Gratsu Christmas: 13th of December Prompt: Hot Cocoa
"Alright everyone, drink up! It's cold outside," Lucy smiled, setting down a tray of mugs on the small round table in the kitchen of her apartment.
A chorus of thanks met her ears from the rest of Team Natsu. The titular Natsu immediately gulped down about half of the hot cocoa, knowing neither the pain of a searing throat (as he did breathe fire on a regular basis) nor the concept of restraint. Wendy sipped her own mug, watching Natsu with mild alarm, but when she looked at Erza, hoping that she would tell the Fire Dragon Slayer to slow down, she found Titania licking her smiling lips, setting down an empty cup.
"How are they not scalded..." the Sky Maiden murmured.
"You come to stop questioning the things they do after a while," Lucy shrugged, sitting down between Wendy and the fifth person at the table, who she noticed had not so much as touched his cup of cocoa. "What's wrong Gray? Don't like hot cocoa?" she asked, frowning slightly.
Gray had been glaring at the cup before him intently, and started when Lucy addressed him, looking up to find the other four wizards in the room staring at him. "What? No, I- uh, was just waiting for it to cool," he quickly grinned, picking up the mug. "Cheers," Gray continued, gesturing the mug at his friends, before taking a sip. A very small sip.
"Delicious," Gray smiled, a very pained smile, as though he had just drank Elfman's sweat. Lucy rolled her eyes, before taking the cup away from him.
"If you don't like it, just say so..." she muttered. "It's fine, I'll get you some coffee-"
"Ah, actually I think I'm gonna go, thanks," Gray interrupted, standing up.
Natsu sniffed the air slightly, and was perplexed to find the conflicting emotions he could smell Gray exuding. He seemed very put off, no doubt by the hot cocoa he had so obviously reviled, he was rushing to leave, and appeared to feel guilty about it, and he also seemed... sad? Natsu's nose wrinkled. He had always hated the smell of sadness on Gray. Anger amused him. Irritation encouraged him. But sadness? Gray's sadness had an awful scent.
"Why are you going so soon?" Natsu asked as Gray pulled on his jacket over the t-shirt he was miraculously still wearing (In retrospect, that alone should have tipped them off to Gray's bad mood). "We just got here."
"Well Ashy Boy some of us have more to do that just crash at Lucy's all the time," Gray snapped, as he headed to the door.
"Gray..." Erza growled, shooting a warning look at Gray's retreating back. "There's no need-" she started, but was cut off by the closing door. Lucy and Wendy gulped. Gray had just ignored and cut off Erza. There would be hell to pay later. Natsu didn't take any notice of this however.
He turned around to watch Gray through the window, walking away in the falling snow. Why would hot cocoa bother Gray so much...
"Oh yes, Gray-sama can't drink hot cocoa," Juvia nodded over her drink, sitting across from Natsu at a small café not far from Kardia Cathedral. "Juvia tried making him a mug once last Christmas, he just sniffed it once and said he was allergic. So, he did the same to Lucy?"
"Yeah," Natsu confirmed thoughtfully. "If he didn't like it, why couldn't he just say so?"
"Oh, it's not a matter of whether or not he likes hot cocoa. Juvia talked to him about it before, he told me that 'Master Ur always made the best hot cocoa'."
Natsu stared. "So he refuses to drink anything less than Ur's? How good was it?"
"Very, apparently. Gray-sama smiled quite fondly when he talked about it."
"Tch, typical Ice Queen, will only accept the best. Welp!" Natsu grinned, hopping up. "Time to find Ur's secret recipe! Thanks Juvia."
"Oh! Uh, any time Natsu, good luck," Juvia replied as Natsu quickly paid for their drinks before heading out. "But why are you in such a rush?!" she called after him.
"The sooner I find the way she made it, the sooner I can make Gray's sadness go away!" Natsu yelled back, grinning widely.
Juvia chuckled slightly as he disappeared from sight. Honestly, she thought, sipping her coffee, Natsu is the only person whose crush on Gray is as obvious as Juvia's.
