts and releases her wrist. It doesn't take long for her to realize that they are now standing in front of her apartment.
"Now, look here and listen well," the ice mage begins, taking the bag of Jewels from her hand and dangling it to her befuddled mug. "I didn't work my ass off for this just so you can throw it back to my face for something as stupid as your pride—"
"Hey!" Lucy cries, offended, but Gray simply ignores her.
"The money is a gift, got it? I did it for you—only for you. End of story," he finishes, and drops the pouch to her hands. "So, not another word, you hear?"
The blonde bites her lower lip. "But, Gra—"
"NOT. Another. WORD. Lucy." he interjects sharply, making her flinch.
Now, here's another reason to hate Wednesdays, Lucy notes sourly — Gray being especially moody. Really, what did she do to deserve a treatment such as this? She must have done something terribly evil in her past life.
"Like kick puppies..."
She blinks. "Eh?"
Gray is gaping at her like she's just said something completely idiotic — and with a mixed feeling of alarm and dread, the poor Celestial Spirit mage fathoms that she actually did. Again.
She groans; it is all she can do to keep herself from face-palming. She really needs to stop getting carried away with her musings, darn it! "S-sorry, I—I didn't mean to say that out loud. I was, u-um..." she trails off, realizing that she doesn't have any ready excuses. She can't just tell him she was busy lamenting over his erratic temper, can she?
Of course not.
"Look, don't worry about it," the boy suddenly remarks, his tone dismissive. "Just take the money and it's all good."
Lucy's eyebrows crease in question. ""Why do you—" she begins to utter again, but freezes up at the sight of Gray narrowing his eyes at her, as if to say "Don't start, or else.". Her frown deepens at this, but whatever spark of irritation she feels is settled almost quickly in the confines of her head. Despite her own stubbornness to back down, she knows a lost cause when she sees one, and if her past experiences with him (namely, the embarrassing shouting contest earlier) taught her anything, it's never to push it when the ice mage specifically tells her not to.
Yes, she'll just have to set aside the whywhywhy's — for now.
One, two, three heartbeats later, the blonde decides to start again. "...Are you really sure about this, Gray?"
A grunt. "Lucy..."
"What? I'm just saying..."
She pouts. "That, well, this is a huge amount of money."
"I can see that."
"A-and you're really gonna give this to me?"
"Eh? Just like that?"
"Just like that."
"Really." he answers, brow twitching.
Lucy remains silent for a moment, chocolate-brown eyes holding his intense, smoldering gaze carefully, thoughtfully, before her expression softens, and she nods in understanding. "...Okay," she tells him meekly, lips curling into a small smile. "Thank you, Gray."
The black-haired youth visibly relaxes at this, appearing fully relieved that the stubborn girl has finally relented. "Yeah. No problem."
"I promise I'll pay you back, so—"
"Woah! Hey, hold on," he suddenly cuts in. "The money's not a loan; it's a gift — an apology gift, get it? So, no need to pay me back."
Lucy's frown returns. "Are you really sure about this, Gray?"
Another growl, a menacing one at that. "For cryin' out loud, Lucy—"
"Okay, okay!" she cries, raising her hands defensively in panic. "I was just asking. Chill, Gray, geez!"
The ice mage snorts, and Lucy lets out a long-suffering sigh, wondering just how more she can take of her teammate's moodiness, when another thought hits her.
"Why money, by the way?" she inquires out of the blue, eyes wide with wonder. "I mean, it's an unconventional gift for someone, don't you think? Even as an apology..."
"Yeah, but..." Gray cocks his head to the side as he regards her bemusedly. "Isn't that what you want in the first place? You were always whining about how much money you need for your rent." he comments, to which the girl begins to splutter, face heating up.
Gee whiz, he made her sound like a flat-broke wailer! How she wishes she can disagree and tell him off like any independent, self-respecting lady, but—
Darn it, it's all true~!, her mind laments.
