Actions

Work Header

Time Is On Our Side (But Time Is Running Out)

Chapter Text

The first thing she does--after making sure the spell worked, after crying for what felt like hours on end when she realized that yes, she was back--was summon her spirits. At least, the spirits that she had at this point in time.

She was met with stone cold silence and hard eyes. Not that this surprised her.

"You," Aquarius started, the words almost a snarl, "are not Lucy Heartfilia." Cancer stood at her side in silent agreement, his fingers twitching around the scissors in his hands. Taurus, for once, was quiet, not even uttering a single word about her appearance or body. The atmosphere grew tense, as if any wrong move could result in a blood bath.

"I am," she disagreed quietly, and then held up her hand when Aquarius began to protest. "I am Lucy Heartfilia. But I am not the one you know. I am not the one of this time."

"That doesn't make any sense!" The water spirit was definitely snarling now, while Taurus just crossed his arms over his giant chest.

"There are many kinds of magicks out there. You, as Celestial Spirits, know this," her voice was gentle as she tried to explain. Her eyes, once bright with the naivete and hope of youth, were dark and knowing. Her hair lie flat down her back and her shoulders were held straight and stiff. Her stance shifted minutely, as if she were prepared to jump into battle at any second. She held herself like warrior.

She held herself like a soldier.

"Things... didn't go well," her soft voice continued, her eyes drifting away for a moment. "We tried to fight, all of us. The guilds all banded together and we did everything, tried everything, that we could think of. We lost the Master and Erza first," and here her voice became choked, like she was holding back tears that she'd long since run out of. "They held it back in order to give us time to flee. Not that it helped."

"Held what back?" Aquarius demanded impatiently, ignoring the girl's bitter tone. "You aren't making any sense, you stupid child!"

"I'm sorry," she shook her head as if to clear it, "I'm not explaining this very well, am I?"

Aquarius just scoffed while Cancer inclined his head, still just watching silently. Taurus huffed out a heavy breath, his eyes traveling back and forth between the irate spirit and their summoner. She paid it no mind. Aquarius had always been brash and temperamental, while Cancer had always been patient and observant. And while Taurus may seem like nothing but grunt muscle, he was actually very intelligent. He had very strong instincts and knew when to trust them and right now they were telling him to wait and to hear the blonde out.

"My name is Lucy Heartfilia," her voice seemed to resonate with power, and all three spirits blinked in surprise, "I am a Celestial Spirit Mage of the mage guild Fairy Tail. I am from the year x798 and I am 25 years old--"

"That still doesn't make sense!" Aquarius interrupted as she flung her finger straight into the blonde's face, forcing her to take a step back. "If you were really Lucy, you would be in your thirties by that time!"

"A lot of things happened. One of them was being trapped in a time lock for 7 years." She shrugged, as if this were an unimportant detail. "The point is, in the year x797, a dragon by the name of Acnologia begins to attack the guilds. Namely, any guild affiliated with a Dragon Slayer. Meaning that Fairy Tail, having three at the time, was first on it's list. The master and Erza died to allow us to get away, but they weren't even able to scratch that monster, let alone hold it back. And it came for us again. And again. And again. No matter what we did, it just kept coming and nothing we did seemed to have any affect."

Here she took a deep breath, as if preparing herself mentally for what she was about to say. When she spoke, her voice had the strangled quality of choked back tears again. "Finally, the guilds banded together. Or, more importantly, the Dragon Slayers banded together. All of them, even those that were artificially made like Laxus and Erik. We gave them all the support that we could. And we managed it, we defeated it. But...."

"The cost was great," Cancer intoned quietly, and it wasn't a question. The blonde just nodded, her eyes glazed with unshed tears.

"The Dragon Slayers had overtaxed themselves. Pushed far beyond their limits. There was nothing.... There was nothing to be done at that point." She paused to swallow against the lump in her throat. "And so many had already been killed during the fight. It was a hollow victory."

Her eyes snapped back into focus as she met their gazes. "There is a forbidden spell, created by Zeref. It required tremendous amounts of magical energy, but if used correctly, it can send a spirit through a temporary rip in time and into their past body. Of course, it's much more complicated than that, otherwise people would be using it left and right. But, the point is, we were able to accomplish it. And I was the one selected to come back."

"Why you?" Aquarius asked after a moment of silence. "You're nothing but a brat. Surely there was someone more suited to this task, if it is as dire as you say."

"Oh, there definitely was. I argued with Jellal for days about it. But he insisted, and continued to insist until I caved. Not that I put up as big a fight as I could've, honestly.... I had a vested interest in wanting to come back as well. We all did. We all had people we had lost, people we wanted to see again." She blew out a harsh breath, inadvertently getting her bangs out of her face at the same time. "As much as I hate to admit it, the spell probably wouldn't have worked if I had been the one directing the power. I am a powerful mage who commands powerful spirits, and I have absolute faith in their power and my own. But, I'm also not the greatest at focusing that power down to a fine point, with not an iota being out of place. I could if I had time to practice. But time, ironically enough, was something we didn't really have. And so I was the one sent."

"Say we believe you, what then?" Aquarius demanded, crossing her arms under her ample bosom. She seemed much calmer than she had when she was first summoned, and Cancer's fingers were no longer twitching as he continued to stand by her side.

"Nothing, really." The blonde raised an eyebrow at the goddesses gobsmacked expression. "What? Did you expect me to jump straight into action without a thought?"

"Actually, yes," the spirit answered snidely, her eye twitching in annoyance. "You are that brat after all."

"I'm also older, and I've seen how much that course of action really doesn't work." The blonde smirked degradingly. "Besides, we're dealing with time here. If I do things too differently, it'll change everything, and I'll lose the edge of knowing what happens next. And even more importantly, there's a lot of things I want, I need, to stay the same."

"Whatever, I'm bored of this conversation." The water spirit flipped her hair over her shoulder contemptuously before shoving her finger back into her summoners face. "And I'm missing a date with my lovely boyfriend for this, so you better be grateful, you whiny brat!" And without another word Aquarius disappeared in a flash of light. The girl blinked at the abrupt departure before shaking her head, a genuine smile lifting the corner of her mouth.

"Man, I missed her," she admitted quietly, before turning her attention on the spirits that still remained. They stood there silently for a moment, gazes locked, before Cancer finally inclined his head towards her.

"I believe you, as I know Aquarius does. While you are not our Lucy, you still carry her essence, and your spirit is much the same, if more scarred than before. We will follow you, as we did her, ebi." He tilted his sunglasses down then, to stare her straight into the eyes. "Do not think I didn't notice the blanks in your story. You have omitted many details. Important details, ebi."

"Nah," the girl argued, her smile growing into a full-fledged grin. Her cheeks hurt with the effort, now unused to the gesture. "Not that important. Not more important than the fact that I'm here."

He stared at her for a moment longer before slowly nodding his head. "Very well, ebi. In that case, I will be leaving now, ebi."

And then there was one. The large spirit had been silent this whole time, and the blonde had to admit that she was a little surprised. She didn't think she'd ever seen him be quiet for so long, not even when she'd needed him to be. But after a moment, his usual grin spread over his face and she felt something tight in her chest finally loosen in relief.

"Yooooouuuuuu can count on me, Luuuuucy! I will definitely protect that seeeeexy boooody of yooooours!!"

Taurus flashed a thumbs up and in a sudden flash of light the blonde found herself standing alone in the middle of her childhood bedroom, surrounded by rich fabrics and furnitures. Her hands absently drifted along the pale skin of her arms, her torso, her face, still surprised to find it uninjured and unscarred. Her hair, having reached her lower back the day before, now only reached to just past her shoulders.

She couldn't help but laugh as it finally hit her that yes, she was in the past and yes she was in her younger body and no, none of those catastrophes had yet to happen. Yes, her guild was still standing and yes, her friends were all still alive and well. And yes, Natsu was still alive. If they had gotten the time right, she'd be seeing him in less than a year.

She'd be going home in less than a year.

She didn't know when her laughs turned into fullbodied sobs and she honestly didn't care. As she slid to the floor and cried, picturing the faces of the family she had lost and would soon gain again, she knew she was going to change their fate. They were going to live, no matter what she had to do to ensure it, she swore it.

And Lucy Heartfilia never broke her promises.

Chapter Text

The day of July 2, x784 was like any other summer day. The sun was out, the sky was clear and the breeze off the water was just enough to make the heat bearable. Most would call this a very fine day, indeed.

And for one busty blonde mage, this day would be the start of her entire future.

As Lucy Heartfilia found herself inside a vaguely familiar magic shop, trying to haggle with a vaguely familiar shopkeeper, she was barely managing to suppress a nostalgic smile. Of course, it was getting easier by the minute as her temper continued to rise.

"What do you mean 20,000 jewels?!" She demanded of the short statured man.

"This Gate Key is very popular, you know!" The man seemed unwilling to budge at all on the price. He had a stubborn set to his jaw and his arms crossed tightly against his chest.

"Oh, come on, old man!" Lucy huffed irritably, placing a hand on her hip as she tried to contain her annoyance. "You even said yourself that this town barely gets any business from mages. And that Celestial Spirit mages are a rarity! When's the next time someone'll come along to buy this key, huh? At a shop like this, it's worth 12,000, max!"

The shopkeepers face had continued to get more red as she talked, knowing there was nothing he could say to dispute her words but wanting to argue them all the same. Finally, he let out a long breath, a look of defeat on his face.

"Fine," his voice was grudging, "12,000 jewels. Take it or leave it."

"YES!" The blonde held her new Gate Key tenderly as it was handed over, excited to see her spirit again after so long.

"Now get out of my shop!" The man shooed her off impatiently, upset over his 8,000 lost jewels. Lucy was all too happy to leave, having got what she came for.

"This is great!" She exclaimed to no one in particular as she all but pranced down the street, her new key now jangling at her hip with the rest. "I'm only on day one, and already things are looking up! A whole 8,000 saved! And I get to see Plue again soon!"

Her grin grew even more when she thought of who else she'd be getting to see soon. She sped up her pace as a growing crowd of women got her attention, all shouting about the amazing Salamander. She couldn't help but scoff. Like this fraud was anything like the real deal.

The closer she got the more she could feel the tug of the charm magic against her. Of course, knowing it was there meant it had no affect. Thank Mavis. She couldn't help but be ashamed of the fact that she had been just as enraptured as these other screaming girls, the last time around. And by someone as disgusting as this guy, no less.

As Bora of Prominence finally came into view, Lucy had to suppress a shudder. She had almost forgotten how repulsive this man was but seeing him now, and seeing all of these women fawn over him, was enough to turn her stomach. If only they knew what he had planned for them. She was just about to make her way through the crowd when a voice stopped her cold.

"IGNEEEEEEL!"

Lucy found herself frozen to the spot, her eyes wide and her heart going a mile a minute. She knew, she knew, that she would be seeing him again. But nothing could prepare her for the sight of that bright pink hair, those eyes that always held a hint of a challenge, that mouth that could smile so wide it almost hurt to look at. As Natsu appeared on the ground before the fake Salamander and Lucy got an eyeful of him for the first time in almost two years, she wanted nothing more than to fall into those arms and sob her heart out.

But she couldn't. Because Natsu didn't know her yet. Wouldn't know that she was crying because she was happy, wouldn't know just the way to hold her to make her feel safe and warm and loved but not trapped or caged. Wouldn't pat her head and grin wide while calling her a weirdo in that affectionate tone he always took with her.

And at the thought of that - he doesn't know me, he doesn't know me at all - she finally felt doubt for the first time since she'd come back. Because it wasn't just Natsu. Nobody would know her. And even if she got everything right, even if she saved them all, they wouldn't ever be her friends. This Natsu would never be the boy that died bloody and beaten in her arms, with tears in his eyes at their loses but a vicious grin on his face for their victory.

And that, that, more than anything was a little hard to accept.

Stop it! She shook her head at herself, her long ponytail swaying back and forth behind her. That was the whole point of coming back, dummy! So that he would never become that, so none of them would. So they could be happy! So, get your head in the game!

Finally coming back to her senses, she took a deep breath before she continued onwards. By this time Bora had already taken his leave, the women left behind cooing after him. She stepped up to her long-lost-soon-to-be partner as he groaned on the ground from the beating he had received, and couldn't stop the affectionate grin on her face if she tried.

"That guy is really disgusting," her voice sounded a bit strangled from the withheld emotions, but who was he to know at this point in time? Her eyes slid from his to the blue cat at his side, and she found herself unbearably relieved to see the feline looking, well, happy. Instead of the down-trodden world-weary Happy she had left behind.

"Sorry about those women, it's not really their fault. He's using a charm spell on them, they really don't know what they're doing," she pulled on the end of her ponytail anxiously as she waited for him to speak. He pushed himself up slowly to his feet and then stretched his arms wide before slumping forward, looking defeated.

"Eh, it's not a problem," he mumbled through a pout. "But I really thought it'd be Igneel this time."

"Aye," agreed the feline by his side somberly.

"Igneel?" The blonde took on a curious tone as she tilted her head just so.

"My dad," the pink-haired boy before her explained as he crossed his arms behind his head. He suddenly grinned, full of pride. "He's the Fire Dragon!"

"Fire dragon?" Lucy laughed as she flipped her hair back behind her. "What would a dragon be doing in the middle of town?"

"Ah!" Natsu and Happy both exclaimed in shock, the thought obviously never occurring to either of them, and the sight just made Lucy laugh all the harder.

"Well, come on. You might not find your dragon in the middle of town, but I'm sure we'll at least be able to find lunch!" And with that the Spirit Mage did an about-face as she led the way. She could hear as the dragon slayer behind her scrambled to catch up.

"Really?!" His grin had gotten impossibly wider at the prospect of food.

"Of course! My treat. It's the least I can do after watching you get beat up by a crowd of fangirls." She couldn't seem to stop smiling. She felt like she was walking on cloud nine, honestly. All of her earlier doubts seemed to have disappeared, and while she knew this wasn't the case and that she'd dwell on them later, she was going to save them for later. Right now the sun was out, the sky was blue, and Natsu and Happy were by her side. Everything was right with the world.

"Thank you for the meal!"

"Aye!"

She turned at their yells to find them once again on the ground, this time with their heads bowed, right in the middle of the street. People passing by stopped to stare at them and some even began to point and whisper. Lucy could feel her smile becoming strained already.

"I-Idiots! We're not even at the restaurant yet! Save your gratitude for once you've actually eaten!"

.


 

.

"Mavis, but I forgot how exhausting those two can be." Lucy sighed as she slumped down onto a park bench. It had only been about an hour and a half since she'd first laid eyes on her pink-haired partner and already she felt like she needed a nap.

But man was that guy full of energy. He and Happy both had stuffed their faces full at an almost nauseating rate as she filled the air with idle chitchat about her dreams for joining a guild and her disgust at Bora for his use of charm magic. In the end she'd been the first to leave again, dropping her money on the table. And, like before, they'd bowed in gratitude again right there in the middle of the restaurant. And, like before, Natsu'd offered up his fake Salamander autograph as proof of his gratitude.

"What the heck am I even supposed to do with this?" She wondered aloud as she fingered the edge of it. The cursive script covered the whole front and she couldn't help but scoff at the arrowed 'S'. Was that supposed to be like a dragon's tail?

"Ah, I see you're a fan," a voice spoke up from behind her, causing her to flinch. She turned to come face to face with none other than the fraud himself.

"I don't know if I'd go that far," she replied dryly as she flicked the piece of cardboard into a nearby trash can. She stood to walk away as he rounded the bench, but before she could take so much as a step he swung his arm up and around her shoulders.

"Playing hard to get? It's very charming. But there's no need to be embarrassed. I saw you earlier in the crowd and I've been unable to get you out of my head since!" Bora stood much taller than her, his dark blue hair looking windswept and his smirk tilted at just the right angle. He was very good, she had to admit. He seemed to have conning down to an art-form.

"Charming, eh?" She couldn't help but ask, finding humor in the situation. "Sorry to say though, but that charm magic of yours isn't going to work on me."

