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Embers rose off the campfire, dancing into the all-surrounding darkness. The moment they were removed from their source, they dwindled and flickered into nothing. Erza wondered if this was a greater metaphor for something, but was too nervous to think straight. She was about to attempt taking blood from a stone, or rather, ask Lucy about her private life.

The job had been going well, they were tracking a group of dangerous escapees from Crocus Penitentiary, last spotted in the foothills of the Fiore Highlands. Team Erza had picked up a few stragglers and handed them over to the local authorities for transportation back to the capital, and were hot on the heels of the ringleaders. Freed's trapping ability, Wendy's tracking and healing, and Lucy's resourcefulness and problem solving, had all assisted greatly in the first week of the assignment. Laxus and Erza had the raw power in case the initial capture went awry, but they hadn't had to flex any muscle, yet.

"…and so, I'd say with a good day's trek tomorrow we'll catch up to the main group in the late afternoon or the early evening at the latest" Wendy concluded her report to the group.

Laxus grunted in acknowledgment and cracked his knuckles, while Freed nodded solemnly. Lucy clapped her hands together and complimented Wendy on her tracking. Even by dragon slayer standards Wendy was phenomenal, her wind magic allowed her to pick up scents on the breeze better than Natsu or Gajeel could.

Erza cleared her throat. "Good work, Wendy. Even though I trust all of you to hold your own in a battle, we will still slow down and wait for night to fall before making our move tomorrow. It's vital that Freed can lock away as many enemy combatants as possible before the fight starts, we're taking no chances, this is an S-Class job for a reason."

The group all murmured their agreement and started moving into their own conversations before Erza cleared her throat again. "Before everyone turns in for the night we have a couple of errands to run. Freed, I want you to go double check the perimeter field. Laxus, scavenge for some wild berries and more fire wood. Wendy, climb that giant Oak tree we passed and check the prevailing wind for foreign scents. Dismissed!"

"Hai!"

"Hai!"

"Hai…"

Freed and Wendy shot off to perform their tasks, while Laxus loped off lazily, yawning.

"Um, was there something you wanted me to do, Erza? I could accompany Wendy if you like?" Lucy asked earnestly.

"Oh, no, its fine, we're going to have a nice friendly catch up." Erza smiled stiffly, shuffling over and squeezing Lucy's knee in what she thought was an approachable gesture.

"Erza…you're hurting me…"

"Lucy, let's gossip."

"W-what!? Why are you asking me this all of a sudden?" Lucy panicked.

"Can't two friends gossip on a sleepover?" Erza asked innocently.

"Uh…I guess, it's just that it's not so much a sleepover as it is an S-Class mission…"

Erza waved her hand nonchalantly. "Come on Lucy, when else can we gossip? The guild is too noisy, and we never have a mission together without Natsu, Gray, and Happy."

"R-right, I guess so…"

Erza smiled sweetly, "Great! It's decided then!" Erza ex-quipped into her sleepover pyjamas and pulled a tub of ice-cream out of her bag. Lucy narrowed her eyes at the typical signs of Erza-style preparedness.

"Have you carried ice-cream around for a week…and sent the others on errands…just to gossip with me?"

Erza began to sweat. This wasn't part of the script! ...No, wait, I can use this…

Erza imitated Natsu and scratched the back of her head sheepishly, putting on her best attempt at a reassuring smile. "Ahh, you got me, I was just really looking forward to spending time with you, sorry Lucy…"

Lucy immediately began to panic and apologise profusely, taking the spoonful of ice-cream offered to her. Erza laughed to herself, she'd watched Natsu guilt Lucy enough times to have a rough idea of how to do it by now.

"Er…so what was it you wanted to talk about exactly?" Lucy asked tentatively, still a little wary about the road she was being manoeuvred down.

"Oh…you know" Erza waved her hand airily. "Just girl stuff…how are you feeling? Excited, nervous?"

Lucy smiled, it was probably all in her head, what agenda could Erza possibly have?

"Yeah, good. I'm nervous I guess, the guys we're following must be seriously strong to break out of the capital prison."

"Mmm, yeah, I agree, I agree…so…how is it working with a different team? Is this your first mission without Natsu?" Erza asked innocently, knowing the answer full well.

"Oh…yeah I guess it is…" Lucy laughed uneasily. "I've worked with you and Wendy before so it's not totally different. Laxus and Freed are polite but don't talk to me so much…I guess it's a little quieter than I'm used to…" Lucy trailed off.

Was that a hint of sadness in her voice? Erza thought excitedly. This is a good chance to subtly detect her feelings!

"Yeah, it is more fun when Natsu is around." Erza stated bluntly.

