Chapter 24

There was something sweetly satisfying about punching into rock.

Natsu's feet shifted to rebalance his weight with each swing as he mixed the combination of punches—right, right, left. Left, right, left. He fell into a mindless rhythm.

He focused his impact on the same spot and soon cracks spiderwebbed across the limestone. Another few hits and the boulder shuddered, on the verge of collapse. His magic coiled restlessly around him. There was an itch beneath his skin that this controlled violence was just starting to scratch. He swung again, this time lighting up his fist, and the stone crumbled to rubble beneath his feet.

"What did that rock ever do to you?"

Natsu twisted around to find Gray standing in the clearing across from him. There hadn't been a field of gravel here a few hours ago but, well…Natsu had been busy. He figured Mount Hakobe could afford to lose a few rocks.

"What do you want?"

"Went to the guild to find you, but you weren't there. I decided to follow the trail of wreckage instead. Thought maybe we could talk."

"Nah. I'm busy." Natsu turned to the next boulder in clear dismissal.

"I can see that."

Natsu wouldn't say Gray was the last person he wanted to see today (that honour would always and forever belong to Erza 'Funkiller' Scarlet), but Gray certainly fell low on the list.

He could feel Gray's eyes tracking him but tried to ignore him. The itch started up again, worse than ever, his veins practically vibrating, his concentration unravelling the longer Gray just stood there, silently watching him.

This fucker. Couldn't a man climb a mountain and destroy shit in peace anymore?

More stones collapsed beneath his fists.

"Are you going to level the entire mountain?" Gray called out.

"Considering it." Natsu didn't see why it was any of Gray's business.

"Let's spar." Gray closed the distance between them until Natsu could see Gray's shadow overlapping his own. "It'll be good practice. Can't have you getting rusty."

Natsu scoffed but turned to look at him. "Like that would ever happen."

Gray's mouth quirked up. "C'mon, man. I know you're not afraid I'll beat you. Besides, isn't it more fun to punch something that can punch back?"

That was a compelling argument.

"Fine, but we're not using magic." Natsu wanted flesh-on-flesh—sweat, blood and tears. He wanted this to hurt.

"Agreed," Gray said, raising his fists.

The resulting fight was hard and fast and far less damaging than Natsu hoped it would be. Gray stayed comfortably on the defensive, managing to evade the worst of Natsu's blows. Natsu didn't like to admit it, but Gray had near-perfect control over his body, bending like an acrobat and twisting away before Natsu could even lay a finger on him. Still, Natsu knew he was no slouch either—years of experience and a lifetime of agility making him as slippery as an eel and just as hard to catch.

It took forever, but finally Natsu managed a lucky hit to the solar plexus and a sharp bruise bloomed almost instantly on Gray's chest. Seconds later, Gray paid him back with a swift uppercut to the chin that had Natsu's teeth rattling in his skull.

Natsu redoubled his efforts, but Gray matched him with infuriating ease, plunging the two of them into a constant push-pull that was as exasperating as it was exhilarating.

Gods. He needed this.

A sense of sharp relief overtook him as all his troubles drained away. Fighting at the most primal level left no room for sticky thoughts. There was only cause and effect: attack, evade, block, and attack once again.

Once it was over by mutual, unspoken understanding, they sprawled beside each other on the few scraggly tufts of grass that managed to sprout through the rocky carnage, their heavy pants of exhaustion filling the air.

"You're hurt." Gray gestured down to Natsu's hands to where blood sluggishly oozed from his split knuckles.

Nasty examined them with disinterest. "I'll heal quickly."

Gray propped himself up on one elbow. "At least I beat you this time."

"Like hell you did!" Natsu jumped up, fire sizzling beneath his skin. He expected Gray to flip away from him, but the ice-mage stayed on the ground, a small smirk playing at the corners of his mouth.

"Relax. I'm only joking."

Natsu scanned Gray—his heart rate remained evaluated but had started coming down, his limbs sprawled out and loose. Gray cocked an eyebrow, letting out a dry tsk. Natsu dropped back down to sit cross-legged and Gray sat up, aping his movements so they were face to face.

"Didn't know you had developed a sense of humour," Natsu muttered.

"Haha. I don't see you cracking any jokes."


The wind howled as it gusted around them, ruffling hair and drying the sweat from their bodies.

"You're the one that came looking for me, not the other way around," Natsu griped.

"Yeah." Gray blew out a puff of air. "I went to the guild but you weren't there. Cana told me you were in a bad mood."