"I knew it! I knew from the moment I laid eyes on you that you were a mage!" He was throwing on the act a little thick and once again she was ashamed to know that she'd fallen for it the last time around, hook, line and sinker. "I wanted so badly to invite a beauty like you to the party on my ship later this evening. We could even discuss my guild, Fairy Tail, if you'd like!"

"Fairy Tail, huh?" Lucy asked as she ignored her flare of anger and indignation at the use of her guild name. To flaunt it like that when it wasn't even his. He truly was pathetic and disgusting.

"Oh, yes. I could even get you into the guild! I could definitely talk to the Master for you. It wouldn't be any trouble at all."

She pretended to think it over before forcing a smile to her face. "That sounds great! I've always wanted to join that guild!"

"It's decided then! Come to my ship for the party tonight and we'll discuss all of the details then." As he swaggered away, Lucy couldn't stop the vicious smirk from coming to her face.

Like taking candy from a baby, honestly.

.


 

.

"Lucy, huh? That's such a pretty name."

"Thanks!" Lucy chirped with a sugar sweet tone. She sat straight in her halter-topped black dress, the fabric hugging all of her curves just right. Cancer had outdone himself on her hair, styling it in perfectly curled waves down her back while the top half was braided together. All in all she looked damn fine, if she did say so herself.

Across from her, Bora seemed to agree as he kept eyeing her up and down while he poured two goblet of wine.

"Let us toast," he declared in a pompous tone, "before we continue our discussion."

"Don't you have other girls to attend to?" She asked with pretend meekness as she twirled a lock of hair around her finger.

"It's fine, it's fine!" Bora waved his hand as if brushing off the issue. "I just want to drink with you."

"I see. Well, if that's what it is, then I'm sorry to say I'll have to decline." Lucy stood gracefully as the man in front of her froze in confusion. Her hand brushed her hip and clasped around her Gate Keys as she stepped around the table between them and, more importantly, away from the curtain behind her. "You see, I have this thing against sharing drinks with slave traders."

"You knew?!" Bora's entire countenance changed in that instant, from the suave flirtatious heartthrob to the despicable man he truly was. His mouth curved into an ugly grin. "And you still came aboard this ship? How foolish of you."

"Foolish? Not really. You're really not as big as you talk yourself up to be," the Stellar Spirit mage shrugged in mock apology and then smirked. "And I'm not just talking about your power level here."

"Bitch!" His face twisted into a snarl. With a snap of his fingers his men began to pour out from behind the curtain. Regaining his smirk he sauntered over to the fireplace where he pulled out a branding iron. "Just stand still. I'll brand that pretty skin of yours and then we'll be off to Bosco. Honestly, the less you struggle the less it'll hurt. Though, it will burn a little. Please bear with it."

Without a word in reply Lucy lifted a Gate key into the air. "Open, door to the Golden Bull, Taur --"

With a crash the ceiling caved in, causing everyone inside to jump back in shock. And who jumped down through the opening but one loud-mouthed pink-haired dragon slayer.

"Natsu!" Lucy yelled out in giddy excitement. The boy in question turned to her in confusion.

"Lucy? What're you --" and in that second his face bloated and turned a sickly green. He turned away from her immediately and seemed to fold in on himself as he hugged his stomach. "Nope, can't do it."

"That's so lame!" The blonde laughed out. "What was the point of you even coming if you can't even stand up straight anymore?"

"The point... was..." with great difficulty he leaned against the wall and pointed an accusing finger straight at Bora. "You.... using Fairy Tail's name like that. I've never... seen you at the guild before. You're no.... Fairy Tail mage!"

For a moment his anger seemed to overpower his motion sickness as he stood straight and proud and full of firey rage. "I don't care if you're a bastard or a good person! But I can't forgive you for using our name!"

For a moment everyone was silent, and Lucy couldn't help but be proud of her hopefully-soon-to-be partner as she looked around at all of the intimidated faces. And then the spell was broken as Natsu clapped his hands to his mouth to keep from vomiting and curled right back up on the floor. The room erupted into mocking laughter at his expense and the blonde just shook her head and sighed.

"Really, Natsu, that's so uncool." She stepped over to him to take guard in front of her fellow mage, determined to not let anyone get near him while in his vulnerable state. She caught a flash of blue from the corner of her eye and knew that Happy had finally arrived.

"Lucy! What're you doing here?" The feline yelled as he landed next to his partner.

"I could ask you two the same thing. Especially as it seems this guy only came to puke on everything."

"Aye, he doesn't really do well with vehicles," the cat informed her solemnly.

"I had noticed," Lucy muttered before shaking her head. "Anyway, keep an eye on him and I'll deal with these guys."

"No... Let me...." Natsu struggled weakly before seeming to give up on moving. The blonde rolled her eyes but otherwise ignored him as she directed her attention back to the men in front of her.

"Anyways, where were we again?" She asked them with a smile as she raised her key once more. "Taurus!"

In a flash the large spirit stood beside her and almost immediately began noodling around.

"Luuuuuuuucy, you look so seeeeeeexy todaaaaaaaay as weeeeeeell!" He exclaimed with hearts in his eyes. Ignoring his perversion with long practiced ease, she pointed towards their enemy.

"Nevermind that, I want these guys to regret ever laying eyes on me, got it?"

"Yes, of coooooourse, Luuuuuuucy!" The spirit was all to happy to follow her command as he grasped the handle of his ax and began swinging. Lucy, not one to let her Spirits fight alone, grabbed her whip from her hip and entered the foray as well. It was almost depressing, really, how simple it was to take them all out until only Bora remained.

"N-no! That's not possible! You're just a woman! You're not even affiliated with a guild!" He cried out as he pressed himself against the wall, his eyes wide in shock.

"Sorry to say, but this woman just kicked your ass and ruined your entire operation," the blonde said in a pleasant voice as she saunter towards him with a smile on her face. When he went to use his magic against her she simply flicked her wrist and her whip wrapped itself around his, disrupting his spell. "Oh, and also, this is on behalf of every woman you've ever hurt, or branded, or sold."

And with that she punched him right in the nose, feeling as it gave way beneath her fist. He fell in a spray of blood and didn't get back up.

She stepped away as she dusted her hands, as if the action would rid her of the filth of him. She smiled up at her spirit as she passed. "Thanks for the help, Taurus. You can return now."

"Anytiiiiiiiiiime for that seeeexy booooody, Luuuuucy!" And then the spirit was gone and the only ones left conscious were her, a cat and a useless lump of dragon slayer.

"So lame," she sighed again as she gazed down at him, her hands on her hips. Happy nodded sadly.

"Aye."

.


.

In the confusion of docking the boat, talking to the Rune Knights and getting all the girls held captive free, Lucy had lost sight of Natsu and Happy. When she realized this she nearly had a panic attack right then and there before she'd literally slapped sense back into herself. The Rune Knight questioning her had been very unamused.

Now, hours later, she found herself sitting by the dock on a bench, watching as the sun slowly rose and couldn't help the morose sigh that left her lips.

"Maybe I can just go there myself...? It won't be the same, but I don't think they'll turn me away...." She hung her head as she wondered just what it was she had done wrong. Yeah, she'd more or less handled the whole thing on her own this time around, but she didn't think that would result in Natsu leaving without her. It just didn't make any sense. She thought for sure he'd ask her to go with him.

And yet her she was, alone, and he was probably halfway back to the guild by now --

"Hey!" She jumped at the voice yelling down the street. "Lucy!"

She could've cried at the sight before her. As she got to her feet Happy floated down to her, landing on her shoulder as he let his wings disappear, and barely a step behind was Natsu, signature grin spread across his face

"I wanted to thank you for the help earlier," the dragon slayer rubbed the back of his head sheepishly as he laughed. "I really appreciate you kicking those guys asses, though I would've liked it more if I'd gotten to do it myself."

"Maybe if you'd chosen a better setting for the beat down," she suggested dryly. Really, how had he lived so long dealing with his motion sickness and he still seemed to forget about it when faced with a fight? And then he was left a sweating green mess on the ground. It was truly ridiculous. It was just so Natsu. "But it really wasn't a problem. He was planning to sell me as a slave, so honestly I had planned on kicking his ass anyways."

"But it's a good thing we were able to find you! We wanted to talk to you earlier but you were surrounded by Rune Knights."

"Aye, we try to avoid them at all costs," Happy explained brightly.

"Right, and you were talking to them forever," Natsu continued dramatically. "But now that you're done we can finally go!"

And with that he did an about-face and began leading the way down the road. It felt like a humorous repeat of earlier that afternoon and Lucy smiled as she asked, "Go?"

"To Fairy Tail, of course!" Natsu grinned back at her as Happy took flight from her shoulder once more. "You wanted to join, didn't you?"

There were so many emotions crashing through her at once that she couldn't believe she was able to contain it all. But as her grin grew and her face lit up in pure joy, all she did was nod as she ran to catch up to the boy before her.

"Yeah, let's go!"

 

Chapter Text

Everything was different.

Lucy wasn't sure why that surprised her. But walking through Magnolia as she was, Natsu practically vibrating with excitement as he led the way, the differences were glaring. Even now as they passed a street corner cafe she could see a blemish-free wall where once was (would be?) a giant scorch mark scarred into the concrete.

And the people, Mavis, the people. All waving and smiles and carefree conversations. Nothing like a the husks that had been quickly evacuated from the town even as the outline of Acnologia became clear on the horizon. Those people had seen battle, starting with the assault by Phantom Lord, and it had changed them, hardened them, brought shadows to their eyes. But Lucy had never really noticed. She knew, of course, that they had suffered. They'd seen their town brutalized more times than they could count, even once by the very guild that was their pride when Laxus set everyone against each other. And she had felt bad, horrible, at the thought that they had brought Acnologia down upon them and had forced them to leave their very homes. But it was buried beneath the fear and adrenaline rush of the upcoming battle. After, she'd barely thought on them at all, too wrapped up in grief and anger and even more fear.

And then had come that final battle. Not much at all had mattered to her after that.

But now, seeing it so clearly, it was a bit jarring. She wrapped her arms around herself to hold off a chill that had nothing to do with the weather.

Had their guild really caused that drastic of a change? Not directly, of course, but.... If it weren't for Fairy Tail being here, Magnolia probably would have remained untouched for a long time. The thought of it made her a little sick.

Then again, she thought as her eyes continued to scan the faces she passed, it could have just as easily been wiped off the map years earlier without us here, all of them gone in the blink of an eye. There was no way to know. As much as Fairy Tail had brought trouble to this town, it had also saved it countless times as well.

She shook herself sharply and focused instead on the pink head bobbing in front of her. Happy sailed overhead as Natsu continued to march onwards, none the wiser on the dark turn her thoughts had started to take. A smile creeped onto her face, a bare uptilt of her lips, as he continued to babble on about the awesomeness that was his guild.

"...-and everyone is super nice, too! Well, not Gray, he's an idiot. But everyone else is pretty cool!"

"Aye!"

"You're weird, so you'll probably fit right in," he threw a grin over his shoulder at her. A strong fondness rushed through her and it took everything Lucy had not to hug him right then and there.

"Weird, huh?" She muttered with a disbelieving shake of her head. Natsu was Natsu, no matter the time. But she'd lost his attention as a large building came into view, and honestly, as soon as she laid eyes on it she found herself unable to speak anyways.

"Welcome to Fairy Tail!" It was yelled for her benefit but was clearly no more than an afterthought as he marched forward. She paid it no mind, all her attention trapped by the image that stood before her.

It looked just like it had the first time around, the image of it forever seared into her brain, right next to the image of it as nothing but a pile of rubble as Acnologia roared out a challenge from the skies.

It was only three stories tall, not the behemoth of a building she had come to know so well. She had almost forgotten how tiny it was before it had been rebuilt. But even for all of that, it was one of the most beautiful things she had ever laid eyes on.

At the sight of the bright orange banner which proudly displayed their guildmark for all to see, she couldn't stop the tears from gathering if she'd wanted to. But she was here. She was home. She released a shuddering breath as that fact hit her. She had truly made it. Her guild still stood. It was right here in front of her.

She was infinitely grateful that Natsu paid her no attention as he threw the doors open, voice calling out a greeting before he disappeared within to start a brawl. It gave her time to surreptitiously wipe at her eyes before taking another fortifying breath. And then she forced herself to step forward.

Inside was a bit dim, especially after the bright sunlight, but it wasn't dark. Her eyes adjusted after only a few blinks and even then she had enough sense of her surroundings to not bump into anyone. Inside was just as rowdy as it'd always been, especially now that Natsu and Happy'd joined in, and was like balm to a wound for her. Her mind almost instantly calmed. Muscles she hadn't even known were tense relaxed and she felt nearly boneless for a moment.

It took her by surprise, though Lucy guessed it probably shouldn't have. After that first initial attack, her and her guildmates had been running and fighting and running for nearly 5 months before that final battle had taken place. Just because Acnogolia had been at the top of their list of enemies didn't mean the others had ceased to exist. As they had banned together with other guilds, so had dark guilds and Zerref followers alike.

Fairy Tail had become nomadic, practically only a guild in name. They'd lost their place, their home, and refused to be the reason that fate befell anyone else. They'd all lost that sense of safety and security that only home could give you.

But here, now, she felt it. It filled her with warmth. She felt like she might burst with it.

A chair hit the ground beside her, wood splinters flying, and she flinched as she was ripped from her thoughts. The noise had continued to get louder, more voices adding to the mix even as more people got dragged into the fight. Most were yelling at Natsu, though that was nothing unusual. Lucy kept to the sidelines, never being one for all-out brawls unless they were necessary. Even being in the guild for so long hadn't curbed her aversion to violence. Just because she could fight didn't mean she necessarily wanted to.

"Did you say Natsu's back?!" A voice yelled from beside her. She steeled herself before turning to look. Gray stood next to her, dark hair looking wind-swept but somehow still style-ish, his posture straight and his muscles bulging as he got ready to jump into the fight. The image, however, was ruined by the fact that he was completely naked besides the pair of boxers he wore. "Let's finish our fight!"

"Gray... Have you been walking around like that?" The question came casually from the woman to Lucy's left. There, cross-legged on a bar stool, sat Cana, a giant barrel of booze nestled in her lap. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes glassy but Lucy knew she could snap to sharp attention if she really needed to. Cana ignored the way Gray squawked as she brought the barrel to her lips. "That's so undignified."

"What rubbish." A shadow was cast over Lucy as Elfman stepped up behind her. His face was set in serious lines as he eyes the brawl Gray had joined. She could see him and Natsu trading blows even as everyone else tried to get in hits of their own. "Fight with fists to show your manhood!"

He'd barely joined the fight before he was blasted right back out. The had barely been a pause to deal with him before Gray and Natsu continued on. Lucy couldn't help but laugh at the sight. She remembered being so flabbergasted by the whole thing the first time around. Now, used to it as she was, she could find the amusement in it. Although it could be annoying, especially when she was unwillingly dragged into the middle of it, this was just how her guild was and she wouldn't trade it for the world. She would give her life a hundred times over if it meant days like this never ended. She never wanted to witness a silent guild again.

From the corner of her eye she caught a flash of orange and zeroed in on it instantly. There stood Loke, a girl under either arm as he sauntered forward. Knowing what she did now, she could see the effect staying in this realm had on him. Where before all she'd seen was the attractive "Mage You Want to Have as Your Boyfriend" she could now see his pale, drawn face for what it really was. His movements were stiff, speaking of pain long ignored, but covered by his confident swagger. The lines in his face were hidden behind the smug grin he kept on his face. And while she didn't doubt he'd surround himself by beauties even while healthy, walking with those two so closely held meant if he stumbled, he could easily blame it on the uncoordination that came with multiple linked bodies. Honestly, it was an almost flawless cover and she wasn't surprised no one had seen through it last time. Even now, as tightly bound to the spirits and the Celestial Spirit Realm as she was, if she didn't know who he was she probably would have never guessed.

It honestly was very impressive, she mused even as he started throwing punches like everyone else.

"Oh, my. A Newcomer?" The voice was soft and sweet and yet still carried over the yelling jeers and crashing furniture.

