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"Do you have the package?" Erza murmured softly.

A cloaked figure slid the brown parcel wordlessly across the table. Erza untied it as carefully as she could, hands trembling slightly. Was this going to be the breakthrough she'd been searching for?

The prison break job had been a success, although not without some problems towards the end. The escapees, as expected, had been very strong, but Team Erza had ultimately emerged victorious. Laxus had taken most of the damage protecting Freed to ensure the trapping fields remained up, but it was nothing Wendy couldn't fix afterwards.

No, the biggest problem for Erza was that Lucy was now careful not to be left alone together. They were still friendly as usual in the group setting, but the moment Lucy sensed potential isolation, she slipped away. Two weeks had passed since their return to Fairy Tail, and Lucy had offered no second chances.

Erza had wondered what her own goal was now. She knew that Lucy had suppressed feelings for Natsu, and she knew that Natsu had feelings for Lucy but was too dense to understand what they were. She didn't want to label what she was doing as 'matchmaking', it was a very Mira-ish. She just wanted them to announce their feelings, too each other. Be friends, or be lovers, don't sit on the fence!

This desire for hard proof, something physical that Natsu could comprehend, and Lucy couldn't undermine, had led Erza into the underworld of Magnolia. Corrupt city detectives, free lancing private eyes, anyone who bought and sold data, the spiders, the snakes, and the weasels. Erza had gotten her hands dirty, trying to uncover leads, mine information, and find real evidence.

Up until now, her efforts had been relatively fruitless. Any gossip magazine in the city could give you a paragraph on the relationship between the 'Salamander' and the 'Key Princess', and none of the covert sources she'd tried had turned up much more than that.

"Oh yeah, the Salamander and the Key Princess are definitely an item, anyone can see that."

"They are always on missions together."

"I've seen the Salamander leave her apartment late at night many times."

"I heard Salamander burns people to a crisp just for looking at the Princess wrong!"

"The Salamander and the Princess had a furry blue baby together!"

Erza was considering giving up in her pursuit, when she received a mysterious letter in the mail.

'Erza Scarlet, I have the information you desire, but it will come at a significant price. Meet me in the corner stall at the Gomorrah Tavern. 11pm, this Saturday night. Destroy this message.'

And so, Erza now found herself sitting across from a stranger, dressed completely in black, his face shaded by the hood of his cloak. The stranger sat patiently, waiting for her to finish opening the package.

"T-this, this is…incredible…who are you?" Erza couldn't believe what she was seeing, hundreds upon hundreds of photographs. Natsu's cheeky grin, and Lucy's chirpy smile, dominated the frame of nearly every photo in front of her. Some taken at the park, some in the guild, some from the streets, and a lot from inside Lucy's apartment.

Before Erza could start sifting through this treasure trove, the stranger reached out and dragged the opened parcel back across the table.

"Before we get carried away, let's talk terms." The stranger's voice was barely above a whisper but it sounded vaguely familiar.

"There are over five hundred photographs here, in excruciating detail I have the 'friendship' of Mr. Dragneel and Ms. Heartfilia mapped out in its entirety. When we come to an agreement on the price, I will allow you fifteen minutes to look through my collection and select five to keep for your ongoing investigation. Everything else remains with me. Do you understand?"

Erza mulled over the proposition carefully. She was excited, she wanted to do the deal, buy the photos, and start building her final case…but now there was some unease creeping in. Who was this guy? Lucy and Natsu were her friends, and she didn't appreciate some stranger running around with such intimate documents of them.

As if sensing her unease, the stranger pulled the photos closer. "If you don't want to play ball then I'm happy to walk out right now and you'll never see these photos again."

"Let's say I don't want to play ball, and I don't want to let you walk out of here either, what then?" Erza challenged defiantly.

"I don't think that would work very well for you" the stranger replied simply. "If you want to reach across the table and snatch these photos from me, I offer to you now this golden opportunity." With that, the stranger leaned back, leaving the photos resting unguarded on the table.

