It's when Sting is startled awake for the seventh night in a month that he knows something has got to give. He’s reliving dreams again, where Rogue’s future self looks at him with desperation and an ugly, raw sort of hunger as he blitzes Sting to dust and cries over his ashes. It’s an uncomfortable reality he has to live with as Sabertooth’s leader; his best friend of ages, in a future timeline, killed him. It’s not a reality Sting likes or wants. Neither is it a reality that the Rogue of the future seems to particularly like or care for. Sting doesn’t know much of this information firsthand, but he knows Rogue, even in a version of him damaged beyond repair, and he knows the Rogue of the present carries the ache of hurting like he does a knife twisted into his stomach.
Every night that he does scramble awake, hand pressed against his beating heart, he locks eyes with Rogue, squashed in the corner, trying to melt into the shadow and become as small as possible.
“Sorry,” Rogue will always say. “I just—I woke up and I couldn’t remember if you were there, anymore.”
They don’t fall back asleep after that, and the next day is always a little awkward, a little off. Every day, really, is a little awkward, a little off. With Minerva having fled from the guild where her father is no longer allowed, Sting hopes she’ll find a form of self-reflection in her departure. But the absence of Jiemma and his daughter, toxic as they were, leaves their future shaky and uncertain at a point where it’s absolutely terrifying to be so.
Rogue is worse off than him, Sting knows. The bags on his eyes aren’t just to convey a dismal, threatening aura; they’re threatening signs of Rogue’s hopelessness to what he feels is inevitability.
Things between them have always been assured. Sting is the light, Rogue is the shadow, and they coexist in a perfect, supported balance. Now it feels like the rug has been pulled from under them, and while Sting is stumbling from the loss, Rogue has found a pit where the floor should have been.
And on the seventh night, Sting gives up. Whatever coexistence they’ve settled back into isn’t good enough for him, and judging by the bags under Rogue’s eyes, it’s not good enough for him, either.
“Rogue,” he asks, “What are you doing?”
“Sorry,” Rogue says, and Sting’s heart just crumbles inside him.
“Don’t be sorry,” he says, and they’re talking for the first time. When everything is left unsaid, they can maintain a rocky peace, but Sting cannot let that settle. Rogue is something more than a shaky balance. He is everything to him.
“Come—come here, Rogue,” Sting offers, patting the spot on the bed next to him. “The master headquarters are too big, anyways.”
Jiemma had his own luxury apartment in the city, and rarely deigned to actually work in the master headquarters, or work at all. Minerva had taken on most of the administrative work, and she stayed within the small girl’s dorms a short walk from the guild. It’s one of the only spaces that Sting hadn’t wanted to bulldoze to the ground, when he first came back. But even if Jiemma hadn’t used it, the master’s headquarters are too big for just one person, especially the bedroom. Having another person—more specifically, having Rogue—in the same room eases the ache of loneliness that’s been gnawing at him night after night.
Rogue looks too terrified to deny him. He slinks over to the side of Sting’s bed, and with careful, careful motions, hoists himself on top. He lays himself on top of the sheets without making a sound.
“Sting,” he says, and Sting’s chest twists, all ugly and possessive. He wants Rogue to say his name until the end of time, to give shape to his nameless, wandering future. Sting doesn’t feel like anything half of the time, and if he does feel like something, it’s usually not a good thing. But hearing his name again from Rogue is something special. Something reclaimed. There’s the ache of acutely missing something he’d never known he missed.
“Do you—are you comfortable?” Sting asks, flinching at how loud his voice seems in the cool night air.
“I’m fine,” Rogue says, his voice deliberately kept even and unfeeling.
“Okay, then.” He doesn’t want to push it too far, after all. Rogue doesn’t like to admit it, but he’s the type of person that hates aggressive people, so it’s really a miracle that he and Rogue are friends at all.
And Rogue hates being a bother about things, but he’s usually pretty good about being a bother to Sting, only ever since the eclipse happened, he’s been on edge and terrified out of his mind, like one day Sting is suddenly going to snap at him and tell him to get lost. That ugly feeling claws back into his chest, only now it’s in a different form.
The Rogue from the future is cold and unfeeling and also a little bit too much like the Rogue of now.
He closes his eyes and waits for sleep to come.
When he wakes up, Rogue is staring at him.
His sleep had been surprisingly pleasant. No nightmares. Just a dreamless sleep and the nagging sense that he was missing something. It’s a better sleep than he’s had most days.
Unfortunately, one night of sleep isn’t some type of magical cure-all. Rogue still looks depressed and haggard and very unlike his dignified, vibrant self.
He’s still staring, though.
“What,” Sting says, voice still rough from sleep. “Did I snore?”
Rogue blinks quickly. “Yeah,” he says, slipping off the bed. “It was loud.”
“I'll try not to next time,” Sting says. He hopes he can be presumptuous enough to assume a next time. “Sorry.”
“No—um, it was fine,” Rogue says, though if the way he’s determinedly looking down at the floor is any indication, it’s not fine, at all. Sting wonders just how bad his snoring is.
“Are you leaving for a mission?” Sting asks.
Rogue pauses by the door. “Yeah,” he says. “You know. Reparations.”
You know they’re not your fault, Sting wants to say, but Rogue is always going to somehow take the blame, because after all, it really is his future self who came to wreak havoc upon the world. And there are a lot of rational arguments against it, but he knows Rogue is always going to remember staring back at someone who looked so much like him. It’s not anything Sting can change, as much as he wants to.
“Yeah, I know,” Sting says.
Rogue nods. His eyes dart around the room like he’ll be stung if he dawdles a moment longer. “I’ll be going now, then.”
Rogue looks back at him quizzically.
Stay, Sting wants to say. We’re still making repairs, too. We need you here.
He swallows those thoughts down. He’s their new leader. He can’t be so selfish. “Stay safe,” he finally settles on. “Don’t be gone too long.”
Rogue shoots him a quick smile. “Okay,” he says, and before Sting can capture the image of Rogue’s smiling face, he’s already out of the door and off to complete his mission.
Sting sighs and gets out of bed, watching the door swing shut. He’s got work to do.
It’s getting late. Sundown has come a long time ago, and Rogue isn’t back yet.
Sting sighs. The guild hall is almost empty. It’s not like Sabertooth was ever a bustling guild hall, anyways, but after Minerva’s expulsion and the resulting coup, he’d have thought they would be a little friendlier. Instead, it prompted a mass exodus of people.
Not that Sting minds. They’re just building their guild back up, after all. If people can’t handle the new Sabertooth, they might as well leave. As for the new Sabertooth, Sting really isn’t sure what it’s supposed to be. It’s better, of course, but anything is better than what was before.
The basic reconstruction of the guild had just wrapped up a few weeks ago, and instead of silently helping out with the work, Rogue’s been traveling across the continent to do a variety of odd jobs and, in his own words, make reparations. And now Sting has lost his only excuse at keeping him at the guild for the day. They could’ve used Rufus’s Memory Make and had the guild rebuilt in seconds, but it feels wrong, especially now, to go back as they were. Unfortunately, Rufus had hated helping with construction, so he’d taken to doing a few missions locally in order to finance their operations. So that was one more person who didn’t visit the guild. Lecter had offered to stay with him, but honestly, he and Frosch are doing better hanging out in Fairy Tail, where there’s a large crowd of people and a steady stream of attention. Sting doesn’t have the heart to force him to stay, and he’s not sure he wants him to stay. He wants their guild to be a better place before he can truly welcome him back. So far, what they’ve accomplished is the bare bones of a guild, with high ceilings and open space. Room to grow. But right now, it’s just a lot of room.
His sigh feels like it echoes in the open space. Other than him, Yukino is the only person left, as she’d stayed to do some research on celestial spirits. But she’s packing up now, so soon it’ll just be him, alone in the guild hall.
Rogue still isn’t back.
“Sting,” Yukino says, and he looks up. “Guild master,” she tacks on.
Sting grimaces. “Please, no,” he says. “We’re almost the same age.”
She offers him a small smile. “I’ll be retiring for the night,” she says. “How… how are you?”
Surprisingly, Yukino is one of the people he’s least weird around, now. Maybe it’s because they were already unfamiliar with each other, after all. Now that Jiemma is gone, she’s a lot looser with her speech. Sting is honestly amazed she’s still here, after what they’ve put her through. But they’ve made amends, and Sting has apologized, and it seems Yukino is here to stay.
“I’m waiting up for Rogue,” Sting says. “He hasn’t come back yet.”
“He likes the night,” Yukino says. “I’m sure he’ll be a while, unfortunately.”
Sting shrugs. “It’s okay. The master’s quarters are right upstairs. Not like I’m going anywhere else.”
“It would be good to get some sleep,” Yukino says. She frowns. “…He may just head back to the boy’s dorms. Is what you need with him so important that it can’t wait?”
“I don’t need him for anything,” Sting says, and then realizes how strange that sounds. “Right now, at least,” he amends. “He just… promised he’d be here. So I’m waiting.”
Yukino smiles. “Good luck, then. I hope you don’t have to wait too long.”
Sting nods and she takes that as her cue to leave.
The wind that blows in from the guild doors sends a sudden chill through his body. Sting shivers, regretting his sleeveless look for today. It’s usually worth it, because he gets to show off his guild mark, but since he’s mostly milling around the guild these days, he’s not really showing off to anyone.
He waits, watching as the time on the clock ticks by.
Sting’s eyes flutter shut for a few moments before he forces them back open. He yawns. The guild looks so empty and desolate, right now. Maybe it had always been an unfeeling place without any character, but it somehow feels like despite all the progress they’ve made, Sting is more alone in his life than he’s ever been.