"Mirajane!" Lucy didn't have to fake the excitement in her voice. Mira's end had not been pretty and seeing her here, alive and so, so beautiful had her ready to breakdown and yell in happiness all at the same time. None of there deaths had been easy but Mira's....

Later, she scolded herself harshly even as she forced her grin wider for show. "You should probably stop them, shouldn't you?"

"Oh, don't worry, this happens all the time," Mira's smile was incredibly indulgent. She placed her hands on her hips as she looked upon the scene in front of her. The guild was wrecked, tables and chairs either thrown to the side, smashed to pieces or being used as weapons. And it appeared the fight wouldn't be slowing down anytime soon. "And --"

The bottle came out of left field, honestly. Lucy probably should have been able to catch it, would've if they were anywhere else and her guard wasn't so far down, but she could only watch in worry and not a small amount of amusement as it cracked into Mira's head and she went down like a ton of bricks.

"Ah, Mirajane --!" Lucy made an aborted move to catch her, but Mira recovered quickly, probably used to this sort of thing by now, honestly. Besides, Lucy had seen her literally have her leg blasted off and still stand back up for more. A tiny bottle to the head? Was nothing compared to that.

"Besides," the white-haired woman continued as if nothing had ever happened, even as blood ran freely down her face, "isn't it more fun this way?"

Lucy ignored the way the blood twisted her vision, made her see a different Mira --half of her face ripped off, blood oozing, eye sockets two gaping black holes and mouth forever frozen in a scream of agony -- and focused instead back on what was transpiring behind her.

"I suppose, a bit,"she admitted, because it was true. Never a dull moment in this guild. "Expensive, though, I'd imagine."

Before Mira could respond a body slammed into the bar between them. Gray stumbled out, shaking his head slightly, before realizing that Natsu stood before him, smugly holding a very familiar pair of boxers like a hard-won trophy.

"My Underwear!" The ice mage turned to Lucy, who averted her eyes up immediately. Not like it was anything she hadn't seen before but still. "Hey Lady, if you don't mind, can you please lend me your underwear?"

"Why the hell would I do that?" Lucy found herself screeching as punched him away from her, sending him flying back into Natsu and both of them back into the thick of things. She took a few deep breaths to calm her anger. Used to it as she may have been didn't mean it didn't still rile her up.

"Ah, geeze. People with no elegance are really troublesome, don't you think?" She suddenly found herself in the arms of none other than Loke, hidden Zodiac of Fairy Tail. He held her firmly to his chest as he gazed down at her. "By the way, what modelling agency are you from?"

Lucy let out a long sigh as the fight around her escalated and she was set back on her feet. Loke stepped forward like all the rest, twisting the ring on his right hand to prepare his attack just as everyone else was. It was rare for a brawl to escalate this far but it did happen. No one in Fairy Tail was really known for their impulse control, especially when it came to fighting or property damage. No one would earnestly try to harm their guildmates but most saw fighting as a form of bonding all its own. If it wasn't summarily interrupted it was likely to escalate quickly, like it just had.

"That's enough." A silhouette suddenly towered over the hall, honestly looking a bit demonic. Everyone froze instantly in response. "Cut it out, you fools!"

"Oh, Master! You were here this whole time?" Mira asked pleasantly from beside her. Natsu began to laugh and brag about his perceived win and was smooshed underfoot as a result. Everyone ignored his complaining with long practice.

"Oh?" The giants focus zeroed in on Lucy and she at once felt his scrutinizing gaze. The first time around she'd been terrified, literally shaking in her boots honestly. She was calmer this time around -- or at the very least not afraid -- and so could feel the weight of the Master's gaze. Makarov was an inviting and open person, she knew. He was willing to open his doors to anyone looking for a home. But that didn't mean he'd welcome danger upon his other children. He had reached an age where he'd seen many things, had met many people. And as such he knew how to read people. He wasn't infallible, no. But he was a father.

And then, as suddenly as he'd appeared, he shrank back down to his normal size. She couldn't help but quirk a bemused brow, honestly, as he raised a hand in nonchalant welcome. He'd apparently found what he was looking for in her.

"Nice to meet you." And then he was flipping away, somersaulting through the air up to the second floor. His foot caught the banister at the last minute, sending him crashing to the floor, and she couldn't help but sweatdrop as he quickly regained his feet.

"You've done it again, fools! Look at these documents I've received from the council!" As he began his spiel, calling out the most destructive of the guild, Lucy let her eyes roam the hall. She stared upon their faces greedily, trying to imprint them into her mind. She knew it was ridiculous. Even if she failed again, as unthinkable as it was, she would still have years with them. But she couldn't help it. Seeing them here, now, happy and so, so young, she wanted to remember this forever. Wanted to burn the image into her mind, to sear it over the memories of their deaths.

"Guys, the council is mad at me all the time...." The was a tense silence as Lucy finally tuned back in, her eyes returning to the Master. "But.... Forget about the council members!"

The complaints were set ablaze in his hand and tossed away to Natsu, who gobbled them up happily, catching them right in his mouth. Lucy snorted at the sight.

"Listen up. The power to overcome reasoning is born from reasoning. Magic is not a miracle." Lucy found a gentle smile grace her face as Makarov continued his speech. It really was inspirational. She remembered, after being a bit overwhelmed from her first look inside the guild, it had been these words that had cemented her determination to join this guild. They'd resonated within her for a long time afterwards, too.

"So, don't fear those fools on the council," he concluded, a grin spreading across his face. "Do whatever you think is right! That is the way of the Fairy Tail mage!"

A cheer broke out throughout the hall. She joined in instantly, her mind further laid to rest with the words.

Going back in time, changing history as she knew it, had not been an easy decision. What if she did change things and the outcome was worse than before? What if she could change nothing? What if she changed too much? Were a few lives, even as precious as they were, really worth risking the entire world?

Don't fear, do whatever you think is right.

Lucy had to believe in it. She had to. This had to be right. There was no way all of that death and suffering could have been right.

This was right. It had to be.


 


The world was on fire.

She'd never been afraid of fire, not more than primal instinct dictated. After meeting Natsu, after becoming his partner and best friend, after fighting side by side for so long, fire somehow became equated with safety. Natsu was fire. He controlled the flames. And even flames that weren't of his making were quickly gobbled up and used to bolster his strength, to give him that extra push he needed to fight and win.

But now. Now everything was burning. Lucy'd lost sight of Natsu what seemed like ages ago. As soon as that familiar roar had pierced the sky, he'd turned and been gone. Gajeel had only been half a step behind, yelling at the rest of them to stay put and out of the way. Like he really expected them to listen. Like he really expected them to just leave.

It wasn't long after that that they'd all been separated, dark mages coming out of the woodwork like roaches. Her own battle had been gruesome. She held an arm tight to her stomach where a lucky hit had sliced into her. The bleeding had slowed significantly but was still trickling over her skin. She could feel the wooziness in her head that signaled blood loss and exhaustion but she pressed onwards. Smoke obscured her vision and filled her lungs, causing her to choke, but she continued putting one foot in front of the other.

"Natsu! Gray! Mira! Wend --" A cough ripped out of her violently, causing her vision to blacken and her knees to buckle. When Lucy came back to herself she was face down on cracked pavement. She forced herself up onto her arms and ignored the burn of her muscles, the pull and sting of her wound. She took as deep a breath as she could -- and felt something in her chest shift, probably a broken rib, not important right now -- and began to force herself back to her feet.

It was a struggle. All she wanted was to collapse back to the ground. To just rest. She was so tired, down to her bones tired. But she couldn't. She had to know. Had to know who was still alive. Had to know who wasn't. Had to --

Lucy's stare caught on a flash of white flowing along the ground and she recognized to color immediately. Her feet stumbled forward on autopilot, her heart hammered in her chest.

"Mira.... Mira!" She wasn't moving, even as Lucy got closer, even as she called louder. Not a twitch. "Mirajane!"

As Lucy made it to where she lay she could see the reason for Mira's silence, her stillness. A sob ripped from her throat as her knees gave out once more. She sank to the ground beside the older woman, her hand beginning to stroke her hair absently -- what was left of it anyways, half of her head had been scalped, who could've, who would've --

Mira's mouth was open in a scream, half of her face completely unrecognizable, her eyes gouged out, her cheek ripped open to expose the gums and teeth beneath. Her body wasn't much better, a hole blown through her abdomen, her remaining leg reduced to a bloody mess to match her other stump.

Mirajane Strauss, beautiful pride of Fairy Tail, was dead. And as Lucy forced her eyes up and around she saw she wasn't the only one. Lisanna lay crushed beneath a large boulder about ten feet away, and to the left Elfman had landed half on top of Evergreen, obviously having been trying to protect her from the giant spear that impaled them both to the ground.

They weren't the first loses of this stupid war, nor were they the first corpses of friends she'd stumbled upon. She felt, at this point, she should be numb to it. But she wasn't. She didn't think she'd ever be.

She hoped she'd never be.

And even as she saw a shadow approach from behind her, even as she heard the sound of boots over gravel, Lucy couldn't find the energy to move, to fight.

She was so, so tired.

She looked up into the face of her would-be killer, the monster who had likely been the one to kill her nakama here, and for the first time in her life she was prepared to welcome death. If only it meant it could end. She didn't want to see her friends die anymore, she couldn't --

She could hear Natsu screaming and it jolted sense back into her. But it was too late. The blade in the dark mages' hand was already falling towards her and she couldn't --

She couldn't --

Lucy bolted awake with a gasp, her hand flying to her clavicle. As she forced herself to take deep breaths, long used to memories disguised as nightmares, she thought of the event she had just dreamed of. She remembered that blood-soaked day.

She remembered that as the sword fell, Natsu had tackled her from the side, trying to get her out of reach. Too late, as she'd known, but it'd helped her avoid a fatal injury. Instead she'd gotten a wicked cut from right shoulder to just below her left breast. She still remembered the sting of it, the way the skin had flapped open and blood had poured out, adding to what was already pouring from her stomach wound.

She remembered how Natsu'd been so, so angry. Furious. He'd seen the blood and thought the worst. Surely he'd already noticed Mira, Lisanna, Elfman and Evergreen. Four nakama already dead and he'd thought she'd been the fifth. He'd practically incinerated everything, screaming out all the while.

It had definitely attracted the attention of their other guildmates, and as the dark mage burned alive, the wreckage they'd been in had soon filled with familiar faces. Between one blink and the next Wendy had been at her side, sucking air from the sky and laying her hands over her wounds.

When Natsu had seen she was still alive, harmed but going to survive, he'd cried. All out sobbed, broken down right there as he leaned his forehead against hers and begged her not to leave him, not her, please.

Lucy had never seen him like that before, not ever, and it had cracked something deep inside of her. She'd been ready to die. She hadn't even thought of him, of any of them, of how they'd feel when they found her body with all the rest. Had only thought of her own exhaustion. How selfish she was.

She never thought of death as an acceptable option from that day forward. Not until she held her Dragon Slayer in her arms and he choked out his last words through the blood bubbling past his lips. Not until Jellal came to her with a desperate, crazy plan. Not until it was decided she would be the one to be sent back and they'd all looked at her with hollow eyes and had begged her to make it right. Then, then it was an acceptable option. It was an acceptable sacrifice to make.

Taking one last deep breath, Lucy slid out of bed and made her way to the bathroom. It had been a long time since she'd been in this apartment, and she was a little surprised she'd been able to rent it again, though she didn't know why she wouldn't have.

She splashed cold water on her face, then forced herself to meet her gaze in the mirror. Dark pools of dull brown stared back and she sighed at herself. She'd expected this, really, but she'd still hoped to avoid it. As used to nightmares and the accompanying sleep deprivation as she was, she still didn't like it. She'd been doing pretty good recently, too. She'd had a pretty bad one the first night she'd met Natsu again but that wasn't surprising. She'd been able to stifle her scream then and had laid quietly until sunrise. He'd been none the wiser.

Lucy knew it was because of all the faces she'd seen today, faces of nakama long dead. And this probably wouldn't be the only dream like this she had. She honestly probably had an entire week of sleeplessness to look forward to, if not longer.

She couldn't help but sigh again. Tomorrow, if she remembered correctly, would be the day she took her first mission with Natsu to rescue Macao. She had to be rested enough, at least, to not be a hindrance. It wasn't a difficult mission, not compared to others she'd taken later on, and with Natsu at her back she knew she'd be okay. Still. She didn't want to be dead weight. This first mission was where they'd really begun to bond, where they'd become partners for the first time. She refused to ruin that in any way, even if it was with exhaustion.

Her eyes flicked to her clock as she laid back down in her bed. 2:37 in the morning. She still had about eight hours before she had to be at the guild. Plenty of time to rest. She should at least try for more sleep. She had to.

She was going to sleep, damn it, even if she had to stare at her ceiling for hours just to do it.

Chapter Text

It was the raised voices that first caught Lucy's attention. She had been at the bar sipping at a soda, admiring the Guild Mark that was once more on the back of her left hand, and chatting to Mira when the voice of a young boy began yelling about his father.

She knew who it was instantly, of course, and took a bracing breath before forcing herself to turn around and look upon the scene beside her.

She almost couldn't believe how young Romeo was, how small. Here, he was just a child, not the young mage she was used to. Here, he couldn't wield fire magic. He didn't know the grief of missing half of his guild for seven years, of watching the other half slowly become a laughingstock. Didn't know the pain of broken bones and bruised flesh.

Didn't know what it was like to fight to the death for his nakama.

Right now he was just a young boy, hounded by bullies and afraid that his dad was never going to come back home, and thinking that it was all his fault.

Lucy kept silent as Romeo punched the Master in the face and then took off running. Even when Natsu punched a hole in the request board and followed the boy out. Instead she took a slow breath and tried to get her bearings again. Tried to forget the noise Romeo had made as he was ripped apart. As he was -

"Master acts like that, but he's worried about Macao, too," Mira offered quietly from behind her. Lucy turned to face her, her expression questioning. "And Natsu's been through the same thing, I guess you could say."

"Same thing?" Lucy asked, her voice just as quiet. She hadn't caught onto the somber undertone of this conversation last time around, but she did now. 

"Natsu's father hasn't come back ever since he left. Though, by father I mean foster parent." Here Mira's expression held a glimmer of mischief. "And he's a dragon."

"Oh!" Lucy straightened her posture and pasted on a look of surprise. "Igneel, right? Natsu told me about him, a little."

"Did he? He was found by that dragon in a forest when he was little. And learned words, cultures and magicks from him. But one day, that dragon disappeared from Natsu...."

"I see...." Lucy eyes softened as she thought upon her partner and his desperate search for his father. And he had found him again, in the end. Only to watch as he was shot out of the sky, killed right in front of him. Natsu'd been devastated, nearly inconsolable, for weeks.

"Natsu's looking forward to seeing Igneel again one day. Isn't he cute?" Mira chuckled, but her expression was still very sad. Lucy just hummed at her in answer, her thoughts drifting to the future.

She had to try to save Igneel this time, for Natsu if nothing else. The fire dragon had been the very first to be able to land a viable wound on Acnologia, ripping his arm right off. Maybe if they hadn't been fighting alone, he could've dealt more damage. Maybe Igneel could've survived and Lucy wouldn't have had to see Natsu look so absolutely and utterly hopeless.

She had to try.

Her thoughts were interrupted as Mira set a fresh soda before her. There was an empty smile on her face as she spoke, a slight tremor in her hands barely visible.

"Mages of Fairy Tail...are all...carrying something. Wounds...pain...suffering...." Her eyes became unfocused and Lucy knew without a doubt that she was seeing Lisanna in her mind. "And I as well...."

"Mira...?" Lucy asked as gently as she could. The white haired women gave herself a slight shake and then smiled at her with more genuine warmth.

"No, it's nothing."

Lucy kept quiet as Mirajane made her way down the bar to other customers but couldn't help but wish she could tell the woman here and now that her sister was okay, was alive. But there was no way she could. Who in their right minds would believe her?

She would just have to wait and pray that the anima, and the events in Edolas, turned out just as well as they had last time around.

