Rope's End - PaintedZecora

Disclaimer: Fairy Tail is the property of Hiro Mashima

It was the night of the Harvest Festival, and the port town of Magnolia was wrought with celebration. Travelers from regions near and far walked the streets alongside ordinary citizens, taking in the sights and sounds as their docked ships swayed gently with the rise and fall of the surf.

The harbor itself was a spectacle; strings of paper lanterns were hung along the piers, bathing the areas closest to the water in a soft silver glow. Around the dock and leading up towards the heart of the town, vendors peddled their wares, often laying out trays of steaming fried fish and freshly baked pastries to entice potential customers. Children dodged in and out between stalls, absorbed in the joys of youthful play while their parents followed more sedately.

Among those traversing the town's square were visitors from out-of-town guilds. These stayed in groups, as if conscious of the fact that they were on foreign turf. From the meek Mercantile guilds to the adventurous Treasure Hunters, all outsiders were wary of crossing Magnolia's resident Seafarer's guild, Fairy Tail. Few would dare to do so.

One such man was renowned pirate captain, Kurogane, less formally known as Black Steel Gajeel.

He strode confidently into the bar with all the lean grace of a feline on the hunt. The local sea dogs, who fought wind and sail for every ounce of experience on the harsh oceans took one swift look at his attire, wrinkled their noses in disgust, then turned back to their drinks. He paid them no mind, adjusting the finely embroidered sleeves of his jacket.

The old ones had their marks of pride, after all. Sea-worn clothes faded by the salty air were a badge of honor. Appear before them in new, freshly washed crewman's attire and out of principle one would be sent to work scrubbing the cargo hold.

Let them catch you with smooth, unmarked palms and expect to spend the next fortnight untangling rigging and raising calluses.

He scanned the room through crimson eyes, his gaze finally alighting on a figure that sat inconspicuously across the pub. The other man nodded, then inclined his head towards a group of youngsters that sat at a table adjacent to his.

His gaze snapped to the table where the three youngsters sat, focusing on the small feminine figure that sat in the middle. Wavy blonde hair brushed the nape of her neck, and soft brown eyes glimmered in merriment as she spoke to her friends.

Her pink guild mark shone brightly on the back of her hand, further proof that she was indeed the target.

Gajeel nodded back, knowing the man's bandaged eyes would see his gesture. Satisfied, he positioned himself strategically in a seat close to the aisle and waited.

A passing barmaid with a laden tray caught his eye, her long auburn hair flowing down her back in waves. "Oi, wench!" He called loud enough for her to hear.

More than a few female heads turned around at that. Unsurprising-though the practice was gradually dying out, it wasn't uncommon to see dolled-up strumpets frequenting places where lonely seamen sought a very specific sort of companionship.

The serving wench navigated her way through the crowded pub and set a brimming mug in front of him. As she did so she looked up to ask him if he needed anything else, then froze.

She paled, the unusual color of his eyes startling her at first glance. He grimaced, flashing a bit of fang, and the girl gasped and lurched backwards, spilling ale down the front of her dress. With a muted apology she hastened away, leaving the entire tray behind. Shrugging to himself, he seized a mug and took a long draught, keenly aware of another patron pulling up a chair next to him.

"Tch. Totomaru," he grunted, wiping his mouth with a silky kerchief he pulled from his sleeve. "The hell are you doin' out of jail? Your sentence end a decade early or what?"

His companion grinned, swiping another mug from the tray and helping himself. "Same as usual. Got Juvia to bust me out, then headed over to the HQ to report to the boss. I have orders to remain here as your backup. Lucky you."

"Fucking bilge rat, last time I had you as backup my crew and I ended up chained to a wall in the brig of an imperial galleon."

"Aye, it wasn't that bad." Kurogane cut his eyes at the other man but chose to remain silent. Though they were technically allies, no feelings of friendship existed between the two. In truth the experience of being captured by a warship manned by the forces of a foreign emperor had been rough, and brutal at times.

