A/N: I'm so happy I only have six weeks of classes before I get a break. This shit is killing me already. Silly Gem, wanting to get a degree and shit. But I'm back on this!

There's a note at the bottom for some of you readers who were wanting a thing to happen.

Also, you know what sucks? Forgetting to transfer notes into the right goddamn folder for what you're putting in the next chapter. So… I'm just gonna wing it. I re-read the last chapter and took a gander at the reviews again to see what you guys are asking for (and what will fit in with the plot I have planned at this point). You all have about as much of an idea of what's coming in this chapter as I do. Let's see what happens…

I know this chapter is the shortest yet, but it stopped at a really good place and I don't want to overload it with stuff. We'll see if maybe the next chapter will be longer.


Arc 2, Chapter 4

Almost


Ryos was tired. Exhausted, really. But he welcomed this fatigue in his arms and legs as he walked down the beautifully paved street and toward the edge of Crocus. It was becoming his new normal, feeling like this, because he'd been pushing his body as much as possible. He'd been training nonstop since leaving Oak Town, moving from one place to the next in the hopes of finding the perfect place to train.

Every shadow he came across was an opportunity. The smaller the shadows, the better. It meant he could squeeze himself into them and try not to be seen. Every so often, he tested himself by slipping into a person's shadow and moving around with them. Hiding in a corner was all well and good, but if he wanted to grow his magic then he had to expand his abilities. Luckily, his instincts were a huge help in telling him when to try and when to focus more on his magic.

At least Gajeel had taught him one useful thing: listening to his instincts. Ryos refused to count eating shadows, because that had to do with listening to his instincts in the first place.

His gaze shifted to the side when he was near the edge of the city just when his stomach rumbled. Everything toward the center of Crocus was too expensive. Maybe it was because he'd never really had money before, or just that he didn't want to start overspending now that he could take care of himself. Whatever the reason, Ryos didn't see the point in dining at some fancy restaurant where the portions were too small when he could go to a tavern and get way more food for less money.

He slipped into a shadow in the alley beside the tavern, then carefully worked his way across the ground - from crates to the little jutting bits of brick and mortar on the building - until he reached the door. It took a little preparation, but Ryos carefully slid beneath the door and darted toward a dark corner before emerging from the shadows again. He stayed in the corner, waiting and watching the other patrons.

When a blonde woman sauntered across the bar from the jukebox, his crimson eyes widened just a fraction. Only for a moment, though. She turned and revealed sea green eyes, freckles across her nose, and a small gap in her teeth when she smiled. She was thin like Lucy, but her chest was smaller. She was short like Lucy, but her arms seemed more gangly. He knew in an instant it wasn't the blonde he really wanted to see.

He'd known from the second he entered the tavern that she wasn't really there. There was no scent of cake like Lucy in this place. Well, there was cake, but with a single whiff he knew it was chocolate. Lucy didn't smell like chocolate cake.

He wasn't sure how long he sat in the corner just watching the other patrons. It wasn't until a robust woman with dull red hair came over to him with a notepad that he realized he'd forgotten to actually get any food for himself like he'd been planning.

"Hello," he said softly, lifting his chin to make sure he maintained eye contact. It was something else he'd been working on since leaving Lucy's. Ryos wanted to be a little more confident with those he didn't know. "I-I'd like to order some food."

Well, he was still working on it.

"O' course ye do, little lad," the woman said with a kind smile. "An' will yer mum or pa be joinin' ye soon?"

"No," Ryos whispered. "My parents are gone."

Her smile faltered and she took a seat at the table he'd commandeered. "Siblin's then?"

"I've got a big sister," he said with a small smile. "But she won't be here either. I'm off training right now."

Her bright cherry lips pursed and her milky brown eyes narrowed slightly. "A runaway?"

"No," he said quickly. "She knows I'm out here. I'm learning more about my magic, and I needed to train. It's, um… It's kind of hard sometimes, but I'm getting a lot stronger."

"Well that's always a plus, lad," she laughed. "And why would a little slip of a boy like yerself want to get so strong?"

His eyes lowered then and his brow pushed together as he thought back to the last time he'd seen Lucy. How Gajeel had beaten her, hurt her. How she'd tried so hard to get him to see the truth, how blind the Iron Slayer had been. Ryos remembered every detail. Every hit Lucy took and how she tried to keep standing up to Gajeel. Every tear she shed was etched into his memory.

