IMPORTANT: I will probably be unable to update this story any further until after June 12th. I will be far too busy with schoolwork until then. Once school is over, I'll go back to my previous schedule of updating. But at least this chapter is a little longer, right?
Well, here it is. I hope you all enjoy this chapter as much as I enjoyed writing it - I really enjoyed writing it.
When Lucy arrived back at the camp, her arms were full of wood all the way up to her chin. She dumped it all a few feet away from the fire and dusted off her hands, satisfied.
"Wood's collected." she told them matter-of-factly, before going to unroll her sleeping bag, and then sitting on one of the logs that had been placed near the fire.
"Here." Erza smiled and handed Lucy a sandwich, which she happily took a bite of. It was delicious.
"Thank you." Lucy said, when she'd swallowed the bite, and returned the smile.
Soon all five of them were sitting around the fire. They chatted and talked about this and that, keeping away from the subject of the boy's father. Before long Erza was ordering them to get to sleep so they'd be energized by the next day.
Lucy slipped into her sleeping bag and closed her eyes, but try as she might, she couldn't fall asleep. Thoughts kept bombarding her, even though she pushed them away, they were insistent.
Thoughts of the boy's horrible father.
Thoughts of Gray.
Her emotions were completely mixed up, she felt so many things.
She tried her best to push them down, but they simmered inside until she couldn't take it anymore.
Very quietly, she got up from her sleeping bag, slipped her shoes on, and walked into the forest.
It was dark, but just enough moonlight streamed through the trees to illuminate her way. Once or twice, she thought she heard something behind her, a twig snap, a footstep. She'd turned around to look, but it was too dark to see that far, and from what she could see, there was no one.
I'm just imagining things, she told herself firmly, but she couldn't suppress the shiver of anxiety that ran down her spine.
At least it helps keep your mind off your troubles, a little voice in her head told her bitterly, to which she silently agreed.
After about ten minutes of walking, she breathed a small sigh of relief.
She'd found it.
The clearing with the grass and the flowers.
Lucy walked to the middle of it and sat down. She pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, while looking up at the sky with a thoughtful expression.
It was such a beautiful night. The moonlight was just bright enough the light up the entire clearing, but not so bright that it blocked out the light of the stars.
They reminded her of her celestial spirits, those of which she valued as both guardians and friends, and smiled fondly to herself, wondering what they were doing.
She considered calling Loke out to talk to him, but decided against it. He would just hit on her anyway, even if she confessed everything to him.
And besides, this was something she needed to work out on her own.
No one could do it for her.
She sighed, resting her head on her knees and closing her eyes.
Images of Juvia in Gray's arms came to mind.
Juvia caressing Gray's cheek.
Juvia leaning up to…
"No!" Lucy whispered with conviction. Her hands balled into fists.
"No, I can't think like that. I can't…" she muttered to herself, shaking her head.
She hugged her knees to herself more tightly as a few stray tears fell down her cheeks.
Thinking of Gray with Juvia…
Her dream came to mind and she gasped as a small pain shot through her heart, barely keeping herself from crying out.
"What am I doing?" she mumbled through the tears, "I'm stronger than this…Maybe I'll just have to accept it."
That hurt more than resisting it, but it may be the only way to get over it.
Could she do it?
The answer came for her.
Her eyes widened, and she swiftly wiped the tears from her eyes, before standing up and whirling around. Instinctively, she went to reach for her keys, which she realized she'd left back at the camp in her sleeping bag. She couldn't have called Loke if she'd wanted to.
Someone stepped out of the trees and walked towards her.
"Gray?" she asked, disbelievingly, ignoring both the spasm of pain that always shot through her heart now when he appeared unexpectedly, and the ache that followed after it.
"Don't ever accept anything that upsets you this much. Fight it." he was standing in front of her now, hands in pockets, looking at her intensely.
Lucy sighed, "You don't know what you're saying,"
The blonde, celestial mage almost wanted to laugh at the irony.
"What am I saying, Lucy?"
She shook her head, then narrowed her eyes and questioned cautiously, "How long have you been standing there…?"
"You followed me!" she accused.
He shrugged, "I couldn't sleep."
