"Yo!" Gray looked over his shoulder and smiled the moment he noticed that it was Alzack who had called out to him and was walking towards him. "How's it going?"
"Hey," the ice mage coolly greeted as the two mages bumped fists with each other after Alzack had taken the seat right next to his at the bar. "Everything's going pretty well actually." He gently shook the drink that he had ordered in his hand. "So, how're the wife and kid?" He took a sip of his drink as he waited for a response.
"Asuka's doing just fine," Alzack answered confidently. He fidgeted nervously in his seat before reluctantly adding, "As for Bisca and me… well…."
Gray frowned. "Hey, is everything alright? No trouble in paradise I hope."
Alzack quickly raised his hands up in an attempt to reassure Gray that that wasn't the case. "N-No, it's not that! Everything's just fine! …It's just…," Alzack sheepishly averted his eyes to look down at the bar, "something's been bothering us."
"Bothering you?" Gray repeated, his eyes having widened in concern and surprise as he placed his drink back onto the counter. "For how long?"
Gray crossed his arms solemnly and nodded as his friend slowly explained the situation to him. "I see." After taking a moment to let the newfound information sink in, Gray looked at Alzack and gave him a reassuring grin. "Well then, why don't you tell me what's going on?" he offered. "If I can help, I will, and if I can't, I'll see what I can do." When he saw that Alzack was hesitating, Gray affably punched his shoulder and prodded, "Come on, we're all friends here, right?"
Alzack nodded. "That's true," he admitted softly. "But considering what type of problem this is…."
"It's not serious, is it?" Gray asked with the concern evident in his voice.
Alzack was about to shake his head, but after a moment's hesitation, thought it'd be better to shrug his shoulders instead. "It depends," he answered.
"Hey," Gray said with a stern, disapproving, worried look on his face, "stop beating around the bush. Either you're going to tell me or you're not. Which is it?"
"I will, I will! Just… give me a sec." Alzack took a deep breath and looked at Gray, who was watching him impatiently. Buckling under the pressure, Alzack frantically looked for Kinana, raised his index finger, and cried, "Kinana!" Kinana turned to look at the gun-toting mage. "Can I get a drink?"
Kinana smiled. "Sure! Coming right up!"
It wasn't until after she had gotten him his drink and left to attend to her other errands and after Alzack had chugged down the entire beverage that he finally had the guts to ask, "Did… Juvia confess her feelings to you at the Great Banquet?"
Gray's eyes widened upon hearing Alzack's unexpected inquiry. "What?! What the heck does that have to do with anything?!"
"Just answer the question!" Alzack insisted firmly.
After a moment's hesitation, Gray blushed, sheepishly scratched the back of his head, and answered, "Y-Yeah."
"And did you reject her feelings for you?" Alzack prodded.
"W-Well, I didn't exactly accept them."
Alzack let out a disappointed sigh. "So it's true."
"So what of it?!" Gray cried defensively.
After a moment's contemplation from Alzack, the pistol-wielding wizard answered, "It's just… Bisca and I just don't get it is all."
Gray couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Get what?!" he demanded. "What's there to get?!"
"Well," Alzack explained, "Juvia may be…," his paused for a moment to find the right words, "a lot of things, but she's not delusional… at least not to a ridiculous degree. Based on what happened at the Grand Magic Games, I'm pretty sure you know that your opinion means a lot to her, so if you told her that you didn't like her that way, then I'm sure she'd respect you enough to stop pursuing you, or at least not as much as we've all been accustomed to. But that's the thing. Despite what happened, nothing's changed. Juvia's still obsessing over you and you're still reacting to it like you always do. Bisca and I were just wondering if everything was really okay between the two of you, that's all."
"Well," Gray said, playing with his glass as he spoke, "You were wrong about one thing: she still can't take a hint." Gray let out an exasperated sigh and rubbed his temples in annoyance. "Honestly, I made it so obvious too."
Alzack let out an amused, yet somewhat sympathetic chuckle. "I'm sorry to hear that." He sighed. "It's disappointing though. I had honestly thought that Juvia was better than that."
"There's nothing really wrong with her," Gray reassured him. "I just wish she'd act a little bit more normal around me is all."
Alzack smiled. "I'm glad to hear it." A pause. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Okay with what?"
"With Juvia being, well, Juvia."
Gray shook his head and nonchalantly waved Alzack's worries off. "I'm semi-used to it by now. I mean, I still hate it and all, but it's sort of become expected, you know?"
Alzack laughed. "Yeah, I guess it has."
Gray smiled and gave Alzack a firm pat on the back. "There, see? Nothing to worry about."
Alzack sheepishly shrugged. "I guess."
Gray raised his eyebrows in surprise at the uncertainty from his friend's reply. "'I guess'? Just what the heck do you mean by 'I guess'?"
