Gray hadn't kissed anyone in a while.
It was starting to grate on him, funnily enough. The desire—no, the yearning. It wasn't just a need for excitement: this was a need for connection. To have someone that close, mouth to mouth, to be able to express in a physical way I care about you, and for someone to show you just how much they cared in return.
Sometimes he thought about memorable times in the past, times he'd made out with people and really felt it in his gut. That, of course, did nothing to settle the yearning and mostly just made him grouchy. And when he was grouchy, he picked more fights with Natsu and came away with more bruises.
At least the bruises solved the physical ache a bit—fighting was a type of affection, and so it helped calm the urgency of his need.
But the fill was only temporary, and then he had to go find Natsu to distract him again.
Slouching at the bar, Gray watched his guildmates wander in ready for Pride, eyes on the door.
In the corner, Juvia's natural iridescence sparkled in rainbow patterns as she sat next to an awed Levy, who'd walked in carrying a book of LGBTQ history for "light reading." By the bar, Laxus sulked, wearing a scowl and a shirt that was too tight for how much he worked out. Laxus acted grumpy on this day every year—until after he sat through the parade with Freed: something about that action had a magical effect on Laxus and no one was stupid enough to question why aloud.
Erza stomped in adorned with every color of the—excuse the pun—rainbow. She had small flags fluttering from her shoulders, like wings from her back. It looked good, and also a little overkill, but that was pretty much Erza all the time.
Cana followed shortly after, in a rainbow bikini that made Gray roll his eyes. At the bar, she kissed Mira soundly on the lips and asked her how she was. For once, Mira didn't look around in fear for any sneaking reporters.
During Pride, Master scared anybody who dared to have "news" or "gossip" in their job description out of Magnolia.
It meant Cana could kiss Mira in public and Laxus get a lot closer to Freed than he usually did. It meant everyone could breathe a sigh of relief, and dress they way they wanted to for Pride.
Gray was not the kind of person who dressed up for things. Mostly because he wasn't the kind of person who dressed. But today he was going to keep his clothes on, and today he'd also worn one particular pair of loud, rainbow-colored briefs under his usual dark colors. This way he would know he was celebrating the spirit of things, but he could retain his nonchalant external image.
Gray also wasn't picking any fights today. If he were lucky, he would get through today bruise-free. And perhaps having kissed a person.
If he were very, very lucky.
At long last, Natsu breezed in, looking like he'd murdered a hundred glitter-fairies and bathed in their blood. He was belching fire that was—yes—all eight colors of the rainbow. When most people simply wore some emblem of the queer flag on their person (and made more effort toward attractiveness if they were single), Natsu always went far past all-out. He never cared what people thought: opinions rolled off him and he just wanted to play and have fun, excited like a child and courageous like an elder. It was endearing.
"Oi, firefly," Gray said, striding over and throwing a punch.
Natsu blocked him and belched a half dozen colors in Gray's face.
"Dammit," Natsu said, "that wasn't even a good one. Here, let me try again."
"Ew, no," Gray said, but he didn't release Natsu from the loose stranglehold.
Natsu burped loudly, several more colors in the mix. Gray laughed.
"There," Natsu said. "I'm trying to do the one with brown and black, too, but it's really hard to do brown fire."
Gray snorted and shook his head. Natsu punched his arm.
"Why so lame, snow queen?" he asked, looking Gray up and down.
"Why so shiny?" Gray replied.
"Because I'm actually, you know, proud."
Gray smiled. "Screw you, sunflower."
"Oi!" Natsu grinned and raised his fists.
Gray kicked out first. It didn't count as starting a fight: this was how he and Natsu said hello to each other. How they communicated that they were friends, cared about each other. If it were true annoyance, Gray would've used one of their actually insulting nicknames. Firefly and sunflower were just meant to sound mildly derogatory while allowing him to avoid saying Natsu's name aloud. Just like Natsu calling him queen—it was part of their vocabulary at this point. Not a real fight. Not that their real fights were particularly vindictive, either.
Natsu lost his footing but avoided Gray's follow-up kick; he swung around and trapped Gray's arms at his sides from behind.
While Gray struggled (unaware he was laughing the whole time), Natsu squeezed tighter around Gray's chest, and it felt almost like a hug. That disconcerted Gray. The warmth—that was the most surprising. Though it shouldn't have been. Obviously: fire mage.