"Why? Do you have something else in mind?"
Still groveling inwardly, Lucy shakes her head. "No..." she bemoans, then abruptly pauses as if remembering something. "Oh, hey, I was thinking..."
"That... if you wanted to make it up to me, you could have just helped me work for the money, rather than, well, do it on your own," she finishes with her usual, friendly smile.
Gray flashes her a lazy grin of his own. "Ah, well, it's too late for that, yeah?" he says, and raises a hand to knead the back of his neck as he takes a deep breath, then adds in a softer voice, "Besides, that's not really a good idea."
"Why not? We did it before, didn't we?" The blonde is quick to ask. Still holding the bag of Jewels, she clasps her hands behind her, bending her body forward to peer playfully at the ice mage from below. "And we're friends, so it shouldn't be a problem, right?"
At her childlike gesture, Gray allows a soft chuckle to escape from his lips, before they mellow down into a fond, yet weak smile. "It's... different now." he finally says, obsidian depths boring into hers almost meaningfully.
Instantly, Lucy feels her heart jerk, tighten and stop. Her breath is seized, and for a moment, she is dazed.
Does this mean...? Can he really be...?
Between the strange look in his eyes and the seemingly awkward silence enveloping them, a mix of emotions is ignited within her. There is curiosity and mild panic, and a lingering annoyance from earlier, and... and another feeling that she can't quite place and doesn't want to think about. Gazing at the black-haired young man, however, she can feel her irritation lessen, and this other sentiment stir.
This... can't be good.
Slowly, she straightens her posture, closes her eyes, and counts from one to ten as she heaves deeply.
What does she say in this kind of situation?
Is she even supposed to say anything?
"I have to go." Gray suddenly announces, causing the girl to snap her head up with a start.
He gives her another quick grin, his eyes twinkling mischievously at her dumbfounded expression. "I haven't reported back to Mira yet," is all he tells her, before turning around and raising a hand in greeting. "I'll see you when I see you, okay?"
"W-wait!" Lucy calls out, only for the air to briefly leave her lungs when the young man looks back at her. Her heart is practically hammering in her ears now, but she does her best to ignore the stupid sound. "Ah, w-well..." She holds out the pouch in front of her, smiling shyly. "Thanks again for this."
He nods. "Sure."
"A-and..." She averts her eyes to the ground. "I know you said I don't have to return the favor, but, um, really, i-if there's anything you need, I—"
"It's okay, Lucy. Seriously, don't sweat it." he tells her with a weak grin, and prepares to leave once again.
"How about a date then?"
Gray stops. "A... date?" he asks slowly, whirling his head around to stare at the blonde, an unreadable expression on his face.
"That's right!" Lucy chirps. It takes a few seconds for her brain to realize what she just said. Her embarrassment from earlier returns tenfold, and she flails her arms wildly. "N-NO! I-I-I—Don't look at me like that! I was—i-it's no-ot—MOU! Stop laughing, Gray!"
She can't believe how crappy this day is turning out for her! Why does she keep on losing her cool in front of him like this? Wednesdays really, really, really suck!
"Okay, okay, I get it. No need to give me the evil eyes, you know." Gray tells her once he's calmed down. He tilts his head to the side, a slight quirk to his lips as he surveys her amusedly. "So, it's a friendly date, right?"
"Of course it is!" the girl cries out, looking back at him with a dubious frown. "I mean, I can't just not pay you back, Gray. At least, let me treat you somewhere."
"As friends." she quickly adds, earning a chuckle from her teammate.
Lucy pauses. She didn't expect he'd relent so quickly (not that she is expecting anything — it's SO not a date!) "Uh... How about tonight? Or we can go for lunch tomorrow. Your pick."
"Ah, tonight it is then," He nods his head. "I'll be away for two days starting tomorrow."
"Eh? Another mission?" The blonde feels herself frowning again. Since when did Gray become such a workaholic? It's not even time for the S-Class Trials yet. And he already got her more than enough Jewels for her rent, didn't he? Before she can voice out her concern, however, the black-haired youth begins to speak.
