21 Mar 2016

Juvia came to the big city to get a spot in a prestigious dance company. But not everything goes as planned as she meets a ragtag crew of performers struggling to make ends meet, shooting for an opportunity to show the world what they have to offer.

Teen (13+)
Chapters: 17
Words: 117,566


Chapter 15
With A Smile

Chapter Notes:

This is a very self-indulgent chapter. Well, Sparks is a very self-indulgent fic in general, but this chapter especially.

The song choice is a bit different. Most of you might not be familiar with it, because it’s by a local Filipino band, but lemme tell you guys that this song is basically some sort of anthem of a whole generation (or two) of teens here. You can listen to the original and some covers at YouTube, if you wanna check it out. It’s one of my all-time favorites, and the musical scene here is actually inspired from personal experience.

More on that in the notes after the chapter, since I don’t wanna keep you here and I’m sure you just wanna get on with reading!


( “You’ll get by..”)
With a Smile
( “You can’t win on everything but you can try.”)
— Eraserheads


The music still continued even after Juvia had stopped moving. She still had to make a final cut of that song, but she was saving that for when she’s sure of her choice.

Right then, her mind was on something else. Something more important. The verdict. She stood still, tensed and nervous in front of Erza, Laki and Lisanna.

Gray was standing to the side by the speakers. Juvia had finally asked some of the others for their opinion on her routine. Gray had seen how she danced just then — it was a polished performance, far from her nervous dance for him back from day one. She didn’t stumble and she held her head high this time. Maybe the night spent carefree dancing with the others was enough to break down the remaining walls she put up between her dancing and her new friends.

Lisanna and Laki both turned towards Erza. The red-head glanced towards Gray first before clearing her throat and speaking.

“Juvia, you should know that when Gray compliments someone, he means it. So if he says you’re good, he does think you’re good.” Erza said.

Juvia nodded nervously.

“Now what you have to know is when he gives someone a compliment, most likely he will go to us after and rant about it. So if he told you that you’re good, that meant he came to us and screamed that you’re brilliant. And he did that, actually.”

This time, Juvia looked down, blushing furiously. Lisanna and Laki both giggled while Gray complained. “I’m right here, you know.”

“I know.” Erza said, a sly smile on her face. Then she looked at Juvia again. “But seriously, we took it with a grain of salt because we know he’s got a crush on you—”


“—and now we know he wasn’t overreacting. It was brilliant, Juvia.” the woman finished, and nodded when she saw Juvia finally letting out a relieved sigh.

“I want to throw my shoes at her.” Lisanna said. “Can I throw my shoes at her?”

Laki shook her head, laughing. “No, you might scare her off.”

Juvia blinked, confused. “W-What-…?”

“Don’t worry. ’Round here, that’s a sign of great respect.” Gray explained, switching the speakers off before joining them.

“It means I’m gonna give up on dance because I can’t ever do something as awesome as what you just did.” Lisanna continued. When Juvia gaped, she laughed good-naturedly. “I kid with the quitting thing. But not with the awesome thing. It was great, Juvia-chan! Super.”

“So… any notes?” Gray asked their three judges. He didn’t know why but he felt like he was being judged alongside Juvia. Maybe it was because he was always the one telling them how good she is.

Laki was the one who spoke up first. “I saw like two parts where you could have held on to an extension for a bit longer. I think it would look more fluid that way.”

“Oh. Juvia will work on that! Thank you, Laki-san!” Juvia beamed.

Lisanna followed. “I can give you some tips on some of the flips you did. I bet you can do them faster and lighter… y’know, avoid chances of stumbling after? Other than that, I think it’s pretty solid.”

“She’s right. It is a really solid routine.” Erza nodded. “The panel should love it. Aside from what Laki and Lisanna said, I don’t have anything else… They’re more technical than me, anyway. But I really think it’s a great piece, really creative and mature. And I can see some of Gray’s touches there, which puts an interesting spin on the style.”

Gray and Juvia looked at each other, then blinked at Erza.

Lisanna chuckled, Laki shook her head in amusement, and Erza just raised an eyebrow. “You two didn’t notice?”

“What’re you talkin’ about?” Gray asked.

“I just mean… Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think Juvia’s style always had that slightly snappy quality. She goes back and forth between fluid to isolated, and it’s really interesting to see.”

Juvia looked down, as if realizing something. Yes, she did add some… roughness on some of her routines. She just thought that moving so smoothly all the way doesn’t work on some of the songs, so she took some inspiration from… Gray’s hip-hop. Well, damn — Erza was right.

“Also Gray, your lyrical hip-hop’s really been intricate lately. You started adding more smooth moves. And I think we all know why.”

Gray scratched his head, trying to come up with an explanation. “…uh. It’s just… It’s more chill that way. Less tense. More comfortable to watch… Easier on the eyes. Right?”

Erza nodded. “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I actually love it. It’s hard to keep up with you when you’re on straight pop-lock mode, you know. So it’s nice that you give yourself and everyone else some time to breathe.”

“I bet you guys will rub off on each other more since you’re also starting to do duets.” Laki added.

Erza nodded again. She was pleasantly surprised when Juvia asked her for some tips on partnerwork, telling her Gray agreed to practice together.

“Oh. Yeah. What’s that about?” Lisanna asked. “Are you planning to do a duet in the auditions, Juvia-chan?”

Juvia blinked. “Is that… allowed?”

“Of course! I know some people who both got in and did a duet for their auditions. So you know, they can pull more complicated moves. And also so they don’t get too nervous since they’ll be dancing with someone.”

“But I’m not auditioning.” Gray said.

“Some of them just bring a partner along, but the panel will only judge the one auditioning, obviously.” Laki answered. “I heard it helps out a lot… since the partner can give you an assist so the stunts come out more impressive.”

Juvia looked uncertain. “Well… we’re just… Juvia just wants to get used to dancing with others.”

Gray nodded. “Just so she won’t start from scratch when she gets in. It’s a company, after all.”

“Oh.” Lisanna frowned. “It’s a shame. You two are great partners.”

“How d’you know? We’ve hardly danced a routine together.” the man raised an eyebrow. Juvia beside him also looked lost.

“Um, Sunday Night at Era?” Laki reminded them.

“Dude, you two danced like you were in a dance movie’s token romance number.” Lisanna said, laughing. “All y’need is great choreography, ’cause you’ve got the chemistry and connection down already.”

Erza agreed with them. “I do think if you two have the right routine, you can pass that audition as a duet, with flying colors. There’s so many advantages, plus you’re both great contemporary dancers.

“Your song choice is a love song. A duet will really make ’em feel it. You know, since you both dance lyrical.” Laki added. “There’s practically no reason why you shouldn’t do it.”

The silence that followed was awkward.

“Uh… we’re not… sure.” Gray tried, looking towards Juvia for her opinion.

“It’s okay…” Juvia said with a small reassuring smile. “Juvia doesn’t want to bother Gray. There’s the contest coming up.”

“Yeah, I guess we should focus on that.” Lisanna sighed.

“Oh well. Just thought it would be interesting. But if you guys ever need help making a contemporary duet, you know where to find me.” Erza said, standing up and stretching. “It’s almost dinnertime. I’m on cooking duty, so I’ll leave you guys to it.”

Gray and Juvia watched as Erza left, followed by Laki and Lisanna who also excused themselves. He helped her stand up so they can clean up. Gray noted that Juvia was silent as they gathered their things.

“You know… I’d be honored if you asked me to go be your partner for the audition.” he said. Juvia looked at him, blushing slightly. He looked away, hesitant. “But… I dunno, I might hold you back. I’m not as good at this style as you are.”

She frowned. “That’s not true. Gray is a great partner!”

“Yeah, well… there’s that, I guess.” he said, smiling a small smile. “But yeah, if you really need me… I’ll try my best.”

Juvia smiled back as she walked towards him and reached out. He caught her hand and she gave his a light squeeze. “Thank you, Gray.”

Gray shrugged, squeezing her hand back. “Anytime.”

Gray walked with Juvia until she was on a safe route to Gajeel’s apartment on her bike. He waved her goodbye and watched her disappear down the road before he headed back towards the Guild.

Erza and Levy were in the middle of preparing dinner in the kitchen. The others were either still out, or on their own rooms.

“What’re we having?” he asked, leaning on the counter as he watched the two women sitting across each other on the table, both of them chopping a bunch of vegetables and some meat.

