Three days later, Meredy's room was painted and with furniture for a five-year-old girl much to her absolute delight. Gray and Silver worked together to make it happen by painting the walls pink – surprisingly enough, Silver was very good at drawing and drew some butterflies on the walls which earned him countless kisses all over his face when his granddaughter saw them; they also reassembled the furniture that came from her old bedroom and organized her toys and clothes (that part was Juvia's domain).
Gray's old office turned into a guest room also, since he put the bed from the now Meredy's bedroom there and even if it was a bit cramped, it wasn't too distracting.
It was a sad occurrence having to move a girl's whole life because of her mother's demise, but while painting the room with his dad by his side, helping and joking around, Gray felt a connection with him he thought was long lost. Silver was utterly ridiculous and at some point they started some sort of paint fight that ended up with both of them covered in pink paint. Juvia, who had spent the day distracting Meredy by staying at the pool during the time the men were supposed to be working, couldn't hold back her laughter when she saw them coming out of the house and Meredy followed her cue, naturally.
After explaining that it was his dad who started it, Juvia grabbed her phone and told them that a photograph was needed and, even though Gray protested, Silver just put an arm around his son's arm, smiled and made a 'v' sign with his fingers. Once the photograph was taken, Silver insisted upon Juvia sent him a copy to his own phone and Gray didn't even want to see the masterpiece.
When it was time for Silver to leave, Gray actually felt sad to see his dad go. The other times, he was relieved to have his house to himself once again, his father's presence still too new and unsettling. The day he and Meredy took Silver to the airport, though, Gray knew he would miss his old man.
Meredy cried when Silver kneeled in front of her and told her that he would miss his grandbaby (Gray could swear he saw his father's eyes glistening a little as well) and he told her to take care of Gray and Mrs. Chocolate Rainbow, which turned out to be the doll Silver gave her the day he arrived.
With a final hug, the two men said their good-byes and Silver asked his son to give Juvia a kiss from him and then winked, saying: "Maybe you'll get inspired to do more."
Suddenly his father leaving Magnolia seemed much less grim.
Gray took a sniffing Meredy by her hand and they went to see the planes taking off and he couldn't help but to take a few steps back and take a picture of her waving to the plane Silver took as it flew away.
The question was innocent enough, Gray thought, but the implication of it was pretty damn heavy for a man who never thought would take care of a little girl for a day of his life.
When the five-year-old stopped eating her cereal and stared at Gray with those pretty green eyes, Gray never thought he would hear the words coming out of her mouth: "What are you going to do with my hair tomorrow?"
Gray frowned in confusion. "As long as it stays on your head, I am not intending on doing anything with it. Why?"
Meredy gasped as if Gray had just offended her. "Tomorrow is my first day at the new school!" She explained. "I have to look real pretty so I can make lots of friends."
"I highly doubt a bunch of five-year-olds will pay attention to your hair, Meredy." Gray scoffed. "I didn't."
"Because you are a boy." Meredy said the word as if it was an insult. "Please, Gray. I want to look pretty tomorrow!"
"The thing is, Meredy, that I have no idea of how to do your hair. I never had to learn that." Gray explained to her the best he could. "Can't you just go with it the way it is?" Meredy shook her head 'no' and the man sighed. "I don't think I can master hairdo in less than a day."
Meredy thought about it for a second and nodded. Gray thought the subject was over until he watched as the girl got up from her chair and walked towards the kitchen counter, reaching for his cellphone. She quickly unblocked it and touched the screen a few times before he asked her what she was doing.
"Calling Juvia." She answered and Gray already regretted showing her how to call a few of his friends in case of an emergency and he was somehow incapacitated to do it himself – better safe than sorry.
"I taught you that in case of an emergency." Gray reminded her and Meredy just smiled at him, earning a roll of his eyes from her uncle.
A few seconds later, Juvia picked up the call and Meredy proceeded to talk to the woman. "Hi, Juvia! Yes, it's me." The girl turned towards Gray slightly. "My Gray is here too, but I want to talk to you." She paused as she heard Juvia's answer from the other side of the line. "Tomorrow is my first day at my new school and My Gray doesn't know how to do my hair." Another pause. "Yes! Come over!" Meredy beamed and Gray groaned in agony; apparently, he was going to spend his Sunday afternoon learning how to do a girl's hair.
Half an hour later when Juvia arrived, she was barely able to hold her laughter upon seeing Gray's hair tied up with many and very colorful hair hands. After her conversation with Juvia by phone, Meredy managed to make Gray sit down on the couch while she tried to show him how she liked her hair and since he was the only one available at the house, Gray agreed (very reluctantly) to let her do it.
He never thought of the fact that five-year-old girls rarely had the coordination skills to do hair.
"You look…" Juvia giggled.
"Shut up." Gray snarled and the blunette giggled even harder.
"Don't worry, Juvia won't tell a soul." She promised.
"You better." He threatened her. "The damn things are stuck! I tried to pull it off, but it's stuck! If I have to cut my hair to get these things off…"
"Calm down." Juvia chuckled. "Go sit down on the couch and Juvia will help you." And she did. After saying greetings to the child, Juvia managed to take the bands off without cutting his hair.