"It's payment to Juvia for having her assist me in my job this morning," he supplies, shrugging halfheartedly with his usual nonchalance. "Like you, I have to return the favor one way or another, yeah?"
"Oh. R-right, fair enough." Lucy bobs her head numbly. Somehow, hearing Gray talk about the water mage for the second time that day gives her this unexplainable feeling. It's weird because she wasn't like this before — she even tried teasing him about the rain woman a while ago, didn't she? She finds herself starting to wonder about this strange development within her, but quickly decides against it and promptly brushes it off as... as... nerves. Right. Just nerves. She's still rattled from the events earlier, after all (especially the bag of money; she still can't believe Gray gave her so much!). Yes, she's perfectly qualified to have them at this point. Nerves, that is.
Smiling reluctantly, she makes to tell him "Then, please thank Juvia for me as well", but for some reason, her statement came out as:
"You and Juvia seem to be doing a lot of missions together lately, huh?"
And she sounded so friggin' paranoid when she said it too!
Lucy would very much like to turn around and just smack her forehead into the wall over and over until all the stupidity in her system is gone (How in Zeref's name can she let her mouth run amok like that for the third—THIRD!—time? It's just... so beyond her!), but she knows it's impossible with Gray pinning her down with his dark, intense eyes, looking as though she's grown another head or something.
Thus, gathering the very scarce remains of what was once her poise, she stays rooted in her spot, trying hard to twist her face into a fairly normal expression despite the blush threatening to creep up her face, and acting like there's nothing wrong with what she just said.
And just to prove her point, she repeats herself. "I—I said, you and Juvia seem to be doing a lot of missions together lately."
It takes a few seconds for the young man to recover from the shock. "Don't worry, Lucy," He sounds amused — not good; the blonde reflexively braces herself. "It won't be just us. Wendy will be there too."
The girl lets out a breath she doesn't know she's been holding, and her shoulders sag at his answer.
Is she relieved?
Apparently, yes, for some unknown (unacknowledged) reason.
"Th-that's, um, nice..."
Gray nods in understanding, mouth twitching. "Yup, so no need to get all jealou—"
"I am NOT!" she practically screeches, but this only serves to make the ice mage grin wider. Her nose flares, and she runs up to him, having had enough of his teasing. "Gray, stop bullying me, you... youuuuu... bully! I am SO NOT jealous, you hear?" She makes to punch his chest repeatedly — something she usually does when the black-haired youth is being especially irritating —, but Gray would always, always intercept her every assault, blocking her fists first, then covering them with his larger hands, and watching her struggle out of his grasp with wicked amusement.
"Woah!Hey, Lu—OW! Okay, okay, I'm sorry!" he remarks amidst her fit. Lucy throws him a suspicious glare, and he grins apologetically — even though the laughter is still present in his eyes. "I can't help it, alright? You're just so edgy today, Lucy. It's so unlike you."
The girl stiffens, frown still in place for a moment. Then, as if a light switch has been turned on, she pulls back with a slight jerk, feeling awkward all of a sudden.
"What is it?" Gray asks, bemused.
"Nothing, I was just..." Lucy's face crumples once again, not liking the words forming in her mind. "I—I was..."
—obsessing a bit too much over the possibility that you kinda-sorta-maybe like me, and now I'm such a nervous wreck because—because—!
"Is it that time of the month again?"
"NO!" The expression on her face makes him back away, and she sighs noisily. "It's... just been a long day for me, okay? Let's leave it at that..."
For once, the ice mage appears sympathetic. "Right, well, you should call it a day and unwind then."
"Mmm, I'll do that."
"You better. We wouldn't want you looking haggard for tonight's friendly date, after all." he adds as he smirks teasingly at her.
Despite herself, a soft giggle escapes from Lucy's lips. "No, definitely not." she assents, and Gray nods, satisfied with her reply.
