Catch the Thunder

BY : Rhov
Category: +. to F > Fairy Tail
Dragon prints: 14118
Disclaimer: Fairy Tail is the property of Hiro Mashima. I make no money, I just do this for my own pleasure.

Chapter 23

To Guys

 

 

Loke dropped a heavy box and straightened up with a groan as he rubbed out his back.

"Well, this is the last of the stuff," he said.

Freed set a box down beside him. "Thank you so much, Loke."

"It's no problem," he smiled at the green-haired man. "Although I don't get why you'd take all of this out of storage now. It's not like you can't afford the monthly fees, and this new apartment was really clean. It's like moving in all over again, except without the professional movers."

"Yeah, I … I couldn't use them," Freed muttered, looking around at the mounds of boxes. "If my father checked my credit account and saw that I hired movers again, he'd ask."

"So? Tell him you were moving Laxus' stuff in."

Freed glanced down at his ring. "I … can't. I can't mention Laxus, not to my father."

"I see," Loke said awkwardly. "Daddy disapproves, huh?"

"Daddy actually gave his blessing," Freed smiled, thinking about the key to the playroom that he still had. "What Daddy doesn't know is … is that I'm … um…"

"That you're waiting for him?"

Freed looked up sharply.

"Hey, it's me," Loke said with a friendly smile, holding his arms out nonchalantly. "I've been your roomie for almost four years. I knew right away. I also know the real reason you moved away before finals. Staying in the dorm with me was too much. You lost your V-card on that bed."

Freed blushed. "Shut up. That wasn't the reason, either. I had already signed the lease before Laxus said he was leaving."

"So then it really was all the late nights with chicks and smell of condoms, eh?" Loke laughed.

Freed knew he was joking, so he decided not to tell Loke that all the distractions with Loke's prolific sexual activity really was the reason he moved out early. Then again, knowing Loke, he knew that was the true reason from the very beginning.

Loke went to the kitchen and grabbed two sodas. "Even crammed full of crap, this place is huge. It's big enough for two people." He handed one soda to Freed and straddled the arm of a couch. "Hell, maybe I'll move in, keep you company, liven things up around here."

Freed shuddered. "I don't think so, Loke," he said softly.

The ginger laughed good-heartedly as he cracked open the soda. "Kidding! I need my own place, strike out, build a love-nest for the ladies," he said with a wink. "We're working men now, you and me. Thanks a bunch for getting me that job, too. Sheesh, I was turned down everywhere. A diploma means jack-squat these days."

"I'm glad I could help you out," Freed said, and he took a drink of the soda to cool off the summer sweat.

"Like they say: it's not what you know, it's who you know. Being college roommates with the CEO's son has some perks," Loke grinned. Suddenly, he jolted as he realized what he had just said. He raised his hands up defensively. "Not that I'd abuse that. Hell, I just wanna pay off the student loans. If I can work my way up the corporate ladder, all the best, even if that means leaving you for a competitor one day."

"No company loyalty?" Freed chuckled with a joking scowl.

Loke stood, walked over, and clasped a hand on Freed's shoulder. "I'm loyal to friends, not to corporations. I've got your back, Freed. Being thrust into the role of a junior manager must suck, so if you need time to chill out, forget your duties, I'm always up for a night of drinking and debauchery."

Freed just smiled, which was enough for Loke. He knew that sometimes Freed just did not know what to say, and that was fine.

Loke clicked his soda can against Freed's. "You were a good roomie."

"Yeah, you too."

"We had some wild times in that university, huh?"

Freed hummed in agreement and looked down to his hand. He twisted the ring as he remembered some of those wild times.

Loke eyed that silver band. He noticed it right away, before Freed said he and Laxus had broken up. He had politely kept quiet about it until now. "Is that his ring?"

Freed suddenly hid his hand behind his back.

"I think everyone has seen it. Only the idiots don't realize what it means. You can tell all the lies you need to; I know you're waiting for him, and he gave you that ring, so he's waiting for you." He wrapped a friendly arm around Freed. "That huge lug loves a scrawny wallflower like you. He'll come back some day."