He pushed away after a second, embarrassed. "Okay, I yield."
"You're easy," Natsu said, sounding disappointed. Then he reddened.
Gray laughed. "Good one."
"I didn't mean like that," Natsu mumbled.
"But it's true," Gray said. He was available…
Shrugging, Natsu looked away, haled Mira, and walked toward the bar without a word.
Annoyed, Gray sighed and slid onto a nearby seat. Just like that, the tension—and the fun—had left.
"What's that look for?" Juvia asked, striding up and giving him a gentle smile.
"Hm? Yes. What? Just bored. Want the fucking parade to start already so the fun can begin," he said. He didn't understand why he couldn't get his fucking tongue working. Fucking out of countenance. Fucking Natsu.
"Give it another hour and you'll have all the fun you could want." Juvia perched across from him. "Any particular plans today?"
"Just to goof around. Appreciate the fact that these days I can hypothetically get married if anyone actually wanted me. Try to avoid predatory bears. And also—well, the usual." He shrugged and left it at that. "You know."
Gray smiled as Juvia laughed.
"Where's Levy?" he asked her.
Juvia's misty shimmers all turned a startling shade of pink while the air grew definitively wetter. "She went to find Lucy. Said something about their plans for today."
"Lucy has plans other than to dog Erza's steps?" Gray asked in surprise.
Juvia shrugged. "Dunno. That's all she said."
"I guess Lucy did mention a surprise she's doing for someone…" He leaned in grinning. "Maybe she's finally asking Erza out."
"Erza?" Juvia squeaked.
"Oh yeah. It's about time. Maybe Levy's offering moral support. She is Lucy's best friend," he said helpfully.
Juvia relaxed considerably, smile genuine. "So I guess I will see Levy later."
"Don't see why not."
"What was the 'and'?" she asked.
"You were listing things. You said 'And the usual…' "
"Not important." It was his turn to blush. "Just...get kissed. Or kiss someone. Whatever. Haven't done that in a while."
He thought of Natsu, and wondered if he should break his rule about not fighting today. He really, really wanted someone to touch him in an affectionate way. But people didn't do that.
"I'm sure you'll find plenty of willing people to kiss," Juvia said, eyebrows wiggling.
"They don't count. Remember: avoiding bears. Or overeager twinks for that matter. I don't kiss just anyone. Only people I know. People I'd actually be interested in dating. I'm not serving myself up to strangers; these clothes are staying on."
"Yes, really—don't give me that look!" he protested. "I can keep from stripping. Just watch."
"I will," she laughed. "I'm curious how many nosebleeds there'll be when this big gay world gets to see Gray Fullbuster exposed."
Gray groaned and plunked his head on the table. "Fuck, don't even say that. I'm not here for an easy lay."
But her kind laughter pulled him out of his grouchiness.
"Levy's back," he said, nodding to Levy standing where she and Juvia had been sitting, looking around in confusion. "I think you've been missed."
"Oh," Juvia inhaled. "I'll just go… Seeyoulater!"
Darting up, she wandered over with a decidedly hurried-but-not air to where Levy stood. She has no clue her whole body changes color when she blushes.
Around the guild, yet more members had arrived, haling friends, lounging at tables, all with the restless air of waiting. The Raijinshuu appeared, including Freed, and this had Laxus standing in an amusing pose of nonchalance that showed off his chest. Gray wondered if Laxus did that on purpose or if it just happened whenever he saw the color green. Hm, there had to be a way to experiment with that…
Sparkles filled Gray's vision as Natsu took a stand in front of him.
"You're staring off into space."
Snorting, Gray smiled. "Sorry?"
"You should be. It's Pride, princess," Natsu laughed. "At least pretend to be happy. I'm going to start thinking your sexuality is melancholy, not gay."
Rising, Gray put a hand on Natsu's shoulder, which was toasty.
"Where's Erza? We should go find a spot to watch the parade."
Gray truly enjoyed himself in the beginning. The parade was fun, and watching it with his team, including a very excitable Natsu, was amusing.
"I wish I could do that," Natsu said, pointing at a float of drag queens.
Gray was surprised. "Why don't you? You'd be good at it."
"Have you met yourself, Natsu? You have enough charisma to charm a snake."
"Snakes are related to dragons. That would be easy," Natsu muttered.
Gray rolled his eyes. "Again: why don't you do drag?"
"I don't have the time, apparel, or patience."