"I didn't say anything about Natsu!" Lucy squawked indignantly.

"It's OK!" Erza put her hands up instinctively. "I miss him too."

"Y-you do?" Lucy asked, a little taken aback.

"Of course, he's a good friend, and a lively teammate."

"Yeah! Natsu is a good friend…I hope he doesn't blow anything up at the guild while we're gone." Lucy added, sighing.

"Me too, me too…although I'd be more worried about your apartment, Lucy." Erza nodded sagely.

"W-what? Why my apartment?" Lucy spluttered.

"Natsu spends a lot more time there than he does at the guild, wouldn't you say?" Erza probed.

"Uh, I guess, maybe. I don't think he'll be there if I'm not though."

"I suppose you're right, Natsu only hangs out at your apartment because that's where you are, of course that makes sense."

Erza carefully watched Lucy's reaction out of the corner of her eye. There was no major outward change as Lucy opted not to respond to this statement.

An awkward pause stretched between them, Lucy staring into the fire vacantly, Erza pondering her next move. Lucy was already closing up, Erza needed a crowbar to wedge the conversation back open.

"Lucy?"

"Yeah?"

"Tell me the story about how you met Natsu, I don't think I've heard it before."

"Eh? Really?"

"I was out slaying a monster somewhere, when I came back to the guild you were there and someone told me Natsu had invited you. Aside from the fact you defeated 20 Vulcans in your first job, I don't know much about the beginning of your Fairy Tail career."

"Ahaaa, right, those Vulcans…Well, actually, Natsu saved me. Not on purpose of course! A sleazy wizard called Bora had a group of girls, myself included, under a love enchantment, but Natsu broke it up by barging in, you know how Natsu is?" Lucy laughed. "After that I treated him and Happy to lunch for saving me…and then I got tricked and captured by Bora…and Natsu saved me again. I had told Natsu I wanted to join Fairy Tail, so he just grabbed my hand and dragged me along…" Lucy smiled, soaking in the nostalgia.

"And you've been partners ever since." Erza prompted.

"Yeah, we formed a team pretty much straight away, he's such a laidback guy, it's easy to just fall into his pace and go with the flow."

"What did he say when he asked you to join his team?" Erza enquired.

Lucy was about to answer, but cocked her head all of a sudden and eyed Erza cautiously. "Why? What's with all the questions about Natsu?"

"Nothing! Nothing!" Erza lied, eyebrows raising in fake surprise. "…No one's ever asked me to be part of their team before…And I've always just ordered people to be part of my teams…I was wondering what it was like…" Erza trailed off sadly, praying a guilt trip would work for a second time.

"Oh! I'm sorry Erza! Uh, he just kind of blurted it out randomly…I had just summoned Plue…and then he said that it was Plue's idea!" Lucy burst out laughing as the blanks in her memory were slowly filled in.

"Typical Natsu…did he say why he asked you?" Erza continued, pushing forward again.

"Hmm, sort of. He said I was…weird."

Erza nodded, hoping she'd elaborate, but that was apparently it. Damn it, Natsu.

Another silence stretched between them, as expected, Lucy was a lot harder to extract information from than Natsu. And on that note, any more follow up questions would just be too suspicious at this juncture.

"Erza, I thought you wanted to gossip?" Lucy asked casually, taking another scoop of ice-cream.

"O-oh, sorry, I got side-tracked thinking about Natsu" Erza quickly replied. Rather than reducing the tension in the air however, Lucy looked at Erza oddly, almost like she was trying to read her face this time.

How do you even gossip? What would Mira do? …Boys! Girls gossip about boys, I remember that!

"Lucy! Who do you think will be the next Fairy Tail couple? I noticed Gajeel and Levy are getting pretty close…"

Lucy's face immediately brightened as she started gushing over how happy her friend was these days, even if Gajeel was a little scary. Erza relaxed as she let Lucy's rambling wash over her, the interrogation was still alive, now she just had to get it back on the tracks.

"…And so that's why Gajeel and Levy are perfect for each other!" Lucy finished finally.

"Oh? Yes, I agree completely…So who else is there in Fairy Tail? …Gray and Juvia? They are sooo cute together!" Erza enthused, trying to embody Mira as best she could.

"Ooooh maybe!" Lucy giggled in excitement. "I will be so happy for Juvia when Gray finally admits his feelings!"

"Yeah, me too. It's so frustrating when two friends like each other but don't take the next step." Erza hinted meaningfully.

Like a deer in the wild, Lucy immediately stiffened, her senses alerting her to danger. She could feel the framework of a trap slowly ensnaring her, but couldn't quite pinpoint the threat.

