Because We Can

BY : NeirahAhrai
Category: -Misc Anime > AU - Alternate Universe
Dragon prints: 237
Disclaimer: I do not own Fairy Tail, nor the characters from it. They are copyright of Hiro Mashima. This is strictly for entertainment purposes as I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

Rock Bottom


AU!LaNei

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He’d always ended up in the same place. He might have referred to it as rock bottom if there wasn’t still a chair beneath his backside. Even if the stool he sat upon had all but worn to cushion his haunches with a custom fit, it was better than a curb or gutter somewhere dank. He might have suggested renting the, seemingly, stable location from the barkeep who passed him his next drink without so much as asking him what he wanted. Anything seemed to hold a better footing than his own two legs beneath him. Unfortunately, his drinking habit was a costlier rent than what he could already barely afford in a crummy downtown bachelor.

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It wouldn’t be the first time he’d been kicked out, everything he owned in a weathered navy backpack with one functional strap. It had, however, been the first time a woman had put him there. Maybe it sucked being lonely, maybe he was getting tired of playing the game; a different woman every night or two, a different boss every time his previous one decided to develop a similar opinion of him as his father. But he’d given it a shot, being the good guy, and when life (his ex) slammed the door back in his face, he decided to go visit Rocko. Not figuratively rock bottom, but the literal Rock Bottom down the street from his apartment where the barkeep, Rocko, knew that all he needed to ease his nearly broken nose was enough liquor to put him to sleep.

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“Alright Dreyar, week’s up.”

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He really hadn’t meant to roll his gaze so vehemently towards the only man he may have considered a friend if he didn’t double as a collection agent. He diverted his gaze to the empty glass in front of his face before peeling his cheek off the polished bar top and straightening. He tried to make his exhausted sigh seem as casual as possible. He didn’t want the bar’s owner and tender to think he was trying to ruffle feathers. It wouldn’t have been the first time ol’ Rocko had him tossed out into the street either, but frankly, it looked like raining and that was the last thing a down-in-the-dumps deadbeat needed.

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“What is the garbage you’re playing in here anyway? Is this a pub or a dance club?” It was the cleverest distraction his inebriated mind could fathom at the moment as he started to pad his worn hickory leather coat in search of a wallet he knew was likely empty. “Is this what kids are into nowadays?”

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“Yea, it seems to be what the paying customers like,” Rocko drawled. “Pay your tab once in a while and I might switch it back to the easy listenin’ you prefer, old man.”

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“Awe, Laxus are you having trouble paying your tab again?”

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The irritable blonde almost growled as he peeled open his wallet to discover that even the moths had abandoned him. His second sigh became a little more conspicuously exasperated as he sat back and threw the empty scrap of leather onto the counter. “I’d say take the credit cards, but I don’t think you’d be into the debts that go along with ‘em.”

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The silver-haired beauty to address him floated behind the bar and laid her hand on Rocko’s arm, rising on her toes to give the grizzled man a gentle kiss on the cheek. “Here, Daddy. Put this towards Laxus’ tab.”

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Rocko didn’t bother to peel his resting gaze from the hulking mass on the opposing side of the bar as he let his daughter slip him a fifty. He then proceeded to eye the look of shame deepening the lines on the young man’s face as the woman pet his head and placed a kind, understanding kiss on the top. The two had been friends since old Rocko could remember. In fact, Laxus was practically family. Even with that weighty fact considered though, Rocko also understood that sometimes even the people you love and care for need a painful dose of reality every now and then. Maybe it was because he had a hard time resisting the song of his plucking heartstrings that he remained so stern in his approach. In the end, he figured the reason why he was so hard on the boy he’d had a hand in raising was that he knew the man was capable of so much more.

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“If my daughter’s sympathy for you is the reason she doesn’t get to go to college-”

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The first instinct Laxus had was to comment on her curvaceous figure having no problems with that even if she’d cleared his entire debt for him. Luckily, his last couple feuding brain cells managed to keep the ‘hot daughter’ comments from surfacing given their rocky history that Rocko was all too familiar with. Despite his seasoned tastes, he was far too close to the woman’s age to be pissing off her father. He diverted his shamefaced sigh over his hunched shoulder. “I swear when I get paid at the end of the week, you can have it all,” he reasoned lowly. It was the least pathetic way he knew how to beg the man not to evict him from his seat at the bar. “I just need somewhere a little less depressing than home to hang out for a bit.”