The two hours that followed were filled with tips of how he could do Meredy's hair in a simple but beautiful way and Gray prided himself in knowing that he learned how to properly untangle hair (who knew you had to start from the middle so it hurt less?), pigtails, ponytail and where/when to put accessories.
Braids, however, were a bit of a challenge but after long tries on both Meredy and Juvia's hair, he finally managed the basics.
"Yay! Now that My Gray knows how to braid my hair, he can make me look like Elsa!" The girl exclaimed in excitement, running to the bathroom to see the braid Gray managed to do as Juvia giggled.
"What is an Elsa?" Gray asked in confusion and Juvia grabbed her phone, typing a few words and when she finally found what she was looking for, handed him the device and when Gray saw the braid on the blonde's hair, his first instinct was to shake his head. "No way in hell." He took another peek at the phone. "How does that even work? Nope. Not gonna happen. Let's keep it with the basics: untangle hair, ponytail, pigtails and a braid. That's where I draw the line."
"I know how to do a braid like that, it's not difficult." Juvia shrugged. "Maybe I can do it and show you how."
"Thank you, but no. She lives with me now and here the only rule is that your hair doesn't smell bad." Gray shrugged. "I am making one hell of a compromise by learning those things and it's fancy enough."
"You are doing great, Gray-sama." Juvia informed him softly. "Others would've been struggling even more with everything, yet, here you are, learning about hair just to please your niece. It's adorable."
Gray actually felt his cheeks burn. "This is me avoiding a useless discussion with a five-year-old everyday about why I can't do her hair. I'm not being adorable."
"Whatever you say, Gray-sama."
Meredy's first days at school proved to be challenging whenever Gray dropped her off: apparently, some children had trouble not to cry when their parents left them and Meredy was one of them.
Gray had to take her inside and hand her to the teacher and even if she cried a little (he found that he hated to leave her crying), he managed to get only fifteen minutes late for work.
The fourth day was the charm; Meredy didn't cry, but he could see her lower lip trembling and Gray kneeled in front of her, giving her backpack and lunchbox. "Do I need to take you to your class?"
She shook her head 'no', bravely. "No. I can go alone. I am a big girl."
His heart broke with her attempt of being strong. "I don't mind taking you, Meredy." She shook her head once more, her pigtails bouncing a bit. "Alright. I'll wait here until I see you get inside, okay? If you change your mind, I'll be here." Meredy hugged her uncle and kissed his cheek. "Have fun and behave. If you can't behave, though, don't get caught." Gray winked, earning a smile from his niece. "Now, go. We will have ice cream later if your teacher tells me you were good today, alright?"
True to his word, Gray waited outside until Meredy was inside – just before she got in, she turned and waved in his direction and he waved right back feeling very proud of her.
Once he got inside the car, his cellphone announced he had a text and he already knew who it was. How was it today? – J
She went in alone and without crying. I promised her ice cream later – Gray
Aren't you a proud uncle ;P – J
Can't help it if my niece is a brave girl that is trying very hard to overcome her fears – Gray
Did you talk with Wendy yet? – J
I did. She'll start next Monday. Thanks for giving the idea. – Gray
Two days earlier Juvia and Gray were talking about how his boss offered him that week to come out of his job early so he could pick up his niece while the situation resolved itself but Gray needed to go back to his usual schedule soon and didn't feel like leaving his niece with just anyone.
Juvia, then, gave Gray the idea of hiring Wendy as Meredy's babysitter. It would work out just fine: the teenager would go from her own school to pick up Meredy, take her home, help with her homework, give the child a snack and then keep a close eye on what she was doing.
Once he propositioned it to Wendy, she agreed quite promptly, telling Gray that she wanted to save some money and the amount he was offering was more than generous, but she needed to talk it over with her mother, Grandine – the woman was happy to let her daughter babysit Meredy and thought it was a nice first job for Wendy, much to Gray's relief.
Did Meredy like that Wendy will be taking care of her every day? – J
At first she was sad I couldn't spend more time with her, but she likes Wendy. It will be fine – Gray
Well, if you need an emergency babysitter, you know where to find me – J
I don't think I'll ever be able to thank you enough for your help and here you are offering more help – Gray
Inviting Juvia to have ice cream with you and Meredy would be thanks enough – J
Gray actually chuckled with her answer. There she was, that was the Juvia he knew. He typed 'Four p.m. at the ice cream shop by the midtown park – Gray' and sent it, receiving an answer just a few seconds later.
It's a date – J
He'd rather not think about how his heart beat a little faster once he read her words.
Meredy spoke quite excitedly about her day at school while the two adults listened and Juvia had to wipe the girl's face three times – Gray had to intervene then, telling his friend that it was easier to just wait for Meredy to be done with her ice cream and clean her face with just one go. "You might be good with how to take care of children, but I have sense."
"I just don't want her to look so dirty." Juvia told him.
Gray scoffed. "Good luck with that. I used to have the ability of getting dirty right after coming out of the shower according to all of my three parents."
"I guess Juvia will have to accept that." She sighed. "She's almost done anyway." Meredy offered the blunette a toothy grin and Juvia smiled back. "You look like a piglet."