"Just tell me what I need to know. It'll be easier that way."
The shadowy figure loomed over the man in his bed, who had up until very recently been enjoying his sleep. The muffled voice spoke again.
"Do you plan to co-operate or do I need to make you?"
"Natsu, for fuck's sake," Lyon sighed groggily, rubbing his eyes as he sat up in bed, reaching over to switch on his bedside lamp, revealing Natsu, with his scarf obscuring his face in his favourite "ninja" style. "What are you doing in my bedroom?"
"Aw, how'd you know it was me?" Natsu whined, unwrapping the muffler around his head.
"Your silhouette isn't very hard to identify, and you're heating up the room."
"Dammit-" Natsu began, only to be intercepted.
"You didn't answer me," Lyon grunted seriously, standing to loom over Natsu in what would have been an intimidating gesture if Lyon weren't naked (He was a student of Ur's after all). "What are you doing in my apartment?"
"Uh, can we talk?" Natsu asked sheepishly, wanting to keep things civil now that Lyon had seen through his scare tactics.
The two moved out of the bedroom into the predominantly dark blue living room, sitting down on armchairs across one another, Natsu throwing his feet onto the coffee table between them.
"So I have a question for you."
"That required breaking-and-entering?"
"Nah, that's just for shits and giggles," Natsu replied, waving away the question. "I just wanted to know if you know how Ur used to make hot cocoa."
This visibly took Lyon by surprised, as his cold demeanour fell apart and his eyes widened. "Why would you want to know that?"
"It's been bothering Gray, and he won't drink any other cocoa, it's annoying."
Lyon hid a smirk. Oh, if only Gray knew his crush was doing all this for him... "Sorry, but I don't know. She kept it top secret."
Natsu groaned. "Was it written down?"
"I never saw her look at a recipe. She just, kind of, did it," Lyon shrugged, not sure how to phrase it.
"So was it really all that great?" Natsu figured he might as well ask.
Lyon looked dreamily out of the window. "It was wonderful. It tasted like love..."
"Okay, tough standard to achieve," Natsu grunted, before his face lit up. "But you remember what it tastes like!"
"Like, you'd recognise it if you had it again?"
"Oh yes, definitely."
"Well that's easy then!" Natsu quickly decided. "We'll just try a bunch of ways to make hot cocoa and you can taste until we get it right!"
"That sounds like a lot of work-"
"You'd get to taste her cocoa again."
"YOU'RE RIGHT LET'S GO!" Lyon shouted, suddenly full of energy, running out of his apartment with an abrupt burst of determination. Natsu stood where he was momentarily, hearing a female scream and a slap in the hall of the apartment complex, followed by a very red faced Lyon, having been made aware of his continued nudity, returning to the room. "Pants. Pants first."
"So Mug #43 was too sweet..." Natsu murmured, noting this on his clipboard, as Lyon stifled a belch. The two sat at a counter in Erza's heavily equipped kitchen, as Titania, donned in what she referred to as her "Cocoa Empress Armour" (Translation: Her normal clothes, with an apron and a Santa hat) placed another cup of cocoa in the "Failed" section, ruing her decision to help Natsu in his mission to find Ur's secret recipe.
"#43 was too sweet, #42 wasn't sweet enough," she grumbled, shooting daggers (metaphorically, but she strongly considered doing so literally) at Lyon. "#26 was too 'cinnamony', #14 tasted like 'Halloween cocoa' whatever the hell that's supposed to mean. Natsu, I'm running out of ideas here. There are only so many ways to make this drink."
"Yeah, and you know all of them except the right one," Lyon mumbled, feeling sick from hot cocoa OD. Erza spun around and held up a hand to smash his head through the marble counter when Natsu quickly intervened.
"Hey, #35 was really nice, do we have any of that left?"
"No. Mr Picky-Choosy here thought that one wasn't 'tender enough'."
