I HAVE EXPLANATIONS.

Okay no, basically midterms and well. To make up for it, here's an extra long chapter! I'm really sorry for the late update, but my midterms just ended a couple of days ago. My updates will be a bit irregular for the rest of this year too because I have several examinations going on and school takes up a lotta time so yeah. :P Anyway, thank you for the reviews/follows/favourites, they brighten my day.

Happy reading humans. ;)


Twelve

We were woken by the unholy cries of a woman.

I had leaned back against the wall for just a second, but apparently I'd somehow transported my ghostly self into an unconscious ghostly realm, because it definitely felt like being jerked awake from sleep.

I cracked my eyes open.

Okay. I stand corrected. It was the unholy womanly cries of a very fat dude.

"What," I said slowly, standing up from where I'd been squatting and raising both eyebrows at the bloke standing in the middle of our room, "The actual hell do you think you're doing?"

He stopped emitting that ghastly sound long enough to glance at me as if he'd just noticed there were other beings around him, and then closed his eyes in concentration as he returned to his pathetic pitiful moaning. I noticed he had a shaved head. It made him look like an egg.

I massaged my temples, feeling a lot groggier than someone dead really should. I figured the dude was a ghost, because it was only a ghost that found it perfectly reasonable to wail in the middle of a room where some people were trying to rest.

Also, Lucy Heartfilia was snoring away on her bed, a pillow over her face and a hand over the pillow.

God. I can't believe I kissed that freak.

A very tiny part of me started to hyperventilate at the memory. It was only a few hours ago. But at some point, sitting awkwardly across each other and trying to reason our way out of it, we'd dozed off.

Dozing off, however, seemed too mild a term when I looked at Lucy. She resembled a very small hibernating bear.

"Hey, Heartfilia!" I had to shout over the pathetic old guy standing between us. Geez, why did every guy that croaked in Magnolia have to be a sorry bag of shit? (Yes, that includes Zeref.) "Wake up!"

Obviously, she didn't.

I crossed the room, the wooden floor creaking underneath my sneakers against all Rules of Ghoul. On the way, I shot a dirty look at Egg who now had his face upturned to the ceiling as he went on.

I bent down and pulled the pillow out of Lucy's face. "Heartfilia. There's a ghost here to see you."

There was a muffle as Lucy shifted mid-snore. Then she groaned. "What now?"

"I said," I repeated, almost yelling. "There's a ghost here to see you, and if you don't do your mediator shit on him now, I might need to stab Natsu with a fork."

"Why Natsu?"

"Who else would I want to stab with a fork?" I asked in obvious tones.

Lucy sat up, still tangled in the bed sheets, rubbing at her mussed up hair. I withdrew my hands from her shoulders immediately, and worked furiously at keeping my eyes level with hers and not looking at her lips instead. Or further south.

I told you I was a gentleman.

She crossed her arms and turned to the ghost. The other one. "What do you want?"

The idiot stopped with his painful crying and swiveled his head around until he found us. At first, he didn't say anything. In fact, once he'd stopped making that noise, and was silently staring at Lucy with his dark eyes, I instinctively shifted a bit closer to her, angling myself in a way that I could stop him if he tried to do something funny.

Then: "They told me I could go home."

Lucy seemed to be all out of the usual empathy she had while dealing with lost spirits. She rolled her eyes and threw off the bedcovers, jumping out onto the floor with a loud thud. "Brilliant," she said. "Who did, exactly?"

Egg shrugged. "At the hotel. I was searching for Valerie all night long, but I couldn't find her. They told me I could go home once I saw her." His pale features brightened considerably. "I did find her, she was right—"

"Yes, alright, that's a beautiful story," Lucy grumbled. She stepped forward and grabbed both of his hands. He looked shocked. "What are you doing?"

Lucy sighed. I watched her, ready to help, but I know she wouldn't need it. I was slightly amused and also a bit surprised at how confident she seemed. Or maybe it was the desire to get back to sleep. Whatever the case, she would almost pass as an expert on doing this.