Meredy laughed. "I want to be a piglet if they eat ice-cream all day!" Gray chuckled and resumed eating his own ice-cream and he could see that Juvia was holding herself not to clean the child and he wondered why was that.
He had the opportunity half an hour later when the three of them were walking down the park until Meredy asked to go to the playground for a little while and the couple sat down on a bench, watching the girl.
"What's with you and cleaning children all the time?" Gray wondered, eyeing Juvia for a moment and he saw her body tense a bit. He frowned in confusion. "Wow. Sorry. I didn't know it was a touchy subject."
"It's not." Juvia sighed and relaxed a bit. "It just brings memories." She stopped looking to Meredy and gazed to the man by her side. "Juvia was raised in foster care, that's how she met Gajeel-kun. We were eight." Gray nodded; he knew that bit. When she and her scary looking friend joined Fairy Tail, he wondered what their relationship was until they made pretty clear that they were only foster siblings. Any doubt about it was easily clarified when Juvia cleared tried her best to get Gray's attention and Gajeel became involved with another member of the club, Levy McGarden, whom was now expecting a baby to be delivered in the next week. "When we were fifteen, we managed to stay at the same house until we were of age and Juvia was in charge of the younger ones. I had to feed them, help with their homework, send them to school and keep them clean.
"Our foster parents were good enough, they just didn't have the time to spend with us; the only punishments were time-outs and to not watch TV for a certain time, but Juvia had heard so many awful stories about foster homes that she got a little obsessed with making everything perfect to not be sent away to the bad houses." The blunette explained. "I thought I got it under control after we left foster care. Gajeel-kun made sure of it: I used to almost drag him to the shower every time he got home." Juvia chuckled and Gray followed, because he could almost see the annoyed expression on their friend's face, after all, as a mechanic, Gajeel was more dirty than not.
"I understand now." Gray told her, his gaze returning to his niece, who seemed to have found a few playmates. "It makes sense that you were a clean freak. That time I went to your apartment, it was everything so neat. Plus, Meredy's closet when you were done with it, was very well organized."
"Juvia is not a clean freak!" The woman said slightly offended and Gray grinned when Meredy came running towards them.
"Gray! Juvia! I want to go to the swing, come on! Who's gonna push me?" She was excited and Gray was about to get up from the bench to help his niece when his phone started ringing. Meredy grabbed his hand and pulled him up, making Gray fail to see who the caller was.
"Gray?" The man froze in place. "It's Lyon. Sorry I missed your calls, the radio was down and I just got the messages you left that you wanted to talk to me."
"Lyon." Gray turned around and when his eyes met Juvia's, she immediately knew what to do.
"Meredy, sweetheart, I'll go to the swing with you. Gray-sama needs a moment on the phone." The blunette whispered to the girl who nodded in excitement, unable to read the heavy atmosphere. Juvia shoot him a worried look, but Gray's attention had returned to the phone call.
"I…" He gulped. "There's a reason I called you so many times."
"What is it?" Lyon asked and when Gray didn't answer, his tone changed from curiosity to concern. "Gray. Tell me."
"I have some bad news, Lyon."
Returning home was a bit of a challenge to Gray; he was hurting inside once more after telling his brother about Ultear's passing and even so, he couldn't show it because Meredy would be worried.
He could see Juvia's car following his and the rational part of him was annoyed that she thought he couldn't handle himself, but at the same time he was relieved that he would have someone to talk to about Lyon and not be alone for a little while.
Once they were home, Gray told Meredy to play with her dolls for a bit while he heated their dinner and talked to Juvia. The girl agreed and when she disappeared upstairs, Gray let out a heavy sigh and felt Juvia step closer to him without saying a word.
"He thought I was pulling a prank at first." Gray told her with a whisper after some time. "He couldn't believe it, and once he did…" He gulped. "I only witnessed Lyon crying a couple of times; he's one of the toughest guys I know." Juvia rested her head on his shoulder and grabbed his hand, comforting Gray better than if she had said something. "He's coming here in three days, it's the earlier he can get here."
"I'm sorry." The blunette said quietly.
"Not your fault." Gray shrugged and Juvia mistook his action and tensed before stepping away from him, but when she was about to pull her hand away from his, Gray didn't let her. "Don't." When she frowned, he cleared his throat, finding the next words hard to utter. "I…" He breathed. "I don't want to be alone right now."
Juvia's stance changed in a second from tense to relaxed and Gray could see her smile softly before stepping close once more, their hands still intertwined. "Then you won't be alone." She tightened her grip on his hand. "Juvia will stay here as long as you want her to."
"Thank you." He said honestly and Juvia nodded; they stayed in silence for a few minutes before Gray mumbled something about heating their dinner and the blunette went upstairs to coax Meredy to wash her hands.
After dinner, Gray took her niece to take a bath while Juvia did the dishes (she insisted and Gray reluctantly agreed). After Meredy went down the stairs to kiss the woman good-night while her uncle took off all her stuffed animals off the bed, Juvia sat down on the couch, waiting for Gray to put his niece to sleep.
Twenty minutes later he joined her on the couch and Juvia smiled when he sat by her side. "Wanna watch a movie?" Gray asked; clearly not ready to be alone just yet.
"Sure." Juvia nodded and Gray started to look the schedule of some channels until he found one that he thought it was interesting enough, receiving a nod of approval from Juvia.