.


It doesn't take long for the public to catch on to the fact that cities are literally being wiped off the map. By this point there are numerous rumors going around of a large winged demon, often seen flying just beyond the horizon. Most don't know what it really is, have never seen it up close enough to truly identify it, and those that have are usually dead long before they can pass on any tales.

With the sense of panic that's slowly but surely sweeping through the country, fingers inevitably start trying to point out a responsible party. And once those fingers begin pointing towards the Council, demanding to know what they're doing about this abomination, the council does what it does best: they find a scapegoat.

And in this instance, they're killing two birds with one stone. They've always resented Fairy Tail but have never truly been able to do anything about it. Now, they've been given a chance. Because it's common knowledge that the first town to be vaporized was Magnolia. And the people who once resided there have given statements of having been quickly evacuated by their hometown guild.

And so the Council twists this around as best they can, speaking of how Fairy Tail knew this beast was coming, how they must know what it is, and that they've either preformed some unspeakable magic that summoned it and then lost control or they're irresponsible ways finally caught up to them in the form of this angered beast.

They knew, of course, that this wasn't the case. They knew what Acnologia was, knew why it was tracking dragon slayers. Knew that Fairy Tail wasn't really at fault at all. That Fairy Tail was probably their only hope in escaping this situation without the entire nation being reduced to smoldering ash.

But they also knew that, with the guildhall destroyed and most of their most powerful members already dead, and while still fighting a war on two fronts between Acnologia and the dark guilds, there was no way they could defend themselves. No way they could take the time to step into the limelight and set the record straight.

So, they stayed in hiding as much as they could, kept a low profile, avoided being seen. They stayed quiet as whispers turned into rage filled demands for retribution. As city after city turned against them even as they fought with all they had and desperately tried to save as many as they could.

And by the time the final battle had ended, after the fires had been quenched and their dead had been laid to rest, as they tried to begin picking up the pieces of what was left of their lives, hoping to somehow live on and make sure the sacrifices were worth it, they realized they had become Enemy Number One.

It didn't matter that they'd been the ones to end it because as far as the public was concerned it was their fault in the first place. And before they could even wrap their heads around this new reality, they were on the run once again, this time from the people they'd given up so much just to protect.

And Lucy dimly remembers, as Levy and Jellal both hold her by the arms, desperate to get her away from the growing crowd of fire and pitchfork wielding civilians, both pleading with her, Lucy, please, we have to run, she remembers feeling pure hatred.

She'd practically been frothing at the mouth, fighting to claw her way to freedom, to march her way into this crowd of people screaming and demanding they take responsibility. She remembers those people, their eyes like wild animals, and the way they'd spoken, 'Don't you know how many people are dead?'

And she'd wanted to laugh, could already feel the hysteria building within her, because did she know? Her family, her friends, Natsu, they were all dead, all of them, just to protect these people who would drag their names through the mud, declare that their sacrifices were the least they could do, anyways, so why should they waste effort being thankful when Fairy Tail owed them far much more than that? Even now, she and her remaining nakama were still covered in blood that wasn't theirs, blood that had drained from their loved ones as they died in the mud, laying down their lives for these people who didn't even appreciate it, weren't even grateful to them for it.

And, even as Jellal gave up trying to coax her and decided it would be far easier to knock her out and drag her along, she remembers snarling at them, we don't owe you shit, and she remembers feeling almost feral with rage and thinking she must have looked it too because she can see those before her hesitate in their advance, their eyes suddenly apprehensive and cautious. And as she feels a sharp jab at her neck and her vision begins to black out she remembers thinking, good, and thinking, I'll fucking kill you all.

When she comes to, hours later in a cave on a snow covered mountain, she'll remember those feelings, the all-consuming hatred and blood lust, and she'll look for them and won't find them. Because by that point it will have set in that the fight, the fight that actually mattered, was over and that all that she'd ever loved was gone, was ash in the wind. And there would be no life to move on with, not now.

And so, looking out of the mouth of the cave as snow was blown about by howling winds, Lucy thought of her first mission with Natsu, one that took place on a mountain just like this, thought of Natsu's smile and his determination to rescue his nakama, to ensure that Romeo didn't have to grow without his father. Remembers Macao and how beat to hell he was, and how embarrassed, but how thankful and proud he had been as well. Thinks of Romeo's face when he spotted his father, how it had lit up and he'd cried and been so grateful to them. Remembers feeling a warmth in her chest at being able to help in this way, at being able to get a child to smile like, at feeling proud and accomplished. Remembers looking over at Natsu's grin and feeling overwhelmingly fond.

And then she remembers that all three of them, Macao and Romeo and Natsu, are dead. And that people all over the country, at this very moment, are talking about their deaths and thinking, served them right.

And that's when Lucy stops feeling. For a long, long time.

.


Lucy had somehow forgotten how godforsakenly cold these mountains were. Sure, she was far more prepared for it this time around and she'd definitely built up a tolerance for harsh weather, what with living on the road for nearly three years straight, but that didn't mean she was impervious to it.

And so she found herself following behind her pink-haired partner, dressed in jeans and a thick sweater, and still huddling into herself for warmth as her teeth chattered away. Natsu, meanwhile, walked ahead in his open vest as if he were taking a stroll on the beach.

Sometimes she really just wanted to punch him.

"Macao!" Natsu continued to shout, even as his voice was dragged away in the wind almost immediately. "Were you done in by the Vulcan?!"

Lucy couldn't help but sigh at him because really, what was the use in screaming questions like that? But she knew that was just who Natsu was. He never really thought out the words that came out of his mouth. His brain to mouth filter didn't exist. And besides, the noise would undoubtedly bring the beast to them as it had before. And then she just had to let herself be taken, because at least then she'd be out of this blisteringly cold wind. And once feeling had finally returned to her extremities she'd summon Taurus and be done with it.

As if summoned, hah, by her thoughts, she saw a giant shadow appear before them before it got close enough to take shape, revealing none other than the white and black furred Vulcan they had been looking for. It landed right where Natsu had been standing before he'd back-flipped out of the way, his instincts warning him of the impending attack just in time.

"It's the Vulcan!" Happy yelled as the beast launched itself forward. Natsu tensed, clearly bracing for an attack, and his face morphed into one of shock as the Vulcan sailed past him, as if the dragon slayer wasn't even there.

"A human woman!" It shouted in what could only be perverted glee, and a grin spread across it's face, as it landed right in front of Lucy. It was a good thing Lucy had already decided not to attack just yet, because she wouldn't have had time to even if she'd wanted to. Before she could even blink she'd been swept up onto the monster's shoulder and was being carried away. She couldn't help the startled yelp that escaped her at the quick action, and she could hear Natsu and Happy's own shouts of surprise even as they grew smaller and smaller the higher the Vulcan took her up the mountain, until finally she couldn't even see them at all.

Mavis, but she hoped she was right about all of this.

Lucy was deposited unceremoniously in the middle of a cave, the mouth barely a few feet from her, though she made no move towards the exit. She'd only been within the cave for a few minutes and she could already feel the tingling as warmth returned to her. She was content to stay where she was for as long as she could get away with.

The Vulcan danced around her in circles, making weird gestures in excitement. She watched from where she sat and couldn't help but find the sight amusing instead of frightening. She'd been completely terrified last time around. How she could've been terrified of something as ridiculous as this she didn't know.

"Woman."

Between one blink and the next the beast was suddenly inches from her face and she couldn't help the instinctual flinch away, or the way she felt her magic fluctuate in panic. She got a hold of it quickly, used to the way her magic reacted to her fear after dealing with it in the aftermath of countless nightmares. It took much more effort to calm her suddenly racing heart.

"Heeeeey! I finally caught up with you!" Both looked up in surprise to find Natsu all out sprinting for them. Lucy was already cringing, not even needing to remember to know what was likely to happen next, and even as she had the thought she saw Natsu's foot slip forward out from under him as he went tumbling across the ground and straight into a wall of rock.

"You are so uncool," she felt the need to point out once more--because honestly, he needed to work on his entrances--before snorting at her unintended pun. The Dragon Slayer acted as if she hadn't spoken, which was probably for the best. 

"Hey! Monkey! Where's Macao?!" He demanded even from where he remained upside down. He hopped to his feet quickly, agile as any acrobat, and wasted no time invading the Vulcan's personal space threateningly. "I know you can understand me. So, where's Macao? He's a human man!"

"A man?" The beast tilted its head in question.

"That's right! A man!" Natsu shoved his finger in the beast's face accusingly. "Where did you hide him?!"

"Why do you assume he's hidden...?" Lucy muttered even as the Vulcan grinned and motioned Natsu towards the mouth of the cave. Natsu, being the idiotically naive guy that he was, followed without question. Lucy sighed and rubbed at her temples, praying for the patience to deal with these morons. Natsu leaned halfway over the edge obligingly, all the while trying to spot Macao as if the man would pop out of a snowdrift at any second.

It came as no surprise to Lucy when, not a moment later, the Dragon Slayer was sent flying down by a giant hand slammed to his back.

"Me no likes man.... me likes woman," the creature informed the open air condescendingly before turning and focusing his attention once again on Lucy. As he began chanting and once again running about in excited circles, Lucy decided that enough was enough. She'd let this go on long enough.

"He may be an idiot, but don't think I'm gonna let you just get away with that," she informed the Vulcan calmly as she unhooked her keys from her belt. "Open, door to the Golden Bull, Taurus."

The giant Spirit appeared before her instantly, his stance already prepared for battle. He'd likely sensed her moment of panic before and so was already set to defend her. Of course he couldn't just get down to business, though.

"Luuuucy, you have nice booooobs like alwaaays!" He informed her, his eyes practically hearts as he gazed down at her.

"Uho! Don't take my woman!" the Vulcan yelled indignantly. Instantly, Taurus was back in fight mode, his temper flaring.

"My woman? That's the moooost unforgivable remark!" The spirit stalked forward, his body tense with anger. "It should be my boobs, not my woman."

Lucy groaned, her shoulders slumped. She was already so done with this entire situation. "For the love of Mavis, please just beat him up already."

"With Pleasuuuuure," Taurus grinned back at her as he gripped the handle of his ax. Before he could take another step forward, though, a voice called out from the ledge.

"How dare you push me off the cliff?!"

"Natsu!" Lucy yelled out in joy. Even now, after spending time around him, she still couldn't help the bubble of excitement that warmed her chest every time she saw him. And honestly, she didn't much mind it.

He blinked at the situation before him for a moment before his face contorted into annoyance and he dashed forward, slamming a foot right into the face of her Celestial Spirit.

"Why are there two monsters now!"

"Hey!" Her giddiness at the sight of him plummeted into indignant anger quickly. "What the hell are you doing?! That's one of my Spirits, you idiot! How did you survive that fall anyways?!"

He grinned at her, seemingly unfazed at her anger, and jerked a thumb at Happy who was holding onto his backpack, a smile spread across the feline's face.

"It's all thanks to Happy!"

"Aye! You're welcome!"

"Anyways!" The fire mage did an about-face just as the Vulcan charged at him. He lifted his leg and then shot it forward, colliding with the beast and sending it flying back into the cave wall. "Tell us where Macao is or I'll burn you black like charcoal!"

The beast, annoyed, began throwing everything in reach, which mostly involved sharp icicles. Which, thanks to Natsu's elevated body temperature, melted before they could cause any damage to him at all. High body temperature or not, though, getting hit with the ax the Vulcan had just picked up was bound to hurt.

"Taurus!" Lucy yelled to the spirit that was still sprawled out and dazed from the kick he'd received. "Return to the Spirit World!"

There was a flash as she forced the spirit to return, and not a second too soon as the Vulcan swung the giant ax down. It lost it's balance as it's weapon was suddenly gone and Natsu grinned as he took full advantage of the beast's moment of disadvantage.

"Salamander's Iron Fist!" He cried out as his fist became engulfed in flames before burying itself into the Vulcan's face. The Vulcan was subsequently thrown backwards into the wall where it hits with an almighty crack. It slid to the floor and didn't get back up.

Silence reigned for a moment before Lucy sighed gustily. "Weren't you supposed to ask it where Macao was?"

"Ack! I Forgot!" Natsu yelled, grabbing his hair in panic.

"It's completely passed out." Happy commented as he flew in circles around the room. Natsu opened his mouth, clearly about to defend himself, before he snapped it shut with a click. Because the Vulcan's body had begun to glow even as it shrank rapidly in size. Within a moment the giant beast had been replaced by the battered body of a man.

"Macao! It's Macao!" Natsu ran forward, a grin already spreading across his face.

"I see! He must have been taken over by the Vulcan!" Happy was right behind his partner as they both raced towards their guild mate.

Lucy, meanwhile, was frozen where she stood. She had to take a moment to calm her once again racing heart, to shove her feelings down as she looked upon Macao's battered state. She forgot to think of the fact that he would be injured once he returned to being himself and thus she hadn't braced herself for it. It was a struggle to force the image of him, bleeding out and broken, back into the depths of her mind.

She was pulled back to reality as Natsu and Happy both gave a panicked shout and she looked up just in time to see all three go tumbling over the edge. She wasted no time in bolting forward after them, and honestly probably would have been an idiot and jumped right out after them if she hadn't caught sight of Happy's tail. It was lowering inch by painful inch as he fought desperately to keep both Natsu and Macao in the air but he just didn't have the strength to hold up both and he likely wasn't going to last long.

Lucy grabbed hold of him without hesitation and began to pull. She was much stronger than she had been last time around, but that didn't mean that pulling up the weight of two men was a walk in the park. She felt as if her arms were going to be ripped off but she persevered. No way in hell was she going to loose a nakama this early on. No way was she going to fail them like that.

Compared to watching them die, this pain was nothing.

And so with an almighty heave, she was finally able to pull them up enough that Natsu could scramble up onto solid ground, dragging Macao behind him. They all ended up a panting mess on the ground and as Lucy's arms trembled from exertion, she couldn't help but wish she hadn't forced Taurus' gate closed because that would've been so much easier with his help.

But as she looked up and caught sight of the grin Natsu was sending her, full of gratitude and the beginnings of respect and overall fondness, she couldn't find it in herself to regret anything at all.

.


 

.

"These wounds are really bad," Lucy's voice shook as she tried to staunch the flow of blood. It was getting harder and harder for her to shove the memories of Macao's death to the back of her mind, especially given the fact that he was currently dying. "There's not much we can do with this first aid kit, he needs an actual doctor. And if we don't get him to one soon...."

Her voice drifted off and left them all a silence only broken by Macao's haggard breathing. She saw Natsu nod across from her, as if coming to a decision, and then he took a bracing breath, engulfed his hand in flames and slammed it to the gash on Macao's side without hesitation.

Lucy meant to brace the man, to hold him down and to somehow help. Really, she did. And she could distantly hear Natsu yelling for her to do so. But as soon as the smell of burnt flesh hit her nose, she was gone.

Her mind filled with static and her vision was consumed by the red of the fire and the red of blood and the heat, oh god, we're all gonna die, we're all gonna burn, everyone's going to burn--

"Lucy!" Pink obscured her vision and suddenly she could remember how to breathe, and the oxygen felt like a punch to the chest. She took in great gulps of air and could feel the wetness on her face as tears poured from her eyes.

"I'm sorry--" her voice was ragged, hoarse as if she'd been screaming, and honestly she wouldn't be surprised if she had. She dimly noted that Natsu's face had twisted in concern and confusion. He didn't know what was wrong with her, didn't know why she was reacting this way and so he didn't know how to help. And for Natsu there was nothing worse than being unable to help his nakama. "I'm, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-- it's not your--"

And then she had to turn from him, twisting her body as far as she could, because the smell of burnt flesh had finally filtered back through her panic and suddenly she was retching into the snow, her stomach heaving uncontrollably as her body shuddered through her remaining panic. She was coming down, hard, from the adrenaline of battle, and this wasn't helping. She could feel her muscles giving out and would have landed in her own sick if it weren't for Natsu, who gently caught her and carried her a few steps away. He kept her far from Macao, but close enough that he could run to the other man's aid if he had to.

