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 6
Love Is Real

Chapter Notes:

This is late because I didn’t want to post Chapter 6 before I’m done with the draft of Chapter 9. Hehee.

Okay, now I won’t keep you here for long. Here ’ya go. Gruvia goodness! And friends being friends.


Love Is Real
( “It is not just in poetry and stories
It is truth and it will follow you
everywhere you go from now on”)
— Jason Mraz


It was livelier than usual over the breakfast table. It was one of the rare mornings that everyone in the house was present.

Natsu was in a serious debate with Warren and Elfman about the food (probably the bacon vs toast debate again). Lucy, Laki and Lisanna were talking about Lucy’s latest TV guesting. Levy, Jet and Droy were discussing about tap dancing. Mira was talking to Laxus about the bills and expenses. Alzack and Bisca were also crunching some numbers in a small notepad. Freed was reading the newspaper as he ate. Evergreen was chatting Erza up about something that happened at work. Bixlow and Cana, who were the ones in charge of the breakfast that day, had just finished serving everything. Both took their places at the table and started to eat.

Cana did the customary headcount — she noted Max was still missing and concluded that he was still in the shower (it always happens, he takes forever for some weird reason) — and that was when she noticed that the man beside her had his attention divided between his breakfast and…

Waitaminute. Gray’s eyes were glued to his phone. From the soft beeping sounds every now and then, he was engaged in a conversation. This… never happened.

“Oi, Gray.” she said lowly, peering at her best friend. “Something happen? You’ve been on your phone since a while ago.”

He shrugged absently and took a bite of his breakfast before answering. “Nah, it’s just Juvia.”

She blinked, smiling slightly. “You text each other now?”

He raised an eyebrow at her. “Well, she said ‘Good morning’ so… it’s just… mean… if I don’t reply?”

She snorted. “And you’ve been exchanging ’good morning’s for half an hour?”

“Well, I asked her how she’s doing because… I dunno, that’s what normal people do?”

“Okay. What are you talking about now?”

“Her new job. She’s waitressing for this diner nearby for half a day.”

“Hmm. And?”

“I told her uh… good luck?”


“Then she told me good luck too because I told her I’ll be at the drinks stand at the beach today—” he stopped when he noticed that it had gotten eerily quiet all of a sudden. He looked around and saw that everyone else was listening in. From his other side, he saw Lisanna trying to peek into his phone. Gray drew the gadget close to his chest, effectively hiding it from his friend’s prying eyes. “ALL OF YOU MIND YOUR OWN DAMN BUSINESS!”

They all made noises of disappointment before going back to their own discussions. When he looked at Cana again, she was laughing at him. “WHAT?”

“You’re blushing.” the brunette managed to say between her stiffled laughter.

“I’M NOT.” he said, avoiding her amused look.

“You know you are.” Cana cooed.

She was right, but he’s not letting her win this one. He’s going down fighting. So he looked at his phone again, sent one last message and pocketed it. “Conversation’s over. Nothin’ to see here.”

“Aww, Gray-sama is embarrassed!” Lisanna teased, poking his arm playfully. Beside her, Freed carefully inched away a bit, trying to keep his food and drink out of potential harm’s way.

“I’m not embarrassed.” he said, poking her back. “And don’t call me that.”

“You liiiike her!” she continued, this time using both hands to poke him.

Gray frowned and, with a completely straight face, returned her jabs. “I was just talkin’ to her normallyyyyy…”

“But d’you liiiike her?” Cana asked, joining in the poking. Gray yelped when she almost got his ticklish spot.

“Get ’im, ladies!” Natsu cheered. Beside him, Lucy was giggling, taking pictures with her phone.

“NO! I mean, y— I don’t know!” he said, now switching to full defense, trying to cover himself from their prying fingers. “She’s nice, but don’t push it too much!”

“Huh. That’s actually fair.” Lisanna decided, stopping the poking. “Weird. You’re usually more defensive.”

“Okay answer.” Cana nodded, returning to her meal. “We’ll accept it.”

“What’s it to you, anyway?” he asked.

The brunette answered with a shrug. “Everyone was telling me you were very sweet yesterday, sticking with her all the time. Didn’t sound like you to me.”

Gray huffed. “That’s because everyone else was hovering. I didn’t want her to get uncomfortable.”

“Yeah, she looked like the shy type.” Natsu said, actually agreeing.

“She IS the shy type.” Warren added.

“Can we all stop talking about her? She might’ve tripped by now.” Gray deadpanned.

“Ohhhh, are you worried?” — this came from Lucy and Natsu. Goddammit, do they share a brain?


“Yo, chill.” Cana laughed. “You know this is why you get teased, right? ’Cause you flip so easily?”

He glared. “How do you want me to react, then?”

“More chill.” the brunette continued.

“You want me to chill.” he repeated. “How chill?”

“Err… Look at Laxus, for example. Oi, Laxus, how was last night with Freed?”

Freed coughed.

Laxus didn’t even look up, focused on the bills he was going through as he answered, “Not bad, but we were making out when Bixlow decided to walk in singing. So yeah. I hate you, Bixlow.”

“You were on the couch!” Bixlow defended, helpless.

“My couch.”

“The common room couch! The bedroom’s like, five steps away? MY POOR INNOCENT EYES? I love you both but… but MY EYES?”

“You’ll live.” was all Laxus said before talking to Mira again. Mira who was trying not to laugh out loud.

Meanwhile Freed was obviously choking on his food. Evergreen just rolled her eyes and handed him a glass of water before returning to her breakfast. It was obvious this happened pretty often.

“Please stop endangering other people’s lives for the sole sake of Gray’s enlightenment.” Erza lectured in a gentle but amused tone.

“Sorry, Freed!” Cana smiled apologetically, then turned back towards Gray. “But yeah, you should stop snapping over every little thing and just answer our damn questions.”

“Well, stop making fun of every little thing.” he shot back.

“We’re not making fun, we’re honestly curious.” Lucy said.

