Even after a few more days of keeping on eye on the job board, Gajeel still hadn't found anything of interest that suited him and his skills. They were all translation or escort missions, and he wanted something a bit more action-packed than that. Lily, however, suspected that he was simply waiting for Levy to return from her own job before taking on another one. Not that he'd admit it if the exceed ever asked.
Erza and the Master had returned, and with the fiery red-head back in Magnolia, the guild was slightly back to its normal temperament. Though Gajeel had no doubt that once Natsu and the bunny girl got back, it would seem as if there was never a moment of quiet. He wondered how Juvia was doing, since she was still on her job with Gray. She was one of the few people he talked to on a regular basis, though most of the time she went on and on about how she would win the affections of the ice mage, so perhaps it was good that she was still away, now that he thought about it.
Mira had pestered him to find something to do, bringing up Levy whenever she could as a means of getting under his skin, but Gajeel was adamant that the shrimp had nothing to do with his sour mood, and that he just wanted to rest a few more days, and was waiting for the right mission to come along. Unfortunately, they both knew that the white-haired mage was much smarter than that, but the dragon slayer could pretend and play it off as boredom.
He was growing tired of the predictable violence of the guildhall as days passed, dodging chairs and bottles of beer as they were thrown aside by feuding comrades, arguing over some meaningless subject or another. Or, better yet, if someone dared interfere with Erza eating her cake. He was aware that his moping around was beginning to get on Lily's nerves, but honestly he didn't much care. Still, he came every day and stayed as long as he could, arms crossed and glancing at the door on occasion.
So, it was in his usual spot he sat when the bluenette and her two partners of Shadow Gear entered the guild on that sunny morning. Of course, his hypersensitive sense of smell alerted him of their return before they even pushed through the door. Gajeel stiffened, then soon relaxed at the familiar scents.
"What is it?" Lily asked, who sat beside him eating his usual kiwi, noticing a change in the his partner's behavior. Gajeel shifted in his seat.
"They're back." Was all he said.
"Hey, guys!" Jet waved a friendly greeting, smiling in relief as they stepped back into the wooden walls of their home.
"We're back!" Droy supplied, not a moment behind him. Other guild members called out heartily, welcoming their returned comrades. Their familiar scents of plants and sweat pervaded his nose as they approached, but he ignored them, instead trying to focus on another, much more pleasant smell. Levy, the smallest of the three, was a couple steps behind them, and pushed through the door much more quietly.
As soon as he recognized that familiar head of messy blue locks, his eyes locked onto the small woman, and his nose was filled with the sweet aroma of old books and daisies. She smiled sweetly to those who called out to her, waving happily in return.
Something was wrong. His eyes narrowed as he examined her thoroughly. She walked with a limp, and a distinct one at that. White bandages wrapped around her thigh, which seemed to be causing her trouble. With each step, her eyes would narrow. A wince of pain, he realized, a growl threatening to spill over from deep in his being.
"It's not like what we do isn't dangerous, Gajeel. Everyone gets hurt on jobs." Lily said, trying to be the voice of reason here, and also hoping to prevent a beatdown of Team Shadow Gear, minus Levy of course, if he could help it.
"Seems like she gets hurt on every mission." He muttered, unhappy with his observation. Lily couldn't really say anything to that, considering he was right.
Jet and Droy arrived at the bar, and ordered two beers from Mira, who was happy to serve them. Levy, meanwhile, took a seat at an empty table, taking out a book from her bag to read. Gajeel could see she was tired, no doubt from the injuries those two idiots had allowed her to receive. The dragon slayer's fist clenched of its own volition.
If I'd have been there, she wouldn't be hurting. He swore in his head, glaring obviously at the two male members of Shadow Gear. It conveniently slipped his notice that they were also injured, though their visible wounds were much more superficial than those of Levy, and didn't seem to cause them as much pain.
Gajeel, as well as Lily, had noticed that ever since he'd worked alongside the bluenette for the Council, he'd been a lot more protective over her. Often times, he'd get jealous when other members of their unit would lean a little too close to her, or shake her hand a little too long. It was all he could do not to beat men of his own unit into the ground, and to hide his growing attachment to her, especially when they worked so closely with one another. When Fairy Tail had been reformed, things hadn't seemed to change.
It took a moment before Jet and Droy realized the dragon slayer was there, but when they did, he knew it too. They froze, staring in fear and shock upon noticing his angry attention on them.