He gets the horrible feeling that Yukino is right. Rogue has always been fond of the shadows. He’s admitted many times that he felt more comfortable being in the dark of nighttime than under the harsh sun. Maybe he simply doesn’t want to let go of that precious time. Maybe he’s overworking himself to the bone trying to make amends for something he didn’t even do but feels responsible for. Maybe he just went to the dorms. Maybe he didn’t really care if there was a next time for them to be side by side again. Maybe he went out to the other guilds and he met that guy from Fairy Tail he’s always admired. Maybe after a long talk Rogue had decided to leave Sabertooth and join Fairy Tail. Maybe, in the end, he doesn’t care as much as Sting does about keeping their bond alive. Maybe he doesn’t even care as much about Sting as he thought he did. Maybe—
“Sting? Sting, are you okay?”
Sting jolts upright. He blinks to see Rogue hovering over him, hands placed firmly on his shoulders. Oh, Sting thinks, he was shaking me awake.
As if he can read Sting’s thoughts, Rogue pulls his hands away from Sting like he’s been burned.
He winces. This does not bode well.
“What time is it?” Sting asks, voice still slurred from sleep.
“Around midnight, I don’t know,” Rogue says. “Why are you out here?”
Sting shrugs. Suddenly he feels embarrassed. “Waiting,” he says.
“For what? Surely it can’t be that important.”
“You.” He can’t meet Rogue’s eyes.
Rogue falls silent. Sting can’t bear to look up and see the guilt on his face.
“Well, you’re here now,” Sting says. He reaches his arms up with a smile. “Carry me to the bedroom?”
Rogue freezes. “Why?”
“Because we’re going to the same place,” Sting says. “Easier this way.”
“No, I mean, I know we’re doing that,” Rogue says, voice hushed. “It’s just… can’t you walk?”
“I don’t have the energy to stand up right now,” Sting says, which is only half a lie.
Rogue is still hesitant. He’s gripping the side of the table so hard his knuckles are turning white.
“Please,” Sting says. “I just… for me, okay? That’s why.”
It’s slow, but Rogue finally nods.
Sting leans his weight on the table. He closes his eyes and breathes slowly, and then pulls himself up to a standing position.
He sighs. “I’m really tired.”
“You really should have just gone to bed,” Rogue mumbles.
“You know I can’t do that,” Sting says. He holds out his hand. “Come on. Help me before my legs give out.”
Rogue hesitantly grasps his wrist. “How do you…” he trails off, a light blush dusting his cheeks.
It’s been a while since he’s seen Rogue blush. It’s cute.
Rogue furrows his brows in determination. “Okay,” he says.
Sting smiles and shuts his eyes. Rogue’s voice is so nice and calming, like always. It’s almost enough to send him right to sleep.
There’s a cautious hand on his back, and another behind his knees, and before Sting can really register what’s happening, he feels himself lifted up into the air.
His eyes snap open. Rogue refuses to make eye contact with him.
Honestly, at best he’d expected Rogue to drag him along the floor. He wouldn’t in a million years have expected this.
He’s always wearing that cloak of his, and while it looks really, really nice on him, Sting feels like sometimes he forgets just how strong Rogue is. He remembers during combat, of course, but it’s not like… a constant thing in his head, that Rogue is strong and can do things like this. He doesn’t think he’ll get the thought out of his head now, though.
Rogue doesn’t even show any signs of being tired, even though he’s probably been doing work all day. His hands are steady and supporting, and he walks in slow, measured steps. Dimly, Sting registers the lights in the guild’s main hall fizzling out, but he’s too preoccupied with his sudden proximity to Rogue to really focus on anything else. Despite the chill outside, Sting can only feel the warmth of being by Rogue’s side.
He’s really nice, Sting thinks. This is nice. He doesn’t say anything; he doesn’t know if he can bring himself to break this peace, and he doesn’t know if he can even say anything, because he’s just overwhelmed by how kind Rogue is. This is his best friend in the entire universe, and he also just happens to be one of the best humans in the entire universe. That knowledge is deeply moving.
Sting leans into the hold. For just a moment, he feels weightless.
It’s only a minute or two before Rogue carries him into the master’s quarters and lowers him onto the bed, but Sting commits every second of it to memory.
“Okay,” Rogue says, voice clipped. Sting desperately tries not to smile. He knows that the both of them are barely illuminated by the candlelight, but Rogue has always had good vision in the dark, and Sting doesn’t want to look like he’s making fun of him.
“That was… nice,” Sting says. “Thank you.”
“I’ll… I’ll go, now.”
Rogue turns to face him. “…Sting?”
The events of the morning flash into his mind, and Sting has the sinking feeling that whatever he’s asking for, it isn’t going to work.
“Can’t…” Now he’s going to blush, too. “Can’t you just… stay? With me? For… for tonight.”
Rogue takes slow steps towards the bed. “But…”
“I’ll—I’ll try not to snore,” Sting quickly says, “And—and…”
Rogue tilts his head. “You’re not… that loud,” he says. “It’s just… why do you want me here?”
Sting swallows. “What I was going to say,” he begins—and it’s too hard to look Rogue in the eyes, but he also can’t look away—“is that… I need you here with me. You’re not… you’re not the only one who worries, you know. If—if I wake up and you’re not there…”
Sting shudders. “I don’t know,” he says, voice small. “I don’t know what I’d do.”
Rogue sits down on the bed. “Sting,” he says, and it’s filled with some type of indescribable emotion that makes him close to tears.
He blinks quickly. “Forget it,” he says. “Just…”
Rogue sits down next to him. “Okay,” he says. “I’ll stay.”
It’s a start.
“Good, good,” Sting says. “Come on, then.”
Rogue doesn’t move. Sting stares up at him. His face is soft in the candlelight. Even when he looks at his worst, Rogue has always been pretty, Sting thinks.
“Do you, uh—” Rogue’s face colors. “I can’t really sleep in this.”
Sting points to the direction of his closet. “Fuck,” he mumbles. “I should change, too.”
He stumbles out of bed and grabs a pair of comfortable clothes before ducking into the bathroom to brush his teeth and change. There’s a spare toothbrush by the sink that he hadn’t noticed in the morning. He relaxes.
When he exits, Rogue has tentatively selected a plain pair of black clothing. They’re about the same size, and it fits him well. It drapes on him in a way that highlights the gaunt edge to his face and body.
Sting stares at him as he snaps his fingers and extinguishes the candles in the room.
There’s only the dim moonlight seeping in from a small window. It’s enough to see Rogue’s form by his side. His eyes are bright and piercing, even in the dark. For all that he’s supposed to be light, Sting thinks he favors the soft, ethereal glow that comes to Rogue naturally over any type of light he can produce.
“I, um, can’t sleep if you’re staring at me,” Rogue says. “I can see you pretty well, even in the dark.”
“Right,” Sting says. “Sorry, I’ll just—” He turns around so his back is facing Rogue.
He wants so badly to turn around again. He doesn’t, though. He just focuses on the warmth emanating around him, and if he concentrates hard enough, it’s almost like he can feel the warmth of Rogue’s body near his.
He cups that feeling in his heart, steadies his breathing, and finally drifts off to sleep.
It’s comfortably warm under the blankets. He has the sense that he’s just woken up from a very good dream, though he can’t remember any of it. Sting muffles a yawn into the pillow. He really doesn’t want to get up, but well… work is work. If he doesn’t get up now, someone might come crashing in, and the sheer terror of what that experience might mean is enough for Sting to blink his eyes open.
Rogue is staring at him. Sting has a very terrible sense of déjà vu.
It’s not like yesterday, though. Rogue was sitting up on the bed, back then, already dressed for the day. Right now, there’s barely an inch of space between them. Sting can see the rise and fall of Rogue’s shoulders as he breathes. It should be uncomfortable, Sting thinks. It should, at least.
Rogue is gazing at him through half-lidded eyes, a soft smile on his face, and something in his chest constricts into an amorphous, inexplicable feeling.
As soon as Rogue notices him, his expression morphs into a mix of shock, horror, and guilt.
Sting yawns. “Sleep well?”
“Yeah,” Rogue says, his voice a soft, quiet tone that Sting has always loved. There’s a nervous tremble in his words. Sting resists the urge to lean over and ruffle Rogue’s hair.
“This is nice,” Sting says. “We should do this again.”
“Okay,” Rogue says, blinking fast. “If you want.”
I do want, Sting thinks, but what do you want? For Sting, the answer is easy. He wants Rogue to be by his side like he’s always been, and he wants to make him happy.
He stares at the slender curve of Rogue’s throat as he swallows and looks away. Watches him as he slowly rises from the bed, blinking the sleep out of his eyes and fidgeting with his bedhead. Marvels at the way the sunlight shines on his skin before he shrugs his cloak on. It’s easy enough to admit that he’s the most beautiful person Sting’s ever seen. His hair is dark and silky and it’s incredibly tempting to reach up and ruffle his hair until it’s even more unkempt than it already is. But to him, more than any physical beauty, Rogue is the most important person in his life, and Sting will treat him with as much care as he can muster. Right now, that care means making sure Rogue is as comfortable as possible, and that he feels at home by Sting’s side. He’s doing a pretty good job of the first one, but when it comes to making Rogue feel like he has a home, Sting has no idea.