Freed struggled with a smile. He glanced around at the boxes, all of Laxus' stuff, everything that had been in storage. He needed something to keep his mind busy while on these two weeks of holiday, so he had decided to move Laxus' stuff in and sort through it, find places for everything, maybe buy some extra furniture, and decorate his room. Sorting boxes would help to pass these sorrowful days. It hadn't even been two months, but he felt lonely.

Loke pouted at seeing the longing in that sallow face. "Hey!" he shouted. "Come with me. A night of drinking and dancing. I'll introduce you to some friends, just hang out, all guys."

"I … I dunno…"

"Come on! We never had a let's-get-drunk-off-our-asses celebration for both of us getting new jobs. Besides, after moving all this crap, you owe me a beer."

Freed laughed and said, "Fine."

"Awesome. I'll call up some guys. No girls allowed. Hell, maybe you'll even have some fun," he grinned, and Loke whipped out his cellphone. He dialed a number and chatted on the phone. "Natsu? Yo, it's me. Are you free for drinks? Cool, and bring that guy. Yeah, the pub on Main Street, that one with the not-crappy bands. Awesome, see you at seven." He smiled at Freed. "I'll support my new junior manager. Booze and babes! Or booze and brawny boys for you, I guess. A night for just us, celebrate, hang out, be crazy idiots once again. Not like you were ever that way to begin with."

"What do you mean?"

"You were the straight arrow, bullet path to graduation, no detours, no binge drinking, no hookers or strip clubs…"

Freed suddenly choked on his soda.

"No wonder you're the junior manager now. I couldn't corrupt you during college, it wouldn't have been ethical, so maybe that's my duty now. Someone has to show you how to have a good time. Besides, you still owe me a beer!" he pointed out.

Freed laughed while shaking his head and grabbed a light coat. He looked around at the boxes piled around. He could sort through Laxus' stuff another time.

 

 


 

 

 

Freed had to squeeze just to get past the door to the pub. Music blasted, and Loke nodded in approval. Freed wondered if this was his definition of not-crappy bands. The music was so loud Freed's ears hurt, and he felt his heart start to fall in tempo to the thumping bass. He could not understand a single word of the lyrics being shouted into a microphone, and he was pretty certain he was the only person there who realized the guitarist's E-string was out of tune.

 

"Sure is crowded," Freed muttered, feeling out of place at a pub like this.

"Yeah! It's great, ain't it?" Loke shouted over the music. "Hot chicks here. Not like you care, but … haaawt chicks!" He ogled a passing lady in fishnet stockings and a revealing blouse that left little for the imagination. Loke pushed a little further in. "There they are. Yo! Natsu, Gray!"

Freed edged his way over to some stools by the bar and saw two young men, one with pink hair and a scarf despite the summer heat and all these bodies crammed together, the other with black hair and a cold gaze to his gray-blue eyes. Freed instantly recognized the two. Ice Prince and Pinkie!

"Oh my God," he whispered, shaking slightly at the reminder of those days in the South Pole Club.

"Hey, Natsu, you squirmy salamander," Loke greeted, bumping fists with the pink-haired guy.

"Good to see ya, Lion. How's Karen?"

"Karen? Oh! Ugh, God no! She turned out to be a real psycho-bitch. She found out I was cheating on her with … with … crap, I can't remember her name anymore, I just remember that she was an Aries and was a really sweet little heavenly lamb. Too innocent for my tastes. Anyway, Karen found out and went all yandere on her ass, nearly slaughtered her. I broke them apart. Haven't seen that little Aries girl since. Shortly before graduation, I met a really nice cheerleader, cute blonde named Lucy. I've been monogamous almost two whole weeks," he said proudly.

"Wait, Lucy?" asked Natsu. "The Heartfilia girl?"

Freed jolted over. "Did you say Heartfilia?"

"Yeah, you know her?" Loke asked both of them.

Natsu nodded. "We worked together on some projects in literature class. She's a brilliant writer."

"My family knows her family," Freed explained. "Justine Corporation and the Heartfilia Konzern are partners. I first met Lucy at her débutante ball, and she was over at my house just last December for a Christmas party. I don't really know her that well, though."

"You mean she's rich? Dang," Loke muttered. "She sure doesn't act rich. She's always worrying about paying her rent. Anyway! Guys, this is Freed. Freed, Natsu and Gray."