"I want to be stronger," he said, finally looking up at the woman with his eyes burning, "To protect my sister. I never want that bastard to hurt Lucy again."

She set down the notepad and rested her hand on his, and he instantly felt the warmth in her touch spreading to his cheeks. "Someone abused her?" she whispered. "Ye know ye could call the Knights. They'll help her."

Ryos shook his head and gazed at the little gold ring on her pinky that looked to be cutting off the circulation in her finger. "She's not with him now. She's safe. But I swore I'd get stronger and… when I do, I'm going to kill him for what he did to her."

She tightened her hold on his hand, and in that moment he saw just how different they were. He was bony and still underfed, while this woman was brimming with life. "Revenge is'na always the best policy," she said softly. "Someone so young, ye should'na be thinkin' about things like that."

"He hurt her," Ryos whispered. He lifted his free hand and quickly rubbed the back of it over his eyes. "I won't forgive him for that."

"Ye don' have to forgive, but…" She let out a soft sigh when his frown deepened and he looked into her eyes again.

"Lucy saved me," he said. "I would have died without her. She took me in when I had nowhere to go, and-"

"Ah, she's that sort of sister." She smiled once again, the gentlest little lift in her lips making her cheeks round even more. "I understand, lad. Ye love her with all yer heart?"

"I do."

"Then ye do what ye have to, I suppose."

He nodded slowly and looked down at her notepad. "Could I order some food?" he asked. "I didn't have breakfast this morning."

All at once, her eyes brightened and her smile became impossibly wide. "If ye'll be on yer own, ye should take good care of yerself," she laughed. "And if ye want to get strong, then eatin's the best route!"

He quickly ordered a plate of food, not really caring what it was that he ate, and a glass of milk. The woman had insisted on the milk for his 'bones to get stronger too'. Ryos didn't know if milk really worked that way, but she was nice and kind so he figured it wouldn't hurt to humor her.

When she returned with his food, Ryos looked up at her and smiled softly. "Thank you, miss," he said.

"Such good manners," she giggled. "What's yer name, lad?"

"Ryos, miss," he answered.

"My name is Rosie," she said. "If ye need it, there's a room upstairs. It's not much, but ye look like ye might need a good night's rest in a bed."

"How much?"

"No charge," she said, still smiling while he dug into his food. "Stay as long as ye need."

"I'm just passing through, really," he said after swallowing a mouthful of potatoes. "But I guess a night wouldn't hurt. Thank you very much, Miss Rosie."

She smiled and shook her head while walking away, muttering under her breath, "Such good manners."


She'd put a lot of thought into what Loke had said. It really was a good idea for her to commission a guild to help her find Ryos. And while Lucy understood his insistence that she ask Fairy Tail for help, Lucy just couldn't. She couldn't try to put her trust in them. She'd read all about their fantastical display in some Fantasia Festival, how they'd covered the whole town in magnificent lightning that ended up accidentally destroying some parts of the town. How they'd needed to delay it a couple days for the guild to repair what they'd damaged in the first place.

Those Fairies were having the time of their lives, while she suffered. They were enjoying festivals and fireworks. They didn't care about her pain. Why would they want to help her find Ryos?

There were other guilds she could have gone to, but the only problem was that she needed an S Class level tracker. Someone who could get past Ryos' magic and find him. If she could avoid having to talk about Gajeel in the first place, that would be preferable. Ryos was her goal, after all.

That was how she found herself carefully making her way through a craggy mountain pass, toward a guild she'd never heard of before. She had a feeling it was a dark guild, but after spending enough time in Phantom Lord, Lucy really wasn't all that scared of dark guilds. Phantom Lord had treaded the fine line between legal and dark well before she'd joined.

But when she'd asked around in some seedy bars just south of Oak Town - she didn't like thinking about how often she'd needed to go into one of those bars for information while still in Phantom Lord - everyone had told her to head here. To a place called Raven Tail.

It was a well-kept secret, apparently, because this was the first time she'd ever heard of it. She could see it in the distance though, and just looking at it made her gut churn. The guild seemed to be carved from a mountain, stretching high into the sky with murderous peaks here and there that would have been natural if they didn't also have windows etched into them. Somehow, it made the place look much more menacing.

It was only a few miles north of Crocus, which meant if this didn't work, she wasn't completely out of options. If it really came down to it, Lucy could send a petition to the Magic Council for assistance in finding Ryos. Maybe.