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Rocko snorted half with disgust and a half with amusement. “And what job’s signin’ the paycheck I’m not getting?”

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Laxus rolled his lethargic steel gaze towards the man with the look of guilt and shame on his face. “How… do you know about that?”

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Rocko’s lip rolled beneath his ash moustache, making the thick fuzz worm across his upper lip like a caterpillar. “Small town.” Concealing the sinking of his heart for the boy’s circumstance was difficult as he tried to act as a responsible role model for the downtrodden. “Get it together, boy,” he warned sternly upon parting. “Look, I know you’re not a bad kid, but I’m tryin’ to run a business here. I got three kids of my own that I don’t wanna see in your shoes.” It was hard not to notice his comment piercing his target like buckshot to his chest.

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“Ouch.” It was all Laxus could offer the remark as he nursed the holes in his already suffering pride. “That was a little harsh.”

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“Order up, Elfman!”

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“He’ll be right there, Lisanna,” Mira crooned sweetly. She swept through the revolving old-western style doors with a tray full of pitchers in each hand. “This place is really packed tonight!”

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Laxus leant over his shoulder; maybe being a little too obvious in front of the woman’s father that her swaying hips had caught his attention. A swift snap of Rocko’s mug-polishing cloth to the cheek had him crashing back into reality.

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“The end of the week,” he threatened. “Don’t care if you’ve gotta whore yourself out, Dreyar. My respect for your granddad ain’t gonna save you this time. We’re breaking even or I break your nose.”

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“Does you gettin’ paid in Mira’s tips for me sittin’ here and lookin’ pretty count as whoring? If so, I think I’m pretty good at it.” Laxus’ expression grew desperate as he reached out to try and snag the 2-6 of liquor Rocko liberated from in front of his empty glass. He’d failed and jammed his elbow against the edge of the bar.

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“Fuck for the love of-” He immediately jerked the assaulted limb back, coddling the joint he’d just smashed against the cherry countertop with a furious hiss. “Shit, I wish whoever thought up that this is a funny bone would share whatever they’re fucking smoking.” His gaze widened, his expression dropping lifelessly as he began to pat down his chest in a frenzy forgetting entirely about the assault on his ulnar nerve. Coming up dry, he quickly grabbed his bag, tearing through his few belongings before realising that he was missing his last hope. His spine went limp, leaving the weight of his cranium to plummet backwards until the bar lights were blinding him. “Fucking bitch kept my last pack of cigarettes.”

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He dropped his elbows, aching one included, to the bar with a percussive thud that he could barely hear over the bass. He figured that if his pounding head hadn’t dropped immediately into his hands, he might not have even noticed how hard he’d struck it. A small part of him considered asking Rocko to bum a smoke, but the larger part of him kicked the little one’s lights out. He was all sorts of down on his luck, but not quite sure he was ready to surrender pride for comforts.

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He slipped his phone out of his pocket and checked the cracked screen to make sure it still had service. Luckily, he’d only missed his last two phone bill payments so ‘the man’ was going easy on him for the meantime. He swiped his thumb over his screen to unlock it and found the contact reading ‘canaA’. Even if texting with his thick thumb alone frustrated him, he didn’t take his phone between both hands.

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hey.. u home?

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She was way too quick to respond which meant that she was likely just as desperate for company as he was. His luck seemed to be improving.

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duh, y?

Rocko give u the boot again?

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Laxus nearly groaned as his peripherals scanned the bar to where Rocko was joking with some of his less worthless patrons.

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soon..... prbly

wanna screw around?

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What so you can drink all my booze?

Ur good but ur not that good

If my old man finds out, ur gonna have a bad time

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There it was; the figurative rock bottom he was rapidly approaching. He let silence extend for a moment while he tried to come up with a remedy for his pain.

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he already gives me a hard time

plz? the bitch kept all my cigarettes

and i’m broker than broke here and barely buzzed

wat evr happened to sympathy lays?