"Hiya!" Natsu grinned, enthusiastically shaking Freed's hand.

Gray just casually saluted. "Hey," he greeted laconically, yet his eyes lingered on Freed. "I know you, don't I?"

"U-umm," Freed stuttered. "I … th-think so." He gave an awkward shrug. "The club." That was all he said.

Gray froze with a shocked expression, then he shrank down in shame. "Oh … right."

"Y-yeah," Freed muttered awkwardly. He smiled and shrugged, showing that he would say nothing if the stripper said nothing.

Natsu tugged on the sleeve of the Ice Prince. "Gray?"

"He's … friends with a former workmate … from that place. Like you," he explained cryptically.

Friends. He had been a client at one point. That place. The gay strippers club. Like you. Part of the audience who used to watch Gray strip out of his clothes and dance around a brass pole.

The younger one looked Freed over head to toe, and slowly it seemed like his memory was jogged. They had not known one another's real names: Pinkie and Greenie, regulars at the South Pole Club. Freed smiled in familiarity and gave a silent shrug, letting Natsu know he was just as surprised and cautious as these two. Few people wanted it to be publicly known that they frequented strip clubs.

Loke suddenly slapped the smaller boy on the back. "Natsu is an old friend of mine. He's the one who got me into that game."

"Oh, yeah!" Freed recalled. "Loke was playing Skyrim until three o'clock in the morning for weeks."

Natsu gave another massive grin. "Yeah, cool game. Lots of dragons!" He suddenly took the raven-haired man's hand. "This is my boyfriend, Gray."

"… Gray." Freed remembered, that was the name of the stripper Loke had been friends with. He politely said, "Nice to meet you."

Loke leaned over into Freed's ear. "Gray's not a bad-looking guy. Too bad he's taken. You and him might be…"

"No!" Freed snapped.

"Right, right. Sorry." He motioned to the bartender. "Whiskeys all around to start. Then we get some beer. We're here to celebrate many things. Graduating, new jobs, and Freed being a bachelor again!" he said, slapping Freed's back. He quickly leaned into Freed's ear. "I'll keep up your little lie about Laxus."

Freed wasn't sure if he should thank Loke or tell him to just shut up about it.

Gray looked over in a jolt. "What happened to Tho- … uh … to … umm…"

Freed hardly blamed him for stumbling over the name. He remembered how cautious the thunder god had been about letting others know his real name. That was no longer an issue though, and it had not been for months.

"To Laxus," Freed said, smiling in a way to let Gray know it was okay to say his name aloud.

"R-right," Gray muttered. "You and him were…" He cut off, not sure what to say without bringing up old emotions.

"Yeah," Freed whispered sadly.

"Sorry. I haven't even seen him in months."

"Right," Freed said softly. He remembered the day Laxus told him he quit his job at the strip club and canceled all of his clients. "Are you still working … there?"

"Nah, I quit that job. Too much drama." Gray stared ahead as if thinking about something particularly troublesome. Then he shrugged it off. "Natsu didn't like it after a while, so I quit."

Freed smiled at the two of them. "Yeah, same here. I mean, I liked going to the club. Just … it was awkward after a while. It became too difficult."

"Yeah, that's what Natsu said," Gray said softly while Natsu was busy chatting with Loke.

"So you quit dancing … for him?"

Gray laughed softly. "Yeah. Same thing as Thor … uh, Laxus." He looked awkward. "Sorry, I still think of him as Thor. We rarely used each others' real names. I don't think most of the workers there even knew Thor's real name. He was really cautious about his privacy."

"Yeah, I know. It took me weeks before he told me his surname. I used to think of him as Thor first and have to remind myself what his name really was." Memories of those awkward first few weeks came back to him, and with it was a stabbing pain in his chest.

"So, you broke up, huh?"

"Something like that," Freed muttered.

"What do you mean?"

Freed saw that Gray was reading him as clear as day. There was no hiding emotions from him, and he used to be friends with Laxus, so Freed felt he deserved at least some of the truth. "He left on a trip to Europe. Some pretty serious business. He wasn't sure when he'll be back … or if. So he decided it was best to … to let me go."