She wasn't going to be deterred from this though. Lucy had made up her mind that she really did need some outside help, so she was going to ask them. The only thing that made her just a little uncomfortable was the name of the guild master. When she'd asked who she needed to talk to, the resounding response had been Ivan Dreyar. Some relation of Makarov's, she could only assume.

Lucy hefted her pack higher on her shoulder before her feet could hesitate and continued down the path, closer to Raven Tail.

A heavy breeze shot past her, sending her hair flying in wild tendrils behind her. It was fresh though, warm and soothing against her skin, and her eyes slid closed to soak it in. When she looked forward once more, her footing faltered. Well ahead of her on the path was a silhouette she would never forget. Wide shoulders and little black piercings in the swaying forearms. Black feathered tunic and beige cargo pants and heavy metal boots.

She couldn't breathe, for fear he would hear her. Another breeze brushed past, pushing that metallic scent that could only belong to Gajeel toward her. Lucy's fingers shook while brushing a hand over her keys. She couldn't summon anyone though. He'd hear the metal clanging well before she started an incantation.

He didn't know she was there yet, from what she could tell. But he was alone. He wasn't supposed to be alone. Where the hell was Ryos?

One foot shuffled slightly in the dusty earth, closer to the Iron Slayer still walking away from her. Closer to the one place she wanted to go. She wanted to ask him just what the hell he was doing without Ryos. They were supposed to be out training! Unless Gajeel had brought him to this guild and this was a training exercise.

He stopped on the path and his head turned when the wind changed. He scented the air like an animal, but she couldn't move. She wanted to. Lucy wanted to be able to choose between running after him and running away.

She just couldn't. She couldn't decide, and knowing that even seeing him from a distance like this had her wishing she could be in his arms and wishing she could rip his limbs off to beat him to death with them, only made that indecision worse. She could just barely see how his body tensed while he kept walking. He knew someone was behind him then. Lucy just didn't know if he realized it was her. If he did, would he try to attack her again?

Lucy hadn't realized she was having a hard time breathing - that she was clutching her chest and pulling in ragged, crackling breaths while her eyes never left Gajeel's retreating form - until familiar, gentle hands gripped her shoulders and ginger hair and sunglasses filled her vision.

"Lucy, it's okay," Loke whispered. "It's okay, just breathe."

"H-He's…"

She wanted to ask Gajeel why he'd done this to her. Why had he hurt her? Why hadn't he loved her the way he should have, when she'd never done a thing to betray him? Why had he loved her so much only for Jose to tear them apart? Why hadn't he been with her when she lost their baby?

"He..."

"I know."

Gajeel was right there. He was so damn close! She'd been searching and had found him, but she wasn't ready to deal with the heartache Gajeel had caused her. She couldn't. Not yet.

"It's okay," Loke whispered. He pulled her into his arms, only to find her trembling.

Lucy knew she should hate Gajeel. She wanted to hate him so fucking much it hurt. She hadn't forgiven him for the pain he caused her, but just seeing how his hair blew in the wind, the way he still walked with all the confidence in the world, made her miss the time they'd spent together so much more. She wanted to be with him again. Part of her ached, knowing that they couldn't be together now. He probably still hated her.

What did it say about her, that she wanted to be with the man who'd beaten her? Why did she have to yearn for him, when he'd hurt her so much?

It hurt even more when her arms wound around Loke and she whispered through her tearful sniffling, "I-I can't... Please, get me out of here."


Shitty mornings for Lucy happened when she woke up still feeling his breath on the back of her neck. Not even her nightmares of what happened in the mountains could compare to the memories she'd shared with Gajeel. She could still feel those strong, calloused fingers gliding over her skin. His lips on hers. The times she remembered how gentle he'd been, with his soft ruby eyes looking down at her, hurt the most. It wasn't when she thought about their sex life. Instead, it was always those times when he'd whispered that he loved her. When he'd held her and kissed her, and when they'd just been two people together.

When he hadn't been Black Steel and she had just been Lucy, things were perfect.

The worst mornings for her happened when she thought about the fleeting time she'd had with Ryos and Gajeel. It hadn't been nearly enough time, and yet she'd fallen so deeply in love with the little boy that not having him in her life anymore had ripped her soul in half.

And no matter how badly she tried to forget about those good times, if only for a little while, so she could focus once more on getting through the day, it didn't work.