Damn it, her lips were distracting.

"Did you see her again? Valerie?" Lucy asked Egg.

"Yes…" He drawled.

"Do you want to go home?"

"Yes?"

Lucy gripped his fingers, looking intent. "Okay. Go home."

Egg closed his eyes. I watched hard, paying attention to all the details I'd ignored when I'd seen Lucy do the same thing for Wendy.

I'd been looking at Egg, as his confusion started to melt away into a look of longing, and then into relief, but then I caught Lucy flinch a bit in my peripheral vision. And then my eyes were on her, Mirajane Strauss's words echoing in my head.

It's painful enough for a momentary energy link when a spirit moves on through a guide.

Well. No wonder mediators were always in a bad mood.

Lucy scrunched her eyes shut as Egg passed through her. He'd been standing right in the centre of the room, in the moonlight. As he moved, the patch of light became visible again. Lucy dropped her empty hands, panting a bit, hands resting on her knees. I remembered she'd been much worse with Wendy.

I stood in the shadows, near the bed.

She straightened up, and glanced over her shoulder. "God, Gray," she remarked. "Don't lurk there like a ghost."

I didn't smile. Even though it was kind of funny. "Did it hurt?"

Whatever little amount of humour had been on her face was wiped clean by a poker face. "What?"

I wasn't sure how to ask her without making her think I was trying to victimize her. She seemed to take every concern I expressed in her benefit to be pity.

But then again, it's not like I think before I speak. I don't roll that way.

"That old woman," I started. "Wendy. This broken record. Does it always hurt?"

She didn't answer immediately. Instead, Lucy sighed loudly for the second time that night. "I'm clearly not getting any sleep tonight," she mumbled, loud enough for me to hear. Then she sat down on the floor, leaning against the in-built kitchen counter. "Come here."

Hesitant, I went and sank down next to her. We were only a few inches apart in this tiny space beside the bedside table, our knees touching. And I was astonishingly conscious of this fact.

"Tell me," I urged, when she continued to examine the wood grains on the floor with great interest.

"Is it because of what I told you?" she countered.

"Nooo." I rolled my eyes. "Absolutely not."

She glared at me. "I know what I said about being selfish, but that was in a moment of extreme weakness—"

"Oh." I interjected sarcastically.

Lucy ignored me. "—and I'm going to tell you, and you're going to do what you needed to when you were alive, and then you're going to hold my hands and try not to blow up in flames."

I heard the Lucy I'd first met in this calm, matter of fact voice which was clearly shielding all her emotions beneath. I looked at her look at her hands, and without warning a sudden pang of sorrow went through me at the thought of possibly seeing her for the last time if she told me.

"I don't want to move on," I said in a quiet voice. "Not ever."

But Lucy, who was sensible and understanding and stupidly brave, all the things I'd never been, tilted her face to look at me and smiled a sad smile. "Gray, do you know what 'ever' means? How long will you stay like this? Ten years? A hundred?"

"I can—"

"You were seventeen, and you'll always look like seventeen," she interrupted, but not rudely. Just in that practical voice which could overpower the vulnerable Lucy who'd kissed me. I'd always wished I could do that, but logic never was one of my top priorities. "You'll never be able to eat or drink. You'll only be able to talk to mediators." Lucy sucked in a breath, running her fingers through her hair. "And even if, in a parallel universe, you wanted to stick around with me, I'd grow old and die one day too, you know. It's life. You can't mess with the living and the dead, Gray."

She was saying everything Mavis and I always thought but never said aloud, fearing it would destroy us into something beyond what we were already were. Thinking about it made me want to throw myself off a bridge, only to realize it wouldn't matter. It was a vicious cycle.

I wanted to cry, but I didn't know how.