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o please, I stopped feeling sympathy for u a long time ago

you know, I feel kinda used

You only fuck me when you want booze

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to be fair, you only fuck me when there’s no one else around

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low blow, dreyar, you’re on your own

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“Fuck,” he muttered lifelessly over the sound of dropping his phone on the bar top. He sat and meditated on his thoughts for a moment, every depressing, agonizing reality seeping into his comprehension as he began to sober from his generous buzz. It was a good thing that he was no longer a gambling man, part of the reason he was in the mess that he was. The cards were always stacked against him. A silver lining would have been nice in that moment, but the sweet scent of cherry blossoms overcoming the musk of sweat and liquor was what he got.

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He opened his eyes but didn’t release his head; he kept it buried in his hands as his peripherals scanned the seat to his left that had just been filled. All he could see from where he sat were the smallest feet he had ever laid eyes upon. He tried to keep his knotting brow from sight as he took the tiny gold painted toes into consideration, black, gold-accented leather straps wrapping over the arch of her foot and climbing her ankle.

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She was a dancer. It wasn’t that he had meant to creep the woman’s feet, of all things, but he could tell by the way the thin anklet hugged her ankles that they were strong. They matched her thighs, not that he was looking. But if he was, he would have noticed that her strong legs hitched up on the bar stool framework and disappearing under her little black dress looked tight, powerful even. What bugged him was that her slim-fit black party dress didn’t show him enough of them. It wasn’t the skanky kind of dress a woman wore to the bar to advertise her availability. It was conservative, business, almost. Not that he was an expert at who ‘to’ and ‘not to’ pick up in a bar, but he couldn’t hide the fact that somewhere between self-loathing and her sitting next to him, he’d moved to rest his gaze on her empty left ring finger. 

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He dared to move his gaze towards her torso, praying that the face attached to her shapely hips and thighs wasn’t a man’s. Though he had to admit, either she had one hell of a push-up bra or he really had hit rock bottom because there was no way that she had been born with such beautiful feet and cleavage that could retain half a bottle of liquor.

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He nearly fell out of his chair as she gave her stool a playful spin, her beautiful smile and sparkling bright cerulean eyes crossing his gawping path as she chased her kinky, half-pinned auburn tresses around in a tight circle. By the time she had passed a second time, her smile was fading more casually after she’d busted him for sizing her up. He immediately diverted his gaze, the intensity of his expression returning after he’d picked up his jaw and carried it to the opposing side of her. To add insult to injury, even though he’d turned away, he could hear her angelic snicker mocking him for his foolishness.

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At least she was upwards of ninety-five percent woman. He was still unsure about the five percent that may or may not have been silicone.

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He groaned as the moment passed and his heart rate started to slow. ‘Real fucking smooth,’ he mused bitterly. He bravely took a peek over his shoulder and noticed her trying to get their bar tender’s attention. She was leant over the counter, waving her hand to the busy Rocko. Just the sight of her shapely figure bobbing and whimpering soft, shy pleas was enough to encourage him to exhaust his effort.

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He dropped his palm to the bar top with a concussive bang loud enough to drown out Niki Minaj. “Hey Rock, the little lady wants something’.” He kept his gaze locked with Rocko as he felt the woman’s pierce him with large, slightly startled eyes. As Rocko approached, Laxus tipped his apprehensive gaze to hers. “What’re you after, Princess?”

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“A vodka sunrise and a screwdriver.”

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Laxus nearly bashed his head off the bar. ‘Of course, it had to be two drinks.’ Obviously, the woman was there with somebody. Maybe not an exclusive somebody, but a somebody – who obviously drank like a chick; not that it was his place to judge. Not when that somebody could obviously afford to buy her a damn drink in the first place...

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“Do it up,” he ordered his impatient acquaintance. “And put it on my tab.” The urge to rip his hair out resurfaced as Rocko rubbed his fingers together in demand of money. ‘For fuck’s sake, Rock.’

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“It’s ok!”

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Laxus turned his curious gaze to where the petite brunette flashed her twenty. “It’s fine, they gave me money.”

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“They?” If he had had any sense left he would have turned and escorted himself out of the bar. It shouldn’t have been his place to pry. It was none of his business, but he was having a hard time keeping his tongue behind his teeth. It was likely that he was carrying a little more of a buzz than he’d originally made Cana believe.

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“Yea,” she cooed playfully. “I’m here with my step-brother and his girlfriend.”

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That kind of a comment could be taken one of two ways. Either she had told him that to make sure he knew she was available, or she was warning him that an overprotective brother was incoming and violent. Rather than being a wiser man and letting sleeping lions lie, he persisted. “You know they have waiters for this kinda thing,” he informed like she’d needed the lesson.  