“Chinese-style fried rice.” Levy answered. “With meat toppings and stuff.”

“Bisca’s request.” Erza added. “And then the guys all asked for it, too. So… popular demand, I guess.”

Gray nodded, then went to the kitchen to retrieve a knife and a chopping board for himself. He sat with them on the table, grabbed a carrot, and started chopping as well.

After a while, Levy spoke up. “So… what’s our plan?”

There was a momentary halt in the activities as Erza and Gray both stopped to look at each other. Levy blinked at them, and watched as both continued chopping vegetables again.

Erza asked, “Have you thought about it, Gray?”

He sighed. “Yeah. It’s just… can we do it?”

“You saw what happened last night.” Erza said. “Give them a song they know, let them dance their hearts out however they want. It just works. That’s… that’s how it always worked with us, right?”

Levy picked up on the conversation easily. “You guys think we should do our own styles?”

Gray looked like he was trying real hard to go against the idea, while Erza nodded towards Levy. “I’ve been thinking about it… not the contest, but… what comes after. If we win this thing, we get a contract, and we get to dance some more, right? But you and Jet and Droy? Laki and Lisanna… you guys still won’t be dancing your styles. Yes, we get jobs as dancers, but half of the team won’t be doing what they’re best at. Won’t that be just like how things are now? We all have day jobs not because it’s what we really want to do, but because it’s what makes money?”

Levy looked down, considering the red-head’s words. She had to admit she hadn’t thought that far. Dancing hip-hop was alright for her. She liked it… but mostly because of the company. She loved dancing with everyone. But if she had to choose, she still loved tap the most.

She looked towards Gray then, and he looked like he was thinking hard about it. After a while, he said, “So you’re saying, we make this huge number… with hip-hop, tap, and contemporary?”

“Yes, it’s not impossible. Natsu and Lucy dance different styles together without even thinking about it, and they look brilliant.” Erza said, her voice hopeful — they can hear her mental gears turning already. She was inspired.

“Imagine if they had time to actually choreograph…” Levy mumbled softly. She looked up. “Gray, it could be amazing. We can all show them what we can do.”

“I’m not saying it’s impossible.” Gray said. “But… are we allowed to? The contest is called the Street Dance Battle—”

He was cut off when a familiar voice chimed in. “Oh, what’s this? Brainstorming session?” The three of them looked up as Mira joined them, taking a seat in the table. Laxus was right behind her, and wordlessly headed towards the fridge to get a drink.

“Um… kinda.” Levy answered. “We’re thinking of… doing other dance styles for the performance.”

“Really?” Mira blinked. She exchanged a thoughtful look with Laxus, who casually leaned against the counter nearby, can of soda in hand. It was evident he was staying for the discussion. “Why so?”

“So everyone gets to really show off.” Erza answered. “So we’re all at full power. With our crew right now just using hip-hop, it’s like half of us are holding back.”

“That’s a good point.” Mira mused. “Are you guys ready to come up with choreography that can bring out all those styles, though?”

“Between the three of us here, we already have different styles.” Erza said, looking at Levy and Gray, who both nodded.

“Then what’s the problem?” Laxus asked. “Do it. You guys are the brains and creativity on this. We’re the support, we back you up whatever you do.”

“The technicalities.” Levy said, glancing at Gray. “That’s the problem. It’s the ‘Street Dance Battle’. What exactly is allowed?”

“Um… technically… street dance should mean any dance people do on the streets. Even improv dance battles should count.” Mira said. “Right… Laxus?”

The blonde breathed deeply before he spoke up. “Gray, you perform on the street. What do you do?”

Gray raised an eyebrow. “Popping and locking?”

Laxus nodded. “Levy, you?”

“Tap.” Levy answered.

He looked at Erza.

The red-head thought about it. “Whatever works. Usually jazz and funk.”

Then Laxus smirked. “Mira, how ’bout you?”

Mira looked at him with a suspicious smile. “You’ve proven your point, why are you still asking me?”

“Nah, just thought these guys would like ’ta know.” the blonde shrugged.

“Mira, you performed on the streets too?” Erza asked. Both Levy and Gray were also looking at the woman in surprise. In the time that they’ve known Mirajane, they’ve always known she was a dancing assistant or instructor in the studios.

“Yep. When I was just starting out… Maybe a couple of months when times were really tough.” Mira answered, bashful. “Some ballroom solos now and then… and a number of times I paired up with… someone’s boyfriend.”

The other three looked at Laxus.

Laxus narrowed his eyes at Mira. “I didn’t ask you to tell ’em details about my love life.”

Mira huffed and the others looked at her this time. “You started it.”

“No, you did.” — at this point, Erza, Levy and Gray were basically watching a verbal tennis match. “You said ‘Hey Laxus, I’m dancing downtown in front of the old donut shop! Come see me!’ Then I go there and you’re dancing with Freed.”

“He actually said ‘What the hell are you doing?’ out loud.” Mira giggled. “And he looked so scary—”

“That was my surprised face.”

“I mean, he’s this big tough krumper so he always looked scary—”

“I just didn’t expect that he could dance, alright?”

“—and Freed got so upset because he had a crush on Laxus but Laxus was a big meanie.”

Laxus groaned. “Would you let me live that down?!”

“Laxus was just surprised, really! ’Cause Freed’s hips don’t lie.” Mira said with a wink.

“Shut up. I just had a hard time processing the information. That’s all.”

“Oh, you agree with me?”

“I do, but shut up. ‘Cause I’m tryin’ to focus on the problem at hand and you’re not helping.”

Levy and Erza were gaping. “Freed can dance too?!”

“He had some ballroom lessons way back so I asked him to accompany me on a particularly busy day.” Mira said, shrugging. “He’s not really fond of it, but you know how he is. Never does things half-heartedly. So when he actually does, he makes sure it’s good.”

“And we didn’t know you danced on the streets.” Gray said, turning towards Mira. She had always been the ‘big sister with a stable job who takes care of everyone’ for him.

Mira just smiled cheekily. “It’s good for extra cash! Besides, the people seem to like it.”

“Pretty girl shaking her hips on the sidewalk.” Laxus snorted. “Of course they like it.”

Mira pouted at him.

“It’s great, though.” the man conceded. “I mean it. Your solos are killer.”

That part, the others had no problem believing. The people who say that one can’t solo on ballroom only need to watch Mira sometime to be proven very very wrong.

Going back to topic, Levy spoke again. “So… does that mean technically we won’t be breaking contest rules if we dance our own styles?”

“I think so.” Mira answered.

“S’long as you can make it look like somethin’ that would stop people in their tracks.” Laxus said with a shrug. “How do we do it in the streets?”

“We turn on the music, then start moving.” Erza said simply.

Levy continued. “Keep moving until we get enough people interested.”

Gray followed. “And then just give them a show good enough for them to throw money on the hat.”

Laxus raised a hand palm up as if to say, ‘There you have it.’ while Mira beamed at them.

“So… we’re doing it?” Levy asked Gray and Erza.

“It will be a challenge.” Gray sighed, but not in resignation. It looked more like he was bracing himself.

“Well, we’re not known for backing down.” Erza chuckled. Then she looked towards Mira and Laxus again. “If we do it… and it doesn’t look good enough, you guys will tell us, right?”

The two shared another look before Mira nodded. “You can count on us!”

“Talk it out with the others. Although I bet they’re up for the challenge. You guys are crazy like that.” Laxus said. “Now get back to making dinner.”

The man just shook his head, and Mira laughed as Erza, Levy and Gray all scrambled to continue the chore they didn’t notice they stopped doing.

After dinner, Erza, Gray and Levy found themselves standing in front of their housemates again to explain the game plan. When Erza told them her suggestion, she was met with surprised reactions.

“You wanna make us all dance our own dance?” Natsu asked, voice loud as always. “All at the same time?”

“We’ll have a choreo. And switching formations, and some chorus parts of course.” Erza answered. “But yes, we’ll try to showcase all the styles we know. That’s the idea.”

Max raised a hand. “And that’s so no one’s holding back?”

“That’s the point.” Gray said. “But we’ll only do it if you guys want to. Think about it. We already showed in the video that we’re not afraid of switching things up.”

“We can sell our team better when we show them a complete package.” Levy followed up. They came up with some pretty valid points while making dinner. “Don’t you guys think the ones offering a performance contract would prefer a group who can do more stuff?”

