anything but a ghost - Chapter 1 - sleeping_captain (nap_princess) (2023)

Chapter Text

anything but a ghost


The night is dark and the catastrophic study room feels cluttered like her mind. With long hair pulled away from her face, she sits hunched over her desk and her back faces the warmth of a fireplace that glows orange. For many months, she has been religiously trying to piece together the happenings of that small town. Ever since she left, she’s tried but didn't – couldn't– go back.

Newspaper clippings, stacked books and scribbled notes surround her as her eyes jump from one thing to another. She’s having one of those nights where everything feels hopeless, where all her hard work feels like it’s a failed plan with no safety net.

Why did she think this was a good idea? She mean, all this while, she’s depended on dumb luck and an impossible eureka moment, what a foolish way of thinking! How is she supposed to solve the mystery that runs through her mind? How is supposed to get the answers to a question that invades her thoughts if she constantly gets stuck at the same roadblock?

Her tea's chilled and her eyes are burning with tiredness. Maybe she should give it a rest? Even the wild animals are asleep at this hour, there is no hint of activity.

"What am I doing?" She asks herself out loud as she rubs her hands on her face and sinks deeper into her chair.

Herphone rings conveniently as soon as the question escapes from her mouth. She picks it up without any hesitation after checking the time – it's three AM, ghost hour.

“This better be urgent.”

Music fills Juvia Lockser's ears as she stares out of the car window. A fleeting familiar feeling dulls in Juvia’s heart, she’s sixteen and this is her seventh move – a new place thanks to her Papa's job.

But, Juvia is hopeful. Hopeful that this will be her last move. She’s tired of constantly moving. If everything goes as planned, Juvia and her family will be staying until she graduates high school. Maybe she’ll finally be able to make proper friends and only have the need to say good-bye to this new home once she goes off for college?

Juvia sighs and looks down at her phone. She fiddles with it until she remembers she never quite closed that internet tab with the town’s history on it: Magnolia – a small sleepy town. It’s the kind of town every TV show tries to convince its viewers that it’s a place filled with secrets and old legends of sorts.

Always being the cautious new girl, Juvia often took precautions to not make a fool of herself. That being said: Juvia did what every weary person would do, she Googled her new town. She did some research but unfortunately found nothing exciting.

Magnolia sounded pretty dull, if anyone asked her. Every road and building and street was named after something floral for some reason. The community had everything it needed to function. But as far as options go in this small town, there's not much to pick, three gas stations; two hospitals; two schools – where kids either go to the public school or the private school; there's one mall to buy bits and bobs and groceries; one movie theatre; one arcade shop, which was fine, Juvia guesses.

She is more of a stay-at-home person, anyways. But what if her hobbies weren’t interesting enough? What if they were old-timey? What if no one likes the music she listened to? Juvia only knows three songs by The Beatles.

Juvia hopes Magnolia is the type of close-knit community where everybody tries their best to get along. Maybe if Juvia successfully makes one friend then she’ll gain another seven by the end of the day? She’d hate to make one wrong move and be labelled a weirdo for life. She doesn’t want to be alienated thanks to the town’s connections. The worst-case scenario is her growing up to be a crazy cat lady (and she doesn't even like cats)!

Juvia prays that things will work out differently around Magnolia.

"Look at that house," Mr Lockser says, breaking Juvia’s train of thoughts. "It's ancient, it kind of gives me the creeps."

Juvia follows her Papa's pointed finger. There stands an old looking house; chipped and falling apart, white fence falling jagged like teeth and windows smashed. There was even graffiti saying things like BEWARE, GET OUT and H x E forever.

"It does look scary," Juvia answers, taking an earphone out of her ear as she lowers the volume.

"Promise me you won't go there." Mrs Lockser tells her daughter. "I know you might get the idea that it'll be cool to explore or impress your new friends but it looks dangerous. You could fall through the floorboards and break your legs."