Gray shook his head. "That's harsh, even for him. Nah," he said, refusing to believe it. "No way. I know about you and Laxus. He talked about you a lot. Hell, you were on his mind all the time, drove him crazy. Just before he quit, he and I talked. He was … obsessed, I'd say, which is really saying something considering how aloof that guy was. No, he wouldn't do that to you. He must have had some damn good reasons."

"Yeah," Freed admitted, and he shrugged while looking at his silver ring. "It's complicated."

Gray nodded, knowing this perfectly well. "Complicated is how all of our relationships are, trust me. I supposed you can't talk about it, right?"

"No," Freed admitted.

"That guy had issues," Gray said softly. "Lots of secrets. He had a really dark past. We all did at that club, every single one of us, even Jellal. Laxus was the most secretive, though. If you met him, you'd think he was the most normal out of all of us, but he just hid from that darkness, just like the tattoos that hid his scars. You know about those, right?"

"Yeah," Freed pouted sadly. Their first night together, Laxus had told him how it was his own father who gave him those scars. Now he was somewhere in Greece, dealing with that barbarous man.

"Something bad happened to him," Gray sighed. "I never did drag it out of him. Probably don't want to know," he frowned, knowing he had issues in his past that he would have never told to Laxus either.

As Loke began to tell Natsu about moving boxes all day, Freed realized he and Gray were stuck talking together purely because the pub was too loud to hear anyone except the person at your elbow.

"So, you and Natsu, huh? You're official now?"

"Yeah." Gray smiled as he squeezed Natsu's hand, briefly pulling him out of Loke's conversation. "It's great, actually finding love after years of … well, something that wasn't healthy," he said, cautiously holding back from saying too much.

"Did it start in the club?"

"Actually, yeah. First time I saw him was in that club. I was annoyed as hell, dancing for him all the time, but somewhere along the way I fell for him. Funny how that worked out."

Freed glanced down to the lightning bolt on his ring again. "Yeah … funny," he smiled passively.

Their whiskeys finally arrived, and Loke raised his shot glass.

"Here's to guys!" he called out.

They all had to laugh.

"What sort of toast is that?" asked Natsu.

"Who the hell cares! To guys!"

"To guys!" they cheered back, and they tipped back their whiskeys.

Freed swallowed and grimaced at the taste. "Ugh! This stuff is crap."

"Too strong for ya?" Loke grinned.

"Too weak."

"What would you rather have?"

"Blue Label." Instantly, Freed realized what he had said. He stared forward as he remembered when Laxus had given him a drink of Blue Label through a kiss during a lap dance at the club. That had been the night they decided to have sex…

"Well, I could order it," Loke grumbled. "That's a damn expensive whiskey, though. Maybe…" He paused as he saw the pain in Freed's face. "Oh," he whispered, recalling a time when he found a bottle of the pricey Johnnie Walker Blue Label in the dorm. Freed had explained back then, it was Laxus' favorite drink. "Um, how about something else? We could get some Wild Turkey, Jack Daniel's, Knob Creek, Bushmills, Maker's Mark, maybe the Red Label, much cheaper."

Gray scoffed. "Red Label is crap good only for mixed drinks. Go for Glenfiddich."

Loke glared over. "I'm trying to make this cheaper. You know, like affordable to guys still paying off student loans."

Freed frowned as he realized these guys probably could not drink truly good alcohol purely because money was a serious issue. He spoke up brashly. "All drinks on me tonight. Top shelf only."

Gray's mouth dropped. "What?"

"I can afford it. I … um … I didn't need student loans."

Loke whispered over to him and Natsu, "His daddy's my CEO. He's filthy rich."

Freed nodded awkwardly. "Seriously, the tab is mine tonight." With determination, he flagged down the bartender. "Blue Label, and top shelf for them, anything they want."

"Whoa, seriously?" Natsu gawked.

Freed grinned at him. "Drink until you feel like you can breathe fire."

They each ordered something different, something they had always wanted to try but could never justify the price.

"I feel bad," Gray admitted. "I mean, I don't even know you."

"A friend of Laxus is a friend of mine," Freed declared.

"I'm not sure if I can count him as a friend, per say."