“It’s just that she’s cute and you’re cute and you two look cute together.” Lisanna followed.

“Well, thank you for thinking that we’re cute. I appreciate the sentiment.” he said, sighing in defeat. “Now everyone shut up. Let me finish my breakfast in peace.”

Before anyone else could speak up, Max entered the scene, ecstatic, and almost screaming — “GUYS, GALS, NONBINARY PALS — EVERYONE! IMPORTANT NEWS!”

It was effective. Everyone looked up at him.

“’Sup, dude?” came from Natsu.

He lifted his phone up, triumphant grin on his face. “We got contest details! Date and mechanics and all!”

Suddenly the dining table was filled with excited chatter again. It was Erza who raised her voice to call for silence, before looking expectantly at Max. “What do we need?”

Max scrolled through his phone. “Okay, so basically it’s… well, a dance competition, all crews in Crocus are invited to join. Some more technicalities, blah blah, we all probably pass this, we don’t have minors here anyway. No celebrities or professionals though, so… sorry, Cana. Lucy.” — the two women shrugged and waved it off easily. They already expected that. “It just said street dance — no specific genre — so we’re assuming all hip-hop styles are in?”

“Good. We can have the variety we want.” Erza commented. Between everyone in the house, she was lyrical, Gray is pop and lock, Natsu is krump and break, and Max and Warren were animation. Everyone else were pretty flexible. They’ve got the styles covered.

“There’s only one event. The finale is a live show, but only five teams get in.” Max continued, tapping and swiping away.

“How do we get in the five?” Gray asked.

“Elimination round is online. Post a performance video on YouTube — 4 minutes tops — and announce you’re joining. Enough people ‘like’ our vid, we’re in. Deadline’s three weeks from now. All upvotes ’till end of day is counted.”

“And then?” Mira prompted.

“They’ll announce the top five and they have ’nother three weeks ’till the show and that’s it. Grand prize is cash AND a contract with one of the sponsors. And they’re big companies, too. They have a site up if you want specifics, but that’s the gist.”

Most of the table went silent for a while, probably still letting the information sink in.

It was Evergreen who broke the silence. “Well?” she asked, looking at the other occupants of the table. “You guys are joining, right?”

They all nodded and made sounds of agreement. Then wordlessly, everyone turned towards Laxus.

The man raised an eyebrow and just looked back at them until Mira nudged him lightly. He owned the building. He was the eldest of their group, him and Mira being 26, the rest of them around 20 to 24. He was effectively the leader of this dance troupe. Of course they’d turn towards him to give the go-signal.

He cleared his throat before speaking. “Go for it. That’s what you’re all here for. Y’all know we’re gonna back you up.”

Everyone cheered shortly, but fell silent again when the man raised a hand for silence again.

“And like always, we’re doin’ this together. But no one’s forcin’ anyone to do this. Show of hands — who’s in?”

Everyone but Lucy, Cana, Elfman, Mira, Alzack, Bisca, Freed, Bixlow and Evergreen raised their hands.

“It’s street.” Mira said. She exchanged glances with Alzack and Bisca. “Not exactly our genre.”

“But we’ll do whatever we can do to help.” Alzack said. Beside him, Bisca smiled.

“Same.” Lucy followed. “If it’s a battle of upvotes, we can tweet about it. Ask a lot of people to check it out.”

“Just make sure it’s worth recommending.” Cana added, smirking. “Can’t have people thinking we’ve got poor taste.”

“Thanks, guys.” Erza said earnestly.

Laxus also nodded. “Right then. It’s the usual crew. We’re gonna do this like always.” — he breathed deeply before continuing. “Erza, you take point. You and the others come up with a concept for the vid, pick a song, or songs — you need something remixed or mashed up, you come to me. We’ll work on it.”

The red-head blinked, looking at the rest of her friends before asking, “Me? Are you sure?”

“You’ll do fine.” he answered.

“We’re sure you can come up with something great, Erza.” Mira backed that up.

Erza looked down, nodding.

“Street guys — Gray, Natsu, Max, Warren — Erza’ll consult with you. Don’t let us down.” Laxus continued.

“Aye, boss.” Natsu answered. The others made similar noises of agreement.

“Lisanna, Laki, tappers, you gotta polish up. It’s a hip-hop contest, you gotta dance like you own the style. Get help from the guys if you have to.”

“Got it.” the two girls answered. The tappers: Levy, Jet and Droy nodded as well.

“And like I said, we’re here. We’re your backup. Come up with the concept, focus on performing. We’ll help you polish up, we’ll take charge of the vid. Elfman, Evergreen, you still on for camera work?”

“Of course.” the two answered.

Evergreen even added her own remark. “And if you guys need fancy makeup, you know yours truly.”

“And extra muscle.” Elfman said. “If you need something made, I can be your guy.”

Laxus nodded in acknowledgement. “I’ll help direct and critique if you guys need me to. Natsu, specially you. Your krump’s still rough on the edges.”

“Aye, Master.” Natsu answered, emphasizing on the second word.

Laxus didn’t comment on the younger guy sassing him. He just continued. “Bix?”

“Anything I can help with.” Bixlow answered with a grin. “I’ll help you with the editing stuff. You need effects, fancy lights, whatever — I’ll see ’bout it. And props, I’ll work with Elf if he needs me. Graffiti and art stuff, I’m game.”

“Same here.” Freed said, needing no prompts. “I can help with the video a bit if Bix gets too busy. And if you guys need some wardrobe stuff, I’ll help you figure it out. Ever and I work in theatre, lots of dance enthusiasts — we can hopefully get word out on your video when you post it, let it spread from there.”

“Great.” Laxus replied, and then looked towards the others again. “You heard my team. We’re on standby. But you guys — you got three weeks ’till deadline. I suggest you leave at least one week to get it online. That means you got at most two to come up with a routine, have me mix the music, shoot the vid, edit and post. That means y’all need to up your game and come up with this quick.”

“How about your day jobs?” Mira asked, looking at the rest of their team worriedly.