"Which means…" he'd been standing there from the beginning. She inwardly cringed and thought desperately back to what she'd said out loud, and what she hadn't.
Had she mentioned his name?
No, she didn't think so.
She hoped not.
As though reading her mind, he continued the sentence for her.
"Yes, from the beginning."
She glared at him and crossed her arms, deliberately turning her back to him with a huff.
He sat down, pulling his knees partway up, and resting his arms on them, forearms crossed, relaxed.
With a sigh of defeat, Lucy sat down by him, unable to stay mad at him.
"So why didn't you let me know you were there before?"
"I wanted to see where you were going."
"And when I was just sitting here?"
He looked directly at her, "I wanted to see if you were meeting someone."
Lucy's eyes widened, she was truly shocked. Did he think she was a traitor? That she'd meet one of the thieves out here?
"Someone?" she asked softly, staring at him.
He shrugged nonchalantly, and asked as if it were obvious, "Natsu?"
She continued to stare at him for a few more moments, before bursting into laughter.
"Natsu? Why would I meet Natsu?" Lucy asked, continuing to laugh.
"Well, after this morning…" he trailed off.
This morning? She turned away, confused, and thought back to earlier that day. Suddenly she understood.
Natsu had asked her out just to prove that he could get a girlfriend, and she'd blown up on him. To anyone else, it probably looked like she was hurt because she thought he was using her. Which was true, she was, but not because she had feelings for him.
And that was probably exactly what it looked like, that she had feelings for him. Because she had overreacted.
Lucy shook her head again and looked up at the stars now with a small smile of amusement on her lips.
"Gray, I don't feel that way towards Natsu. When he asked me out, I was…hurt," at this, her eyes dropped, and she stared down at her knees before continuing, "It was like he was asking me because I was just there, not because I actually meant anything. And after…" she gulped.
What she wanted to say was, And after recent events, that was just an extra blow to what I've been feeling, but she didn't want to give any hints of her true feelings.
Her feelings for Gray.
So instead she turned to him, forced herself to smile, and said, "You know us girls, sensitive when it comes to that kind of thing."
He was staring up at the stars, and just nodded absently. Anger flickered over his face so fast that Lucy thought she might have been imagining it.
She turned back to stare up at the night sky as well, and they sat there for awhile in silence.
Lucy didn't know how long it had been when Gray finally spoke, catching her completely off guard with his question.
"That man…the boy's father, he bothered you, didn't he?" he wasn't looking at her when he asked it, but she could tell he already knew the answer.
She turned to him, surprised, and answered reluctantly.
"Did he remind you of your father?" this time he did look at her when he spoke, and there was an emotion in his eyes that she couldn't quite identify.
She looked down again and nodded slowly, not quite meeting his eyes.
Thinking of her father made her feel…ashamed. She nearly cringed when she thought of all the damage he had done to Fairy Tail.
He'd destroyed the guild.
He'd hurt her friends.
And it was all to get to her.
None of them had ever once blamed her, and she'd been assured on more than one occasion that it wasn't her fault. She had slowly stopped blaming herself, but sometimes Lucy couldn't help but feel a little bit guilty.
There was a pressure on her chin, and she found her head being gently raised. Her eyes flickered up to Gray in surprise. She was stunned, and a blush immediately rose to her cheeks.
He was holding her chin so gently, and his skin felt so nice.
She had to stop herself from leaning into his touch.
"Tch, Lucy, how many times do you have to be told? It wasn't your fault." he said, annoyed, as if reading her mind.
She frowned at him, "Sometimes, Gray, I think you know me too well."
And sometimes, I'm glad you can be just as oblivious as Natsu, she added to herself.
It was about then that he noticed his hand was still on her chin, and he pulled it away hastily.
Was it just her imagination, or did his cheeks have a small tinge of pink to them? She laughed at the thought of Gray blushing, thinking herself silly for even considering it. He gave her a slightly reproachful look, but the tip of his lips tilted up faintly in a smile too.
With a small, sad, but contented sigh, Lucy put her arms behind her, hands on the grass, and stretched out, propping herself up that way instead.
This was nice. She liked sitting here, just talking with Gray.
No loud, rowdy Natsu to interrupt them.