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The woman turned and watched as the bartender started to mix her drinks. “Well they seem really busy tonight and I don’t mind.”

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He had never realised how terrible he was at small talk until the silence began to extend between them while Rocko took forever, it seemed, to mix her drinks. He would’ve liked to think the old man was doing it on purpose but something about their current relationship slump had him doubtful. He shouldn’t have cared, and he sure as hell shouldn’t have kept it up but realising that he was out of narcotics to numb his own special kind of hell, he couldn’t help himself. It wasn’t like he could sink any lower.

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He spun in his chair to face her squarely, one strong forearm hitched up on the bar as he spoke earnestly. “Look, I’m shit for words so I’m just gonna come out and say this. I have had... the worst week.” He really wished that her tender gaze wasn’t as intimidating as he found it at that moment. “And you’re smoking hot.” He wasn’t sure if she’d intentionally twinged with disgust or if it was reflexive, but he was relieved to see her smile awkwardly immediately after. So long as she only rejected him with words and stern facial expressions, that would be a step up.

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“Oh boy, bad break up, Stud?”

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Laxus casually gripped the hem of his cotton dress shirt and lifted it partially up his torso to reveal the black and blue splotches patterning his strapping physique. “You tell me,” he rumbled grimly. He dropped his shirt again to the sound of her sympathetic hiss before redirecting her attention to where he kicked his backpack with his scuffed shoe toe. “That’s pretty much everything I got to my name at the moment.”

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The woman’s brow furrowed as she bobbed her head and kept her smile tight-lipped. “Wow,” she sniggered over the music. “Smooth, really,” she teased. Her gaze flashed amusement as she tipped it to one side. “Everything, huh? What? One shirt?” It wasn’t a very big pack for the size of the man before her to have much in the way of wardrobe contained within it.

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“That, keys to an impounded car, a bar of soap, a toothbrush and a pack of condoms.”

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She looked like she tried to keep from laughing, but failed. “Savagely honest.”

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“Besides that and what I hope we’re gonna get into later tonight, that’s about all I’ve got goin’ for me.”

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“Don’t say that,” she teased. But she took a seat back on the stool next to him. That was a good start. “You’ve got to have something, like, aside from being a big dorky creep-a-zoid, you’re kind of nice.”

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“Is that kind of a step in the direction of my place?”

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“Do you have a place?”

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For the first time in a while, Laxus cracked a smile at the woman’s feisty witticism. “You got a name?”

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“I do,” she quipped spiritedly.

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“Gonna make me guess?”

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“You have until my drinks are done.”

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He shifted his peripherals sheepishly to her light-hearted banter. “So what’s the deal, they send you to play waiter while they make out and don’t even offer to buy you a drink? I don’t even have money and I tried.”

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The petite woman burst into joyous choir. “My god you are laying it on thick.”

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“I’m only runnin’ on half’a brain here, Sweetheart. I’m just gettin’ started.”

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The woman laughed boisterously and surveyed her surroundings before returning her full attention to their conversation. “It’s not like that,” she announced honestly through a kind smile. “I don’t drink. I’m worse than a lightweight.”

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“Fuck, please let me buy you a drink.”

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“Alright sure, you win. I would like for you to buy me a drink.”

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Laxus looked at Rocko, and then back and the little spitfire beaming sarcasm back at him. “Would you take a rain check ‘til the end of the week?” Her laughter was music to his ears, his pain numbing without a narcotic’s toxin.

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“You’re so bad at this I can’t even be mad.”

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“I promise my place isn’t even that far.”

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“I’m still not sure you have a place.”

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“We could go to yours. I would literally carry your purse and sell my pants to get you out of yours.”

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She offered him a sly grin as Rocko set her drinks down and took her money, slipping her a cautionary warning for free.

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“Keep clear of this one,” he suggested kindly. “He’s all sorts of trouble.”

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Laxus nearly growled as he flipped out his middle finger at the sniggering old man before the woman turned her head again.

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She took up her drinks and turned to face Laxus, leaning in closer than her statement warranted. “Unfortunately for you, I’m not wearing pants.”

