The first day of the week started out pretty normal. The depressing weather disappeared with a forceful breeze and now the sun tried to roast the people on the streets. There wasn't even a cloud in the sky. It was as if someone took a paint brush, dipped it in a brilliant blue and went wild on the canvas.
Our favorite blonde wizard was currently gazing contently our of a window, the train's movements gently rocking her from side to side. Even though they just came back the day before, trouble hardly waits which is why her team was already on their way to their next client. Yes, it was a new job request. She didn't mind much though because she really needed the money. What can you do if your landlady is a money-loving hag?
Natsu groaned. His head leaned on the window still opposite of her and the wind caused by the moving train ruffled his already messy hair. Sadly, it did nothing to soothe his motion sickness. His cheeks looked like big green balloons and some drool dripped from his mouth onto the floor, forming a small puddle to their feet. Lucy would have felt pity for him, if the dragon slayer wouldn't have barged into her house this morning and eaten all of her food again. She was still grumpy about it. Hasn't anybody told him that when you eat before you ride a train the motion sickness gets worse? People probably did, but this was Natsu and he wouldn't care anyway.
"That's just gross." Gray shivered when he lifted his food out of the drool puddle. He shook it, but somehow the drool wouldn't come off. He touched the glibber and wiped it on Natsu's shirt with disgust. "Look what you did to my new shoes, you drooling bastard!"
Natsu tried to protest, but was only able to lift one finger before his hand fell limply back on his lap. Lucy couldn't supress her giggle. She was always amazed how the all-too-powerful dragon slayer was defeated by simple means of transportation. He wasn't even able to talk back to Gray anymore.
Lost in the world of motion sickness and annoyance, Natsu suddenly had a great idea how to get back at Gray. Gathering all his strength, he let himself fall to the side so that he landed on the ice wizard's lap. Mission accomplished!
"What the heck?" Gray got really angry and tried to lift Natsu, not so gently, from his lap to save his new jeans. "This is so not okay, man. You're a real piece of work."
"Gray, stop insulting him when he can't even defend himself. You should be ashamed of yourself. Did I not tell you to stop fighting?" The intimidating voice of Erza rang through their compartment as clear as if she spoke through a megaphone. The ice-make wizard flinched and suddenly slung his arm around the dragon slayer's shoulder.
"We weren't fighting, Erza, that was just your imagination. We are best buddies, right Natsu?"
Unfortunately for Gray, his 'best friend' saw this as an awesome opportunity to puke onto his rival for revenge. The smell made Lucy want to faint. Great, now they had to deal with that for the rest of the train ride.
"You did that on purpose, didn't you?" Gray yelled, grabbed Natsu's neck and started to shake him violently. It'd have probably ended in a fight, if Erza's steely gaze didn't hold him in check. "Great, now you owe me a pair of pants too. Just my luck, sitting next to the puking machine."
"At least he has a reason to take of his clothes now," Happy giggled behind his paws, recieving a bitter glare from Natsu's recent victim. He crawled over to Lucy with tears in his eyes, "Lucy, he wants to eat me!"
"That's it! I've had enough of you two!" Erza's expression made it clear that she would take no bullshit from anyone at this point. "Lucy!"
"Ehh?" Said woman turned to her seat neighbor, wondering why the harsh voice was directed at her of all people. It was not like she got into a fight or something. Happy, being a very loyal creature and everything, flew away from Lucy as fast as he could so that he would be spared. One of them had to take care of her fish after all.
"You will swap places with Gray."
Gray didn't know how he should feel about the situation. For one he was relieved to be out of Natsu's puke range, but on the other hand he made two really scary woman angry with him. Why did every woman in the guild had to such a beast, he swore they were related to demons. Not that he would voice such thoughts aloud, he valued his life too much for that.
"B-but I didn't do anything," Lucy whined, but quickly shut up when the atmosphere around her red haired friend got darker. She gulped nervously, waiting for Erza to reconsider her order.
"Okay," Lucy groaned and did as she was told without another question. As soon as she settled next to the sickly dragon slayer, she let her mind drift off. Somehow the taunting words from the horoscope were the first thing her wanderign thoughts traveled to. Maybe she got reminded because one sentence eerily fit this situation.
But your annoying colleagues could get in the way.
Psch! So what if one thing that Miss Mystic said was right, it's not like the rest will be. Besides she already knew that her team could be annoying sometimes, but she wasn't really bothered by it anymore. Well, most of the time.