It resulted in a tough loss for Phantom Lord. A pirating operation under the guise of a shipping business and one of Fiore's most famous guilds, a good part of Phantom Lord's profits were attributed directly to piracy. At the time of the incident, Gajeel and a small crew were about to unload a shipment of booty to sell at a warehouse in lands outside of the Fiore kingdom's domain. Totomaru and his own men were there as well, to act as added security. Unfortunately, a suspicious captain manning a warship belonging to the neighboring empire captured them while they were docked. All while Totomaru was supposed to be on lookout.

The next several weeks after that were pure torture. Ruthless interrogations, and when they weren't being questioned they were placed inside a cramped holding cell in the galleon's hull.

Pretty ironic, he reflected, given what he was sent to do this very evening.

Totomaru, proud rat that he was, always credited himself for negotiating their release. He insisted that turning their hard-won cargo over to foreign authorities was necessary.

Absolute Bullshit.

Gajeel suspected the pyromaniac sold everything to their captors at a severely reduced price, then pocketed the money. Yet, it would have been in bad form to say as much to Jose. In his leader's eyes he had been careless enough to get caught, and came home with an empty cargo hold besides.

Jose was livid. Their guild master was not one to take incompetence lightly. Despite the cool facade he wore around Fiore's council, Phantom Lord's master was well known for his bouts of rage. He took another sip, his bandaged fingers curling weakly around the mug's handle. His mistake hadn't gone unpunished.

Tonight's operation was his last chance to prove to his guild master that he hadn't outlived his usefulness just yet. Failure was not an option.

The sound of chair legs scraping across the dull hardwood floor drew him out of his thoughts. His target was on the move, and she was none the wiser of the fate that was to befall her.

He grinned.

"Are you not Lucy Heartfilia?" It was an innocent enough question. She gazed into his stoic visage, realizing that her answer, in one way or another, could possibly lead to death, and not her own. She thought of the events leading up to this moment, and knew, just knew, that there was really one answer she could give.


She had felt his eyes on her the moment she excused herself to use the restroom. Even though he was all the way at the other side of the room, she could sense it out of her peripheral vision, the subtle shifting of his head to regard her every time her attention was on her two team mates.

Whenever she chanced a look at him, he was always occupied, either conversing with the man sitting beside him or snapping his fingers for another round of ale. Not once did their eyes meet, leading her to wonder if he had been watching her at all. She eventually chalked it up to her imagination and banished further thoughts of him from her mind.

"Here you go, Miss." A waiter set down her order, steam still rising from the plate. She smiled her thanks as he quickly served her partners, then went on to the next table.

She closed her eyes, savoring the taste of wonderfully seasoned steamed fish. It was a local specialty, and especially fit for the occasion. Her team mates began to bicker playfully, snatching bits off each other's plates like the rapscallions they were known to be.

In truth, they deserved this break. After two months of back-to-back voyages for four jobs, they were exhausted. Besides that, their sloop was due for repairs. The hull needed sealing, the sails were torn from the last storm, and one of the masts needed to be replaced. Fortunately, even with the guild tax, they made enough to go towards the repairs, although the option of buying a new sailboat wasn't off the table yet.

A group of lads wearing the traditional attire of a Crafting guild walked by, some of them giving low whistles in her direction as they passed. Her companions broke off their arguing to glare coldly at them. Ducking her head to hide the reddish tint on her cheeks, she brushed a loose strand behind her ear and smiled. Even a simple change in hair color had garnered reactions she would not have normally gotten. When her best friend had approached her with the notion of dressing up as each other for a week, she was skeptical at first, but eventually warmed to the idea. So far, the plan had gone off without a hitch, and most people had to take a second glance to realize the ruse.

Feeling a bit nauseous, she excused herself(her team mates were too busy fighting to notice)and looked around for the restrooms. She finally spotted them, the doors marked "mermen" for one and "mermaids" for the other.