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Laxus turned over his shoulder and watched the confident woman stride away, her broad hips just as intoxicating as his childhood friend’s as she played waiter. He sighed at the sound of his broken heart striking out, skidding through the dirt and gravel in vain. “Welp, there goes my last shred of dignity.” Laxus turned his head to the unexpected sound of his glass refilling under Rocko’s hand. “You’re a shitty ass wingman,” he hissed bitterly.

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“That was so pitiful that I’m topping you up on the house,” Rocko sniggered sinisterly. “But don’t think it a kindness. I still want my money.”

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“Yea, I got it...” It had never felt so good for him to wrap his hand around the weight of just one more glass of pain-numbing liquor. He was just about to take his first sip when the most unexpected thing happened.

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“My name is Neirah, by the way.”

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He set down his glass, turning his bewildered gaze to the delighted beam of the modest brunette returning to the empty stool beside him.

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“You didn’t guess.”

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He must have looked ridiculous, vacantly staring at her like he was rebooting Windows 98. “I... shit... I’ve got nothing.”

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She giggled triumphantly. “Well, it seems you’ve got a drink now. I was going to offer to buy you one after hearing your sob-story but...”

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Laxus caught his amused snigger in the back of his throat. “Yea, someone else’s pity beat you to it,” he murmured huskily. “But if you’re in the mood, my tab’s open to donations.”

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His enamoured stare was piercing as he watched her laugh, the humbling sound filling him with instant comfort. She obviously took this as a sign of his uncertainty, maybe even his self-consciousness, but he didn’t have the heart to assure her that it was anything but what she wanted it to be.

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“So, did they give you a name along with all those rippling pectorals?”

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“Oh... yea it’s-” Laxus paused a moment, interrupting his own reply to shoot a mystified gaze back in her direction. “The... hell? Did you... just feed me a Disney pick up line?”

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Her sapphire gaze widened with delighted amazement. “As if you picked up on that! Much impressed.”

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Laxus snorted his amusement with a vague grin as he turned away and took his first reassuring sip of liquid confidence. “Don’t be. My ex had a kid.” He quickly choked down the burning swallow of whisky that nearly gagged him to the sight of her expression dampening. “A kid, not my kid. He liked to watch a lot of Disney. He liked that one and the one with the talking cars.”

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Neirah snickered. “You mean Cars?”

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“Well, I blew it.”

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Laxus’ expression softened as the dark-skinned beauty slipped her soft, tiny hand over the top of his. It wasn’t until she had that he’d realised it was shaking as badly as it was. “Relax, you’re one for one,” she assured him tenderly. There was a sad, almost hopeful furrow in her brow as she released his hand and diverted her flushing face. “But you still didn’t tell me your name. So long as it isn’t something lame like Bob, we should be able to continue our conversation.” She returned her attention to his seemingly flustered expression and panic stole her face. “Oh my god your name is Bob isn’t it?!”

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“What? No. Fuck no,” he announced maybe a little more passionately than he should have. “Sorry, I just...”

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“Your name?”

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He sighed his relief as she coaxed his clumsy tongue to speak with the voice of a siren. “Laxus,” he murmured warmly. “It’s Laxus.” He looked down to where the woman energetically thrust her hand out in front of her for him to take and he couldn’t be more thankful that she was just a little quirky. With a comforting sigh, he accepted the woman’s introduction and shook her hand.

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“Nice to meet you,” she announced stereotypically. “And before you ask ‘who the heck shakes hands anymore?’, I don’t usually.” She laughed nervously and rubbed her hands over her bare arms. “I swear I’m not normally this childish. Something about this place has me just full of energy.”

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Laxus smirked and watched her adjust her hair over her shoulder. A pretty little psycho, but she seemed harmless. “It’s cool. I’m not usually this pathetic.” He flinched as she offered him a look that might have suggested she knew better. Without thinking, he went on the defensive. “Oh fuck off, you’ve just met me.” He was moments from standing, shouldering his backpack and taking his drink to go for the assault he’d just offered his kind company. His tongue loosened with a little liquor and he couldn’t help but say stupid things every now and then. What made him take root was that the feisty little woman didn’t seem to take the slightest offence.

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“I don’t think you’re pathetic by default,” she immediately retorted. “I think you’re just hard on yourself. That shows character.”

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Laxus blinked, utterly baffled by her keen interest in him. “I swear I’m not selling anything. If you’re undercover, I don’t- wait, how old are you? Shit, I’m going to jail, aren’t I?”