Natsu rolled his eyes. "And I thought Mira was the gossip."

Gray chuckled. "What happens at the guild doesn't stay at the guild, that's for damn sure."

"Yeah, I noticed."

Gray found a small stick and traced a circle in the gravel. Natsu waited, drumming a hand on his kneecap. Gray dropped the stick and looked him square in the eyes. "At any rate, I wanted you to be the first to know: I asked Juvia to be my girlfriend last night."

Natsu paused at that.


A muscle on Gray's cheek twitched. "Yes, Juvia. What's wrong with that?"

Juvia. Not Lucy. Not Lucy. He didn't know what to do with this sudden influx of hope that rose in his chest, warm and sweeping and foolish.

Just because Gray's not dating Luce doesn't mean she wants to date you, he reminded himself. Still, if his breaths were coming in a little easier, a little lighter, he chalked that up to his own fitness level.

"Nothing. I just thought she was a little over-the-top for you."

Gray ran a hand through his hair. "So did I, but last night we got to talking and I ended up walking her home. Once you get Juvia away from everyone else, she's…different. Sweet. We found out we have a lot in common. We both see the world the same way."

"You like Juvia, not…" Natsu stopped himself. He didn't say the name. He didn't need to, but it hung there, a heavy shape in the silence.

"No," Gray confirmed. Natsu saw the look of pity in his friend's eyes, like he could hear everything Natsu didn't say.

"You like Juvia?" Natsu repeated.

"Yeah." Gray picked up a handful of rubble and playfully threw it at Natsu. "I like Juvia. I asked her out. She's my girlfriend now."

"You and Juvia. A couple."

A second handful of rubble hit his chest with decidedly more force. "You can stop repeating it. You're starting to piss me off."

Natsu laughed, and it felt like he hadn't done that in a long time, which probably wasn't even true. He kept laughing, even though it really wasn't funny.

"You sound relieved," Gray observed.

"I…" Natsu shut his mouth. He probably did. "I thought you liked Lucy."

Gray braced his elbows on his knees, joined his hands into a hard knot and pressed them to his mouth.

"Nah, man. I wouldn't do that to you."

What was Natsu supposed to say to that? Thanks for not making a play for the girl I have feelings for? He scowled, refusing to say anything.

Gray pretended not to notice Natsu frozen up beside him. He clamped one hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "It's okay, man. I've seen you and Lucy together. I think you guys would make a great couple."

"I don't think she wants me." Natsu tried not to stress the word me, but from the way Gray's face contorted, he didn't think he'd been successful.

"I think she wants you so badly, she's dying inside."

Natsu snorted and looked away. "Are you and Cana comparing notes now? She said the exact same thing to me."

"If both of us are saying it, then maybe you should listen."

"You've been dating Juvia for all of…what? Twelve hours? And suddenly you're an expert on relationships?" Natsu stood up, stalking away, dust coating his sandalled feet.

Gray rose to follow him, reaching out to put a hand around Natsu's forearm to halt him. "I'm probably the last person you would go to for advice. And I'm no expert, but after all the craziness I experienced with Juvia, I know it's a good thing to just sit down and talk. Lay it all out there. I thought Juvia was way too clingy at first, and I'm definitely detached, but once we started talking, all the bullshit just went away. And I know…I know it's hard. But have you ever considered that it might be hard for her, too?"

Natsu didn't answer. Gray let his hand fall away.

"I don't know Lucy as well as you do, but I can tell you one thing—that girl has a heart of gold. And gold, real gold, it doesn't tarnish, but it's soft, it scratches easily. You're going to have to be careful not to damage a heart like that."

Natsu spun around to face him. "You think I'd hurt her?"

Gray took a step back, but the look of pity Natsu had noticed earlier was still there. Natsu didn't enjoy seeing it again any more than he had the first time.

Gray chewed on his bottom lip. "I think you are already hurting her, in a way. And you'll keep hurting her if you're not willing to have an honest conversation about how you feel."

Natsu could feel the blood roaring in his ears but stayed silent. Gray finally sighed and started walking away.

"Sometimes a man can suffocate on his own pride," Gray said in parting, finally leaving Natsu alone.

He stared at the field of destruction once Gray had gone, questioning everything. Had he been prideful? Hadn't he always been there for Lucy, respecting her choices?

He had been moving through this colourless, tasteless void for months, dreading each date that Lucy went on, thinking that whoever she met next could be a better man than he was.