"Okay, point ceded."
After that, the group wandered around for a bit, then Gray and Natsu wandered to find food, and right now Gray was by himself trying to find meat before Natsu did—it was a race.
One he was having trouble winning. Were all queers vegetarians? If there wasn't any meat here, surely they could sneak into the back kitchen at Fairy Tail and rustle something up as they'd done before. They even had a system down: Natsu played lookout while Gray grabbed the food.
Right as he was thinking of returning to the guild, his shirt hit the ground.
He bent over to pick it up, movements clumsy as he simultaneously looked around to make sure nobody saw. All of a sudden he was missing his trousers, too.
They landed on someone's shoulder.
"Nice ass," the man said, looking him up and down and holding out the garment.
Gray wasn't sure whether the guy meant Gray's ass itself or the rainbow briefs adorning it, but he found his hand rebelliously trying to remove said underpants and struggled to stop his hand.
The young man whistled and grinned. It was a friendly and suggestive grin, a simple flirtation. Gray hated it.
He hated this part. It wasn't shame about nudity—he'd love to go naked all the time and screw clothes. They were unnecessary. But the attention: that's what he disliked. That was why he freaked out every time Natsu loudly announced he was missing some or all of his apparel. Saying it was fine; saying it so loud drew attention.
There'd been no Natsu this time, who honestly probably would've tried to help draw attention away in a situation like this—Natsu wasn't heartless. But it was just Gray in a crowd of gays suddenly stripping his clothes off and showing his body.
People always took that as an invitation.
"Taking it off already?" someone, another man, teased as he passed by.
As Gray swiped his trousers from the first young man, who jokingly tried to pull them back at the last second, Gray was strongly tempted to punch the nearest face. They wanted a piece of him? He could give them a piece.
But under his anger was something else. With the pressure of those wondering, evaluating, hopeful eyes, he felt like a consumable. The young man caught his eye again, smile crooking up in question.
"Look at this one—" A drunken slur behind him preceded a hand landing heavy on Gray's shoulder. The fingers squeezed.
Ripping away, Gray growled and scurried to put as much distance as he could between himself and those fingers. He hopped on one foot trying to get the trousers on, nearly tripping while the drunk laughed.
"Here," the first young man said, putting out a hand to steady Gray. He had an amiable face and looked kind enough, but—
He was still touching Gray without permission. Gray shoved him off.
Fleeing the scene and the indignant grunt, he fought through the crowd, wrestling to find the damn neck of his shirt to pull it on. He should've painted "I'm not here to fuck" on his back as Erza teasingly suggested. In Natsu's raucous glitter glue so people knew he was serious. He should've kept his body covered. What did he expect?
As he slipped through the crowd, he tried to escape all the eyes that saw, all the people that wanted.
I'm not just some ass.
Bumping shoulders with someone tall and getting a grunt of annoyance that turned into an interested "Oh, sorry," Gray hurried on, hating Pride. Why had he come? Why hadn't he just sat in the loneliness of his flat watching sappy romances on the lacrima-tron, crying when the hero inevitably had their heart broken halfway through and feeling all warm and fuzzy when things worked out in the end? In stories, everything ended happily for everyone.
Glancing around, he didn't recognize any of the booths, but it didn't matter. He just wanted to be alone at this point.
"Oi, ice queen."
Fingers wrapped around his wrist, familiar ones, warm and comforting. Jolting, Gray leaned into the grip and let Natsu draw him another direction, past vendors to a spot behind a wall where there was room to breathe.
"Thanks," Gray panted, trying to untangle the confusion of feelings in his chest. "Fuck."
"No problem. Looked like you needed some help," Natsu smiled.
The Salamander waited patiently as Gray caught his breath.
"Again, thank you," Gray said.
Natsu beamed. "So where were you heading?"
"Just away." Gray glared off to the side. "I had things I wanted to do today. That…wasn't one of them."
To his surprise, Natsu chuckled. "I overheard you this morning. Something about having fun and kissing people. Isn't running away counterproductive?"
"I don't want to kiss someone like that," Gray said, crossing his arms. He wasn't sure if Natsu was making fun of him. "I want it to be something more than that. I want it to mean something."
"I dunno." Gray bit his lip. "I don't like when someone just wants my…" He motioned at himself.
"Your that," Natsu agreed, looking him up and down and coughing. "Still. You never know: one of them might've been truly interested."