“It’s a good call.” Cana spoke up from her seat on the corner. “This is still publicity for you guys. If you don’t get that contract from the contest, you were still able show off a good range of skills and get others interested. You can still get offers that way.”

“Alright, I’m game.” Jet said, with an excited smile. “S’about time I actually tap, you know.”

“Same.” Droy said, chuckling nervously. “I wanna tap on an actual stage.”

“I’m eager to point my toes in a contest for once.” Laki said, smiling back as Lisanna beamed at her and nodded excitedly.

Warren smiled towards their three leaders. “I’m sure you guys will come up with something great.”

“Okay, hold up, everyone.” Max said aloud then. His eyes were on his phone. “I started checkin’ the guidelines to make sure we’re not breaking any rule by doing this, and… we might have a tiny problem…”

Levy and Gray exchanged looks. Erza frowned. “We can’t do different styles?”

“No, actually, it says nothing about that here. It just said ‘dance performance that showcases the talent in the streets of Crocus’ so… I think we’re good on that one. I don’t think it’s against the rules.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t believe I didn’t notice this before. It says here, we need at least 15 people in the finals.” Max said, scratching his head nervously. “Damn.”

“We’ve only got ten.” Levy groaned.

Gray turned to Erza. “I guess they’re really gunning to hire a large group after this.”

Erza nodded, but then turned back towards the others easily. “So we need more people.” She met Mira’s eyes then, and she realized something. “Now that we’re doing different styles, who wants in?”

Alzack and Bisca raised their hands. Bisca sent the red-head a smile. “We’re in if there’s room for some ballroom in that routine.”

“I’ll make sure there is.” Mira said, and she smiled as everyone turned towards her. “Count me in this time.”

The announcement was met by a very enthusiastic response from the others. Mira was a force in the dance floor. With Alzack and Bisca joining as well, it was like a big boost.

“Thanks, Mira.” Erza said, appreciative. “We need two more.”

“Gods, if we’re allowed to join, we would.” Lucy grumbled. Beside her, Cana sighed.

“It’s alright. We know you’re still in this with us, Lu-chan.” Levy reassured the blonde. Then she turned towards the rest of the group. Elfman was not a dancer. Same with Evergreen and Bixlow. Laxus had stopped dancing after an injury, was already busy enough as their DJ and— “Freed?”

The man shook his head apologetically. “Sorry, Levy. I’m not that good.” he extended the apology to Mira as well, and the woman just nodded, accepting his answer.

Laki then spoke up. “What about Juvia-chan? You can’t keep her from us anymore, Gray. She’s too awesome.”

“She is?” Natsu asked. “I mean, I know she’s good, but that good?”

“Yup.” Lisanna confirmed. “We saw her dance a while ago. It was mind-blowing.”

“No.” Gray shook his head, sighing. “She’s got her own thing going on, remember? Gotta prepare for her auditions. We can’t distract her from that.”

There were disappointed noises, but everyone accepted the answer easily, as well. They know the auditions meant a lot to Juvia, and they wanted the best for her.

“Wait, just two more, right?” Natsu spoke up then.

Gray raised an eyebrow. “Got people in mind?”

The man grinned confidently as he asked Max, “Hey, s’there anything in the rules ’bout an age limit?”

Wendy was sitting on one of the benches in the school yard, going through a paper that was due in the coming week. Normally, she would have headed home straight after school… but for some reason Romeo sent her a text asking her to wait for him because he’s got something important for her. Romeo was one of her best friends. So she waited. The thing is, it’s been fifteen minutes and Romeo was still nowhere in sight.

“Yeah! And you won’t believe it, but—”

She looked up from her reading when she heard the familiar voice. Finally! She wanted to go home and finish up on her homework— What the…?

Wendy sat still, with surprise and terror on her face, as she saw Romeo walking towards her direction. He wasn’t alone.

“There she is! Wendy, hey!” he exclaimed, pointing enthusiastically towards Wendy’s direction as if showing her off to his companion.

His companion was a tall and pretty girl with bright pink hair on pigtails, who smiled brightly towards Wendy’s direction before saying something to Romeo again. Romeo nodded and led the pink-haired girl with him.

The first thought that went through Wendy’s mind was ‘OH MY SKIES SHE LOOKED AT ME’ followed by ‘SHE’S SO PRETTY’ and finally ‘WAIT. WHAT IS HAPPENING? WHAT IS HAPPENING? WHAT ARE YOU DOING, ROMEO-KUN?!’ before she scrambled to hide her things, straighten her shirt, fix her hair and stop blushing in the three seconds it would take for Romeo and Chelia to reach her. She didn’t know how she succeeded in three out of those four tasks, but hey.

“Wendy, guess what!” Romeo said as soon as he reached his blushing mess of a best friend. Beside him, Chelia was beaming at Wendy and bouncing, looking like she was struggling to contain herself, but letting Romeo speak for her.

Wendy’s voice came out much higher than usual. “W-What? W-W-Who— What? Guess what what?”

She inwardly screamed. Dammit, she sounded horrible.

Romeo looked really proud of himself as he explained. “I was passin’ by the lockers and I saw Chelia here— um, Chelia, this is Wendy. Wendy, Chelia. So yeah, she was watchin’ a vid. Guess what vid it is?”

Wendy looked very afraid. “W-What is it?”

“The vid from the party last Sunday!”

“T-There was a video from last Sunday?!”

“Didn’t you know, Bix uploaded it? ’Cause a lotta people followed our channel after the dance battle entry vid, and everyone thought we should upload something as thanks for the subscribers ’cause we got in— Seriously, it’s like you don’t have internet.”

“Wait, we-… The Guild?”

“Duh! So the stuff was great, and Bix and Ever got some awesome moments on cam so they decided to post ’em.”

“O-Okay…?” Wendy said shakily, glancing at Chelia before it hit her. “Am I… in the video?”

“Hell yeah, you are. There’s no way they’re cuttin’ your parts, ’cause they’re awesome.” Romeo shrugged, then got back on track. “So! Turns out Chelia subscribed to the channel after watching the entry vid so she saw the new one too! And she likes it a lot!”

“It’s so cool!” Chelia squealed, finally letting it out. “The whole thing’s amazing! And-… and then Romeo told me that one of the people I was watching was just here in this school, and I just had to meet you because oh my gosh, it’s so awesome!”

Wendy could hardly believe what she was hearing. Then she turned towards Romeo again, this time helpless. “I’m in the video?!”

Romeo sighed. “Yeah. You are. In the video.”

Then to Wendy’s surprise, Chelia sat on the bench beside her, holding her phone and tapping furiously. She found the aforementioned video quickly and skipped to a certain part. “You’re my favorite part of the video! It was like, all these amazing dancers… and then I saw this girl who could be my age and she danced so well!”

Wendy looked down at the video — it was her solo from one of the many dance breaks they had from the party. She liked the party. She always enjoyed dancing with the others, and yes maybe she got a little too carried away in that one number. In her defense, everyone else were dancing their hearts out too. “Oh… I… thanks, I’m not that good, really… Compared to the others—”

Chelia shook her head. “No way, I wish I could move like you! I always wanted to be a dancer, but I got two left feet and I’m super clumsy. Oh, and your friends! I’m a fan of that Icona Pop video.”

“Wendy helped set it up.” Romeo added, sending a wink towards Wendy before continuing. “We both kinda assisted on some of the rehearsals, and helped with the set up while they were taping.”

“It sounds so nice.” Chelia smiled. “You’ve got a lot of people on your team! Mine’s just three or four, y’know… when we record and shoot those cover songs for my channel…”

Wendy fiddled with the hem of her dress. “I… I’m a fan of your work. You’re a great singer.”

The other girl looked delighted. “Really?! Well, I’m your fan from now on, too!”

“W-What? No, I’m-… I’m not even—”

“Wendy, right? You’re a sophomore? I haven’t met a dancer like you before.” Chelia said. “You should be more proud, you were totally awesome! And it was freestyle!”

Wendy nodded shyly.

Chelia looked down at her phone again, swiping through the Guild’s channel. “I haven’t seen you on the other videos, though… Oh! Will you guys be dancing for the contest? I mean, the finals thingy…?”

Before either Romeo and Wendy could answer, a new voice spoke up. “Yup! They’re on the crew!”

All three teenagers turned to see Natsu joining them, sitting on the table with a big grin on his face.