In all honesty, Gray didn't pay much attention to the plot, more focused in thinking about his behavior for the past two weeks. He was never so needy as he had been and it bothered the hell of off him. Even when Ur passed, he hadn't been in such a need of physical comfort from others, yet, there he was, 'watching' a movie with Juvia just because he hated to think about being alone at the moment.
Usually, his first instinct was to be alone, to deal with his emotions by himself and this new way of dealing with grief bothered him a lot. What the hell happened to him?
He only noticed that the movie ended when Juvia stirred by his side, snapping him out of his deep thoughts. He looked in Juvia's direction and caught her yawning, so Gray turned the TV off and got up from the couch, stretching his arms and Juvia did the same.
"Thank you for staying." Gray mumbled when he saw the blunette reach for her purse.
"As long as you want me here, remember?" She answered softly. "Go to bed, Gray-sama. You need to rest. If you need anything, Juvia is just a phone call away."
The man nodded and followed her to the front door. "Text me when you get home so I know you got there without problem."
Juvia nodded and kissed his cheek. "Good night, Gray-sama." She turned and started to walk towards her car.
"Good night, Juvia." He whispered and watched as she drove away.
Just got home. - J
Gray read the text and gripped his phone tight. He should've asked her to stay longer with him, as ridiculous as it sounded, he was feeling rather lonely; during the first days after Ultear died, Juvia had been there to support him and the fact that he was about to watch his brother go through it all made him feel like he shouldn't be alone to not drive himself crazy with overthinking.
Good. How was the ride? - Gray
The answer didn't take too long. It's is a 15 minutes drive, Gray-sama. It was pretty boring. - J
A lot can happen in fifteen minutes. – Gray. He answered, thinking about Ultear's car accident: it only needed a few seconds for her to lose control of her car.
Juvia's answer took longer to arrive and Gray assumed she wouldn't answer him anymore when his phone beeped again.
That is true. - J
Do you want me to call you or should we just keep texting? - J
What do you mean? - Gray
I think you don't want to sleep just yet and you want some distraction. - J
Gray groaned once he read the text; why could she read him so well?
If you want a distraction... What are you wearing? ;) - J
He couldn't help but to stare at the screen completely dumbstruck before laughing. He should've seen that one coming.
We are not doing this. - Gray
Oh, come on, Gray-sama. Juvia can keep your mind off things if she tells you what she's wearing. Or not wearing. - J
I know what you are wearing, Juvia. I saw you twenty minutes ago. - Gray
Actually, Juvia is going to take a shower right now... - J
Gray groaned with the thought of her slowly taking off her clothes to go take a shower and for a moment, he imagined himself stepping in the shower with her and...
Whoah. Hold it there, amigo.
Shaking his head, Gray typed his answer: This conversation is not gonna happen. - Gray
Your loss. Juvia could send you a picture... - J
Okay, I'm going to turn off my phone now and go to sleep. - Gray
Good night, Gray-sama. - J
Thank you for distracting me. - Gray
Anytime. ;) - J
Gray put his phone on his nightstand and went to sleep, knowing full well that his dreams would be filled with a certain blue haired woman instead of nightmares about meeting his brother.
Three days later, Gray went to get his brother from the airport - without Meredy, who stayed home with Juvia to avoid any dramatics with Lyon's reaction about Ultear - and once he saw the mop of white hair sticking out from the crowd, Gray sighed, bracing himself to what was to come.
Lyon looked as if he hadn't slept in days with those bags under his eyes, messy hair and ruffled clothes. Once Lyon found Gray between the people waiting, Gray could see his shoulders drop in defeat.
Gray stepped closer to his brother wordlessly and the other man did the same, both meeting half-way.
Without saying a word, Lyon dropped his duffel bag on the floor, and before Gray could notice, they were hugging and for once, Gray wasn't against the contact and they stayed a minute that way, consoling each other.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there." Lyon said, still embracing the younger man.
"I know." Gray answered. "I'm sorry you weren't there too." Lyon sniffled and stepped back. "It was a nice service." Gray said and then shrugged. "I mean, I guess it was, I can't really remember much, just Meredy in my arms and Juvia helping a lot."
Lyon nodded and for the first time in forever, he didn't start swooning over Juvia's name.. "I understand. I am not sure how I got in the first plane I took yesterday either; I was still numb."
"Come on." Gray slapped his brother on the back. "I'll take you to my place so you can rest."
"How about we get wasted instead?" Lyon wondered.
"I thought you would never ask."
Arriving home slightly drunk and helping his very much drunk brother proved to be quite a challenge to Gray, but he was still sober enough to tell the taxi driver his address and to pull Lyon inside the house.
"I mean, how anyone knows a female penguin? It's not like they wear bows or skirts!" Lyon exclaimed as they stepped inside the house and Gray rolled his eyes.
"Shut up, idiot. They are asleep." Gray tried, but Lyon only laughed as the younger man tried to drag his brother towards the stairs..
"Gray-sama?" He heard Juvia's voice coming from the living room and both men turned to see her; she had been obviously asleep before they arrived, as her face was still sleepy and her clothes were wrinkled - Gray didn't miss the fact that she seemed to be wearing a pair of his thick socks - and he felt guilty for coming back at that hour and a little buzzed.