“We’ll practice at night.” Erza said. “Then take time off — all of us — for a day to shoot it.”

Warren nodded. “I’ll ask to take some of the morning shifts so I can make it every night.”

“We can do that too.” Natsu said. Gray nodded at him. Maybe he’ll take a bit of a break from the beach job if they run the schedule too tight.

“I’ll take a lighter load.” Erza added. “Maybe just the morning zumba sessions in the gym. That way I’ve still got most of my day off.”

“I’m not gonna tell you all how to pull this off. You guys know what to do.” was all Laxus said, crossing his arms across his chest. “So do it.”

There was a general sound of agreement from everyone in the table. It was much quieter for the rest of that morning, perhaps with they were all already planning ahead on how to free their schedules enough to make it to rehearsals.

But one thing is for sure, and everybody knew this. The quiet tension hanging in the air? It wasn’t from nervousness. It was excitement.

Erza hoped it would last long enough to get them through this.

At least long enough to get HER through this.

It’s been more than two weeks since Juvia started working in the nearby diner. She wasn’t new to being a waitress, she had even had a full time job as such which lasted for a few months. This was why working for only the 6 AM to 12 PM shift wasn’t all that tiring to her. She still had time to walk around, explore the different parts of town, familiarizing herself with the places. Then usually, she would go home, try to work on her audition piece — find inspiration on something, listen to all sorts of music fit for her genre…

Sometimes, when she doesn’t feel like going home yet, she dropped by the record store first.

Today was one of those days. It was still in the middle of the afternoon… it was too early to go straight home.

Most of the other employees of the store knew her already. It seems like Gajeel has been regarded as some kind of honorary senior employee because he’s the one who does the jobs best, scolds everyone, takes no shit and has worked in the store the longest. So when he says everyone should remember this particular customer or person, everyone does.

Today, when she entered the store, she was greeted by one of the part-timers. He was a teenager with longish raven hair, bangs that covered half his face, and a thin horizontal scar across his nose. All Juvia knew of the kid was that he was still in high school, always wore black (with enough grays and dark reds and dark blues) and that he played piano. Juvia always saw him just peacefully reading a book when there were no customers. She actually likes the kid — the others intimidated her.

“Good afternoon, Juvia-san.” he greeted, smiling lightly. “Gajeel-sempai is at the back, sorting out stocks.”

Juvia smiled back at the teen. “Thank you, Rogue-kun!”

She walked past the counter and entered the back room. Technically, she shouldn’t be there, but it looked like the employees simply don’t care. That was good, she thought — she bore no ill intentions anyway.

When she stepped inside the back room, Gajeel was no longer sorting the stocks. He was sitting on a stool, his back turned towards her, holding an acoustic guitar. No, not just holding — he was playing something, while maybe using his foot to tap to the beat for timing.

The song was familiar. Juvia recognized it easily.

“Michael Jackson, Gajeel-kun?” she asked, closing the door behind her and leaning against it. “That’s unusual.”

He stopped playing. “Nah, s’just… kind of a last song syndrome kinda thing.”

“Rogue-kun said you were sorting stocks.”

“I was. I’m done.” he indicated boredly towards the stacks of boxes around the room and the neat folders on the table. “And he’s got the floor covered, so I can take a break back in here.”

“Gajeel-kun made Juvia remember the routine we saw last time. At the Guild.” she said, walking across the room. She set some documents aside to make some space at the table before sitting there.

“Yeah, well…” he scratched his head tentatively. “I talked a bit with the tapper girl, your friend who brought the sketchbook.”


“Yeah, her. Watched her do her thing — y’know, tapping — for a bit. I told her she should dance that to MJ.”

Juvia blinked. “Really?”

He shrugged. “Yeah. I mean, it fits. And now the song’s stuck in my head. Thought I’d play it.”

“Does Gajeel-kun like Levy-san?”

The man looked up at her blankly. He was about to ask her to stop joking, but Juvia simply looked back, expectant. That was when he realized that she was just honestly curious, and he looked taken aback. “…Hell no? HELL. NO. Shut up.”

She shrugged. “Juvia was just asking.”

“She’s cute. Whatever.” was all he said, looking down at his guitar and strumming absently. “And pretty damn talented, I dunno where she gets all the energy from, movin’ her feet like that.”

Juvia laughed, then seemed to remember something when she looked at his guitar. It was a standard-looking brown wooden acoustic guitar, the body littered with stickers of bands and some other urban designs, like a skateboard. “Gajeel-kun is playing with a band tonight?”

“Nah, the fuckers bailed on me. Cancelled gig tonight.”

She frowned. “…Didn’t that happen last week too?”

“Different fucker this week.”

Juvia sighed. “Gajeel-kun should stop dealing with bad bands.”

“Bad bands.” he repeated sardonically as he leaned heavily on his guitar. “There are tons of bands in this city. Only a few of ’em really reliable. I’ve known a lot of people who really got talent but some pretentious dick would make a band, think they can’t catch up to him and fires ’em after. Sweet-talk their way to hiring replacements but they think they’re too good anyway.”

SHe shook her head warily. “They don’t sound like nice people.”

“Well, some of ’em have real talent and have lots of following making covers, and then bail out on original stuff. Some bands think they know a lotta shit and hire temp guitarists and drummers but then treat ’em like trash. I’ve know some dudes who just join bands to score chicks, can you believe that?”

She looked down, shrugging and avoiding his look. “Juvia can believe that.”

Gajeel looked up, saw the look on her face, and his jaw dropped. Shit — how careless was he? Him and his stupid mouth. Sometimes he really wished he had a stronger filter. “Aw, hell. Your last-… Shit, sorry. I’m sorry, I didn’t-… Sorry, Ju.”

“Juvia is over that now.” she smiled lightly. “Don’t worry.”

“You never deserved that bastard anyway. Thinkin’ he’s the greatest gift to mankind ’cause he can play four chords. ’Ya shoulda slapped him harder.”

This time, Juvia giggled a bit. “Don’t be mean, Gajeel-kun.”