"Don't scare her like that." Mr Lockser tells his wife. "You already know your daughter. Our Ju’s shy and she likes listening to slow music while she makes things with her hands. You'll catch her making a knitted sweater not exploring some rickety old junk house. What are you trying to do: turn her extra introverted?"

The older woman sends her husband a look before she sighs and looks over her shoulder, at Juvia, "You know what I mean, Ju. Just promise me you won't go in there,"

"Juvia won't, Mama." Juvia answers.

Her Mama reaches a pale hand from the shot gun seat and cups Juvia's face lovingly in return. Juvia can’t help but smile at the affection given before her Mama turns back and continues staring at the road.

And as the Lockser family drives away from the old house, Juvia can't help but feel watched by the creepy building until the car turns around the corner.

Juvia figured her first day spent at Magnolia would be unboxing her stuff, decorating her room, eating cold dinner on the floor and sleeping on an air mattress. But her mother has other plans. Specifically, the dinner part.

“Ju, honey, could you please run to that convenient store.”

“What – the convenient store?” Juvia squeaks, scrubbing sweat off her brow. She’s all tired and sweaty from moving boxes and heavy lifting. She can’t possibly go out looking like a mess! That’s social suicide, what if the town folks thinks she’s a hobo?

“Yes, we saw it on the way to the house, it shouldn’t be more than a block away.” Mrs Lockser says, shuffling boxes around the kitchen with her husband.

And a small part of Juvia’s mind can’t help but think of throwing every excuse she had at her mother’s way. What happened to staying safe? Juvia didn’t know anything about this town! What if she got lost? Her parents know her sense of direction is horrible! She can’t believe out of everyone in this family, she has to be the first to step out of the house and explore it. Like her Papa had said, she was an introvert.

“Does Juvia have to go?”

“We can’t seem to find the can-opener.” Her mother reasons.

“Can’t Mama go with Juvia?”

Her mother digs into her purse and pulls out some money, pressing it into Juvia’s hand despite Juvia not agreeing to the request. “Don’t be silly, you’re a big girl. Get a can-opener and some bottled water. For tomorrow’s breakfast, get some bread and jam.”

Opening her mouth, Juvia tries to protest again. She doesn’t care that her Mama is already listing things! Juvia knows that there’s really no going back once a list is made but she doesn’t want to!

Unfortunately, the doorbell rings before Juvia can even stutter a word.

“Get the door while you’re at it, will you, Ju?” Mrs Lockser says then disappears into the kitchen where boxes were waiting.

Staring at the outline of her mother’s back, Juvia squeezes the money in her pale hand until she can no longer ignore the constant ringing. Whoever is at their front door, it’s a persistent person!

“What is it?” Juvia says, cracking the door open with caution. She hates that she sounds so rude! She’s not! The truth is, she’s just painfully shy and is socially awkward.

“Hiyya, I’m Natsu Dragneel!” A pink haired boy says without a hint of shyness, perhaps the opposite of Juvia. A wide grin stretches on his face. His green eyes are pointed in a way that it makes his features sharper. “I live next door! My step-mom saw the U-Haul truck outside your house and thought it’d be nice for her to give you a welcoming present!” He practically yells every sentence with a burst of energy.

Juvia steps back a little, surprised by the friendliness. In her head, Juvia tells herself, Okay, don’t mess this up, Juvia! Be just as nice!

“O – Oh, uh – hi! Hello! That’s nice of you – you’re so nice – thank you for the gift!” Juvia tries mimicking Natsu’s loud friendliness but fails. Oh God, why does she sound so fake? “And um, nice to meet you, Natsu-san, was it?!” She needs to stop shouting.

“Yeah, like the word ‘Summer’. What’s your name?” Natsu asks, not picking up on Juvia’s nervousness.