Lucy spent her days trudging through forests and across plains, searching from one side of the country to the other. She hadn't a clue where the hell Gajeel would have taken Ryos, but she was tempted to go back to Oak Town just to check in with her landlord and see if Ryos had come back yet. If he hadn't, then maybe she could scour the whole mountain range just north of town looking for him. She would check every mountain peak, each and every cave. The one thing Lucy had really tried to avoid was going to places where she shared memories with Gajeel in that mountain pass. The waterfall, especially.

And that cave they'd stayed in when she'd been attacked.

But if it meant being able to find Ryos, she would deal with the bad memories and the heartache. She just needed to find him. She was tempted to go back to Raven Tail, just to confront Gajeel and find out where Ryos was at, but she knew he wasn't there. Lucy could feel it. Whatever Gajeel had been doing there, it hadn't been a permanent thing.

She didn't know why she felt that way, though. Obviously she didn't know who he really was.

For the time being, all Lucy could do was stop in at a local tavern just inside Crocus, where the drinks were still cheap. She'd never been to the nation's capital before, but this wasn't a time for sightseeing. If anything, she could always come back with Ryos sometime and they could take in all the sights together.

She took a seat and ordered a beer from the rotund, red-haired woman behind the bar. There weren't many people in at four in the afternoon, but it wasn't as though Lucy was planning on sticking around to get shitfaced. She just needed to ask some questions, rest her feet for a little bit, and then get a cheap room for the night so she could get a proper shower.

Lucy really didn't care if she stunk to the high heavens right then, even if another patron came and took a seat at the bar with an empty stool between them. Then again, maybe that was why the person didn't try sitting right next to her. The best she'd been able to manage was a quick wipedown with a wet cloth and a little perfume before getting into the city.

She sat in silence, listening to the quiet hum of soft music from the jukebox in the corner and the hushed conversations of others in the bar. The bartender passed by with a mug of beer for the person beside her, but Lucy didn't pay them any attention.

"Ye look like yer searchin' fer someone, lass," the bartender said. Lucy looked up to find gentle eyes, a milky brown that reminded her of the bog she'd wrestled through a week prior, gazing at her.

"Can people really look like that?" she asked.

"O' course," the woman laughed. "When ye've been at this long enough, ye get a feelin' about people."

Lucy took a sip of her beer and nodded. "I'm looking for my little brother," she said. "He's about twelve with black hair and red eyes. Sickly looking little thing, really pale. But he's really good at hiding."

"Sickly, ye say?"

Lucy turned her mug in the ring of condensation on the bar top and smiled at the little droplets gliding down the glass. "His name is Ryos." She wished she had a picture to show people when asking if they'd seen him. There was only so much her descriptions could do, and even when people thought they might have seen him, she knew that Ryos had the ability to really blend in and be forgettable in a crowd if he really wanted to.

She didn't want to get her hopes up, but when the bartender was silent Lucy couldn't help but look up into her suddenly wide eyes.

"Sweet little boy?" she asked, setting down the mug she'd been drying off. "Sticks himself in the shadows?"

"Y-Yes," Lucy whispered.

"He was here, lass," she said. Lucy stilled, her muscles tight and rigid in an instant. "Jus' passin' through, he said. Had that same look about 'im as ye've got. Lookin' for someone."

"Did he say where he was going? Was there anyone with him?" she asked. "Who was he looking for? When was he here?" She didn't care if she drew the attention of everyone in the bar. This was a lead. It meant she was a step closer to finding Ryos. Just one step closer to being with him again.

She didn't even care about the eyes she felt boring into the side of her head from the other person at the bar. So the hell what if she was ruining his quiet afternoon ale? Ryos was a whole lot more important than a drink, and this was just what she needed to feel like her running away from Gajeel a few days prior wasn't the wrong decision. Because when she'd thought about it, if she'd talked to Gajeel, or even had Loke or Virgo talk to him for her, Lucy could have found out if Ryos was waiting at a hotel somewhere while he went into that guild.

"Whoa," the bartender laughed. She placed her hands on Lucy's just before she could knock over her mug of beer. "There's no' much to tell. He came and was so quiet I'd've missed the little wisp if I had'na known the shadow in the corner was too big."

"But where-"

"He did'na say. It was a week ago," the bartender said. Lucy's shoulders slumped. "Wha's yer name?"

"Lucy," she whispered.

"He said he was lookin' for his sister, Lucy. Said he was gettin' stronger but he missed her."

She pulled her hands from the woman's, settling them in her lap, and her teary gaze lowered to the bar once more. "When he was here… did he eat?"