When it came to clothes, she was sorely tempted to wear her usual leather vest, work shirt and breeches. The female guild mates she shared a cottage with disagreed, and dragged her out to go and buy something "for this one occasion only!" As of now, she wore a soft brown wyvvernhide vest over a white blouse with short, ruffled sleeves. The outfit was completed with a wide belt that cinched comfortably over her waist, and a dark green skirt with a thickly layered petticoat under it so it swished as she walked. Still, old habits died hard, and she found herself discarding the formal heeled shoes she had bought and wearing her old, weather worn black boots.

No decent sea woman would ever be caught wearing shoes she couldn't run in.

Now, as she headed up the aisle towards the rest rooms, she realized her suspicions were in fact correct all along. Confirmation came in the form of sprawling of a long trousered leg suddenly appearing across her path, propped up on the edge of a nearby table. Effectively blocking her route.

She sighed inwardly, taking comfort in the coolness of the dirk strapped against her thigh. If he tried anything, he was in for a nasty surprise.

Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she slowly drew her gaze upwards to take her first proper look at the man whose gaze shadowed her all evening. Red Eyes...

His face was heavily pierced with metal studs, and though she was loathe to think it, they suited him quite well. After a moment she realized she was staring and mentally scrambled to cover up her momentary lapse.

"Mind moving your leg?" Her voice came out higher than she expected, and it was not for the first time that she wished she had Erza's lower, firmer tone. His blood red eyes slid up and down her form, and a mocking grin spread its way across his chiseled face.

"You seem to be in a hurry, little one." The man tilted his head to the side, looking every bit the rogue despite the finery of his outfit. "Fairy Tail, huh."

"Well spotted."

"I hear it's a guild full of very special people."

The ale-faced man next to him snickered. "That's not saying much, Kuro."

"Shut up, knave."

Had someone from the guild offended him? Barely a week went by that some irate ship's captain didn't arrive at the guild threatening to sue Fairy Tail for some act of destruction. "I don't know what your problem is. If you need something from us-"

"How about we discuss this somewhere more private? Maybe over a pint or two..."

"Whatever you have to say can be said in front of the guild tomorrow. Come talk to us then."

"I'm afraid that can't be done."

Her jaw tightened. "Well, that is too bad. I do not have a position of authority within my guild. You may ask Master Makarov tomorrow, if he'll see you. Excuse me."

"I'm not done yet, lass." He seized her arm, his large fingers easily encircling it. She immediately spun about and slapped him across the face, surprising the both of them.

"But I am. Now unhand me!" Grinning, he complied. By now they had attracted a bit of attention from the surrounding tables. A quick glance behind her back confirmed that her team mates hadn't noticed, and were still engaged in their quarrel. Despite the gravity of the situation, she felt relieved. She had no desire to bring them into it.

"A wee tense, ain't ye, Shorty?" Her movement hadn't gone unnoticed.

"Don't call me that."

"Sensitive, little one?" She looked away, unable to bear his mocking gaze.

He smirked, and she cursed inwardly for allowing her weakness to show in front of him. Despite her twenty years of age, she was no taller than five feet, making her below average height. As such, she was more than a little self-conscious when it came to her size.

Before she could reply he stood to his full height, easily dwarfing her by more than a foot. Now that he was standing she could more easily see the two great curved scimitars that were sheathed crosswise on his back. Still smirking, he reached out, grabbed a passing bar wench about the waist, pulling her flush against him. And in the middle of the crowded bar, began to neck the startled woman.

She watched, transfixed, as the maid melted easily into his embrace, closing her eyes and humming lightly at his ministrations. He pulled back, and the resulting marks were plain as day. And to her absolute disgust, she felt just that bit envious.

She felt her cheeks redden, and somewhere inside her a tingle of insecurity niggled at her gut. This was too much.