In the end, for Sting, more than a singular place, home has always been whatever situation and place makes Rogue shine the brightest. Maybe that’s why Sting’s been so on edge and out of sorts recently. Without Rogue by his side, it’s like he’s stepping into a place he no longer belongs to. But unlike before, he can’t just leave Sabertooth. He can only hope that with time, Rogue will come to him—to them, to Sabertooth—and he will smile in that soft, understated way, and know that he is home again.
“Where are you going today?” Sting asks.
Rogue shifts with mild discomfort under his gaze. “…Quatro Cerberus.”
“Yeah, I’m not fond of them either,” Rogue says with a wry smile. He looks so very similar to how he used to. But it’s not the same, Sting knows. They both can’t be the same, anymore. “But… they’ve suffered, too. I can’t leave them out.”
Take me with you, Sting wants to say. We’ll go together. You don’t have to bear the burden on your own.
But he’s needed at the guild, and his thing with Rogue is careful and delicate and needs time, and Sting, new leader of Sabertooth, has learned a thing or two about patience.
“If they offer you alcohol, you’re not allowed to accept,” Sting says.
“I’ve seen you drunk, and it’s a nightmare,” Rogue replies. “Take your own advice.”
He shrugs. “What can I say? I’m a changed man.”
Rogue stares at him for a disconcerting minute, and nods. “I won’t get drunk. It would be irresponsible.”
Sting frowns. “They’re really pushy, though. Just… don’t get caught up in it.”
“It’ll be fine,” Rogue says, exasperated. “I’ll leave before it gets too late, so I won’t get caught up in the thick of it. Is that okay?”
“It’s okay,” Sting says.
“I’m heading back to the dorms,” Rogue says with a yawn. “I need to grab a change of clothes.”
Are you eating properly? Sting wants to ask. You can move your stuff in here, he wants to tell him. Why were you staring at me when I woke up? Why did you look so scared, when I saw? More than anything, Sting wants to pull Rogue back under the warm covers, and whisper stay a little longer.
“Okay,” Sting says. “Stay safe.”
Rogue smiles—quick and fleeting—but he closes the door with a careful touch that warms Sting more than the sun streaming in.
“So,” Yukino says, as Sting debates between two near-identical paint colors. “Tell me why I saw Rogue entering the boy’s dorms this morning?”
“I’ll do it if you can tell me what the difference is between ‘white dove’ and ‘alabaster’ is,” Sting says, squinting at the samples as if he’ll somehow uncover their secrets.
Yukino bends surveys the two colors in his hands. After some contemplation, she says, “‘White dove’ has a warm undertone, while ‘alabaster’ has a cool undertone. What are you painting?”
“There’s a Sabertooth symbol on the entrance to my room,” Sting says. “It’s the ugliest gold I’ve ever seen.”
“We’ll have to put up our Sabertooth banner, too,” Yukino says. Now that the basic construction has finished.”
Sting sighs. “I have no eye for these kinds of things, though.”
She pats his shoulder. “Aren’t you supposed to be doing paperwork?”
He groans and slumps onto the table. “…Yeah.”
Yukino laughs at him. She would have never dared to do that, when she first joined. “It’s okay. I actually came here to talk to you about that.”
He raises an eyebrow. “I thought you came here to talk about Rogue?”
“That too. Are you going to explain what happened? I know Rogue comes back late, but it’s never been so late to be morning.”
“Well, yeah,” Sting says. “He came back last night and slept here.”
Yukino stares at him in surprise.
“…What,” Sting mutters, feeling defensive. “He hasn’t been sleeping well, you know that.”
She sighs. “That doesn’t explain anything—well, it does, but not in the way you think it does, Sting.” Yukino stares up at the ceiling, clearly debating something, before sitting next to him. “Personally, I like the warmer tones of ‘white dove’. But if this is for the master’s headquarters, I’d advise you ask Rogue.”
“You’re probably right,” he says, gathering his paint sample cards into a stack and dumping them into a basket with the rest of them. “Now, you wanted to yell at me about paperwork?”
She flicks his forehead. “I don’t yell,” Yukino says. “I actually called in a friend to help you out.”
“Oh… wow,” he says, dumbstruck. “Thanks.”
“Do you know Lucy Heartfilia?” she asks. When she sees his blank stare, she pinches the bridge of her nose and sighs. “I can’t believe you. How can you forget things so easily?”
I am repressing every memory of the Grand Magic Games until I’m held at knifepoint and forced to deal with, Sting thinks. Also every memory of the day the Eclipse Gate was opened. He settles for shrugging and saying, “Stupidity?”
“Blond girl from Fairy tail? In the Grand Magic Games?”
“Oh,” Sting says. “Minerva. Water.” He remembers her clearly now. The whole group of them had stood in silence as Minerva beat her black and blue.
Yukino winces. “That was her, yeah. Her future self was also… you know.”
“Who Rogue’s future self was trying to kill,” he says. “I know. You don’t have to gloss over it.”
She sizes him up. “You don’t care.”
“I do care,” Sting says. “About Rogue now. Some future timeline isn’t my problem. The person I know now is nothing like that.”
She smiles. “You’re right about that. Anyways, since Lucy is a Celestial Spirit Mage, like me, we’ve kept in touch. So I asked her for a favor, and she’ll be coming over soon. You okay with that?”
Yukino is really too considerate, Sting thinks. She shouldn’t have to ask for anything. With the suffering she’s endured at the hands of their guild, she should be the guild master, not him. But she’d just smiled when he’d asked her to come back and accepted with grace.
Grace is an apt descriptor for what he remembers of Lucy Heartfilia. Despite being tormented by so many different people, and suffering bruises, cuts, and dishonor, from the start to the finish, she had walked to that arena with a proud, straight back. It was a thing of beauty, to see someone who held their head high and refused to give up her pride in her guild. It’s a type of pride that Sting can’t find in himself, nowadays.
“She’s very beautiful,” he says.
Yukino glares at him. “Seriously? That’s all you think of her?”
His tongue twists. “No, not like that—she’s, uh, not…”
She crosses her arms, unimpressed. “What did you mean, then?” Her voice is gentle but terrifying, and Sting wonders, not for the first time, why she isn’t the guild leader already.
“I mean… her posture, during the Games,” he says. “It’s beautiful.” He takes a deep breath and says, “She’s—I’m not leering at her, I don’t—I don’t do that.”
Her expression softens. “Yeah, I know, I’m just… protective.”
“Besides,” he adds, summoning what little bravery he has inside him, “she’s—not my type. Girls… they’re not…”
“You don’t have to say anymore,” Yukino interrupts. “But thank you for telling me.”
Sting twists the cloth of his shirt, wanting to melt into the floor. “I… yeah, I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Okay,” she says, and then: “Oh, Lucy’s here.”
Perfect timing, Sting thinks, and watches as Lucy Heartifilia strides into their guild with an impeccable poise. It’s true that she’s as beautiful as the dignity of her posture suggests, but Sting had realized he was gay a few years ago, when Orga had said something about wanting a girlfriend, and Sting had realized he’d never thought about having one, and then realized he’s never wanted one.
It’s not like he can’t tell if people are beautiful in the aesthetic sense or not, though. People are beautiful in many different ways, but Sting, over his short lifetime on Earth, feels that to him Rogue is the most beautiful person he’s ever met. Of course, that’s his best friend, so he’s biased.
“Yukino!” she says with a brilliant smile, and she envelops her in a warm hug. Yukino flushes and hugs her back. Oh, Sting thinks, and he stands up to give them some space.
“So,” Lucy says, “You said something about paperwork?”
“The office is upstairs,” Sting says, gesturing towards the stairs tucked in the corner. While they’re making their way to the office, he asks, “So, do you deal with the guild paperwork at Fairy Tail?”
She shakes her head. “No, but I have a pretty good handle on these types of things. The… the Heartfilia family doesn’t have a grand legacy, anymore, but I used to be the heiress, and… well, you pick up a thing or too, in a family like that.”
“Huh,” Sting says. “That explains the posture.”
She looks at him, confused. “You… hold yourself really properly,” he says. “It’s admirable.”
At that, she smiles. “That would be it,” she says.
“Okay, I don’t think I’m legally allowed to be here,” Yukino cuts in, “and Orga may actually destroy all our hard work if we leave him alone, so I’m heading down.” She bows and makes a quick exit.
It’s just the two of them, now. Almost strangers. So many more reasons to develop a strong animosity than any sort of friendly relation.
Lucy smiles at him. “Paperwork?” she asks.
He pushes a stack towards her. “Explain this to me?”
She grabs a pair of familiar-looking magic glasses from her purse, and gets to work.
As she’s marking up some official documents for the rebranding of their guild and changing their application process, Sting notices the bright pink Fairy Tail mark on her hand.
They’ve worked mostly in silence. Lucy’s been blatantly ignoring the bad blood between them, and Sting is reluctant to change that. Still, it feels wrong to say nothing, especially since she’s been so nice.
“I’ve never seen anyone else with a guild mark on their hand,” he says. She looks up from a report on Jiemma’s links with organized crime. Sting has read through that report. It’s an absolute nightmare.
“Yeah?” she says. “I hadn’t realized it was uncommon when I did it, but now that you mention it…” She stares thoughtfully at her hands.
“I mean, it’s cool,” Sting says. “But I was just wondering… why?”
She tilts her head. “Why wouldn’t you?”
Sting pauses. “I guess… it’s too out in the open, for me. If it’s on my left shoulder, I can cover it up when I want, and wear it proudly other times.” Most importantly, it’s where Rogue’s guild mark is, too, and the weight of knowing that makes his left shoulder far more important than it has any right to be.