“Natsu-san?” Wendy blinked.

“What’re you doin’ here?” Romeo asked, raising an eyebrow.

But Natsu just ignored the two and turned to Chelia, extending a hand. “Hi! You’re Chelia, right? Wendy loves you—”

Wendy made a grab for the man’s sleeve. “Natsu-san!”

“—your videos! We all do! Your singing is great.” Natsu said, sending a sly smile towards Wendy for a moment. The girl sighed as he addressed Chelia again. “I’m Natsu, by the way.”

“Pleased to meet you!” Chelia shook his hand, enthusiastically. Between the two of them, they could probably power the whole city. “You’re a member of the… dance group? Right?”

“The Guild.” the man supplied. “Did you like our vid?”

The girl nodded cheerfully. “Oh, yes, I did! It’s so good.”

“Thanks!” Natsu beamed, then finally addressed the other two teens. “You and you. Finish your homework. We got rehearsals every night from 6 to 12. Well, just 10 for you ’cause you’re students. You can eat dinner at home or just at the Guild, whatever works.”

“Rehearsals for what?” Romeo asked.

“The dance battle, what else?”

“We’re… dancing too?” Wendy blinked.

“Yup. We need two dancers to make the quota. You’re those two. I already talked to your ’rents, they’re good with it, s’long as we make sure you guys don’t skip school and finish your homework before dancing.” Natsu explained bluntly. “Oh, and Elf will drive you guys home if it gets too late.”

Wendy and Romeo looked at each other, and when they snapped out of it, they had very different reactions.

“AWESOME!” Romeo exclaimed, exchanging a fistbump with Natsu. “Are you gonna teach me more tricks?”

“Hm, probably. ’Cause we’re the only B-boys on the team.” Natsu shrugged.

Meanwhile, Wendy was in clear distress. “Natsu-san, I don’t dance hip-hop!”

Natsu simply ruffled her hair reassuringly. “We’ve got you covered. Laki and Lisanna ain’t dancin’ hip-hop either. Just come over later, Erza and Levy will explain it better.”

“I still… I don’t know if I can dance. I’m not as good as you—”

“Boo. You’ll nail it. ’sides, Chelia wants to see you dance.” Natsu teased, looking at Chelia. “Right, Chelia?”

Chelia looked unsure, knowing her newfound friend was feeling uncomfortable. She didn’t know these people all that much, but with Natsu’s subtle nod, she concluded that his heart was in the right place.

She smiled. “I think you’ll do great, Wendy.”

“S’about time you get to show off.” Romeo followed their lead. “C’mon, it’ll be fun!”

Wendy thought about it for a moment longer, looking at the encouraging, smiling faces from three very special people for her.

Her best friend, her big brother, and her crush. It was unfair, them ganging up on her like this. But if she were to be honest, she really does want to try.

So she nodded. “Okay, I’ll try.” The other three cheered. Wendy sighed. Really. Unfair. She’ll never be able to say ‘no’ to those smiles.

“Great! Mission success! Gotta go now. Have to run to work.” Natsu said, hopping down from his perch on the table and grabbing his bag. ‘See you two tonight!’ He extended a fist towards Chelia, who giggled as she bumped her fist with his. “You can go with ’em. If you wanna. Wendy’s a kickass dancer—”

“Natsu-san!” Wendy pouted. Gods. Sometimes they’re more embarrassing than parents.

Natsu pouted right back. “Alright, I’m leaving! Be good kids! Don’t do drugs!”

The three teenagers watched as the man jogged away and disappeared through the school gates. Without prompting, they all gathered their things and decided to head home as well, walking together.

Chelia was asking Wendy about her dance background when Romeo spoke up. “Hey, Chelia, d’you know Lucy Heartfilia?”

Wendy gaped at her best friend, while Chelia blinked. “Of course I do! I look up to her so much—”

“—Wendy knows her too. Personally.”

Wendy didn’t know what to do when Chelia clung to her and started asking her a whole new bunch of different questions. After stammering her answers, she managed to get a better grip on herself and carry a normal conversation.

She didn’t know exactly how her day ended up like this — and how suddenly she’s got her crush on her arm and a dance crew for a big-shot competition — all she knew was that she’s had a crazy day.

Correction: she’s having a crazy day. There’s still a few hours left.

But hey, when Romeo held his hand up, Wendy didn’t hesitate to give him a high-five. After all, she’s got the best wingman ever.

Gajeel’s afternoon was peaceful. The CD shop was playing some chill jazz tracks, there were no customers, and he was just reading a music magazine.

Oh, and Sting and Rogue were both really quiet. There were no awkward stammering and flattering going on as the two teens just sat huddled together in the battered couch on one corner of the shop. They had finished all the miscellaneous shopkeeping tasks, plus there were no customers, so Gajeel let them slack off. Sting was tapping away on his iPad while Rogue was very focused on his newly-bought phone.

“Lector is eating all my food.” Sting grumbled. “How’s Frosch?”

Rogue blinked. “He stuck his head in the donut thing. Is that normal?”

“Don’t worry, he’ll get tired of that eventually.”

Apparently the one thing that was able to convince Rogue to get a phone was not ‘you can call and text your boyfriend anytime!’ but ‘there’s a game with lots of cats in it!’.

They named their cats after their actual cats. (Apparently they met each other while buying cat food, what the hell?) Gajeel still hates Sting for naming the really cute cat after him. Gajeel wanted to be the black badass cat, dammit.

Nevertheless, it was a peaceful afternoon, and Gajeel was determined to enjoy it.

So of course that’s when the little bundle of energy named Levy stepped right in, humming and skipping. When she closed the door behind her, she stopped to listen to the music for a beat before nodding in appreciation.

“Oh. Uh. Welcome to ‘For the Record’!” Sting greeted cheerfully. Gajeel really should hire the kid already. He was surprisingly competent whenever Gajeel told him to make himself useful…

“Good afternoon!” Levy greeted back. When she saw that Rogue was about to stand up to assist her, she raised her hands. “Oh, no need! I’m here for Gajeel.”

The teens just looked at her for a bit before they went back to their phones.

“Huh.” Gajeel huffed, not looking up from his magazine. “You really should buy something from this shop already. You’re here a lot.”

Levy chuckled as she perched on the chair by the counter again, like the last time she was in the place. “Oh, don’t worry. I’m here for a new pair of earphones too.”

He looked up at her. “Alright. What’re you gettin’?”

“I’m not really specific on brands.” Levy shrugged. “It’s just for me. For my phone and maybe my laptop. Anything that sounds good and doesn’t break easily. What do you recommend?”

“You know this is a record store, not a cafe.” he said, but nevertheless put his magazine down and leaned over towards the display rack behind him. He considered for a moment before taking an item and then setting it in the table before his customer.

Levy blinked down at it. It was a pair of in-ear earphones, with an orange and white color scheme, by a brand that was not the most popular, but not exactly unknown. There was a small plastic ribbon clipped in the cable, and it came with a case shaped and designed like a donut. It was even decorated with sprinkles.

“It’s… cute.” she said. She meant it — it was cute! Too cute. She was absolutely delighted, but she also didn’t know if Gajeel was messing with her or not.

“Like you.” he replied, nodding.

Levy raised an eyebrow because he sounded perfectly serious. “Um… No offense, but are you still drunk?”

At this, he rolled his eyes. He also took a moment to glare at Sting sniggering and Rogue smiling wider than usual in their corner before he turned to Levy again. “I had one beer last last night. Let me live, shortcake.”

“Okay.” she said, trying not to laugh. She picked up the still-packaged item. “So is this good?”

“It’s quality for a good price. Actually got good bass. Also quite sturdy. If you’re not too music-savvy with the expensive brands, this one’s good.” he answered. “Don’t be fooled by the cuteness.”

She nodded easily, trusting his (surprisingly sweet and adorable?) judgement. “Then I’ll take you up for it. I’ll get this one.”

“You wanna test it?”

“No need. It’s got a warranty, right?”

“One month.”

“Noted.” was all she said and just hummed as she watched him ring up her purchase.

She paid the bill when prompted, and while Gajeel wrapped the item in a paperbag with the store’s logo printed on it, he asked, “So what’re you really here for?”

Levy had been waiting for him to ask. She accepted her purchase first before asking, “I’ll get straight to the point, is that fine with you?”

“Yeah, go shoot.”