"You-you crabs-infested sack of bilgewater," she spat furiously. "Aye, keep your trollop then, for I am neither amused nor impressed." His eyes widened, and he shoved the wench away from him.

"The hell did-"

"I'll not talk to a carousing freebooter like you any longer. Our business-or lack thereof-is over."

And without waiting for an answer she went on her way. Dimly she heard her friends call her name through the angry storm in her head, but she was too incensed to care. She entered the rest room and locked herself in a stall, head in hands.

Okay, perhaps losing her temper wasn't the smartest thing to do. She was supposed to be smart, level-headed, the one others relied on to keep in control of herself. And she lost it right in front of her team.

That man, whoever he was, had known precisely how to push her buttons. It didn't help that he bore a strong resemblance to her first-and last-lover, though he definitely lacked Ryos' charm.

After a while she calmed down sufficiently to unlock the stall door and peek into the room. Small blessings, but she felt relieved that no one else had entered the bathroom in all that time. She glanced at herself in the mirror, a little dismayed by the wretched look on her own face. After washing her face and brushing her hair back, she looked at her reflection and felt better.

She straightened her clothes and went to open the door when someone on the other side yanked it open. It was one of the barmaids, and she looked upset. Her hands fluttered uselessly against her chest, as if she were unsure what to do.

"Ma'am...are you all right?"

"Oh, Miss...those lads from Fairy Tail you were with..." Her voice was high pitched and panicky. Nudging the startled woman aside, she stepped into the pub and looked around, noting the absence of her team mates along with that of the scoundrel who'd been troubling her before. She turned back to the maid and clutched her arm.

"Where are they?"

"Kurogane...they left with Kurogane and his men."

It was all she needed to know. Without another word she ran straight for the exit, knocking tables and patrons aside in her haste.

A burly hand groped drunkenly at her skirt as she went by. "Oy, be a good lass an'-" Without hesitation she turned and slammed the heel of her hand into the drunken sailor's nose. He immediately released her, and she hurried outside.

Damn it...damn it...damn it! She cursed herself upon seeing an empty street on both sides. They couldn't have had more than a five minute head start, but she knew that if she went off in the wrong direction there would be little chance of finding them again.

She should have known her friends would try to fight for her honor. And now they may die for it.

Her best bet was to go to Fairy Tail and rouse the guild; a united force against a dangerous pirate crew was her only chance. She took off towards the guild, running not along the cluttered main road towards the town square but through the narrower, empty side streets.

The cobblestones were still wet and slippery from the rainfall earlier that afternoon, but her old boots still retained enough traction to keep her going without much trouble.

Sea women always wore shoes they could run in.

She had gone not more than four or five blocks when a movement in the shadows caught her eye. Heart racing furiously, she dodged to the side, drawing her dirk and lashing out in one fluid movement. The blade connected with something, held, then ripped through.

Silence, then a dark chuckle.

Kurogane, Scourge of the Seven Seas himself, stepped out of the shadows. Grinning almost gleefully, even as blood dripped from his chest onto the torn fabric of his jacket. "Gi hi hi," he chortled. "Impressive, little one. You drew blood, and from a cut so shallow. He said you'd be feisty. I think I'll enjoy breaking you."

His words were so callous she felt her veins run cold. The dirk wavered. "Who is 'he'? Where are my friends? You have my attention, you have no reason to do them harm!"

Crimson eyes flashed with triumph. "Naming terms, wench? The weak make no demands of the strong."

"Where are they?"

"Again with the demands...fine, let's cut the bullshit. You're coming with us."

"I'm not going anywhere with you."

"Oh, I don't think you have a choice." His gaze shifted to a point somewhere over her shoulder.

She followed his gaze, the dirk falling to the stones with a clatter as she took in the sight of her two friends. They were gagged and bound, their eyes wide with fright and rage as they struggled weakly against their bonds. Kurogane's men stood guard next to them, two of them hoisting their hostages upright. These pirates were all large, thick-necked brutes, and they each wielded blunt weapons ranging from clubs to long, heavy lengths of steel. Their swords remained sheathed at their sides.