"Well," I said, fighting to sound as if I wasn't spiraling into a dark hole of despair. "If you stab Ickle Dragneel and then die, we can hang around together with unfinished jobs."

Lucy laughed a bit shakily. "No, I'm pretty sure that'll be a direct line to hell."

We fell silent for a few pregnant moments. I wasn't sure what time it was, but it seemed to have stopped around us, in this tiny moonlit apartment for two.

"You know," I said suddenly. "You and I are very depressing members of today's youth."

Lucy cocked an eyebrow in bemusement. "Well, our conversations aren't always about unicorns, but we do try."

I shook my head and sprung up on my feet. I was feeling strange and hollow inside, and I hated it. Like I always said, I didn't do depressing for too long. I needed to draw both our attentions elsewhere, away from topics of eternal pointlessness and death.

I walked over to Lucy's desk, and sifted through her collection of music. Boy, she had good taste.

We'd never discussed music. Or books. Or anything normal people discussed. I bit my lip, a bit angry at myself.

I grinned as I found a familiar album and dragged it out. There was no player here, but there was an ancient radio with a CD player in a corner of the desk. Lucy peered over the counter as the radio hummed when I turned it on and pushed the CD in.

Vincent began to play, and Lucy gave a small laugh of happiness. "Don McLean," she said contentedly, leaning back. I'd made sure it wasn't loud enough to wake Ickle Dragneel up.

"How about some of that wine?" I asked lightly, rubbing my hands. "Which I cannot drink, obviously."

All she said was: "Back cupboard."

Nodding, I reached out and took the hideously orange coffee mugs from the cupboard in one hand and the wine bottle in the other.

"How do you even remember we have that?" Lucy called.

"Are you joking?" I uncorked the bottle, sloshing it down messily into the cups, knowing very well I wouldn't be able to taste a drop. But hey, illusions work almost as well as the real thing. "It's the only thing you ever had the balls to steal."

"Haha." I caught a very rude hand gesture in the corner of my eye and suppressed a smile.

"Starry, starry night," I sang softly to her as I sat back down, and she giggled as she took a mug. It was so odd for Lucy to look this way, so young and happy. I pressed closer to her, listening to the guitar and again, very aware of Lucy's knee against mine and her shoulder brushing against my arm.

She made a noise of complaint at the orange mug again, but ghosts can hardly be choosers.

"Just drink," I told her. "Mugs are the best we have."

She didn't reply, tipping her head back and closing her eyes as the chorus washed over us. We sat there without a word, listening to the music play in the background. It was one of the most peaceful moments inside this place.

I felt strange—safe would be a good word for it. In my own skin, dead or not, and for once, I let my mind show me what it wanted to as I stared ahead blankly, the mug limp in my hands. I let myself think of Ul and of cruel snowy streets and of Lucy Heartfilia's flushed cheeks in the dawn at a graveyard. I felt my eyes close too, the images too bright in my head.

I didn't hear Lucy shift next to me, which was why her sudden touch jerked me back to the present.

I drew in a breath sharply as I felt warm fingers on my face. Lucy touched my cold forehead tentatively, slowly tracing her way down my temple, my cheeks, my jaw. She stopped at the corner of my lips. I opened my eyes and moved my head to look at her, turning my face into her small hand, breathing in her faint perfume. Her brown eyes held mine, betraying nothing as she continued to slowly move her fingers over my lips. They parted underneath her touch.

A shiver went down my spine as she threaded her fingers into my hair, running them through the tangled locks, singing along under her breath.

Finally, her hand stopped at the back of my neck. I realized my own hands were trembling as I reached out to brush against her leg. She tugged ever so slightly, and I felt myself leaning down to kiss her for the second time.

Only this time, I didn't pull away, and nor did she. I cupped her face as she pressed herself back against the counter. Our lips never broke contact as I followed her, kneeling right in front of her crossed legs as I heard her moan softly into the kiss. We were pushed right up against the counter wall in an uncomfortably painful position, but all I could sense were her lips on mine.