Erza didn't need to think twice, she immediately lunged out of her chair and grabbed the parcel before the stranger could react. She tucked it under her arm and made a dash for the door, bursting out into the night air, and escaping to safety to keep all this glorious evidence for herself.

At least that's how it played out in Erza's mind, because as soon as she attempted to lunge across the table she found that she was glued to her seat by a sticking enchantment.

"Release. Me." Erza hissed through gritted teeth, her fingers stretching just short of the package.

"Of course." The stranger purred. "Once I am very, very, VERY, far away from here. However before that, you have to decide whether or not I leave without five of my photos…"

Erza sighed in defeat. "What's the price?"

The stranger leaned forward again, eager the transaction was going ahead. "There are actually…three prices. The first price is monetary, 10,000,000 Jewel. And before you lie, I know for a fact you have well over that amount, the S-Class job you recently completed paid out close to that figure, and you're a notorious hoarder."

Erza closed her mouth, the protests snuffed out before they'd begun.

"The second price…" The stranger coughed almost like he was embarrassed. "The second price is…a lifetime supply of fish."

Erza just stared blankly across the table.

"How can I pay you a lifetime supply of fish, how would that even work?"

The stranger didn't respond immediately, instead there appeared to be a muffled conversation from inside of his cloak.

"Er…basically, just tell the bartender at Fairy Tail that if anyone buys fish, it goes on your tab. Forever."

Erza narrowed her eyes, but elected to move on. "And the third price?"

The stranger started to visibly shake a little, and Erza could hear the faint outline of another muffled conversation taking place inside the coat.

"…Just say it…no…pussy…don't mess…she'll kill…"

Eventually the stranger coughed and continued with his demands. "Uh…the third price…the third price is…a nude spread in the next edition of 'Playboy Fiore'…"

Erza went bright red. "H-how can you even suggest such a thing!? If I ever find out who you are I'll rip you apart limb from limb!"

The stranger continued to shake, but didn't back down. "T-those are my terms, so accept or I'll leave with the photos."

Erza scowled, there's no way she could accept this bizarre deal, but she couldn't let him leave either. Maybe I can negotiate a compromise…

"How about this, I'll give you 5,000,000 Jewel, I'll pay for the fish tab for one year, and I'll do a bikini photo shoot for 'Sorcerer Monthly'. Is that acceptable?"

There was another hasty conversation from within the cloak, slightly more audible this time as the participants were getting angry with each other.

"Greedy cat…pay cut…just imagine without…pervert…shut it…I can release the…fine!"

"Right, so we- er I, have decided on a counter-offer." The stranger began finally. "Your terms on the money and the fish are accepted…but the nude photoshoot is sadly non-negotiable."

Erza seethed in her chair, naturally that was the one condition she couldn't bring herself to accept...Maybe…Would it be so bad? This was for the happiness of her friends after all…

The seconds ticked by, but the stranger showed no signs of budging, despite his obvious discomfort with the demand.

"Final counter-offer…" Erza began slowly. "A bikini photo shoot with a couple of topless shots, but my face is hidden. Take it or leave it."

Instead of the usual argument, there was silence from within the cloak. A whole minute went by before a faint murmur could be heard, prompting the stranger to start speaking.

"Your terms are accepted, please sign this magically binding contract, and you can start looking through the photos."

Erza breathed a sigh of relief, the investigation lived, and the only cost was her dignity, and a lot of fish. Erza signed the contract half-heartedly, essentially signing away her ability to use magic if she didn't fulfil her end of the bargain, and pushed it back across the table. The stranger scanned it quickly and nodded, pushing the parcel back across to her.

"Your time begins, now."

OoOoO

"So, did you find what you were looking for?"

Erza smiled down at her five photos, relief washing over her that her pending embarrassment would be well worth it.

"Absolutely, and not just for my Lutsu investigation."

"Lutsu?"

"Yeah! Lucy-Natsu, when you put it together it makes Lutsu! Catchy right?"