“We’re mixing up the styles for the battle number. There’s gonna be tap, and we need a custom arrangement for one of the songs. You’re brilliant. The others loved what you did back at the party, and Laxus says he can work with you. So will you please please PLEASE work with us for this one?”

He looked at her blankly. “Are you serious?”

Levy must have taken that as some sort of rejection, because she went on to say, “We’ll pay. We can’t promise anything too big, but we’ll pay you what we can—”

“No, shut up.” he shook his head, then broke into a grin. “Last Sunday was the best gig I’ve had for ages. I’ll do it for free.”

Levy gaped at him in shock. “R-Really?!”

Gajeel shrugged, obviously trying to keep cool but he couldn’t help but chuckle. “When do we start?”

“THANK YOU! YOU’RE THE BEST!” she squealed. He let out a yelp when Levy leaned over the counter and threw her arms around his neck, giving him a hug so tight he never thought it could come from someone as tiny as her.

Gajeel just stood there, mumbling a flustered ‘You’re welcome’ and glaring towards Sting and Rogue, as both of them were undoubtedly snapping a photo to preserve the moment.

He’ll confiscate those phones after this.

But for the meantime, he was short of breath — and he suspected it’s not just because of Levy’s chokehold — so he pat her back awkwardly to let her know that she already got her point across and she can let go now.

The woman left with a huge smile on her face (really, he thought to himself, does she ever stop being a bright ray of sunshine?), excited to bring the good news to her friends. If she left Gajeel a blushing, stammering mess because she dropped a quick peck on his cheek before taking off, he was not letting Sting and Rogue spread the news.

It somehow reached Juvia anyway. Gajeel cursed the day those three exchanged numbers.

If he were to be completely honest, Gajeel had never been to an actual creative brainstorming session before. He had been with some decent bands but they always do the thinking separately and work under orders from their leader. He had recorded some of his songs, but always as instrumental tracks and only by himself.

But there he was, a day after Levy asked him to work with them, in the middle of what he only assumed to be a normal scene in Laxus’ work area. In that one crowded room was a bustle of activity. It didn’t surprise him that there were a lot of people around since he knew they were a tight-knit bunch, but what surprised him was how involved everyone was.

On the couch, Freed, Evergreen and Bisca were going through some fashion sketches — it looks like they were trying to come up with a uniform concept for the number. Natsu and Romeo were watching some breakdance videos on the internet, perhaps trying to see what they can pull off. Max and Laki looked like they were tallying something — it took Gajeel a while to find out that they were trying to switch up the rotation of the chores to fit with everyone shifting their schedules to make more time for rehearsals again. Bixlow, Warren and Lisanna were on another table, tinkering with some sort of electronic stuff. There were sparks every now and then and it looked like they were trying to make some tiny lights or something? Alzack, Jet and Droy were sorting through some old equipment from the storage. After a while, Elfman also came in with Juvia and Wendy in tow, the trio bringing snacks for everyone.

As for Gajeel, he was standing among others as Laxus discussed the mix they were working on. The man was taking opinions from Erza, Levy, Gray and Mira, who were the ones arranging the over-all choreography, from Lucy and Cana who were backing up their concept and acting as devil’s advocates, and finally from Gajeel on the musical arrangement. The DJ wasn’t afraid to get technical, and answered questions promptly and clearly when someone asked him to elaborate on something.

Gajeel was even more surprised when they kept asking for his input. He fumbled around for a while before he got used to voicing out his opinions. It was kind of amazing, he thought, that they all had really different ideas but somehow always found a way to work around the differences and make things work. They never hesitate to ask and to answer. He was seeing how much everyone mattered here.

It was a new thing to him, and he knew that was kind of fucked up, but he shook that off and kept his head in the game. They were giving their all into this project-slash-fight, and they called him in because they thought he could help. The least he could do was keep up.

He pulled away from his musings in time to catch Levy and Erza suggesting that Gajeel record a guitar instrumental accompanied by some of Laxus’ launchpad mixing, like how they did in the party at Era.

“I dunno, guys.” Gray seemed to be skeptical about it. “It’s a really fast song, right? The one you’re gonna be tapping to?”

“We were thinking of adding some ballroom on it too.” Mira said. “The song is really heavy on the percussions and beats, though… Taking all of that out and replacing it with tap…”

“Plus having a guitar share the emphasis.” Gray added. “You guys sure we shouldn’t just edit the track? I mean, I’m sure Gajeel can come up with a great solo for it, but I don’t think it would be the right song choice to strip down.”

The dancers looked towards their DJ and music… err… consultant person (that’s what he’s technically there for, right? Gajeel wasn’t sure but it was better than ‘second opinion’). Laxus looked at Gajeel. “You up for a guitar arrangement?”

Gajeel thought about it. “I can do it. I’m familiar with the song.” — of course he was, it was in the tap mix he made for Levy. “But I mean… will it work?”

“Hell if I know, but it sounds like a good spin on things.” Laxus shrugged. “The launchpad might help it blend in with the other songs. And if you’re worried three tappers aren’t enough for percussion, we can record some and add it like a backup overlay, just to make the arrangement sound fuller. We’ll make it work like last time.”

“That sounds reasonable.” Erza considered.

Laxus nodded. “Y’know what they say — creativity should always be encouraged. Judgment can wait.”

They all looked at him. Levy asked, “Why does that sound familiar?”

The blonde grumbled. “It’s from a Barbie movie.”


Gajeel was not sure what just happened. These guys were weird.

“It’s a shame for that song, though.” Mira said, tone considering. “It’s got some of the best vocals. It would be perfect for the tap dancing.”

“Yeah.” Levy looked down, frowning. Then she turned to Laxus. “Is it possible to just take the original vocals and layer it over your arrangement?”

Laxus answered with a nod. “It’s possible, but it’ll limit your freedom on the arrangement. Best thing you can do is record a new set of vocals for the song. That way, it’ll be a perfect fit to your new backing track.”

“Aw, bummer.” the woman sighed. “We can’t do tha—”

“No, we can.” They all turned to see Cana looking at them, a conspiratory smile on her face. “Say… the rule is no professional artists or dancers in the performance, right?”

“Right.” Gray answered, raising an eyebrow at his best friend.

“Well, they didn’t say anything about having professionals on your dance mix.” the brunette said, winking at them. “So there’s nothing wrong if you guys will be dancing a stripped-down never-before-heard version of ‘Tightrope’ covered by Cana Alberona.”

Erza and Levy beamed sunnily at Laxus. Mira grabbed the brunette’s hands and asked a loud ‘You’d do that for us, Cana?!’, while Gray and Lucy shook their heads in amusement.

Meanwhile, Gajeel ran his hand through his hair. “You guys are pullin’ all the stops, huh.”

Cana laughed at him before smirking confidently. “Just because I’m not in the band, doesn’t mean I’m not in the band.”

It was Gray’s turn to ask, “Now where have I heard that before?”

Gajeel surprised himself by actually answering, “It’s from School of Rock.”

As they all nodded at that, he thought he wouldn’t mind if he got to work with these people a bit longer.

During the following week, energies just ran high in the Guild. Schedules were re-arranged, there were rehearsals every night and brainstorming sessions every breaktime.

Now that they were all dancing on their own styles, no one was holding back and every so often they come up with suggestions for Erza, Gray and Levy’s choreography. Lisanna and Laki can do this contemporary stunt, Wendy was actually really flexible and knew a couple of tricks herself, Natsu had Romeo with him to do some amazing combos with, Levy, Jet and Droy can switch styles seamlessly, and holy hell, nobody quite understood how Bisca and Mira were managing those turns and how Alzack can assist them with their lifts.

If at first they thought they’d be having difficulties gluing the different styles together, they were totally proven wrong because everyone knew their limits and moves better this time, and were quick to think of what they can do for a smooth transition.

At the same time, everyone was eager to go beyond their comfort zones for the chorus parts, which most of the time involved everyone dancing to the steps, and therefore only one style.

Elfman always helped in taping the rehearsals so they can replay their progress and nitpick at certain parts until perfection.

Meanwhile, Lucy, Evergreen, Freed and Bixlow were cooking up something in that lab of theirs. Nobody dared ask, but they were all promised that it would be great.

As the routine was coming along nicely, so were the technical parts. There were always adjustments to the mix that Laxus was working on, but this time he had Gajeel for input on the arrangement. Laxus, even though he was always the authority on this department, seemed to treat Gajeel like a second set of ears. One time, he even asked the guitarist to man some of the controls as they tried to add effects to the songs.