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Neirah rolled her eyes and started to twist in her seat. “Calm down, I’m legal,” she teased. To be fair, a chest as developed as hers, if it was even three quarter’s real, was a testament to that; and at the same time, the only thing that should have been illegal about her. “But to be honest, I’m a student.” Her glowing expression rose to meet his. “I’m studying psychology. I’m down for the weekend visiting my brother.”

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The enthusiasm started to leave his once fixated approach. “Great, and you’re still here because I look like the type of guy just beggin’ to get fixed, huh?”

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“Not necessarily,” she purred in attempts to save the conversation turning aggressive. She turned her bright smile to face her downtrodden bar mate. “I just want to understand what makes you feel broken.”

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He shook his head, refusing to get caught up in her spell again. He couldn’t stand looking so vulnerable every time she parted her beautiful lips. “Shit, give me a minute to get myself together so I don’t come off like a sleazy booze-hound.”

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“Awe, but that worked so well for you just a minute ago.”

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His smile couldn’t help but spread. “Yea but I can’t buy you a drink; I can’t take you to dinner. So, my only shot left is to come off as somewhat half-decent human being and hope that I can at least get your number out of the deal.”

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Neirah watched him for a careful moment before her face was igniting in kind amusement all over again. “See? I knew you must have had something going for you.”

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His expression contorted with attempted seduction as he shifted a little more provocatively in his seat. Maybe if he was lucky, she noticed that he could double as a pretty sturdy chair. “Oh? And what’s that?”

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Her expression was a little more successful in becoming seductive as she cocked a thin dark eyebrow and batted her thick onyx lashes over her piercing azure gaze. “You have a sense of humour.”

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He was stumbling over the roadblocks her alluring gaze erected for him for a moment before he crashed onto the track he was sprinting on towards a goal of humiliation. As soon as he realised that she was mocking him for thinking he’d get her number out of the deal, his expression dropped and hers illuminated like Christmas time.

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When she finally stopped laughing at the man’s expense, she slammed her hand down on the bar top loud enough to draw Rocko’s attention, along with some of the gruffer regular patrons that shared Rocko’s graduating class. She killed the moment when she opened her pretty lips to speak. “I would like a round for my new friend, please, sir.”

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Laxus face-palmed by her side as she beamed delight to the sound of Rocko and company igniting into hardy laughter. ‘Friend-zoned in under ten minutes. This is what failure tastes like.’

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Noticing his actions, she returned her attention back to him with a coy pout. “Are you alright? Maybe another drink isn’t what you need right now.”

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Laxus swiftly dropped his hand from his brow and straightened alertly. Pitiful or not, he wanted to embrace the woman’s kindness. “No ma’am,” he announced in husky retort. “I’m the only one around here that gets Rocko’s attention that way. Just not used to tiny little dancers stealin’ my thunder.”

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Neirah’s brow flickered in curious demand and slight amusement. “My bad, next time you can bang the counter, Donkey.”

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“As in Kong?”

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Even though her tone grew sterner, she couldn’t help but smile softly to his insinuation. “How did you know I was a dancer?”

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He flinched, her question chilling him with guilt. Even he had realised how awkward the silence was becoming as his impaired thought process clamoured to try and cover his folly.

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“You’re a people watcher, aren’t you?”

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He flinched at her accurate insinuation like he could have been insulted by it. “I... pay attention,” he started slowly. He sighed defeat to feel the aura of her psycho-analysing him. “Come on, you just referred to me as a violent knuckle-dragging ape. It couldn’t have been hard for a smart little thing like you to figure out that I’m not exactly approachable.”

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“You keep calling me little like it’s a compliment,” she sassed.

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“Not a whole lot of anythin’ is big compared to me,” he snapped back a little sharply.

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“So what makes you feel the need to announce it?”

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Laxus’ temperature rose with the rush of humiliation boiling in his blood to be picked apart and scrutinized. “Look, I like little things, alright? To drunk me, it sounds like a compliment.” He rolled his lethargic gaze to the side as she uncrossed her legs, preparing to watch her walk out of his life forever for his outburst. But she surprised him again when she settled a little less formally and opened herself up to him.

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“And there’s something else you have going for you. In a clumsy sort of way, you’re really kind of charming.”