"R-right, so um, who else…oh! Elfman and Evergreen!" Lucy started again nervously, keen to distance herself from whatever Erza was hinting.

"Ooh that's a good one, Lucy!" Erza agreed enthusiastically. "They would be so much happier together if they stopped denying their attraction…"

"Y-yeah…" Lucy found herself again on the back foot, although against what she did not know. She felt like she was circling the drain…for something, and Erza was perched, ready for her to get sucked down.

Erza also felt she had Lucy around about where she wanted her, but couldn't find a segue back to Natsu. Flame Erza took this moment to appear on Erza's left shoulder again.

"You know, Erza, we could play the Lisanna card. Make Lucy think she'll lose Natsu if she doesn't do anything about it."

Erza gulped, that was low…but what other options did she have?

Heaven Erza materialised, quivering with rage. "How dare you, how dare you play your friends off against each other! There is no justification for this kind of manipulation!"

Flame Erza shrugged, "It's for the greater good."

"The ends do not justify the means" Heaven Erza hissed.

"Yes they do!"

"No they don't!"

"Erza?" Lucy cut through the argument. "You're kind of spacing out…do you want to call it a night? Your watch doesn't start for another five hours."

"NO! I mean, not yet! …There's one other couple we haven't talked about…"

"YES!" screamed Flame Erza.

"NO!" shouted Heaven Erza.

"Oh?" Lucy asked hesitantly.

"Yeah…you and…"

"TOO FORWARD!" Flame and Heaven Erza yelled together.

"You and… Loke! Natsu told me Loke is pursuing you, and you have quite the history together." Erza winked slyly, dismissing both miniature forms from the conversation.

Lucy laughed in relief. "I don't know if Loke is serious…but I'm definitely not interested!"

"Really? Definitely? You sound very certain!"

"Oh yeah" Lucy chuckled, "He's not my type."

"I understand, I understand…so what is your type then? Or should I say…who is your type?" Erza pressed forward, pretending to tease Lucy as she blushed.

"No one!"

"You don't have a crush?"

"No way!"

"Calm down, Lucy!" Erza laughed, keeping the conversation light. "I was only joking, but you do have to tell me your ideal type of boyfriend!"

"Nooooo wayyyyy!"

"Come on Lucy! It's just between us girls! We're on a sleepover!"

"WE'RE ON AN S-CLASS MISSION!"

Erza pouted in her pyjamas and ate her ice-cream sadly, waiting for Lucy to fold.

"Gah! Fine!"

Erza smiled evilly. "So, what would you prefer, a great body or a great mind?"

"Erza!" Lucy exclaimed, already blushing.

"Whoa, I'm not one of the options, sorry Lucy!"

Lucy buried her face in her hands, she knew she'd walked right into that one. "Uhhh, I guess I'd prefer a great mind…my ideal boyfriend is someone I can have an intellectual conversation with, someone who can keep me mentally active."

"Seeee? That wasn't so hard!" Erza laughed, disguising her disappointment over a blatantly anti-Natsu response. "What about looks? Someone who is clean cut and refined? Or someone a little more wild and rugged?"

Lucy scrunched up her face in embarrassment at the question, but still answered. "I guess, clean cut and refined. If we are together, HYPOTHETICALLY, then we'll be going out to fancy restaurants and the like, I want to be able to show off my boyfriend to other people. Yep, straight, combed hair, crisp suit, and perfect manners."

0/2…We are officially off script…

Erza began to sweat, maybe Natsu wasn't the right partner for Lucy after all.

"Ok…last question, I promise! Your dream boyfriend, wizard or non-wizard?"

Lucy went into some thought, causing Erza to sweat further. This is an easy one! Of course you want to be with a wizard!

"I guess, I'd have to say my dream boyfriend would…not be a wizard. If we're going to be settling down one day and starting a family, we both need steady incomes from respectable jobs. Being a part of Fairy Tail is fun, but it's not ideal for raising kids, and the risk is too great as well. Think about all the times Natsu has nearly died, I don't want to be a single parent."

Erza was so shocked by the thoroughness of Lucy's reasoning that it took her a few moments to fully comprehend what she had just said.

"…Why Natsu?"

"W-what?"

"You said 'think about all the times Natsu has nearly died'. I never said anything about Natsu, I just asked wizard or non-wizard."

Lucy immediately went bright red and started stuttering.

"T-that doesn't mean anything! I just meant like, you know, Natsu is a wizard, and you asked about wizards and"-

"Yes, but when given a scenario about potentially dating a wizard, the person that immediately came to mind for you was Natsu…interesting." Erza cut across coolly. Lucy had slipped, and now it was time to go on the attack.