Gajeel also got a crash course on the launchpad and other equipment from the man because Laxus thought they’d work better together if they had more common ground. It was the most educational experience he’d had in years.

He busied himself with that, and also with being the accompaniment as Levy, Jet and Droy came up with their tap routine. They haven’t finalized the choreography and the full concept yet so instead of recording, Gajeel played the guitar for them as they danced. He thought it would be an exhausting deal, playing over and over while they switched up their steps — but as he worked with them, it felt more and more like collaboration, not just mere support. Sometimes Levy requested an adjustment on some part, and sometimes Gajeel added his own spin on things, pitching in his idea. More often than not, they went with it, telling him that it was a great one.

He didn’t want to brag about it, but he actually didn’t think that they were just being kind or polite.

For the first time in a long time, he actually believed in himself again.

It was on his fifth day with them that the whole thing actually started coming together, and it was time to finish the mix.

Laxus was configuring equipment left and right while Cana was warming up on her vocals.

It was… interesting to watch.

“Ra-ra-ra-ah-ah. Ga-ga-ohh-la-la. Ca. Cah! Cah! Ca-na-al-be-ro-na. Albe-rrrrrrrrrrroh-na. Cana-alberona-is-an-actual-queen-she-is-a-goddess-she-is-perfection-bow-down-all-of-you-peasants-you-are-not-worthy.”

“Shut up, Cana.”

“You shut up, Laxus. Lah. Lah. Laxusssssss. Drrrrrrrrrrrrrreh. Yarrrrrrrrr. Feel the rrrrrrrolling arrrrr. Laxus. Drrrrreyarrrrrrr. Has a nice assssss—”

“Shut up, Cana.”

“Well, it’s been in my face for like 10 minutes now. What is so interesting it’s worth sticking your head in the floor for?”

“I just can’t get this goddamn cable from under this goddamn closet!”

“That’s ’cause you have giant arms! Here, I’ll do it. Outta my way.”

That was why Gajeel didn’t notice when Levy came up to stand beside him. “Nervous?”

He glanced at her before clearing his throat, his grip on his guitar tightening. “It’s my first recording session with a pro.”

“Don’t worry too much.” the woman assured him, patting his arm comfortingly. “We’ve got this!”

He breathed deeply. “Really?”

That was when Cana and Laxus finally got the goddamn cable from under the goddamn closet. Laxus turned towards them. “Hey. Rhythm, let’s plug that guitar in. Percussion, make sure your tap board’s good.”

Levy gave Gajeel another bright smile. “Really. Believe me.”

“Alberona, you need another rundown?” he heard Laxus ask, but it sounded distant as he just stared after Levy taking her place in the tap board and trying some experimental steps, studying the sounds.

Cana answered, just as faintly to Gajeel’s ears — “Nah, I’m good. I always watch these guys practice.”

“Oi, Redfox.” Laxus called again. “Don’t get cold feet now. Everyone’s lookin’ forward to you doin’ your thing.”

Mutely, Gajeel nodded and stepped forward, on autopilot as he plugged his guitar to the amplifier and made sure it sounded right.

Maybe that was it. He looked around, and besides Cana, Levy and Laxus, some others were also sitting nearby. Juvia was watching them with her excited hopeful smile, Erza watched with a proud look on her face, Bixlow was curled up beside Evergreen on the couch, the brunette holding up a video camera to record the session. They were looking forward to this. To him. It was easier to believe in yourself when others did, too.

As he held down a G chord and gave his electric guitar an experimental strum, he made up his mind. He wasn’t the ‘give-in-to-pressure’ guy, but damn he’s not letting them down.

Gajeel held his head high, nodded towards their DJ and said, “I’m ready.”

The rooftop was empty save for Gray, leaning against the railings and looking at the late afternoon sky in silence. The recording session had gone on for a couple of hours before they decided to call it a day. Per Erza’s request, Gray had left them while they were wrapping up to check up on the lights on the rooftop. They planned to hold rehearsals there tonight.

He thought they’d all come up there shortly anyway, so instead of going back downstairs, he just decided to stay there, enjoying a rare moment alone.

It didn’t last too long, because he heard the door open behind him, followed by a familiar, gentle voice calling his name. “Gray?”

“Hey.” he greeted back, looking over his shoulder at Juvia, who walked towards him in that careful but graceful way of hers. “You guys done?”

The woman nodded, settling herself beside him and looking up at the sky tinged in orange and magenta. “Laxus-san said that Gajeel-kun and the others did a good job. They just have to edit a little.”

“That’s good. We’ll finally finish the mix.” Gray couldn’t help but smile.

Everyone was new at this thing they were trying to do, but everything was going surprisingly well. He still couldn’t believe they’d be able to progress so much in such a small amount of time.

He looked at Juvia and paused for a moment to take the sight of her in, her face and hair all tinged with the colors of the sunset, making her look so warm. After this, he finally asked, “What’re you doin’ here?”

Juvia let out a tiny, hesitant shrug. “Juvia wanted to talk to Gray.”

“She does?” he asked, tone teasing, but his smile faded when he saw how serious she was.

She looked right back at him with piercing eyes as she said, “She does.”

“Alright. What is it?” he asked again, picking up on the hints easily. He turned to face her, to reassure her that she had his full attention.

“Juvia wants to dance.” she started with that, and he could tell she was trying to stay determined.

He blinked. “Dance? What, like practice? Now?”

The woman shook her head. “No, Juvia wants to dance with Gray—”

“Okay, we can do that, but the others will come ’round soon, so—”

“—and everyone.” she finished.

He stopped, just looking at her.

“See, when… when Juvia found out that… that everyone will be dancing… um, different styles…” she fidgeted, but he knew she wasn’t nervous. She was just struggling to put her thoughts into words. “Levy-san said they considered Juvia when they were looking for new dancers, but Gray said that they shouldn’t bother Juvia and-… No, that’s not right. Uh… Juvia is glad that Gray thinks of Juvia!”

He nodded tentatively. “Um… okay…”

“Juvia would have been really happy and honored if the others invited Juvia to dance with them. Juvia would be happy to help, because everyone helped Juvia a lot—”

He smiled. There she was again, worrying about them, wanting so badly to help. That was her. “I know, but you don’t have to worry anymore. We already found Romeo and Wendy to fill in, we’re gonna be fine—”

“Juvia knows that.” she looked at him. “And Juvia… knows that there’s not much help she can do. The Guild… Gray and Erza-san and Levy-san and everyone… Everyone is so talented and they all help out and that’s how the Guild gets through everything, right? Together?”

Gray stared. She lost him there. He lost track of where this was going anymore. Does she want to leave? Didn’t she say she wanted to dance?

“And… and it might be selfish of Juvia, but… maybe… Juvia wants to be part of that.”


Okay, Gray thought. God, why didn’t he catch up sooner?

“Juvia might not be good enough, but Juvia will do her best!” she insisted, looking down now, trying to hold her ground. “It’s just that… dancing is what Juvia can do best, and Juvia wants to help the others as best as she can-… The Guild is-… The Guild is important to Juvia too! B-But Juvia doesn’t want to hold everyone back either, so… so it’s okay if Gray says ‘no’, Juvia just wanted to try asking—”

“Hey. Hey, look at me.” he cut her off because her voice was starting to crack, and he just knew this was going to end up in tears anytime soon. He didn’t want that. When she did, he held her look seriously. “Juvia. Look, I’m sorry—”

When she sniffed, Gray groaned because holy shit, he should not have started with that. He quickly shook his head.

“—no no no, it’s not like that. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for deciding for you. That was— I did not think that through, it was stupid and selfish. Of me.”

She looked at him in confusion.

“When they thought of asking you, I said that we shouldn’t, because I was worried that you’ll be distracted from your auditions, you’ve been working so hard for that-… and also because I thought you’d say ‘no’ anyway, ’cause we’ll be performing in front of a really large crowd. I decided for you, okay? I decided that you couldn’t do it. That was wrong. For my part, I honestly thought that I was looking out for you. That doesn’t mean I did it right. I’m sorry.”

She looked, above anything else, shaken by his honesty. “I-It’s okay…?”