Lucy studies her hand in quiet contemplation. “I don’t think there’s ever been a moment where I haven’t been proud to join Fairy Tail,” she says finally. “I wear it on my hand because I’m a writer, and my hands are what I do my work with. Fairy Tail has been my dream since I was little, and now it’s part of who I am as a person. I don’t think I’d have it any other way.”
It’s the most she’s said in their time together. Sting can’t imagine what it’s like to feel so proud of a guild. Even when he was an asshole who thought only his limited definition of strength was all that matters, he’d never felt a soul-shaking pride in the guild. Honestly, he’s never had that type of faith in anything.
Looking at the way Lucy holds herself, and the dedication and resolve in her eyes, he thinks that he’d like to, one day.
“Okay,” he says, rising from his chair, “that’s enough. Thank you for your hard work today. You’ve helped me more than you can imagine, but I think I can get through the rest of the reports myself.”
She looks bewildered at the sudden turn in conversation. “It’s really not a problem—”
Sting bows low, cutting her protests short. “I should have done this when you first walked in, but… as the new guild master of Sabertooth, I would like to formally apologize for all the damage and hurt we’ve caused your guild. You, especially, were treated cruelly by our members, including me. If there’s anything you or your guild needs in the future, Sabertooth will try its best to provide it.”
“Wow,” Lucy says. “Can… sit down, please?”
He sits, staring hard at the patterns on the wooden desk before him.
“It’s funny,” Lucy comments, “your guild member, Rogue? He stopped by just yesterday and said the same thing.”
“That sounds like him,” he mumbles. “He’s… very honorable. Always blaming himself and taking on things that aren’t even his problem.”
She smiles. “Well, no matter the situation, I think you two have shown that you’re nice people. So, on behalf of Fairy Tail… I forgive you.”
He stares up at her, amazed. “Just… just like that?”
She laughs and gets up from her chair. She bows to him, posture perfect and pristine. “Just like that,” she says. “That’s the Fairy Tail way.”
As promised, Rogue doesn’t stay out late. He stumbles into the guild hall around sundown, eyes darting around the room.
Yukino had left when Lucy had bowed out, and Sting had decided that was a good sign for him to stop working, and he’s spent the last two hours cleaning and staring into space and thinking of nothing at all.
Nothing isn’t the correct description for what he’s been doing. He’s just been rolling through the same scenes of the Grand Magic Games and the Eclipse Gate over and over again, picking them apart piece by piece until he can find the exact moment where everything between Sting and Rogue had splintered off into this undefinable mess. He concentrates that nervous, itchy energy into peeling the orange in front of him.
“Hey, Sting,” Rogue says, collapsing onto the seat next to him.
Sting looks up and offers him an orange piece. Rogue’s face is slightly flushed. “Bacchus?” he asks with a raised eyebrow.
Rogue grimaces and takes the proffered orange piece. “Bacchus,” he groans. “I had no idea one human could drink… so much. I left before it got out of hand, and still…” He shudders at the memory.
Before it would have been natural for Sting to slide close and pat him on the back. Now he hesitates, and places his hand on Rogue’s shoulder, squeezing it in reassurance. “How drunk are you?”
“Not that drunk?” Rogue says. “Just sleepy. Kind of disoriented.”
Sting doesn’t mention that his tongue is also a lot looser than usual. Rogue has never been the talkative type, but he’s been more withdrawn and tight-lipped lately. Really, Sting thinks, how long will it be until I have my friend back? Of course, he knows that’s not something that’s possible for the both of them, anymore.
Wordlessly, he offers him another orange piece. The corners of Rogue’s lips twitch. “Thanks,” he says. Then he frowns. “I forgot to go to the dorms,” he says, like he’s just had a world-altering realization.
“That’s fine,” Sting says. I’m glad you came here, instead. “What’s—what’s mine is yours. Just eat a goddamn orange.”
“I can feed myself, you know,” Rogue mutters, but he takes an orange from Sting and starts peeling it open. “I’m not hopeless. I eat meals.”
“And how many times do you forget, because something else is more important?’ Sting grumbles. He pops an orange piece in his mouth. It’s sour. “Well, you’re going to have to let me take care of you,” he says firmly.
Rogue tilts his head. “Well, I am tired,” he says. “And… a little hungry.”
“What are you waiting for, then?” Sting says. He nods towards the bustling streets outside. “Come on, I’ll treat you.”
“…Fine,” Rogue says, and makes to get up, but accidentally hooks the back of his foot around the seat and trips forward.
Sting catches him by the wrist and pulls him close. Rogue stumbles forward, head slumping against Sting’s chest. “Ugh.”
“You really are disoriented,” Sting says. It’s only half a question.
“Yeah,” Rogue says. “But you’re dragging me out to dinner, so.”
So what? Sting wants to ask. But he’s a coward, so he just helps Rogue into a standing position and leads him out of the guild.
He keeps his hold on Rogue’s wrist. Logically, he knows that Rogue had walked all the way here, and is probably capable of basic motor skills. He’s not that drunk, after all. More than being drunk, he seems tired, which is understandable since he’s spent a day with some of the loudest assholes Sting knows. Even he’d be tired, and Rogue is someone who hates large crowds, so he imagines it’s ten times worse.
It’s nice, though, to have Rogue walking by his side. It’s nice to hold his wrist and pull him close as the sun dips down lower and the street lamps begin to flicker on. It’s nice, and that’s probably why Sting doesn’t let go, even when they’re sitting and Rogue is long past the point of needing support.
He wonders, maybe, if that’s why Rogue hasn’t let go, either.
Looking at Rogue now, it’s easy to pretend that things haven’t changed.
His hair has grown longer, and Sting wonders how long it’ll be before Rogue ties it up. He’s maybe a little thinner than he used to be, and the deep shadows under his eyes speak to a trouble sleeping and constant insomnia, but other than that, he looks mostly the same. If Sting had been passing him by on the street, he wouldn’t notice a difference.
Of course, Sting knows better. They’ve been best friends for years, and that means he knows when Rogue’s being distant versus when he needs space. He knows how to read the guilt that hangs in Rogue’s expression when he looks at the world around him, and he knows the way Rogue talks, either in long, rambling statements, or short phrases that indicate he can’t word things the way he wants to, or is too tired to talk.
Nowadays, they rarely talk. It’s strange, though, because when they sit down for dinner, Rogue launches into conversation like everything has stayed the same. He talks about Quatro Cerberus and how ugly the weather was this afternoon and he talks about everything and nothing at all. Sting’s not so self-obsessed to deny him this, so he talks about his encounter with Lucy, steering away from the Grand Magic Games, and complains about paperwork and Orga’s destructive habits.
“God of lightning,” Rogue snorts. “Who is he kidding?”
“I don’t really think there are any gods,” Sting says, staring out at the burning street lamps.
“No, probably not,” Rogue says. “We determine our own fate, don’t we?”
He catches Rogue’s reflection in the glass of the windowpane. He’s staring down at his drink thoughtfully.
“We do,” Sting says firmly. “All of us.”
Rogue smiles down at his plate. “You would think that, wouldn’t you?”
“I’m right,” he insists.
Rogue nods. “I believe in you.”
He chokes on his food. On some level, Sting is 99% sure Rogue isn’t drunk, but the easy familiarity with which he says something like that makes him second-guess himself.
Then again, Rogue is probably the more emotionally intelligent between the two of them. The guilt that shadows him might be heavier now, but it’s always been present, even when Jiemma ruled Sabertooth with an iron fist. He doesn’t particularly like thinking about it, but he can’t run away forever.
Back then, Sting had cared for two people… well, three. Lecter, Rogue, and by extension, Frosch. He and Rogue were similar, that way. They both kept their friends close and rarely opened up. Unlike him, though, Rogue has always been kinder. He’d been worried about Yukino ever since she entered the guild, not that he’d ever said anything about it. And he carried an open dislike towards other members, while Sting had just felt an overwhelming sense of apathy and indifference. Cruelty has never been Rogue’s strong suit, and Sting thinks out of the two, while he wouldn’t consider himself as cruel, it comes easier to him. It’s the reason Minerva had gotten along better with him than she did with Rogue. It’s the reason that he’s the guild master now. Everyone else had felt far too uncomfortable, after Jiemma and Minerva had fled. Sting had just felt that same sense of overwhelming apathy, shrugged his shoulders, and took on the throne.
That throne has since been sold and is probably in the possession of some rich asshole. Sting couldn’t care less.
It’s this that makes the idea of Rogue’s future self all the more disconcerting. It’s hard to think of Rogue as someone willing to kill someone, even to save the world. It’s very hard to think of Rogue looking into his eyes with a dead, apathetic stare, and then swallowing him whole. Sting knows he wouldn’t fight him off. A world where Rogue is like that… it’s a world where Sting can’t exist. Seeing the Rogue of the future with that split black and grey hair is proof enough that he couldn’t.
He snaps out of his thoughts to see the waiter looking at him, holding out his receipt. She’s staring with her back straight and her shoulders tensed beyond belief. Sting forces what he hopes is a relaxing smile, and pays for the meal. He can feel Rogue eyeing him with curiosity.
“Come on,” Sting says, standing up. “Let’s go back.” He’s not sure if he can bring himself to say the word home, just yet. The master’s headquarters is just the place where he sleeps and wakes up. What makes the difference is the person beside him.
Rogue rises with easy grace. He makes no move to go back to the boy’s dorms.
They walk back in an easy silence. The lights up above cast soft shadows on Rogue’s face.
Right now, nothing in the world compares.