"Sorry, I..." Gray tried, but Lyon interrupted by yelling gleefully.
"Juvia!" He managed to somehow get free of Gray's grip and the next thing everyone knew, Lyon had the blunette on a tight hug.
Juvia's shock was short lived; she pushed the white haired man slightly. "Hello, Lyon-sama."
"Hi!" Lyon smiled goofily and then ducked in and gave her a big sloppy kiss on her cheek. "Damn, I missed. Just a bit to the side..."
Noticing his brother's intent to give Juvia a kiss on the mouth, Gray stepped in between the two of them and pushed Lyon away: he was not kissing Juvia in front of Gray. Actually, he was not kissing Juvia period. "Okay, let's put you to bed."
"Don't wanna." Lyon whined and tried to squirm away from his brother's grip, but Juvia put a hand on his shoulder.
"Come on, Lyon-sama." The blunette said kindly. "Juvia will help."
The white haired man stopped to try to run from Gray and offered Juvia the stupidest, drunkest grin. "Whatever you want me to do, beautiful." Juvia giggled and stepped in to help, but Gray just gritted his teeth with the interaction. Lyon was pushing his luck: that drunken flirtation had to go.
"I thought you would be asleep by now." Gray told Juvia while they helped Lyon up the stairs - as said man decided to sing his favorite soccer team song. Gray had texted Juvia earlier, telling about his intention to have a drink with his brother and asking if she could stay with Meredy for a few hours. The answer was immediate; she told him not to worry, that she would love to stay with the little girl as long as necessary.
"Juvia was." The blunette answered. "She was on the couch."
"What?" Gray asked in disbelief.
"She said she was on the couch." Lyon told his brother in a slur and then turned to the woman on his other side. "And he says I'm the drunk one!" Juvia smiled widely at that and Gray groaned.
"Go sing a song or whatever, moron." Gray said to Lyon and then turned his attention to Juvia as they reached the top of the stairs. "Why on the couch?"
"Juvia figured Lyon-sama would take the guest room." The woman shrugged. "Where else would Juvia fall asleep?"
"No bed for Juvia-chan? I offer myself as tribute! Sleep with me!" Lyon exclaimed as if it was the best idea in the world and Juvia giggled while Gray rolled his eyes. They finally had reached the guest room and Gray reached for the doorknob, opening the door.
"Really, Juvia, you think I'd let you sleep on the couch?" Gray asked and the woman just shrugged. He decided to talk about it later, since they had finally reached the bed. He signalized Juvia, who moved Lyon's arm from around her shoulders. Gray, then, helped the older man to the bed, to what Lyon just fell on his back with an oof. "There you go."
"You could've been gentler." Lyon pouted, his eyes closing.
"I could've also had left you at the bar," Gray turned away from Lyon just to reach for the man's feet to take off his shoes "but as a good brother, I decided to drag your sorry ass back to my house and not let you sleep with the hobos-what are you doing?" Gray asked in disbelief, as he had turned around just to see Lyon's shirt unbuttoned and Juvia undoing his pants.
What the damn hell?
The woman jumped with his sudden outburst. "We can't let him sleep in these clothes."
"Yes we can. He should be grateful I didn't leave him there." Gray let go of Lyon's foot and turned towards the woman, reaching for her hands, taking them away from his brother's pants. "You don't go taking a man's clothes like that, Juvia!" He hissed, feeling something very akin to jealousy and irritation boiling in his stomach; why couldn't she be freaking normal? "If he saw you do that, it would fuel his dirty dreams for the rest of his life!"
"He's passed out, Gray-sama." Juvia said in disbelief. "Juvia hardly thinks he will remember this."
"You seriously underestimate a man's imagination." He mumbled. "Just..." Gray sighed and waved towards the door. "Let's go to my room. I don't want to wake up the idiot while we are discussing you taking off his pants. We would never hear the end of it. Plus, his bag is at my car, which is at the bar alongside with the keys. We don't have anything to change him to."
Juvia nodded while walking out the room. "I don't know why you are so bothered, Gray-sama. Juvia has seen men in their underwear before. You included."
The man groaned, feeling a migraine arriving. Goddamn, why was his life so complicated? Why couldn't Lyon had fallen over heels for someone else other than his brother's... Juvia? Damn it, not even Gray knew what was the best word to call the woman: she was not just a friend, she was not his girlfriend; yet, somehow, she fit in both categories with them never doing anything like kissing before to put her under the 'girlfriend' category, and with his very awkward day dreaming about doing some very M-rated things to her, it was difficult for her to be 'just a friend'.
Plus the fact that he never made a real move to get her (the almost kiss after the funeral didn't count), but also didn't want anyone else to have her.
Oh, and of course that his father hooted for them to get together, his niece loved her and his late sister plus his brother were also big Juvia fans (Lyon was a bit too much of a fan) and their friends were virtually the same so it wasn't as if he could run away from her.
His life tired him.
Once they were inside his room, Gray closed the door and pulled his shirt away from his body, suddenly wanting to take a shower and to sleep for two years.