“I’m bein’ honest.” he scoffed. “And there are lotsa guys like ’im around. Gives the rest of the really good people a bad name.”

“Nevermind that.” she said, waving him off. “Why is Gajeel-kun not in a normal band, then? Gajeel-kun knows how to treat people seriously, right?”

“Right.” he nodded, but looked down, considering. “Maybe it’s just… y’know, the usual. Creative differences.”

She blinked.

“I mean, many people share my taste, many guys know the genre. That’s clear as day. But… I dunno, bands I ran with, they wanna do original stuff but can’t stand takin’ risks. But if you’re not the vocalist, you don’t deserve to get a word out. I’ve got drafts, I’ve got original riffs but when you’re just the accompaniment, they ignore your opinion. Or listen to it but take it down.”

Juvia nodded, understanding a bit better now. “And Gajeel-kun is not a vocalist?”

“C’mon. You shout at me when I sing in the shower.” he said, snorting.

Juvia smiled guiltily.

“But yeah, I’m no vocalist. So there ’ya go. ’Sides, nowadays everyone wants to be different but they wanna sound the same. Bullshit, right?”

She understood what he meant, and only nodded. “But Gajeel-kun should at least accept offers from the… decent bands.”

“Most decent bands can keep their members in check.” he said, chuckling. “It’s the bad bands who lose core members and have to hire temp guys like me because they can’t find one who’ll stay with them. Bad band, right?”

Juvia just sent a sympathetic smile to her best friend and reached out to give his shoulder a comforting pat. “Gajeel-kun will find a band someday.”

He nodded, appreciating her concern. She always had his back when it came to his music, the same way he always had her back on her dancing.

“What ‘bout you? How’s the audition piece comin’?” he asked.

When it took her more than five seconds to answer, he turned to look at her. She was looking down, a small pout on her lips, fidgeting.

“Dude. Come on.” he deadpanned. “Still nothing?”

“Well, not really nothing…” she answered. “Juvia has a certain song in mind… It’s really pretty.”

“Is this a different song, because for the week you’ve been practicin’, you’ve switched songs five times too.”

She let out a little nervous laugh. “Yes, a different one…”

“Okay, so Song Number 6 it is, then.” he sighed. “You really should settle on one already. How ’bout the steps?”

“Juvia thinks the steps still need more work.”

“That’s what you said when we sent your vid, and look… you got in.” he rolled his eyes.

“But the actual auditions—”

“Should be tougher, I know.” — he knew it by heart now. They’ve been talking about it all week. Juvia was never happy with what she came up with. It all looked great to him, but he was no dance critic… so he can’t reprimand her too much. “Look, take your time… but not too much time, ’cause you still need to fix your issue with dancing with other people watching you.”

“Hai.” she sighed. “It’s just… Juvia needs more… inspiration?”

“Inspiration. What kind?”

She shrugged, obvious that she’s not even sure with it. “Juvia should probably just walk around some more.”

“Whatever you have to do, man.”

“Maybe Juvia should go to the Guild.”

The guitarist raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“Gray-sama said they’re practicing for a dance contest. Maybe Juvia should watch more people dancing.” she shrugged. “It might help…?”

“Are you sure you have to watch people dancing, or just your crush dancing?”

She turned towards him, this time with a big pout and a blush on her face. “J-J-Juvia also needs to practice! They said if Juvia needs practice space, Juvia can come over.”

“What’s wrong with our rooftop?”

The woman sighed. “Everyone goes to Gajeel-kun’s rooftop and this morning someone set up more clotheslines and now there’s literally no moving space there anymore.”

Before Gajeel could speak, there was a quick knock on the door before it opened and Rogue peered his head inside. “Um, Gajeel-sempai—”

“Yeah?” Gajeel asked, not bothering to face the teenager.

Rogue was fidgeting with the sleeves of his oversized sweater. “Um, there’s a customer looking for an album of a band I’ve never even heard before…”

“Is it the blonde kid with the fur coat and the skateboard? Scar on eyebrow? Shit-eating grin on face?”

Juvia saw Rogue blink, curious. “Y-Yes, actually. How did you—”

“You deal with ’im.”


“Just go with him to the artist shelves and help him look for it, make sure he doesn’t break something. Everything’s in alphabetical order anyway. I still gotta sort more stuff here.”

Rogue nodded uncertainly and then left them again.

Juvia looked at her best friend. “Juvia thought Gajeel-kun is done sorting stocks.”

“Yeah, I am. But kid’s gotta earn his keep.” Gajeel replied with a noncommittal grunt. “’Sides, that blondie’s got a crush on emo kid.”

The woman blinked. “Um… what?”

“The skateboard kid. Always comes in here when Rogue’s on shift but just walks ’round and steals glances? One time I assisted him with a vinyl record he kept asking questions ’bout our kiddo. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s up.”

Juvia couldn’t help but chuckle. “Is Gajeel-kun playing matchmaker?”

“I’m not.” he scoffed. “D’you know how annoying it is to watch that blonde kid… pining?”

“Pining, really?”

“Pining. Not even creepy pining, it’s the horrible teen movie adorable kinda pining. I swear one of these days, I’ll catch ‘im sighing dreamily over the stacks watching Rogue read. Maybe if something happens, if he can get a date, he’ll go be less annoying or somethin’.”

“What about Rogue-kun?”

“Stealin’ glances back thinking no one notices. They should just freakin’ get on with in, it’s seriously depressing.”

“Gajeel-kun IS playing matchmaker!” she concluded, laughing.

“Shut up.”

The woman just giggled. Finally, she hopped off the table. “Juvia should get going now.”

He looked up at her. “You really goin’ to the guild?”

She nodded. “Juvia needs practice.”

“Is it really just for practice?” he asked, grin teasing.

Juvia huffed, crossing her arms across her chest. “Y-Yes, for practice.” She then met her friend’s look with her own piercing one.

The glaring contest lasted for a grand total of fifteen seconds before Gajeel gave up, looked away and waved her off. “Fine, fine. Get outta here.”