Lucy sighed and tried to fix a rebellious strand of her silky hair. Natsu, who just noticed that it was no longer Gray sitting next to him, engulfed her in a very sudden, desperate hug for comfort. She was suprised at first, but she coudln't bring herself to push him away. A small smile made its way to her lips as she watched him taking deep breaths to steady himself. Natsu's hot breath blew against her neck, making her skin tingle and a familiar warmth rose to her cheeks when he snuggled closer to her. Her heart started to pound in her chest – no he wasn't adorable at all!
...Okay, he was.
The blonde started to gently stoke his hair and after a while, his breathing became even and he fell asleep. Lucy just stared at his relaxed face and wondered how such a destructive person could look so innocent.
"Erza, Gray! Lucy is a pervert because she is staring at Natsu with that creepy face," Happy's teasing voice ended her little moment.
"Shut up, stupid cat!" Lucy hissed through gritted teeth, but was unable to move since she was still enveloped by a passed out dragon slayer with an iron grip. Considering that he was somewhere in dreamland, it was amazing that his hold on her was so strong. Or maybe it was her lack in upper body strenght, because no matter how hard she tried, every attempt to escape just made him hold her tighter than before.
Happy grinned mischievously.
Reluctantly, the celestial wizard decided to punish him later. Instead of fruitlessly attempting to scold the feline, she turned her attention to Erza who seemed a lot less hostile that before. "Where are we heading exactly?"
"Our client lives in Hosenka Town. If my calculations are indeed correct, we should arrive in two hours."
"Isn't that the spa place?" Gray raised an eyebrow at his conscious companions.
Erza nodded her head. "Yes it is, but we are not there to relax this time. Our client is worried about an attack from a dark guild, who are supposedly planning to to ruin the annual festival held there. We have to be on guard. Mira told me that the client would likely reveal more information about the job when we arrive there."
"So Mira gave you the job request?"Lucy asked suspiciously, somehow she always had a bad feeling when Mira asked them to go on specific jobs. When the take-over wizard asks for something it's either a) highly embarrassing for the her, b) some matchmaking plan or c) a really, really dangerous job request.
"Yes she did. Do you have a problem with that?"
"No, not at all." Lucy flinched under Erza's threatening glare and attempted to smile reassuringly. She needed to calm down, after all no matter how difficult the job was, it was worth it. She needed that rent money badly. "So, how much is the reward?"
"Let's see ..." Titania mumbled and rummaged through her mountain of luggage for a small piece of paper. After a few minutes that had her companions questioning why she always insisted on carrying an army load of things, Erza found it. "It says the reward is 7.000.000 Jewel. That's not bad at all."
Say what? Not bad? That's astronomic! Lucy's jaw dropped to the ground and Happy's joined hers. The blue cat was already imagining mountains of fish and seafood that he could buy with his cut.
"Wow that's a lot of money for one dark guild and a security job." Gray frowned and rested his head on one arm. "Something is seriously off about this request."
"That's probably why Mira asked us to go on this mission," Erza concluded. "I hope that we get more information from the client. By the way, he is the mayor of the city and owns a lot of money. I wouldn't be surprised if he would offer such high rewards for simple jobs, but my experience tells me something is off as well."
Contemplating silence filled the train compartment.
"...Who cares! Seriously? It's seven million Jewel, that's my rent for who knows how long!" Lucy laughed giddily at the prospect of not having to pay her rent for a long time. If she could only stop her team from destroying half the city again. "Just please, could you try to keep yourselves in check? It's my favorite spa and rebuilding it would leave us jewel-less again."
"We will try our best not to dissappoint you, right Gray?"
"Hmm, sure thing." He still looked deep in thought, but looked up and smiled reassuringly at her.
She knew something was wrong with this mission. She had the same foreboding feeling that Erza and Gray had, but she did not feel like worrying right now. Instead she enjoyed the warmth that radiated from the dragon slayer and fell into a light comfortable sleep.
If the weather was a guy, she would kick him between the legs for what she was going through right now. It was raining again – no it was like someone got ten million buckets of muddy water and tried to empty them all over the walking wizards. Lucy would use Horologium to hide, but his time already ran out. So there she was, trying to shield herself from mother natures wrath; her clothes clung to her like a second skin. She tried to soothe her violent shivering by rubbing her arms, but the warmth went away quickl and she felt even colder than before.
And not for the first time she felt jealous of her teammates. Erza used her magic to conjure a raincoat, Gray didn't mind the cold like always, Natsu was his own heater and Happy enjoyed cuddling into his scarf.