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His gaze narrowed defensively to her announcement that sounded a little more genuine than her last. “Sarcasm?”

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She flashed him her most sincere smile that night. “You said you don’t live far from here, right?”

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His temperature continued to rocket until he was almost certain he’d boil over. He hated how mousy it made him sound. “Y-yea?”

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She smiled again like she was speaking to him in code and after overanalysing her response, he felt assurance and comfort wash over him despite her closing that conversational door. “I’d ask you if you came here often, but I think it’s kind of obvious that you do,” she pestered. “What is it that you do? You know... like a job?”

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His heart sank. “I um... kind of in between at the moment...”

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“In between what? Bodybuilding and bar sitting?”

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He started to relax to the sound of her humour lightening the mood. “I was working at the docks-”

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Neirah started to interrupt him with laughter. “Oh wow, Tommy, how eighties of you.”

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He shifted his keen smirk towards her from over the brim of his cup. “Well, it had to be pretty obvious that all I’m livin’ on is a prayer.”

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Her expression brightened eagerly. “You like old rock?”

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“I wouldn’t necessarily call them rock...”

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Neirah knotted up her face like she’d taken insult to his comment and was it ever cute. “Hey! I like them!”

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“Not stompin’ on your grounds, just trying to process pure perfection, that’s all.” He shifted a little more comfortably and started to rebuild his confidence. “And to answer your snarky comeback, the waterfront pretty much runs this old town. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re kind of stuck in the eighties here. Hell, we still have turf wars between the two high schools for fuck’s sake. I know a little dive downtown that still has a functional jukebox. Our method of working cargo downtown might’ve improved, but we still move a hell of a lot of shit on the boats.”

.

She adjusted her demeanour and leant on the bar for casual comfort. “Ok, you win. I have to admit, I do like that about this place. It’s not nearly as modern as what I’m used to.”

.

“Which is?”

.

“You didn’t tell me what else you were between,” she encouraged. She clearly wasn’t done her interrogation. “You mentioned being between jobs. Was this the first rock or the second one?”

.

He smirked bashfully. “The first. I’ll probably be in there tomorrow beggin’ the sorry asshole I worked for to take me back. It’s not like he’s got a whole hell of a lot of options around here.”

.

“Well, what about your new job?”

.

Laxus flinched to the sound of her innocent inquiry.

.

“What’s wrong with it?”

.

He shuffled uneasily and checked the surrounding area for prying ears as his shame coloured the tips of his ears. “What’s wrong is it’s been the second rock for a long time now,” he started bleakly.

.

Neirah shimmied closer, making him want to smile through his humility as her adorable prying continued. “Don’t tell me, you’re in an underground hair metal band and trying to bring back half-decent music.”

.

The edge started to dull in her presence once more. “As much as I love you for saying that, not likely,” he teased. “I don’t have a musical bone in my body.”

.

“How can you tell under all that muscle?”

.

“How the tables have turned,” he growled proudly.

.

“Tell me,” she whined energetically. “What’s the other rock?”

.

He closed his eyes and thought on his approach for a minute before opening them and turning his attention to a black and white picture mounted on the wall above the liquor cabinet. “You see that picture over there?”

.

“Oh my god it’s you,” she mocked.

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“No, it’s not,” he grumbled impatiently. “It’s your barkeep.”

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“The one who brought your drink? He was a boxer?”

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“You mock this town for being stuck back a generation, well around here, Rocko still holds the title of being a first-class badass. He boxed back when it was cool and he was damn good at it. He opened the bar with his winnings way back when.”

.

“It’s not totally un-cool now,” she started sceptically. “I mean, he could have picked a better profession with a name like Rocko. Seriously? Even I watched the Rocky movies.”

.

Laxus sniggered to himself. “His names not really Rocko,” he teased. “It’s Lars. He picked that name specifically because his story was so much like Stallone’s.” He concealed his amusement with the brim of his cup as he shook his head. “That’s why he called the bar Rock Bottom, he was pretty much where I am when his life started to turn around.” He could feel the woman’s lively gaze scorching him with intrigue as her brain pieced together his puzzle.

.

“You’re a boxer?” Her tone almost sounded with amazement as she breathed the realisation.

.