Hadn't he tried? He had gone over to her place after her date with Hibiki, intent on confessing his feelings, but even though he'd tried to imagine the conversation a thousand times, it kept changing. Even in his head, he couldn't find the right words to say.

He could still picture her sitting on the couch the last time he'd seen her, defensive and miserable, her eyes going distant to some faraway place where he couldn't follow.

He swallowed the tears that were on the verge of forming, fear and want warring inside of him.

Lucy was like a lotus flower at night—curled in on itself, protective. They only open for the sun.

And in his heart of hearts, the truth burned inside of him.

He knew that fire could never be the sun.

Natsu punched the rockface before him. Four more boulders died inglorious deaths.

Levy held the coffee cup close to her face, savouring the steam warming her cheeks.

Levy's date had chosen a seat by the cafe window, possibly hoping for some street scenery. If so, he was out of luck—mist pressed like phantom fingers against the glass, obscuring the view. A cold draft leaked into the small space, chilling her to the bone.

She hadn't bothered to remove her coat, even though the outfit Mira had picked was super cute.

Levy set down her mug and nibbled at her thumbnail. She should be at home right now, instead of relying on Mira to finish tidying up the book stacks she had knocked over. How was Levy supposed to relax and enjoy herself when so many of her precious babies needed her attention? Mira didn't know her organizational system. (Which she could admit was too convoluted to properly explain before Mira had practically thrown her out the door.)

"You haven't been listening to me," her companion said gently.

Levy straightened in her chair, realized she'd been staring blankly out the window.

"I'm sorry."

She meant it. In more ways than one.

The man across from her was gorgeous. Sharp cheekbones, square jaw, tousled dark hair. His deep golden skin seemed to absorb the shadows in the room.

And she had barely heard a word he'd said apart from his name since the moment they had sat down.

"No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't be talking about Sting since you don't even know him." Rogue Cheney said. "It hardly matters, it wasn't that great of a story."

"I'm sure it was very entertaining. I'm just tired." She had toyed with the idea of ordering a double espresso and now regretted she had settled on the single. Her first cautious sip proved it to be on the weaker side.

"I'll have to find another way to entertain you." Rogue chewed on his lip for a moment as he mulled it over. Then he snapped his fingers. "I know, let me show you my magic."

Before she could respond, he was gone, just gone. Levy frowned, staring at the empty chair he had been sitting in a moment ago.

A blot of darkness spread into an outline of a man, gaining substance until Rogue reappeared, looking very pleased with himself.

Okay, that was…interesting.

Was she supposed to applaud or something?

"Are you a vampire?"

"Vampire?" Rogue choked out, his hand batting against his latte, sending a splash of liquid over the rim. He cursed underneath his breath and started mopping up the mess.

Levy handed him a couple of extra napkins, but could see they wouldn't be needed; Rogue had it all under control. She waited for him to finish before she added, "Yeah, a vampire. Blood sucking, turning into a bat, sleeping in a crypt, all that."

"No, I am not a vampire," Rogue shuddered. "I'm a dragon slayer, I use shadow magic. I must have gone too fast, let me do it again."

He dissolved more slowly this time and his shadow reformed on the wall. He waved at her.

"Do you see me?" Rogue asked from his disembodied form.

Levy nodded, busying herself by ripping open a sugar packet and adding it to her drink. She had known who Rogue was from the moment they had met, because that was who Levy McGarden was: a girl who read and knew things.

This was supposed to be a blind date and she wasn't coming in blind at all. And she never would because she knew every single magic user in the whole of Fiore.

Even though she had recognized Rogue, she pretended she hadn't and tried to act like a normal girl meeting someone new for the first time. She didn't know much about dating, but she figured if she told Rogue she knew he was lactose intolerant and his blood type was B+, it would come off sounding slightly stalkerish and creepy.

It's not like I know everything, Levy thought defensively. There were certain things books couldn't teach her. Meeting a third generation dragon slayer in the flesh should prompt all sorts of questions.


Those questions died on her lips. Discomforted, she sipped her espresso. It still tasted far too bitter and she grimaced until she remembered that sugar usually tasted better after being stirred in. She picked up her spoon, concentrating on the swirling pattern, until a deep murmur started to coalesce into speech.

She snapped her head up and realized Rogue had started talking again.

Dear Mavis' non-pedicured feet, how was she so bad at this?

"…I panicked when Frosch got lost, but luckily I found some people who had seen him. They pointed out the direction he'd gone and I started to track him..."