"Uh…h-hey, Gajeel." Droy started, wondering what it was they'd done now to warrant the bigger man's ill gaze. Nothing came to mind that they knew of. Though, the man was as surly as they came, so one could never quite tell what was on his mind.
Not bothering to respond, Gajeel growled and returned his attention to the breakfast Mira had made for him that morning. Deep down, the dragon slayer was loath to admit it. In fact, he hated even thinking about that time in his life, now that he was a new man, of sorts. But a part of him wished that his attack on Team Shadow Gear so long ago had snapped the two men out of their daydream and made them realize that they weren't nearly as strong as they needed to be. He knew first hand just how unfit to protect the Solid Script Mage they were.
It was selfish of him, really.
Even after Levy had already forgiven him for his mistakes, at least he hoped she had, he knew that Jet and Droy hadn't been as forthcoming with their acceptance of him into the guild. Gajeel understood. It had taken time. But that didn't mean he had to sympathize with them entirely. At least they were on better terms than before, when they'd outright refused to even leave the bluenette in his presence by herself or otherwise.
That familiar little spark of guilt quickly overcame any anger he harbored. Gajeel couldn't pretend that he was without fault. Things had seemed to improve during his time in the Council, working alongside the bluenette on a daily basis and protecting her from danger, but he could never truly forgive himself for what he'd done. And he was willing to bet neither could Jet and Droy, deep down.
He didn't blame them, really.
All he could do now was make sure nothing hurt her again if he had anything to say about it. A small attempt at repentance. But it seemed even that wasn't enough. His features softened as the sins he'd committed against the small woman flooded his memory. If only he could go back in time and fix it all…
The Gajeel of Phantom Lord had certainly been a bastard of immense proportions.
The two men of Shadow Gear noticed Gajeel's abrupt change in disposition, but kept quiet. The Iron Dragon Slayer was volatile at best, and since they'd already seemed to have angered him for one reason or another, they didn't exactly want to push their luck by asking what was wrong. Not that Gajeel would tell them when all was said and done, anyways.
Though Droy, glancing at Levy who sat at the table by herself, then back at the raven-haired man sitting at the bar, had an inkling as to what was making him upset. Some people thought that Droy was a bit dense, and he supposed at times he could be, but there wasn't a lot the man missed when he happened to be paying attention. For example, the occasional glance Gajeel sent in Levy's direction, or, the way his eyes held a sadness that Droy knew never to ask about.
"I know that look." Panther Lily lectured, taking a bite of his kiwi. "Stop thinking like that. You know she forgave you." Gajeel had told him long ago what he'd done to the bluenette, but from what the exceed could observe, she no longer even thought about what had happened. Though, he could tell the man had a hard time believing that. If only Gajeel could forgive himself now…
"Shut it, cat." He muttered, not looking his way.
The Iron Dragon Slayer's attention was shifted to the blue-haired mage getting up and walking to the job board. He watched as she perused the posted ads, and he frowned, standing from his seat to go talk to her.
"Remember what I said!" Panther Lily called just loud enough for him to hear, watching the dragon slayer walk away. He hoped that Gajeel would man up this time and just offer to take a mission with her. He was tired of all this sulking.
"Hey, shrimp." He said abruptly, walking up beside her. She jumped a little in surprise, placing a hand over her chest and turning to look at him.
"Gajeel, you scared me. Don't sneak up on me like that." She scolded, smiling despite her deep frown.
"Gihee, you make it too easy." Gajeel grinned, crossing his arms over his chest. "Always got your nose in a book or something."
Levy scratched the back of her head sheepishly, a faint blush marking her cheeks. "Yeah, I guess so." The bluenette turned back to the job board, her finger tracing over the descriptions of a few posters. "Ah, these are all so far away…"
"Shouldn't you stay a few days to recover before taking another job?" Gajeel questioned, gesturing to the bandages wrapping her leg. Levy glanced down at her injured limb, involuntarily pulling down on the skirt of her orange dress to hide it.
"Well, I've gotten a bit behind on my rent this month, so I've got to take another one immediately."
"Eh? It's only 100,000 jewels a month. You can't be that broke. Don't tell me you spent it all on books." He raised a brow, and her blush deepened. She really wasn't ashamed of her reasoning for having such a high rent, but admitting it to Gajeel seemed to carry more weight than with anyone else.
The noise in the guild seemed to pick up, as Cana challenged yet another person to a drinking contest and no one was willing to attempt it. She yelled for someone worthy of her skill to step forward. Gajeel and Levy ignored the commotion, but kept an eye out for any flying objects.