"Er, I guess…not really…" The stranger made to leave but Erza continued talking.

"Yeah, these photos also gave me some clues as to who you are. Who all of you are."

A visible shiver ran up the stranger's spine.

"You see, despite the fact that Natsu is always accompanied by Happy, the blue fur ball is absent in nearly every photo taken from inside Lucy's apartment. Conversely, Happy is visible in lots of photos taken out on missions, but this time Gray is missing. And finally, Gray and Happy can be seen in photos taken at the guild…most of which are shots taken from above, and missing a certain Master…"

"Very astute, Erza." The stranger replied stiffly. "Happy, Gray, and Master Makarov, I did indeed steal these photos from all three of them. You can't hold any of them responsible for my actions."

"I see." Erza replied dangerously, eyes narrowing.

"If that's all then I'll be"-

"Not quite" Erza quickly interrupted. "There is one last thing, and it's about this sticking enchantment."

"Oh?"

"You see, a sticking enchantment in itself isn't that powerful, but to hold it against a struggling target for this amount of time…that is well and truly an impressive magical feat."

The stranger said nothing, although he shifted a little closer to the edge of the booth.

"The thing is, you have to concentrate the entire time while holding the enchantment. If your concentration slips for even a second, you'd need to re-cast it, but in that moment the target would notice and escape…so, Master, try holding your concentration during this sneak peek of the bikini shoot…"

"Don't look, Master!" The stranger blurted out, grabbing at his wriggling stomach.

Erza smiled and ex-quipped into her beach outfit, running a finger along the string of material seductively.

"No! Master!"

Erza immediately felt the sticking enchantment break and she sprang to her feet, pinning the stumbling figure up against the wall with her forearm, her spare hand reaching into her pocket dimension.

"Wait! No! It wasn't my idea I swear!" The cloaked figure squirmed, raising his hands in surrender.

Erza smiled evilly, and pulled out a wad of cash. "Your 5,000,000 Jewel, in full. Next I'll be going to Fairy Tail to clean off all the blood, and open the fish tab. After that I'll go do the photoshoot, fulfilling the contract. It's a pity none of you will be around to enjoy any of it…"

Erza reached back into the pocket dimension and slowly pulled out a long sword.

"Uh, Erza." Heaven's Wheel Erza appeared on her right shoulder.

"What is it?" Erza grumbled. "You better not be here to tell me to spare these fools."

"Oh no, please castrate them slowly and mercilessly." Heaven Erza smiled sweetly. "I just thought I'd remind you about your clothes."

"My wha?"-

Erza immediately jumped back in embarrassment, realising she was still in her bikini, the entire clientele of the bar watching her with great interest. After an awkward moment of attempting to cover herself with her hands, she remembered about ex-quipping, and changed back to her Heart Kreuz armour. Silencing the negative crowd reaction with a stony glare, Erza turned back to the stranger, but he, or rather they, had taken the moment's distraction to escape.

Erza looked around in disbelief, the escape was impossibly fast, she hadn't taken her eyes of off them for longer than a few seconds.

"Down there." A patron whispered, pointing to a section of the skirting board.

Sure enough, a tiny black figure, smaller than a mouse, was scampering away.

"Size magic…thank you." Erza muttered as she swooped down and grabbed them in one hand, giving them a squeeze for good measure.

"No problem! Thanks for the show, love." the man grinned wolfishly, eyes surveying her curves.

Erza went bright red again and scampered out of the tavern, gripping her prey tightly.

"Where are you taking us?" squeaked one of her captives.

"To find Wendy, you three are about to get a beating to within an inch of your life for that stunt, I think it's better she's on standby, don't you agree?"

"…aye…" Happy whined.

"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned…" Makarov noted sagely.

"Oh, so now you decide to play the wise old master?" Gray mumbled bitterly.

Erza silenced all three of them with another squeeze of her fist.

Just a small filler chapter to set up the finale, thanks for reading.

Next time! Showdown at Fairy Tail! Erza confronts Natsu and Lucy!