Levy took another hurried sip and burned her tongue, the pain a decent distraction from the fact she hadn't the faintest notion what he was talking about.

She blamed the lack of sleep. And Mira.

Mostly Mira.

Levy knew that wasn't fair, but she seemed to exist in various states of annoyance these days, and who else could she blame for her disgruntlement? Certainly not Rogue, who had been carrying the lion's share of the conversation and seemed pleasant enough.

"Frosch sounds too adorable for words," she said, latching onto the one tidbit she'd heard. "Tell me more about him."

Rogue brightened and kept talking, his voice a pleasant hum as she concentrated on widening her eyes and focusing on the way his elegant hands moved through the air as he made a point. He gave a small chuckle and Levy giggled back on cue, having completely missed the joke.

Levy was far from an idiot, but if she squinted a bit from just the right angle, Rogue looked a lot like someone else.

Another dragon slayer who may have recently confessed to having a crush on her.

The universe had a hell of a sense of humour.

She almost wanted to laugh at the sheer irony of it all. Maybe this, all of these dates and mechanisms, was karma coming to kick her in the ass. She had punched Gajeel in the throat (with good reason and she didn't regret it), but now she was on a date with a man who was only a few funhouse mirrors and a couple of metal piercings away from looking exactly like him.

Yup. The universe had a helluva sense of humour.

Thankfully, Rogue seemed like the type who could keep an easy, almost one-sided conversation going for hours. Levy could drink coffee and pretend the dark hair and red eyes belonged to someone else. And she had been, except it was all wrong.

Gajeel would never be this chatty, for one thing. Without even realizing it, Levy started to notice Rogue's flaws.

Maybe not flaws. Just…differences.

Rogue's irises were a shade too pale, garnet rather than ruby, and his long black hair hung straight, obviously combed. Nothing like Gajeel's untamable mane.

Rogue wore a voluminous black coat, while the vast majority of the time, Gajeel wore those thin, clingy t-shirts that showcased every bit of hard, chiselled muscle on his chest. Levy didn't think it was particularly fair of Gajeel to be terrorizing innocent young bookworms with his dumb smoulder and sculpted arms, but she had learned life rarely was.

You're not even giving Rogue a chance, she tried to admonish herself.

She couldn't understand why she had to force herself to focus. It shouldn't even be that difficult. There was nothing wrong with Rogue Cheney, he just wasn't…right.

Was it his mouth? Rogue continued to give her generous smiles, far more casual with them than Gajeel would ever be. She could picture Gajeel's face, knew his lips weren't overly lush nor thin, but why couldn't she remember how far they stretched when he smiled?

Before now, it hadn't seemed like an important thing to notice.

Rogue grinned and the feeling of wrongness intensified.

"Is this how you expected our date to go?" Rogue asked.

Levy felt a flash of guilt, her eyes colliding with his. "No?"

"Can I ask what's on your mind?"

"This date isn't going very well, is it?" Levy winced as soon as the words came out. It sounded like an accusation.

"Maybe not the best date I've ever been on," Rogue conceded, his warm smile removing any sting from his words. "But it might go more smoothly if you started talking to me about whatever it is that's obviously bothering you."

The temptation to lie was strong. Levy quashed it by telling herself she had never been a coward and couldn't start now.

"I had a fight with someone and we haven't talked since. I guess it's been bugging me," Levy said. She figured ripping the bandaid right off would make saying the words hurt less. She was wrong.

Rogue didn't move, but it seemed as though faint shadows crept protectively towards her.

"What kind of fight?"

Levy hesitated. The wound felt fresher now that she had uncovered it.

"It's a bit complicated. It was with another dragon slayer, Gajeel Redfox. He seemed jealous of me dating and we exchanged some harsh words about it."

Levy felt certain that the rush of heat spreading through her veins when she mentioned Gajeel's name was only some latent anger. Or possibly the wind outside had died down a bit, that was all. She definitely felt a lot warmer, for some reason.

Rogue shrugged. "I know Gajeel. I'm not the least bit surprised to hear this. Dragon slayers are quite possessive. It's in our nature."

"Saying something is in your nature just sounds like a poor excuse for bad behaviour to me," Levy fired back.

Rogue raised his eyebrows and Levy could feel her blush deepening. "It's not my place to interfere, of course, but I'm happy to listen. Was it a bad breakup?"