"What's wrong? Did you get hurt by that Vulcan?" His voice was filled with worry as he laid her against the cave wall. He hovered above her for a moment, unsure of what to do without a visible wound to tend to.

"No, no, I'm okay," Lucy tried to assure him. She took a few more deep breaths to calm herself further. "It's just, I'm not good with seeing injuries like that. I can handle it, I can, I can handle it," was she trying to convince Natsu or herself? "but the smell of burning skin, I can't, I can't--"

And then she had to stop again to take more deep breaths before she wound herself up all over again. Honestly, she was being ridiculous, she knew she was. But after watching so many die, watching as so many were burned alive by Acnologia, from nakama to innocent bystanders just caught in the crossfire, after being surrounded by the stench of death for so long, she couldn't help but panic. Because the scent of burning flesh meant Acnologia, and Acnologia meant blood and burning and death.

"I'm sorry," and she could tell Natsu meant it, too, as his eyes softened with compassion and guilt. He'd caused his nakama pain and that was unacceptable.

"It's okay, really," she tried a smile, and though it trembled a bit, she succeeded. Natsu met it with one of his own, though more subdued than usual. "You had to, to save Macao, and it was important. I don't blame you at all."

And then she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around him. Because really, after that, she couldn't not. She felt him hesitate for a moment before he embraced her in return, though he kept his hold loose around her, like he didn't quite know how he should hug back. Which, honestly, could be the case. While he'd likely hugged Igneel, you couldn't really equate hugging a dragon to hugging a human. Lucy resolved to hug him more often. It's not like it'd be a hardship for her.

She took a big breath, squeezed Natsu tightly for a moment, and then let go and leaned back into the wall. Already she felt more grounded and calmer than she had in awhile.
"Thank you," her smile this time was much stronger. "I really am better now, I promise. How's Macao?"

He studied her face for a moment before nodding and glancing back behind him at the sleeping man in question. "The bleeding's stopped, I was able to burn the wound closed completely. He woke up for a moment, talked about how ashamed he was that he couldn't beat all twenty Vulcans, the stupid bastard. But I told him to shut up and rest, so he did."

She noticed Happy was standing beside the sleeping man and while his paw rested firmly on Macao's forehead, his worried gaze never left Lucy's face. She couldn't deny that their concern filled her with warmth, even as she wished she'd never done anything to warrant it in the first place.

"Thank Mavis," she sighed, relieved. "I say we rest for awhile, and once he wakes again we see about getting off of this mountain. And going home."

Their agreement was solemn and immediate, "Aye."

.


.

The walk home was a battle all it's own. They were all exhausted and wrung out, but none more so than Macao, who couldn't even walk on his own. He held up fairly well, given the circumstances, but even Fairy Tail mages had their limits.

By the time they made it back within city limits they were all ready to crawl into bed and sleep for a month. Still, they made their way determinedly towards the guild and, more importantly, it's infirmary. As time went on Macao began leaning more and more of his weight onto Natsu. The Dragon Slayer didn't complain, took all of the older man's weight without even a stumble at the effort.

They were almost to the guild when they came across Romeo, sitting on a low wall with a book held halfheartedly in his lap. His gaze snapped to them immediately as his father called out and the grin that spread across the child's face was worth it.

As Romeo grinned and cried in relief and gratitude, embracing his father and gazing at them like they'd given him the greatest gift he'd ever received, Lucy felt her exhaustion fade, replaced instead by a steady determination.

These were the moments she was fighting for. This is what she was going to protect.

And Mavis help anyone who got in her way.

Chapter Text

Over the next few days, Lucy noticed Natsu paying far more attention to her than he had before.

The moment she walked into the guild his gaze would snap straight to her and he'd seem to take a moment to asses her well-being before he'd offer his customary grin and greeting. And throughout the day she'd find him checking up on her.

She wanted to be irritated - she wasn't a child, she could look after herself - but she honestly couldn't be. It felt... nice, having the weight of that concerned gaze on her again. And maybe that was wrong of her. But it wasn't like he was wrong in what he was doing.

Because, while she could hide it fairly well, she wasn't doing as good as she'd hoped she would. It was small things that would get to her. A table crashing as a fight broke out and she would flinch so hard she'd almost fall from her chair. A nakama's voice would call out and all she'd hear were their death screams and she'd have to close her eyes and take a deep breath. Someone would order cooked meat and she'd have to excuse herself for a moment so they wouldn't see her controlling her convulsions.

She was able to hide it from most of them. She was sure Mira had noticed a bit but had decided to just keep an eye on it. The Master might have but she hadn't really spent much time around him just yet.

But Natsu. Every time she had any reaction at all, Natsu was suddenly there and ready to intervene on her behalf if need be. He hadn't asked any questions yet, hadn't demanded to know why she was hurting like this. But he'd obviously made it his mission to protect where he could.

And she couldn't help but feel warmed by that.

.


.

Their eyes were staring, but unseeing. There was blood, so, so much blood, everywhere. 

She could hear Levy screaming behind her, an animalistic noise of grief and pain and rage. Could hear Gajeel trying to hold her back, to calm her as much as he could, to keep her from stepping forward and witnessing the aftermath of the latest battle. She didn't need to see this, didn't need to see them like this, please, Levy.

She'd never heard Gajeel beg before, not ever. But this. It didn't surprise her that he'd beg for this. Because Levy was one of his most treasured nakama, they'd grown to be close friends after a lot of hard work together. And you couldn't really grow close to Levy without growing close to Jet and Droy as well.

Jet and Droy who were currently spread out on the ground, their lifeblood painting the concrete, scattered in pieces. Jet's severed head lay at her feet, his blank eyes staring up at her in seeming condemnation. His mouth hung open, likely to shout a warning to the others, but it had been too late.

They were always too late, lately.

She shoved a hand over her mouth, trying as hard as she could to muffle the sobs. She had to collect the pieces - they were in pieces - she had to gather them all together so that they could be properly laid to rest. She had to. Like hell she was letting Levy or Gajeel anywhere near this.

As she steeled herself and began to reach down, she met Jet's dead eyes one last time and saw -

"Lucy!"

She shot up with a gasp, her eyes barely open but already reaching out on instinct. There was a hand on her shoulder and before she'd even thought about it, she had it in a vice grip and was twisting. There was a shout of surprise as she threw her assailant's weight to the ground and straddled atop them, holding them down by their throat.

After a moment of blinking the sleep from her eyes, of blinking Jet's dead face out of reality and back into the recesses of her mind where it belonged, life and color slowly filtered back in and she found herself staring into wide eyes halo'd in pink hair.

"Lucy -" His voice was rough, her hand still wrapped tight around his throat, but it was enough to jolt her fully back into wakefulness. She flinched back, snatching her hand away like she'd been burned even though he'd made absolutely no move to harm her or even throw her off.

"Natsu, oh Mavis, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry -" Lucy could feel her breaths coming in faster, uncontrolled, as she continued to scuttle backwards until her back hit her bed frame. She plastered herself to it, trying to get as far from the dragonslayer as she could. She'd hurt him. She'd hurt Natsu. How could she ever -

"Lucy! Lucy, it's okay, I'm okay!" And he was there, cupping her face in gentle hands, his own face faintly panicked. She couldn't help but flinch back from him again.

"No! I hurt you, I choked you, I could've killed you!"

"You didn't! You wouldn't, Lucy, c'mon, you gotta breathe!" His grip on her face tightened as his own panic began to rise. She hadn't noticed, too focused on self-recrimination, but he was right. Her breaths were coming in in shallow puffs, not nearly enough. Black was dancing across her vision, closing in on the edges and if she didn't get a hold on this she was going to pass out. And Mavis knew how he'd probably react to that.

And so she forced herself to take in a deep breath, tried to hold it to five and made it to three before she had to let it back out. Tried again. Kept her gaze locked on Natsu's, his own panic fading with hers to be replaced by pure concern.

"Lucy?" He asked quietly, hushed in the sudden silence of the room.

"I'm okay," her voice was still a bit breathless, but she was slowly getting it under control. Exhaustion was crashing into her as her breathing evened out and she leaned her head back, resting it against her mattress. She glanced at her clock form the corner of her eye and saw that it was nearing ten o'clock at night. "What are you doing here?"

He was quiet for a moment, seeming to squirm in place before finally admitting, "I wanted to check up on you. After you talked to Shadow Gear you seemed upset. You were really quiet and fidgeted a lot and you didn't even eat anything! You barely said goodbye when you left! So, I thought I'd come see if you were okay."

Lucy considered this for a moment. He had a point. Levy had been, and hopefully would be, one of her closest friends. And after Jet and Droy were killed she became hard. It was like their death ripped away everything that made her, her. There were glimpses every now and then, with her or with Gajeel. But after Gajeel died, there wasn't even that. There was nothing of her left, just an expressionless face and shadow-filled eyes.

It was no wonder she'd had that dream.

"I was having a nightmare," she told him quietly, "and when you woke me up I reacted on instinct. I thought you were attacking me."

His eyes widened in realization before narrowing again, a look of anger on his face. "Who attacked you? To make that an instinct?"

She sat quietly for a moment, surprised once more on just how smart Natsu was. Nobody ever really noticed, it was always hidden behind his hyper, childlike personality and his penchant for rushing in half-cocked and blowing everything up along the way. But he truly was very smart. His sudden leaps of logic were astounding at times.

"A lot of people have wanted me dead," she said after a moment, which was true. Even when she was just the heir of her father's company, people had wanted her dead. "I was on the road for a year before I met you. A sleeping girl is an easy target, to most."

Which was also true. The first time around she had made sure to take plenty of money with her so that she'd be able to stay under a roof at night, no matter what. This time, while she'd still taken the money, she hadn't much cared about where she slept. Sleep wasn't something she had regularly, plagued by nightmares as she was, and those first few months had been horrible. Nothing she wasn't already used to, but still. A bit different when you don't have other's watching your back; when you don't have anyone to shake you awake when you begin to cry out.

And so she'd spent the majority of that year sleeping just off the side of the road, tucked away behind bushes or nestled in the roots of trees. But her shouting would inevitably draw attention and to most a young blonde and busty girl, crying and shaking from the vestiges of a nightmare, made the epitome of 'easy target'.

Of course they soon all found out that she really, really wasn't.

"And...." she hesitated. She wanted to be honest with him, never wanted to lie to him if she didn't have to. But it wasn't like she could say 'oh, I was involved in an all out war. You wouldn't believe the times I woke up to the sounds of battle to find someone reaching out to slit my throat!' Yeah, no. Maybe she'd tell him the truth, one day. But right now that wasn't possible. "Where I came from, my father, he was really important. Very wealthy. And when you're important and wealthy, you have a lot of enemies. They tried to kidnap me a few times, usually at night."

Thankfully they'd never succeeded. She couldn't imagine her father actually paying a ransom for her.

"Kidnapped?" Natsu demanded. His expression had grown darker throughout her explanation, as if enraged by the very thought that anyone would try to hurt his nakama like that.

Lucy shrugged. "It wasn't a big deal. It happened only about five times."

The first time had been when she was eleven, just months after her mother had died. She'd been terrified when she'd awoken to a strange man holding her down, a cloth held over her mouth. She'd fought as hard as she could, but she'd only been a child, and she'd slipped into unconsciousness fairly quickly. She'd woken up the next day in a different room but still in the mansion, Spetto by her bedside.

She'd learn much, much later -- years later, in fact -- that she'd unconsciously called on Aquarius that night and that the spirit had been the one to save her. At the time she'd only been thankful to not have been taken. She'd begun to sleep with her Keys within easy reach after that.

"I'm sorry," Lucy's attention snapped back to Natsu as he muttered the apology, his shoulders slumping. "I keep trying to help, but every time I do I just make it worse."

"What?" She asked in surprise. "No, Mavis, no! Natsu, you do help! You helped me to calm down!"

"But if I hadn't woken you up like that, you wouldn't have had to calm down in the first place!" He countered fiercely, his face scrunched up in anger towards himself. "And if I'd given you more warning on the mountain, maybe you wouldn't have reacted so badly then, either."

"Natsu," Lucy sighed before reaching out to ruffle his hair. When he met her gaze again her hand slid down to cup his cheek. "That wasn't your fault, I told you. You had no way of knowing I would react that way. You had no way of knowing how I'd react when you woke me up. That's not your fault."

"But I should," he looked away petulantly, crossing his arms. "You're my partner now, and my nakama, and I should know how to protect you. I should know how not to hurt you."

"Oh, Natsu," she couldn't stop the smile coming to her face at those words if she tried, so she didn't. Instead she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around him, resting her chin on his shoulder. She stayed like that for a moment, until his suddenly stiff posture relaxed once more and he wrapped his arms around her waist. She took the opportunity to snuggle closer and to tighten her grip on him and after a bit of hesitation he did the same.

"You've only been my partner for a few days," Lucy spoke to him quietly as she reached a hand up to stroke through his hair gently. "You can't possibly be expected to know everything about me in that time. If anyone is at fault here, it's me."

"But -" He began to protest, his shoulders stiffening.

"But nothing," she interrupted, her fingers not once pausing as they continued to brush through his pink locks. She could feel him slowly going boneless at the action, as she knew he would. "You're a fire mage. It was pretty stupid of me not to mention that I might have a bit of an adverse reaction to the smell of burning meat. And as your partner you were bound to see me having a nightmare at some point. I should've told you about them, and what to expect."

"....Do you have nightmares a lot?" His voice was small, as though afraid of the answer. Lucy wished she could say no, that she could at least bring him this comfort. But lying about it now wouldn't help anyone.

"Yeah," she whispered, tightening her hold on him briefly, "Yeah, I do. Not all of them are bad. Like the one tonight. I would've woken up scared, or sad, but after a moment I would've been fine. But sometimes...."

She had to let him know. What if she had a really bad one while on a mission with him? That first night with him she'd been able to stifle her screams, to remain quiet, but she couldn't expect that all the time.

"Sometimes, they're really bad, Natsu. Sometimes I'll start screaming, or I'll wake up and not know where I am. I'll call out for people who aren't there and...." she took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "And sometimes I'll hurt myself. I won't know I'm doing it but... but it's happened before. I'll wake up covered in blood, having scratched myself raw."

He'd become tense against her again, his grip on her tightened almost to the point of pain.

"It's.... It's okay to wake me up. But you have to be ready to jump away from me, okay? I wouldn't ever hurt you like that when I'm awake, but like that I'm not fully aware yet. I don't know that it's you, and I will attack you like I did tonight. And I could really hurt you, Natsu."

She finally leaned back so that she could look him in the eyes. His face was pained, upset by the very idea that she experienced this kind of pain and there was nothing he could do to help.

"So, if you want to wake me up, that's fine. But you have to be ready to get away from me. You have to, okay? I can't... I can't be responsible for hurting you, Natsu. Okay?"

It took a moment, but slowly he began to nod his head.

"Promise me," Lucy insisted, grabbing his chin so that he had to look her in the eyes. "Please."

"I promise," it was mumbled, quiet, but a promise nonetheless. Lucy felt herself relax again instantly. Natsu didn't make promises he didn't intend to keep.

"Thank you." And then, because she could, she leaned in to wrap her arms around him again. He complied instantly this time, not hesitating to embrace her back, and she smiled at the action. "Thank you."

"Of course. You're my nakama." His tone implied that his statement was the only explanation required and, for him, it probably was.

Still, as her eyes grew heavy and she found herself leaning more and more of her weight against him, knowing that sleep would take her again soon, she couldn't help but feel warmed from the inside out at his care and concern for her.

She didn't dream again for the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

Lucy had the mission poster in hand before it was even on the board, leaving a blinking Mira behind with barely a shouted "Thanks!" thrown over her shoulder as she dashed away.

She practically skipped through the guild towards her pink-haired partner, ignoring all the looks she received along the way. She knew she was acting out of character, that she'd yet to show this much energy or enthusiasm around any of them just yet. But she honestly couldn't help it. She'd been waiting for this for what felt like ages, though it'd only been a few days since they'd returned from the mountain with Macao in tow.