“Juvia wins.” she had a satisfied smile on her face and held her head high as she walked past him.

“’Ya better have good news ’bout your dance tonight.”

“Hai, hai!” she laughed lightly, and then she was out the door.

Juvia acquired a bicycle from one of Gajeel’s neighbors when she first moved in with him. The old lady next door told them that her grandson was moving away and had a brand new bike waiting for him, a present from his parents. The woman was eager to get rid of the old bike that she offered it to Gajeel and Juvia. The price she set was cheap, but when she heard about what happened with Juvia’s luggage on her first day, the kindly woman actually gave the bike to them for free.

The old thing was a bit rusty and rough on the edges but it still worked decently. It was too small for Gajeel, but just enough for Juvia — so nowadays she used it to go around town.

The bike ride from the record store shouldn’t be too long, but on the way there was a slightly steep slope. Juvia was a decent biker but she didn’t want to risk it, so she walked the rest of the way.

When she got to the building, she quickly parked her bike by the garage, out of the way of the other vehicles, and made her way up the first set of stairs. She rang the doorbell gingerly, but with less nervousness this time around. It’s been a week since she came to the place with Gajeel, and throughout that week, she had exchanged a number of friendly texts with Gray. She was very curious about their dance contest thing… so maybe it will do her good to visit again.

She didn’t have to wait long. Gray opened the door, topless and only wearing a pair of loose-fitting jeans. He was barefoot. “Hey.” he greeted. “Juvia.”

Juvia would be lying if she said that it was easy to focus on his face then. “Good afternoon, Gray-sama…”

“What’s up?” he asked as he let her in. She expected people in the dance floor again like last time, but she was surprised to see no one. Maybe it was too early in the afternoon. She concluded that some of them would be at work.

“Ah, Juvia got off work and…” At this she came up with a little white lie. She didn’t want to give away that she was grasping at straws because she didn’t know how to proceed with her dancing. “…and Juvia was biking around, came into the neighborhood. So Juvia thought about visiting Gray-sama and the others.”

Gray smiled uneasily. “I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. No one’s home. Just me, Laki and Bixlow. Laki’s in bed, called in sick. Bixlow’s tinkerin’ with stuff upstairs.”

Gray led the way up to the third floor. Juvia followed him, curious. “Gray-sama said the crew practices everyday from afternoon to night.”

“Yeah, well…” he paused a bit, then sighed. “We… we’re taking this afternoon off.”

Juvia didn’t know why — yes she might have a crush, and she might stare or listen to Gray more than she listened to the others — but even though she did not know him too well, she sensed that there was something off with his answer. “Is everything okay?”

He glanced at her shortly before shrugging. “Mostly.”

“Is Juvia disturbing Gray-sama?”

“Nah, it’s okay. Company for me. There’s worse.”

They were on the third floor now. Gray had headed straight to the kitchen to take out some snacks and drinks, while Juvia lingered by the dining table.

“Can I get you anything?” he asked, and it sounded mostly like a diversion. He stood by the fridge, his back turned to her. “Water, soda, orange juice… Beer? We’ve got a separate cooler for beer, y’know that? Cana drinks enough for all of us.”

“Juvia will have the orange juice, thank you.”

“Got it.” he said, taking out a half-full pitcher of orange juice and a small container from the fridge. “Hope you don’t mind microwaved pizza.”

Juvia shook her head. “Juvia is sorry. Gray-sama shouldn’t go through all the trouble—”

“I told you, I don’t mind. There’s just the two slices left anyway.” he said. “And I’m so used to our girls bullying me — you’re a really welcome change of pace.”

“Even Levy-san?” she asked, because she couldn’t imagine Levy ‘bullying’ Gray…

“Specially Levy-san.” he snorted. “Y’know what they say, beware of the nice ones.”

She smiled a bit, accepted the pitcher and glasses from him. They waited quietly for the microwave and when it was done, they headed to the living room area. They sat on opposite ends of the couch, Gray with his feet propped up on the coffee table, Juvia with hers tucker under her.

As they ate, Juvia spoke up. “Gray-sama has no work today?”

“Ah, I was hopin’ you wouldn’t ask that.” he sighed. Gray drank from his glass before answering. “I lost my job yesterday.”

She looked at him, surprised, then slowly put her glass down on the coffee table. “Juvia is sorry.”

“S’not your fault.” he said, chuckling. He ran a hand through his hair, looking down sheepishly. “Not mine, either. I think.”

She looked at him — he hid his emotions well, simply smiling easily, but the crease on his brows told her otherwise. “What… happened? If Juvia may ask, that is.”

“Well, I’ll keep it short.” he breathed deeply before continuing. “I got into a fight while on duty. There was this event, I saw one of those shitty old men hitting on this girl… I tried to resolve it peacefully, I swear. I told him maybe he’s had a bit too much to drink and he might be scaring the girl. Stuff like that. She’s, like, in high school, man. Maybe ‘bout Wendy’s age, and she was terrified. But he got really aggressive and… started punching and he was already breakin’ some of the display. I dunno, was havin’ a long hard day, it was my second event that day already, and the girl was crying, the man grabbing and throwing things… so I… well, I punched him in the face.”

Juvia gulped. That sounded really bad.

“It knocked him out. Turns out though, the man was one of the clients. So my boss fired me.”

She frowned. “Gray-sama didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Nah, it’s cool.” he shrugged. “The job sucked anyway. And the boss was a prick.”

“Juvia is sure Gray-sama can find a better job.” she said, smiling encouragingly.

He smiled back a bit, but sighed again. “I can get through it, no big. It’s just… I kinda took it badly last night. Ended up getting in a fight with Cana for it. I was a jerk.”

“What did Cana-san say about it?” she asked, all patience.