Juvia was standing in the middle of the bedroom, staring at him as if she wanted him to keep talking, but he talked too much with his brother that day while drowning his sorrows and his talks with her that evening brought him nothing more than annoyance.
"I'll go take a shower, grab something to wear from my closet. It seems like you already know your way through it." He looked pointedly at her feet, where she wore a pair of his fluffiest socks.
Juvia blushed. "Sorry. Juvia's feet got cold when she went to watch TV on the couch and..."
"It's okay. I don't use most of the socks I've got, anyway. At least this pair is of use to someone." Gray shrugged. "Go pick something to sleep in." He waved towards the general direction of where he kept his clothes.
"Why?" Juvia frowned and Gray frowned right back.
"To sleep." He said as if she was stupid.
"Juvia can go home, Gray-sama." The woman said. "It's a short ride."
"I am not letting you drive half asleep and in the middle of the night." Gray replied with a pointed look that he was not getting a 'no' as an answer. "You are not going to sleep on the couch and surely not with Lyon, no matter how many times he yells he offers himself as tribute." Gray said, annoyed and Juvia giggled, loosing the knot in his stomach a bit.
"He is... very entertaining."
"That's one way of putting it." Gray smiled and went to the bathroom to take his shower, feeling better already.
The whispered words woke him and even though Gray tried to chase back his sleep - after all, he was wonderfully warm, with his face hidden on something that smelled spectacular, and he seemed to be hugging the softest pillow. So, he'd rather stay just like that instead of awake.
"Can I sleep here?" Gray heard his niece's voice and he was about to answer when his pillow talked and strangely enough, it sounded like Juvia.
"Of course, sweetheart."
Gray froze and opened his eyes, just to be greeted by a bunch of blue hair, where, apparently, he had been burying his face. Also, it seemed that he was wonderfully warm because he was sharing body heat underneath the covers with someone else and that someone else was his friend, Juvia Lockser. And, instead of hugging a pillow like he thought at first, Gray had his arms around the blunette: one underneath her head and the other arm was possessively over her waist (he also noticed that his hand found its way to underneath of the shirt she wore and rested on her naked stomach).
The other times they shared a bed after Ultear's funeral, each had their own blanket and there was absolutely no touching and Gray certainly didn't cuddle her during the night nor he groped her!
That's it: he was never drinking again.
He felt the bed move and he closed his eyes one again, not wanting to deal with his niece or Juvia at the moment.
"Can I sleep in the middle?" Meredy asked with a whisper.
Juvia was in silence for a moment. "Your uncle is asleep and if we move, he can wake up. How about you sleep here with me instead?" The woman asked quietly and Gray could feel her move a bit. "You sleep with your Gray every night."
"I never slept with my Juvia before." Meredy said and Gray couldn't help but to feel his heart beat a tad faster with how natural it all felt, to have her in his arms, the girl using the same 'My' treatment with Juvia she used with him and with Meredy joining them on the bed.
"Come on, then, sweetheart." Juvia said and Gray could almost hear the smile in her voice.
Gray felt Meredy move around until she was in her preferred position and when he opened his eyes, he saw the girl put an arm around Juvia's neck and reach for her hair (if the woman was uncomfortable with both him and Meredy using her as their personal pillow, she didn't show).
"Why are you sleeping here with My Gray?" Meredy asked after a moment and by the way her voice was muffled, Gray assumed the girl had buried her face on Juvia's neck.
"Because he asked me to."
"Oh." Meredy stayed in silence for a few seconds. "Like back in my other house?"
"Yes." Juvia answered and Gray bit his lip – he thought the little girl didn't know they shared a bed back then or that she didn't care.
"Is he sad? He was sad when we were there."
"A little bit, honey." Juvia whispered. "Your Uncle Lyon arrived today and your Uncle Gray had to tell him all about what happened to your Mom. But I bet that once both of them see you in the morning and if you give them a tight hug and a big kiss, they will be feeling a lot better."
"Really?" Meredy asked in wonder.
"Of course." Juvia laughed quietly. "Do you know when you had a bruise, so your mother kissed it and you felt better?" Gray assumed his niece nodded. "That's because kisses have magical powers when you love someone a lot." Juvia said. "And since I know you love both of your uncles, when you kiss them tomorrow, the magic's gonna work."
"I'll try the magic tomorrow, Juvia!" Meredy said loudly.
"Shhh." Juvia giggled. "If you wake your uncle up there won't be magic to cure his crankiness." The little girl laughed and Gray couldn't help but to smile at the sound of the girls on his bed. "Now, close your eyes and go to sleep, sweetheart."
A few moments of silence and then Meredy's sleepy voice echoed once again: "Sing a song?"
"Alright." Juvia answered and then she started to hum a soft tune and if Gray had to guess, she was mostly like caressing Meredy's hair or back to urge the girl to sleep.
Gray could feel sleep sneaking in once again as her soft voice coaxed him to try to get as closer to her as he could by tightening of his arm on her waist and his hand wondered up until he rested it between her breasts - and even though it could be seen as something sexual, Gray wasn't feeling that way that moment; all he wanted was to feel her heartbeat underneath his fingertips (she stiffened for a bit when she felt his hand and her heart raced, much to his delight, but when he didn't move it further, she relaxed in his arms once again) because that ridiculous amazing woman was so unique that he just wanted to make sure she was there, because really, who would have stayed around his cranky ass all this time without giving up? The same person who comes from god-knows-where on a Sunday to teach him how to braid hair just because a five-year-old called.
