Episode One: A Strange Request
Against any attempt she made to hold it back, Lucy felt a wide smile grace her lips. What brought it on, she wasn't sure. Given her present situation, it could have been several different factors. Maybe the rays of sunlight warming her skin? Or the faint sound of laughter in the distance? Or even the simple, peaceful feeling days like this always caused? After so long, she simply gave up trying to guess.
As long as she was smiling, why did the reason even matter?
"Miss Lucy, aren't you afraid you'll fall up there?"
In response to the softly asked question, Lucy opened her eyes and looked down at Wendy's always cheerful gaze. The small girl, try as she might, was unable to return her gaze. Then again, seeing as she was currently using the guilds roof as an impromptu tanning salon, it wasn't surprising that she couldn't be seen from the ground. Lucy's smile widened to match her friends. "I'll be fine," she answered. "Don't worry, I'll be down in a few minutes."
Wendy's expression saddened, but only for a second. "Okay," the girl said with a smile, "but you really should think about summoning Aries, just in case. You could break something from a fall like that." On her way back around the building, the small girl waved playfully to the person she couldn't see.
Along with Wendy, Lucy knew several other members of the guild were present in the buildings backyard, no doubt using the sunny day as an excuse to get outside. Among the group, she could hear Levy and Wendy laughing hysterically, Gajeel yelling for a reason that was probably related, and Gray (along with a no doubt heart-eyed Juvia) trying to talk over it all. She could also hear Elfman, apparently in an argument with Lisanna over who could pick berries more like a man. It was strange really, even after losing everything they'd worked so hard to build; The pool, the cafe', the gift shop, her friends still managed to have just as much fun, if not more, simply by being together.
'And you wondered why you were smiling,' she thought to herself. 'You idiot.'
When a sudden thought entered her mind, Lucy forced herself to her feet, sighing deeply as she looked to the woman lying beside her. Erza, like herself, was dressed in a simple bikini top and bottom, stretched out on the roof as the sunlight warmed her skin. Even after all this time, Lucy found herself taken aback by the woman's beauty. Flowing scarlet hair, a body most women would kill for, and a constant aura that basically screamed power. It was enough to get even her heart pumping, and for that she couldn't help but be a little envious. Still, she put such thoughts behind her, hiding them under her smile as she leaned down next to the red-haired woman.
"I haven't seen Natsu or Happy in a while. Did they go home already?"
Keeping her eyes closed, Erza calmly shook her head. "They've been glued to the request board all day, I'd check there."
A quick thanks, and Lucy was off towards the ladder. Just as Erza had said, she found both Natsu and Happy by the request board. Neither noticed her approach, that is, until she announced herself with a soft clear of her throat. "Honestly, you two are relentless. Come up and relax with Erza and me. Everyone knows there hasn't been a decent job on that board in weeks."
"I'm tired of sitting around," Natsu said stubbornly, never once taking his eyes off the board.
"Aye," Happy agreed, "besides, Lucy, shouldn't you be starting to worry about your rent pretty soon?"
Opening her mouth for a quick-witted reply, Lucy instead fell into an instant gloom when her mind drew a blank. Sheepishly pushing her fingers together, she inched beside Natsu to look over the board herself. "I...I've been trying not to think about it. I figured a good job would turn up eventually."
With a deep sigh, Natsu fell into the bench a few steps behind him. "Yeah, well it's not looking good. Everything available is just simple jobs around town, you'd have to do a dozen to even come close to a decent reward."
"Looks like its life on the street for you, Lucy." Happy said as he landed on the girl's head. "Don't worry, you can stay with us until you find another place."
Lucy's heartbeat increased dramatically. "Me!? In that rundown shack you two call a house!" All but slamming her face into the request board, she began to hastily skim through each and every piece of parchment in front of her. "Over my dead body! I'll do every job here if I have to! The jewels will add up eventually!"
Her frantic search went on for several minutes, after which, Natsu smashed his fist into the request board, missing Lucy's face by only a few inches. "Man, this is so frustrating!" The man bellowed, his voice more reminiscent of a child than someone his own age. "Cleaning houses! Fixing bridges! How am I supposed to get any stronger doing these kind of jobs!?" When silence was the only response to his outrage, the angered man turned on his heel and started down the guildhall. "That's it! I'm challenging Erza again!"