"It's not what you think!" Lucy raged.

"You know what I think? I think you answered those three questions with Natsu in mind for all of them, you're so scared of your feelings that you tried to convince yourself he isn't your ideal partner."

"Natsu's just my friend!" Lucy went on, defiantly. "It's only natural after the amount of time we've spend together that I would use him as an example!"

"Yes, you do spend a lot of time together…"

"That's not what I meant!"

True to her reputation, Lucy had not crumbled. She'd gone into damage control and immediately started plastering over the cracks in her shield. This is no longer the time for subtle manoeuvring, Erza thought, I have to land the knockout punch.

Lucy huffed in her seat, acting shocked that someone could even suggest she was attracted to Natsu. Despite that haughty exterior, she was vulnerable, Erza just needed something to break through her exposed defences.

"But it's true that you see Natsu every day?"

"Y-yes, but I see most of you guys every day!"

"Ahh, but is it true you've seen Natsu every day since you first met?"

Lucy was momentarily pulled out of her stubbornness as the realisation hit her, but quickly sank back into her comfort zone. "Yeah, I guess, we're just friends though."

"Is it true that Natsu waits for you in your apartment?"

"That's because he's weird! We're just friends!"

"Is it true he sleeps in your bed?"

"Not with me in it!"

"Is it true he uprooted our town's Rainbow Sakura tree, just so you could see it from your apartment?"

"Y-yeah, but it was just a friendly gesture!"

"Is it true you've sent Natsu a letter at every town we've passed so far?"

"Erza! We're just friends!"

Erza sighed, her offensive was falling apart at the seams. The sad fact was that the overwhelming majority of evidence could be explained away like Lucy was doing.

Think, Erza, think! If there was any damning evidence that occurred previously, I wouldn't be interrogating her right now. The only way forward is to exploit something she's said today. She must have tripped up somewhere. There must have been something…think!

The silence stretching between the two friends was only interrupted by the crackling of the fire. For some reason the sound reminded Erza of Natsu's laugh. Usually right after he'd blown something up, or knocked someone over in his usual careless manner.

Natsu…Lucy…what am I missing? You're meant to be together, it's clearly love…love? …LOVE! THAT'S IT!

"Lucy?"

"Oh no, Erza, not more relationship questions! I think I should just go"-

"Just one last thing! I swear!" Erza added seriously.

"Fine" Lucy yawned, rolling her eyes.

"It's about the story when you and Natsu met for the first time."

"Right."

"You said a wizard called Bora had you under a love enchantment."

"Yes, they're outlawed, but he was real sleazy." Lucy commented bitterly.

"Exactly! Exactly…when Natsu barged in and saved you, were any of the other girls under Bora's spell saved?"

Lucy shook her head, brow furrowing in confusion. "No, just me, why?"

"Mmm, you see, love enchantments are outlawed not just because they are unethical, but because they are seriously powerful. They can't be broken by something as trivial as a minor distraction."

"Really? That's how it was for me though."

Erza shook her head. "But no one else was broken from the spell by Natsu, why do you think that was?"

Lucy thought for a few moments but eventually shook her head, "I don't know."

"A love enchantment can only be broken two ways. One is the caster voluntarily releasing the target."

"That definitely did not happen." Lucy scoffed.

"I agree." Erza continued, a smug smile beginning to form. "The other way…is by the intervention of the target's one true love."

Lucy did not have a witty comeback for this as her mouth hung open slightly.

"So…" Erza continued, closing in on her prey, "Are you going to keep denying how you feel about Natsu to me?"

Lucy stuttered, blushing furiously. "I…Natsu…we…"

YES! SAY IT!

"YOOOOOO!"

Erza clenched her fists, trying to contain the rage about to explode out of her.

Laxus, Freed, and Wendy, all entered the camp, having completed their respective tasks.

"I'm going to sleep, good night!" Lucy squeaked hastily, before diving into her sleeping bag.

And just like that, the moment was gone. Erza sighed bitterly, the next time the topic got brought up Lucy would be ready with a dozen counter measures, arguments, and explanations. The element of surprise was well and truly lost. Erza had skirted the truth, of course not all love enchantments were the same, and it is possible that Bora was using a weaker version. Maybe because Lucy operated on a higher brain wave, a simple distraction was all that it took to snap her out of it. Erza did not think this was the case, but there was no doubt that once Lucy composed herself it would be an infallible argument.

No, this interrogation was completely dead. They had a mission to focus on tomorrow, there was no cornering Lucy again in the immediate future. This was an inescapable defeat. It couldn't get much worse.

"Hey Erza, nice pyjamas!"

"Shut up, Laxus."

Next time! Erza gets desperate!