“I shouldn’t have done that. I should’ve asked you. ’Cause I have no right to decide for you if you wanna face your fears—” Gray paused abruptly, then closed his eyes and cursed, frustrated. “Shit. I actually did that, right? Argh. I feel like shit about this. How could I do that. Stupid, stupid—”

“Gray…” she called out, this time raising a hand to cup his cheek. “It’s okay—”

He groaned miserably. “It’s not okay! And someone should have called me out! How can you ask me so nicely? You should be angry at me—”

“You didn’t mean it.” was all she said, this time her voice firm. “Besides, Gray is already calling himself out. And he should stop.”

“He should?” he asked, hardly believing her. How was she so calm about this?

“He should.” Juvia nodded.

“I’m really sorry.” he repeated. She was about to reassure him again, but he beat her to it. “I tend to underestimate how badass you are.”

She just shrugged that off, and let out a small smile before wrapping her arms around his neck and pressing her lips against his. Gray let out a low chuckle as he leaned down and pulled her flush against him, deepening the kiss.

He didn’t pull away when the kiss ended, choosing to lean his forehead against hers. She giggled as he dropped another short kiss on the tip of her nose.

Then he said, “Also, please explain how in the world you thought you’re not good enough to dance with us? I mean, I lost track of how many times I’ve told you that you’re a great dancer — hell, Lisanna wanted to throw her shoes at you. I’m sure they’ll be real excited to have you on the team.”

“So… that’s a yes?” Juvia asked, hopeful.

“Of course it is. Everyone loves you. More than they love me, even.” he rolled his eyes at that.

She smiled. “Juvia loves everyone too.”

“No special exceptions?” he asked, squinting.

“Hm… Juvia is thinking about it…” she made a show of considering hard. “Ah! Maybe Juvia loves Cana-san and Lucy-san the most.”

He snorted. “Oh. Alright. That’s how it is?”

“There’s another one…”

“Yeah, who?” he teased.

“Levy-san is very kind and nice. Natsu-san, too.”

Gray raised an eyebrow. “You’re killing me here, you know that?”

She nodded, grinning mischievously.

He sighed in resignation. “You’re lucky you’re cute.”

It was early evening when Freed arrived home from work that day. There were no people practicing on the dance floor. Max and Warren were only starting to prepare dinner when he passed by the kitchen, and they told him that everyone decided to use the rooftop for the day.

When he reached the sixth floor, he found Laxus asleep on the couch. The surrounding area was a mess of recording equipment, machines, gadgets and cables. The coffee table had sketches, music sheets, scratch papers and various other notes all haphazardly piled together and held down using a magazine as paperweight. Pencils and other writing and drawing materials were also scattered with the papers.

He heard some noises from the rooftop. That must be the others rehearsing.

He was just taking his coat off when he noted something strange with the sounds.

Above the faint sounds of people talking and cheering wasn’t the usual loud, rhythmic boom of the dance remix that they were going to perform. It was a softer, more peaceful sound…

He entered Laxus’ studio and dropped his bag and coat in the first empty chair he saw, then climbed the last set of staircase and opened the door to the rooftop slowly.

They weren’t practicing, that much was clear. Instead, they seemed to have gathered into a huddle, all sitting on the floor together.

Gajeel was playing an acoustic guitar, strumming a familiar-sounding intro. Perched beside him were Levy and Mira, smiles soft as they watched him play silently. When the intro ended, he looked up at the two women and nodded.

Mira’s singing voice was both sweet and gentle as she started singing, the song almost sounding like a smooth lullaby.

“Lift your head… Baby, don’t be scared…
of the things that could go wrong along the way.”

Freed leaned against the doorway, staying to watch quietly. He couldn’t help but smile at the sight. The sky was already dark; the others were sitting around the trio, relaxed, just enjoying the show. The only thing they were missing was a campfire.

Levy sang the next line, her voice livelier, but still as sweet.

“You’ll get by with a smile…
You can’t win on everything but you can try.”

The two exchanged a look between them, then sang the refrain together. They weren’t professional singers, but the song was simple and easy enough for a simple get-together, and they carried the tune well.

“Baby, you don’t have to worry ’cause there ain’t no need to hurry…”

Among the ones watching them were Laki, Juvia and Lisanna who were sitting together with their arms linked. The girls were swaying slightly to the song. Across them, Erza was also sitting cross-legged on the floor. Lucy sat beside the red-head, her head tucked lazily on Erza’s shoulder, while Natsu was lying flat on the floor with his head on his girlfriend’s lap.

“No one ever said that there’s an easy way.”

Jet and Droy were also sitting with the group, while Gray stood leaning against the railings nearby. Cana and Wendy were beside him, the brunette’s arms draped around the teenager’s shoulders as they both softly sang along.

“When they’re closing all their doors and they don’t want you anymore…
This sounds funny but I’ll say it anyway…”

They somehow got ahold of a wooden beatbox — maybe it was from the storage. Romeo was sitting on it, and after a quick signal from Gajeel, he started moving, his hands tapping the instrument for beats to accompany the acoustic guitar.

“Boy, I’ll stay through the bad times,
even if I have to fetch you everyday…”

Bixlow was there in the crowd, as well. As always, he was holding up something to capture the moment. From the sparkly decorations on the phone case, Freed could only assume it was Evergreen’s phone. The guy noticed Freed standing by the doorway and waved slightly, gesturing for him to join them. Freed just waved back and shrugged, preferring to stay in his current position. He wanted to watch them from afar.

“We’ll get by with a smile…
You can never be too happy in this life.”

Meanwhile, Evergreen was content to watch, sitting between Elfman’s legs, warm with the man’s arms wrapped around her. Like the others, they seemed to be swaying slightly to the music. It was a rare sight to see, the two being affectionate like this.

“In a world where everybody hates a happy-ending story…
It’s a wonder love can make the world go ’round.”

And in speaking of couples, Alzack and Bisca were there, too. Sitting closely together, their fingers twined. Bisca leaned sideways a bit and dropped a short kiss on her fiancee’s cheek, and in turn Alzack smiled sweetly at her, pressing their heads together.

“But don’t let it bring you down, and turn your face into a frown…”

Levy reached out slightly, leaning forward and giving Gajeel a soft poke on his cheek. The guitarist, who was focused on his playing and frowning down in concentration, looked up at her. She gestured towards her own face, grinning cheerfully.

Gajeel got her message, something like ‘relax and listen to the song a bit, will you?’ and let himself smile softly as he played.

“You’ll get along with a little prayer and a song, oh…”

As Mira and Levy sang the bridge, which was mostly vocalizing sounds, Cana and Lucy decided to join. It didn’t take long for Erza and Natsu to sing with them as well.

“Too doo doo… Too doo doo doo… ohhhh…”

Mira looked at the others, singing the next line. “Let me hear you sing it…”

At this, Lisanna, Juvia and Laki also sang along. The others followed soon enough, their voices not the best combination in the world, but carrying the humming melody of the bridge well, giving the song this unique sense of unity.

“Too doo doo… Too doo doo doo… ohhhh…”

Freed hummed under his breath, and sighed as he took in the sight again. Everyone was always busy moving restlessly and practicing high-energy numbers. Seeing them all like this, just relaxing, having a peaceful time while singing a simple song together, was simply rare to see.

It would never have occurred to him that it would only take the addition of a capable guitar player, but there it was. Gajeel looked more than a little rough on the edges, but he’s got a real gentle streak. Evident whenever he looked at Juvia, and lately when he smiles at Levy. He might come from a different place, but he felt just like them. Freed had a feeling that, like Juvia, the guitarist was here to stay.

Well, they always said they needed another musician in the house. Now they’re getting that.

He was cut off from his musings when he heard a distant crash and a muffled voice from downstairs. Freed frowned and stepped back, closing the door behind him quietly before going back to Laxus’ studio.

The DJ was standing there, awake and grumpy, setting a fallen chair upright.

“Hey.” Freed greeted, raising an eyebrow. “What happened?”

“Just woke up. Tripped over a cable and fell on the chair.” Laxus grumbled, picking up Freed’s fallen sketchpad and bag from the floor. “Anything fragile in this bag?”

Freed chuckled, walking forward and taking his things from the other man. “Don’t worry ’bout it. You look tired.” He dropped his sketchpad on the table along with the other sketches and papers, and then walked towards the bedroom to leave his bag there.

He heard Laxus’ distant answer. “Was mixing and recording all day. And I still have a shift later.”

“You’re on night shift? You should get some more sleep.” he called back.