My left hand moved down to capture her free hand, intertwining our fingers together in a sudden grip lock. She shifted quickly for just a second, and suddenly I was trapped against the cool metal surface of the counter as she kissed me with greater ferocity, as if it was the first and last she'd ever get. Our joined hands slammed against the cold counter as Lucy pushed against my body, legs on either side of mine. I groaned as she pulled away for a heartbeat, and then fisted a hand into my shirt and leant in to lock lips again, forehead against forehead, eyelashes against eyelashes.

It was probably several years before we broke away, gasping for breath, our hands still entwined. But I couldn't go back to where I'd been at a polite distance from her. Instead, I leaned in even closer and kissed her jaw, and then her neck. Her grip around me tightened as I breathed into the crook of her neck.

And then, in a flash of a confusing moment, she sat up and pushed me away. She did it gently, but I took the hint and sat in a somewhat awkward position opposite her.

"No, stop," she said, panting hard. Her cheeks were flushed. "God."

I coughed nervously, scooching away to a comfortable distance. "Moment of weakness again?" I suggested after a while.

Lucy was still blushing furiously. I watched as she roughly pushed the hair away from her fair and groaned. "What are we doing?"

"I believe we were—"

"No, I mean what are we," she added emphatically. "Doing. Us. Human and ghost."

I heard her. I hadn't paused even once to actually consider it in the heat of the moment, but I agreed us making out was messed up on a number of levels.

One of them, for instance, might include the fact that we were throwing ourselves at each other in a sudden rush of screwed up hormones following the rather distressing thought of never seeing each other again.

It hurt just a little to think that was the only plausible reason why Lucy Heartfilia, out of all people, had kissed me. But I couldn't see why else she'd want to.

I mean, all she'd done was tell me how much he hated me for the last three months.

"Gray?" She snapped her fingers, breaking me out of my reverie.

"I don't know," I admitted, clenching and unclenching a fist. "Sorry for the er—attack."

I was taken aback to see a corner of her lips twitch. "That's not how I saw it, but alright."

"I won't lie," I blurted out before I could stop myself. "Kissing you feels pretty good, Heartfilia."

Lucy's cheeks reddened even further. I was feeling very conflicted between an urge to laugh at seeing her this way, and a need to really talk about whatever mess we'd got ourselves into in a few hours' time.

"Back to flirting, are we?" she asked rhetorically. Then she shook her head and leaned forward, elbows resting on knees. "Must have been the wine."

I snorted as a reply. "My mug's still full."

"Then it must have been you," she snapped, before clapping a hand to her mouth in horror.

Internally, my ego flopped around hopefully.

"I mean—"

"I think," I cut across, speaking slowly and choosing my words with care. "That I probably wanted to kiss you for a while now."

Lucy stared at me. How encouraging. "What?"

Damn you, Mavis, I thought. She'd been right all along. There was more than one reason that I'd blatantly refused to leave this apartment. I felt an odd sense of relief at saying something I hadn't even known I'd been dying to say.

Becoming friends with my freakish roommate had been an imagination far-fetched enough.

Actually starting to fall in love with her fight by fight had definitely not been one of my worries.

"I know how fucked up this sounds," I confessed, crossing my hands over the back of my neck as I looked down. "I know that I'm dead, and telling you that I well—like you isn't exactly very—well it sounds kind of toxic, I guess," referring to her choice of words at the graveyard. "And you're going to wake up in the morning and regret kissing a ghost, but—"

I was abruptly interrupted as Lucy suddenly reached out and placed her hands on my shoulders. I looked up to see pain in her eyes. "I don't regret anything," she said. "It was unexpected, but—it was something I wouldn't mind having more of."

And that was when she dropped her hands and shrugged and said the next few words. "But you're right. You're—well, Gray, you're dead." And in a rush, that one tiny word seemed to crush me in a horrific sense that I really was. Nothing would bring me back to life. "How can anything make sense?"