As if sensing her misery, onyx eyes examine her shivering form.
"Hey Lucy, what's the hold up? Are you cold again?"
No, duh. Her teeth just enjoyed to chatter … or that's what she would have replied if her teeth weren't chattering.
"Why are you always freezing? Jeez, you need some awesome fire magic like me!" He grinned happily at the very unhappy blonde. She apprechiated his attept to lighten her mood.
"No way, ice magic is way better. It makes you resistant against any weather." Gray dropped into their one-sided conversation, trying to comfort her and pester the fire wizard in equal measures. He stepped closer to Lucy and draped an arm over her shoulders. "So what do you say? Wanna learn some ice-make make magic? I don't mind teachin you, Lucy."
Suddenly the rain intensified, if that was even possible for no apparent reason. Lucy was sure there was something wrong with the weather today. This wasn't normal.
"No way, ice magic sucks! It makes you a perverted stipper like him."
"Take that back, you flaming moron!"
"What if I don't, ice bastard?"
"You pickin' a fight, pink guy?"
"And what if I am? Everyone knows fire is better than ice, right Lucy?"
"Like hell it is!"
At this point, they were already throwing punches at eachother and Lucy glanced nervously at Erza for help, who conveniently seemed to take interest in the surrounding nature. Meanwhile, the blonde felt colder than ever before and let out a sneeze which interrupted the two fighting rivals. Their heads snapped to their almost forgotten friend.
"Lucy, tell him I'm right!"
"Do I hear you fighting?" Finally, Erza came to her rescue and finally decided to intervene. Due to Erza's intimidating presence they stopped their fight and went all buddy-buddy. "Besides, re-quip magic is the best. I'm sure Lucy knows that as well. I could teach you some great things that will improve your skills, of you want me to. I'll warn you though, I won't go easy on you."
That was the last straw for the poor woman.
"I don't wanna learn you guys' magic, I just want warmth!" Lucy panted heavily after her outburst and her friends stared at her.
Natsu sighed and walked in front of the pretty blonde. Lucy noted curiously that he was embarrassed about something because he avoided her interrogating gaze. Why would he be flustered about something? He was not seriously concerned because she blew up at them, right? She does that all the time … or was it because she did not say that his magic was better?
"So that's all?" His nochalant question startled her and his face was just inches from hers, his hot breath fanning across her face. There was this look again; the one she could not decipher, the one that made her think something was off about him.
She nodded dumbly.
"Okay then." Natsu ran a hand through his salmon hair, shaking some lost raindrops away. The embarrassed frown on his face combined with the intense look in his eyes made her cheeks warm up. Damn, he really rocked that wild guy look. "Hop on!"
She almost bit her tongue in suprise. "What?"
"Do you got rainwater in your ears? Hop on!" Natsu removed his jacket and gestured for her to get on his back. "I always thought you were the smart one, Lucy. You're getting weirder every day."
Muttering protests beneath her breath, she carefully climbed onto his back and hooked her legs around his waist. Her face flushed pink when she laced her arms around his neck tightly. Her cheek was next to his and she could feel the tones muscles on his back with every movement.
Natsu laughed when he heard her mutter silent curses and bent down to retrieve his black jacket. Lucy watched when he draped the cloth over both of them, his arms slipping into the sleeves before he pulled the zipper up. The celestial mage could not help but feel a tingling senation rise in ger belly when she thought of their close proximity. It was worse than on the train because this time there literally not even a breath of air separating them.
They were like a sandwich. Jacket – Lucy – Natsu – jacket and with Happy on top. It probably looked pretty hilarious, judging by the amused glaces they received from the rest of their team.
"Alright, let's go!" Lucy could feel the excited grin spread onto his face by the way his warm cheek pressed against hers. Her heart felt like leaping out of her chest when his scalding hands gripped her tights. When he started walking, she buried her head in his scarf, trying to supress the squeal that treathened to escape her lips.
"I accept your challenge, may the better team win!" Erza suddenly challenged them, voice brimming with confidence not to be out-done. The sandwich just looked startled at their friend. So did Gray. "Gray, hop on my back."
"Eh? Me?" Gray pointed a finger to himself in disbelief. "You can't be serious..."
"Ow – okay, stop! I'll climb on by myself," he grumbled while slowly climing on her back. Not only was he in for what was most likely going to be an incredibly terrifying piggibag ride, but his pride took a heavy blow as well. Gray wished that they could at least switch roles.
"Being carried by Erza, now Gray really turned into an ice princess, right Happy?" Natsu snickered evilly.