“Hm, yeah — that’s what I’m doin’.” came the faint reply.

Freed changed into more comfortable clothes, just a loose, oversized sweater and cotton pants. When he returned from the bedroom, he saw that Laxus was lying on the couch again, staring at the ceiling blankly.

“You should move to the bed.” he suggested softly. “I can wake you up later.”

Laxus just shook his head. “Nah, too tired to get up again.”

Freed accepted the answer easily and settled on the floor by the couch, close to Laxus. The coffee table was low enough that he would still be comfortable working from his current position.

As he started gathering his hair up on the back of his head to tie it up, he felt Laxus’ lips press softly against the back of his neck, and then on the exposed skin of his right shoulder. Freed chuckled, and only turned slightly to catch the next kiss with his own lips.

Laxus didn’t say anything after that, simply shifting to lie on his side so he can watch his boyfriend work.

Freed finished tying his hair up and also shifted so he can face the blonde. “How did the recording go?” he asked, resting against the couch. He raised a hand to run his fingers through the other man’s hair.

Laxus sighed against the touch, closing his eyes. “Just have to adjust some parts, put it into the mix, let ’em dance to it first to see if we missed anything. It sounds awesome. This new guy’s real good, Levy’s routine is genius, and Cana is… well, her voice is god-tier, so. Yeah.”

“So… it’s good.” Freed said in summary.

The blonde nodded. “S’great. They’ll win this thing.” Then he blinked in question. “Where are they, anyway? Practicin’?”

“Actually, they’re doing the opposite.” the designer answered. “They’re upstairs, sitting together and… singing.”

“They’re slacking off.” Laxus said, frowning deeply.

“Hey, now.” Freed laughed, smoothing out the DJ’s furrowed brows. “Don’t be a killjoy. Let them take a break. Besides, they look really happy. Peaceful. I think you should join them.”

“Nah, let ‘em have it.” Laxus said with a shrug. “I’m not a singin’ person.”

“Um. You sing Lady Gaga in the shower.” the other man pointed out, snorting.

Laxus glared. “How d’you know?”

Freed raised an eyebrow. Maybe Laxus really was tired. “Because I was in the shower with you?”

Laxus gave up. “In my defense, it’s a real earworm. And it’s in the goddamn mix so that means I’m stuck listenin’ to it for days. Why the hell did Mira choose that song anyway?”

“Get over it. It sounds fantastic.” Freed rolled his eyes.

The blonde didn’t seem pleased about it, but he agreed anyway. “It does.”

Laxus looked up at the ceiling again, staying silent. Freed, not yet in the mood for work, just leaned against his companion, studying his thoughtful face. After a while of silence, he spoke up again. “Laxus?”

The taller man stayed silent for a while longer. Freed waited patiently, and to Laxus, that meant that his companion was about to ask something important. Laxus sat up then, looking back into blue eyes.

Freed took this as consent. In a gentle voice, he said, “I saw how you looked at the others when they were practicing, you know.”


“Do you… wish you can dance with them?”

The answer came fast: “Of course I do.”

The green-haired man fell silent, looking down and nodding. He laid a hand on Laxus’s right knee, rubbing it comfortingly. It was the knee that got injured a few years back — it was why Laxus had stopped dancing, and just focused on working on the music instead. “Sorry.”

“Hey, I’m not upset.” Laxus said in a quiet voice as he looked at Freed, who was smiling sadly. “I mean, I miss dancing, but I like what I do now.”

“I was just worried that you’re tiring yourself out too much, and to add to that, you might be feeling down because you can’t dance with the others for something this big.”

Laxus stared. He didn’t expect Freed to pick up on the nostalgic feelings he was getting lately as he watched the others dancing and doing their best, although he really should have. Freed was sensitive like that. He picked up on Laxus’s thoughts almost effortlessly.

The blonde reached down to tuck long green bangs behind the other man’s ear. When Freed looked up at him again, he said, “Y’know, you’re forgetting that I’m the only DJ we’ve got. Still makes me part of the team, yeah?”

Freed blinked, then smiled up at his boyfriend. “Of course.”

“It’s still a pretty damn important job. Makin’ the best mix I can to help ’em win this thing.”

At that, Freed chuckled, his hesitation disappearing. “You’re right. Sorry, I worry too much. I don’t even know why I’m feeling more nervous than you or the others. I’m not even going up on stage to dance, or making the mix that will be heard by everyone—”

“Nah, you wouldn’t be you if you worried less.” Laxus shrugged, smirking. He took Freed’s hand resting on his knee and gave it a gentle squeeze. “But seriously it’ll be okay. I know there’s a lot at stake, but I also know those losers want this now more than ever. They’ve got nerve, just believe in ’em. They’ll win.”

“You know…” Freed sent the man a fond, wistful look. “You sounded a bit like your grandfather for a while there.”

Laxus gave Freed’s hand a slight tug, prompting the other man to join him up on the couch. Freed ended up sitting on Laxus’s lap, casually resting his arms on the blonde’s shoulders. “M’just looking after ’em. Just like gramps did. And like he told me to do.”

Freed nodded quietly. “Well, you’re doing good.”

“You think it’s not like me, don’t you?”

“Wrong. I think it’s exactly like you.” Freed said, and it caught him off guard when his companion suddenly leaned forward and embraced him tightly. “Laxus, are you okay?”

“Yeah. But m’tired. Within the past 24 hours, I only had like 4 hours of sleep. So. Give me this one.” Laxus mumbled against Freed’s shoulder. Freed only smiled in understanding, returning the embrace gently. Then Laxus said, “Y’smell like hairspray.”

The green-haired man laughed. “I work in the dressing room, what do you expect?”

“I hate hairspray.” Laxus complained, but didn’t move.

“Why are you still holding me, then?”

The blonde let out a small yawn before simply answering, “Because I love you.”

They’ve been committed to each other for years now and Freed still gets caught off guard whenever Laxus says those three words.

He must have unconsciously hugged Laxus back tighter because then he heard the blonde say, “Okay, you’re kinda tryin’ to kill me right now.”

Freed laughed, relaxing his hug but snuggling closer. “I love you too, Laxus.”

“What’s got into you?”

“Hey, you said it first!”

“Eh. Whatever.” then after a pause, Laxus asked, “So what’re they singin’ upstairs?”

“An old song.” Freed savored the feeling of the warm arms around him as they both settled on an odd but comfortable position on the couch. “I can’t recall the title. Wait.”

After an awkward pause, he just gave up and softly sang what he remembered.

“In a world where everybody hates a happy-ending story…”

He stopped abruptly. “Um…”

To his surprise, Laxus lazily provided the next line. “It’s a wonder love can make the world go ’round.”

Freed pulled away slightly, finally recalling the rest of the lyrics. He cupped Laxus’ confused face in his hands as he continued, “But don’t let it bring you down and turn your face into a frown…”

Laxus didn’t bother stopping himself from letting out a bemused smile as Freed pinched his cheeks playfully while singing.

“You’ll get along with a little prayer and a song.”

The blonde said, “This is very cheesy.” but his companion didn’t stop.

“Lift your head, baby, don’t be scared…
of the things that could go wrong along the way.”

“I’m serious. Very cheesy.” Laxus repeated, chuckling.

Freed pouted for a beat before he went through with his last line.

“You’ll get by with a smile…
Now it’s time to kiss away those tears goodbye.”

Laxus closed his eyes, and Freed ended the song with a soft kiss just above his lightning-shaped scar.

When Bixlow and Evergreen came back to announce that dinner was ready, they found the two fast asleep together on the couch.

Bixlow clicked his tongue. “Seriously, it’s like they don’t have a bed.”

Evergreen just narrowed and slapped the guy’s arm half-heartedly. “Shut up and take a picture.”

Chapter Notes:

See? Gajevy, Stingue, Chendy, Fraxus, and my favorite song? SO SELF-INDULGENT.

Dance/Musical Notes:
— So yeah “With a Smile” is kind of a classic, I listened to it growing up. My personal favorite is the version by Southborder. But how I wrote it being sung here is inspired by Aiza Seguerra’s cover.
— I recently went to hang out with some of my classmates from high school and two of them just happened to come from a gig. They had a guitar and a beatbox with them. And I was there too so we really didn’t have any reason not to have an impromptu jam session. This song is practically one of our staples so we did it first.

Maybe I should dedicate this chapter to my Filipino readers.

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