He hadn't loved her, not the way she had wanted him to. And now she was dead.
Gray should be dead. He had made sure of it. But he wasn't and, although he wasn't entirely sure of what had just happened, he knew enough to realize that Juvia was.
"No," he breathed, eyes widening as he stared at Juvia's motionless body sprawled across the ground in a pool of her own blood. "This can't be happening. Juvia…"
He moved to her side shakily, dropping to his knees and flipping her over. All he could see was the blue of her hair fanned out against the crimson of her blood, her eyes closed and her face white and bloodless. Bloodless because…
Gray didn't realize he was crying until the tears fell and splattered on Juvia's bloodless, bloodless cheeks. It wasn't raining, wasn't raining because she was dead, but he'd be damned if something didn't cry for her. If the sky wouldn't oblige, he'd do it himself.
"No, no, no."
Hugging her to his chest, he bowed his head and cried, his heart breaking open because someone else he had considered family was dead, because he had once again played a role in it. He hadn't loved her, not the way she had wanted him to, but she was still as much family as the rest of the guild and he loved her the same way he loved Erza or Lucy or even Natsu and Happy and the rest of them. And now she was dead.
"Juvia… I promise I'll take your feelings more seriously, so please…please just open your eyes. I'm begging you."
Because at some point he'd stopped taking her seriously, hadn't he? She had been so over the top and done such crazy things to get his attention and try to win his heart, that he'd started seeing it all as something of a joke. The feelings might be genuine but the way she had displayed them made them hard to take seriously, and he'd found it easier to ignore them.
The constant stalking had been kind of creepy and more than a little annoying at times, so he'd started pretending not to see her. That 'Gray-sama' business had often grated at his ears, so he'd started trying to tune her out. The frequent confessions of undying love had made him uncomfortable, so he'd started laughing them off.
He regretted it now—not that he hadn't loved her, but that he hadn't taken her feelings seriously because he didn't want to deal with the fact that she loved him. Because he had certainly counted her as a friend and treated her accordingly, but he had ignored her feelings in the hope that they'd go away on their own if he didn't encourage them, and maybe that wasn't fair to her. Maybe he should have found a better way.
He had told her once, in no uncertain terms, that he didn't love her and wished that she would stop bothering him all the time. The heartbroken look in her eyes had made his heart ache too, because he didn't want to hurt her. So when she had then decided to go back to normal and try different techniques to win him over, he hadn't protested. He hadn't wanted to see that look on her face again, so he'd just gone back to ignoring her antics and hoping that she'd give up eventually and move on to find someone to love who could love her back.
But she hadn't given up, and look what had happened. He should have tried harder, because she hadn't given up and now she was…now she was…
"I'll take you seriously, Juvia. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, please wake up."
All he could think about was the fact that he was alive because she had loved him, and she shouldn't have bothered because he hadn't loved her. He couldn't believe that she wouldn't be following him around like a lost puppy anymore or hanging off his every word or trying to give him weird gifts she'd made. All of those things she had done that had annoyed him… He would rather have them all back now if only she'd wake up. Because yes, he had found those things annoying, but she was still his friend and he should be able to accept every part of her, even the ones that drove him crazy sometimes. He wanted her back, quirks and all.
Gray ran his fingers across her cold cheek, wiping away the tears marring her pale complexion, and through her hair, his stomach turning as they came away sticky and red. She was dead, because he–
He paused. Not because of him. Because of that bastard Invel. Gray couldn't fix this, couldn't bring the dead to life, but he could definitely bring death to the living. Oh, he hated killing, avoided it like the plague because he didn't want to feel any more of its inky stains on his soul, but maybe he could make an exception now. Because it was Invel's fault that Juvia was dead, and Gray couldn't forgive that.
He drew back a little and searched Juvia's lifeless face, trying to imprint it on his memory until every last detail was burned into his mind. He wanted to remember her as the cheerful, bubbly girl with the vivid imagination who would do anything for the people she loved. But if he wanted to kill Invel then he needed a reason, something strong enough to make him overcome his aversion to taking life. This cold, empty shell of that girl was his reason.
Standing, Gray stared down at Juvia impassively, already feeling a strange mixture of numbness and fury seeping in to take the place of his grief. Grief wouldn't give him the push he needed to kill Invel. Fury would.
He could feel it now, the darkness clawing at his heart. Whether it was from the devil slayer magic or had just been part of him all along, waiting to be unleashed, he didn't know or care. It didn't matter now. He would be the villain if he had to.
Now he would just hunt down the bastard responsible for this and–
Gray had started to turn away, but now he stilled, unable to tear his eyes away from Juvia.
What the hell was he thinking? He was angry—furious, even—and every fiber of his being was howling for him to take revenge for what had happened here, but he didn't want to kill anyone, not even if Invel deserved it. He didn't want to give in to that darkness within himself, didn't want to lose control and turn into something he couldn't look in the eye at the end of the day. He wanted revenge, but not like that.
He had fought against his darkness for so long, Ur had given up everything to try sealing it, and he had always been afraid that it might start eating away at him again one day. Was he really willing to throw all those sacrifices away and unlock the beast he had worked so hard to tame? No. He had told Invel that he would become as dark a villain as he needed to in order to protect his family, but maybe that wasn't entirely true. Or maybe it was that if worst came to worst he could do it in order to protect the people he loved, but right now he wasn't protecting anyone because Juvia was dead and he couldn't save her. To save his friends he would do whatever it took, but for revenge…
For revenge, he wouldn't dirty his hands more than he had to, because in the end, it wouldn't change what had happened. Oh, he would get that revenge, maybe once he found Invel he'd decide to kill the bastard after all, but for now Gray wanted to stay true to himself. He wanted to take Invel out as himself, not as some half-crazed puppet being driven onwards by shadows and darkness. He wouldn't surrender control. He would do it himself.
Closing his eyes, Gray took a few deep breaths and tried to force his fury down to a manageable level. With an effort, he pushed back the shadows crowding around him as they tried to goad him into giving in to all the darkest emotions and impulses he'd locked away for so long.
When he opened his eyes again, his gaze immediately locked on Juvia, blue and white in such stark contrast to the surrounding field of red. Looking at her made some of the grief start creeping back in again, and he didn't try to push it away this time. She deserved to be mourned.
One solitary tear slid down his cheek and he wiped it away. For a moment, he stared fixedly at the drop of water quivering on his fingertip. It started sliding slowly down his finger, and he lowered his hand and flicked it so that the water fell to the ground like one lone drop of artificial rain.
"I don't know why you always hated your rain so much," he murmured absently, his eyes fixed on the tiny damp spot in the dirt. "I never minded it. It was yours, so it was beautiful."
He finally looked at her face and grimaced as his heart twisted painfully. He would come back when things were over, if he was still alive, but for now he needed to go take care of Invel and fill whatever other role he needed to play in this whole damn war. But he would come back for her.
Turning, he walked away, determined to get revenge for her even though it would never be enough. The anger was still there, spurring him on, and his inner demons still clamored to be let loose, but he let that edge of sadness stay. Because even if he didn't kill Invel, Juvia was still his reason right now, and he wasn't angry at her. For her, he felt the grief and the sense of lost friendship that was almost love but not in the way she had needed.
But he still loved her like family and he held on to that, because it was the closest thing he could give her to what she had wanted. It wasn't enough, would never be enough, but then again, nothing would ever be enough now, would it?
Because she had loved him too much, had loved enough for the both of them, and now it was too late.
He hadn't loved her, not the way she had wanted him to. And now, with all that was left of his heart, he wished that she hadn't loved him either.