His demeanour grew mousy again as he scoffed his retort. “It’s just the other rock,” he reasoned quietly. He swished the remaining bits of ice in his drink and watched them stir the diluted liquor. “My old man left when I was pretty young so I’ve lived in this outdated town most of my life with my grandpa. He was a good friend of Rocko’s. The two of them opened up a club when they were younger. Now that they’re both retired, Rocko runs the bar and my grandpa still hangs around the club.”

.

“Why do you say it like that?” She almost sounded sad. “I think that’s a really neat thing to be a part of.”

.

“I guess,” he grumbled. “The problem is that not a lot of people would see it that way. Boxing isn’t what it used to be now with MMA and UFC. Durability doesn’t count for shit now that fighting comes with a healthy dose of acrobatics. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen an ape do a backflip.”

.

“I’m sensing some hostility towards the subject,” she pried. “There are still boxing leagues to compete in. Even televised ones.”

.

“Yea but the respect is lax. I grew up thinking Rocko and the old man were the coolest. It was pretty badass to me, watching Rocko bounce the shit outta the rowdy type from his own bar. He may be pushing sixty but he’s durable as fuck. It was something inspiring for a kid who only knew this town.” He sighed and set his second empty glass on the top of the bar. “But tell someone you want to be just like them and they just kind of roll their eyes. There’s a reason the club needs a cleaning lady. More than just Rocko’s trophies are in there collecting dust.”

.

“So?”

.

Laxus shuddered, immediately filled with the inspiration to ask her if she’d been listening to his rant at all. “So?”

.

“Why does it have to be cool? It’s not fencing or water polo. Boxing still takes an incredible amount of strength and stamina to be successful.” Her cheeks flushed as she tapped her beautiful, long polished nails on the bar top. “Don’t do it because no one has done it before, do it because it feels right. Because you can.” She smiled back at him supportively. “If you ask me, the world’s moving too fast anyways... I was just born in the late eighties, I didn’t live much of it, but sometimes I wish I could have. Music was better, movies were better, people, in general, seemed better.” She rubbed her arms again and checked over her shoulder like she was looking for someone but quickly adjusted her attention back to him in the end. “But if it’s any consolation, I think boxing is pretty darn cool...” Her cheeks flushed and the sign had something akin to arousal starting to make his nerves itch to lay his hands on her. “I’d let a boxer take me home...”

.

Laxus stared at her for a long moment trying to judge whether she was being facetious or actually trying to encourage a more intimate setting for their conversation. In that instant, he’d recapped their entire encounter. He was pitiful, at best. He’d opened up about a dream of his that would normally have him scorned. He looked around the bar like he was searching for hidden cameras. “Really? After all my other attempts, you cave after the boxer thing?”

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Neirah giggled musically. “I guess so. Why? Surprised?”

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“I have never picked up someone by saying I’m a wannabe boxer.”

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Neirah shrugged playfully. “Never say never, I guess.”

.

He took her line in multiple ways. For starters, she was climbing out of her barstool and waiting for him to show her the way. That, he had never expected to happen. On the other hand, he’d been trying to make a name for himself in the athletic community for almost a decade to no avail. Something about their humble encounter in the bar that night had inspired him and he supposed that startled him a bit.

.

“Well? Are you going to carry my purse?”

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His chest swelled with something akin to pride, something kind of like affection. “Would it be weird if I said I was going to marry you?”

.

Neirah gave her brow a playful cock. “Jeez, at least buy me a drink first.” She laughed at his glance towards his still vacant wallet as he retrieved it and stuffed it back in his jacket pocket. “Luckily for you, my brother and his girlfriend have been trying to get me out and socially active again for a while.” She slapped her hands down against her thighs in bashful surrender. “So, here we are.”

.

He smiled back at her kindly, a little amazed that he was able to climb to his feet and think of something other than taking her off hers. He may have started his night looking for a stress-relieving lay, but he was starting to believe he’d found something a little more. Maybe they wouldn’t get that far, but even if they just continued to talk, he felt like he’d be ok with that. Something about her presence calmed him down, but he supposed that that was what she was in school to do. It was her trade. It was the only thing he was still a little sceptical about; that and her weighty cup size.

.

“Oh and you don’t have to sell your pants,” she teased. Her smile pierced him and settled comfortably under his skin. No matter how drunk he was or thought he was, he knew at that moment he walked away from a still half-full glass of liquor that he’d never lose it from his memory. “The cab ride’s on me.”



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