"Aye, sir. Lucy, can we borrow a dress from you?"
After a good hour ride on Natsu's back, parts of her body were coming back to life after being almost frozen to death. Embarassment long forgotten, Lucy let out a content yawn and enjoyed their closeness.
"Natsu?" She whispered tiredly into his neck while inhaling the scent from his scarf. It smelled like fire, ginger and adventure just like Natsu.
"Maybe fire magic is the best after all." Lucy could not see the radiant smile that spread across his face, in the background she heard an irritated noise from the ice wizard. She let out a chuckle before adding very quietly:"Thanks for keeping me warm, Natsu."
"Always." And for a second she swore that his grip on her legs tightened.
While Lucy was in that sleepy state, she thought about what had been bugging her all day. According to that horoscope she was supposed to meet her soon-to-be boyfriend this week, but the only thing that came close to a romantic encounter was her dense best friend being himself...
If you are able to pass the emotional roller coaster, you will float on cloud nine with your one true love!
Please, let him be good looking. Maybe he is a powerful wizard? He could be rich or even a famous actor. What would she do if she already knows him? That would definitely make things easier when it comes to breaking the ice. She would just have to keep her eyes open and perhaps she will find her one true love during the mission … not that she would believe the stupid horoscope. After all she wanted to prove that it's wrong, not the opposite, right? She didn't even know anymore.
"Lucy, what are you thinking about?"
The woman yelped in fright when she found something blue that reeked of fish very, very close to her face. Happy. She forgot that he slept next to her in Natsu's scarf earlier.
She shrugged. "It's n-nothing."
"But your face was all scrunched up like an old geezer!"The exceed snickered and hid in the white scarf which surrounded both of them. Lucy tried to grab him, but he was skilled in evading her violent outbursts so she failed to smack him.
"Come back here stupid cat," she screamed while the rest of her team laughed. Except for Natsu who flinched a little, her screaming probably hurt his sensitive ears. She apologized to him in her mind. Far from giving up her pursuit on the cat, she lifted her hands from his neck, balled them into fists and tried to reach Happy for the third time that day.
"Natsu ~ Why are you carrying Lucy?" The cat teased again, flying like a gossip hungry vulture above them.
He looked to the side, avoiding his friends eyes. "I owe her for the train ride..."
She wasn't supposed to feel disappointed by his answer. Still, somehow her spirits sunk after hearing that he carried her just because he felt indebted to her. Lucy felt like an idiot for thinking it meant anything else. Before any more negative thought threatened to drain her energy, she desperately searched for a distraction. Luckily, the universe meant it good with her for once.
"Everybody, look! There it is, Hosenka Town." She pointed ahead of them, hoping that her diversion would work. "I mean, we can still use the hot springs, can't we?"
Gray, Natsu and Happy paled visibly – did she say something wrong?
"Of course, we can," Erza grinned with sparkles in her eyes. Everybody sighed in relief and cheered. "Ehh – Of course it's not to show you my new bikini, Lucy. We need to survey the whole area, including the bathing areas."
"Of course not." Lucy sweat dropped.
Hosenka was famous for its oriental styled buildings, just asmuch as it was for similar themed food and entertainment. It was actually one of Fiore's oldest cities, but the ancient cultural heritage was long gone since the rich son of the Pandera family decided to built a high-class resort on the same place. Still, some places were the same, just renovated and changed for entertainment and tourism.
Small light lacrimas hovered in the air and their rainbow glow drew funny patterns across the lively streets. Happy bumped into one of them and it burst into hundret little sparkles, which rained down on their little group. The miscievous cat continued to interntionally fly into them, finding enjoment in their destruction. Even Lucy though it was cute until some people who were preparing for the festival got angry at them, shooting warning glances at the group.
The spicy smell of cinnamon hung in the air and mingled with steamy aroma of bathing minerals.
"Ugh, why do they have to use strong stuff, my nose is burning!" The dragon slayer sneezed and it resulted in a little explosion with fire and all. The explosice sneeze made Lucy worry what would happen when he actually got sick. The city wouldn't survive it, she was sure.
"Natsu, we made a promise to Lucy, remember? You can't just blow up the street like that!" Being the stict and determined mother hen, Titania hit the poor guy on his head. "Let's just find a shelter for tonight, we shall meet our client tomorrow."
Before Natsu could argue in his defense or worse – let out another explosive sneeze, Gray froze his nose in an attempt to protect it from the spicy smell. The salmon haired mage wasn't amused, but didn't comment when he felt Lucy's hazel eyes pierce through him in warning. Instead he gaped like a fish to get oxygen in his lungs. Several passerby shot him a look of pity.