"Well…for me…it's 300,000. Since I have to pay for two extra rooms just for books…" Levy muttered, and Gajeel blanched.
"You have two separate rooms just for that?" He shook his head, exasperated. "Damn, shorty, buy any more and you'll have more than the library."
Levy kept quiet, electing not to admit that the library had, on more than one occasion, asked her for a few books from her own personal collection that they didn't have. The novels and tomes she'd collected in her travels were quite rare, and once word got out to the bookkeeper at the public library, he'd been antsy to get his hands on a few of them. Thankfully, the dragon slayer didn't push the issue any further.
"Why don't you just ask Bunny Girl for the jewels? They should be back in a couple days." Gajeel suggested, though he knew exactly what her reaction would be to that remark, and she promptly shook her head vigorously.
"I can't mooch off of my friends! That's just rude!"
He shrugged nonchalantly. Gajeel didn't really see the problem, but he knew Levy was much more concerned with social etiquette than he was.
"Well, you'd better not be thinking about going alone. Those two better be going with you, at the very least. Even if they are sort of useless." His eyes narrowed. Levy sighed deeply, and Gajeel frowned.
"You're too hard on them. And that last mission really took a lot out of them. They deserve a few days of rest, I can't ask them to go with me."
Interrupting their conversation was Cana screaming that whoever had challenged her was cheating, and abruptly tossed her beer keg towards her opponent. The person ducked, and the large wooden keg flew across the room towards Gajeel.
"Ya ain't goin' alone, shrimp." Scowling without missing a beat, the dragon slayer caught the stray beer keg with one hand, letting it fall to the ground with a thud harmlessly. Levy's eyes widened, watching as he flawlessly defended himself from the projectile. It hadn't even looked like he'd turned to watch it fly towards him.
"Well, then, what am I supposed to do? I have to go on one of these missions." She crossed her arms stubbornly, but Gajeel was having none of it.
"I'll go with you." He said. The bluenette blinked, eyes widening. She hadn't been expecting that. Her hesitation seemed to annoy him, since he rolled his eyes and turned away. "It's not like we haven't worked together before."
"No, it's not that!" She waved her hands to try to explain. "I was just surprised is all. I didn't think you'd want to team up with me again after we returned to Fairy Tail. You never mentioned wanting to…" Her eyes flicked away, unable to look him in the eyes. Gajeel knew exactly what was going through her mind and that was not going to stand with him.
"The hell are you saying, shorty?" Gajeel frowned, leaning down to flick her on the forehead.
"Ow! What was that for?" She moved her hand to cover the spot he'd struck, trying to lessen the sting. He tilted his head, examining her again.
"What makes you think things would change from how they were? I promised I'd make you big, remember?" He looked away, willing the heat not to show on his cheeks. Gajeel, the Iron Dragon Slayer, would not blush over something so stupid as trying to convince Levy to let him accompany her on a job, no matter how important it was to him.
"I, uh…well…I thought maybe you decided you wanted to work alone again…or that you wanted a stronger partner…"
Gajeel scoffed. "Tch. There you go again putting yourself down. I've heard enough. I'm gonna train you from now on too, to keep my promise."
Levy looked up to him in surprise, her brown eyes shining. "But…you already helped train me a lot while we were in the Council." Gajeel grinned.
"Well, obviously I didn't finish the job. You still look pretty small to me." She deadpanned, crossing her arms.
"Hmph. If you stop teasing me, maybe I'll let you go." The dragon slayer knew that was a yes from her, and immediately felt a weight lift off of his chest. A part of him had feared that she'd want nothing to do with him after their time at the Council, as unlikely a possibility as it was, but it seemed all was well.
He turned to the request board and gestured to all of the posters, a smirk widening on his lips. "Pick one. If it's at the top I'll grab it for you, since you might not be able to reach." His words caused her to frown, unamused at his teasing. A deep blush crept across her cheeks.
"S-stupid Gajeel! I'm not that short!" She cried, swatting at him to go away. He only chuckled at her pathetic attempts to make him leave. Obviously she wasn't actually trying, but he found it cute nonetheless.
"Gihee, just trying to help, shrimp."
"Stupid, stupid!" She yelled, finally grabbing a poster and stomping over to the bar to notify Mira that she'd be taking the job. Gajeel followed her, those feelings of self doubt receding once more to the back of his mind.ns 18.104.22.168da2