Somehow Gray found it easy to answer that. “As usual, she shouted back, threw her shoe at me, then left. She meant well, I knew that. She just said that she can loan me money if I can’t get a job right away. It’s just… I was really angry ’bout what happened and I took it out on her. Then… a while ago we were rehearsing and… I dunno if it’s just me but Erza really looked out of it. So I told her that she looked distracted, and— Shit, I really dunno what’s up with her ’cause she just looked pissed and then snapped at me. I fought back and she got angry and brought up the thing with Cana. Then I told her to mind her own business-…” he trailed off before sighing. “It’s just… a lot of shouting. I mean, there’s always a lot of shouting ’round here but those are different.”

Juvia stayed silent, not knowing what to say. She still had half her slice of pizza left. She watched as Gray finished his before he spoke up again.

“Cana’s mad at me. Erza’s mad at me and stormed out. Levy left for the day probably ‘cause she didn’t want to get mad at any of us. Natsu took off because he’s supposed to do the groceries, and probably so he wouldn’t have to take sides. The others are still out, and Laxus will kill us if he finds out we’ve been fightin’ instead of comin’ up with our routine. We’re a week in and still nothin’. So yep, empty house. Sorry you had to hear all that. You must’ve been hopin’ to see us makin’ progress.”

Juvia shook her head. “Juvia is sure Gray-sama and the others will come around if they apologize to each other. Maybe… everyone is really just feeling the pressure.”

“Yeah.” He nodded quietly. “Thanks.”

After a while of silence, he looked at her. “I’m makin’ you all sad, am I? I swear I’m not always this miserable.”

She finished her slice of pizza first before she smiled. “It’s okay.”

“How ’bout you? How’s the routine going?” he asked, sitting up straight now.

“Juvia was supposed to practice this afternoon, but the apartment rooftop was occupied.” she admitted. With Gray being honest with her, she felt guilty for not doing the same right away.

He looked at her. “D’you need practice space? S’that why you came over?”

“Not really…” She shook her head, hugged her knees to her chest and looked down. “Juvia is not sure of the routine. It’s the sixth song now, but… nothing feels good enough.”

Gray chuckled, “We all feel that way.”


“Yep.” he sighed. “Dancing’s easy once you get the steps down. The hard part’s when you have to make it mean something.”

Juvia nodded, fully understanding what he meant.

“You wanna practice?” he asked, this time sounding more enthusiastic. “Now’s a good time. No one’s gonna disturb you.”

The woman looked up at him. His face had that easy-going encouraging grin, the same one he sent her that first night when he invited her inside the house to warm herself up.

Juvia was silent as she looked down again, fidgeting with the hem of her blouse. She thought about it — but found that she really had nothing to think about. She came to the guild because she wanted to check up on everyone and to find some practice space. That was just what she was getting, right?

So she finally nodded and said, “If Gray-sama won’t mind, Juvia would like to practice.”

He offered her the use of the whole second floor, but she got nervous, worrying about the others suddenly walking in on her. She told him she didn’t want anyone else to see it yet. She was not ready.

Gray nodded, respecting that, and led her upstairs instead. He told her she could have the rooftop. Less instrusions there.

When they got to the sixth floor, they had a short stop-over. They dropped by Laxus’ activity area to find Bixlow sitting by the working table, focused on dismantling a laptop.

“Hey, man.” Gray greeted.

Bixlow looked up. “Yo! What’s up?” he smiled a toothy grin. “Hey, it’s Juvia-chan! Hello there.”

Juvia smiled back. “Good afternoon, Bixlow-san.”

When he caught her curious look at his current activity, he said, “I’m tryin’ to fix this poor laptop that Ever broke. Hell, actually I don’t think it can be fixed. I dunno how she did it, but it’s fried. I’m just tryin’ to recover what I can.”

Gray looked around. “We’re gonna use the rooftop. Juvia needs practice space.”

“Uh-huh…” Bixlow nodded as he continued his work.

“So you got a spare portable speaker we can use?”

“Eh, there’s a few over there. M’sure the big boss won’t mind.” — then after a beat, he added, “Get the green, that one’s the best.”

“Thanks, I’m borrowing that one. Tell Laxus for me.” was all Gray said, heading towards a shelf and picking up one of the speakers — the green one, as instructed.

“Sure, bro.”

After that, they climbed up the last set of staircase and stepped into the rooftop.

It was very different from the rooftop of Gajeel’s apartment building, Juvia thought. The whole area was clear, flat and mostly clean. It was very unlike the greasy, sometimes muddy floor of the crowded apartment rooftop.

“It’s clean. You can even dance barefoot if you want.” Gray said, walking forward and putting the speakers down. He continued talking as he started setting it up. “It’s the reason some of the rooms haven’t been repaired. We pitched in to have this whole area tiled for dancing space.”

“How about maintenance?” Juvia asked, setting her bag down beside the speakers.

“If somebody wants to use it, they’ll have to clean it themselves. Natsu and Lucy always use it lately though, so I guess it’s pretty clean. They go up here to do Lucy’s morning yoga or something.”

Juvia nodded. He reached out, palm up and she gave him her mp3 player. He hooked it in the speakers before handing it back to her.

She slowly scrolled through her playlist to find the right song, then she paused and looked down at Gray, who was adjusting the volume of the speakers. “Will… will Gray-sama watch?”

He looked up at her, expression tentative. “I can leave if you want me to. I mean, if you need space…” he trailed off with an awkward shrug.

She fell silent, biting her lip and avoiding his look.

Gray got the message and he stood up, then pat her on the shoulder. “It’s alright, I’ll leave you to it. You need anything, I’ll be hangin’ out with Bix downstairs.”

Juvia nodded, watching him as he walked away. She was thankful that he understood, that he respected her need to be alone and didn’t demand anything of her… But at the same time she didn’t necessarily want to hide from him. From anyone, really. She knew she couldn’t audition like this, needing to ask everyone else to leave the room so she can dance by herself. She would have to face the challenge of strangers’ eyes on her if she really wants to achieve this. And Gray wasn’t a stranger, he was… well, he was a friend, at least. Not as close as Gajeel, maybe — but someone she could trust.

She has to do this.