"Not interested like that. I mean someone who knows me. I want to kiss someone who actually," Gray blushed, "likes me."
Thoughtful, Natsu nodded. Gray hadn't seen him wear that expression very often—true, serious consideration. Usually he just gave his shit-eating grin and offered Gray a fight.
"I like you," Natsu said.
It took Gray a moment.
"What?" he stammered.
Natsu's expression was unreadable.
"What I just said," he said.
Gray gaped. Still off-guard. Liked him in what way?
When Natsu put a hand to Gray's cheek, Gray's voice disappeared into a surprised squeak.
Natsu drew him closer, ran his fingers into Gray's hair, and pressed his lips against Gray's.
It was like waking up. So sudden and calm. Gray didn't fight it—he moved into it, edged nearer, admitting in that tiny movement what he wanted.
Even though it was terrifyingly vulnerable to admit it, he curled closer anyway.
They were like two stars colliding. Gray expected the light surely beaming from his body to draw every spectator in Magnolia. Not that he cared. This was about them. Everyone else had ceased to matter: they could be dealt with later. Together, kissing his best friend, things were okay.
When Gray deepened it, trying to make this kiss last as long as possible, Natsu hummed and kissed him some more. Gray couldn't think. There were a thousand tastes to Natsu, and constant movement, too, Natsu mouthing at him, devouring him. Gray had never felt so wanted. That was why it was okay to be vulnerable. Because Natsu was always safe. Natsu never let him down.
There were other things, too, other senses coming through. A smell Gray knew, pairing with one of the flavors. Natsu was holding him tight but a little wobbly at the same time. That was alcohol, that flavor. A lot of it.
Natsu wobbled again.
Wait. He was drunk.
Drunk like the kid who grabbed Gray earlier. Drunk like when they completed a big mission and Natsu lay in a haze on the floor spouting random compliments and innuendos. Half the time he didn't remember what he'd said the next day.
Nothing Natsu did when he was drunk was ever real.
Yet still Gray let Natsu kiss him, immersed himself in it, wished it would never end. This unreal kiss that wasn't happening. He still wished it was. Wanted to pretend it was.
Until Natsu pulled back, grinning.
Seeing that smile, pain bloomed in Gray's chest. He punched Natsu in the face.
Natsu flew to the ground, expression the picture of startlement.
"Wh' the fuck?" Natsu exclaimed, blood streaming down from his nose.
Gray could hear the slur in his voice now.
"You're the fuck," Gray snarled. His throat closed around something far worse than anger: disappointment in himself. "You're…you're…"
When Natsu tried to rise, Gray punched him again, Natsu's reactions too sluggish to fend him off. Sloppy with emotion, Gray's fist smacked the hard bone of Natsu's shoulder. His knuckles throbbed, a pain more real than anything. A pain that he could sink the other, greater pain into. So he could ignore what he was feeling in his chest. The betrayal.
"Get the fuck away from me," Gray hissed, or tried to, but words weren't working in the thickness of his throat.
For a second time, he turned and fled.
Around corners, dodging people, he tried to put as much space as he could. Behind him, Natsu didn't follow; Gray imagined him still sprawled in the street staring drunkenly after him trying to figure out what went wrong. As if he didn't fucking know. As if he weren't the perfect fucking idiot. Natsu Dragneel.
The name hurt his heart.
After a few blocks, Gray tried to slow down, but his feet didn't want to. Seeing a sharpie on a table, he snatched it and aimed himself toward Fairy Tail. Someone would be there. He knew what he wanted.
As he passed the outdoor tables, he saw two figures pressed up against the gift shop booth. Telltale green, a too-tight shirt. Freed and Laxus were making out in the shade of the booth, making gentle goddamn noises that Gray could hear as he passed. Not even the fucking decency to go somewhere private.
With anger making colors of his vision, Gray shot a cold draft at Freed's back. Someone swore.
"Get a room," he shouted as he passed.
A strong buzz lit Gray's body and stung along every nerve. The electricity slowed him for a few seconds, nearly tripping him through the main doors.
He'd brought this on himself. Not just the pain of Laxus's lightning, but the whole everything. He always got himself into this kind of trouble. He should've known better; should've been more aware; should've kept his clothes on; should've not tried to believe he was worth something so good as Natsu's fucking affection.