"Natsu!" The Dragonslayer turned towards her immediately, patently ignoring whatever Gray had been saying, much to the Ice Mage's obvious annoyance before he, too, turned away with a huff. Natsu's eyes traveled the length of her, assessing, as if searching for an injury or sign of distress, before landing on the grin that had at some point spread across her face. His own lips twitched in response, not knowing yet what was going on but wanting to smile with her regardless. "Look!"

She thrust the flyer she had been clutching into his face, much too close if his suddenly crossed eyes were any indication. He snatched the paper away to inspect at a much more reasonable distance. As his eyes traveled over it, taking in the information it held, she spread her arms out in a 'ta-da!' type gesture. "I got us a mission!"

A grin spread across his face immediately, easily dwarfing her own, and he began to bounce in place with barely restrained excitement. He looked about ready to burst, honestly, and so she couldn't help but make a noise of utter confusion when he suddenly froze. His grin died away as he once again searched her face.

"Are... Are you sure?" He asked hesitantly, quietly, obviously trying as well as he could to keep whatever conversation they were about to have between just the two of them. It was a wasted gesture, of course, seeing as how all around them were members obviously trying not to look like they were eavesdropping and hideously failing, and she could see Happy flying towards them from the direction of the bar. She chose to ignore them for the moment and instead focused on her partner.

"What do you mean, am I sure? Of course I'm sure!" An awkward laugh escaped her, but she was honestly too confused to care. What was he getting at? Since when had Natsu ever hesitated to take a mission? Even ones that were a hundred times more dangerous than this one?

"It's just...." he seemed to mull over his words for a moment, as if wondering just how to say what he wanted to say. Which was another thing. Since when did Natsu think before he spoke? Finally, he let out a breath and seemed to just go for it. "You haven't been sleeping well. Just last night you had that nightmare, and your breathing got all weird when I woke you up!"

"That was a panic attack," Lucy informed him absently, already turning this information over in her mind. So, he was worried for her? Well, that made sense, she supposed. While he wouldn't pass up a mission, no matter how dangerous, for himself he'd definitely do it for a nakama. Though, she hadn't thought he'd do so at this age, honestly. He'd always been protective of his friends, but it had taken him time to realize that just because he was with them didn't automatically mean they were safe; just because he had the utmost faith in their abilities didn't mean they would always win. He had to learn the hard way that sometimes he had to walk away from a battle to protect his friends, rather than fight it. But she really hadn't thought him capable of making such a decision at this age, though the fact that he would, for her, made warmth spread through her chest.

She really did need to stop underestimating him.

"But you really don't have to worry," she informed him seriously as she shook herself out of her thoughts. "I got a lot of sleep last night and I'm one hundred percent ready to go. And besides, this mission is a fairly simple one."

She knew that it wasn't, not really, but it seemed like it was. Break into some guy's house and burn one specific book and get 200,000 Jewels for it. Of course, she knew there was way more to it than that but he didn't.

He still seemed skeptical for a moment, before shrugging and letting it go. As far as he was concerned, if she said she was fine then she was. And it did look like an easy mission.

"Are we going on a mission?!" Happy's excited voice boomed from above as he circled them twice before landing on Natsu's shoulder, peaking down at the paper still held in his grasp.

"Hell yeah, we are!" Natsu yelled while pumping a fist, grin once more firmly in place.

"What do you say we go get our stuff and then meet back here in an hour?" Lucy'd barely finished her question before Natsu was zipping out of the guild, Happy lifting him up into the air for faster travel as soon as they made it outside. She shook her head at their impatience, but found herself rushing home just as quickly.

She honestly was extremely excited for this mission. Yeah, Everlue was a complete creep, not to mention a horrible person, and yeah they weren't going to get paid for their work. But.

But.

This was where she'd gained Virgo. She wouldn't be given the Key until they were in the middle of the Lullaby fiasco, when Happy finally remembered it, but that was besides the point. She missed Virgo, just as she missed all of the Zodiac Spirits she had yet to collect in this time. So much that it hurt.

Thinking of each of them, knowing that most were trapped under the control of horrid people who in no way deserved them, she wanted to rush out and find them right now. But she knew that she couldn't. Even if she decided to throw caution to the wind, to not care about what changes she inflicted on the timeline by fighting for them so early, she knew she was still too weak to do so. The Stellar Spirit mages were part of their own guilds, dark though they may be, and to attack one would likely result in retaliation from the rest. And it wasn't like she could walk into the guild that, from their perspective, she'd joined just days ago and expect them to attack a random dark guild with her, all so she could take their Keys.

No, she'd have to wait for them to come to her, though she hated herself a bit for doing so. She'd just have to make sure she was ready when they came to her.

And first up was Virgo. Getting her away from the sick man that had her was top on her priority list at the moment. And thinking about the Spirit, and how close they'd grown over the years, to the point that she could be summoned of her own volition upon feeling her Summoner's need, only spurned Lucy forward all the faster.

The sooner she got back to the guild, the sooner they left and the sooner she'd gain back one more of her lost nakama.

.


.

Lucy made it back to the guild in a record twenty minutes, having known the mission was coming and being already packed for it far in advance. She knew Natsu and Happy would probably be awhile longer; at this point their house likely still resembled a landfill and finding anything in it was bound to take them some time. 

She took a seat at the bar to wait, her nervous energy and anticipation making her fidgety, and had barely been sitting for a minute before Mira was placing a glass filled with her usual soda upon the bar in front of her. Lucy looked up to smile her gratitude at the white-haired woman, but faltered when she saw the serious look that adorned her pretty face. It was the most serious she'd seen Mira look in this timeline, and she felt a thrill of panic surge through her at the sight. 

"Mira?" Lucy turned in her seat to quickly survey the rest of the guild, looking for injured or missing nakama. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, she swung back around to face the Take-Over Mage before her. "What's wrong?"

Because obviously something was wrong. Something had to have happened to put that look on Mira's face. Lucy wracked her brain, trying to remember if anything had happened around this time, before, but couldn't think of a single thing. Oh, Mavis, she tensed as a thought occurred to her, face paling quickly, what if I did something? Changed something? What if I-- 

"You're going out on a mission with Natsu and Happy," Mira finally spoke, leaning forward and keeping her voice soft, clearly intending to keep this conversation between the two of them. She continued to watch Lucy's face, likely noting how pale she'd become as she almost lost herself to panic. The blonde tried her best to shake off her earlier thoughts, confused ever further by such an odd opening statement. 

"Uh, yeah...?" She didn't understand how this could possibly be the cause of Mira's concern. 

"Some of the guild members heard you and Natsu talking." She at least had the decency to look a bit abashed at the blatant guild gossip but continued onward nonetheless. "They heard you talk about... not sleeping and having panic attacks. And Natsu being so worried that he almost turned down a mission because of it. Natsu!"

Oh.

Oh.

"So... you're worried... about me?" Lucy couldn't help but sound incredulous, even as her shoulders slumped in relief. She'd really thought something terrible had happened, that someone was hurt or missing or worse. But this, this she could handle. 

"Of course I'm worried!" Mira looked offended by the mere question. "I don't know what life was like for you before and I know you haven't been in the guild for all that long yet, but you are a Fairy Tail Mage. You are our guildmate, our Nakama, and when you are hurt, or upset, or in pain, we are, too. So, if you're having nightmares and panic attacks, if even Natsu is worried enough about you that he'd decline a mission for your sake, than of course I'm going to be worried!"

Lucy sat back in her seat, wide-eyed, as Mira panted in front of her at the end of her tirade. Clearly, she felt very strongly about this. And Lucy couldn't blame her. She'd even made the comment to herself earlier that Natsu must really be worried to have almost declined her offer to go on a mission together. At this point in time it was completely out of character for him and so of course it would catch their guildmate's attention. Fairy Tail might have a reputation for being full of violent, volatile maniacs, which wasn't completely untrue, but it was also full of the world's biggest bunch of mother hens, Mira being the biggest of them all. And Lucy knew the woman had been keeping a close eye on her the last few days, had likely been keep note of her various reactions. Mira knew all about panic, and loss, and the way it could affect a person. Could change a person. She was bound to recognize it in someone else, especially since Lucy hadn't been doing all that great a job of hiding it. 

After a moment of regaining her breath, the white-haired woman's eyes softened, her posture loosening as she leaned forward once more, reaching across the bar to capture both of Lucy's hands in her own. 

"Please, just promise me you'll be careful," she pleaded, her voice strained and her eyes haunted. She'd lost her sister. She didn't want to lose anyone else. 

"I will," the Spirit Mage pledged without hesitation. She couldn't promise that she would come back, or that she wouldn't die. That would be foolish of her and, what's more, it would be downright cruel. It wouldn't be a promise that she could always keep. Because even on the most simple of missions, even on the one she was about to depart on, something could always go wrong. There was no guarantee, not even with her future knowledge, that she would escape every situation unscathed. But this, being careful, watching out for herself and doing her best to come home, that she could do. "I promise, I will be as careful as I can be." 

Mira searched her face for a moment, likely to make sure Lucy meant what she'd said. The she let out a deep breath, a smile finally making its way onto her face. "I suppose that will have to do."

"Besides," Lucy smiled back as she heard a commotion start up at the door, announcing the arrival of her partners, "I'll be with Natsu and Happy. They'll look out for me, just like I will for them. That's what partners are for."

"Damn right!"

"Aye!"

Lucy turned to grin at the pink-haired Dragonslayer that now stood at her side, blue cat settled comfortably on his shoulder. The smile he gave back nearly split his face in half. 

"C'mon, Lucy!" Natsu grabbed her hand, pulling her insistently away from the bar, clearly ready to leave even as he called out an absentminded farewell over his shoulder to Mira. The blonde went along willingly enough, though she did cast a longing look back towards the soda that remained sitting on the bar, untouched. 

The last thing she saw before they exited onto the street were Mira's eyes, dark with worry and the memories of past pain, as she waved them off with as genuine a smile as she could manage. 

 

Chapter Text

It wasn't until they got into the carriage that Natsu seemed to realize that they had gotten into a carriage. He'd tried to make a break for it but had been too late. The moment it had jerked into motion he'd crumpled to the floor, whimpering pathetically.

"You are the most uncool Dragon Slayer to ever exist," Lucy sighed down at him, though she knew she was being a bit unfair. All of the Dragon Slayers had as hard of a time with transportation. "C'mon, Happy, help me get him onto the seat."

With the cat's help, they managed to lift Natsu up next to Lucy, who lowered him down until his head rested in her lap. She began to run her fingers through his pink locks, scratching softly at his scalp as she did so, and gradually the tension drained out of him, his muscles going slack. He was still whimpering, and his skin was still much paler than usual, but he was obviously doing better.

"I've never seen Natsu look so good on transportation before!" Happy exclaimed as he pocked at his friend's cheek. "Unless Erza punches him into unconsciousness."

Hearing the name was like a literally shock to the heart. She'd been preparing herself, knowing she'd be coming face to face with the Requip Mage soon. But here, now, she hadn't been expecting to hear the name. She didn't realize she tightened her grip on Natsu's hair until he started whining for a completely different reason. She shushed apologies towards him as she attempted to school her expression.

"Erza?" She tried to keep her tone as blank as she could, expressing only mild curiosity. She didn't completely succeed, unable to hide the tremble in her voice entirely. Thankfully Natsu was way too out of it to be paying attention and Happy didn't notice.

"She's one of our nakama. She's an S-Class Mage and she's suuuuuper strong!" The feline flew around in a circle to emphasize the 'super'.

"Oh," she feigned realization, "you mean Erza Scarlet, Fairy Tail's Titania, right?"

"Aye!"

"I heard she was really powerful, and very beautiful," Lucy had more than heard it. She'd seen it, time and time again, the strength and beauty that was held within her friend. Erza'd been beaten and broken and tortured and she'd wanted to give up but she never had. As long as she had even just one person standing behind her, just one nakama depending on her, she'd pick herself right back up. Every time.

Until she hadn't.

"You'll meet her soon," Happy assured her as he claimed they empty bench across as his own, curling up and preparing to nap for the rest of the journey. "Just be careful because she turns into a demon when she's mad."

She couldn't hide her smile at the accurate description but the cat had already closed his eyes, so it didn't matter. Instead she focused her attention out the window at the passing scenery, her fingers never once stopping their gentle motion through her partner's pink locks. She listened to his calm, even breathing that told her he'd slipped into a doze.

She didn't notice as her eyes began to slid shut, her head slowly leaning until it rested against the glass. All she knew was that she felt calmer than she had in awhile.

.


.

She remembers the day Erza and the Master died like it was yesterday, even if at times it felt more like it had been ages since.

The sky had been blue, she remembers. Bright blue and not a cloud in sight. And she remembers being grateful because it meant they could see Acnologia all the easier, knew how much time they had to evacuate the citizens of Magnolia. The citizens who were confused and angry at being ushered out of their homes, who dragged their feet and mumbled complaints just loud enough for the mages nearest them to hear. But they had gone regardless, knowing that if Fairy Tail said it was dangerous then it definitely was.

And they'd watched as the hulking figure in the sky grew steadily closer, moving far faster than anything of that size had any right to move. And she remembered that they'd all gathered on the roof of their guild once the town was empty, once the members least capable of fighting were leading the people further into the forest to find shelter.

And Lucy had stood tall at Natsu's side even as she'd trembled at the thought of facing Acnologia down again, recalled how futile it had been on Tenrou Island. They were all much stronger now than they had been then but she wasn't sure how much of a difference it would make.

She'd been jolted from her thoughts when she felt two hands grab both of hers, Natsu on one side and Erza on the other. They'd both smiled at her, confident in their strength. It wasn't arrogance she saw. It was the determination to never fail, to never fall, not until those they cared about were safe. And against all odds it had comforted her, the tension draining from her body almost against her will. Because that determination had won the day so many times before. She'd seen them both go down time and time again only to drag themselves back up with nothing but pure force of will. And so she'd believed in them.

She doesn't remember much of the fighting, not even now. She remembers the screams and the heat and the smell. She remembers seeing Elfman fall only to be caught by Lisanna as Mira watched their backs, his torso burnt and blistering. Remembers hearing Juvia scream as she was set aflame again and again, her water magic trying to protect her but not being able to keep up with the damage. Remembers stumbling upon Nab, the first of her dead nakama, of being nearly sick at the sight of his blackened and split skin, barely recognizable.

And then suddenly Gray was there, tears streaming from his eyes endlessly as he grabbed her around the waist and ran. She'd tried to fight against him, to get free and return to where the sounds of fighting still echoed, but she was weak and blood was running down her face, obscuring her vision along with the smoke in the air and her arm was flopping uselessly, bent at a grotesque angle and when had that happened?

Loke ran beside them, his face a mask of anguish as he protected their retreating backs. She could dimly make out Cana helping Freed stumble forward on a burnt leg, Lisanna and Mira hefting Elfman's weight between the two of them. Gajeel had an unconscious Levy cradled against his chest as he scooped a lagging Wendy up as well, hurrying them forward with Jet and Droy not a step behind. And Natsu...

Natsu was being physically dragged by Panther Lily, screeching and flailing all the while. No one had a dry eye as they all ran, as Natsu continued to yell and scream and beg and Lucy had no idea what was happening.

At least, until she spotted who wasn't running.

She could see them, Erza and the Master, their backs straight, their heads held high, standing upon the smoldering ruin of what was once their home. They stood facing the fierce dragon, guarding their nakama's retreat, sacrificing themselves so that the rest could get away.

Because that's what this was. A sacrifice.

"No," her voice came out weak, guttural, almost unrecognizable. "No. Erza. Master. We can't leave them. We can't..."

"I know, Luce," and Gray sounded just as bad, like he'd been gargling rocks. Or screaming. That's when she noticed that she couldn't spot Juvia. "But if we don't then we all die. And the Master... he ordered us to run. He ordered us to. To survive and find the others."

"But they'll die!" As if everybody didn't already know that. She could read it on their faces. Could see Laxus from here, forcing himself to continue forward. And she knew that if he didn't have an unconscious Evergreen and Bickslow over each shoulder there's no way he would have been able to stop himself. But he did. And so he continued forward.