By the time they reach the guild, all of the lights inside have been extinguished. Sting breathes a soft ball of light into the air, and guides them to the master headquarters.
“Wow,” Rogue says. “Haven’t seen your magic in a while.”
Sting laughs. “Yeah, me too.”
The light flickers faintly in his palm. He hasn’t gone out on missions since. He’s not sure if he knows how to. On some instinctive level, his magic still obeys him, still flicks out from his breath and hands and bends as he wants it to; on a much, much deeper level, he can feel is pulling through his blood, asking where its partner is, why everything feels so much colder than before.
The shadows in the hall collect around Rogue’s feet, pulling away from the high ceilings and the stairs in front of them.
Sting shoots a grateful glance towards Rogue and heads upstairs. He hears the quiet tap of Rogue’s shoes against the wood of the stairs and smiles.
After that, it’s easy enough to change into a different set of clothes and collapse on the bed.
They lie there together on the bed, turned away from each other, almost suffocating in the silence. Sting is almost about to give up and close his eyes when Rogue speaks.
“Tonight… was nice.”
Sting turns around in the bed, and meets Rogue’s eyes.
Rogue looks as if he wants to turn away. He doesn’t, though. “It was fun,” he says. “Thank you for it.”
He stares at Rogue, eyes glittering red in the dark. “Yeah,” he says. “I had fun, too.”
Maybe his eyes are playing tricks on him, but he thinks he catches the ghost of a smile on Rogue’s face, peaceful and content in a way Sting knows Rogue hasn’t allowed himself to be.
“You won’t look away?” Rogue asks.
He feels like he’s crossing a line. “Not unless you ask me to.”
“Okay,” Rogue says, and then he closes his eyes.
Sting suddenly realizes that this is the same position they’d woken up in, just this morning.
He laughs, his voice small in the ever expanding dark, and whispers goodnight to Rogue’s sleeping face.
And he dreams.
Rogue’s hands are tight around his neck. His vision is spotty, mind scrambling to piece together what’s happening in front of him.
He gasps and reaches out, calling for his magic. It rushes up his palm and flares out in white-hot sparks. He flails around, stars burning in his view, and then he hits skin upon skin and feels tears running along his fingers.
And then he’s not in his body anymore, and he’s watching as Rogue’s nails grow longer and longer and pierce his skin and he becomes something else entirely, a being that Sting has no conception of. And his nails dig into his throat and rip him to pieces and Sting feels the burning spread through him like a forest fire. Rogue is cackling, desperate, mad, and he’s vibrant and brilliant and torturous and the scream rips out of his throat.
And then the light, the light, the light—it’s everywhere.
He startles awake to see Rogue hunched over him, eyes shiny with tears. His hands are warm against Sting’s face. The lights have burst on around him, and illuminating the room with perfect clarity.
“Oh—you’re…” The tension leaves Rogue’s body and he collapses onto Sting’s chest.
“Sorry,” Sting says, and winces at the hoarseness of his voice.
He breathes, feeling Rogue’s weight with the rise and fall of his chest. Carefully, he reaches up and pats Rogue’s head in what he hopes in a comforting motion. His hair is so soft it feels unreal, and for a moment or two, Sting indulges himself, running his hands through Rogue’s hair.
“Why are you apologizing,” Rogue mutters, voice cracking in the middle of his sentence. “You—you were screaming. And you weren’t waking up.” This close, Sting can feel as he takes a shuddery breath before soldiering on. “I was… worried.”
Sting sighs. It would be nice if they could just stay like this. It would be nice if their positions had reversed, because then he’d be able to comfort him and stop being so selfish all the time.
But he can’t lie to him.
“I had a nightmare,” Sting confesses. “I’ve been having them… a lot, recently.” He pauses, considers the situation they’re in right now, and laughs. “Still think I’m dreaming, to be honest.”
Rogue curls his hand into a fist, bunching up the fabric of Sting’s shirt. “You’re not dreaming,” he says, pulling them both up to a sitting position. “This is real.”
“Yeah,” Sting says. “Sorry for worrying you.”
Rogue bites his lip. “What were you… having nightmares about?”
He shuts his eyes. “You’re not allowed to get mad,” he says.
At that, Rogue laughs. It’s so different from how the Rogue in the nightmare had laughed. It’s warm and it curls around his skin like a hug. “I… don’t think I could ever be mad at you,” he says, and it’s so sincere that Sting thinks his heart might stop.
“Okay,” Sting says. He breathes. “Okay.” He wishes he were drunk. He also knows that things would be so much worse if he were.
“Tell me,” Rogue says, and that’s enough to have it spill out of him.
“It’s you,” Sting says, and like the opening of a dam, the words rush forth in a flood. “I—it’s your future self. Every single time. The things you do are different, but… they’re not you. They’ve never been you. I can’t let it be you, Rogue, because you’re not him, and I know that. I’m your friend, I know you, I can’t let you be him—”
“Sting,” Rogue says. “Calm down. Breathe.”
He ducks his head and obeys. There has to be some kind of irony in this situation, but he’s not in the mood for laughing.
“I’m… sorry,” Rogue says. “I’m trying as hard as I can to not be him, and—”
“That’s not the point!” Sting interjects. His own voice is so loud and sharp that it makes him flinch. “I—I don’t care about the future or whatever, I care about now! And right now, you’re not here!”
Sting breathes hard, vision blinking in and out as he glares at a vague point of darkness in front of him. He doesn’t want to know what the expression on Rogue’s face is right now.
“Don’t apologize, I just—” He can feel the tears coming on, and he knows Rogue can see him, can hear his choked up voice, but— “You keep avoiding me. Not talking to me about everything. I… I can deal with this. I know we can deal with this. But I need you by my side.”
“Sting, I—” And there’s that indescribable pain in Rogue’s voice when he says his name, the one that’s been there every time—
“I need you,” he repeats. “You might not believe it, but I do.”
“I need you too,” Rogue whispers. Sting finally looks up.
Rogue shifts around on the bed into a more comfortable sitting position. He clears his throat. “I have nightmares, too,” he says. “Although you probably knew.”
“Yeah, I was just… waiting for you to tell me.”
“I know,” Rogue says. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “I know. You’re my friend. I know I was keeping you waiting. I’m—”
“Don’t apologize,” Sting says.
Rogue nods. “Being with you… it helps. I keep dreaming of living in a world where you’re not there. Where that impossible future comes true, and I’m not… me, anymore. If I’m here I know you’re safe. But I also… I know what that future self did to you. How can you still stand to look at me?”
“Because I know you,” Sting says. “Because you’re my friend.” And, he thinks, because I love you, and the realization spreads through him like honey, slow and sweet. I love you, he thinks again, confirms how the thought feels in his head when he looks at Rogue, when he looks at… the person who he’s in love with.
The thought of how much he loves the person in front of him curves and fits along Sting’s heart like it was always meant to be there. He supposes that it, in some form, has always been there. Rogue is the forgiving, soft dark that he falls into without reservation. Rogue is the laugh that warms his heart on a winter day. Rogue is the reason he’s leading Sabertooth. Rogue is what it means to be part of the Twin Dragons, what it means to give your heart to someone else’s hands.
Rogue is silent for a long while. It’s just as well, because Sting needs to process the onslaught of feelings washing over him. Finally, Rogue looks down at his hands and admits, “I want to be closer to you. I want to be here.”
Sting straightens up. He offers Rogue his hand. “Come a little closer, then.”
Rogue pauses. “Are you sure?” he asks.
“About you,” Sting confirms, “I am always sure.”
Rogue takes his hand, intertwines their fingers together, and hangs his head.
“You’re real,” he murmurs. “You’re not going away.”
“Never,” Sting says, and he reaches out and pulls Rogue into a hug. His free hand reaches up to stroke Rogue’s hair, silky-soft and dark as the shadows gathered around him. The lights blink out, and it’s just them and the dark. This isn’t a dream, anymore.
“Stay with me,” Rogue begs, and it’s the first thing he’s asked Sting for, ever since the eclipse. “Make me know that you’re here.”
“I will,” Sting says. “I will.”
Sting wakes up to the softest warmth he’s ever felt. There’s a warm body curled around him, smelling faintly of lavender.
He yawns and blinks his eyes open to see Rogue’s neck, and realizes with a start that the soft warmth radiating around him is from Rogue.
His face burns. Rogue’s leg is swung over him, effectively trapping him, and Sting realizes that rather than a pillow, he’s sleeping on Rogue’s arm. Belatedly, he thinks that he’s been a bit oblivious about his feelings.
Rogue shifts around, and Sting tries to steady his breath.
He really hopes his face isn’t too red. “Hey,” he says. “Sleep well?”
Rogue scrambles back, almost falling off the bed, and that pleasant, comforting warmth darts away from Sting’s grasp.
He thinks about saying come back but even he has his limits. Rogue’s face is a splotchy red, vivid under the morning light. It’s hard not to let his mind wander to what they’d talked about last night, but somehow, it feels wrong to say anything about it. There’s no good way to breach the subject that won’t turn him into a mess, so he just ignores it.
“Good morning,” Sting says, getting up and stretching.
“Um,” Rogue says. “I didn’t mean to—”
“Obviously,” Sting drawls, ignoring the way his heart is hammering in his chest. “It’s fine.”
Rogue blinks at him. “Okay,” he says.
“Where are you headed today?” Sting asks.
“Mermaid Heel?” Rogue says. “Are you sure it’s okay—”
“I’m sure,” Sting says, and then looks Rogue up and down. He seems ready to apologize a staggering and unnecessary amount of times. “Well, actually, there is something you can do.”