"No!" Happy screamed in protest, pulling on the man's scarf with all his might. "Throwing your life away won't help you get any stronger! Remember what happened the last time you two fought!?"
Lucy barely heard any of the commotion, focused entirely on the now cracked board ahead of her. "I won't live there. I can't. Virgo would collapse from exhaustion before the place was even remotely livable! There has to be a decent job available!"
"You know, there is one more job I can let you look at." Mirajane's soft toned voice turned all three heads. Lucy pulled her eyes off the request board, Natsu stopped suddenly in his tracks, and Happy, who still had a solid grip on the man's scarf, flew directly into his back with a solid thud. A second later, all three of them were seated directly across from the smiling girl, who'd been silently wiping off the counter for the past few minutes.
"A new job?" Lucy asked hesitantly, "you mean there's one that's not on the request board?"
Mirajane's smile widened as she nodded her head. "Yep, one came in just this morning. Not even the Master has seen it yet."
"Alright, lets see it!" Natsu said with two eagerly clenched fists.
With another wide smile, Mirajane leaned under the counter. A single piece of parchment was placed in front of her, which Natsu, Happy, and Lucy all proceeded to look over while she went back to work. The parchment read: 'Request for capable wizard to solve an incident in the town of Soveria. Payment of 5,000,000 Jewels will be paid up front, expenses included. Additional 2,000,000 when the job is complete.'
"Soveria, that's not far from here," Lucy said, thinking aloud. "But the wording is so strange. I don't quite understand what the job is for, it doesn't even say who in town sent the request."
"Who cares!?" Natsu yelled excitedly, nearly knocking the girl from her seat with the volume of his voice. "Look at that reward! This job has to be dangerous if someone's willing to pay that much!" Without even a second spent in thought, the passionate man slammed the request back down on the counter. "We'll take it!"
"No can do," Mirajane answered with a smile.
After a short silence, all three wizards fell from their seats in unison. From her spot on the floor, Lucy did her best to shove Natsu's body off her own. "What do you mean? Why let us look at the request if we can't take it?"
"I can't let you accept this job," came Mirajane's response, "not yet, anyway. A request like this has to be reviewed by the Master before anyone can claim it. Even then, one this mysterious will probably be bumped up to S-class."
Back on his feet, Natsu slumped over in a fit of depression. "Aw, come on. This is the only interesting job in weeks, you have to let us take it."
Mirajane shook her head sternly. "Sorry, Natsu. It's just not my decision to make."
Lucy finally pulled herself off the floor, placing a still dazed Happy on the counter as she sat back down. As calmly as she could, she racked her mind for a way to get the job request away from Mirajane. The girl was far smarter than her looks suggested, she wasn't just going to hand over the request willingly. However, if she'd learned anything in her time at Fairy Tail, it was that everyone in the guild had a weakness.
"Oh! Mirajane, I almost forgot to tell you!" The high pitch of Lucy's voice instantly gained Mirajane's attention. In one fluid motion, Lucy wrapped a hand around Natsu's waist, pulling the man in close as she aimed her smile across the corner. "Natsu finally asked me out! We're going on our first date tomorrow!"
The lie tugged at her stomach, especially when it brought such a wide smile to Mirajane's lips. "Really!? Oh, I knew it was only a matter of time!" The girl said, happily clapping her hands together. "Oh my!" Disappearing under the counter, Mirajane reappeared with a number of thick magazines held against her chest. "You said tomorrow? That only gives us today to pick out your dress. I think I have more magazines upstairs. Wait right here! Oh, this is so exciting!"
Lucy didn't waste any time. The second Mirajane was out of sight, she grabbed the job request and, dragging a confused Natsu behind her, made a mad dash for the main entrance.
Magnolia Train Station
Lucy clutched to the job request like her soul was attached to it. The piece of parchment was held hard against her chest, out of sight from anyone who passed as she sat, rather impatiently, on a bench along the stations back wall. The sun had just started to set in the distance, and a slight evening breeze made her hair stand on end. Yet, no matter how cold she was, all her body could focus on was Mirajane. The smile her lie had brought to the girl's face, that image wouldn't be leaving her mind anytime soon. She'd have to think of a way to make up for tricking her, maybe bring her back a souvenir from Soveria?.