She remembers the last time this happened, on that Island so long ago. They'd all been tired from the fight against Grimoire Heart but they'd stood shoulder to shoulder anyways, refusing to leave their Master behind to face death alone.

This time was different, she knew. This time half their remaining guild members were critically injured, most of them having already passed out from pain. And those who could still fight had to carry them away, to safety. They couldn't all stand and link hands this time. This time they had to run.

Knowing it logically didn't make it any easier to accept, though.

"Please," she begged, her eyes overflowing as she pushed weakly against Gray's broad shoulder. "Please, I can still fight, I can still help them!"

"You can't," he seemed to almost choke on the words even as his stride stayed steady, even as he refused to let himself look back. "We can't. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

Lucy's eyes stayed glued to their silhouettes, as their Master used his magic to grow impossibly large, as he grappled with the beast and tried to hold it while Erza changed her armor and charged for it's underbelly. Watched as their attacks were batted away, like they were nothing more than annoying pests.

Watched, as they broke through into the forest and disappeared into the foliage, as Natsu screamed and screamed and screamed, watched as Acnologia opened it's maw and let forth a burst of such intense flame that it obliterated all that stood around itself.

And she thought of Erza's confident stance, her straight back and steady gaze, thought of Master Makarov and his patience, his forgiveness and his love, how he'd taken all of these lost people and made them a family. Thought of them burning, dying, so that the rest of them could get away safely.

And Lucy wept.

.


.

They arrived in Shirotsume Town in the early afternoon, the sun beating down on them from a bright blue sky.

Lucy could hear Natsu whining behind her as they walked, swearing to Happy to never ride in a carriage ever again, but she ignored it in favor of scanning the streets. Even after over a year in this time, she still wasn't used to entering a town and receiving smiles and friendly waves. She was used to glares and sneers and, on multiple occasions, objects thrown and threats yelled.

But as she wiped away the sweat collecting at her brow she saw that they were garnering no attention at all. They were just two travelers and a cat, not Wanted Mages from an extinct guild.

"Anyway!" An arm was thrown around her shoulder and Lucy found herself face to face with her partner's face splitting grin. "I'm hungry! Let's go eat!"

"We should stop at the hotel and drop off our stuff," Happy interjected from below. She smiled at both of them, remembering their faces last time when she'd left them to their own devices. No way was she doing that again. She could avoid the embarrassment of being called ugly while wearing a maid's uniform for the rest of her life, thanks.

"Sure thing, let's go."

They found the hotel easily and then just followed Natsu's nose to the restaurant. Lucy ordered a simple salad, used to small portions and not wanting to test her luck on cooked meat. Natsu, meanwhile, ordered enough to cover the entire table. She sighed, but said nothing. It wasn't like he wasn't going to eat it all, anyways.

She did notice when he kept the meat well away from her so that the smell wouldn't be so strong. She made sure to smile at him, a quiet thanks.

"So," the dragon slayer began, seemingly going for nonchalant even with his mouth full of food, "the job poster said the perverted guy was hiring a blonde maid."

"Aye," Happy agreed instantly, striking a thinking pose that was completely ruined by the mischief in his eyes. "For your part you should-"

"No." Lucy said immediately. "Not happening. Ever."

"You're no fun," they both pouted back at her. She shrugged, unrepentant and unmoving.

"Nope," she agreed. "Now finish your food so that we can meet the client."

.


.

The mansion the directions led to was large and opulent, though unimpressive when compared to those Lucy had seen in her childhood. Natsu and Happy seemed just as unimpressed, but she knew it was more because money really didn't mean much to them beyond how much food it could buy.

Natsu walked right up to the door and knocked, announcing their guild name when asked. It did seem to surprise him when the voice on the other side suddenly became shrill, demanding they be quiet and come in through the back door instead.

"What weirdos," he muttered as he turned away and Lucy shrugged in agreement. But a client was a client and so they made their way around the large building without another word.

They were met at the back by a tall man with grey hair, a small dark mustache and a heavily wrinkled face. He wore a pressed suit that, to Lucy's observant eye, was just a touch too small. She still couldn't believe she'd missed it last time, the fact that Kaby and his wife weren't actually rich and that this wasn't actually their house. It seemed so obvious now, seeing how misfitting the suit was, the waist a bit too tight and the arms too short. The way he didn't look comfortable in it at all and the stiff way he was moving, trying too hard to appear at ease in such a large home. His wife's smile was slightly strained as well, a slight tremor to her hands as she set out tea, clearly nervous about holding something so obviously expensive. And no way would the owners of a house this large set out their own tea, they'd have a servant do it for them.

Lucy pursed her lips in judgement even as Kaby Melon introduced himself and gestured towards the couch so that they could sit.

"Melon? Wow, your name sure does sound yummy!" Natsu grinned as Happy cheered next to him.

"You just ate, there's no way you're still hungry," Lucy huffed at them. "And besides, that's rude, you know."

"No, not at all, I hear it all the time," Kaby assured as he too took a seat. "Though, I have to admit I'm a bit surprised someone from the renowned guild Fairy Tail would take this job."

"Really?" Natsu laughed. "I was wondering why such an easy job was still available."

Lucy rolled her eyes. "It's because it was easy that it was still available." She could see that they still didn't understand as Natsu and Happy cocked their heads to the side in confusion at the same time. She sighed and shook her head, deciding to wait until later to explain.

"And you're young, too! You must be a famous mage," Kaby continued as if he hadn't even heard Lucy speak.

"Ah, Natsu's nickname is Salamander," Happy informed, the pride in his voice unmistakable. Lucy couldn't resist reaching out and scratching at his head if she tried.

"Oh, I've heard of that name!" The client seemed excited by this, and Lucy couldn't blame him. It was always more reassuring when the mage working for you was well-known. His gaze moved to Lucy and his face blanked in clear lack of recognition. "...And you are?"

"Oh, I'm new to the guild, don't worry," she waved it off. The last time she'd been offended because she was a Fairy Tail mage, too, damn it. This time she knew to be more mature about it, knew she'd only just joined and of course her name wasn't known yet. But it would be one day. One day she'd be the best damn Celestial Spirit Mage there was.

"Ah, I see... Let's talk about the work," to which Natsu and Happy agreed instantly and enthusiastically. "There is only one thing I'm asking you to do. Duke Everlue owns the one and only copy of the book Day Break. I want you to incinerate it."

"You mean you don't want us to steal it?" Natsu questioned, a furrow to his brow.

"Yeah, it's kinda surprising," Lucy agreed even though she knew his reasons. "I thought you were gonna ask us to retrieve something stolen from you."

"I'm basically asking you to destroy someone else's property without permission. I would understand if you didn't want to do this." The smile never left Kaby's face as he spoke, the expression hiding the true importance of this mission.

"Incinerate, huh? Why not just burn down the entire house?"

"Yeah, that'll be easy!" Happy agreed, and they both smiled in excitement. And this, Lucy thought as she pinched the bridge of her nose, is why everyone thinks Natsu is a hotheaded idiot.

"Let's definitely not do that," she stated, her tone brooking no argument. She ignored their twin pouts and focused on Kaby again. "What's this book anyways? Why's it so important that we destroy it?"

She could see the flicker of panic in his eyes, knew that he didn't want to have to explain his 'family's shame'. She was ready to push the issue, wanting to get it out into the open sooner. But of course Natsu had other ideas.

"Who cares? We're getting paid 200,000 Jewels just to destroy a stupid book!"

"No," Kaby interrupted before Lucy could do more than narrow her eyes in annoyance at her partner. "I changed the fee. The Contingency Fee is now two million."

"Two million! What the hell?!" Natsu yelled out, his voice screeching an octave higher than usual as his eyes bugged out. Lucy forced her own eyes to widen, already exhausted from having to act like this had never happened before, like she had no idea what was coming next.

"My, you didn't know about the increase?" Kaby's voice was drowned out as Natsu and Happy continued to yell.

"If we divide that by three... I don't even know how to calculate!"

"Easy," Happy informed, shivering with excitement. "You get one million, I get one million and Lucy gets the rest!"

"Hey! That means I wouldn't get anything!" Lucy yelled out, shoving at them both. She turned back towards their client as he held his hands up, trying to ward off any impending arguments. She narrowed her eyes at him, making it clear that she was suspicious. "Why raise the price like that so suddenly?"

"That book needs to be destroyed," he informed them solemnly as a shadow passed over his face. "I can't forgive that book's existence."

Lucy opened her mouth to ask, again, why he wanted this book destroyed so badly. But she was interrupted, again, by her pink-haired partner as he yelled out in excitement, flames bursting to life around his head as he got fired up, literally. She couldn't hide her flinch when he grabbed at her arm and began pulling her forward. For once he didn't seem to notice, too caught up in the prospect of two million Jewels, which she couldn't really blame him for.

"Come on, Lucy! I'm all fired up!"

And with that they were on their way to Duke Everlue's mansion and the start of the mission.

Chapter Text

Breaking into the mansion was, in all honesty, so easy it was embarrassing.

Once more, Natsu had to be talked down from just charging straight through the front door and knocking heads together until he got some answers. It didn't help that Lucy very much wanted to just let him go for it, her patience with this mission thinning with every minute, but she knew doing so could result in her never getting Virgo. Which wasn't an option.

She had been so excited for this mission, the first real mission she'd ever gone on as Natsu and Happy's partner in this time, but the longer it went on for the more she just wanted to return to the guild. What if something unexpected happened while they were gone? What if someone else's mission went bad and her nakama got hurt? What if they were dead? What if-

Lucy cut that line of thought off and took a deep breath to steady her nerves. She knew she was being ridiculous, that it was very unlikely that anything had happened in the short amount of time that they'd been gone. Nothing had gone wrong last time, after all, and she hadn't done anything that might change that. Just because she still couldn't fully believe that they were all alive and well here, in this time, didn't mean they weren't. She just had to keep reminding herself of that.

"Lucy?"

She blinked up to find Natsu looking back at her, brows furrowed and mouth pulling down into a frown. She shook her head sharply and forced a smile, determined to finish this mission without any more distractions.

"Sorry," she told him, finally stepping away from the open window they'd climbed through. "I was just thinking of how to get this mission done."

"I still say we should just burn the whole place down. It would be a lot faster," Natsu pouted, Happy piping up his own agreement from under the skull he'd jammed onto his head sometime in the last few minutes.

"I told you already," Lucy sighed, "if we do that, this place will be surrounded by Knights in no time. And then the guild will be in a lot of trouble and will owe a lot of money."

"It'll be fine," Natsu assured her. "The Master already said we can do whatever we think is right to finish the mission."

"He said to do what we thought was right, not what we thought was easy," she told him, though she couldn't help but smile when he slumped in disappointment. "Now, come on, the sooner we find this book the sooner we can go back home."

The boys followed after her as she left the storage room they'd entered the house from, grumbling and complaining as they made their way down the hall. Lucy knew that there was a library around here somewhere but it had been so long that she wasn't sure which door led to it. She was just about to turn and ask Natsu if he could use his nose when she froze, cutting herself off mid-word.

Virgo was near.

She hadn't had such a reaction to Loke, but she supposed it made sense that she wouldn't. Loke was weak right now, only a few weeks away from disappearing from this world completely, and he hadn't been able to return to the Stellar Spirit World in years. Virgo, on the other hand, was in relatively good health, even if her current Key holder was a disgusting pervert and all-around horrible person.

Lucy hurried Natsu along, knowing they didn't have much time before the Spirit made it to them. She'd rather not confront Virgo just yet, not until she had the book in her possession. She was the only one who knew there was more to it, after all. If Natsu found it first, he'd burn it to ashes with no hesitation.

Thankfully, she hit jackpot with the next door, flinging it open to reveal the large library that she remembered. She firmly shut the door behind them, and not a second too late, as she felt Virgo's magic ascend from the floor in the hallway behind them. Lucy could remember them being found out last time as well, though she still didn't know how it had happened. There had probably been a security enchantment in that storage room or something and they'd tripped it both times.

Lucy shook her head at herself. That was beyond sloppy of her. If she'd made such a stupid mistake in the time she'd come from, it would've gotten her and whoever was with her killed, most likely. Just because these times were relatively peaceful didn't mean she could make stupid mistakes, not when Natsu and Happy were at her back and would suffer for them.

"The book is probably in here somewhere," she told her partners quietly. "We should split up and look for it."

"Why not just burn them all?" Natsu grumbled even as he made his way to one of the shelves.

"I already told you. Besides, books shouldn't be destroyed so easily." She might not be as devoted to reading as she had once been - it was barely safe enough to sleep, most days, let alone lose yourself in a book - but that didn't mean she didn't still have a healthy respect for books and the authors that created them. Growing up in that big mansion after her mother had passed away had been painfully lonely and the books had been one of the only things to make it bearable. And, better yet, her father had never complained about seeing her with a book. It was one of the very few things she did that he actually approved of.

"Yeah, yeah," Natsu continued to whine. "There sure are a lot of them, though. Hey, Happy, I found one about fish!"

"Oooo! That's so cool!"

Lucy sighed but left them to it. Even if they were goofing around, they were still looking. And hey, at least they weren't destroying anything.

Her pink-haired partner was right, though, there definitely were a lot of books. She didn't think it had taken them all that long to find it last time, probably because Natsu was practically made of dumb luck, and she was hoping the same would be the case this time. Otherwise they'd probably be here for awhile and she wanted to have found it before Everlue found them.

"Hey!" Natsu crowed, as if on cue, "I found a golden book!"

"A golden book?" Lucy demanded, spinning about quickly to face him. And, yep, there in his hands was the novel Day Break. She shook her head, exasperated but pleased. "Really, Natsu, you have all the dumb luck in the world, don't you?"

He threw a fanged grin her way. "Now all we've gotta do is burn it, right?"

"Aye!"

"Do you mind if I see it first?" She asked, reaching for it. Her partner cocked his head at her but didn't hesitate to hand it over, which was a difference from last time, when she'd had to swipe it from him. Maybe it was because she wasn't suggesting not completing the mission this time? Or maybe they were just closer and he trusted her more? Either way, she'd take what she could get, and if Natsu wasn't fighting her every step of the way on this, it just made it a hell of a lot easier for her. "There's something strange about this book. It isn't right."

"So?" Natsu asked, uninterested. "Our mission is just to burn it and that's it."

Lucy frowned at that but continued to flip through the pages, undaunted. "There's no way this author would've ever written something this bad. I've read all of his published books and this reads like it was written by a completely different person. There's something more going on here and I want to know what it is."

"That's not the mission," Natsu huffed, crossing his arms over his chest and staring her down, unimpressed. Happy, at his feet, didn't look much better. She rolled her eyes at the both of them.

"Like either of you are the type to follow a mission to the letter," she grumbled. "Besides, I'm not saying we don't complete the mission. I'm just saying that I want to get to the bottom of this before we do. Please?"

She could see him caving to the pleading on her face, in a way he never would've last time around, but before he could say anything more, the floor before them exploded upward, revealing an obese man that she remembered all too well.

"Boyoyoyoyo! So, this is what you mages were after, was it? A worthless book like that?" The mansion's owner asked as he landed, his obnoxious laugh making her cringe. "But how dare you touch something that belongs to the great Duke Everlue?! I'll make you pay for it! Come, Vanish Brothers!"

At his words, a section of the shelves began to move, opening up to reveal a passage way and two tall and menacing silhouettes.

"It's time for actual business, huh?" The shorter of the two remarked.

"Yeah, if we get payed without actually doing anything, Mama will be mad," the taller one agreed.

"Good afternoon," the first greeted them, voice bland.

"Those armbands!" Happy yelled, pointing towards the two newcomers. "They're from the mercenary guild, Southern Wolves!"

"He hired guys like that?" Natsu scoffed, unimpressed.