"Well," Alzack smirked, "it's just… Asuka's going to have some really weird ideas about what love is, you know?"
Gray grimaced at the thought. "Oh, right." A pause. "Well, good luck with that."
"Hey, I thought friends were supposed help each other out!"
"Well, yeah, but," Gray took a quick sip of his drink and shrugged, "I don't exactly help you get dressed in the morning, do I?"
Alzack sighed. "Yeah." A small, knowing smirk then graced his features. "And besides, you'd be the last person I'd ask about getting dressed."
"Oh?" Gray asked, returning the gesture with an amused smirk of his own. "And why's that?"
Alzack played with his empty glass for a bit before answering, "You don't wear any clothes."
Gray cocked an eyebrow in surprise. "What type of stupid reason is that? Of course I wear clothes!"
"Yeah, but they never stay on for very long." He indicated towards Gray's body to further make his point.
Gray looked down at himself and let out a genuine cry of surprise. "Where the heck are my clothes?!"
Alzack couldn't help but chuckle as Gray quickly searched the guild for his missing clothes. After Gray had finally redressed himself, he sat back in his seat, and said, "Geez, warn a guy next time, would you?"
"When?" Alzack asked, taking a sip of the refill he had ordered while waiting for Gray to finish collecting his clothes.
"Before a guy's sitting stark naked in public would be nice," Gray grumbled.
"Deal," Alzack said. "I wouldn't want Asuka to get the idea that taking off her clothes in public was a good thing."
Gray nodded solemnly. "Yeah." He then took another sip of his drink before he shook his head disapprovingly. "Now that I think about it, our guild's got too many bad influences. You should really consider dropping the kid off in a daycare or something."
"Can't." Alzack flashed Gray a small, content smile. "She wants to spend time with her friends."
Gray gasped, but smirked immediately after. "Well then, if that's the case, we must be doing something right after all."
Alzack chuckled. "Yeah, 'something'."
Gray genuinely followed suit. "Obviously just 'something'." He raised his glass. "To doing 'something' right."
Alzack raised his glass, and said, "To doing 'something' right," before the two of them chugged their drinks down and slammed them back onto the bar.
After taking a moment to recuperate, Alzack said, "So… tell me how it went."
Gray gave him a puzzled look. "What?" he asked.
"Tell me how your rejection to Juvia went," Alzack specified.
Gray gave him a confused frown. "Since when were you so into other people's love lives?"
Alzack blushed, looked down at his glass, and played with it for a bit, before answering, "W-Well, you know, Bisca would want to know all of the details."
Gray let out an exasperated sigh and crossed his arms. "Yeah, girls are like that sometimes, huh?"
Alzack quickly nodded. "Y-Yeah. Can't go back empty handed, you know?"
Gray sighed. "Yeah, I hear ya." Gray sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. "Well," he began, clearly uncomfortable with having to recall such an awkward moment, "I was just minding my own business, when all of a sudden, Juvia popped up out of nowhere and started rambling on about how she was now Juvia 2.0, or something," he gently rubbed the bridge of his nose in annoyance, "I don't know, she was talking like she was some kind of robot or something."
Alzack leaned in, eyes wide, and quickly nodded. "Yeah, and?"
Gray eyed the gun-slinging mage suspiciously. "You know, you're a little bit too into this, you know that?"
Alzack shook his head and quickly waved Gray's remark away. "I need to get all the details," he said quickly. "What happened next?"
After a brief moment of hesitation, Gray continued with his story. "Well, after that, she said that she was entering a whole new age and stuff, you know, like a robot -"
Alzack leaned in closer, his eyes widened even further as he quickly nodded, and asked, "And? And?"
"She said that she loved me," Gray answered simply.
"And what did you say?" Alzack asked, admittedly a little too enthusiastically than he would've liked.
"I said I didn't."
"I said I didn't love her," Gray elaborated.
Gray shrugged. "That's it."
Gray nodded. "That's it."
Alzack couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Are you sure you're not leaving anything out?"
Gray crossed his arms, looked up at the ceiling, and thought his story over for a bit, checking to see if he had indeed left anything out of his initial telling of it. "Well… after that she said something about me playing hard to get with her… or something like that." Gray rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Honestly, why would I play hard to get? With her of all people?! She should know that I'm smarter than that!"
"So wait," Alzack said, raising a hand up to silence his friend for a little bit. "She said that she loved you and you just said that you didn't love her back?" Gray nodded. "That's it? End of story?!"
Gray eyed Alzack suspiciously. "Does there NEED to be more to the story?" he asked cautiously.
Alzack couldn't believe this. "So you just said that you didn't love her and that was it? You didn't give her an explanation or a reason or anything?! You just said that you didn't love her?!"