Their eyes meet again, chocolate-brown shimmering with unspoken words against steely obsidian softening at the sight of her. Not another sound is made at that brief moment. A half-smile etches itself on his face, and she automatically returns it with a cheerful, but shy beam of her own.
"Well, I gotta run." he declares at last, shoving his hands in his pockets.
Lucy merely bobs her head in agreement. Surely, there is nothing else that needs to be said between them.
"I'll pick you up tonight at eight, okay? Prepare yourself."
She laughs lightly at his supposed 'threat', a soft, melodious titter. "I will."
"Good." he remarks, and with a quick salute to the fair-haired teen, Gray saunters away from her apartment complex, stance languid and attitude as cool like the ice mage he is.
Lucy hates the way her heart skipped a beat at the smile he gave her before leaving.
She doesn't like him.
She doesn't have a crush on him.
She doesn't see him as anything more than her stripper nakama.
She just doesn't, and that's that!
So what if he's tall and lean and muscular? Or that his smiles and smirks and grins she suddenly finds cute that her heart flutters every time he gives her one? Or that he worked those long hours doing missions after missions just to surprise her with 500,000 Jewels for her rent?
He's Gray, for crying out loud! He's just a friend. He's supposed to be just her friend.
She doesn't like him.
She can't like him!
She absolutely cannot li—
Oh, who is she kidding!
Lucy lets out a woeful moan, face crumpled in helpless misery. The bathtub's warm water seems to have no effect in soothing her mind and body as she leans her head on the tiled wall, her mind a complete maelstrom.
Okay, fine. So she likes Gray. Big deal.
It's just a teensy weensy bit of a crush; it's not as if it actually means something, anything... right?
Definitely not!, her mind dictates.
So it shouldn't matter. It doesn't matter.
Besides, she can't deal with this right now — not when she's yet to figure out what she's going to do with Gray supposedly liking her, since that happened first.
Her own feelings, whatever the hell they are, can wait.
Lucy exhales, her breath mingling with the bathroom's steam. Eyes closed and position languid, she tells herself to focus as she goes over everything that happened.
...And finds, to her dismay, nothing enlightening still.
Noooo, darn it! Think, brain, THINK!
How can you even tell if someone likes you anyway?
Sure, at a glance, Gray's extravagant gesture may say something about his feelings. Like what Lisanna said, you can't be doing so much for someone who's not special enough. But does that explicitly tell her that he likes her? He said it's because he owes her, but is that just it or there's something more?
Other than that, he's also acting strangely. What's with the unpredictable mood changes and the sad smiles and the smoldering gazes? Has he always been like that? If so, why hasn't she noticed it before? Is she even supposed to take notice? From their encounter earlier, it so looked like there was a part of him that seemed out of it, like his mind was somewhere else. Was he sick? Did he not want to be there? Then why did he seek her out in the first place? Or maybe he didn't and they just happened to bump into each other?
More importantly, since when did she start to care about all of this?
So many questions with hardly any solid answers, and the poor blonde feels she's almost at her wit's end. She doesn't have any — not just enough, but any! — experience for this, darn it!
She's screwed, she knows, so hopelessly screwed. And it's times like these when she wishes that she has the power to read minds; it'll definitely make life much easier for he—
Lucy gasps, eyes opening wide at a sudden realization.
Maybe she's not so screwed after all.
05.10.12 ~ First published.
Hmm. I think this chapter is... blah. Seriously. It started out fine, then it got meh toward the end. I dunno. What do you think?
If it did turn out to be as crappy as I believe it is, well, I blame it on my work for getting my brain too fried to function. I hate working... and being broke. Be a dear and cheer me up with a review? \:(
What's a butt-monkey? It's someone who's always ridiculed or made fun of — the butt of jokes in a group. I have no idea how the 'monkey' got involved with the name, but to anyone who's asking, I hope this answer suffices. =]