“Um, oh yes, introductions.” Juvia says, realising that she’s been blabbering on and is continuing to blabber on. “Juvia is – I’m Juvia Lockser.” She tells him as she wills herself not to talk in her normal speech. She doesn’t want to weird Natsu out.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you too, Juvia.” Natsu nods as he trusts the house warming gift into Juvia’s hands, which she takes and holds awkwardly. “They’re muffins. Chocolate flavour, freshly baked.”

Juvia manages to smile back at him, trying to be polite. “Uh, thank you. Thank you for baking the muffins.”

“My step-mom baked it. I’m just delivering it.” Natsu replies, still grinning. He’s a smiley-person.

“O – Oh yeah, of course. Your step-mom did. You just told me.” Juvia balances the muffins in one hand then slaps her forehead for effect with the other. But now she thinks she shouldn’t have done that because she may or may not have just made herself look like an idiot. “Why would you be the one to bake it? Boys don’t bake. Obviously,”

“My friend Elfman Strauss does.” Natsu says. “He makes the best cupcakes.”

Juvia trips on her words. “Juvia means – I mean – Boys can bake but you … wouldn’t? Or would? I umm …” Juvia points to the kitchen behind her because she doesn’t know what else to say. “My parents are in the kitchen if you want to say ‘hi’ or have a conversation. Yeah? I’ll just – Mama! Papa, one of our neighbours is here!” Oh God, stop talking!

“I brought muffins!” Natsu hollers.

“And he brought muffins!” Juvia repeats but deep down, she thinks, Juvia can’t talk to boys to save her life!

Her parents soon come out and greet Natsu with ease; giving the boy smiles and handshakes. Gosh, Juvia wishes she was that normal! The muffins are then whisked away by her parents and it really should be all good now but it’s not. Juvia doesn’t know what to do because Natsu’s just standing there.

“Anyway,” Juvia laces her now free hands together. “It was nice meeting you, Natsu-san. Thank you again for the muffins. But Juvia – I have to go to the convenient store to get a few other things so …” Juvia gestures to her need to leave the house.

Natsu perks up, “Oh, cool, I need to go too! I was thinking of buying a few snacks anyways, I’ll come with!”

That wasn’t an invitation. Juvia thinks. But … okay?

Juvia huffs, a little irritated. She’s been looking for the damn can-opener for ages but the tiny store doesn’t seem like it has one, which is strange because it has junk like cheap plastic toys and toothbrushes but no can-openers. She would have asked the guy behind the counter but he looked scary with all his piercings and unkept long, black hair. Plus, Juvia is convinced he’s the cashier and therefore won’t step away from the counter.

“Are there any stupid can-opener here?” Juvia whispers harshly under her breath to herself.

“It’s on the other side of the aisle,” A voice replies and Juvia almost screams because she swore the store only had like three people in it – her, Natsu and the cashier guy behind the counter.

‘Stranger danger!’ screams in Juvia’s head.

Juvia turns to her left and sees a boy her age with dark hair and even darker eyes, a strong jaw and a small scar on his forehead. He was dressed in a tracksuit with his sleeves rolled up to show his toned arms. He was a pretty boy without a doubt.

Juvia didn’t think the opportunity to strike a conversation with such a beautiful person, one-on-one, would ever occur in her life. Let alone to have a conversation started by one. People usually ignored her.

“Oh, uh, thanks?” Juvia squeaks, staring at her shoes now.

“Are you new?” Pretty boy asks.

“Yeah,” Juvia answers in the same small voice.

“Do you go to Magnolia Public School or Private School?” He continues asking, staring at her. And Juvia kind of wishes that he wasn’t because she’s just spent hours unpacking boxes. She’s all sweaty and covered in dust, her hair must have looked like a rat’s nest!

Juvia replies and tugs on a blue curl, trying to low-key arrange it. “Uh, the first one.” Natsu goes there too, Juvia discovered this while they were walking and talking to the store.

He asks, “Public?”

“Yup,” Juvia answers though it sounded more like a conversation between her shoes and her since Juvia didn’t dare return his gaze.