Oh, and of course she would tell his niece about magical kisses that could heal wounds with love at 3:46 in the morning so the girl could make him and Lyon feel better about the whole situation the next day.
Stupid special woman.
Juvia was making very hard not to have strong feelings for her. Very, very hard.
When a tiny voice inside his head whispered "too late", Gray's response was to focus on the heartbeat underneath his hand and the soft tune, welcoming sleep like never before.
The second time he woke up, Gray was alone in his bed and he felt kind of sad with the lack of Juvia and Meredy there.
He groaned in annoyance and hid his face on the pillow, which was a mistake because it had Juvia's smell all over it and he breathed in the scent. "Fuck." He whispered. "I'm turning into such a girl. I can even braid hair now. It serves me right."
Gray got up from the bed and searched for his pants, since he slept only in his underwear, and once he had it on, he decided to go downstairs to see what his guests and niece were up to (hopefully Lyon would still be asleep and not making a fool of himself without Gray to try to minimize the damage).
Once he was downstairs, Gray heard the TV on in the living room and by the way the voices were high-pitched, he assumed his niece was watching cartoons. Hearing a noise coming from the kitchen, Gray yawned and walked there only to stop on his tracks with the sight that waited for him.
Juvia was wearing one of his dress shirts that were long enough to reach the middle of her thighs normally, but not when she was trying to reach a high shelf at his kitchen.
Suddenly the room seemed hotter and all the things he failed to notice while his mind was fogged with sleep, the very intimate way he held her that night, was suddenly washing over him: her heartbeat getting faster as his hand caressed its way up to between the valley of her breasts, her skin warm and soft; plus the way her bottom fit perfectly on his groin.
And apparently, wearing one of his boxers that night wouldn't do, because she clearly foregone them as he could clearly see her lacy fancy and very tasteful white underwear.
Gray, since he was a man with blood in his veins, took a few seconds to watch the scene in front of him before clearing his throat. "Good morning."
Juvia looked over her shoulder with a grin. "Good morning, Gray-sama!"
"What do you want from that shelf?" He stepped closer to where she stood.
"The blender." She said and Gray stood behind her to get it and once he did, he gave it to her. "Anything else?"
"No, thank you." Juvia grinned and he realized how close they stood and during the day he wasn't ready to have her so close because of all the implications the action would have, especially after the night before.
Gray cleared his throat and took a step behind. "You should change. Lyon will be up soon and I'd rather not give him anymore ammo for his craziness."
Juvia nodded and asked him to look the eggs before going up to his room to change and when she returned already dressed with her own clothes, Gray had already put the eggs on the plates and was reaching for the orange juice.
"Will we wait for Lyon-sama?"
Gray snorted. "He will be so hangover today that I highly doubt he will eat."
She shrugged and went to fetch Meredy, who ran towards her uncle in her pink with colorful stars pj's and Mrs. Chocolate Rainbow in hands and Gray scooped her from the ground. "Good morning." He said to the girl.
"Good morning." Meredy threw her arms around him in a hug and then gave him a sound kiss on his cheek. She looked so hopeful about her 'magical kiss' that he couldn't bring himself to disappoint her.
"How did you know that I need a hug and a kiss this morning?" Gray asked with fake surprise and awe. "I feel great now!" His answer made Meredy look over her shoulder with a grin.
"It works!" The girl exclaimed.
"Yeah..." Juvia smiled and then stared at Gray with a frown while the man pretended he didn't notice and paid attention to his niece.
Gray knew that Juvia was thinking how he knew exactly what to say and do when Meredy kissed him. He could see the moment she thought about him being awake during her talk with the girl because she turned an interesting shade of red, before shaking her head in a dismissive way, after all, Gray wouldn't do what he had done unless he was fast asleep.
If only she knew.
"Argh, who turned on the Sun and who thought food in the morning was a good idea?" Lyon mumbled as soon as he stepped inside the kitchen looking like hell while Gray and Juvia did the dishes. "Good morning, Juvia-chan. I know that there's a line about you shining brighter than the Sun this morning somewhere in my brain, but my head is killing me." Lyon sighed.
"Message received either way, Lyon-sama." Juvia chuckled and stepped closer to the man. "Juvia saw you yesterday, but you were pretty out of it, but it's nice seeing you."
"You too." Lyon said softly and Gray watched as she reached the white haired man and hugged him. Lyon looked surprised for a moment and even Gray didn't see it coming.
"I'm sorry for your loss." The blunette whispered and Gray saw his brother relax in the woman's embrace before hugging her back.
"Thank you for being there when I couldn't." Lyon said quietly to her and Gray could feel his eyes burn with the emotion he heard from the other man's voice.
"Of course." Juvia kissed his cheek. "If you need anything, anything at all, tell Juvia."
"Well, now that we are at the subject..." Lyon said smugly and suddenly all the emotion of the moment was gone when he pulled her closer to him by the waist and Gray found himself untangling his brother and his... Juvia before he could think about it.