There was a brief silence.

"I loathe this so much." My voice was shaking when I finally spoke. "I hate knowing that I'm in love with you and that I'll never be able to do anything about it."

Behind us, the radio choked and sputtered and the next song stopped midway through. There was no music anymore.

Lucy's eyes were wide. "You're in love with me?" And then, before waiting for an answer I'd probably be too embarrassed to give anyway, she went on. "But I'm a moody, temperamental arse."

Oh good, it wasn't just me. Phew.

"Yeah," I agreed—yes, that was very kind of me, I know—and then tilted her face up towards mine. "And you're also brave. And kind. And good. And do you have any idea," I finished in an urgent whisper. "How beautiful you are?"

Her eyes softened as I saw traitor tears at their corners. She bit her lip and looked away.

"Just to be clear," she said in a hoarse voice, having waited long enough for me to seriously consider jumping out of the window to save myself any further hormonal mortification. "I'm not having sex with you just because you said that."

And just like that, the bubble broke and the atmosphere heaved a sigh of relief and I burst out laughing. "You little vixen."

She stuck out her tongue at me, but her expression was still gentle, her eyes still a whirlwind of emotions. "If it helps." She winked. "I think you're beautiful too."

"Geez, really?"

I wasn't prepared for her to lean over and kiss me briefly, almost a brush, as she stood up. "Yes, really."

I didn't protest when she picked up the second mug of wine and made her way to the bed.

Apparently, drunken Lucy liked me better than normal Lucy.


"Wake up."

I'm not that experienced with ghost-human interfaces, but most human beings sure don't kick a ghost when said ghost is standing over their bed at 4AM and yelling at them in the creepiest way he can.

Alzack, your friendly neighbourhood mediator, not only footed me in the groin when he jerked awake, he also recognized me faster than one would have cross analyzed an ectoplasm in the dark.

"Oh, Gods." He sounded mad. "It's you."

I already wanted to hit him in places he didn't know how to use properly yet.

"If you're done stating the obvious," I said, reaching over to flip on a lamp, illuminating the both of us in a light that was too harsh for the dimness. "I wanted to talk to you. Without either of us stabbing the other, because as you know, it'll only get bloody for one of us," I added.

"Fuck you."

"Hm. You wish." I smirked as I dodged another aggressively aimed kick. "Look, I just want to talk, alright? I promise to keep it verbal."

Alzack looked like a mess of a person, with his black dreadlocks leaving only inches of his face bare. His uncovered eye glared up at me as he set his jaw, crossed his arms and sighed angrily. "Fine. What do you want? I already told you and your little friends I am not helping you."

Glancing once at his closed bedroom door to make sure his gently vocalized words hadn't woken up anyone, I sat down opposite him on the bed. "Yes, about that. By 'little friends', who exactly are you talking about?"

Alzack raised an eyebrow. Or maybe he raised both, but only one was visible. "What do you mean?"

I tried to remain patient. "The last time I saw you, you complained about me and my people. You've been in Magnolia your whole life—you must have met other spirits who made you hate us so much. Who?"

"Why the hell do you care?"

"Kid, I'm trying really hard to keep this verbal at this point."

I had a feeling that putting this boy and Lucy in the same room would cause the room to spontaneously combust from the clashing of the best of stubbornness this town had to offer.

It was late, however, and Alzack seemed to realize that because he looked exhausted. "It wasn't anyone in particular."

I waited.

"I hate spirits, okay? I hate how your lot ruined my childhood, begging me to help you go on, breaking things in my room when I ignore you—I spent nineteen years as this…this mediator or whatever you call it. I never signed up for this, listening to dead sisters and murdered sons as they force me to help them, okay? I just—" He scrunched his eyes shut and then opened them again, looking away, hands clenched into the bed sheets.

I was speechless for a second. A second where I almost sympathized with him. But the living had doctors and therapists and friends and the dead had other dead from a separate century. We needed the guides.