They arrived at a average looking hotel called Cosmos Inn; not too fancy but it wasn't shabby either. Wait, something was familiar with that name. Didn't the horoscope mention something?
The cosmos ignites your love...
"Hahaha, I think I'm getting paranoid." Lucy shook her head and laughed openly. Her friends started at her worriedly, but she didn't want to explain so she just waved them off. Let them think what they wanted.
"Let's just get a room already," the dark-haired wizard said and draped an arm over Lucy's shoulders. In her mind, that somehow came out wrong. She knew he didn't mean it, but to any stranger the words would imply certain things. The fact that Gray had unconsciously stripped off his clothes again, didn't help his case.
"Eep!" Lucy shrieked and put some distance between them. "Gray, put your clothes back on. We are in public."
He looked down in shock, his boxers with a heart-shaped ice pattern was the only piece of cloth in sight.
"Damn, when did that happen?"
"Put your pants on," Erza demanded before she rammed her elbow in his face. Wow, Erza sure didn't waste time or hold back. Poor Gray, he just had bad luck with women. Natsu would have laughed his ass off, but he and Happy were at the food shop for a quick snack.
Lucy felt pity for her beat-up friend, started to lift him from the ground as gently as possible and dragged him to the reception. The young secretary at the counter smiled at her politely when she looked up from her computer lacrima.
"A room for two, is it?" The woman winked at Lucy suggestively, already checking for available rooms. "We have a 35% discount for such lovely couples as yourselves and the rooms we offer with the deal are quite luxurious, if I do say so myself."
The blonde stuttered out words to deny the receptionist's suggestions, but was unable to form a coherent sentence.
"Are you two not together?"
"Of course, we are. I am her boyfriend, she just isn't used to people calling us out yet. I just confessed yesterday, you know?" Smelling a good deal, Gray threw a charming smile at the now giggling secretary. Meanwhile, he stepped on Lucy's food, to prevent her from saying something. Even if she wanted to, she couldn't. Gray's words made her speechless.
Somewhere in the background, rain started to pour down violently and a stone pillar crumbled to dust. Weird.
"Well then, you have free access to the hot springs … " And so the woman started to talk about the resort and the benefits of their spontaneous couple discount deal.
Lucy glared at her 'boyfriend'. "What is the meaning of this?"
"Hey, don't get angry. We get a discount plus I don't wanna be in a room with the snoring idiot or the scary woman. So please Lucy, just play along for the moment, okay?"
"Fine," she whispered back, a bit calmer now.
"...and that will be 10.000 Jewel for the time of your stay." The ignored secretary smiled and Gray handled her the money. "Oh, are those two friends of yours?"
She gestured to a dumbfounded looking Erza next to Natsu and Happy, who just came back from their snack. Erza raised an eyebrow while the dragon slayer seemed … displeased. Maybe he ate something wrong, wouldn't be the first time.
"Y-yeah, they are o-our friends," Lucy stammered. She did not feel comfortable with the way Natsu was staring at her, an emotion she could not identify swam in his eyes apart from the dissappointment. The life seemed to get sucked out of him, leaving his face pale when Happy chirped his infamous line.
"They llllllike each other!"
Lucy looked at Gray who was perfectly at ease with an arm draped over her shoulder. She couldn't help but sigh at his calm persona. We he felt her look he grinned down at her and flicked her nose. No, Gray and here were just friends who had a stong connection due to being the more sane ones in the group. They had more than a couple of private jokes on behalf of their team mates and shared moments of agony when the people around them went crazy.
A low growl emitted from beside them and Lucy felt the scorching heat before they saw Natsu light his fists. What was his deal now?
"Oi, ice bastard! I still have to get you back for the ice you shoved in my nose earlier!"
"Oh yeah? But you didn't complain about it before."
"Huh? What does it matter, I care now – Ow, Erza! What the hell?!"
"We would like to have a room, too." The scarlet haired woman leaned onto the counter casually, dragging a protesting fire wizard along with her and ignoring the tense atmosphere in the room. Dicount hunter, your name is Erza Scarlet. She handed the receptionist the right amount of money for another 'couple's room'.
"Of course, you are a couple too right? That's so great, a double date vacation. I wish my boyfriend would do something like that," the overly excited woman said dreamily, typed something into her computer lacrima before turning her attention back to them. "Here are your keys, enjoy your stay at the Cosmos Inn!"