"Meredy, your Uncle Lyon is awake!" Gray yelled, while pushing Juvia behind him and Lyon winced in pain. "She will give you a hug and a kiss; she thinks it's magical to make you feel not sad. Go along with it or I'll kick your ass."
"Magical kisses are very good, or so I've heard but it is for everything else other than hangovers. Can someone please give me some medicine?" Lyon whined when they heard tiny feet hitting the ground. "Unless you want to give one of those magical kisses, Juvia-chan?" He winked but before Gray could say anything else or to punch his brother, their niece came inside shrieking in happiness and the painful look on Lyon's face with the noise was revenge enough for Gray.
"How's your hangover?" Gray asked while he sat on the porch in front of his house where his brother also sat on the steps, looking up to the stars.
"I've been worse." Lyon chuckled and accepted the beer Gray offered. "The best thing to get over a hangover is to keep drinking, huh?"
"Amen to that." Gray chuckled.
"Where's Meredy?" Lyon asked after a moment's silence.
"Fed, bathed and watching Peppa." Gray said after taking a long sip of his beer.
"Peppa?" Lyon asked confused.
"Talking pig, has talking animals as friends. It's pretty ridiculous, but she likes it." He shrugged.
"It's been two weeks and you already know cartoons' names?" Lyon teased.
"I had to watch it one morning; I kept the name to not make the same mistake again." Gray chuckled and Lyon joined him and then they stayed in silence once again.
"You are doing a great job with her, Gray." Lyon said truthfully. "All she talked about today was the things you've done together so far... She is happy."
"I have no idea of what I am doing most of the time and if hadn't been for Juvia, I would have most likely killed her that first week I had her."
"You wouldn't." Lyon chuckled. "Either way, I'm glad she was with you so we didn't' find out how skilled with children you are without supervision." Gray glared at his brother, who just laughed. "What's going on with you two by the way? She sleeps here now?"
"It's complicated." Gray sighed and rested his back on the handrail.
"Every time I come here I ask you if something is happening between you two and you always say 'no'." Lyon said. "If I asked you again, would your answer be the same?"
Gray thought about all that happened ever since he saw his brother last and how he was slowly coming to realize that he needed her more and more each day.
"The answer would be very different." Gray closed his eyes and groaned in annoyance. "Why are we discussing this?"
"Because you are my brother and even though you and I want the same woman, I want you to be happy and I think she's it for you and you are just realizing it." Lyon shrugged and Gray blushed. "I never got a chance, Gray." Lyon said honestly. "I'll try forever because one day the Universe may reward my persistence, but when it comes to love, you two are it." He shrugged. "I wish all the best for both of you, you know?"
"You sound like we are getting married next month, not Natsu and Lucy." Gray mumbled, his cheeks warmer and when Lyon offered his brother a knowing smile, Gray almost chocked on air. "Shut up."
Lyon chuckled and both returned their gazed back to the sky for a few minutes before Lyon broke it. "I'm not returning to the Pole. I'm asking to be put on desk duty, research or whatever."
"What? Why?" Gray asked, more than surprised. "You love your job!"
"And I also lost my sister's funeral. I only knew she was dead two weeks after it happened and if you weren't there, my niece would've stayed in a foster home, alone and scared until someone got hold of me in the Pole." Lyon shrugged. "I don't want to go through this again."
"Lyon, look... We are fine. You can go to your job and..."
"You might be fine, Gray, but I am not." Lyon got up from the steps, startling his brother. "Can't you see that you and Meredy are the only family I have left? You found your dad again, you and Juvia will be popping babies in a couple of years and you have a lot of friends, but I don't have that support. For me it's just you and Meredy." Gray was surprised with his brother's outburst; he had no idea Lyon felt that way. "I want what you have: I want my family, friends and a woman to love because trust me, there's not much action back on the Pole: most scientists are men and the women are married and not willing to cheat on their husbands. And I even met a woman who was also looking for a woman, so the competition is pretty tough." Gray snorted and Lyon relaxed his body and sat once more. "I need to grow some roots and I thought about moving here, but you and me on the same town for more than a few days? The world doesn't need another war." Gray chuckled and Lyon grinned. "I think that a two hour drive between us is good enough, right?"
"It'll do." Gray nodded. "You can come visit us." He frowned as some sort of an irrational fear dawned him. "Unless... Unless you want custody of Meredy?"
Lyon got wide eyed. "No. God, no. She would get even more confused than she is right now if she moved again! Plus, you've got this. You can be the parent and I'll be the cool uncle and when she's old enough she can go spend weekends and vacations with me." Lyon said and Gray nodded, feeling relieved beyond words that his brother didn't want custody of their niece and he felt weird it out by it. "We can work something out in the future, when I have a house and she wants to visit me."
"Alright, then. You know you can stay here until you get on your feet, right?" Gray asked.
"Thanks, bro." Lyon raised his beer as a salute. "But I'll stay for a couple of days more and then go move on with my life; the sooner I start, the sooner I get settled into it."
"I'll drink to that." Gray raised his own beer and both took a large sip.
"Gray?" Lyon asked after a moment.
"Was it my imagination or last night Juvia had her hands on my pants?"
Gray shrugged. "I have no idea of what you are talking about."