Getting shocked by a pissed-off Dragon Slayer was so much fucking better than getting kissed by a drunk, oblivious Natsu on a day that was supposed to be happy. At least Laxus's anger was something Gray knew how to deal with. At least this didn't hurt inside him.
Finding Erza at the bar, he shoved the sharpie into her surprised hands, pulled his shirt off, and said, "I want you to write this on my back…"
As the pen dragged over his skin, he glared at the floor, closed his eyes, and exhaled. He would not think about the sick feeling in his throat, behind his eyes. He hadn't wanted to do anything today but sit at home with the lacrima-tron. Pride wasn't special. His friends dragged him out, and if it sucked, fuck them.
His fucking friends could go to hell.
"There." Erza handed the sharpie back to him, concern in her eyes. "Did something happen?"
"I'm fine." He tossed the sharpie across the bar, pulled his shirt on, and started back toward the doors. "Have fun with your girlfriend."
Behind him, Erza spluttered indignantly.
A rustle made Gray open his eyes—a flock of birds flew overhead. The tree he was leaning into had swallowed him in its roots, squeezing around his shoulders in something resembling a hug.
He was actually getting a hug today.
Considering his recent experience with kissing, the embrace might be the better option. his embrace demanded nothing, and Gray could relax into it.
Another rustle, but Gray closed his eyes, letting his mind drift as grass brushed his legs. He only wore the spectacular rainbow briefs now, and was more than happy with his life. At long last. This was what he'd wanted all day: to be alone, wearing what he wanted, and not sought after by anyone who wanted to fuck his body or brain without bothering with the rest of him.
Nearby, there was the sound of something settling in the grass. He didn't open his eyes. He was in a public park, but it was far from the main road where Pridefest was, and almost no one was here. As soon as the imposter saw the area wasn't abandoned, they would move on—
Someone sighed quite close to Gray's head.
His eyes shot open. Beside him and a little above him, Natsu lay in the roots of the tree, head propped on an elbow.
Gray felt cold in his throat. Cold—him. He never felt cold, least of all when he was basically nude; but trust Natsu to have that effect on him.
He wanted to say, What do you want? But the words weren't coming. Natsu sighed again.
"Why'd you run, Gray?" he finally asked.
Gray shut his eyes. Maybe if he ignored Natsu, he'd go away. Maybe if he pretended, it would stop hurting.
"Did I offend you? Gray, I..." Natsu paused. "What were you trying to say back there? Please talk to me. Gray."
Searching, Gray finally found his tongue and wet his mouth.
"Don't want to talk to you while you're drunk."
When Gray couldn't help looking up, Natsu appeared puzzled.
"For all I know, you're not even going to remember this," Gray spat viciously, "so why should I talk to you?"
"I'm not—when did you think I was drunk?"
"Earlier, dumbass. When you…" Gray's mouth twisted and he held his breath, refusing the emotion that tried to push its way out. He couldn't say those words.
"I wasn't drunk."
"I know what alcohol tastes like, baka. Don't lie—"
"Oh, that." Natsu sounded wry. "It was just a little."
"Didn't taste like just a little."
"Okay, a couple bottles. But I didn't swallow it: it was fuel. You missed it when I finally managed to make twenty-two colors of fire at once. That was my goal for today. It was pretty epic."
"That's how old we are. Or you are." Natsu sighed and stared up at the royal-blue sky. "I still don't know how old I am."
Gray watched him.
"Zeref?" he asked.
"Fucking Zeref and his non-answers," Natsu agreed. "That cryptic asshole."
"Natsu, why did you—?" Gray's voice cracked and he stopped.
The Salamander's brow furrowed, suddenly entranced by his toes.
"You said you wanted…someone who liked you," Natsu mumbled. "And I told you— But it doesn't matter. Forget it. I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking, and I misread…"
He bit his lip, and Gray saw twin lines where glitter had been scraped off by sharp fangs.
"Have you been looking for me all day?" Gray asked.
"No," Natsu said, still avoiding his eyes. "Looked for Erza first. Then you."
Gray tilted his head. He wasn't feeling as misanthropic as usual. Propping himself up, he leaned closer, a single root between them. "Why, Natsu?"
Natsu knew what he meant—knew exactly what he meant, because he turned a splendid shade of pink.
"Because," he mumbled. "I thought you wanted it."
"I'm not saying I didn't—" Gray choked and inhaled. "But I didn't ask."