Then it hit me.

"Look, I'm sorry." I said, sounding formal and very insincere. "But you've—known about this since you were a kid?"

I didn't expect his expression to harden into a look of such loathing. "Seven years old."

My mind was scrambling for some reason now. "But no mediator can know about their powers that young. You're not—not ready yet. Most people don't know till they're seventeen or eight—"

Alzack leant forward all of a sudden; his venomous eyes uncomfortably close to mine. "I knew," he spat out. "Since my father, alright?"

It took me a little too long to realize what he meant, and I was struck with a pang of sorrow. I couldn't ask him what I'd really come here to request, because the words died at the back of my throat when I saw the fury and grief in the hard set of his face.

Finally, all I said was: "Your brother…"

"I don't want to discuss my brother."

"But he—he has powers too, right?"

"Get out."

I blinked. "What?"

"What did you want, anyway?"

"I—wanted to ask for your help."

"In what?" he snapped.

I took a deep breath. "I know you hate ghosts—but not other mediators, right? I need you to sever the connection between a mediator and a ghost. I mean," I shrugged. "You've spent a long time avoiding the spirits by cutting them off, right?"

Alzack looked mildly interested for the first time. He leaned back a bit so that he was no longer glaring into my face. "Sever an energy line? You mean—not let a ghost move on?"

"No," I interrupted. "No, not move on. We can't unless we're ready, can we?" I paused, but obviously Alzack made no indication to confirm my words, so I continued. "Like when—look I know you hate our kind and I know you've cut off spirits from any help in the past, because Mavis had told me about you and your assholeness."

He frowned. "Who?"

"Never mind. But you can do it, right? So can you do it for another mediator?"

Alzack now brushed the hair out of his face and looked at me quizzically, his mouth turned down at the corners. "Why can't he do it himself? Breaking an energy line with a spirit isn't that hard if you hate it enough."

I tried not to let the fact that he referred to a spirit as an 'it' get to me. Instead, I tried explaining it again. Lucy was probably asleep and snoring her face off back at the apartment—if she knew I was here discussing her unwanted powers, she'd probably burn something down. "See, that's the thing. It's an energy connection made over, um…" I silently counted. "Five months."

"Five months?" Alzack looked shocked, which was a terrible sign. "You can't—how is that—do you live with a mediator?"

To answer his clearly rhetorical question, yes, yes I did. "I need to break this—this line or whatever the hell this is. The longer it gets, the weaker the mediator becomes right?"

Alzack's eyes hardened and he didn't answer me right away. "No, the longer it gets, the harder it is for a mediator to let the spirit finally pass through. He can die—and how the bloody hell do you know so much about mediators?"

But I'd stopped listening at his first few words. I couldn't imagine any way in which I could prevent this messed up mediator qualities of Lucy possibly killing her when I was finally ready—and she kept warning me that she would tell me and I couldn't stop it unless I left her and stayed away from her entirely.

And I wasn't sure I could do that.

"Will you help me?" I asked at last.

I wasn't surprised when Alzack scoffed out a laugh. "I don't want anything to do you with you. You're dead and you can stay it."

I wanted to so badly to hit him, but I was already getting up to slip out into the chilly air outside; all of a sudden, the warmth of the room felt scalding on my cold skin. I had probably known his answer all along, and had tricked myself into believing I could take an easy way out, to protect Lucy from something inevitable when I refused to leave her myself. With an agonizing feeling, I realized I was the only reason that could potentially kill her.

"Well?" Alzack demanded as I turned to leave, flipping off the light switch as I did.

In response, I just looked over my shoulder once in the dark, giving him the only explanation for my knowledge—"There are psychics in town."


Please, please do drop in a review and tell me what you think! Oh and yes, finally they get a make out session. XD I'm already working on the next chapter, so see you guys then. I hope I'll be able to post it faster this time. Till then :)