Juvia nods, repeating his words, “Cool,”

Is there any other way to make this conversation last longer but less awkward? But also, wait – what happened to ‘stranger danger’? Where are her senses Juvia’s been too distracted by his handsome face! She won’t fall for such witchcraft! She doesn’t even know this dude and now she’s telling him where she studies? What if this beautiful stranger kidnaps her? Her parents don’t have that kind of money! They’d be better of starting a new family then rescue her miserable ass!

“OkayitwasnicetalkingtoyoubutIgottagoIhaveacurfew,” Juvia says in a hurry and walks to the next aisle. She hopes to God she can find Natsu or just make it straight away to the counter.

The can-opener is just where the handsome stranger said it would be. She manages to grab it and chuck it into her basket but she’s not able to find Natsu. Not wanting to stick around any longer, she makes a beeline for the cashier and hopes for the best.

Don’t look back. Don’t look back! Juvia tells herself and almost drops everything when she reaches the counter. She’s panicked enough for the scary cashier guy to look concern.

“Uh, I think there’s a weirdo in your store?” Juvia whispers. Juvia then stands on her toes and looks back at the rows of sold items as the cashier stares at her. The cashier guy might think she’s crazy herself but she’s just trying to find the hot guy so that she can point him out or something.

"Don't get any ideas with him." The cashier warns.

"Pardon?" Juvia found herself saying and stands normally.

The cashier grunts and tips his chin at the direction of the farthest aisle. “I know you’re new and probably curious about everything and everyone but don't get any ideas about him. He's not the best fella to hang around with."

"Juvia – I won’t get any funny ideas but I let a few things slip. I don’t even know if I'm in the same school as him so I don't think I'll have any chance to bump into him." Juvia answers, biting back her third point of view speech. Juvia looks at the cashier's nametag. It says GAJEEL. She can’t believe such a scary looking guy is warning her about a beautiful stranger. Usually, in movies, it’s the other way around.

Gajeel squints his red eyes at her. "Doesn't matter if you do. The town’s small enough for anyone to bump into anyone, it’s almost annoyingly convenient but if you see someone you don't like, just pretend that you didn’t see them, it usually works.”

"A – Ah, okay." Juvia answers, immediately timid.

"300 jewels."


"Your stuff you're buyin’. It sums up to 300 jewels." Gajeel repeats and Juvia can tell he's holding back a sigh.

"Oh, r – right," Juvia answers then fishes out her purse and pays the exact amount.

Gajeel grunts his thanks and Juvia waits awkwardly as Gajeel hands her her bagged items.

“Did cha get all your stuff, Juvia?” Another voice came into the conversation, making Juvia want to scream for the second time today.

The blue haired girl turns just to be met with a mountain of junk food talking to her. The person behind the mountain of snacks is none other than her neighbour, Natsu Dragneel. Juvia can almost sense his wide toothy grin behind all those potato chips.

“Yes, Natsu-san.” Juvia smiles though she doesn’t think Natsu can see it.

Natsu dumps the snacks unceremoniously on the counter before blinking at Gajeel. “Oh, hey, Metal Face, since when have you worked here?”

Gajeel hums angrily at the nickname. He says in a low voice, “You’re lucky I’m on the job, Salamander. If not, I would have whacked you on the head.”

“You two friends?” Juvia asks but then almost regrets it when Gajeel glares at her. Juvia shrinks. She thinks about how she hasn’t even started school yet and she’ll already starting beef with kids her age!

Natsu shrugs. “I’m friends with everybody. It’s part of my job.”

“What job? You’re barely even a student. For as long as I’ve known you, I haven’t seen you done any of your homework.” Gajeel snorts, scanning Natsu’s items.

“Being the class clown is hard. Do you know how difficult it is coming up with jokes? It’s not easy making everyone laugh.” Natsu whines though Juvia can tell he’s being playful.