"Aye, tha' he did," she laughed again. "The little sprig put away three whole plates before he asked for cake. I let him stay in the room upstairs, but he was gone after breakfast."

"And he didn't say where he was going?" Lucy took the offered napkin and blotted at her cheeks with it, unaware that it hadn't come from the bartender but the person beside her.

"No, lass. If I see him again…"

"Tell him to find a lacrima and call me," Lucy said. "Or to go home and talk to my landlord. He knows Ryos is out somewhere and that I'm looking for him."

"If ye don' mind my askin', why's he all alone?"

Lucy's lips tightened into a thin line and she shook her head. That was something she didn't understand either. Ryos wasn't supposed to be alone. He was supposed to have Gajeel with him, training him. Had Gajeel really just decided to ditch the little Shadow Dragon Slayer? Lucy didn't want to believe that. She wanted to believe that Gajeel loved Ryos just like she did.

Then again, she didn't know what to believe where the man who'd stolen her heart was concerned anymore.

It was after several minutes spent staring at nothing in particular that she realized the bartender wasn't trying to talk to her anymore. The only thing that pulled Lucy's attention was the quiet clearing of someone's throat off to her right. Then a gentle tap on the back of her hand.

She glanced out of the corner of her eye to find a very large figure covered in a brown cloak with the hood up. "What?"

Gleaming blue eyes locked with hers as he pushed the hood back. The first thing she noticed was his scar. "Still looking?" Laxus asked softly.

Her lip curled into a vicious sneer. "What's it matter to you, Fa-"

"I'm sorry."

Well, that just killed her tirade. "... What?"

"I'm sorry," Laxus said. He turned to face her and lifted his own beer to take a large gulp. Then a second. "What I said to you before, at that bar, even when the guild had you… I'm sorry."

"Where's this coming from?" Lucy asked. She leaned away slightly, suddenly more than wary of the hulking man sitting before her. She didn't trust him. Then again, she didn't trust any Fairy Tail mages, excluding Loke. "What, did your precious grandpa send you out to make sure I'm not going to attack your guild?"

"No," Laxus sighed. "I don't know what he's up to right about now, to be honest. I, uh…" He paused to finish off his drink and order another. "I was kicked out."

"Bullshit."

"No lie," he said. "I attacked everyone, tried to kill them during the festival in Magnolia. After it was done, I realized I fucked up but… Jiji still kicked me out."

"Serves you right, getting your fairy wings ripped off," she muttered into her mug.

Laxus winced and turned back to the bar. Once his beer arrived, he lifted the mug and chugged it, then tossed his money down on the counter. Lucy refused to look at him while he stood and situated the hood of his ragged brown cloak over his head once again. She didn't see him motion from the money to his drink and Lucy as well, or the bartender's gentle smile and nod.

"I've got a lacrima," Laxus whispered. Her eyes closed when he spoke again, right into her ear. The warmth of his chest seeped into her spine, even though he wasn't touching her. "If you'd like some help… Call me. I'll keep an eye out for your little brother."

"You don't have to do that."

"I want to," he said. "I hope you find him… Lucy."

When her eyes opened again, he was gone. And with him, the warmth she'd soaked in left as well.


A/N: So, I hope you enjoyed the chapter. I've put some thought into a few of the comments and messages I've gotten concerning this story, and I've decided to do something about it. Not right now, but when the time comes.

A fair number of my readers have asked or said that they want Lucy and Ryos to end up together in the end. A part of me agrees with you guys (because omg they'd be so great together in this universe), but I'm sticking with my original intention to have Lucy and Gajeel together again by the end of this story.

So here's what I'll do. I'm curious to see where that vein of thought goes, so when the story is further along I'll probably write a little AU one-shot for this story - kind of like that alternate scene one-shot that I posted a while back for the original GaLu bar scene (Bunny vs. Iron Will). In it, I'll explore what would happen if Ryos and Lucy end up together instead of Lucy and Gajeel. Again, that won't be for a while, and it'll only be a one-shot. I won't write it until I'm at a point in this story where it would make sense for Lucy and Ryos to get together… which is definitely not right now. I don't want to spoil anything for you guys, so that's why I'm gonna wait. Besides, there might be other things that happen between now and when it's time to write that, that I can use in the story.

Anyway, I hope that alleviates some fears for you guys. This story will always be a Gajeel/Lucy story, regardless of what may happen in the future of the plot. Our end-game here is those two getting back together. No matter how angsty it gets, just remember there is a happy ending.