Gripping her mp3 player, she mustered up enough courage to speak up. “G-Gray-sama!”

When she looked at him, he was already by the doorway, hand on the doorknob and head turned towards her curiously. “Yeah?”

“Will Gray-sama s-stay and… and tell Juvia what he thinks about the routine?” she asked softly, watching him turn around to face her. “J-Juvia needs feedback… if that’s okay…”

He nodded as he closed the door behind him again. “Sure.”

Juvia left the mp3 player on standby and laid it on top of her bag. She slipped off her sandals and cardigan, only leaving her in a dark blue loose-fitting, unbuttoned plaid polo shirt on top of her white tank top, and torn jean shorts. This wasn’t what she always danced in — it wasn’t even how she dressed in general. She bought the clothes from a thrift shop, and couldn’t afford to be too picky.

She walked forward, putting a decent distance between her and the speakers. It was her first time in a very long time to be in such a wide area for dancing — but she knew for this routine she wouldn’t utilize the whole floor.

Gray sat beside the speakers and her bags, watching as she stretched gingerly and breathed in deeply. He was just waiting for her signal.

She stared back at him then, tensed — frozen. God, what did she get herself into? She’s going to dance this unfinished piece to someone who never even saw her dance a single step—

He already told her that he thinks she’s good. What if… What if she’s not as good as he thought? What if she just ends up messing up and letting him down? What if—

“Juvia.” he called, snapping her out of her thoughts. She blinked. “Hey, are you okay?”

She nodded mutely, but didn’t relax.

“Look,” he started again, tone comforting. “I can tell you’re really nervous. I know you’re not used to this, but… you can’t keep dancing alone forever.”

When she didn’t answer, he continued.

“I’m not gonna tell you to dance like nobody’s watching. Well… I’m biased ’cause that doesn’t work on me. And either way, you know I’m here. At the auditions, you’ll know other people are watching. You should just… dance. Without trying to live up to any standard or expectation. Dance like nobody will judge you. ’Cause that’s why you freeze up, right? Because you’re afraid of what they’ll think?”

She nodded, surprised at his words. She found herself breathing more evenly, her clenched fists unclenching.

“If you can get over that, it’s a starting point. You have to make your first move. Then you just keep moving until it’s over.”

Juvia closed her eyes and nodded again, this time her brows creased in concentration.

‘Gray-sama won’t judge.’ — she thought, and kept repeating it like a mantra. ‘He won’t judge. He won’t judge. Noonewilljudge. Juviawilldanceandnoonewilljudge.’

With all the determination she’s got, she fell into her first position.

Gray smiled, taking the mp3 player in his hands. “Ready?”


He pressed ‘play’.

He didn’t expect the vocals to hit him first thing, no intros or instruments… It was just followed by the soft strumming of the accompanying acoustic guitar.

((Love is real — it is not just in novels or the movies…))

But what really gave him pause was Juvia’s movements matching those words. She said she danced contemporary but she didn’t tell him her style was lyrical. Her arm and shoulder movements for that first line were brilliant — simple and with a light mood to it.

((It is fact… and it’s standing here right in front of you.))

He caught her feet stumble a bit as she first moved them, but he chalked it up to nerves. He was sure this wasn’t easy for her. What’s important is that she wasn’t stopping.

((So if you just open your eyes, oh what a sweet discovery —
There is hope… There is joy… and there is acceptance.))

Her lines were great: her turns were neat and purposeful, and her leaps had a lightness to it. It wasn’t a perfect jump, but her intentions came right across as she slowly began to smile.

((So now let all the light that collects on your plants keep you warm, make you smile.
And I will be there with this pen in my hand to record all the while…))

She threw her head back and spread her arms wide — turning in place before slowly walking backwards. It wasn’t the most impressive dance step, but it made a special savory moment in the routine, full of emotion despite the commonplace gesture. Sometimes that’s what mattered most.

((You’ll be laughing so loud… that the house will shake with sound…
And everything will be as new as the day it was found.))

Gray drew in a breath as he watched her do consecutive pirouettes, arms raised — before she transitioned to a sitting position on the floor smoothly.

((Ohhh… love is real — it is not just in long-distance commercials,
Or something that you thought you felt back in high school.))

Her floor work wasn’t half bad either, although he could see the hesitation in it. As she got back up, her steps were now more confident, her arms and legs extending proudly and gracefully for every move.

Some of her lyrical movements even reflected his own style, he noticed. While she moved, danced, turned, jumped and gesticulated like water, all grace and flow, some of her gestures were intentionally snappy. It was reminiscent of some classic pop-and-lock hip-hop moves. Gray idly wondered if her style has always been that way.

((So I will turn black and white, become that horoscope you’re reading…
It predicts that something good is on its way.))

Gray had seen Lucy, Lisanna, and Laki dance in this style once or twice. Juvia’s routine was rough on the edges, but he could tell that she was indeed in their level. Lucy has a certain style that worked better when she had to act as a character. She was an actress and she was best like that. Lisanna and Laki were the youngest of them and still learning, and while their training made sure their moves were always technically perfect, their personal choreography still lacked the proper depth and experience. Juvia, however, carried something more… personal and creative. Her dance, though imperfect, carried a greater deal of maturity.

((And I’ll send you all the world green and blue in a box through the mail…
You can open it up, hold it right in your hand and be glad that it’s there…
And be glad that you’re there…))

Gray smiled as a splash of oranges and pinks colored the woman’s dancing image. It was late afternoon and the sun was just setting. It gave off a surreal image, with pink and orange light streaked against Juvia’s blue hair, dark outfit and fair skin.

((Now you can feel all the knots in your stomach, they start to untie…
And suddenly it’s not so hard to say you’re alright…))

Then after successive dynamic movements, Juvia’s steps reduced back to standing stationary, only her arms, heads and shoulders moving before she stopped completely. Her last movement was to raise head and look at him with a small smile.

Gray felt lighter. For some reason, he felt… better.

The rest of the song was playing, but it was obvious that she had finished her dance for the meantime.