"He talked about you. That's close enough to being a best friend for a guy like him," Freed chuckled. "So, Natsu, tell me what you do."

He watched in fascination as the bartender prepared a fiery Blue Blazer. "Oh! I'm training to be a firefighter."

Freed recalled Laxus saying that "Pinkie" preferred flaming drinks, and as they all watched the fiery spectacle, it was obvious that this guy who looked barely old enough to drink had a pyromaniac side to him. "Firefighter? At a university? Don't you normally go to a technical school for that?"

"Well, it's a bit more than that. I'm aiming to be a fire marshal someday, and they have to know all sorts of extra stuff. Fire sciences, prevention techniques, environmental science, HAZMAT, and … h-hey, do you know that guy?"

Freed glanced around, but the pub was packed with people. "Where?"

"There's a guy by the entrance. He's staring this way. He's … familiar," Natsu said, screwing up his brows as he tried to place the face.

Gray looked as well, and his eyes widened. "Oh my God," he whispered. "Freed, turn around."

"I don't see…" A person moved aside, and suddenly he had a clear view of the entrance. Electric blue eyes met his. Freed gasped and his heart jolted. "Laxus…"

Their eyes lingered for what seemed like minutes of silence, just the two of them wrapped in a world of their own, the music a buzz, the lights dimmed, the crowd a blur. Yet only a few seconds passed, and someone walked in front of them, blocking Freed's view and breaking that magical moment. When the person passed, Laxus was still there, not some mirage of wishful thinking.

Without taking his eyes off, Laxus pushed his way inside, shoving anyone who did not step aside. Freed trembled as emotions swelled inside him. Was this real? A dream? Was he already drunk and hallucinating?

Laxus stepped up in front of Freed and gazed down silently. Then his eyes shifted to Freed's hand. He reached forward and took the shot glass out of Freed's trembling fingers. "I'll have to punish you if you spill that." He drank half of it and smiled. "Blue Label. Bitch, you're copying me."

Freed still stared in disbelief. At last, he laughed softly. "That was a quick trip."

Laxus glared. Quick? It felt like ages! "Yeah. I got there and the bastard was gone. I stayed around since the P.I. was sure he could pick up the trail, but then authorities came. They were just as stumped as us. Trail was cold. By the time we heard anything at all, the bastard was in the Middle East. I'm not gonna go globe-trotting after his ass, so I came on home. Seems I wasted a plane ticket and a whole month, all for jack shit. I picked up some nice souvenirs for you, though. Can't make heads or tails of it. It's all Greek to me … literally." He stopped acting as if nothing had happened and gazed down in regret to Freed. "I'm so sorry I put you through that, and all for nothing."

The tears spilled over and streamed down Freed's cheeks. "I'm just glad you're home!" He flung himself into Laxus' arms, not caring if the whole pub saw them and made any stupid gay comments.

Laxus squeezed him back and buried his face down into the green hair to hide the happiness that brought tears to his eyes. "Yeah … me too," he whispered gruffly. He clutched Freed tight against him. "Me too."

Loke grinned at seeing them. "Hey, it's the big guy!"

"Shh!" Gray hushed.

"What?"

"Let them have a moment."

Loke saw Laxus kiss the top of Freed's head and heard the soft sobs of joy from his old roommate. He smiled, happy to see Freed got his boyfriend back. He looked down at his drink, then over to Gray and Natsu.

"To guys!" he cheered.

Gray lifted his glass and saluted. "I'll drink to that," he said as he tipped his glass back.

 

 

Next Chapter: Master's Return

 

 

 

 


A/N: In case you're curious, a single bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label sells for $180-$200 in the USA. What Gray suggests, Glenfiddich, can cost $150 to over $500 a bottle! Before I got married, a friend toasted my upcoming marriage by buying me a shot of Blue Label. The bartender set the glasses down in front of us and said "God bless you" like it was the last drink we'd ever have. Best damn scotch I ever tasted! Then again, I'm used to the cheap stuff, Red Label which is only $20, Fireball if I'm lucky, or the really cheap local Hood River Monarch whiskey, a bottom-shelf $6 bottle that's good for mixed drinks and not much else.

 

 



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