"Hey, Lucy, you alright?" Natsu's voice brought her thoughts back into the present. The man had been sitting silently beside her until this point, a simple travel bag slung over his shoulder. They'd known each other for so long, she couldn't even think about hiding her true emotions.
"Do you think Mirajane will be mad?" She asked, pulling her legs up to her chest. "I've never lied to anyone in the guild like that before, I hope she can still trust me."
A short silence followed before Natsu answered her, a loud fit of laughter his chosen response. The act turned more than a few heads walking the station, but the man didn't seem to notice. "Ha! You're kidding, right!? That's—" The man looked down as he spoke, his facial expression instantly softening when he noticed the depressed look on her face. When he spoke again, his voice was noticeably more serious, and his gaze was kept straight ahead. "Mirajane isn't the type to hold a grudge, you know that. Don't let it bother you, we'll make it up to her somehow."
"I can't believe Lucy's plan actually worked," Happy said from his spot between the two.
Despite the hollow feeling still plaguing her chest, Lucy couldn't help but chuckle. "Your faith in me is so reassuring, Happy. Even if you can't believe it, I happened to know without a doubt that Mirajane would believe me."
"Really, why's that?" Natsu asked earnestly.
Looking upwards, Lucy used the light of the sunset to block the blush on her face. The whistle of their train was sounding in the distance, so she kept her explanation short. "A while ago, when you wanted to use Virgo to dig up those pictures, Mirajane had me convinced you were in love with me."
Happy burst into laughter at her comment, once again drawing attention to their bench, but Natsu simply nodded his understanding as he stood up. "Oh, so that's why you were acting so weird."
Their train pulled into the station with a long screech, forcing both Lucy and Happy (who had barely pulled himself together) to their feet alongside Natsu. Allowing the man to lead the way into the trains first car, Lucy's solid frown was finally replaced with a thin smile. "That was so long ago now, I thought for sure you wouldn't remember it."
"No way," Natsu said, a tad defensively. A short walk into the train, and the man sat down in the first row of empty seats he could find, waiting until his friends had done the same before he spoke again. "I knew something was wrong when you showed up at the tree in that black dress. It just seemed kinda...random, ya know."
Their was no hiding her blush now, so Lucy simply switched her gaze out the window. "You...you remembered what I was wearing. You know, Natsu, sometimes you—" A sickening sound cut her sentence short, she didn't need to look to know Natsu was now out of commission beside her.
"What were you going to say?" Happy asked as the train started to move.
Lucy looked back and forth between the curiosity-filled cat and Natsu's nearly unconscious form. "It's not important," she said simply after a short silence. Happy shrugged the conversation away, too busy airing off his sick friend to pry any further.
A short sigh, and Lucy looked back out the window. An endless sea of trees was just visible through the darkness, shining only because of the star filled sky that formed from above. It was a beautiful sight, yet her mind still refused to focus on it entirely. Mirajane had finally left her thoughts, she had Natsu to thank for that, but something still felt...wrong. When the feeling refused to leave her, she found herself studying their job request relentlessly. Upon a closer inspection, the lack of information was enough to send a cold chill down her spine. Only the towns name, Soveria, was given. That left the requests source, exact location, and even the job itself up to question.
"Happy," she said to gain the cats attention, "when we get to Soveria, keep your eyes pealed, okay."
Half asleep himself, Happy pulled himself off of Natsu's head as he spoke. "Peal my eyes, that sounds painful."
"It means to look out for anything suspicious," Lucy said, a tad annoyed at the cats simple minded way of thinking. "I've never seen a job request leave out this much information before. With how much whoever made the request is willing to pay, you'd think they'd want the wizards to know what they're in for." Light snoring was the only response she received. Both Happy and Natsu had fallen asleep beside her, the latter using her shoulder to rest his head. Knowing Soveria was still a good hour or two away, Lucy pulled a small blanket from Natsu's bag, covering all three of them before she too closed her eyes, just for a minute.