Gray glared at him. "Stop that. I want an explanation."
"Goddess." Natsu rubbed his eyes. "You sounded like you really wanted… What you said this morning: you wanted to kiss someone. Like you had been looking for it. I thought I could make you feel better. Not like pity," he added. "I mean that for once I could do something you liked. I thought, I can actually help this time. It wouldn't be just fighting or…it could be…more. Fuck, I'm so sorry."
"Would you stop apologizing and…"
Gray watched the emotions spilling across Natsu's face. He was an open book, and it entranced Gray. All the things he'd felt earlier when Natsu touched him were in Natsu's eyes right now.
Gray said, "Can we try it again?"
Natsu blinked at him. Gray watched the way his eyelashes fluttered, sparkly and confused.
As Gray kept staring at him, realization dawned and he scooted forward.
"Wait," Gray said. "You're not drunk?"
"Okay," Gray said, and leaning in, he kissed Natsu.
Natsu's lips were hot and still besparkled, the glitter pleasantly rough against Gray's mouth. When he touched his tongue to Natsu's lips, he felt the gritty texture and licked along it, then into Natsu's mouth to play, toying with him, embracing him. Enjoying how Natsu seemed to want to be consumed, at how completely he erased all other thought from Gray's head.
Natsu made a host of sounds as Gray devoured him, some desperate, some whining, some hungry.
Gray followed the urge to touch Natsu's chest, to feel down the line where his vest was unfastened revealing warm, defined muscle. At that, Natsu broke off with a strangled noise.
"Gray," he panted, "what are you doing?"
"No. I mean, where is this going?"
Gray blinked to clear his head.
"Sorry. I should've asked."
"No fucking apologies," Natsu grumbled, bringing him back in for another kiss. When Gray kept his hands to himself, Natsu grabbed them and placed them on his chest again. "Keep touching me."
"Fuck," Gray groaned—finally letting Natsu hear all the nervous desire in his voice.
Natsu kissed him deeper.
Against his palm, Natsu's ribs rose and fell rapidly, out of breath at what Gray was doing, what they were doing. Gray was just exploring the skin beneath Natsu's collarbone when he felt Natsu's fingers curl around his hip firmly, holding him with a definiteness that made him breathless.
They were always perfectly matched—it was why they competed: the same skills, the same passion, the same strength. In this too they were the same.
Shifting over the root between them, Gray leaned against him chest to chest, their legs tangling. Natsu still gripped him tightly. When Gray pulled his head up to speak, Natsu followed his lips, straining up to chase him and capturing him there with yet another kiss.
"Was this what you were trying to do earlier?" Gray asked finally.
Natsu darted to his neck and nibbled at the skin. "What do you think?"
Gray waited until Natsu met his gaze. The Dragon Slayer was serious, the old look of teasing gone. Gray could see it: Natsu was eager, invested, attached. Wasn't looking away, and wasn't just trying to get something from him.
That look was more answer than words could've been.
Still looking into Natsu's eyes—letting Natsu see every flicker of his own pounding emotions on his face—he removed Natsu's vest. He didn't break eye contact as he slowly drew his hands up Natsu's skin, sliding his fingers over the veins in Natsu's arm, over warm brown skin, tracing a familiar guildmark.
"F-Fuck," Natsu whispered, staring at him in awe. "This is the sexiest thing anyone's ever done with me."
"Then we should spend more time together," Gray said, grinning.
"Why? You'll do more of this?"
"Any time you let me."
As he said it, he knew it was true.
"Gray..." Natsu's hands on his hips pulled him down, closer, and Gray's brain couldn't catch up until Natsu had him in a tight embrace.
Gray suddenly knew exactly what he wanted. He settled comfortably in Natsu's arms and cuddled him.
It gave what they were doing far greater weight. Like they were here to be, not just to make out and feel good. When they looked at each other (all it took to start kissing again), every touch was powerful and yet ephemeral. They kissed over and over in an attempt to make it last forever.
But even if they would have to break apart eventually, Gray's pounding heart and the look in Natsu's eyes were real. The precious things they were sharing with each other were tangible, solid, not fading away.
The ice mage wasn't aware their bodies had fallen into a rhythm until Natsu broke it with a touch to Gray's cheek. Leaning in, Natsu studied him for a several long, wonderful minutes.
"What—what are you doing?" Gray asked.
