Chapter 6: Of run-down towns and guild colleagues (where Levy finds out that the saying "diamonds in a rough" is true and a certain friendly person introduces himself to Gajeel)
Levy gazed at the town spreading in front of her, searching for the words to describe the sight on display.
"Man! What a dump."
And that was Gajeel, effectively summing up her thoughts on Giku. The town could barely be called that. It was small and run-down and most of the buildings were old with some of them practically falling apart.
"It looks rather... desolate," Levy agreed. The region where Giku was located used to be a major crossing point for people wanting to travel out of Fiore. But then the new roads had been built, closer to the more populated areas and Giku slowly fell into an obscurity, ousted out of its position by the other towns.
"Still, it should make it easier to search it."
Levy nodded. They were the only two people who got off the train in the town. Even the conductor looked at them as if they were crazy. Then again, it might have been Gajeel's looks and the stark contrast between the two of them. Levy no longer realized just how scary Gajeel might appear to ordinary people. She was used to him.
"Will we start searching tonight?" she asked as she reached for her bag but he got there first.
"Nah. It's too late for that. But we can check the records in the town hall."
Gajeel slung both of their bags over his shoulder easily and started walking down the main street.
"Maybe we should drop off our things at a hotel first," Levy suggested as she tried her best to match his pace. Gajeel glanced down at her and slowed down a bit, looking at the buildings they were passing.
"If they even have such a thing," the Iron Dragon Slayer muttered when they were already past the town hall and there was still no sign of even an inn, never mind a hotel.
"There must be something, the town's not so-" Levy stopped abruptly, her eyes and mouth opening wide as she stared to the side. Gajeel looked over to see what had caught her attention and almost groaned. A bookstore. A dusty, run-down, smelling of an old leather and paper, ancient books selling, genuine bookstore. And Levy eyed it like he would eye an extremely tasty piece of a high-quality iron.
"Levy?" he asked after she did nothing for a couple of moments. "Hey, bookworm. We're looking for a hotel, remember?"
Levy took a small step toward the window, acting as if in a trance.
"First edition of Dominus Anulis. Do you know how rare it is?"
She stared at the leatherbound book with an almost besotted expression and Gajeel had a sudden urge to take a step back. There was something almost psychotic about her whole demeanor. She looked totally taken in with the old tome.
"Bookworm?" he spoke as one would to a skitterish wild animal. "The shop's closed. You can't get it now."
Her shoulders slumped and she turned away. Gajeel relaxed, prematurely, as it turned out.
"Can we go back first thing in the morning?"
"No fucking way! We're here for a purpose or did the book make you forget that?"
Levy glanced over her shoulder at the coveted tome. Gajeel was seriously creeped out. He knew she was into books. Hell, he called her a bookworm half of the time. But this, this bordered on a psychosis. Realizing they could stand there the rest of the day and even night if he didn't do something, he reached for her arm and grasped her elbow.
"C'mon. We'll find that hotel, drop off our things and check the records in the town hall."
He dragged her along as she glanced longingly at the shopping window. She wasn't digging in her heels but it was clear she went less than willingly. It took some time for Gajeel to realize just how weird it had to look to the bystanders. A large, scary man dragging a small, cute girl behind him. There were whispers, there were quickly averted glances. Except for one man.
Gajeel was a Dragon Slayer. His senses were superior to an ordinary human's. Not just the regular five senses but also the elusive so-called sixth sense. He always knew if someone was watching him. It was a necessary part of survival. So he quickly became aware of someone in the crowd observing him. And not with a mixture of fear and curiousity like the rest of the people but rather with a surprise.
Gajeel stopped and Levy bumped into him.
"What happened?" she asked, peering at his face. He was looking around, studying faces and ... was his nose twitching? "Gajeel? Is something wrong?"
"There's someone watching us," he replied absentmindedly and so missed her shiver.
"Jebel?" she whispered. Gajeel shook his head.
"Nah, there ain't his scent. It's someone else."
Levy looked around but none of the people around appeared to be watching them. Quite the opposite. They were avoiding looking at them. Or rather, they were avoiding looking at Gajeel.
"I think you are scaring the people," she spoke. Gajeel didn't reply. He was focused on someone standing some fifty feet down the street. The someone in question was a young man in his mid twenties, Levy guessed. All she could recognize at this distance was his dark hair and the fact that he appeared to be staring at Gajeel and Gajeel stared right back.
"Gajeel?" she prompted. When he didn't react, she waved a hand in front of his eyes. "Fiore to Gajeel."
He jerked and looked down at her.
"Do you know him?" she asked, pointing at the man only to find out he was already gone. "Oh."
"No," Gajeel was frowning. "I've never seen him before."
"Do you think he's going to be a problem?"
"Not really," the Iron Dragon Slayer replied and started walking again. "Probably just some punk."
"Okay," Levy decided to take his word for that. But the incident had reminded her that their trip was not a vacation. They had a task to do in the town.