Gray just sat there, taken aback with what he just witnessed and thinking about how to give… feedback. Yes, feedback — that was what she needed him for, right?

Juvia was standing there now, panting and fidgeting with the hem of her shirt. “W-Was it… It was horrible, wasn’t it?”

The raven-head merely shook his head and the first coherent thing he was able to muster up was, “That was beautiful.”

Juvia froze upon hearing his words, her face heating up as she asked, “W-W-What…?”

“What was that?” he asked, smirking at her and lowering the speaker’s volume. “I mean-… WHAT WAS THAT? You were worried about THAT? Dude.”

Juvia gave a nervous laugh, but refused to look at him.

Alright, maybe he was scaring her. So instead, he stood up and started to get more technical, to ease up the tension. “Okay, I saw more than a few stumbles, but I’m chalking it up to nerves. Your form was fine so I bet you can nail those down if you weren’t so nervous. The floor work is… kinda subpar compared to the other stuff, so I bet you’re still thinking about keeping or ditching those?”

She nodded.

“But the rest… well, your choreo’s great, can’t wait for you to polish it. Song choice fits you well and… y’know, you should smile more.” He paused for a beat before he added, “Actually, maybe that’s the nerves too. It looked great when you smiled, though.”

He stepped forward, because she was just standing there and looking at her feet. He didn’t know what was going through her head — was she regretting her decision to let him watch her dance? Maybe she thinking about his critique? Did he say anything wrong?

Juvia almost jumped when she realized that he had walked up to her now, and Gray had stopped just a foot away from her.

“What I don’t understand is…” he started again. “Why would you try to hide… THAT? Keeping it just to yourself? You’re a beautiful dancer, and I’m not just flattering you. You shouldn’t be so scared, it was amazing. Anyone who doesn’t see that, they’re probably blind.”

Then it was his turn to freeze up as he heard her sniff. All this time she had her head bowed and her couldn’t see her face — so he peered down and promptly gaped.

“Holy sh— You’re crying!” he exclaimed. “I JUST TOLD YOU IT WAS AWESOME! WHY ARE YOU CRYING?!”

Juvia sniffed, wiping her tears with the back of her hand. “Gray-sama is so kind…”

“Actually, I’m usually a jerk but today I’ve made two of my best friends upset and the other two walked out ’cause of that so I’m not risking it with you as well.” he blurted out in one breath, scratching his head tentatively.

This time Juvia let out a small laugh as she looked up at him. “Thank you.”

“Are you okay? Why were you crying? Did you hurt yourself turning or jumping?”

She shook her head. She wasn’t crying anymore. “Because Juvia was scared… now Juvia’s just happy.” she said, and he just looked back at her in slight confusion before sending a small smile back. “Juvia thought that… the dance was bad. Only Gajeel-kun has seen it before and… and he always said it’s good but Juvia has never danced in front of another dancer— Maybe Juvia was actually a bad dancer and Gajeel-kun just didn’t know better—”

“Well, news flash: you’re not half-bad.” he chuckled. When she giggled, hugging herself and rubbing her arms, he took the liberty of turning around to head back to the corner and retrieve her cardigan for her.

She followed him quickly, meeting him halfway to accept the item. As she wore it again, he asked — “Why did you pick that song? Just curious. ’Cause I know the guy has other songs with more variations that you can use.”

He led her to the edge of the rooftop where they both stood side by side leaning against the railings and looked out at the view of the downtown neighborhood.

Juvia shrugged, looking up at the sky instead. “Because Juvia thinks the song is pretty. True and honest and simple.”

“Love is real?” he asked, echoing the song’s title and lyrics.

She nodded. “Doesn’t Gray-sama think so?”

It was his turn to shrug this time. “’Course I do. But I know why sometimes people find it hard to believe it.”

“That’s why Juvia likes it.” she replied. “Because sometimes believing is hard but the song says it so simply and it leaves no room for doubt.”

“That sounds… personal.”

“Juvia has been through some really bad things, and some of those almost made Juvia stop believing. But then Juvia listened to this song… Juvia liked how hopeful it is.”

He wondered if she was always this open, but he didn’t ask. Gray simply nodded and they fell silent just watching the scenery. It wasn’t the best of views, but it was peaceful to look at anyway. Up from the rooftop, the streets didn’t sound so loud.

They talked a bit more about Juvia’s routine and some of her previous song selections. He agreed that the latest one fit her style the most so far.

Then she looked at him and asked, “Gray-sama, aren’t you… cold?”

Gray looked down at himself and his expression turned to that of pure dread. “H-How long have I been topless?”

“Since Juvia arrived.”


They decided that they should go inside since it has gotten dark and Gray wanted to grab a shirt for himself. First, they stopped by Laxus’ place to return the speakers they borrowed. Bixlow was still there, busy with the dismantled laptop. Laki was there as well, wrapped in a blanket on the couch and cradling a box of tissues while reading a thick paperback. It looked like she decided to spend her sick time with the only other available company in the house.

After Gray set down the speakers, he turned towards Juvia. “You should stay for dinner.”

Before she could answer, Bixlow and Laki already followed with “You should stay forever.”

Gray sent them an exasperated glare, but Juvia only laughed before nodding.

“Juvia would be happy to.”

Chapter Notes:

Yes uh, that last bit was a Mulan reference.

Also haha I wrote Rogue in before I knew it. Then Sting followed. It wasn’t planned. But goddamn matchmaker Gajeel is fun.

Most people might find it unexpected (or too fast) that Gray is warming up to Juvia right away. Please remember that in the story, they’re already young adults. 22 to 23 year-olds. They’ve got their fair share of experience, jobs, no world-threatening distractions. I think this makes them easier and more open to the idea of relationships in general.

Dance/Musical Notes:
— Again, I relate Juvia’s dancing style to Caitlin Kinney and Kathryn McCormick from SYTYCD. Her “Love Is Real” dance was inspired by Kathryn’s ‘Beautiful’ and “Shadowfeet” solos.

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