"Wh-what did you do to them?" She never took her eyes off them, not even as Kurogane placed both hands on her shoulder and leaned down to whisper in her ear.

"Nothing...much. But that could all change depending on your cooperation. Is that not right, Lucy Heartphilia?"

Shocked, she tore her gaze from her partners and met the pirate captain's eyes with disbelief. "Lucy? But-"He frowned.

"But what? Are you not Lucy Heartphilia? Answer me honestly, wench, and I will let your pathetic friends go in peace."

In face of the horrible events that culminated her evening, these words were ironically the ones that gave her the most hope. "Do you speak the truth? Do you promise?"

"Aye..." His grip on her shoulders tightened painfully. "I promise, Lass."

She took a deep breath, knowing that what she said next could tip the scales between their lives and death. There was no other option.

She sighed. "Yes...I am Lucy Heartfilia. Will you let my friends go?" She ignored the yells coming from their gagged mouths.

Kurogane's iron grip hadn't loosened. "Prove it," he retorted, his tone strangely excited. "Your parents' names, their means of wealth."

Tears leaked, unbidden, down her cheeks as she said the words he most wanted to hear. "Jude...Layla...Heartphilia Railways..." She raised her right hand, showing the bright pink guild symbol. "I am a part of Fairy Tail now. I have no association with my family. Please, let them go."

Kurogane smiled, a strangely warm, kind smile. "You heard the little lady. Let them go."

Jet and Droy were swiftly ungagged, and their arms released from their bonds. A surge of hope rose within her chest. They were safe at last. Jet opened his mouth to speak when, without warning, the butt of a club slammed into his stomach. Before he could recover, a crowbar smashed into his knee, forcing him to the ground.

The hope that blossomed inside her turned to dust.

"No! Jet!" She screamed, watching in horror as Droy's arms were pulled behind his back while another pirate punched him repeatedly in the face. His legs buckled, and still the men kept up their assault, kicking mercilessly with steel toed boots.

"No!" She wailed, pulling against the pirate captain's hold. "Rot you, you promised, they'd be left in peace!"

He leered at her. "I lied, gi hi."

Her vision grew blurry with tears, and she struggled harder, blood pounding in her ears. "No no no! Don't kill them, I beg you, oh gods!" Jet began coughing up blood, and already Droy's face was swollen to the point of being unrecognizable. She turned her head in shame, unable to stomach the sight any longer.

Kurogane stroked her hair, then fisted his hand and yanked her head forcing her to watch the brutality unfold. "Tch. You're being a pain now. Games are over, wench. This is the last you'll be seeing of these gutless bastards you call friends."

And so, before he struck the blow that would render her unconscious until her awakening hours later deep within the hold of his ship, Levy McGarden was forced to watch her crew get beaten to death.

I hope this first chapter was sufficient. I used to write fan fiction a lot for the Naruto base, and eventually switched over to Fairy Tail. Fairy Tail has become special to me, and is a literal cornucopia of inspiration for fan fiction authors such as myself. I worked hard on this first chapter, and I hope any readers will support me every step of the way. I know how I want it to end, but I want to actually finish it as well.

I am doing research into pirates for this, and experimenting with the terms found I find on search. Writing a themed story is not just about finding words used by the people who lived a certain lifestyle; it's about immersing yourself into a character's mindset, and doing that in conjunction with choosing the right words they would say in a given situation.

I'm not sure I did this right with Levy and Gajeel, but it's a start. Magic does exist in this AU, but unlike the manga and anime, it is neither as important nor as overpowered. I will work on a cover for this one of these, or possibly commission one.

I am also wondering if I should categorize this as a pairing for the search. I know that the search features on this site have been a cause for debate, so I'd like to know if I should set it the characters as a pairing, or just leave it in its default state.

As always, feedback is appreciated.