“Are you walking this girly back?” Gajeel asks instead, ignoring Natsu’s banter. He talks like Juvia’s not standing right in front of him.

“Yeah, we’re neighbours.” Natsu tells Gajeel then raises a brow as if sensing something wrong. “Why? What’s up?”

“Nothin’,” Gajeel says. “Fullbuster’s here,”

“Ah,” Natsu says as if he knows a thing or two.

“230 jewels.” Gajeel says, showing clear signs that he doesn’t want to talk about the subject any longer. “Now pay up and get out of my sight.”

Natsu rolls his green eyes before pulling out a bunch of notes. It’s all crumpled and not in exact change, Gajeel groans at this and Natsu simply smiles.

“See you at school next week, Metal Face,” Natsu says after pocketing lose coins into his jeans.

With that, the two neighbours walk out of the store before Natsu turns to Juvia, plastic bag swinging in his hand.

“I bet cha curious about Gray now, huh?”

“Gray?” Juvia repeats, confused.

“Gray Fullbuster. He probably talked to you or something while you were in the store.” Natsu explains.

“Dark hair? Dark eyes?”

“Yup, that’s Ice Pop.”

“Ice Pop?”

“That’s what I call Gray. Sorry, I like giving everyone nicknames. It’s fun. ” Natsu answers lightly then his tone turns slightly serious. “Anyways, I think you should listen to Gajeel. Since you’re new and everything, you’ll likely befriend Erza first. And Gajeel’s in Erza’s circle of friends so it’s best not to annoy him just yet.”

“What about you?” Juvia asks. She almost wants to ask if she could hang out with him from day one until forever possibly.

“Me? I don’t have a circle. I’m friends with everyone, remember? Class clown.” Natsu explains. “I don’t want to drag you everywhere with me and force you to talk to people you don’t know.”

Well, there goes that plan! Erza and Gajeel it is then!

Then Natsu tells Juvia, “I can see you’re kind of an introvert.”

Juvia keeps quiet at this because it’s true.

Natsu kicks a pebble on the side on the sidewalk and says, “But don’t worry, Juvia. Erza’s real nice. She’s kind of like the unofficial welcome committee. She’s every new kid’s first friend. Her mom’s a lawyer so I guess it’s kinda drilled into her to have connections with everyone.”

Juvia can’t help but ask as her hand now twists around her blue hair. “What about this Gray person? Can you tell me why Gajeel-san doesn’t like him?”

“Ah, hmm, it’s not my place to say. They go way back.” Natsu answers. “I mean, this town is small enough that everyone finds out each other’s secrets so I’m pretty sure you’ll find someone who’ll be willing to tell you. Maybe you’ll find out in a week or two.” Natsu admits, still smiling.

They’ll be home in a minute or two.

“But I’m not the type of person to gossip. Gray’s not dangerous but he has some degree of …” Natsu trails off and Juvia can’t help but feel uneasy. “It’s more like backlash for what Gray chose to do.” He shrugs then looks at Juvia. “Sorry about that.”

“It’s okay.” Juvia answers truthfully. “It’s Juvia’s fault for being nosy.”

“Oh,” Natsu says, as if suddenly remembering something as he snaps his fingers. “I noticed you kinda do this thing where you start talking in third person then drop it to first person.”

Heat crawls up Juvia’s neck at Natsu’s observation. And here she thought he was just a goofy boy.

“Don’t do that, Juvia. If it’s not your thing, you don’t gotta force yourself.” Natsu advises and Juvia feels a little better about this. “I mean, I think I sound like a Boston mafia warlord and no one’s ever told me to shut up so if they can handle me talking nonsense then they won’t care about your third person speech.”

“Thank you, Natsu-san.” Juvia smiles. “Juvia appreciates. She really does.”

“There you go.” Natsu grins back. “All natural.”

Juvia’s grin grows wider, his comment almost makes her forget about the mystery revolving around Gray Fullbuster. Almost.

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