No annoying, clingy Juvia to bother them.
No distractions, just them.
If it hadn't been for the nagging ache in her chest that continuously reminded her that he wasn't hers, Lucy would have wished it could last forever.
Gray was looking at her thoughtfully, his brow furrowed as if trying to figure something out. He almost looked like he was weighing a decision. He started to open his mouth once, then closed it for a moment and frowned a little more. She looked over at him and laughed softly, which is what seemed to decide his decision.
He turned so he was looking up at the sky again, and said,
"Lucy, if you need to talk about…what's been bothering you lately, well… Erza is better at this kind of thing," he faltered a little, but continued, "You can tell me too. That is, if you want to, of course, because, well, you know," he was beginning to babble, which he must have realized, because he promptly shut his mouth.
The way he said the words was very awkward, as if he wasn't used to this kind of conversation, but he sounded genuinely worried.
Lucy's eyes widened in alarm and she didn't realize that she was staring at him until he gave her a sideways glance, and asked, defensively,
This time she was positive that his cheeks really were a light pink.
She'd have to learn to be better at hiding what was wrong. For now, she reached over with a grin and pinched his cheek playfully.
"Awww, how cute! I've never heard the big, bad ice mage talk like that."
He scowled at her, "Hey, I was being serious, and you ruined it!"
She just put her hand to her mouth and giggled while looking at him fondly. He stared at her for a moment with an unreadable expression, before sighing, standing up and offering her his hand.
"Come on, we'd better be getting back."
Lucy nodded and reached up, grabbing his hand and letting him pull her up, but she must have been lighter than he thought, because he pulled a little too hard.
She ended up tripping into his chest and grabbing onto his shoulders to steady her balance. He immediately grasped her arms to keep her from falling.
Her head tilted upwards slowly, her eyes lingering on his lips for a moment, before moving farther up to meet his own eyes.
Then they both sprung apart, avoiding looking at the other, both of their faces reddening.
Lucy's heart was beating so hard she could hear it.
A few minutes of awkward silence passed, and Lucy's pounding heart finally began to slow, her face retaining it's usual light pink color, rather than the dark shade that had recently been coloring them.
"I-it's getting r-really late," Gray stuttered, embarrassed.
She nodded, but neither of them moved.
"Gray, I…" Lucy began, but stopped. He had told her that she could talk to him, but what was she supposed to say?
Oh, by the way Gray, I've had strong feelings for you for months, so when you got with Juvia it sort of broke my heart.
Somehow, Lucy doubted that would go over well.
Instead, she just turned to him and shook her head with a small smile.
"Thank you…" she said softly.
He nodded, a little stiffly, and looked awkward.
Neither of them said anything on the way back to the camp. Lucy wasn't afraid of any sounds she heard after that, she knew she didn't have her keys but Gray was there, and she felt safe with him. With a wry smile, she realized he was probably what she had heard before, meaning she had been afraid of him before, and now felt safe with him.
It dawned on her that, in a way, that applied to her feelings for him too. She had been so eager to avoid him, but she no longer felt the need. Even if she couldn't be with him how she wanted, and even if it hurt her to be near him, maybe it was worse when he wasn't around at all.
Now, Juvia was a different story, Lucy had no problem staying away from her.
But hadn't Gray said to fight it? Of course, he didn't know exactly what he had told her to fight, but he had still told her.
Something had to be done, but whether it was accepting the situation or fighting it, Lucy decided, would be up to Juvia. If Juvia could prove herself worthy, in Lucy's eyes, and truly make Gray happy, Lucy would accept it.
And if she couldn't…
Well, Lucy would just have to figure that out later. Maybe she would talk to Gray, he had said she could go to him, and he was generally very reasonable. If she pointed out that Juvia wasn't making him happy, and everything else wrong with the relationship, Gray might see her point.
Lucy had no idea yet of the true lengths that she would go to when pushed far enough.
Personally, I thought this chapter may have been a little OOC because I got so caught up in it, but I really did my best to keep it IC. I also am debating on writing this one from Gray's POV, what do you guys think? Possibly putting it in a flashback. Please let me know. Either way, I hope you enjoyed it!