Gray was beginning to get a little impatient with all of Alzack's questions. "What explanation?! I told her that I didn't love her! Isn't that kind of self-explanatory?!" Alzack slowly began to rub his temples. "Look, I know the story's a little short, but that's seriously how it happened!" Gray let out a sympathetic sigh for his frustrated friend. "Look, if Bisca doesn't believe you, just call me. I'd be more than willing to set things straight with her. Trust me; I wouldn't want any misunderstandings to come between the two of you."
"He doesn't want any misunderstandings he says," Alzack irritably muttered to himself. "But he's the one who started one in the first place!"
Gray was taken aback by Alzack's uncharacteristic words. "What the heck's wrong with you today man?!"
"What's wrong with me?!" Alzack shrieked. "What's wrong with you?! You tell a person you don't like them and you don't even give them a reason why? Of course Juvia wouldn't believe you! You gave her no reason to believe otherwise!"
Gray couldn't believe what he was hearing. "I said I didn't love her! Look, I love Juvia, but I love her just as much as I would any other member of the guild! I just don't see her that way!"
"Did you tell her all of that?!"
"There's no 'technically' about it! Either you told her you didn't think of her that way, or you didn't! Which one was it?"
Gray irritably thought it over. "I…," he sheepishly shrugged, "didn't?"
"I told her I didn't love her! Can you blame me if I thought that saying that also meant that I just didn't see her that way?"
Alzack simply let out an exasperated sigh. "So you didn't tell her that last part then?" Alzack sternly asked, determined to get to the bottom of this.
Gray sighed and rubbed the back of his neck ruefully. "No… I didn't."
The two men laid their arms on the counter and leaned forward, exhausted from their exchange and the newfound revelations they had received. "So let me get this straight," Gray said, trying to make sure that he understood his situation. "Juvia's still doing her usual shtick, all because I didn't specify why I didn't love her."
Alzack nodded. "Yep." After a brief pause, he quickly mumbled, "And looking cool while shooting her down probably didn't help either."
Gray couldn't believe what he was hearing. Had Alzack gone completely mad? "What the heck are you talking about?!" Gray cried. "Why the heck would I try to look cool at a time like that?! And even if I was, how the heck would you know if I was acting cool or not when you didn't even know what happened until now?!"
Alzack let out an exasperated sigh. "Because," he explained, "there's no way in hell you'd be caught dead not being cool. That's just the type of person you are, for better or for worse."
Gray leaned his head back and let out an exhausted sigh. "Great, now what am I gonna do?"
"Simple," Alzack said, playing with his glass as he spoke, "you've got to set things straight with Juvia. You need to explain to her why you don't like her that way."
It was official. Alzack had gone officially mad. "What?!"
Alzack shrugged. "Better late than never, right?"
Gray anxiously scratched the back of his head. "Yeah, but… this is Juvia we're talking about."
Alzack sighed. "Look, Gray, you need to respect her feelings. If you truly don't like her that way, then you have to be honest with her." When Gray still looked a little bit hesitant, Alzack added, "Look, I know Juvia hasn't exactly been completely respectful of your feelings, with all of her usual crazy antics and all, especially what happened after the Great Banquet, but Juvia's NOT that crazy, you know that. If you were completely honest with her, I'm sure she'd leave you alone a little bit more, you know?" Still no response. "Look, if it had been any other girl, then you'd be in the right; but this isn't any other girl, this is Juvia, a fellow guild member, someone you've been through thick and thin with. She deserves an explanation. You owe her and explanation."
Gray sighed. "Yeah, I know, but," he started ruffling and pulling his own hair a little bit, "man, this is going to be painful."
Alzack nodded solemnly. "Yeah, she's going to be crushed." A pause. "Just… promise me one thing."
Gray raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Promise what?" he asked.
"Promise me, that even after you've straightened things out with her, that after there are no more misunderstandings between the two of you, promise me," Alzack smiled, "that you won't expect Juvia to stop loving you."
Gray took a moment to let Alzack's words sink in, before crossing his arms, looking away, and blushing slightly. "I make no such promises." He then quickly added, "But I definitely won't step on her feelings." He returned Alzack's smile with one of his own. "That's just not my style, you know?"
Alzack nodded. "Yeah." They bumped fists. "I wouldn't expect any less from you."
Author's Note #1: There we go! Early Christmas present for anyone who's been patiently waiting for an update on this story. I hope those who enjoyed the first chapter enjoyed this one. ;)
Author's Note #2: There were many different translations to what Gray actually said to Juvia during the Great Banquet. They ranged from "No thanks", "No thank you", "I don't", and "Not interested". I chose "I don't" for this story because it seemed like the most obvious worst outcome. I figured that if I wrote it with that scenario in mind, there would be less of a chance of somebody accusing this story of sugarcoating what actually happened, or something like that. :P