Lucy ignored the lot of them and continued flipping through the pages. She remembered there had been something different about the book, that it had held a secret intended for the author's son, but unraveling the magic itself was taking a bit of focus. It had originally been intended to be read by his son and only his son. Older now, at least mentally, and more experienced, she could recognize the more intricate parts of the spell, parts she now realized she'd haphazardly bulldozed through last time around.

"Hey, Natsu," she called absentmindedly, not looking up. "You don't mind taking these guys on, do you? I need some time to figure this out."

"Huh?" He demanded, turning a disapproving stare on her once more. "We're supposed to be destroying that, not reading it!"

"It's fine!" She assured, waving him off. "You can probably handle these guys easily. Just hold them off for me, okay?"

She didn't wait for his answer, knowing he'd do it regardless, and instead took off at a steady run. She needed space and quiet to fully unravel this spell and being in the middle of a fight wasn't going to cut it. She'd probably be able to finish it before the Duke found her, too, which would leave her able to beat the tar out of the guy and receive Virgo's key in return.

Speaking of... She almost paused as the thought occurred to her, but kept herself running out of sheer will. Why did she need to wait for Virgo to hand her Key over to Happy, and then for Happy to remember to give it to her? She'd taken Keys from defeated enemies before, after all, when she knew they didn't deserve them. And Everlue definitely didn't deserve Virgo. So, why did she have to wait?

The answer was, she didn't.

The whole time thing was still tripping her up. She wanted to change things but she didn't want to change too much. She hadn't wanted to change Natsu and Happy bringing her to the guild, hadn't wanted to change their first mission together. There were so many small things that had happened that had led to her being closer to her nakama and what if she changed something and those relationships never happened?

She'd been tempted to approach Loke so many times since she'd returned to the past. Seeing him like he was, weakening and in pain, almost physically hurt her. And she wanted nothing more than to help him, to save him, to have him by her side once more. But the last time around, he'd had tickets to that resort when she'd saved him, and he'd given them to her and the rest of the team. That was how they'd run into Jellal's group, when Erza was taken to the Tower of Heaven.

It was important that that happened again. It was important that Erza was reunited with the ones she'd known when she was younger, who meant so much to her. It was important that Jellal was saved and able to heal and become the mage Lucy remembered. She owed him that much, at least. He'd done so much, lost so much, and still had stepped aside and insisted that she be the one to go back.

He hadn't thought himself worthy of it, she knew. Hadn't thought he deserved another chance, hadn't deserved the right to see Erza again. Which was bullshit, Lucy knew, but hadn't been able to convince him of. In the end, he'd taken the part of conductor for the spell, the one who everyone's energy and magic siphoned through as it poured into the runework they'd drawn all around them. He'd thought of it as his final penance as he knew that there was no way of surviving that much energy flowing through a single person.

Jellal had died to give her a chance to come back and save their loved ones, their family. She owed it to him to save him in return, no matter what it took. And to do that, she had to make sure they ended up at the Tower of Heaven like last time.

But how was she to know what she could change and what absolutely had to stay the same? If she took Virgo's Key at the end of this mission, would that change anything, really? How was she to know?

Lucy sighed. This was part of the reason she'd fought so hard against being the one sent back. She was smart, she knew, always had been, but she didn't have a head for strategies, not like this. She couldn't plan ten steps ahead based on one little detail. She couldn't map out the domino effect her actions would have on the timeline.

All she could do was her best and pray that it was enough.

.


.

"You can't be serious."

Jellal met her stare calmly, arms folded on his lap and book open on the rickety table beside him. He looked as if they were discussing nothing more than the weather outside and it made her want to scream.

"It's worth it," he told her simply with a shrug.

Lucy wanted to argue that, she really did, but she couldn't. Because if it worked, if they were able to change all of this, then it would be worth it. Still, though, "It doesn't have to be you. I can do it instead. You should be the one going back, you know it! You're the one that found this spell, you're the one who still has hope!"

"Lucy, we already discussed this, you know why -"

"Bullshit! That reason is bullshit and you know it!" She snarled, slamming her palm onto the table. The man before her, long used to her bouts of rage at this point, didn't so much as twitch. "You were involved in a lot of those battles, too! You have just as many connections as I did, just as much of a chance to change things. Picking me because I was a part of Na - ... a part of their team isn't a good enough reason."

He sighed and, for the first time since he'd started this quest on nothing more than a whispered, 'What if we could change it?'looked as tired as the rest of them felt. And Lucy couldn't help but feel a twinge of guilt for bringing that expression back to his face but persevered regardless. She had been ready to accept defeat, ready to agree to be sent back, but not now. Not after what she'd just found out.

"Lucy," his tone was pleading, "I can't go back. I can't. I have been given so many chances and I've wasted all of them. What if I mess up again? This is the last chance any of us are going to get and I'm not going to let it be wasted on me. I refuse."

It was Lucy's turn to sigh. Ever since the Tower of Heaven, Jellal had been all about making up for his past mistakes, that wasn't any secret. But as things progressed, as people died and battles were lost, he'd taken more and more blame onto himself. The only one that had ever been able to smack sense into him had been Erza and she'd been gone for a long, long time. Without her, the guilt was eating him alive and everybody could see it.

Not that the rest of them were much better, guilt and anger bubbling in all of them for being the ones left alive, but Jellal's self-hatred had been festering for far longer than their's had.

"I know you think you don't deserve it," she told him, gentling her tone as much as she was able. Whereas her anger had passed by him with no effect, he now flinched away from her kindness. "But I promise that you do. Out of everyone in this camp, out of everyone that's left, you're the one with the best chance of success here. Your chances are far better than mine."

He was already shaking his head at her. "I'm weak," he told her, plainly, and cut her off before she could protest. "I have a lot of magical power but my soul, my spirit, is weak. Has been for a long time, maybe my entire life. For this to work, for someone to be able to pass through the barrier, their spirit has to be immensely strong. And, Lucy, nobody here has a spirit as strong as yours."

She couldn't deny that. After spending so many years training and fighting with her Spirits, her own had grown stronger in comparison. Not to mention all the time she'd spent in the Spirit Realm. Going back and forth between those worlds had strengthened her spirit even more and, if one was going to make it through to the past, it would be hers.

"But you'll die," she whispered, her last argument, though she knew it was a futile one. Death wasn't really enough to stop any of them at this point.

"So will you," he shrugged, once again nonchalant, and the urge to scream at him hadn't lessened. If anything, it had grown stronger. "Everyone else might, too. This spell is going to take everything that we have, and even that might not be enough. But it's worth it. For the chance to change things, it's worth it."

"Yeah," Lucy agreed quietly, suddenly exhausted. "Yeah, it's worth it."

In a week's time, she'd sit in the middle of circle of runes and sigils, what was left of her nakama spread out around her and powering a spell that would hopefully allow them to save everyone they loved. Jellal would be controlling it, his life shortening with every second he acted as a conduit and conductor for such immense magical power. And Lucy would calmly lay there and turn her magic in on itself, stopping her own heart and ejecting her spirit towards the barrier above her.

In a week's time they'd all be dead, would no longer exist in this time and place.

For now, Lucy reached forward to clasp Jellal's hand in hers and held on tightly, even as her resolve to let go hardened into steel.

.


.

Lucy avoided the sewers this time. She didn't quite remember what had caused her to go down there last time around - probably, she hadn't been thinking at all, simply wanted to get away in order to read the book and discover its secret - but this time she had enough mind to go up, rather than down.

As she'd guessed, the spell interwoven into the book wasn't all that hard to unravel, now that she actually knew what she was doing. Because of that, a lot more details could be read of what had happened to Kemu Zaelon during his imprisonment. She'd already felt bad for the author, having been blackmailed and forced into writing such a horrible piece of literature, but each detail the spell revealed just made her all the more angry.

Nobody deserved to be treated the way Everlue had treated Kemu, and it was obvious that the Duke didn't feel any remorse over it. For that alone, Lucy was ready to punch the guy, even if she hadn't already been planning on doing so.

"Boyoyoyo, finished already, are you?" That obnoxious voice called from behind her and Lucy leaped to the side, neatly sidestepping the arms that had been grabbing for her from the ground. "What secret did you uncover? A treasure map? A Hidden fortune?"

She scoffed at him even as she drew the book closer to her chest, "Like someone as great as Kemu Zaelon would leave something like that in a book as shitty as this."

"What is the secret?!" The Duke raged, coming up fully from the ground. "What is it that he hid from me? That book is mine, you must answer me!"

"I don't have to do anything!" Lucy yelled back, sticking her tongue out at him in the process. "And you don't deserve to know the secret! Not after everything you did!"

"Why you - !" He took position as if to dive into the ground again and Lucy readied herself to dodge away from him. Before he got the chance, though, a blue cat landed on his head, knocking him harshly backwards.

"Happy!" Lucy cheered, grinning. She'd been the one to leave her partners behind to deal with the mercenaries but that didn't make her any less excited to see him, especially when he smiled back at her.

"Lucy, are you okay?"

"I'm fine," she assured, waving off his concern. "What about Natsu? Did he send you ahead?"

"Aye, Natsu can handle those two Wolves, no problem!"

"I'm sure," she agreed without an ounce of doubt as she reached for her Keys. "In the meantime, though, we need to beat this guy. He can't have this book. We need to get it back to Kaby and let him decide if he still wants to destroy it."

"We're not gonna destroy it here?" Happy asked, frowning when Lucy shook her head.

"There's a spell on this book. And Kaby needs to see it. If he still wants it destroyed afterwards then we can, but he needs to see it first."

"Nobody will be destroying that book! It belongs to me!" Everlue raged, forcing himself to his feet once more as his face reddened in anger.

"Just knock it off, already," Lucy rolled her eyes, thrusting one of her Keys forward into the air. "You're not going to win this. Cancer!"

The crab Zodiac appeared with barely a sound, scissors in hand and already prepared for a fight. "What kind of hairstyle would you like today, Lucy, ebi?"

"Ebi?!"

Ignoring Happy's outraged and disbelieving cries, Lucy smirked at her Spirit. It had taken her awhile to get used to her Spirit's quirks, she had to admit, but she'd had years to get to know them. By this point, there was very little they could do that would cause her more than a bit of exasperation.

"Duke Everlue here needs a bit of a makeover, don't you think? Maybe you can take a bit off the top for him?"

"It would be my pleasure, ebi."

"Don't get so full of yourself!" The Duke yelled, thrusting his own Key forward. "Open, a door to the Virgin! Virgo!"

"Eh? The same magic as Lucy's?!" Happy yelled, shocked, as smoke exploded in front of their opponent. That was enough, honestly, to demonstrate the differences in their skill. Lucy hadn't summoned one of her Spirits in such a sloppy way since even before she'd been this age originally.

The smoke cleared quickly to reveal the gargantuan form of Virgo... and Natsu, who had apparently once again grabbed hold of the so-called maid just in time to be transported. Lucy wondered how he'd managed that, since last time around Virgo and the other maids had already been beaten by him before they'd even reached the library. Maybe they'd confronted him afterwards?

Natsu's dumb luck really was something to be feared.

Instead of commenting on it, Lucy could do nothing but sigh and palm her face, even as her lips pulled into an amused smile.

"Master, how can I help you?" The giant spirit asked, seemingly unaware of her tag-along.

"Get that book back, at any cost!" The Duke commanded imperiously. Just the way he talked to the Spirit had Lucy's hackles rising. How dare he? And to make her call him 'master'? It was disgusting!

"Natsu!" She yelled, breaking him out of the shocked daze he'd been in due to the sudden transportation. "Knock her out!"

"Right!" He agreed instantly, not hesitating to do just that. Virgo went down with an almighty boom, shaking the floor and, subsequently, the rest of the house around them as cracks appeared and began to rapidly spread. They'd have to end this quickly, lest they get trapped in a collapsing house.

Not wasting anymore time, Lucy flicked the whip held at her waist and wrapped it around the Duke, who'd been attempting to flee into the ground. "Not happening!"

With a great heave, she lifted him up out of the floor and over her head. Cancer leapt forward, slicing into the man as he fell, so that once he'd crashed into the ground, unconscious, it was without any hair and covered in cuts.

For a moment, none of them moved, and then Natsu was jumping forward to pat Lucy on the back, the force of which had her stumbling. "Way to go, Lucy! That was great!"

"Aye!" Happy agreed brightly, flying circles above their heads.

She grinned at the both of them, exhilarated at their praise. "Thanks!"

Before she could say much more, the floor they were standing on heaved and groaned, dipping dangerously. The weight of first Virgo and then Everlue being smashed into it had clearly been too much.

"Cancer, you can return!" She called even as she dived forward, scrambling towards Everlue's unconscious form and, more importantly, the Key still held in his grasp, as the floor buckled beneath them all.

"Lucy, what are you doing?!" Natsu yelled, grabbing her around the waist just as she snatched the Key up. "We need to get out of here!"

"I know! Let's go!"

It looked like, once again, Fairy Tale would be leaving extreme property damage behind them.

.


.

They didn't wait around for any authorities to show up, knowing that doing so would only result in them being arrested. Instead, they headed straight back to the mansion Kaby and his wife had met them at, book securely in Lucy's grasp, even when Natsu questioned her further.

She explained to him that the book held a secret and told him what she'd learned about the author, and what he'd gone through while being forced to write it. As she'd expected, he was just as pissed about Everlue's actions as she'd been. Still, their mission had been to destroy it, even if it held such a secret, and he couldn't understand why she was so determined to make sure their client saw what she'd found. She didn't tell him, either, simply promising that she'd explained once they got there. He'd grumbled, put out, but had acquiescenced.

Kaby had flinched away at the first sight of the book, face twisting in confusion and old anger. He hadn't wanted to hear what Lucy had to say, had wanted the book destroyed instantly, even if it was by his own hands, regardless of what secrets it might hold.

Of course, Natsu had been less than impressed once he'd been told that it was Kaby's father that had been the author.

"You don't even care what he has to say?" Natsu demanded, outraged. "He was your dad!"

"Natsu," Lucy admonished, holding him back when he tried lunging forward at their client. "He's trying to protect his father's pride."

"That's right," Kaby agreed quietly. "He disappeared for three years. Was forced to write such trash. Gave up his pride as a writer. The first thing he did upon returning home was declaring that he'd never write again before cutting off his own arm. I said such horrible things to him, I was so angry with him. Even after he died, after he'd taken his own life, I couldn't forgive him. But as I grew older, I came to regret what I'd said. And that's why I wanted this book destroyed. It's all I can think to do to make up for what I said to him and to restore his pride as an author."

"There's more to this book than you know, though," Lucy told him, voice gentle. "It was your father's worst piece, and also his best."

"Best? What part of any of this trash is good?!" The man demanded, waving the book at her angrily.

"The hidden part," she told him, unbothered by his rage. "That book, your father's last work, is two-fold. At first, it's nothing more than a trashy novel about a perverted nobleman. But if you look deeper..."

Having unraveled the spell earlier, it was simple enough to reach forward and tap into it, causing the letters on the cover to glow before floating into the air and rearranging themselves. Ignoring the exclamations of excitement and disbelief, she continued to concentrate, giving the magic just the right push for it to activate on its own. Soon, the room around them was full of floating letters.

"Your father didn't write this book for Everlue, not really. He wrote this book for you, his son."

"I see," he whispered, tears beginning to fall from his eyes as they roved over the words that had been meant for him. "I never really understood him at all. I can't burn this book."

"In that case," Natsu grinned, hands folded comfortably behind his head, "we can't accept any payment!"

"What? N-no!"

"We can't do that!"

"He's got a point," Lucy sighed. As much as she would've loved to receive payment for this mission, it wasn't like they would've been able to anyways. "The mission was to destroy the book, which we didn't do."

"Exactly!" Natsu agreed, grinning at her cheerfully before spinning on his heal and marching towards the exit. "We should head back now. You, too, Melon! You should leave for your own house soon!"

Lucy couldn't help but smirk at Kaby and his wife's gobsmacked expressions, even as she skipped forward to catch up with her partners, who'd already made it practically out the door.

Now all she had to do was somehow trick Natsu back on a carriage, otherwise they'd be spending the next few days walking.

She was more than ready to get back to Fairy Tail.