“Take me with you to Mermaid Heel,” Sting says, simply. “That’ll make up for it, I think.”
“Oh,” Rogue says, and he chews on his lip. “You could have just asked.”
He shrugs. “This way I know you can’t refuse.”
Rogue tilts his head, a question unspoken in his gaze.
“I mean, I told you, I want—”
“Sting?” Rogue is smiling, and that knocks the breath right out of him. “I know,” Rogue repeats. “That—I want it, too.”
“Okay,” Sting says, and he’s definitely blushing now, but so is Rogue, so it all evens out, in the end. They’ve always been good at balance, after all.
“I’m going to go back to the dorms,” Rogue says. ”I’ll… pack a bag to bring here.”
“I’ll go and get ready, then,” Sting says, unable to hide the overwhelming joy in his voice.
Rogue nods. “I’ll see you downstairs for breakfast?”
Sting nods, dumbstruck. “Yeah, that’s—” He swallows, trying to not shout out anything embarrassing like you look really good right now or I like you so much it’s unreal. “Great. It’s great.”
“See you,” Rogue says, and when he glances back to catch Sting’s eyes as he closes the door, it’s all Sting can do not to collapse back on the bed again.
The sun outside looks brighter than ever before.
Rogue hands him a breakfast sandwich when he finally makes his way downstairs. He’d spent half of his morning routine dazed and absorbing how new the walls felt around him, how they’d shifted from a reminder of a horrible past into the promise of good things.
Now that he knows how much he likes Rogue, he can’t stop thinking about it. On some level or the other, he’s always known that Rogue has been his most precious person in the world, with him, Lecter, and Frosch making a the core of Sting’s lonely, unfeeling heart, but now that he’s put that into words, it feels so much more magical than it usually does. It’s not even the romance thing that solidifies it. It’s the simple fact of acknowledging and really feeling just how deeply he needs Rogue in his life, just how deeply he wants to be near him.
Sting groans and buries his head in his arms. He really needs to talk to Lecter sometime soon. He misses him. As soon as the guild is stable enough for them to take missions on the regular, he knows Lecter will be back, but it’s still hard, missing him. He knows that if he asked, Lecter would stay in a heartbeat, but he also knows that expecting him to bear that burden is a level of selfishness even Sting doesn’t think he can demand. The crux of the matter is that in the end, Lecter doesn’t want to be here, in the guild, wasting his days away. He has better things to do, and though they both miss each other, they’ll see each other soon.
“Not a morning person, are you?” Rogue asks.
He looks up to see Rogue digging into his breakfast, and shrugs. “Not really.”
Speaking of missing people, he’s missed Rogue the most, over these last few months. And now that he’s finally here, sitting in front of him and not running away, it’s almost too much to handle. He wants to reach over and pinch the tips of Rogue’s hair, still slightly damp against his neck from a shower. He wants to hold his hand and tell him about everything he’s missed over these months until Rogue sees all of it, understands all of it, and wants to hear every part of Rogue’s life that he’s missed until the aching emptiness within him feels whole again.
“Rogue!” Yukino slides into the seat next to him. “I feel like we haven’t seen you in forever!”
Rogue leans away, just slight. “Yeah,” he says, and Sting recognizes the guilt in his eyes. “Nice to see you, Yukino.”
Sting scarfs down the rest of his breakfast in a record amount of time. “Rogue,” he says. “We should get going soon, shouldn’t we?”
Rogue stands up despite the obvious confusion on his face. “Do you… are we walking?”
“No, no we’ll take the train,” Sting says, picking up the small satchel by his feet. “Don’t want to waste any time.”
“Nice seeing you, Yukino,” he says, and because Rogue is better than him, he bows a little to her before heading out of the guild.
Once they’re out in the open streets, Rogue asks, “Why’d you want to leave so fast?”
“You looked uncomfortable,” he responds. “I mean, you’ll have to talk to her eventually, but you should be able to do it on your own terms.”
Rogue looks at him with awe. “I… thank you, Sting” he says, and Sting feels his heartbeat quicken.
He ducks his head and muffles a long, agonizing groan. “You’re welcome,” he says. “Anything for a friend.”
Rogue’s resulting smile almost makes the train ride worth it.
The Mermaid Heel visit goes well. After stumbling out of the train with pale, colorless faces, almost any event afterwards would have been considered as having ‘gone well’, though.
In this case, though Kagura is as terrifying as always and threatens to eviscerate them when they step into the guild hall, she’s welcoming once they bow and make formal apologies.
Lucy was right. They’d discussed what to say, earlier, and while their initial speeches hadn’t been word for word, they’d been near identical. It felt right, to bow and make the apology by Rogue’s side, and know that they were truly of one heart and mind.
“Okay,” Kagura had said, and then the rest of the Mermaid Heel women had crowded around them, dragging them into various projects for the day. Sting had offered to help with paperwork, but one sharp, disbelieving look from Kagura had cut that suggestion down. The other guild members seem happy enough that they’re present, especially when they confirm that Minerva had fled and been officially excommunicated from the guild.
Rogue takes to helping the guild out naturally. He’s a quiet but powerful presence, calmly speaking to each guild member with a sincerity that shines in his every word and movement. In contrast, Sting mostly sticks to making idle conversation with Kagura, who catches him up on the affairs of other guilds in the area. Millianna had seemed approachable enough, and Sting knew Lecter liked her, but when he started talking to her, she had said you're staring at Rogue way too much and killed any possible line of conversation. He thinks Kagura was laughing at him.
After a few hours, they say their goodbyes and head out to the train station. Sting is obviously dragging his feet, but neither of them want to be back on a train again.
In his misery, he almost trips over a girl who looks to be about ten years old. She clutches at his shirt with a death-grip, and he sighs and squats to meet her eyes.
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
She bites her lip. “You’re Sting Eucliffe, right? And that’s Rogue Cheney? The Twin Dragons?”
He nods. “That’s us. Do you need something?”
After glancing around the street, she blurts out, “I… do you think I could join Sabertooth, one day?”
“Of course,” Rogue says. “There’s no reason you can’t.”
“But my friend said only the strongest people are allowed in,” she says. “And… and my magic isn’t that strong, yet.”
He’d been planning to humor her and then move on, but her words hit too close for comfort. It’s true that Sabertooth’s motto had originally been “strength above all.” It’s true that anyone seen as weak was kicked out. It’s true that before the Grand Magic Games, he would have laughed in this girl’s face.
It’s not true anymore. He thinks of Lucy leaving a space for him to write the ethos of Sabertooth. He thinks of her perfect posture and easy forgiveness, and it’s the Fairy Tail way.
What does he want the new Sabertooth to be? He thinks of Yukino marching back into the guild with her chin held high. He thinks of Rogue traveling across Fiore to meet with different guilds. He thinks of Orga’s relentless pride, and Rufus’s finicky eye for design and perfection. He thinks of what kind of guild he wants to lead. He has never been kind in the way that Fairy Tail is, and he can’t commit to a rigid theme like Quatro Cerberus or Mermaid Heel.
“It’s honor,” Sting finally says. “That’s the most important quality of a Sabertooth member. We all have the greatest pride in ourselves. We honor who we are and we honor the friendships we forge. Power is nothing in the face of honor.”
“That’s it?” the girl asks.
Rogue squats down next to him and nods. “He’s completely right,” he says. “That’s all you need.”
At that, she smiles. “Okay!” she yells. “I’ll join your guild when I’m older!” Before they can so much as say goodbye, she’s run off somewhere.
As they make their way into the train station and pay for tickets, Rogue says, “So, how long have you known our new motto?”
“Ten minutes, give or take,” Sting says. “But I wasn’t lying.”
“It’s a good idea.”
Sting groans. “Sorry, it’s not you,” he says, and motions to the train they’re in. “I hate motion sickness.”
Rogue groans. “No, me too,” he says. “I wish I could make trains just a little less painful.”
He sighs. “Well, if there’s anything I can do, let me know.”
Surprisingly, Rogue furrows his brows in thought. Sting watches the miniscule shifts in his expression as he internally debates something. “Okay,” he finally says. “I might… have an idea that we can try.”
Sting motions for him to continue.
“I thought maybe it would help,” Rogue says, “if I… had something to hold onto.” He’s looking at Sting’s hands with a cautious type of intent.
Sting swallows. “Yeah, that… sounds great.”
He holds his hands out like he’s offering some gift to Rogue instead of trying to hold his hand. Rogue touches his hands in the way someone might handle a glass sculpture. Sting would laugh if he wasn’t so nervous. When Rogue finally intertwines their hands, it’s burning hot.
“Your hands,” Sting says. “They’re really warm.”
Rogue flushes. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s good,” Sting says quickly. “I—I like it.”
He receives a confused look in return.
“I… I like that your hands are warm,” he explains. “It’s comforting, and you being here… comforts me.”
They hear the train whistle and jerk into motion. Rogue squeezes his hand.
“It’s okay,” Sting says. “I’m here.”
Rogue doesn’t let go the whole way home.
For a change of pace, once they settle down in bed, Rogue is the one that’s staring at him like he wants to ask a question. It’s been a few days since they visited Mermaid Heel, and Rogue has come into his room every night, now that he has a small amount of his own clothes and possessions. Sting wonders if he can convince him to move in.
They haven’t said much, most nights, but in the morning they always seem to wake up tangled together, and never speak of it again. Rogue has gotten better at not scrambling away and looking like he wants to jump into the sea, but they’re a long way from being cuddly. Shame, Sting thinks, he’s always so warm, too.