"There was no break up," Levy grumbled, even as images of Gajeel kept flickering through her mind. Unbidden, uncomfortable, unwelcome thoughts, but she seemed helpless to stop them. "Gajeel and I have never dated."

Rogue blinked, his tone shaded in disbelief. "Gajeel's not your ex-boyfriend?"

Levy had to swallow twice before she could speak, and when she did, she stared at her distorted reflection in the coffee cup.

"No, Gajeel's not my ex, he's…" Levy stopped talking, unsure how to finish that sentence. For all her fluency in languages, she couldn't find one single word that would encapsulate what Gajeel Redfox meant to her at this moment. Maybe there wasn't one. Maybe this churning mix of emotions went somewhere deep inside her where words could not.

Rogue's gaze seemed to intensify. "If Gajeel's not your ex, then why can I smell his claim all over you?"

"Excuse me?"

"His claim?" Rogue stressed like she was missing something fundamental. "He didn't tell you?"

Levy tried to recall the word claim in her pages and pages of research on the dragon slayers, shape it into context and meaning that would make sense right now.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," she admitted. This wasn't a sentence Levy uttered very often. Her professional pride flared, a spark of rage igniting.

"Right. Of course he didn't say anything," Rogue sighed, the sound resigned and utterly unsurprised. "When does Gajeel Redfox ever stick around long enough to say anything?"

Excellent question.

She cracked her knuckles. "He told me nothing, but you will."

Rogue studied her and Levy bristled under that gaze, her anger burning hotter every second he didn't answer. This involved her, she had every right to know, and if he was about to pull some dragon slayer bros fealty bullshit, she would give him such a punch to the throat that him and Gajeel would have matching bruises and then she'd—

"All right," Rogue said, breaking her thoughts. He signalled the barista for a refill, indicating both their empty cups. "What do you want to know?"

"Everything," Levy replied, giving Rogue her full attention at last. "Tell me everything."

Dear Mom…

Lucy hadn't written anything else. Natsu's scarf stayed looped around her neck, his pine-and-bonfire scent sending her thoughts scattering in a thousand different directions.

A knock sounded on her apartment door.

She shot a startled glance through the archway. She sat unmoving until another, firmer rap made her push out of her chair, wincing as she stood, her ass numb and her shoulders stiff from being hunched over for hours.

"Coming!" She had the wherewithal to unwrap the scarf, leaving it in a messy lump on her desk. With one hand she smoothed down her bangs. She clutched her disorderly hair at the nape of her neck as she crossed the room, then realized she didn't have a hair tie on her wrist. She let it spring back into disarray as she opened the door.

Natsu stood there.

For seconds neither of them spoke. Or moved. He studied her with his beautiful jade eyes gone dark, his mouth unsmiling and sombre.

"Hey, Luce," he said finally in a voice that sounded weary beyond belief.

"Hey, Natsu."

They stared at each other, Lucy drinking in his features, his posture, the way his hand wrapped around her doorknob, absentmindedly twisting it back and forth.

"Can I come in?"

She jumped back as if scalded. "Oh yes. Yes, of course. Come in."

He moved into her apartment—glided—if she were being honest. He had a feral grace that made her heart skip a beat as she watched him stalk into the middle of her living room. He turned back to face her.

She closed the door behind him and plopped down on the couch, motioning with one hand that he should join her. He followed suit, tucking one leg under his thigh as he turned to face her.

"It's been awhile since I've seen you," he said.

"I saw you last night, remember?"

Natsu huffed out a breath that ended in a dry chuckle. "It feels longer than that."

"It does," she hummed, keeping her eyes trained on his devastatingly handsome face. His scent was stronger, his hair slightly damp as though he had showered recently. She pulled in a breath, filling her lungs to capacity just to hold in that smell before allowing herself to exhale once again.

The silence that descended between them became heavy and loud.

"Did you miss me?" He blurted out, offering her a tentative grin.

"I always miss you," she muttered back before she could stop herself.

"Really?" He sat up straighter, his smile spreading wider.

"Yes, really." Lucy could feel her skin burning ten degrees hotter. His gaze grew so fond it hurt to look at him.

Something seemed to shift between them and Lucy felt the strongest urge to reach across the small distance between them. What would happen if she were to touch him—a hand on his knee, a touch to his shoulder, and confessed what thundered inside her chest with every beat of her heart and let the chips fall where they may?

She started to move her hand…

"We're friends, right, Luce?"


The words stopped her cold, shattering something inside of her. She let her hand fall to wrap around her rib cage. She'd come so close to ruining everything.