Natsu's mouth quirked into a smile. "Just looking."
"Afraid I'll disappear?" Gray chuckled, but the tease felt like he was breaking the moment. Making light of something incredible. He sobered.
"You know you kind of fall apart when I kiss you? You're not—" Natsu jutted his lip out for a moment. "You're not closed off."
Gray blinked. "Why would I be?"
"I don't know. You usually are."
"Oh." They stared at each other. "I don't mean to be."
Natsu's fingers skimmed his cheek as Gray looked down and smoothed his palm across Natsu's chest, which still rose and fell rapidly.
"Would you?" Natsu asked seriously.
"Be closed off?"
Gray felt it: the edge in the air.
"No," he said.
Natsu's expression melted into a smile again—which transformed into wide-eyed, breathless surprise when Gray suddenly hauled him into a hug.
Gray just hummed. Relaxing, Natsu rubbed his back.
"I know, snowflake."
The way he held Gray made him feel like he mattered. It drove him to the edge of something dangerous and wonderful, drove him right over the edge into falling. Falling into Natsu. Natsu liked him. Had sought him out and was trying to show, very clearly, that he cared.
People didn't normally care about Gray. He didn't let them. Natsu was different.
"I like you," Natsu whispered in his ear. "All of you."
"Natsu—fuck. I'm no good at words."
"You don't have to be." Natsu kissed his hair. "You're fucking gorgeous. I want you: all of you, even when you're mopey like a moody popsicle. Hell, I like when you're moody. It's who you are. And I like you."
Gray shivered. "Natsu."
"Yeah?" Natsu's voice quavered, and that nervous sign thrilled Gray.
"I like this too."
"Just this? That's it?" Natsu chuckled.
"I like you."
"What's not to love?"
"Gray," Natsu turned serious again, "I'll watch you fall apart in my arms any day."
"Yeah?" Gray was smiling.
"Yeah. Lose control. Just be. Let go of your inhibitions and do what you want to do. I'll do whatever that is with you. Any day."
"I'll do this again with you," Gray murmured, flushing. "Any time."
"I'll take you up on that, you know."
Twisting, Natsu settled on his side in the roots and pulled Gray against him, Gray's back against his chest.
"There. Now I can spoon you properly." Natsu's arms circled his waist. Gray, who didn't usually like people behind him, settled in. Today it was okay.
"What advice did Erza give you?" Gray murmured.
"She said you were really upset. Told me I was probably an idiot, and if I'd done something, or even if I hadn't, I should go apologize."
Grinning, Gray shook his head. Oh, Erza.
"She also said you had her write on your back?" Natsu leaned away for a moment—then barked a laugh. " 'No, I don't want to fuck you'?"
"I was tired of people."
"Very understandably. They kind of mob you."
"The price I pay for being hot," Gray teased.
"It shouldn't be. It's unfair, Gray. You should dress how you want. Or not at all. They shouldn't say things."
"Or touch me," Gray sighed.
"People touch you?"
Startled by the anger in Natsu's voice, Gray glanced over his shoulder.
"What the fuck? People don't have fucking license to touch you just because you strip."
"Try telling them that."
"I fucking will."
"Natsu," Gray soothed, "it's okay. I'm working on not stripping. I just need to keep my clothes on."
"No, Gray, you don't. You shouldn't have to do anything to get basic respect."
Gray blushed. He'd seen Natsu get passionate about plenty of things, but never something small like this, something which just for Gray.
He liked it. And, he realized, he wanted Natsu to be right about the basic respect.
"I like fighting beside you," Gray said. "You can help me fight them off next time."
"Deal," Natsu chuckled. He brushed a hand over Gray's back. "Still, the irony of this is good."
"It's not ironic. I didn't fuck you," Gray wheedled.
Propping himself up so his head came into view over Gray's shoulder, Natsu shot him a look.
"So that makes it not count? Kisses only matter if—?"
"Of course they count. They always count."
"Not that I don't want to also do this," Natsu's hand brushed over the words on his back. "You know. If you feel like it."
Gray shivered with a shot of adrenaline. "Maybe."
Turning around in Natsu's embrace, he stretched to offer more skin as Natsu kissed his neck. Always more skin for those lips.
When Natsu paused, Gray smiled at him.
"Hey, Natsu." Gray shifted to better embrace him. "Can we go home and watch a movie?"
Natsu's eyes softened. "I like the sound of that."