“Do you like being a guild leader?” Rogue asks, snapping him out of his thoughts.
“I mean… not really?” Sting responds. “Why, do you want it? Because I’d give it to you, but I think Yukino’s more qualified.”
“No, I’d hate it,” Rogue says. “It’s just… I was thinking that you’re really good at it.”
He snorts. “No way.”
Rogue frowns. “Why don’t you think you’re good at it?”
“I mean, I just don’t feel like I deserve it much, you know?” Sting muses. “I just walked in and kind of got the position from Minerva. It’s not because I’m a good leader, or anything. I don’t even know how to talk with people. I’m just good in comparison to Jiemma. I’m pretty sure the only reason I have this position is because everyone else had the good sense to not want to be associated with his position, and I didn’t care enough. I took over his headquarters without any problem. Didn’t even change it much.”
“That’s not true!”
Sting flutters his eyes in a deliberately mocking move. “Then tell me why it’s not true,” he says.
Because Rogue is an infinitely better person than him, he nods and says with utmost sincerity: “I think you’re wonderful.”
“Oh,” Sting croaks. He’s glad the dark hides the blush warming his cheeks. “You don’t have to say more.”
“I haven’t stopped thinking about what you said about this new Sabertooth—about having honor and pride in who we are,” Rogue continues. “I didn’t know what to be—who to be—once I returned to this guild. Now I think I finally know.”
He has so many questions. Why didn’t you tell me you were worrying? he wants to ask, but it’s probably the same reason Sting hasn’t revealed any of his insecurities about being a guild master. Rogue goes quiet, and Sting tries to make sense of the swirling questions in his head, all battling for attention.
Tell me more, he thinks, as if he can telepathically project the thought into Rogue’s head, but Rogue stays silent. It’s torturous, to know that his best friend is right in front of him, and he’s too afraid to push and ask for more. Rogue is right in front of him, and he’s not leaving, but this horrible emptiness in his gut flows outwards like an itch in his skin.
“I miss Lecter,” he says, shocking himself. “I—”
“I know,” Rogue says. “I miss Frosch. But you don’t feel like you’re good enough, don’t you? You—”
“That’s not it!” Sting shouts. He feels a wave of hysteria coming over him. “It’s not… it’s not just Lecter.”
Rogue stares at him, bewildered. I love him, Sting thinks, and the thought roars through his chest. I love him.
“I miss you,” Sting confesses.
“I’m right here,” Rogue tells him. “I told you, right? I want to be here.”
“I know,” Sting says, despairing. “But it’s not—” He grabs Rogue’s hand. “Can I just…”
“I want to say it again. More properly this time,” Sting says. “I want you here. But not just here, like, in the physical sense”—and he guides Rogue’s hand to his chest, hopes he can feel his beating heart—”I want to know all of you, when you’re sad or happy or whatever… it doesn’t matter. I want to know how you feel and what you’re thinking, even if it’s insignificant. I just want you here with me. I want you to never leave me.”
Rogue’s hand trembles under his touch. He laughs, but it’s shaky. “All of that?” he asks.
“I’m pretty good at being selfish.”
“Well,” Rogue says, “that’s—that’s all that I want, too.” He interlocks their fingers together. “Good thing, isn’t it, being selfish.”
Sting smiles, tears welling up in his eyes. “Yeah,” he says. “It’s good.”
When Rogue speaks, he begins with the guilt in his heart.
It’s a sad, tragic tale, but Sting listens. Squeezes his hand in reassurance when Rogue talks about insecurity and self-doubt and the burden he’s placed upon himself.
“It’s not your fault,” Sting says. “I know it’s hard to believe, but that’s why I’m saying it. You can look at me and I will always, always tell you that it’s not your fault.” In his most confident voice, he says, “Trust me. I’m always right.”
Rogue sighs. “When I look at you, I…”
He prays that he does not remind Rogue of crimes he hasn’t yet committed. But if that’s really, truly how Rogue feels about him now, then he’ll swallow down whatever he feels and soldier on. “Yeah?”
“You know what calmed me down during the eclipse?” Rogue says. “I looked at you, and I thought to myself: should I become stained with evil, the light would surely kill me.” He laughs derisively. “I knew that as long as you were here, I would be alright. I just… I don’t know how to be here, anymore.”
“It’s okay,” Sting says. “We can learn how to do it again. This… the talking, it helps.”
Rogue nods. “You’re my best friend,” he says, and Sting’s heart catches in his throat. “I would hate to lose you.”
“We haven’t lost,” he answers. “We’ve just… changed. And when things change, they can get… better. We can be even better than before.”
“Mermaid Heel was my last visit,” Rogue says, slowly. “Is it… alright if I stay by your side?”
“Always,” Sting promises. “You can help me with paperwork.”
That earns him a laugh. “How exciting.”
“When I’m with you, everything’s exciting,” he says, and it’s not a love confession, but it’s a confession nonetheless.
“Especially paperwork,” Sting says, and smiles. “Remember when you thought you were supposed to eat candy with the wrapper on?”
Rogue groans in protest. “Come on! I was young, we’ve all done idiotic things.”
“Mm,” Sting says, “Does that mean you won’t eat my paperwork for me? Because that’s a shame.”
Rogue laughs. “If you hate it so much you can just destroy it.”
“I don’t hate it too much,” he relents. “And if you’re with me, I’ll hate it even less.”
“I understand that,” Rogue mumbles. “I mean, when I’m with you, I…” He looks away.
Sting waits. His gaze does not stray from the main in front of him.
“It’s like I can breathe easier,” Rogue says. “Especially now. I feel a little less like I should hate myself so much.”
Sting smiles. “It’s the same for me.”
“This is hard,” Rogue says, after a long silence.
“Does it make you happy, though?” Sting asks.
“Yeah, I—” Rogue smiles. “It’s the happiest I’ve been in a while.”
Finally, finally, things begin to shift and settle back into place.
Rogue has never been much of a talker, but he does talk more, now, about pleasant, insignificant things, about horrible, paralyzing fears, and the two of them aren’t okay again, not by a long shot, but they’re better.
Before the Grand Magic Games, Sting had been content to be with Lecter and Rogue and feeling powerful and on the top of the world, but he thinks that given enough time, the aching in his stomach would have dwarfed him whole. It’s easy to romanticize how things were before their whole world got torn apart, but now, when Rogue drifts into his bedroom like he’s meant to belong there, the warmth of his body radiating out until the room warps into something strong and safe, everything in the world feels worth it.
Now that Rogue is finally, beautifully home, every time Sting looks at him he thinks of how much he loves him. He wonders if Rogue knows—he wants him to know.
They keep waking up in a mess of intertwined limbs each morning, and each day, Sting grows fonder of the faint scent of lavender and the warmth entangled around him.
Yukino and Rogue have slowly got to talking again, and after the first full conversation they have, she drags him to a corner of the guild and tells him thank you with shining eyes. He tells her you could do better and she just laughs. Yeah, but Sabertooth is my home, now, she says, and for the first time, Sting can believe it.
They finally make the journey to Fairy Tail, and cry when they reunite with Lecter and Frosch, and finally, finally, Sting can look at his Exceed and tell him with confidence that Sabertooth is a place they are welcome.
“Just so you know,” Rogue says, once the reunion festivities are dwindling to a close. “You don’t actually snore.” His face is slightly red from alcohol.
“I knew it!” Sting crows, although he had definitely not known at all.
Rogue smiles and points to the stairs. “We should go before things get too crazy.”
“Lead the way,” Sting says, and Rogue takes him by the hand so they can both stumble up the stairs without falling.
And night after night after night, Rogue collapses into bed next to him, a steady constant by his side, and the love in Sting’s heart grows.
He hasn’t found the right way to tell him, yet, but every night it feels like every piece of his body is screaming to let him know. He wants Rogue to be even closer to him than he already is. It’s selfish, but when it comes to him, Rogue has always been a little indulgent.
Sting doesn’t know if Rogue loves him back, of course. There’s no way to be sure of that. But he is sure of the fact that he and Rogue are best friends, and he thinks that even if Rogue doesn’t feel the same, he’ll accept how he feels.
Besides, sometimes, Rogue will stare at him for a little too long and then look away. Sometimes, he’ll nudge Sting’s ankle with his cold, freezing feet, and let it rest there without a word. Sometimes, Rogue looks at him with a profound emotion in his eyes, and it makes Sting’s heart run double-time.
Rogue is looking at him now with an inscrutable expression, and Sting is caught in his gaze. There’s anticipation heavy in the air, and in Rogue’s soft breathing Sting hears the question: what will you do?
He shuffles closer. Rogue lets him.
“Are you cold?” Rogue asks, and it’s a peaceful excuse.
“No,” Sting says, and moves closer anyways, tucking his head into the crook of Rogue’s neck. He catches a whiff of lavender—he’d just found out the scent came from the dumb lavender soap Rogue always used. Maybe it’s not so dumb after all, Sting thinks.
Rogue stills for only a moment. Then he reaches forward and pulls Sting tight.
It’s one thing to wake up in Rogue’s embrace, and it's another thing to be pulled into it, close enough to feel his heartbeat and know just how nervous he is. Rogue is warm, in that steadying, comforting way no one else ever is. He thinks this is the most euphoric feeling he’s ever experienced in his entire life.
Yeah, Sting thinks, breathing deeply, definitely not a dumb decision. Not at all.
When he wakes up, Rogue is staring at him.
“I have something to tell you,” Sting blurts out.
Rogue smiles, slow and sleepy, and it sets his heart on fire. “Yeah? What is it?”