"Yes." It sounded weak and dry, so she tried again. "Of course we're friends, Natsu."

He let out a relieved sigh. Too relieved for her liking. Was that why he was here? Had he somehow sensed her crush and wanted to let her down gently? She needed to figure this out, quickly.

"I'm glad because—"

Lucy leapt off the couch. "I'm sorry, I'm not feeling very well, Natsu. I think you should go."

His eyebrows shot up. "Are you okay?"

"Yes. I mean no. Just some tummy troubles." She twisted her lips into the semblance of a smile. It hurt her face, her heart.

Natsu glanced at her stomach, then back to her face, his own mouth pressing into a flat line. He sighed, slowly getting to his feet.

"Can I get you some soup or a cup of tea or anything?"

"Nope, I'm all set," she said with false brightness. She pulled at her hoodie until it grazed her thighs, keeping her eyes downcast to avoid his scrutiny.

"Are you sure?" Natsu tugged at her hand, rolled a thumb over her knuckles, his touch warm and comforting in a way she craved. She knew it meant nothing, but she had often thought of his hands on her, touching her. Dreamed about it.

"Yeah, I'm sure," she managed to choke out. The only thing she was sure about was that if he didn't leave soon she was going to start crying and embarrass herself in front of him.

Sometimes she thought Natsu was a better friend to her than she was to him. He knew all her blushes—shame, tears, anger—each one would pinken her skin. But he didn't call her out now, even though she knew she must look like a fright, with red-rimmed eyes and blotchy skin.

"Okay, but at least give me a hug." Without waiting for her response, Natsu pulled her into an embrace. Her arms automatically wrapped around his back. Tears wet her lashes and she squeezed her eyelids shut so that he couldn't see them. He kept their bodies close, rocking her side to side, the movement calm and gentle. "I don't understand why I have to leave so soon."

So I can go write a letter to my dead mother, to try to sort out these feelings I have for you.

She swallowed thickly. "I just need some rest."

"Sure, Luce." He stepped back but kept his hands on her shoulders, looking down to study her. His lips pursed like he was about to ask more questions, but whatever expression she wore made him falter, his hands dropping away from her. She went to open the door, willing her steps to be unhurried, even as she counted down the seconds until she could be alone again.

Natsu paused at the threshold and she practically begged him to keep going. "Hey, did I happen to leave my scarf here?"

Sweet Mavis, would he never leave? Her eyes burned with the strain of keeping the tears at bay. It took every ounce of theatrics she had to keep her voice from breaking.

'Yes, you did. Let me grab it for you." She hurried to retrieve it, the lump in her throat growing bigger when she touched the scaly, white material. A piece of him, she held a piece of him—something soft and intimate that she had no right to keep no matter how desperately she wanted it.

She padded back to the doorway and handed it over. He nodded his thanks, tossing it around his neck, the movement casual, but his eyes widened in shock as it fell across his shoulders. He pulled the scarf up, burying his nose in the fabric.

"You scented it?" Natsu growled.

"I…" Lucy took a step back. She didn't know what made his voice drop to that timber, darkly territorial and utterly unfamiliar. There wasn't even a question of lying, the truth came out before she had a chance to register the words."I wore it."

Natsu's irises grew bright, pupils blown wide in a ring of luminescent emerald. She didn't know what she had said, what she had done, but his gaze scorched her bones. He kicked the door closed, keeping himself inside. He drew in another deep inhale and took a deliberate step towards her.

"I'm not going anywhere, Luce."

A/N – Love you?

I don't want to keep making excuses for my sporadic updates, but I hope a few of you are still out here, as I am. :)

We're getting to the meat and potatoes of the fic! Gajeel and Levy! Natsu and Lucy! One pair is actually in the same room together now and the other will be in the next chapter.

Thank you to my sweetest betas, Satyrykal and ShannaHollows for all their help and being the brightest stars in the sky.

Thank you to everyone who reviewed last time! Ryu of Konoha, Bookworm129, nationalcarmen, stranger1999, ShanaHollows, bacchus in vines, Lucy H Lover, FireShifter, Net, valerioux, AGreen222, LovetoreadFF, rao hyuga 18, Xfangirl123X, FairytailxFanGirl, Avalanche65, SheWhoLeavesCrappyReviews, Straw Heart, Slash2104, HisSecretLover18, TheJSmooth, LaserJet the Printer, Mags 1979 (x 2) and Belisa24Roza