"Look, I never said they were bad," Lyon clarified. "But Natsu, explicitly wanted Ur's exact recipe for Gray. And none of them were it."
Natsu felt unusually upset about this. I- I give up. I couldn't do this for Gray. He's never gonna drink hot cocoa again... Fuck, why did this hurt? Was the smell of Gray's sadness going to stick out even more prominently, now that Natsu had utterly failed to resolve it's source, even though he had so firmly decided he would?
Not an hour later, Natsu came running into the guild hall with a grocery bag, scanning the place wildly until his eyes hit the Ice Mage, who sat alone in a booth in the left corner of the hall, reading. Glad that the guild was quiet due to the cold weather, the snow-covered Salamander marched over to him, and slammed the grocery bag onto the table before Gray, startling the taller man into dropping his book.
"Okay!" the Dragon Slayer announced, breaking into a rant, as he extracted a box of mugs from the bag and tore it open, placing a mug roughly in front of a bewildered Gray. "I tried, and I tried, but I couldn't figure out how to make hot cocoa like Ur did, and I'm sorry," he ploughed on, digging through the bad and producing a large jug. "I just wanted to get you to like cocoa again and stop smelling so damn sad," Natsu grumbled, filling the jug by half with milk from a carton he had in the bag, not even looking at Gray, focusing intently on the task at hand. Not seeing the look of shock and affection that Gray was giving him. Not seeing the tears that pricked his eyes. "43 different damn recipes, and none of them right, I got Lyon and Erza to help me and we couldn't do it," Natsu explained, unwrapping a large chocolate bar and proceeding to magically heat it, melting it into the milk. "All because you're so damn picky, Ice Queen," he spat, adding a sachet of sugar and starting to frantically stir the cold concoction he'd created. "All because I'm willing to do all this shit just to get you to fucking smile, you're so lucky, y'know?" he finished, pouring the mixture into Gray's cup, before gently blowing a small flame onto it. The "drink" bubbled briefly before settling, enriched with dragonfire. "Look, I know it's not Ur's, and it definitely won't be as good, but just... just give the Special Natsu Recipe a chance, okay?" Natsu sat down across from Gray and looked him dead in the eyes, ignoring how wet they seemed to be. "Drink."
Gray gulped slightly, before picking up the mug, its handle warm to the touch, and tentatively taking a drink from it. Natsu waited and watched for a stressful few seconds as Gray tasted, and as he swallowed. Gray put a hand to his bare chest, and Natsu knew that he was feeling the warmth of dragonfire travelling down his oesophagus, a sensation very familiar to Natsu. Gray stared at the drink before him, his bangs hiding his eyes from Natsu's view, and he shook slightly, before sniffing quickly and looking up to meet Natsu's quiet stare. He grinned, trying to muster his usual cocky expression, but failed miserably, summoning an adoring gaze in its place.
Natsu froze. He had been prepared for a lot of reactions but that wasn't one of them. He stood and walked around to look at Gray up close, scanning for signs of deception, but Gray simply continued to smile at him.
"...Perfect? But that's... impossible! Lyon said that Ur's cocoa tasted like love! How could they be the same?"
"It's nothing like Ur's," Gray hummed calmly, cradling the mug in his hands. "But it has the same taste."
"What the hell does that mean?!" Natsu roared in frustration.
Gray looked at Natsu, who quietened down immediately. "Here, try it."
Natsu had expected to reach out and take the mug. He hadn't expected Gray to take a swig. He hadn't expected Gray to stand, and to grab him by the scarf, pulling him in and locking their mouths. He hadn't expected such a nice taste.
Natsu performed the impressive task of tasting both the cocoa and Gray at once, and managing to swallow the former without choking himself, until only tongues imbued with the taste remained, battling one another. The two broke apart, and Gray looked at Natsu tenderly.
"Did you taste it?" he asked quietly, a hand buried in Natsu's soft hair.
"Yeah," Natsu whispered breathlessly, a pink glow on his cheeks. "That tasted like love..."