"You seriously crept me out," Gajeel said to her conversationally. Levy blinked. And again.
"How in the world could I creep you out?"
"You stared at that book as if you wanted to eat it."
"Well, sorry for liking books."
"What's so rare about it, anyway?"
Levy stopped and gaped at him incredulously.
"Are you serious? Dominus Anulis is THE book. Sixty years ago, it defined the magical adventure genre. Magical artifacts of an incredible power, a group of unlikely companions on a long journey to save the world, epic battles, great sacrifices, friendship and loyalty overcoming terrible odds, it has it all. The book has been republished almost fifty times, translated into all of the world languages and- are you laughing at me?"
Gajeel patted her head, messing up her hair.
"Sure am, bookworm," he said fondly. "Tell you what. Once we are done with Jebel, we'll get you that book. Deal?"
Even with his reflexes, he was unprepared for the blue-haired missile that launched herself at him.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you."
"Erm, yeah, you're welcome," Gajeel said, slightly uncomfortable with the affection. "You can let go now."
"Oh," Levy seemed to realize just what she was doing and quickly stepped away. "Sorry for that, I just-"
"Really love books, yeah, I know. So, we were lookin' for a hotel?"
The silence was awkward, to say the least. Both of them kept their eyes on the opposite sides of the street, neither wanting to look at the other. Levy was sure she would blush again and Gajeel had no idea how to deal with her friendly mannerisms. She had hugged him! The big, scary Iron Dragon Slayer Gajeel Redfox had been hugged by a girl that had used to be scared to death of him. Sure, he had teased her several times by now but it was always him who was in control so that he could keep his distance. It wouldn't be worth it to befriend the girl, not when the situation with Raven Tail was what it was.
Sooner or later, Ivan would want him to join him openly and he would have to go if Fairy Tail were to stand a chance later on. He would have to betray his guild on the outside and he knew that any attachments he might form would make it harder for him. But Levy was already close to being his friend. She was fun to tease, her mind was several leagues above his own and she was a brave little thing, too.
Glancing at her from the corner of his eye, he grinned to himself. She was also easy on the eye. She might not have been as well-endowed as the other women in the guild but what she had fit her well.
"What are you looking at?"
Crap, she noticed him staring. Luckily for Gajeel, there was a building behind her.
"The hotel," he said. Levy turned and looked at the small, two-storey building with a sign proclaiming it as Hotel Chrysanthemum.
"Finally," she sighed. "I was starting to worry we would have to rough it in the woods."
"What, worried about loosin' your beauty sleep?" Gajeel jibed at her as he opened the door that led into a small hall with a reception desk.
"Something like that, yes."
There was no way Levy was telling him of her fear of the dark. He would either laugh at her outright or would try and scare her later on. He could be surprisingly childish sometimes.
Gajeel dropped their bags by the reception desk, ringing a small bell. Less than twenty seconds later, a small man scuttled out of the back door, looking at his new customers.
"May I help you?" he inquired, his voice quivering a bit as he looked Gajeel over.
"We want one room with two beds," Gajeel said, curious if Levy would object to sharing a room again but she seemed relieved by his choice. Of course she wouldn't want to be left alone.
"Of course, Mr. erm-"
"Yes, Redfox. And your friend?" there was a questioning lilt in his voice as if he wasn't quite sure what to address Levy as.
"McGarden," she supplied and then added, "We are mages from Fairy Tail."
The receptionist's gaze went to Gajeel's shoulder and the prominently displayed guild mark and he nodded.
"I see. How long will you be staying?"
Levy looked at Gajeel.
"Three nights for now. We can prolong the stay later, right?"
"Yes, yes, of course," the man was quickly putting down their information in a large ledger. "If you could sign your names here."
They put down their names and recived a key in return.
"Have a nice stay," the man wished them as he disappeared into the back room again.
"Thanks," Levy called out.
Their room was on the first floor, with an attached bathroom with a shower. Gajeel took the bed closer to a window while Levy unpacked her books on the table.
"Are we going to the town hall tonight?" she asked as she put down Multi-lingual Dictionary of Ancient Languages.
Gajeel glanced out of the window. The sun was setting and he very much doubted that the town hall or the archives in this dump would still be open.
"We'll leave that for tommorrow," he decided. "We'll start in a morning in the archives."
"Okay. I'm going to take a shower then," she took a step towards the bathroom before whirling on him. "And no funny tricks like last time, you hear me?"
Gajeel grinned lazily.
"I'm not promisin' a thing."
"Oh, you," Levy huffed and slammed the door behind herself. The walls and the door itself were thin enough that she still heard his laugh. Why had she even brought that up? All she did was embarrass herself. It seemed that was all she did around Gajeel. "Stupid, teasing, Dragon Slayer."
She didn't linger in a shower for long, dressing up in her pajamas and then cautiously cracking open the door. Gajeel was sitting on his bed, watching the door. Upon seeing her head poke out, he smirked.