“I—” Rogue arm is still loosely wrapped around him, fingers splayed across his back, and all the words die in his throat. “Maybe—not now,” Sting squeaks.
He’s wide awake, though. With Rogue’s eyes burning into him, there’s no way he could be anything else but wide awake and a blushing mess.
“It’s not anything bad, is it?”
“No, it’s—it’s good, I hope.”
Both of them don’t make any move to get up.
Sting wonders what time it is. The sun looks to be a little higher in the sky than usual, but that could just be his imagination. “We… probably need to get up soon,” he says.
“Yeah,” Rogue says, but he doesn’t move. He’s staring at the sunbeams scattered across their bed and floor.
His chest tightens. Cute, Sting thinks, and again, the same persistent, eternal thought: I love him. I love him.
“What time is it?” he asks. “Maybe we can sleep in a little.”
“Mm,” Rogue says, and finally pulls out his arm from underneath Sting so he can turn around and read the clock.
His hair is mussed up horribly, sticking out in every direction in a way that could never be misconstrued as awful. Sting wants to reach over and comb it back to something presentable. It’s really an affront to the human senses. Of course, he likes it anyway.
“It’s noon,” Rogue says, and Sting launches himself out of bed.
“Noon?” Sting asks. “Seriously?” He checks the clock to make sure Rogue’s not pulling his leg. “Nope. It’s really noon. Okay, okay…”
Rogue yawns. “Wake me up when you finish showering.”
“You’re really going to keep sleeping?” Sting asks.
“It’s warm,” Rogue mumbles, pulling the blankets around him. “I don’t want to move.”
“Right,” Sting says, shaking his head. “I’ll wake you up in ten minutes, then.”
“Thanks,” Rogue says, and then, in that unfailingly sincere tone of voice that always catches Sting off guard: “I trust you.”
“Right,” Sting repeats, and before he does something impulsive and stupid like saying I love you, do you know how much I love you, he ducks into the bathroom and muffles his scream into a towel.
Later that day, when he rushes downstairs with still-damp hair, he asks Yukino why no one came to bang down the door.
She scrunches her nose in disgust. “You’re really asking that?”
“Obviously none of us here want to disturb you and Rogue while you do… whatever you’re doing,” she says.
Sting turns red. “We’re—we’re not doing anything!” he sputters.
She raises an eyebrow.
“We just—we sleep on the same bed. Together. Because he has… nightmares. And, me too, and—and it helps…”
Yukino puts both hands up in surrender. “Okay, I get it,” she says. She points at Rogue, who’s making his way downstairs. “But are you really going to tell me you feel nothing for him?”
“No, I love him,” Sting says immediately. Then he realizes what he’s just said and freezes.
Yukino lets out a startled laugh. “When are you going to tell him?” she asks.
“Tonight.” He’s not going to be brave enough to do it in daylight.
She smiles. “I expect nothing less from our brave and fearless leader.”
Rogue pops up next to the both of them. “Brave and fearless?” he asks. “Are we talking about Yukino?”
“Sorry,” Rogue says, and grins. “At least you’re our leader. For now.”
“I don’t like the implications of that statement.”
“Well, of course you wouldn’t,” Yukino says. “You’re our slightly stupid and idiotic leader.” She pauses. “For now.”
“Slightly?” Rogue asks.
“I have to be nice to him,” she says. “He does the paperwork. I hate paperwork.”
“Actually, I do most of the paperwork,” Rogue says, and a wicked thought pops up in Sting’s head.
“Hey, Yukino, how do you feel about candy wrappers?” Sting asks, and Rogue whirls around on him with a threatening glare.
“I… was going to give an opinion, but I decided I don’t want to know,” she says. “I’ll leave you two to it.” She winks at Sting before she saunters out of the guild, a new spring to her step.
“Sandwich?” Rogue offers, holding a plate out in front of him.
“You’re the best,” Sting says, and when Rogue hands the plate over, their fingers brush and all feels right with the world.
Tonight, Sting thinks. It’s already afternoon, and the hours in front of him before the skies go dark feel like an insurmountable amount of time, but also far too short for what he’s about to do. He almost wants to blurt it out now, get rid of that anxious, nagging feeling of knowing that he’s hiding something so important, but it’s too delicate to be done right here, with their guild members around and the sun high in the sky.
Tonight, Sting resolves. He’ll tell Rogue he’s in love with him tonight.
It’s a lazy day. Sting unsubtly avoids Rogue for most of it, pulling Rufus into the archives and asking him what they’re missing in their collection. He knows Rufus can talk about this kind of mundane thing for hours, and he knows Rogue won’t try to follow the two of them.
It’s a mean thing to do, but he needs the breathing room. While Rufus prattles on, Sting can calm down and clear his head. If Rogue was right next to him, he knows he’d just become overly aware of his presence and freak out.
Rufus seems to get the idea that he’s not listening as hard as he should, but instead of chewing him out, he just sighs and begins writing a list down on a sheet of parchment. “Double check with Yukino,” he says, “but these are a list of topics and suggested books I think we should purchase.”
Sting reaches for the parchment, but Rufus doesn’t let him grab it. “You have more important things to deal with,” he says. “Pick this up in the morning.”
Sting blinks. “Oh,” he says, “it’s night.”
“Yeah,” Rufus says, “it’s night. Go talk to Rogue.”
“How do you know I have to talk to Rogue?”
“…Okay, I guess I’m being obvious,” he admits. “I just… it’s hard.”
“I hate conversation,” Rufus says, “so I understand. Now go and stop disturbing me with your wishy-washy chatter.”
Sting stands up and stretches. Rufus pushes him out of the room before he can walk out on his own terms, because that’s the type of person he is.
The walk to his bedroom suddenly seems so long. The halls around him are too quiet, too dark.
He stands before the door and takes note of the still-unpainted guild insignia. “Okay,” he says, “you can do this.”
Sting pushes the door open.
Rogue is already sitting on the bed, hair shadowing most of his face, turning his expression unreadable.
Even if that wasn’t the case, it’s not like Sting can see much in the dark. He makes his way over to the bed and sits down as gingerly as possible, turning to face Rogue.
The silence stretches out between them. All of the possible things he’d planned on saying vanish in an instant.
“Um,” Sting says.
“You were avoiding me, earlier,” Rogue says. “Is… is this about that?” His voice is uncharacteristically timid.
“Kind of?” Sting says, and when Rogue turns away he realizes how badly this is going. “Well, not exactly. I mean, I was avoiding you, I’ll admit that, but that’s—that’s not the point, I—”
Rogue’s voice pierces through his rambling. “You said… you said this would be a good thing. And then you started avoiding me, and—” He makes a frustrated noise. “Please tell me you’re not going to say you hate me.”
“I could never,” Sting says, shocked. “No, it’s… this is really not going that well, is it?”
Rogue takes a deep breath and brushes his hair away from his face. “Okay, then say it. Whatever you were going to say, just say it.”
Sting can’t look away. “This morning, I wanted to tell you…”
Rogue waits as Sting struggles to piece the words together and finally musters up the courage.
“I like you,” Sting says. ”Um, in the… the romantic sense.”
The words shock Rogue into silence. “You… really?” he finally asks, after a torturous minute. “That’s what you wanted to say?”
Sting frowns. Of all the responses he’d expected, disbelief was not one of them. “I like you,” he repeats, a little louder than before. “I mean, is that so hard to believe?” He pauses, and when Rogue doesn’t respond he continues on. “You’re the person I love most in the world. I should have started out with that, first. I… it’s not as simple as just me liking you. I love you. I only realized recently, but I’ve been in love with you for a lot longer. Loving you is just part of who I am.”
He hears Rogue’s breath hitch. “Sting,” he says, and it’s that same indescribable emotion in his voice as always, the one that always feels like—
Oh, Sting thinks, oh, and reaches for Rogue’s face, hand stumbling across the lines of his skin to rest on Rogue’s cheek. It’s hot, where the two touch.
“Hang on,” Sting says, as breathless as he thinks Rogue must feel, and he summons his magic to make the room glow a little brighter.
It’s dim, but in the soft, shadowed room, Rogue is turning a delicate pink.
“Oh,” Sting says.
Rogue squeezes his eyes shut. “Don’t look at me,” he forces out, every word uttered like a plea.
“I’ll look at you,” Sting promises instead. “I love how you look. I love everything about you.”
Rogue blushes harder. Sting laughs. He knows his face is turning the same color.
“I love you,” Sting says. “As a friend. As a partner. As a person.”
“I—” Rogue swallows and then meets his eyes. “I love you, too. All—all of the same ways.”
“That so?” he murmurs, and when Rogue smiles and shakily nods, his magic glows so bright the whole room is illuminated.
He loves me, Sting thinks, and the thought curves into his heart like it was born to be there. He loves me, and I love him, the thought becomes, like a pair of twin dragons, circling the sky in tandem.
“So, what now?” Rogue asks, and Sting tells him what he’s wanted to say to Rogue ever since the first night he startled awake from a nightmare.
“I don’t know,” he says. “It’s the future. Anything is possible.”
Every morning, Sting wakes up to the scent of lavender and warmth curled around him. He smiles and coaxes Rogue awake, and presses a kiss to his forehead before getting ready for the day.
They do paperwork, and they go on missions, and Sabertooth slowly grows in number. He wears the title of leader with honor.
They paint their guild insignia a glossy gray, and it glistens like steel under the light. It’s the perfect marriage of black and white, the color of titanium metal, and built to withstand whatever may come. It’s home.
And every night, Sting and Rogue dream of limitless futures.