"Boo," he said and Levy marched out, tossing her wet towel into his face.
"Oh, stop laughing."
"Why should I? You're too easy to tease."
"Just get in the shower, you stink."
Gajeel raised one pierced eyebrow and then took several sniffs.
"Nope, I don't," he said. "You must be hallucinating."
With her attempt at embarassing him backfiring, Levy grabbed a book from the table and curled up on her bed, burying her blush among the pages of Trapping the Unwary. She heard he bathroom door close and slowly relaxed, stretching up on her side, her back to the window. Within minutes, she was engrossed in the magical theory and so she didn't hear the window open. She just slapped her hand at the mosquito that bit at her neck, falling asleep quickly afterwards.
Gajeel couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. It was too quiet as he stopped the water and stepped out of the shower cubicle. Pricking his ears as he toweled off, he could hear Levy's even breathing and it calmed him down. She was still in the room, probably reading. But he couldn't hear her turning the pages and-
Gajeel quickly put on his pants and burst out of the room, his eyes touching upon Levy's still form and then focusing on a silent figure that was standing by the window. A second later, his right arm was transformed into a blade and he lunged after the enemy.
A burst of magic and his arm was forced back, his own momentum spinning him around.
"Calm down, Gajeel-san," the figure spoke up. "I mean no harm."
"Who the hell are you?" Gajeel snarled, crouching slightly as he eyed his opponent. The man took a step closer and Gajeel recognized the "punk" from the afternoon. The one that had stared at him.
"Allow me to introduce myself, Gajeel-san. My name is Stanislav Yutka and we have some common acquaintances," the man raised his right arm, turning his palm towards Gajeel. There was a guild symbol imprinted on his palm. A stylized silhouette of a raven with a single feather falling from its tail. The Raven Tail guild mark. "I'm pleased to meet you at last, Gajeel-san, as a fellow guild member."
Gajeel straightened up slowly. What the hell was going on?
"Did Master Ivan send you?" he immediately asked the worst scenario question.
"Oh no, not at all. This is all a big coincidence," Stanislav smiled winningly. "I was merely passing through when I happened to see you and your... companion."
Both of them glanced at Levy and Gajeel had to suppress a growl that threatened to rip out of his mouth.
"What did you do to her?"
"Nothing lasting, merely a mild sedative so that we could talk without interruptions."
Gajeel's eyes lingered on Levy, noting her deep even breaths. She appeared to be sleeping.
"Fine," Gajeel said. "Talk."
"Not very social, are you? Master Ivan mentioned it."
The Iron Dragon Slayer clenched his fists.
"You got a point?"
"Not really, I just wanted to meet my new partner," Stanislav cocked his head, studying Gajeel. "I have to say, rumours don't do you justice."
Gajeel ignored it, more focused on the new bit of info.
"Yes, Master Ivan plans for us to work together once you stop playing around with the fairies."
"Funny," Gajeel deadpanned. "It's the first time I heard of that plan."
"Master Ivan said you are doing some kind of revenge business and that he would tell you once you are done," with one eyebrow arched, Stanislav looked over at Levy. "I must say, I didn't take you for the type to combine pleasure with business. Then again, the girl's a little fairy, indeed. I can understand the temptation."
Gajeel barely held himself back from punching in the smug bastard's face. Only reminding himself that that would blow his cover stayed his fist.
"So what? I signed up to be a spy, not celibate," he snarled callously.
"Of course, Gajeel-san, I meant no disrespect. To each his own, as they say. Whatever you do in your free time is your business, as long as you remember the bigger picture."
The bigger picture. That was all that Ivan talked about and Gajeel was getting sick of it.
"As I said to Master Ivan, I'm always thinkin' of the bigger picture."
"Good. Because from what I was told, we'll be making our move soon. So be ready for that," Stanislav moved towards the window but Gajeel called out to him.
"What's your magic?"
Stanislav half-turned back to Gajeel, smiling slightly.
"Quite similar to yours, actually. I manipulate iron and steel through magnetic powers, though. I call my magic Magnetism," the mage nodded his head in goodbye. "See you soon, Gajeel-san. Have fun while you can."
And with that parting shot, he jumped out the window. Gajeel remained standing in his spot before a movement from behind caught his attention. Levy rolled around, still sleeping, blissfully unaware of what had just transpired.
"I swear, bookworm, you are more trouble than you're worth."
A soft snore was Gajeel's only answer.
A/N: So, fillerish, as I said. I know. I'm not making any promises for next update because that makes me jinx myself but I will finish this fic, I promise. The problem is that I might be venturing into DBZ fandom and writing some fics for that to get rid of the damn plot-bunnies but I won't abandon FT either. I'm working slowly, but surely. Keep your faith in me.
Oh, and thank you to everyone who read, reviewed, favourited or alerted this fic. I love you all.
P.S.: Bonus points to anyone who identifies the book that Levy went gaga over. It is a real one